Will Saudi Arabia Solve America’s Problems?

Will Saudi Arabia Be Able to Solve America's Problems? Will it split Iran from Syria?

There has been considerable chest beating by supporters of the Bush administration over the prospect of splitting Syria from Iran and forcing it to relinquish, not only its Palestinian and Iraqi cards, but also its Lebanon card. As proof of Syria's impending downfall, they point to the frequent meetings between Saudi and Iranian mediators, which they claim cut Syria out of the picture. They point to the Mecca deal between Hamas and the PLO, brokered by Saudi Arabia, and to the failure of Hizbullah to carry out a coup against the American backed Siniora government, and even the impending downfall of Nabih Berri, the Shiite president of the Parliament. What is more, they point to new European resolve to back US attempts to impose sanctions on Syria and get the international court fully mandated to try Syria for the Hariri murder. Stratfor concludes its most recent report, claiming: "But from all appearances, the rumors of a rift between Iran and Syria may indeed have some merit."

This confidence seems far fetched, largely because it rests on fragile supports. First, it is driven by President Bush's success in pushing through his troop surge for Iraq in the face of democratic success at the polls and the Baker-Hamilton advice to return to diplomacy. This success will be temporary. The US cannot sustain the cost of or concentration on Iraq. Secondly, it is driven by the administration's seeming success in saddling up the Saudis to do the heavy lifting against Iran and Syria. Some argue that putting US eggs in Saudi Arabia's basket is smart and crafty. By playing on Muslim sectarian fears, the US can harness Sunnis to spend their money and political capital to defeat the growing Shi'a crescent.

No only is this unwise because Wahhabism, which under-girds Saudi legitimacy, is neither tolerant nor a force of moderation in the region, but also because Saudi interests diverge from those of the United States on several important points. Saudi Arabia is the spiritual heartland of al-Qaida. We do not need to be reminded that it gave birth to Bin Laden and most of the 9-11 bombers. Even if the Saudi political elite is capable, Wahhabism, on which it depends, constitutes the theological headwaters feeding the Jihadist swamp. In order to take on Iran and marshal Sunnis against Shiites, Saudi Arabia will be forced to put Wahhabi intolerance on steroids. Here are the words of a Syrian opposition member who has been enlisted to raise the banner of the Saudi jihad against Shiism in his article, "Safavid Sassanian Iranian plan to restore the Empire of Cyrus."

"While the Zionist plan targets Jerusalem, which is holy to us, the Safavid plan targets Mecca and Al-Madina. If you go back to their books – which they do not mention in the media, yet these books exist and are accepted by them – they claim that their Hidden Imam will come to Mecca and Al-Madina, destroy the Al-Haram Mosque and the Mosque of the Prophet, and dig in the graves of Abu Bakr and Omar and burn them both, and then he will command the wind to blow them away. He will also dig in the grave of Aisha, the Mother of the Believers, and will execute her. All this is part of their plan."

This sort of bunkum is not what the US wants to promote. Stirring up sectarian hatreds and medieval myths will undercut any attempt to inculcate secular liberalism in the region. Secretary Rice knows this. She recently chided the Arabs for their failure to uphold Arab national bonds in the face of sectarian feuding. “There’s still a tendency to see these things in Sunni-Shia terms,” Ms. Rice said. “But the Middle East is going to have to overcome that.” It is all well and good for the US to preach ecumenicism, but by asking the KSA to ratchet up Sunni fears of Shiism, it is doing the exact opposite. The late grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abd-al-Aziz ibn Abd-Allah ibn Baaz, called Arab nationalism an alien and atheist creed that should have no place in the land of Islam. The neocons insist the War on Terror is at heart a war of ideas. By throwing US weight behind the KSA, Washington is promoting the wrong ideas.

Supporting Saudi Arabian propaganda would be acceptable if the Kingdom were taking concrete measures to reform. But it is not. Central to US demands that Saudi Arabia distance itself from the more objectionable extremes of its Wahhabi ideology, has been the request that the KSA reform its Islamic school curriculum. The monarchy has held numerous conferences on curriculum reform because Saudi school books preach jihad, takfir, and instruct Muslims not to shake the hands of Christians and other kufar lest they be dragged down to hell by emotional proximity to unbelievers. The outcome of these curriculum conferences is invariably the same. Saudi Imams reject the notion that the curriculum advocates anything dangerous or un-Islamic. Reforms are not agreed upon and results are always "inconclusive" and "inoperative."  The Saudis are not changing their spots. Enlisting intolerant Sunni Islam in the war against Iran and Shiite extremism is exactly what the US should not be doing. Surely this strategy will come back to bite the West, as it did in Afghanistan.

But let us look more closely at Saudi interests to see how closely they dovetail with US interests.

Saudi and Palestine

On Palestine, Saudi interests differ from those of the US. The US offered Saudi progress on the Palestinian front in exchange for closer Saudi support in isolating Syria and tackling Iran. Most likely, Saudi authorities told Washington that in order to align more closely with US foreign policy in the region, which would surely alienate their people, they would have to be able to alleviate Palestinian suffering and find a way to take the Palestinian Authority off the "diet" that Israel and the US imposed on it following Hamas' electoral victory last year.

This is how we got to the Mecca deal. Saudi Arabia has no interest in knocking out Hamas, but it does need to provide a happy PLO veil for Hamas in order to reopen the spigot of international funding for the Territories. Having pictures on al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya of Palestinians suffering and cannibalizing each other as they slowly starved like rats is not tolerable for the KSA if it is to embrace US policy in the region. 

Pro-Israeli interests in the US are insisting that Saudi Arabia deal a real blow to Hamas authority rather than merely cobble together a coalition government for Palestine that would lift a convenient PLO veil over Hamas power. Saudi Arabia has failed to do this in its Mecca deal.

This is why the Washington Post writes that the Saudis have actually complicated Secretary of State Rice's task in visiting the Middle East, rather than assisting her. Here are Rice's words:

"Our position toward the Hamas government was very clear: It did not meet the international test," Rice told a group of newspaper reporters on the eve of her departure. "I have to say that we have not yet seen any evidence that this one will."

Rice added, "I don't deny that it's more complicated" now and that before the announcement of the unity government "it was clear, more black and white."

The problem is that Hamas has agreed to "respect [not accept] international resolutions," but not international demands that the new government pledge to "recognize" Israel, renounce violence, and abide by previous agreements signed by the Palestinian Authority. Hamas officials later told reporters that the movement has no intention of ever recognizing Israel. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni ended discussion on the issue Saturday by declaring that the unity government deal "did not satisfy the demands of the international community," and President Bush and Prime Minister Olmert agreed to shun the Palestinian unity government unless it meets international conditions.

David Makovsky of WINEP sums up what he calls "the less benign interpretation" of Saudi goals. He writes:

what is driving Saudi Arabia is sectarianism, not pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace. Under this view, Riyadh has no problem supporting Hamas's program, so long as it is a Sunni organization and can keep Iranian money and influence at bay.

Therefore, it would be useful for the United States to explore Saudi objectives and strategies. Moreover, for a political horizon to succeed, one needs to consider whether Riyadh and Cairo are willing to do something that they were not willing to do in 2000 at the time of Camp David (July) and the Clinton parameters (December). Namely, they need to provide the requisite political cover for Abbas to compromise. If they do not, they need to know that unlike 2000 they will be politically exposed for failing to do their share. In short, if the Bush administration is really serious about a political horizon, it needs to have a dialogue not just with Israelis and Palestinians but also with America's Arab friends to discern the depth of their commitment to peacemaking in a very specific way.

The Mecca experience suggests that not everyone is on the same page.

Mohammad Yaghi, a Palestinian fellow at WINEP and writer for the Palestinian newspaper al-Ayyam, explains in his article: "Hamas's Victory: From Gaza to Mecca," that Hamas was the winner in the Mecca deal because it bested PLO forces on the ground in recent fighting and was able to translate that advantage into the terms of the Mecca deal, which retains the prime-ministership for Haniyyah and most cabinet positions for Hamas. The PLO panicked and gave away the store, Yaghi writes.

As it stands, the agreement spells significant gains for Hamas politically, institutionally, bureaucratically, and in its relations with the Arab world. It is likely that Abbas and Hamas together will still attempt to use the Mecca accord as a means of alleviating the Quartet's sanctions by claiming the government has accepted its conditions — even if Hamas as a party retains its core political ideology.

The Mecca accord will not end the struggle between Fatah and Hamas to dominate the Palestinian political system, but it does represent an effort to gain a respite from the violence by dividing the PA according to each faction's current position on the ground.

King Abdullah has promised the PA one billion dollars for their new alliance. Rice must make sure it is not received. The US is going back to the drawing board. Underneath the squabbling, the problem is that the US wants to starve Hamas and force the PA to accept much less than the 1967 borders. The KSA wants to feed Palestinians and get them more land than Israel will offer. So much for the Zionist-Wahhabi alliance on matters Palestinian. The dream of the Israelis is that the mutual Israeli-Saudi fear of Iran can be used to turn the KSA into a hammer against Palestinian demands for land. This will not work unless Israel can put a promising deal on the table, something it refuses to do. So long as the US resists pressuring Israel to uphold international law on the 1967 borders, Saudi Arabia will resist falling in line with Israeli plans.

Syria and the Mecca Deal

The Lebanese neocons don't give a fig about Palestine. What excites them is that Saudi Arabia is doing battle with Syria, or so they insist. They argue that because the Palestinian deal was penned in Mecca and not Damascus, Saudi Arabia has stolen the Palestine card from Damascus. But claim is misguided.

From all reports, the Mecca deal was worked out in Damascus, where Palestinian representatives met to hash out the terms of their new proposed coalition government. The proof of this was made clear when various Palestinian heads thanked Damascus for its help in arriving at the settlement. Al-Hayat reporters have covered the Saudi-Syrian cooperation on the Mecca deal in some depth. They write that the deal was struck in Damascus and announced in Mecca, where the Saudis put up the money that cemented the compact. Far from excluding Syria, the KSA worked with Damascus to broker the deal. In the following quote Muhammad Shuqair محمد شقير of al-Hayat writes that Syria pressured Khalid Mashaal to participate in the meetings and prepared the way for "rebuilding trust between the Saudi leadership and Syria. He also indicates that Syria and Saudi Arabia are quietly cooperating for a Lebanon deal.

يف ان دمشق شجعت رئيس المكتب السياسي لحركة المقاومة الاسلامية «حماس» خالد مشعل على حضور الاجتماع الفلسطيني – الفلسطيني لتمهيد الطريق امام استعادة ثقة القيادة السعودية بالقيادة السورية، لكنها بالنسبة الى لبنان لا تستطيع ان تتعامل بالمثل ما لم تحصل على شيء ما يعيد لها الاعتبار في الخريطة العربية ومن خلال المجتمع الدولي.

وترى المصادر نفسها ايضاً ان دمشق تسعى من خلال إمساكها بالورقة اللبنانية الى تقديم أوراق اعتمادها الى المجتمع الدولي من خلال استعدادها للتعاون مع السعودية ومن ثم ايران لتسوية الازمة في لبنان، مشيرة الى انها لن تتخلى عن هذه الورقة من دون مقابل.

Lebanon and Syria

The Coup

Many Lebanese government figures claim that Hizbullah wants to carry out a "coup" against the Lebanese state but has failed, thanks to stalwart western support. Hizbullah, however, insists that far from wanting to overthrow the government or change Lebanon's consociational form of government, it merely wants better representation for the opposition, commensurate with its numbers. Mohammed Ben Jelloun writes that Hizbullah has this to say:

By demanding a national unity government and a veto power over major decisions, Hezbollah and its allies are sticking to the consociational (multi-confessional) letter and the republican (patriotic) spirit of the Lebanese constitution.

Hariri Turns down the rhetoric

In my last post, I wrote that the February 14 coalition turned up the anti-Syrian rhetoric on the second anniversary of their leader's assassination. But a source that I respect in Damascus wrote me a few days ago that I was mistaken. He explained:

Saad Hariri did not mention Syria at all. Quite possibly, the Saudis have warned him to be careful as they are working with Iranians to cool things down in Lebanon. What Janbulat and Geaga said was expected. They do not want any solution for the crisis. They have much to lose from a deal to solve the crisis. 

On the 17th of February, Ibrahim Hamidi of Al-Hayat wrote that the Syrians are confident Iran is not planning to diverge too much from the Syrian positions on Lebanon and Iraq. Although they admit to some differences with Iran, such as:

1) On Iraq: Syria wants a consensus that includes the Sunnis and the more neutral baathists, Iran is more interested in helping its Shia allies.

2) Lebanon: Iran is more willing than Syria to compromise on Lebanon. Out of all regional conflicts, Syria is probably most concerned with Lebanon.

3) On Palestine there is almost no disagreement.

For those who believed that Iran and Syria could be so easily divided by Saudi Arabia without offering real concessions, Asad's trip to Tehran this weekend should put such speculation to rest. The news was about how Assad and Ahmadinejad vowed to form a stronger alliance against the U.S. and Israel.

Syrian President Bashar Assad said that expansion of Tehran-Damascus ties would help resolve the problems of the Islamic world. He accused the U.S. of trying to attract public opinion within the Islamic world by undermining Iran-Syria relations.

The Syrian leader said Muslims worldwide should be informed about “the evil aims by the U.S. and Zionists” which he said were sowing discord among Muslims.

Sami Moubayed, a smart Syrian analyst, claims that Syria believes it is holding its own quite well against US pressures. Here is what Sami writes of Asad's meeting with Khomenei:

Syrian President Bashar Al Assad went to Tehran last Saturday for a much publicised meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. His two-day visit received a lot of media attention, coming in the midst of Saudi-Iranian talks over Lebanon, the situation in Palestine and much speculation on how Syria can help combat the insurgency in Iraq.

By all accounts, Syria's allies seem to be winning throughout the region. In Palestine, despite all the thunder, Hamas has been called in to form another government with Esmail Haniya as prime minister. This is a victory for Syria. Its allies in Iraq, headed by President Jalal Talabani, are putting great effort in normalising relations between Baghdad and Damascus. And in Lebanon, Hezbollah is still struggling to bring down the anti-Syrian cabinet of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. They have not won in Lebanon, but they certainly are not losing. The situation in each of these three countries is linked, one way or another, to the Syrian-Iranian alliance. If anything, Bashar's visit to Tehran is further proof that to the great displeasure of the United States, this relationship is intact.  

Russia has announced an arms deal for Syria, which will be financed by Iran.

Syria and Saudi Arabia 

So what does this mean for Saudi-Syrian relations? Although many Lebanese journalists and neocons somehow convinced themselves that Saudi Arabia would work to isolate Syria on Washington's behalf, the opposite seems to be the case. There is no doubt that Saudi-Syrian relations have been terrible since Hariri was killed. Lebanon is a big plumb, and both states would like to have preeminence there. Syria can no longer call the shots in Lebanon, as it once did. But it does insist on having a voice, and through Hizbullah and Aoun has the muscle to paralyze Lebanon. Saudi Arabia knows it is pointless to try to eliminate Syrian influence in Lebanon. It has tried and failed. The stand-off in Lebanon between the pro-American and pro-Saudi Lebanese government and the pro-Syrian and pro-Iranian opposition cannot be solved without compromise. Lebanon will run out of money. Oxford business group argues that the Lebanese deficit is so large that it will eat up the 7.5 billion dollars of foreign donations recently promised to Lebanon in a matter of two to three years. The KSA understands that without a political solution and economic growth, Lebanon may not be able to avoid a hard economic crash. To resist Syria altogether will be to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Neither country is interested in that. Lebanon is too important.

Bahia Mardini writing for Elaph claims that the Saudi monarch is sending a delegation to Damascus to smooth out relations with Asad. King Abdullah wants Asad to come to the Arab League meeting in March and wants to repair relations, strained since the Hariri killing. What is more, Mardini claims that Saudi sources argue that their diplomacy with Iran favors Syria and does not threaten it. Today's Elaph also says that that Salim al-Hoss has traveled to both the KSA and Damascus recently. He will travel to Tehran next week in an attempt to find a solution to the Lebanon crisis. Salim al-Hoss has traditionally been Damascus' choice for PM of Lebanon.


Saudi Arabia is playing a positive role in trying to bring unity to the Palestinians and Lebanon. It is doing this, not by following Washington's policy of confrontation and isolation, but through the sort of intensive diplomacy that President Bush and his team refuse to engage in. In effect, Washington is farming out its diplomacy. In matters of high politics, this may turn out to be a good thing, at least in the short term. All the same, as we have seen with the Palestinian unity government, Washington has refused to recognize or give its blessing to the diplomatic solutions that Saudi Arabian has so far arrived at. If Saudi Arabia can broker a Lebanon compromise by giving the opposition a larger role in the cabinet, will Washington agree to the Saudi brokered terms? There will be many in the White House and in Beirut who will try to torpedo it. Maybe that is the best diplomats in Washington can do at the moment? Better to have some diplomacy rather than none. All the same, the President of the United States should have the vision to carry out his own diplomacy. 

Those who expect Saudi Arabia to isolate Syria and Iran, will be deceived, just as they have been let down by Saudi's Palestine deal. Saudi Arabia has a mind and interests of its own. Its interests are not to follow blindly President Bush's interests. 

In a perverse sense, Washington is using the KSA to do what the Baker-Hamilton report recommended: get Iraq's neighbors together to discuss solutions to regional problems. Hopefully Washington will not spurn the results.

Comments (127)

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1. norman said:

This is interesting analysis by Mubayed
It explains how the US is shooting itself in the foot bacause of poor understanding of the major problem in the midleast ,The Palestinian problem and untill that is solved the US will have enemies in the ARABS.

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February 20th, 2007, 12:06 am


2. Gibran said:

Experts believe Nasrallah is depressed.

Nasrallah depressed, researchers say
Lebanese terror group leader’s speeches, TV appearances lack usual zeal and charisma, behavioral researchers say, adding that criticism directed toward Nasrallah from Syria, Lebanon may be cause of his misery
Hanan Greenberg
Published: 02.19.07, 18:52 / Israel News

Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah is suffering from some form of depression, Israeli behavioral researchers said.

The experts, who examined Nasrallah’s patterns of behavior during recent public appearances and compared it to his conduct in the past, said if their assertion was correct it would be difficult to predict the Hizbullah chief’s actions in the future.

According to the researchers, Nasrallah’s current speeches and TV appearances lack the usual zeal and charisma.

The researchers said Nasrallah’s depression may be the result of criticism directed at him from Lebanon and Syria.

Israeli security establishment officials refused to comment on the researchers’ conclusion, but did say that Nasrallah may attack Israel for the very reason that he feels threatened and unsure of himself.

Other officials, on the other hand, said these may be the first signs of decline in Hizbullah’s status.

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February 20th, 2007, 2:24 am


3. Gibran said:

Dr. Landis keeps dreaming Disney Land roles to crippled Syrian despot in Iraq among other places. Well, experts who live in the Middle East disagree. In particular they confirm our assertion that Bashar is incapable of getting two Iraqis to meet, let alone the two branches of so-called Iraqi and Syrian Baath:

الدوري يفضّل مؤتمراً في بغداد وآخرون يقترحون اليمن مكاناً لانعقاده … بعثيو العراق يتهمون دمشق بشق حزبهم ويطردون 50 «متآمراً ومأجوراً»
بغداد – ربيع الهاشم الحياة – 20/02/07//

صدام حسين
نفى مسؤول في «حزب البعث العربي الاشتراكي – القطر العراقي» ما تردد من انباء عن فصل (150) عضواً من اعضائه بتهمة «التآمر على الحزب والعمل على شق وحدته»، واصفاً الخبر بأنه «غير صحيح» و «ليس سوى شائعة». الا ان المسؤول (الذي عرّف عن نفسه باسم «الرفيق ابو أوس»…) قال لـ «الحياة» بأن عدد الذين شملهم «قرار التجميد هم اقل من ثلث العدد المذكور» و»ان قراراً بفصلهم من الحزب لم يصدر حتى الآن باستثناء واحد منهم فقط» من دون ان يذكر اسمه، ويرجح ان يكون عضو القيادة القطرية محمد يونس الاحمد الذي تبنى مؤخراً، الدعوة الى «عقد مؤتمر غير رسمي، ولا قانوني، للحزب في دمشق، معتمداً على بعض البعثيين الموجودين خارج العراق، وفي سورية تحديداً، لانتخاب قيادة قطرية جديدة خلفاً للقيادة التي كان يرأسها صدام حسين». وأكد «ابو أوس» ان قرارات اخرى بحق آخرين ممن وصفهم بـ «المخالفين للنظام الداخلي للحزب، والمتحركين في اطار خطة اميركية لشق الحزب كانت خطوتها الاولى اغتيال الرئيس الشهيد صدام حسين لتمهيد الجو لهؤلاء للتحرك الحر» – على حد تعبيره. فما حقيقة ما جرى ويجري في هذا الشأن؟

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February 20th, 2007, 3:15 am


4. Gibran said:

I may have found the cause of Nasrallah’s depression. Aoun seems to be the most probable cause. Aoun multiplied his 5’s by his 6’s, added them, divided them and finally got the results. He complains that Christians are not represented but the Shia are represented in government even though they resigned. He now wants to support the international tribunal. Tres bon mon general:

Aoun’s bloc accuses Justice Ministry of ‘negligence’

Daily Star staff
Tuesday, February 20, 2007

RABIEH: MP Michel Aoun’s parliamentary bloc accused the Justice Ministry and the judiciary on Monday of “negligence and laziness,” because they have yet to make progress toward “uncovering the truth behind the numerous crimes that took place in Lebanon.”

After their weekly meeting at the former general’s home in Rabieh, the Reform and Change bloc issued a statement accusing Justice Minister Charles Rizk of “lacking the will to assume his responsibilities.”

“If other judicial employees find themselves incapable of doing much,” the MPs added, “all they need to do is resign from their posts so they will not be considered false witnesses. Otherwise, they have to assume responsibility.”

The statement added that assassinations targeting both political figures and civilians would persist, “as long as the truth behind prior crimes remains hidden.”

The statement also expressed the bloc’s fears that the assassinations were being used to “instigate strife and widen the gap between the Lebanese.”

Aoun, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), had warned, late Sunday that last week’s twin bus bombings in Ain Alaq should not be “exploited politically.”

He also urged the Lebanese judiciary to “summon anyone who throws random accusations with regard to the crime.”

In a televised interview on the National Broadcasting Network, Aoun said he supported the formation of an international court to try those involved in the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri.

“I pledge to sign the settlement for the formation of the international tribunal as soon as I receive some clarification about its jurisdiction,” he said.

Aoun added that it was “his right” to ask for clarifications.

Asked about the possibility of the international tribunal being established under Chapter 7 of the United Nations charter, Aoun said that “the formation of this tribunal under Chapter 7 would be a punishment of all the Lebanese, since Chapter 7 is known to entail sanctions.”

With regard to the current political deadlock, Aoun said that the demand of the opposition for “true partnership” was a “Christian demand, not a Shiite one.”

Aoun said that the Shiites are already represented in the government, even if their ministers resigned. “Yet,” he added, “a true representation for Lebanese Christians is missing in the government.”

Aoun said that Christian ministers operating as part of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s government “do not represent the Christian majority.”

How about teaming up with March 14 to kick Lahood?

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February 20th, 2007, 3:57 am


5. Alex said:

I’m afraid not Gibran.

1) Reminder: Nasrallah’s, in his most recent TV interview said that to prove to everyone that he is not after making political gains, he does not want a single one from the new seats they are seeking for “the opposition”

So, he already agreed with Aoun to give him the extra seats. No problem there… That’s what Aoun explained today. I’m happy he regained your support this way.

2) Aoun supported the International tribunal, just like Syria supports it … after they all discuss it and propose certain terms that make it much more difficult for the Americans and all your freinds to use it as a good tool to punish Hizbollah and/or Syria.

Again, I’m glad you were satisfied with his position / Syria’s position on this issue.

3) Nasralah’s despression … you know, this is so consistent with a number of similar cases I read about the past two years in Assyassa and Al-Mustaqbal and other Israeli and American fine newspapers … for example, the 4 chiefs of Lebanese security agencies who were jailed by Mehlis two years ago … they were depressed and crying and they admitted everything already! … and one of them was hitting his head to the wall and bleeding. Then we have Asef Shawkat who was so depressed that he asked France to give him a VISA to immigrate there and he promised to bring the billions he stole and Chirac did not allow him. Then there was Bashar who was depressed and crying and suffered from all kinds of other illnesses …

I’m telling you … the good guys are really driving the bad guys to depression.

4) And it seems those Iraqi leaders keep coming to Damascus and they keep calling Syria a significant country and they keep thanking Syria for its constructive role

Here is the one from today … the Iraqi national dialog minister himself.

استعرض السيد فاروق الشرع نائب رئيس الجمهورية قبل ظهر اليوم مع السيد أكرم الحكيم وزير الدولة العراقى لشؤون الحوار الوطنى والوفد المرافق له تطورات الاوضاع على الساحة العراقية.

وفى هذا الصدد اكد السيد الشرع ان المصالحة الوطنية ضرورة حتمية من اجل استعادة امن العراق والحفاظ على وحدته ارضا وشعبا وتحقيق حريته وسيادته مجددا استعداد سورية لتقديم كل ما من شأنه تحقيق الوفاق الوطنى بين العراقيين.

حضر اللقاء السيد محمد ناصيف معاون نائب رئيس الجمهورية والقائم بأعمال السفارة العراقية بدمشق.

واكد الحكيم فى تصريح للصحفيين عقب اللقاء اهمية الدور الذى تقوم به سورية تجاه العراق معربا عن تقديره لوقوف سورية الى جانب الشعب العراقى وقواه الوطنية.

وقال انه لمس خلال لقائه السيد الرئيس بشار الاسد والمسؤولين السوريين خلال زيارته الحالية لدمشق استعدادا كبيرا لدعم العملية السياسية ومشروع المصالحة فى العراق مؤكدا ان هذا الموقف يعد مكسبا كبيرا للعراق.

واضاف الحكيم ان سورية دولة مهمة فى المنطقة وعلاقاتنا معها هامة مشيرا الى ان مرحلة جديدة لهذه العلاقات قد بدأت وهى قابلة للنمو والتطور.

واوضح ان القوى العراقية بكل اطيافها تعتقد انه لابد من علاقات ايجابية متطورة مع دول الجوار وخصوصا مع الدول المحورية.

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February 20th, 2007, 4:44 am


6. Gibran said:

Now Alex if you quote some one other than Sharaa I would have given it some weight. But with Sharaa give me a break please. Now don’t go and find me some Mouallim quote or some Imad Moustapha halucination. Come on man cann’t you do any better and find some quotes from independent sources? After all my quotes all came from respected independent sources: Al-Hayat, Ydiot Ahronot, and the Daily Star.

By the way this is not the only speech of Aoun concentrating on strictly Christian issues. He’s been talking about himself mostly in Christian terms recently. I believe he’s had it with Nasrallah. He is too much of a liability for him among the Lebanese Christians.

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February 20th, 2007, 5:06 am


7. ausamaa said:

Well, maybe Iraqi poitical leaders should take the hint of Iraqi President Talbani as demonstrated during his recent visit to Syria.

Syria is where the “action” is.. he was indicating in a way.

He is a survivor after all..

Anyway, eventually Syria, Iran and Turkey will have to manage the Iraqi portofolio till God knows when…

Talk about Syria loosing its cards!!!

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February 20th, 2007, 5:06 am


8. Gibran said:

Talibani, O’ yes. What did he say just after he left Syria? 50% of terrorist come from Syria, right?

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February 20th, 2007, 5:10 am


9. Gibran said:

Nasrallah Facing a Huge Dilemma. Well Alex I got the same result from two different analysts:

The Two-Faced Rhetoric
Elias Harfouch Al-Hayat – 18/02/07//

With regards to the investigation into the murder of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the establishment of the International Tribunal, and its role in the Resistance, Hezbollah is facing two major predicaments: either it confronts these issues like a Lebanese party, or it sides with another project that would keep it out of the Lebanese equation.

Hezbollah’s declared and written rhetoric completely points out that it longs to play a leading role, as if it were saying: ‘If it were not for my circumstances!’ On the other hand, however, its attitude suggests that it is compelled to stand elsewhere.

On February 14, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah wanted to take part in the commemorations for Hariri’s murder. Since his security circumstances kept him from participating openly, as Beirut’s division prevented his party from attending, as well, he wrote an article in the ‘As-safir’ newspaper. Most of this speech could have been delivered by one of the majority’s main figures, as he affirmed that there is an ‘obligation to find the truth’ and to ‘persecute the killers’. He also expressed his ‘feeling about this calamity, as well as his worry and even panic about the possibility that the country could fall apart as a result of the earthquake it was struck by the assassination’. He also said: ‘Truth has become a unifying national request, and there are now many fears that this great martyr’s blood may have been shed in vain’.

In his speech delivered two days ago, during the commemorations for the killing of Sayyed Abbas Moussawi, Nasrallah wanted to take Hezbollah back to the south, after the party had been accused on more than one occasion that its sit-in protest in Beirut had distracted it from the main mission it charged itself with, that is, the liberation. He did so by re-affirming the party’s right to possess arms, and criticized the officials who seized a truck of arms, threatening that the ‘weapons that are confiscated from us are usurped, even if they are taken to the South’. He also confirmed that ‘for us, resistance is a project of life, glory, dignity, survival and continuation’. In other words, he linked the party’s survival and continuation to the survival of the Resistance, and not to the sit-in held in Riyad el-Solh Square or the ‘understanding’ with Michel Aoun.

Nevertheless, the Resistance, as is well known, is a fact on the ground and not propaganda. Otherwise, it would just turn into a political speech using the ‘resistant’ attitude in favor of its internal and regional goals, so that nothing more is said in support of those the Resistance dubs as having ‘surrendered’ and are ‘subjugated’.

However, Nasrallah, by confirming the priority of the Resistance, said at the same time that the party is committed to protecting the international forces (UNIFIL) in the South and avoid any clash, since ‘Lebanon has no interest in stirring problems between the opposition and UNIFIL’. He even accused other parties of instigating and planning such clashes to hold Hezbollah responsible, should they occur.

Hezbollah’s problem with this peaceful speech is that it only goes half-way. If its orator follows this logic until the end, he would meet other Lebanese parties, namely the majority, on one single national attitude. But for some reason and somehow, Nasrallah and his party cannot do that.

It is surprising that Hezbollah’s Secretary General does not find any contradictions between his support to find the ‘truth’ about the assassination of PM Rafik Hariri and his ambiguous stance on the International Tribunal in curtailing the constitutional institutions liable to establish this court.

It is also surprising that he does not find any contradictions between his positive attitude toward UNIFIL and his claim that the party has the right to possess weapons ‘to liberate the land and defend the country’. Indeed, he realizes before anyone else the commitments arranged by UN Resolution 1701 for the Lebanese government. In particular, this Resolution has to do with the government preserving security along the border and authorized weapons in this area. Resolution 1701 states that arms must exclusively be in the hands of the Lebanese security forces or must be present under the Lebanese government’s approval. In other words, ‘liberating the land and defending the country’ is no longer Hezbollah’s exclusive mission.

Before thinking about national reconciliation with others, Hezbollah is now forced more than ever to reconcile its internal political rhetoric with its real stances on the ground. These stances are, at the very least, concealing great embarrassment about the position in which the party has been put and the commitments that have been arranged for it.

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February 20th, 2007, 5:20 am


10. Alex said:

No Gibran, it was not Talibani who said that.

And I did not quote Shara .. I quoted the Iraqi minister of national dialog himself … does it get more reliable than that?

It seems you read only the first two lines .. here is the part I quoted … the Iraqi minister’s name is “Alhakim”

واكد الحكيم فى تصريح للصحفيين عقب اللقاء اهمية الدور الذى تقوم به سورية تجاه العراق معربا عن تقديره لوقوف سورية الى جانب الشعب العراقى وقواه الوطنية.

وقال انه لمس خلال لقائه السيد الرئيس بشار الاسد والمسؤولين السوريين خلال زيارته الحالية لدمشق استعدادا كبيرا لدعم العملية السياسية ومشروع المصالحة فى العراق مؤكدا ان هذا الموقف يعد مكسبا كبيرا للعراق.

واضاف الحكيم ان سورية دولة مهمة فى المنطقة وعلاقاتنا معها هامة مشيرا الى ان مرحلة جديدة لهذه العلاقات قد بدأت وهى قابلة للنمو والتطور.

واوضح ان القوى العراقية بكل اطيافها تعتقد انه لابد من علاقات ايجابية متطورة مع دول الجوار وخصوصا مع الدول المحورية.

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February 20th, 2007, 5:23 am


11. ausamaa said:

On the other hand, and if King Abdullah remains at the helm, God wishing, it looks like a little “kissing” party would be arranged between Riyadh and Damascus. What with General Michele Suliman as Lebanon’s president, and Hamas promissing to stick to Mecca Agreement at all costs, and Syria urging the Palestinians to do their best to make the Mecca Agreement stick. Everyone is cooling it off. Back from the brinks. And this time, Israel may well decide to play ball. Hurt feelings notwithstanding. Provided Washington agrees to “see” this as the magic compromise, face saving solution.

Heck,some people would be whispering in POTUS ear that he can claim that this will strengthen the “moderates” in the area and it will not really be a defeat for his policies. Cut the losses and run and let us get back to business they would be saying. Maybe use the carrot next time. We have shown that we have a big stick and, mind you, it did not really work very well. Let us explore our options. We have tried, have we not? But this is the Middle East as you well know, they would be saying!

Very tidey.. welcome to “a” new Middle East..and have a nice day all around..

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February 20th, 2007, 5:23 am


12. Gibran said:

Alex, that’s even worse coming from somebody who doesn’t want to hear the word Baath altogether.

Sorry to disappoint you dreamer. your ME plan has a big hole in it. Read on from General Michel Suleiman’s mouth:

‘The army does not execute any decision that harms unity’

Daily Star staff
Tuesday, February 20, 2007


BEIRUT: Lebanese Army Commander General Michel Suleiman regretted that political divisions in the country were based on sectarianism, praising the army for dealing with the latest conflicts “in the best way in the history of Lebanon.” “Despite all problems the country has gone through, the soldier from Akkar and the soldier from Hermel execute one order from one command and stand together to safeguard the country,” Suleiman said in an interview published by local daily An-Nahar on Monday.

“It is really shameful to say that the army failed to accomplish its duty … The army cannot settle such a severe political discord,” he added.

Suleiman was referring to last month’s street clashes that erupted during a protest called for by the opposition on January 23, and those at the Beirut Arab University two days later. At least four people were killed and more than 160 wounded.

Suleiman said he regretted that the country was divided over sects, which he said “have been given a political form.”

“If divisions [among the Lebanese] were not sectarian, the solution would have been easier; unfortunately, divisions are sectarian par excellence even if they are made to look political,” he said.

Asked if the army could have played a better role in preserving security during the January clashes, Suleiman said the Lebanese soldiers’ performance was “as good as it can be.”

“Politicians [of either camp] should also have a role in this regard and facilitate the arrest of those wanted by the Lebanese authorities instead of protecting them and facilitating their escape,” he said.

According to Suleiman, if the Lebanese are not willing to build a unified country, no one can force them to do so, but ” if the Lebanese want a free, sovereign and independent country, the army will be the tool to execute their will.”

Expressing his rejection of military rule in Lebanon, Suleiman dismissed claims that he was considering running in the presidential elections.

“I will not violate the Constitution, which stipulates that first-rank employees should resign two years before running for the position of president,” he said.

“Expressing his rejection of military rule in Lebanon, Suleiman dismissed claims that he was considering running in the presidential elections.
“I will not violate the Constitution, which stipulates that first-rank employees should resign two years before running for the position of president,” he said.
“My current goal is to rescue the country and the army before holding democratic presidential polls … After that, I will quit the army command,” he added.
“Lebanon cannot be governed by its military or through a dictatorship … It is a country satiated with democracy … but such a great amount of democracy in Lebanon might lead
to chaos.”

Asked about the army’s red lines, the army commander said national unity “is more than a red line that the army cannot surpass or allow anyone to do so.”

“The army does not execute any decision that harms national unity,” he added.

Suleiman also said that soldiers deployed in the South will defend Lebanese land, as well as prevent any Israeli violations.

“The Israelis want to terrorize the army and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon … They are seeking revenge for their defeat in Lebanon,” he said.

Asked about the resistance’s disarmament, Suleiman said “it is a Lebanese issue to be tackled by the Lebanese, exclusively.”

But, he asked, “why has the army not been provided with guided missiles?”

“The army was not provided with the necessary weapons under the pretext that those weapons would be taken by the Palestinian or Lebanese resistance … The resistance, whether Palestinian or Lebanese, Islamic or national, was provided with guided missiles,” he said.

According to Suleiman, “the army cannot be divided … Those who are dreaming about seeing the army partitioned are mistaken … Soldiers are even more conscientious than many leaders in this country.”

Separately, Suleiman met Monday with Ashraf Rifi, head of the Internal Security Forces, to discuss ways to promote cooperation between the army and ISF in terms of preserving security. – The Daily Star

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February 20th, 2007, 5:38 am


13. ausamaa said:

And Josh.., BRAVO..!!

This is the most objective and realistic analysis of the situation I have read anywhere. We have managed to make it through some 150 responses to the previous post, but this article has made the waiting worth our while..

The only “gray” area is what does Israel make of and see in all this. But that area has been gray for decades.

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February 20th, 2007, 5:43 am


14. ausamaa said:

And that is General Michele Suliman dealing out the cards masterfuly. Pretty. Is it not. Junblat and Jaja must be having a fit by now. And Harriri Jr.? Well, he does listen to words of Wisdom. Can he not?

Let us keep our fingers crossed. This is the Middle East after all.

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February 20th, 2007, 5:49 am


15. Alex said:

Gibran here is another one for you today

الأمير طلال: لا يمكن حل الأزمة بعيداً عن سوريا

رأى الأمير السعودي طلال بن عبدالعزيز رئيس برنامج الخليج العربي لدعم منظمات الأمم المتحدة الإنمائية “اجفند” أن الأزمة اللبنانية لا يمكن أن تحل بعيداً عن سوريا، وأضاف في مؤتمر صحافي أمس في تونس في ختام اجتماعات مجلس أمناء مركز المرأة العربية للتدريب والبحوث “كوثر”، أن سوريا تعد “رقماً مهماً وأساسياً” في المنطقة لا يتعين تجاهلها بأي حال.
وقال إن تسوية الأزمة اللبنانية هي مسؤولية جميع الأطراف والفرقاء اللبنانيين،كما أن لسوريا وإيران دوراً مهماً في تسوية “لا الأوضاع فقط في لبنان، وإنما أيضاً في العراق”.

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February 20th, 2007, 5:52 am


16. ausamaa said:

When it rains, it pours. We are counting our blessings now!!

Prince Tallal..!? Nice again.The kissing party seems to be getting on well.

Looks like the next Arab summit in March would have good news for all. We hope.

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February 20th, 2007, 5:57 am


17. Gibran said:

And who will kiss who? And where will Meshaal be staying in Damascus? Isn’t he going to take on the offer to move with his entourage to the Gulf with full diplomatic credentials? It makes a lot of sense. Where did the offer come from and why? And please tell me how much ‘convincing’ services Bashar will have left in his pocket? I just admire your wishful optimism! It is the Middle East after all.

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February 20th, 2007, 5:58 am


18. Gibran said:

Come on Alex. Everyone knows Prince Talal. He is just a busimessman and you know who his mother is. He is an outsider to the royals even though he is a Prince. I am not suggesting any disrespect but he has no say in politics. They may listen to him when it comes to money. He is no doubt a genius in that field. But that is all it is. Politics is reserved to the select few who really understand it. I don’t want to put the Prince down. But even Juliani snobbed him off and he was only a mayor.

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February 20th, 2007, 6:03 am


19. ausamaa said:

Ah, Gibran, sorry. Riyadh kissing Damascus, or vice versa. And never mind who Prince Tallal is. This is Saudi Arabia after all, where everyone knows his limits and does not dare cross them on their “own” initiative. Foriegn policy, no one plays with that unless he is authorised. Look at what prince Bandar got for venturing with that “adventure” authorised Saudi Source stuff last July.

And do not worry about Meshall and Hamas address. They have a long lease on their Damascus offices. So does Nassrallah in Lebanon. It seems the motto now is do not trouble troubles till trouble troubles you.

And you are correct. This is the Middle East. You never go dissappointed here!

And Ya habibi, something is better than nothing. Would you rather see everyone sliding to the brink again?? After all, Politics is the Art of the Possible. Or, so they say.

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February 20th, 2007, 6:04 am


20. Gibran said:

I’d say it will be more like Bashar kissing the King’s ass if it ever comes to that. Followed by full sincere conversion to Sunnism with clear disavowal to any resort to taqiyya and several years of rehabilitation at the hands of recognized Sunni teachers. I still admire you optimism but don’t fool yourself.

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February 20th, 2007, 6:08 am


21. ausamaa said:

Gibran, Are we getting “personal” again. I can answer by saying that we all know who the traditional ass kissers and apple polishers are. Do we not? But I wont.

Have a nice day, or a nice evening, your time. Hate to leave you now, but gotta get to work now here.

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February 20th, 2007, 6:13 am


22. Gibran said:

There is nothing personal in that if you think about clearly. You’re just hyper – it is the Middle East after all where you come from. You are not a seasoned North American yet it seems.

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February 20th, 2007, 6:17 am


23. Mo said:

A curious question,

in line with Joshua’s analysis, what would be Jumblatt’s and Geagea’s reactions to all of that?
I mean, if a deal were to be reached between Riyadh & Damascus (& Hariri), and relations normalized again, how would this duo react?

I found 2 plausible answers:
1. live with it, accept the solution, and rebuild relations with Syria, slowly (Assad has shown openness to deal with Everybody in Lebanon, but Jumblatt has NOT: he drew a no-return line in a recent al-Jazeera interview with Ahmed Mansour)

2. use force! To what extent? I don’t know.. Buy time, waiting for a “major change” to happen in Syria (or so they wish).. I don’t think this is going to be the case though, very risky..

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February 20th, 2007, 7:13 am


24. Gibran said:

Don’t take every thing you read on this blog seriously. Actually none of Josh’s analyses ever come true. Most of the talk on this blog is just for scoring points as to who can talk more. The truth is none of these supposed deals are actually discussed among the actual players.

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February 20th, 2007, 7:55 am


25. SV said:

If Josh’s analyses never come true, why are you here!?! Are you one of those sick-minded Anti-Syrian Lebanese???

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February 20th, 2007, 8:40 am


26. MSK said:

Dear Josh,

it’s good to see that you’re stating your own take on the developments and not just list some news articles.

Just a couple of comments:

— Sami Moubayed keeps writing pitiful articles. I’m still not sure if he actually believes what he says or if he doesn’t want to jeopardize his re-entry visa to Damascus. Hamas’, HA’s, and Iran’s alliances with the Syrian regime are TACTICAL. They will break them if they feel it necessary. Syria has been (very smartly) cultivating its connections with those three and in return stayed significant within the region. But the regime cannot count on those alliances lasting, just as those three know that the Syrian regime would break off the relationship in a heartbeat if it got better offers (say, a return of the Golan?). How Sami arrives at the conclusion that Jalal Talabani is a Syrian ally (or that Syria has ANY allies in the Iraqi government) is beyond me. But hey, if it helps him sleep better … fine by me.

— You wrote that “Hizbullah, however, insists that far from wanting to overthrow the government or change Lebanon’s consociational form of government, it merely wants better representation for the opposition comenserate with its numbers.” Well, of course they say that. But that would only work if there were real elections on the local level, so that an official number of just how many people support HA can be ascertained. The problem in Lebanese politics is that nobody trusts anyone else. Giving HA a veto power means paralyzing the government. HA has been the prime force that single-mindedly claims to know what’s best for Lebanon & then just do it regardless of what anyone else thinks, and regardless of the consequences. Oh yeah, and then there’s also the issue with HA’s militia …

— Iran … is using Syria. Or does anyone here believe that the Shi’ite Islamist regime in Tehran has any sympathy for the Ba’thi secularist one in Damascus? The Iranian leadership has an ideological affinity to HA, to large parts of the current Iraqi government, and even to Sunni Islamist groups like Hamas. But the Syrian connection was born out of despair, in the early years of the Iran-Iraq War, and has never been anything but a tactical alliance, a la “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. Syria is useful (& to a large extent also necessary) because of its geographical location. But that has absolutely nothing to do with the Syrian government. Iran is pursuing its own interests. And “friendship with Bashar & his group” isn’t one of them.

— On the Mecca Agreement, do feel free to read this: What the Mecca Agreement could mean for the future of Palestine




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February 20th, 2007, 10:35 am


27. Ford Prefect said:

Dear MSK,
Regarding your latest posting, some points from my end:

– Sami Moubayed. The two alternatives you painted missed a very important third one: Patriotism! Sami does not need to appease anyone. I am aware of at least several lucrative offers he received outside of Syria – and they continue to pour in. Inside of Syria, many nice-to-have perks and monies have been offered to him – to speak someone else’s mind. He turned them all down. One simple answer: Patriotism. And Sami speaks his mind and none else. He always does. I disagree with his writings often, but I genuinely admire his independent and free mind.

– Iran/Syria alliance is not new. It is almost 25 years old and counting. It started by the late Hafez and still going. I find it hard to fathom how can such a link be broken overnight and over any deal. It will take a genius several years to untangle this complicated relationship. Also, please add Russia to this alliance – it is deeply involved in this cocktail of asynchronous societies.

– Lebanon/HA. Lebanon has profoundly changed. It will be no longer feasible for anyone to have an absolute say in Lebanon without representing the aspirations and sentiments of the “have-not” of the Lebanese people. Maybe HA will transform itself to Hizb-xxxx. But the old days of taking a large section of the Lebanese people for granted are long gone. There is a new reality in Lebanon. Just imagine a census of the population in Lebanon in the year 2027 and you will have a glimpse into Lebanon’s future that is being shaped today.

Otherwise, as always, I enjoy your postings and insights.

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February 20th, 2007, 12:53 pm


28. MSK said:

Dear FP,

– I agree with your take on Sami, i.e. that he’s driven by patriotism. But in this patriotism he keeps conflating the regime with the people & the country. I would’ve thought him to be smarter than that. Also, patriotism is one thing – but thinking that Syria has “natural rights” in Lebanon & the region is something else, maaheek?

– Iran/Syria: I SAID that the alliance was born in the early years of the Iran-Iraq War, i.e. the early 80s. So obviously I know that it’s 25 years old. Still, at NO POINT during that quarter of a century was the alliance anything more than a tactical one. Assad Sr. never cared much for Islamism (Shi’ite or otherwise) as the future for the whole Muslim world and neither did the Khomeinists in Tehran ever accept secular Arab nationalism a la Ba’th. They allied themselves because they didn’t have much choice. And that’s still the case. Should there be other, better choices … the alliance will dissolve. That goes for the Ba’th regime as much as for the Khomeinists.

– Russia is not part of that alliance. Russia is doing its own politics. And as a matter of fact, they hold both the Arab and the Iranian leaderships even more in contempt than the West does. If you think Russia is a friend, you’ll be in for a very rude awakening.

– Lebanon: I don’t understand your reply since it doesn’t have anything to do with what I said. My argument is that HA is not interested in any consosiacional system, but in having a veto power over anything that happens in the Lebanese national sphere so it can do as it pleases. HA is of a “if you’re not 100% with us, then you’re against us” mentality. That’s not the recipe for power sharing. The smartest thing the Israelis could do is to declare Seniora/Hariri/Jumblatt to be the worst enemies that Israel has ever had, declare Bashar al-Assad to be the best friend that Israel ever had, and to state every day how happy they are that Nasrallah’s politics keeps helping Israel and how much they hope he’ll be HA’s za’im for a long time to come.




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February 20th, 2007, 1:14 pm


29. Gibran said:

Here is how the census in Lebanon will look like in 2027:
1500000 Christians living in East Beirut, Mount Lebanon, Zahle and the south (we know them soul by soul)
500000 Sunnis living in Tripoli and the north (Also known soul by soul)
500000 Sunnis living in West Beirut (Known to the nth soul)
200000 Sunnis living in Sidon (known to the nth soul)
50000 Sunnis living in west and north Bekaa and the Kharroub (these are very well well known)

400000 Shia living in the Bekaa (very well known)
400000 Shia living in the south (each and every soul is accounted for).
100000 Shia living in the Dahiyya (hopefully not in tents and these are well well known)
400000 Druze living in the Chouf (Jonblat has a record of each and every soul).

Could you now give a breakdown of Syrian census and where the Sunnis, alawis, christians, kurds etc are located?

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February 20th, 2007, 1:59 pm


30. youngSyria said:

Dear MSK,
From my small experience in patriotism, “thinking that Syria has natural rights in Lebanon & the region” is something acceptable for me*. I think it’s our right to favor our interests first, even if they intersect with others (or harm them). Because Lebanon and others in the region wont think twice if it’s in there interests to harm Syria and its people.

*the way you play the game is up to you, so your “natural rights” doesn’t have to be always “evil”.

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February 20th, 2007, 2:16 pm


31. MSK said:

Dear YS,

there is a difference between “interests” and “rights”.



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February 20th, 2007, 2:25 pm


32. ausamaa said:

Then let us just say “Syrian National Security Requierments” in stead of Intersts and Rights. The US Administration might object to such usage of the term though. By others, I mean.

Also, Syria and Iran has been working closely since the early eighties, since Saddam’s Qadisya. That is more than 20 some years, and counting, but we insist on calling it Tactical so both parties can be painted as Opportunists.

How in God’s name does this relationship fit the term “Tactical Alliance”?

What would a Strategic relationship look like???

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February 20th, 2007, 3:32 pm


33. Samir said:

Could you now give a breakdown of Syrian census and where the Sunnis, alawis, christians, kurds etc are located?

A big majority of the syrians are sunni muslims (10% are kurds),12 percent:alawis,druzes and ismailis.Most of the syrian christians live in the big cities,150 000 in Aleppo ,300 000 in Damascus,since the 60’s most of christian villagers are moving to the cities or to outside the country.
alawis and druzes have their own historical lands ,the mountain of nusayris and jabal al druze in the south…nearly 35% of the kurds live in two cities,aleppo and damascus ,the others in kurd dagh north east of aleppo and in the syrian jazeera.

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February 20th, 2007, 5:10 pm


34. Alex said:

Dear MSK,

Where did you disappear the past few days?

1) Sami Moubayed’s “patriotism”: … why not? Sami is writing opinion pieces, he is not a news reporter. He is expected to write HIS opinion, and not report the news as it is.

Compare him to for example to Raghida Dergham who reports THE NEWS from the Untied States for AlHayat … she hates the Syrians and she shows it every time she sends a news report to AlHayat or to LBC… She is selective with the news she reports (usually only negative news for Syria) and her emotions (hate basically) reach an almost comic degree… when she appeared on LBC to announce the first Mehlis report that named Maher and Asef as suspects, Raghida was out of breath and jumping from excitement … Alhayat wrote an article about her and how wonderful it was to see her so happy … that is pathetic, I hope you agree.

2) Syrian “rights” … like their right to make sure the neighboring countries which used to be parts of “historic Syria” (or Greater Syria) are at least real friends and not led by paid agents for non-friendly countries like the United States or Israel or Saddam’s Iraq.

You know, we really do not want to take Jordan back. But when you consider that late King Hussein of Jordan admitted he tried to warn the Israelis against the secretly planned Egyptian Syrian war plans in 1973 (to liberate their occupied lands, in case anyone has a problem with the 73 war), and the same king of Jordan who later apologized to Hafez that he tried to assassinate him or topple him through his support to the violence (eh, terrorism in today’s language) campaign of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1979-1981… A campaign that led to the killing of tens of thousands of Syrians, in Hama (Rifaat), and before that everywhere in Syria (at the hands of the Arab governments supported Brotherhood) … and the October 73 war warning to the Israelis which could have caused the death of thousands of Syrian soldiers if Israel believed the King (they did not trust him at that time) …

And now we have a “Moderate Lebanese majority government” that takes orders and accepts limitations from the American Ambassador (and this is not Baathist talk, it is the truth)… a government (sorry Gibran) that is led by true criminals like Junblatt who called for a US invasion of Syria (interview with David Ignatius), then promised to send an assassin to kill the president of Syria…

And we had many others … from Lebanon and Jordan. You think today’s Jordanian king is on Syria’s side or on America’s side?

If those two small new nations, ex-greater Syria, can be truly independent, then good for them and for Syria. But if they can not, then it is “Syria’s right” to limit the risks and potential damage that one can expect from a Junblatt and Jeajea in power.

3) Syria’s “strategic” alliance with Iran and Hizballaha and Hamas … I’ll take a neither nor approach to this one. Hafez el-Assad explained in 1979 (28 years ago) that the overthrow of the Shah presented a significant opportunity for the Arab world to gain Iran as a strategic ally to their causes (the Shah of course was …). Hafez did not want the arab world to fight the Persians … he wanted to make the new Iran a friend. And thanks to him, Iran now is not a serious enemy to the Arabs … remember the opinion polls, don’t listen to some pro American leaders. Even Saudi Arabia, after much resistance, seems to be accepting Iran’s “friendship” … so regardless of the tactical benefits of the Syrian Iranian alliance, what Hafez started 28 years ago still stands … Syria will continue to try its best to remain Iran’s best friend in the Arab world. It reached the popular level too … every Iranian I meet expresses his appreciation for Syria’s support during the 1980 war with Saddam… they like us Syrians. Not every thing is about ideology. Syria has communist Cuba as a friend… it does not mean we fully share their ideology.

As for Hamas and Hizballah … I want you to try to look at Syria’s relations with, and support for those in opposition, and not those who were in power because they were friends to the west … When all the Arab leaders were friends to Saddam, Syria hosted all his opposition leaders. When many of those opposition leaders were selected by the Americans to lead in Iraq, Syria stopped supporting them … it sounds not logical, no? …

Same with the PA … when everyone was supporting Abbas’ leadership, Syria supported Hamas … event hough it was not the one in power.

Here are the two factors that influence Syria’s alliances in the Middle East:

1) For as long as the United States is not doing the right thing in the Middle East, Syria will support those who help in obstructing American messed up policies.

2) Syria will try its best to support the movements which have genuine popular support. For as log as Hamas and Hizbollah are genuinely popular Syria will support them and will take their causes and opinions seriously.

Of course the exception would be when you have a genuinely popular leader, like Seniora who is supported by about half the Lebanese people (Gibran would say, by 85%) yet he is closely coordinating his policies with the American Ambassador…

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February 20th, 2007, 5:25 pm


35. ausamaa said:

Dear Alex,

Seniora “COORDENATING” with the American Ambassador???!!! Not carrying out the wishes, not implementing the dictates, but Coordinating. That is a tall order.

Have you joined the Diplomatic Corps?

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February 20th, 2007, 6:10 pm


36. Alex said:

: )

ok, ok, I’ll make it up.


التقت الملك الأردني لإطلاعه على مباحثات القدس
رايس تلتقي مدراء مخابرات بلدان عربية لبحث الشأن الفلسطيني

عبد الله الثاني يحث الأميركيين على مواصلة دعم السلام في الشرق الأوسط (رويترز)

أفاد مراسل الجزيرة في عمان بأن وزيرة الخارجية الأميركية كوندوليزا رايس التقت في العاصمة الأردنية مدراء مخابرات كل من الأردن ومصر والسعودية والإمارات العربية المتحدة.

وقال المراسل إن اللقاء تم بحضور الأمين العام لمجلس الأمن القومي السعودي الأمير بندر بن سلطان، مشيرا إلى أن الاجتماع أحيط بسرية تامة.

وكان مسؤول بارز في وزارة الخارجية الأميركية رفض الكشف عن هويته أشار إلى أن رايس ستلتقي مسؤولين أمنيين واستخباراتيين من تلك الدول لمناقشة اتفاقية مكة التي تم التوصل إليها برعاية سعودية بين حركتي التحرير الوطني الفلسطيني (فتح) والمقاومة الإسلايمة (حماس) لتشكيل حكومة وحدة وطنية فلسطينية.

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February 20th, 2007, 6:12 pm


37. Gibran said:

Mobayyed? Come on you must be joking. Did you see his last piece of joke? You have to dig deeper for me to take you seriously Aussama. And about ragheda Dorgham she is a well respected intelligent reporter/analyst. The problem is with the Syrians. There is not too many good things that can be written about them. Sorry Aussama you have to begin to apply self criticism. I mean what else can you report about Syria except subversive plots of neighboring States? And Syria taking Jordan? Now that would really make me crack laughing! You know full well Aussama that the Hashemites have better clainm over Damascus than any one else – at least much better than the obscure Alawis. We haven’t forgotten Faysal and his legions delivering the Damascenes out of Turkish servitude. I would say it is more like the other way around. Southern Syria is better off joining Hashemite Jordan. Would you care taking a poll of Damascene’s opinions on this issue? That could be a good question to ask on the next Zogby poll! But please don’t touch Jumblat. He is the greatest Lebanese national since Bashir Ibn Shihab the great and we Lebanese will not allow a Syrian intruder to touch even one hair of his. We simply love the way he talks. He is the best talk show on Lebanese TV’s. We are actually in the process of including his dad’s assassination file in the investigation. We will seek to reclaim Hafez bones to face justice beside his beloved Bashar and inflict the appropriate punishment on them as may fit the situation. Siniora, now this is the big problem for Bashar I’d say. Because Seniora screwed Bashar up real good especially with HA and Aoun. And yes Seniora speaks for 85% of Lebanon who always were will always be allied with America. And yes Bashar may soon have to deal with Jaaja as the President of Lebanon – Bye Bye Lahood last Summer for you in Baabda. Now Bashar is in real trouble: O’ Papa I have no body left in Lebanon.

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February 20th, 2007, 6:21 pm


38. Ammad said:

Actually Saudi Arabia is a very important player in middle east, Saudi Arabia only competitor in the region is Iran.As far as it is concerned about Syria, Syria present alliance is with Iran, in the future Saudi Arabia might be Syria ally, what I am trying to say that syrian regime is not royal to any one, it has no principles, it is only looking for its interests and not national interest, arms continue to flow from syria to Hizbullah, in iraq syrian involvement is limited to Al Anbar province.

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February 20th, 2007, 6:43 pm


39. MSK said:

I’ve tried this earlier today but it didn’t work, so here I’ll try again:

Syrian coast guards fire on Lebanese fishing boat

20 February 2007

BEIRUT, Lebanon – Syrian coast guards fired on Tuesday on a small Lebanese fishing boat that had strayed into Syrian waters, killing a Lebanese fisherman, Lebanese security officials said.

The coast guards opened fire as the Lebanese boat of two crewmen was retrieving its nets, which had drifted into Syrian waters overnight, the Lebanese officials said.

There was no immediate comment from Syria.

The officials said one of the two fishermen, Diab Ahmed Kuwaiza, was killed immediately but the other, Kuwaiza’s brother Nimr, survived and managed to steer their boat back into Lebanese waters.

Nimr could not say whether the Syrian fire came from guns on land or on a coast guard boat because he was too shocked by the sudden killing of his brother, the officials said.

A Lebanese naval vessel later towed the fishing boat to the northern port of Tripoli.

Did I miss something overnight? Did Syria & Israel decide to change places & now the Syrians get to harass Lebanese fishermen?



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February 20th, 2007, 6:47 pm


40. norman said:

This will depress Gibran and the other enemies of Syria , I hope president Bush will see the benifit that the US will get from being the champion of peace

Realpolitik: Syria can make a difference
NEW YORK, Feb. 20 (UPI) — U.S. administration officials are increasingly talking about the wisdom of engaging with Syria to try to gain its support and participation in efforts to stop the already chaotic situation in the Middle East from further deterioration. Although it would have been wise from the first to engage with Syria, talking directly to Syria at this juncture is even more urgent and of paramount importance to the United States and its allies in the region.

Whether Washington likes it or not, Syria does matter, and so it is imperative for the administration to forget about regime change in Damascus and view Syria as a future partner rather than an adversary.

Syria matters because it is at the heart of the Middle East and is the key to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace. In Lebanon, Syria matters because, imbedded in Lebanon’s social, economic, and political makeup, it continues to exert tremendous influence over Hezbollah.

As a predominantly Sunni state, Syria matters because it can shift the dynamic of the Shiite-Sunni conflict away from a dangerous escalation with the potential of engulfing the entire region.

Moreover, in any effort to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Syria is crucial because luring Syria out of the Iranian orbit would isolate Tehran and weaken its resolve.

Syria is a lynchpin in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict too because more than any other Arab state, it provides not only a sanctuary for Palestinian radical leaders but is the keeper of the flame of the Palestinian national movement.

In Iraq, meanwhile, Syria plays a key role more than at any other time because the Bush administration desperately wants and needs to succeed there, and Syria can be extremely helpful in any campaign to stabilize the fractured war-ridden nation.

For the Israelis, too, Syria matters because without peace between Israel and Syria, Israel will always remain insecure on its northern front.

And finally, Syria matters in the so-called war on terrorism because it has the capacity to help in gathering intelligence and in reining in many of the radical Islamic elements.

One can argue about the extent to which Syria matters in the search for solutions to many of these conflicts that have swept through the Middle East and seem to be consuming it. But one cannot discount that Syria impacts directly and indirectly on all the region’s major issues and, therefore, its constructive engagement has the potential to dramatically realign the forces behind much of what troubles the region.

Administration officials insist that engaging with Syria is tantamount to rewarding Damascus for its mischievous behavior and transgressions. I cannot say that Syria is totally innocent. But even if we were to assume that at least some of these charges are valid, would it still not make sense to sit down with Syrian officials and deal with these complaints?

To suggest, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently has, that Syria knows what it must do to “qualify” for a direct dialogue with the United States, which is the same as asking Damascus to first admit to the whole world that it is guilty as charged and then to accept President Bush’s terms of engagement.

Regardless of its so-called sins, Syria would reject these terms because they would be a form of submission, which among other things, would weaken seriously its negotiating position. It is true that Syria needs economic aid, modern technology, and a host of other benefits that normalization of relations with the United States would offer. That said, the United States needs Syria just as much. Considering the ever-deteriorating situation in the region, Bush actually needs Syria more than the other way around.

The administration’s refusal to negotiate with Iran and North Korea for more than six years has done nothing but embolden these nations to defy the United States and do so with impunity. Six years of concerted efforts to isolate Damascus has only pushed it into Iran’s belly and, instead of diminishing its regional role, have made Syria more crucial to the search for solutions.

The policy toward Syria must now be reassessed and President Bush must look at Syria as a part of the solution, not the problem; otherwise, he is simply compounding the region’s problems.

On more than one occasion, his administration has in fact worked with Syrian officials, especially immediately after September 11, 2001, in sharing intelligence and tracking al-Qaida operatives. No reason prevents cooperation between the two nations from being resumed unconditionally, particularly now that the Middle East has been thrust into so much turmoil and Syria’s constructive involvement has become even more necessary.

Syria will not readily abandon its ties with Tehran or Hezbollah once the U.S. initiates direct talks with Damascus. But Syria’s serious engagement will have a dramatic impact on the political wind throughout the region.

Along with the Iraq Study Group, many political leaders, academics, and think tanks have recommended that the administration engage with Syria. Bush has not simply refused to heed these calls; he has also failed to come up with any alternative policy option to deal with Syria as an inseparable part of the larger regional picture.

Damascus can wait this administration out, but it is highly doubtful that the Bush White House has the luxury of time in resolving any of the region’s problems without Syria’s active and constructive engagement.

(Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international relations and Middle Eastern studies. alon@alonben-meir.comhttp://www.alonben-meir.com)

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February 20th, 2007, 7:49 pm


41. Alex said:

Thanks Norman.

Don’t worry about Gibran. He will brand professor Ben Meir a dreamer, a regime propagandist or a fool.

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February 20th, 2007, 8:12 pm


42. Nur al-Cubicle said:

Thank you for the presentation of the facts and your assessment, Josh.

But the Bush administration is in a de facto alliance with Israel (just look at the number of dual nationals among the acolytes!). There will be no change until 2008. The sad part is that the new Democratic Administration in 2008 will be left with the ruins of the Bush/Israeli depredations and face humiliation itself.

So many shifts and turns. Alliances of the willing, surges, outsourcing diplomacy, Greater Middle East initiatives, public diplomacy…the Administration is writhing in pursuit of the impossible: to make the Middle East in its image, to avoid the Palestinian issue and to destroy Islam and the remains of Arab nationalism.

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February 20th, 2007, 8:15 pm


43. Alex said:

Nur, I am pessimistic too, but I see a possibility of a limited degree of positive change in the administration’s approach. Now they allow the Iraqi president to visit Damascus and they allow their Saudi allies to host Hamas and to give them money … compare it to last year when they thought that all they needed to do to deal with the unhappy Arabs was to send a P.R. team of Karen Hughes and Dina Powell to explaint to those idiots how wise and how caring and how friendly this Administration is.

I look at it as a hedging strategy … two opposite approaches are taken at the same time; diplomcy and confrontation.

Let’s hope they find out that democracy can work so that they will not have the excuse to go for the more fun military confrontation.

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February 20th, 2007, 8:27 pm


44. Gibran said:

Norman says:” This will depress Gibran and the other enemies of Syria”
Actually it doesn’t depress me at all.
Once Syria is no longer under Iranian control and is truly ruled by Syrian Sunnis, then we wouldn’t have any serious problems with it. Isn’t that the premise of your article?
Besides who said the US didn’t get anywhere with N. Korea? Didn’t North Korea just abandon its nuclear weapons? So it is only a matter of time and Iran will follow suit. Not long after that Syria will buckle. And by the way security is beginning to improve in Baghdad.

The main question is what can Syria do in the Middle East? On the Palestinian front, it cannot do much from now on. On the Iraqi front, subversion is a completely different ballgame than stabilization. Syria cannot get two ordinary Iraqis to meet let alone convincing diverse groups to sit down and discuss stabilization under its ‘auspices’. So the only effective thing Syria can do is stir trouble. In Lebanon, Syria is completely rejected except for a handful of paid mercenaries. Certainly there are more responsible and effective States in the region that can do a much better job than the Alawis of Syria. Example: Jordan has historic links to Iraq that can be cultivated to bring back normalcy to its political life. So do the Saudis that are trusted by more Iraqis and certainly have the resources to help create a stable Iraq. The Egyptians are better equipped than any other state in terms of manpower and equipment to help bolster the American troops in Iraq if need be. Egypt’s position as a non-neighboring state to Iraq is even more attractive to the Iraqis themselves who vehemently oppose introducing troops from neighboring states into their country. Pakistan is also well positioned to serve a similar function as Egypt. So Norman, while reminding you that I am not an enemy of Syria as a country, I would draw your attention to the fact that the US has infinitely more resources at its disposal than a Syria in Iraq’s backyard which is more of a liability in terms of realpolitiks itself than benefit by the mere fact of the border it shares with Iraq.

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February 20th, 2007, 8:28 pm


45. Ford Prefect said:

Dear MSK,
Thanks for your eloquent reply. I am happy that there is someone I disagree with, yet have much to learn from. For that, I am truly thankful 😉

If Sami ever advocated any “natural rights” for Syria in Lebanon, then that is his opinion, and I would be deeply disturbed by it and by any one spewing such nonsense. I have not heard or read that Sami ever said so, but I might have missed it.

Regarding the Iran/Syria alliance, I agree with much of what you said but just as the US had Stalin as a trusted ally while fighting Nazi Germany, Syria and Iran do ideologically have common views regarding a common enemy: Israel. This common denominator is actually, in my opinion, at the top of the list, but you hardly mentioned it.

As for Russia, I was trying to draw the attention to the often-unmentioned involvement of Russian with both countries – hence the “under the table” alliance. Maybe Russia is in deep contempt of both regimes and I am in for a very rude awakening, but let us not forget that Russia had, has, and will always have vested interests in the area. The last two bastions of Russia in the area are Iran and Syria. Again, maybe they are politically incompatible with Iran or Syria, but one cannot ignore the interests of Russia and the Russian street in the Middle East. (Point in fact, the Russian press is abuzz with blame and finger pointing as to how and why did Russia lost much of its influence in this important part of the world and what should be done about it. I don’t have the press articles handy to share, but it should not be hard to believe that such aspirations do still exist.)

The last paragraph you have written marks a big departure from your otherwise rational argument. If any one has the slogan: “if you’re not 100% with us, then you’re against us, ” it would be the current US and Israeli government and their puppet government in Lebanon. Not that HA is blameless – advocating religion, as the basis of nationality and social order, as in Israel, is a recipe for racism, bigotry, and arrogance. The point I was making, however, was not in defense of HA, rather, HA is representing the aspirations of a sizable slice of the Lebanese society that was left behind and away from the decision-making process. I was advocating that those days are long gone, and that there is a new reality on the ground in Lebanon. It just simply cannot be the same old politics anymore.

Again, thanks for the telling insights. Keep up the challenging and respectful theme. As Alex said, time spent exchanging ideas on SC is time well spent.


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February 20th, 2007, 8:52 pm


46. Ford Prefect said:


“Besides who said the US didn’t get anywhere with N. Korea? Didn’t North Korea just abandon its nuclear weapons?” – Gibran. 2007. Stellar Revelations. SyriaComment.com.

It might be that Gibran lives on another planet, but on this Planet Earth, North Korea is far from “just abandoned its nuclear program.” To the contrary, North Korea just finished conducting a nuclear explosive test on October 16, 2006 – barely six month ago and in defiance of everything US! Further, thanks to the reckless Neocon and Israeli politics that are endangering every soul and specie on this planet, Iran accelerated its nuclear program, which was ironically started by the Shah with support from the US. Sorry to disappoint, facts are the enemy of the perceived reality.

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February 20th, 2007, 9:11 pm


47. t_desco said:

A brilliant new definition of terrorism by the U.S. Treasury Department:

Treasury targets Hezbollah construction arm

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Treasury Department on Tuesday designated a Lebanon-based construction company operated by Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, accusing it of bolstering the militant group’s public standing by rebuilding war-torn areas.

So dropping American-made bombs on apartment buildings and destroying entire neighborhood is not terrorism, but rebuilding them is? Brilliant. Simply brilliant. You can’t make these things up.

For the record:

Lebanese Cigarette Smugglers Clash With Syrian Coastguards

One Lebanese was killed and another was wounded when a clash erupted Tuesday between Lebanese cigarette smugglers and Syrian coastguards, Lebanese security sources said.

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February 20th, 2007, 10:21 pm


48. Gibran said:

Why should I even bother to respond to you if you are not even up to date on the news? N’Korea did give up its nukes. You’re probably the one living on different planet!!!

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February 20th, 2007, 10:37 pm


49. Ford Prefect said:

Gibran, don’t bother responding. Just read.

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February 20th, 2007, 10:43 pm


50. Gibran said:

Sorry to make you look IMPERfect. Now it is your turn to read. Your news is somewhat outdated:


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February 20th, 2007, 10:52 pm


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