Syria Important to Israel-Lebanon Peace

Shibley Telhami talks with Rene Montagne about the ongoing violence in the Middle East. He says the Israelis may soon have to confront the problem of Syria if peace is to come to the region. Telhami holds the Anwar Sadat Chair at the University of Maryland.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Joining us now for analysis on the latest in the Middle East is Shibley Telhami. He holds the Anwar Sadat Chair at the University of Maryland. Good morning.

Professor SHIBLEY TELHAMI (Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development, University of Maryland): Good morning to you.

MONTAGNE: Where is all of this headed?

Prof. TELHAMI: Well, it's really - we're on an escalation track. I think, if you look at it, Israel historically has responded overwhelmingly to new kinds of threats as it sees it. And they see that as part of their deterrence strategy, which is overwhelming escalating the crisis in a way, because they have what is called escalation dominance, so people can feel the pain more and therefore would be restrained in the next round.

Well, the problem with that is it works against states and it has worked against states. It works very - it's ineffective against non state groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, for that matter.

And so, therefore, there is no guarantee that this is going to stop. And what happens is the central authority actually gets weakened. You need central authority to be able to enforce this kind of deterrence, and yet central authority is weakened. And that creates a new dynamic that you end up having a lot of bloodshed and not necessarily effective results.

MONTAGNE: The U.S. is seen as the only power that can mediate a conflict like this, but what can it do?

Prof. TELHAMI: Well, frankly, only the U.S., of course, has the influence with Israel in this environment. This is actually the best position Israel's ever been to - in strategically, and they have military superiority. They have even understanding from Europe, more than they've had before. And even some Arab states are blaming Hezbollah and some Arab analysts are blaming Hamas. That's actually remarkable. It's very unusual. It's new.

So Israel has much more leeway to operate in this environment and the U.S. has influence. The question is at this point I think, the U.S. is going to have to exercise diplomacy. I think it's reached a point where, if you're going to get a result, the next level will inevitably going to take Israel to think about Syria. And that really takes it to a level that I think no one wants to reach. I don't think the administration's prepared for that at this point. And clearly at some point they're going to have to activate diplomacy in ways they have not been prepared to do.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much.

Prof. TELHAMI: My pleasure.

MONTAGNE: Shibley Telhami is at the University of Maryland where he holds the Anwar Sadat Chair.

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