Syrian Authorities Jubilant about Prospect of Mubarak’s Fall and Shifting Balance of Power in the Region

Syrian authorities are jubilant at events in Egypt.

Photo from the WSJ article by Jay Solomon

Several people have suggested to me that governments, such as Syria’s, that oppose Israel and the US, are less likely to see mass uprisings against them. The argument goes: “Yes, poverty and insecurity are the main drivers of the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, but the people in Egypt are also humiliated by Mubarak because he stands against what they see as just policies toward the Palestinians and other Arab causes by hewing so closely to the US.”

As of yet, the extent to which revolution in the Arab World is connected to foreign policy is unclear. It could be argued that the poorest Middle East countries with the strongest civil society are likely to see revolution. Those, like Syria’s, in which civil society, i.e. organized political parties, labor unions,  etc., are curtailed are less likely to see mass rallies and political trouble.  In short, the tougher regimes will tough it out. The economic situation for the bottom 50% of most Middle Easterners is going to get worse in the future due to rising commodity prices, inflation, and scarce resources. To stay in power, governments presiding over a large percentage of poor will have to become more repressive or find a way to increase economic growth.

In all events, it is clear that a new, more populist Middle East will be less pro-American and less likely to support Israel. Turkey is the bell-weather for what happens when government become more democratic in the Middle East. They find it more difficult to cooperate with Israel and the US on policies that dispossess Palestinians or hurt Muslims.

Syrian authorities are jubilant about Mubarak’s difficulties and the popular uprising in Egypt. It is common in opposition circles to suggest that Syrian authorities are panicked by the vision of popular revolt in Tunis and Egypt. I believe the opposite is true. Ever since Sadat made peace with Israel at Syria’s expense, Syrian authorities have hoped for regime change in Cairo. It has finally come. Israel has been able to disregard Syria since 1979. Perhaps Israel will have to give peace making with Syria a new look if Egyptians manage to bring down the Mubarak regime? Assad explains in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that he believes that unpopular foreign policy is a key to the revolutions.

Syria Strongman: Time for ‘Reform’
By JAY SOLOMON And BILL SPINDLE in Wall Street Journal

…  Mr. Assad said he will have more time to make changes than Mr. Mubarak did, because his anti-American positions and confrontation with Israel have left him in better shape with the grassroots in his nation.

“Syria is stable. Why?” Mr. Assad said. “Because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people. This is the core issue. When there is divergence…you will have this vacuum that creates disturbances.”

.Mr. Assad said he would push through political reforms this year aimed at initiating municipal elections, granting more power to nongovernmental organizations and establishing a new media law.


“I can talk about the region in general more than talking about Tunisia or Egypt because we are one region. We are not a copy of each other, but we have many things in common. So, I think it is about desperation. Whenever you have an uprising, it is self-evident that to say that you have anger, but this anger feeds on desperation. Desperation has two factors: internal and external.

The internal is that we are to blame, as states and as officials, and the external is that you are to blame, as great powers or what you call in the West ‘the international community’, while for them, the international community is made up of the United States and some few countries, but not the whole world. So, let us refer to the latter as the ‘greatest powers’ that have been involved in this region for decades.

As for the internal, it is about doing something that is changing; to change the society, and we have to keep up with this change, as a state and as institutions. You have to upgrade yourself with the upgrading of the society. There must be something to have this balance. This is the most important headline.

Regarding the west, it is about the problems that we have in our region, i.e. the lack of peace, the invasion of Iraq, what is happening in Afghanistan and now its repercussions in Pakistan and other regions. That led to this desperation and anger. What I tell you now is only the headlines, and as for the details, maybe you have details to talk about for days if you want to continue. I am just giving you the way we look at the situation in general.”…

His government already made adjustments to ease the kind of economic pressures that have helped fuel unrest in Tunisia and Algeria: Damascus this month raised heating oil allowances for public workers—a step back from an earlier plan to withdraw subsidies that keep the cost of living down for Syrians but drain the national budget. Tunisia, Algeria and Jordan have also tried to assuage protesters by lowering food prices….

“What pleases me is that this transition between the two [Lebanese] governments happened smoothly, because we were worried,” said Mr. Assad. “It was very easy to have a conflict of some kind that could evolve into a fully blown civil war.”…

“No, [the peace process] is not dead, because you do not have any other option,” Mr. Assad said. “If you talk about a ‘dead’ peace process, this means everybody should prepare for the next war.”

The Syrian leader acknowledged his government is likely to continue to be at odds with the U.S. on key strategic issues…..

Obama’s betrayal / As goes Mubarak, so goes U.S. might
By Ari Shavit in Haaretz

… Just as the officers’ revolts in the 1950s toppled Arab monarchies that were founded on colonial superpowers, the mass revolts of 2011 are toppling Arab dictators who rely on U.S. support. The Arab giant wants its freedom.

The second revolution that is occurring in front of our eyes is the collapse of the American empire. It could be that the American empire was evil.

But for 60 years the American empire kept the world stable, and provided relative quiet, peace and prosperity. The current U.S. president, Barack Obama, is undermining the American empire.

Obama’s betrayal of Hosni Mubarak is not just the betrayal of a moderate Egyptian president who remained loyal to the United States, promoted stability and encouraged moderation. Obama’s betrayal of Mubarak symbolizes the betrayal of every strategic ally in the Third World. Throughout Asia, Africa and South America, leaders are now looking at what is going on between Washington and Cairo.

Everyone grasps the message: America’s word is worthless; an alliance with America is unreliable; American has lost it. A result of this understanding will be a turn toward China, Russia and regional powers such as Iran, Turkey and Brazil.

The second result of this insight will be a series of international conflagrations that will result from the loss of America’s deterrent power. But the general result will be America’s rapid disappearance as a superpower…..

Chris Phillips writes: “Is Syria next”
January 28, 2011

….Whilst it is still far from certain that ‘regime change’ will occur in Egypt, many are already suggesting Syria,….
most crucially, Syria has far less civil society than either Egypt or Tunisia (or Jordan, Yemen and Algeria for that matter) and consequently it is harder to imagine how opposition would get organized. …Similarly, unlike in Egypt or Tunisia, all trade unions (which played a significant role in Tunisia) are controlled by the regime, and most content in mosques is loyalist and controlled…..A second scenario, as optimistically suggested by Brian Whitaker today, is that Bashar will use his relative popularity and reformist credentials to bring change himself before he is pushed.

Egypt And Tunisia Increase Political Risk as They Usher in An Era of Food Revolutions
by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Jan. 30 (Telegraph)

Political risk has returned with a vengeance. The first food revolutions of our Malthusian era have exposed the weak grip of authoritarian regimes in poor countries that import grain, whether in North Africa today or parts of Asia tomorrow.

If you insist on joining the emerging market party at this stage of the agflation blow-off, avoid countries with an accelerating gap between rich and poor. Cairo’s EGX stock index has dropped 20pc in nine trading sessions.

Events have moved briskly since a Tunisian fruit vendor with a handcart set fire to himself six weeks ago, and in doing so lit the fuse that has detonated Egypt and threatens to topple the political order of the Maghreb, Yemen, and beyond.

As we sit glued to Al-Jazeera watching authority crumble in the cultural and political capital of the Arab world, exhilaration can turn quickly to foreboding.

This is nothing like the fall of the Berlin Wall. The triumph of secular democracy was hardly in doubt in central Europe (news) . Whatever the mix of aspirations of those on the streets of Cairo, such uprisings are easy prey for tight-knit organizations known in the revolutionary lexicon as Leninist vanguard parties.

In Egypt this means the Muslim Brotherhood, whether or not Nobel laureate Mohammed El Baradei ever served as figleaf. The Brotherhood is of course a different kettle of fish from Iran’s Ayatollahs; and Turkey shows that an ‘Islamic leaning’ government can be part of the liberal world though Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan once let slip that democracy was a tram “you ride until you arrive at your destination, then you step off.”

It does not take a febrile imagination to guess what the Brotherhood’s ascendancy might mean for Israel, and for strategic stability in the Mid-East. Asia has as much to lose if this goes wrong as the West. China’s energy intensity per unit of GDP is double US levels, and triple the UK.

The surge in global food prices since the summer since Ben Bernanke signalled a fresh dollar blitz, as it happens is not the underlying cause of Arab revolt, any more than bad harvests in 1788 were the cause of the French Revolution.

Yet they are the trigger, and have set off a vicious circle. Vulnerable governments are scrambling to lock up world supplies of grain while they can. Algeria bought 800,000 tonnes of wheat last week, and Indonesia has ordered 800,000 tonnes of rice, both greatly exceeding their normal pace of purchases. Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Bangladesh, are trying to secure extra grain supplies.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said its global food index has surpassed the all-time high of 2008, both in nominal and real terms. The cereals index has risen 39pc in the last year, the oil and fats index 55pc.

The FAO implored goverments to avoid panic responses that “aggravate the situation”. If you are Hosni Mubarak hanging on in Cairo’s presidential palace, do care about such niceties?

France’s Nicolas Sarkozy blames the commodity spike on hedge funds, speculators, and the derivatives market (largely in London). He vowed to use his G20 presidency to smash the racket, but then Mr Sarkozy has a penchant for witchhunts against easy targets….

The deeper causes are well-known: an annual rise in global population by 73m; the “exhaustion” of the Green Revolution as the gains in crop yields fade, to cite the World Bank; diet shifts in Asia as the rising middle class switch to animal-protein diets, requiring 3-5 kilos of grain feed for every kilo of meat produced; the biofuel mandates that have diverted a third of the US corn crop into ethanol for cars.

Add the loss of farmland to Asia’s urban sprawl, and the depletion of the non-renewable acquivers for irrigation of North China’s plains, and the geopolitics of global food supply starts to look neuralgic.

Can the world head off mass famine? Yes, with leadership.

Yedioth Ahronoth (p. 5) by Eli Shaked — The author is a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt.

Things do not look good for Israel and the moderate Arab states. The developments from here on are not going to be good for our peace with Egypt and stability in the region. ….The only people in Egypt who are committed to peace are the people in Mubarak’s inner circle, and if the next president is not one of them, we are going to be in trouble.

ElBaradei, Muslim Brotherhood Offer Political Path Out of Egyptian Confrontation

Robert Naiman, Truthout: “Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader Essam el-Eryan said today that Egyptian opposition groups have agreed to back former IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei to negotiate with the government…

Egypt deploys troops along Gaza border
By YAAKOV KATZ The Jerusalem Post 01/31/2011

…..The Egyptians are cracking down on Hamas, a senior Israeli defense official said on Sunday.

Throughout the day, the IDF and Defense Ministry held consultations regarding the continued unrest in Egypt. Senior Israeli politicians and officials were in touch with Egyptian government officials, and contact was established directly between Israel and Egypts new vice president, Omar Suleiman

Israels concern is that the Muslim Brotherhood will use the ongoing demonstrations to garner public support and eventually take over Egypt. Israeli officials who were in touch with Egyptians on Sunday expressed confidence in Suleimans ability to take control of the military and prevent a regime change.

This is the end of Hosni Mubaraks presidency, but the situation could be brought under control by Suleiman, the senior defense official said. Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke with US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on Sunday to discuss the situation.

Relationship between CIA and Suleiman: Wash Post
By Jeff Stein | January 30, 2011;

Edward S. Walker, the American ambassador in Cairo at the time, described Suleiman as “very bright, very realistic,” according to the account of Mayer and others. The envoy said that Suleiman was aware of the flap potential of “some of the negative things that the Egyptians engaged in, of torture and so on.”

Walker added that Suleiman “was not squeamish, by the way.” At the same time, diplomats in the American Embassy were critical of CIA-funded Egyptian security projects, Walker told the British journalist Stephen Grey, including a “program to train Egyptian special operations forces in counterterrorism arrests.” The trouble, though, was that “too many people died while fleeing…It got to be a little too obvious, and the agency got very nervous about this,’” Walker told Grey.

Now, of course, the tables have been turned. It’s Suleiman and Mubarak who are nervous, and no doubt the CIA, too. But the two Egyptians have far more cause for worry than the CIA. The spy agency will always find a way — many ways — to stay at work in Egypt after Mubarak is gone. “I can’t see that there’s any way Mubarkak can reestablish himself,” Walker told SpyTalk on Sunday. “He’s wounded and discredited, and ultimately the military is going to look out for itself.”

As for Suleiman, “If he’s talking to the CIA station chief, I think they’re both talking about stability and how you guarantee it — what’s the best process,” Walker said. “I’m sure they’re doing everything they can to let him know that they’re with him, that we also want stability and a transition to a government that has popular support.”

When Mubarak goes down, in other words, Suleiman won’t be going with him. “I think that’s right,” Walker said.

As for the CIA, “They’re going to want to make sure that they have continuing access, that the relationship between the intelligence agencies is strong and survives this, so we can use it in the future.”

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk
argued Saturday that Obama would soon have to tell Mubarak to go, ideally after a transition plan has been worked out. “At this point, facing by far the biggest foreign policy crisis of his presidency, Obama cannot afford to backtrack,” Indyk, vice president for foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, wrote on Saturday. “He will soon have to decide whether to tell Mubarak that the United States no longer supports him and that it’s time for him to go.”
The Worst of Both Worlds– in some minds, the issue is primarily about Israel
As the revolt in Egypt spreads, Barack Obama faces a familiar dilemma in the Middle East.
…Now that the status quo is shaking, there are expressions of amazement that the U.S. government made its bed with such dictatorial regimes for so long. We coddled them and gave them huge sums of money while averting our eyes from the more distasteful aspects of their rule. How to explain this hypocrisy?

The facts are not so mysterious. It was an Egyptian dictator (Anwar Sadat) who made peace with Israel, leading to his assassination; and it was another dictator (Hosni Mubarak) who kept that peace, however cold, for the past 30 years. As part of that initial bargain and successive agreements, the United States has paid in excess of $60 billion to the government of Egypt and an amount approaching $100 billion to Israel. The investment may be huge, but since the Camp David agreement negotiated by President Jimmy Carter in 1978 there has been no new Arab-Israel war.

Some may quibble with the crude implication of a payoff or the collapsing of several generations of politics in the Middle East into this simple formula. But it has some validity. Here is how Vice President Joe Biden answered when PBS anchor Jim Lehrer asked him whether Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was a dictator:

Look, Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things and he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interests in the region: Middle East peace efforts, the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing the relationship with Israel.

And I think that it would be — I would not refer to him as a dictator.

Leslie Gelb, a former senior U.S. government official and president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, put it this way:

The stakes are sky high. Egypt is the linchpin to peace in the Middle East. So long as Egypt refrains from warring against Israel, other Arab states cannot take military action by themselves…”….

So in some minds, the issue is primarily about Israel. As far as I can tell, the government of Israel has yet to declare itself on the wave of uprisings in the Arab world. But if this is an Israeli issue, then it is not just a U.S. foreign-policy problem but also a domestic one, especially in the run up to a presidential election year. The stakes, indeed, could be very high.

Tony Karon (Senior editor at TIME)

US officials forced to explain their support for Hosni Mubarak’s repressive autocracy over the past week have stressed Mr Mubarak’s cooperation with Israel and support for a US regional strategy highly unpopular with the citizenry of the Arab world. As the State Department spokesman, PJ Crowley, told Al Jazeera: “Egypt is an anchor of stability in the Middle East … It’s made its own peace with Israel and is pursuing normal relations with Israel. We think that’s … a model that the region should adopt.”

Washington has long expected that Mr Mubarak’s successor would not be as pliant. A May 2007 cable from the US embassy in Cairo released last year by WikiLeaks warned that: “Whoever Egypt’s next president is, he will inevitably be politically weaker than Mubarak, and … among his first priorities will be to cement his position and build popular support.”

The cable continued: “We can thus anticipate that the new president may sound an initial anti-American tone in his public rhetoric in an effort to prove his nationalist bona fides to the Egyptian street, and distance himself from Mubarak’s policies … We can also expect the new president to extend an olive branch to the Muslim Brotherhood … in an effort to co-opt potential opposition and boost popularity.”

And all this was before the people of Egypt had stepped up to demand a say in the matter. Except their message to America may be am even simpler one: this is not about you….

Haartz: Aluf Benn

Barack Obama will be remembered as the president who “lost” Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt, and during whose tenure America’s alliances in the Middle East crumbled….

Obama began his presidency with trips to Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and in speeches in Ankara and Cairo tried to forge new ties between the United States and the Muslim world. His message to Muslims was “I am one of you,” ….But he did not imitate his hated predecessor, President George W. Bush, with blunt calls for democracy and freedom….

Obama apparently believed the main problem of the Middle East was the Israeli occupation, and focused his policy on demanding the suspension of construction in the settlements and on the abortive attempt to renew the peace talks. That failure led him to back off from the peace process in favor of concentrating on heading off an Israeli-Iranian war….The street revolts in Tunisia and Egypt showed that the United States can do very little to save its friends from the wrath of their citizens.

[Interesting anti-Obama spin. Perhaps one should say Obama will be remembered as the US president who allowed dictators in the Middle East to fall and gambled on democracy, whereas, Bush talked democracy and supported civil war, chaos, and dictators.]

An Arab revolution fueled by methods of the West
The Arab street suddenly uses ‘our’ methods: Facebook and Twitter – the tools of democracy we have invented – to present us with a situation of disorder.
By Zvi Bar’el

So what has happened so far? A corrupt president in Tunisia flees, to cheers from around the world. Protests erupt in Egypt, and gloom descends. Protests are held in Iran, and the world cheers. A prime minister is deposed in Lebanon, to fear and dread. An Iraqi president is overthrown in a military offensive, and it’s called democracy. Raucous demonstrations take place in Yemen, and they’re called interesting but not terribly important.

Why the different reactions? This is supposedly the new Middle East the West always wanted, but something still isn’t working out. This isn’t the Middle East they dreamed of in the Bush administration, and not what nourished Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wildest dreams. A new, unexpected player has appeared: the public…. we need a revolution in the way the West views the region.

Officials: More private planes departing Egypt

Cairo (DPA) — At least 45 small, private planes departed from Cairo airport on Sunday, officials said, mostly taking businessmen, diplomats and members of Egypt’s elite out fo the country. The private jets departed from Terminal 4, the non commercial section of the international airport in Egypt’s capital. Egyptians, Arabs and Westerners were said to be on the planes, which were either rented or privately owned. On Saturday, some of Egypt’s top businessmen fled the country in private planes, amid growing unrest in the country.

Shadid in NYTimes

“Miqati, a billionaire backed by Hezbollah to become prime minister of Lebanon, promised Wednesday to forge good relations with the United States and declared that he would not interfere with an international tribunal expected to name Hezbollah members in the assassination of a former prime minister.

Ousted Lebanese Leader Swallows Rivals’ Bitter Pill

BEIRUT, Lebanon — There is a hint of Shakespeare in it all, if Lebanese politics did not feel like the pulp fiction of Raymond Chandler, where the loftiest principles soon get mired in the muck of corruption, prevarication and opportunism cast in the sincerest of words.

But on Tuesday, the day that was his last as prime minister here, Saad Hariri faced one of the bitterest realities of his brief but tumultuous political career. By virtue of what he calls his principles as a man — and what his foes and a few friends call his failures as a politician — his country was delivered, at least symbolically, to the very movement that stands accused of killing his father on the Beirut seafront in 2005.

Betrayed, he called himself after the choice of Hezbollah, Najib Miqati, was named as the prime minister designate on Tuesday. A victim of his own lies, say his foes, who engineered his ouster by bringing down his government this month. Perhaps it was both, in a place one politician called “a chemical equation, not a country.”…..

“Feeling this kind of backstabbing is quite harsh,” Mr. Hariri admitted.

“But,” he added, “that’s politics.”

Those very politics may spell his return. “I have popular support,” he said in the interview and, by all accounts, he is right. His standing as the leader of Sunni Muslims means he remains a player in politics rigidly divided among the country’s sects. As his father’s son, he and the position he takes will remain deeply resonant in whatever deal is worked out over the tribunal. And even in defeat, he suggested there might still be negotiations ahead on some quintessentially Levantine deal that would bring him into Mr. Miqati’s government.

“I have to sit with allies and decide what is the final decision,” he said.

Or, in the verdict delivered by Hassan Khalil, the publisher of Al Akhbar, a leftist newspaper that aligns itself with Mr. Hariri’s foes: “In Lebanon, it’s never over for anyone. You cannot write off anyone or anything in this country.”

LEBANON: Further unrest looms as Mikati assesses STL
Wednesday, January 26 2011

EVENT: President Michel Suleiman yesterday appointed Najib Mikati as the new prime minister-designate.

SIGNIFICANCE: Mikati’s nomination represented a major success for the Hizbollah-led ‘March 8’ coalition, which managed to summon a majority in parliament for its preferred candidate with the switching of eleven MPs from one side to the other. March 8’s domination in the new political arrangement poses questions for the future of the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon and sectarian stability.

ANALYSIS: … The development followed a deterioration in the Syrian-Saudi rapprochement, and official acknowledgment that they had failed to find a deal to calm Lebanese tensions surrounding the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, which is expected to indict Hizbollah members . Regional attempts led by Qatar and Turkey to find a last-minute compromise solution also failed.

The March 8 coalition subsequently declared its unwillingness to accept a return of Hariri to power, and a media campaign began against him, including the publication of leaked recordings of Hariri’s testimony to the STL. The situation was exacerbated with the submission of the draft indictments to the pre-trial judge in the STL on January 17. Crowds of unarmed Hizbollah supporters gathered in some Beirut neighbourhoods early the next morning, sending a clear reminder of Hizbollah’s capacity to use street violence.

Mikati nomination. Hizbollah and its allies nominated Sunni politician Najib Mikati for the premiership. With Druze leader Walid Jumblatt’s decision to side with the ‘March 8’ coalition, in addition to the defection of four MPs from Tripoli, Mikati received 68 votes in the 128-seat parliament, and was yesterday appointed prime minister-designate and tasked with forming a government. The development was a major victory for Hizbollah: given the support Mikati relies on, and his ties to Syria, the first item on the new government’s agenda is likely to be discussion of the ending of cooperation with the STL…..

March 14 reactions. Violent protests erupted in various Sunni areas in support of Hariri. While Mikati satisfies the requirements of Lebanon’s sectarian system which specify that the prime minister must be a Sunni, sectarian tensions increased dramatically with the perception that Shia groups had determined the main Sunni role in government. …

March 14 has limited options for dealing with the new situation:

…The situation on the ground is therefore likely to calm down, at least for the time being.

· Participation in the government is also not an option, as inclusion would legitimise the Mikati government,…

It is therefore most likely that March 14 will stay outside of the government, in peaceful opposition, until Mikati’s government starts debating the cooperation protocol between Lebanon and the STL. A decision to withdraw the protocol would probably require March 14 to formulate a different political strategy, and renewed social unrest would be highly likely.

Mikati’s options. Mikati announced his willingness to form a national unity government, but March 14 rejected this proposal. Yet his strategy is to present himself as a compromise candidate, close to all contending parties. His most likely option is therefore to form a ‘National Salvation’ government of ‘independent’ figures, since the alternative — forming a March 8 government, or including prominent March 8 members — would be too provocative.

Yet despite his desire to appear as a compromise candidate, Mikati is still under March 8 control — …..

International response. Mikati’s successful bid for power is seen as a victory for Syria in Lebanon, with one of its allies back in power, Hariri ousted and Riyadh’s influence in Lebanon challenged as Saudi-Syrian relations deteriorate . Since Hariri could not capitalise on the international support for his candidacy, it appears that Syria has returned to its position as the main powerbroker in Lebanon…..

· The strongest reaction came from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who warned that a Hizbollah-controlled government in Lebanon would affect its ties with Washington. The United States has warned against government change in Lebanon, arguing that such a development could threaten aid supplies.

· However, an acknowledgment of Mikati’s appointment came from France. The French Foreign Ministry ‘took note’ of the designation of Mikati, calling on him to form a government without outside interference. Similarly, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton called on Mikati to form a consensus government and respect Lebanon’s international obligations.

· Moreover, despite strong statements by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal prior to the nomination, Saudi officials have been silent on the recent developments, and their position is as yet uncertain.

Other regional reactions have been sparse, with little clarity over the outside backers of Mikati. There are rumours that France and Qatar were behind his candidacy, though these are not confirmed. Yet in the absence of a strong reaction from the regional backers of March 14, Syria could be said to have imposed a new situation on the ground.

Israel. A Hizbollah-controlled government might alter the rules of engagement with Israel, as the government is now seen as a clear tool in the hands of Hizbollah. Israeli officials have warned of the possible effect of the government change on the situation on Lebanon’s southern border; Israeli Vice-Prime Minister Silvan Shalom described it as a “very, very dangerous development”, dubbing the new government an “Iranian government on Israel’s northern border”. However, the victory of Hizbollah will not necessarily increase the likelihood of war, as both sides have no immediate interest in starting a conflict. Yet it will change the nature of the conflict if such a war does happen, as all governmental institutions would be seen as possible Hizbollah outposts.

CONCLUSION: The nomination of Mikati for premiership is a clear victory for the March 8 coalition. The main challenge for the new government will be to gain domestic legitimacy and international recognition. Yet it may struggle to do this given its likely decision to end cooperation with the STL, which would cause a new round of social unrest and international condemnation.

Palestine Papers: Admiral Mullen says Palestinian state is a U.S. ‘cardinal interest’ after raising troop deaths
by ALEX KANE on JANUARY 26, 2011

General David Petraeus backed away from uttering similar words, but it’s clearly a view that holds wide currency in the U.S. military establishment: ending the Israel/Palestine conflict is a core U.S. interest that affects the safety of U.S. soldiers. Haaretz picks up (though they bury it) that U.S. Admiral Michael Mullenechoes the “linkage” argument in a document published by Al Jazeera as part of the”Palestine Papers.”
Notes from a June 16, 2009 meeting quotes chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat as saying that Admiral Mullen told Mahmoud Abbas:

You’re the most important person in the Middle East. Arabs and Muslims have only one thing on their mind: Palestine. So, we want to help you establish a Palestinian state… I have 230,000 troops in Iraq & Afghanistan and I am bringing back 10 each week draped in American flags or in wheelchairs. This is painful for America. Because I want to bring them back home, a Palestinian state is a cardinal interest of the USA. Washington today is different from Washington yesterday.

This is the realist argument the Israel lobby goes beserk over.
Alex Kane blogs on Israel/Palestine and Islamophobia in the U.S. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

Comments (53)

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51. Angelis Dania said:

Regarding the comparisons made between Bashar Al-Assad and other Arabian dictators. I think, to say the least, the placing of these in the same boat is ridiculous.

The reason is not hidden or difficult to see. With President Bashar Al-Assad, you get the genuine impression that he actually _wants_ a better situation for his country as a whole. He _wants_ a better standard and quality of life for his people. The proof of this is in the changes he tries to affect given his resources and restrictions, however marginal the result, and regardless of how tentatively changes occur.

His country has suffered economically in large part due to the crippling sanctions it has suffered as penalty for standing up for and sticking solidly by a just cause. This didn’t stop him from making great efforts to have his country thrive in a way, despite the circumstances.

I can’t help but wonder, if Syria was one of the oil-rich arabian countries, the power for change that Bashar would hold in his hands, and what great things he would finally be in a position to achieve for his country.

The same cannot be said for most any other ruler in this world. With far too many falling to corruption, putting first their personal interests, or erring on the side of safer choices to prolong their terms in office.

Can you imagine what different leaders would have done throughout the difficult times that the two Assad presidents had to battle through? There is no doubt in my mind that the middle-east as we know it would now have been in a far worse state, as opposition to the current injustices would have almost certainly been severely crippled.

I have heard opinions from inside Syria that range the entire spectrum. You will always have your malcontents, in any country, and bitter complaints drive more speech than thankful praise. Though I have heard many people refer to Syria as a heaven, citing often the ability to walk the streets at night in relative safety. I have also heard people say about the president and his father before him, that “they are great leaders who do a lot for their country and people, but I hate them because they are Alawi”.

As for the $2 a day, what that amounts to in Syrian currency, in many parts of the country and for many people, is a sufficient living. I know many people in Syria that would generally come under the category of ‘poor’, but none of them are even near starving or homeless (not to say that the number of people in that situation is nil). From there up, the current problem is prospects. This too is an area seeing marked improvement in Syria.

For most of the moderates, the general consensus is that they would like change to occur more quickly. So what is slowing change? Should we really believe that it is the will and wont of the president that things should be this way? Is the popular propaganda true, that the current situation is helping the president stay in power, and so he is trying to keep it this way? I might believe this if Bashar Al-Assad had a lot to gain personally by staying in power, and a lot to lose personally by retiring. I might also believe this if it weren’t for the fact that improving on the countrys’ development would also serve to keep him in power.

Should we believe then that it is a direct inability of the president to affect this change, or is it predominantly a forced hand? Will security and stability be sacrificed for the so-called freedoms that some people are arguing for? The problems with Israel and the U.S have been called ‘The Syrian Excuse’, but should it have the added adjective ‘legitimate’? Are there parties both internal and external to Syria that would benefit from the fall of the Assad regime by any means? Are there forces that would benefit from a weak and unstable Syria, or a more U.S-Israel friendly Syria, without the strong demands for justice? Are these forces not already working towards the downfall of the current Syrian regime, and have they not been plotting its’ ruin for decades?

My opinion – bring about a real peace in the middle east, and then just watch the situation in Syria change like night to day. Until then, change will come slowly, but as long as the situation favours the Syrian stance and the cause for justice concerning Israeli and U.S actions in the region (as it has gradually been doing), the beneficial changes will continue to come. Meanwhile, I think it sensible to favour security and stability over things like the ability to freely criticise the government and the possibility to one day become president.

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February 8th, 2011, 5:30 pm


52. Joshua said:

Thanks, Dania, for you long and thoughtful comment.

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February 8th, 2011, 8:41 pm


53. Angelis Dania said:

I like your site Dr. Landis. It gives a wonderful insight into the varying views and agendas regarding many aspects of Syria.

I do realise I come off as over-zealously pro-Syrian and pro-Assad in a bleedingly obvious way. But then, I actually am so that’s fair to say. 🙂

I just wanted to say also, that I admire the sincerity and knowledge of many of the commenters here, and appreciate the strong convictions in many sides of each issue. It seems that the main themes or goals that thoughts here are bent on appear to be peace and freedom.

I very often see portents of mutual understandings and co-existence, and the education and enlightenment that can be gained here can only push those constructive elements forward.

So, thank you.

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February 9th, 2011, 1:56 am


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