Posted by Joshua on Friday, October 2nd, 2009
Deputy Syrian Foreign Minister Faysal al-Mekdad’s visited the House of Representatives suggests that Washington is trying to help Syria get sanctions lifted. Sanctions are the sticking point of US-Syrian engagement. The US wants a Lebanese government and headway on Iraq and Palestine. Syria wants sanctions lifted. Ultimately it wants the Golan. But the US is in no position to offer it the Golan. Israel is not playing ball for the time being.
As Daniel Pipes writes in Netanyahu’s Quiet Success,
Binyamin Netanyahu won a major victory last week when Barack Obama backed down on a signature policy initiative. This about-face suggests that U.S.-Israel relations are no longer headed for the disaster…
Pipes is correct. Obama backed down on his insistance that Israel halt settlement growth. But he may search for a way around Israel’s seeming roadblock to engagement with the Arab World. The way around Israel is to ignore its desire to stop the US from building independent relationships with Syria and Iran, Israel’s enemies in the region. The US can ignore Israel’s wishes just as readily as Israel can ignore the US’s. This means that Obama should push ahead with engagement with Syria and Iran even if these countries do not stop arming Hizbullah or developing more advanced weapon’s systems.
Obama is taking a direct interest in engagement with Syria as well as Iran. Without his backing, many believe that the anti-Syrians in the US bureaucracy would gum up the works. Sarkozy is doing the same in France.
Alistaire Crooke insists that Obama’s diplomacy will get somewhere if he can convince Israel to be more humble….
What we are dealing with is whether Israel and, by extension, the U.S., can accept that Israel will no longer enjoy its hitherto absolute conventional military dominance in the region. This is, at bottom, the choice facing Obama: He can pursue a real solution, one that will have to acknowledge painful new realities and accept new forces arising in the region that inevitably will shift strategic balances. Or he can continue to try to contain them and risk a polarized and unstable Middle East.
It is difficult to get beyond important bureaucratic interference so long as corruption schemes exist, such as the one that Giraldi reports on in the American Conservative involving U.S. government employees and members of Congress and agents of foreign governments. … “Let’s start with the first government official you identified, Marc Grossman, then the third highest-ranking official at the State Department…..” A fascinating article that reveals how influence peddling had become inseparable from neocon policy making during the Bush administration.
News Round Up follows:
Ibrahim Hamidi in al-Hayat: (Translation thanks to mideastwire.com)
“The discussions conducted by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem in Paris showed the important change in France’s attitude towards Syria and the existence of a quasi complete agreement over a wide range of issues. Syrian official sources told Al-Hayat that French President Nicolas Sarkozy told the Syrian Foreign Minister during their meeting that he was personally following the state of relations between Syria and France and that he was looking forward to meeting President Assad in order to further strengthen the developing relations between the two states…..
Joyce Karam in al-Hayat: (Translation thanks to mideastwire.com)
“Deputy Syrian Foreign Minister Faysal al-Mekdad has completed yesterday his visit to Washington, during which he held a meeting with Thomas E. Donilon, the White House deputy national security adviser, to discusse bilateral relations and matters that interest both states.
“Officials in the White house told Al-Hayat that Donilon and other officials in the national security team, namely Dan Shapiro, have met with Mekdad in the office of American vice president Joe Biden. The sources noted that it was the first time that such a high level meeting is held with Syrian officials since the Obama Administration moved into the White House. The source was quoted by Al-Hayat as saying: “The meeting was an opportunity, not only to discuss bilateral relations but also to tackle concerning issues for both sides”. Mekdad had started his visit by meeting with his American counterpart Deputy Secretary of State Jacob Law, in the presence of assistant Secretary of State for Middle East affairs Jeffrey Feltman. The visit also led the Syrian envoy to Capitol Hill where he met Howard Berman, the California Democrat who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and other deputies……
Syria seen regaining its influence in Lebanon
By HUSSEIN DAKROUB, Associated Press Writer Hussein Dakroub, Associated Press Writer
Fri Oct 2, 2:32 am ET
BEIRUT – When Syria’s vice president recently boasted that his country is now stronger than ever in Lebanon, many Lebanese dismissed his words as wishful thinking. Months of political stalemate in Beirut may show how right he was.
Lebanon’s pro-Western politicians have been unable to form a government since winning June elections, and many of them blame Damascus, saying it is using its allies in Lebanon — led by Hezbollah — to stymie negotiations and show that nothing can get done without its say-so.
The United States tried for the past four years to keep Syria out of Lebanon’s politics and largely failed. Now the administration of President Barack Obama has sought to improve ties with Damascus, and Syria’s allies and opponents here say that has given it a freer hand to exercise influence in its smaller neighbor.
The Obama administration’s outreach has resulted in “the invigorating of Syria’s role in the region, including Lebanon,” said Wiam Wahhab, a pro-Syrian Lebanese politician.
Syria has “has influence in Lebanon as do Saudi Arabia, America and Iran. But by virtue of its geographical location, Syria has greater influence in Lebanon than other countries,” Wahhab told The Associated Press.
The wrangling over the government is a sign of how deeply the fate of Lebanon is dependent on outside powers. While pro-Western politicians accuse Hezbollah and its allies of carrying out the will of Damascus, they in turn are accused of taking orders from their strongest foreign supporters, the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Now hopes for a breakthrough center on Syrian President Bashar Assad and Saudi King Abdullah. The two met last week in Saudi Arabia. Lebanese papers reported Wednesday that they are expected to meet again in Damascus next week, raising expectations for an end to the impasse. Neither country has yet confirmed a second meeting……
Recent months have seen gains for Syria.
Lebanese Christian leader Gen. Michel Aoun, who fought Syrian troops in Lebanon two decades ago, made his first visit to Damascus in December, meeting with Assad. Aoun has been allied with Hezbollah since 2006, but he had kept some distance from Syria, so the visit marked a significant reconciliation with his former rival.
Also, Druse leader Walid Jumblatt — once a vehement critic of Syria who even called for Assad’s overthrow — quit the Western-backed coalition on Aug. 2. He now calls for “distinctive relations” with Syria and says he’s prepared to also visit Damascus.
Earlier this year, Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa boasted in a speech to the country’s leadership that Damascus is stronger in Lebanon than it was when it maintained troops in the country.
Weeks later, his words seemed hollow when the coalition led by Hezbollah and Aoun failed to win June elections as many had expected. Instead, the voting maintained the slim parliamentary majority of the Saudi- and U.S.-backed bloc, led by Hariri’s son, Saad Hariri.
But the stalemate since underlines how no one side is able to dominate Lebanon. Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has been trying to bring Hezbollah and its allies into a unity government, but negotiations have stalled over who would receive which Cabinet positions.
In particular, Aoun demands that his son-in-law, Jibran Bassil, retain the telecommunications ministry, a sensitive post because of its security connections. Hariri’s bloc has refused, but Hezbollah and its allies say they won’t join his government unless Aoun is satisfied.
Syria’s opponents blame Damascus for the impasse.
Iran and Syria are making diplomatic headway while Lebanon is standing still
Daily Star Editorial
…. Saudi King Abdullah is reportedly planning to visit Damascus within the next 15 days as part of ongoing efforts to repair the rifts that have emerged between Riyadh and Damascus over the last few years. The Syrians have been making similar progress in restoring bilateral relations with both the US and France, with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem visiting Paris this week while Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mekdad was meeting with ranking officials in Washington. [Can Lebanon be far behind?]
The Daily Dish by Andrew Sullivan, 29 Sep 2009
Robert Satloff reminds Obama of a cardinal rule of American politics: no pressure on Israel ever. Just keep giving them money and they will give the US the finger in return. The only permitted position is to say you oppose settlements in the West Bank, while doing everything you can to keep them growing and advancing.
Michael Young is angry with Nicholas Noe for his excellent story in the Guardian, (Thanks FLC)
In the Daily star
“….. I happened to welcome the war (on Iraq) because it overthrew a brutal regime responsible, directly or indirectly, for the death of some 1 million people. In 2005 I also approved of American and international efforts to end Syrian hegemony over Lebanon (read: rollback a regime that supported Israel’s foes in the region!). Among “progressives” who identify with Arab issues, these positions earned me and other Arabs sharing my views a “neocon” label.
I am not a neocon, though I have found myself on their side on occasion…….
…. Take Lebanon’s emancipation movement against Syria, following the murder of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri. The US played a key role in forcing the Syrians out by working multilaterally, through the United Nations. Even administration neocons endorsed this strategy, showing the discrepancy between theory and practice. The reality is that the legalistic, internationalist US response to the Lebanese crisis was a far cry from what neocons had earlier advocated. Nevertheless, those in Lebanon publicly lauding this conduct, by virtue of being with America, were still branded hawks, ideologues, and, yes, neocons.
Credit the neocons with one thing. After 9/11 they filled the gap of comprehension in the US when it came to the attacks. Left-liberals, old-line realists, and libertarians had little credible to say about why the crimes were committed. The neocons alone saw them as the consequence of a systemic problem deriving from a lack of Arab democracy. They were right. But the riposte was haphazard …
Daydreaming in Damascus: The Syrian Masturbation
2009-10-02, Newsweek, by Dan Ephron
It started with a post in Arabic last month by 23-year-old blogger Fadal Atamaz Al-Sibai, who complained that masturbation in Syria has “spread among the youths like wildfire,” and announced a campaign to end the “secret habit.”
His comments prompted a snarky response from Abufares, one of Syria’s leading bloggers, who called for a counter campaign culminating in an “unprecedented Syrian Orgasm against absurdity, hypocrisy, and sanctimony.”
Then things really picked up.
Yazan Badran, who blogs from Latakia in northern Syria, suggested observing a week of moral decay, to include drugs, porn, and eating publicly on Ramadan. Two other bloggers proposed campaigns against tribalism and fossilized thinking.
“While unsuspecting parents are watching Bab El Hara (a popular television show in the Arab world), the boys are spanking their monkeys and the girls are beating their beavers,” Abufares wrote, in a posting so chalk with lewd detail that even a jaded reader might blush.
Has the Syrian ether suddenly become a bastion of free expression? Hardly. Just last month, the regime sentenced a 31-year-old political blogger, Karim Antoine Arbaji, to three years in prison for undermining President Bashar Assad’s rule.
But bloggers and analysts say the secular regime in Damascus has proven to be far more tolerant of sex and sexual discussion on the web than other countries in the region. “You’re only in danger when discussing sensitive political issues, the presidency, for example,” Badran from Latakia said in an email exchange. “There is very little concern when it comes to social, cultural or religious debates, especially over a medium like blogs.”…
Guardian (GB): Turkey, Syria’s new best friend
Just over a decade ago, Turkey’s army gathered on its southern border in anticipation of a war with Syria that was narrowly avoided. Just over a fortnight ago, the two neighbours signed accords allowing for visa-free passage between the two states. …
A better explanation for this developing friendship comes from new diplomatic strategies adopted by both states in recent years. In light of the slow EU accession process and disappointment at the US invasion of Iraq, Turkey has adopted the arch-realist position of its influential foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu. He argues for “zero problems with neighbours”, whatever their past or current misdeeds. This has allowed the regime to put aside its ideological differences and historical disagreements with Syria, as it has with Greece, Iran and, increasingly, Iraq and Armenia. At the same time Davutoglu advocates increased Turkish “strategic depth” with its neighbours – promoting its cultural, economic and political influence further than in the past. Its stable yet economically under-developed neighbour Syria proves a good test case.
Syria’s shift towards Turkey has emerged out of more desperate circumstances. Frozen out by the US, the EU and the so-called moderate Arab states after the 2003 Iraq war and the 2005 Hariri assassination in Lebanon, Assad was forced to cast his net for new allies. While this drew him closer to Iran and Qatar, it was Turkey that he courted most – making the historic first trip by a Syrian president to Ankara in 2004. Assad was willing to make substantial sacrifices to forge this new friendship, such as finally accepting Turkish sovereignty over the disputed Hatay province in 2005. At the same time he proved a shrewd diplomat, rushing to support Turkey’s incursion against Kurdish rebels in Iraq in 2007, despite international condemnation.
Ostensibly the hard work has paid off, as Turkish support has been instrumental in bringing Syria back in from the cold. Erdogan mediated Israeli-Syrian talks in 2008 that softened Damascus’s negative international image. Not surprisingly, when the French president, Nicholas Sarkozy, eventually broke the international boycott and visited Syria last year, Assad met him accompanied by Erdogan. Economically, the renewed ties have paid dividends, too.
The disputed territory is key to the broader US goal of Arab-Israeli peace. On Monday, Washington hosted the first high-ranking Syrian official in five years.
By Julien Barnes-Dacey | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, September 28, 2009
The US demonstrated its commitment to reengage Syria as a partner for Middle East peace Monday, advancing a process that some Arab countries had declared dead in recent weeks. At Washington’s invitation – the first one extended to a high-ranking Syrian official in five years – Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad came to town to meet US officials.
Syria’s cooperation is crucial to the chief goal of President Obama’s Middle East policy: Arab-Israeli peace. With ties to three Israeli enemies – Iran, and the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas – Syria says it can moderate the threats against the Jewish state and thus pave the way for reciprocal Israeli concessions to the Palestinians and their Arab allies.
In return, Syria wants one thing: the Golan Heights.
oxford Business Group, 01.10.2009
With demand for both commercial and residential space, Syria’s real estate sector is experiencing substantial growth, with a number of large-scale projects under construction and in the pipeline.
However, with a shortage of available properties for new home and office purchases, property value has risen disproportionately to spending levels, and access to sufficient mortgage financing is resulting in many Syrians being priced out of the market. ….
While new private and foreign capital has been entering the market, barring a few exceptions, many of the announced projects have not got off the ground. This has resulted in the supply gap not being reduced as quickly as hoped. According to a survey by Cushman Wakefield, a commercial real estate broker and consultant, in March, this surplus demand has resulted in Damascus having the eighth highest commercial property prices in the world. …
Real estate, in 2007, accounted for 4.27% of the country’s economy and employed 15% of the national workforce, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.
With a GDP per capita of $2237 in 2008, income levels in Syria are well below those found in countries with comparable property prices, pointing to a large disparity between property value and affordability. However, according to Fadi Al Nwilati Almasri, the managing director for property agent GS Real Estate, it is a mistake to look solely at the purchasing power in-country, as the majority of buyers for new high-end units are Syrians living abroad.
“Around 95% of the properties I sell are purchased by Syrians living or working overseas. There are an estimated 20m Syrians living abroad, which is roughly the same size as the local population. So for the large developers, it is not a major concern that locally earning Syrians cannot really enter the market,” Al Nwilati told OBG.
There exists a strong impetus for the government to encourage the private sector to further enter into affordable housing. It is estimated that close to 38% of Syrians presently live in informal housing, placing tremendous social, environmental and health pressures on the country’s major urban centres.
According to Riad Kahale, the CEO & managing director for real estate developer Urban Development Group, the challenge for low-cost housing at present is that, “Land and building materials prices result in far higher selling prices than what the average consumer can afford on housing. The government’s help is therefore essential for the private sector to competitively contribute to this sector. This can be done by giving developers land free of charge and an exemption from taxes on imported materials and revenues, in return it would be fair for the government to impose small margin for profits in order to guarantee affordable products for low-income citizens.”
While the country’s banking sector has seen tremendous growth in recent years, with the opening up of 13 new private banks, a substantive mortgage market has yet to develop. Although banks, realising a market need, indicate that they want to focus more on this segment, with many properties not registered, authorised and legally enforceable, property valuations are difficult to ascertain…..
a number of major projects, such as Emaar’s Eight Gate project just outside Damascus, are still going ahead and selling strong.
With huge unmet demand, even if all the announced developments came on-line simultaneously, Syria would remain a long way from reaching anywhere near a property bubble….
Egypt Looks to Triple Power Capacity by 2027
CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt aims to more than triple its installed power capacity by 2027 by adding 58,000 megawatts (MW) at cost of about $100 billion to $120 billion, the electricity minister said on Wednesday. Egypt, the most populous Arab …
… if this is true, Imad Mustapha must’ve had a good laugh …
“U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman has reportedly summoned Syrian ambassador Imad Mustafa to the State Department over obstacles put by Damascus to Lebanese cabinet formation.
An Nahar daily said Monday Feltman told Mustafa two weeks ago that Washington will not send any high ranking official to Damascus as long as Syria keeps hindering the government formation process. In a clear proof to Feltman’s threat, Middle East envoy George Mitchell made a short visit to Beirut during his Mideast tour earlier this month without traveling to Syria….”
Syria Says It Hasn’t Been Impacted by Global Economic Crisis
2009-09-28, By Vivian Salama
Sept. 28 (Bloomberg) — Syria hasn’t been impacted by the global economic crisis and expects its economy to expand 5 percent in 2009, the country’s Central Bank Governor Adib Mayaleh said.
“We expect the rate of growth to increase in 2010,” he said in an interview at the Arab Monetary Fund conference in Abu Dhabi today, adding that restrictions on economic policy shielded the country from the global financial crisis.
Syria will probably have an average inflation rate of 6.5 percent in 2009, Mayaleh said.
Wael Alwani said on his blog [ar] that Syrian Students at King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST) are forbidden from using Shaheen, a US made supercomputer, due to technology export sanctions imposed by the US against Syria.
” … While Israeli eyes are on other fronts for now, there is always a calculation that Egypt may one day turn unfriendly again. The IDF performs exercises for that eventuality from time to time. So does Egypt. In the meantime, however, Egypt and Israel are cooperating on a range of issues, including the fight against arms smuggling into Gaza…..
The IDF wants Syria taken out of the equation of potential violence, and is pushing the political echelon to pay the necessary diplomatic price.
Jerusalem Post: Analysis: Assad skillfully plays East against
2009-09-29 18:55:47.453 GMT
In the decades following the Cold War, of which 1973′s Yom Kippur War was a seminal moment, the Arab Middle East has coalesced into two opposing camps: the “radical” and the “pragmatic.” Syrian President Bashar Assad. Photo: AP SLIDESHOW: Israel & …
“Syria: an Arab search for a regional alternative to national solidarity” [transltions thanks to mideastwire.com]
On September 28, the independent newspaper Al-Arab al-Yawm carried the following opinion piece by Nicholas Nasr: “Even as border fences are rising among Arab League States – be it real separation fences or security barriers truly closing borders, such as the ongoing situation between Morocco and Algeria, or making border crossing by visa like passing through the eye of a needle, another phenomenon is growing in the opposite direction between Arab States and regional neighboring countries: for example, border markings are erased between the Iranian and Iraqi sovereigns, visas between Syria and Turkey are annulled, as well as between Jordan and the Israeli occupation State.
“Peace” treaties and understandings between some of these countries and the Israeli occupation State, along with strategic relations consolidating among them and with the American Occupying State in Iraq, have led to the fall of the minimum level of Arab solidarity. Conversely, the phenomenon of strategic partnership is growing between, on the one hand, Syria and two pivotal regional States like Iran and Turkey, or between States of the Arab Maghreb and Europe, collectively or individually, on the other. If these were not signs for a regional system of a Greater “Middle East” that would gradually replace the Arab League system, then Arab strategists have to provide a different explanation that would clarify what they are.
“Yet, whatever the explanation is, the un-debatable truth is that the Arab League’s failure, the collapse of the lowest level of Arab solidarity, in addition to the defeat of the Arab unity project, have driven regional Arab States to look for reasons to stay within regional or international alliances – or both – that will increase Arab ruptures, and transform any hope of Arab national solidarity into a mirage in the forseeable future, all the while laying objective foundations for a non-Arab regional system that paves the way for a greater or new Middle East – either according to the declared American-Israeli vision, or in line with an independent regional vision that new partners in Damascus and Teheran are hoping for. As scientists say, nature hates vacuum. One of the visions will inevitably fill in the void produced by the downfall of the Arab national project.
“The second un-debatable truth is that the Arab-Israeli conflict was, and still is, the general framework for both visions. Inasmuch as this conflict resides in the American-Israeli basic quest for a Middle East regional system that would be capable of assimilating the Israeli occupation State as an integral part of the region, the Arab League, by force of the organization’s composition and objectives, rejects and does not absorb the Israeli State – this conflict also resides in the basic Syrian quest for a regional system that prevents American-Israeli hegemony over the region on one hand, and promotes, on the other hand, Syria’s defensive capacities in the face of the Israeli occupation State, since Syria is the only Arab State that is in an actual state of war with Israel, and compensates for its loss of the Iraqi strategic depth following the American occupation of Iraq.
“However, in its search for regional salvation, and after losing any hope of any Arab backer, Syria has undoubtedly achieved a national strategic breakthrough. As the proverb goes, every cloud has a silver lining. Syria’s despair with Arab solidarity in its fight for the liberation of its occupied territories – which made it look for a regional alternative for that solidarity, practically lead to depriving the Israeli occupation State of a strategic asset it has used in its battle, since its creation, to impose its existence onto Arabs and the region.
“Israel has always bet on investing Arab differences with non-Arab neighboring countries – especially in Turkey, Iran and Ethiopia, in order to deprive Arabs of their regional strategic depth. Israel and its American sponsor even invested in these conflicts in strong attempts to spark off border conflicts inherited from European colonial times; conflicts that would cause [one] to overlook the main regional Arab-Israeli conflict, and become the priority – as [is seen in] the current attempt to replace the Arabs’ Israeli enemy with an Iranian one through a variety of pretexts.
“Neighboring countries would turn their backs on their natural geopolitical alliances with their Arab neighbors in an alliance with the Israeli occupying State. Alliances with the Shah’s Iran before the Islamic revolution, with NATO member Turkey, and with Ethiopia of Emperor Haile Selassie during the Cold War between the United States of America and the Soviet Union, belong to the nearterm history that is still fresh in Arab memory.
“There is no arguing now as to the Arab national security being the beneficiary of the “strategic change”– a historical one on all levels – within relations of non-Arab neighboring countries with both parties of the Arab-Israeli conflict. There is no doubt either that the successful Syrian diplomacy had a key role in contributing to the happening of that change. One cannot overlook of course international and regional developments as well as internal factors that drove neighboring countries into that direction. Egyptian, Yemeni and Emirati contributions, for instance, cannot be ignored, having been careful to contain their differences with their neighboring countries in Ethiopia and Iran, in order to maintain “normal” relations with both States despite: the case of the Nile River upstream and downstream water distribution, the Somali “detonator” for igniting the conflict in the Horn of Africa that nips this strategic turn in the bud, the Iranian persistence in continuing the occupation of the three Emirati islands, and other legitimate Arab concerns that American and Israeli allies are trying to stoke as flames around them between Arab States and between the two regional neighboring countries.
“…Two reservations may be expressed concerning this historical strategic turn. The first one is that “regional solidarity” cannot be an “alternative” to Arab solidarity. It is rather complementary because the priority-conflict was and will stay first and foremost an Arab-Israeli conflict, and because the Arab solidarity, currently absent for objective reasons, cannot remain forever missing: divided Arab States will sooner or later realize that their regional deliverance depends on their national solidarity, and that searching for that deliverance in individual external alliances, even if the current American world [with America as the] greatest power, might be imposed by temporary, compelling circumstances.
“The same applies to peace with the Israeli occupation State. Yet it will never guarantee long term security and stability. Regional neighboring countries are themselves not directly concerned with the conflict. Their interests could meet with the continuation of the conflict. Their agendas might concur with the Israeli agenda in opposing a genuine forming of an Arab solidarity. Their international relations could also dictate benefits that contradict their present regional regression. And other reasons.
“The second reservation lies in a real postponing of the resolution of Arab differences with regional neighboring countries. For example: ripping off the Iskenderun from the Syrian homeland and annexing it to Turkey, annexing Arab Ahwaz to Iran, the Iranian occupation of the three Emirati islands, the Iranian partnership in the American occupation of Iraq, etc. – since the interest of Arab bullying through neighboring countries, lies in the Arab-Israeli conflict, which threatens relevant Arab rights due to the length of the Arab-Israeli conflict, before Arabs dedicate themselves to solving these border conflicts with their neighbors. ..” – Al-Arab al-Yawm, Jordan
Restricted: Visas Good for West Bank Only
By Nathan Guttman
While most American citizens entering Israel are allowed full access to Israel and the West Bank, Arab Americans coming to visit their families in the West Bank are likely to receive a new “Palestinian Authority Only” stamp on their passports. READ MORE