Maybe the NIE Is Not So Good for Syria?

Here are a number of interesting comments on the NIE, which downgraded the Iranian threat

EHSANI2 said:

Since it was me that made the comment that “Syria stands to reap the benefits in a most spectacular fashion”, I think that I owe some of the readers a more detailed explanation.

During Bush’s press conference, he admitted that he first knew about the NIE report one week ago. We will never know of course whether he was blindsided or whether he was the architect behind the report. As many people know, The U.S. was already pushing for a third round of U.N. sanctions against Iran. Just two days earlier than the report came out, Undersecretary of State Burns met in Paris with British, French, Russian, Chinese and German counterparts to seek support for a new Security Council resolution. Now that the report is made public, diplomats seem to think that the findings may cripple U.S. attempts to win that third round of sanction. Given the above, it is more logical to assume that the White House was indeed blindsided rather than being the architect of the report.

Let us now go back to Syria.

Atassi makes a very good point when he argues that the elimination of the nuclear capability of Iran may actually harm Syria rather than help it in so far as its main patron is not the nuclear power it thought it was hiding behind. Moreover, hawks within the White House are unlikely to dramatically alter their strategy towards Iran as of yet. Indeed, Bush tried to offer a picture of nothing-has-changed during the conference.

While this is all true, it is also a fact that the political landscape in the U.S. has changed dramatically since. One only needs to watch the Democratic candidates debate the matter. Senator Clinton now finds herself facing heavy criticism for supporting a Senate resolution that her rivals said encouraged “saber-rattling rhetoric” from President Bush towards Iran.

Syria’s leadership has long felt that the hawks within the U.S. Administration want to weaken Syria to the point of pushing it to “sell out” to Israel and/or to go for a regime change altogether.
Not surprisingly, Damascus has tried to design its own master plan that would unsettle this train that it sees coming at her. Set below is a summary of what I think its plan entailed:

1- Do everything possible to slow down the Americans in Iraq.
2- Build on the existing relationship with Iran to help its weak military position
3- Design an improved alliance with powerful and Sunni Turkey.
4- Insure that Lebanon does not fall under the U.S. umbrella and that Hezbollah is not disarmed.
5- Cushion the negative impact of the sanctions by encouraging foreign investments.

I am sure that the above list is not conclusive and that one can think of other parts to the strategy.

The recent events in Lebanon, Annapolis and the NIE report cannot but leave one with the impression that Syria’s leadership has indeed passed this test in a “spectacular” fashion.

Where Syria continues to face enormous challenges, however, is to do with the performance of its economy and future energy needs.

According to the Al-Khaleej newspaper, a recently presented report shows that Syria had witnessed an average 2.9% economic growth rate in 2006. The report related this low growth to declining performance by the sectors of petroleum and agriculture.

This morning we learn that Iraq and Syria are planning to bold a pipeline before 2010 that will feed Syrian power plants with Iraqi natural gas. According to the Syrian oil minister, the country is struggling to cope with rising electricity consumption. Plans are underway to bring gas from Iran and Egypt too.

Recently, Mr. Dardari has admitted that close to $30 billion of investments are needed before the country can expand its economy at levels that keep being promised by the economic cabinet.

While Syria may have won the last political battle (not whole war), it continues to face formidable challenges from its economy and population demographics. The political tension with the west has impeded the country’s effort to attract investments in oil and gas exploration as well as many other industries. Its proven reserves of 3.2 billion barrels are expected to last about 10 years according to energy experts.

For Syria to truly feel confident about its future, not only better relations with the west and its Arab neighbors is required but a strategic rethinking of its economic policies is also needed. For the country to attract the huge investments needed, a confident and dramatic turn to capitalism and open markets is required.

Observer wrote (Written before Ehsani's comment): 

The latest NIE is a bombshell that Bush has been sitting on since Wed. It essentially excludes the use of force in the coming year. What does this mean:
a) Annapolis is a fiasco on the Palestinian Israeli side as Olmert has already dampened expectations.
b) Olmert will lose the coalition partners if he makes too big concessions
c) the “moderate” Arabs got screwed as Bush did not share this info with them ahead of time
d) the pretext to attack Iran is gone they will have to deal with the regime
e) Ahmadinejad has clearly dominated the GCC meeting with a vision that none of the leaders had. They meet usually to discuss details and avoid big decision making such unpegging the dollar
f) concerted sanctions are out the door as China and Russia will not follow along.
g) Europeans will feel that they were being used to advance the US agenda.
h) Jumblat is eating his words in the interview of his son Timor. (A reader has objected to this linked article as a hoax.) In a way the son asking for a change of leadership in the Druze community may well save his father’s life. This last one is the most telling of the reversal of fortunes of the coalition.

Iran will surely replace the US as a guarantor of the Gulf security and would strike a bargain with the US and Europe to insure that the oil production and flow remain completely open and smooth going. They will also do it exactly in an opposite way to that of the Shah with soft rather than with hard power. I sense that Syria may have become less important to Tehran now but the alliance will remain as neither side is able or willing to part ways.

The current administration is now the “Pretzel” administration as it is contorting itself in various ways to appear as if they had any role in forcing Iran to abandon the weapons program ( if it ever existed ) while at the same time maintaining that Iran remains a threat. Now that the so called surge, the end of the ethnic cleansing locally, and the influence of Iran have resulted in some mode of stability, the urge to withdraw the troops will increase rather than decrease. The US will have not much to show for its adventure except that it is diminished in the world. The great thing about this is that it is not perceived in such a traumatic way as Vietnam did when the images of embassy evacuation were all over the screens and therefore a right wing backlash a la Reagan will not occur soon except of course if there is another terror attack on American soil.

Atassi said:

This intelligent report may possibly be hurting the Syrian regime too.

This report revealed the facts about the none existence of the Shiia N-bomb program. The Syrian regime may have started to realize the fact it was betting on the wrong “Air-full” horse for long term strategic protections shield.

I think Dr. Landis and others are giving too much unearned credit to The regime leaders with its executed and misshaped domestic, regional and international policies.
keep in mind, This current baath regime NEVER delivered any of the Syrians aspirations and we shouldn’t expect it to do so…

Was Bush Behind the Iran Report? (Thanks Alex)
By Robert Baer

Bombing Iran, it seems, is now off the table. There’s no other reasonable take on the latest National Intelligence Estimate that concludes Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.

But there is also no doubt that the Bush White House was behind this NIE. While the 16 intelligence agencies that make up the “intelligence community” contribute to each National Intelligence Estimate, you can bet that an explosive, 180-degree turn on Iran like this one was greenlighted by the President.

And explode is what the hawks in and outside the Administration are about to do. They were counting on Bush being the one President prepared to take on Iran. As recently as last month, Bush warned of World War III if Iran so much as thought about building a bomb. Bush’s betrayal is not going to go down well. The neocons, clinging to a sliver of hope, will accuse the intelligence community of incompetence, pointing out that as late as 2005 it estimated “with high confidence” that Iran was building a bomb.

Bush’s National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, put the best face on the new report, claiming that it was our diplomacy and saber rattling that forced the Iranians to back down. As for the intelligence community, it explained its reversal by hinting that new intelligence had surfaced.

Neither explanation is entirely accurate. The real story behind this NIE is that the Bush Administration has finally concluded Iran is a bridge too far. With Iranian-backed Shi’a groups behaving themselves, things are looking up in Iraq. In Lebanon, the anti-Syrian coalition and pro-Syrian coalition, which includes Iran’s surrogate Hizballah, reportedly have settled on a compromise candidate, the army commander General Michel Suleiman. Bombing Iran now would upset the fragile balance in these two countries. Not to mention that Hizballah has threatened to shell Israel if we as much as touch a hair on Iran’s head.

Then there are the Gulf Arabs. For the last year and a half, ever since the Bush Administration started to hint that it might hit Iran, they have been sending emissaries to Tehran to assure the Iranians they’re not going to help the United States. But in private, the Gulf Arabs have been reminding Washington that Iran is a rabid dog: Don’t even think about kicking it, the Arabs tell us. If you have to do something, shoot it dead. Which is something the United States can’t do.

So how far is Iran from a nuke? The new NIE says 10 to 15 years, maybe. But that’s a wild guess. The truth is that Iran is a black hole, and it’s entirely conceivable Iran could build a bomb and we wouldn’t know until they tested it.

Yet for now we should at least be happy with the good news: Armageddon is postponed.

Robert Baer, a former CIA field officer assigned to the Middle East, is TIME.com’s intelligence columnist and the author of See No Evil and, most recently, the novel Blow the House Down

swerv21 said: Edit

 

Baer says that the NIE was greenlighted by POTUS.

many of the posters over at Syria Comment are suggesting that, as a result of the NIE, Syria stands to benefit ’spectacularly’. …

my question is this:
if the U.S. intelligence community has now effectively called Iran’s bluff, with WH blessing, what does that do to the value of ‘flipping’ Syria?

if the price of a syrian-israeli peace deal was being negotiated now, id say that the cost to syria just went up significantly. This is especially true when you consider the ‘restoration of isreali deterrance capablity’ we saw a few weeks ago.

the silliest thing that supporters of israel can do right now is to continue to trumpet the ‘iranian’ threat- this just plays into the syrian hand in that it inflates the value of a ‘flip’….

the result of the NIE is that prospects for a syria deal are much lower- barring a dramatic game-changer (for that i’d be looking at huzbullah right now). the isreali price will be too high.

 

Nukeless Nation ‘Not Evil Enough,’ Says Korean Madman (thanks Alex)

One day after a National Intelligence Estimate revealed that Iran halted its nuclear arms program in 2003, North Korean president Kim Jong-Il ejected Iran from the Axis of Evil, calling them “not evil enough.”

A visibly furious Kim called a press conference in Pyongyang today to excoriate the Iranians as “evildoer wannabes” and “pussies.”

“I can’t tell you how many times Mahmoud Ahmadinejad looked me in the eye, told me he was developing nuclear weapons, and cackled like a madman,” Kim said. “That man does not deserve to cackle.”

Kim added that when Iran was admitted into the Axis of Evil in 2002, “they knew the rules: no nukes, no membership.”

The National Intelligence Estimate, Kim said, showed that Iran was not holding up their end of the bargain: “They said they were enriching uranium and all the while they were going all Libya on my ass.”

As for who would take Iran’s place in the Axis of Evil, Kim said there was no shortage of candidates: “Right now we’re looking at Venezuela, Syria, and Rupert Murdoch.”

Elsewhere, natural honey is a more effective remedy for children’s coughs than over-the-counter medicines, according to a study commissioned by the National Association of Bees.

Comments (19)


1. Abhinav said:

While El Presidente Arbusto has cited the NIE as reason to continue on a war path with Iran, claiming it proves that Iran had a nucular weapons program and could very well have the knowledge to begin one soon, the Israeli hawks have stuck to their guns, arguing that the NIE is incorrect, which in turn implies that the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that prepared it are also in the wrong…

Israel’s leaders’ hawkish position on Iran prompts me to try and examine their hostility along a historical context, so readers here can understand why the Israelis hawks are persisting on a war path with Iran:

1. The NeoCons: The Neoconservative movement, advocating a Clean Break in the Middle East in favor of Israel, was picked up by Israeli right-wing leader Benjamin Netanyahu in the 1990s and the Israeli hawks, including most of Likud and also other political blocs, are hardline Neoconservatives, just as most Republicans and some Democrats are in the U.S., as is Tony Blair’s coterie in the UK, and the John Howard cabal, which lost the elections in Australia. The Israeli connection to the Neoconservatives, however, goes much deeper than that of UK or Aussie activists, primarily because many of the authors of the neocon doctrine, whether at the PNAC or the AEI, have a long history of lobbying for right-wing Israeli causes in Washington.

2. Iraqi Threat: While the media here has done a fairly good job of exposing the connections between the neocons and exiled Iraqis led by Ahmad Chalabi as being the source of faulty intelligence on Iraq, little is said of the misinformation and propaganda carried out by Israeli right-wingers, and Israeli intel services, to foster a war with Iraq prior to 2002. If you doubt me, merely google Netanyahu and 2002. Israel’s security interests in overthrowing Saddam’s regime in Iraq were genuine, but it has never been discussed as to what extent Israeli intel services and propagandists played a role in misdirecting U.S. concerns regarding Iraq.

3. Iranian Threat: Israel has genuine security concerns regarding Iran, and most directly so because Iran supports the resistance movements such as Hamas in occupied Palestine, and Hizbollah in what was until recently Israeli-occupied Lebanon. However, the Israeli propagandists gloss over the fact that even in the most fanatical of times, such as Ayatollah Khomeini’s Vilayat e-Fakih in the 1980s, the Israelis shipped weapons to Iran and maintained effective negotiations with that country. While it benefits Israeli hawks to portray the Iranian leadership to be bloodthirsty madmen, which many Israeli commentators have been doing for the last two days, the fact is that the Iranian leadership is quite rational – something that is noted in the NIE itself!

4. Israel’s Intel Agencies – Israel’s intelligence agencies are probably the best in the world when it comes to misinformation and propaganda campaigns. The U.S. intel agencies are limited in their media activities precisely because the domestic laws here forbid the CIA’s use of propaganda in domestic media, and there is always the fear of blowback if CIA propaganda abroad gets picked up by U.S. foreign correspondents. However, in all the countries that were schooled in propaganda and intel work by British and German officials in the 1940s and 1950s, the Israelis have shown themselves to be the most adept at the black arts. But let’s not be confused here – Israeli misinformation and death squads are vicious and effective because Israel is locked into an Iron Wall doctrine wherein Israeli leaders (except, maybe, for Moshe Sharett) have, for long, been favorable to the doctrine of perpetual war with the Arabs and Iranians (after the fall of the Shah) in order to sustain their illegal occupation of Arab lands (Palestinian, Syrian and bits of disputed Lebanese terrortories). If the U.S. seeks to replicate Israeli propaganda and death squad tactics in its foreign affairs as it did during the Cold War, it will find itself in a similar lifelong battle, because that is precisely what these kinds of tactics create when practiced on groups with strong cultural, religious and political inter-ties.

5. The 2003 Switch – What the U.S. intel agencies knew of Iranian nuclear programs prior to the invasion of Iraq came mostly from Iranian dissident sources, many of whom are run by Israeli intel agencies. I doubt that the CIA was able to get full access to most of these Iranian dissidents as the Mossad and Shabak (GSS) are usually quite careful in avoiding direct access to their foreign agents, preferring, instead, to propagandize or manipulate their intel instead. I believe the U.S. case for establishing this “fact” of the Iranian nuclear weapons program prior to 2003 was based largely on sources, such as the Mujahideen e-Khalq, who were run by Israeli intel agencies. After 2003, the U.S. intel forces occupied Iraq and were in direct contact with the MEK and other Shiite agents with access to Iran. I believe the U.S. did not really “discover” the end of Iran’s program, but rather, my hunch is, it wasn’t so much as that the Iranian nuclear weapons program ended in 2003, as much as the U.S. intel services discovered through their own new network of Iranian spies that a lot of material made available to them previously via Israeli-run agents was bogus.

Even if the point I make in #5. above is off the mark, there is still the larger issue of the persisting Israeli right-wing propaganda that seeks to sustain hostilities with Iran, and draw U.S. support for a military strike, consisting of hundreds of bombing raids, against Iranian facilities, in order to destroy Iran’s ability to pose a conventional threat to Israel.

What these right-wing hawks in Israel and the U.S. ignore, of course, is that ever since Israel’s development of nuclear weapons deterrence in 1968, the Arabs and, since 1979 the Iranians, have been rational enough to understand that they can not wage a conventional war with Israel. The 1973 limited engagement with Egypt and Syria was, to a large part, limited because both countries understood, through back channel contacts, that Israel would launch nukes against Damascus and Cairo if the Arab armies swept across Israel. The unconventional warfare, including the setting up of guerrilla and terrorist groups, has escalated since the creation of the Israeli nuclear weapons program precisely because the Arabs and Iranians are not madmen, and the more Israel attacks these people through terrible and terrifying conventional weapons, the stronger their unconventional forces become.

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December 5th, 2007, 8:01 pm

 

2. EHSANI2 said:

Dr. Landis,

While I did talk above about the need to move at a faster pace towards capitalism (the word has a bad ring in the DNA of Syrians. Raasmali = evil) and open market, I think that it is important for me to make the following observation:

As far as I can tell from my contacts within the country, the business environment is changing rather dramatically. The business leaders seem to feel that the country has seen its worst days from a geopolitical standpoint. The economic policy makers have started to implement many of the “ideas” and “plans”. I am personally aware of some significant investments that are being contemplated.

Syria is and will continue to open up its economy at a faster pace.

Quoting my business source in the country:

“Business is about to explode here”

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December 5th, 2007, 8:46 pm

 

3. Nur al-Cubicle said:

Heh. I like this headline in Le Monde: “La crédibilité de la Maison Blanche mise à mal par le rapport sur le nucléaire iranien”

I laughed myself silly seeing Bush try to ‘splain away his government’s own report. I cheer destabilizing this administration.

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December 5th, 2007, 9:41 pm

 

4. Enlightened said:

LOL

NOTE AIG, Akbar:

“Iran is not evil enough” What do you think? I think Team America might come out with a new cartoon lampooning DR Evil aka Ahminedjad !

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December 5th, 2007, 9:51 pm

 

5. Nur al-Cubicle said:

“Iran is not evil enough”. I guess all Koreans have a generational memory of the Japanese occupation.

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December 5th, 2007, 10:03 pm

 

6. ghat Albird said:

Announced events and decisions are rarely isolated and/or on the spur of the moment occurrences. The just released report/findings by the NIE has been known since 2003[if one were to accept it at face value].

Both the Annapolis summit and the NIE revelation are but steps put into motion as a direct result of decisions taken, by the Baker/Hamilton group. By tying certain dots, such as the announcement of increasing aid to Israel by some $15 billion within the next 5 years reads like a payoff. and tangentially an admission of what Hezbollah [and by implication Syria and Iran] accomplished and is accomplishing.

Given the subtleties the public is made aware on a regular basis by all participants most would agree that a final picture of the eventual actions that will be taken have been agreed to and some of form of schedule has been set.

As a croupier in Monte Carlo would announce in some casino “les jeux sont fait”, lit. translated ” the die is cast” for better or for worse.

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December 5th, 2007, 11:06 pm

 

7. norman said:

This will make our Lebanese freinds think and run to Damascus , I wonder how long Jumblat will take to kiss Bashar’s feet, i think not long six to ten months.

from the December 06, 2007 edition – http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/1206/p08s01-comv.html
Lebanon: A sellout to Syria?
A new president in Lebanon who has close ties to Syria might actually benefit the country and the region.
Events in Lebanon are rarely just about Lebanon. They can’t be, not with Syria, Iran, the US, France, and Israel all vying for influence in this tiny and tattered democracy. It’s not surprising then, that the prospect of a new president in Lebanon also has implications for the region.

In Lebanon, a bellwether for what ails the Middle East, the welcome news is this: After a year of political stalemate, key factions in parliament are coalescing around the choice of Army Chief Michel Suleiman as president. That’s quite a feat for a deeply divided country that could easily tip back into civil war and that is still recovering from last year’s brief war between Israel and Lebanon’s Hizbullah militants.

General Suleiman’s election by parliament is not yet a done deal. But the main group opposing him, known as the March 14 Coalition and a pro-US force for democracy, now reluctantly supports him.

True, March 14 doesn’t like that Suleiman is Syria’s preferred choice, that he is a military man, or that he is close to Hizbullah. On the other hand, Suleiman is popular for having rooted out radical Islamists from a Palestinian refugee camp this year, for keeping order in Beirut during Hizbullah-organized protests and sit-ins, and for positioning the Army as neutral.

That Suleiman comes with a list of pros and cons is what makes him a compromise. It’s also what raises his story to one of regional import.

Some in the March 14 group view the general as a “sellout” to neighboring Syria. It was only in 2005 that peaceful Lebanese protesters threw off Syrian military occupation after the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. A preliminary United Nations investigation implicated Syrian and Lebanese security officials in the deed, but its latest report doesn’t name names. March 14 believes Syria is also behind killings of anti-Syrian politicians, journalists, and civic leaders in Lebanon since the assassination.

Suleiman was appointed Army chief when Syria occupied the country. He has a working relationship with Syrian military intelligence. March 14 feels betrayed by US support for Suleiman and its recent warming with Syria.

Another way to look at Suleiman is not as a sellout, but as an “investment in” a new geopolitical dynamic that engages Syria in regional peace issues instead of isolates it. The Bush administration seems to be going in this direction by inviting Syria to last week’s Israeli-Palestinian peace conference in Annapolis, Md., and expressing openness to an Israeli-Syrian peace deal over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

A US engagement strategy with Syria might look like this: Syria and Israel work out a peace deal that returns the Golan Heights to Damascus; that deal relieves Syria from having to support its anti-Israel military proxies Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza – and loosens its relationship of convenience with Iran; that in turn improves regional stability.

The US labels Syria as a supporter of terrorism, and that makes it difficult for the administration to switch gears like this. But isolating Damascus has not worked, and even Israel has made overtures to Syria. There is an opportunity now to move forward, and Suleiman could actually help that process along – in Lebanon and in the neighborhood.

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December 6th, 2007, 12:41 am

 

8. Atassi said:

Norman,
Stop your hatred and blinded instigations; No feet’s kissing please 🙂

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December 6th, 2007, 1:24 am

 

9. norman said:

Atassi,
Jumblat used to hang out at the Sheraton in Damascus in the old days .

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December 6th, 2007, 1:33 am

 

10. norman said:

Atassi,
By the way i do not hate anybody including Syria’s enemies , I just feel sorry for them because i know they will lose sooner or later.

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December 6th, 2007, 2:20 am

 

11. Atassi said:

Norman,
Don’t you wish to welcome our entire Lebanese brothers back in Damascus without feet’s kissing and butt kicking! They can hung around in the new four season hotel since they are loaded with Saudi and American cash :-)….

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December 6th, 2007, 2:29 am

 

12. Observer said:

This is from atimes by Sami Moubayed
http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/IL06Ak02.html
I reiterate the question: what does the new NIE mean to Israel in general and to Israeli hawks in particular? This is the question now.

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December 6th, 2007, 2:36 am

 

13. norman said:

Atassi,
I would rather Americans and Europeans they at least stab us in our faces not in our backs like the brothers , I still think the brothers should pay for the defamation and the name calling they did and the efforts they did to isolate Syria and starve it’s people.

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December 6th, 2007, 2:55 am

 

14. Enlightened said:

Norman My Friend! No one is going to kiss any ones stinky feet, or lick butt! I understand most people’s hatred for Jumblatt, I equally understand people’s hatred of most ME political figures.

Norman, there are people that would wish a lot of ill towards Syria’s regime, but not the Syrian people, however you went a bit too far with this:

“should pay for the defamation and the name calling they did and the efforts they did to isolate Syria and starve it’s people.” ( LOL)

There would be a lot of Lebanese who would say ( Il borrow a line from William Wallace here)

“You will march naked before this field, and then move towards the border with your head between your arse, and on your way you will stop by at every village and aplogize for every theft, murder,rape, pillage and arson you have committed here.”

Norman it is all relative! my relative!

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December 6th, 2007, 4:52 am

 

15. Youssef Hanna said:

Observer,

I tried repeatedly, and in vain, to find the referred to french interview of T. Joumblatt, that he allegedly ends with the fllwg:

[excerpted from the so called arabic translation that you quote]

Q- Shall we see you soon in Damascus? [duh!! who is “we”?]

A- I hope so, i shall be glad to see the mountain of Kamal Joumblatt renew its strategic historic bonds with the lions’ den in Damascus. Damascus is a strategic place for the Druze and Syria is our natural ally. I hope i shall be able to redress the situation and present excuses to all Syrians and particularly to President Bashar el Assad, the Great Arab Leader”.

The “translator” appears to think that thanks to the poor educational system not a citizen understands French. I suspect T.Joumblatt’s french interview first mentioned by Persia News Agency is as true and authentic as Aoun’s german interview of a few months ago where he praised the days of Syrian regime’s occupation, that he discovered in SANA.

Based on the “translated” interview’s closing reference to “ASSAD”= lion (“Damascus, the lions’ den”), and until you provide the original interview (allegedly french), i will safely assume that the so called canadian journalist “Germaine Gratton” understands Arabic word plays…

To quote the “translator”, there exists indeed between the Assads’ den and “(late) Kamal Joumblatt’s mountain”, “strategic historic bonds” (of blood). Until you can provide the original interview (allegedly french), and possibly Aoun’s apologetic interview as well, i shall maintain that it is extremely audacious for Syrian-regime’s moukhaabaraats to put in his grandson’s mouth the name of the person assassinated.

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December 6th, 2007, 7:19 am

 

16. Qifa Nabki said:

(Norman)

Ahhh yes… things are finally back to normal in the Levant. The adoration of the patriarch is once again justified, the stirrings of an opposition to mukhabarocracies are once again stifled and ridiculed, and the peace process is once again being discussed only in the future and pluperfect tenses…

It’s good to be home.

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December 6th, 2007, 2:33 pm

 

17. Qifa Nabki said:

Michel Sleiman: behind the beret

NOW Lebanon looks at the country’s leading presidential candidate
Benjamin Ryan, NOW Staff

Although Lebanon continues to feud over the next presidency, only one name is currently on the table: that of Army Commander General Michel Sleiman. But who really is this man who may very well spend the next six years in Baabda? Is he the Syrian ally rejected, until last week, by March 14 as the second coming of Emile Lahoud? Or is he the politically neutral defender of peace and security that people are speaking of now? And what does his record as a career soldier portend for the presidency? NOW Lebanon talks to army figures who have studied and worked with the general over the years about what the country could expect from a Sleiman presidency.

A career military man

Michel Sleiman was born in Amchit, in the caza of Jbeil, on November 21, 1948. He graduated from the Military Academy in 1970 as a 2nd Lieutenant, and he also holds a Bachelor of Arts in political and administrative sciences from Lebanese University. He worked his way up through the ranks from infantry platoon leader to battalion commander in the early 1970s, returning to the Military Academy in 1976 to teach there and at the Non-Commissioned Officers’ School.

Sleiman’s career in the 1980s is much murkier, as is much of Lebanese history from this turbulent period. The Lebanese army’s official website makes no mention of what positions he held between teaching at the Military Academy in the late 1970s and the formalization of full Syrian control in 1990. However, military sources speaking to NOW Lebanon reported that he held “classical” positions such as battalion or company commander in the field. “He never worked in the headquarters at the Ministry of Defense while he was young,” reported one source.

From 1986 to 1990, Sleiman was the chief of staff for the 10th brigade in Baabda. His experience with the beginnings of postwar Syrian control were likely instructive. “When the Syrians occupied the Ministry of Defense in 1990, the 10th brigade was here, and they killed hundreds of soldiers of this brigade,” recounted the source. Sleiman quickly learned not to cross Lebanon’s new masters, and this caution served him well over the next decade.

Sleiman moved to Mount Lebanon as head of Military Intelligence in 1990, managing the army’s intelligence-gathering operations in that region in close cooperation with Syrian forces. He held this position for only nine months, and in August of 1991, he moved to the Ministry of Defense headquarters as secretary to the Army Command, the office administering all of the army’s operations nationwide. Sleiman was put in charge of the 11th Infantry Brigade in 1993, where he saw clashes with the Israelis, who were at the time still occupying a “security zone” in South Lebanon. Sleiman was promoted to General in 1996 and moved to the sixth Infantry Brigade. He was again promoted in 1998 to Lieutenant General and finally put in place as head of the army, the position he holds to this day.

Who is Michel Sleiman?

The picture of Michel Sleiman painted by those who know him is one of a cautious and reserved career military man. One source recounted, “We were in the military academy together. He is a shy person. He is limited, he does not socialize, and he is a guy who stays at home. He was a normal, classical guy, and he is not corrupted.”

His record on corruption, however, is not completely spotless. Over the weekend, French daily Le Figaro reported on an episode in 2004, earlier flagged by Le Point on November 8, where Sleiman was caught with a French passport issued under false pretenses. The document listed his birthplace as Pontoise in Île-de-France, near Paris, rather than his native Amchit.

A source explained the incident to NOW Lebanon, “[Sleiman’s] secretary of office, Colonel Jezzini, now head of General Security, offered to get him a French nationality. He got one for him, his wife and his three children. The French confronted him, and he gave back the passport, but still, the court says he cannot go to France – both himself and Jezzini.”

The idea of a Lebanese president banned from travel to France is hard to fathom. However, many speculate that the French would likely lift the ban on Sleiman in the event of his election. The source defended Sleiman, insisting that “he did not do anything bad, it was Jezzini. But if I were to tell you I would get you a nationality, you would not just take it. You would ask why, and how, and so on.”

Sleiman’s rapid rise under Syrian occupation and the trust placed in him by the Syrians is the primary reason many within March 14 have been skeptical of the man. One military source summed it up. “Before 2005, Lebanon was under occupation by the Syrians… They nominated their collaborators, their agents. A free man would never be nominated. So he was nominated as being a collaborator like the other people. And he worked for them from 1998 to 2005 – seven years.”

Under Lahoud and Sleiman, the army took a very hard line against demonstrations and gatherings expressing opposition to Syrian control, and civil liberties eroded significantly. The crackdown reached its height in August of 2001, with the arrests of hundreds of anti-Syrian activists and brutal assaults on protesters. Subsequent years were more quiet, due mostly to the opposition’s increased caution in the face of the heavy-handed tactics of the army and ISF.

Yet during the protests that followed the February 14, 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Sleiman did not unleash the army to protect his ostensible masters. Since 2005, Sleiman has refrained from deploying the army against either side of the standoff between the anti-Syrian majority and pro-Syrian opposition. Over the past few weeks, he has rejected calls by Lahoud to ignore commands from the Siniora government and urged his forces to confront only those who turned their weapons against other Lebanese. The staunchly pro-Syrian Sleiman had seemingly been replaced by a nationalist.

Another source who studied with him at the Military Academy and served under him in 1994, explained, “Usually, he correctly reads the situation, and he plans correctly around the powers that be. He’s very smart and knows how to reach his objectives. Usually he’s a ‘yes’ man to the people in command. For that reason, the Syrians chose him to be chief of command.”

Sleiman is not one to rock the boat or radically change course, in contrast to General Michel Aoun, according to the source. Another source said, “He is not courageous; he will go and try to be in the middle.”

Sleiman’s political realignment, thus, was not reflective of a change of heart but merely a prudent reading of a new political situation in the country. “When the occupation left Lebanon, he tried hard to be in the middle. He tried to keep the army in the middle, and not divided. He is not courageous. He will never face Hezbollah or the Syrians or the Palestinians or Israelis or anybody. He will stay in the middle, in between,” the source added.

A second source concurred, adding, “Now he’s the best man to deal with the situation we are in. You can predict how he will react, because he plays by the rules of the game.”

Sleiman could thus be a true consensus candidate, someone both March 14 and the opposition could reasonably expect to be neither overly antagonistic to them nor closely allied to their opponents. One thing he would not be, however, is a strong president capable of taking the lead on resolving the difficult political questions of the coming months and years, such as Hezbollah’s weapons, a new electoral law, and the implementation of international resolutions.

Warned one source, “Don’t overestimate; this is a way of ‘maintaining’ the crisis, living with the crisis. We won’t solve anything.”

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December 6th, 2007, 4:39 pm

 

18. Annapolis, the NIE, and Syria « anaix said:

[…] Annapolis, the NIE, and Syria CFR yesterday published an interview with Joshua Landis in which he discusses the regional implications of Syria’s attendance at the Annapolis meeting. Meanwhile, Landis’ blog highlights an interesting debate over the positive and negative consequences of the recently released National Intelligence Estimate for the Syrian regime. […]

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December 7th, 2007, 3:50 pm

 

19. Abu Hatem said:

The NIE will hurt Syria. I have blogged about this before. The reason why is that since Iran is perceived as less of a threat than before, the U.S. and Israel will not be compelled to sacrifice the Golan Heights to Syria to pull Syria away from Iran.

This is analogous to the Kissinger strategy in the Middle East in the 70s in which Sadat was pushed from Syria to isolate the Syria. The U.S. now wants to pull Syria from Iran to isolate Iran.

The NIE report decreases Iran’s leverage.

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December 9th, 2007, 4:04 am

 

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