Assad: “Bush Cannot Make Peace;” Economist on Syria’s Economic Outlook

Syria sees no Israel peace before Bush quits (Reuters) 

PARIS: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has told a newspaper his country is unlikely to make peace with Israel while U.S. President George W. Bush remains in office.

However, in an interview published on the website of Le Figaro daily on Monday, Assad said he was betting that the next U.S. leader would get more involved in the peace process.

Assad said Syria and Israel were looking for common ground to start face-to-face negotiations, adding that it was vital to find the right country to mediate such talks.

"The most important thing in direct negotiations is who sponsors them," Assad told Le Figaro, saying that the United States had an essential role to play.

"Frankly, we do not think that the current American administration is capable of making peace. It doesn't have either the will or the vision and it only has a few months left," he said.

"When we have established a common foundation (for negotiations) at indirect talks with Israel, perhaps we could give some trump cards to the new administration to make it get more involved," he added…….

ANALYSIS / Israel, Syria already have outline for direct talks Ha'aretz, Zvi Bar`el

Israel and Syria, via Turkish mediation, have already outlined an agenda for direct talks, if and when they occur. And a Turkish official involved in the negotiations told Haaretz that the time has now come for such talks.

"We expect the next discussions to be direct ones between Israeli and Syrian military officials regarding security arrangements and a buffer zone," the Turkish official said. "They can no longer be procedural discussions in which we serve as a 'mobile phone.' Now, direct talks are needed. It would be ridiculous for us to start shuttling maps from room to room. Talks might also begin, simultaneously or subsequently, on the meaning of normalization."

Asked when, and at what level, the next meeting will take place, he responded: "After the Mediterranean meeting we'll know more."

Will next week's summit of Mediterranean leaders in France give the signal for direct talks by providing an opportunity for a public handshake between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Syrian President Bashar Assad? In an interview with Le Figaro this week, Assad was evasive. He said that American involvement is necessary for direct talks, and this is inconceivable as long as George W. Bush remains president. But at the same time, he said that if French President Nicolas Sarkozy demonstrates enthusiasm for Israeli-Syrian negotiations, Assad will be happy to involve him.

The main fear now is that after Israeli and Syrian representatives have agreed on an agenda in Turkey, the long waiting period until a new American administration is sworn in may halt the momentum that has been created. Syria, which is interested in moving forward with the talks as long as Israel has a premier who is also interested in talking, might view active involvement by Sarkozy as a suitable interim solution. If that is indeed what Assad decides, it is reasonable to assume that he will not refrain from meeting Olmert at the summit, and will thereby set the next steps in motion.

Syria has recently seen its diplomatic status in the region rise due to its involvement in the Doha summit, which produced the breakthrough that is soon expected to result in a new Lebanese government. It is now seeking to use its influence to effect a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. In short, Damascus aspires to paint itself as at least as important as Egypt and Saudi Arabia in resolving regional problems. The Syrians recognize the weakness of Israel's current government, but their assessment is that by talking with Israel now, they could at least obtain an agreed outline of a peace treaty, even if its implementation would have to wait for another Israeli government. Such an agreement in principle would give the next American administration a reason to change its policy toward Syria and end sanctions against it.

For Paris to step into Washington's shoes as an Israeli-Syrian mediator, Assad must first pay his dues in Lebanon. France expects that after the new Lebanese government is established – possibly by the end of this week – Assad will announce the opening of a Syrian embassy in Lebanon, ending Syria's long-standing refusal to recognize Lebanon as an independent country. …..

FROM THE ECONOMIST INTELLIGENCE UNIT: OUTLOOK FOR 2008-09

POLICY TRENDS: An economic debate continues between the government's more fiscally prudent elements, led by the deputy prime minister for economic affairs, Abdullah al-Dardari, and those factions that are concerned about the impact of rising prices on disposable incomes. Reductions in fuel subsidies, implemented in early May 2008, have not resolved this debate, because increased world oil prices and a 25% rise in public-sector salaries have offset the fiscal benefits. Furthermore, the introduction of a value-added tax, while finally agreed, has been delayed until 2009. In 2009 the policy debate will increasingly focus on the need to diversify the economy away from oil and encourage investment.

INTERNATIONAL ASSUMPTIONS: World GDP growth is expected to average 3.8% in 2008-09 (at purchasing power parity exchange rates), down from an estimated 4.9% in 2007, largely as a result of a sharp slowdown in the US economy in 2008. We have further revised up our oil price projections, asbuoyant demand in emerging markets will offset the projected slowdown in the OECD. We now forecast that the price of the benchmark dated Brent Blend will average around US$115/barrel over the outlook period.

ECONOMIC GROWTH: Although Syria maintains that growth in 2007 was 6.5%, we estimate it at 4.3%, because investment growth and exports were not as strong as previously thought; the IMF is even more downbeat, estimating 3.9%. We expect the Syrian economy to slow further to an annual average of 3.9% over the outlook period, largely owing to falling oil output. The agricultural sector is also expected to remain depressed this year, after another poor harvest. These negative trends will be only partly offset by continued expansion in the services sector, boosted by solid growth in tourism and demand for goods and services, in part from the large Iraqi refugee population.

INFLATION: We expect inflation to continue to rise in 2008–to an average of around 16.8%–owing to significant reductions in fuel subsidies in March and May and to a 25% increase in government salaries and pensions. However, it is possible that the shock caused by these sudden changes could drive inflation even higher than our current forecast. In 2009 flat oil prices and a slight easing in non-oil commodity prices will help to bring down inflation, to around 10.2%, and any significant return of Iraqi nationals to their homeland could lower it even further by reducing demand pressures. We estimate that annual average inflation in 2007 was at least 12.2%, even though the official consumer price index data currently shows flat prices for the first three quarters of 2007 (full-year data are not yet available).

EXCHANGE RATES: A new exchange-rate regime–a peg to a basket of currencies based on the IMF's special drawing rights–has been in place since October 2007, resulting in a marked appreciation of the pound against the dollar. Despite the change, however, the authorities are expected to keep close control of the currency, placing a high priority on exchange-rate stability. The dominant position of the state-owned banks and the Central Bank's control over foreign-currency transactions (even as some laws are relaxed) mean that the regime is well placed to protect the value of the pound. As a result, we forecast that the pound will appreciate further against the weak dollar in 2008 to an average of SP46.4:US$1. Next year, however, we expect the rate to be fairly stable.

EXTERNAL SECTOR: We expect Syria's merchandise export earnings to rise in 2008, owing to the increase in oil prices, which will temporarily offset the negative impact of falling oil production and reduced wheat exports owing to a poor harvest. However, by 2009 oil prices will be working against Syria, which we estimate will be importing around US$4m worth of oil a day, net. Non-oil exports are continuing to benefit from strong regional demand and the relaxation of foreign-exchange controls, which has led to more exports being officially recorded. Import spending growth will remain strong over the outlook period, partly because of the ongoing process of tariff liberalisation, but also because of healthy demand for capital goods related to some large infrastructure and construction projects. With all these factors taken together, the trade account surplus will narrow over the outlook period from about US$1.5bn (2.7% of GDP) in 2008 to US$146m next year.

SYRIA COUNTRY BRIEFING FROM THE ECONOMIST INTELLIGENCE UNIT

Syria maintains that growth in 2007 was 6.5%, the Economist Intelligence Unit however, estimates it at 4.3%, because investment growth and exports were not as strong as previously thought; the IMF is even more downbeat, estimating 3.9%. We expect the Syrian economy to slow further to an annual average of 3.9% over 2008-09, largely owing to falling oil output.

The agricultural sector is also expected to remain depressed in 2008, after another poor harvest. These negative trends will be only partly offset by continued expansion in the services sector, boosted by solid growth in tourism and demand for goods and services, in part from the large Iraqi refugee population. 

Growth in private consumption is likely to weaken in 2008-09, not only because of lower disposable incomes (owing to cuts in fuel subsidies and higher inflation), but also because the impact of the influx of Iraqi refugees on consumption levels will start to wane as many run down their savings, some return and visa restrictions limit the number of new arrivals. We expect that investment will continue to expand steadily, provided that there is no deterioration in the regional political environment.

Syria will continue to attract investment from the Gulf Arab countries, Russia and Iran. Import growth will also remain relatively strong in 2008-09, averaging 4.5% a year, reflecting the steady expansion in domestic demand and non-oil exports (many of which use imported inputs). Despite healthy growth in non-oil exports, the ongoing decline in oil production and thus oil export volumes will prevent the export sector from making a positive contribution to growth.

Palestinian president calls for national dialogue, leaves Syria … International Herald Tribune

Watfa al-Ghanem shows her identification card, which states that she was born in 1880, in her home in the village of Al-Sheirat in the Syrian city of Homs February 29, 2008. Al-Ghanem, 128, who has been married once and has four children, said that she has farmed for more than 100 years. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri (SYRIA)

Small Wars Journal The Syria Card

A wave of Islamic insurers gears up to woo Syrians, By Julien Barnes-Dacey: As the secular government eases its firm control over society, Islamic firms are increasingly cropping up…..

Haaretz–  Gideon Levy: Israel prefers bombing Iran to peace with Arab world The dread of the implications of an attack on Iran may be exaggerated. We might succeed again. And what if we do not? But then again, what if we do?

The Observer Turkish coup plot awakens fear of violent nationalism Evidence of conspiracy to overthrow pro-Western Islamist government lays bare resentment of country's secular elite….

The following helpful overviews of this week's press debates comes from the POMED Wire, or Project on Middle East Democracy.

Or an Israeli Attack?  This week, after an anonymous Pentagon officialwarned that Israel may carry out an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, the questionlooming over Washington is if and when an attack my take place and whether the U.S. would support such action.  Although the State Department and some in Israel dismissed the claim, debate continued, outlining the likely consequences of an Iranian retaliation, for the United States, Iraq, and Iran itself.  Many see America's options as limited andadamantly argued that diplomatic talks with Iran and Syria could improve the situation.

Democracy Promotion and Radical Islam:  In examining efforts to promote democracy in the region, some argued that success may depend on cultural prerequisites and international support.  Many argued that good governance weakens public support for terrorists in the region, while oppressive authoritarian regimes lead to radicalization of the local population

Syria's Aleppo Has 11 Projects Worth $109 Million, SANA Says
2008-07-07
By Massoud A. Derhally

July 7 (Bloomberg) — Syria's northern city of Aleppo has about 11 projects underway valued at 5 billion Syrian pounds ($109 million), the government-run SANA news agency reported, citing the region's investment authority. The projects are industrial, transport and tourism related and will create 426 jobs, the news service reported.

Comments (72)


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51. Qifa Nabki said:

Alex

Hold on… Jumblatt’s statement “send car bombs to Damascus” makes March 14 an enemy of Syria, not just the regime?

Does that mean that Syria has frequently been an enemy of Lebanon (and not just the odd militia leader) when it sent car bombs to Beirut?

Come on, Alex. Let’s not equate government with country. Even the most anti-American Arabs will often say that their problem is with the American government not the American people. Why can’t we make a distinction as well, with respect to Syria?

Sure there are politicians in Lebanon who can’t stand Syria’s government; but let’s not turn them into “enemies of Syria”.

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July 10th, 2008, 5:30 pm

 

52. Alex said:

Qifa Nabki,

There is something about foolish “leaders” that make them “enemies” of a whole country.

If the Syrian regime was encouraging Iran to invade Lebanon, then I will agree with you that they are the enemies of Lebanon.

Junblatt was merely the outspoken leader … you think Seniora is really as sweet as he appears? .. you think he would not welcome an American attack (if not a full invasion) on Syria? … you think his God is not interested in a civil war in Syria and/or Lebanon? … or what he would think of as “a popular uprising”?

http://joshualandis.com/blog/?p=715

Vengeful fools are dangerous… that makes them enemies.

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July 10th, 2008, 5:54 pm

 

53. Karim said:

Alex ,
There will be no civil war in Syria .who against who ?
Would Bashar bomb Damascus and kills 10 000’s of Syrian civilians for his own survival as dictator ?.Bashar,Maher and the makhloufs,if they are like their fathers and uncles,and this is more likely,so they are more dangerous for Syria and its people than Sharon and Barak.And history has proven this fact.
But Hama rule is not a civil war ,you know Alex ….Syria is occupied by a small minority.When Syria will return to its own people ,Syria can be the best in the region,better than Turkey.As for the 14 March in Lebanon of course ,there are nice and less nice pople among them ,so this is politic but also among them are our natural allies.And the relations between Michel Kilo and the intellectuals who initiated 14 March are old.We should not forget that 14March is also Samir Kasir ,Gibran Tueni,Mosbah Ahdab…do u fell yourself closer to the followers of the iranian regime Alex ?
As or the syrian opposition ,why should they obliged to be hypocrit “patriots” like this mulkhabarati regime ?Michel Kilo is a true patriot.
It’s normal in a democracy ,to have liberals ,leftists ,seculars ,nationalists ,islamists….pro americans and anti americans.

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July 10th, 2008, 7:05 pm

 

54. Akbar Palace said:

PARIS: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has told a newspaper his country is unlikely to make peace with Israel while U.S. President George W. Bush remains in office.

Deja Vu again! It must be my old age, but every 4/8 years I see the same statement – only the name gets changed;)

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July 10th, 2008, 8:18 pm

 

55. Alex said:

Akbar, are you serious?

Do you really make any effort to understand? or do you just get delighted if you read something that can remotely be interpreted the way you want it to be?

I’ll help you understand the above:

1) No peace can be achieved without American mediation (do you disagree?) … Israel can not upset the United States… etc.

2) This American administration is still totally into boycotting Syria, not sitting and talking with Syria … as required if the Americans were to sponsor peace talks.

Seriously … I worry when I read the way you understand things. You are one of “Israel’s friends” who work very hard in Washington to lobby for America to do things in the Middle East.

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July 10th, 2008, 9:05 pm

 

56. why-discuss said:

QN
If the Israelis can negotiate directly with the Lebanese, they eliminate Syria’s biggest card, Hizbullah. Why would they give back the Golan, one of the most valuable territories of Israel, if they can neutralize the Hizbullah card by returning Shebaa and compensating the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon?

You are simplifying: Peace with Lebanon is much more complicated to get than with Syria. Realistic Israelis, i.e Shai are not against returning the Golan but ALL Israelis don’t want to hear about the Palestinians in Lebanon return to their lands.
While Syria can accommodate its palestinians refugees in exchange for financial compensation, Lebanon will not as it will create a internal havock. This is the key problem with peace with Lebanon.

Hezbollah is now playing a defensive role. Their only recent aggression was to kidnap the israeli soldiers in order to exchange them for lebanese prisonners, and they finally succeeded. They are a deterrent, not a threat to Israel. Their claim is to defend the country (Even Sleiman officially said it) and there is no evidence they want to get back Shebaa by force. Syria can’t use them any more to harrass Israel the way Hamas is used. In addition, in case Syria withdraws its support, Hezbollah has still Iran, a much stronger and co-religious supporter. Therefore I think Hezbollah is not a strong card anymore in Syria-Israel negotiations.
It is a basic principle that to negotiate you try to be strong and threatening. Syria was able to bring Israel to negotiate reasonable demands because it is in a strong position, principally by having Iran on its side and by having some influence on Hamas and Hezbollah.
In this logic Israel wants to neutralize Hezbollah to have a stronger position in threatening Lebanon before eventual negotiations. Until Lebanon has a strong army, the weapons of Hezbollah are a guarantee that Israel will no be able to use force to dictate their will during negotiations.
Therefore my belief is that Hezbollah is the major and only card Lebanon has in eventual negotiations with Israel, while it has become a minor card for Syria.
Where did you get that Hezbollah prevented Siniora to jump in the negotiations proposed by Italy?. I think it is partly the US friends who influenced Siniora not to. The US has been bypassed in the Syria-Israeli peace negotiations, I guess they want to have a say in the Lebanon-Israel negotiations.

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July 10th, 2008, 10:41 pm

 

57. offended said:

AIG, I hope you’d get this once and for all; Kilo or any patriotic figure would not ask favors of the barbaric country that has been occupying part of his homelands and persecuting his Palestinian brothers for decades.

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July 10th, 2008, 10:53 pm

 

58. offended said:

Qifa Nabki,
The open invitation of Walid Junblat for the Americans to invade Syria, and his later insinuations that he’d send assassins to Damascus had antagonized good portion of the Syrian people. So it’s not only the regime that deem 14M as adversaries, but most of the people as well.

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July 10th, 2008, 10:57 pm

 

59. EHSANI2 said:

Karim,

Let us assume that the Assads and the Makhloufs were Sunnis, would you still criticize their conduct?

I am assuming that your answer is yes (let me know if otherwise).

If i am right about the way you would answer my question, the obvious next follow up is to ask you why you would need to say the following:

“Syria is occupied by a small minority.When Syria will return to its own people.”

Do you realize that it is precisely statements like this that scares the heck out of the none Sunnis of Syria?

Is it the conduct or the sect of the leadership that bothers you?

If it is the former, I cannot see what the sect has to do with it.

If it is the latter,…………………………(you fill in the blanks)

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July 11th, 2008, 12:56 am

 

60. Alex said:

Israeli-Syrian Negotiations: The Need For A Bold Move
Alon Ben Meir

July 9, 2008

By all accounts, the Israeli-Syrian indirect negotiations through Turkish mediation are going well, and the fact that a fourth round of talks is scheduled for the end of July suggests that both sides expect to make further progress. The reports from Damascus and Ankara, however, indicating that Syria will not enter into direct negotiations with Israel before the advent of new American administration show an obstructive apprehension on the part of the Syrian government. Indeed, Damascus should not only agree to direct negotiations with Israel–as Turkish officials strongly recommend–but time has come for it to make a bold move toward the Israelis. A high level meeting, for example, between Israel and Syria can change overnight the dynamic of their negotiations and dramatically increase the Bush administration’s stakes in its successful outcome.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s effort to write off the Bush administration, however antagonistic it may be toward Damascus, is ultimately a mistake because it fails to take into account what Bush’s attitude would be toward the prospect of an Israeli-Syrian peace under his watch. Assad knows that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would not have entered any negotiations, directly or indirectly without, at a minimum, the acquiescence of the Bush administration. Having failed to demonstrate a clear-cut foreign policy achievement in Iraq, Iran or with the Palestinians, Mr. Bush is more than eager to capitalize on any potential breakthrough that may come his way during his waning days in the White House. Having just returned from an extended visit to Turkey and Israel where I met with officials from both sides, the sentiment is clear: while the negotiations are going well, something dramatic and bold is needed to secure the durability of the negotiations and ensure a successful outcome. We know that Israel and Syria have a clear understanding of each others requirements to make peace. Otherwise, Syria in particular, would have not entered into any peace talks, let alone made them public.

Despite the White House statements indicating that the US will not participate in talks with Syria, reaching an agreement between Israel and Syria will have a dramatically positive ripple effect throughout the Middle East. It will improve the conditions in Iraq, help to undermine Iran, weaken Hamas and give Lebanon breathing room to achieve political stability. This is what the Bush administration wants and needs more than ever at this time. Now that Israel has the potential to open Washington’s door for Damascus, Assad has a golden opportunity to capitalize on Bush’s desire to claim one important foreign policy achievement, all while enhancing his own international standing. Moreover, regardless of who is the next President of the United States, Barack Obama or John McCain, they will feel politically and morally inclined to engage Syria directly which is precisely what Damascus wants. If Bush can help broker an agreement even in principle between the two countries, it will drastically influence the decisions the next US administration will have to make in the Middle East. The upcoming Mediterranean Union Partnership conference held in Paris under the auspices of the French government offers President Assad a momentous opportunity to achieve an historic breakthrough. He must seize it.

A bold move by Syria will also have an incredibly wide appeal throughout Israel. For one thing, most Israelis remain skeptical about Syria’s ultimate intentions. They are looking for a credible gesture that only a bold move such as an official meeting between Olmert and Assad could validate. Many Israelis still feel nostalgic about the visit of the late President of Egypt Anwar Al-Sadat to Israel in 1977 and the profound impact it has had on the Israelis’ public opinion regarding the exchange of territory for peace. Moreover, Olmert is politically beleaguered and he may not survive but a few more months in office. What such a gesture can accomplish will transcend Olmert’s tenure in office as it will shift the Israeli public opinion which currently favors keeping the Golan Heights as a measure of safety. Regardless of who may succeed Olmert–including the Likud’s party leader Netanyahu who opposes the return of land–the public will be on the side of peace-making, even in exchange for the Golan Heights, and will demand the continuation of the peace process.

Surely President Assad has his own people he must consider first. There are no indications that the Syrian public will frown over such a gesture, knowing full well that their president is committed to regaining the Golan without the use of force but with tough diplomacy and negotiations. For the past two years President Assad has repeatedly called for peace negotiations with Israel and prepared the public for such eventuality. Many Syrians received with satisfaction the news about the Israeli-Syrian peace talks and understand the critical value of normalizing relations with the United States. Assad stated clearly in an interview on Monday that “The most important thing in direct negotiations is who sponsors them…Perhaps we could give some trump cards to the new [US] administration to get it more involved.” Even if in the end a peace agreement with Israel is not fully materialized during the Bush administration, President Assad’s gestures now will position Syria in the best possible light for continued negotiations with the next US president, which he has made a top priority.

Turkey’s facilitation of any gestures leading to an agreement would certainly consolidate its leadership position in the Middle East as an international peace maker. At a time when Turkey is vying heavily for EU membership, every contribution to stability and peaceful developments between its neighbors will enhance its prospects favorably.

Both President Bush and Prime Minister Olmert are politically weak, and although they are not likely to make reckless moves to cover for their weaknesses, they are certainly more inclined to be accommodating if the prospect of real peace avails itself. What Damascus needs to understand is that for President Bush and Prime Minister Olmert, time is of the essence. Assad must therefore act with deliberation and do every thing in his power to seize a unique opportunity consistent with his bold move to make the Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations public.

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July 11th, 2008, 1:02 am

 

61. why-discuss said:

This is so obvious to all of us, but the Bush administration, after having ostracized so consistently Syria, probably feels it will loose its face if it now recognized Syria’s importance in the region. For them Bush’s face saving is more important than peace. This is how stubborn and obnoxious this administration is. It is time they go out from the kitchen door and get lost.

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July 11th, 2008, 2:11 am

 

62. Nour said:

I think most people, and Syrians especially, should calm their eagerness and euphoric excitement for the peace process. I hope everyone still remembers who and what “Israel” is. “Israel” is not, nor has it ever been interested in “peace.” Rather, it is interested in forcing others to submit to its demands. The kind of “peace” it is looking for is kind it got from Jordan, basically a servant-master relationship. Assad, and the Syrian government understand this, but they are temporarily going along for the ride in order to stave off international isolation and build better relations with other countries of the world. “Israel” continues to occupy land, build settlements, and oppress and persecute people. This behavior is not about to change anytime soon. However, if Syria can show that it attempted to make peace but that its overtures were turned down by “Israel” then it can roll back any criticism of its supposed lack of “peacemaking”. In other words, if it can show that Israel is the actual party opposed to a just peace, then it can remove pressure from itself and redirect it toward Israel.

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July 11th, 2008, 2:59 am

 

63. Karim said:

Ehsani:Let us assume that the Assads and the Makhloufs were Sunnis, would you still criticize their conduct?

Akeed Ehsani.
Ehsani,i repeated it several times ,the shoes(soles) of Aref Dalila who is alawite ashraf men malyon 3mameh of hypocrit sheikhs.
But those whose have mistreated Syria and its people are not ready for accountability …so we should not be asked every time if we love or hate the alawites …this is not my problem ,this paranoiac sectarian regime inculcated this hatred between syrians not me or you.

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July 11th, 2008, 3:06 am

 

64. EHSANI2 said:

You did not answer “my” question. Please read it again. You will help your own cause if you focused on the deeds and actions of the person/s than their sect. The two ought to be mutually exclusive. However, it is clear that you are not getting my point. I think that you would be more effective if you were more focussed on the deeds that you disagree with. Brining up the sect issue takes away from such effectiveness. Anyway, I guess we can both agree to disagree.

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July 11th, 2008, 3:09 am

 

65. Karim said:

Akeed=big yes

Ehsani ,dont play this game with me ,i was clear.

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July 11th, 2008, 3:12 am

 

66. norman said:

Karim,

What do you think of khaddam?.

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July 11th, 2008, 3:15 am

 

67. Karim said:

Norman ,Khadam was for 35 years a lord in the asadist regime .
So you should have liked him,i hated him of course …

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July 11th, 2008, 3:22 am

 

68. Qifa Nabki said:

Why-Discuss

I disagree with your analysis. You said: “It is a basic principle that to negotiate you try to be strong and threatening. Syria was able to bring Israel to negotiate reasonable demands because it is in a strong position, principally by having Iran on its side and by having some influence on Hamas and Hezbollah.”

In my opinion, Hizbullah is really Syria’s trump card, in the short term. Hamas is a long-term asset, for the next stage of the peace process, and Iran is a strategic, more intangible asset looming overhead. Syria poses no real military threat to Israel besides Hizbullah. You say that Hizbullah is “a deterrent”, not “a threat” to Israel, but these things are not so easily separated. Hizbullah has built up a huge arsenal of missiles that can reach any point in Israel. While they would not use them needlessly, they could certainly be used in any combination of regional conflicts that spirals out of control.

My basic point is that it is simply not in Syria’s interests to sign a peace deal with Israel that does not pave the way for a deal with Lebanon. You are right that Lebanon poses its own mix of complications, foremost among them the Palestinian refugees. But tell me how this issue would ever have been solved more easily had Lebanon still been under Syrian control.

The last thing that Syria needs — after peace — is an unstable Lebanon on its border, a Lebanon with refugee camps teeming with takfiri al=Qaeda types who want to declare war on the Shi`a and on Israel simultaneously, and drag the region into conflict again.

I think that the Lebanese are putting the brakes on the peace process because Syria needs to maintain the Hizbullah card as a legitimate weapon at the bargaining table, and then deal with the Lebanese issues there as well, as they will also deal with Hamas. Bashar will be far more successful if he can “flip” the entire region, because then no one will be able to accuse him of flipping on his own, and he will be able to deliver peace to the Israelis while delivering an honorable and workable solution to the Arabs, at the same time.

In other words, Bashar’s strategy is to bet the house and solve the entire problem with one comprehensive solution… executed in slow motion, as I said on CS last month.

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July 11th, 2008, 3:30 am

 

69. Karim said:

Ehsani and Norman ,I invite you to read my discussion with Ugarit yesterday and i think that we have had a constructive discussion on this matter.

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July 11th, 2008, 3:38 am

 

70. norman said:

Karim ,

I am proud of you for saying that , I do not know about you but I grew up in the late seventies at Damascus university and saw what the MB did at that time , and how they killed people for their religious belief not their coruption , the Islamist and the religious right have to show care for the Syrian minorities to gain respect and trust and so far they showed non .

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July 11th, 2008, 3:57 am

 

71. Alex said:

Qifa,

I think part of the region is “flippable” by the Syrians … the challenge is to flip Iran and America … to make them friends.

Something tells me that if next administration does not show interest in befriending Iran, there might be no deal… or at least, it would be more difficult to reach that deal.

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July 11th, 2008, 4:35 am

 

72. Qifa Nabki said:

Walla ya Alex, I think you underestimate Bashar.

I think he can flip Iran as well.

I’m disappointed in you.

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July 11th, 2008, 11:02 am

 

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