France has Led the West out of Bush Think and into Engagement with Syria

The 27 EU countries are preparing to sign the Euro -Mediterranean partnership. Oddly enough, this may be one of the more concrete results of President Obama’s engagement policy with Syria. By abandoning the Bush administration’s enmity for Syria, the Obama administration has in turn freed the EU to reverse its policy of isolating Syria and restart the Mediterranean Partnership process. Launched in 1995, the Partnership aimed to establish a common area of “peace, stability, and shared prosperity in the Mediterranean region” through lower tariffs and expanded trade.

Syria was on the verge of signing the agreement when the US invaded Iraq in 2003, bringing Washington into direct conflict with Syria. The Bush administration, not content to merely transform Iraq, broadened its Middle East ambitions to “transforming the Greater Middle East.” This included wresting Lebanon from Syria’s sphere of influence and isolating Damascus in preparation for phase two, or regime change in Syria. Of course, phase two never materialized because phase one — nation building in Iraq — sunk into the swamp of Iraqi factionalism and resistance. The Bush agenda suffered a second setback in the swamp of Lebanese factionalism and resistance. The bankruptcy of Bush’s strategy of violence became clear when Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon failed to dispatch Nasrallah, destroy Hizbullah or deliver a weakening shock to Syria. Nevertheless, Western leaders spent two additional years trying to confront Hizbullah through the UN and by building up the Lebanese Army before recognizing the obvious – that they could neither overpower Hizbullah nor outfox it.

Understanding the futility of the West’s Lebanon policy, Nicolas Sarkozy made his first foreign policy initiative on becoming leader of France outreach to Syria. He reversed President Chirac’s ill-fated decision to join Bush’s anti-Syrian campaign. Actually, one can forgive Chirac for joining his wagon to Bush, for in doing so, he repaired relations with Washington, which had been damaged over the Iraq invasion. The cost to Lebanon of this Franco-US embrace, however, was high; it pushed the fragile country into chaos for five years; Rafiq Hariri and close to 2000 Lebanese lost their lives in the ensuing tug of war, not to mention the damage that was done to lebanon’s economy and infrastructure. Defenders of the Bush policy will trumpet the claim that only confrontation forced Damascus to withdraw its military from Lebanese soil. This claim is dubious. Syria had already halved its troop levels in Lebanon and eliminated its presence in urban centers. It was negotiating further reductions to 4,000 men. Hariri had every hope of reducing Syria’s role in Lebanon further through diplomacy and emoluments. It is in no way clear that the Bush policy of confrontation, which Hariri did his best to avoid, was a wise policy. It bought Lebanon quasi-independence at a much higher price than Hariri’s diplomacy might have. Instead of Syrian missiles, Lebanon now sports Hizbullah missiles. Israel is less secure; Hizbullah is better armed; Lebanese sectarian relations are more frayed; and Syria retains an important degree of influence in Lebanese politics.

Nicolas Sarkozy, realizing that there could be no victor in Lebanon, pushed for the Doha agreement, which brought much needed compromize to Lebanese factions. He consolidated Western gains won with the withdrawal of the Syrian army in exchange for giving Syria’s allies recognized powers in the Lebanese government. He then re-launched the Mediterranean partnership as the “Union for the Mediterranean” at the Paris Summit for the Mediterranean, where President Bashar al-Assad and his glamorous wife stole the show. The Bastille Day festivities signaled Syria’s return to the international stage.

France’s example was followed by Britain and Germany, which helped Obama engage Damascus. Sarkozy’s deft diplomacy allowed the West to remove Lebanon as the centerpiece of its relations with Syrian. Indeed, Sarkozy was able not only to improve France’s relations with Syria, but to bring his country closer to both Israel and US at the same time – a masterstroke of diplomacy. Now the EU as a whole is preparing to sign the Euro-Med Agreement, returning the region to relations as they were before the invasion of Iraq. Holland had been resisting a final reconciliation with Syria in the name of human rights. But the notion that political standards in the Middle East will be improved by restricting the economic activity of offending countries has achieved little save to make poor people poorer. Sanctions backfired in Iraq. They are not working in Iran. Washington is preparing to ease sanctions on Sudan because they prevent the rebuilding of the country and have reduced US influence in the region. The same is true of sanctions on Syria.

US engagement with Syria is changing regional politics. The recent uproar between Iraq and Syria is a case in point. The way the row is playing out is partly a product of Washington’s new relationship, not only with Iraq, but also with Damascus. Only months ago, Washington would have assumed responsibility for Iraq, taking the lead in blaming Iraqi instability and car bombs on Syria while the Iraq government itself would have hung back. But today Washington is staying out of the Iraq-Syria row, both because it is distancing itself from Maliki and because it has engaged with Syria.

US officials in Baghdad are arguing that there is little evidence to suggest Syrian culpability. Major General John Johnson, who is the deputy commanding general of operations at Multinational Corps-Iraq explained the other day that “our evidence points so far to elements here in Iraq” when asked “whether any of these groups [which set off the bombs in Baghdad in mid-August] are based in Syria.

The Iraqi government will increasingly be on its own in carrying out its foreign policy. US officials are not only silent because they have business with Damascus, but also because Maliki is alienating Washington and undoing the policies Washington spent years imposing on Iraq. Most importantly, Maliki is busy purging his interior ministry and intelligence forces of high ranking Sunnis officers as well as bringing down political opponents. He is undoing the kind of “sectarian balance” that the US believed would lock in “democracy” and “power sharing” in Iraq.

Is Maliki laying the foundations for the same form of sectarian and personalistic authoritarianism that defines state power throughout the Middle East? It is too early to tell, but it would hardly be surprising if he were. No other form of government has proven durable within the Arab World. Washington will want to distance itself from Maliki if he consolidates power too narrowly into his own hands. Washington will also stop criticizing Damascus for providing asylum to Iraqi Sunni leaders. As one Syrian parliamentarian pointed out, Maliki himself would have been long dead had Syria not protected him from Saddam Hussein’s demands to turn over dissidents during their exile in Syria.

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, whose country takes over the EU presidency on January 1, “expressed Spain’s support for signature of a partnership between Damascus and Brussels as soon as possible.” The EU’s move to bring Syria into the Mediterranean Partnership as well as Obama’s engagement with Damascus would not have been as swift without the deft policies of Nicolas Sarkozy. Damascus has reason to raise a fine glass of Beaujelais.

[End of Landis analysis]

Reuters, here

” … The European Union is close to agreeing an offer to Syria of closer ties, the 27-country bloc’s commissioner for external relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, said on Friday….

“Engaging with Syria is absolutely in our interest,” Ferrero-Waldner told journalists at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Stockholm.

“I would say that we are coming to an agreement. There are still some modalities that have to be found, there are some reserves … but I am confident that in the near future we will get this agreement really going.”….

Ferrero-Waldner said the EU should keep Syria’s actions under scrutiny, but should also encourage the country to respect human rights, the rule of law and to be a positive influence in the Middle East….

A rapprochement could help liberalise Syria’s economy and improve its image after being treated as a pariah state by several Western countries because of its role in Lebanon and Iraq and support for militant groups…”

France Praises Syrian Role; Criticizes Aoun

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has lauded Syria for not “interfering” in Lebanon’s internal affairs while criticizing MP Michel Aoun for setting “impossible” preconditions that are hindering the formation of a government.
He was speaking at a press conference Friday on the sidelines of the 17th conference for French ambassadors.

Koucnher said that Syrian President Bashar Assad “repeated three times that he was not insisting on veto power or on supporting Hizbullah.”

He pointed to Syria’s “new diplomatic approach and its openness to Saudi Arabia and Iraq, prior recent accusations.” However, he added, this “does not mean the absolute absence of Syrian interference in the formation process in Lebanon.”

On Iran, Kouchner did not rule out “a negative Iranian interference” pointing to “the continuous flow of Iranian weapons to Hizbullah which possesses 15,000 missiles.”

Comments (29)


1. Akbar Palace said:

Obama Think

Professor Josh,

Care to predict when the US will take Syria off the State Department list of countries that support terrorism?

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1084192.html

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September 9th, 2009, 8:43 pm

 

2. norman said:

Dr Landis,

Do you think that the accusation of Iraq to Syria is coming from Syria’s desire and intention to have no winners or losers in Iraq and to involve the Sunni Arabs in the political process which does not seem to be the intention of Maliki or Iran as they intend to have the Shia of Iraq keep the power for themselves ,and associate Iraq with Iran ,

I think that this is a plan for disaster in Iraq and a way for Al Qaeda’s return .

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September 9th, 2009, 11:06 pm

 

3. Joshua said:

Dear Norman,

I am not sure what Syria’s strategy is in offering protection to the leading Iraqi Baathists.

Syria has tried to make friends among all the different factions and sects of Iraq.

My hunch is that Syria is still experimenting with its relationship with Iraq. It is keeping its options open.

Syria has a long history of protecting Iraqi opposition groups and exiles – a history that goes back to at least the Mandate period, when it took in Assyrians, Kurds, and anti-Hashemites. More recently it protected Iraqi Shiites and Kurds, such as P.M. Maliki and President Talibani. Now it is protecting pro-Saddam Sunnis among others.

There is an obvious political strategy behind such humanitarian policies. It has already paid off in Iraq, where exiles, who spend decades in Syria, run the country. The same is true in Palestine, where Hamas won the most recent elections, much to Syria’s satisfaction and benefit. There are obvious potential future benefits to such a policy. It gives one immediate bargaining leverage and influence with potential future leaders.

I don’t imagine that Syria is promoting violence in Iraq these days. Syria is hoping for a profitable and friendly relationship with Iraq. Assad’s economic plan for Syria, as the link between the four seas, depends on good relations with Iraq and acting as a conduit for Iraqi gas and oil, not to mention as a supplier of light manufactures. This is a good plan. Why muck it up by encouraging ex-Baathists to kill Iraqi Shiites? I would suspect that Syrian intelligence has made it very clear to Iraqi refugees in Syria, that they are expected to behave themselves and stay away from activities that will get Syria into trouble with Iraqi authorities.

But of course, such a policy will lead to distrust and doubt on Iraq’s part. Iraqi government figures will remain suspicious and resentful of Syria’s protection for leading Baathists and Sunni opposition figures. Putting those fears to rest will not be easy for Syria. It will have to work hard on such a policy.

Syria will also be put in a very difficult spot if Maliki consolidates power and continues to push aside Sunni leaders in government. There will be a lot of pressure from Sunni lobby groups in Syria to reach out to Iraqi Sunnis. Saudi Arabia will pressure Syria to play a part in advancing Sunni interests in Iraq. If Iran gains too much sway in Iraq, Syria will naturally become uncomfortable despite Iran’s special relationship with Syria.

One can envisage many reasons why Syria will have difficulties with Iraq in the future. In the short run, however, I believe that Assad will bend over backwards to try to smooth out this flap. He cannot cave into Iraqi demands or show weakness, but I believe he will quickly move to moderate Syrian language if the Iraqis demonstrate a similar inclination, which I believe they will do.

Maliki is obviously electioneering. He is also putting down some markers now that the US is no longer calling the shorts for Iraq’s foreign policy. It is probably good politics on his part. I suspect it is popular with many Iraqis who want their leaders to assert themselves and make sure that Iraq is no longer treated as a punching bag.

What do you think?

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September 9th, 2009, 11:58 pm

 

4. majedkhaldoun said:

the Iraq future is in the hands of Syria,Al Maliki is neither a leader,nor a smart diplomat.

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September 10th, 2009, 12:54 am

 

5. Off the Wall said:

Dear Dr. Landis
In your as usual well reasoned response to Norman you alluded to the Syrian plan (or vision) of the country as following:

Assad’s economic plan for Syria, as the link between the four seas, depends on good relations with Iraq and acting as a conduit for Iraqi gas and oil, not to mention as a supplier of light manufactures.

In the modern age, no country can become a link even between its own cities, not to mention such an ambitious link as the one you mentioned, without incredible investments in information technology. But such investment can not occur if the information gateway is a monopoly of a state enterprise and access is restricted in the manner it is now in most Arab countries. If Syria is truly intent on achieving this great vision, the country must embark on a information liberalization, and we all know what liberalization of information entails.

I have commented few times before on this issue. And it is one of the issues that keep surfacing up. There is no chance of becoming a hub of anything if the country does not open-up the information spigot and pipelines.

As for Maliki asserting himself, he dares not assert himself to the odd but true combination of rulers of Iraq. The American generals, the Ambassador, and the Iranian-allied religious leaders. Starting a verbal fight with Syria is easy, especially when one throws in the terrorism support bone. While Maliki is a ruthless politician, he had so far he proven himself to be short sighted and incapable of retaining a true alliance with any one inside Iraq. He knew that for now he will not pay any price doing what he did and he may play well to those yearning for Baathist bloood, but not to many others. He can look like a brave leader knowing very well that Syria will do whatever it can to cool down the situation. Well-knowing Iraqis will see beyond the charade.

On the other hand, is it possible that more water is running underground than in the stream we see?. I suspect that there is probably an Iranian hand in this story. With the mutual cooing between Syria and the west, Iran is probably getting nervous and it wants to test the loyalty of its Syrian friend. Maliki can do that without Iran risking to push Syria publicly. Another major concern to Iran and its allies in al-daawa party (Maliki’s party) is the resurfacing secularism in Iraq. The Baathists, sunnies as they are, continue to have some secular credentials even on papers and that is a risk sectarians like al Maliki want to avoid at any cost and Iran wants to thwart at any cost as well, what do you think? or am I seeing conspiracies where non exist?

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September 10th, 2009, 3:09 am

 

6. Zubaida said:

Your chronolgy for the EU Association Agreement is not quite right. The negotiations dragged on for years because the EU had inserted a clause on WMD and chemical weapons into the agreement. The EU and Syria finally ironed out this problem in 2004 and the agreement was initialled in October 2004, ie well after the Iraq invasion and after Bush had signed off on the sanctions act, and indeed after UNSC resolution 1559. A signing ceremony was scheduled for January 2005, but was postponed. AFter the Hariri assassination the whole thing got put on ice. There have since been talks about updating some of the articles, and we may indeed see the document signed in the next 12 months. It would then need to be individually ratified by each of the 27 EU member states, as well as by Syria. The core element of the Associaiton Agreement is a 12-year transition to tariff-free and quota-free trade, except in agricultural produce destined for the EU. There is an aid element, in the form of “mesures d’accompagnement”, aimed at equipping the “southern” country to deal with the ending of tariff protection for its domestic industries. However, the lack of an association agreement has not stopped Syria receiving substantial aid from the EU in the meantime. The record of these agreements is mixed, with probably Tunisia being the only country to have really taken advantage, having been the first to sign, in 1995.

Finally — what on earth is “Bougalais” — sounds like a hideous Egyptian counterfeit version of some French wine or other???

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September 10th, 2009, 4:49 am

 

7. norman said:

Dear Joshua,

I agree with you , I feel that Syria wants the Iraqis to get a long and reach an agreement on power sharing as it sees that as the only way to prevent Al Qaeda from taking advantage of the divide and starting a new civil war that will be much worse with the US leaving , I just hope that Syria and Iraq can reach an agreement that will prevent the Iraqis who are in Syria from using violence in Iraq , and stick with political work , That should satisfy Iraq , Iraq should also know that Syria has more than a million Iraqi in Syria , and Syria can just tell them , It is time to go to your elected government , let them take care of you , Arab Syria will never do that though,
I think , it is a fight on the character of Iraq , an Arab state as Syria wants or a Shia state as Iran wants , it might be the a cause for the beginning of a rift between Syria and Iran,

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September 10th, 2009, 7:45 am

 

8. Joshua said:

Dear Zubaida,

Many thanks for your important chronology and for reminding us that the EU initialed the agreement after Syria had extended Lahood’s presidency in Syria on September 3 and after France and Washington had sponsored UN Resolution 1559 demanding that Syria withdraw its military from Syria in response.

I would explain this as institutional lag. The EU had not caught up with the significance of events.

I do not know when exactly Chirac decided to fix Franco-US relations by joining Bush in his effort to drive Syria out of Lebanon – probably sometime in the spring or summer of 2004. Already the US had changed the language that it used to describe Syria’s “presence” in Lebanon to “military occupation.”

President Assad and his advisors must have concluded that there was going to be a show down between the US and Syria over Lebanon. He had to push back or perhaps even consider the conflict in much the way he would think of a war. There was no knowing how far Bush would go in trying to weaken and destabilize Syria. Did he intend regime-change? I assume many in Damascus must have feared that the Bush administration would go all the way and that they meant what they were saying about changing the greater Middle East.

The fact that the EU was late to catch onto Bush plans or to realize that France was going to join Bush doesn’t change my analysis. I think it is explainable.

I take it that you are suggesting that Syria created its own problems with Bush and France and could have avoided them had Hariri not been killed, Lahood’s term not extended, and had Syria just withdrawn from Lebanon in compliance with US and French demands.

I do not believe this would have been a realistic expectation for Assad at the time. Bush had just conquered Iraq on trumped up charges and was threatening to change other Middle Eastern regimes. It would have been very dangerous for a young and untested president, such as Assad, to just give in and start backing away. It could have started a feeding frenzy – not only in Washington – but also in Riyadh and elsewhere. Everyone would have thought they could intimidate Syria and its new president. Not a good precedent to set for Damascus.

Thanks for the heads up on the Burgundy blunder!

Maybe George W Bush would have been more prudent. I don’t know.

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September 10th, 2009, 11:39 am

 

9. Joshua said:

Dear Norman,

You are absolutely correct. Syria will be put in an even more difficult position than it is today if Iraq returns to civil war. How does one pick sides or remain neutral?

I have long insisted that once the US pulls out of Iraq, Iran and Syria will face serious difficulties in their relationship there.

So long as Iraq is a danger to both Iran and Syria, the alliance will remain strong. When Iraq is no longer a direct threat – but both countries face Iraqi weakness and internal struggle – Iran and Syria will have different interests and want different forms of government in Iraq.

Iran will want a Shiite theocracy. Syria will want a secular nationalist government that preserves Iraqi unity.

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September 10th, 2009, 11:53 am

 

10. Akbar Palace said:

How does one pick sides or remain neutral?

Professor Josh,

You’re assuming (again) that Syria is some innocent, passive actor.

I don’t think Dr. Walid Phares believes this to be the case, nor the Obama administration.

http://www.defenddemocracy.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=11780599&Itemid=0

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2009/09/200994231420793809.html

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September 10th, 2009, 1:07 pm

 

11. t_desco said:

“No indictments have been issued by the international tribunal investigating the crime, which is due to issue a new report later this month.”
Nicholas Blanford

(my emphasis)

Is this where all those “September 15” rumors were coming from?

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September 10th, 2009, 1:54 pm

 

12. Nur al-Cubicle said:

Thank you for this summary, Dr. Landis. Meanwhile in Lebanon, young Hariri says he’s resigning as PM-designate.

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September 10th, 2009, 2:48 pm

 

13. Shai said:

Akbar again attempts to embarrass: “You’re assuming (again) that Syria is some innocent, passive actor.”

In case this was not known previously, no party in our region is “some innocent, passive actor.” All parties have interests, and have concerns, and act in accordance to what they believe serves their strategic interests best.

If Israel has meddled in the affairs of Lebanon for over 30 years, and in those of the Palestinians’, why are some “surprised” that Syria is engaged in its own activities in Iraq? If the United States remains active in Iraq, and is attempting to shape its future, is there any question that Iraq’s neighbors would be trying to do the same?

If anything, Akbar, Joshua alluded to the fact that Syria and Iran would find themselves at odds if and when the U.S. left Iraq. Both seem to have opposing interests in the country. That should make you happy, shouldn’t it?

Using terminology such as “innocent”, when referring to nations, makes one seem either somewhat ignorant of realpolitik, overly-influenced by FOX-News phraseology, or both.

I can just see it – “(FOX reporter on the ground): “… And it’s not like Syria is some innocent, passive actor… Back to you guys!” “(FOX Studio): “… Thank you Jamie, wow, what great reporting. It’s pretty dang dangerous out there in the Middle East… I don’t know how Jamie does it… (blushed laughter, followed by emotional nodding).” 🙂

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September 10th, 2009, 4:47 pm

 
 

15. Shai said:

Bibi’s pre-New Year (Rosh Hashana) party speech:

1. The Settlers deserve to live “as normal citizens”. (He did not say where)

2. Jerusalem will remain undivided. (Didn’t say that E. Jerusalem is Jerusalem)

3. Any future peace agreement must include security measures. (Kind of obvious)

4. Reminded his party members that The Likud is the party that brings peace. (Mentioned how the Likud brought peace with Egypt).

5. Said nothing about the Golan. (In today’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper, the contents of Bibi’s Golan-offer of 1998 to Hafez Assad were presented…)

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3775276,00.html

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September 10th, 2009, 5:29 pm

 

16. Shai said:

Yediot’s exposure today, of Bibi’s offer to Syria in 1998: (Apologies, so far I’ve only found it in Hebrew) http://reshet.ynet.co.il/חדשות/News/Politics/StatePolicy/Article,27106.aspx

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September 10th, 2009, 5:36 pm

 

17. Yossi said:

If what Yedioth reports is true… then Shai was right all along: it reports that Bibi committed to withdrawing to the June 67 lines. I didn’t believe that this was the offer, but apparently that’s what it was…

The fact that it was leaked now, is very encouraging. It means things may start moving again, between Syria and Israel.

Shai, how did you know what was in Lauder’s letter? Did you actually write it for him? 🙂

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September 10th, 2009, 8:39 pm

 

18. norman said:

Shai,

The question is why the Israeli leaders keep changing heir mind and backing away from their commitments,

Ex-Mossad head says ”Netanyahu agreed to Golan pullout”
Submitted by Mohit Joshi on Thu, 09/10/2009 – 14:17. Israel Jerusalem
Jerusalem, Sep. 10 : Former Mossad head Danny Yatom has claimed that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu agreed to withdraw Israeli troops from the entire Golan Heights during his first term in exchange for a peace deal with Syria and the normalization of ties between Jerusalem and Damascus.

Yatom told Israel Radio that the proof for his claim was a document that appears in his new book, in which Ron Lauder, Netanyahu”s special envoy for talks with Syria at the time, reported the prime minister”s agreement to then-US president Bill Clinton.

The former Mossad chief said that although Netanyahu”s agreement didn”t bind him now, 11 years later, “he has to admit” that he did agree to withdraw from the territory.

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud), however, told the radio station that the prime minister had not agreed to such a pullout and had repeated it on numerous occasions.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Yatom also told Army Radio on Wednesday night that only a military strike would stop Iran from attaining nuclear arms status. (ANI)

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September 10th, 2009, 11:00 pm

 

19. norman said:

Dear Joshua,
It looks like the only way to save Iraq is for Syria and Iran to reach an agreement on the shape of future Iraq , the friendship between Iran and Syria might be the only hope that the Arabs have to keep Iraq as an Arab state with good relations with Iran , instead of a client state of Iran , KSA might find itself in gratitude to Syria for it’s foresight,

What do you think?.
I appreciate you thoughts.

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September 10th, 2009, 11:09 pm

 

20. why-discuss said:

Norman

As a reply to the sulking of Saudi Arabia and to the Iraqi accusations, both under the US umbrella, Syria is replying by torpedoing the arrogant Hariri’s choice of governement and by encouraging kurdish and sunnis fighters to torpedo the security plans of Kirkuk of arrogant Maliki.
The US need Syria’s help in the palestinian issues and it needs Iran in its possible role in Iraq and Afghanistan.
They believe that by weakening them , they can get the best deal.
By provoking and demonizing Syria they are just following Bush’s policies and we can see the results in the region. Syria does not discourage the lebanese opposition in their firm position and does not discourage the sunnis and kurdish fighters to confront each other in North Iraq, the most sensitive area for Maliki.
If the US , influenced by besieged Israeli does not change its course, the future in the region is about violent confrontation within Arabs, to the satisfaction of Israel.

Scarlett HADDAD | 11/09/2009 in l’Orient

Éclairage

La crise avait beau être annoncée, elle n’en reste pas moins un choc. Même si certains responsables, à leur tête le chef de l’État, le président de la Chambre et Walid Joumblatt, ont tenté de calmer le jeu, qui en annonçant que la procédure est légale et qu’elle ne constitue pas la fin du monde et qui en affirmant qu’il nommera à nouveau Saad Hariri pour former le prochain gouvernement. En principe donc, le président de la République devrait annoncer le calendrier des nouvelles consultations parlementaires pour désigner un nouveau Premier ministre qui sera, selon toute probabilité, Saad Hariri lui-même, mais sur de nouvelles bases. Cette nouvelle désignation sera en effet différente de la précédente, qui s’était faite dans un climat relatif d’espoir et avec un préjugé positif, les Libanais dans leur grande majorité croyant que le Premier ministre pressenti bénéficiait d’un appui régional et international et qu’il allait rééditer l’expérience de son père à la tête de nombreux gouvernements. Cette fois, par contre, l’atmosphère générale du pays est tendue et nul ne pense que la crise sera résolue prochainement. Au contraire, le climat général est annonciateur d’une prolongation des tiraillements internes et externes.

Sur le plan interne, chaque camp accuse l’autre d’être responsable de l’échec de la formation du gouvernement et de plus en plus de politiciens évoquent les événements de mai 2008. L’opposition affirme que le refus de lui accorder le portefeuille des Télécommunications équivaut à la décision du gouvernement Siniora de démanteler le réseau de télécommunications du Hezbollah le 5 mai 2008, alors que la majorité déclare de son côté que le rejet par l’opposition de la formule proposée par Saad Hariri constitue une réédition politique du 7 mai sanglant de 2008. C’est dire combien le fossé est en train de s’approfondir entre les deux camps et certains analystes vont même jusqu’à affirmer que ce qui se passe aujourd’hui est une continuation du 7 mai 2008 qui n’a pas encore été dépassé ni au sein de la majorité ni au sein de l’opposition. Dans cette atmosphère chargée de rancœur, des informations de plus en plus précises circulent sur la préparation de troubles à Tripoli entre les adversaires permanents, Bab Tebbané et Baal Mohsen, alors que des rumeurs font état d’entraînement de jeunes miliciens un peu partout dans le pays et l’on parle de plus en plus d’un réveil des cellules intégristes palestiniennes dans les camps du Liban.
À cette situation de plus en plus complexe, correspond une tension grandissante dans la région, où les tiraillements habituels prennent de plus en plus une allure d’affrontement entre sunnites et chiites, au Yémen et en Irak notamment. De plus, les relations entre l’Arabie saoudite et la Syrie sont au point mort et les interprétations de ce soudain coup de frein au rapprochement divergent selon le camp politique. Les proches de l’Arabie saoudite affirment que la Syrie a profité de la bonne foi du roi Abdallah pour lui soutirer des concessions inacceptables, alors qu’elle ne lui a rien donné en contrepartie, ni dans le dossier palestinien ni dans celui de l’Iran. Ils précisent que l’Arabie avait choisi le rapprochement avec Damas pour attirer la Syrie dans le camp arabe et défaire son alliance avec Téhéran, mais ses efforts ont échoué et elle s’est retrouvée en train d’exercer des pressions sur ses alliés libanais sans rien recevoir en contrepartie. Les proches de la Syrie affirment de leur côté que les États-Unis ont demandé à l’Arabie saoudite de donner un coup de frein à son rapprochement avec la Syrie, car celle-ci doit d’abord offrir des concessions sur les dossiers importants dont elle est la clé, notamment avec le Hamas et avec l’Iran. L’administration américaine, qui serait en difficulté en Afghanistan, en plus de ses problèmes internes sur fond de crise financière, souhaiterait enregistrer une percée dans le dossier israélo-palestinien. Mitchell a été nommé pour préparer un plan de relance des négociations, avec au bout une solution, mais les Israéliens multiplient les refus et il ne reste donc plus qu’à faire pression sur les Arabes. Mais pour que la situation puisse progresser vers le projet de solution à l’américaine, il faut affaiblir la Syrie et ses alliés.
Chacun des joueurs régionaux et internationaux utilise donc les cartes dont il dispose en attendant soit la confrontation, soit le compromis. Au cœur de ce nouveau bras de fer, le Liban a le sentiment que la naissance du gouvernement d’union annoncé est reportée au-delà, bien au-delà de la fête du Fitr…

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September 10th, 2009, 11:23 pm

 

21. Majhool said:

“Sunni lobby groups in Syria”!!!

could you please elaborte on what this lobby made of? main lobbiests?

I am affraid that most of this analysis is “make believe” or at best guess work.

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September 11th, 2009, 1:20 am

 

22. Shai said:

Yossi,

I heard about the Lauder offer years ago, when Itzik Mordechai, then Bibi’s Defense Minister, backed up the story and said on a live TV interview with Netanyahu “Bibi, look me in the eye and say you didn’t (say) that…” Since then, Bibi has always chosen to deny ever having offered the entire Golan (withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 lines). Others that have also confirmed were Uri Sagi (former head of Army Intelligence), and Danny Yatom (former head of Mossad).

Here’s a link to what seems to be the 10-point offer, presented by Ron Lauder to Hafez Assad back in August of ’98:
http://www.prospectsforpeace.com/Resources/Plans/Syria_Israel%20Peace%20Treaty.pdf

Norman,

The reason Israeli leaders keep switching their mind is simple – fear of their electorates.

I wouldn’t pay too much attention to amateur-politicians such as Gilad Erdan, who probably knows as much about what goes on behind closed doors as my youngest daughter does.

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September 11th, 2009, 7:14 am

 

23. Akbar Palace said:

Here’s a link to what seems to be the 10-point offer, presented by Ron Lauder to Hafez Assad back in August of ‘98

Shai,

So what did Assad do after Ron Lauder presented this offer to him?

Let me guess, he booked a chartered flight to Jerusalem?

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September 11th, 2009, 10:49 am

 

24. Shai said:

Actually, Akbar, rumors are that Hafez Assad asked to see an Israeli map showing the exact lines we were offering. Israel (then-as-now buffoon-adviser Uzi Arad) refused to send over an Israeli map and, instead, sent with Lauder a Syrian tourist map with some lines drawn on it.

I can’t possibly think of anything Syria could offer in return for the Golan. I guess Peace isn’t enough, is it? Please remind us what Egypt or Jordan “offered” in return. Maybe Syria will throw in season tickets to story-telling festivals?

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September 11th, 2009, 11:33 am

 

25. Akbar Palace said:

Actually, Akbar, rumors are that Hafez Assad asked to see an Israeli map showing the exact lines we were offering. Israel (then-as-now buffoon-adviser Uzi Arad) refused to send over an Israeli map and, instead, sent with Lauder a Syrian tourist map with some lines drawn on it.

Shai,

I’m just trying to separate fact from fiction and fact from “rumor”.

Your link showed typed wording, so it looked “official”. So I don’t know what Lauder “presented”. Do you have a link to the complete document? Does it have a title page? If he presented a document signed by the GOI along with a map of Disneyworld, perhaps it wasn’t serious offer in the first place.

I can’t possibly think of anything Syria could offer in return for the Golan. I guess Peace isn’t enough, is it?

Again, what did the Syrian “present” to the GOI? An IOU? So yes, define peace, and what exactly would be different from what we have now with Syria?

Please remind us what Egypt or Jordan “offered” in return.

Why do you want me to remind you of the peace Israel has with Egypt and Jordan? What has that got to do with Syria?

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September 11th, 2009, 12:21 pm

 

26. Shai said:

Akbar said: “Why do you want me to remind you of the peace Israel has with Egypt and Jordan? What has that got to do with Syria?”

Precisely… This is why you too would have voted against giving back the Sinai.

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September 11th, 2009, 12:58 pm

 

27. Akbar Palace said:

The Wounds of Sinai

This is why you too would have voted against giving back the Sinai.

Shai,

Again, you’ve created a strawman. If I were Israeli, I would have voted for returning the Sinai and parts of the Arava to Egypt and Jordan, respectively. These were relatively “easy sells” for the Israeli public, especially since the two peace partners, King Hussein of Jordan and President Sadat were reasonable foes who came to accept Israel’s legitimacy. These two leaders gave up intermingling ties to the West and to terror organizations.

From the looks of it, Syria is having a difficult time convincing the Obama administration as well, otherwise, Obama would have taken Syria off the list of countries that support terror. Perhaps Robert Gates had some influence as there are strong indications Syria is meddling in Iraq. This issue has nothing to do with Israel.

Anyway, I’m still on hold with regard to the questions I asked in my last post.

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September 11th, 2009, 2:31 pm

 

28. Akbar Palace said:

Another ancient synagogue found in Syria:

http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/09/11/jerusalem.synagogue/index.html

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September 11th, 2009, 2:40 pm

 

29. norman said:

This should be interesting for many and could explain Bashar Sabai return to Syria,

Is regime ready to talk to Muslim brotherhood?
IWPR11/09/2009 00:00:00
Signs of dialogue with exiled opposition 27 years after Hama massacre.

By an IWPR-trained reporter (SB No. 75, 09-Sep-09)

Syria appears to be planning to open a dialogue with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, MB, to pre-empt the Islamisation of society and the rise of Islamic groups in countries around Syria, local political analysts say.

The regime is said to be concerned about growing fundamentalism. “Syrian society is witnessing a return to religion to face the difficulties of life,” said one analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

It also sees MB branches becoming increasingly influential in neighboring countries like Jordan and Egypt, he said. Even Iraq and Turkey are currently ruled by Islamist groups, he added.

The analysts said a number of moves in the past months could signal that the leaders of the organization – who live in exile in Europe and in some Arabic countries – were inching towards less hostile relations with Damascus.

Earlier this year, the MB announced that it would suspend all “opposition activities” against Syrian authorities as a display of unity in the face of the Israeli attack on the Palestinian Gaza Strip.

In April, the organization withdrew from the National Salvation Front, a coalition of exiled Syrian opposition groups formed in 2006 and grouping Islamist, secular and Kurdish dissidents.

The coalition had stated as its main objective changing the Syrian regime by peaceful means.

The MB explained its withdrawal from the group in a statement saying that the coalition proved it was unable to achieve its national goals.

The Syrian branch of the organization issued a statement in August confirming its earlier decision to suspend hostile activities against the regime in Damascus. The group said that it wanted “to give a true and honest chance for breaking the circle of evil enveloping the Syrian people for the past 40 years”.

But Abdel-Halim Khaddam, a former Syrian vice-president who is currently in the opposition, accused the Islamist group in a newspaper interview in April of establishing contacts with the regime in Syria.

He said that meetings were being held in an Arab country to prepare for reconciliation between the two parties.

Attempts by IWPR to contact the Muslim Brotherhood’s exiled leadership in London for comment were unsuccessful.

A number of Arab media reports said in August that prominent Syrian opposition figures are expected to return to Syria soon.

Another leading opposition figure said that he had information indicating that Turkish figures as well as Islamist groups in Jordan were mediating an easing of relations between the MB and Damascus.

Talks between the government and the organization were also reported by private United States-based intelligence organization Stratfor in January.

“The negotiations now appear to have reached a more critical stage and are focused more on following the Jordanian model of working with the more moderate elements of the MB as a way of containing the Islamist populace,” it said.

The report argued that as a minority regime, the Alawite-Baathist leadership had always supported more radical Islamist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah to maintain its legitimacy in the eyes of Syria’s sizable Islamist community.

But now that Syria was trying to pursue peace negotiations with Israel it needed to distance itself from these radical groups and approach more moderate Islamist trends “to maintain its credibility and safeguard the regime from popular backlash”.

In the early 1980s, the MB was in open armed revolt against the government, culminating in an insurrection in the town of Hama in 1982 which was violently crushed by the army, killing many thousands.

A Kurdish activist, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the withdrawal of the MB from the main opposition coalition abroad was probably the result of a “deal” between authorities and the Islamist group.

He said he believed the Syrian regime was ready to give the MB some legitimacy in return for the Islamists taking a stand against the democratic secular opposition in the country.

The activist argued that the regime in Syria allowed religious institutions to exist but repressed non-religious civil society groups.

Most recently, a widely circulated media report said that the Syrian authorities were planning to cancel a law that allows the death penalty for anyone found to be a member of the MB.

The Arab news website Al-Bawaba in an August 29 article quoted unnamed Syrian and Arab sources as saying that a legal committee formed by the Syrian Baath party command had just finished drafting a proposal to revoke the law in question.

The website, which describes itself as a portal for Middle East news and information and has offices in a number of Arab countries, said that this was a preparatory step for the return of some of the MB cadres to Syria.

The Syrian foreign minister, Walid Muallem, at a news conference the next morning denied any knowledge of what was reported.

Although the regime has not carried out capital punishment against any alleged member of the MB, it continues to arrest any individuals or groups suspected of political Islamist activity.

“The Syrian regime has succeeded in causing the opposition abroad to splinter after crushing all internal opposition,” said a Damascus-based political analyst, who asked not to be named.

He added that the Syrian regime could be trying to control religious movements to use them as a bargaining chip in its relations with the West.

Some critics, however, believe that it is unrealistic to expect any warming of relations between the MB and the Syrian government.

A former Kurdish dissident did not trust the regime to change its colors and said it was not ready for dialogue with political groups that oppose or criticize it.

The system in Syria is not open to the existence of political groups other than the one in power, he said.

Published under partnership agreement with IWPR. Normal copyrights applied. Visit the IWPR website at:The Institute for War & Peace Reporting

IWPR11/09/2009 00:00:00

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September 11th, 2009, 10:39 pm

 

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