Is Syria to Blame for the Bombings in Iraq?

Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki has accused Syria of being behind the car bombs that have killed several hundred Iraqis.

The Guardian reports, based on a dossier provided to them by Iraqi authorities, that a conspiracy involving leaders of Islamic militant organizations [al-Qaida], Iraqi Baathists and the Syrian government hatched a plan “to topple the [Iraqi] government,.” “They elected a leader and made a unified front.” This is explosive stuff.

Oddly, reporters from the New York Times, Washington Post, and LA Times have not picked up on this plot or the Iraqi intelligence dossier. The US papers, although they report on Maliki’s blaming of Syria, concentrate on the confusion and back-biting taking place within Iraq, due to upcoming elections and the ongoing power struggle between parties and between sectarian groups.

The LA Times writes, for example: “Some believe political blocs in the central government could be sponsoring attacks in an attempt to bring down Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.” But it seems that at this stage no one knows and everyone is speculating.

Syrian authorities insist that they want stability in Iraq for economic reasons and have no interest in destabilizing the Maliki government, which they recognized before most other countries and with which they have signed all sorts of economic agreements. Most important of these is a new oil pipeline which could bring billions of dollars of revenue to the Syrian economy.

Syria’s enemies argue that Syria is behind the bombings because the Syrian regime “exports violence” by its nature and thrives on destabilizing others. They also argue that the Syrian regime likes Sunnis more than Shiites in Iraq. These accusations do not make much sense and seem to contradict the obvious national interests of Syria.

These national interests are to improve relations with its neighbors, cooperate with Iran in Iraq, and grow its economy as a transit hub in concert with Turkey, Iran, and Lebanon.

Yes, Syria has given refuge to many Iraqis, including ex-Baathists and Sunni opponents of the Maliki government. This does not mean, however, that Syria supports efforts to kill Iraqis or subvert and overturn the government in Iraq. Enemies of the Syrian regime will try to make hay out of Maliki’s accusations in order to stop Syria’s re-integration into regional and international affairs. Until there is some proof of Syrian complicity, it is foolish to join in the finger pointing.

Syrians face automatic additional secuity checks at US airports

“Passport-holders from Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, Yemen and Algeria” automatically face additional screening at US airports. This is revealed in a government document recently posted to the internet.

Today the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies released its second annual report on the state of human rights in the Arab world for the year 2009.  The report, entitled Bastion of Impunity, Mirage of Reform, concludes that the human rights situation in the Arab region has deteriorated throughout the region over the last year.

Shai – our resident optimist and peace maker – writes:

Netanyahu: “Any historic peace agreement I bring will be based on support from majority of public”

The Knesset is gearing up to vote on Wednesday on an amendment to a law requiring a referendum ahead of any Israeli territorial withdrawal. The amendment is expected to be approved, as the government has already approved it by ministerial committee.

This should not frustrate anyone.  Netanyahu knows that he can receive much more support from the people of Israel, than he can from his own government or the Knesset.  Menachem Begin couldn’t even convince the “moderate” Ehud Olmert – who voted AGAINST return of the Sinai to Egypt – but he got through to most Israelis.  The public acts on emotions, the politicians on self-interest.

I believe Netanyahu is starting to prepare the public in Israel for an “Historic peace agreement”.  He won’t waste his time on the politicians. Read This

‘Israel can’t hold referendum on land it doesn’t own’

There was no official Syrian response to a Knesset vote that paved the way to continue legislative work on a bill that would mandate national referenda before any territorial compromise was made in the Golan or Jerusalem, but sources in Damascus said that the law reflected the “extreme tendencies of the Israeli parliament.”

The bill was approved by an overwhelming majority of 68 to 22.

The Syrian sources told the BBC-Arabic radio station that “Israel has already annexed the Golan Heights after conquering the area and as far as we are concerned [the referendum law] makes no difference; every action that Israel would take in the Golan Heights is illegitimate.

“Israel cannot hold a referendum on land that it does not own,” the sources said.

Yehuda Harel, a resident of Kibbutz Merom Golan near the Syrian-Israeli border, told Israel Radio that the people living in the Golan “continue as usual” and would do so even without the referendum law.

Harel, an activist and one of the heads of the “Israel is with the Golan” campaign from the 1990s, is one of the founding members of the kibbutz, which was established on June 14 1967. Merom Golan is one of the Israeli communities nearest the border and is only five kilometers west of the Syrian town of Kuneitra.

“The law signifies the consensus over the Heights. We are calm and unworried,” Harel said. He added that in his opinion, Israelis would not change their mind regarding the Golan Heights even if negotiations with Syria would proceed and reach an advanced point. “Polls, people we meet and the amount of people who come to live here prove that the Heights are a part of Israel,” he said.

Harel also said that news reports concerning the Golan Heights have no influence on the residents’ day-to-day lives and “have no basis in reality. It’s like the weather, it changes every few months but has no influence over us.”

He said Syria would one day forgo its demands and “as it has recognized that the Alexandretta is Turkish and pulled its forces out of Lebanon, it will recognize the Golan [is Israeli].”

He rejected a notion of returning the land to Syria but leasing the territory from Damascus for a long term in any future peace deal, saying “we will not rent the Golan from any foreign party.” “If a referendum will be held we have no doubt what the results would be, and since the Syrians too know what the results would be, the sheer legislation of a referendum will prevent the necessity to hold it.”

Baghdad bombings kill at least 127
Residents lash out at leaders, fear more carnage in vote run-up
By Ernesto Londoño, Washington Post, Wednesday, December 9, 2009

….In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Maliki blamed the attacks on “remnants” of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party and on al-Qaeda in Iraq. The prime minister accused the attackers of “gloating in the blood of our innocent” and attempting to “abort our democratic experiment.”

Lawmakers scheduled a special session for Thursday to review the government’s response to the latest attacks and its investigations into bombings in August and October that left key ministries in ruins and killed more than 250 people.

As U.S. troops sharply downscale their presence in Iraqi cities in the summer, Maliki hailed the first phase of their withdrawal as a “victory” for Iraq and many Iraqis took to the streets to celebrate their new sovereignty. Days later, Maliki’s government said it would start dismantling the concrete walls that reminded Iraqis daily of the dangers that had come to shape their lives.

The recent carnage has given those celebrations a retrospective air of hubris and led Iraqis to fear that their country may not yet be on the mend…..

BAGHDAD — Four large bombs exploded near education facilities, judicial complexes and other targets in Baghdad on Tuesday, killing at least 127 people and triggering recriminations against the Iraqi government and its security forces. Nearly 500 people were wounded, according to Iraqi police officials.

The blasts, which occurred minutes apart shortly after 10 a.m., fueled fears that elections, now scheduled for March 7, as well as the ongoing withdrawal of U.S. forces, will usher in a new phase in the battle for control of Iraq. Although that fight is now unfolding primarily in the political arena, many Iraqis fear that a rise in violence and political instability could again turn politicians into combatants.

Iraqi officials accused the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq of responsibility for Tuesday’s carnage, the latest in a campaign of powerful bombings apparently designed to undermine the Shiite-led government, which insurgents deride as a byproduct of the U.S. occupation.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq has little support among residents, but the anger and sense of impotence apparent here Tuesday suggested that the insurgents have succeeded in portraying the government as feeble and incompetent.

“Everyone knows that the interior minister doesn’t speak to the prime minister because of political problems,” Shiite lawmaker Nasar al-Rubaie said during a televised parliamentary session in which lawmakers chastised security commanders and key ministers. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani lead slates vying for seats in the upcoming elections.

“How can we provide security for Iraqis with security ministries that respond to political parties?” Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman demanded.

The Baghdad security command, which reports to Maliki, provided a lower death toll, saying that 77 people died in the explosions. Two of four statements it issued about the bombings lambasted media coverage. It described journalists with one Western agency as “liars” and said it would sue an Iraqi television station for “defamation, abuse and incitement to violence.” ….

Iraqis, notoriously hardened after years of sanctions and war, lashed out at their leaders for failing to keep the populace safe.

“We don’t care who ends up leading us as long as it’s safe again,” said Delal Mahdi, a woman who was passing the Karkh courthouse. “At this point, even if it’s an Israeli, as long as he’s a good person, we would agree.”…

“These people are a failure,” the woman’s father, Jamal Mutar, fumed. “All they want to do is cover up their failures.”

LA Times on Iraq

It was not known who was responsible for the bombings. Some believe political blocs in the central government could be sponsoring attacks in an attempt to bring down Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki. Others believe that dissidents, including some army and police officers resentful of the political order installed by the United States, are intent on overthrowing the system.

The Guardian: Baghdad Car Bombs Blamed on Syria and Islamists by Iraqi Government

Iraq and Syria have remained at diplomatic loggerheads since the bombings in August. Both countries withdrew their ambassadors after Iraqi officials accused Syria of harbouring enemies who had vowed to direct and fund a bombing campaign in the run-up to a general election, which is scheduled for 6 March….

Iraqi officials have offered only scant support for their accusations. However, they appear to fervently believe that Damascus has at least given implicit consent to a subversive campaign that was allegedly plotted on Syrian soil.

A dossier prepared by Iraq’s security forces and shown to Syrian and Turkish intelligence officials, including the Syrian spy chief, Ali Mdouk, [Mamlouk?] in late August, centres on a meeting that allegedly took place on 30 July in the Syrian town of Zabaniyi.

Details of the dossier, which was presented to the Syrians by the chief of intelligence for Iraq’s interior ministry, Hussein Kamal, were made available to the Guardian before Tuesday’s attack.

It suggests the meeting was penetrated by intelligence agents, who reported that it was chaired by two well-known Ba’athist figures. Also in attendance were former Iraqi army officers and representatives from militant groups who were active in Iraq’s Anbar province throughout the blood-soaked years of 2006-07, including Jaish al-Mohammed, the Salaheddin Army and the Islamic Army of Iraq. “They agreed then to topple the government,” the report said. “This was the first time these groups had worked closely together. It was a critical event. They elected a leader and made a unified front.”

The official Iraqi version of events is that an unlikely co-operative of secular Ba’athists and militants who eschewed any form of government in favour of a return to Islamic law conspired from 30 July to pool their resources and wreak havoc during the pre-election period.

According to a senior Iraqi intelligence official, the original targets had been bridges spanning Baghdad’s rivers, rather than government ministries.

“They wanted to attack four bridges on the same day – the first day of Ramadan,” the source said. “But they found out we were following them and they changed their plan and their method. For them, it was a case of my enemy’s enemy is my friend.”

He said the insurgents initially planned to draw from an arsenal of about 2,000 artillery and mortar shells stored in a cache near Baquba, north of Baghdad. “But we found that,” he said. “That’s why they abandoned the bridge plan. They instead switched to ammonium nitrate bombs hidden in trucks and water tankers.”…

Europe Rejects a Plan for Jerusalem

Israel expressed satisfaction on Tuesday that the European Union did not accept a Swedish proposal to explicitly recognize Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

US Chastises Turkey for reaching out to Iran

….The U.S. official said following their meeting that they have a problem with Turkey reaching out to Iran “and they can only play that potential role, useful role, if their message is consistent with that of the rest of the international community and ours, which is that we want to engage Iran.” …. Turkey PM: Israel can not bomb Gaza then hold drill in Turkey. Turkey has also denied a U.S. request to transfer more Turkish troops to Afghanistan, were they already have 1750 soldiers stationed.

Comment / On peace with Syria, Israeli leaders only talk the talk
By Elie Podeh in Haaretz

The ritual “track dance” is in full swing: the Syrian track first – no, the Palestinian track first. A future scholar researching the history of the main contacts between Israel, Syria and the Palestinians starting in the 1990s will discover a marvelous cyclical pattern: Whenever the Palestinian track reached a dead end or a breakthrough beckoned, the Israelis began talking about the Syrian track, and vice versa.

What the two tracks have in common is that no breakthrough has really occurred in either. The reasons for this are many and varied, but there is no denying that Israel bears much of the responsibility. The Barak, Sharon and Netanyahu governments seem to have preferred making noises about peace to doing anything about it. The Olmert-Livni government seems to have been the only one that took steps toward reaching an agreement, behind the scenes via Turkey.

Making do with noises about peace has a number of advantages. Psychologically, it gives our leaders, and perhaps some of our citizens, the feeling that Israel really wants peace, while the other side just talks about it. Politically, it doesn’t cost anything.

There’s nothing new in that the Syrian arena is more amenable. The Syrians are not as internally divided as the Palestinians, there is apparently “someone to talk to” there, and the issues and possibilities for resolving them are familiar. Some of them have already been agreed on. So why has the Syrian track been pushed aside? The answer is to be found in the inability of Israeli prime ministers to make a clear decision about withdrawing from the Golan Heights.

They fear the electoral implications of such a move because of the Golan’s special status in Israeli public opinion. Unlike Judea and Samaria, an ideological question is not at issue, and different pretexts are given for not negotiating with Syrian President Bashar Assad: His government bankrolls terror attacks, it’s in a strategic alliance with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, all he wants is to dip his toes in the Kinneret, and so on.

Without belittling the importance of these matters, it should be stressed that if Anwar Sadat’s positions had been scrutinized like this, there would have been no peace deal with Egypt. His first demands included not only Israeli withdrawal from all Egyptian territory it had conquered, but also a solution to the Palestinian problem. This linkage made the negotiations so difficult that Sadat walked out.

The Egyptian precedent teaches us several things about the Syrian track: First, Israel will not receive any advance concessions that could be used as bargaining chips in negotiations. Even if Syria is not prepared to formally cut its close ties with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, a serious diplomatic move would drive a wedge through this axis, with a significant affect on the regional balance of power. Second, tough initial bargaining positions do not necessarily reflect the final positions. Significantly, the Syrian position, unlike the initial Egyptian one, does not call for a solution to the Palestinian problem.

Israeli politicians mouth lofty slogans about the importance of peace with Syria, but they aren’t prepared to face up to the price to be paid. Instead, they pose preconditions. Israel’s situation in the Middle East is at rock bottom. Beyond the familiar regional threats, Turkey has moved away and the regimes in Egypt and Jordan have to defend themselves against public opposition to peace with Israel. We need from our decision makers a more active and effective policy, as well as cooperation with moderate elements. The Syrian arena, unlike the Palestinian one, offers an abundance of opportunities for bold and creative leadership, but that has not been forthcoming.

The writer teaches in the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Syria seeks to grill Lebanese officials in Hariri case
BEIRUT | AFP – December 09, 2009

A Syrian court has asked 25 Lebanese figures, including the police chief and top prosecutor, to appear for questioning over the murder of their country’s ex-premier, a Lebanese official said on Wednesday.

“The foreign ministry last night received from the Syrian embassy in Beirut 25 letters addressed to various (people) sought for questioning in connection with (Rafiq) Hariri’s murder,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The request came as Hariri’s son and political heir Saad Hariri, who was recently appointed premier, prepares to make his first official visit to Syria, Lebanon’s neighbour and former powerbroker.

There have been widespread accusations in Lebanon, including from the younger Hariri himself, that Damascus was behind the 2005 assassination. A UN commission of inquiry said it had found evidence to implicate Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services but there are no suspects in custody.

Syria has consistently denied any involvement in the crime.. Those called for questioning include police chief Ashraf Rifi and prosecutor general Saeed Mirza, as well as several MPs and journalists.

The Syrian court acted after former Lebanese security services director Jamil Sayyed filed a lawsuit in Damascus in October in connection with his detention for four years over Hariri’s murder. The Hague-based tribunal was set up by a UN Security Council resolution in 2007 to try suspects in the murder of Hariri.

Sayyed was freed last April along with three other generals after a the tribunal ordered their release on grounds there was insufficient evidence to indict them.

“We filed the lawsuit in Syria because the Lebanese justice system and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon decided they had no jurisdiction in the matter,” said Sayyed’s attorney and son, Malek. He added that those sought for questioning had allegedly lied, along with five Syrian witnesses, about his father’s alleged involvement in Hariri’s murder.

Israel Must Unpick Its Ethnic Myth

If the Jews of Europe and North America took their distance from Israel, over time even Washington might come to see the futility of attaching American foreign policy to the delusions of one small Middle Eastern state….

The Syrian government is now using Google Earth to fine those who build without permits.
DJ Lebanese PM Hariri Keen On Improving Ties With Syria
2009-12-08 15:31:15.664 GMT

BEIRUT (AFP)–Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Tuesday his government was keen on improving its ties with Syria, strained since the killing of his father, Rafiq Hariri, in 2005. “The government wants to raise brotherly ties between Lebanon and Syria to a level in line with the two countries’ historical ties and mutual interest,” Hariri told Parliament.

He said relations between the two neighbors must be “based on trust, equality and mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty and independence so that neither country feels threatened by the other.” Hariri, who in the past has implicated Syria in his father’s killing, has never had any official contact with the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. But he indicated last week that he planned to visit Damascus soon, which in 2005 was forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon after a 29-year presence. Presenting his cabinet’s policy statement to lawmakers before a vote of confidence due later this week, Hariri also reiterated Hezbollah’s right to its arsenal in order to protect the country from Israeli aggression, despite
opposition by some members of his majority coalition. “The government insists on the right of Lebanon, its government, its people, its army and its resistance [Hezbollah] to liberate” all occupied territory and to defend Lebanon from any aggression.

Hezbollah, which is supported by Syria and Iran, has two ministers in Hariri’s 30-member cabinet.

Michael Young, “Syria Exports Trouble,” provides a characteristic rant on how all regional and Lebanese troubles come from Syria. Here are the money shots:

…Assad had surrendered nothing to warrant the embrace….Assad has been getting away with murder, literally….Syria continues to export instability in defense of its regime and interests, and the reality is that no one is doing anything about it–not the United States, the United Nations, the Arab states or the European Union….Syria has also benefited from Obama’s impatience to leave Iraq…..Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki publicly blamed Syrian-backed Iraqi Baathists….Syria has not only used Hamas against Israel, it has also pushed the movement to thwart Egypt’s ability to act as principle Arab mediator between Israelis and Palestinians……The Saudis believe that one way to contain Hezbollah’s power, and therefore Iran’s, is to endorse a Syrian resurgence in Lebanon…..Everyone is knocking at his door while Hariri lies forgotten.

Etisalat Eyes Syria, Lebanon and Libya
Emirates Telecommunication Company, or Etisalat, plans to invest in telephone services in Syria and Lebanon as the governments of those countries begin selling off their state-owned telecoms assets in coming months….

Comments (85)

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51. Shai said:

Dear IDAF,

I do understand why you think about Netanyahu as you do. And, in the end you may be proven right. From my angle, here in Israel, it doesn’t make much sense that Netanyahu would try to buy time and go down in history as another Shamir or Golda (if there’s another regional war). The Right in Israel, together with its massive support in the U.S. (AIPAC, Congress, etc.) does not need a Referendum to burn time. All they have to do is say “We will not negotiate with terrorists, or terrorist-supporting regimes…” Who in Washington would dare argue with that? Regarding Syria, Bibi could have simply said “If even YOU, the U.S., aren’t sure about Syria’s honest intentions, how can you expect us to?” And then, not negotiate with Syria. Btw, Washington is not pressuring Israel to negotiate with Syria. It is pressuring us to do so with Fatah. So Bibi had no reason to tell Sarkozy that Israel is ready to talk to Syria without preconditions and, apparently, now the same has been said to Turkey.

I have to assume that he’s bringing up Syria because he wants to get back to negotiations. Why, I don’t know. Is it really to waste time? Maybe. But then why do it through negotiations? Who’s pressing us to do so? No one!

From my point of view, Netanyahu has far better chances of delivering the 1967 borders than anyone else before him, or after him. Who else can do it? Barak? Livni?!? So this is what we have. He sent Lauder to Assad in 1998 to offer to withdraw, but it didn’t happen. I have no reason to believe he changed his mind, strategically. I do believe that he wants to go down in history as THE prime minister that ended the Israeli-Arab conflict. He has children, one is already serving in the army. He probably wants them to be proud of him, and he knows they won’t be, if he doesn’t do what’s necessary. Do recall, that every Likud PM, with Shamir as the only exception, changed his mind about the Arabs. Begin gave back Sinai. Sharon forced Jewish settlers out of Sinai and out of Gaza. Olmert was ready to give back the Golan. And Bibi gave control of numerous Palestinian towns to Arafat.

Despite their rhetoric, leaders from the Right have always delivered more than ones from the Left. What PM built more settlements than any other? That’s right, Ehud Barak!

As for a Hezbollah-style resistance on the Golan, I hate to say it IDAF, but there’s absolutely no way that could work. The main difference here, is that Syria is not Hezbollah. It is an organized nation, with an organized army. Neither the Syrian leadership, nor its army or its installations, can “run and hide” like HA fighters can. If Syrian missiles begin dropping on Golan settlements, Israel will view this as a declaration of war upon Israel, and react accordingly. And chances are, that Syria will have to react to Israel’s reaction, far more harshly than it would hope for. And then you see how things quickly would get out of control. In the late 60’s and early 70’s, Egypt fought a war of attrition against Israel, and there wasn’t much Israel could do (it wasn’t strong enough to start another war). In the past decade, Hamas and Hezbollah tried their own version, and brought horrific results upon their people. I can’t imagine what would happen if Syria tried a direct “limited confrontation” with Israel.

I still maintain that Syria’s PR is the BEST tool Syria has, one it hasn’t used nearly well enough, and one that could achieve the best results far better and faster than any form of violence could. There’s a reason why during Farouq al-Sharaa’s meeting with Barak the Tel-Aviv Stock Exchange went through the roof. The Israeli people could, almost at an instant, change their minds. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I believe that at the core, we really do desperately want to end the Arab-Israeli conflict and live in peace with our neighbors. It is possible for a bully not to want to be a bully. In our case, we’re not even aware of the fact that we’re the bully.

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December 13th, 2009, 9:21 pm


52. Alex said:

Druze MK to be indicted over 2007 trip to Syria
By Tomer Zarchin and Jack Khoury, Haaretz Correspondents, and Haaretz Service

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz on Sunday said he intends to file an indictment against Druze MK Said Naffaa (Balad) stemming from a 2007 trip to Syria.

The charges against Naffaa will include contacting a foreign agent, unlawful travel to an enemy state and aiding others in unlawful travel to an enemy state.

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December 13th, 2009, 10:44 pm


53. idaf said:

Shai, Yossi,

Yes. A limited confrontation could easily go into a regional war even if both sides do not want it. I agree.

However, Israel managed with a calculated confrontation before.

Let me play the evil role of that of a neo-con strategist or a WINEP or American Enterprise Institute warmonger just before the war in Iraq and plan the scenario for this war!

If Syria “allows” resistance movements to “work” in the Golan (and there are many itching to do so), it would be a low profile war of attrition. Syria will send the messages through Washington that it will allow the resistance to be limited to the Golan until Israel agrees to come back to the negotiation on Syria’s terms (1967 borders from the point negotiation stopped). Israel will roar and threatens, but I doubt that it will bomb Damascus or civilians anywhere in Syria, as this will mean rockets (maybe non-conventional falling on Tel Aviv). Think July/August 2006 multiplied by 10. I’m sure that the Syrian military will absorb some casualties in the process with bases attacked here and there. I doubt that it things will escalate further than that before the US pressures both sides to sit, talk and reach a solution.

Would Israel chose to escalate? Today Israel is at one of its lowest points with regards to international acceptance. It’s being implicated by the UN in “war crimes” and “war against humanity” on the international scene. It has fewer regional friends than ever before, and most importantly, it does not have the ultra supportive neo-cons in the White House. I doubt Obama will play a George Bush if Israel tries to pull something similar to Lebanon 2006 or Gaza war crimes. He will most certainly exercise pressure on all sides to calm things down way before that. The last thing America needs now is an oil barrel at $200, the Shiaa attacking Americans in Iraq and a burning Persian Gulf, if Iran was dragged into a regional war.

If Israel does bring Iran in, it will only be stupid as this will unleash Hezbollah and god knows what rockets from Iran falling on Israel and oil reaching $300 per barrel.

A harsh phone call to Netanyahu will be much cheaper for the US than a “military bridge” to Tel Aviv that Bush had (even if Netanyahu threatens to “burn Washington” again). A peace conference (and most probably a deal) will emerge just after the war (that is if Israel escalates what could be militia actions limited in the occupied territories into a regional war).

Syria, while does not prefer “a war”, has nothing to loose from it from a strategic perspective. A war will give legitimacy to the Syrian regime for a decade to come, not to mention that Syria will become the crowned leader in the Arab world, regardless of the outcome. Almost all outcomes of a war will be positive to Syria on the long run (strategically speaking)

Remember that Israel was extremely hesitant to attack Syria civilian population centers and bring Syria to the war even during one of Israel’s most embarrassing states (during a month long war with a few Hezbollah militia men in 2006). Back then many Arabs, the French and the White House where literally pushing Israel to attack Syria and it didn’t. Syria back then was in one of its lowest points. No regional allies, “implicated” by the UN for “murder”, similar to Israel’s status today. If Israel was so hesitant to attack the “weak” Syria back then, I highly doubt that it will attack the “stronger” Syria today, not to mention the much much stronger Iran and bring the barrel of oil up to $400!

Syria today on the other had has strong support across the board from the Arab world, Iran, Turkey and many in Europe. All of its peaceful options are exhausted. The least it can do is to make sure that a real resistance option is put on the table for Israel to ponder about.

Oh, and did I mention that a regional war will bring the barrel of oil up to $500?

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December 13th, 2009, 11:25 pm


54. Alex said:

Shai said

“It is possible for a bully not to want to be a bully. In our case, we’re not even aware of the fact that we’re the bully.”

I agree Shai … and that’s why I believe that the best way to help Israelis understand they are bullies is to motivate the Palestinians to start a serious, long term (a year at least) nonviolent intifada.

in 2010 every other Palestinian will have video on his cell phone … there will be daily video clips showing Israeli soldiers beating Palestinian 10 year old boys and pushing their grand mothers to the floor.

This is the least violent way to convince Israelis they are bullies … at the beginning they will react defensively (The Palestinians are to blame because they are sending their children to the street instead of sending them to school) .. but after few months, it will be difficult to continue to fool one’s self … Israelis will realize they are bullies … the Europeans and maybe even the Americans will tell Israel “Look, we really can’t cover for you for that long … you have to deal with your Palestinian problem” … human rights organizations will start campaigns against Israeli brutality … Israel will gradually lose the sympathy it currently has with most western journalists …

A peaceful Intifada in 2010 will be much more effective than the relatively effective first intifada… and definitely more effective than the disastrous second intifada which relied partially on violent acts against civilians.


I agree that the price of oil alone can force the United States and Europe to quickly stop a war between Syria and Israel.

I just don’t see Syria convinced that war is unavoidable … not yet.

In a year to two though, things will probably change. For now there is still hope that President Obama will gradually get more involved in the process.

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December 14th, 2009, 12:15 am


55. Off the Wall said:

Dear Shai, Yossi, IDAF, NORMAN, WD, and …..

I just had my new pills (by force feeding), and it seems that they have changed my medication. The new pills make me digress and venture in seeing connections between things that probably seem disconnected. 🙂

First, and out of curiosity, How regional would be the split in Israel regarding the referendum?. I understand that in great cosmopolitan cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa, the probability of Yes is very high, but how about west Jerusalem, the west bank settlements, and the rest of Israel, where religious organizations and parties have dominance.

It is my understanding that the situation in Israel is not much different from that in Syria. On the one hand you have Islands of modernity and rationalism, populated largely with people who care more about living life to its fullest than about maintaining purity in the sense espoused by religion, or by nationalism, and on the other hand, you have a sea of regressive thinking, which places more emphasis on this illusive purity, and that will only lead to more and more pain and suffering.

The first group will take differences and make something new out of them. It is the group that will eventually build a semblance of enlightened society. The second group strives to eliminate differences; the easiest way for them to do so is by eliminating those who are different. It is also my general reading that the regressive group is greatly expanding in the ME, without any country being excepted. And what I gather from some of my Israeli friends, whose tolerance to permanently living in Israel perhaps equals my own tolerance to living in Syria, is that living in Israel is becoming harder for those with cosmopolitan view of the world. While it has not yet surfaced very forcefully, there is a struggle for the soul of a country, and Sand’s book and Judt’s review are but an indication of the upcoming struggle. Similarly, my conversation with many visiting Syrians also tell me of a similar, albeit, less vocal struggle in Syria for the soul of a country, and whether it will embrace modernity or continue to live in the past is a question that will be the source of much more political strife in Syria within the next 10 years or so.

History tells us that visionary leaders are those who do not deffer tough choices. They confront them head on. In most cases, especially in countries that were founded after WWII, it was the lack of brave visionary leaders, who should have acted differently that sawed the seeds for the upcoming internal struggles most of our ME societies will face in the years to come. Take for example, the Tunisian hero of independence, Habib Bourguiba” who was vilified by other Arab leaders during his life when he was the single voice advocating a peace agreement with Israel during the ubiquitous three NOs of Khartoum, and was the only one to enforce strict Ataturk style reforms aiming at improving equality and women rights in his country. History will one day give him his due, especially with respect to the revolutionary “personal status” laws he enacted in Tunisia, and for his decision not to make the Army the central player in politics like most of his neighbors did after independence. The result of his brave confrontation with Islamists in Tunisia is a society less prone to the social ills and religious fanaticism permeating other Arab countries, and where women equality is now a 50 years old reality. On the other hand, the early Baathists and other “progressives” in Syria, did not take the brave stance against religious fundamentalism at the social level, and opted for more expedient political and military confrontations with them, leaving large segments of the Syrian society vulnerable to the rise of Wahabi ideology. They had ample opportunities to recast the social life in Syria by abandoning much of the Ottoman legal inheritance, when that change would have appeared natural and when resistance to such change would have been confronted by a large segment of the Syrian society. On that issue, and while I have my own reservation about the Tunisian experience, which converted Tunisia recently into a country largely isolated from the modern information revolution through a huge web of state security bureaucracy started by Bourquiba’s creation of clientelism state, and perfected by the current eternal leader, I happen to believe that Bourguibah was a visionary on women rights issues, and he took the brave stance, for which Tunisian women are very thankful as they now take their status as natural and irreversible.

Why did I bring this seemingly irrelevant issue. I happen to believe that Israel, not lacking military and political genius during her founding years and subsequent wars, it lacks political visionaries. And the price is being paid nowadays. The Israeli society of the early days could have easily opted for a secular country, but chose otherwise due to lack of visionary leaders who could have taken bold steps, but opted not to for political expedience in a society that is perhaps second only to Italy it is parliamentarian fragmentation. Even after 1967, and the two intifadas, Israel squandered precious opportunities to reinvent itself on the model it likes to portray itself instead of what she really is. I am by the way as angered by the Iraqi occupation lackies insistence on following a sectarian model, given the opportunity they had. But for that I equally blame Bremmer, who should be tried as a war criminal. Netanyahu is a child of this era, and he is incapable of escaping the bounds of his society.

You can probably guess my view of Netanyahu, whom I do not think of as visionary leader. He is a smooth political operator, who like many of his counterparts in the ME knows well how to bite his time. In fact i find it ironic for me as a Syrian to argue against biting for buying out time, given the incredible success of Bashar Assad in doing such that for the 8 years of nightmare called Bush the world had to suffer.

While I view the Golan as Syrian, and I want it back, my concern has as much to do with the actual land as with the ramification of allowing, unhindered, the Israeli annexation of the land. I am also gravely concerned about cozying up to Israel, especially by advocates of the two states solution, while Israeli practices including today’s vote to subsidize existing illegal settlements in the west bank continue to make any land for peace deal seem more impossible by the day. This concern goes beyond Israel and extends to the cozy relationship between the western world and the bunch of tyrants, corrupt leaders, and security-based regimes throughout the developing world under the new banner of war on terrorism. I am also concerned, perhaps more as an outsider, with the artificially maintained regional super-power status of Israel as a country who can do whatever it wishes with near full impunity. Such imbalance is catastrophic for the future of the region, including Israel. I believe that Turkey’s recent overtures in the region have as much to do with Turkey’s recognition of the dangerous impacts of such imbalance, as with the Turkish reaction to European racism on the EU issue hiding behind human right slogans.

When optimists call for Syria to adopt a PR campaign towards the Israeli public, which is something I have also done, privately, and on these pages, the first question that bounces back is, what kind of PR campaign Israel is doing to reach the Syrian people other than through language of intimidation and war. Syrians see nothing from official and semi-official Israeli propaganda and support groups but vilification of their country, dismissal of their rights, and continual borderline-racist campaigns of demonization of their character. To many, there is no distinction between AIPAC, AEI, etc… and Israel, and as long as AIPAC and similar groups continue to support settlements and settlers and as long as Israeli society shows no inclination to elect leaders who will bravely stand against the Settlers and expose the danger they present to the entire region the Syrian’s will see any PR campaign as futile, at best, and as weakness, at worst.

Peace is a vision. And so far, in the political maneuvering I am witnessing from all involved parties, I am yet to see someone high enough on the political ladder who can, and will risk it all for that vision. I hope that you are right, and I would be very delighted if the Israeli people would accept with such a majority as Yossi indicated, fair (higlight fair) peace deals with all of their neighbors. I know that the next war of states in the region will be nothing like we have seen before, and I hope every day that it will remain a mental exercise and no more.

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December 14th, 2009, 12:48 am


56. Alex said:

Shai and Yossi,

Besides his threat to “Burn Washington” Mr. Netanyahu burned Iraq and killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

He did not do it with his bare hands, no … he used his brains to plan it then used his friends in Washington to implement it step by step.

He was the one who commissioned in 1996 a group of American neocons to write a study to secure the realm for Israel by rearranging Israel’s neighborhood… very simply.

I see an exceptionally vivid causality between the chaos and destruction that we witnessed in Iraq, Lebanon in addition to the years of intense efforts to weaken and isolate Syria the past few years, and between the source of it all … the “clean Break” study report that Mr. Netanyahu requested from his powerful neocon friends (Perle, Feith, Wurmser & Co.) who later all managed to somehow occupy top positions in the Bush administration!

Here are some of the many relevant recommendations in that document:

“….Given the nature of the regime in Damascus, it is both natural and moral that Israel abandon the slogan comprehensive peace and move to contain Syria, drawing attention to its weapons of mass destruction programs, and rejecting land for peace deals on the Golan Heights.”

…”Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq — an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right — as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions.”

According to former aide to President Clinton, Sidney Blumenthal:

“Instead of trading land for peace, the neocons advocated tossing aside the Oslo agreements that established negotiations and demanding unconditional Palestinian acceptance of Likud’s terms, peace for peace. Rather than negotiations with Syria, they proposed weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. They also advanced a wild scenario to redefine Iraq. Then King Hussein of Jordan would somehow become its ruler; and somehow this Sunni monarch would gain control of the Iraqi Shiites, and through them wean the south Lebanese Shia away from Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria.”

Shai and Yossi … we can be optimistic, or we can be realistic. We have already seen it on the ground … Mr. Netanyahu and his Neocon friends would do anything to “secure the realm” for Israel … would do anything to try to not give the Arabs back their occupied lands.

His only problem is that all of his brilliant ideas were already tried the past few years … he was partially successful (they did destroy Iraq) … but Syria rallied the “resistance forces” in the region to foil the rest of his plans.

He is not the type who will now say “ok, so I now respect the Syrians and will give them their Golan back”.

More likely than not he is already planning another bloody strategy.

If this coming bloodshed does not prove successful, THEN I will believe that Mr. Netanyahu will start looking seriously at a different class of strategic options… but not before he tries again after learning from the mistakes of the first attempt during the Bush administration’s totally failed management of the strategic campaign.

I am 10% hopeful I am wrong, 90% sure we are waiting for another Israeli strategy for the region.

Today Israel is convinced it is under existential threat (from Iran and “the terrorists”) … Israel is already convinced it is the sole moral entity in the region (besides its loyal friend the little Hashemite king perhaps), and it is absolutely united in believing that it owns the Middle East militarily … no one can stand a chance against the mighty and sacred IDF.

So why would Netanyahu’s Israel not do it? .. it is the right thing to do, it is the only thing that can be done, and it is very doable.

As you said, Israeli public opinion can change dramatically … all Mr. Netanyahu needs to do is to just start a war .. the next day 90% of the people will support him… this is not exclusive to Israel, President Reagan and Mrs. Thatcher both became highly popular after they engaged in small wars here and there… Hassan Nasrallah became the darling of the Arab world after fighting Israel in 2006

Mr. Netanyahu will more likely choose the war option… he won’t have to start it .. he will first try to ensure there is zero hope for a peaceful settlement in the region. This will motivate the Arabs to “consider other options” … then Israel will have no option but to preempt …

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December 14th, 2009, 1:01 am


57. norman said:

Alex ,
I admire your optimism , but public opinion never returned any Arab land , you remember very well 2006 when more than 1200 Lebanese mostly civilians died and in 2008 when 1400 Palestinians mostly civilians died , that is 1200 out of one million which equal to more than three hundred thousands in percentage in the US , the Us went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq for what is equal to 100 Palestinian dead , Alex , my friend , Western Public opinion does not care about Arab blood the only thing they care about is their own and Israel’s ,

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December 14th, 2009, 2:14 am


58. Alex said:

I understand Norman, but Gaza led to war crimes charges against Israel … Israel lost the support of many journalists, Israel lost Turkey.

Second, time … Gaza lasted a month … the west and the US can cover for Israel’s war crimes for few weeks … they can not protect Israel for a year or two … it gets tiring to lie and lie and lie

Third, it will be much more difficult to find ways to criticize west bank Palestinians if they opted for civil disobedience … you can’t blame them for Hamas’ $10 rockets… you can’t blame them for anything.

Fourth, the first intifada was conducted poorly by Yasser Arafat’s PLO at the time. He insisted to not talk to Syria and he listened exclusively to his Jordanian and Egyptian friends. It would make a huge difference to coordinate with Syria next time.

It is immoral to choose war before trying civil disobedience.

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December 14th, 2009, 2:37 am


59. norman said:


Abbas almost kissed President Bush and prime minister Olmert behinds(( yes ASSES )) and got nothing , what does he have to show for what he did in the last 5 years , nothing , Hamas you like or you don’t got the Israeli out of Gaza , the Palestinians in the West bank can not go to school , shop , visit families without being on check point for hours , when was the last time that a suicide bomber attacked from the West bank , what did the Abbas Palestinians get in return for their obedience , NOTHING EXCEPT MORE SETTLMENTS AND ANEXATION OF JEURASELIM ,

They do not understand peaceful movements , they would have given Syria the Golan if they did , Syria never violated the treaty it had with Israel , they looked at that as a sign of weakness, not a sign of honouring ones commitment ,

No it is not immoral to chose war when you are not getting your rights peacefully , how long we should wait another fort years ,
War should always be an option , not the first option but they have to know that Syria is willing to fight for the Golan , until then we are waiting from one American administration to another and barack , to Netanyahu to levny , the only way to get the Golan is to fight for it.

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December 14th, 2009, 3:00 am


60. Yossi said:


Sand’s camp is not in any position to compete with more religious/national narratives on the future of Israel. Israel *is* reinventing itself—as a much more religious country, not as a more secular country. I think Israel over the next two decades will become more similar to other Mideastern countries than it is today, and potentially other Mideastern countries will become more prosperous and democratic (but not more secular). We’ll meet in the middle. In addition, perhaps we’ll see the emergence of a multi-polar world again and Israel will lose its privileged child status. At that point, being more similar to each other, it will be easier to accept each other, hopefully without too much bloodshed. Imagine that: Shas and the Muslim brotherhood signing a peace agreement… Of course, you and I will prefer to be in the West and not there, with the religious conservatives, so we will not enjoy the fruits of that reconciliation, but it would be fulfilling still at some level.

OK, I think I have produced enough punditry for one weekend…

Dear Idaf, or anybody else with a crystal ball, please tell me when’s the right time to buy oil futures 🙂

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December 14th, 2009, 8:21 am


61. idaf said:


Joking aside, this is actually the real crystal ball..

If you can get access to information on the investments made in US oil companies by Netanyahu and his people, AIPAC senior members, AIPAC cronies in the Congress and Dick Cheney then you will know exactly when a strike on Iran will take place (and a regional war will be ignited by Israel).

Once those start buying shares en masse in oil companies then you might want to get your gas masks out of the closet.


I’m actually arguing that no war will take place if Syria allows low profile resistance limited to the Golan. It can be a game changer with very limited losses on all sides. It would be a reminder to the Israeli public that there are costs (not only benefits) for holding on to the Golan. This could bring the results of a referendum up to 51 percent “YES”.

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December 14th, 2009, 10:49 am


62. Shai said:


Knowing how Israelis today view the Golan (as part of Israel), and how they fear and suspect Syria, I cannot imagine Israel would tolerate a few Syrian missiles launched “locally” against the Golan settlements. I’m not sure I understand what you mean by “resistance limited to the Golan”. Are you suggesting that the Syrian Druze living on the Golan today would rise up against Jewish Israelis? Because if there’s nothing happening ON the Golan, it has to come from within Syria. In which case, Israel will not view such attacks as it did with Hezbollah, which is an organization of a few thousand. In reality, Israel cannot harm Hezbollah or Hamas, as much as it can and did the Lebanese people or the Palestinians in Gaza. It’s almost impossible for Israel to hold anyone accountable, because that “someone” isn’t sitting somewhere waiting. In Syria, however, there is the leadership, there is government, there is the army, bases, buildings, infrastructure, the whole lot. And the decision, will be taken at the highest level, not by some faction leader.

I just can’t see any “limited confrontation” taking place. If Syrian missiles hit Israeli towns and cities, 100% of Israelis will unite against her, and it will be an all-out war. I don’t know if Israel will attack Iran in the process, but I wouldn’t rule out Iran joining in on its own, in defense of its closest ally that is being attacked. Hezbollah and Hamas may do the same, and now, being attacked on 4 different fronts, with thousands of missiles (not to mention any WMD’s), Israel will consider itself under existential threat, and it will respond like never before. If WMD’s are used, I would certainly expect at the very least tactical nuclear weapons to be introduced. It could be our very worst nightmare. And it could happen so quickly if what I described above takes place within a week or two. No Obama administration will be able to stop it. Even in Lebanon 2006, it took the whole word at least 2 weeks to even wake up. And look at Gaza a year ago.

As for the price of oil, if Israel views itself under “existential threat”, I seriously doubt it’ll be available to take calls from a frantic American president or his staff. It will first want to punish, and punish severely, all those who decided to test her. This is part of Israel’s military doctrine – since Israel cannot afford to fight lengthy wars, it must quickly lead to a decisive ending, and “discourage” its rivals from thinking of attacking again, by inflicting severe and disproportionate wounds upon them. Unfortunately, Israel views Hamas and Hezbollah the same way as it does Syria or Iran. And as a result, it punished the Palestinians and the Lebanese in a very severe way. If Syria or Iran ever fought another war against Israel, I cannot imagine how Israel will react.

IDAF, I must agree with Alex, that a non-violent Intifada will be far more effective against Israel than any violent “resistance”. The real reason Sharon withdrew from Gaza isn’t because those $10 rockets were taking too heavy a toll on Israel, but because he knew this had to be the first step, followed by the West Bank. A Haifa University professor and friend of his showed him a demographic map, which apparently finally convinced the old General that a Palestine must be established, and the sooner the better. He was elected, let’s not forget, specifically to withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank (less the three major blocs), and to enable a Palestinian state to be established. This was not theory – this was stated rhetoric that brought him to power. If he was functioning today, I have little doubt he would have stalled as Netanyahu seems to be doing, or as Ehud Olmert did.

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December 14th, 2009, 7:24 pm


63. Shai said:


When I’m advocating for Syrian PR to directly address the Israeli public, I am in a rather awkward position. On the one hand, there’s no doubt Israel SHOULD also prove to the Arabs around us that we truly want Peace. As you say, our own PR should also address the Arab people (and it doesn’t). On the other hand, what I often find fascinating almost, is that the Arab side just doesn’t realize how strong and influential it really is. Either because of some innate inferiority complex (which we Jews are also suffering from), or some typical Middle Eastern pride-issues, Arabs generally cannot see themselves “proving” anything to the Israelis. It is obvious to the Arabs, who certainly view themselves as the victim, that the bully needs to come to the victim, not the other way around.

But in our case, Israelis REALLY DO view ourselves as the victim. It is the Arabs that never accepted us, it is the Arabs that wanted to eliminate our state, it is the Arabs that launched surprise wars against us, and it is the Arabs that adopted “terrorism” as a legitimate means of settling our differences. And nowadays, it is the Arabs that are supporting groups like Hamas and Hezbollah (whose charters speak nothing short of the elimination of Israel), and it is Syria specifically that is allying itself so closely with a belligerent regime that seeks nuclear weaponry, and threatens to erase Israel. Few Israelis will ever consider themselves the bully. Perhaps here and there, a few terrible images from the West Bank or Gaza. But when Israelis view Ahmedinejad speaking on an Iranian campus, calling for the elimination of Israel, those images are quickly erased from memory, and the self-preservation “defensive” mode kicks in.

It’s difficult to say how Israeli views are spread out regionally. Typically, the poorer towns tend to be supporters of Likud, and the wealthier ones Labor or Kadima. But recent polls give Labor only 6 seats (down from 13) out of 120! So the whole country is moving to the Right. And if the Left is disappearing, it seems that soon enough, it will be redefined, and Netanyahu will seem more like the leader of Labor than Barak is. In reality, Barak brought far more suffering upon the Palestinians than has Bibi.

Apparently, in the last elections, a majority of Golan residents actually voted for parties which spoke of a political process (unlike Likud) in their agendas. So it’s difficult to tell. I do believe that if Netanyahu comes before his people and introduces his “Historic Peace Agreement”, he will immediately receive the support of the majority. I wouldn’t even be surprised if 70% will vote FOR. And that would remove all MK’s or Government members’ refusal to withdraw. They would have to support it as well.

Unlike Shlomo Sand, I do not think Israelis are “reinventing” themselves. I think that will happen once there’s Peace. At the moment, and for the past 62 years, I think we are in a continuous psychologic state of war. Fear has taken over almost everything around us. Budgets are decided not according to Educational needs, but according to Defense spending (and the occasional “operation” in Nablus, Lebanon or Gaza). Few Israelis look to the future. Most of us live for today. When we rid ourselves of this psychosis, when we finally feel safe, and can think of our children’s future as better than ours, that’s when we’ll have to reinvent ourselves. That’s when we’ll have to face the questions about Zionism, about the reasons we are here, about what we’ve been told, and what we’ve been sold. Right now, the only thing we’re “inventing”, are more reasons for feeling the victim.

And yet, I’m optimistic… 🙂

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December 14th, 2009, 7:58 pm


64. Alex said:

“So it’s difficult to tell. I do believe that if Netanyahu comes before his people and introduces his “Historic Peace Agreement”, he will immediately receive the support of the majority. I wouldn’t even be surprised if 70% will vote FOR.”


Why speculate?

a simple (relatively simple) poll will be more useful.

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December 14th, 2009, 10:15 pm


65. idaf said:


I agree, the Israelis view the Golan as their own. This is my point exactly. Syria is the one to blame for not reminding them that it isn’t theirs for forty years now. If it did every now and then, it would’ve been much easier now to reach a peace settlement between Syria and Israel.

I’m arguing that the Israeli public need a reminder, a symbolic psychological one.

It seems that you and I are engaged in a macho shouting match here 🙂 This is not my intention.

The scenario I’m talking about is something that Syria should borrow from the different Israeli governments. The Syrian government will continue to say publicly that it is committed to peace negotiation while allowing an obscure militia (functioning “independently”) to claim responsibility for limited violent acts in the Golan (Hezbollah style rockets, etc.) This two-face tactic was a successful one adopted by various Israeli governments. The world was showered with rhetoric of peace loving Israel, while the settlers and IDF wrecked havoc in Palestinian lands.

Syria can combine both a carrot and a stick if you like. A soft PR towards the Israeli public and armed skirmishes with the IDF and settlers in the Golan. PR or peaceful only measures alone will not do it any more in my view unfortunately.

In such scenario, no rockets will fall on Israeli cities and towns. They will only fall on Syrian land (the Golan), which is a claim that not a single country in the world disagrees with. Things will only escalate if Israel wants to, by attacking civilians in Syria. Only then Syria should respond with attacks on Israeli cities and towns. I’m still convinced that Israel is much smarter than to start a regional war or to jeopardize Israeli civilians life for nothing. The symbolic attacks within the Golan will only have psychological effects, not even the Israeli economy should be affected.

It is very different than the Gaza and Lebanon situation. Gaza for the IDF was like shooting starved fish in a barrel. Lebanon 2006 was a bet Israel made based on the fact that Hezbollah has internal foes inside Lebanon and that it will quickly and easily defeated. Both cases backfired.

Again, I insist that Israelis are smart. They know that “punishing” the weak and fragmented Lebanon or Palestinians is very different than a real confrontation with Syria and Iran. Otherwise, Israel would have attacked Syria during the month long 2006 Lebanon war, as everyone wanted it to. Come to think of it, it would be the exact scenario. Syria then was the one arming Hezbollah, providing logistical support and providing it with political cover. Israel did not attack Syria despite the fact that thousands of Syria’s rockets launched by Hezbollah on Israeli towns and cities. Why would it be different with an “independent” Syrian based “Golan Liberation Front”? If you recall, between 1967 and 1973 that was the case too, and Israel did not dare to annex the Golan then. Only when Israelis grew comfortable that Syria will honor its words with the ceasefire, they became “greedy” and decided to keep it.

The Israeli governments were elected to pull out from Lebanon and Gaza only because those fronts were on fire. Otherwise do you realy think that any candidate would have promissed a pull out to the public?

Shai, I do not expect you to agree with me and tell me “yes, Syria should attack us”. Many Syrians don’t agree with me. And I still hope that Netanyahu is as diabolically peaceful as you are trying to convince us. Unfortunately personally (and this is a growing view among Syrians), I can’t see another way from this side. Israelis are too comfortable with the status quo and are trying to preserve it. Syria’s peaceful options are getting more limited than ever. It is time to send few reminders across the boarder (or within Syria’s boarder technically speaking) that there are alternatives to the peaceful solutions offered and that they are not pretty. Only this will make peaceful solutions feasible in the eyes of the public, especially that the solution is effectively now in the hands of the Israeli public.

Why not take Alex’s advise and do the poll man 🙂

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December 14th, 2009, 10:43 pm


66. Shai said:


Thank you for continuing to clarify or highlight your points – they help me better understand you. I now realize that you’re not suggesting the Syrian army launch a “resistance” against the Golan, but rather some new “liberation organization”. Indeed this two-face approach may cause many in Israel to think. I’m not sure, however, what their reaction will be, and I fear that it won’t be what you hope it would. And of course I cannot say “Yes, good idea”.

I imagine that Israel did not attack Syria in 2006 not because it couldn’t, but because it didn’t want to start a new regional war (risking Iran, HA, Hamas, Syria on four fronts). But although indeed many of the rockets that landed in Israel were made-by or via Syria, this was and is part of the indirect war Syria has been fighting against Israel. There is a certain balance “status-quo” that even Israel doesn’t wish to upset. However, the minute Syria attacks Israel directly, I’m sure the reaction will be swift and will be harsh. At least bad enough that Syria will be forced to react, and then we’re back into that downward loop that gets out of control quickly. At least that’s my fear.

Let’s make a deal – Syria allows 3 Israeli journalists to come to Damascus to interview people on the street, and the Syrian leadership, and we’ll run the poll you want… 🙂

Ok, we’ll run the poll regardless. I believe it will happen soon.

(Btw, I’m not trying to convince anyone here that Netanyahu is ready to give up the Golan – I don’t know that he is, and from everything we see publicly, one can easily deduce the opposite. I am, however, clearly suggesting that if there WAS such a prime minister in Israel who could deliver the 1967 borders, it’s him. And, that my guess is that it will be him.)

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December 14th, 2009, 10:56 pm


67. norman said:

Shai ,

Netanyahu needs Syria to stir the Golan to convince his people , without that he would look like stupid who gave away what he did not have to.

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December 15th, 2009, 3:11 am


68. Off the Wall said:

aha…., what should we call the historic Shas-MB peace accord, perhaps the accord of entangled beards 🙂

Your post confirms what I have been hearing from friends. Seems that both of us are recognizing the similarity of t he under-current in both countries. Like you, I probably will not be there, but as you said, it will be good nonetheless.

First, thank you very much for your thoughtful answers to my questions.

Peaceful strikes can make the price of occupation expensive. I fully agree with that.

I still am for the outreach you advocate in one way or another, but again, the actual decision is not mine to make, it is the decision of the Syrian government. Keep at it, you may at the end convince someone who is reading these pages. At the same time, I would caution against heightened expectations (on both sides) regarding the outcome of such efforts as I am reminded of the failure to reach normalcy with Jordan and/or Egypt.

While I agree with you on the issue that Syria needs to remind Israel and the world that the Golan is occupied, I would like to try to find an alternative to violent resistance. Notwithstanding my own opposition to violence and my valuation of every single human life, which is one of my biggest beefs with Israeli practices, I can even give some pragmatic reasons for avoiding violent resistance. To begin with, once started, even by a very disciplined group, who can against all odds maintain the rigorous conditions you outlined above, what could prevent copy-cats from turning things really ugly, and what could prevent false flag operations that may result in exactly the opposite results.

One actor can start confrontation, but no single actor can control it when it starts. So I guess, in principle i want to make the price of occupation expensive, but I would not want it to be made so through violence. I know it sounds like contradiction, but I am full of contradictions. 🙂

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December 15th, 2009, 3:48 am


69. norman said:

for forty years we tried peaceful means , we got all the UN resolution we needed only for Israel to refuse and like the US , and Israel who do not rule out military action against Iran Syria and the Arabs should not rule out force to get our rights back and so what if the war become devastating , Israel will suffer from a long war and if the US could not control Iraq , why should we think that Israel can control Syria , Syria should prepare for a long term war and with Israel defense dependent on reserve army , they can not fight a long term war , the only reason they could fight Hezbollah in 2006 for a month was that because Hezbollah did not have enough members to infiltrate the border ,
OTW , they are scaring us into submission and using their military power to put us in helpless state , we need to get out of that and have the well to fight back ,
Syria should seek peace but war should be always an option that can be used if Israel does not abide by international law , Syria should prepare for war as the old slogan says that what is taken by force can not be returned except with force is alive and kicking ,

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December 15th, 2009, 4:21 am


70. Off the Wall said:

Yes dear Norman, war scares the crap out of me, and I am not ashamed of saying that. But I am not scared because Israel scared me, I am scared of war, everywhere, anytime. Period. My own death does not scare me, but the death of an innocent child, anywhere, enrages me beyond description, and my own rage, like any rage, is something to be afraid of.

That said, there is the issue of readiness and leaving ones options open. It is the responsibility of governments to ensure the safety and security of their citizens by ensuring strong defense. I do not argue against that and in fact I would like to see the Syrian government showing sharper responses than “we will act in the appropriate time” that has become standard after every Israeli violation of Syrian sovereignty. Clearly acting peacefully does not mean eliminating ones means for deterrence.

Yes, forty years is long time, I was only a child when the Syria was attacked in 1967. In fact, I recall that day vividly, and like you, I am tired of continuing struggle to overcome the blow of that day.

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December 15th, 2009, 5:01 am


71. Shai said:

OTW, Norman,

War is not the only way to achieve deterrence or national pride. Words can often be far stronger than bullets. And I’m afraid Syria is not using the power of the word nearly as much as it should.

I’m not suggesting Syria needs to beg anything of the Israeli public. I am saying it needs to communicate its message to us directly. And what is the message? The way I see it, it is:

“Look Israel, the Golan is Syrian territory, and it must be returned to Syria. We are offering Peace in return for our own territory. But if Peace is not accepted, then Syria will offer alternatives to Peace, the options of which are not for us to tell you. No nation, left to dream of getting back its territory for over 40 years, remains passive forever. And Syria does not, and will not, remain passive. We will get back our territory. You can return it peacefully, or not peacefully. It is still your choice, but that may not be the case forever.”

So obviously there’s a threat embedded in the message, and yet an alternative offer of Peace. A single sentence by Assad such as “Syria has never ruled out nuclear capabilities, but views Peace as a better alternative…” will cause far more Israelis to question our rejection of Peace, than would war.

To wake someone from their dream, one mustn’t always use a sledgehammer… 🙂

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December 15th, 2009, 7:05 am


72. Yossi said:

About the poll, I think if a question was posed today “if Netanyahu negotiated a peace deal, would you support it?”, it will likely get lower approval rating compared with the real-thing. That’s because the negotiations themselves will build-up a lot of good will towards a deal whereas today the question kind of comes out of the blue to the ordinary person.

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December 15th, 2009, 7:37 am


73. Yossi said:


Assad has already expressed himself like that many times. The papers in Israel then report “Syria seeks nuclear weapons option”…

(Paraphrasing… he didn’t say that about nukes, but in general, about usage of force.)

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December 15th, 2009, 7:41 am


74. Shai said:


I completely agree. But Alex has suggested some good questions that can still teach us something about what Israelis would require “in order” to change their minds. That’s assuming, of course, that they really know what they want. I’m not at all sure that (we) do.

With all our talk of war or resistance as a choice for Syria to influence Israelis, I was reminded of a famous saying by Machiavelli:

“Wars begin where you will, but do not end where you please.”

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December 15th, 2009, 8:57 am


75. idaf said:


I agree with Yossi. Asad has already expressed Syria’s positions in the international venues many times and it was not interpreted well in Israeli (or American) media. Most only saw what fits their agenda: “Syria is not serious about peace”. He even went further than that once. Remember the late Pope’s funeral in 2005, where Bashar Alasad made a fascinating (and politically risky) outreach gesture to the Israelis and made a statement by shaking the hand of Israel’s President Moshe Katsav in the Vatican? What good did that do Bashar or Syria among Israelis? It did have a high political and reputational cost at home and in the Arab world back then with no returns.

I don’t want to take away your optimism, but it will be the same for Syria during the past 4 years as it was between Lebanon and Syria. Just after the Hariri fiasco Syria sent exactly this kind of message to the Lebanese over and over again. Assad and other Syrian officials spoke directly to the part of the Lebanese who hated Syria. The message was clear: we will pull out our troops, strive for better relations with Lebanon but we’ll not tolerate a Lebanon working against Syria. The anti-Syria Lebanese only saw the second part of the statement and their loud response was: Syria is threatening us, we need help from the US, Arabs and Israel to destabilize Syria!

I’m afraid regardless of what Assad says, the majority in Israel (currently leaning to the Right) will make sure that everyone see only threats, to push anti-peace and other political agendas and to pump up national feelings against the “weak” Syria that is “threatening us”. This said, I might be wrong. There is no harm in trying again AND having a poll before that possible speech/interview and another poll just after to see if the Israeli public view improves towards giving back the Golan. I have my doubts and still think that it should be coupled with the kind of “reminders” I mentioned for it to be effective.


The unwritten “accord of entangled beards” is already there. Both groups have implicitly agreed to collaborate in trying to make life miserable to the non-signatories of the accord in our region, each in their own way!

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December 15th, 2009, 1:11 pm


76. Shai said:


Indirect signals and messages sent through the international media, and re-interpreted through ours, cannot replace direct communication. From my point of view, Syria never spoke directly to me. I think it should.

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December 15th, 2009, 5:29 pm


77. Alex said:


I will share with everyone here what I wrote you in our last email exchange.

I believe that there are two options communicating with Israel

1) Speak to the Israeli people directly
2) Speak to Israeli decision makers, opinion makers, security officials, journalists, think tankers …the professionals.

I would not advise the Syrians to opt for option 1. We tried to test it and previous results show that it will probably continue to fail miserably in the near future. The hand shake at the Pope’s funeral, and the numerous statements by President Assad “Syria wants peace” were broadly interpreted in Israel as a sign that Syria is begging.

Of course I would love to look at the results of our highly anticipated poll to see if there is any sign of hope that there might be a potential good that might come out of specific Syrian communication strategies.

Option 2 (communicating with the pros) can not be a simple, emotional “we want peace for our children” message, instead is requires a carefully planned, detailed set of arguments that will address all of the concerns that we heard so far from Israel. this should be followed by an online interaction between “experts” from the two sides to discuss Syria’s ideas, opinions, proposals, and explanations and to offer the Syrians back Israel’s feedback.

THEN … if this phase proves to be constructive, Israeli opinion makers who participated in this process can engage in a debate inside Israel that will hopefully lead to changes in Israeli public opinion that makes it more ready to receive in a more positive manner future direct Syrian goodwill gestures.

There is no short cut … unfortunately, for now “the Syrian regime” is not a trusted and respected agent of opinion change to the Israeli people. Why? .., because since 1996 Mr. Netanyahu wanted it this way so that Israel can keep the Golan.

I will remind you again of what Mr. Netanyahu wanted Israel and the United States to do since his 1996 clean break study advised the following:

Israel also can take this opportunity to remind the world of the nature of the Syrian regime. Syria repeatedly breaks its word. It violated numerous agreements with the Turks, and has betrayed the United States by continuing to occupy Lebanon in violation of the Taef agreement in 1989. Instead, Syria staged a sham election, installed a quisling regime, and forced Lebanon to sign a “Brotherhood Agreement” in 1991, that terminated Lebanese sovereignty. And Syria has begun colonizing Lebanon with hundreds of thousands of Syrians, while killing tens of thousands of its own citizens at a time, as it did in only three days in 1983 in Hama….Given the nature of the regime in Damascus, it is both natural and moral that Israel abandon the slogan comprehensive peace and move to contain Syria, drawing attention to its weapons of mass destruction programs, and rejecting land for peace deals on the Golan Heights.

Thanks to the efforts of the Bush administration which was led by Netanyahu’s favorite friends, and all of the American agents and puppets (Saudi, Lebanese M14, some Syrian opposition) and its allies (Blair and Chirac)… the Israeli public surely got influenced in the most negative way and by now Israelis mostly hate and ridicule “the Syrian regime”

That Poll has a section that asks Israelis about who they trust and who can possibly change their opinion in the future when it comes to their current lack of support to returning the Golan as a price of peace.

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December 15th, 2009, 9:49 pm


78. norman said:

When more than 300 Palestinians children are killed in Gaza and with more than 90% of the Israeli supported the attack on Gaza using prohibited weapons, it is clear that these people do not want peace , peace has to be shoved in their throat to accept it ,

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December 16th, 2009, 2:40 am


79. Shai said:


Then how do you explain Netanyahu’s behind-the-scene attempts at talking to Syria via Ron Lauder? Or his calls for returning to the negotiation table now? Which is more likely “the game” – his open PR aimed at the Israeli public and specifically the conservative ones, or what he says and does quietly?


94% of Israelis supported the operation in Gaza. But 94% do not support killing innocent women and children. So clearly there’s a contradiction here, which must be explained by other means. The irrational fears Israelis have internalized over so many years have, unfortunately, always translated into severely disproportionate response. As I mentioned a few times before, that is actually also part of our military doctrine. Since we can’t fight long battles, we must punish the rival in such way that he would seriously consider the price before repeating such aggression in the future.

The problem with all this, is that this doctrine is meant to serve someone inferior in capabilities, not the disproportionately stronger side. But Israelis really do think they’re the victim… And at the same time they do want peace. To understand this, you may need to introduce political shrinks that work daily with Yossi and OTW…

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December 16th, 2009, 9:35 am


80. idaf said:

Israeli referendum constricts gov’t, ends Oslo agreement

A pro-Jewish movement within Israel’s Likud Party says a referendum bill making its way through the Knesset would effectively end the Oslo accords and prevent the Israeli government from giving away important territory to the Arabs in any so-called “peace agreement.”

As previously reported, Israel’s Parliament recently gave preliminary approval by a 68 to 22 vote on a piece of legislation that would require a national referendum on any peace deal that cedes land in Jerusalem or the Golan Heights. If it passes two more readings, the law could constrain the ability of any future Israeli government to turn covenant land over as part of a peace deal as the Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, while Syria has demanded the return of the Golan Heights as part of any peace agreement with Israel.

Rob Muchnick, U.S. spokesman for Manhigut Yehudit, the Jewish Leadership Movement, believes that this is a great piece of legislation “that will kill any chances of a deal with any Arabs who Barack Obama says are moderate [and] who the Israel government says [are] moderate, even though we know they’re just terrorist thugs wearing suits. So if it destroys that chance, then no matter how much Obama screams or how much the Israeli left wants to give it away, it pretty much would wipe out the Oslo agreement and get us back on the right course. And that’s what’s so great about it,” he contends.

Muchnick expects the referendum bill will become law sometime in 2010.

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December 16th, 2009, 10:30 am


81. Akbar Palace said:

94% of Israelis supported the operation in Gaza. But 94% do not support killing innocent women and children. So clearly there’s a contradiction here, which must be explained by other means.


I agree with your statement. However, your statement can be made replacing “Israelis” with the inhabitants of any other country in the world. Who would WANT to kill innocent women and children?

Thus, the only difference is, for terror organizations and the GOI (Government of Iran), the percentage who “do not support killing innocent women and children” is much lower.

Therein lies the difference, and really, the definition of a terror organization or terrorist state.

The phenomenom is rather easy to understand and does NOT need further explanation “by other means”.

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December 16th, 2009, 9:01 pm


82. Alex said:

79. Shai said:


Then how do you explain Netanyahu’s behind-the-scene attempts at talking to Syria via Ron Lauder? Or his calls for returning to the negotiation table now? Which is more likely “the game” – his open PR aimed at the Israeli public and specifically the conservative ones, or what he says and does quietly?

But that’s exactly the point Shai .. what Netanyahu wanted to see in “clean Break, securing the realm” for Israel, was implemented by his Neocon friends during the 8 years of the Bush administration … the clean break document was like their bible … all its commandments were followed … Iraq was destroyed, … we know by now that the decision to destroy Iraq was taken before 9/11. The Syrian regime was portrayed exactly as described in the document in the hope of weakening it and keeping Syria too busy with endless accusations (thugs, terrorists, dictators, Hariri killers…) while no one was talking any more about returning the Golan… just like Netanyahu’s good guys recommended in that document.

Alternatively, we have the fantasy world of behind the scenes peace negotiations (through one of Netanyahu’s friends), where Mr. Netanyahu kept the Syrians busy for a long time hoping there is actually a real hope that he is on his way to eventually accept to return the Golan… just like Mr. Olmert’s team in Turkey reached, with their Syrian counterparts, a near agreement on the Golan, before we heard the news that for some reason Ehud and Ehud decided that now is the time to attack the people in Gaza… could not wait .. must be done now.

Shai … facts (and patterns) speak louder than fiction.

Netanyahu, and almost all the Israeli leaders (except the late Rabin) were not honest … they wanted to keep the Arabs (and Europeans who might pressure them) busy with hopes for peace, but had no intentions of returning the Golan and east Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank.

Israeli leaders always knew Syria will not accept any thing less than its UN backed legitimate rights … a 100% withdrawal from the Golan Heights. All that they (Israeli leaders) have to do is to either offer up to 95% back (Syria will reject the offer), or wait for Palestinian terror attack to take place so that they have an excuse to stop talking to Syria (because “Syria harbors terrorists”), or if none of that happens then simply get cold feet (Ehud Barak), or if all fails … attack Gaza or Lebanon out of the blue … the Syrians will be forced to walk out.

Easy strategy .. it worked beautifully for Israel from 1991 to 2009

Then 2o years later, hopefully the Syrian will forget the Golan … “like they forgot about Eskenderoun”

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December 17th, 2009, 1:08 am


83. Shai said:


“… they wanted to keep the Arabs (and Europeans who might pressure them) busy with hopes for peace, but had no intentions of returning the Golan and east Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank.”

With the exception of perhaps Sharon and Barak, who were going to pull out of Gaza and Lebanon unilaterally, with or without a peace agreement, all other major withdrawals to the 1967 lines were and are not “intended” in advance. Even Rabin didn’t intend to return the Golan, until he reached a point where he could trust the Syrians.

Most Israelis who end up supporting a withdrawal from the Golan aren’t doing so because they feel it is Syria’s right to have it back. But rather, because it is Syria’s right to get it back in return for peace. This is a major distinction, because from your point of view (and justifiably so), you feel the Golan is Syrian territory no matter what – even if Syria rejects Peace with Israel. But from our point of view, Syria lost that territory in war, as a result of its own violent attacks against us. And Israel annexed that territory, unlike the West Bank or Gaza.

I’m suggesting, therefore, that NO Israeli PM intends on giving back the Golan just because Syria, and the entire world, recognize this territory as belonging to Syria. But now the real question is – does Netanyahu intend on reaching a Peace Agreement with Syria? If he wants peace with Syria, then he knows the price, but not in detail. Withdrawals don’t always have to take place all at once, from the entire territory, etc. I can easily see a negotiated agreement that makes the withdrawal a process of 5-10 years, for instance. Not to mention many interesting initiatives such as the Peace Park, or allowing Israelis to continue to work on the (now Syrian) Golan, etc. Netanyahu doesn’t know what price he’ll have to “sell” the Israeli people yet.

He has to decide whether he wants peace first, and then whether he’s ready to go down that lane. Unlike you, I’m not ready to give up on either one, or on this particular prime minister. We live in a world of alternatives, and at the moment few will disagree with me when I say that Netanyahu is the ONLY Israeli leader that can deliver the 1967 borders. If he’s not interested, then we’re in for a difficult period ahead.

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December 17th, 2009, 6:23 am


84. Shai said:


Just to add one more note, please realize that what you’re saying about Netanyahu has and is being said about Hafez Assad and Bashar Assad as well. That they never intended on reaching Peace with Israel, that all their talk has been delay-tactics, attempts to get closer to the West, to lift sanctions, to divert attention from Lebanon, from Hariri, etc.

You saw just a few days ago how (what I call) that “buffoon-of-a-deputy” Danny Ayalon said Syria was fooling us all with negotiations in Turkey.

I don’t know about fiction or non-fiction, I know about what makes sense. And I cannot be convinced that most Israeli PM’s feel it is more sensible to continue to be at a state of war with the Arabs, than at peace. Do you honestly think Ariel Sharon was less hawkish than Netanyahu? Less in-love with the territories we conquered in 1967? Less of an Arab-hater?

No, he just woke up one morning, and realized that we can’t have both – land and peace. That the demographic “bomb” will soon explode in Israel’s face, and that if Israel should wish to remain mostly-Jewish, a Palestinian state must be created. Do you really believe Netanyahu is more hawkish, or thinks differently from Sharon?

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December 17th, 2009, 6:59 am


85. Alex said:


I am not saying there is no way Israel will give back the Golan and allow us to have peace. I am just saying that as we approach the end of the second decade of peace process, .. a process that had its ups (the ones you find motivating) and its downs (the inevitable follow-ups to those ups, as more and more Syrians are realizing by now) … it is clear that the trend is not very promising. I would say it looks something like this:

There are high points … usually when US presidents are few months from leaving office. But we never reached that solution and on the average we are getting further and further from the only solution that is right … unconditional Israeli withdrawal from the Golan in return for peace and security for Israel… Israel is happy with its military superiority and the current state of no war and no peace.

Even French foreign minister is now almost convinced Israel (practically the whole country) is not interested in peace. Ask George Mitchel and he will tell you (privately) the same thing… read the many Haaretz opinion pieces that show you how its Isralei writers (zvi Bar’el for example) are also convinced Israel is only interested in the process, not in peace with Syria.

No one is saying the same about Bashar anymore … it was the neocon hype that created that impression. Similarly, all books written by US Presidents (Carter, Clinton) and US peace envoys made it clear that Hafez Assad was a tough negotiator but was clearly interested in reaching a final agreement.

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December 17th, 2009, 2:54 pm


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