Paranoia in the Land of Cedars

Lebanon has become a hot house for paranoid hysteria. Ever since Syria's invitation to Annapolis signaled a two degree thaw between Washington and Damascus, a Beirut Spring of strategic extrapolations has begun to sprout jungle-like in the land of Cedars. The Iran NIA served to nourish further the febrile hallucinations of March 14 minds. 

Raghida Dargham of al-Hayat is seeing Shiite Orcs marching to Uncle Sam's drum beat. Yes, in Dargham's considered opinion, Washington has struck a devil's bargain with Iran. And because Iran holds the armies of Middle Eastern Shiites in its sectarian thrall, George Bush can now issue marching orders to its new turbaned legions, who just happen to live atop the region's oil, Dargham darkly notes. The victim of this secret alliance are the jilted Sunnis. In essence, the Shiite crescent has been transmogrified into a living scimitar directed at the heart of the March 14th Movement. After all, why did the neoconservatives decide to overthrow Sunni Saddam and hand Iraq over to the "Iranian" Shiites? Dargham explains her anxieties thusly:

But there is another interesting theory. All of the indications at the time pointed to the pro-Iraq war group – from neoconservatives to those advocating the unleashing of what they called the "Shiite force" – all worked on the basis that the enemy were only Sunnis, who produced terrorism and the 11 September 2001 attack on the US. The basic idea for these people was Iraq, and its president, Saddam Hussein, constituted the "ideal" cover to justify a strike at the country, on the pretext of WMD. They said that the oil-rich Arab lands were inhabited by Arab Shiites, and that the best way to create an oil belt (a "Petrolistan") is to produce chaos in these areas. Then, it would be able to create a Shiite extension of influence in the Arab Gulf for Iran, and via the special Syrian-Israeli relationship, one could link to Israel via Syria and Lebanon.

See the Badger's careful exposition of Dargham's thinking at Missing Links.

Lee Smith, has been insisting at "Now Lebanon" that President Bush is not dumping March 14. In his article, "No deal," Smith writes that, 

Despite rumors and fears, no backroom bargain was cut at the expense of the US's Lebanese allies.

President Bush himself has been pressed into reassuring Washington's allies. Elliot Abrams and NSC chief Hadley arranged for a meeting between Syrian oppositionists living in the US and President Bush himself. Amar Abdulhamid, one of the Syrian contingent, has written about the Meeting. He describes how Bush "spoke passionately in defense of human rights in Syria and worldwide and revealed in-depth knowledge of developments inside Syria."

Hussain Abdul-Hussain is another March 14er, who believes that Lebanon is being sold down the river by Washington. Without evidence, he posits that King Abdullah's trip to Damascus the week before Annapolis was in reality a fireside sale. Syria is getting back the Golan, he insists, but Bashar hasn't "flipped" yet! What does this mean? Stupid American suckers for Syria. Read his article.

The price of being suckers for Syria

Hussain Abdul-Hussain
11 December 2007

Daily Star


Beirut — The question as to whether Damascus can be made to break its alliance with Iran and alter its ways, as Western and Arab governments have sought of late, has confounded all those answering in the affirmative.

When Lebanon's March 14 coalition recently approved the candidacy for president of army commander General Michel Suleiman, the pro-Iranian Hizbullah displayed reluctance in accepting. This suggested a possible crack between Syria and Iran, because Syria had long been viewed as supportive of Suleiman. Yet Syrian-Iranian divergences might really be more a product of Western wishful thinking than anything else.

Diplomats believe that during his recent visit to Damascus three weeks ago, Jordan's King Abdullah relayed to Syrian President Bashar Assad what he described as a "final offer" for Syria to distance itself from Iran. Abdullah's package reportedly included proposals that Syria would regain control of the occupied Golan Heights and would receive international aid, while the international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri would be scaled down.

In return, Damascus would have to ratify a peace treaty with Israel, cease its intervention in Lebanese affairs, end its ties with Iran, and cut off Iran's proxy groups, particularly Hizbullah and Hamas.

The idea was that if Assad walked in the footsteps of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, he would end his country's isolation and rejoin the international community as a full partner. Alternatively, if Assad refused the offer, he would have to endure more international opprobrium and be abandoned to his alliance with an increasingly isolated Tehran.

The assumptions behind such a scheme jar with what we already know about Syria and its behavior in the past. The Syrian regime has never taken one side or another when asked to do so, and this is particularly true of its relationship with Iran. For example, recently Damascus sent Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad to Annapolis for the conference on Middle East peace. Yet only days earlier, Foreign Minister Walid Moallem had flown to Tehran to explain to the Iranians his country's perspective on the gathering, which Assad had depicted as a likely failure.

Damascus wants to have the cake and eat it too. It wants the Hariri tribunal scaled down and its international isolation ended. At the same time, the Syrian regime wants to maintain its links to Hizbullah, preserve its ties to an Iran that has bought off Syria's debt to Russia, and re-impose its hegemony over Lebanon. No matter how much international aid Syria receives, this would never sweeten Syria's financial pot as did its control over Lebanon before 2005, the year its army withdrew from the country.

The Syrian regime also believes that if the international community is not willing to give Syria all it wants now, it might be willing to do so in the future. Damascus feels it has plenty of time to wait for the balance of power to change in a way that all its demands are eventually answered.

Now that the Annapolis conference is over, the Syrian regime can pretend that it has actually taken Abdullah's offer. However, once the United States sends its ambassador back to Damascus and the international community scales down the Hariri tribunal, Syria would only ask for more. Among these demands is the restoration of its influence over Lebanon. As time goes by, Damascus would find excuses to reestablish its links to Tehran – assuming it severed them at all. In no time, Syria would have reneged on all its commitments, while the regime would have raked in all the benefits the international community had to offer.

Some history might be useful here. After the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in summer 1982, Syrian troops were forced to withdraw from Beirut. Five years later, however, Damascus managed to send its forces back into West Beirut not only to restore civil peace after Amal and Hizbullah had fought a bloody conflict in the capital's southern suburbs, but also supposedly to help release Western hostages. Washington approved the return. Between 1982 and 1987 circumstances had changed, yet the Syrian regime stood its ground and heightened its chances for a comeback. It succeeded.

There is no guarantee this won't happen again. In early 2008 there will be a new administration in Washington and international circumstances will have probably changed. The recent release of a US National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear program has the potential to substantially alter American calculations in the Middle East, which could offer Syria greater room to maneuver. Nothing guarantees that Damascus won't try to take advantage of the new situation in order to return in some way to Lebanon and take the country back to where it was before the Cedar Revolution. The world should be aware that this is the real Syrian game.

Hussain Abdul-Hussain is a journalist based in Washington. He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.

Comments (64)

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51. SimoHurtta said:

What are you trying to do, convince people that democracy is NOT good for Syria since the US supports it? Then why do you support democracy in Finland?

Why are you accepting an oppressive regime in Syria, because I support it???

AIG of course I support democracy in Syria and equality, which belongs to democracy, in Israel.

I do not accept oppressive regimes in Syria and Israel. But if I would be asked the question would I like to see in Syria a US imported democracy with Abraham tanks (aided with Merkavas) and run by imported Chalabi type politicians, I would say that the present regime is a better option. Iraq is a good example of that. The only “human right” issue which USA is pressing in Iraq nowadays is the new oil law (and long time bases).

I critizize your constant “democracy rantings” because they are made by a guy who supports occupation, religious and racial discrimination in his own country, not because of the “democracy”. Those your “demands” are now as hypocritical if a Saudi prince would demand Syria to increase woman’s rights and democracy.

The other issue is that I believe that real Syrians know perfectly well their country*s handicaps with democracy, but could I as a foreigner give good advices how to achieve democracy? Nothing else than you AIG can do, speaking with boring axioms on a very simplified level.

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December 12th, 2007, 5:11 pm


52. Alex said:

Where is AIG and his confident trends for the future … and his “Jews=Zionism”

AIG, now I am convinced that you are a mouthpiece for the despicable Likudists masquerading as a democracy lover. Syria should never make peace with Israel unless there is a new regime in Israel.


Survey: U.S. Jews are losing interest in Israel

American Jews are losing interest in Israel, according to figures released Tuesday in the American Jewish Committee 2007 Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion. Figures showed that 69 percent of Jewish Americans agreed with the statement “Caring about Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew” in 2007, compared to 74 percent last year and 79 percent in 2005.

The survey illustrated continued opposition to the war in Iraq by U.S. Jews, although a third recognized that increased military activity known as “the surge” had a positive effect. In 2006, 66 percent agreed with the statement that “Iraq will never become a stable democracy.” This year 76 percent maintain this view.

Almost 60 percent of participants expressed deep concern about Iran’s nuclear program, and 7 percent said they were not at all concerned. However, the number of Jews in favor of military action against Iran decreased from 38 percent in 2006 to to 35 percent this year, and the number of opponents grew from 54 percent to 57 percent.

The Annapolis conference did not change the opinions of U.S. Jews regarding the prospect of peace. This year, 55 percent said they did not believe peace is possible, down one percent from 56 percent last year.

On the question of whether Israel should be willing to compromise on the status of Jerusalem, 58 percent said no and 36 percent said yes, showing an increase in opponents since 2006. The majority still believed that “The goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel”.

Survey results showed that according to U.S. Jews, the war in Iraq is not the most pressing problem facing the U.S., as 23 percent prioritized economy and employment before health care (19 percent) and the war (16 percent). The trend among Jews was markedly different from the priorities of the general population, as a CBS News/New York Times Poll found that 25 percent put Iraq first, while economy and employment got only 12 percent.

In the realm of politics, surveyed Jews expressed significant support for Hillary Clinton as the next president, while Republican voters favored Giuliani.

The number of Jewish Conservatives decreased from 33 percent to 29 percent, showing a drop from 2005. However the figures for this section were seen as inconclusive as they have wavered unpredictably since 2001.

Jews who said they were synagogue members decreased from 53 percent in 2006 to 50 percent this year showing a clear downward trend over the last three years: from 57 percent in 2005, to 53 percent in 2006 to 50 percent this year.

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December 12th, 2007, 5:19 pm


53. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

What intellectual dishonesty!
First, a link to the origin of the full survey:

Second, what info should I change my view of the future on? My view is based on the economic and technological capabilities of Israel and not on the fluctuations of how Jews in America see their Jewishness. Whatever the exact number, a huge percentage of Jews view Israel as important to them.

And now to the intellectual dishonesty part. Why did you ignore the following question in the survey:

14. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? “The goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel.”
Agree 82
Disagree 12
Not Sure 6

How does this bode for your theory that you can gain a majority Jewish support for returning the Golan to a non-democracy?

And how about this question that you chose to ignore:

32. Do you think that anti-Semitism in the Muslim world is currently a very serious problem, somewhat of a problem, or not a problem at all?
Very serious problem 68
Somewhat of a problem 30
Not a problem at all 1
Not sure 1

98% of Jews believe there is a problem of antisemitism in the Muslim world. What do you make of that? The problem as ususal is that antisemites in the Muslim world do not even understand that they are antisemites.

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December 12th, 2007, 6:31 pm


54. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

As you live in Finland, you really have nothing to do with the conflict.

I live in a country where no one denies that there is at the very minimum democracy for the Jewish majority and that in many senses it is a very successful one. As my country has a border with Syria, the way the Jews were able to democratize is very relevant to the Syrians. At the very minimum, the Syria can learn from Israel how to provide democracy to its own citizens. I hear your complaints about how we treat our enemies, but I don’t see how this is relevant. Democracy is first and foremost about your own citizens. Once Syria treats 80% of its population the way Israel treats its 20% Arab population, it will be parsecs ahead in democracy from where it is now.

Another reason why I should be part of the conversation and you are deadweight is because I get to vote whether Israel returns the Golan and you don’t. That is why Alex needs to convince Israelis like me to change our minds. This conversation is part of this effort to which my arguments are relevant (because I can make a difference) and what you say is not (because you do not vote in Israel).

So if you are frustrated with Israel write your MP or join Hizballah, your choice. You can also continue venting your frustration on blogs. You can also continue saying inspite of what everybody knows and can easily be found in UN and other reports that Israel is not a democracy. But who cares? The facts on the ground speak for themselves. Israel is a successful and vibrant democracy. And it is a middle eastern democracy and it is a great example for other countries in the middle east.

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December 12th, 2007, 6:50 pm


55. Alex said:


First of all … you are right! … that was indeed “intellectual dishonesty” … I was simply imitating your tactics … you are here non-stop quoting things out of context … selecting the parts that sound like a good backup to your never-ending hypocrisy.

You see how you react to my selective attention to the original story? … you do that non-stop Mr. AIG .. in your black and white world you can only see the parts that reinforce your belief that it is all the fault of the despicable Syrian regime …

But guess what … I did not even discard any parts like you do … maybe you should direct your anger at Haaretz … I copied the whole story … as is.

Finally (before I go back to work)

1) There is indeed a problem with antisemitism in the Muslim world .. and a problem of severe racism in Israel … we need to work on both… the are both interrelated.

2) The 82% of American Jews who believe that the goal of the Arabs is the destruction of the state of Israel is indeed disappointing. But don’t worry about my level of optimism … opinions of American Jews will change with time … most Arabs (or Syrians at least) have accepted the State of Israel. We will have peace between Syria/Lebanon and Israel and it will have a very positive effect on peace prospects between Israel and the Palestinians.

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December 12th, 2007, 6:56 pm


56. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

I always provide the full source. Where did I quote anything out of context? That is just a false accusation you are using to cover up what you did.
Let me explain this to you. Haaretz in this case is a secondary source. You need to go to the source it quotes or explain that it is a secondary source. Otherwise you provide a distorted picture.

1) The problems are not related. But feel free to work on them whatever that means. So far I see that you even have problems identifying antisemitism.
2) It will take decades to change the opinions of 82% of the Jews. but take your time. We are not in a hurry.

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December 12th, 2007, 7:40 pm


57. Alex said:

“That is just a false accusation you are using to cover up what you did.”


Why don’t you write a letter to the editors of Haaretz and tell them how distorted was their coverage of that report? … I mean … pleae forgive me if I was not aware of that report or where to find it … as you know, I check Haaretz everyday but I am not checking every single Israeli site everyday.

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December 12th, 2007, 8:12 pm


58. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

I was talking about your accusation that I quote things out of context. You wrote:
“you are here non-stop quoting things out of context … selecting the parts that sound like a good backup to your never-ending hypocrisy”

And I stand by my reply:
I always provide the full source. Where did I quote anything out of context? That is just a false accusation you are using to cover up what you did.

Always blaming others are you? It is so simple to find the source of the report from the Haaretz article. No need to go to ALL Israeli or Jewish sites. You are told right away where to go.

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December 12th, 2007, 9:27 pm


59. Syrian said:


Actually Alex did quote the source of the survey when he transcribed the entire Haaretz article.

“according to figures released Tuesday in the American Jewish Committee 2007 Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion.”

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December 12th, 2007, 9:41 pm


60. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

My complaint was that he ignored the more interesting questions in the survey that are very pertinent to the discussion.

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December 12th, 2007, 10:42 pm


61. Zenobia said:

Here is my interpretation of the disappointing statistics cited.
as usual based on my personal experiences……

when i talk to the parents of my jewish friends I grew up with (quite a few in Boston Massachusetts environs..) I think they care a great deal about Israel.
but mainly their concern is that Israel’s integrity is rotting out from the inside and that her political policies are an embarrassment. They are quite upset about it.

and, as for so many american jews feeling that arabs in the middle east are motivated by wishing for the destruction of Israel and have prejudices against Jews (‘antisemitism’)…well I think 82% seems unlikely high ( i would question who was being polled). But, if so, maybe these people still have the sentiments of my friends’ parents who blame Israelis for compounding their own problems (being self-destructive) and exacerbating hatred towards their nation.
I have the same feeling right now about America. I wouldn’t be surprised if large swaths of the Arab world are feeling a bit of the ‘death to america’ sentiment…. but now whose fault is that?

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December 12th, 2007, 10:51 pm


62. Enlightened said:

AIG; I dont know how the population will vote, but I am firmly against extremists taking over, as are many others on this site. But I strongly believe that we need democracy , but not the chaos that happened in Iraq.

AIG; Honest question and answer, there are extremists that get voted into the Knessest , the are small in number how do you feel about this , do you think there is a place for extremists in a democracy?

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December 12th, 2007, 10:57 pm


63. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Of course there is room for extremists in democracy as long as:
1) They do not undermine democracy
2) They do not advocate violence or racism

A political party that wants to end democratic elections or not let some part of the population vote should not be allowed to run.

A part that advocates violence and discrimination of any part of the population should not be allowed to run.

These are the rules in Israel. So Kahana’s party was never allowed to run because it wanted to throw out of Israel the Arab Israelis.

Every election, someone usually petitions the Israeli high court to stop Bishara’s party on one side and Lieberman’s party on the other from running but the court rightfully rejects the call since even though the parties or on the extreme they accept the democratic process and do not advocate violence and are not racist.

In most democratic countries there are extremists. The Front National in France and the BNP in the UK come to mind. In the US you had David Duke etc. Too much consensus is bad. The extremists bring issues to the fore that need to discussed and the main stream politicians want to ignore or don’t think are important.

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December 12th, 2007, 11:37 pm


64. Alex said:


Just learn to say “I’m sorry”. Save us both the headache.

I read Haaretz and I assumed there was nothing more I need to read in the whatever original report there was. I assumed haaretz covered all the questions asked… At night I usually have more time to check more sources, but during the day when I spend time on this blog (or Haaretz) it is multitasked with work.

As for accusing you of always quoting things out of context … I was referring to what you do to my statements … you pick one sentence that sounds like I’m a Baathist and then you come back telling me how outrageous it is that this is how I believe …etc.

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December 13th, 2007, 12:11 am


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