Posted by Joshua on Thursday, June 19th, 2008
Syria's Assad Says More Groundwork Needed Before Olmert Meeting
2008-06-19 08:05 (New York)tell
By Bibhudatta Pradhan and Massoud A. Derhally
June 19 (Bloomberg) — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said negotiators must do more groundwork in order for any meeting he may have with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to have a chance of producing progress toward peace. A meeting “would have no meaning without technocrats laying the foundation,'' Assad told reporters in New Delhi today on an official visit. "This isn't like drinking tea.''… His remarks came as Olmert told the Paris daily Le Figaro that the two leaders may meet during a July 13 summit of Mediterranean leaders in France.
Washington's choice: subdue Iran, secure Iraq
Paul Rogers in Open Democracy
In managing its unfinished business with Tehran and Baghdad, the George W Bush administration seeks to bind the region – and its successor.
16 – 06 – 2008
The decision over Iran, put crudely, is whether and when to go to war in the attempt to counter and/or disable Iran's nuclear-power developments. The signs that this prospect is returning to active consideration in the White House have been accumulating for weeks (see "Iran and the American election", 5 June 2008). ….
The strongest supporters of military action against Iran are on the neo-conservative right, both within the administration (principally vice-president Dick Cheney) and in the media (notably the Weekly Standard). They are dismayed at evidence of Iran's increasing influence in the region, and at its extension of diplomatic and trade links to a range of countries; Iran, for example, has applied for membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which includes China and Russia (see Anna Fifield, "For oil-rich Iran, friends are not proving hard to find", Financial Times, 27 May 2008).
The prospect of a grinning Mahmoud Ahmadinejad outlasting the administration that for so long excoriated him would be a form of humiliation as well as confirmation of deep policy failure. What makes it even more exasperating is the ever-stronger view that the Iraq war is winnable. The neocons, and more generally hardliners inside and outside the administration (such as former United Nations ambassador John Bolton), would regard victory in Iraq as hollow if the regime in Iran – which they have always seen as the real threat to the US's regional interests – survives and thrives.
The head of the Inter-Press Service's Washington bureau, Jim Lobe – one of the more astute White House-watchers – focuses especially on Dick Cheney's obsessive desire to avoid leaving a pivot of the "axis of evil" unscathed and defiant as the Bush administration's eight years in office near their end. Lobe has over the past two years expressed scepticism when talk of a war with Iran has arisen, but this time confesses to genuine concern (see Jim Lobe, "Hawks still circling on Iran", Asia Times, 9 June 2008). ……
Middle East serves US some humble pie
By Sreeram Chaulia in Asia Times
20 June 2008
A series of new developments raises doubts about whether the US can still be the ultimate intersection in the Middle East through which all roads must cross. The just-hammered ceasefire between Hamas and Israel to halt violence across the Gaza Strip lacked American inputs and bypassed Washington's stated goal of marginalizing the democratically elected Islamic militant movement.
The reason why Egypt could mediate the ceasefire without apparent American backing is because both parties to the conflict had confidence in the contextual neutrality of Cairo. If Egypt had taken the advice of its American friends and brought in American wishes through backdoor channels, Hamas and possibly even Israel would have walked out of the dialogue process. The hostile and punitive policies of the George W Bush administration towards Hamas ruled out any chance of Washington itself being a mediator or facilitator of the negotiations.
A similar logic underlies the "indirect peace talks" being held in Turkey between two long-time antagonists, Israel and Syria, the first in eight years. Turkish mediation is palatable to Syria and Israel due to Ankara's general non-involvement and neutrality in Arab-Israeli disputes. As the only non-Arab Muslim country in the region besides Iran, Turkey is viewed favorably in Tel Aviv. Ankara is also acceptable as a third party for Syria as a means of breaking free from the American stranglehold that denies Damascus the chance to normalize relations with so-called "moderate states" of the region. …
The most startling departure of a client regime from the American patrimonial grip is the announcement that Saudi Arabia has signed a massive $4 billion arms deal with Russia, breaking the American monopoly over military hardware supplies to the kingdom. The Saudis had earmarked $12 billion for defense upgrading this year and the revelation that one-third of it was awarded to Russian companies dismayed Washington to no end. …
So weak is the US in its current state of dependency on Saudi Arabia to overcome the staggering price of oil that it could not convince Riyadh to spurn the Russian arms manufacturers. In fact, in a bid to placate Riyadh, the Bush administration is mooting a new civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with the Saudis against stiff opposition from Congress. … Washington thinks that it must stoke Saudi Arabia's nuclear program in order to keep the "balance of terror" in the region.
Iran's shadow also looms heavily on the US's difficulties in getting Iraq's Nuri al-Maliki government to acquiesce in the new "Status of Forces" agreement….. Maliki's threat of asking US troops to go home at the end of the year when their United Nations mandate expires might be political posturing for domestic consumption, but it certainly adds to the erosion of American traction in the region….
Last, but not least, in the saga of depleting American hegemony in the Middle East is Washington's loss of face in last month's stand-off between Hezbollah and pro-Western forces in Lebanon. Hezbollah emerged as the victor…
It is still early to conclude that the Middle East is the graveyard of Pax Americana. The flow of localized negotiated settlements could clog and return to old stalemates, necessitating grand "roadmap for peace"-style solutions that Washington espouses. …. However, the paradox that the world's largest possessor of diplomatic resources and skills has to rely on its military machine and the loyalty of despots to remain relevant in the Middle East speaks of how poorly Washington harnessed its cachet under George W Bush.
Shai, an Israeli, writes in the comment section:
This cease-fire that has gone into effect this morning (1.5 hours ago) is not a result of no-option for the IDF. In fact, many in the Israeli army are ready to roll into Gaza in a large scale operation. I believe there are two main reasons for not seeing such an operation right now: First, Hamas did negotiate well through Egypt and made Israel look like the aggressor if it should refuse the offer. And second, the Israeli government wants to be able to tell the Israeli people "You see, we tried our best", before going in again. All the newspapers are readying Israelis for, what they call, an inevitable eventuality which is clash with Hamas. This cease-fire, unlike perhaps others in the past, is meant to be the last "test" for both sides, before a major operation is authorized. Trust me (and you know my opinion on these operations), the IDF really IS preparing to go in, and it really WILL do so in an instant should the cease-fire terms be broken by Hamas, Jihad, or even Israel itself. Everyone knows the price Israel will pay by going in, and this is why the government is trying to avoid it as long as it can. But Hamas also knows it'll suffer heavy losses, not to mention many many innocent Palestinians, and it too wants to avert such a catastrophe.
Personally, I don't think the attack on the Syrian installation was "cowardly". I think it was foolish, and it gambled on almost everything we tried to do with Syria behind the scene over the past 3-4 years. Syria could have, after all, attacked back. At the very least with missiles. And then we'd be at war. But Bashar chose not to, thank god, and therefore many on my side are claiming he is weak. I think that's a dangerous assumption to make, and I'm truly hoping that we Israelis won't avoid making the necessary decisions in the coming 1-2 years (giving back the Golan), and instead push Syria into such a corner, from which it could only come out through war.
As for Iran, I wouldn't rule anything out just yet, though I do believe an attack is unlikely. Even if the U.S. doesn't attack, Israel still might. I hope it doesn't, but there are enough hardline advisors to the PM, and his trouble with the Talansky investigation could, in theory, cause him to authorize a terrible operation that would distract the public long enough to make him look good (protectorate of Israel against nuclear threats). I agree with you – the way the IDF traditionally fights, it is indeed very weak against HA and Hamas. But against regular armies, regular targets, etc., it is still the strongest in the region. If god forbid it went to war against Syria, or Iran, it would fight much better than against some armed militia. By the way, it should be assumed that the IDF has been learning its lessons from Lebanon 2006, and that it will not fight the same way next time. Translating that into action, it probably means it will do far greater damage to civilian targets, and take a far greater toll next time around.
The following article by Yasin Hajj Salih, one of Syria's smartest commentators, is entitled: Traitorising Nationalism and Apostasising Religion. He compares religous fanatics who declare fellow Muslims apostates to Nationalist fanatics who declare fellow nationalists treasonous.