News Round Up (1 Sept. 2010)

Gen. Yuri Ivanov, 52, deputy head of GRU

According to a new Israeli book (excerpted below) General Mohammed Suleiman was assassinated by two Israeli snipers. A number of analysts quoted by Nicholas Blanford in Time Magazine argued that he was killed by Syrians due to factional squabbles within the regime. The same thing was said about the assassinated of Imad Mughniyeh. It would seem that both were taken out by Israel, perhaps with some US intelligence assistance. This raises questions about who may have killed Major-General Yuri Ivanov. He was the deputy head of Russia’s foreign military intelligence arm known as GRU which is thought to operate the biggest network of foreign spies out of all of Russia’s clandestine intelligence services. He disappeared from the coast of Lattakia and his body washed up in Turkey.

http://www.myfaithmyvoice.com/ – watch a well done video – 1 minute – on US Muslims

US Seeks Israel Peace Talks With Syria, Lebanon – Envoy
2010-09-01

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States is pushing for peace talks between Israel, Syria and Lebanon, US envoy George Mitchell said, as the Israelis prepared to resume direct negotiations with the Palestinians.

Wider peace talks between Israel and its northern Arab neighbors, which have been in perpetual conflict with the Jewish state since its creation in 1948, are seen as vital to any lasting peace in the region.

“With respect to Syria, our efforts continue to try to engage Israel and Syria in discussions and negotiations that would lead to peace there and also Israel and Lebanon,” said Mitchell, US President Barack Obama’s Middle East envoy.

“You will recall that when the president announced my appointment two days after he entered office, he referred to comprehensive peace and defined it as Israel and Palestinians, Israel and Syria, Israel and Lebanon, and Israel at peace with and having normal relations with all of its Arab neighbors,” Mitchell said, before adding: “And that remains our objective.”

The US envoy was briefing journalists ahead of Thursday’s resumption of direct peace talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas.

Top level talks in search of an elusive Middle East peace deal broke off in December 2008 when Israel invaded the Palestinian Gaza Strip to halt militant rocket fire on its south.

Daniel Levy, the Director of the Middle East Task Force of the New America Foundation provides the full audio of their briefing on the new peace talks. Also, here is his take: “Want That Israeli-Palestinian Peace Deal, Mr. President? Perform a C-Section,”on the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks at Huffington Post.

Ambassador Chas W. Freeman offers a different take. Speaking in Norway, he suggests that Europeans pressure the US and Israel to follow international law: “America’s Faltering Search for Peace in the Middle East: Openings for Others?”

OBG hails Syrian economic performance
2010-09-01 13:14:09.451 GMT

DAMASCUS, September 1 (Xinhua) — Oxford Business Group (OBG), in its recently issued report, hailed Syria’s economic performance, the official SANA news agency reported Wednesday.

In its annual report, OBG elaborated the remarkable progress achieved by Syria in liberalizing its economy.

“The successful steps taken by Syria in liberalizing its economy have been matched with its achievements on the international stage,” SANA quoted the report as saying.

It also said Syrian government efforts to establish an active public-private partnership have led to the increase in investment projects and other economic activities.

Syria’s annual growth rate has reached 5.5 percent during 2009 while its GDP has increased to 31 billion U.S. dollars in the same year. Private sector’s contribution to GDP reached 65.5 percent in 2009 compared with 64.7 percent in 2008.

Top Russian Spy’s Body Washes Up ‘After Swimming Accident’
2010-08-31, Andrew Osborn

Aug. 31 (Telegraph) — Major-General Yuri Ivanov, 52, was the deputy head of Russia’s foreign military intelligence arm known as GRU which is thought to operate the biggest network of foreign spies out of all of Russia’s clandestine intelligence services.

His badly decomposed body was found washed up on the Turkish coast by local fishermen earlier this month after he disappeared in the Syrian coastal resort of Latakia further south. The Russian army’s in-house newspaper, Red Star, did not report his death until last Saturday when he was quietly buried in Moscow.

The circumstances of his death are reminiscent of a John Le Carre novel and have therefore fuelled theories that he may have been murdered in Syria and his body then thrown into the Mediterranean where it drifted for days.

According to the Kremlin, he was on holiday in Syria and died in a tragic swimming accident. However, other reports have suggested he was on official business and the location where he is reported to have disappeared was only about fifty miles from a strategically vital Russian naval facility in the Syrian port of Tartus which is being expanded and upgraded to service and refuel ships from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

The facility is Russia’s only foothold in the Mediterranean Sea, and Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency, is know to be concerned that Moscow will use the upgraded facility as a base for spy ships and electronic espionage directed at the Middle East. The port is also close to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, a terminal for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline which is seen as a lifeline for Georgia, against whom Russia fought a short war in 2008.

The long road to Syria
Ynetnews special: New book reveals full story behind bombing of Syrian reactor by Israel

…Assassination in Syria

On the evening of August 2, 2008, 11 months after the bombing of the reactor, a festive dinner was held on the terrace of a summer house in Rimal al-Zahabiya, north of the Syrian city of Tartous. The summer house was adjacent to the shore and had a magnificent view. The terrace overlooked the sea and served as a refuge from the summer’s high humidity. The guests were close friends of the house’s owner, General Mohammed Suleiman, who had traveled there for a weekend break.

Suleiman was President Assad’s top aide on military and security matters. He was in charge of the reactor’s construction and its security. Government circles in Damascus referred to him Assad’s shadow. His office was located in the presidential palace, next to Assad’s, and few knew him in Syria and abroad. While Suleiman’s name was not mentioned in the media, Mossad and Western intelligence agencies knew him and his actions well. The 47-year-old Syrian was an engineering graduate of Damascus University. During his studies he befriended Basil Assad, then-President Hafez Assad’s firstborn son and Bashar Assad’s older brother. After Basil’s death in a road accident, his father was sure to bring Suleiman close to himself and his heir. In 2000, Hafez Assad died and his son Bashar was elected president. With his rise to power, the young president made Suleiman his confidant and close advisor.

Suleiman played a unique role: He was a member of the Syrian research board, which dealt with the development of missiles, chemical and biological weapons and nuclear research and development. As part of his job, he was Syria’s contact with North Korea. He coordinated the transfer of the reactor’s parts to Syria and was in charge of security arrangements for the North Korean scientists and technicians involved in its construction. The reactor’s bombing was a serious blow for Suleiman, but not a lethal one. After overcoming the initial shock, he began to plan the construction of an alternate reactor, for which a location had yet to be determined. Suleiman’s new mission was much more complex and difficult than before, since he was now aware that he was on the Israeli and American intelligence agencies’ radars.

Ahead of the next phase of his secret mission, Suleiman took a few days off and traveled to his summer home. A vacation and dinner with his friends was the best medicine for the pressure he was under. From his seat by the table he watched the waves lazily crawling up the shore. But what he didn’t see, at a distance of some 150 meters (165 yards) from the terrace, was two figures waiting, motionless in the dark water. They reached this point from a far off distance in a ship that dropped them off some two 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from Suleiman’s house. From there they dived until they neared his home. The two were professional snipers, possessing a wealth of experience and nerves of steel. They carried their weapons in water-proof covers. When they reached the shore they immediately spotted Suleiman’s house. The information they received from their country’s intelligence agency was accurate. They identified the building and the terrace, scanned the people seated at the table and focused on their target: The general sitting opposite them, among his guests.

Around 9 pm the snipers returned to test their aim and range. They watched Suleiman, sitting on a chair at the center of the table surrounded by his friends. It was crowded around the table, which forced the snipers to reset their focus and aim at the host’s head. They continued to hide in the water. Then the signal was given. The two emerged from the water to the shore, moved closer to the house, aimed their rifles and shot Suleiman simultaneously. The hit was lethal. His head was first jolted back and then collapsed forward on the table. Those present did not understand what had happened, because they didn’t hear a sound – the rifles were equipped with silencers. Only after they noticed the blood flowing from Suleiman’s head did they realize he had been shot. A commotion broke out on the terrace, which enabled the snipers to flee via a pre-planned escape route. The Sunday Times reported a slightly different version, saying the snipers were IDF Flotilla 13 commandoes who arrived in Tartous on a luxury yacht belonging to an Israeli businessman, carried out their mission, and vanished.

Syria’s official bodies were shocked. The government initially kept quiet and did not address the reports of an assassination. There was much embarrassment. How did the hit team make it to northern Syria? How did it flee the site? Was there no place left in Syria where the regime’s heads could feel safe? Days after the incident a brief official statement was released saying, “Syria is holding an investigation to find those responsible for this crime.” But Arab media extensively reported on the affair from day one and raised speculations about the identities of the perpetrators. Arab newspapers focused on elements that had an interest in assassinating the general, and were quick to point to Israel. They also claimed that Israel carried out the assassination because of Suleiman’s involvement in the construction of the reactor Dir al-Zur. While Arab media sang Suleiman’s praises, Western intelligence agencies had a completely different reaction to his death. In the capitals of the free world, no one shed a tear over the general’s untimely passing.

Article written by Michael Bar-Zohar and Nissim Mishal, authors of recently released book “Mossad – The Great Operations.”

UN Tribunal Won’t File Indictment on Hariri Killing Next Month

01 Sep 2010, Source: Reuters
* Bellemare says hasn’t drafted indictment yet
* Rejects accusations that U.N. investigation is politicised
* Says Hezbollah evidence being assessed

BEIRUT, Sept 1 (Reuters) – The U.N. prosecutor investigating the killing of Lebanon’s former premier Rafik al-Hariri said he would not rush to indict suspects, dampening expectations of imminent indictments which had raised tensions in Lebanon.

“Let me state clearly that the indictment has not been drafted yet,” Daniel Bellemare said in an rare media interview published by the website NOW Lebanon. “I will only file the indictment when I am satisfied there is enough evidence”.

Media reports had said that Bellemare could issue indictments this month against members of the Shi’ite guerrilla group Hezbollah in connection with the 2005 bombing which killed Hariri and 22 other people. Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who has denied any Hezbollah involvement in the killing and called the U.N. tribunal an “Israeli project”, stepped up his criticism in recent weeks. That raised tensions in the unity government led by Hariri’s son, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, who supports the U.N. court.

Bellemare rejected accusations that the five-year investigation was politicised. “We operate in a political context. But the decision that will be made is not a political decision,” he said.

HEZBOLLAH EVIDENCE ASSESSED

Asked if he would file any indictment by the end of the year, Bellemare said he was “very optimistic” and was moving as fast as possible. “Let’s say as soon as possible, but not sooner than possible,” he said.

He said video footage provided by Hezbollah, which Nasrallah said showed that Israeli drones had surveyed the route taken by Hariri’s motorcade before the bombing, was being assessed and was “not being taken lightly”. “If somebody comes to me with credible evidence that shows me that I may not be on the right path, whatever path I am on, then of course I will look at that material. That is exactly what we are doing,” he said, adding he did not know whether Hezbollah’s evidence would further delay any indictment.

Bellemare declined to say whether his team had questioned any Israelis. “What I am saying is that we are reviewing all the possible existing evidence.”


A rare glimpse from inside the prison: father and son al-Abdallah

When Bashar al-Assad came to power, Mohammad al-Abdallah believed things in Syria would finally change for good. Ten years later, he tells the story of a personal desillusionment.
By Mohammad al-Abdallah

Oslo’s Yossi Beilin in Bloomberg: (Thanks to our friend at Friday Lunch Club)

“… Netanyahu wasn’t voted in by the right wing to divide East Jerusalem or to resolve, even symbolically, the problem of Palestinian refugees. The distance between his positions and the minimum claims of the pragmatic Palestinian camp can’t be bridged. Even when he talks about a willingness to accept the two-state solution, and even when he makes promises to surprise, he reverts to a long list of positions that don’t allow him to reach a historic compromise.
Abbas can’t implement a peace agreement with Israel because as long as Hamas retains control of Gaza, Gaza won’t be part of the solution, and there can’t be any “safe passage” between the West Bank and Gaza. In addition, it won’t be possible to work out land swaps between Israel and the West Bank because the area designated for them is the region surrounding the Gaza Strip, and no Israeli government would agree to hand over land adjacent to Gaza while it is still under Hamas control.

This situation means we need to pursue a different line of thought, which will lead us, at this stage, to a solution that isn’t ideal, but which is far better than the continuation of the current situation: a partial agreement.”

Juliette Verhoeven and Lisalette Dijkers of Hivos and the University of Amsterdam announce a new website of the Knowledge Programme Civil Society in West Asia. It deals with Syria and Iran in particular with the goal of “generating and integrating knowledge on the roles and opportunities for civil society actors in democratization processes in politically challenging environments,” which is a mouthful. Both Heydemann nad Atassi have excellent articles on the site.

The Uncertain Future of Democracy Promotion, by Steven Heydemann
Review of Policy Paper Beyond Orthodox Approaches: Assessing Opportunities for Democracy Support in the Middle East and North Africa

Democracy promotion has had a tough decade, nowhere more so than in the Middle East. Ten years ago, the democratic optimism that followed the end of the Cold War was in relatively good health. Today, after a decade of authoritarian reversals, a sustained “backlash against democracy promotion,”[1] and authoritarian resurgence from Russia to Africa to Latin America, post-Cold War optimism has given way to a darker, more sober assessment of democratization’s limits. The Middle East in particular, with not a single experience of transition from Morocco to Iran, has been the crucible of hard-won lessons about the durability of authoritarian regimes and their resilience even in the face of quite extraordinary pressures.

Comments (11)


1. 5 dancing shlomos said:

suleiman, mughniyeh, arafat, and hariri. many would add jfk.

then there is the lavon affair, uss liberty, and 9-11.

to list a few from the murdering, cannibal parasites.

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September 2nd, 2010, 12:44 pm

 

2. Alex said:

This is very significant …

Blair reveals Syria’s fears were well-founded

Phil Sands, Foreign Correspondent

* Last Updated: September 02. 2010 9:08PM UAE / September 2. 2010 5:08PM GMT

DAMASCUS // Syria always feared that the White House of George W Bush and Dick Cheney would invade Damascus once it had dispatched with Baghdad in 2003 and, in his newly released memoirs, the former British prime minister Tony Blair confirmed those fears were well founded.

Describing the former US vice president as an advocate of “hard, hard power”, Mr Blair said Damascus was next on Mr Cheney’s hit list.

“He would have worked through the whole lot, Iraq, Syria, Iran, dealing with all their surrogates in the course of it – Hizbollah, Hamas, etc,” Mr Blair wrote in his autobiography, A Journey. “In other words, he thought the whole world had to be made anew, and that after September 11, it had to be done by force and with urgency.”

Syria’s correct assumption that powerful US forces wanted to attack it had profound implications, domestically and in Iraq. Although no friend of Saddam Hussein, Damascus had every reason to want the American occupation to fail and, therefore, no incentive to stop Islamist militants crossing the border to fight US troops.

For years, US military officials complained that insurgents entering from Syria were among their most deadly opponents, playing a key role in undermining US attempts to build a Washington friendly Iraq.

Faced with this very real US threat, the Syrian authorities also moved to quash growing domestic dissent, arresting and jailing dozens of pro-democracy activists. That crackdown continues to this day.

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September 2nd, 2010, 7:29 pm

 

3. why-discuss said:

Shai, what do you think?

Why Israelis Don’t Care About Peace with Palestinians

By KARL VICK / JERUSALEM Karl Vick / Jerusalem – 2 hrs 40 mins ago

Heli and Eli sell condos on Exodus Street, a name that evokes a certain historical hardship in a neighborhood that suggests none at all, the ingathering of the Jews having entered a whole new realm here. The talk in the little office is of interest rates and panoramic sea views from handsomely appointed properties selling on the Ashdod waterfront for half what people are asked to pay in Tel Aviv, 18 miles (29 km) to the north. And sell they do, hand over fist – never mind the rockets that fly out of Gaza, 14 miles (22.5 km) to the south. “Even when the Qassams fell, we continued to sell!” says Heli Itach, slapping a palm on the office desk. The skull on her designer shirt is made of sequins spelling out “Love Kills Slowly.” “What the people see on the TV there is not true here,” she says. “I sold, this week, 12 apartments. You’re not client, I tell you the truth.”

The truth? In the week that three Presidents, a King and their own Prime Minister gather at the White House to begin a fresh round of talks on peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the truth is, Israelis are no longer preoccupied with the matter. They’re otherwise engaged; they’re making money; they’re enjoying the rays of late summer. A watching world may still define their country by the blood feud with the Arabs whose families used to live on this land and whether that conflict can be negotiated away, but Israelis say they have moved on. (See pictures of 60 years of Israel.)

Now observing 2½ years without a single suicide bombing on their territory, with the economy robust and with souls a trifle weary of having to handle big elemental thoughts, the Israeli public prefers to explore such satisfactions as might be available from the private sphere, in a land first imagined as a utopia. “Listen to me,” says Eli Bengozi, born in Soviet Georgia and for 40 years an Israeli. “Peace? Forget about it. They’ll never have peace. Remember Clinton gave 99% to Arafat, and instead of them fighting for 1%, what? Intifadeh.” (See TIME’s photo-essay “Palestinian ‘Day of Rage.’ “)

But wait. Deep down (you can almost hear the outside world ask), don’t Israelis know that finding peace with the Palestinians is the only way to guarantee their happiness and prosperity? Well, not exactly. Asked in a March poll to name the “most urgent problem” facing Israel, just 8% of Israeli Jews cited the conflict with Palestinians, putting it fifth behind education, crime, national security and poverty. Israeli Arabs placed peace first, but among Jews here, the issue that President Obama calls “critical for the world” just doesn’t seem – critical. (Comment on this story.)

Another whack for the desk. “The people,” Heli says, “don’t believe.” Eli searches for a word. “People in Israel are indifferent,” he decides. “They don’t care if there’s going to be war. They don’t care if there’s going to be peace. They don’t care. They live in the day.”

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September 2nd, 2010, 9:43 pm

 

4. majedkhaldoun said:

Alex:
One general told me in 2004, he was close to Dick Cheney, that USA had no intention to attack Syria, my question is,what stopped USA from attacking Syria?I am Glad they did not. was it the cost? was it the intelligent service?or was it Israel?
In 2006 Syria was not involved in the war with Israel.American war planes did cross Syrian sky.There must be a secret we do not know yet.

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September 2nd, 2010, 11:54 pm

 

5. Syrian Nationalist Party said:

LOL, 5 dancing Shlomos… “we are just sent there to document the event they said on TV show” Oh please don’t forget to add JFK and Brother Robert (Sirhan was patsy setup like many 911 innocents) and the young Kennedy that dropped from the sky after reportedly threatened to goes public and tell all he knows, and he did knows all the secrets. And of course, Hyder of Austria and even going back they killed the old Jewish man on the Achile Largo (That hijacking Palestinian group head thug was setup by Mossad to spy on the PLO and PFLP). Syria and Lebanon are infested with nearly a thousand intel and operative men working for the wrong side, most are not aware or knowingly working for Mossad. They think they are working for various fictitious groups and causes, even Moslem ones, ie; Top level of Lebanese forces think he is working for Kataeb, only the top head makes European contacts with the bosses secretly, many are in Syria and Lebanon upper ranking positions. They practically wired the two countries, so as the rest of the world. “Dimitri Khalezov” is a name you want to add to your knowledge base on this subject.

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September 3rd, 2010, 12:27 am

 

6. Alex said:

No secrets Majed.

The Bush admin (and the french President) really wanted Israel to attack Syria in 2006 .. check quotes in my “The Case for Syria”

So the reason they did not invade Syria was that they could not … they would have loved to.

Just imagine their hypocrisy … Do you remember how the Bush administration kept expressing its outrage that Syria is not doing enough to stop foreign fighters from entering Iraq?

They wanted Syria to help them win quickly and easily in Iraq so that they would invade and destroy Syria next!

One more proof Cheney was following Neanyahu’s Clean Break strategic document line by line

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September 3rd, 2010, 3:12 am

 

7. Roland said:

As far as “democracy promotion” is concerned, I learned everything I needed to know by watching the world’s reaction to what happened in Algeria in 1992. A free, fair, internationally observed electoral process was openly suppressed, and the world–especially the West–gave its approval.

And that was years before 9/11, when the world was still celebrating the recent collapse of the Berlin Wall.

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September 3rd, 2010, 3:14 am

 

8. Shai said:

Why Discuss,

The very last sentence is the truth: “They live (for) the day.”

I don’t believe there’s a single people, or person, on this planet that doesn’t want peace. That doesn’t see Peace as the ultimate guarantor of his/her safety and freedom. Even with arrogance and feeling of invincibility (combined with a contradictory mix of fear and paranoia), Israelis still know that peace is better for them, than non-peace. But most no longer believe peace is possible. They’ve lost hope (the kind of hope 70% had just 15 years ago), and they’ve become numb to the “peace process”. If you think about it, we’ve all become numb to it. Few of us allow ourselves to “feel” anything, when we see Israelis sitting with Arabs at some negotiation table. We’re just not willing to continue to be disappointed. Very few of us are “strong enough” to still feel something and, hence, to still push forward.

Most Israelis, undoubtedly like most Palestinians, are living “for the day”. They know their future isn’t guaranteed, and they are too apathetic to do anything about it. Except, of course, that the Israelis are living luxuriously “for the day”, whereas the Palestinians are struggling and living under Occupation.

Israelis can awaken from their numb apathetic state, but for that, you need a courageous leadership. We’ll find out soon enough whether we have that, or not.

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September 3rd, 2010, 3:30 am

 

9. why-discuss said:

New-York Times sept 3 2010

Syria Moves to Curb Influence of Muslim Conservatives
By KAREEM FAHIM

DAMASCUS, Syria — This country, which had sought to show solidarity with Islamist groups and allow religious figures a greater role in public life, has recently reversed course, moving forcefully to curb the influence of Muslim conservatives in its mosques, public universities and charities.

The government has asked imams for recordings of their Friday sermons and started to strictly monitor religious schools. Members of an influential Muslim women’s group have now been told to scale back activities like preaching or teaching Islamic law. And this summer, more than 1,000 teachers who wear the niqab, or the face veil, were transferred to administrative duties.

The crackdown, which began in 2008 but has gathered steam this summer, is an effort by President Bashar al-Assad to reassert Syria’s traditional secularism in the face of rising threats from radical groups in the region, Syrian officials say.

The policy amounts to a sharp reversal for Syria, which for years tolerated the rise of the conservatives. And it sets the government on the seemingly contradictory path of moving against political Islamists at home, while supporting movements like Hamas and Hezbollah abroad.

Syrian officials are adamant that the shifts stem from alarming domestic trends, and do not affect support for those groups, allies in their struggle against Israel. At the same time, they have spoken proudly about their secularizing campaign. Some Syrian analysts view that as an overture to the United States and European nations, which have been courting Syria as part of a strategy to isolate Iran and curb the influence of Hamas and Hezbollah.

Human rights advocates say the policy exacerbates pressing concerns: the arbitrary imprisonment of Islamists, as well as the continued failure to allow them any political space.

Pressure on Islamic conservatives in Syria began in earnest after a powerful car bomb exploded in the Syrian capital in September 2008, killing 17 people. The government blamed the radical group Fatah al-Islam.

“The bombing was the trigger, but the pressure had been building,” said Peter Harling, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group. “After a period of accommodation with the Islamic groups, the regime entered this far more proactive and repressive mode. It realizes the challenge that the Islamization of Syrian society poses.”

The government’s campaign drew wider notice this summer, when a decision to bar students wearing the niqab from registering for university classes was compared to a similar ban in France. That move seemed to underscore a reduced tolerance for strict observance by Muslims in public life. Syrian officials have put it differently, saying the niqab is “alien” to Syrian society.

The campaign carries risks for a secular government that has fought repeated, violent battles with Islamists in the past, most notably in 1982, when Mr. Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, razed the city of Hama while confronting the Muslim Brotherhood, killing tens of thousands of people. For the moment there has been no visible domestic backlash, but one cleric, who said he was dismissed without being given a reason two years ago, suggested that could change.

“The Islamists now have a strong argument that the regime is antagonizing the Muslims,” he said.

The government courted religious conservatives as Western powers moved to isolate Syria amid accusations that it was behind the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in 2005. The government appointed a sheik instead of a member of the ruling Baathist party to head the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and allowed, for the first time, religious activities in the stadium at Damascus University.

As the country emerged from that isolation, it focused on domestic challenges, including the fear that sectarian tensions in the region could spread — a recurring fear in Syria, a country with a Sunni majority ruled by Alawites, a religious minority.

The government also focused on conservatives. “What they had nourished and empowered, they felt the need to break,” said Hassan Abbas, a Syrian researcher.

The details of the campaign have remained murky, though Syrian officials have not been afraid to publicize its aims, including in foreign media outlets. In an interview with the American talk show host Charlie Rose in May, Mr. Assad was asked to name his biggest challenge.

“How we can keep our society as secular as it is today,” he said. “The challenge is the extremism in this region.”

Mr. Assad has in the past singled out northern Lebanon as a source of that extremism.

“We didn’t forget Nahr al-Bared,” said Mohammed al-Habash, a Syrian lawmaker, referring to battles in that region three years ago between Lebanese forces and Fatah al-Islam. “We have to take this seriously.”

Beginning in 2008, the government embarked on its new course when it fired administrators at several Islamic charities, according to the former cleric, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared reprisal by the government.

The clampdown has intensified in recent months. Last spring, the Qubaisiate, an underground women’s prayer group that was growing in prominence, was barred from meeting at mosques, according to members. Earlier this summer, top officials in Damascus Governorate were fired for their religious leanings, according to Syrian analysts.

Other moves underscore the delicacy of Mr. Assad’s campaign — or perhaps send mixed signals. A planned conference on secularism earlier this year, initially approved by the government, was abruptly canceled for no reason, according to Mr. Abbas.

“Secularism is their version of being secular,” Mr. Abbas said.

Another episode can be seen as a concession to Islamists, or a sign of just how comfortable the conservatives have become. A proposed rewrite of Syria’s personal status law, which governs civil matters, leaked last year, retained provisions that made it legal for men to marry girls as young as 13 years old. Under pressure, including from women’s groups, lawmakers abandoned the draft law.

“There are limits to what they can do,” Mr. Harling, the analyst, said of the Syrian government. “They will try things out and pedal back if things go too far. It says a lot about how difficult it is — even for a regime that is deeply secular itself and whose survival is tied to the secular nature of Syrian society.”

Nawara Mahfoud contributed reporting.

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September 3rd, 2010, 11:32 pm

 

10. Shai said:

This doesn’t sound like a Netanyahu that wants to waste time. To do that, all he had to do was utter the same mantras all over again. There’s growing concern within certain circles inside Israel (settlement-supporting ones), that Bibi’s creativity, as well as recent “slip-up” calling it The West Bank (rather than Judea and Samaria), are indicative of someone ready to do what others before him could not. Also, the fact that Tzipi Livni remains quiet nowadays, worries the coalition. Lieberman should fear her silent support which could, overnight, turn into his physical replacement should he threaten to quit in protest.

Not wishing to sound overly-optimistic, but the carefully planned words sounded by Netanyahu are intended, almost without a doubt, not only at Obama’s ears.

http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/netanyahu-creative-thinking-can-remove-obstacles-on-the-way-to-mideast-peace-1.312277

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September 5th, 2010, 5:44 am

 

11. why-discuss said:

Syria soon connected to Iran electricity power grid?

Iran’s power grid connected to 7 other states

Source: Press TV

Iran’s electricity network has integrated to power grids of seven neighboring countries to meet their energy demands, says Iranian Energy Minister Majid Namjou.

Iran ranks the 19th largest producer and 20th largest consumer of electricity in the world.

Iran’s electricity grid is currently connected to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, Namjou told IRNA on Sunday.

The Iranian minister further pointed out that Tehran also plans to connect its national power network to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Earlier this year, Namjou said that Russia, India, Qatar, the UAE, Jordan, Syria and Oman are the new countries that have asked Iran for electricity.

According to the Iranian minister, the Islamic Republic has the capability to turn into a regional electricity hub.

“Iran exchanges electricity with most of its neighbors and many of them are interested in increasing their electricity exchange with Iran” Mehr news agency quoted Namjou as saying.

Iran plans to connect its power grid to Russia via Azerbaijan as well as linking to the Persian Gulf states via sub-sea cabling.

The minister also stated that Iran has attracted more that 1.1 billion dollars in investment to build three new power plants.

“Germany has invested $445 million in construction of the Pareh-Sar combined cycle power plant, while the UAE has invested $720 million in construction of the Esfahan gas power plant and the Fars combined cycle power plant,” Namjou concluded.

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September 6th, 2010, 2:11 pm

 

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