For these detractors, the Assad leadership’s anti-Zionist and anti-imperialist stances amount to little more than public posturing intended to preserve its popular legitimacy and is therefore of negligible strategic value to the resistance axis. While many of those making this argument are merely engaging in ex-post facto rationalization – that is, formulating retrospective explanations to justify their current position – this depiction of the Syrian regime as having “colluded” with imperialism in the past, warrants a comprehensive response, if only to underline the centrality of Assad’s Syria to the resistance project and the Palestinian cause generally.
Realism Versus Constructivism
A more discerning examination of Syrian foreign policy requires a paradigm shift from Realism to Constructivism. The latter approach is based on the ontological premise that reality isn’t only material but also ideational; both the social world and knowledge are socially constructed, and as such, “a state’s interests are not just out there waiting to be discovered,” but are shaped by identities which define political actors. These identities are constructed through foreign policy discourses which “shape the identity of the state, its ‘rationality’, the ‘reality’ it defines, and its interests and preferences in its interactions with the world.”
In short, interests are defined by identities and are hence, not predefined universal givens. Hafez al-Assad said as much in this excerpt from 1994 :
“There has been much talk about interests in this historic stage of international development...We say that when we talk about interests we mean...not just economic interests, but...[national] sentiments and common culture and heritage.”
Syria’s Political Identity
Beyond preserving its physical security, the Assad leadership’s mumanaa has also become a principal source of its ontological security. That is, security of its identity as a resistant state and champion of Arab rights. According to Constructivism, ontological security is a defining feature of all foreign policy; like humans, states are social actors which have both physical needs and social drives. Thus, in addition to the need for physical security, states also strive for a security of their identity. This characteristic of states is often lost on Third Wayers who oversimplify Syria’s national security policy as a pursuit of physical [regime] security, or its mere survival as an institutional entity, to the exclusion of the security of its identity or being as a particular kind of actor.
“Hafez al-Assad’s seizure of power in 1970 aimed to unify [the] regime and country for the struggle to recover lost Arab territories from Israel; he designed his regime to carry on this struggle.”
But that is not to say that Syrian anti-Zionism is purely reactive and the result of the perception of Israel’s threat to Syria’s security. According to Agha and Khalidi:
“Assad has never severed himself from his basic ideological roots. From this perspective the struggle with Israel, although undeniably aggravated by the occupation of Syrian soil on the Golan since 1967, is not to be seen as a purely territorial issue.... this hostility also has other elements, primary among them the Syrian commitment to the Palestinian cause. From a Baathist pan-Arab perspective, the creation of Israel is not only morally unjust and a trespass against the Palestinians but a transgression against the Arab people and the greater Arab homeland.”
“The basic theme is that Zionism is incorrigibly evil, whether under a right-wing Likud government or under a Labor government. Implacable hatred of the ‘Zionist enemy’ continued to prevail, and even intensify, after the Madrid peace conference in 1991”.
“Syria’s president has not done even one per cent of what President Sadat did to convince the people of Israel and in Syria that he wants peace.”
“The identification of Syrian interests with the Arab cause was no mere fiction and a purely Syrian-centred policy never took form: had it done so Asad could long ago have pursued a Sadat-like settlement with Israel over the Golan instead of mortgaging Syria’s welfare and future to a struggle chiefly in Arabist irredentism, not narrowly defined Syrian raison d’etat.”
Threats to Syria’s Physical Security
|He came with demands, I rejected them all.|
As reported by Eyal Zisser,
“the US sanctions damaged and even blocked Syrian efforts to integrate into the world economy”.
|The Long Road to Damascus|
“Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq – an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right – as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions.”
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this Blog!