Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, April 20th, 2010
Ford Prefect – a Syrian – writes:
The US administration and policies towards peace in the Middle east are genuine and pragmatic – but they will not succeed without Syria’s help.
It’s time for Syria to embark on a public relation campaign – aligning its objectives for peace and security in the region with those articulated by the Obama administration. It’s more important now than ever for Syria to restore its image of a country that is transforming itself into a modern state. Although Syria has a long road ahead of it, Syria today is by far a different one from the one just 10 years ago.
Not too many people in the US, including those in Congress, know the basic facts of Syria’s transformation. Syria today is not an aggressive state. It harbors no evil intention to anyone – Israel included. Its leadership is young and open-minded while recovering from the remnants of 30 years of mismanagement and inefficiencies. Its economy is expanding. There are private schools, private universities, private radio stations, private banks, and private websites. More private enterprises are employing Syrians with advanced degrees in engineering and management than at any time since Syrian independence.
Syrian arts from poetry to painting are literally bursting with talents. Galleries showcasing the work of Syrian artists are everywhere. Syrian TV and movie productions are so busy under heavy demands that they are now producing at over capacity.
Today, someone up there on the food chain in Syria is quietly transforming every public Syrian institution into a modern 21st century with the help of leading global experts and organizations. From education to healthcare to tourism to social services – no institution will be left untouched. This is happening behind the scenes, slowly but aggressively.
Syria today needs to live in peace more than ever and it will demonstrate that while the West was struggling with religious freedom, protection of minorities, and passing laws of “affirmative action”, Syria’s definition and practice of secularism has been a permanent part of its fabric. And as America reminisces with its uni-colored, white Anglo-Saxon founding fathers, modern Syria was born on shoulders of Sultan Al Atrash (Druze), Fares Al Khoury (Christian), Saleh Al-Ali (Alawite), Ibrahim Hanano (Kurd), and Hashem Atassi (Sunni) to name just a few.
As more and more people in the US and in Israel begin to understand the Syrian people for what they are, the better chances we have to fulfill the wish for a lasting peace in the Middle East. The time is now for Syria to demonstrate its commitment to peace and its leadership in the Middle East.
Plotting The Next Mideast War
by Bret Stephens in WSJ
…One of the more easily imaginable consequences is that a war in Lebanon could very quickly involve Syrian and Iranian participation. So the next question is: How might that play out?
Here Israel could conceivably reap certain advantages, which in turn calls into question whether Israel might not want a wider war over Lebanon after all. Today, Jerusalem’s two supreme strategic objectives—preventing Tehran’s nuclear bids from reaching fruition while also preventing any further deterioration in the relationship with Washington—are very far from being in synch. But in a scenario in which Israeli cities are hit by Hezbollah’s Scuds, Israel would have ample justification and cover to strike back at the ultimate source of those missiles—not just Damascus, but Tehran. As Rahm Emanuel likes to say, a crisis can be a terrible thing to waste.
And that raises a final question: What does the Obama administration do? So far, it hasn’t helped matters by giving the impression of a clear wedge between Israel and the U.S. Nor has the administration’s assiduous courtship of Damascus done anything other than embolden Mr. Assad’s taste for adventure. Is the president capable of learning from his Mideast failures so far? That one’s worth $64,000.
In 1967, a series of seemingly minor events, tactical misjudgments, and particularly an Arab perception that the West would not honor its international commitments or come to Israel’s defense triggered a war the consequences of which have defined the Middle East ever since. We are adrift in those same waters today.
Why Syria Needs to Get a Grip
by Steven Heydemann, vice president, Grants and Fellowships program, and special adviser, Muslim World Initiative, U.S. Institute of Peace.
Foreign Policy (The Middle East Channel)
Engagement of Syria, whether by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, or France, is based on a gamble. By giving Syria’s leaders options other than Iran and Hizballah, and by holding out the prospect of long-term regime security, engagement creates incentives for Syrian moderation. In theory. Thus far the bet has not paid off. Instead, Syria’s leaders have pocketed their gains and raised the stakes, strengthening Hizballah’s arsenal and deepening its strategic ties with Iran.
Should the U.S. put engagement on hold in response? Should Ford’s appointment be delayed in the Senate? As tempting as these options might appear, they should be avoided. There is little to be gained and much to be lost by slowing either Ford’s confirmation or his departure for Damascus. Indeed, Syria’s recent trajectory makes this a critical moment for the U.S. to have an ambassador on the ground in Damascus. To be sure, American leverage over Syria is limited. Expectations for what Ford can accomplish must be realistic. Yet even under these conditions, American diplomacy is unnecessarily hamstrung by the continued absence of an ambassador. As regional tensions escalate, the U.S. will need all the resources it can muster to avoid another round of conflict. Diplomatic representation in Damascus is not a reward for good behavior, but rather the return of an important instrument of political leverage which could help to prevent the problems already on the horizon. And there is always a chance, however slight, that a “good ambassador” can help to curb Syria’s triumphalism, not least by communicating directly to the Syrian leadership that engagement is not an open ended commitment, and cannot remain a one-way street….
The Syrian mood could be heard in President Assad’s response in an interview with al-Manar to Ambassador Ford’s March 16confirmation hearings: “A fine ambassador with a bad policy is worthless. The results will not be good.” These comments were preceded by the “resistance summit” of late February in Damascus between President Assad, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, during which Assad ridiculed U.S. efforts to weaken Syria’s alliance with Iran. During that summit Syria’s Foreign Minister, Walid Muallem, signaled a significant shift in Syrian security doctrine, committing Syrian forces in the event of renewed conflict between Israel and Hizballah. This week, senior Israeli officials went public with reports that Syria has begun supplying Hizballah with Scud missiles, potentially extending the range and accuracy of its already formidable arsenal. The administration has responded to these reports by summoning a senior Syrian diplomat to the State Department yesterday to condemn “in the strongest terms the transfer of any arms, and especially ballistic missile systems such as the SCUD, from Syria to Hizballah.”
These moves, which have escalated tensions between Israel, Syria, and Lebanon, bear the classic hallmarks of a triumphalist mindset, recognizable from America’s own post-Cold War experience: an exaggerated sense of capabilities, unrealistic expectations, and an increased tolerance for risk. This is a highly combustible combination, all the more so because it follows nearly a full decade in which President Assad struggled, initially to secure his own position against internal rivals, and then, after February 2005, against extraordinary diplomatic and economic sanctions led by the U.S. that sharply curtailed his room for maneuver. Now, finally emerging from those dark days, Syria’s newly confident leaders have little appetite for either moderation or compromise. This is evident not only in the strategic realm, but in the economic and political arenas, as well. Over the past year, the Syrian regime has deepened its repression of local dissidents. And late last year, Syria “postponed” signing a long sought after Association Agreement with the EU that would have required Syria to address European concerns about human rights.
The triumphalist mood of Syria’s leaders admittedly reflects how much conditions on the ground have changed over the past couple of years, especially since Lebanon’s Parliamentary elections of June, 2009….
Diplomatic representation in Damascus is not a reward for good behavior, but rather the return of an important instrument of political leverage which could help to prevent the problems already on the horizon. And there is always a chance, however slight, that a “good ambassador” can help to curb Syria’s triumphalism, not least by communicating directly to the Syrian leadership that engagement is not an open ended commitment, and cannot remain a one-way street.
Steven Heydemann is Vice President of the Grants and Fellowships program and special adviser to the Muslim World Initiative at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
How War Could Start The Center for New American Security’s Andrew Exum warns, “everyone hold your breath. Because this is how wars start.” He writes, “the next Israel-Lebanon war starts when either a) Hizballah or Israel does something stupid or b) Hizballah acquires ‘equilibrium-breaking’ weaponry like powerful long-range rockets or anti-aircraft weaponry. Israel might decide, in the event of the latter, that it must act preemptively and that the very fact that Hizballah possesses such weapons is casus belli enough.”
So Much for Obama’s Syria Outreach The Wall Street Journal’s Charles Levinson and Jay Solomon say the move “threatens to alter the Middle East’s military balance and sets back a major diplomatic outreach effort to Damascus by the Obama administration. … Syria and Hezbollah both denied the charges. But the allegations already are affecting U.S. foreign policy: Republicans pressed on Capitol Hill to block the appointment of a new American ambassador to Damascus.”
‘Fueling the Middle East Arms Race’ The Guardian’s Simon Tisdall explan, “From an Israeli perspective, the balance of terror in the Middle East just tipped dangerously. … To many in the region, Israel’s undeclared and internationally uninspected arsenal, including hundreds of nuclear warheads, looks considerably more threatening than a few truckloads of North Korean-made Scuds. While this remains the case, there is no reason to believe the headlong Middle East arms race will stop.”
The United States has summoned a senior Syrian diplomat and demanded an “immediate” end to arms transfers to Hizbullah, criticizing any such shipments as an impediment to peace.
“The most senior Syrian diplomat present in Washington today, Deputy Chief of Mission Zouheir Jabbour, was summoned to the Department of State to review Syria’s provocative behavior concerning the potential transfer of arms to Hizbullah,” department deputy spokesman Gordon Duguid said in a statement.
He said the United States condemns the transfer of any arms, “especially ballistic missile systems such as the Scud, from Syria to Hizbullah.”
“We call for an immediate cessation of any arms transfers to Hizbullah and other terrorist organizations in the region,” he added.
“Syria’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism is directly related to its support for terrorist groups, such as Hizbullah.”
The diplomatic quarrel is likely to put a damper on President Barack Obama’s administration’s year-long campaign to engage Syria, a former U.S. foe, and energize its thwarted push for a broad Arab-Israeli peace, particularly between Israel and the Palestinians.
U.S. Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, visited Damascus April 1, and after a meeting with President Bashar al-Assad he described Syria as “an essential player in bringing peace and stability to the region.”
Obama in February appointed the first U.S. ambassador to Damascus in five years, a move Kerry said was “evidence that engagement with Syria is a priority at the highest levels of our government.”
The Senate approved envoy Robert Ford as the new ambassador last Tuesday.
But a day later, Washington expressed alarm to Syria over its possible sale of Scud missiles to Hizbullah militants, warning it would put Lebanon at “significant risk.”
Washington expressed renewed concern Saturday over possible Scud missile supplies to Hizbullah, a Lebanese Shiite militant group backed by Syria and Iran. The United States has labeled Hizbullah a terrorist organization.
Duguid warned Monday that such arms transfers “can only have a destabilizing effect on the region, and would pose an immediate threat to both the security of Israel and the sovereignty of Lebanon. …
Scuds for Hizbollah? The regional balance is at stake
Emile Hokayem in the National
….Ultimately, the real victim of a war fuelled by the missile crisis would be Lebanon. It faces massive destruction by Israel, civil conflict if Hizbollah goes after its domestic opponents and possibly a return of Syrian forces if the world once again outsources the Lebanese mess to Damascus. It happened in 1976, and it could happen again.
Syria to spend $1bn to upgrade railways
2010-04-20 08:56:20.797 GMT
Georges Mokabari, director general of the Syrian Railways General, has announced plans to spend more than $1bn by 2020 on rehabilitating its railway network, Meed has reported. The investment includes rehabilitating about 1,450 kilometres of railway lines and building eight new lines comprising 1,350km, he said. Once the upgrade of the existing lines and construction of the new lines is complete, the Syrian railway network will have 3,845km of lines and will be able to transport about 5.3 million passengers a year, the magazine reported.
How to React to a Reactor
By Andrew J. Tabler
ForeignAffairs.com, April 19, 2010
In his confirmation hearing in March, Robert S. Ford, the U.S. ambassador-designate to Syria, listed five issues that will be at the core of the Obama administration’s engagement with Damascus. Four were familiar: the United States wants Syria to prevent jihadi fighters from entering Iraq, end its support for Hezbollah, return to peace talks with Israel, and respect human rights at home.
But the fifth issue was a new one: Ford argued that Washington should insist that Syria end its foot-dragging on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s investigation into its nuclear activities. For nearly two years, Syria has refused to cooperate with the IAEA’s probe of a suspected nuclear reactor that was destroyed by Israel in September 2007. Now the IAEA may request a rare “special inspection” of Syrian sites, making the country’s nuclear defiance the international community’s main point of contention with Damascus — eclipsing even the investigation into Syrian officials’ involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri.
Indeed, the international community cannot afford to let Syria’s proliferation attempts go unaddressed…