Angelina Does Damascus; Saudi King on his Way; Syria’s Attitude toward an Iranian Nuke

Angelina Jolie took Syria by storm. She and Brad met with President Assad and his wife as part of their effort to bring attention to Iraqi refugees that remain stranded.

Syria’s 2009 GDP Growth Rate Projected at 3.0 Percent
according to the International Monetary Fund. (Syria Report: Thanks Jihad Yazigi)
Foreign Investors Still Few in Syria’s Industrial Cities: In spite of strong interest from local investors, Syria’s industrial cities have yet to attract significant numbers of foreign companies.

Video: Anger at Abbas over Goldstone report delay – 05 Oct 09Al Jazeera (Many wonder if Abbas my be brought down over the cancellation of the Goldstone report.)

Saudi King’s Visit to Syria a Sign of Improved Relations
Saudi King Abdullah will visit Damascus and meet with Syria’s president this week in the strongest sign of improving relations between the two Arab rivals after years of tension, the Syrian and Saudi Arabia state-run news agencies reported Monday…. In a prelude to the thaw in relations, Assad and Abdullah have held three meetings in the past two years, the last time in Saudi Arabia last month… many in Lebanon hope a full reconciliation between Damascus and Riyadh will have positive effects in Beirut.

U.S. Takes Harsher Stance vis-à-vis Syria, according to the Memri Blog

According to opposition-associated Lebanese dailies, the U.S. is taking a harsher stance vis-à-vis Syria.

Al-Safir reported that U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Michele Sison had expressed objections to senior Lebanese officials regarding the upcoming visit of Saudi King ‘Abdallah bin ‘Abd Al-‘Aziz to Damascus, on the grounds that Syria was not cooperating with the U.S. in Iraq.

Sison also dismissed the agreement between Sa’d Al-Hariri and the opposition to allocate to the latter 10 ministers, and to granting the opposition the veto right of one-third.

Al-Akhbar reported that Sison had told senior March 14 Forces officials that the U.S. administration was disappointed at their capitulation to the opposition and that it would not welcome understandings between Al-Hariri and Hizbullah, since they would be detrimental to America’s Christian allies.

Both newspapers, as well as the Syrian daily Al-Watan, assessed that Sison sought to thwart the forming of a Lebanese government as well as the Russian-Saudi summit slated for the near future.

Will Syria benefit from Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon? (From the comment section)

Shai writes:

I doubt Syria will benefit from a regional nuclear arms race because the Gulf countries and Turkey will get nuclear weapons and Syria could remain one of the few nations WITHOUT nuclear technology. And then what? It will be at far greater risk than it is under today.

Idaf writes:

I see your point, but if Syria managed to “tolerate” a nuclear Israel for 40 years, it will definitely be able to tolerate a nuclear much friendlier Iran in the long run, unless that nuclear Iran becomes very friendly with the nuclear Israel, which is highly unlikely in the long run.

I actually argue that nuclear countries existing in the same region (Iran, Israel, Syria, Saudi, etc.) would be far more reluctant to use their nuclear weapons against each other.

If a nuclear Iran triggers a nuclear race in the Middle East then Syria would benefit from that in the short run as well in its strategic goal of regaining the Golan. Any US administration will BE FORCED to solve and defuse regional problems in the Middle East (say returning the Golan to Syria) if everyone gets a nuclear weapon. Israeli politicians understand this and this why they are nervous about a nuclear Iran, not primarily because the potential threat of nuclear Iranian weapons falling in Israel (which has much less probability than Iran (and its allies) utilizing its new standing in the nuclear club to get leverage with the US and Israel in any future negotiations)

So in all cases, it makes much sense for Syria to want a nuclear Iran (as the next best thing to a nuclear Syria). This will strengthen Syria’s position in any future negotiation and will definitely expedite Israel’s (and US Congress’) acceptance to return the Golan. It is another one of Syria’s “cold war” tactics if you like.

Simohurtta writes to provide “Some reality to the discussion of the “Iran threat”.”

The military expenditures of the region are the following
Iran 6.3 billion USD 2.5 % of GDP
Israel 13.3 billion USD 7.3 % of GDP
Syria 0.8 billion USD 5.9 % of GDP
Jordan 1.4 billion USD 8.6 % of GDP
Lebanon 0.5 billion USD 3.1 % of GDP
Turkey 31 billion USD 5.3 of GDP
Saudi Arabia 31 billion USD 10 % of GDP
Eqypt 3.3 billion USD 3.4 % of GDP

Iraq 32 billion USD 8.6 % of GDP

Kuwait 3 billion USD 5.3 % of GDP
See numbers by wikipedia

Even though the figures are from different years they “show” the reality. Iran uses the least money per capita counted in the region and has no military capability and equipment for expansive wars. It has a limited capacity to defend its own area and to retaliate if attacked.

Zuhair Siddiq gets UAE Jail Time, AFP via FLC

“……… given six months in jail and deportation for entering the UAE on a forged Czech passport. The Supreme State Security Court in Abu Dhabi pronounced its verdict, which cannot be appealed, in the presence of defendant Mohammed Zuhair Siddiq, a former member of Syria’s intelligence services. “The penalty ends in mid-October,” defence lawyer Fahd al-Sabhan told reporters after the verdict was announced, referring to the time his client has already spent in custody. “We have previously annulled the request that he be handed in to the Syrian authorities. But he could be deported or not deported depending on the sovereign executive decision.”

A Community, Shaken
A wealthy, insular Syrian Jewish enclave in Brooklyn reels after rabbis’ arrests

When Morris Setton was a young man here, he and his brother Joshua went door to door selling bags of pita bread to the crush of Jewish immigrants from Syria and Egypt.

It proved to be an excellent business venture. The brothers, Jews of Syrian descent who emigrated from Cairo in the late 1950s with $5 in their pockets, found a community along the elegant Brooklyn boulevard of Ocean Parkway that disdained American white bread and was homesick for the tastes and scents of the Middle East—the spices, flaky pastries, black olives, rose water, cheeses and nuts the immigrants were used to savoring, and which were missing from their new lives.

Fifty years later, Mr. Setton, 68, is America’s King of Pistachios. He is the co-owner of a vast enterprise, Setton Farms, that has a large warehouse in Long Island and farms and processing plants in California. He can live anywhere, but has remained planted in the corner of Brooklyn where he started, at the heart of what he calls “The Community”—a little-known enclave of more than 75,000 Jews from Syria and other Arab lands, many of whom have prospered in America while sustaining strong ties to the cultural traditions of homelands that today are inhospitable to Jews.

Brooklyn’s Syrian Jewish Community….

That community has been reeling since the July arrests of three of its major rabbis on charges of money-laundering, following a sting using a federal government informant….

His store, now called Chalouh International Foods, is today run by a Syrian Jew who emigrated from Damascus in the 1990s. A stone to guard against the evil eye, called a “shabah,” is a brisk seller at $2.

On a Friday morning in August, long lines formed at the kosher food stores lining Deal’s Norwood Avenue. Piled high on the tables of Kings Highway Glatt were packages of kibbe, the delicious little meatballs stewed in sour cherries or mushrooms that are the staple of Syrian cuisine and the centerpiece of the Friday-night sabbath meal. There was yebrak—grape leaves stuffed with rice and meat—and artichokes medias—artichoke hearts stuffed with ground meat and covered with sauce.

Older generations of Syrian women made these dishes from scratch, but these days, women line up to scoop up multiple ready-made packages of these delicacies. Some this summer were dressed for the beach, in pants or shorts and revealing halter tops. Others were in long skirts and long-sleeved blouses, their hair covered with a wig or a hat.

Come Friday, every woman in the community is busy making kibbe hamda, an aromatic dish that involves preparing a lemony broth, then adding garlic, mint and other spices, then throwing in vegetables and the meatballs.

“On Fridays you can drive down the streets of Deal or Brooklyn and know that every house has that kibbe hamda cooking,” says Poopa Dweck (no relation to Solomon Dwek), a resident of Deal and author of the cookbook “Aromas of Aleppo.” “You feel it—you smell it—the mint and the garlic and the kibbe that is boiling and everyone telling everyone not to be late.”

Iraqis claim SU blocking attempt to investigate terrorist attacks in their country

“An Iraqi politician says that Baghdad’s efforts to create a tribunal to investigate terrorist attacks in the country are being stymied by the United States, RFE/RL’s Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.
Mohammed Naji, a representative of the Unified Iraqi Alliance, told RFI on September 30 that he thinks Washington is opposed to the commission because it might complicate its relations with Syria. Other members of Unified Iraqi Alliance said Iraq is also being pressured by Iran and Turkey not to investigate the attacks, including a high-profile strike on Baghdad last month that left some 100 people dead. Kurdish parliamentary deputy Mohsen al-Saadun called on the Iraqi government to resist pressure from the Americans and others, saying that their resistance only heightens questions concerning Syria’s role in such attacks.

Comments (5)

idaf said:

Sarkozy’s Love Affair with Syria and Lebanon

France seems intent on becoming the dominant external power in Syria and Lebanon – commercially, politically and culturally, says Patrick Seale.

In a series of diplomatic moves, France has managed to establish itself as the most influential external power in Syria and Lebanon, outdistancing other European countries, as well as the United States itself.

France’s courtship of Syria began in 2008 when President Nicolas Sarkozy invited President Bashar al-Asad to the launch of the Union for the Mediterranean in Paris on 13 July, followed the next day by his attendance at the high-profile 14 July military parade.

This was a major event marking Syria’s rehabilitation as a Middle East power that could neither be ignored nor isolated, as former U.S. President George W. Bush had attempted to do. In this past year, numerous ministers from Europe and elsewhere have made their way to Damascus, signalling the end of Syria’s isolation.

The Union for the Mediterranean is one of Sarkozy’s pet projects. By means of major infrastructural projects, it aims to build bridges between the European Union and countries bordering the Mediterranean. The underlying hope is that such joint projects will serve to advance Arab-Israeli peace.

The Franco-Syrian love affair was taken a stage further this past week with a highly successful visit to Paris by Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem. It ended with what he described as a “very constructive” meeting with President Sarkozy. French sources speak not just of total confidence between the two countries, but of real “complicity.”

France describes Syria as a “key partner,” with which it enjoys “excellent bilateral relations in all fields.” France is to urge its EU partners to sign Syria’s Association Agreement with the European Union as soon as possible.

In Paris, Muallem, in turn, spoke of France’s important role in promoting Arab-Israeli peace, and in contributing to security and stability in both Iraq and Lebanon. France and Syria were agreed, he declared, that Lebanon should have a national government as soon as possible, but that the Lebanese alone should decide its composition. Syria and France wanted a government “made in Lebanon,” he said.

On the cultural front, a second French school is opening in Damascus, while the French language is to be made a compulsory subject in Syrian schools from the third grade up to university entrance.

Hardly had Muallem left the French capital than Sarkozy this weekend despatched Claude Guéant, the powerful secretary-general of the Elysée Palace, to Damascus, and Henri Guéno, his chief diplomatic adviser, to Beirut.

As well as courting Syria, Sarkozy, however, has been the sharpest European critic of Syria’s close ally, Iran — and in particular of Iran’s nuclear programme. This French position is evidently intended to reassure Israel.

What then is France’s game plan?

France seems intent on becoming the dominant external power in Syria and Lebanon — commercially, politically and culturally — a position it enjoyed between the two world wars, when it was granted a League of Nations Mandate over the two countries.

At the same time, Sarkozy is much concerned with safeguarding Israel’s security (although he has little sympathy for extreme right-wing members of Israel’s government, such as the racist and intemperate foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman.) Sarkozy believes that the present situation is untenable and that strong international accompaniment, including guarantees for both sides, will be necessary if the Arab-Israeli peace process is to have a chance of success.

Sarkozy is determined to play a prominent role in crafting a comprehensive Arab-Israeli settlement — including the creation of a Palestinian state which, in his view, is the only guarantee of Israel’s long-term survival.

Worried that U.S. President Barack Obama may falter in his peace-making, Sarkozy believes that another summit meeting of the Union for the Mediterranean could be a fruitful way of bringing Israeli and Arab leaders together.

France lent its support to Turkey’s mediation between Syria and Israel, a mediation interrupted by Israel’s assault on Gaza last December/January. In Paris, Muallem declared that Syria was ready to resume indirect contacts with Israel, through Turkey’s good offices.

Syria’s greatly improved relations with France and other EU members have been matched by its broad reconciliation with the Arab world. Of this, the most prominent signal was President Bashar al-Asad’s recent visit to Riyadh. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdallah is expected to pay a return visit to Damascus as early as this coming week.

In Paris, Foreign Minister Muallem made a clear profession of faith. “Syria,” he declared, “is an Arab country, and is proud of it. This is a reality we live with every day. We have close relations with all Arab states, including members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.” But, he added, Syria also had good relations with Iran, a country which had given firm support to the Palestinian cause since 1979.

“When the world boycotted and isolated Syria,” Muallem said, “some Arab and European countries followed suit. But Iran chose to strengthen its relations with us.” He added, however, that the security of the Arab Gulf was a red line for Syria. Iran needed to reassure the Gulf states that its nuclear programme was peaceful.

Regarding the West’s conflict with Iran over its nuclear programme, Muallem said: “We want a solution through negotiations and not by means of sanctions or confrontation.” On this subject alone, France and Syria do not see eye to eye.

Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East, and the author of The Struggle for Syria; also, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East; and Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire.

October 6th, 2009, 7:20 am


Sasa said:

Could Abbas be brought down by ‘delaying’ the Goldstone report? Delicious thought! I wonder.

I’d speculate there would be more anger among diaspora supporters of Palestine, rather than those in the West Bank and Gaza. Do the machinations of an already discredited global system bother Palestinians in the Occupied Territories as much as corruption, lack of security, a collapsed economy, political infighting and the occupation.

If it does anything, it’ll just be another thing to add to the list of ‘reasons to hate Abbas’, and will probably knock a per-centage point or two off his electoral chances. If he ever admits that an election for President is long overdue.

October 6th, 2009, 12:15 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

Abbas and plo are traitors,Abbas is the one who betrayed Palastinians, and PLO doesnot represent the people wishes,this is why the arab are loosing, having traitors as our leaders, they must go.

October 6th, 2009, 8:12 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

The relations between Syria and KSA has made a good turn, It has been preceded by Maliki silly lies, then by Assad visit to Turkey, and Assad visit to KSA, and by Meqdad meeting in USA, it has one purpose,it is Iran,it puts pressure on Assad to split from Iran,Assad must have made a major concession.

October 6th, 2009, 10:48 pm


norman said:

Majid ,

I think the KSA is waking up to the fact that rights are taken and not given and decided to help Syria instead of Iran in that regards .

October 6th, 2009, 11:48 pm


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