Monday, October 31, 2005

"To survive, Bashar Assad will have to fight his family," By Seale

To survive, Bashar Assad will have to fight his family

By Patrick Seale
Monday, October 31, 2005

The political storm caused by the Mehlis report into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has, paradoxically, provided Syria's President Bashar Assad with a golden opportunity. For the first time since he came to power in 2000, he has a unique chance to impose his authority on rival power centers and emerge as the real ruler of Syria.

In their different ways, both the international community and his own public are urging him to act. They are encouraging him to carry out a "corrective movement" against undisciplined barons of his regime, including men close to him, similar to the palace coup which brought his late father, Hafez Assad, to power in 1970. The choice before Assad is clear: either continue to claim that Syria is innocent of the murder of Hariri and that the charges in the Mehlis report are unsound and politically motivated or recognize that mistakes have been made and carry out a purge of the top security officials named in the report.

The first course would inevitably condemn the regime to international isolation and to wide-ranging sanctions, including the freezing of overseas assets of its leading members, a travel ban, and possibly even the issue of international arrest warrants. A destabilized Syria would then be vulnerable to attempts at "regime change" by its enemies.

In contrast, the second course would stabilize the country and the wider region, and win Assad immediate domestic and international support. But to manage a crisis of such unprecedented proportions, Assad would need to display unusual qualities of courage and political acumen. This is the most difficult moment in the president's career. Moreover, he is under pressure to act fast. It is likely that the window of opportunity will be open for only the next few weeks. The United Nations has given Mehlis until December 15 to complete his investigations and submit a more detailed report. Within this limited time-frame, Assad will enjoy a certain freedom of maneuver, largely for the following reasons:

First, although the Mehlis report confirmed his quarrel with Hariri, it did not suggest that he was personally implicated in the murder; second, members of the Security Council have asked Syria to conduct its own investigation into the murder, which Damascus has, in fact, now agreed to do so. This is a clear signal from the international community urging Assad to act; third, tens of thousands of people came out on the streets of Damascus, Aleppo and other cities last week in support of Assad. Although it was not clear whether the demonstrations were organized by the security services, the Baath Party or Assad's own men, the message was clear. The public wants the president to show strength to protect the country from enemies abroad and wild men at home; fourth, even the so-called "patriotic opposition" is ready to back the president against external, largely American, pressures, if he undertakes to clean up corruption and crime, rein in the security services, and give more space to civil rights activists; and fifth, by far the most important factor in Assad's favor is the support he appears to enjoy from the commanders of Syria's armored and mechanized divisions, and from the elite Republican Guard. Among staunch Assad loyalists, for example, is Manaf Tlass, a prominent officer in the Republican Guard, and the son of the former long-serving Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass.

The Syrian Army is a highly secretive organization. The names of the most influential and powerful officers are largely unknown. But the army remains the guardian of the state's legitimacy. Its chiefs were not implicated in the Mehlis report. They obeyed the political leadership in withdrawing from Lebanon. Today, they have a vital role in defending the country's institutions, including the presidency itself.

Observers of the Syrian scene believe that the backing of these men could allow Assad to face down his younger brother, Maher, who commands a powerful praetorian unit, the 4th Corps, which controls the immediate approaches to the capital. If a confrontation were to occur between the brothers, it would be a replay of the clash in 1984 between Assad and his younger brother Rifaat, who at the time also commanded a powerful unit known as the Defense Companies. That confrontation ended in Hafez Assad's triumph and Rifaat's eventual exile.

This is a moment of great fluidity in Syrian affairs. The present situation is untenable. The country is expecting some sort of a showdown between rival forces. In these difficult times, the inclination is to keep one's head down and not take sides. For example, leading luminaries of the Baath Party have not spoken. The new Regional Command formed after the party congress last summer has so far not issued a statement in support of Assad, who is the party's secretary-general.

Something of a mystery also surrounds the position of Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa. Rumor has it that he has not been seen at the office recently. A meeting he was due to have in New York last week with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was cancelled. The Mehlis report accused him of providing false information.

It is also no secret that Syria's powerful security and intelligence services are deeply divided. They are at the center of the Hariri scandal. The president's brother-in-law, General Assef Shawkat, head of military intelligence, was named in the report. The recent suicide or killing of Minister of Interior Ghazi Kanaan points to a situation of extreme tension between the strongmen of the regime.

Assad may derive small comfort from the gap in American and French positions regarding Syria. The prime French interest would seem to be to arrive at the truth concerning Hariri's murder and to protect Lebanon from further Syrian interference. France is cautious about endorsing regime change, in spite of President Jacques Chirac's apparent personal animus against Assad. Nor does France share Washington's wider agenda use the Hariri murder to pressure Syria into changing its regional policies.

In particular, the Bush administration would like Syria to prevent any help reaching the Iraqi insurgents across its border. It would like to break Syria's alliance with both Iran and Hizbullah. And it would like Syria to end its support for radical Palestinian factions.

Looking beyond the outrage over the Hariri murder, most Syrians would argue that a grave injustice is being done to their country. Israel appears to enjoy complete immunity, while the United States and Britain are guilty of waging an illegal war in Iraq. Why is Syria alone in the dock? Is there a more flagrant example of international double standards than this?

Patrick Seale, a veteran Middle East analyst, wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.

Anthony Shadid on Alawites and the Regime

Anthony Shadid is cleaning up in the race to report from Syria. His deep knowledge of the region, ability to speak Arabic, and sensitivity to his informants means he is getting the real story, as his last two articles, copied below, make clear. He does not get bogged down in tired metaphors like "the mafia inc.," no matter how compelling they are or how useful in short-handing messages to the US audience. Most Middle Eastern states are variations on the Mafia structure. Wealth, jobs and influence are distributed through patronage networks. Syria is no exception to this rule. True democracy, the rule of law, and meritocracy should sweep away such political and economic structures. That is the theory, at least. Of course, this is the long-term outcome that Syrians hope for, but they know better than to expect anything like that in the short term. What will happen, should the Asad family and Alawi hierarchy be displaced, is that another patronage system will be established in its stead. What the pillars of that system are likely to be, or how long it will take before they can be established, no one knows.

The Kanaan story Shadid outlines for us is about what happens to one Alawite region when its main patron dies. Its people are cut off from jobs, money, and a direct connection to the state. In turn, the state loses the loyalty and backing or the region. The shift from the "old guard" to the "new guard" under President Bashar has meant a vast displacement of patronage networks throughout the Alawite coastal region. Hafiz al-Asad and his security chieftains all emerged from villages in the Alawi Mountains. They competed among themselves to deliver jobs and infrastructure to their own and neighboring villages. As the old guard has been removed from power by Bashar, these patronage networks have also been removed, one after another.

The members of the "new guard," Bashar's generation, are not attached to their village as their father's were. The "sons of power" were brought up in Latakia, Damascus and other cities, only visiting their father's villages from time to time. They do not know the names of all their cousins and relatives, nor do they feel obliged to help them in the same manor that their fathers did. The new generation spends its money in the cities not in the villages nor among the farmers that many of them look down on as city people have a want to do. Increasingly the mountain villages are feeling cut of from the state. They do not feel that Bashar is "ta'ifi" or sectarian as his father was. They accuse him of ignoring his people. One hears such Alawi complaints as, "Bashar might as well be a Druze or Kurd. We have been ignored." Bashar's effort to modernize Syria has meant dumping the old patronage system in an effort to build a new one. Some explain this new system in terms of "crony capitalism," but it is not yet well formed. No one knows what it means for the future of the state and the presidency. Can the shift between the old mafia and the new, between countryside and city, between security chieftains and crony capitalists be carried off? As the weight of the regime moves from the countryside to the city, can the Alawite leaders of Syria retain their authority and legitimacy, or will it evaporate along with their connection to their social base in the villages?

Bashar has only begun to oversee this transformation of power - or "modernization," as it is sometimes called. The body blow his regime is now taking from the United States and France may very well catch him at a time when he is between horses.

Death of Syrian Minister Leaves A Sect Adrift in Time of Strife

By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, October 31, 2005; A01

BIHAMRA, Syria -- In this scenic village, along terraced hills of pine and palm trees, the body of Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan rests in a coffin draped in a Syrian flag, a leather-bound Koran at each corner. His death on Oct. 12 was certain. Less so are the shadowy circumstances that removed from the scene one of Syria's most powerful men, an interlocutor between the religious sect known as the Alawites, who have long ruled the country, and a government they controlled but increasingly see as distant and corrupt.

A suicide, officials said, closing the case the day after Kanaan died. A relative, Mazen Kanaan, smiled at the thought.

"He was a man of confrontation," he said. "Suicide is an escape. He wasn't a man to run away from something."

How did he die then? the relative was asked. "That is for you to figure out," he answered.

The timing of Kanaan's death has also raised suspicions. Only recently he had been questioned in a U.N. investigation that implicates senior officials in the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister.

In the sometimes brutal politics of Syria's elite, in which violence is intertwined with cunning, the 63-year-old Kanaan was a man of many faces: self-made Alawite strongman, ruthless politician and potential contender for power. In his village of Bihamra and the region that spills beyond it, he was something else: a feudal-like lord who tended to members of his Alawite minority, cultivating their support and defending their interests. To them, his death -- murder or suicide -- has become more than the passing of a figure who bordered on the iconic. It is an instance, writ small, of the growing frustration and fear in the religious sect that has served as the backbone of 35 years of Baath Party rule and is still viewed as the linchpin of President Bashar Assad's five years in power.

"No one can replace him. Maybe in a thousand years someone else like him will come," said Mazen Kanaan, sipping a small cup of bitter coffee in the courtyard of Ghazi Kanaan's now-shuttered mansion. "People need help but they have no one to go to."

These are difficult days for Syria's Alawites, and in their sentiments may be hints of the vulnerability of Assad's government as it faces a crisis over the U.N. investigation. In villages like Bihamra, across forbidding mountains that spring from the Mediterranean coast, there is deep anxiety that in a time of strife, Alawites will bear the brunt of vendettas dating to the decades when they provided the leadership of the government, military and feared security services.

That apprehension comes as frustration surges that the very state they are tied to has abandoned them. The military that ended their historic marginalization is neglected and disrespected, some of their villages remain without running water and, many say, the government, despite its Alawite cast, no longer defends them.

"It's like people don't know we live in the country," said Kharfan Khazin Ahmed, a 61-year-old retired government employee from the Alawite village of Qarir. "Every person sitting in the chair of power cares about money, not about the people."

Rise to the Top

Alawites are a small but pivotal community in Syria's tapestry of sect and ethnicity. Syria is predominantly Arab, with a Kurdish minority in the northeast. But among the Arabs are many Muslim sects: Sunni Muslims are the majority, along with minorities of Alawis, Druze and Ismailis, all of whom trace their origins back to Shiite Islam. The Alawites are the largest of those religious minorities, representing probably about 12 percent of Syria's 18 million people. They are centered in the region around Bihamra.

For centuries, Alawites faced withering discrimination, in part over the suspicions generated by their secretive, loosely Shiite religious traditions. Their secluded mountain villages are a relic of that ostracism, and they were some of the poorest, least educated and most rural of Syria's inhabitants. As with other religious minorities in the Middle East, many Alawites turned to the Baath Party, drawn to its pan-Arab, leftist and secular ideology, hoping it might dilute Syria's Sunni dominance and provide a more inclusive notion of identity. To escape grinding poverty, they joined the military, soon filling the ranks of its senior officer corps. In modern Syria, those two institutions -- party and military -- have ruled for 35 years.

Assad is an Alawite, and during the presidency of his father and predecessor, Hafez Assad, the sect emerged from behind the scenes to command the government's most sensitive positions in the military and security services. While the elder Assad was careful to give a Sunni face to portfolios such as the defense and foreign ministries and to forge alliances with other groups, his inner circle was drawn from his own community, often his own Qalbiyya tribe and family. In that sense, he was not only Syria's strongman, but also the leader of his sect, responsible for its fortunes.

"You will remain eternal in our hearts forever," reads a billboard with the elder Assad's portrait at the entrance to Qurdaha, his home town, about a mile along a winding road of ancient, rounded hills from Kanaan's village of Bihamra.

Under the younger Assad, to a remarkable degree, the circle of Alawite dominance has narrowed to his family. Gone are some of the sect's most powerful men -- former intelligence chiefs such as Ali Duba and Mohammed Khouli, for instance. Kanaan, Syria's point man in Lebanon for two decades and later the interior minister, was one of the last and most prominent. A product of the feared Mukhabarat, or Syrian intelligence, his reputation in much of the country was of a fearsome, hard man; in Bihamra, it was of a charitable one.

"He helped everyone in the village," said a doctor who spoke on condition of anonymity. "He was like a father for this entire place. Any help you needed as a citizen, you could go to him. His door was open to both the poor and princes."

The doctor, Kanaan's relative and others sat in the courtyard of his stucco, red-roofed villa on a cool morning. They snacked on bananas and apples, drank coffee and smoked cigarettes, ignoring the dawn-to-dusk fast of the holy month of Ramadan. The Alawite region is one of Syria's most secular, reflecting the imprint of a Baath Party that saw tribe and religion as barriers to modernization. The veil is hardly seen; missing are the most conservative Arab traditions that discourage interaction between men and women.

Bihamra itself shows the legacy of Kanaan's power and influence: He provided money to build the Jaafar Tayar mosque, opened a library with seven computers and built a community center named for his father, Mohammed Ali. While in Lebanon, he visited every month or two. On his return to Damascus in 2002, he visited at least once every two weeks, more often for funerals. As a young man, the story goes, in one of the myths that can overshadow life's excesses, he gave part of his first lieutenant's salary to villagers.

"The difference is that he would help someone and expect nothing in return," his relative said.

"They're going to feel the emptiness," he added.

An Ally Is Lost

Two weeks after his body was found, Kanaan's death remains the talk of Damascus. Most often heard is speculation that he faced disgrace on corruption charges and chose suicide instead. But many speculate that he represented one of the few potential rivals to Bashar Assad, giving rise to a slew of conspiracy theories: that he was forced to kill himself or that he was murdered, possibly poisoned. One well-informed Syrian said that the day after Kanaan died, all the coffee cups from his Interior Ministry office were seized to conceal evidence of foul play.

"They committed his suicide," said a Syrian dissident, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The talk in Bihamra, though, is more visceral and perhaps more telling. In the repercussions of Kanaan's death lies a truth about Syria and its government today: The younger Assad is viewed as less ta'ifi , or sectarian. His outlook is ostensibly more modern, possibly reformist; bucking tradition, he took for his wife a Sunni, not an Alawite. But as he struggles to put a more contemporary veneer on his rule, he faces a society still suffering deep cleavages that reflect unresolved questions of identity. The Baath Party offered one answer: The country is Arab. But other identities still compete -- Alawi, Sunni, Christian and so on -- in a zero-sum game of communal survival.

And in that question of survival, villagers say, Alawites lost one of their last, most prominent defenders in Kanaan. In his place, some Alawites say, is a government that cares about the military only to ensure it doesn't rebel; a ruling family most worried about its survival; and a state that promotes not the sect's interest, but networks bound by patronage and power that are growing richer. Even some Alawite intelligence officials are said to be disenchanted over the higher profile of Assad's family at their expense.

"Sadma," Kanaan's relative called his death, a shock or a blow. "Not just for the village, but for the entire region."

"He served the people. He transferred their words," said Shaalan Asad, a 51-year-old former teacher who runs a grocery store in Jobat Berghal, about a half-hour away. "He was a connection between the people and the government and their officials."

Asad, sitting on the porch of his shop, reflected on his village's story. In the 1970s, after the elder Assad took power, electricity finally arrived. The main road was paved, bringing cars where donkeys long trod over dirt paths along rocky ridges that spilled into verdant valleys of apples, cottonwoods and olives. Schools were opened in the 1980s, and the town had a sports club and a community center. Today, they are closed, unstaffed and in disrepair. He said villagers are still waiting for running water.

"We really need more," he said. "It's slow. They can't do two or three projects at the same time."

In Damascus and other Syrian cities, there is the perception that the Alawite roots of the Assad family have meant hamlets like Jobat Berghal have received favorable treatment. That view often inspires anger among the Alawite villagers here.

"The opposite! The opposite!" shouted Ahmed, the retired government employee, his face leathery from the sun.

"We're all Alawites here and when you come here, you can't find anything," he said.

As Ahmed spoke, years of grievances poured out. He ignored the coded language often employed in Syria's repressive climate. The courts? They are suffused with bribes and corruption, he said. The law? It protects the powerful and wealthy. He still pumps water into his home from a steel vat. He and other villagers have filed thousands of loan applications and still await an answer.

"President Hafez Assad said it was the right of any citizen to raise his voice if he sees injustice. You should speak out against it," Ahmed said. "Now they say it's not your right to talk. They say it's not your business, even if there's something wrong."

A Question of Identity

It is sometimes a joke among Alawites that, in the event of turmoil, they would flee to their villages near here, the same mountain redoubts that offered protection over centuries of ill will.

They laugh, but a hint of anxiety shadows the remarks. So does a sense of injustice: While some Alawites have profited under the Assads' rule, at times profligately, many have seen little benefit.

"They worry about the regime and about the accusations against the regime," said Tareq Abad, a 30-year-old sailor in the village of Shadaita, who belongs to another religious sect known as the Murshidis. (Numbering possibly 200,000, they are followers of a Syrian holy man and populist from the region who was executed in 1946.) "What would they do if the regime collapsed?"

He sat with two friends, who looked at the ground as he spoke, perhaps fearing his forthrightness. He sensed their unease.

"Let's face it," he said, shaking his head, "the government is Alawite."

Many Syrians take pride in the coexistence of the country's sects. Asking someone their identity is often seen as rude. But sectarian fault lines lurk beneath the surface. Some Syrians argue that the divisions were deepened by the battle between the government and the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Muslim movement, in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Over more than a decade, the Sunni community itself has grown increasingly religious, with greater manifestations of piety such as the veil. This summer, a clash in the village of Qadmous, in the coastal province of Tartus, took a sectarian bent, pitting two minorities, Alawites and Ismailis, against each other.

In the village of Mzaraa, a 33-year-old grocer, Firas Deeb, dismissed the talk of sect. He was Syrian, he insisted. Still, he said he expected his relatives to return if there was conflict in the country. There was no other choice.

"That's certain," he said, nodding.

"The people in Damascus will return to the village, and they'll find protection with their people. You can hide here," Deeb said. "They're going to hide behind the rocks and the stones. In the city, there are no rocks and stones."

Inner Circle in Syria Holds Power, and Perhaps Peril

By Anthony Shadid and Robin Wright
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, October 28, 2005; A01

DAMASCUS, Syria -- The brother is an impetuous officer, who wields control over the praetorian Republican Guard. The sister is nicknamed "the Iron Lady." Her husband is a burly general who rose methodically through the ranks of Syria's feared intelligence services. Presiding over them is Bashar Assad, the Syrian president who runs what some have called "a dictatorship without a dictator."

Diplomats and analysts say that together, the four represent the corporate leadership of Syria, a country facing its greatest crisis in decades following the release of a U.N. investigation that implicates senior officials in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. In this crisis, they say, the Assad family circle is a source of the president's strength. It may also be his weakness. If his relatives are directly linked to the killing, the scandal could bring down his government.

Both Assad's brother Maher and his brother-in-law, Asef Shawkat, were named in earlier versions of the report, although many diplomats here said the evidence was spotty. The Syrian government has repeatedly denied any role in the killing.

"It is about interests at the end of the day," said a Syrian intellectual familiar with members of the government but speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of harassment. "They say, 'We have to protect our own, otherwise we will all go down together.' "

As the U.N. Security Council debates a resolution demanding Syria's cooperation with the investigation, Assad's inner circle is the focus of attention in the country, where reading the Kremlin-like tea leaves is an intellectual pastime. Many here believe any change in the government would come from within. But as long as the circle remains unbroken, many also suspect the government can endure the short-term crisis, even if few can sketch out a scenario that would end Syria's isolation.

"As long as [the family members] are not trying to act against him, it will be hard to pull off a successful coup," said Flynt Leverett, a former National Security Council staffer in the Bush administration who is now at the Brookings Institution. "That doesn't mean people may not try, but it'd be hard to pull off as long as they're in his corner."

The reliance of Syria's leadership on family is not unusual in the Middle East, where an array of authoritarian republics and monarchies have reserved strategic positions for sons, brothers and other relatives.

But interviews with Syrian analysts, diplomats, dissidents and intellectuals paint a picture of a tightknit circle that has dramatically narrowed over the five-year tenure of Assad, who succeeded his father, Hafez, in 2000. Most stalwarts of his father's rule have been forced out, many hailing from the minority Alawite clan that has buttressed the rule of the Baath Party in Syria for 35 years; one of the last, the powerful Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan, was said to have committed suicide this month in Damascus.

Divisions are said to abound. But many analysts say those differences were set aside this spring, after Hariri's assassination forced Syria to end its 29-year military presence in Lebanon and prompted the U.N. investigation. But some Syrians blame the circle's small size for a string of foreign policy decisions in Lebanon and Iraq that have left Syria as isolated as at any time in its history.

"Nobody listens, nobody reads," said Marwan Kabalan, a professor at Damascus University and analyst at its Center for Strategic Studies. "You have a very small circle of decision-makers in charge of decisions in the country. What do you expect?"

In style and structure, the Syrian government is distinctly the product of one man, Assad's father, whose cult of personality presided over an elaborate overlay of institutions and alliances built across a 30-year reign. While Assad's leadership today relies on an inner circle, it has inherited some of the durability of that past era: The government has cultivated support within the public sector, the military, the Baath Party and a merchant class, some of whose powerful members are sons of government officials.

For key security and military positions, Assad's father relied on his Alawite community, a long-underprivileged minority along Syria's northwest coast, and in particular his own Qalbiyya tribe. But some Alawites grumble that the younger Assad has shown less of an inclination to patronize the community, even families that long represented pillars of the government.

Feeding that resentment is the perception of high-level corruption, both within the government and the families of senior officials. The Makhloof family, related to Assad through his mother, has become one of the wealthiest in Syria, with interests that span banking, Syria's free-trade zones, duty-free shops and nascent mobile telecommunications.

"The father led not only the country but also the family, the sect and the army, while, with President Bashar Assad, this kind of strong leadership is not available," said Sadiq Azm, a Syrian writer teaching this year at Princeton University.

One of the most dynamic figures in the circle is Shawkat, a tall, husky general with black hair and a mustache. Since February, he has run Syrian military intelligence, the institution that keeps the closest eye on threats to the government. He is a natty dresser, known for expensive tastes. A diplomat recalled that at one function for Assad's father, he was the lone person not wearing a military uniform. He chose instead an expensive Italian suit, the diplomat said. Those who have met him describe him as confident, businesslike and security-conscious, imbued with street smarts that came from his rise through the intelligence ranks.

Hafez Assad's oldest son, Basil, opposed the marriage of the divorced Shawkat to Bushra, Assad's only daughter. He was fully welcomed into the family only after Basil's death in a car crash in 1994, Syrians say. Diplomats and Syrians recall an incident, though unconfirmed. In the late 1990s, the story goes, Bashar Assad's brother Maher shot Shawkat in the stomach after he insulted Maher's uncle. Relations between the two, though strained, have improved, Syrians say.

As a young operative, Shawkat earned a reputation in the confrontation with Islamic activists in the late 1970s and early 1980s that culminated with the brutal suppression of an uprising in Hama in 1982.

"Asef Shawkat is the man who's done the best job at consolidating power with his own resources and his own levers," another diplomat said. Added the Syrian intellectual: "He's ruthless and very ambitious, but he knows what he's doing. He's not stupid."

Maher is Assad's younger brother, born in 1968, shorter than the lanky Assad but more stoutly built and, many Syrians say, more thuggish. A colonel in the Republican Guard, he serves as an acting brigadier, a diplomat said. He commands the brigade in the region around Damascus, the elite force that would most likely be called on to suppress any coup attempt.

He is rarely seen in public and, by reputation, has an explosive temper, leaving those around him skittish.

Assad's older sister, Bushra, a doctor, is often described as a power behind the throne, promoting her husband's ambitions as well as her own. Strong-willed and tough, she might have been her father's choice as successor had she not been a woman, one Syrian said.

Five years into his reign, Assad himself remains liked in Syria, and people often make a distinction between him and the unpopular government. He has shorn his rule of the iconography so familiar to his father and goes out in public with his family. To many younger Syrians, he and his wife, Asma, the daughter of a renowned surgeon from a prominent Sunni Muslim family, represent a more modern vision of Syria. She was born, raised and educated in Britain, where she worked as an investment banker.

Bashar studied ophthalmology in Britain. Unlike his brothers, he never demonstrated an ambition for a military or political career. But his father began to groom him as his successor in the late 1990s after the death of Basil: He rejoined the military, spearheaded an anti-corruption drive and was given day-to-day control over Lebanese affairs.

The complaint often heard about Bashar Assad is not his personality but a lack of experience and forcefulness. Few doubt he is in charge, but diplomats say he seeks collective decisions and consensus.

"He's not a natural autocrat," one diplomat said. A Syrian dissident, who asked that his name not be used for fear of harassment, added: "Perhaps he's polite. Perhaps he's not as fierce as his brother and brother-in-law, but he's weak."

There's an adage in the Middle East: If the government survives a crisis, it can claim victory. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein did so after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. So did the elder Assad's government after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Diplomats and Syrians say the Syrian government's working logic in this crisis is survival. But they said the diplomacy so far adopted -- making measured concessions -- may be outdated today and more in tune with a Cold War world, where Syria could rely on its Soviet ally and a more restrained U.S. policy.

"What pushes them together is their family ties but also the awareness that they have to stick by each other in order to perpetuate their power," said Murhaf Jouejati, director of the Middle East Studies Program at George Washington University.

Since the waning days of Assad's father, stalwarts of the old guard have fallen away, further focusing power in the hands of the inner circle. One Syrian intellectual said he had often heard complaints by senior intelligence officials that they were being marginalized. That the complaints come from Alawite officials is significant, diplomats say.

The death of Kanaan, the interior minister, was perhaps the most spectacular change. The Syrian government declared it a suicide; accounts differ in Damascus, but most often elaborated is the view that he was forced into suicide under threat of disgrace. His death Oct. 12 removed the sole figure that many analysts believe represented a potential alternative to Assad's rule.

To many analysts, the narrowing of the circle has played to the benefit of Shawkat, who is seen as having most successfully built his own networks of influence within the intelligence and military.

"Everything's happened to the advantage of Asef. He's pushed away all the strong men," said the Syrian intellectual familiar with figures in the government. "The field is empty now, and that will fit him more."

In that milieu, a U.N. investigation that directly implicates officials such as Shawkat would drive to the very heart of the regime's survival, diplomats and analysts say. Most see a decision by Assad to turn against the inner circle as a red line that cannot be crossed.

"He does not have the power," the Syrian intellectual said.

Wright reported from Washington.

Flynt Levertt, "Syria's Wobbly Godfather Jr."

Flynt Leverett writes an important opinion piece warning that Washington does not have a plan for the day after. Secretary Rice explained the other day that Washington would "let the chips fall where they may," in the struggle to bring Syria's regime principals to justice for the killing of PM Hariri. This policy toward Syria is proper conduct for a court of law, but it may be unwise foreign policy. As Leverett warns, "Policymakers are not just passive members of the audience in this drama. On the real world's stage, they share responsibility for what happens next, regardless of Bashar's fate."

Syria's Wobbly Godfather Jr.
Will the Hariri Affair Be a Turning Point in the Assad Family Saga?

By Flynt Leverett
Washington Post
Sunday, October 30, 2005; B01

The recently released United Nations report on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri reads, at least in places, like a script for a new installment of "The Godfather." In one passage, the second-generation head of Syria's ruling family, President Bashar Assad, is depicted barking orders to Hariri; in another, key Assad family lieutenants, including the president's brother-in-law and younger brother, allegedly order Hariri's murder in a meeting with Lebanese security chiefs.
One can easily draw out the analogy between the Assads and the Corleones. Bashar's father, Hafez Assad, takes the role of the Sicilian patriarch, Vito Corleone. Hafez's first son, Basil, a charismatic figure who died in 1994 when he crashed his speeding BMW on the road to Damascus International Airport, stands in for Santino Corleone, the Don's oldest son who also was killed through his own impetuousness. From this perspective, the great unknown in Syrian politics today is which Corleone son has taken over the Syria's ruling family. Is Bashar, with his medical degree and soft-spoken talk about reform, like Michael Corleone, who aspired to take the family business "completely legitimate" but failed? Alternatively, is Bashar more like the hapless Fredo, simply not up to the job of national leader? Or, is he a synthesis of the worst qualities of the two, a kind of evil idiot who combines ruthlessness with incompetence?

In looking at Bashar's tenure in office, it is important to remember that he is still relatively young, not only as a man (he turned 40 last month), but as a Middle Eastern leader. Bashar has been president of Syria for a little more than five years -- a fraction of the 30-year tenure of his father. In the United States, an elected president who has been in office for five years is facing lame duck status; in the Middle East, a national leader in office for five years is just beginning to be taken seriously because he hasn't been shot.

But just as Bashar might have expected to settle into life as a middle-aged autocrat, the U.N. International Independent Investigation Commission under Detlev Mehlis has come along and ripped open the lid on his regime and revealed just how seemly it is. And in doing so, the commission's report has helped bring the long, strange relationship between the Assads and the United States to a crisis point.

It would be easy to write off Bashar anyway because he's a pale imitation of his father, but his father achieved the personal authority he enjoyed in the last half of his rule only by first surmounting a series of defining challenges. In consolidating his political position during the 1970s, he turned Syria from a coup-ridden, volatile polity into a case study of authoritarian stability. He intervened in the Lebanese civil war in the late 1970s, establishing Syrian hegemony there, then defended that status in the early 1980s against military challenges from Israel and the United States. In 1982, the old man put down a Sunni fundamentalist insurgency -- in the process killing between 10,000 and 20,000 people -- and a year later fended off a bid by his own brother to take his job. The name "Assad" means lion in Arabic, and after all that, Hafez Assad was truly the lion of Damascus, but not before then.

For all of the upheavals of the last five years in the Middle East, Bashar has yet to negotiate anything like these challenges. Lacking his father's authority, he has had to share power with others to a greater extent than his father ever did. The most powerful men in Syria today, besides Bashar, are Asef Shawkat, the president's brother-in-law and head of military intelligence, and Maher Assad, the president's younger brother and effective commander of the Republican Guard -- the best equipped part of the Syrian military, with primary responsibility for regime protection.

These two have been implicated in Hariri's assassination, and thanks to an alleged computer glitch, their names were briefly published online even though they were deleted from the Mehlis report in the final round of editing. It remains an open question whether Bashar ordered Shawkat and Maher to carry out Hariri's assassination, or whether they overreacted to the president and his dislike of the Lebanese prime minister like modern-day versions of Henry II's henchmen who followed through on the king's plea, "Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?"

If the U.N. and the Western powers insist that Syria turn over these two to an international judicial process to answer charges over Hariri's murder, Bashar will face a difficult, but intriguing moment of truth because Shawkat and Maher are both crutches and rivals to him. On the one hand, as long as they're both working with Bashar, it would be difficult for anyone else in the country's power structure to mount a successful coup, which makes them useful to the president for now.

But Shawkat and Maher may have ambitions of their own. Shawkat's wife, Bashar's older sister Bushra, is by all accounts the most politically astute and ambitious of the Assad children, but because of her sex, she must pursue politics through her husband. Shawkat himself is no shrinking violet; he eloped with Bushra over her family's objections when Hafez Assad was at the height of his powers. Bashar's younger brother Maher has been described by an astute Western diplomat who knows him as a brutal and primitive man, possessing "all of Basil's appetites but none of his qualities." Maybe, just maybe, Bashar will treat the U.N. investigation as a chance to get rid of one or both of his most potent long-term rivals, and be the only man left standing at the end of the day.

This moment of truth comes amid a dramatic deterioration in U.S.-Syrian relations. For at least 25 years, Syria has displayed all the characteristics of so-called "rogue states" in the Middle East, such as Iraq under Saddam Hussein or the Islamic Republic of Iran, including state sponsorship of terrorism and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction capabilities.

But, until recently, American administrations have stopped short of treating Syria as a full-fledged rogue. Washington has consistently maintained diplomatic relations with Damascus, and never imposed comprehensive economic sanctions. The first Bush administration recruited Syria to the 1991 Gulf War coalition. Later, because of the Clinton administration's focus on Arab-Israeli peacemaking, including an active Syria track, Secretary of State Warren Christopher made more then 20 visits to Damascus, giving the Syrian regime a measure of political cover for its less-than-savory policies.

All of this has changed over the last five years. The Syria-Israel peace track collapsed in the spring of 2000. With the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada later that year and the election of Ariel Sharon as Israel's prime minister in early 2001, those negotiations were put on indefinite hold. The election of George W. Bush also altered U.S. policy toward the Middle East. Particularly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, it became clear that this was not his father's Bush administration. In the context of a U.S.-led global war on terror, Syria's status as a state sponsor of terrorism pursuing WMD capabilities became riskier.

In the aftermath of 9/11, Syria provided the United States with actionable intelligence on al Qaeda affiliates, as administration officials publicly acknowledge. While I was serving on the National Security Council, this information let U.S. and allied authorities thwart planned operations that, had they been carried out, would have resulted in the deaths of Americans.

Nonetheless, neoconservative theology prevented the Bush administration from using carrots and sticks to transform tactical cooperation with Syria against al Qaeda into a broader rapprochement. Some influential neoconservative administration members scorned past relations with Mideast autocrats. They argued that strategic accommodation, exchanging better relations for policy shifts in Damascus, would effectively reward Syria's support for terrorism. Following the Iraq war, with U.S. troops at Syria's doorstep, relations plummeted further over Syria's unwillingness, absent a broader strategic understanding with Washington, to stem the flow of people and supplies into Iraq in support of insurgent activity there.

Throughout this period, Bashar Assad has been climbing a slow learning curve as diplomat and strategist. He has been forced by changing circumstances to adapt the foreign policy script he inherited from his father -- with some dismal results. His overly aggressive handling of the Lebanon "file," documented in the U.N. report, alienated French President Jacques Chirac and set the stage for the passage of Security Council Resolution 1559 in 2004, which mandated the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. The draft resolution that the Security Council is debating, threatening sanctions if Syria does not cooperate with the U.N. investigation, is endorsed by the Bush administration -- but it is sponsored by France.

Yet it remains unclear what outcome France, Britain and the United States are ultimately seeking. If the international community imposes sanctions on Syria, the regime may be able to hunker down like Saddam did in the 1990s, an unsatisfactory outcome for the West as well as for the Syrian people. If, on the other hand, the regime implodes, that could pose even greater dangers. Ethnic and sectarian violence could feed into and off of instability in Iraq while an anti-American, heavily Islamist leadership could fill the political vacuum in Damascus. Even if Bashar did order Hariri's killing, do we want to treat him like a Milosevic-type criminal figure? Or do we want to offer him a way out as an inducement for Syria's strategic realignment, much as we made a deal with Libya's Moammar Gaddafi, whose regime killed not 22 people, but 270 people (mostly Americans) in the bombing of Pan Am 103?

It may be tempting to see Bashar as a Macbeth-like figure, driven to paralysis by his victim's ghost and doomed. But policymakers are not just passive members of the audience in this drama. On the real world's stage, they share responsibility for what happens next, regardless of Bashar's fate.

Author's e-mail:

Flynt Leverett, author of "Inheriting Syria: Bashar's Trial by Fire," is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy. He served as senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council from 2002 to 2003 and as a senior CIA Middle East analyst from 1992 to 2001.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Yasin Haj Salih, "Sn Appeal for Salvation"

Yassin al-Haj Saleh is a Syrian journalist who writes for, among other publications, Al-Mulhaq, the literary supplement of Lebanon's Al-Nahar, and Al-Hayat. He is also one of the most articulate spokesmen of the Syrian opposition and lays out in this article the challenge faced by the Syrian opposition as it tries to present itself as a viable actor in mapping out Syria's future. He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.

From Damascus, an appeal for salvation

By Yassin Al-Haj Saleh
Commentary by
Friday, October 28, 2005

On October 16, four days after the violent death of Syrian Interior Minister Ghazi Kenaan and five days before Detlev Mehlis released his report to the United Nations on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, several Syrian parties and individuals signed a historic document titled the Damascus Declaration for Democratic and National Change. The timing was one reason why the document is important; two others were its contents and those who signed it.

The Damascus Declaration spoke about the necessity for radical change in Syria, which has been ruled by a military-Baath Party complex for more than four decades. The signatories held the regime responsible for the terrible situation inside the country as well as Syria's appalling regional status. They called on all Syrian parties aspiring for democracy - "people of the regime" not excluded - to engage in "a salvation task of change that takes the country from being a security state to a civil state." They also called for democracy, and though the signatories refused "change coming from the outside" and expressed an aspiration for the independence and unity of the country, they also refused, and in a way that was unusual for the Syrian opposition, "isolation, political adventurism and irresponsible attitudes."

The signatories also promised to "work together to put an end to despotism, and [declared] their readiness to make the required sacrifices to achieve this aim and to do whatever is necessary to launch a process of democratic change in the country."

However, the main importance of the declaration derived from the identity of the parties that signed it. The original document was signed by five parties and gatherings, namely the Democratic National Gathering (composed of five parties with leftist and nationalist roots), the Committees for Civil Society Revival, the Democratic Kurdish Alliance in Syria, the Democratic Kurdish Front in Syria, and the Future (Al-Mustaqbal) Party. Also, nine prominent figures co-signed the document, of whom Riad Seif, a jailed parliamentarian, was the most prominent.

No sooner had the declaration been issued than the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood also joined in and called on others to sign it. The Brotherhood described it as a starting point for a new national consensus. Soon other smaller groups and individuals, both within Syria and outside, joined - the most problematic of them being the Reform Party of Syria headed by Farid Ghadry, which is based in the United States.

The Damascus Declaration was a historic initiative. For the first time since the Baath Party seized power in 1963, a broad understanding was reached between the main body of the Syrian opposition and a majority of Kurdish parties, between secular parties and the Muslim Brotherhood. Groups and individuals from across Syria's social spectrum, whether religious, ethnic or sectarian, agreed to join their efforts in a struggle for democratic change at a critical moment of Syrian history. How coherent this "alliance" will prove to be is unclear, but it is a strong expression of large sections of society.

The Damascus Declaration could be seen as an early Syrian reaction to the Mehlis report. The intention of the signatories was to propose an option different than what the Syrian regime has been offering: either the regime on the one hand or chaos or extremist Islamism on the other. The signatories sought to say that there would not be a vacuum of power should the doors of the country be opened to the unknown, and should the regime collapse under international pressure.

As George Sabra, a speaker from the Syrian People Democratic Party, put it, the document was intended to show that "Syria is not politically an empty shell." He underlined that there do exist popular forces in the country, with a long history of democratic struggle - trustworthy groups that can be dealt with. These forces are united in their support for democratic and national change, and have a program that dovetails with the spirit of modernity in this era of world history.

So far the Assad regime has shown tolerance for the declaration and those who signed it. However, it used some of its proxies to wage a campaign accusing those behind the declaration of betrayal and sectarianism. One cannot be sure that the nervous regime will not soon use other weapons against Syrian democrats who are building up their courage and experience.

Now that the Mehlis report is out, it is becoming increasingly clear that it will be difficult, perhaps impossible, for both Syria and its regime to be saved together. The Damascus Declaration, in calling for change, has the aim of separating the fate of Syria from that of its regime. This is the great challenge that the Syrian opposition will have to face up to in the coming months. The stronger and more united and active the democratic opposition is, the less grim the future of the country will be.

The gathering storm
by Massoud Derhally
Arabian Business
30 October 2005

When it finally came, the findings of Detlev Mehlis's report unleashed all the pent-up frustration the Lebanese people developed in the wake of the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. The reaction on the streets in Beirut was foreseeable — as were the demonstrations in the streets of Damascus. Syrian officials stuck to their guns and lambasted the Mehlis Report as being politicised — coincidentally, they directed similar criticism at the first UN probe into Hariri's killing.

Though from a legal perspective the findings of the Mehlis report may not be conclusive and are circumstantial, they nonetheless have had a political impact as far as Syria is concerned.

"Building on the findings of the Commission and Lebanese investigations to date, and on the basis of the material and documentary evidence collected, and the leads pursued until now, there is converging evidence pointing at both Lebanese and Syrian involvement in this terrorist act," said Mehlis in his report. "It is a well-known fact that Syrian Military Intelligence had a pervasive presence in Lebanon at the least until the withdrawal of the Syrian forces pursuant to resolution 1559. The former senior security officials of Lebanon were their appointees. Given the infiltration of Lebanese institutions and society by the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services working in tandem, it would be difficult to envisage a scenario whereby such a complex assassination plot could have been carried out without their knowledge."

The fact that Syria has not fully cooperated with the investigative team puts Damascus in a precarious position. According to the Mehlis report, Syria had refused to have some witnesses questioned beyond Syrian borders, nor allowed taped conversations and testimony from witnesses that implicates Syria or its apparatus in the killing of Hariri outside the country.

The death of Ghazi Kanaan — Syria's interior minister, who ruled Lebanon for decades — just days before the Mehlis report was released was also indicative of uneasiness within the Assad regime.

Kanaan's death "points to very serious tensions at the very top of the regime", Patrick Seale, an eminent writer on the Middle East and the only biographer of former Syrian president Hafez Al Assad, told Arabian Business. "It would be surprising if under such intense pressure there was not a very fierce debate going on about what to do, who was responsible, and how they reached this stage."

Inevitably, the onus now is on Syria to prove beyond reasonable doubt, that it did not have a hand in the killing of Hariri, as most Lebanese suspect and as the Mehlis report alludes it did. This largely is a result of a history of complicity of the Lebanese security apparatus with the Syrian intelligence services that ruled Lebanon for 30 years. Syria will also have to comply and hand over or try anyone culpable in the killing of Hariri. This may mean turning over or trying Maher Al Assad, the brother of the Syrian president, Assef Shawkat, the brother-in-law of Assad, Hassan Khalil a former Syrian interior minister and Bahjat Suleyman, the Syrian Internal Security Forces chief in the General Intelligence Department.

"There are question marks over several important elements of the Mehlis Report. But, nevertheless, one has to say that the massive evidence is fairly convincing, even if it wouldn't necessarily in its present state, stand up in a court of law," says Seale.

But the report is not over yet and the German investigator will now have until December 15 to continue his investigation, with the full backing of the United Nations Security Council. It is currently engaged in the drafting of a resolution, likely to be tabled for October 31.

Syria must cooperate with Mehlis and his team of 30 investigators from 17 countries, allowing access to officials and other personalities or else risk isolation, and, as the text of a draft resolution indicates, the onset of "further measures".

Ostensibly, this means the possibility of sanctions or worse, a military option — something that US president George W. Bush continues to say is on the table.

"We can safely say that the Assad regime is in a very unenviable situation," says Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian novelist and social analyst at the Brookings Institute in Washington, who was recently in Damascus.

Still, for their part, the Syrians have largely been quite nonchalant and, to an extent, in denial. In the run up to the release of the Mehlis Report, there was an air of ambivalence in Syria. By the same token, there was a systematic message repeated by Syrian officials that the investigation has largely been orchestrated as part of a political agenda to increase pressure on Damascus because it was standing up for Arab rights.

"It's a tactic, I think," says Seale of Syria's indifference to the Mehlis report. "They don't want to recognise that the situation is very grave. On the other hand, an important issue is that a lot of Syrians feel that they are facing an injustice. There is a sort of patriotic fervour there and when they feel under attack they respond in this way."

Though it was not on the scale of the demonstrations of the Lebanese Cedar Revolution, the protests in Damascus in the wake of the Mehlis report certainly illuminated the sense that Syrians were being victimised. Protesters carried signs that read "No to the Mehlis Report" and others that read "Yes to Bashar Al Assad."

There was also a reaction in some corners of the Arab world that the report was an instrument that was part and parcel of a Western-Zionist agenda to carve up the Arab world.

In Beirut, Lebanese took to the streets and Martyrs' Square, bearing T-shirts and placards that said, "I love you Mehlis". Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora visited the grave of Hariri flanked by several ministers in his government and waved the victory sign, but was very measured in his words and urged Syria to cooperate with the UN investigation committee. Saad Hariri, the son of the slain premier hailed the report's findings in a speech televised from Jeddah and called for an international tribunal to try those involved in the assassination of his father.

"Without justice we don't have hope," Hariri said after meeting Britain's foreign secretary Jack Straw. "This would be a strong message in the Middle East to bring those (killers) to justice ... because if you commit a crime and you get away with it, it will be like a jungle tomorrow in the Middle East.

"The crime was not committed against a family, it was committed against a system, a government in Lebanon."

"Undoubtedly there are mistakes in the handling of relations with Lebanon of course," Seale says, when describing the frame of mind of the Syrian regime. "But on the other hand, Syrians feel that the pressure on them is not really about the Hariri assassination. It's about their regional role," he adds.

To the Americans, that role comes down to the thousands who continue to infiltrate Iraq from Syria, who have strengthened the insurgency that has unleashed an unabated stream of bloodshed there. This, coupled with the presence of some of its intelligence services in Lebanon, the continued support of Hezbollah, and its alliance with Iran has angered Washington as well as France and Britain a great deal.

"The whole Tehran-Damascus-South Lebanon axis, after all, is the only opposition to American and Israeli hegemony. Syrians feel that they are being targeted for that reason. It is important to separate the two issues; the Hariri murder on the one hand and the geopolitical struggle on the other in the region," explains Seale.

The path before Syria is clearly a prickly one. The Assad regime will have to make some difficult choices, but as Seale says it is still very dangerous to make predictions. Changes of some form or another will have to take place in Syria. However, "this doesn't necessarily mean a change of regime," says Seale, adding that it does certainly mean, "some purges of bad apples will need to take place".

Ammar Abdul Hamid of Brookings believes it is the beginning of the end for Damascus. "This is a regime that has almost intentionally moved to weaken its own hand over the last few years, paving the way to this current predicament. As such, it is highly likely that we are witnessing the impending collapse of the regime," he says.

Likely scenarios, according to Abdul Hamid, include the Syrian people led by opposition figures orchestrating a velvet revolution, forcing the Baathist regime which has ruled Syria since 1963 to resign.

Another possible outcome, he says, is the abdication of Bashar Al Assad, which could result in an internal power struggle among the periphery of the present regime. In such an event, Abdul Hamid says "whoever wins will have to present a reform agenda and a few scapegoats to legitimise their position with the international community and the Syrian people". There is then the unlikely event that Assad could turn against his own family, and try to appeal to the Syrian people for support as he tries to launch a "new corrective movement", says Abdul Hamid.

"Assad could be deposed in a coup and accused of plotting the act himself in cooperation with others. The names involved will depend on the identity of those leading the coup, but they [would] most likely include Rustom Ghazali."

In all likelihood though, Assad will remain in power with Syria being isolated internationally and suffering from sanctions. In such an eventuality, according to Abdul Hamid, the regime is likely to strengthen its grip on power initially, but the move will essentially "take a drastic toll not only on the Syrian people, but on the regime itself, due to the lack of resources".

Also see this commentary by Tony Badran:
Syria: Après Assad Le Deluge?

Saturday, October 29, 2005

What Washington is Thinking about Syria

NOTE: I will be on al-Jazeera tomorrow (Saturday) night at 10:00 pm Lebanon time and 9:00 Syria time on with Riyad Muhsin Agha and Michel Kilo. The moderator will be Riyad Ben Jiddou - Hiwar Maftuh. I will be speaking in Arabic!! A first for me. I am nervous.

Here is a letter from a friend who is a well plugged in Washington analyst. He asked that I not use his name if I posted this. This is a shame because he is smart. This is the best overview of dominant themes being discussed in Washington. The big question is will there be violent chaos in Syria should the regime collapse. I hope my readers will respond in the comment section so we can get a good cross-section of opinion. Let us know if you are actually a Syrian, who has lived in the country during the last few years. Lebanese perspective is always welcome as well, as they probably know more about the probability and dynamics of violence than others. All views always welcome.

1/ My conclusion is that Washington prefers a weak Syria at the moment

- No insult intended – I have an utmost respect for those in the opposition in Syria – but the alternatives are not yet credible, and opposition figures themselves acknowledge that they are not ready to govern yet. The Damascus Declaration is a good platform, but probably not enough to precipitate change anytime soon. The good news is that Syria is not seen anymore as only a hard security problem in Washington policy circles: thanks to Syrian opposition members inside and outside Syria, and to mediums like your blog, the debate has qualitatively moved forward.

- Washington cannot pull off a new military adventure
The maximum it can do is something along what the Turks did in 1998: use the threat of force to get the Syrians to comply. But it would have a hard time convincing the US military that this will not lead to a new military adventure and contrary to Turkey which had a very specific demand that Syria could meet (and smartly met), the US is embroiled in a major conflict and its list is much longer. Even the hot pursuit option will be carefully examined: its implications could be such (think Laos and Cambodia) that the US military will say no. Where do you draw a line?

The key questions that derive from this conclusion are the following:

- Will Washington consider a Libya-type deal? Maybe, but not anytime soon. The London Times report may or may not have been on target. It does not really matter: it contains the essence of what the US wants short of regime change. If Syria had accepted something along these lines before the Mehlis report (something highly improbable), it would have been called a deal. It did not, and now it will take a new form: UN-sanctioned demands that will be presented by the Syrian government as unacceptable diktats.

Syria lost many opportunities to shape the outcome in previous years: it could have left Lebanon on its own terms, it could have toned down its anti-US rhetoric, it could have better managed its relations with France and the EU, and it could have granted citizenship to the Kurds… The list is long, but Syria did not seize these opportunities and that’s mainly Syria’s own doing.

- Does this strengthen the position of the opposition in Syria? I don’t know. A weak regime vis-à-vis the international community does not necessarily mean that the Syrian opposition will benefit from the new dynamic. A tough sanctions regime would hurt the Syrian people more than the regime (something US officials are aware of), and could bring the people closer to the regime. If the regime were smart, it would try to initiate a rapprochement with opposition figures, but the Damascus Declaration clearly says that the regime is part of the problem, not the solution. And in any case, who honestly believes that this regime can be that smart? We have been hearing rumors about reconsidering the status of the Kurds for the past several years. Today, the news surfaced again. Same for the legal framework regarding political parties. Typical of this regime. But does it have any credibility left with its own people?

- Does this default policy meet Washington’s other needs (i.e. secure borders with Iraq)? Probably not entirely, but under the current conditions, a weak, contained Syria might not be as risk-taking as it currently is.

2/ Examining all the options does not mean that a policy of regime change has been adopted

- Meeting with Ghadry or drawing up lists of names of potential alternatives to Assad does not mean that the policy has been set. A good bureaucrat will always consider all the alternatives: that is the essence of working in a foreign policy or national security bureaucracy. Of course, this administration has clear preferences, but preferences do not always translate into policy, especially in the current conditions. It has moved a long way in recent months.

- People at State and especially the NSC are not the stubborn ideologues one might suspect. And they seem to acknowledge that they don’t know everything about Syria. So far, they have proven very smart, especially on the Lebanon file. And Bolton (not a big fan of his – see D. Ignatius today) does not set the policy! He is a negotiator, not a policymaker. He can say tough things, but those who call the shots are in Washington.

- They also realize that the US is not the only country with leverage over Syria: the role of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states is key. Every time Bashar or Sharaa meets with an Arab head of state, he pretends that all went well even though he has been scolded once again (are Amr Moussa and Ahmadinejad helpful allies?). And France is moderating the US position. A US-French rift would probably jeopardize much of what has been achieved so far.

In short, US officials are playing their hand very astutely. So far, and despite reservations many might have, the Lebanon-Syria file is this Administration’s real success story in the Middle East (along with Libya, for more complex reasons that it acknowledges). The US government will make its best that it remains so.

3/ Damascus is finally coming around the fact that the Mehlis investigation and UNSCR 1559 have become the substance of US policy toward Syria (and also of French and UN policy toward Syria). Or has it?

Syrian officials have long operated under the assumption that both tools were only pretexts to pressure Syria. Once again, they were wrong. Why? Because there are no strategists or foreign policy thinkers in this regime.

Essentially, many agree with Young and Perthes regarding their assessments of Bashar (not always their conclusions): he is no reformer, he has proven immature when it comes to both foreign policy and domestic policy, he seems to be a real believer while his father was a shrewd realist, he has managed to convince some that he has introduced reforms when all he did was to dismantle the business interests of the regime’s older barons to the benefit of his inner circle, that the June Baath conference would jumpstart a new cycle of reform when it actually served as a venue for a non-violent purge to further consolidate power etc…

My (open and speculative, I admit) question for those of you living in Syria and who know Syrian society better than us is the following: what is the potential for violence in Syria?

Recently, there have been many instances of communal, ethnic and religious, violence. My questions are - no insult intended: how violent is Syrian society? Was it brutalized by the regime to a point that it has integrated violence and sees it as a normal tool, or did state violence (Hama, political prisoners etc.) and previous experiences (MB in the 70s and 80s) lead to an intense dislike of violence? Did the regime use coercion smartly? Where do people in the opposition stand? What does Iraq tell us about fractured societies? How fractured is Syrian society?

Friday, October 28, 2005

Tabler and Young on Syria's Future

Here are two editorial from the IH Tribune. Both journalists know that that Syria is unlike to cooperate with the international investigation so long as all the leaders of the regime are targets. Andrew Table, a Syrian based journalist, proposes that America offer Bashar al-Asad a way out by refraining to target him personally and by offering to open the oil pipeline between Iraq and Syria as a sweetener. Michael Young, a Lebanese journalist, suggest that the Syrian opposition take maters into its own hands, become a more effective force, and overthrow the regime.

Addendum: Michael Young just sent me this correction. He is right, of course. Sorry Michael:


Thanks for highlighting my IHT piece, but can I ask you to write a correction on your blog. You write: "Michael Young, a Lebanese journalist, suggests that the Syrian opposition take maters into its own hands, become a more effective force, and overthrow the regime." In fact I didn't say that at all, and am far more ambiguous about the issue than you make it sound. All I did, as you can clearly read in the last paragraph, is say that persistent uncertainty in Syria might lead to that outcome. I wasn't advocating anything here, and I'm surprised you should state this since the paragraph is quite clear.

Best regards,
America should test who's in charge in Damascus
Andrew Tabler, International Herald Tribune

DAMASCUS The UN investigator Detlev Mehlis's implication of "senior Lebanese and Syrian officials" in the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri is sure to set off a firestorm of debate on how to pressure Damascus to comply with the ongoing investigation. As all eyes turn to President Bashar al-Assad and what he will do next, it is imperative that Washington not miss an opportunity to determine who is worth dealing with in Damascus.

For nearly five years, I have worked as a journalist and researcher in Syria covering the country's reform process. Over dinner with diplomats and other foreign visitors in Damascus, one question arises more frequently every year: Is Assad in control of Syria?

CNN even asked Assad himself the question last week. Assad answered, "You cannot be a dictator and not be in control." Or can you? Since Assad came to power in July 2000, everything from the slow pace of reform to Damascus's reticence to pull its troops out of Lebanon has been blamed on Assad's weakness vis-à-vis the "old guard" -regime members who remain from the 30-year rule of Bashar's father, Hafez.

When this belief began to affect relations with America - most notably U.S. demands on Syria concerning Iraq - Washington changed its Syria policy from one of "constructive engagement" to "constructive instability." This has included increased sanctions, public threats and even reported cross-border skirmishes along the Iraqi-Syrian frontier. And most notably, there has been a conspicuous lack of incentives for good behavior.

Then last week, out of the blue, with the Mehlis report looming, a high-ranking U.S. official confirmed rumors that Washington had offered Damascus a deal to get it off the hook in Lebanon for its accused involvement in Hariri's assassination in exchange for halting its alleged support for the Iraqi insurgency, ending all interference in Lebanese affairs and cutting off support for Hezbollah and Palestinian rejectionist groups. Damascus has reportedly turned down the offer.

It is perhaps understandable that such a proposal went nowhere, since it is unclear that there is anyone in Syria with enough authority to rewrite its foreign policy of the last 30 years. The penultimate version of the Mehlis report that was accidentally released, which names names, indicates just how fragmented this regime might actually be. The possibility that the president's brother and brother-in-law took it upon themselves to organize the assassination of a Middle Eastern statesman shows that, at the very least, Syria might be ruled by committee.

We need to find out if someone on this committee is in a position to negotiate with the United States, even as the sanctions process rumbles forward. Sanctions by themselves could be disastrous, creating chaos when the last thing we need is chaos in another Middle Eastern country. Multilateral pressure will only increase nationalist sentiments and regime paranoia that will hamstring an already troubled reform process.

Damascus's reform program is heavily assisted, if not sustained, by UN and European Union projects. Increased multilateral pressure on the regime could politicize Syria's already limited reform space, grinding progress to a halt. Such a situation needs to be avoided at all costs. Syria's high population growth rate of 2.85 percent, combined with pitifully low labor and capital productivity, means that current unemployment levels of 11 percent to 20 percent would only increase rapidly - something that could serve to fuel Islamic radicalism in Syria and the region.

So instead of just using the Hariri investigation to push Damascus to the brink through sanctions and watch Syria sink into the abyss, Washington should give Assad a chance to prove he is in charge. America could offer him a very special carrot to go along with the sanctions stick.

Allowing the reopening of the oil pipeline between Kirkuk in Iraq and the Syrian port of Banias, to see if Assad can keep it operating without acts of sabotage, would be a good first step in determining the degree to which he controls Syria. This would also alleviate U.S. troubles in exporting Iraqi oil and give Assad and the Syrian people a material incentive to help stabilize their neighbor. And, perhaps most important, this would open the door to a peaceful solution to what is looming as the next big crisis for the United States in the region.

There are some signs that Assad could be in a position to make good on such a deal. After the Hariri assassination in February, it appears that Assad has been consolidating power. Several high-ranking officials were retired during the Baath Party conference in June. Interior Minister Ghazi Kanan, a possible rival to Assad, died last week in what officials are calling a suicide.

At least for now, America needs someone inside the Assad regime it can deal with. But the Assad regime does not necessarily need America. The regime has plenty of experience surviving sieges, however chaotic. Damascus has been under U.S. sanctions since 1979, and it has become skilled at sneaking around them. It also has about $18 billion in cash reserves, the equivalent of about three years of current imports. Syria's Baathists are masters of the waiting game: Even if Bashar can't outwit or outplay George W. Bush, history shows that an Assad is capable of outlasting two-term U.S. presidents.

(Andrew Tabler is a fellow with the Institute of Current World Affairs based in Damascus and Beirut, and consulting editor for Syria Today magazine.)

Assad's dilemma
Michael Young, International Herald Tribune

BEIRUT The release last week of a United Nations report on the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri of Lebanon threatens to create a perfect storm of adversity for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. By satisfying the international community's call that Syria cooperate with the inquiry of the UN prosecutor, Detlev Mehlis, Assad would undermine his domestic hold on power; by avoiding this, Assad would ensure Syria's almost total isolation and perhaps the imposition of international sanctions.

On Tuesday, the UN Security Council began discussing the Mehlis report. This came after Assad wrote a letter to the council, dated Sunday, in which he affirmed that while Syria was "innocent" of Hariri's Feb. 14 assassination, he was "ready to follow up action to bring to trial any Syrian who could be proved by concrete evidence to have had connection with this crime." The question now is how will Assad interpret his pledge.

In his report, Mehlis stated that his "investigation is not complete," and the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, subsequently extended the inquiry until Dec. 15. But the prosecutor had enough confidence in the information he had garnered to add that there is "converging evidence pointing at both Lebanese and Syrian involvement in this terrorist act." The investigators further underlined that the Hariri assassination was prepared over several months, and was "carried out by a group with an extensive organization and considerable resources and capabilities."

Most damning, the report offered a context in which to interpret the findings, implying that individuals at the top of the Syrian and Lebanese political systems were aware of the Hariri plot: "Given the infiltration of Lebanese institutions and society by the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services working in tandem, it would be difficult to envisage a scenario whereby such a complex assassination plot could have been carried out without their knowledge." This hit close to Assad: His brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, heads Syria's military intelligence.

There was more: A witness also pointed to the involvement of Assad's brother, Maher, who as commander of the Republican Guard is another essential regime prop. While his name was removed in the official version, in the initial Microsoft Word document released to the media, the deletion was plainly visible after activating the "track changes" option. This has led to speculation that Mehlis allowed the name to be conspicuous as a warning to the Syrians that the investigation could hit very high, perhaps reaching the president himself.

If the revelations did anything, however, they made it more likely that Assad will be inflexible. His letter to the United Nations (where for some reason the promise to bring Syrians to trial was only included in the text sent to the United States, France and Britain) will provoke more questions than answers. Where would the Syrian suspects be put on trial? In a recent CNN interview, Assad hinted that because he considered Hariri's murder "treason," so a Syrian court might be the appropriate venue. What evidence would Syria consider "concrete" enough to mandate handing over suspects?

Mehlis has asked that Syrian officials be interviewed outside Syria, and it is obvious from his report that he would include both Shawkat and Maher Assad. Indeed, the investigation team had asked to speak to the president himself, but this was rejected. Fulfilling these requests would be the minimum required of Damascus to stave off the prospect of punitive action at the United Nations. But it is highly improbable that either Maher Assad or Shawkat would agree to leave Syria.

Where does this leave Assad? Bogus cooperation will not go far, nor will efforts to try the possible suspects in Syrian courts, unless this follows an internationally endorsed Syrian investigation. It is unlikely that a political deal - where Syria might be offered breathing room in exchange for ending its support for the Iraqi insurgency, leaving Lebanon alone and cutting its ties to Palestinian militant groups and Hezbollah - could avert a handover of officials who might have participated in Hariri's assassination. At best, Assad can play for time and avoid giving Mehlis anything to strengthen his case.

This may be suicidal, but the logic is compelling. Assad knows his final card is the uncertainty surrounding what would follow the demise of his regime. He also knows that if he avoids addressing Mehlis's demands, the Security Council will move into a divisive debate over sanctions and retribution. The Americans and French can push, but can they shove, given Russian and Chinese reluctance and American difficulties in Iraq? Assad will enforce unity inside, but may also accept confrontation outside.

Can it work? The probability isn't very high, but it's all Assad has. The real question, however, is whether political forces inside Syria will sit idly by as the regime takes the country into a period of prolonged uncertainty. There may be no alternatives today to Bashar Assad, but as his regime prepares for a siege, political spaces may be filled by those who do not wish to suffer for the Assads.

(Michael Young is opinion editor of the Daily Star in Lebanon, and a contributing editor at Reason magazine in the United States.)

Investments in Syria? Fighting Islolation by Derhally

Massoud Derhally, a Dubai based journalist who recently came through town, talked to Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Dardari about the large Emaar real-estate deal. He explains how Abdullah Dardari is trying to keep an up-beat attitude about investment prospects in Syria and insists the Syrian economy will soon be growing at 7% because of recently progress in liberalization and banking advances. The Emaar deal is a bit misleading. Although it has been advertised as a 4 billion dollar deal, only one half billion is planned for immediate investment; the rest is contingent on the success of the first part. Clearly, the government is hoping that part of the recent flood of petrol dollars into the Gulf will wash up on Syrian Shores. Can this help Syria weather the isolation that is coming from the UN?

Syria will have to do much more to liberate the economy from its own lack of competitiveness, however. That is what Dardari said, when he slammed private and public sector monopolies in Syria. "The Syrian economy is subjected to public and private monopolies. For the economic reforms to succeed, it is necessary for these monopolies to stop," he was quoted as saying by Tishrin newspaper.

Also: "La Syrie se lance dans le développement de ses régions orientales"

La Syrie se prépare à investir l'équivalent de 523 millions de dollars pour le développement des régions orientales durant les cinq années qui viennent. Ces investissements font partie du prochain plan quinquennal préparé par les autorités syriennes qui débute l'année prochaine et court jusqu'en 2010.

Le gouvernement prévoit d'investir près de 17 milliards de livres (323 millions de dollars) dans la région de Hassaké, une augmentation de 140% par rapport au dernier plan quuinquénal et plus de 10,2 milliards à la région de Deir al-Zor, ce qui représente une augmentation de près de 300%. Dans cette région une nouvelle raffinerie ainsi qu'une zone industrielle devraient voir le jour.

Selon Abdallah al-Dardari, le vice-Premier Ministre en charge des affaires économiques qui a fait cette annonce au quotidien al-Sharq al-Awsat, ces investissements ont pour but de faire de la région orientale de la Syrie une plateforme de développement vers les deux pays voisins que sont la Turquie et l'Irak.
Moment of truth
by Massoud A. Derhally
Arabian Business
Thursday October 20, 2005

SYRIA is on the cusp of a new era of constructive change, introspection and improvement — at least that's how government officials and the state media in Damascus are portrayng the country's present environment. Talking to them, there seems to be a sense of ambivalence towards the storm brewing outside the borders of this embattled Arab nation.

International pressure on Damascus in the wake of the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri — which led to an exodus of Syria's 14,000 soldiers from the country in April — may have embittered Syrians who lost their jobs there. It may also have caused those in power in Damascus to be resentful about leaving a country they long saw as inherently part of Syria. But this is the least of their worries at the moment.

The findings of a UN report on the killing of Hariri are to be released to the UN Security Council on October 25 — but there seems to be little apprehension in Syria. Newspapers and the media abroad may be pre-occupied with the conclusions of Detlev Mehlis, the chief of the UN probe, but in Syria, the main story on the front page of the state run Tishreen newspaper last week was about a meeting convened by government officials to address ways to improve cleanliness.

During the day and in the evenings the Al Hamidiyah market, adjacent to the famous Oumayed mosque that is next to the shrine of Salah ad-Din, the Kurdish warrior who came to establish the Ayyubid Dynasty, is still buzzing with tourists and shoppers.

The Syrian government is also on a charm offensive. Officials are actively courting investors from the oil rich Gulf States, as part of the country's reform strategy, which aims to open up an economy that has been relatively stagnant for the past 30 years.

Just days before the Mehlis report is to be released to the Lebanese government and the UN, the Syrian deputy prime minister, Abdullah Al Dardari, who is very likely to be the next prime minister, held an event at the Palais de Nobles to celebrate with much pomp a US$3.9 billion real estate development spearheaded by Dubai based Emaar Properties and a Syrian group of businessmen.

Both Dardari and the chairman of Emaar, Mohamed Alabbar reiterated that the occasion marked an important juncture in the development of Syria's economy, that the country is open for business and has little to worry about.

Though the situation for Syria appears to be tense in the international arena, Alabbar said he wasn't concerned.

"Not in my business. I'm in the business of making money for my shareholders. I've been in [negotiations] with them for six months. I think these guys are doing a good job. They are very welcoming and they are forthcoming.

"The laws are changing positively. These guys are very serious people and I like to do business with them.

"We have to be optimistic as well. You can't live your life and worry," Alabbar told Arabian Business.

With such words there is little reason to believe in the onset of a political hurricane. But the prospects for Syria could very well turn grim, should the Mehlis report implicate its government in the killing of Hariri. In all likelihood it will, according to a source close to the investigation committee who spoke to Arabian Business earlier in the month, on condition of anonymity — as well as the most recent news reports that indicate the probe has drawn up a list of 20 suspects.

Though Syria has largely been able to swim against the tide and withstand American sanctions against the country, it also faces the worrying possibility of sanctions from the European Union and UN as well.

Such an eventuality would make an already sticky situation all the more tenuous for Damascus as the bulk of its trade is with Europe.

More importantly, the graver implication for Syria is the effect on the stalled EU-Association Accord, which Syria has been hoping would be finalised, enhancing its reform process of trade liberalisation. But this has largely been kept on hold due to the ominous political situation with Lebanon.

Still, this hasn't subdued Syria's deputy prime minister Abdullah Dardari, who was largely upbeat in an extended interview with Arabian Business. "I don't see any reason why we should always look at the worst-case scenario when we make our planning. Of course, in planning you take consideration of these possibilities, however you cannot plan your future based on a doomsday scenario," says Dardari.

"My projection actually is that the relationship with Europe will steam ahead; the association agreement will be signed, and trade and investment between Syrian and Europe will expand.

"Maybe there is talk about increased American sanctions against Syria, but there are already very strict American sanctions on Syria and, as you can see, investors are coming in full force, knowing in advance that the Syrian economy is moving ahead.

"We are adopting fully free trade, free investment, an open investment climate, we are liberalising our monetary and fiscal policies, and we are liberalising and deregulating our banking sector and financial system. Investors are not worried about either UN sanctions on Syria or European sanctions on Syria. There are already strict US sanctions on Syria, but that hasn't deterred investors to come to the country," adds Dardari.

Despite a recent economic report by Bank Audi that claimed "widening political uncertainties" and a "relatively slow reform process" have dampened Syria's growth performance to 2%, Dardari remains bullish. "In a country of 18 million and growing, a growth rate projected to reach 7% in the next few years, if I were an investor I would come to Syria."

Dardari estimates no less than US$10 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) will make its way to Syria from the Gulf states — a figure that is estimated to reach US$16 billion if European investment is accounted for as well.

Sensing what some observers say is its gradual isolation in the international community, and a media that paints it as a pariah state, Damascus has also been courting the international media. Its president Bashar Al Assad, for example, made his debut on CNN earlier in the month.

While this may allow Syria's government to score points at home, it is clear that the opinion of the international community matters most, and Syria believes it is making headway here as well.

"I don't think Syria is losing the publicity war. Syria is trying to reach out to the international community and to tell the world what Syria stands for and what are the real difficulties in achieving peace in the region — in achieving security, prosperity and establishing democracy in the region," says Bouthaina Shaaban, minister of expatriates.

"It is not Syria that is the obstacle. It is the parties who refuse to establish peace in the region. We believe that a just and comprehensive peace is the only solution for this region and no matter how may attempts they have for partial solutions they are not going to work.

"Arab people are not going to give up their rights," she adds.

But even as Damascus tries to rehabilitate its image in public, there is also an indication that it is pursuing secret negotiations with the US to reduce the impact of a damaging conclusion of the Mehlis report. There are unsubstantiated claims that the government is trying to cut a deal with Washington, similar to that it struck with Libyan leader Mohammed Qadafi, to bring the country back into the international fold.

But deputy premier Dardari vehemently denies such negotiations are taking place. "If there were any backdoor negotiations why should we hide them?" he says.

"Syria is not in the business of backdoor negotiations. Syria is in the business of transparent, open and honest talks to establish good working relationships with the United States. We feel that we have so many interests in common between Syria and the US in the stability and the prosperity of the Middle East. When the Americans are ready for such an open and transparent dialogue they will find open arms in Damascus."

There have also reports that Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador to Washington, has been engaged in shuttle diplomacy in an attempt to alleviate the pressure on Damascus.

Though Dardari would not confirm or deny Bandar's involvement, he did indicate some form of dialogue was being conducted by outside parties.

"I don't want to specify names. There are many Arab and non-Arab third parties who offered help and we are telling everybody we are ready for an open, transparent, substantive, in-depth dialogue with the United States on issues of common concern towards establishing peace and stability and prosperity in the region," Dardari explains .

Syria, according to Dardari — who doesn't belong to the Ba'ath party which has ruled the country since coming to power in 1966 — is on solid ground, and not concerned that its ties with Arab states such as Saudi Arabia are endangered by the Mehlis report.

"They are [solid] as you can see today," says Dardari about his country's relations with the rest of the Arab world. He also discloses further capital inflow from Gulf States heading for the country. "We will announce considerable investment from other Arab countries in the very near future and, therefore, I really don't see any concerns. There will be considerable investments announced with Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Dubai."

However, relations with Lebanon may be a great deal trickier to master.

Both countries have openly voiced their displeasure with one another, with reports claiming that the Syrian prime minister refused to take calls from his Lebanese counterpart Fouad Siniora three times. The vitriol is also likely to increase some time after the Mehlis report is issued.

The Lebanese press is awash with information, both substantiated and unsubstantiated, that reiterates Beirut's suspicions that Syria or a fringe of those in power had a hand in the killing of Hariri. "I am sure it will impact," admits Dardari, when asked if the Mehlis report will affect Syrian-Lebanese relations. But he adds: "Our Lebanese brothers must realise that Syria is completely exonerated of the blood of Rafik Hariri. Whoever assassinated Rafik Hariri had in their minds the target of undermining Syrian-Lebanese relations."

Dardari wants to take a wait and see approach and is reluctant to hypothesise about the Mehlis report as some in Syria have, alleging it has largely been driven by a political agenda.

"Let's first see the findings. We are certain that if these findings were based on technical and criminal evidence, Syria is 100% innocent. We really have nothing to worry about. Whether the report will exonerate Syria's name or not because of political motivations, that's a different story," explains Dardari.

"If it is politicised we will deal with it then. However, we know, we are certain we are innocent and, as the president said, if there is any Syrian individual involved in this crime they will be treated as traitors and they will be punished accordingly."

Shaaban — who has largely been Syria's face in the Western media — says her country will continue along the same lines, secure in the knowledge that it has done nothing wrong.

"Our approach has always been consistent that we are against anything that makes the region more turbulent. We believe that the problem is not our approach. The problem is that Syria is targeted or threatened because it is clinging to the rights of Arabs and it has a stand against occupation. Syria does not have a policy of assassinations," she says.

That however, may be a hard sell in Beirut. Before Hariri was killed on February 14, thousands of Syrians worked in Lebanon and the capital they repatriated back home played an important role in reviving Syria's largely impoverished economy.

The death of Hariri, and the ensuing hostile environment in Lebanon towards Syrians — who are viewed not only as culpable in the death of their former premier, but also responsible for the wide spread corruption in the country — led to an exodus of Syrian workers and a souring of relations.

The road to reconciliation, at least in Dardari's view, is through old mercantile relationships and a history of trade that ties the two countries together.

"Both sides have to sit down and review, at least from an economic point of view, the future of the relationship. The Syrian economy is moving in a direction of opening up, setting up its own financial services, free trade, an open investment climate and therefore the role of the Lebanese economy, as the breathing lung of the Syrian economy as it [was] in the past, is no longer valid," explains Dardari.

"Lebanon and Syria must iron out a new economic relationship based on the developments of the Syrian economy. Our Lebanese brothers must tell us what exactly they want from Syria. We know what we want. We want a good, brotherly, open, solid, economic, relationship — reflecting the historical relationship between the two peoples. It's up to our Lebanese brothers to define what role they want to play."

Damascus and Beirut don't have diplomatic relations. To many Lebanese, the absence of a Syrian embassy in Beirut is an affirmation of Syria's belief that Lebanon is inherently part of it.

Asked if he envisions a change in the present status quo, with embassies being established in both capitals, Dardari is indirect. "When the Lebanese authorities come and request it, we will look into it," he says. "We are open to our Lebanese brothers and what they think is good for them, we think is good for us."

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Bolton: The Bull in the Mosaic Shop

I wrote the other day that the US NSC Chief Stephen Hadley had asked the President of Italy's Senate, Mr. Pera, about possible replacements for Bashar al-Asad. People close to Hadley wrote me to ask where I had gotten this plum. They insisted it made "no sense" for Hadley to ask the Italians.

Fortunately several Italian journalists read Syria Comment and ran down the story as best they could.

Simona Poidomani of ADNKRONOS press came up with this:

Dear Dr. Landis,

According to a senior official working with Mr. Pera, there has been no phone call from Stephen Hadley to the president of the Italian Senate. Pera actually met Hadley in Washington last September (which coincides with the one-two month ago timeline you mentioned to me on the phone) and they discussed several issues, including Middle East). This has been confirmed to me by another source in the government.

best regards,
Simona Poidomani
Simona, I love you! One has to admire real reporters. Where would we be without the forth estate. God bless them. One caveat: This does not prove that Hadley asked Pera about a Bashar replacement! We must not conclude that Washington wants regime change in Syria. And if they did want it a month ago, maybe they don't today? Maybe all the talk about chaos in Syria is seeping into US consciousness and we are not being run by a bunch of clowns? But don't count on it.

How good is American diplomacy?
A number of fine American journalists have assured me that Washington is determined that its diplomats are going to do things differently in Syria. "It's going to be different this time around," Deborah Amos of National Republic Radio told me yesterday. She just flew in from London, where she is now based for several months. "The neocons are not in charge any more."

Others have given me the same reassurance. The only fly in the ointment, they say, is John Bolton, who is perched at the UN. "But he will be constrained," they insist, knitting their brows. The French are worried. "It is a big test for him. Ann Patterson is no longer at UN to back him up." Paris fears he will be Samson in the temple. They are not sure he is the chef to shape, sugar, and sauté this resolution along its cordon blue path. But the Americans are confident. "Texan barbeque is better than frog brew anytime. This man has got the right glaze." That is the line I am hearing.

Well what happens yesterday? Bolton goes off like a roadside bomb, leaving blood on the tarmac.

Earlier in the day, President Bush gave a long interview on al-Arabia. It was good. Even using my mother-in-law test, it was good. She was impressed. (If you get a kind word out of Umm Firas about Bush, it's a lucky day) Reporters tried to get Bush to go on the record about when and how he would bomb Syria. He faced them down directly and said something along the lines of, "Why do you want me to say this? We don't want to use force and are not planning force. Of course, force is always a last option and I cannot say it will never be an option, but we believe this must be solved diplomatically, etc." Umm Firas was up-beat.

But this evening when I got back from iftar, al-Jazeera was running a clip of Bolton saying, "We want a resolution saying that every Syrian will testify if called by the investigation. - even President Asad." Bingo! The improvised explosive devise. (Have I mixed my metaphors enough?)

It was clear. America is still thinking of how to take down the Asad family. No door is going to be left open for a political solution. The last few days have been spent by everyone here wracking their brains to figure out a way in which the regime might be able to cooperate with the process without committing suicide.

My own little scenario was: Syria plays along with the investigation which centers on Shawkat Asef, the new bad guy who the West molds into a symbol of the mafia side of the regime. How to separate him from his brothers-in-law? The investigation proceeds. Syria cooperates but all the regime principals sing from the same script as they did the first time around: "We know nothing; we hear nothing; we see nothing."

Mehlis comes up with a lot of gray. His main witnesses to Syria's involvement remain under a cloud of suspicion, as they are now, and he must fall back on the argument that Syria had the motive, the means, and were in control of the geography and Lebanese bad guys. The investigation drags on for a year. Everyone gets tired of it. Lebanon is in a mess. All real government business in Beirut has been delayed, reform has foundered, and the economy is running on fumes and foreign dollar infusions. It has reached the apex of its pyramid scheme. The US is distracted by presidential elections, Europe is looking for a way out. The Arab states are anxious about continuing chaos in Iraq and worried Syria will go down the same path. Everyone is tired of keeping Syria in the freezer. Then Bashar cuts a deal.

The Asad family leans on Bushra and Asef, telling them they must save the regime. Asef agrees to resign and takes up residence in Dubai or some other gilded cage, much as Rifaat did before him. Bashar repents, changes some policies, uses the foreign pressure to promote many of the technocrats like Abdullah Dardari and Daoudi, etc., that he has been trying to promote as the non-Mafia, law-and-order face of his regime. He promises things will be different. He lets it be know that he only came into real power following the June 2005 Baath Party congress when he pushed out the last of the old guard. He needs time to be the real reformer. "Let Bashar be Bashar" becomes the new catch phrase within diplomatic circles. Syria will open up, move forward with reform, and have Egyptian type elections in 2007. The democrats come to power in the US, and slowly Syria wiggles its way back from the precipice and into the "community of peace-loving," non rogue nations. The democrats decide that to staunch the flow of blood in Iraq, they must draw Iraq's neighbors into the political process.

That was the only way I could see a way out for this diplomatic impasse. It depends on the West making a very clear line between the President and Asef Shawkat, allowing the brother-in-law to become the fall guy. This deal does not have to be complete white wash. Syria has to make some major changes in foreign policy, and Bashar is put on notice that Syria must really be out of Lebanon and crack down on Jihadists traveling through the country with a proper visa regime for foreigners, embassy in Lebanon, etc. It becomes a win-win for Syria and the West.

But what does Bolton do last night? "The President must testify," he says. He nails Bashar. Everything Bush did to suggest that there might be a diplomatic solution to this stand-off was blown out of the water. Bolton broadcasted loud and clear: "America is still dreaming of regime change." Buckle your seat-belts ladies and gentlemen. There are no grounds for building an understanding between the Asad regime and Washington. This is going to be a rough ride to the bottom. That is what I understood from Bolton's words.

To my friends who are telling me that Bolton will not be the bull in the China shop this time around or that he will do things differently than he did with North Korea, I can only say....... Inshaallah, may God protect us. To my French friends: "Get this guy to a cooking class."

Alix Van Buren of "La Repubblica," Italy's leading paper, and an old Syria hand who got the first interview with Bashar al-Asad on the subject of Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon, writes:

Here is an update on the French-American diplomatic "pas-de-deux" over Syria.
Interestingly, Le Monde today has a take on that issue. An article typically inspired by the Quai d'Orsay. The gist of it is: "The French-American joint effort could be down to its last hours". Here is an extract:
"Since the Mehlis report was published, France has played a very difficult balancing act in preserving its cooperation with the Americans while pursuing different priorities. The question of how long the joint approach can survive is now definitely on the table (...) To the French the most urgent issues are "taking time", avoiding all politicization of the report, allowing full completion of the inquiry, and preserving full consensus within the international community."
Here is where France and the U.S. diverge:
"(The aim of France) is to restore its standing in the former Lebanese protectorate, while also repairing some transatlantic tensions, and this through a pragmatic and well defined cooperation. George Bush's entourage however holds a broader regional perspective: its difficulties in Iraq, the infiltration of foreign combatants across Syria's borders, the presence of Palestinian camps in Lebanon"
Note: would this suggest Washington's desire to rid that Country of the 400,000 plus Palestinian refugees? that probably merits more attention, as such topics have been bouncing around Lebanon recently). "(...) While France will stick with the US on pressuring Syria to cooperate with the inquiry - though Paris has noticeably refrained these past days from all aggressive language towards Damascus - any semantic slip by Washington regarding ideas of "war against terrorism" or of "regime change" would be cause to break off the "partenariat". The whole concept of the French-American rapprochement, recently hailed in Paris by Nicholas Burns as "a situation where the axe of war has really been buried" is now in doubt."

And here is a Reuters' item that
just came in re Russia's stance on Syria - quite an open
challenge to the U.S.
October 26, 2005

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia,
Syria's close ally since Cold War times, will do all it takes to block any attempt to slap economic sanctions against Damascus, a Foreign Ministry spokesman was quoted as saying on Wednesday.

"Russia will do
everything necessary to stop attempts to introduce sanctions against
" spokesman Mikhail Kalmynin told Interfax news agency and other Russian media on the sidelines of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's trip to Israel.

Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, angered the United States earlier this year by announcing plans to sell advanced missile systems to Syria, which Washington has accused of having links to terrorism.

(...) Lavrov will seek at next week's discussions at the Security Council in New York to make sure any resolution calls for the investigation to be fair and objective, Kalmynin said.
Timur Goksel of AUB writes: "Hizballah people are not so concerned with Mehlis report, yet. They are very focused however on the forthcoming Larsen report and their comments on Larsen are not exactly endearing. I am told to watch out
for Nasrallah's speech at Friday's Jerusalem Day parade."

Ibrahim Hamidi, al-Hayat's bureau chief in Damascus
, has two good stories: One in Arabic, in which Walid Mualem, the Deputy Foreign Minister, warns against a Sykes-Picot 2 in which the region is cut into statelets based on religion and ethnicity and Riyad al-Daoudi says that Syria will cooperate with the on going international investigation.

The other was printed by "Syria Today."
By Ibrahim Hamidi

I was not one of those Syrians who applauded the unanimous election of Syria to occupy a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council, representing the Arabic-Asian group for the period 2002-2003.

Syrian officials and government media warmly welcomed the 160-vote majority as reflecting Syria’s powerful influence on the international stage, while I simply saw it as an American trap, similar to that of Yemen in 1991.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the United States forged an alliance under the cover of the UN to drive it out. The Yemen of Ali Abdullah Saleh was then on good terms with Saddam so it did not support this “international legitimacy”, but neither could it support Saddam. Yemen simply abstained from voting, but this neutrality turned out to be extremely costly during the 1990s, until the country was able to improve relations with the Gulf states and the US after September 11, 2001 by showing unlimited support to Washington’s war against terrorism.

The Syrian case looks similar, but more painful. During 2002-2003 Syria was expected to represent “Arab legitimacy” in any international resolution concerning two critical issues: Iraq and Palestine. However, it failed in both cases to take a comfortable attitude, and her presence in the Security Council turned into a burden rather than a breakthrough in the country’s foreign relations.

Three examples prove the point.

The first was on March 1, 2002, when Syria abstained from voting on behalf of UN Resolution 1397 - the first ever to explicitly mention the “Palestinian State”. Damascus had to make significant political and media efforts to explain why she had refrained from supporting a “Palestinian State”, despite her hard won reputation as a supporter of the Palestinian cause and a pan-Arab hardliner.

The second was in April 2002, when the then Syrian Ambassador to the US, Michel Wihbeh, left the meeting hall in New York and refrained from taking part in the vote on Resolution 1402 that called for Israeli forces to withdraw from Palestinian territories reoccupied after the Intifada.

Syria was not able to vote for the resolution because she did not want to show any kind of support to then Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, with whom relations were poor, but neither was Damascus able to vote “no” because it would have been impossible for the government to openly oppose the embattled leader of Palestinian cause. The result: the empty seat approach. No vote. No decision.

This was repeated in May 2003, when Wihbeh failed to take part in the vote on Resolution 1483 that called for an end to the 13-year sanctions regime on Iraq. Syria could not vote “yes”, because of her opposition to the US-led war in Iraq, but also she could not vote “no” because of fear of directly upsetting Washington. She simply preferred not to resist the international, American and Iraqi will to lift the sanctions; another “empty seat”.

So we had a situation where Syria could not support Resolution 1483, which called for the end to crippling international trade sanctions on a fellow Arab state, but did support Resolution 1441, which held Iraq in material breach of its obligation to disclose its weapons programmes to inspection, and was used as a central plank for the US’ case for the military invasion and overthrown of Baghdad.

Syria’s presence in the Security Council was a bitter experience indeed. It proved beyond doubt that such presence was a political achievement only in the eyes of those who fail to see beyond the surface of things.

This bitter experience continued after Syria’s departure, because of its incorrect interpretation of other international resolutions.

The first example of this was at the end of last year, after the issuing of Resolution 1559. Some Syrian officials considered the resolution a “diplomatic victory” because it had not mentioned Syria by name, and that Syria had nothing to do with the call for the “withdrawal of all remaining foreign forces from Lebanon”.

This proved an incorrect interpretation, because American and European support was able to enforce the interpretation that Syria was the main target of the resolution, and Damascus’ position was weakened further by its reputation as an assiduous supporter of the UN and “international legitimacy”, because the latter provides a good argument to demand a complete Israeli withdrawal from Syria’s Golan Heights.

Due to the great international pressure behind Resolution 1559, Syria announced its complete military withdrawal from Lebanon on April 26, 2005.

The same mistaken understanding was repeated with Resolution 1595, which called, in Article 8, for all countries to cooperate with the UN investigation into the assassination of the former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri, without mentioning any country in name.

Syria looked hesitant at first, but soon realised that the international interpretation was the right one, and the reality of how the world works would soon mean any small country would be forced to cooperate. That is why Syria later agreed to receive Detlev Mehlis, the chief UN investigator, and allow him to question senior Syrian officials regarding Hariri’s assassination.

So now we have a new reality: Mehlis will submit his report to the Security Council by the end of October. There will be a legal reading and charges against those responsible for the murder. There will also be a political reading by America and Europe, who look likely to want to use the report to isolate Syria.

The big question is: How is Syria going to read the Mehlis report? Will she stick to the Syrian interpretation only?

Adib Farha, a political analyst and former adviser to Lebanon's finance minister, wrote this for the Globe and Mail:
Not that we are or should be enamoured of the Syrian leadership -- but until and unless a viable alternative is ready to replace the Assad dynasty, anything other than a soft landing for the rapidly faltering regime would have severe repercussions on the stability of the entire region. Should the Syrian leadership implode or, worse yet, if the United States and its allies should launch military strikes against it, the ensuing anarchy and the possibilities of a sectarian/tribal civil war or the emergence of a Sunni fundamentalist-led regime would be catastrophic for all the region's countries, friend and foe alike.

We should continue to use every peaceful means to steer the Syrian leadership toward changing its evil ways. The goal should be behavioural change, not regime change. A premature fall of the Assad regime could "open up the gates of hell" (to borrow a phrase the Syrian Prime Minister recently used to threaten the U.S.), and everyone would be in deep trouble.

So, a word of caution to cheerleaders for immediate regime change: Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.

Landis at "Daily Kos:" Readership of "Syria Comment" doubles

Thanks to Sue Hudgens at the Booman Tribune little "Syria Comment" has been getting some traction in the US.

Her story NSC Chief Hadley asked Italy for Syria Replacement Name which relies heavily on Sryia Comment, was run as the lead story on the "Daily Kos," which is read by millions, and the European Tribune. It is a good read and doubled Syria Comment's readership overnight. Thanks Susan. You are the woman!

Frosty forecast for Syria's democratic Arab Spring
(Taken from a Farid Gadry and the Syrian Reform Party circular)

UN report reignites opposition's debate about whether Assad can be toppled

Washington DC, October 24, 2005/Globe and Mail - MARK MACKINNON

The man seen as the de facto leader of Syria's opposition took a few rapid puffs on a cigarette as he considered the question: Are the country's democrats ready to challenge President Bashar Assad's hold on power if international pressure succeeds in weakening it?

"No," came the one-word confession from Riad al-Turk, the 75-year-old former political prisoner who is Syria's most broadly respected opposition politician.

He acknowledged that the country's democrats, persecuted by the regime and divided until recently into myriad factions, are in no position to stage the sort of mass demonstrations that took place in Lebanon earlier this year, which sparked talk of an "Arab Spring" that optimists hoped might eventually reach Damascus.

But Mr. al-Turk was quick to add that if the United Nations Security Council decides to put even more heat on the Syrian government at its meeting tomorrow, the pendulum could rapidly swing in the opposition's favour for the first time since Mr. Assad's father, Hafez, seized power in 1970.

The United States and Britain ratcheted up pressure on Syria yesterday, saying a UN report that implicates Syria in the killing of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri was "very serious," and the world must act, Reuters reported. They, along with France, are said to be considering sanctions or other measures aimed at further isolating Mr. Assad's regime.

In the first arrest since the report was released, a suspect accused of calling pro-Syrian Lebanese President Émile Lahoud minutes before the killing was detained over the weekend. (Mr. Lahoud has denied any involvement in Mr. Hariri's death.)

"The internal opposition is against the regime, and the international community is against the regime, so our interests should meet," Mr. al-Turk said yesterday. "Right now, the system appears very strong, but if you analyze it carefully, it is really very weak. A small kick could cause it to fall."

That blow, Mr. al-Turk hopes, will spring from the report, which was released last week. The evidence compiled by UN investigator Detlev Mehlis is damning in its suggestion that the killing was organized at the highest levels in Damascus.

Although the Syrian government yesterday repeated its denial that it had anything to do with Mr. Hariri's death, one or more resolutions condemning Syria are expected to be proposed at tomorrow's Security Council meeting.

Mr. Hariri's death sparked street protests in Beirut last spring and eventually forced an end to Syria's 29-year military occupation of its smaller neighbour.

But Syrian politics, unlike the politics of fractured Lebanon, have been dominated for three decades by one party and one family. Strict state control of the media during that time has meant that most ordinary Syrians know little about the opposition or its platforms.

There's no single figure who could be named as a serious rival to Mr. Assad. Mr. al-Turk is revered in opposition circles as a symbol of resistance to the regime, having spent some 17 years in prison for membership in the banned Communist Party. But he said he would refuse the mantle of leadership even if others tried to thrust it upon him. Stooped and frail, he said the country needs hundreds of new leaders to emerge, not just one man.

The chances of that happening, he said, were advanced last week by the signing of the Damascus Declaration, a two-page document in which a hodgepodge of Communists, Islamists and liberal democrats came together to demand peaceful regime change in Syria. It was the first time the disparate parties were able to put aside their quarrels about what should follow the Baathist regime in Syria, and agree to work first on their common goal of ending Mr. Assad's rule.

"There's a window of opportunity right now," said Farid Ghadry, president of the Reform Party of Syria, a U.S.-based pro-democracy group. "With the Damascus Declaration and the Mehlis report, it feels like it's all coming together and that real change could happen. When it's going to happen, or how, we don't know."

Mr. Ghadry, like Mr. al-Turk, said he hoped the UN would be careful to impose only targeted sanctions on the Syrian leadership. Broader economic sanctions, he said, would do unnecessary harm to the Syrian people, an estimated 30 per cent of whom already live in poverty.

While much of the world was shocked by the allegations contained in the Mehlis report, it contained few surprises for Syrian opposition figures, who say they've known for decades that they're up against a regime that has no qualms about using violence to achieve its desired ends.

Anwar al-Bunni, a prominent opposition figure and human-rights lawyer, was attacked by thugs on Thursday, one day after he met in his apartment with a reporter. He believes the assault was related to a personal project he has been working on, drafting a constitution for a post-Baath Party, democratic Syria

"Nobody knows what they'll do next. This is a very dangerous time. Very serious."
RPS Notes

Although we support unity with other opposition leaders, we have some concerns about the Damascus Declaration the way it was drafted. We believe that separation of religion and State is essential to building a modern and peaceful country. We also believe that "Minorities" are Syrians and we must give them the room to decide what is best for them. We also object to dealing with the Assad regime as is suggested in the Damascus Declaration.


Ma'ariv -- The conclusions of the UN report on the assassination of Rafik Hariri have aroused a great deal of interest among the highest political and diplomatic echelons in Israel, but the silence of Israel is has been the loudest of all.

The entire upper Israeli echelon has refrained from commenting on the findings in the media, and Israeli officials said that a response would only assist the Syrians to present the report as an Israeli plot. "Any response on our part will play into Syria's hands, so Israel will not respond or comment on the matter," a high-ranking Israeli official said.

However, political officials said off the record that the report is impressive and interesting, and it will lead to aggressive measures by Washington. Israeli officials point out that the publication of the report will also increase the pressure on Syria to implement carry out Res 1559 to disarm Hizbullah. "It looks as though both the Americans and the French are determined to reduce Syria's involvement in terrorism," a high-ranking Israeli official said yesterday. State officials also said that this is a bomb that threatens Assad's regime.

At the moment, it appears that among the members of the Security Council, only Russia is trying to defend the Syrians. The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavarov, who will be visiting Israel on Wednesday and will meet with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, is trying to delay the Security Council meeting. Shalom is expected to put pressure on Lavarov to fall in line with the United States and the other members of the Security Council regarding the Syrians.

Sami Moubayed on the Mehlis Report - a must read

Once again, Sami Moubayed proves why he his Syria's best reporter in the English language - perhaps in any language. He does the hard analysis of the Mehlis report - the best analysis so far to point out its many weaknesses, contradictory evidence, and grey areas. All the same, he does not write it off as a bunch of politicized lies. He has the wisdom to point out the way forward for his country.

The ball is now in Syria's court
By Sami Moubayed
October 25, 2005

DAMASCUS - The findings of the United Nations-sanctioned Mehlis commission have ripped like a thunderstorm through Syria and Lebanon.

When parts of the 53-page report began to emerge at about midnight (Damascus time) on October 20-21, everybody turned on Arabic satellite TV. People were waiting to hear a clear sentence saying: "Syrian Mr X pressed the explode button on February 14, 2005, killing former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, under orders from Damascus."

Such an explicit statement was not made. A threat, rather than an accusation, was fired at Damascus in the Mehlis report, making it clear that it could not find concrete evidence against Syria. Had the investigation obtained something tangible to
incriminate the Syrians, by name, it would not have failed to include it in the findings.

Hariri, a billionaire politician, and 22 others were killed in a car bombing in the Lebanese capital of Beirut in February. The incident led to calls for the withdrawal of Syrian troops and intelligence agents who had been in Lebanon since the early stages of the country's civil war (1975-1980).

Despite suggesting the possible involvement of Syrian officials in the assassination plot, the authors of the report acknowledge that their findings are not conclusive. "The commission has checked and examined this evidence to the best of its knowledge," they wrote in the preface. "Until the investigation is complete, all new leads and evidence are fully analyzed, and an independent and impartial prosecution mechanism is set up, one cannot know the complete story of what happened."

Syria has to deal with another report this week, by UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen. It accuses Syria of continuing "to maintain its direct military control of Lebanon through its agents in the Lebanese presidential palace, the army and intelligence organizations", according to the Israeli Haaretz newspaper.

Syria also continues to supply the Shi'ite guerrilla group, Hezbollah, and Palestinian militants based in Lebanon with weapons, the report allegedly says.

Roed-Larsen's assignment is to oversee implementation of UN Resolution 1559, under which Syria withdrew its forces from Lebanon after almost 29 years of occupation. The resolution also calls for the disbanding of all armed factions in Lebanon, including Hezbollah and Palestinian groups.

"The findings [of the Mehlis report] require strong follow-up from the Security Council," US ambassador John Bolton said. He did not use the word "sanctions", but made it clear that in response to the investigators' findings, Washington was looking at "a range of options".

To follow up on both reports, the US and other countries have been discussing language for two resolutions on Syria that are likely to be introduced to the UN this week. Sanctions against Syria are also under consideration.

The Syrian general and Mr X
Syria fell out with Hariri the minute it brought President Emile Lahhoud to power in Lebanon in 1998. Had it empowered Hariri at Lahhoud's expense, it could easily have kept him a loyal friend of Syria.

Yet the Syrians, fearing Hariri's international standing, alliance with the French, and financial influence, concluded that Hariri would be a headache. In the Mehlis report, section 95 deals with how General Rustom Ghazali, the head of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, arrogantly dealt with Syria's "Hariri problem" with a Lebanese official named Mr X, generally believed to be Nabih Berri, the speaker of parliament who is Syria's number-one man in Lebanon.

The taped phone conversation took place on July 19, 2004. Ghazali recounted a complaint by Lahhoud, who said that he could no longer rule Lebanon with Hariri. The Lebanese Mr X asks Ghazali if Syria could appoint a new government, and Ghazali replies: "Yes, we can appoint one. What could be the problem? We could name Boutros Harb." Harb is a Christian, and what Ghazali meant was that the Syrians could break the rules in Lebanon and name a Christian as prime minister, although the premiership historically goes to a Sunni Muslim.

Although determined to wreck Hariri, Ghazali does not tell Mr X that he wants to kill him. He makes no reference to murder. He only tells Mr X that he should get people to demonstrate against Hariri, specifically in Solidaire (the part of downtown Beirut that he had built) and Qraytem, where the Hariri Palace is located.

He tells the Lebanese official to let the demonstrations carry on "until he is forced to resign like a dog". He even refuses a suggestion to send Hariri a message to resign, saying that it would be used against Syria by Hariri with his "American and French masters" and that the prime minister would say that "they" forced him to resign.

By saying all of this, Ghazali shows great disrespect for the Lebanese and intense hatred for Hariri. The important outcome of the conversation is that he did not order Hariri's destruction by a massive explosion. He wanted to get rid of him politically. He did not say, "Let us blow Rafik Hariri to pieces."

The report adds (section 105) that the former member of parliament, Nassir Qandil, who is a Syrian stooge, "was tasked to implement a campaign aimed at ruining Mr Hariri's reputation on a religious and media level", probably as part of Ghazali's plan to ruin him politically and make him "the laughing stock and be pointed at as the person who ruined and indebted the country".

At any rate, on the day after the conversation took place between Ghazali and Mr X, the late Hariri came out and declared from Beirut that "he would not step down" because of recent political movements directed against him. He said: "These campaigns are not new and have been going on for the past 12 years. They will not be behind my decision to step aside."

The controversial Assad-Hariri meeting
Then came the famed meeting between President Bashar Assad and Hariri on August 26, 2004. The Mehlis report based its findings on this meeting on the testimony of eight interviewed officials, none of whom were present at the Assad-Hariri summit in Damascus (section 27).

Reportedly, Marwan Hamadeh, Bassem al-Sabae, Ghazi al-Aridi and Walid Jumblatt (all former ministers under Hariri) had met at Jumblatt's place in Beirut awaiting Hariri to return from Syria. He had gone to Damascus to voice his opposition to the extension of Lahhoud's mandate.

He came back at 1 pm, meaning that his meeting had been brief. Each of the Lebanese officials told Mehlis that Hariri was tense, and one described him as "sweating". All of them said that Hariri described his meeting with Assad in very bad terms, saying that the Syrian president had threatened "to break Lebanon on your head and Jumblatt's" if "[French President] Jacques Chirac puts me out of Lebanon".

Hariri reportedly said that Assad told him, "This is not about Emile Lahhoud, it is about Bashar al-Assad." He also threatened that if Jumblatt had Druze in Lebanon, then he had Druze in Syria and that he (Assad) "is ready to do anything" to get his way in Lebanon.

An extra Lebanese witness is Gibran Tweini, a parliamentarian and publisher of the mass circulation daily an-Nahhar. More radical in his stance toward Syria, but at the same time more loyal to his convictions than someone such as Jumblatt, who had been a Syrian stooge in the 1990s, Tweini confirmed that Hariri told him in late 2004 that he had been threatened by Assad.

The Syrian president, according to Tweini, had "threatened to blow up" Hariri, along with members of his family. All these statements were confirmed and repeated by Saad Hariri, the eldest son and heir of the slain premier.

The report gives a lot of weight to these findings, without noteing that all of these men were some of the loudest anti-Syrian politicians in Lebanon. By logic, their words could be biased, since they were likely searching for an opportunity to incriminate Syria.

It is difficult to believe that Hariri would have confessed such a statement to Tweini, who was neither a close friend nor a member of the Hariri bloc. The Syrians who talked about this meeting were Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara and General Ghazali.

The Syrian minister denied that violent language had been used, and so did the general, who added that when he met Hariri right after the prime minister had returned from his meeting with Assad, "Hariri looked relaxed." He said that Hariri had told him that the meeting had been "cordial and brief".

Then comes the phone conversation between Hariri and Walid al-Moualim, the deputy prime minister of Syria, on February 1 this year. They discussed the extension of Lahhoud's mandate, and the conversation was tapped and given to Mehlis. In it, Hariri tells Moualim: "He [President Assad] sent for me and told me: 'You always say that you are with Syria. Now the time has come for you to prove whether you meant what you said or otherwise.' He did not ask my opinion. He said: 'I have decided.' He did not address me as prime minister or as Rafik or anything of that kind. He just said: 'I have decided.' I was totally frustrated, at a loss. That was the worst day of my life. He did not tell me that he wished to extend Lahhoud's mandate. All he said was, 'I have decided to do this. Don't answer me, think and come back to me."

This is the only recorded evidence by Hariri on the Assad-Hariri meeting. It certainly does not confirm the story that Assad threatened to kill Hariri, as relayed by his son and Jumblatt. It shows that Assad ordered Hariri over Lahhoud. He did not threaten him.

Planning to commit murder?
At the time of the reported conversation between Ghazali and Mr X, the Mehlis report adds, a decision was taken in Damascus to kill the Lebanese premier. The decision was made in July 2004 and planned until December 2004. The meeting in which the decision to kill was taken was reportedly held in the Syrian capital between Syrian and Lebanese officials, first at the Meridian Hotel and then at the presidential palace (section 96).

This information is gathered from a Syrian witness, who was not identified, who used to work with Syrian intelligence in Lebanon. Again, had this information been backed with evidence, such as recorded talks, pictures, more than one witness, then one could not but believe it.

But the only basis for such an accusation is the testimony of the unnamed Syrian witness. This raises several questions: How would an average agent in the Syrian intelligence service know of such a supposedly high-level meeting? And in planning such a crime, couldn't these Syrian officials have chosen a more concealed and less public place than the Meridian?

Afterall, such a crime requires great secrecy, and not only is the Meridian Hotel tapped (as everybody in Syria knows), but it is also filled with undercover agents of different intelligence agencies disguised as waiters.

And likewise, had the palace been involved, the least the organizers could have done is conduct meetings as far away as possible from the presidential palace to prevent suspicion and the slightest chance of a leak.

Finally, how would the Syrian witness know so much about these meetings if he were not a member of the very closed crime circle (which Mehlis claims he is not). Surely, such a delicate crime was not public knowledge that an officer in the Syrian intelligence in Lebanon "stumbled" across.

The Syrian side is that this unnamed witness was bribed into incriminating Syria, either by some Lebanese politician, or by Rifaat Assad, the dissident uncle of President Assad, who longs for power.

These Syrian claims have been backed by the prestigious German political magazine, Der Spiegel. It said that one of the witnesses, Zuhayr al-Saddik, on whom the Mehlis report relied heavily for its findings, was a dubious person who had a criminal record in Syria and therefore could not be trusted or believed.

The magazine raised serious doubts about Saddik's statements and surprise that the Mehlis report attached so much weight to them. The report adds that Saddik had been paid to incriminate Syria, and that he had contacted one of his siblings from Paris after giving his testimony last summer, saying: "I have become a millionaire."

The Syrians are now saying that Saddik is an imposter, claiming that the Mehlis report should verify if the witness made correct statements before publishing them as facts. Indeed, the report even says, "At the present stage of investigation, a certain amount of information given by Mr Saddik cannot be confirmed through other evidence."

If, after months of investigation, Mehlis could not confirm what Saddik said, why was it in the report? Probably, from a legal point of view, it was just to show what the witnesses said (which is professional), but the manner in which Saddik's testimonies are written brings the world to believe that Saddik has high credibility. People wanting to interpret the report politically can use Saddik's statements against Syria, similar to how former Iraqi officials who had fled to the US in the 1990s came out to "confirm" that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

This unnamed Syrian witness said that a senior Syrian officer told him in January this year that Hariri was a problem for Syria. One month later, this same officer said that there would be "an earthquake" in Lebanon that would re-write Lebanese history (section 97).

This statement, from a legal point of view, is ridiculous. Two unknown people are talking in ambiguities. How can Syria respond to such an accusation if it does not know the name of the witness or of the officer? Had the report said: Syrian officer X told witness Y said that an "earthquake" would happen in Lebanon, then Syria would have no choice but to question and arrest Mr Y if his answers were unsatisfactory. By not mentioning names, the report gives the Syrians very limited room to respond or be proactive.

This same witness says that he had visited several military bases in Lebanon and at one base he had seen "a Mitsubishi van" and not "the Mitsubishi van" that was used to carry the explosives to kill Hariri on February 14 (section 98).

He saw this van on February 11, 12 and 13. He adds that at one point he was at a Syrian camp in the resort of Zabadani, near Damascus, and saw the same van being loaded with explosives in the presence of Ahmad Abu Addas, the man who claimed responsibility for the Hariri murder, then disappeared on February 14 (section 110).

The Syrians claim that the camp was used for education purposes. The Mehlis report says that irregular activity was recorded there on September 5-9 this year, to change its features to make it seem educational, whereas in reality it was a military base when the explosives were planted in the Mitsubishi van nine months earlier.

And why was the van loaded with explosives so publicly? The least the Syrians would have done is load it in secrecy. And they would not have permitted an outsider, such as the Syrian witness, who is not a camp official, to view the act and run the risk of him remembering it.

Ahmad Abu Addas showed up in a taped broadcast on al-Jazeera TV hours after the assassination, claiming that he had killed Hariri because the Lebanese premier had been an infidel. Everybody speculated at the time that the video was rubbish, planted by the real murderers to conceal their identity, muddle investigations and link the murder to al-Qaeda-style terrorism.

The witness claims that Abu Addas had no role to play in the crime, but was just used as a decoy by the Syrians. Then he contradicts himself and says that Abu Addas was there when the explosives were planted in the Mitsubishi. The witness claims Abu Addas recorded the tape claiming responsibility for the assassination in Damascus, weeks before the assassination, while held at gunpoint by Assef Shawkat, then the deputy director of Syrian Intelligence, who was promoted to director on February 14, the day Hariri was killed (section 178).

Yet if he was a decoy only used for the video, how is it that he was around when the bombs were being planted? With regard to Abu Addas being threatened by Shawkat, the Syrians immediately remarked that there was no evidence that Shawkat threatened Abu Addas because Shawkat denied this and Abu Addas is reportedly dead.

The witness adds that 15 minutes before the murder he received a phone call from a Syrian official, telling him to flee the scene immediately. If the witness knew the location and timing of the crime, why was he in the vicinity of the St George Hotel on February 14? Why didn't he name the official who told him to flee the scene? Had he done that, the Mehlis report could have demanded that Syria bring him to a court of justice, and if Syria failed to comply, Mehlis could have unleashed hell on Damascus at the Security Council.

Two versions of the report
Another witness met with Mustapha Hamdan, the head of the Lebanese Republican Guard and close to Lahhoud and the Syrians. This witness claims that Hamdan said that they were fed up with Hariri and wanted "to send him on a trip. Bye-bye Hariri!" (section 103).

The witness continues, saying that the decision to kill Hariri was taken by the Lebanese generals, Jamil al-Sayyed, Mustapha Hamdan, Ali al-Hajj and Raymond Azar. They planned the move with Ahmad Jibril, the Palestinian renegade and veteran resistance leader based in Damascus, and top Syrian security officials, including Assad's brother Maher, his brother-in-law Assef, along with General Hasan Khalil, the director of Syrian intelligence, and Bahjat Sulayman, the director of internal security in Syria.

Khalil retired from office in February this year, while Sulayman was retired by Assad in June. These Syrian names were all included in the initial report handed to US Secretary General Kofi Annan on October 20, but deleted by Detlev Mehlis, the German prosecutor from whom the report takes it name, in the version given to the media.

Mehlis explained this by saying that he did not have any evidence incriminating any of these people and their names were just mentioned by the unidentified Syrian "witness". Another important part of the original report handed to Annan was a reference to how the investigation had been influenced and manipulated at times by politicians in Lebanon.

This statement, which has been ignored by the media, damages Mehlis's credibility and benefits the Syrians. To quote the actual text of the document that was omitted in the circulated copy: "Certain Lebanese media had the unfortunate and constant tendency to spread rumors, nurture speculation, offer information as facts without prior checking and at times use materials obtained under dubious circumstances, from sources that had been briefed by the commission, thereby creating distress and anxiety among the public at large and hindering the commission's work when the focus should have been mostly on security issues." The additional omitted phrase reads: "A number of Lebanese political figures added to the climate of insecurity and suspicion, by leaking info to the press or by revealing sensitive date without the prior consent of the commission."

Syria's response and world opinion
Syria has responded to the report through a news conference by Riyad al-Dawoudi, the legal advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They chose Dawoudi because he is calm, independent, a respected attorney and more credible than most officials in Syria.

He said that the Mehlis report had been "influenced by the political atmosphere that prevailed in Lebanon". He added that the report had relied on "pre-set ideas to reach conclusions that are of a political nature and that point to Syria as a suspect with no evidence". He expressed deep regret that Mehlis had relied on the witness of people who were known for their anti-Syrian stance and "ignores" the witness of Syrian officials.

From Washington, Syrian ambassador Imad Mustapha added, "The report is full of political rumors, gossip and hearsay, and it has not a single shred of evidence that will be accepted by any court of law. We are so disappointed with it." He, too, added that the report was political rather than professional, prompting Bolton to say that this remark was "ridiculous".

Bolton added that the report "speaks for itself" and is backed by "substantial evidence". Stronger words were used by US President George W Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Bush said that Mehlis's findings were "deeply disturbing" and added that "the report strongly suggests the politically motivated assassination could not have taken place without Syrian involvement". Rice demanded "accountability" for the Syrians and said, "We cannot have the specter of one state's apparatus having participated or having been involved in the assassination of the former prime minister ... of another state." British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw condemned Syrian "arrogance", and the EU added: "Syria will harm its own interests if it does not fully cooperate with the inquiry." For its part, France described the report as "professional". The Mehlis report makes a strong political message, although it sends contradictory signals to the Syrians. It does not say that they are 100% involved in the assassination, nor does it name the Syrian who "pulled the trigger". It creates a lot of theories about Syrian involvement, but does not confirm a single one.

The report reads, "There is probable cause to believe that the decision to assassinate former prime minister Rafik Hariri could not have been taken without the approval of top-ranked Syrian security officials and could not have been further organized without the collusion of their counterparts in the Lebanese security services."

It does not say that the decision was taken with the approval of top-ranked Syrian security officials. Legally there is a big difference.

The report referred to many "witnesses", but did not mention the names of any of them, with the apparent intention of frightening the Syrians with a message: We know a lot - if you don't cooperate further, we will become more aggressive. Had it been up to Mehlis, even the name of Saddik would not have been leaked to the press.

In essence, the report is the last US and international warning to the Syrians. Phase two is likely to be another report in mid-December saying that "Syrian Mr X killed Hariri".

That is, unless the Syrians respond to all US demands in the Middle East, prime among them becoming a US watchdog in Iraq, helping disarm Hezbollah, distancing itself from Lebanon, and generally cooperating in the "war on terror".

To give some reassurance to the Syrians that the decision to wage war against Damascus has not yet been reached, the report concludes, "The commission is of course of the view that all people, including those charged with serious crimes, should be considered innocent until proven guilty following a fair trail." It adds, "If the investigation is to be completed, it is essential that the government of Syria fully cooperate with the investigating authorities, including allowing for interviews to be held outside Syria and for interviewees not [to] be accompanied by Syrian officials."

If anything, the report confirms one fact: regardless of its professionalism and whether it has concrete evidence against Damascus, it is a hard blow against Syria. It is the strongest and most aggressive international document targeting Syria since the Sykes-Picot Agreement was drafted in 1916 [1] and the French Mandate was imposed on Syria in 1920.

The Syrians should stop directing their efforts at saying that the report is political. Everybody knows it is, and everybody knows that there is strong support in parts of the West for Syria to be targeted and weakened, regardless of guilt or innocence. Syria, by this rationale, is going to be punished for its excesses in Lebanon, its decision to oppose the war on Iraq, for its support the insurgency and the resistance in Palestine.

Syria fits perfectly into the culprit's cage because it is no longer an internationally strong country. Syrian commentators and officials have been shouting "foul play". But does anybody in Syria have the slightest clue on how to work through the problem?

One way is through maximum cooperation with the UN and the US. One idea would be to broadcast and publicize the interviews made by Mehlis in Damascus. Another would be to allow Mehlis to interview more Syrians in Europe. The Syrians must realize that they are at their weakest point in decades. It simply is not their day in history.

Syria will have to swim with the current, no matter where it takes it, until it reaches shore or a tree to cling to. Mehlis wants to interview certain officials outside of Syria. So be it. He wants Syria to offer maximum cooperation. Let it be. He wants Syria to hand over any Syrian officials involved in the murder.

The Syrians must also cooperate with Washington on Iraq. They must make new allies in the international community to lobby on their behalf at international forums such as the UN, and with the US.

They must digest the new reality, that they are now out of Lebanon and that times have changed. In 1920, the Syrians protested the imposition of a French Mandate on Syria. When their objections amounted to nothing and the mandate was approved by the League of Nations, the Syrians accepted their fate, knowing that a great injustice was being done to them but realizing that they were powerless to stop it.

They lay low for some time, then began working with the mandate, waiting until circumstances allowed them to rise and write the mandate into history.

The Syrians this time are not as weak as they were in 1920. They have the ability to change things and patch up with the international community. The keywords for Syria today are "cooperation" and "wisdom". If the Syrians achieve both, then they can write the Mehlis report into history as well.

But the thousands of protestors chanting anti-American slogans in the capital on Monday could make this course of action difficult: the authorities are believed to have encouraged the demonstrations, and schools allowed pupils to join in.

[1] The Sykes-Picot agreement was a secret understanding concluded in May 1916, during World War I, between Great Britain and France, with the assent of Russia, for the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. The agreement led to the division of Turkish-held Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine into various French and British-administered areas. The agreement took its name from its negotiators, Sir Mark Sykes of Britain and Georges Picot of France. France gained control over modern Syria and Lebanon.

Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Trouble at the UN and Trouble in Washington

Here is an email I received from an Italian reporter friend yesterday. We had talked about how quickly the US could push for a resolution. It looks like it will only come on Friday or Monday. It will likely be very lowest common denominator because Europe is scared of getting trapped in an "America" war with Syria. America is also frightened of allowing this to appear as a US - Syria confrontation and not a "World" thing.

Because of that Washington will have to move slowly. It will want all members of the Security council to sign on to a resolution that assures Syria will cooperate with the Mehlis investigation and not just the 9 members that joined in on previous resolution 1559, which drove Syria out of Lebanon. Washington will want to get Russia, China and particularly Algeria on board to cover up any potential splits that could later become big chasms. Probably sanctions will not be able to be raised in the Security Council until December when the investigation is supposed to conclude. The timeline is being stretched out to buy unanimity, which everyone seems to want if they are to corner Syria.

The Arabs believe that Assad is not the worst leader they could have in Damascus and worry about instability and further chaos in their region. The French seem to agree with this as do Israelis - though they are probably divided (too many Israelis keep announcing that they are concerned about the fall of Asad not to believe that there must be a dispute going on.) The Americans seem to have given up on the House of Asad and would not be upset to see it replaced, despite the threat of chaos. All seem to believe that there is a need to corner Asad through the UN and make it very clear that he must leave Lebanon alone and cooperate with the West. The UN resolution will want to reassure the Lebanese that they have on-going support to get their house in order. Clearly, Saad Hariri's plea that the Mehlis investigation be tried in some "international" court and in some foreign land far from troubled Lebanese shores suggests he is worried about being left holding the bag of vipers. Should the international community get bored with the whole Hariri mess, the Lebanese could find themselves awkawrdly facing Syria alone once again.

The growing notion that Asef Shawkat is the dark power behind the throne, who really calls the regime shots, may serve to protect Bashar. Who would want to get rid of nice Bashar if they will be left facing nasty Asef? This also means that the Great Powers may ultimately try to get Bashar to nix Asef somehow. There must be a lot of head scratching going on?

Lurking in the background is what kind of court will be set up. US wants a "private international court." Europe will not like this because they support the Hague, which the US doesn't. (Private courts smack of American imperialism and would allow Washington to write international law unconstrained by UN or international institutions and power.) Here is the email from my Italian friend.

Regarding our conversation this afternoon, it turns out that we were not much off the mark!! Since we've talked, the international community has already started pushing the breaks on the Hariri report. The "urgent" meeting requested by Bush at the UN for tomorrow (it will be only ambassadors tomorrow) will have to wait at least one week (translation: Europeans, mainly France, probably also Russia and China not to mention the current president, Algiers, are telling Washington "take it easy". there is obviously no ready agreement on the report, nor on the measures Washington would like to impose).

France has finally spoken out after four days breaking its deafening silence, and what was the long-awaited announcement? That it will seek a UN resolution "requesting that Syria cooperate with the Mehlis investigation"... A clear no to sanctions, at least for the moment. A much lesser threat than what was expected.

Also the French FM went to all lengths to ensure everyone understood that the Elysee is only "after justice, with no other political aim". That is a rather square distancing from Washington.

Rice keeps talking about coordinating with other countries, but can only quote Britain's Straw 'till now. The Dutch after a meeting with Rice gleefully offered the Hague as the seat for an international Hariri trial (you might recall you and I mentioned that over the phone), which threw Sean McCormack, Foggy Bottom's spokesperson, into a whirl of panic. He started stuttering to the press "it's too early, we'll see..." and was all too quick to refuse the offer. The usual State Dept "anonymous" joined in the stammering with a : "... yeah, too early..." but then added: "definitely the mechanism will have to include an important Lebanese component....". So there you go, as expected, with the cold shoulder to the Hague, and the proposition of a "private international tribunal" that Washington has been circulating for about a month. Such a tribunal, however, will be unacceptable to Europeans, so there you have another rift in the making between the USA and Europe.
Voilà, we'll see...
Bush says military action against Syria "last resort"
Tuesday 25 October 2005, 5:22am EST

DUBAI, Oct 25 (Reuters) - President George W. Bush said military action was a last resort in dealing with Syria and he hoped Damascus would cooperate with a probe into the killing of former Lebanese premier Rafik al-Hariri.

"A military (option) is always the last choice of a president," he told Al Arabiya television in an interview aired on Tuesday when asked about a U.N. investigation that implicated Syrian officials in the killing of Hariri.

"I am hoping that they will cooperate. It (military action) is the last -- very last option," he said. "But on the other hand, you know -- and I've worked hard for diplomacy and will continue to work the diplomatic angle on this issue."

Bush said Syria had to meet a set of demands from the international community, including expelling Palestinian militant groups, preventing insurgents from crossing its borders into Iraq to fight U.S. forces, and ending Syrian interference in Lebanon.

"Nobody wants there to be a confrontation. On the other hand, there must be serious pressure applied," he said.

"In other words, there are some clear demands by the world. And this (U.N.) report, as I say, had serious implications for Syria, and the Syrian government must take the demands of the free world very seriously."

Bush would not be pinned down on what action Washington would take if Syria does not comply.

Asked if the United States would support a call by Hariri's son Saad for an international court to try his father's killers, Bush said the decision lay with the United Nations.

"Well, we want people to be held to account. And I'd be glad to talk to other leaders to determine whether or not that's the best course of action. But certainly, people do need to be held to account. And the first course of action is to go the United Nations," he added.

A kind reader sent me this article by Aluf Benn in Haaretz from 2001. It reminds us of the importance of 9-11 in generating the combined effort of the US and Israel to corner Syria because of its opposition to US and Israeli. It is worth a full read.
Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
October 24, 2005

* * *QUESTION: France is saying that it wants to wait until the final Mehlis report before it will support sanctions, but the U.S. and France have both said that they're on the same page. So does that mean that also the U.S. wants to wait until the final report is out before you consider sanctions against Syria?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think where we are right now in terms of the Mehlis report, let me sort of walk you through how I see the next week unfolding. Tomorrow, Mr. Mehlis is going to be presenting his report to the Security Council. There will be a discussion at the level of permanent representative, at the level of ambassador, in the Security Council, at which they will start theformal multilateral discussion of Mr. Mehlis' report. There have already been a number of discussions on a bilateral basis amongmembers of the Security Council.

The Secretary, of course, had an opportunity to discuss this issue at length with Foreign Secretary Straw over the weekend during the visit to Alabama. After tomorrow, I expect those consultations both up in New York and between capitals to continue. Right now, what we are discussing and working towards, although a final date has not yet been set, is for a ministerial level meeting of the Security Council a week from today, on the 31st of October. And at that point, I think the ministers will have an opportunity to discuss what course of action to take.

I think that certainly given the gravity of what we have seen in the Mehlis report, which at the very least includes Syria's non-cooperation with the Mehlis investigation and also includes potential Syrian provision of false information to the Mehlis investigators as well as the report pointing to potential high-level Syrian implication in the assassination of a former prime minister of another state, this is a subject and a report worthy of discussion at the ministerial level. So that's at this point how we see the next week unfolding. There's going to be a lot of diplomacy, a lot of discussion about this topic.

QUESTION: You said a discussion -- Monday?
QUESTION: You didn't answer my question. Are France and the U.S. still on the same page or does the U.S. -- at this point, they're saying that they want to wait until the final report. Does the U.S. -- are you leaning towards waiting until the final report?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, at this point, I think what everybody is discussing is a resolution. And I think that you have, certainly, you have seen Foreign Secretary Straw talk about a resolution. I think that that is the way the Security Council acts. And I think that that is, you know -- that is really the central focus of the discussions now. Now in terms of what might be included in a potential resolution, again, first we want to have the meeting tomorrow at which you have the ambassadors be able to receive the report in a formal discussion in the Security Council from Mr. Mehlis and then you want to have a discussion about what might be included in a potential resolution that would -- and that discussion would unfold, I would expect, over the coming days. Now, I'm not going to prejudge what may or may not be a potential resolution. I think, you know, those will be discussions to be had through diplomatic channels, as I think is appropriate.

Bolton in his press meeting said:

Bolton: Yes, I don't think that's accurate in terms of the meeting tomorrow, but we will certainly insist on Syrian cooperation. This is true confessions time now for the government of Syria. No more obstruction, no more half measures, we want substantive cooperation and we want it immediately. Thank you very much.
One kind reader sent me this old news article from 2001 in order to remind us how the US and Israel have been thinking how to knock off the house of Asad for some time.

Israel strives to import America's war on terror
By Aluf Benn
Dec. 15/16, 2001

The Israeli political-security establishment is coming to the conclusion that the terror attacks on September 11 granted Israel an advantage...

The American team, headed by Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state, told the Israelis that Washington hasn't yet decided on its course of action for the next phase. The speedy victory in Afghanistan surprised the administration, which expected a much longer campaign.

But the first stage is not yet over. After Afghanistan, the Americans plan to hunt down Qaida cells worldwide (the network is estimated to be dispersed over 60 countries), and only then to start looking forward.

According to the Israelis who were in Washington, President Bush is daily more determined that the campaign against terror proceed to the next stages. The American officials explained that the administration is of two minds about which way to go. One direction is "dealing with the difficult cases, first," with the intention being Iraq. The other approach proposes going from the periphery to the center, eliminating terror cells in countries like Somalia and Sudan, before moving on to more difficult targets.

The Israelis spoke about the dangerous connection between terrorism and the development of unconventional weapons and missile systems. "Those who use terror, will also use weapons of mass destruction if they can. This is a matter of the means, not the will," said Dayan, in his Herzliya lecture yesterday.

Dayan identified what he called the appropriate targets for the next stage of the global campaign: "The Iran, Iraq and Syria triangle, all veteran supporters of terror which are developing weapons of mass destruction." He said that "they must be confronted as soon as possible, and that is also understood in the U.S. Hezbollah and Syria have good reason to worry about the developments in this campaign, and that's also true for the organizations and other states."

During the Washington discussions, one of the Israelis proposed a new direction for the Americans to consider: "Syria first." The intention is not for the U.S. to bomb President Bashar Assad's palace or the Syrian Scud missile bases, but rather for Washington to apply political pressure. The Syrians are sensitive to U.S. opinion much more than the Iranians or Iraqis, and they can be pressured to give up their relationship with the Hezbollah and the Palestinian terror organizations based in Damascus.
A very good description of the rent-a-rally demonstrations of Monday has been written up by fellow Fulbrighter Roland McKay who was there at the main square. I watched the demonstration from my balcony with a young Syrian friend. He remarked that it looked just like Iraq before Saddam went down. Many people mentioned the same thing to me. Of course the grand battle that is being waged between the old and tired brand of Arab Nationalism and its principles of opposing imperialism, Israel, the American occupation of Iraq, a pro-Western Lebanon, etc., is not quite so simple. Other friends who work at the UN told me that the demonstration in front of their building was more spontaneous and wasn't made up of the usual suspects who marched down town, collecting at Saba'a Bahrat square.

Meanwhile, Washington is going through its own storm. One wonders which investigation will blow up first, that in Dick Cheney's office, where most of the neo-cons are gathered, or the Mehlis investigation?

David Wurmser, one of the anti-Syria architects among the neo-cons and a Cheney and Lewis Libby right hand man seems to be caught in the middle of the Washington investigation. During the latter part of the 1990s, he wrote frequently to support a joint U.S.-Israeli effort to undermine then-President Hafez Assad in hopes of destroying Ba'athist rule and hastening the creation of a new order in the Levant to be dominated by "tribal, familial and clan unions under limited governments." You can read about his background and ideas on an earlier post.

Also see this from (Thanks to Steven Heydemann for sending this)
It Starts With Cheney

The New York Times reveals this morning that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, first learned "about the C.I.A. officer at the heart of the leak investigation in a conversation with Mr. Cheney weeks before her identity became public in 2003." The assertion is backed by hard evidence. According to the Times, "Notes of the previously undisclosed conversation" are in the possession of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. While the revelation does not, on its face, suggest Cheney is in serious legal jeopardy, it could cause problems for the vice president if it conflicts with what he told the federal prosecutors, or if it can be shown that he participated in a larger conspiracy to knowingly reveal the identity of a covert CIA agent and/or subsequently cover it up. For Libby, the revelation that he learned of Plame from Cheney is particularly damaging because it is at odds with testimony he provided to the grand jury that he first learned of Plame's identity from journalists.


Libby's notes of his conversation with Cheney indicate that they spoke on June 12, 2003, about Joe Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame. On that same morning, the Washington Post reported on its front page that a former ambassador (later learned to be Wilson) had passed on information prior to the war suggesting that the claim that Iraq was attempting to acquire uranium was false. That story directly implicated Cheney, saying the CIA's decision to send Wilson to Niger "was triggered by questions raised by an aide to Vice President Cheney." The Washington Post reported recently that Fitzgerald has "zeroed in on the role of Vice President Cheney's office." As early as February 2004, the Guardian reported, "informed sources said...that three of the five officials who are the real targets of the probe work or worked for Mr Cheney." The New York Daily News recently reported that Fitzgerald may be "edging closer to a blockbuster conspiracy charge - with help from a secret snitch." Already, a number of Cheney's current aides and former aides are known to have testified in the leak probe, including Libby, Mary Matalin, John Hannah, Catherine Martin, Jennifer Millerwise, and David Wurmser. (Click here to see our full list of Bush officials implicated in the probe.)WHAT DID CHENEY TELL PROSECUTORS? In June 2004, the New York Times reported that Cheney had been "recently interviewed" by federal prosecutors in the leak probe. Although that story said Cheney did not testify under oath, the Times reports today that "Cheney was interviewed under oath by Mr. Fitzgerald last year." Cheney was reportedly asked last year whether he knew of "any concerted effort by White House aides to name the officer. It was not clear how Mr. Cheney responded to the prosecutors' questions." There are a few indications as to what Cheney may have told prosecutors. When Joe Wilson alleged that it was Cheney's office that did a "work-up" on him in 2003 in order to smear him, a spokesman in Cheney's office responded, "That is false." When Cheney was asked about his involvement in smearing Wilson on Meet the Press, the vice president said, "I don't know Mr. Wilson." But Libby's notes reveal that Cheney knew about Wilson and his wife a month before Novak outed her.LIBBY'S INCONSISTENCY: A strategist "familiar with White House thinking" told the Los Angeles Times, "Nobody should fall out of their chair if they hear that the vice president discussed classified information trying to determine facts with his national security advisor and chief of staff." That spin overlooks Libby's inconsistent story to this point. Previously, it was reported that Rove was "shown testimony from Libby suggesting the two had discussed with each other information they had gotten about Wilson's wife from reporters in early July 2003. Rove responded that Libby's testimony was consistent with his general recollection that he had first learned Wilson's wife worked for the CIA from reporters or government officials who had talked with reporters." Last July, the Los Angeles Times reported, "Libby has indicated to investigators that he learned the identity of Plame from journalists."WHAT DID BUSH KNOW? In 2001, the New York Times reported Bush and Cheney had an extremely close relationship. "[F]riends and advisers say the relationship between the two men is as crucial as ever, and still refer to Mr. Cheney as the president's consigliere, or the coach to Mr. Bush's quarterback." Bush himself noted, "There is no finer member of my administration than our Vice President, Dick Cheney. He's a great friend, a great advisor, a steady hand. He is the finest Vice President our nation has ever had." Bush and Cheney's close relationship was evidence by their joint appearance before 9/11 Commission. The question that must now be answered is whether Vice President Cheney had any discussions about Valerie Plame with President Bush prior to her outing.

A Turning Point for Syria
For several years, and certainly since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Syria reform has been among the Bush administration's top foreign policy priorities. On Thursday, the United Nations released a preliminary report "pointing the finger directly at the highest levels of the Syrian government" for February's car-bomb assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Most notably, the report fingered Asef Shawkat, Syria's military-intelligence chief and the brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The report has sent tremors through the Middle East, and represents an opening for reform. Yet, an important lesson must be noted: this unique opportunity has come about not from the brash rhetoric and inconsistent policies of the Bush administration, but from the careful, diligent, trusted work of the United Nations.


The U.N. report is likely to be more effective at mobilizing international action on Syria than any U.S. diplomatic effort in the last year and a half. Indeed, it may not have been possible without the United Nations. As Suzanne Nossel of the Security and Peace Initiative argues: "Without a broadly mandated UN, how could the Hariri case have moved beyond finger pointing? The Lebanese government could never have been trusted to investigate. There's no way the US itself could have interfered. The Arab League could not have been objective. The EU would never have waded in. The International Criminal Court would not have had jurisdiction. Without the UN, it's hard to envision how the investigation, particularly given its depth and breadth, could have been carried out." Demonstrating the region's high regard for the United Nations, the entire Hariri report was actually read aloud on al Jazeera television. It is another example of why, "if we are ever shortsighted enough to abandon or significantly scale back the UN, we will find ourselves with the impossible task of having to recreate what we destroyed."


Syria would unquestionably benefit from reform. Its support for foreign terrorist groups, its lack of assistance on Iraq border security, and its deplorable human rights record must all be addressed. But the Bush administration's approach to these problems has been marked by its inconsistency and lack of clarity. On the one hand, the Bush administration has pushed for help on issues like terrorist financing. At the same time, it has strictly enforced sanctions that make it extremely difficult for Syria to modernize its financial industry, which would greatly improve its capacity to track terrorists' financial transactions. Also, the United States can hardly claim that its goal in Syria is improve human rights conditions, since the Bush administration has long relied on Syria in its practice of "extraordinary rendition," whereby detainees are transported to other countries for (typically brutal) "interrogation." Says former CIA agent Robert Baer, "If you want them to be tortured, you send them to Syria." In one prominent case, a Canadian citizen was transferred by U.S. officials to Syria for "interrogation sessions that lasted for up to 18 hours," during which "Syrian intelligence officers beat him with thick electrical cables and with their fists, threatened to break his spine, and forced him to listen to other prisoners' screams." The prisoner was eventually determined to be innocent and released. Two days after he made his story public, "President Bush gave a speech that announced America's 'forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East' and denounced Syria for a 'legacy of torture, oppression, misery, and ruin.'"

RIGHT THREATENS MORE DANGEROUS REGIME CHANGE: Iraq-style regime change for Syria has been on the conservative wish-list for some time, dating back at least as early as April 2003, when so-called "turn-left" strategists "openly advocated moving from Baghdad on to Damascus." For many, that strategy remains operative. Newsweek reported earlier this month that, "[d]eep in the Pentagon, admirals and generals are updating plans for possible U.S. military action in Syria," and that the Defense Department unit responsible for military planning in Syria is "busier than ever." According to the Financial Times, the administration "is actively seeking an alternative who would take over" for Syrian President al-Assad. Yet, it is far from certain that military action in Syria would enhance American security. Even the National Intelligence Council, led by Bush loyalist John Negroponte, has "been warning...that if Assad is toppled, the result isn't likely to be better in terms of regional stability, and it could well be worse." As Bradford Plumer writes, "The question here isn't whether the world would be better off without Assad's family in charge of Syria— -- of course it would— -- but whether getting rid of him would actually be a smart idea, and more importantly, how the Syria hawks actually plan on doing it."

Syria: The Next Iraq
Robert Dreyfuss

October 24, 2005

The news from Syria shows that the neoconservative plan for the Middle East is still in play.

Three years ago, the U.S. invasion of Iraq was widely viewed as the first chapter of a region-wide strategy to remake the entire map of the Middle East. Following Iraq, Syria and Iran would be the next targets, after which the oil-rich states of the Arabian Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, would follow. It was a policy driven by neoconservatives in and outside of the Bush administration, and they didn’t exactly make an effort to keep it secret. In April, 2003, in an article in The American Prospect titled “Just the Beginning ,” I wrote: “Those who think that U.S. armed forces can complete a tidy war in Iraq, without the battle spreading beyond Iraq's borders, are likely to be mistaken.” And the article quoted various neocon strategists to that effect:

"I think we're going to be obliged to fight a regional war, whether we want to or not," says Michael Ledeen, a former U.S. national security official and a key strategist among the ascendant flock of neoconservative hawks, many of whom have taken up perches inside the U.S. government. Asserting that the war against Iraq can't be contained, Ledeen says that the very logic of the global war on terrorism will drive the United States to confront an expanding network of enemies in the region. "As soon as we land in Iraq, we're going to face the whole terrorist network," he says, including the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and a collection of militant splinter groups backed by nations—Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia—that he calls "the terror masters."

"It may turn out to be a war to remake the world," says Ledeen.

In the Middle East, impending "regime change" in Iraq is just the first step in a wholesale reordering of the entire region.

As the war in Iraq bogged down, and as a public outcry developed in the United States against the neoconservatives over the apparently bungled war, another sort of conventional wisdom began to take flight. According to this theory, the United States no longer had the stomach—or the capability—to spread the war beyond Iraq, as originally intended. Our troops are stretched too thin, our allies are reining us in and cooler heads are prevailing in Washington—or so the theory goes.

But the news from Syria shows that the conventional wisdom is wrong. The United States is indeed pursuing a hard-edged regime change strategy for Syria. It’s happening right before your eyes. With the ever-complacent U.S. media itself bogged down in Iraq, and with the supine U.S. Congress unwilling to challenge our foreign policy apparatus, Syria is under the gun. As in Iraq, the United States is aggressively pursuing a regime change there without the slightest notion of what might come next or who might replace President Bashar Assad. Might it be the fanatical Muslim Brotherhood, by far the most powerful single force in largely Sunni Syria? Might the country fragment into pieces, as Iraq is now doing? The Bush administration doesn’t know, just as they didn’t know what might happen to Iraq in 2003. But they are going ahead anyway.

It isn’t just the repercussions of the U.N.-led investigation into the assassination of former Lebanon Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, whose murder may or may not have been arranged by Syria’s intelligence service. Since 2003, the United States has sought political and economic sanctions against Syria (long before Hariri was killed); sought to isolate Syria diplomatically; singled out Syria for its support for Sunni insurgents inside Iraq; issued a series of ominous threats against the Syrian regime (“our patience is running out with Syria,” warned Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. proconsul in Iraq); and, according to an October 15 New York Times article, begun threatening “hot-pursuit” and other cross-border military action against Syria. That Times piece noted, in part:

A series of clashes in the last year between American and Syrian troops, including a prolonged firefight this summer that killed several Syrians, has raised the prospect that cross-border military operations may become a dangerous new front in the Iraq war, according to current and former military and government officials.

There is even a Syrian version of Iraq’s charlatan Ahmad Chalabi, and there are rumors that Kurdish rebels in Syria northeast, along the Iraqi border, are getting support from Iraqi Kurds who are part of the current interim government in Baghdad.

Various U.S. Syria analysts who have not swallowed the neoconservative Kool-Aid argue that the United States is pursuing Regime Change II in Syria. Among them is Flynt Leverett, a former CIA analyst now at the Brookings Institution, who suggests that Assad is moving slowly in the direction of political and economic reform—and might want our help. Others, including several former U.S. ambassadors, tell me that Syria can be a key partner in quieting down the crisis in Iraq, but U.S. belligerence is driving Syria in the other direction. And Scott Ritter and Sy Hersh, speaking in New York last week, noted that Syria (and its spy services) has been an important behind-the-scenes partner in attacking Al Qaeda since 2001. But "So what?" argue the neoconservatives. It’s regime-change time, and they won’t let rational arguments get in their way.

The brilliant Syria weblog Syria Comment, written by Joshua Landis, had this to say on Sunday:
Here is a most extraordinary letter from Syria's Ambassador in Washington Imad Mustapha to Congresswoman Sue Kelly, which has come into my possession. It explains how the American Administration has been stonewalling Syrian cooperation on a host of issues. It explains how Syria is being set up to fail so that the US can isolate it and carry out a process of regime-change at the expense of Iraqi stability and the lives of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. It explains how the U.S. administration's policy of forcing regime change in Syria is trumping the need to save lives in Iraq. …

For over a year Syria has been trying to cooperate with the West on the Iraq border, on the issue of terrorism finance, on the issue of stopping Jihadists from getting into Syria, on intelligence sharing, and on stabilizing Iraq.

Washington has consistently refused to take "Yes" as an answer. Why? The only credible reason is because Washington wants regime change in Syria.
Read the rest of Landis here, including the astonishing full text of Ambassador Mustapha’s letter.

So I ask: Is it possible, after everything we’ve learned about the Bush administration’s lies and deception over Iraq, after the staggering cost of that misguided war to the United States, is it possible that the American body politic is going to let Bush, Cheney and Co. get away with shattering another Middle East state?

It’s possible. Because it’s happening.

If you want to know why, read

Robert Dreyfuss is a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va., who specializes in politics and national security issues. He is a contributing editor at The Nation, a contributing writer at Mother Jones, a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, and a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone. His book, Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, will be published by Henry Holt/Metropolitan Books in the fall.

The White House cabal
By Lawrence B. Wilkerson who served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell from 2002 to 2005.
October 25, 2005

Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld made the decisions. And our inexperienced president just went along for the ride.

My quote of the day comes from Nick Blanford's article in the CSM, "Pressure builds on Syrian regime." 10/24/2005

"They want this [Syrian] leopard to change so many of its spots that it
turns into a lap dog.... It's tantamount to regime change," says Joshua

This from K.K. Atak, a writer from Turkey:
The letter of Syrian Ambassador Imad Moustapha to a an American Congresswoman pointed out in your SyriaComment today is a lucid illustration of the lack of understandig occured between the United States and Syria. Unfortunately this letter was and will not the only example this sort of misinterpretation. Almost three years ago, Seymour H. Hersh of The New Yorker Magazine put this argument in the article titled "Did the Bush Administration burn a useful source on Al Qaeda?" Let me quote a long passage from Hersh's article,
“Up through January of 2003, the coöperation was topnotch,” a former State Department official said. “Then we were going to do Iraq, and some people in the Administration got heavy- handed. They wanted Syria to get involved in operational stuff having nothing to do with Al Qaeda and everything to do with Iraq. It was something Washington wanted from the Syrians, and they didn’t want to do it.”Differences over Iraq “destroyed the Syrian bet,” said Ghassan Salamé, a professor of international relations at Paris University who served, until April, as Lebanon’s minister of culture. “They bet that they could somehow find the common ground with America. They bet all on coöperation with America.” A Defense Department official who has been involved in Iraq policy told me that the Syrians, despite their differences with Washington, had kept Hezbollah quiet during the war in Iraq. This was, he said, “a signal to us, and we’re throwing it away. The Syrians are trying to communicate, and we’re not listening.”
Since then it appears that nothing has changed so much about this chronic misunderstandings, on the contrary both sides seem to have hightened their idea fix performance. Once they were deaf, but now they are also blind. To avoid another turmoil the first priority of the statesmen is to solve these hearing-impaired and blindenss problem.

Foes help at sea
Syrian sailors rescued two Israelis whose boat sank off Cyprus.

An Israeli drowned early Sunday when the catamaran he was on went down during a storm 5 miles away from Limassol. The other two Israelis aboard were hauled onto a passing Syrian ship and taken to shore.

The survivors told reporters they were well-treated by the Syrians, but noted that their boat had flown a Canadian flag. [From Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Israel's side of the story is here:
As pressure mounts on Syria,
Israel weighs risks and benefits
By Leslie Susser

Here is an article published on Radio France Internationale's website, which claims that the US Pentagon and State Departement are developing closer ties with with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. It also maintains that Saudi Arabia is buying into the notion of regime change in Damascus in order to see the creation of a Sunni regime. The journalist gives no source for this information, but points to Saad Hariri's presence in Jiddah. (Thanks to Yann for this article)

Monday, October 24, 2005

"The Jews of Syria," By Robert Tuttle

The Jews of Syria
By Robert Tuttle
Published by Syria Comment
October 24, 2005

Robert Tuttle is a freelance writer living in New York. He was a Fulbright student in Syria from 1994 to 1997 and speaks Arabic. The story on Syria's Jews was written as a master's project for Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Robert kindly agreed to let me publish his excellent article on Syria Comment. It deserves to find many other publishers. He can be reached at
On a Sunday night in February 1975, the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes broadcast what would become one of the most controversial episodes ever aired. Titled “Israel’s Toughest Enemy,” Mike Wallace traveled to Syria just a year after the Yom Kippur War and was permitted to film interviews with members of Syria’s then roughly 4,500-strong Jewish community.

In the United States and internationally, pro-Israel groups had portrayed Syria’s Jews as persecuted minority, who lived in ghettos, whose movements were restricted and who faced constant risk of arrest. Their identity cards were stamped with the words Mossawi, a polite Arabic expression for Jew, in big red letters.

“I knew it was a deeply controversial subject,” said Wallace, “And the Israelis particularly were raising a lot of money on the plight of the Jews in Syria and I wanted to find out for myself, so we went there.”

What Wallace discovered in Syria surprised him. He found that Jews were indeed subject to special surveillance and restrictions not imposed on other Syrians. But “having said that all,” he noted in his broadcast, “It must be added that today life for Syria’s Jews is better than it was in years past.”

The broadcast included interviews with a Jewish pharmacist who claimed that assertions of mistreatment were mere “Zionist propaganda” and a Jewish school teacher who said she could never become true friends with an Israeli.

In the days and weeks following the broadcast, CBS received a barrage of letters from viewers and Jewish groups, complaining that Wallace presented an inaccurate picture of Syria and that the Jews featured could not have possibly expressed themselves freely. The American Jewish Congress called the program “inaccurate and distorted” and filed a complaint with the National News Council, a defunct organization that followed up complaints on the accuracy and fairness of news reporting.

The attention generated by the segment prompted 60 Minutes to re-air the broadcast the following June and return to Damascus to film a follow-up segment.

While filming the second segment, Wallace met Dr. Nassim Hasbani, a young, distinguished Jewish physician who ran a successful medical practice in the heart of Damascus. A member of a seven-man committee that governed Jewish affairs, Hasbani was one of just a handful of leaders who spoke publicly for the community.

Hasbani told Wallace that Jews were living well in Syria. He showed Wallace his new ID card, one without the word Mossawi stamped on it.

“The government said to us, they want to give us the card identity like all Syrian people,” he said, “Without religion. And this is for all the people.”

Then Wallace asked Hasbani a pointed and somewhat awkward question.

“Dr. Hasbani,” he said, “If all the Jews of Syria were told they could leave the country, go to the United States, or Mexico, or Israel, or wherever – how many of them would go?”

“I think,” Hasbani replied, “That not more than five percent to, to Israel. And perhaps if they want to leave to the United States, to Brazil, to other… other country, perhaps the number is 20 or 30 percent.”

A decade and a half later, Syria’s Jews were granted permission to freely emigrate abroad. Within a few short years, almost the entire community had left the country, a little less than half for Israel. Out of approximately 30,000 Jews who lived in Syria in 1947, less than 50 remain today, according to community leaders in the United States. All but a handful of those live in Damascus.

Today, most Syrian Jews live in the close-knit neighborhoods of south Brooklyn, in single-family homes located in a few-square mile area around where Ocean Parkway and the thriving market street of Kings Highway intersect. The area, in no way, resembles centuries old Jewish quarters of Damascus, Aleppo and Qamishli, but Syrian Jews have recreated bustling new neighborhoods. Walk down any street in South Brooklyn and one hears neighbors chatting with one another in Arabic. Shops sell items like rolled apricot paste, lentils and fava beans, all familiar ingredients in Syrian cuisine.

This is where Hasbani now lives in a modest home he rents with his wife. Now in his sixties, Hasbani is no longer an energetic doctor he was nearly 30 years ago. After moving to the United States in the early 1990s, he stopped practicing medicine and tried unsuccessfully to open a few businesses. He lives on meager savings and suffers a heart problem that limits his movement.

Hasbani prefers to speak in Arabic and smiles wryly when recounting his brief moment of fame on American television. In a community that generally shuns publicity, Hasbani is outspoken, passionate and animated.

In the highly emotive debate over the Arab-Israeli conflict, the true story of Syrian Jewry was more complicated than either Wallace or his critics fully appreciated, Hasbani said.

On the one hand, critics of 60 Minutes were correct to doubt Hasbani’s rosy portrayal of Jewish life in Syria. In a country considered Israel’s most formidable enemy, Syrian Jews had long been subject to special restrictions, mistrust and, at times, outright persecution. In the northern city of Aleppo, Synagogues were burned and vandalized shortly after the United Nations voted to partition Palestine in 1947. In 1949, a bomb was placed in a Damascus Synagogue killing 12 people. During the 1967 Arab-Israeli War - in which Syria lost control of the Golan Heights overlooking the Galilee – armed Palestinian fighters broke into the homes of Jews and pointed guns at family members. No one was shot but the incident was a reminder to the community of its vulnerability.

For most of Syrian history after 1947, Jews could not travel outside their country except on rare occasions and travel within Syria required permission. The Jews who did leave Syria escaped covertly through Turkey or Lebanon. Most continued onto the United States or Israel. Those who were caught were imprisoned.

Hasbani said that his glowing portrayal of Syria was intended to win favors from Syrian authorities. Yet, he added, the 60 Minutes broadcast was not totally false either. Conditions were beginning to improve for Syria’s Jews and would continue to improve in the months and years after Wallace’s visit.

For a man who says he spent most of his years at Damascus University’s Medical School lying about his religion, and whose own brother was stabbed to death by a person who bragged he killed a Jew, Hasbani is surprisingly nostalgic about the land of his birth.

“I live in the past,” he said, which is evident from the reams of newspaper clips, photos and other memorabilia he saves from his time in Syria.

He carefully unfolded a wrinkled old identity card with the word Mossawi written across it. He displayed a photo of himself posing with his family next to Edward Djerijian, American Ambassador to Syria from 1988 until 1992, at the ambassador’s opulent Damascus residence.

But among the assortment of memorabilia, the Syrian doctor is particularly fond of a small stack of folded newspaper clips that show him and other Jewish leaders shaking hands with the late Syrian President Hafez al-Asad.

Asad, who rose to power in a coup in 1970 and remained in authority until his death thirty years later, is regarded by much of the world as an oppressive dictator who permitted virtually no dissent and crushed it violently when it emerged. Along with the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, he launched a daring, if largely unsuccessful, surprise attack against Israel in 1973 in an effort to wrestle back control of the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula and Syrian Golan Heights. Both territories were captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War. But unlike Sadat, who combined bold military action with bold peacemaking by traveling to Jerusalem four years later to address the Israeli Knesset, Asad remained wedded to the struggle against Zionism.

He opposed the 1978 Camp David Treaty between Egypt and Israel, and was cool toward the Oslo accord between Israel and the Palestinians signed 15 years later. He also criticized Jordan for signing peace treaty with Israel in 1994 and backed the Lebanese militia Hezbollah in its fight against Israeli forces in South Lebanon and a myriad of Palestinian groups opposed to the Oslo process. Although the Syrians did participate in on-and-off American-mediated negotiations with Israel, coming remarkably close to a final settlement toward the end of Asad’s life, publicly they remained decidedly stand-offish in their approach toward the negotiations. In 2000, when Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Sharaa met with then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak during negotiations in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, he refused to publicly shake hands with the Israeli leader.

Many of Syria’s Jews, however, remember Asad differently.

“For us, of course, he was like the Messiah,” Hasbani said. Before him “you could not walk for four kilometers [without permission]. You could not buy and sell [property]. Walking in the street, you were afraid to say I am a Jew. There were [Jewish] schools. But there was someone from the government sitting on your head, and capable of doing whatever he wanted.”

Asad, Hasbani said, was different from past Syrian leaders in that he was the first president to truly pay attention to the concerns of Syria’s Jews.

“When we met with him in 1976, people [the Jews] rose,” Hasbani said. “When you sit with the president, people outside would not dare to do anything to you. He who is against you can do nothing to you because he saw the president receiving you and taking pictures with you.”

Such sentiments about a man long regarded as Israel’s most formidable enemy might surprise some people who follow the pulse of the Middle East. But they are quite typical among the approximately 3,000 Syrian Jewish émigrés who left for Brooklyn and Israel more than a decade ago.

Many complain bitterly about the abuses and discrimination they suffered in Syria during the decades before they were permitted to leave. Like Jews everywhere, many also profess sympathy for the state Israel and its policies. But, in almost the same breath, many credit Asad, the man who built his public persona on upholding Arab honor in a gallant struggle against the Jewish state, as the man most responsible for granting them their freedom.

“Before Hafez al-Asad, the people were scared to say, I am Jewish,” said Jack al-Boucai, a Syrian Jewish businessman who owns a cell phone store on Kings Highway. “So when he helped in making the situation improve, I saw him as being good for us.” Boucai spoke in Arabic.

The 1976, Asad met with Jewish community leaders including Hasbani; Ibrahim Hamra, Chief Rabbi of Damascus; and the late Salim Totah, head of the Syrian Jewish community. Hasbani recalled telling Asad about the bomb that was placed in a Damascus Synagogue in 1947.

“President Asad didn’t know about it,” Hasbani said. “When I told him, he was astonished. ‘Who did it, the government?’ I told him not the government, some lowlife.”

The meeting turned was historic, Hasbani said. In the months and years that followed, most restrictions on Jews were lifted. The Mossawi stamp was eventually removed from all forms of identification, although not as quickly as Wallace may have been led to believe from his interview with Hasbani. Domestic travel restrictions on Jews were lifted. Businesses that had previously been closed to Jews, such as import-export, were opened. Jews could buy and sell property and the community began to prosper.

The only restriction that remained on Jews was a prohibition against free Jewish emigration abroad with family members, a rule that remained in effect until 1992. But there were exceptions. Following a meeting between Asad and American President Jimmy Carter in 1977, the Syrian president began to permit around two dozen Jewish women each year to join grooms-to-be in the United States to correct a gender imbalance in the community.

The Syrian president’s increasing leniency toward Jews probably stemmed, in part, from international pressure applied on his regime by the United States, other foreign governments and the international media. Indeed, Syria’s Jews became something of diplomatic bargaining chip that the Syrian government could play when it wanted better relations with the United States or an improved negotiating position with Israel.

What is more, after Asad lifted restrictions on the community, many hardships persisted. Jews caught trying to escape continued to be imprisoned. Many complain that they continued to face harassment from Syrian intelligence officers and other low-level officials.

One member of the community recalled visiting the Department of Motor Vehicles in Aleppo to renew his driver’s license, armed with a presidential order rescinding the requirement that Mossawi be stamped on all Jewish identity documents. The official behind the desk told him he could not renew the license at that moment because he did not have his Mossawi seal. When the man protested, brandishing the presidential order, he recalls the official telling him: “‘I’m not going to stamp it in red. I’m going to stamp it in purple.”

But whatever hurdles Jews continued to face, the late president’s image remains largely untarnished in the eyes of many in the Syrian Jewish community. Although Asad was known as a micromanager of his countries affairs, few Syrian Jews blame him, even indirectly, for difficulties suffered during his 30 years of power.

The story of Albert Fouerti is revealing. Fouerti came to the United States in the early 1990s, during the final wave of Syrian Jewish emigration to the United States. He is shy but becomes passionate and animated when speaking about his life. He spoke mostly in Arabic.

Fouerti once owned a factory that made children’s clothes but today manages a small thrift store along McDonald Avenue in Brooklyn. Coming to America was not joyous.

In 1949, two of his sisters were evacuated to Israel along with other Jewish children following the Damascus Synagogue bombing. Fouerti’s family planned to join the two girls, but shortly after the children were evacuated, Syria closed its doors on Jewish emigration. For the next twenty years, Fouerti’s family was unable to communicate with the girls.

In the early 1970s, Fouerti obtained permission to travel to Great Britain so that his son, who was ill, could receive medical treatment. During the visit, he secretly made arrangements, through the Israeli embassy, to fly one of his sisters to London so he could see her. The other sister was ill and could not travel.

The two siblings were reunited but the visit was fleeting.

“I must come back,” he remembers thinking. “I have no choice.”

Fouerti returned home and told his mother about the reunion. Nearly twenty years passed before the Syrian government finally allowed Jews to emigrate. As Syrian Jews began to sell their homes and businesses and leave for America, Fouerti applied for passports for his entire family so they could travel to the United States. His wish, he said, was to witness the reunion of his elderly mother with her two lost daughters.

Days later, the Syrian authorities granted the family passports. But one of Fouerti’s sons was denied for unknown reasons. Fouerti did not want to leave his son behind so, for two years, he returned to the office of the secrete police chief in charge of Jewish affairs.

“Every day, I visited him in the office,” he said. “I knew what he was doing. He was just giving me a hard time.”

Finally, in late 1994, after most Syrian Jews had already left, Fouerti’s son was finally granted a passport and the family began to make travel arrangements. Then, just days before their scheduled departure, as his sisters waited in Brooklyn, Fouerti’s mother died suddenly.

Later, on his way to the airport, Fouerti stopped at the Jewish cemetery and peered down at her grave. “I said mom, I’m sorry. I can’t help you to see your children,” he said. “The last picture I see in Syria is my mother.”

Fouerti was deeply bitter. “I feel no one can let me forget what happened to me,” he said. “Why did they do that to me? Why?”

But after an emotional recounting of his experience, he became calm.

“I miss Syria. I miss my friends. But I am scared,” he said. “Our only problem [in Syria] was with the Mukhaberat [secrete police]. We lived with Muslims, Christians. We were like one family. They loved us.”

President Asad, Fouerti said, could not possibly have known about the harassment he and some other Jews suffered. “He was good with Jewish people,” he said. “He gave us our freedom… He should put this person [head of Jewish affairs] in prison. He damaged the reputation of Syria. If he [Asad] knew, he would not have let them.”

Surprisingly, some Syrian Jews are almost apologetic about the restrictions placed upon them by the Syrian government.

“I lived with Syria,” said Hasbani. “I ate and drank, whatever they did not give me, it would be perfectly fine. In my view, I don’t ask for all my rights because [they] will not give me all my rights because I have feelings for Israel which is the enemy of Syria.”

In 1987, two Jewish brothers from the Swed family were arrested for secretly visiting family members in Israel, which was illegal for all Syrian citizens. The brothers spent the next five years in prison until they were pardoned by President Asad in 1992. The Sweds’ plight became a major focus of concern for Jewish groups around the world and a personal crusade for a Canadian activist named Judy Feld Carr.

Hasbani saw the situation of the Sweds differently. Traveling to Israel was a capital offence, he said, and had the Sweds not been Jewish, they would likely have been executed.

“What kind of heroism did the Sweds show?” he asked. “They were in Syria then went to Argentina and from there they went to Israel then went back to Syria. Israel is an enemy state. Why did they go there? Do they want Hafez al-Asad to say welcome back?” (The Sweds actually traveled to Italy, not Argentina).

Another member of the community added that the Sweds trip put the whole community in jeopardy. “If you are a lamb, you cannot play with lions,” he said.

When Asad died in 2000, three pro-Likud Jews of Syrian origin – a prominent Syrian-Jewish rabbi named Jack Kassin, Hassidic community leader Jack Avital, and another businessman named Sam Domb - placed an ad in the New York Times offering their condolences, although Domb later complained to The Jewish Week that Kassin had added his name without consent. Kassin was invited to attend the funeral but a Syrian official informed him that his security could not be guaranteed because of threats posed by Asad’s brother and rival Rifat, according to The Jewish Week.

Asad’s cult of personality did not end with his passing. His son and successor, Bashar, is not held in the quite the same esteem as his father. A British-trained optometrist, some Syrian Jews privately said they consider Bashar young and inexperienced, overly reliant on what are often unscrupulous advisors. But most also said they were confident that he would eventually be able to carry on his father’s legacy.

“It appears that he took his father’s track,” said Hamra, the former chief Rabbi of Damascus who now lives in Israel. “Thank God the stability in Syria remained. His existence in the government and the permanent stable situation in Syria are a proof of his success. It will take time to become as wise as his father.” Hamra spoke in Arabic.

Another Syrian Jew added: “Asad is the best bet for America and for everyone. If he was strong enough and could manage, he would do a lot of good things. He is the best thing for America and Israel, no matter what he talks.”

In contrast to the refined, diplomatic style of his father, Bashar has made a few remarks that have sparked sharp condemnation from world leaders. He was widely criticized for making what many perceived as an anti-Semitic comment to the Pope in 2001. “They tried to kill the principals of all religions with the same mentality in which they betrayed Jesus Christ and the same way they tried to betray and kill the Prophet Muhammad," Asad was quoted as saying.

While the remark sparked widespread outcry from Jewish groups in the United States and Israel, some Syrian Jews said they consider the whole controversy to be frivolous, the result of inexperience or poor advising.

“I don’t think he’s anti-Semitic,” said one member of the community. “He say something to please the people around him.”

Hasbani agreed. “Alak,” he said of Asad's remark, a colloquial Syrian expression meaning “nothing important.”

Such words would likely come as welcome news to Damascus’ embattled government. Not since America’s disastrous intervention in Lebanon in 1982 have relations between the United States and Syria been as strained as they are today. A member of the U.S. Department of State’s list of nations that support terrorism, Syria is currently under intense pressure to prevent insurgents from crossing its border into Iraq, stop interfering in the affairs of neighboring Lebanon, and cut all support for groups fighting Israel including Hezbollah and Hamas.

Just last year, President Bush signed into law the Syrian Accountability Act, which imposed a range of mostly symbolic sanctions on Syria. He threatened new sanctions if the Syrians did not change their behavior. In September, the United States and France won passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, demanding that Syrian troops leave Lebanon.

The recent assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a fiery explosion in downtown Beirut sent relations to yet a new low. Although Syria condemned the killing, many in Lebanon and abroad strongly suspect the involvement of Syrian intelligence agents.

His assassination prompted mass anti-Syrian protests – as well some pro-Syrian rallies – on the streets of Beirut. The United States and France, joined by Russia and a number of Arab states, renewed their calls for an immediate Syrian pullout from Lebanon in time for Lebanese Parliamentary elections in May. At the time of this writing, Syrian soldiers had begun to decamp and withdraw across the border.

In the midst of all this, Syria’s unusually outgoing Ambassador to the United States, Imad Mustapha, has been on a public relations campaign trying to smooth over some of the rougher edges of his country’s image. He has appeared on television regularly and, since assuming his post two years ago, has reached out to groups and legislators long at odds with Syria. Last January, he escorted former Democratic Presidential candidate and drafter of the Syrian Accountability Act, John Kerry, to Damascus for a meeting with Syrian President Asad.

Over the past year, Mustapha has been making rounds in South Brooklyn’s Syrian Jewish neighborhoods, introducing himself to members of the community, making friends, and encouraging Syrian Jews to visit their country of origin. Last year, he accompanied a delegation of prominent Jews of Syrian origin, some with close ties to members of Israel’s Likud government, on a visit to Syria. There, the group held a meeting with President Asad and toured prominent Jewish sites around the country.

Mustapha said he is aware of the links that some Syrian Jews have with Israel and he hopes that his recent outreach in the community might eventually help lead to the restarting of negotiations between his country and the Jewish state.

“We don’t expect [Syrian Jews] to do anything vis-à-vis the Syrian-Israeli conflict, but we are realistic,” Mustapha said, speaking under a large portrait of President Bashar al-Asad that hangs in the Syrian embassy. “We understand what’s happening. They have contacts with other Jews from Israel and at least, at least, they can tell them the true story about us. So yes, they can play a role, not a direct role, an indirect role.”

In the meantime, the ambassador has been trying to counter a rising chorus of so-called neoconservatives calling for the overthrow of regimes across the Middle East. Despite the continuing instability in Iraq, foreign policy pundits like Richard Perle, former chairman of the U.S. Defense Advisory Board and a confidant to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, have said openly that Syria is an appropriate second target for regime change: part of a grand strategy to democratize the Middle East.

Many Syrian Jews prefer not to delve into serious political matters, saying they would rather leave issues of war and peace to the wisdom of kings and presidents. But those who did speak made clear that regime change, in Syria’s case, would be unwise. Some said they hold little sympathy for Syria’s policies, particularly its support for groups like Hezbollah and the Palestinian group Hamas. But they also argue that, while the United States may need to prod and push Syria to change some of its ways, attempting to undermine Asad’s secular government would be a mistake. Bashar al-Asad, they argued, is a source of stability in a turbulent region and a potential peacemaker.

“I think that his [Hafez al-Asad’s] son wants to make the country better,” Fouerti said. “I think he likes the Jews. If there is peace, it’s good for Israel and Syria.”

Hasbani, for his part, does not hide sympathies in the Arab-Israeli dispute.

“My heart is Jewish,” he said. “I cannot say that I am not Jewish and I love the Jews, regardless of Syria. And I love Israel much more than Syria, for sure, even though I lived, ate and drank in Syria.”

But Hasbani is also remarkably understanding of Syria’s predicament. He spoke about the country’s current difficulties with the United States with the cold eye of an independent observer giving an objective analysis. “I am speaking theory,” he said repeatedly, as though the opinions he expressed were not his own but rather were grounded in common sense.

The nationalist persona that Hafez al-Asad created for his country, Hasbani said, makes complying with the wishes of United States or engaging in the kind of dramatic peacemaking that characterized the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s efforts almost impossible for Bashar.

“They make themselves out as holding up the Arab Nation,” he said. “It supports them.”

But Syria’s government is also flexible and pragmatic, Hasbani said. When faced with stark choices of bending to the will of the United States or facing isolation or worse, the Syrian government will opt for safety over posturing. The United States, he said, cannot rule out the use of force against Syria but it must be careful.

“If America wants to pressure Syria,” he said, clinching his fist. “It must put pressure, tighter and tighter and tighter, economically and politically. If [Syria] continues to help Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others, and America sees that as against its interest, [the United States] needs to strike them, but without occupying Syria: essential centers for aircraft and so forth, just to show the Syrians that the temperature has risen. Then its possible Syria will back off.”

But there is a second option, Hasbani said, leaning back in his chair.

“They can create reconciliation between Israel and Syria,” he said. “If there were reconciliation between Syria and Israel, and there was a peace agreement, that was official and guaranteed by the United Nations, in that case, Syria will no longer be able to support Hamas and Hezbollah. They will come with Syrians to the dinner table.”

How to create such reconciliation is, of course, a question that has plagued successive U.S. administrations. During the 1990s, a settlement between Syria and Israel, two of the Middle East’s most intractable enemies, seemed at imminent. Then Secretary of State Warren Christopher was shuttling between Jerusalem and Damascus on an almost weekly basis, but the negotiations consistently stumbled on the question of the strategic Golan Heights. Syria demanded a full return of the territory in exchange for a peace treaty. Israel wanted to retain control of, at least, some of the Golan for security reasons.

A few months before Hafez al-Asad’s death, U.S. President Bill Clinton met with the Syrian leader in Geneva in a last ditch effort to broker a settlement. The talks failed and Asad died. Shortly thereafter, the Camp David talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians also broke down and the second Intifada erupted.

The deterioration of the peace process was something that Rabbi Hamra had not anticipated when he made a highly publicized but surprise aliyah from Brooklyn to Israel ten years ago.

“Everything indicated that the peace was on the door,” he said, sitting in the Brooklyn home of his daughter. “We imagined that we could work in Syria and spend the weekend in Israel or visa versa.”

A solid-looking man with a bushy black beard, Hamra resembles a lumberjack. He lives in Israel but travels to the United States regularly to visit some of his children.

Hamra became head of the Syrian Jewish community in the late 1980s, after the then leader Totah passed away. Hamra said he met with Asad four times during his life and once organized a march to the Presidential Palace in support of the president’s predictable reelection. He became an international figure during his time in Syria.

“I had interviews with many countries, I mean journalists from Spain, Argentina, Brazil, America and Europe,” he says. “I received many senators and congressmen.”

By the end of the 1980s, a movement to free Syrian Jewry was actively lobbying the American government to pressure Damascus to allow Jewish citizens to emigrate. In 1992, Syrian Jewish leaders, including Hamra and Hasbani, met with Asad and the Syrian president ordered restrictions lifted on Jewish emigration, although not directly to Israel. Hamra spent the next two years traveling between the United States and Syria until 1994 when he moved to Israel.

Sitting at his daughter’s home, Hamra glimpsed at the television. Al-Jazeera - a popular source of news in many Syrian Jewish households - was reporting that Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat was dieing in a Paris hospital bed.

Hamra met Arafat once. Shortly after moving to Israel, he received a letter from then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who had just been nominated to share the Nobel Prize with Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Perez.

“He felt that many people in Israel deserve the Prize and [I was] one of them,” he recalled the letter saying. “I would be very happy if you could come with me. I chose you among 30 people… As I remember I met Arafat at that time.”

When Hamra first moved to Israel, he saw himself as an emissary of peace, expecting that a final settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute was imminent. That changed five years ago when the second Intifada erupted.

“Everything returned to the old situation, like in the beginning with more hostility,” he said. “Personally, I was not influenced by the failure of the peace process. But the whole region was influenced by it. I was influenced by the fact that I am a person who calls for the peace.”

The Syrian Jewish community in Israel, he said, was shaken by the deteriorating security situation, unaccustomed to the threat of suicide bombers and violence.

Hamra remains decidedly apolitical, saying he simply dreams of the peace he expected a decade ago. He still thinks of his home and friends in Syria and the vision he had of traveling between Syria and Israel on weekends.

He heard about Syrian Ambassador Mustapha’s outreach in the Brooklyn community. “I wish I could talk to him,” he said, and paused. “But I do not know how positive he will be. I do not know if the fact that I am from Israel will put him in an embarrassing situation. And I do not wish that… Perhaps if the Intifada never took place and things remained the same, it would be normal to contact him.”

Perhaps, Mustapha said, but in the meantime communicating with Hamra would be problematic.

“An Israeli citizen is a different case,” he said. “I’m not saying I don’t meet with him. I’m saying that Syria is publicly inviting Israel to rejoin the peace process. The minute that Israel says yes, we will. We will start meeting with them and engaging with them.”

Mustapha became acquainted with Brooklyn’s Syrian Jewish community through his wife. While a student at Damascus University, she was friends with a Syrian Jewish woman named Salim al-Boucai, the daughter of the Brooklyn businessman Jack al-Boucai.

Jack al-Boucai immigrated to the United States a decade ago but said he maintains strong connections with officials in the Syrian government. Until two years ago, he said he would travel regularly to Syria to import brass and copper decorations that now adorn his small store.

Mustapha, who sought to strengthen relations between the embassy and the Syrian expatriate community, telephoned Boucai and introduced himself.

“He asked me if I needed anything,” Mustapha said. “I said yes. I would like to meet with the Syrian Jewish community. And after a little while they came back to me and said, if I would be interested in visiting with them, they would like to meet with me at their community center in Brooklyn.”

Boucai, Rabbi Kassin, Hassidic community leader Avital and others, spent a day with the ambassador, taking him on a tour of the neighborhoods. Mustapha said he had never had contacts with Syrian Jews before, including in Syria.

“They are like us,” he said, “Their food, their habits, their social customs, they are like us. We, us and them, are different from the Americans… This taught me a lesson.”

The visit ended cordially.

“For the final time, they asked, can we do anything for you,” Mustapha said. “I said yes, actually you can. Whenever you have a wedding or a barmitsfa, invite me, I want to come.”

Shortly after that meeting, the ambassador was invited to a Syrian Jewish wedding held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan. There he was approached by an elderly man from a prominent Syrian Jewish family in Mexico called the Sabas.

“He says to me, ‘I’m 72 or 73 years old, I have a dream.’ I said to him, what’s your dream? He said, ‘I want to visit Aleppo. This is the birth city of my parents.’ I didn’t hesitate. I immediately said to him consider you dream come true.”

After the wedding Avital, a personal acquaintance of Israeli Prime Minister Arial Sharon, telephoned Mustapha and asked him about organizing a visit to Syria.

“He [Avital] had a curiosity about Syria,” Boucai said. “He would love to visit Syria so he requested permission to visit Syria and they welcomed him… nothing official just personal.”

A delegation of a dozen Jews of Syrian origin visited Syria in the spring of 2004, accompanied by Mustapha.

Some American Jewish leaders disapproved of the trip. "It is wrong for American Jews or any Americans to help sanitize the Syrian regime by visiting Syria," said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.

The group toured the country, visiting a Jewish cemetery near Damascus, the markets of Aleppo and meeting with members of the tiny Jewish community that still lives in the country. During the visit, the group met with President Asad and presented him with a gift: a traditional Jewish Shofar or rams horn. When the meeting was over, Hasbani said the group asked the president if he would invite them back to Syria.

“He said no,” Mustapha said. “They were surprised. He said to them, ‘I can’t invite you back. I can’t invite Syrians back to Syria. You are always welcome.’”

Mustapha recalled the men’s reaction.

“They were so amazed,” he said. “We were still inside the Presidential Palace, we had not left, and they came to me and said, ‘We are so amazed. Back in America they told us, this is an evil guy. Don’t go and meet with him. But look at the way he treated us. He was so sincere with us.”

Repeated calls to Avital for and interview went unreturned.

A few months after Avital returned home, Boucai invited the ambassador to his son’s wedding. Over 500 people attended the ceremony, the majority of them immigrants who had come to the United States a decade ago, Boucai said.

“When Dr. Mustapha came to the wedding, he said he was coming to congratulate [us],” Boucai said. “He made a small speech; he made a very beautiful speech. I sent a video of the wedding to Syria, to the people in Syria, so they could see it. And the people in the community were very happy about the reception.”

The Ambassador, Boucai said, offered his services to the community. If anyone wished to renew his or her passport or return to Syria for a visit, Mustapha was willing to help.

Few Syrian Jew have returned to Syria permanently, but many say that they would like to visit, if only to see the homes in which they once resided, the Synagogues in which they worshiped or the graves of their ancestors. A small, but growing minority are returning to do business and reestablish old ties. Boucai counts at least 10 individuals who are trading with Syria or own businesses there, up from five a few years ago.

Yousef Jajati is one such individual. Jajati replaced Hamra as head of the community in 1994 and was one of the few Jews to remain in Syria throughout the 1990s. He said he traveled frequently to Europe and the United States.

The small number of Jews who remained in Syria since all travel restrictions were lifted worship at a single Synagogue in Damascus and no longer have a full-time Rabbi. But, Jajati said, they enjoy freedoms that members of the community could not have imagined thirty years ago. In the mid-1990s, Jajati became the first Jew living in Syria to speak before the World Jewish Congress. During his trips abroad, he mingled with leading political figures in the United States and Europe including ardent critics of Syria like U.S. Representative Tom Lantos, who invited Jajati to his office.

The Jajatis owned what was widely considered the smartest clothing store in Damascus. The family sold the business but still owns a factory in the Jewish Quarter that is managed by one of Jajati’s sons: Khalil. The Jajatis transferred the retail end of the business to New York, where they sell their Syrian-made clothes wholesale to such high-end stores as Porta Bella.

Jajati met with Syrian President Bashar al-Asad shortly after he was sworn in as president in 2000.

“I hope and wait for the day that you go to Jerusalem and sign a peace treaty,” he recalled telling Asad. “Bashar said, ‘Speak with your friends in the Israeli government, with [then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Barak.’ I said you are my friend, not Barak.” Jajati spoke in Arabic.

Before the meeting was over, Jajati recalled Bashar telling him: “I really was sad that the Jewish community left and I would have preferred them to stay and I hope they return.”

One year later, Jajati moved to New York, where most of his children reside. But he says he remains proud of his Arab identity and loyal to his country of birth. If negotiations between Israel and Syria resume, he said that he is willing to play a role.

“I hope that Syria appoints me to carry out negotiations with Israel,” he said, “To represent my country.”

It is easy to dismiss Jajati’s glowing comments about Syria and its president. He, after all, continues to maintain strong business links to the country and would naturally want to remain on good terms with its government. It is much harder to explain why individuals who suffered during their time Syria and cut their ties with the country long ago, like Hasbani, Hamra, Fouerti, would continue to speak fondly about the country and its leader.

Some might argue that Asad’s cult of personality is the legacy of the regime. Syria is country where the president’s photo adorns every store front and is plastered on billboards, where deference to authority is the norm. But such a view overlooks two very real benefits Asad provided Syrian Jews: stability and relevance.

The years proceeding Hafez al-Asad's rise to power were time of immense chaos in Syria. A succession of coup d'états resulted one repressive regime after another. For Jews, instability brought some of the worst abuses and there was always the uncertainty about the future. Asad, by contrast, quickly consolidated his power, exiling or imprisoning rivals.

Ironically, the very power that made Asad feared was also the power that gave him the leverage to improve the status of those Syrians who had been most marginalized, including Jews.

Asad was himself a member of a minority group: the Alawis. Concentrated in the mountains near the Syrian coastal city of Latakia, the Alawis had been victims of a long history of persecution, said Patrick Seale, author of the leading biography of Hafez al-Asad and personal acquaintance of the late Syrian leader.

“They were very poor and downtrodden,” Seale said. “They were thought of as collaborationists with the French,” the former colonial rulers of Syria. Many Alawi men served as tenant farmers for Sunni landowners and Alawi women sometimes worked as domestic servants.

The Alawi faith is somewhat secretive but it is known to blend Shia’a Islam with aspects of Christianity. Many Muslim clergy initially questioned Asad’s own Islamic credentials.

Some Syrian Jews said they believe that Asad’s minority status may have inspired sympathy for their plight. “The Asads were a family oppressed like any Jews,” said one member of the community.

Seale is more circumspect. The late Syrian president’s policies toward Jews probably stemmed more from a general opening up that accompanied his rise to power. But, he added, “He [Asad] had a feeling for downtrodden peasantry particularly. His regime was made up of country boys, not just Alawis, but Sunnis, Druze and Ismailis.”

Asad made the struggle against Israel a central plank of his leadership, but Israel never posed a mortal threat to his regime and never were Syrian Jews ever implicated in spying for Israel. Asad’s only true threat, in fact, came from the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, who staged an insurrection in the city of Hama in 1982, which Asad violently suppressed.

“The Jews in Syria never had a spy,” said Hasbani. “They also never had a problem with Israel or another country. Their only problem was that some of them wanted to leave. The President understood that.”

In a hierarchical society like Syria, where a resident of Damascus could go an entire lifetime without catching a glimpse of the president except on television, a public meeting with Asad was the highest of honors. That is why Hasbani’s newspaper clips of Asad shaking hands with Syrian Jewish leaders are significant. Those photos made Jews relevant in Syrian society, he said, and gave the community a level of respect it had never enjoyed before. In effect, Asad brought Syrian Jews into the national tent.

But all this begs a question: if life was so good under Asad, why did nearly all of Syria’s Jews leave when given the opportunity?

Most left behind successful businesses and expensive homes in order to start over all again in Brooklyn or Tel Aviv. Most Syrian Jews received housing and financial assistance from local Jewish and civic organizations for one year after their arrival, but many continued to struggle. Hasbani, once a respected doctor, has watched his life sink into anonymity in a country that he himself characterized as being impersonal and lonely.

Some Syrian Jews like Hasbani said that fear of the future prompted the mass departure. Although Asad had treated the Jews of Syria well, there was no guarantee that his predecessor would do the same.

Jajati attributed the exodus to inertia. By the time the Syrian president lifted restrictions on emigration, most Syrian Jews had already escaped Syria for Brooklyn or Israel, where they had established thriving new communities. As life slowly drained out of the ancient Jewish neighborhoods of Damascus, Aleppo and Qamishli, the remaining families saw few reasons to remain.

Then there was the Syrian government’s own dithering that might have contributed to the mass flight of Syrian Jews. Asad opened the door for Syrian Jews to leave in 1992 and then, for reasons no one entirely understands, the door was shut a year later and then reopened shortly after that. Many of those who had not left, when first given the opportunity, felt that if they did not leave immediately, the door would close again, said Hasbani.

Fouerti explained his reason for leaving with a simple metaphor. “If you have a bird and locked it in a cage and later opened the door, it will fly away,” he said. “I had one choice: to go see the outside.”

Yet living on the outside, Syria’s Jews continue to look back in. Much like Palestinian-Israelis, they straddle the very dividing line of the Arab-Israeli dispute. Although this awkward position has caused many to suffer pain and torment, it has also provided them with unique insight into a conflict that has festered for far too many years. Syrian Jews will likely never play a role in resolving who gets what part of the Golan Heights. But they may someday be able foster a warm peace.

“If there is peace between Syria and Israel, and I am sure there will be peace, we will bring them together,” Fouerti said. “We must be a bridge between Israel and Syria.”

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Syria is being Set Up to Fail: A Leaked Letter from Washington

Here is a most extraordinary letter from Syria's Ambassador in Washington Imad Mustapha to Congresswoman Sue Kelly, which has come into my possession. It explains how the American Administration has been stonewalling Syrian cooperation on a host of issues. It explains how Syria is being set up to fail so that the US can isolate it and carry out a process of regime-change at the expense of Iraqi stability and the lives of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. It explains how the US administration's policy of forcing regime change in Syria is trumping the need to save lives in Iraq.

I also have the letter written by Congresswoman Sue Kelly, and signed by 100 fellow congressmen, which was originally sent to Ambassador Mustapha on Sept. 30, 2005 and which elicited this reply. It is short and reiterates the usual administration complaints about the lack of Syrian cooperation with the war on terror and effort to stabilize Iraq. I have not had the time to type it in - but it is a demonstration of the US government's failure to appreciate how it is being railroaded by the administration into a confrontation with Syria. One must read Imad Mustapha's response, copied here, to appreciate just how the railroading is taking place.

For over a year Syria has been trying to cooperate with the West on the Iraq border, on the issue of terrorism finance, on the issue of stopping Jihadists from getting into Syria, on intelligence sharing, and on stabilizing Iraq.

Washington has consistently refused to take "Yes" as an answer. Why? The only credible reason is because Washington wants regime change in Syria. The US administration is sacrificing American soldiers in Iraq in order to carry out its program of "reforming the Greater Middle East." Two US policies are clashing head to head - the one is stabilizing Iraq and the other is the reform of the greater Middle East. President Bush is placing his democracy policy over his Iraq policy. This is costing American and Iraqi lives.

The world press has failed to get this story, although it has been staring them in the face for months. Human rights activists in Syria have documented for a long time how Syria is arresting Islamists, cracking down on Syrians who go to Iraq to fight by arresting their family members and jailing the fighters when they return from Iraq. Read Razan Zeitouneh's story about Syria's "Preemptive War" against Islamists here. The Syrian secret police have been terrorizing would be terrorists in Syria for many months now. The US has cut off all intelligence sharing with Syria despite repeated Syrian attempts to cooperate on this most important issue. Rumsfeld refused a Syria delegation of top border officials permission to meet with their Iraq and American counterparts just two months ago. Read the story here.

The Letter (I have highlighted several sentences in bold below.)

The Honorable Congresswoman Sue Kelly
2182 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

October 5, 2005
Dear Congresswoman Kelly:

Let me start by expressing my deep appreciation for your letter dated September 30, 2005, co-signed by your colleagues, which I received from your office.

Notwithstanding the disturbing and disappointing content of this letter, I feel grateful for it has given me and my country the chance to engage and respond to the grave issues raised. This is what I would expect from an honorable body of representatives who believe that there is still room for engagement and dialogue. This is something Syria has repeatedly called for and, unfortunately, was repeatedly denied.

Let me start by reiterating my country’s position: Syria has continually and repeatedly called for the Americans and Iraqis to engage with their Syrian counterparts. This is necessary in order to solve the problems in Iraq. And Syria has stated, in no uncertain terms, that our will to assist in this situation illustrates not only our hopes for a unified and free Iraq but also the dire consequences turmoil in Iraq will pose for Syrian interests.

Syria has the political will to engage with the US towards finding a solution to the on-going violence and bloodshed in Iraq. It is a detriment to out national security and interests to see Iraq being further destabilized, and our concern for Iraq’s territorial integrity is paramount. We have asked the US Administration time and again to stop this public media campaign against Syria, and told the Administration that it is both unfair and unsubstantiated. Furthermore, we have spared no means to communicate to this Administration our willingness to mutually address all matters of concern to the US. Needless to say, all our initiatives to engage with the US have failed, and the US Administration seems adamant on following a path of public accusations and no direct engagement.

Before providing you and your honorable colleagues with a detailed reply to all the points raised in your letter let me start by submitting to you the following tow suggestions:

1. The government of Syria is willing to invite a bi-partisan congressional delegation for a working visit to Syria in which the honorable members would explore in depth all matters related to the Iraqi issue. This will allow the members of the delegation to witness for themselves what Syria is and has been doing to address the issues discussed in your letter, as well as provide an opportunity to discuss all possible actions with leading Syrian governmental officials. Syria pledges full cooperation with this delegation. We are willing to hear from you, listen to your suggestions, and upon verifying our willingness to engage we expect your assistance in convincing the US Administration that its current policy towards Syria is neither useful nor constructive. We would like the message reiterated that it is in the best interest of both countries to work together and it is counterproductive to continue creating these conditions of hostility and animosity.

2. In recognition of the efforts you might undertake in visiting Syria and helping both countries move forward toward cooperation and joint action, Syria is willing to immediately resume its intelligence and security cooperation with the relevant US agencies. This cooperation was initiated in the aftermath of the tragic events of September 11, and was suspended early this year. Wee expect the US Administration to acknowledge Syria’s cooperation and halt its campaign of accusations and rhetoric in return for our security and intelligence cooperation.

As for the points mentioned in your letter, allow me to address each point in detail to clarify our position and provide the honorable members with a different perspective on these important issues.

1. On Syria’s role as a source of support for terrorism and other activities aimed at destabilizing efforts to build a peaceful and democratic Iraq

A peaceful and stable Iraq holds as much, if not more significance for Syria as any other nation in the region or across the Atlantic. The Syrian mosaic of citizens, in which a wide variety of ethnicities and religious groups live side by side, closely resembles Iraqi society and in fact, may be even more divers. Consequently, the sectarian strife arising in Iraq could spread across the border and result in fatality tearing at the fabric of Syrian society. This situation causes the Syrian government great concern ad compels us to work diligently to help bring peace and stability back to Iraq for the future of its citizens as well as our own.

Syria has always supported the e political process in Iraq. One example of this was during the Iraqi elections when we encouraged the large Iraqi expatriate community in Syria to vote, and proved them with all means necessary to enable them to successfully participate in the Iraqi political process. This is just one example among many others that went unnoticed here in the US, and wee completely ignored by US officials.

Syria does not support the terrorism in Iraq; we have very little influence on the political developments that are taking place there. However, if the US Administration has evidence to the contrary, Syria is willing to work with the Administration and investigate these allegations. This is the only way to put an end to the alleged Syrian support of the insurgency in Iraq.

2. On Border Control

The argument that the Syrian government allows infiltrators into Iraq holds no truth in any regard whatsoever. The facts on the ground along the Syrian-Iraqi border illustrate how diligently Syria has worked to control its side of the border with Iraq. We have increased our border troops from a few hundred to 10,000 in the past two years; built sand barriers, which Syria has recently raised to 12 feet along more than 210 kilometers of the border, installed barbed wires, some of which are double-layered: and erected many Syrian military outposts, numbering in total approximately 540, deployed approximately every 400 meters or 3 kilometers depending on the sensitivity of the area. As a result of these efforts, Syria has captured over 1,500 individuals trying to cross the border and handed them over to the authorities of their country of origin or placed them in prison.

If infiltration continues, it is done despite all our efforts to stop this illegal movement of people occurring without our consent. Moreover, Syria has continually and repeatedly called for the Americans and Iraqis to engage with their Syrian counterparts on this issue because Syria cannot seal this border alone and needs cooperation from the American and Iraqi side. False allegations against Syria will not solve this problem but rather only cooperation, from both sides, can achieve the important goal of sealing this border.

To illustrate my point with specifics, General Abizaid, on April 14, 2005, said, “We’ve got, oh, roughly 10,600 – give or take – prisoners. I think there are like 357, 358, something like that, third-country national, some of whom have been in Iraq for many, many years… I mean, it’s like – the last time I checked, 50 (from Saudi Arabia) and 52 (from Syria)… and 49 (from Iran).” Moreover, the Center for Strategic and International Studies has said that the insurgency numbers about 30,000 individuals with a foreign component of 4-10%. This means that the foreign element in the insurgency numbers from about 1,500-3,000 individuals. Putting these numbers together and after some simple mathematical calculations we find that the total number of individuals which have come from Syria amounts to about 144, equaling 0.5% of the insurgency. With these facts in mind, I would like to remind you that Syria has imprisoned about 1,500individuals trying to infiltrate the Syrian-Iraqi border, amounting to 10 times the number of those that reached Iraq, which illustrates how diligently we are working to seal this border.

In addition, thee US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies released a report about “Saudi Militants” in Iraq stating that the Syrians have “been too forceful in their crackdown on Saudis” entering Syria some of which are en route to Iraq, while others come as tourists. We argue that we have been forceful on all those using Syria as a transit to Iraq, including Saudis.

3. ON the Visa policy for Arab citizens

The allegations concerning the Visa policies in Syria are a classic example of how the US Administration merely looks for pretexts to criticize Syria with a lack of substantial evidence. The fact that Syria has arrested and handed over hundreds of suspects arriving at Syrian entry points is always ignored by the US officials. The Saudi and Jordanian press have been very critical of the Syrian authorities for their stern approach in dealing with their citizens arriving in Syria, being arrested and extradited for merely suspecting that these citizens might have extremist tendencies.

The question that should be addressed to the US Administration is the following: Did you once try to communicate any sort of intelligence about suspected Jihadists planning to arrive in Syria, which the Syrian authorities failed to act on? Did this happen at least once? Our records do not show that such communication has ever occurred.

Our embassies throughout the whole world offer Visas within an hour of the Visa application. We do not have the means of verifying the information submitted in the Visa application form, and our diplomatic missions are incapable of investigating all individuals who request an entry Visa to Syria. However, our intelligence agencies have a wealth of information about fundamentalist extremists. When such individuals arrive in Syria, they are immediately handled by the Syrian authorities. You can verify this with other Arab countries to whom we have extradited hundreds of their citizens upon arrest at Syrian border checkpoints.

Once again, this would not have been an issue had the US Administration been willing to cooperate and engage with Syria. Unfortunately, while the lack of engagement continues to be the norm, the US Administration uses such pretexts to criticize Syria, capitalizing on the fact that few individuals have any knowledge of Syrians policies and positions.

4. On the repatriation of Iraqi assets

Syria has transferred a sum of $262 million to the Iraqi Government, which is the total amount of the Iraqi frozen assets in the Commercial Bank of Syria. In regards to the $580 million mentioned in your letter, this amount was paid to the Syrian private businesses to honor contracts and deals between Iraqi and Syrian parties prior to the war. All these contracts are documented at the Syrian Ministry of Finance and the Federation of Syrian Iraqi officials to visit, investigate and check these documents with full transparency. If the Iraqi officials conclude with doubts about the authenticity of these contracts and financial obligations, Syria will take immediate action to the satisfaction of the Iraqi government.

5. On the claim that former Iraqi regime elements funds are in Syria

Syria received a team of US Treasury inspectors to visit the Commercial Bank of Syria for as long as they deemed fit, and had access to whatever information they required. We thought that this openness and transparency would put an end to these unsubstantiated accusations. On the one hand, thee team left Syria satisfied that our banks were fully cooperating with the US on this particular issue. ON the other hand, the US Treasury Department never acknowledged our cooperation, and continued to repeat the same allegations. Once more we invite the US treasury officials to talk to Syria, not talk past Syria about these accusations. If US officials have acquired new information regarding these funds, Syria welcomes the opportunity to re-examine the issue and fully investigate it in cooperation with the US officials.

6. On Financing Terrorism

Syria has repeatedly informed the US Treasury Department officials that wee are keen on closely cooperating with the US Treasury Department on issues of money laundering and terrorism financing. Syria, has modified all its by-laws and regulations in accordance with recommendations Syria has received fro the US Treasury Department officials. Syria not only did this, but also informed the US Treasury Department that we are willing to do whatever action may be required in the future, if the need arises. This was never publicly acknowledged by the US Treasury Department; on the contrary, we continue to hear the same accusations about cash flow through the borders.

Actually, based on the recommendations of the US Treasury Department, Syria has joined a number of groups including MENA-FATF (Middle East & North Africa Financial Action Task Force), as well as establishing special units of the Syrian Customs on all international borders to combat terrorism financing and money laundering.

It might surprise you to know that Syria’s efforts to curb cash flows into Iraq and elsewhere were faced by obstacles created by the US Administration. Our efforts to eliminate cash dealings and substitute the cas-based system with a credit card system where all financial transactions can be electronically monitored and traced were stalled by the US imposed sanctions on Syria that continue to prevent us from modernizing our banking infrastructure. I hope you will use your good office to convince the US Treasury Department that helping Syria modernize its banking system will actually help the US win its global war against terrorism.

7. Lebanon (Don’t want to copy it all out. It is outdated anyway.)

8. On Sanctions against Syria

When you contemplate imposing new sanctions against the Syrian banking system, I hope you will keep in mind that the suffocation and eventual crash of this system will only benefit illegal transactions, black marketers and money traffickers. Syria has diligently worked hard on bringing its banking systems to world class standards, and to ensure transparency and the security of all financial transactions. Threats of further sanctions will have a negative impact on Syria’s efforts to achieve what the US Administration has repeatedly asked Syria to do, and what we have been working hard on achieving.

In addition, I hope that the honorable members would recall that ten years of economic sanctions on Iraq only led to the impoverishment of the Iraqi people, and the destruction of Iraq’s national infrastructure. Syria invites you to use diplomacy and engagement, no threats and sanctions to try and find solutions for our already troubled region. Please do remember, that if you are being told by the US Administration that they have “credible evidence” that Syria is doing this or not doing that; the same sort of credible intelligence was used in thee past as a pretext to launch war on another Arab country. We hope that this kind of mistake will not be repeated for the same of Syria, the Middle East and the entire world.

We firmly believe that you can play a great role in helping bring the US and Syria to a better understanding and a higher level of cooperation. On our behalf, this is what we are looking for, and this is what we hope the future will hold for both our countries,

Yours Sincerely,

Imad Moustapha, PhD.
Ambassador of the Syria to the United States

Saturday, October 22, 2005

NSC Chief Hadley asked Italy for a Bashar Replacement

I have it on good authority that Steven Hadley, the director of the US National Security Council, called the President of the Italian senate to asked if he had a candidate to replace Bashar al-Asad as President of Syria. The Italians were horrified. Italy is one of Syria’s biggest trading partners so it seemed a reasonable place to ask! This is what Washington has been up to.

Bashar cannot possibly do what Washington is demanding of it -- give family members to an international court. My guess is that the regime will stick together on this.

On 25 Oct, the UN will announce that Syria must cooperate or serious action will ensue. Syria will pretend to cooperate, but ultimately stonewall. Then the UN will have to place sanctions on Syria. If Europe balks at this, the US will threaten unilateral action as it did in Iraq. It will not invade, but will start small cross-border raids and perhaps strategic bombings in Syria. The threat of doing this will probably be enough to pressure Europe into going along with fairly tough sanctions. I do not think military action or the treat of military action will force Syria into regime change on its own. Syria will reach out to the West as it has been doing all along, but only too little too late.

Can the Syrian opposition exploit this situation? I doubt it, but we will have to see how resourceful it is and how determined the Syrian regime is at repressing it. It is trying to organize as quickly as it can. Tomorrow at 11:00am there is a call to meet at the Arab Cultural Center on Abu Roumani, where UN day ceremonies are to be being held.

The Syrian regime will no come apart as Washington is hoping. That is what I believe. The Mehlis situation is a big transformation of US-Syrian relations and puts the two in a whole different territory. A court of law is no where to carry out diplomacy. Deals cannot be made and compromises cannot be reached once the court is assembled. And for all intents and purposes the court has been assembled. The world has been promised that the perpetrators of the Hariri murder will be punished. President Asad has not been directly implicated, but the rest of his family has been. Trying to separate him from them will require fratricide. He won't do it. He cannot do it.

U.S. Sees Opening For Change in Syria
Eroding Assad's Power Is Short-Term Goal

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 23, 2005; A22

The Bush administration is brokering a series of steps designed to unravel the regime in Syria but not oust the government of President Bashar Assad -- at least not yet, U.S. policymakers say.

Washington is intent on squeezing its most consistent nemesis in the Arab world to cooperate -- not only on Lebanon -- through the kind of pressure that eventually turned Moammar Gaddafi after Libyan agents were linked to the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, according to U.S. officials.

The new United Nations report linking top Syrian officials, including Assad family members, to the killing of Lebanon's leading reformer eight months ago has sparked a "transformation" in how the world is willing to deal with Damascus, which Washington wants to cultivate, said a senior U.S. policymaker who spoke on the condition of anonymity because diplomacy is ongoing.

"Out of tragedy comes an extraordinary strategic opportunity," the official said. "This murder changed everything." Former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri was killed Feb. 14.

The long-term U.S. goal is to break the 35-year hold of the Assad family and allow Syrians to freely pick a new government. But in the short term, the administration is somewhat reluctantly opting to let the U.N. investigation and the subsequent judicial process, combined with punitive U.N. sanctions, erode Assad's power -- and see if he then changes Syrian practices in the region, U.S. officials said.

Damascus must end attempts to destabilize neighbors and undercut their aspirations, "whether that be the Lebanese people for independent sovereignty, whether it be the Palestinian people for an independent state that lives in peace with Israel, whether it be for the Iraqis who are trying to develop a peaceful and stable democracy but are having to fight a determined but unprincipled insurgency, or whether it be for Turkey," said State Department spokesman J. Adam Ereli.

In specific terms, that means such moves as closing the Damascus airport and border routes to extremists bound for Iraq, terminating ties with Palestinian rejectionist groups and the flow of arms to Lebanese militants, and developing good relations with the new Baghdad government, State Department officials said.

Washington is also talking with European allies about how to help Lebanon pursue the prosecution of those charged in the slaying, including holding trials with international help or at a venue outside Lebanon, U.S. officials said. Saad Hariri, Rafiq Hariri's son and the leader of the largest bloc in Lebanon's parliament, said yesterday that he wants his father's killers to be tried in an international court.

Although Syria has never been more isolated, U.S. officials caution that their ambitions are curbed by realities on the ground. After an intense hunt for alternatives, the Bush administration has concluded that there is no political party strong enough and sufficiently friendly to endorse as a replacement for Assad, U.S. officials said.

Unlike Iraq or Afghanistan, Syria has few democratic exile groups. The Muslim Brotherhood, an underground Islamist group, is the strongest internal opposition.

A more aggressive policy of "regime change" could backfire, U.S. officials said. An abrupt upheaval could invite a return to the kind of rampant instability and coups that typified Syria until Hafez Assad came to power in 1971.

"It's very difficult to identify someone viable within the power structure that the U.S. could work with other than Bashar. And if you look beyond the regime, the most likely alternative to the present political order would be heavily Islamist and anti-American," said Flynt Leverett, a former National Security Council staffer in the Bush administration and author of "Inheriting Syria: Bashar's Trial by Fire."

"And if this regime implodes, you would probably get chaos and violence along ethnic and sectarian lines . . . with spillover into Iraq and other parts of the region."

Yet Washington also believes that Assad -- an ophthalmologist who inherited power from his father in 2000 because his older brother, the designated heir, was killed in a car crash -- probably will not fully comply with the new terms laid out by the Security Council this week.

The Syrian leader vowed to punish anyone tied to the Hariri case. But he is unlikely to sacrifice his own brother, Maher Assad, or Gen. Asef Shawkat, his brother-in-law and the head of Syrian military intelligence, U.S. officials said.

Both were cited in the U.N. report by investigator Detlev Mehlis for allegedly planning the Hariri bombing. For his political salvation, Gaddafi turned over two agents tried for the Pan Am bombing. But the younger Assad has yet to demonstrate the confident pragmatism of his father, who sent troops to join the U.S.-led coalition to liberate Kuwait in 1991 and participated in the U.S.-orchestrated 1993 Madrid peace talks.

"For the past few years, there's been a deliberate effort to change Syria's behavior" -- with limited results, said Edward P. Djerejian, former U.S. ambassador to Syria. Then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was among several officials during the first Bush term who went to Damascus to seek common ground on terrorism, Lebanon, Iraq and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Djerejian told Assad in January that Washington believed the time had arrived for Syria to finally act against Iraqis tied to Saddam Hussein in Syria. Assad took "half-measures" -- after the election -- reflecting his failure to understand how "to engage constructively and actively," Djerejian said.

And that may force the Bush administration to make a tougher decision, U.S. officials acknowledged. "The big question is: Is there anything to indicate that Assad would show any deviation from past behavior," said the senior U.S. official. "We're certainly not trying to save the regime."

And, unlike in Libya, Washington is unwilling to let the process of change take a decade, U.S. officials said. "Syria's situation is much more urgent," the senior official said.

There is also this story about Roed-Larsen's report in Haaretz which suggests his report will also damn the Syrians for not fulfilling 1559. it will be a double whammy at the UN on Tuesday.
New UN report brings Syria closer to sanctions
By Ze'ev Schiff and Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondents

The aim of the report by UN special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, which is to be submitted this week to the UN Secretariat and the Security Council, is to determine whether Syria complied with UN Resolution 1559, calling for its withdrawal from Lebanon.

The findings of the Roed-Larsen report, together with the Mehlis Commission interim report on the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, increase the chances that the Security Council will impose sanctions on Syria.

The Mehlis report points an accusing finger at Syria. Without making a direct accusation of murder, it emphasizes Syria's responsibility and attempts by Syrian figures to lie and squirm their way out of the investigation into the murder.

Roed-Larsen's report will place much more pressure on Syria than the Mehlis report because it states that Damascus did not genuinely implement Resolution 1559, preferring instead to maintain its indirect military control of Lebanon through its agents in the Lebanese presidential palace, the army and intelligence organizations.

Official sources say Syrian intelligence was involved in 14 assassinations and assassination attempts in Lebanon in the past year, including that of Hariri.

Part of Syria's indirect control in Lebanon is achieved through arms shipments to Hezbollah and armed Palestinian militias, most of which end up in the refugee camps. In addition, Lebanon is home to a few dozen members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards who have trained Hezbollah members in launching drones. On two occasions, the drones made short flights into the Galilee.

It appears unlikely that the Security Council will consider the two reports sufficiently damning to impose sanctions on Syria. Both reports prepare the ground for future sanctions, however, and contain an indirect recommendation to Syrian President Bashar Assad that he cooperate with the United Nations.
Syria May Let Officials Be Questioned Abroad
Government Bristles at 'Pure Allegations' in Hariri's Killing but Considers Cooperating

By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, October 23, 2005; Page A22

DAMASCUS, Syria, Oct. 22 -- Facing the prospect of international sanctions, the Syrian government said Saturday that it might allow senior intelligence officials suspected in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri to be questioned abroad, and it promised to cooperate, within limits, with the investigation.

But the government mixed conciliation with hesitation and a litany of reservations, condemning the report as a political ploy and contending officials had already fully cooperated with the U.N. inquiry. Analysts in Damascus said Saturday's moves signaled what may emerge as the shape of Syrian policy in the decisive weeks ahead: offering enough gestures to fend off international pressure but making no concessions that might imperil a government that already feels besieged.

At a news conference, Riyad Dawudi, a Foreign Ministry adviser, gave the first public response by the government, which was said to be caught off guard by the breadth of the U.N. inquiry. It came amid grumblings in the Syrian capital over the lack of forceful leadership during a crisis that has become the biggest test of Bashar Assad's five-year reign as president.

"We'll cooperate, but we'll wait to see the limits and elements of this cooperation," Dawudi said.

He signaled that the government might be willing to send senior officials abroad for questioning in the investigation.

"If there's a necessity, we will see according to the circumstances that are going to be put before us," he said. "If there is any demand coming from the commission, we will study, we will discuss with the commission and we might agree."

The report by the probe's German prosecutor, Detlev Mehlis, stopped short of directly blaming Assad for the assassination, but it contended that the Feb. 14 killing of Hariri and 22 others could not have happened without the approval of top Syrian security officials and their Lebanese intelligence counterparts.

The report names individuals from a cross section of the Syrian government -- civilian and military officials, politicians and intelligence figures, and officials from the Sunni Muslim majority and Assad's own minority Alawite community. The report said Syria's foreign minister lied in a letter to investigators -- a charge Dawudi denied -- and cited one witness as implicating Assad's powerful brother-in-law, Asef Shawkat, a member of the government's inner circle.

Dawudi questioned the credibility of one of the report's named witnesses and said other testimony amounted to hearsay. He said the investigation relied on the accounts of Lebanese witnesses who were anti-Syrian, giving the report a political cast that will allow it to be manipulated by Syria's foes, namely the United States and France.

"What is in the report are pure allegations," Dawudi said. "Everything is based on a presumption that the very presence of the Syrian security apparatus and military forces in Lebanon and the impact Syria had in Lebanon at that time implies -- and this is an induction done in the report -- implies that this assassination plot could not have been carried out without the knowledge of the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services. And this is just an allegation."

The Syrian government had reportedly expected a more favorable portrayal in Mehlis's inquiry because it allowed its officials to be interviewed. "They were shocked, they were totally shocked by the content of the report," said Ibrahim Hamidi, a well-connected journalist in Damascus for the leading pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat. "They expected Mehlis to at least mention they were cooperating. Of course, they did not expect him to go this high, to leak all these names."

Analysts in Damascus said the leadership appears divided between two factions -- one urging more cooperation, sensing the depth of the crisis, and the other believing that the government can weather the turmoil and that any degree of cooperation will likely only bring more demands. Some in the Syrian capital have been struck by the government's response. Assad has yet to comment publicly on the report, perhaps out of fear of creating an atmosphere of crisis.

"There was no new information, no opinion, nothing about what will happen in the future, no real opinion of what the government of Syria has decided or thinks about this report," said Ayman Abdel Nour, a Baath Party reformer and editor of a popular Web site that tracks Syrian politics. "What is this? This is no longer a technical issue."

"We need politicians to address the people of Syria -- this is what happened, this is the pressure we are under, this is what might happen in the future, this is what we have in mind," Abdel Nour added. "We want to know who's leading us."

The United States and France are expected to put resolutions critical of Syria before the U.N. Security Council, which will meet Tuesday to discuss the report. In a statement broadcast Saturday, Hariri's son, Saad, who heads the largest anti-Syrian bloc in Lebanon's parliament, repeated his faction's call for an international tribunal to try suspects in his father's killing.

"Reaching justice presents the Arab and international community with additional responsibilities that prompt us to urge them to continue all aspects of the investigation in the crime and refer it to an international court," he said from his home in Saudi Arabia in his first public reaction to the Mehlis's report. "We do not seek revenge. We seek justice."

The Syrian response is a matter of much debate in Damascus. Abdel Nour predicted that the government would stick to a style of foreign policy engineered by Assad's father, Hafez, who ruled Syria from 1970 to his death in 2000.

Others suspect the Syrian government is inclined to strike a deal, meeting U.S. demands to cut support to militant Palestinian factions and to the Lebanese Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah. Syria could also answer calls to take more steps to close the border with Iraq to foreign fighters. Whether the United States would accept a deal remains in question, increasing the speculation here that more upheaval is ahead.

"The entire regime is in the neck of the bottle. They cannot do anything," said Haitham Maleh, a human rights lawyer and opposition activist. "Somebody has to take a step."

Bolton on Syria: We need to obtain Syrian cooperation

The UN Security Council meeting will be about steps to force Syria to cooperate with an international court.

10/21/2005 3:21:41

AMB. BOLTON: I just want to bring up to date on where the United Statesstands with respect to the Mehlis report, which was issued last night by theSecretariat. I met with Mr. Mehlis this morning at 7:30; we had a discussionfor over an hour about his report and what the next steps might be. He willbe meeting with the other permanent members of the Security Council and the President of the Security Council during the course of the day. Since theissuance of the report, I have already been in touch with the ambassadors of all the other permanent members to discuss what next steps might be.

This report is obviously very significant; it finds probable cause to believe that the assassination could not have been undertaken without the knowledge of senior figures in Syrian intelligence. It refers to lack of cooperation by Syria with the investigation, which is diplo-speak for obstruction of justice. It's a very hard-hitting report. Now, we are still studying it and I would expect there would be other announcements and statements from U.S. during the course of the day, especially as we go through our consultations with other Security Council members and other affected parties. Why don't I just take a couple of questions.

Q Did Mr. Mehlis tell you why he took names out of the report in the last 24hours? Are you satisfied that was the right thing to do?

AMB. BOLTON: Well, I'd rather not get into the specifics of the writing ofthe report. We had a very good discussion about his feelings about theevidence, and the strength of the evidence that supports the conclusions inthe report; we talked about the work that remains to be done that he was notable to complete because of Syrian obstruction. I'm very confident based onthe very quick review of the report we've been able to do and myconversation with Mr. Mehlis that it's supported by substantial evidence andthat more work remains to be done.

Q (Inaudible) - suggests that the edits were made in the presence of the Secretary General during his meeting with Mr. Mehlis or shortly after themeeting? The Secretary General had promised he would not interfere with thecontents of the report, do you feel he may have interfered with the contentsof the report by editing - (inaudible)?

AMB. BOLTON: I'm not going to get into a discussion as to what the Secretariat may or may not have done. I've seen several versions of thereport, I must say at the moment I don't understand why there are severalversions of the report because it was after all Mr. Mehlis the Council asked to report to it. But I want to withhold comment about the editing processuntil I can find out more about it. I think what is important to focus on isthe substance of the report, which is very dramatic news about the extent ofSyrian involvement and involvement by top officials in the Lebanese government in this assassination.

Q The report names Maher Assad, the brother of Bashar Assad, do you believe this information is substantial and implicates Bashar Assad in the murder of Rafik Hariri?

AMB. BOLTON: Well, I'm not going to comment on the specifics in the report,I think it's still something we're going to consider. But I don't thinkthere's any doubt that this is going to require a strong follow-up from the Security Council. And I think, as I said, there may be other comments we're making today. I'm going to take just one more question.

Q Would that strong response possibly include some sort of sanctions against Syria? nd is that something the United States is considering?

AMB. BOLTON: We're considering still a range of options. We're want to be infurther consultations with the other permanent members and other members ofthe Security Council. But I want to leave no doubt we consider this Mehlis report a historic document. Thank you very much.

Mr. Ambassador, because the report does mention such high-ranking Syrian government officials, does it imply that President Assad is involved?

AMB. BOLTON: Well, I don't think you need to get into the specifics, to show that the extent of the convergence of Syrian and Lebanese security agency involvement here shows a pattern that requires further investigation. That's why we believe the mandate should be extended and why we need to look at other steps to obtain Syrian cooperation. That's one of the things that we've been in consultation about and we'll continue to consult over the weekend.

Q How should the international community respond to this report?

AMB. BOLTON: I think that we should demand cooperation from Syria and we need to get to the bottom of the investigation. The Mehlis Commission has taken us a long way, but there's obviously still facts that need to be uncovered. I'll just take one more question here.

Q The Syrian ambassador just announced to us that Syria gave full cooperation that the report is not credible, and it is a political report. What is your answer?

AMB. BOLTON: I think that's ridiculous. Frankly, the report speaks for itself. It's backed by substantial evidence, lots of witnesses, thousands of pages of documentation, and the clear fact that numerous Syrian officials declined to be interviewed in circumstances where trustworthy testimony can be given. So, okay that's it. Thank you very much.

Riad al-Turk Interviewed by Joe Pace on Mehlis, the Opposition, Ghadry

Riad al-Turk
Interview and translation by Joe Pace
8 September 2005

Riad al-Turk has often been called Syria’s Mandela because he is the grandfather of the Syrian left. For many years al-Turk was the Amin al-`Amm (Secretary General) of the Syrian Communist Party - Political Office. He has been a fixture in the enlightened opposition for 55 years and is respected for his fearlessness and humanity. Although he has spent over 20 years in prison, Riad is still hail and sharp at 75. His first stint in jail was under Adib Shishakli in 1954. He spent another 15 months in jail under Nasser in 1960, then under Assad from 1980 to 1998, and finally under Bashar for another year and three months. He has recently undergone heart surgery, but he still smokes on occasion and is surrounded by a loving wife, beautiful daughters and grandchildren. Also see my 11 March 2005 interview with Riad al-Turk here.

Joe Pace: Could you give us information about yourself; how did you become opposition?

Riad al-Turk: You haven’t heard the saying that when anyone discusses himself, he is a liar? I’m from Homs, born in 1930. I went to law school and joined the lawyers union. I am now a member of the lawyers union in Homs. I joined the Communist party early in my life—I cannot remember when exactly because at that time the party life consisted more of a social movement than organized party life like there exists in the US or Europe. In the student movement, there were four tiers: a conservative trend dominated by the bourgeoisie, a religious movement dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, a nationalist trend even though Nasser had not yet come into power led by the Ba’thists, and a Marxist trend led by the Communist party. I was part of the Communist party.

I, like the rest of the members, was a member of all the relevant forums. In 1969, the party split into two: the traditionalists and the one’s who wanted to re-evaluate their stance towards the Soviets. I was from the later and after the party conference, I was elected first secretary, a position that I held until April of last year when Abdullah Hoshi took over.

At that time, we changed the name of our party from the Communist Party to the People’s Democratic Party.

What motivated you to change the name of the party?

There are lots of reasons. First, we had been criticizing the Soviet Union for a long time and the relationship between the Soviet Communist party and our communist party had been one of subordination. They would demand information or order us to take a certain stance or undertake a certain task. Our opinion was that the Soviet Union should be seeking advice and council from us since we are from this country and understand it better than the Soviets. There are non-Arab elements in this country, like the Kurds, the occupants of southern Sudan, and the Berbers. There are a multitude of sects and religions, which resemble a mosaic. It is only logical that only the principle of citizenship would unite them. How else are you supposed to unite the Arab world democratically without employing power politics as Egypt did when it used to force its will on Syria or as Syria did to Lebanon? It was typical of the Communist parties that were nurtured by the Soviet outlook to make light of the objective conditions in the Arab world and in Syria especially.

From another perspective, we thought that the Soviet Union was responsible for the stagnation of Marxist thought. It was not subject to renewal, by which I mean a re-interpretation in light of the newest scientific developments. The Soviets froze Marxist ideas to serve their interests. Perhaps Marxism was implemented to serve revolutionary aims in the context of the World Wars, but Marxism has to be open to renewal and rendered compatible with democracy. The Soviet Union did not understand this and they tried to implement their version of Marxism and wield the communist parties in the rest of the world, which produced a widespread backlash wherein people disassociated from the Soviet Union. We were latecomers in this phenomenon because we didn’t listen to the civilized world.

The third reason is that this period in Syrian history must be one in which we combat despotism. This struggle should not be undertaken with the revolutionary slogans of the leftists and communists, but rather through an assembly of all elements of this society that have been hurt by despotism and putting them in a single melting pot for the sake of democratic change. Only a democratic state suits us.

Finally, when our party was established in 1924, its name was the People’s Party of Syria. We have returned to the parties founding name, but we have added the word “democratic.”

Democracy is a vague concept. Do you have a specific program for democratizing the state? [Riad presents me with a large book on the party’s positions and tells me to read it.]

We tried to do two things. At a minimum, we will continue fighting this regime until it democratizes. We also published a program for Syria in accordance with how we envision it: a democratic state. We believe that Syria is passing through a transitional state from despotism to a greater freedoms and a democratic, watani regime. This is the slogan that we are proposing for people. This regime, by virtue of its basic structure, rules by dictatorial decree. It used to be Hafiz al-Assad, but now he has bequeathed the inheritance to his son. Hafiz was psychologically ill: he thought he was the king of the country and so just as one would bequeath a house, he bequeathed the country to his sons. During Hafez’s reign, this country’s institutional spinal cord was established: the most basic element was military power consisting of the army and the secret police. After that is the Ba’th party which has an ideological function; its political function rests on utopian notions and it has no role in governing other than marketing and justifying the decisions and statements made by the presidency and the Republican Palace.

Beside the Ba’th party—or more appropriately put, under it—you have a collection of parties under the heading of the National Progressive Front. Around those two groupings, you have formal popular organizations and associations like workers unions, peasant associations, student alliances, etc.

With regard to the structure of the state, it’s completely presidential in the sense that there is a referendum for the presidency, not an election. The national leadership in the legislative assembly nominates the candidate, and Hafez al-Assad from 1970 until his death was the only candidate. The politicians from the various parties who cooperate with the regime were manufactured by the secret police. The job of the secret police is to surveil society—they don’t even trust their own party.

This is the structure of authoritarianism, and the average citizen has two choices if he wants to participate in politics. Either he does so in the security regime’s camp, or he becomes opposition. If he chooses the opposition, the only thing he can expect is prison, or murder, or exile—or in the recent period he can keep his mouth shut and continue to live, but like an animal. Hafiz al-Assad through the 70s was able to secure Soviet support and even managed to win over the Americans. So through most of his reign, he ruled with the public aware of the fact that America and the Soviet Union and even the Arab states were behind him. He served their interests on the condition that they refrained from interfering in internal Syrian affairs.

Hariri was assassinated, but he was a mere individual. In 1982, the Syrian regime killed some 30,000 people and the Americans barely registered a protest. Now one man gets killed and the world is up in arms. Of course, I understand that this regime has become weak and incapable of serving the US, and also that the US is looking to renovate its policy; Condoleezza Rice said very clearly that the US made mistakes, that it supported despots for the sake of stability, and that it neglected democracy and human rights. The result of that support for despotism is that it has spread throughout society and produced these expiatory (tikfiri) terrorist groups.

All of the regimes in the Middle East, with the exception of Lebanon, are dictatorial. The details might differ—power might be centralized in a king, the president, a certain tribe—but they follow the same basic template: the head of state is the uncontested ruler and his followers must execute his will. There is thus a real need for our society to change, for the state of the Arabs to change, and a need for the Americans to alter their policy in the aftermath of 9-11.

We are cognizant of these factors as we search for a solution. On this one point alone, we agree with the Americans: we are against this regime. But is our program for change the same as that of the US? I don’t think so. The regime accuses the opposition of being American agents, even though for the longest time, America wasn’t even inquiring about the state of the opposition. I remember that while I was imprisoned, Cyrus Vance came after the protests and demonstrations for me. He met with Hafez al-Assad and demanded my release. Hafez said that “this man is your biggest enemy. Do you want me to open his file for you?” Cyrus Vance and the US administration didn’t say a word.

Syrian society is ironed by this regime. The totalitarian mindset does not let you create your own opinion. These authorities for the most part were farmers who escaped poverty. They were persecuted by the Ottomans and Sunnis who hated the Alawites. When they came to power, it was presumed that they would eliminate their poverty and the poverty of the people. But all they did was eliminate their own poverty. So the governing mindset is one that concerns itself with theft and accumulating money through any means regardless of their legitimacy. So our economy has crumbled and people are impoverished and the family requires two or three people working just to provide the most basic amenities.

Therefore, economically and socially our society is deeply troubled. This economic languishing has produced many terrible social phenomena: thievery, gangs, prostitution. Politically, there is no way for anyone expept the most intrepid to challenge the regime, which has profoundly weakened the opposition. The only people who participate are those who are willing to take on any challenge irrespective of the price, but you don’t get the masses like you once could. There is no popular mass; they are fearful of the security branches, fearful of terrorists, fearful, fearful, fearful.

Do you think that the regime is preparing the political landscape for a new party law by creating or permitting the creation of groups who claim to be oppositional but are actually taking their cues from the secret police? Rihab al-Bitar’s party comes to mind since it has been tolerated in the midst of this crackdown.

This is evidence of the regime’s weakness, this game they are playing with the party law. But it’s a game that has been played for the past five years. They’re not going to promulgate a real election law; in the tenth B’ath conference, they issued recommendations for a party law that excluded parties based on religion or nationalisms, but it’s a bunch of lies. These promises from the regime are evidence that it is in a state of decline and weakness. When these sorts of regimes weaken but don’t want to reform, they multiply their promises and slacken in the execution thereof, or if they can, they erase them all together.

As for Rihab, I don’t have an opinion. But I can say that the names that are emerging—this one establishes a party, that one an organization, this one an association, that one a research center—are a result of the political chaos that reigns in the this country. And this chaos most especially afflicts the opposition because the remaining parties that survived the terror of the 1970s—and even the present day—emerged weak and their platforms do not resonate with the younger generations.

The National Democratic Assembly (At-tajama’ al-watani ad-democrati) especially has been debilitated. In the late 1970s, it was working peacefully for democratic change while the Muslim Brotherhood waged its violent campaign against the regime. But now, it is weak and incapable of attracting the youth. This is why the opposition is in such a weak state.

But I think that after the problems in Lebanon, the regime will purge its ranks and rid itself of the old and hesitant and so the authorities now are totally exposed to the Assad family.

Why has the National Democratic Assembly in particular seen its influence wane?
The primary reason is that the nationalist and leftists parties have been unwilling to reexamine their political stances. We split with the communists because they are working with the regime. We were the ones who organized a conference and offered solutions to a wide range of problems facing Syria. We call for reconciliation between the political trends, but not reconciliation with the regime—we are calling for change. As for any reformists inside the regime or Ba’thists who agree with the opposition’s aims of a national democracy, we aren’t against them.

What’s the basis for your claim that the Assembly is weak? One can easily criticize intellectual stagnancy, but on a practical, organizational level, what does that entail: decreased membership, less organized activities, etc?

Certainly, its support base has contracted. We don’t have a platform suitable to the present conditions this society is facing. It is estranged from this society’s politics. University students, the youth, those from the country side—none of them are finding anything within this assembly that suits them. Even its position towards America is problematic; they dogmatically cling to idea that America is our enemy, period. All of these factors are impeding the Assembly’s ability to attract new members.

The opposition today is intellectually backwards and incapable of communicating with the populace. If you examined the membership of the opposition parties you’d discover that the younger members are in their mid-40s—they are not attracting the youth. What is the new generation? What are its concerns? If I can’t speak to their concerns, how am I supposed to bring them into my party? These parties are totally detached from the younger generations. The age group between 10 and 25 represents more than 60% of society, so if you want to address the needs of society, you have to address the needs of the youth—political, social, and economic.

The average citizen is unable to live a life of dignity. It’s truly a tragedy—a tragedy because the authority imposes itself, and a tragedy because the opposition is incapable of doing anything about it. Anyone who tells you that the opposition is effective or doing a good job is lying to you.

A conflict has ensued between the Americans and the French on one hand and the Syrian regime on the other, and Syrian society and the democratic opposition are conspicuously absent. We want a third option: we reject the despotic authorities, nor do we expect that the Americans come and govern us. But objectively speaking, when the internal situation weakens, the foreign powers intervene, which is why I always say that the Americans are coming. Let them topple this regime!

An American once asked me whether or not I was happy with the collapse of Saddam’s regime. Of course, we were against the occupation and understand that America had ulterior motives for the occupation. Anyways, I told him I was very pleased. He asked, “then why can’t you admit that we are doing something good in Iraq?” I replied, “if you chart Iraqi society on a graph, Saddam Hussein dragged his society below zero. You have raised it to zero, but its still zero. What’s needed is progress, the establishment of a functioning state on the ruins of that brutal regime. This can only be realized if the Americans pull out.” American policy was always against us and this was the case in Africa and South America as well. It was America that brought the militias and the despots.

Do you want to see more American or foreign pressure on the regime to reform and respect human rights, and if so, what sort of pressure?

I am not asking America to intervene in any of those issues. I want this regime to be weakened by the UN Security Council, which should admonish the regime: if you don’t change, there are a hundred means at our disposal—political, diplomatic, economic boycotts, to name a few. The second means would be to push American civil society groups to form relationships with the Syrian opposition. It is incumbent on the US to support and encourage the opposition, not enter Syria with its troops.

We want to see a variety of assistance: political supports, cultural support, shelter, etc. For example, I am not able to travel to Lebanon; the Lebanese government wouldn’t dare let me in. If the Syrian opposition began using Lebanon as a base, wouldn’t it be better than letting the secret police spy on us and pick us off one by one? We need to diversify and expand our base. We communists have been working like that all our lives: Lebanon was our base because the Syrian communists and the Lebanese communists were one party. They could do anything to us—we were like sly devils. My point is that we need a space in which society can mobilize. We want moral support but it has to be through legitimate means like the UN.

What do you think of Farid al-Ghadry?

Who is this Farid al-Ghadry?! There is a difference between someone seeking to better his society and ensure that it respects human rights, and one who wants to bring in his agents. This type of strategy doesn’t work. The Americans are not incapable of finding a way to forge a principled relationship with the opposition and its not too late.

Farid al-Ghadry is like something that descended from the sky; we don’t know anything about his roots, about his history, about his background. So he founds a party and he wants to enter the country—this is a guy who wants to enter Syria on an American tank, just like Chalabi and Allawi did in Iraq. Look, those people are still Syrian citizens even if they live in America. They have the right to criticize and mobilize. But suddenly, out of nowhere, they want change?

Farid wrote recently that the opposition would be powerful enough to replace the Syrian regime in six months. Do you share his optimism?

That is nonsense. We have been working for more than 30 years and we are still being harassed and imprisoned. Work in Syria is still extremely complicated and there is no mobilized, politicized street. But we must work to become a third force; this is the difficult task ahead of us. There is a conflict being waged between the Americans and Syria, which is why I say that the Americans are coming regardless of whether or not we welcome them.

This regime is done for. This regime is in its last throes and you should not waste your time feeling sorry for it.

Does Farid have any supporters inside Syria?

It’s something if someone’s even heard of him; you’re average citizen has no clue who he is. He doesn’t have anyone and if he wants to acquire supporters, he should enter Syria secretly and work with us. I’m speaking with total honesty as someone opposed to this regime: we would welcome any Syrian who does that. But look at the family history: the father was a Saudi agent, then he went to America and became an American agent, now he has returned as a Syrian agent. He is probably working with the CIA and he’s definitely working with the state department.

Farid al-Ghadry contacted me, and I refused to work with him. He’s not someone who can be relied upon…We reject military intervention because the Iraq model is not something that can cultivate a democratic environment. The international community needs to support and encourage the opposition that has a real sense of what democracy requires, that understands the concerns of the people, not the old and tired Nassirists or Marxists.

Everyone talks about democracy, the repeal of the emergency law, the release of political prisoners, etc—but none of these issues are moving people to the streets. I brought a friend of mine to the protest in front of the High Security Court in June, and she asked me “what exactly is the emergency law?” Then she asked me “how do I know that the people you’re protesting for aren’t agents of America or Israel?”—unfortunately this is not an uncommon sentiment among the people. So what are the issues that concern people? What are the issues that will mobilize them?

The issues that concern people are the issues that affect their daily lives. The average salary, for example, is less than 6,000 lire (about $115) per month. It’s not enough; they need to pay rent and put food on the table and most families have at least five people. At best, it can cover only the most modest expenses like food. With that salary, at least three people in the family have to work, but how often do you find a family with three people who can work? As a result, the structure of the family is coming apart at the seams. The father used to be the bread-winner. Now he’s pushing his wife and daughters to work, he’s not letting his sons go to school because they have to take wages with their father. This is a tragedy for the children.

The average citizen may work two or three jobs and there is no time for anything else. How is he supposed to get involved in politics? It’s not possible because the mafia-like rulers have continuously impoverished the people of this country. Syria used to be marked by its middle class, bourgeoisie, and its productive capacity. This regime has ruined everything; the rate of poverty is more than 60%. Some 66% are at the poverty line.

I’ll give you the example of education. People are failing in primary schools. Under this regime, illiteracy has increased despite the proliferation of schools. People graduate from college and don’t find any work. If I am a young man and I graduate, what am I supposed to do? I can’t work, I have to live with my family, which means I can’t marry. The only option is to emigrate. No less than 50% of Syrians are living off of the remittances of emigrants. The youth is facing a crisis.

There is an educational crisis. You could find upwards of 350 people in a medical school classroom. If they want to attend an anatomy course, how can they possibly learn anything? They would be lucky to lay their eyes on a piece of bone or muscle and catch part of an explanation. It’s the same thing in geology and physics. They leave school with useless information. I spoke to someone who graduated with a degree in geology with high honors—if you gave him a rock, he wouldn’t be able to identify it. But if you gave him the name of a rock, he could list you off its characteristics, its composition, etc. Its no wonder that not a single dam built during Hafez’s time period is still working. You might have heard of the Zedzun damn which broke with catastrophic consequences.

You asked about the protest in front of the High National Security Court. If we expressed our interest in the state of the people and explained to them that people are being arrested because of their opposition to the regime, the level of thought and political awareness will rise and people will realize the value of these protests.

Is the current opposition capable of—

It’s not capable of anything! I’m against it! It has no future! It is unwilling to reexamine its platform. Its mind is sick just like the regime! Their Nasserist ideology is backwards and dangerous. Their end will come as they align themselves with the regime under the banner of opposing the US. I think a division and eventually a decisive battle is going to erupt within the opposition on this point.

It’s not just the nationalists that are weak and sick. It’s the leftists: the communists, the Marxists, the Ba’thists.

What do you think of the liberals?

I think the liberals are more mature, but they aren’t really present. They don’t have a real party. If you studied the history of Syria, you know that it was best when ruled by liberals. But there is a certain environment in which liberal parties will come into being.

I’m not talking about the liberal parties that you might be reading about on the internet and elsewhere. Those are being formed by agents of the regime. If I wanted to bring you the model liberal, I would talk about Raid Seif. But the rest are agents of the regime.

The most appropriate adjective for the state of the opposition, society, and the regime is chaos—intellectual chaos. Indecisiveness, impotence, hopelessness—these are the most prominent adjectives of the opposition. The bulk of the blame lies with the National Democratic Assembly which was supposed to be opposition and did its job in the end of the 1970s, but now is totally incapable. Where did all of this energy go? Now a band of three people get together and throw together a party. The formation of parties is no small issue: it requires though, organization, an articulation of the social state of things. These people aren’t articulating anything and that is why this impotency has overtaken them.

Do you intend on splitting off from the National Democratic Assembly?

No. I personally do not cooperate with them, though my party does. We will continue working with them until we find a better alternative. We will continue to pressure them, though, and check the weakness of their stance in front of the regime. We will expose the formation of secret ties between them and the regime.

Which party is larger, yours or the Communist Union Party?

The latter, if you measure size by the number of members. If you measure it in terms of intellectual development, diversity, willingness to struggle, then we are the largest. The rest of them are collecting garbage.

I’ll give you an example to demonstrate just how ridiculous they are. We expelled someone because we discovered he was an agent of the security apparatus. He spied on us, we reported it to the leadership of the Communist Party, so he was expelled. Just recently, we heard from the Communist Union Party that the same man was offered membership in the Tartus branch. He’s an agent! How can you accept him without even asking any questions? I have to avoid the regime’s agents because infiltration into the party poses a huge danger. It would reveal all of our organizational activities. We are fighting a battle with this regime. We are not living in a democratic environment where we can open the door to anyone who wants to be a member.

Could you give me a sense of how many members each of your parties has?

We don’t announce how many members we have. That’s kept secret. Even in the last conference, the releases we issued wouldn’t name more than one person who participated on a committee and that’s usually because he’s known anyways. We have plenty of experience with secret work. But as soon as a democratic atmosphere develops, we won’t have to do anything secretly; we will be able to welcome anyone.

I get the sense that secret activities, at least within the secular opposition, is decreasing. Would you say that’s correct? One of the reasons I ask is because Farid al-Ghadry said recently on his website that secret organizations were proliferating.

No. The parties that are forming are doing so publicly. Secret activities have to decline. We are in a period of organization which is half secret, half open.

You announced on al-Mustaqila that you want to form an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood in exile. Have you been harassed or summoned to the security branches on account of this announcement?

No. I think they haven’t done anything because they think that the alliance between us and the Muslim Brotherhood won’t result in anything tangible any time soon because the parties in the Democratic National Assembly are afraid.

Do you have a sense as to how strong the Muslim Brotherhood’s following is inside Syria?

The Muslim Brotherhood has a weak following here. There is a difference between religious people who happen to oppose the regime and those who sympathize with the political organization known as the Muslim Brotherhood.

There are religious people who support our party. When I spoke to Sheikh Bayanuni, I told him “you don’t represent the Sunnis. The Sunnis are diverse; they are not a single body.” That’s something that the West still doesn’t understand. And not everyone who is devout, who prayers and fasts, is automatically an enemy of the West. That type of thinking is a huge mistake.

Why did you choose to align yourself with the Muslim Brotherhood? What is the long-term strategy here?

They have been harmed by despotism and so have we. Why shouldn’t we meet to bring an end to despotism? That’s our right. Second, I recognize that a Muslim Brotherhood sympathizer is a Syrian citizen who has the right to participate in politics and belong to the party of his choice. The Muslim Brotherhood has the right to exist: this is the basis of democracy.

We cannot topple this regime as a people without American intervention unless we form a broad coalition. This coalition must include religious movements that are willing to embrace democracy.

So do you believe that the Muslim Brotherhood is committed to democracy?

They announce that they are. Look, someone could say that I am a former communist and the Soviet Union is undemocratic and so I shouldn’t be trusted. If we all thought like that, we would scatter to the winds. Therefore we have to converge on the lowest common denominator, which consists of two things: overthrowing this despotic regime and accepting one another in the sense that we are political parties who derive our legitimacy from the people. If the people choose one of us in the context of fair elections, that party will rule. But there has to be a rotation of power, say, every four years as happens in America.

We are supposed to make specific promises to the people. The despotic mindset doesn’t make promises. It aims to exclude and eliminate; it says it wants to change society. I don’t want to change society—that’s a mistaken way to look at it. Society will change for the better or the worse based on a multitude of factors. This is the basis for forming our alliance: we have spent too much time negating one another because we want to change all of society to fit our ideal image. We have to be citizens before we are partisans.

You expressed a willingness to ally with them, but are they willing to cooperate and coordinate with your party?

I think so. We have our differences, but they regard the future. We both agree what needs to happen now. They want an Islamic government in the future and I don’t. We live in a country of Muslims and Christians and so on and so forth and the Muslim Brotherhood only represents one segment of the Sunnis who are themselves only one sect. The Sunnis also consist of Communists and secularists and liberals, etc.

Do you think that the Muslim Brotherhood still regards non-Muslims as second-class citizens?

No, the idea of ahal ath-thimma is old and outdated. I heard Sheikh Bayanuni say that he would accept even a woman or Christian as the president of Syria.

The relationship between the opposition’s parties has a bad history. We were at one point battling the Muslim Brotherhood because ideology triumphed over politics. I am an atheist, so if I want to relate to the Muslim Brotherhood on the level of ideology, I must reject them. And if the Muslim Brotherhood wants to relate to me on the level of ideology, they must consider me an apostate. But the times have changed, and we must reprioritize politics over ideology.

We have had a painful history, but now we have to rebuild the parties on the basis of citizenship. We must recognize that the other is a citizen deserving of equal rights and political participation.

The Muslim Brotherhood enjoyed power within the government in the 1950s and there wasn’t any violence. Certainly, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood spawned parties for generations that committed acts of terrorism, but the Muslim Brotherhood of Syria is not like that.

Why do the Syrian parties split with such frequency? There are 13 Kurdish parties, almost a dozen communist parties, and in the period of five weeks, three new liberal parties were formed!

I already addressed this question. We are in a transitional state that is marked by intellectual chaos, an inability to exact change, hopelessness from the regime. There is no one who is able to unite people and lead the struggle. Sure, there are a lot of parties, but do any of these parties have a presence among the people? These are parties in name only.

You have to ask, why are these parties that exist in name only proliferating? It’s opportunism. In the context of this chaos, there will be a decisive battle fought between the regime and its supporters and an opposition that is capable of producing a platform for change. If the rest of the parties are incapable of producing such a platform, the outside powers will play a role. Many of these people will offer themselves up as agents of the West. Someone feels the regime is going to collapse and he wants a post in the new regime—how is he going to win that post? By ensuring good relations with the EU! The EU is buying agents, France is buying agents, the US is buying agents. These people in those parties are for sale.

The point is this regime is heading toward collapse. If you had asked ten years ago, “where are those dogs [party members “for sale”]?” you would have found them working with the regime.

You’ve said repeatedly that the regime is going to collapse, but how exactly do you expect this to happen? What pressures are going to induce collapse?

That doesn’t concern me. The justifications for its existence have expired. This regime was supported by the United States and by the Soviet Union. It ruled by means of terrorism: murder, torture, terror. Now it is incapable because society has rejected it. It has rejected the regime because the regime has oppressed the people, denied them their freedoms. The international arena plays a role. Hafez al-Assad was a prop of US policy in the region; he killed 30,000 people and the US didn’t say a thing. Now they kill one and look at the US response! It is because the US has realized that Syria can no longer serve American interests, so the US wants to change the regime. This is the biggest crisis that the regime is facing.

The opposition hasn’t accomplished anything in the last five years, but the situation has improved with regard to the number of political prisoners, the behavior of the secret police, and freedom of opinion. This is not the result of Bashar’s newfound rationality or the deliberate policy of the regime—it’s the result of the weakening of the regime.

The regime is facing unprecedented pressures from the US and France on account of the Iraqi issue and the assassination of Hariri. It could easily fall like Milosevic’s regime, especially since it does not have a popular base to protect it. This regime is in its death throes.

But presumably the Syrian regime, were it to come under enough pressure, would submit to American demands if only for the sake of survival. Do you think it can offer up the necessary concessions and still remain in power?

No. If it were to abandon its claim to the whole of Golan and make peace with Israel, if it were to declare an end to its enmity toward America, what is it supposed to say to the people?

What do you expect from the Mehlis report?

I am convinced that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the assassination. The loss of Lebanon was a tremendous blow politically. Lebanon was the cash cow for the Syrian regime; Rami Makhlouf alone profited billions from his electricity projects. They robbed the country and turned it into a province of Syria.

There are crimes that were committed whose sole aim was to terrify. The killing of Hariri was nothing in comparison to the murder of thousands of Lebanese. This file will be opened. Thus Syria is facing a huge crisis. If Syria looses Syria, looses its influence in Palestine, and is no longer able to play a role in Iraq, it will have failed as a regional power.

Do you hope that the Mehlis report will point the finger at the Syrian regime? Do you think that the opposition would benefit?

All I want is the truth. Of course, the mere fact that Syria has been accused of the assassination has benefited the opposition. This crime has only further demonstrated the true nature of this regime, that it only acts through murder and brute force.

You don’t fear that were the Mehlis report to blame Syria, the UN or at least the US would impose debilitating economic sanctions on Syria?

The Syrians are besieged by Muhammad Makhlouf and Rami Makhlouf more than they could possibly be besieged by the United Nations. Even the newsstands: they barely make anything, but the profits go to those cronies. They own all the restaurants. All of the oil is theirs. How could we possibly be more besieged?

What's Next? Regime Change or Not

It looks like the next step is to get the Security Council to condemn Syria on Tuesday, October 25 for not cooperating with, and lying to, the Mehlis investigation. This will be Bolton's strategy. Most probably Washington will try to copy the basic outline of Security Resolution 1559, which worked so well in compelling Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon. Resolution 1559 insisted that Syria withdraw its troops from Lebanon by a certain date or serious action would be taken by the UN. Roed Larsen, a UN official was sent to Lebanon on periodic investigative trips to determine whether Syria was complying in a timely fashion.

I suspect that the UN will not name specific sanctions to be placed on Syria at this time, but will use the threat of them in order to demand that Syria cooperate with the criminal investigation, which should now be established as the logical continuation of the Mehlis report. If Syria stonewalls the investigation, the UN will impose sanctions. In the interim, sanctions will remain undefined. If the bar for the investigation is raised too high, by demanding that top Syrian officials leave Syria to be interrogated, Syria will have to stonewall. Then the UN will have little choice but to impose sanctions.

Where this leaves Syria and the West is uncertain. On the one hand, the US says it only wants Syria to change regime behavior and that it doesn't want to change the Syrian regime. On the other hand, it looks like Washington wants the Syrian leopard to change so many of its spots that it will become a border collie. Washington's demands for behavior-change could be so radical that they become tantamount to regime change. Syria will balk. It will have sanctions imposed on it, and there will be a race to the bottom.

There is no immediate threat to the Syrian regime from inside the country. The opposition is weak and disorganized. There is also no external threat, because the US army is bogged down in Iraq. The result will be that sanctions will wear down the country over the course of several years, but only if Europe agrees to impose real, and not just symbolic sanctions.

A number of European ambassadors in Damascus have told me that Europe will resist placing economic sanctions on Syria. Why? Because they fear that if Syria collapses, the outflow of refugees will end up at Europe's doorstep. Already Kurds, Africans, and Eastern Europeans are flooding into West Europe. They cannot take in Syrians.

Israel's stand is ambiguous. Intelligence figures have warned against Syrian regime change, but Shimon Peres came out yesterday in support of regime change. Everyone seems to be of two minds about what the end game should be and what they really want.

Syria's Stand on Mehlis - The report is a Lie, but we will cooperate." This seems to be Syria's present stand toward the Mehlis report, based on the news conference at the UN yesterday with Syria’s Ambassador to the UN, Faisal Mekdad
October 21, 2005

Here are the notes I took on the radio report of the news conference with Mekdad. My notes are not a full transcript but give the main points of his argument. Here is a short news story on it.

We did not hinder the investigation. We gave Mehlis full access to the people he wanted. We did not interfere and gave him full cooperation.

The investigation has been conducted during an escalating media atmosphere. Leaks have been unprofessional. A great deal of the investigation deals with political analysis and not facts on the ground. We have warned of the politicization of the report.

My first reading was the fact that much of the report repeats the talk which took place right after the heinous assassination. In four months they have added very little to the first allegations.

My country is studying the report, and we will have an official announcement. It is clear the report is based on the allegations of a few witnesses. But these allegations have not been thoroughly investigated. I would like to assure you that at no point did we mislead Mehlis. We helped him, rather than impeded him.

Of course the report gives the possibility to many countries to undermine Syria and allows them to increase their pressure on us.

We shall cooperate with the ongoing investigation. We hope that in the future all these allegations concerning Syria that these matters will be investigated and everyone will be brought to justice.

We do not believe any Syrian official has been seriously implicated.

Question: What do you say to the fact that Asef Shawkat is implicated?

Answer: “I think this is a big lie. We have proof that such people were never involved in such a case.”

My view of the report is that it is not a creditable report. It has been built on a very strange synthesis based on the meeting of President Asad and Hariri. This was not the beginning of events. This investigation must go deeper into the realities.

It is all politics. There is no real background. It is political because this is the only way they could establish what they wanted. Look at the way things have been leaked. Certain foreign ministers have been working for the last weeks as if they have read everything in the report.

Lets hope that members of the Security Council will help us to get to the truth.

Question: What do you think of Zuhir Saddik’s testimony in the report?

Answer: Saddik is a liar. He is not a reliable witness. He fled from military service and took refuge in Lebanon.

Question: Economic sanctions: “What are you going to do to avoid sanctions.”

Answer: We do not believe in these sanctions. They will hurt the people. The members of the council do not want them. We are going to cooperate in bringing peace to the region and to help bring quite to the Middle East.

Question: What is necessary for you to do now?

Answer: Rafiq al-Hariri was a good friend of Syria. We want to find the people who killed him. His killing was meant to hurt us.

Question: How do you explain the fact that no one believes your story?

Answer: We believe that the true story will come out. We must see the draft resolution and then decide how to move forward.

Here is the Washington Post report. The Post and Robin Wright have been far superior to the NY Times on Syria. Anthony Shadid has just come to Damascus and to get a few stories. Bravo Washington Post.

Bush Seeks Urgent U.N. Meeting on Syria Sanctions

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 22, 2005; Page A18

President Bush called on the United Nations yesterday to meet urgently to consider taking action against Syria after a U.N. investigation implicated top officials in the regime of President Bashar Assad in the assassination of Lebanon's leading reformer.

In a sign of the sudden escalation in tension between Syria and the international community, Britain yesterday called on the world body to consider punitive sanctions on Damascus. The Security Council is expected to meet Tuesday to consider possible actions for two new resolutions, according to U.S. and U.N. officials.

Bush called the detailed U.N. investigative report into the Feb. 14 killing of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri "very disturbing" and asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to immediately convene the foreign ministers of the 15 Security Council members to "respond accordingly" to its allegations.

"The report suggests, strongly suggests, the politically motivated assassination of Prime Minister Hariri could not have taken place without Syrian involvement," Bush said, speaking in front of a piece of the Berlin Wall at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif.

En route to Alabama with British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, Rice told reporters that the international community must "demand accountability" from Damascus. Intense diplomatic discussions are expected to continue through the weekend among U.S., British, French and Russian officials to broker a consensus behind potential punitive action, according to U.S. and U.N. officials.

Ideas under discussion range from a ban on Syrian international flights and trade limitations to an embargo on goods that can be used for military purposes, according to Western officials familiar with the diplomacy who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Envoys are also considering demanding that Assad, who inherited power from his father in 2000, require those named in the report to help in the investigation -- or take action himself against them.

At the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton said pursuing the investigation is the first priority for the Security Council. "In the absence of serious Syrian cooperation on substantive matters, the mission can't get to the ultimate truth," Bolton said. "That is what it seems to me the focus [of] the U.N. Security Council should be. . . . We need to look at other steps to obtain Syrian cooperation."

The United Nations may lay out a series of steps Syria must take over a limited time, giving it an opportunity to more fully cooperate with investigators, Western envoys said. Secretary General Kofi Annan has extended the investigation, conducted by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, through Dec. 15. But a senior U.S. official involved in the diplomacy said discussions are still "in their infancy."

The Bush administration has already heavily sanctioned Syria under the provisions of anti-terrorism laws, the Patriot Act and the Syria Accountability Act. Although no options have been taken off the table, the State Department emphasized yesterday that Washington is looking for a united international response. "We seek peaceful, negotiated diplomatic solutions," said spokesman Adam Ereli.

The report stirred drama yesterday as it became clear that a key passage had been edited at the last minute and that the names of Assad family members and Syrian officials had been deleted from the version released publicly.

The original report, which became public yesterday, included allegations that two family members and three top intelligence and security officials plotted the bombing of Hariri's entourage as it drove through Beirut, killing him and 22 others.

The document, compiled after a four-month probe by Mehlis, named Gen. Assef Shawkat, Assad's brother-in-law and the head of Syrian military intelligence, and Maher Assad, the president's younger brother. A witness told Mehlis's commission that the two men and the three others decided to kill Hariri two weeks after the passage of U.N. Resolution 1559 in Sept. 2004. The resolution, co-sponsored by the United States and France, called for an end to Syria's nearly three-decade-long occupation of Lebanon.

The original version of the report cited a witness who claimed that the five officials -- including Hassan Khalil, Bahjat Suleiman and Jamil Sayyed -- met several times in Damascus, including at Shawkat's office, over the next several months to complete the planning. The final meeting was in Shawkat's home less than two weeks before the attack, it said.

The version of the report distributed at the Security Council Thursday night excluded the names, referring only to senior Lebanese and Syrian officials.

Mehlis told reporters yesterday that the names were deleted after he learned his work was going to be made public. "No one outside of the report team influenced these changes, and no changes whatsoever were suggested by the secretary general or anyone at the U.N.," Mehlis said.

Syria's ambassador to Washington, Imad Moustapha, charged yesterday that the probe was based on "tales, innuendos" and did not contain a single substantiated piece of evidence that could be used in a court of law. "It is based on political attitudes, not fact," he said in an interview. "We ended up with a political report" laden with loopholes, contradictions and "shady testimonials" from witnesses who were not credible, he added.

Bolton dismissed the denial from Syria as "ridiculous."

Friday, October 21, 2005

Syria and the Mehlis Report

From Beirut to the Beltway has a good short summary of the Mehlis report. Read the report in full here. Conclusions here.

These are the main conclusion implicating Syria

- "Building on the findings of the Commission and Lebanese investigations to date and on the basis of the material and documentary evidence collected, and the leads pursued until now, there is converging evidence pointing at both Lebanese and Syrian involvement in this terrorist act. It is a well known fact that Syrian Military Intelligence had a pervasive presence in Lebanon at the least until the withdrawal of the Syrian forces pursuant to resolution 1559. The former senior security officials of Lebanon were their appointees. Given the infiltration of Lebanese institutions and society by the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services working in tandem, it would be difficult to envisage a scenario whereby such a complex assassination plot could have been carried out without their knowledge."

- "The likely motive was political. However, since the crime was not the work of individuals but rather of a sophisticated group, it very much seems that fraud, corruption, and money-laundering could also have been motives for individuals to participate in the operation. "

- "It is the Commission’s conclusion that, after having interviewed witnesses and suspects in the Syrian Arab Republic and establishing that many leads point directly towards Syrian security officials as being involved with the assassination, it is incumbent upon Syria to clarify a considerable part of the unresolved questions. While the Syrian authorities, after initial hesitation, have cooperated to a limitedcertain degree with the Commission, several interviewees tried to mislead the investigation by giving false or inaccurate statements. The letter addressed to the Commission by the Foreign Minister of the Syrian Arab Republic proved to contain false information. The full picture of the assassination can only be reached through an extensive and credible investigation that would be conducted in an open and transparent manner to the full satisfaction of international scrutiny. "

The worst parts of the report for Syria are:

A meeting in Damascus between Mr. Hariri and President Assad on 26 August 2004
appeared to bring the conflict to a head...

Bashar to Hariri (Saad testifying): President Lahoud is me. Whatever I tell him, he follows suit.

In the meeting with Mr. Al-Moallem, Mr. Hariri complained that he believed that President Assad was being deliberately misinformed about the actions of Mr. Hariri by the Syrian security services and Mr. Sharaa about the actions of Mr. Hariri.

Hariri: “But Lebanon will never be ruled from Syria. This will no longer happen.”

During this discussion, Mr. Al-Moallem told Mr. Hariri that “we and the [security] services here have put you into a corner.” He continued, “Please do not take things lightly.”

One witness of Syrian origin but resident in Lebanon, who claims to have worked for the Syrian intelligence services in Lebanon, has stated that approximately two weeks after the adoption of Security Council resolution 1559, Maher Assad, Assef Shawkat, Hassan Khalil, Bahjat Suleyman and Jamil Al-Sayyedsenior Lebanese and Syrian officials decided to assassinate Rafik Hariri. (from a draft copy.. the final version does not name them)

Indeed, all of the source information pointed to the likelihood of Mr. Abu Adass being used by the Syrian and Lebanese authorities as a scapegoat for the crime, rather than being the instigator of crime himself. For example, one witness claimed to have seen Mr. Abu Adass in the hallway outside of General Ghazali’s office in December 2004 in Anjar. Another witness claimed that Mr. Abu Adass was currently held in prison in Syria and will be killed once this investigation is over. According to him, Mr. Abu Adass had no role in the assassination except as a decoy, and the videotape was recorded at gunpoint approximately 45 days before the assassination. He later stated that General Assef Shawkat forced Mr. Abu Adass to record the tape approximately 15 days before the assassination in Damascus.

Mr. Saddik stated that the decision to assassinate Mr. Hariri had been taken in Syria, followed by clandestine meetings in Lebanon between senior Lebanese and Syrian officers, who had been designated to plan and pave the way for the execution of the assault. These meetings started in July 2004 and lasted until December 2004. The seven senior Syrian officials and four senior Lebanese officials were alleged to have been involved in the plot.

It was indicated that President Assad would not be available for any interview.

The Commission has concluded that the Government of Syria’s lack of substantive cooperation with the Commission has impeded the investigation and made it difficult to follow leads established by the evidence collected from a variety of sources.

Mehlis Report: Shades of Grey

Top Syrian Seen as Prime Suspect in Assassination
October 21, 2005, NY Times

UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 20 - The United Nations investigation into the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri of Lebanon is focusing on the powerful brother-in-law of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria as the main suspect, a diplomat with intimate knowledge of the inquiry said Thursday.

The diplomat spoke as a long-awaited United Nations report on the killing made public on Thursday said it was a carefully planned terrorist act organized by high-ranking Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officers.

Though the report did not include names, the diplomat said the investigators were focusing on Syria's military intelligence chief, Asef Shawkat, the president's brother-in-law.

"Their main lead is that he is the ringleader," the diplomat said. "This is where it is heading."

Detlev Mehlis, the United Nations investigator, has been given an extension until December to continue his inquiry. He said his commission had in four months interviewed more than 400 people, reviewed 60,000 documents and arrested four high-level officials of the Lebanese "security and intelligence apparatus."

"There is evidence in abundance," the diplomat said. "But to get every piece of the puzzle they need more time." He spoke on condition of anonymity because of what he described as the extreme sensitivity of the matter.

Mr. Shawkat is considered the second most powerful man in Syria and has been seen as a likely candidate to take over the country if the embattled Mr. Assad were removed from office.

The diplomat, describing Syria as a "country run by a little family clique," said the involvement of any one in Mr. Assad's inner circle would be a severe blow to the government.

"There is absolutely no doubt, it goes right to the top," he said. "This is Murder Inc."

In his report, Mr. Mehlis said the killing last February was carried out by "a group with an extensive organization and considerable resources and capabilities."

The report said, "There is converging evidence pointing at both Lebanese and Syrian involvement in this terrorist act."

The 54-page report said the crime had been planned "over many months" and that the movements of Mr. Hariri and the convoy he traveled in had been closely monitored with his "itineraries recorded in detail."

As evidence of the coordination, the report listed cellphone records that showed close street-by-street observation of his convoy by people planning the killing. It also said the telecommunications antenna near the crime scene had been tampered with.

Mr. Hariri and 15 others died when a bomb blew up his six-car convoy on a downtown Beirut street.

It said the van containing the bomb had earlier been seen in a Syrian military base in Lebanon.

Mr. Mehlis and his investigators spent several days in September interrogating Syrian security officials in a resort near the Syria-Lebanon border, and his report said that leads developed there "point directly towards Syrian security officials as being involved with the assassination."

Indications that the Mehlis report would reveal a Syrian role in the Hariri killing have focused pressure on Mr. Assad and caused intense anxiety in political circles in Damascus and Beirut.

As the investigation tightened this month, the Syrian interior minister, Ghazi Kanaan, who for two decades had called the shots in Lebanon as Syria's virtual proconsul, was found dead in his Damascus office, shot in the mouth with his own pistol.

Syria's official news agency announced that the death had been a suicide.

The United Nations investigators - as well as many Lebanese and Syrians - cast doubt on that account, suspecting instead that he was either killed by government agents or forced to kill himself under some threat.

Investigators had two theories, the diplomat said: "One was that he had either given information to Mr. Mehlis or was about to. The other was that he was involved in plotting a coup."

Reuters is reporting:
Lebanon and Syria both distanced themselves from the contents of the 53-page report by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis and his 30 investigators.

Hariri and 20 others were killed last February 14 by a bomb blast in Beirut that Mehlis said ``could not have been taken without the approval of top-ranked Syrian security officials and could not have been further organized without the collusion of their counterparts in the Lebanese security forces.''

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud's office said some information in the report was part of a campaign against him, while Syria said the report was politically motivated and untrue.

``The report is far from the truth. It was not professional and will not arrive at the truth but will be part of a deception and a great tension in this region,'' Syria's information minister, Mahdi Dakhl-Allah told Al Jazeera television.

The report said the probe was still incomplete and in an accompanying letter, released late on Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan extended the team's work until December 15.

One witness quoted in the report said Gen. Assef Shawkat, the brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, set up an Islamic militant, Ahmed Abu Adass, as a decoy to claim responsibility for the plot.

Shawkat, Syria's military intelligence chief, allegedly forced Adass to confess on a videotape two weeks before the assassination. But the suicide bomber was probably an Iraqi who thought he was killing Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a visitor in Beirut shortly before the bombing, the report said.


Mehlis' report was the first official document to link Syria to the killing and was bound to heighten tensions in the region. Two anti-Syrian members of the Lebanese parliament immediately called for Lahoud to resign.

Lahoud, an ally of Syria, received a phone call minutes before the blast from the brother of a key figure in the plot, Ahmad Abdel-Al, who had phoned ``all the important figures in this investigation.'' Abdel-Al is a leader of a pro-Syrian Lebanese charity group.

The United States has been talking to France and Britain on possible U.N. Security Council resolutions critical of Syria over its alleged involvement in the killing and other meddling in Lebanon, despite the withdrawal of its troops last April.

After the report's release, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said Washington would decide what to do in a few days but ''obviously'' had ``considered various contingencies.''

But Syria's Assad insisted last week that his country was ''100 percent innocent'' in the assassination.

However, Mehlis concluded the sophisticated plot took months of preparation and the motive was primarily political because of Hariri's opposition to Syrian domination of Lebanon. But it said some of the participants may have been motivated by ''fraud, corruption, and money-laundering.''

``Given the infiltration of Lebanese institutions and society by the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence working in tandem, it would be difficult to envisage a scenario whereby such a complex assassination plot could have been carried out without their knowledge,'' Mehlis wrote.

He said several Syrians interviewed had given false or inaccurate statements, including Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara and his deputy, Walid al-Mualem.

According to one witness, a senior Lebanese security official went several times to Syria to plan the crime, meeting once at the Meridian Hotel in Damascus and several times at the Presidential Palace and the office of a senior Syrian security official. The last meeting was held 7-10 days before the assassination, the report said.

The report presented damning evidence on the four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals arrested and charged earlier in connection with Hariri's killing, on Mehlis' recommendation.

One witness approached investigators to say he had met one of the four, Gen. Mustapha Hamdan, commander of the Republican Guard Brigade, in October 2004.


Hamdan talked very negatively about Hariri, accusing him of being pro-Israeli, the witness said. The general then ended the conversation by stating, ``We are going to send him on a trip -- bye, bye Hariri,'' the report said.

The Mehlis commission interviewed more than 400 people, reviewed 60,000 documents, identified several suspects and established numerous important leads in its first four months.

Other figures that unidentified witnesses linked to the assassination plot included Gen. Rustom Ghazali, head of the Syrian military intelligence service in Lebanon and Brig. Gen. Jamil al-Sayyed, head of a Lebanese security force.

The report did not, however, mention Gen, Ghazi Kanaan, the former head of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon, who Syrian officials said committed suicide on October 12.

"Washington and Damascus Between Confrontation and Cooperation," By Moshe Ma'oz

Moshe Ma'oz is Israel's foremost Syria scholar. He wrote the following report for the US Institute of Peace in August. It is the best overview of how and why Syria-US relations have arrived at their present state of confrontation. His proposal for how both sides can climb down from this confrontation is reasonable. It probably makes too much sense to be followed by either side. In my view, he correctly emphasizes the extent to which ideology has determined the stance of both sides. He believes that ideology has gotten in the way of responsible politics.

It is hard to see how a climb down can be managed now that the Mehlis Report has been published. It is grey, but Syria is clearly being implicated. No indictments have yet been made. Until indictments are made both sides will engage in a war of words to try to sway public opinion to their side. The hawks in the West and Lebanon will insist it makes a clear link to the highest levels of Syria's leadership. Syria will insist that it is murky and highly politicized, that there is no smoking gun, and that Syria is being implicated without proof.

Washington and Damascus Between Confrontation and Cooperation
By Moshe Ma'oz
United States Institute of Peace

Washington and Damascus are on a collision course. President George Bush apparently harbors deep antagonism toward President Bashar Asad. The U.S. government is applying economic and diplomatic sanctions against Syria and may be considering military measures. There are many bones of contention between the two countries:

• Bashar vehemently opposed the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, claiming that U.S. actions have served Israeli strategic interests while posing a serious potential threat to Syria and other Arab countries. • Bashar has continued to provide logistical help to Saddam’s loyalists and allowed Arab combatants to cross from Syrian territory into Iraq to join anti-U.S. insurgents/
terrorists there.

• Damascus has continued to sponsor other U.S.-designated terrorist groups, including the anti-Israeli Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, hailing them as “national liberation movements.”

• Syria has continued to maintain its alliance with Iran and its military ties with North Korea, both members of Bush’s “Axis of Evil.” According to the Congressional Research Service, aid from Iran, China, and North Korea is essential to the further development, production, and stockpiling of Syria’s WMD, notably chemical warheads, apparently to counterbalance Israel’s nuclear capability. (Alfred B. Prados, Syria: U.S. Relations and Bilateral Issues [Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, March 25, 2005]; and Central Intelligence Agency, Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions, 1 January through 30 June 2002).

• Syria continued to control Lebanon until April 2005, despite U.S. demands from 2003 onward that Damascus pull out its military forces and secret agents from that country. After the assassination on February 14, 2005, of Rafiq Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, the Bush administration increased pressure on Syria to withdraw. Two months later, on April 26, 2005, Syria completed its withdrawal.

• The Bush administration has underscored the need for greater freedom and democracy in Syria (and in all Arab countries). Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has labeled Bashar’s regime “tyrannical.”

U.S.-Syrian antagonism has accelerated steadily since the ascendancy of Bashar to the Syrian presidency in July 2000 and the election of Bush as U.S. president in November 2000, suggesting that the antagonism is not only based on strategic and political interests but also motivated by ideology and perhaps by personal animosity. Each leader views the other as holding a belief system antithetical to his own. Bashar considers Bush to be anti-Arab and pro-Israel while Bush regards Bashar as anti-American and a terror sponsoring tyrant. The crucial question is, Where is this confrontation leading and what options does each of the leaders have? Will current tensions escalate and lead to further U.S. sanctions, to the application of military pressures, and, in the worst-case scenario, to the U.S. occupation of Syria? What are Bashar’s options? He can choose to fully or partly accept U.S. dictates—as he has in the case of the recent Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon—or he can try to resist U.S. demands in the name of Arabism (and perhaps also Islam), as well as to help create an anti-American Shi’i axis with Iran and Hezbollah. (The Alawite religious minority, to which Bashar belongs, considers itself a part of the Shi’i religion).

What are the chances for a more peaceful outcome? Under what conditions and circumstances can Washington and Damascus cooperate to advance their vital strategic interests? There is a recent history of cooperation. President George Bush Sr., and President Bill Clinton cooperated with Bashar’s father, President Hafiz al-Asad, in fighting the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait in 1990–91 and in advancing the Syrian-Israeli peace process from 1991 to 2000. To be sure, that U.S.-Syrian collaboration occurred even though Asad was a more brutal tyrant than his son has proved to be and was guilty of many of the same “transgressions” of which Bashar is currently being accused: Asad sponsored terrorism, occupied Lebanon, cultivated Hezbollah, formed an alliance with Iran, and developed WMD with Russian, Chinese, and North Korean help. Why, then, does it seem so difficult for Bush and Bashar to cooperate as their fathers did? Is it because they are heavily influenced by their conservative circles and their respective ideologies—Bashar by pan-Arabism and his desire to enhance his legitimacy in the Arab world, and Bush by his religious beliefs and by the more conservative members of his party, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and Israel?

What role does the current Iraqi situation— so different from the situation in 1990 when U.S. and Syrian interests coincided—play in contributing to the clash between Syria and the United States? Does Bush’s tough position on Syria derive also from his zero tolerance toward terrorism after 9/11? The chief aims of this report are to examine the causes of the current U.S.-Syrian confrontation, to compare it with U.S.-Syrian cooperation under the leadership of Bush Sr., Clinton, and Asad Sr.—and to outline options and scenarios for the future of relations between Washington and Damascus. Two scenarios are examined. The first, which mirrors what seems to be a strong tendency of the Bush administration, is that Washington punishes Damascus in an effort to force a change in Syrian policies or perhaps even a change in regime. The second scenario envisages Washington negotiating with Damascus a framework for bilateral cooperation based on mutual interests and understandings. This report presents a third option, one that seems more constructive and nuanced than the first scenario and more realistic than the second: namely, that the Bush administration use a mixture of sticks and carrots to induce Syria to change its behavior and to reward it for doing so.

Bush and Bashar : Deteriorating Relations
“The U.S. has a growing list of differences with Damascus . . . relations . . .
are worsening.”

When George W. Bush won the U.S. presidential election in 2000, Bashar expected that the new president would continue Bush Sr.’s legacy of an evenhanded approach to settling the Arab-Israeli conflict. According to the Syrian Ba’ath newspapers, Bush Jr. would not let the “Jews who comprise only one percent of the U.S. population continue to be the political decision makers in the superpower that controls the world today” (al-Ba’ath, November 4, 2000). But within a short period, Bashar encountered a new U.S. administration that became more anti-Syrian and more pro-Israeli than the previous administrations of Bill Clinton and George Bush Sr. These new attitudes were most manifest in the Defense Department, as well as in Congress. Initially, while Secretary of State Colin Powell tried to counterbalance these anti-Syrian tendencies and court Damascus, President Bush held pragmatic diplomatic positions toward Damascus. He distanced himself from the

Congress-sponsored Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Act (SALSA) of September 2002, which sought to impose economic and diplomatic sanctions against Syria. He asked the House International Relations Committee to delay the proceedings regarding this bill lest it narrow U.S. options and affect interests concerning Syria. But in October 2003, with the U.S. military heavily engaged in Iraq, Bush dropped his opposition to the SALSA, which was then approved by almost all members of the Congress and subsequently signed by the president. Around the same time, Bush approved post facto an Israeli air strike on an alleged Palestinian terrorist base near Damascus, the first such strike since the 1970s. This action was in retaliation for a suicide bombing by Islamic Jihad at an Israeli restaurant in Haifa. Bush stated after the Israeli raid in Syria, “Israel’s got the right to defend itself. Israel must not feel constrained in defending its homeland” (New York Times, October 7, 2003).

By that time, Bush also seems to have developed toward Bashar a personal and an ideological antipathy, which some observers contend has since shaped Washington policy toward Damascus (see, for example, David Brooks’s remarks at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, February 24, 2005). Bashar had certainly contributed to Bush’s hostile attitude, not least by his vehement opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Probably influenced by his conservative old guard, Bashar responded by and large in a defiant manner to Bush’s requests to change his behavior and policies, presenting himself as the defender of Iraq and Arabism. But in mid-2003, when he realized that U.S. forces deployed in neighboring Iraq were potentially endangering his rule, Bashar began making halfhearted attempts to mend fences with Washington. He has partly cooperated with the United States in preventing human and material assistance from reaching Iraqi insurgents and in detecting al Qaeda terrorists. Syria, which was not involved in the attacks of 9/11, has also partly cooperated with the CIA in hunting down al Qaeda activists. In addition, immediately after the 9/11 attacks, Asad sent a cable to President Bush expressing his condolences (Colin L. Powell, on-the-record press briefing, Washington, D.C., September 14, 2001). Most recently, Bashar withdrew troops from Lebanon, suggested renewing the peace process with Israel, promised to close the offices of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Damascus, and has periodically restrained Hezbollah. But, as is now apparent, Bush has not been impressed with what Washington regards as Bashar’s “hollow measures,” holding against Bashar grievances related to Syria’s positions on terrorism, Iraq, WMD, Israel, Lebanon, and internal democracy. Let us examine each of these issues in turn.

“Syria must choose the right side in the war on terror by closing terrorist camps and expelling terrorist organizations.”

Systematic combat against terrorism has been at the top of President Bush’s agenda, particularly since 9/11. Dividing the world into those who support terrorism and those who oppose it, Bush makes no distinction between international anti-American terror, al Qaeda style, and the nationalist anti-Israeli terrorism of Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad. Bashar, in contrast, maintains that these organizations “are not terrorist movements, but national liberation movements” (al-Majd, Jordan, October 8, 2001). Unlike his father, Bashar openly backed these organizations and was particularly impressed with Hasan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader. By siding with Hezbollah as well as with Hamas and Islamic Jihad during the Palestinian al-Aqsa intifada, Bashar aimed to demonstrate his pan-Arab, anti-Israeli ideology and policy. Such a position served to build his legitimacy in Syria and among other Arab nations. Bush, however, unlike his predecessors, has consistently denounced Syria (and Iran) for their support of terrorism, both before and after the U.S. conquest of Iraq.

Iraq“[The] American attack against Iraq is aimed at dividing this country, which is Israel’s strategic goal.”

From the time he first assumed power, Bashar carried on his father’s efforts to improve Syria’s relations with Iraq. Violating U.S.-backed UN sanctions against Iraq, Damascus allowed Iraqi oil to flow into Syria and Syrian goods into Iraq, for the benefit of both economies. With the U.S. occupation of Iraq, Iraqi oil ceased flowing to Syria. A nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council from 2001 to 2003, Syria supported Resolution 1441 of November 2002, demanding that Iraq permit the renewal of UN supervisors’ work; but, according to Damascus, the support was offered with the intention of preventing a U.S. offensive against Iraq. Indeed, unlike other Arab capitals, from the start of the diplomatic prelude to the war, Damascus vehemently opposed the U.S. “barbaric” attack, alleging that it was launched because the Americans “wanted oil and . . . to redraw the map of the region in accordance with Israeli interests” (al-Safir, Beirut, March 27, 2003). Bashar and other senior Syrian leaders sharply denounced the U.S. conduct, and Faruq al-Shara, the foreign minister, equated it to “Nazi-German behavior” (quoted by Eyal Zisser, In the Name of the Father [Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University Press, 2003], p. 191). Damascus also tacitly encouraged public demonstrations against and harassment of U.S. institutions and diplomats in Syrian cities.

Furiously reacting, Washington accused Damascus of harboring the Saddam regime’s fugitives, weapons, and monies, as well as of helping armed Arab volunteers to cross into Iraq and join the anti-American insurgency. On June 18, 2003, U.S. troops attacked a convoy—allegedly containing Iraqi fugitives—inside Syrian territory, killing many Syrian soldiers. This might have been a signal to Bashar that he would face further U.S. military measures if he did not change his behavior. In much the same vein, a U.S. official labeled Syria a “rogue nation” and accused it of “behaving badly,” phrases suggesting that Syria could become the next target of U.S. military assault and occupation (al-Hayat, July 28, 2003; New York Times, October 12, 2003).

Although President Bush signed the SALSA in 2003, he waited—perhaps to give Bashar time to improve his behavior—until May 2004 to order the implementation of economic sanctions against Syria for failing to cease completely support for the anti-American insurgency in Iraq and for anti-Israeli terrorism by Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad. Bashar became deeply concerned, not about the U.S. sanctions, which have in fact been rather mild, but about the deployment of U.S. troops in Iraq, his next-door neighbor. He obviously has hoped for the failure of the U.S. occupation of Iraq and has been encouraged by the continued anti-American insurgency. But Bashar has also realized that the United States has been persistent in implementing its goals in Iraq and has refused to withdraw its troops under the pressure of the insurgency. Thus he is still worried that Syria might indeed become the next target of an American military attack or that Syria could be isolated in the region and pressured to democratize. In either case, this could mean the demise of Bashar’s rule in Damascus. Given these concerns, Bashar has endeavored since mid-2003 to improve relations with Bush by increasing his cooperation with the United States on closing the Syrian-Iraqi border to the continued flow of anti-American guerrillas and on investigating the money Saddam Hussein had deposited in Syrian banks. Damascus also supported the U.S.-sponsored resolution at the UN Security Council authorizing UN cooperation with the U.S.-led multinational force in the reconstruction of Iraq; backed the Iraqi national election in January 2005; and made several conciliatory statements toward the United States, including at the Ba’ath Party Congress in early June 2005 (Washington Post, June 10, 2005). But Bush and his administration have not been impressed and have continued to denounce Bashar sharply for his misdeeds in Iraq, sponsoring terror, associating with the “Axis of Evil,” and developing WMD.

The Axis of Evil and Weapons of Mass Destruction
For years Syria was considered by Washington to belong, together with Libya and Cuba, to a “junior varsity Axis of Evil,” mainly because it has developed WMD. In the wake of its vociferous opposition to the U.S. war against Iraq, and its initial assistance to Saddam’s war efforts, Syria has been de facto “upgraded” and has replaced Iraq as a full-fledged member of Bush’s “Axis of Evil,” alongside Iran and North Korea. The United States and Israel may also consider Syria an important member in a regional alliance with Iran and Hezbollah. This alliance has cooperated mainly in carrying out anti-Israeli and, during the 1980s, anti-American terrorist and guerrilla actions. Damascus has also obtained Iranian help in providing weapons, training, and intelligence to Hezbollah, as well as in developing Syria’s long-range missile system. Following the assassination of Rafiq Hariri in Beirut on February 14, 2005, Damascus and Teheran declared a common front vis-à-vis the U.S. threat to dislodge Syrian control of Lebanon (Financial Times, February 17, 2005). Syria has been assisted not only by Iran but also by North Korea in building its longrange ballistic missiles. A December 2001 report by the CIA claims that “Damascus also continued its efforts to assemble—probably with considerable North Korean assistance — liquid fueled Scud C missiles,” which can reach Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, and most of Israel. Syria has also developed chemical and possibly biological weapons and allegedly started a civic nuclear power program with Moscow’s help (Prados, Syria: U.S. Relations and Bilateral Issues). Significantly, previous U.S. administrations had overlooked Syrian missiles and chemical programs, possibly regarding them as part of a justified deterrence strategy visà- vis Israel’s nuclear capability. These administrations considered President Hafiz al-Asad as a potential regional partner who could help contain Iran and Iraq, stabilize Lebanon, and make peace with Israel. But as we know, this U.S. grand design was not implemented, in part because Syria and Israel could not reach a peace settlement.

Israel“The Golan has a place in the people’s heart more than Judea and Samaria.”

The collapse in March 2000 of the Syrian-Israeli peace talks taking place under U.S. auspices paved the way for the renewal of the long and bitter conflict between Damascus and Jerusalem. And when the Palestinian intifada erupted later that year, Bashar hailed it and subsequently permitted Hamas and Islamic Jihad to use Damascus as a base from which to launch terrorist attacks against Israel (including a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv on February 25, 2005). To foster his legitimacy as a pan-Arab leader, Bashar complemented his logistical support for the Palestinian cause with crude anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish rhetoric. Bashar said that Israel was an “illegitimate state” and “a racist society, even more racist than the Nazis.” In May 2001, in the presence of Pope John Paul II near the Syrian-Israeli cease-fire line, Bashar urged that “Christians and Muslims should join in confronting Israel” and denounced “Jews who try to kill the principles of all religions with the same mentality with which they betrayed Jesus Christ and the same way they tried to kill the Prophet Muhammed” (New York Times, May 11, 2001).

Washington strongly protested these unprecedented slurs, while anti-Syrian feelings deepened among Israeli Jews and American Jews. And when, in December 2003, eight months after the beginning of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, Bashar suggested renewing peace negotiations with Israel, most Israeli Jews doubted Bashar’s sincerity. His enhanced alliances with Hezbollah and with Iran—archenemies of Israel and America—have increased mistrust of Bashar in both of those countries. Sharon and Bush rejected Bashar’s proposal to renew peace talks with Israel, asserting that Damascus must first stop sponsoring Palestinian and Lebanese terrorist organizations and withdraw from Lebanon. But Bashar would not comply until April 2005 (see below), even though he had already lost his justification for supporting the Hezbollah cause, given that Israel withdrew its troops from southern Lebanon in May 2000.

“Syria must also end its occupation of Lebanon.”

Historically and ideologically, Damascus has thought of Lebanon as “Western” Syria, part of “Greater Syria,” and has never had formal diplomatic relations with Beirut. Damascus has also regarded Lebanon, particularly the Biqa valley, as a vital strategic asset in case of a war with Israel, as well as highly valuable to the Syrian economy. After the eruption of Lebanon’s civil war in 1975, the Lebanese Maronite-led government asked Damascus to intervene militarily to defeat the Muslim-Palestinian insurgency. Syria responded by dispatching its troops to Lebanon in 1976, and in a series of bloody battles Syria defeated the insurgents and assumed control of the country. The Ta’if Agreement, reached in 1989 under the auspices of the Arab League, and the Syrian-Lebanese Brotherhood and Friendship Pact of 1991 in many respects prolonged Syrian control over Lebanon. (Syria agreed in the Ta’if Agreement to relocate its troops to the Lebanese Biqa valley by 1992, but it did not implement the plan fully, withdrawing less than half of its troops from Lebanon). Although the Ta’if Agreement gave the Lebanese government the option to request Syrian military withdrawal, successive Lebanese governments—each of them practically formed by Damascus—did not invoke that option. Meanwhile, Syria continued strengthening its indirect domination.

The Lebanese people have been divided between those (mostly Maronites, Druze, and Sunnis) who want full independence from Damascus and those (mostly Shiites and especially Hezbollah) who support a continued Syrian presence. Until recently, the international community—including Arab states, the United States, and France (the oldest friend of Lebanon)—preferred to maintain the status quo. Only since the accession of Bashar and Bush have matters gradually changed. Domestic Lebanese opposition to Syrian domination has increased noticeably, owing in part to Bashar’s weakness and his growing sympathy for Hezbollah, while the 9/11 megaterror provoked Bush’s intense antagonism to any kind of terrorism and his antipathy to Bashar’s conduct.

The U.S. Congress initially took the lead in an attempt to dislodge Syria from Lebanon, launching, with American Jewish and American Lebanese backing, the legislative process that led eventually to Bush signing the SALSA in December 2003. Earlier in 2003, senior U.S. officials called upon Syria to withdraw its “occupation army” from Lebanon. In July 2003, Damascus redeployed its troops in Lebanon and withdrew several thousand soldiers, but some fourteen thousand troops remained, in addition to many hundreds of Syrian intelligence agents. Subsequently, more pressure was exerted on Syria by the United States, the United Nations, Arab states, and, for the first time, France. In September 2004, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1559, jointly sponsored by the United States and France, calling for “all remaining foreign forces [i.e., Syrian and Iranian] to withdraw from Lebanon” and for Hezbollah’s armed faction to be dismantled.

Damascus, however, would not comply, claiming that its troops in Lebanon were not foreign and that Hezbollah was a “liberation movement.” Lebanon’s prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, resigned several weeks later on October 20, 2004, ostensibly in protest of the Syrian- imposed three-year extension of Lebanese president Emile Lahoud’s term in office—an extension, in effect, of Syrian indirect control. Less than four months later, Hariri was assassinated in Beirut by an unknown organization. Many Lebanese believe that Damascus, seeking to eliminate a serious opponent to its continued domination of Lebanon, was involved in the assassination. Washington reacted by promptly recalling its ambassador from Damascus, linking Syria’s occupation of Lebanon to Hariri’s assassination. The United

States led, with Arab and European support, an intense diplomatic campaign against Syria’s continued occupation of Lebanon, threatening to accelerate its economic and diplomatic sanctions against Damascus, and requested a fresh UN resolution against Syria. Bashar reacted by “redeploying” several thousand of his troops in Lebanon, but until April 2005 continued to evade Bush’s demand to withdraw also Syrian secret service agents and to end the occupation of Lebanon. Many Lebanese from different religious communities staged several peaceful demonstrations in Beirut, demanding that Syria leave and that the pro-Syrian government resign. On March 1, 2005, the Lebanese government of Umar Karami did so, further weakening Bashar’s position. On March 5, 2005, Bashar announced the phased withdrawal of his army, first to Lebanon’s Biqa valley, and eventually, on April 26, 2005, across the Lebanese-Syrian border. But he stated that “Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon does not mean the absence of Syria’s role. Syria’s strength and its role in Lebanon is not dependent on the presence of its forces in Lebanon” (Washington Post, March 6, 2005).

Indeed, Bashar can ill afford to give up all his influence in Lebanon—Syria’s strategic asset—lest this also damage Syria’s economy and particularly Bashar’s own prestige at home. He is deeply concerned about Bush’s attempt to use the Lebanese crisis to isolate him—and, perhaps, to eliminate him. Bashar appears to have authorized some indirect but crude demonstrations of Syria’s important role in maintaining Lebanon’s political security. On March 8, 2005, Damascus’s close Lebanese ally Hezbollah staged a huge pro- Syrian demonstration in Beirut. During that same month, a series of deadly explosions occurred in Christian neighborhoods of Beirut, perhaps intended to signal the security hazards attendant upon Syria’s departure. And on June 5, 2005, an anti-Syrian journalist, Samir Kassir, was assassinated in Beirut.

Beyond Lebanon, Bashar faces another crucial challenge, or demand, posed by Bush: namely, introducing freedom and democracy in Syria. Pressure on Bashar to move in this direction has been intensified by the democratic elections that were conducted in January 2005 in both Iraq and Palestine, by the four-stage elections held in Lebanon in May and June 2005, as well as by President Hosni Mubarak’s decision to change the constitution of Egypt to allow more than one candidate to run in the presidential election scheduled to take place in Egypt in September 2005.

Tyranny vs. Democracy
“Syria [is] one of several ‘outposts of tyranny’ in the world.”

But this so-called Damascus Spring did not last long. While the new measures did not produce a significant improvement in the Syrian economy, Bashar, influenced by the conservative old guard, became concerned lest the political opening undermine his regime. In 2001, he ordered an end to political forums and the dismissal or arrest of intellectual activists, whom he labeled as “opportunists,” “Zionist spies,” and “U.S. agents.” As it happened, the U.S. administration became increasingly interested in issues of democracy and reform in Syria only after the Iraq war, partly as a justification for eliminating Saddam’s regime. And since his reelection as president in 2004, Bush, as a would-be world reformer, has stressed the notions of liberty and freedom from tyranny and has added to his previous list of demands from Syria by calling for Bashar to respect these ideals.

If Bush during his current term of office continues to give priority to democratization and freedom from tyranny in Syria (and in the broader Middle East), the confrontation between Washington and Damascus is likely to become more intense. Bush may be morally and ethically right in his approach to these issues, but such an approach could be problematic. Even U.S. allies in the region—including the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia—are reluctant to fully embrace such notions, lest their personal autocratic regimes collapse and be replaced by militant Islamic, anti-American systems. Furthermore, unless forced by U.S. military power, Bashar is not likely to relinquish his rule, his ballistic missiles (which he sees as his vital deterrent force), or his alliance with Iran.

Prospects, Options, and Scenarios
Yet it would appear that President Bashar prefers to negotiate a deal with the United States than to further antagonize it. Such a deal would allow Bashar to stay in power, advance domestic reform with U.S. assistance, retrieve the Golan Heights from Israel, and establish constructive relations with the new Iraqi regime. In return, Bashar would make peace with Israel, give up his WMD—provided Israel reciprocates in kind—and disengage from Iran, as well as stop supporting the militants within Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad.

However, Bush has so far dismissed Bashar’s overtures and insists that the Syrian
president must first accede to U.S. demands—which, of course, would mean that Bashar
would have to give up his major assets and bargaining chips. It would appear that Bush, partly because of Bashar’s initially defiant and evasive conduct, does not want to deal with Bashar, and instead seeks to subjugate him—perhaps even to eliminate him. Backed by his new secretary of state, Congress, most of the media, and some think tanks, Bush seems to be determined to intensify his confrontation with Damascus. How practicable, though, is such a policy, and what dangers might it bring? And what are Syria’s options in this confrontation scenario?

Scenario I: Confrontation and Punishment
“For three transgressions of Damascus and for four, I will not revoke its punishment.” —AMOS 1:3

The United States has at least three options in pursuing an aggressive policy toward Syria: sanctions, military pressure, and occupation. Option A: Sanctions. The United States can work to isolate Syria regionally and internationally, stepping up economic and diplomatic sanctions while endeavoring to promote domestic democratic opposition to Bashar’s regime. The aims of such a U.S. policy would be to bring about the collapse of Bashar’s regime, his capitulation and cooperation (along similar lines to the case of Libyan leader Mu’ammar Qaddafi), or a regime change in Damascus. Yet, economic sanctions, although painful, would not be very effective, since

The volume of Syrian-U.S. trade is small—about $214 million in exports and $259 million in imports annually (Alfred B. Prados and Jeremy M. Sharp, Syria: Political Conditions and Relations with the United States after the Iraq War [Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, January 10, 2005], p. 23). Syria’s major trading partners are in Europe, and they are unlikely to impose either economic or diplomatic sanctions on Damascus. Indeed, despite U.S. requests to impose such sanctions, European countries, Russia, China, and several Arab states continue to maintain diplomatic relations with Syria. In sum, U.S. sanctions, although damaging to the Syrian economy and Bashar’s prestige, are unlikely to bring about Bashar’s replacement, especially not by a democratic regime.

Option B: Military Pressure. The United States can exercise military pressures on Syria—by selective bombings or aggressive military incursions into Syria. Such measures may induce Damascus to change its policies on Iraq, Iran, WMD, and terrorism, as well as cause a regime change. Bashar might respond by adopting more effective measures to prevent Arab combatants crossing from Syria to Iraq; by further restraining Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah; and by announcing and partly introducing more reforms in Syria’s economic and political systems. He would be unlikely, however, to relinquish his indirect influence in Lebanon, his WMD, his alliance with Iran, or his own rule by conducting fully free and democratic elections. He would be more likely to fall from power if the Alawi military elite were to see the introduction of such measures and reforms as a sign of Bashar’s weakness and replace him with an uncompromising Alawi officer.

Another possible repercussion of U.S. military pressure on Syria is that it could consolidate Bashar’s domestic backing and the support of Iran and Hezbollah for Bashar’s regime. Such a U.S. policy might also unleash anti-American terror and worsen the United States’ already unflattering image as a brutal power in the Arab and Muslim world and beyond. And if Washington chose secretly to encourage Israel to punish Syria for backing terrorist attacks by Hamas and Islamic Jihad by, for example, selectively bombing Syrian military positions, such action might damage further the American (and Israeli) position in the region and could undermine the U.S.-sponsored Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Option C: Occupation. A third option is the U.S. occupation of Syria. This option has been periodically advocated by the more extremist factions in the current U.S. administration, by Congress, and by think tanks such as the Hudson Institute. If the United States were able to reallocate sufficient forces from Iraq and elsewhere, it could fairly easily occupy Syria, but it would be unable to control its population of eighteen million. The U.S. Army would be likely to encounter fierce insurgency in Syria as well as anti-American terrorist actions (by Hezbollah and, indirectly, by Iran) outside the country. The United States’ image would be devastated in the Arab and Muslim world; it would be seen as a neo-“crusader” power occupying the “beating heart” of Arab nationalism and an important Islamic center.

As the preceding discussion of these three options has indicated, a policy of confronting Syria is unlikely to serve U.S. interests. It is certainly not in U.S. interests to push Bashar into cementing a militant axis with Iran and Hezbollah, thus promoting anti- American and anti-Israeli terrorism. Furthermore, the chances of pro-American democratic Syrian forces toppling Bashar’s regime are very slim. The U.S.-sponsored Syrian Reform Party does not have much credibility among Syrians, and democratic elements in Syria are far too weak to cause a regime change. The strongest popular movements in Syria are Muslim militants and conservatives, and they are certainly not pro-American or pro-Israeli. The only group that can depose Bashar is the Syrian old guard, notably, senior Alawi officers such as Bashar’s brother-in-law, General Asif Shawkat—but there is no guarantee that they would be more inclined than Bashar to accept Bush’s terms.

Scenario II: Engagement and Cooperation
If, then, a confrontational policy poses significant problems for the United States, what about a policy of rapprochement?

U.S.-Syrian rapprochement, based on mutual understanding and cooperation between leaders of the two countries, would likely become a win-win situation and serve the interests of Washington and Damascus, as well as of Jerusalem and other Middle Eastern centers. Such an outcome could only come about, however, under the following conditions.

• Bush does not insist on a regime change in Damascus, or on fully democratizing the Syrian political system, but is content with gradual reforms, such as those already partly instituted by Bashar, as well as with Syrian steps to safeguard human and civil rights, give greater freedom to the press, and create better representation of the Syrian people in state institutions. • Bashar, as a confidence-building measure, initially commits himself to stopping his support for Iraqi insurgents, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad and to preparing his people for peace with Israel (other differences could be settled during subsequent U.S.-Syrian negotiations).

• Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon drops his refusal to renew the peace process with Syria and is prepared in principle to return the Golan Heights to Syria within the context of a full peace agreement with Damascus. Peace with Syria would serve major interests for Israel: neutralizing Hezbollah as a military threat, limiting the activities of Hamas and Islamic Jihad (whose headquarters are in Damascus), helping to solve the Palestinian issue (for example, by settling in Syria the Palestinian refugees residing in Syria and Lebanon), and facilitating Israel’s acceptance in the region.

For Syria, peace with Israel and cooperation with the United States would remove a dual strategic threat—from the south (Israel) and the east (Iraq). It would also expand Syrian trade with Iraq and, if U.S. financial help were forthcoming, significantly improve the Syrian economy. With a successful peace agreement, Damascus would no longer need Iran’s support, would lose its rationale for developing WMD, and would have no reason to sponsor anti-Israeli terrorist groups.

For Washington, rapprochement with Damascus would include, in due course, erasing Syria from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism, and committing itself to helping Syria develop its economy. In return, Syria would contribute to the stabilization of Iraq—through political and economic cooperation between Baghdad and Damascus, by combating regional and international terrorism, and by weakening Iranian influence in the region. Syria thus could gradually become integrated into a U.S.-led regional strategic network contributing to peace, stability, and prosperity in the Middle East. It must be noted, however, that a stable and comprehensive settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with U.S. mediation is also an essential component of this new configuration— and could be advanced by a Syrian-Israeli peace settlement. Yet there appear to be formidable obstacles on all sides to reaching such a mutually beneficial regional configuration. For example, is Bashar willing and capable of taking the bold steps required to disengage Syria fully from its relationships with Iran and Hezbollah—thus abandoning ideological tenets and tactical positions? Can Bashar “sell” peace with Israel and cooperation with the United States to his public and his conservative old guard, as his father did? Can Ariel Sharon convince a largely skeptical Israeli public to give up the Golan for peace with Syria, especially at a time when the major thrust of his policy is withdrawing from Gaza and part of the West Bank? The answers to these open questions are largely in the hands of President Bush, who holds important cards as the leader of the superpower with significant political influence, vast economic resources, and the strongest military force in the region. Bush can, for instance, build upon the legacy of his predecessors, particularly that of Clinton, and persuade Israel to give up the Golan in return for full peace with Syria. He can offer to negotiate with Bashar a “framework for action and cooperation,” an offer Bush Sr. made to Asad Sr. in 1989. Bashar would probably accept, but Bush is not likely to take such a step.

Conclusion: An Alternative, Incremental Approach
Given, on the one hand, Bush’s reluctance to engage Bashar openly in dialogue, and, on the other hand, the potential high risks of a confrontation with Syria, U.S. policymakers should consider adopting a third approach to Bashar—one that is pragmatic and incremental, and that not only wields a big stick but also proffers carrots. The aims of this policy would be to encourage Bashar’s tendencies to carry out domestic reforms; to induce Bashar to stop backing anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli militant elements in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories; and to signal to Bashar that such constructive Syrian measures will be rewarded in due course by the lifting of U.S. diplomatic pressures and sanctions, as well as by the provision of U.S. financial support and U.S. involvement in negotiating the return of the Golan in exchange for peace with Israel. This incremental policy should be conducted mainly through back channels while employing also the influence and good offices of countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and France. Such an approach may well prove to be the most realistic and workable way to avoid a U.S.-Syrian collision, which would be likely to destabilize the region and prejudice U.S., Israeli, and Syrian interests.

This gradual, pragmatic approach can also bring about in the longer run a more productive relationship between Washington and Damascus, as will a peace agreement between Syria and Israel. Differences have been overcome in the past. Under Asad Sr., Bush Sr., and Clinton, such cooperation occurred and a Syrian-Israeli peace was almost reached. True, during that period the Iraqi issue played a different and more positive role in the U.S.-Syrian relationship, and the United States had not experienced a megaterror attack. But the United States had suffered a major terror attack in Lebanon in 1983, when the Syrian-sponsored Hezbollah bombed the U.S. Marine barracks in reaction to U.S. support for the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Despite that attack, Washington and Damascus managed to cooperate regarding the pacification of Lebanon. Similarly, Israel and Syria fought each other in 1948, 1967, 1973, and 1982, but in the 1990s they seriously negotiated a peace agreement with active U.S. mediation.

Obviously, the current U.S. and Syrian leaders differ from their fathers in certain respects. Both are more ideologically motivated and influenced by conservative circles in their respective capitals. Bashar is a young and fairly immature leader who dared in 2003 to defy Bush, the leader of the world’s only superpower, over the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Since then a psychological barrier has been erected between these two leaders. Still, Bashar has attempted to improve relations with Washington, helping the CIA in arresting al Qaeda terrorists and intermittently preventing Arab guerrillas from crossing from Syria to Iraq. Bashar has also shown his desire to introduce economic and political reforms in Syria, although he has not been inclined to democratize his regime fully, despite a request from Bush that he do so. Such a request is politically unacceptable as far as Syria and other Arab countries are concerned. Bush Sr. and Clinton demanded much less from Asad Sr., even though Asad Sr. was a far more brutal dictator than his son has proved to be. Bashar is more open-minded than his father and can be encouraged over time to further liberalize his rule and modernize his society. The alternatives to his rule may be worse as far as Washington is concerned. In sum, a pragmatic incremental approach may give Bashar and Bush ample opportunity to change their initial attitudes and to better understand each other’s concerns and may pave the way for significant bilateral cooperation based on common U.S. and Syrian interests.

Moshe Ma’oz is a Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace. A professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Ma’oz has published many works on Syria and has advised Israeli governments on Middle Eastern affairs.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Waiting for Mehlis

The media Tsunami has hit. Journalists of every color have been flooding into Damascus these last few days to study the grimaces of the regime as it must submit to the delicate tortures of the Mehlis report, international condemnation, and very likely, UN resolutions.

A journalist just called to ask me if I could be standing by at 12:00 midnight when the first inklings of the Mehlis report begin to filter out. The main office suggests it will be bad for Syria and it wants immediate reactions. The political class has been bracing itself in Damascus and trying to manage the reporters as best they can, but everything is done in a ham fisted way here. At such times of crisis, one realizes just how much of a third world country Syria is. Like a dear in the headlights, it has little clue what sort of terrifying machine is bearing down on it.

Ironically, the ordinary people are largely oblivious that their fate is being decided in the halls of distant capitals. Many don’t even know that a major clash is brewing between the US and Damascus. One taxi driver I spoke to yesterday had never heard of the Mehlis report and seemed surprised to be told that America and Syria were at loggerheads. He asked, “Is America going to invade?” When I reassured him that was not in the cards, he waved his hand in relief and said, “Oh, well, then it isn’t important.”

But even those who have some idea of what is transpiring believe it is a tempest in a tea pot. They have no influence over events anyway and seem oddly detached from “high politics,” as they call it. The streets are packed with Ramadan revelers looking for amusement and walking off their iftar.

We heard today that a nephew of Saddam’s had been captured in Iraq. Some are rumoring that the Syrian government had scooped him off the streets of Damascus and deposited him in Iraq, where local security was alerted they could find him. If this is true, which it very possibly may not be, it is part of the media war. Syria is desperately trying to signal to the world that they are happy to oblige the West and can deliver or make a deal if the West is willing to cooperate with Damascus. It is a bit like John Bolton’s leak last week that “a deal” was being offered Syria. It turned out not to be a deal, but an ultimatum. Quite possibly, Washington was making a last effort to show the world that it is not opposed to cooperation and has tried to reason with Syria, but gotten no positive answer. A last gesture of mercy before the guillotine drops. But these gestures by both sides are a bit like sign language between the blind. It is meant to ompress everyone else but the main interlocutors.

America does not want the deal Syria is willing to offer. Syria says it wants “dialog.” What this means is that Syria is willing to work with Washington on its four main demands: the Mehlis report, Hizbullah, Palestinian groups, and the Iraq border. But it wants to do it discretely and through diplomatic and security channels. This is what Syria used to do under Hafiz al-Asad. Washington wants a public and total Syrian climb down. In essence, it wants Syria to renounce its core ideology of Arabism. It wants Syria to concede that its regional policies and anti-American stand are wrong. In a sense it wants a public apology and mea culpa from Bashar. It wants him to take Syria on a 180 degree about-face, ideologically and strategically.

The Syrian government will probably refuse to do this. The Syrian opposition says the government will refuse because the government is too weak. Others claim the government is strong enough to weather sanctions. Still others suggest it is because the President’s and regime’s legitimacy is founded on Arab nationalist principles, thus it cannot abandon them without facing internal collapse. And there are other explanations. Perhaps the Syrian leaders really believe in their principles? Perhaps it is the Arab desire not to lose face and be publicly humiliated? Everyone has their pet theory, but most agree that it comes down to a clash of ideologies. Most insist things will have to get worse before they get better.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed al-Mualem said France and the United States would use the report to implement a phased plan to isolate Syria and impose economic sanctions against it.

``The first stage consists in influencing Arab countries so that we cut our relations with Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon. We are now at the second stage, which aims to isolate us,'' Mualem told France's Le Figaro in an interview published on Thursday.

``The next one will be to impose economic sanctions via a U.N. resolution. But we think that the Russians and the Chinese will oppose these sanctions.''

The United States and France have led a diplomatic campaign that helped force Syria to end its 29-year troop presence in Lebanon in April. They were also instrumental in setting up the U.N. inquiry into Hariri's death.

Annan is expected to circulate the report on Friday to the 15-member Security Council, Lebanon and possibly, if Syrian officials are named, Syria, Lebanese political sources said.

The Security Council will discuss the report next week and consider its response, which could include sanctions if Syria fails to cooperate, the sources said.

"An Agenda for Peaceful Change in Syria" by Hind Kabawat

Hind Kabawat, a lawyer, political activist, and influential member of Damascus' enlightened elite has written "AN AGENDA FOR PEACEFUL CHANGE IN SYRIA." Ms Kabawat has good relations with both the President and members of Syria's civil society. During the last year she organized the visit of an American rabbi and academic to Syria. She arranged for him to travel from Israel to Damascus where he addressed leading members of Syria's religious and political elite at the Asad library. It was a break through of sorts. She followed up with similar gatherings and hopes to continue her work for inter-religious dialog this coming year by organizing similar forums at the University of Damascus.

Hind has turned her elegant Ottoman house in the heart of Damascus' old city into one of the country's leading political salons. She frequently gathers activists and intellectuals in the courtyard to dine and discuss politics. The fragrant orange trees and soothing murmur of the central fountain inspire hope, much as they take edge off of disappointments.

Presentation by Hind Aboud Kabawat
Reunion: Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
Place: Institute of International Finance, Inc.
Washington D.C
October 14, 2006

Section One: The Syrian Problem

When Bashar al-Asad succeeded his father as President of Syria in 2000, there was a great deal of hope among much of the population that dramatic and systemic change might now, finally, transform the Syrian political system.

Bashar was viewed in many quarters as The Great White Hope. Why? Because to many Syrians, the only non-violent way to change Syria’s political culture and political infrastructure was from the top down. Almost by presidential fiat.

The reasoning went something like this: the country was too immature a political society to peacefully and democratically transform itself. And this argument is not without merit. The country has very little experience with representative democracy, or a multi-party system, where political power shifts from one organized group to another, after free open elections. Nor does Syrian society have much, if any, experience with a free press, an independent judiciary, or even a framework of institutions that make a civil society viable.

To compound the predicament of democratic political change in Syria is what might be termed, The Great Paradox. The potential that democratic change—i.e., free and open elections—might, ironically, backfire, resulting in the election of a fundamentalist Muslim theocracy that would systematically dismantle the one constructive legacy of the Baathist regime: a secular society where all the country’s diverse religions co-exist peacefully.

To see what happens when a secular Muslim society unravels, look no further that the sectarian political nightmare that is present-day Iraq. Undermining, or destabilizing, entrenched authoritarian societies in the Middle East can be a potential minefield. Any mis-step could result in serious political collateral damage. Among them, the dissolution of hard-won religious freedoms. The oppression of women. (As a Christian Syrian woman, I am particularly concerned about this last issue. No woman of my acquaintance in the region wants to endure the fate of most of my gender in places like Saudi or Iran.)

So you can see why some worry about the consequences of misguided political and social change in the region. It could too easily result in a worse political environment than the even the present unsatisfactory status quo. That is likely why Bashar’s coming to power ignited much optimism.

Here was a westernized, sophisticated, well-educated personality could possibly reform the system, peacefully, from within. Open the system politically and economically. Transform the country’s relationship with the US and the West. And initially, at least, much was accomplished. Many political prisoners were released. More open political debate was tolerated. The media was able to criticize the regime—somewhat.

But in the last year or so, it has become apparent that the al-Assad government does not have any real instinct for rapid and profound democratic reform. Corruption is still rampant in the Syrian economy. Who you know, or whose cousin you are, rather than the market, determines, too often, how the economy operates, and how contracts are awarded. And then there has been a very troubling reversion to political business, as usual, like the “old days” under Hafez al-Assad.

Let me give you some examples. Recently, a Member of Parliament, Riad Seif, was imprisoned for too aggressively criticizing the government, much as Aref Dalilah was imprissoned. A political debating club, the Attassi Forum, which could have been the basis, or the template, for new political organizations, was shut down after it allowed someone to read a statement from the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. So much for freedom of speech in Bashar’s Syria. Most importantly, however, no agenda has been established for the creation of a truly free press, an independent judiciary, or free elections contested by different political groups.

Add to this, the Syrian government’s numerous blunders in foreign affairs, notably its ill-advised intervention in Lebanese politics, and the result has been increasing political pressure from the international community on Syria. And let’s face it; the Syrian government is feeling the heat. Witness the “so-called” suicide, a few days ago, of the Interior Minister, the man most responsible for Syria’s failed Lebanon policy. Only the politically naïve, or stupid, can ignore the increasingly vocal calls in many Western capitals (Washington, D.C, in particular) for regime change in Syria.

This presents all Syrians, whether they support or oppose the Baathist regime, with a real challenge. How can we prevent interference in our internal affairs? Even those Syrians with a profound contempt for the al-Assad regime will not tolerate political change imposed from outside. (Better the devil we know than the devil we don’t.) Again, look no further than Baghdad to see the consequences of ill-conceived and ham-fisted interference in the delicate balance that is contemporary Arab/Muslim political culture.

In the best of all worlds, the Arab Middle East would be the mirror image of a functioning liberal democracy in the West, but we are not. And wishing it were so, or destroying our countries through counter-productive and savagely destructive wars will not make it so. Our societies are the result of a different historical and political evolution than Western societies. A more open and democratic society is clearly the goal of all thoughtful political actors in the region, but the question remains, how do we get there?

Part Two:

Let me now talk about some potential solutions to the Syrian Problem.

In the US government’s eagerness to impose democracy in the Middle East, it forgets that it tolerated a one-party authoritarian regime, right next door, for over nine decades. Only in its last presidential election, just a few short years ago, did Mexico witness the peaceful transfer of power from the bizarrely named Party of Permanent Revolution to the new political force headed by Vincente Fox.

Mexico evolved over a long period of time into a functioning democracy. Its early dictators make Hafez al-Assad look progressive. Over the years, Mexico did evolve into a sort of “pseudo-democracy,” where the president could only be in power for one term, but the president, no matter who he was, was always from the same party, the PRI. Only now, ninety years or so, after the Mexican Revolution have you witnessed a peaceful transition of power from one political organization to another.

Why do I raise the Mexican issue? Because it demonstrates that some societies, without a history of democratic political culture, may need to take a different road to reach the goal of profound democratic reform. Look what is happening in Egypt, with Hosni Mubarak allowing contested elections for the first time. So what can be done in Syria short of a coup d’etat, or interference from outside?

Well, for starters, Syrians, themselves, must continue to pressure the regime for real change. There are risks clearly. But I truly believe the time when the Baathist government would use an Iron Fist to suppress dissent is past. What I believe the government should do is this. Borrow the one constructive result of the Iraq Fiasco and create a Constitutional Assembly.

Under the auspices of Bashar al-Assad, Syrians should write a new constitution that codifies a Basic Law—one that satisfies all Syria’s diverse communities. If there is a constitution, which has been freely created by all Syrians, not just the Baath party, and guarantees religious freedom, and the separation of Church and State (or Mosque and State, in the Syrian context), then there would likely be less fear that a post-Baath Syria would result in a fundamentalist Muslim theocracy.

Such a constitutional-building process would also help incubate the creation of any number of political groups and associations, which are desperately needed if Syria is to emerge as a truly democratic political society. What Syria desperately needs is more open political discussion about its future—and its fundamental values.

Can the government of Bashar al-Assad be encouraged to open such a debate? I think so. Just last year, the president hosted a conference in Damascus of ex-patriate Syrians from around the world. The tenor of that conference: vocal calls to open up Syrian society to real change. The next step: a similar conference for Syrians who live in Damascus, Allepo, Homs, or Latakia, not London, Toronto, Sydney, or Los Angeles.

Despite his missteps, I believe that Bashar al-Assad can still redeem the promise of his first days in office. Someone must convince him that he should become Syria’s first “Mexican President.” And someone should convince him it is time to invest in his own people, the poor, the hard working, the low and middle class, give them hope, freedom, social justice, more education and open the country for an Economic reform. Hold office for one six-year term. Effect real reform and think of the future of the Syrian People, while he is in power. And leave office knowing that his country will be profoundly transformed by his willingness to exit politics voluntarily and transfer authority to someone who has the freely—won support of the whole society.

News Round Up: Oct 20, 2005

Katherine Zoepf of the NY Times, who has been living in and reporting from Damascus for over a year, helps us put the "Damascus Declaration" made by the Syrian opposition this week into perspective.

Syria's Opposition Unites Behind a Call for Democratic Changes
October 20, 2005

DAMASCUS, Syria, Oct. 19 - As international pressure on Syria rises, the country's historically quarrelsome and divided opposition groups have issued a broad call for democratic change in the form of a statement that is being called the "Damascus declaration."

The Damascus declaration, which was issued on Oct. 16, calls for an end to Syria's emergency laws and other forms of political repression, and for a national conference on democratic change.

The statement comes at a particularly tense time for Syria, which is being pressed by the United States and other Western nations to stop foreign fighters from crossing its eastern border into Iraq and to end its suspected interference in Lebanese and Palestinian affairs.

The statement was published just days before the anticipated release this week of a report by Detlev Mehlis, a United Nations investigator, on the Feb. 14 assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri.

Syrian officials have been interviewed recently by United Nations investigators, and the possibility that the report may reveal a Syrian role in the Hariri killing has been causing intense anxiety in political circles here.

President Bashar Assad of Syria is also perceived to be strengthening his hold on power in a series of crackdowns, further adding to the sense of gloom that has gripped Damascus.

Marwan Kabalan, a Damascus University political scientist, said the declaration was a response to these pressures, an effort on the part of Syrian opposition groups to put aside their differences and to demonstrate to the world that a coherent alternative to the Assad regime is emerging inside Syria.

"This is a huge development for the opposition within Syria," Dr. Kabalan said. "For the first time we're seeing a blueprint for reconstituting Syria's political process."

The announcement was backed by an unusually diverse collection of politicians and activists, including human rights campaigners, Communists, Kurdish nationalists, overseas Syrian exiles, the imprisoned Parliament member Riad Seif and the London-based Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, which has been banned in Syria for more than two decades but is believed to enjoy continuing popular support.

Anwar al-Bunni, a prominent Syrian rights lawyer, said the declaration demonstrated that there was a democratic alternative to the Baathists, the nationalist and nominally socialist party that has ruled Syria for more than 40 years.

"The regime wants the world to believe that if they go, it is only Islamists and radicals who will come to replace them," Mr. Bunni said. "It is high time to publish this statement. Syria really needs all the world to know that there is a replacement for Assad that is democratic and liberal."

Joshua Landis, an expert in Syrian history at the University of Oklahoma who has been spending the year in Syria on a Fulbright research fellowship, said the declaration was an indication that Syria's internal opposition is maturing.

"Everyone has discounted the Syrian opposition and written them off as a joke," Dr. Landis said. "The Mehlis report is coming out, and it's crunch time in Syria.

"The West has been waking up to the fact that there is no alternative to Bashar Assad, and the opposition has to move quickly. They need to show the world that they are capable of real organization, and to show Syrians that there is a third way and that they don't have to choose between Bush and chaos."
Rice Says Bush is not Taking Military Option Against Syria Off the Table
The United States, France and Britain are lobbying for two new Security Council resolutions next week, squarely condemning the Assad regime of still meddling in Lebanon's domestic affairs and clamping stricter international sanctions against Syria, ...more

Saad Hariri Expects International Trial of His Father's Assassins
"We could not carry out the investigation and requested the help of the U.N. Of course we will demand an international trial," the MP told reporters in Cairo after a meeting with Arab League chief Amr Mussa.

"Mehlis' report will be clear and we will find out who committed the crime," Hariri said.

Lebanon's parliamentary majority leader also held a two-hour meeting with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak that focused on the much-awaited report and developments in Lebanon and Lebanese-Syrian relations since the assassination.

"Lebanon's stability is important to Egypt," said Hariri, whose aides said he was due to travel on to Saudi Arabia.(AFP)
Assad Washes Hands from Hariri's Blood Anew
"We are 100 percent innocent," Assad was quoted as telling the German weekly Die Zeit. "We have absolutely no understanding for such crimes."
France arrests Syrian witness in UN probe of Hariri killing
By The Associated Press
Last Update: 17/10/2005 13:41
PARIS - French police arrested a former Syrian intelligence officer who is considered an important witness in a UN probe of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, police and judicial officials said Monday.

Mohammed Zuhair Al-Siddiq was taken into custody on Sunday in the Paris area by France's DST counterintelligence service, police officials in France said. He was the subject of an international arrest warrant and is expected to be extradited, the officials said.

The arrest warrant, issued by Lebanese Magistrate Elias Eid, accused Al-Siddiq of giving false testimony and misleading the U.N. investigation, judicial officials in Lebanon said.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Asef Shawkat Fingered According to German Magazine

Stern Magazine says Shawkat will be named as a suspect by Mehlis. There have been a number of leaks during the investigation, but it is hard to know what to make of this one. There has also been much wild speculation. We will have to wait for the report.

Head of Syrian military intelligence suspect in Hariri killing, says Stern
Mehlis mission extension to December depends on 'whether there are technical questions that need answers'

By Leila Hatoum and Majdoline Hatoum
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, October 19, 2005

BEIRUT/NEW YORK: Assef Shawkat, brother-in-law to Syrian President Bashar Assad and the head of Syrian military intelligence, has been named as a suspect by the head of UN team investigating the murder of Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri.

Shawkat, one of Syria's most powerful men, "was questioned as a suspect and not as a witness," German magazine Stern wrote, without revealing the source of its information.

Assad had appointed Shawkat Syria's chief of military intelligence shortly after Hariri's assassination on February 14. Sources had said Monday that Mehlis would present the names of some 20 suspects in his report including the names of Syrian officers.

Mehlis is due to present a report to the UN and the Lebanese government this Friday. ..

Late Monday night, the UN Security Council discussed the possibility of extending the Mehlis mission if his report leaves any questions unanswered. The council may ask Mehlis to continue working until the end of the year, said Romanian Foreign Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, whose nation holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council.

"If the presentation prompts new questions that would require very specific answers on technical details, these answers would be due by the end of the year," Ungureanu told The Associated Press in an interview....

Garnering more international support for the case, Hariri's parliamentary bloc MPs started a campaign to urge UN Security Council's members to establish an international tribunal to try those accused of Hariri's murder.

Among other embassies, the MPs visited the U.S., Chinese, Japanese and the Romanian.

Lebanese MP Walid Eido said after meeting the U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman he felt a U.S. readiness to support a Lebanese demand to extend Mehlis' mission.

Eido added that Feltman told him the U.S. "is seriously studying its stand for establishing an international private court, especially under the circumstances of the Lebanese judicial system, which is not qualified yet ..." to handle such a trial...

In Beirut, judicial sources said extradition was being sought for Zuhair Mohammad Siddiq, the Syrian Army deserter now held by France on suspicion of misleading the Mehlis commission. - With agencies

U.S., France Preparing U.N. Resolutions

Everyone is awaiting the results of the Mehlis report. As the West begins to plot out how it will use the report to shove the Syria question in front of the UN Security Council in order to get a sanctions regime imposed on Syria, Syrians are also focusing on the problem. Yesterday I interviewed six Damascene young men from prominent Sunni families. All took a surprisingly pro-Bashar line. Now that the choice has boiled down to either supporting Bush or Bashar, Syrians are choosing nationalism, which in this case means Bashar. There is not third option. All said that the lasts 6 months has been very sobering and given Damascenes a reality check. Democracy in Iraq means division and the triumph of sectarian politics over a strong national government. Syrians don't want that.

U.S., France to Introduce U.N. Resolutions Against Syria

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 19, 2005; A16

The United States and France are planning to introduce two U.N. resolutions next week aimed at holding Syria to account for meddling in Lebanon and for its alleged links to the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, according to several sources close to the diplomacy.

The moves would be the toughest international action ever taken against Syria and would be designed to further isolate President Bashar Assad, who for the first time is getting the cold shoulder from key Arab governments such as those in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Western envoys said.

The impending actions will be "the perfect storm for Damascus," said a Western diplomat at the United Nations, speaking on the condition of anonymity because planning is still underway. "It's pretty clear the Syrians don't have any friends left."

The resolutions may be introduced as early as Tuesday, he said. They would follow two reports on Syria expected to be submitted over the next two days to the U.N. Security Council.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan discussed the reports and plans for new resolutions during a working breakfast in New York, said sources familiar with the talks. Rice has been engaged in diplomacy on Syria over the past week during travels to France, Russia and Britain.

Rice requested the meeting, which was not announced until it was over. "The region and the world have a number of issues with Syrian behavior," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, adding that the Lebanese, Iraqi and Palestinian governments have all protested Syrian practices.

The most crucial report expected to be delivered this week is from German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, who will submit results of his U.N. investigation into the assassination of Hariri, who was Lebanon's leading reformer. Although the details of the report have been closely held, diplomats said they expect it to implicate Syria in the slaying of Hariri and 19 others in a Feb. 14 bombing, and to say that Syria has not fully complied with the investigation.

The U.N. envoy for Lebanon, Terje Roed-Larsen, is also scheduled to deliver a status report on Resolution 1559, which was co-sponsored by the United States and France last year. It calls for Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon and for the dismantling of militias. This report is expected to say that Syria has facilitated the flow of illicit arms and individuals into Palestinian camps in Lebanon, further undermining Lebanon's stability.

Syria says it has complied with the United Nations by ending its 29-year occupation and withdrawing about 14,000 troops from Lebanon in April. It also denies any links to the Hariri bombing.

"We have supported the Mehlis mission, and we have been cooperating with Mehlis," Imad Moustapha, Syria's ambassador to the United States, said yesterday. "We are absolutely categoric in saying we had nothing to do with Hariri. . . . If he does not reveal the truth, then this will allow certain people to point fingers here and there without any shred of evidence.

"President Assad has said that if any Syrian individual has been party to this crime or implicated in the assassination of Hariri, then he has committed a treasonous crime."

But key Security Council members have discussed extending the Mehlis mission until Dec. 15, which the U.N. chief can do without going to the Security Council. An extension could be used to continue probing or to provide a psychological boost for Lebanese authorities in persevering in the prosecution of Hariri's slaying, which unleashed the Cedar Revolution.

The scope of any punitive action against Syria is also under discussion, diplomats said. The Bush administration has considered language critical of Syria for support of terrorism that could also be used to punish or pressure Damascus for aiding extremists in Iraq, envoys familiar with the diplomacy said.

But France and other nations want the focus to be limited to Syria's intervention in Lebanon, mainly to prevent Arab backlash at a time of public anger over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Of particular concern is the position of Algeria, whose socialist government has been close to Damascus in the past. Also, Algeria is now the Arab representative on the 15-member Security Council.

But U.S., European and U.N. officials say Assad's government is facing bleak prospects even in the Arab world. Last month, Assad visited Cairo to win support from Egypt, a political trendsetter that accounts for more than half the Arab population. Instead, U.S. and Arab envoys say, President Hosni Mubarak told him to comply fully with Mehlis -- and not to expect help if Syrian officials are implicated.

After their first summit, held in Paris yesterday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora issued a statement condemning the movement of arms and militants into the Palestinian refugee camps. At a joint news conference, Siniora said he and Abbas are specifically concerned about Syria's role.
© 2005 The Washington Post Company
Nadim Ladki of Reuters quotes Patrick Seale on what is going on. He says:
"The death of Ghazi Kanaan shows there are severe tensions at the top, probably an internal power struggle," Patrick Seale, a British writer on the Middle East, told Reuters.

But he said that did not mean Assad's grip on power was necessarily weakening.

"We have to note that the regime continues to control the army and security services, the Syrian opposition is very weak and America is bogged down in Iraq," Seale said.

"I think the prospects for the survival of the regime are better than many people think."

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said last week the United Nations would need to act on Syria after Mehlis's report, signaling Washington wanted a tough international stance.

"The (U.N. Security) Council is going to have to be prepared to act in a way that ... allows the chips to fall wherever they may," Rice said after talks in Moscow about Syria.

Arab diplomats say a possible deal between Syria and the United States had been mooted in talks involving Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but the discussions had not borne fruit.

Any such agreement would be likely to guarantee the survival of Assad's government without Syria becoming a pariah state, in return for full cooperation with Mehlis, a crackdown on insurgents crossing into Iraq, and an end to Syrian support to Palestinian and Lebanese militants, the diplomats said.

Assad said last week any Syrian found to have been involved in Hariri's killing would be regarded as a traitor who should be punished, opening the door to a possible handover of any named Syrian suspects to international justice.

Sateh Noureddine, a columnist at Beirut's As-Safir newspaper, said there appeared be no international desire at this time for a regime change in Syria.

"Of course there is a list of demands but there is no intention to change (the regime)," Noureddine said.


Many analysts say chaos in neighboring Iraq and the absence of any obvious alternative to Syria's Baathist rulers have reduced U.S. appetite for an upheaval in which military officers or Islamist groups might struggle to fill the power vacuum.

Seale said Washington wanted to deal with Damascus rather than replace Assad and that tough bargaining lay ahead.

"The United States will be setting conditions to try and twist the arm of the regime -- conditions that are not acceptable to the Syrians because implementing them would mean the changing of the nature of the regime," he said.

Political sources said Mehlis was likely to complain about "insufficient" Syrian cooperation with his inquiry and might ask to interrogate more Syrian officials, possibly abroad.

Noureddine said Mehlis's findings would make it almost impossible for Lahoud, a staunch Syrian ally, to stay in office.

"There'll be no major earthquake in Lebanon. There'll be only one element: the presidency," he said, adding that the legitimacy of Lahoud had been already in doubt since Syria imposed an extension of his term last year.

"He is the last and worst symbol of the Syrian phase in Lebanon... The other (pro-Syrian politicians) have popular support, but not Lahoud. He's finished," Noureddine said.

Lebanon's government, dominated by anti-Syrian ministers, has asked Annan to extend Mehlis's mission to December 15 to help Lebanese prosecutors draw up indictments against the suspects.

Lebanese authorities have tightened security in and around the capital in case the Mehlis report proves explosive.

Regularizing borders:
Lebanese Premier Fuad Sanyoura has affirmed that relations between Syria and Lebanon could be could be good and solid if ties based on mutual respect. Sanyoura called for establishing Embassies in both countries in the near future. He also said that preparations are underway to draw borders. "We have asked specialized committees to handle this matter. We make contacts with Syria through the Syrian-Lebanese Council. This would clear up the question of Shabaa Farms.

Sunday, October 16, 2005
Bashar Assad is the problem, said Rafik Hariri
Al-Mustaqbal published Monday statements Rafik Hariri reportedly made off the record shortly before his assassination.

“Our problem is not with Emile Lahoud. Look how he recoiled when the orders came to [make Omar Karami Prime Minister]. And our problem is not with Rustom Ghazaleh who, as the Syrian leadership said, represents and implements what Syria wants in Lebanon to the letter. Our problem, actually, is with Bashar Assad.”

The paper claims Assad offered to exchange UNSC 1559 with Lahoud’s head but Hariri rejected, opting instead to up the ante with the Syrian regime.

“We will not be tools in Bashar’s hands,” he told reporters, apparently off the record. “One day he orders an extension and another a dethronement. He wants Lahoud changed now to impose someone else possibly worse for six years. What interests us is changing the methodology (Nahj), not changing masks.”

Hariri, in a subsequent meeting with Ghazaleh, informed the latter that there was no need for Syria to interfere in his choice of candidates for the parliamentary election. “If you view me as an opponent, you cannot demand political support from me,” he told Syria’s intelligence chief in Lebanon.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Syria Opposition Speaks Out

The Syrian opposition may be down, but it is not out. Today an array of civil society leaders and opposition parties put out an announcement calling for a coalition of democratic forces to help find a soft landing for Syria. They want careful and step-by-step change in order to protect Syria from chaos and to institute the rule of law and democracy based on respect for the individual and citizens' rights.

The declaration also called for "preparing the way to convene a national conference that all ambitious forces to make a change can take part, including the ones that accepts that from the ruling regime."

The declaration was signed by the democratic national coalition in Syria; the Kurdisk democratic alliance in Syria; the civil society revival committees; the Kurdish democratic front in Syria; the al-Mustaqbal ( future) party; the Syrian committee for human rights, and independent figures including the opposition parliamentarian Riad Seif who is currently in prison.

This new coalition, which was attended by Kurds activists, called for uniting visions and attitudes of the opposition in order to achieve basic demands including democratic and deep change in the country.

Activist Akram al-Bunni said that the opposition parties call for halting acts of repression and to open a new page in the history of the Syrian homeland.

In conclusion of its meeting in Damascus, the party issued what is called "The Damascus declaration" whose signatories called on all components of the Syrian people for the "need of the fundamental change in the country and rejection of all forms of partial or incomplete reforms."
The Christian family that runs my neighborhood grocery store turned there noses up at this announcement because it was made with Islamic groups. They believe the Muslim brotherhood is deeply sectarian and is just using democracy as windowdressing to get to power. Many Christians share this anxiety about change in Syria.

Sami Moubayed has an interesting article calling for democracy in Syria: "It is time to return to Syria of the Fifties." This is his boldest statement on this subject. He is not a fan of the old leftist or Islamic parties and hopes that the Syrian secular elites will again articulate firm possitions.

The opposition statement was published on the al-Ra'i website in arabic on Oct. 16.

إعلان دمشق
للتغيير الوطني الديمقراطي

تتعرض سورية اليوم لأخطار لم تشهدها من قبل ، نتيجة السياسات التي سلكها النظام ، وأوصلت البلاد إلى وضع يدعو للقلق على سلامتها الوطنية ومصير شعبها. وهي اليوم على مفترق طرق بحاجة إلى مراجعة ذاتها والإفادة من تجربتها التاريخية أكثر من أي وقت مضى . فاحتكار السلطة لكل شيء، خلال أكثر من ثلاثين عاماً ، أسس نظاماً تسلطياً شمولياً فئوياً ، أدى إلى انعدام السياسة في المجتمع ، وخروج الناس من دائرة الاهتمام بالشأن العام ، مما أورث البلاد هذا الحجم من الدمار المتمثل بتهتك النسيج الاجتماعي الوطني للشعب السوري ، والانهيار الاقتصادي الذي يهدد البلاد ، والأزمات المتفاقمة من كل نوع . إلى جانب العزلة الخانقة التي وضع النظام البلاد فيها ، نتيجة سياساته المدمرة والمغامرة وقصيرة النظر على المستوى العربي والإقليمي وخاصة في لبنان ، التي بنيت على أسس استنسابية وليس على هدى المصالح الوطنية العليا .

كل ذلك ، وغيره كثير ، يتطلب تعبئة جميع طاقات سورية الوطن والشعب ، في مهمة تغيير إنقاذية ، تخرج البلاد من صيغة الدولة الأمنية إلى صيغة الدولة السياسية ، لتتمكن من تعزيز استقلالها ووحدتها ، ويتمكن شعبها من الإمساك بمقاليد الأمور في بلاده والمشاركة في إدارة شؤونها بحرية . إن التحولات المطلوبة تطال مختلف جوانب الحياة ، وتشمل الدولة والسلطة والمجتمع ، وتؤدي إلى تغيير السياسات السورية في الداخل والخارج . وشعوراً من الموقعين بأن اللحظة الراهنة تتطلب موقفاً وطنياً شجاعاً و مسؤولاً ، يخرج البلاد من حالة الضعف والانتظار التي تسم الحياة السياسية الراهنة، ويجنبها مخاطر تلوح بوضوح في الأفق. وإيماناً منهم بأن خطاً واضحاً ومتماسكاً تجمع عليه قوى المجتمع المختلفة ، ويبرز أهداف التغيير الديمقراطي في هذه المرحلة ، يكتسب أهمية خاصة في إنجاز هذا التغيير على يد الشعب السوري ووفق إرادته ومصالحه ، ويساعد على تجنب الانتهازية والتطرف في العمل العام فقد اجتمعت إرادتهم بالتوافق على الأسس التالية :

إقامة النظام الوطني الديمقراطي هو المدخل الأساس في مشروع التغيير و الإصلاح السياسي . ويجب أن يكون سلمياً ومتدرجاً ومبنياً على التوافق ، وقائماً على الحوار والاعتراف بالآخر .

نبذ الفكر الشمولي والقطع مع جميع المشاريع الإقصائية والوصائية والاستئصالية ، تحت أي ذريعة كانت تاريخية أو واقعية ، ونبذ العنف في ممارسة العمل السياسي ، والعمل على منعه وتجنبه بأي شكل ومن أي طرف كان .

الإسلام الذي هو دين الأكثرية وعقيدتها بمقاصده السامية وقيمه العليا وشريعته السمحاء يعتبر المكون الثقافي الأبرز في حياة الأمة والشعب . تشكلت حضارتنا العربية في إطار أفكاره وقيمه وأخلاقه ، وبالتفاعل مع الثقافات التاريخية الوطنية الأخرى في مجتمعنا، ومن خلال الاعتدال والتسامح والتفاعل المشترك ، بعيداً عن التعصب والعنف والإقصاء . مع الحرص الشديد على احترام عقائد الآخرين وثقافتهم وخصوصيتهم أياً كانت انتماءاتهم الدينية والمذهبية والفكرية، والانفتاح على الثقافات الجديدة والمعاصرة.

ليس لأي حزب أو تيار حق الادعاء بدور استثنائي . وليس لأحد الحق في نبذ الآخر واضطهاده وسلبه حقه في الوجود والتعبير الحر والمشاركة في الوطن .

اعتماد الديمقراطية كنظام حديث عالمي القيم والأسس ، يقوم على مبادئ الحرية وسيادة الشعب ودولة المؤسسات وتداول السلطة، من خلال انتخابات حرة ودورية، تمكن الشعب من محاسبة السلطة وتغييرها.

بناء دولة حديثة ، يقوم نظامها السياسي على عقد اجتماعي جديد . ينتج عنه دستور ديمقراطي عصري يجعل المواطنة معياراً للانتماء ، ويعتمد التعددية وتداول السلطة سلمياً وسيادة القانون في دولة يتمتع جميع مواطنيها بذات الحقوق والواجبات، بصرف النظر عن الجنس أو الدين أو الإثنية أو الطائفة أو العشيرة، ويمنع عودة الاستبداد بأشكال جديدة.

التوجه إلى جميع مكونات الشعب السوري ، إلى جميع تياراته الفكرية وطبقاته الاجتماعية وأحزابه السياسية وفعالياته الثقافية والاقتصادية والاجتماعية ، وإفساح المجال أمامها للتعبير عن رؤاها ومصالحها وتطلعاتها ، وتمكينها من المشاركة بحرية في عملية التغيير .

ضمان حرية الأفراد والجماعات والأقليات القومية في التعبير عن نفسها ، والمحافظة على دورها وحقوقها الثقافية واللغوية، واحترام الدولة لتلك الحقوق ورعايتها، في إطار الدستور وتحت سقف القانون .

إيجاد حل ديمقراطي عادل للقضية الكردية في سورية. بما يضمن المساواة التامة للمواطنين الأكراد السوريين مع بقية المواطنين من حيث حقوق الجنسية والثقافة وتعلم اللغة القومية وبقية الحقوق الدستورية والسياسية والاجتماعية والقانونية، على قاعدة وحدة سورية أرضاً وشعباً . ولابد من إعادة الجنسية وحقوق المواطنة للذين حرموا منها ، وتسوية هذا الملف كلياً .

الالتزام بسلامة المتحد الوطني السوري الراهن وأمنه ووحدته ، ومعالجة مشكلاته من خلال الحوار ، والحفاظ على وحدة الوطن والشعب في كل الظروف. والالتزام بتحرير الأراضي المحتلة واستعادة الجولان إلى الوطن . وتمكين سورية من أداء دور عربي وإقليمي إيجابي فعال .

إلغاء كل أشكال الاستثناء من الحياة العامة ، بوقف العمل بقانون الطوارئ ، وإلغاء الأحكام العرفية والمحاكم الاستثنائية ، وجميع القوانين ذات العلاقة ، ومنها القانون / 49 / لعام 1980 ، وإطلاق سراح جميع السجناء السياسيين ، وعودة جميع الملاحقين والمنفيين قسراً وطوعاً عودة كريمة آمنة بضمانات قانونية، وإنهاء كل أشكال الاضطهاد السياسي، برد المظالم إلى أهلها وفتح صفحة جديدة في تاريخ البلاد .

تعزيز قوة الجيش الوطني والحفاظ على روحه المهنية، وإبقائه خارج إطار الصراع السياسي واللعبة الديمقراطية ، وحصر مهمته في صيانة استقلال البلاد و الحفاظ على النظام الدستوري والدفاع عن الوطن والشعب .

تحرير المنظمات الشعبية والاتحادات والنقابات وغرف التجارة والصناعة والزراعة من وصاية الدولة والهيمنة الحزبية والأمنية . وتوفير شروط العمل الحر لها كمنظمات مجتمع مدني .

إطلاق الحريات العامة ، وتنظيم الحياة السياسية عبر قانون عصري للأحزاب ، وتنظيم الإعلام والانتخابات وفق قوانين عصرية توفر الحرية والعدالة والفرص المتساوية أمام الجميع .

ضمان حق العمل السياسي لجميع مكونات الشعب السوري على اختلاف الانتماءات الدينية والقومية والاجتماعية .

التأكيد على انتماء سورية إلى المنظومة العربية، وإقامة أوسع علاقات التعاون معها، وتوثيق الروابط الاستراتيجية والسياسية والاقتصادية التي تؤدي بالأمة إلى طريق التوحد. وتصحيح العلاقة مع لبنان،لتقوم على أسس الحرية والاستقلال والسيادة والمصالح المشتركة بين الشعبين والدولتين.

الالتزام بجميع المعاهدات والمواثيق الدولية وشرعة حقوق الإنسان، والعمل ضمن إطار الأمم المتحدة وبالتعاون مع المجموعة الدولية على بناء نظام عالمي أكثر عدلاً، قائم على مبادىء السلام وتبادل المصالح، وعلى درء العدوان وحق الشعوب في مقاومة الاحتلال، والوقوف ضد جميع أشكال الإرهاب والعنف الموجه ضد المدنيين.

ويرى الموقعون على هذا الإعلان ، أن عملية التغيير قد بدأت ، بما هي فعل ضرورة لا تقبل التأجيل نظراً لحاجة البلاد إليها، وهي ليست موجهة ضد أحد، بل تتطلب جهود الجميع . وهنا ندعو أبناء وطننا البعثيين وإخوتنا من أبناء مختلف الفئات السياسية والثقافية والدينية والمذهبية إلى المشاركة معنا وعدم التردد والحذر، لأن التغيير المنشود لصالح الجميع ولا يخشاه إلا المتورطون بالجرائم والفساد. و يمكن أن يتم تنظيمها وفق ما يلي :

1. فتح القنوات لحوار وطني شامل ومتكافئ بين جميع مكونات الشعب السوري وفئاته الاجتماعية والسياسية والاقتصادية وفي كل المناطق وفق منطلقات قاعدية تتمثل في :

ضرورة التغيير الجذري في البلاد ، ورفض كل أشكال الإصلاحات الترقيعية أو الجزئية أو الالتفافية .

العمل على وقف حالة التدهور واحتمالات الانهيار والفوضى ، التي قد تجرها على البلاد عقلية التعصب والثأر والتطرف وممانعة التغيير الديمقراطي .

رفض التغيير الذي يأتي محمولاً من الخارج، مع إدراكنا التام لحقيقة وموضوعية الارتباط بين الداخلي والخارجي في مختلف التطورات السياسية التي يشهدها عالمنا المعاصر، دون دفع البلاد إلى العزلة والمغامرة والمواقف غير المسؤولة. والحرص على استقلالها ووحدة أراضيها.

2. تشجيع المبادرات للعودة بالمجتمع إلى السياسة، وإعادة اهتمام الناس بالشأن العام، وتنشيط المجتمع المدني.

3. تشكيل اللجان والمجالس والمنتديات والهيئات المختلفة ، محلياً وعلى مستوى البلاد ، لتنظيم الحراك العام الثقافي والاجتماعي والسياسي والاقتصادي ، ومساعدتها على لعب دور هام في إنهاض الوعي الوطني وتنفيس الاحتقانات ، وتوحيد الشعب وراء أهداف التغيير .

4. التوافق الوطني الشامل على برنامج مشترك ومستقل لقوى المعارضة، يرسم خطوات مرحلة التحول ، ومعالم سورية الديمقراطية في المستقبل .

5. تمهيد الطريق لعقد مؤتمر وطني ، يمكن أن تشارك فيه جميع القوى الطامحة إلى التغيير، بما فيها من يقبل بذلك من أهل النظام ، لإقامة النظام الوطني الديمقراطي بالاستناد إلى التوافقات الواردة في هذا الإعلان ، وعلى قاعدة ائتلاف وطني ديمقراطي واسع .

6. الدعوة إلى انتخاب جمعية تأسيسية، تضع دستوراً جديداً للبلاد، يقطع الطريق على المغامرين والمتطرفين. يكفل الفصل بين السلطات، ويضمن استقلال القضاء، ويحقق الاندماج الوطني بترسيخ مبدأ المواطنة.

7. إجراء انتخابات تشريعية حرة ونزيهة ، تنتج نظاماً وطنياً كامل الشرعية ، يحكم البلاد وفق الدستور والقوانين النافذة، وبدلالة رأي الأكثرية السياسية و برامجها .

وبعد ، هذه خطوات عريضة لمشروع التغيير الديمقراطي ، كما نراه ، والذي تحتاجه سورية ، وينشده شعبها . يبقى مفتوحاً لمشاركة جميع القوى الوطنية من أحزاب سياسية وهيئات مدنية وأهلية وشخصيات سياسية وثقافية ومهنية ، يتقبل التزاماتهم وإسهاماتهم ، ويظل عرضة لإعادة النظر من خلال ازدياد جماعية العمل السياسي وطاقاته المجتمعية الفاعلة .

إننا نتعاهد على العمل من أجل إنهاء مرحلة الاستبداد، ونعلن استعدادنا لتقديم التضحيات الضرورية من أجل ذلك، وبذل كل ما يلزم لإقلاع عملية التغيير الديمقراطي،وبناء سورية الحديثة وطناً حراً لكل أبنائها،والحفاظ على حرية شعبها،وحماية استقلالها الوطني .

دمشق في 16 / 10 / 2005

الأحزاب والمنظمات

التجمع الوطني الديمقراطي في سورية
التحالف الديمقراطي الكردي في سورية
لجان إحياء المجتمع المدني
الجبهة الديمقراطية الكردية في سورية
حزب المستقبل ( الشيخ نواف البشير )

الشخصيات الوطنية
رياض سيف
جودت سعيد
د. عبد الرزاق عيد
سمير النشار
د. فداء أكرم الحوراني
د. عادل زكار
عبد الكريم الضحاك
هيثم المالح
نايف قيسية

توضيحات حول إعلان دمشق للتغيير الديمقراطي

Israel's Position on Bashar - No Good Alternative

Here are several stories from the Israeli press, which help us to understand what Israel wants from Syria. Some worry about chaos. Others worry that a weak democratic leader in Syria would mean giving up the Golan because America would seek to prop him up by demanding Israel cede the Golan.

Experts Say the Assad Regime Won't Collapse
Orly Halpern,
Oct. 16, 2005 (Kindly sent to me by Timur Goksel of AUB)

With one week to go before the release of the UN report about the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri and the US ratcheting up the rhetoric of Syria's imminent demise, experts say that the last Baathist regime is under no immediate threat of collapse.

“I don't think anything could topple the regime other than a full scale invasion,” Ambassador Edward Walker, former assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs and president of the Middle East Institute, a Washington, DC-based think tank, told The Jerusalem Post.

According to a Western analyst based in Beirut, the Syrian Baathist regime is not likely to fall because “there is no substitute.” Speaking to the Post on condition of anonymity he said that although the Syrian regime is under “tremendous pressure, it is in no imminent danger. If you want this regime to go there has to be a substitute. But there is no opposition, no civil society. Everything is under control, it's a police state. Is any one waiting in the wings? If there were he wouldn't be here anymore. Look what happened to Ghazi Kenaan.”

Last week, Kenaan, the powerful Syrian interior minister died in what the Syrian administration said was suicide. Some Western analysts suggested that Kenaan was killed because he was responsible for Hariri's death. But the Beirut-based analyst told The Post that Kenaan was a supporter of Hariri and was likely killed because he could implicate the guilty parties. Whatever the cause of his death it has put the spotlight stronger on Syria.

Recently US officials have either publicly stated or leaked to the press possible action against Syria. Walker said that limited military action was in the cards. “If the Syrians don't [act], then this administration will up the ante with military action and we would see cross-border operations,” he said acknowledging that “all this talk of military intervention is a conscious leak to build the pressure.” However, if the results of the UN investigation of Hariri's death point to Syria, the affect on Syria could be fatal to the regime. Elements in the Syrian regime are widely believed to be responsible for the assassination of Hariri in February. International pressure led by the US and France following his death forced Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon after almost 30 years.

Now, as a UN investigation into Hariri's death comes close to the October 21 submission date, the US and France have joined efforts to prepare to act in the case that someone from Syria is implicated in the assassination. Together the two countries are trying to rally international support for a resolution against Syria in the UN Security Council in the form of an economic embargo. That said, a US-based Syrian expert, could cause the collapse of his country. “If the Europeans and the Arab states went along with the American pressure then yes, it could bring the collapse of the regime,” Dr. Murhaf Jouejati, a Syrian national and the Director of Middle East Studies at George Washington University, told The Post. The US accuses Syria of supporting insurgents fighting in Iraq by allowing them to cross through Syria. It also accuses Syria of supporting terrorist groups in Israel and meddling in Lebanese affairs. Since Hariri's death a number of journalists and former politicians that opposed the Syrian presence in Lebanon have been targets of assassination. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday in Paris that Syria must demonstrate “full cooperation with Detlev Mehlis,” head of the UN investigation team.

After her meeting with the Foreign Minister of France, which went hand in hand with the US in pressuring Syria to withdraw from Lebanon, Rice renewed the US demand on Syria not to get involved in Lebanese internal affairs. “What is very clear is that the international community is demanding of Syria that it fully implement 1559 and that it not engage in activities that destabilize its Lebanese neighbor,” said Rice. Such action is expected to include a demand to hand over the individuals who took part in the murder, even if they are holding positions in the Syrian government, said diplomatic sources. This notion is similar to the deal reached with Libya after the bombing of the Pan-Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland. Then too, Libya was pressured to hand over its citizens accused of planning the attack and only after Muammar Gaddafi agreed to this condition, the international pressure was eased.

The Times of London reported Saturday that “in the past ten days” the US has offered Syria a deal in which the Assad regime will agree to cooperate with the UN investigation, turn over citizens involved in the murder, stop interfering in Lebanon and close the border with Iraq, in return for ending Syria's international isolation. This is similar to the “Gaddafi deal” in which he cooperated in the Lockerbie case and gave up his nuclear program, resulting in improved relations with the US and the West.

Analysts say the deal was leaked to The Times by the American ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, who opposes it. By leaking it “he scuttled it,” said the Beirut-based analysts and Joshua Landis, an American analyst based in Damascus, writing in his weblog. In a speech in London, Bolton said that if Syria is involved in the Hariri murder the Americans will deal with it “very seriously.”

“The military option is talk at this point but could quickly turn into reality if Syria is implicated in the Mehlis report,” said Walker. “If it's not implicated, you have to go to the drawing board. But we will certainly continue to put pressure on Syria over the border issue.” “The collapse of the regime, if it were to happen, would be dangerous to the region,” said Jouejati. He added, “The only opposition group in Syria that would be able to mobilize the street is the Muslim Brotherhood, a political party, which albeit banned, has an ideology rooted in the local culture.”

“If Washington wants a regime change it has to weigh the consequences. If that were to happen, Israel would have the Muslim Brotherhood as its northern neighbor. And what Murhaf Jouejati says to that is: 'good luck.'”

Herb Keinon of the Jerusalem Post has a story in the same issue entitled: Israel Wants Assad "Bloodied not Beaten." He writes that a senior Israeli diplomatic official said that Israel

"is not interested in seeing Syrian president Bashar Assad's regime fall." The official said Israel was concerned that if Assad were to be toppled as a result of international isolation and pressure, this could unleash a civil war and the type o chaos similar to that now taking place in Iraq, which could spill over to Israel's northern border.

"Infighting, chaos and civil war in Syria, like that taking place in Iraq, is not necessarily beneficial to Israel," the official said. On the other hand, the official said Assad's collapse could lead to the emergence of a pro-Western and Western-backed leader in the same mold as Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas who would likely have difficulty asserting his authority.

In this case, the official said, Israel might then come under considerable international pressure to "prop him up" by entering into negotiations with him over the Golan Heights. "An Abu Mazen on Israel's northern...
Ma'ariv (p. B2) by Jacky Hugi
Director of Military Intelligence Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi (Farkash) is not hurrying to eulogize the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

In an interview to Ma'ariv's holiday supplement, the director of Military Intelligence reveals that figures in the Alawite family that rules Damascus are opposed to Assad's steps, and fear that his policies could ultimately cause [them] to lose their hold on power. But he believes that this will apparently not happen in the near future.

Q: Aren't the American threats rocking Assad's seat?

"I think that he understands this."

Q: His seat is wobbling?

"The wobbling has not reached a situation where Assad is close to losing his seat."

Q: Is it an Israeli interest to have a strong Bashar Assad?

"I don't know. I think that this is something that policymakers should say."

Q: I am asking you as an analyst.

"A link between the global Jihad and the Sunnis, who are 70 percent of the population in Syria, is not a positive trend for the Israelis. On the other hand, a leader who is too weak, and harbors terrorist headquarters in Damascus and provides backing to Hizbullah, encourages this terrorism."

Q: Without American pressure on Syria on the topic of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad headquarters in Damascus, there is not much Israel can do. The Air Force can strike in Syria again, but that is playing with fire.

"The campaign is not only military. The strike at Ein Saheb (a training base on Syrian soil that was bombed two years ago-JH) hit a camp belonging to Jibril, where Hamas and Hizbullah operatives also train, but it was more of a message than a strike. I think we are not attacking the Syrians wildly. The policy we are conducting is quite correct. It makes use of pressure in all kinds of directions, while Israel is not at the forefront. I think that is correct."

Pressure on the Iraqi border

These are very sensitive days in the Syrian-Lebanese arena. On Friday, the Lebanese government is scheduled to receive the UN investigation report in the Hariri assassination affair. The threads lead to Damascus.

Maj. Gen. Zeevi believes that Hizbullah was also a partner to the plot, and offers a first comment by a senior intelligence official on the organization's part in the assassination that rocked the world.

Q: Is Assad behind Hariri's assassination? "We don't know for sure. But we suspect, from all the information in our hands, that Syria is behind the assassination, possibly also with the involvement of Hizbullah members and Iran. Apparently the person who led to this assassination, ultimately, was someone in Syria, not far from Bashar."

Q: With his knowledge? "I can't be definite on this issue. But in such regimes, as a rule, things do not happen by accident. The execution itself may have used a Hizbullah infrastructure in order to carry out this assassination."

The conversation in Zeevi's office was held before the mysterious death of interior minister Ghazi Kanaan, former director of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon. When we asked to send Zeevi questions on the matter in order to update the interview, the IDF firmly refused, apparently at the request of the Americans, to permit him to comment on the latest developments in Damascus.

But Kanaan's death is only one of the problems that the Syrian president currently faces.

"Assad's most significant challenge is not the Kurdish minority and the demonstrations that took place on this matter, but rather the Muslim Brotherhood, which is taking on a Wahabi (messianic) tinge. If he were asked what is most painful to him, it is the stability of his regime and how he can lower the pressure on the Iraqi border, solve the Lebanese problem properly and deal with the Muslim Brotherhood, global Jihad, al-Qaida."

Q: What kind of aid is Syria extending to Iraq? The Syrians say that they have 600 kilometers of border to seal, and it is impossible.

"If the Syrians want to seal a border, they seal it. That is what happened with Turkey, with Jordan, and also on the Lebanese border. Assad is not sealing the Iraqi border hermetically. He is allowing smuggling of explosive charges manufactured in Lebanon into Iraq."

Q: In other words, on one hand he suffers from extremist Islam, on the other hand he encourages it.

"That is his dilemma. Islam is starting to prove to Assad that if he begins to seal the borders too tightly, at the request of the US, he will be in its sights. This is a dilemma that he will have to confront and decide on, and in my opinion he will not make this decision. Whether to seal the border completely and then be subject to internal Jihad and a continuation of Islamic terrorism, or to refuse-and reach a situation where the Americans might attack him within Syria."

Q: Is that a reasonable option?

"I see an option for American-British military involvement in the end, if he does not seal the border. The Americans will not agree for any length of time to have the infiltrations continue from the Syrian border into Iraq."

The director of Military Intelligence assesses that behind Assad's insistence not to bend before the world powers, there are also ideological considerations.

"In his worldview, if he were locked in a closed and isolated room, he would say that he is in favor of the success of Abu Musab Zarqawi," says Zeevi. "Ideologically, he would like the Americans to disappear from here."
Rice Enlists European Support on Syria. Over three days, Rice held talks with the leaders of France, Russia and Britain -- all holders of vetoes at the U.N. Security Council - on how to make the two U.S. foes meet U.N. security demands.

Her spokesman Sean McCormack said the countries were "unified" on Syria but they were "at a different stage" with Iran.

Farrah Hassen has a good overview of events in Syria in the October 14 issue of CounterPunch entitled, "A Somber Ramadan in Syria."

The Paris Opposition Meeting is a Bust

The Syrian opposition in the West called a monster meeting of all opponents to the Syrian regime in Paris this October. Unfortunately, the meeting turned out to be a bust. Some 40 people attended; there was no agenda, but evidently lively discussion. The pro-Republican Party "Weekly Standard" published an article by Jeffrey Gedmin, who attended the meeting. He did his best to put a positive spin on things. (The story is copied below.)

First a little history about the Syrian opposition based in America. Farid Ghadry, who heads the Syrian Reform Party, launched an umbrella organization called "The Syrian Democratic Coalition" at the end on 2003 in Washington DC. It had its first meeting between November 12 and 18 of 2003 in an attempt "to coalesce the democratic parties and organizations working to free Syria from the rule of the Ba'ath party and the Assad family." The open part of the conference was held at the "Washington Institute for Near East Policy," which is America's most influential pro-Israeli think tank. The rest was held behind closed doors at a local hotel. Richard Perle has been one of the SRP's most loyal advocates.

Ghadry's early attempt to win access and recognition in Washington by linking up with the Jewish lobby and by wooing powerful supporters among pro-Israeli think-thanks has been a partial success. He gained influential backers in DC and got meetings with members of congress, but this strategy cost him dearly among Syrian Arabs. He has had a hard time attracting Syrian support outside the small Kurdish and Assyria communities. Likewise, Syrian Islamist groups have kept him at arm's length.

Thus the chances that Ghadry would attract a broad coalition of Syrian opposition forces to meet in Paris this month were not auspicious. This summer the various Syrian exile groups in the United States broke into emulous factions over questions of religion, Israel, and leadership. Farid Ghadry, of the Syrian Reform Party, who hoped the Paris meeting would lay the foundations for a "transitional parliament in exile," announced after a meeting with members of the US National Security Council, that he was establishing a government in exile and would work to unite Syrian opposition groups along the lines of the Iraqi National Front, which brought together the bickering elements of the Iraqi opposition before the US invasion. Here is the press release Farid Ghadry put out after his August meeting with the NSC member:

August 31, 2005/RPS/ -- Farid Ghadry, President of the Reform Party of Syria, met with the Director of Policy Mr. Michael Doran at NSC yesterday....

RPS also discussed the anticipated Syrian National Conference to take place soon in Europe that would unite all the opposition political parties and figures. The Syrian Democratic Coalition, made of nine political parties and organizations, also intends to develop a Transitional Parliament (in exile) that would be instrumental in transitioning Syria peacefully from a dictatorship to a democracy after the fall of the regime. Syrians will rely on this body to help move away from a Bremer-type situation as well to conduct business in accordance with Syrian customs. The purpose is to cushion for the fall of Assad by uniting all the influential organizations be it political. economic, or social to avoid the mistakes taking place in Iraq today.
But even before Ghadry's meeting with NSC's Michael Doran, the US based Syrian groups had been squabbling. In June 2005, a number of Syrian Americans tried to start a Syrian National Council that did not include Ghadry in its executive committee. Ghadry felt snubbed and refused to attend. Here is a quote from an article written about it on July 7, entitled, Syrian Dissidents Launch National Council

Five Syrian dissidents residing in the United States have announced the formation of the Syrian National Council, an umbrella opposition group dedicated to regime change and the establishment of a democratic government in Damascus. “We are not looking for reform in Syria. We want a complete change in the regime in Syria,” Mohammed al-Jbaili said at a press conference June 6. He described the Syrian regime under President Bashar Assad as “one of the most totalitarian rules in the world.”

The Washington-based council will coordinate with opposition groups inside and outside Syria to promote democratic change in the country, according to a statement issued by the council's executive committee. In addition to al-Jbaili, the other members of the executive committee are Najib Al-Ghadban, Hussam Al-Dairi, Mohammed Al-Khawam and Abd Al-Muhaymen Al-Sibai....

The council’s executive committee members were asked whether they are working with Farid Ghadry, whose Syrian Reform Party calls for the overthrow of Bashar Assad and advocates democratic government. Al-Jbaili said the council had been in contact with Ghadry and had invited him to their June conference but that he had decided not to be involved with the council. The State Department confirmed that Ghadry met with officials there in March.

The council also said it does not have any official contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood, though Al-Ghadban said, “we extend our willingness to work with all groups” that promote democracy.

The Syrian National Council leaders said they expect the council to be incorporated in Washington by mid-July.
But almost as soon as it formed, the Syrian National Council began to fall apart over sectarian issues and whether to espouse an Islamist ideology or not. On September 3, Farid Ghadry reported that "The Syrian National Council is Splitting."
News from Washington is that the Syrian National Council formed as an opposition group is splitting. We are told that those who are leaving are doing so because they sensed a direction in the Council that did not please them. In fact, the main reasons, we are told, are:

1. The Executive Committee was stacked with Islamists loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood. Those individuals took control and used the Council as a form of dictatorship. It is not who you are but how you behave. The Syrian opposition still does not get that one unfortunately.

2. Inter-manipulations by some members created an atmosphere of mistrust amongst the different people involved. Some of the stories are too horrifying to even mention. Dr. Mohammad Al-Jbeili is one of the most patient democratic Syrians I have met.

One of the most harmful acts the Council did was to vote to forbid the Council Members to “speak” to another opposition figure [Here I presume Ghadry means the Council forbid its members to speak to Ghadry]. Officials in this administration interested in cultivating the Syrian dissident movement got wind of this and one can imagine the reaction. Forbidding people to speak to other people is the ultimate test of tolerance and co-existence. This Ba’athist mentality still prevails at the Executive Committee level. Wiser minds prevailed later and froze that decision but the damage was done.

The group that is splitting is discussing with us, the Syrian Democratic Coalition, ways to cooperate together in the future. We welcome dialogue with all the opposition groups.

Originally the big opposition meeting was to take place in mid September, but it was delayed to October, because things began to go wrong from the start, although there was a moment this summer when it looked like the Syrian and foreign-based opposition might actually unite. The main Syrian-based opposition groups pulled out this summer, claiming the "time was not right." Then the Muslim Brothers in London pulled out as well. Then several Kurdish parties announced they would not attend. Rifaat al-Asad declared that he wanted to go, but Bayanouni of the M.B. explained that no one considered him a member of the opposition. (Rifaat has been trying to get America's attention as an alternative to his nephew Bashar for many years.)

Why didn't anyone go? First, the Syrian government has been cracking down on the Syrian based opposition since the June Baath Party Conference in a major way. Second, the Syrian based opposition does not like or trust the American exile groups. Third, efforts by the Syrian secular opposition (read Riad al-Turk) and the Muslim Brotherhood to form a united front this summer failed. Forth, the American exile groups don't get along. It seems the Executive Committee of the Syrian National Council that formed in June did not attend the Paris meeting - -in all likelihood, because Farid Ghadry was using it as a showcase for his managerial skills and would-be leadership.

With that intro, I leave you with Gedmin's article in the "Weekly Standard," the title of which has a familiar ring, although I cannot figure out where I've heard it before.

Next Year in Damascus
Syrian democracy is thriving--in exile.
by Jeffrey Gedmin
10/24/2005, Volume 011, Issue 06

I ATTENDED A MEETING OF about 40 Syrian exile oppositionists in Paris last week. It was a bit surreal. There was the Syrian-Kurd who lives in Germany, for instance, a sweet, grandfatherly fellow with a big white mustache. The guy introduced himself to me, I glanced at his name tag to make sure I got the name, and he responded with a broad smile: "That's not my real name."

You have to assume the regime has an agent here, he told me at breakfast the next morning. There were two younger Syrians from Germany, both from central casting. He: tough looking, five o'clock shadow, long hair, black leather jacket, thirtysomething. She: twentysomething, long black hair, dark haunting eyes, figure like a model. I mentioned over an after-dinner drink (well, I had a beer, she had a juice, he had nothing) what a pity that we were holed up over the weekend outside the city in an airport hotel. She had never been to Paris. No reaction. The next morning a colleague told me that she is off a 28-day hunger strike; he, the same. They were trying to get political prisoners released. Two days at the Charles de Gaulle Hyatt can be sobering.

Farid Ghadry, the convener of the conference, was not kidding when he told me, "We're not playing anymore." Mind you, everyone I met was warm and welcoming. There were Kurds and Sunni (they make up three quarters of the Syrian population) as well as members of the Alawite minority that runs the country. There were pacifists, hawks, and self-described "liberals," whatever that means in this context. There was a lighthearted gentleman from Los Angeles, a Christian Syrian who runs a nail and hair salon. A dual patriot, he joked over dinner that the group ought to FedEx the American Constitution to the people of the Middle East. The European Syrians at our table rolled their eyes. There was a very articulate fellow from the Muslim Brotherhood and at least two important representatives from Syria who had traveled to Paris for the meeting.

Discussions were lively, disagreements sometimes sharp. I listened like a fly on the wall with a kind Syrian colleague translating from the Arabic. The group may have been diverse, but everyone seemed united on one thing: These folks all seem to believe that after 42 years in power, the Baathist order in Damascus is ready for meltdown. You do not have to be a wishful-thinking Syrian to follow the logic of the last couple of years: municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, women now free to vote in Kuwait, opposition candidates for the first time in Egypt, elections and a constitution in Iraq, a revolution in Lebanon. Did anyone really think Syria could stay immune from the trend?

My favorite guide on the matter is Volker Perthes, a Syria expert and head of the largest government-funded think tank in Germany, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik. Perthes argued recently in the International Herald Tribune that "Bashar Assad's regime in Syria has reached its end phase. . . . Assad's regime has lost the confidence and support of many of Syria's people and elites." Perthes is an enemy of the Bush doctrine and a sympathizer of the Middle East status quo, so I figure when he raises the white flag there must be something to it. I heard more than one participant in Paris say that the Syrian population has reached the boiling point.

Syrians like Farid Ghadry want to seize the moment. Ghadry is a 51-year-old Syrian American who has helped create something called the Reform Party of Syria. He comes from an influential Syrian family that moved to Lebanon in 1964 and then emigrated to the United States in the mid-1970s. Ghadry studied finance at American University and ran his own business for a time. He also once carried a Saudi passport, until Saudi Arabia revoked his privileges in retaliation for his support for democratic reform. Now Ghadry's passion is to set up a Syrian parliament in exile.

In Paris, I heard participants challenge Ghadry. Some asked whether such a thing should be called instead an assembly or association. After all, a parliament should be elected by the people, they argued. Some participants asked how they, as exiles, can avoid legitimacy problems with countrymen back home. There were discussions about how to garner U.S. and E.U. support. At the same time, one participant told me how acutely aware everyone was that many people inside Syria distrust exiles, especially those thought to be linked to foreign governments, in particular the United States. I asked the young woman from Germany whether she believed there was broad popular support for democracy inside Syria. She paused. Terrible arguments with her brother, a regime supporter who serves in the military, had helped to precipitate her exodus a couple years ago. She told me a strong minority would support democracy right away and that a majority was waiting to be educated and ready to be convinced.

I was struck by the openness of the atmosphere, the sophistication of the discussion. If Ghadry wants to create a democratic forum for oppositionists, it looks good to me at first glance. I was struck by the pragmatism of the Californian, who kept pushing with a sense of humor for the group to stick to its agenda (no agenda was published, by the way).

It is hard to say exactly where Syria's tipping point may be. It could be the Mehlis report--the inquiry by U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. The hard-nosed investigator from Germany will publish a report, which many believe will implicate Damascus in the murder. The suicide (some claim liquidation) of Syria's interior minister Ghazi Kanaan on October 12 piques one's curiosity. Kanaan was responsible for security in Lebanon through 2003 and had just been interviewed by Mehlis. The Mehlis report is due any day, which makes me think that if Ghadry and his colleagues want a parliament in exile, maybe they had better hurry.

Jeffrey Gedmin is director of the Aspen Institute Berlin.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Readers' Comments: Coup Likely, Iraq Border

My Syrian dissident friend responds to my argument that a coup in Syria is unlikely. He says, "Not so."

Dear Mr. Landis,
Logically, and from the first look, you seem right that a coup is unlikely, but still, I think, not so deep because:

1 – Yes there is not a Syrian Musharaf until now. In addition, under Syrian conditions it cannot be proclaimed if there is. At least not now because,

2 – Although the regime is not Alawite, but based on the fact that the Army and the Mukhabarat are controlled by Alawites, they are, we want it or not more involved than the others in any potential change. Yes did they want it or not because it is a question of survival. And also,

3 - Although the Syrian corps is not like the Turkish one under Ataturk, any internal change in Syria (Unless a Bremer come) cannot be done nor continue without the Army. Something similar is happening now in Algeria. And, it is not I think a quite negative situation.

You are right also about the Syrian and specially the Damascene bourgeoisie. However, I think they are wise enough not to allow extremism and to accept an historical compromise with the Army whoever is controlling this Army. As they have done in the eighties, when at the very critical moment, they support Hafez Assad instead of supporting its enemies. So let us think more deeply about the Army Joshua because

4 – We all know that there is not a single officer in it, Alawit or not, that is not Baathist. But, where not they all communist in Russia when the change occur? Therefore, any change if it will be will come from inside the army where the Alawites and the Bathists are very predominant. I cannot say more than that.

However, think it well all of you that are interested in Syrian changes, think it very well and based only on your own interests. Because, Syria is going toward a “revolutionary situation” that in my opinion can be defined by three main conditions:

- A status of internal and external, economical, social and political crisis that is growing up in Syria each day. A situation that everybody knows. And which is becoming every day closer to its breaking point.

- The ruling group is becoming more and more unable to rule like before. Yes, it seems now that there is not an immediate internal danger facing them. But, they are feeling this potential danger and they are afraid, very afraid from all what is surrounding them. Afraid even from such a small club like the Atassi circle. Or from just some inoffensive dissidents like Aref Dalila and/or Riad Seif, much more than they are afraid from the Israelis and/or the Americans.

- The organization or the group that should lead this “coup d’etat” or “revolution” and this is the third condition, although it seems not existing yet, is becoming a must for every Syrian real patriot. However, here, everybody who wants the change should be very careful and very imaginative because…

Those who govern us, our rulers are not only barbarians. Sometimes, oh God you cannot imagine Joshua how much I wish they were just so. Unfortunately, they are much worse. Like the Empire on the time of Rome, like the German people on the time of Hitler and the Nazis, like the Russian people on the time of communism, and/or the Chinese or Korean people until now, they are generally a “fully corrupted clique” that succeeds to take the control of a civilized city. And, by means of repression, corruption, fear and demagogy they succeed neutralize it if not say to corrupt it. Accordingly, to destroy or stop for a long period, it is material and spiritual faculties to react, to resist and even to think.

No, we are not just a nation or a people facing barbarians or invaders my friend. We are in a much more difficult situation. We are a people and a nation facing disintegration as you say. And this is why we cannot face such a dangerous situation if we do not create our own new methods and use all our imagination. Here at the end, I agree with your conclusion: " Only Syrians can do that. "

A Syrian Dissident [end]

Here is note from a Republican Party member in the US who travelled to Iraq through Syria two years ago.
The US government has cited the failure to control the Iraq border as a major qualm with the Syrian government. Looking at the data, however, it seems to me that this issue has been magnified by a certain group of US policymakers seeking some sort of bizarre amusement watching Bashar al-Assad sweat like a mouse on a laboratory wheel. In reality, the US faces far more substantial challenges in Iraq than the problem of foreign fighters infiltrating through Syria.

First, some anecdotal evidence. I traveled to Iraq 2 years ago, in summer 2003, and entered the country through the Syria border. (see attached photo) I joined 5 Iraqi exiles in a GMC van that left from Saydeh Zainab in Damascus for a midnight voyage to Baghdad. When we reached the al-Walid border crossing at about 4 am, the border personnel became extremely agitated on account of me, and an Iraqi with a European passport that they suspected was fraudulent. Each of us was questioned at length. They were ready to send me back to Damascus, and tell me to go through Amman to reach Iraq. They told me that the border was officially closed and only allowed Iraqi nationals returning to their home country to pass through. The station commander was awoken for a decision. Only after a passionate appeal by our chauffeur, protecting the travelers under his care like an old-school desert caravan leader, were we permitted to exit the country (the bakhsheesh didn’t hurt either). All of that to LEAVE Syria. In my experience, even the Allenby bridge experience proved less troublesome.

After driving the several hundred feet of “No Man’s Land”, we reached the Iraqi side, which was a complete free-for-all. Iraqi personnel seemed to stamp every passport in sight (and this is to ENTER the country!) A few American soldiers cheerfully smiled and waved us through as they chewed bubblegum. No searching of bags, nothing. Granted, that was 2 years ago, I would hope that they’ve gotten more serious.

Now, let’s fast forward to today’s political climate, and look beyond the words spoken about the Syria-Iraq border. Let’s talk hard numbers.

American generals have testified before Congress that approximately 150 foreign fighters enter Iraq through Syria each month. There are now almost 150,000 American troops in Iraq. Do the math. At the rate of 150 per month, it would take 1,000 months, or 83 years, to reach parity of manpower. The NY Times front page article of today (Saturday the 15th) featured quotes from US military/intelligence personnel offering a similarly less dramatic vision of the foreign fighter problem than exists in the mainstream perception. It cited that only a single digit percentage of the insurgency is due to the foreign fighters, etc. To his credit, Dakhlallah (in the October 9 al-Jazeera interview posted on seems to have caught on and begun to make this point.

However that is not to say that the Syrians could not seal the border if they wished to. Bashar al-Assad was clever to have offered his cooperation and invited outsiders to inspect the Syrian action in the Amanpour interview. But the Mexico analogy is beginning to wear thin. The reality is that he’s silly to suggest that the border cannot be sealed. The Bush Administration is right to call his bluff on that. Why?

Again, let’s do the math. Syria just withdrew 15,000 troops from Lebanon. Spread them out across the Iraq border in 2 12 hour shifts. That’s 7,500 FTE (as we MBA consultant types would say) dispersed on the 380 mile border. 380 miles * 5,280 feet per mile = 2,000,000 feet. Divide that by 7,500 soldiers and you get one Syrian soldier every 268 feet, around the clock. That is essentially a human net.

Think about it: if you were standing on the 50 yard line at OU’s football stadium, and someone jumped off the players’ bench and tried to charge onto the field, would you be able to see him?

The next obvious question: why then, cannot we not spare 15,000 American troops to seal the same border? That’s 10% of our manpower stationed in Iraq. Is the foreign fighter problem more or less than 10% of the insurgency?

Better yet, what about the Iraqis? Without a sarcastic mention of how many Iraqi troops Rumsfeld claims have been recruited, suffice it to say that there are more than enough to protect their own country from infiltrators if that’s really the issue.

Obviously, I am oversimplifying things from a tactical military point of view. But you get the point.

In an ideal world, a three-way Iraq-Syria-US force would be deployed to seal the border. But I don’t see it happening because a certain American policy-making segment does not seem to want an improvement in the Syrian relationship. And their stooges in Iraq (Hoshyar ZUB-ari, as the most prominent example) play along every step of the way.

At this point I can reach no other conclusion, especially after hearing from well-informed sources about the manner in which the proposed night-vision goggles exchange was nixed by the Brits.

For their part, the Syrians are so impossibly bad at PR that they will probably not succeed in avoiding more of the stick on this issue, despite their proclaimed willingness to cooperate, coinciding with the mainstream media’s exploration of the real facts behind the foreign fighters’ significance.


Just for kicks, run the same calculation on the US-Mexico border. You will find that redeploying the 150,000 US troops in Iraq along the 2,000 mile Mexican frontier would yield one US soldier every 141 feet. So without the Iraq War, we’d essentially put an end to illegal immigration in America. It will be interesting to see how many of my fellow Republicans figure that out in time for the 2006 election…

Saturday, October 15, 2005

"No Deal in the Qadhafi Way," Says Syria

Ibrahim Hamidi in today's al-Hayat (15 Oct. 05) writes in an article entitled, "Damascus Denies any Deal with the US along "Qadhafi" lines, but Offers to Resume Intelligence Cooperation with Washington."

Egypt's intelligence chief, General `Amr Sulayman, secretly visited Damascus recently to try to arrange the resumption of intelligence exchanges between Syria and the US. America has not responded. This is because Syria is demanding that such exchanges take place in an "atmosphere of mutual trust." America must stop its media campaign against Syria and recognize openly that Syria is assisting it in Iraq an elsewhere.

High Syrian sources deny that Syria is contemplating a "Qadhafi-type" deal. "If they had wanted to, they could have signed such a deal two years ago," a high ranking official said. "Syria will not abandon its principles."

The Syrian government denies that Syria is implicated in the Hariri murder and says it does not fear its results. The implication is that Syria as not guilty as Libya was and will not go down Qadhafi's road.

The stand-off continues for now. Bolton's leak to journalists in London yesterday that Syria was being offered a "Qadhafi" deal could only have been meant to scuttle any understanding between the two countries. If Bolton were interested in the success of such a deal, rather than regime-change, he would have at the very least called it a Sadat deal. You have to love Bolton, America's WMD. Who is making American policy anyway? Poor Condaleezza Rice.

دمشق تنفي أي «صفقة» مع الولايات المتحدة على الطريقة الليبية
وتعرض التعاون الامني مع واشنطن

دمشق - ابراهيم حميدي الحياة - 15/10/05//
قال السفير السوري في واشنطن عماد مصطفى في اتصال هاتفي اجرته «الحياة» ان «الامور ليست مغلقة مئة في المئة» بين بلاده والولايات المتحدة، اذ يجري «انخراط» بينه وبين كتلة مهمة في الكونغرس الاميركي. واشارت مصادر سورية رفيعة الى ان دمشق «اقترحت استئناف التعاون الامني في الاتجاهين في اطار سياسي وجو من الثقة، بعد وقف الحملات الاعلامية ضد سورية»، قبل ان تشير الى ان «الحملات التصعيدية والمطالب الاميركية لا تزال قائمة».
الى ذلك، ابلغ مصدر غربي «الحياة» ان «مسؤولاً اميركياً رفيع المستوى، قال لعدد من الصحافيين امس في لندن، ان واشنطن بعثت برسالة الى دمشق تتضمن اشارات للاستعداد لعقد صفقة مشابهة للصفقة الليبية (التي تخلى العقيد معمر القذافي بموجبها عن برنامج اسلحة الدمار الشامل)، بحيث تقوم سورية بخطوات كبيرة تتضمن وقف التمرد في العراق ودعم العملية السياسية، وطرد قادة المنظمات الفلسطينية من دمشق، وتلعب دورا ايجابيا في لبنان وتتخلى عن اسلحة الدمار الشامل، في مقابل استئناف العلاقات الديبلوماسية الكاملة وتطبيع العلاقات» بين البلدين، علماً أن ادارة الرئيس جورج بوش سحبت السفيرة مارغريت سكوبي بعد يومين على اغتيال الحريري.
لكن مصادر سورية رفيعة المستوى نفت لـ «الحياة» وجود «أي صفقة» مع واشنطن، وقالت ان «الحديث عن صفقات يستهدف التشويش على الموقف السوري وللايحاء باننا مستعدون لعقد صفقات تتناقض مع مبادئنا». وقالت: «لو اردنا عقد صفقة كهذه، لكانت حصلت قبل سنوات. والكلام عن صفقة عار عن الصحة». كما ان الناطق باسم وزارة الخارجية الاميركية آدم ايرلي نفى قبل يومين «أي صفقة» مع سورية.
لكن المصادر السورية اكدت معلومات عن ان مدير الاستخبارات المصرية اللواء عمر سليمان الذي كان زار دمشق علناً قبل الانسحاب من لبنان، قام اخيراً بـ «زيارة غير» علنية لسورية، علماً ان الرئيس بشار الاسد زار القاهرة قبل نحو اسبوعين، وبعد انتهاء القاضي الالماني ميليس من الاستماع الى شهادات سبعة من المسؤولين السوريين. واشارت المصادر الى ان «تبادلا للزيارات والتعاون» حصل بين مسؤولين سوريين ومصريين. وقالت المصادر السورية «ان دمشق سلمت القاهرة تقارير مفصلة عن شهادات المسؤولين مع ميليس وعن خلفية الشاهد محمد زهير الصديق، لتأكيد التعاون السوري مع التحقيق الدولي وعدم وجود أي دليل ضد سورية» في اغتيال الحريري.
وقالت المصادر ان مصر لعبت «دوراً لاستئناف التعاون والتبادل الامني مع واشنطن»، لكن الولايات المتحدة «لم تستجب هذه الرغبة» الى الآن، علماً ان دمشق تقترح ان يكون «التعاون في الاتجاهين وفي اطار جو ثقة سياسية مع وقف الحملات الاعلامية». واعربت عن الاعتقاد بان «طرق الباب» السوري من اميركا، استند الى أسباب عدة بينها «عدم توصل ميليس الى دليل قاطع ضد سورية وبالتالي لن تحصل واشنطن على العصا الغليظة التي تريد بها الضغط على دمشق، واستمرار المشكلة الاميركية في العراق، واكتشاف الحاجة الى تعاون سورية». وقالت المصادر: «ان دمشق ليست قلقة» من التقرير المرتقب لميليس في شأن اغتيال الحريري.

"America offers to bring Syria in from the Cold," by Nick Blanford

America offers 'Gaddafi deal' to bring Syria in from the cold
By Richard Beeston, Diplomatic Editor and Nick Blanford in Beirut
The Times October 15, 2005

THE Bush Administration has offered Syria’s beleaguered President a “Gaddafi deal” to end his regime’s isolation if Damascus agrees to a long list of painful concessions.

According to senior American and Arab officials, an offer has been relayed to President Assad that could enable him to avoid the looming threat of international sanctions against his country. The matter could come to a head as early as next week when Detlev Mehlis, the head of the United Nations team investigating the murder of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese Prime Minister, is due to submit his report to Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General.

While details of that report are not yet known, it is widely expected that senior figures in the Syrian intelligence services, which until earlier this year were in control of Lebanon’s security, will be named as accomplices. The assassination was widely blamed on Damascus, and consequently relations have been badly damaged with key Syrian allies such as France and Saudi Arabia. Already strained relations with Washington have become even more fraught. Evidence of Syrian complicity could lead to international sanctions and make the country a pariah state.

“Assad is facing a tough time ahead and he has very few friends left,” said a senior Arab diplomat. “He is desperately looking for a way out of this predicament.” Mr Assad said this week that contacts had resumed between Damascus and Washington via Arab intermediaries, thought to be Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

“There has been an attempt to resume co-operation, basically through mediation, by some Arab and European states,” he told CNN. The Times has learnt that the American proposal is very specific, with at least four key demands being made of Damascus. Syria must first co-operate fully and adhere to any demands by the UN inquiry into Mr Hariri’s assassination.

If members of the Syrian regime are named as suspects they would have to be questioned and could stand trial under foreign jurisdiction.

The Syrians would also have to stop any interference in Lebanon, where they have been blamed for a series of bomb attacks against their critics, most recently May Chidiac, a television presenter who was badly injured last month when a device exploded under her car. Washington also wants Syria to halt the recruiting, funding and training of volunteers for the Iraqi insurgency, which they claim are openly operating in Syria with the connivance of the regime. They include former members of the Iraqi regime and foreign volunteers responsible for suicide car-bomb attacks.

The Bush Administration also has a long-standing demand that Syria cease its support for militant Islamic organisations such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In return America would establish full and friendly relations with Damascus, opening the way for foreign aid and investment and ensuring the regime’s survival.

Last night, a source close to the regime in Damascus confirmed that the offer had been presented by a third party in the past ten days and that the Syrians had signalled a willingness to co-operate. The Americans are convinced that if Syria was prepared to commit such a radical volte face it could transform the whole climate in the Middle East — freeing Lebanon, dealing a serious blow to the insurgency in Iraq, and opening the way for progress between Israel and Palestine.

The precedent for the offer is the deal clinched two years ago with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. His regime was isolated internationally after it was blamed for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie. After more than a decade, sanctions were lifted when Tripoli handed over two intelligence officers to stand trial in a Scottish court and paid compensation to the relatives of the victims. Full relations were restored after Washington and London concluded a secret deal with Mr Gadaffi to dismantle and turn over all his nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programmes.

The Americans have now reopened their embassy in Tripoli, US oil companies are operating in Libya and recent visitors have included Tony Blair and top British businessmen.

The main question troubling the Americans is whether the Syrian leader is strong enough and bold enough to cut a deal. There are even doubts that he is really in control of the country. Some suspect it is run by various security services in the hands of his extended family. Asef Shawkat, his brother-in-law, is head of military intelligence. Maher al-Assad, his brother, commands the presidential guard. British diplomats do not believe that the Syrian leader will take the offer, not least because it would be regarded as a huge climbdown and a betrayal of Syria’s hardline policies established by his late father, Hafez al-Assad.

Washington has made clear that if the Syrians do not co-operate, it intends to increase the pressure on the regime. One consequence of that pressure was the death this week of Ghazi Kanaan, the Syrian Interior Minister and a key witness in the UN inquiry. He was found shot dead in his office. The authorities said that he had taken his own life, but many suspect he was killed by those who feared what he might divulge from his time as head of Syrian Intelligence in Lebanon.

A Syrian source close to the ruling family predicted that Mr Assad would turn down the deal. “The regime has calculated that it has the resources to survive for quite some time even if it is isolated,” said the source. “The strategy could be to manage the conflict until external pressures ease.”

Friday, October 14, 2005

Arab Press Clippings (October 10-14, 2005)

Thanks to we have these translations from the Arab press.

Jumblatt describes relations with late Syrian interior minister

On October 13, the Lebanese Broadcasting Channel interrupted its scheduled programming to carry a live news conference with Walid Junblatt, member of the Lebanese Chamber of Deputies and leader of the Progressive Socialist Party.

Jumblatt began by saying that he needed "to give his testimony." He recounted how he came to know Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan. He said: "Ghazi Kanaan was, so to speak, from the old guard. He gave Syria a distinguished Arab and international role.

"We [also] knew him later when Syria intervened to put an end to the wars of abusive militias in Beirut. And when I say abusive militias, of course, I mean the Progressive Socialist Party and other militias that did great harm in Beirut."

Jumblatt went on to say that he knew Major-General Ghazi Kanaan for his "absolute support for national and Islamic resistance." Jumblatt said that Maj-Gen Kanaan did his best "to ease the tension between us, I mean [former Lebanese Prime Minister] Rafik Hariri and me, and the Syrian leadership. He succeeded at certain stages and failed at others."

Jumblatt went on to say that as far as he knew, Maj-Gen Kanaan did not welcome the extension of President Lahoud's term in office. Jumblatt closed by saying: "I conclude by saying if Maj-Gen Ghazi Kanaan is responsible somehow or somewhere for the assassination crime against martyr Rafik Hariri, then he did well, if I may say, by committing suicide. I say and repeat: If he is somehow responsible. All this depends on [UN chief investigator Detlev] Mehlis's report. If he felt that his dignity was insulted, then it [the suicide] was a brave act by a brave man."

Colette Khoury: Kanaan told me he was planning to commit suicide

Al Hayat, a privately owned pan-Arab newspaper, wrote on October 14 that writer Colette Khoury revealed to the newspaper that Syrian Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan told her many times that he was planning to commit suicide.

The newspaper reported that Khoury said that Kanaan mentioned his intention to commit suicide “in the presence of a number of leaders, including former Information Minister Mohammed Salman and former Popular Army Chief General Mohammed Ibrahim al-Ali.” The paper added: “Khoury said yesterday that when she told [Kanaan] that suicide was a cowardly act, the late general replied that committing suicide was a courageous move when it involved one’s dignity.” - Al Hayat, United Kingdom

Limited funeral for Kanaan; FM accuses media of contributing to his death

Al Quds Al Arabi, a Palestinian-owned independent pan-Arab newspaper, reported on October 14 that Syrian Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan was buried in the family graveyard in his hometown of Hamra, where black flags were hanging off some balconies. Witnesses said that around 1,000 relatives and friends walked behind the coffin, which was wrapped in the Syrian flag, as the General Attorney of Damascus announced that forensics and investigations revealed that Kanaan committed suicide in his office and that he shot himself through the mouth using his favorite American-made revolver.

The paper said: “Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa said that the defamation campaign launched by the media, not the government, led to the assassination of Kanaan. He continued saying that when the media uses words then they are like bullets, in reference to a contesting campaign in the Lebanese media.”

The news about Kanaan’s death was the center of attention in Lebanon, since he had been Lebanon’s effective ruler for 20 years. Speculations were numerous about the reasons of his suicide and the degree of their association to the investigations carried out by Prosecutor Detlev Mehlis or his relation with the Syrian regime, or what was said about an American-Syrian settlement over Iraq. Informed Lebanese sources gave two hypothesis over the suicide: the first said that the news broadcasted on New TV, whose source was from Damascus, led Kanaan to understand that he was a scapegoat and would be accused of corruption and involvement in the assassination of Hariri, so he committed suicide.

The second hypothesis held that the Syrian command was upset with Kanaan’s declarations to the Radio Voice of Lebanon, in which he did not defend the Syrian regime, and praised the Lebanese media and its journalists, which was very odd behavior from a Syrian, especially amid the anti-Syrian campaign being carried out currently by the Lebanese media. Kanaan was notified of the command’s anger so he took his own life.

Sources said that the death of Kanaan removes the biggest witness to the Syrian era in Lebanon, and that he was one of the biggest witnesses in the assassination case of his friend Rafik Hariri. The sources asked whether the absence will affect Mehlis’s report or whether Mehlis got what he needed from Kanaan.

It was noted that none of the significant Lebanese figures headed to Damascus to pay their respects, and that no delegation was sent. Furthermore, many observers wondered about the absence of the Syrian president, and why the coffin was not wrapped in the Syrian flag in Damascus, and why Kanaan was not given a medal despite the fact that he was one of the most important soldiers to serve Syria.

Most experts doubted the suicide story. Researcher Joseph Bahoot said that Kanaan would have been a good alternative ruler for Damascus, and that, along with his ties to the West, annoyed the Syrian command. - Al Quds Al Arabi, United Kingdom

Former Syrian army chief denies intention to meet US officials

Al Hayat reported on October 12 that: "Retired Lt-Gen Hikmat al-Shihabi, former chief of staff of the Syrian army, categorically denied his intention to 'give the US Administration information on Syria's security and armed forces.'

"The two moves follow reports that officials in the US Administration and in Lebanon had contacts with Khaddam and Al-Shihabi as part of an attempt to 'make a change in the Syrian regime.'

"In statements to Al Hayat, identical sources said that two US delegations, a security delegation and one consisting of the 'Republican Party warriors,' recently visited Damascus as part of a 'rear-channel diplomacy' after the administration of President George Bush became sure that 'there is no substitute for the Syrian regime' and after some Arab states sought to 'preserve stability' in Syria.

"High-level Syrian sources gave the Al Hayat correspondent the text of a written message signed by Al-Shihabi, in which he denies that he intends to travel to the United States to meet officials in the US Defence Department, the Pentagon.

"Al-Shihabi said in the message: 'The claims about my presence in the United States to give information on my homeland's security and armed forces are baseless.' In the same message, he said that he travelled to Paris "a few months ago for medical treatment.'

"Al-Shihabi signed the letter on October 6, the 32nd anniversary of the October war in which he participated with late President Hafez Assad. Al-Shihabi retired in July 1998." - Al Hayat, United Kingdom

Who will fill Kanaan's post in the regime?

Al Arabiya TV's website reported on October 13 that during the recent events in Damascus, observers wondered who will take Ghazi Kanaan's place within the inner circle of the Syrian regime. Al Arabiya added that observers in Damascus believe that Ghazi Kanaan's disappearance left an empty position that might appropriately be filled by Major General Mohammad Mansoura.

The website said Mansoura is considered the closest person to the late minister and also to late Syrian president Hafez Assad, and hence President Bashar Asad.

A Syrian analyst in Damascus who requested anonymity told Al Arabiya that: "Ghazi Kanaan's absence may not relate to Hariri's assassination, but it might have to do with the conflict over the authority in Syria ... and encourages powerful personalities to seize the opportunity and jump for the throne."

Smuggling prompts Syria to stop supporting energy sector

Syria will lift its support of the energy sector’s prices-including the diesel fuel, gas and electricity prices-and increase the prices of oil products to international levels, the independent Al Wasat newspaper reported on October 11.

The Syrian government has been the sole financial provider for the energy sector over the past four decades. Current annual backing of the sector reached $3.85 billion, out of a total budget of $8.67 billion, Al Wasat stated.

Moreover, smuggling of oil products constitutes a major problem to Syria, recently leading to the the killing of 12 customs officers during gunfights with individuals who were smuggling oil to Lebanon and Turkey. Official sources stated that the amount of diesel fuel smuggled per year reaches two million tons out of the seven million tons that the government imports. In other words, the government is paying $2 billion per year that goes into the smugglers’ pockets, Al Wasat concluded. - Al Wasat, Bahrain

Screening substitutes for the current Syrian regime

Al Arabiya TV's website reported on October 9 that press reports are discussing a possible American-European substitute for the ruling political regime in Syria. US foreign ministry sources spoke of their country's aspirations for a change within the Syrian regime, but not in its system.

The website reported that American parties seek substitutes for the regime in Damascus, and have launched initiatives in that matter like financing newly born Syrian parties, such as the Al-Islah party. Al Arabiya stated that French experts pointed out that France is also attempting to play a role in changing the Syrian regime. The French steps are coming as a result of UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which forced Syria's military out of Lebanon.

The website added that a high-level French source said that "Paris doesn't seek to topple the Syrian regime because it sees such a change, in Damascus or any other capital, as an internal issue that can not be imposed from the outside." The website stated that "there are now two choices for the Syrian regime; the first one is the emergence of an Iranian-Syrian coalition, or Assad's following the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in seeking help from the West ...

"Meanwhile, the Muslim brotherhood group was mentioned as a probable substitute for the political regime in Syria due to their ... [being] the most prominent political opponent of the regime," the website said. Ali Sadruddin Al Bianouni, an observer of the group, said: "The Muslim brotherhood aspires to a national substitute for the current Syrian regime, including all political parties," Al Arabiya added. - Al, Middle East

Syrian minister reacts to US official's remarks on Syrian-Iraqi border
In an October 9 interview with Al Jazeera, Syrian Information Minister Mahdi Dakhlallah responded to recent critical remarks by US Assistant Secretary of State David Welch by saying: "I believe that there is a conviction in Syria now to the effect that there is an intentional US stand towards keeping the issue of the Syrian-Iraqi border an open issue with the aim of pressuring Syria. Otherwise, how can we explain the phenomenon that the US forces are not making any effort to protect the Iraqi side of the border?

"Furthermore, how can we explain that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani speaks very positively about Syria and about Syria's positive support for Iraq, taking into consideration that he is a head of state, at a time when we hear these statements from the US side? ...

"Syria has taken all measures on the Syrian side to protect the borders. I would like to say that the issue is not related to Syria's concern about Iraq's stability and security only, but also to Syria's concern about its own national security. The danger comes from both sides. There is also infiltration into Syria from the Iraqi side, and Syria has arrested many infiltrators from Iraq, who came to wreak havoc in Syria and its security. ...

"I would like to remind the US official of what General George Casey, commander of the US forces in Iraq, said a week ago in a testimony at the US Congress. He spoke about this issue. In addition to this, the International and Strategic Studies Center in Washington has issued a study which says that the percentage of the non-Iraqi fighters in Iraq is only four per cent of the total number of fighters. I am here talking about the resistance, not about terrorism in Iraq.

"Terrorism in Iraq is a phenomenon that has come as a result of the US occupation, and it did not exist in Iraq before. One of the results of the US occupation is this terrible terrorism from which the Iraqi people are suffering. Whether we talk about Lebanon or Palestine, they [the Americans] accuse Syria of [carrying out] resistance in Palestine as if there is no Palestinian people, and accuse Syria of [carrying out] resistance in Lebanon as if there are no Lebanese people who expelled the occupiers from their land. They are talking about Iraq as if there are no Iraqi people, and as if Syria exists in all places and as if these peoples do not exist. This is illogical.

"Therefore, the issue has become clear. It is a part of the vulgar pressures on Syria. This is due to Syria's stand, which is against war, occupation and aggression in this region. This is a principled stand. Syria says that wars do not solve any problem, occupation does not solve and problem, and aggression does not solve any problem, but they all create problems. We should all achieve a real peace, not false peace, as the one we are seeing these days." - Al Jazeera, Qatar

"Damascus inaugurates first flight to Baghdad" (Al Watan)

Syria's High Wire Act

Israel's foreign minister called for regime change in Damascus. This seems to be an effort to ratchet up the rhetoric one last notch as Washington tries to get Syrian compliance on a number of issues. Bush seems to be looking for a deal, but it is very one-sided as far as preliminary reports suggest (see Nick Blanford's article in the London Times below.) The US is asking Bashar to do a Sadat, which means to bring Syria into America's fold. All the same, there is no carrot being offered Bashar. He will get a promise that Syria will not be sanctioned to death. Rather than getting a carrot, Bashar will get to avoid more painful blows from the Western stick. It will mean giving up the Baathist and Arabist package of demands and cultural icons Syria has stood for these last 40 years. I find it hard to imagine that Asad will accept this if he doesn't get something tangible and immediate in return. Sadat believed he would get the Sinai - which he did eventually get. He was also going to get investment, which was slow in coming. But he did eventually get two billion dollars a year in American aid, once he signed Camp David.

Syria has few of Egypt's strategic assets to bargain with. Asad is not Sadat, and Bush is not Carter, or even Nixon. But the Asad regime is far from crumbling in Syria. It is much harder today for the West to impose real sanctions than it was even a decade ago. Russia, India, and China can be real sanction breakers, not to mention the many other countries of the world which have been industrializing so rapidly over the last 10 years.

The elimination of Ghazi Kanaan, however, means the US has fewer possible choices in Syria. It is also not clear that Europe, or even America, will want to impose harsh sanctions on Syria. There is not much up-side in doing that. We will see if Bashar can get Bush to sweeten the pot a little. It is a high-wire act.

Shalom: Syria 'Up to its Neck' in Terror, Regime Change in World's Interest

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Friday it was in the world's interest to have a regime change in Syria, which he accused of being "up to its neck" in terror.
"Our interest is to tell the world that Syria is implicated up to its neck in terrorism, a terrorism that is directed not just against Israel but against coalition forces in Iraq," he told public radio.

"And this is why it is in the interest of the entire world that there is another state in Syria, one that is freer and more democratic," said Shalom.

The front-page story Friday of Israel's leading Yediot Aharonot daily quoted U.S. officials as saying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime was near collapse in the countdown to the publication of the U.N. report into the assassination of ex-Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri.

Asked whether he believed that the Assad regime was nearing its end, Shalom said only time would tell.

"The future will tell us if this regime is close to the end or not. But there is no doubt that Assad has achieved something amazing: uniting the whole world against Syria," said Israel's top diplomat.

Shalom stressed that Israel would avoid becoming embroiled in the political turmoil of its northern neighbor.

"Israel has no intention of getting involved in what is happening over there as the entire international community is already on the case."(AFP)
Bush: 'Assad Must Respect Lebanon's Democracy Irrespective of Mehlis Verdict'
The United States is expecting many changes in Syria's conduct regardless of whether or not a U.N. investigation implicates the Syrians in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, President Bush has said.
"I don't want to prejudge the report that's coming out," Bush told reporters Wednesday.

Nevertheless, he said, "we have a lot of expectations for Syria beyond just the Mehlis report."

After a session with Poland's retiring president Aleksander Kwasniewski at the White House, Bush was asked about the consequences for Syria should the Mehlis report link its officials to Hariri's death. The U.N. Security Council is to discuss the report Oct. 25.

"I think it's very important for Syria to understand that the free world respects Lebanese democracy and expects Syria to honor that democracy," Bush said.

"You know, it's one thing to have been asked to remove troops and all intelligence services. Now the world wants for, expects Syria to honor the democracy in the country of Lebanon."

The question arose because of the suicide in Damascus Wednesday of Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan, 63, who was Syria's security chief in Lebanon for almost 20 years and reportedly was questioned by Mehlis.

While awaiting the Mehlis report, Bush said, "we're continuing to work with friends and allies to send a clear message to the Assad government there are expectations involved for countries that want to be accepted in the international community."

The second demand the United States has of Syria, Bush said, is "to do everything in her power to shut down the transshipment of suiciders and killers into Iraq. We expect Syria to be a good neighbor to Iraq."

U.S. officials say many of the foreigners who have joined the Iraq insurgency at least pass through Syria en route to the Iraqi battleground, even flying into the Damascus airport before making the journey east. Syrian President Bashar Assad's government contends its border is too permeable to seal effectively.

Bush also said Syria must not "agitate killers in the Palestinian territory."

"We're making good progress toward peace in the Holy Land," he said, "but one of the areas of concern is that foreign countries, such as Syria, might try to disrupt the peace process through encouraging terrorist activity."

Several Palestinian groups have headquarters in Damascus or elsewhere in Syria.(AP-Naharnet)
Cornered in Damascus
New York Times Editorial
Published: October 15, 2005
Three and a half decades of regional troublemaking and domestic misrule finally seem to be catching up with the Assad family dictatorship in Syria. The political atmosphere in Damascus is crackling with tension in anticipation of next week's United Nations report on possible Syrian involvement in the assassination of Rafik Hariri, Lebanon's former prime minister, last February. Domestic discontent is seething, and deadly power struggles have already broken out in the dictatorship's inner circles. President Bashar al-Assad is discovering that he has thoroughly alienated other Arab rulers as he faces mounting pressure from the United States and France.

There is a real opening here for effective, concerted diplomatic action that could force long-overdue political change in Syria - if President Bush rejects the counsel of neoconservative advisers who have learned nothing from Iraq and now dream of overthrowing Mr. Assad with unilateral force.

Entrenched Arab rulers - like Egypt's perennial president, Hosni Mubarak, and Saudi Arabia's royal family, and newer ones, like the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas - are struggling to calm regional tensions and adapt to growing demands for change. Mr. Assad, however, has not only failed to renovate Syria's government but has also promoted instability in neighboring lands.

Despite withdrawing its troops from Lebanon this year, Syria still meddles there and continues to sponsor Hezbollah. Damascus also cooperates with the Palestinian rejectionists out to thwart Mr. Abbas's policies. Washington insists that Mr. Assad has opened Syria's borders to armed Iraqi insurgents.

In a few days, the world should have a clearer idea about whether, as many suspect, Damascus ordered the murder of Mr. Hariri, an enormously popular and respected Sunni Arab businessman. U.N. investigators have interviewed senior Syrian officials, including Damascus's top man in Lebanon for two decades, Ghazi Kanaan. Mr. Kanaan, the interior minister, was found dead in his office on Wednesday with a seemingly self-inflicted gunshot wound.

What is already clear is that the political stirrings in the streets of Beirut sparked by Mr. Hariri's murder have begun to reach Damascus. They have shattered the silence of resignation and fear that has sheltered the Assad regime and its Lebanese proxies.

The Lebanese have had to reclaim and revitalize their democratic political institutions. Any democratic transition in Syria will have to start from scratch, but that is no reason to postpone the inevitable.

The international community must stand united in its determination to get to the bottom of the Hariri murder and to put as much diplomatic pressure as necessary on Syria to change its ways and end its destructive regional meddling.
Karl Vick of the Washington Post has an excellent story on the changing nature of the Kurdish question in the region due to the rise of an independent Kurdistan in Iraq. Here is the Syria part. The whole story is worth a read. Wary Eyes Cast on Iraqi Kurds
Neighboring Nations Fear Consequences if Charter Passes
Saturday, October 15, 2005; A16

ISTANBUL -- The proposed Iraqi constitution that would enshrine a measure of independence for the country's ethnic Kurds is viewed with apprehension by three neighbors already struggling to accommodate the aspirations of their own Kurdish populations....

In Syria, where Kurds account for about 9 percent of the population of 18 million, the north of the country has been tense since rioting broke out in several Kurdish cities in March 2004. The unrest, which left at least 30 dead after government troops opened fire, began at a soccer game where Kurds' chants of "George Bush!" were answered by Arabs' chants of "Long live Saddam Hussein!"

"The Kurds were clearly emboldened by what was happening in Iraq," said Joshua Landis, a University of Oklahoma historian who is in Syria as a Fulbright scholar. He noted that the soccer game occurred just after Washington endorsed Iraqi laws that gave Kurds veto power over a new constitution.

"In a sense, this just changed the whole environment among the Kurds, because it was seen as the U.S. endorsing Kurdish independence," Landis said.

In the aftermath of the unrest, Syrian security forces clamped down on travel by outsiders to Kurdish areas. But Damascus also began to invest there and even floated the possibility of restoring full citizenship to some 300,000 Kurds stripped of that status decades earlier.

Analysts said the gesture stalled amid fears that Kurds would form an alliance with other groups opposing the Baathist rule of President Bashar Assad. The intrigues grew with the murder last May of a prominent Kurdish sheik, Mashuq Khasnawi, who had openly solicited alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood, an Arab group with roots in political Islam that is banned in Syria.

A government spokeswoman said Syria had no official comment on Iraq's proposed constitution...

Is a US-Syrian Deal in the Offing?

A few reporters called today to ask if I had heard anything about a purported US-Syrian deal. Their editors wanted them to get the story. Evidently Mr. B. - yes, the one who now works for the UN - has leaked that the US is extending Bashar al-Asad a deal. Mr. B. is the man who insisted Syria had taken in Saddam's WMD long after the US investigation team had determined there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. He lied about Syria being a part of Khan's Pakistani nuclear club and insisted Syria was pushing forward with a secret nuclear plan. He never tired of saying Syria had training camps for mujahidiin.

Why is he leaking this story? One can only guess. Certainly, Mr. B is that last person who wants to see a US-Syria deal go through. Perhaps one is in the works? Perhaps some in Washington want to offer Syria a deal, but it is only in the discussion phase? The way to make sure it doesn't happen is to give advanced warning to those who would scuttle it.

One of Washington diplomats’ mistakes is to always preface the notion of such a deal with the word "Qadhafi," as in "a Qadhafi-like deal." Qadhafi's name is mud in Damascus. He long ago renounced Arabism in order to adopt pan-Africanism. Then he dropped that as well. For Qadhafi, his identity was like his hats. It changed with his mood. If Washington wants to make a deal with Syria, it will have to allow Asad to finesse the Arabism question. He cannot renounce Arabism. It is at the heart of Syrian identity. Even if Asad is prepared to give up many of his regional cards - and I suppose he is - he will not be able to do a Qadhafi and renounce Baathism or Arabism. Syria is not ready to embrace Syrianism, unfortunately. No Syrian president, no mater what regime he belongs to will be able to do that for some years. Syrians were raised on Arabism. Even those Syrians raised in the 1950s before the Baath came to power. When France withdrew its troops from Syria in 1946, President Quwatli in his great speech announced that he would never raise the flag of Syria above that of the Arab nation. If Washington asks Bashar to announce something along those lines as part of a deal, it will be very hard to get an agreement. Certainly, Washington should not use the qualifier, "Qadhafi", when discussing a deal.

Ed Walker of the Middle East Institute has an article decrying the possibility of a US-Syria deal over the Mehlis report.

I returned to Damascus today and dropped in on my mother-in-law, the source of much wisdom and insight into things Syrian. She was distressed by the Kanaan suicide. He represented the last of her and my father-in-law's generation of Alawi officers in the government. His end was a stark reminder of how things have changed, and not for the better. She saw him as a man who had served his country well. She was inclined to take Ghazi at his word when he said to Lebanon's "New TV" that he had kept Lebanon united and thereby fulfilled his duty to Lebanon and Syria. When I asked her about his taking money from Hariri and others, she was willing to dismiss this as the nature of politics in Lebanon under occupation. "They gave and they took." But she compared Kanaan favorably to many others, saying he did not leave messes and a bad smell behind him. "We never heard about his children making trouble, like some others," who she quickly named to make her point. "He worked for Syria. It is sad to see anyone meet his end like this." I imagine many other Syrians are feeling the same. Ghazi's suicide is yet another reminder that all is not well in Syria and that the younger generation will be hard put to manage the affairs of state.

Both Michael Young and Tony Badran take their whacks at Kanaan.

Here is Nick Blanford's story in the Monitor. We shared a wonderful dinner cooked by Kate Seelye at her elegant flat in Gimayze the night before he wrote this - Chicken Marbailla, a sumptuous salad with walnuts and other delights mixed in and plenty of good wine. Paul Salem, my old Harvard classmate, Kim Ghattas of BBC, and Ferry Beiderman of the FT were also there to add ribaldry.

A top Syrian minister commits suicide days before UN report
By Nicholas Blanford | The Christian Science Monitor
from the October 13, 2005 edition

BEIRUT – The Syrian general who effectively ran Lebanon for 20 years was found dead Wednesday morning in Damascus, just nine days before the release of a potentially explosive United Nations report that could implicate senior Syrian officials in the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri last February.

The Syrian government said that Ghazi Kenaan, 63, the interior minister and former head of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon, committed suicide in his office in central Damascus.

"The relevant agencies are investigating," according to a statement published by Syria's official news agency (SANA).

Gen. Kenaan's death is a stunning development as the UN-backed investigation into the killing of Mr. Hariri reaches a nail-biting climax.

"It's certainly related to the Hariri inquiry and absolutely will have an impact because a major witness has disappeared," says Marwan Hamade, Lebanese minister of telecommunications and a close friend of the slain premier who narrowly survived an assassination attempt a year ago.

Aside from the connection to the Hariri investigation, Kenaan was a powerful figure from the Alawite community, an off-shoot of Shiite Islam which forms the backbone of the Baathist regime in Syria. As such, some analysts say that the wily and experienced general was a potential candidate to replace Syria's youthful President Bashar al-Assad, especially as he may well have been considered an acceptable figure in American eyes.

"Washington has been talking about the adults taking over from the children, and Kenaan was one of the last of the so-called Old Guard still left. He was considered a real force," says Joshua Landis, a history professor at the University of Oklahoma presently based in Damascus and author of the influential weblog.

"It's hard to believe that Kenaan would commit suicide," adds Landis. "He was an active hardworking man who saw many hard times in his life and overcame them."

Detlev Mehlis, a German prosecutor, and his 100-strong team of investigators and technicians have spent four months doggedly tracking Hariri's killers, and interviewing hundreds of people, including three weeks ago Kenaan and other key Syrian officials involved with Lebanon. The findings of the investigation are to be submitted to the UN Security Council next week amid wide speculation that Syria will be held responsible.

Damascus, however, already under intense pressure from the United States over Iraq, insists it had nothing to do with the Feb. 14 bombing in central Beirut that killed Hariri and 19 others. This assassination provoked massive anti-Syrian demonstrations in Beirut which, combined with unrelenting international pressure, led to Syria's disengagement from Lebanon in April.

What will the UN report reveal?

The Lebanese media has been agog with speculation over the results of the report. On Tuesday night, Lebanon's New TV broadcast allegations that General Kenaan had admitted to Mr. Mehlis that he had amassed millions of dollars during "my reign of Lebanon."

"[Hariri] had at the time given me a $10 million check," New TV quoted Kenaan as saying in his testimony to the UN investigators. "We were making money from [Hariri] so how could we possibly kill him and close the flow of his riches?"

On Wednesday morning, Kenaan spoke to the Voice of Lebanon radio station to refute the allegations aired the previous evening.

'Last statement'

"My testimony [to the UN investigators] was to shed light on an era during which we served Lebanon," he said. "Sadly, some media outlets have reported lies to mislead public opinion. I want to make clear that our relation with our Lebanese brothers in Lebanon was based on love and mutual respect."

He ended his comment by saying "I think this is the last statement I might give."

His body was found three hours later.

Kenaan, who headed Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon from 1982 to 2002, possessed a ruthless acumen which helped him confront the multiple challenges facing Syria in the war-torn Lebanon of the 1980s, successfully thwarting the ambitions of both the United States and Israel.

From his headquarters in the town of Anjar near the Syrian border, observers say Kenaan skillfully cajoled, threatened, and manipulated Lebanese politicians to ensure the interests of Syria were safeguarded.

He had established a good rapport with Hariri, the billionaire construction tycoon who as prime minister in the 1990s spearheaded Lebanon's postwar reconstruction drive.
Here is a good Newsweek story.

Dangers in Damascus
By Michael Hirsh and Kevin Peraino: Newsweek | Oct 17 '05
Push to Shove: If Assad goes, what comes next?

For a Syrian, Samir Nashar is close to being a dream democrat. He's liberal, secular, rich—and brazenly outspoken. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has "lost his credibility," Nashar boldly told a NEWSWEEK reporter who visited him recently at his home in Aleppo. Three months ago, Nashar and six friends decided to form a political group called the Alliance of Free Nationalists. Yet even Nashar says that his tiny democracy movement can barely muster support. The group is "still waiting for a legitimate party law," he says, and most Syrians are too scared of the secret police to push for it.

But if Syrian democrats like Nashar were empowered, more radical elements might be too, and that could be a nightmare for Washington. "You might get what you wish for. But not quite what you wish for," said one diplomat in Damascus who requested anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities. The prospect of regime change in Syria worries even Israel, Syria's longtime enemy. If al-Assad's rigidly secular regime were toppled, the nation's mosaic of competing sects and ethnicities could explode into conflict. Islamist radicals—including a group called Soldiers of the Levant—are already gaining influence in Syria, where they were once ruthlessly crushed. This comes as Qaeda-linked groups are trying to spread the jihadist contagion regionally, according to an alleged letter from Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri last week.

Critics say that the Bush administration isn't encouraging Syria's democrats just now—but neither is it willing to work with Syria's dictator. And in the absence of any cooperation between governments, jihadists are moving across Syria's 310-mile border with Iraq to join the insurgency. Imad Moustapha, the Syrian ambassador to Washington, told NEWSWEEK that Damascus ended all security and intelligence cooperation with America several months ago, and it has not resumed.

Why? The ambassador says that while Damascus is still detaining jihadists on its own, it got "fed up" with the Bush administration's public al-Assad bashing, even after Washington had privately lauded Syria for handing over Saddam's half brother, Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hasan, earlier in the year. Moustapha also confirmed an account from a U.S. intel official who said Damascus was angered when Washington exposed one of its operatives. "We are willing to re-engage the moment you want—but on one condition," Moustapha says. "You have to acknowledge that we are helping."

That's not likely to happen. While U.S. officials stop short of accusing al-Assad of actively aiding the insurgency, they say he has permitted jihadist transit and training camps to exist in the open. After the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, warned last month that "time is running out on Damascus," U.S. officials even debated launching military strikes inside the Syrian border against the insurgency. But at an Oct. 1 "principals" meeting, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice successfully opposed such a move, according to two U.S. government sources who are not authorized to speak on the record. Rice argued that diplomatic isolation is working against al-Assad, especially on the eve of a U.N. report that may blame Syria for the murder of Lebanese politician Rafik Hariri.

The goal seems to be to "get [the regime] by the throat, and then really squeeze," says Josh Landis, a Fulbright scholar in Damascus who runs an influential blog called Maybe it's working: diplomats in Damascus say they've seen signs in recent months that al-Assad is trying to police Syria's southern border better.

But Moustapha says Syria could do much more if intelligence was shared as it once was. Some U.S. intel officials agree. They say that valuable cooperation is being sacrificed at a critical moment when Iraqis are to vote on a new government and insurgents seek to undermine that effort. "We won't take yes for an answer from Damascus," says one intel official who declined to be identified because his work is classified. In the last few years before contacts were cut off, he says, Syrian intelligence helped avert two major attacks on U.S. targets, including a Navy base in Bahrain. U.S. pressure, he adds, may be "radicalizing the country." That is one risk, perhaps, of engaging with no one in Syria—neither dictators nor democrats.
US ‘seeks new Syrian leader' as pressure mounts By Guy Dinmore in Washington
Financial Times: October 9 2005
As it steps up pressure on Damascus, the US is actively seeking an alternative who would take over from President Bashar al-Assad, according to sources close to the Bush administration.

Washington has consulted its allies in an inter-agency search co-ordinated by Stephen Hadley, the president's national security adviser. The US is also said to be considering military strikes on the Syrian border in response to its alleged support for Iraqi insurgents.

“They are tasking inside and outside the administration with finding an alternative. They would like to find someone to give them a soft landing,” said a former official who asked not to be named. “They would probably accept a military figure but it would be very hard to identify someone to step in and work with the US.”

A US official in Washington said policy was aimed at “behaviour change”, not “regime change”.

In Cairo on Sunday David Welch, a senior State Department official, spoke of US concerns over Syria's “interference” in Iraq, Lebanon and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “These are very, very difficult issues, and we would ask the Syrian government not to interfere in such matters.

“It appears they are not listening and it seems that this behaviour is not changing,” Mr Welch told reporters after meeting Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president.

President George W. Bush, in an important speech last week on the war on terror and the ideology of Islamic radicalism, denounced Syria and Iran as “outlaw regimes” that acted as “allies of convenience” to the militants.

The US, Mr Bush said, would not make a distinction between those who committed acts of terrorism and those that supported them. Syria and Iran “deserve no patience from the victims of terror”. Flynt Leverett, analyst at the Brookings Institution think-tank, believes the Bush administration is looking at mounting cross-border military operations into Syria.

He said that the objective was to put pressure on the regime and get the message to Syrians inside or out-side the government that it was time to “dump” Mr Assad.

A US official told the FT last week Syria had made the “unwise choice” of “allowing its territory to be part of the Iraqi battlefield”.

Bashar's CNN Speech

Source: 10/president_bashar_al.htm Damascus , Oct.12 ( SANA )

President Bashar al-Assad Wednesday morning gave a comprehensive speech to the US CNN TV station. The following is the full story of the interview made by CNN’s Journalist Christiane Amanpour.

Ms Amanpour: Welcome to Damascus , Syria where President Bashar al- Asad is joining us in his first major television interview; certainly his first US television interview. And it comes at a time of increased heightened tension between the US and Syria and potentially more tension between Syria and its regional neighbors with the impending publication of the UN investigation into the murder of Rafik al Hariri, the Former Lebanese Prime Minister. Joining us to talk about all this is President Bashar al-Assad.

Mr. President: You are most welcome in Syria.

Ms Amanpour: The United States is extremely angry with you and your government and accuses you of facilitating, providing safehaven and now actively supporting the insurgency in Iraq . What are you going to do to stop doing all that, to stop allowing the insurgents into Iraq ?

Mr. President: I wouldn’t say this is true. It’s completely wrong. You have many aspects of the problem. The first aspect is that no country can control its borders completely. An example is the border between the United States and Mexico ; and many American officials told me that they cannot control the borders with Mexico but they end up saying you should control your borders with Iraq . This is impossible; and I told Mr. Powell the first time we met after the war that it is impossible to control the border and we asked for some technical support. But, anyway, we have taken many steps to control our border, as I said not completely, but we have taken many steps, and we would like to invite any international delegation or from the United States to come and see our borders, to see the steps we have taken and to look to the other side to see nothing. There is nobody on the other side, neither Americans nor Iraqis.

Ms Amanpour: And yet, everybody I talked to on the ground in Iraq say that the bulk of the foreign insurgents or Iraqi insurgents are coming from Syria . Why cannot your forces go house to house? Why cannot you actively stop this, close it down?

Mr. President: I said it’s impossible for any country to stop it, and many officials said that the number is between 1000 and 3000 insurgents or, as they call them, terrorist. The chaos in Iraq is the reason for the trouble not the border. We should be very frank about this. The problem is a political problem, not the border with Syria . When there is chaos, it is fertile soil for terrorist. This is the problem.

Ms Amanpour: Can I just get your view on the insurgency? Do you agree it’s a bad thing? Would you like to see the insurgency stop?

Mr. President: Regardless of what the United States wants, our interest as Syria is to have a stable Iraq and when you have insurgency or terrorism or any thing like there will be more chaos, there will be a fragmented Iraq. That means affecting Syria directly. This is contagious. So, from our point of view we should help the Iraqis be stable, we should differentiate between the insurgency and the Iraqis who fight the American and British troops. This is something different. I am talking about the people who kill the Iraqis, those whom we call terrorists. We are against them completely.

Ms Amanpour: The US, I believe it was Deputy Secretary of State Armitrage, about a year ago, came and gave you a list of names of people they suspect as being leaders of the Iraqi insurgency here in Syria. Why did you not round them up?

Mr. President: We only found one; and we told them we found one; and he left Syria and went to Iraq and was captured in Iraq by the Iraqi forces. So we only found one. Actually they don’t have accurate information.

Ms Amanpour: And was that the half brother of Saddam Hussein?

Mr. President: Yes, he was that only one found in Syria and nobody else.

Ms Amanpour: Why have you stopped, according to your Ambassador in Washington , intelligence cooperation with the United States ?

Mr. President: You cannot have intelligence cooperation while having adverse political results and more attacks against Syria on the part of the American Administration. Second, as a result of the lack of knowledge and analysis on the part of American intelligence services, in many cases this intelligence cooperation made a negative impact on Syria ’s interests and we lost confidence as intelligence services so we stopped cooperation. But there have been attempts to resume cooperation recently through Arab and foreign mediators. We said we don’t have any objection provided that there is a third party. These Arab and non-Arab mediators asked the Americans about what they want from Syria and so far we haven’t received an answer.

Ms Amanpour: What is your condition for helping the United States, and are you prepared to help the United States ?

Mr. President: You mean in Iraq ?

Ms Amanpour: Yes

Mr. President: Definitely. We don’t have any problem, and we said that publicly. They talk about a stable Iraq and we have a direct interest in a stable Iraq . They talk about a unified Iraq , we have a direct interest in a unified Iraq . They talk about supporting the political process, we have an interest in that because that will help build stability. So there are no differences. We don’t know what they want. I think they don’t know what they want.

Ms Amanpour: Well, what they want is for the insurgency to be closed down. Can I ask you: there is a lot of talk about potentially the United State bombing safehavens and insurgent strongholds inside Syria . Has that happened?

Mr. President: Never.

Ms Amanpour: If it does happen, would you consider that a hostile act and would you retaliate?

Mr. President: We will deal with each case when it happens. We cannot say now how we are going to deal with every case. It is difficult for me to answer a hypothetical question now. But they will not find such a stronghold in Syria to bomb. We don’t have any camps and we have been fighting such terrorism since the 1970s, and recently we had incidents, clashes between security forces and these terrorists in Syria . This is a general situation caused by the chaos in Iraq .

Ms Amanpour: Mr. President, you know the rhetoric of regime change is headed towards you from the United States . They are actively looking for a new Syrian leader. They are granting visas and visits to Syrian opposition politicians. They are talking about isolating you diplomatically and perhaps a coup de tate, your regime crumpling. What are you thinking about that?

Mr. President: I feel very confident for one reason: I was made in Syria and wasn’t made in the United States . So I am not worried. This is a Syrian decision and should be taken by the Syrian people and nobody else in this world. So we don’t discuss in Syria . I wouldn’t care about any other opinion, and wouldn’t put any other opinion ahead of the Syrian people’s opinion regarding this issue.

Ms Amanpour: What would happen, do you think, if there was an alternative to you, and who is the alternative to you?

Mr. President: It could be any patriotic Syrian, and we have a lot. I am not the only person who is eligible to be President. I don’t have any problem with that. But no Syrian would be allowed to be President if he is made outside our borders. This is a Syrian principle.

Ms Amanpour: The Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said if not regime change then behavior change. They want you to change the behavior of the Syrian government. One of these issues is the Iraq insurgency and she wondered whether the Syrian government is smart enough to take that course.

Mr. President: They didn’t say in what direction should we change our behavior, to do what? They only talk about the border which is not true. Can you sum the behavior of a country in a border issue which is trivial, which is not the real problem. The real problem is: what about the peace process in our region? This is the problem. We are interested in making peace and they are not interested. This administration is not interested in making peace. We are interested in a more stable Iraq . They only talk about a stable Iraq but the mistakes they make everyday give the opposite result. This is the difference between Syria and the United States . So should we support more mistakes? This is the question. They should be more specific.

Ms Amanpour: We are going to take a short break and when we return will talk more about the increasing isolation of Syria .

Ms Amanpour: Welcome back as we continue our conversation with President Bashar al-Asad of Syria .

Mr. President it is not just with the United States that you are having trouble right now. It is potentially with the whole world. As you know in two weeks the UN investigation into the assassination of Rafik al Hariri will be published and there are well informed US sources who say Syria will be implicated. Are you prepared for the isolation and the pressure that will be put on Syria if that report says that either officials or very high ranking officials here are responsible?

Mr. President: You said if. So, we are not isolated so far. We have very good relations with the whole of the world and I think most countries know that Syria is not involved in that crime for two reasons. The first reason is that it goes against our principles. The second reason is that it goes against our interests. And from another perspective, Rafik al-Hariri was supportive of the Syrian role in Lebanon . He was never against Syria . So there is no logic in involving Syria or putting Syria ’s name to this crime. So far we are very confident. We received the investigation committee two weeks ago. We were very cooperative and we are more confident after those interviews they made in Syria that we are completely innocent, that Syria has nothing to do with this crime

Ms Amanpour: And yet you obviously heard the informed speculation that Syria could be implicated. If it is implicated and if the names of high level or any Syrian officials are provided as suspects, will you hand them over to an international trial?

Mr. President: In this respect if there is a Syrian person implicated, under Syrian law this person is a traitor and should be punished by the maximum penalty. This is treason, and it’s natural for us to try him or for him to be tried anywhere else in the world. But this is a different issue. I am talking about our confidence that Syria is not implicated and at the same time so far there is no evidence that Syria is implicated. We are satisfied with this. There is no material evidence.

Ms Amanpour: So let me get it straight; again if Syrians are implicated, you will hand them over for international trial?

Mr. President: If they are implicated they should be punished internationally, in Syria or whatever. If they are not punished internationally they will be punished in Syria .

Ms Amanpour: Mr. President, as I said, people believe that Syria is responsible. I want to know whether you could have ordered this assassination?

Mr. President: This is against our principles and my principles, and I would never do such a thing in my life. What do we achieve? I think what happened targeted Syria , targeted our reputation, our relations with the Lebanese, our relations with many countries in the world. It is impossible.

Ms Amanpour: If a Syrian or many Syrians are implicated, is it possible that such a crime could have taken place by Syrian officials without your knowledge?

Mr. President: I don’t think so. If that happened it would be treason.

Ms Amanpour: How did you first hear about the assassination?

Mr. President: From the news. I was in my office.

Ms Amanpour: As you know, because you have read it, and we have read it, there are witnesses who have said that during one of Mr Hariri’s last visits to Damascus he was threatened by you unless he supported the extension of the current President Emile Lahoud who is friendly to Syria. Did you threaten him Sir?

Mr. President: This is another illegal presumption. It is not my nature to threaten anybody. I am a very quiet person, I am very frank, but I wouldn’t threaten anyone. Second, you said I threatened him for the extension and they say I threatened him then the Syrians killed him. So why kill him if he did what Syria wanted. He didn’t do anything against Syria . If we wanted the extension, he helped Syria achieve the extension. So why harm him or kill him. There is no logic. But anyway I didn’t do it and would never do it.

Ms Amanpour: You know, Mr. Hariri’s son Sa’ad led a victorious democratic coalition to victory in the last elections in Lebanon, and yet he is now living in Paris; and he said he fears an assassination plot against him. Does Mr. Sa’ad al-Hariri or any people, even those who speak out against Syria in Lebanon , journalists and others, do they have anything to fear from you?

Mr. President: No, definitely not from Syria . Never. We don’t have this history of assassination in Syria . So, they don’t have to worry. The question is what information they had and who passed this information to them, that they are under threat. This is the question. That is what happened with Mr Hariri two days before he was killed, we read in the newspapers, that more than one western official told him be careful they are planning to kill you. So what plan? We should know. Maybe someone passed the same information to this person.

Ms Amanpour: There are some people Sir who say that you are the President but maybe you are not fully in charge of those aspects. Maybe you are not in the loop. Is that possible?

Mr. President: But at the same time they say I am a dictator. So they should chose. You cannot be a dictator and not be in control. So if you are a dictator you are in full control, and if you are not in control you cannot be a dictator. Actually I am not the first one and I am not the second one. I have my authority by the Syrian constitution, but at the same time it is not enough to have authority. It is very important to have dialogue with the widest circle of people you can to take your decision; and this is the way I work.

Ms Amanpour: What would you envision for two week from now. This report is going to come out. If the worst case scenario for Syria is in that report, in other words, Syria is to blame, what is going to happen to this country? There will be sanctions. Your country will be increasingly isolated. How will the country survive?

Mr. President: That depends on the evidence. If there is any evidence we will support any action. This is for sure. If it is just a political game and there is no evidence and they are looking for a reason to isolate Syria , what would they achieve if they isolate Syria ? Nothing. What can they do about many issues in the Middle East that Syria is essential to solving. Nothing. We are essential. They cannot isolate Syria . Isolating Syria is isolating themselves from many issues in the Middle East . So we are not worried about that. We are worried about a political game or politicizing the report. We are very confident that if the report is professional it will say that Syria is not involved. Otherwise we think there must be political pressure on the report to give a different result and accuse Syria without any evidence. That is what we are worried about.

Ms Amanpour: We are going to take another short break and when we come back we are going to talk about the regional issues, Syria and Israel and the possibility of peace there and reform here at home after the break.

Ms Amanpour: Welcome back. Jointing us again is Bashar al-Asad President of Syria . You have talked about regional issues. Back in 2000 there was a window of opportunity for potential peace between Syria and Israel . The window closed and for five and a half long years there doesn’t seem to be another opportunity. What does it take to make peace between you and Israel ?

Mr. President: Let me start from the memories of President Clinton who mentioned the round in Shepherd’s Town, and said that Syria was ready to make peace and it was forthcoming towards peace but Barrack couldn’t deliver. So we were ready in 2000, were ready in 1991 when the peace process was launched in Madrid and we are still ready. So we haven’t changed as Syria . What changed are two things: the administration in the United States has changed and the government in Israel has changed. The administration in the United States as I heard from them, maybe from Mr. Powell, and as many Arab and European officials heard from the American administration and some of them heard from President Bush that the peace process is not their priority. At the same time we don’t think this government in Israel is serious about the peace process. So in the near future we don’t see any hope but in the long term there must be peace. There is no other option.

Ms Amanpour: Every time this issue comes up we need to ask about the Palestinian rejectionists, the so-called radical Palestinians who don’t believe in the peace process and who have been blamed for terrorism, and who have bases here. Are you going to close them down?

Mr. President: In Syria we have half a million Palestinians and they have 8 political organizations. They have been here for decades, and we have another two who were expelled from the Palestinian territories and came to Syria . They are not allowed to go back to their territories. The normal thing is that they should go back to their country. In Syria all these organizations can work on a political basis. They cannot do anything else. They meet with the Palestinian people in Syria , they express their political position. Regarding the two organizations, they don’t have members in Syria . The don’t have an organization. They don’t have offices. There are a few leaders who were expelled from their territories and they came to Syria . So they don’t have offices. They have houses and they meet with people. So, when they ask us to close them down what do we close? Their houses? They will have other houses and meet with people because they live a normal life, but they don’t do any action in the Palestinian territories from Syria .

Ms Amanpour: I will ask about reform here in Syria . When you became President tragically because of the death of your brother, you became almost the accidental President of Syria . And people had huge hope because you were young, you were a new face, there was a moment when there was a Damascus Spring flowering, reform, a little bit of democratic progress, and all came to a grinding halt. Now you started a little bit again after the party congress in the summer. And yet people say it is still not enough. We cannot go in slow motion now because the pressures on us are so intense. What is your plan for this?

Mr. President: Let met comment on the accidental president term. I cannot accept it because it means that we ignore the opinion of the Syrian people who made me president. So it wasn’t accidental, it was through their will. Second, when you ask about my plan you should ask me first do I have all the requirements? No, we don’t have. Because we have many factors, internal and external. Internal factors are your will, your history, your tradition, your goals and many other factors. The external factors are the peace process, stability in the region, the support that you get from developed countries in reforming your country. When you say reform it is not only political reform, it is political, economic, technical and all the other aspects of reform. So we don’t control all these aspects. That is why we have a lot of obstacles to go forward. When we talk about the speed regarding this plan, it is the matter of what car you have. You cannot go very fast in an old car. You need a new car. What pillars do you have? We should put pillars when we have reform. These pillars constitute the base when you have a building up in the space, if it is not strong enough it will fall. So these pillars are related to our history and the other factors that I mentioned.

Ms Amanpour: But are you committed to it?

Mr. President: Definitely. We are not perfect, nobody is perfect. We are going steadily and consistently. Maybe not very fast but we are consistent. We are committed, not only the government, but the majority of the people support this process. But we still have a long way to go. That doesn’t mean that we haven’t done anything. We have done a lot. We have recently started studying a modern multi- party law. We had a number of political parties but we are looking for a more open law. We had private universities during the past few years, we had private media, private schools, private banking. We have done many things during the past few years. For me I don’t think it’s slow. It is fast. But you always want to be faster and this is normal and we want to achieve more. This is normal ambition.

Ms Amanpour: I will ask one last question. Sitting here feeling we are about to enter quite a tough period between Syria and the rest of the world. Do you feel that too?

Mr. President: No, not with the rest of the world, because the United States and some other countries are not the rest of the world. They represent themselves. We have good relations with all countries of the world. We have very good dialogue. They understand our position very well. They know our point of view about different issues and we don’t have any problem now.

Ms Amanpour: And yet there is some tension between you and Saudi Arabia, there is some tension between you and Egypt, quite a lot of regional tension. Iran is about your only real friend right now.

Mr. President: No. I was in Egypt two weeks ago and I have a very good relationship with president Mubarak and they support Syria . I also have a very good relationship with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and he supports Syria . Sometimes we don’t see each other that much but that does not mean we have bad relations.

Ms Amanpour: Your father made a strategic decision in 1990-1991 to support the first President Bush in the Gulf War against Saddam Hussein. Why did you not do the same this time?

Mr. President: No! President Hafez al-Asad did not support President Bush, he supported the liberation of Kuwait . And this is the difference. So it’s completely different. If I am going to support this administration, I would be supporting the occupation of Iraq . And we are against the war generally. We think that wars create tension and create adverse effects that will affect Syria directly and the other countries not only Iraq . So we are against the war in principle and in terms of interest. That is why we didn’t support the war.

Ms Amanpour: Are you now afraid of civil war there though?

Mr. President: Yes. When you have chaos it is a fertile soil for civil war.

Ms Amanpour: Would that not propel you to try to support what the US is doing in Iraq ?

Mr. President: That is what I said a few moments ago, that we are ready to support the political process. We cannot achieve stability and prevent Iraq from civil war or fragmentation without a political process. You need that political process. We support the political process and we support the government. We support Iraq , and that is different from supporting the United States .

Ms Amanpour: On that note Mr. President, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

Mr. President: Thank you for visiting Syria and once again you are welcome.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Kanaan Death Doesn't seem to be Related to the Mehlis Report

It is becoming clearer that Ghazi Kanaan's death was not related to the Mehlis report or Lebanon-Syria relations, as I speculated yesterday.

One good reporter I heard from today said they are "hearing Kanaan was tried in-camera and executed."

Hassan Fattah of the New York Times reported in today's NYTimes that the Mehlis people said Ghazi Kanaan was not a suspect in the Hariri murder investigation.

As I wrote yesterday, I have heard from several different sources that Washington had been hearing from "senior" Syrian sources of real dissatisfaction among top Alawi officers.

If Ghazi Kanaan's death was due to a purge, it will be the first in recent Syrian history. It is an indication of present regime weakness in the face of foreign pressure. It will also chasten others. Over the last week, I have argued on Syria Comment, that the regime was made fairly coup-proof by Hafiz. Of course, it was Hafiz's wisdom and political acumen that kept it that way. But it is also due to the replication of security forces, which makes it particularly difficult for any individual to organize a putsch. Too many people need to be drawn into the conspiracy for it to have much chance of remaining secret.

By the way, my phone number in Lebanon, where I will be until Friday, is (961) 70955012

Albert Aji, AP's bureau chief in Damascus writes:

Syrian opposition figure, Ali Sadrelddine al-Beyanouni, the London-exiled leader of the banned Syrian Muslim Brotherhood group, told Al-Jazeera that a Kenaan statement to a radio station shortly before his death "indicated that he felt in danger, and this supports rumors that there has been a deal in which the Syrian regime might sacrifice some of its heads for saving the regime."

President Asad made it clear in his CNN interview yesterday (taped in the morning before the announcement of Ghazi K.'s suicide)that Syria's stand is that it is innocent in the Hariri murder. It will punish those implicated - if any are. He did not say, however, as some are reporting this morning, that he would turn them over to an international court. He said they would be punished either at home or abroad. There is a big difference between the two statements. What the president said means Syria can still claim that the Mehlis report is all political and refuse to send Syrians to an international court if they are indicted. He can say that Syria will punish them at home after being tried by Syrian courts, much as the Lebanese will be tried in at home.

Many of my readers are still arguing that Kanaan was sacrificed or fell on his sword in order to take the fall for Syria, should it be implicated in the Mehlis report. Kanaan is not a suspect in the Hariri murder, although he was interviewed by Mehlis' team. He left Lebanon in 2003 and was head of Syria's police system by February 14 and not head of Mukhabarat or Lebanon. Syria cannot be exonerated by his death.

Here is CNN's interview with Asad.
Al-Assad: 'Syria has nothing to do with this crime'CNN International - USASyrian President Bashar Al-Assad denied that Syria was involved in the killing of Rafik Hariri. ... BASHAR AL-ASSAD, PRESIDENT OF SYRIA: We're not isolated. ...

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Ghazi Kanaan - the Most Senior Alawi - Suicide? Or was it Murder?

Here is what the newswires are saying about Ghazi Kanan's suicide. They are linking it to the Mehlis report on Hariri's murder. But there is another possible explanation - see below

Syria's interior minister, who ran Lebanon as security chief until 2003, committed suicide Wednesday, days before the expected release of a United Nations report into the assassination of a former Lebanese leader, Syria's official news agency reported.

"Interior Minister Brigadier General Ghazi Kenaan committed suicide in his office before noon," the Syrian Arab News Agency reported. "Authorities are carrying out the necessary investigation into the incident."

Kenaan was intelligence chief in Lebanon from 1982 until 2003, presiding over Syria's control of its neighboring country. He then headed Syria's powerful Political Security Directorate until becoming Interior
Minister in October 2004.

He reportedly was questioned by UN investigators in the probe of the Hariri's murder.

Hours before, Kenaan spoke to a Lebanese radio station, denying reports in Lebanese media that he showed the UN investigators cheques paid to him by the late Hariri.

"I think this is the last statement I might give," Kenaan
said at the end of the phone interview with Voice of Lebanon. On June 30, 2005, The U.S. Department of the Treasury named Ghazi Kanaan and Rustum Ghazali Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs), which is aimed at financially isolating individuals and entities contributing to the Government of Syria's problematic behavior. "Actions like today's are intended to financially isolate bad actors supporting Syria's efforts to destabilize its neighbors," said Treasury Secretary John W. Snow.

Was Ghazi Kanaan setting himself up to be Bashar's alternative? Could he have been the Alawite "Musharrif" that some American's and Volker Perthes suggested would take power from the House of Asad and bring Syria back into America's and the West's good graces. I have heard from several people that "high ranking Syrians" have been complaining to people at the National Security Council and elsewhere that they are very distressed by the mistakes Bashar al-Asad has made and the terrible state of US-Syrian relations.

Could Ghazi have been setting himself up as the alternative to Bashar? Could the Syrian government believe he might have been? We don't know, but here goes the possible speculation. He is known to have had good relations with Washington, when he held the Lebanon portfolio. He visited DC. Two of his four sons went to George Washington University in DC.

Kanaan was reported to have been one of the "Old Guard" who spoke out against the extension of Emile Lahoud's presidency in Lebanon, which set the stage for Lebanon's Cedar revolution and the assassination of P.M. Rafiq Hariri. He had been one of the Syrians responsible for cultivating Hariri and building up his position in Lebanon. He was also accused of having significant business relations in Lebanon which tied him to Hariri. It is unlikely that he was involved in Hariri's murder, having been a Hariri and not Lahoud supporter.

His relations with Lahoud were strained, and Lahoud reportedly was one of the people who insisted that he be removed from the Lebanon file and replaced by Rustum Ghazali. (Told me by Nick Blanford of the Christian Science Monitor, who is writing a book on Hariri.)

Since the June Baath Party Conference, it has been rumored that Ghazi would lose his Cabinet position as Minister of Interior, where he had been causing quite a ruckus.

Kanaan was the most senior Alawi official left in government of the Hafiz's generation. He had served as an intelligence chief and minister of interior giving him influence over and knowledge of all branches of the security forces - intelligence and police. If Washington were to turn to anyone to carry out a coup against Bashar, it would have to place Ghazi Kanaan on the top of its list.

Could Kanaan have been assassinated in order to prevent him from challenging Bashar? We may never know, but it is possible.

Bashar al-Asad has been clamping down on all possible rivals. Civil society has been all but silenced since the June Baath Party conference. The Atasi forum shut down. Evidently Anwar al-Bunni, Damascus' leading civil rights lawyer and advocate is presently in hiding so he would be arrested. All emerging political movements have been broken up during the past several months. The Kurds are under intense pressure as are all Islamic organizations. Bashar's strongest suit is that there is not alternative to his rule. Washington must either accept him as president or tempt the fates that Syria will collapse into some form of social chaos. Now that Ghazi Kanaan is no longer alive, it is hard to imagine another Alawi in the government who would have the authority, knowledge, or standing to pull off a coup.

Naharnet has just
posted further details bout Ghazi's interview.
Hours before he died, Kanaan contacted the Beirut Voice of Lebanon radio station and gave it a statement, concluding with the words: "I believe this is the last statement that I could make." He asked seasoned interviewer 'Wardeh' to pass his comments to other broadcast media.

Kanaan said he was making the statement to 'Wardeh' to deny a report by another Beirut TV network, New TV, which said in its evening newscast Tuesday that Kanaan admitted to U.N. investigators that he was involved in money extortion and corruption during what he called 'my reign of Lebanon.'

New TV had said Kanaan told investigators that he brought the 2000 Lebanese election law that "we tailored to the measurements of Lebanese politicians loyal to Syria."

"Premier Hariri had at the time given me a $10 Million check and another $10 Million check to General Jamil Sayyed," New TV quoted Kanaan as saying in his testimony. "We were making money from Premier Hariri so how could we possibly kill him and close the flow of his riches."

General Sayyed was then the head of Lebanon's General Security Department or Surete Generale. He is now in jail on a charge of complicity in Hariri's Feb. 14 assassination.

New TV played back its Tuesday night report about Kanaan's alleged interview with the Mehlis commission, insisting 'it is one hundred percent accurate' despite General Kanaan's denial.

SANA did not reveal whether Kanaan shot himself dead or took a lethal poison pill.

Kanaan, who was born in Syria's northern port city of Latakia in 1942, is survived by his wife, four sons and two daughters.(AP-Naharnet)

Monday, October 10, 2005

Why a Coup in Syria is Unlikely

I recieved this note from someone who signed himself "A Syrian dissident."

About Volker Perthes article “Endgame in Syria”

It is really a wonderful article from someone that seems to know and understand very well the Syrian situation. And, accordingly, a man that knows what he is talking about.

On this concern, as a Syrian intellectual and as a dissident, I allow myself to disagree with your comments and estimations my dear Joshua. And here are my reasons:

1 – Because if a normal change should be, it has to “come from within “. And, so that to avoid any disintegration of the state, it should be done by those who did really control the main keys of the power means the army and the mukhabarat. And those are, let’s say it frankly, the Alaouit sect. Which means logically that the Alaouits should lead the change. And this Idea is not not a dream in my opinion nor an utopia or a wish. But, a real potential and maybe the lonely real possibility to make such a “peaceful” change. Because, in addition to the reasons stated by Mr. V. Perthes…

2 – It is very well known that all the Alaouits are not pro-regime, but many of them are anti and their feelings are with this group or that of the opposition like those who are still and till now sympathizing with (Assad old rival) Salah Jedid, or those who still have links with the Arab Socialist Hurani tendency, or those of the Communist Working League, or even and especially those who are independent and pro-liberal like Aref Dalila. A very wide spectrum that can even include at a certain time those who are still pro Rifaat. This is why…

3 – The Assad regime, although it try to give the impression that most of the Alaouits are behind him; is very anxious from the situation on the ground within the community and very repressive against any dissidence that appears within it.

This from one side, and from another side, the regime that tries always to unify the bulk of the Alaouits behind its power by creating the impression that any change will not be in their favor as a minority. Which means, from my point of view, that when such a change may become almost certain: The Alaouits, and so that to avoid any abrupt (Internal or external) disaster, have to lead this change and remain on the same time in control of the main keys of power mean the army & the mukhabarat.

4 – Accordingly, the real lonely issue will be – maybe not right now but within the next coming months or years, as say Mr. V. Perthes - an internal coup d’etat that will change the situation and put Syria on its way to “Democracy”. A “Democracy” that for sure, will not be fully compliant with the Western norms. A form of “Democracy” that maybe much closer to the Turkish model that is according to my knowledge accepted by the West and which remain, if compared with the actual Syrian situation, a real step forward.

5 - And also, Mr. V. Perthes who seems to understand quit well the Syrian situation; did not forget the potential and essential role to be played by the Syrian bourgeoisie which seems apparently until now as backing the regime, but which position will change for sure, with the development of the situation on the ground. Noting here, that because the regime is also very aware from this potential danger, it was very repressive against “apparently inoffensive” people like Riad Seif and Mamoun Homsi as potential representatives of this tendency. Noting here also, that the Syrian bourgeoisie, although very conservative, is very pragmatic and not fundamentalist at all.

6 – And at the end, it is very clear that Mr. V. Perthes, like you dear Joshua, has no illusion concerning the inefficiency of the actual Syrian opposition which is mostly, in my opinion, under the control of the Assad regime.

A Syrian Dissident

Joshua Landis responds: Many thanks for your interesting analysis. We both agree that the opposition is neither strong enough nor popular enough to lead regime-change. We do differ about the likelihood of a coup. Here are the reasons I don't believe it is realistic for the West to place hard sanctions on Syria in the expectation that a "friendly" coup will solve its Syria problem and allow it to end the sanctions regime before the people starve.

1. Who is the Musharrif among the top Alawi officers? I still haven't heard anyone suggest one. Of course, the answer to this question would be that we don't know because that officer wouldn't advertise himself as anti-Asad. But that is just the problem. It would be very hard for a coup to be hatched in such secret. Hafiz al-Asad built a very coup-proof regime by multiplying the security branches around Damascus and creating a palace guard ruled by his brother. This is not the 1950s or 1960s, when the head of the air force or armed forces could take over.

2. The regime is not Alawite and many Alawites are fed up with the present situation. I agree with you on this up to a point. The Alawite dissident groups you mention are mostly out of power or too old to carry out a coup. -- those
"sympathizing with (Assad old rival) Salah Jedid, or those who still have links with the Arab Socialist Hurani tendency, or those of the Communist Working League, or even and especially those who are independent and pro-liberal like Aref Dalila. A very wide spectrum that can even include at a certain time those who are still pro Rifaat."
My mother-in-law's family belonged to the Salah Jadid group. Several of her brothers spend long periods in jail and others immigrated to Canada or the US in order to avoid jail. They and their friends are no longer politically active or powerful. Rifaat loyalists have been pretty well isolated and are a dwindling. Perhaps there are some members of the parties you mention who are still powerful officers, but I cannot imagine that they are powerful enough to carry out a coup.

Although most Alawis I have spoken with are quite critical of the regime and happy to distance themselves from it, I believe they remain frightened of regime-change - even change led by another Alawi. The Iraq example is very powerful right now and has increased Alawi fears that they could end up, like their Iraqi Sunni counterparts, excluded from power and hunted by their enemies. After all, America has vilified the Baath Party as a whole and Arabism as a nationalist ideology, not just the Asad family.

I have several Alawi friends whose fathers were high ranking officers. They all joke about having to go back to the village if there is violent regime-change. A few are taking the precaution of getting visas to North America or Europe for their families, just in case. They are all working for reform in one way or another because they realize it is the best thing for Syria and, perhaps also, the safest thing for their families. All the same, they have no illusions about regime-change and what it will most likely mean for Alawis.

In sum, even though most Alawis feel that their government is failing them and that Syria is becoming more corrupt by the year, they also do not trust America or like the changes they see in Iraq. They feel trapped between two bad choices. In the end, however, they don't trust America - or even their fellow Syrians - to make Syria better and protect them from Islamism or chaos. It is sad, but I think it is true.

3. The Syrian officer corps is not like the Turkish officer corps under Atatürk or his successors. Although the Syrian military is more secular than the population at large, it is mostly the minorities who are wedded to secularism. I accept your argument that the Sunni bourgeoisie is conservative but not extremist, more Sufi than Salafi, and more easy-going than literalist, but it is hard to know how it would react to extremist groups that could so easily crop up in times of change or the weakening of the security state. Would they stand by as extremist organizations took revenge on regime types? Would they move as an organized group to defend law and order? Although the Sunni bourgeoisie shares a strong common culture and is fed up with the regime, it has been largely de-politicized, is fragmented, and much of it is highly dependent on the regime. It also shares much of the regime's ideological outlook: its Arabism, its distrust of America, its hatred of Israel, its belief that America is trying to divide and weaken Iraq, etc. For these reasons, I cannot see the Sunni bourgeoisie taking a leading role in regime change. I also cannot see the upper ranks of the military making a clean ideological break with the present regime and its ideology. Everyone is Syria is unhappy, but they don't see America as an alternative. And let's face it, at this time of crisis - with the war against terrorism, reform of the greater Middle East, and the American army in Iraq - most Syrians see the world in black and white - either you are with America or you are with Bashar. The notion that a new Syrian leader could take power who would have the strength and popular backing to walk down the middle of these two alternatives seems hard to imagine. Unlike Atatürk, who was a national hero and who had saved Turkey from being divided up by the West and conquered by the Greeks, an unknown Alawi officer would have no legitimacy of his own or popular following to fall back on. He would have to turn to America for support or turn to the Baath Party and Security apparatus.

4. What would become of an Alawi officer who refused to become a prisoner of the Baath and Mukhabarat? How would he last for a day? What would be his ideology? The logical choice would be Syrian nationalism, but Syrianism is very underdeveloped in Syria. Most Syrian intellectuals still speak of the Sykes-Picot treaty and Lausanne as terrible injustices inflicted on Syria by a predator West. I have written frequently about how Syrian nationalism has been suppressed in Syria, which is a shame and which hobbles the opposition. The Islamists would oppose it as heresy and a capitulation, and so would the many Arab nationalists. Syrians do have pride in Syria, but it is not something that has been articulated into a concrete ideology, just as it hasn't become the dominant cultural form of self-identification.

5. It is for these reasons that I don't think an Alawite could take power. And if he did, he would not survive for more than a few days, after which the country could easily fall to pieces and chaos take over. This is also why I don't think it is wise for Western analysts to count on this solution for their Syria problem. If they think that by placing sanctions and isolating Syria, they will produce a friendly coup, they will most likely be disappointed. In the mean time, the sanctions regime will have to be maintained in order to punish the Asad regime and in the hope that sometime in the future a coup will eventually happen. This is what the West did to Iraq after 1991 and there was not coup - and Iraq and Saddam's army had been badly defeated in a devastating war. His legitimacy was even less than Bashar's. Most Syrians still say that they admire and like Bashar, even as they loath his regime.

6. One more argument. There has been no history of coup attempts in the last 35 years. The regime leaders are a cohesive group. Even when they have disputes, they keep it in the family and have done an excellent job of keeping them private. When Khaddam criticized Shara'a at the Baath Party Conference, it was an exception and Khaddam was retiring. The last time there was serious trouble at the top was in 1984 when Rifaat tried to take power from his brother - but that was because everyone thought Hafiz was dying and a succession struggle broke out. Since then, no purges have taken place because of failed coup plots, such as we saw happen periodically in Iraq. The Syrian regime is much more stable and unified than even the Iraqi regime was. Why would we expect that under a little America pressure it would collapse, when Iraq's didn't. Even though the UN sanctions-regime on Iraq was accused by the UN itself of causing the death of 300,000 Iraqi citizens, it did not produce a successful coup. Every western leader believed it would because their experts told them it would. Sanctions achieved nothing in Iraq, except to brutalize the population and make Iraqis less prepared to govern themselves responsibly when Saddam's government was destroyed by the American army.

Syria could go down the same road. I don't think it will because I think Europe and the UN saw what a failure sanctions were in Iraq and will be loath to repeat the experience. There is talk about reproducing the Qadhafi sanctions and doing a Libya on Syria, but Syria does not have the oil wealth of Libya to sustain it.

If America is prepared to do a deal with Bashar al-Asad, as it did with Qadhafi, once sanctions have been imposed and once Bashar reaches out for a deal because he doesn't want to see his country starve, then I might agree that sanctions will work. But I am not sure President Bush is willing to make a deal. His speech on the 5th of October, so artfully critiqued by Juan Cole, would suggest that he still sees Syria in black and white terms.

If he does make a deal, it will be over Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinians. I don't think democracy will have much to do with it. In such a case, Syrian dissidents, reformers, and democrats will be sorely disappointed, just as I presume Libyan democrats and opposition members were disappointed when the West made its deal with Qadhafi. Or maybe, Libyans were secretly happy for the deal because they understood that sanctions had failed them, and they believed it was better to live under Qadhafi without sanctions than to live under him with sanctions? Anyway, all this is to say, "be careful what you wish for." I don't think pressure alone is the solution. The real solution will have to come from the Syrian people and not from a secret coup. I fear there will be no man on horse back who can save Syria from itself. Only Syrians can do that.

What is American Planning for Syria? 3 Articles

I am leaving for Beirut for 4 days and will be giving a lecture at AUB at 4:00 on Thursday afternoon, October 13 in Nicely Hall, Rm. 409. It will be on public diplomacy and I will be sharing the podium with the Public affairs officer from the US embassy, Juliet Wurr. (I originally wrote Wednesday by mistake! It is Thursday.)

I leave my readers with these three interesting, if a bit overblown, articles. (Thanks to my readers for sending them to me.)

A toy called Assad
By Zvi Bar'el
09/10/2005 Haaretz

Like a cat that tortures a lizard it found in the yard, first plucking its tail, then tearing off a leg before finally boring with it, seems to be U.S. President George W. Bush's attitude toward Syrian President Bashar Assad. Since the beginning of the war against Iraq, Assad has become Bush's toy - until he succeeded in building him up to an enemy on the scale of Saddam Hussein, or at least the president of Iran.

This inflation of the Syrian doll has been so successful that today, without a doubt, if there is someone to blame for the failure of the war against terror in Iraq, it is Assad. If there is someone who threatens the peace of the region, it is Assad. And if there is a leader whose deposal would make all of the U.S.'s problems in the region vanish - lo and behold - it is Assad. Thus, a head of state who is considered a weakling in the eyes of several important Arab leaders and whose deposal the administration in Washington allows itself to publicly contemplate has managed to become such a global threat that he is the subject of complete paragraphs in all of Bush's declarations. And not only in these declarations.

For example, when the president of Turkey visited Washington in June, Bush scolded him for his warm relations with Syria. A substantial part of the conversations Bush conducts with Putin revolve around "the problems Assad is causing in Iraq." And Washington has forged close ties with its rival, France, on the Lebanon issue, for one, because France agreed to cold shoulder Assad. American officials have been leaking information for several weeks about "examining the role of President Assad." And now Washington is building high expectations about the international commission of inquiry chaired by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis on the murder of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Assad brought President Hosni Mubarak the transcripts of the investigations conducted by Mehlis in Syria, which according to Assad, clearly indicate his regime was not involved in the murder of Hariri. But even if Assad emerges from this inquiry as pure as snow, he will still be guilty.

The building of the American file against Assad is so blatant that there are already those who are sketching scenarios of peace with Syria in the post- Assad era, or at least looking into who would replace him. But don't hold your breath. Assad is a weak leader and it can't be said he possesses any great political insight, but he is an Arab leader and therefore Mubarak and the Saudi King Abdullah were quick to publicly declare two weeks ago that they would not lend a hand to isolating Syria. Neither would Iran and Russia.

But that is not the important thing. Because Syria is not just Assad. Today there are many who wish to see him fall from power, and not all of them would replace him with a leader "desirable" to the West. For example, the fanatic Muslim Brotherhood maintains extensive activity in Syria and is demanding reforms that would allow it to participate in government. Rifat Assad, Bashar's uncle, has aspirations and devotees of his own, who are liable to constitute a more serious regional danger if they were to attain power. A real danger is anticipated from radical organizations, such as those operating today in Iraq, which seek to participate in internal battles and build themselves another stronghold if and when Assad is deposed.

The bloody settling of accounts that is so familiar from Iraq could also easily develop in Syria between those faithful to the Baath regime and those who wish to take over the reins of power. And the Kurds of Syria, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Palestinian organizations would also have something "to contribute" to the turmoil that is liable to develop.

In a situation of internal struggle over a regime in which too many parties are armed, the Iraqization of Syria is not an imaginary scenario. And in such an event, Israel's quietest border is liable to reawaken in a thunder. The Afghani and Iraqi models should already have made it clear what happens when a regime is "revived" from the outside. But how it is possible to give up such an easy plaything?
Assad on the rocks
Oct. 9, 2005
Facing additional pressures at home and abroad, the schedule of Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president, is particularly busy these days. There is much to do and time is of the essence. His timing, however, does not seem to work.

For example, President Assad had planned to head his country's delegation to the United Nations summit last month. While restlessness was growing in Damascus, Assad could have benefited from a visit designed to ease Syria's international isolation and show the 40-year-old president as a young reformist Arab ruler.

But following unwelcoming signals from Washington and increasing turmoil at home, Assad was forced to stay behind.

The accusing fingers in the wake of the February assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri appeared to have come closer to Assad's own door. Detlev Mehlis, the chief UN investigator appointed to investigate the murder, had already named four pro-Syrian Lebanese security officials as suspects. Now with the help of the French and other secret services he is shining the spotlight directly on Damascus and possibly to the presidential palace itself.

Meanwhile, on the domestic front, the Syrian Central Bureau of Statistics and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has just published a study categorizing 30 percent of Syria's 18.3 million people as poor, including 2.2 million who are unable to provide for their own basic needs. This study was joined by an International Monetary Fund (IMF) report released last week warning that, baring significant reforms, Syria may become "locked in a cycle of financial volatility, fiscal deterioration, low growth and rising unemployment."

Since coming to power in June 2000, Assad has little to show to his credit. The removal of Iraq's Saddam Hussein not only deprived Assad of his sole remaining Ba'athist ally, but also of a significant source of income that came partly through the UN's massive Oil for Food scheme.

Assad's perceived lack of ability to curb international pressures has caused Syria to unilaterally withdraw from Lebanon, creating a severe financial and prestige crisis in the ranks of the Syrian army. But that withdrawal, unlike the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, has brought little international credit to Assad.

On the contrary, Syria's lack of ability (or will) to control its border with Iraq have not only showed its weakness but also further heightened the level of the American frustration with Syria. Even before President George Bush singled Syria out (along with Iran) as a terrorist-supporting regime in his get-tough speech last week, US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said that American "patience is running out" and that other options will be considered should Syria fail to take matters into its own hands.

This, of course, is making some old Ba'athist stagers desperately unhappy with their eye-doctor-turned-president. Some have already decided to abandon ship.

Asif Shawkat, the head of the Syrian military intelligence and a brother-in-law of the Syrian president flew to Paris accompanied by his wife and children. Shawkat, reportedly, is one of the people wanted by the UN team for questioning over the Hariri murder, and joins another Syrian intelligence colonel, who defected to France with information about the explosives that killed Hariri and about tape recordings recently transferred to the UN investigation team.

Shawkat's testimony has the potential to seal the fate of Assad's regime. Not only is he closely related to Bashar al-Assad, but he has been heavily involved in the intimate planning and implementing of each spoiling action undertaken by the regime.

Shawkat ran a front company during the Oil-for-Food scam and took over from General Hassan Khalil as head of Syrian Intelligence following the Hariri assassination. He is perhaps the most pivotal member of the Syrian government, with the most intimate knowledge of Syrian secrets.

'In Damascus, fear is now in the camp of power, the camp of Bashar," a senior official told The Washington Post. Following decades of tight Ba'athist control, the fear factor appears to have moved closer to the Ba'athist camp itself. And the Syrian opposition can sense that.
The Syrian opposition, a term that was an oxymoron just two years ago, has now over 20 visible outlets, with an increasing number of political activists who meet regularly inside and outside Syria. The Syrian Democratic Coalition, a group of 10 Syrian opposition groups led by Farid Ghadry, have just announced the convening of the largest such opposition conference in Europe. In a location yet to be announced, these organizations will unveil a new draft constitution, a registry for Syrians to vote, and the establishment of a parliament in exile.

These developments already indicate that the Assad regime is losing steam and may approach a tipping point that could potentially change the balance of power in Syria. The US should sit tight as Assad, caught in a trap of its own making, will struggle to give answers to the UN prosecutor on the one hand, and to his growing circle of critics on the other. Again, Assad may be forced to stay behind. In the meantime, the US and Europe should open their ears to hear the new Syrian voices. They may be more important than many now think.

The writer is vice president of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East.
Blundering Into Syria?
The Triumph of Ideology Over Reality

Not content with the terrorist-breeding instability he caused by invading Iraq, President Bush is plotting with Israel to repeat the disaster in Syria. The diplomatic editor of the London Telegraph reports (Oct. 5) that the US is aiming at Syrian "regime change."

The British newspaper quotes Israeli defense minister Shaul Mofaz as saying that a report blaming Syria for the assassination of a former Lebanese government official will be the catalyst that starts the ball rolling. Mofaz says the report will be the pretext for Bush to impose sanctions on Syria, "beginning with economic sanctions and moving on to others." The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, reports (Oct. 3) that the Bush administration has asked Israel's government to recommend a successor for Syrian president Bashar al Assad.

No doubt, the Bush administration will describe Israel's selection of Syria's new president as the workings of democracy. The Stratfor Intelligence Brief reports (Oct. 5) that Bush's National Security Council is deciding whether to bomb Syrian villages along what are thought to be "the infiltration routes used by jihadists" and to have US special forces conduct operations inside Syrian territory.

Obviously, far from heeding demands from US generals and congressional members of his own political party for a plan to withdraw from Iraq, Bush intends to widen the war. How can Bush, his National Security Council, and Israel be so blind to the consequences of destabilizing Syria? A CIA report concluded that the US invasion of Iraq created a training ground for al Qaeda. Doesn't Bush understand that creating chaos in Syria will have the same result?

The National Security Council needs to quickly consult some real Middle East experts before Bush's reckless policies in the face of seething anti-American sentiment cause the overthrow of US puppet rulers in Egypt, Jordan, and Pakistan, and dethrone the princes ruling the American oil protectorates in the Middle East. If the Bush administration cannot defeat insurgency in Iraq, how can it defeat insurgency in Iraq and Syria? In Iraq, Syria, and Iran?

The Bush administration is fanatical, divorced from reality. Last week Lt. Gen. William Odom, former director of the National Security Agency, said that Bush's invasion of Iraq was "the greatest strategic disaster in US history." This is quite a distinction for Bush and his government. Are the morons now going to double the distinction by attacking Syria and quadruple it by attacking Iran? Why don't Congress and the American public understand that the US cannot afford to worsen the disaster in which it finds itself?

Nothing better illustrates the reality-denying capability of the Bush administration than its secretary of state Condi Rice's speech at Princeton University on September 30. It is a fantasy speech, devoid of awareness that "regime change" in Iraq substituted Shi'ite clergy for a secular ruler. The US secretary of state has no inkling of the conflict generated between Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurd by the US imposed attempt to produce and to adopt a constitution? The Bush administration's Middle East policy is the triumph of ideology over reality.

Something must be done to stop Bush before he mimics in the MIddle East Hitler's invasion of Russia. The American people cannot afford the blood and treasure that the fanatical Bush administration is willing to squander in the Middle East. What can be done about a president who is immune to reason? A bill of impeachment is a good start. The Bush administration has already done more damage to Americans than the September 11 attacks. The American people and their congressional representatives must hold Bush accountable before it is too late.

The Bush administration has no intention of stopping with Iraq. At Princeton, Condi Rice again declared the administration's intention to use US military force to transform the societies in the Middle East. "Now is not the time to falter or fade," declared the US secretary of state. Such total oblivion to the "greatest strategic disaster in US history" is far more scary than Muslim terrorists.

Paul Craig Roberts has held a number of academic appointments and has contributed to numerous scholarly publications. He served as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. His graduate economics education was at the University of Virginia, the University of California at Berkeley, and Oxford University. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions. He can be reached at:
Also see MEMRI's
Increasing Tension between Syria and Lebanon
By H. Avraham, October 9, 2005

Bush Speech. Fox News Suggests Assassinating Asad

Bush says no retreat from Iraq, slams Syria and Iran
Posted: 06-10-2005 , 17:49 GMT

US President Bush said Thursday that "Islamic radicals" are seeking to "enslave whole nations and intimidate the world," and called that a prime reason not to cut and run in Iraq.

"There's always a temptation in the middle of a long struggle to seek the quiet life, to escape the duties and problems of the world and to hope the enemy grows weary of fanaticism and tired of murder," he said.

In a speech before the National Endowment for Democracy, Bush said Islamist groups have made Iraq their major front in a war against civilized society. "The militants believe that controlling one country will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to overthrow all moderate governments in the region and establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia," Bush stated.

Bush likened the ideology of Muslim militants to communism. And he said they are being "aided by elements of the Arab news media that incites hatred and anti-Semitism." "Against such an enemy, there's only one effective response: We never back down, never give in and never accept anything less than complete victory," Bush declared.

"We are facing a radical ideology with immeasurable objectives to enslave whole nations and intimidate the world," Bush said. Bush sressed the "terrorists" are aided by corrupt charities that direct money to terrorist activities and nations, such as Syria and Iran, calling them "allies of convenience" that back terrorists.

"The terrorists regard Iraq as the central front in the war against humanity. And we must recognize Iraq as the central front in our war on terror," he said.

"Our commitment is clear - we will not relent until the organized international terror networks are exposed and broken and their leaders held to account for their acts of murder," Bush said.

"With every random bombing, and with every funeral of a child, it becomes more clear that the extremists are not patriots, or resistance fighters," Bush said. "They are murderers at war with the Iraqi people themselves."

Bush vowed not to retreat from Iraq or from the broader war on terrorism. "We will keep our nerve and we will win that victory," he said.
Bill O'Reilly on Fox News Calls For Assassination of Syrian President
For the second time in two months a prominent conservative television host has called for the assassination of a foreign leader. Fox News host Bill O'Reilly said the U.S. should consider assassinating Syrian President Bashar al-Assad if he fails to help the United States with the war in Iraq. That was Fox News host Bill O'Reilly. In August, teleevangelist Pat Robertson called for the assassination of Venezulean President Hugo Chavez during a broadcast of his show the 700 Club.

(2) CLIPS: O'Reilly endorsed assassinating Syrian leader if he "doesn't help us out"

On the October 3 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly called for the assassination of Syria's leader, Bashar al-Assad, if Assad does not help promote stability in the Middle East by maintaining Iraq's borders. O'Reilly claimed that "we could take his life, and we should take his life if he doesn't help us out." O'Reilly was responding to Fox News contributor Gen. Wesley Clark's suggestion that the United States use diplomacy to bolster regional support for the Iraq war among uncooperative neighbors.

From the October 3 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

O'REILLY: And joining us now from Little Rock, Arkansas, is Fox News military analyst General Wesley Clark, who has been thinking about Iraq policy. OK, General, go. What would you do if you were in charge?

CLARK: Bill, it's always taken a three-legged stool to succeed in Iraq. Leg one is the military, leg two is the politics inside Iraq, and leg three is the diplomacy in the region and especially with Iraq's neighbors.

Now, for the first year we were in Iraq, we only had leg one, the military. Then we added the political. The political is bringing a constitution to be voted on later this month that's going to really anger 20 percent of the population. And when it passes, which it probably will, we'll have deeper animosities inside Iraq.

So the mission is in trouble. You're right; it's a big mess. The reason is the Bush administration has never really grasped the diplomatic problem in the region. If we want to fix Iraq, we've got to work the diplomacy of the region. Now, how do we do it? We meet individually, we send emissaries in, we talk to Iraq's neighbors. Turkey, Jordan -- no problem. Kuwait -- no problem. Syria and Iran -- that's really tough. This administration doesn't want to talk to either one of them directly. And yet, they're part of the problem in Iraq. When we invaded Iraq, we let Syria and Iran know they were next.

We're putting the squeeze on Syria right now. We'd like to run -- the administration would like to run -- Bashar Assad out of town and get rid of this government in Syria. So he's got no incentive right now to try to help us work in Iraq. And as far as Iran is concerned, we've got a looming nuclear crisis with Iran, and we're not talking to them. So our military people, our mission in Iraq is being held hostage by the neighbors. We're going to have to talk to the neighbors if we want to make this mission work.

O'REILLY: All right. Well, Syria, I think you can probably make a deal -- is you spare Bashar's life if he cooperates with us. I agree with you.


O'REILLY: All right. So let's sum up. So you want to -- you want to --

CLARK: Take that common interest, and build out of it a regional dialogue, and let the United States then train the Iraqi forces, step back as the guarantor of regional security in the region, and then let each of these countries guarantee Iraq's border, and let their --

O'REILLY: All right. It's an optimistic viewpoint that they would do that.

CLARK: It's a possible viewpoint, Bill.

O'REILLY: North Korea proves that, although we don't know if North Korea is going to do what they say they're going to do. So it's a dangerous world. But look, I'm not opposed to having conversations with Syria and Iran to try to help us out over there, but I don't -- Syria, I think you could do it, because as you said, you know, it's Bashar's life. I mean, we could take his life, and we should take his life if he doesn't help us out. Iran -- different nut.

Mofaz: U.S. pressure on Syria could topple Assad regime
By Haaretz Service, 05/10/2005

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said on Tuesday that U.S pressure on Damascus may bring about a dramatic change in Syrian government.

In an interview to Israel Radio, Mofaz said that Syria's involvement in the assassination of former Lebanon president, Rafik Hariri, and its support of Iraqi insurgents operating from within its territory, will bring about U.S actions that may overthrow Bashar Assad's regime.

"I won't be surprised if Syria gets a red-card [by the U.S.]," Mofaz said, using a metaphor taken from soccer terminology. "[The U.S.] will take actions against Syria, beginning with economic sanctions and moving on to others, that will make it clear to the Syrians that their policies do not comply with U.N decisions, the U.S.'s new world order or the prohibition of sovereign state's to support terrorism."

Saturday, October 08, 2005

America and Syria can Still Come to Terms Moderate Republicans Believe

The US and Syria should work together to help stabilize Iraq. That is the objective of moderates in the Republican Party and some retired Military officers who recently came to Damascus. As-Sharq al-Awsat has the story (below). I think this will work because there is no other good option - either for Syria, the US or Iraq.

It will be very difficult for all sides to climb down from their rehtoric and demonization of the other side. Syrians overwhelmingly believe the US is in Iraq to plunder and divide it. They also believe the US wants to wipe out its "Arabness." Americans have also gone overboard in their vilification of Syria. The principal personality on Fox News suggested that America should "assassinate" President Asad, if he doesn't shut the border immediately. This kind of extremist rhetoric, meant to amuse the American public, is just another form of Bin Ladenism. I don't know why Americans tolerate it. It makes the outrageous, normal and the criminal, mundane.

Another healthy sign is that Dennis Ross of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy is also saying that Syria can turn things around and become a partner with Washington in stabilizing Iraq. These are healthy signs. Perhaps Washington is still keeping its options on the table. It is clear that Bashar wants a deal.

Paper quotes US source on possibility of rapprochement with Syria

Asharq Al Awsat reported on October 5 that: "A US source has disclosed ... that a wing led by moderates in the ruling Republican Party and retired military are leading a move to seek Syria's help in saving the US plan in Iraq.

"The source said an unofficial US delegation had just returned from Damascus where it held talks with a selection of Syrian decision-makers during which it was able to obtain a Syrian offer of effective cooperation to achieve stability in Iraq in exchange for ensuring Arabism of Iraq and not threatening stability inside Syria itself. The source, which is close to the decision-making circles in Washington, added that the Syrian offer includes a reference to the willingness of Damascus to name a Syrian ambassador in Baghdad immediately and open the embassy as a show of good intentions.

"According to the US source, the Syrian offer was made in response to a proposal from the moderate wing in the Republican Party to make Syria a strategic ally in the region if it implements the stated US demands and helps the ongoing political process in Iraq.

"The source went on to say that the Syrian response 'was generous and detailed' and is difficult for the US Administration to reject because it is 'the easiest option for saving its face in Iraq.' It also includes a reference to Syria's ability to cooperate in the field to achieve stability in Iraq side by side with the American troops if it receives a request for this from Washington. It pointed out that the officials close to the Syrian presidency who took part in the talks last week underlined the need for dealing with Syria with respect and for protecting Iraq's Arab identity.

"According to the source, the US side in the talks returned from Damascus full of optimism and is at present preparing a report to the decision makers in Washington that includes a recommendation to try to win Syria as a strategic ally in the region if it fulfils its promises, and to help develop Syria economically and democratically so that the US plan in the region can become a dual one that includes Syria and Iraq at the same time without the need for shedding more blood or sacrificing the lives of American soldiers. ...

"The delegation met on its return from Damascus with an executive official in President George Bush's administration who is a specialist in Syrian affairs. A dispute flared up between her and the civilian and military representatives of the moderate wing. The latter conveyed the Syrian view about the importance of dialogue and unambiguous agreements while the administration representative reiterated the stated US demands and laid down the condition that the Syrian side should start by taking practical steps on the ground before starting any direct dialogue and not just voice obligations.

"One of the participants in the dialogue pointed out that the administration expressed its satisfaction with the Syrian offer to send an ambassador to Baghdad and raised at the same time the importance of sending a Syrian ambassador to Beirut, opening a Syrian embassy in Lebanon in addition to the demarcation of the border between Lebanon and Syria, recognition of Lebanon's full independence, help in persuading Lebanese President Emile Lahoud to step down, and non-interference in the Lebanese people's election of a new president. It also called on the Syrian government to regulate the arrival in Damascus of Arab youths of certain age and from certain countries, impose entry visas on them or record their addresses in Syria, and tighten the watch on them to ensure they do not go to Iraq. ...

"Citing an American participant in the talks, the source said the Syrians did not appear to be worried by the results of the anticipated report of German Judge Mehlis on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and were ready to punish any Syrian involved in the crime before the Syrian judiciary. It added that one of the Syrian negotiators challenged any party to prove there is any Syrian intelligence element inside Lebanon and another official said Syria took a strategic choice after the recent Baath Party conference to get closer to the West, not antagonize the superpowers and start the internal building process.

"Asharq Al Awsat's source said that a US-Syrian rapprochement, if it happens, would be in the interest of the two countries and peoples, spare the US Administration the internal pressures because of the crisis in Iraq, and spare the Syrian government the increasing external pressure on it.

"A US State Department official denied that the department knew of any talks with the Syrian government but pointed out that the US embassy in Damascus is open and the American diplomats are doing their job and the Syrian authorities can inform them of any real change in their policies. He stressed that no US official had talked at all about regime change in Syria and all that Washington was hoping for was a 'change in the Syrian behaviour towards specific issues that the Syrians know well.'" - Asharq Al Awsat, Pan Arab
Dennis Ross to An Nahar: Assad should change the situation
A front-page article published on October 7 in An Nahar, a privately owned Lebanese newspaper, said: “On the sidelines of a press conference organized by the Arab Press Club in Paris, [a meeting which] addressed the developments in the Middle East and the rough journey towards peace, An Nahar talked to former US Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, who believes that Lebanon is developing its future today.”

The newspaper quoted Ross as saying: “The Lebanese people forced Syria to leave Lebanon, it is a magnificent thing. It is true that everyone is waiting for Detlev Mehlis’s report, including Lebanon, but I hope that Lebanese decide their future and not wait for it.”

Ross also said "regarding the Islamic Brotherhood in Syria as the only opposition organization does not mean that it is the only option out there … [also] Maybe Mehlis will discover that there is a Syrian responsibility but that does not mean the presidency is implicated, and in this case (Syrian President) Bashar Assad should change the situation. And I don’t think it is too late for him to do so, but let us wait and see the situation.”

Concerning the influx of weapons from Syria to Lebanese camps, the newspaper said that Ross answered: “This is very negative behavior. It seems that the Syrian regime does not learn. It should learn from its past experience. Last year was not a good year for Syria and if it wished for better days, it should change its behavior.” Ross said he believes that Lebanon needs the international community to help it get through the current difficult phase, An Nahar said. - An Nahar, Lebanon

From and About Syria
Jihad El Khazen Al-Hayat - 07/10/05//

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says that his country had absolutely no connection to the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, but doesn't rule out seeing international parties try to politicize the international investigation in order to pressure Damascus.

President al-Assad links the extension of President Emile Lahoud's mandate to the battle in which France and the US joined forces against Syria, each for its own reasons. The White House is pressuring to rein in the Syrian position regarding the US military presence in Iraq and the confrontation with Israel. France found itself in a big political dispute with the US and decided to offer Syria as a price for reducing the harshness of Washington's position against Paris.

I write today from Syria, and about Syria, after sitting with President al-Assad for more than two hours in his Rawda office, to hear his opinion about the latest developments and review with him the situation that was prevailing on the eve of Lahoud's extension, the period preceding Hariri's assassination and afterward, the situation in Iraq, US pressure, and other matters.

Not everything that is known is said, and not everything that is heard is written. However, I will publish what I can and what I think I can of al-Assad's remarks and arguments, as this discussion sheds light on some aspects of the current controversy.

*The agreement over Syria between President George Bush and President Jacques Chirac began in Normandy in June 2004, when the extension hadn't yet been raised. When the Syrians heard in roughly August that the two countries were preparing a Security Council Resolution against Damascus and its interests, extension became possible.

*It wasn't the extension followed by the battle, but rather the other way around.

*Emile Lahoud is a man of principle and honest; he maintained his position and was the best choice to fight such a battle with us, as later events proved. He remained a steadfast supporter of the Resistance (in answer to my question: If you could go back in time, would you make the same decision regarding extension?).

*I told Rafik Hariri that the extension was not directed against him, but that there were political necessities, and that he could leave my office and "throw away" what I had told him. He said that he wouldn't act in such a way with a Syrian desire, and later informed us that he had decided to vote for the extension.

*Prime Minister Fouad Siniora came to me and I told him that we wouldn't seek to make his visit a failure; we wanted it to be a success. He said that he wanted good relations with Syria, and we said that we wanted good relations with Lebanon. I told him that we are a State and can implement what we want, but asked if he could implement what he wants in the Lebanese Cabinet?

*I told Prime Minister Siniora that we don't want Lebanon to be a crossing-point or center to bypass national issues; other than this, we will help you to our utmost. We are comfortable with him because he's a patriot.

*Go to the people who warned Rafik Hariri and warned him saying that his life was in danger. Where did this information come from? If Syria was involved, give us the details.

*We have absolute confidence in our innocence and have completely cooperated with the international probe. The investigators questioned people and took all of the requested information.

*The Syrian regime has a strong hierarchy and no one is in "business for himself" (in answer to a question). No officer acts alone. If he does, this is considered treason and the punishment is death. All of the bombings in Lebanon targeted opponents of Syria, as if the person behind them wanted to strengthen the accusations against Syria.

*Sources close to the investigation spoke of a suicide mission and the discovery of DNA. A Salafi can carry out such an operation by himself, or backed by a mighty (intelligence) agency of a big or powerful state. We don't have people to whom we can say "go and die."

*Any intervention to impose international tutelage on the region, or any type of intervention or pressure will further complicate the situation. The region is liable to spin out of control, the groundwork is there.

*There are suspects; this is expected, and doesn't constitute an accusation. Charges are made through evidence, and the investigation will handle both the criminal and political aspects. We are confident of our innocence, meaning that the criminal aspect will put us in a stronger position when it comes to the political side.
Finally, President Bashar al-Assad repeatedly insisted on Syria's innocence in Hariri's assassination, and its ability, along with that of the national Resistance in Lebanon to remain steadfast. "They" are trying to confront Hezbollah in Lebanon, but have fond that it enjoys a strong position, so they went back to trying with Syria. However, the final target is Iran. In our opinion, it is an attempt to weaken or distance its allies.
Ibrahim Hamidi of al-Hayat has an excellent overview of Syria's recent diplomacy as Asad tries to limit the damage of the up-coming Mehlis report in the Oct. 5th issue.

"End Game" in Syria," by Volker Perthes - I don't believe it.

Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs and author of "Syria under Bashar al-Assad," writes that the Syrian regime is standing on its last legs and will soon be history. Volker has long been fed up with Syria's inability to talk or think the language of the West. Certainly Syria is isolated and confused. There can be little doubt that eventually the present regime will not be able to cope and there will be change. Is this coming within two years, as Volker suggests? I don't think so. As long as the Syrian street remains quiet and the opposition divided and confused about strategies for change, there is little prospect for regime collapse even if Bashar is weakened.

What about a coup? Perthes writes that international pressure may lead to a coup by "someone from the highest military echelons who would also be a member of the Alawite sect (to which Assad belongs)- "a Syrian Musharraf." This is dreamy. But it is a dream that many in Washington and elsewhere are sharing.

Washington talks of the "regime adults" kicking out the "children." I guess this is the same concept that Volker believes will be the best case solution. I wish someone could tell us who the regime adults are. I haven't met one. This dream preoccupied the West in its policy toward Iraq for more than a decade. Everyone spoke of the coup solution. It never happened. The "good coup" dream is wishful thinking on the part of the West. It helps assuage the conscience of policy makers as they prepare to slap sanctions on the country and isolate it. Sanctions will only hurt the people.

All this talk about "smart sanctions" not affecting the poor is baloney. If America does more than freeze the accounts of regime personalities, the economy will suffer, and the poor will scream. That is the reality of sanctions. That is why so many people decry them as a useful tool. The West and Syrians will be stuck with this regime for some years to come. The US has badly impaired its credibility in Iraq; the region is in a mess. This has ironically boosted Bashar's legitimacy and made him indispensable - not only to the Syrian people, who fear chaos, but also to most of Syria's neighbors.

Here is Perthes' article, which was recently republished by the International Herald Tribune as, "Syria: It's all over, but it could be messy."

Endgame in Syria

Bashar Assad's regime in Syria has reached its end phase, even if it manages to hang on to power for months or years. This is so almost irrespective of what Detlev Mehlis, the UN prosecutor charged with the probe into the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri of Lebanon, will say in his report about the alleged role of Syria in that crime.

An indictment of high-ranking Syrian officials could precipitate things, of course - for the worse as much as for the better. But even if Mehlis finds no proof of direct Syrian involvement in Hariri's assassination, the regime will find it almost impossible to overcome its international isolation and its loss of domestic legitimacy.

Syria is accused by the U.S. administration of actively supporting the insurgency in Iraq. It has also offended its main European friend, France, and consumed the patience of other EU states which have long tried to maintain a constructive dialogue on both regional and domestic issues. In addition, it has ruined its relationship with Saudi Arabia, its most important Arab ally, over its handling of Lebanon.

Most important, Assad's regime has lost the confidence and support of many of Syria's people and elites. Its mismanagement of Lebanon led to a humiliating withdrawal and opened Syria to an international investigation that deeply infringes upon its sovereignty. Assad has misread major regional and international developments, thereby isolating Syria internationally, and has failed to deliver any political reform.

So how will change eventually occur in Syria? Given the absence of a strong and organized civil movement that could lead a Ukrainian or Georgian type of revolution, there are three scenarios.

First, Assad could embark on a movement to change the system from the top. He would put the blame for the mistakes of the past five years on some of his associates and retire them, release political prisoners, announce real parliamentary elections in a year or so, with competitive presidential elections to follow. At the same time, he would decide that it is more important, from a Syrian national interest perspective, to prevent civil war in Iraq than to gain the satisfaction of seeing the Americans fail.

This scenario would demand strong leadership, so unfortunately it is not likely to come about. Neither Assad nor most of his associates seem to understand the world around them. Assad is simply not up for the job he has inherited. And an increasing number of Syrians, including many in high military and security positions, are realizing this.

Many Syrians fear, therefore, a totally different scenario: If the regime exacerbates its isolation as well as its loss of domestic legitimacy by simply trying to sit it out, the Syrian state could progressively disintegrate. Syrians, regardless of sect or class, are not likely to accept a regime that manoeuvres the country into a Belarus-type closure against the world.

Given the lack of political space that would allow political alternatives to develop, opposition against the regime may take unpleasant forms. Already, within in the last weeks and months, petty local disagreements and political uneasiness has developed into ethno-sectarian disturbances. Apparently, the state is losing authority.

Given the risks of disintegration, a growing number of Syrians see a third scenario as almost inevitable: a military coup. Such a takeover would have to be led by someone from the highest military echelons who would also be a member of the Alawite sect (to which Assad belongs).

In today's Middle East, coups are probably only possible if they come with a credible promise of democratic change. Any military officer who pushed away Assad and his entourage would therefore have to allow the formation of political forces and real elections in due course. Such a program would win the indispensable support of the bourgeoisies of Damascus and Aleppo as well as of civil servants, intellectuals and even much of the rank and file of the Baath Party. A takeover by a Syrian Musharraf, as it were, would not be a perfect way out, but it might be the least bad solution.

Europe and the United States have a strong interest that change takes place in Damascus and, even more so, that such change come about without anarchy and state failure. Change, moreover, should come from within. Fantasies to the effect that Syrians would welcome regime change from abroad underestimate Syrian nationalism at least as much as Iraqi nationalism was underestimated before the Iraq war.

Should Assad decide to change course, cooperate with the international community and embark on real political reform, Europe and the United States should still be prepared to lend him a helping hand. But if high Syrian officials are accused in the Mehlis report and if Assad refuses to cooperate, the West should isolate his regime - not punish the Syrian people - and signal their preparedness to work with its successors.

Bashar Assad's regime in Syria has reached its end phase, even if it manages to hang on to power for months or years. This is so almost irrespective of what Detlev Mehlis, the UN prosecutor charged with the probe into the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri of Lebanon, will say in his report about the alleged role of Syria in that crime.

An indictment of high-ranking Syrian officials could precipitate things, of course - for the worse as much as for the better. But even if Mehlis finds no proof of direct Syrian involvement in Hariri's assassination, the regime will find it almost impossible to overcome its international isolation and its loss of domestic legitimacy.

Syria is accused by the U.S. administration of actively supporting the insurgency in Iraq. It has also offended its main European friend, France, and consumed the patience of other EU states which have long tried to maintain a constructive dialogue on both regional and domestic issues. In addition, it has ruined its relationship with Saudi Arabia, its most important Arab ally, over its handling of Lebanon.

Most important, Assad's regime has lost the confidence and support of many of Syria's people and elites. Its mismanagement of Lebanon led to a humiliating withdrawal and opened Syria to an international investigation that deeply infringes upon its sovereignty. Assad has misread major regional and international developments, thereby isolating Syria internationally, and has failed to deliver any political reform.

So how will change eventually occur in Syria? Given the absence of a strong and organized civil movement that could lead a Ukrainian or Georgian type of revolution, there are three scenarios.

First, Assad could embark on a movement to change the system from the top. He would put the blame for the mistakes of the past five years on some of his associates and retire them, release political prisoners, announce real parliamentary elections in a year or so, with competitive presidential elections to follow. At the same time, he would decide that it is more important, from a Syrian national interest perspective, to prevent civil war in Iraq than to gain the satisfaction of seeing the Americans fail.

This scenario would demand strong leadership, so unfortunately it is not likely to come about. Neither Assad nor most of his associates seem to understand the world around them. Assad is simply not up for the job he has inherited. And an increasing number of Syrians, including many in high military and security positions, are realizing this.

Many Syrians fear, therefore, a totally different scenario: If the regime exacerbates its isolation as well as its loss of domestic legitimacy by simply trying to sit it out, the Syrian state could progressively disintegrate. Syrians, regardless of sect or class, are not likely to accept a regime that manoeuvres the country into a Belarus-type closure against the world.

Given the lack of political space that would allow political alternatives to develop, opposition against the regime may take unpleasant forms. Already, within in the last weeks and months, petty local disagreements and political uneasiness has developed into ethno-sectarian disturbances. Apparently, the state is losing authority.

Given the risks of disintegration, a growing number of Syrians see a third scenario as almost inevitable: a military coup. Such a takeover would have to be led by someone from the highest military echelons who would also be a member of the Alawite sect (to which Assad belongs).

In today's Middle East, coups are probably only possible if they come with a credible promise of democratic change. Any military officer who pushed away Assad and his entourage would therefore have to allow the formation of political forces and real elections in due course. Such a program would win the indispensable support of the bourgeoisies of Damascus and Aleppo as well as of civil servants, intellectuals and even much of the rank and file of the Baath Party. A takeover by a Syrian Musharraf, as it were, would not be a perfect way out, but it might be the least bad solution.

Europe and the United States have a strong interest that change takes place in Damascus and, even more so, that such change come about without anarchy and state failure. Change, moreover, should come from within. Fantasies to the effect that Syrians would welcome regime change from abroad underestimate Syrian nationalism at least as much as Iraqi nationalism was underestimated before the Iraq war.

Should Assad decide to change course, cooperate with the international community and embark on real political reform, Europe and the United States should still be prepared to lend him a helping hand. But if high Syrian officials are accused in the Mehlis report and if Assad refuses to cooperate, the West should isolate his regime - not punish the Syrian people - and signal their preparedness to work with its successors.

President Asad has struck a defient tone of late. During the visit of the Iranian Speaker of Parliament, Gholam Ali Haddad Adel to Damascus this last weekend, the two expressed their committment to their relationship, and Asad insisted that Syria and Iran will not be intimidated". Haddad Adel said, "I believe that the US pressures on the two nations stem from their independent policies in supporting the legitimate rights of the Palestinians."

Syria also says it has no need for the Lebanese market to fill jobs.

Lebanese Speaker Nabih Berri also got into the act, asserting that attempts to pressure Syria are to get at the Syrian policy leaders who defend Arab causes. In a speech at a dinner banquet to honor visiting Iranian Shoura Council, Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, Berri on Thursday said "targeting the region was done in the framework of a declared scheme which is the Greater Middle East to reorder the region in Israeli's interests."

David Ignatius still believes that "the United States can foster a modern, secular Iraqi government that can bring together Sunnis and Shiites and, under that umbrella of national reconciliation, stabilize the country." Above all, he writes, "that means finding a way to engage the people who feel most left out of the new Iraq - the Sunni minority that held power under Saddam and now feels disenfranchised." He believes the next six months is "crunch time" and that talk of a US departure now is premature. "The United States could suffer a major defeat in Iraq that would reverberate for a generation. We may fail in Iraq, but let's not rush it," he writes.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Syria Won't Listen to top Economists Who say it is Time to Downsize

Top economists say it's time to downsize

DAMASCUS, 3 October (IRIN) - Some of Syria's most respected economists have demanded a radical reform of government economic policies, a slimming down of the civil service and a major overhaul the state-controlled banking and social security systems.

But Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Dardari, the government's economic supreme, quickly quashed hopes that the government would implement radical changes.

He said in reply to those calling for rapid reform to improve Syria's economic efficiency that the authorities would move cautiously in order to protect public sector jobs and "social safety nets," even if that meant putting the brakes on growth.

The frank exchange of views took place at the annual meeting of the Cairo-based Economic Research Forum, held in Damascus at the end of August.

Syrian economist Samir Aita told a packed hall of businessmen that Syria must lower its top rate of income tax further to 25 percent. The top rate of income tax was cut from 65 percent to 36 percent in 2003.

Aita also urged the government to undertake a "comprehensive reform" of Syria's state-owned banks, including a complete re-auditing of their "unclassified liabilities".

Aita, who heads the Concept Mafhoum private economic studies centre, also called for a shake-up of Syria's social security system to make it more efficient.

The state-owned Social Securities Establishment (SCE), founded in 1959, covers over 1.2m public sector workers, some 88 percent of all state employees. However it covers only 36 percent of private sector employees, some 1.6m workers.

Aita quoted disturbing figures which showed the SCE had accumulated large surpluses as a result of its failure to pay out benefits owed to tens of thousands of its members. He said this had led to the organisation accumulating a total surplus of US $638 million in surpluses in 2004.

"It is urgent to restructure and reform the SCE," Aita wrote in his report to the Forum, "in particular, reforming procedures and methods of work in order to improve the ratio of subscribers in the private sector and the payment of due subscriptions in the state-owned sector."

Nabil Sukkar, the managing director of the Syrian Consulting Bureau for Development and Investment, criticised the government for failing to undertake economic reforms in previous decades when oil revenues could have buffered the social impact of measures that might now prove "risky".

He said the number of civil servants should be cut and the "unacceptably" low salaries of those remaining on the government pay roll should be improved.

Employees at the bottom of the government pay scale currently earn around US $100 per month.

But Sukkar said the civil service should be downsized gradually over a long period of time to cushion the "social repercussions" of such a move.

The economists' calls for radical reforms in the public sector received a cautious response from Deputy Prime Minister Dardari, who is also head of the influential State Planning Commission.

Dardari told the Damascus meeting that under his vision of the "social market economy," to which the government committed itself after a conference of the ruling Ba'ath Party in June, Syria would be willing to sacrifice economic growth in order to its protect civil servants.

The government was determined to ensure the viability of "social safety nets" and would aim for "sustainable growth not vulnerable to social shocks," he said.

However, Dardari promised to make the public sector "a support for growth rather than a liability."

"We all know we're on the right track," he added, promising to give priority to producing a "clear, strong, flexible legislative framework" to encourage new investment in Syria.

Official sources say President Bashar al-Assad has granted the Deputy Prime Minister increased powers to reform the economy.

But Dardari's speech failed to impress Frank Hesske, the representative of the European Commission in Damascus. He said the government appeared to lack a clear economic strategy.

"Impressions prevail that measures are not guided by a global policy," Hesske said. He called for "clear information" on Syria's way forward.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Jihadists Call Asad an "American Boot-Licker" because he is Arresting Them

The Jamestown Foundation suggests, much as human rights lawyers here do, that Asad has been cracking down of Jihadists and anyone the regime thinks might assist them. Judging from comments posted on the Syrian jihadi websites, the Jihadists are upset with the Syrian regime. Some state that President Assad is "licking the American boots" and has stepped up the campaign against the mujahideen over the last few weeks with "many clashes and sieges and arrests of large numbers of brothers." For several months now the Jihadist websites have been debating whether to begin operations against the Syrian regime.

This Jihadist outrage supports the picture that Razan Zeitouneh has already painted for us of crack-down against Jihadists which has been going on for months.

Syria Pressures Its Jihadists

October 4, 2005 – Volume II, Issue 18
"Terrorism Focus" is a publication of the Jamestown Foundation

Despite criticism from Washington, Syria appears to be increasing pressure on Islamist militants attempting to cross its borders into Iraq, as evidenced by a series of recent clashes. In early September, Syrian security services made in-roads against reputed Tanzim Jund al-Sham cells ("Organization of the Army of Greater Syria"), an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist organization originally set up in Afghanistan by Syrian, Palestinian and Jordanian militants. (On the question of the identity of Jund al-Sham, see Terrorism Focus Volume II, Issue 12).

On September 3, Syrian anti-terrorism forces killed five suspected terrorists, said to be affiliated with Jund al-Sham, in a shootout at the group's hideout near the northern city of Hama. At the same time, in a move which has brought the regime condemnation from human rights groups, three wives were held by security forces in order to pressure members of the group to give themselves up. Further clashes with Jund al-Sham militants occurred on September 8 in Hasaka, in northeastern Syria with claims that the group was "planning bomb attacks in Damascus."

Syria has come under increasing pressure from Washington over its position on Islamist militants. On September 12 American Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said Washington was running out of patience with Syria's continuing role in Iraq's violence. The same day Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari also warned against allowing insurgents to penetrate Iraq. Despite the accusations, the Syrian state-run Tishrin newspaper said in an editorial Wednesday that Syria rejected the claim as "incapable of providing even one piece of actual evidence" (

The Syrian view appears to be borne out by statements made by militant sympathisers, judging from comments posted on the Syrian jihadi forum Minbar Suria al-Islami ( On September 16, a posting titled "A Call to the People of Islam from the Outpost Warriors in the Land of Greater Syria: the Alawites have become Arrogant,"—addressed to a Saudi salafist readership— criticises their tacit support for the Saudi regime and calls for them to help the Syrian mujahideen against the Syrian government which is "employing all its forces in an attempt to prevent them aiding their brothers in Iraq." The Syrian government, the author claims, is interested in "a stable Iraq and the withdrawal of American forces from it," so President Assad is "licking the American boots" and has stepped up the campaign against the mujahideen over the last few weeks with "many clashes and sieges and arrests of large numbers of brothers." The publication on September 23 of the second issue of the Minbar Suria al-Islami web journal supports the point by highlighting the clashes with Jund al-Islam, and the 70-odd Arabs of differing nationalities arrested while attempting to infiltrate into Iraq. It reproduces the claim of the Syrian Foreign Ministry to have arrested in all over 1248 Arabs attempting to cross into Iraq (

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Razan Zeitouneh, "The State of the Syrian Opposition," Intereview by Joe Pace

The State of the Syrian Opposition

Razan Zeitouneh Interview
By Joe Pace for "Syria Comment"
14 September 2005, Damascus
Published Oct. 4, 2005

Razan Zeitouneh is a Syrian human rights activist, lawyer, journalist and founder of the website, Syrian Human Rights Information Link, or SHRIL, an important clearing house for information on people who have been arrested or have disappeared. Part One of Razan's interview was published yesterday: Syria's Preemptive War against Infiltrators into Iraq.

Razan's interview addresses these issues:


[Joe Pace] You’re 29 years old, from the new generation of activists. What attracted you to the opposition? How did you become involved?

[Razan Zeitouneh] In 2001, when the democratic movement began—the movement of the opposition, intellectuals, etc—the Human Rights Association in Syria was established and I was among its founding members. That was my first oppositional activity. Now, I am working as an independent activist and I monitor human rights violations.

Are there a lot of people your age?

No, there are actually very few my age. Most of the people who are participating in the opposition are from the previous generation—former political prisoners, old politicians, and well-known intellectuals. Very few young people have entered the opposition. There are two reasons for this.

First, the security situation in general means that anyone who wants to participate in the opposition must be willing to pay a high price regarding his studies, his ability to find work, his social life, regarding everything in his life because the danger posed by the security apparatus is limitless.

Second, if we want to talk about the youth who are committed to change and willing to pay that price, they aren’t finding movements that suit them. The parties within the opposition, the civil society organizations that have been established in the last five years—none of them are suitable for the youth. They are run by outdated and ideological mindsets to which the youth are no longer receptive. The parties’ messages are exhausted and calcified. They aren’t undertaking any work to attract the youth—on the contrary, the youth are leaving these parties and organizations.

We found that there was a marginal location for the youth to undertake work, but after years, they still have no experience, there is complete stagnancy. Consequently, they haven’t been able to form anything specific to their group.

I would presume that the second factor must be predominant because the security situation is substantially better now than it was in the 1970s and 1980s?

Yes, but don’t forget that the newer generation did not see what happened in the 1970s and 1980s. They know what they see today: human rights activists are being arrested, those who dare to write articles are being detained, those who attend protests are beaten and humiliated—this is what they see. And they saw what happened last year with the students who were expelled from the university and who now have no future. The sons and daughters of detainees are being harassed by the security agencies, they are denied work opportunities, etc. So the pressure from the security forces is still an important reason.

If there were an appropriate movement suitable to this generation, of course we would see more participation among the youth because there are those among them who are willing to pay a heavy price. This is always the case, in every place and every time period, that there are those who are willing to sacrifice themselves, those who are totally committed to an idea. But here, no one is finding an appropriate trend.

If there is a Syrian youth who wants to participate in oppositional activities, how does s/he go about finding the opposition? Where do they “sign up?”

This is an extremely important question. I remember when I forced began exploring the area, I didn’t even know that there were parties. When I read a list of political prisoners, I assumed that was it: there parties are gone, there is nothing left. I didn’t know that the National Democratic Assembly was still around. Even now, the opposition has failed to reach even the smallest segment of the youth. Of course, I attribute a large part of that to the security situation. We are prohibited from disseminating pamphlets or press releases; we aren’t allowed to hold meetings or symposiums; we aren’t allowed to organize protests, and if we are, we aren’t allowed to hold up signs to show people why we’re protesting. As a result, we are totally besieged.

However, that doesn’t absolve the opposition of responsibility. It should be inventing new ways to reach the people.

What current within the opposition has been most successful at courting the youth?

Most of the youth who are interested are not actually joining groups. For example, they might participate in protests and forums, but most of them don’t belong to a party or organization because these groups simply haven’t convinced them. Even now, the youth are unable to participate in the existing structures and they are unable to create their own structures.

You spoke about the parties’ inability to cobble together an attractive platform. But have you detected any condescension toward the newer generation, especially among the former political prisoners?

I can’t really say that there is condescension per se. There is a sort of totalitarian thought within many of the parties, especially within the leadership. They aren’t democratic enough to be able to cooperate with other trends. They will marginalize anyone, whether from the new or old generation, who they consider competition.

After Bashar assumed the presidency, what role did the civil society forums play? People met, lectured, debated, but do you feel as though they accomplished anything tangible, like advancing the opposition intellectually or bridging divides between competing trends?

It was the first time in which the intellectuals were afforded the opportunity to meet and discuss the economic, social, and security situation publicly—something which was prohibited for decades. I think this was their accomplishment, nothing more. There were initially several forums, then there was one. Now they have closed the Jamal al-Attasi forum, and even before the forum was closed, you felt as though it utility had been used up. Its aim was to create an arena for dialogue and it did so, but it was unable to play a larger role.

I don’t think that it produced any new ideas. It was more a place for dialogue for the different Syrian groups; that was its role and we shouldn’t expect more from it than that.

What can you do when family members or friends of the detained come to you?

We can’t do very much. We collect information and relay it to local and international organizations. We try to get people to write letters, we write articles on the issue. None of this is enough to build the pressure sufficient to force the regime to release the prisoners. That’s the reality. All human rights organizations are limited to the same function: writing articles and letters, publishing press releases. But in general, our capacities are limited and weak.

Why are there four human rights associations instead of one unified organization? Why the redundancy?

It’s not wrong that there are many human rights associations. We are in need of a thousand of those organizations, not just four. The problem is that these organizations are not being formed for the right reasons. They are being formed on the basis of ideology or limited blocs—this is the problem. Again, this is something we could overcome if there were cooperation and coordination among the groups. They are unable to bridge the divide and broaden their base because of the foundation on which they established their party. If these organizations had been founded by independents who didn’t have prior political experience, I think the situation would be much better.

The biggest problem is that there isn’t cooperation and coordination. On the contrary, there is mutual avoidance. They don’t share information, they don’t participate in shared endeavors.


What do you think is the cause of the Islamic resurgence in Syria?

There are two sides to it: one is the total intellectual, cultural, and political emptiness in the sense that because of the oppression, pressures, lack of parties and forums, there is no nourishment of the mind nor soul in Syria—especially for the new generation. The only option open to them is religious study. That’s the first reason.

The second reason is that the regime is encouraging something called “Islam of the authority” by building mosques and permitting the offering of religious lessons which focus on the fiqh, purity and uncleanliness, etc. But they don’t so much as mention politics or current social problems. The regime has a vested interest in promoting that form of Islam.

It is spreading widely and quickly as evidenced by the growth of mosques and the increase in the number of people attending religious lessons in people’s houses and elsewhere.

Do you think this brand of “Islam of the authority” is susceptible to politicization?

I doubt it because its mode of propagation is the sermon and religious lessons which are under the surveillance of and controlled by the state. It’s kept far from politics.

But, it is kept far from politics artificially, by means of state control. If you removed state manipulation, you would get an entirely different movement, something which would definitely be political in nature.

Islam is a vast religion that lends itself to multiple interpretations. But for the first time in my life, I’m hearing hadith (the sayings of the Prophet) that counsel withdrawal, surrender, and defeat. I started a conversation with a woman who had just come out of Abu Noor (Syria’s largest Islamic university). I asked her what courses on the Qur’an they were offering and she said there were many and that I should attend. I replied, “in all honesty, I don’t want to have anything to do with institutions that have ties with the authorities. You aren’t contributing anything to society—on the contrary, you are contributing to its destruction. Islam for you is only tahaara (purity, cleanliness) and najassa (uncleanliness). Islam is supposed to be more than that; it is supposed to encourage people to fight oppression and injustice. Then she started relating hadiths that if someone transgresses against you, you should not fight back or insult him—you should pray for him! Pray that he reforms himself! This is the authority’s version of Islam.

The Islamic resurgence that you are describing is hardly extremist or militant. But would you say there has also been a resurgence of extreme or fundamentalist Islam?

I can’t really assess that since there haven’t been any studies undertaken on the subject in the past five years. No one has a clear sense if the number of extremists has increased. Wahabis have been here for ages; there are parts of the countryside that are almost entirely Wahabi. But I couldn’t tell you when it began to spread from one countryside to the next, when it began to organize, etc.


After the assassination of Hariri and especially after the meeting of the National Congress, the regime has cracked down on civil society and the opposition with renewed vigor. What form has this crackdown taken?

The most recent period of renewed oppression resembles what followed “Damascus Spring.” After the assassination of Hariri for at least two months there was nothing. There was a lessening of pressure by the security agencies, the number of summons to the security branches decreased, and then suddenly the regime did an about-face. That’s when the arrests began, in what people call Black May. They began arresting activists, they closed the Jamal al-Atassi forum, the number of summons to the security branches increased drastically. It was just like what happened in September 2001. Even today, the situation remains the same.

What do you think is motivating the crackdown?

Perhaps it’s a preemptive response by the authorities as well. They want to clean house, they want to prohibit any activity which could translate into internal pressure on the regime, they want to prevent the emergence of a real opposition.

Prior to the crackdown, was the opposition growing stronger, and if so, how did that strength manifest itself?

It depends on whether or not you are talking about civil society associations or the parties. Civil society groups are more effective and have a better standing among the people. They have recently begun to establish themselves and better their performance—totally opposite of what’s happened with the parties.

Civil society groups were getting stronger. If we take the example of human rights organizations: they’re ability to monitor and report human rights violations has drastically increased. That’s evidence that these organizations have gained the trust of much of the segment of society that is bearing the brunt of these violations. In the recent period, we have developed mechanisms to communicate with international organizations.

What about the National Democratic Assembly?

The National Democratic Assembly in reality is only two parties. The remaining three parties don’t have a real presence. There is the People’s Party (formerly the Communist Party) and the Party of the Communist Alliance. These two parties totally disagree on virtually everything: their opinions, the method of action, the list of demands they adhere to. It’s strange that these two parties would be in one assembly. In fact, I think that this alliance is probably hurting instead of helping the opposition. You get this phenomenon where those who are working for higher aims are pulling the rest of the parties up, but those other parties are pulling the more ambitious ones down.

Several people I’ve talked to within the opposition have said that it has no future, that its raison d’etre is reactively opposing the regime and that as soon as the regime collapses, the present opposition will die. Do you agree with that?

Nothing can collapse until an alternative rises up to replace it. The regime wont collapse until there is there is a new opposition to replace it and the same goes for the opposition itself.

Under what circumstances could the opposition become a replacement to the regime?

If you lessen the oppression from the security agencies, people will begin to form and join organizations and parties. I am convinced of this. Not all of them will necessarily be good, but maybe out of 100 you will find one that is truly representative and has credibility. If you talk to the youth or the former political prisoners, all of them want change. The problem is that they don’t want to pay a price for work that won’t produce anything. If there were a new environment in which people could maneuver, a thousand projects would appear. In the beginning there will be a lot of mistakes, things will be experimental, but this is the price we have to pay to progress.

What are the concerns that would move people to the streets? What is the slogan?

The largest segment of the population is seized by economic concerns. They are economically crushed. You also have a segment that is being tormented by the security agencies, and here we aren’t just talking about the activists. There are also arbitrary arrests that can extend to anyone. Or you have the rich segment that may not have any economic worries, but perhaps they have environmental concerns or they are concerned about improving the general state of affairs in the country. Not all people are united by a single concern. So I think that each segment will produce an elite to address and treat the specific problem which their group is suffering from. It’s not reasonable to expect the emergence of a party that represents every social grouping—that has never occurred in all of history.

Do you think that the oppositional groups are going to return to secret activities because of the new crackdown?

There is a consensus throughout all segments of the opposition against secret activity in all its forms. Even if they know that a meeting will be broken up by the security agencies, they won’t plan the meeting in secret. In my opinion, this is not always the best option. Some of our work has to succeed and I will not allow the secret police to constantly frustrate my efforts. Personally, I am not against being cautious, as in undertaking activities not necessarily secretly, but not totally publicly. That’s a tactic that we have to adapt until the pressure from the security apparatuses lightens.


Nobody within the opposition believes that at this time they are powerful enough to influence the regime’s policies in any meaningful way, but many of them reject foreign influence, which seems only to ensure the continued irrelevance of the opposition. Do you want to see the international community this regime on the human rights front, and if so, what pressures would you welcome?

I want pressures, but not stupid pressures. For example, not economic pressures which would enable the rich and powerful to continue living in prosperity while the poor bore then brunt of the pressures. Political and diplomatic pressures, on the other hand, are required. I want to derive strength from foreign powers, but not if it means things like military pressure.

If the US were to pressure the regime and openly support the opposition and human rights activists, do you think that this would help the regime portray activists as treasonous?

It would help them portray us as treasonous and it would cause the opposition to loose credibility among the people. There is already this idea among many that the opposition is really a tool of the US. This would be an example of an ill-thought pressure: the secretary of state gets on television and calls for the release of a certain human rights activist. If that person gets out of prison he is rendered less effective in his work.

The EU displays more intelligence in the ways they pressure the regime. Sometimes it’s public, sometimes it’s not. Of course, this is all because there is no real international mechanism for the protection of human rights. All of it is theoretical; none of it is actually enforced. That’s why international pressure in this way is the only solution.

If the US embassy offered you some sort of material support—let’s even say without conditions—would you accept it?

No. Even before I think about my personal stance towards US policy, I think about the people with whom I’m working. If I loose my credibility with them, I cease to be an effective activist. My effectiveness is dependent upon how much they trust me and respect me. What good would it be for me to accept material support if I can no longer work as an activist? For this reason alone, I would absolutely refuse the assistance.

Do you believe the claims that there is a convergence of US interests and the spread of democracy?

I do believe that there is a convergence, one which centers on the war against terrorists and the growth of Islamic extremism. But I haven’t seen any evidence that that convergence has been translated into actual policy.

What must America do to regain its credibility?

It cannot do anything because it’s not going to regain its credibility. This should not surprise anyone: superpowers always pursue their own interests at the expense of others. As long as America remains the dominant power, I cannot conceive of a way in which it will be able to regain its credibility.

Have the Western embassies done anything to engage civil society or support human rights associations?

In recent years, the EU has shown greater interest in the issue of human rights. They have someone in their embassy, usually the third secretary, who specializes in human rights and deals with civil society. There are always European delegations that attend the trials of prisoners of opinion and conscience. They put pressure on the government by sending messages to their counterparts here and bringing up the issue in meetings. They show their interest by always being present: at protests, at trials, etc. They are currently trying to find a way to engage civil society through training and funding.

The Americans have someone as well. Sometimes he shows up to the events, sometimes he doesn’t. But it’s really the Europeans that are showing interest.

What do you think of the Syrian opposition that’s forming in the US?

I don’t have an opinion about them. They are entitled to do what they want and we should not deny them that right.

Farid al-Ghadry claimed recently that the opposition was getting stronger and that in a matter of months it would be able to replace the regime. What do you think of that statement?

That’s his opinion. As far as the situation on the ground here, I haven’t seen anything that would support that claim. I wish it were true, I wish there some evidence. But I think the opposite is true.

Does he have any supporters here?

I haven’t met with a single person who supports him. On the contrary, people have a negative opinion of him—not just people from the opposition, but the average citizen as well. According to normal Syrians and the opposition, he chose the wrong ally. He chose America.

What do you expect will happen after the release of the Mehlis report?

I cannot predict anything. I do not think there is a regime in the world as opaque as this one. It has a structure that is dominated by personal relationships and the ruling family—nothing is clear. For that reason, I say that anything is possible: the regime could collapse in a month, or it could get stronger.

What about as a response from the international community?

The same. All options are open and I can’t really predict anything.


How would you characterize the relationship between the Kurdish and Arab Syrian opposition?

The relationship between the two tiers stays roughly the same with minor fluctuations. There haven’t been any initiatives on either side to improve or strengthen the relationship. The relationship between the two oppositions is still very fragile.

What are the main points of disagreement between the two oppositions?
There is intolerance and stubbornness on both sides. The Arabs intransigently cling to Arab nationalism and the Kurds do the same. The thing which unites them, the desire for democracy and freedoms, is somehow absent.

There was a coordinating committee, but its efforts have been stunted by this intransigence. They face these problems whenever they try to organize a protest or publish a press release. Neither is aware of the real issues which unite them.

On a practical level, how would the opposition benefit from coordination between the Arabs and the Kurds? As in, what sort of concrete initiatives could you expect?

The most important thing is that even if they don’t produce any political results that they reclaim Syria for the Syrians. I have to look at a Kurd and see a Syrian, but one that also has all of the cultural and political rights that go along with being Kurdish. But he must also identify as a Syrian citizen. The fact that the Kurds have faced disproportionate discrimination at the hands of this regime has taken a toll on their willingness to identify as Syrians. If there were coordination and cooperation, it would produce a unity that could not otherwise be achieved.

The parties and the leadership don’t concern me. My concern is the people, the average people who would converge on the streets. When I can stand with those people at a protest with a unified goal, when we are beaten together and arrested together, then I can say that I have achieved everything I wanted to achieve. But when I go to a protest and there is a cluster of Kurds demanded Kurd-specific rights and a cluster of Arabs focusing on their own narrow agenda, even if the protest is a success, I consider it a failure.

Why do you think the Kurdish street is so politicized and easy to mobilize while the Arab street is, by comparison, unwilling to participate in political protest?

The thing which mobilizes the Kurdish street is the nationalist cause. That cause, wherever it might appear, is capable of arousing sentiments more intense than the issue of democracy and human rights. Second, if you judge an opposition’s strength by the strength of its parties, then the Arab opposition was totally crushed. It is sort of rising from the ashes anew. That didn’t happen to the Kurdish parties to the same degree.

Do you believe that the Muslim Brotherhood is genuinely committed to democracy?

Whether or not I believe it is a personal issue. I personally evaluate them based on what they are saying. They have rejected violence, embraced democracy, and pluralism. Even if I were totally opposed to political Islam, I have to recognize their right to exist and compete with me in a democratic way. It’s not my place to deny that; on the contrary, I am encouraged by the fact that in a predominately Sunni country, the Sunni street has a moderate Islamist party.

Is there a general tendency in the opposition to believe that the Muslim Brotherhood has become a moderate, democratic party and if so, is there a willingness to coordinate with them?

It’s hard to say since that is not something that is widely discussed since it is considered a red line by the regime. You certainly know about all the arrests of late because of the Muslim Brotherhood issue. Because of pressures from the security agencies, no one is bold enough to announce an honest position on the matter. The only person to do that was Riad at-Turk because he is willing to push harder than the rest of the opposition. The rest will say that the Muslim Brotherhood has the right to exist, but they don’t take a clear stance on the issue of cooperation.

Do you think that if the regime were to weaken or collapse the result would be civil war?

I cannot deny that there is sectarian tension, all of which is the result of the regime’s idiotic and destructive policies. Anything is possible. We should not dismiss the possibility of ethnic conflict because we must be ready for it; we should study it so that if, God forbid, it occurs, we are in a position to cope with it.

I don’t necessarily think civil war per se will erupt. It’s a majority Sunni country and I think maybe some of the Sunnis would take revenge on the Alawites, not because of the sectarian or religious beliefs, but because of their connections with the regime. I don’t think it will be total sectarian warfare, but I think you could see an increase in the incidents like what happened in Qadmus. Conflict is also possible between the Kurds and Arabs if they don’t find a just solution to the Kurdish issue.

Operation Iron Fist on Iraqi Border Empties out the Towns

AP reports that at least 28 militants were killed in fighting Sunday at the Iraq border with Syria, bringing the two-day toll among the insurgents to 36.

Most of the militants appeared to have slipped out of Sadah, the first village attacked, and hundreds of the village's residents fled into Syria ahead of the assault.

The U.S. operation in the Syrian border region is the fourth since May, but U.S. troops are too scattered and Iraqi forces too few to impose permanent control in the area the size of West Virginia. Militants have fled past assaults only to move back in once the bulk of U.S. forces leave.
Meanwhile the local population is being driven from its homes and many thousands are fleeing into Syria, where 250,000 Iraqis have already registered with the UNHCR since the beginning of the war. The government estimates that over 500,000 Iraqis are resident in Syria. The ICRC sends this report about the earlier US and Pesh-merga operation at Tel-Afar
The Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) estimates at around 5,000 the number of families from Tal-Afar in northern Iraq that have had to flee their homes and take refuge in surrounding towns and villages following the escalation of violence in the city. While some are staying with friends or relatives, others are living in abandoned villages or small camps, with no access to such basic items as food, water or bedding. The IRCS has set up camps around Tal-Afar to host displaced families.

The ICRC has supplied the IRCS’s Mosul branch with 5,000 individual food baskets, 1,000 jerrycans, 1,000 buckets, 1,000 blankets, 100 tents, 600 kerosene stoves and 600 hygiene kits. In addition, the ICRC has supplied 50 stretchers to the IRCS and 50 to the Directorate of Health.
It will take very decisive action on Syria's part to keep Iraqi refugees from organizing once they get to Syria and returning to fight. Here is the longer but more confusing New York Times report of October 3, 2005. Craig Smith also suggests that the US will not be able to hold the territory it is sweeping over, and thus will content itself with temporarily disrupting insurgent bases and driving the inhabitants from their villages.

U.S. and Iraq Step Up Effort to Block Insurgents' Routes

RAWA, Iraq - A few miles outside this sleepy river town, marked in many places with black spray-painted scrawls hailing the network of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, called Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, American troops are building a desert outpost of plywood huts protected by dirt-filled blast barriers and surrounded by a high berm.

American military commanders see this effort as a crucial step in their strategy of cutting off the supply of foreign fighters that has fed the insurgency and threatens to tip the country into civil war.

Attention has focused recently on the northern city of Tal Afar, another entry point for foreign fighters, where 8,500 American and Iraqi troops have been fighting insurgents since early September.

But the greater battle lies ahead, in the towns in the Euphrates River valley, where for nearly two years Mr. Zarqawi's fighters have had free rein, blowing up police stations and building a network of safe houses to stockpile weapons, make car bombs and move fighters into the country from Syria.

Foreigners who infiltrated Iraq through the network are believed to have carried out most of the suicide attacks in Baghdad and elsewhere that have become among the most visible and destabilizing tools of the insurgency.

Now, American and Iraqi forces are trying to change that by occupying towns like Rawa and installing Iraqi Army battalions to keep insurgents at bay. They engaged in heavy fighting with insurgents recently in Ramadi, a major city on the river, and they continued to carry out airstrikes and ground raids against insurgent safe houses along the Syrian border. But American military officials say the strategy, which residents say is killing civilians, is not enough.

American military officials have said they know of no civilian casualties, but emphasize that other measures are needed.

"You can go through these towns again and again, but you can't get results unless you are there to stay," said Col. Stephen Davis, commander of Marine Regimental Combat Team 2, which is responsible for a vast area of western Iraq south of the Euphrates. "As Iraqis are getting trained, we're going back to take these towns and build bases inside for both Iraqi and American forces."

Rawa, built on a finger of land formed by a hairpin turn in the Euphrates, overlooks a major bridge that was an important site in Mr. Zarqawi's network, military officials say. "We believe it was the last point at which they would decide to send the foreigners south to Baghdad or north across the desert to Mosul," said Lt. Col. Mark Davis, who commands the new Army outpost.

The town of 20,000 remains a Baathist stronghold, where animosity toward the American effort runs deep. Army intelligence officers say they believe that some former high-ranking Baathist military figures here have provided active support for the Zarqawi network, but they say the mujahedeen have become the dominant power in the area.

"Al Qaeda came in and established a network along the river valley, and made it stronger based on the lack of coalition presence here," Colonel Davis said. On the sign welcoming people to Rawa, the insurgents wrote: "Long live the mujahedeen. To fight for Islam is an obligation of all Muslims."

Rawa did not exactly send out the Welcome Wagon after the Stryker Brigade Combat Team from the Second Infantry Division arrived in late July. In little more than a month, the unit was hit by two dozen roadside bombs and eight suicide car bombs. It has been backed by two airstrikes; one on an armor-hardened safe house with a large weapons cache and another on a building booby-trapped with artillery shells.

Officers say they have received little cooperation from the town's residents, many of whom are convinced the Americans will pull out when the rains come and turn their desert outpost into a lake of viscous mud.

In fact, there is only a sporadic American military presence outside the few towns now occupied.

Neither the Army nor the Marines maintain any permanent checkpoints along the road from the Syrian border to Haditha, another town reportedly controlled by Mr. Zarqawi's mujahedeen. The road, which leads to Baghdad, is the primary route for foreign fighters headed for suicide attacks in the capital.

The Marines and the Army rely on periodic checkpoints to catch drivers by surprise. Four of six such operations in a two-week period in August stopped vehicles apparently carrying insurgents, suggesting that men and matériel continue to move despite the American presence. One car turned up guns, grenades, ammunition and a computer storage device filled with files dealing with the insurgency. One of the guns was an M-16 assault rifle taken from a dead marine.

But each of the temporary checkpoints lasts only a few hours and the searches are cursory.

Part of the problem is the size of the force. The Army has about 800 soldiers on the base but only about 300 leave the outpost on operations and never all at the same time. They must cover an expanse of desert, north of the river to the Syrian border, that is the size of Vermont. The Marines, with 3,000 troops covering an even larger area, suffer from the same problem south of the river.

"We have more men on the way," said Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the highest-ranking military commander in Iraq, during a brief stopover at the desert outpost. He said an Iraqi Army division, the Seventh, which would have about 4,000 men, was now being formed for Anbar Province, the predominantly Sunni area that includes the northern Euphrates Valley.

The United States Army is running daily patrols through the narrow, hilly streets of Rawa and westward to the Syrian border, along with 500 Iraqi soldiers who are based in an unfinished water treatment plant.

In one recent operation in Rawa, the Iraqi forces, protected by Stryker combat vehicles and Army snipers, fanned out across a hillside of new villas, crumbling outbuildings and trash-strewn lots, hunting for fighters who had fired on one of their checkpoints during the night.

They kicked in doors and combed the open ground, quickly discovering the gunner's position. Concealed in the rubbish nearby they found an AK-47, four grenades and a cigarette carton filled with machine-gun rounds. On a nearby wall, someone had scrawled "Join the jihad."

The insurgents continue to operate in the town, residents say, planting roadside bombs like the one that breached the armor of a Stryker vehicle recently, slightly wounding some soldiers inside.

Two days after the Iraqi Army's sweep, the American Army commander, Colonel Davis, and his Iraqi counterpart, a Colonel Yasser who did not give his first name, faced a crowd of 300 people angered by the house-to-house searches and summary detentions.

"The Iraqi Army will be in every city," Colonel Yasser, a Sunni, told the crowd, urging them to vote in the constitutional referendum, scheduled for Oct. 15, and the national elections, scheduled for December.

He said the town must work with the government of Anbar Province to appoint new town officials and restore the police force. "If we don't unite," he said, "our voices will not be heard."

Colonel Davis delivered a blunter message. "We're not going anywhere," he told the murmuring crowd, adding that as long as there were attacks against Iraqi or American troops the house searches and roadblocks and bridge closings would continue.

"Some of you are concerned about the attack helicopters and mortar fire from the base," he said. "I will tell you this: those are the sounds of peace."

Readers' Comments

Here are a few notes from readers:

Dear mr. Landis

I came to your site by chance when I was searching the web on issues concerning my country, Syria.

I would like to say that I became a permanent reader of the articles and analysis you and your fellow researchers on the Syrian matter are producing, and i am learning a lot from these discussions.

i read the interview of razan zeitouneh with joe pace and i can agree with most of it.

We ,as normal citizens, even the educated ones, are afraid of discussing openly our internal crisis, afraid of sending our views to the few sites that discuss syrian problems. I myself thought twice before sending this note as it might looked at as correspondence with foreign forces that wants to harm our country.

We do not have any possible way to get in touch with what you called opposition parties, we only see some of them on some Arab satalite stations such as "the democracy" and sometime al-Jazeera, and we, who use internet, are able to read some of their written articles from time to time.

The syrian people in its majority dream of a democratic country where human right is respected, where free and true elections are made, we do not see the opportunity to materialize such dream due to the refusal of the authority to change and the international political atmosphere where the interests of the large powers are more important that human rights and freedom ,we are not looking for that kind of freedom and democracy provided to iraq so far, but at least we will continue to dream , it`s our "syrian dream ".
sorry for my english, regards.
Dear Mr. landis

Events and probably personal circumstances have prevented us from meeting. You will however allow me to share with you some subjective and objective thoughts about our present and future based on my deep attachment to our levantine culture which is by nature alien to any form of fanaticism.

Let us go beyond the main subject of the day, i.e. the assassination of PM Hariri and all that ensued so far and all that may come, and ask ourselves three questions: what are we, people of the Near-East (mainly Lebanon, Syria and Irak), what do we want in terms of political status and what can we reasonably hope to achieve? In other words, supposing it were at all possible to conduct a global survey of all inhabitants (classified by country, ethny, religion and sect) of these countries about these issues putting to them the first two questions only, what results might we obtain?

Let us first analyse the populations of these three countries: we have sunnis, chiites, druzes, alawites, ismailis, yazidis and other islamic sects, maronites and various catholic sects and greek orthodox along with other independant syriac churches not forgetting a few remaining jews. Parallel to this there are arabs, kurds, turcomans, armenians, and other minor groups. You also have a non-negligible entity who define themselves more by their national identity (lebanese, syrian, palestinian, arab) than by the other parameters, some by their tribe while the few internationalists (communists, syrian nationalists) have now become museum material.

Let us suppose that one and only one answer was allowed to the identity question: what are you? (The answer : muslim+arabi+sunni for example being forbidden), can we try to imagine these answers?

I do not think it would be very difficult: the vast majority of muslims, christians and their scions would choose to be classified as such, the kurds, the turcomans and the armenians by their ethnic identity and a few romantic laymen by their nationality (Lebanese, Syrian, Iraki or even Arab). The jews have put this question to themselves for centuries and they finally got Israel, albeit a bitterly contested achievement!

To the question: what do you want, you will have to propose a series of answers such as:
To live within the boundaries of your present country?
If yes under what political system?
If no what is your vision of a country?
How do you see your relationship with your co-nationals of different religion or ethnicity?
You can tell from the very wide array of mostly incompatible answers to these apparently simple questions that a stable, permanent and democratic solution is practically impossible to achieve in our region for the time being and in the foreseeable future (at least in the present configuration of nation-states) and the best living example of this unfortunate conclusion is Irak. What then? With Syria threatening to follow suit to its eastern neighbour and Lebanon painfully and unconvincingly striving to repeat its failed democratic experience people like me are at a loss about their fate.

As a metaphor I would say that we can very well and very scholarly diagnose our diseases but, short of temporary and painful remedies worse than the disease such as grossly corrupt (sometime mad) tyranny, civil strife or war, there is alas no lasting cure: Israel is proposing its example of a supposedly successful mono-ethnic entity in the Middle-East but at what price! And who can tell that internecine struggle deeply rooted in jewish history does not expect the israelis about the many issues of contention their society have to face? The murder of PM Rabin and the outrage at the democratically decided Gaza pull-out were but some of the undeniable signs of ideological divisions within this so-called model of unity. Will Israel withstand the test of peace?

Where do we go from there? I frankly do not know except that my only two sons live one in France and the other in the USA ( many of my friends suffer similar situations) and that I have no real say in the sort of environment I would like to live in (this is practically everyone's condition in our dear Near-East with the notable exception of Israel ). We (I include Syria) might have missed opportunities in the past (i.e. during the French Mandate to build a viable federation with Syria, another one through a union engineered by a syrian leader less ideologic, more pragmatic and communicative than Hafiz el Assad) . Is it too late and are we inexorably heading towards the sectarian fragmentations wished by the promoters of the "constructive instability"?

Presently my republican education is being daily aggressed while the humanist culture I am grateful and proud to have received is being subjected to a war of attrition by the fanatics of this world who, basing themselves on the allegation that a three-faced god revealed himself here and only here out of the whole universe, chose this part of the planet as their battlefield.

Meanwhile I continue to love this part of the planet despite its shortcomings and I know you do too. I hope I did not bore you with my divergations.
Best regards.

Turkey has dropped Asad:

According to news and rumors in Ankara, Mr. Bashar ASSAD has tried to have an appointment from Turkish PM while planning to go to UN Conference in NY. And Turkish diplomatic sources say, Turkey has received strong signals from Washington not to give a chance Syrian leader to get a head-to-head talk with Turkish PM. If all these rumors could be accepted reliable, all we can see in the near future is “a dramatic shift in Turkish policy toward Syrian leader”. As you well recall that Turkish PM has supported Mr.ASSAD personaly and has invited the Syrian leader and his wife to Turkey for holiday last summer. But suddenly the visit of Syrian couple to Turkish Rivieara had called off. And again there was rumor in Ankara that Washington urged Turkey to cancel this invitation. Last note for Turkish PM’s rendezvous in NY last week: PM ERDOGAN met only Refiq HARIRI’s son Saad HARIRI instead of these country’s President LAHOUD.

Given all these developments, we can surely say that Turkey has shifted its policy toward Damascus and has sided its policy through Washington. And it is undoubtley clear that the National Security Advisor Stephen HADLEY must have urged Turkey about Syria. It should be keep in mind that Mr.HADLEY’s fisrt overseas trip was Turkey.

Damascus is probably loosening one of its strongest supporters in the region and it seems that Syria has only Iran left as an ally.

Hacettepe Univ, Turkey

Fed Up: Bring them to Account
Dear Mr landis,
As an avid reader of your website, I must first say that i find it balanced and insightfull even if i disagree with you on a lot of issues. Firstly im curious , do you not face any sort of pressure from the syrian government? is the fact that you publish in english mean that your limited reach in syria spares you the government's wrath?

Anyway, I must say you seem to take a lavishly positive view on the regime's
so-called reform program. I think it is time to face the fact that their is no such a thing, for this would require the regime to accept that syria is in a mess economicaly politically socially etc.. (Bashar al assad prefers to call it a renewal rather than reform process).

Let us take the mobile network for example, licensing both networks to Rami Makhlouf with no competing bids and then jailing Riad al-Seif for bringing it up seems like governemnt encouraged and protected corruption more than anything else.

the same with the first private school (choeifat owned by makhlouf) or the duty free (same thing) or the embarrassing banning of mercedez simply because he coudnt get his hands on the dealership....

Which leaves us with one of two things , either bashar is a very weak leader in which case he shoudnt be in power , or more likely that he actually doesnt mind these things.

The syrian people are sick and tired of 30 years of this regime , i come from a minority that abhors the muslim brotherhood, and i would propably live with a quasi democracy like in Jordan or Morrocco over them winning power democraticely, but for the situation to continue as it is is not an option.

Enough torture enough corruption enough holding back and destroying the enormous potential that is syria and enough rule by the assad family ...

p.s. aref dalila is entering his 4th year in jail , if you believe a regime which would leave a 67 year old renowned economist to die in prison for speaking out on corruption as a regime looking to reform then trully you are blind...

and i must say that i cant wait till the syrian regime is implicated in the death of harriri finally they will be brought to account for something...

Razan Zeitouneh Interviewed by Joe Pace: Syria's Preemptive War against Infiltrators into Iraq

Syria's Preemptive War against Infiltrators into Iraq

Interview with Razan Zeitouneh
By Joe Pace
14 September 2005, Damascus
Published by "Syria Comment"

Razan Zeitouneh is a 29 year old Syrian human rights activist, lawyer, and journalist. She worked with the Human Rights Association of Syria until last September, when she left to work on several independent projects. She is the founder of the website, Syrian Human Rights Information Link, or SHRIL, an important clearing house for information on people who have been arrested or have disappeared. The site is written in both English and Arabic and constitutes an organized attempt to monitor human rights violations in Syria.

Razan explains that "the regime has started to arrest everyone associated with those who make it to Iraq" and is trying to "frighten people from even thinking about going to Iraq. " This raises the question: Why doesn't Syria trumpet these arrests? Why doesn't it use the fact that it has been terrorizing Islamists, Jihadists, and the families and friends of those who have infiltrated into Iraq to counter false American accusations that it is aiding and abetting Arab Jihadists to infiltrate into Iraq?

We can only guess at the answer to these questions.

1. The Syrian government maintains that Arabs have the right to resist foreign occupation. It has opposed America's invasion of Iraq from the beginning as illegal. Thus it is embarrassed by its capitulation to American pressure and does not wish to broadcast it.

2. The broad Syrian public agrees that the Iraqi resistance is legitimate, even as it condemns terrorists such as Zarqawi and the killing of innocent Iraqis. The government’s measures to crack down of those who would help the resistance is unpopular.

3. The regime is frightened of advertising the arrest and harassment of Sunni Islamists for fear of alienating the Sunni masses and Imams more than it already has.

4. Syria has no laws to properly prosecute the people it is arresting on suspicion of wanting to go fight in Iraq or of having fought in Iraq, thus it cannot advertise that it is breaking its own laws.

5. The president's press office is incompetent and not up to the task of briefing the international press on its efforts to help the US in Iraq.

Here is part one of Joe Pace's interview with Razan Zaitouneh.


[Joe Pace] Since the family members of those who are arrested on the charge of infiltrating Iraq often report the arrests to the human rights associations, you have an interesting perspective on the regime’s efforts—or according to some, lack thereof—to stem the tide of infiltrators. Is the regime cracking down on them or are they turning a blind eye?

[Razan Zaitouneh] I’ll give you the facts and you can come to your own conclusion. Always, at all times, there are people being arrested on the charge of attempting to infiltrate Iraq. At the same time, people are still able to reach Iraq and the regime has started to arrest everyone associated with those who make it to Iraq. So is the regime arresting these people to compensate for their inability to detain the original infiltrators, to create an atmosphere of fear in the cities and towns from which they leave for Iraq? Or are they trying to show the world a different picture, that they are stopping their support for the infiltrators? I don’t know the answer to that question.

A little while back, the authorities were spreading rumors that they were going to arrest all those who returned from Iraq. It created a lot of anxiety among those who had gone to Iraq—many of them returned from Iraq recently, some wounded, some surrendered to the Red Cross, and some were shocked when they found that Iraqis preferred the occupation. So a large portion of them returned and the security forces began asking about them and questioning their families. But then nothing happened. So I imagine they were doing that to frighten people from even thinking about going to Iraq.

When the authorities do make their arrests, is there usually a basis for their accusation that the person in question attempted to infiltrate Iraq, or are they making arbitrary arrests?

Usually what happens is that someone goes to Iraq and then after they leave, the security forces arrest their friends and acquaintances. They investigate them on the assumption that they also harbored an intention of going to Iraq.

There has been an upsurge in the arrest of Islamists, or suspected Islamists. Is the regime targeting Islamists because they see them as the most likely candidates to infiltrate Iraq, or is this a separate campaign?

They are arresting religious people even without accusing them of trying to enter Iraq. They are arresting people from all different trends: the Wahhabis, the Salafis, members of Hizb at-Tahrir (the Liberation Party), despite the fact that many of those people don’t believe in jihad and reject the idea that they are obliged to fight in Iraq. Any group which displays an inkling of fundamentalism is being pressured. They wave of arrests has been broad and it’s often arbitrary and the human rights violations they suffer are unimaginable.

Do you have a sense as to how the regime was supporting the infiltrators in the beginning?

I don’t have a clear sense. We all knew that whoever wanted to go was welcome and sometimes the authorities would help them. Everyone was talking about it; it was normal. Then after a short period, it suddenly became extremely dangerous. You would hear stories about accidents and forced disappearances, as in people would set out for Iraq and they would never make it, which of course means that they were arrested before they reached the border. Then the campaign of arrests began.

When they arrest family members and friends of the infiltrators, what do they do with them? Do they refer them to the High National Security Court?

There are many possibilities. In a village called ‘Abaddeh in the southern countryside of Damascus, three or four men left for Iraq with their wives. They disappeared suddenly without informing their families or anything like that. After two months, the security agencies made a sweep through the village and arrested eight people—family members and friends of those who left. They totally disappeared. It’s been more than 14 months and not a thing is known about them. [Razan informed me on October 3 that days ago, the families of the detained were permitted to visit their sons for the first time in Sadnaya prison. They are being referred to the High National Security Court; no charge has been issued.]

Another possibility is that someone disappears during the interrogation process, maybe they reappear after a year of investigation and then they are referred to the Security Court. There’s no set rule about how they deal with these issues. There is one man who left for Iraq right after the start of the occupation; he disappeared before reaching the border and nothing has been heard about him in over two years.

What are your thoughts on the continued accusations on the part of the US administration that Syria is not doing enough to crack down on infiltrators?

This is what baffles me the most. How they can continue to issue these accusations in the face of all the arrests of the infiltrators and people within the religious circles, I don’t know.

If the people within these religious circles aren’t participating in any illegal activities and they’re not trying to enter Iraq, what is motivating the regime’s campaign against them?

I think it’s a preemptive war against any sort of organized activity by those groups. Of all the human rights violations against the religious groups that the human rights associations have monitored, none have occurred against someone practicing or calling for violence. Most don’t have guns, and more simply, they don’t have the organizational structure—they’re just a bunch of individuals who meet and talk. So I think it’s a preemptive war being waged based on the fear that maybe these groups will produce violent followers or will engage in organized activity one day.

Do you think this preemptive war is going to diffuse the Islamist threat—assuming there is one—or is it going to foment a backlash?

For certain, it is going to produce a backlash. The US and this regime continue to wage war against these Islamists without ever realizing that these people cling to a doctrine which preaches that the world means nothing. All that matters is that I reach heaven. So I don’t have a problem with being arrested or martyring myself. The heightened oppression and its arbitrariness are reinforcing that doctrine and increasing their malevolence. Perhaps, if they were not thinking about violence, after they see the arrests, the torture, the violations, some day they will turn to violence.

I’ll tell you what I think the solution is. The experience of the war on terrorism that has been waged by both the West and this regime has proved that arrests, torture, etc do not create healthy societies. They thought that these pressures would discourage people from forming new terrorist organizations or from joining terrorist groups. The total opposite happened. The solution is that there needs to be an opening through which we can engage and dialogue with the religious extremists. There must be a political opening and economic improvement. Look, most of the people who are joining these movements are very young—many of them are in high school. They’re young enough that you can still influence them and convince them of the merits of democracy.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Max Boot wants to Bomb Syria - A Stupid Idea

The battle over how much pressure should be applied to Syria continues to rage in Washington. Those hawks, such as Max boot, quoted below, advocate the US go it alone, not by leading a full invasion of Syria, but by "bombing strikes, commando raids and increased support for anti-Assad dissidents." What a fool this Boot is. Such provocations would only lead to the rise of nationalism in Syria and the hardening of attitudes against the US. They would also further radicalize great swaths of Syrian youth who already see the US occupation of Iraq as criminal. They would backfire and cause the death of more American troops and Iraqis.

Boot and his ilk have no idea what has been going on in Syria. The Asad regime has been sewing terror among the families of Islamists. Anyone who even contemplates sneaking into Iraq to fight places his family and friends in deep trouble. For months now the security apparatus has been persecuting Syrian Islamists through arrests, interrogations and disappearances. Razan Zaitouneh, a courageous human rights lawyer in Damascus has been keeping track of the human toll of this campaign by the Syrian government. I will post Joe Pace's interview with her soon.

Cracking down on terror's cronies.

The U.S. must put pressure on abetting nations such as Pakistan and Syria

By Max Boot September 29, 2005

One of the keys to defeating any guerrilla movement is to cut off its outside support.... Today, even as the U.S. is making considerable progress in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are failing to isolate the battlefield. The extremists attacking U.S. forces and our allies continue to receive sanctuary and support from neighboring states, notably Pakistan and Syria. It is, of course, difficult to close any border, but we could do more by going to the source of the trouble....

The Bush administration needs to lean on Musharraf to do more - not only in fighting Islamist extremists but also in bringing back democracy - by cutting his allowance, if necessary. That it isn't pushing harder is perhaps understandable because of the widespread fear that toppling Musharraf would result in a more anti-American regime.
Less explicable is our failure to apply greater pressure on Syria, whose regime is already as anti-American as it gets and which continues to act as a conduit for terrorists infiltrating Iraq.

Foreign jihadis may be only a small part of the overall Iraqi insurgency, but they are its most vicious element - the monsters who drive cars filled with explosives into crowds of Shiites. As President Bush said on Sept. 13, "These people are coming from Syria into Iraq and killing a lot of innocent people." The president added that "the Syrian leader must understand we take his lack of action seriously."
Bashar Assad understands nothing of the sort. After all, he has been hearing similar warnings for more than two years. Way back on July 21, 2003, Bush said that "this behavior is completely unacceptable, and states that support terror will be held accountable."

How has Syria been held accountable? Has Damascus been bombed? Have U.S. and Iraqi troops crossed the border to destroy terrorist safe houses? The only repercussions so far have been U.S. economic sanctions that are toothless because there is almost no trade between Syria and the U.S. in the first place. The European Union, ever helpful, has actually been moving to expand economic links with Syria by granting it "associate" membership.

Perhaps the administration hopes that the United Nations will take care of Syria for it. A U.N.-appointed detective has been doggedly investigating the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and all trails lead to Damascus. Four senior Lebanese security officials with close ties to Syria have been jailed, and more suspects may be fingered.

But, although the backlash over Hariri's assassination forced Syrian troops out of Lebanon, it is doubtful that it will force Assad out of Syria. If we want to stop Assad's "unacceptable" behavior, we'll have to do it ourselves.

That does not mean a full-scale invasion, because U.S. troops are already stretched too thin. But bombing strikes, commando raids and increased support for anti-Assad dissidents may help to concentrate the mind of the world's sole surviving Baathist strongman.

Either Bush needs to order some of those steps, or he and his aides need to stop threatening Assad in public. They are turning Teddy Roosevelt's dictum on its head and thereby undermining American credibility by speaking loudly and not wielding a big stick.

Max Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Iraqi FM on Ties with Syria
By Saleh Awwad

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat while in New York to attend UN General Assembly session and the World Summit, Zebari said that among the strong factors that "keep the ghost of sectarian war at bay is the abundance of inter-marriages between Sunnis and Shiites, which account for 26 percent of all marriages." Zebari stressed that the "biggest danger facing the new Iraq is the black terrorism and mass murder perpetrated by gangs of remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime and extremists terrorists coming from abroad." He hoped that "all Arab and Islamic countries, especially those neighboring Iraq, would respect the Iraq people's free will to determine their own fate and make their own political decisions."

The Iraqi foreign minister insisted that Syria is party to the violence in Iraq, and said that the problem lies not in the lack of resources or equipment needed to monitor borders, as Syrian officials keep saying, "but in the lack of a Syrian political will to end the terrorism in Iraq." He stressed that "it is not in Iraq's interest to incite the United States or any other foreign power against Syria," and hinted that Damascus seeks to change the political system in Iraq.

Zebari added, "According to intelligence data and investigations, most of the terrorists coming from abroad do so via the Syrian border. We are not accusing Syria of intentionally allowing this, but we do complain from its failure to take deterrent measures to stop these terrorists. Furthermore, a number of Iraqi Ba'thist leaders who are wanted by Iraqi security and legal authorities are in Syria." Zebari said, "We asked sisterly Arab countries to persuade Syria to help us. Honestly speaking, the prolonged deterioration of security in Iraq will reflect on Syria and the region's countries. What we want is for them to cooperate with us; there are many steps that can be taken."
Pentagon concedes Iraq uncertainties
By Brian Knowlton International Herald Tribune

WASHINGTON An array of top U.S. military leaders sought to reassure Congress about progress in Iraq, but they made it clear that American troops could begin withdrawing next year only if the country remained on its democratizing track and Syria and Iran stayed out of their neighbor's affairs.

The leaders, before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, encountered skeptical questioning from both Republicans and Democrats about the course of the war, and acknowledged great uncertainties ahead.

For example, General George Casey, who commands the U.S.-led force in Iraq, conceded that it was "entirely possible" that a strong majority of Sunni Muslims might oppose the country's draft constitution in an Oct. 15 referendum, but fail to block it.

That development, which could enhance a sense of disenfranchisement among the Sunni minority, could lead to a worsening political situation, he said....

And Rumsfeld said that any withdrawal plans depended on noninterference by Iran and Syria.

The Daily Star, Beirut's only English language daily, on Saturday quoted a high ranking U.N. diplomat as ruling out the possibility of forming a special international court to try Rafik Hariri's assassins.
The diplomat said current talks in the hallways of the U.N. "are moving away from the option of establishing an international tribunal" to try the perpetrators, adding that "other options are being discussed."

The diplomat said: "If there was going to be an international presence in the trial, I don't think it would be through an international court. I think the talks are heading towards a Lebanese trial with a strong intention to support it by the U.N."

The diplomat added the international community "right now feels the need to strengthen and support the Lebanese Judiciary," and an international court would "weaken the credibility of the Lebanese judiciary system."

"Two possibilities are being discussed right now; one involves a direct U.N. presence in the trial, and the other just requires supervision and support by the U.N.," the diplomat said.

Bush, aides consider what to do about Syria
White House looking at military action or sanctions to stop flow of insurgents into Iraq.

Knight Ridder Newspapers
WASHINGTON -- President Bush and his top aides are weighing new steps against Syria, according to U.S. officials involved in Middle East policy.

Bush's national security team met Saturday to review the policy toward Syria, the officials said. Options range from tougher economic sanctions to limited military action. One official involved in the deliberations said military action is unlikely for now.

However, one option under consideration was bombing several villages 30 to 40 miles inside Syria that some officials believe have been harboring Iraqi insurgents. The officials said the U.S. government has complained to the Syrian government about the matter but has not received a satisfactory response.

One other official, however, said military and other intelligence officers say the intelligence on the insurgents' presence in the villages is "not unambiguous." They said it is not clear whether the insurgents are present as a matter of Syrian government policy or local or tribal hospitality, or simply because insurgents have intimidated villagers.

The proposal to take military action, the officials said, reflects the military's increasing frustration with its inability to defeat the insurgency and stop the flow of foreign terrorists into Iraq.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the plans are highly classified and no decisions had yet been made on whether to adopt them. It wasn't clear whether they were speaking publicly of possible action in an effort to put more pressure on the Syrian government to crack down on insurgent activity along the border.

The White House declined to comment Saturday when asked about the meeting.
In the face of recent claims that Ahmed Jibril and the PFLP are preparing to burn down Lebanon, this article from Sham Press suggests that he is preparing to move to Gaza now that Israel has withdrawn. It seems to be a move encouraged by Syria, which wants to get him out of its hair in this time of increased international pressure.

PFLP Leadership Moving From Syria to Gaza
Ahmed Jibril is likely to enter Gaza via Rafiah, granting what at least one member says will be "renewed momentum" to the PFLP organization.

Jibril, 77, is the founder and leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine/General Command (PFLP-GC), which has staged numerous attacks against Israeli and other targets, both military and civilian.

The London-based Al-Hayat newspaper quotes Dr. Adal Al-Hakim, a member of the PFLP's diplomatic office, as saying that Jibril is expected to arrive in Gaza - though he did not specify a time frame. Al-Hakim says that leading PFLP figures will arrive first in Gaza to investigate and shore up the organization's infrastructure and prepare for the leader's entry. Jibril's move will alleviate world pressure on Syria to get rid of Palestinian bases.

In Al-Hakim's evaluation, Jibril's arrival in Gaza will grant "renewed momentum" to the organization's activity in the Palestinian Authority-controlled areas.
Jibril, like PLO Oslo-opponent Farouk Kaddoumi, has refused to enter the PA-controlled areas until now, so as not to have to receive Israeli permission. With the opening of the Rafiah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza, Jibril will not have to face this issue.
Second day of offensive in Western Iraq
U.S. Marines and soldiers faced sporadic small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades as they entered Karabila on Sunday, part of the military's latest operation in Anbar province.

About 1,000 forces, backed by Marine aircraft, are trying to root out insurgents and enemy fighters in an area near the Syrian border, the military said.

No Marine casualties have been reported in the first two days of the offensive. One U.S. soldier was wounded, military officials said.

During the push into eastern Karabila, five miles from Syria, U.S. planes dropped three 500-pound bombs on a compound that they suspected to be an insurgent stronghold.

In another incident, seven civilians were wounded, six of whom were hospitalized, by a tank round.

Also, U.S. forces fired a .50-caliber machine gun at a suspicious vehicle, which blew up as if it was loaded with explosives.

On Saturday, U.S. forces went house to house in Sa'da, where many people fled before the mission. One resident told CNN many feared destruction similar to Falluja, site of ferocious battle in November.

"For the past several months, terrorists within Sa'da have escalated their intimidation and murder campaign against the local populace and city government officials," the military said.

The military said it killed eight insurgents in Sa'da, which is about 12 miles from the porous Syrian border.

According to the military, four of the insurgents were killed when they attacked a Marine position with small arms and at least one car rigged with a bomb. One insurgent surrendered, the military said.

Marines also found the town "littered" with homemade bombs, CNN's Jennifer Eccleston reported.

Karabila has been the site of two previous missions -- Operation Matador in May and Operation Spear in June.

In the past, U.S.-led offensives in Anbar have lasted about a week, but insurgents have returned to towns after the troops left. The city of Hit, however, still has a U.S. and Iraqi presence, after coalition forces took control about two months ago.

On Monday, the U.S. military said it was redeploying troops to the 30,000-square-mile region bound by the Euphrates River and the borders of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria, where the Marines had been stretched thin.

Military officials believe more than 1,000 insurgents operate in the province, said Col. Stephen Davis, commander of the Marine Regimental Combat Team 2.

Operation Iron Fist was launched two weeks ahead of an October 15 national referendum on a new Iraqi constitution.

CNN's Arwa Damon, Jennifer Eccleston and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Joe Pace: "The Syrian Opposition," Interview by Razan Zaitouneh

Joe Pace, who interviewed scores of opposition leaders in Syria this summer and is publishing them on "Syria Comment," is interviewed by Razan Zaitouneh, who has kindly sent the interview to me in Arabic.

Ms. Zaitouneh is a lawyer, a Human rights activist, and has written articles about human rights in Syria which have been published by the Lebanese press and on several websites. Tomorrow, I hope to publish the extraordinary intereview that Joe did of Razan.

I have not had time to translate this article, but Joe speaks about relations between the Arab and Kurdish opposition, and the strengths and weaknesses of both. He also describes the relationship of the opposition to America and their positions on President Bush's campaign to reform the Middle East. He also gives a candid description of what US embassy officials do for the opposition in Syria.

سورية في مرآة "جاسوس" مزعوم

رزان زيتونة

أجهزة الأمن تستدعي بعض النشطاء السوريين للتحقيق معهم حول لقائهم بشاب أمريكي يدعى جوزيف بيس..وفقا لأجهزة الأمن، فهذا الشاب جاسوس!! فهو يتكلم العربية بطلاقة، تجده في كل مكان، في كل نشاط للمعارضة، في كل محافظة، تقرأ له مقالات حول الوضع الداخلي ولقاءات مع نشطاء ومعارضين..
حقيقة، شعرت بالاستياء، لأن أجهزة الأمن تترك "جاسوسا" يجوب في طول البلاد وعرضها، وتستدعي نشطاء التقوا به..
في المحصلة، فقد قمت "باستدعاء" جو إلى مكتبي، وإجراء "تحقيق" معه!! كمراقب محايد كان على احتكاك مباشر بالوضع الداخلي السوري لعدة أشهر، كان لديه الكثير ليقوله...من الضروري أحيانا أن نرى صورة واقعنا في مرآة الآخرين..ذلك يساعد على رؤية أفضل فيما أعتقد...


ما هو سر اهتمامك بالوضع السوري الداخلي؟
أنا أدرس علم اجتماع في أمريكا في جامعة هارفارد ، متخصص بالشرق الأوسط والسياسة العربية ، نحن ندرس الجانب النظري ثم النظريات ثم نذهب لبلد آخر لتطبيق النظريات عمليا ..كنت مهتما بالصراع العربي الفلسطيني وأجريت ثلاثة بحوث عن هذا الموضوع.لكنني أردت دراسة العربية للتعمق أكثر ولعمل دراسة عن التيارات الإسلامية السياسية في الأرض المحتلة، سافرت إلى القاهرة لشهرين، لم أستفد كثيرا لأن معظم من حولي يتكلم الإنكليزية ، فجئت إلى سورية،وفي ذهني تعلم العربية وعمل بحث لجامعتي عن التيارات الإسلامية في سورية، لكن وجدت أنه من الصعب جدا الوصول إلى هذه التيارات أو معرفة الكثير عنها،،وفي هذا الوقت تعرفت إلى نشطاء في حقوق الإنسان، وساعدت بعضهم بأمور الترجمة، وأصبحت شيئا فشيئا مهتما بالموضوع، كنت مهتما بالحريات والديمقراطية بشكل نظري مما قرأته في الكتب، وهنا في سورية ، رأيت أهالي المعتقلين وهم يبكون لأنه في اليوم السابق جاءت سلطات الأمن واعتقلت أبناؤهم، أو أن أما تبكي لأن ولدها مفقود منذ عشرين عاما،بدأت أنسى بأني أمريكي ، أني من جنسية أخرى، انكسرت الحواجز وطغى إحساسي بهم كبشر على أي شيء آخر..احسست أن أمركيا كقوة عظمى عليها واجب أن تعمل شيء ما ، لديها إمكانية التأثير لو أرادت، ليس لدي أوهام عن دوري بهذا المجال، بأنني سأكتب بحثي ثم بناء عليه تقوم الإدارة بتغيير سياساتها تجاه مسألة الديمقراطية في سورية،لكن أقوم بما أراه صحيحا..

من خلال الفترة التي أمضيتها في سورية واطلعت خلالها على الوضع الداخلي السوري عن قرب، ما هي الصورة التي ترسمها للوضع السياسي في سورية ، سلطة ومعارضة؟؟
على الصعيد الرسمي، لا يوجد سياسة أو سياسيين في سورية، يوجد أجهزة أمنية تتحكم بكل شيء، حتى الوزراء تابعين للأجهزة الأمنية ، في الدول الأخرى الوزارة تسيطر على السياسة، في سورية الوزارة هي مثل مستشارة للأجهزة الأمنية.
أما بالنسبة للمعارضة ، فهي ضعيفة جدا ولا تستطيع أن تتواصل مع الشعب، معظم الناس لا يعرفون أن هناك معارضة أو يعتقدون أنها لعبة بيد أمريكا وإسرائيل، أي عميلة،المعارضة عندما تدعو لاعتصام لا تستطيع جمع أكثر من 100 شخص، أتكلم هنا عن المعارضة العربية..وليس الكردية، كما أن المعارضة تعتمد على الأفراد والرموز أكثر من الأفكار..
ثم هناك مشكلة في استراتيجية عمل المعارضة، فهم يتحدثون طوال الوقت عن المعتقلين السياسيين وقوانين الطوارئ، المعتقلون بالنسبة للشعب أرقام ليس لهم هوية واضحة ، وكذلك قانون الطوارئ ليس واضحا في أذهان الشعب ما هي مساوئه، سألت إحدى صديقاتي السوريات إن كانت ترغب بالمشاركة في اعتصام تنظمه المعارضة من أجل إلغاء حالة الطوارئ وإطلاق المعتقلين السياسيين، فأجابتني، لماذا أعرض نفسي للضرب والمهانة من أجل شخص لا أعرفه ولا أعرف أفكاره أو السبب الحقيقي لاعتقاله، ثم ما هو قانون الطوارئ، وبماذا يؤثر علي؟؟ هي لا تعرف تأثير قانون الطوارئ عليها ولاحتى من النواحي الاقتصادية وما يتعلق بالفساد والبطالة وما إلى ذلك..
ستقولين أن العديد من الصحف تنشر أنباء هذه الاعتقالات ، كم من السوريين يقرؤون صحيفة السفير أو النهار، كم من السوريين يقرؤون صحفا بشكل عام؟؟!! وبالتالي لا أتوقع من الناس أن يكونوا مستعدين لدفع ثمن الوقوف بوجه أمور لا تمسهم مباشرة.
لكن من ناحية أخرى، أعلم أن المعارضة لا تستطيع التركيز على مواضع أخرى بسبب قانون الطوارئ ..كل شيء في النهاية يرجع للقمع السلطوي..
هذا كله نتيجة ضغوط السلطة، إذا لم يكن هناك فرصة للحوار وتطوير المجتمع المدني وانفتاح الحريات، لن تنتج المعارضة شيء، ضغوط النظام تشل المعارضة..

التقيت بمعظم أطياف المعارضة واطلعت على آليات عملهم وطريقة تفكيرهم، برأيك من أكثر الأطراف تنظيما وقوة ومن أكثرها ضعفا؟؟
ليس لدي رؤية واضحة حول من الأكثر قوة أو ضعفا، كل جهة تقول أنها الأقوى والأفضل، لكن أعتقد أن المعارضة تهتم حاليا بالبقاء والاستمرار دون التمكن من إنتاج شيء جديد ..
ربما يبدو وضع المعارضة وكأن أمامي ثلاثة اشخاص: شخص مشلول، وشخص أعمى، وشخص أطرش، يريدون المشاركة في سباق، المشلول لا يستطيع الحراك، والأطرش لا يسمع صافرة البداية، والأعمى لا يدري أين يسير..
ومع ذلك يمكن القول أن التيار الليبرالي ربما يكون الأضعف الآن لأن الايديولوجية الليبرالية جديدة على سورية، وإن كنت أعتقد أنها ستصبح الأقوى لاحقا،خاصة في ظل تراجع الاشتراكية والشيوعية.....

هل تعتقد أن الإدارة الأمريكية لها مصلحة بدعم المعارضة السورية في الداخل، وهل لمست أي خطوات من هذا الاتجاه؟ وكيف لمست موقف المعارضة من تلقي أي دعم أمريكي؟
هناك وجهتا نظر في ما يتعلق بالشق الأول من السؤال، من وجهة تحليل المصالح الأمريكية، ومن ناحية تجربتي الشخصية على أرض الواقع. وفقا لتجربتي، لايوجد اهتمام حقيقي من قبل الإدارة بالمعارضة السورية في الداخل، في السفارة الأمريكية شخص واحد بالكاد يتكلم العربية ،ولا يفهم الوضع الداخلي كما يجب، أحيانا يحضر بعض الفعاليات الخاصة بالمعارضة..سألته عن حالة فيما إذا اعتقل أحد الأشخاص تعسفيا ماذا يفعل، قال يكتب تقرير عن تفاصيل الحالة، قلت لماذا وهناك التقارير التي تصدر أصلا عن المنظمات الحقوقية، لم يكن لديه جواب، في الحقيقة كل ما يفعلونه هو "لا شيء"..
أما من جانب المعارضة، فمعظمها رافض بشكل مطلق للتدخل الأمريكي المباشر، فأمريكا ليس لها مصداقية ، والأغلبية ترفض فكرة التعامل معها، ومن ناحية أخرى، فالمعارضة تعلم أنها ضعيفة وغير قادرة على التأثير، وبالتالي فأمرين أحلاهما مر، إما الضغوط الأمريكية أو البقاء تحت القمع والسحق ...في المجمل الأغلبية ترفض تماما الاستقواء بالخارج، لكنها تطلب ضغوطا بشأن الحريات وحقوق الإنسان بدون أن يكون لهم صلة أو علاقة مع أمريكا..
الأغلبية العظمى ترفض الدعم المادي، ومن الشائع سماع عبارة "لا أركب الشيطان وصولا إلى الجنة"..
هناك قلة يرفضون أي شكل من أشكال الضغوط وقلة يذهبون إلى مذهب قبول حتى الضغط العسكري ..البعض يقول لا نثق بأمريكا، لكن سنستغل ضغوطها حيث تتقاطع مع مطالب الديمقراطية والحريات..

لماذا لا تهتم الإدارة الأمريكية بإرساء الديمقراطية في سورية؟؟
هناك فكرة عند المحافظين الجدد خاصة وعند الشعب بشكل عام في أمريكا، بأن هناك تقاطع بين الديمقراطية والمصالح الأمريكية ، لكن ما هو التقاطع؟ أول أولويات أمريكا محاربة الإرهاب،فالديمقراطية حل للإرهاب، يرسي قبول الآخر ويمنع التطرف، لكنها لا تريد الديمقراطية في سبيل الديمقراطية، ولأنها ملتزمة بحقوق الإنسان فوق كل شيء، التزامها بالديمقراطية يقف ضمن حدودها الخاصة. وفي حال كان هناك تناقض بين المصالح الأمريكية والجهود من أجل الديمقراطية وحقوق الإنسان، فسيتجاهلوا الديمقراطية..
بالنسبة لسورية، فأمريكا لديها أربعة مطالب تريد من سورية تحقيقها: ضبط الحدود مع العراق وإيقاف المتسلللين، وقف دعم الجماعات الإرهابية بين قوسين..، وقف التدخل في لبنان، وأسلحة الدمار الشامل. ثم يأتي بعد ذلك كله قضية الديمقراطية، وهذا مؤسف..
أعتقد أن أمريكا تريد تغيير النظام الذي ترى أنه يقف ضد مصالحها وأجندتها في المنطقة، كما يفعل النظام السوري، لكن السياسة الأمريكية مكبلة لأنه لا يوجد بديل جاهز..ولو كانت أمريكا ذكية لدعمت المعارضة والمجتمع المدني لتهيئته ..وفي المحصلة كل شيء يعتمد على تقرير ميليس، إذا نجحت أمريكا في حصار النظام وإضعافه ، لا أعرف ماذا تخطط الإدارة بعد ذلك، وهل ستكون هناك مقايضة ما تحت الطاولة أم لا..

لكن بماذا يقف النظام السوري ضد الأجندة الأمريكية ، خاصة وأن هناك تعاون أمني بين الطرفين، والمعتقلات ملأى بالمعتقلين الذين اتهموا بمحاولة التسلل للعراق..؟
أنا لم أر الدليل على اتهام سورية بدعم المتسللين المستمر إلى العراق، لكن سورية لها مصلحة واضحة لزعزعة الاستقرار في العراق..
فلو نجح المشروع الأمريكي في العراق، وتم إرساء الديمقراطية هناك، كل الشعوب في الشرق الأوسط ستنادي بالتدخل الخارجي، أما إذا فشلت، فالشعوب ستلتف حول أنظمتها التي ستقدم نفسها على أنها حامي الشعب من الشيطان الخارجي.أمريكا باحتلالها العراق وما نتج عنه، أعطت النظام السوري مصدر شرعية، والنظام أخذ هذه الشرعية عن طريق زعزعة الاستقرار في العراق..
من ناحية أخرى، فطالما بقيت أمريكا غارقة في مستنقع العراق، والجيش مبعثر في العراق وكورية وأفغانستان، وطالما هناك جنود امريكيون يقتلون، لا تستطيع أمريكا أن تمارس ضغطا عسكريا على سورية، خاصة بسبب الرأي العام الأمريكي الرافض لحرب جديدة والذي يريد الانسحاب من العراق ووقف التدخل في شؤون الشرق الأوسط.

التقيت بالمعارض السوري في الخارج فريد الغادري، ما هي رؤيتك لهذه المعارضة، وهل تعتقد أن هناك نية أمريكية لدعمها؟
هناك علامات على أن أمريكا تريد دعم المعارضة الخارجية كما فعلت في العراق، منذ عدة أيام التقى الغادري مع الخارجية الأمريكية ، ومنذ أشهر التقى بزوجة ديك تشيني، لكن لا نعلم لأي درجة هناك صلات بين حزبه وبين الادارة الامريكية، ربما هي الآن في المرحلة البدائية.
بالنسبة لفريد الغادري ، رأيته شخص انتهازي ، يرغب في انتهاز فرصة أن يكون جزءا من المشروع الأمريكي، كما أنه منقطع عن الوضع السوري ، وغير صادق!! هو يصور الوضع في سورية بما يخدم أجندته ، يدعي أن له قواعد في سورية وهو لا يملك شيء على الاطلاق..سألت كل شخص التقيته، لا أحد يؤيده.. منذ عشرة أيام كتب في موقعه، بأن هناك معارضة سورية جديدة تزدهر والشعب السوري سيكون جاهزا لتبديل النظام خلال ستة أشهر، هذا مضحك، أين هي هذه المعارضة السرية المنظمة، ربما أنه يعرف شيء لا أعرفه ولا أحد يعرفه !! من ناحية أخرى فهو يوجه سياسته للإدارة الأمريكية أكثر من السوريين، وأفضل دليل أنه يستغل اللوبي الصهيوني للوصول لإدارة بوش، وهذا واضح من المواد المنشورة على موقعه الالكتروني، مثلا في كلامه عن الصراع الفلسطيني الاسرائيلي، يضع الحق على الفلسطينيين، وفي حديثه عن الاحتلال السوري للبنان، يسهب في الحديث عن هذا الاحتلال ومساوءه، هذه استراتيجية توصل لنتائج سريعة، لكنها انتحارية، فبشار ليس صدام، والشعب السوري مختلف عن الشعب العراقي، هناك مشاعر قومية عالية لدى الشعب السوري، ولديهم أرض محتلة، هناك عداء تجاه كل ما هو اسرائيلي، فكيف يريد لعب دور لدى السوريين من خلال كونه مدعوم من الصهيونية..

قمت بزيارة القامشلي ورأيت الوضع الكردي عن قرب، كيف تصف أوضاع الأكراد في سورية؟وهل لمست بالفعل نزعة انفصالية في أوساطهم؟ من ناحية أخرى، قلت سابقا أن وضع المعارضة الكردية يختلف عن نظيرتها العربية، لماذا، وكيف ترى العلاقة بين المعارضتين الكردية والعربية؟

الأكراد يعانون ما يعانيه كل الشعب السوري بالإضافة إلى معاناتهم الخاصة كأكراد، وإن كانوا يبالغون أحيانا ، مثل القول بأنهم يعانون من انتهاكات حدثت منذ عشر سنوات ولم تعد تحدث الآن ..فإن هذا مفهوم نتيجة لوضعهم السيئ..
المعارضة الكردية ضعيفة وقوية في نفس الوقت، ضعيفة لأن هناك 13 أو 14 حزب كردي، ونزعة الانشقاق قوية جدا بين الأحزاب، كما يبدو أن هناك فجوة بين الأحزاب الموجودة والجيل الجديد..
وقوية بمعنى أن لديها قواعد متحركة ومسيسة.
فيما يتعلق بالنزعة الانفصالية ، فهذه كذبة القومية العربية ، هناك حلم بدولة مستقلة، وجميعنا لدينا أحلام، لكن الأكراد في سورية لا يعتقدون بإمكانية تحقق هذا الحلم، هو حلم أشبه بحلم الوحدة العربية أو حلم الفلسطينيين بإلغاء إسرائيل، لكن هذا الأمر ليس على أجندتهم..هم يريدون حقوقا ثقافية، إعادة الأراضي المسلوبة، الاعتراف بوجودهم في الدستور، وهذا لا خلاف عليه بشكل عام مع العرب،الخلاف ينشأ حول أمور من مثل ، حذف كلمة عربي من الهوية السورية، تغيير كون اللغة العربية هي لغة رسمية وحيدة في الدستور، ...هم أيضا يريدون نوع من السيطرة على مناطقهم وإدارتها..رغم أنهم يؤكدون أنهم لا يريدون فيدرالية، مع أنني أرى أن الفيدرالية لا تضعف النظام بل تقويه، فالتوتر العرقي سيهدد البلد أكثر من فيدرالية هي عمليا حل للمشاكل العرقية والطائفية ..
الاكراد يعلمون أن تركيا حليف قوي لأمريكا، وتركيا لا يمكن أن تقبل بكردستان مستقلة، وأمريكا تنفذ سياستها على أساس الحدود الحالية..

كما أن أغلبية الأكراد، يعتبرون أنفسهم أكراد سوريين وليس أكرادا فقط، للأسف الحكومة تخيف الناس بأن الأكراد يريدون الانفصال، مايؤدي إلى ردة فعل سلبية لدى الأكراد ويوسع الشرخ في المجتمع ويؤدي مع الوقت إلى خلق النزعة الانفصالية..

فيما يتعلق بالعلاقة بين المعارضتين الكردية والسورية، فهي علاقة سيئة وسطحية كما أرى، أولا هناك مشكلة الخوف من النزعة الانفصالية المزعومة لدى الأكراد، هناك أيضا عدم ثقة من العرب تجاه الأكراد على اعتبار أنهم "عملاء " أمريكا ودعموها في العراق..القوميون المتشددون يتناولون القضية الكردية كمشكلة لا كقضية، لا يعترفون بوجود قومية مستقلة مختلفة ولا يفكرون بطريقة مختلفة عن السلطة..القوميون العرب المتشددون يتحدثون عن حدود اصطناعية صنعها الاستعمار، لكن عندما يتكلمون عن الاكراد هاجسهم الأول الحدود، يقولون ، لا يجوز تغيير الحدود ، وكأن الحدود جاءت من عند الله..!
لكن من ناحية أخرى، الأكراد يعترفون بأنه لا حل للقضية الكردية بدون ديمقراطية ومع ذلك فهم يركزون زيادة عن اللزوم على الأمور الخاصة بهم كأكراد، في الوقت الذي يجب أن يركزوا فيه على الديمقراطية،التي إن تحققت فستضمن حلا تلقائيا لمشكلتهم عن طريق صناديق الاقتراع..فلماذا يتشاجروا مع العرب على ماذا سيحصل بعد الديمقراطية..ويطرحوا أمورا تزيد الهوة بينهم حاليا..
وفي الحقيقة الطرفان يغيروا التاريخ ويحرفوه وفقا لما يريدون، الأكراد يقولون نحن هنا من مئات السنين والعرب يقولون العكس، ويعتبرون الأكراد ضيوفا في بلدهم قدموا منذ بضع عشرات من السنين ،أنا لا أريد معرفة نسبة الأكراد عام 1920 ، أريد الواقع الحالي ، وكيف بالإمكان التعامل معه.

برأيك ما مدى قبول المعارضة الكردية للتدخل الأمريكي في الشؤون السورية ؟
هناك عدم ثقة من جانب الأكراد بأمريكا، لكن هناك "مودة" تجاهها أيضا، الأكراد يعلمون تماما أن أمريكا غير مخلصة للديمقراطية لكنهم يعلمون أن هناك تقاطع بين مصالحها وإرساء الديمقراطية..معظمهم لا يرفضون التدخل الدبلوماسي وقلة منهم يقبلون بالتدخل العسكري،،هناك نكتة متداولة في الأوساط الكردية تقول بأن كرديا من سوريا ذهب إلى كردستان العراق، فقابل جندي أمريكي، اقترض الأمريكي من الكردي نقودا وسأله كيف وأين يعيدها إليه،،يجيبه الكردي عندما تأتي إلى سورية نتحاسب"!!

هل لمست نمو نزعة نحو التطرف في سورية؟
أعتقد هناك صحوة إسلامية نستدل عليها من عدة ظواهر، مثلا منذ سنتين عندما كنت في سورية، لاحظت أن نسبة الفتيات المحجبات في الجامعة حوالي 60% ،منذ ثلاثة أسابيع كنت في الجامعة ولاحظت أن حوالي 85% من الفتيات محجبات، في الوقت نفسه هناك وتيرة معاكسة حيث نرى الفتيات السفور يبالغن بطريقة لباسهن بشكل كبير، بينما نرى الوسط يختفي، أي الوسط غير المحجب وغير المبالغ بالتحرر ..
فيما يتعلق بالتطرف،إذا كان النظام لم يخلق تنظيم جند الشام – حيث يشاع أن هذا التنظيم مجرد فبركة من السلطة- فأنا لا أستبعد نمو التطرف في سورية،فالوضع الاقتصادي في تردي دائم، الضغوط الغربية "العلمانية" تشتد ، والمسلمون يحسون أنهم محاصرون وأن الغرب يحارب الإسلام ، والوضع الأمني والسياسي بالغ السوء،هناك كره للنظام، والنظام لا يحاول ولا يسمح بإنتاج بديل للفكر البعثي المكروه ، كما أنه لا يسمح بتأسيس تيارات اسلامية سياسية معتدلة، فالإسلام دين مسيس، ليس مثل المسيحية، ومن الطبيعي وجود تيارات اسلامية سياسية.
فإذا قدرنا أن 90% من المتدينين سيلجؤون إلى الصحوة الاسلامية في بحث عن حل لمشاكلهم السابق ذكرها فيمكن جدا ان يختار 10% منهم التطرف..

هل التقيت بشخصيات من السلطة ؟
التقيت فقط بأيمن عبد النور وجورج جبور وشخص هو محرر جريدة النور، وقررت بعدها أن لا أضيع وقتي باللقاء مع شخصيات مقربة من السلطة، فهم يقولون الكثير بدون أن يقولوا أي شيء، ربما باستثناء أيمن عبد النور الذي تحدث بصراحة..

استدعي نشطاء مؤخرا من قبل الأجهزة الأمنية لأنهم وافقوا على الالتقاء بك والحديث معك، السلطة اعتبرتك جاسوسا، والنشطاء تعرضوا للاستدعاء بسببك، مارأيك..
لو كنت جاسوسا فلماذا سمحوا لي بالدخول إلى البلد والبقاء فيه، هذه حجة لاستدعاء المعارضين ومضايقتهم،كما أن عمري 21 سنة ولم أتخرج بعد من الجامعة، كيف أكون جاسوسا..كما أعتقد أن ما أثار استياء السلطة مني، أني على علاقة شخصية بالعديد من أفراد المعارضة،وأني أتكلم العربية بطلاقة.
أنا مؤمن بالديمقراطية وأن هذا الشعب يستحقها ، يستحق ما هو أفضل من نظام يحرمه أبسط حقوقه ولا يدمر كل مكونات البلد من أجل مجموعة صغيرة من المنتفعين.
شعرت بالذنب تجاه النشطاء الذين تم استدعاءهم لأنني كنت سبب المشكلة، وربما كان يجب أن أكون أكثر حذرا،لكن بنفس الوقت، هم يعلمون الظروف الأمنية السائدة، وأنهم مضطرون لدفع ثمن أي خطوة ..نحن لم نفعل شيء خطأ، وإذا كانت أجهزة الأمن pigs فهذا ليس خطأي .

ماهو أجمل وأسوأ شيء في سورية ؟؟
من الأشياء الجميلة التي لن أنساها أبدا، أنني كنت أذهب في الثالثة صباحا إلى محل الفول جانب بيتي وأتناول الفول والزيت، ، هذا شيء مستحيل في أمريكا..
أسوا شيء في سورية هو النظام الذي دمر كامل إمكانيات المجتمع ..دمر عدة أجيال للأسف..