Posted by Joshua on Sunday, October 11th, 2009
Alex Gives a History of the Saudi-Syrian Rapprochement and Argues, “We are not there yet.”
The visit of King Abdullah to Damascus this past week is just a bit more than a photo opportunity. The real story started to take place after Syria’s ally, Hizbollah, managed to force the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and France to rethink their strategies for the new Middle East in summer 2006.
First France, the US and their “moderate” Arab allies realized they might have to lower their expectations… the unsuccessful use of American and Israeli power (“shock and awe” style) in Iraq and Lebanon led to nothing more than an almost total disrespect for such arrogant use of force by the people in the region… Ask anyone today what he thinks of an Israel or American military conflict with Iran and he will answer you: “They would be crazy to attack Iran”
After 2006, some, such as Prince Turki Alfaisal, started to advocate an arrangement in which Syria’s prominence in the Levant would be respected by Saudi Arabia.
“Syria would be at the forefront (of the new alignment), Jordan would have a share in it and the Palestinians would have a niche,”
But others, like Prince Bandar, continued to try finding other ways to weaken Syria. He visited Iran and offered them to work together in Lebanon (excluding Syria) .. that did not work out too well for him, King Abdullah visited Turkey twice (he never did before) trying to offer them incentives to abandon the Syrians. That also failed.
In addition, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and the UAE continued to support Syria through billions of dollars invested each year.
Then Hizbollah settled a quick armed conflict with Saudi Allies in Lebanon to its advantage.
Meanwhile … the UN investigation into the murder of Rafiq Hariri continued to show that there is nothing solid against Syria … Syria’s four Lebanese allies were released without a single charge against any of them … one of them is suing Mehlis and claiming he has proof that Mehlis tried to fabricate evidence against Syria.
King Abdullah decided at the Kuwait summit that it is time for him to make a decision … So he opted to make peace with the young Syrian president, while a visibly surprised Hosni Mubarak was instead prepared to escalate his confrontation with Assad.
Since then Saudi Arabia has been trying, on and off, to make the painful move towards recognizing Syria’s role as almost being equal to that of Saudi Arabia in the region… the same arrangement they had during the time of late President Hafez Assad.
Their ego resisted that move … some of their American allies resisted … the Egyptians are still resisting … and God knows what Prince Bandar says, or is allowed to say, these days.
If you want a demonstration of how difficult it is for the Saudis to think of Syria as an equal, listen to this one hour show on Al-Hurra Television station (in Arabic). (clip will be accessible through that link for about a week)
The Saudi guest (debating Jihad Makdissi, spokesman for Syria’s embassy in London) stated repeatedly that at the time of the late, “wise” President Hafez Assad, Syria used to know how to handle its relations with Iran. This implies of course that the current young President is still not up to the task and that the Saudis (as the guest says in other parts) helped him realize his mistakes …
So we are not there yet … but there is improvement.
Ibrahim Hamidi on Turkey on the eve of the first meeting of Syrian-Turkish Strategic Council which will meet at the border between the two countries on Tuesday. (AL-HAYAT & LBC Bureau Chief Damascus)
Syria and Turkey: History in the making
By Ibrahim HAMIDI
Syria and Turkey have just signed a high-level cooperation agreement in different fields, during a groundbreaking visit by President Bashar al-Assad to Istanbul, which took place on September 16, 2009. Among other things, the two countries decided to coordinate foreign policy regarding all international conventions. In order to appreciate the importance of such an agreement, all one has to do is go back to the 1990s, when bilateral relations between Damascus and Ankara were at their worst. Only then will people realize how far the two countries have come.
The two nations decided to do away with visa regulations, facilitating the flow of goods and people on both sides of their 800 km border. Back in the 1990s, there was an ongoing war of words between the Syrian and Turkish media, and anybody wanting to cross the border had to watch out for the hundreds of land-mines, scattered on both sides, aimed at preventing the infiltration of terrorists. Daring to consider—let alone implement—normalization between Turkey and Syria was nothing but a dream that crossed too many red lines in both countries.
Syria accused Turkey, among other things, of depriving it of its rightful share of the Euphrates, contaminating water, and constructing dams to prevent the flow of water into Syria. The Syrians were equally angry with the Turks for a military pact they had signed with Israel. For their part, the Turks accused Syria of supporting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which they branded a terrorist organization, and of drumming up anti-Ottoman sentiment in the Arab world. More than once, the Turkish Embassy in Damascus filed official complaints against Syrian television dramas that depicted torture practiced in Ottoman Syria prior to World War I. Turkey was also uneasy with Greco-Syrian cooperation, which had an immediate effect on the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).
Following such turbulent history the changes taking place today are monumental, and indeed, are re-writing an entire chapter of Syrian-Turkish relations. The two countries signed a security agreement in 1998, and in June 2000, Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer came to Syria to take part in the funeral of the late President Hafez al-Assad; an act that further pushed bilateral relations forward. The real breakthrough was when President Bashar al-Assad went to Ankara in 2004, becoming the first Syrian president to visit Turkey since independence was achieved in 1946.
The main theme behind the Syrian leader’s visit was: instead of disagreement, let us make of our borders a source of agreement. Let us remove the mines from both sides of the border and replace them with mutual projects.
Today, five years down the road, much has been achieved. Bilateral trade, which once stood at a mediocre “millions of dollars” has now reached an impressive $2 billion annually. The country that once sided with Israel is now, under leadership of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), mediating indirect talks between the Syrians and Israel, aimed at restoring the occupied Golan Heights to Syria. In fact, Syria now insists that the Turks be present at any future talks with the Israelis, be they direct or indirect, because the Turkish mediator, it believes, has proven to be “honest, reasonable, and trustworthy.”
Turkey is now Syria’s gateway to Europe and the rest of the world while Syria is the Turkish gateway to the Gulf and the rest of the Arab world.
Impressive indeed. It is history in the making.
Armenia, Turkey Reach Accord Washinton Post
ZURICH, Switzerland, Oct. 10 — Armenia and Turkey signed a landmark agreement Saturday to establish diplomatic ties, after a dramatic last-minute intervention by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to keep the event from falling apart….
Turkey bars Israel from military drill
By ARON HELLER (AP)
JERUSALEM — Turkey has called off an international military drill because it opposed Israel’s participation, Israeli defense officials said Sunday, a move that sent strained relations between the two nations to a new low.
Turkey has long been the Jewish state’s best friend in the Muslim world. But ties have deteriorated dramatically since Israel’s war last winter against Islamic militants in the Gaza Strip, which killed hundreds of civilians…..
Turkey’s surprise cancellation of the air force drill, which was also to include the U.S. and NATO, was the first time its criticism of Israel has been translated into concrete action.
“The Israeli Embassy informed J Street of its concern that the new lobbying group advocates policies that could “impair Israel’s interests,” an embassy spokesman has told The Jerusalem Post……
J Street has taken several positions at odds with the Israeli government in recent months, including arguing against the immediate imposition of additional sanctions on Iran even as Israel pushes for greater action, and backing US President Barack Obama’s call for a complete settlement freeze in the face of Israeli opposition. The organization has also been criticized in certain Israeli and American Jewish circles for attacking other Jewish groups in ways that some feel breed division…”
Obama has betrayed mission to forge Mideast peace
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, October 11, 2009
What has the new Nobel laureate done so far in our region? Mitchell Shmitchell, a bitter and lost struggle over settlement expansion, a bizarre struggle against the Goldstone report, a disgraceful silence about the Gaza siege, and the ultimate proof that there’s […]