August 31, 2006

Jesse Jackson, the captured Israeli soldiers, and the Syrians

As if there aren’t enough participants in the ongoing crisis of the three abducted Israeli soldiers – one seized by Hamas June 25 in Gaza and two seized by Hizballah July 12 on the Israel-Lebanon border – now we have a famous American meddler, Jesse Jackson.

Jackson traveled to Beirut, Damascus and was scheduled to be in Tel Aviv. While in Damascus, he met with Syrian president Bashar Al-Asad and the political leader of Hamas, Khalid Mash’al, two parts of the problem – and hardly the solution.

According to Jackson, the Syrian president believes that all three are alive. Asad would be in a position to know. He has considerable influence over Hizballah, which is holding two of the Israelis – Syria is second only to Iran in the amount of arms and support it gives Hizballah, and virtually all of Iranian support is funneled through Damascus International Airport.

If he wants to know about the soldier held by Hamas, he only has to make a local call to Mash’al. Of course, we take both Asad and Mash’al at their word.

The meeting in Damascus drew an interesting reaction from Israeli spokeswoman Miri Eisen, expressing surprise that anyone would sit down in a meeting with a Hamas official.

Syria stated that it wanted to be involved in the prisoner exchange, hoping to include in the deal some Syrian nationals detained by Israel. It also wants to be seen as the honest broker in things Lebanese, attempting a reversal of fortune after Syria was forced out of Lebanon after the Syrian military intelligence service was implicated in the 2005 assassination in Beirut of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri.

Jackson has a history of such meddling. In 1984, he arranged the release of a U.S. Navy flight officer whose A-6 fighter-bomber was shot down in a raid on Syrian positions in Lebanon in December 1983. While appreciative, the officer couldn’t wait to distance himself from Jackson. The same happened in 1990 when three American soldiers abducted in Bosnia by Serbian troops were released after Jackson visited with another of his interlocutors, Slobodan Milosevic. The soldiers kept trying to free themselves from Jackson’s grip as they walked out of captivity.

Who else has Jackson met with? In 1984, he met with Fidel Castro, and in 1990, with Iraqi president Saddam Husayn.

In the region at the same time as Jackson was United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, who at least demanded that the soldiers be released unconditionally as called for in Security Council Resolution 1701. Annan told families of the three soldiers that he had no information on their status.

Perhaps Annan should meet with Jesse Jackson.