News Round Up (May 6, 2010)

Can Israel fend off a Hezbollah armed with Syrian rockets? (Via FLC)
Top IDF intelligence officer says alleged Scud shipment could be just the tip of the iceberg of Syria’s arms transfers to Hezbollah.
By Amos Harel, Haaretz

M-600s

“… aside from the new Scud-D variant, the missiles are not very accurate. But this is not what’s most important: Hezbollah’s very possession of Scuds attests to its murderous intentions…
That same day, the military censor, after months of delay, finally permitted publication of the fact that Hezbollah now has Syrian M-600 rockets – which carry smaller warheads than Scuds, but are much more accurate. With enough M-600s, Hezbollah could systematically bombard Israel’s most strategic sites.

Moreover, unlike the Scuds, M-600s can be launched quickly, and Hezbollah has undoubtedly concealed them in urban neighborhoods to make them harder to locate. Thus M-600s are the true threat Hezbollah poses to Israel.

Israel’s missile defense systems, meanwhile, are far from adequate. The army has ordered only two experimental Iron Dome systems against short-range rockets….. Israel’s enemies have massively increased their missile stockpiles. And it is far from clear that the IDF has a good answer for a situation in which massive, accurate rocket fire shuts down ports and airports, impedes the operation of air force bases and forces the reserves to convene under heavy fire – or whether the home front, and the politicians, will have the stamina to hold out until an offensive produces substantive military gains. Therefore, unless the IDF starts bolstering its defensive capabilities – and not just its offensive ones – it risks being prepared for the most convenient scenario, rather than one that is actually likely to happen.”

On Tuesday the army’s head of intelligence research, Brigadier General Yossi Baidatz, told the Knesset that the Scud transfer was the “tip of the iceberg”.

Baidatz said that despite strong backing for Hezbollah, Syria remained keen to strike a peace deal with Israel. “A political settlement with Israel is high on Syria’s list of priorities and intelligence shows a will to reach an agreement – but on their terms, meaning a return of the Golan Heights and American involvement,” he said.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem denied that the Middle East was on the brink of armed conflict, telling Radio Monte Carlo on Thursday that Israel was unlikely to declare war without first consulting Washington.

Moallem told the radio that the Arab side was taking responsible steps to preserve the security of the Middle East.

BBC Newsfile: Syrian TV sharply criticizes US extension of sanctions, Obama
2010-05-05
Text of report by Syrian television on 4 May

[Announcer] US President Barack Obama renews unilateral US sanctions against Syria. This clearly contradicts several US and Western officials, some of whom visited Syria and all stressed its importance in the region. This measure is a piece of evidence that the US attitude has not changed. It is also indicative of US inability to refurbish its image. The question is: How would Washington play the role of the seeker for peace while turning a blind eye to what is taking place in Palestine and the region, and being dragged behind the lies of Israeli intelligence services, which are known for their criminality and fabrication of reports and information.

[Reporter Ibrahim Hasan] The US measure [to extend the sanctions against Syria] is a new US violation of the international law and the UN principles. Moreover, it is a contradiction to the US Administration’s desire to seek to achieve peace and stability in the region and show openness to the countries of the region, based on the belief in the principle of dialogue and dispatching various delegations to Damascus, on the one hand, and its continuation of the logic of applying pressure, imposing sanctions, and resorting to economic weapon, on the other hand. The announcement by US President Barack Obama to extend the sanctions imposed by his predecessor George Bush in 2004 against Syria for one more year under Israeli pretexts is a new regression by Obama in his second year in the White House. How astonishing!

The US national security faces danger if Israel is threatened with a Palestinian stone, a Lebanese shell, or a Syrian rejection of the killing of the sons of its ummah [community of Muslims and Muslim nations worldwide] or Judaizing the Arabs’ holy places. Meanwhile, this national security would not even bat an eyelid for the killing of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza with white phosphorus or the destruction of the houses above the heads of the Palestinians and the Lebanese by the US-made Israeli warplanes.

The United States is the United States. It only sees the region through the eyes of Israel. It has been doing the same old thing; that is, applying pressure on the countries of the region through economic sanctions and siege to wrest concessions for Israel. The fate of the free nations is to defend their dignity.

Syria, which always insisted on adhering to its right and the rights of its ummah, will not acquiesce to the logic of dictates and threats. Nowadays, and more than ever before, Syria insists on regaining every grain of its soil and adhering to the rights of its ummah in facing up to the terrorism of Israel. The US Administration should realize that its sanctions, which are imposed for Israeli reasons, do not serve the interests of the United States, but rather flare up the hatred of the sons of the region for it and step up the brutality of the Israeli policy against the Arabs. [Video shows President Obama making speech, Israeli army tanks firing shells, and destruction scenes from Gaza.]  Originally published by Syrian TV, Damascus, in Arabic 1731 4 May 10.

Syria says US sanctions on Damascus fuel hostility
By ALBERT AJI, The Associated Press
Updated 2:57 PM Wednesday, May 5, 2010

DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria on Wednesday criticized the United States’ renewal of sanctions against Damascus and warned that the penalties reinforce hostilities in the region.

The U.S. renewed the six-year-old economic and diplomatic sanctions Monday, saying Syria has made some progress containing terror networks that Washington says use the country to infiltrate Iraq but that Damascus continues to support terrorists and pursue weapons of mass destruction.

The Obama administration has reached out to Syria, trying to pry it away from the influence of Iran and encouraging it to end its support for Lebanese and Palestinian militant groups.

Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad said the sanctions decision shows Washington “has lost its credibility” and failed to live up to its promises to Syria.

Mekdad acknowledged that privately the tone from Washington was more positive.

“What is being heard publicly from the Americans is exaggerated and what is happening behind closed doors is the exact opposite,” he told the Al-Watan daily.

The Al-Thawra newspaper, considered a government mouthpiece, called the sanctions “a disappointment” but added that Damascus was not surprised. It warned that the U.S. decision “would keep the region in a state of antagonism and wars.”

I’m Sure There Are No Scuds: UNIFIL Commander
Xinhua

“UN Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Commander General Alberto Asarta Cuevas stressed in remarks published on Wednesday that there was no proof that Syria had transferred Scud missiles to Hezbollah. “We have around 12,000 soldiers and three Lebanese army brigades in a small area. We haven’t seen a thing, …..Scud missiles are big. I’m sure there are no Scuds because it is very difficult to hide them,” he added….

Asked about the possibility of the eruption of a new war, the UNIFIL commander said no one intends to cause war. … The United Nations special coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams also said in April that he did not believe there will be a war in the region despite rising tensions over the Scud missiles allegation.”

Dennis Ross is the Latest American Diplomat to Slam Syria

Dennis Ross also had some harsh words for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose government the Obama administration believes may have considered transferring sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah.

“By transferring weapons including long-range weapons to Hezbollah, Syria is engaging in provocative and destabilizing behavior,” said Ross, borrowing language from earlier remarks by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “President Assad needs to make a decision whether he wants war or peace in the region.”

[Ross may have recommended the Syria parts of Clinton’s speech that she delivered at the American Jewish Committee … to balance the administration’s recent perceived bias against Israel]

Medvedev to Syria
VOR

“President Medvedev’s visit to Syria, due to take place on May 10th and 11th, should add more impetus to the rapidly developing bilateral ties. A statement to that effect was made by a Syrian government official in Damascus. President Medvedev will meet with his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad to discuss prospects for bilateral relations and the situation in the Middle East. Syria’s Economy and Trade Minister Amer Lotfi praised the growing ties with Russia. As instances of successful bilateral cooperation he cited Russia’s participation in the construction of gas-processing plants near Hims and near Deir ez-Zor… “

Sham Life

[Sent by Ehsani] Syrian Government subsidies cost syp 504 billion in losses every year – This is the equivalent of Syp 2100 ($43) a month for every Syrian man, woman and child. In other words, you can pay every single Syrian syp 2100 a month by eliminating these losses. The oil subsidies alone are responsible for over 90% of these losses…and this is AFTER raising the mazout from syp 8 to syp 20.

La production de blé devrait augmenter de 10 à 15 % grâce aux précipitations de février

Syria Again Sanctioned for Role in Middle East
Edward Yeranian | Cairo 04 May 2010

Syrian President Bashar al-Asad is playing a more prominent role in the Middle East, buttressed by his alliance with Iran and links to Lebanon’s militant group, Hezbollah.  Syria’s recent stances have put the country at odds with its moderate Arab neighbors and prompted the United States to renew sanctions against Damascus. ….

Peter Harling of the Crisis Group in Damascus says the rhetoric signals the level of instability in the region.

“This revolving talk of war today in Lebanon, tomorrow in Gaza, the day after in Iran and back to Lebanon and so on and so forth just says a lot about the state of the region,” he said.  “All key issues remain unsolved and the region as a whole is very unsettled. I think that the potential belligerents are preparing for a confrontation that they would like to avoid, but which they see as probable.”

University of Oklahoma Political Science Professor Joshua Landis writes the popular blog “Syria Comment.”  Landis believes Damascus has made it clear it will pursue a path of “resistance” against Israel if the Jewish state does not return the occupied Golan Heights.

“If Israel wants to keep [the Golan] and no one is willing to make it give it up, that means war, unless Syria is prepared to give it up, and Syria has said that it is not prepared to give it up and it will resist,” he said.  “That means, if I were Syria, you have to build up the military readiness of your allies, and missile technology is the best way to do that.”

Editor Alex Vatanka of Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst argues Syria and Iran have started to use more aggressive language, demonstrating their confidence their strategic position in relation to Israel is improving.

“What I detect in recent months is a shift from what you could have called the sort of defensive mode to an offensive approach to dealing with issues like we have had with the SCUD missiles,” he said. “We have gone from first denial by the Syrians and Hezbollah to [Hezbollah leader] Nasrallah and others saying ‘so what if we have received missiles, not only do we want missiles, but we want the best arsenals we can have to defend ourselves against Israel.”…

Yediot’s defense analyst: Settlement construction spree in September dooms negotiations
Didi Remez | May 6, 2010
Op-ed, Alex Fishman [defense correspondent], Yediot, May 6 2010

Syria rehabilitation masks deep economic problems
Published Date: May 06, 2010
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

Syria wants more than $40 billion in private investment over five years to overhaul its infrastructure and create jobs, but its chances of obtaining it look slim based on the Baathist government’s previous failed attempts to woo foreign capital. President Bashar al-Assad relaxed bans on trade and private investment after taking over from his father in 2000, yet there has been little inflow of capital despite government enticements including giving away land for free.

Unemployment, poverty, poor competiveness and corruption still dog Syria, which remains under US sanctions due to its support of militant groups and corruption. Unless things change, there will be little hope of boosting income for an overwhelmingly poor population expanding at 2.5 percent a year. But economists said Syria’s authoritarian system would continue to scare investors. The government has also failed to realise it needs to put some of its own money up for hefty investments, such as oil refineries
, foreign executives say.

It’s difficult to see significant improvement without a proper climate and a legal system that inspires investor confidence,” said Aref Dalila, a top Syrian economist. “Without that Syria’s social and economic problems are likely to compound and we will continue to see more emigration, deeper poverty, rising unemployment and falling education standards,” said Dalila, who was jailed from 2001 to 2008 after criticising the government’s economic policies.

Overall unemployment is officially at 10 percent, but independent estimates put the rate at 25 percent, with the average wage officially at $240 a month. An official in the government-backed Peasants Union says poverty levels in the agricultural regions of Eastern Syria stand at 80 percent, with most people in that region living on several dollars a day. With consecutive droughts and poor water management reducing much of the country’s former breadbasket to a wasteland, economic growth has mainly come from
consumption and tourism. This accounts for 8-10 percent of the national income and is where officials see the main potential for expansion.

Nonetheless, the government is optimistic. “Whoever visits Syria can see the results of the reform process in private banks, insurance companies, private schools and universities and hundreds of investment projects,” Prime Minister Naji Al-Otri told a Bulgarian business delegation. But net foreign investment was only $1.2 billion at the end of 2008, according to Al-Khabar, a private Syrian newspaper. While this was up from virtually zero 10 years ago, it is still low compared with nearby Lebanon. This is d
espite government attempts to lure back Syrian capital that fled nationalisation half a century ago, including offers to give land to investors free or at huge discounts and laws that exempt projects from taxes and import duties.

Syria still lacks proper laws to enforce arbitration and mortgages and guarantee employee and property rights. The Syrian ruling hierarchy, led by Assad, has scored points by steering the country out of Western isolation. But Assad has kept intact an emergency law and the political system inherited from his late father, Hafez Al-Assad, making clear his priority is the confrontation with Israel, not political reform. Foreign companies outside the small oil sector remain few, led by France’s Lafarge and Ital
cementi, which started building two cement factories last year.

While government power generation schemes have drawn Gulf interest, Wilhelm Icke of Germany’s DEG, development finance bank, said international banks would not finance these projects without a commitment by the Syrian state to the rule of law. “Serious international businesses will not come without assurances that Syria is a country of laws. Even China had to allow some political freedoms for its economy to take off,” one Western banker visiting Syria said.

The country’s infrastructure is shabby after decades of neglect, with huge water shortages and electricity generation that meets two-third of demand. The government has also failed to lure investment in refineries. This has cost billions of dollars in fuel imports, although Syria produces 380,000 barrels per day of crude, down from a 590,000 bpd peak in 1996. “The government thinks that it can attract $3 billion to build a refinery by just providing crude oil, without putting any money itself and sharing t
he risk,” an oil executive said.

The oil sector accounts for a fifth of gross domestic product of $53 billion, but the size of Syria’s budget almost matches that of its tiny neighbour Lebanon, which has one quarter of its population and no oil resources. The government acknowledges that more needs to be done and that it has failed to bridge the gap between the rich and poor in the country, but says it will stick to its policy of avoiding former Soviet block style shocks and making laws that raise standards and allow more business freedom.

Maariv: Foreign Ministry considering stopping lectures in US and UK because of heckling
Didi Remez | May 6, 2010 at 10:45 | Categories: Diplomacy, Direct Action, Hasbara
Foreign Ministry considering stopping lectures

Eli Bardenstein, Maariv, May 6 2010 [page 16; Hebrew original here and at bottom of post]

Foreign Ministry officials are considering stopping the lectures by senior figures around the world, particularly in Britain. The reason: The outspoken verbal attacks by students and pro-Palestinian activists, which render them ineffective. The attacks peaked last week, when demonstrators assaulted the Israeli deputy ambassador to Britain at the end of a lecture she gave at the University of Manchester.

Ma’ariv has learned that Israeli diplomats stationed in the US have significantly reduced the number of public lectures that they give to students, as a result of the frequent heckling. The last [lecture] was given by Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren in February at the University of California…..

Turkey gets cold feet in Iran: Iran also recently shelved a $7 billion deal with Turkish Petroleum International Co. to develop another part of the South Pars field after the Turks failed to commit.

U.S. SEC Probing Companies Operating in Terror Hubs, WSJ Says
2010-05-04 20:29:52.111 GMT

By Greg Chang
May 4 (Bloomberg) — The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is probing whether companies that operate in countries labeled as state sponsors of terrorism have adequate safeguards against bribery, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing unidentified people. The SEC has sent letters to pharmaceutical and energy companies that have operations in the four countries designated as sponsors of terrorism, Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria, according to the report….

The SEC’s corporation finance division, which reviews company disclosures, has sent letters to companies seeking information about business dealings in any of the four designated countries. Federal securities laws don’t require disclosure unless the operations there are significant, or material, to the overall company’s business.

Last week, SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro told Congress that the agency was considering whether it should require disclosure regardless of whether the business is material.

In 2007, the SEC published on its website a list of companies that disclosed they had business with the countries identified by the State Department as sponsors of terrorism. The Web page was pulled after companies complained.

The SEC probe, which is in its early stages, comes as the Justice Department’s criminal fraud section has sent letters in recent weeks to a number of pharmaceutical companies asking about payments made to foreign officials in several nations, beyond those countries designated as terrorism hubs, these people said…..

Safehaven: Syria Appeals For More Foreign Oil Money Yet Bureaucracy Remains A Questionable Obstacle
2010-05-05

As Syria aggressively courts foreign investors to rescue its dwindling oil and gas sector, government corruption and problems settling disputes remain sticking points for some interested international players.

Random facts about the destruction of education in Iraq. A recent UNESCO report “Education Under Attack 2010 – Iraq”, dated 10 February 2010, concludes that “Although overall security in Iraq had improved, the situation faced by schools, students, teachers and academics remained dangerous.”[4]

The destruction of Iraq’s education is ongoing. Let’s present a few random facts that give an idea of the scale of the destruction of Iraq’s education sector under occupation. The director[5] of the United Nations University International Leadership Institute published a report[6] on 27 April 2005 detailing that since the start of the war of 2003 some 84% of Iraq’s higher education institutions have been burnt, looted or destroyed[7].

Like most higher education institutions across Iraq, Baghdad University escaped almost unscathed from the bombing. In the subsequent looting and burning, 20 of the capital’s colleges were destroyed. No institution escaped: the faculty of education in Waziriyya was raided daily for two weeks; the veterinary college in Abu Ghraib lost all its equipment; two buildings in the faculty of fine arts stand smoke-blackened against the skyline. In every college, in every classroom, you could write “education” in the dust on the tables. [8]

Ongoing violence has destroyed school buildings and around a quarter of all Iraq’s primary schools need major rehabilitation. Since March 2003, more than 700 primary schools have been bombed, 200 have been burnt and over 3,000 looted.[9]

Between March 2003 and October 2008, 31,598 violent attacks against educational institutions were reported in Iraq, according to the Ministry of Education (MoE)[10]

Since 2007 bombings at Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad have killed or maimed more than 335 students and staff members, according to a 19 Oct 2009 NYT article, and a 12-foot-high blast wall has been built around the campus.[11] Education under Attack (2007) reported that 296 people serving as education staff were killed in 2005; and 180 teachers were killed between February and November 2006.[12]

Former terror detainee Hassan Almrei sues feds for false imprisonment
The Canadian Press
May 04, 2010

OTTAWA – A Syrian-born man who was held for more than eight years on a national security certificate is suing the federal government for negligence and false imprisonment.

Hassan Almrei filed his claim today in Ontario Superior Court.

In mid-December, Federal Court Justice Richard Mosley struck down the security certificate against Almrei, who was arrested in October 2001 on terror suspicions.

Almrei, 36, came to Canada in January 1999 on a false United Arab Emirates passport and attained refugee status the following year.

Mosley said there were reasonable grounds to believe Almrei was a security danger when he was detained just after the 9-11 attacks — but there’s no reason to support that belief now.

Almrei, whose claims have not been proven in court, is seeking $16 million in damages.

UK ‘blocking’ Mossad return to London

Official reportedly prevented from taking up embassy post after Israel refuses to commit itself not to misuse British passports

Israel Steps Up Campaign Against ‘Incitement’
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Joshua Mitnick And Gary Rosenblatt

Jerusalem — In an effort to ratchet up international pressure on the Palestinian Authority to combat what the Netanyahu administration calls hatred against Israel as peace talks move forward, Israel plans to unveil this month an “Incitement Index,” The Jewish Week has learned.

Accusing the Western-backed PA of condoning anti-Semitic remarks in its media, the glorification of terrorists and the denial of Israel’s existence on official maps, officials in Jerusalem believe that focusing on incitement will ease diplomatic pressure on Israel in other areas.

“We’re hoping that this effort will take some of the focus off of Jerusalem, and its policy on settlements,” a senior official in the Netanyahu government told The Jewish Week, “and [put] more on whether the PA is doing anything toward creating a climate for negotiations leading to peace.”

Comments (2)


1. Amir in Tel Aviv said:

“…Accusing the Western-backed PA of condoning anti-Semitic remarks in its media, the glorification of terrorists and the denial of Israel’s existence on official maps” (thejewishweek.com).

Not just in the “PA”.

Dear pupils, here’s a map of Egypt, as presented in the Internet site of the Egyptian foreign ministry.

Please find the only Egypt’s neighbor state, that it’s name doesn’t appear in this map:

http://www.mfa.gov.eg/MFA_Portal/en-GB/generalinfo/?WBCMODE=PresentationUnpublished
.

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May 7th, 2010, 1:01 am

 

2. norman said:

Amir ,

Nobody is going to recognize Israel or the rights of the Jewish people as long as Israel does not recognize the rights of the Palestinian people , i think that is only Fair ,

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May 7th, 2010, 1:39 am

 

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