Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia: Three’s a Crowd

Published by Alex

The unprecedented complexity of the situation in the Middle East is perhaps best explained through this title from the Marsh 2007 edition of the Economist Intelligence Unit: “Three’s a crowd”

The development of the three-cornered relationship between Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria will have an important bearing on how the region’s various crises evolve.

Comparing the situation in the Middle East today to that during the nineties, we now see many more conflicts and challenges. More regional players involved in many additional conflicts, confrontations, and crises.

Back in the nineties (until 2001), one had to deal with either the classic Arab Israeli conflict (Syrian and Palestinian tracks) or the situation in Iraq after Saddam Hussein lost the first Gulf war and had to be held to his own country.

The regional players were Egypt (in charge of Palestinian affairs), Syria (in charge of Lebanon) Saudi Arabia (supporting roles in both Lebanon and Palestine) and the United States and Israel.

With regional trouble maker Saddam Hussein weakened after his loss in the first Gulf war, an agreement between Hafez Assad, Hosni Mubarak and Prince Abdullah was sufficient to keep things under control. The three Arab leaders simply made sure they did not undermine each other.

In addition, Presidents Bush Sr. and then Bill Clinton were not interested in “changing Syria’s behavior” or in regime change in Damascus. Syria in turn was an enthusiastic participant in peace talks with Israel and did not interfere in the Palestinian track.

 

 

mideast-timeline480_02.jpg

 

 

These days (2007), the United States and Iran are heavily involved in several of the region's crises. While Egypt remained satisfied with its role as the largest Arab country, Saudi Arabia became interested in filling the perceived leadership gap left by Hafez Assad’s passing away. That meant taking sole responsibility for Lebanon, away from Syrian control. A bit further to the East, Iran decided to assume the old leadership role left vacant by the dismantled Iraq. In a way, Iran started representing the interests of the region’s Shiite population. Many new conflicts and confrontations were started. A dangerous Sunni-Shiite crisis, panic in Israel as Iran gets closer to owning nuclear technology, Recurring news of a summer war between Syria and Israel, and finally, what started as American efforts to spread democracy in the Middle East (Iraq, Syria Egypt, and Iran) was reduced to a more practical goal: regime change in Syria. U.S. allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia got away with minor reforms for now.

So here is a graphical look at the very busy Middle East. It shows who has been more active lately and it shows which conflicts are the most popular for the regional players to try to participate in. And it shows that no single country seems to have control on any of the conflicts. Without an agreement between the regional players and without balanced and practical American expectations probably nothing will be solved.

 

 

 

mideast-timeline480_07.jpg

 

Comments (62)


Samir said:

Egypt has 20,000 political prisoners….

Ugarit and alex, the context here is not the same, in Egypt there is a clear political struggle between a dictatorial regime with political parties and a civil society which have its own medias and associations ,such equation is impossible under the minority regime of the asads, when the Syrian regime faced mass protests and organized opposition the answer was Hama rule and the destruction of large sectors of the historical urban fabric of Hama and Aleppo; and the killing of more than 35 000 civilians. school children who demonstrated in the city of deir ezor were shoot to death.18 000 syrians are still missing …most of the 1000’s arrested in Egypt during the last elections are now free and live among their relatives and are active politicaly, Despite the huge number of prisoners and human rights violation, Egypt has few or no long term prisoners,in Syria when u enter prison it’s often one way ticket, even the killers of president sadate were freed some years after the event. I think that’s a curse when I see arabs who accept to be humiliated, it’s better to recognize yourself in the Egyptian civil society who refuses servility instead of being the devil’s advocate. In every Arab country, there is people like u defending by all means these regimes,a disease known under all totalitarian systems.

February 23rd, 2007, 10:17 am

 

Akbar Palace said:

Professor Josh,

The illustrations are very colorful. Are they some sort of secret Mossad mind control?

“In addition, Presidents Bush Sr. and then Bill Clinton were not interested in “changing Syria’s behavior” or in regime change in Damascus. Syria in turn was an enthusiastic participant in peace talks with Israel and did not interfere in the Palestinian track.”

You failed to mention Syria and Iran’s arming of Hezbollah all the way back to the 1980’s. Is there a reason why you leave out important information? Is there a reason why you want to make us believe the ME conflict started only when George W. Bush arrived in office?

Please Dr. Josh, let’s improve upon our academic honesty.

February 23rd, 2007, 11:48 am

 

youngSyria said:

I found this artical ..mmm.. and Im a bit confused

Russia and Syria Prevail Over Iran:
http://www.theconservativevoice.com/article/22954.html

February 23rd, 2007, 12:24 pm

 

Gibran said:

Akbar says: “The illustrations are very colorful. Are they some sort of secret Mossad mind control?”
A very good question, I may add. But hasn’t this always been the case? Dr. Landis always relies on sensationalism (mostly affecting the ears). Well, now he is adding visual effects. That’s a normal progression in sensational reporting/analyzing/misanalyzing.
But wait a minute. It reveals a recurring theme that you can discern on this blog. Dr. Landis reflects the Syrian propagandist frame of mind. The theme always revolves around turning the clocks back to the 80 – 90 eras. Guess what? The Syrians never grew up beyond the politics of the bi-polar world. They simply cannot adapt to an ever changing world.
This theme could also reveal the status of Syria being somewhere between a State seeking to assert its independence and a Province in need of a central authority which provides it with some sense of security.
The funny thing about all this is the insistence of Syrian regimes (particularly the current one) on perceiving themselves privy to some leading role in the ME and perhaps beyond while being always in need to follow their patrons. Well, I guess when you have some subversive skills you can always have the freedom to hallucinate. Thus the colorful production of Dr. Landis.
SyriaComment is getting close to revealing the secrets of the Middle Eastern art of coffee cup reading supported with irrefutable academic research proving the validity of this art in predicting the future as premised by the practitioners of this age old pastime.

February 23rd, 2007, 1:19 pm

 

Ford Prefect said:

Dr. Landis,
When you add the the materials that AP is asking for, to improve on your academic honesty as he said, and just to be fair to all of your readers, may I also ask you to add my wish list? I would like to see information on how Israel developed and tested its nuclear weapons in defiance of all international treaties. How many nuclear bombs does Israel have and how much did the US protest these bombs? I also would like to see some details about the 4 million cluster bombs (source: UN) dropped by Israel on Lebanon in 2006 to fight 3,000 Hizbollah fighters. Or how about some details about Israel’s destruction of airports, harbors, 80 bridges, 94 roads, 30,000 homes, the killing of about 1200 Lebanese civilians, and turning one million people into refuges in Lebanon over 30+ days of war (Source: UN). One could argue that Hezbollah started it. Fine. But the response from Israel is hardly civilized and from a nation that claims to be for respecting human life and human rights. After all, isn’t Israel supposed to be the role model of democracy and Western civilization in the Middle East so we can all learn from it?

Finally, how about, out of fairness to academic honest again, adding that since 1991, the United States and Britain have dropped over 13 million cluster munitions on Iraq and strewn the countryside with more than 500 tons of toxic depleted uranium ammunition (Source: handicap International). Do not also forget mentioning something about the 793,663 Iraqis that have been killed and the 1.8 million Iraqi refugees since the March 2003 invasion (Source: Johns Hopkins University Study).

Many thanks!
FP

February 23rd, 2007, 2:08 pm

 

syrian said:

Josh,

You really should improve your academic honesty and STOP posting under the alias of ALEX. Thanks to Gibran and Akbar who did not get fooled by you.

February 23rd, 2007, 2:16 pm

 

3antar said:

loving the charts, loving the colours.

Dr. Landis, if ever you decide to mention that Syria and/or Iran armed Hizbullah all the way to the 80s (did they really?), then please dont forget to mention WHY. And more importantly how they came about to exist and turn the lives of those poor helpless israelis into a nightmare. It not as if we need even more anti-semetism in this world, duh! APs whining can send anyone to sleep.

“Syrian regimes (particularly the current one) on perceiving themselves privy to some leading role in the ME…” that how Assad sold of Golan for Lebanon matey. Followed by a 30 year rule which everyone (globaly) conveniently turned a blind eye on.
Why did it become a humanitarian issue last year all of a sudden? “why did it take 30 years” is the question some of you should stop avoiding. Was Franz Ferdinan the real and only reason WW1 started?

February 23rd, 2007, 3:45 pm

 

norman said:

FP, you miss an important reason for ignoring what the west does , ARABS DO NOT COUNT IN THEIR WORLD.we are just obstacles to their robbery of our resorcess.

February 23rd, 2007, 4:12 pm

 

Alex said:

Gibran said:

But wait a minute. It reveals a recurring theme that you can discern on this blog. Dr. Landis reflects the Syrian propagandist frame of mind. The theme always revolves around turning the clocks back to the 80 – 90 eras. Guess what? The Syrians never grew up beyond the politics of the bi-polar world. They simply cannot adapt to an ever changing world.

No one wanted to go back to the eighties, that was another bad decade when Reagan, George Shultz, Alexander Haig also wanted to boycott Syria, and that’s when the wonderful Israeli Intelligence also arranged teh Hindawi affair to destroy Syria’s reputration (supposedly trying to down an Israeli airliner!) and it also worked and Europe boycotted Syria for years. And that’s when Israel also Invaded Lebanon, and that’s when the “Arab Moderates” tried to help American in “changing the Syrian regime behavior” or in other words, supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in their “terrorist” campaign ….

sounds familiar to what we are seeing these days?

Yes because it did not work, and it was followd by the nineties which was almost the exact reverse… the problem is that George Bush Jr. picked Ronald Reagan, and not his father, to be his idol. So he is repeating Reagan’s Middle East policies.

What I am saying is: we don’t have to finish this decade with the same failed stupidities that the 80’s were wasted on. Jump to the successful 90’s

And there was no Soviet Union in the 90’s since you said it for the millionth time your “The Syrians never grew up beyond the politics of the bi-polar world.” Ya raheeb in predicting (all the wrong things).

AKbar, again you and Gibran did not even read the bold first line (telling you who published this post). It shows perhaps that when both of you do read, you throw away everything that does not meet you expectations.

This post was about blaming:

1) America for its cyclical attempts to force Syria to follow its policies (80’s, now) and how destructive that is for the middle East
2) Arab/Arab competition which is also destructive to the Middle East … did I criticize the zionists here? why do you have to always find things to complain about?

Did you read the numbers that FP posted? how would you feel if hundreds of thousands of Jews were inplace of those poor mostly innocent Iraqi civilian victims? … Can you allow us to discuss their issue? it is significant, no?

February 23rd, 2007, 4:20 pm

 

norman said:

ALEX, That would be a holocost.

February 23rd, 2007, 4:30 pm

 

Ford Prefect said:

Syrian,
Alex is Alex, Josh is Josh. and Elvis is dead. Duh!

February 23rd, 2007, 4:40 pm

 

Alex said:

Samir,

The grass is always greener on the other side.

I have friends in Egyptian opposition who prefer Syria today to Egypt today… everyone thinks their dictator is the worst. It is easy to go 27 years ago to try to make the case that human rights conditions TODAY in Syria are the worst compared to Egypt, Jordan…etc.

I am not, and no one is happy with human rights violations, but some of us know how to put few things in perspective, like

1) Authoritarian rule is an Arab-wide phenomenon… So let’s concentrate on the mentality, not on our specific case only… because if we do not change the mentality of the people in our area, we will have new authoritarian regimes to replace the old ones.
2) Today, the biggest problems are external … the regional situation in the Middle East is (see the chart) complex and bloody. I would have fully agreed with you that in the nineties Syria should have been able to extensively reform its politics and economy, but these days (like the eighties) the regional risks and the chaotic environment that resulted from all that mess is not favorable to such reforms.

February 23rd, 2007, 5:02 pm

 

Ford Prefect said:

Sorry, this is a little off the topic but worth mentioning. Guess where the democracy-lover, freedom fighter, and Lebanese hero, Walid Jumblatt, is lecturing on Monday, Feb 26th, during his US visit? (Question: Didn’t the US revoke his visa in 2004? What happened, did he just get a Stuedent Visa?) Nope, wrong, not the UN. Guess again? Nope, wrong, not Amnesty International. Guess, again? Yup, you got it, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Yeah! He will be EAI’s guest of honor and will be speaking about the suffering of the Lebanese people, the constant humiliation and violation of the Lebanese air space by Israel, the plight of the thousands of Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails without a charge and against international laws and treaties, the millions of cluster bombs and land mines dotting the south of Lebanon, and the massive humanitarian crises that Israel created in its fight against 3,000 Hizbollah fighters. Mr. Jumblatt will be educating and speaking to Middle Eastern democracy and freedom loving, carbon-based humanoids of the likes of Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen, John Bolton and many other life forms that have absolutely nothing in mind but providing the best to the people of the Middle East. With Jumblatt evangelizing the case of Lebanon and the entire Middle East in front of such a crowd, one should now feel safe and secure in the region. The American Enterprise Institute is offering free tissues to collect the expected tears of the audience. Afterward, Jumblatt will be treated to a very elegant, romantic, and candle-lit dinner so he can wind down after his heart-throbbing address.
FP.

February 23rd, 2007, 5:11 pm

 

Akbar Palace said:

Alex said:

“AKbar, again you and Gibran did not even read the bold first line (telling you who published this post). It shows perhaps that when both of you do read, you throw away everything that does not meet you expectations.”

Mea culpa! The article was attributed to you; I didn’t see that at first. However, Professor Josh, posted it, so can I assume he agreed with it?

Now, as far as the pretty pictures go (you know, the colorful linework showing how the ME was so utterly peaceful before the evil “Cowboy from Texas” came to the scene with his evil intentions) are they yours or did someone else create them?

I’m thinking those interesting pictures are packed with so much valuable information, perhaps they are part of someone’s PHD dissertation. As for me, I think they were stolen from a dark corner of the Mossad library.

“No one wanted to go back to the eighties, that was another bad decade when Reagan, George Shultz, Alexander Haig also wanted to boycott Syria, and that’s when the wonderful Israeli Intelligence also arranged teh Hindawi affair to destroy Syria’s reputration (supposedly trying to down an Israeli airliner!) and it also worked and Europe boycotted Syria for years. And that’s when Israel also Invaded Lebanon, and that’s when the “Arab Moderates” tried to help American in “changing the Syrian regime behavior” or in other words, supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in their “terrorist” campaign ….

sounds familiar to what we are seeing these days?”

Alex –

“No one wanted to go to the eighties”? Of course not. Perhaps they didn’t want to go back to the eighties because over 100,000 Arabs died and GWB wasn’t a part of it. I don’t know.

And yes Habibi, history repeats itself. The colorful artwork didn’t seem to show that. The colorful artwork didn’t show the Lebanese Civil War. Now as I recall, the Civil War started in 1978, and not ALL the deaths were due to evil Zionism. A convenient oversight?

February 23rd, 2007, 5:17 pm

 

Alex said:

Akar,

The art work came from one of the Think tanks you know. I won’t tell from which one.

And I am hoping that history will repeat itself a bit less often these days because now we can share information better and learn from it faster… again hopefully.

The Lebanese civil war started in 1975 roughly.

Byt he way, Dr. Landis does not look at what I post in advance. I intentionally do not show it to him so that no one can tell him that he looked at it and approved it.. whatever it is.

February 23rd, 2007, 5:29 pm

 

syrian said:

FP,

That was my attempt at surcasm…

Elvis.

February 23rd, 2007, 5:58 pm

 

Akbar Palace said:

Alex –

Can I post pictures to? Please provide necessary username and password!;)

In all sincerity, I hope you can see the trouble I have with the pictures. They basically show “Before” and “After” concluding (respectively) “Peace” and “Chaos”.

It doesn’t show even half the story.

Be well.

February 23rd, 2007, 6:06 pm

 

Alex said:

Sorry Akbar, no pass word for you : )

You know Joshua is already accused of being a Syrian regime propagandist, you want him also to be called a Zionist now?

The graphs do not show half the story, I’m sure. But the story is too complicated to be shown on one graph.

February 23rd, 2007, 6:10 pm

 

Ford Prefect said:

Syrian, got you. Thanks. 🙂

Alex, wait. Let’s give the password to AP and turn this forum to yet another mouthpiece for democracy, peace, and freedom lovers around the world. But wait again, isn’t that what Limbaugh, Hanity, and “shooter” Cheney’s White House own TV station, Fox News, do? They have already convinced and converted about 30 million Iraqis.

Nah, don’t give it to him. We are here just to ensure that women will never get the chance to drive an automobile.

FP

February 23rd, 2007, 6:31 pm

 

Samir said:

alex,i’m realistic and i believe that syria can be the most democratic regime in the arab world even more democratic than lebanon,in syria we are not a country of minorities as lebanon is.the regime will always find an excuse to refuse reforms and this is normal ,this regime is scared to loose power.
alex i think that the real reason of your support for asad is that syria is more than 75 % sunni muslim.

February 23rd, 2007, 9:30 pm

 

sean said:

And of course, the EU gets no color on this chart, no mention, no symbol, no nothing. It’s like they just don’t exist. Poor Javier. Let’s all hope he doesn’t see how little attention we pay to his efforts. And this at a time when 70% of the Israeli public want Israel to join the EU.

February 23rd, 2007, 9:35 pm

 

Alex said:

Samir,

Please explain to me why “alex i think that the real reason of your support for asad is that syria is more than 75 % sunni muslim”

February 23rd, 2007, 9:39 pm

 

Gibran said:

Samir,
This is not the question you should be asking. Syrian Sunnis who constitue 75% of Syria’s population would want to be ruled by a Syrian Sunni. Would you Alex support that and dump the Alawi minority of a minority ruler and stop creating nonsensical execuses claiming he is the only one available from among 19 million Syrians who can rule Syria?

February 23rd, 2007, 10:43 pm

 

Alex said:

Gibran,

Again, I will be happy to answer Samir’s comment and your question if you and/or Samir explain to me more about your impression of my position on Syrian leadership, current and proposed replacements.

February 23rd, 2007, 10:51 pm

 

Alex said:

Sean,

You’re right: France, Russia, Spain and England, all played some role in the listed conflicts. But the set of players on the graphs includes the ones who are there not only to solve a problem, but to protect their role and status in the region… Europe is not exactly that involved.

February 23rd, 2007, 11:03 pm

 

Gibran said:

Now Alex, If you want a dialogue then it will be like this: Question on this side then answer from your side followed by question on your side then answer from our side.
So if you’re happy answering the question then do it. Pose your question at the end of your answer and we’ll answer your question.
I think that’s fair.

February 23rd, 2007, 11:08 pm

 

sean said:

So at the risk of being overly sarcastic, what do you think Chirac, Blair, Benita W-F, Solana, the Italians etc etc do when they invest the enormous amount of effort they appear to be making in the region? Does Lord Levy visit Syria for the good of his health? Do you think that Frau Merkel, for example, gives submarines to the Israelis just to boost exports, or do you think that she wants Israel to have a platform, indpendent of the USA, from which Israel can launch nuclear weapons? Is the EU pumping money into Palestine out of the goodness of their hearts? Is Tony Blair saying today that he thinks the EU might be able to talk to Hamas simply because he is interested in free speech? Do Solana and Livni swap recipes when they meet in Jerusalem? What instrument do you think Solana plays during the Quartet meetings?

The Europeans, both as individual member states and collectively, are exerting more and more pressure onto the region, and i am genuinely surprised you have not listed them in your schema

February 23rd, 2007, 11:41 pm

 

sean said:

Actually, I take some of that back. Maybe Lord Levy is visiting Syria because Assad is interested in buying a peerage

February 23rd, 2007, 11:45 pm

 

Alex said:

No, it is OK Gibran, we tried dialog before. It does not work too well. And I finished work and time for dinner. Besides, my opinions are not that important, as you know I am not Michael Young.

The quick answer to your question is:

I support what is the best possible choice for the Syrian people at any particular time.

For now, you know my opinion and obviously you do not like it. In few years if a few things progress in the right direction, I will surely reconsider.

But I do not work for the ambassador as this gentleman suggested yesterday.

Why not forget about me and comment on the issues? You know, the lessons we can learn from the 70’s 80’s 90’s for example? the meaning of the title of the Economist… does it mean the Syria is an NOT an Iranian surrogate as you used to claim?

February 23rd, 2007, 11:47 pm

 

Alex said:

Sean,

But I do agree with you that Europe is playing a role and expecting economic benefits out of it, expecting to reduce the probabilities of future conflicts in their neighborhood …etc.

BUT … tell me what could Europe do that the US does not allow it to do? … is Europe willing to Start an Iraq war like the one the US started? Is Tony Blair willing to go tomorrow and make an alliance with Syria against Bush’s wishes?

There is a limit to how active and Independent Europe can be or wants to be.

In other words, Europe actions (not their declared positions) are mostly NOT independent variables.

Chirac spent so much energy “opposing the war on Iraq”, and when the US succeeded at the beginning, he decided to become Bush’s friend and he closely coordinated with him on almost every conflict int eh Middle East today.

A large portion of the variance in Europe’s actions can be explained by studying America’s actions… and therefore it is mostly (not totally) redundant to include them on this already busy graph… more often that not they operate within American defined strategic boundaries.

February 24th, 2007, 12:04 am

 

Enlightened said:

Alex:

What is needed rather than stating the obvious about the conflicts, is why they are intertwined, who is fuelling them, what are the underlying interests?

And most important WHAT is needed at arriving at this conflict resolution?

Had these points been considered as part of your objectives before posting would have , I feel added far more polish to your post.

Just some enlightened criticism (note pun intended)

February 24th, 2007, 12:45 am

 

norman said:

Alex , Good take on the midleast mess , apparently Rice is telling the Israelies not to talk to Syria , I beleive more and more that Israel with claiming that Syria is preparing for war and suppling Hizballa is preparing for war this summer at the same of America’s war on Iran,prsident Bush seems to be leading the midleast into Armagaden,
on a lighter note we had a multicultural day at school and our Syrian table with food like Kubba, Ghrabe , Baklawa and Hummus were popular ,the Syrian flag was flying in New Jersey/USA.

February 24th, 2007, 12:48 am

 

Enlightened said:

Norman;

We have these multicultural days here in Australia, its good to see that young kids in the USA get to see similar experiences

February 24th, 2007, 12:53 am

 

Gibran said:

Haaretz: Syrian Troops moving Closer to Israeli Border
The Syrian army appears to be moving closer to the border with Israel and is being strengthened with Iranian help, an Israeli newspaper reported Thursday.
“The Syrian armed forces are being strengthened in an unprecedented way with generous funding from Iran,” wrote Zeev Schiff, the military affairs correspondent for the liberal Haaretz daily.

“It appears that the Syrians have moved forces closer to the border with Israel on the Golan Heights.”

Schiff pointed to similar movements prior to a Syrian offensive on the same front during the Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur War in October 1973.

Reserve general Amos Gilad, an advisor to Defense Minister Amir Peretz, told public radio there was nothing to indicate an imminent Syrian attack but neither did he deny the Haaretz report.

“There is no information indicating that the Syrians are preparing to attack us in the coming months,” said Gilad.

“The fact that Syria is strengthening its military capabilities does not mean we’re going to be attacked tomorrow but certainly we need to be prepared,” he said.

He denied any comparison between the troop movements reported by Haaretz, and Egyptian and Syrian deployments prior to their two-pronged simultaneous assault on Israel in October 1973.

“There is no danger of war,” the official said.

Damascus has repeatedly demanded the return of the Golan, a strategic plateau which Israel captured from Syria in the 1976 Arab-Israeli war and unilaterally annexed in 1981. It is now home to more than 15,000 settlers.

Peace talks between Israel and Syria collapsed in 2000, in part because of disputes over the return of the strategic plateau.

The Haaretz report came a day after Israel launched war games on the Golan Heights in what Peretz said was a bid to learn the lessons of last summer’s conflict in Lebanon.

“Conducting these exercises in this area does not at all mean that they are connected to a possible conflict,” the defense minister said on Wednesday

February 24th, 2007, 12:58 am

 

Gibran said:

Analysis: Two visions for the Middle East
Thursday, 22 February, 2007 @ 2:09 AM

By Amir Taheri
Beirut- Even a month ago, few believed that Syria would make a definitive switch over to Iran in the current struggle over reshaping the Middle East.

We had it from well-placed Syrian sources that the leadership in Damascus, debating the wisdom of throwing in its lot with the Khomeinists in Tehran, might end up joining the new Arab bloc of moderate states.

And yet, the switch over to Tehran came last weekend in a dramatic way when President Bashar Al Assad paid his sixth visit to the Islamic republic and was received by the Khomeinist “Supreme Guide” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Bashar’s visit came just nine months after Tehran and Damascus signed a military treaty, sealing an alliance that started 27 years ago. The switch over emphasises Syria’s isolation from Arab states.

It comes just a week after the six member-states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) plus Jordan and Egypt, announced the creation of a new bloc to help stabilise the Middle East.

What we now witness is the clash of two visions for the Middle East, one represented by the 6+2 bloc, the other by the

Islamic Republic in Iran and Syria.

The 6+2 bloc hopes to stabilise the region in cooperation with the US and its principal Western allies. The Tehran-Damascus axis, on the other hand, hopes to exclude the US in the context of a broader strategy aimed at turning the Middle East into a base for challenging the American-dominated global system.

It is too early to predict which of the blocs has a better chance of imposing its agenda.

At first glance, the Iran-Syria axis might appear the weaker side. Moreover, it has little chance of finding new allies. Iran has some clients in the region, including the Hezbollah in Lebanon, Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian territories and Moqtada Al Sadr and his shrinking Mehdi Army in Iraq.

Syria has the support of the Amal movement and a faction of the Maronites in Lebanon and may have forged links with neo-Baathist insurgents in Iraq.

The 6+2 bloc, however, has many potential allies, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. More importantly, it enjoys the support of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) that has already established a special relationship with 10 moderate Arab states.

The 6+2 bloc can also play the oil card by reducing prices to a level that could push the Iranian economy to the edge of bankruptcy.

The Iran-Syria axis suffers from another weakness. In terms of ideology and political culture, the two regimes are worlds apart.

The Syrian Baathist leadership is deeply secular with a built-in dislike of mixing religion and politics. In fact, Sunni religious groups represent the bulk of the opposition to the Baathist regime dominated by the Alawite minority.

Many Syrians, including some within the ruling elite, fear that their alliance with the Khomeinists may be a Faustian pact leading to Iranian domination. Iran’s reported campaign to convert poor peasants in the Syrian heartland is already a source of concern for many secular figures in Damascus.

The kind of Middle East that Khomeinists want is one in which religion is transformed into a political ideology and an instrument of power for the ruling clergy.

In a Khomeinist Middle East, there would be no place for a regime like Syria’s.

So, why did Bashar embark on a policy that could prove suicidal for his regime?

The answer is that he had few options. We know that he tried hard to open a dialogue with some moderate Arab states and the US, but met with cold disdain.

The moderate Arabs, the US, and the European Union have all cut off their aid to Syria, leaving Iran as its sugar daddy. However, the main stumbling block was Bashar’s demand that the UN investigation into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri be re-designed to protect himself and his brother and brother-in-law from prosecution.

In a sense, the moderate Arab states and their American and European allies pushed Bashar into Iranian arms by refusing to even consider a face-saving formula.

Both the Khomeinist leadership in Tehran and its Baathist counterpart in Damascus are convinced they are targeted for regime change. This is why they have been forced to come together to prepare for the worst.

Bashar seems to have bought Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s analysis that US President George W. Bush is an atypical American leader and that whoever succeeds him will organise a strategic American retreat.

This is why, in their various statements during the Tehran visit, both Bashar and Ahmadinejad insisted that the next year or two would be “especially difficult”.

The Tehran-Damascus axis’s strategy could be described as one of “waiting Bush out”.

This means a policy of cheat and retreat in which concessions are offered, then withdrawn, negotiations are started with the object of dragging them on and terrorist pressure maintained in the context of low intensity warfare.

Ahmadinejad has called the US “a sunset power” and is convinced that most Americans lack the perseverance to stabilise and reshape the Middle East as they did in Europe during the Cold War.

He also says that even if Bush wanted to take action against Tehran or Damascus, “wiser heads”, meaning the Democrats’ majority in the US Congress, would not allow it.

According to Ahmadinejad’s analysis, the Bush administration, under Democrats’ pressure, will start withdrawing from Iraq before the end of the year, allowing Iran and Syria to fill the gap and create a bloc spanning the strategic region between the Gulf and the Mediterranean.

Bashar appears to have bought into that analysis. And that means the Middle East may be heading for fresh conflict.

February 24th, 2007, 1:07 am

 

Gibran said:

Detained Syrian refuses ceding citizenship
DAMASCUS, Syria, Feb. 23 (UPI) — A detained Syrian activist refused to give up his citizenship as the government seeks to take it away from him. Anwar al-Bunni, a human rights lawyer, told United Press International in a telephone interview from prison that attempts to take away his Syrian citizenship is “targeted at every conscientious person who rejects injustice, violation of human rights and corruption.”

Al-Bunni has been in detention since he was arrested about a year ago after he signed the “Beirut Declaration” along with other Lebanese and Syrian figures who called for correcting relations between the two neighboring countries based on mutual respect and interests.

Syria’s Social Affairs and Labor Ministry asked the court hearing his case to provide it with the verdict to submit a request to the Interior Ministry to pull out his Syrian citizenship. He says it is the only citizenship he has. “The ministry’s request to take away my citizenship is aimed at every Syrian who dares to be free with an (independent) view,” he told UPI from a prison in southern Damascus. Al-Bunni added he is “proud” of his loyalty to his country and his Syrian nationality, saying he was different than “those who hide behind other citizenships when the time of punishment comes.”

The court hearing his case will reconvene next month. He is charged with “spreading false news that could weaken the psyche of the nation.”

Taking away his citizenship, should the court agree to the government’s request, would be the first of its kind in Syria.

February 24th, 2007, 1:36 am

 

norman said:

Syria seems to have advaced alot to have a presenor make telephone intervews from preson ,i do not think that is allowed in the US ,

February 24th, 2007, 1:41 am

 

Gibran said:

You have a good point Norman. It is quite a progress! Assad and co. figured they wouldn’t be able to sell enough phones unless they include the swelling prisoner population in Syria in the phone market. Very soon there will be none in Syria outside prison to use a phone.

February 24th, 2007, 1:58 am

 

norman said:

Funny Gibran.

February 24th, 2007, 2:05 am

 

Gibran said:

The credit goes to you Norman.

February 24th, 2007, 2:24 am

 

Alex said:

Elightened,

I had 3 pages of extra analysis to go with the post. But I did not want to be boring. My main point was that we need to look globally at the trends, and not bother analyzing every tactic and every statement.

Gibran’s article today (Amir Taheri) attempted to go into the details to explain the overall trends, but this is useless by now … look at this example:

The 6+2 bloc hopes to stabilise the region in cooperation with the US and its principal Western allies. The Tehran-Damascus axis, on the other hand, hopes to exclude the US in the context of a broader strategy aimed at turning the Middle East into a base for challenging the American-dominated global system.

Then how do you explain the Iranian Saudi cooperation in Lebanon … last week I read over ten articles that tried to explain that Iran and Saudi Arabia are happy to cooperate in Lebanon but Syria is putting all kinds of obstacles.

Then we know that Syria actually paved the way for the Hamas/Abbas meeting in Mecca. So how can we explain the Syrian Saudi “cooperation” that led to the formation of the new Palestinian Unity government?

And we are also hearing about attempts (Salim Hoss) to make Syria switch from Iran’s side to the Arabs’ side (or the “Moderates”) … to make KSA and Syria talk to each other …

The point is: now it is a mess. There are too many players acting more actively in more conflicts than ever before. If you pick any issue you will see that a different set of allies can be imagined… so that’s why we started to see these new, temporary, issue-specific, alliances.

It will be almost impossible to manage most conflicts… at least not for long. The Americans and the Saudis can kick Syria out of Lebanon in 2005, but Syria can still influence Lebanon in 2007. The Saudis and Syrians agree to help the Palestinians form a unity government, but the Unitd States and Israel can refuse to talk to that government anyway …

And I believe I answered already the “how do we get out of this”. I think it is obvious.

February 24th, 2007, 2:52 am

 

Enlightened said:

Article that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald today, Titled “Prince Charming comes to Bush’s rescue”:

For 22 years Prince Bandar bin Sultan wheeled and dealed his way through Washington as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador. By his account he had a hand in most of America’s major initiatives in the Middle East over a generation. Early in George Bush’s presidency, for example, he brokered US rapprochement with Libya and previewed plans for the invasion of Iraq two months before the war.

For a while after returning home in the middle of 2005, Bandar kept a low profile. Some speculated he was out of favour with the kingdom’s ruler, Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, despite his appointment as national security adviser. Now he’s back: since the beginning of the year the prince has been wheeling and dealing his way around the Middle East.

In the past month Bandar has held three meetings with the Iranian national security chief, Ali Larijani. He has twice met Vladimir Putin, in Moscow and Riyadh; he has overseen talks between the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas leaders; and he has quietly visited Washington to brief Bush. He helped broker this month’s Palestinian accord on a unity government as well as a Saudi-Iranian understanding to cool political conflict in Lebanon. And he has been talking to the most senior officials of the Iranian and US governments about whether there is a way out of the stand-off over Iran’s nuclear weapons.

Can Bandar bail the US out of the multiple crises it has stumbled into in the Middle East? Maybe not, but Washington’s old friend may be one of the best bets a desperate Bush Administration has going at the moment. The Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, has manoeuvred herself into a corner by refusing to talk to Syria and Iran and boycotting the Hamas-led Palestinian Government. Consequently, there’s little the US can do diplomatically to defuse the conflicts in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, not to mention Iraq. Rice tried calling on Egypt, abruptly dropping the Administration’s previous urging that its autocratic Government “lead the way” in democratising the Middle East. But Egypt has been unable to deliver: it tried and failed to pry Syria away from its alliance with Iran, and it tried and failed to win concessions from Hamas.

That leaves Saudi Arabia and the hyperkinetic Bandar. In his last visit to Washington he offered a rosy report on his travels. Iran, he assured his American friends, had been taken aback by Bush’s recent shows of strength in the region, by the failure of his Administration to collapse after midterm elections and by the unanimous passage of a United Nations resolution imposing sanctions on Tehran for failing to stop its nuclear program. The mullahs, he said, were worried about Shiite-Sunni conflict spreading from Iraq around the region and about an escalating conflict with the US; they were interested in tamping both down.

Bandar also told Washington that he is hoping to split Iran from Syria, reversing the manoeuvre Egypt tried. The means would be a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran over a Lebanese settlement that included authorisation of a UN tribunal to try those responsible for the murder of the former prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

Bandar’s spin and dazzle make it tempting to think he can pull off almost anything. It’s also easy to forget that he works in the interests of Saudi Arabia, not the US. The results can be disappointing. Bush got a reminder of that when Bandar brokered the “Mecca agreement” between the Palestinian leaders Abbas and Khaled Meshal of Hamas. Bush Administration policy has been to strengthen Abbas at Hamas’s expense; the accord undercut that approach and all but ruined Rice’s plan to begin developing a “political horizon” at a meeting with Abbas and the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, this week.

That doesn’t mean the old Bush family friend is not still welcome at the White House. The Palestinian deal was secondary for Bandar; if he can find a way to broker a deal that stops the Iranian nuclear program and kick-starts a dialogue between Tehran and Washington, it will be his greatest feat of all.

February 24th, 2007, 3:17 am

 

norman said:

The problem with Arab countries that they do not seem to keep all options open,work for peace and prepare for war ,even use war to advance peace like what happened after 1973 war ,anothe war in which Syria will fight and humelate the Israeli army as Hizballa did in the summer will open peace negotiation and the return of the Golan ,Israel needs to lose to justify to it’s people the need for peace on the Syrian Lebanese and the Palestinian fronts ,Iran rule inthe Arab Israeli conflict was supportive of Syrai not leading the path ,Iran will agree to What Syria wants in the Arab Israeli conflict,Only Syria is keeping the option of war alive .and that is why the US does not wants Israel to talk to Syria.

February 24th, 2007, 3:21 am

 

Enlightened said:

Alex:

Thanks for your response, therefore can you post the three pages in the comments section that you left out ( I would out of curiosity be interested to see it). I Know the KISS principle (keep it simple stupid ), as I was always accused in my undergrad degree to adhere to the principle by most lecturers.

I realise that events move fast as you pointed out, but Alex this is a blog forum, and as most here dont hold anything back you should have included it in your analysis, I wont accept that you were not trying to bore us ( please most comments here have a yawn value dont you agree? ) and for the sake of objective analysis it did your post no justice.

So i challenge you to post your original thoughts and have them scrutinized! I for one would like to know what you are thinking! We need to hear all voices no matter what they are saying!

February 24th, 2007, 3:26 am

 

norman said:

If Bander can stop the support that Syria has from Iran on the Palestinian and the Golan he would destroy the Palestinian future and will be giving Israel the prise of all prises.

February 24th, 2007, 3:35 am

 

Alex said:

Enlightened,.. ok : )

I’ll tell you what I removed from the post and you tell me if you feel like reading it : )

1) History of Arab/Arab regional competition from the 70’s until now .. I start from the time Nasser passed away and left the door open for the new leaders to fill the gap. Then the 1973 war established Assad, Sadat (and King Faisal) as leaders. Then the Lebanon War elevated Hafez’s status even more. Then Sadat flipped to teh Americans. That forced Hafez to tolerate an alliance with Saddam to stop the American backed Sadat from selling his approach to the rest of the Arab world … then Khomeini showed up. Saddam fought Iran and Hafez sided with Iran. He was boycotted by all the Arab Sunni leaders (America’s “moderate” allies) … they tried to kill him (Muslim brotherhood attempted to assassinate him) then … near the end of the Eighties Chirac and George Bush Sr rediscovered the value of Hafez Assad … etc.

That makes the first page.

2) Then I slow down in 1998 to explain the details of the 1998 to 2005 split between Bashar and the Saudis (And their friends Chirac and Hariri…)

This part is not boring … but if I publish it, I can already imagine the first comment here will be “How do you know”… then there will be the typical “stop defending the Syrian regime”.

Honestly, I think the point I want to make is clear …

With Egypt secure about its role (largest Arab country) the ones who are actively fighting for their regional role are: Syria/Saudi Arabia/Iran.

Iraq is out of the leadership race and the Americans/French/Saudis believed that Syria was next (if they succeeded in toppling Bashar) … this created real plus imaginary leadership gap to be filled. The Saudis and Iranians wanted to fill that huge gap. They (in addition to Syria who is still there) are into every conflict and they are not going to allow anyone to win for long. Syria wants to take Lebanon away from the Saudis, the Saudis want to take Hamas away from Syria. Iran is trying to take Iraq away from everyone else … Syria (supporting the Sunnis in Iran) is trying to limit Iran’s total support for a Shiite Iraq …

Iran, Syria and Saudi Arbia have covered all the bases .. Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq … they have many option to continue competing for a long time.

I will remind you of my conclusion few months from now. Here it is:

The competition will go on … I don’t think you will see absolute losers or winners… only the continuation of the game of musical chairs… until the Americans realize what George Bush Sr. realized after he took over from Reagan’s team in 1988: You need to accept all those who established themselves as regional powers in the Middle East. .. you can not erase them.

You can .. but you have to go to war again. That would be the only other option … but if IRan and Syria do not make Saddam’s mistake when he invaded Kuwait … using a silly excuse for war, like the WMD “evidence” they used in 2003 will not do it this time.

February 24th, 2007, 4:14 am

 

Alex said:

Norman, I agree.

Prince Bandar is very influential. He visited Damascus for a whole week last year (He claimed he was there on vacation). I think whatever final offer he had for Bashar was not accepted and that’s why we had to go through other options … there was no deal apparently.

February 24th, 2007, 4:44 am

 

Enlightened said:

Alex:

What is happening is called a paradigm shift!

New Wars ( subversive mainly ) for control and pre eminence. The same shift happened post Nasser. ( with Egypt out of the equation) Syria took up the confrontational role with its proxies.

What we are now seeing is The KSA adopt its diplomatic efforts, which I believe has been farmed out by the US, because it does not have the will or the stomach to confront Iran, and will wait for the KSA effort to see if it can be resolved. ( you must remember The KSA has never fired a shot in anger in the Middle east conflict, but only used its money and diplomacy to fuel conflicts and adopt a posture ).

The other Paradigm shift I believe started with the death of Assad senior, who left Syria I believe Rudderless and ineffective , and in the hands of amateurs ( I dare any one to suggest that this leadership is as pragmatic, far sighted and ruthless as the previous regime) Assad encompassed all the traits of a Machiavellin prince ( I loathed his rule however )

The second point is the rise and rise of the Mad Mullahs of Iran, which the neocons did not take into account post invasion and the fight for power in Iraq.

High Level conflict in Iraq, Low level subversive conflict in Lebanon, High level/Low level Vis a vis Palestinians/Israelis.

The outcome Alex I feel will not be no winners no losers, I disagree, the conflict will continue and I feel that the next Arab league Summit will prove critical. If there is a Syrian no show, or low level Syrian participation,and the nuclear issue shows no signs of beign resolved then it will be a big conflaguration.

February 24th, 2007, 4:52 am

 

Alex said:

Enightened I totally agree … almost.

The shift that happened post Nasser was different… Nasser died but Egypt remained the largest Arab country. Sadat’s charisma (or lack of) notwithstanding, the Soviet Union, the Untied States and Israel all knew the value of Egypt. No one wanted to weaken Egypt itself.

Syria is different. The impression was that Hafez Assad, the strongest and most respected Arab leader, was Syria. Expectations were that his death will mean the beginning of the process that leads to a gradual shift in the perception of the relevance of Syria’s regional role in the Middle East.

Everyone has been putting too much time trying to look at what they believe is the obvious cause of many problems, namely that Bashar does not look like Hafez … leading Syria successfully is obviously beyond the compass of his attainment.

While it is obvious that Bashar is not Hafez, a major part of the conflict int he Middle East today is related to the unmet high expectations of the Saudis.

They expected Syria to become another Jordan under Bashar’s rule … he gave them the impression he was more interested in modernizing Syria’s economy and he has no stomach to engage in the bloody regional conflicts … especially with the American troops next to him in Iraq.

But he wouldn’t simply accept King Abdullah’s and president Chirac’s friendly advice. He started to get on their nerves.

Since then we have been seeing an escalation of the pressure on him .. they are waiting for him to break so that they take over Hafez’s role (Syria’s role) as they originally hoped… many plans for the Middle East were derailed in the 70’s and 80’s because Hafez did not approve.

So the escalation of many conflicts in the Middle East is squarely a consequence of unmet high expectations of some powerful people … I hope you agree that it is not a healthy thing.

This is my hypothesis … and it is not entirely based on my opinions.

February 24th, 2007, 5:37 am

 

Alex said:

In an interview with Al-Jazeera’s Ghassan Ben Jeddo today, Turkish prime minister takes Syria’s side on Lebanon:

1) The international tribunal can not be established in the absence of a Lebanese government.

2) This tribunal needs to find and punish the real killers and not to prosecute innocent politicians without any proof.

3) Syria used to have 30,000 troops in Lebanon. Syria’s troops withdrawal was an unambiguous goodwill gesture that must be reciprocated by all the others. This is how we can solve problems….we must reciprocate.

4) Syria wants to see an new Lebanese government established as soon as possible. But it has to be a fair and balanced government. I am optimistic, god willing, that the Lebanese problem will be solved.

أردوغان لـ”الجزيرة”: سورية تريد تشكيل حكومة لبنانية عادلة ومنصفة في أسرع وقت ممكن

صرح رئيس الوزراء التركي رجب طيب اردوغان لقناة “الجزيرة” الفضائية في مقابلة اجراها معه رئيس مكتب القناة في بيروت غسان بن جدو وستبث مساء اليوم انه “لا يمكن انشاء المحكمة الدولية من غير ان تكون هناك حكومة لبنانية”، ملاحظا ان “للبعض الكثير من الشكوك والمخاوف”. وشدد على ان “المطلوب من هذه المحكمة هو ان تعاقب وتجد فاعل الجريمة، الجاني الحقيقي، لا ان تحكم على اناس سياسيين ابرياء من غير اي دليل”.
وسئل عما سمعه من القيادة السورية عن طابع العلاقة مع لبنان وقضية المحكمة ذات الطابع الدولي، فأجاب: “سوريا تريد ايضاً حل هذه المسألة. وأريد ان اقول شيئاً في حق سوريا. يجب ان نرى هذه الحقيقة ونعيها جيداً. فسوريا كان لها 30,000 جندي في لبنان وخلال زيارتي لها التقيت السيد الرئيس بشار الاسد وطلبت منه سحب قواته وعسكره من لبنان فقال لي انه سيفكر في الامر وشكرته لانه لم يخذلني في هذا الطلب. وخلال زيارة الرئيس التركي لدمشق، بعد هذه الزيارة باسبوع، سحبت سوريا قواتها من لبنان. هذه إشارة حسن نية واضحة على الجميع ان يقابلها بالمثل (…) علينا ان نقدم خطوة في مقابل خطوة، وهكذا تحل الامور. وعلينا ان نتعامل بشكل ايجابي مع هذه المسائل. سوريا قدمت هذه الايجابية. اما في ما يتعلق بموضوع تشكيل الحكومة اللبنانية اليوم، فان سوريا مستاءة من الوضع الراهن وهي تريد تشكيل حكومة لبنانية في أسرع وقت ممكن ولكن بشكل عادل ومنصف (…) انا غير متشائم، انا متفائل، وأتوقع ان شاء الله التوصل الى حل في القضية اللبنانية. وهنا يجب ان أقول شيئاً يخص تركيا في الموضوع اللبناني. اذا طلب منا دور الوساطة فنحن عندها يمكن ان نلعب هذا الدور، أما اذا لم يطلب منا فلا يمكننا ان نتدخل لانه يمكن ان يقال لنا هذا الشأن لبناني ولا شأن لكم فيه، ولكن اذا قالوا تفضلوا ونحن نرضى بكل ما تحكمون به حينها يمكننا ان نقوم بكل ما في وسعنا ونقدم خبراتنا واتصالاتنا وكل هذا التاريخ من العمل السياسي، يمكننا ان نتوصل الى حل يجمع الاخوة وتنتهي الخلافات ونكون موحدين”.

February 24th, 2007, 7:01 am

 

Gibran said:

Having failed to find the presumed interview of Mr. Urdogan on AlJazeera, we can say:
1) Syria was forced disgracefully out of Lebanon due to the massive Lebanese protests demanding its expulsion as well as due to an ultimatum served to Bashar himself around April/May in 2005 by SA and other States to leave Lebanon within a week.
2) The Lebanese government of Mr. Seniora is a democratically elected government that enjoys absolute parliamentary support, vast popular support as well as international support.
3) Syria is required under UN 1559 and 1701 to pull out its troops from Lebanon, cease arms support of terrorist groups, and cease interference in any form in Lebanese politics. Therefore, Syria has no right to demand formation of Lebanese government. This is purely internal Lebanese politics. Syria can show its good will by complying with UN 1559 and 1701. UN 1559 further considers Mr. Lahood as an illegitimate President, having been forcibly elected contrary to Lebanese constitution under Syrian occupation.
4) The formation of the International tribunal and the handing of Syrian criminals responsible for political assassinations in Lebanon is the key to normal Syrian/ Lebanese relations. This issue cannot be bypassed when it comes to normalizing Syria/Lebanese relations. All criminals no matter their positions (including Bashar) must be made to face justice.

5)

February 24th, 2007, 12:40 pm

 

Ammad said:

I salute Dr. Landis and alex for this article, it would be a disaster if iran acquuires nuclear technology, already many arab states have expessed their intention to have a nuclear programme. No one knows whats going to happen tommorw

February 24th, 2007, 4:31 pm

 

sean said:

Alex,

thank you for your reply. I agree with a lot of what you have written.

Quite often the EU is, for the sake of argument, America’s poodle. But that does not necessarily mean that she always is her poodle, nor that the EU will automatically follow America’s lead on every single occasion. It seems that the two will work together when it suits them, yet compete against each other if they have to. I think this holds especially true in areas such as the middle east, where the EU’s agenda is just not the USA’s. If the EU is to advance its Euro-Med/trade agenda in the region, and particularly in the eastern Med, it can only do so at the expense of the USA’s hegemony, specifically Turkey and Israel, both of whom seem to being pulled into the EU orbit more and more. If that is the case, I dont think it is far fetched at all to suggest, for example, that when Israel talks to the EU about upping its status with them, that these discussions include talk of Israeli/ Syrian contacts, or of Israeli/Palestinian contacts, ie, there are diplomatic consequences and quid pro quo’s for Israel, Turkey, Syria, etc when they begin negotiations with Brussels, and that these consequences will quite often work against the US. The Europeans want a stable eastern Med, with all the players having secure boundaries, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon. The US, on the other hand, expects Israel and others to play the samurai/spoiler role for them, and to promote instability in the region.

For these sorts of reasons, Javier deserves his own little column in your chart. To use your language, I think he is an “independent variable,” becoming one more and more so each year. He is not as big a player as the USA. He has had horrible setbacks (the Lebanon war last year), but the EU does appear to be maintaining its independent foothold in the region, whereas ten years ago they only had a toehold. Their progress is at times glacially slow, but it is an independent progress, with its own agenda, and apart from that of the US. When the Syria/Israel talks finally begin this year (!) we should think Javier and not Condi. When Hamas comes in from the cold, we should think Benita and not Elliot

February 24th, 2007, 5:33 pm

 

Enlightened said:

Alex:

A alternative; we dont have to agree on everything I agree about your premise about the expectations surrounding Bashar, a point I overlooked. I also agree that reform is a hard thing in Syria, and that he might have been hamstrung, you cannot un do thirty years of practices in a short time, but realistically his rule has been a major dissapointment.

That Moron Cheney left Sydney this morning after trying to get more Australian involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, the city was virtually shut down and most of the harbour during his visit. ( A lot of pissed of Australians as a consequence)

On a side note, I looked at your website, I was in awe of the collection of the photos, my mother is in posession of photos with me an my grandfather when he took me damascus, homs and aleppo when I was three, my memory does not go back far enough to remember the trip, as we left Lebanon in 74, and i havent been back, I showed my wife your site last night as she has been to Syria 5 Times and has many relatives there. For an exile like me it was a pleasurable experience seeing those shots.

February 24th, 2007, 11:23 pm

 

Alex said:

Similar comments in Haaretz today from Zvi Bar’el:

But this is not an isolated American failure. The war in Iraq has hurt the U.S. far beyond this. There is no conflict in the Middle East today in which it is possible to cite the U.S. as the most important player, capable of bringing about a solution. It is not a party to what is taking place in Lebanon, it is leaving Saudi Arabia and Iran to handle it. It made a quick pass through Jerusalem and Ramallah, mumbling something about the road map. And in Iraq, as noted, it is looking for active partners who will take over the business for it. The U.S. retains the important task of addressing Iran, where it also plays a strictly threatening role now, yet finds it difficult to project deterrence. The feeling is that the war in Iraq has emasculated its readiness to embark on another military adventure.

February 25th, 2007, 1:06 am

 

Alex said:

Sean

I really like Solana and I hope he plays a much more influential role in the Middle East in the Future. He is surely more reassuring than this one.

He can be “an independent”, I agree, but more so when the region is calmer. Today, America is at war and the Europeans do not want to be accused of betraying their powerful ally when they were most needed.

But I have to admit that the same dependence applies to some extent to Israel and Egypt.(both of them are on my graph)

These days America DEMANDS things and its allies can only understand and comply.

The United States demanded that Israel desist from even exploratory contacts with Syria, of the sort that would test whether Damascus is serious in its declared intentions to hold peace talks with Israel.

February 25th, 2007, 1:38 am

 

Alex said:

Enlightened,

Thank you for your kind words. My site has been very rewarding for me … every time I learned that someone somewhere (As far as Australia) spent a couple of hours on it.

I will be adding few hundred more photographs … when I have the time.

I realize that Bashar’s 7 years (the first 7 years) were disappointing. But I often try to make the point that it is only partially due to his mistakes and his lack of experience… the rest is thanks to the wonderful Saudis who do a lot of damage behind the scene.

And of course, 9/11 followed by the many American visitors next door in Iraq.

Do you know Bashar’s birthday? … September 11th.

I’ll now go to the next thread to criticize him for arresting Michel Kilo and others.

February 25th, 2007, 1:51 am

 

Enlightened said:

Alex:

thats interesting Sept 11? I wonder if his birthday celebrations were muted that year?

I think the dissident issue is important, and scant coverage has been given, either worldwide or on this forum about their plight. As a personal side note i have met many people here in Australia with first hand experience of the famous Syrian Mukhabarat, none reveal a pretty tale. One of my brothers employees spent three years in a Syrian Jail accused of being an Aoun supporter ( he was sunni muslim to boot to) I have had many discussions with him, and the effects of his incarceration and treatment has scarred him. Although the dissidents would not be afforded that treatment, I think it is beyond the bounds of human behaviour.

February 25th, 2007, 2:16 am

 

sean said:

Alex,

you are very kind to reply to me at 1:30 in the morning. Thank you for your time. I greatly appreciated reading your comments, and was very much stimulated by them

Sean

February 26th, 2007, 12:37 am

 

Alex said:

Thank you Sean. And don’t worry about the 1:30 AM … my brain clock is few hours off … always awake at 1:30.

February 26th, 2007, 9:55 pm

 

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