Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, April 15th, 2008
The potential deal between Turkcell and Syriatel, Rami Makhlouf's company, is the one to watch to judge whether Washington's latest Syria sanctions have international teeth. If the Turks push through with the deal, Washington will just be gumming on the perimeters of Syria's economy.
Turkcell continues talks on Syriatel stake
By Ercan Ersoy, 14 April 2008
ISTANBUL, April 14 (Reuters) – Turkish mobile operator Turkcell is still in talks for a majority stake in Syriatel, despite fresh U.S. sanctions against the Syrian operator's owner, the Turkish company said on Monday.
A source familiar with the deal told Reuters that the talks were taking longer than expected because some Turkcell executives had U.S. passports. But Turkcell said that "any possible U.S. citizenship held by management" would not affect the process. Turkcell, Turkey's largest mobile operator, is listed in Istanbul and New York.
In February, the United States froze the assets of Syriatel owner Rami Makhlouf under economic sanctions aimed at stepping up pressure on Damascus. Washington said Makhlouf benefited from corruption in the Syrian government, and the measures against him forbid U.S. citizens or entities from doing business with him.
"The talks on the Syrian matter continue," Turkcell told Reuters in a statement on Monday. "We are aware of the situation between the United States and Syria. But since Turkcell is a Turkey-based company and there is no legal restriction on the purchase of Syriatel, the situation does not have any impact on the talks," it said.
Turkcell CEO Sureyya Ciliv told Reuters in late February that he had expected to complete talks with Syriatel in a month and Makhlouf said around the same time that talks with the Turkish operator were continuing. Kuwait's Mobile Telecommunications Co (Zain) said last month it was also interested in Syriatel, saying then that it was still an open competition.
Makhlouf, the cousin of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, owns 69 percent of Syriatel. Gulf investors and Syrian shareholders own the rest of the company, which controls HITS-Unitel, a Yemeni cellphone operator. Turkcell CEO Ciliv said in February that Syriatel had 3.4 million subscribers and a 54 percent market share.
On Monday Turkcell stock fell 4.5 percent in Istanbul, bringing its losses since April 9 to 12 percent, compared with a 3 percent fall on the main index <.XU100>. Analysts attributed the fall to an initial public offering for fixed-line operator Turk Telekom due in May, which they expect will draw funds out of Turkcell in favour of the newly listed company. (Editing by Quentin Bryar; Editing by Erica Billingham)
….83 percent had an unfavorable view of the United States and 70 percent had no confidence in the superpower……
Over 80 percent of respondents identified the Arab-Israeli conflict as a key issue but just over half — 55 percent — did not believe there would ever be a lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians despite U.S. efforts…….
In the Lebanese conflict, only 9 percent expressed sympathy with the majority governing coalition supported by Washington while 30 percent backed the opposition led by the militant group Hezbollah, which the United States opposes……
In the conflict between Hamas and Fatah, only 8 percent said they sympathized most with Fatah and 18 percent were more partial to Hamas, while 37 percent said they backed both."
New “Pro Israel, Pro Peace” Political Group Launches: JStreet Hopes to Prod Washington MidEast Policy Towards Center
Laura Rosen in MoJo, here (Thanks to FLC) or Some Jewish Liberals Seek New Lobbying Group: Wash. Post
"…One of JStreet’s Israeli organizers in Washington, former Israeli peace negotiator Daniel Levy, says Israeli leaders need pressure from Washington to have domestic cover to make concessions that could contribute to the peace process. “I think there comes a point when, if the Israeli leadership actually wants to see this thing resolved, it’s clearly easier to say yes to the president of the United States, rather than to the [Palestinian Liberation Organization],” Levy told me. “You need to have to have the president of the United States to help carry you there.”
Lee Smith, writing in The New Republic, makes the argument that Barack Obama’s policy of engaging with dictators is particularly ill-suited for Syria. While not reflexively rejecting a policy of engagement, Smith argues that Syria presents a unique case in which non-engagement is actually working to our advantage right now. (Thanks to PMED)
"I think there's no doubt in anyone's mind that, if Israel is ever going to find peace with justice concerning the relationship with their next-door neighbors, the Palestinians, that Hamas will have to be included in the process," said Carter, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.
The inevitability of talking with Hamas is already widely recognized in U.S. policy circles, and especially in Israel. Already, the Israelis negotiate secretly over issues such as the fate of Corporal Gilad Shalit, prisoner exchanges and a cease-fire with Hamas through intermediaries such as Egypt. And a poll published by the Israeli daily Haaretz in February showed that two out of three Israelis support direct talks between their government and Hamas — an option publicly advocated by such high-profile Israeli leaders as former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy and former foreign minister Shlomo Ben Ami. And just as some Israelis are recognizing that Hamas cannot be eliminated, so too do some Hamas leaders appear to realizing that Israel isn't going to be militarily defeated, either.
There are choices. Regional and international actors can acknowledge that without a Palestinian consensus, the quest for peace is an illusion. They can face the fact that without Syria, the hunt for a stable endgame will remain elusive. Or they can compound wishful thinking with wishful thinking and hope that Olmert and Abbas somehow will find strength amid their frailty; that a peace agreement somehow will be reached; that violent opposition somehow will not torpedo it; that the regional polarization somehow will not interfere; that popular support somehow will be mustered; and that the deal somehow will be implemented. In that case, they would not be following a strategy. They would be pursuing a perilous chimera.
"Syria will not break ties with its allies but might act in more subtle ways. Neither Hamas, Hezbollah, or Islamic Jihad is a Syrian proxy. But they depend on vital support from Damascus and can read the regional map. Today, they feel winds in their sails. They sense a rejectionist popular mood and believe that with Syrian and Iranian help they can steer it toward their goals. A resumption of Israeli–Syrian talks and an eventual agreement would send unmistakable signals that those winds are shifting, the map changing, and their strategic depth narrowing. In the event of a peace agreement, Damascus knows it will have to rein in its militant allies and stop supporting their military activities. Inevitably, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad will reconsider their options. They are unlikely to modify their ideology. But they could be forced to alter their behavior, a result more practical and, one would think, of greater import."
Officials from countries neighboring Iraq have ended two days of security talks in Syria during which they agreed that protecting the Iraqi border is a joint task.
The meeting came ahead of wider discussions on Iraqi security due in Kuwait on April 22.
A Monday statement says the participants underlined their "respect of Iraq's unity, sovereignty and independence" as well as their commitment to preserving Iraq's "Arab and Islamic identity."
The statement also says the officials praised "positive cooperation" between Iraq and its neighbors in "fighting terrorism" and efforts to "improve the security situation" in Iraq.
Who was present: An Iranian delegation comprising senior managers of Iran's interior and foreign ministries attended. Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Kuwait will be present, but Saudi Arabia did not attend. Representatives from Egypt, Bahrain and the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Arab League, the European Union and G8 also were present.
In the first Iraq security conference, held in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh on May 3-4, 2007, neighboring countries agreed on joint responsibility for the security of Iraq borders.
Two Indonesian terror suspects on caught entering Malaysia on false passports had been en route to Syria where they planned to link up with militant groups, police said Tuesday. (AP)
SYRIA: Lebanon Intransigence Increases Isolation
Thursday, April 10 2008 Oxford Analytica 2008
EVENT: Saudi and Egyptian leaders met yesterday to discuss the Lebanon crisis.
SIGNIFICANCE: The recent Arab summit in Damascus highlighted the gap between Syria and fellow Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, on Lebanon. Syria refused to buckle to pressure to facilitate an agreement between its Lebanese supporters and the anti-Syrian opposition, despite the widespread boycott of the summit. Relations with Riyadh have reached a new low.
ANALYSIS: A small country with a weak state, Lebanon has long been accustomed to having its politics shaped by struggles between much stronger external actors. The most recent example of this is the political deadlock between the anti-Syrian camp currently in government (the March 14 movement), and pro-Syrian opposition, over the presidency
Proxy battleground. Washington, as well as Arab states that boycotted the summit at the end of March, hold Syria responsible for the intransigence of opposition politicians. Washington has many problems with Syria: Damascus hosts a number of Palestinian militant groups, allegedly does too little to prevent jihadis crossing its border to fight in Iraq, and — most significantly — refuses to abandon its military and political alliance with Iran:
* United States. Washington reads the Lebanese political scene as a microcosm of wider regional politics: it strongly supports the pro-Western, liberal March 14 movement, which it sees as a democratic trend-setter blocked by the pro-Syrian, pro-Iranian opposition bloc. As a result, it sees efforts to put pressure on Syrian influence in Lebanon as part of a much wider regional struggle to contain Syria and Iran.
* Syria. For Damascus, 'resistance' to neo-colonial conspiracies to remake the Middle East has become a key component of political discourse. Syria has long claimed to retain a commitment to the greater Arab cause that other states in the region have forgotten. Additionally, Damascus has no intention of allowing Washington to influence events in neighboring Lebanon, which, from a Syrian perspective, is little more than a tiny Taiwan to their powerful China. Consequently, Damascus has little concern for the best interests of the Lebanese polity Even if there is no open fighting in Lebanon, the country remains as much a battlefield for external powers as it was during the civil war.
Saudi relations. Only half the 22 Arab League heads of state of the attended the conference. Lebanon boycotted the event entirely; Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan sent only low-level delegations. As part of its efforts to isolate Syria and loosen its grip on Lebanon, Washington had exerted pressure on many Arab leaders to boycott the gathering.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem declared that the summit was a success — despite its manifest inability to discuss anything of substance — and that Washington had failed to divide the Arabs.
However, Syria's differences with Saudi Arabia go beyond US influence on bilateral relations, originating in the February 2005 murder of Rafik al-Hariri, former Lebanese prime minister and Saudi favourite. Since then, events and fundamental differences of approach have exacerbated tensions even further:
* Lebanon. Saudi Arabia has been critical of both Syria and Hizbollah, including making negative comments about the latter during the July 2006 war. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad retaliated by calling those who criticized Hizbollah — essentially Saudi Arabia and Egypt — "half-men".
* Palestine. Saudi Arabia has thrown its weight behind the Palestinian National Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas; Syria continues to support Hamas and other militant factions.
* Media war. Last August, Syrian Vice-President Farouk al-Shara commented that Saudi foreign policy was "ineffective" and "semi-paralyzed". Riyadh countered with harsh accusations in the Saudi media that that Syria had betrayed the Arab cause, while Okaz newspaper said that Syria had pursued a policy of systematic murder in Lebanon for the last 30 years.
* Diplomatic war. Shortly after the Okaz comments, the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon was obliged to leave the country after receiving a string of anonymous death threats. Riyadh later recalled its ambassador to Syria, ostensibly for bureaucratic reasons, but it has yet to nominate a replacement in what represents a calculated snub to Damascus.
At a press conference timed to coincide with the opening of the Damascus summit, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal publicly blamed Syria and its supporters in Lebanon for blocking a solution to the political crisis.
Syria and Iran. One reason for Syria's lack of haste to rejoin the ranks of the other Arab states is its alliance with Iran. While Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are increasingly haunted by the specter of a resurgent Iran, Syria's long-standing ties with Tehran put it in an entirely different position). Syria's alliance with Iran is built on three main factors:
* Political convenience. The 'axis of resistance' formed by Syria, Iran, Hizbollah and Hamas is essentially a bloc of all the groups which have been demonized by Washington since September 11, 2001. The axis has its historical origins in Syria and Iran's common interest in opposing Iraq during the 1980s.
* Military cooperation. A mutual defense pact was signed between Damascus and Tehran in June 2006, though this was primarily a symbolic affair.
* Economics. Iran accounted for 400 million dollars of the 800 million of investment from non-Arab sources in 2006. Vast numbers of Iranian pilgrims visit Syria, bringing valuable custom. A joint Iranian-Syrian company now manufactures Iranian car models in Syria.
The United States and Israel demand that Syria sever its ties with Iran as part of a future peace deal, to prove its sincerity. Damascus counters that its relations with Tehran did not hinder peace talks with Israel in the 1990s. It also believes Iran to be more ideologically flexible — and more rational — than Washington gives it credit for.
However, in the meantime, the Syria-Iran alliance continues to poison Syria's relations with Saudi Arabia. While it provides Syria with reassurance, it only serves to entrench its present isolation and is structurally unconstructive for its foreign policy. The alliance constrains Syria's room for maneuver in the diplomatic arena and — apart from enhancing Syria's ability to act as a potential 'spoiler' in the region — does not give Syria any viable exit routes from its current predicament, leaving it with little option other than to maintain the status quo indefinitely.
Outlook. Syria values its influence in Lebanon more than its good standing with other Arab states. It also believes that its alliance with Iran compensates for poor relations with Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
However, ties with Tehran only serve to dig Syria deeper into an already well-entrenched position. While Lebanese politicians await some dramatic international intervention to break through the impasse, Syria seems to be hunkering down for the long haul.
CONCLUSION: Syria has no intention of being rushed into a settlement in Lebanon. Damascus has sufficient material and political resources to withstand external pressures to reach a solution. Given the minute level of bilateral trade, US sanctions on Syria and individual regime members can be effectively ignored. Short of the military option, in the short term Washington has few other means to coerce Syria. The regime believes that US policy will change dramatically after the presidential election and that all it needs to do is wait until then — at which point its free hand in Lebanon will be restore
Ehud Olmert on the Damascus road
By Spengler, Asia Times, May 15, 2008
The only practical way to defeat irregular forces embedded in a civilian population is to destroy the states that back them. That is why America overthrew Saddam Hussein, and also why Israel is considering a pre-emptive war on Syria on the model of 1967….
The Arabs are a failing people. It is not only the triumph of globalized Western culture over traditional society that threatens them, but the ascendancy of Asia. Last week's food riots in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East bring the point home. Arabs are hungry because Chinese are rich enough to eat meat, and buy vast quantities of grain to feed to pigs and chickens. If the rise in Asian protein consumption portends a permanently higher plateau of food prices, the consequences are dire for populations living on state subsidies, from Morocco to Algeria to Cairo to Gaza. A people that have no hope also have nothing to lose.
This week's edition of Bitter Lemons is on: Ramifications of Syrian-Israeli tensions
Two Palestinian views
- Complex regional rivalry muddying the waters by Ghassan Khatib
Palestine is being affected by the ongoing regional rivalry between Iran and the United States that started with the Iraq invasion.
- Moving, but going nowhere: an interview with Ziyad Abu Zayyad.
The Syrians will not sell out the Palestinian cause.
Two Israeli views
Through an Iranian prism by Yossi Alpher
A successful Israeli-Syrian negotiating process could improve the prospects for an Israel-PLO agreement.
- Syria's role by Moshe Ma'oz
Ostensibly, Israel can continue its conflict with Syria for a long time provided it can settle its dispute with the Palestinians soon.