The Presidential Plebiscite and Pageantry: What does it Mean?

The presidential plebiscite: What does it mean? 

I will begin with my conclusions about the presidential referendum and the many street “hafles” or parties, parades, and festivals that preceded and followed it. I have moved the conclusions to the top because this post is long. 

Conclusions

1. Bashar has completed the process of power consolidation begun with the 10th Baath Party Congress of June 2005.

2. He has gained legitimacy in the eyes of Syria’s elites, who are betting on him and seriously considering bringing their capital back to the country. Many, particularly expatriates have yet to do so and are hedging their bets, but many local capitalists have everything they own here. The “Ehsani” expatriates have invested considerable capital in Syria over the last three years but, I believe, are still holding back. (Ehsani is a contributor to Syria Comment. We will see if he agrees.)

3. Everywhere the posters are of Bashar only. He does not share the ground with Nasser, Nasrallah, Basil al-Assad, or his father any longer. Today, it is all about Bashar, who stands alone.

4. The parades exuded “modernity” and professionalism. This is new for Syria. Syrians like it, even if they think way too much money was spent on them. It is the message Bashar al-Assad has worked hard to convey. It is how he is marketed inside Syria. He is staying on message. He is “Mr. Modernizer,” even though the West is trying to convince Syrians that he doesn’t get it, is not new at all, and is just keeping the Assad family in power.

5. Syrian nationalism has largely replaced the old Arabism. The parades were all about Syria, its long history, and many different civilizations, peoples, and varied culture. They were not about Arabs, militarism, or the Baath Party. (Who knows, Bashar may even try to steal Phoenicianism from the Lebanese. God forbid!)

6. Bashar has not stuck a dagger in the Baath Party’s heart, but he has definitely circumscribed its authority.

7. Democracy: Bashar ran his campaign against Iraq and Bush. Many banners extolled “security, safety, and stability” – “al-`amn wal-istiqrar.”  This was a no brainer for Syrians. The campaign presented Syria’s choice as being one between Bashar and Bush or between Syria and Iraq. For Syrians, American democracy promotion in the Middle East means following the path of Iraq, Lebanon, or the Palestinian Authority, the three countries that have accepted or been forced to follow the US democracy agenda. Carpenter tried to present democracy as a disembodied magic that one can just import by following certain practices, such as free elections. There is no doubt that many Syrians yearn for more democracy, but they are now well aware of its attendant dangers, especially in a region as troubled by sectarian and ethnic differences, identity crises, and a weak sense of national community.

8. Syrians have not completely made up their minds about this regime. They want to see what will happen to the “reform” process, which could easily be reversed or stall. This is the BIG question. Many hope that following the president’s inauguration on the 17th, there will be a new government nominated quickly. They hope that the president’s new power will be used to confirm his reform agenda. These hopes will probably be dashed, as nothing has happened quickly or with resolution in Syria. There are big interests standing in the way of the 5-year plan. Local industrialists do not want Turkish tariffs to come down, for example. Many businesses depend on protected markets and privileges that the 5-year plan will eliminate. I have heard two contradictory predictions about the reform process made by well-informed people. One is that Dardari, on whom economic reform hopes have been pinned, will be out in 2 to 5 months. The other is that he has the backing of the president and will be given an important role in the future government. This is a sign of the nation’s confusion over the reform process. Many foreign investors are still sitting on their land purchases or have yet to enter the market. Unemployment is still way too high. The Iraqi influx has undercut Syrian employment and driven up prices. Inflation is eating away at the standard of living of ordinary Syrians. The floundering state sector and economic subsidies are sucking off state revenues. Only big foreign investment can balance these negatives. To get this, Bashar must make some big decisions. He seems to have the power now, but will he use it to discipline the privileged few, who have their feet on the brakes?
 
The Referendum as Political Theater:

Syria witnessed nearly two weeks of preparations for the presidential plebiscite that was carried out on May 27. The state-sponsored festivities and show of political dominance by the president was ubiquitous. Any analysis of the events surrounding the plebiscite must be understood on the level of pageantry, marketing, and the effectiveness of the message that the palace hoped to convey. Those who confuse the process with democracy will only become apoplectic and indignant. I have yet to speak to a Syrian who misunderstood the process.
 
I cannot say the same for some American observers. Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Carpenter gave a press interview on the 29th, shortly after the presidential referendum, designed to clear up any confusion Americans might have about whether the plebiscite was “pure theater,” and make sure that Americans know that Washington’s democracy agenda for the Middle East is still going strong. Here is one extract from Carpenter’s briefing: 

Q:  Well, about the, as you put it, so-called referendum:  The Syrian ministry has said that the turnout was more than 90 percent, like 12 million.  So that must mean something, or do you think it’s all faked and false statements?
 
DAS CARPENTER:  I think it’s – you know, when you threaten people that if they don’t vote they may lose their job, if you threaten students if they don’t vote they may not be able to take their exams, that this has an impact on people.  Anybody – you know, the Ba’ath Party has probably a million vested members in the country.  You can turn out a million people to go chanting and celebrating at midnight for their great opportunity to go vote in this farce, but as we saw throughout the day, and as pictures indicated and things, again, I’ve seen on the Web, over the course of the day, the number of people showing up at the polling sites was much, much less.  
 
Again, if the regime had confidence in this process, it would have introduced real competition.  If the regime had confidence in this process, it wouldn’t have moved up the date? by two months.  If the regime had confidence in this process, it would have given people the right to vote.  If the regime had confidence in the process, it wouldn’t have had, you know, small children casting symbolic ballots.  They would have taken their own process seriously.  Ten-year-olds do not have the right to vote, I believe, under the Syrian election law, and yet they feature them prominently casting ballots – and not their fathers’ ballots, but specially designed ballots for them to cast.  It’s pure theater, and I think everybody recognizes it as such.

As Carpenter insists, the referendum was about political theater, so let’s evaluate it as such.
 
The “Minhibak Karnaval”

Two days ago, the last of the big celebrations and parades was held at the Umayyad Circle, called the “minhibak Karnival” or “We love you carnival.” It was televised and astounding for the high quality of its artistic production and novelty of its ideological content.  The parade began around 4:00 p.m. It was billed as a pageant of Syrian history and culture or al-turath al-souri.

Roughly 12 large floats representing different aspects and periods of Syrian history and culture divided up the procession. Leading the way were the floats representing ancient cultures, each with a large castle or palace constructed in great detail and representing a different Syrian civilization. First was a large wooden ship surrounded by a blue scrim representing the sea and Ugarit civilization. On top of the ship about twenty beautiful women, dressed in blue diaphanous scarves and wearing golden bands, danced in harmony. At the stern of the ship were large cuneiform tablets representing the Ugaritic alphabet, believed to be the first alphabet in the world. Its thirty letters formed the basis of the Phoenician, Greek, and Latin alphabets. As my little Syrian guidebook trumpets: “It is a most wonderful gift that Syria has offered for the benefit of mankind.” It is hard to argue with that. Perhaps even the most jaundiced Syrian observer would have a bit of pride sparked by these reminders of their illustrious past.

Of course, the present leaders of the state are particularly proud of the Ugarit culture which was centered at the palaces of Ras Shamra 15 k. north of Lattakia, the coastal city where Bashar al-Assad is from.Other floats carried large replicas of the architectural monuments that distinguished them – Aramaic, Roman, and Babylonian, etc. Each float was proceeded by a band dressed in period clothing and playing the instruments particular to the time. It made for quite a sight. The many onlookers seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves.
 
Following the historical section was the economic culture of Syria. Children dressed in gold costumes with high shafts of wheat shafts ascending from their backs swayed to and fro. Another group of children dressed in elaborate white costumes and each sporting a big cotton tufted turban represented cotton fields. The large highway was girded by crowds come to ogle the show and listen to the music. I was new and profession.
 
Once the procession had reached the Umayyad Circle and evening had fallen, a fireworks display began on a par with the Hudson River 4th of July display in New York City lit up the city with colorful plumes?

From an artistic point of view, this parade was second to none. It was clearly planned long in advance. Syria’s most talented artisans, dancers, costume designers and craftsmen were brought into the task. What a difference from the old days of Hafiz al-Assad, when parades were dull and militaristic. There was not a hint of militarism this time around.

 

The President Separates Himself from the Baath Party
 
Moreover, there was almost no Arabism. The Baath Party was not mentioned. Nor is it referred to in any of the political advertising and banners that festoon the city. Bashar al-Assad’s transformation of the political ethos from Arabism to Syrianism is a process that I have been commenting on for several years. In the parliamentary elections earlier in the month, the Baath Party had a large role. It dominates the Assembly of Deputies. The President is separating himself from the Party within the limits offered by the regime’s structure.
 
Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Carpenter made a big to-do in his anti-Syrian press conference about the regime squandering 50 million dollars on the “scam” process. “Seeing the government spend upwards of $50 million or more on this process is an indication of how out of touch really the regime is with its people,” he explained.
 
This sort of comment is humorous on several levels. First Scott Carpenter is making up the $50 million from thin air. He is absolutely right that it was very expensive, but it was not the state or people’s taxes that paid for the bulk of the festivities. Carpenter knows this. As in America, large capitalists and private donors sponsored and organized the parades and festivities. They are showing loyalty to the leader who gives them their privileges, protects their wealth, and from whom they expect continuing support.
 
Capitalist Sponsorship of the Regime

This is an entirely new phenomenon in Syria: capitalist rather than Baath Party sponsorship of the regime. We have seen it emerge only in the last five years. It took on a particularly striking form after Syria’s military withdrawal from Lebanon, when Syria began copying the Cedar Revolution’s notions of “hafles” or street parties. Rich Syrians were asked to get out a display of support.
 
Throughout the referendum process, local street parties were sponsored at almost all the major street corners and parks in center city. There were tents, music, and young people dancing. Food and sweets were handed out to passers by. Rich businessmen advertised their sponsorship of the hafles openly in order to get maximum credit. The music blared until the wee hours of the morning. All city residents were delighted when they finally came to an end; they could sleep.  As many said, “Enough already! This is too much. We get it.”  Syrians did not misunderstand the message. They understood that the state was declaring its presence and proclaiming its strength and ability to mobilize the elites.

Many Syrians have explained to me that one of the reasons it went on so long was because the message was directed at the outside world. Assad was telling the West: “Istuflu” or “stick it.” “You think I am ready to collapse or weak? You are wrong.”

Carpenter argues that the pageantry of the referendum is a clear sign of the President’s illegitimacy. To prove this he referred to a Web poll carried out by a small exile group, the results of which indicated 80% of its readers voted against Bashar al-Asad. Presidential referendums in Syria, as in much of the third world, are not about the democratic process, however. They are about a show of “za`ama” or authority and the backing of national elites.

In Syria, the recent referendum demonstrated that the moneyed national elites are willing to back the president, not only with their cash, but also with institutional resources.

Legitimacy in Authoritarian States

Legitimacy is a slippery concept and exceedingly hard to gauge in authoritarian states. Most political scientists agree that in authoritarian states, where democratic polls are unknown, legitimacy is best measured by the ability of the state to retain a consensus among national elites.
 
States fail only when the elites split, fight among themselves, and drag the house down. This is what is happening in Iraq and some fear could happen in Lebanon.

In Syria, the referendum demonstrated rather conclusively that Syria’s elites are on board, willingly or unwillingly. Artists, labor unions, professional associations, businessmen, and industries of all kinds put their shoulders to the wheel and made this the biggest and most professional celebration of national consensus in 40 years. No one dared to speak out publicly against it. Legitimacy in Syria is about acquiescence, not votes. Syria’s elites did their job. That is why the hafles were confined to center city, where the elites live. They were hardly evident in the poorer suburbs. Carpenter can point to opposition web polls in the US as an indication of the illegitimacy of the Syrian regime, but he is missing the point. It is the elites that count, not the people.

Abdul Halim Khaddam and the Danger of Elite Defections
 
Abdul Halim Khaddam, Syria’s Vice President under Hafiz and under Bashar for the first five years of his rule, left Syria for France in 2005. He established the National Salvation Front in 2006 in order to rally Syrians against the regime. The 22 members of his family were compelled to follow him into exile. At first, it appeared that Khaddam’s defection might threaten Bashar al-Assad. Many believed he might attract other powerful Sunnis to join him in a revolt. This did not happen. On the contrary, Khaddam’s example has chastened Syrian elites, who see in his experience a cautionary tale. In some respects, the outpouring of support by Syria’s rich for Bashar signifies an end to the Khaddam threat.
 
I drove past La Noisette on Mezzeh Autostrad with a friend last night. It is a ritzy restaurant that was owned by Khaddam’s son Jihad. I asked my friend what had become of the many Khaddam businesses. I was told that they are working very well. Rather than take them over directly, authorities handed them over to Khaddam’s erstwhile managers. A government accountant who earns 5,000 pounds a month visits every morning to go over the books. A share of profits goes to the state, but there is little interference in management. My friend explained that one of Khaddam’s old managers is a buddy of his. “He is very happy to run the business alone,” I was told. “It is like he is the owner now. He retained all the employees, they are happy.

 

My friend followed up by saying:

I don’t understand Khaddam. He was so stupid. He had everything in Syria and was surrounded by family, businesses, and connections. Now he is nothing. Syria will forget about him. He fed off the government trough for 30 years and was rich. It was time for him to step aside and let others have their turn. Look at Tlass and others. They stood aside and let their children take over. Thirty years! It is enough, no? And Khaddam not only ruined his own family, but at least three other families, those married to his sons and daughters. They had to leave and give up their holdings in Syria. Rima Khaddam was married to an Atassi. His sons were married to good families too.” (He named the families, but I cannot remember their names or businesses.)

Then he said, “Look at Hikmet Shihabi. His children are all here. They can come and go. They still own their businesses – the BMW franchise, Fiat and many private businesses.”

Background: The Hariri Threat as Perceived by Damascus
 
It is important to give some background here because the Shihabi experience reinforces my broader argument about legitimacy, elite solidarity, and regime stability.
 
Hikmat Shihabi was Syria’s Chief of Staff under Hafiz al-Assad. He was the military commander of Lebanon for much of Syria’s rule there. He teamed up with Abdul Halim Khaddam, the political commander of Lebanon, and Ghazi Kanaan, the intelligence chief in Lebanon during the 1980s and much of the 1990s. These three men worked as a triumvirate, ruling Lebanon for Hafiz. It was widely believed in Syria that Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Rafiq al-Hariri, had bought these men. Everyone says that Hariri gave Khaddam the apartment in Paris on Rue Foch that he now lives in, just as Saad Hariri has given Jacque Chirac his present apartment in Paris.
 
When Bashar al-Assad took power in 2000, he distrusted the old triumvirate and believed they had been bought. He began a subtle campaign against them. Shihabi was accused of corruption and left for California. Khaddam and Kanaan were kept on in an attempt to re-domesticate them and bring them back into the fold. Khaddam continued to maneuver behind the scenes to re-build his authority and oppose the president.
 
In early 2005, when President Bush and Chirac decided to move aggressively against Bashar al-Assad, insisting that Syria withdraw its troops from Lebanon, give up influence there and allow for free Presidential elections to replace Emile Lahoud with a Hariri loyalist, the Assad regime balked and battle-lines were drawn.
 
Syria understood that the West meant war and that Syria’s regime could be next. In Syria’s ongoing war with Israel over the Golan, Lebanon is the crucial front. Hizbullah is Syria’s main asset in the tug of war over the Golan. Also, Syria feels it cannot afford to permit Lebanon to become a beachhead in the West’s attempt to destabilize Syria, as it was in the 1950s through 1960s and again in the 1980s. In 1956, the CIA trained over 300 Alawite members of the PPS in the mountains of Lebanon. They were to serve as one element in a Western backed coup against the Syrian regime. In 1957, Lebanon was the staging ground for Operation Straggle, another US inspired coup attempt. Syrian opposition groups found a ready base in Lebanon, where western intelligence agencies could help arm and handle them.
 
In the 1980s, following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the Muslim Brotherhood, which was backed by Saddam Hussein and others waged a war against the Assad regime. They used Lebanon as a staging ground. Several old CIA hands have written that the US also helped the M.B. at this time. The game of using Islamist groups in Lebanon is not a new one. Today, analysts are arguing over who is secretly backing Fatah al-Islam – Hariri’s people or the Syrians. We don’t know the answer to this. The reason it is so hotly debated is because past history suggests either possibility can not be exluded. It is not the first time that East and West have fought to turn Islamist organizations in Lebanon to their advantage. My sense of Fatah al-Islam is that neither side had or has any real control over the group.  In short, Lebanon has great strategic importance to Syria and to any state or alliance that hopes to destabilize Syria. This is how Syria regards Lebanon.

The Western Attempt to Split the Syrian Elite and Destabilize the State
 
In 2005, Bush, Chirac, and presumably Rafiq al-Hariri believed they could split the Syrian elite, turning Khaddam and his triumvirate of Shihabi and Kanaan against Assad. To eliminate such a possibility, the Syrian regime carried out a mini-purge. Shihabi de-camped to California, Khaddam was fired at the Baath Party Conference in June 2005 and decided to move his family to Paris where he teamed up with the Muslim Brotherhood rather than accept defeat and humiliation. Ghazi Kanaan “committed suicide” in the fall of 2005. Perhaps this was his way of protecting his family, all of whom have remained in Syria. One of Kanaan’s sons has resigned his officer’s commission, but other children are doing well, people say. My Damascene friends do not know much about them. Kanaan was not corrupt, people suggest, and thus his children are not big business owners. Who knows? Many believed in 2005 that Hikmat Shihabi would join Khaddam in Paris and help Bush and Chirac in an effort to destabilize the regime, perhaps by getting Kanaan, who remained in the country to carry out a coup. Shihabi refused. His children still have a life. I suspect they paid for at least one hafle in the recent referendum, as a show of appreciation.
 
The conclusion of this narrative is that the West believed it could split the Syrian elite by using Hariri’s money and connections as a wedge. It sought to exploit Lebanon’s desire for sovereignty and Khaddam’s desire for power. Bashar al-Assad skillfully sidestepped this danger by excising the threat and consolidating his leadership over the Syrian elite. 
 
Economics 

 

Syria's economic opening is the primary tool to accomplish regime consolidation. It gives the president the means to make Syrian elites stakeholders. Big new holding companies, such as the Sham Holding Company, are perfect vehicles for this consolidation. In the case of Sham Holding, Syria’s richest businessman anteed up hundreds of millions in capital to take advantage of the economic opening. The president’s cousin, Rami Makhlouf, stepped in and matched their entire purse, making them all his and the state’s partners in the new order. As one friend explained, “That is why we call him Rambo.”
 
As many have observed here, the funding of the referendum ceremonies by private business was a demonstration by the elites of their loyalty to the regime and willingness to make a public show of their partnership. If Khaddam believed that wealthy Syrian Sunnis would split from the regime to join him in opposing Bashar and bringing down the regime, he sorely miscalculated. He is alone in exile. The other old guard figures have found a way back in.
 
“Failure is an orphan, and success has a hundred fathers,” as the saying goes. Bashar is a success. Big money is betting on him as it never has before, to which the whole country is witness. A good source told me, “businessmen didn’t know that the hafles and activities surrounding the referendum would be so big, so many, and last so long. It wasn’t all planned. A dynamic established itself and the moneybags of Syria felt compelled to jump in and outdo their competition.”
 
Bashar’s ability to navigate the very dangerous obstacles that have been thrown up before him since the US invasion of Iraq is astounding. Almost every Syrian I have met over the last week has reiterated this truth, some with considerable satisfaction, made all the more manifest because I am an American from Bush country. They are impressed with Bashar the politician, even as they express their disapproval of “the system” and its corruption. 

 

End

 

I am copying a few comments from my last post that cover the referndum ceremonies.

zenobia wrote:

hi,
ok so some people addressed me about what i said about the convincing spectacle that the regime has pulled off…and also about my perception of people’s feelings.

I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT PEOPLE …REALLY REALLY REALLY FEEL. but this is significant in itself i think…. precisely that i can’t tell….

yes… certain people who are explicit about their negativity for the government or the president… are definitely afraid. i would agree with that.
i have now seen a kind of afraid i have never seen before… the afraid of making sure the windows or the doors to the porch are closed when you talk…even though there isn’t anyone around or you are on the seventh floor. People are fearful in an automatic kind of way to voice any dissention. no question about that.

And of course i didn’t manage to find the only dissentors or persons with negative views..in all of syria in only a couple of weeks…
so, of course there are many many of these people.

but what i really don’t comprehend…unless one admits that a huge percentage of the youth of syria have bought into a myth..or genuinely believe in the goodness of their president… is HOW TO ACCOUNT for that amazing spectacle i saw!
no, i am not kidding. i really don’t know how to interpret it.
i asked many people to explain it to me, as they understand it.

yes, i understand that there are very elaborate complex networks of associations and entities…pressured and paid and persuaded to organize, and produce the celebration. the tents, the banners the huge ads, the lights, the balloons, the ‘chocolates’ and even …. even…. even, George Wassuf..singing in the middle of Omayad circle… to throngs of young men and women..and really they are kids..kids kids…everywhere… (i age myself by clarifying that i mean…20-28 year olds… but that is ‘kids’ to me)

and all of that…is certainly a big SEDUCTION… of course.

Still…still i want to say…it didn’t seem enough to explain… what appeared for the life of me…as spontaneous…participation..

the part i mean.. was the zillion kids… parading in their groups and hanging out of their cars…waving flags.. flooding the streets… singing, chanting, dancing, and generally causing a ruckus for several days… in a fashion that seems – way beyond what would be required if it was all on instruction from on high….

are they brainwashed completely???? i have no idea.
are they stupid…and don’t know what they supporting? maybe.
are they just interested in an excuse for a party?… seems a bit extreme lengths to go… and this doesnt’ really require chanting the ridiculous bashar song does it?…

dear commentors, no i am not kidding…maybe- these activities all seem trite, meaningless, and unimportant. after all , who cares what the 21 year old ignoramous thinks….

but let us not forget… that something like 70 percent of the country is under the age of 25. !!!!!
it is not a hard statistic to believe…babies and little kids everywhere…teens, college students… you feel old…just walking in the street! 30 is over the hill..here…

and these kids, dear friends…are everything coming…they are the dealbreakers, the ones who will decide…the future…

and that big show that went on..was definitely for them..it was a big pseudo rock concert, light show, production, delivered especially for them…
it is very carefully crafted with full understanding of who is important in the long run.

and who is REALLY in the hearts of these young people??????
dear commentors, i cannot accurately say.., but the fact that they were no serious ruptures in the visual fabric… (albeit, my foreign and untrained eyes might have missed it) says something…it must in itself reveal something about what is happening…

these children want desperately to believe in this myth..and to grab onto it. if nothing more than the naive, fickle, adoration of youth… still…it has that passionate essense…and force..the force of pride and stubborness, and need to make the image be true..it can’t easily be dismissed or ignored or rationalized.

i think.

May 30th, 2007, 9:46 pm

bilal wrote:

To Zenobia,
When a dictatorial regime is ideologically bankrupt,economically corrupt and politically unpopular as is the Assad regime it is only a question of times before it collapses

EHSANI2 wrote:

Zenobia,

Those who think that Bashar is unpopular are wrong. I think that it is incorrect to assume that fear of the leadership drives so many people into such a showing of support.

Indeed, compared to the Syria of 1980-2000, it is easy to see why. Those of us who lived/visited the country during the above period can vividly recall how hard it was to find even bananas and toilet paper then. Hafez Assad was feared and respected but not liked. The same cannot be said of Bashar. His youth, looks, wife and kids, education and general demeanor are surely a big hit. Moreover, Bashar’s opening of the economy has allowed more people to drive and own cars and cell phones. Fear of the security services may still exist but nowhere near the levels under Assad senior. During Hafez’s days, once you were picked up, it was highly probable that you would not be heard from again. Now, you may get interrogated for a few days or months but you will be back. The cumulative impact of all this is what you see in the streets. Anyone who denies the level of the man’s support within the people of the country is being disingenuous.

May 30th, 2007, 10:18 pm

Comments (133)


Pages: « 1 2 [3] Show All

101. Akbar Palace said:

Enlgihtened said:

Can you up the ante?

Yes, unfortunately I can:

In an especially grisly incident, Hamas militants kidnapped an officer in a Fatah-linked security force, took him to the roof of a 15-story apartment building and threw him off. Mohammed Sweirki, 25, from the Presidential Guard of President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, was killed in the plunge.

Can someone post a link showing Arab outrage or is all the noise reserved for Jews and Israel?

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070611/ap_on_re_mi_ea/israel_palestinians_12;_ylt=ApstLWdLk4lwpH9CJMAzNNIE1vAI

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 11th, 2007, 2:49 am

 

102. Alex said:

Zvi Bar’el on war and peace with Syria

Best indeed to prepare for war

Israel is once more contemplating whether to do an Arab leader a favor and determine that he is truly interested in making peace. Whether to grant him a seal of approval, and in so doing, enable him to request the lifting of Western sanctions, or reject him for another decade until he matures. Come back when you’re older.

The ongoing disagreement with Syrian President Bashar Assad, who came to power 7 years ago, pertains to whether he is someone to talk to and not to whether there is anything to talk about with Syria. Does Assad mean business, or is he still a 42-year-old kid?

The debate is based on two strategic conceptions. The first is that in the Middle East, one signs agreements with leaders, as opposed to nations. After all, the states of the region are headed by tyrants, whose ability to survive can determine the durability of a treaty. The second assumption is that signing a peace agreement with Israel is a privilege that Israel deigns to grant its partners.

This is not strictly an Israel perception. It comes neatly packed straight from Washington. The U.S. administration recognizes that any peace deal between an Arab country and Israel requires an American dowry. And for that, the prospective groom must first obtain the in-laws’ approval.

This is fair enough, except the American in-law is not too keen on seeing Assad receive peace with Israel when he is still suspected of aiding the terrorist organizations operating in Iraq. Hence, President Bush is forcing a linkage between the Iraq War and the Arab-Israeli conflict, even though the two conflicts are not interdependent. Bush is therefore ready to prolong the Syrian-Israeli standoff and make it a hostage of the Iraqi imbroglio.

Just or unjust, the American interest prevents Israel from addressing a homemade paradox. Why are the statements of the unreliable Assad that he might consider acting with force against Israel to regain the Golan Heights received here with total credence, when his references to peace are subjected to the scrutiny of microscopic analysis?

After all, if Assad’s belligerent intentions are credible, so, too, should be his peaceful intentions. If he is willing to embark on such a potentially costly military gambit, then we can assume that he will be willing to launch a similar maneuver with regard to peace.

This reasonable assumption, however, finds its way blocked by a colossal obstacle: the famous Israeli fixation that leads Jerusalem to believe that every Arab state – with the exception, that is, of Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Tunisia, Oman, Morocco and perhaps a few others – is serious only when it comes to war. Talk of peace, however, is invariably a bluff, designed to camouflage hidden intentions and buy time for the preparations for the next war.

This perception, too, is false. For those who claim Assad is preparing for war cannot seriously go on to argue that the Syrian leader needs peace to prepare Syria for that war. He is well prepared as it is.

The trouble with the negotiations with Syria does not end with Assad himself, but includes the package he is able or unable to deliver. Israel is not simply interested in a bilateral peace agreement with Syria, such as that which it has with Jordan or Egypt. Through Assad, is seeks as well to neutralize Hezbollah and Iran.

In addition, Israel also aims to secure the Iraqi bonus for the U.S., demanding on top of everything else that Hamas and Islamic Jihad hightail it out of Damascus. Anything short of that, Israel argues, is just not worth the effort.

The package Israel is bucking for is a brazen one. Israel does not demand of Turkey that it terminate its relations with Iran, nor will Israel sever its ties with Egypt if it resumes its diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic.

Moreover, Israel would be willing to sign a peace deal with Lebanon even with Hezbollah maintaining its presence on the border. It will not turn its back on Saudi Arabia, which regards the Palestinian unity government, in which Hamas is a participant, as legitimate. Syria, though, is a different matter.

In order to be regarded as a partner for peace, Assad must satisfy criteria no less demanding than the ones set by the Interior Ministry for allowing the reunification of Palestinian families from the territories with their Israeli relatives.

With terms such as these, it is indeed best to prepare for war.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 11th, 2007, 8:08 am

 

103. SimoHurtta said:

Can someone post a link showing Arab outrage or is all the noise reserved for Jews and Israel?

Akbar this is a rather desperate propaganda attempt even from you. USA and Israel have done much to divide Palestinians and to inflict a civil war among Palestinians. Akbar if you would have a more objective attitude about the regions history you would remember how Israel once “supported” Hamas.

Some time ago there was a story where a British diplomat claimed how Israel used / created the famous Entebbe raid for it own “benefit”.

In the document, written on 30 June 1976 when the crisis was still unresolved, DH Colvin of the Paris Embassy writes of his Euro-Arab Parliamentary Association source: “According to his information, the hijack was the work of the PFLP, with help from the Israeli Secret Service, the Shin Beit.

“The operation was designed to torpedo the PLO’s standing in France and to prevent what they see as a growing rapprochement between the PLO and the Americans.”

The day when Israel has to give up the occupied areas and return to the 1967 borders it can be that it is the Palestinians who lean back and “enjoy” watching the Jewish civil war. Akbar you certainly do not want that people then make with malicious pleasure equal comments as you have done about the sad situation in the Palestine areas.

Do you remember Akbar the historical fact how members of Irgun, dressed as Arabs – naturally as courageous soldiers, put bombs in the King David Hotel and killed 17 Jews among many others? Hmmmm…

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 11th, 2007, 8:52 am

 

104. EHSANI2 said:

(From THE WALL STREET JOURNAL)
By Jay Solomon
WASHINGTON — As the Bush administration strives to ward off another summer
war in the Middle East, it is being forced to balance the potentially diverging
interests of two of its most important allies in the region, Lebanon and
Israel.
Both countries are locked in standoffs with Syria over its alleged role in
arming and funding militias that threaten their borders and internal security.
But Lebanese and Israeli leaders are exploring what may be conflicting
strategies to counter the Syrian threat, U.S. and Middle Eastern officials say.

In recent months, Beirut, with Washington’s support, has used diplomatic,
military and legal means to directly challenge Syria’s influence in the region.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, however, is under growing pressure from his
military and intelligence services to embrace recent peace overtures made by
Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Any direct Israeli engagement with Damascus would require at least tacit U.S.
support, Arab diplomats say. To date, the White House has worked to isolate
President Assad internationally because of his government’s support for
militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah and its alleged role in destabilizing
Iraq and Lebanon.
Over the weekend, Israeli officials confirmed that Mr. Olmert’s government
has put out feelers to Mr. Assad, through third countries, about pursuing the
peace track, but has yet to receive a positive response. “The problem is that
the Syrians are not ready . . . to negotiate directly with Israel,” Deputy
Prime Minister Shimon Peres told reporters in Jerusalem yesterday. “They want
to do it through the United States.”
How Washington navigates the competing interests of its two allies with
respect to Syria could have a major impact on its ability to prevent another
major regional clash after last summer’s war between Israel and the Lebanese
militia Hezbollah.
“If the U.S. decides it’s going to the mat to secure Lebanon, then this will
have huge implications on the Syrian-Israeli front,” says Daniel Levy, a former
Israeli peace negotiator who is now a scholar at the New America Foundation, a
Washington think tank.
“If something blows up between Syria and Israel,” he added, it will probably
be tied to “events inside Lebanon.”
Last summer, the White House was viewed as squarely backing Israel in its
weeks-long attacks against Hezbollah, which included extensive bombing of
southern Lebanon and parts of Beirut. This summer, Washington is viewed as
tilting toward Lebanon and supporting its desire to pressure Damascus to stop
exerting influence inside Lebanon.
“The Bush administration has to be firm on Lebanon,” says Emile El-Hokayem, a
Middle East expert at the Henry L. Stimson Center, another Washington think
tank. It is seen as “its biggest success in the region,” he says.
The Bush administration regards Lebanon as central to its effort to promote
democracy in the Middle East. A pro-Western government swept to power there
after the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri sparked
protests that led to the end of Syria’s long military occupation of Lebanon.
Even so, Washington is likely to continue to face troubles balancing its
desire to support both Lebanon and Israel. U.S. lawmakers and independent
policy groups such as the Iraq Study Group, headed by former U.S. Secretary of
State James Baker and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, have pushed the
White House to convene a regional peace conference that includes Syria and Iran
to address broader Mideast issues. But while the U.S. has begun engaging in
regional talks on Iraq, the discussions haven’t turned toward Lebanon and
Syria.
The U.S. also is engaged in a wider initiative with Arab countries to
kick-start Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.
U.S. diplomats fear that Damascus could demand that it regain some of its
once-strong influence inside Lebanon in return for helping assure peace with
Israel.
Lebanon’s security has been inextricably linked to Israel’s over the past
five decades. Palestinian militant groups targeting Israel had based themselves
inside Lebanon during the 1970s and 1980s, leading to raids and invasions by
Israel. More recently, Hezbollah has emerged as a military force on Israel’s
northern border, a situation that led to another invasion by Israel last
summer.
Washington’s views toward Beirut have also changed, especially after street
protests there in 2005 forced Syria to withdraw its remaining forces from
Lebanon. The Bush administration seized on the election of Lebanese Prime
Minister Fuad Siniora months later as a symbol of what it described as a
democratization wave sweeping the Middle East. After last summer’s war, the
White House made stabilizing the Lebanese government a cornerstone of its
Middle East strategy.
This policy has increasingly placed the Bush administration on a collision
course with Damascus. Late last month, the U.S. pushed through the United
Nations Security Council an international tribunal to try suspects in Mr.
Hariri’s assassination. Damascus has denied any involvement in Mr. Hariri’s
murder, but has refused to cooperate with U.N. investigators.
In recent weeks, Lebanese and U.S. officials have alleged that Syria is
backing Sunni and Palestinian militant groups inside Lebanon in a bid to
undermine Mr. Siniora’s government. Clashes between the Lebanese army and two
militias, Fatah Islam and Jund al-Sham, near the cities of Tripoli and Sidon
have left hundreds dead. Lebanese and U.S. officials say Syrian-backed militias
have also infiltrated near to the Lebanese city of Kozhaya in the Bekaa Valley.

Syria denies it has been supporting the unrest. But the Bush administration
is significantly increasing military aid to Lebanon’s army to help it crush the
militias, earmarking nearly $250 million for that purpose this year, up from
$40 million last year. The U.S. and Lebanon are also in talks to find new ways
to secure the porous Syrian-Lebanese border and prevent the infiltration of
more militants and arms.
Mr. Assad’s government has said any international-monitoring presence on its
border would be viewed as a hostile act, a statement that raises the potential
for an escalation of tensions.
The increasingly confrontational stance taken by President Bush and Lebanon
toward Syria could have repercussions on Israel and the on-again, off-again
Mideast peace talks. In recent weeks, U.S. and Israeli officials said they have
detected a growing Syrian military presence along the disputed Golan Heights
region, which Israel seized from Syria during the 1967 war.
These officials said they believe Damascus has significantly upgraded its
military capabilities in recent months through the purchase of Russian and
Iranian arms.
Israeli and U.S. officials are seeking to reconcile these seemingly
aggressive activities with repeated overtures from Mr. Assad to engage in peace
talks with Mr. Olmert’s government. One theory is that Syria’s leader’s
saber-rattling is intended to jump-start talks over the future of the Golan
Heights. Another is that Syria is working with Iran to deter moves that aren’t
in their interests in Lebanon, and to discourage possible U.S. or Israeli
strikes on Tehran’s nuclear facilities.
A U.S.-Israeli strategic dialogue scheduled for later this month in
Washington is expected to focus on Syria’s peace overtures.
Mr. Olmert is expected to come under increasing pressure from elements inside
the Israeli Defense Forces and Military Intelligence to engage Damascus in a
peace dialogue to diminish the chances of another summer war. Israeli officials
say the country needs to reduce the growing threats on its borders, including
Hamas in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, Hezbollah on its northern border and now
Syria across the Golan Heights. Last summer’s war failed to dismantle
Hezbollah’s military capabilities.
Many regional analysts express skepticism that any Israeli-Syrian peace talks
would bear long-term dividends. For one, Syria is seen as having significantly
less influence over Hezbollah and other militant groups fighting Israel than it
did before its 2005 withdrawal from Lebanon, when Damascus in essence ran
Beirut. Analysts argue also that Mr. Assad is unlikely to jeopardize his
military alliance with Iran in a bid to achieve peace with Israel.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 11th, 2007, 10:34 am

 

105. Akbar Palace said:

Ex-patriot Syrians more pro-Israel than Israeli (Arab) MKs. What a surprise! Not so for Israeli democracy.

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3411213,00.html

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 11th, 2007, 11:15 am

 

106. SimoHurtta said:

Ex-patriot Syrians more pro-Israel than Israeli (Arab) MKs. What a surprise! Not so for Israeli democracy.

Can a person who left his country at the age of ten, is a a citizen of a hostile country and earns his living from the “donations” of the hostile country really be called as an opposition leader? Then those American exiles living Havana can be called as US opposition leaders. :)

How many supporters has Ghadry in Syria? He him self said a couple of hundred party members. Then the Syrian opposition is really tiny if this strange guy is one of the most important opposition leaders. Though I believe after this what Ghadry said in Israel is more widely known in Syria many of his “party members” deicide to choose a better party.

If Ghadry really admires Israel’s system and “democracy”, as you Akbar claim, he will, when he gets the power, declare Syria as a one religion state and put the minorities under strict military control in ghettos surrounded by walls. Just as they do in the “democratic” Israel. By the way Akbar if Ghadry is the ruler of Syria will he make peace and let Israel keep Golan or will he demand more from Israel as the present regime?

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 11th, 2007, 12:15 pm

 

107. EHSANI2 said:

Dr. Landis,

Earlier on, I posted the full article by Jay Solomon of the Wall Street Journal. This reporter has been outstanding when it comes to the way this US Administration has handled its policy towards Syria. While Mr. Solomon has written a number of articles on Syria recently, this one is the first that made it to the newspaper’s front page. As many of you know, newspaper editors pick their important stories for their front page.

The headline on the front page reads:

U.S. faces Test As Mideast Allies Diverge on Syria
Lebanon keeps pressure on Damascus, but Israel Explores Peace Overture.

I think that this is a significant new twist and in my opinion the first sign of a crack in the US Administration’s hawkish policy towards Syria.

When Israel and Lebanon push the U.S. in two different directions, it does not take a genius to figure out the likely winner.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 11th, 2007, 12:19 pm

 

108. Milli Schmidt said:

Hello

Landis’ analysis in the post above is not comprehensive and misleading! The use of the word “elites” is, as others have already pointed out, particularly obscuring and it confers a legitimacy, benevolence and homogeneity on those benefiting from current rule that is very much mistaken.
In general it is mistaken to try and analyse Syria too much from the “top down”. This is the mistake ruling most analysis of the country today. It would be much more interesting and telling to understand how “ordinary” people navigate the bureacracy and the secret services and how middle to high ranking officials cope with the ridiculously centralised decision-making processes,w hich clog up the administration.
Also, when wondering about why BAshar has survived the “dangerous obstacles” thrown up by the invasion of Iraq is it not worth mentioning that the situation in Iraq has made Syrians more fearful of regime change and that in this (and other) ways, the invasion has actually made things easier for the dictatorship. But when only looking at the so-called elites, one will not stumble across these kind of ideas, of course.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 11th, 2007, 1:26 pm

 

109. K said:

Badran vs Solomon
http://beirut2bayside.blogspot.com/2007/06/annals-of-absurd.html

Here’s an example of how even decent journalists fall in the trap of swallowing the Syrian regime’s sinister and twisted line.

Exhibit A, Jay Solomon in the WSJ today.

I won’t go into the asinine quote by Daniel Levy, as Solomon is not responsible for its depravity. Nor will I actually discuss the issue of “peace talks” with Israel, which Solomon completely misreads and misunderstands.

However, the following formulation has earned Jay this entry into the annals of the absurd: “The increasingly confrontational stance taken by President Bush and Lebanon toward Syria could have repercussions on Israel.”

So, wait. Let’s review the lead-up to this astonishingly foolish (and, at the risk of tautology, Moustapha-esque and Landis-esque) statement.

First, Solomon recounts how Syria is implicated in the terrorist assassinations in Lebanon, which are a UN investigation which culminated last month in the creation of an international tribunal under Chapter VII that will try the culprits (it went into effect just yesterday).

Second, Solomon notes the serious charges of Syria’s involvement in the current clashes in northern Lebanon between the Lebanese Army and a terrorist group deeply penetrated by Syrian intelligence, which had allegedly “splintered” from a Syrian-created proxy, which is little more than an extension of Syrian intelligence. The leader of this group, who had spent most of his life in Syria as part of that proxy, is accused by Jordan of training fighters headed for Iraq (to kill Iraqis and US soldiers) at a training camp in Syria. Other elements of the group were reportedly liaisons between Syrian intelligence and al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Third, Solomon mentions Syria’s violation of multiple UNSC resolutions. For example, it’s in violation of UNSCR 1701 through its continued smuggling of arms and fighters through its borders with Lebanon.

Not only is it in violation of a UNSC resolution, but, as Solomon notes, it has threatened that any attempt by the international community to help in the monitoring of that border will be — get this — “viewed as a hostile act”! Talk about chutzpah.

Yet it is at precisely this moment in the article that Solomon drops his beauty. After all the above, which amount to an open declaration of war against the US, the international community and Lebanon, Solomon musters his mental faculties to produce the most pathetic of lines, fully swallowing the thuggish regime’s propaganda: it is not Syria that is waging a terrorist war. Oh no. It’s President Bush and Lebanon who are “increasingly confrontational”!

Naturally! How dare they call for the implementation of UNSC resolutions, demanding that Syria stop killing people in Lebanon, supporting and dispatching terrorists to its neighbors, and for it to be held accountable for its actions!?

This is what happens when you drink from the “stupid tap” of the Syrian regime’s thuggish propaganda. You come out sounding repugnantly absurd.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 11th, 2007, 2:46 pm

 

110. idaf said:

An excellent and comprehensive joint study by the The Brookings Institution, University of Bern and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Iraqi refugees in Syria. A must read in full for anyone interested in humanitarian issues in Syria and Iraq as well as the Syrian economy. This was based on the empirical findings of around 200 interviews of Iraqi refugees in Syria. Here’s the executive summary:

Iraqi refugees in the Syrian Arab Republic: A field-based snapshot
Ashraf al-Khalidi, Sophia Hoffmann, Victor Tanner
Executive Summary

In the past four years, the number of Iraqis who have been displaced by violence, both within Iraq’s borders and in neighboring countries, has increased drastically. Of the estimated two million Iraqis who have sought protection in neighboring countries, at least 1.2 million to 1.5 million are presently in Syria. This study, part of a project funded by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that will assess patterns of Iraqi displacement inside Iraq and throughout the region, focuses on Iraqis who have come to Syria since 2003. Subsequent research will examine internal displacement in Iraq and the situation of Iraqis in other countries of the region. The research was carried out by a team of international and Iraqi researchers in March-April 2007 and is based on several hundred interviews with Iraqis living in Syria, as well as with Syrians, Palestinians and international officials.

Two waves of Iraqi refugees have come to Syria over the course of the past 25 years. The first wave came in the 1970s and 1980s, many of them Sunnis who opposed the Saddam Hussein regime. Others were Shi’a fleeing persecution. Following the first Gulf War and the Iraqi government’s repression of Shi’a in the South, the Syrian-Iraq border remained closed throughout the 1990s and only re-opened in 2001-2002. The second wave of Iraqi displacement began in 2003 as a result of the US invasion. The study focuses on this second wave of Iraqi refuges and traces the milestones of displacement within the period of 2003-2007.

The Iraqis who have come to Syria in the past four years come primarily from urban areas and represent diverse sectarian backgrounds, including Sunni, Shi’a and Kurds as well as minority groups of Christians (who are over-represented as refugees in Syria compared to their numbers in Iraq), Sabean-Madeans and Palestinians. Both Sunni and Shi’a Iraqi radical groups, especially the Ba’thi resistance, are also present in Syria.

Iraqis in Syria reported numerous reasons for leaving their country. Many left as a direct result of conflict, mostly from the rising sectarian violence but also from fighting between the insurgents and the Multinational Forces (MNF) allied with the Iraqi military. Individuals also left because they perceived themselves to be at risk for one reason or another – because they worked with the former regime or for the MNF, or because their ethnicity or occupation had become a target in the new violence. Others left for economic reasons – because they could no longer make a living in Iraq or because their homes had been taken by others. Many came because they had family members in Syria or needed health care which was not available in Iraq. In some cases, Iraqis came to Syria with their entire families while in other cases, individuals or some members of a family would be sent to Syria for their safety.

Iraqis sought refuge in Syria, rather than in other countries, for a number of reasons: geographic proximity, simple entry requirements, easy access to services, common language, the low cost of living and often the presence of family or friends in Syria.

Most Iraqis use buses and collective taxis to reach Syria although the roads are increasingly dangerous. People are not only targeted by sectarian militias, but are also attacked by bandits and looters seeking financial gain. Entry into Syria is relatively easy although Iraqis need to leave the country periodically to renew their entry stamps.

Iraqis fleeing overland to Syria generally do not bring much money with them because they fear looters on the road. Once in Syria, many rely on hawala transfers from friends and family in Iraq. And, as the situation in Iraq worsens, many Iraqis send money back to kin at home. While Syrians generally believe that the Iraqi refugees are rich, in fact wealthy Iraqis are a small minority of those living in Syria. Most Iraqis arrive with limited funds that often run out before steady employment can be secured, and many Iraqis must periodically make dangerous return trips to Iraq to sell off cars and other valuables. The situation is made worse by the fact that Iraqis are not allowed to work. Consequently, unemployment is high among the Iraqis, even if some have managed to work with a Syrian partner or for Iraqi-run businesses. Some Iraqis continue to draw government pensions and food rations, which are usually transferred to them in Syria – in cash or in kind – with the help of friends or family in Iraq. Many Iraqi families have stayed in Syria longer than they intended and the situation grows worse as their resources run out. Iraqi refugees have turned to both child labor and prostitution as coping mechanisms.

The largest area of Iraqi concentration in Syria is the greater Damascus urban area where they have established communities in specific neighborhoods, many of which have thriving businesses. Sectarianism has not spilled across the border. Most of the neighborhoods in which Iraqis settle are mixed. Unlike other refugee crises, most of the Iraqis who fled are skilled or have access to some finances. They do not live in tented camps or collective centers, but like most Syrian urban dwellers, in apartments. Unlike in Jordan, few Iraqis buy property in Syria, and prices for real estate and rents for apartments are increasing.

In terms of access to services, Iraqis who have the means to do so visit private doctors and clinics. Poorer Iraqis can only visit the Syrian public health service for emergency and primary health care and most poor Iraqis rely on Syrian Red Crescent clinics. Syrian charitable organizations also provide some health services. Religious affiliation seems to have no impact on the quality of health care Iraqi refugees receive.

Syrian elementary and secondary schools are open to Iraqi refugee children who can attend Syrian schools at no cost. But admission can be arbitrary, and they have to pay for supplies and uniforms (around 5,000 LS per year or $100). However, the Syrian Ministry of Education estimates that only 30,000 Iraqi children are enrolled in schools – a very low rate of registration.

The only real assistance that most Iraqis receive comes from the Syrian state. UNHCR is stepping up its assistance for refugees in the country, particularly for health services. There are very few self-help organizations within the Iraqi refugee community. The economic impact of the refugees on Syria has been substantial, but has probably not been all negative. The deterioration of relations between ordinary Syrians and their Iraqi guests is a cause for concern.

In the region, Syria has been the most open country to Iraqi refugees, allowing them to enter without stringent visa requirements, to come and go, to settle freely and to access basic services. Although many of the Iraqis have managed to survive in Syria, the study concludes that there are three challenges: the condition of a small core of highly vulnerable Iraqi refugees, the likely increase in the number of Iraqis coming to Syria, and a possible hardening of Syrian policies.

While it is clear that many of the Iraqis would like to return to their country, the overwhelming majority of Iraqis in Syria do not think that it will be safe enough to return in the near future and many believe that it will never be safe enough. The international community should work with Syrian authorities to help meet the needs of the refugees.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 11th, 2007, 2:50 pm

 

111. idaf said:

K,

I didn’t read Solomon’s article until I read Badran’s “commentary” on it. I figured that if Tony Badran does not like the article, then for sure this would prove an insightful one, unlike other boring unconvincing stereotypical (and in many time racist and sectarian) pieces on Syria that Badran keeps throwing at us.

I was not disappointed.

The only error I spotted in Solomon’s article was in this quote: “Damascus has denied any involvement in Mr. Hariri’s murder, but has refused to cooperate with U.N. investigators”. Surely, everybody read all the Brammertz reports on how Syria cooperated with the investigation, while 10 other countries did not (of course the Lebanese and US governments did not make a peep about these uncooperative countries).

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 11th, 2007, 3:14 pm

 

112. K said:

Idaf,

Solomon is better than most (thanks Ehsani for always posting his articles). Badran’s criticism here is rather specific: after laying out Syria’s relentless, ongoing crimes against Lebanon, Solomon then frames the situation as the Lebanese being confrontational towards Syria.

As for Badran, I don’t share all his views (I find him ‘soft on Israel’) but I have never seen evidence he is “racist and sectarian” – serious charges to throw around. It’s a cheap tactic to use against critics of the Syrian regime and its tyrannical reign in Lebanon.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 11th, 2007, 3:44 pm

 

113. t_desco said:

According to Al-Akhbar (quoting anonymous security sources), the al-Qa’ida cell recently arrested in Bar Elias was deliberately trying to escalate tensions between Lebanon and Syria by targeting a festival in the Bekaa Valley with car bombs, knowing that it would be blamed on Syria.

If true, this has some interesting consequences (but, of course, one has to be extremely cautious with reports based on “anonymous sources”).

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 11th, 2007, 3:50 pm

 

114. ugarit said:

http://www.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/23507036-20DB-4838-AE06-4C54C63FCDDF.htm

اعترضوا طريقه ونعتوه بالغدار
النواب العرب يتصدون للغادري في الكنيست

تصدى النواب العرب في الكنيست الإسرائيلي اليوم للمعارض السوري المقيم في أميركا فريد الغادري الذي وصل إسرائيل لإقناعها بعدم التفاوض مع سوريا وإعادة الجولان المحتل.

وكان المعارض السوري الأميركي الذي يسعى لإسقاط نظام الحكم في سورية، قد شارك اليوم في جلسة لجنة الأمن والخارجية في الكنيست، بدعوة من زعيم الليكود بنيامين نتنياهو، وطالب بعدم التفاوض مع دمشق بدعوى “خلوها من الديمقراطية”.

واعتبر النائب جمال زحالقة الغادري “عميلا تافها لأميركا وإسرائيل ودمية صغيرة بيدهما للتحريض على سوريا والأمة العربية”، وأضاف أن “الشعب السوري براء منه ومن أمثاله الذين احترفوا الزعيق باللهجة الأميركية في حث إسرائيل وتشجيعها على العدوان”.

….

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 11th, 2007, 8:03 pm

 

115. bilal said:

To Ugarit,

That should be a lesson to you, me, & every Syrian official or private that dare talking to Israelis like that.

I wish these protestors did the same thing to Bashar envoy Mr. Souleiman last month & I hope they do it to every Syrian traitor that dare do this.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 12th, 2007, 2:52 am

 

116. Alex said:

Bilal,

Mubarak, Farouk Shara, and the pope all talked to the Israelis … it is not the act of talking that makes Ghadry a traitor. It is his intentions.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 12th, 2007, 4:43 am

 

117. Enlightened said:

Guys read this article very interesting, its to do with Norman Finkelstein; What do you think?

http://news.independent.co.uk/world/americas/article2646369.ece

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 12th, 2007, 8:10 am

 

118. Akbar Palace said:

SimoHurtta, et al,

Unfortunately, the editors of this forum have prevented me from responding to your Israel-bashing. So far 2 posts have not made it through “The Filters of Truth and Honesty”. And I guess it is too early to expect to debunk a few myths and far too easy to blame the usual suspects.

Oh well.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 12th, 2007, 11:21 am

 

119. EHSANI2 said:

While Saad Hariri is busy with Lebanese politics, his brother Bahaa is just as busy constructing a Falcon Metropolis in the deserts of Saudi Arabia

By A. Craig Copetas
June 12 (Bloomberg) — It’s molting season in the Kingdom
of Saudi Arabia and change is in the air.
“How a man handles the falcon tells us much of his passion
and character,” royal falcon master Hadi al-Aimi says while 35
peregrines trained for the hunt screech and shed feathers above
an oasis of date palms outside the northwestern city of Tabouk.
Perched on the frontier of a 62-square-mile (161-square-
kilometer) tract of untamed desert almost three times the size
of Manhattan Island, al-Aimi strokes the quill of a fallen plume
for clues on how the winged predator was treated during the
hunt.
It is here that the falcons’ owner, Tabouk Regional
Governor Prince Fahd bin Sultan, this year will begin
construction on what is intended as a showcase for a new Saudi
Arabia: a $300 billion multicultural metropolis designed to lure
700,000 inhabitants from around the globe.
The construction of this and five other megacities
scheduled for completion by 2020 will be funded by oil revenue.
Five extended families in the Middle East own about 60 percent
of the world’s oil, and the House of Saud controls more than a
third of that amount, according to Robert Baer, a former Central
Intelligence Agency field officer in the Middle East.

Friendly Competition

While they constitute a major financial force in the modern
world, all these families maintain falcons and often pursue this
ancient sport — dating back thousands of years –hunting in
friendly competition, mixing business and leisure like any other
moguls.
“Falconry is our form of golf, a place to relax and
conduct business,” Prince Fahd says. Al-Aimi says the prince’s
falcons are swift and merciless.
“Prince Fahd is the greatest of all living falconers,” al-
Aimi says, placing the feather in a leather pouch.
That’s no idle tribute in the Islamic world, where King
Abdul Aziz, the creator of modern-day Saudi Arabia and Custodian
of the Two Holy Mosques, was revered as Al Saqr al Jazira, “the
Falcon of the Peninsula.”
The moniker, bestowed on Prince Fahd’s grandfather by Arab
leaders, honored what they perceived as his blessed ability to
capture and become as one with the falcons, releasing the
hunters into the wasteland at speeds of 300 miles (483
kilometers) per hour to fetch nourishment for his subjects.

`Birds of Prey’

“They ask you as to what is allowed to them,” the Koran
says about such talent and the falcon’s overarching significance
in Islamic culture. “Say: The good things are allowed to you,
and what you have taught the birds of prey, training them to
hunt — you teach them of what Allah has taught you — so eat of
that which they catch for you and mention the name of Allah over
it.”
In testimony before the 9/11 Commission, former White House
counterterrorism analyst Richard Clarke said the U.S. in the
1990s planned to bomb a falconry camp in Pakistan when
Osama bin Laden was present. The raid, Clarke said, was scrubbed
because a minister from the United Arab Emirates was a member of
the hunting party.
Although some falcon species can cost as much as $100,000,
an increasing number of young Saudis are embracing the sport and
tapping its emotive legacy to launch often controversial
projects in a theocratic kingdom spiritually ruled by Islam’s
puritanical Wahhabi movement.

Economic Cities

One of the prince’s fledglings is 30-year-old Fahd al-
Rasheed, deputy governor for economic cities at the Riyadh-based
Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, the organization
behind the New Tabouk project and the five other cities.
“There are many critics against us,” al-Rasheed says,
soaring 30,000 feet above the desert. Sitting beside him in a
private jet, en route to a meeting with Prince Fahd, is Lebanese
construction mogul and New Tabouk architect Bahaa Hariri, the
son of assassinated Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
“They are jealous of our success,” says al-Rasheed, who
has a master’s in business administration from Stanford
University. “New Tabouk can’t be explained on a spreadsheet.
The most critical aspect is getting people to understand our
soul and culture by participating in the new city.”
Hariri’s plans call for the sprawling Red Sea megacity to
be powered by solar energy and wind farms. A golf course and
yacht club are in the works, along with residential estates and
vacation villas. Cheap Saudi oil will fuel the industrial parks
scheduled to fan deep into the now hardscrabble desert.

`Cheap Oil’

“Refining, technology, consumer-goods production, you name
it, we’ll have it,” Hariri says. “Our access to cheap oil will
save companies now based elsewhere at least 50 percent alone in
energy costs.”
As Prince Fahd tells it, “the migration of dollars to the
new city comes with a migration of culture.”
The falcons will assemble there, too, an integral part of
what Prince Fahd envisions as the world’s first university
completely devoted to environmental studies alongside Saudi-
endowed satellite campuses of Harvard, Princeton, Yale and
Oxford universities.
The prince recalls his first hunt at the age of 5. “It was
very cold, so cold that my father put me between him and the
driver to keep warm during our trip into the desert.”
More than half a century later, enveloped by the retainers
who encircle his palace desk, Prince Fahd suddenly turns his
attention away from the Herculean chore of using the kingdom’s
oil wealth to erect the new city.
“Zadim,” whispers Prince Fahd. “That was the name of my
first falcon.”

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 12th, 2007, 12:13 pm

 

120. Jamal said:

To Enlightened

Regarding Finkelstein being denied tenure

What do I think?

I am always stunned when reminded of the powerful culture of fear in the American establishment in the face of economic threat and harassment from the Jewish lobby.

It’s black magic. The push-button hysterical yapping of Dershowitz defies all logic in the way it signals supernatural powers of censorship.

Questioning Israel and allied subjects in US public life is an act of political martyrdom. Offering employment to anyone who does carries the risk of financial damage.

To quote from the NY Times, June 11, 2007:

In a full-court press against Mr. Finkelstein, Mr. Dershowitz lobbied professors, alumni and the administration of DePaul, a Roman Catholic university in Chicago, to deny him tenure. Many faculty members at DePaul and elsewhere decried what they called Mr. Dershowitz’s heavy-handed tactics.

Sounding resigned, Mr. Finkelstein said of DePaul, “Rationally, it has to deny me tenure.”

“Any time I wrote or spoke would evoke another hysterical response and would be costly for them,” he said, referring to the college’s fund-raising efforts.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 12th, 2007, 12:18 pm

 

121. Jamal said:

The article above posted by Ehsani claims:

“It is here that the falcons’ owner, Tabouk Regional
Governor Prince Fahd bin Sultan, this year will begin
construction on what is intended as a showcase for a new Saudi
Arabia: a $300 billion multicultural metropolis designed to lure
700,000 inhabitants from around the globe.
The construction of this and five other megacities
scheduled for completion by 2020 will be funded by oil revenue.”

COMMENT

Why not put the $ and effort into fixing up the existing ratheap of Saudi Arabia? No matter how high they build a garish hollow disneyland, it’s built on the shifting sands of a potential failed state.

It sounds like a sci-fi scheme dreamed up by 30-year olds whose main occupation is sycophancy and swaggering. Pissing the oil money into the sand dunes.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 12th, 2007, 12:52 pm

 

122. norman said:

الماضي الاخبار السياسية

معلومات عن التحضير لمؤتمر مدريد الثاني خلال شهري أيلول وتشرين الأول القادمين

كشفت معلومات لصحيفة الديار اللبنانية إن “وفد أميركي رفيع المستوى زار سورية الأسبوع الماضي ،هو الأكبر منذ العام 1990, ويضم كبار جنرالات ‏الجيش الأميركي, ومسؤولين في وزارة الخارجية ورؤساء مراكز الدراسات ، للقيام بمباحثات شاملة مع مسؤولين سوريين تتعلق ‏بالشؤون السياسية والاقتصادية والعلاقات بين البلدين”.

واعتبرت سورية زيارة عدد من أعضاء الكونغرس الأمريكي الجمهوريين والديمقراطيين, وعدد من المسؤولين الأوروبيين إلى دمشق في الأشهر الماضية “فشلا لسياسة العزل” حيث شهدت العلاقات السورية الأمريكية توترا منذ غزو العراق عام 2003, كما رفضت الإدارة الأمريكية فتح حوار مباشر مع سورية.

وأفادت المعلومات إن “المنطقة تتحضر لمدريد 2 خلال شهري أيلول وتشرين الأول في حضور الدول ‏الراعية لعملية السلام، بما فيهم روسيا والمفوضية الأوروبية لبحث عملية السلام على المسار ‏السوري – الإسرائيلي، في ضوء قناعة أميركية بأن المحاور الفلسطيني ما زال عاجزا عن خوض ‏غمار عملية السلام والالتزام بوعوده، وهذا ما يستدعي تحريك عملية السلام السورية – ‏الاسرائيلية”.

وتوقفت مفاوضات السلام بين سورية وإسرائيل في كانون الثاني عام 2000 بسبب الخلاف على الوصول إلى مياه بحيرة طبريا الإستراتيجية ورفض الرئيس الراحل حافظ الأسد الإقرار بالخرائط التي قدمها إليه بيل كلينتون الرئيس الأميركي الأسبق في قمة جنيف من عام 2000 .

وتشير المعلومات إلى إن “المسؤولين السوريون سمعوا من أعضاء الوفد الأميركي بان زمن الشروط الأميركية ولّى إلى غير ‏رجعة وبأن الأميركيين بدأوا بتغيير سياساتهم، حيث اتضح أن هناك تعاون أمني أميركي – ‏أوروبي – عربي مع سورية في موضوع الإرهاب وفتح الإسلام وحركتها في لبنان، وأن الدول ‏الأجنبية استندت إلى التقارير الإستخباراتية السورية عن هذه الحركة ونشاطها، وان منظمات ‏فلسطينية قدمّت ما لديها في هذا الأمر.

وتطالب الإدارة الأمريكية سورية بتغير سلوكها كالكف عن دعمها للإرهاب, والتوقف عن استمرارها بالتحالف القائم مع الرئيس الإيراني أحمدي نجاد”.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 12th, 2007, 2:46 pm

 

123. AL-SYASY said:

الثورة الإيرانية صناعة أميركية

في عام 1977، أعلن (بريجينسكي) على الملأ رأيه بأن التمسك بالإسلام هو حصن ضد الشيوعية، ففي مقابلة مع جريدة (نيويورك تايمز) بعد الثورة الإيرانية، صرح (بريجينسكي) أن واشنطن سترحب بقوة الإسلام التي بدأت تظهر في الشرق الأوسط، لأنها كأيدلوجية تتعارض مع تلك القوى في المنطقة، التي يمكن أن تكون مؤيدة للاتحاد السوفيتي.

ولقد أعاد سكرتير الرئيس (كارتر) الصحفي (جودي باول) هذا الرأي في 7 نوفمبر 1979، وذلك بعد ثلاثة أيام من أخذ 53 من الرهائن الأمريكيين في طهران.

وعلى الرغم من أن مصادر موثوقة تقول إن (بريجينسكي) يكاد يكون على جهل تام بالظروف السياسية في الشرق الأوسط، إلا أنه كان مشغولاً باستخدام الأديان والمذاهب الدينية، كأدوات للحرب السياسية، فهو قد تدرب على أيدي اليسوعيين في جامعة (ماكجل)، وقد قال إنه يعتبر نفسه قريباً من اليسوعيين في طريقة تفكيرهم، إلى درجة أنه رقى إلى درجة عضو شرف في جمعيتهم.

… وكان (بريجينسكي) قد ألقى خطاباً أمام الجمعية السياسية الخارجية في واشنطن في 20 ديسمبر 1978، وهو أول خطاب يكشف فيه عن التفكير الاستراتيجي الجديد للولايات المتحدة، والذي يركز فيه بشكل خاص على مبررات وجود أمريكا في الخليج.

وفي المذكرة الرئاسية رقم 18 في صيف عام 1977، أمر الرئيس كارتر بإجراء مراجعة شاملة للوضع العسكري للولايات المتحدة، وقد ارتكز (بريجينسكي) في نظريته على ضرورة التحالف مع قوى التغيير الجديدة والتودد إليها حالما تنتصر فقال ما نصه:

“ان الأمن الأمريكي القومي يعتمد على قدرته على تقديم توجيه إيجابي لهذه العملية الصاخبة من اليقظة السياسية والموجات الثورية التحررية، وهذا يعني ان على ولايات المتحدة أن تنغمس انغماسا نشطا في الشئون العالمية لتعزز صلاتها بالتطورات عن طريق التزامها بالتغيير الايجابي فقط، ذلك أننا إذا خلقنا عراقيل مصطنعة في وجه التغيير من أجل الحفاظ على الوضع الراهن فإننا سنعزل أنفسنا فقط وسنهدد أمننا القومي”.
وفي ذروة الأزمة ضد (الشاه) أصدر (بريجينسكي) تصريحه الشهير، الذي يقول فيه : “ ان المنطقة تشكل هلالاً للأزمات يمتد من شمال وشرق افريقيا، عبر الشرق الأوسط وتركيا وإيران والباكستان”.

وأضاف : “ في هذا الجزء من العالم، يقوم الاتحاد السوفيتي بلعبة للسيطرة على منابع النفط في الخليج، والتي تعتمد عليها صناعة الغرب”.

ولم تكن الفكرة جديدة، فقد اقترح (بريجينسكي) في يوليو 1978 بحث هذه الفكرة، حيث يرى أنه إلى جانب الاستفادة من تنظيمات اليسوعيين، ومختلف المنفيين من أوربا الشرقية، وتطوير ورقة الصين في آسيا، يمكن للتعاون من التنظيم الإسلامي أن يساعد على تطويق الاتحاد السوفيت بجيوش معادية له أيدلوجياً.

… يضاف إلى ذلك أن الأمريكيين كانوا على ثقة، من أن الطبقة المتوسطة قد تشربت جماهيريا الثقافة الغربية، وأصبحوا لا خوف عليهم من الشيوعية، لكن الأمريكيين كانوا في حاجة إلى طبقة أخرى لدعم العناصر المتطرفة والمعادية للنفوذ السوفيتي، وأنه إذا كانت سيطرتهم على عقول الطبقة المتوسطة تتم عبر أجهزة الإعلام والأنماط الاستهلاكية، فان السيطرة على الطبقات الفقيرة لا تكون بغير رجال الدين، الذين وإن كانوا يعتبرون من الطبقة المتوسطة، لكنهم يسيطرون في نفس الوقت على الطبقات الدنيا، والتي هو في حاجة إلى استخدامها الآن.

ويزيد من أهمية رجال الدين في إيران، في نظر (بريجينسكي) أنهم المجموعة الوحيدة في إيران المهيأة للدخول في أنشطة المعارضة، لأنها تملك نظاما متقدما للاتصالات والتسهيلات المحلية، في شكل مؤسسات دينية (كالمساجد) وكمؤسسة (ارشاد حسينية) المرتبطة بها، وكل ذلك يجعلهم يتمتعون بحصانة في مواجهة بطش (الشاه).

وبناء على ذلك وفي ديسمبر 1978، وهو الوقت الذي تصاعد فيه المد الثوري ضد (الشاه) قررت لجنة التنسيق الخاصة لمجلس الأمن القومي بشكل سري، زيادة إذاعات وكالة المخابرات الأمريكية باللغات السائدة في المناطق الإسلامية السوفيتية زيادة كبيرة.

كذلك تقول الأميرة (أشرف) شقيقة الشاه: “ انه في السبعينات راح الإعلام الغربي يعدد ويضخم مشاكل وأخطاء (الشاه)، وكان هناك نحو ستين جمعية ومجلة، بالإضافة إلى الدوريات الأمريكية كلها تنشر مقالات معادية للشاه، وكانت ترسل بالبريد لعشرات الألوف من الإيرانيين داخل وخارج إيران، وإن بعض هذه الدوريات كان يصدرها محترفون، يتلقون تمويلا مكنهم من إخراجها في شكل جذاب، جعلها تنجح في شن حرب باردة ضد (الشاه).

ولقد ثبت انه كان هناك قدر من المعلومات المتوفرة عن طبيعة (الخميني) ونواياه الحقيقية، وكانت كتبه موجودة في مكتبات الجامعات الأمريكية، وكان هناك العديد من الباحثين الأمريكيين في الولايات المتحدة، الذين يعرفون تعاليمه معرفة جيدة، وكان البروفسور (مارفين زونس) من جامعة شيكاغو، قد أجرى نقاشاً مطولاً معه، نقل تفاصيله لعدد كبير من المسئولين بوزارة الخارجية الأمريكية بعد ذلك بوقت قصير، وقال هذا الأستاذ الجامعي، الذي كان مهندس الحرب النفسية ضد (الشاه) انه وجد نفسه في مواجهة (الخميني) أمام شخص يفتقر إلى المنطقية بدرجة كبيرة.

وعلاوة على ذلك فإنه منذ إقامة (الخميني) في فيلته الصغيرة بحي (نوفل – لو –شاتو) بباريس أصبح (الخميني) على اتصال بالصحافة والتلفزيون، ولكنه في نفس الوقت كان موضع متابعة مستمرة من المخابرات المركزية الأمريكية، التي قامت باستئجار منزل بالقرب من فيلا (الخميني) وأجرى أعضاء السفارة الأمريكية اتصالات منتظمة مع أقرب مستشاري (الخميني) أمثال (بني صدر) و (صادق قطب زاده) و (إبراهيم يزدي) الذي يحمل جواز سفر أمريكي ومتزوج من أمريكية، وأول من استخدم لتنفيذ فكرة الانقلاب في إيران، حين أسس منظمة الطلبة المسلمين في الولايات المتحدة، وجند لها الطلبة الإيرانيين وغير الإيرانيين، وكان همزة الوصل بين رجال المخابرات الأمريكيية و (الخميني) للإعداد لقلب عرش الطاووس في إيران، حيث يعيش في الولايات المتحدة منذ ثمانية عشر عاما، ورفضت زوجته (سرور)ـ التي تقيم بصورة دائمة مع أطفالها الستة في مدينة (هويستون) الأمريكية، رفضت العودة إلى إيران أو التنازل عن جنسيتها الأمريكية.

لكل ذلك، اقتنعت أمريكا بفكرة الدولة الدينية (الإسلامية) ورصدت إمكاناتها المادية والإعلامية لخدمتها.

ص 195/196/197/198/199

المصدر:كتاب ” إيران بين التاج والعمامة” لمؤلفه أحمد مهابة، وهو آخر قنصل مصري في إيران/ صادر عن دار الحرية- الطبعة الأولى 1989

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 12th, 2007, 3:24 pm

 

124. t_desco said:

Al-Akhbar on the Merhi brothers and alleged links to Syrian intelligence.

Syrian Qaeda-inspired group warns Lebanese government to lift siege of Fatah Islam

A Syrian Al Qaeda-inspired group on Tuesday warned of attacks on Lebanese interests and citizens if the country does not lift its siege of militants barricaded inside a Palestinian refugee camp.

In a Web statement, the group Tawhid and Jihad in Syria promised its support for Fatah Islam, the militant group holed up in the camp. The Tawhid and Jihad leader, Abu Jandal al-Dimashqi, met with representatives from Fatah Islam recently, the statement said.

“We warn the Lebanese government that its vital interests, officials and sons living in Syria (sic; t_d) will be moving targets for us if it does not lift its siege of the camp,” said the statement, posted on a Web forum where militant groups often issue messages.

Tawhid and Jihad in Syria first became known in November, when its former leader Omar Abdullah clashed with Syrian security forces and blew himself up on the border with Lebanon.

Al-Dimashqi then issued a May 28 audiotape claiming to be the group’s new leader and calling on Syrians to kill Syrian President Bashar Assad and on other Arabs to topple their leaders as well.

“Tawhid and Jihad” — Arabic for “monotheism and holy war” — is a name used by several groups apparently inspired by Al Qaeda — though their actual links to Osama bin Laden are not clear. Al Qaeda in Iraq formerly went by the name. The most prominent militant group in Syria is known as Jund al-Sham, but it is sometimes called the Jund al-Sham for Jihad and Tawhid. …
AP

Any comments on how to translate “as-Sham” in this context…?

See also this report by As-Safir.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 12th, 2007, 4:34 pm

 

125. K said:

T-desco,

Bilad ash-Sham = the Levant (?)

P.S. How hilarious: Unknown Syrian jihadist group “clashes” with Syrian security on the Lebanese border, then threatens Lebanese civilians and interests *humorless laugh*

Ehsani,

Thanks as always for the great articles.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 12th, 2007, 5:12 pm

 

126. K said:

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1181570248540&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

In a significant diplomatic shift, French President Nicolas Sarkozy will invite Hizbullah to take part in a conference on Lebanon scheduled for later this month in Paris, and begin “engaging” Syria, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

New French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has invited delegates from across Lebanon’s political and religious divide to the conference aimed at quelling Lebanon’s violence and political strife.

In another sign that France has decided to step up its involvement in the Middle East, Sarkozy is to meet Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Paris on Tuesday.

Regarding Syria, diplomatic sources in Jerusalem said France had let Damascus know it was willing to reengage with it, but that it would not in any way back down from its firm support for an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri, or from its demand that Damascus “keep its hands off” of Lebanon.

“The tribunal is established and is behind us,” a senior French Foreign Ministry official told the Post from Paris. “There is an understanding between the US and the UN Security Council. The tribunal proposal has passed, in the form of Resolution 1757, so the question will not be raised between us and Hizbullah, or with anyone else.”

Hariri and 22 others were killed by a bomb attack in Beirut that many believe was orchestrated by the Syrians. Sources in Jerusalem said there was a great deal of concern among Syrian officials close to President Bashar Assad that they would be implicated by the tribunal, and that Assad was very keen on getting the tribunal squashed.

Hariri was a close friend of then-French president Jacques Chirac, and his assassination put Franco-Syrian relations into a deep freeze.

The view in Jerusalem is that Sarkozy wants to bring about a gradual thaw in the ties, in order to play the “honest broker” and stabilize Lebanon. The conference in Paris, according to this assessment, is part of this effort.
The invitation to Hizbullah largely puts an end to hopes articulated in Jerusalem after Sarkozy’s election victory that he might be persuaded to place Hizbullah on Europe’s list of terrorist organizations, a position that was opposed by Chirac.

“The objective is to restore confidence between parties. We have the opportunity to end the conflict, and not talking to them [Hizbullah] would mean neglecting the Lebanese political situation, where Hizbullah is an important component,” the French Foreign Ministry official said. The official also said that even though the “guest list” had yet to be finalized, Hizbullah would definitely be there and involved in the negotiations.

Asked if the France was concerned about international criticism for inviting Hizbullah, which Israel, the US and a number of other countries consider a terrorist organization, the official said the priority was Lebanon’s stability, not France’s image.

Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said they were not surprised by the invitation to Hizbullah, and that it must be seen within the context of Paris’s decision to invite all the major players in Lebanon to the conference.

Lebanon has faced a political deadlock since November, when six pro-Syrian ministers quit the cabinet, charging it was violating the power-sharing arrangements drawn up after the 1975-90 civil war. The current wave of violence between Fatah al-Islam, a Palestinian group with suspected al-Qaida and Syrian ties, and the Lebanese army has not let up since it began on May 20.
France’s readiness to engage Hizbullah politically was foreshadowed by remarks Sarkozy made to the Post in a pre-election interview, when he said it would be counterproductive to place Hizbullah on the EU’s terrorist list, but that if Hizbullah wanted to be treated as “the political party that it claims to be, then they must act us such.”

France, along with other EU nations such as Sweden, Greece and Spain, have long argued against placing the Islamist organization on the list, saying that it also has a legitimate political component, and that it would be a mistake to delegitimize a movement that provides political representation for a large and growing segment of Lebanon’s population.

“We are for the disarmament of Hizbullah. We were the first to support UN Security Council Resolution 1559, and for years we have been trying to turn them into a purely political entity,” the French official added. Resolution 1559 called, among other things, for Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon and the disarmament of the armed militias there.

Former French ambassador to Syria Jean-Claude Cousseran organized the Paris conference after meeting with several Lebanese political figures in Beirut last week.

Both Lebanon Prime Minister Fuad Saniora’s Future Movements party and Hizbullah welcomed the French proposal. Hizbullah MP Hassan Hobballah told the Lebanese press, “We will deal positively with any initiative from any friendly or brotherly state that attempts to help Lebanon out of its crisis,” but stressed that the solution to the unrest in the country must be based on the participation of all Lebanese political groups.

Hizbullah has 13 deputies in the Lebanese Parliament, but is widely seen as a rogue faction trying to take over the legislature from within. The Hizbullah lawmakers have blasted Saniora’s government for not granting them important cabinet positions, and have accused the government of trying to squeeze them out.

Among those expected to attend the Paris conference will be representatives from pro-Syria Michel Aoun’s opposition Free Patriotic Movement, who indicated at a meeting with Kouchner in Paris on May 28 that he would respond favorably to the proposal, as well as a delegation representing pro-Syria Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 12th, 2007, 5:25 pm

 

127. K said:

Lebanon complains to UN pro-Damascus Palestinian fighters massing on its border

June 12, 2007, 7:50 PM (GMT+02:00)

The complaint describes “…concentrations of armed men from Fatah-Intifada and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command” in two areas, Qussaya and Halwa, in Lebanon’s eastern Beqaa Valley near the Syrian border.

Beirut’s complaint was filed as the UN voiced fears of rising violence in Lebanon, focusing on the month-long Syrian-backed Palestinian uprising in the northern Lebanese Nahr al-Bared camp near Tripoli.

When the fighting began, DEBKAfile reported that Syria was pumping reinforcements including Ahmed Jibril’s PFLP-GM into the camp.

——————————————————————

DEBKAfile’s Military sources: Iran and Syria are the winners of Hamas’ military coup against Fatah in Gaza Strip

June 12, 2007, 6:46 PM (GMT+02:00)

It was the second triumph in a week for a Palestinian force backed by Iran and Syria, after the Lebanese army failed in four weeks’ combat to crush the pro-Syrian factions’ barricaded in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian camp near Tripoli in four weeks of combat.

Tuesday, Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah Palestinian Authority forces faced disaster. Their inevitable ejection from the Gaza Strip effectively severs Palestinian rule between Ramallah, where Fatah will have to fight to retain control of the West Bank and Gaza, dominated now by an Islamist Palestinian force manipulated from Tehran and Damascus.

The Iran-Syrian alliance has acquired by brute force two Mediterranean coastal enclaves in northern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

Its momentum, launched a month ago in both sectors was unchecked. The Fouad Siniora government’s troops failed to break through to the Palestinian camp and crush the pro-Syrian uprising. The Olmert government stood by unmoved as the most radical elements in the Middle East snatched the Gaza Strip on Israel’s southwestern border.

The Bush administration is finding itself forced out of key Middle East positions, its main assets Siniora and Mahmoud Abbas trounced on the battlefield.

Israel’s technological feat of placing the Ofeq-7 surveillance satellite in orbit Monday quickly proved ineffective against the sort of tactics Tehran and Syria employ: mobile, suicidal Palestinian terrorists, heavily and cheaply armed with primitive weapons, who are winning the first round of the Summer 2007 war and preparing for the next.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 12th, 2007, 6:16 pm

 

128. SimoHurtta said:

SimoHurtta, et al,

Unfortunately, the editors of this forum have prevented me from responding to your Israel-bashing. So far 2 posts have not made it through “The Filters of Truth and Honesty”. And I guess it is too early to expect to debunk a few myths and far too easy to blame the usual suspects.

Oh well.

Akbar also I (and some others as I heard) have had a mysterious breaks in the ability of sending comments. Professor Landis and Alex tried, when I complained of my “banning”, to find the reason for these mysterious comment sending breaks but were unable to find a technical reason. Nobody banned me and in a couple of days I was able to send comments. So Akbar I am quite certain that there is no conspiracy against you and the line of opinions you represent.

If you could send your last comment why did you not answer what you mean by my Israel-bashing. What Israel bashing I have done? I only told true stories about what Israel and Israelis have done as a response to your opinions of Arabs and Arab states.

Is telling that the terrorists of Irgun were dressed as Arabs Israel bashing or a historical fact? I did not invent the possibility that the “admired” raid at Entebbe might have been more complex than the official story lets us to believe. It was widely discussed even in Israeli papers.

Akbar you have granted your self the right of criticising Arabs and Arab countries, but you seem to have the Dershowitzian attitude with critics about Israel. You and the Dershowitz’s around the world seem to have the opinion that free speech is only possible when we speak about the “bad Arabs”. Seems that the more or less fictional tale of creation of the Jewish state and her victorious wars written by Zionists and what Israel is today are a a part of a new Zionist “Talmud”, a “holy truth” which gentiles (= non Zionists in this case) are not allowed to criticize. What is the to hide, when people like Burg, Chomsky and Finkelstein are tried to be silenced with all possible means? Truth and honour maybe…

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 12th, 2007, 8:04 pm

 

129. Observer said:

أنا السببْ .
في كل ما جرى لكم
يا أيها العربْ .
سلبتُكم أنهارَكم
والتينَ والزيتونَ والعنبْ .
أنا الذي اغتصبتُ أرضَكم
وعِرضَكم ، وكلَّ غالٍ عندكم
أنا الذي طردتُكم
من هضْبة الجولان والجليلِ والنقبْ .
والقدسُ ، في ضياعها ، كنتُ أنا السببْ .
نعم أنا .. أنا السببْ .
أنا الذي لمَّا أتيتُ : المسجدُ الأقصى ذهبْ .
أنا الذي أمرتُ جيشي ، في الحروب كلها
بالانسحاب فانسحبْ .
أنا الذي هزمتُكم
أنا الذي شردتُكم
وبعتكم في السوق مثل عيدان القصبْ .
أنا الذي كنتُ أقول للذي
يفتح منكم فمَهُ :
‘ شَتْ أب ‘
***
نعم أنا .. أنا السببْ .
في كل ما جرى لكم يا أيها العربْ .
وكلُّ من قال لكم ، غير الذي أقولهُ ،
فقد كَذَبْ ..
فمن لأرضكم سلبْ ..؟!
ومن لمالكم نَهبْ .؟!
ومن سوايَ مثلما اغتصبتكم قد اغتَصبْ .؟!
أقولها
صريحةً ،
بكل ما أوتيتُ من وقاحةٍ وجرأةٍ ،
وقلةٍ في الذوق والأدبْ .
أنا الذي أخذتُ منكم كل ما هبَّ ودبْ .
ولا أخاف أحداً ، ألستُ رغم أنفكم
أنا الزعيمُ المنتخَبْ .!؟
لم ينتخبني أحدٌ لكنني
إذا طلبتُ منكم
في ذات يوم ، طلباً
هل يستطيعٌ واحدٌ
أن يرفض الطلبْ .؟!
أشنقهُ ، أقتلهُ ،
أجعلهُ يغوص في دمائه حتى الرُّكبْ .
فلتقبلوني ، هكذا كما أنا ، أو فاشربوا ‘ بحر العربْ ‘ .
ما دام لم يعجبْكم العجبْ .
مني ، ولا الصيامُ في رجبْ .
ولتغضبوا ، إذا استطعتم ، بعدما
قتلتُ في نفوسكم روحَ التحدي والغضبْ .
وبعدما شجَّعتكم على الفسوق والمجون والطربْ .
وبعدما أقنعتكم أن المظاهراتِ فوضى ، ليس إلا ،
وشَغَبْ .
وبعدما علَّمتكم أن السكوتَ من
ذهبْ .
وبعدما حوَّلتُكم إلى جليدٍ وحديدٍ وخشبْ .
وبعدما أرهقتُكم
وبعدما أتعبتُكم
حتى قضى عليكمُ الإرهاقُ والتعبْ .
***
يا من غدوتم في يديَّ كالدُّمى وكاللعبْ .
نعم أنا .. أنا السببْ ..
في كل ما جرى لكم
فلتشتموني في الفضائياتِ ، إن أردتم ،
والخطبْ .
وادعوا عليَّ في صلاتكم وردِّدوا :
‘ تبت يداهُ مثلما تبت يدا أبي لهبْ ‘.
قولوا بأني خائنٌ لكم ، وكلبٌ وابن كلبْ ..
ماذا يضيرني أنا ؟!
ما دام كل واحدٍ في بيتهِ ،
يريد أن يسقطني بصوتهِ ،
وبالضجيج والصَخبْ .؟!
أنا هنا ، ما زلتُ أحمل الألقاب كلها
وأحملُ الرتبْ .
أُطِلُّ ، كالثعبان ، من جحري عليكم فإذا
ما غاب رأسي لحظةً ، ظلَّ الذَنَبْ .!
فلتشعلوا النيران حولي واملأوها بالحطبْ .
إذا أردتم أن أولِّيَ الفرارَ والهرب.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 12th, 2007, 9:43 pm

 

130. Jamal said:

Where IS Dr Landis?

Maybe he lost his footing and fell off that ugly crumbling public footbridge outside the Damascus Sheraton Hotel.

Maybe he’s gone missing in Syria for sinister reasons like that young Canadian woman – see http://vienneau.livejournal.com/39588.html

Meanwhile I’ll keep hanging around SyriaComment waiting for more of his first-hand postings because I know it will be worth the wait.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 12th, 2007, 9:53 pm

 

131. norman said:

Jamal ,
DR Landis keeps an eye on the site and will be back very soon , I think.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 13th, 2007, 1:02 am

 

132. PoliticalCritic said:

Fascinating perspective on Syria. As an American, it’s always good to hear from the other side.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 13th, 2007, 2:53 am

 

133. Enlightened said:

Jamal;

Its sad when the likes of Dershowitz can use heavy handed tactics to smear someone like Finkelstein. It is appalling when the LOBBY can use its weight to deny free speach and impound those with divergent views, it borders on the pathetic.

Please note all, I urge you to read the Link, you to Ford.

Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

June 13th, 2007, 5:18 am

 

Pages: « 1 2 [3] Show All

Post a comment


4 + = eight