News Round Up (10 June 2008)

Leaving Baghdad: The View From Syria
By Ahmad Fadam

(Self-portrait by Ahmad Fadam )

Ahmad Fadam was a member of the Iraqi staff in the newsroom of The New York Times in Baghdad. He left Baghdad in May to take up a visiting fellowship at the University of North Carolina. He will continue to contribute to the Baghdad Bureau blog from there.

After spending three weeks in Syria with my family, I can say that it was a very strange feeling to be in that country. It is so similar to what Iraq used to be when Saddam was president – the same order, the same political system and of course the same government and Baath party slogans, like to stand against the colonists and Zionism and liberating Palestine, which I used to hate…. A cab driver named Abu Zaki said to me: “We used to hate Bashar al-Assad, we used to hate having the son sitting on the chair and ruling after his father [Hafez al-Assad] but after what we saw happening in Iraq, we started thinking ‘We don’t want to be in the same situation as you, and thank God we are not.

This means that if what happened to Iraq had happened instead to some other Arab country, then maybe Saddam would still be alive. The Iraqis would have said that bad is better than worse, and accepted what they had. They would have said that dictatorship is not so bad after all.

Another Syrian I met in the market, Kamal, said to me, “Thank God we don’t have sectarian way of thinking like you do, this is a blessing.” Yes, the sectarian violence the people hear about is something else that made them hate the idea of bringing the so-called new democracy to the Middle East.

But still. This doesn’t mean that we – the Iraqis – are very welcome here in Syria. There are thousands of Iraqi families living here. Most of them have fled the country because of the sectarian violence. They thought that by coming to Syria or to any other country, they would have a chance of starting a new life again.

I am not saying that the Syrian government is treating the Iraqis badly; they also have their system and order to maintain, and they are better than many of the other Arab countries that closed their borders in the face of the Iraqis.

But what happened is that the Syrian government forced Iraqis to get visas, in order to stop the continuous waves of arrivals. This has left many Iraqis …..

Sarkozi Sends Invite to Assad to Visit Paris and "Turn a New Page"

Ibrahim Hamidi of Al-Hayat, an independent Saudi owned newspaper, wrote on June 10: “Concurring sources announced to Al-Hayat yesterday that the French ambassador to Damascus delivered to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem a “written invitation” from French president, Nicholas Sarkozy, to his Syrian counterpart, Bashar Al-Asad, to participate in the summit dedicated to launching the Mediterranean project, which will be held in Paris on the 13th of July, and also to attend the celebration to be held on the following day to mark the anniversary of the French revolution.
US cautious on French plans to renew ties with Syria:  WASHINGTON (AFP) — The US State Department reacted with caution on Monday when asked about plans by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to renew ties with Syria, saying that Washington would discuss the issue with Paris.

Olmert signals readiness for talks with Lebanon Daily Star

Washington Post Editorial: Israel's Syria Card: 2008-06-10

Syria plays down chances of direct talks with Israel
Tue Jun 10, 2008 1:38pm EDT
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

DAMASCUS (Reuters) – A senior Syrian official said on Tuesday no direct negotiations will be held with Israel until it recognizes what Damascus regards as requirements for a deal.

Indirect peace talks between Syria and Israel are expected to resume soon in Turkey, which has been mediating between the two sides since last year.

The Damascus government and Israel have kept secret the details of the talks. Syria seeks full return of the occupied Golan Heights and Israel has linked a peace agreement to Syria distancing itself from Iran and severing ties with Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Palestinian group Hamas.

Israel occupied the Golan Heights, a water-rich plateau, in the Middle East war four decades ago. It annexed the territory in the 1980s in a move declared null and void by the United Nations Security Council.

"I think it is too early to resume direct talks. There are conditions," Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal al-Mekdad told reporters.

"I hope Israel responds to the requirements of peace, which are the end of the occupation of Palestine and the establishment of a Palestinian state, restoration of the Syrian Golan and pull out of remaining occupied Lebanese territory," he added.

Bush Wins EU Backing for More Iranian Bank Sanctions: By Edwin Chen and Patrick Donahue, Bloomberg

June 10 (Bloomberg) — President George W. Bush won backing from the European Union for tighter sanctions against Iranian banks, another step aimed at hampering Iran's ability to build nuclear weapons.

European Commission President Jose Barroso, meeting with Bush in Slovenia, agreed to take “additional measures'' to ensure that “Iranian banks cannot abuse the international banking system to support proliferation and terrorism,'' according to a joint statement released at the end of the talks.

Pentagon blocked Cheney's attack on Iran – Gareth Porter, Asia Times

United States Vice President Dick Cheney's plan in August 2007 to launch airstrikes against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps was blocked by the Pentagon over concerns about Iran's retaliation capabilities. But Cheney's close alliance with Centcom chief General David Petraeus gives him the option of ignoring his opponents in Washington during the final months of the George W Bush administration.

Hardliners Assume Leadership of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood (Jamestown report)

In an internal election for the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood’s top position, Hamam Sa’id, a senior member known as a hawk within the organization, defeated incumbent leader Salem Falahat (Jordan Times, May 2). The new general regulator of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood is a critic of the government and seeks to one day implement Shari’a law in Jordan as well as sever Jordan’s diplomatic ties with Israel (AP, May 2). Sa’id’s ascension places the organization’s hardliners firmly in control. Sa’id, anticipating early skepticism, maintains that the Muslim Brotherhood will continue its “historic” role in Jordanian political life (Al-Dustur, May 2). Despite Sa’id’s assurances, many observers believe that his victory signals a tilt in favor of the hardliners. Furthermore, Sa’id represents the first leader of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood to claim Palestinian origin, indicating a dramatic shift within the organization’s balance of power (Jordan Times, May 4). Such roots, accompanied by the connections several other leaders maintain with Hamas, worry some observers and government officials that Hamas may be greatly expanding its influence into the “East Bank,” despite having been banned from Jordan in 1999.

CNN, here: Fath al-Islam's leader Absi speaks live on TV, attacking Hizbullah and Hariri.

Olmert calls for Israel-Lebanon talks

JERUSALEM (AFP) — Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday suggested holding peace talks with Lebanon, following last month’s announcement of Israel’s indirect Turkish-mediated negotiations with Syria.

“I would have been glad if after the announcement of the talks with Syria the Lebanese government would announce its willingness to open direct bilateral talks with Israel,” a senior official quoted Olmert as saying in a cabinet meeting.

“I see many advantages in this,” he said.

Sweet Deals Oxford Business Group
Syria is positioning itself to become a player in the Middle East's lucrative sugar market, hoping that the opening of a new processing plant will allow it to cater to the region's sweet tooth. A $90m sugar refinery at Jindar in the province of Homs was opened on May 14, marking a new phase in the Syrian sugar industry. The plant is the first major agriculture processing partnership between the Syrian private sector and international investors.

Operating as the National Sugar Company, 51% of the refinery is held by Mohammed Najib Assaf, the Syrian chairman of the company, while minority shareholders include US agribusiness giant Cargill and Brazilian sugar producer Crystalsev.

With an annual capacity of 1m tonnes, which the partners say could be doubled in the future to meet regional export demands, the Jindar refinery is one of the largest of its kind in the world.

Cargill will provide management and sales expertise for the project,

Syria: conversations in a pariah state
by John Casey on Open Democracy
The layers of religious faith, the shards of political frustration and the surprise of everyday encounters help compose John Casey's rich, allusive portrait of Syria.

Egypt's Pres Avoids Mini-summit To Shun Syrian Counterpart
2008-06-10 (New York) Dow Jones

CAIRO (AP)–Government officials say Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak will stay away from an Arab mini-summit in Libya to avoid an encounter with Syria's president. The mini-summit in Tripoli Tuesday was initiated by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to work out an Arab response to a French proposal to set up a European, Middle Eastern and North African strategic bloc. The officials say Mubarak has dodged the summit to avoid a reconciliation
with Sryia's Bashar Assad.

'New' US ambassador to Turkey, James Jeffrey, a "regime-changer" & co-chair with Elliott Abrams of the now defunct ISOG … From "friday-lunch-club"

I guess "Regime-Changers" are much more resilient than we all thought them to be … Laura Rosen, here & here
"…Jeffrey is getting his reward for long hours of service at the White House: President Bush nominated him last week to be U.S. ambassador to Turkey…..
The ISOG (Iran-Syria Policy Operations Group), which had been co-chaired by NSC's Elliott Abrams and the state department's James Jeffrey, the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, had four working groups: nuclear issues, counter-terrorism, regional affairs, and public diplomacy and democracy ……."

Elizabeth Cheney's waning horror show: Rami Khouri hits the ball out of the park in his parsing of Elizabeth Cheney's remarks at the AIPAC meeting in Washington. Here is the meat:

Here's a particularly representative quotation: "In my view, this administration has gotten it right when we have been bold, when we have been decisive, when we have been focused, when we have used our military force when necessary."

The amazing but troubling thing about this sort of thinking in Washington is that it perpetuates an aura of toughness, while disregarding the catastrophic consequences to America's standing and influence abroad as a direct result of these failed policies that rely so heavily on guns — instead of sensible analysis and quality diplomacy. Elizabeth Cheney is like an intellectual and ideological cluster bomb that keeps exploding, and killing and injuring people, years after it has been dropped and fallen out of sight.

She is not alone, of course, for her views accurately reflect those of a once robust population of neo-conservative political leaders and obsequious technocrats in Washington, which has been severely depleted by defections, indictments, and dismissals. The neo-cons' greatest legacy, to date, has been a collective failure that many of them simply refuse to grasp.

Here's another Cheney gem from her AIPAC remarks: "I think that getting back to a situation where our enemies in the region understand that America will stand up for its friends, that America will stand up for its principles and that we have red lines is critically important."

This sort of blindness to the realities of the real world is not inherited from her father, Vice President Dick Cheney, who holds similar views. No, this is self-made madness. The misguided nonsense that she espouses is so profoundly wrong and so intensely inane that it has to be generated by a life-long process of adult intellectual regression and political chicanery. Her father will not do it, so someone among her circle of friends should take her aside and quietly tell her that while she gets the accolades of the AIPAC audience, virtually the entire rest of the world reacts to this sort of performance with a combination of personal embarrassment for her, and deep political disdain for her capacity to insult us with this sort of blind buffoonery.

The reality is precisely the opposite of what she portrays. The United States' insistence on using power unilaterally in the Middle East, and "standing up" for its friends by stoking domestic battles and mini-civil wars in the Middle East, has turned the region into a cauldron of intemperance and violence. It is precisely when the United States has been "bold, decisive and focused" that it has generated enormous resistance to its policies throughout the region, put its allies in more vulnerable situations, strengthened the forces of Islamist militancy, stoked the furnace of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and even given democracy a bad name.

It is incomprehensible to me that someone like Elizabeth Cheney, whose responsibilities included promoting democracy and human rights, would argue against holding elections in the Palestinian territories. Now she argues that it was a mistake to push for the elections, when in fact the real mistake was for Washington to spinelessly fall in line with Israeli dictates and boycott the victorious Hamas party.

The right thing to do would be to honor the essence of the democratic process, and bring Hamas and Israel into an honorable diplomatic process that aspires to achieve the equal rights of both people. Only once did I meet Elizabeth Cheney while she was in office and watch her perform, and what I saw and heard then was frightening in her misdiagnosis of the cause of the tensions in the Middle East, and brutal in its misdirected intellectual violence. It is saddening to see her persist in this same vein. She is among the last of a dying breed, these few performers on a horror show stage that has been largely deserted by its public audience, and thankfully is soon to be shut down forever.

Madonna's next project: documentary about the Israeli-Arab conflict
By Nathan Burstein, The Forward
She's busy promoting her first documentary and her seventh No. 1 album, but the world's most famous kabbalah devotee already has her sights set on a new project: a documentary about the Arab-Israeli impasse.

Comments (80)


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51. Shai said:

Well, let’s hope you’re right… Though from what I hear of McCain, he’s also not the most “dovish” guy in town. He seems (to me) at times to be a bit trigger-happy, no?

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June 11th, 2008, 8:08 pm

 

52. ausamaa said:

Everyone can be trigger happy especially if the guy in front of him can be beaten easily.

By the way, anyone has a link to the Arabic Version where Assad said he will not join Iran in case of War?

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June 11th, 2008, 8:44 pm

 

53. Zenobia said:

Ugarit,
J Street was formed to stand in opposition to AIPAC – as much as it can given that it is so small in its beginning.
But it is EXACTLY what is needed.
The government will never listen to the Arab American lobby (what there is of one) regarding Israel or middle east affairs. It may however, start to listen to opposition jewish voices like J Street or Jewish Voices for Peace and such who are trying to redefine what it means to be “pro-Israel” and to clarify that far from all or even most American Jews support the right wing positions of AIPAC.

I would suggest (in fact I did suggest in an email to the AAI president) that arab americans would do well to support J Street and these alternative jewish voices.

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June 11th, 2008, 9:40 pm

 

54. Zenobia said:

Shai,
we do actually still have this body called the congress, as much as they have been impotent and cowardly. I think this time around they are not going to provide the white house a blank check to cash any way they like militarily and give it carte blanche to attack Iran.
Technically speaking, congress must approve of any military action. And this time, there is no way they will give permission. If the white house went ahead and did it anyway, I think the president would actually get impeached.
He is not going to risk that, no matter how much Addington and Cheney poke him and try to intimidate his dumb head into doing it.

Notice that I am saying the executive’s decision will be motivated by self preservation, not that they will hold back because it would be an insane, immoral, an utterly self destructive move. It just isn’t politically possible at this point with the executive branch’s total loss of credibility. And if they went against the instruction of the congress – this could actually lead to indictment this time. I actually believe that because the pres is THAT unpopular and people are that angry about the way things have gone.

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June 11th, 2008, 9:48 pm

 

55. majedkhaldoun said:

Alex;e you o.k.

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June 11th, 2008, 11:29 pm

 

56. Qifa Nabki said:

National conference held on electoral law
June 11, 2008

On June 11, 2008, Lebanese politicians, civil society activists, legal consultants and UN representatives gathered to discuss the Draft Law of the National Commission on Electoral Law (NCEL), commonly known as the Fouad Butrous law.

The national conference, entitled “Electoral Law Tailored for the Nation,” consisted of three sessions that jointly covered all aspects of the highly debated parliamentary electoral law.

On behalf of President Michel Sleiman, Justice Minister Charles Rizk read a speech that expanded on Sleiman’s inaugural speech. Ziad Baroud, a prominent lawyer and NCEL member, mediated the panels. Baroud was representing former Minister Fouad Butrous, who heads the commission.

UNDP Resident Representative Marta Ruedas summarized the main concerns of and around the Butrous draft law.

The “contentious issue of electoral districting was agreed upon in the recent Doha agreement,” Ruedas said. “However, key reforms are still awaiting a parliamentary discussion of the draft law submitted by the National Commission on Electoral Law Reform.”

While the Doha agreement has observably shaped the electoral landscape for the 2009 parliamentary elections, debates on major issues still spark heated disputes.

All participants called for reforms in seven major areas:

1) Lowering the voting age to 18

2) The “modernization” of the voting procedure by introducing ballot papers and holding elections on one day

3) The need for neutral administrative and managerial bodies for the elections

4) Regulations of the media, including campaigns and news, and of campaign financing

5) Increased participation and representation of women

6) Equal participation rights and possibilities for people with disabilities

7) Granting Lebanese expatriates the right to vote

The need for an independent electoral commission, campaign spending and media control, and an automated election was presented by Baroud, MPs Antoine Haddad, Ghassan Mokheiber, Dr. Ali Fayad of the Consultation Center for Studies and Documentation, and Dr. Khalil Gebara, Executive Director of the LTA.

Minority voting, the woman quota, lowering the voting age, voting outside of Lebanon, and the vote of disabled persons was discussed by a separate panel, led by Dr. Arda Ekmekji of the NCEL. Ekmeji was joined by LADE Secretary General Ziad Abdel Samad, Guita Hourani of NDU’s Emigration Research Center, Sylvia Lakkis of the Handicapped Association, and Dr. Fahmiyah Charafeddine, Vice President of the National Committee for Follow-up on Women’s Issues.

Electoral constituencies and the voting system were discussed in the context of overall democracy in Lebanon in the third and final panel, which joined Dr. Paul Salem of the NCEL with MPs Robert Ghanem, Samir Franjieh and Ali Hassan Khalil.

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June 12th, 2008, 2:10 am

 

57. norman said:

Shai,

I am in your view that the US will attack Iran before the end of the present US administration , at least that is what i think ,The attack will not be with declaration of war as Ausamaa thinks and that needs Congress approval but will be with a sneak attack on Iran Quds brigade and the nuclear installations claiming that Iran is killing our soldiers in Iraq , I think the US will be the one to attack leaving Israel out of it as the support for Iran will be huge from the Arab streets especially in the Gulf and Egypt as the campaign to vilify Iran and the Shai does not seem to succeed if Israel attacks Iran and the Gulf states do nothing .

About Syria , Staying out of the war , I think Syria will do that , Syria will only fight on it’s term and when ready , Syria will not fight in a frontal war that will destroy Syria ,

When the war broke in 2006 between Lebanon / HA and Israel neither Syria nor Iran came to the rescue of HA as they new that their interference will give Israel and the US an excuse to destroy them , So they elected to support HA with arms which is more important to HA .

Conclusion: If the US attacks Iran Syria will support Iran in Iraq and make the lives of the US army in Iraq more difficult.
Syria will not join a frontal military campaign.

Syria’s talk with Israel will continue waiting for a new US and Israeli administration and to prevent a simultaneous attack on Syria and Iran .

I think Iran will respond to the US attack by low intensity war that they will refuse to stop so they can keep fighting the war of aggression that the US started.

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June 12th, 2008, 2:55 am

 

58. norman said:

Rising India’ good for Middle East: Assad

Siddharth Varadarajan

It will help restore some “balance” in peace process, he says

Bashar al-Assad

Damascus: Noting that the problems of the Middle East were already adversely affecting New Delhi, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he hoped a “rising India” would help restore some “balance” in the peace process involving Israel and its neighbours.

In an exclusive interview to The Hindu days before his arrival in India on an official visit, Dr. Assad said India should play a direct role between Israel and Syria as well as Israel and the Palestinians, besides engaging the U.S. and other major powers on what was needed to bring peace and stability to West Asia.

The Syrian President strongly refuted Israeli and U.S. allegations that his country had built a clandestine nuclear facility at al-Kibar. The site which Israel bombed last September was a military facility which had nothing to do with any nuclear application, he said. He accused the Israelis of fabricating evidence to justify their attack, asking why it took Tel Aviv seven months to own up to the missile strike. Dr. Assad said that if the Israelis had evidence now, “How could they not have had this evidence seven months ago?”

In the interest of transparency, Syria had invited the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit the site, he said, rejecting the American demand that inspectors be allowed to visit other sites. “Talking about other sites is not within the purview of [our] agreement [with the IAEA].”

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June 12th, 2008, 3:18 am

 

59. Shai said:

Norman,

I have a feeling that IF an attack on Iran is still in the books, it’ll happen more or less as you described. What I fear, is that Iran will lob missiles into Israel (as it promised in such a case), and that will undoubtedly drag us into hitting back. If that happens, we could be starting a regional war, because I doubt HA or Hamas will sit aside watching their greatest patron get hit so hard, and do nothing.

Zenobia,

You may well be right (and I’m hoping so). If Bush wants to leave office without much more damage, he should keep as low a profile as possible. Actually, there is something he SHOULD do, which would win him infinite credit, even by Democrats, and create some positive legacy before he leaves office. Bush should announce that he is setting up a new national administration, whose goal it is to reduce within 15 years, America’s dependency on oil, by 15%-20%. The actual job would be left of course to the private sector to do that, but the trigger would come from a NASA-like body, government formed and supported, for this very serious energy issue, which most Americans are experiencing today. Few in America would NOT hail Bush as a national hero, the day he makes such an announcement. Of course, it would go against some of his daddy’s investments, but I think for America (and for the Bush family’s name) it would certainly be worth it.

As for declaration of war on Iran, I agree with Norman, there would be no need for one. If Bush gives the order, it would be a limited air strike (couple hundred sorties, etc.) The actual attack would probably be supported by many in DC, but its aftermath would undoubtedly lead to widespread condemnation, though I doubt impeachment. By law, the President doesn’t even need to declare war, or have the approval of Congress, within the first 90 days. He could, in theory, start and end almost anything he wishes, in such time, and not be acting illegally. The question at this point is, does Bush even care about what Americans think about him, or about his policies. Or, does he still follow his pastor’s advice, supported by Cheney. I’ve lost all belief that Bush acts rationally, when faced with serious challenges.

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June 12th, 2008, 4:54 am

 

60. Zenobia said:

If Bush tried that, no matter by what technical devise to avoid the laws to prevent the executive from unilateral action, I think all hell would break loose in Washington right now. Not only would the republicans secure their loss of the November election in congressional elections as well, but seriously, i think congress would go crazy with fury. I just don’t think they can get away with that a second time. Nobody, absolutely nobody would see it as justified or believe the excuses.
I think it would result in legal action against the administration. I seriously do.

Now, i see your point, that they don’t act rationally. They might be willing to destroy their own party for a long time just for the sake of bombing Iran,but I am with Ausamaa, I just don’t think they are quite crazy enough to jump under a bus. Throwing others under buses is fine, but there must be some level of self preservation.

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June 12th, 2008, 6:01 am

 

61. Shai said:

Zenobia,

You could say the same about the U.S. administrations during the Vietnam era, and the past 5 years in Iraq. How is it that America might actually vote for McCain, who will undoubtedly keep American soldiers in Iraq, for another 4 years at least (according to him)? Some 50% of Americans do NOT think rationally, but rather emotionally, when it comes to the infamous GWOT (“Global War on Terrorism”). Put up a few aerial photographs of some Iranian army bases training Shia to kill Americans in Iraq, have a 4-star general nodding a lot, and talking to the press about “new intelligence”, mix that with renewed Intelligence Estimates changing their earlier stance on Iran’s military nuclear program, and you’ve got yourself the perfect recipe for an attack. After all, what crazy lame duck President would authorize an illegitimate attack at the last minute, right?…. See the backwards logic, that might just make it possible for him?

I truly hope you and Ausamaa are right. But I fear Norman might be…

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June 12th, 2008, 9:53 am

 

62. norman said:

look at this .

Posted on Thu, Jun. 12, 2008
Case builds for a military strike on Iran
BY DION NISSENBAUM
Six months ago, after American intelligence agencies declared that Iran had shelved its nuclear-weapons program, the chances of a U.S. or Israeli military strike on the Islamic Republic before President Bush left office seemed remote.
Now, thanks to persistent pressure from Israeli hawks and newly stated concerns by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the idea of a targeted strike meant to cripple Iran’s nuclear program is getting a new hearing.

As Bush travels across Europe to gain support for possible new sanctions against Iran, Israeli leaders have been working to lay the psychological foundation for a possible military strike if diplomacy falters.

In public threats and private briefings with American decision makers, Israeli officials have been making the case that a military strike may be the only way to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

”Temperatures are rising,” said Emily Landau, an Iran specialist at the Institute for National Security Studies, an independent Israeli research center.

Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have met twice in recent weeks for extended talks on Iran. America’s intelligence chief, Mike McConnell, has traveled to Israel for private briefings, and Israeli Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz publicly declared that a military strike on Iran may be “unavoidable.”

In Germany on Wednesday, Bush said that ”all options are on the table” if Iran doesn’t abandon its uranium enrichment programs.

EFFORTS MOCKED

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad greeted Bush’s initiative by mocking the latest international efforts.

”They’ve tried by military threats . . . and political pressure to stop you from your luminous path,” Ahmadinejad reportedly told a rally in Iran on Wednesday. “But today they have seen that all their planning has failed.

“Today the Iranian nation is standing on the nuclear height.”

Intelligence analysts disagree over the likelihood of a military strike on Iran before Bush leaves office. But there’s little disagreement about the possible repercussions, which could include missile strikes on Israel, an attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities, renewed attacks on Israel from Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon, a resurgence of Shiite Muslim resistance to U.S. forces in Iraq or an attack on oil shipping in the Persian Gulf, which could send crude oil prices well above $200 a barrel.

Some analysts view the latest Israeli threats as an attempt to put pressure on Iran to capitulate to Western demands. Others see the Israeli campaign as intended to press the Bush administration to take the lead if the two nations decide to launch a military strike on Iran.

”The most likely scenario is that the Israelis will train and prepare as if they are very serious — and that’s part of the bluff to get the U.S. engaged,” said John McCreary, a retired intelligence analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense.

The key factor in any decision to launch a military strike is likely to be solid intelligence that Iran is rapidly advancing on its nuclear ambitions.

”I don’t think there is that smoking gun that we can hold up and say that everyone should stand behind this,” said Landau, who recently wrote an analysis titled The Elusive Smoking Gun for her think tank.

But Landau said the international debate had shifted in the weeks since the IAEA expressed ”serious concerns” about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and demanded more answers.

Israel already has demonstrated an ability to persuade reluctant Bush administration officials of the need to stage a preemptive strike. Before launching an airstrike on Syria last September, Israel provided the United States with intelligence suggesting that its Middle East neighbor was building a nuclear plant.

In April, the CIA publicly unveiled detailed images of the Syrian target and said that it was a nuclear reactor built with help from North Korea. Syria has denied the allegation. International inspectors are expected to visit the site for the first time later this month.

Considering Ahmadinejad’s refusal so far to accept the international incentives, some analysts see support growing in Israel and the United States for a military strike.

”I think more and more people are looking to the military option as possibly the only thing that will work, and people are more and more feeling that negotiations won’t work,” said Meir Javendanfar, a co-author of The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran.

Hard-liners in the U.S. and Israel also dismiss the notion that U.S. or Israeli nuclear weapons would deter Iran from using such weapons itself if it succeeded in obtaining them.

The very fact that a military strike is percolating back into mainstream debate is a significant shift in the political discourse.

Most analysts dismissed the military option last December after U.S. intelligence agencies agreed that Iran had shelved its nuclear weapons work in 2003 and was unlikely to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb until 2010 or 2015.

Though Bush and Olmert challenged the assessment at the time, the analysis made it more difficult to make a case for swift military action.

Since then, Israel has shared more of its intelligence with the Bush administration.

Last week, Olmert traveled to Washington for extended talks with Bush that focused primarily on Iran.

”Every passing day the world acts, under the leadership of the United States, to achieve that goal that will prevent Iran’s armament,” Olmert said after meeting Bush.

GLOBAL INCENTIVES

On Wednesday, Olmert spokesman Mark Regev said Iran must understand that it must give up its nuclear ambitions in order to receive international incentives.

”Only if they understand that there is a clear and stark choice, that there isn’t wiggle room, only then can diplomacy succeed,” Regev said. “I think in dealing with the Iranians it’s important to have both carrots and sticks.”

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June 12th, 2008, 12:38 pm

 

63. Shai said:

Norman, yes, that’s the other possibility (Israel attacking on its own). Though less likely, I wouldn’t rule this option out, especially if American forces will help out (airspace, refueling, etc.) Will Olmert “win” extra points for such an attack? Probably in the immediate run, but quite the opposite when the missiles start landing in Tel-Aviv. Israelis seem to be taking up investigation-committees as a new national sport… We may be needing another one, if someone here does authorize an attack.

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June 12th, 2008, 1:24 pm

 

64. norman said:

Shai,

I do not think you should worry,
Israel will not attack Iran , the US will do that and Iran will probably not attack Israel if no attack from Israel.

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June 12th, 2008, 3:08 pm

 

65. Qifa Nabki said:

Kind of sad that this is considered a “major setback”…

Major Guantanamo setback for Bush

Foreign suspects held in Guantanamo Bay have the right to challenge their detention in US civilian courts, the US Supreme Court has ruled.

In a major legal setback for the Bush administration, the court overturned by five to four a ruling upholding a 2006 law which removed such rights.

It is not clear if the ruling will lead to prompt hearings for the detainees.

Some 270 men are held at the US naval base, on suspicion of terrorism or links to al-Qaeda and the Taleban.

The White House has said it is studying the latest decision.

‘Extraordinary times’

The court said the detainees “have the constitutional privilege of habeas corpus”.

Unidentified inmates of Camp 4, Guantanamo Bay (14 May 2008)
Nearly 300 men remain in detention in Guantanamo Bay

Justice Anthony Kennedy said: “The laws and constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times.”

This is the Bush administration’s third setback at the highest US court since 2004 over its treatment of prisoners who are being held indefinitely and without charge at the base in Cuba.

The court has ruled twice previously that Guantanamo inmates could go into civilian courts to ask that the government justify their continued detention.

But each time, the Bush administration and Congress, then controlled by Republicans, changed the law to keep the detainees out of civilian courts.

The two previous Supreme Court rulings have not done much to clarify the inamtes’ situation, says the BBC’s Jamie Coomarasamy in Washington.

Last week, five detainees, including key suspect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, appeared before a military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed dismissed the trial as an “inquisition”.

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June 12th, 2008, 3:42 pm

 

66. Alex said:

On the horns of dilemma
By Shmuel Meir
Tags: Golan Heights

The peace talks with the Syrians took us by surprise. The public discourse is divided between strategists, who hold on to issues of topography and differences in height (“They are up there and we are below – a recipe for disaster”), and the peace-seekers, who have become giddy from the air of the summits (“Everything has already been tied up”).

On the side of the debate are the residents of the Golan Heights (17,000 now, as compared with the 250,000 Syrians who lived there before 1967), and there are also the voices reminding us of the property rights over thousands of dunams that were legally acquired and registered by the Jewish National Fund. As if a private property right imparts sovereign status.

Above all, the Syrian peace is characterized by periodicity. It breaks out, fades away and disappears until the next time around. As if there is no price to be paid for inexplicable delays. As if the peace that was achieved with Egypt and Jordan will never be affected by a situation of no peace with Syria. As if a superfluous war, like that of the summer of 2006, is not a sufficient price.
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The public has become accustomed to not receiving explanations from its leaders. Shimon Peres broke off the negotiations with Syria in 1996 on the pretext of elections whose date he had fixed. Ehud Barak allowed the talks of 2000, and the decisive meeting between Bill Clinton and Hafez Assad, to evaporate. The answer to the question of why peace has not been achieved with Syria remains under wraps. The dramatic reversal in the Syrian position in 1991 – readiness for a full peace under the aegis of the United States – was considered insignificant by us and became non-existent. That, even though the Syrians did not back off from their stance, despite the dozens of Syrians who were killed during the Second Lebanon War and despite the incident of September 2007.

A quick summary of the claims that justify the non-peace with Syria will reveal that most of them do not hold water. The security arrangements are not a stumbling block. In the peace treaty with Jordan, no demilitarized or thinned-out areas were fixed. All of Jordan is a security belt with regard to the prohibition of foreign troops entering that country. It is possible to apply the Egyptian model and to set up a strip with a lighter troop presence that is not symmetrical on the Israeli side. The issue of marking the border has produced many books with numerous proposals for a creative path between three close lines: the international border, the armistice lines and the 1967 line.

With regard to everything relating to water, Israel has control of most of the sources of the Jordan River; and with regard to the Iranian issue – a peace treaty and an Iranian military presence on the Golan cannot go hand-in-hand.

And what about the ultimate claim about why an agreement is not reached – the Syrian desire to paddle in Lake Kinneret? We are talking about a demand aimed at making permanent a fleeting picture of the balance of power before 1967, when Israel did not succeed in implementing its sovereignty over a strip of 10 meters on the north eastern shore of the lake. Surely it must be clear to the Syrians that a claim that rests on temporary superiority in the balance of power in those days will play into Israel’s hands, since it now holds the entire Syrian heights. It is possible that this realization is what led to raising the ideas about joint sovereignty or an international park at the northeast end of Lake Kinneret.

There is another thing that is extremely important: Along with the recurring refrain about the borders of June 4, a Syrian demand appeared that all nuclear facilities be under international inspection. According to the book by Itamar Rabinowitz, who headed the Israeli delegation to the talks in the 1990s, the Syrians had a well-thought-out doctrine concerning Israel’s nuclear potential, and the issue took a central place in the discussions about security arrangements. At one meeting, the nuclear issue actually led to a dead end.

Israel can apparently expect to face a new situation. On one side will be the peace treaties with Syria, Lebanon and the entire Arab world, with a dramatic decrease in the incentive for war on the part of distant countries. On the other side of the scale will be Israel’s policy of ambiguity. The Arab League’s peace initiative likewise created a connection between the nuclear potential and peace.

The doctrine of ambiguity succeeded in the peace with Egypt, but since then Egypt has raised the threshold of its demands for nuclear disarmament. The United States, which has supported Israel in international forums, was not able to remove the Egyptian position from the agenda. The U.S. is committed to preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the world, according to its declared policy and according to the NPT (nuclear non-proliferation treaty). The accepted wisdom in Washington and Jerusalem, which tended to view a comfortable coexistence between ambiguity and the peace process, will require reassessment.

Peace talks with Syria and the declaration on the part of former U.S. president Jimmy Carter about Israel’s nuclear capabilities, indicate this future has already arrived. Syria, with the diplomatic backing of other countries, is likely to stick by its position and to demand nuclear symmetry: full inspection of its facilities and possibly also those of Iran, in return for full inspection on the Israeli side. A central layer in the doctrine of ambiguity – a declarative policy of non-proliferation and inspection when comprehensive peace is attained – will have to stand the test. Nuclear potential and peace are no longer separate worlds or worlds apart.

The writer is a researcher of strategic issues and formerly headed the branch for weapons supervision in the Israel Defense Forces’ Planning Branch

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June 12th, 2008, 4:26 pm

 

67. Alex said:

majedkhaldoun said:

Alex;e you o.k.

Majed,

Thanks for noticing that I have not been spamming the comments section for few days now.

: )

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June 12th, 2008, 4:34 pm

 

68. Qifa Nabki said:

Alex

How’s the nosy Egyptian? Caught the smuggling racket yet?

😉

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June 12th, 2008, 4:39 pm

 

69. Qifa Nabki said:

Saniora has called Aoun’s bluff. The latter was claiming that the Future Movement was trying to monopolize the Ministry of Finance, so Saniora has now offered it to the opposition.

Trouble is, the offer is an either/or: Either the Finance ministry or the Foreign Affairs ministry. Traditionally (i.e. for the past 19 years), Foreign Affairs is held by an AMAL guy, so Aoun would have to pry it out of Berri’s tight little hands and give it to the majority, if he wants to grab the Finance ministry. Since that is rather unlikely, Aoun is stuck trying to make a case for the opposition holding two sovereign ministries while the majority and the president would each hold one. Yeah, I’m not convinced either.

According to NOW Lebanon, some believe that Aoun was making a fuss over the Finance ministry because he was really angling for the Defense portfolio, but that would mean taking it away from the new prez. Who knows.

I wonder how many times the following thought has crossed either Sayyed Hasan or Nabih Berri’s minds:

There he goes again… If we wanted a Napoleon, we should have just asked the French to re-colonize us… I wonder if Geagea would be amenable to ‘flipping’ next year… hmmmm…

Here’s Saniora’s either/or:

Saniora Offers Opposition 2 Baskets of Cabinet Line-Up

Prime Minister-designate Fouad Saniora has on Thursday reportedly offered the opposition two baskets of the new government line-up.
The daily An Nahar, which carried the report, said the first basket consists of the ministries of finance, public works, education, tourism, environment, youth and sports, culture and displaced.

It said the second comprises the ministries of foreign affairs, energy, justice, economy, trade and commerce, agriculture, health and social affairs.

Saniora was waiting for responses from the opposition, the daily said.

Beirut, 12 Jun 08, 12:03

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June 12th, 2008, 5:01 pm

 

70. Majhool said:

Poll: Growing Israeli opposition to Golan pullback in Syria peace talks
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Pollsters say Israeli opposition to handing the Golan Heights back to Syria as part of a peace deal has leapt since the announcement last month of renewed talks between the sides.

A survey conducted by the Hebrew University and a Palestinian think tank also shows most Israelis and Palestinians see no point to current peace negotiations.

The survey was published Thursday, and said that 67 percent of Israelis are against returning the strategic plateau, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East War. That’s up from 56 percent in a March poll.

It said 55 percent of Israelis and 68 percent of Palestinians feel talks between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are going nowhere and should be shelved.

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June 12th, 2008, 5:09 pm

 

71. Majhool said:

Poll: Growing Israeli opposition to Golan pullback in Syria peace talks
By ASSOCIATED PRESS

Pollsters say Israeli opposition to handing the Golan Heights back to Syria as part of a peace deal has leapt since the announcement last month of renewed talks between the sides.

A survey conducted by the Hebrew University and a Palestinian think tank also shows most Israelis and Palestinians see no point to current peace negotiations.

The survey was published Thursday, and said that 67 percent of Israelis are against returning the strategic plateau, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East War. That’s up from 56 percent in a March poll.

It said 55 percent of Israelis and 68 percent of Palestinians feel talks between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are going nowhere and should be shelved.

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June 12th, 2008, 5:10 pm

 

72. Majhool said:

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH

Syria: Repression of Activists Continues Unabated
Engagement With Damascus Should Include Human Rights
(Washington, DC, June 12, 2008) – Western countries looking to increase engagement with Syria should know that Syrian authorities continue to arrest, try, and harass political and human rights activists, Human Rights Watch said today. In May 2008, Syrian authorities detained a political writer, began the trial of two activists, and restricted the travel of at least seven others. Amidst increasing calls in Western countries to increase engagement with Syria, Human Rights Watch urged that an improvement in the treatment of these activists be at the heart of any future talks with the Syrian authorities.

The French daily Le Monde reported on June 9, 2008, that President Nicholas Sarkozy of France plans to send two senior envoys, Jean-David Lévitte and Claude Guéant, to Syria as early as June 12, as ties suspended last year over Lebanon’s political crisis start to thaw. Last week, US senators John Kerry and Chuck Hagel co-wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal calling for increased engagement with Syria following “the recent announcement of peace negotiations between Israel and Syria through Turkey, and the agreement between the Lebanese factions in Qatar.”

“Any engagement with Syria must include an open discussion of human rights concerns, including the fate of political prisoners and other Syrians who suffer abuse,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa director. “The authorities in Damascus are still harassing anyone who dares criticize them.”

On May 7, members from Syria’s security services arrested Habib Saleh, 60, a writer and political analyst, and took him to an undisclosed location where he remains in incommunicado detention. Saleh had written articles critical of the Syrian regime, including an article defending Syrian opposition figure Riad al-Turk. Saleh has already been jailed twice in the past for his writings.

A few days later, on May 11, the State Security Court, a special court with almost no due process protections, issued a three-year sentence against Tarek Biasi, 23, a blogger whom the government detained in July 2007 accusing him of “insulting security services” online, and charging him with “weakening national sentiment.”

On May 12, a military court began the trial of Muhammad Badi` Dek al-Bab, a member of the National Organization for Human Rights, on the charge of “spreading false information that harms the prestige of the state” because he wrote an article criticizing the Syrian authorities for detaining writers and intellectuals while celebrating Damascus as the 2008 “Arab Capital of Culture.” He has been in detention since March 2, and his next trial hearing is scheduled for June 11. Dek al-Bab has previously been jailed for his activities. In 2000, he was sentenced to 15 years on charges of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, but was released in 2005 following a presidential amnesty.

Meanwhile, a group of 13 notable political activists, including former parliamentarian Riad Seif, remain in detention following their arrest in December 2007 for attending a meeting of opposition groups. They are awaiting their trial on charges of “weakening national sentiment and awakening sectarian strife,” “spreading false or exaggerated news which would affect the morale of the country,” and “membership in an organization formed with the purpose of changing the structure of the state.”

“These activists are in jail because they dared to express their opinions,” said Whitson. “We hope that Western diplomats talking to Syria will show the same courage and tell the Syrian authorities that they need to release these activists.”

Syrian authorities also continue to restrict hundreds of activists from leaving the country. Seven political and human rights activists were directly affected by these restrictions in May. For example, the authorities barred Muhannad al-Hasani, president of the Syrian Human Rights Organization, from traveling to Beirut on May 21 to participate in a show on the al-`Alam TV channel to discuss the situation of Syrian detainees in Saudi Arabia. They also prevented Radif Mustafa, the chairperson of the Kurdish Committee for Human Rights, from traveling to Paris to participate in a workshop organized by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network from May 19-23.

Other forms of harassment include preventing gatherings and meetings. The activist Mazen Darwish, president of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, had obtained a permit from the Ministry of Culture to organize a conference on “press freedom” at the Arab Cultural Center in Damascus on May 25, but an official from the same ministry called the venue 15 minutes prior to the start of the event and ordered its cancellation.

Background

The seven activists prevented from traveling outside Syria in May are:

Abdel Sattar al-Qattan: previously detained for affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood. Released from jail for health reasons on June 12, 2007. He requires dialysis three times a week, and his doctors have recommended that he travel outside Syria to receive a kidney transplant.

Radif Mustafa: a lawyer and chairperson of the Kurdish Committee for Human Rights. Prevented from traveling to Paris to participate in a workshop organized by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network from May 19-23.

Muhannad al-Hasani: president of the Syrian Human Rights Organization. Syrian security officials prevented him from traveling to Beirut on May 21 to participate in a show on the al-`Alam TV channel to discuss the situation of Syrian detainees in Saudi Arabia.

Raja` al-Nasser and Muhammad Abdel Majid Manjounah: lawyers and members in the Socialist Union party. Prevented from traveling on May 8 to Yemen to participate in a workshop by the Arab National Congress

Zaradasht Muhammad and `Abdel Rahman Ahmad: two Kurdish political activists prevented from traveling to Iraq on May 12 to meet other Iraqi Kurdish parties.

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June 12th, 2008, 5:31 pm

 

73. Shai said:

Alex,

I agree with much of Shmuel Meir’s article above, but certainly disagree with his assessment that “Nuclear potential and peace are no longer separate worlds or worlds apart.” There is no way on earth that Israel will enable anyone, friend or foe, access to its nuclear installations, anytime soon. There is still tremendous distrust, and plain fear, of our Arab neighbors’ intentions, and even in return for peace (or a superficial peace treaty), information about our nuclear program or access to inspections should not be expected. That, of course, is why I believe Israel is being hypocritical when demanding the same of Syria. If we’re not ready to expose certain programs and capabilities, why expect others to do so?

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June 12th, 2008, 6:44 pm

 

74. Alex said:

Shai,

It might be a negotiating card that Syria will drop eventually when Israel drops some of its not very reasonable demands too.

But it might be a real fear … I realized from many discussions that you and AIG and AP are having here with Syrian and Arab expats that many of them are very uncomfortable with Israel’s substantial nuclear capabilities.

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June 12th, 2008, 7:30 pm

 

75. Shai said:

Alex,

Yes, and it makes sense. But our Arab neighbors should also understand that many Israelis, probably most, strongly believe that the only reason Israel still exists today is because of its nuclear deterrence. So on the one hand they feel strong enough in the region, and on the other, they fear Syrian tanks rolling off the Golan… It’s all emotional, very little of it is rational.

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June 12th, 2008, 8:10 pm

 

76. Akbar Palace said:

But our Arab neighbors should also understand that many Israelis, probably most, strongly believe that the only reason Israel still exists today is because of its nuclear deterrence.

Alex, Shai,

Don’t fret about Israel “nuclear deterrrence”. Israel has yet to threaten to “wipe out” any Arab or Muslim country and has never used their nuclear weapons during all the wars she’s fought, including the darkest hours of the ’73 surprise attack.

Israel’s nuclear deterrrence is just in case Israel is literally face-to-face with extinction. We’ve seen that some jihadists are willing to kill several thousands of innocent people for their cause while their state sponsors provide the training and armament. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to discount the possibility of ever having to use this capability one day.

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June 12th, 2008, 9:13 pm

 

77. Alex said:

Akbar,

On the afternoon of 6 October 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel in a coordinated surprise attack, beginning the Yom Kippur War. Caught with only regular forces on duty, augmented by reservists with a low readiness level, Israeli front lines crumbled. By early afternoon on 7 October, no effective forces were in the southern Golan Heights and Syrian forces had reached the edge of the plateau, overlooking the Jordan River. This crisis brought Israel to its second nuclear alert.

Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, obviously not at his best at a press briefing, was, according to Time magazine, rattled enough to later tell the prime minister that “this is the end of the third temple,” referring to an impending collapse of the state of Israel. “Temple” was also the code word for nuclear weapons. Prime Minister Golda Meir and her “kitchen cabinet” made the decision on the night of 8 October. The Israelis assembled 13 twenty-kiloton atomic bombs. The number and in fact the entire story was later leaked by the Israelis as a great psychological warfare tool. Although most probably plutonium devices, one source reports they were enriched uranium bombs. The Jericho missiles at Hirbat Zachariah and the nuclear strike F-4s at Tel Nof were armed and prepared for action against Syrian and Egyptian targets. They also targeted Damascus with nuclear capable long-range artillery although it is not certain they had nuclear artillery shells.[62]

U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was notified of the alert several hours later on the morning of 9 October. The U.S. decided to open an aerial resupply pipeline to Israel, and Israeli aircraft began picking up supplies that day. Although stockpile depletion remained a concern, the military situation stabilized on October 8th and 9th as Israeli reserves poured into the battle and averted disaster. Well before significant American resupply had reached Israeli forces, the Israelis counterattacked and turned the tide on both fronts.

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June 12th, 2008, 10:51 pm

 

78. why-discuss said:

Iran and Israel are stuck in a dysfunctional relationship that neither party can escape on its own. Here’s how to break up their fight.
by Trita Parsi

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June 12th, 2008, 11:26 pm

 

79. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Alex,
Your quote proves exactly what AP is saying. What was your point?

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June 13th, 2008, 4:01 am

 

80. Shai said:

Why-Discuss,

Very interesting article. Makes a lot more sense than trying to subdue Iran by force.

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June 13th, 2008, 4:54 am

 

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