Posted by Joshua on Sunday, September 28th, 2008
A friend who recently opened up a hotel in a renovated Ottoman house in the old city of Damascus called and said that he had lost $40,000 worth of business overnight due to the car bomb. All his October reservations have cancelled.
Robert Worth of the NYTimes: Car Bomb Kills 17 in Syria Near Intelligence Office, reports the speculations of a number of people, including the accusation that Saudi Arabia did it.
…..This month, Mr. Assad issued a warning about the presence of hard-line Sunni Islamists just across the border in northern Lebanon, hinting that they were receiving support from Saudi Arabia. Subsequently, thousands of Syrian troops were deployed near the border with northern Lebanon, in a move that was understood as a related gesture, though Syrian officials said it was to control smuggling.
Andrew Lee Butters at Time is always smart. He reminds us that no one knows who did this, but he explores “blow back” from Iraq. Read his Reading the Signs of the Syrian Bombing.
Often when a terrorist or violent act occurs in Syria, I feel like an astrologist watching a volcanic eruption on a distant planet for omens and portents. Today’s car bombing in Damascus that left 17 people dead is a reminder that under the surface of that seemingly airless, unchanging place, there’s molten fire. But beyond that, it’s hard to know what signifies.
Ever since the secular Baathist government waged a brutally effective civil war against Islamic terrorists in the early 1980’s, Syria has been one of the safest countries in the region. But within the last decade, Syria’s chokehold on religious groups has begun to relax. This is part of an awkward attempt to co-opt the rise of Islamic feeling within the region, but also a result of the opening of Syria’s economy to Saudi and Gulfie businessmen, some of whom brought their Islamic charities and mosque building programs with them. Most of the activity is harmless. But some may have also opened Syria up to infiltration by extremists……
The rise in jihaddist activity in Syria could also be a case of blowback. After the Bush administration rebuffed Syrian overtures to provide intelligence for the fight against al Qaeda after 9/11, and after the US began hinting that it might do to the Assad regime what it did to Saddam Hussein, the Syrian government allowed their country to become a transit point for Islamist militants heading to Iraq to fight the Americans, according the US Army. Are jihaddis now biting the proverbial hand that fed them?
And yet, the attack could be something completely different. Syria is in the middle of a delicate diplomatic moment after having initiated indirect peace talks with Israel, and the region is rife with speculation about two unsolved major assassinations in Syria so far this year: of Hizballah’s military operations chief, and of the a top military aid to President Assad. Were these house-cleaning gestures by the Syrian regime to show that it would be willing to cut its ties with Hizballah and sign a peace deal with Israel, or are hardliners within the regime acting out against detente? Today’s attack is bound to be read in the context of such conspiracy theories. But it’s worth taking all of this Syrian Kremlinology with a healthy dose of agnosticism. As the saying goes: no one who knows talks, and no one who talk’s knows.
–Andrew Lee Butters in Beirut with reporting by Obaida Hamad in Damascus
Farid Ghadry of SRP argues that Syrian authorities are lying about the explosion being an act of terrorism. He claims that it was an accidental explosion of a car bomb manufactured by Syrian intelligence for use in Iraq or Lebanon.
Beirut (dpa) – The Damascus car bombing that killed 17 civilians Saturday was carried out by an Iraqi suicide bomber with the al-Qaeda terrorist network, a Lebanese news website said.
The Now Lebanon website quoting well-informed Syrian sources said that the bomber had recently entered Syria and had been in communication with al-Qaeda members in the capital.
The sources confirmed earlier speculation that the attack was targeting a security installation located on a road leading to Damascus airport.
‘It was a message to Syrian authorities, who were putting pressure on the al-Qaeda network in Syria, especially after Syria’s openness towards the West and in particular France, and the indirect Syrian- Israeli peace talks,’ the website, which is believed to be close to the anti-Syrian Lebanese majority, quoted the sources as saying.
Saturday’s bombing was a warning from al-Qaeda that they would turn Syria into a ‘Jihad land,’ the sources added.
The website, siting the sources, said Syrian security had carried out a series of arrests and taken more than 35 people, mostly Syrians and other Arab nationals, into custody.
Friday Lunch Club brings our attention to an article in al-Akhbar, a Lebanese opposition paper, which explains that the Saudis and Americans pressured Detlev Mehlis and investigators in the first UN investigation into the Hariri assassination to falsify evidence and encourage several of the Islamists to recant their confessions. It goes on abou the role of Bandar bin Sultan as well.
Michael Young speculates that Syria has be setting off bombs in Lebanon recently. He is also worries that Syria will reoccupy Lebanon in order to prove to Israel that it can shut down Hizbullah. At other times, he doesn’t think that Syria is serious about wanting to get back the Golan.
Does Syria plan to return its armed forces to Lebanon? There is no simple answer. If Assad is to have a strong card in his negotiations with Israel over the Golan Heights, he must first show that Syria has the means of bringing Hizbullah to heel. Without his soldiers in Lebanon, he could not seriously make that case. At the same time, there are genuine difficulties involved. Syria is in no position to disarm Hizbullah, while Iran would, plainly, oppose any such move. This would force Syria to choose between Iran and Israel, and despite the unfounded optimism in some Western capitals that Assad is pining for peace, it’s far more probable that he will safeguard his relationship with Tehran.
Yoav Stern in Haaretz writes that at the UN meeting in NY:
Peres reiterated to Gul that “the Israeli public wants to see with its own eyes that Syria has changed.” During their meeting, the two also discussed the possibility of expanding the peace talks between Israel and Syria, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the Iranian threat. Gul told Peres that “Syria has serious intentions for peace with Israel” and that “the more the negotiations advance, the less doubts the Israeli side will have.”
Gul went on to say that he hoped that the establishment of a new government in Israel will prompt “both sides to return to the negotiating table.”
Major-General Giora Eiland, Israel’s former National Security Advisor, spoke at a conference in Geneva organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, recently. About the ongoing Israeli-Syrian talks about a peace deal, Gen. Eiland said that he doesn’t think it would go through, because by coming to a deal with the Syrians, Israel cannot resolve or solve its problem with Iran or Hezbollah.
Syria Comment made the mistake of copying a story from Debka claiming that 10 Russian ships were docking in Tartus. This turns out not to be true, according to the Russian web Daily Kommersant, Tartus Too Small for Pyotr Velikiy.
The Pyotr Velikiy won’t be able to enter Syria. The realization of the plan to transform the post of material and technical provision in Tartus into a comprehensive naval base has been put off for an uncertain term. Israel’s military intelligence has recently denied Russian military’s statement that there are already ten Black Sea Fleet ships in Tartus. Kommersant sources with Russia’s Defense Ministry said that battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy, which has set off for Venezuela, simply won’t be able to enter the port of Tartus – it has not been prepared to accommodate such ships.
After 15 years in dry dock, the fleet doesn’t have to be able to sail around the world, although that would be not bad. But the ships should at least be able to sail through the Bosporus, along the Dardanelles and Gibraltar, at least across the Bering Strait. Otherwise, it’s not a military fleet, but a high-firepower coastal flotilla. A fleet cannot exist without a base. The base in Sevastopol is critically important because it is the only one of the appropriate class in the appropriate location. And that is at the heart of the problem with Ukraine, whose leadership is striving for NATO membership and may succeed eventually. A base in Tartus, if one should exist, would alleviate that problem so some degree.