Posted by Joshua on Sunday, June 28th, 2009
Western analysts ( See the three articles excerpted below) argue that the troubles in Iran will cause the weakening of the Islamic Republic and lead to Syria’s loss of trust in Iran. They further argue that this will create an opportunity for the US to “flip” Syria, which means getting it to cut support for Hamas and Hizbullah and sign peace with Israel.
This argument makes little sense to me. Let me offer two reasons why I fail to be convinced. 1) How will Iran be weakened by cracking down on liberals, reformers, and factional opponents? Is this something the Iranian government has not done many times before? Did Iranians believe that Iran was a liberal republic before the elections, such that everything has now changed, as some Western analysts seem to believe? Will the Iranian government now forswear the development of nuclear power, abandon its support for Syria, or collapse into political chaos? I doubt it.
2. Will Syria decide to sacrifice claims to the Golan in order to sign a peace agreement with an Israel that refuses to trade land for peace? That is the implication of all these analysts. What will the US or Israel offer Syria that it was not offering prior to Iran’s disputed elections to make Syria abandon its foreign policy priorities of retrieving its occupied land, not abandoning Lebanon to America’s and Israel’s sphere of influence, and supporting Palestinians in their struggle to retain ownership of their land.
Many Americans and Israelis share a belief that they can solve the Arab-Israeli conflict by breaking the Arabs. The analysts recorded in the following articles seem to be swayed by this conviction. They may turn out to be correct, but it will take many more decades of struggle before we will know. In the mean time, I doubt that the events in Iran will bring a sea change in regional attitudes toward Israel or the balance in power.
p.s. In reference to the last excellent article copied below by Yigal Schleifer which reports on the growing tensions in Turkey over the revelations that elements of the Turkish military have been hatching a plot to discredit or even topple the government of the AKP. This article underlines that rule that greater democracy in Middle Eastern countries brings greater opposition to Israel and its unjust treatment of Palestinians. Western analysts somehow seem to believe that greater democracy in the Middle East will bring greater acceptance of Israel’s expansion beyond its 1967 borders. This logic doesn’t make sense to me.
In Iran Turmoil, U.S. Sees Chance to Gain Sway in Mideast
By JAY SOLOMON and PETER SPIEGEL in Wall Street Journal
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration and its Middle East allies are looking to capitalize on Iran’s political crisis to reverse strategic gains Tehran has made across the region, said U.S. and Arab officials.
A principal early test case for that evolving U.S. strategy will be Syria, which plays a critical role in helping Tehran arm and fund militant groups Hamas in the Palestinian territories and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
U.S. strategists are assessing whether Iran’s inner turmoil will force its clerical leaders to rein in support for those organizations and focus instead on quelling domestic dissent.
Or, as some U.S. strategists fear, whether Iran’s leaders, feeling weakened at home, will seek to expand Iran’s overseas operations in order to appear strong.
President Barack Obama has long stated his desire to woo Syrian President Bashar Assad away from his military and economic alliance with Iran. That could help stabilize Lebanon and advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, two leading sources of conflict in the region.
The White House decision this week to return an American ambassador to Damascus after a four-year hiatus was made, in part, by heightened hopes in Washington that Iran’s internal instability could force Mr. Assad to rethink his partnership with Tehran, said U.S. officials.
U.S. diplomats and Pentagon officials have visited Damascus in recent months, in an effort to nudge Syria to break with Tehran and cooperate in promoting regional stability.
“If Syria feels the Iranian situation is unraveling, that’s a good thing from our perspective,” said a senior Obama administration official working on the Middle East. He said the U.S. has been pushing Damascus to curtail Hamas’s military activities and to pursue direct peace talks with Israel…..
Iran and the Syrian Gambit
Howard Schweber, Associate Professor of Political Science and Law at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
June 26, 2009
…..Our bigger long-term concern is with Iran’s role in Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. This week two things were announced. First, the U.S. is sending an ambassador to Damascus. Second, Jimmy Carter — working with Egypt and Syria — may have worked out terms for the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier whose capture by Hamas was one of the triggering events of Israel’s invasion of Gaza. HaAretz reports that Shalit’s release will take place within a few days as part of a prisoner exchange, and that the initial proposal was floated by Carter during a visit to Damascus and Gaza last year.
These stories may very well be connected, and they point to the almost incredible possibility that the U.S. may finally be ready to have a serious foreign policy in the Middle East. For what it’s worth, I have been saying for many years that relations with Syria are the key. Here’s just one reason: if Syria can be brought on board with a peace effort, Iran no longer has direct supply lines into Lebanon. Meanwhile, Syria has itself been supporting Hamas in Gaza (hence its role in negotiating the release of Shalit) as well as meddling in Lebanon. But while Syria has been notoriously difficult to deal with in the past, there is no reason in principle why progress cannot be made. Assad is an opportunist, not a mad ideologue, and certainly not a religious fanatic. (The single stupidest neocon phrase — against some pretty tough competition! — has to be “the Shiite Crescent,” an arc of states comprising Iran, Syria and Lebanon that are supposed to represent the religiously defined threat to American interests. Since Syria is less than 5% Shiite and is ruled by an Alawite minority, it was never terribly clear what this was supposed to mean.)
What Syria wants is simple: they want the Golan Heights back. Which is where the U.S. comes in. There have been repeated points at which Israel and Syria came close to substantive negotiations on the issue of the Golan, only to see those efforts fail. But there has never been a sustained and substantive American presence in the dialogue. If Assad can be persuaded that Syria has more to gain by engagement with the West than by an alliance with Iran, that immediately improves the situation in Lebanon, improves the security of Israel’s northern border, and improves the situation in Western Iraq. Syria’s participation in arranging the release of Shalit — even if that ultimately doesn’t happen — is a powerful and positive sign that Assad is open to the possibility.
Then there is the third U.S. interest and a tantalizing possibility: that Iran might resume its cooperation with U.S. operations in Afghanistan. As this piece from Stratfor nicely explains, Iran’s 500-plus mile border with Afghanistan, strong ethnic connections to Afghan Pashtuns, and available ports make it an ideal partner. In other words, at the very same time that the U.S. has a strong interest in limiting Iran’s reach to the West beyond Iraq, we may have another strong interest in encouraging Iranian engagement to the East. The Sunni attacks against Shiites in Iraq are part of the larger conflict between Sunni radicals — think Taliban — and Shiite Iran.
So the Obama administration has had to play a very careful hand: do nothing to repeat the stupidity that helped launch Ahmadinejad to the presidency; develop the opening that Jimmy Carter has helped develop and initiate an engagement with Syria in the hope of isolating Iran to the West; and at the same time look ahead to the role that the version of the Iranian regime that emerges out of a compromise in the Assembly of Experts might play in Afghanistan. This week, Obama and his State Department have done all three brilliantly.
….Obama’s hand may actually have been strengthened and Iran’s weakened by some overlooked recent events. Among the factors they cite: the outcome of recent elections in Lebanon, in which a pro-western coalition won a majority over a coalition that includes the Iranian-backed Shiite militant group Hezbollah, the eagerness of Iran’s leading regional ally Syria to engage with Washington, Arab states’ generally positive response to the Obama administration’s strong push to negotiate Middle East peace and the creation of a Palestinian state. Beyond the Middle East, Obama’s aggressive non-proliferation initiatives and “reset” with Moscow could also end up increasing pressure on Iran, they said.
“From 2003 to 2009, Iran was on a roll,” one senior administration official said Friday. “Expanding its sphere of influence, benefiting from a changed balance of power in the region, and generally optimistic about its world. Many said it was not possible to engage because Iran was so strong and thus disincented to do so. ….
“The chessboard is moving demonstrably in the U.S. direction.” That is the takeaway, said Congressional Research Service Middle East analyst Kenneth Katzman, from recent assessments by administration officials. “What I heard them saying is, ‘Let’s take advantage of that now, while we have the chessboard, and try to get a nuclear deal and get that resolved, rather than the whole ball of wax.'”
Added Katzman, of the perceived trend: “The strategic picture in the Middle East has moved to the U.S. advantage. The Lebanon elections, reengagement with Syria, stability (?) in Iraq, have added up to a shifting chessboard against Iran.”But he added, while there is some optimism that regional and global trends are working to the U.S.’s advantage on Iran, there is also diminished expectation that near-term engagement is likely to occur. At the earliest, it’s not expected — if at all — until the fall. …
And indeed, not everyone is feeling optimistic. “My understanding is the president has had a much larger vision,” said one Washington Iran analyst on condition of anonymity. “He wanted a strategic dialogue with the Iranians, he gave them a pathway into the western camp that benefits the west, the people of Iran, and the larger picture: peace and stability in the Middle East…..
Byman did think Iran would be feeling uncomfortable about some regional trends, including renewed Washington engagement with Syria, as well as the U.S. drawdown in Iraq. “The Syria thing is real in terms of pressure on Iran. Iran has only one strategic ally in the Middle East: Syria. The U.S. drawdown from Iraq is real. It reduces the vulnerability of America.” …..”
Roger Cohen in the NYTimes: “We need President Obama to put engagement [with Iran] — still the right medium-term objective — on hold in the name [of Iranian women].”
TEHRAN, June 26 — An influential Iranian cleric on Friday urged “ruthless” punishment, possibly including execution, for leaders of protests against a disputed presidential election, while President Obama intensified his criticism of a crackdown on the Iranian opposition and rejected President…(By Thomas Erdbrink and William Branigin, The Washington Post)
BBC, Saad Hariri has become the country’s new prime-minister.
BBC Cen Asia: Paper Mulls Syrian Leader’s Failure to Visit
2009-06-27 08:18:59.933 GMT
Text of report by Armenian newspaper Haykakan Zhamanak on 18 June headlined “Unprecedented”
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s visit stood out because of an unprecedented fact. His agenda did not include a visit to Tsitsernakaberd (Genocide Memorial) although it is one of the required protocol points for official visits.
Yesterday morning the Armenian president’s office announced the Syrian president’s agenda, giving details on his meetings and places of visit, but Tsisternakaberd was not among them.
Let us remind you that a visit to the Genocide Memorial is required during visit by all high level officials (beyond the level of foreign
minister) arriving in the Republic of Armenia. Actually, Al-Assad is the only visiting head of state for whom the protocol procedures have been breached.
Let us mention that a similar incident happened in 2007 during the visit of Iranian President Ahmadinezhad, although a visit to the Genocide Memorial was on his agenda. Since he left Armenia one day earlier, he did not manage to visit the memorial.
‘Coup Document’ Raises Tensions in Turkey
Yigal Schleifer | 24 Jun 2009
World Politics Review
ISTANBUL — Allegations that elements of the Turkish military may have been hatching a plot to discredit or even topple the government of the liberal Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) are threatening to raise military-civilian tensions in Turkey and further widen the country’s deep political divide. At the same time, the allegations are also raising questions about how the plot against the AKP fits into an ongoing investigation into another coup attempt, known as Ergenekon.
This latest Turkish political crisis was sparked when Taraf — a hard-hitting liberal daily that has been severely critical of the military in the past — published a document on June 12 entitled, “Plan to Combat Islamic Fundamentalism.” The four-page document, allegedly signed by a colonel in the military’s psychological warfare unit, outlined ways in which the AKP government could be weakened. Among them, the document suggested “mobilizing” moles within the party and stoking anti-Armenian and anti-Greek sentiments in order to strengthen the nationalist opposition.
The plan also called for discrediting the pro-government Gulen movement, Turkey’s largest and most powerful Islamic brotherhood, by planting weapons and ammunition in its members’ homes and even linking it to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Police found the document while searching the office of a lawyer who is representing a retired colonel linked to the Ergenekon case.
The Turkish military, which has initiated an investigation into the document’s authenticity, quickly distanced itself from it. When asked during an interview in the influential Hurriyet newspaper if an order to prepare such a plan could be issued by the military command, Turkish top general Ilker Basbug replied: “I even consider this question an insult. Such an order was never given.”
In a statement issued on June 15, the military said that it wouldn’t tolerate personnel “whose behavior and thoughts were incompatible with the principles of democracy and a state of law.”
Although AKP officials have taken steps towards legal action against the military regarding the document, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared to take a more reconciliatory approach after a meeting with Basbug to talk about the allegations.
“Efforts to stir up mistrust between institutions will harm . . . Turkey as a whole,” Erdogan said. “The military High Command has shown responsibility and sensitivity from the moment this story broke.”
Still, even if both sides are trying to make nice, troubling questions remain. If the document exposed by Taraf is genuine, did it originate in the upper echelons of the military — which has not hesitated to intervene in Turkish politics in the past? Or was it the product of disgruntled officers unhappy with the increasing amount of civilian control the government is exercising over the armed forces? Either way, the document could be an indication of a military that is having a hard time kicking some of its old habits: Basbug’s predecessor also had to deal with restive underlings who hatched coup plots in 2003 and 2004.
The possibility of the leaked document being a forgery has not been discounted, at least not among members of the secularist press and Turkey’s political opposition. Some observers have suggested that what’s really being played out here is not a confrontation between the military and the AKP, but rather one between the generals and the influential Gulen movement. Media outlets affiliated with the movement have been among the quickest to accuse the military of being up to no good in this current crisis.
“Let’s push aside whether the document is real and get into the deep,” Ismet Berkan, editor of Radikal, a liberal daily owned by the pro-secularist Dogan Group, recently wrote in a column. “Everything we witness is in fact a psychological war. The Turkish Armed Forces, or TSK, is on one side, and the Gulen movement on the other.”
Ultimately, regardless of who actually wrote the contested document, the affair is another reminder of how deeply polarized Turkish politics and society are right now. Opponents and supporters of the AKP are unable to find common ground on most issues, with each side quick to accuse the other of wrongdoing. As an example, several pro-government papers recently reported that investigators were almost completely certain that the document in question is genuine. Some pro-secularist papers, meanwhile, reported that investigators were almost completely certain the same document is a fake. Ultimately, this kind of split does not bode well for Turkey’s political stability.
“Look at the situation through the eyes of ordinary people now. We are living in a country of psychological wars and excessive information pollution, and we do not know whom to believe,” Radikal’s Berkan wrote in his column. “Poor us!”
Assad sent tub of hummus to Olmert
By JPOST.COM STAFF, Jun 25, 2009
In a peaceful gesture two years ago, Syrian President Bashar Assad sent a tub of hummus to then-prime minister Ehud Olmert, Channel 2 reported Thursday.
According to the report, Assad was meeting a visiting US businessman in Syria and asked what Olmert liked to eat.
The businessman said hummus particularly tickled the then-prime minster’s taste buds, and so the Syrian president sent the tub, which eventually reached Olmert via Jordan.