Posted by Joshua on Saturday, September 13th, 2008
The Arab Reform Bulletin published by the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace has been upgraded to a full website with comment sections. We have Michele Dunne to thank for this important source of balanced analysis of the Middle East. This month, a good article is: Repentant Jihadists and the Changing Face of Islamism in Egypt by Hussam Tammam.
Tzipi Livni is preparing to end talks with Syria, Telegraph, 2008-09-13: "The woman who is on course to become Israel's next prime minister is preparing to end fledgling peace talks with Syria unless it cuts its ties with Iran and the militant Hizbollah group. She is determined to ensure that nobody assumes that the presence of a woman at Israel's helm might leave the country more susceptible to attack."
Syria and Israel: Keep Them Talking
& Haaretz, September 12, 2008 —
The indirect negotiations between Syria and Israel that began last May have gone as far as they can. Their purpose – to break the ice between the two states after eight years of not talking, and to test one another's resolve over certain issues – has been achieved. Now, Syrian President Bashar Assad wants to move forward, as evidenced in his proposal to Israel for direct peace talks, which he introduced last week at a four-way summit in Damascus involving Syria, Turkey, France and Qatar.
An agreement endorsed by Washington would not only guarantee the return of the Golan to Syria (in exchange for a long-term security deal with Israel), but also, and perhaps more significantly, end Syria's isolation in the world. The most important lesson Bashar Assad learned from his father is that good relations with Washington, more than any other foreign capital, serve Syria's strategic interests. But, until a new U.S. administration is in place, he knows there's little point in proceeding with the direct negotiations he's proposing. ……..
Ambassador Meridor: Talks aimed at breaking up Syria-Iran alliance
By Yitzhak Benhorin, YnetNews.com, September 11, 2008
WASHINGTON – "There can't be true peace if Syria continues to align with the Iranian regime and with terror groups," such as Lebanon's Hizbullah, Israeli Ambassador to Washington Sallai Meridor told The Washington Times this week. ….
"By far, the first reason to engage with the Syrians is to explore whether there is a chance for a strategic U-turn, and to have them separated from their special relationship with Iran and stopping their harboring, encouraging and supporting of terror," he was quoted by the Washington Times as saying.
According to Meridor, the indirect talks, which are being facilitated by Turkey, have yet to yield any positive results, but "it's so important that for us it was worth trying to explore"….
The envoy said Israel is prepared to make "very painful compromises" in exchange for Syria's breaking away from Iran's influence, but declined to be more specific.
Asked by The Washington Times whether the United States has advised or otherwise contributed to Israel's reachout effort, the ambassador said that nothing of what Israel has done so far was a surprise to Washington.
Meridor continued to say that the prospect of Iran building a nuclear weapon is the most serious security threat in the Middle East today. "The window of opportunity" to deter that threat "is narrowing but not yet closed," he said….
U.S. to Admit 17,000 Iraqi Exiles, Wash Post, by Walter Pincus
…… In announcing that the government had reached its goal of 12,000 Iraqi refugees for this fiscal year, Ambassador James B. Foley, the secretary of state's special coordinator for refugees, told reporters that he expected to exceed that total in the coming year.
"I think you'll see the U.S. government admitting over the course of fiscal 2009 tens of thousands of Iraqis," Foley said.
Advocacy groups were not satisfied with the new goal. Noting that the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has reported that 90,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan and other neighboring countries are seeking resettlement, said Kristele Younes of Refugees International, "The U.S. certainly met its goal for this year, but next year's target of resettling 17,000 Iraqi refugees falls far short of what is needed."
Foley said that in the coming year, he expects that most of the refugees coming to the United States — who are approved to do so because they face threats if they return to their homes — will come from Syria rather than Jordan. He also said he expects about 2,500 to 3,000 will come from Baghdad. …..
Talabani: Iran, Syria pose 'no problem' for Iraq
AFP, September 10, 2008
WASHINGTON (AFP) — Iraq President Jalal Talabani told US President George W. Bush on Wednesday that Iran and Syria, long targets of US blame over deadly unrest in Iraq, now pose "no problem."
"I'm glad to tell you Mr President that our relations with our neighbors is improved very well with Turkey, with Syria, with Iran with the Arab countries," Talabani said as he met with Bush at the White House.
"The relation is normal now and we have no problem with any of those countries. In contrary, many many new ambassadors are coming to our country from Arab countries," Talabani said.
Washington has for years accused Syria of at the very least turning a blind eye to foreign fighters crossing into Iraq to battle US-led forces, and has alleged Iranian support for elements that target coalition troops.
But a senior US official told reporters on Tuesday, after Bush announced a modest drawdown of US forces in Iraq over the coming months, that Iran may have changed tack on its strife-ravaged neighbor.
Pro-Syria politician Assassinated in Lebanon – Syria condemns car bombing
AFP, September 11, 2008
…. Aridi, a senior member of the Lebanese Democratic Party, was assassinated in a car bombing on Wednesday in the first attack against a pro-Syrian politician since a string of bombings targeted mainly anti-Syrian figures. Syria on Thursday denounced the murder of a pro-Syrian Lebanese politician as a terrorist act aimed at undermining security in its neighbour ahead of planned multi-party reconciliation talks.
His murder came days ahead of national reconciliation talks due to take place next week, as a follow up to a power-sharing agreement struck by feuding politicians in May after deadly sectarian fighting….
Geagea : The assassination of Aridi is a continuation of the string of assassinations that started over 3 years ago. Wiam Wahhab said that he did not participate in Aridi’s funeral because of security concerns.
Jumblatt accused Hariri of attempting to build a militia under the guise of security firms,…and allying with Islamic extremists … and said it was a mistake…" (The Article in Arabic)
"…Jumblatt was quoted as saying that Lebanese must endure Hezbollah's sizable arsenal of weapons, which the March 14 coalition and the U.S. and Israel want to eliminate. He also declared that he makes his most inflammatory anti-Syrian remarks because "politics requires it."
Analysis of Jumblatt's statements by Borzou Daragahi of the Los Angeles Times (September 12, 2008)
Comments by a leading Lebanese politician published Thursday have stirred speculation that he is considering a break with the country's U.S.-backed political alliance, which is locked in a power struggle with the camp led by the pro-Iranian movement Hezbollah.
Walid Jumblatt, the colorful and outspoken leader of Lebanon's Druze community, accused his coalition's leader, Saad Hariri, of trying to build a militia and allying with Islamic extremists. In comments to a newspaper, he lampooned Hariri's leadership skills, likening his U.S.-backed Future Movement to a "troop of camels all walking together."
Sunni dynamics shift in the North
By Michael Young, The Daily Star, September 11, 2008
The headline in the pro-opposition Al-Akhbar newspaper on Tuesday described the reconciliation in Tripoli as an event that "broke" the authority of the Hariri camp. The statement was typically partisan. It was also, as they say, correct but not true. Inter-Sunni dynamics in the North are changing, perhaps to Saad Hariri's momentary disadvantage, but it would be a mistake to write off his supremacy in the district just yet.
In recent weeks, the implications of the tension in Tripoli have alarmed a number of Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia and Egypt. ….
…. there remains sympathy for the Hariri family in the North, and substantial enmity toward Syria. Saad Hariri's political destiny may well be determined by what happens in Tripoli, a city not his but that he may soon have to make his.
Syrian-Russian naval cooperation grows
By Sam F. Ghattas
AP, September 12, 2008
Russia said Friday it was renovating a Syrian port for use by the Russian fleet, signaling an effort to establish a firmer foothold in the Mediterranean at a time of tensions with the United States over Georgia…..
"It is much more advantageous to have such a facility than to return ships patrolling the Mediterranean to their home bases," former Black Sea Fleet commander Adm. Eduard Baltin said, according to the Russian Interfax-AVN service.
The former first deputy commander the Russian Navy, Adm. Igor Kasatonov, said Tartus "is of great geopolitical significance considering that it is the only such Russian facility abroad."…….
Security expert David Hartwell cautioned against reading too much into a connection between the Russia-Syria ties and the Georgia crisis.
"Talks about naval cooperation have been ongoing for several years. It would wrong to suggest this is a reaction to NATO's action in Georgia," said Hartwell, Middle East and North Africa editor for Jane's Country Risk in London.
The Tartus move may be as much aimed at placating Syria's appeals for greater cooperation.
Assad made a visit to Moscow last month, and before the trip told the Russian business daily Kommersant that Syria was "ready to cooperate with Russia in any way," including discussing deploying missile defense systems on Syrian territory.
Assad also said Syria was ready to help Moscow respond to the planned U.S. missile defense shield in Europe, although the Russians have not asked for such help, the newspaper said.
Syria's government later denied that Assad had made such an offer — apparently wary of overly antagonizing the United States.
AP: "…Friday's announcement was the first tangible sign of any new cooperation. The Itar-Tass news agency said Friday that a vessel from Russia's Black Sea fleet had begun restoring facilities at Syria's Mediterranean port of Tartus for use by the Russian military.
…. The war in Georgia has reinforced Russia's reentry into Middle Eastern politics. The key question relating to the impact of Russia's new role relates to the future dynamics of Russian-American relations. If with a new US administration, Russian-American relations take a turn for the worse and the two powers revert to cold war confrontation in central Europe, central Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere, the region will suffer from another layer of tensions and escalations. If however, a new administration in Washington reads the warnings present in the Georgia confrontation and succeeds in building a new partnership with a stronger Russia, then Russian influence in the Middle East can contribute to resolving open wounds, such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq; finding a soft landing for the Iranian nuclear crisis; shepherding forward the Syrian-Israeli peace talks, and help creating the conditions for stability in the Middle East.
The recent summit between France, Turkey and Qatar in Damascus, is an important example of the relevance of politics and diplomacy…. The Middle East should be a focus of international cooperation not an arena for global competition and conflict.
…"It is a very important discovery," said Jean-Marie Le Tensorer, who leads the Swiss side of the team. He said it is the oldest camel bone to be unearthed in the Middle East and probably worldwide…
Le Tensorer said the find also confirms that the origin of the camel is the Arabian desert, from which it migrated to other parts of the world…. "Until now, the evolution of camels has been absolutely unknown in the world," Le Tensorer said. "In central Syria, we have several sites with a long stratigraphic sequence — about 1 million years. We can see the evolution of these animals."…
Al-Sakhel, who is also head of the Syrian National Museum, said the site is an archaeological treasure trove and contains many layers that are the oldest of the prehistoric era in Syria. Last year, the same mission discovered the bones of a giant camel in Syria dating back 100,000 years.
Kuoni, Britain's leading long-haul tour operator, added Syria alongside Egypt, Jordan, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, effectively putting Syria on the mass-market map for the first time…..
Age Concern Travel Insurance has found that the highest travel insurance claims are made from holidaymakers who have visited Mexico: £3,028. The next highest claims came from the United States (£2,854) ….
Egypt Will the dam burst? , Economist: With most of its people struggling, and reform blocked, Egypt faces an uncertain and possibly dangerous future
‘Damascus spring’ fades from memory
By Andrew England in Damascus
FT: September 13 2008
…. Aref Dalila, 65, sits in his simple flat contemplating his first month of freedom. He was released on August 7 after spending six of his seven years of detention in solitary confinement and suffering from poor health. In 2001 he was among activists buoyed by a sense of optimism as Bashar al-Assad, the young, new president was feeling his way into office. Such was mood that the period was dubbed the Damascus spring.
But a bleak reality check hit in September of that year as Mr Dalila and nine others were rounded up in a government crackdown.
“It’s difficult to stay seven years without any reason, only because you do your duty, nothing more,” he says. “Where is the law, where is the constitution?” …. Few activists expect that situation to improve in spite of thawing international relations. ….
Yet activists point to other Middle East states such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which have poor human rights records but enjoy strong ties with the west – even adding Libya to the list after Condoleezza Rice’s visit to the north African state last week – to argue that international relations are one thing, internal reform another.
The best they hope for is some easing of the internal pressure as the regime feels less threatened externally, says an activist who – like hundreds of others – is banned from travelling outside the country.
“In 2006 it became clear to Bashar Assad that human rights was not important to these [western] countries, he has more important points [for the west] … the situation in Lebanon, the situation in Iraq,” says Ammar Qurabi, …
When Mr Sarkozy was asked about human rights during his Damascus visit, he said two Syrians had been released from detention. But activists smile wryly….
Academic pleads not guilty to insulting Jordan king
AFP, September 9, 2008
AMMAN – A Palestinian-born woman academic pleaded not guilty on Tuesday at the beginning of her trial for allegedly insulting King Abdullah II and discriminating against students of Jordanian origin.
The state security court accused Zuhryeh Abdul Haq, 60, a vice dean for education at the private Israa University, of "harassing students of Jordanian origin, mocking their accent, making fun of their traditional (red-and-white) keffiyeh (headdress) and calling them retarded."
Abdul Haq, born in the Nablus, "prevented her colleagues from hanging the king's pictures inside their offices, saying 'I am the king, I am the state,'" according to the charge sheet…..of