Will Syria Serve Up Iran on a Silver Platter?

Saudi Ambassador to Syria:

“A Saudi diplomat said Monday that the kingdom has appointed a new ambassador to Syria, the strongest sign yet of the solidifying reconciliation between the two rival Arab nations. …. An official at the Syrian Foreign Ministry said Syria has approved the appointment of a Saudi ambassador, identifying the diplomat as Abdullah al-Eifan. The diplomat at the Saudi Embassy in Damascus said he would assume the post soon. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the appointment was not yet official, and gave no further details. Al-Eifan’s appointment is a strong indication that a much talked about summit meeting between the Saudi king and the Syrian president would be held in Damascus in the coming days or weeks. Observers have suggested a summit in Damascus was unlikely before the king appoints his envoy to Syria. …” (AP)

Former US ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer sharply denied reports Monday that he is under consideration to become the next American ambassador to Damascus. (Jerusalem Post)

[The Jerusalem Post also quotes David Schenker of WINEP as saying of the decision to send a US ambassador to Syria:

it was definitely connected to the turmoil in Iran and the administration’s efforts to take advantage of Teheran’s perilous moment. “[They want] to maximize the press on Iran, to make them concerned that Syria is contemplating a change of camps,” he said.

[Landis analysis] I think this is WINEP spin. It is much more likely that the decision to resend an ambassador was made before the Iran elections and was linked to the Centcom mission that visited Damascus shortly before the Mitchell visit in June to discuss security arrangements along the Iraq border and the resumption of intelligence sharing. I also find Moshe Maoz’s suggestion (See article copied below) that “the United States will replace North Korea as the major arms provider to Syria,” to be unlikely. Such a Syrian shift could not be contemplated unless Israel clearly agrees to give back the Golan, and that is highly unlikely given Netanyahu’s government and statements. Maoz writes: “If Syria chooses to sever its relations with Iran and Hizbullah, new doors may open up for a possible détente with the West and Israel, including the return of the Golan Heights.”

It is most unlikely that Syria will sever relations with Iran and Hizbullah before the return of the Golan. Left-leaning Israelis argue that Syria should trust Netanyahu to deliver if Syria first flips? Why would Syrians believe this? Left-leaning Israelis have little credibility in Israel. They have lost too many elections and the Labor Party is all but extinct. Tzipi Livni’s party bombed both Lebanon and Gaza, suggesting that it would prefer to kill its enemies than compromise with them.

Few Syrians are likely to believe that Netanyahu or his parliamentary allies will relinquish the Golan as liberal Israelis claim they will. There is just no reason for Assad to believe Israel or Washington will deliver. Netanyahu has stated repeatedly and clearly that Israel will not return the Golan. I think we need to take him at his word. Even analysts such as Martin Indyk argue that Netanyahu will relinquish the Golan only if he believes that Israel faces a stark choice between relinquishing the West Bank to Palestinians or the Golan to Syria. There is no sign yet that Obama has the desire or will to force such a stark choice on Israel. Obama has not once mentioned the Golan. Surely, Assad will be wise enough to wait until Obama shows his hand.

Analysis: Syria’s way out of the ‘Shi’ite Axis of Evil’
Jul. 7, 2009

Monday’s news that Saudi Arabia will appoint an ambassador to Syria signifies a gradual effort by the western world and moderate Arab nations to extract Syria away from the “Shi’ite Axis of Evil” and to strengthen relations with the West under the aegis of the American administration.

Reports of the appointment come amidst the backdrop of the Syrian-Saudi-Lebanese summit, set to convene in Damascus next week, and US President Barack Obama’s announcement that the US will also appoint an ambassador to Syria.

The Saudi ambassador appointment and the combined effort of the United States and other western nations to foster better relations with Syria stem from a legitimate Iranian threat to the region’s interests and oil resources. A nuclear Iran has the capability not only to threaten Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern nations with war, but also to demand oil concessions in the hope of dominating the Middle Eastern market.

The Americans hope that their push for better relations with Syria will force the Syrian government to better patrol the Iraqi border and stop the infiltration of foreign fighters into Iraq. In addition, the Americans are likely to demand that Syria reject North Korean military aid. In exchange, it is possible that the United States will replace North Korea as the major arms provider to Syria, similar to the Americans’ replacement of Soviet aid in Egypt.

Iran’s inexorable isolation from the world and its disputed nuclear program threaten to isolate the much more moderate Syrian regime. If Syria chooses to sever its relations with Iran and Hizbullah, new doors may open up for a possible détente with the West and Israel, including the return of the Golan Heights. In the event of a Syrian-Western alliance, Syria could receive economic-military aid from the Arab Gulf States and the United States.

Despite the opposition of the Israeli public to returning the Golan, the political establishment is willing to do such in an agreement that would pass muster with the Israeli public. This would include a major change in Syria’s relationship with Iran, and a cessation of Syrian support to Hizbullah.

In fact, most Israeli prime ministers, with the exception of Ariel Sharon, have had no major objections to relinquishing the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War, which was never part of the “Greater Israel” vision. Moreover, Israel would find it much easier to have a satisfied Syria manage a Palestinian peace agreement, rather than deal directly with Hamas or Fatah.

Syria’s relationship with Iran is becoming increasingly onerous and while Syrian President Bashar Assad wants to maintain his Iranian ties, he cannot afford to play both cards. In the event that Israel attacks Iran or vice versa, Syria would be drawn into a regional war, from which it would have nothing to gain. A conventional army like Syria’s, unlike the forces of Hamas or the insurgency in Iraq, would lose in a military conflict with Israel or the West.

In the case of a future Syrian-Western alliance, Iran and Hizbullah will be more isolated than they currently find themselves. Hizbullah would lose a major economic and military supporter, and Iran would lose more ground to the Sunni Arab alliance. While this may push Hizbullah further into the Lebanese political arena, the group may also turn to terrorist action against their former sponsors.

Moshe Ma’oz is professor emeritus of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at The Hebrew University, Jerusalem. He was interviewed by Alex Sorin.

Charles De Batz-Castelmore sent me this youtube link of French public TV interview in 6 parts with Bashar, which was probably recorded in Feb 2009 – “A visage découvert : Bashar Assad.”. Charles writes:

There is nothing really new for a close observer of Syria, but this TV show is quite interesting nonetheless because of the interviews close friends, and Asma Assad. It includes some aspects of his personal life, his view of his former medical career, etc..

About politics, probably the most interesting part is the answer Bashar gave about the apparent contradiction of the close relationship between a secular republic and the Islamic Republic of Iran. (part 5 ) and some parts about teh regional situation (part 6).

Interesting to find David Lesh interviewed . 😉


Most of the French comments about Syria are a little bit stereotypical (IMOH) Dimashq view from Saint Germain des Pres 😉

Obama faces a Persian rebuff
The Hindu: India’s National Newspaper
Thursday, Jul 02, 2009
M.K. Bhadrakumar

The Iranian regime shows definite signs of closing ranks and pulling its act together in the face of what it assesses to be an existential threat to the Vilayat-e faqih system.

The street protests in Tehran fizzled out……

Also, the regional milieu can only work to Iran’s advantage. Turkey distanced itself from the European opinion. Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan greeted Mr. Ahmedinejad’s victory. Moscow followed suit. Beijing has never before expressed such staunch solidarity with the Iranian regime. Neither Syria nor Hezbollah and Hamas showed any inclination to disengage from Iran. True, Syria’s ties with Saudi Arabia improved in the last six months and Damascus welcomes the Obama administration’s recent overtures. But far from adopting the Saudi or U.S. agenda toward Tehran, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem openly criticised the legitimacy of the street protests in Tehran.

He warned last Sunday when the Tehran streets were witnessing unrest: “Anyone betting on the fall of the Iranian regime will be a loser. The[1979] Islamic revolution is a reality, deeply-rooted in Iran, and the international community [read U.S.] must live with that.” Mr. Moallem called for the “establishment of a dialogue between Iran and the United States based on mutual respect and non-interference in Iran’s affairs.”

Again, in an interview with the CNN on Saturday, Syria’s ambassador in Washington Imad Moustapha advised the Obama administration to “exercise caution” in adopting strident criticism of the election verdict as it will “harm the efforts” to find a solution to the nuclear issue. He said Iran was a “very important country in the Middle East” and a close friend of Syria. Outside interference in Iran’s internal affairs was damaging regional stability. Equally, success of Saad Hariri as the newly-elected Prime Minister of Lebanon — and the country’s overall stability — will hinge on his reconciliation with rivals allied to Syria and Iran.

All things taken into account, therefore, there has been a goof-up of major proportions in Washington. The Obama magic suddenly wore off when he sounded like George W. Bush in disregarding convention and courtesy, contrary to the abundant promise in the Cairo speech. It is inconceivable that the Obama administration harboured the notion that the commotion inTehran’s middle-class districts would weaken the Iranian regime or make it diffident and dilute its resolve while the critical negotiations on the nuclear and other issues regarding the situation around Iran commenced. Mr. Ahmedinejad left hardly anything to interpretation when he stated in Tehran on Saturday: “Without doubt, Iran’s new government will have a more decisive and firmer approach towards the West. This time the Iranian nation’s reply will be harsh and more decisive” and will aim at making the West regret its “meddlesome stance.”

(The writer is a former Indian diplomat.)

‘Assad won’t get Golan on a ‘Silver platter’

Syrian President Bashar Assad must understand that he cannot expect to receive the Golan Heights on a silver platter while he continues to maintain contact with Iran and to strengthen Hizbullah, President Shimon Peres told German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier on Monday. German Foreign Minister Frank…

“Israel is ready to return to the negotiating table immediately, but without any pre-conditions,” Peres said when asked if he had a message for Steinmeier to relay to Assad.

Steinmeier, who is the Social Democratic Party candidate for chancellor, is on a brief tour of the region to promote peace. His visit has sparked great media interest in Germany, to the extent that he is accompanied by a 30-member press entourage.

Landing in Israel at 4:30 a.m. on Monday, Steinmeier met with Peres less than four hours later.

While there are still many difficulties to overcome in Israel’s efforts to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians, there is good reason for hope, the president told Steinmeier.

“Change is residing in different domains,” Peres revealed as he discussed what is happening to the Palestinians in terms of freedom of movement, security and economic development. These changes may help to bridge different gaps, he said, adding that “Europe can play a major role with patience, understanding and fairness on all sides.”

But time is of the essence, Peres emphasized. “We have to act dynamically and move ahead. Germany is an important player in Europe and Europe is an important player in the Middle East.”

As a candidate for chancellor, he said to Steinmeier, “you have an important role to play.”

Peres outlined some of the significant changes in the West Bank, which he described as an important breakthrough which Israel and the Palestinians see eye to eye on. The most important change, he said, was that 25 out of 41 checkpoints had been dismantled, allowing for greater freedom of movement, and enabling more progress to be made with Japan’s economic projects in Jericho, France’s in Bethlehem and Germany’s in Jenin.

In addition, for the first time, cities are being handed over to the Palestinians to make their own security arrangements, Peres told the German foreign minister. The police force in Jericho is being trained by the Europeans, and US General Keith Dayton, with the support of the Quartet, is training security forces that he refers to as his “gendarmerie”, said Peres.

Praising Dayton for doing “a good job”, Peres acknowledged that prior to the training of the security forces, there was fear, that if Israeli security personnel left the area, there would be chaos.

Recalling conversations held with Peres earlier in the year during and after Operation Cast Lead, Steinmeier said: “The war is over, but we have not gained peace. You know better than anyone else that the way to stability can be gained by talking to the Palestinians with the focus on a two-state solution. The pre-condition has to be security for Israel and its citizens, and we have to try to gain the support of the moderate Arab states.”

Steinmeier added that in his perception, this was what was behind the initiative of US President Barack Obama when he went to Cairo.

Europe and Germany would support this initiative as much as possible, he said.

Echoing the need to seize the dynamic of the situation, Steinmeier said that he had a clear insight that events in Iran emanating from the presidential elections did not make the situation any easier.

Peres agreed, and noted that the revolution against the Shah had been with the intent of eradicating corruption. Those who replaced the Shah brought about even more corruption, he said, and what was happening now indicated that “Ahmadinejad has lost Iran,” and that “it will have an effect all over.”

Aluf Benn / U.S. wants Iran to know it can be attacked

Iran’s nuclear program has been restored to prominence on the American-Israeli diplomatic agenda. After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adopted the “two states for two peoples” formula on the Palestinian issue, American recompense came in the form of Vice President Joe Biden’s statement that Israel, as a “sovereign nation,” will decide for itself how to deal with Iran.

George Stephanopoulos, the ABC television presenter to whom Biden made this remark, thrice asked him how the U.S. would respond if Netanyahu took independent action on Iran. Biden did not hesitate. The U.S., he said, “cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do” if they feel threatened by another country.

That is almost exactly what Condoleezza Rice, former president George W. Bush’s secretary of state, said when asked the same question a year ago. However, Biden declined to say whether the U.S. would allow Israel to overfly Iraq en route to Iran.

Iran’s nuclear program has been restored to prominence on the American-Israeli diplomatic agenda. After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adopted the “two states for two peoples” formula on the Palestinian issue, American recompense came in the form of Vice President Joe Biden’s statement that Israel, as a “sovereign nation,” will decide for itself how to deal with Iran.

George Stephanopoulos, the ABC television presenter to whom Biden made this remark, thrice asked him how the U.S. would respond if Netanyahu took independent action on Iran. Biden did not hesitate. The U.S., he said, “cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do” if they feel threatened by another country.

That is almost exactly what Condoleezza Rice, former president George W. Bush’s secretary of state, said when asked the same question a year ago. However, Biden declined to say whether the U.S. would allow Israel to overfly Iraq en route to Iran.

‘Saudis give Israel green light to attack Iran’
By Haaretz Service

Saudi Arabia has indicated to Israel that it would not protest use of its airspace by Israeli fighter jets in the event the government resolves to launch a military assault against Iran, according to a report which appeared in the British Sunday Times.

According to The Sunday Times, Mossad chief Meir Dagan held secret meetings with Saudi officials who gave their tacit approval to Israel’s use of the kingdom’s airspace.

“The Saudis have tacitly agreed to the Israeli air force flying through their airspace on a mission which is supposed to be in the common interests of both Israel and Saudi Arabia,” The Sunday Times quoted a diplomatic source as saying last week.

The report also quoted John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as saying that it would be “entirely logical” for Israeli warplanes to fly over Saudi Arabia en route to bombing nuclear targets in Iran.

Though any Israeli attack would be roundly condemned by Mideast leaders at the UN, Bolton said Arab leaders have privately expressed trepidation at the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran.

“None of them would say anything about it publicly but they would certainly acquiesce in an overflight if the Israelis didn’t trumpet it as a big success,” Bolton told The Sunday Times

Syrian-Saudi Contacts Freeze as Egypt Reportedly has Reservations over Damascus’ Negative Role

Halt in contacts between Damascus and Riyadh over Lebanon has made it almost impossible for a summit between Syrian President Bashar Assad and Saudi King Abdullah to be held in Damascus on Monday.

Syrian sources told As-Safir newspaper that exchange of ideas between Riyadh and Damascus was ongoing, “but so far did not reach a level where a (cabinet line-up) could be announced.”

The sources denied that preparations were underway for a Saudi-Syrian summit to be held in Damascus on Monday. They did not rule out, however, an Assad-Abdullah summit at a later stage.

Meanwhile, pan-Arab daily al-Hayat quoted well-informed Egyptian sources as saying that Cairo “feels uncomfortable toward … attempts to force PM-designate Saad Hariri to make concessions beforehand, least of which is a visit to Damascus prior to cabinet formation.”

The Egyptian sources said Cairo supports further Syrian-Saudi rapprochement. However, they said recent contacts showed that Damascus was not keen on restoring Arab unity or even achieve progress with regards to the Lebanese and Palestinians dossiers.

They said latest contacts, instead, showed a “Syrian attitude that barters every proposed step with a list of demands and conditions that only serves the narrow interests of Syria, particularly with regards to Lebanese affairs.”

The sources said Syrian demands aim at strengthening the Lebanese Opposition stance.

Corruption Scandal Coming to an End: Weeks of turmoil created by the uncovering of a major corruption ring in the city of Homs appear to be nearing an end. (Syria Report)

Education: Syrian President lays Foundation Stone of Massar Discovery Centre
The Syrian President and his wife laid on July 2 the foundation stone of the Massar Discovery Centre, a children-dedicated educational and cultural centre. (Syria Report)

(XIN) Syria strives for economic rejuvenation by opening up

DAMASCUS, Jul 06, 2009 (Xinhua via COMTEX) — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s proposal to rejuvenate Syria’s economy by bolstering economic cooperation with the countries around eastern Mediterranean, Black Sea, Arabian Gulf and Caspian Sea is “ambitious and far-sighted,” local independent daily Al-Watan commented on Monday.

“He is seeking to broaden his country’s relations by boosting economic ties and trade relations with neighboring states,” the article published on Al-Watan said.

In recent months, Syria has signed a series of trade and economic agreement with Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Armenia, Yemen, Azerbaijan and Greece.

Meanwhile, senior Syrian officials have called on foreign businessmen to pay more attention to the Syrian market, stressing huge incentives available in Syria including skilled labors and the country’s special geographic location.

The newspaper’s article hailed that Assad’s vision to boost Syria’s unique geographic position between Europe and the East ” encompasses more than politics.”

“If his proposal is realized, the trade routes connecting eastern Mediterranean and central Asia will flourish, bringing about an unprecedented political and cultural interaction among the region which will promote economic development, and lead to a sustainable peace based on mutual interests,” said the article.

Syria, which has been under U.S. sanctions since 2004, has embarked on economic reforms and spurred economic growth after decades of stagnation and government reliance on oil revenue.

Syrian Minister of Finance Mohammed al-Hussein announced last month in London that Syria expects to attract 30 billion U.S. dollars of foreign private investment in the next five years, as it opens up its economy.

According to the official news agency SANA, a Thai trade delegation has visited Syria last Sunday and discussed with local officials the possibility of investing in Syria.

Comments (57)

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51. Shai said:

“If Israel would have relied on Leftists and Peaceniks during her 61 years, she wouldn’t have made it to her 20th birthday.”

Akbar, you’re so full of it. Did you not realize that for the first 29 years of Israel’s history, Israel relied PRECISELY on “Leftists”? Likud came to power, for the first time, only in 1977. So the first 5 wars (major wars) in Israel’s history were carried out by the Left! And as I mentioned in the previous comment, most of the settlement activity began, was carried out, and encouraged, by none other than your so-called “Liberal Leftists”. Israel has been relying on your “conservative-leaning” Likud, precisely because it is the only one that DOES what the liberals say they’ll do.

Oh and, who would YOU call more of a “peacenik” – Ehud Barak, or Menachem Begin?

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July 9th, 2009, 6:58 pm


52. majid said:

Norman said,
“Netanyahu will leave the Golan only if he is forced to by force or economic sanction”

Only half of your statement is true, Norman. It should read, “Netanyahu will leave the Golan only if he is forced to”

Syria should transform its armed forces into a fighting organization similar to Hezbollah. It should train to fight like Hezbollah and then proceed to liberate the Golan by force. It should be able to do so within a month, and as a side benefit the settling parasites will fly away on one way tickets to where they came from.

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July 9th, 2009, 7:14 pm


53. norman said:

Majid ,

i will answer you tonight Easter US time,

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July 9th, 2009, 8:36 pm


54. Avi said:

Majid you think hezbollah is so great because of the 2006 war, well i have secret for you if Syria declares war on Israel than it will loose….and then your whole society will look like hezbollah or hamas which also had the brilliant idea of copying hezb ….what a shame,but then again everything for you is honor right??even in defeat!The only way Syria is going to recover the Golan is by DIRECT NEGOCIATION!!!!!All the rest Majid is just your self pitying pride which by the way is mostly based on hatred!!Majid you are such a rasist so full of hate that i pity you.And by the way negociating is much harder than making war or copying hezbollah but you are ignorant on what war is,i can tell you from personal experience that war sucks and is no good for Syria!

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July 9th, 2009, 9:19 pm


55. norman said:


The goal is to get the Golan and other occupied land and the rights of the Palestinians , If that can be done peacefully that will be great but if not then force should always be an option , I personally do not think that Israel will leave the Golan or give the Palestinians their rights without force , but i can always hope for a miracle.

And that is my take.

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July 10th, 2009, 2:00 am


56. majid said:

Very good take Norman as usual.
But I have to add that to be prudent is to be prepared. But you could also be right. Never reveal your plans especially the military ones.

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July 10th, 2009, 4:33 am


57. Avi said:

Well then if you chose the military option what happens if Israel wins some more territory..and things don’t go like majid planned norman ;and you find out that hezb technics only work once on the israeli army(lessons have been learned)….try not to forget what this IDF soldier told you!If you do you will pay a very heavy price!

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July 10th, 2009, 6:01 am


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