More on New US Amb., War Bluster, Hariri Court

February 5, 2010

Washington has nominated Robert Ford, a career Foreign Service officer, as its ambassador to Syria, a post that has been vacant since the United States withdrew its envoy in 2005 to protest alleged Syrian involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. (Syria denied any involvement.)

Ford, currently deputy ambassador to Iraq, was ambassador to Algeria from 2006 to 2008. He ran a Coalition Provisional Authority office in Najaf in 2003, and from 2004 to 2006 he was a political officer at the US Embassy in Baghdad, where he helped draft Iraq’s new Constitution, establish the transitional government and oversee elections in 2005.

The appointment of a career officer who speaks Arabic represents a shift for Obama, who has often chosen well-heeled friends and contributors for ambassadorial posts. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, as of November twenty-four nominees were high-profile campaign “bundlers” who corralled more than $10 million for Obama. About half of all ninety-nine nominees either donated to Obama, other Democratic candidates or the Democratic Party.

Sending Ford to Damascus is part of the administration’s effort to back up Obama’s fleeting Cairo oratory. The London-based Arabic daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat quoted an unnamed American official saying, “Washington wants to help in launching direct peace negotiations between Syria and Israel in the next few months.” But Joshua Landis, a regional expert who runs the popular Syria Comment blog, is not so sure. “The Syrians I have spoken to are skeptical that [negotiations] can lead to anything but frustration,” he said. “Netanyahu is not giving any ground to the Palestinians and there’s no reason to expect him to give ground to the Syrians.”

Reopening the ambassador’s residence is a step, not a solution. After all, last year Obama renewed harsh economic sanctions on Syria that were imposed by George W. Bush. And Syria holds the dubious distinction of being Washington’s oldest designated state sponsor of terrorism–since 1979.

Washington has called on Israel and Syria to curb recent tensions that might make it more difficult to resume stalled peace negotiations, the London-based A-Sharq Al-Awsat reported on Friday.

State Department sources told the Arabic-language daily that the U.S. was determined to see Israel re-enter the peace process, both on the Palestinian and Syrian track.

The sources said that the new U.S. envoy to Syria was dealing with a number of issues challenging the resumption of talks, and that Washington was making efforts to see the obstacles overcome.
A top aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that Israel wants to start talks that would culminate with a permanent peace agreement with Syria, but would continue to react against any threats to its safety.

Nir Hefetz, head of the National Information Directorate in the prime minister’s bureau, said after a meeting with Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman that the two wished to emphasize their commitment to peace with Israel’s neighbor to the north.

FM on Syria feud: Grave issues in Mideast require a response
By Haaretz

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Friday defended his controversial comments warning Syria not to attack Israel, saying that grave issues in the Middle East cannot go without response. Lieberman on Thursday said “Assad should know that if he attacks, he will not only lose the war. Neither he nor his family will remain in power.” His remarks came after Syrian President Bashar Assad on Wednesday told Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos that Israel was pushing the Middle East toward a new war.

Lieberman’s comments drew harsh criticism on Thursday from a range of Knesset members, some of whom urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to rein him in or dismiss him. However, the Foreign Minister dismissed the criticism on Friday, saying, “I don’t work for the media or for public opinion.”

“My response, which I made in order to clarify that the situation [with Syria] is unbearable, was immediately met with a hysterical reaction in Israel of ‘how dare we anger the nobleman,'” Lieberman said on Friday in an interview with Channel 2 news. He went on to say that he finds it unfortunate the Israeli left has adopted this reactionary habit and added, “I think that in the Middle East, we cannot let grave things go without a response.”

Lieberman also denied that behind-the-scenes meetings have been taking place between Israeli and Syrian officials.

Walid Jumblatt vows solidarity with Syria in the face of what he calls ‘a frenzied Israeli attitude.’

“Amid the Israeli madness and radical threats, I tell the Syrian people and leadership that we are with you above all else,” he said in a statement issued by the PSP and quoted by pan-Arab A-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper, the Lebanese portal Naharnet reported on Friday.

He said, “We took our decision a long time ago on who is the enemy and who is the friend … Syria is our strategic depth.”

China throws kink into U.S.-led push for sanctions on Iran
(By Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post)

China on Thursday threw a roadblock in the path of a U.S.-led push for sanctions against Iran, saying that it is important to continue negotiations as long as Iran appears willing to consider a deal to give up some of its enriched uranium.

“To talk about sanctions at the moment will complicate the situation and might stand in the way of finding a diplomatic solution,” Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said at a conference in Paris.

After months of spurning the proposed deal, which would provide Iran with fuel for a medical reactor, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad showed a suddenly renewed interest in it this week just as France, a strong advocate of sanctions, assumed the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council. French Prime Minister François Fillon said Wednesday that he would ask the United Nations to adopt a resolution imposing “strong sanctions” against Iran because of its nuclear program.

Lebanese fear stall in tribunal on Hariri slaying
The Associated Press
Saturday, February 6,

The head of the international tribunal on the assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister sought to reassure Lebanese this week that the investigation is on track, but there are growing concerns here that work is languishing in the case…..

Comments (62)

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51. Shai said:

A few factual errors in Sami Moubayed’s article:

1) The verbal conflict was triggered not by Lieberman, but by Barak.

2) Barak did not tell his officers to ready for war but, rather, that Israel should seek Peace because all-out war is still an option, and if it occurs, we (Israel) will be back negotiating the same peace afterwards. His message was misinterpreted by Damascus, and Lieberman took full advantage of Mouallem’s response to Barak.

3) Ehud Barak had nothing to do with the Lebanon 2006 war. He didn’t “fail to win it”, because he was a businessman at the time. He returned to politics only the following year.

4) There is no “widespread belief within Israel that there should be another war with Hezbollah soon…” The closest anyone came to predicting such a thing, that I’ve seen, was ex-armored general, now Likud MK Yossi Peled, who in his typical “Oracle-of-the-Week” fashion, stated recently that “based on my experience, and everything I know, I would say something is happening in the North…” (paraphrased). No Israeli that I know is particularly interested in another round with Hezbollah. Not anytime soon, at least.

On a side note, I think Moubayed is reading Israel’s political map incorrectly. The most dangerous leaders have always been from the Left (and, recently, from the Center), not from the Right. Netanyahu is far less likely to order another Lebanon 2006, or even Gaza 2008/9, than any of his predecessors, including Barak, Sharon, or Olmert. The Left talks peace but makes war (and continues the Occupation), while the Right talks war, and keeps things quiet.

This isn’t some “universal truth” (Begin did order the invasion of Lebanon, for instance), but it is generally true. The Left has been far more destabilizing, than the Right.

As a little “proof” of the above said, on a visit to the Golan some months back, Yossi and I asked a few Golan settlers whether they were happier now, that Netanyahu is in power. The response we got surprised us – they said the opposite – that they felt safest under Barak (and Olmert), and that now, with Netanyahu, they’re most worried. They know, that he can give back the Golan, far more easily than any other leader.

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February 8th, 2010, 9:27 pm


52. Alex said:

Shai is mostly right. I think some of you are generalizing sometimes. Israelis do not all daydream about their next war every day. We need to always keep in mind that all populations have variances in their opinions and values and beliefs ….

But I want to mention that the reason they are somewhat alarmed in Syria has nothing to do with Mr. Barak’s statement but with their perception that Israel is trying to get Hezbollah or Hamas to retaliate or to take action in a way that allows Israel to launch on offensive against one of them. assassinating a top Hamas leader in Dubai is not that different from what Israel did in the past to get on the nerves of Arab resistance groups in order to get them to make mistakes.

More importantly … no one can deny that there is nowhere to go … Syria and turkey are not going to accept playing along with time delaying tactics from Israel anymore. And Mr. Netanyahu’s government does not seem ready to go for something serious.

Again, similar situations in the past led to escalations and military action from Israel.

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February 8th, 2010, 10:13 pm


53. nafdik said:


Regarding your first point what I am saying is that we can turn blue in the face telling each other that Israel is a racist state or that the Palestinians are all terrorists. These statements will not change the behavior of anybody and are counter-productive.

Both Israelis and Palestinians are in what they consider an existential struggle and their only criteria for action is their own benefit.

What we need to think is how can I force or entice the other party to change its behavior.

As for the second point, it is clear that Arab armies do not have the technology or organizational skills to confront any 1st world army. This is the situation now.

I do not see technological progress bridging any gaps today, on the contrary the gap is wider than anytime in the history of the conflict.

What I am saying is that it is feasible that the Arab world will bridge the gap due to technology and information progress (that have not reached us yet).

FEASIBLE but not evident yet.

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February 8th, 2010, 11:59 pm


54. Akbar Palace said:

A few factual errors from Shai:

The verbal conflict was triggered not by Lieberman, but by Barak.

The “verbal conflict” was started by Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem.

Mr. Lieberman was responding to strident comments from Syria on Wednesday. Mr. Assad told the visiting Spanish foreign minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, that Israel was “not serious about achieving peace” and that the facts indicated that “Israel is pushing the region toward war, not peace,” according to the Syrian news agency SANA.

Furthermore, the Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, said Wednesday that “Israel should not test Syria’s determination,” adding, “Israel knows that war will move to the Israeli cities.”

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February 9th, 2010, 12:55 am


55. offended said:


I guess people were all blue in the face and tight in the bowels about Apartheid south africa, too. Should they not have been?

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February 9th, 2010, 5:28 am


56. LeoLeoni said:

Akbar, this verbal spat didn’t just start with Muallem, don’t try to make it sound so. It’s clearly obvious that it started with Barrak, and that Muallem’s reply was a standard reply, that no country’s cities can expect peace when it attacks another.

Even Haaretz considers what Barrack said as “sharp and strident”.

As for the Guardian, it considers it a provocation:
“That statement was apparently provoked by Ehud Barak, the Labour party leader and defence minister, who told senior army officers this week that in the absence of a peace settlement with Syria a full-scale war could break out.”

Anyways, this spat is over, and it’s my last comment to discuss such useless incitement from the Israeli side.

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February 9th, 2010, 8:31 am


57. Yossi said:

Jadman my friend,

What you hate about the word “Zionism” is not what Israelis love about it, and vice versa. You don’t need to tell Israelis “this is what Zionism did” but you need to tell them “this is how I feel what you did, so please change your ways in such and such manners”.

Let me give you an analogy, when people say that Islam is responsible for 9/11, then there begins a similar debate, what is “true Islam”? Does it call for terrorism? etc. It’s not that these questions don’t have academic value, it’s just that it’s the wrong type of conversation to have between Muslims and the West. If you want to get to the bottom of frustrations and change behavior, you just do that, without talking about grand theories.

Maybe the Israelis will one day drop this brand name that you so dislike, but I wouldn’t place my hopes on that. I’m not saying you should like this brand name, just realize that this is what it is: a brand name. The brand name cannot create new victims, only people can. And if they do, then hold them accountable.

Look, do you think that we are thrilled about the concept of “jihad”? We know it’s a concept that can be taken in various directions and we just have to live with it. Can we ask Muslims to drop the “jihad” brand name before we make peace with them? Of course not. The trick is to make people trust each other *despite* all the stupid stuff they were taught all their lives. I’m sure Norman can find a nice analogy from the field of oncology, something like living with a brain tumor by making sure it doesn’t expand, knowing you can’t really get it out completely out of your head ever.

About my second argument, the nation state, you are correct, it is an academic exercise at this point because my country still hasn’t demonstrated that it is capable of curbing its expansionist trends, with known excuses.

Interesting idea about literature and art. I like it! But translating poems from Hebrew is tough for a computer engineer. Perhaps I can write a computer program to do that 🙂

Dear offended,

Well… the thing is… people want to be PC so they blame on Zionism some things that are actually rotten in Judaism. But you can’t say Judaism is an exclusive ideology, so you put this on Zionism. Judaism is on a pedestal, because of the Holocaust.

But again my point is not that you should accept Zionism or Judaism or whatever “ism” but just see whether you can come arrive at a solution that provides dignity and a modicum of justice to all. Because, in my assessment, you will not be able to make Israelis denounce the term “Zionism”. So you can either give them a chance to behave while holding on to their “ism” or you can make the “ism” as issue in and of itself.

Jewish majority was articulated as official Zionism goal only in 1941, before that, it was highly controversial, and some people left the Zionist movement when this stance was adopted. Like all “ism”s, Zionism is a function of time and circumstance and it will become less hostile and exclusive when the Jews will finally start loosening up a bit.

The acceptance of the cleansing of the Palestinians in 1948 was not at all surprising. First, they were “brown people”. Second, that was the price that ensured the Europeans that they got rid of the Jews for good. Third, it was a time of a lot of other populations’ forced transfer.

Hi Nicolas,

Why write a book when we can pose for a naked Levantine men calendar for 2011?

Dear Averroes,

Livni said that the Israeli Palestinians will be able to fulfill their “national aspirations” in Palestine, not that they would have to leave Israel. I’m not sure what she meant exactly, probably that they will not get further autonomy, recognition of their narrative, etc. within Israel. It was bad enough, but she didn’t say they would have to go, or lose their citizenship.

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February 9th, 2010, 9:46 am


58. Shai said:


“Well… the thing is… people want to be PC…”

I beg to disagree. I believe you meant to say “… people want to be APPLE…”


Yossi is correct, Livni never said the Arab-Israelis would have to leave Israel (or that they should). She did however say something quite foolish, which is that “When the Palestinian State will be born, the Naqba must be removed from your (Palestinian) Lexicon.”

It is foolish both because she doesn’t understand that the Naqba isn’t a mood, or something changeable, and that it isn’t something that can be forgotten or removed.

Incidentally, as a response to Livni’s “Naqba-declaration”, a psychologist friend of mine wrote a piece in one of the leading papers, suggesting that “When the Naqba will become part of our (Israeli) Lexicon, the State of Israel will finally be created.” I thought that was very powerful. And true.

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February 9th, 2010, 10:26 am


59. Akbar Palace said:

LeoLeoni said:

Akbar, this verbal spat didn’t just start with Muallem, don’t try to make it sound so. It’s clearly obvious that it started with Barrak, and that Muallem’s reply was a standard reply, that no country’s cities can expect peace when it attacks another.


I read the comments by Barak. I agree with Shai that Barak’s statement were misinterpreted. Again, per the NYT:

Mr. Moallem made his comments in response to a strong statement made by Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, to senior Israeli Army officers on Monday, warning that “in the absence of an arrangement with Syria, we are liable to enter a belligerent clash with it that could reach the point of an all-out, regional war.”

IOW, Barack is saying what all the other ME leaders are saying: without a peace agreement a regional war could ensue.

Barak did not threaten anyone, and if anything, made the case for reaching a peace deal.

I find it interesting, that when Arab leaders threaten Israel, no one here on Syria Comment seems to take notice. It is only when Israeli leaders do it.

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February 9th, 2010, 1:26 pm


60. idaf said:

Shai said:

“Incidentally, as a response to Livni’s “Naqba-declaration”, a psychologist friend of mine wrote a piece in one of the leading papers, suggesting that “When the Naqba will become part of our (Israeli) Lexicon, the State of Israel will finally be created.” I thought that was very powerful. And true.”

Shai, one can’t but strongly agree with this. The US example is a very relevant one. Less than a century ago, “white” Americans in the US were the equivalent of Israeli Jews in Palestine today. They enslaved the natives and the “others” (native Americans and Africans). Today, that slavery era in the USA is part of the US lexicon and a majority of the US “whites” just elected a president of African descent. The US came very close to becoming a “full state”. It still needs to recognize its original Nakba of ethnically cleansing the native Americans and maybe elect a native American president, but it is a major step so far.

Similarly, when Israelis add the Nakba to their lexicon and elect a Palestinian/Arab as a PM, then that will be the real creation of the state. I fully agree with Averroes that a one state solution is the only sustainable solution, regardless of how unrealistic it seems today.

Good luck in reforming your “ism”. It took a while for our “isms” to reform (Arabism, Turkism, etc.) That can only be done from the inside. Or maybe given the entangled US public sphere with the Israeli one, the likes of J-Street, Walt and Mearsheimer can help from the outside too.

P.S. if I were you I’d instantly drop the idea naked Levantine men calendar. This will definitely cause more wars. On the other hand, a naked Levantine women calendar is a much peaceful endeavor. Here’s something to learn from the Ukraine: Ukraine women strip off at polls to make political point

I’m sure Alex would gladly volunteer to lead this project online 🙂

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February 9th, 2010, 5:14 pm


61. offended said:

Bummer. I click at Idaf’s link to see a guy in a miner’s outfit, covered with soot, voting at a ballot.

I thought I’d see photos of….. well, never mind.

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February 9th, 2010, 5:34 pm


62. Shai said:


Very interesting comparison, and one we should indeed refer to in internal discourse in Israel. It could be greatly beneficial, because it offers hope. It allows one to feel comfortable enough to be compared to the “bad guys”, because he sees how in the end, if he takes the right steps, he could be viewed as a “good guy”. I will use this from now on.

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February 9th, 2010, 8:40 pm


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