Livni Wins Vote to Lead Kadima

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni narrowly won election Wednesday to replace Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as the leader of Israel’s Kadima party, edging past her main rival, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, by just over a percentage point, according to official results released Thursday.

[Landis analysis] Livni will undoubtedly call off talks with Syria as she tries to form a new cabinet. She must show that she is strong and independent. All the same, it will be up to her whether she begins talks again once the dust has settled and a new government is formed.

Syria would like the talks continued in order to keep the momentum going. Momentum would increase the chance that the next US administration will decide to jump on board and support them. So long as the US does not support Syrian-Israeli negotiations, the gap between the two countries will remain wide. The US has a lot to offer both sides — money, security, help with water guarantees, economic and diplomatic cover.

Syria’s interest right now is to position itself so that the next US and Israeli governments will understand the benefits of pushing ahead with a Golan deal.

Lebanon Jews Tap Diaspora to Rebuild Beirut’s Shelled Synagogue
By Massoud A. Derhally
Bloomberg, September 18, 2008

In 1983, Isaac Arazi and his wife were caught in sectarian fighting during Lebanon’s 15-year civil war. A Shiite Muslim militiaman helped the couple escape.

Arazi, a leader of Lebanon’s tiny Jewish community, sees the incident as a lesson in the Arab country’s tradition of tolerance. Now he is trying to make use of that tradition, along with the global diaspora of Lebanese Jews, in a drive to rebuild Beirut’s only synagogue, damaged during the war…..

“Christians, Muslims and Jews were all living together when I was growing up,” said Liza Srour, 57. “Whenever there was a war with Israel, or tension, the government used to provide protection for us.” …..

Sleiman predicts official ties with Syria by end-2008
By Hussein Abdallah
The Daily Star, September 18, 2008

BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman said Wednesday that Lebanese-Syrian relations were on the right track, adding that Beirut and Damascus were likely to exchange ambassadors by the end of 2008. Sleiman’s remarks came during a meeting with a delegation from the French-Lebanese Friendship Committee at the Presidential Palace. The meeting was attended by French Ambassador Andre Parrant, Minister of State Wael Abu Faour, and MPs Michel Murr, Assem Araji, Walid Khoury, and Michel Pharaon.

Sleiman told the delegation that France had played a major role in helping Lebanon out of its 18-month political crisis…..

Assad says ‘Syria will stand with Iran’
Tehran Times, September 18, 2008

Syria will stand with Iran on all the major strategic issues,” President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview with Syria’s Channel 10 broadcast on Tuesday.

“Only one situation would distance Syria from Iran, and that is if Tehran sided with Israel, and if America sided with the Arabs,” the Jerusalem Post quoted the Syrian president as saying.

Assad also downplayed the recent indirect talks between Israel and Syria, insisting that the term “negotiations” is just too strong for such talks.

“What’s happening today is not negotiation, but they are called ‘negotiations’ in the media,” the Syrian president told the interviewer.

Assad’s comments come as Israel has recently stepped up efforts to persuade Damascus to cut its ties with Iran.

Recently, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., Sallai Meridor, declared that the main reason that his government began indirect talks with Syria earlier this year was to “bring about a strategic repositioning” in the region by breaking up Damascus’ alliance with Iran.

Syria: New Ambassador to Iraq
The New York Times, September 17, 2008

Syria announced Tuesday that it had appointed an ambassador to Iraq for the first time since the early 1980s. The ambassador, Nawaf Fares, was sworn in as the envoy before the Syrian president….

CIA: Syria strike aided by foreign intelligence
The Jerusalem Post, September 17, 2008

The air strike on a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor last year was the result of intelligence cooperation that included a “foreign partner” that first identified the facility’s purpose, CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden said on Tuesday.

“Our foreign partnerships … were critical to the final outcome,” Hayden said in a speech for delivery to the World Affairs Council of Los Angeles, Reuters reported, adding that a US intelligence official declined to specify the partner Hayden referred to or to say whether it was Israel.

“We were able last year to spoil a big secret, a project that could have provided Syria with plutonium for nuclear weapons,” Hayden said.

The CIA chief added that the information from the foreign partner first identified the facility as a reactor similar to one in North Korea, although US intelligence had identified it as suspicious.

“When pipes for a massive cooling system were laid out to the Euphrates River in the spring of 2007, there would have been little doubt this was a nuclear reactor,” Hayden said.

“We would have known it was North Korean, too, given the quantity and variety of intelligence reports on nuclear ties between Pyongyang and Damascus…”

Israel postpones Turkish-brokered talks with Syria
AFP, September 17, 2008

DAMASCUS (AFP) — A fifth round of Turkish-brokered peace talks between Syria and Israel this week has been postponed at Israel’s request, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said on Wednesday .

“It has been postponed at the request of the Israeli side,” Muallem told a press conference with visiting Spanish counterpart Miguel Angel Moratinos.

The next round of talks between the two neighbours — which have technically been at war for 60 years — was due to be held on Thursday.

“When Israel is ready to resume the talks, we will be too because we want to build a solid base that will allow the launch of direct negotiations whatever the outcome of the Kadima party election in Israel,” Muallem added.

He was referring to the party of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, which was voting for a new leader on Wednesday after the premier announced he was stepping down to fight corruption and influence-peddling allegations.

Turkey, which has been acting as mediator in the talks, confirmed that Thursday’s planned meeting had been cancelled at Israel’s request.

Israel said it failed to complete the formalities that would allow its chief negotiator, Yoram Turbowicz, to remain on the negotiating team after he resigned from his post as Olmert’s general secretary, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office said.

“The Israeli side has emphasised that it is ready to resume the talks as soon as this technical and legal process is completed,” it said, adding that a new date for the fifth round had not yet been fixed…

Comments (91)

Pages: « 1 [2] Show All

51. Qifa Nabki said:


Sorry for falling down on the job. I will try to make more appearances in the future. But it’s not just my fault! The Middle East is dullsville these days. Look at you guys: you’re talking about proportional gains in U.S. electoral politics. The thrill is gone…

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 22nd, 2008, 7:06 pm


52. Zenobia said:

I didn’t mean to imply that you said it was winner take all. And I know what you were asking. I don’t know the answer.

there was still also the problem of caucasing verses straight voting. It was pretty complex.

yeah, the thrill IS gone…

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 22nd, 2008, 7:39 pm


53. Alex said:

The thrill is in the United States lately

Nasrallah’s speech does not come close to a Sarah Palin interview.

And … while Syrian news agency SANA says that Syria’s financial situation was not affected by what is happening in Wall Street, it is not the kind of news story that can compete with the other one about the trillion dollar bailout.

Here are some other Syria news (since I visited SANA today):

President Assad attended Syrian army’s military training yesterday:

City of Latakia will be developed to promote internal Tourism

Syrian oil minister says that Syria’s oil reserve is at 44 billion barrels… many promising discoveries lately.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 22nd, 2008, 8:21 pm


54. norman said:

Back to web version Monday, Sep 22, 2008
Posted on Mon, Sep. 22, 2008
Syria’s love affair with Livni
McClatchy Newspapers
As expected, Israeli President Shimon Peres has tapped Tzipi Livni to take on the daunting task of trying to form a new coalition government and, thus, head off unpredictable national elections that could put the country back in the hands of a more conservative government.

Over the next 42 days, Livni will have a tough time wooing rivals on the left and on the right who want to extract as many concessions as they can before they agree to join any Livni-led coalition.

But the foreign minister who is a few steps away from becoming the second woman to ever lead Israel is getting some support from an unlikely place: Syria.

In an editorial titled, “Tzipi – Israel’s new bird” (a reference to the fact that her full name – Tzipora – means “bird” in Hebrew), Syria’s state Tishrin newspaper praised Livni as a “Mossad beauty,” according to Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

(Livni spent two years in her early career working for the Mossad in Paris. While the nature of her work during her short duration with the Israeli spy agency is unknown, The Times of London wrote a questionable story in July that suggested that Livni was a young “terrorist hunter.” The story, which probably helped boost her thin security credentials and credibility among some Israelis, received a lot of attention, especially in the Arab world.)

“International commentators describe Livni as a dove among hawks,” the editorial states. “If this ‘Mossad dove’ wishes to repent for her crimes and the crimes of her family, and if she truly wishes to secure peace, she will get peace. If she doesn’t want that, the region will remain in a state that is neither peace nor war, while facing a tense and unstable atmosphere.”

Ok, it might not be a genuine love letter, but it does show a level of intrigue in the Arab world in Livni’s rise to power.

Meanwhile, The Jerusalem Post reports that Israel’s ultra-Orthodox newspapers won’t even publish Livni’s photograph so as not to violate cultural sensitivities.

“For us, the newspaper is an educational device that not only informs but also teaches people how to behave,” an anonymous editor at the Haredi newspaper Hamodia told The Jerusalem Post. “If it detracts from yiddishkeit (Jewishness), it won’t be in our paper.”

The editor did concede that papers published Golda Meir’s photos when she was Israel’s prime minister.


“Golda was an institution,” the editor said. “She was a respected figure with decades of political experience before she became prime minister. But in recent years there has been depreciation in the level of politicians.”

But, don’t take it personally, Tzipi!

Welcome to the highest echelon of Israeli politics!

You’ve got 42 days before the carriage turns into a pumpkin.

Dion Nissenbaum covers the Middle East as Jerusalem bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers. E-mail him at

To read more of this writer’s blog – as well as those of other McClatchy foreign correspondents – go to

© 2007 Kansas City Star and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 23rd, 2008, 2:05 am


55. Off The Wall said:

I feel a little guilty starting the “Multi-party” discussion and not showing up for more than 12 hours during which several rounds have taken place.

However, I think Zenobia did much better than I would have done had I been here.

Now, I have been thinking, shouldn’t we elect some space shuttle astronaut as our next VP or even our next POTUS. For heaven’s sake, these gals and guys can see the entire world rolling underneeth them from their cramped office-workshop-bedroom-diningroom-bathroom combo window.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 23rd, 2008, 4:04 am


56. Off the Wall said:

I agree with you that there are no official barriers, but why aren\’t Bob Barr, Cynthia McKinney, or Ralph Nader, who qualified for more than 40 states as a ballot candidate on the debate.

Just imagine a VP debate where Joe Biden can stand back and watch Rosa Clemente, a true community organizer shread the basket of fluf, and send her back hunting whatever she like to kill from her plane, only to turn back on him and have him face the music. This is where third, fourth and fifth party candidates excell and their exclusion from the debates is mainly to avoid embarrasing the entrenched two parties. They expose the hypocricy and dullness of the main stream candidate and show the fact that they are almost the same with nothing really new. This is not to say that I do not like Biden or Obama, this year I am voting for the democratic ticket because any vote that does not translate into electoral college vot to throw the republicans out would take us into a bigger tragedy than where we are. In fact I do like biden very much, despite of his wrong judgement about dividing Iraq (which we talked about before).

There are no barriers, but there are plenty of bars in the wheal.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 23rd, 2008, 4:24 am


57. Shai said:


Welcome back! While I’m typing, I could have been driving your way, and being there in two hours… Oh well, just a little thing called Peace getting in the way again. Thanks for the update regarding Nasrallah’s speech. I don’t know if to view it positively or not, but I guess hearing the word “Israel” is better than “The Zionist Entity”. Look at what kind of world we live in – we have to generate optimism from use of a particular word, or pessimism from another… I’m sure that’s what Isaac Asimov had in mind, when writing hundreds of books about humanity 10,000 years from now. Still, please keep us updated. Personally, I’m very concerned about HA’s likely revenge for Mughniyah’s assassination. If what we’re told in Israel is true, at least 2-3 real attempts were thwarted abroad. If some Jewish community center “happens” to be bombed somewhere in the world, no “Dove from the Mossad” is going to be able to stop the Generals from attacking Lebanon. It’s a vicious cycle, but the stakes are getting higher with time, not lower. I still fear HA’s retribution.


As I suggested earlier, I have a feeling this “love affair” between Syria and Tzipi Livni (via Syrian media) is not a very healthy thing for her right now. Her opposition is already suggesting she could more easily form a coalition government in Damascus, than in Jerusalem. In this part of the world, before agreements are signed, being deemed too close to your enemy is NOT a good thing… Wouldn’t it be a “neat thing” if Damascus actually understands this quite well, and in a roundabout way, is actually helping Netanyahu get elected, so that it will face him in peace talks, rather than someone less likely to deliver?

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 23rd, 2008, 4:46 am


58. Off the Wall said:

Her opposition is already suggesting she could more easily form a coalition government in Damascus, than in Jerusalem

So you also have the concept of “Takhween” (Betrial) in your political lingo. Man, aren’t we a like. I heard that phrase about Sadat and King Hussain so many times in my “not so rightuous years”, but with Tel Aviv replacing Damascus. 🙂

But please my friend, do not be depressed. Both HA and the Syrians apear to be preparing their constituents for some psychological shift. A necessary condition for that shift is the “humanization” and normalization of the enemy. It is a big step, which I hope would last and become sustainable.

BTW, one more thing we share in common, ASIMOV.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 23rd, 2008, 5:08 am


59. Zenobia said:

slide show

Published: September 2, 2008 New York Times

NABATIYE, Lebanon — The children crowd forward around the glass case, eager for a glimpse of the martyr’s bloodstained clothes. His belt is here, and the shoes he died in, scarred with shrapnel. The battered desk where he planned military operations still has his box of pencils on it, his in-box, his cellphone.

An exhibit in Nabatiye celebrates the life of Imad Mugniyah, the shadowy Hezbollah commander suspected in the West of masterminding devastating bombings, kidnappings and hijackings in the 1980s and ’90s. Busloads of schoolchildren have flocked to the exhibit, which includes bloodstained clothes and, at night, light and laser shows.
An exhibit in Nabatiye, Lebanon, honors Imad Mugniyah.

“May God kill the one who killed him,” an old woman says, wiping tears from her eyes as she stares through the glass.

The dead man being shown such veneration is Imad Mugniyah, the shadowy Hezbollah commander. Until his death in a car bombing in Syria in February he was virtually unknown here, his role in the militant Shiite group clothed in secrecy. But since then Hezbollah has hailed him as one of its great military leaders in the struggle against Israel.

Now, the group has opened an exhibit in this southern town in honor of Mr. Mugniyah, who is widely accused in the West of masterminding devastating bombings, kidnappings and hijackings in the 1980s and ’90s. His stern, bearded face towers over the transformed parking lot where the exhibit is taking place, along with banners exalting him as “the leader of the two victories” — the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 and the 2006 summer war with Israel.

The presentation, which opened Aug. 15, is Hezbollah’s most ambitious multimedia exhibit to date, meant to dramatize the group’s bitter conflict with Israel on the second anniversary of their latest war. Schoolchildren pour in throughout the day, absorbing the carefully honed message of heroic resistance. At night, light and laser shows illuminate the weaponry and tanks, and overflow crowds have been keeping it open until after 1 a.m.

At first glance, the exhibit could almost be taken for an outdoor children’s museum. The green entrance awning is a huge replica of Mr. Mugniyah’s signature cap, and visitors then cross a “victory bridge” made partly from artillery shells. But it soon takes on a more grisly cast.

A fake skeleton stands upright in a torn uniform and helmet beneath the legend, “The invincible Israeli soldier.” There are captured Israeli tanks jutting up from the ground at odd angles, their hatches burned and broken. As visitors crowd from one display to another, a soundtrack blares overhead, mixing the sounds of bombs and machine-gun fire with mournful operatic voices and warlike speeches.

There is also an impressive array of Hezbollah’s antitank missiles and artillery, all neatly labeled. There are even display cases containing the eyeglasses, letters and clothes worn by two other major Hezbollah figures, both assassinated by Israel.

But the eerie heart of the exhibit is the glass-encased room displaying Mr. Mugniyah’s possessions. His prayer mat is here, his slippers, even his hairbrush, as if they were a saint’s relics.

On a recent afternoon, a crowd of onlookers stared through the glass in awe, some of them weeping openly.

“Look, there’s his gun!” shouted a small boy dressed in army fatigues, leading his parents in for a closer look.

A young Hezbollah guide, standing nearby, explained that the gun was a modified AK-47, more powerful and capable of firing faster than the standard model. “He never went anywhere without it — it was part of his soul,” said the guide, who like others working at the exhibit declined to give his name, in accordance with Hezbollah’s policy of secrecy about its members.

This is a tense moment in Lebanon. Israeli leaders have issued warnings that they would carry out a more devastating attack than the 2006 war if Hezbollah were to lead Lebanon’s government. Last month Lebanon formed a transitional government in which the Hezbollah-led opposition has enough cabinet seats to wield veto power. New elections are scheduled for next year.

Hezbollah officials have recently renewed warnings that they will retaliate against Israel, which they blame for Mr. Mugniyah’s death. Indeed, this week, newspapers in Israel reported that intelligence agents had foiled at least five attempted kidnappings of Israeli citizens in foreign countries.

Israel has denied any role in the Mugniyah killing, which took place in Damascus, the Syrian capital. But Israeli and Western agents had spent 25 years pursuing Mr. Mugniyah, who was blamed for a series of spectacular attacks, kidnappings and hijackings, including the suicide bombing of a United States Marines barracks in Beirut that killed 241 American service members in 1983.

Mr. Mugniyah was believed to have spent much of his time in Iran and Syria, though his whereabouts were unknown.

If the exhibit is testimony to Mr. Mugniyah’s new public status as a Hezbollah hero, it is also evidence of the group’s increasingly sophisticated efforts to capture the hearts and imaginations of a new generation.

Hezbollah has organized similar exhibits before, most notably a mock-up of a military bunker that opened in southern Beirut a year ago, titled “The Spider’s Web,” to commemorate the first anniversary of the 2006 war.

But the new presentation is more extensive. It was conceived by the architect Ahmed Tirani and built in just three weeks by a staff of 290 working around the clock. In addition to an extraordinary array of weaponry and martyrs’ paraphernalia, it includes a large indoor room that was remodeled to resemble “what we believe the martyrs’ heaven is like,” according to one of the guides on duty.

In the darkened room, a figure representing a dead Hezbollah fighter lies on his back on a large sloping bank of white flowers. A sound of exploding bombs gives way to patriotic anthems as a screen shows a brilliant sunset and a coffin being carried through a dark forest. Later, a laser show illuminates the darkness. Other videos braid together images from the 2006 war, including some showing Mr. Mugniyah, along with scenes of Hezbollah soldiers training in the green hills of southern Lebanon.

On a recent afternoon, busloads of schoolchildren were arriving to see the exhibit, with a group of Boy Scouts.

“I came here to teach my kids the culture of resistance,” said a visitor who gave his name only as Ahmed, as he stood with his wife and two children. “I want them to see what the enemy is doing to us, and what we can do to fight them, because this enemy is not merciful.”

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 23rd, 2008, 5:16 am


60. Rumyal said:


Good to have you back! Looking forward to the next taxi-driver report!

But did Nasrallah say Israel without quotes or was it “Israel”, as Nour loves to write… Man all those double quotes must be killing the SHIFT key…

As Shai mentioned, I’m also not sure how to interpret the “progression”:

Option 1: expansionist -> hegemonic -> normal -> tolerated(?)
Option 2: expansionist -> hegemonic -> normal -> depleted -> annihilated (?)

Do you have a link to this interview? I just got a new Arabic dictionary and grammar book and after a 20 year hiatus I’m ready to test my Arabic skills again…

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 23rd, 2008, 6:11 am


61. Shai said:


Thanks for the reassuring words. I hope you’re right. I remember how Syria also gave Barak the utmost benefit of the doubt, practically hailing him as a brave hero in pursuit of peace. And then… that most-highly-decorated officer, genius analytical mind, Stanford graduate, couldn’t even last half a term in office. Sometimes it’s better not to build expectations, and to just let things develop slowly, than to risk the effects of failure. Of course, that does contradict my constant push for more CBM’s, but I guess I’d rather see support of Livni only if and when she’s very close to presenting us with a peace agreement. Beforehand, just gives all the skeptics more power and motivation to foil any of her attempts.

Asimov is one of my favorite authors. I’ve read the Foundation trilogy probably more than 10 times in my short lifetime… 🙂

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 23rd, 2008, 6:14 am


62. Shai said:


Boker (or Lyla) Tov! How do you see Livni’s chances of making progress with Syria? Are you optimistic that she could enough backing to accept a potential peace agreement? Given, of course, that my “favorite” politician (Bibi) will undoubtedly oppose anything she initiates, short of an all-out attack on Iran?

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 23rd, 2008, 6:26 am


63. Rumyal said:


You put me on the spot, eh? From where I’m looking at this (which is oh so far far away), things do look very erratic and random so it’s tricky to hazard a guess but fundamentally she declared that she would require Syria to flip before a deal is signed, so that means that not a lot of progress can be expected, even if she does manage to form a stable coalition. Then again, who knows what her true position is or will be? Who knows whether your Bibi gambit would work? It’s all a toss-up and stagnation is more likely than anything else. None of the current set of leaders is a peace visionary, nor does the electorate value a peace with Syria. The country is stuck in its self-perpetuating hysteria and superiority complex. Sorry for being so depressing. You asked.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 23rd, 2008, 6:55 am


64. Shai said:


Hmmm, I guess I was hoping for a more “uplifting” response… 🙂

Yeah, I agree with you. Things are so unclear right now, that speculating is the most we can do, and probably a useless exercise… at least until we see what this leader or the other actually do, not to mention say. I’m desperately hoping that with the exception of Mofaz (who I really think deserves a nice, long, vacation), all other potential leaders say “Flip Syria”, but believe something else. Manipulation of constituents and potential voters is an age-old art that has been exercised throughout history, so I’m not terribly upset if it is indeed the intention here. We’ve already seen Bibi publicly reject a return of the Golan, while talking to Hafez Assad about precisely that, so anything is possible.

I can’t believe, though, that Livni still thinks Abu Mazen is a “partner”… Do we actually need a formal introduction of Geppetto, before we understand how limited puppets tend to be?

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 23rd, 2008, 8:53 am


65. Qifa Nabki said:

Dear Shai,

Nice to be back. Yes, it’s hard to know what the effect of a possible revenge attack would be. Part of me thinks that Nasrallah is just keeping the Israelis guessing. He will not retaliate in a spectacular fashion without a Syrian green light. And of course, the Syrians will not give him the green light unless they are rebuffed at the negotiation table with Israel. Then some Israeli tourists will be attacked abroad and the Syrians will say: “You see?! When you don’t deal with us, the region becomes unstable. We can’t help it!” 😉


I am storing up my taxi driver anecdotes for a proper post on Syria Comment, maybe next week. (I need to take a few more taxis to the southern suburbs before I have enough “data”).

Nasrallah did not use quotes like Nour. And I do think that he meant option one, not two. I have not met a single person in Lebanon who believes that Hizbullah should fight Israel until it is destroyed. There is simply no appetite for such a struggle. People want a solution, not a winner-takes-all death match.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 23rd, 2008, 10:43 am


66. Off the Wall said:

I probably read the foundation series about 7 times. I was introduced to AZIMOV by a former adviser after I was 30, but I never stopped reading him since. My sizable AZIMOV collection, along with few books on philosophy and some hard science books are among the set of books I plan to send to you for safe keeping when Sarah Palin starts burning books after imposing mandatory prayers. 🙂

I tend to agree with QN on option 1 instead of 2.

Look forward to your “TAXI” series. In the meantimes, what is the Lebanese street saying about the Syrian troop deployment near border crossing point. Is that causing any anxiety?

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 23rd, 2008, 3:44 pm


67. norman said:


Where is Ausama , he should be happy that Livni won ,

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 23rd, 2008, 5:01 pm


68. norman said:


This is for you,

Syria hopes indirect talks with Israel can lead to direct negotiations

DAMASCUS, Sept. 23 (Xinhua) — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Tuesday that indirect peace talks with Israel are confined to specifying principles which can govern direct negotiations between the two sides.

Assad made the remarks at a meeting of the central leadership of the National Progressive Front, a political coalition led by the ruling al-Baath Party, according to the official SANA news agency.

“These indirect talks are preparatory contacts that could lead to the launch of direct negotiations … and need more time and effort,” Assad was quoted as saying.

Syria and Israel have conducted four rounds of indirect peace talks under the auspices of Turkey since May. But a fifth round had been postponed twice due to the volatile internal politics in Israel.

The key issue between the two neighbors remains the strategic Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and annexed in 1981, a move not recognized by the international community.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 23rd, 2008, 5:08 pm


69. Qifa Nabki said:


No mention of the Syrian deployment… people are more interested in the upcoming meeting between Nasrallah and Hariri.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 23rd, 2008, 5:33 pm


70. Alex said:


Even if Nasrallah was “given the green light from Syria” to retaliate, it won’t be against Israeli tourists. Nasrallah is mature enough by now not to make the mistake of initiating terrorist acts against Israeli civilians outside the Middle East.

If he decided to retaliate, I can only imagine it will be against an Israeli General or official … just like Israel started by assassinating his top general.

And if he can not easily get an Israeli General or official, then … he will wait another year until he can.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 23rd, 2008, 5:38 pm


71. Shai said:


Indeed good news. Let’s just hope Livni can form a government quickly (she’s trying to do this in the next 10 days…), and that she’ll indeed pick up where Olmert’s advisers left off. Israelis were dreaming of a Syrian president that is as open to peace as Bashar Assad is and has been, and there’s really no excuse for missing the opportunity this time. There is no policy in Israel that has ever enabled NOT-talking to our enemy. Only Bushism has brought about this behavior, over the past 8 years. Hopefully, Livni won’t be overly influenced by Axis-of-Evil rhetoric and ideology. At least she’s not a religious fanatic like that little Palin of yours… so there’s a good chance she’ll be more pragmatic about our own real-politique in the Middle East.


All my silly snickering about Palin ended quite abruptly upon hearing her demands of a local library not too long ago, as a town mayor in Alaska. The thought of removing certain books from libraries makes one shiver, as we recall the various “democratically-elected” leaders in the 20th century that started with such steps, and ended quite a bit farther… I wonder how Palin would have reacted, upon reading Asimov’s description of the ease with which an entire population (and as a consequence its leadership) can be manipulated by the power of religion (recall the priests on Anacreon). I was just saying to my wife today, how amazing it is that America is actually considering voting in a VP, who could easily become a President (McCain isn’t exactly Michael Phelps), whose first trip outside the United States was only one year ago! That’s how “well-rounded” she is. That’s how “worldly” this most-powerful-woman-on-earth wannabe is. That’s how adventurous and open-minded this “support the Palin-McCain ticket” (not other way around) Alaska she-hunter is.


I’m also eager to hear more Taxi-Driver stories. I find that in every country, from East to West, they represent the majority view far better than any political analyst could. They’re the ones to listen to.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 23rd, 2008, 5:51 pm


72. Shai said:


I’m going to take off that General Electric cap I usually wear on holidays when I’m abroad then… 🙂 (A version of an old joke about ex-Likud dinosaur David Levy).

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 23rd, 2008, 5:53 pm


73. Alex said:

Shai said:

I was just saying to my wife today, how amazing it is that America is actually considering voting in a VP, who could easily become a President (McCain isn’t exactly Michael Phelps), whose first trip outside the United States was only one year ago! That’s how “well-rounded” she is.

Hey … by voting for Sarah they would be voting for continuity!

Actually it is an improvement. Sarah traveled to both Mexico and Canada. .. President Bush only traveled to Mexico at the time he was elected a President.

But he did go to Israel

and China .. . in 1975

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 23rd, 2008, 6:19 pm


74. Shai said:

To Palin, “Foreign Policy” refers to that rare decision making process that has to take place whenever Deer migration from Asia crosses the frozen Bering Sea into Alaska… 😉

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 23rd, 2008, 6:44 pm


75. offended said:

McCain, when asked what national security experience Sarah Palin had, he said that as a governer of Alaska, she’s also the commander in chief of the aforesaid state’s national guards. And Alaska is very close to Russia…. so there…

(real story)

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 23rd, 2008, 7:16 pm


76. AIG said:

Hafez Asad only visited the Soviet Union before taking over Syria and that was for army training purpose. He was the first in his family to finish high school so we can all imagine how educated he was. He loved guns and shooting, people though, rather than animals. He came into power through a coup and let his mentor rot and die in jail. And let’s not talk about the many racist and antisemitic publications he endorsed.

You were saying about Palin?

Yes, I know. You would rather have someone like Hafez be VP of the US. That would be much better, no?

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 23rd, 2008, 9:42 pm


77. SimoHurtta said:

AIG how about the Israeli PMs and other ministers? How educated was for example Ariel Sharon and what was his favourite hobby (besides that Israeli politician favourite hobby = corruption and pocketing collective funds)? Israel has the world record with former terrorists serving as prime ministers. AIG in Israeli politics Palin would probably seen as an educated, rather secular “peace builder”. You have your share of lipstick (publicly or privately 🙂 ) using attack dogs as politicians.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 23rd, 2008, 10:14 pm


78. Jad said:

For “smart” and “highly educated” people only:
Hafez Asad was Anti Zionist not Anti Semitic…
I guess we always need to repeat the same note over and over till those smart people get smarter…(I doubt that they will get any smarter 🙂 )

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 23rd, 2008, 10:18 pm


79. Alex said:

Hafez also visited other Arab countries like Egypt, was a top pilot, and most importantly .. he was running Syria .. not the Untied States!

If the United States were to be only operating in Canada and Mexico, then I would not complain about Sarah’s ZERO knowledge.

But the United States is a “Super power” … whoever will lead the Untied States will need to understand what happens overseas! … do you think Sarah (before training) knew what is the difference between Alqaeda and Hizbollah?

Hafez did not have to sent his troops thousands of miles away.

I appreciate your comic attempt to compare Sarah Palin to non other than Hafez Assad … but … Hafez was one of the most brilliant strategists on earth…

“Nixon found Assad to have “a great deal of mystique, tremendous stamina, and a lot of charm . . . elements of genius.””

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 23rd, 2008, 10:20 pm


80. Alex said:

Top adviser: McCain would not get in way of Israel-Syria talks
By Reuters
Tags: Iran, Syria, McCain, Israel

Republican presidential nominee John McCain would not get in the way of communication between Israel and Syria, a top adviser said Tuesday.

“A McCain administration’s not going to second guess Israel’s security decisions, whether they’re decisions about who they engage with diplomatically or whether they’re decisions about who to confront militarily,” Randy Scheunemann, McCain’s senior adviser on foreign policy, told Reuters.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 23rd, 2008, 10:25 pm


81. Qifa Nabki said:


I actually don’t think Bashar will give him the green light anytime soon. But you’re probably right. It will be a military target.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 24th, 2008, 4:55 am


82. Rumyal said:


I found your response regarding Maher Arar unsatisfying. The person was exonerated of all charges and compensated by a Canadian inquiry committee. Do you know anything they don’t? If not then accusing him of embellishing his story is just plain cruel.

And I really don’t want to make my question the beginning of a futile accusation contest on which country tortures more. I believe anybody on the face of the earth who engages in torture is damned forever and hopefully will see justice brought upon him.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 24th, 2008, 5:53 am


83. Alex said:


I will not defend anyone who tortures.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 24th, 2008, 8:20 am


84. Off the Wall said:


Amen to that. And excellent point about the contest of which country tortures more.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 24th, 2008, 8:30 am


85. Shai said:

Remember the rollercoaster ride?

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 24th, 2008, 2:16 pm


86. Off the WALL said:

Did you notice this comment
“In Syria, one person can negotiate with Israel for decades without being replaced,” said one source. “In Israel, the negotiators are replaced every so often, and none of them can reach any arrangement.”

It raises an interesting point. Do you think that both sides would be better off leaving the initial talks, which are not yet at negotiation level to career diplomats instead of political appointees or to elected officials. Both countries have quite few capable diplomats. This reminds me of divorce cases, the two sides can bicker forever and be on the bridge to no where if it wasn’t for the lawyers who represent their interests, but with cooler heads. May be it is naive.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 24th, 2008, 3:45 pm


87. Shai said:


To be fair, I don’t think the problem is only in Israel. Look at the case of the Lauder meetings with Hafez Assad. I have a copy (can be downloaded on the net) of the draft agreement presented to Hafez on August 29th, 1998, by Netanyahu’s best buddy in the U.S., which talks of a complete withdrawal from the Golan in exchange for peace. From what I understand, Hafez rejected this offer, because he demanded to “wash his feet in Lake Kineret”. With the assumption that there weren’t other pitfalls, this means the peace deal that could have been reached was rejected by Syria, based on a principle issue of border demarcation. Do I think Syria should accept anything border we offer? Of course not. Do I think principles are important? Of course I do. But it cannot be that 10 years and 26 days have passed, because both sides couldn’t come up with a formula that resolved a few meters, or even a few hundred meters. Look at how the United Kingdom and China resolved the issue of Hong Kong, as just one example. I’m sure if there was enough will and motivation on both sides, we could have had peace already for a decade.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting Netanyahu was some peace-dove once, and Hafez was too hawkish. Nor do I think that Syria hasn’t done enough (certainly in the past 4-5 years) to show readiness to end our 60 year-old conflict. But clearly both sides are responsible on some level for where we stand today.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 24th, 2008, 4:06 pm


88. Off the Wall said:

I agree with you regarding the fragility of the process. That is why I wanted to make sure that cooler heads, with no political stake in the outcome start the talks and carry them as far as possible. And I fully agree that both sides have wasted many opportunities for reasons serious or not.

Sometimes i get the feeling that it is similar to a proverb we use to describe procrastinators. It has to do with someone saying, the mosque is closed, so why would worry about praying. ( It is very hard for me to translate that one). But the idea is that each side has not yet approached the peace issue with the earnest determination such problem deserves. The current ambiguous situation is paying off politically for both sides. In Syria, it is providing a leverage with discontent Arabs, in Israel, it is making politicians by giving them something to talk about. You have argued before that in that region of the world, Symbolism is extremely important. How I wish it was not.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 24th, 2008, 4:18 pm


90. Alex said:

September 24, 2008 8:03
Syria’s Smuggling Problem
Posted by Andrew Lee Butters | Comments (2) | Permalink | Trackbacks (0) | Email This

In recent days, anti-Syrian politicians in Beirut have been crying wolf about an increase in Syrian soldiers on the border with northern Lebanon. They worry that the buildup is a prelude to Syrian incursions on the pretext of stamping out radical Islamist fighters there, but really aimed at reasserting Syrian hegemony. On the other hand, the Syrians say that the buildup is part of an attempt to clamp down on smuggling, and there is reason to believe them.

The double whammy of rising global energy prices and Syria’s social subsidies on diesel and gasoline, has created a big black market in oil smuggling that is one of Syria’s biggest financial problems. Until recently, the price of diesel fuel oil, the most commonly used petrol product there, was up to six times higher in neighboring Lebanon than in Syria. (Since Syria increased diesel prices this year, the figure is three or four times higher in Lebanon.) The Syrian government estimated that the 1.5 billion liters of diesel smuggled out of the country last year cost $1.2 billion USD, and accounted for 15 percent of all Syrian consumption.

Lebanese farmers with land in Syria come over the mountains in specially built 4×4’s or vans with extra tanks that can hold an additional 300 liters. Lebanese and Syrian smugglers also use mules, which can carry 100 liters each. A mule train can cross the mountain paths at night without any guides, since they know the routes by memory. “With two mules, you don’t need to work for a living,” said one Syrian gas station owner who lives in the mountains near Lebanon where smuggling is one of the main local industries. Even if the mules are caught, they can’t sing to the police. “The mules have no passports. What are the police going to do arrest them?”

Actually, police snipers have begun shooting mules, and burning their carcasses with the black market diesel the animals carry. The Syrian government has also begun to crack down on diesel smugglers, and in mid-August, it increased jail sentences from 6 years to 12 years and declared that diesel smugglers would be treated like drug smugglers.

Energy costs are an existential issue for the Assad regime. Oil production once accounted for 90 percent of government revenue, but the country’s aging oilfields have been in steep decline to the extent that Syria is now a net importer of oil. So Syria ran a budget deficit of almost 2 percent of GDP last year, and the government predicts a 10 percent defict this year. When a country with a controversial reputation starts running a budget deficit this is a big problem — there aren’t a whole lot of international investors who want to buy Syrian debt.

The difficulty with cracking down on illegal activity like oil smuggling is that some elements within the government are almost certainly profiting from it. Which is one reason why the Assad regime declared that fighting corruption is one of its biggest priorities, and perhaps why some of the soldiers recently sent to the border may have been elite troops. Those movements suggest that the Assad regime isn’t reading the attack, but circling the wagons.

–Andrew Lee Butters in Beirut, with reporting by Obaida Hamad in Damascus

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 24th, 2008, 7:17 pm


91. Zenobia said:

LOL. Mickey Mouse must be killed in all circumstances. so, i wonder how many times we have to kill him?

and Tom and Jerry… wow, really it’s the decline of civilization…

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

September 24th, 2008, 11:30 pm


Pages: « 1 [2] Show All

Post a comment