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Alienating the Beating Heart of Middle East

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(Nicola Nasser is the editor of the English language Web site of the Palestine Media Centre (PMC.
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The United States is seeking a "new Middle East" by alienating the Syrian beating heart of the strategic region. Washington wants Syria to cooperate as near as in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon and as far as in Iran but is sending her messages and messengers all around the region except to Damascus.

This Wednesday the U.S. sponsored in Rome an international conference on Syria's next door war-ravaged Lebanese neighbour to which were invited regional countries that have no common borders with Lebanon and nations as far as Russia, but not Syria the most burnt and threatened by the Lebanese raging fire.

While confirming this week that the "time has come for the new Middle East," the United States seemed to shoot herself in the legs when it bypassed Damascus as the right address to any credible approach to the Syrian heartland of the region, leaving observers with the conclusion that Syria is not cooperating and accordingly it has to be forced into cooperation.

And while carrying this mission herself in the eastern Iraqi front, the U.S. delegated the job in the western front to her Israeli regional proxy, which occupies a strategic part of Syria.

True the war decision-making is made in Israel, but Syria holds the key to the regional peace-making as well as to any sustainable regional re-mapping in the immediate vicinity of major U.S. strategic concerns, namely the security of oil and Israel.

The relative stability the region enjoyed during the past three decades and the twin Jordanian and Egyptian peace treaties with Israel were only made possible thanks to the Saudi-Egyptian-Syrian troika of which Syria constituted a cornerstone.

Several factors, mostly U.S.-linked, have placed this Syrian cornerstone in jeopardy. The most decisive factor was and is the U.S. determined campaign to change the regional political regimes, starting from the immediate neighbours of Syria in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon, explicitly indicating that the end target is changing the Syrian regime itself, as a prerequisite for heralding the "New Middle East.'

President George W. Bush has sent his invading troops into Iraq, gave a green light for the Israeli war machine to bombard the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, spearheaded a regional propaganda campaign to adopt the Iraqi-model of the U.S.-sponsored democracy towards Syria, and put his Secretary of State on a shuttle plane to send a message to Damascus: Make the choice and subscribe to our "New Middle East."

But why didn't Bush send his message and messengers direct to the Syrian capital? Is Bush naï ve not to? Absolutely he is not.

Bush is very well aware that Syria had received the U.S. message early and long enough to loose trust in it and to conclude from a bitter experience that Washington was not serious to be even-handed and remained biased in the Arab - Israeli conflict, that its promises to bring about peace were phoney and hollow, and that it was only interested in reinforcing the U.S. - Israeli hegemony in the region.

The U.S. message was sent to Damascus thirty-six years ago, received positively, led to a lengthy honey moon in the bilateral ties, and could have lasted longer had not Washington had second thoughts when it led the invasion of Iraq early in March 2002, sowing deeper doubts in the U.S. real intentions and complicating further an already complicated regional situation.

Unleashing the regional Israeli war machine against democratically elected grassroots anti-occupation movements in Palestine and Lebanon, the geopolitical allies of Syria, confirmed the Syrian doubts about the U.S. regional plans.

The US-led invasion of Iraq, the Israeli US-backed periodical invasions of Lebanon and the Israeli 39-year old occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights have all focused Syria in the eye of the Middle East storm and are stretching Syrian strict adherence to the peace option, international law, United Nations legitimacy and diplomatic norms to a breaking point.

However the United States and Israel are unmercifully and persistently mounting pressure on the country in a deliberate effort to break it down and up, unless Damascus completely and unconditionally subscribes to their re-mapping of the Middle East, following the "good example" of Libya.

"We are pushing forward to the new Middle East, not going back to the old one (and) the Syrians have to make a choice ... Are they going to be a part of what is clearly a consensus of the major Arab states in the region?" Secretary Condoleezza Rice said on Friday.

Syria did make the "choice" when late President Hafez Assad assumed power in 1970-71, joined the "Arab consensus," subscribed to peace as a strategic option and officially adopted the U.N. Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, risking internal rift in the ruling Baath party.

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*Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist in Kuwait, Jordan, UAE and Palestine. He is based in Ramallah, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.
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