American Sanctions on Syria: Godsend to Hardliners, Hell for Liberalizers – By Ehsani

(Amjad Rasmi, Arab News, 5/14/04)

(Amjad Rasmi, Arab News, 5/14/04)

American Sanctions on Syria: Godsend to Hardliners, Hell for Liberalizers
By Ehsani, January 19, 2010
For Syria Comment

[Vote on the new poll – upper left corner]

The United States first imposed economic sanctions on Syria, May 12, 2004. These sanctions were imposed mainly because of Damascus’s support for resistance groups: Hezbollah and Hamas. Even though Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon in 2005, the U.S. expanded the sanctions regime in February of 2008 by targeting the wealth, possessions, and travel of senior officials and anyone who does business with them. The new U.S. Administration failed to reverse this policy. On May 8, 2009, President Obama renewed economic sanctions against Syria despite diplomatic outreach to the Damascus government. The October 2009 visit by Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad to Washington produced no breakthroughs. Finding a way to end US sanctions on Syria was at the top of his agenda; but his efforts were in vain. The White House threw up its arms, claiming that only congress had the power to lift sanctions; in order to make any headway on that front, Syria would have to change its regional policies. This is a recapitulation of President Bush’s Syria policy. To make the point further, President Obama declined to relax US objections to France’s sale of Airbus planes to Syria, which could be justified as an exception to the sanction regime on the basis of civilian safety. Spare parts for Syria’s antique and failing Boeing jets were earlier released using this rationale.

Even though the sanctions were first imposed under the rubric of punishing Syria for interference in Lebanon, their dismantling will come only when Syria abandons its policy of resistance to Israel. Syrian-Lebanese relations have improved dramatically since sanctions were imposed, but this change has not been reflected in the economic relations of Washington with Damascus. While former regional foes kiss and make up, America finds it hard to follow suit.

Economic sanctions will not change Syria’s foreign policy or the priority it places on getting back the Golan Heights, which Israel took when it launched the 1967 war and annexed in 1981. Only peace and the return of the Golan Heights will change those policies and end Syria’s resistance to Israel.

What is the effect of economic sanctions? They retard economic reform and liberalization in Syria.

They give ammunition to hardliners and Baathists within Syria to preach fear of the West and America.

It is not easy to be a Syrian economic reformer.  First, you have to convince the socialists within your ranks of the virtues of free markets and capitalism. The latest credit crisis has made this job a lot harder. And if this were not hard enough, the reformers also have to deal in a world where the global economic superpower can slap you with sanctions that are designed to bring weaker nations to their knees. In this environment, those arguing for self-sufficiency and insular economic policy will score a comfortable and easy win over those arguing for reforms and open markets. Indeed, the only reason Syria has weathered the storm and has been able to survive the American sanctions is because of its long standing policy of self- sufficiency and relatively closed economic system.  To embrace capitalism and economic reform while the threat of economic sanctions is always waived against you is akin to committing political suicide.

Syria needs to create close to 250,000 jobs a year to absorb its rapidly expanding labor force. In order to do that, she needs her economy to grow by at least 7% a year.  Growing an economy this fast requires large foreign investments in infrastructure and domestic reforms. While the latter has been in motion for the past few years, attracting foreign investment while the U.S. imposes economic sanctions on Syria is not an easy feat. Any investor that decides to do business in the country runs the risk of having his international accounts frozen by Mr. Levey of the U.S. Treasury.

What the U.S. sanctions accomplish is to hand Syria’s economic hard liners a carte-blanche with which to push their anti-western agenda.  Those arguing for an opening to the West must bite their tongues for fear of being branded supporters of America and her regional ally Israel.

The American sanctions on Syria have added to poverty and lowered the country’s standard of living. The Syrian leadership is fully aware of the domestic economic reforms that it must implement.  While the speed and breadth of these reforms can be accelerated and expanded, this cannot take place while the stick of economic sanctions waved above Syria’s head by the White House.

The Arab world as a whole needs to create close to four million jobs, according to various projections.  If America and the West want to reverse the spread of extremism and religious fanaticism, as it says it does, a modern day Marshal Plan is needed for the region, not more privation. Given America’s budget deficit troubles, such a policy ought not to involve tax-payer grants of money by the US government. Only private investment can pick up the slack. American foreign policy must be focused on prodding the governments of the Middle East to promote maximum economic growth without inflation. This has been the mandate that America’s Central Bank (Federal Reserve) operates with. Indeed, when it comes to China, successive U.S. Administrations have accepted its emergence as an economic power before its political liberalization.  When it comes to the Arab world and Syria, however, the notion of pushing governments to embrace a similar economic principal goes out of the window. What the Arab people need from America is support for open markets, higher standards of living, and faster integration in the global economy.  What the Syrian people have received instead is sanctions and abuse that impede economic growth and make them poorer.  Those who continue to argue for keeping the sanctions fail to show how these measures have achieved their stated objectives.

Syria’s economic reformers already have their hands full trying to undo the country’s 40-year experiment with socialism. They do not need America — the apotheosis of capitalism and free markets — working against them as well.

Comments (50)

offended said:

I have a major problem with the poll: why are opening up to western style economy and improving standards of living for Syrians on one hand, and restoring the Golan heights and integrity of national homeland on the other, why are these two considered mutually exclusive ?

January 20th, 2010, 11:22 am


Pirouz said:

My comment is exactly the same as OFFENDED.

Please explain how opening up to Western Banks relinquishes or weakens Syria’s claim to restoration of the Golan.

Without an explanation, I cannot take the poll.

January 20th, 2010, 12:14 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Website Voting is the Next Best Thing


I voted with the current 61% who want a better standard of living.

I guess I’m doing my little part to help Syria.;)

I have a major problem with the poll: why are opening up to western style economy and improving standards of living for Syrians on one hand, and restoring the Golan heights and integrity of national homeland on the other, why are these two considered mutually exclusive ?

Because the Syrian-mouthpieces that wrote these questions want you to believe that Syria can’t have a good economy AND the Golan at the same time (an excuse for continued stagnation). Certainly, if Syria made peace with Israel, she’d have the Golan, AND an influx of BILLIONS of dollars.

Back to bed now…

January 20th, 2010, 1:15 pm


Joshua said:

Dear Pirouz,

Read this previous post

Economic Policy and Amer Lutfi as Head of State Planning Commission

January 20th, 2010, 1:16 pm


EHSANI2 said:

Dear Offended and Pirouz:

Syria has been opening up so far without getting the Golan. Though I did not put up the poll myself, I think that a full “western style” opening up is hard to envision while the country is in a state of war. Think of currency convertibility and Marsoum (decree) 24. Western style total opening up also means total relaxation of currency controls. Were the government to do this, the value of its currency can be subject to extreme volatility when the U.S. imposes economic sanctions on the country.

January 20th, 2010, 1:56 pm


offended said:


Really? the Golan AND billions of dollars await Syria if we signed on the dotted?

Gee, what are we waiting for?

P.s. That you’d call a scholar on middle east politics, like Dr. Landis, a ‘mouthpiece’, only shows your ignorance.

Or probably jealousy.

January 20th, 2010, 1:57 pm


offended said:


Golan AND Billions of dollars await us if we signed on the dotted with Israel?


Gee, what are we waiting for?

(p.s. that you’d call a scholar on middle east politics like Dr. Landis a ‘mouthpiece’ only shows your ignorance .)

January 20th, 2010, 2:05 pm


Ghat Albird said:

Until and unless Syria ia able to extract $13/16 million dollars a day every day of the year as the US’s only democratic ally in the area gets IMO it should continue doing what its people believe is to their benefit.

Polls such as the one accompanying this commentary offering an either or choice belittles the issues and provides simplistic answers.

As a non partisan friend opined, “its as meaningless as being for or against the plan to the road to peace or the peace road plan”.

January 20th, 2010, 2:12 pm


just asking said:


Why is the US more responsible for Syrian policies than Syria? If you really believe that lack of economic growth would lead to extremism, shouldn’t that bother the Syrian government first and foremost? Won’t the first to suffer from this be Syrians? Yet, the Syrian people and leadership do not seem to be bothered enough to change. They think getting the Golan is more important than the risk of extremism or generating more jobs. So why should the Americans care more than the Syrians? If the Syrians are not worried about their choice of “resistance” versus economic growth, the US shouldn’t be either.

As for Israel, it just gains from your position. All it has to do to keep Syria economically weak, is hold on to the Golan. Why would you give your enemy such a strong hand?

January 20th, 2010, 2:28 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Golan AND Billions of dollars await us if we signed on the dotted with Israel?


Yes. Why, did you want more? Just give me your list and I’ll forward it to the AIPAC desk at the White House;)

Gee, what are we waiting for?

Freedom of the press? Tolerance? A revolution? You got me.

January 20th, 2010, 2:45 pm


EHSANI2 said:


You are correct. The responsibility lies with the government to deliver growth and raise the standard of living of its people. My point is that the sanctions are making this job harder and not easier. I will soon be posting an article that focusses purely on the domestic economic scene.

January 20th, 2010, 3:36 pm


Observer said:

I do think that most commentators here are too Western-centric. I don’t get why Syria needs to open to the west to achieve growth. In fact, I don’t see any growth taking place in the “West”. The world is changing fellas and growth now is in China, India, Brazil, Russia, etc. It is illustrative that non-EU Turkey is doing much better than EU member Greece which is on the brink of bankruptcy. Turkey understood this lesson and it seems Syria finally understands it. When global powers are changing, you link with the rising power not the declining one. Syria should improve its economic relations with emerging economic powers especially China instead of wasting time following a “Western illusion”

January 20th, 2010, 3:45 pm


EHSANI2 said:


I would be happy to follow Turkey. That country was an economic basket case prior to the arrival of Mr. Ozal. It was his vision and the economic legacy that he left behind that made it possible for Turkey to be where it is today.

January 20th, 2010, 4:05 pm


Alex said:


Thanks for writing this post.

Look at this example of American hypocrisy … a quote from a Fox news story in 2008:

“Rami Makhluf has used intimidation and his close ties to the Assad regime to obtain improper business advantages at the expense of ordinary Syrians,” Stuart Levey, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement.

Did the Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism show us that he cares about ordinary Egyptian people at any point so far? … did he care about ordinary Saudi People? .. Jordanian people?

When President Obama decided to retain the services of Mr. Levey, we knew that he won’t be reversing his predecessor’s failed Middle East policies.

January 20th, 2010, 4:12 pm


Ford Prefect said:

Just asking,

You mentioned that “They [the Syrian leadership and people]think getting the Golan is more important than the risk of extremism or generating more jobs.

Do you think otherwise? Are you saying that they should relinquish the Golan and pursue jobs and prosperity instead?

How do you resolve the inverse relationship between the Golan and prosperity?

January 20th, 2010, 4:15 pm


Observer said:

Ford Prefect,

There is simply no inverse relation between Golan and prosperity to resolve.

Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel and yes it achieved growth over the last two decades but the majority of Egyptians are poorer than ever (despite the laughable argument that they would have been poorer if it wasnt for peace!!!) and this was at a time when the economic power in the world was actually in the West. Today the world is changing and there are alternative economic powers that do not follow Israeli policies in the Middle East. If such a link between Golan and prosperity existed at one point, it no longer does.

January 20th, 2010, 4:21 pm


Alex said:


What you are calling for is already taking place. For example, Lamiya Assi, who was appointed economy and trade minister used to be ambassador to Malaysia.

From the EIU: “Her Malaysian connection could also signify a desire on the part of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, to focus on securing investment from Asia, having failed to persuade the Obama administration to lift US sanctions.”

President Assad has been working on establishing other alternatives that can (when added) compensate for all the good things that Syria could have had from having healthy ties with the United States.

And he is not limiting his attention to Asia. Next month he is traveling to South America … Venezuela and Brazil.

Unfortunately, Syrian civil aviation can only fly if the United States gives its go ahead, but almost everything else can be managed without the United States these days.

January 20th, 2010, 4:25 pm


Observer said:


Exactly, thats why I am saying the Syria is finally understanding this.

We, as Syrians, are not against the US but we are not going to change our policies and give up our land and our regional interests hoping to get some investments from the US. President Assad has indeed worked to diversify the economic ties of Syria and the position from the Syrian-EU Association Agreement shows that the government is not obsessed with the “West” anymore. The new relation with Turkey can also be a strating point for a regional bloc that will be capable of building stratgeic relations with China, India, Russia, and other blocs. I read an interview with the new economic minister and I found that she understands the changes in the global economy which is a positive welcome to the “Western-centric” mentality of many Syrian officials.

January 20th, 2010, 4:34 pm


EHSANI2 said:


People in the U.S. now think that Goldman Sacks uses its “close ties” in Washington “to obtain improper business advantages at the expense of ordinary” Americans.

January 20th, 2010, 4:42 pm


offended said:

Dear Ehsani,

I see your point about currency. Of course, I’m not the expert. You are. But I find the choice between these two situation very grim. Can’t we do something about the economy without compromising the potential for getting the Golan back?

At any rate, I voted the second choice. Twice.

January 20th, 2010, 4:57 pm


EHSANI2 said:


“yes, we can”


January 20th, 2010, 5:06 pm


just asking said:

Ford Perfect,

The Finns lost 1/3 of their country to the Russians but decided to forgo resistance and focus on economic growth. Was their decision that bad?

The Syrians decided to give up Alexandreta to Turkey for economic growth. Was that a bad decision?

If on the one hand you have growing extremism and unemployment and on the other you have the Golan, why is the Golan more important? Syria can live without the Golan but it will be in a difficult position if the economic situation leads to social unrest.

So I send the question back to you: Why wouldn’t you put getting the Golan on hold and achieve economic growth, and when Syria grows stronger, then resume the campaign to get the Golan?

Regarding economic growth and relations with the West. China and in fact all of the emerging market’s growth comes from trade with the West. Without it, they would not grow. Where would China be without its exports to the US? That is why Syria needs good relations with the West. It needs the West to open its markets to Syria.

January 20th, 2010, 5:07 pm


Alex said:


You mean Mr. Levey did not do anything about Goldman Sachs?

“Ordinary Syrians” should be thankful … The Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence does not have time to defend the interests of ordinary people everywhere. But because he loves “ordinary Syrians” so much, his office is focused on Syria, and only Syria.

One day Ordinary Syrians will erect a statue to honour Mr. Levey at Al-umaouiyeen square downtown Damascus.

January 20th, 2010, 5:10 pm


Alex said:

Just Asking (even though you did not ask me)

Syria did not give up Alexandretta to Turkey. And Alexandretta is not the Golan.

The Golan was invaded by Israeli army and annexed illegally by Israel in 1981. UN resolution 497 considers Israel’s annexation of the Golan Height to be “null and void”

UN resolutions 242 and 338 also back Syria’s claims to its Golan Heights.

Alexandretta’s case is more similar to Lebanon if you want … both were removed from “Greater Syria” BEFORE Syria’s independence. At the time France decided to do many things with Greater Syria … parts of historic Syria are now parts of other countries … Can Syria claim those back?

Don’t even think about it. No Syrian will accept to give up the Golan, or any part of the Golan.

January 20th, 2010, 5:21 pm


Ghat Albird said:

Anthony Nutting in his book,”The Arabs” [ he was Eden’s Secretary of Defense during the Suez invasion by France, England and Israel ] noted that the Arabs are a lot like the Irish… too emotional.

Given the realities of the present status in the ME. It would seem that the relevant options for all concerned is wether to adopt the Ariel Sharon dicta of:-

“Everyone there should move, should run, should grab more hills, expand the territory. Everything that’s grabbed, will be in our hands. Everything we don’t grab will be in their hands.”

Ariel Sharon, as Israeli Foreign Minister, in comments broadcast on Israeli
radio, November 15, 1998.

By committing to “re-grabbing what was grabbed from them” or keep travelling down the meandering piece road.

In this context I agree with OBSRVER’s comment of ” we are not going to change our policies in hopes of getting some investments.”

January 20th, 2010, 5:27 pm


Observer said:

Just asking,

The fact that China started its growth by exporting to the West does not mean that Syria has to follow the same path. Syria, comparing to China, is a small country and it does not need the huge markets the Chinese do. And ofcourse China is increasingly becoming a main market and its dependence on Western markets is declining. In many industries, it is actually the other way around (take the cars market for instance).

And regading the Golan issue, it should be clear that there is no relation between prospoerity and Golan. Egypt signed peace with Israel and yes it received some investments but the overwhleming majority of Egyptians are extremly poor and this was at a time when there was no alternative economic powers.

Reagrding social unrest, I see social unrests and radicalization in Egypt more than I see in Syria and I think most radicals come from Saudi, Kuwait, et, which are not particualrly poor.

January 20th, 2010, 5:27 pm


just asking said:


I understand that no Syrian would ever give up any part of the Golan.

That was the basis of my question to Ehsani.

The quest for the Golan hinders economic growth significantly by stopping foreign investments and by blocking foreign markets. I think we agree on this.

Therefore, the Syrians view the Golan as more important than economic growth or lack thereof and the consequences from that. I ask again then, why should the US be worried more than Syria about Syria’s economic troubles if Syria thinks they are not that important? Syria believes that attempting to get the Golan back is more important than economic growth. Surely, Syria must believe that there is no real danger to Syria from its economic condition. Why should then the US be worried and stop sanctions?

And the other question is again the following: Aren’t you playing into Israel’s hands? By not giving you the Golan back Israel can keep Syria’s economic growth low. Isn’t that giving too much power to Israel?

I think a better strategy for Syria is the following. Syria should not agree to peace with Israel and keep insisting that the Golan be returned. But it should reach an agreement with the US that it will not support resistance movements such as Hamas and Hezbollah in exchange for economic support and no sanctions. What do you think about such a deal?

January 20th, 2010, 5:46 pm


EHSANI2 said:

Just Asking,

I know that you asked Alex the question. Please allow me to give you my own answer:

First, the American sanctions clearly punish one side in the conflict. Your point about economic support in exchange for dropping Hamas and HA under the bus (my words not yours I know) has been perpetuated by Israel and many in the U.S. Would you throw the little that you have for a “promise” from a powerful country and take your chances? Were Syria to do what you suggest and severe her ties to Hamas, HA and Iran, she will be long forgotten and discarded with in a heartbeat. She basically would be standing naked on 5th Avenue in the middle of winter.

January 20th, 2010, 6:46 pm


Henry said:

Every poll on this site is loaded with Stalinist-style, or day I say Baathist-style, rhetoric. It is the language of the demagogue. I present you with a “choice.” The “or” in the choice, makes it clear that on dare not think that they are able to demand all they want from the regime.

January 20th, 2010, 6:52 pm


Alex said:

Just Asking

In addition to Ehsani’s comment, we should not forget that most Syrians want their government to not abandon Hamas and Hezbollah.

And, there is more … I will write about it later this week.

Finally, logical, optimization based arguments do not always influence decision making in the Middle East. Was the Iraq war worth it for the United States? … 3 trillion dollars!?!

Over the past few years I asked a number of American analysts and journalists: “What do you think will happen if the United States decided to invest 100 billions in Syria? … invest, not donate”

I always got smiles .. totally rejecting the idea as being too expensive and too weird.

But then I remind them that the United States spent 3 trillions on the war in Iraq … gone, not invested… no good will generated for the United States in Iraq or the Middle East … no peace achieved, no weakening of violence (or “terror”)

The conflict in the Middle East is costly for everyone, and not only Syria. Take a look if you like at this (boring) clip. 12 trillion dollars is the cost of the conflict from 1991 (Madrid) until today.

January 20th, 2010, 7:13 pm


just asking said:


True, the sanctions are one sided. But why should that influence Syria doing what is best for it? In the foreseeable future, Syria will not be able to influence the US congress.

The agreement I am imagining is that the US provides Syria several billion dollars of aid per year and Syria is not sanctioned. Why would Syria be taking a chance with such an agreement? The US would not go back on such a promise.


If the Syrians are not thinking rationally then I agree that searching for an explanation is a waste of time. But I believe that you are rational and yet think that Syria is making the right choice. So if you can, please explain why it is rational for Syria to pay the huge price of low growth for the Golan.

January 20th, 2010, 7:53 pm


Ford Prefect said:

Just Asking,
I just wanted to get a clear read on your position. Now I understand that you are arguing for favoring economic growth and prosperity over being stuck on liberating a piece of land that Syria has survived without for over 30 years.

I agree with your logic and I, too, would favor growth and prosperity over any passive piece of real estate. In fact, I would even go further: to reach the level of prosperity we all dream of for Syria, wouldn’t the Golan be a fair down payment for that potential?

But I wish it was that simple. The national identity of a country is so priceless that nothing can replace it. In Europe today we see nation-states that were at least centuries in the making. The boundaries between Germany and France today were decided over 700 years of wars, battles, and much blood and treasures.

Humans, this carbon-producing species, are known for thinking and acting irrationally. In fact, it is the only species on earth that is willing to kill, or die, not for survival but for recognition and sustainment of its ego.
Nations go to war for the stupidest reasons – none of which includes an existential threat.

So back to the original question: Isn’t irrational for Syria to “mortgage” its ascendance to the world community, with a population growth that is amongst the highest in the world, for a piece of land that is the size of a large amusement park? Is it lucid for Syria to put the lives of over 20 million people at risk for the sake of that piece of land? What does the Golan have anyway? Water enough for Syria? Oil? Gold? Diamonds? None of these, yet, every Syrian is fixated on “getting the Golan Heights back.”

It is really mind-boggling to Western analysts when they observe that Syrians are willing to accept much less (in terms of jobs, education, etc.) and wait as long as it takes to get that piece of land back. We in the West have become desensitized to the concept of land attachment – a concept that is so wide spread in people in the region – Israelis included. In fact, this is the one and only issue when the Syrian leadership and its people meet in full harmony – where, otherwise, we find people on either side of any one issue.

I have studied this Syrian ‘etho” for years. Initially I thought it is the leadership’s raison d’être – they need war so they can remain in power. This might still be true, but let’s pay attention to what many Western analysts have already observed and it is underscored by Alex’s comment above: No Syrian will ever forgo the Golan – not for prosperity, not for huge sums of money, and certainly not for any assistance from the West. One of my dear intellectual friends calls this phenomena “Brand Syria.” You can find this brand genetically imprinted on every Syrian’s forehead. It is hard to explain why, but most observers agree that it is real.

As autocratic and as ruthless Hafez Assad was, we all know he was capable of selling anything to the Syrian people. And we all know that in his final years, Hafez Assad was genuinely interested in finding a peaceful solution to the conflict with Israel. This fact is well documented by many scholars, politicians, and negotiators from all sides of the conflict. At the end of the day, Hafez Assad, the master of selling refrigerators to the Eskimos, was unable to accept a Golan minus 50 meters from the lake’s shoreline, but with additional land from the south to compensate. In essence, he was getting 100% of what Syria lost – but just not exactly the exact same.

His position was derived from the “Brand Syria.” I am not arguing for one position or another – I am just trying to list some facts that must be considered when discussing this topic: The Golan Heights, inch for inch, came to represent the Syrian national identity as a nation-state. It is the only thing that will legitimize Syria, in the eyes of Syrians, and enable its people to finally accept the Western notion of a nation-state.

January 20th, 2010, 7:58 pm


Ford Prefect said:

Ehsani, your analogy of standing naked on 5th avenue in the middle of winter is as sexy and it is correct. Seriously though, we must understand that nations – especially weaker ones, do not drop and decouple relations in exchange for some promises, and from no one else but the US. You are right on target.

Alex, the clip you posted did not come through. maybe it is my secure connection?

January 20th, 2010, 8:23 pm


norman said:

To all of you ,

Syria can walk and chew Gum at the same time , improve the economy and get the Golan , I actually think that Syria has to improve the economy to get the Golan ,

Syria needs to open it’s economy to it’s people who have a Lott of money but worry about investing in Syria, so property rights, contract laws and tort are needed more than foreign investments

January 20th, 2010, 8:41 pm


Pirouz said:

So the choice is between becoming indebted, dependent and vulnerable to Western political/banking interests, or retaining the return of national integrity?

So that I may be able to eat MacDonalds and Pizza Hut on the Souq al-Hamidiyya?

Gee, that’s a tough one.

January 20th, 2010, 9:19 pm


Shai said:

This isn’t really my place to comment, so I’d like to ask a few questions if I may:

1) If Syria views its support of Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran as necessary components of its struggle to retrieve the Golan, why has it not focused more on clearly explaining this point to all those who wish to “flip” Syria? The way I read Syria, it seems to always shy away from a direct-link between these parties (and in particular HA and Hamas), and its own territory from 1967, namely the Golan.

2) Is the connection-to-the-land something that is more basic, perhaps even innate and ancient (far preceding the nation-state), and more related to personal pride, ego, etc.? We Jews, children of the same Abraham, are also a very emotional people. The notion of succumbing to an outsider’s will and impositions is also very difficult to accept.

3) While I understand most Syrians certainly want the support of Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran to continue, how do they explain to themselves the fact that Syria, far stronger than at least the first two parties, is leaving its own resistance to others? Isn’t this fact alone something that hurts the average Syrian’s national pride? How does he/she rationalize this?

As a final note, I will just say that if the Israeli people were told that Syria sees its relationship with those 3 parties as part-and-parcel of its struggle for the Golan, insinuating that when the Golan is returned, the nature of those relationships is bound to change, I think Israelis could begin to view the entire thing differently. As would the West.

January 20th, 2010, 9:36 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Norman is right. Economy first, all the rest- second.
This is the Netaniyahu way, and he’s right of course. As a neighbor,
I prefer wealthy and prosperous Syria, over an impoverished state, who
has nothing to lose, and whom it’s leaders might (unfortunately) take
irrational decisions, based on despair rather than on logic (you know what I mean).

Ehsani, Your comment about “naked in the 5th avenue” is childish and smells bad.
What you say actually, is that Syria sticks to Iran HZB and Hamas, in
order to continue to play the riotous kid in the neighborhood, who will do naughty things in order to draw (bad) attention. This is called blackmail.
Don’t be surprised that, when you’re blackmailing America, America
punishes you.

January 20th, 2010, 9:41 pm


EHSANI2 said:


Since you seem to prefer a prosperous syria, why don’t you press your leaders and their many friends in the US to drop the economic sanctions then?

January 20th, 2010, 10:11 pm


Alex said:

Shai said:

3) While I understand most Syrians certainly want the support of Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran to continue, how do they explain to themselves the fact that Syria, far stronger than at least the first two parties, is leaving its own resistance to others? Isn’t this fact alone something that hurts the average Syrian’s national pride? How does he/she rationalize this?


The same way the United States and the Soviet Union, both far stronger than their client states, confronted each other throughout the cold war through their smaller allies.

Syria and Israel can not fight each other anymore, they will both lose too much by the time that war is stopped.

Israel has enough American support to allow it to attack some isolated Syrian target in the desert once every few years, but neither Israel, nor Syria want, or can afford to start a full scale invasion of the other’s territory.

Hamas and Hezbollah understand the situation and they never complained.

January 20th, 2010, 10:44 pm


just asking said:

I agree with Amir. A prosperous and stable Syria would be best for the region, not only Israel.

The way I see it is the following. The US believes that it is in its interest to pressure Syria using sanctions to stop its support of Hezbollah and Hamas. This has proven true under both a Democratic and Republican congress and under Democratic and Republican presidents and therefore is not likely to change in the next 5-10 years.

Syria is interested in pressuring Israel to return the Golan but is also interested in economic growth. The only way Syria can exert pressure on Israel is through Hezbollah and Hamas. Therefore Syria has to decide its priorities.

As Prof. Landis has noted, since 2006 the Hamas and Hezbollah have not been very effective in putting pressure on Israel. So unless Syria can find a way to invigorate them in the near future, at least to me the Syrian position seems counterproductive. Why pay the price of stunted growth by supporting Hezbollah and Hamas if these organizations cannot deliver? Since 2006 Syria has wasted 3 critical years in which it didn’t grow enough while no significant pressure has been put on Israel. Not the best of trade offs in my opinion.

January 21st, 2010, 1:09 am


offended said:

Just Asking,

You don’t get it, do you?

The United States stands to lose as much in the middle east as Syria does by the sanctions.

Name me one country anywhere in the world where sanctions worked.

January 21st, 2010, 5:23 am


just asking said:


How will the US lose from the sanctions? Can you spell that out?
But whether I understand this or not is not really important. It is the US congress that needs convincing and both the Democrats and Republicans think sanctions on Syria is the right way to go. So, Syria faces a given it has to respond to. The US Congress is not going to change attitudes in the next 5-10 years at least. What is Syria going to do in the meantime? Will it just accept stunted growth because it believes the US Congress is stupid?

The American supporters of sanctions say they are working because they keep Syria weak economically thus limiting the amount of mischief Syria can support. The weaker economically Syria gets, the more it will be vulnerable to internal strife and the more likely the regime will have to focus funds and attention inward. And perhaps, in the end, because of the sanctions, Syria will follow the path of Libya.

January 21st, 2010, 5:38 am


Amir in Tel Aviv said:


If it was up to me, I would have canceled the sanctions yesterday,
and would never impose sanctions in the first place.
I believe that in order to prevent war, one should aspire to reach
a state in which all (especially your opponent) have something to lose.

January 21st, 2010, 6:49 am


offended said:

Just Asking,

“But whether I understand this or not is not really important.”

OK, eventually, the congress needs to be convinced. We get that. But then why do you make the claim yourself and then revert it back to the congress? You can’t have it both ways: either you believe the congress is right in imposing the sanctions, and thus you defend this point of view, or you don’t.

And all this humdrum about the need to convince the congress does just not compute much: did the congress need convincing before Yemen was bombed with drones, were they even consulted?

January 21st, 2010, 7:24 am


offended said:

Just asking,

This is a cop out, you can’t have it both ways: you either support the sanctions and hence you’re aware of the reasons they were imposed and will defend them, or you don’t.

Things in Libya didn’t work out because of the sanctions. Eventually, Colonel Qadafi grew a little bored with it all and wanted more leeway to practice his eccentricities on Africa. I daresay he came out on top. What did he lose? What was he after to begin with?

Again, name me one country where sanction worked.

Thank you.

January 21st, 2010, 7:40 am


offended said:


It’s high time you made some sense: I’d say in order to prevent war, painful as it is, you’d have to let justice prevail.

January 21st, 2010, 7:46 am


just asking said:


What good is opinion if it does not lead to action recommendations?
One can argue if sanctions worked or not in specific cases and there is quite a bit of literature on this. But why is this relevant at all to the discussion? There are sanctions on Syria. These will not be stopped in the next 5-10 years unless Syria stops supporting Hamas, Hezbollah and Iraqi insurgents. Given this situation what is Syria going to do?

Most likely Syria will keep its support for Hamas and Hezbollah and do the best it can under sanctions. I think that is not smart for several reasons:
1) Hezbollah and Hamas have not been producing pressure on Israel since 2006, so Syria gets nothing from supporting them.
2) It plays into Israel’s hand. All Israel has to do to keep Syria sanctioned is deny them the Golan. Why give so much power to Israel that would love to see Syria remain economically weak?
3) There is a much better alternative. Syria can reach an agreement with the US to suspend its support of Hamas and Hezbollah in exchange for substantial economic support, without relinquishing its demands for the Golan. In fact, after a few years under this agreement in which trust between Syria and the US grows, Syria will be better placed to get the Golan back.

January 21st, 2010, 3:46 pm


norman said:

just asking ,

The sanctions on Syria started in 1979 , before there were HAMAS , Hezbollah and Iraq insurgency , It is Israel who is behind the sanction and until Syria and Israel reach a deal no sanctions will be lifted , the congress is in control of the sanctions and Israel in control of the Congress,

January 21st, 2010, 10:28 pm


Nour said:

Just Asking,

Just where did you get that should Syria decide to turn on the resistance, that it would immediately experience an economic boom? Do you really believe that the US would allow Syria to develop and advance economically, or any other way for that matter? Support for the Resistance, besides it being a national duty, gives Syria a card it can play. While you believe that the Resistance has not put pressure on “Israel” since 2006, the reality is that the Resistance is the only thing keeping “Israel” from fully controlling Lebanon.

The US Congress will continue to oppose lifting sanctions on Syria so long as Syria does not submit to “Israeli” hegemony. And if it does submit, the best it will be allowed to do would be to become another Egypt or Jordan; not exactly symbols of economic prosperity. If Syria wants to truly prosper economically; i.e. if it truly wants to advance industrially, technologically, agriculturally, etc., then it has no choice but to support Resistance to the cancerous entity in the south and to US designs for the region, while at the same time slowly supporting local industrialization and agriculture. Otherwise, it will be doomed to forever become an economic backwater.

January 21st, 2010, 11:14 pm


just asking said:

All the sanctions on Syria were lifted in 91 in order to get it into the anti-Iraq coalition. Furthermore, the US green-lighted the Syrian take over of Lebanon. So you see, when it wants to, Syria can make a deal with the US that does not include Israel. Why not repeat that?


Egypt’s problems are caused by internal factors. Syria’s problems are both internal and external. If Syria solves just the external problems and does not deal with the issues Ehsani outlines, its economy will not improve. But in order to have a chance to deal with internal issues, Syria must deal first with the external issues. Foreign investment is critical for Syria and it won’t materialize in large enough amounts until Syria buries the hatchet with the US.

In addition, Asad disagrees with you. Why is he willing to have peace with Israel in exchange for the Golan? According to you, after such peace, Syria will become an economic backwater like Egypt. How do you explain this?

January 22nd, 2010, 2:33 am


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