“Syria’s Improved Relations with Turkey is the Center-Piece of Bashar Assad’s New Foreign Policy,” Joshua Landis

“SYRIA’S IMPROVED RELATIONS WITH TURKEY IS THE CENTER-PIECE TO BASHAR ASSAD’S NEW FOREIGN POLICY”
JOSHUA LANDIS
Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies, (ORSAM) Turkey

Joshua M. Landis, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies and Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oklahoma and writer of the a daily newsletter blog Syria Comment on Syrian politics answered ORSAM’s questions on Syrian foreign policy, regional politics, peace process and relations of Syria with Israel, Lebanon and Turkey.

ORSAM: To start with Syrian foreign policy in general, it is usually analyzed with neo-realist considerations, omnibalancing approach rests on regime survival concerns, historical sociology pays attention to the levels of state formation or political economy. What do you think are the main determinants of Syrian foreign policy?

Joshua M. Landis: All regimes and countries defend themselves. This is not shocking and shouldn’t be a revelation in explaining the behavior of Syria’s leadership. For example, Tony Blair has revealed in his recently published memoirs that Vice President Cheney was deadly serious in his ambition to bring down the Syrian state following Washington’s successful destruction of the Iraqi state. It is in this light that we can understand Syria’s determination to assist the emergence of an Iraqi resistance that could frustrate Washington’s further designs of regime destruction in the region.

Syria’s most important foreign policy goals are to remain a regional power, get back the Golan Heights that was taken from it in 1967 by Israel, remain the principal power in Lebanon, which Syria considers crucial for its defense, and to tend its key relations with both Iran and Turkey.

ORSAM: Another related question, some constructivist scholars claim that the domestic transformation triggered by economic liberalization helped Syrian identity undergo a transformation from Arab to separate Syrian identity. Do you agree with this? In your opinion, to what extent identity shapes foreign policy behavior in Syria?

Joshua M. Landis: National identity is an important factor in shaping Syrian foreign policy as it is for most states. Syria has been growing into its borders that were imposed on it by France and Britain following WWI. Damascus has normalized relations with most neighbors and settled most border disputes. Most notably, this is the case with Turkey. By traveling to Ankara in 2004, Bashar al-Assad indicated that Syria was willing to bow to Turkey’s 1939 annexation of Sanjak of Iskanderoun, or the Vilayet of Hatay in order to build good relations. All the same, it would be a mistake to suggest that Syria has abandoned Arabism for Syrianism. It has not. The constitution and laws of Syria enshrine its Arab identity, Syria’s Kurds and ethnic minorities are compelled to embrace the majority Arab identity despite their protests and preference for a uniquely Syrian identity. Moreover, the government continues to use Arabism to justify its foreign policy interests in the neighborhood.

ORSAM: After the initial years that Bashar Assad’s leadership capabilities were questioned, he is showing a leader profile that has strengthened his situation both inside and outside. Syria seems to overcome the period of isolation and pressure started with President Bush. How do you evaluate Bashar Assad period Syrian foreign policy?

Joshua M. Landis: Assad has been very successful in frustrating US and Israeli ambitions in the region. The Bush administration sought to force Damascus to reverse its foreign policy ambitions and “flip” from being an ally of Iran to embracing Washington’s interests. Turkey has been crucial in enabling Assad’s foreign policy successes in Iraq and toward Israel. Ankara refused to fall in step with President Bush’s policy of isolating Damascus and punishing it with economic sanctions. Turkey’s independent policy has earned it great admiration and gratitude in Syria. Despite Washington’s determined effort to drive Syria from Lebanon and destroy Hizbullah, Damascus remains the predominant power in Beirut and the Shiite militia has grown in strength.

ORSAM: How do you evaluate Bashar Assad’s policy towards Israel in the first decade of his presidency? Direct peace talks between Israel and Palestinians started and George Mitchell told that they are trying to engage Syria. What do you predict about Syrian-Israeli relations in the upcoming decade?

Joshua M. Landis: Israeli-Syrian relations have been largely determined by the balance of power between the two countries. Israel remains a regional super power and Syria’s military capabilities are limited. This means that Jerusalem can ignore Syrian demands and avoid accepting the Arab Peace Initiative put forward in 2002. All the same, Israel has failed to destroy Hizbullah and Hamas and has failed to dissuade Russian and Iran from selling arms to Damascus, which means that Syria retains some leverage in its relations with Israel. Syria is unlikely to abandon its claim to the Golan, support for Palestinians resistance and enmity to Israel.

ORSAM: Bashar Assad recently said “the prospects of war and confrontation are increasing”. How do you evaluate war rhetoric of Bashar Assad? What is the reason of these frequent war discourses in the Middle East?

Joshua M. Landis: Assad is determined to resist Israeli expansion as he is determined to improve Syria’s weaponry. This is likely to provoke Israeli preemtive military retribution. Israel’s 2006 war with Hizbullah, 2007 bombing of Syria’s nuclear facility, and 2009 bombing of Gaza were short wars designed to keep its enemies weak and plient. So long as Syria refuses to accept Israel’s claim to the Golan and settlement expansion, there is every reason to believe that Jerusalem will continue to pursue its policy of periodic military strikes.

ORSAM: What can you say about the withdrawal of the US from Iraq? Considering the effect of Iraqi war, how will this new term affect Syria?

Joshua M. Landis: Syria is enthusiastic about the US withdrawal from Iraq and hopes for the formation of a new government in Baghdad that will pursue improved economic relations with Syria.

ORSAM: How should we read the recent visit of King Abdullah and Bashar Assad to Beirut? What are the possible implications of this visit in terms of the future of Lebanon?

Joshua M. Landis: Syria and Saudi Arabia have patched up their relations, which deteriorated badly during the Bush administration. Lebanon was their main point of conflict, but both countries seem to have put this difference behind them. Syria has reasserted its political primacy in Lebanon, and Saudi authorities have accepted this Syrian leadership, but have retained a leading position in the Lebanese economy. In short, Syrian-Saudi relations have returned to what they were before President Bush invaded Iraq with the object of transforming the Greater Middle East and wrestling Lebanon from Syria’s sphere of influence.

ORSAM: Lebanon Special Tribunal will soon declare its indictment regarding Hariri murder. Probably Hezbollah will be claimed to be affiliated with the murder. Within this framework, firstly, previously the target in the indictments was Syria. What does it mean that the target turned into Hezbollah, should it be understood as natural development of the investigation or as a policy change? Secondly, how will the declaration of the indictment affect the political and security situation in Lebanon?

The Tribunal’s indictments will probably not be politically explosive. Even though the Special Tribunal was originally established by the US to further its political objectives in the region and to eliminating Syrian influence in Lebanon, those objectives have largely been abandoned. Renewed Saudi-Syrian cooperation and the survival of Lebanon’s national unity government suggest that regional powers are cooperating to make sure that the indictments will not change the communal balance of power in Lebanon.

ORSAM: You lived many years in Syria. What can you say about developing Turkey-Syrian relations? How is perception of Turkey in Syria? Do you see this cooperation as permanent or a temporary convergence of interests? What do the developing ties mean for the Middle East?

Joshua M. Landis: Syria’s improved relations with Turkey is the center-piece to Bashar al-Assad’s new Foreign Policy. President Assad has called his strategy the Five Seas Plan. It is an attempt to maximize Syria’s geographical position as the link for oil, gas and transportation between the the Arabian, Mediterranean, Caspian, Black and Red Seas.

Interestingly enough Turkey has played an important role in Assad’s development of this vision. Just as Syria has begun to replicate Turkey’s “zero problems” foreign policy, it has also borrowed heavily from Turkey’s economic vision of itself as the link between Europe and Asia. Assad first began to develop his plan in 2004 during his early visits to Istanbul. He spoke with the Turks about developing the infrastructure to turn Syria into the transport hub for oil, gas and electrical power. Syria would link Turkey to Africa and the Arab world. Iraq was in a shambles and unsafe, leaving Syria the only route through the Middle East. In May 2009, when President Assad traveled to Vienna and Greece, he continued to push the five seas plan to European investors.

In June of 2010, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan laid the groundwork for a “Free Trade Zone” that does away with visa requirements and tariffs. Syria hopes that Iraq and ultimately Iran will be brought into this agreement. Syria has already eliminated visa requirements for Iranians. Syria has recently opened a gas pipeline that connects Egypt to Turkey. It has plans to rebuild the oil pipeline that connects Kirkuk in Iraq to the Mediterranean coast, which is the most direct and least expensive way to get Iraq’s northern oil to market. Assad has spoken of the need to generate investments worth $77bn from the private sector over the next five years in order to build up Syria’s infrastructure turn his vision into reality. If Syria can attract these investments and preserve stability it will be well on its way to breaking out of its economic stagnation. Improving economic, military, and cultural relations with Turkey are key to Syria’s plans. Turkey’s prime minister has spoken his country’s special relationship with Syria as a model for the relations he hopes to develop with other countries in the region. Every indication seems to point toward a permanent improvement in Syrian-Turkish relations.

*This interview was conducted on 6 September 2010 by ORSAM Middle East Research Assistant Selen Tonkuş Kareem.

Comments (17)


1. majedkhaldoun said:

Two issues
1) Iraq is point of contention between Syria and Iran
Syria must win Iraq back.
Maliki must go,and pro syria iraqi oficials must win
2)The implication that HA and its leader, Nasrallah, is behind Hariri assassination,is absurd,and does not worth a penny,this rumor is initiated by outside sources(outside Lebanon), intended to cause tension in Lebanon,to put pressure on Saad Hariri to abandon the tribunal.

maliki must go

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September 22nd, 2010, 12:18 pm

 

2. why-discuss said:

Majedkhaldoun

It appears that Iran and the US are agreeing with each other to keep Malaki, for once that they agree on anything! Malaki is here to stay and he is mending his relationship with Syria. He will probably share power with Alawi in a way or another. It is a Shia triumph in Iraq.

US and Iran favour Maliki as Iraq PM six months after polls
by Assad Abboud Assad Abboud – Tue Sep 7, 12:43 pm ET

BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has the backing of Washington and US arch-foe Iran to keep his job, six months after he narrowly lost an election to ex-premier Iyad Allawi, politicians said Tuesday.

The United States has consistently denied having any favoured candidate for the premiership but amid growing impatience for a new government in Baghdad it now sees Maliki as the conflict-wracked country’s only viable leader.

A grave fear that Allawi will “re-Baathify” Iraq, bringing former allies of Saddam Hussein back to power, has also led its Shiite parties, with close ties to Iran, to accept Maliki, despite scepticism about his character and ability.

Maliki’s State of Law Alliance, a Shiite grouping, gained two fewer seats in the election than Iraqiya, a broadly secular coalition with strong Sunni backing led by Allawi, a Shiite.

But neither man has managed to gain a working parliamentary majority despite months of coalition negotiations, leaving the nation’s politics in limbo amid growing public frustration at the lack of progress.

There have been 56 national elections or referendums worldwide, according to IFES (the International Foundation for Electoral Systems), since Iraqis voted in the parliamentary poll on March 7.

The impasse has led US officials, anxious to avoid further delays that could potentially cause Iraq’s fledgling democracy to unravel, to seek a Maliki-led government that gives a prominent role to Allawi.

A senior State of Law official said Maliki received assurances during US Vice President Joe Biden’s recent visit that major neighbouring Arab countries, except Saudi Arabia, had decided to stop backing Allawi’s premiership hopes.

“Maliki was quoting Biden as saying, ‘Iraqiya has many problems and complexities… I told Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Qatar and United Arab Emirates to end their support for Allawi,’” the official said Biden told Maliki.

“‘They were all convinced except Saudi Arabia,’” he quoted the vice president as saying.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday ended a visit to Qatar, after which its emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, travelled to Saudi Arabia, reputedly carrying a message to ask the kingdom to end its support for Allawi.

The complex arithmetic of securing 163 seats for a parliamentary majority, and the cabinet posts that will follow as a result, has also left Iraq’s Kurds and the ultra-Shiite Sadrist bloc willing to accept Maliki.

Kurdish regional president Massud Barzani “informed Allawi of his support for Maliki,” the State of Law official said, in a move that would deprive Allawi of the Kurdish bloc’s 57 seats, making it impossible for him to secure a majority.

The Sadrists, who have previously voiced stern objections to Maliki serving a second term, also appear to have been appeased.

“We will deal with Nuri al-Maliki as prime minister if he wins the position in the government for the second time,” prominent Sadrist MP Bahaa al-Aaraji told AFP.

“The problem of the Sadr movement with Maliki was not personal, but relates to his poor performance during the past four years.”

The United States and other Western nations have consistently said since the election that they have no preference on who becomes prime minister.

But in recent months their delicate diplomatic dance has led to Maliki.

“He is well aware that he is not a shoo-in to be prime minister… but he is reaching out,” said a Western diplomat, appearing to concede that Maliki had US support and referring to the incumbent’s willingness to try and build bridges with rival blocs.

But he added: “We would like to see an important role for Iyad Allawi… he is a very competent guy and people like that are rare anywhere.”

Allawi, however, still appears reluctant to accept anything less than the top job, according to the Western official.

“Right now his primary interest is in becoming prime minister,” he said, noting that the US had great respect for Allawi but cautioning that Iraq’s complex mix of Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish interests had worked against him.

“There are some people who remember his service to his country, but those same people cannot see any likely scenario” where he would become premier, the official added.

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September 22nd, 2010, 1:56 pm

 

3. LeoLeoni said:

Majid,

1. Given the past and current good relations between Iran and Syria, why do you assume that it’s dangerous for Syria that Iraq becomes close to Iran?

2. Malki recently tried to mend relations between his government and Syria. According to Syrian PM who engaged in a telephone conversation with AlMalki that the issues of the past are over. An Iraqi delegation representing the Iraqi government and Malki’s party was sent to Syria to normalize relations. Why should Syria refuse to mend the relations?

3. You said “Malki must go”. How do you expect this should happen? Are you saying that it’s okay for Syria to meddle in the internal Iraqi affairs? If so, then why is NOT okay for other countries to meddle in their affairs or even our affairs? Shouldn’t Syria take a neutral position with regards to who Iraqis decide to govern since it is the interest of any party that wins in Iraq to have a close relation with Syria?

A neutral approach would lend us more credibility in this situation. After all, if we put all our eggs in one basket (backing up another candidate or party) and then Malki or his party govern agian, we would be in a very unfavorable situation.

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September 22nd, 2010, 2:11 pm

 

4. Observer said:

It is amazing that both Lebanon and Iraq are courting Damascus and that the influence of Syria in both countries is growing rather than diminishing.

There is an atmosphere that the present US administration is flailing in the wind. To cover the debacle in Iraq and to withdraw with a modicum of respect there is an attempt to revive the ME talks. It is clear that Abbas caved in and had caved in a few years ago, therefore, Israel will dictate to him the terms and he will be fully incapable of implementing anything. He will remain meeting dignitaries and talking to himself. Facts on the ground will drive the one state solution soon.

In AfPak, things are not going well. The Woodward book is about to show that the prospects of a win there is dim. Like Jumblat Karzai has a nose for shifting alliances and power struggles and he is in the process of dumping India and the US for the Pak ISI and the Taliban. He knows what happened after the soviets left.

In the world China is winning the alternative energy race, and in this country the division of the population and the parties themselves is the worst that I have seen since 1980. The country is drifting without a clear sense of purpose and mission. The talk of the freedom agenda is sounding ever more hollow and the difference between hard and soft power is widening with the decline of both.

In my state several towns are mulling cutting street lighting to save money. The population is resisting both these measures and the raising of taxes. This is amazing as we are spending 100 billion dollars a year to deny 100 Al Qaeda operatives from staying in Afghanistan.

Collapse is coming sooner than you think

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September 22nd, 2010, 2:41 pm

 

5. EHSANI2 said:

Observer,

“Collapse”? of/in what?

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September 22nd, 2010, 3:56 pm

 

6. majedkhaldoun said:

Leolioni
It is not dangerous to Syria , it is advantageous to Syria to have pro Syria goverment in Iraq,economically,politically ,and for security reason.
The best way to get rid of Maliki is to expose him politically

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September 22nd, 2010, 6:15 pm

 

7. Norman said:

Relation between states are not dependent of personalities but on Economic and security cooperation and Syria proved in Lebanon that she is more pragmatics than many , the forgiveness that she gave Hariri , Jumblatt and Aon after all they put Syria through after she got the upper hand in Lebanon , what is important to Syria is a stable Iraq that all Iraqis can call home and feel part of ,that is stable and secure and not a base for disrupting Syria , Syria will forgive Al Maliki if he involves all Iraqis in his government and stop blaming Syria for his shortcoming and work with Syria to stabilize Iraq and improve economic cooperation ,

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September 22nd, 2010, 11:11 pm

 

8. why-discuss said:

Norman

Maliki will accept any compromise and make any promises to stay in power! The question is if he is going to keep his promises and stop blaming Syria for all the wrong things that will surely happen in Iraq after the withdrawal of the US.

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September 22nd, 2010, 11:49 pm

 

9. Norman said:

WD ,
If he is smart and that i think he is ,

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September 23rd, 2010, 7:35 am

 

10. idaf said:

“National identity is an important factor in shaping Syrian foreign policy as it is for most states. Syria has been growing into its borders that were imposed on it by France and Britain following WWI.”

Very true Joshua. The influence of Syrianism did increase in Syrian foreign policy, maybe not on the expense of Arabism as you rightly imply. This focus on Syrianism is a cornerstone in the efforts to regain the Golan under Bashar. One of the welcome outcomes of this is the strengthening of Syrian identity among Syrian Jolanis themselves (see article below). A very recent massive and historic visit by Jolani Druze leaders to Syria is another case in point.

The changing generations of Syrians in Israel
By BENJAMIN JOFFE-WALT / THE MEDIA LINE
09/23/2010 09:26
http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=188999

On the foothills of the Hermon, one finds a border community much more complex than meets the eye.

The drive to Majdal Shams, the center of Druze life in the Golan Heights, is aesthetically spectacular.

An expansive town on the rolling foothills of Mount Hermon, the view from Majdal Shams is full of green: apple and cherry orchards; expansive vineyards; Israeli army outposts; and grazing sheep.

RELATED:
Outrage continues in Madjal Shams

“On the other side of this mountain is Lebanon – here we are in Occupied Syria and down there is Palestine,” says 68-year-old retiree Abu Jabal Hayil Hussein. “They offered us Israeli citizenship and we refused, so we are considered temporary residents with Syrian citizenship. I am Syrian, I was born in Syria and I want to continue to be Syrian.”

While Majdal Shams has been on the Israeli side of the de facto border between Israel and Syria for over 40 years, one is hard pressed to find someone in Majdal Shams who has something nice to say about Israel.

“Israel is a thief,” says Abu Jabal. “Israel is not serious about peace. We are Syrian Arabs under occupation and this situation can’t continue.”

Majdal Shams, the village featured in the award-winning 2004 film The Syrian Bride, is the largest of four remaining Druze villages in the Golan Heights: a lush, mountainous region in Israel’s northwest captured from Syria during the 1967 war. The rest of the Druze villages that existed before the war have been destroyed, or taken over by Jewish Israeli villages like Neve Ativ, just a couple miles down the road.

“I was there when they built it,” says Dr. Nissar Ayoub, Director of the Majdal Shams-based human rights organization Al Marsad. “It was built on part of the cemetary of a Syrian village called Jubatha Izzeit. You could see bones in the bulldozers.”

Indeed, on the northern side of a small resort called Rimonim that is located inside of Neve Ativ, one finds an overgrown Arab cemetary just beyond the pool.

“More than 95 per cent of the population in the Golan was forcibly transferred out,” Dr. Ayoub claims. “If Israel hadn’t ethnically cleansed the Golan, instead of having half a million refugees in Syria you would still have them in the Golan and the same problem as the Palestinians.”

There were some 150,000 Druze residents of the Golan Heights in 1967. Today, the vast majority of the 18,000 or so that remain refuse Israeli citizenship.

“Israel has a security problem,” says Salman Sakheraldeen, coordinator of Al Marsad. “It’s a settlement on someone’s land and you can’t live quietly in such a situation.”

The center of Druze life in the region, Majdal Shams residents hold Syrian citizenship, often go to Syria for university studies, and consider the Golan Heights to be illegally occupied territory.

“The Israelis who settled in the Golan will have to leave and it will be the Israeli government’s responsibility,” says Hussein. “Some of us work with them in agriculture but there is no friendship beyond work relations.”

About half of the village’s income comes from labor for Jewish Israelis. But residents claim that despite amicable relations with their Jewish neighbors, Israeli authorities treat them like second class citizens.

“We built the roads, the schools, the water system,” says Sakheraldeen. “We pay local taxes but in return they just collect the trash and fix the roads once in a while.”

“If the police are angry with the village they put checkpoints on the outskirts of the village and give people tickets,” adds Hussein.

The village is still reeling from an incident earlier this summer in which Israeli special forces raided the home of a local family.

“My son Anas and I were home when the police came with a search warrant,” says Muna Al-Sha’ar, sitting beside her 15-year-old son Anas. “They said forced their way in and locked the door. There were nineteen of them and then another three joined.”

“They made a huge mess and beat up my son,” she alleges. “The phone rang and when Anas tried to answer it they smashed it and threw all the cables on the floor. They were drinking our water and breaking the glasses and they smashed all the lamps on the wall. They even stole our two computers and stole two cellphones.”

“Then we started hearing firing outside and they closed all the windows,” Muna remembers. “If you use water with tear gas it burns your face so my son heard them telling each other in Hebrew not to touch the water. Then they told us to wash our faces.”

The incident caused an impromptu mass protest outside the family’s home. The police accused the crowd of imprisoning them in the house, while village leaders accused the police of unjustified aggression. Indeed, a police commander in the nearby Israeli town of Katzrin is said to have criticized the special forces for the way they handled the case.

“They accused us of a relationship with the Syrian security services,” Muna says. “My former neighbor Midhat Saleih went to Syria and became a parliamentarian. I am still in touch with him. My son was studying in Damascus and knew him.”

Muna’s son Fida was arrested the same day at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport upon returning from overseas. Muna, her husband, daughter and other son were all jailed by the police. Fida and his father remain in prison, and the family now has no income.

“It’s Israeli paranoia,” says Sakheraldeen of the raids. “Today for Israel, any Arab person is suspicious. It’s just cheap hate.”

The Al Sha’aer family’s story mirrors those of many village residents, who claim Israeli police regularly accuse locals of being spies for Syria, or cooperating in some way or another with Syrian intelligence.

“We are not spies and we are not a Syrian investigative unit,” Hussein says.

There are many stories in Majdal Shams of people allegedly being arrested for just going to a demonstration.

“My crime was the same as everyone else: we protested,” says a man named Busaid, who asked that his family name not be printed. “There was no violence on the side of the protesters yet they arrested eighteen of us for six months. Hundreds of people in this village have been arrested for participating in demonstrations over the years. Our only crime is having an opinion.”

But while Busaid claims to have been arrested for simply sticking to his opinion, others admit to taking their opinions much further.

Last month the village held a large march to mark the 26th anniversary of the imprisonment of Sudqi Almakit, who has spent over half his life in an Israeli prison.

“We were a group of twelve arrested, and we were all sentenced to 27 years for militant resistance to the occupation,” says 45-year-old Bishir Suleiman Almakit, who was arrested along with his brother Sudqi 26 years ago. “It was for an action against the army – I don’t want to get into it, but my brother is the only one left in prison.”

But after a bit of pushing, Bishir, who was released last year, admits he and his brother were involved in militant activities.

“We stole mines from the army’s ammunitions depots and mined the army roads,” he says. “The purpose wasn’t to kill a specific person, the purpose was to fight the occuptation and in a war soldiers die.”

“Did anyone die?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” he answers. “They didn’t tell us.”

But spend more than a day in this expanding Druze community and one finds a bit less talk of occupation, police brutality and colonialist hegemony, and more talk of designer jeans, the best place to get a macchiato, Israel’s top universities and money.

“I’m not a political person, all I can say is it’s fine living here,” says Ihab Zahoa, a 29 year old car assessment agent. “There’s no big money here but it’s like anywhere in the world – you can do whatever you want as long as you stay away from the country’s security. If you don’t make trouble nobody will bother you.”

“I don’t feel like I want to be in Syria because I was never there,” he says. “I was born in Israel so I cannot tell you if Syria is a better place or not, but the elders have seen both countries and they say Syria is better so that’s why they are demonstrating.”

“The only problem is I can’t see my family and I miss them,” Ihab continues. “All my aunts and cousins – I don’t know them – so I just want peace and the ability to go there when I want and to be here when I want.”

While Israel grants special permission to some 150 to 200 residents of Majdal Shams to study in Syria each year, family unification, or the ability of Majdal Shams families to meet their relatives on the other side of what is for them an artificial border, is a major local issue.

For decades families would meet once a week and shout to each other through megaphones at the ‘Valley of Tears’, a depression between two opposing hills known by Israel as ‘The Shouting Hill’. Today cellphones, Internet and family reunions in Jordan or Turkey have taken over, and the Valley of Tears is only used for the occasional joint protest.

“Why is the border open to Palestinians who have been in prison to visit Lebanon, Amman, Iran, wherever they want, yet peaceful people like us are not allowed to go see our families in Syria?” asks Dr. Ayoub. “We are trying to pressure the Israeli government and we believe that if we can meet the decision-makers we can change the procedures.”

Aneel Khanjar, a 35-year-old gardener, says the issues of concern to Majdal Shams residents are changing.

“About 10 or 15 years ago there were real clashes between the village and police, but today people view resistance to the occupation differently,” he begins. “We don’t see much point in fighting the police. Why do I need to worry about getting arrested?”

“We are more interested in working, making money, and leaving the bigger fight to Syria, which can represent us,” he says. “You’ll still see young people fighting but only if they are threatened like the incident with the Al Sha’aer family. Why send 20 special forces agents to confiscate two computers? It just makes people feel threatened and the second the neighbors asked the police what they were doing they started with the tear gas.”

Aneel speaks perfect Hebrew and is working towards a degree in landscape design at a Jewish college nearby.

“My generation still has a problem with the [Israeli] state, but not the people,” he says. “There are lots of us that study in Jewish universities, and I have no problem with a Jewish person – I will respect them, host them — I even dated a Jewish woman.”

“Her parents were against it and I didn’t even tell my parents,” Aneel continues. “People here don’t like it if someone marries a Jew, or Christian or Muslim, and they kick them out of the village. The religious control this village. I’m against it, but this is not a political issue, it’s a religious issue about marrying out of the Druze.”

Sitting in a chi chi local cafe, which doubles as an art gallery, Aneel says that on the whole Majdal Shams is changing for the better.

“Economically, we are well off relative to the other villages in the area,” he says. “People here are not lazy. The percentage of people here with an academic degree is very high – something like 70 percent of the people go straight to university after high school – and there are some 300 dentists and over 100 doctors.”

“The women you see in this cafe, they would never dress that way 5 or 10 years ago,” he continues, pointing to a number of women in modern Arab dress and without a hijab covering their head. “These days, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who has nothing to do. We have a cinema, a music school, an art gallery coffee house, a youth art association and we just finished a sculpture festival.”

He takes a sip of water, looks out over the mountainside view and heads out onto the street, walking past a Diesel Jeans shop, fancy cars and a number of signs for upcoming demonstrations.

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September 23rd, 2010, 8:12 am

 

11. 5 dancing shlomos said:

posting a syrian’s comment on syria comment:

http://www.counterpunch.org/shaaban09212010.html

(bouthania shaaban)

hope link works

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September 23rd, 2010, 9:39 am

 

12. 5 dancing shlomos said:

2 paragraphs from bouthaina shaaban’s article above:

What is worrying about this is conditions in the Arab world whose status is reflected in all scientific and research indicators, including those on reading and publishing. The Arabic language has seen a frightening retreat under the aegis of Arab ministries of education as a result of the concept promoted by our enemies that their language is the language of science and knowledge, and that the language of the Koran cannot assimilate modern sciences. I know of no other nation whose children are taught in private schools and universities in a language not their own. Here the problem starts when we become passive recipients of knowledge and scientific production. It follows that we become passive inn the political, cultural and human arenas. Some of us even become parrots repeating Western phrases of hatred against Arabs.

The more serious problem is that, we, Arabs, have become recipients of Western systems when it comes to our causes and interests. Malaysia has provided a good model for democracy as a Muslim country. So has Turkey. When an Arab or Muslim country provides an illuminating experience to the world, it is usually talked about aside from its Muslim identity, and without any link between it and the civilization of Islam or the region.

from me: some arabs even think they are not arabs but french or english or superior to arabs. that arabs are somehow inferior. they have absorbed western and jewish propaganda and have become dogs a la abbas and a few poodles in lebanon

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September 23rd, 2010, 10:02 am

 

13. 5 dancing shlomos said:

aafia siddiqui, sentenced by u.s. jury to 86 yrs: justice in america. and old glory gloryfiers consider themselves to be innocent and way superior to govt of syria.

amurderka the abomination:

streets paved with gold for: the swindlers, the connected.

streets paved with the bodies of: the unconnected, the disliked.

illusions:

Managed Misconceptions
By JAMES ROTHENBERG(fr counterpunch.org)

Labeling something as a misconception assumes a burden of proof. The acceptance of the proof that something is indeed a misconception is dependent on the number of people desiring the proof. This is not always apparent.

For example, one may hold a belief that nobody has ever walked on the surface of the moon, and another may call this a misconception. To bring the non-believer around, the believer may offer detailed specifics of rocketry capability, launch and pick-up data, and surviving video of suited astronauts prancing light-footedly over a lunar landscape.

The rigid non-believer will always be able to find this type of persuasion unconvincing: rocket capabilities as too abstract, launch and pick-up as so much sophistry, and video evidence technical trickery.

This would result in a stalemate were it not for one thing. An overwhelming number believe it as fact and not just because they believe their own eyes, but because it has been thoroughly infused into habit of thought by its continued reference as being factual by respected opinion. Thus it is generally considered to be a misconception leastly because doubters were convinced but owing to the sheer weight of the opposition.

The degree of stubbornness of a misconception is proportional to the amount that it has been infused into habitual thought, which in turn is proportional to the amount it is supported by respected opinion.

Quickly examining two of our most persistent, national misconceptions will reveal the inadequacy of bare facts when set against a dominant, propaganda producing entity, in this case the US Government together with its supporting cast.

Misconception Number 1 is that we have a functioning democracy due to our form of representative government, and that the political system works equally well for all citizens. There is scant evidence for this. There is abundant evidence that the two major political parties are completely absorbed in self-perpetuation and to this extent serve the interests of a narrow sector of powerful elites and corporate structures that fund and, therefore, control them.

The citizen is encouraged to believe that the successes of giant, multi-national corporations are part of what makes America great. Even the stunning achievements of the capitalist system like outsourcing, plant shutdowns, mass layoffs, forced relocations, environmental degradation, staggering healthcare costs, decreased competition, and ever-escalating wealth and income disparities do not diminish enthusiasm for our two political parties that are wedded to this economic system.

There are some signs of backlash against the political system, popularly summed in slogan form as “Just Vote Them Out”. And then what? Leave the slogan up? Both major parties are inherently corrupt because their fate is tied not to the general public but to the narrow interests they serve.

Necessarily the powerless desire change. It is well to recognize that change is not in the best interest of the wealthy and powerful. The explanatory power of this recognition makes present day circumstances intelligible.

This speaks to something that dares not speak its name. Class warfare. It’s a third rail for political aspirants because it undermines the carefully prepared myth that we are all equals under our political system, that we are all one class. This is a great illusion, although a persistent one.

Misconception Number 2 is that our military defends the country, implying all the people in it. Equally. War is an economic question, and going to war is an economic decision by the stakeholder class. It is the greatest psychological trick ever played on great mankind to convince the masses that someone who has died for economic expansion has died for country. It is also the most cynical as the true motivation for war must be skillfully cloaked by an appeal to that which our organism will instinctively react to. Self-defense.

We defend ourselves from other people by fighting them in their countries. The count is alarming. The illogic even more so. All one has to do is picture the opposite, say Russians defending themselves by invading us, to spot the fallacy.

How did our war criminals get away with it? In attacking Iraq both US and international law was broken. This is quite straightforward. It was a violation of Articles 41 and 42 of the UN Charter, a treaty ratified by the US Senate in 1945 thereby becoming, in accordance with Article 6 of the Constitution, the supreme law of the land. Without first engaging in collective measures with other member states of the UN or gaining the prior assent of the UN Security Council, a war of aggression was waged against a sovereign nation.

This is incontrovertible. Even the criminals would have to admit as much. Where they got around things was appealing to (and expanding) UN Charter Article 51 dealing with self-defense, although there are two glaring catches.

First, Article 51 begins, “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations…” (emphasis added). Enough said.

The second catch is that any remaining claim of legitimate self-defense went out the window when the claims about Iraq posing an imminent threat to the United States were revealed as lies. At that point everything resets to the incontrovertible breaking of US law. The war criminals got away with it and, from the point of view of the arid and sanctimonious state, the nation’s honor was saved.

Young men and women are duped into believing that their heroics are preserving the nation’s freedom. This manipulation can be terminal. For this reason utmost care must be taken to insure that the sensibilities of a trained, patriotic public are not offended. Crass descriptions of war as dollar profit and loss must be replaced with comforting, exploitable allusions to high ideals.

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September 24th, 2010, 8:26 am

 

14. 5 dancing shlomos said:

definitely a typo. reporter meant syria not virginia, usa:

Virginia executes mentally disabled woman
Press TV – September 23, 2010
Teresa Lewis, a grandmother diagnosed with borderline mental retardation, will be the first woman executed in the state of Virginia in almost a century.

The state of Virginia will move forward with execution of Lewis, 41, by lethal injection at 9 p.m. local time.

Lewis was convicted for masterminding the murder of her husband and stepson in 2002 in order to get their insurance money.

But questions have been raised regarding Lewis’ capability to have masterminded the double murder, with her lawyer pointing out that she has an IQ of about 70, which places her on the borderline of mentally incompetent, reports say.

Additionally, the two gunmen who committed the murders received life imprisonment while Lewis received the death penalty.

Moreover, one of the gunmen, Matthew Shallenberger, had confessed to the crime, stating that he had masterminded the murders and manipulated Lewis. He eventually committed suicide in prison three years after being convicted.

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September 24th, 2010, 11:51 am

 

15. majedkhaldoun said:

Leo lioni’
I do not think that supporting Allawi against Maliki is interfering in Iraq Affairs, USA and Iran both supporting Maliki,if they do this we should have the right to support Allawi, whoever trust Maliki is Naive and fool.
Relations between Syria and Iran will not deteriorate,since they have good relations now,and Iran will continue to need Syria,fo HA cause and because of the presence of Holy sites in Iraq and Syria.
Syria and Iraq has common rivers Euphrate and Tigris, and whoever control water should easily control the oil in the south.Oil is great Asset and since Iraq has small port,it is better to transport it to Syrian coast.
It is time to reap the fruits of American misadventure in Iraq.Iraq is going to go through shocking violence,the past will be nothing compare to what will happen,Iraq is vulnerable,with the help of KSA and Turkey,Syria should makes it move in the Appopiate time.

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September 24th, 2010, 12:13 pm

 

16. Badr said:

“5 dancing shlomos”,

Can you mention any shortcoming of the Syrian state/society, that is the fault of only the Syrians themselves?

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September 24th, 2010, 2:28 pm

 

17. 5 dancing shlomos said:

badr @16,

best i can tell syria does the best it can with amurderka, europe, world jewry threatening with a sword while standing on syria’s neck.

what are the shortcomings of afgan? how is this addressed without looking at the enormous interferences by so many countries over many years.

for each shortcoming in the syrian state/society, 100 can be found in america.

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September 24th, 2010, 8:15 pm

 

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