Lebanese Sovereignty: Where Does Syria Stand?

[Landis analysis]

The Following news story by Sam Ghattas (copied below) on the changing ideological and strategic policy of Syria toward Lebanon is spot on.

I add an anecdote that convinced me that Syria's elite has accepted the notion of Lebanese sovereignty and jettisoned the rigid Arabism of their fathers.

A year ago, I spent a classic summer day in the Ghouta – the farming and orchard region extending beyond Damascus. My hosts were the Azme family – one of Syria's Sunni elite. Their forefathers include Yusif al-Azme and Bashir al-Azme. The first led the small Syrian army under King Feisal when it sought in vain to defend Syrian independence from French invaders. He was killed. Bashir al-Azme served as Prime Minister in the early 1960s.

Ambassador Imad Moustapha and his wife Rafif included me in their invitation to while away a Friday in the Ghouta as guests of the Azmes. Around a simple wooden table, spread with home made confections and shaded by a grape arbor, about 12 of us debated the issues of the day.

The issue that predominated was Lebanon-Syria relations. The Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon was only two years in the past and the UN investigation into the Hariri assassination was ongoing. Several of the older generation around the table explained that Lebanon would come back to Syria with its tail between its legs. Lebanon needed Syria and was an indivisible part of it both culturally and economically. The matriarch of the family explained how she and her mother would travel to Lebanon for a meal with friends and relatives every week, how the "families" married back and forth, and how socially the two peoples could not be separated. I short, there was a lot of nostalgia and patriotism.

Imad Moustapha, however, led the counter argument. He kept insisting that national identity is plastic and ever changing. Perhaps in the past, "Lebanese saw themselves as one people with Syrians," he said, but today that reality is no longer. He pointed out that not longer does one segment or sect among Lebanese want anything but independence. He reminded everyone that even Hizbullah had not asked for Syrian troops to remain in Lebanon in 2005. The Shiite organization thanked Syria for its help stabilizing Lebanon during the Civil War even as it waved goodbye to Syrian soldiers. "The old days are over," he kept on insisting, "we must embrace the new reality, which is that Lebanon is a separate and sovereign country. They don't want us."

In fact, Ambassador Moustapha kept insisting on this point and drawing out the debate at such length that Rafif, his charming wife, had to take him by the hand and gently remind him of other worthy topics of conversation for fear that he would bore his hosts!

Conclusion: What this story told me is that in Syria's halls of regime power Lebanese sovereignty was a hot issue. Ambassador Moustapha was belaboring his point because he was rehearsing debates and arguments that were preoccupying Syria's leadership. many of Syria's policy makers were arguing that Damascus had to find a new and different modus vivendi with Beirut that accommodates the Lebanese desire for autonomy and independence.

The notion that Syria has one choice — to accept Lebanese sovereignty — prevails today. This does not mean that Syria does not insist on security requirements from Lebanon. It does. Syria belives Lebanon lies within its sphere of influence. This is quite different from insisting that the two are one country or even one people. Most countries adopt a "sphere-of-influence" argument about their neighbors. The US did not accept Cuba hosting Soviet bases, for example.

[News Summary]

Syria shift on Lebanon suggests hard-liner softens

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) — Syria's diplomatic recognition of Lebanon marks a symbolic turning point in the two neighbors' often turbulent history, and may have bigger significance for the Middle East and the chances of an overall peace deal with Israel.

By doing something Damascus has resisted for decades, Syrian President Bashar Assad is seen as being ready to make concessions and boost stability in the region, provided he remains a force in Lebanese politics.

At the same time, Syria and Israel are in indirect peace negotiations — another apparent sign that Syria is rethinking its approach to the big Middle East issues.

Lebanese have lived for much of the past 30 years under Syrian military and political domination. Just three years ago, the country was in turmoil over the assassination of a prominent former prime minister and the suspicion Syria was behind it. So Lebanese tend to be skeptical about the motivations behind Assad's newfound willingness to exchange ambassadors and demarcate the ill-defined border between the two countries.

But Edmond Saab, executive editor of An-Nahar, a leading daily which is seen as anti-Syrian, reads a positive message in Assad's move — "that he desires peace and that Syria is a factor of stability and not a threat … It is a country that knows what it wants and goes for it."

What Syria wanted was assurance that it will still have influence in Lebanon through its allies and that its back will remain relatively secure — the Lebanon border is only a 20-minute drive from Damascus.

It got all that with the creation last month of a new government in Beirut that gives Syrian-and Iranian-backed Hezbollah significant power. The new president, Michel Suleiman, is also considered relatively friendly to Syria, having been army chief for 10 years when Damascus controlled Lebanon.

Once those changes were in place, Damascus was open to a historic turnaround.

Ever since Lebanon was created by the region's French rulers in 1920, Syria had refused to acknowledge its sovereignty, leaving the Lebanese with a permanent feeling of living on borrowed time. Now Syria has agreed to recognize that sovereignty…..

Biden in 2007 interview: I am a Zionist
Barack Obama's new running mate praises Israel In 2007 interview with 'Shalom TV'
Yitzhak Benhorin, 08.23.08, 18:15 / Israel News

WASHINGTON – Calling Israel "the single greatest strength America has in the Middle East," Senator Joe Biden also revealed a Jewish connection in an interview last year.

– Senator Joe Biden, who was chosen by Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama to be his running mate in the upcoming US elections, has previously declared himself to be a Zionist. Calling Israel "the single greatest strength America has in the Middle East," he also revealed a Jewish connection in an interview last year.

During the interview conducted by the Jewish 'Shalom TV' Biden said, "I am a Zionist. You don't have to be a Jew to be a Zionist." He also revealed that his son is married to a Jewish woman, of the Berger family from Delaware, and that he had participated in a Passover Seder at their house. He added that "probably my most poignant Seder memory is not with the Bergers, but what happened right after I came back from meeting Golda Meir (in 1973). I had predicted that something was going on in Egypt. And I remember people talking about what it meant to them if Israel were actually defeated."

Biden presented himself as a friend to Israel, which he referred to as the US' greatest Middle East ally.

"Imagine our circumstance in the world were there no Israel. How many battleships would there be? How many troops would be stationed?" he asked.

He also called comments about Israel's connection to the war in Iraq "insulting", explaining that "if tomorrow, peace broke out between Israelis and Palestinians, does anybody think there wouldn't be a full-blown war in Iraq?"

Regarding the terror attacks in Israel, Biden said the Sept. 11 attacks made American parents feel what Israeli parents have been feeling. "The difference between now and before 9/11," he said, "is that many Americans can taste what it must feel like for every Israeli mother and father when they send their kid out to school with their lunch to put them on a bus, on a bicycle or to walk; and they pray to God that cell phone doesn't ring." ….

Dangerous talks with Syria
Aug. 24, 2008

The current indirect talks between Israel and Syria are highly unlikely to result in a peace agreement. The talks, far from playing any positive role for Israel, are mistaken both in terms of our values and in terms of our practical interest. They are being conducted by an irresponsible government with no public mandate, and are already causing real harm. We should be working to isolate the Syrian regime, not rehabilitating it.

From the point of view of values, the government’s approach is fundamentally mistaken. The Golan Heights were taken in a just war in 1967, a war which was provoked by an extremist and reckless Ba’athist regime in Damascus. Our presence is both legal and essential. The Golan Heights must be retained under Israeli sovereignty. …..

Maj. Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, a former head of the National Security Council, is a Likud Knesset candidate. Jonathan Spyer is a Senior Research Fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center, IDC, Herzliya.

POMED includes the following notices in its Weekly News Wire: http://pomed.org/blog/ 

Diplomacy between Lebanon and Syria? Violence continued in Lebanon last week after a two-day visit between Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and his Syrian counterpart, Bashar Assad.  With regard to a renewed diplomatic effort, some questioned whether Syria willrecognize Lebanon's independence and sovereignty, pointing to its promise to officially exchange ambassadors and to investigate the disappearances of hundreds of Lebanese who went missing during Lebanon's civil war, while others look to Syria's refusal to demarcate the border at Shebaa Farms. Also last week, Hizbullah and representatives of Lebanese Salafist groups signed an agreement to ease sectarian divisions. Meanwhile, some connected the recent violence with Lebanon's weak state and a population that has turned to religion because the state cannot provide for their basic needs.

Terrorism: Take a look at a new publication from the Center for American Progress and Foreign Policy magazine entitled "The Terrorism Index."  The Index surveys foriegn policy experts for their broad assessment of U.S. efforts in the War on Terror.  More than 100 experts give their insight into U.S. policy toward Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran, and the survey's results are also compared with policy statements from the 2008 Presidential candidates.

Comments (75)

Akbar Palace said:

He also called comments about Israel’s connection to the war in Iraq “insulting”, explaining that “if tomorrow, peace broke out between Israelis and Palestinians, does anybody think there wouldn’t be a full-blown war in Iraq?”

This comment from Joe Biden is no surprise, afterall this same political hack accuses Bush of lying to the American people.

Joe Biden is all over the map. He voted for the giving the US president the permission to conduct regime change in Iraq, now he says it was a “mistake”.

Obama and Biden were made for each other.

August 25th, 2008, 3:00 pm


idaf said:

Kadima premiership candidate: I would recognize Syrian sovereignty over the Golan Heights

Kadima premiership candidate Meir Sheetrit said on Sunday that he was willing to recognize Syrian sovereignty over the Golan Heights, but only under a plan which required that the land be leased for 20 years prior to being transferred.

“I am in favor of recognizing Syrian sovereignty,” Interior Minister Sheetrit said. “But only on the condition that they lease it for 20 years, just to make sure that they’re serious.”

“We must not gamble the fate of the country,” he said. “We have a responsibility to choose somebody with the experience necessary to lead the government and the nation.”

August 25th, 2008, 3:11 pm


Zenobia said:

most of congress gave permission to the president to go into Iraq and now say it was a mistake . this isn’t unique to Biden.

no kidding, they should be perfect for each other, Barack picked him.

August 25th, 2008, 4:44 pm


Shai said:


Let’s hope your Barack isn’t as “impressive” as our Barak…

August 25th, 2008, 5:01 pm


idaf said:

So much for the speculations that Syria’s support for Russia will damage its relations with France and the west. In preparations for Sarkozy’s visit to Damascus, French FM Kouchner started his first visit to Syria with the following statement.. “I’m here to open a new page for Syrian French relations”.

Following up on the news of surprising increases in oil production in Syria, it seems that gas production is also on a sharp rise in the country. According to the numbers provided in this report, Syria’s new increases in gas production will last 37 years (if no more fields were discovered and with today’s consumption rates).

Finally on a lighter note, the now annual Jazz Lives in Syria festival has kicked off this year with participations from the US, Canada, Europe, Brazil, Armenia and Syria. This year, the festival will tour 4 Syrian cities.

August 25th, 2008, 5:46 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Dear Joshua

Good post, especially the anecdote about Ambassasdor Moustapha and your subsequent analysis.

I agree that the latest signs are encouraging, but would still point out the obvious, namely that there are two ways to read them. The skeptical view regards the Syrian-Lebanese relationship as essentially unchanged, and the establishment of diplomatic ties and demarcation of borders as mere window dressing. The view that you express presents the relationship as changing in substantive ways. How does one determine which view is correct? At the end of the day, the proof of Syrian intentions vis-a-vis Lebanon will be in the muhallabieh.

Even if one chooses to be optimistic (as I do), there is still the problematic caveat which reserves for Damascus its security interests and sphere of influence in Lebanon. If Syria’s ruling regime is the sole arbitrator of what these interests and influence encompass, then the relationship between the two countries will be placed on a slippery slope once again.

In my opinion, the best way to improve the relationship is by directly addressing some of the principal sources of resentment, like the Lebanese prisoners in Syria, and the demarcation of all borders. These issues, however, are small potatoes compared to the damage that the relationship will sustain if Syria uses Hizbullah to turn up the heat on Israel again, with all of Lebanon paying the price.

In 2009, Lebanon will hold what may be the first relatively free and fair elections in its history. If all goes well, the Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon should be treated as a guest of honor by the new Lebanese PM, if only for having purposely and faithfully relinquished his historical ‘right’ to know the man’s identity in advance.

August 25th, 2008, 5:51 pm


Akbar Palace said:

most of congress gave permission to the president to go into Iraq and now say it was a mistake . this isn’t unique to Biden.


“Most”? I haven’t tallied the overwhelmingly positive war vote to see who now says it was a mistake. That McCain and “most” republicans (including former democrat Joe Lieberman) NEVER considered freeing Iraq as a mistake is MY reason for firmly sticking with the republican party.

It seems to me the democrats like Hilary and Joe Biden are the most confused bunch on this Earth. To me, this can only be explained by their political ambition or their stupidity or both.


August 25th, 2008, 6:10 pm


Shai said:


In Israel, it’s so much easier. When you don’t like your opponent, you simply refer to him/her as “Not suited for Israel’s tough challenges ahead…”, or “He will divide Jerusalem!”.

No need to search too deeply. The exercise could be counterproductive, especially when your opponent’s people do their check on you, and find the same stuff…

If Livni wins the Kadima primaries in three weeks, it’ll be interesting to see what tactic she chooses in campaigning against Netanyahu (aka “King of Israel”, by his street supporters).

August 25th, 2008, 6:35 pm


Joshua said:

Dear QN, You write: “These issues, however, are small potatoes compared to the damage that the relationship will sustain if Syria uses Hizbullah to turn up the heat on Israel again, with all of Lebanon paying the price.”

Syria will undoubted encourage Hizbullah to turn up the heat on Israel if peace talks go no where. What else can it do? The only reason Israel is talking to Syria today is because Olmert couldn’t destroy Hizbullah by force of arms. Without Hizbullah, there would be no talks or hope of Syria getting back the Golan, I fear.

This all means that Syria will try to keep that card an ace.

That, you will say, suggests that Syria really has no regard for Lebanese sovereignty. I would argue that what it really means is that Syria places its own national interests above those of Lebanon and that Lebanon is too weak to deny Syria Hizbullah.

We get back to the old question of how Lebanese should try to deal with it annoying Syria problem.

Lebanese should support Syria’s cause of getting back the Golan as best they can, rather than trying to thwart it, as Geagea et al do.

They, of course, believe Syria wants to own Lebanon and unify, which helps explain why they would prefer to side with Israel to defeat Syria. I think we have proven that this is a losing strategy for Lebanon.

Supporting Syria’s claim to the Golan may also be a losing strategy, but, at least, many Israelis still say that they will return it under the right circumstances.

best, Joshua

August 25th, 2008, 10:31 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Dear Joshua

I don’t think Geagea and company are trying to “thwart” Syria’s cause of getting back the Golan. Nobody in Lebanon sits at home dreaming up ways to make sure that Syria never sees its Golan again. The people you’re talking about are motivated, as you say, by fears of Syria’s designs on Lebanon, but this does not mean that they have “side[d] with Israel to defeat Syria.”

In my opinion, the problem with your formulation of the relationship is that something that represents a threat to Syrian interests is characterized as “thwarting” the Syrian cause, while something that threatens Lebanese interests is acceptable because Syria’s interests have to come first.

I’m happy to accept the rules of the game if we are engaging in a cold, calculating realpolitik, but then why all the moral indignation when Lebanon’s politicians strike back to protect their own country?

I’d venture to say that for most Lebanese, the Golan is not a cause they they feel strongly enough about to actively support or actively thwart. They, like Syrians, have their own interests in mind, not those of their neighbor. This being the case, I think that we should not paint one side out to be spoilers and collaborators, just because some of their members don’t see eye to eye with the other side’s project.

In any case, I am in agreement with you that everybody will be far better off if Syria and Lebanon’s leadership are on the same page, vis-a-vis Israel. That’s why I’ve argued time and again that Lebanon should be included in the current negotiations.

August 25th, 2008, 11:16 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Syria will undoubted encourage Hizbullah to turn up the heat on Israel if peace talks go no where. What else can it do?

Professor Josh,

How about improving the lives of Syrians?

Just a wild guess…

The Lebanese should support Syria’s cause of getting back the Golan as best they can, rather than trying to thwart it, as Geagea et al do.

Professor Josh,

What can YOU do to support Syria’s cause of getting back the Golan?

Do you think this blog is your small contribution to getting the Golan back? Is getting back the Golan the only issue Syrians are concerned with, or is this the only issue Syrian LEADERS are concerned with?;)

BTW – Your post and comments are Proof Positive of how the Arab-Israeli conflict has been hijacked by Arab despots to keep Arab societies backward, seething, destitute and broken.


“What else can it do?” Mamash!

August 26th, 2008, 12:18 am


Joshua said:

Dear QN,

I understand Lebanese outrage at Syria. I think I know why Geagea and Junbalat do what they do. Geagea and Gemayyels, etc. did side with Israel against Syria when Israel was a real player in Lebanon during the 1980s. I understood that as well. If they could convince the majority of Lebanese to join them in siding with Israel, it would make great sense. Israel is much richer than Syria, has good relations with the West, and could get Lebanon all kinds of special trade agreements, tariff breaks, capital inflows, etc. The only problem was that they failed to get Lebanese to go along with them because of the Arabism issue.

I think you will have a hard time finding me outraged at their treason, largely because I don’t think their opinions or behavior are treason anymore than I think Hizbullah’s behavior and alliance with Syria constitute treason. There may be people writing on this blog who believe that, but I do not.

My argument is that they will lose and bring further trouble on Lebanon’s head.

I agree with you that Syria should include a Lebanese representative at the table with it during talks with Israel. I also know Syria well enough to know that if that representative argues against linking Lebanon to Syria’s foreign policy agenda, Syria will exclude them. Many Lebanese do not believe it is in their country’s interest to be in Syria’s sphere on influce. I guess that is the problem.

August 26th, 2008, 12:39 am


Qifa Nabki said:

I think you will have a hard time finding me outraged at their treason, largely because I don’t think their opinions or behavior are treason anymore than I think Hizbullah’s behavior and alliance with Syria constitute treason. There may be people writing on this blog who believe that, but I do not.

My argument is that they will lose and bring further trouble on Lebanon’s head.

Dear Joshua

You are the oracle of realism. 🙂

I’m so depressed now that I think I’ll go join the foreign service.

August 26th, 2008, 12:47 am


norman said:

Joshua ,

i enjoyed the exchange between you and QN, It is a doctor’s diagnoses to a non family member. Unemotional.

August 26th, 2008, 1:58 am


norman said:


Syria-Israel talks focused on border: Moualem
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis | August 25, 2008

DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Indirect peace talks between Syria and Israel are focused on the thorny issue of how much Syrian territory is under Israeli occupation, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said on Monday.

In the first official comment on the content of the talks, which began in May under Turkish mediation, Moualem said the two sides were seeking agreement on land Syria controlled before Israel occupied the Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war.

“We feel that the two sides are serious about solving the lingering issues that are being discussed. Foremost is determination of the June 4, 1967 line,” Moualem told reporters after meeting his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner.

Nearly a decade of U.S.-supervised negotiations between Syria and Israel collapsed in 2000 over the extent of a proposed Israeli withdrawal from the Golan, a water-rich plateau.

Syria argued then that it was in control before the 1967 war of parts of the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, on the edge of the Golan, and that these parts should be returned to Syria.

Israel captured the whole eastern shore along with the surrounding plateau in the war. The shoreline has since receded.

Moualem would not be drawn on the exact territorial lines Syria considers its borders. Control of the shoreline has been a major point of contention between the two sides, especially as Israel uses the lake as its main reservoir.

The late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, father of the current president, seeking to prove the land belonged to Syria, told former U.S. President Bill Clinton he used to swim in the Sea of Galilee before 1967. He refused to sign a deal he considered fell short of liberating the whole of the Golan.


President Bashar al-Assad, shaped by his father’s struggle with the Jewish state, has said Israel must withdraw “from every inch” of the Golan.

Israel, in turn, wants Syria to cut ties with its main adversaries — the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah movement.

Assad said during a visit to Moscow last week that the next round of indirect talks with Israel, expected to begin on Wednesday, could prove crucial.

Moualem said the talks, four rounds of which have been held in Turkey since May, would remain indirect for the time being.

“Unfortunately there has not been enough progress for the talks to become direct,” he added.

Syrian foreign policy has focused on the Golan since its forced withdrawal of troops from Lebanon in 2005 after 29 years. The talks with Israel have helped Syria start to re-engage with the West after years of isolation over its role in Lebanon.

France’s Kouchner said on Monday he was “content” that Syria would exchange ambassadors with Lebanon before the end of the year after Assad and Lebanese President Michel Suleiman made a joint announcement on opening diplomatic ties this month.

France has led European efforts to persuade Damascus to establish normal sovereign relations with its smaller neighbor, including the first formal diplomatic ties since the two states were carved out of the old Ottoman Empire in 1920.

(Editing by Catherine Evans)

© Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

August 26th, 2008, 2:11 am


Enlightened said:

A very Interesting Article:

Hamas chief’s son a Christian

August 26, 2008

RAMALLAH: The son of one of the most revered leaders of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, has moved to America and become an evangelical Christian.

Mosab Hassan Yousef, 30, said his decision to abandon his Muslim faith and denounce his father’s organisation had exposed his family to persecution in his home town of Ramallah and endangered his life.

But despite the cost, Mr Yousef said he was convinced that speaking out about the problems of Islam and the “evil” he witnessed at home would help to address the “messed-up situation” in the Middle East and one day bring about peace and his return.

“I’m not afraid of them, especially as I know that I’m doing the right thing, and I don’t see them as my enemies,” he said. “If they want to kill me, let them do it.”

Mr Yousef, who is known as Joseph by friends at the Barabbas Road church in San Diego, California, arrived in the US 18 months ago. He decided to go public with his conversion to draw attention to how the Palestinian leadership was “misleading” its people.

His father, Hassan Yousef, a highly respected sheik born in al-Ghaniya near Ramallah, is a founding member of Hamas, whose military wing has instigated dozens of suicide bombings and other attacks against Israel since it was formed in 1987.

Mr Yousef said his father, who has spent more than a decade in Israeli jails for his involvement with Hamas, was in prison when he “got the worst news in his life” – that his son had become a Christian and left Ramallah. “But at the same time he sent me a message of love.”

August 26th, 2008, 2:14 am


norman said:

Enlighted one ,

This is not a conversion , This man is an opportunist who is looking after his own interest , some people and they are not Christians makes it their mission to bad mouth Islam to appease the West , Shame on them .

August 26th, 2008, 2:34 am


norman said:

Syria is positioning itself for the next US administration .

Syrian president highlights dialogue as only way to solve conflicts

DAMASCUS, Aug. 25 (Xinhua) — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad underlined on Monday the importance of adopting dialogue and diplomacy as the only way to solve conflicts, the official SANA news agency reported.

Assad made the remarks while meeting with visiting French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, stressing that ending the Israeli occupation of the Arab lands is the guarantee for achieving permanent peace and security in the Middle East.

The two sides discussed the situation in the Middle East and Caucasus as well as the dangers that surround the aspired peace in both regions, SANA said.

For his part, Kouchner said that France, as rotating head of the European Union, wants Europe to play its role and assume responsibly in the Middle East.

Later, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem held a separate meeting with Kouchner on the scheduled visit of French President Sarkozy to Syria early next month.

Kouchner, who just wrapped up a visit to neighboring Lebanon, is the first senior French official to visit Syria in three years due to strained relations between the two countries following the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri in 2005. Damascus was accused of being involved in the killing, but it denied any role.

His visit came after Syria and Lebanon announced earlier this month that they would establish diplomatic ties and demarcate their border during a visit here by Lebanese President Michel Suleiman.

It also came one day following Syria appointed Lamia Shakkour as its ambassador to France on Sunday, a post that was vacant for two years also because of the tense ties between Syria and France.

August 26th, 2008, 2:45 am


Enlightened said:

Point Taken Ammo Norman!

I do not take much interest in what, who or how he worships, that is his personal and inalienable right to do so.

But this point of the article interest me:

“He decided to go public with his conversion to draw attention to how the Palestinian leadership was “misleading” its people.”

Now what interests me is not so much the propoganda that will be associated with his conversion, or how the evangelicals will “market” this conversion, but the undertone of his “underlying dig” at the organization that his father helped found.

It is clear that the Palestinian Leadership has failed its people- both the secular and religious. Maybe its time that Jordan and Egypt stepped in and are part of the solution as pre 67, as some reports are out this morning of an increased involvement in Palestinians affairs to help break the impasse.

Its a terrible situation, that clearly needs to be solved.

August 26th, 2008, 2:54 am


norman said:

Enlighted one , QN ,

There is a nice interview with Professor Salim on LBC .

August 26th, 2008, 2:55 am


Qifa Nabki said:

Ya Ammo Norman

I don’t have LBC at home. Which Prof. Salim? Do you mean Paul Salem of the Carnegie Endowment?

And who is interviewing him?

August 26th, 2008, 3:04 am


norman said:

Enlighte one ,

Their intention ( and believe me if i tell you ) is to undermine Islam and show Islam as a religion of terror and killing , It has nothing to do with Christianity .

The Palestinians are going through very hard time , some if it is because of their leadership but most of their bad situation come from the strong relation between Israel and the West that makes possible for Israel to deny them their basic human rights.

August 26th, 2008, 3:06 am


norman said:

QN ,

Salim , The oncologist , I think Farid Salim , You should get DISH NETWORK , you can have all the Arabic channels and yes ( Future TV ).

August 26th, 2008, 3:09 am


norman said:

QN ,

He is on Kalam al Nas , he was not talking medicine but the politics of Lebanon , he is great.

Marcile is doing the interview.

August 26th, 2008, 3:13 am


Qifa Nabki said:

Ammo Norman, I have avoided getting Dish network because I already waste too much time following news on the internet. If I got satellite as well, my wife would probably kill me.

We are moving to Beirut in a couple weeks so then it will be impossible to avoid. (This is what I will tell my wife).

August 26th, 2008, 3:32 am


Enlightened said:

LOL QN: My wife and your wife would make good friends:

Norman at work, trying to get through costings on a renovation:

I like QN dont have any of the Arabic channels at home, but might need to pretty shortly.

What was the thrust of the interview ? And was it on Syrian Lebanese relations?

August 26th, 2008, 4:27 am


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

I am surprised you are surprised by the Landis view on Lebanon. If the Syrian regime were not made of ruthless SOBs they would not be in power. And keeping the regime in power is important because otherwise Syria becomes like Iraq, that is the axiom of this blog. So what if Lebanon has to suffer for the “cause”?

I just don’t think though that Syria will be able to make Hizballah go to war on its behalf anymore even when the peace talks fail as of course they will. The cost of war for Lebanon is just too large even if it entails a “divine victory” and Hizballah know this. I hope Hizballah and Aoun win the 2009 elections decisively. That will really help Israel and create a huge headache for Syria.

August 26th, 2008, 4:51 am


Enlightened said:


I dont think that the Syrians can make the Hzb go to war on its behalf, agreed.

But I think that the days of the Hezb taking orders from the Syrians, well lets say are well and truly over.

Now Iran, well thats another question, The Hezb will take orders from the Mullahs, what did Israel’s main protagonist say “That he believes in the guardian of the jurist”, I don’t think he was only speaking of his own fealty, if you get my drift!

August 26th, 2008, 5:04 am


Zenobia said:

unfortunately, Dish Network is owned by Rupert Murdoch…

August 26th, 2008, 5:28 am


Alex said:

My Friend Akbar,

Getting the Golan back is not going to change the lives of most Syrians. But ending the conflict with Israel probably will.

Since the vast majority of Syrians genuinely want the Golan back … the Syrian regime will only be able to end the conflict with Israel if the Golan is back in Syrian hands.

August 26th, 2008, 7:11 am


ghassan said:

Friends and not,
I just left Lebanon after I spent 4 weeks in Lebanon visiting friends, relatives and interacting with the locals. Everyone when we talk about about the problems in Lebanon, they say: “Kelna Libnaniah- We are all Lebanese”. Not even one person feels that he/she is part of Syria. Even the most loyal to March 8 group. They say although we have a common enemy: “Israel and the US” but we don’t want the Syrians back and their mukhabarat apparatus! We are brothers but each has his own house!” I hope that when I go back to the US, I will post mythoughts about my trip. My meetings and discussion with people (March 8 and 14) are very interesting.

August 26th, 2008, 7:34 am


why-discuss said:

QN, Josh

Whether they want it or not, all lebanese will have to hang on to Syria if they want to solve the overlooked and sensitive issue of the 500,000 palestinians refugees in Lebanon. Without Syria and Hezbollah, there will be no way Lebanon can have a solution for the refugees. When the syria-israeli talks will become serious, Lebanese anti-syrian leaders will have to swallow their pride and ask Syria to include the Lebanese issues in the negotations, or maybe they would still dream that the international community will negotiate for them?. The question will be : What price Syria will ask for that?

August 26th, 2008, 10:43 am


Shai said:


“… even when the peace talks fail as of course they will.”

Don’t you find that attitude just a tiny bit arrogant? No one knows if the talks will fail, or succeed. But many out there, naive and not, are giving it an honest chance. And then you come along, and make your omniscient declaration. I thought intellectuals are supposed to be open-minded, and not so sure of themselves…

August 26th, 2008, 10:44 am


Shai said:


Important point. QN has long talked about the need to include Lebanon in the talks. But what do you think could be a solution for these 500,000 refugees? In Syria, from what we know (Syria has already suggested this in previous talks), the 400,000+ refugees will become Syrian citizens. I’m putting aside the financial compensation issue, which I’m sure will relate to every single Palestinian. I’m merely talking about the citizenship issue. What will happen to the Lebanese Palestinians?

August 26th, 2008, 10:48 am


idaf said:


I enjoyed your realistic analysis of the Syrian views on Lebanese sovereignty. I also enjoyed your exchange with QN. From my interactions with Syrians from all backgrounds during the past couple of years, I will make the following generalizations on how Syrians today view Lebanese sovereignty:

The majority of Syrians today have bitter taste when you mention the word “Lebanon” (similar to what the majority of “Lebanese” had (still has?) for years when the word “Syria” was mentioned). This is due to the anti-Syrian demagogic media campaign that lasted for around three years by the Lebanese and Saudi media. With the exception of the racist campaign during the 90s in Kuwaiti media against Iraqis (which was limited only to Kuwait), that hysteric anti-Syria campaign was unprecedented in the Arab media history in terms of magnitude and kind. It had an overarching supremacist tendency with a derogatory flavor towards every thing Syrian. Ordinary Syrians were bitterly insulted and this is taking its time to heal (one should note that Hassan Nasrallah singlehandedly healed most of this already with his continuous gestures to Syrians since the “thank you Syria” speech on March 8 2005 till today). For the overwhelming majority of Syrians, this offensive campaign was uncalled for. The ordinary Syrians had nothing to do with anything that took place in Lebanon. Moreover, they didn’t even know what the security apparatus did there (many might’ve had an idea but were in denial). All they knew for certain was that close to 15,000 of their sons sacrificed their lives to stop the bloodshed in that “sisterly” country. However, things are interestingly on the contrary with regards to how Syrians view the Lebanese people. Even the most vocal and pride-injured Syrian will deal with any Lebanese person (regardless of the background) as “just another Syrian”. This was clear in the way those same Syrians reacted to the Lebanese people during the 2006 war on Lebanon.

Because of the bitter feelings I described above, most ordinary Syrians I met during the past couple of years wanted nothing to do with Lebanon anymore (even many of those who used to believe that Lebanon is a stolen part of Syria). The adage you keep hearing from those Syrians when the subject of Lebanon’s problems came up was “فخار يكسر بعضه” (a saying that indicate a mix of indifference and glee) or the lighter one you hear from the older women “الله يسعدن ويبعدن” (“god bless them and keep them away from us”). These sentiments indicate a shift in view of Lebanon as a country among ordinary Syrians. It is now viewed as a troubled area that is better kept away from Syria. Partly because of the political headaches it brings, but also in part because of the genuine fear that Syrians have of the infectious nature of the sectarianism in Lebanon.

I agree with Joshua that the exception for the above description is the older generation of Syrians who still remember going to the sea-side “Syrian cities” Beirut and Tripoli to visit their relatives. It is virtually impossible to persuade that generation that this is no more a Syrian land carved out by the imperialist French to separate their families and lands. One should note that this was the majority view of the people in the region since early 21th century according to the first ever poll in modern Arab history.

Finally, in both countries, you still have groups of people that ideologically believe that Syria and Lebanon are one. You have the Islamists with their Khilafa and Bilad el-Sham view of the region. You also have the secular SSNP members who still believe and work towards a unified country that includes Syria and Lebanon (among others). They are probably the only secular group in the two countries that is vocal and ideologically driven towards this goal as its followers belong to every single sect in the two countries. The Arab nationalists (including the Baathis) are becoming less ideological in their views of the two countries.

I would add the following to the “sphere of influence” comment by Joshua: Regardless of the shape or form of the regime in Damascus, Syria will ALWAYS strive to have a level of influence in Lebanon equal to or greater than the political influence of any other regional or external country. In other words, Syria’s influence in Lebanon will match or exceed the influence exercised either by Israel, Saudi, US, France, Iran, etc. For Syria, regardless of who is in control in Damascus, it is not about Lebanon, it’s a matter of Syrian national security. The external powers will always strive to increase their influence in Lebanon not just for gaining control of this country, but geopolitically, it has been always a matter of exploiting Lebanon to undermine Syria as well.

For Lebanon to reduce Syria’s influence, it has to try to minimize all others. With the current political structure in Lebanon that invites external influence by design from multiple players, this is a very tough objective to achieve. Lebanon’s best bet to reduce Syria’s influence is to establish a strong secular state that is perceived as representative by the overwhelming majority of Lebanese AND one that is perceived by Syria as a friendly one. This could reduce the influence of all external powers in Lebanon, including the Syrian one. As long as the rulers of Damascus see the influence of another county grow in Lebanon they will be forced to increase their own. It is both a matter of regime survival for non-democratic regimes in Syria as well as a Syrian national security imperative for any democratic or non-democratic Syrian governments alike.

August 26th, 2008, 10:50 am


Akbar Palace said:

Since the vast majority of Syrians genuinely want the Golan back … the Syrian regime will only be able to end the conflict with Israel if the Golan is back in Syrian hands.

Hi Alex,

I don’t know what “the vast majority of Syrians genuinely want”, but I’m glad you’re here to tell us. And it seems to me that the Golan has been what “the vast majority of Syrians genuinely want” since 1967.

BTW – What did “the vast majority of Syrians genuinely want” before ’67? Do you have any more of your secret historical data to share with us? We are always in “learning mode” habibi!

And of course, our esteemed professor has summed up all his years of education and all his years of interaction with Syrians with the profound statement:

Syria will undoubted encourage Hizbullah to turn up the heat on Israel if peace talks go no where. What else can it do?

Without a doubt, Syria Comment should require a payment for those who participate here. The information is priceless!

August 26th, 2008, 10:50 am


Karim said:

IDAF ,do you believe that nasrollah will still love Syria if this regime ends?

All they knew for certain was that close to 15,000 of their sons sacrificed their lives to stop the bloodshed in that “sisterly” country.

IDAF ,the war only stopped when the syrian regime received a green light from Israel and the USA and after Taef agreement.
But prior to this american-israeli-syrian deal over Lebanon the syrian and lebanese puppets were occupied to bomb east beirut from west beirut and west beirut from east beirut and the Mufti Dr Hassan Khaled paid his life after he bravely exposed syrian regime perfidy.
And the potential of war is still high ,because the regime has created an entity called Hezbollah which is like a cancer in the lebanese body.I dont think that Hezbollah problem can be solved in a pacifistic way,the Syrians will have to excise this tumour sooner or later.

August 26th, 2008, 1:37 pm


Alex said:


– Nasrallah, the leader of “this tumor” is the most popular leader in the Arab world, including Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia (according to a recent Poll).

– The Syrians did not “create Hizbollah” … Hizbollah grew to its current size and shape thanks to Iran, Syria, Israel, and the confusing Lebanese political and economic system.

Having said that, Hizbollah, post 2006, moved closer to Syria. I disagree with those who suggested earlier that “Nasrallah does not take orders from Syria but he takes orders from Iran”. He does not “take orders” from anyone. But he coordinates his policies with both, and the past two years, he works much more closely with the Syrians and not the Iranians.

August 26th, 2008, 3:59 pm


Karim said:

Alex,the opinion of the arab street is not important here.They will support satan himself if he uses anti israeli rhetoric.These champions of demagoguery are like ghost and many other than Nasrallah had been popular and what happened to them in the end ?from Nasser ,to Bin Laden….who remember the dictator Nasser today in Egypt ?
Alex what is important for me are not the accidents of history but the Umma as whole.

August 26th, 2008, 5:06 pm


Alex said:

SO, Karim, do you want to lead the umma or trust their opinion? … tell them who they should follow? … don’t you want “democracy”? … if the majority of Arabs love Nasrallah, are you able to respect their opinions?

August 26th, 2008, 5:21 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


I think what Karim is saying is that your response “Nasrallah is the most popular figure in the Arab world today” does not have anything to do with whether or not Hizbullah is “like a cancer in the Lebanese body.”

I think he’s right: the two points relate to different issues, no matter what one thinks of Nasrallah’s popularity or Hizbullah’s role in Lebanese politics and society.

August 26th, 2008, 5:31 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

How about you? It is you who do not trust that the Syrians and probably the rest of the Arabs are ready for democracy. Nasrallah is merely a way for Arabs to let off steam and frustration at the incapabilities of their regimes to deliver anything tangible.

Nasrallah is a false prophet just like Nasser. The people in the middle east need economic development, education etc. That is the only thing that long term will bring them “honor” and self esteem. Nasrallah so far has proved quite deterimental to the development of Lebanon. Hopefully he will change, but until then, he is no different than Nasser.

August 26th, 2008, 5:34 pm


Karim said:

Yes Qifa,the paradox is that Nasrollah according to Alex poll is popular in wahhabi and salafi countries while the beirutis who are the most modern muslims in the world hate Nasrollah.So Alex ,you will feel yourself in comfort between Ben Laden and Nasrollah…and say good bye Gillette,product of Great Satan .

August 26th, 2008, 6:25 pm


Naji said:

I gotta give this round to Karim…!
“Karim said: Yes Qifa,the paradox is that Nasrollah according to Alex poll is popular in wahhabi and salafi countries while the beirutis who are the most modern muslims in the world hate Nasrollah.So Alex ,you will feel yourself in comfort between Ben Laden and Nasrollah…and say good bye Gillette,product of Great Satan.”

Goodby Gillette… 😀

August 26th, 2008, 6:37 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

and good bye Gillette,product of Great Satan

This is very funny. : )

Ya Karim not all Beirutis hate Nasrallah. I’d say that around half (maybe more) don’t like him, although it’s impossible to know for sure. Certainly there are many who admire him even if they don’t like the party as a whole, just as there are those who dislike him even when they recognize that he is an indispensable ally.

August 26th, 2008, 6:43 pm


Naji said:

Too late, QN, …Karim already scored on this one…move on to the next… 😀

August 26th, 2008, 6:45 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

I’m not in the game ya Naji! This is a Karim-Alex slugfest.

August 26th, 2008, 7:00 pm


Shai said:


My second favorite Lebanese person – Max Chaya.


August 26th, 2008, 7:12 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


Max is an inspiration. Who is your most favorite? Let me guess: Sayyed Hasan? 😉

August 26th, 2008, 7:20 pm


Alex said:

I like the Gillette punch line Karim : )

But Naji, Karim’s winning this round is about to be reversed 😉

Let me explain please.

We can not keep picking our favorite and most advantageous zoom level when we discuss popularity and other measures or estimators of reality. You want to focus on Beirut, and not the whole Arab world although in previous discussions with me you often paid special attention to the Sunni Arab states … and because it was you who mentioned the “umma” thus focusing on the wider Islamic world.

So this time, because the Sunni Arab world is pro Nasrallah, you want me to ONLY look at “Beirut” … which you probably limit to those in Beirut who share your hate of the Shiites.

What if we include el-da7iyeh and its Shiite Beirutis? .. do you want to look at Lebanon in general? … I did not deny that there are many who share your excessive hate of Hizbollah and its Shiite supporters, but … if you want to respect the democratic majority in your country, then you need to recognize that over 50% of Lebanon’s population does not believe that Hizbollah is a cancerous tumor. They might disagree with HA, they might want to disarm HA … but the majority does not want to surgically remove that tumor… they want to find a less drastic compromise .. a way to live together peacefully.


You know my position on “democracy” …. I want to go there when the environment in the Middle East is pleasant … not when it is an ugly storm.

What I was asking Kareem was a challenge, since he always talked to me and others about how Democracy is the only solution for Syria today ..etc.

August 26th, 2008, 7:26 pm


Shai said:


Wrong again… wrong again… 🙂

August 26th, 2008, 7:37 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


Very smart and good points but unfortunately Karim still wins for the Gillette punchline.


August 26th, 2008, 7:42 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

You want democracy when the situation in the middle east is “pleasant”. By now I know what you mean. You want democracy first in Saudi Arabia before you will support democracy in Syria. The thing is, the people in Saudi Arabia will agree to democracy if you first try it in Syria. I guess you will be without democracy for a few more decades.

August 26th, 2008, 7:45 pm


Shai said:

Looks like we’re headed for a stormy winter (Iran, HA?)… Barak is trying to sell his apartment in Tel-Aviv (for a mere $11,000,000) – http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1015145.html

Our previous COGS, Dan Halutz, on the day HA kidnapped the soldiers in 2006, sold his entire portfolio at the bank. Can’t really blame these guys… like Mike Tyson said after biting Holyfield’s ear, “Gotta feed the kids!”…

Here’s one brave Iranian: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3588198,00.html

August 26th, 2008, 7:46 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

AIG & Alex,

I would like to volunteer Lebanon as a test case for democracy in the region. If it does not work, nobody is liable but the Lebanese. But if it DOES, then we will own the copyright. Of course, we will be happy to sell you the model for a very reasonable price.

Shall we call it a deal? (Can I offer you a cup of tea? Coffee? Cigarette? Make yourself at home…)

August 26th, 2008, 7:51 pm


Alex said:


I stopped paying attention to warning signals, but Barak selling his apartment … Now, that was bad news! 😉


We have been good so far … let’s stay that way. You will need to work harder at not simplifying and distorting what I say.

As you know I want “democracy” in Syria in abut 10 years (7 to 14).

Here is what I wrote on Mona Eltahawy’s blog few months ago about Saudi Arabia:


AFTER Syria becomes democratic, not before … capiche??

August 26th, 2008, 8:01 pm


Shai said:


And this guy is supposed to fight for social-welfare… ha!

He’s got so many shady-deals around his developing waistline, with Egypt’s highest echelon, with King Abdullah, with the Palestinians, you name it. I really hope no one in Damascus is banking on Barak. Time for him, as well as all the other corrupt politicians that brought Israel no peace, and no security, to go home.

August 26th, 2008, 8:08 pm


Alex said:

Shai .. no one in Damascus is banking on BArak.

Actually, no one in Damascus in banking on any Israeli politician.

Except Ausamma … you know, … Livni.

And to be honest .. I also hope Livni will be the one… for a simple reason … I watch her in interviews, and she is able to smile while being criticized. She can accept criticism … which I hope can make her comfortable changing course when she realizes it is a dead end.

August 26th, 2008, 8:11 pm


Shai said:


You know the last thing I want to do is disappoint you… But we must all get used to the furniture-salesperson’s smile of… Netanyahu. Six months from now, Livni will be leader of the Opposition, or his FM. She will not be our next Prime Minister, I’m afraid. In 4 years, maybe.

August 26th, 2008, 8:20 pm


Alex said:

Syria and Iran: an Alliance of Convenience

Alon Ben Meir

August 26, 2008

Syria’s relationship with Iran, though largely asymmetrical, tends to be viewed as a robust alliance that many political observers believe is only getting stronger. Underneath the showmanship, Iran’s ties to Syria are largely based on perception rather than reality. Both countries have been systematically engaged in mutual deception to create a myth of a solid alliance that rests on economic, political and military collaboration when in fact much of it exists on paper only. Syria is hardly benefiting from its relations with Iran while it is in dire need for economic reforms and massive capital investments that only the West can provide. The new American administration will be in a strong position to lure Damascus out of Iran’s orbit and dramatically improve the political climate in the Middle East which could lead to regional stability and even peace.

For all intents and purposes, Iran and Syria have very little in common: whereas Syria is a secular state, Iran’s regime is theocratic, and there is also Persian culture versus Arab culture with two entirely different national identities. Although Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad is an Alawite–an offshoot of Shi’ism–the Sunnis make up the majority in Syria while the Shiites are predominant in Iran. The two nations also have no shared border to foster great trade or security relations. Their economies differ in that Iran is overwhelmingly oil-based while Syria is by and large an agrarian society. Furthermore, Iran needs advanced technology that Syria is unable to provide and Syria needs capital investment that Iran cannot offer. And on a crucial policy matter, Syria is supportive of the Arab Peace Initiative with Israel, whereas Tehran continues to oppose any peace talks with Israel, including the Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations it is actively trying to undermine. Moreover, Syria views itself as the intellectual center of the Arab nation in quest of rejoining the Sunni Arab fold and reinstates its position as an independent leading Arab state. Iran seeks regional hegemony and nuclear weapons while trying to subordinate the Sunni Arab states. The gulf between these two nations is deeply reflected in their day-to-day relationship, but their political collaboration and the tentative nature of their strategic objectives creates a smoke screen that covers the precariousness of their alliance.

It is clear that the main catalyst behind Syria and Iran’s close political collaboration is the Bush administration’s campaign to isolate both nations. The imposition of American and some Western sanctions against Syria and the accumulative international sanctions against Iran have provided further impetus for their political alliance. In addition, their mutual disdain for Israel’s policies has brought them further together. Adding to this mix, both countries feel threatened by United States’ professed intention of regime change. As a result, Tehran and Damascus sought each other for political support and agreed, at least from a tactical perspective, to join hands by actively opposing American and Israeli interests in the region. Iran skillfully used Syria to buttress its position in Lebanon by supporting Hezbollah and aiding Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian territories, while Damascus benefited from the political and limited financial support that Iran provided.

That being said, Damascus and Tehran have yet to translate political and strategic convenience into a meaningful economic and security cooperation. While Iran is boasting to have invested and concluded deals worth billions of dollars in Syria and dozens of agreements have been signed covering tourism, banking, health, the environment, agriculture, and education, most of these agreements are effectively collecting dust. The trade between the two countries is minuscule reaching a mere $200 million in 2007, nearly $180 million of which was Iranian exports to Syria. In fact, the U.S.-Syrian trade for the same period, even under the constraints of American sanctions, was more than double that amount while Syrian-Turkish trade exceeded $1.6 billion for the same year. A CIA report from March of 2008 indicates that while “The Syrian economy grew by 3.3% in 2007 nevertheless, the economy remains highly controlled by the government. Long-run economic constraints include declining oil production, high unemployment and inflation, rising budget deficits, and increasing pressure on water supplies caused by heavy use in agriculture, rapid population growth, industrial expansion and water pollution.” Moreover, billions are needed to improve infrastructure, education, health care, social services and housing.

Regardless of an apparent political collaboration, the lack of compelling economic relations, absence of shared ideological fervor and the divergent long-term strategic interests have rendered the alliance between Syria and Iran basically empty of real substance. Based on what I know first-hand and supported by the current negotiations, it is clear that Syria has made peace with Israel a strategic choice. Not only because the Syrians want to recover the Golan but because Damascus seeks to normalize relations with the United States. Damascus is fully aware that only normal relations with the U.S. will bring Western and especially American capital investments, trade, new technology and over time even the prospect of procuring modern military equipment. Damascus, however, no longer hopes that the Bush administration will normalize relations in its waning days. This, to a large extent, explains why Syria refuses to conduct direct talks with Israel and prefers to continue to negotiate through Turkey as an intermediary. Direct talks with Israel are Syria’s trump-card and it does not want to use it without getting something in return. As one Syrian official told me recently, only through direct involvement will the United States have stakes in the success of the negotiations and only then will the peace be solidified and Syria can expect to benefit financially as well as politically.

As the Russians have started to flex their mussels again, Damascus, perhaps out of necessity or as a warning to the U.S., is renewing its flirtation with Moscow. The new American administration should waste no time signaling to Syria that it is willing to start a new chapter in their relationship. As the international pressure continues to mount against Iran due to its nuclear program, President Assad realizes that his alliance of convenience with Tehran is becoming increasingly less convenient and less useful. He also knows the price he must pay for the Golan and for normal relations with the U.S. which in one form or another must result with the following: a substantial reduction in cooperation with Tehran, efforts to weaken and eventually disarm Hezbollah, a cessation of support for Palestinian militants Hamas and Islamic Jihad, full support of American efforts in Iraq, and finally cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

Syria is eager to change course and the new American administration must make this possible. The fact that Assad has made the peace talks with Israel public attests to his willingness to shift alliances. A realistic plan of engagement coupled with incentives by the next U.S. president will deal a major blow to Iran’s regional ambitions which explains why Tehran was and still is so alarmed about the Israeli-Syrian peace talks.

August 26th, 2008, 8:43 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Your comment on Alon’s piece, Alex effendi? 🙂

In particular, on the description of the price that Assad will supposedly have to pay for the Golan and for normal relations with the U.S. (and a price he secretly wants to pay anyway, it seems):

a substantial reduction in cooperation with Tehran, efforts to weaken and eventually disarm Hezbollah, a cessation of support for Palestinian militants Hamas and Islamic Jihad, full support of American efforts in Iraq, and finally cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

August 26th, 2008, 9:17 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Mmmmmm, delicious:

Tons of Milk for Huge Cheese Chunk in the Bekaa

As part of tourism festivals in Jdita, the eastern Bekaa valley town claims to have produced the biggest chunk of cheese in the Orient.

Some media reports on Tuesday considered the chunk of cheese to be the biggest in the world.

According to the organizers of the festival in the town of Jdita, the cheese weighs 1.5 tons and required 12 tons of milk to produce it by seven factories.

Jdita mayor and other officials sliced the town’s product under the slogan of cutting “the biggest chunk of white cheese in the Orient.”

August 26th, 2008, 9:54 pm


Alex said:

Qifa effendi

Syria’s cutting relations with Iran and Hizbollah is nothing more than a trick by those who want to weaken Syria without giving up the Golan at the end. I’m sure President Bush and others (journalists, think tankers) believe it is a real “price” that Israel can ask of Syria in exchange for returning the Golan, but those who know better, do not take it seriously. Syria will never fall for such a trick.

The “price”, or the reward that Israel should hope for is serious reduction in hostilities.

I am for natural way of reducing tension.

All this accumulated and stored “potential” energy in the “resistance” camp can be converted into a useful form of energy, “kinetic” energy.

Just like potential energy turns into kinetic energy in nature, Hizbollah will become a constructive political force in Lebanon, and Iran will become a good friend with the Untied States and Israel … there is no other way to release the tension.

August 26th, 2008, 9:54 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

You say:
“The “price”, or the reward that Israel should hope for is serious reduction in hostilities.”

This is exactly why there will be no peace agreement between Syria and Israel. Israel is quite happy with the level of hostilities as it is. No need to lower it further.

All those Israelis that you quote and that support a peace process with Syria are all supporting it in order to flip Syria. If that is not going to happen, you better tell them to stop wasting their time.

August 26th, 2008, 10:13 pm


Alex said:

So if they are happy with the hostilities, why do they want to flip Syria … what is the utility they get out of flipping Syria?

August 26th, 2008, 10:17 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

I do not see much utility and therefore do not support the current peace process. But for example you quote Alon Liel or Halevy who do see a utility in that because they believe it will allow Israel to isolate Iran and not have to attack it.

August 26th, 2008, 10:56 pm


Shai said:


So if they are happy with the hostilities, why do they want to flip Syria … what is the utility they get out of flipping Syria?

Best comment yet! The level of arrogance knows no limit…

While it is true that Alon Liel, and Ephraim Halevi, do wish to see Iran isolated, and in their fondest dreams do wish to see Syria leave the infamous “Axis”, both will accept peace with Syria that promises to “not support terrorism, or terror organizations”. Neither places a precondition such as the severing of political ties between Damascus and Tehran. Both believe a natural distancing will occur once Syria and Israel make peace, but neither demand to see this occur first, before returning the Golan to its rightful owner. It is a nice attempt to misinterpret the two (very wise) men, but unfortunately, their position is simply not that. For at least one of those two gentlemen, I can speak from personal knowledge.

August 27th, 2008, 4:36 am


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

What you are saying contradicts everything Halevy and Liel have said in public. It is just wishful thinking on your part.

Since you know Liel so well, why don’t you ask him to contribute a piece saying clearly that Israel should return the Golan without a committment from Syria to flip? That would certainly clear all misconceptions about his position.

August 27th, 2008, 5:01 am


Shai said:


Your naivety is astonishing. You actually expect someone to make such a statement? I’m glad you’re able to diagnose my wishful-thinking from such a distance, but I happen to actually be listening to Liel and Halevi, and not reading what I like to hear from them. Nowhere have they ever said Syria must first disassociate itself from Iran and HA. Both have said they believed there would be a natural separation (which I actually disagree with). None have said Syria must first flip. No politician, has or ever will, demand to see democracy first in Syria. Likewise, none will demand a severing of all Syrian ties with “The Axis”. There is a difference between Netanyahu’s rhetoric before elections, and what he’ll do afterwards. Even you can contemplate that notion, I’m quite sure.

August 27th, 2008, 5:24 am


Nour said:

Let us not adopt the “Israeli” and US propaganda terms in addressing the issues in the middle east. Syria does not support “terror” organizations. Syria supports legitimate resistance against “Israeli” terrorism. If “Israel” does not wish to confront armed resistance against its murderous occupation, then it should immediately halt its terrorism, end its occupation, and recognize the national rights of the indigenous inhabitants of this land. Otherwise, it is going to continue to have to face armed resistance as a result of its continued policy of persecution and subjugation.

August 27th, 2008, 2:57 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


I think that Syria’s leadership has concluded that the strategy you prefer is not the one that they are going to pursue. Syria is basically offering its services to rein in Hizbullah and other legitimate resistance groups in exchange for recognizing “Israel” and its occupation, up to the borders established by the 1967 war.

August 27th, 2008, 3:06 pm


Nour said:


What the Syrian leadership decides to do is ultimately not my responsibility. I am only stating my opinion here. However, I do believe many people are misreading Syria’s strategy, which I believe is to buy time and stave off international pressure while strengthening its position. I don’t foresee any “peace” deal coming out of this anytime soon, so for all those looking for such an outcome, I wouldn’t hold my breath. “Israel” is not ready to recognize our rights and Syria is not going to give in to “Israeli” demands.

August 27th, 2008, 6:38 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


I think the impossible has just been achieved and you are actually in agreement with AnotherIsraeliGuy.


August 27th, 2008, 6:57 pm


Shai said:


It’s unbelievable, isn’t it? Both are fulfilling each other’s prophecies. That in itself, is reason for peace, no? 🙂

August 27th, 2008, 9:02 pm


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