Posted by Joshua on Monday, August 25th, 2008
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.
Syria shift on Lebanon suggests hard-liner softens
By SAM F. GHATTAS – AP
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…..
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
By UZI DAYAN and JONATHAN SPYER , THE JERUSALEM POST
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.