Posted by Joshua on Sunday, June 29th, 2008
[Landis Comment] Here is the latest Stratfor analysis (copied below). I am always amazed that they are read by so many. I presume their analysis on other things than Syria-Lebanon must be good? Their Syrian scoops are almost invariably wrong. Seemingly, they are linked into the Lebanese right wing propaganda chain or their Syrian opposition partners in DC because they unquestioningly repeat the silliest things. In this report about an impending life and death struggle between Hizbullah and Damascus, Stratfor analysts insist that Damascus "will likely employ its Islamist militant proxies in Lebanon to move against Hezbollah."
This is silly. One must presume that Stratfor concludes that Fatah al-Islam is a Syria proxy, that Fatah al-Islam could begin to challenge Hizbullah militarily, and that Syria would respond like this. This is to misread the regional map badly.
Must likely Syria and Hizbullah will coordinate efforts to move toward peace with Israel. Yes, a Syria-Israel peace will cause strain between Syria and Hizb, as it will with Iran, but in all likelihood, the three allies will move together toward such an eventuality, coordinating and adjusting to new realities as they develop. A few Hizbullah leaders may reject accommodation with a Jewish state in Palestine on principle, but Nasrallah will not be among them. Hizbullah understands that it is Lebanese just as Hamas understands that it is Palestinian.Here is the Stratfor analysis for what it is worth.
Summary: There are a number of indications that peace talks between Syria and Israel are continuing to advance despite the political instability of the Jewish state. This progression could have grave implications for Hezbollah.
Analysis: Unnamed French officials leaked in Asharq Al-Awsat daily newspaper on June 26 that Syria is prepared to “reconsider” its relations with Iran — a core demand that Israel has placed before Syria in their ongoing peace negotiations. The report stated that Damascus and Tehran do not see eye to eye on a number of regional issues, with the secular Syrian regime more interested in circumscribing Hezbollah’s power in Lebanon and preventing Iraq from becoming an Iranian-dominated religious state. It has now been a full day since that report was leaked without a peep from Syria to deny the French claim, indicating that the peace talks taking place between Israel and Syria are actually getting somewhere.
The French, in particular, are more than ready to make sure these talks culminate in a Camp David-style agreement as France prepares to take the EU presidency July 1. With a mission to bring Paris back into the geopolitical limelight by integrating itself abroad in regions where French legacy already runs deep, French President Nicolas Sarkozy is eyeing the Levant for a major foreign policy success and has wasted no time in latching onto the Israeli-Syrian negotiating process. Arrangements are already being made for face-to-face meetings between Syrian President Bashar al Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert when the two travel to Paris on July 13 for a Mediterranean Union summit.
The French are also busy reassuring the Syrians that Israeli domestic politics are not going to get in the way of the peace talks. While skeptics of the negotiations have focused on the point that Olmert is negotiating from a position of weakness given a bribery scandal that threatens to topple him from power, French diplomatic circles are pumping the Syrian state-controlled press with reports claiming that the main political players in Israel, including far-right Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, are also in favor of keeping the peace talks alive.
Syria appears to be feeling confident enough about the Israeli political situation to keep on trucking with the negotiations. Though Olmert is still in a precarious political position, the negotiations with Syria do not depend solely on him being in power. In fact, Labor leader Ehud Barak, as well as several high figures in Israeli political and military circles, sanctioned the negotiations when the channel between Israel and Syria opened in the fall of 2006. And with Barak’s recent decision to stave off party primaries and keep the ruling Kadima coalition intact, Syria can find comfort in knowing there is enough degree of continuity in the Israeli political spectrum to keep the talks going.
But while the diplomatic chatter continues, real progress in a Syrian-Israeli political deal will primarily be seen on the ground in Lebanon. An Israeli-Syrian rapprochement will have to involve Syria’s cooperating in trimming Hezbollah to size. As Stratfor has written before, a great deal of distrust has been brewing between Syria and Hezbollah ever since the February assassination of Hezbollah chief commander Imad Mughniyah in Damascus, and Syria has given a number of indications that there will be no love lost between itself and the Shiite militant group should Israel move on a deal.
When Syria feels it has received the proper assurances to move on the deal, it will likely employ its Islamist militant proxies in Lebanon to move against Hezbollah (not to mention Syria’s own security forces if and when the circumstances call for it). A number of Syrian and Saudi-backed Islamist militant groups — operating under a variety of shadowy names that are designed to sow confusion — have been popping up recently in Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps.
Hezbollah, anticipating a Sunni militant campaign against the Shiite group, has been put on guard and is already digging its heels in for a bloody fight.
Lebanon’s Druze community also needs to be watched. The Druze, led by Walid Jumblatt, are not at all enthralled with the idea of the Syrians and the Israelis working toward a deal that would reassert Syria’s hegemonic presence in Lebanon. The Druze, along with large segments of Lebanon’s Maronite Christian and Sunni population that form Lebanon’s anti-Syrian coalition, have benefited from having the Syrians live in diplomatic isolation ever since the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri that drove Syrian troops out of Lebanon.
Syria has since steadily rebuilt its security presence in Lebanon, and has even reportedly stationed troops on Lebanese soil in the remote hills north of the town of Rashaya al Wadi. The anti-Syrian communities see the writing on the wall, and are searching for ways to derail the peace talks and keep the Syrians at bay. But at the end of the day, they are minor players in this game. Lebanon is a severely fractured state that is beholden to the interests of outside powers.
If the Syrians are laying the groundwork to move back into Lebanon under a broader diplomatic understanding with Israel, there is little the Lebanese can do to unravel the process. As is the nature of Lebanese politics, the best option in the end is for these factions simply to switch sides and align once again with the enemy to stay politically afloat.
Hezbollah does not have that option, however. If a deal is to move forward, Syria must move against Hezbollah (not to mention Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad). The best option the Shiite group has to jeopardize the peace talks is to carry out a major attack inside Israel to destroy the credibility of the already-weak Israeli government in the negotiations. But such a move comes with big risks. A significant Hezbollah attack inside Israel would almost surely invite a powerful Israeli military response, particularly by a government that wants to set the record straight on the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah summer conflict. Either way Hezbollah moves, it is being set up for failure.
CFR.org: Washington's Policy of Isolating Syria Hurting U.S.
By Mona Yacoubian and Scott Lasensky of the U.S. Institute of Peace
Washington's attempt to isolate and undermine the Assad regime has largely failed, concludes a new Council Special Report. The Bush administration's policy of "new economic sanctions, a diplomatic boycott, and increasing contacts with the Syrian opposition," has not compelled Damascus to "change course and comply with Washington’s…demands." Instead the authors advocate working with Syria where U.S. and Syrian interests may overlap. They argue that "the benefits of engagement with Syria are derivative of broader U.S. goals in the region:" seeking stability in Iraq and Lebanon, promoting peace and stability between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and heading off Iranian influence. They explain that "engagement with the Syrians would rely on a variety of diplomatic tools…balancing rewards for sustained cooperation with severe consequences for continued Syrian intransigence."
A new law for foreign ownership in Syria, law number 11, was signed this week by the president. http://www.syria-news.com/readnews.php?sy_seq=78666. It amends the 1952 law. The new law deprives the foreigner from passing along his possessions to children. The other surprise in the law is that the foreigner can only own a single property, which must first be approved by a long legal process involving the minister of interior. This is a compromise bill which seems likely to satisfy few. Although it permits foreign ownership of property and real-estate, it makes the process onerous and subject to bribery and shenanigans, which seems all too normal these days.
Liz Sly is the hot new thing in Lebanon. Her stories out of Damascus are fun and find a new twist on the regular gruel. Since when did the Chicago Tribune try to compete in the Lebanon market? Her site explains: "Liz Sly is the Tribune's Middle East correspondent based in Beirut, and has spent most of the past few years reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan" Welcome to Liz!
An ancient city reborn
By Liz Sly
Chicago Tribune correspondent
June 26 2008
Upwardly mobile young Syrians are snapping up and restoring Ottoman-era homes at dizzyingly high prices, making Damascus' Old City the hottest of housing markets
DAMASCUS, Syria; Wanted for renovation: a centuries-old wreck, Roman features a plus. Must have a courtyard, a fountain and a rooftop terrace with a view of the ancient minarets and church spires rising from what claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world……..
Syria glitters, but glare hides woes
Troubled ties with U.S., dwindling oil reserves affect psyche of nation
DAMASCUS, Syria — In the evenings, the glitterati of Damascus gather at Z-Bar, a zinc and crystal confection perched on the roof of one of the city's hotels. As the cocktails flow and the music pumps, the green neon lights of a dozen mosques twinkle down on the revelers from the nearby mountainside.
By day, any one of a half-dozen cafes serves flavored lattes to trendy young Syrians. The latest European fashions are on sale in newly opened stores. Shiny glass offices house private banks, and flashy late-model cars zip among the battered yellow taxis.
Despite the Bush administration's efforts to isolate Syria for allegedly supporting terrorism, the country is flourishing—at least on the surface. In the eight years since President Bashar Assad took office, Syria has opened up its economy to private ownership and foreign investment, breathing new life into a country long stifled by its Baathist socialist rules.
An oasis in the Mideast
A nearly fourfold increase in tourism since 2001 has seen foreigners flocking to the spruced-up streets of Damascus. And while its neighbors struggle to contain sectarian and religious conflicts, Syria boasts that it remains an outpost of secularism, a bastion of tolerance in a region of growing extremism……….
Bolton on Bush's North Korea deal in McClatchy's: "I think it's a very sad day. … It reflects the collapse of the Bush doctrine," said former undersecretary of state John Bolton, a leading hawk on proliferation issues…."
Bookings on Refugees (pdf):"Iraqi Refugees in the Syrian Arab Republic: A Field-Based Snapshot,"
by Ashraf al-Khalidi, Sophia Hoffmann and Victor Tanner
Table of Contents
BACKGROUND: VIOLENCE AND DISPLACEMENT IN IRAQ..5 The 2003 Invasion..5 Samarra and After.6 Getting Worse?.7
IRAQI REFUGEES IN SYRIA..8 Timeline of Arrivals Since 2003..9 Iraqis in Syria: Who Are They?..11 Reasons for Departure.16 Why Syria?..20 Getting to Syria..22 Where in Syria are the Iraqis?.23
HOW IRAQIS LIVE IN SYRIA.27 Documentation.27 Housing..29 Are families together or split up?..30 Health…31 Education..33 Income and Livelihoods..34 Vulnerable Groups..37 Contacts with Iraq..39 Assistance..39
IMPACT ON SYRIA..40
CONCLUSIONS: VIEW TO THE FUTURE…42
Ambassador James Foley, the State Department's coordinator for Iraqi refugees, is in Syria today as part of a four-nation Mideast tour to boost the numbers of Iraqi refugees coming to the U.S. to meet the Bush administration's goal of accepting 12,000 by the end of September. The US government only managed to let in 1,608 in the 2007 fiscal year, despite a target of 7,000.
According to the UN Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration, there are over 5 million Iraqis had been displaced by violence in their country, the vast majority of which had fled since 2003. Over 2.4 million vacated their homes for safer areas within Iraq, up to 1.5 million were living in Syria, and over 1 million refugees were inhabiting Jordan, Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey and Gulf States.
An often unnoticed tragedy hidden beneath so much of the bloodshed emanating from Iraq is the targeted killing and subsequent flight of minority groups from the country. Those without militias or sufficient numbers to protect themselves are amongst the most vulnerable. Palestinians living in Iraq, often there as a result of multiple previous displacements, have found themselves trapped in their thousands in and around the desert of the Syrian-Iraqi border.
As the violence against Palestinians in Iraq continues, the number of refugees in al-Waleed camp has increased to more than 1,700 today….
Syrian archaeologists have unearthed a hieroglyph close to Damascus which dates back to the pharaonic period around 1,300 years BC, the official SANA news agency reported on Saturday. "The antiquities department has discovered a hieroglyph on the outskirts of Damascus, 25 kilometres (15 miles) east (of the capital), engraved into a basalt stone slab (measuring) 70 by 50 cm (28 by 20 inches)," SANA said.
[Landis Comment] Assad's attempt to get the Indians to build a top-flight university in Syria is insteresting. Better education will remain a key Syrian reform. Unfortunately, India is already spread too thin. A member of India's Treasury Department recently asked me what India should do to boost economic ties between Syria and India. I suggested that India should send business professors to staff the new business departments in the private universities of Syria. Indians have no language problem as they speak English fluently. They are good businessmen and have top-flight universities. Their presence in Syrian univerities, I suggested, would help shift the Syrian frame of reference from the West to the East.
… Take Jabal Mohsen and Tebbaneh – two quarters living cheek by jowl in the center of Tripoli, Lebanon's second-largest city. The residents of both districts have been feuding since the 1975-90 civil war when they fought on opposite sides. Today, the residents of Jabal Mohsen, who are mainly Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, are supporters of the opposition led by the militant Shiite Hezbollah.
The most popular political party in the Tebbaneh district is the Sunni Future Movement, the largest component of the March 14 parliamentary coalition. But many residents here adhere to the Salafi school of Islam, some of whom believe an ideology that brands Shiites – including Alawites – as apostates. …
[Alawites of Jabal Mohsen] blame the outbreak of fighting on the residents of Tebbaneh, saying that militant Salafi clerics had been stirring up Sunni extremists with fiery anti-Shiite sermons. Foreign jihadi militants have infiltrated Tebbaneh and are being armed and paid by Saudi officials and leaders of the Future Movement, they claim, echoing a prevalent rumor in Lebanon.
"We are besieged today. If we leave Jabal Mohsen, the Sunnis beat us and steal our cars," says a man who would only identify himself as "Ali from the Jabal." "The Future Movement …burned 15 of our houses last night. They don't want peace."
Rifaat Eid, the head of the opposition-allied Democratic Labor Party and a prominent Alawite, says that the community is placing its faith in the Army to impose order.
"If the Lebanese Army hits back at troublemakers then we will have calm," he says from his office in Jabal Mohsen. On his desk lies a pile of posters with the portraits and names of four members of Mr. Eid's party who died in the clashes this week. On a wall behind him is a picture of Hafez al-Assad, the former president of Syria and the father of Bashar al-Assad, the current head of state. The Assad family belongs to the Alawite sect that also dominates the Syrian regime. Their coreligionists in Lebanon have long maintained close political ties to Syria.
"We [Alawites] are a minority and no minority wants to make problems with the majority [Sunnis]," he says. "But we have to defend our families, wives, children. Anyone coming to kill me, I will drink his blood."
Down the hill in Tebbaneh, the rubbish-strewn streets are almost deserted except for a few young men carrying walkie-talkies. Lebanese soldiers order several youths to dismantle a barricade of oil drums and sandbags. Above it flies a black flag bearing a quote from the Koran.
Here, the accusations and strident claims of residents are an echo of those heard in Jabal Mohsen: Iranians are fighting alongside the Alawites, Hezbollah is arming them, residents of Tebbaneh are beaten and robbed if they leave their neighborhood, Jabal Mohsen started the fighting and will not stop.
"The first one we killed in the fighting was a Shiite Iranian," says Mustafa Abbas, a fruit and vegetable salesman. "They only fought hard because the Iranians were with them."
Few here on either side believe that the fighting is over. "We are poor people here in Tebbaneh, but we work and buy weapons, work and buy weapons. We have to defend ourselves," says Mohammed Mahmoud, a resident. "But in the end, it will be we poor people who suffer most of all."
Continuing political tensions in Lebanon have fanned the glowing embers of rivalry and resentment between Jabal Mohsen and Tebbaneh, triggering two days of vicious fighting earlier this week that left at least nine people dead and over 50 wounded.
BEIRUT, June 28 (Xinhua) — At least one person was killed and scores were wounded in a bomb blast that rocked an apartment building in Lebanese northern city of Tripoli early on Saturday, local Naharnet news website reported. Police was quoted as saying that the blast, reported at 5:30 a.m. (0230 GMT), struck the entrance to a building in Syria Street of Tabbaneh district. Medical sources said that most of the casualties are children, women and elderly people. The blasted building is located in Tabbaneh area which is mostly inhabited by pro-government Sunni supporters. The report said that snipers in the neighboring, pro-opposition area of Baal Mohsen, opened fire at gunmen in Tabbaneh streets, adding that rescuers were facing difficulties in their jobs due to sniper fire targeting the streets.
To get a sense of how sectarian tensions are being stirred up in Syria read the article in Assarq Alawsat: "Religious and Political Shiism in Syria," 28/06/2008, by By Manal Lutfi. The Muslim Brothers and Abdel Halim Khaddam claim that Iranian religious influence in Syria is a provocation to Sunnis and stirring up sectarian hatred and anxiety.