Posted by Joshua on Saturday, October 11th, 2008
I just returned from Northwestern University where I debated Syrian foreign policy with Robert Rabil. It was great fun. The students who participate in the Model Arab League at NW organized it. Rabil has just had an article on Hezbollah’s command leadership, structure, modus operandi, and ascent to political preeminence in Lebanon published in the Journal of International Security Affairs.
….. From its origins as a radical sectarian militia in the 1980s, it has migrated into Lebanon’s political mainstream. In the process, Hezbollah has acquired the institutional trappings of a state and the capabilities of an army.
The Shi’ite group now stands squarely at the center of an Iranian-Syrian regional axis generated no less by Iran’s regional ambitions than by Syria’s regional weakness. …..
Despite the obvious recent setback, the United States still has the necessary leverage to frustrate Hezbollah’s ambitions. The first step is reestablishing its credibility vis-à-vis Lebanon’s democratic government….
Washington, therefore, must demonstrate its willingness to adopt a more active role in stabilizing Lebanon and helping to dilute Hezbollah’s power, even as it presses the March 14 forces to adopt a more robust, independent posture. …
The organization’s myth of resistance has now been debunked in the eyes of many Lebanese and Muslims. Insofar as Hezbollah may attempt to identify itself in that fashion, the March 14 forces should press the issue, insisting that the arms of Hezbollah have been used against Lebanese forces. They should also launch an international effort to bring about an Israeli withdrawal from Shebaa Farms and the hills of Kfarshouba, for practical reasons. Hezbollah has predicated the legitimacy of the resistance on tangible results, ….
This should be followed by the development of a long-term strategy designed to weaken the hold of Hezbollah over its main base of support, Lebanon’s Shi’a community. In devising this strategy, Washington will need to address three issues: the development of southern Lebanon, amendment of the electoral law, and a widening of the political debate in Beirut. ….While such a strategy may not compel Hezbollah to disarm in the near future, it will help rob it of its raison d’être and force it to decide whether it is a spearhead for Iran’s national interests or a Lebanese political movement. A great deal will rest on what it chooses.
Nathan Field writing in The National has also published on Hezbollah, explaining how Al-Qaeda is hoping to chisel away at Hizbullah’s popularity and do much what Rabil recommends the US to do to it.
The Foreign Ministry Notifies the US. Embassy in Damascus about the Illegal Entry of Two American Nationals to Syria, Thursday, October 09, 2008 – 03:00 PM
Damascus, (SANA)- The Foreign Ministry on Thursday summoned the Charge d’Affairs of the US. Embassy in Damascus and told him that the Syrian security authorities had detained two American nationals , Holy Robin Shmella , and Taylor Langley Luke for entering Syria this morning through the northern Syrian-Lebanese borders illegally with the help of a smuggler. The Foreign Ministry official source stated that the Syrian specialized security authorities is interrogating them currently to know how they entered Syria without obtaining the required visas and they will be delivered to the US. embassy in Damascus after the conclusion of the necessary procedures. A.N.Idelbi
Very luck for these two that they were not Arabs trying to smuggle their way past Homeland Security into the US. They might have disapeared into Guantanemo for a long time.
How to Move Forward on Syria
by Theodore H. Kattouf, former U.S. ambassador to Syria and the United Arab Emirates; president and CEO, AMIDEAST. Interview with Middle East Bulletin.
[T]here are things that Syria would like. They would like to have their honor restored by regaining all the territory lost in the June 1967 war. They would like to be off the state sponsors of terrorism list … They would like help with their economy in terms of reform and attracting foreign direct investment.
And I think in return, the Syrians would be willing to quit allowing the supply to Hezbollah of Iranian arms through their territory … They would have to insist that Hamas and Islamic Jihad either become normal political parties with no militia wings or expel them altogether from Syria … They would need to support peace in terms of a two-state solution between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. … There’s plenty to talk about but right now Syria is feeling vulnerable and its only reliable ally is Iran. And they are not going to alienate the Iranians until all the t’s have been crossed and i’s dotted in some sort of a Grand Bargain that I referred to. Access the full interview>>
Who is targeting Syria? Bassel Oudat of al-Ahram Weekly joins the host of journalists speculating about who was behind the bombing in Syria’s capital and tries to link it to other recent assassinations and unexplained terrorist attacks on Syrian soil. He doesn’t rule out 1980s type Muslim Brothers or blow back from the US invasion of Iraq, but his last line he asks, “Is Syria under attack because it opened that channel of indirect talks [with Israel]?
The Middle East’s unending political crunch
By James Denselow
The Guardian, 9 October 2008
Coverage of the global financial meltdown in the wake of the credit crunch has tended to obscure reporting of events in the Middle East, a region apparently stuck in a never-ending political crunch….
Despite the incredible thaw in international relations with respect to Syria, including the possible offer of board membership of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Syria remains nominally in Washington’s bad books. This was made clear in George Bush’s speech at the United Nations last month, in which he said: “A few nations – regimes like Syria and Iran – continue to sponsor terror, yet their numbers are growing fewer and they’re growing more isolated from the world…”
Has the United States Poisoned Democracy?
By Amaney Jamal, Mark Tessler
The Arab Reform Bulletin, October 2008
Has the association of democracy promotion with U.S. foreign policy, and especially with the occupation of Iraq, spawned a backlash and led ordinary Arab citizens to question whether democracy is appropriate for their countries? Certainly the United States’ lack of even-handedness in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has long been a major Arab complaint, and more recently the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq have given rise to widespread anti-American sentiment in the Arab world. Associated with this is U.S. government insistence that its actions in Iraq are part of an effort to promote democracy in the Arab world.
To examine the relationship between anti-Americanism based on antipathy toward U.S. foreign policy, on the one hand, and views about desirability of democracy on the other, we analyze data from the Arab Barometer project. With scientific and administrative leadership provided by a team that includes prominent scholars from five Arab countries, as well as the present authors, the Arab Barometer carried out in 2006-2007 face-to-face interviews with large and representative national samples of ordinary citizens in seven Arab societies: Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, and Yemen. A total of 8,555 men and women were interviewed. Information about the organization, methodology and findings of the Arab Barometer may be found at http://www.arabbarometer.org/…
Fair Winds for the Brotherhood
By Shadi Hamid
The Arab Reform Bulletin, October 2008
The fortunes of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood may be shifting after three difficult years that saw the group’s worst electoral result in history, reports of diminished influence, and sustained government repression. After hitting an unprecedented low, the relationship between the Jordanian regime and the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest opposition grouping, has improved recently. This is the opposite of what many observers, including this author, expected. Hammam Sa’id, known as a hardliner, was elected General Guide of the organization in May 2008, leading many to predict heightened confrontation between regime and opposition. Analysts Matthew Levitt and David Schenker wrote, for instance, that the leadership change suggested the Brotherhood “can no longer be considered ‘loyal’ to the kingdom.” During Sa’id’s tenure, however, events have moved in an unexpected direction. Since being elected, he has toned down his abrasive rhetoric, emphasized domestic priorities, and made an effort to reach understandings with the government of Prime Minister Nader al-Dahabi on key issues of contention.
The question of the Palestinian Resistance Movement (Hamas) is one area where Islamists and the regime have moved closer to each other. After nine years of severed ties, Jordan has opened a dialogue with Hamas, recognizing the group’s growing influence and its strong position in Gaza. With its close ties to Hamas leaders, the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), played a critical role in facilitating the resumption of contacts.
Moreover, Jordan’s King Abdullah—known as one of the region’s most pro-Western rulers—has attempted to strengthen ties to other U.S. adversaries, including Iran and Russia. He has met with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev three times in the last eight months, and their discussions have increasingly revolved around military assistance and cooperation, including joint production of multi-caliber grenade launchers. Such moves have given Islamists hope that Jordan is beginning to shake off Washington’s tight embrace…
Interview with Ghassan al-Khatib on Leadership and Elections
The Arab Reform Bulletin, October 2008
How would postponing the presidential election for one year, until January 2010, affect the current Palestinian political situation?
First, it hasn’t been confirmed yet that the election will be postponed. There is still a discussion about the legality of doing this. The election law clearly states that presidential and legislative elections should be held together, while the Basic Law limits the president’s term to four years.
After the initial announcement that elections would be postponed until January 2010 met with opposition, President Mahmoud Abbas revised his decision, saying that legal procedures would be examined and that all options were under consideration. In other words, the president left the door open for elections either in January 2009 or 2010…
If elections were held as scheduled in 2009, would there be more than one candidate?
Most likely only one candidate would run on behalf of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), but that is not guaranteed unless President Abbas achieves better organization and coordination within the PLO. In the last election there were a large number of candidates…
What will happen if presidential and legislative elections both are held in 2010, in view of the standoff between Hamas and Fatah?
Hamas is not enthusiastic about holding elections, whether in the West Bank or Gaza, but it is still unclear at the moment whether Hamas would take part. Political bureau leader Khalid Mishal said recently that there should be coordination among Hamas members leading up to elections, which suggests that he wants to clarify certain matters such as who would be on the election commission, which government would run day-to-day affairs until then, which security apparatus would maintain order during polling, etc.
Without Hamas’s involvement in preparations, it would be impossible to hold elections in Gaza, which means that only Palestinians in the West Bank would be able to vote for their president. That would deepen an already serious divide between the West Bank and Gaza…
Interview with Yossi Alpher on Leadership and Elections
The Arab Reform Bulletin, October 2008
Following the victory of Tzipi Livni in the Kadima party primary, what do you expect from her efforts to form a new governing coalition?
Presumably Livni will try to reestablish more or less the same as the outgoing coalition—the Kadima, Labor, and Shas parties. I do not think she will have much difficulty with Labor, other than Ehud Barak’s discomfort with being her defense minister; he said some uncomplimentary things about her during the primary.
Livni’s big problem will be with the conservative Shas Party, which will take this opportunity to squeeze her for more money for religious schools and benefits for large families. This is a national scandal, which continues to this day. Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, while he was Minister of Finance a few years ago, finally managed to cut back these payments per child but now Shas is pressing to restore them. The price Shas exacted from former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was his declaration that we would not negotiate with the Palestinians about Jerusalem. Giving in to such demands goes very much against Livni’s instincts, but it is the classic way of putting together a coalition. Livni only entered politics about ten years ago and this will be her first test; she comes to this situation with less experience than Olmert in this kind of political wheeling and dealing. It is also very important to watch what Olmert himself does in the background. If Livni fails to form a coalition, Olmert will remain as caretaker prime minister until elections are held, which could be another 6 months.
Don’t forget Livni can bring in the pro-peace party Meretz instead of Shas and reach some arrangement with the ten members of Knesset who represent Arab parties. That would be a tenuous coalition, but one that would be much more peace-oriented.
If Livni succeeds in forming a new coalition, will she serve out what would have been the rest of Olmert’s term as prime minister?
In theory, yes, she could serve another two years. But judging by the fate of previous coalitions, if she reaches some kind of achievement in negotiations this would precipitate new elections. Let us remember that the Palestinian issue, which she is as dedicated to as Olmert was, has brought down every single Israeli governing coalition for the last twenty years. Olmert’s resignation actually was an exception, a coalition brought down by the prime minister’s corruption rather than by the Palestinian issue. One could hardly say that’s a refreshing change but at least it is different from the pattern we have seen.
What are prospects for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations at this point?
If Livni forms a coalition, it is not clear what she wants to do with a government. Does she want to pick up where we left off with the peace process with the Palestinians, for example? She is the chief negotiator. Or does she really want just to stabilize her prime ministerial image in the eyes of the Israeli public in the hopes that this will help her win an election? Maybe she wants to do both of these things and she is going to be playing it by ear. She has a lot of integrity on her side and a very good image in the public eye but not a lot of experience at this kind of political backroom dealing with the likes of Shas.
Another question is Syria. Livni has been rather cool to those talks and much more dedicated to the talks with Palestinians. Olmert also was cool to talks with Syria until he listened to his security community, who told him that peace with Syria is much more doable and could help to push Iran out of the region and reduce support for militant Islamist organizations. It’s very possible that Livni as foreign minister didn’t hear all the briefings that Olmert did. In Israeli political culture, the foreign ministry is a weak partner at best in national security decision-making, which is done by the prime minister and the defense minister, who are sometimes the same person. So, now Livni is going to step into those shoes…
Syria releases two U.S. journalists who entered state illegally
Haartez.com, 10 October 2008
Two American citizens who had been missing for days have been released in Damascus after being detained by Syrian authorities, the U.S. State Department said on Thursday.
The Syrian foreign ministry said earlier that authorities were questioning Holli Chmela, 27, and Taylor Luck, 23, for entering the country illegally. The pair had been reported missing by the U.S. embassy in Lebanon on Wednesday.
The Americans were released into the custody of the U.S. embassy in Damascus on Thursday after U.S. charge d’affaires Maura Connelly was summoned to the Syrian foreign ministry, said State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid.
“They are now in the U.S. embassy in Damascus and are reportedly in good shape,” Duguid said.
He said he had no details of any charges against the pair or whether they would be allowed to leave Syria. They were making contact with their families, he said.
Russia hints it won’t sell advanced missiles to Iran
The Associated Press, 10 October 2008
A Russian Foreign Ministry official is suggesting Moscow won’t sell advanced anti-aircraft missiles to Iran.
Observers have said sophisticated S-300 missile systems could be used by Iran to defend military targets like the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant.
That would make any military strike more difficult, and Israel, the United States and other nations have pressured Russia not to sell such weapons to Iran, Syria or other nations that have threatened Israel.
Outgoing prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he discussed Russian weapons sales during a visit to Moscow this week.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko was asked by reporters Thursday whether Russia had promised Israel it would not sell weapons such as S-300s.
“We have declared more than once at the very highest political level that we do not intend to supply those types of armaments to countries located in regions that are, to put it mildly, uneasy,” he said. “This is not in the interests of our country’s policy or the interests of preserving stability in one region or another of the world.”
He said Russia would make decisions on selling weapons systems based on both “preserving the balance of power in the given region, and taking into account the need to provide stability and security in the region.”
Iran’s president has vowed that Israel should be wiped off the map – and Israel fears that the nuclear program Iran says is to produce power is actually meant to manufacture weapons.
….”Some are speaking about Syrian military intervention in Lebanon … this is not possible in my opinion,” he added.
Asked when Beirut and Damascus would exchange ambassadors, Siniora said that Lebanon had taken all the necessary measures in this regard, adding that Syria still had to take some measures for its part…