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DIA Does Diplomacy?

6:20 PM, Mar 12, 2009 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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On Tuesday, March 10, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Michael Maples, gave his agency's annual threat assessment to the Senate Armed Services Committee. The analysis contains the usual mixed bag of smart and not-so-smart observations. In the latter category, we find the following:

Iran and Syria jointly continue to support anti-Israel terrorist and militant groups in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. However, the alliance between secular Arab Syria and theocratic Persian Iran is not a natural one, and may erode if Syria is accommodated significantly in any diplomatic agreement with Israel.

Five observations/questions:

(1) What is this paragraph doing in an annual threat assessment by the DIA? This reads like something off of the State Department's wish list, not an actual "threat assessment."

(2) The supposedly unnatural alliance that Maples notes is, in fact, a longstanding one. Someone should tell the DIA that Iran and Syria have been significant allies since at least 1980, when Saddam Hussein's Iraq invaded Iran, if not before. Note that the Assad family sided with Iran in that multi-year war, and not their closer (ideologically speaking) Baathist brethren in Baghdad. (In addition, the Assad family is part of Syria's Alawite minority community, which is, like Iran, Shiite -- albeit, a different class of Shiism) So if ideology were really as dispositive as the DIA apparently thinks, then wouldn't we expect the opposite alliance?

(3) As (2) reminds us, the Iranian-Syrian alliance is not just about Israel. It is about all of Iran's and Syria's common enemies, which included Saddam at one point and now (and in the past) includes the United States. That is, Iran and Syria have not only "jointly" supported anti-Israel terrorist forces but also anti-Iraqi and anti-American terrorist forces. Abu Musab al Zarqawi's al Qaeda network is a good example of terrorism that was not focused on Israel and yet was jointly sponsored, at various times, by Syria and Iran. There are dozens upon dozens of pieces of evidence to back up that claim.

(4) Do the very strong, and public, statements from Syria's and Iran's leaders count for nothing in this regard? In late 2007, during one of the many times we were told how Syria could be split off from Iran, Bashar Assad put his foot down: "I confirm, on this occasion [the opening of joint Iranian-Syrian factories], that relations will not be shaken for any reason or under any circumstance."
Many similar statements can be culled from the record and this is because, of course, the two nations share not only common enemies, but also many other interests. They cooperate, for example, on a variety of economic endeavors.

(5) We've tried this before (the United States, not the DIA) -- accommodate Syria "significantly" in a deal with Israel that is. As Bret Stephens reminds us at Commentary, that did not go so well.

A piece of unwanted advice for the DIA: stick to an analysis of this nation's threats, and do not indulge in diplomatic pipe dreams.