Posted by Joshua on Friday, December 25th, 2009
As Mubarak meets with Larjani in an effort to mediate between Iran and the Arabs, we see the continuing shift away from confrontation in the region. The Arab Cold War, exacerbated by the US invasion of Iraq and Bush’s attempt to turn “moderate” against “radical” Arab, is petering out. Saad Hariri’s trip to Damascus was one chapter in the reconciliation process that has seen Assad and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia mend fences. Now Egypt is mending relations with the radicals even as it helps Israel and the US contain the Palestinians in Gaza by building a steel wall along its border. Washington’s effort to build Saudi Arabia into a Middle East leader which could rally the region to take on Iran was short lived. Turkey has stepped into the breach to assume leadership in what some pundits are labeling its “Neo-Ottoman” foreign policy. The collapse of Iraq has also catapulted Syria into a larger regional role. Not only is it the only transit route between North and South, but it also has a stable government in a region of instability. Syria’s improving relations with Turkey have also exalted its standing. As Erdoghan said this week, he hopes that Turko-Syrian relations will become a model for cooperation to be copied throughout the region.
On Sunday, the Speaker of the Iranian majlis (parliament), Ali Larijani, met for two hours with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo. Ostensibly, Larijani was in Egypt to attend a meeting of the Parliamentary Union of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which includes Turkey, Kuwait, Niger, Azerbaijan, and Uganda in addition to Egypt and Iran. Larijani publicly described his meeting with Mubarak as “very good and constructive”, and official Egyptian and Iranian media reported that the two men discussed bilateral relations and regional issues of mutual concern. After meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit, Larijani declared Iran’s support for Palestinian unity and, following a meeting with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, noted that “relations between the two countries could be a great help for creation of peace and security in the region”.
Larijani’s meeting with Mubarak was unusual; among other reasons, Larijani is not a head of state or government. More broadly, Larijani’s high-level reception was striking because Egypt and the Islamic Republic have yet to restore diplomatic ties since Cairo cut them off in 1980 and Egyptian-Iranian relations were recently strained by the 2008-09 conflict in Gaza. The potential significance of Larijani’s visit was highlighted today when Mubarak—who, at this point in his career, travels abroad infrequently—set out on a previously unannounced tour of several Gulf Arab states. An unnamed Egyptian official told the Associated Press that the Iranian had presented a “new proposal” to improve relations with Arab states and that Mubarak was traveling to discuss it with his Gulf Arab allies.
Larijani’s discussions in Cairo and Mubarak’s swing through the Gulf need to be understood through at least two analytic “prisms”: the first is the increasingly polarized strategic environment in the Middle East, and the second is growing concern among America’s traditional Arab allies about the ability of the Obama Administration to “deliver” in dealing with key regional challenges. Broadly speaking, the Middle East today is deeply divided between two camps—a reality that some commentators, borrowing a phrase from the late Malcolm Kerr, describe as a new regional “Cold War”.
On one side of this divide are those states willing to work in various forms of strategic partnership with the United States, with an implied acceptance of American hegemony over the region. This camp includes Israel, those Arab states that have made peace with Israel (Egypt and Jordan), and other so-called moderate Arab states (e.g., Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council).
On the other side of this divide are those Middle Eastern states and non-state actors that are unwilling to legitimize American (and, some in this camp would say, Israeli) hegemony over the region. The Islamic Republic of Iran has emerged in recent years as the de facto leader of this camp, which also includes Syria and prominent non-state actors such as HAMAS and Hizballah. Notwithstanding its close security ties to the United States, Qatar has also aligned itself with the “resistance” camp on some issues in recent years. And, notwithstanding Turkey’s longstanding membership in NATO and ongoing European “vocation”, the rise of the Justice Development Party and declining military involvement in Turkish politics have prompted an intensification of Ankara’s diplomatic engagement in the Middle East, in ways that give additional strategic options to various actors in the “resistance” camp.
While the “pro-American” camp retains considerable resources and influence, the “resistance” camp has made impressive strategic gains since the turn of the millennium—in no small part, because of the George W. Bush Administration’s strategically counterproductive approach to the region. Against this backdrop, the “pro-American” camp clearly hoped that President Obama would re-legitimate America’s leadership role in the Middle East and deal effectively with the region’s most pressing strategic challenges—with the Palestinian issue and Iran at the top of that list. But, as we have met with senior diplomats and officials from the “pro-American” camp in recent weeks, we have been struck by the accelerating pace at which our interlocutors’ concern about the direction of the Obama Administration’s Middle East policies is mounting. They are becoming increasingly dubious that President Obama will “deliver” in the Middle East—on Palestine, on Iran, in Afghanistan, and on other important regional issues.
It is in this context that Larijani’s visit to Cairo and Mubarak’s subsequent departure for the Gulf take on special significance. As the Islamic Republic prepares for an intensification in its longstanding “Cold War” struggle with the United States and Israel—and a corresponding rise in the risks of eventual military attacks against Iranian interests—Tehran has a clear interest in trying to bolster regional “solidarity” with America’s traditional Arab allies. But America’s traditional Arab allies, such as Egypt, have an even more compelling interest in improving relations with Tehran, to reduce the odds of U.S. (or Israeli) military confrontation with Iran, minimize perceived Iranian threats to their interests, and mitigate the domestic and regional backlash that would ensue if these states were somehow implicated in a U.S. and/or Israeli military campaign against the Islamic Republic.
Syria 2009” – excellent review DPA
More assessment of the Hariri visit:
IDAF writes:in al- Akhbar – Interesting details of the Hariri-Asad meeting: Hariri spent 22 hours in Damascus and met privately with Asad for more than 8 hours during. The two guys should be friends by now!
Al-Diyar Newspaper: Asad to visit Beirut next month after Mo’allem
Also in al-Akhbar: Syria’s unprecedented welcome for Hariri is explained here as Syria’s need to fortify Hariri’s Sunni “Za’im” credentials in Lebanon (to counter growing Sunni radicalism in Lebanon):
رهانا دمشق في المرحلة المقبلة: الحريري وعون
يكاد الرئيسان سعد الحريري وميشال عون يصبحان الرهانين الجدّيين الوحيدين الموثوق بهما لدى دمشق في المرحلة المقبلة. ومن خلالهما تريد مقاربة العلاقات السورية ـــــ اللبنانية. تريد استعادة الأول زعيماً لتيار سنّي كان في صلب حلفائها اللبنانيين حتى عام 2005.
وهي وإن تعرّفت إلى الحريري للمرة الأولى، فقد تمرّست طويلاً في نبض شارعه. على مرّ عقود العلاقات اللبنانية ـــــ السورية لزم الشارع السنّي الخيارات الإقليمية لدمشق. تريد أيضاً المحافظة على عون بعدما كان أعتى أعدائها، بنت معه تحالفاً سياسياً لا يخجل به الجنرال ولا يتفاداه. بذلك يكون الرئيس بشّار الأسد قد اختار توازناً جديداً للقوى بين الحريري وعون، يمثّل حزب الله والنائب سليمان فرنجيه جزءاً لا يتجزأ منه، لإدارة استقرار لبنان. استقبل الرجلين استقبالاً استثنائياً وعوّل على حرارة العلاقة الشخصية بكل منهما. ولكل منهما، في الموقف من سوريا، مشك!
لة مع جمهوره: الشارع السنّي يرفض دمشق بعد جريمة 2005، والشارع المسيحي لا يثق بنظامها
For Hariri, the visit was necessary for two main reasons:
First, as Prime Minister of a national unity government with the support of the Lebanese Parliament, Hariri is no longer the leader of a Sunni political party, but the official representative of all Lebanese, half of whom do not share his heretofore-adversarial approach to Syria.
Secondly, and more importantly, under the Lebanese constitution, the Prime Minister is effectively the Chief Executive responsible for governing the country and delivering on the people’s agenda. After the Doha agreement and the arduous process of forming his own government, Hariri understood well that, Saudi sponsorship notwithstanding, he needs Damascus’ blessing and support to govern effectively in Beirut. Without such support, his premiership could turn into a grinding series of political battles over minutiae that will prevent him from achieving anything but stasis. The Siniora government of the last few years serves as a dim example.
To secure Damascus’ support, Hariri will have to commit to some core values that are key to Syria: Re-affirming Lebanon’s Arab identity, securing an unambiguous position vis-à-vis the conflict with Israel, supporting the resistance (i.e. Hezbollah) and committing to a distinguished relationship with Syria. From Syria’s perspective, all other issues may be negotiated.
On the Syrian side, after a period of critical evaluation of its pre-2005 management of the ‘Lebanese portfolio’, there seems to be a genuine interest, among the leadership in Damascus, in adopting a new, more institutional approach to managing the relationship with Lebanon, which could present an opportunity for Hariri.
Personally and politically, the visit represented a difficult climb-down for Saad Hariri. However, the visit could serve as the beginning of a personal reconciliation between Hariri and Assad, and consequently, of a political reconciliation between Syria and Lebanon’s Sunni community. Most importantly, harvested well, the visit could be a harbinger for a new type of a relationship between the two countries.
Regardless of how things play out, one thing was clear: After the acrimony of the last 5 years, in form and substance, Hariri’s visit to Damascus symbolized the return of Syria’s preeminence in Lebanon.
– “Kouchner: the Assad-Hariri meeting normal…” (Al-Hayat)
“The visit represents a positive development after the formation of a new government in Lebanon. It is only normal that the Syrian president and the new Lebanese prime minister be able to talk with each other and I even expect the prime minister to make another visit to Syria. Anyway, the meeting was a very positive, personal and private one between both leaders. I may be one of the few politicians who do not forget the past events but I can tell you that the meeting is without any doubt a positive development and we will see how things will go later on. After all, this meeting will not resolve the problems in the Middle East or the Israeli Palestinian confrontation or the Hezbollah problem but it is always better for the different parties to talk to each other.”
“Asked if France wanted to play a mediating role between Israel and Syria, Kouchner said that the problem between both parties was Hezbollah and its missiles which are threatening Israel. In regard to Syrian pressures to stop the funding of Terje Roed-Larsen’s mission in regard to United Nations Resolution 1559, Kouchner said that he had never heard of that problem before and that he did not think it was even possible.” – Al-Hayat, United Kingdom
Syria-US Relations: The Difficult Lessons of 1991 and the Peace Process
By Ahmed Salkini, Embassy in Washington
The National UAE: Economic downturn hits Syrian Christmas
2009-12-23 02:49:08.12 GMT
DAMASCUS // An economic downturn and fears over increasing Islamic radicalism have dampened this years festive atmosphere for Syrian Christians.In the week running up to Christmas Day, merchants in Christian majority sections of Damascus complained …
Efforts were also under way to complete international rail lines from Syria’s Aleppo to Sanliurfa in southeast Turkey and from Georgia’s Tbilisi to Kars in northeast Turkey, Karaman
Turkish PM Erdogan hails ties with Syria
December 23, 2009, Now Lebanon
During a speech in Damascus on Wednesday to Turkish and Syrian businessmen on Wednesday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan hailed his country’s fast expanding relations with Syria as model for its ties with other Arab countries.
“We are living through historic times. We are going to overcome all the obstacles and form with Syria a model for cooperation to be copied elsewhere,” Erdogan added.
He also said Turkey was working on expanding its relations with other Arab states, including Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. He said he hoped bilateral trade between Turkey and Syria would rise to $5 billion a year from $2 billion a year over the next three to four years. The improvement in relations between Turkey and Syria over the past
Dec. 23 (Xinhua) — Syria and Turkey on Wednesday signed 50 agreements and memorandum of understanding (MoU) and a work program for joint cooperation, as leaders of the two countries met and vowed to further enhance bilateral relations.
“The Syrian-Turkish relations have developed over the past few years, however we still have a long way to go,” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said at a joint press conference with visiting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“The fruits of our deep relations could be seen in all fields, which became a reality that anyone couldn’t ignore,” said Assad.
The agreements were signed at the end of the first meeting of the Turkey-Syria High Level Strategic Cooperation Council co-chaired by Erdogan and his Syrian counterpart Naji Otri, a mechanism launched during the Syrian president’s visit to Ankara in September.
After the visit, Syria and Turkey announced that the two countries have decided to cancel entry visa requirements of each other for their passport-holding citizens.
Erdogan said the first meeting of the High Level Strategic Cooperation Council is a historic day for relations between the two countries, adding that cooperation between Syria and Turkey made considerable progress in the fields of economy and trade.
He said canceling the entry visa requirements between the two countries and the Free Trade Zone agreement led to increasing trade exchange, adding “we will work to increase trade exchange incoming years to reach 5 billion U.S. dollars.”
The two leaders hailed that the “brotherly ties” between the two countries is an example to be followed.
Assad also reiterated his country’s readiness to participate in any peace talks if Israel shows real will to achieve just and comprehensive peace, saying that “Syria doesn’t need (French President) Nicolas Sarkozy to be the mediator of peace talks.”
The Turkish prime minister started his official visit to Syria on Tuesday evening, accompanied by a large ministerial delegation.
A delegation of Hamas officials will head to Damascus Thursday to meet with the movement’s leaders in Damadcus around the latest Israeli response to ongoing negotiations for a prisoner swap deal.
An official in Hamas said the delegation would seek Damascus’ point of view on the offer, following meetings in Gaza as leaders discussed the information passed to them by a German mediator in the swap talks.
According to reports, the latest offer includes the release of all or most of the prisoners identified by Hamas, but demands that up to 100 of them, mostly Hamas and militant movement leaders, be deported from the West Bank to Gaza or other countries that do not border Israel.
Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahhar told Israel Radio that Hamas would need several days to collect an official response.
Zahhar said the German mediator left the Strip and returned to Europe, where he is awaiting Hamas’ response. Their answer will determine the mediators next move.
Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy on the prospects for peace with the Palestinians, and Iran, and why Israel is indestructible
by Yoni Goldstein on Wednesday, December 23, 2009 in Mcclean’s
A Syria Roadtrip… Seriously?
By Frederick Deknatel December 13, 2009
BAALBEK, Lebanon – Lebanon’s drug-producing heartland is back in business with a resurgence of marijuana and poppy fields, challenging the country’s underpowered security forces and adding another dimension to Israel’s war with Hezbollah militants….
ISRAEL: Good neighbors make fences
by Batsheva Sobelman – (Blog) December 23, 2009 – 12:00am
While Egypt’s steel barricade draws both ire and fire from Gaza, it isn’t the only neighbor fencing in its property. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to build a fence along the country’s border with Egypt. The border sprawls about 143 miles through sand-land and mountainous terrain, and with the exception of the official crossing at Taba, it is wide open. It is largely a peaceful area, but in recent years it has become increasingly exploited by a wide range of factors that are evolving into a real threat.
Postwar Gaza: Scars frozen, Mideast at an impasse
ATFP World Press Roundup Article from Associated Press
by Karin Laub – December 23, 2009 – 12:00am
Gaza’s scars have been frozen in place since Israel waged war a year ago to subdue Hamas and stop rockets from hitting its towns. Entire neighborhoods still lie in rubble, and traumatized residents can’t rebuild their lives. A man who lost two daughters and his home can’t visit his surviving 4-year-old girl in a Belgian hospital because Gaza’s borders remain sealed. A 15-year-old struggles to walk on her artificial limbs, while dozens of other war amputees still await prostheses.