Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, November 18th, 2009
I am off to Middle East Studies Association meeting in Boston for 5 days. I hope Alex and Ehsani will entertain you all.
Nicholas Noe believes Hizbullah is looking for a fight with Israel, which will come soonish. He writes: “The overwhelming sentiment within the party [Hizbullah] seems to be that a confrontation is not only inevitable, but that when it comes it will finally lead to the total collapse of Israel. This means, above all else, that the relative quiet of the past few years has not brought restored Israeli deterrence, but instead the deferment of a conflict that Hizballah feels vastly more secure in waging.”
It is hard to believe Hizbullah is really as confident as they make out. Certainly, “the resistance,” and that includes Hamas and Syria, must do something. The ball is in their court. Israel has won, at least it would seem that way for the time being. What do I mean by won? The Gaza solution. Israel has defied Obama, who claims that only the two-state solution is viable. It has presented an alternative solution, the Gaza solution. By bombing Hizbullah hard and bombing Hamas hard Israel has mapped out a policy. It seems to be working. No Western power complained when Israel smashed Gaza, nor have they complained since. No Hizbullah attack in over 3 years and quite on the Gaza front as the population languishes in its tents – that is success of the starkest kind. If the “resistance” does not respond within the year, there will be precious few remaining Israelis – or Westerner politicians for that matter – who will argue that concessions need to be made for peace. Hizbullah may talk a confident game, but the Israelis have promised that Lebanon will be Gaza’ed if Hizbullah strikes. I believe them.
BBC: Iraq-Syria border tensions
Relations between Iraq and Syria have worsened sharply in recent weeks. Iraqi officials led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, blame Damascus for a recent series of huge bomb explosions in Baghdad, accusing it of harbouring hostile elements and …
“Al Qaeda in Iraq has transformed significantly in the last two years. What once was dominated by foreign individuals has now become more and more dominated by Iraqi citizens,” Odierno told reporters at the U.S. military’s main base in Baghdad.
“There’s still a small foreign element to al Qaeda, there are some who used to be Sunni rejectionists or ex-Baathists who are involved in this because of course they don’t want the government to succeed.”
Overall violence in Iraq has fallen sharply in the past 18 months and November so far has experienced one of the lowest civilian casualty levels since the 2003 U.S. invasion.
But attacks by suspected Sunni Islamist insurgents like al Qaeda remain common.
The twin suicide bombings in Baghdad on Oct. 25 devastated the Justice Ministry and the Baghdad governorate headquarters, while two similar suicide bombings on Aug. 19 killed almost 100 people at the foreign and finance ministries.
“We believe that there will be attempts to conduct more attacks between now and the elections because they want to destabilise those,” Odierno said.
The election is expected to occur between Jan. 18-23 but the date has been cast into doubt after Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi vetoed a law needed for the ballot to take place.
Odierno said multiple investigations had been launched into the Oct. 25 bombings, involving U.S. and Iraqi investigators.
“My experience is there probably was some movement of fighters or explosives coming from Syria,” he said when asked if the investigations had indicated any links to Syria.
Iraq refugees face dwindling UN funds, creating concerns of unrest
The UN has had trouble securing international funds to support as many as 2 million Iraq refugees throughout the Middle East who are barred from working in their host countries.
By Julien Barnes-Dacey | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
November 19, 2009
Damascus, Syria – More than six years after the invasion of Iraq, up to 2 million refugees remain stranded in neighboring countries and fears are rising that international support for them is fading, threatening more long-term regional unrest.
This week Eric Schwartz, the Assistant US Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration, made his first regional tour since assuming his position in July and offered a grim assessment while in Damascus.
“This is a critical moment,” said Mr. Schwartz in an interview Wednesday. “I am extremely concerned at the inadequate response to the appeals of the UN to support humanitarian assistance to Iraqis.”
For 2010 the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Syria, where up to 1 million Iraqi refugees reside, requested an operational budget of $166 million. The agency only secured $55 million in international donations, down from $83 million in 2009. The story is similar elsewhere in the region.
Nearly all support for the refugees is channeled through UNHCR and observers worry that dwindling aid could provoke greater social and economic problems, extremism, and violence among the refugee community.
“The international community wants to believe that things are getting better in Iraq and so it’s going to pay less attention to refugees outside the country,” said one Western diplomat in Syria speaking on condition of anonymity.
Even as talk about the return of stability to Iraq reverberates internationally, more than 1,000 new refugees continue to register with the UNHCR region-wide every month, roughly matching the number of refugees who return to Iraq or are resettled in third countries. And with Iraqi national elections scheduled for January the potential for renewed instability could provoke a fresh surge…..
Be sure to read Qifa Nabki on Lebanon’s Palestinian Refugees, and on Hizbullah and other important Lebanon things.
Kuzbari – one of Syria’s most accomplished businessmen, executive with Sham Holding,who has lived in Austria and is often referred to as the “Paper King” – he recently took over a government run paper factory in Deir ez-Zor – has an interesting interview in al-Iqtisad. He argues that businessmen should be at the heart of the government and in the economic ministries. He also explains that the Syrian government does not want to privatize, but adds, “I have my own feelings.” Read the interview in Arabic.
Government Salaries to Go Up
Minister of Finance Hussein says that he will raise government salaries as soon as the funds are available. Ehsani writes, “there is no way they can afford it…this is just lip service.. the deficit seems to be about 8% of gdp…subsidies are responsible for over 60% of that.”
Sarkozy’s Middle East Summit Plan
Wed, 18 November 2009
This summit, which could give Sarkozy international and domestic momentum, is doomed to fail as long as the US administration does not pressure Netanyahu effectively to change his policy toward the Palestinians and move truly toward a peace negotiation track. The French president hopes to mobilize leaders around his plan, and he is aware that the US role is essential here. However, why would Obama give him this gift, while he is in need of the same success on this difficult track, which he has promised to solve? In fact, the French president believes that the White House erred in its policy of specifying for the Israelis a halt to settlements as a condition for returning to negotiations.
France believes that all issues should be put on the table and negotiated, namely halting settlements, Jerusalem, borders, etc. However, Sarkozy’s summit plan might be an unachievable dream because the Israeli prime minister is maneuvering and does not want any Palestinian state or any concessions, or any peace. Only the US president can exercise true pressure….
As for the Syrian-Israeli track, it was Sarkozy’s desire to receive, from his new Syrian friend, a certain role on a negotiation track that has been halted since the Gaza War, and the deterioration in Israeli-Turkish relations. The Israeli prime minister is maneuvering on this front as well, leaking information about an Israeli message via France to al-Assad, and that Netanyahu prefers Sarkozy as a mediator, to the Turks. The Syrian president, meanwhile, has openly affirmed that he is determined to retain the Turkish mediator and that the only request he has made to his friend Sarkozy is to pressure Israel to accept the Turkish mediator and resume negotiations.
The Syrian president’s visit to France was successful and important for the Syrian president, who received a “loftier” reception than usual in traditional working visits. He was able to conduct unprecedented level of public relations in the French capital. Al-Assad was not stingy when it came to media interviews and television appearances. Meetings were held for him with the leading French intellectuals and media figures, who saw the president’s attractiveness, modernity and skill in dealing with the media, in contrast to the Syrian embassy in France, which has been the subject of criticism. However, the visit did not give anything to Sarkozy, whether on the Syrian-Israeli track, or the alliance with Iran (al-Assad criticized European dealing with Iran on this nuclear issue), or the French-Iranian girl being held in Tehran, Clothilde Reiss. The Syrian president recommended to French officials that if they wanted to solve this issue, they should take the legal track and send lawyers and legal experts for her trial in Iran, or the political track, and solve it by paying a political price on the nuclear issue, and take Iranian proposals into consideration. Sarkozy’s warnings about an Israeli military strike against Iran and his fear that a fire could ignite in the region have not caused a change in the Syrian position. As for Lebanon, the Syrian president observed that disputes inside Lebanon were due to the Lebanese themselves, and that Syria had nothing to do with Lebanese disputes. He also said that Lebanon’s stability and prosperity were in Syria’s interest. The French agreed with him about an improvement in conditions in Lebanon and there was no additional French demand on this issue, which tooks up only a short period of the discussions….
Israel no longer trusts Turkey, Erdogan says
18 November 2009, Reuters
* Israel does not want Turkey to mediate with Syria, PM says
* Syria not likely to join French-mediated talks, he says
ISTANBUL, Nov 18 (Reuters) – Israel no longer trusts Turkey to mediate peace talks with Syria, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday, signalling how much relations have deteriorated between the regional allies in recent months.
Erdogan singled out Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for failing to trust Ankara, unlike his predecessor Ehud Olmert, and also said he did not think Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would accept a French role in mediating with Israel.
Turkey, NATO’s only Muslim member, last year facilitated contacts that focused on Syrian demands for a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights — which Israel captured in 1967 and annexed — and Israel’s accusations that Damascus arms militants in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.
They only aired about half of it and cut out some of the juicy parts where it gets heated (like when he defends quoting that diplomat on the Alawites and I attack him on that front). I tried to avoid at first the whole “state where people look over their shoulder”, but he pressed me on the issue and so I responded. It starts on the 43rd minute so just drag the button till you get there
Syria has easy answers, but ducks the hard questions
Emile Hokayem, political editor
November 18, 2009
A beaming Bashar al Assad visited the Elysee Palace in Paris last week to crown a series of foreign policy coups that are returning a once-shunned Syria to the international fold.
The French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who hopes to carve himself a role as a major regional player by facilitating Syria’s reintegration, is not the only one to have been bamboozled by the Syrian president (although so far Mr Sarkozy has done better at breaking taboos than obtaining tangible concessions from his new partner).
Mr Assad’s allies in Lebanon managed to strong-arm the prime minister-elect, Saad Hariri, into giving them the government share and portfolios they demanded, despite losing the election in June. Of course, they could not have done so without using weapons transported through Syria to intimidate and paralyse political activity.
Kiss the Independence Intifada goodbye
Michael Young in Daily Star
“The death of the Independence Intifada of 2005 has been prematurely announced many times. However, today we have in front of us a genuine corpse, the end of the fleeting aspiration four years ago, at least in its more restricted form, of establishing a system emancipated from Syria. The Syrians, who left Lebanon through the window after Rafik Hariri’s assassination only to re-enter by the front door in recent months, have done so thanks to an understanding with Saudi Arabia. There are differences between what we have today and the Syrian-Saudi condominium after Taif, above all that the Syrian Army is no longer deployed in Lebanon. The latest contract is more equitable and is complicated by the fact that Iran has a powerful stake in the system through Hizbullah. However, it is familiar in leaving Lebanon with little discernible sovereignty, in large part courtesy of Lebanese divisions.
It’s no secret that the Saudis put considerable pressure on the prime minister-elect, Saad Hariri, to come to an arrangement over the new government with the opposition, one reason why he was forced to spend much time negotiating with Michel Aoun, to the irritation of his Christian partners. The Syrians, too, kept their end of the bargain, apparently with Turkish prodding, by bringing Aoun into line. After five months, the Hariri government was made in Lebanon only in the narrowest of ways.
This represents a fundamental shift from what Lebanon had between 2005 and 2009. From 2004 on, the country was placed under an effective, if highly imperfect, form of international trusteeship, ….began with Resolution 1559,…….
That international scaffolding has been substantially eroded in recent years, by action or omission. Resolution 1559 has been implemented only in the sense that Syrian soldiers have left Lebanon. However, Syrian meddling in Lebanese affairs has been unrelenting, and in late 2007 France significantly undermined the letter of the resolution, which it had co-sponsored, by actively bringing Damascus into the Lebanese presidential election. As for the disarmament of Hizbullah or pro-Syrian Palestinian groups, nothing has happened, and the Cabinet is preparing to find a consensual rhetorical formula in its statement to evade the question. The initial optimism surrounding the Hariri investigation has, similarly, worn off…..
The Wisdom Of AdMob’s Founder Omar Hamoui
Venture Capital Dispatch, November 9, 2009. WSJ Blog
By Scott Austin
Google Inc.’s announcement that it will buy AdMob Inc. for $750 million brought a media spotlight on Accel Partners, an investor in both AdMob and Playfish Inc., which said today it will sell to Electronic Arts Inc. for at least $275 million. Several blogs, including this one, hailed Accel Partners for its impressive and quick investment returns at a time when deals like these are hard to come by.
But AdMob’s founder and CEO, Omar Hamoui, really deserves the attention for building a company that in three years became the largest player of mobile Web ads and ultimately, a coveted jewel for the largest Internet company. [Hamoui was born in LA of Syrian parents.]
“Western powers are gearing up for talks on a fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program but will not target Iran’s energy sector to ensure Russia’s and China’s support…… the scaling back of the West’s expectations for new U.N. steps against Iran for defying Security Council demands to stop enriching uranium shows that the Europeans and Americans have accepted that Moscow and Beijing, with their close trade ties to Tehran, will not let Iran’s economy be crippled.
Diplomats said the Western powers are eager to ratchet up the pressure on the Islamic Republic. But they also need to keep Moscow and Beijing on board to send a clear signal to Tehran that the world’s big powers are united against it…..
Just a few months ago U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other leaders warned Iran that it could face “crippling sanctions” if it continued to reject U.N. demands about its nuclear program….
A senior Western diplomat said the Western powers had other options independent of the United Nations. Those options would not be symbolic, he said.
He said that if European governments were to forbid Iranian banks from engaging in any transactions in euros, it would have “quite serious consequences” for Iran. Such a measure is both feasible and possible if the “political will” exists in Europe, he added.
Other diplomats said the West could prevent Iran from getting hold of the lucrative technology to produce liquefied natural gas (LNG). Tehran has been eager to acquire LNG technology for some time but has been unable to get top industry players to close deals with it….”
Syria Stalls on Signing Trade Deal With EU
By JULIEN BARNES-DACEY
DAMASCUS — After years of pursuing a free-trade pact with the European Union, Syria is now balking at signing a deal as local businesses express worry about competition from European goods.
The European bloc is already Syria’s biggest trade partner. Such an agreement would reduce tariffs and spur the inflow of sought-after European goods. It would also be another symbolic sign of Syria’s recent diplomatic rehabilitation.
Syrian President Bashar Assad, touring a natural gas plant Wednesday, has pushed through economic liberalization.
The EU-Syria trade deal was first raised in 2004. A deal stalled in recent years after a political falling-out between Syria and European capitals. Amid accusations by Washington of Syrian complicity in allowing insurgents into Iraq, and allegations that Damascus may have had a hand in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, momentum stalled.
But the prospects for a deal picked up again earlier this year, when the EU in October invited Syria to sign a so-called Association Agreement with the bloc. The agreement promises closer political and economic cooperation.
Instead of embracing the invitation, however, Syria balked, perplexing European diplomats who had thought Damascus was still eager for a deal. Syrian officials here now say they need more time to study the ramifications on their economy, which is already undergoing significant reforms.
Recent trade liberation with other countries has been welcomed by consumers here. But it has hurt local industry. Some manufacturers have complained they can’t compete with better-quality goods that are now flowing in from other Arab countries, China and Turkey.
“We are taking our time to see the impact on our agriculture, our industry, and when we have finished the study we will inform the Europeans,” Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Dardari said in a recent interview.
Syrian businessmen are lobbying hard against the partnership, saying that new competition with European goods could have devastating effects on local industry. At the Badr Chocolates factory, located in the southern suburbs of Damascus, the challenges facing businesses here are clear.
Aging machines sputter, cranking out chocolates that would have a hard time competing with European alternatives. European products are already easy to come by here. They are made expensive, however, by import duties that the EU deal would remove.
“It’s as if I have a 1945 model car, and you’re asking me to compete with a 2010 model,” said Adnan Dakhakhni, Badr’s owner and a Syrian member of parliament. He warns he would have to lay off as many as half of his 60 employees if the EU deal goes through.
Syrian industrialists are already reeling as a result of the country’s 2007 free-trade agreement with Turkey. Scores of firms have been forced shut, fanning a public backlash against economic liberalization enacted by the authoritarian regime of President Bashar Assad.
Mr. Dardari, the deputy prime minister, says the government is still committed to its economic reform.
“Definitely many industrialists in Syria should be concerned,” he said. “But they are also aware of our policy, which is no more protection. Competition is healthy, and it’s good ultimately for the economy.”
Commentary: Piece of cake?
By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE
WASHINGTON, Nov. 19 (UPI) — “It will be just like Syria,” said the strategic scholar just back from Israel and speculating about the much-debated question of whether Israel will eventually bomb Iran’s nuclear installations.
It was a private conversation, and the erudite Middle Eastern expert was referring to Israel’s Sept. 6, 2007, bombing of a suspected nuclear site in Syria that had been secretly erected in a remote part of the country with the help of North Korean experts. The Israeli air force “can drop their guided missiles down a smokestack, and their submarine-launched cruise missiles can single out any building, and the Iranians, like the Syrians, will keep quiet about it.”
And why would Iran’s leaders keep quiet instead of issuing a general call to arms to all Muslims? Because, he reasoned, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has bragged publicly that Iran’s anti-aircraft defenses are “impenetrable.” Unmentioned is the distinct possibility that Ahmadinejad and some ayatollahs would welcome Israeli bombs as a way of uniting both Shiite and Sunni wings of the global ummah against Israel and the United States.
For an armchair strategist to be that far removed from reality is a little frightening. Syria’s nuclear site was located in a deserted part of the country near the Turkish border. Iran’s targets are deliberately implanted among heavily populated areas. A single bomb, however accurate, would translate into pictures and TV footage of dead women and children — and worldwide condemnation.
The U.S. brass is unanimously opposed to any Israeli and/or U.S. attack against any of Iran’s 27 known nuclear installations. Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen and the four service chiefs can see the Strait of Hormuz — through which 25 percent of the world’s oil transits — mined and supertankers sunk, and vital oil installations up and down the Persian Gulf swept up in the maelstrom.