“Restarting Israeli-Syrian Negotiations,” by ICG

Peter Harling, the International Crisis Group director in Damascus, has just circulated his new report on restarting Israeli-Syrian Negotiations. (copied below)

Also see

Mona Yacoubian's report, "Syria's Relations with Iraq," for USIP, April 2007.

Main Points:

Syria's alleged "blind eye" to the funneling of insurgents and arms across its border into Iraq is a key issue dividing the two countries. Nonetheless, even if Syria were to offer full cooperation and completely stanch the flow of fighters and weapons, the overall impact on Iraq's security situation would be relatively marginal since the underlying dynamic propelling Iraq's violence is largely internal.

In particular, Syria has exploited its longstanding ties to key Iraqi government figures, many of whom sought refuge in Syria during Saddam's regime. For example, Iraq's Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki lived in Syria for 20 years, while Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, spent several years in Syria and even held a Syrian passport until 2004. By some estimates, 17 of the 25 top leaders of the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)—at one time a key Iraqi opposition group and now a major player in the governing coalition—lived in Syria. Syria's ties to key elements in Iraq's Sunni community are also well-established.

With the costs of Iraq's chaos—massive refugee flows and heightened sectarianism—outweighing its short-term benefits, Syria will do what it can to help restore a measure of stability in Iraq. In the short-term, Damascus may improve security and intelligence cooperation with Baghdad. It will also seek additional international aid and support for its growing Iraqi refugee population. In the longer term, should Iraq manage to emerge intact from its crisis, Syria would clearly favor the establishment of an authoritarian government in Baghdad. Specifically, Damascus would seek an Iraqi strongman who could keep violence in check, prevent the establishment of a breakaway Iraqi Kurdistan, and stifle a genuine political opening.

Sami Moubayed's, "Missed opportunities." for historical context:

The fact that Olmert has not [accepted King Abdullah's peace plan] is the biggest missed opportunity since turning down the peace offer of the late Egyptian leader in 1952-1953.

Henry Siegman, "What the Arabs propose, and what they do not," in the IHT

There are no grounds for Israel's rejection of the Arab initiative. If … Olmert forgoes this opportunity to normalize Israel's relations with the entire Arab world, the only explanation will be that he believes a deadlock in the peace process serves Israel's interests better than a peace agreement.

President Asad gives an interview to "Mother Jones'," Reese Erlick, dated April 5, 2007, but done earlier. He talks about the thrust of Syrian government meetings with various Iraqi groups. (thanks Paul Solomon)

James G. Abourezk, "And How Bush Said "Thanks": How Syria Helped US in "War on Terror"," Counterpunch, April 10,2007.

Here is the ICG summary from Peter Harling in Damascus:

It is a great pleasure to inform you of the release of our latest report, Restarting Israeli-Syrian Negotiations (click the link to download), which examines prospects for renewing peace negotiations between Syria and Israel against a backdrop of regional developments, including the July 2006 Lebanon war and the re-launch of the Arab peace initiative at the 28 March Riyadh summit. The report seeks not to present the guidelines of a peace deal, as we have done on several occasions in the past. Rather, it aims to tackle the obstacles preventing renewed negotiations.I would also like to draw your attention to a related opinion piece published in today’s edition of the Syrian daily al-Watan, copied below.

Very best regards, Peter

هل يمكن القطع مع الجمود حول مسألة الجولان؟بقلم: بيتر هارلينغممثل مجموعة الأزمات الدولية بدمشق  

      لازال الشك هو الحالة المسيطرة في دمشق حول امكانية إعادة دفع المفاوضات مع اسرائيل، و مع ان الفرصة التي وفرتها حرب لبنان الاخيرة لم تغلق بعد فإن رئيس الوزراء الاسرائيلي إيهود أولمرت يعيش وضعية هشة، إذ أنه لا يتمتع إلا ب2% من الدعم الشعبي لحكومته وهو يواجه في هذه الحالة وضعا كارثيا، و استمرار حياته السياسية تظل غير مؤكدة بالنظر إلى الأزمات التي يواجهها لا سيما تلك التي تولدت عن حرب لبنان إضافة إلى مجموعة من الفضائح القانونية الاخرى.  

      و لكن من الخطإ الاعتقاد بأن ضعف أولمرت هذا سوف يدفعه بصورة قطعية إلى مواجهة عسكرية جديدة مع حزب الله او سورية، إذ أن إمكانية أن يصبح أولمرت قائدا و بطلا عبر قعقعة السلاح قد ولت و أصبحت وراءه. فالجمهور الاسرائيلي، الذي لازال متأثرا بالصدمة و المرارة التي عاشها في الصيف الماضي، سوف لن يتبع قيادته بصورة عمياء في أي مغامرة أخرى. و لكن قد يشكل حدث كبير، كأسر جنود اسرائيليين من قبل حزب الله مثلا، فرصة استفزازية كبيرة سوف تتبعها دون أدنى شك ردة فعل حماسية يمكن لأولمرت أن يستغلها ليدخل في مغامرة جديدة. و لكن في غياب أي استفزاز من هذا القبيل فإنه من المستبعد أن تحدث أحداث دراماتكية.

        على العكس من ذلك تماما فإن فشل الخيارات التي اعتمدها أولمرت (الانسحابات الأحادية، الحرب ضد حزب الله و محاولة تهميش حماس) سوف تدفعه بالتأكيد إلى محاولة طرق أبواب اخرى لم يطرقها من قبل: باب المفاوضات مع دمشق. ذلك ان مشواره السياسي الهش في مواجهة أزمات متزايدة سوف يدفعه إلى اعادة البحث في خيارات اخرى تعيد الحياة لفراغ سياسي وهو إعادة إحياء فكرة السلام من جديد.  

      الجميع يعتقد ان الإدارة الامريكية سوف لن تشجع هذا الخيار، هذا ربما يكون صحيحا و لكن هذا الاعتقاد يخفي وراءه سوء تقدير، إذ من الخطأ التخيل أنه لا يوجد خيار حر و مستقل لاسرائيل خاصة إذا ما تعلق الامر بخيار حيوي و ملتصق تماما بالمصالح الاسرائيلية الحقيقية.من الناحية التاريخية يظل من الصعوبة العثور على أمثلة حقيقية تبرهن على ما ذهبنا إليه، و لكن أيضا يجب ان نلاحظ أن "فيتو" إدارة بوش على الحكومة الإسرائيلية لا معنى له في العمق دون الموافقة المسبقة لأولمرت عليه! بمعنى إذا رأت حكومة أولمرت أن هناك مصالح سياسية و استراتيجية يمكن أن تجنيها اسرائيل من التفاوض مع سورية فإنه سيصبح من الصعوبة للإدارة الأمريكية أن تعارض ذلك. في سياق ذلك هناك اعتقاد في دمشق مفاده ان الطريق إلى اسرائيل يمر حتما عبر واشنطن في حين ربما يكون العكس أقرب إلى الصحة.  

      بطبيعة الحال، فإن الجمهور الاسرائيلي الآن يعد أكثر اعتراضا على إعادة الجولان كما كان عليه الحال قبل سنوات حتى و إن بدت هناك بوادر لإطلاق مسار المفاوضات من جديد. و لكن تظل هذه الفكرة مقبولة أكثر داخل بعض النخب و هنا لا نذكر فقط تلك النخبة المكونة من مسؤولين سابقين أو من مجموعات يسارية و لكن أيضا تجد هذه الفكرة طريقها إلى أوساط المسؤولين في وزارة الدفاع و الاستخبارات في إسرائيل.إن مثل هذه التطورات تستحق في الحد الأدنى نوعا من التنشيط، إذ أن حالة المنطقة تشهد انهيارات دراماتيكية يصبح معها الانتظار مهمة مؤذية، و في سياق هذا المشهد أصبحت سورية في قلب العاصفة على الرغم مما يحدث من أزمات في فلسطين و لبنان و العراق قد يعطيها مبررا عقلانيا لموقفها. فاستقرار سورية أصبح مهددا بالديناميكية المتفاعلة في المحيط الإقليمي و خاصة ما يتعلق بالنمو المتزايد لظاهرة السلفية الجهادية و ازدياد التوتر الإثني و الطائفي، و بالتالي يمكن لاتفاقية سلام أن تسلح سورية لمواجهة كل هذه التحديات المحيطة. 

       و لكن ماذا يمكن لسورية أن تقدمه لإعادة اطلاق المحادثات مع اسرائيل؟ سوف يكون من غير المجدي انتظار ان تقدم تنازلات كبيرة كتلك التي تضعها اسرائيل بصورة شروط مسبقة (طرد أعضاء حماس، قطع العلاقة مع حزب الله، الابتعاد عن إيران) فسورية ترفض التفريط في أوراق تعتقد انها أوراقا مهمة في أي عملية تفاوض مفترضة، كما أنه من الوهم الاعتقاد بأن دمشق يمكنها أن تقدم على "سياسة جريئة" في مجال العلاقات العامة عبر ما يسمى "اجراءات بناء الثقة" كالخطوات الرمزية التي أقدم عليها السادات. إن مبادرات من هذا النوع سوف يكون لها تأثير أكيد على الجمهور الاسرائيلي، غير أن تأثيرها قد يكون زائلا و خاصة سوف لن تجبر حكومة أولمرت على تغييراتجاهها. ذلك أن الثمن المطلوب دفعه، لا سيما على مستوى السياسة الداخلية، يبدو أنه سيكون مرتفعا إزاء نتائج غيرمحققة. 

       إن هذه الحدود لا تبرر بالمقابل اللامبالاة و عدم الحركة، فمن مصلحة سورية أن تقوم باقناع العالم الخارجي بأنها ترغب حقيقة في السلام، ذلك أن تكرار الرغبة في أن السلام "خيار استراتيجي" لا تكفي بحد ذاتها. فعلى دمشق إذا ان تطور رسالة أكثر وضوحا و أكثر فاعلية في هذا السياق، و للبداية يجب على سورية أن تأخذ بجدية مزاعم و ذرائع الجهة المقابلة: مطلب العودة إلى حدود 1967 هل يمكن وصفه بأنه شرط مسبق سوري؟ اولوية دمشق هل هي بالفعل الجولان أم لبنان؟ هل تهتم سورية حقيقة بنتائج المفاوضات ام بمسار العملية التفاوضية بحد ذاته باعتباره يشكل مدخلا لتسهيل التقارب مع واشنطن؟ و أخيرا، هل يمكن لأي ترتيبات نهائية في مسألة النزاع الاسرائيلي السوري أن تؤثر على موقف سورية الإقليمي و بصورة خاصة فيما يتعلق بالعلاقة مع حزب الله، حماس و إيران؟ 

       كل هذه التساؤلات تظل حاضرة و محددة في النقاشات الدائرة في اسرائيل و الغرب وهي تساؤلات تبقى دون أجوبة عبر خطاب رسمي يستند إلى تلك العبارة المكررة بصورة دائمة "السلام خيار استراتيجي". و بصورة متناقضة تماما، فإن للمسؤولين السوريين مواقف و ردود قوية لمواجهة تلك التساؤلات، و هذا ما تمت مناقشته في تقرير جديد لمجموعة الأزمات الدولية (متاح على الانترنيت على الموقع التالي: http://www.crisisgroup.org/). و لكن المشكلة في فهم المواقف السورية تجبر العالم الخارجي ليس فقط على بذل جهود للقدوم إلى دمشق و لكن أ يضا العمل على "اقتلاع" تلك الأجوبة من المحاورين السوريين مع العلم ان هناك أقلية من الزائرين يرون أن لهم فائدة في بذل تلك الجهود…إذا أرادت سورية أن تقنع الآخرين فيجب عليها أولا ان تعمل على تطوير مقترحها و توضيحه و إغناءه أكثر، فمن الملاحظ هنا أن سورية لم تستثمر أي جهد في النسق الممكن الموجود بين الخطاب الرئاسي و الحوارات التي تدور رأسا لرأس، هذا إذا استثنينا المشاركة السورية الأخيرة اللافتة في مؤتمر مدريد + 15 – وهو حدث أقيم في ذكرى مؤتمر مدريد التاريخي الذي عقد عام 1991 – و كثيرا ما يتردد المسؤولون السوريون في اتخاذ أدنى مبادرات العلاقات العامة حتى و إن لم تكن موجهة مباشرة إلى الرأي العام الإسرائيلي و من الواضح ان هذه الحالة تبقى نتيجة لغياب سياسة اتصالات و علاقات عامة التي تمكن الناطقين باسم الحكومة المحددين من هامش واسع للتعبير عما يمكن التعبير عنه.بكل تأكيد، فإن سورية يمكنها أن تنتظر حتى يتحول العالم من حولها، و في هذا السياق فإنها تقوم بما يمكن القيام به من أجل بناء سياسة بقاء، و لكن من المفيد التذكير بأن العالم حول سورية يتغير بطريقة قد يضع مسألة سياسة البقاء معضلة أو تحديا يزداد تعقيدا و صعوبة.دمشق, الوطن : 09-04-07

Restarting Israeli-Syrian Negotiations
Middle East Report: EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS 
Jerusalem/Damascus/Washington/Brussels, 10 April 2007:

Israel should seize the opportunity to renew peace negotiations with Syria while there is a real chance of success, or risk further destabilising the Middle East.

Restarting Israeli-Syrian Negotiations,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines prospects for renewing diplomacy between Syria and Israel against the backdrop of regional developments, including the July 2006 Lebanon war and the re-launch of the Arab peace initiative at the 28 March Arab League summit. Although not the region’s costliest, the Israeli-Syrian conflict has prevented broader normalisation of Israel’s relations with the Arab world and has helped maintain regional tension which could degenerate into another armed conflict.

The report examines Israel’s reasons for holding on to the Golan – such as suspicion of Syria’s intentions, the strength of the settler population, the territory’s role as a security-buffer and the appeal it holds for the Israeli people. "But the benefits of peace far outweigh those of continued occupation", says Nicolas Pelham, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst in Israel. "Recent regional developments have made an Israeli-Syrian agreement more urgent, more important and more attainable".

Within weeks of the Lebanon war, Damascus signalled it would resume talks without any precondition and indicated that its regional posture and relationships would change following a peace deal. Israel, however, has conditioned any dialogue on a broad change in Syria’s policy: cutting ties to Hamas, halting assistance to Hizbollah and fundamentally altering its relationship with Iran. What Israel demands could potentially be achieved, but only as part of a final deal, not as a precondition for it.

"Rejecting Syria’s overtures is a mistake which is fast on its way to becoming a missed opportunity", warns Peter Harling, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst in Damascus. "The mood in Damascus is turning decidedly sceptical, and the regime is reverting to its more cautious habits. Mirroring Israeli doubts on Syria’s seriousness, officials here are deeply disillusioned with Israel, questioning its ability and readiness to negotiate in earnest".

If there is scant justification for Israel to put off peace talks, there is even less for the U.S. to oppose them. Quartet members should press for renewed Syrian-Israeli negotiations. While the U.S. and Israel may prefer to give precedence to the Palestinian over the Syrian track, lack of movement on the latter will inevitably hamper the former.

"Israel-Syria peace negotiations would profoundly alter regional atmospherics. A peace deal would fundamentally transform them", says Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East Program Director. "This opportunity may not last forever. It should not be wasted".

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Abruptly interrupted in 2000, Israeli-Syrian negotiations seem only a distant possibility but a renewal is urgent and would have a real chance of success. The obstacles appear daunting, including a weak Israeli government and a U.S. administration intent on isolating Syria. However, Syria’s President Bashar repeatedly has stated his desire to resume talks, and in recent conversations with Crisis Group in Damascus, senior officials have clarified these could take place without any precondition – thereby removing what had been a principal hindrance. Peace negotiations between Israel and Syria would profoundly alter the regional atmosphere; a peace deal between them would fundamentally transform it. This opportunity may not last long and should not be wasted.

The conflict between Israel and Syria is no longer the costliest – the border has been Israel’s quietest since 1974 – but it is harmful all the same. It has taken the shape of bloody proxy wars, involving Lebanese territory and both Lebanese and Palestinian groups, and the opportunity costs have also been substantial. It has prevented broader normalisation of Israel’s relations with the Arab world and helped maintain regional tension which could degenerate – directly or, once again, through Lebanon – into another armed conflict.

In Israel, a government discredited by its performance in the Lebanon war and tarred by myriad scandals will think long and hard before taking on the powerful settler lobby backed by a public that has grown accustomed to controlling the Golan Heights, sees little incentive to part with it and whose suspicion of the Syrian regime – which has provided rockets to Hizbollah – has grown with the Lebanon war. Contrary to the conventional wisdom of the 1990s, withdrawal from the relatively quiet Golan today likely would trigger stronger public opposition than would withdrawal from a violent and burdensome West Bank.

U.S. hostility to any dialogue with Damascus – with the recent, limited exception of the regional conference on Iraq – is a further significant obstacle. Although Washington denies it, there is every indication it has signalled to Jerusalem its opposition to resumed negotiations with Damascus which, in its view, Syria would use to break out of isolation, cover up greater intrusion in Lebanese affairs and shift focus away from the investigation into former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri’s assassination. As U.S. officials see it, Damascus might like to recover the Golan but desperately wants to recover Lebanon; since that is not something Washington is prepared to concede, there is little to be gained by discussions. Given their highly strained relations with Syria, even leading Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan are said to have privately counselled the U.S. against any move that would relieve pressure on Damascus.

As a result of these domestic and foreign factors, and due to scepticism regarding Syria’s intentions, Israel has conditioned any dialogue on broad, prior change in Syria’s policies: cutting ties to Hamas, halting any assistance to Hizbollah and fundamentally altering its relationship with Iran.

This is a mistake which is fast on its way to becoming a missed opportunity. In March 2007, Crisis Group engaged in a series of high-level discussions in Israel and Syria in order to assess the two parties’ positions and the prospects for renewed talks. While official resistance to negotiations was clear in Israel, it waned rapidly among both senior military and intelligence figures and members of the political establishment who recognised the value of testing Syria’s overtures and the risks entailed in ignoring them. In Syria, appetite for peace talks may have diminished – a function of repeated Israeli rebuffs and of unwillingness to appear to be begging – but persists nonetheless. Most importantly, officials in Damascus provided their clearest indication to date both that they would resume negotiations without any precondition and that the country’s regional posture and relationships with Hamas, Hizbollah and Iran inevitably would change following a peace deal. In other words, what Israel demands could potentially be achieved, but only as part of a final deal, not as preconditions for it.

Even assuming Syria is more interested in the process than the outcome – itself a debatable proposition – the mere fact of Syrians negotiating with Israelis would produce ripple effects in a region where popular opinion is moving away from acceptance of Israel’s right to exist. The onset of a peace process also would affect the behaviour of militant movements close to Syria; Hamas and Hizbollah are not mere tools of Syrian policy but they are adept at reading the regional map and would likely adapt their policies in response to signs of a changing Syrian-Israeli relationship. The same holds for Iran: Syria would be unlikely to break ties with its closest ally for two decades but Tehran would have to adjust its behaviour as it faced the prospect of a peace agreement.

Resuming talks with Syria is all the more imperative given ongoing efforts to revive the Arab (Beirut) peace initiative in the wake of the 28 March 2007 Arab League summit. While both the U.S. and Israel may prefer to give precedence to the Palestinian over the Syrian track, lack of movement on the latter inevitably will hamper the former. Damascus possesses multiple ways of undermining Israeli-Palestinian talks, whether by encouraging Hamas or Islamic Jihad to resort to violence; vocally criticising Palestinian concessions; or, in the event of a peace deal, obstructing the holding of a referendum among Palestinian refugees in Syria. Likewise, unless it makes a deal with Syria, Israel cannot achieve normalisation with the Arab world – a core objective without which its leaders will find it far more difficult to convince their public to endorse historic concessions to the Palestinians.

The outlines of a solution by now are well known. They were put forward in a 2002 Crisis Group report and recently restated in the context of an unofficial peace initiative involving two private Israeli and Syrian citizens. Under such conditions, there is little justification for Israel to put off peace talks – and even less justification for the U.S. to oppose them.

RECOMMENDATIONS

To the Government of Israel:

1. Respond positively to Syria’s unconditional offer to resume peace negotiations.

2. Halt efforts to augment settler presence in the Golan.

3. Facilitate family reunions for Syrian nationals living in the Golan and lift restrictions on visits to Syria by Israeli nationals.

To the Government of Syria:

4. Support Arab League efforts to explain and market its peace initiative to Western and Israeli audiences.

5. Engage in public diplomacy by:

(a) restating clearly that Syria is ready to negotiate without any precondition;

(b) giving select Syrian officials a clear mandate to disseminate both Syria’s version of past negotiations and its current position;

(c) committing to provide information on Israeli soldiers missing in action and return the remains of executed Israeli spy Eli Cohen in the early stages of resumed negotiations; and

(d) facilitating access to Syria for Israeli nationals with relatives or ancestral roots in Syria, including Israelis of Palestinian and Syrian origin.

To the Members of the Quartet (UN, U.S., EU and Russia):

6. Press for renewed Israeli-Syrian negotiations, beginning by holding parallel discussions with both sides.

Jerusalem/Damascus/Washington/Brussels, 10 April 2007

Read the full report here.

Comments (30)


1. Observer said:

I would only add this from James Abourezk today
And How Bush Said “Thanks”
How Syria Helped US in “War on Terror”
By JAMES G. ABOUREZK

About five years ago I had a visit with Syrian President Bashar Al Asad, a visit when he told me that his intelligence services had uncovered a plot by Al Qaeda that would have killed American servicemen in the Middle East. He turned over the information to the U.S., which was then able to stop the operation, saving the lives of the Americans who were being targeted.

When I asked him what operation that was, he replied that, “The Americans asked me not to talk about it, but if they keep calling us a terrorist state, I will talk about it.”

After I left his office, I asked the U.S. Ambassador to Syria if what he had said was true. His reply was that not only was it true, but that President Asad had been able to stop more than one Al Qaeda attack on American interests.

Those days are gone now, the heavy handed bad-mouthing of Syria by George W. Bush causing Syria to completely stop its cooperation. Despite the results of that incompetence on the part of the Bush Administration, the denunciations by Bush have continued unabated. Bush and his people have been so anxious to please Israel that what might be good for America is no longer the basis for American actions in the Middle East.

At a lunch I attended with Margaret Scobey, who replaced Ted Kattouf as Ambassador to Syria, she commented that, “the problem we have with Syria is that they’re allowing insurgents to cross into Iraq from Syria to fight against our forces there.”

When I asked her why didn’t the United States have American troops guard the Syrian-Iraqi border to stop the fighters, her response was that the U.S. didn’t have enough troops to do so. At another meeting I had with President Al Asad, we discussed the issue, and he asked me to tell President Bush that he would like to have the U.S. Border Patrol come over and teach the Syrians how to prevent people from illegally crossing the border.

But Mr. Bush apparently learned nothing from the incompetence of his actions with Syria. However, one hopes that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi learned her lesson after her recent trip to Syria.

Although she dutifully and properly genuflected before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (The umbrella group for the Israeli Lobby) during the Committee’s recent convention in Washington, D.C., she did not retain even enough mojo to deflect the attacks that came her way because she had the temerity to visit Syria. She also earlier had pulled from legislation working its way through the House a provision that would have required President Bush to get Congressional approval before he makes war on Iran. That was done at the request of the Israeli Lobby. Such a provision might have slowed down Mr. Bush’s steady march to war, but it’s too late now. It’s gone.

What really made trouble for the Speaker was when she quoted Ehud Olmert in precise terms about his wanting to talk peace with Syria, but even the shaky Israeli Prime Minister decided to pile on the Speaker, by denouncing her, joining George Bush, Dick Cheney, The New York Post, and other assorted Middle East experts.

Because the Speaker had spent most of her political career on bended knee before Israel and its Lobby, there was no way she could have not been aware of how touchy things get when it comes to Israel. A case in point was the number of times that Syria and Iran-both members of the Axis of Evil-have offered to join in a “nuclear weapons free Middle East,” which both countries have publicly done.

I seriously doubt that many Americans, or Members of Congress for that matter, knew of the offers by Iran and Syria to keep nuclear weapons out of the area. I don’t think it matters much that both countries made the proposal out of self-preservation-they neither want nor need a nuclear arms race with Israel-but what matters is that both countries made the offer.

It is no secret that Israel has over 200 nuclear warheads plus the means to deliver them. The lesson of Iraq and North Korea is that if you want to avoid being invaded by the United States, you need to develop nuclear weapons, so it should be no surprise to anyone that Iran is now moving toward a weapons program, despite their denials.

As we witness George W. Bush almost on a daily basis threatening to go to war with Iran over the nuclear issue, much of the mainstream media has acted solely as his megaphone. While the media gives heavy coverage to his threats, there is not one word said by anyone in the media about the willingness of Syria and Iran to give up nuclear weapons. The catch here of course is that Israel would have to disarm as well, which is why both the Bush Administration and the media either have scoffed at, or have ignored completely the offer by these two countries.

Although CNN covered the Syrian offer on April 17, 2003, it’s not surprising that their chief anchorman, Wolf Blitzer, fails to mention it today. Before he became a CNN reporter, Blitzer wrote for the AIPAC newsletter, and has always believed it’s his task to protect Israel from all enemies, domestic and foreign.

BBC news covered the nuclear free announcement from Iran’s Ahmedinejad after a meeting he had in 2006 with Kuwaiti leaders, at which the Gulf Arabs expressed concerns about the Middle East becoming rife with nuclear weapons. But after that one story, it also disappeared.

I don’t think we can expect that either CNN, or FOX, MSNBC, or the three major networks would advertise any of these offers, which might, given enough coverage, slow Bush’s steady march to war.

Even if one includes North Korea, there is no more dangerous area than the Middle East, where passions run deep. A conflict there would likely draw in the United States where the neocons and the official Israeli Lobby are already pushing for an invasion of Iran. The outcome would be devastating to the entire area, if not the entire world and something should be done to prevent this coming disaster.

Nancy Pelosi, are you listening? Can you do something about it?

Jim Abourezk served as US Senator for South Dakota, 1974-1980, and practices law in his home state. He can be reached at alyajim@sio.midco.net

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April 10th, 2007, 4:01 pm

 

2. Alex said:

I don’t understand this either/or question regarding Syria’s motivation for starting peace talks with Israel. The “logic” seems to be that since Syria would benefit from the process itself (end of Syria’s boycott by America) then this must be THE reason why Syria wants to talk.

Syria is aware that a majority of Israelis today do not want to return the full Golan. If the process does not lead to that outcome, then a peace agreement will not be signed, but Syria would still not regret having engaged in peace negotiations because, it is true, the peace process will probably lead to a reduction in the tensions between Syria and the United States…a worthwhile objective by itself.

Syria is intereted both in a peace process and a peace agreement that leads to the full return of the Golan. So it is a win/win situation for Syria.

The problem is that some Israelis and Americans do not see it that way from their perspective … to them, if the peace frocess fails, then Syria wins international acceptance and they lose the ability to continue applying pressure on, and weakening Syria.

So we get into the expectations game .. what are the chances that the peace process will not end in a signed agreement? … since Syria insists on the full return of the Golan and since a majority in Israel are against the implementaion of resolution 242, it is probable (p> 0.5) that there will be no peace agreement … therefore it is probable that for this Israeli government and this American administration saying YES to Syria means a net expected loss for them.

For those who understand simple mathematical expectaions and the way they explain decision making, here are some sample numbers that explain why Syria is much more motivated to engage in peace negotiations, and why Mr. Olmert and President Bush are not:

For Syria:

The expected value (outcome) of a peace process is:

E(Sy)= (+1 X 0.7) + (+3 X 0.3) = +1.6

For today’s Israeli and American leaders, it is:

E(Is,US)= (-3 X0.7) + (-1 X 0.3) = – 2.4

where:

0.3 is the probability that negotiations will lead to a peace agreement (0.7 that it will be another inconclusive peace process)

Syria positively values a peace agreement (+3) and even the peace process by itself (+1)

Mr. Olmert and president Bush negatively value sitting and talking with the defiant Syrian regime (-3) and are a bit undecided but are leaning towards being neagive about he net value of exchanging the full Golan height for normalization with Syria (-1 net value for that outcome of a peace agreement)

all above numbers are estimates of course, but I am suggeting that the expectations will still be the same direction (positive for Syria, negative for the others) even if we varry the numbers used.

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April 10th, 2007, 5:57 pm

 

3. ugarit said:

Alex:

Thanks for the Expectation theory. What happens, with respect to Expectation, when one separates the US from Israel?

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April 10th, 2007, 6:29 pm

 

4. Alex said:

Ugarit,

You are right that there is some difference in teh components, but not he net result (negativeity).

I would assume that Mr. Olmert is less neagitive towards Bashar (compared to president Bush) but more negative about being forced to return the Golan in full. So, maybe something like these:

E(Is)= (-2 X0.7) + (-2 X 0.3) = – 2.0
E(US)= (-3 X0.7) + (2 X 0.3) = – 1.5

Both are still a net negative .. which explains the cofusion over: who is resisting? is it Olmert or is it president Bush putting pressure on him to not talk to Bashar.

So president Bush who would benefit from a potential historical peace agreement between Syria and Israel (I gave it +2 value in equation above) finalized under his sponsorship, is still negative overall because the deal will probably not be signed since the Israelis do not want to return the Golan. Therefore he will end up leaving office while Bashar is still in office and internationally backed as he is not the one who walked out from the peace negotiations in 2008.

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April 10th, 2007, 6:59 pm

 

5. ugarit said:

Alex:

However, would not the US gain tremendously in the Arab World and the Muslim World by forcing Israel to sign a peace treaty with Syria? Why are you assuming that it would be ‘negative’ for the US and Israel?

If Bush were to attempt to force Israel to return the Golan then there would be a strong push by AIPAC to impeach him for other crimes, of course 😉

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April 10th, 2007, 7:30 pm

 

6. Alex said:

Ugarit, I think this will answer your question:

E(Olmert)= (-2 X0.7) + (-2 X 0.3) = – 2.0
E(Bush)= (-3 X0.7) + (2 X 0.3) = – 1.5

: )

I was not referring to the US or Israel in general, only to the decision makers. For example, the lack of trust and the personal animosity towards president Assad is not shared by all in the US, it is mostly president Bush and his administration who were fighting a losing battle against Bashar (and Iran and HA and Hamas) in the Middle East for years… they are the ones who would hate to sit with a confident Bashar to listen to him about all the things they did wrong.

My friend Ehsani told me that he doubts this personality conflict has a serious role to play in the decision making process in established democracies like the United States. My answer to him was: We learned last month that president Chirac asked Israel to stop bombing Lebanon and to move its war to Syria … if that is not personality related, I don’t know what is.

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April 10th, 2007, 7:57 pm

 

7. Atassi said:

Dear Alex,
Can you please put some numbers into your Theoretical equation “Please make sure to factor the security apparatuses mode “.
and enlighten us on the chances the peopls below will be free soon?
================
Syria Slammed For ‘Legal Limbo’ Over Delay In Activist Trial
10 April 2007
Dow Jones International News
English
(c) 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

DAMASCUS (AP)–The trial of rights activist Kamal Labwani was postponed again Tuesday, provoking charges that Syria was keeping the 30-month detainee in a legal limbo.

Labwani’s defense attorney Khalil Maatouq said the First Damascus Criminal Court had adjourned the case to May because a new judge had been appointed and “he needs time to study the file.”

The court had been expected to deliver a verdict at Tuesday’s session, which was attended by U.S. and European Union diplomats. Maatouq said the verdict would be issued at the session in May.

There was no comment from the Syrian government, which rarely comments on the prosecution of suspects wanted in political or security-related cases.

Fadi al-Qadi, the Middle East advocate of Human Rights Watch, said he feared the postponement was “part of the policy of keeping human rights activists in a legal limbo.”

Labwani, a physician who was detained Nov. 8, 2005 after a trip to Europe and the U.S., has been charged with offenses such as weakening the national sentiment, damaging the nation’s image, spreading false or exaggerated information, and communicating with a foreign country to incite aggression against Syria.

While abroad, Labwani had met government officials, journalists, and human rights organizations. He also appeared on the U.S.-financed Arab TV channel Al-Hurra, calling on Syria to respect fundamental freedoms and human rights.

Two other well-known political activists in Syria, Michel Kilo and Anwar al-Bunni, have been detained since May last year, with repeated postponements of their trials.

“Because of the international climate at the moment, the Syrian government would prefer to keep these activists in a legal limbo than to have the courts sentence them to long imprisonment terms and provoke international criticism,” al-Qadi told The Associated Press in a phone interview in Cairo.

Syria is under pressure from the U.S., in particular, and from the E.U., to a lesser extent, over its alleged interference in Iraq and Lebanon and for its support of militant groups such as the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas.

Syria denies that it is intervening in Iraq and Lebanon, and says Hezbollah is a regular political party and Hamas is waging a legitimate resistance against Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.

After President Bashar Assad succeeded his father, who ruled Syria for 30 years, in 2000, he released hundreds of political prisoners. But he soon clamped-down on pro-democracy activists, showing there were limits to the amount of opposition that he was prepared to tolerate. [ 10-04-07 1709GMT ]

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April 10th, 2007, 8:25 pm

 

8. 3antar said:

qimma, what a load of ….

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April 10th, 2007, 8:25 pm

 

9. Syrian said:

Alex,

I like your analysis; however, there are a couple of points I want to make:

1. You combine two distinct and interdependent problems into a single analysis. The first being the expected value of having a process and the second being, given that a process is in place what is the expected value of the possible outcomes. Once the process is started, we can expect different evaluation of the possible outcome. It is that evaluation that will determine whether or bot a peace process is started.

2. The evaluation of the second problem (the outcome of negotiation) then has to be determined as a conditional expectation that assumes the first problem is decided in favor of negotiations.

3. You assume that the expected value evaluation is linear. The objective functions of all three parties is most likely non-linear and carries with it some degree of risk aversion. (For Israel, carrying out negotiations carries the risk of losing the Jolan; oddly enough, it can be argued that this is the same risk the Syrians face) A return of the Jolan may not be as desireable with the decision makers as we would like to assume. The Jolan gives the Syrian government most of the reasons for the continuing state of emergency; and the security institutions may not like an outcome under which there is significant pressure to eliminate emergency laws.

Additionally, I am not sure that expectations really work that way when it comes to political strategy. Syria, Israel and the U.S. are continuously working to change the probabilities of different outcomes. The probability of any given possibility depends on the actions that are taken. Syria is very loud about the need to peace talks and cooperation with the US. This is not necessarily because they want these possibilities to materialize; the possibility is significant that this type of talk is directed at minimizing the probabilities of an attack. Israel and the US accuse Syria of “Sponsoring Terrorism” and developing “Weapons of Mass Destruction” in order to affect probabilities in the opposite direction. The job of politicians is to move conditions to be more favorable not to engage in simple probabilistic calculations.

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April 10th, 2007, 11:13 pm

 

10. Zenobia said:

alex, no, no please!, ……..no more equations……
except for maybe…. simple ones…like:

Olmert = fool
Bush = asshole
and Olmert + Bush = futility, fruitlessness and endless strife

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April 11th, 2007, 1:32 am

 

11. norman said:

Zenobia , I like your math.

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April 11th, 2007, 3:50 am

 

12. Alex said:

Syrian : )

Thanks! …Now you made me spend 30 minutes reviewing few things before I could understand what you were saying.

Since Zenobia was honest enough to let me know how boring I am, I don’t think I will answer your three points with equations. But I will still make some comments, otherwise Zenobia will get the impression that I did not understand a thing : )

ok:

Basically, I believe that people (including politicians) do make decisions based on a mostly subconscious evaluation of the utilities and associated estimated) probabilities as in

E(z) = pz1 + (1-p)z2

in case of a simple (A/B) decision process.

When Alex is trying to come up with the numbers that Olmert and Assad have in their heads, then let us stay with a linear function for now. Risk aversion factors are somehow taken into account within the utility (weight) I estimated… for your Olmert example, his risks are more reason to lower the utility of the peace process (that might lead to a peace agreement and the loss of the Golan) … he knows it is an unpopular decision for now in Israel. In the case of Bashar, I think he knows the risks, and contrary to what some Syrian opposition members like to promote, Bashar (like his father) are very much seeking the return of the Golan heights. That outcome will remain associated with a positive utility, despite the risks.

Conditional (second stage outcomes) are also an unnecessary refinement in my opinion, because at this stage there is less uncertainty than you have in typical negotiations. You probably remember everyone (including Olmert) saying “the price of peace with Syria is known” .. so Olmert himself is announcing that there is no uncertainty there … you start a peace process, you should know that Syria wants the full Golan or they will walk out.

The point I was trying to make is: We know why Israel and the United States do not want to start the peace process (because they know it will probably not produce a peace agreement, and it will certainly rewards the Syrian regime) … the Syrians don’t care .. because they will be either partially rewarded (end of isolation and bad publicity) or they will be fully rewarded (lower probability) with the full return of the Golan.

I’m sorry Zenobia … I had to write that much because you did not allow equations.

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April 11th, 2007, 4:23 am

 

13. Syrian said:

Alex,

I think I understand what you are talking about; however, I think you oversimplify. The decision making process involves many more factors, some with positive payoffs and others with negative. For example, I think Israel can benefit from a peace process that leads nowhere; but Israel has to make all decisions in relation to the position of the United States. Syrian policy has to be taken in perspective of the effects of such policy on its relations with other actors in the region and the effects it would have on its internal politics. The US might be playing the role of a “mad dog” under the current administration but we cannot be sure about the administration’s motivation for the current American policy in the ME (it might be possible to create conditions under which the “mad dog” is appeased and its evaluation of potential peace process turns positive.)

All in all, my point is that the actual policy is much more complex than to summarize in a simplified 2-alternative scenario.

Regarding the assignment of negative payoffs to Israel if it undergoes a peace process have you seen This I don’t know how reliable the sources are.

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April 11th, 2007, 5:02 am

 

14. ausamaa said:

A long article but it does provide a very good Analysis of Why Israel should opt for Peace!

from Defecnce and the National Interest http://www.d-n-i.net

Israel’s Last Chance

by Gabriel Kolko

Posted March 17, 2007.
Copyright © 2007 by Gabriel Kolko. Republished with permission of the author.

The American Way of War

The United States has given Israel $51.3 billion in military grants since 1949, most of it after 1974 – more than any other country in the post-1945 era. Israel has also received $11.2 billion in loans for military equipment, plus $31 billion in economic grants, not to mention loan guarantees or joint military projects. But major conditions on these military grants have meant that 74 percent of it has remained in the U.S. to purchase American arms. Since it creates jobs and profits in many districts, Congress is more than ready to respond to the cajoling of the Israel lobby. This vast sum has both enabled and forced Israel to prepare to fight an American-style war. But the US since 1950 has failed to win any of its big wars.

In early 2005 the new chief of staff of the Israel Defense Force, Dan Halutz, embarked on the most extensive reorganization in the history of IDF. Halutz is an Air Force general and enamored with the doctrines that justify the ultra-modern equipment the Americans showered upon the Israelis. Attack helicopters, unmanned aircraft, advanced long-range intelligence and communications, and the like were at the top of his agenda. His was merely a variation of Donald Rumsfeld’s “shock and awe” concepts.

The 34-day war in Lebanon, starting July 12 last year, was a disastrous turning point for Israel. Until the Eliyahu Winograd Commission, which Olmert set up in September 2006, delivers its interim report in late April – which will cover the first five days of the war only – and resolves these matters, we will not know precisely the orders sent to specific units or the timing of all of the actors, but there is already a consensus on far more important fundamentals. But the Israelis did not lose the war because of orders given or not given to various officers. It was a war of choice, and it was planned as an air war with very limited ground incursions in the expectation that Israeli casualties would be very low. Major General Herzl Sapir at the end of February said that “the war began at our initiative and we did not take advantage of the benefits granted to the initiator.” Planning for the war began November 2005 but reached high gear by the following March before the kidnapping of two IDF soldiers – the nominal excuse for the war. There is no controversy over the fact that it was a digitized, networked war, the first in Israel’s experience, and conformed to Halutz’s – and American – theories of how war is fought in this high-tech era. The US fought identical wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – and is in the process of losing both.

What were the Israeli objectives? – war aims, if you will. While the Winograd Commission report may clarify this question, at the very least a number of goals are known already. Halutz wanted to “shock and awe” the Hezbollah and their allies with Israeli power – all within a few days. There were lesser aims, such as moving the Hezbollah rockets well away from the borders or even getting its two kidnapped soldiers returned, but at the very least Halutz wanted to make a critical point.

Instead, he revealed Israel’s vulnerability based, in large part, on the fact the enemy was far better prepared, motivated, and equipped. It was the end of a crucial myth, the harbinger of yet more bloody, but equal, armed conflicts or a balance of power conducive to negotiations. Olmert and his generals very likely expected to have a great victory within five days, thereby increasing his popularity with the hawkish Jewish population that is a growing majority of the voters, and to reverse his abysmally low poll ratings, thereby saving his political career – he received three percent popularity in a TV poll in early March.

There are many reasons the Israelis lost the war in Lebanon, but there is general agreement within Israel that the war ended in disaster and the deterrent value of the once unbeatable, super-armed IDF gravely diminished in the entire Arab world for the first time since 1947. But the Israelis were defeated for many of the same reasons that have caused the Americans to lose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – and in Vietnam as well. Both their doctrine and equipment were ill suited for the realities they confronted. There was no centralized command structure to destroy but small groups, lightly armed, mobile, and decentralized, able to harass and ultimately prevail. The Hezbollah also had highly effective Russian anti-tank missiles, and the IDF admits that “several dozen” tanks were put out of commission, if not destroyed, including the Merkava Mark IV, which Israel claims in the best protected tank in the world – and which it seeks to export. They also fired around 4,000 rockets at Israeli population centers and the IDF could not stop this demoralizing harassment. Hezbollah bunkers and arsenals were largely immune to air attacks, which caused the Israelis to “stretch the target envelope” to attack densely populated areas, with over 1,000 civilian dead. “Israel lost the war in the first three days,” an American military expert concluded, expressing a consensus shared by many US Air Force analysts. “If you have that kind of surprise and you have that kind of firepower you had better win. Otherwise, you’re in for the long haul.”

The problem, though, was not merely a new Arab prowess, though changes in their morale and fighting organizations should not be minimized. Halutz’s drastic reorganization of the IDF since early 2005, one that was supposed to attain the promises of all its American-supplied equipment, “caused,” in General Sapir’s words, “a terrible distortion.” The IDF was an organizational mess, demoralized as never before, and on January 17, 2007 Halutz resigned, the first head of the IDF to voluntarily step down because of his leadership in war. Had he not resigned he would have been fired. His successor quickly annulled his reorganization of the IDF, which is now sorely disorganized. The American way of warfare had failed.

The Next War

The Lebanon War is only a harbinger of Israeli defeats to come. For the first time there is a rough equivalence in military power.

Technology everywhere is now moving far faster than the diplomatic and political resources or will to control its inevitable consequences. Hezbollah has far better and more rockets – over 10,000 short-range rockets is one figure given – than it had a few years ago, and Israel’s military intelligence believes it has more firepower than it had last spring, before it was attacked. Israel has failed to convince Russia not to sell or give their highly effective anti-tank missiles to nations or movements in the region. They fear that even Hamas will acquire them. Syria is procuring “thousands” of advanced anti-tank missiles from Russia, which can be fired from five kilometers away, as well as far better rockets that can hit Israeli cities.

If the challenges of producing a realistic concept of the world that confronts the mounting dangers and limits of military technology seriously are not resolved soon there is nothing more than wars to look forward to. The IDF intelligence branch does not think a war with Syria is likely in 2007; other Israeli military commentators think that any war with Syria would produce, at best, a bloody standoff – just like the war in Lebanon last summer. Israel has about 3,700 tanks and they are all now highly vulnerable. Its ultra-modern air arm, most of which the US has provided, only kills people but it cannot attain victory.

The New Israel – A ‘Normal’ Nation

In the past, wars produced victories and more territory for the Jews; now they will only produce disasters for everybody. The Lebanon War proved that.

Zionism was a concoction of Viennese coffee houses, Tolstoy’s idealization of labor, early ecological sentiment in the form of the Wandervogel that influenced Zionism but various fascistic movements as well, militarism, and varieties of socialism for parts of it, including bolshevism. Jews sought to go to Palestine not only because of the Holocaust but also the changes in American immigration laws in the first half of the 1920s. Without the vast sums the Diaspora provided, Zionism would never have come to fruition. Every nation has its distinctive personality reflecting its traditions, pretensions, and history’s caprices, and in this regard Israel is no different. It exists, but it is becoming increasingly dangerous to world peace – and to itself.

Zionism always had a military ethos, imposed only in part by Arab hostility, and from the inception of Zionism’s history, its political and military leaders were one and the same. Generals were heroes and they did well in politics. The logic of force merged with an essentially Western, colonialist bias. Its founders were Europeans, and it was an outpost of European culture until the globalization of values and products made these cultural distinctions increasingly irrelevant. It always has been a militarist society, proud of its fighters. And notwithstanding the Cold War and the increasing flow of arms from the US, which, merged with its élan, meant it won all its post-1947 wars until last summer, it still retains a strong element of hysteria about the world it faced. And it is often messianic – especially its politicians – because messianism is very much influential among a growing portion of the religious and traditional population.

Israel has ceased being “Zionist” in the original sense of that ideology. For the sake of ceremony it retains Zionism as a label, just as many actual or aspiring nations have various myths which justify their claims to a national identity. But it is a long way from the original premises, in large part because its war with its neighbors – especially the Arabs who live in its midst or nearby – made its military ethos dominant over everything else.

Israel today is well on its way to becoming a failed state. Were it not for the fact that this outpost of fewer than five million Jews is a critical factor of war and peace in a much larger and vital region it would not be important or at all unusual. But it is terribly confused and has a very mixed identity; the US has since the late 1960s protected it. World peace now depends on this place, its idiosyncrasies, personality, and growing contradictions.

Israel is a profoundly divided society and its politicians are venal cynics. Many nations – and surely the Palestinian leaders until Hamas, by default, took over – are no different. As Shlomo Ben-Ami, the former foreign minister, describes it, on one side there are economically disadvantaged Oriental Jews, Russian nationalists who were motivated above all by a desire to leave the USSR (an appreciable minority is not Jewish), and Orthodox Jews of every sort united only by their intense dislike of “assimilationists”; on the other hand we have secular Jews, some leftists and modernizers, more skilled and of East European parentage who were once crucial in the formation of Zionism. There are an increasing number of “Jerusalem-Jews,” as Ben-Ami calls them, motivated to come primarily by economic incentives, and they are bringing the Right to power more and more often. They fear the Arabs who live in Israel. “Tel Aviv” Jews are assimilating to a global, modernizing culture, more akin to the “normal” existence the early Zionists preached, and they are also the emigrants out because they have high skills. Israel now has as many people leaving as immigrate to it, and North America alone is home to up to a million of them.

Some indications of these trends range from the banal to the tragic. There are all varieties of punks, gays, everything. As for the ultra-Orthodox, some have placed “curses” on those who advocate disengaging from any settlements in the West Bank or Gaza; they will be punished by heaven. One of four ultra-Orthodox Jews believes this is precisely why Sharon was struck with a coma. Martin van Creveld, professor of military history at the Hebrew University and friend of many IDF leaders, whose fame was made studying the role of morale in armies, thinks the morale of the conscripts in the IDF is “almost to the vanishing point; in some cases crybabies have taken the place of soldiers.” “Feminism” in the armed forces has intensified the rot, but “social developments” have destroyed much of the army – as have officers “who stayed behind their computers” last summer.

Never before has Israel been wracked by so many demoralizing scandals. The president of Israel just resigned because of rape charges against him, Prime Minister Olmert is being investigated by the comptroller’s office on four charges of corruption, the new chief of police was once accused of accepting bribes and fraud and his appointment has created an uproar, and other sordid cases too numerous to cite. Israel is “stewing in its own rot,” a Haaretz writer concluded; the police, retired judge Vardi Zeiler commented after heading a committee to investigate the state’s operation, were like Sicily and the state was on its way to becoming a mafia-style regime.

In this anarchy, wars are motivated for political reasons, but now they are lost because the society is disintegrating and – again to quote a Haaretz writer – the government “lacks both direction and a conscience.” Worse yet, its leaders are incredibly stupid and Olmert can only be compared to Bush in political intelligence. There is a consensus among Israeli strategists that the Iraq War was a disaster for Israel, a geopolitical gift to Iran that will leave Israel in ever-greater danger long after the Americans go home. “Israel has nothing to gain from a continued American presence in Iraq,” the director of the Institute for National Security Studies of Tel Aviv University stated last January. The US ousted the Taliban from Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein from Iraq and created an overwhelming Iranian strategic domination. Its campaign for democracy has brought Hamas to power in Palestine. “It’s a total misreading of reality,” one Israeli expert is quoted when discussing America’s role in the region. American policies have failed and Israel has given a carte blanche to a strategy that leaves it more isolated than ever.

Notwithstanding this consensus, on March 12th Olmert told the American Israel Public Affairs annual conference by video link “Those who are concerned for Israel’s security should recognize the need for American success in Iraq and responsible exit.” “Any outcome that will not help America’s strength would undercut America’s ability to deal effectively with the threat posed by the Iranian regime.” His foreign minister was even stronger. “Stay the hell out of it,” a Haaretz writer concluded. No group is more antiwar than American Jews, Congress – in its own inept way – is trying to bring the war to an end, his own strategists think the Iraq War was a disaster – and Olmert endorses Bush’s folly.

The Syrian Option

It is in this context that the peace of the region will or will not evolve. Olmert will do what is best for his political position domestically, and retaining power will be his priority – no less than his predecessors and most politicians everywhere. It is not at all promising. But for technical, social, and morale reasons Israel will not win another war. At every level, it has become far weaker. It can inflict frightful damage on its enemies but it cannot change the fundamental balance of all forces that lead to victory.

Making peace with Syria would be a crucial first step for Israel, and although the Palestinian problem would remain it would nonetheless vastly improve Israel’s security – and disprove the Bush’s Administration’s contention until very recently that negotiations with Syria or Iran on any Middle East question involves conceding to evil. The Israeli press reported in great detail the secret 2004-05 Israel-Syria negotiations, which were very advanced and involved major Syrian concessions – especially on water and Syrian neutrality in a host of political controversies with the Palestinians and Iranians. It also reported that Washington followed these talks closely and that it – especially Cheney’s office – opposed bringing them to a successful conclusion. At the end of January many important members of Israel’s foreign policy establishment publicly urged reopening these talks.

Olmert dismissed Syria’s gestures categorically after they became public. “Don’t even think about it” was Secretary of State Rice’s view of a treaty when she saw Israeli officials in mid-February. But though Mossad supports the obdurate Rice-Olmert view, military intelligence argues that Syria’s offers are sincere and serious. Moreover, intelligence’s head warned that Syria is growing stronger and peace was very much to Israel’s interest. He was supported by most of the Foreign and Defense ministries, including Minister of Defense Amir Peretz. Olmert demanded, and got, their acquiescence.

A treaty could be finalized with Syria within four to six months, Alon Liel, former director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry who negotiated with the Syrians, reported the Washington Times on March 7. Liel was asked to come to the US embassy in Tel Aviv about this time and tell the entire political staff of his talks. The reports in Haaretz, which included the draft treaty, were by then quite definitive. Then the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, invited Ibrahim Suleiman, Syria’s representative to the talks, to speak to the foreign affairs and defense committees. Such invitations are very rare, not least because Syria and Israel are legally in a state of war. But if the Syrians and Israelis go to war again, the normally hawkish Martin van Creveld concluded at this time, Israel “could wreak much destruction, but it could not force a decision.” In three or four years the Syrians would be ready for a protracted war that would prove too much for Israel. After running through his bizarre alternatives, and the state of the IDF’s morale, van Creveld concluded that reaching a peace with Syria was very much to Israel’s interests – and that even the Americans were coming to the position that talking to Syria and Iran (as the Baker-Hamilton panel had recommended last December) was rational.

Syria has been attempting desperately to improve its relations with Washington, if only to forestall some mad act on the US’ part. When Israel attacked Lebanon last July, Elliott Abrams, in charge of the Middle East at the National Security Council, along with other neocons in Washington, urged it to expand the war to Syria. At the end of February Syria renewed its appeal to the US to discuss any and all Middle East issues with it in “a serious and profound dialogue.” For over two years it has made similar attempts; Baker knew all about these. Talking to alleged adversaries is perhaps the most fundamental point of difference between Cheney, his neocon alliance, and Rice, and it covers North Korea, Iran, and many other places. The debate is less the nature and goals of American foreign policy but how to conduct it – by the application of material power and even the threat of war versus more traditional means, such as diplomacy.

In the past several weeks, taking her cue from the Republican Establishment in the Iraq Study Group last December, Rice has been winning points in this debate but her successes are fragile. Cheney is a powerful, determined and cunning man who knows how to succeed all too well with the president.

America’s overwhelming problem is Iraq and, above all, Iran, and apparently the Bush Administration has now decided that Syria can help it in the region. Ellen Sauerbrey, an Assistant Secretary of State, was in Damascus on March 12, nominally to discuss refugees but she heard from the Syrians “that all the questions are linked in the Arab region and that a comprehensive dialogue is needed on all these questions.” Syria has also mobilized the European Union, which now favors a return of the Golan Heights to it. On March 13 the US ambassador to Israel publicly stated a bald lie that the Americans had never “expressed an opinion on what Israel should or should not do with regard to Syria.”

It is now entirely in the hands of the Olmert government whether to negotiate with Syria.

Israel has ignored Washington on at least four very important issues, starting with the Sinai campaign in 1956, and acted in its own self-interest. The Americans were Olmert’s alibi but he can use them no more. There are other crucial issues, such as the Saudi plan for the resolution of the Palestine question, and never has Israel had a greater need for peace than at the present. Instead, like the US, its head of state may be the worst in its history, motivated by short-term political advantage and a consummate desire to retain power.

But the Syrian option is there for the taking. If there is war then the brain drain out will accelerate and migration in will fall; demography will take over. Israel will then become the only place in the world a Jew is in danger precisely because he or she is a Jew. If this opportunity is lost there will eventually be a mutually destructive war that no one will win – the Lebanon War proved that Israel must now confront the fact that its neighbors are becoming its military equals and US aid cannot save it.

Indeed, America’s free gifts enabled Israel to begin a war last July with illusions identical to those that also caused the Bush Administration to embark on its Iraq folly.

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April 11th, 2007, 5:58 am

 

15. Akbar Palace said:

Alex explains his math formulation:

here are some sample numbers that explain why Syria is much more motivated to engage in peace negotiations, and why Mr. Olmert and President Bush are not

Of course Syria is more motivated to engage in peace negotiations. So was Arafat.

But as we know, Arafat was DEATHLY afraid of a peace treaty. As most despots and “Presidents-for-life” are.

Anyway, here are my math equations to complete your thesis:

Assad = terror + stagnation + violence + isolation + tyranny + anti-semitism

Hezbollah = Assad + intolerance + Islamic Fundamentalism + 30000 Katyushas

Hamas = Assad + Hezbollah + Qassams + Semtex with nails – 30000 Katyushas

Iran = Hezbollah + long range and sea skimmming missiles + Oil Money to fund terrorism + theocracy + threat to destroy UN member state + nuclear ambition

Al-Queda = Iran + perversion of Islam – state sponsor with strings attached + the ability and motivation to cause terror against large numbers of innocent people + support of the “Arab Street” and liberal news media

Taliban = Al-queda + desire for control of a UN member state + the mentality of a caveman

Saddam Hussein = Assad + stupidity – 1 head

Of course, there’s no such thing as terrorism and it’s all Israel and George Bush’s fault.

QED

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April 11th, 2007, 11:10 am

 

16. ugarit said:

Akbar Palace said: ‘Al-Queda = Iran + perversion of Islam – state sponsor with strings attached + the ability and motivation to cause terror against large numbers of innocent people + support of the “Arab Street” and liberal news media”‘

I can’t believe that you think that al-Qaeda can be equated with Iran! al-Qaida is viscerally anti-Shia.

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April 11th, 2007, 1:38 pm

 

17. t_desco said:

Lebanon Claims Arrest of Al-Qa’ida Cell Members

The Lebanese authorities are pursuing 52 Al-Qa’ida suspects and have arrested nearly a quarter of them, according to a report in the London-based Al-Hayyat.

Jean Fahd, the Lebanese government’s commissioner before the Military Court, said 14 of the Al-Qa’ida suspects had been arrested.

Fahd said they were training to use weapons and explosives at a camp in Tripoli, where most of them were living.

The 14 detainees include a Saudi, a Syrian, a Palestinian and 11 Lebanese, the report said.

It added that a Turk known as Abu Ghreib and a Russian known as Mousa were supervising their training, but neither had been arrested.

During initial investigations, one of the detainees confessed the group was planning to head for Iraq after their military training, and that there were also plans to target UNIFIL forces in southern Lebanon, according to judicial sources. …

The group was seized with Kalashnikov rifles, timers and electronic equipment used in explosives.
Media Line, Al-Hayat

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April 11th, 2007, 2:08 pm

 

18. Syrian said:

Ugarit,

Is that the only one you cannot believe?

Akbar,

For the sake of argument, lets consider a scenario under which the military positions and political alliances of Syria and Israel were reversed and Syria occupied all areas 15 miles west of Lake Tiberius. What would you do?

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April 11th, 2007, 2:22 pm

 

19. Syrian said:

Alex,

What do you think of the Syrian President official website?

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April 11th, 2007, 2:35 pm

 

20. majedkhaldoun said:

I listened to Ja’Ja’ yesterday he is becoming another akbar palace.

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April 11th, 2007, 3:08 pm

 

21. Alex said:

Syrian,

That site rocks!
: )

Does he have an official site?

Back (briefly) to your last comment yesterday: I agree that the US might be playing the mad dog role, although by now I am more inclined to believe that there is no role playing.

But the reason I started the whole mathematical expectation thing was Syria .. to explain that Syria has two expected outcomes (additive) .. both positive .. one involves merely starting a peace process, and the other involves reaching a peace agreement with Israel based on the full return of hte Golan … Syria is happy with both components… not only the process itself.

Akbar : )

Your math is definitely less boring than mine, but it should be contained within some conditional qualifier:

If (Israel not peaceful) then Akbar’s logic = somewhat True

else

Akbar’s logic mostly = false

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April 11th, 2007, 3:20 pm

 

22. Syrian said:

Alex,

That link comes from Syria Gate, touted as an official website.

Somebody needs to do something about these Syrian official website and pretty them up a little before they go live on the web. (have you seen the Embassy website in Washington DC recently? They got the courier font and the annoyingly rotating pictures)

a new post on my blog

Christians In Syria

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April 11th, 2007, 3:41 pm

 

23. norman said:

Forget Pelosi. What about Syria?
U.S. isolation of Damascus rests in a misunderstanding of Syria’s position in the Mideast.
By Robert Malley, ROBERT MALLEY, former special assistant to President Clinton for Arab-Israeli affairs, is the International Crisis Group’s Middle East program director.
April 11, 2007

UNDERTAKING HER first major diplomatic foray, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi got an earful. As she met with Syrian President Bashar Assad, she came under immediate, stinging attack. The White House condemned her encounter as counterproductive, asserting that it undermined U.S. policy aimed at marginalizing a so-called pariah regime.

The charge is, on its face, absurd. The European Union’s top diplomatic envoy just visited Syria. Assad attended the recent Arab League summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Republican and Democratic officials have been traveling to Damascus for months. The Syrian regime is no more isolated in the world than the Bush administration is embraced by it. But the fuss about Pelosi’s perfectly legitimate visit obscured a far more intriguing question: What should be done about Syria?

Over the last several years, the consistent response from Israel and the United States has been: Ignore it. It is difficult to recall the last time Israel rejected an Arab invitation to negotiate — let alone the last time the U.S. actively encouraged it to do so — but in this case that is exactly what it has done.

Israel spurns Assad’s calls to renew unconditional peace talks, claiming that the Syrian regime has no intention of concluding a peace deal and is merely seeking to lessen international pressure and shift attention away from the investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria may wish to regain sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the argument goes, but it desperately wants to restore its hegemony over Lebanon. To engage Syria now would reward its support for groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, its attempts to destabilize Lebanon and its funneling of jihadists into Iraq. Seen in this light, a resumption of Israeli-Syrian negotiations is considered futile or, worse, damaging, an escape hatch for a regime that will respond only — if at all — to sustained pressure.

The arguments have merit, but the conclusion does not stand up to scrutiny. As any one visiting Damascus these days doubtless will notice, the regime is displaying a peculiar mix of supreme confidence and outright anxiety. Convinced that the regional tide is turning against the U.S. in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon, Syrian officials sense that any American attempt to destabilize their regime is a thing of the past.

Yet America’s defeat is not necessarily Syria’s victory. Sandwiched between civil strife in Iraq and Lebanon, facing increasing sectarian polarization throughout the region, losing political legitimacy at home and confronted with acute economic problems, the Syrian regime is eager for renewed domestic popularity and international investment. What better than a peace deal with Israel and recovery of the Golan Heights — with all the attendant diplomatic and economic benefits — most notably normalization with the West — to achieve those goals?

As for Syria’s regional posture, this much can be said: Damascus will not cut ties with Hezbollah, break with Hamas or alienate Iran as the entry fare for peace negotiations. Syrian officials make clear that they will not forgo their few strategic cards ahead of a deal. But they are equally clear that a deal would change the entire regional picture — the country’s alliances as well as its policies.

If, as Israeli and U.S. officials assert, the regime’s priority is self-preservation, it is unlikely to sponsor militant groups, jeopardize its newfound status, destabilize the region or threaten nascent economic ties for the sake of ideological purity once an agreement has been reached. Israeli and U.S. demands will not be satisfied as preconditions to negotiations, but there is at the very least solid reason to believe that they would be satisfied as part of a final deal.

Even assuming that Washington and Jerusalem are right and that Syria is more interested in the process than in the outcome, what is the downside of testing the sincerity of its intentions? To the contrary, the mere sight of Israeli and Syrian officials sitting side by side would carry dividends, producing ripple effects in a region where popular opinion is moving away from acceptance of the Jewish state’s right to exist, and putting Syrian allies that oppose a negotiated settlement in an awkward position. It has gone largely unnoticed, but Assad has been at pains to differentiate his position from that of his Iranian ally, emphasizing that Syria’s goal is to live in peace with Israel, not to wipe it off the face of the Earth. That is a distinction worth exploiting, not ignoring.

Rigidly rebuffing Syria is a mistake fast on its way to becoming a missed opportunity. The U.S. says it wants to see real change from Damascus, and it takes pleasure in faulting visitors — Pelosi only the latest among them — for returning empty-handed. Syria’s response is that it will continue to assist militant groups, maintain close ties to Iran and let the U.S. flounder in Iraq for as long as Washington maintains its hostile policy and blocks peace talks. It also could change all of the above should the U.S. change its stance. That’s a message Pelosi can hear and one she can deliver, but not one she can do much about. Rather than engage in political theatrics, the president should listen.

——————————————————————————–

Collision on coal is coming
Ronald Brownstein: A few years’ delay in regulating dirty power plants could halt progress on global warming for decades.

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April 11th, 2007, 4:55 pm

 

24. Alex said:

Syrian,

Few years ago I redesigned the site for the Syrian Embassy in Canada … I had to since it had about 5 animations happening at the same page .. it was like a busy circus.

They told me “thank you”… and kept the old one.

But they are slowly improving. Sana, Syrian pariament, the Baath party site … are all semi-reasonable.

I checked your last post, very nice collection of articles you listed. It reminds me of some of the reasons we love Syria.

Norman, lately you are often the first to catch Syria related articles, how do you manage?
: )

One thing worth mentioning in Malley’s article and in others … “in a region where popular opinion is moving away from acceptance of the Jewish state’s right to exist”

True … I can feel it. Many more Arabs, and some non-Arabs as well are lately increasingly convinced that Israel is “a mistake”. It is bad news for the region .. mostly because it makes it more likely that the Israelis will decide that they MUST reestablish the perception of absolute superiority of their army… a war against Syria perhaps.

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April 11th, 2007, 5:44 pm

 

25. norman said:

Alex, you are very observant , I use MSN and live search about Syria
http://search.live.com/news/results.aspx?q=syria

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April 11th, 2007, 6:37 pm

 

26. Alex said:

Not MSN! … you were supposed to pretend you have connections.

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April 11th, 2007, 7:05 pm

 

27. ugarit said:

Alex said: “But they are slowly improving. Sana, Syrian pariament, the Baath party site … are all semi-reasonable.”

Unfortunately all of the above mentioned sites use ‘charset=windows-1256’ for the character encoding. They should be using UTF-8.

They should all be using http://www.drupal.org/ 🙂

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April 11th, 2007, 7:06 pm

 

28. Syrian said:

The biggest problems with these sites (aside from the fact that they look like the sites my 8-year old daughter designs) is the lack of coherent content (even drupal cannot fix that).

It seems like we should, at least, be able to learn by immitation and incorporate some elements of consistency in the design and in the provision of content!!!!

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April 11th, 2007, 7:26 pm

 

29. Alex said:

That’s right Ugarit. I forgot drupal 🙂

Even Joshua went with WordPress.

Syrian, site design, and graphic design in Syria are still far from leaning how to imitate the right thing. Until recently,teh element they loved to imitate the most was scrolling text and dancing flags, and … anything that moves.

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April 11th, 2007, 7:35 pm

 

30. Akbar Palace said:

“‘Mad” Makhloof continues with our interesting discussion on “The Middle East Equations”:

Proof: Middle East – Israel = Garden of Eden

Corollary: America – Jews + Swedes + Danes = Heaven on Earth “The New Kingdom”

Mad,

Thank you for your clever understandig of ME math. Your equations have been cited in many anti-semitic media outlets and weblogs, so on the surface, and with many years of exposure, one may be tempted to agree with you.

However, when reading the “new math” from other Western, liberal, and non-Islamofascist references, one can see that your popular equations hold no water. I hope this doesn’t disappoint you. Learning a new type of math certainly isn’t easy.

Let’s take your first hypothesis:

Middle East – Israel = Garden of Eden

If this were true, Israel would have been directly involved in the Iran-Iraq war, where over 1 million Iranians and Iraqis were killed. Israel wasn’t a part of that conflict, so it follows that without Israel, there is no “Garden of Eden” in the Middle East.

Other examples disproving your anti-semitic equation are the following:

– The al-Queda bomb that killed 30 people yesterday in Algiers

– Saddam Hussein’s mass graves (over 300,000 deaths)

– The Assad “legacy” in Hama (25000 – 30000 deaths)

– Algeria (over 100,000 deaths)

– Sudan (200,000 – 400,000 deaths)

Lastly, the following link may give you further information showing that your equation:

Middle East – Israel = Garden of Eden is patently…

FALSE

http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2006/

PS – We’ll discuss your “Corollary” at a later time.

And of course we must thank Professor and Co-director of the Center of “Peace Studies”, Josh again for permitting us the opportunity to discuss your interesting “hypothesis”.

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April 12th, 2007, 2:01 am

 

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