Posted by Joshua on Monday, October 25th, 2010
What about Syria? How are your relations with them going? And they ready or interested in talking with Israel?
“We are engaging with Syria – President Obama is committed to using engagement as a diplomatic tool – and we are trying to see if they can become a constructive player. Our relations with Syria are not easy. The differences between the Syrians and the Americans are great – but nonetheless it is in our interest to get to a comprehensive peace and Styria, by definition, is part of that equation.”
Is there any improvement in relations you can report?
“For a number of reasons, there is distrust between Washington and Damascus. We are taking modest steps that can reassure the Syrians that we are serious about seeing whether, together, we can start to build a constructive relationship and they have taken some modest steps in our direction. But there are a lot of big issues that divide us. I don’t want to be naïve here, and say just because we are using engagement all of these big issues are going to disappear.”
Druze leader Walid Jumblat on Sunday said he told Jeffrey Feltman during his visit to Lebanon last week, “Why don’t we together look for other hypotheses [for the murder of Hariri] Of course, he refused.”
Jumblatt, who met Assad on Sunday told al-Manar television that his meeting with the Syrian president was “excellent.” “We will win as we won when we went through similar circumstances in the past,” Jumblatt assured.
Syrian Premier’s “cartoon” Remark Angers Lebanese Majority
2010-10-24, Beirut (dpa) –
A remark by Syrian Prime Minister Naji Otari’s comparing the Lebanese western-backed majority to “cartoons” has drawn a storm of protest from members of the coalition in Beirut, local media reported Sunday. In an interview in the Kuwaiti al-Rai newspaper Saturday, Otari dubbed the Lebanese government “cartoon structures” — adding that Damascus is “keen on every Lebanese brother who believes in a close relation with Syria and works towards embodying it.”
The comment has inflamed the already tense relations between Beirut and Damascus. “The policy of the outstretched hand does not work with Syria,” Christian Phalange parliamentarian Nadim Gemayel hit back.
“What is needed today is to go back to dealing strictly with Syria,” he said.
The battle for Lebanon’s army
Published: Oct. 18, 2010
“… As Lebanon hovers precariously on the brink of new upheaval, rival forces are battling for control of the army: the Western-backed government and the United States on one side, Hezbollah and its Iranian and Syrian mentors on the other.
The outcome of this increasingly intense competition will to a large extent determine where Lebanon is headed — and whether Iran secures complete uncontested control of a frontline base on Israel’s doorstep.
And right now Hezbollah seems to be winning…. It still refuses to give up its arsenal, or merge with the state army, in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
And no one, least of all U.S.-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri, is prepared to the take risk of trying to make it do so….
Once Syria withdrew the last of its military forces from Lebanon in April 2005, under international pressure triggered by the February assassination of billionaire former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Lebanon’s leading statesman, the Americans saw an opening……..
Since 2006, Washington has provided the Lebanese armed forces, which has traditionally been kept weak by the political barons who control the various sects, with military aid worth $700 million. But after the 56,000-strong army, still outgunned by the battle-hardened Hezbollah, clashed with Israeli forces in August, the first such engagement in years, the U.S. Congress cut off the aid…..up to that point, the army had stayed on the sidelines in the sectarian feuding, although an estimated 60 percent of its personnel is Shiite…….”
Israeli diversion of Golan’s water violates Int’l law: Syrian FM
DAMASCUS, Oct.25 (Xinhua) — Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al- Moallem sent on Monday a note to UN Secretary General Ban Kimoon accusing Israel of stealing Golan Heights water, the Syrian official SANA news agency reported.
Moallem said diverting water resources to the Israeli settlements leads to an economical and environmental disaster on Syrian citizens of Golan Heights.
He argued that the Israeli action is a flagrant violation of the international law, the Fourth 1949 Geneva Convention and UN Security Council resolution No. 465 which demands occupation authority to protect land, people, private and public property and water resources.
The Syrian minister called on UN to prevent Israel continuing the violation policy in the occupied Arab territories, the report said.
Syria Friday accused the Israeli forces of continuously setting massive fire in the occupied Golan Heights.
Israel captured the Syrian Golan Heights during the 1967 War and unilaterally annexed it in 1981. Syria and Israel have been technically at war ever since.
In June, a Syrian report accused Israel of continuously seizing lands, violating liberties, keeping Syrian captives detained, and arbitrarily exploiting water and natural resources in the occupied Golan Heights.
Jerusalem Post: Above the Fray: Syria reasserts its centrality to peace
2010-10-22 14:24:50.942 GMT
Despite efforts to internationally isolate Syria, especially during the Bush era, it has reasserted itself as a central player in the Middle East….. in May 2009, Netanyahu said that he would never leave the Golan Heights, stating, “Remaining on the Golan will ensure Israel has a strategic advantage in cases of military conflict with Syria.”
The truth is that the continued occupation of the Golan will sooner or later instigate military conflict with Syria…. NETANYAHU MUST now realize that as Syria emerges from its international isolation and peacemaking efforts languish, Israel is becoming increasingly more isolated. The geopolitical benefits of a durable Israel-Syria peace are numerous, and the opportunity at this moment is ripe. Whether Netanyahu recognizes these benefits – and seizes the opportunity – will be a significant test of his leadership. Whether Syria’s peace overture is rhetorical or real, there is no better time to put Damascus to the test….
Syria’s renewed influence in Lebanon makes peace talks even more critical….
an incentive to be helpful with the Palestinian track. … it can keep Hamas from torpedoing peace efforts…
PEACE TALKS would also benefit Israeli-Turkish relations.
Despite admitting that there was no military solution, Obama was relying on the military. And he reproduced the pathologies of his predecessor, treating Muslims as if they were one entity and the world as if it was a battlefield. Under Obama the United States has expanded its operations in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. In all cases violence has increased. In Al Qaeda’s worldview, Muslims are under attack by Christians and Jews who want to take Muslims’ resources and perhaps convert them too. The Bush Administration had to transform its response to the 9/11 attacks into a crusade because, in purely security terms, the most powerful nation the world has ever seen went to war against two hundred unsophisticated extremists. Looking at it like that diminishes to absurdity the enemy and the threat it poses, but many in the defense policy establishment were nostalgic for a real enemy, like fascism or communism, and so they made the conflict about culture. The United States adopted Al Qaeda’s view of the world, and it too treated the entire world stage as a battlefield.
—From Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World – Rosen’s new book
Turkey-China Military Drill Reveals Deepening Ties, Widening Reach
BY: MEHMET OZKAN | WORLD POLITICS REVIEW
What explains such a dramatic improvement in relations between Turkey and China?
It comes in the aftermath of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s recent visit to Ankara, during which he and Erdogan signed eight agreements on cooperation. The visit reflects China’s commitment to pursuing closer ties in areas like trade, railway construction, infrastructure, communications and cultural exchanges. Trade volume between China and Turkey exceeded $10 billion in 2009, according to official statistics. The two countries agreed to increase their annual trade volume to $50 billion by 2015 and $100 billion by 2020, with sectors such as energy, air transport and tourism providing opportunities for further cooperation.
For Turkey, the military drill reveals the full potential extent of Ankara’s multidimensional foreign policy, both geographically, but also in terms of method. Ankara’s recent opening to the world has been mostly accomplished through economic and political means, while never raising any doubts about the impact of Ankara’s new orientation on its military alliances. Although the joint exercise with China does not directly call into question Turkey’s military alliance with NATO, it signals that even in military affairs, if its existing alliances lose their significance, Ankara can and will consider other options.
From a strategic point of view, the drill underlined Turkey’s importance in global politics. While the West is increasingly engaged in heated discussions over whether or not it has lost Turkey, the new rising powers are quickly beginning to recognize Turkey’s significance. This military exercise, while allowing China to flaunt its military reach, should also be seen as Beijing’s recognition of Turkey’s rising importance in regional and global affairs.
That explains in part why the U.S. and Israel were unhappy about the exercise. The U.S. also had legitimate security concerns relating to the possible divulgence of technological, operational and other military secrets. According to media reports, Turkey used F-4 fighters in the exercise rather than U.S.-built F-16 fighters after Washington expressed its concerns. ….
Whether or not the West will continue to ignore Turkey’s rising global role and keep it waiting at the gate of the European Union remains unclear. … If the West maintains its current — sometimes irrational — approach to Ankara, its worst fears could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Babacan, a founding member of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, said Turkish businesses would be unwise to break off ties to Iranian firms when many European, Chinese and Russian companies “are still doing quite a big business with Iran and finding open doors.”
Babacan, though acknowledging that the Iranian economy is coming under “more and more pressure,” said he doubted whether Iran’s leadership, which had faced decades of sanctions, would fold.
One of Riyadh’s leading figures blasted the US for not living up to its commitments in the current Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and not doing more to reign in Israel.’“It has failed to curb the brutal Israeli policy of collective punishment, arbitrary arrests and killings,” charged Prince Turki Al Faisal, former Saudi ambassador to the US and director of Saudi intelligence. He also criticized some American officials for not standing up to Israel, maintaining, “It is these officials who propose that the Netanyahu government should be rewarded for its intransigence rather than sanctioned.” …”
Syrian official: Time to replace Hariri – Israel News, Ynetnews
Tourist Numbers, Investments Booming, Ministry Says (Syria Report)
The number of tourists that entered Syria in the first nine months of 2010 stood at 6.6 million, a year-on-year increase of 46 percent, according to the Ministry of Tourism.
Norway artist angry as works withdrawn from Syria show 2010-10-18
Oct. 19 (PTI) — Two paintings by Norway’s Haakon Gullvaag that show an Israeli flag have been withdrawn from an exhibition at the French Cultural Centre in the Syrian capital, the artist said today.
His “Terra Sancta” exhibition contains works about the Israeli offensive against the Islamist-ruled Gaza Strip in December 2008 and January 2009. Two of the works in which the Israeli flag features were
removed from the show on Saturday, an angry Gullvaag told AFP by phone from Oslo, adding the French embassy in Damascus “explained to us that it was their decision.
“This was done without contacting the artist, the curator or the Norwegian embassy. I have never experienced something similar in my entire life.” The artist said the French embassy said it had concerns about a hotel near the cultural centre which normally has many Iranian guests.
“They were afraid that the Iranians would misunderstand the motifs as being Israel-friendly. Then the cultural centre claimed that some students have complained about showing the Israeli flag at all,” Gullvaag said. He said the cultural centre had “approved every work before the opening.”
“I have a lot of Palestinian colleagues and friends, and have visited the West Bank several times. I feel a need to express my compassion for their cause, and for their suffering,” Gullvaag said. The two works removed from the exhibition were “The Flag” and one panel from “Invasion Triptych.” “You can’t just rip out one third of a work and expect it to make sense afterwards,” he said.
Norway’s ambassador in Damascus, Rolph Willy Hansen, said it was “unacceptable” to remove the paintings without consulting the artist. He said contacts were continuing with the French embassy, the cultural centre and Gullvaag to try to find a solution. Neither the French embassy nor the cultural centre had returned AFP’s calls by late today.
“Netanyahu will not allow the United Nations, or any other organization, to dictate our borders. They will be determined through negotiations,”…. Israel’s ambassador to the United States Michael Oren remarked on Tuesday that Israel would not allow anyone to dictate its borders.
Foxman: Obama should end unilateral statehood threat
October 20, 2010
WASHINGTON (JTA) — After meeting with Israeli leaders, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman called on the Obama administration to “close all doors” to a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood.
The Anti-Defamation League leader, speaking to JTA from Jerusalem after meeting Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, among others, said it was his impression that the Palestinians are accelerating plans to have the U.N. Security Council recognize a unilaterally declared state.
“The Palestinians are engaged in an effort to see if they can pre-emptively establish a state,” Foxman said. “They seem to be engaged in this fantasy that the world will deliver them a state with very little. What it takes is for the U.S. to close every exit door and say ‘Get off this kick, you will not have our support.’ ”
The Palestinian Authority suspended direct Palestinian-Israeli peace talks last month, barely weeks after they were renewed, because Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month partial moratorium on settlement building.
…The main issue the decision makers therefore found themselves occupied with in the hours before the Arabs pulled the trigger, and thereafter, was American aid – both in materiel and in diplomatic moves for a ceasefire. Without this aid, Israel would have been exhausted and defeated in a long war; with it, Israel developed total dependence on Washington.
Fortunately for Israel, Washington does not only consist of the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department, but also Congress. Thanks to Israel’s power in Congress, it has fared better than other, smaller allies, like South Vietnam. In the absence of congressional support, they did not win the administration’s affection; this is why Saigon fell and Jerusalem hasn’t…..
…. “In another discussion, Graham Martin, the ambassador to Saigon, asked about the connection between what was happening in the Middle East and Vietnam. “It hurt us with the Arabs. [Syrian president Hafez] Assad said in his talks with me, ‘You look what you’ve done to Taiwan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Portugal, etc.’ (There was some debate between him and his foreign minister whether Portugal fit into the category ). But anyway, Assad said, ‘Therefore if you look at this, you will give up Israel, and so [Egyptian president Anwar] Sadat should simply not give in.’ On the Israeli side, they said, ‘We don’t want to wind up like Thieu.’” …
It seems that Iraqi former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, is ready to respect and approve Syria’s role in helping form the new Iraqi government. He reportedly told his President (Jalal Talibani) that he felt Syria is genuinely working for Iraqi stability and security and is supportive of the political process that should lead to forming the next Iraqi government without foreign interference.
In the past, Maliki always criticized Iraqi politicians who go to Syria to ask for advice or help.
المالكي لطالباني: لمست حرصا سورياً على استقرار العراق وأمنه
أطلع رئيس الوزراء العراقي نوري المالكي الرئيس جلال طالباني على نتائج زيارته الأخيرة إلى سوريا، ومحادثاته مع الرئيس بشار الأسد وكبار المسؤولين.
ونوه المالكي خلال اجتماعه بطلباني إلى أنه لمس خلال زيارته لدمشق “حرص سوري على استقرار العراق وأمنه، ودعمها العملية السياسية في العراق باتجاه تشكيل حكومة جديدة ممثلة للجميع يختارها العراقيون بإرادتهم”، حسبما جاء في بيان.
Tareq Alhoumayed, The editor of Asharq Alawsat, Saudi Arabia’s top newspaper wrote that the old equation (by Lebanon’s Nabih Berri’s) of S+S (Syria plus Saudi Arabia) that was essential for stability (and problem solving) in Lebanon is now replaced by a more complex one … S+S+I …. Iran being the third component.
وبالتالي، فإن زيارة نجاد تكون قد ألغت مقولة نبيه بري الشهيرة: إن أوضاع لبنان لا تصلح إلا بمعادلة (س+س) أي السعودية وسورية. لذا، فإننا الآن أمام (س+س+إ) أي السعودية وسورية وإيران، حيث أحضر نصر الله كفيله الإيراني ليشكل له حماية داخلية من خطر محكمة الحريري، مما يقلص من الدور السوري في لبنان بالطبع، ولذا سمعنا نصر الله وهو يمجد بإيران ودورها الإلهي، والولي الفقيه.
وإذا صحت هذه القراءة، وهذا ما سيظهر قريبا، فهذا يعني أن طاولة السلم اللبناني ستكون على ثلاثة أرجل، وهذا يعني أنها لن تصمد طويلا، حيث اتضح الفرز الطائفي في لبنان، وكل ما سبق يعني تعقيد الأوضاع في لبنان، كما يعني أن إيران قد قررت أن تعمل في لبنان بشكل علني وليس من وراء حجاب، ويكفي أن نتنبه إلى أن لقاء نصر الله بنجاد قد تم في السفارة الإيرانية، أي إن نصر الله قد جاء للقاء نجاد مثله مثل أي واحد من رعايا إيران في لبنان!
This reminds me of a post I wrote for Syria Comment in 2007. I said the same thing at the time.
Modern threat to Syria’s ancient Aleppo soap industry
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
ALEPPO, Syria, Oct 22 (Reuters) – The deep perfume of olive and laurel oil hangs in the air of old Aleppo, home to an ancient soap industry that has enjoyed a renaissance since the government lifted crippling trade bans in the last five years. Nestled among the 2,000-year-old labyrinthine streets in courtyard houses and old hotels known as khans, are a handful of workshops that have been making the famed “Savon d’Alep”, or Aleppo soap, by hand for hundreds of years. But the guardians of the old tradition say greedy imitators who have begun marketing cheap industrial soap under the same name are threatening to undermine the brand in lucrative European export markets.
A New Site dedicated to Syria
Strategic Research and Communication Centre
The SRCC is a new site with grand ambitions and a very appealing look. It will be exciting if it can live up to half its stated mission. Already it has sent out a weekly summary every Monday regularly for over a month, which is promising. I have copied most of the present summary. So far there is little original content. Most of the “research” papers that it lists have been widely circulated by others, many on Syria Comment – but the added value of SRCC is that it places them in a nice list that is easily viewable, unlike blog archives.
So far, we have no clue who is behind the site, as all its principals or possibly single editor prefer to remain anonymous for the obvious reason that they want the freedom to criticize the Syrian regime and still travel to Syria. The site is based in England. Here is a most of a typical weekly summary:
Union leaders in Syria have requested the withdrawal from the movement towards a social market economy, adopted by the Baath party at its tenth conference. The Syrian-British Business Council has been launched, with the aim of strengthening relations between Syria and Britain in the areas of the economy, investment and tourism. Syrian Finance Minister Muhammad Al-Hussein has said at the Syrian-Kuwaiti forum that the private sector contributes seventy percent of Syrian national income. The Finance Ministry has issued a circular stipulating that Syrian exports of all forms of artistic works will be excused from all taxes and fees.
The Syrian Authority for Family Affairs, in cooperation with the United Nations Population Fund, has published five “penetrating” studies which deal with issues affecting young people in Syria. Essential amendments have been made to the personal status law in Syria, following the controversial repeal of the new draft of the law during the summer of last year. An analysis attributes the drop in the unemployment rate in Syria to the migration of nearly two and a half million citizens during recent years in their search for work. A study undertaken by the Moroccan Arab Advisors Group has shown that internet access in Syria is more expensive than in ten other Arab countries, and cheaper than in eight.
Syria in the International Press
Syrian Prime Minister Naji Al-Otari’s description of the Lebanese 14 March Forces as “cartoon skeletons” has aroused a wave of condemnation in the Lebanese press. Al-Mustaqbal and Al-Quwat newspapers said that his statement does not inspire trust, and demanded a Syrian apology. Syria was described as being among the ten most repressive countries in terms of treatment of the press, according to the annual report of the organisation Reporters Without Borders. Numerous Western newspapers and websites have reported news of Asef Shawkat’s possible appointment as Syria’s defence minister.