News Round Up (April 1, 2009)

Qifa Nabki gives us some April Fools fun: Failure to Coordinate Grand Gesture Ends in Embarrassment for Israel, Syria. The only clue I will give is this graphic.

Syria cut diesel fuel prices on Tuesday by 20 percent
, or from 50 cents to 40 cents a liter, as oil rates declined in world markets.

The move appears to be aimed at preventing the smuggling diesel fuel from neighboring Lebanon and Turkey where diesel prices dropped recently due to drop in global oil prices. Smugglers have been bringing diesel from Lebanon and Turkey to sell in Syria where prices had been higher.

Nadim Issa’s reporting has been invaluable on the Damsacus Stock exchange.  Damascus Exchange Grants Licenses to Six Brokerage Companies

2009-04-01. (bloomberg) — The Damascus Securities Exchange gave its approval for six new brokerage companies to start operating in Syria. They are Ahl Al-Sham Islamic Financial Services, Mega Investment-Syria Co., Daman Al-Sham for Brokerage & Financial Services Co., Sanabel for Financial Investments Co., Osoul for Brokerage & Securities Co. and Shuaa Securities-Syria, the exchange said today in a statement on its Web Site.

Greg Gause: On Prince Nayef and the Succession Greg gives us a good antidote to much overheated analysis.

Mark Lynch on the Doha summit. His Aardvark on Cable at the Foreign Policy website is consistently good.

John J. Mearsheimer: Please tell me, where is Israel headed?

Assyrian سليمان يوسف Sulaiman Yousef, an Assyrian activist has asked that Syria establish a ministerial position for Assyrian affairs because the Assyrians are the original people of Syria who are threatened with disapearing and being scattered. (in Arabic at Levant News)

Shamel Azmeh’s Blog on economic matters in Syria and the Middle East should make a very good addition to blogs on Syria. It is smart.

Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell is visiting Syria

on 1-2 April for a series of high level discussions with prominent Syrian politicians and opinion formers. During the visit Bill Rammell is due to have meetings with Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and Europe Minister Abdul Fattah Ammoura. He will also meet the Minister of Awqaf (Religious Affairs). Discussions will be wide ranging and will include cooperation on counter terrorism, the Middle East Peace Process and regional issues.

British Man’s plea for wife held in Syria: A mother has been missing for more than two weeks since her arrest in Syria.

Syria jails dissident despite detente with West
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Reuters, March 15, 2009

A Syrian court sentenced a 64-year old dissident on Sunday to three years in jail for “weakening national feelings” after he published articles critical of the political system, human rights activist said.

The sentencing of Habib Saleh, who had already spent five years as political prisoner over two terms between 2001-2007, reflects a tougher approach by authorities in crushing dissent as Syria undergoes rapprochement in the West, they said.

“Saleh only wrote articles and he still got three years. He was not even active in any organisation,” said one activist who attended Saleh’s trial at the Palace of Justice. Mohannad al-Hassani, Saleh’s lawyer, said the law used against his client could only be invoked if Syria was officially at war….

فارس مراد بعد ثلاثة عقود في المعتقل – مازال فارسا

As Netanyahu takes Israel’s helm, Syria skeptical of peace prospects: Syrian diplomats say Damascus is serious about making peace, and hope Washington will lean on Israel’s new government. By Nicholas Blanford

Even if the Netanyahu government agrees to negotiate, any peace deal with Syria has to be put to a national referendum. And Israeli polls show that more than two-thirds of the Israeli public are against handing back the strategic heights.

George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s point man on the Mideast, is expected in the next two weeks to begin putting proposals into action once he has finished building his team.

US officials with insights into the administration’s thinking on the Mideast say that Obama is serious about striking peace between Israel, Syria, and the Palestinians, but question whether the parties themselves are ready to make the necessary commitments for peace. They warn that Obama is being pressured to focus on the domestic economy, not foreign policy, and will not waste time pushing for Mideast peace if the Israelis and Arabs procrastinate.

Israeli Military Closes Probe: Allegations of Troop Misconduct in Gaza Called ‘Hearsay’

Israel’s Covert War on Iran Faces Disapproving White House
By RICHARD SALE

Sarah Birke has three new articles on Tourism and the effort to Brand Syria; Let’s Get Physical“; “Controversial training for Iraqi refugees“.

American Language Center to reopen in Syria

Damascus set to receive MiG 31E planes: “”With regard to its external defense, Syria’s military remains in a defensive posture and inferior to Israel’s forces, but it is upgrading its missile, rocket, antitank, aircraft and air defense inventories,” Maples told the committee. “Recent Syrian contracts with Russia for future delivery include new MiG-31 and MiG-29M/M2 fighter aircraft.”

Buthaina Shaaban speaks with Fox News about US-Syrian relations under Obama



Syria leader explains failure of talks with Israel
By BASSEM MROUE

BEIRUT (AP) — Syria’s president said indirect peace talks with Israel failed last year because the Jewish state would not make an unambiguous commitment to return all the territory captured in the 1967 Middle East war, according to an interview published Wednesday.

The comments to the Lebanese daily As-Safir were Bashar Assad’s first on why the Turkish-mediated negotiations collapsed. Previously, Syrian officials said they suspended the talks in protest against Israel’s war in Gaza, which began in late December.

However Assad outlined another major point of contention. He suggested Syria insisted on the complete return of the strategic Golan Heights, while Israel wanted to keep some disputed land around the Sea of Galilee, its main water source.

Assad said Syria had “specified some points” of land on the Galilee shores and the Jordan River he wanted returned.

“We asked the Israelis to prove their seriousness on these points and of course they agreed in principle,” Assad said. “But when it came to drafting, they wanted to draft it in a way that is somehow ambiguous and obscure,” he added.

“We said no. We do not discuss. These points are either approved or not. … The discussions ended at this point and the talks failed,” Assad said. The president’s office confirmed to The Associated Press that the As-Safir report was accurate.

Syria and Israel held direct talks in the late 1990s and early 2000. They also broke down over the extent of a withdrawal from the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau captured from Syria in 1967. Israel sought lines closer to the 1923 colonial border and insisted on retaining sovereignty over the strip of land also claimed by Syria along the Galilee shores.

The late Syrian President Hafez Assad, the current president’s father, also insisted on the return of all the Golan, including the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. At a meeting with then-U.S. President Bill Clinton in Geneva in March 2000, the elder Assad spoke nostalgically of his own visits to the sea.

“I would swim in the Sea of Galilee, I would have barbecues there, I ate fish,” he told Clinton.

Israelis have argued in the past that a 21-square-mile area along the sea was originally Palestinian, not Syrian, and therefore need not be returned to Syria with the rest of the Golan.

Bashar Assad was also asked in the interview what concessions Israel wanted for peace with Syria.

“No Iran, no Hezbollah and no Hamas,” he said, referring to Syrian alliances with Tehran and the Lebanese and Palestinian militant groups. He did not say how he responded to those demands.

The two Mideast foes held four rounds of indirect talks mediated by Turkey last year.

Recounting how the contacts came about, Assad he agreed to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s overtures after “we reached a point when Olmert was ready to fully return the Golan Heights.”

Olmert’s office did not immediately comment on the interview. Government spokesman Mark Regev said the “basis of the talks with the Syrians was a formula that we know exactly what the Syrians expect from negotiations and they know exactly what we expect.”

“No progress was achieved with the Turkish mediation unfortunately,” Regev said.

Comments (66)


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51. Shai said:

Chris,

Just from comment 38:

“Actually your definition is as laughable as your other arguments.”

“You childishly come up with a subjective definition of treason?”

“But to come around and state your subjective opinions as facts and definitions is plain dumb arrogance.”

When Majid says this, you’re fine with it. I don’t remember hearing you lecture him. Did you?

Ok, Chris, Majid, can we stop this? It’s not only boring me, I’m sure it’s also boring everyone else. Why-Discuss gave us the hint earlier on in comment 39…

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April 4th, 2009, 7:06 pm

 

52. Chris said:

Shai,

I don’t know Majid’s nationality. So, his nationality has nothing to do with why I called your attention to the disrespectful nature of your comments. Nationality isn’t the issue. I have only recently noticed his participation on this blog. I’ve seen you on this blog for quite some time. My decision to call attention to this has more to do with the nature of your comments overall.

More importantly though, calling attention to someone else’s behavior is a poor defense. It’s an attempt to distract people away from the issue and signals an unwillingness to deal with the issue at hand.

If you wish to return to politics though, we can.

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April 4th, 2009, 7:16 pm

 

53. Shai said:

Chris,

I don’t know where you get the nationality issue from. I don’t care if Majid is Saudi, or if you’re American, or if AP is a Jewish-Martian. That’s fine with me.

But do me a favor, if you’re going to pass judgement, at least be fair enough to pass it first on ones who preceded me with the same type of comments. Funny that you haven’t said a word about Majid’s comment 38. Figures, I guess.

And please refrain from being my psychologist. If I feel I need one, I’ll ask, I promise you.

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April 4th, 2009, 8:26 pm

 

54. Chris said:

Shai,

In post 50, you wrote “Ok, Chris, Majid, can we stop this? It’s not only boring me, I’m sure it’s also boring everyone else,” yet you continue with the questions. Fine. I’m more than happy to answer them.

I got the nationality thing from what you wrote, in post 47. You wrote “Have a look at some of your compatriots’ comments, and please lecture them first.” A compatriot would be someone from the same country, thus one of the same nationality. So, when you wrote of “compatriots” it appeared that you thought nationality has something to do with who I should’ve and should call attention to disrespectful when they comment in a disrespectful way.

In post 51 I referred to why I called attention to you “ridiculing other people with a response like “You make me laugh” or characterizing their comments as “idiotic” or “crap.”

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April 4th, 2009, 8:42 pm

 

55. Akbar Palace said:

Chris, Majid,’

Thank you for the support.

It looks like I missed a “tag-team” effort between you both and Shai and Yossi.

Skimming through the dialogue, the question of “what is a traitor” came up. I vaguely remember Shai calling on Syria to send missiles into Israel, but I’m not sure. If Shai had a position in the Knesset, I’m afraid if he said these words, he could (theoretically) be tried for treason, although the GOI is known to ignore “hot-headed” comments from other MKs, especially Arab MKs. MK Kahane was thrown out of the Knesset due to his racist ve=iews. Lieberman is (IMHO) walking a tight-rope in this regard.

OTOH, verbally supporting an ally like Israel could never be considered treason. In fact, verbally supporting an enemy state like Iran could not be considered treason.

What we say matters depending who were are, where we are, and what position of responsibility we possess. IN Syria or Iran both Chris AND Shai would be traitors because none of these countries have freedom of speech.

Yossi said:

I personally want Israel to be redefined, peacefully, with a new constitution and symbols of statehood. If this is treasonous then so be it, who gives a fig.

Why would this statement be treasonous? Your sentiments are shared by the new female, Arab MK (the name escapes me). Calling for an enemy country to fire missiles against Israel is something different altogether. Me? I want what the majority of Israelis want – today that’s a Jewish state.

As I said before, if and when the majority of Israelis do NOT want a Jewish state, then I would have to go in that direction. I think most Israeli Jews would go in that direction. The wonderful thing about voting and changes in the electorate is that change comes gradually and not very suddenly.

I only worry about the fanantics on both sides who may try to use the instability of a 50-50 electorate to cause some violent reaction. However, if and when this occurs, we may be surprised to find a peaceful transfer of power. Who knows?

Last point:

Shai, with the advent of the internet, etc, there is very little that we can’t learn about. My “Safari Tour” included.

My favorite blog during the war was Muqata. They did a great job.

http://www.muqata.blogspot.com/

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April 4th, 2009, 9:01 pm

 

56. norman said:

Shai,

I do not think that you should care about what they say about you , You have a good heart and you aim for the advancement of all people in the Middle East, and that is noble enough to get my support and admiration, Keep the good work ,

And that is my take.

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April 5th, 2009, 12:48 am

 

57. Shai said:

Dear Norman,

Of course I do not care about what (they) say about me, or anyone else. I just find it funny that, Chris for instance, has the audacity to criticize my use of language, when his buddy Majid is first to introduce it. Believe me, even AIPAC-supporters like AP, Chris, and Majid, can’t shake my resolve. When I see characters like them try to destroy bridges, rather than build them, I am even more determined! 😉

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April 5th, 2009, 3:41 am

 

58. norman said:

I am glad,

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April 5th, 2009, 4:19 am

 

59. Shai said:

Norman,

I said to Yossi the other day, that although I do not know what thoughts reside in Netanyahu’s head, if by some miracle he IS planning to become the next Begin, then everything we’re seeing now does make sense. What better way to “prepare” the Israeli public for peace, than to raise their anxiety-level as high as possible, to bring them as close as possible to war (without engaging in one), and then to “drop it on them”. If he plans to make peace with the Arab world, he knows the price, and he knows he must have the entire Right rallying behind him before he can introduce any such Begin-style ideas. So to rally, you do what you have to, for a while.

But unfortunately, if he doesn’t plan to be the next Begin, and instead wants to maintain the “status quo” (believing, like AIG, that time is on our side), then everything he’s doing also makes sense…

That’s the funny thing about the Right – they use anti-rhetoric, adopt anti-policies, and eventually do what the Left wanted to do, but couldn’t. Or not.

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April 5th, 2009, 4:57 am

 

60. Shai said:

Looks like Israel won’t be enjoying its new Foreign Minister for long… Shame, and I was beginning to like him. If he’s replaced, we’ll again deceive everyone. At least Lieberman was honest.

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1076401.html

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April 5th, 2009, 5:30 am

 

61. norman said:

Shai, Yossi ,

If Netanyahu is trying to secure a place in history he would look for a comprehensive peace that would secure Israel’s future .

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April 5th, 2009, 12:37 pm

 

62. Chris said:

Shai,

“Believe me, even AIPAC-supporters like AP, Chris, and Majid, can’t shake my resolve. When I see characters like them try to destroy bridges, rather than build them, I am even more determined! ”

What nerve! What gall! What chutzpah! After we have a dialogue about you’re decision to ridicule other people with a response like “You make me laugh” or characterizing their comments as “idiotic” or “crap you then turn around and say that I am here to “destroy bridges.”I’ve never seen confident self-rightousness. You make it sound as if you’re here to “build them” by ridiculing people and telling everyone how you laugh at them!

Moreover, the adhominem attack was unnecessary. You have no reason to believe that I am a supporter of AIPAC or any other organization.

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April 5th, 2009, 6:49 pm

 

63. Shai said:

Chris,

Do you not support AIPAC? (If your answer is going to be “On some things I do, on others I don’t”, please tell us on what you don’t.)

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April 5th, 2009, 6:59 pm

 

64. christopherwilken@yahoo.com said:

Shai,

First of all, regarding the ad hominem attack. Ad hominem attacks are attacks directed at the person making an argument rather than the argument itself. This is done so as to damage the credibility of the person making an argument rather than formulate a counter argument. It is very easy, but it avoids substantive discussion. This is what you have done. You have tried to discredit me by associating me with an organization that I am not a part of so as to marginalize me. Great way to build bridges rather than “destroy bridges” as you so self-righteously put it earlier.

“Do you not support AIPAC? (If your answer is going to be “On some things I do, on others I don’t”, please tell us on what you don’t.)”

No. Nor do I know what their position has been on specific pieces of legislation or political candidates.

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April 5th, 2009, 7:10 pm

 

65. Chris said:

Shai,

First of all, regarding the ad hominem attack. Ad hominem attacks are attacks directed at the person making an argument rather than the argument itself. This is done so as to damage the credibility of the person making an argument rather than formulate a counter argument. It is very easy, but it avoids substantive discussion. This is what you have done. You have tried to discredit me by associating me with an organization that I am not a part of so as to marginalize me. Great way to build bridges rather than “destroy bridges.”

“Do you not support AIPAC? (If your answer is going to be “On some things I do, on others I don’t”, please tell us on what you don’t.)”

No. Nor do I know what their position has been on specific pieces of legislation or political candidates.

(Alex, please delete that other comment with the email address visible 🙂 Thanks.

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April 5th, 2009, 7:23 pm

 

66. Shai said:

Chris,

While I admit that engaging in conversation with you is almost as fun as licking frozen door knobs, I actually prefer to end it for a while if you don’t mind.

I found it a bit hypocritical of you to psychoanalyze and criticize me, when your buddy Majid started attacking me with “laughable”, “childish”, “dumb arrogance” comments, before I had said anything similar to him, and yet you said nothing to him.

Like a true Zionist, I’m used to attacking back when attacked… 😉

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April 5th, 2009, 7:46 pm

 

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