News Roundup (28 February 2008)

Analysis by Joshua Landis: 

Is the Bush administration serious about Syria? Or is it just baring its teeth in a final show of strength for its allies before it bows out?

The U.S. Navy is sending three ships to the eastern Mediterranean Sea to show its strength to Syria over Lebanon. The US has also announced that it is sanctioning an additional four Syrians for "helping with the flow of money, weapons, terrorists and other resources from Syria into Iraq." The US and Israel have kept up a steady drum beat of pressure on Syria over the Lebanon presidency. Beginning with the Israeli bombing of a military facility along the Euphrates, the imposition of sanctions against Syrians undermining democracy in Lebanon, against those engaged in public corruption, and just today against those "helping terrorists into Iraq." We must not forget the car bomb that dispatched Mughniya. Now we have US navy vessels tacking towards Tartus. 

What are we to make of this? Could it be that Washington has finally decided to take its gloves off? Is it prepared for regime change?

I think we have to conclude that it has no such power or resolve. The Bush administration is furious over the Lebanon debacle. It has failed to convince or cajole Syria and the Lebanese opposition into relinquishing control of the country despite bombast about the "freedom agenda," "new realities," and forcing Bashar into a "Qadhafi-like about face."

Some may even be tempted to think that Washington is displacing its anger – and is preparing to smite Syria because it cannot dispatch Iran. But this is also fanciful. Washington is in no position to pluck even the "low hanging fruit" of Damascus. It has had its one chance at regime change. There is no well thought out endgame to these threats.

Bush is bluffing; the administration is full of sound a furry. It will do what additional harm it can to Damascus through further sanctions and perhaps even by launching a further military strike or two, aimed at a mujahidiin safe-house or some other target of opportunity, but it will be bluster. Most valuable to this administration, as it marks time time before making its exit, is reassuring allies and believers that it remained true to its core values. It fought the good fight to the last. It will pray that the International Tribunal will force Syria into a corner and into defying summonses. It will hope that it has laid enough landmines in Syria's path that one day, perhaps when Asad least expects it, the regime will explode.
This is a far fetched scenario. In all likelihood, Damascus will take its revenge. Washington is only ensuring that Damascus' anger will be meaner and more exacting when it finally comes. Talk of compromise has evaporated in the heat of battle.
—-
Both Turkish and Qatari companies have announced that they will disregard US sanctions against President Assad's cousin. "Syria is a brotherly country," announced a Qatari state-owned firm that has major investments with Rami Makhlouf.
Bush Administration announces New sanctions aimed at Syrians By MARTIN CRUTSINGER,  Feb. 28, 2008AP Economics Writer
WASHINGTON — The Bush administration on Thursday announced it was imposing economic sanctions on four individuals it accused of helping with the flow of money, weapons, terrorists and other resources from Syria into Iraq.

It marked the administration's latest attempt to block efforts by groups in Syria from undermining the government of Iraq.

The action will freeze any assets the four individuals have under U.S. jurisdiction and prohibit Americans and U.S. firms from engaging in business transactions with the four men.

"Since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, Syria has become a transit station for al-Qaida foreign terrorists on their way to Iraq," Stuart Levey, the administration's point person on terrorist financing, said in a statement.

Levey, Treasury's undersecretary of terrorism and financial intelligence, said that a network in Syria was "going to great lengths to facilitate the flow through Syria of money, weapons, and terrorists intent on killing U.S. and coalition forces and innocent Iraqis."

A Treasury fact sheet identified the four individuals being targeted for economic sanctions as Badran Turki Hishan al-Mazidih, Ghazy Fezza Hishan al-Mazidih, Akram Turki Hishan al-Mazidih and Saddah Jaylut al-Marsumi. Treasury said each of the four individuals also use other names.

President Bush earlier this month signed an economic order that expanded penalties against senior government officials in Syria and their associates who are judged to have benefited from public corruption.

Last week, Treasury announced that it was freezing any assets held in the United States by Rami Makluf, one of the most powerful and influential businessmen in Syria, who controls the country's mobile phone network as well as other lucrative enterprises. He is also the first cousin of Syrian President Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Gulf firms unveil Syria projects, shrug of sanctions
Wed Feb 27, 2008 3:39pm EST
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

DAMASCUS, Feb 27 (Reuters) – Two large Gulf property companies plan to invest $450 million in Syria as part of their expansion in emerging markets, executives said on Wednesday.

The projects were announced as Washington expanded economic sanctions on Syria to raise pressure on the Damascus government for supporting anti-U.S. groups in the Middle East.

Qatar's state-owned Diar will build a $350 million resort on the Syrian coast while Emaar Properties EMAR.DU of the United Arab Emirates signed for a $100 million venture with Cham Holding, which is controlled by Syrian tycoon Rami Makhlouf, on Wednesday.

Makhlouf, who was personally targeted by the new U.S. sanctions, said the project will have the support of the authorities to reorganize areas where illegal buildings are rampant in the Syrian capital.

"Good housing will be provided for inhabitants of these chaotic areas. Historic sites will be preserved," Makhlouf, who is the cousin of President Bashar al-Assad, told Reuters.

Diar's Chief Executive Officer Ghanim al-Saad said expanded U.S. sanctions on Syria would not delay his company's project on a 244,000 square-meter beachfront plot.

"Syria is a brotherly country," Saad said.

He did not give a start date but said construction would take three years to complete. Diar has issued a tender for building marine works for the resort near the city of Latakia…

Gulf investors have announced a number of megaprojects in Syria in the last three years that have not started as the 2006 Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon and a 2007 strike on Syria has raised the level of political uncertainty in the region.

Emaar laid the foundation stone in June 2006 for a $500 million residential complex near Damascus but construction has not begun. UAE construction company Arabtec was awarded a contract in January of this year to build part of the project.

Investors have also struggled to clear regulations and bureaucratic hurdles in Syria, although the government has relaxed laws restricting private investment and property prices have risen sharply….

Lebanon has been traditionally the primary magnet for Gulf investment in the Middle East, with the late premier Rafik al-Hariri establishing a private company to rebuild the center of Beirut from the 1975-1990 civil war.

But a 15-month political crisis in Lebanon and armed conflict with Israel, as well as a boom in oil prices, have helped turn investors' eyes to real estate projects elsewhere in the region.

Syria tycoon Makhlouf defiant after sanctions
Tue Feb 26, 2008 1:57pm EST
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Syrian tycoon Rami Makhlouf said on Tuesday U.S. sanctions would not stop him expanding his business empire and announced he was in talks to sell a majority stake in Syrian's leading mobile operator Syriatel to Turkish counterpart Turkcell.

"A deal between Turkcell and Syriatel would cement relations between the two countries," Makhlouf told Reuters in an interview.

"I cannot say, however, that we will reach an agreement. The negotiations are ongoing," he said.

"I should thank (U.S.) President George W. Bush because the sanctions have raised the level of my support in Syria. I am no hit and run businessman. My companies employ 6,000 Syrians, mostly young qualified professionals."

Makhlouf, Syria's most powerful businessman said he was considering selling between 51 percent of Syriatel or more. Turkcell said in November it was looking at bidding for a controlling stake.

The 39 year-old executive is the cousin of President Bashar al-Assad. He owns 69 percent of Syriatel. Gulf investors and Syrian shareholders own the rest of the company, which controls HITS-Unitel, a Yemeni cellphone operator.

Members of the Saudi royal family also have a stake in HITS-Unitel.

But Makhlouf's conglomerate, which stretches from telecoms to banks and an airline, does the majority of its business in Syria. He has ventured into heavy industry and property development as local real estate prices spiked.

Makhlouf pointed to a $100 million joint venture between his Cham Holding company and Dubai Emaar Properties due to signed on Wednesday as evidence of an undiminished appetite to do business with companies he has stakes in.

"This venture will develop areas in Damascus that turned chaotic because of illegal housing. We are talking about first-rate urban projects," Makhlouf said.

He said Syria Pearl airline, in which he owns a major stake through Cham Holding, was seeking to buy a fleet of planes made by Canadian company Bombardier.

The airline, in which state-owned Syrianair was granted a 25 percent stake, aims to regain market share lost by the national carrier to foreign airlines.

"Syrianair has six aircraft, which is unacceptable for a country the size of Syria," he said.

Syria's airline sector opened to private companies last year as part of limited economic liberalization measures ordered by Bashar al-Assad.

However sanctions imposed by the United States on Syria in 2004 have undermined efforts by the government to attract investment, although billions of dollars of Gulf capital is estimated to have been committed to projects in Syria in the last few years.

The United States froze the assets of Makhlouf on Thursday under new economic sanctions aimed at stepping up pressure against Damascus, saying Makhlouf benefited from corruption in the Syrian government.

The Treasury Department designated Makhlouf under an expansion of U.S. economic sanctions against Syria announced February 13 by President Bush. The designation freezes Makhlouf's assets under U.S. jurisdiction and forbids U.S. citizens or entities from doing business with him.

Makhlouf said he "did not have a penny" invested in the United States.

Fransabank takes plunge into Syria, plays down effect of US pressure
Chairman says move is 'part of our general expansion policy'
By Osama Habib
Daily Star staff
Thursday, February 28, 2008

BEIRUT: Fransabank on Wednesday became the fifth Lebanese bank to enter Syria, which is endeavoring to break US attempts to isolate the country politically and economically. The announcement came during a press conference in Damascus attended by the chairman of Fransabank, Adnan Kassar, and key government officials and bankers from Syria.

"We hope to start fully operating in Syria in June or July of this year and our goal is to set up branches in all major cities in the country in the coming few years," Kassar told The Daily Star. Fransabank-Syria, which will have a capital of $36 million, will provide all types of retail banking services.

Kassar said 48 percent of the bank would be controlled by Frasabank Lebanon, 1 percent by his brother Adel and the rest would be owned by Syrian partners. He added that the bank had already sold 15 percent of the original 51 percent of shares originally earmarked for Syrian nationals.

"The rest of the 36 percent of the shares will be sold in the Syrian market," Kassar said. BLOM, Audi, Byblos Bank and BEMO have established footholds in the Syrian market in recent years. Kassar said that he was not too concerned by talk of US pressure on Syria.

"We have entered Syria because we saw a good opportunity in this market," he said.

Syrian Economy to Grow at Least 6.5%, Deputy PM Says
By Massoud A. Derhally
Jan. 23 (Bloomberg)

Syria's economic growth will probably accelerate to at least 6.5 percent this year, driven by infrastructure projects and foreign direct investment, the country's deputy prime minister said.

Expansion will quicken from 6.2 percent last year, Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Abdallah Dardari said in a telephone interview from Damascus today.

Foreign direct investment in Syria will increase as much as 4.3 percent to $2.4 billion this year as oil-rich Arab nations put money into real estate, banking and tourism, ignoring U.S. sanctions, Dardari said. The Middle East will have a surplus in trade and services of $327 billion this year, Deutsche Bank AG has estimated, some of which will be invested within the region.

“We will start to see projects that were licensed materialize this year and we are also launching a number of large infrastructure projects, like the development of Damascus Airport, water pipelines from the Euphrates, and refinery projects,'' Dardari said.

Emaar Properties PJSC, the Middle East's largest developer, said in 2005 that will invest $4 billion in real estate projects in Syria. National Bank of Kuwait, the Gulf state's biggest lender by market value, has said it wants to operate a joint venture in the country.

Qatar National Bank SAQ, the Persian Gulf nation's largest lender, also said last year it planned to open a bank in Syria with three partners.

Tourism

The impact of a potential recession in the U.S. will be “rather minimal'' on Syrian growth because of an increase in trade with Turkey, India, Malaysia, China and other Arab nations, Dardari said. The Federal Reserve slashed its key interest rate by three-quarters of a percentage point yesterday to avert a recession.

“We have noticed an increase in the inflow of money,'' into tourism, Dardari said. “We project that Gulf money will focus on that sector.''

The government aims to boost economic growth to 7 percent by 2010 by reducing bureaucracy, easing state controls and attracting more investors, Dardari has said.

“Syria is in a reasonably comfortable position at the moment economically and politically,'' said Caroline Bain, an economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit in London, who forecasts growth of 4.1 percent this year. “It is obviously very reliant on Gulf money because investment from elsewhere is minimal apart from some interest from Asia.''

Here is what Derhally writes only a few days ago.

Syrian Central Bank Chief Says Dropping Dollar Peg Successful
By Massoud A. Derhally

Feb. 21 (Bloomberg) — Syrian Central Bank Governor Adib Mayaleh said his country's moves to attract foreign investment and ts decision to end the currency peg to the dollar have helped  `rop up' the pound.

Foreign currency reserves in Syria, the second Arab country to end its dollar peg, rose 11 percent last year to $20 billion while the pound has appreciated, Mayaleh said in a telephone interview from Damascus today.

“We have about $20 billion in reserves from about $18 billion in 2006,'' he said.

The Syrian pound has strengthened 9.3 percent since the country on June 4 announced that it would follow Kuwait and link the pound to a basket of currencies including the dollar, euro, yen and British pound to curb rising import costs and inflation.

Syria is pressing to attract foreign investment and in January of last year introduced a law allowing foreign investors to own or rent land and take profits out of the country in any currency.

Foreign direct investment in Syria will increase as much as 4.3 percent to $2.4 billion this year as oil-rich Arab nations put money into real estate, banking and tourism, ignoring U.S. sanctions against the country, Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Abdallah Dardari said in an interview on Jan. 23.

Mayaleh said that 10 banks in the Gulf, Lebanon and Jordan have applied to operate in Syria. Economic growth will probably celerate to at least 6.5 percent this year, Dardari said. The government aims to boost economic growth to 7 percent by 2010.

Annual remittances from Syrians living abroad are about $2 billion, Mayaleh said. The ruling Baath Party, which came to power in 1963, began moving toward a market economy in the 1990s, allowing private banks and insurance companies to operate for the first time. The U.S. imposed sanctions on Syria in May 2004, including a ban on trade transactions with the Commercial Bank of Syria, the country's largest bank. The U.S. government has accused Syria of aiding Iraqi militants and pursuing weapons of mass destruction.

A New US Mideast Strategy. But Not Yet (Arabic)

Last summer, Brookings’s Bilal Y. Saab ran an editorial in the Lebanese Al Safir newspaper in which he argued that the next US administration will have a different strategy and approach in the Middle East. He said: “…rarely have more profound changes in American foreign policy been called for in Washington than today. Democratization as the essence of America’s approach in the Middle East has failed, and global respect for American power has dwindled.”Saab then went on to say that “a new US global and regional strategy will however have to wait until G. W. Bush and Dick Cheney are out of office. For those in the Middle East who are betting their money on the assumption that change is near will still have to grapple with one formidable challenge: that of outliving the Bush administration and its unilateral and militant approach to foreign policy.”

Given its timeliness and the impact it has had on the Lebanese political scene, it is worth resurrecting that article.

U.S. shows video of Syrian reactor with possible link to N. Korea 

The United States has presented to South Korea a video of a Syrian nuclear reactor believed to have been built with North Korea's help, a Seoul daily reported Friday.
     Top U.S. nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill showed the video to Kim Byung Kook, senior secretary for foreign and security affairs for President-elect Lee Myung Bak on Wednesday, the Munhwa Ilbo said, quoting an unidentified South Korean government official.

U.S. Urges Monitoring Flow of Nuclear Materials By: Nicholas Kralev | The Washington Times

The United States wants six-nation talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear programs to begin monitoring transfers of nuclear materials and technology from the North to other countries, U.S. officials said yesterday.

Jerusalem-Post

A high-ranking Israeli defense official told The Jerusalem Post that Israel had indications Spain was considering withdrawing its forces from Lebanon. Spanish peacekeepers have come under repeated attacks by terrorist groups in southern Lebanon and in July, six members of the Spanish contingent were killed in an attack on their convoy near the village of el-Hiyam.

The official said that due to the attacks, Spain was under growing pressure to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, in the same way it pulled out of Iraq in 2004 following the Madrid terrorist bombings earlier that year. The official said the outcome of the national elections in Spain next month could determine whether the country would continue to participate in UNIFIL. "There are signs that Spain might be on its way out," one official said. "The combination of the attacks and the political pressure back home makes it difficult to see the country staying in Lebanon past the end of the year."

"Once one country pulls out the rest of the contributors will also start to rethink their participation, and it could ultimately lead to the breakdown of the entire force," the defense official said.

Kuwait Jumps the Queue
20.02.2008, Oxford Business Group
Syria has been having signal success over the past few years in attracting foreign investment, with Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran all making headlines due to the capital they are pouring into the Syrian economy. Though garnering less media coverage, Kuwait is fast becoming one of the main sources of overseas investment in Syria, having just taken over third place on the rankings.

According to the state's official news agency, Kuwaiti investments in Syria now total $6bn, with bilateral trade jumping 30% last year to $350m.

The latest Kuwaiti foray into the Syrian market came with the signing of an agreement on February 11 between Syria's Al Sham Holding Company and three firms from Kuwait – the Al Kharafi Group, the Kuwaiti Syrian Holding Company and the Kuwait Privatisation Project Holding Company.

The partners announced plans to set up a joint company with a capital of $100m to engage in major infrastructure projects in Syria, especially in the energy, electricity and wastewater sectors.

The deal was struck during a visit by Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Al Mohammed Al Ahmad Al Sabah to Damascus, a trip which saw the two countries move to further strengthen trade and financial ties. This included a proposal to establish a joint Syrian-Kuwaiti bank and talk of increasing investments.

Egypt will begin exporting natural gas to Syria next month after the third phase of the giant pipeline project was completed, Syrian Oil Minister Sufian Allaw said Saturday.

Allaw made his comments during a meeting of energy ministers from Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey in Damascus dedicated to discuss the progress in the Arab Gas Pipeline Project.

The project was signed in 2001 to supply Egypt's natural gas to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon for 30 years. The first phase that links Egypt with the Jordanian Red Sea port of Aqaba was finished in 2003 while the second stage linking Aqaba with the town of Rihab north of the Jordanian capital of Amman was completed two years later.

The project's cost more than US$1.2 billion (€809 million) and it will eventually run from the Egyptian Mediterranean city of El-Arish city through Jordan and Syria to the Turkish border with a total length of 1,200 kilometers, (750 miles).

At an Arab League meeting in March in Syria, the leaders plan to reiterate support for an initiative that promised Israel normalization with the 22 members of the league in return for the creation of a Palestinian state.

Israeli officials have dismissed as "a storm in a teacup" reports from Arab League officials that the organization may withdraw its 2002 peace plan unless Israel explicitly accepts the initiative.

Pentagon Aide's Invitations Contradicted U.S. Policy (Husam al Dairi was running the NSF office in DC for a while.)
by Steven Emerson
IPT News
February 4, 2008

At the urging of a subordinate, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England scheduled at least two meetings with foreign emissaries in direct contradiction of U.S. policy at the time. The meetings date back to 2005. They involved a Lebanese ambassador considered a proxy for the Syrian government and a leading member of Syria's Muslim Brotherhood.

U.S. policy at the time was not to engage in talks with either man, because they represent groups with whom the United States was not to communicate. The meetings were organized by England's special assistant for international affairs, Hesham Islam.

An invitation to Muslim Brotherhood official Husam al-Dairi was canceled in late 2005 after a senior State Department official heard about it and insisted it not take place. That official, J. Scott Carpenter, told IPT News he was shocked that such an invitation was issued, let alone that it was done without anyone consulting the State Department.

Carpenter was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs at the time and knew the meeting went against U.S. policy toward the Muslim Brotherhood.

"I said, ‘what are you talking about?'" he remembered in an interview last week. "It was a bad idea."

Without due deliberation, it is easy to send the wrong message "broad and near," Carpenter said. "If something like that were to come up and be blindsided … it's not just a procedural foul up. It could unwittingly create bigger problems for the United States government."

"When you have somebody who has a controversial background," Carpenter added, "you don't want to give the impression that the United States government is standing behind them."

Two discussions should have taken place, he said. One would debate whether the meeting should take place at all. If it was agreed it should, the next question should determine the level of government appropriate to meet someone from the Brotherhood. Deputy Defense Secretary is far too high, Carpenter said.

After Carpenter relayed his concerns to England's office, a staff member called back. She told him it would be "a huge hassle to postpone it" and if that happened, England's office would make it clear this was the result of the State Department "putting its foot down and [saying] the meeting should not take place."

Carpenter said that was fine by him. The episode, including the serendipitous way he learned about it, made him wonder whether other meetings like that took place without State Department consultation, he said.

"When the United States is meeting with dissidents, it is important to know who those dissidents are and what message we send by meeting with them. It is incredibly important that the wrong signal not be sent," Carpenter said.

That may have happened earlier in 2005, when England met with Farid Abboud, a Lebanese ambassador to Washington. Viewed as a proxy for the Syrian government, Abboud was frozen out by U.S. government officials working to isolate Syria, especially as tensions rose following the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The attack is widely suspected of having been orchestrated by Syria.

David Schenker, a former adviser in the Secretary of Defense's office on Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestinian affairs, described Abboud's influence in Washington in an article column published last March in the Weekly Standard. Schenker described Abboud as "unabashedly pro-Syria, pro-Hezbollah" and explained his diplomatic isolation resulted from that perception…

Schenker declined to discuss the controversy in England's office or Hesham Islam. But he confirmed that Islam is the "junior staffer" referenced in his article.

U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who chairs the House Select Committee on Intelligence, said news of the invitations was a cause for concern.

"Al-Mu'allim States Syria Is Willing To Help US Troops," al-Hayat by Ibrahim Hamidi: translation Mideastwire.com

On February 25, the Saudi-owned newspaper Al-Hayat carried the following report by Ibrahim Humaydi: "The day before yesterday, concurring sources have told Al-Hayat that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mu'allim addressed Arab and foreign officials and researchers at a closed forum that was held in Damascus on Friday and Sunday. The sources cited Al-Mu'allim as stating that: "Syria is willing to help US troops make an honourable exit from Iraq," and said that he stressed "the need to set a timetable for building the Iraqi Army and security forces on nationalistic bases and for pulling the multinational forces out of Iraq."

"The forum was organized by the German Korber Foundation, under the chairmanship of former German President Richard von Weizsacker, with the participation of: German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer; Andreas Michaelis, director general for Near and Middle Eastern Affairs at Germany's Federal Foreign Office; and Volker Pritis, head of the German Political Science Association. Al-Hayat was informed that Lodger Siemes, assistant to German Chancellor Angela Merkel for Middle Eastern affairs, turned down the invitation against the background of the Federal Chancery's hard-line position.

"As for the Syrian side, the forum was attended by: Assistant Foreign Minister Abd-al-Fattah Ammurah; Deputy Sulayman Haddad; Syrian Ambassador in Berlin Husayn Imran; and Samir al-Taqi, head of the Damascus Centre for Strategic Studies and his colleagues Sami Mubayyid and Marwan Qablan.

"The sources stated that the forum included an "ideological discussion on achieving security and stability in Iraq." They added that: "some participants talked about an interconnection between the Iraqi, Lebanese, and Palestinian crises, amid disagreement as to whether or not the solutions to these crises also are interconnected."

"Moreover, Al-Hayat was informed that: "On Friday, Syrian Foreign Minister Al-Mu'allim talked about the Syrian stance on the Iraqi crisis, and stressed the need to set a timetable that guarantees the foreign forces an honourable exit from Iraq."

"He added that: "This must coincide with the Iraqi Government building a strong army and security forces on nationalistic rather than sectarian bases, thus encouraging neighbouring states to carry out their duty of supporting Iraq's independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity." Asked about Syria's willingness to help the multinational forces make an "honourable exit" from Iraq, Al-Mu'allim stated: "Yes; Syria is willing to do that."

"Yesterday, well-informed sources told Al-Hayat that: "These forces will not remain for ever, and an honourable departure is the way to restore Iraq's independence and sovereignty." They added that: "This entails national reconciliation based on amending the Constitution, revising the new law that has replaced the De-Ba'thification or Ba'th Eradication Law, and enabling the Iraqis to build the army and security forces on nationalistic rather than sectarian bases. This is in addition to training and equipping these forces in order for them to fill the vacuum that might emerge as a result of the withdrawal of the multinational forces."

"In the meantime, yesterday official sources announced that Al-Mu'allim received Fischer and discussed with him "the achievement of a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East, in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions." He stressed the need "that Europe assumes its role by pushing forward the peace process in the region in a manner that guarantees an end to the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights and all the Arab lands occupied since 1967." The sources added that: "Al-Mu'allim also discussed with Michaelis the reinforcement of mutual relations between both countries in light of the Syrian minister's recent visit to Berlin." – Al-Hayat, United Kingdom

Comments (240)


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201. Naji said:

Shai,
I picked Gaza because this is happening RIGHT NOW, and JUST A FEW MILES DOWN THE ROAD from where you and, for that matter, me are…!!!

If you turn on to AlJazeera(arabic) right now, you will see Mesh’aal giving a speach about the Holocaust in a voice-over to the scene of Gaza burning LIVE…!! …Very dramatic and moving… If you think that this has nothing to do with peace with Syria, you are very unfortunately mistaken my friend…!!

Mesh’aal is speaking from Damascus… and the holocaust image was suggested by a vengeful statement from an Israeli minister, as you know…

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March 1st, 2008, 2:37 pm

 

202. wizart said:

Najjji.

Yesterday you called me mellow! Today I claim credit for mellowing you up from wanting to pick up arms to hopping the jews come out and hugg their Palestinian cousins!

cheers:)

Brother Teressa (I like this Dudette unfortunately she’s dead now.)

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March 1st, 2008, 2:40 pm

 

203. Naji said:

COOLWIZ :)

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March 1st, 2008, 2:44 pm

 

204. norman said:

IC,

I did not mean the people of KSA, Egypt or Jordon , only their leaders who as you must know have no support from their people ,
About God saves the Arabs ,
In a place like the Arab world where there are many ethnic and religious groups , only valuation depending on people’s deeds will improve that part of the world ,
That is my take .

I did not mean to insult anybody but for anybody to think that he is better because of his religion is not acceptable to me .

That reminds me with the Christian fundamentalists who think you have to believe the way they do to go heaven.

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March 1st, 2008, 2:46 pm

 

205. Shai said:

Naji,

Please know that I am not shutting my eyes, or my heart, to what is happening so close to me (and you). It makes me sad, and ashamed, and angry, for all the innocent lives that are lost for so many years, because while certain human beings on this planet are capable of walking on the moon, almost 40 years ago, we still cannot figure out how to live at peace with each other! When I so “calmly” speak of the time not being right for talking to the Palestinians, and instead to the Syrians, it is not because I don’t feel the pain you suffer. It is because unfortunately, Abu Mazen cannot deliver any agreement we may achieve with him. If and when the Palestinians work out their differences, and agree on a single governing body, we will gladly speak with it, if it is willing to speak with us (i.e. if it’s Hamas). Please do not think that I, or many other Israelis, are forgetting your plight, nor your basic human right for independence and freedom.

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March 1st, 2008, 3:45 pm

 

206. Innocent_Criminal said:

Enlightened,

I’m around. i read through the comment every single day, but i haven’t been in the mood to contribute much in the last few months. just moderating and reading.

Speaking of the Cole, there is a huge possibility that bringing it in along with other navy vessels means that Israel might be attempting to hit Iran very soon. The Cole has capabilities to intercept ballistic and mid-range missiles. Like the ones Iran and possibly Syria would fire against Israel in case the latter hits Iran. So Lebanon might be just an excuse, and what’s going on in Gaza is certainly not a coincidence.

The American/Israeli/Saudi/Egyptian camp has agreed that Iran is the main threat not Israel. So the peace process with the Palestinians must materialize and quickly for the “moderate” Arab states to make peace with Israel. Hence why Gaza is getting bombed back to the stone age. First get squash the intifada, make peace with the PLO, and other Arab states follow suit.

When will Iran get hit within this timeline I am not sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens before the end of Cheney’s, excuse me, I mean Bush’s term ;)

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March 1st, 2008, 4:41 pm

 

207. Naji said:

IC,
I think you are right, except that these cowards have set their sights much lower… all they are hoping to achieve at this time is to pound the hell out of HA and Hamas while their collaborators hold the prey down and the American anti-missile ships cancel out the ability of Syria, Iran, or more imortantly, HA to retaliate against the Israeli interior… That’s all… very bloody business, but nothing imaginative…!

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March 1st, 2008, 4:52 pm

 

208. offended said:

I am cheking Syria News website and there isn’t one single news item about Gaza.

That’s weird….

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March 1st, 2008, 4:54 pm

 

209. offended said:

Naji, IC
This theory is based on the hypothesis that Cole IS able to intercept long and mid range missiles.

I don’t know if this is technically possible.

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March 1st, 2008, 4:57 pm

 

210. Naji said:

Offended,
Oh I think the Americans have made a lot of advances along these lines latey… i think they have a few new tricks they would like to try out… what have they got to loose…?!

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March 1st, 2008, 5:02 pm

 

211. offended said:

Naji, for them there is nothing substantial to lose, at least for the current administration.

But if this missile interception thing turns out to be a phony, the whole thing might back fire on them….

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March 1st, 2008, 5:09 pm

 

212. Naji said:

The Kuwaiti government, after the Saudi, has just asked all its subjects to leave Lebanon immediately…!! Alla yestor…!

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March 1st, 2008, 5:11 pm

 

213. Naji said:

Offended,
“back-fire on them”…!?? At worst, a few Israelis (not Americans) will die and they will lose Olmert (he is all used-up anyway), that is all…! Not too bad of a risk and they will have demonstrated to Iran (and even Russia!) just what they can do against their puny little rockets…!!

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March 1st, 2008, 5:17 pm

 

214. offended said:

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March 1st, 2008, 5:29 pm

 

215. Ford Prefect said:

Shai, the point you are making is well taken. Unilateral agreements with minor regional players in the region will not yield the overall intended peace we are all working for.

As we all know, peace will happen only with leaders who are strong enough to deliver on it. A peace track with only one of the two Palestinian factions (Abbas/Fatah) is doomed to ultimately fail.

I am afraid, however, that negotiation for true peace with all the players in the region is being torpedoed by the war hawks in the US and abroad for reasons that are now well known.

The current US foreign policy implemented through the practices of preemption, regime change, benevolent hegemony and American exceptionalism is sadly enough, still being implemented and it is work-in-progress.

The current hawks in the administration know that the clock is ticking and it is clear that their departure is coming faster than things are changing, to their liking, in the Middle East.

I have been told that under no circumstance, the status quo in the Middle East will be left alone and passed to the next administration.

Today HA and Hamas are alive and well, Syria is more defiant and internally stronger, Lebanon’s project is in enormous peril, and Iran, with its huge influence in Iraq and it increased oil wealth, is stronger than it ever was.

This is a totally unacceptable situation. Plans are being executed today to affect all the necessary changes before the next administration take over.

As reckless and as dangerous as it seems, Israel is being asked and pushed for an all out ground assault in Gaza to annihilate Hamas (By the way, it is not the Kassam rockets that are bothering Israel – as stupid and reckless as they are when they are being fired).

Indicators from Washington are telling Israel that the time is now right, Gazans are fed up with Hamas, and the US will provide international positive coverage to the ground assault. IDF is being told that this is a “cake walk!” Sounds familiar?

Next, as IC correctly mentioned above, the US 6th Fleet assets are mobilized closer to Lebanon to provide military operations cover as well deterrents for the upcoming military activities in Lebanon to destroy HA militarily (Work is currently under way to preserve a friendly HA to exist politically). They are theorizing that with the vacuum in leadership after the Mughniyah assassination and the current hostile conditions in Lebanon against HA, conditions are ripe to deal a final blow to HA. On top of the agenda is the head of HA leader who they believe, if he dies, HA will disintegrate rapidly.

Syria, on the other hand, they feel is better left alone for the moment – but continuously threatened militarily. With the demise of HA and Hamas, Syria will be pushed to the irrelevance, they say.

As for Iran, they will not hit it. Rather, it is much easier and effective, they think, to completely destroy all Iranian influence points in the region. With the complete collapse of Hamas and HA, a weakened Syria, and a rising friendly government in Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories; Iran will be really relegated to being a neutral spectator in the Middle East. As for Iranian threats to Israel, they know that this is hog wash talk – Iran can only use its surrogates to strike. Remove its surrogates, and Iran is forever neutered. And if Iran needs to be struck militarily, it will be much easier to do so when all of its “nasty” surrogates are completely eliminated.

So this is the plan being implemented. If modern history and past examples are any indication, we should not be at all surprised at the outcome of such a reckless plan.

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March 1st, 2008, 5:33 pm

 

216. Shai said:

Offended,

That bit of news (about the Belgian writer) could be interpreted quite differently from the way you intended on a forum like this… Not sure I would have brought it up (even if I was on your side)… Sorry.

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March 1st, 2008, 5:36 pm

 

217. Syrian said:

Alex,

Trying to catch-up to the comments by wading through all the subthreads has become a chore .  Have you thought about implementing some
sort of nesting to at least keep this place organized and make it easier for us to follow threads we’re interested in.  (and some people can have
private islands where they exchange views that may just not be as
interesting to the rest of us)

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March 1st, 2008, 5:42 pm

 

218. offended said:

Excellent analysis Ford Prefect, I really hope their plan doesn’t get materialized.

Shai, I erased it. I honestly didn’t know it would hit a sensitive cord…

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March 1st, 2008, 5:44 pm

 

219. Naji said:

Ford Prefect,
What a brilliant and concise summation of the current situation. I will also add that, particularly at this time, it is usefull for many to force all the likely presidential candidates to take stances that will either be held against them or will hold them hostage to a particular position towards the arab/israeli conflict… a nice little side benefit, especially when this is perceived to be a “cake walk” and either a natural boost to McCain’s chances, or a strong nudge to Obama’s Israel position…!

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March 1st, 2008, 5:48 pm

 

220. Innocent_Criminal said:

Offended,

you might be right, I looked up the cole fire power and she is not the strongest vessle out there. Its a guided missile destroyer but not the same class as the one that shot down that satellite. My source was a retired lebanese army general, who said on a television interview today that the cole can shoot down mid-range missiles. so it seems he is wrong.

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March 1st, 2008, 6:05 pm

 

221. Naji said:

Not nearly as elaborate or eloquent as FP’s, of course, but I believe my comment above was an even more concise summation…!

“these cowards have set their sights much lower… all they are hoping to achieve at this time is to pound the hell out of HA and Hamas while their collaborators hold the prey down and the American anti-missile ships cancel out the ability of Syria, Iran, or more importantly, HA to retaliate against the Israeli interior… That’s all… very bloody business, but nothing imaginative…!”

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March 1st, 2008, 6:16 pm

 

222. Shai said:

Ford Prefect,

You may very well be right in your analysis of the situation at the moment. Unfortunately, too much of the past few years attests to that type of thinking, and to that form of action. However, and I think we would agree on this, the chances this so-called reckless plan will succeed is NIL. Neither the U.S., nor Israel, Egypt, KSA, Jordan, Kuwait, or the International Space Station, can determine and enforce the leadership of any nation or people in this region, or any other for that matter. The best that could be achieved, is this 14-month long puppet-government that would wave its flag over its embassy in Jerusalem (LOL). What amazes me, however, is that the Neocons in DC have actually managed to convince some relatively-smart leaders in this region that is it either feasible, or worthwhile, or both. While the real explanation may lie either in your depiction, or in Naji’s, or somewhere in between, facts will still be such that many many innocent lives are and will be lost. My biggest fear, as I’ve written above in various places, is that things will get out of control, and that multiple parties will join in (Hezbollah, Syria, Iran…), leading to an all-out war. If that is the case, then the region may yet suffer like in no previous war in this century, or the last. Literally tens of thousands could die, and many more would be injured. Our “clock” could be set back years into the past. We’ll find ourselves here again, around the year 2030, right back where we left, but only much much later, and after almost indescribable pain and suffering. And for what reason? God only knows, and it’s a shame I’m an atheist, because if I wasn’t, at least I’d have some peace of mind. Unfortunately, I have none! It is indeed such a shame that, as I wrote previously, while some people of this planet have already figured out how to walk on the moon (almost 40 years ago!), others, in this region, cannot even figure out how to live at peace with one another. What does that say about us?

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March 1st, 2008, 6:50 pm

 

223. Ford Prefect said:

Offended,

Thanks – I certainly hope that everything I wrote is just words and the execution plan of the Cheney’s White House end up in the shredder. We will keep trying (Naji, also pleading the case of peace to Presidential front runners) to bring some sense and sensibility to the current hawks but, I am afraid, it is a hopeless case.

It is remarkably unprecedented in history that an administration has so much power and means of destruction at its disposal – passed by a rubber stamp Congress. What even more scarier than the power they have is the people who control that power: inept, belligerent, duplicitous, and incredibly incurious about anything rational.

Naji couldn’t have said it any better: Alla yustor.

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March 1st, 2008, 6:56 pm

 

224. Shai said:

Offended,

I didn’t mean for you to remove it. And, personally, it didn’t strike a sensitive cord. But I’ve read a few comments in this forum, by people that unfortunately I thought would be fed the wrong messages by this report, though it does seem to be true. It is shameful, of course, but the majority of people who actually survived the Holocaust could not, and would not have done something like that. Out of something like 20 uncles and aunts on both my parents’ side (brothers and sisters of my 4 grandparents), only my grandmother’s sister survived the Holocaust. She came to Palestine in 1945, and years later I managed to see her tattooed number on her arm (she was about 18 when taken to Auschwitz). The last few years of her life, while suffering from Alzheimer’s, she would wake up in the middle of the night screaming that the Dobermans are in the room… She was about 75 at the time.

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March 1st, 2008, 7:00 pm

 

225. Naji said:

FP,
Learning that you are involved in making the case to presidential front runners, I am much more rested now…!! Such a grasp on the situation combined with such eloquence and erudition…!! (Sorry about fawning like that…!)

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March 1st, 2008, 7:06 pm

 

226. Qifa Nabki said:

Excerpts from Aoun’s interview on Kalaam al-Nas a couple of days ago:

http://www.nowlebanon.com/NewsArticleDetails.aspx?ID=32724

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March 1st, 2008, 7:11 pm

 

227. Shai said:

FP,

We need to join forces in addressing the candidates, not only in the U.S., but indeed in Israel as well.

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March 1st, 2008, 7:12 pm

 

228. Innocent Criminal said:

which ever way it happens, one thing is for certain. the shit is gonna hit the fan real soon. Gaza, Cole, Saudi/Kuwaiti nationals being requested to leave lebanon, right before an arab summit in Damascus along with new sanctions on Iran. This stew is just about to come to a boil.

in an interview today, a Hariri backed parliament member was very certain when pushed that the summit will not go through without a Lebanese president. I am sure he believed what he was saying, cause they must have Saudi assurance of that.

What really amazes me is the willingness of Lebanese leaders to take their country into the abyss without blinking. Everyone knows that if its gonna get dirty, the Lebanese will be worst off. But those leaders couldnt give a monkey’s butt, they are just executing their bosses instructions without question.

Which reminds me, does anyone remember a thing called the Hariri investigation? What ever happened to that? Gee, I hope it wont get politicized with all that is going on ;)

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March 1st, 2008, 7:16 pm

 

229. Ford Prefect said:

Shai,
You are absolutely right. Military hostilities in the region produce only one predictable result: death and destruction. Civilians on all sides will suffer the most. Politically, however, results will be so unpredictable and chaotic – one wonders if these hawks ever learn from their stupid mistakes.

It is sad that some, like Akbar Palace, still think of wars as being fought like they did in the medieval ages: two armies in middle of a battlefield nowhere having at it. They are ambivalent to the idea that there are inhabitants of lands everywhere. AP once comically proclaimed that if the Lebanese heeded the advice of the IDF, they should have left the battle areas and no civilian would have suffered.

This is the same sick concept espoused here in Washington by the military hawks. They theorize that to defeat the enemy, collateral civilian deaths are inevitable – unless they escape somewhere safe! They convinced the public that the enemy is “hiding” behind civilians (they still have not fathomed the idea that the enemy is part of the civilian ethos). Worse, they promote military operations of “shock and awe” so that shear power of the military is even more amplified – instilling greater fear in the minds of civilians who could think otherwise.

As you said, Shai, this doctrine, born here in the US in the hallways of many think tanks, is America’s primary export to places like Israel. Many Israeli leaders, unfortunately, are now adopting this doctrine for many reasons – one of which is that they think it works. (If it is coming from our American friends, who defeated Hitler, the Soviet Union, and the Sandinistas then it must be right!) Further, it is precisely this stupid doctrine that is producing belligerent and radical elements everywhere.

Nevertheless, as grim as the picture looks right now, I applaud the scores of Israelis who are putting their lives on the line and making the incredibly hard choices of pursuing peace. We all know that it is much easier for you to adopt the main wisdom of shooting the heck out of your enemies. We also know that you and your colleagues are much smarter than that.

Shalom, Shai!

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March 1st, 2008, 7:21 pm

 

230. Shai said:

Innocent Criminal,

The shit’s already hit the fan. Tens of civilians dead in Gaza, few Israelis dead, and for all practical purposes, the Gaza operation has begun. If this current crisis is limited only to Gaza, we’ll be “lucky” (all of us). If it spreads beyond that, to Lebanon, or elsewhere, we’ll be facing regional war.

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March 1st, 2008, 7:24 pm

 

231. Shai said:

FP,

I too was raised on distrust, suspicion, and even hatred of Arabs. I lived through the 1973 war (I was 4 at the time), with sirens in my home town of Ramat-Gan, while my father was fighting in the Sinai. It took spending some years in the U.S. and Europe, and getting to know Arabs up close, before I began to understand where and how we were wrong. Both sides have and continue to demonize one another, and no form of empathy is humanly possible. One must have the perspective, that so few in fact achieve. But once I reached this understanding, I swore to never go back (cognitively). And I won’t. Fortunately, I believe most Israelis could be persuaded to think back like they did in Rabin’s years. Their adopted numbness over the past decade could be awakened, if we only make the right moves, and press in the right places. A new administration in Washington could help do that, as well as Bashar Assad himself. I’m still hoping (fantasizing) about the latter surprising us all, even before a further 9-12 months of Hell in the region have to be traversed.

Ford Prefect, have no shred of doubt in your mind, that it is because of people like yourself that I can and do dedicate myself to the achievement of peace in our time. All our children deserve a better future. And we owe them at least that.

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March 1st, 2008, 7:35 pm

 

232. Ford Prefect said:

Naji, please don’t rest. The case for peace is much more difficult to make than war. It is a very, very long road littered with land mines of narrow interests, racism, and billigerence.

I implore you to keep working and pressing every which way possible, one person at a time, to spread the word of how peace is possible, achievable, and easier than many would like us to think.

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March 1st, 2008, 7:40 pm

 

233. Ford Prefect said:

Shai – cheers and march on. We are right there with you.

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March 1st, 2008, 7:42 pm

 

234. Shai said:

Naji,

Do you live here? Gaza/West Bank?

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March 1st, 2008, 7:52 pm

 

235. norman said:

FP,
I think your assessment is right , But i think Iran’s nuclear installations will be attacked , BUSH will not leave that to the next administration , we should all remember that the US moved three aircraft carriers to the Gulf few months ago and sold or warehoused massive amount of weapons paid for by the Gulf states to be used by the US in a surprise attack on Iran , The six fleet in the eastern mediterranean is just to complete the circle around Syria ,Lebanon, Hamas and Iran ,

Does anybody have any doubt that KSA is complacent in this plan?.including the invasion of Gaza .
Probably all this was planned during President Bush last visit to the GULF.

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March 1st, 2008, 8:35 pm

 

236. offended said:

Shai,
Naji lives in Damascus.
As far as I know, he’s about the only commentator in this forum who lives there!

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March 1st, 2008, 9:10 pm

 

237. offended said:

Shai,
Sorry to hear about your aunt.
I recently watched a movie called (Valley of Elah). It is revolving around the American soldiers who are coming back from Iraq with PTSD and other hidden illnesses. People tend to relate more to a physical injury. It takes watching movies like these to realize that the internal scars are deeper and sometimes much more painful.

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March 1st, 2008, 9:24 pm

 

238. ausamaa said:

Shai,
Sorry, but I just saw you past comment while going through this post now, It is past medight here.. so I will come back to it tomorrow.

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March 1st, 2008, 9:27 pm

 

239. Shai said:

Ausamaa,

No probs – it’s almost midnight here also… so it’s time to head in.

Offended,

I completely agree with you, which is why I think none of us even begin to understand the horrific damage we’re doing to the children of this region. Generation after generation are being raised to believe that life is not good, and that hope is nonexistent. These are the worst crimes. A dead person no longer suffers. It’s the living that are doing the suffering.

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March 1st, 2008, 9:42 pm

 

240. norman said:

I do not know how people who get involved in war do not think of the day after and how they are going to be able to live with their neighbors in both sides.

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March 1st, 2008, 10:12 pm

 

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