Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, July 6th, 2010
Fred Deknatel in his article: Roadblocks to Damascus in the Nation does a wonderful job of exploring the politics around the Wall Street Journal’s recent first page article about Syria’s acquisition of a new radar defense from Iran. He quotes pundits on the left and right.
If the US is serious about wanting peace between Israel and Syria, it will have to allow Syria to improve its military. The terrible imbalance in power that exists today between Syria and Israel is an impediment to peace. So long as Israel can inflict the sort of damage on its enemies that it did in Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008 without paying much of a price, either militarily or politically, it will avoid the difficult choice of peace and returning the Golan. A stronger Syria and Lebanon would be good for peace.
One of Assad’s complaints that Deknatel brings out is that the US is not even handed or a useful broker because it sides with Israel. US diplomats who have been put in charge of the peace process in the past, such as Dennis Ross and David Miller, have argued that America’s bias in Israel’s favor has been good for peace.
For academic justification they turned to the work of Saadia Touval, who taught in Johns Hopkins University’s conflict management program, was a longtime dean at Tel Aviv University, and earlier a runner for the Hagganah. He propounded a theory of negotiated conflict management that favored Israelis and suggested that the US should not try to be an impartial broker. Here is an extract from his obit:
Starting in the 1970s, his work on “biased intermediaries” had an impact on prominent U.S. negotiators such as Aaron David Miller and Dennis Ross, who borrowed his ideas. Dr. Touval drew on concrete lessons from disputes in the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans to assert that neutrality or impartiality were not as important as holding power.
Looking at the Middle East, he pointed out that Arabs viewed the United States as a reliable ally of Israel. This was not a problem, he wrote, because the Arabs knew that the Americans were in a better position to win concessions for them. It was considered a fresh concept when he first explored the topic in foreign policy journals and books such as “The Peace Brokers: Mediators in the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1948-1979” (1982).
Ross and Miller called Mr. Touval one of the more distinguished and helpful scholars in his field because of his vivid examples. “He came up with a reasonable and compelling look at theory for practitioners,” said Miller, a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. “For a political scientist in a field just littered with jargon and unusable formulations and concepts, he came up with a very practical approach that was of great benefit to me.”
The unsubstantiated notion that Israel will only make peace when it is dominant power that can overcome its opponents combined goes back to Henry Kissinger. He helped push through the orders for the airlift of arms in 1973 against President Nixon’s instinct. He also stalled enforcing cease-fire orders in order to allow Israel additional time to destroy the Egyptian and Syrian armies.
But the proof that this argument has been a failure is in the US’ inability to broker peace. In 2000, when Assad flew to Geneva to sign a deal with Barak and Clinton, Barak decided to present a modified deal that he knew Assad would not take. Uri Saguy explained in his recently article on the “Missed Opportunity” with Syria that Barak wanted to cut off negotiations with his switch up on the deal. He didn’t believe that the Israeli public were ready to give up the Golan or that the political establishment would support it. The reason why they would not, one can only conclude, is because they believed that Israel could keep the Golan without paying a heavy price. Syria was too weak. Perhaps, Barak was correct. The price has not been high and the US is in part responsible for that. It failed to hold Israel’s feet to the fire politically and has helped to preserve its military hegemony.
Now, Netanyahu is promoting speedier settlement of the Golan Heights. See this excellent article, Unsettled, by Barbara Slavin in Foreign Policy. She received an email from the Jerusalem Post promising “Enhanced financial assistance for Aliyah to Israel’s North in 2010,” and up to $14,000 in cash and numerous other benefits for moving to the Golan.
Syrians have taken heart in the fact that Golan settlements have not been expanding as have West Bank settlements. They believed that this indicated that Israel might move toward peace and give it back. That is one straw of hope that can no longer be grasped.
Syrians believe that the Israeli government has neither the will nor the desire to engage Syria or to move toward peace. So long as Washington treats is relations with Syria as a subset of its relations with Israel, Israel has little to fear from Syria. Washington should engage Syria, improving relations where it can, without worrying whether Israel is please or not and without putting everything on hold every time there is news that Syria is acquiring a new radar system or improving its rocketry. By allowing US – Syria relations to expand independent of US-Isreal relations would send a message to Israel, that the US cannot put its Middle East policy on hold so long as Jerusalem refuses to make peace.
Syria is finding ways to strengthen itself despite Washington’s sanctions. Michael Jansen in his article, The rise of Syria, despite a US ban, describes this.
Of course, there are some in Washington who are genuine about engagement, such as Senator Kerry, but he is a lonely figure on the subject of engaging with Damascus and moving toward peace. Most US officials seem to have been overcome by paralysis on the Arab-Israeli issue, accepting the notion that the status-quo is livable even if it is not good for the US.
President Assad has promised to lead Syria into a major strategic realignment if Syria gets back the Golan Heights. Hopefully, Obama will not sit on his hands as Israel ramps up settlements on the Golan.
New Round Up
WSJ [Reg]: Iran Arms Syria With Radar
JERUSALEM—Iran has sent Syria a sophisticated radar system that could threaten Israel’s ability to launch a surprise attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities, say Israeli and U.S. officials, extending an alliance aimed at undermining Israel’s …
The presidents of Argentina and Syria Friday traded words of support for their respective territorial claims on Britain’s Falkland Islands, in the South Atlantic, and the Golan Heights Israel annexed in 1967. The mutual back-patting came at the close of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s first tour of Latin America aimed at furthering friendly relations with Venezuela, Cuba, Brazil and – his last stop – Argentina, in the first visit here by a Syrian leader.
US-Iran dynamic: Why US effort to leverage Syria is flagging
Nicholas Blanford in CSM, 2010-07-02
In a bid to strengthen Washington’s hand in the US-Iran dynamic, President Obama has sought to woo Syria. But as those efforts stall, Syria is drawing closer to Iranian-backed Hezbollah…. Far from loosening its ties to Hezbollah, … “This is the first time a [US-classified] state sponsor [of terrorism] has ever been essentially busted getting [Scud] ballistic missiles close to a terrorist organization,” says Andrew Tabler…. Although Obama seems committed to engaging Syria, the administration has been frustrated by what it considers the lack of positive response from Damascus. In particular, the US seems unable to persuade Syria to drop its support for militant anti-Israel groups such as Hezbollah and the Palestinian movement Hamas, also considered a terrorist group by the US and Europe…..
Qifa Nabki talks to Nick Noe about how to prevent the next Israel Lebanon war. He agrees with Noe.
Commentary: Syria Must Be Contained, Not Engaged
Michael J. Totten – 2010-07-01
Nibras Kazimi suggests in the pages of the New Republic that the Middle East’s violent Islamists might go after the Syrian government after they’re finished in Iraq and Afghanistan. “On jihadist online discussion forums,” he writes, “they have been authoring what amount to policy papers calling on the jihadist leadership to take the fight to Syria.”
It would make a certain amount of sense if they did decide Syria ought to be next. Most of the country’s leadership is from the Alawite minority sect, which branched off Twelver Shia Islam in the 10th century and became something else almost entirely. Both Sunnis and Shias have long considered them heretics. When French Mandate authorities ruled the area after World War One, many, if not most, Alawites yearned for their own sovereign homeland along the coast of the Mediterranean apart from Damascus and the largely Sunni interior…… “Islamists arguing for a jihad in Syria believe that they have hit the trifecta,” Kazimi writes. “In the Syrian regime, they have an enemy that is at once tyrannical, secular, and heretical.”….
If Assad were to work with the United States by promoting stability instead of terrorism, freelance jihadists all over the region would have every reason to bump him to the top of their to-do list. A secular non-Muslim Arab government at peace with Israel and the West and an enemy of the “resistance” movements would make an obvious next stop for roaming insurgents. That’s why Assad won’t likely ever do what Washington wants unless the region as a whole changes drastically or the United States threatens his survival more than the Islamists do. All we can really do in the meantime is try to contain him.
Maariv: Netanyahu to meet Obama, but not Clinton; ‘sources’ say she “isn’t relevant”
Didi Remez | July 1, 2010
Do they honestly think that publicizing a quote like this, on record or off, works to their advantage?
Israeli diplomatic [euphemism for Prime Minister’s Office — DR] sources said: “Clinton isn’t relevant and is out of the circle of influence. Mitchell has taken over the peace process to a great extent and Obama, in any event, is the important person in this story because he is the one who decides.”
Netanyahu to meet Obama, but not Clinton
Eli Bardenstein, Maariv, July 1 2010 [page 7; Hebrew original here and at bottom of post]
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is to leave next week for Washington, where he will meet with US President Barack Obama. Rather curiously, he is not scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the course of his visit to Washington.
Contrary to his previous visit in March, this time the US administration intends to create the impression, outwardly at least, that the severe crisis in the relationship has passed and that the relations between the two countries are as strong as ever. In order to bolster that impression, the two leaders will meet the media together and will be photographed. As opposed to the previous time, Netanyahu will also be put up at Blair House, the official White House guesthouse, and not at a hotel.
That said, officials in Washington are waiting apprehensively for the answers that Netanyahu will provide in the course of the meeting, which is expected to address the transition from the proximity talks that are at an impasse to direct negotiations. Obama, apparently, will demand that Netanyahu agree to extend the construction freeze in Judea and Samaria beyond the September 26 expiration date in hope of securing PA Chairman Abu Mazen’s consent to begin direct talks with Israel. For the time being, the forum of seven is divided over this issue.
Commentary: Iran Arms Syria
Obama’s efforts to engage Syria continue to produce evidence that Syria wants not to be engaged by us, but to move ever closer to the rising power in the region — Iran. This report explains: Iran has sent Syria a sophisticated radar system that …
How is this not Apartheid? – Andrew Sullivan
Toilet-trained Nick Kristof observes ethnic cleansing and collective punishment first-hand :
On one side of a barbed-wire fence here in the southern Hebron hills is the Bedouin village of Umm al-Kheir, where Palestinians live in ramshackle tents and huts. They aren’t allowed to connect to the electrical grid, and Israel won’t permit them to build homes, barns for their animals or even toilets. When the villagers build permanent structures, the Israeli authorities come and demolish them, according to villagers and Israeli human rights organizations.
On the other side of the barbed wire is the Jewish settlement of Karmel, a lovely green oasis that looks like an American suburb. It has lush gardens, kids riding bikes and air-conditioned homes. It also has a gleaming, electrified poultry barn that it runs as a business. Elad Orian, an Israeli human rights activist, nodded toward the poultry barn and noted: “Those chickens get more electricity and water than all the Palestinians around here.”
These Palestinian Arabs were subject to constant harassment and violence from the Jewish settlers nearby. Kristof adds every caveat – about security, about double-standards, etc. But I fail to see how this kind of governing system, brutally punishing people for being the wrong ethnicity and religion and using the apparatus of the state to impoverish and marginalize them, is somehow in a different moral zone than apartheid. Could a reader mount a case for a clear difference? I think even parts of Soweto were allowed to access the national grid.
And how is the US supposed to engage the moderate Muslim world to help defuse Islamism and Jihadism, if we are also partly financing this kind of brutal sectarian and ethnic discrimination against Muslims?
Iran sanctions ‘must not hit’ Russian trade
June 26, 2010
Russia’s co-operation with Europe in the Iranian nuclear standoff could be curbed if unilateral EU sanctions on Tehran hit Russian companies, a top envoy said yesterday…. Russia’s ambassador to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, slammed decisions last week by the EU and US to impose sanctions on Iran’s oil and gas sector that go beyond new UN measures backed by Moscow.
“We do not support them. We think they are totally wrong in substance and in tactics,” Chizhov told reporters in Brussels.
“The sanctions contained in (UN Security Council) Resolution 1929 are clever sanctions, the follow-on measures by the European Union are not,” he said.
“If you want to dissuade Iran from pursuing a nuclear programme … then why the hell are you banning the supply of equipment for the oil and gas industry?” ….
POMED Wire: On Thursday (6/24), Congress passed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 (H.R.2194). The bill passed unanimously in the Senate with a vote of 99-0, and 408-8 in the House. The final version of the bill can be found here in a pdf version. Josh Rogin writes that Congress is confident that President Obama will sign the bill into law, but some are worried about its implementation. NIAC Policy Director Jamal Abdi expressed his disappointment with the bill, characterizing its passage as a missed opportunity to support the Iranian people, and arguing that the shortcomings of the sanctions package are overwhelming and “will ultimately impose further pain on Iranians and do more damage than good.”
“This information has to be checked, but such information is always worrying – and all the more so because the international community does not recognize the Iranian nuclear program as transparent,” Medvedev was quoted as saying at the G8 summit.
CIA Director Leon Panetta said Sunday that Iran probably has enough low-enriched uranium for two nuclear weapons, but that it likely would take two years to build the bombs.
Panetta told ABC television’s This Week that he is doubtful that recent UN penalties will put an end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
He said the penalties could help to weaken Teheran’s government by creating serious economic problems. But he added, “Will it deter them from their ambitions with regards to nuclear capability? Probably not.”
A proposal by MP Walid Jumblat to give Palestinian refugees in Lebanon their civil rights was reportedly discussed during a visit by the Druze leader to Syria.
Pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat on Monday, citing sources in Jumblat’s Democratic Gathering parliamentary bloc, said the offer was discussed with Syrian President Bashar Assad during Jumblat’s first visit to Syria following a five-year hiatus.
Michael Totten: The Ghosts of Martyrs Square
The Ghosts of Martyrs Square Michael Young, opinion page editor at Beirut’s Daily Star newspaper and assistant editor at Reason magazine in the U.S., is one of the finest analysts of the modern Middle East working in English. He was born in …
It said Assad, at the time, urged Jumblat to act as assistant to Change and Reform Bloc leader Gen. Michel Aoun by carrying out direct contact with him or through his ally, Hizbullah.
The Damascus Exchange
August 1-15/Application deadline extended to July 4
Two slots remaining. Mideastwire.com, in partnership with The Syria Report, is pleased to announce that it is accepting applications for the first Damascus Exchange. The two-week program August 1-15 will engage students from around the world in a multifaceted discussion of some of the key issues facing Syria and the region. Topics will include: Economic reform challenges; The evolving relationship between Syria and Turkey; Syria’s role in the Middle East peace process; Arab nationalism; Hydro-politics in the Levant; and, Doing business in Syria: Barriers, opportunities and practices.
On March 21, 2010, the Syrian security forces opened fire with live ammunition on a crowd of 5,000 in the northern Syrian town of al-Raqqah. The crowd had gathered to celebrate the Kurdish festival of Nowruz. Three people, including a 15-year-old …
Syrian Lawyer, 79, Sentenced to 3 years in Jail New York Times
Syria must reveal the truth about 2008 prison disappearances Amnesty International USA –