Posted by Joshua on Monday, April 19th, 2010
The American School in Damascus has been given permission to open again. It was shuttered in reaction to a deadly cross border raid that killed a number of Syrians and was launched by President Bush in his last weeks in power. It’s opening is a direct response to the reappointment of a US ambassador and warming relations. The Scud scare set off by Israel’s President seems to be a tempest in a teapot, designed to shift attention from Israeli’s rejection of Obama’s peace efforts to Hizbullah’s supposed efforts to destroy Israel. It may be successful for about a week, but most reports are now defusing the tension and claiming that Israeli intelligence only suspected the transfer and has no evidence. Read Alistair Lyon’s report from Beirut for Reuters. He makes clear that most experts see no reason for Hizbullah to bulk up with Scuds. They are awkward big missiles that take too long to launch and would be vulnerable to Israeli attack. Hizbullah has already acquired more dexterous and nimble Iranian-made Fateh-110s.
Jihad Yaziji in his estimable “Syria Report” informs us that the average Syrian salary rose 3.6 percent last year to SYP 11,133, or to about $230. Foreign investment should also be made easier with a number of new laws meant to ease the way for industry and capitalism. New labor laws make it easier to terminate employees. A new law on leasing should open up new opportunities, which could be very big as leasing has a major impact on developing economies.
Khaddam – Syria’s long serving ex-Vice-President who left Damascus for Paris in 2005 in order to team up with the Muslim Brotherhood and start an opposition party called the National Salvation Front — is again breaking with his sponsor. This time it is the Hariris, who lent him their 20 million dollar villa in the center of Paris from which he was to rally Syrians. Rafiq Hariri, it should be added, lent Jacques Chirac a 180 square meter duplex on the Quai Voltaire in Paris as recompense for supporting his causes. Khaddam promised that he would bring down the Assads within six months. Needless to say, he failed to deliver; the Hariris now want their house back. Khaddam claims that he was given the villa as compensation for the assets he lost when the Baath party accused him of corruption and requisitioned his numerous properties and beautiful villa by the sea on the outskirts of Tartous. 22 members of Khaddam’s extended family were also forced to leave Syria and their properties.
Leah Caldwell explains why a Syrian shaykh and his wife were arrested after appearing on al-Jazeerah in her article, Defining the Boundaries of Acceptable Speech in Syria.
Finally Iraq: Syria is trying to develop its friendships among Iraqis to influence the formation of a new government. To this end, a new Iraq policy group has been established. By giving refuge and protection to so many Iraqi groups, Syria will build up influence among them, much as it did among Palestinians. This is another reason why the US needs to engage Syria and get its ambassador to Damascus. Read the article by Phil Sands.
News Round up follows:
Syria guards its role in new Iraq via FLC
By Phil Sands for the National
Syria has set up a new Iraq policy group to ensure its interests are safeguarded and that Iraq remains stable as US troops withdraw, according to officials and analysts in Damascus. They said the move is part of an organised effort by the Syrian authorities to take a positive and active role in Iraqi politics, at a time when intense negotiations to form a new government in Baghdad are under way and with US influence there on the wane.
Saudi Arabia and Iran, two major regional powers bordering Iraq, have been a focal point for talks between competing Iraqi factions since the March 7 elections. Damascus, a crucial player in regional politics, is keen not to be overshadowed by Tehran and Riyadh.
“The Syrian government has taken a decision since the [Iraq] election to be involved in the establishment of the Iraqi government,” said a Syrian official, on condition of anonymity.
He compared Syria’s potential standing in Iraq to its position in Lebanon. …..
Critics accuse Damascus of playing both sides, stoking hard-line Islamist sentiment to oppose the US presence next door while trying to suppress the same trends at home.
As part of a diplomatic re-engagement with Syria, launched by the Obama administration, a series of US delegations have held talks with their counterparts in Damascus on the issue of Iraqi security, hoping to enlist them in stabilisation efforts. The Syrian government’s decision to set up a new Iraq policy forum is, in part, a response to that, according to the Syrian official.
“Our role in Iraq is not simply coming from a Syrian perspective, it is also a reflection of western and American requests,” he said. “The Americans and the Europeans have asked for our help to fix the situation in Iraq and to pave the way for a US withdrawal. ….Now Iran is involved in Iraq, so are Saudi Arabia and Syria. The time of America trying to put Iraq into its pocket is now over.”
The 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent regional developments, particularly the assassination of Rafik Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister, two years later, placed huge pressures on the Syrian president, Bashar Assad. For a time there was even talk of a Washington-enforced regime change in Syria.
These hostile conditions gave Damascus every incentive to work against the Americans in Iraq, and to centre its strategic policy on the goal of having US troops withdrawn……
Damascus can also argue it is the only outside party able to access all strands of Iraqi opinion, with close links to radical Shiites, radical Sunnis and the various shades in between.
There are unconfirmed reports in Syria that the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, has given assurances that a personal rift between him and Mr Assad would be patched up were he to be re-elected. Relations between Baghdad and Damascus have been frozen since Mr al Maliki accused Syria of harbouring the insurgents behind a string of bombings last year……….
Negotiations are ongoing and have involved heavy regional shuttle diplomacy.
“This time the Iraqi government is being formed with a view to its place in the region,” the Syrian official said. “It is being formed in part in Tehran, in Riyadh and Damascus. But it is surely not being formed in the White House.”
Scud missiles would be odd choice for Hezbollah
By Alistair Lyon, Special Correspondent
BEIRUT, April 18 (Reuters) – Long-range Scud missiles, which Israel has accused Syria of sending to Hezbollah in Lebanon, seem unlikely weapons of choice for a nimble guerrilla outfit, although they might pack a psychological punch.
“Hezbollah need to float like butterflies, sting like bees. They don’t need something that lumbers along like an ox,” British defence analyst Charles Heyman said…..
The Scud scare fits into the wider context of a decades-old conflict pitting Israel against Syria, which seeks the return of the Golan Heights occupied in the 1967 war, argued Joshua Landis, a Syria specialist at the University of Oklahoma…..
Uzi Rubin, a founder of Israel’s Arrow anti-missile programme and now a private consultant to the Defence Ministry, voiced surprise at reports of Scuds reaching Hezbollah.
“This is a nonsense move. What do they need Scuds for?” he asked.
“They already have the (Iranian-made) Fateh-110, which has a similar range and, being a solid-fuel rocket, is far less cumbersome. Okay, so Scuds weigh a tonne while the Fateh-110 is half a tonne. Nothing to stop them firing two Fateh-110s.”
The guerrillas rained mostly short-range Katyusha rockets on northern Israel during a 2006 war in which nearly 1,200 people, mainly civilians, were killed in Lebanon. Hezbollah killed 158 Israelis, 43 of them civilians hit by rocket attacks.
Israel failed to stop the Katyusha strikes, but analysts say it swiftly knocked out Hezbollah’s larger missiles.
“Early in the Lebanon campaign, the Israelis were able to target and destroy Hezbollah’s intermediate and medium-range missiles,” Beaver said. “It’s hard to hide a Scud. It requires an erector launcher, refuelling trucks, a panoply of equipment.”
Heyman said Scuds would be easy meat for Israel’s military. “Within three or four minutes of a launch, the whole area would be an inferno of high explosives from counter-battery fire.”….
Syria Enacts Business Friendly Labour Law (Syria Report by Jihad Yaziji)
The Syrian President enacted on April 12 a new, modern and business-friendly labour law that eases constraints on employers but also provides clearer guidelines on the rights of employees.
Economy: Syria’s Average Monthly Salary at SYP 11,133 (Syria Report by Jihad Yaziji)
The average salary in Syria have risen 3.6 percent last year to SYP 11,133, according to a recent survey by the Central Bureau of Statistics.
Khaddam Seized Hariri’s House in Paris.. Nazek Hariri Goes to the French Court to Kick him Out
A dispute occurred between Nazek Hariri, the widow of the late Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri, and Abdulhalim Khaddam, the ex-Vice President of Syria, after Mrs. Hariri asked him to leave her Palace in Paris, the electronic daily “Al-Intikad” reported. Hariri’s family gave Khaddam this house as a “temporary” residence till his ‘heroic’ coming back home with the help of Bush’s administration achieved, the thing never happened.
The newspaper according to French and Arabic sources in Paris confirmed that Hariri family who bought the palace for 20 million Euro from Onassis, the well-known Greek billionaire, hosted Khaddam temporarily for free but Khaddam is refusing to leave it.
Khaddam claims that Hariri family gave him this palace in exchange for the properties he lost in Syria. He claims also that there was an agreement between him, Hariri family and ex President Chirac where he was paid $7 millions in exchange for part of his properties on the Syrian coast, and he was promised more, according to al-Intikad.
Close sources confirm that Khaddam is now paying for his deeds especially after the recent reconciliation between Syria and Saudi Arabia which makes Syria and Hariri closer ending up with a visit by Hariri to Damascus. Sources also confirm that since Sarkozy became the President of France in 2007 the French authorities restrict Khaddam’s movements and prevent him from appearing on media and bar him from political activities.
Syria’s periodicals and online news sites are flourishing
Sami Moubayed in Gulf News
Defining the Boundaries of Acceptable Speech in Syria
The Syrian sheikh in his fateful TV appearance
By Leah Caldwell
It is unlikely that observers of the Arabic-language media were shocked by the arrest of Syrian religious figure Sheikh Abdul Rahman Kuki at the hands of the Syrian security apparatus on October 22, 2009 (1). Yet upon analysis, Kuki’s case provides unique insight into the contours of acceptable discourse in Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, even when the statements occur outside of its borders.
Sheikh Kuki had recently appeared on the Al Jazeera program al-Ittijah al-Muakis (The Opposite Direction), where he had a vitriolic exchange with his Egyptian debate partner on a highly contentious issue: the proposed banning of the niqab by the late Sheikh of al-Azhar. Mohamed Tantawi. Human rights groups and Al Jazeera have asserted that the content of this debate led to the Syrian government’s arraigning of Kuki in a Damascus criminal court on the following charges: undermining the authority of the state; insulting the president of the republic; and inciting sectarianism (2) (3)…..
Sheikh Kuki kicks off the debate by reading from a prepared statement in which he commends all Muslims who wear the hijab and niqab for their refusal to abandon their “religion, dignity, and principles” by cooperating with the “Zionist-American” proposal coming from the “so-called” Shaykh of al-Azhar. If this seems ruthless, the invective only intensifies throughout the debate as both parties (and the moderator) succeed in instigating each other.
Sheikh Kuki further attacks the Sheikh of al-Azhar on a personal level and then asks: “What is the field of [the sheikh’s] battle? . . . The field of his battle is Islam and his first enemy is the hijab, chastity, and the niqab. Has the sheikh launched a battle or any statements against the Jews? Never. Against corruption? Never. Against prostitution and drunkenness? Against depravity? Against tight jeans?”…
yet what follows in the remainder of the debate suggests that Kuki’s tirade against the Sheikh of al-Azhar was not the primary catalyst for the Syrian government’s reaction…..
Leah Caldwell is completing her Master’s in Middle Eastern Studies with a focus on Syrian media at the University of Texas at Austin. She writes on Arab media issues. The exchange on Al Jazeera is available on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZzYPgjor5E&feature=player_embedded
A Difficult Balance: The French Relationship with Syria
By Dalia Haidar in Syria Today
When French President Nicolas Sarkozy warmly greeted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in front of the international media in Paris in July 2008, Syria’s international isolation was in many ways at an end. Change regarding Syria had been in the air – in the preceding 18 months Damascus had hosted a number of international delegates including former EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana and US Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi. But the particularly friendly and public welcome Assad received from Sarkozy, coming in the wake of Syrian efforts to end a political crisis in Lebanon which saw armed factions do battle in the streets of Beirut, marked a definitive milestone in a rapid transformation of Syria’s regional and international standing.
The change in policy from Paris, which was criticised in some European and US political circles, opened the door to a new phase in Franco-Syrian ties. It also marked the end of a cold period between Damascus and Paris following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a close friend of then serving French President Jacques Chirac. Chirac held Syria responsible for the murder, a charge Damascus has always denied.
Two months after Assad’s visit to France, Sarkozy made his first trip to Syria, participating in a four-way mini summit with the leaders of Syria, Turkey and Qatar which addressed the indirect peace negotiations taking place between Syria and Israel at the time. The latest visit came in February when French Prime Minister Francois Fillon touched down in Damascus, signing a bundle of economic agreements during his stay.
“We are trying to match the different positive dynamics,” Eric Chevallier, French ambassador to Syria, told Syria Today. “Today, we believe that we have really entered a new phase in our relationship, one that can be positive for both sides.”…
“I don’t see the underpinning of the French-Syrian relationship at the political level,” Peter Harling, project director of Iraq, Lebanon and Syria at the International Crisis Group, said. “There are strong historical and economic components, as well as a personal one, but a sustainable friendship can only be built on political common ground. Beyond becoming a visible player, France still lacks a clear strategic vision for the region. Syria remains somewhat cautious as a result.”….
The most tangible results of renewed Franco-Syrian ties have been in the economic arena. In mid-2008, French energy firm Total extended its Production Sharing Agreement in Syria until 2021. In November last year, French building materials group Lafarge announced it had secured the financing needed to proceed with a SYP 27.6bn (USD 600m) cement factory – the largest in the country – complete with the biggest cement compressor in the world. The French development bank AFD also recently established an office in Damascus, while Fillon departed the country after signing 11 cooperation agreements aimed at bolstering ties in agriculture, civil aviation, culture and administrative cooperation. According to the French Embassy in Damascus, the volume of trade between both countries exceeded SYP 46bn (USD 1bn) last year, shared equally by both sides. It is a figure which could skyrocket, at least in the short term, if Paris ever decides to fill a Syrian order for as many as 14 French-manufactured Airbus aircraft.
But even on the economic front, many Syrians question the strength of the relationship. Detractors point to the fact that Damascus has not been able to secure the delivery of any Airbus aircraft. US sanctions have held up the sale of the aircraft due to the fact that 10 percent of their components are made in America. Pushing ahead with the sale is certain to raise the ire of the US and potentially jeopardise future US civilian and military contracts with the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) which manufactures Airbus aircraft.
“The Syrians expected France would raise the issue with officials at the highest political levels in the US, which is not what happened initially,” Harling said.
France, however, argues its options are limited.
“What are our options?” Chevallier said. “We could break the rules, but if we do that we will not only enter into a legal battle with the US, but we will not be able to secure the necessary components we need to build the planes.”
Muhammad Khatami, a former president of Iran, has apparently been banned from leaving the country. Mr Khatami was planning to attend a conference on nuclear disarmament in Japan but was prevented from leaving Iran, say his aides.
An Empire Decomposed: American Foreign Relations In the Early 21st Century
Remarks to the Foreign Affairs Retirees of Northern Virginia
Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr., USFS (Ret.)
Arlington, Virginia, 24 March 2010
Dual loyalty or a conflict of interest? (Foreign Policy)
Stephen Walt and Robert Satloff disagree about the potential problems of high-level officials having strong allegiances to foreign countries, Israel in particular.
Obama’s Pressure on Israel Spurs a Jewish Group for Sarah Palin
By Special to the Sun | April 15, 2010
This, from the undead New York Sun. Several unnamed “journalists and academics” have formed the new group.
NEW YORK — President Obama’s recent demarche designed to increase pressure on Israel is having one immediate impact in the Jewish community — it is hastening the formation of an organization called Jewish Americans for Sarah Palin.
Plans for the new group are set to be announced on Sunday by a Philadelphia-based journalist and activist named Binyamin Korn, a former executive director of the Zionist Organization of America. The announcement is unlikely to make big news, as the group is embryonic, with an advisory committee of several journalists and academics.
Its aim, however, is to take advantage of the growing alarm within the Jewish community at what Mr. Korn, in an interview this week with the New York Sun, called an “escalation of rhetoric” criticizing the Jewish state. The group also hopes to counter suggestions — by, among others, such opposite figures as the widely read Atlantic magazine blogger Jeffrey Goldberg and the left-of-center, anti-Israel publication Counterpunch — that Mrs. Palin’s support for Israel is animated by “end of days” theology that believes an in-gathering in Israel will precede the apocalypse and the destruction of the Jews.
Mr. Korn dismisses such talk, saying that there is “a wide range of views about religion within the Jewish Community and an even wider range of views about religion in the Christian community” and that “whatever motives Governor Palin may have or may be imputed to her are entirely within the mainstream of American discourse . . .” He said his group was encouraged by a defense of Mrs. Palin in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal by the most famous neo-conservative, Norman Podhoretz, who wrote that he would “rather be ruled by the Tea Party than by the Democratic Party” and “would rather have Sarah Palin sitting in the Oval Office than Barack Obama.”
What Jewish Americans for Sarah Palin is saying, Mr. Korn said, “is that the most articulate person in the public arena today in opposition to the Obama administration’s shift in policies against Israel is Sarah Palin.” He called her “very direct,” particularly on the controversy of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, on terrorism policies, and on the emerging Obama doctrine.
Mr. Korn said his organization, which has not yet been incorporated, has had “no contact with Governor Palin or her campaign” and has no relation to her political action committee, known as SarahPAC. “We would be gratified if Governor Palin considers this a contribution to her efforts to influence American life,” Mr. Korn said. “We hope that she will feel we are supporting her, even though she is clearly not a candidate for any office at this time.”
EXCLUSIVE: AIPAC CUTOUT, THE STORY OF THE WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY
By M.J. Rosenberg – for TPM, April 11, 2010
I already wrote once about Bob Satloff and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. It is, and always has been, an extension of AIPAC, created by AIPAC. Stephen Walt takes on the issue of it’s ersatz independence here
In my piece yesterday, I pointed out that I was in the room when the plan for WINEP was first drawn up. I was working at AIPAC and it was Steve Rosen who cleverly came up with the idea for an AIPAC controlled think-tank that would put forth the AIPAC line but in a way that would disguise its connections.There was no question that WINEP was to be AIPAC’s cutout. It was funded by AIPAC donors, staffed by AIPAC employees, and located one door away, down the hall, from AIPAC Headquarters (no more. It has its own digs). It would also hire all kinds of people not identified with Israel as a cover and would encourage them to write whatever they liked on matters not related to Israel. “Say what you want on Morocco, kid.” But on Israel, never deviate more than a degree or two.
So why does it matter?
It matters because the media has totally fallen for this sleight of hand and WINEP spokespersons appear (especially on PBS) as if WINEP was not part of the Israel lobby. ….
WINEP is the voice of AIPAC. Satloff is a predictable neocon. Just label these people correctly. Put Satloff on, but up opposite Jeremy Ben Ami of J Street (not the State Department).