“Courting Syria,” by Itamar Rabinovich

Courting Syria

By Itamar Rabinovich
Haaretz, Nov. 24, 2006

A change in the United States' Middle East policy seems to be in the offing. The reasons for this expectation are the failure in Iraq and the defeat of President George W. Bush and the Republican party in the midterm elections, a failure that led to the immediate resignation/dismissal of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

The bipartisan committee headed by James Baker and Lee Hamilton that is examining U.S. policy in Iraq is about to publish its conclusions, and leaks indicate at least one central conclusion: "speaking to Iran and Syria" in order to change direction in Iraq. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a close ally of Bush, even went as far as speaking not of "talks" with Iran and Syria but of "partnership" with the two. The issue of American-Syrian rapprochement took on an additional dramatic dimension this week with the assassination of Lebanese minister Pierre Gemayel, with sources inside and outside Lebanon pointing at Syria as the main suspect.

Iran and Syria have had an alliance of shared interests and cooperation since 1979. When Syrian President Bashar Assad came to power, the nature of this relationship changed. It is no longer an alliance among equals: Iran is now the patron and Damascus is the client. Iran, a country with resources, power and an imperial legacy, is trying to attain regional hegemony and nuclear weapons. Syria still exercises influence on players who are smaller and weaker than it (Lebanon, Palestinian organizations and to a certain degree Hezbollah), but for the most part it feels threatened by the U.S., Israel, its Lebanese rivals and in part France. Iran, on the other hand, offers Syria sponsorship and protection.

The Iranian challenge

Iran presents serious challenges to Washington. The immediate challenge focuses on Iraq. The American occupation and the downfall of Saddam Hussein released Iraq's ethnic demon and reinforced the Shi'ite majority. The violent conflict that erupted between the Shi'ites and the Sunni minority, with its historical hegemony, is one of the main factors preventing a sustainable order – or the appearance of such an order, and an American exit from Iraq that will not seem like an embarrassing failure. Shi'ite Iran is seen as a key both to calming the Iraqi Shi'ites and to imposing a sustainable order.

Less immediate, but more important, is the issue of the Iranian nuke. It is clear to everyone that the ayatollahs are determined to have nuclear weapons. The attempts to consolidate international sanctions against Iran have not succeeded to date, and the chances of success seem slight. An American or Israeli military operation against Iran seems to many in the U.S. to be a bad or impractical idea.

Beyond these immediate challenges, it is clear Iran is trying to become a regional power by nurturing Shi'ite communities in several Middle Eastern countries, disseminating its version of radical political Islam and using terror. Iran is threatening friends and allies of Washington, starting with Israel and including Egypt, Jordan and the oil-producing countries in the Persian Gulf.

Bush placed Iran on the axis of evil. But the message emanating from Blair's words, and perhaps from the Baker-Hamilton report as well, is that the attempts to threaten and isolate Iran have failed, and that trying to speak to Iran and to reach a deal on the above issues may be a good idea, even a necessity.

According to this logic, the U.S. would recognize the regime of the ayatollahs, promise not to undermine it, reach an agreement on the future of Iraq, try to keep Tehran from developing nuclear weapons and convince it to adopt a more moderate policy on Lebanon and Israel.

Syria is seen as a supporting actor in such a move. An understanding with Tehran would also lead to an understanding with Damascus. In such a case, Washington would cease its hostility toward Assad's government, and Assad would begin playing a more positive role in Iraq (closing the border to anti-American infiltrators), Lebanon (not rearming Hezbollah) and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (kicking Hamas and Islamic Jihad headquarters out of Damascus).

The chances of implementing a far-reaching step of this kind are not great. First, Bush will have to decide to take a dual risk: to agree in principle to a change in direction on such fundamental issues, and thus risk being humiliated because he both changed direction and failed. Second, he will have to choose a special envoy for the job. Baker is a natural choice. Would Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accept this expropriation of the core foreign policy arenas?

And finally, there is the move itself. Will Iran really agree to suspend its nuclear policy? Does the U.S. know how to conduct negotiations with a regime that combines Muslim extremism with modern sophistication?

Taking Syria from Iran

Because of that, and in light of the possibility that the conflict with Iran will continue, becoming the central axis of Middle Eastern politics and U.S. policy in the region, a secondary question comes up: Would the U.S. try to distance Syria from Iran, and is there a chance of success?

The hegemonic alliance with Damascus is a central element of Tehran's policy. Syria provides Iran with access to the heart of the Middle East: Lebanon and the Israeli-Arab conflict. An American-Syrian understanding would affect three arenas: Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinians. Tehran's prestige would suffer a severe blow. The conservative-moderate Arab countries would benefit from a shot in the arm, and American diplomacy in the region would chalk up an impressive achievement after a period of failures. But is this a realistic step?

Several topics would be on the agenda of such a step:

b The bilateral relations between the U.S. and Syria. These relations are presently at a nadir. Bush and his administration consider Assad and his government a hostile entity that is assisting the anti-American "rebellion" in Iraq, supporting Palestinian and Lebanese terror, and trying to destroy Lebanon's sovereignty and the stability of Fouad Siniora's government. President Assad and his regime, on the other hand, believe Bush's U.S. is trying to bring them down. An American-Syrian dialogue would start by restoring the relationship to its 1990 level. Syria would then seek an American promise not to undermine the regime, an improved atmosphere and an upgraded relationship.

b The Lebanese issue. Here we can anticipate problems. Syria considers Lebanon a strategic asset and a legitimate area of influence, while the U.S. is determined to protect Lebanese sovereignty and the 2005 anti-Syrian "revolution." Syria wants the investigation into the Hariri assassination shelved, while the U.S. is determined to resolve it. Bush is an ideological president who considers spreading democracy an important mission. The establishment of the Siniora government was a very significant achievement for him, as was the "expulsion" of Syria from Lebanon. For him, having the U.S. recognize Syria's "special status" in Lebanon would be difficult and embarrassing. Naturally, the decision to establish a special court to investigate the assassinations of Hariri and Gemayel are serious obstacles.

b The Golan Heights and relations with Israel. Assad wants the Golan back. Unfortunately, he must be seen as working toward this end, whether through negotiations or an armed conflict. The U.S. favors the principle of "land for peace" but has no desire to reward Assad, at least not at this stage. If an overall American-Syria understanding is reached, Bush will probably change his mind. However, at the moment the clear message from Washington to Jerusalem is that the U.S. is opposed to a renewal of Israeli-Syrian negotiations.

b Relations with Iran. Various Syrian spokesmen tell their interlocutors and the Western media that the alliance between Syria and Iran is not insoluble and that Damascus has been pushed into Tehran's arms out of a lack of choice, due to American hostility. These claims can be tested only by a U.S.-Syrian dialogue.

b The ongoing crisis in Iraq. The U.S. expects Syria first and foremost to hermetically seal its border with Iraq, and thus prevent the infiltration of weapons and fighters. More generally, it will want to see Syria as a partner in stabilizing Iraq, such that it can withdraw its forces without a sense of defeat and an authentic Iraqi government can function. Syria is interested in a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and wants to see a friendly government across its eastern border. Syria currently considers the Iraqi arena a lever for counter-pressure on the U.S. and cooperation with Iran. But in the long run, the Iraqi chaos may threaten Syria's stability as well.

All the above indicate it will be relatively easy from Syria and the United States to reach an understanding on the bilateral issue and Iraq. The Lebanese and Israeli-Palestinian issues will be much more difficult to resolve.

Israel has a profound interest in these issues. A dialogue between Washington and Damascus would arouse questions and fears in Jerusalem. Despite the friendship with the U.S. and the Bush administration, Israel would feel profoundly uncomfortable when the Golan is placed on the agenda during an American-Syrian dialogue. Washington is now signaling to Jerusalem that it does not want Israeli-Syrian negotiations to begin, but what about the opposite? The lesson for Israel is clear. Time is not a neutral factor, passivity does not lead anywhere, and one who does not take initiative, even on a different front, will find himself ultimately reacting to the initiatives of others.

Prof. Rabinovich is the president of Tel Aviv University, and in the past served as the Israeli ambassador in Washington and the head of the negotiating team with Syria

Comments (42)

Charles G. Coutinho, Ph. D. said:

The two postings inspire the following remarks: one, on the Rabinovich article, the key sentence is: ‘Bush is an ideological president.’ Full stop. That key sentence encapsulates the difficulties involved in seeing even the beginnings of a reapprochment between Washington and Damascus. Of course there are other issues as well, such as: can Syria ‘produce’ x in Iraq, in return for y, from Washington? With the natural difficulties of each side fighting shy of what they can offer, and what they want to offer….So for example, as Rabinovich correctly argues, a deal over the Golan is definitely not, on offer as far as Washington is concerned at the moment. And, yet, realistically, can anyone expect Syria to break-off its alliance with Persia in absence of something concrete over the Golan?

As per the second posting, obviously Professor Landis is correct in arguing that the idea of a grand, Sunni alliance against extremism `a la
Zelikow’s September speech in a non-starter. Certainly so in absence of any movement on the Israeli-Palestinian front. Which while Zelikow himself may want to move forward on, there is no sign that anyone senior to him, does. And, as long as that is the case, one cannot expect the American aligned, Sunni states, to form a Near Eastern NATO [Baghdad Pact here we come?], to
‘contain’ Persia and its allies in the region. For what it is worth, attached is the Zelikow speech delivered in September of this year:

Strategies for the Multifront War Against Radical Islamists: Building Security in the Broader Middle East

Philip Zelikow, Counselor of the Department;
Keynote Address at Weinberg Founders Conference 2006
Washington, DC
September 15, 2006

PHILIP ZELIKOW: Thank you very much, Howard, and I’m grateful for you and for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy for giving me the opportunity to talk to all of you here tonight. A lot of you here have helped nurture and sustain the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. I have no particular stake in the Institute one way or the other. I’ve never worked for the Institute. I’ve simply profited from it for a very long time. And so for those of you who’ve nurtured and sustained the Institute, you need to know that the Institute is providing better information than any other nongovernmental institution on the most important issues now confronting the United States of America. That’s a good thing. (Applause.)

One way of telling whether you’ve built an institution and not just a set of individuals is whether or not, as the individuals come and go, the institution’s reputation remains as a place where such people will be found. And again by that measure the institute has become a successful institution. So you built something larger than yourselves, larger even than some of the stars who work with the institute, people like Dennis Ross or Rob Satloff, whose names are watchwords for expertise on this region. And that’s an important tribute to the work all of you have done.

You’ve asked me tonight to take on the small topic of discussing “Building Security in the Broader Middle East,” a region that currently seems to be aflame from end to end. So I’m reminded of the Talmudic proverb of the student who wants to learn the Talmud. He says, “Rabbi, teach me the Talmud while standing on one foot.” And then the rabbi of course answered him gracefully saying, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, all the rest is commentary.”

Discussing the task of building security in the broader Middle East in just a few minutes is a formidable task. I’ll try to do it by covering ten points because I know it’s the end of a long day, you’ve just had dinner, you’re fresh and alert and really, really ready for a good wonkish talk. I picked ten points because, as all of you know, ten is a number that has mystic power when you discuss the Middle East — commandments, tribes — so ten points.

First: The underlying sources of insecurity

All look at a few things over and over when we think of the underlying sources of insecurity in the region. We look at the generational challenge that modernity poses for the Arab and Muslim world. What after all do we mean by modernity? By modernity we mean abstract institutions, a civic culture and a civic society that owes allegiance to abstract concepts. We mean a society that is dominated by the constancy of change confronting Arab and Muslim societies built on deep reservoirs and pillars of tradition where loyalty is owed to family, clan, tribe and where change is threatening. And we see as the Arab and Muslim world confronts modernity, many issues of political development, economic development, and indeed human development. The 9/11 Commission report in chapter two tried to succinctly summarize some of them. They’re familiar to many of you.

Another underlying source of insecurity one has to reckon with in this region is the centrality of Islam; not in a critical sense, but simply as a dominant cultural fact of life for the region. So here it’s important, for example, to notice the lingering significance of the Iranian revolution of 1979 and what followed not just for Iran itself, but because it created a dynamic in which devout religious zealots across the Middle East competed for primacy with competitive demonstrations of zealotry and outreach in their own versions of evangelism.

So it created a dynamic in places like Saudi Arabia, for example, of competition for ideological dominance that had some important and, in some ways, quite negative and serious results. We saw the rise of political Islam, its decline in the 1990s, and perhaps now we’re seeing its resurgence again. We’re seeing the growth of violent Islamic extremism which President Bush has referred to using a more commonplace and less academic phrase: Islamic radicalism.

Another underlying source is simply the fragile polities — the people who form the ruling elites of these states — and their fragility with weak states, themselves weak in their sheer administrative capacity to do even simple things that we take for granted in modern states like collect taxes, even the most basic sorts of efforts to monitor their borders, and so on. So underlying sources of insecurity.

Second: There are enduring regional flashpoints

These are familiar to you. There is of course the enduring flashpoint of the Arab-Israeli conflict on which I think I need add no more. There is also an enduring flashpoint of Iran confronting the Arab world — coming back to the fore again. And, of course, the flashpoints within particular countries. Lebanon, for instance, is one notable example recently in the news; there is Iraq and other cases we could point to.

Third: Terrorism as a corrosive agent

I choose those words because I don’t want to present terrorism alone as the force that overthrows governments and replaces what rules them. I find it useful to think of terrorism, instead, as working the way a powerful acid would work on the bonds that hold the society together, corroding them and weakening them, thus enabling other forces to tear them apart more easily.

The terrorist threat itself is a multifaceted threat; at least three facets are worth noting, each distinct though they overlap.

First there’s al Qaeda: its affiliates, its adherents. What’s notable about it — the ideology is familiar, the President has given a speech recounting at some length the kind of ideas al Qaeda espouses — is to step back and notice that these ideas are basically fantasist. The organization and its operation has been significantly broken by our efforts since 9/11 and now is largely atomized, though still quite dangerous for that. It is reminiscent in some respects, speaking as a one-time historian, to the threat that anarchism seemed to pose to the civilized world 100 years ago. All sorts of cells around the world, which were believed to be affiliated with each other, somehow seemed to be working together. They were animated by a common ideology without formal structure but drew common inspiration from ideologues like Prince Kropotkin in London.

This is an organization that venerated the “propaganda of the deed,” as they called it, practically worshipped the new technology of dynamite as a great equalizer, and was responsible for the murder of half a dozen heads of government around the world, including an American President.

But in addition to that facet of terrorism, you have Shiite extremists — Shi’a extremism often with Iranian support. And it’s worth noting that both the Shiite extremists and their Iranian sponsors often forge opportunistic connections to Sunni terrorism as well. Those who argued that Iran would never work with Sunni terrorists will find a number of examples where Iran will forge alliances of convenience to serve its purposes.

A third facet is local insurgencies that overlap with transnational terror networks in various ways. You have, for example, the special case of Iraq, an insurgency that really deserves a chapter of study all its own and that is predominantly Iraqi. Even al Qaeda in Iraq is overwhelmingly Iraqi in its makeup. There are foreigners in middle management, maybe one in top management. They use a number of foreigners as ammunition in effect, expending them as they arrive. But it’s a predominantly Iraqi organization, yet clearly with ties to transnational terror as well. And then there’s the Taliban. There are organizations in Southeast Asia or in Africa.

But when you step back from this terrorist phenomenon, one thing that’s worth some perspective — you can’t pass without comment, even though we know it semiconsciously — is to observe the historically unprecedented nihilism and barbarity of these terrorists. There is simply no precedent for it. I remarked on the anarchists earlier. An anarchist of 1906 would regard the terrorist activities perpetrated by these groups as appalling — the beheadings on television and so on. The anarchists were people who would plant dynamite in a public street and even they would be appalled by the things that these groups are willing to do and countenance. Today’s groups both create and play to what I’m afraid I can only call a desensitized and debased public sensibility – a public so callous that it does not recoil anymore at the shocks that are being inflicted on them and the appalling contrast to civilization that these groups present.

These groups play, and really reflect, inchoate hatreds, insecurities, and alienation. They have a nominal ideology but one which is utopian and can’t be taken seriously in the real world. In many cases their meaning, I believe, is defined more existentially – and in some cases the clues to their existence can better be found in the works of Albert Camus than through reading their ideological tracts. Insight into these organizations comes by looking past their political veneer to the study of cults or racketeering organizations.

They have assets. They exploit our globalized society. They exploit the vulnerabilities of the complex systems, a term I use here metaphorically as well as literally, as well as the potential that they might acquire weapons of mass destruction.

Fourth: Old bargains have disappeared

Old bargains have disappeared, and with them the often illusory sense of security they provided. What do I mean by that? I mean old bargains like enforced secularism as we saw in countries like Turkey and Egypt. “We can keep the lid on these religious groups.” That kind of apparent deal that seemed to provide security and stability is disappearing. What was happening as they kept the lid on those groups is that they drove political activity into the mosques; and they Islamicized it; and then it emerged in forms that we can all witness today.

You had the bargains of state-controlled religious practice, as we see in Saudi Arabia — where the state cuts its deal with the religious establishment in ways that I think even many in the Saudi government would quietly regard as problematical, as they cope with its consequences. You had the bargain of the oppression of the Shi’a, and the assumption that that arrangement could endure stably and indefinitely. You had the bargain, indeed, with the terrorists themselves, sometimes called freedom fighters not so long ago — even Yasser Arafat, the freedom fighter. Or you had the more sordid bargains: don’t attack us here attack somewhere else, leave us alone here. They cut their deals, and they found that those deals now have come back to haunt them.

So those old bargains have disappeared, and as those old bargains disappear, we are indeed seeing transformational change across the Middle East, which then brings me to my fifth point: how to build security in an environment of such understandable and in some ways inevitable turmoil.

Fifth: Practical idealism

The Secretary of State has spoken of the ideal of practical idealism. There are a number of other phrases people have tossed out — progressive realism, etc. The point is that it is possible to avoid the simple dichotomy between being a realist or being an idealist which, by the way, I believe is a false description of American history and American political ideas. It is a false description and a false way of pigeonholing people today. It is possible to have both ideals and be realistic and practical in how you implement them. The challenge is whether we can execute such a vision. But in a policy of practical idealism you accept the inevitability of change and then work to help others shape its course.

For the Bush administration, there are some important landmarks. In the Arab Israeli conflict, President Bush’s statements in 2002 and 2004 moved towards a new vision of the future of relations between Israel and the Palestinians. There is the liberation of Iraq and the resulting empowerment of the Shi’a there in 2003 and beyond. There is the President’s Second Inaugural address at the beginning of 2005. There were the moves that pushed Syria out of Lebanon, at last. That allowed Lebanon to attain a truly national government that began to represent more of the Lebanese people than before. And other changes in other parts of the Middle East that are still underway.

But it is absolutely true, as many have observed, that trying to shape such change has posed a tremendous challenge to our imagination, to the imagination of our policy makers – to my colleagues and to myself – and has posed a tremendous challenge to our institutions. Our institutions weren’t built for this world, weren’t built for these challenges and are struggling to adapt to them and to find the capacities to help others cope.

Beyond that, there is also the challenge to Arab and Muslim leaders because, after all, they must end up providing the leadership that will shape the future of their societies. The United States can be their partner, their friend, their source of support. But ultimately the shape of the political cultures, the shape of the economies, the shape of their societies will be determined by Arabs and Muslims themselves. And of course there is a challenge to the rest of the world to notice and take interest and get off the sidelines and to try to take part in a constructive way, too.

Some countries in the world have stepped up to that challenge and I think they’re confronting the same strains on their own imagination and their own institutions that we, too, confront.

With that general point in mind, let me turn to my sixth point as I go through a few of the particular areas of our policy efforts to try to confront this problem more directly.

Sixth: Shaping the environment…the conduct of the global war on terror

The sixth point is a little bit different. It has to do with shaping the environment in the way we conduct the global war on terror. I don’t think you can really separate the way we conduct the war on terror from American policy in the Middle East. I don’t think you can separate what we do – say, with Guantanamo or with detainees – from American policy and fortunes in the Middle East. The Secretary of State does not think so and neither does the President of the United States.

That’s why – in addition to adopting a whole series of new strategies for combating terrorism, that talk about the way institutions are changing, the new attention to the role of Islamic radicalism, the willingness to confront those ideas directly, and the efforts we’re giving to public diplomacy – President Bush has announced a comprehensive new approach to the issues of detainees. This topic has been a source of attack on America and its ideals throughout the world.

I think in the debate in recent days, dominated in the newspapers by arguments over the details of the pending legislation, the larger picture is obscured. It is a comprehensive new policy — a paradigm shift in our approach to these detainee issues. Let me just tick off some of the ingredients so you can realize the comprehensive nature of these changes. I’ll list just nine.

1. The decision that we need a sustainable policy for the long haul built on partnership: domestically with the Congress; internationally with allies and partners.

2. A new and public Army field manual and DOD directive providing baseline policies for the detention and treatment of captured terrorists.

3. An entirely new approach to military commissions already underway before the Supreme Court’s decision and now informed by it as well.

4. Employing those military commissions for major war criminals, not Osama’s driver. These commissions will finally bring the 9/11 conspirators to justice and, I hope, usher in a process where America will be reminded what the struggle is all about.

5. The decision announced in the East Room of the White House that America does intend to close Guantanamo. Indeed, the description of that glide path will prepare the way for that closure in the repatriation of prisoners to their home countries and trials of war criminals. It is necessarily a difficult process working on problems involving 33 different countries, many of whom don’t want their people back.

6. The decision to disclose and explain a particular CIA interrogation program and the vigorous defense of the need to preserve a small program of this kind.

7. The decision to transition such a program so that today, aside from the existing facilities in the United States criminal justice system and the law of war facilities we have in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are currently no detainees held by the United States who are not at Guantanamo. All of them are filed with the International Committee of the Red Cross. All of them with access to the International Committee of the Red Cross. No one being held in secret prisons as we go through a transition period — (audio break) — and will be worked on in consultation with Congress so we can sustain an important intelligence collection program for the future.

8. Putting the program on a durable legal framework that reiterates our commitment against torture, but also accepts, as a minimum standard, that America will adhere to common Article III of the Geneva Convention. By the way, I notice there has been some controversy in the papers over whether we’re reinterpreting it or not. I think I can strongly defend the position that we are not narrowing the scope of common Article III. We’re trying to clarify the interpretation of vague provisions, but in a way that will narrow the way it would be interpreted anyway under our laws and, I think, in international law as well. We do need to clarify the application of common Article III under American law because there are issues of felony liability associated with violating it.

9. An offer to foreign governments telling them that we’ve listened to their concerns and challenging them to work with us on what the President called “a common foundation to protect our nations and our freedoms.”

Seventh: Iran

My seventh point deals with Iran. Iran is simply a central issue in thinking about a comprehensive strategy for the region. This comprehensive strategy is premised on understanding the significance of Iranian revolutionary ambitions, seeing them as a central threat not only to Israel, but also to the Arab world. Iran wants to challenge the status quo, vie for primacy in a number of respects, and tear things down.

Right now, there are a lot of people writing that Iran is feeling confident. ‘They’re feeling good. Things are working out their way.’ As a historian it’s sometimes useful to have perspective — there’s always a moment where the enemy looks ten feet tall, then a few months later maybe nine and a half feet. Iran has some weaknesses. It is not fundamentally a strong, prosperous, unified country. It is a weak base from which to challenge the region and it’s useful to keep those weaknesses in mind.

There are questions for Iran’s leaders, questions that they must answer. I’d summarize the questions very simply. We see you can tear things down, what is it that you want to build. Or, more fundamentally, what do you want your country to become? You believe that you’re the heirs of a great civilization and that’s a fair statement. What should the country that has that inheritance become? Should it become gradually a kind of pariah state feared and reviled by its neighbors, increasingly isolated by the rest of the world, its economic prospects, its cultural influence, its prestige shrinking accordingly? Or is there another more positive future that Iran should try to reach?

The goal of American diplomacy is, in effect, to pose those questions; oblige Iranian leaders to answer them, and to make hard choices. To make the Iranian leaders look at those hard choices, you have to present them with diplomacy that has serious costs associated with their present policies. That’s a lot of what’s being debated right now. What’s being tested is whether we have a viable diplomatic strategy that can present Iran’s leaders with the questions that we and our allies agree Iran must and should answer.

Meanwhile, we must work together to stand up to Iran in the region with our Arab friends, stand up to Iran in Iraq — standing for the cause of Iraqi nationalism not Iraqi dependence — stand up to Iran in the United Nations and in Europe and East Asia. Notice President Bush’s message which was in David Ignatius’ column this morning. We take the diplomatic road very seriously. We want diplomacy to work.

One of the concerns I have about my friends, some of them on the conservative side, who argue that we don’t have the resolve to face up now to the binary, uncomfortable choice we should face between war and peace is that they’ve already shoved the diplomacy aside. They’re anxious to get to the real issue, the interesting issue, the glamorous issue. Then it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy; we assume the diplomacy won’t work, arguing ‘Let’s talk now about the war and peace problem.’ How about we try to make the diplomacy work; because Iranian leaders do need to face that choice. That’s the message the President was conveying.

Eighth: Lebanon

My eighth point is about Lebanon. The conventional wisdom (CW) here of course, is Hezbollah and Iran won, Israel and America lost. I would just urge all of you to stop, reflect, and look again. This situation is changing. Events now are on a line where, if they continue along this line, it could be very different a few months from now than the standard conventional wisdom was in the first 72 hours after resolution 1701 was passed.

After all, the fundamental goal of American policy was to be sure that the status quo ante that produced the last war will change so that the likelihood of it producing another war is less. How are we doing on that? Look at the strategic priority. How are we doing on reducing the danger of Israel being attacked from Lebanon? That’s the enemy’s perspective. The enemy’s perspective is to use Lebanon as a proxy battlefield from which you can launch another front of assault against “occupied Palestine.”

Thousands of international troops, with unprecedented rules of engagement, are streaming into southern Lebanon. That is more than the CW predicted would come in. The force is more robust than the CW predicted. And they are standing there as a buffer to help protect Israel from renewed attack. The Lebanese armed forces have deployed to that part of Lebanon for the first time in a generation to work with the international force.

It’s not perfect yet. The Syria-Lebanon borders aren’t secured the way they should be. There are flaws and issues we’ll need to confront, but the status quo that produced the war is already changing. The Lebanese national government comes out stronger in many ways than it was before as a national government.

Hezbollah faces new dilemmas, new choices. When Nasrallah says he wouldn’t have started the war if he’d known what would happen, that’s not a crow of victory. They will face new constraints, new choices.

And Syria, which was out of Lebanon last year, is still out of Lebanon. Contrary to the advice that some of my friends here in Washington were offering, we did not invite Syria to once again become the central power broker in Lebanon, using Lebanon of course as a vehicle to negotiate Golan.

So Syria is a loser. My hope is, of course, that they won’t act out in certain ways because of that fact. Lebanon’s prospects could turn out to be better than people think if we can realize the potential of the moves that are already underway.

Ninth: Iraq

My ninth point: I want to comment just for a minute on Iraq. Here our major strategies are relatively easy to summarize, but a little harder to execute. Three basic pillars: security as a foundation, Baghdad first; pressing hard for a national reconciliation process so that the Iraqi leaders will show their people and us that they will work out a way to live together and share power. And third, reinforcement and leverage through an international compact that brings a lot of the outside stakeholders on Iraq together. The Compact will say to Iraq: if you reach national reconciliation and you transform your political economy, addressing some of the things that are needed to turn your country around, the whole world is going to be behind you and we’ll help invest in your future.

There is so much gloom about Iraq right now that any commentary I would make about the problems there would only reinforce and recapitulate things you’ve already heard.

But we have some assets on our side. The terrorists are not popular in Iraq. They scare people but they are not popular. They do not represent a nationalist movement that has gripped the imagination of the people of Iraq. The Iraqi government is better — much better — than it was. It is more capable of carrying through the kind of strategy I just outlined than its predecessors. Also, the U.S. government is experienced.

The Shi’a and Sunni militias that cause a lot of the violence actually do not wish to overthrow the Iraqi government. They have a more limited agenda, often about self-help and autonomy. But that helps you sense that there is the basis here for some kind of political understanding. And there is a widespread belief among Iraqis that they want a thing called Iraq to succeed because all of their plan B’s are less certain and less secure than the plan A of a successful Iraq.

But the challenges there are immense. We and the Iraqi government have to fight overwhelming, enervating fear. We have to fight the impatience of Iraq’s friends. We have to fight a deep mistrust that exists within Iraq among its communities, often well founded by bitter experience each of the communities have had with each other.

Fundamentally we see a challenge of collective action. It is a classic challenge of collective action. You can see how in certain ways if they would all come together they would all be more secure. They would all be more prosperous. Yet to come together requires such an intricate set of concessions and bargains that it is hard for any one side to propose and stand for it. It’s a classic political problem that Iraq’s leaders must step up to resolve with the strong and continuing help of friends like the United States.

Tenth: Israel and its neighbors

My tenth point, and my last one, is to conclude by discussing Israel and its neighbors. The significance of the Arab-Israeli dispute across these problems is, I think, obvious to all of you. What I would want to emphasize is if you see the threats in a way something like the way I’ve just described them, think then about what is the coalition you need to amass in order to combat those threats. Who are the key members of that coalition? You can imagine the United States, key European allies, the state of Israel and the Arab moderates — Arabs who seek a peaceful future. You could call it the coalition of the builders, not just a coalition of the willing. The coalition of the builders as opposed to the coalition of the destroyers.

What would bind that coalition and help keep them together is a sense that the Arab-Israeli issues are being addressed, that they see a common determination to sustain an active policy that tries to deal with the problems of Israel and the Palestinians. We don’t want this issue to have the real corrosive effects that it has, or the symbolic corrosive effects that it causes, undermining some of the friends we need to confront the serious dangers we must face together.

That’s kind of a broad overview of the points I wanted to make to help understand the administration’s approach to building security in the broader Middle East. It’s an extraordinary challenge. It’s the kind of challenge that America and its friends have lived through before in times that sometimes seem very dark. But it’s important to understand the breadth of the challenge we face and to try to work together sometimes across party lines, across some of our pettier divisions in dealing with them and forging a brighter future.

Thank you.

November 24th, 2006, 8:59 am


t_desco said:

I tried to post this yesterday but it seems that the blog was down:

“Who would have thought that Al-Jazeera International would turn out to be a movie channel in addition to being a news channel. Today they were showing “Clueless on Martyrs’ Square“, featuring Mike Hanna in the lead role. He described the crowd as “peaceful” and the atmosphere as “absolutely electric”. Indeed:

“From early in the morning, and for hours after, streams of people flowed into the square, chanting slogans cursing the president of Syria, Bashar al Assad, cursing the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, and cursing the Christian leader, General Michel Aoun, who has allied his party with Hezbollah.

It was a time of anger, more than mourning … .

“Nasrallah,” screamed a small cluster of young men, “the Sunni will dig your grave!” ”

One should also note that (as usual) the size of the crowd is a matter of dispute.

November 24th, 2006, 12:13 pm


turcopundit said:

Internal Dissention, External Events Create Woes for Baker Group
Internal strife within the Baker commission, outright opposition from President George W. Bush and Tuesday’s assassination of a cabinet member in Lebanon are complicating the prospect of U.S. overtures to Syria and Iran over Iraq, informed sources say.

November 24th, 2006, 1:26 pm


Alex said:

T-Desco, you will love to read Zvi Bar’el estimate of the crowd: TWO MILLIONS!

one of the largest funerals in history !!

Yet in the same article, he is linking to another Haaretz news story where they estimate the crowd at 200,000, and Reuters said “tens of thousands”

Strange, because Zvi is one of Israel’s best journalists in my opinion.

November 24th, 2006, 3:13 pm


Atassi said:

200k or 2M peoples, the message are the clear, the political assassination MUST END.
200k or 2M peoples. The killers has the same aims
200k or 2M peoples. We must fight the and defeats the sickness in this part of the world
200k or 2M peoples. The message is the clear, the killers must not win this round, and otherwise, we will be overwhelmed by our own sickness and defeated by the well self rooted ignorance in our people and by the endless bloodshed cycle. We must seek out the killers; we must not give up,

November 24th, 2006, 4:10 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

I believe the car that the murderer has used is not stolen car,otherwise we would know by now,most likely it is with lebanese license plate,it is either in a garage or thrown into the sea, it is unlikely that it crossed a border, it has a pump that can be easily identified, there are not many cars with its description, it has certain color and model, the driver in the car behind Jemaiel certainly has identified the color and the model and the persons that are in it.
second the murderer probably is not lebanese, but has close connection to the security force, since they knew that Pierre did not have security arround him,this information was quickly related to the killers, the killers now , most likely are outside Lebanon.
I found it very suspiscous, that Hasan SabeA has returned to interior ministery, since Ahmad futfut is very secretive.

November 24th, 2006, 5:14 pm


ivanka said:


A minister was shot in the middle of his own neighborhood in broad daylight by a person who approached him slowly and shot him in the head and the murderer or his license number were not seen by anyone?! How bad does this smell.

Dr. Charles,

I think you and Dr. Landis are right in saying that the US will offer nothing on the Golan and that the Arabs will not want to stand against Iran. This is not necessarily a good thing for Syria. It is a locked situation that will continue to demand huge attention and consume time and resources. I see two possible outcomes :

-Time is on Syria’s side : Bush grows weeker and he and his team go away and a new policy is put in place. There is more oppenness to Syria.

-Time is not on Syria’s side : This whole conflict lasts for a long time and Syria has to gamble away too many cards and it is under economical and psychological pressure. Things go bad for Syria (Regime and people)

p.s. Our own globetrotter Mr.Walid Moallem is in Helsinky to discuss partnership with Europe.

November 24th, 2006, 5:51 pm


ivanka said:

T-Desco, this was not peaceful mourning. Grups broke from the funeral to attack Syrian workers. 19 people were killed. They attacked the office of PM Salim el Hoss, they attacked Pro-Aoun and pro Hezballa people. So the account :

19 killed (mostly poor Syrian workers). A national symbol like Salim Hoss was insulted and had his office vandalized. The Aoun and Hezbolla people were also attacked.

The whole thing reminds me too much of many bad examples in history

November 24th, 2006, 5:58 pm


Mike said:

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Mr. Rabinovich is saying that Iran’s “mad mullahs” are determined to get a nuclear weapon, because he is after all a professor in Tel Aviv. I say to you, sir, the latest CIA analysis indicated that Iran is not currently developing nuclear weapons. Further, we have no credible evidence that they intend to develop nuclear weapons. Further, if they did develop nuclear weapons, this would not be accomplished until at least 2010-2015.

You mentioned nothing in your article about the NPT, of which Iran is a signatory and has a legal right to civilian nuclear facilities under, and of which Israel is not a signatory (as with the US). This alarmist style ignores one key aspect about Iran getting nuclear weapons: if it did, its deterrence capabilities and regional strength would depend on its not actually using any of them or selling any to rogue groups. Because if it did, there would be instant retaliation by the US and Arab neighbors, which would instantly destroy this regional strength of Iran.

November 24th, 2006, 7:36 pm


t_desco said:

Ivanka, it was satire, tongue-in-cheek. I couldn’t resist after suffering through Mike Hanna’s brilliant performance which could only be topped by David Frost and the incredibly hard-hitting questions he dared to ask Walid Jumblatt today. Wow. Larry King couldn’t have done it better…
BTW, I saw some reports about attacks on Syrian workers, but not of any killings. What is your source?

Camp shootout kills Palestinian security officer

BEDDAWI CAMP, LEBANON: A Palestinian security officer was killed and another officer and one militant were wounded in a clash between an armed group and Palestinian security forces in a refugee camp in North Lebanon on Thursday night, officials said Friday.

The clash in the Beddawi camp, near the coastal city of Tripoli, erupted when a group of about 13 militants threw a hand grenade and opened fire on a security force investigating a report that an extremist group had rented an apartment near the camp’s mosque, Palestinian officials said.

“The militants are part of Jund al-Sham group,” a security source told The Daily Star.

Maher Abdel-Hadi, one of two wounded security men, died in hospital Friday, the source said on condition of anonymity.

“Around 40 members of Jund al-Sham recently left the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp near Sidon, heading to Beddawi,” the source said.

According to local daily As-Safir, four people were arrested following the four-hour clash on Thursday night.

One of the arrested is a member of Al-Qaeda and has a Gulf accent, the report said.

It added that the suspect said that he had previously been charged with training militants and sending them to Iraq.
The Daily Star; As-Safir

Some of the men were Afghans, according to this second report by As-Safir.

November 24th, 2006, 9:49 pm


Mike said:

But as to your point, I think you’re right and it should be obvious to all global players today that force doesn’t work, that negotiation is the only way to avoid bloodshed. Force didn’t work in Lebanon with regard to changing political affiliations away from Hezbollah, it isn’t working in Gaza to stop rocket firing or to get back the Israeli soldier, it’s not working in Beit Hanoun where 19 civilians were killed. This is a lesson the US should learn as well, it’s really quite simple. Blindly flexing your military muscle does not make you such a strong nation any more.

Dialogue is the only way to go. This applies to the US at well. What it did with Iraq is take the status quo, in which the US and Israel had major power over what happened in the Middle East, and through force, in trying to improve this status quo in order to offset Iranian influence, created new “facts on the ground,” facts that involved dramatically promoting the rise of anti-US groups. Withdrawal is all that’s really left for the US, not just out of Iraq but out of the Middle East. We don’t belong in the Middle East, we’re not an imperial power and we don’t have the moral authority that the UN or Europe has. Dialogue will be what distinguishes an undignified, kick-in-the-ass withdrawal from the Middle East from something more negotiated.

November 24th, 2006, 11:57 pm


Chuck said:

I don’t see how increasing pressure on Syria will benefit anybody. It may bring down the Assad government and create internal chaos but I doubt if it will induce Syria to become an Israel friendly beacon of democracy.

November 25th, 2006, 12:24 am


Ajmal wa Ahla said:

I have a simple question for the assembled minds. Why is a tribunal being formed before the final report has emerged? The lebanese are dressing for a Syrian bonfire. But how about an inconclusive or fractured report. Also, in regards to the generals in Lebanese jails, isn’t forming a court along with its statutory requirements not true justice. At least under American law, one can not be persecuted for a crime that is not codified in law at the time of action. These two questions trouble me deeply.

November 25th, 2006, 3:00 am


Dubai Jazz said:

Dr. Landis:
Has the Bush administration been moving toward engaging Syria and Iran recently because of an internal pressure? In other word, because of the new situation resulted from a democratic majority in both houses? Or was because they were really looking for viable exit strategies?
If it is the former, I then believe that the US administration can easily be included in the list of suspects in Gemayl assassinations: the republican trying to show the democrats how ugly are the rogue states they want to involve?
Ehsani2: what you have ironically suggested, sounds very valid theory to me…

November 25th, 2006, 6:04 am


Alex said:


What you called for is perfectly fine, but what is not fine is if you actually believe that Syria SURELY killed Gemayel.

So allow me to make a sad but true observation: On the surface, Gemayel’s murder was received with utter sadness by the anti-Syria camp .. but in reality it was quite welcome by MANY of them … it allowed them to breathe again and to get energetic again. They absolutely needed it.

Anti Syria camp includes Lebanese, Americans, Saudis, Israelis, Syrian opposition,

So go analyze who killed him. And start your search for the killers. Lebanon is open to ALL intelligence agencies, you name it they are there.

The paid killers, by the way, who took so much risk of being caught by taking their time, were surely hired by someone they (the killers) have no idea who he was.

For those who are cheering the fact this murder slowed down the process of Syrian American re-engagement, please remember that if the Syrians and Americans (and Saudis) do not talk and agree on Lebanon, then nothing good can be expected for the country … so stop cheering for your country’s destruction.

November 25th, 2006, 7:33 am


Hakim said:

Strategically speaking, Syria is the link of chain, which should be exploited to diminish the ever-increasing power of the Shia in general but Iran in particular. Certainly Iran and Syria appear to be odd bedfellows, as Damascus has a proud history of Sunni Islam, and at one point being the seat of power of the so-called Sunni standard bearer Mu’awwiyah bitter adversary of the Shiite celebrated Ali ibn Talib. This fight was also inherited by their off-spring culminating in what we see today, of the Sunni and Shia. This point maybe irrelevant to western analysts but certainly looms largely in the mind of all Sunni and Shia, in particular the Wahhabis /Salafis/Jihadis of the world.

Apparently, the only two things linking Syria to Iran is it mutual enemies namely Israel and the U.S. and Syria’s interest in Lebanon, which it has exploited through its relationship with the Shia Hezbollah, who are also clients of Iran.

Syria is looking for a way out. How long can Assad continue to act as a client of Iran, in light of the

1. Sunni dominated population in Syria
2. Massive Sunni majority in the Muslim World, in particular Syria’s Sunni neighbors.
3. The tension that historically exist between Arab and Persian, especially since Iran has exerted itself.

This is not to be over-looked as the Saudis are building a fence to protect it from the spilling over of the sectarian violence in Iraq, as Saudi Arabia has a small minority of Shia.

For these reasons, Syria has wanted to talk to the U.S and to Israel for a way out, so the U.S and Israel should toss Syria a bone, let them claim some type of win, give them the Golan. Getting Syria on your team will have beneficial effects in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Iran and the Sunni world which could help to marginalize the growing Shia movements. As the lesson of Iraq is teaching us, the threat of war or even the implementation of war, does assure a meeting of America’s goals, in fact it could inflame the situation further.

November 25th, 2006, 12:19 pm


Hakim said:

Forgive the grammatical error, the last sentence should read:

As the lesson of Iraq is teaching us, the threat of war or even the implementation of war, does NOT assure a meeting of America’s goals, in fact it could inflame the situation further.

November 25th, 2006, 12:31 pm


t_desco said:

Saudis desperate to paint Hizbullah as a mere tool of Iran and to endorse Israeli intelligence reports:

“Moreover, (Saudi security advisor Nawaf) Obaid says, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) are using the Iranian embassies in Damascus and Beirut as command and control centers — an allegation that was also confirmed to TIME by Israeli military sources. Obaid says there appear to be direct communications links between the Iranians and Hizballah, via Hizballah officers working inside the Iranian embassy in Beirut, and Iranian officers in the field with Hizballah fighters; in the past, some Middle East analysts have rejected the popular notion that Hizballah takes direct orders from Iran.

Iran’s apparent efforts to destabilize Lebanon and to expand Shi’ite influence in Iraq and throughout the region are of major concern to the Saudi government, a leading power in the Sunni Muslim world that presumably would like to see the U.S. take a more active stance in Lebanon against its regional rivals. Obaid says that when Vice President Cheney visits King Abdallah bin Abd Al Aziz Al Saud Saturday in Riyadh, the Saudi king is expected to tell Cheney that “the Saudi leadership will not and cannot allow Iran, through Syria and Hizballah, to bring down the Lebanese government and overtake the levers of power in Beirut.” Obaid says the Saudi king is also expected to discuss with Cheney the kingdom’s worries about Iranian activity in Iraq and the Palestinian territories as well as its alliance with Syria.”

Other Saudis are also very busy in Lebanon. It turns out that the “member of Al-Qaeda” with “a Gulf accent” who was arrested in the Beddawi camp on Thursday is a Saudi citizen, according to this report by Al-Akhbar.

November 25th, 2006, 12:48 pm


t_desco said:

Nasrallah, Berri Support Hariri Tribunal, Renew Threats of Mass Protests

In a gesture toward the government and the anti-Syrian majority in parliament, which regard the U.N. court as a priority, Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Amal chief Nabih Berri have said they supported the creation of the Hariri tribunal, but renewed threats of mass street protests.

They also accused their opponents of using the issue of the international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of ex-premier Rafik Hariri to block their demands for enough cabinet seats to be able to veto decisions.

“The use of the international tribunal by the other side (the anti-Syrians) as a pretext to confront our legitimate political demand … will not dissuade us from pressing our demand by using all available democratic and legal means,” said a joint statement by Nasrallah and Berri, who is also the speaker of parliament.

“We insist on our legitimate right to demand a real participation in the political decision-making,” the two leaders said, referring to their claim of a veto-wielding share of the cabinet.

In a party meeting yesterday, Gen. Aoun also stressed that he was strongly in favor of the creation of an international tribunal:

“Le chef du CPL, le général Michel Aoun, a vivement reproché à la majorité ses attaques contre lui et l’ordre de priorités qu’elle suit, mettant le gouvernement au défi de faire la lumière sur la série d’attentats qui continuent de secouer le pays. « Sinon qu’ils démissionnent », a-t-il dit, en réaffirmant son appui à la création d’un tribunal international pour juger les assassins de l’ancien ministre, Rafic Hariri, mais en reprochant au pouvoir de ne pas lui avoir soumis une copie du statut du tribunal. « …

Concernant le tribunal international, il a réaffirmé qu’il avait été l’un des premiers à avoir réclamé sa création, qualifiant de « cynisme politique » et de « débauche, reflétant un esprit de division et de discorde » les accusations selon lesquelles il serait hostile à la création de ce tribunal.”
L’Orient-Le Jour

Two questions regarding the international tribunal:

– why is the government so secretive about it?

– what exactly are the objections of the opposition against the draft plan for the tribunal?

November 25th, 2006, 1:38 pm


ivanka said:

T-Desco, (I know you were joking)

my source is people in Lebanon who told me. They are my friends so I beleive them. But they are not a sure source like a news agency. So maybe what I said is to be taken with caution.

Al Manar and new-TV reported about attacks on Syrian workers.

Here is a small comparison between the “peaceful mourning” of the 14th march cabal and what Hassan Nasrallah says…

-Hassan Nasrallah to Hezbolla officials, on TV last Sunday : “when you will demonstrate they will send people to insult you, do not answer. They might beat you, do not fight back. This is difficult, it needs courage and faith but you shouldn’t fight back..”

-14 march : Attacking Salim el Hoss, Michel Aoun’s supporters had their cars smashed and were threatened, Syrian workers killed according to certain accounts.

Can anyone tell me who seems more civilized?

(See Al Manar’s website for the quote from Hassan Nasralla.)

I will write a letter to Le Monde about all this. They will not publish it I guess.

p.s. I really enjoyed Samir Geagea accusing Syria of killing Dani Shamoun. I really savoured that moment. Even Geagea paused when he said this. He was like well everyone knows I killed him but what the heck.

November 25th, 2006, 2:51 pm


Atassi said:

I don’t see in my message any cheering to the destruction of my country, my message WAS very clear , If we don’t STOP killing each other , we will be overwhelmed by our own sickness, soon be defeated by the well self rooted ignorance in and by the endless bloodshed cycle.
Alex, don’t you ever accuse me of these kinds of cheering and wishing harms to my country.
I am not going to play who killed who trivial game …but, I will task it to smart uncorrupted mind like yours to analyze it. Mr. I am the only one who loves his country!! man …

November 25th, 2006, 3:05 pm


ivanka said:


The opposition do not objct to the principle of the Tribunal. I think it is above all a matter of prestige. You have to remember how the draft of the tribunal arrived on the last day of the national unity government talks and how the talks broke down because of that.

If the project goes ahead it clearly means : The opinion of Shiites and of Aoun and of their Sunni and Drouze (and communist!) friends does not count. Wether you get more ministers or not, this tribunal will pass as it is.

Another thing is if the government get’s the Tribunal recognized by the parliament and the president in some way, or makes it official in some way this will give the government an “accomplishment” to remobilize it’s supporters. On the other hand the opposition will have a defeat on it’s hands.

November 25th, 2006, 3:05 pm


Atassi said:

And one more thought; why you do you believe the Syrian regime is deeply interested in talking to the Americans at this stage!! Knowing the high price the regime MUST pay with no visibility or rewards on the table! The regime is more interested at this time in delaying the international court for better days. It’s all just a smoke screen dear Alex, the plan is not as Noble as we all thought.

November 25th, 2006, 3:38 pm


Alex said:


“Alex, don’t you ever accuse me of these kinds of cheering and wishing harms to my country.”

I was “talking” to the anti-Syria Lebanese who got very energized when Gemayel was murdered … because after the recent few months of “bad news” (with everyone saying we need to talk to Syria) now they have something they can use against Syria .. since of course, the evil Syrians must have killed him.

In your case, I was just saying “I hope you do not mean with your remarks that you are SURE the Syrian regime ordered his assassination”

As for your other points about the regime, I think you can never make yourself neutral, just bare that in mind when you analyze them.

November 25th, 2006, 4:56 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

i am sure that HA did not kill Pierre, Alex take HA off the list of your suspects, HA prefer to go to the street,and use its popularity, because it has other goals in mind, and HA is lebanese,true lebanese
Also I have severe doubt that Al Qaeda would use such tactic, it is not a suicide bomb,plus three persons are involved.
there are three suspects,now: Isreal,Syria and 14 of march.the timing is the deciding factor in my mind.

November 25th, 2006, 5:48 pm


debate said:

Why does the minority Alawite regime in Syria remains in power for so long? why does Israel always defends the survival of this regime?

November 25th, 2006, 7:40 pm


Charles G. Coutinho, Ph. D. said:

As per the Beirut Daily Star, it would appear that Hezbollah and its allies plan to take to the streets next week, in Beirut and elsewhere in the country, in the hopes of trying to bring down, the Siniora Cabinet. See the article

Hizbullah ‘plans to start street protests next week’

By Nada Bakri
Daily Star staff
Saturday, November 25, 2006

BEIRUT: Hizbullah and its allies will take to the streets next week to force the government’s resignation, political sources told the Reuters news agency on Friday, a move that will likely fuel already simmering tension. The protests, which had originally been planned for this week, were postponed following Tuesday’s assassination of anti-Syrian Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel in a northern suburb of Beirut.

Hizbullah and its ally, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) have been demanding a bigger say in Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s Cabinet, dominated by members of the March 14 Forces.

The anti-Syrian coalition has rejected the demand, claiming Hizbullah’s real aim is to block the formation of an international court into the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

“We are heading for a confrontation,” a senior political source close to the opposition said. “The room for a political solution is very, very tight. There is no room other than going to the street,” he added.

The source said the protests would take place in several parts of Lebanon, not just Beirut.

The opposition was considering adding other options to its campaign, including sit-ins, strikes by government workers and the resignation of opposition parliamentarians, he added.

The head of Hizbullah’s Loyalty to the Resistance parliamentary bloc, Mohammad Raad, said Gemayel’s assassination was a shock to all Lebanese and had forced the party to postpone its protests.

“Recent developments delayed our public moves to topple the government, but will never terminate them,” Raad said. “If a true political partnership is not realized we will stick to our peaceful and democratic protests toward overthrowing the government,” he added.

Raad said Siniora’s “stubborn and inflexible mentality” was responsible for the tension in the country, and described the prime minister’s “imbalanced and impetuous” handling of matters of threatening Lebanon’s unity and identity.

As-Safir newspaper quoted sources close to the FPM’s leader, MP Michel Aoun, as saying Friday that “protests might start early next week.”

Aoun said during a press conference held following an FPM meeting to discuss Gemayel’s assassination that he will proceed with his allies with movements to force the Siniora Cabinet to resign.

“We haven’t given up on our demand,” Aoun said, in reference to the formation of a national unity government.

“We have decided to participate. The security situation has deteriorated, the political situation has deteriorated and the economic situation as well … We could have stopped this deterioration if they had listened to us from the beginning,” the former general added.

The opposition’s demands for the formation of a national unity government began after this past summer’s war with Israel – which ended in an August 14 cessation of hostilities brokered by the United Nations.

“But they always come to us late,” Aoun said.

The mood in Lebanon is already volatile, with observers warning that street protests might lead to sectarian clashes.

Hundreds of angry Shiites took to the streets in the southern suburbs of Beirut Thursday night to protest insults directed at Hizbullah’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, during the funeral for Gemayel held earlier in the day.

Nasrallah himself had to appeal to the protesters to disperse before the late-night demonstrations ended peacefully.

Asked whether he feared the eruption of violent clashes should further demonstrations be held, Aoun said: “Who brought things to this level? We were asking Siniora for this but he kept ignoring our demands. Siniora and his Cabinet are responsible for this situation, which is worrisome.”

Anti-Syrian leaders who addressed hundreds of thousands of mourners gathered for Gemayel’s funeral had intensified their attacks on both Nasrallah and Aoun.

While calling on the opposition to return to the fold, the leaders of the March 14 Forces reiterated that they would not submit to its demands.

The anti-Syrian coalition accuses Syria and its allies in Lebanon, namely Hizbullah, of being behind the series of killings and attacks that have plagued the country since the February 2005 killing of Hariri. Damascus and its allies in Lebanon deny any involvement.

However, preliminary reports from a UN inquiry into Hariri’s murder have implicated Syrian and Lebanese security officials.

Copyright © 2006, The Daily Star. All rights reserved.

November 25th, 2006, 7:41 pm


Charles G. Coutinho, Ph. D. said:

Following up from my last input, as per Charles Malik’s Lebanese Political Journal, it would appear that with the assassination of Pierre Gemayel, that the cohesion of Aoun’s own political bloc is in danger of disintegrating. As Malik notes, the ‘Christian General’, right now, is politically speaking completely at variance, with the stands that he took and adhered to, while in his long, Syrian sponsored, exile (1990-2005). The next few weeks will see, if Aoun will retrace his steps and return to his political roots, or throw his hand completely with the Hezbollah-Syrian-Persian bloc. See the article below:

Aoun’s Bloc Fracturing
Many analysts have wondered how Michel Aoun’s parliamentary bloc kept together.

What brings together Neematallah Abi Nasr and Farid Elias el-Khazen with Sleiman Franjieh, Michel el-Murr, Talal Arslan, and Elias Skaff? Obviously, it was Aoun, which led to more questions.

Finally, the bloc is breaking.

Neematallah Abi Nasr is close to the Patriarch. He served as Samir Geagea’s lawyer, yet he has always been partial to Michel Aoun. He was a prominent Christian voice who worked with the Syrians, but always appeared more devoted to Christian Mount Lebanon than other Christian politicians, like Boutros Harb.

Nayeb Abi Nasr has now broken with Michel Aoun. The degree of the break is unknown, but he is calling for the return of Hezbollah and Amal’s ministers to the cabinet to approve the International Tribunal.

Later in the evening when asked about Abi Nasr’s statements, Michel Aoun angrily said [paraphrasing] “Let him say what he wants!”

I’ve been expecting some sort of break to occur, and have always mentioned Abi Nasr and el-Khazen. I felt, as did many others, that Michel Aoun was distancing himself from his base.

Aoun’s stances prior to 2005 of a free, sovereign Lebanon, freedom for Lebanese in Syrian prisons, the need to make amends with the Lebanese in Israel, and freedom from oppressive government were noble causes. Now that he has returned and garnered an electoral mandate he has not supported any of these issues.

Instead, he’s used his power to support Hezbollah and attack the people trying to end the Lebanese security state and the destabilizing violence in Lebanon.

It’s only natural that the members of parliament who still believe in what Aoun did before would break with his current agenda.

However, unlike Abu Kais, I don’t think this is a sweeping defeat for Aoun. Aoun still has the chance to maneuver. We’ll see if a rapprochement is in the cards, or if he has gone too far into the Hezbollah/Lahoud/Franjieh camp to return.

If anything, Aoun has paved Nabih Berri’s road to the middle.

In http://www.lebop.blogspot.com

November 25th, 2006, 7:51 pm


ivanka said:

“Instead, he’s used his power to support Hezbollah and attack the people trying to end the Lebanese security state and the destabilizing violence in Lebanon.”

What destabilizing violence? Until now the violnce is not destabilizing. The violence started when Hariri was assasinated and culminated when Israel attacked.

What is Aoun’s role in this and who are the people who wanted to stop them which he attacked?

As far as the Hariri people were concerned the Israeli was was a blessing. This means he attacked the people who were for the violence. He did attack them.

November 25th, 2006, 8:10 pm


ivanka said:

Nabih Berri repeated today that the government is not legitimate and that the Tribunal it has passed is not constitutional. Is that what you call the middle?

November 25th, 2006, 8:14 pm


norman said:

tGemayel, Syria, Israel and the War in Iraq
By Patrick Seale
November 25, 2006

There are two main theories about who killed Pierre Gemayel in Beirut on Tuesday – one points the finger of blame at Syria, the other at Syria’s enemies.

Both theories are plausible. But, such is the murky nature of Lebanon’s politics and the murderous intrigues of foreign powers that it would be exceedingly rash, in the absence of firm evidence, to plumb for one or the other.

As may be seen, Lebanon’s unfortunate fate is to be a battleground between Syria and Israel for dominance in the Levant.

This past summer Israel, encouraged by the United States (and with the tolerance of Britain), mounted an all-out assault against Lebanon in an attempt to destroy Hezbollah and bring Lebanon into the Israeli-Western camp. The attempt failed.

Hezbollah and its allies – who include General Michel Aoun, a Christian leader who broke ranks with his community – have been pressing for the replacement of the Siniora government by a government of national unity, in which they would have what they consider their rightful place.

Their case is that only such a government can unify the country, heal the sectarian divide and rebuild Lebanon after Israel’s devastating assault.

Syria’s enemies argue vociferously that the killing of Pierre Gemayel, ahead of the publication of the Brammerz report, was a pre-emptive move by Damascus to derail the formation of a special international tribunal to bring Rafik Hariri’s killers to justice.

Plans for the tribunal were finalised by the UN earlier this week but still need to be approved by the Lebanese government and indeed by the pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud. Bringing down the Siniora government would clearly doom the tribunal futility.

This is the prime argument of the anti-Syrian camp which includes Sunni Muslims led by Sa’ad Al Hariri, bent on avenging his father; Walid Junblatt, leader of the Druze community, who has come out stridently against Syria’s President Bashar Al Assad; and Gemayel’s own Phalanges libanaises – partners in the “March 14 movement”.

Denouncing Syrian and Iranian interference in Lebanon’s affairs, they have no doubt that Pierre Gemayel’s killers were acting on orders from Damascus.

Alternative Theory

There is an alternative theory, which is equally plausible, in which the more likely culprits are Israel and its local agents. Those who advance it ask who benefits from the crime. Certainly not Syria and its Hezbollah allies who, to their great embarrassment, now find themselves denounced once again as criminals before world public opinion.

This accusation of a new heinous murder comes just at a time when Syria was on the point of re-engaging with Europe and the United States and when Hezbollah was hoping to reap political rewards.

The murder of Pierre Gemayel has had the immediate effect of paralysing Hezbollah and throwing it on the defensive: it can no longer consider bringing its supporters out on the street in peaceful demonstrations, as it had planned and announced, to press its demand for a national unity government.

Similarly, the murder is a grave setback for Syrian diplomacy. It occurred when Syria’s foreign minister, Walid Al Muallem, was in Baghdad where he announced the resumption of diplomatic relations between Syria and Iraq, after a breach of a quarter of a century.

At the same time, Iran called for a tripartite summit of Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian presidents to help end the appalling violence in Iraq.

By these moves Syria and Iran were signalling that Iraq’s neighbours could not be excluded from an eventual settlement in Iraq; that they were able and ready to play a constructive role; and that they were, in fact, key players with whom the United States needed to engage if it was to find an honourable exit from the Iraqi quagmire.

Damascus and Tehran are also seeking to convey the message that peace in Iraq will necessarily require a withdrawal of US troops; that the Iraqi problem cannot be separated from other conflicts in the region; and that a global settlement will involve resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict on the basis of the creation of a Palestinian state and the return of the Golan Heights to Syria.

To the alarm of hardliners in Israel and in the United States, these ideas were beginning to make their way in American and European opinion. Calls for a global settlement were coming from many quarters, including last week from the leaders of Spain, France and Italy.

Even Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair has seemed to distance himself from Washington in stressing the need for a “whole Middle East strategy”, with priority given to the Palestinian-Israel conflict.

In these circumstances, it seems hardly likely that Syria – eagerly seeking dialogue with the West, emerging from isolation, and pressing hard for the US to re-launch the Middle East process – would put all this in jeopardy by ordering a squalid murder of a relatively unimportant Lebanese politician.

On the other hand, Syria’s enemies – Israel and its Lebanese agents first among them – would have every motive to seek to check Syria’s return to international respectability and to prevent the restoration of Syrian influence in Lebanon, even in a milder form than before.

These then are the rival theories. Both Israel and Syria have in the past resorted to murdering their political opponents. Israel continues to do so routinely in the Palestinian territories.

Which of the two is guilty this time? Hard evidence either way will not be easy to find. But until it is found, it would be wise to suspend judgment.


his might help explain Gemayel killing,

November 26th, 2006, 1:35 am


majedkhaldoun said:

the lebanese goverment meeting is constitutional, the other ministers who did not attend they did it without being forced not to come, no one prevented them to come, they were given the chance to come and participate in the decision making, but they choose to abstain,Lahoud words worth nothing, Berri has to prove that the meeting was not legitimate, he is wrong and he will be obliged to call the house of representatives, even if he refused, Seniora can send the security council his approval, with a note that Berri blocked it, the security council will probably send an order to co-operate both to him and Lahoud, also to Syria,refusal by Berri may cause streets violence, and foreign interference become needed, berri and Lahoud may be charged with obstruction of justice and may end up getting warrent for arrest. it is not wise to block this court,always stubbornness is equal to stubidity.

November 26th, 2006, 3:48 am


why-discuss said:

Lebanon is on verge of a total political collapse because in that so-called democracy, the constitution is interpreted by just anyone, and accusations and expressions of revenge and hatred are fusing from everywhere undermining any attempt to recover from the hard hits the country is recieving. It looks like like a hen without a head.. Pathetic!

November 26th, 2006, 4:42 am


t_desco said:

I have to say that the opposition reminds me a bit of John Kerry, “we voted for the tribunal before we voted against it”. Focusing on the tribunal doesn’t look like a clever move (particularly as all parties profess to be in favor of it).

An-Nahar reported on November 22 that it had received a statement by a “group” called “The Strugglers for the Unity and Freedom in al-Sham”, claiming responsibility for the assassination of Pierre Gemayel, but nobody (except MEMRI) seems to have taken it seriously. What’s interesting about this is that on December 28, 2005, An-Nahar had published a statement by the same “group”, claiming responsibility for the killing of Gebran Tueni and threatening Detlev Mehlis. Both statements imply that the blame for the killings lies with Syria and the resistance.

November 26th, 2006, 12:50 pm


t_desco said:

U.S. is quietly buildung ties with Syrian dissidents

By Farah Stockman / The Boston Globe

WASHINGTON: Even as pressure mounts for the United States to work with the Syrian government, the White House and the State Department have been quietly building ties with Syrian dissidents, holding meetings in Washington and Damascus that some describe as a search for credible alternatives to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

U.S. policy makers are divided over how to approach the authoritarian Syrian government, which President Bush accuses of trying to bring down the fragile government of Lebanon and serving as a transit point for insurgents into Iraq. Democrats in Congress and a bipartisan panel of specialists on Iraq have argued for high-level talks with Syria, a country they see as key to stabilizing Iraq. The Iraqi government reestablished diplomatic relations with Syria last week.

But many top U.S. officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, say Syria should not be trusted, a position that seemed to gain strength after a prominent anti-Syrian Lebanese Cabinet minister was assassinated Tuesday in Beirut.

For more than a year, U.S. officials have snubbed high-level contact with the Syrian government, opting instead to explore ways to support the opposition.

National Security Council staff members have met twice in the past three months at the White House with the National Salvation Front, a newly formed coalition of Syrian opposition figures in exile that includes the Muslim Brotherhood and a former vice president of Syria, Abdul-Halim Khaddam.

A White House official said the meetings were to learn more about the group and assess its commitment to democracy.

Last fall, four U.S. officials, including a senior State Department adviser on Iran, David M. Denehy, visited opposition figures in Damascus, including Haitham Maleh, a prominent human rights activist with close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, according to Maleh. He said that the Americans told him they wanted to work with him to press the Syrian government to open up to democratic opposition, but that he declined because he doubted their sincerity. The State Department declined to comment.

The Bush administration has also met with a rival Syrian opposition group led by Farid Ghadry, a secular figure who met Cheney in July and his daughter, Elizabeth Cheney, then a senior State Department official, in March 2005, according to Ghadry, who lives in Washington. He said he argued at the meetings for massive U.S. funding for the Syrian opposition, as well as covert CIA actions, to topple Assad’s government.

“Regime change in Syria is one of the most debated issues in the administration,” Ghadry said. “The moment the U.S. says ‘We want regime change in Syria,’ you are going to immediately inject power into not only the reformists, but all those who oppose the regime.”

But others urge caution.

“If you effect regime change in Syria, you could go from bad to worse,” said Wayne White, who served until last year as deputy director of the office specializing in the Middle East at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. “In government, I warned that if Assad fell, the most likely alternative, if we want to be realistic about it, would be a regime that would have a significant Sunni Islamic militant strain.”

One senior U.S. official who closely follows Middle East policy said he did not believe that the meetings with opposition figures had turned up anyone powerful enough, or democratic enough, to bring real change to Syria.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

But he said Washington had few options other than to find ways to strengthen the opposition. Negotiating with Syria to help stabilize Iraq would almost certainly involve costly concessions, such as allowing Syria to continue to influence Lebanon.

Syria’s ambassador in Washington, Imad Moustapha, said the meetings with Syrian opposition parties show that senior Bush administration officials are bent on seeing Assad fall and that they are relying on exiles who have little support at home, a tactic that failed in Iraq.

“Instead of learning the lessons from Iraq, they are repeating the same mistakes,” he said in an interview. He added that Syria does not need concessions to help stabilize Iraq, saying that doing so is in Syria’s interest. On Saturday, his embassy condemned Tuesday’s assassination in Lebanon and said Syria played no role in it.

Over the past two years, Washington has dramatically reduced contact with Syria, saying the nation causes problems in Iraq, and is key ally of Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah. In 2005, after Syria’s leaders were implicated in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, the U.S. ambassador to Syria was withdrawn, leaving only lower-level staff. U.S. officials say previous high-level talks with Syria have proved fruitless, but they stop short of calling for regime change. The State Department made $5 million in grants available to Syrian groups this year.

In recent weeks, calls for talks have grown louder, but so has White House condemnation of Syria. Earlier this month, the White House accused Syria and Iran of trying to topple Lebanon’s government. Saturday, Bush reiterated that charge.

Washington has become so infuriated with Syria that it has not ruled out talking to the Muslim Brotherhood of Syria, a popular but outlawed Islamic movement and an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, formed in 1928 to push for creation of an Islamic state across the Middle East.

U.S. officials in Egypt don’t talk to the Brotherhood, even though they make up the largest opposition bloc there, out of deference to Cairo. But in Syria, where the group’s armed resistance was crushed in 1982 and where membership is a capital offense, U.S. officials say they remain open to hearing what the group has to say.

Although none of the National Salvation Front members who attended two recent White House meetings was from the Brotherhood, the Brotherhood’s leader, Ali Sadreddine Bayanouni, is considered a cofounder of the Front.

In a telephone interview from London, Bayanouni said the Front representatives “found a lot of understanding” at the White House meeting. He urged the United States to expand its contacts with Islamic groups like his own, which he described as “moderate.”

“It is possible to change the situation in Syria,” he said, speaking through a translator. “What we need is for someone to back U.S., the Arab governments of our neighbors or the United States.”

Ammar Abdulhamid, a Washington representative for the Front who attended the meetings, said the White House had become more receptive to the Syrian branch of the Brotherhood because the group recast itself as a moderate movement that focuses on human rights and accepts Israel’s right to exist.

He said that the Brotherhood, as a compromise with its partners in the Front, dropped its demand for a fundamentalist Islamic state based on Sharia law, and instead says it seeks a “civil state” based on civil laws. However, the group still rejects the idea of a secular government.

Abdulhamid said that U.S. officials voiced no opposition to the Front’s plans to open an office in Washington, and that U.S. officials had offered encouragement. But he also said the Front would not apply for U.S. funds to avoid the appearance of American influence.

November 26th, 2006, 5:47 pm


Al-Syasy said:

Please admitt the fact that the third world states are still under occupation, no one can do anything before having the permission of the occupant.

All what is going on in Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, former U.S.S.R. states, korea…etc is the result of rivalries and secret wars between super powers ( America, england, Russia, China and France) for their own interests. the small states and agents are only tools to achieve this goal.

November 27th, 2006, 12:31 am


Akbar Palace said:

“Professor” Rabinovich says:

“Iran presents serious challenges to Washington.”

Funny, I don’t recall Ahmadinejad holding conferences called “A World without America”.

I love it when Israelis think we Americans are “challenged”. I’d say 30,000 Katyushas falling on Israeli population centers is a bit more challenging.

Nevertheless, if Israeli and American Leftists like Professor Rabinovich believe the War in Iraq and the War on Terror was a “defeat”, and a reason to go through another 10 years of a Madrid or Oslo-type facade, then I think the good professor is sorely mistaken.

It was during those Oslo years of “peace” when Sadam was terrorizing the Middle East, his own people, the Kuwaitis, the Saudis and the Israelis. It was during the Olso years that Palestinian terror was INCREASING while Israel left Lebaonon only to have thousands of Katuyashas now at her doorstep. And it was during the Oslo years that the 9-11 “martyrs” were in their final stages of executing their attack on the US.

Sorry Itamar, Oslo lasted from 1993 to 2000. Give Bush and Cheney the same amount of time. Then we’ll talk about alternative approaches.

November 27th, 2006, 2:05 am


Wizart said:

American foreign policy in the Middle East has not necessarily changed since the last election despite the wishfull thinking and assumptions.

It’s a dynamicaly stable policy with broad imperatives that don’t just change overnight.

Many side players with differing agendas try to meddle with it as they fit and the poor population and investing public pay the price of a disfunctional system of government.

November 27th, 2006, 4:09 am


Dubai Jazz said:

A Palace, the 7 years (not 10) that elapsed between Oslo and the second uprising ( Intifada ) were not years of peace, there were no peace, there was only a peace process…unless all rights of Palestinian people are recognized and given back to them, there will be no peace.
Sadam had nothing to do with Oslo, his troubles in the 90s emanated from his opposition to the presence of the US troops delpoyed in the gulf.
And mind you, the martyers of 9/11 were nurtured and looked after by the CIA from the first place, when they had common anti-soviet interests, however, they (Al Qaeda) has managed to garner some public sympathy in the mddle east because of the grwoing resentent toward American policy in the region and toward the policies of its puppet Israel.

November 27th, 2006, 5:53 am


Akbar Palace said:

Dubai Jazz –

7 years. Fine. Give Bush 7 years to change the Middle East for good. It will be better in the long run for everyone (interested in freedom).

The Palestinians have no “rights” to target innocent civilians just as Hezbollah has no such right. And if the Palestinians are interested in forming their own country, I suggest they recognize the only country that can give help them create it.

Sadam had nothing to do with Oslo and had everything to do with the destabilization of the Middle East. Now that he’s gone, the Syrian and Iranian backed thugs and murderers are the next Arab/Islamic mess to clean up.

Oh the 9-11 “martyrs” (the “glorious 19”)were CIA backed? LOL. Please prove this to me and the rest of the astute participants on this website.

“Growing resentment”?? I keep hearing that term. I suspect since Israel’s creation nearly 60 years ago, Arab resentment must be the length to the moon and back. Personally, I resent Arab terrorism. Imagine that.

November 27th, 2006, 2:11 pm


ausamaa said:

Akbar Palace

What is it exactly that you want? I keep missing your point?

Was the Midle-East more close to the brinks BEFORE or After 9/11?

Is the Middle East (including US and Israeli security and interests) more stable today than it was before the US invasion of Iraq, not to mention Afghanistan?

Man… for the first time in our lives we keep getting “news surprises” on daily basis. And we know that the more is not gonna be the merrier…

Every single country including the US does not know what the hell to do! Except you, Saad Al Harriri, Jaja and Junblat…! Some one is thriving on the newly created chaos. Didnt you notice??? And where does the Buck stop?

November 28th, 2006, 5:32 pm


Akbar Palace said:

“What is it exactly that you want?”

Ausamma –

Why, thank you! I guess Chanukka has come early!

How about refusing to export terrorism for starters? That, in itself, would be great!

How about keeping weapons from crossing the Syrian and the Iranian borders?

How about eliminating incitement and intolerance in school textbooks and in the Arab media?

Let me know what you can do and we’ll talk more Ausamma. OK? Shukran!

November 29th, 2006, 2:08 am


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