Spiegel Interview with Assad: “America Must Listen” (Sept. 24, 06)

SPIEGEL ONLINE – September 24, 2006, 12:01 PM (Thanks to T_desco)
URL: http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,438804,00.html

SPIEGEL Interview with Syrian President Bashar Assad

“America Must Listen”

The Middle East, says Syrian President Bashar Assad, 40, seems to be teetering on the brink of chaos. He spoke with SPIEGEL about his country’s difficult relationship with the United States, the pressure to go to war, and the consequences of the wars in Lebanon and Iraq.

SPIEGEL: Mr. President, the foiled attack on the US embassy in Damascus killed six people and has once again focused the world’s attention on Syria’s complicated relationship with the United States. What do you know about the background of the attack? 

Syrian President Bashar AssadAssad: It was a terrorist attack — which, on the face of it, says very little. Terrorism today is a state of mind that on the one hand has to do with ignorance and, on the other hand, can be attributed to a feeling of desperation over the political situation, which at some point takes the form of revenge. This appears to have been the background of this attack: a reaction to America’s policies in Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan.

SPIEGEL: One of the attackers was still alive for a short time after the attack. Did your intelligence services manage to interrogate him?

Assad: No, he was in a coma before he died. Our conclusions are based on data that was in the attackers’ computers and on information from their private sphere. They were essentially from the same intellectual mould: men who call Osama bin Laden the “Lion of Islam.” Al-Qaida people — not in a hierarchical sense, but in terms of their worldview. Isolated young men from the Damascus suburbs — which is what makes the whole thing so dangerous. We can fight a terrorist group, but these isolated cells suggest that such ideas are widespread.

SPIEGEL: United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice thanked Syria for its role in preventing the attack. In return, however, you sharply criticized America’s Middle East policies. Why didn’t you take advantage of this rare gesture of goodwill?

Assad: Ms. Rice didn’t thank us for our policies, only for our response to the attack. But this attack happened precisely because of American policies in our region.

SPIEGEL: Why should the Americans be at fault?

Assad: Because they contribute to hopelessness in our country, and to silencing the dialogue between cultures. And then there is the condescending language — the expression “islamofascism,” which President Bush used, is a prime example. The pope’s recent comments are also part of it. Such statements complicate the situation and create this need for revenge.

SPIEGEL: A need for revenge could be understandable in Iraq or Palestine — but in Syria?

Assad: There are close ties among our peoples, whether in Iraq, Syria or Palestine. We have the same feelings, the same habits and the same pride. Look at Damascus. There are 500,000 refugees from the occupied Golan Heights, about 500,000 from Palestine and about 100,000 from Iraq living here. We tend to the needs of these people, but all we get from the West is rejection.

SPIEGEL: What has to happen for Syria and the United States to reconcile? 

Assad: America must listen. It must listen to the interests of others. But the US government has no interest in similarities, no matter how obvious. Think of the war against terrorism. In my view, Washington’s approach can be compared to a doctor constantly banging away at a tumor instead of removing it surgically. Terrorism is growing instead of declining. We both suffer from it, but the United States doesn’t want to cooperate with us.

SPIEGEL: The situation was different for a brief time after Sept. 11, 2001.

Assad: Yes, after the attacks I wrote a letter to President Bush and offered greater cooperation on security matters. It worked for quite a while and together, as the then CIA Director George Tenet confirmed to the US Congress, we saved many American lives. Then the Iraq war began to take shape and America started making many mistakes. And our cooperation ended.

SPIEGEL: After the most recent attack, too, there has been contact between US diplomats and Syrian officials.

Assad: Yes, but whether these meetings amount to anything will depend on the will of the Americans. What kinds of issues should we be discussing? Do we want to sit there drinking coffee and talk about the weather? Or do we want to achieve something in Iraq, in Lebanon and in the Middle East peace process? Those who ask this US government about its vision don’t receive answers anymore.

SPIEGEL: There was a vision: democracy in Iraq — a model for the region.

Assad: And where is this democracy today? Simply naming objectives isn’t sufficient for a vision. If I say that I’m going to build a large palace, but I don’t have any money to do so, then that is not a vision — it’s an illusion.

SPIEGEL: You are very pessimistic when it comes to Iraq. What can the countries of the Middle East do for Iraq?

Assad: I was already very pessimistic before the war. I told the Americans: There is no doubt that you will win this war, but then you will sink into a quagmire. What has now happened is worse than I expected. The two main problems are, first, the constitution and the issue of federalism, which is at the center of the great dispute between Sunnis and Shiites and, second, Kirkuk and the civil war that is developing between Kurds and Arabs. These problems must be addressed. It doesn’t help for the Americans to point to the elections they brought about or to the higher standard of living. Those are cosmetic issues.

SPIEGEL: What would be the consequences of partition into a Kurdish north, a Shiite south and a Sunni region in central Iraq? 

Assad: It would be harmful, not just for Iraq, but for the entire region, from Syria across the Gulf and into Central Asia. Imagine snapping a necklace and all the pearls fall to the ground. Almost all countries have natural dividing lines, and when ethnic and religious partition occurs in one country, it’ll soon happen elsewhere. It would be like the end of the Soviet Union — only far worse. Major wars, minor wars, no one will be capable of keeping the consequences under control.

SPIEGEL: So you would be in favor of a strong man who could hold Iraq together?

Assad: Not necessarily one man, but certainly a strong central authority. It has to be left to the Iraqis to determine exactly what this would look like. A secular authority is certainly best-equipped for maintaining stability in this ethnic and religious mosaic — but it should also be of a strong national character. Those who arrived on America’s tanks are not credible in Iraq.

SPIEGEL: After the cease-fire between Israel and the Hezbollah militia, you gave a much-noted speech on the situation in the Middle East. In your speech, you mentioned a “critical stage of the history of Syria and the region.” Wherein lies the opportunity?

Assad: First of all, it’s clear to everyone that the status quo of war and conflict and instability is no longer acceptable. Now America enters the picture, because only America, because of its weight, can be the main broker for peace in the Middle East. But the Bush administration is under pressure. It’s being accused of not having managed to bring about peace in six years. This pressure is good. Europe’s foreign policy role is also growing. We specifically do not want a special role for the Europeans. We expect them to work together with America to achieve peace, and to do so on the basis of a vision America must develop.

SPIEGEL: What is Syria’s role?

Assad: There can be no peace in the Middle East without Syria. The Lebanon and the Palestinian conflicts are inextricably linked with Syria. I have already mentioned the 500,000 Palestinian refugees. Were we to resolve our territorial dispute with Israel over the Golan Heights alone, we wouldn’t achieve stability. We would only be taking away the Palestinians’ hope and would be turning them from refugees into resistance fighters. This is why Syria is so determined to achieve a comprehensive peaceful solution.

SPIEGEL: What exactly will happen to the Palestinian refugees? To where should they return? 

Assad: They have the right of return, at least to Palestine…

SPIEGEL: … to Palestine or Israel?

Assad: You would have to talk to the Palestinians about that. …

SPIEGEL: In your speech, your tone was quite a bit different. In it, you called Israel an “enemy” and praised the “glorious battles” of Hezbollah. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier cancelled his trip to Damascus as a result.

Assad: Whenever you Germans come to Syria, you talk about freedom of opinion. Why don’t you allow me to have my opinion? But seriously: politicians should listen carefully. In my speech, I used the word “peace” 57 times. And if this speech was bellicose, how should one interpret the fact that Germany sends a submarine to the Israelis every other year?

SPIEGEL: Were you disappointed when Steinmeier cancelled his trip?

Assad: Of course, but the German foreign minister remains in contact with our foreign minister and has said that he wants to make up the trip. There’s another thing: The majority of my people think the way I spoke. We all have to have consideration for public opinion in our countries: the Europeans for theirs, and I for public opinion in Syria.

SPIEGEL: Public opinion in Germany would not have accepted it had the foreign minister not reacted to your having called Israel an enemy.

Assad: But Israel occupies a part of my country – of course Israel is an enemy. If you want to play a role in our region, then you have to be able to see things from our point of view. That’s also true for the classification of Hezbollah as a “terrorist organization.” That cannot remain so. In 2004, Germany played an important role during the prisoner exchange between Israel and Hezbollah. That’s exactly the point: to work within the realities that exist in this part of the world.

SPIEGEL: Germany’s history also plays a role. Do you accept that Germany has a special responsibility for Israel?

Assad: Do you mean that Israel is allowed to kill Palestinians and Arabs because Jews at that time were killed in Germany?

SPIEGEL: No, of course not. We’re talking about Israel’s right to exist.

Assad: But why don’t you also protect our right to exist? For us, the balance is important, and there, Europe is much closer to us than America. Europe knows our world.

SPIEGEL: Not long from now, German ships will begin patrolling off the Lebanese coast. What do you think of the German military mission in the Middle East?

Assad: That depends on the mission. Germany is supposed to prevent weapons from reaching Hezbollah. History teaches us that nobody can prevent a resistance group from arming when it has the support of the people. 

SPIEGEL: Mission Impossible for the German navy?

Assad: As long as the public support for Hezbollah remains as high as it is today, yes, it is a Mission Impossible. The majority here sees the resistance against Israel as legitimate. I would advise the Europeans: Don’t waste your time, address the roots of the problem…….(Continued)

Comments (21)


1. EHSANI2 said:

“Were we to resolve our territorial dispute with Israel over the Golan Heights alone, we wouldn’t achieve stability. We would only be taking away the Palestinian’s hope and would be turning them from refugees into resistance fighters. This is why Syria is so determined to achieve a comprehensive peaceful solution.”

Translation: Syria is not interested in the Golan Heights alone. It is also in charge of the Palestinian issue including the right of return and the ultimate shape of the Palestinian state. This is made clear by the following quote:

“George W. Bush also speaks about a Palestinian state. But it raises questions. What sort of state is this at all? A sovereign state or just a few specks of land covering a few square kilometers? Incidentally, I do not believe that the majority of the refuges want to return to Israel. Most of them want to go back to a Palestine within the borders of 1967. The problem is that at the moment Israel is even rejecting this retune. This is unacceptable to us.”

Clearly, the man has appointed himself as the guardian of the Palestinians. The Golan Heights is not his sole interest.

Does he support wiping Israel off the map?

“I don’t say that Israel should be wiped off the map. We want to make peace – peace with Israel. But my hope for peace could change one day. And when the hope disappears, then may be war really is the only solution. Many people asked me during the war: why are you always talking about peace? Why don’t we go to war? Let’s go the way of the resistance- Hezbollah is finding success with it. That is the mood here. One should know that in the west.”

Translation: My people want me to go to war but I am holding off. But watch out, when my hope disappears, may be war is the only solution.

Asked about the Hariri murder and the upcoming report, he notes:

“We are not concerned. What can one accuse us of? The only thing we know is that it was a suicide attack, similar to the attack of the US embassy on Damascus. We don’t know if there was someone big behind the crime.”

The Hariri murder was “similar” to the Damascus attack? This is an astounding remark.
How convenient to have the “SIMILAR” U.S. embassy attacks occur just prior to the Hariri report.

Is this President disappointed of the progress on reforms?

“My primary goal is to create prosperity.”

He of course fails to mention prosperity for whom?
If he means prosperity for “certain individuals”, then I say he has done very well indeed.

The President proceeds to blame it all on the war in Iraq which has made security his highest priority.

“This year, we have 5 percent growth.”

Wrong. It is 5 percent ex-oil. It is only 3.0% for the economy as a whole (according to the IMF footnote).

But the Syrian people need not panic as “we are going to open the first private television channel and a private newsmagazine.”

But (in case everyone starts jumping up with joy and excitement), “the way our neighborhood looks, we are always teetering on the brink of chaos. And we don’t want chaos.”

Translation: I was kidding when I earlier said that it was the war on Iraq that has changed my reform agenda. The truth is that we are “ALWAYS” teetering on the brink of chaos.
Chaos is defined as “intense pressure on my regime”. Since this risk of chaos “always” exists, expectations of major changes should always remain in check.

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September 24th, 2006, 8:41 pm

 

2. norman said:

It is clear that a compleet peace between Israel on one side and Syria ,Palestine and Lebanon on the other side is the only way and the fastest to acheive peace that America can be proud of as he seems to give the US a clear and a leading rule and now Syria ,Palestine and Lebanon more or less can have the same stand and ISrael can live happily ever after , sadly i do not think that the US gov peacfull intention for Israel in the mideast.

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September 24th, 2006, 9:13 pm

 

3. joe m. said:

EHSANI2, I don’t trust your translations. Actually, there is no need to translate, he basically said everything directly. And he is right about those issues. As I have said before, I agree with Bashar on his policy towards Israel. And he is right that Golan is not his only problem. The Israel problem is bigger then just the land, it does include the Palestinians. And especially for Syria and Lebanon, who never gave Palestinians citizenship and have hundreds of thousands of refugees. To ignore this is crazy. I don’t know what you expect him to say? What, “if they give us Golan back, we will love Israel? We don’t care that they oppress millions of Palestinians…” maybe that is your view, but I am glad it is not his. Just look at Jordan and Egypt (which seem like your idea cases), they both have “peace” with Israel, but their populations are very very angry and very very restive. Bashar is right that they need a “comprehensive” solution, because there is more then one problem. And trying to solve one piece without dealing with the other pieces will not bring peace.

As for your “translation”:
“My people want me to go to war but I am holding off.” You know that this is true. You also know that there was a lot of criticism that Syria was doing “nothing” to help Hizbullah during the war. So, I find it pretty two-faced for you to criticize Bashar because he did not go to war, even though you did not want him to go to war. Again, it is true, most Arabs and most Syrians would have liked Syria to have actively supported Hizbullah in the war. And maybe he should have. Syria was being threatened every hour by Israel.

As for the last paragraph of the interview:
“My primary goal is to create prosperity. But today – mostly because of the war in Iraq – security is our highest priority and we have fallen behind schedule when it comes to modernization. This year, we have 5 percent growth – and that’s too little. Soon, we are going to open the first private television channel and a private newsmagazine. But we have to remain careful. The way our neighborhood looks, we are always teetering on the brink of chaos. And we don’t want this chaos.”

He is right about this too, and you are wrong. He even admits that there have been mistakes, but clearly there have been gains. But don’t believe me, here is a quote from page 9 of the latest IMF report on Syria:
http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/cat/longres.cfm?sk=19525
“Non-oil GDP growth may have risen to about 5.1/2 percent in 2005, from 5 percent in 2004, buoyed by business investment and supported by household consumption and non-oil exports (Table 1). Assuming a much smaller implementation rate than historically, the surge in investment approvals in 2004 (200 percent) would have led to a strong rise in actual investment (equivalent to close to 5 percent of non-oil GDP). Private consumption was boosted by rapid credit growth, a boom in real estate prices triggered by capital inflows, and the large wage increase from mid-2004. In addition, strong economic activity in the Gulf region and abundant liquidity boosted exports and the demand for investment opportunities. Overall, net non-oil exports contributed positively to growth and to an improvement in the non-oil current account deficit, thereby helping to maintain external balance despite the sharp decline in net oil exports (Table 2). ”

The footnote you refer to says:
“Overall growth was limited to 3 percent, given the decline in oil production. The latter is, to a large extent, an exogenous variable, and has negligible impact on employment.”

So, in other words, the economy is actually stronger without oil then it is with oil, because oil exports and prices are unstable. That is a huge statement. But the economy itself is at around 5.5%, including strong employment (that is better then most of the western world, I will add). Bashar says in the interview that “that’s too little.” and he has been privatizing and opening up the economy, though not via “shock therapy” as EHSANI2 would like. And you can blow off the notion that there are going to be private news magazines and tv stations, but for Syria, those are actually big steps. They need to do more, but it doesn’t make sense to criticize important changes.

EHSANI2, your analysis is wrong on everything. You are too biased to be listened to on these matters. You can’t give Bashar any credit, even when it is due. This was mostly an interview about international issues, and it is obvious that Syria has good positions on most of these matters. It is one of the only Arab countries that stands up for what is right and has not sold out. This deserves respect. Had this been an interview about domestic policy, then I agree that Bashar deserves a lot of criticism. He has done a lot of nothing, and made only minor positive changes. But you blow them off because you are not being rational and will not give them credit for any positive changes. As i said in a post a few days ago, I see Syria as trying to make moves like China, while you want them to become Russia from 1990. On any individual day, a Chinese reformer could say, “look at all these problems”, even though china has been through the single biggest and most successful political and economic transition in history (if you see the bigger picture).

Oh, and if you can’t see that the Bashar is right when he says: “But we have to remain careful. The way our neighborhood looks, we are always teetering on the brink of chaos. And we don’t want this chaos.” then you are totally discredited. Do you think the Middle East is like Western Europe? Stable and without interference? Maybe you need a geography lesson. While we are at it, you obviously need an economics lesson too.

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September 24th, 2006, 11:24 pm

 

4. qunfuz said:

Ehsani, When Bashaar talks about domestic policy he loses my respect. I wish the interviewer had asked him a lot more about that. The economy, corruption, the continuing shrinkage of the circle of power to his own family members, the persecution of secular/ liberal opposition that poses no threat whatsoever to religious or ethnic stability in the country.
But on foreign policy I agree with him entirely. It is not clear that he has ‘appointed himself the guardian of the Palestinians’ but he has realised that there will be no stability until there is a comprehensive solution. This is obvious to me. When asked if Palestinian return should be to ‘Israel’ or ‘Palestine’ he says the interviewer should ask the Palestinians. Its’ up to them, but they must have some kind of solution or the situation will continue to burn, even if Syria turns its back on the Palestinians. Also, collective bargaining is a good principle. Also, Syria like all Arab and Muslim countries (and beyond) has a moral duty to help the Palestinians. This may sound like silly idealism to you, but it is silly idealism shared by most Arabs. As for hinting at the possibility of future war, I agree with Nasrallah’s speech on friday. If there is no potential threat, why would anyone want to make peace with you. The attitude ‘we want to make peace, we’ve been trying for years and we’ve been turned down. if you really don’t want to compromise, to establish some form of just solution, then unfortunately war will be likely in the future’ is entirely logical. It’s also far more peaceful than the pre-emptive wars of your beloved West.
Once again, sadly, a lot of the posters here are missing the nationalism of the Syrian people. Bashaar is repeating word for word the sentiments of my wife, her brothers and sisters, my cousins and uncles, all of them more ‘properly Syrian’ than me. This despite their hatred of the mukhabarat, regime corruption, etc. As soon as they hear a ‘liberal’ opponent of the regime talk against Hizbullah and the resistance in Palestine, they think he’s a traitor, and say they’s rather stick with Bashaar.

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September 25th, 2006, 1:26 am

 

5. Ehsani2 said:

Qunfuz,

You are right. Everyone I know also repeats the patriotic line that your relatives have expressed to you. This is not surprising. If they did not, something would be wrong. When a single political party has 100 percent monopoly over every facet of life in a country, it is very hard for the populace to escape Indoctrination. Let me explain further:

Suppose the Republican Party ruled the U.S. for 43 years without a single opposition. No Democrats, Independents or any other political opponents are permitted to be involved in politics or power. Moreover, let us suppose that the same Republican Party has total national control over the school curriculum. Fox news and few neocon publications are the exclusive media outlets in the country. Not a single opposition is allowed to own or operate its own newspaper or television stations. In higher education, no professor (Sorry Dr. Landi s but this includes you) is allowed to veer off the Republican neocon line. The American people will then be assumed to live under those conditions for 43 years. In other words, anyone born after 1963 is assumed to have seen, heard, touched or believed in nothing but conservative Republican politics. Fox news is in their face day in day out extolling the brilliance of George W. Bush and the conservatives agenda. Those that criticize or publicly organize against the Party or the sitting President are under the constant watch of the FBI, CIA and Home security who have full authority to arrest anyone without recourse to the rule of law.

Now, how do you think the American people would feel? Do you think they will be any less nationalistic than your Syrian brothers and sisters? Do you think they would be less devoted or less in love in love with their Presidents than the examples that you cited in Syria?

Of course the Syrian people will tell you they love their President. They have been implicitly and explicitly told what to think for 43 years now. If they don’t express such sentiments to you and I, then the Baath party apparatus and its indoctrination policy is assumed to be useless and insignificant. Regrettably, it is not. It has done a superb job for its benefactors at the expense of 20 million brains that have learnt, seen or heard no other alternative.

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September 25th, 2006, 2:38 am

 

6. qunfuz said:

Sorry Ehsani, I think you’re wrong. My Syrian relatives, inlaws and friends do not love the Baath party or the regime. They quite like Bashaar, some of them, but only because they feel sorry for him because he seems weak. I know some people in Syria who are Ikhwani and would love the regime to fall. I know people who hate Bashaar because he’s Alawi, and that’s all. I know liberals who despise the regime for its suppression of debate, its clumsiness, its brutality. So the propaganda machine doesn’t work. I’m talking about national positions which are logical, in terms of Palestine, the Golan, Iraq, Lebanon. A lot of Syrians think the government is not hardline enough with Israel and the West. They don’t need the government to tell them to not like Israel. Any country in the world which has a section of its land occupied by a foreign power hates that power. My brother in law is a Palestinian whose family lost everything in 48. His family lives in Yarmook camp in Damascus. He has Syrian neighbours. Those neighbours don’t need to believe Tishreen newspaper to be outraged at what has been done to Palestine, they only need to look at their neighbours. Syrians were nationalist and anti-zionist before the Baath and they will be afterwards too. I find your writing off of Syrian beliefs and principles as the result of propaganda to be insulting and sinister.
I think your comparison with the US is unfortunate. Of course there are more individual rights in America than in Syria, and of course some of the smaller radio stations and publications publish a range of opinion. But mainstream American TV and newspapers are in my opinion a disgrace. The range of opinion is far more restricted than on al Jazeera for instance, which is where most Syrians get their news from. The media in the states is often owned by the same people who own the government. And belief in the rightness of American intervention around the world seems to be a national religion. I’m a British citizen of syrian origin who’s lived in Europe, the Middle East and South Asia. I must say that the average American seems far far less aware of world events and far less able to criticise his own country than the average Syrian, Omani, Pakistani, Frenchman, Moroccan or Britain (to throw a few examples around).

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September 25th, 2006, 6:24 am

 

7. Ehsani2 said:

Of course Syrians have been nationalistic and anti-Zionists before the Baath ever came to life. This is a noble and respectable stand.

But, this is not only an exercise of right and wrong that we are discussing. There has to be a point when we think about whether our strategy as peoples is working or not.

There has to be a time when we start to demand that our well-being and daily economic lives also come to the fore of the priorities of our national leaders. We cannot continue life with a single minded one-dimensional issue that our leaders exploit to justify ruling us for decades with no accountabilities and no end.

This is not about Sunni, Alawi, Christians or Kurds. This is about basic human liberty, and hope that our people are entitled for just like all others on this planet. The Israel CD cannot continue to trump us as people forever. If our national leaders want us to follow them on a path of resistance, there has to be a timetable by which their strategy ought to be measured and referenced against. If not, these leaders will continue to exploit this issue at the expense of millions of their citizens.

Love for country and the protection of our rights and dream is one thing. But what and when is the end game? Where are we heading? What is our strategy? When will we deliver? A lot of you do not care to know. So long as the leader acts like he is a Zionist and U.S. hater, you are willing to tolerate anything else that comes our way as people.
I am not.

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September 25th, 2006, 8:52 am

 

8. Ehsani2 said:

>By Jonathan Ferziger
> Sept. 25 — Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
>secretly met with a senior member of the Saudi royal family,
>possibly King Abdullah, about 10 days ago, Yediot Aharonot
>reported without citing anyone.
> It may have been the first time an Israeli prime minister
>has held a direct meeting with such a senior member of the Saudi
>royal family, the newspaper said.
> The talks, organized with U.S. support, were prompted by
>concern in both Israel and Saudi Arabia over Iran’s nuclear
>program and its support for Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, Yediot
>said. Olmert and the Saudi royal also discussed renewing peace
>talks with the Palestinians, it said.
> Saudi Arabia proposed a peace plan in 2002 under which
>Israel would withdraw from the Gaza Strip, West Bank and Golan
>Heights in exchange for peace agreements and normalization of
>relations with all Arab states.
>
>(Yediot, 9-25)

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September 25th, 2006, 9:12 am

 

9. qunfuz said:

Ehsani

Perhaps we have more in common than it seems. To the extent that Arab regimes use the Israel card to justify ‘emergency rule’ I agree with you entirely. Israel does not justify ‘emergency rule’. In fact, dictatorship and tyranny hold back society and stop it from achieving ALL of its objectives, economic, social and national. We would be in a much better position to explain our national causes to the outside world if we had more freedom and democracy in Syria. If the economy was not strangled by corruption and bureaucracy we would have more power and influence in the world, and we would be listened to. Mukhabarat taxi drivers and shopkeepers and all the police cells and torture chambers in Syria have never once foiled an Israeli plot, but have only kept the thieves safe. I know all that. But more or less all Arab states are corrupt and tyrannical, but only Syria is upholding national stands, to some extent. This doesn’t excuse Syrian ytranny, but shows the national stands do not follow automatically from tyranny.
I don’t agree that Syrian well-being can be served by forgetting the Golan, Palestine and so on. Syria needs the water resources of the Golan. It needs a regional solution so that the area is stable, safe, and so that people will invest there. It needs populations that are not (rightly, logically)infuriated every time they turn on the TV.
The regime says we can’t reform because of the occupation. You say we have to ignore the occupation in order to reform. I say we have to reform in order to end the occupation.
I don’t agree that our leaders want us to follow them on a path of resistance. The people are much more interested in resistance than the leaders, including the Syrian leaders.
If you and I, as it were, could meet…if liberal and democratic voices which uphold national rights and resistance could be heard, then there would be an alternative that Syrians might be interested in.

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September 25th, 2006, 9:50 am

 

10. EngineeringChange said:

I agree wholeheartedly with Joe M’s comments. Qunfuz has also made some very good comments. But Ehsani you have it wrong on so many fronts–BUT i do hope you have realized this to an extent finally. Anybody who wants a true peace and stability in the Middle East cannot simply ignore Palestine. This is willfull ignorance that is reminicent of Rumsfield and his kind before the Iraq war.

And Ehsani, your argument on propaganda and indoctrination is also wrong as well. Please explain why I agree with Bashar’s foreign policy sentiments–having never attended a governement school? Many friends of mine in similar positions seem to be indoctrinated despite never having lived in Syria! You should consider that perhaps seeking a just solution to Palestine is a good and just position to have. That our President WAS exactly right about Iraq and the consequences of the US invading.

I don’t like Israel being used as an excuse for the emergency law one bit. I don’t like reforms being slowed down because of chaos in the region. But this is the hand we have dealt–two of our neighboring countries are just coming out of wars.

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September 25th, 2006, 4:43 pm

 

11. Ehsani2 said:

For the record:

When I express my personal opinions, I seldom expect to have many people agree with me. I do not, therefore, feel bad in the slightest when I read the many opposing views to the ones that I express on this forum. To the contrary, I do find them interesting and somewhat predictable (as i am sure you have come to view mine)

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September 25th, 2006, 5:24 pm

 

12. Philip I said:

Ehsani2 and Qunfuz

If I may say so, your discussion is both interesting and intelligent.

Qunfuz said: “Bashaar is repeating word for word the sentiments of my wife, her brothers and sisters, my cousins and uncles, all of them more ‘properly Syrian’ than me. This despite their hatred of the mukhabarat, regime corruption, etc. As soon as they hear a ‘liberal’ opponent of the regime talk against Hizbullah and the resistance in Palestine, they think he’s a traitor, and say they’s rather stick with Bashaar.”

Each of us can reflect the sentiments of ordinary people. This does not give us the right to lead, represent or speak for the Syrian people. Bashar’s rule is false and illigitimate because the Syrian people did not select him or his cronies through their own free will. While its is a reality that has imposed itself on us, it is also as, Ehsani2 implied, a fight for basic human dignity and political freedom regardless of external factors.

Qunfuz also said “The regime says we can’t reform because of the occupation. You say we have to ignore the occupation in order to reform. I say we have to reform in order to end the occupation.”

Qunfuz, I could not agree with you more. National strength can only come from the intellectual and productive power of society as a whole. No nation can flourish without good education, proper organisation and a degree of patriotism. The Syrian people remain patriotic even though they are denied political rights and being robbed and abused daily. Patriotism is the only thing that is keeping the regime in power because it has brain-washed an entire generation into believing that patriotism is synonymous with loyalty to the Assads an Baath Party.

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September 25th, 2006, 5:37 pm

 

13. Alex said:

Philip, it is bizarre that people who believe in demcracy like you and Ehsani and Ammar …etc want to convince everyone that if a Syrian sees things the way the regime happens to see them these days, then it must be concluded that Syrian person has been brainwashed by the regime.

When you see that 90% of Syirans are enthusiastic for what happened in Lebanon for example, please try to allow yourself to adapt .. rather than explaining it through “oh, they are brainwashed” or “they are just saying that because they are afraid of the regime”

What would it take for you to be convinced that maybe this is the true choice of the vast majority of Syrians today?

And Ia m not saying it is always a great choice, but it sure looks like it is what They want.

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September 25th, 2006, 6:55 pm

 

14. Ehsani2 said:

Alex,

I think that the percentage of Syrians who liked what they they saw in Lebanon is perhaps closer to 99% and not 90%. I do believe that this was the true sentiment of the Syrian people. Every nation on earth rallies around its leaders when threatened from outside. Syrians are no exception.

As for how democracy applies in this case, please answer this question for me:

If Bashar has the vast majority of the people behind his policies, why doesn’t he hold free elections rather than the so-called referendum that has been the shameful hallmark of our recent past? Don’t tell me that our neighbors do it, so why not us? If I had 90% of my people behind me, I would encourage free and transparent elections.

Since his ideas and his reform agendas are so populr with his people, why not allow the opposition to debate him and run agaisnt him. Presumably, he will blow them out at the voting booths given his popularity.

I have news for you. It ain’t going to happen in my lifetime. Hopefully it will in yours.

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September 25th, 2006, 7:21 pm

 

15. Alex said:

Ehasani,

First, it is not only Bashar’s support of HA that was 90%+ popular, it is his position on Lebanon as a whole (like vs. Jumblat and Saad hariri and Geagea for example) … on Iraq too, and on relations with the curent US administration.

It is almost Black and White in this case, I’ll accept it here: his foreign policy is very popular, his performance on dometic issues is very unpopular (although some give him the benefit of the doubt that the system is not easy to reform).

Based on that , if he conducted elections today, he might win or lose … it is not guaranteed. Don’t forget that the Jurds, and others will vote against him automatically because of their own agendas.

Expet Bashar to be in power for 7 to 14 years (1 o two terms).

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September 25th, 2006, 7:45 pm

 

16. Ehsani2 said:

How do you think he decides to call it a day?

A young man like him would have gained experience and presumably grown in the job. Are you implying that he would unlilaterally decide to walk away from the job after 7-14 years?

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September 25th, 2006, 7:56 pm

 
 

18. alex said:

Yes. 1 to 2 terms.

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September 25th, 2006, 10:10 pm

 

19. t_desco said:

Brammertz confirms truck bomb killed Hariri but refrains from pointing fingers
The Daily Star

“New tests corroborate the theory that former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri was killed by a massive truck bomb detonated by a suicide bomber, a United Nations investigating team said in a report released Monday. Evidence found at the scene of the blast also included a tooth, probably of the bomber, which featured an unspecified “distinguishing mark” on its crown suggesting he may not have been from Lebanon, the report said.”

Any idea what this “distinguishing mark” could be? Dentists to the rescue…!

“According to the report, new tests corroborate the theory that a man either inside or just in front of the van detonated the bomb, which was probably close to 1,800 kilograms. Investigators have found 32 pieces of remains from the person believed to be the attacker, who was likely 20-25 years old, the report said.”

1,800 kilograms is an unusually large amount of explosives. Most car bombs are much smaller.

“Brammertz said evidence suggested that the team planning Hariri’s assassination had him under surveillance.

At one point, he said, the attackers either tried to kill Hariri or carried out a rehearsal.” (!)

“New leads and phone calls traced through 17 countries were other highlights of the report. Brammertz cited “a considerable number of new leads for the investigation relating to the crime scene, its vicinity and the immediate perpetration of the crime.

He also pointed to a “link” between 14 explosions, assassinations and attempted assassinations that occurred in Lebanon throughout 2005. Investigators’ work “in relation to the 14 other cases … is beginning to produce links, notably in identifying potential conjoining motives,” the report said.

Though no suspects were named in the report, Brammertz said the probe “has developed direct and indirect linkages between significant individuals in disparate groups that are relevant from an investigative perspective.”

As for who ordered the killing, the report said investigators continue to probe “both the possibility that a single group, with a singular intent and capacity committed the crime; or that a well-defined or disparate collection of individuals or groups joined together with differing motives and intentions to commit the same crime.”

As for Ahmed Abu Adass, who appeared in a video claiming responsibility for the killing and has not been located since, Brammertz said the team “continues its examination of Abu Adass’ involvement in the crime, including the validity of the claim of responsibility.”"

This is odd as he clearly wasn’t the suicide bomber.

“However, Brammertz said that Abu Adass’ “profile is distinct … he seemingly had more academic and intellectual interests and less technical orientation that that associated with those members of terrorist groups engaged in the operational aspects of terrorist activities, at least in Lebanon.”

The motives behind the crime “are apparently of varying levels of international, regional and national relevance, and relate to political, economic, financial and business matters.”

A bit puzzling

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September 25th, 2006, 11:09 pm

 

20. Innocent_Criminal said:

I don’t know about you T_desco but I am starting to think they are using the investigation to milk this cow to its last drop. every six months the noose around Syria’s neck gets tighter but they keep enough space for air. And just maybe, the outcome will DEPEND on what Syria will be willing to give up behind the scenes.

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September 25th, 2006, 11:46 pm

 

21. Ehsani2 said:

>By Bill Varner
> Sept. 25 — The United Nations investigation
>into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri
>has reached the stage where preparations for a trial have begun,
>U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said.
> While there was no indication of imminent indictments,
>Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz reported to the UN Security
>Council that he has gathered evidence that could be introduced
>at a trial about the “political environment” surrounding the
>Feb. 14, 2005, Beirut truck bombing that killed Hariri and 22
>others.
> “This shows he is preparing for trial,” Bolton told
>reporters after receiving the 21-page report released today.
>“He is proceeding in a very professional and systematic
>fashion.”
> Public outrage at the murders forced Syria to comply with
>international demands and withdraw its troops from neighboring
>Lebanon in April. The withdrawal ended a 29-year presence and
>led to an election victory in June that gave the anti-Syrian
>political bloc a majority in Lebanon’s parliament.
> Brammertz, who succeeded German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis as
>head of the UN-authorized probe in January, revealed nothing
>about possible suspects. Mehlis had said Lebanese and Syrian
>intelligence officials, including Syrian President Bashar al-
>Assad brother and brother-in-law, were implicated in the attack.
>Syria has denied any involvement.
> By “political environment,” Brammertz said he included
>the UN resolution adopted in September 2005 demanding that Syria
>withdraw from Lebanon, relations between Lebanon and “other
>states in the region,” and elections in Lebanon in May 2005.
>The report was Brammertz’s third to the Security Council.
> Brammertz said his team’s assistance in Lebanese probes of
>14 other cases of political assassinations produced evidence of
>“linkage” between them and the Hariri killing.
> Syria’s cooperation with the investigation has been
>“generally satisfactory” in recent months, the report said.
> Four Lebanese security officers died and four others were
>injured in a Sept. 5 attack south of Beirut on an investigator
>who was involved in the Hariri inquiry.

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September 25th, 2006, 11:47 pm

 

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