Posted by Joshua on Friday, December 11th, 2009
Turkey’s move to create a Northern Alliance is the biggest thing to happen in the Middle East since the US invasion of Iraq created a power vacuum in the region. President Bush spent eight years trying to build up a coalition around Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt and Iraq to counter Iran and Syria. What a singular failure that effort was.
Turkey is trying to clean up the mess Bush created on its border. Making sure that the US does no further damage to the neighborhood is Turkey’s first concern. Should the US allow Israel to bomb Iran or be successful in strangling it economically, Turkey and its neighbors would be adversely impacted. China, Russia, India and Turkey are unlikely to allow the US to lead a catatonic world into further deadly sanctions. There seems to be enough alternative leadership to stop such a unconstructive move. Turkey is at the forefront of the effort.
As Israel, the US and EU ramp up threats to hurt Iran, the Norther Alliance — Turkey, Iran and Syria — have been doing some pushing back of their own.
Erdogan: Israel should expect a Turkish “Earthquake” if it ever tried to violate Turkey’s airspace to attack another country (J Post)
Iran will attack Israeli nuclear installations in response to any Israeli attack on its territories (Fox news)
Syria: We’ll revert to resistance to regain the Golan, as Israel closes the door on peaceful solution (Syria News)
Diplomats in Damascus Divided on Cause of Bus Explosion: I asked a diplomat in Damascus how fellow diplomats were breaking on the bus explosion. Did they believe Syrian authorities claims that it was an accident and not terrorism? Here is the response I got.
Not surprisingly, the diplomatic community in Damascus is split over the bus explosion. Most western diplomats with whom I talked about the tire explosion believe the government’s explanation. Here are some indicators in support of their acceptance that it was an accident:
- – first, the Syrian authorities allowed free access in the area of the incident; this means no sealing of the site, as usually :)…
- – from a purely techincal perspective, the bus didn’t look as damaged as it would have had the explosion resulted from a bomb. (not shattered into pieces).
By and large, the Arab members of the diplomatic community, as is often the case with these things, looked at the situation differently.
Sharaa pointed out that Syria has worked to fill the “strategic vacuum” after the war on Iraq by strengthening ties with Iran and establishing a strategic relationship with Turkey. (Naharnet)
–Syrian VP Says Damascus Overcame All External Efforts to Undermine It
–Hopes Formation of Lebanese Govt. Will Open Horizons for Lebanese-Syrian Ties
(Translation/summary from Middle East Reporter)
Syria’s Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa confirmed Wednesday that Syria overcame all external efforts to undermine its unity since 2003, stressing that the US-Israeli scheme in the Middle is destined to fail, the Beirut leftist daily AS SAFIR reported Thursday. “The claims of the enemies of Syria have failed in justifying the war on Iraq, and their fabrications against and accusations of Syria in the Feb. 14, 2005 crime have backfired,” Sharaa said. This is a reference to the assassination of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri in 2005, a crime that Lebanese anti-Syrian parties and the West had accused Damascus of involvement in. A United Nations probe linked Syria to the crime, a claim Damascus denied. Syria was internationally isolated since 2004, until a rapprochement with France in May 2008 led the way for a warming of tied with other countries.
Syria’s enemies also “failed in destroying the resistance (Lebanon’s Syria-backed guerrilla group Hizbullah) and humiliating Lebanon and Syria in the July 2006 war. And they will not succeed in inciting against Syria,” Sharaa added. Syria backed Hizbullah during its war with Israel in 2006, which was sharply criticized by anti-Syrian Lebanese groups. The main aim behind “the campaign against Syria was to make the Syrian citizen lose faith in himself first and in his leadership second. Therefore, saboteurs tried to split Syria up as a nation and oust the regime. But they failed in both goals and the choice of the Syrian people prevailed,” according to the Syrian official.
“The prevalent situation (in Syria) is better than that of the past six years. This is due to the high spirits of the Syrian people who preserved their Arab identity, unnerved by traitors here and there,” Sharaa went on to say. He added that Damascus proved that “betting on the national resistance cannot lose.” He said, “The US-Israeli scheme in the Middle East is not destined to succeed.”
After the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Damascus boosted its ties with Tehran and Ankara to overcome the strategic void, Sharaa pointed out. Syria “worked on filling the strategic void by cementing its ties with Iran and establishing strategic relations with Turkey without ruling out a role further than the region.”
Meanwhile, Sharaa hoped the recently formed government in Lebanon would lead to positive bilateral ties. “We hope the formation of a national unity government will open the way to positive horizons for the Lebanese people and excellent Syrian-Lebanese relations,” Sharaa added. Lebanon and Syria established last year diplomatic relations for the first time since their independence from France in the 1940s.
“It’s been half a year since the Obama administration pledged to send an ambassador to Damascus after four years’ absence and now we are seeing movement. The State Department has reportedly sent its recommendation to the White House for approval and final deliberations are said to be underway.
The two names leading the rumor mill in Washington as of now are Jacob Walles, the immediate past consul general in Jerusalem, and Nabil Khury, a veteran Foreign Service officer of Lebanese descent…..
Sources close to the discussions also say that the job was offered and declined at some point by both Fred Hof, a Syria expert and deputy to Middle East Special Envoy George Mitchell, and Daniel Kurtzer, who was U.S. ambassador to Israel from 2001 to 2005 but is not currently in government.
At the start of the Obama administration, there was some talk and expectation that things with Syria could move relatively quickly, not necessarily toward a huge breakthrough but at least toward a warming of the relationship in some sense. But public examples of such a warming are hard to find and the lack of progress has had an effect of its own.
“The decision was expected a while ago, so even though it’s significant, part of its significance has been eroded simply by the virtue of how much time has elapsed,” said Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator now with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, “There’s been frustration, disappointment, and some misunderstanding on both sides.”
Underlying the dynamic is the disparity between the two sides over what the reinstatement of a U.S. ambassador means. The Syrians view it as a return to normalcy while the U.S. side sees it more as of a reward. “Whatever bang one would expect to get from the naming of an ambassador has been diluted because the Syrians feel like they’ve been unfairly punished and have had to wait too long,” Miller said.
There were both bureaucratic and political reasons for the delay, ……….. On the political side, the question was how to calibrate the speed at which the U.S. moves to normalize relations with Syria and how that decision factors into other regional issues that are moving on parallel tracks. Also, the U.S. still feels Syria is engaged in activities seen as counter to U.S. interests in the region….
U.S. officials are said to have different takes on Syria. More senior officials, such as Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and Deputy National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, are seen as skeptics, feeling that Syria has to prove itself and demonstrate more constructive behavior before getting rapprochement with the U.S. The office of Vice President Joseph Biden is also said to be cautious about advancing relations with Syria, but that could be out of concern for maintaining delicate but good relations with Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki. Biden is the White House’s point man on dealing with Maliki’s government, which accuses Syria of fomenting chaos in Iraq.
One level down the State Department hierarchy, officials for whom Syria is a larger and more specific part of their portfolio want to see diplomacy with Damascus move more quickly. Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman is one who is said to want more movement, but the Syrians might not view him that way based on his past reputation as a Syria critic during his tenure as the U.S. ambassador in Beirut, sources said.
State Department advocates for moving forward are allied with some in the Pentagon and U.S. Central Command, who are in favor of more interaction with the Syrians, although the military is by no means monolithic on this issue.
President Obama is also said to favor movement, but the top White House leadership is simply unable to devote a lot of attention to Syria right now….. “It’s not among the 10 most important issues for the administration, so it’s one where the power of inertia is more significant than whatever forward movement advocates are pushing,” another Middle East expert said…”
By LARA JAKES (AP)
RABIYA, Iraq — Iraq’s border with Syria runs for hundreds of miles through barren land patrolled by a relative scattering of security forces. But despite claims about exiled Saddam Hussein loyalists sneaking across to disrupt Iraq’s upcoming elections, the only evidence around one key outpost is faded slogans of Saddam’s banned Baath Party painted on the wall of a decaying grain elevator.
Cigarette smugglers? Certainly. Foreign fighters? Sometimes.
But Iraqi and American security forces alike around the border town of Rabiya say they’ve neither seen nor heard of Baathists illegally crossing the border in recent months.
The claim has been raised with increasing force recently by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has blamed horrific bombings in Baghdad — including the ones Tuesday that killed at least 127 people — on an alliance of Sunni insurgents and Baathist loyalists who want to derail Iraq’s elections planned for March.
On Thursday, al-Qaida’s umbrella group, known as the Islamic State of Iraq, posted a statement claiming responsibility for the attacks this week.
“Nothing’s been communicated to me about Baathists,” Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq, said in an Associated Press interview this week. He added he has been informed “about foreign fighters and insurgents.”
“What we’re seeing is some illegal smuggling, some contraband, smuggling of cigarettes — things like that,” Cucolo said.
To be sure, it is hardly likely that Baathists would identify themselves if captured. Former Baath Party members could also try regular border crossings with their Iraqi passports, but many of the Baath leaders still at large are on an Iraqi watch list and could need to rely on illegal crossings.
Though the number of arrests of obvious insurgents or foreign fighters crossing the border is relatively small, Cucolo said the Americans just don’t know what their presence here has deterred…..
By Roueida Mabardi (AFP)
DAMASCUS — Syria warned Israel on Thursday it risked closing the door to renewed peace talks, a day after the Israeli parliament agreed to consider a bill that would make it far more difficult to return the occupied Golan.
“The current Israeli government of (Benjamin) Netanyahu is perfectly aware that Syria will not resume indirect talks brokered by Turkey unless this prime minister commits himself to a full withdrawal from the Golan,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
“Syria’s recovery of its occupied territory is non-negotiable as it is a right recognised by UN resolutions.”
Israel seized the Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in 1981, in a move never recognised by the international community….
Syria hit out at Netanyahu for giving his government’s support to the bill’s passage through parliament, saying he was going back on the policy of previous Israeli governments over nearly two decades.
“Since the launch of peace negotiations at the Madrid conference (in 1991), every Israeli prime minister has committed to a full withdrawal from the Golan to the June 4, 1967 line,” according to the ministry statement.
“Through this action, Israel is once again defying the desire of the international community to achieve a comprehensive peace in the region in accordance with international resolutions and the principle of the exchange of land for peace.
“Israel is defying the whole world with its rejection of peace and it is proving that its goverment’s stated wish to make peace is nothing but a political manoeuvre.”….
Iran, Syria call for expansion of defense ties
Tehran Times Political Desk
TEHRAN – Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi and his Syrian counterpart Ali Mohammad Habib have called for the expansion of defense ties between the two counties.
Vahidi met with Habib during the first session of the Iran-Syria joint defense commission, which was held in Damascus on Wednesday.
I can’t figure out if they are going to connect it to the airport. It’s a shame if they will not.
The latest feasibility study (15-Nov) decided to that the design would be similar to Dubai’s metro (overground in most areas).
If Dubai is an indication, Damascus should embrace for a long period of street diversions and major congestion once construction starts. I hope this will not drag on for decades to complete the announced Green line.
Syria should shape up, scholar says
Published: Dec. 10, 2009, (UPI)
David Schenker, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, writes the emergence of Hezbollah as a political force indicates Damascus
has “regained the upper hand in Lebanon.”
Schenker accuses U.S. President Barack Obama, who on Thursday accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, of negligence in the rise of Hezbollah.
“To date, the Obama administration appears to have done little to stem the tide, but given the stakes, Washington should act quickly to reverse the trend,” he says.