Posted by Joshua on Monday, March 17th, 2008
I recently received this question from an Israeli-based journalist:
There's been quite a lot of chastisement of Syria recently (Merkel, as you note on your site, and others), along with Olmert's statements (twice in two weeks) about wanting talks with Syria. And quite a lot of diplomacy going on with the Rice and Cheney visits. Do you think this mix of threat and blandishment might signal a new effort to engage with Syria?
I responded as follows:
No, I do not. I believe there is a full court press to ratchet up the pressure on Syria, as you say. The whiff of Golan is tantalizing but I do not think that Syria takes it as a genuine offer. Probably, a sound bet.
I cannot figure out what the US is offering Syria in exchange for pressuring Syria's allies in Lebanon to give up their demand for a blocking third in cabinet. I don't believe Washington is offering anything. The only hint we have is a whiff of Israeli peace talks. Syria does not trust this sort of blandishment. During the 1990s, the US waved a peace deal with Israel and the return of the Golan in front of Syria's nose in exchange for good Syrian behavior in Palestine and Lebanon, which Syria, by and large, delivered.
In the end, it came to naught at the famous Geneva meeting of Clinton and Assad. Clinton blamed Barak for getting "cold feet" in his memoir. Of course, Syria could have accepted less than all the Golan, as Ross makes clear.
Syria is insisting on an open and public commitment from Israel. It does not want back channels that can later be denied. It is not getting this. Israel continues to demand an unequivocal "flip" from Syria before any negotiations begin. This suggests lack of seriousness.
The West and Saudi are also trying to use the success of the Arab League Summit as a stick against Syria, but Syria's Foreign Minister has made it clear that Syria will not trade its strategic interests in Lebanon for a summit, i.e. it will not sacrifice its relations with Hizbullah for good press from Saudi Arabia.
Syria is being asked to sacrifice its strategic relations with Hizbullah for what? This is what I cannot figure out. Your question to me begs an answer to this. You assume Syria is being offered a carrot to turn against Hizbullah.
I am not sure there is a carrot. Washington's plan is not to offer carrots, but to ratchet up the economic, diplomatic, and political pain on Syria. Syria has demonstrated over the last five years that its pain threshold is very high. Assad has made good on his statement that Syria is not a charity that gives without getting.
In short, I do not see a deal in the offing. There are no concrete signs of a deal. The language and diplomacy between Washington and Damascus has only become more strained and accusatory over the last months, with added layers of sanctions. Relations between Washington and Syria have never been more strained.
Israeli based journalist replied:
Thanks for that. The carrot would have to be a deal on the Golan, and the reason I asked the question was Israel's renewed statements about wanting talks. An optimistic mind could see the Israeli overtures and the international pressure as part of the same process. But it's just as likely that they're unrelated and this is, as usual, Israeli smoke and mirrors. Olmert may be feeling the Palestinian track slipping away from him and wanting, as is the usual manner here, to frighten the Palestinians by making them think Israel will abandon them for talks with Syria. Or he may be wanting to make the Israeli public think that he has a plan for when the Palestinian track goes down the drain.
Anyway, it's all Kremlinology. Thanks again.
Israel made the same statements about peace before the peace conference in Virginia a few months ago. It was a small opening pushed by State to lure the Syrians in, but it evaporated soon after because the US tried to follow up with Syrian concessions in Lebanon without satisfaction for Syria or its allies.
The problem, I believe, is that president Bush and the NSC are convinced that Syria is a bad actor and should not be bought. They remain convinced that the best policy is one of pressure. The State Dept has been almost entirely cut out of Syria-Lebanon policy. Hadley and Abrams are running it. It is the last red meat for the "freedom agenda" crowd in the Republican Party. It keeps them close and loyal.
Olmert can play back up to Washington threatening war or peace in order to broaden the front, but the general policy is clear. If there were a real desire to come to terms with Syria, Olmert could make this clear.
My understanding from various Israeli Defense department people i have talked to is that they see Syria as being too weak and to unwilling to make a big flip to give back the Golan.
As you can see, I do not hold out hope of any movement during the next 10 months.
The Lebanon issue has become very personal for the Syrian leadership — as it has for the Saudis and for the NSC.
My sense is that it can continue this way because, in the end, the stakes are very small for America. Lebanon is not of great importance. Neither is Syria. A small group in Washington can busy themselves with this trench warfare and turn it into a intense and personal battle, but ultimately, the American public doesn't understand the issues and doesn't really how they end up.
For Olmert, the US-Syrian contretemps are convenient because, as you explain, he can blame the lack of progress on Washington. He can also play Syria off against the Palestinians.
No one has enough cards to force a change in regional policy. My hunch is that almost everyone knows this in Washington but, as in Iraq, they are now concerned with getting to the finish line with an attitude of righteousness. They will turn over a loosing hand to the next administration and pursue the blame game, when it switches course at great expense.
EU's Solana urges pressure on Syria over Lebanon
Sun Mar 16, 2008
By Paul Taylor
BRUSSELS, March 16 (Reuters) – The European Union's foreign policy chief called on Sunday for greater pressure on Syria to allow the election of a president in Lebanon, warning of a "dramatic" crisis unless that happens this month.
In unusually blunt criticism, Javier Solana said Damascus was using proxies in Lebanon to prevent the election of armed forces chief Michel Suleiman, while the pro-Western majority in parliament was whittled away as lawmakers were killed.
The best chance to solve the issue was before a planned Arab summit in Damascus on March 29-30, because key leaders would not attend unless a new Lebanese head of state was present, he said.
"The pressure on Syria has to grow in order to solve the situation in Lebanon. I think the opportunity is there, before this summit which will take place in Damascus," Solana told the Brussels Forum on transatlantic relations.
"To tell you the truth, I'm not pretty sure that will be done. If that is not, then we get into a very serious crisis. This crisis is very dramatic," he said.
Olmert: Israel wants talks with Syria (17-03-2008)
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, addressing a joint German – Israeli cabinet session, on Monday said that Israel is interested in talking with Syria, talks which he said will lead Damascus to break with the “Axis of Evil.”
The session marked the first time cabinets from Germany and Israel have met for joint consultations, and the first time the German government held a joint cabinet session with a country outside Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Olmert chaired this historic joint session.
According to Olmert, Israel has no interest in confrontation on its northern border with Lebanon. As for the Gaza Strip, Olmert said, according to Haaretz, “The government must do everything in order to defend its citizens, and it will do so.” “At the same time,” added Olmert, “it will act to advance the peace process. Negotiations are not a default option for us, we are conducting them because we believe that there is a chance to reach an agreement.”
© 2008 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
Iran will be at Syria summit but Lebanon may not
Sunday, 16 March, 2008
Beirut – Syria has invited its regional ally Iran to the Arab summit in Damascus and Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki will represent Iran, Tehran officially announced today
"The Iranian Foreign Ministry is please to confirm that Iran was invited by Syria will be represented at the summit by Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki" said Mouhammad Ali Husseini, spokesman of the ministry
Reports circulated last week that the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will represent Iran as a guest of honor and will be seated next to Syrian president Bashar al Assad. It is not clear why Iran has decided to send a lower level representative.
U.S. Republican Presidential Hopeful John McCain has accused Syria and Iran of paralyzing Premier Fouad Saniora's government and lauded all Lebanese who reject the terrorism of Damascus and Tehran. "Those who are systematically killing Lebanese patriots and denying the Lebanese people their democracy must be brought to justice. I commend Lebanese of all religions and sects who reject Syrian and Iranian terror and tyranny and embrace the great principles of the Cedar Revolution," McCain said in a statement on the occasion of the third anniversary of the Cedar Revolution.
… A month-long investigation by The Independent, culling four Arabic-language newspapers, official Iraqi statistics, two Beirut news agencies and Western reports, shows that an incredible 1,121 Muslim suicide bombers have blown themselves up in Iraq. This is a very conservative figure. … This is perhaps the most frightening and ghoulish legacy of George Bush's invasion of Iraq five years ago. Suicide bombers in Iraq have killed at least 13,000 men, women and children – our most conservative estimate gives a total figure of 13,132 – and wounded a minimum of 16,112 people.
Only about 10 of the suicide bombers have been identified. One of them, who attacked an Iraqi police unit in June 2005, turned out to be a former police commando called Abu Mohamed al-Dulaimi, but the Americans and the Iraqi authorities appear to have little intelligence on the provenance of these killers. On at least 27 occasions, Iraqi officials have claimed to know the identity of the killers – saying that they had recovered passports and identity papers that proved their "foreign" origin – but they have never produced these documents for public inspection. There is even doubt that the two suicide bombers who blew themselves up in a bird market earlier this year were in fact mentally retarded young women, as the government was to allege.
Indeed, nothing could better illustrate the lack of knowledge of the authorities than the two contradictory statements made by the Americans and their Iraqi protégés in March of last year. Just as David Satterfield, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's adviser on Iraq, was claiming that "90 per cent" of suicide bombers were crossing the border from Syria, Iraq's Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, was announcing that "most" of the suiciders came from Saudi Arabia – which shares a long, common border with Iraq. Saudis would hardly waste their time travelling to Damascus to cross a border that their own country shared with Iraq. Many in Baghdad, including some government ministers, believe that the nationality of the bombers is much closer to home – that they are, in fact, Iraqis….
The trajectory of the suicide bombers shows a clear preference for military targets throughout the insurgency, with attacks on Americans gradually decreasing from 2006 and individual attacks on Iraqi police patrols and police recruits increasing over the past two years, especially in the 100 miles north of Baghdad.
Jojo Yakob, who has asked us not to reveal his identity, is fearful of the authorities in his native Syria.
By Kurt BayerHIS only crime was to be gay. For that he was half-drowned, brutally beaten and then fell into a coma. He survived, escaped from jail, fled his country and eventually arrived, exhausted and bedraggled, here in Scotland. And now the Government wants to send him back.
Syrian Jojo Jako Yakob last night pleaded with the Home Office to reverse a deportation order and spare him the certain death he believes he will face if he returns to his country. "I wish to claim asylum and I wish to stay here in Scotland," he said.
Gay rights activists demanded that homosexuals, such as Yakob, who were facing clear persecution in their homeland, should be granted asylum. But a spokesman for the Syrian Embassy responded by describing homosexuality as a "disease", which the country sought to "treat".
The 19-year-old is now to embark on a landmark legal challenge in order to reverse the deportation order so he can spend the rest of his life in Scotland.
Yakob fled his homeland two years ago after managing to survive a harrowing ordeal at the hands of Syrian police and prison guards, when he was arrested for distributing anti-government leaflets.
Following his transfer from police interrogation, prison guards soon discovered that Yakob, a member of the repressed Kurdish minority in the Arab state, was homosexual. He then suffered horrific beatings and was assaulted so badly that he fell into a coma. After being transferred to hospital, he managed to flee to Lebanon making for London, holed up in a lorry.
He applied for asylum and was granted extended leave by the Home Office, but was then arrested in Aberdeen last April after being found in possession of a fake Belgian passport. He was handed a 12-month sentence and sent to Polmont Young Offenders Unit in Falkirk.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has warned that the unchecked increase of population is wiping out the returns of the country's economic growth. Mubarak was meeting with cabinet ministers Monday to discuss how to solve the ongoing bread crisis affecting millions of the nation's poor. Presidential spokesman Suleiman Awwad says Mubarak believes more needs to be done to drop the nation's birthrate. Egypt's Health Minister reports that the country's population of 76 million has increased by more than 300% since 1952 when it was only 22 million. (END) Dow Jones Newswires 03-17-08 1105ET
By GINA CHON, Wall Street Journal,
March 17, 2008; Page A1
….Return to Baghdad
After hearing rumors that security had improved back home, Mr. Jihad returned to Baghdad last December, moving in with family in a Shiite part of town. But he still didn't feel safe and says he felt like he was a prisoner, unable to go out at night or return to college. After two weeks, Mr. Jihad decided to return to Syria with his family. Working at a construction site, he earns just enough to cover his family's living expenses in Damascus.
Still, "the blessing of security in Syria is enough for me," Mr. Jihad says…..
An estimated four million Iraqis — over 14% of the country's population — have been displaced inside Iraq or to neighboring countries, largely due to the chaotic aftermath of the American-led invasion that began on March 19, 2003. (Complete coverage)