Wikileaks: “Syrian-Iranian Relations return to normal”; Jordan, Turkey, and US Seek Improved Iran Relations; Hariri Tribunal Delayed;
Posted by Joshua on Saturday, December 18th, 2010
Hariri Tribunal to be postponed until next month in a move linked to a new US approach toward Iran. [Daily Star] Also read Ian Black’s: Rafiq Hariri tribunal: why many in Beirut have lost their thirst for justice and the Hariri Tribunal.
Erdogan becomes first Turkish PM to join Karbala mournings - He reaches out to Turkey’s Alevis … and to Shiis in neighboring states: Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian. Smart.
WikiLeaks: Syria told Iran it would stay out of war with Israel
08 Dec 2010
In one of the most startling Wikileaks disclosures of recent weeks, a document released on Wednesday reveals that Syria refused Iranian entreaties to fight alongside Iran against Israel if it were to strike Tehran’s renegade nuclear program. The statements in the document, dated December 20, 2009, were probably made by a Syrian diplomatic source who spoke with American Embassy officials in Damascus. The Assad regime told the Iranians not to expect Syria, Hizbullah or Hamas to take part in this war. According to the source, Syrian officials replied by saying that Iran was strong enough to develop its own nuclear program and fight against Israel.
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 DAMASCUS 000880
NSC FOR SHAPIRO/MCDERMOTT
SUBJECT: SYRIAN-IRANIAN SHOW OF SOLIDARITY MASKS TENSIONS
OVER IRAQ, YEMEN, AND WAR WITH ISRAEL
Classified By: CDA Chuck Hunter
¶2. (C) On the surface, the early-December visits of three Iranian officials — National Security Advisor Saeed Jalili on December 3, Vice President and head of the Environmental Department Mahammed-Javad Mahamadzideh on December 5-6, and Minister of Defense Ahmad Ali Vahidi on December 8-11 — represented a concerted reaffirmation by both countries of their strong security ties and their commitment to expanded relations. Set against a backdrop of rising international pressure on Iran over its nuclear program and an exchange of threats between Israel and Iran …
¶3. (S/NF) The public showcasing of these three visits contrasted with the secrecy with which Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander/al-Quds Force Ghassem Soleimani conducted his. Reportedly accompanying Jalili, Soleimani returned to Damascus after a long absence, perhaps a reflection of lingering tensions between Iran and Syria that erupted after the February 2008 assassination of Hizballah military strategist Imad Mugniyah in the Syrian capital. XXXXXXXXXXXX spoke very reluctantly about Soleimani’s presence in Damascus, saying only that “he was here,” and “when he visits, it’s usually significant.” XXXXXXXXXXXX reported seeing Jalili and Soleimani at a XXXXXXXXXXXX meeting with Syrian officials that included FM Muallim, as well as unspecified members of Hizballah. “Soleimani represents the DAMASCUS business end of the resistance,” commented XXXXXXXXXXXX, also reluctant to discuss the sensitive issue of Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah military cooperation. Taken collectively, the Iranian visits over eight days were meant to dispel doubts that Syria would or could abandon its ties to Iran ……
¶5. (S/NF) Whatever Syrian rationale there may be for showcasing military ties to Iran, many Syrian observers are emphasizing the shifting balance of power in their bilateral relationship. According to XXXXXXXXXXXX Iran, not Syria, sought the visits as a sign of Syrian reassurance. “Be assured,” commented XXXXXXXXXXXX “they needed these visits far more than we did.” Summing up a view heard repeatedly around Damascus, “things in our relations with Iran are starting to return to normal” after a long period of Syrian dependence, XXXXXXXXXXXX asserted. He added, “U.S. isolation and the invasion of Iraq made it necessary to adopt such extreme measures. But now, things are moving back to equilibrium.” The Syrian government, said XXXXXXXXXXXX, perceived a note of panic in the Iranian requests and some were saying Syria’s renewed relations with Saudi Arabia, its deepening ties to Turkey, and even Washington’s desire to re-engage Syria had made Iran “jealous.”
¶7. (S/NF) While the Syrian government responded positively to Iranian requests for public statements of support on the nuclear issue and against Israel, it remained silent after the Iranian Minister of Defense’s arrival statement denounced Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States. By the time Vahidi arrived on December 8, press contacts noted, the Syrian government’s attitude had shifted to “let’s get this over with,” according to XXXXXXXXXXXX. Indeed, at the same time Vahidi was parading his 20-car motorcade around Damascus, several other visits were occurring, including one by the Turkish military commandant and President Sarkozy’s Middle East advisors, Nicolas Gallet and Jean-David Levitte…..
¶8. (S/NF) Going beyond atmospherics XXXXXXXXXXXX reported several disagreements between Jalili’s delegation and their Syrian counterparts. On Iraq, Jalili reportedly proposed a “joining of Syrian and Iranian efforts” to influence the upcoming Iraqi elections. “They (the Iranians) basically asked us to focus on co-opting Shia politicians and to drop our support for the Sunnis and former Baathists,” arguing that the center of gravity in Iraq lies with the Shia. On this issue XXXXXXXXXXXX reported, Syrian officials expressed great reluctance and continued to insist on the reintegration of former Iraqi Baathists into the political system…
¶9. (S/NF) On Yemen, Vahidi’s public remarks rebuking Saudi Arabia for interfering in its neighbor’s affairs drew sharp criticism from Syrian officials during the Iranian Defense Minister’s meetings XXXXXXXXXXXX Vahidi was clearly trying to drive a wedge between Damascus and Riyadh, but “it didn’t work,” he said. Asad stopped short of publicly contradicting the Iranian official during his visit, but he reassured Saudi King Abdullah’s son Abdul Azziz, in Syria to pay personal condolences after the death of President Asad’s brother Majd, that Syria fully supported Saudi Arabia’s efforts to defeat the Huthi separatists. “There weren’t any newspaper reports of Iranian ministers here (paying condolences),” noted XXXXXXXXXXXX.
¶10. (S/NF) More significantly, Syria reportedly resisted Iranian entreaties to commit to joining Iran if fighting broke out between Iran and Israel or Hizballah and Israel. XXXXXXXXXXXX said Iranian officials were in Syria “to round up allies” in anticipation of an Israeli military strike. “It (an Israeli strike on Iran) is not a matter of if, but when,” XXXXXXXXXXXX said, reporting what Syrian officials had heard from their Iranian counterparts. The Syrian response, he continued, was to tell the Iranians not to look to Syria, Hizballah or Hamas to “fight this battle.”…
¶11. (S/NF) Asked what advice Syria was giving Iran, XXXXXXXXXXXX replied that Syria, along with Turkey and Qatar, was preparing for an Israeli-Iranian military exchange in the near future. “Military officials tell me they have noticed Israeli drones snooping around our sites,” he explained, noting some Syrian officials saw Israeli reconnaissance as an indication that Israel might seek to disable anti-air radar stations as part of a plan to fly bombers over Syrian territory en route to Iran. “We expect to wake up one morning soon and learn the Israeli strike took place. Then we expect an Iranian response. At that point, we, Turkey, and Qatar will spring into action to begin moderating a 004ceasefire and then a longer-term solution involving both countries’ nuclear programs. That’s the best scenario….
¶12. (S/NF) Many Syrian and some diplomatic observers believe Syria is in the process of re-calibrating its relations with Iran and is seeking to avoid choices that would constrain the country’s flexibility as it faces an uncertain regional setting. Does, however, Syria’s instinct for self-survival and desire for less dependence on Iran represent anything other than a shift of emphasis as long as Damascus insists on maintaining its military relations with Iran, Hizballah, and Hamas? Some analysts here argue that Syria’s improved relations with Turkey, France, and Saudi Arabia afford Damascus a greater range of choices in dealing with the West, the Arab world, Israel, and Iran. This school asserts that better ties with the U.S. would further increase Syria’s range of options and its potential to move farther away from Iran. Even if Damascus and Tehran maintained some semblance of their political-military relationship, the extent of their ties would be constrained by Syria’s competing equities in deepening relations with others, including the U.S. Others argue that a wider range of options would only perpetuate Syria’s decision-averse orientation; if the Iranians can’t pin down Syria on matters of war and peace, then what chance would the United States have? Syria could pocket openings offered by Washington and simply use our gestures to play rivals off one another.
¶13. (S/NF) At the end of the day, it may be impossible to assess Syria’s intentions with any confidence until the regional context becomes clearer. In the meantime, the U.S. should take a modicum of quiet satisfaction that Syria is showing signs of wanting to moderate Iran’s influence in its affairs, even though expecting the relationship to end altogether remains unrealistic. If Syria’s improved relations with France, Saudi Arabia and Turkey can initiate cracks in the Syrian-Iranian axis, then perhaps discrete U.S.-Syrian cooperation could add further stress to these fault lines. A willingness to offer concrete deliverables as evidence of a U.S. desire for improved relations would force Syrian officials to calculate how far they would go in response, providing us with a more accurate measure of their intentions. At a minimum, increased Washington interest in Syria would increase Tehran’s anxiety level and perhaps compound Syrian-Iranian tensions, at a time when Syrian officials themselves may be unsure how they will react to unfolding events.
US embassy cables: US works to block Syrian bid to obtain chemical warfare components
2010-12-16 Guardian (GB):
SYRIA ARRANGING TO ACQUIRE CW EQUIPMENT FROM TWO INDIAN COMPANIES
Tuesday, 30 December 2008,
14:27 S E C R E T STATE 135048 SENSITIVE SIPDIS EO 12958 DECL: 12/23/2033 TAGS PARM, ETTC, SY, IN, PREL SUBJECT: SHIELD S04B-08: Classified By: ISN/CB …
2. (S//NF) BACKGROUND: The U.S. has obtained information indicating that a Syrian institution with connections to the country’s chemical and biological weapons programs is attempting to acquire Australia Group-controlled glass-lined reactors, heat exchangers and pumps from the Indian firms XXXXXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXXX . Both firms are believed to have received visits from the Syria institution in the past 3 months and may be close to concluding their respective deals.
3. (S//NF) BACKGROUND CONT’D: We would like to alert the GOI to this information. The GOI has a general obligation as a Chemical Weapons Convention State Party to never, under any circumstances, assist anyone in the development of chemical weapons. ….
– While they have legitimate commercial uses, glass or glass-lined chemical reactor vessels, heat exchangers and pumps can be used in the production of CW agents and therefore are controlled by the Australia Group (AG).
– We are concerned that the equipment in question is intended for, or could be diverted to, Syria’s CW program.
– The Syrian Research Council (SSRC) is a key entity behind Syria’s chemical warfare program and may be behind Syria’s biological warfare program as well.
….we believe Syria is an unreliable destination for dual-use exports, and Syrian end-user statements or other assurances are neither credible nor trustworthy….
Jordan’s king wants improved ties with Iran
Abdullah II accepts Ahmadinejad’s invitation to visit Tehran, says it’s ‘imperative to undertake practical steps for improving Jordanian-Iranian relations’
Associated Press,12.12.10, Israel News
Jordan’s King Abdullah II said Sunday he was seeking “practical steps” to improve his frosty relations with Iran, a contrast to his regime’s frequent criticism of Iran’s policies.
The call came in a closed-door meeting with Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, director of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s office, Abdullah’s Royal Court said in a statement.
Abdullah has been one of Iran’s harshest critics in recent years, warning that its growing influence in the region could undermine him and other pro-American moderates.
The Royal Court statement said Abdullah accepted Ahmadinejad’s invitation to visit Tehran soon, but no date was set.
The Jordanian statement quoted Abdullah as saying it was “imperative to undertake practical steps for improving Jordanian-Iranian relations in the service of both countries, their brotherly people and joint Islamic causes and to consolidate security and stability in the region.” It gave no details of what steps might be taken.
As early as 2004, Abdullah warned of Iran’s growing influence in Iraq and the rest of the region.
In US cables released by WikiLeaks, US Ambassador to Jordan Stephen Beecroft quoted Jordanian officials describing Iran as an “octopus” whose tentacles “reach out insidiously to manipulate, foment, and undermine the best laid plans of the West and regional moderates.”
Iran’s “tentacles” include Qatar, Syria, the militant Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Palestinian territories, an Iraqi government linked to Iran and Shiite communities across the Mideast, according to the cables.
WikiLeaks: will the civil war return to Lebanon? – The WikiLeaks revelations have inflicted epic calamity on pro-Western officials in Lebanon.
Peter Osborne, The Telegraph, 10 Dec 2010
Elias Murr (L), the defence minister has been caught red-handed conspiring with the United States of America to facilitate an Israeli invasion in 2008 Photo: AP
The Foreign Secretary had been accused of pandering to the US ahead of last May’s general election since his private conversations with state department officials became public. The accounts of conversations with members of Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri’s government have revealed collusion with the state’s main enemy. Elias Murr, the defence minister has been caught red-handed conspiring with the United States of America to facilitate an Israeli invasion in 2008.
France Supplies Lebanon with Anti-Tank missiles, annoying US and Israel.
Patrick Seale: Syria won’t abandon Iran
In special interview, British journalist Patrick Seale tells Ynet Israel deluding itself if it believes Damascus will sever ties with Tehran. Peace between Jerusalem and Damascus possible only in framework of comprehensive deal that will include Palestinians, he says, adding that ‘Netanyahu is doing the exact opposite of what is needed’,,,,
Seale does not see a concrete threat of a war between Israel and Syria, despite current Syrian President Bashar Assad’s belligerent rhetoric, but he does not rule it out either. He says the Israeli government is a cause for concern not only in the Middle East, but in the West as well. According to Seale, the settlement enterprise poses a grave threat to western interests. He claims a resolution to the Israel-Syria conflict is possible only if it coincides with a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
“Assad wants peace; he has said this a thousand times,” Seale says. “Full normalization (of Israel-Syria relations) can only transpire in the framework of a comprehensive agreement that will include the Palestinians. Don’t expect him (Assad) to abandon the Palestinians, or Iran for that matter.” ….
Israel leaves us no choice but to boycott
By Ali Abunimah
December 17, 2010
Palestinians have already given up so much since 1948. It’s up to Israel to end its campaign of ethnic cleansing for the peace process to move forward…..
Prominent Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola recently told the Jerusalem Post that Jews already constitute just under 50% of the population in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip combined. In effect, a Jewish minority rules over a majority population that includes 1.4 million Palestinian (second-class) citizens of Israel, 2.5 million Palestinians under occupation in the West Bank and another 1.5 million under siege in the open-air prison known as the Gaza Strip. All credible projections show that Palestinians will be the decisive majority within a few years.
This injustice is intolerable. Under Israel’s policies and the refusal of the United States to exert any real pressure, there will be no end to it, and the prospects for catastrophic bloodshed increase.
Absent any real action by the United States or other governments to hold Israel accountable, it is up to civil society to step in. ….
Israel Doesn’t Need the West Bank To Be Secure
By Martin van Creveld in Forward
December 15, 2010, issue of December 24, 2010.
When everything is said and done, how important is the West Bank to Israel’s defense?
To answer the question, our best starting point is the situation before the 1967 war. At that time, the Arab armed forces surrounding Israel outnumbered the Jewish state’s army by a ratio of 3-to-1. Not only was the high ground in Judea and Samaria in Jordanian hands, but Israel’s capital in West Jerusalem was bordered on three sides by hostile territory. Arab armies even stood within 14 miles of Tel Aviv. Still, nobody back then engaged in the sort of fretting we hear today about “defensible borders,” let alone Abba Eban’s famous formulation, “Auschwitz borders.” When the time came, it took the Israel Defense Forces just six days to crush all its enemies combined.
Since then, of course, much has happened. Though relations with Egypt and Jordan may not always be rosy, both countries have left “the circle of enmity,” as the Hebrew expression goes. Following two-and-a-half decades of astonishing growth, Israel’s GDP is now larger than those of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt combined. As to military power, suffice it to say that Israel is the world’s fifth-largest exporter of arms.
Syria, Israel’s main remaining hostile neighbor, has never on its own been strong enough to seriously threaten Israel. While Damascus is getting some weapons from Iran, the latter is no substitute for the genuine superpower patron that Syria had in the old Soviet Union.
Overall, therefore, Israel’s position is much stronger than it was at any time in the past. So how does the West Bank fit into this picture?
One of the main threats that Israel faces today is from ballistic missiles. Yet everybody knows that holding on to the West Bank won’t help Israel defend itself against missiles coming from Syria or Iran. Even the most extreme hawk would concede this point.
As far as the threat of a land invasion, it is of course true that the distance between the former Green Line and the Mediterranean is very small — at its narrowest point, what is sometimes affectionately known as “Old” Israel is just nine miles wide. As was noted before, it is also true that the West Bank comprises the high ground and overlooks Israel’s coastal plain…..
it is crystal-clear that Israel can easily afford to give up the West Bank. Strategically speaking, the risk of doing so is negligible. What is not negligible is the demographic, social, cultural and political challenge that ruling over 2.5 million — nobody knows exactly how many — occupied Palestinians in the West Bank poses. Should Israeli rule over them continue, then the country will definitely turn into what it is already fast becoming: namely, an apartheid state that can only maintain its control by means of repressive secret police actions.
To save itself from such a fate, Israel should rid itself of the West Bank, most of Arab Jerusalem specifically included. If possible, it should do so by agreement with the Palestinian Authority; if not, then it should proceed unilaterally, as the — in my view, very successful — withdrawal from Gaza suggests. Or else I would strongly advise my children and grandson to seek some other, less purblind and less stiff-necked, country to live in.
Martin van Creveld is an Israeli military historian and the author of “The Land of Blood and Honey: The Rise of Modern Israel” (St. Martin’s Press, 2010).
“Israel does not know how to beat Hezbollah,” said Giora Eiland, national security adviser to former prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert.
Remarkable State Dept press briefing footage regarding arrested civil rights advocate, Abdullah Abu Rahmah
Watch AP reporter Matthew Lee ask the state dept, day after day after day– through Wednesday– about the imprisonment of Bil’in nonviolent activist Abdallah Abu Rahmah.
The non-answers are stunning. (And the video , sandwiched between Clinton and Obama, cut for hypocrisy factor.)
Linkage and its discontents: What WikiLeaks reveals about Israel-Palestine
Posted By Matthew Duss Thursday, December 16, 2010 -
…..Consider: a report on a January 2008 meeting between a Congressional delegation and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman notes, “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains the core issue; Suleiman contended a peaceful resolution would be a ‘big blow’ to terrorist organizations that use the conflict as a pretext. For this reason, President Mubarak is committed to ending the Israeli-Arab ‘stalemate.’”
In a January 2007 meeting, Dubai’s ruler Mohamed bin Rashid Al Makhtoum, told U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns that a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians would be “the best thing” for the region, and would make radical groups like Hamas “everyone’s enemy.”
A cable from an April 2009 meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Amman reports, “While Jordanian officials doubt dialogue with the U.S. will convince Iran to withdraw its ‘tentacles,’ they believe they can be severed if Iran is deprived of hot-button issues that make it a hero to many on the Arab street, such as its championing of the Palestinian cause.”
In a July 2009 meeting between Gen. Petraeus and former Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, “Siniora said that Lebanon was encouraged by and supportive of President Obama’s commitment to achieving a comprehensive Middle East Peace.” Siniora “said the U.S. administration’s recognition of the centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was an opportunity to push the Arab Peace Initiative forward and to finally achieve a resolution.”
In a February 2010 meeting between Sen. John Kerry and the Emir of Qatar, “Senator Kerry asked the Emir how the U.S. goes about changing its reputation. The Emir said first and foremost the U.S. must do everything in its power to find a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” ….
Square one for the US and Syria?
Stephen Starr, 14 December 2010
Relations were knocked back when a seemingly innocuous statement snow-balled into a something of much greater consequence last spring. In April the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, set off alarm bells by claiming – without evidence – that Syria was shipping SCUD missiles to Hezbollah.
….America’s plan to engage Syria appears to have failed.
In July 2009, amid warming rhetoric from both sides, reports emerged that Barack Obama’s White House intended to look favourably on case-by-case sanctions against Syria “as opposed to the prior administration’s policy”. According to the New York Times this was “another notable instance of the Obama administration opening the door to Syria on what it calls a basis of mutual interest and respect.”….
Earlier this month a diplomatic spat threatened to further damage ties between the two countries.
Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, said in an interview that only “modest steps” had been taken in improving the US-Syrian relationship and that, “There is a cost to the potential in our bilateral relationship to what Syria’s friends are doing in Lebanon.
“Our interests in a comprehensive peace doesn’t mean that we are going to start trading our other interests in Iraq or Lebanon in order to get Damascus to like us better,” he told the Washington Post earlier this month.
An unnamed Syrian official reacted with venom to what was perceived in Damascus as neo-imperialism, saying: “Yes, Syria is concerned in the stability and security of Lebanon because this is a vital issue for the security and stability of Syria … We don’t need Mr. Feltman’s advice, because Syria exercises its independent decision making to serve the interests of its people and the stability and security of the region.”
Nor is Washington alone in sending out confusing signals.
In October, Syrian President Bashar Assad, launched a tirade against America via the Al Hayat newspaper saying: “Is Afghanistan stable? Is Somalia stable? Did they bring stability to Lebanon in 1983?” when referring to the US.
However, more recently Assad changed his tone, and is quoted as lauding Obama’s ‘peace efforts for the region’ following the visit of John Kerry to Damascus in November.
This back and forth rhetoric illustrates an ongoing gap in expectations that needs to be addressed. Washington wants Syria to stop funding and supporting Hezbollah but what is in it for Damascus? Washington wants it to move away from Iran but why would Syria do this? Has the US and Europe offered to press Israel on beginning talks over the status of the occupied Golan Heights? With over 400,000 Palestinian refugees in camps around Syria it has good reason to want to see an agreement regarding a Palestinian state.
One may ask what can Syria do, but the United States is in the position of power in this relationship and many in the halls of Syrian bureaucracy will be happy for the country to continue its downward economic spiral whilst it maintains the political status quo.
About the author: Stephen Starr is the founder and editor in chief of Near East Quarterly. Based in Damascus since 2007, his work has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Le Monde Diplomatique and the Guardian.
2,100-year-old temple ruins discovered in Syria
2010-12-11 20:41:45.464 GMT
DAMASCUS, Dec 11, 2010 (Xinhua via COMTEX) — Syria nearthed ruins of a temple dating back to the Nabataean era (169 B.C.-106 A.D.) in Swaida, 106 km to the south of Damascus, Syrian official SANA news agency reported Saturday. Yaser Shaar, an archaeologist of the excavation team, said that the temple was built on the ruins of an older temple from the pre- Hellenistic period.
He added that the excavation also revealed floors from the Islamic period in a cave in the site, as well as remains of a stone cemetery engraved in rock, according to the report. The Nabataean kingdom was located between Sinai Peninsula and the Arabian Peninsula with the city Petra as a capital.
Sami Moubayed writes:
This week’s guest on Qabla An Nansa (Before We Forget) on Aldounia TV is Hersho al-Barazi, who assassinated Colonel Sami al-Hinnawi in Beirut in October 1950.
Our guest, Barazi, is the cousin of ex-Prime Minister Muhsen al-Barazi, who along with President Husni al-Za’im, was executed by Hinnawi in August 1949. In a classic case of revenge killing, the young Hersho Barazi hunted Hinnawi to Lebanon and gunned him down while boarding the tram, to avenge the death of his own cousin, less than one year after Hinnawi had been toppled in Syria. The Episode will run on Monday, December 20, at 7:00 pm Damascus time and be repeated next day, December 21, at 9:00 am.