Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, October 1st, 2008
Syria Talks Spur Speculation: Jim Lobe
By Jim Lobe, Antiwar.com (October , 2008)
Meanwhile, however, Washington’s efforts to isolate Syria have eroded significantly in recent months. Hezbollah’s victory over pro-Western forces in Beirut last spring followed by the Doha Accord that gave pro-Syrian forces there a virtual veto over major policy decisions marked a major political defeat for Washington’s Lebanon policy…
…. According to Landis, the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, pressed the White House last December to go there himself but was rebuffed. Now head of U.S. Central Command and a White House favorite, Petraeus could decide to renew his request which, if granted, would likely be seen as evidence of serious shift.
Saturday’s car-bombing that killed some 17 people in Damascus itself could bolster the Pentagon’s long-standing case that greater intelligence cooperation with Syria could serve the interests of both countries. Most analysts have pointed to Sunni extremists, possibly tied to al-Qaeda, as the most likely perpetrators.
“With its Lebanon policy a shambles and its efforts to isolate Syria defied by France, Turkey, and Israel itself, it really doesn’t make sense for the White House to continue stiffing the Syrians,” said Landis. “It’s really just pure stubbornness at this point.” [Read the whole article]
Jim Lobe, Washington bureau chief for Inter Press Service, is one of the keenest observers of Washngton’s Mid East policy. Read his other articles at Lobelog. For example, he informs us that …
The New York Sun published its last issue Tuesday, ending a six-year run that offered a strong and consistently neo-conservative or Likudist voice for Gotham’s print media consumers. I have to confess that I will miss the often-outstanding, if sometimes credulous, reporting of Eli Lake, although I’m sure he’ll land at a publication (hopefully less ideological than ‘Commentary’ or its blog) that appreciates his professional talents. Of course, a major backer of the ‘Sun’ was Bruce Kovner, the chairman of the Board of Trustees of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).
American Enterprise Institute (AEI) fellow Joshua Muravchik [is certain] that “if McCain is president, there will be an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.”
Olmert, who resigned about 10 days ago but remains as a caretaker until a new government forms, has been on a self-reflection and atonement kick lately. In the process he has issued harsh critiques of Israeli political psychology and confessed to the wrongness of some of the policies he held dear during a 35-year political career.
In calling it “a decision we have been refusing for 40 years to look at open-eyed,” Olmert all but apologized for his long-standing opposition to any division of Jerusalem. “For a large portion of these years, I was unwilling to look at the reality in all its depth.”He went on to state that Israel should give the Golan Heights back to Syria in order to achieve peace there and spoke out harshly against any local sentiment to preemptively attack Iranian nuclear sites. Read on »
an interview published Monday in the Yediot Aharanoth newspaper, Olmert flatly stated that Israel would have to give up the vast majority of the occupied West Bank and accept the division of Jerusalem in order to achieve peace with the Palestinians.
ISRAEL MAY BUY LOCKHEED F-35 FIGHTER JETS VALUED AT $15.2 BLN
Nasrallah to Lebanese Army: When All Else Fails, Turn East!
By NICHOLAS NOE, September 30, 2008
BEIRUT — Wasting little time in capitalizing on the continued unwillingness of the U.S. George W. Bush administration to provide the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) with the advanced equipment it says it needs, Hezbollah leader Sayed Hassan Nasrallah suggested late Friday that the government of Fouad Siniora should simply go to the international arms market and procure the desired equipment.
His proposal, of course will not be an easy one to execute, even if the government agrees to it. The national budget devotes precious little to procurement (estimated at less than $10 million per year), while the United States has banked (but not delivered) hundreds of millions of dollars in grants for U.S.-made equipment, training and spare parts purchases – an attractive incentive for hewing to the constraints of what U.S. officials euphemistically call “what we can do” for LAF.
Still, the recent fiasco this month surrounding the transfer (now apparently delayed, downgraded or denied, no one seems certain) of Cobra attack helicopters has nevertheless provided Nasrallah ….. Indeed, a quick review of the Cobra controversy shows exactly why this is, and apparently will remain, the case……
…both Russia and Iran offered large amounts of hardware (albeit without training and support) during the Nahr al-Barid battle – offers which the Siniora government successfully refused.
Should the opposition in fact gain the majority, however, we might very well see the LAF turning not toward the black market, as headlines suggested after Nasrallah’s speech, but East, toward the rising foes of U.S. influence in the Middle East.
To stave off this scenario, U.S. officials must break the logjam over supplying Lebanon by moving quickly to articulate a comprehensive vision for Congress and the Israelis as to how a strong LAF (linked to an ending of the Shebaa Farms and overflights issues) would be a risk worth taking, especially in light of the alternative where only Hezbollah is seeing its military power grow exponentially…..
Strategic analysis from the experts of the Polish Institute of International Affairs
Polish Institute of International Affairs, September 2008 #5
Syria-Israel Talks: High Stakes and Low Expectations
by Patrycja Sasnal
WaPo, here (Via FLC)
“..Across Baghdad, leaders of the groups speak about the transition in similarly apocalyptic terms. Some have left Baghdad, saying they fear that the Iraqi government will conduct mass arrests after the handover. Others are obtaining passports and say they will flee to Syria…”
Damascus car bomb kills 17
By Mitchell Prothero in Beirut and Peter Beaumont
The Observer, September 28, 2008
A powerful car bomb ripped through a suburb of the Syrian capital, …..The bombing comes as senior Lebanese military sources told The Observer that jihadis – some based in the Lebanese city of Tripoli – had launched a series of attacks against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.
According to Syrian television and news agencies, the car, packed with about 200kg of explosives, was detonated at 8.45am close to the Shia Saydah Zeinab shrine, which is visited by pilgrims from Iran and Iraq. One witness reported Iranian pilgrims were among the casualties.
Syrian officials yesterday suggested they believed the attack was the responsibility of Islamist militants. Unusually for Syria, whose media is closely policed, details of the attack were reported immediately, with rolling updates on the casualties and investigation. The bombing – the third major attack this year – was similar to terrorist attacks launched by the Muslim Brotherhood in the Eighties before Assad’s father, Hafez, launched a bloody crackdown…
Obama’s Man on the Middle East
By BENNY AVNI
The New York Sun, September 29, 2008
Senator Obama’s leading voice on Middle East policy, Dennis Ross, is one of America’s most talented, creative, and clear-eyed diplomats, tirelessly seeking paradigm-shifting ideas, breakthroughs, and new openings to achieve his goals. And as he told a small group of pro-Israeli Obama donors, activists, and reporters at the United Nations, the goal is peace.
Mr. Ross, who climbed the ladder at Foggy Bottom from the days of President Reagan until the end of the Clinton administration and is most identified with President Clinton’s unsuccessful push for an Arab-Israeli peace agreement, said he believes that America should be in the lead wherever international diplomacy is being conducted. Right now, he said, Turkey, France, and Qatar are involved in indirect mediation between Israel and Syria, while America is sitting it out: So “who is thinking of Israel’s interests?”
But he may be miscast in the Obama campaign. To a team dominated by American exceptionalists, as Mr. McCain’s is, Mr. Ross would have added a calming presence, offered creative alternatives to military force, and injected realism when idealism got too far ahead of the possible. Instead, he is arguably the toughest diplomat in a would-be multilateralist administration stressing “tough diplomacy,” which seems to be Mr. Obama’s only policy tool.
European leaders are discovering how ineffective organizations such as the United Nations can be when their goals stray too far from America’s interests. “This is not the best period for people who are addicted, like I am, to multilateralism and the U.N.,” the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, told reporters last week.
A number of Europeans have told me over the last several days that since the presidential election here is so crucial for the world, they too should have a vote…
Al Sadr supports quotas for minorities, Khaleej Times
Anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr strongly supports demands by Iraqi Christians and other minorities for guaranteed seats on regional governing councils, his chief spokesman said Tuesday….
… Iraq’s parliament approved a new law last week that paves the way for the first provincial elections in four years, a move widely praised as a sign of progress in the U.S.-backed government’s efforts to promote national unity.
But the law removed a measure that reserved a few provincial council seats for Christians and other religious minorities – sparking outrage among the Christians and Yazidis, a small Kurdish-speaking sect, who argued they should have a voice in the mostly Muslim country.
Global Bankers Anxiously Watch U.S.
By Craig Whitlock and Mary Jordan
The Washington Post, October 1, 2008
Central bankers and elected leaders around the world acknowledged Tuesday that they lacked a comprehensive strategy to protect their countries from the global financial crisis and were as dependent as ever on Washington to come up with a solution.
In Europe, France and Belgium propped up another failing bank Tuesday, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy invited his counterparts from Britain, Germany and Italy to an emergency summit. But officials, exasperated by the defeat of the $700 billion rescue plan in Washington, said they were quickly realizing how little power they had to act on their own to confront a rising threat to their economies and financial markets.
“The Americans have no choice,” Christian Noyer, head of the French central bank and a member of the governing council of the European Central Bank, told Germany’s RTL radio network. “We must have a comprehensive solution…”
Many European leaders said they were horrified at the political infighting that has marked the U.S. Congress’s handling of the rescue plan. “I feel they’ve taken leave of their senses,” said Peter Mandelson, the E.U. trade commissioner. “I hope that in Europe, we will not see politicians and parliamentarians replicating the sort of irresponsibility and political partisanship that we have seen in Washington.”….
…Steffen Kampeter, a parliamentary leader on budget issues for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party, said German lawmakers might be receptive to such an approach if Congress is unable to act in the next few days. “This was and is a global problem that requires international solutions,” he said. “We expect a signal from the Americans for what type of strategy to follow…”
Tension grows between Syria and Lebanon after bombings
By Ian Black
The Guardian, October 1, 2008
Syrian and Lebanese political leaders have traded angry accusations after terrorist bombings in both countries fuelled fears of a new crisis between them.
Saad Hariri, leader of the western-backed Sunni Future Movement, lashed out at Bashar al-Assad after the Syrian president warned that northern Lebanon had become “a base for extremism and constitutes a danger for Syria”.
Hariri retorted that it was Syria that was “a clear and direct threat” to Lebanon, bluntly accusing Damascus of “infiltrating extremists to north Lebanon to carry out terrorist attacks targeting the Lebanese army and civilians”. Last week thousands of Syrian troops reportedly gathered on Lebanon’s northern border, sparking concerns of a large-scale incursion.
Seven Lebanese, including four soldiers, died on Monday in a bus bomb attack in Tripoli, the country’s second-largest city. Similar to a bombing in August, it was widely blamed on Fatah al-Islam, an extremist Sunni group the Lebanese military fought last year in a nearby Palestinian refugee camp, Nahr el-Bared. Lebanese sources insisted it has, or had, links to Syrian intelligence.
On Saturday, 17 people died in a suicide car bombing near Damascus – Syria’s worst terrorist incident in more than 20 years. Officials said it had been carried out by a “Takfiri” group – standard terminology for al-Qaida – and hinted that the perpetrators came from Iraq, where the US military “surge” has put al-Qaida under pressure.
Analysts suggested the Damascus attack may have been an act of retaliation, after the Syrian government, anxious to improve its image in the west, tightened control of its long border with Iraq. The apparent target was a Syrian intelligence office near the Shia shrine of Sayyida Zeynab, where many Iraqi refugees live.
Syrian opposition sources have claimed that one of the victims was an intelligence officer, fuelling speculation about whether the bombing was linked to some internal squabble.
“It is possible that there is no connection between the incidents in Tripoli and Damascus,” said Nadim Shehadi, a Middle East expert at Chatham House in London. “But the perception in Lebanon is that terrorists who cross the border and blow themselves up are sent from Damascus. And in Syria, they are keen to show that Lebanon cannot function without them and that when they were in charge there they managed to keep a lid on all these terrorist groups.”
Assad’s comments have heightened concerns that Syria could have designs on its smaller neighbour.
In Beirut, Hariri denounced the deployment of Syrian troops along Lebanon’s northern borders. He urged the international community not to allow Syria to intervene in Lebanese affairs under the guise of fighting extremism.
Brief History Of The Golan Heights, By Alyssa Fetini. Time, September 30, 2008
Caught in between four countries and sixty years of conflict, the disputed territory of the Golan Heights seems closer than ever to a permanent resolution, after decades of tug-of-war between Israel and Syria over its rightful ownership. Israel’s new Prime Minister, Tzipi Livni, has expressed a commitment to resolving the Golan issue once and for all, while outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert mentioned the impossibility of ever hoping for peace with the Syrians without giving up the Golan Heights in a recent interview…..
Oxford Business Group, September 30, 2008
Syria climbed eight places in the latest comparative report released by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), indicating strong progress in certain key areas to facilitate conducting business.
Syria moved from 145th to 137th in the overall rankings of the “Doing Business 2009” report, issued in mid-September. The report assessed a total of 181 national economies, studying the status of business regulations and their enforcement over ten separate categories, with the stated aim of “measuring the regulation and red tape relevant to the life cycle of a domestic small to medium size firm”
Much of the credit for Syria’s rise in the rankings comes from its improvement in ease of starting up a new business. In the past year, the government has put in place a series of reforms aimed at cutting through the red tape required to register and open a new company.
These measures included reducing the number of processes that have to be completed; making many of the forms available from the Ministry of Economy and Trade, rather than from multiple agencies; and reducing approval times. In total, in Syria there are eight steps required to open a business, which can be completed in 17 days, well below the regional average of 23.5
Additionally, Syria has introduced a new commercial code that has simplified business start-up by taking lawyers and the court out of the registration process, and has enacted reforms at the tax directorate by simplifying tax registration for new businesses.
These reforms saw Syria jump 47 places in the rankings for ease of starting a business, coming in 124th overall and 11th among the 19 countries assessed in the Middle East and North Africa region….
Book ban ends rare Arab-Israeli cultural exchange, By Joseph Nasr. Reuters, October 1, 2008
For 15 years Israeli Saleh Abbasi has traded books between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbours, fostering a rare cultural link. But in August Israeli authorities suddenly refused to renew his trading licence because he was trading with “enemy” states Lebanon and Syria, …..
“How can the People of the Book be against books?” Abbasi asked, …… Abbasi’s original aim was to cater for Israel’s 1.2 million minority Arab citizens, ….. But he branched out, and over the past 10 years has sold over half a million copies of some 16 Hebrew titles to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Arab countries, where the translated books reach Arab readers mainly through public libraries and universities.
Syrian bombing: A jihadi attack?
By Nicholas Blanford
Christian Science Monitor, September 29, 2008
As the Syrian authorities begin investigating a bomb attack that killed 17 people in Damascus Saturday, initial suspicion points to Islamist militants, either home-grown or foreign….there are plenty of potential perpetrators.
“As usual in the Middle East, there are three or four credible culprits and this is what is so frustrating. The region is chronically and increasingly violent,” says Rami Khouri, director of the Issam Fares Center for Lebanon, a think tank. “Who knows who did it, but in a way it’s surprising that no one has tried to do this stuff before because so many people are angry with Syria.”….
Signs of trouble seen before Syria bombing
By Borzou Daragahi
The Los Angeles Times, September 29, 2008
When Syria deployed thousands of soldiers along its frontier with northern Lebanon this month, some here feared that the Syrians were preparing to retake a country their military had dominated until it was pushed out in 2005.
But now, after a bombing Saturday that was the deadliest in Syria since 1986, analysts are wondering whether the troops were defensive, meant to stop an imminent attack from Lebanon-based Sunni Muslim militants inspired by Al Qaeda and sometimes trained in Iraq.
“The handwriting has been on the wall for a while,” Sami Moubayed, a political analyst in Damascus, the Syrian capital, said Sunday. “There have been signs of trouble coming in from Iraq or Lebanon.”…. It came as Syria performs delicate balancing acts in navigating the region’s sectarian and political fault lines…
Going for Broke
By Ian Munroe
Trends Magazine, September 2008
The town of Quneitra is on hiatus. Once a prosperous center in the fertile Golan Heights region, for the last 35 years it has lain destroyed. Israel won the town from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967. When the two countries fought again in 1973 it was returned to Damascus, only this time patrolled by UN forces as part of a ceasefire agreement. By then Quneitra had been reduced to rubble. And instead of helping residents rebuild, Damascus left it in ruins, hoping it would become a symbol of Israeli brutality.
Now, however, there’s a glimmer of hope that Quneitra will return to life. Since May, when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad endorsed the Doha agreement to fix Lebanon’s 18-month political standoff, he’s been busy jet-setting from the Gulf to the Asian subcontinent to Europe trying to win allies. When he visited the UAE this summer, he appealed for Arab solidarity.When he was invited to India – on the first state visit by a Syrian leader in three decades – he asked the emerging giant to encourage Middle East stability. After a quiet eight years, al-Assad’s government has also restarted indirect peace talks with Israel.
Damascus could gain a lot from its diplomatic putsch. With the Bush administration preparing to pack it in, al-Assad may be able to wriggle out from under a four-year-old American embargo. Plus, getting back into the international community’sgood graces would help Syria implement crucial free market reforms.
“There are two trends. One’s a slow liberalization of the economy,” says Joshua Landis, co-director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and the creator of Syria Comment, a popular website that covers current events there. “Number two is a Western attempt to isolate Syria, and to strangle it economically…”
A BBC survey shows that citizens in 22 out of 23 countries polled see futility in the American-led “war on terrorism”.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in remarks published on Monday that all issues related to the Lebanese-Israeli track must be resolved before any direct talks can be held between Lebanon and the Jewish state.