Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, August 31st, 2010
Steven Walt on the direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians is appropriately pessimistic. Peter Harling and Robert Malley in Foreign Affairs argue that Obama must not use a simplistic measure for friends and enemies in the Middle East. They should not push Turkey, Qatar and even Syria aside because these countries refuse to follow the US on the Israel issue. ( See excerpts below) Their advice is sound, but unlikely to do much good. With elections approaching, Obama has made every effort to close the gap between his administration and Israel. He is expending no political capital on countries such as Turkey and Syria. He has allowed the Republicans to freeze his effort to appoint ambassadors to both countries. In effect, Obama has allowed pro-Israel representatives to punish both countries for opposing Israeli policies in the region. The present lobbying by the US to stop French and Russian military sales to Lebanon and Syria is a case in point. Walt suggests that the peace talks are also dishonest as they will end up providing cover to Israeli settlers to carry on their expansion while nothing but hot air and false promises are left to create the illusion that the US is doing something to promote international law or fairness in the effort to create a Palestinian state.
If you want to understand what direction the region is really moving in, read Max Blumenthal’s, How to Kill Goyim and Influence People: Israeli Rabbis Defend Book’s Shocking Religious Defense of Killing Non-Jews (with Video) – A rabbinical guidebook for killing non-Jews has sparked an uproar in Israel and exposed the power that a bunch of genocidal theocrats wield over the government.
New Round Up
Beyond Moderates and Militants
How Obama Can Chart a New Course in the Middle East
By Robert Malley and Peter Harling
Foreign Affairs, September/October 2010 – Extracts
In the Middle East, U.S. President Barack Obama has spent the first year and a half of his presidency seeking to undo the damage wrought by his predecessor. He has made up some ground. But given how slowly U.S. policy has shifted, his administration runs the risk of implementing ideas that might have worked if President George W. Bush had pursued them a decade ago. The region, meanwhile, will have moved on.
It is a familiar pattern. For decades, the West has been playing catch-up with a region it pictures as stagnant. Yet the Middle East evolves faster and less predictably than Western policymakers imagine. As a rule, U.S. and European governments eventually grasp their missteps, yet by the time their belated realizations typically occur, their ensuing policy adjustments end up being hopelessly out of date and ineffective………….
The alternative is for the United States to play the role of conductor, coordinating the efforts of different nations even as it preserves its privileged ties to Israel and others. For example, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, together with Qatar and Turkey, could spearhead efforts to bring about Palestinian national reconciliation consistent with a continued U.S.-led peace process. Turkey, assuming that it mends its ties with Israel and maintains its newfound credibility in Arab countries, could serve as a channel to Hamas and Syria on peace talks or to Iran on the nuclear issue. Under the auspices of the United States, Iraq’s Arab neighbors and Iran could reach a minimal consensus on Iraq’s future aimed at maintaining Iraq’s territorial unity, preserving its Arab identity, protecting Kurdish rights, and ensuring healthy, balanced relations between Baghdad and Tehran. Washington should intensify its efforts to resume and conclude peace negotiations between Israel and Syria, which would do far more to affect Tehran’s calculations than several more rounds of UN sanctions. Syria also could be useful in reaching out to residual pockets of Sunni militants in Iraq…..
For the United States, adapting to new patterns of power would at a minimum mean accepting the need for internal Palestinian reconciliation and acknowledging that a strong, unified Palestinian partner is more likely to produce a sustainable peace agreement than a weak, fragmented one. The United States must take into account the concerns of different Israeli and Palestinian constituencies (for example, acceptance of the Jewish right to national self-determination and recognition of the historic injustice suffered by Palestinian refugees); acknowledge that meaningful Israeli-Syrian negotiations have become a necessary complement to Israeli-Palestinian talks, not a distraction from them; and grasp the necessity of including new regional actors to help achieve what is now beyond the ability of Washington and its allies to do on their own: giving legitimacy and credibility to an Israeli-Palestinian accord.
It will not be easy for the United States to undertake such a strategic shift, nor will it be risk free. Traditional allies, feeling jilted, might lose confidence or rebel; newfound partners, getting a whiff of U.S. weakness, could prove unreliable. Still, hanging on to an outmoded policy paradigm does not offer much hope. The likely consequences would be increased regional divisions, increased tensions, and increased chances of conflict. Obama began his presidency with the unmistakable ambition of turning a page. To succeed in the Middle East, he will have to go further and close the book on the failed policies of the past.
(The following four extracts are taken from Syria Report)
Government Provides Update on Works on the Tigris River Project
30 August 2010
A Syrian state official has announced that the very first phase of works on the project to divert water from the Tigris River was about to be completed.
Samir Moura, the head of the Water Resources Department in the Governorate of Hassakeh, where the Tigris lies, said that concrete works around the main pumping station in the project would be completed by the end of September.
The works are only worth SYP 252 million (USD 5.36 million), while the total cost of the Tigris Water Diversion Project is about SYP 150 billion (USD 3.20 billion). The works being done represent therefore only a tiny portion of the total but the fact that Mr Moura’s statement was published on the front page of Tishreen, a state daily on August 25, shows the need for the Government to publicise the advancement of works.
In June last year, as the country faced the consequences of a third consecutive year of drought, the Government announced that it would be accelerating works on a 30-year long project to use water from the Tigris River to irrigate some 150,000 hectares of land.
The Tigris River, which is sourced in Turkey, does not enter the Syrian territory as such but lies over the Syrian-Iraqi border. As a consequence Syria can use a small share of the River’s water but hasn’t done so yet.
The project to use the water from the Tigris has been discussed for decades. In April 1980, the Syrian Government actually signed a study and design contract with Agrocomplect, a Bulgarian engineering firm specialized in the field of irrigation, land-reclamation, water supply, and hydro technical and agro-industrial construction. However, budget constraints led to an indefinite postponement.
Besides irrigating directly some 150,000 Ha of land, part of the water will also be used to support another 60,000 Ha irrigation project that is supposed to be fed by the Khabour River, a tributary of the Euphrates. The Khabour has almost completely dried up because of upstream works by Turkey.
A new private university, the country’s sixteenth, has opened in Syria.
The National University is located in the Governorate of Hama, south of the city of the same name. The university is the second private institution to open in the Governorate after the Arab Private University for Science and Technology, which opened its doors in July 2009.
NU will start with two faculties, business management & finance and architecture & construction planning. Three new faculties will be opened in the coming years to teach IT engineering, food industries and health science. When the entire facility, which spreads over 200,000 sqm, is completed, NU will accommodate up to 3,000 students. The investment cost of the project was not disclosed.
NU is an investment by more than 125 investors from Hama. Private universities were allowed to set up in Syria in August 2001.
Government Cancels Deal for Private Sector Management of State-Owned Cement Plant
29 August 2010
Altoun Group has withdrawn from the contract it had won earlier this year to invest in, and develop, a state-owned cement plant.
In a letter sent to the Ministry of Industry, Altoun justified its decision by the fact that the Government had not given it the formal go ahead to begin works months after the signing of the contract. Syria’s cement market is growing on the back of strong investment in the real estate market by local and regional investors. Two large private sector plants are under construction, the first by France’s Lafarge and the second, Al-Badia Cement, by Italcementi in joint-venture with Syrian and Saudi investors.
Syrian-US Trade Reaches USD 440 Million in Six Months to June
Bilateral trade between Syria and the US reached USD 440.5 million in the first six months of this year as Syrian exports reached a 19-year high, thanks to an increase in the sale of oil derivatives.
The spiritual leader of Shas, one of the parties within Israel’s governing coalition, called on God to strike down all Palestinians on the eve of direct talks between the Israeli and Palestinian governments.
Egyptian dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim endorsed Gamal Mubarak’s right to run for the Egypt’s presidency.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned that he would pull out of peace talks if Israeli settlement construction resumed.
Syria-Hezbollah would unite vs. Israel
By Jack Khoury and The Associated Press, 2010-08-30
Kuwait’s al-Rai daily says Lebanon-based group, Syrian army have created a joint military command, dividing potential war fronts.
The Lebanon-based Shi’ite militant group Hezbollah and the Syrian army have initiated a significant military cooperation in joint preparation for the possibility of a future armed conflict with Israel, the Kuwaiti daily al-Rai reported on Monday.
The report came as Syrian president Bashar Assad urged Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri earlier Monday to support Hezbollah and maintain calm in the divided country.
Speaking with al-Rai Monday, sources have indicated that Hezbollah and Syria have formed a joint headquarters meant to orchestrate the cooperation between the two forces, which is to be commanded by two officers – one from the Syrian military and one from Hezbollah.
The joint command, the report said, would ensure full cooperation in land, sea, and air warfare, as well as take care of the positioning of anti-aircraft missiles in both Lebanon and Syria in order to confront the possibility of an Israeli nuclear assault.
Recent exchanges between the two organizations reportedly included trading information regarding strategic sites within Israel, including airports and other facilities, as well as dividing up the prospective war fronts between themselves.
The report also stated that Damascus and Hezbollah also worked together on the possibility of joint artillery strike against Israel, as well as drawing up a collective plan for the defense of vital Lebanon, Syria sites in case of an Israeli attack.
The two organizations also reportedly shared information gather by Hezbollah following the Second Lebanon War in 2006, including military conclusions and tactics.
The al-Rai report also stated Syria’s contentment with Turkey’s recent announcement that it would ban Israeli warplanes from entering its airspace, since it prevents the possibility of an Israeli airstrike from that direction.
At summer school, Iraqi refugees in Syria try to catch up By Sarah Birke, Christian Science Monitor/ August 30, 2010