By George E. Irani (for Safe Democracy)

George E. Irani analyzes previous conflicts in the Middle East emphasizing the power that Syria holds in influencing Israeli-Palestinian relations. Irani views Syria as a possible instigator for the violent actions of Hamas, and the Bashar Assad regime as a major source of conflict in Palestine. The coming days will be important in determining how the delicate balance of power in the Middle East plays out. Irani explains the complex relationship between Ehud Olmert, Bashar Assad and Hamas.

Dr. George E. Irani is the Lebanese-born Director of the Africa and Middle East program at the Centro Internacional de Toledo para la Paz (CITpax) based in Madrid. He is the author of several books and papers on the Middle East.

FOR ANYONE FAMILIAR WITH THE STORY OF THE MIDDLE EAST, it is déjà vu all over again. Israel’s Operation Summer Breeze in Gaza and the West Bank almost mirrors the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, led by Sharon, known as Operation Peace for Galilee. Then, as well as now, Syria played an important role in deciding the end of the conflict.

The purpose of Sharon’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon was threefold:
1) to get rid of the PLO presence in Southern Lebanon,
2) to defeat the Syrian army, and,
3) to install a friendly regime in Lebanon.

The only objective Sharon achieved was to get Arafat and his men out of Lebanon. Syria, although defeated, returned to Lebanon shortly after, and in the end Israel withdrew.

It was one of the most costly military adventures of Israel’s history, both for human lives and for political power.

Olmert has similar objectives for his Operation Summer Breeze. He plans to dislodge Hamas, to obliterate its presence within the PA, to redraw the map of Palestine by implementing his so called convergence plan, and to install a pliable puppet regime in the West Bank and Gaza.

So far, Olmert and his government have accomplished little to nothing, acting timidly as if nothing had been planned. Their lack of a visible strategy leaves little room for faith among the Israeli people.

Hamas meanwhile has been reaping all of the benefit, and has come out of the current Israeli attacks even stronger. And so has Syria.

Syria is believed to have an enormous amount of influence over Palestinian fundamentalists. Many believe that it was Syria’s green light that instigated the recent kidnapping of an Israeli soldier.

And as a result, the United States and Israel have been joined by President Moubarak of Egypt in blaming Syria for the current situation of hostility and chaos.

They believe Bashar Assad, the current leader of Syria, to be following in the footsteps of his father in manipulating the radical Palestinian factions between Beirut and Damascus in order to cause unrest throughout the Middle East. The next few days will test the power of this Syrian control, as it is confronted with Israel’s military force.

Much is at stake for the delicate balance of power in the Middle East.

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