Economy: Syria Avoids Recession

 Syrian chef Ahmad Zeidan prepares gourmet Aleppine dishes at the Mirage hotel in the historic city of Aleppo October 21, 2007. With silk road fame and cosmopolitan prosperity, todays Syrian city of Aleppo was the culinary capital of the Middle East before cultural and commercial decline took its toll. Syria is opening up its economy in the last few years after decades of nationalisation and state control and reviving interest in the citys cuisine. Picture taken October 21, 2007.

Syrian chef Ahmad Zeidan prepares gourmet Aleppine dishes at the Mirage hotel in the historic city of Aleppo October 21, 2007. With silk road fame and cosmopolitan prosperity, today's Syrian city of Aleppo was the culinary capital of the Middle East before cultural and commercial decline took its toll. Syria is opening up its economy in the last few years after decades of nationalisation and state control and reviving interest in the city's cuisine. Picture taken October 21, 2007. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri

[Landis Comment]

The Economist forcasts that Syria’s real GDP growth will fall from 4.8% in 2008 to 3.6% in 2009, and recovering slightly to 4.1% in 2010. 

The World Bank Report Provides a lower estimate for Syria’s GDP Growth. A bi-annual report by the World Bank has forecast growth of 2.5 percent in Syria’s Gross Domestic product next year. Read

The following economic and political reports suggest that Syria is fairly well isolated from the world recession. For once, Damascus’ habitual reform footdragging paid off handsomely. The fact that the long promised stock market has yet to be launched has saved Syrian businessmen money and headache.

The terrible run up in commodity prices that threatened to force so many more Syrians into the poor house during the first half of 2008 was largely reversed during the second half. The recession has moderated the price of basic goods and inflation.

The collapse of commodity prices has a down side, however. Oil price declines will hit Syria’s government budget hard, both because of Syria’s own diminishing supplies but also because of the smaller price. Less revenue will flow into the government coffers also because the Gulf countries, which do most of the foreign investing in Syria, will hold tight to what money they have.

Here is what the Economist predicts:

 Export earnings will decline by 13% in 2009–owing to the steep fall in oil prices as well as an easing in global agricultural prices–but will grow by 5% in 2010 as cotton (which together with textile products represents about 15% of exports) and some other commodity prices strengthen slightly. We forecast reasonably good harvests over the outlook period, but if drought persists it will have a significant impact on wheat and other food exports. Oil production is increasing at a number of small fields but declining at the larger, mature fields. As a result, overall production will remain relatively flat, averaging 374,000 barrels/day (b/d) in 2009 and 376,000 b/d in 2010.


Here is what the World Bank says about Syria in the latest “Doing Business” report issued a few days ago. 

“Syria was the second biggest reformer in business start-up in the region” but still ranks at 137 globally in “doing business.” Syria issued a new company law and commercial code that took registration out of the court, introduced statutory time limits and made using lawyers optional. But along with these reforms, Syria also made starting a business more difficult: a 33% increase in its minimum paid-in capital requirement.

Forty-nine economies, of which 10 are in the Arab World, simplified start-ups and reduced costs. These are among the 115 economies—more than half the world’s total—that have reformed in this area over the past 5 years. The Arab economies reforming in this area are Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, West Bank and Gaza and Yemen…..

The third most popular were reforms to ease trading across borders. Four Arab countries reformed in this area: Djibouti, Egypt, Morocco and Syria. In all 3 areas, administrative reforms increased efficiency and transparency….

Who is reforming in 2007/08?

Syria introduced a new commercial code that simplified business start-up by abolishing the court and lawyers’ involvement in the registration process. At the same time, reforms in the tax directorate further simplified tax registrations for new business. The entry of private banks into the Syrian market sped up the issuing of Letters of Credit. This led to a reduction of 2 days in document preparation time for both exports and imports….

Arab economies WHO reformed consistently IN the past 5 years

Syria reformed 3 years in a row. It reformed in 3 areas: starting a business, trading across borders and paying taxes…..

Starting a business

Syria introduced a new commercial code that simplified business start-up by abolishing the court and lawyers’ involvement in the registration process, while reforms at the tax directorate further simplified tax registration for new business…..

Syria’s business start-up reforms have not followed a straight path. In 2006, Syria reduced its stamp duty from 1.5% to 0.5% of capital. In 2007, it made business registrations more expensive by requiring Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) to publish their memorandum of association in the official gazette. In 2008, it passed a new law and commercial code, opening the door to electronic processing. Syria also tried to harmonize its laws with laws around the world. Furthermore, Syria’s 2008 reforms included detailed explanations of legal forms while abolishing of the concept of a “closed company” in order to encourage formation of LLCs. As a result, the following aspects of business registration were also reformed:

  • Court involvement in the registration process was abolished
  • Decisions regarding companies’ memorandum of association were given a statutory time limit of 2 weeks
  • Lawyers’ involvement in the drafting of the memorandum of association was abolished and replaced with a standard version
  • Publication of the entire memorandum of association was no longer necessary; companies could simply publish a copy of their registration certificate.
  • At the same time, a new directorate of taxes with reduced tax registration processing times helped further improve Syria’s business environment.

Paying taxes

In 2006, in an effort to encourage foreign and domestic investments and increase tax collection, a new tax law was issued lowering taxes. This was accompanied by the Tax Evasion Law and other laws that carried stricter enforcement measures, including imprisonment. Moreover, the tax administration has been reformed in Syria. Tax forms were unified in 2004 and were further simplified in 2007 to conform to the new tax laws. In September 2006, preparations started for a new VAT to be enacted later in 2008 or 2009….

Which Arab economies reformed in 2007/08?

Djibouti, Egypt, Morocco and Syria reformed. Syria eased up the entry requirements for private banks which then sped up the issuing of letters of credit. This led to a reduction of 2 days in document preparation time for both exports and imports in Syria…..

Which Arab economies reformed in the past 5 years?

While Djibuti, Egypt, Morocco and Syria continued their reforms. looking back, Algeria Jordan, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates also reformed.

In 2005, Syria started modernizing its customs offices in order to implement an electronic data interchange system, simplify procedures, increase transparency and improve the productivity of its staff. By 2006, IT divisions in several customs directorates were set up, helping to roll out new IT equipment and software (specifically, ASYCUDA from EDI), starting in four main locations. So far, two data input centers have been set  up in Damascus and Lattakia to allow traders to submit declarations electronically. In 2008, these customs reforms were fortified with the easing up of entry requirements for private banks which then sped up the time it took to issue letters of credit…..


SYRIA: Political outlook for 2009-10

The president, Bashar al-Assad, is expected to remain in power in 2009-10 and there is no significant threat to his rule. However, there will be ongoing tensions within the ruling elite, exacerbated by external pressures.

  • Mr Assad will continue the push to reduce Syria’s political isolation, but any open interference in Lebanon would work against this, alienating new interlocutors such as France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy. 
  • There is unlikely to be progress on negotiations with Israel, owing to a lack of public and parliamentary support in Israel for returning the occupied Golan Heights to Syria and the forthcoming Israeli elections in February 2009.
  • Syria’s drive to increase investment and boost tourism will be affected by the global economic slowdown, with real GDP growth falling from 4.8% in 2008 to 3.6% in 2009, and recovering slightly to 4.1% in 2010. 
  • Inflation will decline sharply from its 2008 peak, averaging 7.2% in 2009 and 8.4% in 2010, as the global slowdown depresses global commodity prices. 
  • The current-account deficit will widen in 2009, to around US$1.2bn (2.1% of GDP), increasing to US$1.4bn in 2010.

DOMESTIC POLITICS: Mr Assad and his ruling Baath party are expected to retain a secure grip on the country, supported by key elements in the security services, but significant challenges will nevertheless arise in 2009-10. The core of the elite is largely drawn from Mr Assad’s Alawi sect, who are acutely conscious that any move against him would risk endangering their hold on power. However, there are still tensions within the regime, accentuated by external pressures such as the UN investigation into the killing of Rafiq al-Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister, and the International Atomic Energy Agency investigation of allegations that a Syrian building bombed by Israel in 2007 was part of a secret nuclear programme.

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: Syria’s international isolation is expected to continue easing over the outlook period, although gains could easily be reversed. The progress is largely a result of an apparent shift in its approach to Lebanon, including an agreement to establish formal diplomatic relations for the first time. Syria’s engagement in indirect talks with Israel, brokered by Turkey, has also prompted a cautiously positive international response.

The early fruits of these developments have included financial assistance from Gulf Arab states and a visit to Damascus, the Syrian capital, by the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy. However, Syria’s relationships with the region’s heavyweights, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, remain severely strained and there is no obvious catalyst for improvement over the outlook period.

A rapprochement with the US will also be difficult, although it is now more likely, as the president-elect, Barack Obama, has said that he is willing to talk with enemy states, including Syria. However, Syria still considers Lebanon to be within its sphere of influence and so could get entangled in fresh controversy both in the run-up to the 2009 Lebanese parliamentary election and in its aftermath, especially if the anti-Syrian “March 14th” coalition were to gain ground. A further threat is the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon investigating the assassination of Mr Hariri, which is scheduled to begin on March 1st 2009, as senior Syrian officials are likely to be among the suspects.

POLICY TRENDS: Syria is expected to continue with a process of gradual liberalisation of its centrally planned economy, a process that has been led by the deputy prime minister for economic affairs, Abdullah al-Dardari. The overriding policy challenge will be to offset the impact of the recent (albeit temporarily checked) decline in oil production by making established businesses more dynamic and encouraging entrepreneurship and investment, particularly in sectors that can boost export earnings. As financing will be difficult to secure in the context of the global economic crisis, Syria’s spending will be constrained by its revenue, which will require fiscal prudence. The reduction in fuel subsidies in May 2008 was a significant step in that direction, but the simultaneous increase in public-sector salaries largely offset the fiscal benefits and both moves risk stoking inflation.

Although the introduction of a value-added tax (VAT) has been approved in principle, and would diversify government revenue, its implementation has been delayed repeatedly, and will now not be implemented before 2010.

INTERNATIONAL ASSUMPTIONS: World GDP growth (at purchasing power parity exchange rates) is expected to slow sharply to 2% in 2009, owing largely to the impact of recession in the US and many other OECD economies, before recovering to 3% in 2010.

The Economist Intelligence Unit has revised down its forecast for the benchmark dated Brent Blend to an average of US$65/barrel in 2009 and US$68/b in 2010, far below the July 2008 peak of US$147/b. The slowdown in the global economy will also hit the prices of other commodities, particularly food–most of the dramatic food price rises of 2008 will be reversed during 2009 and industrial materials prices will fall sharply.

ECONOMIC GROWTH: Global factors, including a downturn in key export markets, will lead to a slowdown in Syria’s real GDP growth, from an estimated 4.8% in 2008 to 3.6% in 2009, despite a partial recovery in agricultural exports (following the drought and poor harvest this year). Foreign investment will not be as strong as previously expected owing to the global economic crisis, and despite growing opportunities resulting from Syria’s increasing economic openness and improving international relations. Growth will strengthen slightly in 2010 to 4.1% as exports markets begin to recover. Growth in private consumption is likely to weaken in 2009-10, because of a drop in disposable incomes (owing to the cuts in fuel subsidies and to inflation) and a decline in the contribution from Iraqi refugees as they run down their savings, find it more difficult to enter the country and return home in growing numbers.

INFLATION: Consumer price inflation, which we estimate will have averaged 14.7% in 2008, is expected to decline but remain relatively high in 2009-10. It will take some time for the secondary effects of the rise in fuel prices (owing to the reduction in subsidies) and the 25% increase in government salaries and pensions to work their way through the economy. However, we forecast that lower fuel prices in 2009 (which may be partly offset by a further cut in subsidies) and an easing of non-oil commodity prices will help to bring down inflation to 8.6%. Any significant return of Iraqi nationals to their homeland could lower it even further by reducing demand pressures, although that is more likely to happen in 2010, when we forecast inflation will ease further to 7.6%.

EXCHANGE RATES: The Syrian pound has been pegged to a basket of currencies based on the IMF’s special drawing rights since October 2007, resulting in a marked appreciation against the US dollar. Although the new regime is less rigid than the previous peg to the dollar, the authorities remain unlikely to let the pound float freely, because they place a high priority on exchange-rate stability. The dominant position of the state-owned banks and the Central Bank’s control over foreign-currency transactions (even as some laws are relaxed) mean that the regime is well placed to control the value of the currency. The pound has declined slightly from its May 2008 peak of SP45.8:US$1, and we do not expect any substantive change over the outlook period, with the exchange rate forecast to average SP46.4:US$1 in 2009-10.

EXTERNAL SECTOR: The value of exports will be significantly affected by the change in oil prices (as oil still represents around one-third of total exports). We forecast that export earnings will decline by 13% in 2009–owing to the steep fall in oil prices as well as an easing in global agricultural prices–but will grow by 5% in 2010 as cotton (which together with textile products represents about 15% of exports) and some other commodity prices strengthen slightly. We forecast reasonably good harvests over the outlook period, but if drought persists it will have a significant impact on wheat and other food exports. Oil production is increasing at a number of small fields but declining at the larger, mature fields.

As a result, overall production will remain relatively flat, averaging 374,000 barrels/day (b/d) in 2009 and 376,000 b/d in 2010. However, the net impact of oil prices on the trade balance is limited because Syria is now importing around the same value of refined products as it exports in crude oil.

Non-oil exports are continuing to benefit from the relaxation of foreign-exchange controls, which has led to more exports moving out of the black economy and being officially recorded. Import spending growth will ease over the outlook period, owing to falls in commodity prices. Overall, the trade deficit will widen to about US$2.3bn (4.1% of GDP) in 2009, increasing slightly to US$2.6bn in 2010.


SYRIA: Foreign policy successes constrained by caution
Wednesday, December 3 2008
Oxford Analytica

EVENT: Lebanese Christian leader Michel Aoun today travelled to Syria, meeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — the first time since fighting a bitter ‘war of liberation’ against Syria in 1989-90.

SIGNIFICANCE:Upon Aoun’s return from exile after the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri and subsequent Syrian withdrawal, he sided with Syrian allies against the Western-backed government. Today’s visit to Damascus highlights Syria’s success in retaining strategic influence in Lebanon, despite its bloody past involvement and ignominious departure.

ANALYSIS: In recent years Syria found itself almost completely isolated, with the stability, and perhaps even the very existence, of the regime becoming increasingly endangered. In addition to constant worries over Israel’s intentions, the Syrians were concerned about the intentions of the Bush administration, which did not hide the fact that regime change was, if not a central objective, at least on its ‘wish list’.

Defiance.However, neither isolation nor perceptions of danger brought policy change. On the contrary, Syria continued playing for high stakes in Lebanon, persisted in its recalcitrance on Iraq, and tightened ties with Iran and Hizbollah. This apparent stubbornness was driven by a number of considerations:
  • The regime deeply distrusted the Bush administration, suspecting that it desired regime change; it did not believe that the US administration was prepared to pressure Israel or otherwise satisfy Syrian aims.
    *It calculated that any concessions would be met by increased demands that Syria would ultimately be unable to meet, similar to the case of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq; the regime resolved not to show any sign of weakness.
  • It benefited from being seen publicly to oppose the Bush administration, wildly unpopular in Syria and the region; the shaky legitimacy of President Bashar al-Assad was consolidated by his opposition to US and Israeli projects.
  • Relations with the Bush administration reached a low point on October 26, 2008, when US helicopter-borne commandos attacked a farm near the Syrian village of al-Sukkariyya in the Abu Kamal area, not far from the border with Iraq. US sources claimed that an Iraqi al-Qaida activist named Abu Ghadiyya was killed in the attack.
Rapprochement.However, just a week after the US attack, Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. Damascus welcomed Obama’s election and expressed the hope that the US elections would mark the beginning of a new era in relations between the two countries. Such hope was founded on a number of preceding developments:
  1. Lebanon. The events of May 2008 in Lebanon, which witnessed a demonstration of force by Syria’s allies, highlighted Syria’s dominant role; this was reinforced by the Syrian diplomatic contribution to negotiations in Doha that led to a relaxation of tensions in Lebanon
  2. Israel.Nearly simultaneously with the Doha Agreement, it was announced that Israel and Syria had been pursuing indirect peace talks with Turkish mediation. Although the announcement was received frostily by the Bush administration, Israeli strategic thinkers appeared to have concluded — particularly in the wake of the disastrous 2006 conflict with Hizbollah — that weakening the perceived ‘Iranian axis’ required transforming Syria’s foreign policy orientation.
  3. Europe. The developments in Lebanon and Israel encouraged European players to re-engage. French President Nicolas Sarkozy took the lead, inviting Assad to Paris in July and then convening a summit with Assad in Damascus together with the emir of Qatar and the Turkish prime minister. Since then, a regular procession of European foreign ministers have passed through Damascus, with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem once again welcome in most European capitals. Syria’s long-frozen EU partnership agreement is to be signed soon; human rights objections are long forgotten.
  4. Back-channel discussions. Despite mutual recriminations, the leadership kept its channels to the United States open, and succeeded in encouraging a number of key Democrats to re-evaluate US Syria policy. Zbignew Brzezinski, Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry all visited Damascus and met Assad; they appear to have been encouraged by the prospects for rapprochement.
Objectives: The new situation presents Syria with a golden opportunity to advance its interests. Key objectives are to:
  • ensure the stability of the regime and remove any possible US threat to its existence;
  • get back the Golan Heights;
  • restore and legitimise Syrian influence in Lebanon;
  • see an end to the US presence in Iraq and prevent the emergence of an Iraqi entity hostile to Syria;
  • and obtain economic and political advantages from an improvement of relations with Europe and the United States.
Prospects for achieving these goals look good on the surface:
  • The most grandiose ambitions of the Bush administration with regard to regime change are dead, and the prospects for a rapprochement under the Obama administration appear promising.
    *The United States is closer than ever to leaving Iraq.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is amenable to a peace agreement in which Israel would return the Golan Heights.
  • In Lebanon, the assumption that Syria could be removed completely from the scene has been shown to be groundless.

However, although further diplomatic and economic successes are likely, there is a significant likelihood that the full potential of the situation will not be grasped:

  • Syria’s foreign policy has long been characterised by caution, indecisiveness and passivity; bold gestures such as Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in 1977 are unknown.
  • *Negotiations have long been characterised by a hard-line, unwavering, all-or-nothing approach.
  • Unlike Sadat’s Egypt, which abandoned the Soviet Union for US sponsorship, Syria is not interested in a wholesale strategic shift; the main concern is to guarantee the status quo, with a minimum of concessions on domestic matters or relations with Iran, which Syria sees as counterbalancing the West and thus creating space for independence in decision-making.
  • The return of the Golan Heights, which is the one prize that could tempt Syria thoroughly to reorient its foreign policy, depends on an Israeli domestic political situation that seems increasingly inclined to the Right.

Outlook. Syria has returned to the limelight and will be the focus of intensive diplomatic activity for the foreseeable future. Syria’s importance will also grow in light of parliamentary elections in Lebanon scheduled for May or June, which could further increase the power of Syria’s allies. At the same time, it is doubtful that Syria’s dialogues with the West will augur a dramatic change in policies. After all, the experience of recent years has taught Assad that it was precisely his stubborn adherence to his positions that extricated him from isolation and consolidated his power.

Therefore, there is no reason for him to alter or abandon the stances he has taken, especially now that there are no obvious threats or constraints on Syria compelling him to do so.

CONCLUSION: Syria’s foreign policy achievements in 2008 are considerable, and look set to continue into 2009. However, while the regional and international situation is becoming more favourable, the leadership may well not take full advantage of the opportunity for transformation, preferring the safety of the status quo.

From the Economist

Syria economy: Outlook – Impact of public-sector reforms to be mixed
EIU ViewsWire, 10 December 2008

Syria is expected to continue with a process of gradual liberalisation of its centrally planned economy, a process that has been led by the deputy prime minister for economic affairs, Abdullah al-Dardari. The overriding policy challenge will be to offset the impact of the recent (albeit temporarily checked) decline in oil production by making established businesses more dynamic and encouraging entrepreneurship and investment, particularly in sectors that can boost export earnings. As financing will be difficult to secure in the context of the global economic crisis, Syria’s spending will be constrained by its revenue, which will require fiscal prudence. The reduction in fuel subsidies in May 2008 was a significant step in that direction, but the simultaneous increase in public-sector salaries largely offset the fiscal benefits and both moves risk stoking inflation. Although the introduction of a value-added tax (VAT) has been approved in principle, and would diversify government revenue, it has been delayed repeatedly, and it will now not be implemented before 2010.

Syria’s fiscal deficit is expected to widen to around S£173bn (US$3.7bn, or 6.7% of GDP) in 2009, before easing to S£137bn (4.7% of GDP) in 2010 as oil prices increase and tax revenue grows. Although fuel subsidies were reduced in 2008, public-sector salaries and crop purchase prices were both increased, largely offsetting the fiscal savings. The remaining fuel subsidies are still a significant fiscal burden, particularly as Syria imports much of the refined products that it uses. When VAT is introduced—now officially delayed until 2010 and likely to be at a rate of around 10%—there will be a considerable boost to tax revenue. The government may receive windfall revenue in 2009-10 from the conversion of existing mobile-phone contracts into longer-term licences and from allowing a third operator to enter the market.

The Economist Intelligence Unit expects the fiscal impact of the government’s public-sector reform plans, which include the transformation of state-owned enterprises into autonomous companies with their own budgets, is likely to be mixed. Although direct state revenue would fall, these firms would be required to pay corporation tax and would no longer receive state subsidies, probably resulting in a net positive impact on the public finances. The Central Bank of Syria is expected to continue to implement a process of monetary reform and gradually obtain greater autonomy. It began to issue Treasury bills on a trial basis in July 2008, and this is expected to become a regular feature over 2009-10 in order to finance development projects and ultimately the fiscal deficit. There are also plans to launch a local bond market, increasing the number and sophistication of monetary tools available to the Central Bank and helping to contain the inflationary impact of budget deficits. The Central Bank is likely to continue to reduce the restrictions on foreign-currency transactions, a process that it started in early 2008, in order to facilitate investment. These measures should also help to slowly develop and modernise the banking sector.

The Central Bank of Syria is expected to continue to implement a process of monetary reform and gradually obtain greater autonomy. It began to issue Treasury bills on a trial basis in July 2008, and this is expected to become a regular feature over 2009-10 in order to finance development projects and ultimately the fiscal deficit. There are also plans to launch a local bond market, increasing the number and sophistication of monetary tools available to the Central Bank and helping to contain the inflationary impact of budget deficits. The Central Bank is likely to continue to reduce the restrictions on foreign-currency transactions, a process that it started in early 2008, in order to facilitate investment. These measures should also help to slowly develop and modernise the banking sector.

Comments (5)

norman said:

US pushes Syria closer to Iran

American IAEA rep demanded that Syria accounts before IAEA for its nuclear program – bombed by Israel a year ago – or face Iran-type isolation and sanctions. Never mind that Iran is not isolated in the first place but actively exports oil and gas all over the world.

What is expected of Syria? Assad will not come out talking about his military nuclear program. At most, Syria would offer a laughable explanation of uranium traces in its destroyed nuclear site – something like its earlier statement that Israelis purportedly contaminated the site with fissile material. Presumably, at that point the US will apply sanctions and further isolate Syria, leaving it with Iran as the only partner.

Hussein Obama might prefer negotiations with Syria. His secretary of state Clinton had already met with Assad despite the official US policy of isolating his regime.

On a positive note, any international confrontation with Syria freezes the Syrian-Israeli peace talks which would cost Israel the Golan Heights and half the Lake Kineret, her only significant water source.

13 December 2008 Syria
« Previous Israeli News

December 14th, 2008, 1:52 am


norman said:

This is beautiful,

A Brazilian Step to Become World Reference in Heart Treatment
Written by Marina Sarruf
Monday, 08 December 2008
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was in São Paulo, this past Friday, December 5, to inaugurate the Syrian-Lebanese Hospital’s new Cardiology Center, which is supposed to promote integration between assistance, teaching and research in the cardiac area.

“Having, here in São Paulo, a hospital of the caliber of the Syrian-Lebanese, inaugurating a cardiology center, which may rank among the most modern in Brazil, one gets to thinking, my dear minister of Health and fellow countrymen, how many hospitals like this one need to be built in other Brazilian states so that we may, once and for all, be regarded as an example to the world in healthcare,” said Lula, in an address at the hospital.

The implementation of the new center is part of an old dream of Professor Roberto Kalil Filho’s, who is the director general at the Cardiology Center and the president’s personal doctor.

“With this center, the Syrian-Lebanese Hospital forges ahead on its path to becoming the leading institution in Brazilian cardiology,” said he, who was greatly praised by Lula. “Kalil is a unique character,” stated the president. “Brazil will be hearing from you,” he claimed.

Besides Kalil, the Syrian-Lebanese Hospital in itself received much praise. “Caring and dedication is what makes the difference,” said the minister of Health, José Gomes Temporão.

According to him, successful institutions are made of people, and the Syrian-Lebanese was a dream of pioneers that was fed by many professionals who have contributed to the creation of the new center at the institution.

“This is not a private hospital. It is part of the wealth that belongs to the Brazilian community,” said the minister, who was greeted with applause by doctors and guests.

The minister also said that the hospital has been helping in the areas of professional training and relations with public healthcare institutions. “Brazil is the world’s second leading country in donations of organs, and the Syrian-Lebanese is going to help us do more,” said Temporão.

The mayor of the city of São Paulo, Gilberto Kassab, also praised the hospital’s initiative. “The inauguration is in line with the wish that all Brazilians would have a hospital that sets the standard in terms of medical services,” he asserted.

“May it continue to move forward more and more as a reference center in the country and worldwide,” he said.

The governor of the state of São Paulo, José Serra, who also participated in the event, recalled, in his address, that the Syrian-Lebanese has pioneered in several activities, including robotic surgery, digital mammographies and fourth dimension radiotherapy, among others.

Serra also made a joke regarding the health of Mrs. Violeta Jafet, daughter of the founder of the Women’s Beneficent Society, who is now 100 years old. “Here, we have the proof that the Syrian-Lebanese Hospital brings health. It is Mrs. Violeta Jafet.”

Serra, together with Lula, Temporão and Kalil uncovered the board of the Cardiology Center. Apart from them, the ceremony also included the presence of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade minister Miguel Jorge, of Chief of Staff Dilma Roussef, of the vice president of the Republic, José Alencar, of the president of the Lower House, Arlindo Chinaglia, of the president of the Beneficent Society of Ladies of the Syrian-Lebanese Hospital, Ivete Riskallah, and of first lady Marisa Letícia Lula da Silva.

In the audience were the Foreign Trade vice president at the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce, Salim Shahin, the consul general of Syria, Gazi Dib, the consul general of Lebanon, Joseph Sayahd, senator Romeu Tuma and state representative Paulo Maluf, among others.

The establishment of the Cardiology Center represents an evolution in infrastructure of the Cardiology Nucleus at the Syrian-Lebanese Hospital, established in 2006, with the objective of providing global services to cardiac patients, as well as promoting development and knowledge research on new techniques for prevention and treatment of cardiac health.

Cardiovascular diseases are the main cause of death in the world and in Brazil, according to figures supplied by the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organizations (WHO).

According to Kalil, the center’s goal is to become an international reference in cardiac health and a model of social transformation in Brazil.


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written by bo, December 08, 2008

“Having, here in São Paulo, a hospital of the caliber of the Syrian-Lebanese, inaugurating a cardiology center, which may rank among the most

December 14th, 2008, 2:10 am


norman said:

Advice to Obama,

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Beyond Iraq
A New U.S. Strategy for the Middle East
By Richard N. Haass and Martin Indyk

From Foreign Affairs , January/February 2009

Summary: To be successful in the Middle East, the Obama administration will need to move beyond Iraq, find ways to deal constructively with Iran, and forge a final-status Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

Richard N. Haass is President of the Council on Foreign Relations. Martin Indyk is Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. This essay is adapted from a CFR-Saban Center project drawing on the contributions of experts at both institutions and published as Restoring the Balance: A Middle East Strategy for the Next President.

On taking office, U.S. President Barack Obama will face a series of critical, complex, and interrelated challenges in the Middle East demanding urgent attention: an Iraq experiencing a fragile lull in violence that is nonetheless straining the U.S. military, an Iran approaching the nuclear threshold, a faltering Israeli-Palestinian peace process, weak governments in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories challenged by strong militant Islamist groups, and a U.S. position weakened by years of failure and drift. He will also discover that time is working against him.

For six years, U.S. policy in the Middle East has been dominated by Iraq. This need not, and should not, continue. The Obama administration will be able to gradually reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, limit their combat role, and increasingly shift responsibility to Iraqi forces. The drawdown will have to be executed carefully and deliberately, however, so as not to risk undoing recent progress.

The improved situation in Iraq will allow the new administration to shift its focus to Iran, where the clock is ticking on a dangerous and destabilizing nuclear program. Obama should offer direct official engagement with the Iranian government, without preconditions, along with other incentives in an attempt to turn Tehran away from developing the capacity to rapidly produce substantial amounts of nuclear-weapons-grade fuel. At the same time, he should lay the groundwork for an international effort to impose harsher sanctions on Iran if it proves unwilling to change course.

Preventive military action against Iran by either the United States or Israel is an unattractive option, given its risks and costs. But it needs to be examined carefully as a last-ditch alternative to the dangers of living with an Iranian bomb. To increase Israel’s tolerance for extended diplomatic engagement, the U.S. government should bolster Israel’s deterrent capabilities by providing an enhanced anti-ballistic-missile defense capability and a nuclear guarantee.

The U.S. president should also spend capital trying to promote peace agreements between Israel and its Arab neighbors, in particular Syria. Damascus is currently allied with Tehran, and an Israeli-Syrian deal would weaken Iran’s regional influence, reduce external support for Hamas and Hezbollah, and improve the prospects for stability in Lebanon. On the Israeli-Palestinian front, there is an urgent need for a diplomatic effort to achieve a two-state solution while it is still feasible. Although divisions on both sides and the questionable ability of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to control any newly acquired territory make a sustainable peace agreement unlikely for the moment, these factors argue not for abandoning the issue but rather for devoting substantial time and effort now to creating the conditions that would help diplomacy succeed later. What all these initiatives have in common is a renewed emphasis on diplomacy as a tool of U.S. national security policy, since the United States can no longer achieve its objectives without the backing of its regional allies as well as China, Europe, and Russia.

Some might argue that these efforts are not worth it, that the Bush administration paid too much attention to and invested too much American blood and treasure in an ill-advised attempt to transform the Middle East and that the Obama administration should focus its attention at home or elsewhere abroad. But such arguments underestimate the Middle East’s ability to force itself onto the U.S. president’s agenda regardless of other plans. Put simply, what happens in the Middle East will not stay in the Middle East. From terrorism to nuclear proliferation to energy security, managing contemporary global challenges requires managing the Middle East.


Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States has been the dominant power in the Middle East. But in recent years, its influence there has diminished thanks to the failure to achieve a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the protracted war in Iraq, and a lack of success in democratizing Arab authoritarian regimes. For almost a decade, the United States has done little to address the region’s principal conflicts and concerns while developing a reputation for arrogance and double standards.

This reduced regional influence has been reinforced by a broader decline in the relative position of the United States in the world at large. The Bush administration has succeeded in raising serious doubts about U.S. competence and intentions, doubts that have been exacerbated by the global financial crisis. The United States seems unable to deliver on many of its promises and often to make matters worse when it tries.

Nevertheless, the vast majority of Middle Eastern states still look to the United States as the ultimate guarantor of their security and the power most able to help them achieve their objectives. Many people in the region still admire and identify with American values, and Obama’s election victory will do much to remind them why. His ability to gain their respect will be vital to convincing the publics in the Arab and Muslim worlds to support their leaders in working with the United States.

The Obama administration should take advantage of the willingness of regional and global powers to work with the United States by renewing Washington’s commitment to diplomacy. Such a renewed commitment was already noticeable during the last years of the Bush administration, when U.S. diplomats participated in a series of multilateral efforts to engage Iran and North Korea, rebuild the United States’ transatlantic relationships, and promote Israeli-Palestinian peace. But for such efforts to be truly effective, the Obama administration’s diplomats will need even more support.

They will also need a plan for reshaping the strategic context in the Middle East. Counterterrorism should be an integral part of U.S. Middle East strategy, but it no longer need be the driver of that policy. The Obama administration should focus on strengthening local capacities to fight terrorism, preventing the reemergence of al Qaeda in Iraq, and bolstering institutions in failing states where al Qaeda is trying to put down roots. The president himself should also send a clear message to the Muslim world that the United States is at war not with Islam but rather with small groups of violent extremists acting against the basic tenets of Islam.

The Bush administration gained some traction in the Arab world with the aggressive promotion of its “freedom agenda.” But its insistence on elections in Lebanon, Iraq, and the Palestinian territories enabled Islamist parties with militias to enter the political process and then paralyze it in each place. The Bush administration’s boycotting of Hamas after it freely and fairly won the Palestinian elections enabled the United States’ opponents in the Arab and Muslim worlds to raise the banner of double standards. And President George W. Bush’s backing away from his public demands that the Egyptian and Saudi governments open up their countries’ political spaces undermined the credibility of his democratization enterprise.

Rather than abandoning the effort entirely, the Obama administration should strike a more sustainable balance between U.S. interests and U.S. values. Authoritarian regimes that are repressive and largely unresponsive to their populations’ legitimate needs have set in motion a dynamic in which opposition has gathered primarily in the mosque. This trend needs to be reversed. The answer is not early elections, especially not when parties with militias contest them. Rather, a gradual, evolutionary process of liberalization should be promoted, one that emphasizes the building of civil society, the opening up of political space, and the strengthening of democratic values, including the rule of law, judicial independence, freedom of the press and association, women’s rights, and government transparency. Above all, the United States needs to focus on supporting efforts to provide a vast and growing young generation in the region with hope for the future and reason to resist the dark visions purveyed by religious extremists.

The dependence of the U.S. economy on oil is a key reason that the United States worries so much about the problems of the Middle East in the first place, and U.S. oil consumption also helps extremists in Iran and elsewhere. Had gasoline prices remained high, many Americans may well have changed their habits. But now that oil prices have declined dramatically, so will the perceived urgency of the problem; the Obama administration will therefore need to redouble efforts to increase energy efficiency, reduce consumption, and promote alternative energy sources. These policies would further diminish the demand for oil, slow the pace of climate change, and reduce the transfer of wealth to countries such as Iran, Russia, and Venezuela. It is no coincidence that when the price of oil was $10 a barrel, in the 1990s, Iran’s leaders were far more circumspect in their activities abroad than they have been in this decade of high prices. Now that oil prices have dropped again, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will no longer be able to fund foreign adventures while avoiding the domestic political consequences of his mismanagement of the Iranian economy. The lesson is clear: reducing oil consumption can alter the strategic environment in the Middle East; energy policy is foreign policy.

One of the most important steps the Obama administration can take is to extend Washington’s vision beyond Iraq. The “surge” in U.S. troops, and arguably even more a change in U.S. tactics and the willingness of Sunni and Shiite leaders to establish and maintain order in their communities, has created an opening for the United States to devote attention to other regional issues. Sectarian violence in the country has been effectively suppressed, and al Qaeda in Iraq has been radically weakened. But the situation remains fragile, and the need to pursue a host of second-order tasks should preclude more than modest reductions in U.S. combat and support forces in Iraq through 2009. By mid-2010, however, the Obama administration should be able to reduce U.S. forces significantly, perhaps to half their pre-surge levels. This would be consistent with the accord governing the U.S. troop presence that is currently being negotiated by U.S. and Iraqi officials. In the meantime, the highest political priorities will be ensuring communal reconciliation and an equitable sharing of oil revenues. Diplomatically, as reconciliation gains traction, Iraq’s Sunni Arab neighbors will have to be persuaded to work with Baghdad’s Shiite-led government.

The timing and pace of the drawdown will be critical: too rapid a reduction could regenerate instability and create opportunities for Iran and al Qaeda, whereas too slow a reduction would leave U.S. forces tied down in Iraq and unavailable for other tasks. Still, a well-executed drawdown of U.S. troops should enable Obama to make clear to Iraq’s leaders and neighbors that he is shifting responsibility to their shoulders while demonstrating to the American people that their country’s involvement in the Iraq war is coming to an end. Implemented gradually, a drawdown of U.S. troops should not raise questions about Washington’s reliability given all that the United States has done over the past two years to bolster Iraq’s stability and normalize life for its citizens.


At the same time, the Obama administration needs to turn its attention toward Iran. The Bush administration succeeded in ousting the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, but in the process it removed Tehran’s most threatening enemies and inadvertently opened the door to an Iranian bid for regional primacy. Arab governments feel they are seeing a historical replay of Persian efforts to dominate their region and fear that newly empowered Shiite communities in Iraq and Lebanon, backed by Iran, will inspire long-suppressed Shiite communities in other countries in the region, such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Israel, Turkey, and Arab regional powers see Iran embarking on an aggressive effort to acquire a nuclear capability that the international community seems powerless to stop. And in the war of ideas, Iran and its proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah, have made some headway with the argument that violent radicalism is the way to liberate Palestine and achieve dignity and justice for Arabs and Muslims.

At the same time, Iran’s challenge has led other actors in the region to begin to work together and look to the United States for help. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have grown deeply disillusioned with U.S. leadership but would welcome an effective U.S. role. Even Syria, Iran’s ally, has launched peace negotiations with Israel partly to improve its relations with Washington and partly to avoid being stuck on the Shiite side of the emerging Sunni-Shiite divide. If the Obama administration could show that there are real payoffs for moderation, reconciliation, negotiation, and political and economic reform, it would recoup considerable U.S. influence throughout the region.

Should Tehran’s uranium-enrichment efforts proceed at their current pace, during Obama’s first year in office or soon after, Iran may have stockpiled enough low-enriched uranium to produce weapons-grade material for at least one nuclear bomb. Iran would likely still be another year or two away from having a more extensive nuclear weapons capability. But once it has the potential to produce large amounts of weapons-grade fuel, it will essentially have crossed the nuclear threshold and forced all its neighbors, as well as the United States, to change their security calculations.

Israel, which has maintained a nuclear monopoly in the region through preventive military strikes on Iraq and Syria, will be sorely tempted to do the same with Iran. If Israel does strike, Iranian retaliation could spark a war in Lebanon, closure of the Strait of Hormuz, dramatic increases in the price of oil, and attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. If Israel does not strike, the two countries will be on hair-trigger alert with a high potential for miscalculation.

Meanwhile, other countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, will likely accelerate their own nuclear programs. Once it has a nuclear deterrent, Iran may feel emboldened to step up efforts at subversion across the region. Tehran would also have the potential to provide nuclear materials (to serve as the core of a “dirty bomb”) or even a crude fission device to one of the terrorist organizations it supports.

These adverse consequences make it critical for the Obama administration to reach an early understanding with other leading powers about the need to cap Iran’s nuclear advance. Unfortunately, recruiting Russia has become an even greater challenge since its use of force in Georgia in August 2008. Moscow may be tempted to revert to its Cold War approach of backing destabilizing actors in the Middle East with military support and diplomatic protection. It may not be possible to prevent Russia from playing such a spoiler role, but it is at least worth testing whether Moscow is willing to act constructively in the Middle East.

Of course, getting Russia to support what the United States regards as its vital interests in the Middle East may require tradeoffs on issues that Moscow considers vital. The Obama administration will thus need to decide what its priorities are in the U.S.-Russian relationship. Although Washington cannot abandon treaty commitments it has made to eastern European states or sacrifice the independence of Georgia or Ukraine, it could offer various incentives to secure increased Russian cooperation on Iran — such as U.S. support for Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization, U.S. restraint on ballistic missile defense installations in Europe, a slowdown in the pace of NATO enlargement, or financially lucrative arrangements such as a possible Russian nuclear fuel bank or Russian involvement in an international nuclear-fuel-enrichment consortium.

Enlisting Russia’s support for a common approach toward Iran would, in turn, make it easier to bring China on board. Beijing will not want to be left outside an international consensus. China’s interest in the free flow of oil from the Persian Gulf is growing alongside its energy requirements. Nevertheless, Beijing currently prefers to pursue its commercial interests with Iran rather than increase economic pressure on it. The challenge for the Obama administration will be to make Chinese leaders understand that a crisis with Iran will have adverse consequences for China’s economy and, as a result, the country’s political stability.


To alter Iran’s behavior, particularly on the nuclear issue, the Obama administration should engage the Iranian government directly. Why? Because the alternatives are even less promising. Containment and sanctions have failed to change Iran’s course. A preventive military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would at best delay its nuclear program for a few years while exposing Israel and U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq to retaliation. And there is no realistic prospect of toppling the Iranian regime, either through military action or through support of an internal uprising. There are no guarantees that trying to engage the Iranian government more constructively would yield better results than current policy has. But a sincere attempt that failed would at least reinforce the case for then resorting to more hard-line options, in the eyes of both the American public and the international community.

Any U.S. initiative toward Iran will be complicated, if only because of the wide range of interests involved. That challenge will be increased by the dysfunctional nature of Tehran’s decision-making and the regime’s desire to advance both Iran’s national interests and the interests of its Islamic Revolution. The Iranian state is capable of realism and compromise, but the revolution views the United States as “the Great Satan.” In the past, when forced to choose, Iran’s leaders have been prepared to put the state above the revolution. The Obama administration should thus try to find a way to address Iran’s legitimate state interests while adamantly opposing its revolutionary impulses.

An Iran initiative should aim at direct U.S.-Iranian negotiations focused on bringing Iran into a new regional order and persuading it to engage its neighbors responsibly while promoting its influence by peaceful means rather than through confrontation, subversion, and nuclear proliferation. Success will be extraordinarily difficult to achieve, and the United States will need leverage to make even modest progress. The carrots of reduced sanctions, security guarantees, and normalized relations with the United States and the international community will be important, as will be the stick of potentially increased sanctions (including more stringent financial sanctions and a ban on Iranian imports of gasoline).

Before the Obama administration embarks on such an effort, however, it will need to secure Arab, Israeli, and Turkish backing. Egypt, Jordan, and the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council fear that their interests will be sacrificed on the altar of a U.S.-Iranian détente. To allay these fears, Washington needs to treat these countries as full partners in its initiative, consulting with them regularly and offering them a nuclear guarantee in the event the attempt to limit Iran’s nuclear programs does not succeed.

Israel is well aware of the drawbacks of a preventive military strike against Iran, especially if it has to act on its own. It prefers to support a diplomatic effort that would prevent Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold, even though it is wary of Iran’s dilatory tactics. And it, too, sees the advantage of peacemaking, especially with Syria, as a means of acquiring leverage over Iran. Nevertheless, Jerusalem’s tolerance for engagement is more limited than Washington’s because it has a less robust deterrent and greater reason to fear Tehran’s intentions. Israel has never been prepared to accept another nuclear power in its neighborhood, especially not one that directly threatens its existence: given Israel’s small size and concentrated population, a first strike by Iran on any scale would have devastating consequences.

To allow more time for diplomatic engagement to work, therefore, the Obama administration will have to persuade Israel not to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities while U.S.-led diplomatic efforts are unfolding. That will require enhancing Israel’s deterrent and defensive capabilities by providing it with a nuclear guarantee as well as additional ballistic missile defenses and early warning systems. Simultaneously providing nuclear guarantees against Iran to both Arab and Israeli allies will be a serious undertaking for Washington, but it may be the only way of preventing Iran’s nuclear program from triggering a regional arms race.

The first step of a new U.S. initiative toward Iran should be to lead U.S.-Iranian negotiations in a multilateral framework. The model should be the current six-party talks, in which several regional players participate and provide the umbrella for direct U.S.-North Korean engagement.

Second, Washington should abandon its demand that Iran suspend its enrichment program as a precondition for formal negotiations. If Iran does suspend enrichment during the negotiations, the United Nations should suspend sanctions; if Iran does not, UN and multilateral sanctions should be intensified.

Third, Washington should be willing to discuss what Iran, as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, claims is its “right” to enrich. In the end, it may be necessary to acknowledge this right, provided that Iran agrees to limit its enrichment program under enhanced safeguards to keep it from developing a “breakout capability” — the capacity to produce significant amounts of weapons-grade uranium. However, this right must be earned by Iran, not conceded by the United States. Otherwise, Iran will pocket it and continue to insist on developing an industrial enrichment capacity, which would bring it unacceptably close to a bomb-making capability.

Finally, there should be parallel bilateral negotiations over the normalization of U.S.-Iranian relations, Iran’s sponsorship of Hamas and Hezbollah, its opposition to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and its role in Iraq. But the United States should not insist on linking these issues. Instead, some incentives should be tied only to Iran’s behavior in the nuclear realm; others could be made contingent on its overall behavior.

The details of these initiatives should be publicized so that Iranians and Americans are aware of them. Such transparency would require the Iranian government to defend its negotiating positions with domestic constituencies, and it would help the U.S. government mobilize support at home and abroad should more pressure become necessary.

The option of a military response — launched by either the United States or Israel — needs to remain in the background precisely because without one, Tehran might see a diplomatic initiative by a new, young U.S. president as an opportunity to play out the clock until Iran can cross the nuclear threshold. If the Iranian government proves unwilling to negotiate directly with the United States and suspend its uranium-enrichment program in the process, Obama will be faced with a difficult choice in his first term. Before making a decision on whether to attack Iran, the U.S. government should use private channels to notify Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, of the dangers he will be courting for his country and his regime if he continues down the nuclear path in defiance of the international community. Likewise, the United States will need to issue a statement making absolutely clear that any use or transfer of nuclear weapons or nuclear materials by Iran will have devastating consequences.

Because time is of the essence, Obama should not delay this initiative until the June 2009 presidential election in Iran in the hope that a more reasonable leadership will emerge. Previous U.S. attempts to play on internal political dynamics in Iran have all proved counterproductive; the United States simply lacks the knowledge and the guile to do so effectively. The point of offering to engage directly with Tehran is to establish an effective channel of communication with the government of Iran, not with any particular faction within it.


Launching an Arab-Israeli peace initiative at the same time would also help get Iran’s attention. Progress on peacemaking, especially on the Syrian track, would cause concern in Tehran that its bid for regional primacy was failing at the same time as the price of oil — that other indicator of its national strength — is rapidly declining.

Syria is the principal conduit for Iran’s influence in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. Israeli-Syrian negotiations threaten to sever these ties. Drawing Syria away from Iran would also deprive Tehran and its Hamas and Hezbollah proxies of a critical ally. Such a strategic realignment would weaken Iran’s influence in the region, reduce external support for both Hamas and Hezbollah, and improve the prospects for stability in Lebanon.

In the past, Iran has seen progress in the Arab-Israeli arena as aimed at isolating it and has successfully used its proxies to provoke havoc and subvert reconciliation. It will probably try to do so again. But this time, the Iranian leadership would at least have the option of going along since the U.S. president would be pursuing peace at the same time as he was offering Tehran an alternative path, one that accommodated its legitimate national interests and security concerns if it chose to engage with the United States.

Negotiating peace with Syria should be less complicated than resolving the Palestinian problem. The Israelis have little doubt that the Syrian government would be capable of fulfilling its part of a deal. The outgoing prime minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, has reportedly offered Syrian President Bashar al-Assad full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, and the leaders of Israel’s two other major parties — Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak — both made a similar offer to Assad’s father when they led Israel during the 1990s. Indeed, most of the substantive issues between Israel and Syria were resolved by early 2000, under the Clinton administration.

In the past, the Israelis sought to trade the Golan Heights for peace but doubted the depth of Syria’s commitment to normalizing relations. Today the stakes are different: facing a serious threat from Iran, the Israelis are more interested in Syria’s strategic realignment. If Assad proves willing to make that shift, it would deal a serious blow to Iran’s interference on Israel’s northern and southern borders, providing a strategic dividend to replace the devalued peace dividend that the Israelis used to hope for.

Turkey, a NATO ally that borders Iran, Iraq, and Syria and maintains a long-standing strategic relationship with Israel, can also play a central role in this process. Turkey’s current government — led by the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party — has earned Turkey greater credibility in the Arab world. The Turkish government has taken advantage of this to step into the breach left by the Bush administration’s refusal to deal with Syria, successfully brokering indirect negotiations between Damascus and Jerusalem. It has also contributed to the international peacekeeping forces in Lebanon and is willing to participate if similar forces are required in Gaza or the West Bank. Obama should therefore offer to partner with Turkey in promoting Israeli-Syrian peace and dealing effectively with the challenge from Iran.

A U.S.-brokered peace between Israel and Syria would remove Damascus as an enemy and, in the process, likely cause the breakup of the Iranian-Syrian alliance. But that can happen only if the Obama administration is involved in the negotiations, since Syria will not abandon its strategic relationship with Iran unless it knows that normalized relations with the United States are in the offing. A willingness to turn a new page in U.S.-Syrian relations would give Obama greater ability to persuade Syria to respect Lebanon’s independence and police its border with Iraq more effectively. A U.S.-sponsored Israeli-Syrian negotiation would also help alter the dynamics of the other major peacemaking effort Obama should undertake.


The plight of the Palestinians remains a sensitive issue across the Arab and Muslim worlds. The situation has been exploited by the Iranians to advance their otherwise implausible claim to leadership in the broader Middle East and to bolster their argument that violence and terrorism are the way to liberate Palestine, a position that undermines those Arab leaders who would work with the United States to try to resolve the problem by engaging with Israel.

The Bush administration’s neglect of this issue has cost the United States dearly in the region, something that President Bush himself belatedly recognized by launching the Annapolis peace process in 2007. Some still argue that it is a mistake to focus on this matter because few leaders in the region really care about it and a final-status agreement will not resolve the region’s more pressing problems. But this argument ignores the opinions of a majority of Israelis who have come to see the occupation as a dangerous burden and of millions of Arabs and Muslims who see the Palestinian issue as a symbol of their own humiliation. Moreover, failure to resolve this issue allows Arab leaders to divert public scrutiny from their own failings.

Obama should take advantage of the framework created by the Annapolis process on four interrelated levels. First, the negotiations should be resumed and the understanding preserved that a final-status agreement should be reached as quickly as possible, while allowing its implementation to take place in phases. Although the gaps have been narrowed on several critical issues — borders, refugees, and Jerusalem — the United States will have to help bridge differences between the parties. Given how much time the two sides have already spent negotiating, U.S. solutions should be proposed — but not imposed — sooner rather than later. To encourage progress, it may also be necessary for Obama to outline in some detail his views of the principles underlying a final settlement.

Second, the Obama administration should encourage the Palestinians to honor their commitment to fight terrorism and encourage the Israelis to honor their commitment to freeze settlement activity. Both sides took partial steps toward fulfilling these pledges under the road map for a two-state solution proposed by the Quartet (the European Union, the UN, the United States, and Russia). The PA has deployed Jordanian-trained police in West Bank cities to maintain order. But greater funding and accelerated training are required to give Palestinian forces the ability to act against terrorist groups and gangs that are still pursuing anti-Israeli violence. Because this process will inevitably take time, the new president should also lay the groundwork for deploying international forces (preferably Arab, Muslim, or both) as part of a final-status agreement, to partner with the Palestinian forces until they can police their own territory.

When it comes to settlement activity, the Olmert government reduced new construction beyond the security barrier, but it also gave permission for the construction of thousands of new housing units inside existing settlement blocs and in greater Jerusalem, evoking an outcry from the Palestinians and Arab leaders. Obama will need to seek an understanding with the next Israeli prime minister that all settlement activity will be frozen for a certain time period (say, six to 12 months) while negotiators finalize the borders of a Palestinian state. Once an agreement on borders is reached, settlement activity could resume, but only in the agreed settlement blocs that would be formally annexed to Israel after the other final-status issues have been resolved.

Third, Obama should help improve conditions in the West Bank by providing increased aid and backing efforts to ease the flow of goods and people. Salam Fayyad, prime minister of the PA, and Tony Blair, the Quartet’s special envoy, have begun to kick-start local economic projects and remove some strategic checkpoints. It is important that they receive cooperation from Israel and funding from the Arab states.

Fourth, Obama should seek the active involvement of Arab states in the process. Following in Saudi Arabia’s footsteps, the 21 other members of the Arab League have offered to sign peace agreements and normalize relations with Israel, provided that Israel withdraws to the pre-June 1967 borders and agrees to the creation of a Palestinian state. The lack of visible progress in the negotiations, however, combined with Israel’s settlement activity, has soured them on the Annapolis process. Gaining the renewed involvement of the Arab states will be easier if they see that negotiations are progressing and that settlement activity is being halted. They need to be pressed to fulfill their financial pledges to the PA and to engage more visibly with Israel throughout the process, not just at the end.

Obama will have to decide what to do about the conundrum posed by Hamas, which won the Palestinian elections in January 2006 and then took control of Gaza through a military putsch in June 2007. Hamas rejects both Israel’s right to exist and the agreements the Palestinians have already entered into with Israel. It also advocates and practices violence and terrorism (which it calls “resistance”) against Israel. Nonetheless, given Hamas’ control of Gaza and its support among at least one-third of Palestinians, a peace process that excludes it could well fail.

The way out of this dilemma is to make it clear that Hamas, and not the United States, is responsible for the Gazans’ fate. As the governors of Gaza, Hamas’ leaders should have to choose between launching rocket, mortar, and terrorist attacks on southern Israeli towns and meeting Palestinians’ needs by establishing order and taking the steps necessary to attract aid (including ending the use of tunnels for arms smuggling and returning the Israeli hostage Gilad Shalit). The cease-fire agreement that Egypt negotiated is holding for the moment precisely because the Hamas leadership has effectively policed it, choosing to place the needs of Gazans ahead of Hamas’ interest in “resistance.”

The United States should encourage such developments but leave it to Egypt, Israel, and the PA to handle their relationships with Hamas. If the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas continues to hold and a Hamas-PA reconciliation emerges, the Obama administration should deal with the joint Palestinian leadership and authorize low-level contact between U.S. officials and Hamas in Gaza. If the cease-fire breaks down irreparably and the Israeli army reenters Gaza, the United States should then work with others to create and insert an Arab-led international force to restore PA control and bring about Israel’s withdrawal. Obviously, it would be highly desirable to avoid such a scenario. One way to do this would be to ensure the kind of progress in the negotiations that would create a dynamic in which Hamas feels pressured by Gazans not to miss the peace train that is beginning to move in the West Bank.


For these initiatives to succeed, Obama must make them a personal priority. The secretary of state will have to take the lead in the diplomatic effort, but because this ambitious Middle East agenda will require intensive engagement with many parties, all conducted simultaneously, Obama should appoint special envoys to manage both the Iran and the Arab-Israeli initiatives, with each reporting to the president through the secretary of state.

The pace of the negotiations cannot be dictated by Washington, but in certain areas time is of the essence. The Iran initiative, for example, needs to be launched as soon as possible because of the urgent need to stop Iran’s enrichment program before Iran achieves a breakout capability. Time is short for the Israeli-Palestinian initiative as well, because Israeli and Palestinian support for a two-state solution is evaporating. It will be difficult to reach an Israeli-Palestinian accord, and even if one is agreed on, it could only be implemented in phases. An Israeli-Syrian agreement, by contrast, could be achieved more quickly. All three efforts should be pursued simultaneously, in any case, because progress on one will help generate progress on the others.

Renewing diplomacy in the Middle East will be a tall order for Obama. That will be especially true because the Middle East is bound to have some unwelcome surprises in store for him. Only an integrated strategy — one that anticipates the consequences of action in one arena for what the United States is trying to achieve in others and that can be kept on course despite the inevitable distractions — stands a chance of success.

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December 14th, 2008, 2:21 am


On the Syrian economy « The Blog and the Shower said:

[…] 14, 2008 at 6:46 am (Uncategorized) Analyst Joshua Landis’s post highlighting recent reports on the Syrian economy is characteristically detailed, but I think his […]

December 14th, 2008, 1:46 pm


MSK* said:

Dear all,

This interview with Andrew Tabler, former editor-in-chief of Syria Today could’ve been much, much better done (& I don’t understand why NOWLeb didn’t use a better journalist to conduct it) but it’s still quite interesting and useful.

Tabler is now going to WINEP although, as he himself once said, he was a bit surprised that they’d choose him seeing how he’s anything but a neo-con.

Talking To: Andrew Tabler

What are your reflections on the Arab world as you leave after 14 years of being deeply involved in the region?

I come from the countryside in the United States… I came here knowing only about the Arab world from books. I did not speak Arabic, although I read a little bit. The one thing I learned… is that [Arabs] are a lot like Americans, especially from the countryside: very nice, personally very warm. On the surface, we’re very, very similar. But there are fundamental differences. The Arab world is badly ruled. Its rulers are not accountable to their people, and they often make very bad decisions.

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December 14th, 2008, 2:50 pm


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