“Iranian General Defects with Hizbullah’s Secrets,” by Nicholas Noe

Nicholas Noe of Mideastwire.com, an expert on Hizbullah, writes that the former Iranian deputy defense minister Ali Reza Asghari, who defected last month to the US, knows Hizbullah missile and defense secrets. "It may represent the biggest intelligence coup for the US and Israel in Hizbullah's history," writes Noe. News reports mention Asghari's possible knowledge of Iran's nuclear secrets and of the whereabouts of Israeli pilot Arad. But Noe explains that Asghari's most valuable knowledge may be about Hizbullah's military plans and capabilities.

For background read this article followed by Noe's analysis.

Missing Iranian official being questioned in N. Europe

By Yoav Stern, Haaretz

The Iranian former deputy defense minister who disappeared in neighboring Turkey last month is being questioned in a northern European country under strict supervision, the pan-Arab newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat reported Wednesday.

According to the newspaper, published in London, Ali Reza Asghari is undergoing thorough investigation by intelligence forces before being transferred to the United States.

Asghari, who is a retired general in the elite Revolutionary Guards, disappeared in Istanbul about a month ago. A hotel room was booked under Asghari's name, but several reports indicate that he never arrived at the hotel….

[End]

Here is Nicholas Noe's analysis received by Syria Comment Wednesday 7, 2007

Josh –
I just wanted to send you some quick thoughts about the recent defection/disappearance of a high ranking Iranian general. The story is particularly pertinent I think vis a vis Hezbollah – if in fact this is a defection, it may represent the biggest intelligence coup for the US and Israel (by association) in the Party's history. Indeed, as has been well acknowledged by US and Israeli officials, penetration of Hezbollah since its inception has been largely unsuccessful. Although the Mossad (presumably) has been able to track and assassinate some Hezbollah officials over the years – and less so after the withdrawal in 2000 – this has mostly been around the edges – hence the IDF's utter inability to predict accurately Hezbollah rocket capabilities of any sort in 1993, 1996 and in the 2006 conflict (as a confirmation of this, one should note that although Israel confidently predicted that almost all of hezbollah's long range capabilities were hit in the first few days of the summer war (not to mention their wild overstatements on short range rockets), recently the intelligence community in Israel has been "leaking" that Hezbollah has replenished precisely these stocks – in other words, the "proof" of the earlier specious claim is no longer an issue since Hezbollah merely "resupplied").

In any event, the defection is absolutely critical because it means for the first time, Hezbollah's adversary's may have accurate estimates of stockpiles, weapons types, even perhaps placement and tactics – this is crucial because the limits and placement of Hezbollah weaponry has been a major problem each time during a Hezbollah-Israel conflict – all the more so if there is a future one, as some analysts, myself included, suspect may very well be the case.

Here are some details Mideastwire has culled – more tonight from a translated piece from Asharq al Awsat. But as you can see the general was the IRGC liaison here in Lebanon prior to the 2000 withdrawal and, as a principle of the armaments industry going forward, would have detailed knowledge of Hezbollah capabilities even after he left Lebanon:

Ali Reda Askari or Asghari:

* He holds rank in the Iranian Revolutionary guard equivalent to that of a Major-General.

* He succeeded Ahmad Kana’ni and Hussein Muslih in the command of the Revolutionary Guard units in Lebanon where he stayed for two years in the 90s. He frequented Sudan, Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

* He was one of the top officials in the logistics department in the defense department during the Iranian-Iraqi war in the 80s.

* He headed the general committee responsible for running the largest weapons production facility in Iran.

* He was appointed an aide to the defense minister Admiral Ali Shamkhani responsible for logistics affairs and military purchases during the reign of President Ahmad Khatami.

* He was known for his financial integrity and gained fame after he uncovered a corrupt network inside the ministry headed by one of the top commanders of the Revolutionary Guide. This network had managed to swindle more than 160 million dollars in commission as well as 60 million dollars from bogus weapons’ deals.

* He was responsible for acquiring spare parts and equipment used in producing the Shehab 3 ballistic missiles.

* Turkish newspapers report that he was opposed to the Iranian government and that he possessed knowledge of the Iranian nuclear secrets.

Nicholas Noe
Nicholas Noe is the founder of the Beirut-based Mideastwire.com, a news translation service covering the Arabic and Persian media. He is currently editing a collection of translated speeches by Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah.

Comments (76)


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51. ausamaa said:

Hi All,

Yesterday I went through all past articles articles written by Seymour Hersh and which have appeared in the New Yorker since 2003. Going through them again now gives one a true prespective of what has been going on inside the Bush Administration as regards the War on Terror cum Axis of Evil quagmire. They are trully descreptive of how this misadventure have started and developed into the lose-lose mess the Bush Administration have found itself in ever since.
They include among others:
The Syrian Bet, July 2003
Plan B, June 2004
The Coming Wars, Jan 2005
Last Stand, July 2006
Watching Lebanon, Aug 2006
The Next Act, Nov 2006

What they trully show, best when read together, is how REALITY frustrated, contained and restrained the neo-cons’ strive to implement their Agenda.

The articles can be found at http://www.newyorker.com, followed by a search ‘Seymour Hersh’.

God, you gotta give to the neo-cons; the crazy bunch must have been frustrated as hell throughout the last few years, yet they never seemed ready to give up on a an act that was apparently doomed to failure from its early days.

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March 9th, 2007, 3:13 pm

 

52. ausamaa said:

Norman,

Ron Bousso article in the Sunday Times seems to me fall in the context of a current “scare campgaine” to “highlight” the developing “bad” situation in the area and the “growing strenght” of the bad guys.

Nothing in the article is new, actually a lot of the contents are erronuos. Especially if Ron needs to remind readers at the end of the article where and what the Golan Hights are.

I would link this to another “scary” story, appearing today among many others, at the bogous Israeli site http://www.debka.com titled : “Diplomatic minefields await Bush in his five-nation Latin America Tour – laid jointly by Iran, Venzuela and Hamas”.

In a way, they are saying: Look, this is how bad things are getting since Bush and Israel have lost their grip on the situation in the area. Inflate the size of the “bad guys”, scare people of what will come next, if we do not deal with them soon, type of approach.

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March 9th, 2007, 3:43 pm

 

53. Atassi said:

U.S. Slams Syrian Parliamentary Polls
Anoushka Marashlian
9 March 2007
Global Insight Daily Analysis
English
Copyright 2007, Global Insight Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Syria’s announcement that it will hold parliamentary elections on April 22 was yesterday slammed by the United States, which described the polls as window dressing aimed at reasserting Syria’s one-party system. Hopes that Syrian President Bashar al-Asad would spearhead political reforms and democratisation in Syria floundered under the weight of a renewed crackdown against democracy activists and government critics, most recently the human rights lawyer, Anwar Bunni, and the political writer, Michel Kilo. Both men were jailed after signing the Damascus-Beirut Declaration, which called for a normalisation of relations between the two countries.

Although the Syrian Baath party periodically introduces electoral laws and reforms to its party system, such measures are usually confined to paper, with the party maintaining its traditional grip on the levers of power.Significance: Predictions that the April 2007 polls will simply reinforce the Ba’ath party’s dominance are justified, with President Asad failing to grasp the importance of genuine democratisation for his country. Instead, the country’s leader seems to prefer the current status quo, which will continue to stifle Syria’s development.

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March 9th, 2007, 4:01 pm

 

54. Alex said:

Funny. For the first time, this year Bashar did not make a March 8th speech, but Khaddam …

وقال خدام للجزيرة نت تعليقا على رسالة وجهها أمس إلى مناضلي البعث في ذكرى تقلده السلطة إن الحزب ذو “تاريخ في العمل الوطني والدفاع عن حقوق جموع الشعب، والبعثيون اليوم في جزء من قياداتهم وفي قواعد الحزب هم أكثر الناس شعورا بالخطر خصوصا مع قضايا الاستبداد السياسي والفساد والوضع الاقتصادي والفقر، ورغم أن هناك البعض داخل الحزب أصبح جزءا من أدوات النظام، لكني أقول بكل وضوح إن قواعد الحزب وجزءا من قياداته تقف إلى جانب التغيير وستعمل وفق ظروفها للوصول إلى هذا التغيير”.

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March 9th, 2007, 4:30 pm

 

55. Alex said:

سولانا يزور سوريا الاسبوع القادم

يقوم منسق السياسة الخارجية في الاتحاد الاوروبي خافيير سولانا بزيارة سوريا الاسبوع القادم لاجراء محادثات بشأن لبنان والسلام في الشرق الاوسط.

وقد اعلن عن هذه الزيارة وزير خارجية ايرلندا ديرموت اهيرن ورحب بقيام سولانا بها، واضاف ان هناك ادراكا متزايدا باهمية مواصلة الاتصالات مع سوريا بسبب دورها المحوري في المنطقة.

وقال اهيرن ” اننا ندرك من خبرتنا أن علينا استخدام الوسائل الدبلوماسية بدلا من ادارة ظهورنا للاخرين”.

وتمثل هذه الزيارة نهاية حظر من جانب الاتحاد الاوروبي على اجراء اتصالات على مستوى رفيع مع دمشق منذ اغتيال رئيس وزراء لبنان الراحل رفيق الحريري عام 2005.

وكانت فرنسا من اشد الدول الاوروبية المعارضة لاجراء اتصالات بين الاتحاد الاوروبي وسورية لعدة أسباب، من بينها العلاقة الوثيقة بين رفيق الحريري والرئيس الفرنسي جاك شيراك.

وتمثل هذه الزيارة تحولا في الموقف الاوربي حيث اكد الناطق باسم الرئيس الفرنسي جاك شيراك على هامش قمة الاتحاد الاوروبي في بروكسيل الجمعة قيام سولانا بزيارة سوريا مضيفا انه “جرى الاتفاق على اهداف زيارة سولانا الى سوريا باسم الاتحاد الاوروبي”.

وكان سولانا قد اعلن في وقت سابق عن عزمه زيارة كل السعودية ولبنان الاسبوع القادم دون الاشارة الى احتمال زيارة سوريا.

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March 9th, 2007, 4:32 pm

 

56. Alex said:

Chirac just announced that he supports without any hesitation Solana’s talks in Damascus.

Not bad … better than his previous position on talking to Syria (that it is completely useless).

So Bashar outlasted Chirac.

Also,

Syria’s envoy at secret talks to speak before Knesset committee

By Akiva Eldar

Dr. Ibrahim Suleiman, the man who represented Syria during the secret unofficial discussions held under the auspices of the Swiss government, has agreed to appear before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Suleiman, an American of Syrian descent, informed his Israeli counterpart in the talks in Switzerland, Dr. Alon Liel, of his decision to appear before to the Knesset committee. Liel, in turn, told the Meretz faction chairman, MK Zahava Gal-On, who initiated the invitation.

Both the committee’s chairman, MK Tzahi Hanegbi, and Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik agreed to the unusual decision of officially inviting a foreign national who has represented the positions of an Arab country that is still in a state of war with Israel.

In a telephone conversation with Haaretz from his home near Washington D.C., Suleiman said he will use his visit to Israel to hold a dialogue with the public to clarify that Syria is committed to peace, which it considers to be the key to regional stability, security and prosperity.

He added that he is “completely convinced that President Bashar Assad means every word when he calls on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to begin peace talks without preconditions.”

Suleiman said it is possible that before his arrival in Israel he will carry out a short visit to Damascus to meet with the leadership there.

The 72-year-old has been a lecturer in the sciences at a number of American universities, and since the early 1990s he has dedicated most of his time to secret talks that would further peace between Israel and Syria.

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March 9th, 2007, 5:09 pm

 

57. Alex said:

Just a reminder (with bold and repetition) for some of you who still insist that Syria is weak and isolated because Bashar is producing nothing but mistakes in his regional policies…

“The intention is that Javier Solana will go to Damascus and I very much welcome that,” Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern told Reuters on Friday after EU foreign ministers discussed Lebanon and the Middle East on the margins of a summit.

“We want to engage with them [Syria] as a regional partner. They are very important with huge influence. As we know from our own experience, rather than turning our back on people, diplomacy is what is required.”

“Very important, with HUGE influence” … ok??

: )

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March 9th, 2007, 5:17 pm

 

58. ausamaa said:

The dam IS really breaking…

That is perhaps why we saw loooooong faces of the Siniora Government ministers during their last meeting as they appeared on TV today.

Or maybe its just jetlag from recent trips to Washington..!!

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March 9th, 2007, 5:20 pm

 

59. Atassi said:

O.K Alex. We got your Message loud and clear, Bashar is a very strong and syria is not isolated. I hope this will make your day and your weekend!!:-)

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March 9th, 2007, 5:23 pm

 

60. EHSANI2 said:

It is that new Sham car that convinced the world that Damascus cannot be ignored.

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March 9th, 2007, 5:30 pm

 

61. Atassi said:

EU unfreezes Syria contacts after French U-turn
By Mark John
540 words
9 March 2007
03:15
Reuters News
English
(c) 2007 Reuters Limited

(Releads with Chirac comments, Solana confirmation)

BRUSSELS, March 9 (Reuters) – The European Union agreed on Friday to relaunch contacts with Syria next week in a bid to win its help in securing peace in Lebanon.

President Jacques Chirac had blocked EU contacts with Syria for two years over its alleged role in the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

Chirac said after an EU summit he had agreed to a trip to Syria next week by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana as a way of ensuring the 27 member states spoke with one voice.

“I wholeheartedly approve the initiative of Mr Solana, who will head off with a clearly defined message which has the backing of all,” the French leader told a news conference after a two-day summit focusing on tackling climate change.

Chirac said he had been worried individual states would send national envoys to Damascus with different messages.

“That would have had negative consequences. Europe will speak with a single voice through Mr Solana,” he said.

European states provide the bulk of an augmented U.N. peace force deployed in southern Lebanon last year after fighting between Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas in which more than 1,000 people died.

Diplomats say efforts to convert a tense ceasefire into a more stable peace have been stymied by Western moves to isolate Syria and Iran, Hezbollah’s main backers.

Solana told a separate news conference after the summit he would travel next week to Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

“The EU Council has mandated me to undertake this trip … to tell the Syrians what the situation is, that we want to work with them particularly on the Lebanon issue,” Solana said.

“TINDER BOX”

The Lebanese opposition, including Syrian allies Hezbollah and Amal, is locked in a struggle for power with the anti-Syrian governing coalition. There have been recent signs from both sides of a desire to end the deadlock.

Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern, whose country has 160 troops in southern Lebanon, said the bloc realised it needed to re-engage with Damascus due to its central role in the region.

“We want to engage with them (Syria) as a regional partner. They are very important with huge influence,” he told Reuters in an interview. “Rather than turning our back on people, diplomacy is what is required.”

Ahern, who recently visited the Irish contingent, said there was relative calm in southern Lebanon but that could be jeopardised at any moment.

“It’s a tinder box. What we have to do is to engage all parties to prevent it from re-igniting,” he said.

The EU has signed association agreements with states across the region but a similar pact with Damascus has been on ice for over two years.

Final approval of the accord is conditional on Syria cooperating with efforts to bring to justice al-Hariri’s killers. A U.N. inquiry has implicated Syrian and Lebanese security officials, though Syria denies involvement.

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March 9th, 2007, 5:32 pm

 

62. Akbar Palace said:

simohurtta said: (March 8th, 2007, 8:58 pm / #)

“Akbar any comments?”

AMY GOODMAN: In 2006, you write that George W. Bush said to his father, “What’s a neocon?”

Simohurtta,

A neocon is an evil, Jewish, satanic sect that wants to kill Christian babies in order to make passover matzohs. Or was it Purim cookies? I forget…

I hope that helps you.

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March 9th, 2007, 5:43 pm

 

63. EHSANI2 said:

Love him or hate him, Bashar and Co. have proved that they have balls to play this high-stakes game.

Were the tides to shift conclusively in his favor (all recent signs are slowly and steadily moving in that direction), the young man would end up proving many of his skeptics wrong.

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March 9th, 2007, 5:56 pm

 

64. ausamaa said:

Ehsani 2

Are you saying what you are saying? or is it because you are enthrilled by the test drive of the new Cham car?

By God, this is good, we are out of the woods finally.

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March 9th, 2007, 6:04 pm

 

65. Alex said:

Not completely there yet Ausamaa : )

Still a lot of resistance and competition.

We need to look at facial expressions in the many conferences and meetings and summits that will take place the next few weeks. here is a new one announced

القاهرة/سانا أعلنت وزارة الخارجية المصرية اليوم ان وزراء خارجية دول جوار العراق ومصر سيعقدون اجتماعا فى القاهرة فى مطلع نيسان القادم. ونقلت ا ف ب عن الوزارة قولها انه سيتم تقرير موعد الاجتماع خلال المؤتمر الدولي حول العراق الذى سيعقد غدا السبت في بغداد. وأوضحت ان هذا اللقاء الذى لن تشارك فيه الدول الخمس دائمة العضوية فى مجلس الامن سيعقد فى القاهرة بعد ايام معدودة من القمة العربية بالرياض المقررة 28 و 29 اذار. ولم تقدم الوزارة المزيد من التوضيحات حول القضايا التى ستطرح على جدول اعمال هذا الاجتماع.

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March 9th, 2007, 6:40 pm

 

66. Atassi said:

Iraq Summit Offers U.S., Iran Icebreaker
By BRIAN MURPHY
Associated Press Writer

9 March 2007

BAGHDAD (AP) – Washington is sending a veteran Middle East hand. Tehran’s envoy is a British-educated diplomat considered one of Iran’s leading Western analysts. Combine that with a flexible agenda and a matchmaking Iraqi host — and the international gathering Saturday to help steer Iraq’s future also appears as a prime opportunity for some icebreaking overtures between Iran and the United States.

But any outreach — no matter how limited — would be shadowed by deep suspicions and grievances from both sides in their odd-couple roles: old foes yet also Iraq’s two most influential allies.

“Don’t expect any miracles,” said Hamid Reza Jalaipour, a professor of political affairs at Tehran University.

In fact, expectations have been kept very modest before the conference — which includes delegates from Iraq’s six neighbors, the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and several Arab representatives.

In Washington, the U.S. chief delegate, David Satterfield, said “we are not going to turn and walk away” if approached by Iran or Syria to discuss Iraq. But Satterfield, the top State Department adviser on Iraq, added Thursday that the United States plans to use the meeting to reinforce its accusations against both nations.

They include U.S. claims that Syria allows foreign jihadists and Sunni insurgents to cross its border into Iraq, and that weapon shipments from Iran reach Shiite militias. Both nations deny the allegations.

Iran’s chief envoy, Abbas Araghchi, left Tehran without directly mentioning the United States, but said Iran “hopes to take more steps” to support the U.S.-backed government — which is led by a Shiite prime minister with close ties to Shiite heavyweight Iran.

Iran, however, has strongly denounced the U.S. military presence. The complaints grew more pointed in December after American forces detained two Iranian security agents at the compound of a major Shiite political bloc in Baghdad.

Six other Iranians were arrested Jan. 11 at an Iranian liaison office in northern Iraq. The U.S. military said they were members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard — a charge Tehran rejects.

The showdown over Iran’s nuclear program also lurks behind any attempt to ease the nearly 28-year diplomatic freeze with Washington.

“But both Iran and the United States realize they are stuck together on Iraq,” said Alireza Nourizadeh, chief researcher at the London-based Center for Arab-Iranian Studies. “So perhaps they see this meeting as a way to open some doors for bilateral talks.”

For Iran, opening more direct contacts with Washington could help promote their shared interests in Iraq, including trying to stamp out Sunni-led insurgents. U.S. officials, meanwhile, need the support of Iranian-allied political groups in Iraq to keep a lid on Shiite militias.

There have been other chances in the past for one-one-one dialogue, but rarely with such promise.

In September, the United States joined Iran and Syria in talks on Iraq — although Washington ruled out direct talks with Iran in advance. This time, however, there is an open invitation to Iran.

And both sides have dispatched well-suited diplomats.

Satterfield has served in posts in Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Lebanon and Syria, as well as Washington positions including the National Security Council staff. Araghchi did postgraduate studies in England and served as ambassador to Finland. He’s regarded as one of Iran’s leading diplomatic strategists on relations with the West.

The host, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, juggles close ties with Iran and the United States and has left ample room for closed-door discussions and possible bilateral exchanges. Washington broke ties with Iran after militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The one-day session in Baghdad also carries little pressure on the delegates. It’s designed only to pave the way for a high-level gathering possibly in April.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, said he would not necessarily object to meeting with the Iranians. “But, the first point to make to them is that they need to stop arms, Iranian arms, coming across the border,” he told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

The meeting also is the first time in nearly two years that Washington is willing to discuss security issues with Iran — at a time when the Pentagon is pumping more than 20,000 troops into a Baghdad crackdown and boosting forces to strongholds of Sunni insurgents northeast of the capital.

The head of Iraq’s largest Shiite political bloc, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, endorsed the gathering in an address in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, where millions of pilgrims have gathered for an important Shiite religious commemoration.

“It is necessary to pay attention to the sacrifices of Iraqis over the past four years,” said al-Hakim, who leads the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which is strongly linked to Iran.

Al-Hakim also took a swipe at the Arab League — pointing to likely tensions at the meeting.

The Cairo-based group said this week that it would urge changes in Iraq’s constitution to give more political power to Sunnis, who are outnumbered nearly 3-to-1 by Shiites. Many Shiites in Iraq saw the statement as a challenge to the legitimacy of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government.

Other potential friction at the meeting could come from Turkey, which opposes plans to hold a referendum sometime this year on whether the northern oil hub of Kirkuk will remain in Arab-dominated territory or shift to the semiautonomous Kurdish zone.

Turkish officials fear that oil riches for the Kurds could stir separatist sentiments and spill over into Kurdish areas in Turkey.

One of the main extremist factions, the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq, posted a statement on an Islamic Web site denouncing “the meeting of the hypocrites and the agents” and said it seeks to “extinguish the flame of the blessed jihad.”

“All the delegates are united by one thing: the fear of a prolonged civil war in Iraq. It would hurt them each in different ways,” said Abdel-Moneim Said, director of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. “Fear is the one thing bringing them all together.”

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March 9th, 2007, 7:13 pm

 

67. ausamaa said:

Yeh Alex,

I bet the Syrian and Iranian delegates in Baghdad will resemble what we call “Emm el Sabbi”.

No seriously, I believe the whole show is over, it just remains to see not “if”, but “how” something resembling “normality” or just “low profile” tensions can be arrived at. Come to think about it, Bush is not a total loser, he has got the Iraqi Oil and Three or so US Bases in Iraq , and, the war has been kind to American Big business while it lasted. What more does he want? Win some ,lose some. And the TRUE Peace Prommoter for now is the EU. Lets enjoy the new show.

Can the Arabs NOW arrive at a common vision for their future? I do not know. But knowing US, that is ourselves, I do not have high hopes. Maybe..
Hell, our salvation will come only through the active clean assistance of the West, but the West did not seem very interested in that so far. Could they be more interested now after they have had a chance to see how dangerous and dreary this unstable Midle East can be???

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March 9th, 2007, 7:44 pm

 

68. ausamaa said:

Yeh, one can guess! Egypt sure wants to get a seat on the Train. It feels bad enough being margenalized, or cut to real size by some, in Lebanon and Palestine. So maybe we are going to look at better Egyptian – Syrian cooperation in the future?? Untill Egypt finds better suiters.

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March 9th, 2007, 8:16 pm

 

69. ausamaa said:

And this is from the Washington Institiute for Near Eastern Policy. Obviously not having big expectations. But what can you expect from Seth who once had an article titled “The Golan Heights and Syrian-Israeli Relations: What does Assad Want?”

Apparently, the editor in-chief-chief of the Olive Branch magazine out of Jerusalem, seems NOT TO KNOW WHAT Assad wants where Golan is concerned, but he sure DOES KNOW enough to write an article with the Predictions he makes now!

PolicyWatch #1208
Can Syria Come in from the Cold?

By Seth Wikas
March 9, 2007

In the coming weeks, Syria will participate in two important regional conferences. On March 10, it will join Iraq’s other neighbors and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council in Baghdad. On March 28-29, it will participate in the Arab League summit in Riyadh. Syria’s detractors continue to criticize Damascus for failing to seal the border with Iraq and for meddling in Lebanese internal affairs in violation of UN Security Resolution 1701. Of equal importance is the downturn in Syria’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran. Last week’s Saudi-Iranian summit has Damascus worried about its role in Lebanon and the possibility of an international tribunal on the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, a crime for which Syria is widely believed to be responsible. Will the upcoming conferences give Syria a chance to improve its regional standing, or will its isolation continue?
The Baghdad Conference

The March 10 meeting in Baghdad is aimed at curbing violence and promoting reconstruction and national reconciliation within Iraq. Syrian leaders are greeting the conference with cautious optimism and as a partial step toward diplomacy. They want to see full adoption of the Iraq Study Group (a.k.a. Baker-Hamilton) report’s recommendation of direct American dialogue with Syria and Iran. Meanwhile, Washington appears committed to its policy of isolating the two nations, and President Bush has stated that the Baghdad conference will be a test of Syria and Iran’s readiness to reduce sectarian violence in Iraq. Washington is not blind to the results of the Iraq war, however — Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Ellen Sauerbrey is currently awaiting a visa to travel to Damascus, where she has been authorized to discuss only the status of Iraqi refugees in Syria. On the Syrian side, the editor-in-chief of the government daily al-Baath, Ilyas Murad, stated the need for Washington to admit its failure in Iraq at the conference, and also wondered how the United States could refuse to talk to other conference participants.

One constructive step Damascus has recently taken is to allow Iraqi refugees to renew their three-month residency permits. Yet official Iraqi sources point to Syria’s continued role in undermining stability in Iraq. Last week, Iraq’s UN ambassador, Hamid al-Bayati, called on Syria to control its border, as it is the entry point for most foreign fighters. He dismissed Syria’s claims that it cannot adequately patrol its border until it receives the necessary surveillance equipment.

Saudi Arabia and the Arab Summit

Syria’s relationship with Saudi Arabia has been strained at best since Syrian president Bashar al-Asad’s August 15, 2006, speech in which he railed against Arab leaders who did not support Hizballah in the war against Israel — notably Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt. Asad described such leaders as “half men.” The deterioration in their relations has been compounded by Syria’s suspected involvement in the killing of Hariri, a Saudi citizen, and by Syria’s implication of Saudi Arabia in the September 2006 attack on the U.S. embassy in Damascus. In December, Syrian vice president Farouk al-Shara attributed the strain to personal reasons: “We Arabs become angry and calm down quickly.” In Saudi eyes, his statement trivialized the depth of the problems between the two states.

Most recently, the relationship suffered a flare-up after a caustic op-ed appeared in the Saudi-owned London daily al-Sharq al-Awsat. Although the newspaper consistently reflects the Saudi position on issues, and is notoriously anti-Syrian, Abdul Rahman al-Rashid’s March 4 article pushed the envelope. A former editor of the paper, he outlined Saudi grievances — including Asad’s August speech and Syrian attempts to bring down the Lebanese government — and claimed Syria had lost nearly everything in the Middle East as a result of its leadership’s inexperience and miscalculations. He added that Syria was even risking its alliance with Iran and predicted the upcoming Arab Summit could not save Syria from a dark future.

For its part, Damascus has sought to project a very different image. According to Syrian sources, Saudi King Abdullah sent Asad a personal invitation to the Arab Summit via an emissary in February. Asad assured the emissary that he would attend and conveyed his personal respect for the king and the importance of the Saudi-Syrian relationship. The summit will include separate bilateral talks between Abdullah and Asad. In the wake of the invitation, the Syrian media has shown a noticeably more positive tone toward Saudi Arabia.

The media messages on both sides are important in light of recent talks between Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad and King Abdullah. Saudi Arabia is seeking Iranian support for the Hariri tribunal, and this worries Syria. It is unclear whether Tehran and Riyadh can find a solution to the Lebanese political crisis, and what pressure — if any — will be put on Syria to discontinue its interference in Lebanese affairs.

Syria’s Relationship with Iran

The Syrian-Iranian relationship is under a great deal of pressure. Former Syrian president Hafiz al-Asad skillfully developed and nurtured alliances with both Saudi Arabia and Iran, helping to make Syria a key regional player. The alliance with Tehran worked well when Damascus saw Iran as an ally in the struggle against its old nemesis, Iraq, and as a source of inexpensive oil. In turn, Iran viewed Syria as a base for exporting the Islamic Revolution to Lebanese Shiites via Hizballah. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia benefited from the protection that both nations provided from Iraq. Bashar al-Asad, however, has turned Syria into a political liability for its allies and neighbors. He has angered the Saudis by meddling in Lebanese political affairs — notably in the assassination of Hariri — and has turned his country from a partner into a client of Iran. Asad has also voiced his open support and respect for Hizballah — something his father never did — and Damascus has lost the power it once had over the group. The result is that Syria’s fortunes in Lebanon are now dependent on Hizballah’s success, making Hizballah a partner, not a dependent.

In sum, Syria’s new position in relation to both Iran and Hizballah has weakened its political clout. Asad also fears that the recent Iranian-Saudi summit yielded Tehran’s assent to the international tribunal on Hariri, which would further debilitate the Syrian regime. Neither the Saudis nor the Iranians want to see Asad fall, but an international tribunal and a settling of the Lebanese political crisis (to Syria’s disadvantage) would strip Damascus of many of its political cards.

Conclusion

The upcoming Baghdad conference and Arab Summit highlight the various challenges facing Syria. Given its record, Syria is unlikely to play a constructive role in Iraq — but this does not interest Damascus. Instead, its primary goals are to block the international tribunal on the Hariri assassination and ensure that Hizballah gains more power in the Lebanese parliament. Even if it achieves its objectives, however, Damascus has badly damaged its relations with allies and regional neighbors, and these will take time to heal. Internationally, Syria is hoping to bypass continued U.S. opposition to direct diplomacy by strengthening its military and economic ties with Russia. Regionally, neither of the upcoming meetings are likely to reduce Syria’s isolation, improve its image, or change its leadership’s demonstrated inability to balance competing political interests.

Seth Wikas is a visiting fellow at The Washington Institute, focusing on Syria’s domestic politics and foreign policy.

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March 9th, 2007, 9:06 pm

 

70. simohurtta said:

A neocon is an evil, Jewish, satanic sect that wants to kill Christian babies in order to make passover matzohs. Or was it Purim cookies? I forget…

Really Akbar? Well as a Jew you know better your religion and tribesmen as me. I must believe what you say.

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March 9th, 2007, 10:17 pm

 

71. Gibran said:

The silence of Bashar:

“صمت” الأسد
هذا الاستبشار بسحب فتيل التوتر من الشارع، تمهيداً لسحبه من ثنايا المرجعيات السياسية اللبنانية في الفترة الفاصلة عن موعد القمة العربية المقررة في الثامن والعشرين من آذار الحالي، بفعل ما يسبقها من لقاءات اقليمية كثيرة، يبقى عرضة لمحاولات العرقلة السورية التي يعرف اللبنانيون أنها طرق متشعبة تنتقل من سيناريو جاهز ومكشوف الى سيناريو آخر هو بدوره جاهز ومكشوف.
هل يقدم الأسد على العرقلة؟ تاريخه يسمح بالاجابة بنعم، ولكن الأسد موضوع تحت رقابة المجتمع الدولي، ومن ضمنه المجتمع العربي، تمهيداً لحسم التعاطي معه. ولأن المسألة كذلك، إمتنع الأسد من دون تقديم أي مبررات عن إلقاء كلمته في ذكرى الثامن من آذار، تاريخ تولي حزب البعث للحكم في سوريا. هو لا يريد ان يتراجع علناً عن الاهانات التي كالها للزعماء العرب بعيد انتهاء حرب تموز الاسرائيلية على لبنان، ولكنه لا يستطيع الا ان يتراجع في حال تكلم، فاختار الصمت لئلا يجنح لسانه الى النطق بما يعتمل في صدره من عقدة نقص، تجاه كل من يتمتع بعقل وازن في هذا العالم العربي.
الأسد تحت الرقابة
كما ان الأسد، مضطر الى اعادة حساباته في مسألة المحكمة ذات الطابع الدولي، إدراكاً منه ان “خلاص رأسه” من محكمة بمواصفات تلك التي تقدمها الاتفاقية المعقودة بين لبنان والامم المتحدة لن يتوافر له في حال جاءت المحكمة تحت أحكام الفصل السابع من ميثاق الامم المتحدة، ولذلك هو يفضل أن يُنسي الجميع ما قاله منفعلاً وزير خارجيته وليد المعلم ضد المحكمة ذات الطابع الدولي، في محاولة جديدة منه ليأخذ “بالتمسكن” روح المحكمة التي لم يتمكن منها بالاغتيال وزعزعة استقرار لبنان والزحف امام ايهود اولمرت والتعهد بوقف بؤرة الجحيم في العراق.
والرسائل القاسية وصلت كلها الى الأسد. الولايات المتحدة الاميركية، بجناحيها الجمهوري والديموقراطي، تحفظ لبنان المستقل المحصن بالعدالة الدولية المرجوة، من أي صفقة على اعتبار ان الاسد مدعو الى تلبية المطالب وليس الى أخذ ثمن “الاجرام”. الاتحاد الاوروبي في قمته التي انعقدت في اليومين الاخيرين في بروكسيل اعتنق مبدأ شيراك من المسألة السورية، على اعتبار ان دولا اوروبية كانت مقتنعة بالحوار مع نظام الأسد وجدت نفسها مصدومة بالحقائق. وزير خارجية بلجيكا كاريل دو غوت كان آخر العنقود، قبله “بردت همّة” نظيره الالماني فرانك فالتر شتاينمر، وغاب عن الصورة السورية صديقها الاسباني ميغل انخل موراتينوس. الاوروبيون قرروا وقف محاولاتهم الافرادية، أوكلوا المهمة، من الآن فصاعداً الى شخصية واحدة لا غير، شخصية معروفة ثوابتها، ومعنية حصراً بتنفيذ المقررات الاوروبية: خافيير سولانا.

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March 10th, 2007, 12:20 am

 

72. Alex said:

Gibran

Who knows … maybe Abdel Rahman el-Rashed can be credited with the non-speech.

It is natural.

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March 10th, 2007, 12:28 am

 

73. Akbar Palace said:

simohurtta said:

“Well as a Jew you know better your religion and tribesmen as me. I must believe what you say.”

Simohurtta,

It’s funny, you only believe what I say when it’s critical of Jews. Why am I not surprised?

http://www.memri.org/antisemitism.html

http://www.nationalreview.com/goldberg/goldberg052103.asp

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March 10th, 2007, 2:16 am

 

74. simohurtta said:

It’s funny, you only believe what I say when it’s critical of Jews. Why am I not surprised?

Why do you think like that Akbar? By the way if you criticize Jews is it Anti-Semitic behaviour? Or is anti-Semitism only reserved for non-Jews?

Is the following news anti-Semitic?
Ma’ariv Daily has reported that an Israeli retired officer sells weapons to terrorist groups in Iraq.

Shmoel Avivi, an Israeli retired officer, had established a firm in Iraq 2 years ago, which secretly sold arms to terrorist groups in Iraq, Ma’ariv reported.

Amnesty International reported that Avivi was one of the biggest weapon dealers in the Middle East.

Hmmmmm…

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March 10th, 2007, 7:23 am

 

75. Rev. Michel Nahas Filho said:

Dear Ehsani,

Those regulations exist everywhere. In the US an immigrant cannot be president (e.g. Arnold Swarzenegger’s and Henry Kissinger’s cases). In the US also, one cannot be a senator if s/he is under 35. In Brazil, my home country, you cannot be elected for anything, if you are illiterate (which is a problem on some remote Amazonic regions). Indians in Brazil, are treated as minors, with not all the rights, but with extra protection under the law. There are lots of cases like that. I am sure that Christians can never be president in Syria (as if matters) because the Sunnis would never accept this (nor the rest of the Sunni states around). The way they see it (probably it was the original intent) Lebanon is (was)the Christian Syria. If a Muslim cannot be president in Lebanon, why should it be different in Syria?

Just a thought, but thanks anyway for your input.

Rev. Michel Nahas
Canada

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March 10th, 2007, 10:32 am

 

76. Akbar Palace said:

Simohurtta asks innocently:

“By the way if you criticize Jews is it Anti-Semitic behaviour? Or is anti-Semitism only reserved for non-Jews?”

Criticizing “Jews”, like critcizing “Muslims” are both anti-semitic and anti-Islamic, respectively.

As if you didn’t know.

Being anti-semitic is a phenomenom, just like being anti-Islamic is a phenomenon.

With one caveat:

Anti-semitism is, IMHO, what is “fueling” Islamic terrorism in the Middle East to this very day. Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and most Arab and Muslim states are virulently anti-semitic in their organizations, policy statements, government controlled press, newpapers and media.

Being anti-Islamic is also a recent phenomenon probably attributed to years of Islamic terror felt throughout the world and the frustration of not being able to stop it.

Anti-semitism, as you may know, is not a recent phenomenon. I was mostly prevalent in Europe, and since Israel’s creation in 1948, it is mostly prevalent in the Middle East.

“Is the following news anti-Semitic?”

I looked at your links and I saw nothing anti-semitic about them. I hope that answers your question.

Here are some examples of what I DO believe is anti-semitic? Do you agree with me?:

http://www.memri.org/antisemitism.html

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March 11th, 2007, 4:13 pm

 

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