Bush Engages for Foes as Syrians Make a Come Back

Two new articles by Solomon and Moubayed chart the about-face in Bush foreign policy, which promises to be much more productive than the old slash and burn strategy.

Bush Engages Foreign Foes
As Policy Shift Accelerates
Direct Talks With Iran?

By JAY SOLOMON
December 7, 2007; Page A9

WASHINGTON — The White House said that President Bush sent a letter directly to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il seeking cooperation in implementing a pact to dismantle its nuclear arms in exchange for full normalized relations.

The move is the latest example of the White House accelerating its reversal on numerous foreign-policy fronts.

ABOUT-FACE
  The News: President Bush sent a letter to Kim Jong Il asking him to dismantle North Korea's nuclear programs.
  The Context: The letter comes as the White House is also reversing course on hardline policies in several other places, including Syria and Lebanon.
  What's Next: Some diplomats hope talks with Iranian President Ahmadinejad could be next.

Earlier in his presidency, Mr. Bush designated Pyongyang a member of an "axis of evil" and expressed loathing for the communist state's dictator. In recent months, however, contacts have picked up amid an accord on dismantling Pyongyang's nuclear program.

On other fronts — particularly Iran, Syria and Lebanon — the Bush administration is also shifting tactics in ways that could affect American interests long-term, say U.S. officials and foreign policy analysts. President Bush is generally receiving praise for engaging Pyongyang and Damascus, but he is also risking alienating the Republican Party's conservative wing, which believes the U-turns will undermine U.S. standing around the world.

"Our foreign policy is in free-fall at the moment," said John Bolton, Mr. Bush's former ambassador to the United Nations and an ally of Vice President Dick Cheney. Mr. Bolton argues that engaging dictators will only "diminish our prestige and influence."

[George Bush]

The release this week of a U.S. intelligence report playing down the threat posed by Iran's atomic energy program is already undercutting President Bush's high-profile campaign to pressure Tehran into suspending its nuclear activities. Mr. Bush used financial sanctions and the threat of force, and a growing number of foreign diplomats now say it will be increasingly difficult for Washington to push a new round of economic sanctions through the United Nations.

The National Intelligence Estimate concluded that Iran froze its nuclear-weapons program in 2003, though it continues to aggressively enrich uranium to produce nuclear fuel.

Both conservative and liberal pundits see the report as so weakening the White House that the U.S. may have no option but to more aggressively seek direct talks with Iran. Even some U.S. diplomats are seizing on the hope that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could use the intelligence report to open up talks with the West.

"If they want to pursue our offers to negotiate, they now have the perfect face-saver," said a U.S. official.

In addition to the report on Iran, Washington's sudden opening to Syria and President Bashar Assad has also stunned many diplomats and foreign-policy analysts. For most of the past six years, the White House viewed Damascus as among its most intractable foes in the Middle East, charging it with supporting militant groups fighting in Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territories. Many U.S. officials also believe Damascus was directly involved in the 2005 murder of Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a charge Syria denies.

[Kim Jong Il]

In recent weeks, though, the U.S. has displayed a growing willingness to talk with Syrian leaders. Damascus's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad addressed the Annapolis peace summit last month, just weeks after it was uncertain that the State Department would even invite the Syrians. And U.S. officials say they are considering backing a Russian initiative to promote direct peace talks between the Syrians and the Israelis.

Pentagon and State Department officials say their optimism toward Syria has been driven by a lessening of the number of foreign fighters being allowed to cross into Iraq from Syria. They also say they hope Mr. Assad can be constructive in helping Lebanon elect a new president after a yearlong political crisis in Beirut.

Still, there are fears that any U.S. engagement with Syria could ultimately cost Lebanon's pro-Western government. In recent days, the Bush administration has indicated it would accept a Lebanese general as president who has longstanding ties to Mr. Assad's regime. Many Lebanese fear this could restore Syrian influence inside their country, just two years after President Assad withdrew nearly 30,000 Syrian troops.

The most pronounced reversal of policy between Mr. Bush's first and second terms involves North Korea. After eschewing any direct talks, the State Department is now regularly sending envoys to Pyongyang and is even promoting a performance by the New York Philharmonic there early next year. Mr. Bush was also encouraged by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to directly contact Mr. Kim through the letter.

In his letter to Mr. Kim, President Bush wrote: "I want to emphasize that the declaration must be complete and accurate if we are to continue our progress," according to an excerpt of the Dec. 1 letter reviewed by the Associated Press.

The payoff has been a nuclear accord among the U.S., North Korea and four other parties that calls for dismantling Pyongyang's nuclear-weapons program by next year. There's also hope that Washington could sign a peace agreement with North Korea, China and South Korea, formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War.

"The Syrians are Back," by Sami Moubayed is a must read for an excellent history of the thaw in US-Syrian relations.

"friday-lunch-club"  explains that "The US is 'quietly' supporting a UNDP program to supply Syria with sophisticated surveillance equipment + computers to monitor borders"

Comments (38)


1. norman said:

Unilateral military strike still an option, senior ministers insist

Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem
Saturday December 8, 2007
The Guardian

Senior Israeli officials warned yesterday that they were still considering a military strike against Iran, despite a fresh US intelligence report that concluded Tehran was no longer developing nuclear weapons.
Although Israel says it wants strong diplomatic pressure put on Iran, it is reluctant to rule out the threat of a unilateral attack. Matan Vilnai, Israel’s deputy defence minister, told Army Radio yesterday: “No option needs to be off the table.”

Avigdor Lieberman, the hard-right deputy prime minister, said Israel should be ready to act if sanctions did not work. “If they don’t, we will sit and decide whatever we have to decide,” he told the Jerusalem Post in an interview yesterday.

Article continues

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Several of Israel’s Iran experts say the American rethink on the threat posed by Iran had ruled out a US military strike and probably an Israeli strike too, at least for now. But Israel’s political hawks continue to keep the threat of action alive.
Binyamin Netanyahu, the popular rightwing opposition leader, was asked whether Israel should launch its own military operation. “We always prefer international action, led by the United States, but we have to ensure that we can protect our country with all means,” he told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz yesterday.

The repercussions of the US intelligence assessment are consuming Israeli politicians, analysts and the press. Although Israeli leaders had been briefed in advance, the national intelligence estimate (NIE) which was declassified and published on Monday brought surprise and frustration in Israel’s defence establishment.

In a shift from earlier assessments, the NIE said Iran had halted its nuclear weapons programme in autumn 2003 and had not restarted it. America’s intelligence agencies said they did not know whether Iran intended to build nuclear weapons.

Israeli officials quickly offered a direct challenge. Ehud Barak, the defence minister, said although Iran’s nuclear programme was halted in 2003 “as far as we know it has probably since revived it”.

It is, however, far from clear whether Israel has unique intelligence on Iran strong enough to contradict the American findings. Ha’aretz noted in an analysis yesterday: “It wasn’t in the intelligence arena that Israel suffered a blow this week, but rather in the public opinion arena.”

Some have suggested that with Israel feeling isolated by its hardline stance on Iran it might be more inclined to launch a unilateral military strike and a comparison is frequently drawn to Israel’s 1981 bombing of Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor. David Albright, a former UN nuclear inspector, said this week if Israel felt its “red line” had been crossed it might strike. “They may force a military confrontation,” he told the Associated Press agency.

However, it is widely assumed that Israel would need US approval, if not cooperation, for a bombing mission. In particular, its air force would need the US flight codes that would allow its planes to cross into Iran. When Israel requested those codes in 1991 to attack Iraq during the first Gulf war, the United States refused and there was no Israeli strike.

Yet Israel, the only nuclear power in the region, is not shy of acting alone and has been heartened by the lack of censure over its bombing raid in northern Syria in September, which may or may not have targeted a Syrian nuclear installation.

Israel’s Iran experts argue that the US intelligence assessment did not wholly exonerate Tehran – they point to evidence of a continued enriched uranium programme which has only limited civilian use – but they admit that for now an Israeli military operation is unlikely.

“I think it is quite unrealistic to think Israel will go it alone against Iran in a military way,” said Ephraim Asculai, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. He said it appeared Iran would respond to a tougher sanctions regime that convinced Tehran that the cost of its nuclear ambitions outweighed the benefits.

Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born analyst based in Tel Aviv, said there was also a chance Israel might pursue a peace agreement with Syria in an effort to divide Damascus from Tehran and further isolate Iran. “The quickest route to isolate Iran is through Damascus,” he said.

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December 8th, 2007, 2:49 am

 

2. norman said:

War Games
The US is shaping up for an attack on Iran – which is just what its unpopular president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, needs to survive as he faces disillusion among the public and rising anger among the ayatollahs. Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark report

Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark
Saturday December 8, 2007

Guardian

Since his surprise election in 2005, Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has widely been seen in the west as a dangerous demagogue with an alarming anti-Semitic streak, a man determined to take his country into a bruising showdown with the US. His jarring style of anti-diplomacy has alienated virtually every country bar his declared allies in Cuba, Belarus, Venezuela and Syria. On the one hand, his repeated collisions with the west have played to a rising wave of nationalism at home, and to the anger felt by the wider Islamic world. On the other hand, he has also given America the potential excuse it has long sought to open hostilities. One third of the US navy is massed in the Persian Gulf. Whether a war were fought over Iran’s bid for a nuclear bomb or its alleged meddling in the ongoing carnage in Iraq little matters to the Bush administration. Even a National Intelligence Estimate, published on Monday, that downplayed Iran’s nuclear weapons intentions does not really matter to the hawks – they are ready to go.
In Europe, what was once unthinkable – backing another, potentially bloody conflagration against an Islamic power while the world is still bogged down in Iraq – has become a possibility. Even before Bush started talking in October in Old Testament terms about a third world war being triggered by Iran, the French foreign minister had argued back in September that Iran’s nuclear programme was bringing the west to the brink: “We have to prepare for the worst, and the worst is war.”

Ahmadinejad, however, has suckered the west into a confrontation for his own reasons. He has derailed Iran’s economy, squandering record oil profits and paralysing the banks. He has alienated his core support among the poor. He has brazenly attempted to rig clerical institutions, the machinery that turns out Shiadom’s future leaders, so as to consolidate his rule. Such an audacious plan, from a man who could once do no wrong, has triggered a momentous fight-back from affronted clerics and senior political figures.

Those who know him best say Ahmadinejad has come to realise that it will take something momentous for him to hold on to power come the parliamentary elections next March – hence his provocations. Vali Nasr, an Iranian-born professor of international politics at Tufts University in Boston, goes so far as to say, “He desperately needs war with America to survive politically in a country that is as exhausted as Europe and the US is with his increasingly volatile grandstanding.”

For a visitor, the sheer size of Iran’s capital is daunting. Tehran is one of the modern megalopolises, twice as populous as London. The wealthy northern suburb of Elahieh is often highlighted as proof of the emerging new Iranian society: photographs of Gucci-clad women and men in jeans are beamed around the world as evidence of change. However, it soon becomes obvious that its influence is small. More than 10 million poor, religiously conservative residents dominate the city. They migrated here during the years of the Shah, when bungled land reforms allocated such small parcels of agricultural land to them that no one could produce enough food to survive. Today they live cheek by jowl: the chadoris, women swathed head to foot in semi-circular black robes, and the basijis, men and boys who dress like their president and who have been recruited by the million to the Basij volunteer military force of the Revolutionary Guards. They are the country’s plain-clothed ears and eyes, as well as the morality police, enforcing a rigid vision of a Shia state. In the city warehouses are filled with workers trimming silk carpets destined for western showrooms they will never visit. Most have never held a passport and have little interest in seeing the world.

Ahmadinejad had barely travelled, too. He talked proudly when he stood for the presidency in 2005 of having left Iran only once, “for a short trip to Austria.” He appeared to be one of the people. In Iran what you wear is a political statement, and he sounded and dressed as they did. Conjuring the time when he was among the disenfranchised mass who signed up to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps established by Ayatollah Khomeini, he promised to take people back to the pious values of 1979. A turning point in his campaign came when he released a short film showing him dining cross-legged on the floor of his simple, working-class home on Tehran’s 72nd square, his wife hidden by her chador. Compare this with the image of his opponent, Hashemi Rafsanjani, two-time president, a wealthy ayatollah whose family owned hundreds of acres of pistachio orchards in Kerman province, and who produced ill-judged campaign ads showing him discussing the lack of entertainment options with a group of affluent, western-dressed teenagers from Elahieh.

When Ahmadinejad appeared on the international stage he seemed unconventional, even shabby, among the crowd of sombre suits; his uniform was a crumpled jacket, buttoned-up shirt and beard, his nervous smile made him seem modest and simultaneously embarrassed. World leaders overlooked his apparent ignorance of the niceties of international diplomacy and his street vernacular, drawn from the working-class suburb of Tehran where he grew up, the youngest son of a migrant worker.

But it soon became clear that this former student of traffic management and one-time mayor of Tehran was advancing a radical conservative agenda. An intensely religious man, he began to sound Talibanesque in his pronouncements. There were no homosexuals in Iran, he said (without explaining this was because they were forced to undergo sex-change operations at the government’s expense). Women belonged in the chador, he declared, as his administration published figures showing that in just two months 160,000 had been charged with being insufficiently veiled earlier this year. Public hangings – which had not been seen in the capital for many years – returned to the city’s streets and were broadcast on live TV. After drawing international condemnation for restarting Iran’s stalled nuclear programme, Ahmadinejad raised the temperature by sacking Ali Larijani, Iran’s vastly experienced secular nuclear negotiator, replacing him with a former militia leader.

Throughout Tehran, there are 60ft-high posters depicting Iran’s “martyrs”, the million soldiers who fell during the eight-year war with Iraq in the 80s. The ghosts of the dead fill the city. Ahmadinejad has invoked them at every stage of his political career. He reminds people that when he was mayor in 2003, he had martyrs’ bodies exhumed from their provincial cemeteries and reburied in the capital’s squares so that wherever people walked there were memories of loss beneath their feet.

Patriotism was only one string he pulled. At the heart of his election message was a claim that chimed with the deeply religious poor: a divine force protected him and would help the Iranian people get closer to God, too. In a series of national roadshows that became his political signature, he insisted that messengers from heaven had told him that the Mahdi, a messiah-like figure who Iranian Shi’ites believe vanished in AD873, was about to return to the mortal world bringing salvation.

According to the sacred texts of Shi’ism, the Mahdi’s reappearance would establish a just Islamic society at a time of war and chaos and, citing one such text, Ahmadinejad and his spiritual advisers declared that that time was now.

It must surely rank as one of the most hyperbolic manifesto pledges ever made, but still, it got Ahmadinejad elected. The new president then shared his vision with the UN general assembly in September 2005. During his address he appealed to God to “hasten the emergence of… the Promised One…” After he left the meeting, Ahmadinejad had a conversation with an Iranian cleric, describing how he had felt the hand of God in the UN, which was recorded and uploaded on to the net: “I felt it myself… for 27 to 28 minutes all the leaders did not blink. They were astonished… It’s not an exaggeration, I was looking.”

But there was no point making such grand pledges if he could not provide the evidence. Ahmadinejad began furiously investing millions of pounds to animate his claim that the Mahdi was coming. And he chose to do it at one of the holiest places in Iran.

The city of Qom, 90 miles south of Tehran, on the edge of the Kavir desert, is the scene of frenzied building work. According to local tradition, the Mahdi once appeared here in a vision to a shepherd watering his sheep at a well on the outskirts of the city, and devotees believe that it will be from this well that he re-emerges.

For several hundred years a small mosque, known as Jamkaran, stood on the vision site, attracting pilgrims who scribbled their innermost desires on scraps of paper that they threw into the well. One of Ahmadinejad’s first acts in power was to have his entire cabinet sign a piece of paper that was also put down the well, a pledge to transform the mosque into a place worthy of the Mahdi’s presence. Soon after, posters started appearing on the streets of Tehran declaring, “He’s Coming.” There was talk of a fast train link to connect Jamkaran to the capital in case the Mahdi turned up without warning, enabling politicians to get to the mosque in double-quick time.

Today it resembles an Islamic Lourdes. The modest mosque has been embellished with 100ft minarets, blue-tiled domes and new prayer halls. Hundreds of thousands of devout, working-class Iranians flock to the site, especially on Tuesday nights, the reputed time for the Mahdi’s reappearance. Ahmadinejad shuttles here almost weekly, and whenever he appears he is mobbed like a rock star. A holy of holies in an ultra-conservative country, it is out of bounds to western tourists who catch only a blur of blue tiles from their coaches as they are escorted down the motorway to the archaeological sites of Esfahan, Persepolis and Shiraz.

As the sun burns red, dozens of cranes and earthmovers move along the horizon. Every road leading to the mosque is filled with chadoris, who run, clutching bags and children, to claim a small patch on the tarmac perimeter where they will eat, sleep and pray through the night. Ahead, the mosque is illuminated by a hundred thousand bulbs. Tears wash down the faces of worshippers as they catch their first glimpse of the minarets. As the muezzin’s call wells up from deep inside the complex at 7pm, the crowds kneel as one in prayer.

The maddah, or storyteller, takes the crowd on an emotional late-night journey. “Come on, come on! I have a fear of not seeing You!” he cries, appealing to the Mahdi, as the crowds sway and sob. He tells stories of martyrs who have come back in his dreams to warn that Iran has lost its way, and that until it returns to its revolutionary roots they will not reach paradise. Only Ahmadinejad can be trusted to carry out this exorcism, he warns. It is a message that resounds with every family here, as all have lost brothers, sons and fathers. “We must follow our president who is brave and facing western aggression,” says Farida Milani, from Yazd, who is here with her wheelchair-bound mother.

Before Ahmadinejad came along, Qom was home to one vitally important shrine, and it was not Jamkaran. The city was world-famous among Shias as the burial spot of Lady Fatima Masuma, a direct descendent of the Prophet Muhammad, whose death here more than a millennium ago transformed a previously forlorn desert settlement into a pilgrimage site. It became a centre of learning in the 20s, when Shi’ite intellectuals, including Ruhollah Khomeini, began gathering. When he returned from exile in 1979 as Grand Ayatollah Khomeini, he resettled in Qom, from where he led the country’s transformation into an Islamic republic, turning the city’s seminaries into its ideological engine. Soon there would be 300 madrasas taking in 50,000 students.

Qom was tasked with fomenting Iran’s theocratic foreign policy; it became a place much feared by the US and Israel. Both accuse it of being a provocative source of inspiration for students affiliated to extreme groups, including Hezbollah and Hamas, who come to study at the government’s expense. Some have also returned to seek sanctuary, including Imad Mughniyah, Hezbollah’s special operations chief, spotted in Qom in 2001. He has been accused of masterminding the 1983 bomb attacks on the US embassy and marine barracks in Beirut that killed 304, the 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847 and numerous kidnappings of westerners in Beirut. More recently, he was blamed for the attack on a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires in 1994 that left 92 people dead. For these reasons Qom has been identified as a possible target in any US attack.

Ahmadinejad knew that scores of high-ranking clerics would be affronted by his manipulation of the Mahdi story, derisive of his scholarship and critical of what many saw as a cynical attempt to undermine the one man who had the authority to sack him. His claims challenged Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader and commander-in-chief, whose official title, vali-e faqih, means “God’s jurisprudent on earth” – a direct link with the divine that would be superseded if the Mahdi showed his face.

Although the Supreme Leader had done more than anyone to get the president elected, issuing directives to all Revolutionary Guardsmen and their families to vote for him in 2005, relations soured after Ahmadinejad proved not to be the malleable figure Khamenei had hoped for. Frozen out by the theocratic establishment, Ahmadinejad fought back. He began lambasting many of the city’s septuagenarian clerics for being corrupt and soft, reminding people that some had become rich during the Iraq war trading weapons and selling ration cards.

In Qom, Ahmadinejad sought to eclipse long-established seminaries with his own to bring the city under his control. Government money was poured into the Imam Khomeini Institute, a hardline madrasa whose scholars were charged with trawling through religious treatises to find evidence that the Mahdi’s re-emergence at Jamkaran was imminent. Ahmadinejad placed in charge Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, a cleric who would soon become known as an ayatollah, a significant promotion without the normal years of study.

Mesbah-Yazdi has become Ahmadinejad’s ideological mentor. They first met in the early 80s when Ahmadinejad attended a series of his lectures on the philosopher Martin Heidegger, who had been championed by the Nazis. Here, Ahmadinejad found the noisy, blue-collar nationalism that he would imbue with hyper-spirituality. He created a vision of a pious and soldierly people easing the path of the coming Mahdi.

Abbas Milani, director of Iranian studies at Stanford University in California, who has studied Ahmadinejad’s background, explains. “Mesbah-Yazdi forged key elements of an Islamic pseudo-fascist ideology founded on a sour brew of anti-Semitism and Heideggerian philosophy… This in turn has informed Ahmadinejad’s world view.”

An enthusiastic supporter of the death penalty and public floggings, Mesbah-Yazdi was recently elected to the Assembly of Experts, the body responsible for choosing the next Supreme Leader. He has made it clear he is eyeing the top job.

The ground floor of the Imam Khomeini Iistitute is given over to a large bookshop exclusively selling works by Mesbah-Yazdi. His image is plastered on every wall. Turbaned mullahs enter the building on their way to class. Students come from all over the Muslim world – Pakistan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Palestine; there are even a handful from America.

A white-bearded ayatollah approaches and asks, “What are you doing here?” After a garbled explanation about wishing to study Islamic law, he introduces himself as Ayatollah Haghani, Yazdi’s director of international affairs. He is clearly uncertain, but agrees to show the library where mullahs hunch at study stations, their turbans neatly hanging on a hat-rack in the corner. The shelves are stacked with volumes by Marx, Popper and Russell, and in the periodicals section are anti-terrorism papers produced by Chatham House, in London. The ayatollah’s phone trills a Qu’ranic prayer; whoever is on the line is angry that foreigners are here. “You must leave,” the ayatollah says curtly. The elevator descends in silence and as the doors open on the ground floor three meaty security guards jump in. Behind them is the unmistakable figure of Mesbah-Yazdi. He brushes past, scowling, in a whirl of coffee-coloured robes. He signals for visitors to be escorted out.

Controlling Qom was only one plank in Ahmadinejad’s strategy. As a parvenu, wresting power from the political establishment has been equally important, and he has done it with gusto, filling the cabinet and major administrative bureaucracies with former Revolutionary Guards and intelligence officials. His new intelligence minister is Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejehei, a man whom only a little digging reveals has been linked to the murders of Iranian political activists. The new interior minister, Mostafa Pour Mohammadi, sat on a three-person committee in 1988 that ordered the execution of thousands of political prisoners.

Even the culture ministry has been turned upside down. Its new chief is Hossein Saffar Harandi, a university buddy of Ahmadinejad and former Basij leader, whose first act in office was to call upon Iranian musicians to compose a symphony of support for Iran’s nuclear programme, and who has shut down almost every newspaper and website critical of the regime. “It’s not what they did in the past that matters but what they do in the future,” the president has said in defence of his men. This is precisely what worries Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel peace prize-winning Iranian lawyer, who told the Guardian, “The situation in Iran has worsened considerably with these new men in power.” Women who complain of rape have been stoned. The age of consent for girls has been lowered to nine. Children have been convicted and executed for adult crimes. Barbers have been jailed for shaving beards.

Yet, for all Ahmadinejad’s efforts to control every aspect of Iranian life, his authority has begun slipping away. Some of Iran’s most senior clerics have questioned the manipulation of the Mahdi story. Mesbah-Yazdi has been derided as Professor Crocodile (the name Mesbah rhymes with temsah, the Persian word for the reptile), while Ahmadinejad has been accused of “endangering the reputation of Islam and the Qur’an” by Javadi-Amoli, an ayatollah at the Qom seminary school.

But the most damaging criticism comes from Iran’s Grand Ayatollahs, a band of 19 leaders whose spiritual authority remains unquestioned. They, too, have become enraged by the upstart in his Revolutionary Guards suit.

At his modest headquarters, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, Khomeini’s former deputy, sits cross-legged, a skullcap covering his remaining wisps of grey hair. He does not hold back. He accuses the current regime of despotism, over-reliance on Iran’s security forces and disrespect for the seminary. “Power brings ignorance, and those in power now have forgotten what the revolution was for.” He pauses, aware of the weight of his words. “They have become extremists, going in a different direction.”

The Jamkaran extravaganza has enraged the grand ayatollah. “People go expecting to see the Mahdi sitting there in a corner. They are being misled. It is wrong. The Mahdi is very dear to our people and the politicians are taking advantage.” He has one more thing to add: “Iran needs to put aside all the bad blood and America needs to stop interfering, before it creates another Iraq or Afghanistan.”

At his Qom madrasa, Grand Ayatollah Yusef Saanei has begun to make some startling pronouncements: women having equal rights to men, non-Muslims being treated as respectfully as Muslims, listening to music being permissible, men being allowed to shave their beards. On his wall is a framed quote from Khomeini, saying, “I have raised Mr Saanei like a son of mine.”

“America thinks Iran is violent and responsible for all its ills,” he says. “It is up to our leaders to show the world the difference between Sunni and Shia Islam, to show Shia Islam has never condoned terrorism and renounces terrorist groups like al-Qaida.” Unlike his president, he wants reconciliation. “After Khomeini died, the spirit of what he believed in died away, too. If the current president continues, there will be no new generation.” Saanei taps his cane. “If the people now in power carry on, Iran will crumple from the inside and die.”

Outside Qom, dissent is building, too. People have begun to question how far Ahmadinejad is prepared to go with his nuclear sabre-rattling and whether the country can defend itself against US “surgical strikes”. Among targets already identified by Washington hawks are Revolutionary Guards facilities, many of them in the capital. Last month Jomhuri Eslami, an influential conservative newspaper, chastised the president in a front-page editorial for describing officials who advocated restraint in the nuclear stand-off as “traitors and spies”.

However, the most significant threat to Ahmadinejad is his appalling economic record. As soon as he became president, he began increasing state control and destroying the free market. Ministry of finance officials were replaced by clerics with no economic experience; Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi was appointed Ahmadinejad’s main economic adviser.

Together they have implemented a series of disastrous reforms dictated by the principles of Sharia law. After Mesbah-Yazdi likened banks to loan sharks, Iran’s independent banking sector was crippled by a raft of restrictive measures. A low-interest loans scheme for small businesses, designed to encourage job creation, collapsed. Millions have been spent on popular measures, such as the “Love Fund” to help poor young men meet the costs of marriage, and the minimum wage has been increased by 60%. But more than 20% are now out of work and the urban poor, Ahmadinejad’s backbone, have been floored by rising prices.

Iran should be one of the richest countries in the world. It is, after all, the fourth largest oil producer and has the second biggest natural gas reserve. But the president has squandered windfall oil revenues on billion-dollar no…#8209;bid contracts awarded to companies owned by friends in the Revolutionary Guards. In the past 18 months, millions of dollars worth of oil revenue is thought to have disappeared into individual pockets as the military has moved seamlessly into building airports, producing oil and opening mobile phone networks, transforming Iran into a military state not unlike its neighbour, Pakistan.

Mohammad Ghouchani, editor of the Hammihan newspaper, says, “Ahmadinejad likes to present himself as Robin Hood, taking from the rich to help the poor, but his scattergun and ill-conceived policies have achieved precisely the opposite.” Evidence that this message is sinking in came in September when a poll found that 56% of Ahmadinejad’s supporters in 2005 would not turn out for him again. Meanwhile, Hashemi Rafsanjani, the reformist he outwitted in 2005, has gathered strength.

Iran’s former ambassador to the UK, Hossein Adeli, has appealed to the west to back down. “This country, this baby of revolution, has been living 30 years in isolation under a deep sense of insecurity, and the majority of Iranians are tired. We are trapped in a wall of deep mistrust and suspicion with the US and UK that has now reached its peak. Our officials and your officials sit in their respective positions issuing rhetoric for their domestic audiences. They’re worrying about winning the next election, not communicating with the other side or seeing the ground realities.” Adeli should know. Until Ahmadinejad forced him out of office in December 2005, he had been handling secret discussions between Tehran, London and the Bush administration.

What should happen next? “We have to start talking. If we don’t, Ahmadinejad will be saved by people who have begun to loathe him. Washington needs to stop, take breath and realise we have many common strategic interests. Iran’s most important strength, our weapon, is our influence in the heartland of the world.”

Instead of open hostilities, Adeli calls for investment coupled with an offer of unconditional negotiations from Washington. He believes that would provide the impetus for some of the four million wealthy Iranians exiles who took a trillion dollars worth of capital with them to return and launch a campaign for the Islamic Republic’s first ever democratic election. It is one that Ahmadinejad would now most likely lose.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

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December 8th, 2007, 3:00 am

 

3. Youssef Hanna said:

Assuming the power is within the family circle, then the U.S & Europe shd put pressure, thru threats and incentives, until Londonese Asma prevails over Bushra.

However the U.S & Europe have to know that Bashar is not an elder, a beker, a Bassel, but in the middle, in the middle of nowhere, which is the reason why he was due to become an ophtalmologist.

Therefore there is no way he can or wants Asma to prevail over Bushra (neither the other way round); weak men play their strong women one against the other.

Consequently the U.S and Europe shd maintain pressure, thru a snail pace never ending judicial process in the Hague, so that the direct assassin live under the mercy of Bashar, and Asma be able thus to confront Bushra.

I know this is unfair, because it is most probable that Bushra’s A.S did not act out of his own will, but this is how it shd be done if Syria is to be brought to the West side.

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December 8th, 2007, 10:42 am

 

4. Shami said:

President al-Assad Issues a Decree Naming Two New Ministers

Saturday, December 08, 2007 – 12:15 PM

Damascus,(SANA)-
President Bashar al-Assad issued on Saturday Decree No.478 naming two new ministers for Awqaf, Islamic Trusts, and for Communication and Technology.
The decree stipulated naming , Imad Abdul-Ghani Sabouni , as a new Minister of Communications and Technology, and Mohammed Abdul-Sattar alSayied , as a new Minister of Awqaf, Islamic Trusts.

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December 8th, 2007, 2:54 pm

 

5. Another Way said:

“Our foreign policy is in free-fall at the moment,” said John Bolton, Mr. Bush’s former ambassador to the United Nations and an ally of Vice President Dick Cheney. Mr. Bolton argues that engaging dictators will only “diminish our prestige and influence.”

What world do these people live in? What prestige and influence is left to diminish? Of all the repercussions of the Bush policy, the most blatant is the eroding of US soft power throughout the world. It is shocking to me that there still exists a significant amount of people in the US who think this ideologically driven hyper-moralistic approach to foreign policy has worked, or has any hope of working.

Watching the Republican YouTube debates and seeing the discussion hinge entirely on fear- fear of immigrants, fear of the rest of the world, etc.- made me realize how deeply the Bush rhetoric has wounded America’s ability to helpfully engage the rest of the world. Perhaps this about-face at the end of his time in office make it a little easier for his successor to undo the damage.

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December 8th, 2007, 6:17 pm

 

6. Honest Patriot said:

My post may not be directly relevant to this thread but I’ve been away for a few days and noticed a response to my post on Syria from Ford Perfect that I’d like to address.

First what Ford Perfect said on 6 December 2007:

“Honest Patriot,
While waiting for answers to your questions, can you meanwhile “enlighten” us with the evidence you have on how Syria conducted the political assassinations in Lebanon, how, and the names of those who did did it? It seems like you know something that UN investigation committee has certainly missed.
Thanks!”

in response to my earlier post that afternoon which contained the following:

“HONEST PATRIOT SAID:
…. 2- Granting all the brainy analysis and agreeing with every point you make, please add now your value judgment on the use of political assassinations by Syria to subdue Lebanon. Do you professionally and ethically accept this as just standard politics ? Where else is this occuring ? Where has it occurred in history ? And what do you make of it ? Please share with us how you look at it ? Are you equating it with Israel’s targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders ? ”

Well, Ford Perfect, I have to say that you are sounding like the Taliban when, before conclusive evidence and admissions became known proving the guilt of Osama Bin Laden and his cohorts in 9/11, they (The Taliban) were questioning the accusations and asking for “evidence.” You also sound like those who (still) believe in the innocence of OJ Simpson of the hideous passion crime of mudering Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. The answer to your question, which either you or someone like you posed to me before (and I answered then), NO, I do not have the evidence with me and I am NOT a professional investigator. I’m just an Honest Observer who knows how to read history and also read between the lines of current events.

None other than Professor Landis gave as much as a clear analysis all but explaining fully the motivation behind Syria’s guilt in his post of “the pushed against the wall theory” here:
http://faculty-staff.ou.edu/L/Joshua.M.Landis-1/syriablog/2006/01/who-killed-hariri-pushed-against-wall.htm

Just because the world community, including the US, is playing the political game in not (yet) forcing the unambiguous proof of Syria’s guilt, and just because the geniuses of Syria, including no doubt folks who participated in the famed “Hama Rules” effectively implemented deniability measures for the Syrian leadership, this cannot and shall not prevent lucid and honest observers from seeing the truth. You are either naive, blindly supporting the Syrian strategy for some personal reasons, or you may well be Prof. Landis under that pen name seeking to explore (again) whether I have real data on this. Who knows.

Akbar Palace posed a good question to Prof. Landis about the reason Syria cannot act as Egypt did while it clearly has the same cards to play at this time – in this way negating all the other analyses that Prof. Landis was presenting. I do not believe he got an answer. Perhaps you care to provide us that answer.

And please, now that you have read my statements on Syria’s guilt for the second time, there is no need to ask me the same question again.

I am just extremely saddened by the prevalence of such murderous techniques to effect political gain. Humanity should at some point learn to settle differences without assassinations, and certainly without resorting to weapons in mass destruction. I know the arguments put forth that the U.S. was the worst culprit in this area through the nuclear calamities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The world has learned since then… or hopefully has learned. Syrian leadership (not the Syrian people) hasn’t.

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December 8th, 2007, 6:36 pm

 

7. Seeking the Truth said:

Honest Patriot,

There is another possibility why a Syrian individual might deny the regime involvement in the assassination. He averses to see the Syrian people suffer under possible sanctions for no fault of their own.

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December 8th, 2007, 7:08 pm

 

8. Alex said:

I received this by email today:

More than 100 websites blocked in growing wave of online censorship

Reporters Without Borders is concerned that the number of websites to which access is blocked in Syria has been growing steadily for the past month. More than 100 websites, including the video-sharing site YouTube, the blog platform Blogspot and the email service Hotmail, are now inaccessible.

“We call on the authorities to explain what is going on,” the press freedom organisation said. “The number of websites rendered inaccessible doubled in two weeks. We do not believe all this suddenly happened for technical reasons as a common feature of all these sites is that they contained criticism of the government. Under the press code, a court order is required to close down a website. We therefore regard this as arbitrary and unwarranted censorship.”

In all, nearly 110 websites are known to be blocked. The latest site to be blocked was Amazon.com on 30 November. When contacted by Reporters Without Borders, the Syria Computer Society, one of the country’s main ISPs, said the Internet was not censored that these problems originated in the computers of the individual Internet users.

The authorities have been blocking access to the social networking service Facebook on Syria’s Internet servers since 19 November without giving any explanation. The Syrian human rights commission’s site is also blocked, as is another independent human rights monitoring site.

Elaph.com, a news website that is very popular in the Arab world (with around 1.5 million visits a day), is also inaccessible. It has also been censored in Saudi Arabia since May 2006 without any explanation being provided by the Saudi authorities. A Syrian journalist, Habib Saleh, spent 27 months in prison for writing articles for Elaph.com.

Syria has become an Internet “black hole” since Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father as president. Access to opposition online publications is systematically blocked, while dissidents and independent journalists are hounded mercilessly when they post articles on the Internet. The authorities used a filtering system called “Thundercache” to control online content, as well as to filter for viruses and prevent pirating of video files.

List of blocked sites :

http://www.all4syria.org, http://www.alnazaha.org,www.thefreesyria.org,
http://www.alsafahat.net, http://www.akhawia.net,
http://www.jimsyr.com, http://www.syriakurds.com, http://www.ikhwansyria.com,
http://www.soriagate.net, http://www.elaph.com, http://www.youtube.com,
http://www.asharqalawsat.com (www.aawsat.com), http://www.free-syria.com,
http://www.opl-now.org, http://www.blogspot.com, http://www.mokarabat.com,
http://www.tharwaproject.com, http://www.thisissyria.net, http://www.arraee.com,
http://www.syriaview.net , http://www.thirdalliance.net, http://www.syriatruth.org,
http://www.shrc.org | http://www.shrc.org.uk , http://www.hem.bredband.net, http://www.dsyria.org,
http://www.reformsyria.net, http://www.hadatha4syria.com, http://www.shrc.org.uk,
hras-syria.tripod.com, http://alhiwaradimocraty.free.fr/,
http://www.islammemo.cc, ahyawatan.wordpress.com, http://www.kurdistan-times.org, http://www.kurdistan-times.com, http://www.islamonline.net, http://www.savesyria.org,
http://www.aafaq.org, http://www.rezgar.com, http://www.asharqalarabi.org.uk,
http://www.damdec.org, http://www.yassardimocrati.com, http://www.aaramnews.com,
http://www.ahrarsyria.com, http://www.alqanat.com, http://www.atassiforum.org, http://www.amude.net,
http://www.amude.de, http://www.efrin.net,www.kurdistanabinxete.com, http://www.binxet.com,
http://www.yek-dem.com, http://www.sotkurdistan.net, http://www.qamishlo.net, http://www.kurdax.net,
http://www.keskesor.info, http://www.hpg-online.net, http://www.islam-kurd.com,
http://www.knntv.net, http://www.kurdroj.com, http://www.syriahr.com, http://www.odabasham.net,
http://www.pdksy.net , http://www.yekiti-party.org, http://www.middleeasttransparent.com,
http://www.alparty.org, http://www.psp.org.lb, http://www.pajk-online.com,
http://www.kurdmedya.com, http://www.syrianforum.org, http://www.opensyria.org,
http://www.tsdp.org, http://www.kurdnas.com, http://www.kdps.info, http://www.sos-forum.net,
http://www.transparentsham.com, http://www.knntv.net, http://www.hotmail.com,
http://www.anonymization.net, http://www.surfola.com, http://www.arabtimes.com,
http://www.khilafah.net, http://www.hizb-ut-tahrir.org, http://www.alseyassah.com,
http://www.democraticsyria.org, http://www.khayma.com, http://www.tayyar.org,
http://www.tirej.net, http://www.almustaqbal.com, http://www.bonjoursham.net,
http://www.alquds.co.uk, http://www.facebook.com, http://www.alwatan-alsouri.com, http://www.proxify.com,
http://forsyriaorg.powweb.com, http://www.syriatribune.com, http://www.welateme.net,
http://www.shril.info, http://www.hamacity.com,www.almahatta.net, http://www.islamway.com,
http://www.syriaalaan.com, http://www.shabablek.com,www.anonymizer.com,
http://www.proxyone.com, http://www.proxyweb.net, http://webwarper.net,
http://anonymouse.org, http://www.guardster.com, http://jap.inf.tu-dresden.de/,
http://www.skype.com, http://www.amazon.com, http://www.menassat.com

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December 8th, 2007, 8:24 pm

 

9. Seeking the Truth said:

Is this blog not blocked in Syria because it is mainly in English, and very rarely in Arabic?

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December 8th, 2007, 8:51 pm

 

10. Alex said:

Because it is in English, and because it is not politically motivated and because it is civilized (most of the time) …

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December 8th, 2007, 9:06 pm

 

11. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

The Syrian regime is getting more and more scared from its people. Why is that? There are some things going on internally that we are not aware of.

If they closed down amazon, aren’t bn.com and all the other book sites next? skype blocked means no voip because it cannot be tapped easily.

So basically they are censoring news sites, knowledge sites, communication sites, social netwok sites. The Syrian people will be soon left with games and sporting goods sites (unless they sell books).

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December 8th, 2007, 9:44 pm

 

12. Bashmann said:

Alex,

It never stops. See below..

By the way do you think they will block creativesyria in the future?

Cheers

Posted December 4th, 2007 Officially, Menassat.com is only a month old, and already we seem to have offended the Syrian government. The reason (we assume): publishing an article regarding Syria’s banning of the social networking site Facebook. By Rita Barotta, Menassat.com Staff Writer

On December 2nd 2007, we were officially banned in Syria.

Syria’s Minister of Communication, Mr. Amro Salem (sources tell us that he is “an educated and affable guy”) has consistently denied any direct connection with the banning of websites in the past.

Since last July, however, the banning of websites has become a sort of “trend” in Syria.

So, Salem’s distancing himself from the actual “banning” act came as no surprise.

In fact, sources in Syria told Menassat.com that attempts to get in touch with Salem about the banning of our website, would likely get us transfered to the “Emperor of the Net”: Ali Ali, director of “Itisalat”.

(“Itisalat” is a telecommunications and technology company based in the UAE.)

Ali, however, deals with the technical aspects of banning these sites, and although talking to him may yield results in getting a site re-operational, nothing would not happen without key conditions being imposed: 1) you will have to become a government spy, revealing the identity of anonymous commentators, and 2) you will have to promise never to publish articles and essays from already banned sites.

Now, Menassat.com has begun to follow the same path as the administrators of other banned sites who have been attempting to re-launch their sites.

Today, we tried to get in touch with Minister Salem, but he was in a meeting with the Board of Ministries.

We’ll try again tomorrow, and for as many days as it will take, to at least know the specific reasons for their ban of Menassat.com – the “why” if you will.

What we do know is that on July 25, 2007 the Minister of Communications distributed a public memo containing the government’s main reason behind the banning of websites. Allegedly, a site will be banned only if the data published has in someway offended people.

Would someone please tell us when it was that Menassat.com offended anyone? (And how we offended them?) Burning questions that we intend to have answered.

Initially, the impression we are getting is that the whole matter has nothing to do with offending or wrongdoing. Rather, it is an attempt by the Al Assad government to reverse the trend of a free internet environment that it had allowed to flourish these last few years.

What we have also learned from our sources in Syria is that additional reports will be issued and circulated via media organizations and non-governmental organizations regarding the government’s “official” policy on the banning of websites in Syria.

In the initial stages of Menassat’s campaign to restore our website to Syria’s Internet world, we have also found out that some end users in Syria have been able to access our site via proxy addresses.

(Excuse us for not listing them: publishing them in the first place is what got us banned!)

Stay tuned! Menassat. Com will keep you informed.

Because we want voices to be heard, we will go on.

Because we believe in our mission and the enormous possibilities of technology as it relates to freedom of expression. we will go on – by any means necessary

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December 8th, 2007, 11:25 pm

 

13. Qifa Nabki said:

Sorry Alex, but as much as I respect your commentary, don’t insult our intelligence by pretending that this blog is “not politically motivated” and “civilized”.

The first claim is just plain wrong (who are you kidding?) and the second makes you sound like some kind of arbiter of political taste.

Walaw ya Iskandar?

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December 9th, 2007, 12:49 am

 

14. Alex said:

Qifa Nabki,

Let me explain.

Not politically motivated means … the owner of the site (Joshua Landis) is not motivated by or affiliated with any “opposition” or “sectarian” political agenda. He is not pro Khaddam or Muslim Brotherhood or some Kurdish or Assyrian party.

Many of the sites which are blocked are opposition sites … I did not go though the whole list but I can easily notice that Kurdish nationalism sites are on the black list… so are the religious extremist sites.

I know that Joshua said Syria is weak and Hizbollah is weak … but he did not joing the NSF yet.

As for the second part that you objected to … let’s say I was refering to the obviously not civilized discussion forums … for example those that allow street language as long as it is used against the regime … Bashar, his wife and his family in particular.

Finally … that does not mean that blocking a site always follows a scientific decision making process… I am sure there are many sites that are blocked for some personal reason or …whatever.

Is this more reasonable?

Bashmann

Creative Syria is graphically intensive and it requires a fast internet connection and it is in English. The vast majority of its visitors are from Turkey, Europe, North America… and Israel.

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December 9th, 2007, 3:00 am

 

15. ausamaa said:

Living in Utopia!!!!!

“Reporters Without Borders is concerned that the number of websites to which access is blocked in Syria has been growing steadily for the past month”.

Is AL MANAR TV still blocked in the US???

Are there NO blocked sites in Jordan, Saudi, Egypt and other “Moderate” Arab Countries which are commonely used as an example of where Syria should be if the regime acts “democratic”??

Please let us know if Syria is the “only” country doing this sort of things so that we are un-biasedly aware of the “larger picture”.

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December 9th, 2007, 5:45 am

 

16. offended said:

Aussama,
As much as I agree with your statements. I beg to differ this time. Blocking websites is confiscating one’s right to pick and chose. I may understand that there are political motives behind the blocks, but then you should have the counter-argument to confront whoever wants to propagate something different…

Blocking is no good: open up, be transparent!

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December 9th, 2007, 6:30 am

 

17. Youssef Hanna said:

Alex,

Posters on this site r educated polyglot bourgeois, what u call “civilized”, secretly favorable to the dictatorship en place out of fear from el Ikhwaan el mouslimiin, which is the reason why these “civilized” semi-Arabs discuss in sophisticated English, very naturally federated around an organizer who is of the rare stuff of Americans favorable to the Syrian regime.

While they all know, globally, that the SR is the assassin, in Lebanon, they could have retorted that Israel killed in the South people not rich and considerate enough to deserve the international outcries of revolt.

But they cannot, or cannot do so in a natural manner, cause they r educated bourgeois with no empathy for the poor and no egalitarian fiber.

Then why, why the hell, wd the Syrian regime close a pro-Syrian regime website? obvious my dear Watson: this is SR democracy.

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December 9th, 2007, 8:40 am

 

18. Honest Patriot said:

YOUSSEF HANNA:

Brilliant ! … and eloquently stated.

PS (Perhaps you’re a young chap, but even then it would be nicer to just spell out those pseudo-acronyms [u, r, SR,…])

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December 9th, 2007, 11:20 am

 

19. Honest Patriot said:

A few more examples of interesting comparisons between the “terrorism” of the Palestinians, an example of the Bible, and the targeted assassinations by Israel:

1- (As heard on a recent radio program…) Would we call Samson a “suicide bomber” because he killed himself along with his enemies AND innocent civilians when he destroyed the temple ?

2- When asked about the difference between suicide bombers and Israel’s inevitably killing innocent civilians when sending missiles through car or apartment windows to kill Hamas leaders, Benjamin Netanyahu said that there indeed is a difference in that Israel’s target was the Hamas leader – a legitimate target (in his assessment) – with the civilians being “collateral damage.”

Let’s face it. Religious fanaticism is the real culprit and the hair-splitting distinctions claimed between the Palestinian flavor and the Israeli flavor are just not enough to elevate one of them to a “civilized” status.

Given the status quo, the birth rate of arab populations vs. that of the Israeli population, the ONLY solution is to very quickly delineate borders, compensate adequately all the displaced (money will satisfy the greatest majority if the level is high enough), allow the Middle East version of democracy in Israel (which cannot be the same as in the West, at least not until Islam evolves – in the words of Thomas Friedman – into Islam 2.0), yes, return the Golan to Syria, and the Shebaa farms to Lebanon, and sign a comprehensive peace process. Money will buy a lot of goodwill. Real democracy and separation of church and state will some day come to the Middle East, probably not in our lifetime, and not until some form of real peace has prevailed for a generation.

Amen

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December 9th, 2007, 11:32 am

 

20. Honest Patriot said:

In case you missed it:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/09/opinion/09friedman.html

As usual, great analysis by Thomas Friedman, but alas, no suggested solution that is realistic and implementable.

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December 9th, 2007, 11:44 am

 

21. Habib said:

Ausamaa,

How about Al-Jazeera International.

No one carries it in the US.

That is effective blocking for the same reasons…but by a different name.

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December 9th, 2007, 6:27 pm

 

22. Youssef Hanna said:

Warm thanks HONEST PATRIOT.

A government shd silence the opposition by improving policies, rather than closing websites, or assassinating.

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December 9th, 2007, 6:32 pm

 

23. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Habib,
Enough with this propoganda and muddled thinking.
1) There are a few small cable carriers that carry Al-Jazeera. The decision is based on economics and not on anything else.
2) Let’s say someone decided to provide free al-Jazeera through the internet. Would it be blocked in the US? NO.

Stop making excuses for the regime in Syria. The US trusts its citizens to make sense of all the information out there. Syria distrusts its citizens and is afraid to give them access to all the information. Why?

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December 9th, 2007, 7:54 pm

 

24. why-discuss said:

You can’t expect Syria to behave like Switzerland when part of its land is occupied and neighbours and others are plotting to change the regime. Countries that are at war and threatened do not behave like country who are at peace with their neighbors and the world. After 9/11 the US felt under siege and they had Guantanamo and the Patriot Act and phone tapped.
We may not like it, but Syria’s behavior is a defensive one, awkward, primitive but they see it as a way of defending itself from perceived plots.

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December 9th, 2007, 8:13 pm

 

25. Bashmann said:

Youssef Hanna,

Kudo’s …and Double Cheers…Wonderful post.

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December 9th, 2007, 9:02 pm

 

26. Alex said:

Youssef Hanna

This blog was never blocked in Syria even though in 2004 2005 there was a clear majority of regime criticizers. In 2005 when Syria withdrew from Lebanon, almost everyone was not happy with the regime.

Another thing … this site often publishes Muslim Brotherhood news and statements. This alone would get you banned in Syria. There is also a lot of coverage for opposition news. You can check for yourself if you use the categories search on the left column. Try a search by (politics) or (reform) categories, or by keyword “brotherhood”

And … AIG … G … and others who are surely not fans of the Syrian regime are frequent contributors to the comments section.

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December 9th, 2007, 9:19 pm

 

27. Alex said:

AIG,

Here is the other blog that I just finished setting up for my good friend Mona Eltahawy .. Egyptian journalist who just came back from a week in Israel where she was invited to give a speech on the occasion of Sadat’s 30’th anniversary of his visit to Israel. She also published interesting articles this week in the Washington Post and the International Herald tribune.

http://www.monaeltahawy.com/blog

It is a pro-democracy site too. You will like it.

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December 9th, 2007, 9:27 pm

 

28. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
Thanks. It is very interesting.
Both Mubarak and Asad are the problem. The lack of democracy is killing the Arab countries.

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December 9th, 2007, 9:43 pm

 

29. Honest Patriot said:

HABIB:

Anyone in the US can subscribe to Aljazeera English through IPTV at http://www.jumptv.com
For some time, it was offered free for a free trial.

You can also watch free a low-resolution version at:
europe.real.com/smil/aljazeera_us_lo.smil

So…. do some homework before your lame attempt at finding counterexamples. It is truly ridiculous to try to put forth examples of censorship in the U.S.
You MAY argue for general bias from strong economic and intellectual input from many special interest groups, you MAY read the book “The Israel Lobby” and agree with parts of it, but please, don’t impugn the sound democracy, humanity, and ethics principles onto which the U.S. is based. Take these to Syria and try to be an agent of change for real civilization, democracy, and humanity there.

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December 9th, 2007, 9:48 pm

 

30. IsraeliGuy said:

Thanks for the link, Alex.
A very interesting blog and a very interesting woman.

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December 9th, 2007, 11:35 pm

 

31. Patriot Honest said:

I tried posting a response to HABIB but it kept disappearing in the ether… technical problem or censorship on this blog ??? Tried over 10 times!

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December 10th, 2007, 12:09 am

 

32. norman said:

Iraqi security adviser tells US to engage with Iran and Syria
By Roula Khalaf in Manama, Bahrain

Published: December 10 2007 02:00 | Last updated: December 10 2007 02:00

Iran and Syria have taken measures to curb violence in Iraq, a senior Iraqi official said yesterday in a rare acknowledgement of a shift in tactics by the two allegedly troublesome neighbours.

Mowaffak al-Rubbaie, Iraq’s national security adviser, also called on Washington to engage with both Damascus and Tehran, warning that security in the Gulf was interlinked and “you cannot stabilise Iraq and destabilise Iran”.

Speaking at a conference in Bahrain, Mr Rubbaie sought to assuage fears that Iraq faced the threat of falling under Iranian dominance, saying that Baghdad was working on a long-term strategic agreement with the US that would underline its outlook towards the west.

Mr Rubbaie pointed to signs that Tehran had tightened control over its border and made arms shipments to Shia militias “more difficult”. Syria too, he said, was stopping militants from crossing the border with Iraq and had improved controls at Damascus airport.

American military officials confirmed that the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq through Syria had been substantially reduced. But Admiral William Fallon, commander of the US central command, told the FT that he did not see “such a clear change” in Iranian behaviour, which the US alleges includes supplying Iraqi Shia militias with sophisticated explosives, charges that Tehran denies.

“I believe there’s some restraint in the activity of the extremist militias but I don’t know the cause and effect,” said Admiral Fallon.

However, in a veiled criticism of perceived US efforts to build a Sunni Arab front against Shia Iran, Mr Rubbaie yesterday said his country was becoming a stage where Iran and Saudi Arabia were playing out their rivalry.

“Until they [the US] engage with Iran and Syria, long-term regional security will be in doubt,” he said. “We cannot continue playing on Tehran and co. versus Riyadh and co.”

But senior American officials attending the conference, organised by London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, showed no sign of an easing in US policy towards Iran, and were instead seeking to limit the damage provoked by last week’s US intelligence report, which said Tehran had halted its atomic weapons programme in 2003.

The National Intelligence Estimate baffled America’s European and Middle Eastern allies and is likely to complicate the US-led drive to drum up international support for a tightening of UN sanctions against Iran.

In an apparent effort to reassure supporters of diplomatic pressure, Robert Gates, the US secretary of state, struck an unusually tough tone on Saturday, accusing Iran of provoking instability in the region.

“There can be little doubt that their destabilising foreign policies are a threat to the interests of the US, to the interests of every country in the Middle East, and to the interests of all countries within the range of the ballistic missiles Iran is developing,” he said.

He stressed that the National Intelligence Estimate also said Iran was keeping its options open and could resume its nuclear weapons programme at any time – “if it has not done so already”.

The Arab world has reacted to the NIE with a mixture of relief that the prospects of military action against Iran have diminished, if not disappeared, and concern that diplomatic pressure will now also ease, boosting Tehran’s confidence.

But the intelligence report also revived favourite conspiracy theories, including long-standing Arab concerns that the US was paving the way for a comprehensive deal with Iran that would be struck at the Arabs’ expense.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

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UK’s Iraq combat task to end by Christmas

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December 10th, 2007, 4:45 am

 

33. Shami said:

Kadhafi’s visit to France sparks fresh criticism

1 day ago

PARIS (AFP) — Two days before his visit to Paris, Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi stirred fresh discord Saturday after declarations appearing to support terrorism, even as his son plugged for new business deals with France.

On Friday, the famously mercurial Kadhafi, whose country spent years in diplomatic isolation for its alleged support of terrorists, said he considered it “normal that the weak had recourse to terrorism.”

The same day in Lisbon, he also called on former colonial powers to “compensate the people they colonised and whose riches they plundered.”

But French President Nicolas Sarkozy did not refer to such incidents Saturday, as he shook the Libyan leader’s hand at a summit of European and African leaders in Portugal.

“I am very pleased to receive you in Paris,” Sarkozy said.

Kadhafi’s son Seif el-Islam has predicted Libya will purchase Airbus planes, a nuclear reactor and possibly Rafale fighter jets during the leader’s five-day visit here.

In an interview with France’s Le Figaro daily Seif also described bilateral differences as past history. “For us, (the visit) should crown the new relations between France and Libya,” he told the newspaper.

But the past is very much present for French critics, who denounced Sarkozy for inviting the Libyan leader, who plans to pitch a heated Bedouin tent next to the Elysee palace during his stay.

“No signature of commercial contracts can legitimize such a blindness on the part of Nicolas Sarkozy,” said Francois Hollande, head of the leading opposition Socialist Party.

“This visit is unworthy of France and unworthy for France,” said centrist politician Francois Bayrou.

Leftist French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy was even blunter. “One cannot invite a terrorist and taker of international hostages,” he said, adding he was “shocked” by the Libyan leader’s stay here.

Kadhafi’s trip was triggered by the release of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor accused in Libya of infecting children with HIV/AIDS. Sarkozy’s former wife Cecilia played a role in brokering the release and the president visited Tripoli in July.

The two countries then signed commercial and military accords, including arms sales and an agreement to build a nuclear reactor for water desalination.

But the circumstances of the Bulgarians’ release have sowed political controversy in France, where the government denies opposition charges it bought the nurses’ freedom by offering inducements.

They were fodder for fresh criticism Saturday from Socialist ex-presidential candidate Segolene Royal.

“We don’t know in what conditions the nurses were tortured. It was not done without Kadhafi’s knowledge,” she said.

Franco-Libyan relations have steadily improved since a 2004 accord on a Libyan compensation deal for the victims of a French DC-10 airliner bombing over Niger. The 1989 crash killed 170 people, including 54 French.

The upturn paved the way for a visit by President Jacques Chirac in November 2004. The two countries resumed defence cooperation in February 2005.

But Sarkozy has promised to craft a new diplomacy taking human rights into account and to break from France’s traditional policy toward Africa — promises his critics claim ring hollow.

Besides warming ties with Libya, they point to the president’s continued support of certain authoritarian African regimes and Sarkozy’s congratulatory call to Russian President Vladimir Putin after his party’s victory in legislative elections on December 2 — even as other countries expressed concern about the vote.

But Axel Poniatowski, a member of Sarkozy’s governing Union for a Popular Movement party, defended a policy of “realpolitik” toward Libya saying it “was better to stop marginalising” the country.

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December 10th, 2007, 5:41 am

 

34. Alex said:

Honest Patriot.

Sorry I was not nea a PC earlier. The ant spam filter probably misinterpreted your comment as an ad (for Aljazeera).

IN the future if the same happens please do not try to post again .. it will automatically be rejected and the filter will assume you are a spammer after the repeated attempts to post the same comment many times.

Send an email to me or to Joshua to ask us to release your comment.

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December 10th, 2007, 5:45 am

 

35. Youssef Hanna said:

Alex,

You write: “this site often publishes Muslim Brotherhood news and statements. This alone would get you banned in Syria.”

But then the interesting question is: why the favorable treatment?

As long as Professor Landis is pleading into Washington think tanks that with the maestria shown by his Londonese wife elegantly riding her bicycle the President of Syria is riding a rough country that could be engaged and “flipped”, the SR moukhaabaraat, who maybe really fear and account only for opponents of their stuff (their murderous stuff), are prepared to show a despising clemency for a bunch of Americanized Arabs shouting loud in a virtual tinbox.

…this, until the pain becomes unbearable and calls for an electronic assassination.

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December 10th, 2007, 6:02 am

 

36. Honest Patriot said:

Thanks Alex. Sorry for my impatience. I strongly suspected it was a technical glitch. I’ll do as you said next time.

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December 10th, 2007, 11:52 am

 

37. ausamaa said:

OFFENDED

“Blocking is no good: open up, be transparent”

I agree with you. But my point is as you must have noted is that let us be realistic, things are relative after all. The government in Syria knows that the internet exist and they can not block, or black out, every thing. Ok, they try when nerves are stretched and when the opinions expressed becomes too insulting or offensive to bear for them, and they are just like every one else in this regard. It is not good, it is not healthy, but it is what every one else is doing…including Mother Teresa if she was alive..

We have to live with it and get the most untill we as a society and a “regime” are mature and confident enough to do away with censorship… if the US Adminisdtration -the motherland of all freedoms!!!- is not mature enough to practice this oppeness, could we seriously expect Syria to be as open as we like???

Again, you are right, but let us Walk before we Run…

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December 10th, 2007, 4:23 pm

 

38. Ford Prefect said:

Honest Patriot,
Thanks for the response. I am also mostly on the road with rarely enough time to enjoy the fine writings on this blog. But your response deserves an answer – and I am sure my employer wouldn’t mind me taking the time to respond.

Since you mentioned OJ Simpson (this is so old now), please note that his presumed guilt (by you and your imaginary friends) was negated (thank God for America) by the incompetent and racist work of the LAPD. I am not sure how you feel, but Americans would rather see a guilty man walking free rather than seeing an innocent man put in jail due to the work of a racially motivated LAPD detective and a vindictive government. Moreover, the literature is rich of analyzing this case and America and its jury are proud of the verdict. Sorry for your disappointment.

And since you mentioned that you do not have any evidence regarding the politically-motivated assassinations and that you are just an “…Honest Observer who knows how to read history and also read between the lines of current events,” I conclude that your statement is an illusion based on your own prejudice and vindictive biases. That is just fine as long as you are not so full of yourself – masquerading innuendos as facts and acting out the bigotry and incompetence of John Bolton, Elliott Abrams and their Lebanese pets.

Finally, in saying that my request for evidence is compared to the Taliban’s denial of 9/11, is not only an insult but it genuinely underscores how ineptly you read between the lines, let alone reading history.

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December 11th, 2007, 12:45 am

 

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