Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, November 17th, 2009
|France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy greets Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad at the Elysee Palace in Paris November 13, 2009.|
[Landis analysis] France is getting ahead of the US and Israel in championing Syria and possible peace with Israel. Feltman says US differences with Syria are “profound.” This is the same language I have heard from the Syrians. They love the new demeanor of the Obama diplomats but doubt the “structural problems” between the US and Syria can be overcome. Why? It’s Israel stupid. Syrian support for Hizbullah and Hamas make it a terror loving state in the eyes of America. Syria, naturally, views its support for resistance to occupation as a fundamental right supported by international law.
The number of conservative journalists who have taken the time out of their day to pen attacks on Syria has gone way down in general since the Obama administration started to improve relations with Syria. In the last week or so, however, a small but perceptible spike in articles employing anti-Syrian trash talking seems to have taken place. Lee Smith, Michael Totten, David Shenker and Barry Rubin have put their shoulders to the wheel this week. God bless them. The explanation? Possibly the right is worried that the US will make some sort of demarche toward the Syrians now that the Palestinian track is dead. Washington could heat up the Syrian track or at the very least give a push to Sarkozy’s diplomacy. This seems to be what Sarkozy and Assad are hoping for. Netanyahu has headed it off at the pass by blowing his “no preconditions” love kisses. In Syria’s lexicon, “No preconditions” means, “We aren’t giving you back any land.” Assad is not biting; he wants the Golan — all of it. I don’t think the conservatives have much to worry about. Netanyahu has outflanked Obama at every turn.
All the same, Syria has gotten more or less what it needs from the US, which is a pass on the sanctions front. Syria does not need the US to lift its sanctions, which congress will not do so long as Syria objects to Israel occupying its land. It just needs the US to stop intimidating international companies and foreign banks from investing in Syria. The one major ticket item that US sanctions does impede the sale of is airplanes, but Europe seems to be reevaluating its refusal to sell Airbuses to Syria, despite their having 10% US content. The world is big enough in the Twenty First Century so that if the US wants to lock itself out of Syria, Damascus can afford to turn the other cheek. Many countries are making this calculation as US influence in the region declines. This is why US efforts to sanction Iran will not work. Turkey, India, Russia, China and Brazil are beginning to discount Washington’s ability or willingness to punish them over sanctions. America is still big enough and powerful enough that they say “yes” — but in most cases, they mean “no.”
US policy in the Middle East remains linked to Israel by golden handcuffs. Israel’s enemies are accepted as America’s enemies. This prevents the US from recalibrating its relations in the region. It is no longer preventing other Middle Eastern countries and emerging world powers from recalibrating their relations to countries like Syria and Iran. The result of Washington’s inability to ween itself from its constricting and destructive relationship with Israel, will be that the US increasingly isolates itself. More and more friends will defect from its interpretation of “security” in the region. Both Saudi Arabia and Egypt are complaining that they are becoming irrelevant. Turkey and Brazil announced warm relations with Iran in an effort to inoculate themselves from an impending US-Iranian crisis. India and China have already done so. They cannot afford to have their energy prices increased by further sanctions on Iran. The US is boxing itself in.
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said Washington was eager to cooperate with the Hariri Cabinet, but warned that arms export from Iran to Hizbullah “puts Lebanon at great risk.”
“The United States is looking forward to cooperating with the new Lebanon government in a spirit of partnership in various fields after it obtains confidence,” Feltman said in an interview published Sunday by the daily An-Nahar.
His remarks were translated into English by Naharnet.
Feltman said he congratulated Prime Minister Saad Hariri on his new post and denied accusations by some Lebanese political leaders who charges that the U.S. administration had intervened in the government formation process.
He accused Iran of continuing to export arms to Hizbullah and hoped that the Lebanese government would realize the “risk” of Israeli attacks in response to firing of rockets from Lebanon into the Jewish state.
Feltman said delay in the appointment of a new U.S. ambassador to Damascus was due to “political and bureaucratic reasons.”
While acknowledging that a visit to Washington by Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Miqdad was “positive and constructive,” he described the differences between the U.S. and Syria as “profound.”
Feltman said peace efforts have so far not led to find the “key to open the door to negotiations in order to reach constructive talks between Syria and Israel.”
“But we are committed to achieve peace,” he said, adding that there was a “high degree of cooperation” between the U.S. and France on peace in the Middle East.
Damascus Revels in Its New Allure to Investors
Syria, a Former Pariah State Whose Isolation Sheltered It in the Economic Crisis, Sees New Gains in a Western Embrace
CHIP CUMMINS, NOVEMBER 17, 2009, WSJ
DAMASCUS, Syria — From the corridors of Syria’s stately central bank to the capital’s winding, barrel-vaulted souk in the heart of the Old City, it is hard to remember that 18 months ago Syria was a diplomatic and economic pariah state.
Growth is expected to come in this year at a respectable 3%, despite a big knock from the global financial crisis. European tourists spill out of recently renovated boutique hotels in the capital’s Old City. American accents boom across the dining room of the Four Seasons. In the tony Maliki neighborhood nearby, tourists, foreign businessmen and fashionably dressed Damascenes sip $4 lattes at one of several bustling cafes.
Central-bank chief Adib Mayaleh is practically giddy about Syria’s new allure to foreign investors. Amid warming ties between the West and Syria, executives from two French banks recently dropped by his office to talk about opening branches here. The same French bankers “previously said they would have nothing to do with me,” he says, gloating.
“We see more and more banks coming here to investigate the market,” Mr. Mayaleh says. “Syria is virgin territory to explore.”
In fact, Syria’s still-isolated economy protected it from the worst of the global financial crisis. Banks here haven’t been hit by defaults. Tourism receipts dipped but are recovering again. A recent private-sector-led investment boom in real estate shows no signs of the bust felt in other regional markets like Dubai.
Earlier this year, real-estate adviser Cushman & Wakefield listed Damascus office space as the eighth most expensive in the world. That is behind Paris and two spots ahead of midtown Manhattan.
“The only Syrians that can buy houses are those that can sell one first,” says real-estate agent Ayman al-Saman, from his closet-size agency in the center of town. Residential real-estate prices have tripled since 2004, he says.
On top of all that, the West’s recent embrace of Syrian President Bashar Assad is translating into a booster shot of economic optimism.
Bassel Hamwi, deputy chairman of Bank Audi Syria, one of the largest private banks in the country, said the barrage of U.S. sanctions the Bush administration slapped on Syria starting in 2004 never was a real barrier to economic growth. But warming ties with the world’s largest economy can’t help but make a difference. “Syria used to be a ‘frontier’ market,” the Texas- and Harvard-educated banker says. “As of 2009, I personally consider this an emerging market.”
It has been a long road, with plenty of obstacles still ahead. When Mr. Assad took over here after his father’s death in 2000, he kept tight control of the state, suppressing dissent. But he also ushered in economic overhauls. Lower import tariffs allowed foreign goods from China and Europe to flow in. In 2003, banking reform opened the door to a handful of private lenders. The overhauls brought with them galloping inflation, but everyday Syrians embraced the new consumer culture.
“We have lots of industry in Syria that produces everything we need, but people prefer things from abroad,” says 27-year-old shopkeeper Manhal Moujarid, in a packed appliance store full of Chinese-made heaters, tucked into the mountainside souk of Damascus’s poorer Muhajireen neighborhood.
Shortly after the U.S.-led invasion in Iraq, Washington accused Mr. Assad of allowing fighters across the border to battle Americans, and in 2004 imposed sanctions. In 2005, the U.S. held Syria accountable for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and pulled its ambassador. (Syria denies both allegations.)
The sanctions didn’t directly affect much business here since American companies weren’t that active anyway. But U.S. Treasury officials suggested European firms risked being frozen out of the U.S. banking system if they didn’t play ball.
“Foreign banks were intimidated by the American sanctions,” says Mr. Mayaleh, the central banker.
Then, in what could be one of the most significant diplomatic rehabilitation acts in recent memory, Mr. Assad turned the tables. Last year, he agreed to indirect peace talks with Israel. He also helped to broker a deal between warring Lebanese politicians. Earlier this year, U.S. commanders traveled to Damascus to discuss Syria-Iraqi border security cooperation.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy invited Mr. Assad to Paris in the summer of 2008 and flew to Damascus later that year. Mr. Assad traveled to France again on Friday.
President Barack Obama made outreach to Syria a plank of his campaign. This summer, he promised to reinstate an ambassador and ease some economic restrictions. Washington has stopped short of offering to lift sanctions outright. And there has been little recent movement on naming an ambassador, triggering grumbling among Syrian officials.
Still, the thaw has boosted confidence here, as shown by the sudden rush of Western bankers calling on Syrian officials. In an interview in his marble and wood office, Abdullah Dardari, Syria’s deputy prime minister for economic affairs, gestures to two business cards left on his coffee table by executives representing big U.S. financial firms.
“Finally,” he says, “we put Syria on the map for foreign investors.”
Israel, Syria, Turkey and France
Judah Grunstein | Bio | 16 Nov 2009
“… Sarkozy has been criticized for shifting the traditional French pro-Palestinian alignment towards a more Israel-friendly approach. But all of his moves since taking office, including the engagement with Assad, suggests he has put his eggs in the Syria basket. The two-state solution… is by now both universally accepted and close to dead. In any event, the negotiations no longer benefit from France’s support for the Palestinians, and France no longer has much to gain from investing too much in it. Syria, on the other hand, is a doable deal, and France’s contacts in all the major areas in play make Paris a good fit to help the process along.”]
It has emerged that French President Nicolas Sarkozy had planned to bring together the leaders of Israel and Syria in Paris in an attempt to revive a peace process between the two countries which collapsed early this year, but his efforts failed when Syrian President Bashar Assad, who insists on Turkish mediation to return to peace talks with Israel, opposed the idea.
The Syrian president was in Paris on Friday, two days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the city and said he was ready to meet the Syrian president anywhere, at any time, without pre-established conditions, to re-launch talks over the Israeli-Syrian dimension of the broader Mideast peace process.
Sarkozy, who apparently wanted to steal the show in the Middle East process, tried to arrange the two leaders’ visits to Paris at the same time. This way, even if he could not succeed in gathering Assad and Netanyahu together, he would be able to introduce their simultaneous presence in Paris as “France’s great role in peace efforts.” However, Assad said he would not land in Paris until Netanyahu’s plane departed the city, spoiling Sarkozy’s plans.
Moreover, following talks with Sarkozy, Assad highlighted on Friday the importance he attaches to Turkey’s role in any new negotiation process with Israel — an emphasis which pleased Ankara. “If Mr. Netanyahu is serious, he can send his teams of experts, we will send our teams of experts to Turkey. They can then talk, if they are really interested in peace,” Assad said following talks with the French leader. In an interview broadcast on Friday evening, Assad said France “should support the role of the Turkish mediator and persuade Israel to return to the negotiating table with the Turkish mediator,”
Netanyahu, meanwhile, said on Sunday Turkey would not be an “honest broker” in any renewed peace talks with Syria. He said he preferred direct talks, but “if a mediator is involved, he should be impartial. The Turkish prime minister has not reinforced his image as an objective, unbiased mediator,” he was quoted as saying…”
“The Obama Administration remains attached to a delusional sanctions policy.”….
Moscow may well end up supporting another Security Council resolution expanding the existing sanctions regime against Iran—giving just enough to keep the United States from taking the issue out of the Council and forging a “coalition of the willing” or of the “like-minded”. Beyond its interest in keeping the Iranian nuclear file in the Security Council, Moscow is not happy with Tehran’s ambivalent reaction to a proposal that Russia helped to develop and advance, to refuel the Tehran Research Reactor using a significant portion of Iran’s current stockpile of low-enriched uranium. Conversations with Russian officials suggest that Moscow may also be looking for ways to show displeasure with alleged Iranian slowness in making payments for various weapons purchases and (perhaps) on the Bushehr nuclear reactor project.
Furthermore, while Russia does not want to see a military confrontation between the United States (or Israel) and Iran, Moscow also does not want to see an overly rapid rapprochement between the United States (or Europe) and Iran. Among other considerations, Russian policymakers and the leadership of Gazprom are keen to prevent head-to-head competition between Russian and Iranian gas, especially in Europe.
These considerations notwithstanding, it remains highly unlikely that Russia will support proposals from the United States and its European partners to go beyond exclusively proliferation-focused sanctions and target key sectors of Iran’s economy….
Last update – 21:21 16/11/2009 IAEA deepens Syria nuclear probe over uranium traces By Reuters Tags: Israel news, IAEA Syria’s initial explanation of uranium traces U.N. inspectors found at a Damascus atom research reactor is unconvincing …
The fortnightly Middle East International has just been re-launched, under the stewardship of some very able editors and advisors. Some of you may recall the highly-regarded magazine during its first run from the early 1970’s up until 2005. Well, it’s back, and I have to say that it looks very good.
The first issue is available for free download on the website. Beginning next week, you’ll have to pay for a subscription. I wager that it will be well worth it, judging from the quality of the contributions. (There are pieces by several very smart journalists and analysts, including Jim Muir, Omayma Abdel-Latif, Graham Usher, Nick Blanford, Abigail Fielding-Smith, and others.)
Report: Syrian official helped Mossad kill Mughniyeh
Roee Nahmias, 11.14.09
Western diplomat in Damascus tells Alrai newspaper former Syrian customs official would leave border unsupervised for hours at a time, allowing for infiltration of Israeli agents responsible for assassination of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh
Did a Syrian customs official assist the Mossad in the assassination of Hezbollah’s military commander Imad Mughniyeh ? A report published Saturday in Kuwaiti Alrai newspaper claims so.
According to a western diplomat stationed in Damascus, the official received large sums of money to leave the border unsupervised, which allowed for the entrance of Israeli agents.
Israel has denied any involvement in the Hezbollah operative’s assassination.
According to the report, which cites the diplomat as a source, the Syrian intelligence opened an investigation after the February 2008 assassination which led them to former head of the customs authority in Syria, Hassan Makhlouf, who holds a rank similar to brigadier-general.
The investigation focused on suspicions that Makhlouf received around one million dollars in exchange for opening the border crossings with Syria to smugglers for a number of hours at a time without supervising or overseeing activity at the site.
According to the source, the Israeli Mossad was aware of this, and used it to get to Mughniyeh by infiltrating cells including Israeli agents of Iraqi descent. The agents reportedly carried Iraqi passports, spoke perfect Iraqi Arabic, and officially entered Syria a number of times during hours where only one clerk was stationed at the border.
Did official know who he was assisting?
The Syrian intelligence’s investigation focused mainly on whether Makhlouf gave the agents information on Mughniyeh or his movement from Lebanon to Syria and within Syria itself.
According to the diplomat, after the assassination, Makhlouf directed most of his staff to only one border crossing – a move which some believe was meant to ease the flight of the assassins from the Syrian border.
The report, which has not been confirmed by official sources, does not mention whether Makhlouf was aware of the fact that he was assisting Israel or doing so unknowingly.
Makhlouf, who was terminated from his position following bribery charges, held hundreds of millions of Syrian pounds as well as dozens of houses and real estate plots in various locations around Syria.
The diplomat said that in the times when Makhlouf left the border unsupervised, the agents carried out a number of activities in Syrian territory, including surveillance of the al-Kibar site near Deir ez-Zor where, according to foreign reports, Israel attacked a Syrian nuclear plant.
12/11/2009 One day after Hezbollah General Secretary Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah warned Israel not to try to launch any aggression against Lebanon, promising it with humiliating defeat; Israeli media revealed Thursday that Hezbollah knows every single detail about the activities of the Israeli occupation army.
Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot said it has got a document confirming that Hezbollah knows every detail about the activities of the Israeli army and the command of the northern area and brigade 91 in the border area.
The Israeli paper says in its report issued Thursday morning, “The bulletin shows to what extent Hezbollah intelligence succeeded in penetrating into the Israeli army, and proves that Hezbollah has enough sources of information.”
According to Yediot Aharonot, “the bulletin consists of 150 pages, and describes in detail the deployment of the Israeli army, and its land, naval and aerial activities.” The Israeli daily quoted an officer who was occupying a senior position in the so-called northern region leadership as saying, “I was shocked when I read the information that came in the bulletin.”
The Israeli officer added that it dealt with information on the “binoculars monitoring, surveillance cameras, aerial alarm systems, land alarm systems, and an abundance of information about the drones, those aircrafts which we thought were working in complete secrecy.”…..
“Israel jolted by Hezbollah intelligence ‘infiltration'”
by Mohamad Shmaysani, al manar
” …. Perhaps the most pressing concern for the Israeli command is that Hezbollah might have been able to infiltrate sensitive security services thus acquiring top secret documents and data.
“Israeli experts and retired servicemen who served in the north have said that the data gathered by Hezbollah by means of the document was highly sensitive and that part of it had been cloned by Hezbollah from secret documents belonging to the 91st brigade. Hezbollah might have gathered the data by means of spies or by infiltrating into the Israeli side to take pictures,” Ronen Bergman, an Israeli expert in intelligence affairs told Israeli television Thursday….
“There is no doubt that Hezbollah knows the weapons used in every Jeep of every patrol. They even know the diameter of every mortar in the Jeep and the time of every patrol, including the documents that are usually sent from the division chief to the brigade chief. In fact they have information that cannot be seen through binoculars, so how did they get it?” an Israeli Channel 10 commentator asked.
The former head of Israel’s National Security Giyora Eiland admitted – after Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah’s speech on Wednesday – that Israel will undoubtedly fail in any coming war. He added that the outcome will not be different than that of the 2006 war ‘because Israel and Hezbollah’s capabilities have improved in parallel.
“Should the Third Lebanon War erupts tomorrow, it will not be different than the Second Lebanon War despite of all the improvement in the army. Israel cannot win over an organization that possesses thousands of missiles on the other side of the border. If we want to win, the war should instead be waged against the Lebanese government and its infrastructures of which Hezbollah has become part of,” Eiland told Israeli television…”
Syria unveils new gas, oil production plant
15 November 2009
Damascus — Syria has opened a new oil and gas processing station to help boost the country”s production capacity, local media reported Sunday. The Hayyan station opened Saturday near the city of Palmyra, some 200 kilometres north-east of Damascus. It has the capacity to process 600 barrels of oil per day and 650,000 cubic meters of gas. Oil Minister Sufyan al-Allawi said the cost of the project was about 450 million dollars, The German Press Agency “DPA” quoted the local media as saying. Another new station with a production capacity of 3.7 million cubic metres of natural gas is scheduled to open in 2011, officials said.
Syria turns to France to defuse tensions
by Phil Sands in The National, November 14. 2009
DAMASCUS // Increasingly frustrated by US unwillingness to take a tougher line on Israel, Syria is looking to France for help in defusing regional tensions, politicians and analysts in Damascus say….
“U.S. Air Force chief of staff General Norton Schwartz called on the Arab states in the Persian Gulf to coordinate defense strategies to counter the threat from Iranian missiles. “All Gulf council states need to have a mechanism to share more information and net together an integrated air defense,” General Schwartz told reporters at a conference ahead of the Dubai Airshow. “The U.S. could play a role in that.”
General Schwartz said it is “accurate” to describe the U.S. as concerned about Iran’s ability to strike with ground launched missiles. Iran test-fired on Sept. 28 its Shahab-3 missile, which has a range of 1,240 miles, far enough to hit Israel and Arab sheikdoms in the Persian Gulf that control vast oil reserves.
General Schwartz’s comments come a day ahead of the Dubai Airshow where leading U.S. defense companies including Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT), Boeing Co. (BA), Northrop Grumman Corp. (NOC) and Raytheon will market their latest weapons in the region.
U.S.-based Raytheon Co., the world’s largest producer of guided weapons, signed last year a $3.3 billion Patriot missile defense contract with the United Arab Emirates, the region’s second-largest Arab defense spender.
Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Kuwait and three other Arab states in the Gulf Cooperation Council have already jointly established an aircraft identification and tracking system known as Hizam Al Taawun to help them monitor the regions skies for threats….”
Commentary: Damascus Reverts to Form
2009-11-16 by Toten
Well, that didn’t last long. Last week, Syrian President Bashar Assad announced he would resume peace negotiations with Israel without preconditions, but now he suddenly says it’s impossible. “What we lack is an Israeli partner,” he said, …
[Lee Smith wrote much the same article for “The Conservative” magazine.]
Transparency International 2009 Corruption Index (Table)
2009-11-17, By Giovanni Salzano
Nov. 17 (Bloomberg) — Following is a table ranking 180 countries according to the perceptions of the degree of corruption as seen by business people and country analysts.
Mauritania 130 ……
Sierra Leone 146
Ukraine 146 ……