Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010
John Wreford was among among the hundreds of Iraqi refugees inside a Damascus sports stadium this evening who listened to Tarek al-Hashemi kick of the election campaign. He sent this photo.
Iraq VP thanks Syria for embracing refugees
Tuesday, March 02, 2010
Iraqi Vice President Tarek Al Hashemi accused powerful decision makers of stalling a major decision to resolve the issue of Iraqi refugees.
Al-Hashemi thanked Syria for its “historic” stand of embracing refugees despite bilateral political rows. Iraqi VP’s statements came in a meeting with Iraqi Community in Damascus. Al Hashemi in Syria coming from Amman, is carrying a message to Syrian President Bashar Al Asad from Iraqi Government about the future of Iraqi-Syrian relations.
Kerry: No imminent flashpoint between Syria and Israel
By HERB KEINON
Senator spoke to Assad from Jordan before coming to Israel.
Visiting US Sen. John Kerry tried to put the recent escalation of rhetoric and tensions between Israel and Syria into context Monday, telling a Jerusalem press conference that he did not believe there was a “flashpoint imminent” between Syria and Israel.
Kerry’s comments came shortly after his arrival and meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
On Sunday, Kerry was in Amman and, along with meetings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, he spoke by phone with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“I had a conversation last night with President Assad on a number of different topics, and – needless to say – I raised the issue of the visit of [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and some comments made there,” said Kerry, who heads the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee.
“I don’t believe that there is somehow some flashpoint imminent between Syria and Israel, though I am obviously very cognizant of the increased arming of Hizbullah and the types of weapons they have, and I recognize there is an inherent threat to Israel in that,” he said.
Israeli defense officials said that Israel’s primary concern was that Syria would supply Hizbullah with advanced air-defense missile systems such as the SA-8. Israel has in the past warned that it would be prepared to take preemptive action to stop the delivery of these systems to Lebanon.
This concern was reinforced by last week’s terror summit between Iranian President Ahmadinejad, Assad and Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.
“Our assumption is that these three sit together and come up with ways to hit Israel,” one official explained.
In an apparent reference to Assad’s disparaging comments last week during Ahmadinejad’s visit about US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s efforts to drive a wedge between Syria and Iran, Kerry said “no one should be surprised, given the relationship of the last years, that discussions are continuing between Syria and Iran.”
The two countries are neighbors, he said, “and they have obviously been pushed somewhat together by the events of the last years. My hope is that we can offer a better alternative, a better set of choices.”
He said that the meetings held in Damascus between Ahmadinejad, Assad, Nasrallah and Hamas’s Khaled Mashaal, “say more of President Ahmadinejad than the intentions of President Assad. We need to keep the door open.”
In a related development, Clinton reportedly passed on a message to Lebanon saying that Washington would not be able to restrain Israel from taking military action if arms smuggling from Syria to Hizbullah was not stopped.
According to the pan-Arabic Al-Hayat published in London, Clinton passed on a letter making this clear to the speaker of the Lebanese parliament, Nabih Berri.
According to the paper, Berri – who received the letter via the US Ambassador to Lebanon Michele Sison – replied that while Lebanon has “no problem” finding a solution to the arms issue, “the US should stop supplying weapons to Israel.”
Likewise, the Qatari newspaper Al-Watan reported on Monday that Clinton has told European colleagues recently that she planned to visit Syria in the near future, a move that she said would come following recent developments in the US-Syrian relationship, specifically the appointment of a new US ambassador to Damascus.
A week before Ahmadinejad’s arrival in Damascus, we had our own conversation with President Assad—a conversation that came one day after U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns met with the Syrian leader. In our session with him, Assad expressed satisfaction over his meeting with Undersecretary Burns. However, Assad also made clear that Syria’s relations with Iran, as well as its ties to Hizballah and HAMAS, are not on the table.
Syria’s relationship with the Islamic Republic seems increasingly strategic in character. Over the past year, key advisers to President Assad have told us as much; one of them went so far as to describe Syrian-Iranian relations with the French adjective, “intime”. If the Obama Administration is unable or unwilling to acknowledge this reality and the regional dynamics that have given rise to it, the already limited effectiveness of American diplomacy in the Middle East will be further undermined. To understand Syria’s increasingly strategic partnership with Iran, a bit of history is in order…..
For Bashar al-Assad, these developments have created both enormous challenges and, over time, new strategic opportunities. In this context of daunting challenges and emerging opportunities, Syria’s diplomatic calculations have shifted in at least three important ways during Bashar’s presidency; one consequence of these shifting diplomatic calculations has been an ever greater inclination in Damascus to see Syria’s relationship with the Islamic Republic as a unalloyed strategic partnership.
First, Syria’s ties to regional “resistance” forces—including groups like Hizballah and HAMAS that are also closely linked to Iran—have taken on an increasingly strategic character during Bashar’s tenure. As we have discussed previously, with the removal of Syrian military forces from Lebanon following the Hariri assassination, Hizballah has become an even more valuable asset for Syria. Similarly, on the Palestinian front, it is hard to imagine that, at this point, Bashar would agree to expel Khalid Mishal from Syria as part of a purely bilateral peace settlement with Israel—as, it would seem, his father had been prepared to do. (For our assessment of the strategic implications of HAMAS’s rise as a force in Palestinian politics, click here.)
On this point, it is noteworthy that, since late 2008, Bashar has adopted a rhetorical position on Arab-Israeli issues emphasizing the need for a “comprehensive” Arab-Israeli settlement, along the lines indicated in the 2002 Arab League peace initiative, and with HAMAS playing a central role on the Palestinian side. When we asked him about this evolution in his rhetoric, President Assad said that, if Israel were prepared to conclude a peace treaty with Syria meeting his longstanding requirements (full return of the occupied Golan Heights to the June 4, 1967 line, etc.), he “could not say ‘no’.” He noted, though, that, while Israel could get a “peace treaty” with Syria, such a settlement would give Israel little more than a “ceasefire” and, perhaps, a heavily guarded embassy in Damascus. For real “peace”, according to President Assad, Israel will need to negotiate a comprehensive settlement, including on the Palestinian track.
Second, the Islamic Republic has proven its steadfastness to Syria in recent years. Syria and Iran were the two regional states which argued most vociferously that the United States would face serious difficulties in its occupation of post-Saddam Iraq, and their stance was widely viewed in the region as having been vindicated by events. More practically, Syria’s ties to Iran were critical in fending off the heavy pressure applied on the Assad regime by the United States, most of Europe, and moderate Arab states in the wake of the Hariri assassination. As another of Bashar’s advisers said to me recently, it would be hard for Syria to forsake Iran, as Iran, in the period following Hariri’s assassination, had “stood by us when no one else did”. This should not be interpreted as a sentimental statement. Rather, it is a statement that, in an uncertain strategic environment, Syria will continue to need the “hedge” provided by its close relationship with the Islamic Republic.
Third, the perceived value in Damascus of strategic realignment with the United States through a carefully conditioned peace deal with Israel is slowly declining as America’s hegemonic standing and influence erode. Certainly, the Syrian leadership was relieved by President George W. Bush’s departure from office and his replacement by President Obama. But, with a right-leaning coalition headed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in power in Israel, expectations in Damascus for what Syria would see as major improvements in America’s Middle East policy are not high. And, as President Assad noted to us, poor policy choices in the Middle East by the United States over the last decade have created “vacuums” which “others [Iran and Turkey] filled”. (In this context, Assad argued that Iran’s evolving regional role does not represent “new ambitions” on Tehran’s part.) This has expanded Syria’s strategic optionality. In this context, Assad underscored that the rise of Iran and Turkey to new levels of regional influence has not come at Syria’s expense; rather, all three states have been able to improve their own relations and bolster their regional influence.
This is not to say that Hafiz al-Assad’s preferred strategic option of realignment toward the West through a “principled” peace with Israel does not remain deeply attractive to his son and successor. But, the longer that Damascus must wait for the United States to deliver on its end of the peace process, the more time that Bashar and his advisers have to internalize what they see as the reality of America’s slow decline. And that has a palpable effect on the price they are willing to pay for realizing Hafiz al-Assad’s preferred strategic option.
In closing, we would note that we had not had an in-depth meeting with President Assad for five years. Flynt’s Inheriting Syria—for which he interviewed President Assad—was published in 2005, shortly after the Hariri assassination. At the time, many U.S. and Western commentators were predicting the downfall of the Assad regime. We visited Damascus in June 2005, immediately following the withdrawal of Syrian military forces from Lebanon, to observe the Ba’ath Party congress. We came away from that visit convinced—contra the conventional wisdom in Washington—that the Lebanon withdrawal had been well internalized in Syria, that President Assad was more in control of the Syrian government than he had been before Hariri’s assassination, and that U.S.-French efforts to isolate Syria from regional affairs would ultimately fail. That assessment has been powerfully validated with the passage of time. Bashar al-Assad has weathered the storm unleashed in the aftermath of the Hariri assassination and has emerged as a masterful player of the regional game. It is striking that many of the people who argued in 2005 that the Syrian leadership was internally conflicted and uniquely vulnerable to external pressure are now making the same arguments about the Islamic Republic of Iran. They were wrong then; they are wrong now.
US State Dept. Warns Lebanon It Can’t Stop Israeli Attack:
by Jason Ditz, March 01, 2010
If anyone is interested in why Syria has not signed the Mediterranean Process which would bring it neareror the free trade agreement with Europe, read no further than this report on what has happened with Syria’s trade with Turkey as a result of freeing up cross-border traffic….
Syria’s Trade Deficit with Turkey Doubles as Exports Decline, Thanks to Syria Report
Syria’s trade deficit with Turkey doubled last year to USD 1 billion as Syrian exports halved while Turkish exports continued to increase, Turkish statistics show.
“…The Emirates will now deny entry to anyone suspected of having Israeli citizenship, Tamim said at a security conference in Abu Dhabi Monday.
It was unclear if the measure would apply to Israeli athletes competing in international sports events being held there, such as tennis player Shahar Peer, a recent semifinalist in the local WTA tennis tournament…..
“Mossad shouldn’t come to us. We haven’t done anything to Israel. This is an insult to us, to Britain, to Australia, to Germany and to New Zealand and it’s shameful,” Tamim told reporters in Dubai, a member of the United Arab Emirates…”
Haaretz: Iran, Syria may talk a big talk, but too scared to act
The banquet at Syrian President Bashar Assad’s palace last weekend was held in the best tradition of Western state dinners, complete with white silk tablecloth, name cards at every place setting, fine china, pure …
“Syrian source: Assad-Ahmadinezhad meeting surprised Washington…
by Kamel Sakr, March 2, Al-Quds al-Arabi (thanks to Mideastwire.com)
No sooner had Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad returned to Tehran after a “war” visit to Damascus during which he met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the figures of the resistance represented by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and the leaders of the Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front, that another meeting was being held between Iranian Revolution Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and one of the leaders of the ruling Ba’th Party in Syria and member of the local command Haytham Satayhi. A prominent Syrian source commented by saying to Al-Quds al-Arabi that this meeting corroborated the message which was announced in Damascus following the Assad-Ahmadinezhad meeting and then the Ahmadinezhad-Nasrallah meeting in the presence of Al-Assad.
“According to the information, Damascus may have failed to find hope in seeing Obama’s administration pushing Israel toward the adoption of any step on the Syrian-Israeli peace track and was growing tired after over a year of stalemate. The Syrian source added that what was mostly important for Syria was for Washington to force Tel Aviv into accepting the resumption of the indirect peace talks from the point where they had stopped in Ankara and under Turkish sponsorship before the eruption of the Gaza war in 2008. He continued: “Any other American step, regardless of its importance, will fall behind this priority for Damascus, including the reappointment of the American ambassador, the lifting of the level of political relations and the annulment of the economic sanctions imposed on Damascus by Washington…
“On the other hand, the Syrian source stated that the Assad-Ahmadinezhad meeting was not a political maneuver as much as it was a clear Syrian message saying that the relations with Iran were a “red line” that could not be the object of any compromise, denying at the same time that Syria turned its back on Obama’s administration. The Syrian source then bet that the American contacts toward Syria will intensify during the upcoming stage which will witness additional gestures of good intention, assuring that what recently happened in Damascus (Ahmadinezhad’s visit and the tripartite meeting) surprised the American diplomacy which did not expect the Syrian response to be that clear and that fast, and raised its political appetite toward Damascus.
“The source continued: “Damascus wanted to put an end to the American hope of seeing Damascus distancing itself from Tehran, in order to focus the awaited efforts from Obama’s administration on the peace and bilateral relations dossiers…”” – Al-Quds al-Arabi, United Kingdom
- Bellemare und die Bombe von Beirut
Markus Bickel, F.A.Z.., 12. Februar 2010
- “Cinq ans après la mort de Rafic Hariri, le Tribunal pour le Liban n’a toujours pas rassemblé de preuves décisives”,
Stéphanie Maupas, Le Monde , 13.02.10
If you watched Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s speech, you will remember that he described the Le Monde article as ‘psychological warfare’.
Both articles are similar to a degree that they seem to be following the same talking points:
– both quote the Spiegel article;
– both claim that the Spiegel allegations are (in essence) true;
– both cite unnamed investigators as sources for these claims; in addition, the F.A.Z. says it got confirmation directly from the STL and apparently also from Serge Brammertz;
– both say that the STL does not have sufficient judicial evidence (surprise, surprise);
– both still point the finger at Syria, but Iran is now mentioned as well;
– both contain attacks on Bellemare.
Frankly, I don’t think that Serge Brammertz confirmed anything at all. He was so careful in all his reports, why would he now ‘spill the beans’ to some reporter? And if you look at the actual quotes, they are ‘pure Brammertz’, typical abstract generalities very similar to what he said in his reports. But they are cited in a way that seems to suggest that he is confirming the Spiegel allegations.
However, an unnamed high-ranking former investigator who worked under Brammertz does confirm at least some those allegations: “The Spiegel article was certainly not entirely wrong”.
“Ein ranghoher früherer Ermittler, der zu Brammertz’ Beiruter Zeit mit dem Fall befasst war, bestätigt die Verdachtsmomente gegen die Hizbullah: „Der Artikel im ‘Spiegel‘ war sicherlich nicht ganz falsch.“”
Le Monde also quotes an anonymous investigator to back up the Spiegel allegations:
“”Qui est la taupe ?”, s’interrogeait alors un chercheur proche de l’enquête.”
Perhaps most importantly, the F.A.Z. claims, without naming the source, that it obtained confirmation directly from the STL that members of Hizbullah “could” be indicted (literally: “the prosecution could have its sights on members of Hizbullah”):
“Denn wie die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung aus dem (…) Tribunal erfuhr, könnten Mitglieder der schiitischen Hizbullah ins Visier einer Anklage geraten.”
The article is silent about a possible motive, but does conspicuously mention Resolution 1559. Hizbullah’s links to Iran are also stressed, apparently to suggest the involvement of Teheran.
However, both articles agree that the judicial evidence is insufficient:
-“Hinzu kommt, dass es genügend gerichtsverwertbare Beweise gegen die Verdächtigen aus Kreisen der Hizbullah bislang offenbar nicht gibt”;
– “le Tribunal pour le Liban n’a pas rassemblé de preuves décisives”, “l’analyse ne suffit pas à monter un dossier judiciaire”.
It is interesting that both articles also contain attacks on Bellemare. This could be interpreted as an attempt to influence and put pressure on the Canadian regarding the timing of his next steps, be it either an indictment or just summons orders (as Michael Young suggested).
Even mere summons would indicate to the public in Lebanon in which direction the investigation is being taken, so they could potentially be used to great political effect (a fact missed by Michael Young).
The F.A.Z. indicates that the “donor nations” are getting impatient with Bellemare because of the delay in issuing the indictment:
“Länger als bis Ende dieses Jahres kann sich Bellemare mit der Erhebung der Anklage kaum Zeit lassen – schon heute wächst die Ungeduld der Geberstaaten, die nicht bereit sind, weiter Geld in ein Tribunal ohne Angeklagte zu stecken.”
Even more telling are the comments by a French government source in Le Monde:
“Mais la discrétion du procureur Bellemare agace néanmoins les diplomates “qui essayent de lui tendre des pièges, mais il reste muet sur l’enquête”, raconte une source proche du Quai d’Orsay. “Il est très prétentieux dans ses rapports avec les autres, notamment les autorités nationales et les services étrangers, et donc peu populaire. Il se sent surpuissant mais ne comprend pas bien les finesses du dossier. Il veut adapter des méthodes d’enquête traditionnelles canadiennes à une enquête politique sur un territoire qu’il ne contrôle et ne comprend pas”, regrette un enquêteur.”
As an aside, it would be absolutely unthinkable, say, in social sciences to have a researcher who does understand neither the “finesses du dossier” nor the country he is investigating, but apparently in matters of international justice this is acceptable…
Add to this investigators sporting a world view not dissimilar to that of Michael Young and you got a recipe for disaster:
“”Si on estime que c’est le Hezbollah, on peut assumer qu’il n’aurait jamais fait cela sans l’aval de la Syrie, et éventuellement l’aide de l’Iran”, affirme une source au sein de l’enquête.”
The many leaks just in these two articles, in disregard of official policy, do not exactly inspire confidence in the professionalism and neutrality of the investigation:
– “wie die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung aus dem (…) Tribunal erfuhr”, “ein ranghoher früherer Ermittler, der zu Brammertz’ Beiruter Zeit mit dem Fall befasst war”, “heißt es in Beirut, wo das Tribunal ein Büro unterhält”;
– “selon certaines sources”, “un chercheur proche de l’enquête”, “plusieurs sources”, “une source au in de l’enquête”, “un autre enquêteur”, “une source proche du Quai d’Orsay”, “un enquêteur”.
It seems that I was way too optimistic in the past about the possibility of international justice. Of course, there is no moral foreign policy, countries simply pursue their interests and these can only occasionally coincide with the truth. Events are primarily seen from the angle of how to make political hay out of them. The UN investigation was probably very useful in that regard (e.g. the intelligence resulting from the analysis of all telecommunication data in Lebanon that was handed over to the commission). And the temptation is certainly there to use the STL against Hizbullah and Iran.
Of course, the possibility that both articles are just ‘psychological warfare’ cannot be discarded, but even that has significant consequences. It means that either both Le Monde and the F.A.Z, (and also Le Figaro‘s Georges Malbrunot) are lying about their sources, or, even worse, that manipulation sits right at the heart of the UN investigation and the STL.