Hariri Tribunal Revives Speculation and Spin

[Landis Analysis]

Ban Ki Moon’s announcement March 1 will be the opening day for the international tribunal to judge the accused killers of Rafiq Hariri has set off another paroxysm of speculation and spin about what the trial could mean for Obama’s Middle East diplomacy, Syria’s future, and whether Israel will be pushed by the international community to give back the Golan.

I have copied two articles below. One appeared in Atlantic Magazine by Joshua Hammer, a previous Newsweek correspondent who has written a moving memoir about his younger brother, Tony, a troubled teenager who traveled to Israel to work on a kibbutz and fell in with an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect. A second, “A Season in Bethlehem” is the story of one West Bank town’s two-year disintegration. Although Joshua is not a newcomer to the Arab-Israeli conflict, he gets lost in the new terrain of the Syria-Lebanon conflict. His effort to bring us up to date on the status of the Hariri investigation goes seriously astray because he takes sides at the expense of the facts. 

The first part of the article does a good job of capturing the fear of the investigators and takes us into the super-heated world of Lebanese conspiracy theories about possible deals the Great Powers are making to conceal the truth about Syria’s guilt and to protect Assad from the evidence which must surely implicate him in the Hariri murder — at least that is what we are told people in the region believe. The problem is that Hammer buys these theories. In order to substantiate them, he recounts the dramatic evidence laid out in the first UN investigator, Mehlis. Where he goes wrong, however, is that he accepts the Mehlis’ narrative that has been thoroughly discredited. Josh recounts that the evidence provided to March 14 people by junior Syrian operatives such as Husam Husam and Saddik as if it were the truth.  Consequently we are treated to the story of how top Syrian officials met in hotels to hatch the murder plan, get the white van loaded with explosives, and force an unsuspecting Lebanese simpleton to act as the suicide bomber.

This narrative, although compelling, complete, and vivid, was discredited when Hussam Hussam went on Syrian TV to recant and explain that he was coached on the story to suit March 14 operatives in exchange for money, a new citizenship, and his freedom. On watching Hussam on TV and discovering that he was a young, rural Kurdish hairdresser in Beirut, who had been recruited by the Syrian mukhabarat, it seemed obvious that he could not have known the sensitive and top level secrets he pretended to divulge to Mehlis.

After all, would Syria’s top spy masters tell this most junior gum shoe where and how they had hatched the plan to kill Hariri? Would a Kurdish hair dresser have been privy to the fact that Syria’s super secretive Alawites met on such and such a day and in what room in the Meridian hotel in downtown Damascus? Would he know how the White Mitsubishi van bomb had been prepared? All of this was so improbable. It was crazy of Mehlis not to smell a rat.  

Saddik also turned out to be untrustworthy. He claimed to have been promised money in exchange for his testimony. Even after the testimony of these prime witnesses was shown to be highly suspicious if not completely manufactured, Mehlis continued to insist that he was no sucker and that his report was good.

So why did the UN’s next investigator — Serge Brammertz — drop the Mehlis narrative implicating Syria’s top intelligence leaders? Hammer eviscerates Brammertz. He calls him an ambitious Belgian lawyer who was not only a careerist but willing to bite the hand that fed him. Hammer quotes one “UN insider” to explain that “The UN has a culture of destroying your predecessor and starting from scratch, and Brammertz succumbed to that.” Of course, Hammer quotes a UN person who says that Saddik was a nut case, but he doesn’t mention Hussam Hussam, who was more important to the discrediting of the Mehlis narrative. Hammer also suggests that Brammertz was sensitive to shifting political currents and was willing to suppress evidence in order to allow the secret hands of the great powers to make a deal to save Syria from regime change and the “Iraq Syndrome” or civil war and internal chaos.

All of this heavy breathing by reporters and expansion on conspiracy theories cannot obscure the fact that we do not know what the investigation or trial will reveal. Brammertz said that a criminal network was behind the murder. What we don’t know is if the criminal network had links to Syria’s leadership or if the investigation has evidence of these links. In the meanwhile there will be lots of speculation and spin.

I am also copying Blanford’s CSM article on the same topic. It is much more cautious although he quotes many of the same experts.

Perhaps the most interesting bit of news we learn from Blanford is that Andrew Tabler has accepted a position as a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. This is a major coup for WINEP, which has been without a Syria Scholar ever since Seth Wikas left to become an analyst at the U.S. Treasury Department, working in the Terrorism and Financial Intelligence group.

Tabler knows Syria well and helped found Syria Today, Syria’s first English language magazine and has served as editor-in-chief or guest editor of the magazine for many years. Possibly, his serving as a fellow at WINEP means that it will be adopting a new, more pro-dialogue policy toward Syria during the Obama presidency. During the Bush years, WINEP was very anti-Syria and militated against opening dialogue with Damascus.

How a murder investigation could snarl Mideast peace
By Nicholas Blanford | The Christian Science Monitor, December 6, 2008

Syria is the prime suspect in former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination. But many say an internationaltribunal could cause it to turn away from engaging with the West and Israel. 

While his assassination sparked a politicalawakening in this country, the eventual findings into Rafik Hariri’smurder investigation have the potential to undo progress on several fronts throughout the Middle East.

Syria stands at the nexus of many of the interconnected disputes throughout the region and in recent months has shown new willingness to talk with the West and engage in indirect peace talks with Israel.

But it is also the chief suspect in the death of Mr. Hariri, a powerful former Lebanese prime minister whose murder triggered an international outcry that forced Damascus to end its political control over its tiny neighbor.

Now suspicions are arising that a deal being is being concocted in which Syrian leaders could be spared prosecution in exchange for progress on peace with Israel, loosening its close ties to Iran, and an end to meddling in the affairs of neighboring Lebanon and Iraq.

“Many Syrians believe that a peace treaty with Israel would be concluded in exchange for guarantees from the West that top echelons of the regime would not be targeted in the tribunal,” says Andrew Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of an upcoming book on Syria.

Last week, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon announced that a tribunal to judge the accused killers would begin operating in the Netherlands on March 1.

“The tribunal is the first among a growing list of foreign threats” that face Syria, says Mr. Tabler. Other than the UN probe, he cited the International Atomic Energy Agency’s investigation into a suspected nuclear reactor in north east Syria bombed by Israel in 2007.

Syria says it has nothing to do with Hariri’s death and the subsequent murders and attempted assassinations of other prominent Lebanese, some of them politicians and journalists critical of Syria.

In its latest progress report issued Tuesday, the UN commission investigating the Hariri assassination said it has uncovered new evidence that expands the list of suspects.

The current mandate of the UN commission runs out at the end of December, but it has asked for a two-month extension to cover the transition period leading to the launch of the tribunal.

Although the UN commission is playing down the chances of trials beginning soon, the probe’s move to The Hague has heightened expectations that the investigation is drawing to a conclusion.

The investigation owes its existence chiefly to the US and France. Both countries helped push it through the UN in 2005, hoping that the threat of international justice would compel Syria to stop interfering in Iraq and Lebanon and drop its support for militant anti-Israel groups. In recent months, Syria has patched up its previously poor relations with France and received a visit last month from David Milliband, the British foreign secretary. In May, Syria and Israel announced that they had begun indirect peace talks brokered by Turkey, which if successful could alter the geopolitical map of the Middle East.

“The threat of the tribunal has had an influence in changing Syria’s behavior in Lebanon and Iraq and in opening peace talks with Israel,” says Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Endowment’s Middle East Center in Beirut.

With Syria coming in from the cold, the UN investigation has gone from being a source of pressure on Damascus to a potential threat to Middle East stability if it concludes Syria was involved in Hariri’s death and top officials are indicted.

The UN insists that the investigation is unstoppable and the truth behind Hariri’s death will emerge.

In October 2005, four months after the UN probe was launched under the stewardship of Detlev Mehlis, a German prosecutor, the highly detailed first progress report heavily implicated top Syrian and Lebanese officials in the murder. Mr. Mehlis’ two successors as chief investigators have adopted a more sober approach, issuing perfunctory reports that are sparse on detail, to the irritation of Lebanese critics of Syria who feared the probe had lost momentum.

“There is a lot of suspicion that a dealis being worked out on the tribunal and what makes it even more suspicious is that the Syrians appear to be openly confident about the results of the investigation,” says Ousama Safa, head of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies.

Certainly, Syria’s view of the investigation has improved following the sensationalist original report, which was a “script for an Agatha Christie novel,” says Sami Moubayed, a Syrian political analyst.

“The probe was politicized in a dramatic way under Detlev Mehlis,” he says. “That is when the Syrians were worried because there was a feeling back then that even if Syria was innocent, it would be incriminated for the Hariri murder.”

He added, “Based on what we have [seen] after Mehlis, the Syrians are not worried.”

Getting Away With Murder?
by Joshua Hammer
The Atlantic, December 2008

……In the nearly four years since [Hariri was killed], the UN team has carried on its work in fear. Unsolved car bombings and other attacks have killed or maimed two dozen prominent Lebanese opponents of Syria. The first team leader, German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, stepped down from his post and fled Beirut in January 2006; after implicating senior Syrian officials in Hariri’s murder, he had been informed by Western intelligence officers of two assassination plots against him. This past January, Wissam Eid, a high-ranking intelligence official in the Lebanese Internal Security Forces, was killed by a car bomb east of Beirut. He’d been working closely with the UN commission. “Things got very tense after that,” a UN insider who had left the investigation earlier this year told me, when we met at a café in downtown Beirut. “Morale dropped away. People got scared…”

…The Mehlis report to the United Nations, a preliminary assessment submitted in October 2005, deeply implicated the Assad regime. It chronicled the rising antipathy between Hariri and high-ranking Syrian officials, including Assad himself, as Hariri followed an increasingly independent course for Lebanon. According to a Syrian source inside Lebanon, identified in the report as a former Syrian intelligence agent, antipathy coalesced into a murder plan two weeks after the adoption of the Security Council resolution that demanded Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. The agent claimed that “senior Lebanese and Syrian officials” met at the Meridien Hotel in Damascus,…

…. Brammertz reopened the crime-scene probe, discovered one of the suicide bomber’s teeth—Mehlis’s team had been unable to recover any of the bomber’s remains—and carried out definitive DNA testing. He also made headway, the UN insider told me, in tracing the cell-phone traffic and in naming the spotters who had tracked the route of Hariri’s convoy. And he investigated and debunked alternative theories of the crime—for instance, that Hariri had been killed by al-Qaeda. Brammertzleft in January 2008, to become chief prosecutor at the InternationalCriminalTribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. “Brammertz was tired; he realized it was time to go,” the UN insider told me. When I asked whether Brammertz’s conclusions had differed significantly from Mehlis’s, he replied, “Mehlis’s approach was sensationalist, but what Brammertz found more deeply confirmed Mehlis’s conclusions.” …

…“You cannot talk to dictators,” Jumblatt told me as he put on his leather motorcycle jacket and mounted the bike. “You cannot appease dictators, like Sarkozy is doing. You can only kill them—like they have been killing us … But nobody at this moment is willing to make the Syrian regime fall down.”

Comments (64)


Alex said:

Joshua,

No wonder journalists continue to promote opinions of those who accuse Syria of being surely behind Hariri’s killing

Think of the Mehlis garbage that made it to thousands of credible and not so credible media outlets the first year before we found out about Siddiq and Husam Husam

Here are a few reminders:

http://joshualandis.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/114.jpg

http://joshualandis.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/113.jpg

http://joshualandis.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/111.jpg

http://joshualandis.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/112.jpg

http://joshualandis.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/115.jpg

Husam Husam was a Syrian double agent … brilliant move by the Syrian moukhabarat when they found out that Mehlis is looking for ANY witness who will accuse Syria .. they sent him Husam Husam … a skilled actor who played his role(s) convincingly.

Mehlis and excited M14 figures believed him and spent a lot of time with him

Husam then went back to Syria and shared with the Syrians information about the inside structure of the crooked Mehlis investigation.

It was the end of Mehlis.

December 6th, 2008, 11:24 pm

 

Alex said:

more spy stories today …

(XIN) Lebanese spies for Israel admit monitoring Palestinian, Syrian positions

BEIRUT, Dec 06, 2008 (Xinhua via COMTEX) — Lebanese spies for Israel admit monitoring Palestinian, Syrian positions Lebanese spies for Israel admit monitoring Palestinian, Syrian positions

Two Lebanese suspected of spying for Israel have admitted they were ordered by Israel to gather information about Palestinian and Syrian positions in Lebanon, LBC TV reported Saturday.

The two suspects, Ali Jarrah and Youssif Jarrah who were taken into custody by the Lebanese army, admitted they have visited Israel for 12 times, six times through the Lebanese-Israeli borders, and the rest via European capitals.

Their task also included recording plate numbers of trucks coming from Syria, in suspicion that the vehicles may be carrying arms to Hezbollah.

The report added that they received communication equipment and cameras from the Israelis.

The two Lebanese were arrested in early November in eastern Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley which is considered to be a stronghold of the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah.

December 6th, 2008, 11:34 pm

 

Alex said:

Abdel Rahman Rshed on Aoun

http://www.asharqalawsat.com/leader.asp?section=3&article=497848&issueno=10967

أعان الله السوريين على عون

كل يعرف الجنرال ميشيل عون بشخصه، وليس كقائد للتيار الوطني الحر اللبناني، فشهرته اوسع من تياره بمسافة بعيدة. يعرفونه كصاحب لسان حاد، ومزاج متقلب، وأهم من ذلك الـ«أنا» المتضخمة.

الأنا العونية هي التي جعلته مختلفا عن بقية القيادات السياسية. الأنا العونية صاخبة، وبلا بوصلة، ومن المحتم الصدام بها. قبل ثلاث سنوات صرخ في مريديه عندما خرجوا لاستقباله بعد عودته من المنفى يأمرهم بالسكوت حتى يتكلم.

أتخيل ان السوريين يشعرون بمزيج من الامتنان والضيق من الجنرال. سعداء لانه انقلب على مواقفه العدائية، كان ألد أعداء سورية على الاطلاق، وأطولهم لسانا ضدها رغم انه كان يهجوهم من مقاهي باريس البعيدة. هم شاكرون لانه تحول الى فرقة صاخبة ضد خصوم دمشق، ووفيا لرفاقها.

لكن دمشق اكثر دراية بالزعماء اللبنانيين من انفسهم، تعلم ان الجنرال البرتقالي رجل متقلب، وان حلفاءها، حلفاؤه اليوم ايضا، في قلق ونفور منه يتحاشون حتى تناول الشاي معه. فقد ازعجهم في وقت الانتخابات، اكثر مما ازعج خصومه في تيار 14 آذار، يلح باصرار على اختياره رئيسا، مرددا جملته الشهيرة «أنا أو لا أحد». يعرفون ان اختيار مرشح من خصومهم، لو اضطروا، آمن عاقبة الف مرة من تنصيب حليفهم البرتقالي. لهذا تجاهلوه سريعا بعد اتفاق الصلح في الدوحة، واختاروا عمادا آخر رئيسا للجمهورية، ورفضوا ان يعدوه بالرئاسة حتى بعد اربع سنوات.

التقيت مرة أحد اتباع عون الذي اعترف انه ابتعد عن زعيمه لأنه لم يعد يحتمل. قال إنه يتفق مع الجنرال في معظم القضايا لكن المشكلة في الرجل لا في القضايا.

لذا أظن ان لسان حال السوريين يقول، انه الزمن الرديء الذي جعلنا نقبل بعون حليفا. وربما هذا السبب لم يدع الى دمشق ثلاث سنوات، ربما على أمل ان ينتقل الى معسكر 14 آذار. وبعد تباطؤ طويل قرروا استعجاله فبعثوا له طائرة تقله، في حين كان الاسهل والأرخص ان يستقل سيارته، كبقية الزعماء اللبنانيين، فالمسافة بالسيارة بين العاصمتين ساعتان فقط. دمشق عرفت كيف ترضي غرور الزعامة عند الزعيم الذي لم يحصل على شيء بعد منذ عودته من باريس، لا كرسي رئاسة الجمهورية، ولا زعامة المسيحيين. طافوا به في بعض الكنائس السورية، وبعض المواقع الأثرية، واعطوه نسخة من القرآن، وألبسوه عباءة عربية، كما لو كان ضيفا عليهم من السويد. وهو بالفعل مثل زائر من بلاد اسكندنافيا لم يراع الأصول.

عون حتى يبرر لماذا غير موقفه من العدو رقم واحد لسورية الى الحليف اللصيق، ادعى بان سورية هي التي تغيرت، وان عهد الابن غير عهد الأب! ومن فرط حماسه، هدد اسرائيل بان تعيد اللاجئين الفلسطينيين والا.. ، دون ان يكمل معنى الجملة. ثم في حالة حماسه المفرطة طالب شعبه اللبناني ان يعتذر أولا لسورية, ثم قيل أنه لم يقلها.

بالفعل أعان الله السوريين.

December 7th, 2008, 12:20 am

 

offended said:

LOL, this is beyond hilarious: Abd Al Rahman Al Rashid is bitter on Aoun. But I dont really get his point: is he upset because he thinks Aoun is not worthy of the Syrian hospitality? or is it because he thinks Aoun is being fooled and decieved by the Syrian hospitality? : )

December 7th, 2008, 12:30 am

 

offended said:

Dr. Landis: what do you think of the conspiracy theory that Zbigniew Brzezinski has a great influence over Obama? (some go all the way to calling him a ‘puppet’ to Brzezinski!)

December 7th, 2008, 12:44 am

 
 

Friend in America said:

Alex –
First, congratulations on researching 3 year old blogs on SC so quickly that you were able to comment on this thread within minutes after Josh posted the articles and commentary. That was fast!!

Second, do I understand your comment correctly that you know the moukhabarat found an uneducated Kurdish hairdresser in Beruit, coached him to be a brave, skilled actor to tell a story of everything about the assasination, rewarded him with a recanting on Syrian television, gave him money and then sent him home in Kurdish Syria?

Can you confirmn the intended plots to assassinate Mehlis?

December 7th, 2008, 3:10 am

 

Alex said:

Dear FIM

all I had to do was to search (upper left colum) by two keywords for a piece I wrote called “did Chirac know?” … In that piece I remember I collected some of those images linked above. All it took was 5 minutes, yes … Try it yourself.

As for Husam Husam … The assumption of course was that he was a Syrian agent living and working as a hairdresser in Lebanon.

He was already a good actor … You would expect someone who pretends to be a simple hairdresser to know how to pretend or act, wouldn’t you?

The above is not my theory … In fact it is the favorite hypothesis by many of Syria’s adversaries in M14.

December 7th, 2008, 3:42 am

 

why-discuss said:

Religious pilgrimage of general Aoun in Syria: a triumph as reported by l’orient-le jour

Aoun has been received in an incredible and moving manifestations by the christians in Syria. After his trip to Iran where he met ‘persecuted” iranians christians freely attending a mass, he is really showing he is the one who will restore in the middle eastern christians the conviction that they are in their home and no one will move them out… a great and historical visit.

“Liesse populaire
Pèlerinage religieux et accueil enthousiaste pour Aoun à Homs
HOMS, de Scarlett HADDAD

De la pure folie. Telle est l’expression qui vient à l’esprit pour qualifier la troisième journée de la visite de Michel Aoun en Syrie. Désireux de visiter les lieux historiques chrétiens, notamment le couvent de Saydnaya et sa chapelle dédiée à la Vierge Marie, le village de Maaloula et l’église des Saints-Sarkis-et-Bakhos, qui date du IVe siècle, et, enfin, le couvent de Sainte-Takla, il se retrouve au milieu d’une marée populaire venue l’acclamer, en plus des dignitaires religieux de la région.
C’est à Homs, dont 55 % de la population est chrétienne, que la foule semble littéralement prise de folie, avançant avec une telle frénésie que le cordon sécuritaire établi par les gardes du corps du chef du CPL, lorsqu’il fait le chemin à pied de l’église Notre-Dame de la Paix à celle de la Ceinture (en référence à un bout de la ceinture de la Vierge Marie conservé dans ce lieu), est brisé à plusieurs reprises, la foule voulant à tout prix voir et toucher l’hôte venu du Liban.
L’enthousiasme de la foule est si grand qu’il en devient effrayant. Des enfants sont poussés sans ménagement, des écharpes traînent par terre, piétinées sans vergogne par la foule pressée, des coups de coude et d’épaule sont distribués dans tous les sens, tout est bon pour pouvoir avancer de quelques centimètres et se rapprocher de la tête de la délégation. Laquelle délégation a les cheveux semés de graines de riz et d’autres féculents jetés des balcons où les caméras crépitent sans arrêt pour tenter de capter ce moment qualifié d’historique par les habitants de Homs.
Ce vendredi commence tôt pour Michel Aoun et la délégation qui l’accompagne. Première destination : le couvent de Saydnaya qui date de 1 500 ans. À 9 heures, ils arrivent sur les lieux où les attendent des jeunes élèves, des familles entières et de simples curieux décidés à voir à tout prix « cet homme qui parle aujourd’hui en notre nom », selon les termes de Tatiana, une habitante du village. Certains sont postés sur place depuis six heures du matin. D’autres sont venus plus tard, mais tous expriment une grande émotion en parlant du chef du CPL. « Vous savez, confie Hanna, lorsque les chrétiens du Liban sont bien avec la Syrie, nous sommes plus à l’aise. Si vous pouviez savoir comme vous êtes important pour nous. »

La tradition des premiers chrétiens
Entourant la mère supérieure, les religieuses s’activent comme des abeilles. En tenue traditionnelle, elles sont 35 et tiennent ce couvent depuis des années, soucieuses de poursuivre leur message dans la région. La mère supérieure réserve un accueil étonnant au général Aoun, lui prenant sans cesse la main pour la presser et le qualifier de « grand chrétien, qui comme Marie porte la souffrance des autres ». Dans la vieille église tout en pierres soigneusement polies, elle lui rend un vibrant hommage en disant : « Bienheureux les faiseurs de paix car ils tissent des liens d’amitié entre les peuples. Que ce couvent éclaire vos vies de la lumière de l’amour… »
La voix rendue rauque par l’émotion, Michel Aoun prend à son tour la parole et déclare que c’est la foi qui permet de surmonter les obstacles. La mère supérieure explique que, dans ce couvent, « toute la tradition des premiers chrétiens est conservée ». C’est ainsi que la Vierge Marie est toujours vêtue de bleu avec une écharpe rouge sur les épaules, en symbole de la souffrance du Christ. Dans ce couvent, le député du Kesrouan visite une petite chapelle dédiée à la Vierge où est exposée une icône dessinée par Lucas lui-même. Dans cet espace sombre où seules les bougies éclairent les visages et dessinent des ombres pieuses sur les murs, les religieuses chantent des psaumes en guise de prière dédiée à la bonne santé des visiteurs et surtout pour que Dieu continue d’habiter leurs âmes et leurs esprits. Le moment est magique, presque irréel…
Deuxième étape, Maaloula, le village où tout le monde apprend et parle araméen, la langue du Christ. L’église des Saints-Sarkis-et-Bakhos a été construite au IVe siècle et l’architecture est encore largement inspirée de l’art païen qui se traduit par un autel tout en courbes. Les piliers de l’église sont soutenus par des planches en bois de cèdre du Liban, considéré comme excellent contre les séismes. Ici, même les icônes sont différentes : on peut par exemple voir saint Jean-Baptiste, assis une jambe sur l’autre, dans une position de relâchement, comme s’il était soulagé d’avoir baptisé le Christ. Une autre icône montre la Cène, mais avec des nuances inattendues : la table est en forme de demi-lune et le Christ est au bout pour servir ses disciples. Dans ces lieux étranges à l’atmosphère si particulière, on a l’impression de revenir aux premiers temps de la chrétienté. D’ailleurs, Michel Aoun demande au prêtre de réciter le Notre Père en araméen et aux présents de répéter les phrases prononcées par le prélat. Le chef du CPL inscrira plus tard dans le livre d’or de l’église son « émotion » et sa « joie profonde d’avoir récité la prière dans la langue du Christ »…

Collation à l’ancienne
Troisième étape, le couvent de Sainte-Takla, qui a fui par la montagne la persécution de sa propre famille. Celle-ci se serait d’ailleurs ouverte pour lui laisser un passage étroit, lui sauvant ainsi la vie. La délégation prend à son tour ce chemin entre des pans gigantesques de rochers qui menacent à tout moment de se resserrer et de bloquer le passage. Tout le miracle de la foi est dans ces quelques mètres qui ressemblent au cours d’un ruisseau desséché ou à large fissure dans un relief aride et dur, peu propice à la poésie. Et pourtant…
Là aussi la mère supérieure réserve un accueil chaleureux au général Aoun, voulant tout lui faire visiter et lui expliquant que Takla a dompté les lions et tous les animaux sauvages envoyés pour la dévorer. Avec les religieuses, elle prépare une collation à l’ancienne avec les fameuses « katayef », des fruits et des douceurs qui rappellent ces temps jadis où la cuisine était encore artisanale.
Ces escales religieuses terminées, Michel Aoun et la délégation qui l’accompagne se rendent à Homs où le mohafez Mohammad Iyad Ghazal les attend. On dirait que tous les habitants du mohafazat sont dans la rue pour accueillir le chef du CPL. Après une petite pause dans le bâtiment officiel, ce dernier se rend à pied vers l’église Notre-Dame de la Paix, où l’attendent des dignitaires religieux de toutes les communautés chrétiennes et musulmanes. Tous ont la même émotion pour parler de l’importance que revêt à leurs yeux cette visite qui permet aux chrétiens de Syrie de se sentir plus en phase avec leurs coreligionnaires et avec leur environnement. Le père Nadim Tamer raconte qu’il y a 400 000 grecs-orthodoxes dans ce département, qui, tout en étant bien intégrés dans leur pays, ont sans cesse les yeux tournés vers le Liban. « Nous sommes heureux aujourd’hui. Nous avons le sentiment qu’une nouvelle page s’ouvre pour nos deux pays », dit-il avec enthousiasme.

Les « barazek »
de Nabil Nicolas
Michel Aoun se rend ensuite à l’église Notre-Dame de la Ceinture, où un bout de tissu de la ceinture de la Vierge Marie est conservé comme une relique sainte. Là aussi, curés et religieuses réservent un accueil ému au chef du CPL et assurent qu’il exprime leurs pensées et qu’ils le considèrent désormais comme leur porte-parole. « Lorsque les chrétiens du Liban sont en conflit avec la Syrie, nous nous sentons comme coupés de notre famille. Maintenant, nous ne nous sentons plus isolés et considérés comme de mauvais chrétiens par nos frères libanais. Vous ne pouvez pas imaginer quel changement important cela représente pour nous », déclare le père Eid.
Le mohafez donne ensuite un déjeuner de plus de 500 convives en l’honneur du général Aoun au restaurant Bayt el-Agha. Le député parvient à faire entendre sa voix, en dépit des défaillances du micro qui lui est donné. « Je viens annoncer, dit-il, que le nuage noir qui planait sur les relations entre nos deux pays s’est dissipé. Une nouvelle page s’ouvre et je viens chez vous au nom du Liban aimant et amical. Celui qui est plein de rancœur ne représente qu’une minorité qui finira par se repentir et par revenir sur le droit chemin. »
À Homs, tout le monde est convaincu qu’avec cette visite les relations libano-syriennes ont franchi un nouveau pas. Pour eux, la page est tournée, et ils estiment que Michel Aoun a jeté les bases d’une relation solide faite pour durer…
Alors que le député Nabil Nicolas s’étonne qu’après trois jours en Syrie, il n’a pas encore mangé de « barazek », la délégation reprend la route, en direction d’Alep, où elle doit passer deux jours consacrés à des rencontres et des visites religieuses et officielles. Dimanche, une grande messe en plein air est prévue, sur les lieux dédiés à saint Maron. On murmure que le président syrien et son épouse pourraient y assister…
Mais avant de quitter Homs, une question s’impose : pourquoi les habitants de ce département font-ils l’objet de tant de plaisanteries ? Ils répondent en souriant : « C’est une vieille histoire. Elle remonte à l’époque de Tamerlan. Celui-ci a envahi toutes les villes de la région et les a brûlées. Pour éviter que Homs subisse le même sort, les habitants ont décidé de se faire passer pour des idiots, totalement hors du coup, n’opposant aucune résistance et refusant de répondre aux provocations de l’envahisseur. Ils ont ainsi épargné leur ville… »
Les réputations ne seraient-elles donc pas toujours fondées “

December 7th, 2008, 5:39 am

 

Akbar Palace said:

Pro-Piece Syrian “President for Life”, Bashar Assad, meets with released child-killing “freedom fighter”, Samir Kuntar:

http://switch3.castup.net/cunet/gm.asp?ai=214&ar=1926wmv&ak=null

Shai,

Do you have any interesting comments about Assad’s meeting?

December 7th, 2008, 4:08 pm

 

Nafdik said:

The reason Syria is accused of the murder is not because of Mehlis, but because of common sense.

– They had the motives
– They had the means
– They have a history of committing such acts
– They engaged in cover-up after the fact

The natural reaction of the Syrian regime if they were not the culprits and other forces were trying to disrupt their fiefdom is to go on rampage and arrest or murder all their political enemies, while finding a large number of people who confess to the murder.

What happened instead is that they engaged in very convoluted means to prevent access to the murder scene, and destroy the evidence.

If your kid is cought sweeping the vase under the carpet it is not very convincing when he says the dog did it.

December 7th, 2008, 5:41 pm

 

ausamaa said:

Does anyone seriously beleive that anyone will ever find out and tell us who has killed Hariri? Are we still so naive as to belive in all those theatrics?

Friends, the first question in any investigation is WHO benefits most from any crime? And you tell me that you still have not yet figured out who has done it and why?

Anyway, please let me know when the TRUTH comes out!! If.. it ever does!

As if this one is a real riddle!

December 7th, 2008, 6:47 pm

 

majid said:

I cannot understand the logic of the last comment by so-called Aussama.
Very convoluted indeed!!!

December 7th, 2008, 7:18 pm

 

ausamaa said:

Majid, do not worry, I know it is a bit complicated for your likes.

With best regards from (so-called) Ausamaa!!

December 7th, 2008, 7:21 pm

 

Shai said:

Akbar Palace,

If you haven’t noticed yet, Syria has consistently offered Israel a dance on “both weddings” – peace, or non-peace. For over 5 years now, indirect talks have produced ideas and offers brought up by Syria that no previous Israeli PM could have dreamt of and, if the Israeli public was made well-aware of, it would be shocked. We of course get “hints” of the discussions here and there, but even the idea of the Peace Park rarely got any attention in Israel (which is a real shame, because it was initiated by our enemy, Syria).

The non-peace “wedding” (aka “resistance”) is what Syria offers Israel, when we do not seem to know what we want. Hence military alliances with Iran, continued arms transshipments to Hezbollah through Syria, political support of Hamas, etc. And, occasionally, high-level meetings with problematic figures, such as this Kuntar. Personally, I believe Assad is making a mistake when he meets with Kuntar, because he is not achieving any positive goal vis-a-vis Israel, other than to further reinforce suspicion and “proof” that Syria is not interested in peace. It is even more understandable when Assad meets with Khaled Mashaal, a political leader of Hamas, than with this Kuntar. The former is a leader of an important party to the conflict, and as such needs to be recognized at times. The latter is nothing more than a murderer. He leads nothing, and he is barely an iconic figure – the “resistance” has many other no-less-heroic figures to celebrate than Kuntar.

So to help you and AIG, who do tend to put words in my mouth (also about Kuntar), I do not understand why Assad has met him, and I see only a negative effect upon Israel and Israelis in so doing. I suppose the reasons were more for internal purposes (demonstration in Syria’s continued support of the resistance), but I think the minuses far outweigh the pluses in this case.

December 7th, 2008, 7:56 pm

 

Enlightened said:

We are back to solving one of the great mysteries again.

If there was direct evidence against the regime it would have been used to destabilize Syria. And this would have been done by Bush and Co.

The evidence it appears is circumstantial at best. My gut tells me that the four Lebanese Generals will be indicted. Whether they attempt to take anybody down with them- well, we will have to wait for the trial.

December 7th, 2008, 10:17 pm

 

majid said:

Zbignew Brzezinski believes military strike against Iran should be carried out only under the auspices of the UN with Russian participation alongside NATO.

You have a very very good gut Enlightened. However, I don’t have to wait for the trial to know who the four Generals will take down with them. If you can answer the following question, then it will not be difficult to guess. Have you ever seen a Lebanese with any loyalty to whomever? I guess when these Generals find out that they have been sacrificed they will take everyone down with them – typical Lebanese trait. I wouldn’t be surprised if Lahoud, Ghazali, Shawkat and even Bashar himself all get indicted. My gut tells me, come next summer Syria will have a new government.

December 8th, 2008, 2:11 am

 

why-discuss said:

Majid

This is not Clinton and Monica. Whatever happens, political figures don’t fall so easily because of a scandal in the Middle east. Please give me an example of the fall of a goverment because of a scandal in the ME. See what is happening to the egyptian tycoon, close friend of Mobarak who is been tried for having ordered the throat of his ex girl friend to be slit. Nothing will remove Mobarak.
You seem to have Cassandra’s gift to predict the fall of Troy but
please remember that another typical traits of the Lebanese is to prefer money to justice and revenge.

December 8th, 2008, 2:38 am

 

Enlightened said:

Majid:

My gut feeling tells me is a “very Australian colloqial term”.

I think your views of the Lebanese are very generalistic and simplistic, now if the shoe was on the other foot a very generalistic Lebanese view of Syrians would suggest that the average Syrian is “thick as two bricks” or that Syrians are culturally “backward” or “unsophisticated”.

But lets not play these games, they are childish, I for one can tell you, that I do not possess the trait of “loving money”. As for loyalty- The concept of loyalty is an important part of ethics. Plato originally said that only a man who is just can be loyal, and that loyalty is a condition of genuine philosophy.

So if you can “ethically” murder a man and stay “loyal” its part of a genuine “philosophy”.

Il leave you to work out what that “genuine philosophy” might be!

December 8th, 2008, 3:24 am

 

majid said:

I think you went over your head Enlightened especially with the “very colloquial Aussie expresion.” There is nothing especially Aussie about it. It is very common epression throughout English speaking world – you would even hear from an Indian peasant. So come of it and don’t try to play smart. Actually you blew it big time, particularly with the money loving part. That is true generalization of Lebanese characters. But, it won’t work in the case of the four Generals. They will not sell their freedoms for money. Besides how can you be certain they won’t strike a deal with the prosecutor in order to uncover the other player – in return for a lenient sentence of course. that’s worth more what money can offer to them. So I would suggest keep your primitive philosophizing to your Aussie comrades down under. Up here such nonesense doesn’t find currency.

Why-Discuss: at least you know where Troy is. Congratulations. On that we both agree.

December 8th, 2008, 3:56 am

 

Enlightened said:

Majid says;

“Besides how can you be certain they won’t strike a deal with the prosecutor in order to uncover the other player – in return for a lenient sentence of course. that’s worth more what money can offer to them. So I would suggest keep your primitive philosophizing to your Aussie comrades down under. Up here such nonesense doesn’t find currency.”

——————————————-

geese you are smarter than plato!

December 8th, 2008, 4:10 am

 

majid said:

You see, Enlightened (by your own candle I guess) Plato didn’t know about Aussie down under. So why blame the poor guy?

December 8th, 2008, 4:19 am

 

Enlightened said:

Majid:

You hit the nail on the head when you alluded to the “plea bargain”, that is exactly what will happen.

My guess is that one of the generals will “squeel”

I don’t think that the tribunal will simply go away as the Syrian government would like it to, use another ancient greek analogy its another “Sword of Demosthenes”.

But it is no use speculating! March 1st is the trial date.

Care to lay a bet as to might plea bargain first?

December 8th, 2008, 4:35 am

 

majid said:

If I knew you face to face I’d consider the offer. But I think it is not possible to enforce such bets among faceless characters corresponding through blogsphere – Too much anonymity. But what’s the use? We don’t seem to be saying things that are much different. I’d say, for sure, there will be lots of surprises. And as you admitted they woulsn’t be very pleasant to the current Syrian Government. So let’s leave it at that for now.

December 8th, 2008, 4:50 am

 

Joshua said:

Dear Nafdik,
You write:

“The reason Syria is accused of the murder is not because of Mehlis, but because of common sense.

– They had the motives
– They had the means
– They have a history of committing such acts
– They engaged in cover-up after the fact”

You should have written the Atlantic article. You make a more convincing argument. This seems to be the status of the case against Syria. Now all the lawyers need is hard evidence.

December 8th, 2008, 5:59 am

 

why-discuss said:

Majid

You are a very subtle psychologist in addition to your Cassandra’s talents… Less condescending tone won’t hurt you

December 8th, 2008, 6:03 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

There are two questions.

(1) Who killed al-Hariri?

(2) Whom will the tribunal accuse of killing al-Hariri?

My feeling is that the party that had the motive and capability to carry out the crime would have been more than capable of covering its tracks.

Then again, maybe they weren’t expecting an international investigation costing hundreds of millions of dollars sniffing at the outlines of those tracks.

December 8th, 2008, 6:07 am

 

offended said:

Vegemite, roos and Cronula riots are about the only uniquely aussie things I know of … 😀

December 8th, 2008, 7:03 am

 

Rumyal said:

Dear QN, Alex,

Both questions seem good candidates for a survey. Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets…

December 8th, 2008, 7:04 am

 

offended said:

Rumyal,

I remember a commentary by t_desco many months ago, when he said that the extensive analysis of the remnant of a molar, which is believed to be the suicide bomber’s, this analysis lead to a conclusion that the guy has lived the first 12 years of his life in an arid area. And while I marvel at the science which could lead to such precision, I wonder why it is an awfully difficult thing to figure out where is the most likely arid place that suicide bombers could come from?

December 8th, 2008, 7:20 am

 

ausamaa said:

an Arab poem that befits the Riddle of Harriri assasination:

أنام ملء عيني عن شواغلها
و يسهر القوم جراها و يختصموا

يا أحبتنا… اللي ضرب ضرب و اللي هرب هرب … و صار وقت نكبر عقولما بقى..

و اللي ما بيصدق يقرأ تقؤير بيلمار و يسأل الجنرال عون و ساركوزي

خلصنا بقى.. خلصنا من بلاوي افعال البطرك صفير و هلق بدنا ندخل في متاهات سعدو و الأولاد اللي متلون…بس بدكن عرس ترقصوا فيه؟؟؟

الحقيقة هي ما تراه على الأرض و ليس ما تأمل في العثور عليه

December 8th, 2008, 7:22 am

 

Rumyal said:

Offended,

I knew it was these Chilean trouble makers!

December 8th, 2008, 7:26 am

 

offended said:

Rumyal, word! those Chilean buggers will never learn!

Hariri’s assassination was most likely a political one. And the consequences of it were all political. Its investigation was politicized to the bone. So who has assassinated Harriri didn’t really matter anymore from then on, Syria, it seems, had to plea-bargain regardless if she was innocent or not. And yes, the case is almost closed, me thinks.

A new KFC has opened up in Aleppo. America has never attacked a country where there are fast-food chains. Barack Obama pledged to quit smoking. Sectarian killings in Nigeria continue to claim hundreds of lives every month, and hip-hop continues to be the flavor of choice for Dubai’s renowned DJs.

In other words, life goes on…..

December 8th, 2008, 7:52 am

 

Alex said:

Rumyal,

Do you have other suggestions? : )

Nafdik

– They had the motives
– They had the means
– They have a history of committing such acts

Fine … that makes them one of the suspects.

Who else operating in the Middle East can you think of who fits the above?

I can give you three of four other parties. But I’m bored with this topic.

As for your last point:”- They engaged in cover-up after the fact”

Wrong .. they refused to work with Mehlis who was an arrogant clown, not a respectable UN investigator.

Since then they cooperated with the investigation.

December 8th, 2008, 8:23 am

 

Shai said:

Offended,

“America has never attacked a country where there are fast-food chains.”

I guess that may explain the sudden opening of Taco Bells all over Isfahan… 🙂

As for the molar-findings in Lebanon, I hope the investigators don’t reach a conclusion that in his last-12-years, the suicide bomber used to blog frequently on a pro-Syria forum known to its commentators only as “SC”…

December 8th, 2008, 12:22 pm

 

Akbar Palace said:

If you haven’t noticed yet, Syria has consistently offered Israel a dance on “both weddings” – peace, or non-peace.

Shai,

What does that mean? I’ve asked a few participants here and now I will ask you: If you have a detailed view of what “peace” the Syrians have in mind, please let us know.

For over 5 years now, indirect talks have produced ideas and offers brought up by Syria that no previous Israeli PM could have dreamt of and, if the Israeli public was made well-aware of, it would be shocked.

What “ideas and offers” were “brought up by Syria that no previous PM could have dreamt of”? I’d like to know.

The non-peace “wedding” (aka “resistance”) is what Syria offers Israel, when we do not seem to know what we want.

Shai, you seem to speak for a lot of people. Mostly, I find that you speak for Israelis. Now you seem to be speaking for the Israeli government. Tell us, what exactly does Israel not know what they want. Please provide whatever details you have.

Personally, I believe Assad is making a mistake when he meets with Kuntar, because he is not achieving any positive goal vis-a-vis Israel, other than to further reinforce suspicion and “proof” that Syria is not interested in peace.

Now, I see you finally got to my question. Of course, I agree with you. And if I didn’t address this issue with you and the forum, you never would have commented on it.

Shai, when will you initiate criticism of Syria on you own? Do I have to initiate this sort of this all the time?

It is even more understandable when Assad meets with Khaled Mashaal, a political leader of Hamas, than with this Kuntar. The former is a leader of an important party to the conflict, and as such needs to be recognized at times. The latter is nothing more than a murderer. He leads nothing, and he is barely an iconic figure – the “resistance” has many other no-less-heroic figures to celebrate than Kuntar.

If “the latter is nothing more than a murderer”, why would the leader of a country who claims he wants peace meet with a murderer?

Shai, as far as I’m concerned, I would have immediately withdrawn all negotiators from any talks with the Syrian government even with third parties.

So to help you and AIG, who do tend to put words in my mouth (also about Kuntar), I do not understand why Assad has met him, and I see only a negative effect upon Israel and Israelis in so doing.

I have never put words in your mouth Shai. If anything, you often tend to speak for Israel when (IMHO) you have no right to do so. I ask you your opinions, and I quote from your own words to get YOUR clarification.

I suppose the reasons were more for internal purposes (demonstration in Syria’s continued support of the resistance), but I think the minuses far outweigh the pluses in this case.

I agree. When Syria decides that they are interested in “pluses” for peace, she should put some action behind their words that correspond accordingly. At this time, I am convinced Syria is playing the same game of the “pretty girl sitting on the fence”.

The comment I have is that the girl thinks she’s very beautiful. I don’t think the Israelis are very attracted to her. Maybe you are. But you’re just one Israeli.

December 8th, 2008, 12:39 pm

 

majid said:

AP,
I know you’re constantly vilified on these pages. However, I think you summed the recurring theme of the author of this blog and all his assistants very succinctly: the girl thinks she’s very beautiful.
I think you deserve a lot more credit than what you’re getting. I may even say without your comments this blog would be tasteless and very monotonous.

December 8th, 2008, 2:28 pm

 

Akbar Palace said:

Majid,

I humbly accept your words and I appreciate them. I also look forward to meeting with Shai toward the end of the winter even though our outlook on the Arab-Israeli conflict is very different from each other.

In light of your comment above, I will state again that I am not perfect and I am not a robot. In this emotionally-tinged conflict, I cannot prevent myself from exhibiting sarcasm or anger.

All I can do is add my views, from my vantage point so that others can learn from me. My hope is that if we learn from each other, perhaps someday we will all live in peace. But I am not naive enough to pretend this will happen tomorrow. The possibility of war is there, and, unfortunately, we have to prepare for the worse case if we are interested in surviving.

I hope one day to visit (what I am sure) the “beautiful girl” sitting on Israel’s north-east border. But, right now, she needs a “make-over”.;)

Regards,

AP

December 8th, 2008, 2:39 pm

 

why-discuss said:

Majid

…and the blogger thinks he is very smart

December 8th, 2008, 2:42 pm

 

Nafdik said:

Alex,

By the cover-up I meant the activities that happened in the 48 hours following the murder.

But I agree that this topic is now history and has been gone over many times in these pages.

“Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in. ”

Michael Corleone

December 8th, 2008, 3:15 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

I, like Alex, am bored of this subject.

To me, what is far more interesting is how Bashar al-Asad is maneuvering his way out of the snare.

Whether or not “Syria” was responsible, Bashar has succeeded in laying the rug that — if need be — will be pulled out from underneath the tribunal.

Joshua, I really don’t find the rumors of a “deal” to be conspiracy theory-mongering. Israel does not want to see Asad’s regime destabilized. Nor do, increasingly, the Americans or the French. Syria turned out not to be so low-hanging a fruit as Cheney thought.

Bashar’s brilliance has been to cooperate fully with the tribunal and bolster its credibility so that when the time comes for a backstage deal, he will be exonerated at the hands of a tribunal with a spotless reputation. This is why Syria’s allies in Lebanon stopped criticizing the UN investigation a long time ago.

December 8th, 2008, 4:13 pm

 

norman said:

Syria inches in from the cold

By Martin Asser
BBC News, Damascus

Throughout history, Syria has stood at a crossroads – of trade, of culture, of ideas. But 21st-century political disputes have left the country looking beleaguered and isolated .

In the early 2000s, the Bush administration branded Syria an “outpost of tyranny”, and it seemed a dwindling number of friends were prepared to do business with its authoritarian Baathist government.

That is all changing, however. Once again the road to Damascus is jammed with foreign dignitaries coming to hold court with President Bashar al-Assad.

Visitors like France’s head of state, German and British foreign ministers and top EU officials have all reinforced a message of European engagement with the Assad regime.

Troubled relations with Lebanon are settling down, indirect peace talks with Israel have been revived and there are prospects of a possible diplomatic thaw with Washington’s incoming Obama administration.

Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Miqdad told me with characteristic Syrian phlegm it was not Damascus that was coming in from the cold, rather those powers which shunned Syria who “were isolating themselves from developments in this region”.

But, of course, he welcomed developments: “If the international community and the forthcoming US administration are serious about solving the problems [in the Middle East]… the region is coming to a very good and promising stage in its development”.

Cultural diplomacy

With a cultural thaw happening even faster than the diplomatic one, dozens of treasures from London’s Victoria and Albert museum’s collection are currently on display in the cathedral-like Khan Asaad Basha caravanserai in Old Damascus.

This touring exhibition – the biggest ever to reach Syria – was opened recently with a great fanfare, attended by Syria’s First Lady Asma and a gaggle of luminaries some flown in from Britain.

The theme – highly appropriate in the circumstances – is the development of global international relations over the past 5,000 year as reflected in fine ceramics.

The event may by timed for this year’s Arab City of Culture celebrations in Damascus, but it would have been hard to imagine such a compliment being paid by Britain to Syria two-and-a-half years ago when Damascus and London took diametrically opposing positions during the war between the Hezbollah movement and Israel in Lebanon.

It would have been unthinkable in 2005, when Syria was being blamed for killing former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri and international pressure forced its troops unceremoniously out of Lebanon. Improbable too in 2003, when Britain and the US were leading the invasion of Iraq.

Organisers of the show insist it’s a cultural rather than a political breakthrough, but the symbolism is striking.

Caravanserais like Khan Asaad Basha were once medieval storehouses-cum-hotels where foreign traders from all over the world would stay to do business when Syria was famous for its luxury products.

But in modern times diplomatic isolation has left Syria’s economy in the doldrums: it desperately needs regional peace and stability to encourage foreign investment and develop more profitable commercial activities beyond the current exports of petroleum, agricultural goods and textiles.

Positive steps

Economist Samir Saifan highlights the contrast between his country’s current predicament and the economic and political rehabilitation of former-communist countries of Eastern Europe.

“Syria needs more support from the world. When you compare Syria with Bulgaria, Hungary, etc, they had a lot of support from Europe. Syria has been trying to reform its economy, but under pressure and that is a very big difference.”

The next step will be an association agreement with Europe, expected to be signed within two months, and Syria is hoping for bilateral moves with the US such as restoration of the American ambassador.
But there is a long way to go.

Damascus is still under pressure to sever its links with militant anti-Israeli movements like Hamas and Hezbollah, both of which are currently welcome guests.

Accusations about covert nuclear activity, human rights abuses and the assassination of anti-Syrian figures in Lebanon, though strongly denied by Syria, continue to tarnish outside relations.

But if the positive developments of the last few months have shown anything, it is that Syria is too important a regional player to be left out in the cold indefinitely.

That could mean glittering prizes ahead for the tenacious Assad regime, for example a negotiated return of the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel in 1967.

The biggest prize for Syria’s autocratic and unelected ruling elite, however, would be the kind of universal acceptance enjoyed by some of the Gulf sheikhs and certain military hard men in the region.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/middle_east/7770986.stm

Published: 2008/12/08 12:20:41 GMT

© BBC MMVIII

December 8th, 2008, 4:15 pm

 

why-discuss said:

QN

“..he will be exonerated at the hands of a tribunal with a spotless reputation”

Are the Lebanese 14 March ready to accept that after having vilified him as a criminal and a ‘monster’? What would they do?

December 8th, 2008, 4:38 pm

 

Shai said:

Akbar Palace,

You must have short memory, because I’ve already explained in depth in the past why I don’t spend my time on SC criticizing the Syrian leadership. I find this forum an exceptional opportunity to bridge gaps with our Arab friends (and “enemies”), to learn about their concerns and their way of thinking, from their angle (not ours), and to develop empathy towards them (I stress “empathy”, not necessarily “sympathy”, though with the case of the Palestinians, I can’t quite see how a normal human being could not.)

You and AIG would have never began negotiations with an enemy, before that enemy became de facto friend, so I’m not surprised you would “… have immediately withdrawn all negotiators from any talks with the Syrian government even with third parties.” You think enemies need to first prove themselves to you, beyond “just” saying they’re interested in peace. In fact you, being a true American that you are, believe in “samples first”. You want Syria to show Israel what peace is like first, for a certain period of time, and then, when Israel is satisfied that Syria is “serious”, then we’ll say “Ok, we’ll take the lot…” Well, unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Syria is our enemy, and Israel is Syria’s. Until we sign the piece of paper called “peace agreement”, fighting will continue, directly or indirectly.

It may shock you, but we are also fighting Syria and her interests as I write these words. To remind you, some mysterious bombing mission took place not long ago, which destroyed a supposedly-nuclear reactor in Eastern Syria. And some further-mysterious assassination took place a while back, on Syrian soil, in fact inside her capital, which took out an important operational commander in Hezbollah. We in Israel, are not demonstrating to Syria that we’re interested in peace any more than she is to us. In fact, one can quite easily argue the opposite. It is Syria that has called out on every channel possible, directly and indirectly, for Israel to make peace with her. And it is Israel, that has rejected her time and again over the past 8 years.

Some of the things you probably have chosen to forget about, are offers made by Syria during indirect talks held between Ibrahim Suleiman and Alon Liel for nearly 3 years. Some of them would indeed surprise any Israeli PM. They included, amongst many, the idea of a Peace Park on 1/3 of the Golan, on which Israelis could keep their businesses, come to work every day, and where no Syrians or Israelis would reside on a permanent basis. Another is Israel’s request for withdrawal to take place over a 5-15 year period, and the corresponding Syrian response, offering 15. The Syrian representative and Alon Liel met even twice during the 2006 war in Lebanon. On the 11th day, Alon was called urgently to Switzerland to meet with Suleiman. He was told that seeing how things are developing on the ground, and anticipating dangerous deterioration, Syria is offering to help out with Hezbollah, and would like to arrange an immediate meeting between deputy FM’s (Israel’s and Syria’s) in Vienna. Alon rushed back to Jerusalem, informed the FM, and was told to forget it. Israel at that time was very much influenced by Bush’s administration, and anti-Syria stance. Another important opportunity missed…

You see, Akbar Palace, this is the kind of stuff that our government doesn’t want to highlight, because it makes us look bad. In fact, it sort of makes us look like WE aren’t so interested in peace, doesn’t it? Attacking targets and assassinating people inside territory that isn’t yours is also not a good impression, if we’ve ever tried to make one. The bottom line is, we remain at war with Syria, and Syria remains at war with us, until we reach an agreement. I think meeting Kuntar is a mistake, not because it leads me to believe Syria is really NOT interested in peace, but because it doesn’t help convince many Israelis of the opposite. I, perhaps unlike you, don’t expect Syria to stop fighting us before we make peace. Those who do, I believe, are either naive or foolish. If they did, what reason would we have for giving back the Golan?

December 8th, 2008, 5:08 pm

 

AIG said:

“The biggest prize for Syria’s autocratic and unelected ruling elite, however, would be the kind of universal acceptance enjoyed by some of the Gulf sheikhs and certain military hard men in the region.”

And that is of course what needs to be denied to Syria because it will mean the end of any democratic reforms there.

December 8th, 2008, 5:41 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Why-Discuss,

March 14 (and many Lebanese) will complain about it and the Lebanese press will be full of calls for vengeance for a while. But it will pass. What can the Lebanese, at the end of the day, really do about it? It is amazing that March 14th got as far as it did, given: (a) the weakness of Lebanon in general; (b) the divisiveness of its political parties and sects.

If it becomes clearer that a deal is in the offing, I would expect certain parties in Lebanon to become more conciliatory towards Syria. After all, a peace deal would send Lebanon’s stock through the roof. Few stand to gain as much from a stable Levant as the Lebanese.

December 8th, 2008, 6:45 pm

 

Enlightened said:

Offended:

You forgot the prawns on the Barbie!

Majid:

Fair enough:

QN:

I think part of the M14 mantra has been to galvanize some of the anti Syrian elements in Lebanon, and ride the issue of the assassination. I differ a little in that I believe Fear will eventually force them to accept a deal in the future, whether its fear of the oppositions guns or fear of a Syrian return.

December 8th, 2008, 10:35 pm

 

Akbar Palace said:

You and AIG would have never began negotiations with an enemy, before that enemy became de facto friend…

Shai,

I would expect the enemy to make parallel concessions if they were truly interested in peace. Oslo showed me that many in Israel think Israel can make peace by doing all the work. That was proved false. That is why fewer are asking the government to repeat the same mistakes you are advocating.

Some of the things you probably have chosen to forget about, are offers made by Syria during indirect talks held between Ibrahim Suleiman and Alon Liel for nearly 3 years.

Please forward me a link and I’ll be happy to comment on it. at this point, your words are heresay.

We in Israel, are not demonstrating to Syria that we’re interested in peace any more than she is to us.

I beg to differ:

“We want to make peace… we are willing to make peace with Syria unconditionally and without demands. I have a lot of respect for the Syrian leader and the Syrian policy,” Olmert said in a meeting with Russian reporters at his Jerusalem residence.

http://www.ynet.co.il/english/articles/0,7340,L-3450452,00.html

In an address Wednesday evening, Olmert said the announcement “represents the end of a phase in a process of over a year, during which we were trying to set up a track which would allow the holding of peace talks with Syria.” He noted that previous Israeli leaders were prepared to make “painful concessions” for peace with Syria.

http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2008-05-21-israel-syria_N.htm

JERUSALEM – The outgoing prime minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, has said his country will have to withdraw from “almost all” the land it captured in the 1967 war and divide Jerusalem in order to agree long-awaited peace deals with the Palestinians and Syria.His comments, which were unusually far-reaching for an Israeli leader, came in an interview with an Israeli newspaper ahead of the Jewish new year and days after his resignation. He remains in his post in a caretaker capacity and is thought unlikely to be able to follow through with any of the proposals he has made.In the long interview with two senior political columnists at the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Olmert talked about peace with the Palestinians and the Syrians and continued to maintain his innocence over a series of high-profile corruption investigations that in the end pushed him to step down.

http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2008/09/29-7

Please post any links that you have Shai showing that Syria wants peace “more than” the GOI.

December 9th, 2008, 2:46 am

 

Alex said:

But Akbar,

In Israel these days, Prime minister Olmert is treated as a mix of a traitor to his country (for his willingness to give up lands) and a future prisoner (if sentenced).

I am very happy every time I read his statements recently. But when I go back to Mr. Netanyahu’s statements (yor probable future prime minister) and to the opinion polls showing 70% of Israelis are against peace with Syria based on land for peace … then, what can I conclude?

Look at our poll this week on Syria Comment … about 70% are for peace with Israel even before Israel settles with the Palestinians .. and almost every one is for comprehensive Peace with Israel.

Can I expect an equally encouraging result on Jerusalem Post online?

December 9th, 2008, 4:45 am

 

Shai said:

Akbar Palace,

I’m rather surprised at you, as someone who frequents this forum and seems to be somewhat interested in Syrian-Israeli developments, for claiming my words are mere heresay. You should know these facts, keep updated, even on things you may not like to hear. But to make it really easy for you, since you like links so much, here’s a direct link to a podcast (just for you), where Alon Liel lays out before the Middle East Institute in Washington some of what has taken place between Syria and Israel during those 3 years that he negotiated with Ibrahim Suleiman. It’s 83 minutes long, so if you have the time to spare, if it’s important enough for you, listen to it from beginning to end. Try to keep an open mind while you listen. Leave the cynicism to the end. And then maybe, just maybe, you’ll gain an understanding you didn’t have before.

I of course hope you don’t come back asking Alon Liel to post “links” to his lecture at the MEI. He was, after all, an Israeli diplomat for over 30 years, ambassador in two countries (South Africa and Turkey), Director General of the Foreign Ministry, and official representative of the State of Israel to indirect talks with Syria for nearly 3 years. His meetings with Suleiman took place nearly every month, and after each one, he (Alon) reported directly to the FM and PM (Ariel Sharon). Abe Suleiman and the Swiss representative both traveled to Damascus to update the Syrian leadership each time.

Enjoy the podcast.

December 9th, 2008, 5:18 am

 
 

Shai said:

I always find it funny how the same people who, in the past year, called out for Olmert to cease from his peace initiatives because he no longer represents the majority in Israel, are now using Olmert’s action to demonstrate how Israel IS serious about peace, as opposed to Syria. 🙂

It’s like claiming that if the majority of Israelis think a certain way (70% against return of the Golan), then they’re right, and we (the 30%) are wrong. But when the same majority vote for a PM that believed in Oslo, then they’re wrong? So when do we follow the majority? When by chance they support our own stance? Is following a majority something we should in general aspire to doing? When do we know if the majority are right, and when they’re wrong? Is it possible we are also part of the problem? Even in Oslo, where clearly the PA abused all the power (especially financial) it received, surely even the harshest of critics can’t dismiss all Palestinian claims against Israel. We also had something to do with the failure.

We cannot go by what the majority thinks. At the risk of sounding elitist and patronizing (though not my intention), it is fair to say that most people do not usually think too much about matters to do with politics. They do not research, they do not inquire deeply into issues of great significance and importance to their future. They do not take the time to hear other opinions, also ones not voiced in their own backyard. And yet, this same majority elects the leaders that carry out policy (or no policy) that will effect the lives of millions in the present and in the future. This is of course true about most nations, not only Israel. Each time, we hope that uneducated guesses will be right. And, of course, very often they’re not.

What is truly shocking in Israel, is how we are able to forgive, and recycle, failed politicians. This is true about Barak, and about Netanyahu. Most have forgotten how both have failed so miserably a mere decade ago. Yet we’re almost “enthusiastic” to see them back in power…

December 9th, 2008, 7:14 am

 

Akbar Palace said:

It’s 83 minutes long, so if you have the time to spare, if it’s important enough for you, listen to it from beginning to end. Try to keep an open mind while you listen.

Shai,

You’re asking a lot from me;)

I always find it funny how the same people who, in the past year, called out for Olmert to cease from his peace initiatives because he no longer represents the majority in Israel, are now using Olmert’s action to demonstrate how Israel IS serious about peace, as opposed to Syria.

Shai,

What is so strange? I disagreed with Barack Obama’s policies, but I certainly can make the arguement that with a black man in the Oval Office, perhaps the US isn’t as racist as some people think.

So in the same sense, I am making a similar arguement about Israel: Israel IS preparing the way for peace (though I don’t agree very much with Olmert’s approach) much more than Syria is.

December 10th, 2008, 8:03 pm

 

Shai said:

Akbar,

Read the paragraph you quote carefully. Those who call Olmert to cease his peace initiatives immediately, are claiming he must do so because he does NOT enjoy the support of the majority of Israelis. In that, they are actually correct. But the same people who accuse Olmert of “selling something that isn’t his to sell” (peace), are now using his initiatives as proof that Israel (not only Olmert) IS actually interested in peace, whereas our neighbors aren’t.

In reality, of course, we elect a PM to also do things during his term in office that are NOT very popular, including taking major decisions that effect our present and future.

December 10th, 2008, 8:45 pm

 
 

Shai said:

Israeli politicians are taking off the gloves… The election campaign battle has started. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1045449.html

December 10th, 2008, 9:52 pm

 

Alex said:

Shai

First, about the limitations of our SC poll(s)

– They are not scientific
– Syrians and non-Syrians vote
– Most Syrians voting are expats.

Nevertheless, I think the 70/30 breakdown on the question of waiting for the Palestinians is not far from representing the way Syrians in general feel about this question.

I do not know how the leadership in Damascus is going to handle this challenge, but I will give you my opinion.

1) After Arafat, and the moderate Arab leaders, asked Syria to let them negotiate with Israel alone without any Syrian interference, and after they signed Oslo even after Hafez Assad clearly expressed his opinion that Oslo is a mistake, Syria does not have a moral obligation to wait for … Fatah.

2) Hamas, and a large number of the Palestinian people who support Hamas, on the other hand, supported Syria … coordinated with Syria, and even submitted to Syrian wishes on a few occasions.

Syria can not let them down. Not completely… not the way Anwar Sadat abandoned the Palestinian cause.

3) If Syria signs a peace treaty with Israel which is limited to the relatively easy Syria and Lebanon settlement (and not including a settlement with the Palestinians), Syria will obviously not disappoint the Israeli people by supporting or tolerating any military or guerrilla action against Israeli civilians. Syria will be more forceful in rejecting statements like those from Iranian President Ahmadinejad and some Hamas leaders in Gaza. And most likely Mashaal would be privately asked to move to Qatar or some other decent place.

Hizbollah will move its attention to Lebanon. If Israel does not attack Lebanon, Hizbollah will not do a thing to Israel. It will also start a process of turning into a political party, a process that will take a few years probably.

4) The rest falls in a gray area … Syria never supported Hamas with weapons or money. Those are supplied through private donations from rich Arabs in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia and transferred through Egypt. Syria’s support to Hamas is strong and effective but it is political in nature.

After a peace treaty with Israel, I expect Syria will take it case by case. If Israel is genuinely trying to reach a meaningful and fair settlement with the Palestinians, then Syria’s reaction will be harsh if Hamas sponsored some suicide bombing mission in Israel. But if Israeli settlers continue doing what they do, Syria will be very critical and very supportive of the Palestinians .. more supportive than today’s Egypt and Saudi Arabia for example.

5) Before jumping to conclusions, I think we need to first wait for the Obama administration to see if there will be a genuine effort to reach a comprehensive settlement. The Hamas/Fatah divide is not impossible to bridge if Egypt works WITH Syria, For Egypt to work with Syria a signal needs to come from Washington.

I am moderately hopeful that this is possible. It is definitely worth a serious try before we conclude that there is no Palestinian partner for Israel to negotiate with.

And I am reasonably convinced that Hamas will be much more reasonable than the Hamas of today. Syria was able to moderate Hamas already. If Israel and the United States show their honest will to settle the conflict, after some semi-difficult process, Hamas will not disappoint.

Those who are old enough to remember the Lebanese civil war, know that Syria did not hesitate to fight old allies (including Palestinian factions) when they persist in acting against efforts to reach a settlement that is fair for everybody.

6) Even if Syria decided to settle alone (plus Lebanon) … Israel will need to make things considerably better for the Palestinian people under occupation. The Syrians will not be able to negotiate while Israel closes Gaza every other month or while pictures of Israeli soldiers mistreating old Palestinian women are on Aljazeera.

7) The Syrians are absolutely convinced that everyone, Israel included, should be satisfied that they did the right thing by signing those peace treaties.

Syria will respect the spirit as well as the legal implications of the agreements it will sign.

Israel will have to do the same though… Israel (nation and leadership) will need to be convinced that the only solution that works is that where no group of people in the area is sacrificed to the benefit of other groups.

December 10th, 2008, 10:05 pm

 

Shai said:

Alex,

I didn’t see the dotted line. Where do I sign? 🙂

Great response!

December 10th, 2008, 10:11 pm

 

Alex said:

Shai,

Our friend Zenobia used to make fun of my engineer’s user-manual writing style. She observed that if I don’t use lists, I can’t write.

Besides, I had two #4 items … thanks for not mentioning it : )

I fixed it now.

December 11th, 2008, 12:00 am

 

why-discuss said:

Alex

Why do you think Syria would get involved or wait for a Lebanon-Israel peace? Lebanon is too divided to reach an agreement with Israel soon. The main problem for Lebanon is not the small pieces of land but the huge problem of the palestinians refugees camps. Contrary to the Palestinians in Syria who could get a financial compensation and become syrians the same way armeniens became syrians, in Lebanon there will be a violent opposition to any attempt to keep the palestinians in Lebanon. Why would Bashar jeopardize Syria-Israel already advanced plans for a country that continues to vilify him?
I personaly believe Bashar either must ask a very high price to include Lebanon in the negotiations at the risk of hampering his own plan or just go on his own and let the lebanese “democratic” government find their own solution.
What do you think?

December 11th, 2008, 1:29 am

 

Alex said:

Why-Discuss

The question of Lebanon’s Palestinian refugees is a serious one. I agree.

But the fact both General Aoun and his Syrian hosts talked about being in agreement over rejecting a settlement that will force Lebanon to absorb its Palestinian refugees, tells me that there is way to deal with this challenge that they all discussed and accepted.

“Lebanon” is a question mark for now. The particular sequence of event in the coming 6 months will be worth paying attention to.

Case 1:

By next March, President Obama met already with President Assad … they announced they ae starting a new page in relations between the two countries … Obama (after President Sarkozy) makes it clear he is depending on Syria to provide the necessary additional weight to tip the scale in favor of a solution to the various problems in the region, Egypt joins American Syrian efforts at the expense of its relations with Saudi Arabia in cse the kingdom is still adamant not to talk to Syria and not to allow anyone of its allies to talk to Syria.

If something along those lines did take place, the Lebanese opposition (Syria’s allies) will win the next elections.

Case 2:

The Obama administration is either not convinced of the value of working with Syria, or is still busy saving GM and Ford, … in the mean time, the Hariri tribunal is launched in March 2009 and teh Saudis and their allies in Likud, Lebanon, and Washington work hard to create a lot of noise about Syria’s role in the assassination ..

And who knows .. maybe if they are lucky, some M14 politician might be assassinated and Syria would be accused automatically …

M14 might have a good chance to win again the Lebanese elections.

“Lebanon” will be defined to some extent by who leads after summer 2009. If Syria’s allies win, Syria will not sign a separate peace treaty without Lebanon … i can not see how this would be possible, even if Syria wanted to.

If M14 wins, then they will not work with Syria … and I can’t see how they can “deliver” Hizbollah’s cooperation either in case they wanted to negotiate separately with Israel.

December 11th, 2008, 1:57 am

 

Shai said:

Alex,

Engineers do great things… Btw, where is Zenobia? Haven’t seen her here in a long time… I think you should consider having one of those super-annoying emails that start coming daily, after a month away from SC. And the unsubscribe box will be marked, for Arab members in Hebrew, and for non-Arab members in Arabic… 🙂

December 11th, 2008, 4:30 am

 

Ali said:

Alex,

Obama will still be trying to save the American economy in March 2009 and probably well into 2010, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t multi-task!

The 4 generals will probably take down someone like Rustom Ghazaleh with them and if we (Lebanese who do not agree with what Syria did from 1990 until 2005) are luck Asif Shawkat or Maher, but I do not believe that they will be able to get to Bashar. They need him to keep the Islamists out of the picture and the Israeli border with Syria peaceful.

I love how you have added Saudi and Likud together as allies! If anything, it is the syrians who are negociating and the Qataris who are hosting! I am also facinated by how Syrian stooges in Lebanon and some appologists on this site always end up classifying the “other side” as traitors. People disagree, it’s a fact of life, but that does not mean that they are traitors to their country. Traitors are armed resistence groups who turn their weapons on their own people to impose their will by force.

No need to go on… We’ll just have to agree to disagree.

Peace.

December 14th, 2008, 11:52 am

 

Alex said:

Dear Ali,

I am not a fan of Syrian. or other, stooges in Lebanon. But if you really followed me comments you will realize that I am not calling “the other side” traitors … I support talking to Israelis … but for the right reasons …. reaching a comprehensive peaceful settlement.

I have advocated inviting Israeli journalists to Syria and communicating with the Israeli people directly through them.

But forgive me is I think that what Prince Bandar was cooking in Washington (then in Riyadh) with the neocons is … evil (to borrow the favorite label of “the other side”).

Neocons that prince Bandar (and other Saudis) were in bed with are pure Likud … and worse. And their strategies the past few years caused nothing but misery and destruction … it seems that almost everything they did was .. evil.

The only significant and “good” byproduct of their otherwise “evil” plans was Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon.

As for the Hariri investigation … There will be nothing close to Asef and Maher … that was purely and solely based on the testimony of the two false witnesses .. Siddiq and Husam Husam.

It has nothing to do with keeping Bashar to fight the fanatics and to keep the Golan peaceful…. there is simply no evidence whatsoever pointing in that direction.

December 14th, 2008, 7:09 pm

 

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