Posted by Joshua on Saturday, July 12th, 2008
This news cycle is turning out to be very favorable to Syria. The formation of the new Lebanese government is being taughted as the salvation of the small, fragmented country from civil war. Syria is given some credit for this. Assad's trip to Paris is depicted as a major turning point and official end to the West's isolation policy (if not America's, but then Washington is in disarray). Israel is tearing its hair and claiming that Hizbullah's role in the new government is proof that the Jewish state lost the 2006 summer war.
Before Syria congratulates itself for learning how to spar in the information wars, one must consider that it has entered a honey-moon period that will, in all likelihood, be very brief. The main reason Syria is getting good press is because the normally hostile Lebanese and Saudi press, which dominates the news cycle, is on holiday. Everyone is being polite to honor the formation of the new Lebanese government. The usual Lebanese critics will raise their voices as soon as the opposition uses its new presence in the cabinet to veto a government decision; Syria will be blamed. US critics and the Bush administration are reluctant to rain on Sarkozi's parade or to criticize him for hosting Assad – after all, it would only highlight the failure of Washington's Syria-Lebanon policy.
Here are some representative headlines:
Country Saved from the Brink of a renewed Civil War
Lebanese Form National Unity Government: Washington Post,
Divided Lebanon forges new future: BBC News, UK
Voice of America: The majority bloc agreed to support the opposition's proposal to include a pro-Syrian politician, Ali Kanso, in the newly formed cabinet. The new cabinet gives the opposition the posts of foreign minister and deputy prime minister while the ruling bloc will be in charge of the ministry of finance and other key posts. Prime Minister Siniora…. "Today, through this national unity government, we have decided to manage our disputes through democratic institutions and dialogue, and not through force and intimidation," he said.
Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman (L) meets Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri (C) and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut July 11, 2008. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)
BEIRUT, July 11 (Xinhua): The 30-member cabinet consists of 16 minister of the ruling majority, 11 ministers of the opposition and three ministers named by the president in line with a Doha accord reached in May which saved the country from the brink of a renewed civil war.
France brings Syria's Assad out of the diplomatic cold
Boycott lifted as France hosts Syria's president
San Francisco Chronicle: Hezbollah gains political clout in Lebanon's new, interim Cabinet
Ynetnews: Nobody thinks we won
Recent cabinet session on Hizbullah proves we lost Second Lebanon War
Don’t measure the results now, one of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s associates asked on August 14, 2006 – a moment after Israel agreed to sign the ceasefire agreement. Yes, it may not look good now, he said, while explaining and praising the diplomatic achievement inherent in Resolution 1701, but we will be able to measure the results over time.
“The test will be whether Hizbullah is disarmed, whether the sovereign Lebanese government will control all of southern Lebanon, and whether the Lebanese army will be deployed along the border fence. This is what you will be seeing, and you will realize that the price we paid brought results,” he said. ….
The next round, if we believe the intelligence assessments of all branches, is only a matter of time. This pro-Iranian arm is just waiting for the moment Tehran will utilize it to escalate tensions in the area, or for the moment Bush or Olmert decide on a military move against Iran’s nuclear threat.
‘Nothing happens the way Olmert plans it’
Two years have passed since the war, and we saw Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni telling her Italian counterpart that the multinational force’s mandate must be expanded. She told him that we are very concerned about the arms smuggled via Syria and about Hizbullah’s growing hold on southern Lebanon. In other words, Livni said, Resolution 1701 is not being implemented, or alternately, its implementation on the ground does not deliver the goods.
Two years have passed since the war, and if you ask our politicians – either on the Center, Right, or Left of the political spectrum – by now nobody thinks we won. Not even Olmert’s people.
“Olmert said that the evidence of our victory is the fact that Nasrallah is forced to continue hiding in the bomb shelter,” said someone who already saw four governments formed and toppled. “So what will Olmert say now that Nasrallah has veto power on Lebanese government decisions, while possessing three times as many missiles compared to what he had before the war? All the power that was invested, all the victims who died in the war, the price paid by the home front in the north – all of that happened, and Hizbullah just became stronger. This is not a draw, like former Army Chief Halutz claimed. This is a defeat.”
“The problem with Olmert,” one of his ministers told us following the last cabinet session, “is that nothing happens the way he plans it. It didn’t happen in the Lebanon War – Hizbullah is still there, more powerful both militarily and politically. Yes, Olmert really wants peace with Syria, but can you see Assad giving it to him when the PM barely has two months left before the Kadima primaries?”
La Syrie et Israël ont négocié directement au début des années 1990 dans le cadre du processus de Madrid sans résultat concret, même s’il a été dit par les deux parties qu’elles étaient très près d’un accord.
Israël et les Etats-Unis pensent par ce jeu pouvoir séparer la Syrie de l’Iran, ce qui n’est pas très réaliste, mais la Syrie ne peut manquer l’occasion de montrer qu’elle est ouverte à une reprise des négociations et desserrer ainsi la pression des Etats-Unis et des gouvernements européens sur elle.
Israël, de son côté, face aux timides pressions pour trouver une issue à la situation des Palestiniens, fait une fuite en avant en se déclarant prêt à négocier le retrait du Golan syrien occupé et annexé. Les gouvernements israéliens l’ont déjà fait à plusieurs reprises dans le passé.
The raging anger that lies below the surface
Syrians have long been a touchstone of Arab public opinion.
Anthony Ham, Damascus
THE REGULARS of al-Nawfara Coffee Shop, one of the grand old cafes of Damascus, were uncharacteristically quiet. The shouted conversations and the click of backgammon pieces had fallen silent. All eyes had turned to the television, where Hassan Nasrallah, the spiritual and political leader of Hezbollah and sworn enemy of Israel and the West, held court, his speech booming out into the surrounding streets. Live from Beirut, less than 100 kilometres from where we sat, the charismatic Nasrallah vowed to confront America and defend Lebanon with his blood and called on his supporters to do the same.
People nodded in agreement. Some applauded. When the speech ended, the cafe returned to normal. Tourists, including Americans, arrived to hear Abu Shady, the last remaining storyteller in the Arab world, take to his throne. From here, every night, he playfully welcomes visitors in English and tells tales of fire and brimstone and Romeo and Juliet-style epics of thwarted love from centuries past. Waiters warmly greeted the new arrivals with the standard, but heartfelt Syrian greeting: "Where are you from? You are welcome in Syria."
Here, on the streets of Damascus, the complexities and apparent contradictions of the Arab world's relationship with the West are everywhere on show. Founded on the twin pillars of anger at the outside world for its policies towards the Middle East and a genuine, gracious hospitality towards the representatives of that same world, the message from Syria is nonetheless a simple one: there will be no peace in the region until the ordinary people of the Arab street believe that justice has been done.
For decades, Syria has been a touchstone of Arab public opinion. Ruled since the 1960s by the secular Baath Party, it has stood at the vanguard of opposition to Israel, harboured all manner of exiled Palestinian opposition groups, terrorist and otherwise, and resisted all overtures from the US in the latter's search for