Biden on Syria

Biden on Syria: Qifa Nabki rounded up Biden quotes on Syria and the region:

There are plenty of reasons to mistrust Assad, but there could be real benefits to hard-headed diplomacy. Syria is the common denominator of many problems – in Lebanon , the Palestinian territories, and to a lesser extent Iraq. They are Iran 's closest ally. But it is also a fundamentally weak and isolated regime. We should work to break up its marriage of convenience with Iran. If Syria could be encouraged to act less irresponsibly it could have a real impact in the region.” (August 8, 2007)

It is a mistake not to let Israel, if it wishes to, if it sees an opportunity to go out and explore possibilities with the Syrians. If I’m in Damascus, what’s in my best interest? My best interest is to be free of Iran’s yoke, on the good side of the equation with the oil-producing Sunni states, and able to deliver for my people what appears to be a victory by having a settlement on the Golan. Now, whether that can be accomplished remains to be seen, but it should be explored." (March 20, 2007)

For more on what Biden thinks of various Middle East issues, see this helpful page at Jewish Virtual Library

Yoav Stern writes in Haaretz: Assad: Next round of Syria-Israel talks will be 'decisive'

The next round of indirect negotiations between Damacus and Jerusalem will be "decisive," Syrian President Bashar Assad told reporters over the weekend.

Responding to a query as to whether progress had been made during the talks, Assad told reporters: "As of now, we have not reached anything tangible."

The Turkish-mediated negotiations, which were meant to resume this week in Istanbul, have been postponed till next week.

Assad told an Arabic-language television station based in Russia that Syria was not sure Israel was even interested in peace. "I can't say at all that we have confidence [in Israel]."……

In an article posted yesterday on the Asia Times Web site, Syrian political analyst Sami Moubayed, wrote that the concern in Jerusalem is "playing nicely into the hands of Syria, which is using it to strengthen its ties with an old and resurrected friend, send messages to a traditional foe [Israel], and pressure the United States into changing course over Damascus."

U.S. Syria expert Joshua Landis wrote in his blog that "Syria's bad negotiating position is leading it to look for more weapons and to try to grow more teeth before returning to the table with Israel," adding, "Both Assad and Hezbollah are hoping to get new weapons systems from Russia and greater diplomatic backing." But despite the preoccupation with weapons, he asserts that all eyes are on the peace process.

Russia baulks at selling missiles to Syria
By Isabel Gorst in Moscow, August 22 2008, FT

Published: August 21, 2008

The president of Syria spent two days this week in Russia with a shopping list of sophisticated weapons he wanted to buy. The visit may prove a worrisome preview of things to come. Although Russia has long supplied arms to Syria, it has held back until now on providing the next generation of surface-to-surface missiles. But the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, made clear that he was hoping to capitalize on rising tensions between Moscow and the West when he rushed to the resort city of Sochi to meet with his Russian counterpart, Dmitri A. Medvedev.

The list of ways a more hostile Russia could cause problems for the United States extends far beyond Syria and the mountains of Georgia…..

“If Russia’s feeling churlish, they can pretty much bring to a grinding halt any kind of coercive actions, like economic sanctions or anything else,” said Peter D. Feaver….

Syria becomes oil importer as production continues to decline
Saturday, August 23

LONDON — Syria's crude oil production, once the basis of its economy, is falling.

The London-based Oxford Business Group said Syrian oil production would fall by 7.9 percent in 2008. By 2009, OBG said, oil production in Syria would not exceed 350,000 barrels per day.

"Oil has been the mainstay of the Syrian economy for over four decades, but production passed its peak of 610,000 barrels per day in 1995 and is now falling even more rapidly than had been forecast," OBG said in a report.

The report said Syria, in contrast to previous forecasts, has failed to meet domestic fuel demand. OBG said Syria must begin to import light crude oil for gasoline in 2009.

Addendum: Idaf writes:

With regards to the Oxford Business Group’s report on oil imports in Syria, the increasing investments in oil exploration in Syria during the past year may suggest a less dramatic change in Syria’s oil export/import status. Syria Report reported last week the following on oil output in two Syrian fields:
Tanganyika Announces Sharp Increase in Output Rates
Oil output at the Tishrine and Oudeh fields increased significantly in the first half of this year, according to Tanganyika Oil Company.

However, there’s a welcome sudden interest by the Syrian government in renewable energy sources during the last few months. Some of the interesting headlines include:

Alternergie to Build Syria’ First Solar Power Plant
Alternergie, a German firm active in renewable energies, has been awarded a contract by the Ministry of Electricity to build the country’s first solar electricity plant at a cost of EUR 50 million.
The government recently assigned four sites to be used as wind farms, each with a capacity of 100mw and a cost of SYP 7.7bn (EUR 100m). The first wind station is also expected to be opened in Hassia on 555 hectares in an arid and year-round windy area. The government also recently introduced a program to subside the purchase of solar panel hot water heating systems. The greater uptake of solar water heaters is expected to help cut Syria’s household electricity consumption which totals around 50 percent of all consumption.
The ministry of electricity will distribute energy saving light bulbs for free. In addition new building codes and standards for heating and isolation and new legislations for wind energy production.

In addition, state run banks have recently started providing new loans with very low interest rates for businesses willing to install solar electricity systems.

In the business of peace: U.S. billionaire pursues his dream of Mideast peace
By Akiva Eldar

Between meeting in the Knesset with Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon and visiting his friend, President Shimon Peres, S. Daniel Abraham felt like pouring his heart out. The 84-year-old billionaire, who visited Israel earlier this month, says that for the last seven years, since meeting Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Saud – who has since been crowned king – he has not known peace. Abraham’s eyes become dewy as he talks about the meeting in Riyadh. That was when he heard the great news: 22 Arab countries had agreed to recognize Israel within the June 4, 1967 boundaries, and were offering it normal neighborly relations, as part of what became known as the Arab Initiative. Abraham recalls that he was moved to tears and told the prince that, being a Jew, he was at loss for words to describe how wonderful it was to hear such a declaration from an Arab leader of his standing…

The Role of Israel in the Georgian War
August 17, 2008
by Brian Harring

….Israel began selling arms to Georgia about seven years ago, following an initiative by Georgian citizens who immigrated to Israel and became weapons hustlers.

They contacted Israeli defense industry officials and arms dealers and told them that Georgia had relatively large budgets, mostly American grants,  and could be interested in purchasing Israeli weapons.

The military cooperation between the countries developed swiftly. The fact that Georgia's defense minister, Davit Kezerashvili, is a former Israeli who is fluent in Hebrew contributed to this cooperation. “We are now in a fight against the great Russia," he said, "and our hope is to receive assistance from the White House, because Georgia cannot survive on its own. …..

Comments (32)

idaf said:


With regards to the Oxford Business Group’s report on oil imports in Syria, the increasing investments in oil exploration in Syria during the past year may suggest a less dramatic change in Syria’s oil export/import status. Syria Report reported last week the following on oil output in two Syrian fields:
Tanganyika Announces Sharp Increase in Output Rates
Oil output at the Tishrine and Oudeh fields increased significantly in the first half of this year, according to Tanganyika Oil Company.

However, there’s a welcome sudden interest by the Syrian government in renewable energy sources during the last few months. Some of the interesting headlines include:

Alternergie to Build Syria’ First Solar Power Plant
Alternergie, a German firm active in renewable energies, has been awarded a contract by the Ministry of Electricity to build the country’s first solar electricity plant at a cost of EUR 50 million.
The government recently assigned four sites to be used as wind farms, each with a capacity of 100mw and a cost of SYP 7.7bn (EUR 100m). The first wind station is also expected to be opened in Hassia on 555 hectares in an arid and year-round windy area. The government also recently introduced a program to subside the purchase of solar panel hot water heating systems. The greater uptake of solar water heaters is expected to help cut Syria’s household electricity consumption which totals around 50 percent of all consumption.
The ministry of electricity will distribute energy saving light bulbs for free. In addition new building codes and standards for heating and isolation and new legislations for wind energy production.

In addition, state run banks have recently started providing new loans with very low interest rates for businesses willing to install solar electricity systems.

August 24th, 2008, 12:43 pm


Karim said:

Dear Idaf,Do you believe the mea culpa that the president is clean and only the people around him are corrupt ?
Dear Idaf,Syria will not see light under a family ultra sectarian regime because such paranoid regime can only survive through the means that make Syria and its people weak,poor and humiliated.
A strong civil society is the precondition of any prosperous and healthy nation.
So why should we lie to ourselves ?

August 24th, 2008, 2:16 pm


ugarit said:

on a much lighter note:

Culinary delights in Damascus & Aleppo
Tour Leader: Anissa Helou

7 nights: 10– 17 October 2008

August 24th, 2008, 2:49 pm


Alex said:

Qifa Nabki asked me to comment on Biden’s quotes.

I think they were quite positive given the time and place.

In the United States, if a well known politician makes any enthusiastic statements about Syria, he would be branded as an extremist or at best, as a naive person who did not learn from the past “mistakes” … he will be reminded (in editorials and in the senate ..) that “we already tried” but Syria always failed to do the right thing …

You end up being another Chuck Hagel or Ron Paul … outside.

AND … Biden made those statements in 2007 … before Syria was thanked for its “help” in Lebanon few months ago and before Sarkozy made Assad the star of the Mediterranean summit.

In 2007 in Washington DC, the only acceptable language to use was “Syria is definitely doing bad things … so how do we deal with Syria?”

Under those circumstances, Biden still managed to recommend the smart approach .. we need to deal with Syria.

And that’s what counts.

August 24th, 2008, 3:12 pm


idaf said:


Matthew Teller from the Observer went on one of these culinary tours of Syria. His article is.. delicious!

The foodie road to Damascus Syria is known for its deserts and ancient ruins, but now its cuisine is starting to draw visitors too. Matthew Teller is a delighted convert.

After decades out in the cold, shunned by Western travellers and overshadowed by its faster-moving neighbours, Syria is – slowly – starting to gain the recognition it deserves as a vibrant, fascinating country. If you’ve never visited, whatever you’ve heard about the place is quite likely to be wrong. Political rhetoric notwithstanding, there’s a more tangible air of menace in Guildford.

And as the country opens up to outsiders, ways to explore it multiply. I had visited Damascus before, but this time I was going to experience it through the eyes of Anissa Helou, chef, broadcaster and writer on the cuisines of the Mediterranean. A Londoner for 20 years, Anissa grew up in Beirut but remembers idyllic childhood summers spent in the Syrian highlands. Now she has returned to launch small-group culinary tours, taking ingredients, cooking styles and methods of production as a starting point to explore and understand this much-misunderstood country.

Admiring Damascus’s historical monuments, or taking time to appreciate the architecture, was firmly off the agenda. Instead, we began by exploring the souks. I watched as Anissa strode through the crowded lanes, casting to left and right, stopping to watch an old man cooking omelettes, pausing to ask a passer-by how she prepares her vegetables, picking out oranges from a pile on a barrow. I followed her into the back lanes, where we discovered a half-hidden factory making sugared almonds: a single, bare room lined with great copper drums for turning the toasted nuts in syrup.

The manager, Qusay Sukkari (sukkar is the Arabic word for sugar so, delightfully, this was Mr Sugary the Sweetmaker), welcomed us and explained the process, but apologised for having none of the product to sample. No matter, we said, and nipped round the corner to buy qatayif – sweet pastries filled with cream, deep-fried to a crunch and drenched in treacle. Old-fashioned calories still matter in Syria.

We spent the day working our way through the different areas of the souk, buying zaatar – a fragrant blend of thyme, marjoram and sesame – in the Souk al-Bzouriya (the ‘seeds market’), sampling boiled sweets and sipping fresh mulberry juice. Then we headed over to the Souk al-Tanabel (‘lazybones market’), which sells only pre-prepared vegetables: the stalls are piled with bags of sliced carrots, cored squash and ready-chopped herbs – convenience food, Syrian-style.

Eating is, obviously, a major part of a culinary tour, and we ate in a succession of fabulous restaurants. Particularly memorable was Al-Khawali, housed in an eye-popping 14th-century palace in the heart of the Damascus souk, concealed from the street’s bustle by beautifully carved wooden doors. Inside, floors of patterned marble led to an airy internal courtyard, with tables laid around a central fountain dotted with jasmine and citrus trees. Anissa ordered a clutch of meze – small, sampler-style dishes that included alangi (stuffed vine leaves) and exquisite shanklish, a tangy sheep’s cheese dusted with pepper and thyme. We dipped and nibbled our way through about eight meze dishes, plus mains of tender grilled lamb: the food – formal, sophisticated, charming – suited the ambience perfectly.

Old Town, a rather unimaginatively named restaurant in Damascus’s Christian quarter, was another highlight, serving pungent, fiery muhammara – a spicy dip of chopped walnuts and red pepper – and succulent chicken kebabs.

The tour continued in Aleppo, some four hours north, where we met the vastly knowledgeable Hassan Khouja, a researcher from the Académie Syrienne de la Gastronomie (such a body does exist), for a meal at Bazar ash-Sharq, a restaurant hidden in vaulted cellars just outside the old city walls. Hassan claimed this was the best kitchen in Aleppo. Its kibbeh nayeh, raw lamb chopped with spices and bulgur wheat – one of the most difficult meze dishes to get right – was superb: soft, moist and earthily flavourful. As we tucked into Aleppan meatballs with quince, Hassan talked about Syria’s culinary roots, and how Aleppo’s location on the east-west Silk Road historically drew in both Persian and Turkish influences, most notably with the mixing of savoury and sweet in the city’s trademark spicy kebabs with sour cherries.

Damascus, on the other hand, far to the south and cut off from eastern influence by the desert, always looked more to Lebanese mountain cuisine, for subtler combinations of herbs, beans and vegetables in meze dishes and salads.

The difference was still tangible: the zaatar we bought in Aleppo was sharper and more peppery than that in Damascus, and while our Damascene sweet treats were candied apricots and local ice cream – egg-free and beaten by hand – in Aleppo we were offered elegantly crafted confections of spun sugar with Iranian pistachio nuts.

As well as opening world-class restaurants, Syria is also starting to take a leaf out of Morocco’s boutique-hotel book. The lanes of Damascus’s Bab Touma district shelter a number of upmarket conversions of 17th- and 18th-century courtyard town houses. At Beit al-Mamlouka – the first and still one of the most stylish – all eight bedrooms were taken when we visited, but the engaging owner, May Mamarbachi, nonetheless served us tea in the orange-scented courtyard and showed us around, pointing out original features and inviting us to return.

While I plumped for a simple room above the workshop of Syrian sculptor Mustafa Ali, Anissa stayed first at the Dar al-Yasmin, another heritage conversion featuring marble fountains and beautiful pointed arches, then moved to the Talisman, a small hotel converted from a wealthy merchant’s residence on a dusty lane in the old Jewish Quarter. The Talisman’s French owners have deliberately overlaid the traditional Syrian architecture with a ragbag of design elements: Indian trinkets hang beside Cairene lamps, while a Moroccan red wash covers the walls – gaudy rather than chic.

More endearing was the Mansouriya Palace, down a narrow alley near the medieval Bab Qinisreen gateway in Aleppo’s old quarter. Within another serene mansion of white marble, its courtyard shaded by Seville orange trees, lie nine suites, each over-themed to the point of kitsch. The Hittite Suite comes complete with stone lions flanking the bed and a bath and sink carved from single blocks of marble, while the Ottoman Suite is dominated by a four-poster bed decked in swags of heavy silk.

But the real discovery remained the food. Bypassing Syria’s famous ruins for an indulgent week of near-continuous eating and snacking in the company of Anissa, whose knowledge and enthusiasm are boundless, turned out to be a great way to get under the skin of this often hard-to-fathom country. Food is one field where Syria excels, and it deserves to be celebrated.

August 24th, 2008, 3:22 pm


Shai said:


Your stories are amazing. I would love to travel with you one day, through all the lands of our region. If you ever find your way to… Israel, give me a ring. 🙂

August 24th, 2008, 3:27 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

In Lebanon, there is a saying: “The second best source of Arabic cuisine is the Lebanese restaurant. The best source is the Syrian kitchen.”

August 24th, 2008, 5:12 pm


Bashmann said:


Your persistence at self-deception in your analysis is amazing. A friend of mine just got back from Damascus a week ago, he was telling me about the 2hrs gas lines that have become the norm in the city. How long do you think this would last before it gets uglier? You are quick to counter the OBG report, Ehsani’s observation, and many others pointing the ill-advised economic, political, and social policies of this regime and make it sound as normal difficulties for any country in “transition” as you point out. I agree with you, Syria is in transition, but this time the transition will take it into an abyss if the regime does not realize the follies of its ways. The economic outlook for Syria is as bad as it gets and will be the decisive factor for the regime’s survival in the coming years.

In addition, Mr. Bashar Assad’s emotional spurts will ‘cause Syria great harm in the next few years. His passionate statements to the Russian press supporting Russia’s actions in Georgia are proof of his lack of political foresights and astuteness. Supporting Russia so quickly, will ‘cause him the cessation of the indirect peace negotiations with Israel and the revival of his long believed anti-western image. In a time where he needed to convince France and other Western leaders of his good will towards neighboring states, he fires his usual demagogic statements against the U.S and Israel defiantly. I’m afraid that Bashar’s worst enemy is only himself.


August 24th, 2008, 5:30 pm


Shai said:


I wonder, is it a Middle Eastern thing (seems to be so in Israel), that when a leader speaks “like a man”, perfectly sure of himself, sounding confident, daring, calculating, and fearless, he gets the respect and admiration of all his “subjects”, and even his staunchest rivals (Saudi media). Even if his words could cost him dearly…?

I agree with Bashmann, I think Bashar may have miscalculated in quickly and so bluntly supporting Russia, at the expense of Georgia but, more importantly, clearly clashing with the U.S., France, and the rest of Europe… The benefit surely won’t outweigh the cost here, even if merely that of image.

August 24th, 2008, 5:52 pm


Alex said:


“Speaking like a man” works .. Mideast or not. Margaret Thatcher became more popular every time she spoke like a man.

As for Bashar’s clear support for Russia. I will hold my judgment until I get a better idea of the actual benefits and costs… let’s see if Sarkozy and Obama (?) really get demotivated as a result of those statements.

I doubt they will.

And I doubt Bashar’s statements were as spontaneous as many people think. Usually Syria does not “pay” in advance … as you probably know by now.

Another thing to keep in mind when trying to assess the “benefits” in the future … we might never see them. A lot of the benefits, for both Syria and Russia, are of the insurance type … the degree of their cooperation will be contingent on how others (US and Israel) decide to deal with Syria and Russia.

For example, if Israel decides to be genuinely committed to comprehensive peace, Syria will be happy to not get any of those potential “benefits” from Russia.

August 24th, 2008, 6:17 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

I believe that most of syrian and the Arabs support statements made by Bashar, as far as Russia actions in Georgia, this is a situation Russia will succeed, and USA is loosing, it started with a mistake by Georgia pro america president, so Russia action is jusified, and the people of Abkhazia, and south Ositia want to seperate from Georgia, also compare Russia action in Georgia with USA action in Iraq.

August 24th, 2008, 6:21 pm


Shai said:


You may well be right, in that we’ll never see the benefits (perhaps), or the “costs”. But if Bashar was trying to get closer to, let’s say, Sarkozy (and clearly he was), why make such public statements in support of Russia, which Sarkozy will remember for a long time? Syria was doing so well in getting closer to the West, playing her moves truly brilliantly (I’m allowing myself, as “the enemy” to respectfully suggest), and yet, it almost seems arrogant to hint that France and the U.S. may need Bashar more than he needs them. Again, it’s perception, and the way his words will be used against him. Reality, or what’s behind the scene with Russia, don’t matter much. It’s the statements that embarrass Sarkozy in France, or even Obama in the U.S., that matter.

I agree, it is unusual for Bashar to have a slip of the tongue. He thought this statement through, before he made it. I just can’t see the benefit, not even the theoretical one. I can, however, see the cost. I hope I’m wrong, because it may well put Syria in an impossible position, where it’ll find itself heading eastward much more than it intended to.

Imagine Obama winning, and trying to get closer to Syria. The Republicans, in a nanosecond, will fire “But Syria was willing to sacrifice Georgia, an important U.S. ally, in support of Russia!… And now YOU want to reward her?” It will make it that much tougher for Obama to install his own MidEast policy, which may have been much more favorable towards Syria. The same can happen in France, with Sarkozy’s strongest opposition. And all this for what? For sounding “like a man”? Bashar doesn’t need to be like Thatcher. He’s done amazingly well the past 8 years, sounding like a responsible leader, not like a “tough guy”.

August 24th, 2008, 6:38 pm


Alex said:

I understand Shai. And my initial reaction to Bashar’s statement was similar to yours to some extent… I questioned its necessity.

But I later tried harder to put myself in his shoes. One thing he learned from his father … don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

It is a strategy .. instead of maximizing potential rewards from the Sarkozy, United States and Israel, Assad prefers to use some of his money to pay for insurance… it makes him poorer perhaps, but he learned his lessons (and his father’s lessons) … in the case of Syria, buying insurance has always been worth it.

I will remind you of the famous F-word … while Syria is genuinely hoping that the coming year might bring us the ever elusive peace agreement, Syria also knows that Washington, Tel Aviv, and Sarkozy .. can all flip!

And if they do, it won’t be because Assad offered Russia his symbolic support this week … this is not that significant … ask Dr. Charles if you don’t believe me 😉

It would be because they calculate that they can do without Syria.

What really counts Shai is: Do we rely on Syria as the regional Arab country in charge of that area, or do we still think Saudi Arabia (or Egypt) will be able to eventually learn how to manage it.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt are not as demanding as Syria… and there is no Golan withdrawal price to pay.

And of course it will also depend on America’s decision to continue confronting Iran, or to turn everything upside down by becoming close friends with Iran again.

August 24th, 2008, 7:03 pm


Shai said:


Yes, I understand. And indeed this type of insurance is important. But it does seem like a gamble, simply because it makes it harder on those who do wish to get closer to Syria, to justify their moves. It’s not enough that Syria was, for the past 8 years, a member of the Axis-of-Evil… now it sides with Medvedev against an independent nation called Georgia? And Bashar is justifying a military incursion into the sovereign territory of a close U.S. ally? You see, it just gives more “ammunition” to those who will counter attempts to reach out to Syria. I believe none of us want that. Did Assad wish to send a message to the U.S. or Europe by that statement? Maybe. To Russia? Perhaps, but he probably could have said it quietly, in private.

I guess time will tell, if this was wise of Bashar, or not. Let’s hope Russia won’t try to make maximal use of this, and in the end cause Syria to be further isolated. It’s like Norman said, this could end up being a husband-wife making up, at the expense of the mother-in-law (Syria)… 🙂

August 24th, 2008, 7:14 pm


Montagnard said:

I agree, Bashar made a very gutsee move. The upside far outweighs the downside. Looking back he has been able to turn bad hands into winning hands by being able to read and predict the other players options.

August 24th, 2008, 7:19 pm


Alex said:


“they” have an endless supply of ammunition to use against close relations with Syria. If it is not Bashar’s position on Georgia, it can simply be the next political prisoner’s name … or they can shed stronger light on the Lebanese names supposedly in Syrian prisons since the civil war …

On the other hand, when a decision it taken to deal with Syria, all the obstacles become surmountable.

I have to go now, but there is more to this story.

For example … think about the fact that Israel has been playing a role in Georgia … not mere support statements, but a serious military role.

Israel has also been playing a serious role in areas as far as Northern Iraq and Southern Sudan …

August 24th, 2008, 7:42 pm


idaf said:


The “2 hours gas line” is a myth. I heard it before. As you can tell from my earlier post, I drove thousands of Kilometers this past month all around Syria and had to fill my car tank numerous times all around the country. I never noticed any “2 hours gas line” anywhere. In fact, with only one exception, I never spent more than 5 minutes in any gas station. The only crowded place was a gas station in Damascus (at the begining of the way up to Mashroo3 Dummar) and that was during the rush hour. I wanted to fill my car’s tank there and saw a long line of cars there during the rush hour. It seems that people in Damascus prefer that station (or it’s more convenient and is on the way back to their residential areas from work). That station has a prime location and no close stations nearby. I just had enough gas in my tank so I drove to the next gas station (which was almost 10 KM away). I was the only one there!

I will stick with MY OWN “self-deception”. You can believe and generalize you friend’s story all you want.

As for Bashar’s statements in Russia, I tend to agree with Alex. These statements were designed to tease the US and Israel to speed up the Syria rapprochement and the peace talks. I don’t think France or Europe will punish Syria for a supporting statement towards Russia. Taking a quick look at the Israeli press, it seems that politicians there became anxious because of these statements. If I were an Israeli decision maker, would you think that I would stop the Syria peace talk (and push Syria to pursue a full blown arms deal with Russia) or speed them up and avoid more new missiles on my boarders? Syria is only showing the other side that she owns more and more negotiation cards (so they better give more concessions faster).

On the other hand, if I was a Syrian decision maker, I would not want to shun Russia at this point then get McCain as a US president in few months and an obedient France complying with him again on punishing Syria. Keeping Russia happy for now is a good long term back-up strategy (or insurance as Alex called it).

August 24th, 2008, 7:53 pm


Bashmann said:


The article you point to from Abdel Rahman Elrashed proves my point. In the Arab world as you and I know well, demagoguery wins you popular support. It is this exact ideology that is the driving force behind Bashar’s popularity. Standing up to the U.S and Israel have been, as you know, the cornerstone for the Arab Nationalist and Islamist camps for the past half century in the ME. The results are evident on the ground depending on your perspective. Nothing has been accomplished in terms of real nation building in the Arab world precisely because of this ideology. The only benefit for this demagoguery has been the continuation of dictatorial regimes in the area.

I’m afraid until Bashar realizes this, his fate along with our beloved Syria has been sealed, and I’m afraid it is not the kind of fate we all want to see for Syria.


August 24th, 2008, 8:02 pm


idaf said:

Mediocre outcomes for all Arab countries in Beijing, and really embarrassing results for Syria.. I hope someone is taking note in the useless and inefficient “al-ettihad al-riadhi el-3am” in Damascus.

Eight Syrian Olympians at Beijing

Eight Syrian athletes took part in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, competing in shooting, swimming, track and field, triathlon and weightlifting events. Politics overshadowed their sporting performances, however, when Syrian swimmer Bayan Jumah pulled out of her event after being scheduled to compete against an Israeli athlete.

Syria’s 2008 Olympic team included its largest swim team ever, represented by Jumah, Souhaib Kalala and Saleh Mohammad. Fadwa Albouza and Majed Aldin Gazal competed in track and field events, Oma Tayara in the triathlon, Ahed Joughili in weightlifting and Roger Dahi in shooting.

Juma, the swim team’s only female athlete, pulled out of the women’s 50m freestyle event after being scheduled to swim against an Israeli opponent in the first round. For the other team members, Kalala finished fourth in his first round heat of the men’s 100m backstroke, while Mohammad finished 19th in the men’s 10km marathon.

In track and field, Albouza finished eighth in her first round heat of the women’s 100m hurdles. Gazal finished 14th in the men’s high jump first round heat, while Oma Tayara finished 49th in the men’s triathlon.

Ahed Joughili finished 13th in the men’s 105 kg weightlifting event while Dahi finished 41st in the men’s skeet shooting event

Syria first competed in the summer Olympics in 1948. Its medal haul since that time includes one in each colour; gold, silver and bronze. Ghada Shouaa won Syria’s only gold medal the heptathlon in the 1996 Games in Atlanta. She remains one of only two women in the Arab world to claim Olympic gold and one of only three in the wider Middle East. She also represented Syria at an international level as a basketball player.

Joseph Atiyeh claimed silver for Syria in the freestyle wrestling 100kg division at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, while Naser al-Shami won bronze in heavyweight boxing at the 2004 Athens Games.

August 24th, 2008, 8:05 pm


Shai said:


What you say makes sense. But the problem is that all too often politicians and leaders don’t follow sense, they follow emotion, and neocon “advisers”, and polls, and what the media wants them to. Best examples are indeed Israel, and even the U.S. I just fear these self-fulfilling prophecies our region tends to create, with messages being misinterpreted, and opportunities missed. As you say, it would make sense that now Israel should seek an agreement with Syria even more badly. But I bet that the next few months will show Israeli leaders keeping a safe distance, for fear of the public in upcoming elections. No one wants the opposition to suggest he/she was willing to give the Golan back to an enemy that wants Russian missiles on our northern border… It’s the fuzzy-logic I’m worried about, not the sensible one…

August 24th, 2008, 8:06 pm


Shai said:


I’m of course not arguing for Israel’s part in this, as indeed it was supplying Georgia with arms (but already from a number of years ago).

Imagine how statements made somewhere, could sometimes have not an insignificant effect thousands of miles away. Campaigning is starting in the U.S. Debates between the candidates will surely focus also on the Middle East, and not only Iraq, also Iran, Syria, Palestine, etc. Imagine Ahmedinejad coming out with another “Wipe the Zionist regime off the map” comment. How can Obama now suggest (in a televised debate) that the U.S. should talk to Iran? He does that, and there goes the Jewish vote. Bashar makes anti-Georgian comments, and pro-Russia, and again how can Obama talk of a greater role for Syria in the region (not to mention ending its economic isolation)? So suddenly, because of some statements coming out of the region, Obama has a very hard time convincing anyone of his plans for the region. And then, McCain seems much more responsible, and sensible. And maybe that helps him win.

I’m of course oversimplifying matters, and I am ignoring Syria’s interests here, and your (understandably important) “insurance”. But I’m trying to look at more sides of the coin, not just the one we hope to see. I’m still not convinced Bashar’s statement, in the blunt fashion it was delivered, was wise… (But I do hope I’m wrong).

August 24th, 2008, 8:22 pm


SimoHurtta said:

the cornerstone for the Arab Nationalist and Islamist camps for the past half century in the ME. The results are evident on the ground depending on your perspective. Nothing has been accomplished in terms of real nation building in the Arab world precisely because of this ideology. The only benefit for this demagoguery has been the continuation of dictatorial regimes in the area.

Well Bushmann how do the pro-American Arab states fit in your “theory”. As we see in American Iraq there is not any more “hurry” to organize new elections. Neither Egypt or Saudi Arabia do not win any human rights and democracy awards. Certainly the anti-Americanism of the Arab Nationalist and Islamist camps has had no effect in any country’s democracy “level”. Also the “theory” that pro-American Arab nations are economically prosperous is without any evidence.

It will be interesting to see what happens to NATO if it takes a more anti-Russian stand. The reality for Europe is that it is dependent from Russian energy and delivery routes under Russian control. USA (and Israel) can dream of shutting out Russia and Iran but is there any alternative they can offer to Europe and Turkey? American hollow democracy speeches do not make our cars and factories run or keep houses warm.

Russia is in a very good position to offer solutions (economical and to some amount military) to many (oil producing) Middle Eastern countries. Russia has basically rather good relations with all countries in the region – with pro-Americans and not so US fans. USA has in reality rather little to offer or better said what it it can or is willing to deliver. And Israel is obviously not wanting to offer anything to make USA more popular. If Russia would be a so featherweight rival as many claim why are Israelis so nervous and fast disclaiming their extraordinary large support to Georgia.

Analysis: Turkish-Iranian energy ties

August 24th, 2008, 9:44 pm


EHSANI2 said:

I would like to confirm what my friend IDAF stated with respect to lines at gas stations. I detected none of that anywhere. This is totally false.

As for “the Mediocre outcomes for all Arab countries in Beijing, and really embarrassing results for Syria”, this must not come as a surprise. Indeed, the surprise is when and if we manage to somehow do better. Success at the highest levels of sports needs tremendous amount of financial funding and support. None of this is available to the country’s athletes. Neither is it available for the arts……or the garbage collection 🙂

August 24th, 2008, 10:03 pm


Alex said:


You are now in charge of Mr. Khaddam’s “opposition” Satellite TV station. As I wrote to you (by email, and on your new blog), I hope you can prove me wrong by becoming more realistic for a change. You, in “opposition” are still living in your (mostly) dream world. You exaggerate or make up stories .. you circulate them, and then you believe them!

Look at what you made out of our email discussion from two weeks ago. You twisted my opinions to make them sound naive and/or questionable.

I wanted initially to support your new blog. But …

You have your die hard supporters (the regime haters) … you will always have them as long as you say the right things “the regime is to blame for all our problems on earth”.

But you will not attract many new ones… not until you wake up. If the Neocons and the Saudis and the Hariris support you unconditionally, that does not make you any better than the regime. You still don’t see that obviously.

August 24th, 2008, 10:21 pm


norman said:

In the last 5 years , short of an invasion the West has done everything it could to destroy and destabilize Syria ,Now with the prices of oil going up , Russia is richer and seems to have found a back bone , Syria needs a friend in the security council and Russia can fit that role , For few nice supporting words to Russia , that is a small price to pay ,

Shai ,

About Hezbollah and it’s threats ,

The only reason for Israel not to attack Iran is if it believes that the price could be very high , Nassrallah is trying to enforce that belief in Israel.

August 24th, 2008, 10:28 pm


norman said:

أدت سفيرة سورية لدى فرنسا لمياء شكور يوم الأحد اليمين القانونية أمام الرئيس بشار الأسد قبل أن تتوجه إلى باريس لبدء مهامها.

وكان الرئيس الأسد أصدر في وقت سابق مرسوماً سمى بموجبه لمياء يوسف شكور سفيراً للجمهورية العربية السورية لدى الجمهورية الفرنسية.

I believe she is the daughter of Yosef Shakkor , he was the Syrian chief of staff during the 1973 war and then ambassador to France.

Syria appoints ambassador to France

The Associated Press
Sunday, August 24, 2008
DAMASCUS, Syria: The Syrian news agency says the country has appointed an ambassador to France — a post that remained vacant for two years due to strained relations between the countries.

The SANA news agency says Lamia Shakkour was sworn in Sunday in front of President Bashar Assad.

Syrian-French relations deteriorated after the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria’s critics accuse Damascus of having a role in the slaying, a charge Syria denies.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy hosted Assad in July, appearing determined to bring Syria back into the international fold. The French president travels to Syria Sept. 3.

Syria has also worked to improve ties with Lebanon and renew peace talks with Israel.

August 24th, 2008, 10:38 pm


norman said:


These are the reason why Syria should prepare for war ,

Israel has no intention to have peace .

Dangerous talks with Syria

Aug. 24, 2008
The current indirect talks between Israel and Syria are highly unlikely to result in a peace agreement. The talks, far from playing any positive role for Israel, are mistaken both in terms of our values and in terms of our practical interest. They are being conducted by an irresponsible government with no public mandate, and are already causing real harm. We should be working to isolate the Syrian regime, not rehabilitating it.

From the point of view of values, the government’s approach is fundamentally mistaken. The Golan Heights were taken in a just war in 1967, a war which was provoked by an extremist and reckless Ba’athist regime in Damascus. Our presence is both legal and essential. The Golan Heights must be retained under Israeli sovereignty.

The Syrian regime preached the destruction of Israel, and was directly responsible for the deterioration which made the 1967 war inevitable. There is no moral content to the claim by the same regime that its “rights” were violated by defeat in a war which it had actively sought. Independent Syria controlled the Golan Heights for exactly 21 years. Its borders are based not on some ancient patrimony, but rather on the division of the Ottoman Empire by the Western powers after 1918. Syrian rhetoric regarding its connection to this area lacks all content.

SINCE THE indirect talks with Syria are taking place in Turkey, it is worthwhile comparing our willingness to part with the Golan with Turkey’s attitude to a parallel border dispute with Syria. The issue of the Hatay province (or Alexandretta, as it is known to the Syrians) was a major point of tension between Damascus and Ankara for the better part of the last half century. This area was ceded to Turkey by French-controlled Syria in 1938. Syria, since gaining independence in 1946, demanded its return. Turkey refused to discuss the matter.

In late 2004, Syria conceded the issue in its entirety, quietly accepting Turkish sovereignty over the Hatay province. Perhaps the government of Ehud Olmert might learn something from the approach adopted by the Turks when their interests are at stake. Syrian demands, backed up by the regime’s active support for organizations engaged in daily acts of violence against Israeli civilians, lack any basis in any coherent system of rights or justice.

FROM THE point of view of our interests, the talks in Turkey are equally perplexing. We have taken an active role in ending the isolation of the hostile regime in Damascus. The price Syria has paid for this assistance has been minimal. There is no direct negotiation taking place in Turkey. Rather, Turkish representatives engage in delivering messages between the delegations. This is to enable Syria to maintain its haughty façade of contemptuously refusing all open contact with Israelis.

In return for receiving messages in an Istanbul hotel, the Assad regime has broken out of the isolation that enveloped it following its suspected involvement in the killing of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. The Syrian leader and his wife have been feted in France. Their proxies now hold effective power in Lebanon. Lucrative economic associations with the EU beckon. All this when Damascus remains a key station on the highway linking Beirut and Teheran which today represents the key threat to both Western and Israeli interests in the region. All this when Syrian support for and hosting of terror groups engaged in violence against Israelis continues apace. All this when Syria’s alliance with Iran remains solid as ever, bolstered by Bashar Assad’s recent visit to Teheran.

The latest announcement by Assad of possible willingness to host Russian Iskander missiles is a characteristically Syrian response to the lifting of pressure. Those who believe that offering concessions to Syria will induce reasonable behavior fail to understand this regime. It has been given room to maneuver, and it is maneuvering – in a way directly inimical to the interests of Israel and its Western allies.

IN SEPTEMBER, 2007, Israel succeeded in neutralizing what was apparently a Syrian plutonium reactor, before it began operating. The evidence of the reactor offered mute testimony to Syrian defiance of international law and of its own commitments. However, instead of pursuing this advantage, the government chose to give Assad the diplomatic equivalent of a “get out of jail free” card – in return for nothing and with no agreement on the horizon. The government’s actions are devoid of logic.

Commitments to concessions made in Istanbul by an unpopular government without a mandate will become the starting point for future contacts. This too has the potential to cause real damage to our future stance.

In short, instead of isolating the dangerous regime in Damascus, we are helping to rehabilitate it. This is making possible the effective abandonment of the Hariri tribunal, the strengthening of Hizbullah in Lebanon, the rapid forgetting and forgiving of an apparent Syrian nuclear program and the latest outrageous statement by the Syrian leader regarding the possibility of Russian missiles on Syrian soil. A cynical prime minister who has turned the country’s vital interests into playthings for his personal political legacy is responsible. It is high time that this dangerous charade be ended.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, a former head of the National Security Council, is a Likud Knesset candidate. Jonathan Spyer is a Senior Research Fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center, IDC, Herzliya.

This article can also be read at /servlet/Satellite?cid=1219572113151&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull
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Copyright 1995- 2008 The Jerusalem Post –

August 24th, 2008, 10:54 pm


ugarit said:

“Change,” “Hope” … Why They Must be Talking About Joe Biden!


“Change” and “hope” are not words one associates with Senator Joe Biden, a man so ripely symbolic of everything that is unchanging and hopeless about our political system that a computer simulation of the corporate-political paradigm senator in Congress would turn out “Biden” in a nano-second.

The first duty of any senator from Delaware is to do the bidding of the banks and large corporations which use the tiny state as a drop box and legal sanctuary. Biden has never failed his masters in this primary task. Find any bill that sticks it to the ordinary folk on behalf of the Money Power and you’ll likely detect Biden’s hand at work. The bankruptcy act of 2005 was just one sample. In concert with his fellow corporate serf, Senator Tom Carper, Biden blocked all efforts to hinder bankrupt corporations from fleeing from their real locations to the legal sanctuary of Delaware. Since Obama is himself a corporate serf and from day one in the US senate has been attentive to the same masters that employ Biden, the ticket is well balanced, the seesaw with Obama at one end and Biden at the other dead-level on the fulcrum of corporate capital.


August 24th, 2008, 11:00 pm


Enlightened said:

New Article from a Former Australian Prime Minister:

Template for peace is inclusion

We are living through one of those rare yet transforming events in history, a shift in the power in the world from West to East. For 500 years Europe dominated the world; now for all its wealth and population it is drifting into relative decline.

Will our understanding of this transformation, and our acceptance of its equity for the greater reaches of mankind, lead us to a position of general preparedness of its inevitability, or will we cavil at it in much the same way as Europe resisted the rise of Bismarck’s creation at the end of the 19th century?

We can see, with this the 29th Olympiad, the questioning of China and the resentment at its pretensions about being one of us. Even becoming one of us!

The Western liberal press featured, generally in critical terms, the world-long torch relay, juxtaposing all that it represents and is good about it with what it sees as China’s democratic defects, viewing it almost exclusively through the prism of Tibet.

Saying, almost, that the aspirations of this massive nation, a quarter of humanity, a legatee of a century of misery, dragging itself from poverty, is somehow of questionable legitimacy, because its Government’s attitude to political freedoms and in specific instances, human rights, are not up to scratch. Ignoring the massive leaps in progress, of income growth, of shelter, of the alleviation of poverty, of dwindling infant mortality, of education, of, by any measure, the much better life now being experienced by the great majority of Chinese.

The Western critic feeling the epicentre of the world changing but not at all liking it, seeks to put down these vast societies on the basis that their political and value systems don’t match up to theirs.

Henry Kissinger made the point recently when he said, “We cannot do in China in the 21st century what others thought to do in the 19th – prescribe their institutions for them and seek to organise Asia.”

And he went on to pose the question: do we split the world into a union of democracies and non-democracies, or must there be another approach key to regional and historic circumstance?

There is a view that should China become a democracy, a real one, many tensions in the global system would go; that democracies find peace with other democracies; that the former political-military state first turns itself into a trading state and as wealth and opportunity rise so, too, do democratic values.

But what we must remember is that even if all the states of the world became democratic, the structure of the international system would remain anarchic.

The greatest challenge we face, whether for managing incidents or easing the new economic tectonic plates into place, will be to construct a truly representative structure of world governance which reflects global realities, but which is also equitable and fair.

For two Clinton presidential terms and two George Bush terms, the world has been left without such a structure; certainly one able to accommodate Russia and the great states such as China and India.

Instead Clinton and Bush left us with the template of 1947; the template cut by the victorious powers of World War II, the one where Germany and Japan were left on the outside, and still are 60 years later, and in which China and India are tolerated and palely humoured.

Sixteen critical years have already been lost. And it is not as if we are dealing with a world where things are the same now as they were 16 years ago. The world is dynamic: 16 years ago China was not a world power; today it is. Sixteen years ago, Russia was collapsing; today it is growing and strongly.

We are now sitting through, witnessing, the eclipse of American power. Yet for those 16 critical years, two American presidents did nothing to better shape the institutions of world governance.

And there has been no help from the old powers; Tony Blair’s Britain and Jacques Chirac’s France. After all, they had box seats to the event, courtesy of being on top in 1947.

But Blair’s contribution was not anything new or free-thinking, rather he thought being an American acolyte was all that was required. Chirac was simply incapable of adding any strategic value to the equation.

The fact is we are again heading towards a bipolar world. Not one shaped by a balance of terror like the old one, but certainly not a multipolar one – in fact, one heavily influenced by two countries; the United States and China.

Russia’s economy, while growing in strength from the burnt-out wreck it was in 1990, will not be in the league of that of the US or of China.

But Russia will still be wealthy; wealthy enough to continue to field its massive arsenal of nuclear weapons. So whether you attribute to Russia full “pole” status or not, you can certainly attribute to it huge strategic standing.

It is more the pity then, that following that unexpected epiphany in 1989, the Clinton administration rashly decided to ring-fence Russia by inviting the former Warsaw Treaty states of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to join NATO.

By doing so, the US failed to learn one of the lessons of history: that the victor should be magnanimous with the vanquished.

At some time the US will be obliged to treat Russia as a great sovereign power replete with a range of national interests of the kind that other major powers possess.

In the meantime, the great risk of this sort of adventurism is that with NATO’s border now right up to western Ukraine, the Russians will take the less costly military option of counter-weighing NATO’s power by keeping their nuclear arsenal on full operational alert.

This posture automatically carries with it the possibility of a Russian nuclear attack by mistake. The years of Russia’s economic poverty, certainly since the collapse of its economy in the first half of the 1990s, has meant the Russians have allowed their surveillance and early warning systems to ossify. To compensate, they are keeping their nuclear arsenal on full operational alert.

This leaves the rest of the world relying more on the generals, the battlefield commanders and intelligence assessors to restrain a nuclear response than it does the Russian President or his Government. This means that while the Cold War is over, the risk of a mistaken pre-emptory response has increased.

Many people will think and some will say that with communications and the globalisation of economic wealth being what it is, an outbreak of a major conflict seems more and more remote. That global interdependence and the shrinking of the world makes war a decidedly unproductive way of resolving foreign policy differences.

People should be reminded that that was said at the time of the last great intensification of trade between Britain, France and Germany along with the growing US economy before 1914.

The lesson is that when the strategic bits go wrong, the economic bits soon follow. Certainly not the obverse: when the trade goes well, the strategic wrinkles get ironed out.

The structure of the international system is anarchic. Was anarchic; remains anarchic. This condition cannot be remedied but structures to mitigate its most violent manifestations can be put into place.

Against this backdrop remains the open question about “the West” and its fibre. The question that was resoundingly answered by that generation who suffered the Depression and the Second World War and who delivered us into a new era of peace and prosperity.

Is our culture a culture made compliant by too much coming too easily; producing a state of intellectual and spiritual lassitude which can only be shaken by the gravest threats, be they economic, environmental or indeed, strategic?

As that pendulum swings from West to East, are the motivations for the West’s former primacy swinging with it? Has the bounty of science and industrialisation with its cornucopia of production and wealth encouraged us too far away from simpler requirements and concern for the needs of all?

As societies, have we taken our eye off public affairs for way too long?

Can we, all of us, assimilate, adjust ourselves to a constancy of peace and prosperity without lessening our regard for those enlivening impulses of truth and goodness?

A new international order based on truth and justice founded in the recognition of the rights of each of us to live out our lives in peace and harmony, can, I believe, provide the only plausible long-term template.

The old order of victorious powers, of a compromised United Nations, a moribund G8 with major powers hanging on to weapons of mass destruction, is a remnant of the violent 20th century. It cannot provide the basis for an equitable and effective system of world governance.

Just as world community concern has been ahead of the political system on issues such as global warming so, too, world community concern needs to galvanise international action to find a new template for a lasting peace, one embracing all the major powers and regions.

The philosopher Immanuel Kant said some day there will be a universal peace; the only question, he said, is will this come about by human insight or by catastrophe, leaving no other outcome possible.

Humankind demands that that proposition be settled in the former and not the latter.

Paul Keating was prime minister from 1991 to 1996. This is an edited extract of a speech delivered to the Melbourne Writers’ Festival on Saturday.

August 25th, 2008, 12:02 am


Shai said:


Uzi Dayan is another buffoon. He tried running alone last time around, and couldn’t even get a single seat. He wants to do something, anything, in politics, so this time he’s trying the Likud. If he thought he could get more, he’d run with Meretz… He’s living in prehistory, in his own fantasy, and is separated from reality on earth. If he is able to influence Netanyahu’s way of thinking about the conflict, then we might indeed have war. But, hopefully, Bibi will be wise enough to follow his own instincts, and not those of genius-wannabe frustrated generals.

August 25th, 2008, 4:08 am


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