Posted by Joshua on Monday, February 1st, 2010
Is the return of a US ambassador to Damascus connected to a decision by Washington turn to the Syrian track of the peace process?
Jeb Koogler, a research fellow at the New America Foundation, writes here that the Al Sharq Al-Awsat reports that the new nominee to be ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, will have as a key focus the Israel-Syrian track of the peace process. “The Obama administration is trying to get those talks up and running in the next months,” he asserts. The Al Sharq Al Awsat piece can be found here.
The Al-Sharq al-Awsat article is correct from what I understand. Syrian officials have been led to understand that the return of a US ambassador is linked to Mitchell’s interest in jump starting the Syrian track of the peace process now that the Palestinian track has gone cold. The Syrians welcome the return of an Ambassador, which they have been pushing for for years. All the same, they fear that the Obama administration is interested in the Syrian track for purely strategic reasons. They worry that it is a gimmick and that Washington has no genuine faith that it can actually bring the process to a conclusion – certainly not one that satisfies Syria’s key request that the Golan be returned. After witnessing Obama’s Palestinian policy collapse and the Obama’s retreat from pressuring Israel on settlements, Syrian authorities are skeptical that Mitchell will have any more luck delivering on the Golan.
President Netanyahu insists that the Golan belongs to Israel. When running for the Prime Minister’s office, candidate Netanyahu promised never to return the Golan. He said,
“Gamla will not fall again. The Golan will stay in our hands only if the Likud is victorious. If Kadima wins, we will leave the Golan,” [Gamla was the historic capital of the Jewish Golan, sacked by the Romans in 68 CE
In Novermber 2009, Netanyahu seemed to back track ever so slightly from this position. During a meeting with French President Sarkozy and shortly after meeting with Obama in Washington, he announced that,
“Israel would be prepared to hold immediate peace negotiations with Syria, as long as the talks were held without preconditions.
This was a change in rhetoric and not in policy. Syria announced in response that it preferred to talk with Israel through the Turks. Israel insisted that the Turks were anti-Israeli and that talks be through the French, or better yet, direct and without preconditions. Syria refuses to hold direct negotiations without a stated Israeli commitment to withdraw from the Golan. Netanyahu will not give such a commitment. The Syrians are convinced that Netanyahu means what he says about not returning the Golan. They also believe that US officials cannot or will not pressure Israel to return the Golan, as they could not pressure it to stop expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories.
In short, the return of an ambassador is good, but playing along with a peace process that is long on process and short on peace will be difficult for Syria, which has none of the media savvy that Israel has. Damascus undoubtedly fears that Mitchell will ask Syrians to meet with Netanyahu without conditions. Syria believes this is tantamount to normalizing relations without any Israeli concession. This is what happened to the Saudis only months ago. They were asked to normalize relations with Israel as a good faith measure and prerequisite to getting the Palestinian track working. When the Saudis refused, claiming that they had already offered a viable peace plan and had won the willingness of every Muslim country to recognize Israel in the case of peace, Israelis and some US State Department officials blamed the Saudis for the collapse of the talks. Syrians worry that the same thing is about to happen to them. Washington, unable to get peace, will settle for process, the failure of which will ultimately be blamed on Syria. Syria does not want to be a Patsy.
Barak: Without Syria peace, we could be headed for all-out war
By Amos Harel, Haaretz
Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned Monday that the stalled peace process with Syria could augur ill for the future of the Middle East.
“In the absence of an arrangement with Syria, we are liable to enter a belligerent clash with it that could reach the point of an all-out, regional war,” Barak told senior Israel Defense Forces officers on Monday.
“Just like the familiar reality in the Middle East, we will immediately sit down [with Syria] after such a war and negotiate on the exact same issues which we are have been discussing with them for the last 15 years,” the defense minister said.
“A political arrangement is not the dream come true of the other side,” Barak added. “This will be a choice of no choice. If the other side believes that it is possible to bring down Israel, to wage a battle of attrition against it, or lure it into a honey trap, then it will prefer to do so.”
The defense minister has long called for a resumption of peace talks with Damascus, yet his warning of a regional war is significant in that it is uncharacteristically sharp and strident.
Berlosconi, Italy’s Prime Minister, is calling for peace between Israel and Syria with the return of the Golan as the centerpiece. (Haaretz)
“Henry Kissinger used to say that there could never be war in the Middle East without Egypt, but no peace was possible without Syria. By virtue of the courage of statesmen like [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat and [Israeli Prime Minister Menachem] Begin, Egypt definitively disengaged from this equation and President [Hosni] Mubarak has decisively continued on this path. The time has come for Syria and Israel to act together for the sake of peace, in the framework of which the Golan Heights will be returned and at the same time diplomatic and friendly relations will be established between the two countries, and Damascus for its part will stop supporting organizations that do not recognize Israel’s existence. All of us are working to find a comprehensive solution, and Italy’s presence in Lebanon [as part of the United Nations peacekeeping force] is testimony to this.”
On Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank and relations with the Palestinians:
“Israel’s settlement policy could be an obstacle to peace. I would like to say to the people and government of Israel, as a friend, with my hand on my heart, that persisting with this policy is a mistake.
Israel Spied On Iran, Syria From Secret Turkish Base
Press TV | January 30, 2010
Revelations of a secret Israeli spy base, which was allegedly set up in Ankara to gather classified information on Iran and Syria, has dragged Tel Aviv into a new spy scandal. Sources in Turkey’s ruling party told Russia’s Mignews that Israeli spy agents ran an advanced electronic monitoring station from the Ankara military headquarters to keep tabs on communication networks in Iran and Syria.
According to the sources who were speaking on condition of anonymity, the Signals Intelligence station was solely managed by Israeli intelligence personnel and had become off-limits for members of the Turkish government. (Excerpt) Read more at presstv.ir …
Turkey PM: Israel should mull future without us as ally
By Haaretz Service
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday warned Israel should to “take another look at its relations with its neighbors” if it wants to maintain ties with Turkey in the future.
“Israel should give some thought to what it would be like to lose a friend like Turkey in the future,” Erodegan told Euronews, regarding his thoughts on the recent tensions between the two Mediterranean countries.
“The way they recently treated our ambassador has no place in international politics,” said Erdogan, referring to a recent diplomatic incident in which Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon summoned the envoy and treated him with deliberate disrespect.
“We have done our best for Israel-Syria relations,” added Erdogan. “But now we see Benjamin Netanyahu saying: ‘I do not trust Erdogan, but I trust Sarkozy’. Do you have to give a name? This is diplomatic inexperience, too.”
Diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey deteriorated over a sequence of incidents since the 2008 Gaza offensive, which Erdogan and his cabinet in Ankara adamantly criticized.
“We have important ongoing agreements between us. How can these agreements be kept going in this climate of mistrust?” Erdogan told Euronews.
Regarding Turkey’s criticism over Israel’s Cast Lead Operation, Erdogan said: “When innocent civilians are ruthlessly killed, struck by phosphorus bombs, infrastructure is demolished in bombing and people are forced to live in an open-air prison?
“We can not see this as compatible with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, simply human rights, and we can not close our eyes to all this happening,” he said.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has declared that he would never allow Turkey to resume its role as mediator in Israel’s indirect peace talks with Syria. Following ongoing diplomatic tension, Lieberman also suggested to Netanyahu that Israel recall its envoy in Ankara, but the prime minister vetoed the idea
Dershowitz: Goldstone is a traitor to the Jewish people
By Haaretz Service. “The Goldstone report is a defamation written by an evil, evil man,” Dershowitz said.
Clinton warns China to stay the course on Iran nuclear sanctions
By Paul Richter
In Paris, the U.S. secretary of State tells Beijing to think about the longer-term consequences even though it may seem ‘counterproductive’ to sanction a country from which it gets key resources.
China threatens U.S. with sanctions on Taiwan arms
Ben Blanchard and Chris Buckley, Sat Jan 30, 2010
BEIJING (Reuters) – China threatened U.S. firms who sell weapons to Taiwan with sanctions on Saturday, as Beijing ratcheted up the pressure in a ballooning crisis that will widen already deep rifts in their relationship.
The Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry and China’s Taiwan Affairs Office all piled in with their own dire warnings, including that arms sales would affect Sino-U.S. cooperation on major international and regional issues.
“The United States must be responsible for the serious repercussions if it does not immediately reverse the mistaken decision to sell Taiwan weapons,” Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei told the U.S. ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman…..
Debate Intensifies Over Regime Change in Iran: A Newsweek column written by Richard Haass, president of the influential Council on Foreign Relations, ignited a firestorm of debate. Though an admitted “card-carrying realist,” Haass announced his support for regime change and called upon Western governments to formulate and sufficiently resource new Iran policies that simultaneously support the opposition and weaken the pillars of the regime. … Stephen Walt offered a rejoinder to Haass, claiming that “we simply don’t have enough information to know what is happening in Tehran.” …Gregg Carlstrom pushed back with the claim by saying, “If the regime falls, it will be because the Iranians decide to topple it – not because of anything that happens on Pennsylvania Avenue.” Finally, Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett disputed Haass’ argument and highlighted eerie similarities between his recent column and his erstwhile pronouncements of “enough” with respect to Iraq.
Elsewhere, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the administration’s support for “even stricter sanctions on Iran to try to change the behavior of the regime.” This statement came as Iran prepared to execute two men for their alleged role in anti-government protests and a deadly mosque bombing..
Also, Larry Diamond, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the director of Stanford’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, penned an interesting piece [PDF] entitled “Why Are There No Arab Democracies?” for the latest issue of the Journal of Democracy. Diamond highlights, and attempts to explain, the dearth of democracies throughout the Arab world. Alarmed that the “third wave” of democratization produced a “critical mass” of democracies in every region save one – the Middle East – he considers the possible reasons behind the region’s collective reticence toward meaningful reform. You can find a more detailed summary of Diamond’s piece on POMED’s blog.
Reuters (Thanks FLC)
” … Jones said the United States and Israel are in close coordination over how to handle Iran. “We have very good dialogue with Israel, continual dialogue,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “We’re working very closely with them.” Asked whether Washington was concerned about Israel trying to take on its arch-foe alone, Jones said: “Our Israeli partners are very responsible.” Michael Oren, Israel’s envoy to the United States, said last month the military option “was not a subject of discussion.”…..”
“Tzipi Livni claimed in her speech at the Herzliya Conference at the Interdisciplinary Center, “The connection the government has made between the Iranian threat and the end of the conflict with the Palestinians is erroneous and a double mistake.” … “The request to the world to help us with Iran so that we can make progress with the Palestinians sends the message that Iran is an Israeli problem, and this is not true. The world must understand that Iran is a problem for the entire international community, and action must be taken against it,” claimed Livni.
Syria – From Isolation to Key Player in the International Arena
Written by Memri.org
Saturday, 30 January 2010 09:08
In a December 29, 2009 speech to the Syrian parliament, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mu’allem summed up the achievements of his country’s political policy in 2009 by saying, “For Syria, 2009 was a year of political success in every sense of the term, and on all fronts…” Indeed, the past year has seen a significant improvement in Syria’s regional and international standing; it managed to extricate itself from its isolation internationally and in the Arab world, and to position itself as an influential regional force. By the end of 2009, the Syrian regime had become self-confident and certain of the effectiveness of its “path of resistance” policy, and was challenging the regional order and the world order and acting powerfully to change both…..
…The Armed Resistance in Lebanon and Palestine
In the recent years, Syria stepped up its support of Hamas and Hizbullah, as representatives of the resistance in Palestine and in Lebanon respectively. It also continued its mostly covert support of the insurgents fighting U.S. forces in Iraq.
France, U.S. Turn Towards Syria
This strategy won Syria much support in the Arab street, but brought it into an almost unprecedented conflict – to the brink of a cold war – with many Arab regimes, especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as with the U.S. Even though this policy led to its isolation by some Arab regimes and by the West, and seemed to place the Syrian regime in danger of collapse, it has as of late 2009 proven to be wise. In contrast to the Bush administration and to Chirac’s government, which saw Syria as an obstacle and as posing a risk to their attainment of their goals in the Middle East, the governments of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and of U.S. President Barack Obama, and, following them, also the Saudi regime, see Syria as a means for achieving broader goals, and they are attempting to get it on their side. With Syria stubbornly clinging to its positions, these governments are moving away from the policies of their predecessors and are abandoning the approach of clashing with Syria and isolating it. Instead, they have begun treating it as a key regional country capable of mediating between the West and Iran and of influencing the level of violence in the Palestinian territories, in Lebanon, and in Iraq…..
Observer 53 writes:
Syria has now coordinated with Iran the political stabilization of Iraq whereby the alliance of the Sunni tribes that straddle the border between Syria and Iraq is the responsibility of Syria and the Shia alliances are those of Iran. Iran, Syria, and Turkey are now working together to contain the instability in Iraq, reduce the Kurdish areas to their proper state as they had developed ideas of grandeur. The Iranians are conducting deep incursions into Kurdish areas to allegedly stop smuggling, but it could be for many other reasons. They are going to negotiate the exploitation of oil fields with both Kurdistan and Iraq from a position of strength. Both are slowly replacing the vacuum left by the US as it abandons Iraq in 2011. They will apply the same technique that they did in Lebanon, control the political landscape to their full advantage.
My reading of the situation in Lebanon is that the Sunnis are quite despondent about the performance of their leader Hariri. They are now divided and like the Maronites without any real power. Even France has acquiesced to allow Syria full control over Lebanon.
The State of Union speech has clearly shown that the theme that the US is falling behind is now accepted. When Obama says that we should not accept that other countries can make faster trains, he is already admitting that the US is behind at least in this area.
For those not in the US, I can tell you that there is a great malaise about the state of the country. Individuals may still be looking forward to the next football game, but all are quite concerned with the fact their children will have a worse situation than they did.
Syria, Iran, and Turkey are now moving more to the East and will continue to have a greater alliance than ever. The efforts to woe Syria away from Iran actually made Syria even stronger for now it can negotiate from a position of strength and has ever more cards in its hands.
How telling that Petraues has accused the Justice and Accountability commission in Iraq of being an Iranian instrument.
If Jumblat is a bell weather for Lebanon then Chalabi is the same for Iraq and he is singing an Farsi tune these days.
In the West Bank’s stony hills, Palestine is slowly dying
Saturday, 30 January 2010
Robert Fisk, INdependent
In the richest of the Occupied lands, Israeli bureaucracy is driving Palestinians out of their homes. Robert Fisk reports from Jiftlik
Palestinian women huddle amid their belongings after Israeli forces demolished their homes in the West Bank village of Khirbet Tana, near Nablus earlier this month
Area C doesn’t sound very ominous. A land of stone-sprinkled grey hills and soft green valleys, it’s part of the wreckage of the equally wrecked Oslo Agreement, accounting for 60 per cent of the Israeli-occupied West Bank that was eventually supposed to be handed over to its Palestinian inhabitants.
But look at the statistics and leaf through the pile of demolition orders lying on the table in front of Abed Kasab, head of the village council in Jiftlik, and it all looks like ethnic cleansing via bureaucracy. Perverse might be the word for the paperwork involved. Obscene appear to be the results.
Palestinian houses that cannot be permitted to stand, roofs that must be taken down, wells closed, sewage systems
demolished; in one village, I even saw a primitive electricity system in which Palestinians must sink their electrical poles cemented into concrete blocks standing on the surface of the dirt road. To place the poles in the earth would ensure their destruction – no Palestinian can dig a hole more than 40cm below the ground……..
Critics of Pro-Israel Lobby Gather
Several of the pro-Israel lobby’s strongest critics gathered in Chicago to fight what they described as Jewish efforts to..
by Ben Harris, Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA)
October 16, 2007
Chicago (JTA) — Collectively they have published more than a hundred books and countless articles. Four are tenured professors at elite American universities. Internet searches reveal them to be widely cited experts on international affairs and American foreign policy.
In short, it’s difficult to imagine a collection of academics more secure in their posts or more prominent.
But there they were — Noam Chomsky, John Mearsheimer, Tony Judt and fellow travelers — at a conference last week hosted by the University of Chicago warning that pressure from American Jewish groups is having a chilling effect on unpopular scholarship and free-wheeling debate on university campuses.
“Universities are the one place in the United States where Israel tends to get treated like a normal country,” said Mearsheimer, the University of Chicago professor and co-author of “The Israel Lobby,” which asserts that the pro-Israel community stifles debate over U.S. policy in the Middle East.
“Some find this situation intolerable,” he told a nearly packed 1,500-seat auditorium, “which causes them to work hard to stifle criticism of Israel and to instead promote a positive image of Israel on campuses.”…..
Syrian woman celebrates 110th birthday
2010-02-01 12:28:06.671 GMT
A Syrian woman Wasila Ali Qaddour, known as Um Hassan, celebrated her 110th birthday in January in her hometown village in Syria’s northwestern governorate of Idleb, the official SANA news agency reported on Monday.
Wasila is still blessed with good health and does her housework. The people of her town call her “the memory of the village” or the oldest grandmother with 100 grandsons. They consider her a historical reference for the writers and historians of the village, the report said, Xinhua reported.
The long-lived lady has a good memory, remembering old popular lyrics and folk songs.
She can talk her childhood story clearly such as how she was walking barefooted with her mother when the French occupation forces gathered the people of the village to force them to give information about the revolutionists and their relatives, SANA said.
Vegetables are her basic food. She doesn’t eat meat except at the religious and social events. Moreover, She even can fast in the Ramadan.