Posted by Joshua on Saturday, June 19th, 2010
The Wall Street Journal was perplexed that the US. Deploys Tech Firms to Win Syrian Allies. They write that “the State Department has dispatched a high-level diplomatic and trade mission to Syria, according to senior U.S. officials, marking the latest bid by the Obama administration to woo President Bashar al-Assad away from his strategic alliance with Iran…”
The anti-Syrian and pro-Israeli hawks at Commentary magazine were appaplectic on reading this news. Here is Jennifer Rubin: It’s Not the State Department Duo, It’s the President, – 06.17.2010, Commentary
The State Department staffers whooping it up in Syria, a reader e-mails me, “have done something unpardonable: taken the actual policy (kissing up to the Syrian regime) and dramatized its true meaning instead of camouflaging it.” Another e-mail: “This is beyond disgraceful. These two ought to be fired, along with their bosses, and their bosses’ bosses.” … Really, how different is this from what John Kerry does? As Lee Smith noted, it is ”an open secret around town that the Massachusetts senator and his wife, Teresa, are enamored of Bashar al-Assad and his stylish first lady, Asma.” ….
Here is Rubin again only two days earlier: Commentary: Engagement of Syria Knows No Limits - 2010-06-15
Although Obama’s efforts to engage the Syrian thugocracy have only succeeded in pushing Bashar al-Assad closer to Iran and placing Scuds in Hezbollah’s hands, the president is not deterred. Not even the Republicans’ effort to block the …
Syrians have a very different view of this than Israelis or pro-Israelis. They do not think it is about Iran or misguided love. They think it is about al-Qaida and intelligence sharing.
A friend who is an Internet Security Specialist writes: “What Cisco, Dell, and Microsoft are going to sell to Syria are firewalls, high-capacity routers and switches, VoIP blockers, network sniffers, and ISP proxy servers to keep Internet traffic under strict control and surveillance. This gesture is all about intelligence sharing and government control, wallahi ya3ni.”
Another friend writes: “I know for a fact that the companies named in this article are doing a great business in libya now … Syria will be next…”
Jillian York of the Guardian writes: US gives Iran more net freedom – but what about Syria? 16 June 2010
Relaxing export controls on US technology is good news for some netizens, but many restrictions remain
……Iranian web users recently received some good news: following the media frenzy over last year’s elections, the US has chosen to relax export controls related to technology, giving users access to previously unavailable communications tools. The changes will affect not only Iran, but Sudan and Cuba as well, countries where free internet use has long been stifled by US restrictions…. Secretary of state Hillary Clinton, in her celebrated January speech on internet freedom, stated that American companies need to take a principled stand against censorship, and that it should be part of the country’s “national brand”….
Although there are no OFAC restrictions placed on Syria, the US department of commerce’s 2004 Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act prohibits the export of most goods containing more than 10% US-manufactured component parts to the country. The act also includes a provision on items deemed imports, including technology or source code controlled on the Commerce Control List, though licences are available for software providers through the bureau of industry and security.
Syrian netizens have long been aware of the effects of export controls on their lives. They are prevented from downloading popular software such as Java and Adobe Acrobat, and browsers such as Google’s Chrome. Microsoft products are available, but in pirated form, or smuggled in illegally. What is surprising to many, however, is when a new ban suddenly emerges; each year, a number of software providers seemingly crack down on Syrian users, often blocking access to entire websites for fear of non-compliance with the act.
For example, in early 2009, Syrian visitors to the professional networking site LinkedIn were surprised to be met with a blockpage. Though the full-on block was quickly removed, to this day users are barred from accessing the site’s proprietary software. Similarly, in January 2010, open-source code repository SourceForge began blocking the IP addresses of users in Iran, Sudan, Cuba, North Korea and Syria, much to the dismay of open-source enthusiasts. Though in the end, SourceForge removed the blanket block – placing responsibility on project managers to choose their level of restriction – the fact remains that a large swath of open-source projects are still off limits to users from restricted countries.
But in Syria, just as in Iran, the internet serves as an important communications and organising tool for dissidents and average users alike. And when you consider the fact that the Syrian government filters the internet internally as well (blocking sites such as Facebook and Blogspot, among many others), you realise that users are left with very little wiggle room.
On War and whether the Israeli flotilla killings are bringing us closer to war – there are a number of views:
Rami Khouri in the Daily Star believes that the two sides are stumbling towards war
“….. I can confidently announce that we are all in much greater trouble than appears to be the case on the surface. A catastrophe awaits us all, if immoderation prevails in these three lands, where American, Arab and Iranian politicians seem to be driven by a potentially devastating combination of righteousness, resentment, resistance and revenge. The political certitude, national self-confidence and self-proclaimed moral rectitude evident in the United States, Iran and Syria alike are stunning. The increasingly wasteful confrontation they provoke could result in immeasurably destructive and probably futile warfare, waged either by the principals themselves or their proxies and strategic allies, such as Hizbullah, Hamas and Israel.
Iran and Syria are important players in the Middle East because they anchor that large and powerful array of forces known to its adherents as the “resistance front.” They see themselves as repelling the military occupation, cultural penetration and predatory political domination of the United States and Israel, primarily.
The people, governments and organizations in this grouping probably enjoy the support of around half the 500 million or so people who make up the Arab-Iranian-Turkish Middle East. The “resistance front” is to be taken seriously because it represents a combination of phenomena that have never converged before in the Middle East: political and military forces that transcend the Arab-Iranian divide, unite Arab nationalists with secular Baathists and organized Islamists, join sovereign governments with grassroots organizations, and enjoy technical military and resistance capabilities that continue to develop. They feel increasingly vindicated by the events of the past decade, are prepared to stand their ground, and feel able – indeed, sometimes even seem eager – to withstand the threats, sanctions and attacks that they have either already experienced, or anticipate in the near future.
The United States, for its part, sees Iran, Syria and their allies as hopeless extremists and ideological miscreants who support terrorism, mistreat their own citizens, and abuse or threaten their neighbors (for example Lebanon and Iraq, among others). The US sees its battle against Iran and Syria as aiming to promote democracy and human rights, protect righteous and victimized Israel, defeat tyranny, and whittle down the havens and helpers of terror.
The rule of law, American politicians believe, is the core of their mission that also reflects the future of human civilization, while Iran, Syria and friends represent lawlessness and darkness from the past. There is little desire in the American ruling political elite to see beyond the surface evils that are virtually the only things that appear to Americans, who connect so seldom, and superficially, with Syrians or Iranians, let alone the men and women of Hizbullah and Hamas. The passions that drive both sides in this confrontational dynamic are impressive, if wastefully so. …
“Al-Assad and the increasing chances of war” (thanks to mideastwire.com)
Al-Quds al-Arabi, June 18, lead editorial:…
The region is currently witnessing the birth of a new tripartite alliance including the strongest states in it: Turkey, Iran and Syria. Moreover, this alliance has a military extension through the arms of resistance represented by the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad, thus securing a state of strategic deterrence and practically ending Israeli military superiority which has terrorized Arab surroundings for at least the last thirty years.
In this context, the unprecedented confidence seen in the Syrian rhetoric embodies the new regional balance of power which is no longer in favor of Israel. True, the latter does have a sophisticated arsenal and an air-force which is still the most dangerous in comparison with its counterparts in Syria, Iran and Turkey. However, we must take into consideration the new military facts, the most important of which is the inability of the air-force to settle the battle in its favor as happened in previous Israeli wars and especially in the June 1967 and October 1973 wars. Syria is no longer isolated the way it was three years ago, and has managed to substitute its Arab depth which conspired against it, directly collaborated with American plans and indirectly collaborated with the Israeli ones, with the Iranian and Turkish depths which are more supportive of the critical Arab causes.
“Indeed, the region is changing but not in favor of Israel and the United States, and we must recognize that the most important elements which prompted this change are the Turkish factor firstly, the Iranian factor secondly and the Syrian intelligence which allowed the country to act in a pragmatic and practical way by securing rapprochement between the two latter factors… and providing national Arab legitimacy for this new strategic trio.” – Al-Quds al-Arabi, United Kingdom
Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek reminds us how “fancyfull” conservative thinking is about the power shifts going on in the Middle East. In the cover essay of the New Republic, McCain urges America to topple the Tehran regime by “unleashing its full moral power” on the illigitimate Iranian regime. He believes that if Obama had supported the Greens more vigorously, america would have won the day and democracy would break out all over. This is the same neocon fantasy that led us into Iraq and still has us “nation building” in Afghanistan. Interestingly, neocons are taking a similar line to Turkey now that it has turned against Israel.
Elliott Abrams in the WeeklyStandard argues that Turks may tire of Erdoghan and his Islamist regime, rid themselves of him, and return to supporting Israel and America! (Thanks to FLC)
First, it’s obvious that our formerly reliable NATO ally Turkey has become a staunch supporter of the radical camp. … sought to strengthen the terrorist group Hamas—a group that is anathema not just to the United States and Israel, but to the governments of Jordan and Egypt. The recent photo of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Bashar Assad in Damascus is an emblem of this change, and Turkey’s work to undermine U.N. sanctions against Iran shows its substance….
….Second, the Arabs are once again becoming objects, not actors, in history. The anchors of the Arab consensus have long been Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and both are now weakened forces in Arab politics and diplomacy. In part this is a story of old age: While for decades Mubarak was the key Arab leader, and the Saudis for 35 years counted on their foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, both men are now in a steady decline. Few observers expect Mubarak to live more than another year or two, and he may not make it to Egypt’s 2011 presidential elections. Saud suffers from Parkinson’s and has repeatedly asked to leave his post. States act in politics through the medium of men: at best, men who have prestige, persuasive powers, and whom it is thought dangerous to cross. Twenty years ago Saud and Mubarak were both such men,….
…… anyone who has worked with Arab diplomats knows that they almost instinctively ask “Where are the Saudis on this?” and “Where are the Egyptians?” whenever asked to support an American position. But today Qatar, with 225,000 citizens, has at least as much influence in Arab councils as Egypt with 80 million or Saudi Arabia with 30 million, and Qatar’s 51-year-old foreign minister has clout that would simply have been impossible 10 or 20 years ago. Erdogan and the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, further demonstrate how much damage clever, unprincipled, energetic actors can wreak when unopposed by more responsible officials of equal force.
So the Arab core grows hollow and less and less able to defend its interests against supporters of Islamism. Worse yet for the Arabs, peripheral powers are coming once again to dominate their region….
Third, while it is no secret that the United States is increasingly viewed as a spent force and an unreliable ally in this region, it is not so much the events of the past 17 months that impress Middle Easterners as it is that the Obama administration remains oblivious to the impact of its policies. Everyone there sees clearly that Obama desires to be out of Iraq more than he desires to stabilize that country. ….
The Gaza flotilla incident might have been a great setback to the radical camp had the United States reacted sharply, defending Israel, condemning the jihadists on board and their sponsors in Turkey, blocking U.N. Security Council action, and refusing to sponsor another international inquiry that will condemn Israel. And Israel’s interests were not the only ones at stake: The blockade of Gaza is a joint Israeli-Egyptian action to weaken Hamas. …
Still, whatever the trends and whatever the American errors, nothing is inevitable except the passing of certain key actors. Turks may tire of Erdogan’s speeches and return a government that seeks a true balance between East and West rather than a headlong dive into alliances with Iran and Syria. Iran’s nuclear program may be stopped by an Israeli action, or some day by the collapse of that increasingly despised regime. Israelis and Palestinians may find a way……..”
Tortured Canadian that US deported to Syria will not get justice
Cory Doctorow, Jun 14, 2010
A Canadian who was deported to Syria by the US government for a hellish, 10.5 month torture ordeal will not get justice in the USA.
Maher Arar is a Syrian-born Canadian and father who was arrested while passing through the US on his way home to Canada. The Canadian government provided US authorities with bad intelligence suggesting Arar had ties to Al Qaeda. Arar was deported to Syria where he was held in a 3′x6′x7′ cell for 10 and a half months, during which time he was brutally tortured.
The Canadian government investigated Arar’s case, concluded that he was not a terrorist, had no ties to terrorists, and had been unjustly detained and tortured, and paid him $10.5 million.
Arar has tried to clear his name in the US — he is still considered a terrorist there, as is his family — but no court has heard his case, because the US government (including the Obama administration) claims that allowing the case to be heard would compromise national security. The Supreme Court has now refused to hear Arar’s case. …
Architectural Record on the Aga Khan’s restoration work in the Old City, with a nice slideshow care of their photographer:
by Freddy Deknatel
Syrian wheat harvest weak, needs imports-govt media
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Tue Jun 15, 2010
* Persistent drought to blame for falling output
* Expects less wheat from small farmers this year
* Imports forecast at 1.2 mln tonnes for 2010 (Adds reaction, figures)
DAMASCUS, June 15 (Reuters) – The Syrian government will be forced to import wheat for the third year running after another weaker-than-expected harvest due to persistent drought, state media said on Tuesday.
Al-Baath government daily said the state, which has a wheat marketing monopoly and subsidises the crop heavily, expects to receive 2.4 million tonnes of wheat from small farmers this year, down from 2.8 million in 2009.
While the figures do not represent the whole of Syria’s output – a proportion is smuggled or kept by producers – the drop is the strongest indication yet that this year’s harvest was weak.
The agriculture minister had expected output to reach 4 million tonnes in 2010, enough to meet annual domestic consumption of 3.6 million to 4 million. But other experts doubted that production would reach that level due to a combination of drought and plant disease….. The water table had already been depleted by thousands of illegal wells sunk to irrigate subsidised wheat… The drought conditions resulted in the displacement of up to one million people from Eastern Syria
Syria Nears Signing of Partnership Agreement With European Union
Damascus (dpa) — Syrian government officials said on Wednesday that Syria could be signing a partnership agreement with the European Union by the end of this year. The agreement, allowing Syria access to EU financial assistance in exchange for continued reform, was initially meant to be signed in October 2009. Syria postponed the final step over objections to certain clauses. Some amendments have been made to the agreement, official sources told the German Press Agency dpa. The agreement “will be particularly welcomed by the private sector but also by Syrians in general, as they look forward to more open markets,” the sources added.
Fidaa Horani was released from jail after “completing her full prison sentence,” the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said. Four opposition activists, including Horani, have been freed since Sunday. 12 activists who signed the Damascus Declaration calling for democratic change were sentenced to 30 months in prison in October 2008 for “damaging the state.” “The other leaders of the Damascus Declaration are expected to be released in the coming days,” SOHR said.
Italian boycott of Israel
Coteret by Didi Remez
Meanwhile, the boycott against Israel has expanded further and has begun to affect countries that are considered to be its friends. Italian government officials capitulated to Arab pressure and decided not to invite Israel to the conference of Mediterranean countries that is to be held in Milan in July, despite the fact that Israel is a member country of the forum. This decision has deeply angered the Israelis, who are pressuring the Italians to reverse the decision.
Israel’s banishment from the conference, which is to be attended by representatives of 26 countries, including Arab countries, was sponsored by Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Stefania Gabriella Anastasia Craxi. The Arabs said that they would make their participation contingent upon a refusal to invite Israel, and Craxi succumbed to the pressure. When Israeli officials tried to ask her to explain, she became evasive. Political officials said that this was a particularly odd decision, given the fact that Italy was one of the prime fighters against boycotting Israel.
Syrian political prisoner re-arrested on release
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
DAMASCUS, June 17 (Reuters) – A Syrian military court has charged a prominent political prisoner with weakening national morale after he was due to be freed after serving a 2-1/2 year sentence for the same offence, his lawyer said.Ali al-Abdallah, a writer, was released from Adra prison on the northern edge of the Syrian capital on Wednesday. He was returned to Adra on Thursday after a court charged him with writing an article three months ago criticising Syria’s ties with Iran, Khalil Maatouk told Reuters. ”I was waiting for him, but he was taken back to prison,” Maatouk said.“Everything is possible,” Maatouk said when asked if Abdallah could be sentenced to another lengthy term. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an independent organisation, said Abdallah’s arrest was “arbitrary”. Abdallah was among 12 people arrested during 2007 and jailed after they tried to revive the Damascus Declaration, a rights movement named after a document signed in 2005 by opposition figures. They were charged with weakening national morale, an accusation used regularly by the government against its opponents.Syrian lawyer Mohannad al-Hassani was arrested last year and charged with weakening national morale after campaigning all his professional life against the charge, which he called “medieval”. Hassani is due to be sentenced on June 23. The Damascus Declaration demanded that bans on freedom of speech and assembly be lifted, and emergency law abolished. This has governed Syria since 1963 when the ruling Baath Party took power, banning any opposition. Five of Abdullah’s fellow prisoners were released this month after completing their 2-1/2 year sentences, including Fida al-Horani, a physician and daughter of the late Akram al-Horani, a crucial figure behind the rise of the Baath.The government has intensified a campaign of arrests of political opponents over the last two years. Despite this, it has enjoyed international rehabilitation after years in isolation due to disputes with the West over Syria’s role in Lebanon and Iraq, and its support for militant groups. The best-known opposition figure remaining in jail is former parliamentarian Riad Seif, who has cancer. Western leaders have appealed to the Syrian government to release him, but it has become clear that Seif will not be released before his 2-1/2 year sentence ends in July. Seif was also in jail from 2001 to 2006.