Posted by Joshua on Sunday, April 25th, 2010
US analysts are constantly astonished that Syria does not cut off Hizbullah in order to reward Washington and Israel. What do they think that Obama will do for Syria, I wonder? Most seem to believe that the US should be able to buy the Golan from Syria for an extra point in GDP growth. US sanctions and enmity are the price Syria pays for continuing its resistance to Israeli occupation of its land.
The Obama administration is returning an ambassador to Damascus and reengaging with Syria, but it is doing this to advance US interests. Neocons try to make out that the return of an ambassador is a favor to Syria, when in actuality it is driven by US interests. Washington wants to be able to gain intelligence and have some small influence on Syria, which returning an ambassador will provide it. Syria is clearly gratified to have relations return to what they were before President Bush decided to invade Iraq with thoughts of regime change in Syria, but relations between the two countries will not be normal or good. The US has made it clear that relations will remain bad so long as Syria resists the occupation of its land. Returning an ambassador will only restore the bad relations that existed previous to the Bush administration, when relations became horrid. The US insists on punishing Syria as a supporter of terrorism.
Washington has been very clear about its insistence on maintaining economy sanctions on Syria. It is not pressuring Israel to give back the Golan Heights — at least it has made no statement about the illegality of Israel’s occupation or the right of the 300,000 Golanis, whose parents or who were themselves expelled from the Heights in 1967 in complete disregard for international law. Yes, Obama talks about re-starting the peace process, but he doesn’t seem very serious about it. Mitchell is given the run around by Netanyahu, who has Obama by his congressional short hairs. Obama seems more intent on claiming that it wants a peace process than actually getting one started.
In the long run, Syria concludes that its only reliable strategy for getting the Golan back and bringing Israel into fruitful negotiations is by evening up the balance of power. This, of course, will not be done in a few years or even a decade. But the US will not remain the only world superpower for ever. Syria is counting on the strategic environment changing markedly in the future. Who knows, Israel may conclude that it will trade the Golan for peace before the decade is out – if so, Syria wants to be in a position to be able to offer Israel something in return. To do that, Syria must keep Hizbullah strong and must keep hope for resistance alive – not only in the hearts of Palestinians, but also in the hearts of the broader Arab and Islamic World, the two sources of assistance and ideological backing Syria can count on. The governments of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have made peace with Israel, but their people have not. They are horrified by what they see on TV and feel a deep sense of injustice and humiliation for the powerlessness they must endure in not being able to right the wrongs they believe that Israel and the US do to the Palestinians. President Obama and the US military establishment recognize the strategic necessity for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Lebanese and Syrians. They recognize that it is costing the US money and lives, but the political price for changing that reality is too costly.
The real way to encourage peace is by allowing the balance of power between Israel and its Arab neighbors to come into equilibrium. This is the first principle of realism. American analysts swear by this principle in every corner of the globe but the Middle East. When it comes to Israelis and Arabs, Washington somehow has convinced itself that only by skewing the balance of power in Israel’s favor, will peace materialize. Somehow the Jews are different from the rest of humanity. They operate by special laws of international relations that are explainable by some holocaust psychosis. Because Israelis have suffered more than others, the logic goes, they will only feel secure enough to make peace when they can completely dominate their neighbors and are an unassailable powerhouse. There must be no “light separating Israel and Washington.” This argument is hokum through and through. It was invented and maintained by people who are happy with the status quo and happy to see Israel keep the Golan and Palestinian land. It has resulted in constant failure to negotiate peace. Why wouldn’t it. Israel does not need to return land or cut a deal. It pays no price for its expansionism.
It doesn’t really matter whether one approves or disproves of this state of affairs — it is the present reality. The US does not offer Syria a chance of getting back the Golan. It does promise to lift economic sanctions if Syria ceases to resist Israel and acquiesces to the permanent annexation of the Golan by Israel. Syria has made it very clear that it will not negotiate away the Golan. That leaves the region in constant upheaval. It is the source of deepening hatred on all sides.
New Round Up follows
The Mitchell visit to Israel Via FLC
“… Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell wrapped up a three day trip to Israel and the Palestinian Authority ……invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to meet President Barack Obama in Washington next month,….. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is flying back with Mitchell to Washington, Ynet reported. Mitchell is expected to return to the region on Friday….”
Share | Israel must topple Assad in next conflict with Syria proxies By Oded Tira Tags: Hezbollah, Syria, Israel news Syria, according to recent reports, is supplying Hezbollah with Scuds and other missiles that possess a range covering all of ..
Miss Me Yet? The Freedom Agenda After George W. Bush
Wall Street Journal: 2010-04-23
Dallas No one seems to know precisely who is behind the “Miss Me Yet?” billboard—the cheeky one featuring a grinning George W. Bush that looks out over I-35 near Wyoming, Minn. But Syrian dissident Ahed Al-Hendi sympathizes with the thought. In …
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit dismissed as “laughable” on Saturday US and Israeli fears that Syria has been supplying Lebanese militant group Hezbollah with Scud missiles. “These allegations are lies and are laughable,” Abul Gheit told reporters in Beirut as he began an official visit. “Egypt stands by Lebanon under all conditions and in the face of all threats,” he added….
When U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Michele Sison met with Lebanese officials on Wednesday, she had a mission: She was there to urge Lebanon to help avoid a new outbreak of violence between Israel and the Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
Sison, an affable and well-liked career Foreign Service officer, was given the difficult task of both urging the Lebanese to do what they can to avoid an eruption of war and convincing them that U.S. and Israeli concerns about alleged Syrian arms transfers over the Lebanese border should be taken seriously.
Arab press reports cited anonymous sources as saying Sison showed Lebanese Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri photos of truck convoys, evidence of increasing and escalation weapons shipments to Hezbollah. More shockingly, the reports said that she told Lebanese officials the United States had stopped Israel from launching an imminent strike against the convoys. Neither of those details is true, according to multiple administration sources.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told The Cable that the idea American waived Israel off of a strike on Syrian weapons transfers is “totally false,” but declined to describe the specifics of the meeting. Another U.S. official described the Arab press reports as “bullshit.”
Two administration officials close to the issue, however, said that the meeting did in fact take place, but no photos were shown and the United States did not halt an imminent Israeli strike.
“The Israelis weren’t ready to shoot anything. There was never a point where they said, ‘We are going to strike something,'” the official said, adding that at some point Israeli action could of course be a possibility — albeit a disastrous one.
Regardless, the controversy surrounding Sison’s meeting reflects the extremely high tensions in the region following reports of new Syrian weapons transfers, including possibly SCUD missiles, to Hezbollah — tensions the Obama administration is trying to tamp down.
Sison’s message was the same message the U.S. is sending to all the parties, which is, “A war now is not in anyone’s interest,” the official said.
The administration is still not clear that any SCUDs have been transferred, but there is an acknowledgement that Syrian weapons transfers are increasing in both quantity and quality.
“It’s a deterrence game and each side is building up its deterrence capability,” this official said, adding that as both the Israelis and Hezbollah prepare for war, the seriousness of any actual outbreak of fighting is keeping both sides from initiating battle — for now.
“In a way, the deterrence is working,” the source added, noting that the downside risk of the arms buildup is that any miscalculation that begins an open conflict would precipitate a large-scale war that whose consequences would be impossible to predict.
According to this official, who stressed that they were only conveying their personal analysis, not the overall administration position, Hezbollah is still seeking revenge for the 2008 Israeli assassination of its military leader Imad Mughniyeh, and sees some spectacular attack on Israel as a way to achieve that.
But Hezbollah, now accountable to the Lebanese people due to its role in the government, doesn’t want to be seen as firing the first shot that could lead to devastating retaliation from Israel. So the group is trying to goad the Israelis into starting the conflict, the official believes.
The Israelis are aware they are being goaded, the official said, and are doing their best to resist while warning Washington that at some point violence might be unavoidable. “The Israelis know that once they strike, that’s all the excuse that Hezbollah needs to wage a full-scale war,” the official explained.
As for why Syria seems to be playing such an unhelpful role, “that’s the million-dollar question,” the official said. The Obama administration genuinely does not understand Syrian intentions and there are three basic theories within the administration as to why Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would continue to escalate arms shipments to Hezbollah despite U.S. warnings.
According to one school of thought, this is Assad’s way of playing hardball with the Israelis in advance of Israeli-Syrian negotiations. No one wants to negotiate from a weak position, so he is amassing chits that he can bargain away later.
An opposing theory is that Assad has no interest in engaging with the Americans or negotiating with Israel at all. This line of thinking concludes that he is simply paving the way for eventual conflict with Israel.
The third, more nuanced analysis portrays Assad as a man in a bind. He has himself so tied up with Iran and Hezbollah that perhaps he can’t disengage as easily as those in the West think he can. Also, Assad has always been a gambler and may have simply become entangled in his own web of deals with so many competing interests.
“We do not understand Syrian intentions. No one does, and until we get to that question we can never get to the root of the problem,” the official said. “Until then it’s all damage control.”
Meanwhile, the administration is trying to explain to the Syrians how foolish the weapons transfers are, if they are really happening, while telling the Israelis to be patient and arguing that the only beneficiary of a new Israeli-Hezbollah war would be Iran, which would seize upon a new conflict to deflect international pressure over its nuclear program.
And what about Hariri, who said the SCUD allegations were “reminiscent of the weapons of mass destruction allegations against Saddam Hussein” and “a pretext for threatening my country”?
“Hariri is terrified that another war is going to break his country apart and if that means denying the weapons transfers or whatever, he’s going to do it,” our official speculated. “He’s desperately trying to save his country from utter decimation.”
Saudi Arabia sets up nuclear energy science center
Top oil exporter witnesses sustained growth in demand for power
April 19, 2010, Daily Star
KHOBAR, Saudi Arabia: Top oil exporter Saudi Arabia said it would set up a scientific center for civilian nuclear and renewable energy to meet rising demand for power and desalinated water, state news agency SPA said on Saturday.
Fast growing power demand is forcing Saudi Arabia to look at all sources of energy, the kingdom’s deputy minister of electricity, Saleh Alawaji said last month.
Calling the last administration’s record in the Middle East a “spectacular disaster,” Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Middle East subcommittee, came out guns blazing today to ridicule hawks who criticize the Obama administration’s efforts to engage Syria as appeasement.
“And from the policymakers and supporters of the previous Administration, who in decency ought to have slunk off in shamed silence for having watched fecklessly as this disaster—like Iran’s steady march toward nuclear weapons-capability—unfolded under their watch, what do they have to say today?” Ackerman charged at the subcommittee’s hearing on U.S. policy to Syria today at which Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman testified:
“Appeasement! Appeasement!” they cry, attempting to evoke the days leading to World War II.
This charge is grotesque. Apart from the indecency of comparison with the unique horror and evil of Nazi Germany, the cheap demagoguery of the word utterly fails to capture what the Obama Administration is actually doing. Where, one might ask, is the long list of concessions from America to Syria? Where is the surrender and sell-out of allies? Where is the retreat in the face of challenge? A few airplane parts? A few inconclusive meetings?
The string of defeats and failures that brought us to the current impasse occurred, let us not forget, during the previous Administration. The seeming limits of American power were brutally exposed well before Barack Obama was even elected to his high office.
Appeasement? Shameless nonsense. And more empty words.
It is true that the Obama Administration is pursuing a different policy than the spectacular failure of its predecessor. But that’s just good sense. Everywhere but Washington, not repeating mistakes is considered a good, or even a very good thing.
But Ackerman does have one criticism of the Obama administration: it doesn’t explain itself very well. “Nothing explains itself,” Ackerman said. “Nothing sells itself.”
If you want people to understand that our policy with Syria is not predicated on compelling major changes in Syrian behavior in the short-term, that has to be explained.
If you want people to understand that our policy of sanctions and political pressure will be sustained until there are changes in Syrian behavior, that has to be explained. If you want people to understand that dispatching an American ambassador to Syria is a tool to send and receive messages and to gather political intelligence for our own use, that has to be explained. If you want people to understand that trying diplomacy with Syria is not a betrayal of either our values or our friends, that has to be explained.
That is why we are here today. To make things clear. ….
Israel Rebuffs U.S. on Building By: Jay Solomon and Charles Levinson | The Wall Street Journal
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conveyed to the White House this weekend his rejection of a U.S. call for a total Israeli construction freeze in East Jerusalem, calling into question the path toward Middle East peace.
Cliff May wonders whether Dianne Feinstein is dumb or just pretending to be. Feinstein on the shipment of missiles to Hezbollah and the potential for war, pronounces: “There’s only one thing that’s going to solve it, and that’s a two-state …
Israel Billionaire Tshuva Strikes Gas, Fueling Energy Expansion
2010-04-21 Business Week
By David Wainer and Calev Ben-David
(Bloomberg) — Isaac Tshuva uses sugar packets on a table in the lounge of his Leonardo City Tower Hotel in Tel Aviv to mark the spots of three natural-gas fields off Israel that he said will fuel global growth of his energy business. The Israeli billionaire, owner of New York’s Plaza Hotel, said his Delek Group Ltd. and partners including Houston-based Noble Energy Inc. are now homing in on more deposits after last year announcing a record find in waters off Haifa, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports in its April 26 edition.
“The amounts we’ve found are going to provide much of Israel’s energy needs for the next two decades,” said Tshuva, 61, who grew up in a one-bedroom apartment in Netanya with 10 family members after immigrating from Libya in 1948. Source close to leadership in Damascus responds to Israeli threats, tells Kuwait newspaper Syria continuously upgrading military capabilities….
Hezbollah: We possess arms that can hit deep in Israel.
By Roee Nahmias in Yediot Aharonot
Syria has threatened to “send Israel back to the era of prehistoric man” if the Jewish state attacks it with unconventional weapons.
A source close to decision-makers in Damascus was quoted by Kuwaiti newspaper al-Rai on Saturday as saying that “If Israel uses unconventional weapons, we’ll respond in a similar fashion.”
Earlier this week, an Israeli minister told the Sunday Times that Syria would be “sent back to the Stone Age” if Hezbollah launches ballistic missiles.
The Syrian official said Damascus has upgraded its military capabilities and has prepared for a number of possible scenarios in case a war against Israel breaks out.
“Despite the fact that Syria has been outside the cycle of war since 1973, it did not sit idly by for even one day and is still working to develop its capabilities via missiles,” he was quoted by the Kuwait paper as saying.
The official said Syria has drawn lessons from Hezbollah’s “success” during the Second Lebanon War and has since then developed “advanced methods of warfare.”
‘War could break out tomorrow’
The Syrian source said Damascus’ wartime strategy is based in part on the possibility of opening a broad front against Israel – from Rosh Hanikra to the Golan Heights.
In addition, said the official, Syria is capable of launching 60 ballistic missiles deep into Israeli territory if the Jewish state will “dare to try and undermine Damascus’ sovereignty.”
“Syria can also launch 600 short-range tactical missiles into Israel in one day,” he said, while detailing plans to attack Israel’s coastline if a war breaks out.
In this framework, he said, Syrian forces would employ sea-to-surface missiles against Israeli civilian and military targets, including ports.
The official did not address claims that Syria was transferring Scud missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Hezbollah political bureau member Ghaleb Abu Zainab said during an interview with NBN television on Friday that his group does not need Scud missiles to defend Lebanon.
“The resistance possesses arms that can reach deep into Israel,” Abu Zainab said, adding that Hezbollah is completely ready to confront the Jewish state.
According to Abu Zainab, Washington and Jerusalem are using their accusations of the Scud transfer to attempt to divert attention away from Israel’s “violations” in the Palestinian territories.
Syrian art market rides wave of reform
Improvements in the Syrian economy inspire an art market renaissance.
As Syria becomes more integrated into the international market, the country’s arts scene is also changing. With the help of galleries and auction houses, more Syrian artists are selling their work to foreign buyers.
By Mark Archer in Financial Times: April 24 2010
….It was difficult to take leave of Damascus, a city in which the historic mingling of different peoples and civilisations seems to have left it remarkably hospitable. One of the best evocations of its appeal comes from Mark Twain, who invoked his visit in The Innocents Abroad: “She measures time not by days and months and years but by the empires she has seen rise and crumble to ruin … Damascus has seen all that ever occurred on earth and still she lives. She has looked upon the dry bones of a thousand empires, and will see the tombs of a thousand more before she dies.”
There is change afoot in Syria under its reformist president Bashar al-Assad and his telegenic wife, who was formerly a hedge fund manager in London. The economy is being overhauled and there are plans to expand its tourist industry. But it’s reassuring to think that the special charm of Damascus should remain unaltered by even the best-intentioned reforms.
11 heritage hotels open in Damascus Old City
Saadallah Agha al-Qalaa, the Syrian tourism minister, has said that the tourists’ number has increased 71 percent in comparison with the year 2009, pointing out that Syria will witness important tourist investment project in the year, earlier reports said.
Al-Qalaa said that these projects give a chance for millions of tourists to get acquainted with Damascus’ heritage.
In a statement released on April 15, the Syrian tourism minister said that Syria occupies the third position in the world tourism growth due to canceling visas with some countries such as Turkey and Iran and enhancing relationships with Arab and foreign countries.