Israel Says No to Syria; Lebanon Says No to France

Israel, Syria message exchange ends in failure
By Barak Ravid
Haaretz, December 21, 2007

An attempt to exchange messages between Israel and Syria in recent months has failed. European diplomatic sources said that the reason for the impasse was the inability to reach an agreed-upon agenda for talks between the two countries. But in off-the-record conversations, several sources close to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert say that "the Syrian track still has higher chances of success when compared to the Palestinian track."

In the past few months, Israel approached Syrian President Bashar Assad via a number of friendly states, in an effort to evaluate the possibility of renewing direct contact. The main interlocutor in these exchanges has been Turkey, but Israel also made use of the good services of Germany, which still holds an open line of communications with Damascus.

Following a series of exchanges, the view in Israel is that the seriousness of Syrian intentions is still questionable.

European diplomats updated on some of the exchanges noted that "the bottom line was a negative one."

They pointed out that there was no agreement on an agenda for talks between the two sides, assuming such talks would actually take place.

"The Syrians wanted the talks to revolve only on the Golan [Heights]," the European diplomats said. "But Israel wanted to first talk about other issues that trouble it, such as [Syria's] ties with Iran and the support for Hezbollah and Hamas, and Syria did not agree."

Olmert may be interested in furthering the Annapolis process, but increasingly, senior officials feel that the Syrian track must be given a chance to move forward.

"It is a lot simpler and it is possible to achieve an agreement in a short time," one of Olmert's confidants said. "The only problem is that the Syrians are not sending positive signals."

Another source close to Olmert was more optimistic. "The fact that they [Syria] came to Annapolis and canceled the conference of terrorist groups in Damascus were positive and encouraging signals."

A statement from the Prime Minister's Office said that Olmert "is carrying out an evaluation of the Syrian track and that is still ongoing."

The Future of the Syrian-Iranian Alliance
Bilal Y. Saab and Bruce O. Riedel
Al Hayat, Friday, December 21, 2007

It is no secret that the Bush administration’s basic idea behind the Annapolis peace process is not so much to push for a peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis but to gather the pro-US Arab states under the aegis of a peace process for the purpose of containing or at least balancing the rising power of Iran. While President Bush would very much like to be remembered as the American president who sponsored a solution to the seemingly eternal Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his last year in office, his priority and more urgent goal is however to prevent the mullahs of Iran from producing an atomic bomb and becoming the region’s bully.

By inviting the Syrians and including the issue of the Golan Heights on the conference agenda, some in Washington also hoped they could start a process that would aim at decoupling Damascus from Tehran, an outcome that could help Israel neutralize the military threats it is facing from Hizb’allah and Hamas. 

But unless Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert are prepared for a new approach toward Damascus, partial measures and half steps will most probably draw Syria closer to Iran and convince it to stick to its role of peace spoiler whether between Israelis and Palestinians or between Israelis and Lebanese. History and pragmatic Syrian and Iranian statecraft suggest that the Syrian-Iranian alliance will outlive Annapolis and its aftermath.

Taking Syria away from the Iranian orbit is sound policy for obvious reasons that have been laid out by various officials in Washington and Arab capitals, but it is worth remembering why past attempts have failed and why this current one will most likely yield no different results. Throughout the 1980s, Americans and Arabs tried hard to convince Hafez Assad to break with Khomeini’s Iran. At the time, Assad had valid reasons to abandon his alliance with the Iranians: secure his country’s eastern flank with Iraq because of the prospect of a conflict with Israel; put an end to Syria’s marginalization in Arab politics with the consolidation of the Egyptian-Jordanian-Iraqi axis; Iranian activity and interference in Lebanon via Hizb’allah which threatened vital Syrian interests in that country; and finally Khomeini’s decision to stop delivering oil to Syria which severely impacted on the Syrian economy.

Despite all these reasons and the strenuous efforts by King Hussein’s Jordan, King Fahd’s Saudi Arabia, and Mubarak’s Egypt in summer 1987 to put considerable pressure on Syria to sever its links with Iran and mend fences with Iraq, Assad did not leave his Iranian friends in the cold. Assad was a strategic thinker. He understood that realignment with Iraq would do little to mitigate his country’s security concerns or further its regional interests. Iran and Syria obviously did not see eye to eye on all issues that concerned them, but they agreed on the most critical: US deployment in the Gulf threatened the two nations’ strategic interests. That was enough reason for them to firm up their alliance.

Today, there is no doubt that the Middle East’s strategic map is different. Also, Hafez Assad is gone and Bashar Assad, his young, ill-experienced and risk-taking son is in power. Nevertheless, the United States remains present in the Middle East, having become more involved than ever with its occupation of Iraq and its active promotion of a poorly designed democratization strategy, both of which unnerved pro-US Arab leaders. Today, US and Israeli policies and actions in the region are once again perceived by Iran and Syria as threatening to their national security. Both have seen their nuclear designs targeted, and reportedly set back by American pressure and Israeli airpower respectively. This is enough reason for them to shore up their alliance.

A peace deal between Syria and Israel is achievable, but it will require meaningful concessions and a win-win mentality from both nations. Israel will have to withdraw to the 1967 borders, including the northeast shore of Lake Tiberius. Syria will have to provide Israel with credible security guarantees starting with an agreement, which Hafez Assad agreed to in Shepherdstown and Geneva in 2000, on large demilitarized zones on both sides of the border. Fearing that giving up the Golan would undermine their own security, Israelis will be asking Washington (as they did in 2000) for a security package deal worth approximately $20 billion, if not more. Washington’s role will therefore be not limited to brokering a Syrian-Israeli peace agreement but also financing it.

In 2000, the Syrians believed (and still do) at Shepherdstown that the Israelis were in no position to impose conditions on them – breaking with Iran – to make peace and that withdrawal from the Golan was a legitimate right accorded to them by the United Nations’ Security Council Resolution 242. Territorial sovereignty, for the Syrians, is a non-negotiable right. There was always room for cooperation and compromise when it came to Lebanon and the Palestinians, but as far as Syria’s right to have good relations with Iran was concerned, the Israelis, as Syrian foreign minister Faruq al Shara' (now deputy president) kept insisting, were going too far. Today, when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says that Syria "knows what to do" in order for the two nations to make peace, it is code word for Syria abandoning Iran and cutting its ties to Hizb’allah and Hamas. Syria might consider the latter but would find no reason to compromise on the former.

The Syrian-Iranian alliance, solid since the Iranian revolution in 1979, is not and has never been perfect. Its fault lines are considerable – especially in post-Saddam Iraq and post-Syria Lebanon – but the two nations’ ability to withstand serious setbacks, make periodic reviews of their relationship, and most importantly not compromise on issues involving national security proved that the Syrian-Iranian nexus is more than a marriage of convenience; it has indeed become a mature and institutionalized alliance which is not likely to be broken by virtual carrots and empty promises by Washington and now Moscow. Peace between Syria and Israel, if and when it happens, will most likely redefine the parameters of the Syrian-Iranian alliance but will not lead to its demise. Not bad as an end result.

* Bilal Y. Saab is Senior Research Assistant at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. Bruce O. Riedel is Senior Fellow at the Saban Center at Brookings.

Lebanon's Presidential Vote Delayed Again, Voice of America 

The speaker of Lebanon's parliament has postponed a vote on a new president for the 10th time, as lawmakers remain deadlocked over the shape of …

Top Hezbollah official blasts US President Bush, says Lebanon … International Herald Tribune

Comments (7)


1. norman said:

Syria pressed to end impasse in Lebanon
By Ferry Biedermann in Beirut

Published: December 22 2007 02:00 | Last updated: December 22 2007 02:00

The US and France are increasing pressure on Syria to resolve Lebanon’s political crisis and facilitate the long-delayed election of a new president, amid growing frustration with Damascus’ alleged meddling.

The election, scheduled for today, was delayed for the tenth time yesterday, until next Saturday.

The postponement came in spite of Nicolas Sarkozy, French president, earlier in the day warning his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad, that he expected parliament in Beirut to elect a new head of state today.

His telephone conversation with the Syrian leader followed remarks by George W. Bush, US president, on Thursday that he had “lost patience” with Mr Assad long ago.

The US and France support the anti-Syrian government in Beirut against the opposition, which is led by the pro-Syrian and pro-Iranian Hizbollah movement. Crisis-prone Lebanon has become a stage where western powers are actively competing for influence against the Syrian-Iranian alliance.

The country, however, has been without a head of state since the term of the previous president ended on November 24.

Both the pro-western parliamentary majority and the opposition have, in theory, agreed on Michel Suleiman, the army commander, as a compromise candidate. However, his election has been held up by further political wrangling.

The opposition and its Syrian backers claim that US, rather than Syrian, interference is blocking a solution. Walid Muallem, Syrian foreign minister, said a visit to Beirut by David Welch, US assistant secretary of state, this week was aimed at “obstructing” a solution.

“The American role in Lebanon should be sidelined because it is not balanced,” he told reporters.

Mr Muallem also claimed that the US was blocking an understanding on Lebanon between Syria and France – a statement that French officials, however, denied.

But he reiterated that meeting the opposition’s demands for a decisive say in a new cabinet was crucial to ending the presidential impasse. Hizbollah and its allies have been insisting on a one-third, blocking minority in the government for over a year, holding a prolonged sit-in in downtown Beirut to back up their demands.

According to the London- based pan-Arab daily Al Hayat, Mr Muallem said that a solution could lie in giving the opposition 11 ministers and the majority 14 ministers, while the new president of the republic could name the remaining five members of the cabinet.

His remarks, however, elicited a furious response from Beirut. Ghattas Khoury, one of the leaders of the pro-government March 14 bloc, described them as an “overt intervention in the internal affairs of Lebanon”.

Meanwhile, the opposition Hizbollah movement responded angrily to remarks by Mr Bush in which he urged the government to elect a president using its narrow majority if no consensus was reached.

Such a course would, “threaten stability in Lebanon, strike at national unity and spread chaos as happened in Iraq”, Hassan Fadlallah, Hizbollah MP, told Reuters news agency.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

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December 22nd, 2007, 3:26 am

 

2. lirun said:

interesting collation of materials on international relations – as relations that work in isolation from the internal happenings of the countries.. cant remember which theorist this reminds me off but its the one with the bouncing balls.. where the states are impenetrable units and the relations between occur independently of the internal ongoings..

personally while i think it has merits with countries in the former yugoslavia and perhaps some other regions.. i think in the middle east – when you speak of iran and syria that these nations are too powerful for this too apply.. so while their regimes may be enveloped in a nice layer of dictatorship that appears to be indifferent to the stew cooking beneath – i think that ultimately some of their dynamics will inevitably pierce the surface and force the regimes to take a different approach..

whether it is the financial/demographic seismic influences in syria or the brewing unrest in iran – it can only be for so long that people are kept in the dark and treated like mushrooms..

having said that – something has to change with respect to the approach to syria.. it has partly failed for 60 odd years.. surely we can implement some smarter strategies.. surely we’ve learned something..

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December 22nd, 2007, 4:04 pm

 

3. Shual said:

“but its the one with the bouncing balls”

Who is the “one with the bouncing balls”?

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December 22nd, 2007, 4:55 pm

 

4. G said:

Actually, Landis, as evident from the reports you’re posting, it’s Syria that said no to Israel, and Syria that said no to France.

Maybe your new year resolution is to try to cut down on lying?

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December 22nd, 2007, 5:42 pm

 

5. why-discuss said:

G
And your resolution should be to buy better reading glasses.

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December 22nd, 2007, 6:35 pm

 

6. norman said:

Lebanon’s new low as leader talks fail

West keeps up the pressure after a tenth abortive attempt by political rivals to pick a President

Mitchell Prothero and Peter Beaumont in Beirut
Sunday December 23, 2007
The Observer

The US wants Michel Suleiman elected. Photograph: Hassan Ammar/AFP

Lebanon’s political crisis deepened this weekend after the failure for the 10th time by rival parties to agree on a way to elect a President. Some say the latest postponement meant that the opportunity to find a replacement for Emile Lahoud, who stood down on 23 November, had been lost forever.
Despite mounting international pressure from France and the US for Lebanese parties to elect the army chief of staff, Michel Suleiman, as a consensus President, the Speaker of the Lebanese parliament, Nabih Berri, on Friday again postponed the planned election until 29 December, amid claims by Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun that negotiations had completely broken down. ‘There is no agreement,’ said Aoun, who has been representing the Hizbollah-led opposition in the negotiations. ‘All lines of dialogue are broken.’

Article continues

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The present difficulties in a Lebanon still recovering from last year’s war with Israel have worrying echoes of its civil war when the country descended in sectarian and factional bloodshed. Today the pro-Western majority is backed by the West, most vocally the US and France, while the opposition, led by the Shia-Hizbollah movement, enjoys the support of Syria and Iran.
Under Lebanon’s sectarian political settlement, the position of President traditionally goes to a Maronite Christian politician. The lack of a President is the first such hiatus in Lebanon since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

Aoun’s comments came as Hizbollah reacted furiously to demands by George Bush that Lebanon’s anti-Syrian parliamentarians should push through their own choice for President if agreement cannot be reached. Bush also warned Syria against interfering in the election. Syria denies doing so.

The increasing sense of pessimism over the political impasse was reflected in the comments of the Christian Maronite Patriarch, Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, in his Christmas address. ‘The presidency is lost and we have not been able to elect a head of state for the first time in the history of the republic. [And] parliament has been crippled for more than a year,’ he said.

Although the appointment of Suleiman had been agreed in principle, his election has been blocked by the inability of the different factions to decide on a series of key issues, including who should lead the government and the allocation of seats in the cabinet – in particular whether the opposition should have sufficient seats to wield a veto. The opposition includes figures with close ties to Damascus, while the present government is backed by the West.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has also been involved in attempting to mediate a settlement. In a telephone call to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad he urged that yesterday’s deadline for electing a President should be respected.

The latest postponement has put paid to optimism on all sides following the agreement to appoint Suleiman as President. A neutral choice respected by both sides, Suleiman would need the Lebanese constitution amended to allow him to transfer from the head of the military to the presidency.

Hizbollah and the opposition have been demanding at least 11 ministries to exercise a veto to prevent any disarming of Hizbollah’s military wing at the request of America and Israel. Bush recently dispatched diplomat David Welch to Beirut to meet pro-American leaders, a move pounced on by Hizbollah officials as proof that the government is collaborating with its enemies.

‘No, Bush, your orders cannot be implemented in Lebanon and your tutelage is rejected,’ Hizbollah’s number two, Naim Kassem, said late on Friday.

The situation has been exacerbated by the attitude of MP Saad Hariri – son of the former Prime Minister, Rafik Harriri, who was widely considered to have been slain by Syrian agents in early 2005 – who has been leading the ruling coalition. He has surprised even some of his own supporters with his belligerence towards compromise, a position some of his allies believe stems from the US and French government positions. ‘Bush and the French seem intent on keeping Hizbollah out of the government, they are telling us not to compromise,’ one political veteran and supporter of Hariri confided anonymously. ‘Saad still wants revenge for his father and appears all too willing to indulge this stalemate.’

Yesterday Hariri attacked Syria for its continued interference in Lebanon’s internal affairs. ‘The Syrian regime has gone too far in its efforts to destabilise Lebanon and to divide it, using what it calls “allies and friends”. I find this shameful that some Lebanese allow themselves to be manipulated by such a regime which is known for terrorism, crime and corruption,’ he said.

Slideshow
Two years on from the Hariri assassination

Special reports
Syria and Lebanon
Israel and Middle East

World news guide
Lebanon
Syria

Government
Official site of the Lebanese president

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December 23rd, 2007, 3:05 am

 

7. majedkhaldoun said:

سي أي ايه حجبت الشرائط عن لجنة تحقيق 11 سبتمبر

This came in BBC news, this says CIA knew about september 11 planners,the CIA did not relay these informations to the committee that investigated september 11 ,and now these recording has been destroyed.
If it is true this is very serious.

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December 23rd, 2007, 3:54 am

 

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