End of Arab Cold War Makes Syria Man in the Middle

As Mubarak meets with Larjani in an effort to mediate between Iran and the Arabs, we see the continuing shift away from confrontation in the region. The Arab Cold War, exacerbated by the US invasion of Iraq and Bush’s attempt to turn “moderate” against “radical” Arab, is petering out. Saad Hariri’s trip to Damascus was one chapter in the reconciliation process that has seen Assad and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia mend fences. Now Egypt is mending relations with the radicals even as it helps Israel and the US contain the Palestinians in Gaza by building a steel wall along its border.  Washington’s effort to build Saudi Arabia into a Middle East leader which could rally the region to take on Iran was short lived. Turkey has stepped into the breach to assume leadership  in what some pundits are labeling its “Neo-Ottoman” foreign policy. The collapse of Iraq has also catapulted Syria into a larger regional role. Not only is it the only transit route between North and South, but it also has a stable government in a region of instability. Syria’s improving relations with Turkey have also exalted its standing. As Erdoghan said this week,  he hopes that Turko-Syrian relations will become a model for cooperation to be copied throughout the region.

The Leveretts on new Middle East Cold War at the RFI

On Sunday, the Speaker of the Iranian majlis (parliament), Ali Larijani, met for two hours with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo. Ostensibly, Larijani was in Egypt to attend a meeting of the Parliamentary Union of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which includes Turkey, Kuwait, Niger, Azerbaijan, and Uganda in addition to Egypt and Iran. Larijani publicly described his meeting with Mubarak as “very good and constructive”, and official Egyptian and Iranian media reported that the two men discussed bilateral relations and regional issues of mutual concern. After meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit, Larijani declared Iran’s support for Palestinian unity and, following a meeting with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, noted that “relations between the two countries could be a great help for creation of peace and security in the region”.

Larijani’s meeting with Mubarak was unusual; among other reasons, Larijani is not a head of state or government. More broadly, Larijani’s high-level reception was striking because Egypt and the Islamic Republic have yet to restore diplomatic ties since Cairo cut them off in 1980 and Egyptian-Iranian relations were recently strained by the 2008-09 conflict in Gaza. The potential significance of Larijani’s visit was highlighted today when Mubarak—who, at this point in his career, travels abroad infrequently—set out on a previously unannounced tour of several Gulf Arab states. An unnamed Egyptian official told the Associated Press that the Iranian had presented a “new proposal” to improve relations with Arab states and that Mubarak was traveling to discuss it with his Gulf Arab allies.

Larijani’s discussions in Cairo and Mubarak’s swing through the Gulf need to be understood through at least two analytic “prisms”: the first is the increasingly polarized strategic environment in the Middle East, and the second is growing concern among America’s traditional Arab allies about the ability of the Obama Administration to “deliver” in dealing with key regional challenges. Broadly speaking, the Middle East today is deeply divided between two camps—a reality that some commentators, borrowing a phrase from the late Malcolm Kerr, describe as a new regional “Cold War”.

On one side of this divide are those states willing to work in various forms of strategic partnership with the United States, with an implied acceptance of American hegemony over the region. This camp includes Israel, those Arab states that have made peace with Israel (Egypt and Jordan), and other so-called moderate Arab states (e.g., Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council).

On the other side of this divide are those Middle Eastern states and non-state actors that are unwilling to legitimize American (and, some in this camp would say, Israeli) hegemony over the region. The Islamic Republic of Iran has emerged in recent years as the de facto leader of this camp, which also includes Syria and prominent non-state actors such as HAMAS and Hizballah. Notwithstanding its close security ties to the United States, Qatar has also aligned itself with the “resistance” camp on some issues in recent years. And, notwithstanding Turkey’s longstanding membership in NATO and ongoing European “vocation”, the rise of the Justice Development Party and declining military involvement in Turkish politics have prompted an intensification of Ankara’s diplomatic engagement in the Middle East, in ways that give additional strategic options to various actors in the “resistance” camp.

While the “pro-American” camp retains considerable resources and influence, the “resistance” camp has made impressive strategic gains since the turn of the millennium—in no small part, because of the George W. Bush Administration’s strategically counterproductive approach to the region. Against this backdrop, the “pro-American” camp clearly hoped that President Obama would re-legitimate America’s leadership role in the Middle East and deal effectively with the region’s most pressing strategic challenges—with the Palestinian issue and Iran at the top of that list. But, as we have met with senior diplomats and officials from the “pro-American” camp in recent weeks, we have been struck by the accelerating pace at which our interlocutors’ concern about the direction of the Obama Administration’s Middle East policies is mounting. They are becoming increasingly dubious that President Obama will “deliver” in the Middle East—on Palestine, on Iran, in Afghanistan, and on other important regional issues.

It is in this context that Larijani’s visit to Cairo and Mubarak’s subsequent departure for the Gulf take on special significance. As the Islamic Republic prepares for an intensification in its longstanding “Cold War” struggle with the United States and Israel—and a corresponding rise in the risks of eventual military attacks against Iranian interests—Tehran has a clear interest in trying to bolster regional “solidarity” with America’s traditional Arab allies. But America’s traditional Arab allies, such as Egypt, have an even more compelling interest in improving relations with Tehran, to reduce the odds of U.S. (or Israeli) military confrontation with Iran, minimize perceived Iranian threats to their interests, and mitigate the domestic and regional backlash that would ensue if these states were somehow implicated in a U.S. and/or Israeli military campaign against the Islamic Republic.

Syria 2009” –  excellent review DPA

2009.. عام “انحسار” العزلة وعودة كبار الزائرين إلى دمشق

More assessment of the Hariri visit:

IDAF writes:in al- Akhbar – Interesting details of the Hariri-Asad meeting: Hariri spent 22 hours in Damascus and met privately with Asad for more than 8 hours during. The two guys should be friends by now!

Al-Diyar Newspaper: Asad to visit Beirut next month after Mo’allem

Also in al-Akhbar: Syria’s unprecedented welcome for Hariri is explained here as Syria’s need to fortify Hariri’s Sunni “Za’im” credentials in Lebanon (to counter growing Sunni radicalism in Lebanon):

رهانا دمشق في المرحلة المقبلة: الحريري وعون

يكاد الرئيسان سعد الحريري وميشال عون يصبحان الرهانين الجدّيين الوحيدين الموثوق بهما لدى دمشق في المرحلة المقبلة. ومن خلالهما تريد مقاربة العلاقات السورية ـــــ اللبنانية. تريد استعادة الأول زعيماً لتيار سنّي كان في صلب حلفائها اللبنانيين حتى عام 2005.
وهي وإن تعرّفت إلى الحريري للمرة الأولى، فقد تمرّست طويلاً في نبض شارعه. على مرّ عقود العلاقات اللبنانية ـــــ السورية لزم الشارع السنّي الخيارات الإقليمية لدمشق. تريد أيضاً المحافظة على عون بعدما كان أعتى أعدائها، بنت معه تحالفاً سياسياً لا يخجل به الجنرال ولا يتفاداه. بذلك يكون الرئيس بشّار الأسد قد اختار توازناً جديداً للقوى بين الحريري وعون، يمثّل حزب الله والنائب سليمان فرنجيه جزءاً لا يتجزأ منه، لإدارة استقرار لبنان. استقبل الرجلين استقبالاً استثنائياً وعوّل على حرارة العلاقة الشخصية بكل منهما. ولكل منهما، في الموقف من سوريا، مشك!
لة مع جمهوره: الشارع السنّي يرفض دمشق بعد جريمة 2005، والشارع المسيحي لا يثق بنظامها

Firas Azmah writes:

For Hariri, the visit was necessary for two main reasons:

First, as Prime Minister of a national unity government with the support of the Lebanese Parliament, Hariri is no longer the leader of a Sunni political party, but the official representative of all Lebanese, half of whom do not share his heretofore-adversarial approach to Syria.

Secondly, and more importantly, under the Lebanese constitution, the Prime Minister is effectively the Chief Executive responsible for governing the country and delivering on the people’s agenda. After the Doha agreement and the arduous process of forming his own government, Hariri understood well that, Saudi sponsorship notwithstanding, he needs Damascus’ blessing and support to govern effectively in Beirut. Without such support, his premiership could turn into a grinding series of political battles over minutiae that will prevent him from achieving anything but stasis. The Siniora government of the last few years serves as a dim example.

To secure Damascus’ support, Hariri will have to commit to some core values that are key to Syria: Re-affirming Lebanon’s Arab identity, securing an unambiguous position vis-à-vis the conflict with Israel, supporting the resistance (i.e. Hezbollah) and committing to a distinguished relationship with Syria. From Syria’s perspective, all other issues may be negotiated.

On the Syrian side, after a period of critical evaluation of its pre-2005 management of the ‘Lebanese portfolio’, there seems to be a genuine interest, among the leadership in Damascus, in adopting a new, more institutional approach to managing the relationship with Lebanon, which could present an opportunity for Hariri.

Personally and politically, the visit represented a difficult climb-down for Saad Hariri. However, the visit could serve as the beginning of a personal reconciliation between Hariri and Assad, and consequently, of a political reconciliation between Syria and Lebanon’s Sunni community. Most importantly, harvested well, the visit could be a harbinger for a new type of a relationship between the two countries.

Regardless of how things play out, one thing was clear: After the acrimony of the last 5 years, in form and substance, Hariri’s visit to Damascus symbolized the return of Syria’s preeminence in Lebanon.

“Who will vaccinate Al-Hariri against the Maronite “Megalomania”?” (Al-Akhbar Lebanon) mideastwire.com

– “Kouchner: the Assad-Hariri meeting normal…” (Al-Hayat)

“The visit represents a positive development after the formation of a new government in Lebanon. It is only normal that the Syrian president and the new Lebanese prime minister be able to talk with each other and I even expect the prime minister to make another visit to Syria. Anyway, the meeting was a very positive, personal and private one between both leaders. I may be one of the few politicians who do not forget the past events but I can tell you that the meeting is without any doubt a positive development and we will see how things will go later on. After all, this meeting will not resolve the problems in the Middle East or the Israeli Palestinian confrontation or the Hezbollah problem but it is always better for the different parties to talk to each other.”

“Asked if France wanted to play a mediating role between Israel and Syria, Kouchner said that the problem between both parties was Hezbollah and its missiles which are threatening Israel. In regard to Syrian pressures to stop the funding of Terje Roed-Larsen’s mission in regard to United Nations Resolution 1559, Kouchner said that he had never heard of that problem before and that he did not think it was even possible.” – Al-Hayat, United Kingdom

Syria-US Relations: The Difficult Lessons of 1991 and the Peace Process
By Ahmed Salkini, Embassy in Washington

The National UAE: Economic downturn hits Syrian Christmas
2009-12-23 02:49:08.12 GMT

DAMASCUS // An economic downturn and fears over increasing Islamic radicalism have dampened this years festive atmosphere for Syrian Christians.In the week running up to Christmas Day, merchants in Christian majority sections of Damascus complained …

Turkey to invest 3.5 bln USD in railway construction in 2010

Efforts were also under way to complete international rail lines from Syria’s Aleppo to Sanliurfa in southeast Turkey and from Georgia’s Tbilisi to Kars in northeast Turkey, Karaman

Turkish PM Erdogan hails ties with Syria
December 23, 2009, Now Lebanon

During a speech in Damascus on Wednesday to Turkish and Syrian businessmen on Wednesday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan hailed his country’s fast expanding relations with Syria as model for its ties with other Arab countries.

“We are living through historic times. We are going to overcome all the obstacles and form with Syria a model for cooperation to be copied elsewhere,” Erdogan added.

He also said Turkey was working on expanding its relations with other Arab states, including Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. He said he hoped bilateral trade between Turkey and Syria would rise to $5 billion a year from $2 billion a year over the next three to four years. The improvement in relations between Turkey and Syria over the past

Dec. 23 (Xinhua) — Syria and Turkey on Wednesday signed 50 agreements and memorandum of understanding (MoU) and a work program for joint cooperation, as leaders of the two countries met and vowed to further enhance bilateral relations.

“The Syrian-Turkish relations have developed over the past few years, however we still have a long way to go,” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said at a joint press conference with visiting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“The fruits of our deep relations could be seen in all fields, which became a reality that anyone couldn’t ignore,” said Assad.

The agreements were signed at the end of the first meeting of the Turkey-Syria High Level Strategic Cooperation Council co-chaired by Erdogan and his Syrian counterpart Naji Otri, a mechanism launched during the Syrian president’s visit to Ankara in September.

After the visit, Syria and Turkey announced that the two countries have decided to cancel entry visa requirements of each other for their passport-holding citizens.

Erdogan said the first meeting of the High Level Strategic Cooperation Council is a historic day for relations between the two countries, adding that cooperation between Syria and Turkey made considerable progress in the fields of economy and trade.

He said canceling the entry visa requirements between the two countries and the Free Trade Zone agreement led to increasing trade exchange, adding “we will work to increase trade exchange incoming years to reach 5 billion U.S. dollars.”
The two leaders hailed that the “brotherly ties” between the two countries is an example to be followed.

Assad also reiterated his country’s readiness to participate in any peace talks if Israel shows real will to achieve just and comprehensive peace, saying that “Syria doesn’t need (French President) Nicolas Sarkozy to be the mediator of peace talks.”

The Turkish prime minister started his official visit to Syria on Tuesday evening, accompanied by a large ministerial delegation.

Hamas delegation heads to Syria for swap consult

A delegation of Hamas officials will head to Damascus Thursday to meet with the movement’s leaders in Damadcus around the latest Israeli response to ongoing negotiations for a prisoner swap deal.

An official in Hamas said the delegation would seek Damascus’ point of view on the offer, following meetings in Gaza as leaders discussed the information passed to them by a German mediator in the swap talks.

According to reports, the latest offer includes the release of all or most of the prisoners identified by Hamas, but demands that up to 100 of them, mostly Hamas and militant movement leaders, be deported from the West Bank to Gaza or other countries that do not border Israel.

Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahhar told Israel Radio that Hamas would need several days to collect an official response.

Zahhar said the German mediator left the Strip and returned to Europe, where he is awaiting Hamas’ response. Their answer will determine the mediators next move.

Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy on the prospects for peace with the Palestinians, and Iran, and why Israel is indestructible
by Yoni Goldstein on Wednesday, December 23, 2009 in Mcclean’s

Slow Travel
A Syria Roadtrip… Seriously?
By Frederick Deknatel December 13, 2009

Renewed Lebanese drug trade hikes Mideast tensions – AP

BAALBEK, Lebanon – Lebanon’s drug-producing heartland is back in business with a resurgence of marijuana and poppy fields, challenging the country’s underpowered security forces and adding another dimension to Israel’s war with Hezbollah militants….

ISRAEL: Good neighbors make fences
by Batsheva Sobelman – (Blog) December 23, 2009 – 12:00am

While Egypt’s steel barricade draws both ire and fire from Gaza, it isn’t the only neighbor fencing in its property. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to build a fence along the country’s border with Egypt. The border sprawls about 143 miles through sand-land and mountainous terrain, and with the exception of the official crossing at Taba, it is wide open. It is largely a peaceful area, but in recent years it has become increasingly exploited by a wide range of factors that are evolving into a real threat.

Postwar Gaza: Scars frozen, Mideast at an impasse

ATFP World Press Roundup Article from Associated Press
by Karin Laub – December 23, 2009 – 12:00am

Gaza’s scars have been frozen in place since Israel waged war a year ago to subdue Hamas and stop rockets from hitting its towns. Entire neighborhoods still lie in rubble, and traumatized residents can’t rebuild their lives. A man who lost two daughters and his home can’t visit his surviving 4-year-old girl in a Belgian hospital because Gaza’s borders remain sealed. A 15-year-old struggles to walk on her artificial limbs, while dozens of other war amputees still await prostheses.

Comments (46)

majedkhaldoun said:

comparison betwee Bashar and Saad’
Bashar is more educated,more experianced,much more aggressive,and it seems to me he is smarter than Saad, Bashar is Sultan(dictator)depends on intelligence,Saad was elected democraticaly,his hands tied with lebanon ethnic divisions,Bashar is Alawi which represent less than 10% of the population in Syria,Saad is Sunneh (70% of Syrian),Bashar wants from Saad to improve his relations with KSA and Egypt,Saad wants to improve trade with Syria,and security to the lebanese.
Saad has more friends among Arab leaders and the west than Bashar.
probably there are more points.

December 25th, 2009, 5:13 pm


offended said:


“Saad has more friends among Arab leaders and the west than Bashar.”

Should give you an idea about the eloquence and intelligence of arab leaders.

December 25th, 2009, 7:50 pm


norman said:

So What do you think Shai,


The Turkey-Syria model
The agreements that have been signed between Turkey and Syria inaugurate a new period for bilateral relations. These agreements on economic, cultural, social and strategic cooperation signify that despite remaining problems, these two countries have chosen to develop their relations to unprecedented levels.

This method seems like the European Union’s way of proceeding. Once countries establish a cooperative relationship in numerous areas, the old rivalries lose their significance, and the parties get the opportunity to resolve their problems through dialogue and peaceful means. This model is also working between Greece and Turkey to some extent, as these countries have managed not to engage in a war with each other, partially because they are both NATO members and because Turkey is an EU candidate country, a fact which also makes us say that if Turkey becomes an EU member, the Cyprus issue and the problems with Armenia will be resolved much more quickly.
The rapprochement with Syria, which is an extremely strategic country, is just a beginning, as Turkey intends to do the same with Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan. The Turkey-Syria model has two legs: First, Turkey wants to establish close bilateral relations with Middle Eastern countries. Through this network, Turkey will become some sort of coordinator in this region. However, these Middle Eastern countries have serious problems with each other. So the second leg of this model is to make sure that these develop similar close relationships with each other. Both legs of this model must be working simultaneously; if not the whole system will be deadlocked sooner or later.

As this model intends to create a stable area around Turkey, Israel’s major role must be mentioned, too, because every Middle Eastern problem is directly or indirectly related to Israel, and it’s no longer sustainable for Syria, Lebanon and Jordan or even for Iraq to continue with long-running problems with that country or even with Iran. All these countries must make their decisions on how to join the global system’s transformations and how to modify their domestic and international policies’ paradigms. Turkey had launched its own changes with the EU process, and Turkey’s transformation may accelerate the change of those around it. This is what the Turkey-Syria model envisages.

It is time for Israel to clarify its own choices. It’s obvious that the US “anchor” hasn’t helped Israel find permanent solutions to its domestic and foreign problems so far, and this country had to live in a security-state atmosphere surrounded by conflicts, despite being a generator of peace and democracy. Israel can easily take steps without damaging its relationship with the US. These steps may be directly about the Palestinians, but one should keep in mind that everything Israel does about the Palestinians determines Israel’s relations with other countries. That’s why expecting the resolution of the Palestinian problem first in order to proceed in other areas means waiting for many more years. To expect the US or some other actor’s intervention may also mean a long waiting period.

That’s why Israel has to make some choices quickly. If it doesn’t “integrate” the process of the Syria-Turkey model, its isolation will grow. But if Israel does join in, it will have to abandon its policy of conflict. Israel’s reticence may be explained by its fear of losing ground on the Palestinian problem. Nevertheless, it is already stuck on this issue, and the Turkey-Syria model may constitute a way out. But in order to achieve this, Israel has to change models and Turkey, mentality.


December 26th, 2009, 1:20 am


Henry said:

Syria’s Path to Islamist Terror
by Michael Rubin
Middle East Quarterly
Winter 2010


While the Obama administration and congressional leaders may justify renewed engagement with Syria with their desire to jumpstart the Middle East peace process, they ignore the very issue that lies at the heart of the Syrian threat to U.S. national security: Syrian support for radical Islamist terror. This may seem both illogical and counterfactual given past antagonism between the ‘Alawite-led regime and the Muslim Brotherhood, but there is overwhelming evidence that President Bashir al-Asad has changed Syrian strategic calculations and that underpinning terror is crucial to the foreign policy of the country.

On February 14, 2005, a huge bomb killed former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri as his motorcade drove through Beirut. All eyes fell on Damascus.[1] Syria’s leaders had motive: Hariri was a prominent Lebanese nationalist who opposed their attempts to grant Lebanon’s pro-Syrian president Émile Lahoud an unconstitutional third term. The Syrians had the means to carry out such an attack: Their army had occupied Lebanon for more than fifteen years. Syrian military intelligence (Shu’bat al-Mukhabarat al-‘Askariya) operated freely throughout the tiny republic and maintained operational networks there.[2] Asad had actually threatened Hariri: Druze leader Walid Jumblatt reported that at a meeting with Asad and Hariri a few months before the latter’s murder, Asad told him, “Lahoud is me … If you and [French president Jacques] Chirac want me out of Lebanon, I will break Lebanon,” a remark Jumblatt interpreted as a death threat to Hariri.[3]

Following the assassination, Syria became an international pariah. U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan dispatched a fact-finding mission. This mission resulted in the establishment of an international, independent investigating commission headed initially by German judge Detlev Mehlis.[4] U.S. president George W. Bush and French president Jacques Chirac, two leaders whose views of the Middle East seldom coincided, agreed to isolate Syria diplomatically.[5] The State Department withdrew its ambassador, Margaret Scobey, and maintained only a lower-level diplomatic presence in Damascus. Under immense pressure, the Syrian army finally withdrew from Lebanon. But, over subsequent months and years, as Asad detected chinks in the West’s diplomatic solidarity—and as U.S. members of Congress began to defy the White House and re-engage with Asad—the Syrian regime began to put cooperation with the U.N. investigators on the back burner. Today, Syrian cooperation with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the successor to the more ambitious Investigation Commission, is negligible.

Obama’s Approach to Syria
Barack Obama campaigned on a platform which made engagement central to his foreign policy. “Not talking [to adversaries] doesn’t make us look tough—it makes us look arrogant,” he declared during his campaign.[6] In his inaugural address, he declared, “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”[7]

The Syrian regime signaled that it would accept Obama’s offer, so long as the White House’s hand preceded the unclenching of the Syrian fist. In a congratulatory telegram to Obama, the Syrian leader expressed “hope that dialogue would prevail to overcome the difficulties that have hindered real progress toward peace, stability, and prosperity in the Middle East.”[8]

While the Syrian regime had yet to cooperate with the Hariri investigation, cease its sponsorship of and support for terrorism, stop interfering in Lebanon, or stop helping Hezbollah build up its rocket force, the Obama administration wasted little time in easing pressure on Damascus. This rush to dialogue was undertaken in order to create a more conducive atmosphere for engagement. On March 7, 2009, the State Department dispatched Jeffrey D. Feltman, assistant secretary of state and the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Syria in more than four years, to Damascus for talks with Syria’s foreign minister.[9] The Obama administration called an abrupt end to the moratorium initiated during the Bush administration forbidding U.S. officials’ attendance at Syrian embassy functions in Washington when it sent Feltman and senior National Security Council aides to Syrian National Day festivities.[10] Feltman’s participation in the renewed engagement was particularly symbolic given his previous posting as ambassador to Lebanon during the Cedar Revolution of 2005 when he led the diplomatic charge to rid Lebanon of Syrian influence and troops.

On June 24, 2009, the State Department announced that it would once again nominate an ambassador for the U.S. embassy in Damascus.[11] Just over a month later, the Obama administration announced that it would ease sanctions on Syria. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly explained that “Senator [George] Mitchell [the president’s Middle East envoy] told President Assad that the U.S. would process all eligible applications for export licenses as quickly as possible.”[12]

While the easement did not include those sanctions imposed by Congress in the wake of Hariri’s assassination, they, nonetheless, reflect the White House’s desire to bring Syria in from the cold. Nor will Congress necessarily act as a check on this enthusiasm to roll back even those sanctions. Less than two years after Hariri’s assassination, senators Arlen Specter (Democrat of Pennsylvania), Bill Nelson (Democrat of Florida), John Kerry (Democrat of Massachusetts), and Christopher Dodd (Democrat of Connecticut)[13] traveled to Syria to promote engagement. Four months later, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also visited Asad for the same purpose, declaring, “The road to Damascus is a road to peace.”[14]

Can Syria Be Divorced from Terrorism?
Flipping Syria away from its axis with Iran is a diplomatic priority for the Obama administration as it seeks to revitalize the Middle East peace process.[15] Many Western diplomats and analysts hoped that Syria would reform when the young, Western-educated Bashir al-Asad succeeded his hard-line father Hafiz as president of Syria in 2000. But the Damascus spring proved fleeting. Syria remained a police state at home and an enabler of terrorism abroad with

policies rooted firmly in rejection of Israel’s right to exist and opposition to U.S. regional interests. Should Syria be flipped, the theory goes, not only would it mitigate the threat of Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda in Iraq, but it could enable Syria to join forces with Lebanon to make peace with Israel. According to Martin Indyk, director of the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, “Syria is a strategic linchpin for dealing with Iran and the Palestinian issue. Don’t forget, everything in the Middle East is connected.”[16]

To seek a resolution to conflict in the Middle East is a noble goal. And yet, to base that deal on Syrian goodwill is not only naïve but requires a perception of Syria and its intentions that is seriously out-of- date. While many in Washington and other capitals continue to perceive Syria as a largely secular state with a leadership fundamentally hostile to radical Islam, today’s Syrian leadership encourages both radical Islam and international Al-Qaeda.[17] The traditional assumption that support for extremist Islam is limited to Saudi Arabia and wealthy Persian Gulf financiers is no longer valid. Bashir al-Asad is playing a dangerous game, one that is not only inimical to U.S. interests in the short term but also employs a strategy that could undercut Syrian stability in the long term.

It was not long after the start of military operations against Iraq in March 2003 that the Pentagon grew concerned at Syrian support for the insurgency there. Speaking at a press conference held in Baghdad in 2004, Gen. Richard Myers, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “There are other foreign fighters. We know for a fact that a lot of them find their way into Iraq through Syria for sure.”[18] According to some estimates, perhaps 80 percent of foreign

fighters who infiltrated Iraq crossed the Syrian border.[19] These were disproportionately responsible for the most devastating suicide bombings in Iraq.[20] An Italian investigation of foreign fighter recruitment in Italy found that “Syria has functioned as a hub for an Al-Qaeda network.”[21] Syrian president Asad repeatedly denied any involvement in facilitating terrorism in Iraq. In 2007, he told ABC’s Diane Sawyer: “If you stoke [terrorism], it will burn you. So if we have this chaos in Iraq, it will spill over to Syria … So saying this [that Syria aids Iraq’s insurgency], it’s like saying that the Syrian government is working against the Syrian interest.”[22]

Two common assumptions handicap an understanding of terrorist networks. The first is that Shi’i and Sunni groups or governments do not cooperate. Hence, some scholars argue that it is impossible that the Iranian regime could supply arms to the Taliban. In 2007, Juan Cole, a professor at the University of Michigan, wrote, “Among the more fantastic charges that Bush made against Iran was that its government was actively arming and helping the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. In fact, the Taliban are extremist Sunnis who hate and have killed large numbers of Shiites. Shiite Iran is unlikely to support them.”[23] The evidence that they have done so, however, is overwhelming as U.S. forces have seized truckloads of Iranian weaponry en route to the Taliban.[24]

Another false argument—and one that applies specifically to Syria—is that secular regimes do not support radical Islamist groups. The Egyptian government, for example, has long turned a blind eye to the supply of Hamas terrorists through tunnels from Egyptian territory.[25] Libya, too, has engaged in the practice, supporting the Islamist terrorist group Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines even as Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi sought to present himself to the West as an ally in the fight against radical Islam.[26] To ensure U.S. national security, U.S. analysis must be based on reality rather than image. Despite Asad’s stated animosity toward Islamist terrorism and his regime’s trumpeting of its own vulnerability to radical Islamism, the Syrian record shows a willingness not only to tolerate but also to aid Islamist groups and assist Al-Qaeda violence.

The assumption that the Syrian government would not support Islamism is rooted in the regime’s troubled history with radical Islam. The originally Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood established a branch in Syria in the late 1950s. The group remained quiet for two decades but, in 1979, it began to engage in terrorism, most famously when members of the group murdered several dozen ‘Alawi military cadets near Aleppo.[27] Three years later, after some 200 Islamists staged an insurrection in Hama, Syria’s fifth largest city, the Syrian military razed much of the city, killing between 10,000 and 20,000 civilians, including women and children. In the aftermath of Hama, many analysts note that the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood renounced violence although only the most prescient Syria hands have observed that, behind the regime’s veneer of secularism, Hafiz al-Asad subsequently sought to co-opt Islamism.[28]

In recent years, however, the Syrian government has blamed domestic terrorism on shadowy and often unnamed Islamist groups. In July 2005, the Syrian government returned alleged Islamist terrorists to Saudi Arabia and Tunisia[29] although, more often, Damascus has refused to extradite terrorists, suggesting that the decision to release is linked more to immediate diplomatic necessity rather than a principled commitment to combat terrorism. Still, the Syrian government has sought to project an image of victimization. In June 2006, Syria’s tightly-controlled national television showed the aftermath of a gun battle in Damascus between Islamists and state security forces, suggesting that the government—normally secretive on security matters—wanted to cast itself as a victim of Islamism.[30] The Syrian government cited the September 27, 2008 car bombing in Damascus, which killed seventeen people, as an indication that Islamist terrorists—in this case it named Fatah al-Islam—had targeted the country for its cooperation with U.S. efforts to strengthen security along its border with Iraq.[31] Pointing the finger at Fatah al-Islam may also have been meant to deflect suspicion that the Syrian government had supported the group’s activities in Lebanon. A precedent of staged violence, such as the attack on the Danish embassy in Damascus during the Muhammad cartoon crisis, suggests analysts should consider the possibility that other such incidents were also faked.[32] Asad’s stated animosity toward radical Islam and Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups is mirrored in Al- Qaeda’s traditional hatred of the ‘Alawi regime in Syria. A year before the 9/11 attacks, a leading Al-Qaeda tactician, ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Hakim (better known by his nom de guerre Abu Mus’ab as-Suri) penned a lengthy polemic against the Syrian regime. Suri described the ‘Alawis as heretics, fanatical Shi’a descended from Jews and Zoroastrians.[33] About Hama, he related not only how the “lives of more than 45,000 [sic] unarmed Sunni civilians were claimed” but also how the Syrian security forces continued to kill an additional 30,000 Sunni Muslims over the subsequent fourteen years.[34] After a rambling religious discourse on the meaning and necessity of jihad, Suri concluded, “It is not permissible for Muslims to stay under their [‘Alawi] rule for one moment …They must be pursued and killed to cleanse them from Greater Syria and the face of the earth. They should be killed as individuals and groups, and Sunni Muslims must ambush and kill them all.”[35]

Such hatred is real, but in the Middle East alliances shift and enmity can be deferred. Enemies cooperate against those whom they consider a mutual threat. Iran and the Taliban—who hardly like each other and were on the verge of military conflict in 1998—nevertheless found themselves allied only a decade later in efforts to undermine U.S. stability efforts in Afghanistan. For all his diplomatic promises about non-cooperation with terrorists, the evidence that Bashir al-Asad aids and abets Al-Qaeda is damning.

Syrians in the Iraqi Insurgency
In September 2007, U.S. forces in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, twelve miles from the Syrian border, discovered computers and a cache of documents that included the records of more than 600 foreign fighters who had infiltrated into Iraq between spring 2006 and summer 2007. The documents show a pattern of Syrian behavior at odds with the regime’s public statements and diplomatic posture. While the records listed Syrian as the nationality of only forty-four of the foreign fighters—behind Saudis (237) and Libyans (111)—Syrians coordinated the insertion into Iraq of almost all the fighters listed.[36] The insertion of the Saudi terrorists is especially instructive as Saudi Arabia shares a lengthy and porous border with Iraq. The Saudi jihadists presumably choose to travel to Iraq through Syria because Asad tolerates what the Saudi leadership will not. It is also possible that the total Syrian numbers are underrepresented since Syrians formed a majority of the detainees held at Camp Bucca, the main U.S. detention camp in Iraq.[37]

The Syrian jihadists themselves come from across Syria although most originate in the inland Dayr az-Zawr region, which abuts Iraq. Still others come from Latakia, the home province of the Asad family, and from Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo.[38] At just thirty-four individuals, the sample size of Syrians whose hometown is listed in the Sinjar records is too small to draw definitive conclusions about the roots of all Syrian jihadists, but it is clear that the radicals come from all across the country.

The Sinjar records also detail recruitment methods. Those recruiting most jihadists were “ikhwan (brothers),” not necessarily Muslim Brotherhood (al-ikhwan al-muslimun) members, but rather those whom the recruits considered devout or to be members of radical groups. Friends and relatives also recruited young Syrians for terrorist missions in Iraq. Most damning for Syrian government denial of culpability for facilitating terror was the Sinjar record’s notation that recruiters reached several Syrians through the Internet. Given strict Syrian monitoring of electronic communication, Syrian statements that they did not know of such recruiting activities on their soil are not credible.

Underlining the extent and intensity of these recruitment efforts was the fact that almost

two-thirds of the Syrian nationals who volunteered for jihad in Iraq—and all those who reported initial recruitment by the Internet—became suicide bombers.[39] The recruitment of suicide terrorists is complex. It requires psychological screening and indoctrination. If the Syrian government claims to be unaware of such activities in its own towns, cities, and mosques, then Syria’s future stability cannot be assumed. It is far more likely that the Syrian regime chose to turn a blind eye to terrorist recruitment on its soil. Again, however, this Syrian blind eye should raise concerns about the country’s future stability as it suggests a vulnerability to blowback should these same Islamist terrorists decide to return to Syria to take on the Asad regime.

The Syrian government’s denials of facilitation for Islamist terror are less credible given the country’s role as a transit point for radical fighters and arms. Almost all Saudis, Libyans, Egyptians, Algerians, Kuwaitis, Yemenis, and Moroccans transited Syria to reach Iraq. Syria is a police state. It is implausible that its government is unaware of the transit of large numbers of foreign nationals, some through Damascus International Airport, others across the border from Jordan and Turkey. Nor can the Syrian government simply blame spontaneous outrage at U.S. occupation of Iraq: Many of the foreign fighters who traversed Syria—and more than one-fifth of the Syrians represented in the Sinjar records—made cash contributions to Al-Qaeda in Iraq, often more than $1,000 and, in some cases, more than $10,000.[40] For an outraged jihadist to take a weapon and try to cross the border is one thing; to acquire information necessary to donate to Al-Qaeda and actually transfer the money takes more direction.

The underground railroad through Syria is lucrative not only to Al-Qaeda but also to many Syrians. Trafficking people across Syria’s border with Iraq is a complex and lucrative business. Smugglers will bribe border guards and, depending upon the size of the operation, officials in Damascus. Taking individuals across the border requires false papers, and acquiring these depends on corruption in Syrian government offices. In order to smuggle sensitive cargo through border checkpoints, smugglers often require intelligence about shifts and rotations of personnel at the border. This, in turn, suggests the complicity of higher levels within the Syrian regime. Indeed, many Syrian intelligence officials accept money to turn the other way. While the Syrian government sought credit for the prevention of terrorist infiltration following the U.S. siege of Fallujah in the summer of 2004, jihadists and fixers established an elaborate network of safe houses on the Syrian side of the border to enable the flow of fighters into Iraq to continue.[41] After the capture of Fallujah, U.S. troops found photographs of the leader of the Jaysh Muhammad insurgent group meeting with a senior Syrian official. While officials refused to name the Syrian official, the Iraqi ambassador to Syria said that he had protested to the Syrian government.[42]

The Sinjar documents describe a network of Syrian coordinators who facilitate travel through Syria, receiving between $19 and $34,584 for their services, the differential apparently dependent both upon the nationality of the jihadis as well as the demands of specific Syrian fixers. Saudis paid, on average, $2,500. However, the different pricing schemes offered by various fixers suggest the parallel operation of multiple networks rather than a single, coordinated system.[43] While cross-border tribal links aided infiltration, so too apparently have security forces expelled from Lebanon. These latter augmented smuggling networks into Iraq in order to make up for income lost when Syrian forces withdrew from Lebanon.[44] Because the Syrian security forces are the domain of the ‘Alawis, the involvement of the security forces in smuggling and in the “taxation” of smuggling suggests the direct complicity of the regime. Indeed on December 6, 2007, the U.S. Treasury Department designated seven individuals based in Syria as suppliers of financial support for the Iraqi insurgency. Six were members of the Syrian Baath Party.[45]

Matthew Levitt, a former FBI terrorist analyst and now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, highlighted the case of an individual known as Fawzi al-Rawi. “The extent of the Syrian role in al-Rawi’s activities is noteworthy,” Levitt explained. “Al-Rawi was appointed to his position in the Syrian Ba’ath Party by Syrian president Bashir al-Asad in 2003.” Levitt also noted that the Treasury Department found that Rawi “is supported financially by the Syrian Government, and has close ties to Syrian intelligence.”[46]

Syrians in the International Jihad
The Asad regime’s support for Al-Qaeda extends far beyond the Iraqi theater of operations. Ryan Mauro, assistant director of intelligence at The Counter Terrorism Electronic Warfare and Intelligence Centre, has observed: “Many international Al-Qaeda plots have Syrian links.” He has also recounted Syrian links to Al-Qaeda attacks in Jordan and Morocco.[47] For example, the cell of Abu Mus’ab az-Zarqawi, leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, was based in Syria.[48] Zarqawi’s group was responsible for the October 28, 2002 assassination of U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley in Amman, Jordan,[49] as well as numerous killings of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

It has been reported that at least one alleged bomber from the Groupe Islamique Combattant Marocain (a Moroccan Al-Qaeda affiliate that claimed responsibility for the May 2003 suicide attacks on restaurants, hotels, and the Belgian consulate in Casablanca) trained in Syria.[50] In 2004, foreign students enrolled in Islamic schools in Syria participated in terrorist bombings in Israel and Turkey.[51] Analysts might dismiss the attack on Israel as motivated by long-standing Syrian policies, but the attacks in Turkey occurred at a time when a sympathetic Turkish government was helping the regime in Damascus ease its international isolation. U.S. defense officials allege that Mustafa al-‘Uzayti (Abu Faraj al-Libi), a senior Al-Qaeda official captured by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence on May 2, 2005, met several terrorists in Syria to plan attacks not only on the United States but also in Europe and Australia.[52] Jordanian authorities narrowly averted a massive chemical terrorist attack in downtown Amman, which the Jordanian authorities estimate might have killed 80,000 people.[53]

Following its 2005 expulsion from Lebanon, the Syrian regime used its connections to jihadists to attempt to destabilize the Lebanese government, sponsoring the Al-Qaeda affiliate Fatah al-Islam, which established itself in Nahr al-Barid, a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon. According to Lebanese government interrogation reports, captured jihadists reported links with Syrian intelligence.[54] Jihadist cells in Iraq also spoke casually of Syrian veterans of the Jund ash-Sham (Soldiers of Syria) in Lebanon.[55] Until an October 26, 2008 U.S. raid from Iraq killed him, Zarqawi’s deputy, Sulayman Khaled Darwish (Abu ‘l-Ghadiya), continued to receive safe haven in Syria.[56] Following Darwish’s death, Sa’d al-Shammari took over his foreign fighter facilitation network and continued to operate it from inside Syria.[57] The list is long enough to suggest that a Syrian link to Al-Qaeda is more the rule than the exception. By providing a safe haven, the Syrian government is as complicit in assisting the terrorist group as was the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

The Duplicity of the Regime
There is a growing discrepancy between the image the Syrian regime seeks to convey—that it cooperates in the war on terrorism by cracking down on radical Islamists—and the reality, which is that senior Syrian officials coddle and protect radical Islamists and Al-Qaeda operatives. Ironically, reports from international organizations such as Amnesty International have provided the Syrian regime with unwitting international legitimacy by endorsing its claim to intolerance for radical Islamists. Amnesty criticized the regime for the arrest of twelve and for the incommunicado detention of ten alleged Islamists in Dayr az-Zawr and also complained about the imprisonment of an Islamist returned to Syria in a “suspected unlawful rendition to Syria by the U.S. authorities.”[58] Such criticisms may be true, but without a proper context, they suggest that the regime exhibits complete hostility to Islamism.

In reality, Asad’s position is more nuanced. The media plays its part in endorsing this carefully constructed image of the regime, which is accepted blindly by many journalists. The Economist, for example, cast doubt on the October 26, 2008 U.S. commando raid on a compound in Syria in which U.S. officials claim to have killed a senior Al-Qaeda figure. “What makes the raid odder still is that the Syrian authorities have themselves embarked on a nationwide confrontation with Al-Qaeda types in Syria,”[59] the magazine noted, apparently assuming the Syrian crackdown was more substance than show.

Lee Smith, a leading Syria analyst and scholar at the Hudson Institute, has speculated that any Syrian crackdown on foreign jihadists might be mere Machiavellian calculation. “Damascus has an important card to play against the Saudis, who fear that Syria is holding several hundred Saudi fighters in prison,” he writes, adding, “Damascus could embarrass the Saudis by publicly announcing the existence of these extremists—or even worse, allow those jihadis to return home to fight the House of Saud.”[60]

Asad’s motivation may be multifaceted. Abdel Halim Khaddam, vice president under both Hafiz and Bashir al-Asad and now a leading opposition figure in exile, speculated that Bashir gambled that the popularity of enabling resistance outweighed the dangers of antagonizing the United States. “Fighting the Americans in Iraq is very dangerous … But it also makes Bashir popular. Under the banner of resistance, anything is popular.”[61]

The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran suggested that religious rule might be the wave of the future and not an ideal of the past. Three years later, Hafiz al-Asad’s “Hama rules” (as columnist Thomas Friedman anointed the bloody crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood) were a wakeup call for Islamists. The fall of secular, nationalist governments rose to the top of their agenda, but the task would neither be preordained nor easy.

After Hafiz al-Asad reasserted his authority, the Syrian government quietly began to use religion to co-opt those who might otherwise be attracted to the Muslim Brotherhood and its message. The Syrian regime financed mosques, subsidized clerics, and broadcast more religious programming on the tightly-controlled state television.[62] Just as Saddam Hussein—once embraced in Western capitals for his staunch secularism and hostility to political Islam—found religion after his 1991 defeat in Operation Desert Storm, so, too, has the Asad regime cynically turned toward religion even as, like Saddam’s regime, it seeks to maintain its image of hostility to radical Islam.

Speaking at a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference’s Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in Damascus on May 23, 2009, Bashir al-Asad endorsed the group’s theme of “Promoting Islamic Solidarity,” condemned the “ferocious campaign against Islam with the objective of tarnishing its image as a frame of reference in terms of the civilization and religion of our peoples,” and beseeched the gathered Arab leaders to become more religiously conservative, declaring, “How can we defend a religion whose obligations we fail to carry out: these obligations of unifying our ranks and positions, stating the word of truth against the arrogant, and defending our honor and dignity against those who usurp them?”[63] Although Asad paid lip service to curtailing terrorism (albeit with rhetoric infused with moral relativism), his depiction of the threat posed to Islam by the West brought to mind the belligerent anti-Westernism of ‘Abdullah ‘Azzam, Osama bin Laden’s intellectual mentor, more than it did the Arab nationalism of Gamal Abdel Nasser or Baath Party founder Michel ‘Aflaq.

Syria is now behaving like Saudi Arabia did in the 1990s and early 2000s when it chose to export Islamist radicalism while denying its own culpability and its vulnerability to attacks from the same quarter. Asad should heed history, however. Just as an Al-Qaeda blowback struck Saudi Arabia in the end, so, too, could Damascus’s coddling and support for jihad abroad come back to haunt Syria.

Indeed, this appears to be a possibility to which Al-Qaeda theoreticians are not blind. Among the documents found in the Sinjar cache was a lengthy and detailed tract examining the lessons learned from the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood’s violent campaign in Syria. It found that the brotherhood lacked a comprehensive plan, was fractured into too many groups, failed to indoctrinate sufficiently, had weak public relations, and was too dependent on outsiders for resources.[64] Al-Qaeda blamed the failure of jihad in Syria up to Hama on failed Muslim Brotherhood leadership but found that “most of the base members, some of the mid level leaders, and maybe a few high level leaders are innocent and decent people … Those faithful were driven to the jihad with true resolve; they willed their leaders to act. Unfortunately all their efforts went in vain despite … the abundance of possibilities, and they set an example for ‘Jihad Quality’ by working diligently, persistently and silently, and by avoiding in-house and partisan bickering.”[65] Al-Qaeda’s analysts found the ground in Syria still fertile for jihad should Al-Qaeda spark a movement that had learned the lessons of the past.

The Obama administration may hope to cultivate Bashir al-Asad as a partner for peace, but diplomatic ambition should not trump reality. As Asad plays with fire, far more than Syria could get burned.

Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is a senior lecturer at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School.

[1] The New York Times, Feb. 16, 2005.
[2] Gary C. Gambill, “Syria after Lebanon: Hooked on Lebanon,” Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2005, pp. 35-42.
[3] The New York Times, Mar. 20, 2005.
[4] UN S/RES/1595 (2005).
[5] The Times (London), Oct. 26, 2005.
[6] “Sen. Barack Obama Remarks on Iraq,” Clinton, Iowa campaign stop, Sept. 12, 2007.
[7] Barack Obama, “Inaugural Address,” The White House, Jan. 21, 2009.
[8] Al-Arabiya.net (Dubai), Nov. 8, 2008.
[9] Los Angeles Times, Mar. 8, 2009.
[10] Al-Quds al-Arabi (London), Apr. 22, 2009, BBC Worldwide Monitoring, trans.
[11] CNN.com, June 24, 2009.
[12] Agence France-Presse, July 28, 2009.
[13] Sen. Arlen Specter, “Why Congress Can and Must Assert Itself in Foreign Policy,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 5, 2007.
[14] “The Truth about Syria,” The Washington Post, Apr. 12, 2007.
[15] Seymour M. Hersh, “Syria, Israel, and the Obama Administration,” The New Yorker, Apr. 6, 2009.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ryan Mauro, “Has Damascus Stopped Supporting Terrorists?” Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2009, pp. 61-7.
[18] Gen. Richard Myers, chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander, Coalition Ground Forces, “Coalition Provisional Authority Briefing,” Baghdad, Apr. 15, 2004.
[19] “Jihadist Blowback?” The Economist (London), Oct. 2, 2008.
[20] Brian Fishman, ed., Bombers, Bank Accounts & Bleedout: Al-Qa’ida’s Road in and Out of Iraq (West Point, New York: Harmony Project, 2008), p. 6.
[21] The Los Angeles Times, Apr. 28, 2003, quoted in Matthew Levitt, “Foreign Fighters and Their Economic Impact: A Case Study of Syria and Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI),” paper presented at “Foreign Fighter Problem” conference, Foreign Policy Research Institute, Washington, D.C., July 14, 2009.
[22] Diane Sawyer, “A Rare Interview with the Syrian President,” ABC News Now, Feb. 5, 2007; “Syria’s President Assad Speaks about Chaos in Iraq,” NBC News transcripts, May 7, 2007; “Interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad,” CBS Early Show, Sept. 7, 2007.
[23] Juan Cole. “U.S. Sanctions on Iran,” juancole.com, Oct. 26, 2007, accessed Aug. 7, 2009.
[24] Adm. Mike Mullen, Department of Defense briefing, Pentagon, Apr. 25, 2008; Frederick W. Kagan, Kimberley Kagan, and Danielle Pletka, Iranian Influence in the Levant, Iraq, and Afghanistan (Washington: American Enterprise Institute Press, 2008), p. 41.
[25] Doron Almog, “Tunnel-Vision in Gaza,” Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2004, pp. 3-11.
[26] “Abu Sayyaf History,” Center for Defense Information, U.S. Pacific Command, Mar. 5, 2002.
[27] Fouad Ajami, The Arab Predicament (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 215.
[28] Eyal Zisser, “Hafiz Al-Asad Discovers Islam,” Middle East Quarterly, Mar. 1999, pp. 49-56.
[29] Agence France-Presse, July 25, 26, 2005.
[30] Associated Press, June 16, 2006.
[31] Associated Press, Sept. 28, 2008; “Jihadist Blowback?” The Economist.
[32] Agence France-Presse, Feb. 5, 2006.
[33] Abu Musab as-Suri, “The Confrontation between the Sunni population of ash-Sham against An-Nasiriyah, Crusaders, and Jews,” June 22, 2000, p. 11, Harmony Database, Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, document ID: AGFP 2002-600966.
[34] Ibid., pp. 24-6.
[35] Ibid., p. 62.
[36] Fishman, ed., Bombers, Bank Accounts & Bleedout, p. 3; Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman, “Becoming a Foreign Fighter: A Second Look at the Sinjar Records,” in Fishman, ed., Bombers, Bank Accounts & Bleedout, p. 32.
[37] Felter and Fishman, “Becoming a Foreign Fighter,” p. 36.
[38] Ibid., pp. 40-1.
[39] Ibid., pp. 45-6, 56-7.
[40] Ibid., pp. 47, 53.
[41] Anonymous, “Smuggling, Syria, and Spending,” in Fishman, ed., Bombers, Bank Accounts & Bleedout, pp. 86-7, 90, 91.
[42] The Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 23, 2004.
[43] Felter and Fishman, “Becoming a Foreign Fighter,” p. 48-9.
[44] Anonymous, “Smuggling, Syria, and Spending,” p. 85.
[45] Levitt, “Foreign Fighters and Their Economic Impact.”
[46] Ibid.; “Treasury Designates Individuals with Ties to Al Qaida, Former Regime,” U.S. Treasury Press, Dec. 6, 2007.
[47] Mauro, “Has Damascus Stopped Supporting Terrorists?” p. 62.
[48] Secretary of State Colin Powell, remarks to the United Nations Security Council, Feb. 5, 2003.
[49] Jane’s Security News (Surrey, U.K.), June 16, 2003.
[50] Emerson Vermaat, “Madrid Terrorists Possessed an Important Al-Qaeda Manual,” Militant Islam Monitor, Feb. 20, 2007.
[51] Alfred B. Prados and Jeremy M. Sharp, “Syria: Political Conditions and Relations with the United States after the Iraq War,” Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, Jan. 10, 2005.
[52] “Summary of Evidence for Combatant Status Review Tribunal—Al Libi, Abu Faraj,” U.S. Department of Defense, Feb. 8, 2007.
[53] The Jordan Times (Amman), Feb. 16, 2006.
[54] Ar-Ra’y (Amman), June 8, 2007.
[55] “Husayn Cell/Network Status Update Report,” Aug. 11, 2007, Harmony Database, Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, Document #NMEC-2007-658086.
[56] Mauro, “Has Damascus Stopped Supporting Terrorists?” p. 62.
[57] Levitt, “Foreign Fighters and Their Economic Impact.”
[58] “Syria,” Amnesty International Country Report, 2009.
[59] “A Puzzling Raid,” The Economist, Oct. 30, 2008.
[60] Lee Smith, “Damascus’s Deadly Bargain,” The New Republic, Nov. 14, 2008.
[61] Ibid.
[62] Prados and Sharp, “Syria.”
[63] “Speech of President Bashar al-Assad,” Council of Foreign Ministers, Organization of Islamic Conference, Damascus, May 23-25, 2009.
[64] “Chapter One: Observations on the Jihad Ordeal in Syria,” AFGP-2002-600080, Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, trans., accessed Sept. 22, 2009.
[65] “Chapter Two: Lessons Learned from the Armed Jihad Ordeal in Syria,” AFGP-2002-600080, Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, trans., accessed Sept. 22, 2009.

December 26th, 2009, 4:26 am


Murhaf Jouejati said:

If Michael Rubin can’t even get the first name of Syria’s President right, what does this say about the credibility of his research on Syria?

December 26th, 2009, 5:28 am


Shai said:


I think the Turkey-Syria relationship warming is a good thing for Israel. Turkey will always be respected in Israel, and it is likely to return to holding a key role in the Israeli-Arab dialogue. It is no coincidence Olmert trusted Turkey.

As for Israel “abandoning its policy of conflict”, I think that’s like asking the Syrians to first admit they’re withholding human rights. No Israeli government will ever admit it has a “policy of conflict” so, from our point of view, there’s no such thing to abandon. It is not a term both sides can agree on.

But what Turkey CAN demand of Israel, I believe, is to prove itself when it comes to Syria. I’m not bringing in the Palestinian issue because, as you know, I don’t believe we’re likely to make serious headway there anytime in the near future. With Syria, however, it could be done overnight, if Netanyahu wanted it so.

December 26th, 2009, 7:37 pm


OfF the Wall said:

If Michael Rubin can’t even get the first name of Syria’s President right, what does this say about the credibility of his research on Syria?

It seems that the neo-cons have designed a data base that can be queried for anti-Syrian quotes, where these phrases are cut and pasted without even reading the rest of the article and then the rehashed old record is reconstructed around these innuendos and baseless accusations. Take for example, the WP article “the Truth about Syria” [14], which was quoted in Rubin’s masterpiece, and was authored by non other than Liz Cheney. While her article is as venomous as Rubin’s, she at least got the name right. This only tells me that Rubin did not even read any of his own citations. This is characteristic of neo-con so called research which is no more than intellectual incest at best.

The neo-cons are mean and hateful, they will never forgive “Bashir” for patiently deconstructing their plans. And I would expect a plethora of articles given the current success Syria’s foreign policy is enjoying at the moment. We can rely on our new resident neocon Henry to keep posting these articles.

December 26th, 2009, 7:56 pm


Shai said:

OTW, Murhaf,

Season’s Greetings, and a happy New Year to you both.

What I find so difficult to understand, is where these so-called intellectuals find the self confidence to so boldly suggest they know “the truth”. After all, how can anyone pretend to understand even the worst-of-enemies, without first developing some ability to empathize with that enemy? What differentiates those “analysts” from medieval soothsayers?

I imagine and hope the Obama administration doesn’t subscribe to too many such sooth-newsletters…

December 26th, 2009, 8:16 pm



Rubin’s garbage you are trying to peddle reminds me of the assertions made prior to the invasion and the occupation of Iraq:
The Al-Qaeda and 9-11 connection to Saddam’s regime. The imminence of an Iraqi nuclear weapon. The ongoing of Chemical and Biological WMD programs. The secret stocks of WMDs. The Iraqis will be better off with the American “liberating forces” providing security, prosperity, freedom, true democracy with civil discourse….
The USA and Iraq are both paying, and will pay, for a considerable time in the future, a very dear price as a result of the misguided policy based on false assertions.
I hope that US policy makers have learned from that experience and will not fall for similar regurgitated garbage.

December 26th, 2009, 9:35 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Happy Ashura everyone !!

December 27th, 2009, 12:53 am


Off the Wall said:

Dear Shai
Thank you very much for the greetings.

These intellectuals do not need facts. Truth to them is more like Stephen Colbert’s “Truthiness”

As defined by Wikipedia, In satire, truthiness is a ‘truth’ that a person claims to know intuitively “from the gut” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts

December 27th, 2009, 3:35 am


Shai said:


I like that. Maybe I should start claiming I’m not a Liberal, I’m a Truthinessist. Then it’s impossible to argue with me… 🙂

December 27th, 2009, 9:53 am


ausamaa said:

“Happy Ashura Everyone” from Amir in Tel Aviv!!!

So much for understanding and “emphasizing” with the enemy which Shai keeps promoting.

“Ashura” is a very SAD occasion for Muslims, both Sunnies and Shie’a.

Sending few parcels of food to those besieged in nearby Gaza can be a better way for sympathizing and empathysing with the enemy if one insists.

But again, “intent” is what really counts, right?!

December 27th, 2009, 3:02 pm


norman said:


That was an interesting reading and it matches my memory of the sixties and seventies ,

Ausama ,

They seem to fail to understand that no matter what the US did in Iraq and Afghanistan , The American army always tries to help the people while attacking the militant while Israel continue to attack the civilians then complain that the Palestinians hate them ,

Israel should understand that you get what you give ,!.

You show war , you get war , you show caring you get caring and friends ,

Shai ,
I wounder what will happen if Israel let in the caravan of food after Egypt is giving them a hard time , that will be a coup , Israel will check the supplies and it will show the Palestinians and the Arabs that it cares ,
unfortunately , I think the Israeli leaders are too dumb to take advantage of this opportunity,

December 27th, 2009, 4:29 pm


norman said:


Look at this it shows that Israel always uses force and violence to advance it’s agenda ,you might want to change your understanding of your country behaviour ,

Breaking Palestine’s peaceful protestPalestinians have a long history of nonviolent resistance but Israel has continuously deployed methods to destroy it

Neve Gordon guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 23 December 2009 12.00 GMT larger | smaller Article history”Why,” I have often been asked, “haven’t the Palestinians established a peace movement like the Israeli Peace Now?”

The question itself is problematic, being based on many erroneous assumptions, such as the notion that there is symmetry between the two sides and that Peace Now has been a politically effective movement. Most important, though, is the false supposition that Palestinians have indeed failed to create a pro-peace popular movement.

In September 1967 – three months after the decisive war in which the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem were occupied – Palestinian leaders decided to launch a campaign against the introduction of new Israeli textbooks in Palestinian schools. They did not initiate terrorist attacks, as the prevailing narratives about Palestinian opposition would have one believe, but rather the Palestinian dissidents adopted Mahatma Gandhi-style methods and declared a general school strike: teachers did not show up for work, children took to the streets to protest against the occupation and many shopkeepers closed shop.

Israel’s response to that first strike was immediate and severe: it issued military orders categorising all forms of resistance as insurgency – including protests and political meetings, raising flags or other national symbols, publishing or distributing articles or pictures with political connotations, and even singing or listening to nationalist songs.

Moreover, it quickly deployed security forces to suppress opposition, launching a punitive campaign in Nablus, where the strike’s leaders resided. As Major General Shlomo Gazit, the co-ordinator of activities in the occupied territories at the time, points out in his book The Carrot and the Stick, the message Israel wanted to convey was clear: any act of resistance would result in a disproportionate response, which would make the population suffer to such a degree that resistance would appear pointless.

After a few weeks of nightly curfews, cutting off telephone lines, detaining leaders, and increasing the level of harassment, Israel managed to break the strike.

While much water has passed under the bridge since that first attempt to resist using “civil disobedience” tactics, over the past five decades Palestinians have continuously deployed nonviolent forms of opposition to challenge the occupation. Israel, on the other hand, has, used violent measures to undermine all such efforts.

It is often forgotten that even the second intifada, which turned out to be extremely violent, began as a popular nonviolent uprising. Haaretz journalist Akiva Eldar revealed several years later that the top Israeli security echelons had decided to “fan the flames” during the uprising’s first weeks. He cites Amos Malka, the military general in charge of intelligence at the time, saying that during the second intifada’s first month, when it was still mostly characterised by nonviolent popular protests, the military fired 1.3m bullets in the West Bank and Gaza. The idea was to intensify the levels of violence, thinking that this would lead to a swift and decisive military victory and the successful suppression of the rebellion. And indeed the uprising and its suppression turned out to be extremely violent.

But over the past five years, Palestinians from scores of villages and towns such as Bil’in and Jayyous have developed new forms of pro-peace resistance that have attracted the attention of the international community. Even Palestinian Authority prime minister Salam Fayyad recently called on his constituents to adopt similar strategies. Israel, in turn, decided to find a way to end the protests once and for all and has begun a well-orchestrated campaign that targets the local leaders of such resistance.

One such leader is Abdallah Abu Rahmah, a high school teacher and the co-ordinator of Bil’in’s Popular Committee Against the Wall, is one of many Palestinians who was on the military’s wanted list. At 2am on 10 December (international Human Rights Day), nine military vehicles surrounded his home. Israeli soldiers broke the door down, and after allowing him to say goodbye to his wife Majida and three young children, blindfolded him and took him into custody. He is being charged with throwing stones, the possession of arms (namely gas canisters in the Bil’in museum) and inciting fellow Palestinians, which, translated, means organising demonstrations against the occupation.

The day before Abu Ramah was arrested, the Israeli military carried out a co-ordinated operation in the Nablus region, raiding houses of targeted grassroots activists who have been fighting against human rights abuses. Wa’el al-Faqeeh Abu as-Sabe, 45, is one of the nine people arrested. He was taken from his home at 1am and, like Abu Ramah, is being charged with incitement. Mayasar Itiany, who is known for her work with the Nablus Women’s Union and is a campaigner for prisoners’ rights was also taken into custody as was Mussa Salama, who is active in the Labour Committee of Medical Relief for Workers. Even Jamal Juma, the director of an NGO called Stop the Wall, is now behind bars.

Targeted night arrests of community leaders have become common practice across the West Bank, most notably in the village of Bil’in where, since June, 31 residents have been arrested for their involvement in the demonstrations against the wall. Among these is Adeeb Abu Rahmah, a prominent activist who has been held in detention for almost five months and is under threat of being imprisoned for up to 14 months.

Clearly, the strategy is to arrest all of the leaders and charge them with incitement, thus setting an extremely high “price tag” for organising protests against the subjugation of the Palestinian people. The objective is to put an end to the pro-peace popular resistance in the villages and to crush, once and for all, the Palestinian peace movement.

Thus, my answer to those who ask about a Palestinian “Peace Now” is that a peaceful grassroots movement has always existed. At Abdallah Abu Rahmah’s trial next Tuesday one will be able to witness some of the legal methods that have consistently been deployed to destroy it.

December 27th, 2009, 4:51 pm


Shami said:

Aussama:“Ashura” is a very SAD occasion for Muslims, both Sunnies and Shie’a.

Dear Aussama ,the commemoration of al Hussayn’s martydom in Ashura as sad the event is , has no place in Sunnism or any other martyrdom be it of Hamza ,Omar Ben Khattab ,Othman and Ali ,commemoration of that kind has no place in the teaching of prophetic era Islam.
Extremist shias make it days of wailing and self flagellation during 10 days.
In fact Hussayn had been beheaded by a member of Shiat Ali and not by a soldier of the army of Yazid,they lament because of the treachery of the people of Kufa who left alone Hussayn after sending him letters of invitation to Kufa and that they were ready to fight for him against the rule of the Caliph Yazid Ibn Muawiya.
The Sunnis accept the indirect responsability of Yazid because of his status as Caliph of the Muslims.

December 27th, 2009, 5:12 pm


Shai said:


I too was a bit dumbfounded with Amir’s “wishes”. But please try to stop lecturing us about intent versus action. You don’t know what we do or don’t do, for the Palestinians in Gaza, in the West Bank, and in general for Peace. I don’t feel indebted to you in any way, to report to you what I do outside of SC, and I don’t ask you for the same. I would hope that you could use your own imagination to conclude that Israelis that exhaustively not only frequent SC, but also push for Peace (and the end of the Occupation), also act on this “intent” by doing things in real life as well. I swear sometimes I don’t know who you prefer in front of you – someone like me, or Akbar Palace. And to be honest, with continued shots like yours, I’m not sure who I prefer in front of me either. If that’s your goal, then you’re doing a good job at it.


You know what I think about my country’s Occupation of the Palestinian Territories, including the impossible conditions it places upon the population of Gaza. I don’t have anything further to say about it. In this case, action certainly matters more than words.

I wrote here a year or so ago, that the Army once had a scenario whereby Kfar Darom (once a settlement in the Gaza Strip) is taken over peacefully by the Palestinians. In this scenario, thousands if or tens of thousands of elderly, men, women and children, all walk unarmed (not even stones) towards Kfar Darom. The few soldiers that are “protecting” the settlement would fire a few shots into the air, but when the huge crowd would continue marching, they’d have no choice but to quickly retreat. As a consequence, the settlers themselves would have no choice but to vacate as well, out of fear for their lives. The bottom line was, as the Army itself concluded, there would be no way to secure Kfar Darom under such a scenario. It would be overtaken peacefully.

This is what Alex has been talking about – massive demonstrations, in the tens of thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) in the big cities, not next to the Wall or the Israeli soldiers that are outside the populated centers. There would be a power to these ongoing demonstrations that hasn’t been seen before. And the world would, eventually, hear the outcry. It’s easy to “overlook” a peaceful demonstration by 50 people in Bil’in, even when the IDF ends up shooting bullets in the air or, worse, at demonstrators (also Israeli ones, not just Arab). But for how long can the International Media ignore weekly marches by hundreds of thousands? Even tens of thousands, which is possible to organize.

December 27th, 2009, 6:56 pm


ausamaa said:

Thank you Shami for the clarification I am not much into the details of the Shi’a and the Sunni versions but still the occasion did not merit a Happy anything.


Now you are getting me a little bit confused. You want hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to march peacefuly in order to show good intent to ISRAELIES, or to do so to win over the Inernational Media so that the INTERNATIONAL will put pressure on Israel?
Whose goodwill are you asking the Arabs to win?

Apart from the above, can you really assure us that the IDF would not shoot at a peaceful Palestinian demonstration? Was that American great girl crushed by an IDF bulldozer carrying an RPG when she was killed by the Israeli army few years back during a peaceful demonstration? I am pretty sure she was a Peace activist not a Hamas activist, and being an American did not stop the IDF from showing their resolve and murdering her in the process. Come on man, your army even destroyed an ally’s ship, the USS Liberty to serve Israel’s narrow interests once. Man what are you talking about??

And tell me SHAI, are you aware of how the IDF react year after year to the Israeli-Arbs demonstrations in the Gallili in the north every on Land Day? They are “Israeli” Citizens and the marches are always peacefull, never a shot was fired by one of the demonstrators during them, but tens or hunderds get either killed or wounded at the hands of the Iareli army during those peacefull marches of tens of thousands “Israeli” Arabs.

Frankly Shai, I really like your peaceful approach and sometimes thinks it might work. But in my scenario, it is the Israelies have to show that they have Learned and Want to live in peace with its surroundings. Not the Opposit. And then, I assure you that we are capable of rethinking the image Israel has created of itself as a crul oppressor. Only then we can start to beleive that that Israel can be absorbed by our Arab society in a peacefull manner. Until Israel does that, and does it in a really convincing manner, then forget it man. More of the same will follow until the famous “Tipping Point” is reached. A mere matter of time in that case in my opinion.Having said that, I still do not think that Israel is “made” for, or, “cut out” for peace. Rabin? Maybe? I think he ment it and we went along with it. But who killed him? Not us for sure. Why the Israeli society failed to produce another Rabin so many years after his assasination? Was Rabin bad for Israel, or was Rabin a sane voice that had to be silenced because it does not serve the interest of the real Israel? Why was the Palestinan society -if even in part and despite its great suffering- capable of producing a peacefull man in the form of Mahmoud Abbas while the Isreali part failed to re-creat another Rabin? You tell me now who really wants peace and who want war.

Peacefull demonstrations by tens of thousands of Palestinians? Heck men, I picture that as another golden opportunity for the Israeli army to once again demonstrate to the Arabs how macho and crul it can act, lest they forget what the same Israeli army was doing to the people of Gaza same time last year. Come on. Let us all sprinkle a bit of reality in our day dreams and sugar-wrapped diversions. Can you really miss all those points? I envy your ability to not see them.

December 27th, 2009, 8:44 pm


Shai said:


I’m not the only one suggesting peaceful demonstrations are still better than violence. You’ve got someone called Alex on this site that believes it as well. And many others on the Palestinian side. Dreamy little ideas? Maybe. But maybe that’s what are missing in our region – dreams, hopes, different realities.

Btw, very few Israeli Arabs are “killed or injured” by Israeli bullets. Far more Palestinians are, unfortunately.

The dreaming, I believe, is done by you, when you think Israel or Israelis will “prove themselves” anytime soon. How can a bully that thinks he’s the victim prove himself? It’s like the admission you expect of Israelis, that we’ve committed crimes against the Palestinians. Do you really think this is going to happen? Even after a thousand wars it won’t. It might, 2 or 3 generations after Peace. You seek justice (justifiably, I might add), but justice will not be served. Not for a long while. And that’s reality, as sad as it may be. I wish it was different, believe me I do.

By the way, the scenario I depicted for you up above, with thousands of Palestinians marching on Kfar Darom and the Army retreating (without shooting into the crowd), was not my dreamy invention – it was the Army’s. They concluded that Kfar Darom would be overtaken peacefully, precisely because the soldiers could not stop them.

If you’ve studied history of the British, especially in India, you’d recall some massacres that occurred when British soldiers fired live ammunition straight into peaceful crowds. But that didn’t stop Gandhi, nor his supporters. And in the end, as you know, they won.

To end (this day’s) usual exchanges between us, I will just reiterate that I don’t expect anything from your side. I don’t want you to “prove” anything to us. Notice I never said “prove to us that Syria really wants Peace…” What I am asking for, hoping for, is open channels of communication. Just as you’re able to voice your concerns to me now, so should other Syrians be able to do, directly at Israelis, on our TV sets, on our newspapers. Let Israeli journalists interview Syrians, ordinary ones, and the leadership, and let your message be heard in every household in Israel. This is what I’m asking your side to do.

December 27th, 2009, 9:03 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Come on guys, don’t you have a slightest grain of sense of humor?

Of course, I know Ashura is very sad. I couldn’t stop crying yesterday;
I was so devastated.. come on.

You know by now what I feel towards religions. All religions.

December 27th, 2009, 10:41 pm


Alex said:

Dear Murhaf,

OTW got it right … this failed group of criminals (the Neocons) … one of the worst things to happen to our planet since Hitler, do not care to read anything that is not written by their own propaganda machine. That’s why there are many, many “Bashir” Assad articles out there … most of them are written by Neocons

Take a look below at a sample of their endless garbage on the internet … “research papers”, “analysis”, blog posts … all using the same key words (Bashir Assad, dictator, idiot, Hamas, Hezbollah, harboring terror, Al-Qaeda …)








December 27th, 2009, 10:47 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

A very good source to find out what’s going on in Iran, if you don’t know it,
à propos the sad Ashura.


December 27th, 2009, 10:58 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

Yazid was very bad person,He started the inheritance of the rule,this is against Islam, He also had bad intention against Hussain( tried to kill him while performing pilgrimage), however Hussain was not smart man at all and he was emotional,he took his family,including his brothers traveled from Mecca to Kofeh,without definite plan.
Ashura (to us the sunneh) we fast as encouraged by the Prophet (saying if Moses fasted this day I will fast).long before Hussain death.

December 27th, 2009, 11:38 pm


Badr said:

To all,

Ashura is the day when Prophet Moses escaped with his people from Pharaoh and his army: God ordered Moses to strike the sea with his stick and as it parted it allowed Moses and the Jews to escape. However, when Pharaoh and his army followed they were drowned. When Prophet Mohammed learned that the Jews fasted on Ashura to express thanks to God for securing the safety of the Jews he said that Muslims were closer to the essence of Moses than the Jews of that time and encouraged Muslims to fast as well. So it is after all a happy occasion for all Muslims, as we believe in all of God’s Prophets. Unfortunately, the death of Hussain may God be pleased with him also occurred on that day. His death as Majed states occurred many years after Ashura had been a happy event for Jews and Muslims.

December 28th, 2009, 12:46 am


Badr said:

The above comment by “Badr” is not mine. There should be a unique user name associated with and authenticated by a secret e-mail address. And I believe I was the first to use this name on this blog!

December 28th, 2009, 7:00 am


why-discuss said:

Photos: Muharram Mourning in Ziarat Village, Golestan Province of Iran
… Rather, based on ancient ruins and historic data, it seems this village has been one of the centers of worship for the Buddhists who would gather there from all over Asia.


Ashura is more than a religious occasion, it is a festive tradition that binds all iranians and shias worldwide, similar to Christmas day for the christians.
Can we argue that Jesus was never born with “Christmas” trees but rather with palm trees? Traditions are built with time and ultimately may not resemble the original event at all.

December 28th, 2009, 9:34 am


ausamaa said:


Unfortunately we still come back to your starting point. Of course are good at responding selectively to what I post, with the icing on the cake being your admitting that only FEW Palestinians peace marchers usually get killed by the Israeli army on Land Day demonstrations. Few only. I stand corrected. Just few Palestinans get killed. Few are OK by IDF math I presume!

To sum up, Shai, please try to understand our point which has been proven in all situations involving Oppressed/Opressor relationship throughout history: Israel is eventually doomed but it still has a chance to reach peace with the Arabs, that chance has a time limit as every thing else. Israelies should be smart/realistic enough to realize that the things are changing and the tide is turning against Israel and Israel type entities by the day. We are not still living in 1948, 1967. The gapbetween the Jewish Immigrans and the Arabs is shrinking in todays world. Ruling the Arabs by FORCE indifenitly is practically impossible. Ideologies, feelings, dreams and good such things aside , REALITY rules in the end. Check how and why Colonial, Settler, and Aparthaid regeims collapsed throughout history and that should point out to you what awaits Israel unless it changes its manners and tries to redfine its role and convince us and the world that it really serious about it.

We have been around for centuries, we had the Ottomans, the French, the British, the Moguls, the Crusaders and they all left with deep wounds and regerets. And they were way ahead of Israel both materialistically and morally. We ruled Spain and left it after 700 years of occupation! Do you think Israel is different from all the others that passed through? You got an ACE in the whole that no one in history ever held but you? Think Mr. Shai. The past sixty years are a mere “moment” in the historical prosepective. It may be strtched to Seventy, eighty or a hundred years even. But in the end, the end comes crushing down upon who think they are mighty just because their current soward is sharpers than the other fellow’s. He who lives by the soawrd, shall dy by the soward. And Israel is living by the soward. Please, give it some deep thought. Your proposistion does not add up nor does it make sense. You have to go to the Arabs and try to convinnce them not vice versa. If you think that this is a bad proposition, then it is your problem. The writing is on the wall and if you do not see the writing or the wall you really are in deep trouble. And it seems you are almost there. Besides, an ethnic, religous, racial state, rejected by its neighbours, cold shouldered by its creators, abhord by the world community, and in facing an enemy a hundred times its number who is refusing to accept its hegemony no matter how crude, bloody and murderous its actions are. You tell me the odds of such an entity surviving in such a world if it keep the blinders on and keeps insisting that it can withstand all those forces. Sailing against the wind would be a mild description of such a situation. In the Eye of the Storm might be a better one.

Shai, I am not really worried about the Arabs, I bleed for the suffering, but to us the end is clear. We have been here for centuries, a lot of much larger invaders have come and gone through the ages and we have remaind masters of our land.

It is Israel’s choice and Israel’s duty to decide; does it want to live in a convincing peace, or does it want to live by the soward untill it dies by it.

December 28th, 2009, 9:58 am


Shai said:


Much of what you write is preaching to the choir. I don’t know why you insist on continuing to do that. But in one major way I do differ with you. Unlike the Egyptians, Mongols, Persians, Hittites, Crusaders, or Ottomans, the “Israeli Empire” is the only one that can destroy the entire region. It cannot be forced to leave, like the others were. It is here to stay.

So you can wait your 50, or 80, or 100 years, and leave this conclusion to your grandchildren. Or, you can at least open up channels of communication, so that “Colonialist Israelis” could hear what you have to say.

Ausamaa, besides your impressive patience and readiness to “wait” (while you “bleed for your people’s suffering”), the main difference between us is that you seek Justice, while I seek a Solution, which may one day lead to Justice.

If you’re not for open communication with the Oppressor, the Conqueror, then I suggest we stop this dialogue between two deaf people. We’ve probably stopped contributing to the Forum long ago with these round-and-round exchanges.

December 28th, 2009, 11:47 am


ausamaa said:


I never said I am not open to a dialouge with the Israelies. I do doubt the benefits such a dialuge will get us since we are supposed to be “dialuging” since Oslo. After Rabin’s assasination by an Israeli -not an Arab- rightwinger-the Israeli side stood still.

All I am trying to point out is that your brilliant idea tht peace is dependant on the prerequesit of having the Palestinians and Arabs FIRST kneel down and demonstrate goodwill to the Irealies is a useless excersis. Besides, isnt that exactly what Mubarak and dovish Mahmoud Abbas have been doing for years and see where all their extended goodwill got them with the Israelies.

So please do not try to portray us as being against a dialuge with the Israelies. The Israelies are not kids that can be lured by Arab candies, they are an entity aware of its needs and wants. They would kiss the hand of anyone if that will get them whast they want. And if thet really want peace then let them also at least express such a willingliness in ways other than mere empty words. Let us not kid each other, if Israel wants peace, all the roads are open and Arab leaders have been repeating day and night to no avail. If Obama could not convince Israel to halt the expansion in some wild settlement, then what could good gestures by the Palestinians do except fule Israel’s appetite for more demands and more procrastination? For God’s sake what serious dannger does the “mere” holding of the “expansion” of Israeli Settlement(and American request at that) represents to the security of a peace seeking Israel. And if you can get Israel to agree to even that, then would you agree to Israel going back to the 1967 boarders?

Let us also be serious, when Israel ever decides that it wants peace -while peace is still possible- then Israel knows what to do. Unfortunatly Israel is not doing anything about it, neither is it showing signs of welcoming it. The only conclusion this leads us to reach is that Israel does not want peace because Israel thinks peace is NOT in the interst of Israel. Can you deny that such a possibility exist. Perhaps then can we stop kidding each other on this subject.

December 28th, 2009, 3:45 pm


Shai said:


I have yet to meet a single community on the face of this planet that thinks “Peace is not in (her) interest”. Israelis want Peace, but today about 70% of them want it for free. A decade and a half ago, only 30% of them wanted it for free, and 70% were ready to give back both the Golan, and the Palestinian Territories. It is not only the Israelis that missed the boat, it is also the Arabs.

What you do not realize, is that Israel and Israelis aren’t black or white. Either for peace, or against it. It is far more complicated, and situation and time-dependent. If Syria was ready to talk to the Israeli people, I believe there’s a real chance they could influence them, and change those numbers once more. If not, then we’re left at the hands of Netanyahu and Lieberman.

If you’ve followed my comments on SC, you’d know that I’m not asking anything of the Palestinians. I don’t think they need to prove anything to US. They do need, however, to unite. Because while they are split between Fatah and Hamas, no Palestinian state could ever be created.

I don’t believe there’s any hope along the Palestinian track right now, and I am pointing to Syria as the key to Peace in the region. I’m urging Israelis to consider Peace with Syria our number one most urgent objective, both because it is easiest to achieve, and it has the greatest potential to help the Palestinian track once an agreement is reached.

If you’re hoping to hear from me “Ausamaa, Israelis do not want Peace.”, then stop wasting your breath, I won’t say it because I don’t believe it. It is a matter of getting 51% of Israelis once again to be ready to make the final withdrawals to the 1967 borders. Rabin was elected to do that, Sharon (Butcher-of-Lebanon) was elected to do that, but both did not succeed. I think Netanyahu can succeed, if he wants to. Regardless, I think Syria should open channels of communication with the Israeli public.

December 28th, 2009, 6:45 pm


ausamaa said:

Shai, as you say with the rate of Israelies who want Peace for free growing from 30% to 70% during a mere decade and and half, then simple math says Israelies who want peace for free would reach 100% very soon.Hence, allow me to introduce to you Israel: the “single community that Peace is not in its own interest” which you seem to have not met yet.

Alexander the Great army must have had a similar growth of its feeling of invincibility until it was cruched and then it realised that he can not enjoy what he wished for once he overreached the limits of his power.

Anyway, can we compare that above rate of growth to the rate of decline in the percentage of Jews immigrating to and migrating from Israel during the same period? Comparing the curves may reveal something that goes agaist the proclaimed Israeli sense of invinvincibility and “immortality”.

Are we witnessing -or arrogantly and blindly walking into- a new Massada complex? I sincerely hope not.

December 28th, 2009, 8:37 pm


why-discuss said:


Why do you think Israelis have changed and that 70% want peace for free?
Is it because they won lands and got used to “winning” points? Because they are assured of the US support? of their power? or is it just acceptance that finally they can still live and thrive better without peace than with where they may have to share more?
What would make them change their mind? Fear and more violence? a war where they will loose? or dialogs that they may interpret as weakness signs and become even more demanding?
For us it is puzzling as if Jews have already a very complex nature, after centuries of discriminations and oppressions where they had to find their way, Israelis are even more complicated and unpredictable. Arabs are much more simple to guess.
You know better the Israelis than we do, but what we perceive of them through their daily acts, their chosen leaders and their declaration is that, execpt for a small minority, they don’t give a damn about peace and the sacrifice they may have to do and that after all for them war and occupation is business as usual.

December 29th, 2009, 1:24 pm


Shai said:

Dear Why Discuss,

While I absolutely understand any and all Arabs that simply do not believe Israelis want Peace, and easily point as you mentioned to daily acts that bluntly contradict any claim to the otherwise, I still maintain that my people want to live at Peace in this region. But to want to “live in Peace” doesn’t always mean to understand or see the same way what is first required. For instance, if you ask the average Israeli why Egypt and Israel don’t enjoy REAL peace, you’ll get the answer “because they hate us”. But most Israelis don’t ask themselves WHY the Egyptians hate us. Or why an Israeli can’t feel very comfortable walking around souqs in Amman, even though we are “at Peace”. Most Israelis certainly wouldn’t consider us “The Bully” in our neighborhood. Most still view us as “The Victim”. So with this twisted outlook on things, you should be able to understand (not necessarily accept) how it is that Israelis actually do want Peace, and yet continue acting as if they don’t.

The problem is, that the Arabs (justifiably, I believe) can’t possibly accept that Israel is “The Victim”. And any such notion stirs up nothing but anger on your side. You cannot even perceive an Israeli that feels he/she is threatened by the Palestinians, who are a thousand times weaker, and who suffer a thousand times more, and have been for the past 42 years. You cannot understand how a people that came here and took land by force, feel a “Right” to that land, even more than the rights of those who inhabited this land continuously for centuries before these Jews arrived. It goes against any common logic you may have. And so you’re left with no choice, but to rationalize that Israelis don’t want Peace. If they did, none of what they continue to do makes sense.

And yet here I am, claiming that “The Bully” doesn’t understand he’s the bully, that “The Bully” doesn’t WANT to be a bully and, most bizarre of all, that “The Bully” actually fears the victim, and wants to live in Peace with him.

Now of course I don’t claim this is true about all Israelis. Unfortunately, there are a good 30%-40% who are today leaning more and more to the Far-Right (not just the Right), and who are perfectly happy living in No-Peace with the Arabs. They are not just the Settlers, but another 10%-15% of the general population, who simply don’t believe the Arabs, don’t want to believe the Arabs, and are always assuming the next war is just around the corner. They’re the 30% that will vote against a return of the Golan, even if Assad came to Jerusalem first thing tomorrow morning, and begged for Peace. Sadly enough, amongst them you’ll find future “Olmerts”, as he himself voted against return of the Sinai, even after Sadat came to Israel.

But the other 60%-70% of Israelis are still the same Israelis they were in Rabin’s days, who wanted Peace. They’re still the same people that voted Rabin into power, Barak into power, and Sharon into power! All, to withdraw to the 1967 lines! These Israelis are still here, but their fears and suspicion have grown in the past decade. The horrific violence that followed Oslo, and the 2nd Intifada, caused them to distrust the Arabs. Suddenly, it was difficult to argue against the 30% that always yelled “The Arabs hate us, and want to throw us to the sea…” Suddenly, it made sense. That it was a self-fulfilling prophecy is something few Israelis could contemplate. That before the Effect, there was also a Cause, is something most Israelis cannot see. And Bush, of course, helped most of us remain blind for nearly a decade. No one held us at check during those 8 years. We had a carte blanche to continue the Occupation, to disregard Palestinian Election results, and of course to go on further “military adventures”, that not only brought upon the Arabs further suffering, but in fact sealed any hope some in this region had, on all sides.

You asked what would make Israelis change our mind. Unfortunately I don’t know with any great certainty the answer to the question. I believe I understand what makes Israelis fear, and what makes them hope. And I think, that if our enemies (Syria specifically) opens itself up just enough for most Israelis to finally be able to hear, directly, the concerns and hopes of ordinary citizens, and also of the leadership, then something very real will change within us. Then suddenly, we’ll have to look ourselves in the mirror, like we haven’t for way too long.

Will war make us change our mind? I don’t know, maybe. But my fear of war isn’t based on wars we’ve seen in the 20th century between Israel and its Arab neighbors. It is based on a recognition that the game has changed dramatically in the past decade or so, and Israel’s traditional enemies are long gone, only to be replaced by far more “complicated” ones. If Syrian tanks begin rolling up the Golan, Israel will fight them in the classical sense (tanks, artillery, infantry, air force, etc.) But if thousands of Syrian rockets land deep inside Israel, and if the same happens simultaneously from another three fronts (Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran), then there is a great likelihood that Israel will feel it is under existential threat. Perhaps like it felt only in its War of Independence, back in 1947-49, and not in any other war since. And if that happens, then I’m not sure we can predict how Israel will react, and how this war will develop. I’m not sure we could rule out massive use of WMD’s by all sides. And the consequences, could be horrific beyond comprehension, to all sides.

Of course I cannot decide for your side what is the best strategy. But if there are three main possibilities – one being war, second being diplomacy, and third being status-quo, then clearly I’m for the second.

As you know, I refer often to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. And from what we know today, the US and the USSR were but a hair-length away from all out nuclear war. As Robert McNamara once said, “It was LUCK! We lucked out…” And what I keep asking myself is, if war had taken place, and both superpowers would have come as close to totally destroying one another as they could, would Historians today claim “No one could have guessed it…”? I think few in Kennedy’s EXCOM thought about this option. I think Kennedy did, and chose correctly. He chose diplomacy, and proved he was right.

I know what many will say to this comparison – that you can’t compare – because the sides are far from being equal (Israel and the Arabs). And of course, objectively speaking they’re right. But what most don’t understand, is that perception-wise, we are. If Israelis still fear the Arabs (and I claim we do), and if Arabs still fear Israel, then diplomacy must be a smarter route than violence. Then it means there is an emotional realm that can be discovered, and taken advantage of. And it means, that there is still hope.

But I also agree, that it cannot be just one-sided, and that regardless of tactic or strategy used, bold and courageous leadership is required. I hope we have that in Israel, and I hope you’ll have that on the Arab side as well.

December 29th, 2009, 7:18 pm


norman said:

are these the Israeli leaders that you trust to advance peace via diplomacy , I doubt it ,

Turkish mediation with Syria? Forget about it, says Lieberman
Turkey has no place in Israel’s peace negotiations with Syria, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said, dismissing as “illusions” suggestions from other Israeli ministers that Ankara could return to its role as mediator.

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“If the Syrians want to talk, let them talk to us only in a face-to-face meeting,” Lieberman said in an address to about 100 Israeli diplomats in Jerusalem on Sunday, according to reports in the Israeli media. “So long as I am foreign minister and Yisrael Beiteinu is in the government, there will be no Turkish mediation,” he added, referring to his hard-line party. “The Syrians want to talk? Then direct negotiations, only.”

Lieberman’s remarks put him at odds with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who called for the resumption of Turkish mediation during a visit to Ankara last month. Lieberman accused Barak and Ben-Eliezer of “proposing and hinting that there is place for Turkish mediation.”

“Stop creating illusions and disseminating things that have no connection to reality,” Lieberman was quoted as saying by the Haaretz newspaper. “If you think that after [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan’s comments [about Israel] we would agree to Turkish mediation, even if it meant smiles and visits, forget about it.”

29 December 2009, Tuesday

December 29th, 2009, 8:16 pm


Shai said:


I won’t go into what I think of Lieberman, Israel’s supposed-chief-diplomat (“Foreign Minister”). We already know that HIS boss, Netanyahu disagrees with him about the requirement of direct-negotiations. After all, Netanyahu asked France to mediate between us. Syria wants Turkey.

But if I’m to be honest with myself, I can’t tell you that if I was in Lieberman’s shoes, I wouldn’t say the same thing. Why should Israeli diplomats go situate themselves in some hotel, Syrian diplomats in another, and a Turkish “mediator” running back and forth between them? If Barak and Farouk al-Sharaa could sit face-to-face, twice, why can’t it happen again? My logic says that adding a 3rd party will waste more time than talking directly.

December 29th, 2009, 8:32 pm


norman said:


It is because of what happened after the meeting between AL Shara and Barack that Syria does not trust Israel they remember how president Hafiz Assad went and met with president Clinton who promised a solution only to see that Barack was lying about the border , Israel has to prove that it is serious about peace ,

December 30th, 2009, 1:57 am


Shai said:


I’m sure there are people in Microsoft who are also saying the same about Yahoo. But in the end, if a deal is struck, it is done between people who are putting aside the “lying”, the “proving”, and are determined to reach their goal.

Interpretations of intent are sometimes our own worst enemy. What you say about Barak, others can easily say about Assad. Those who spend more time saying it, are less determined to get things done, than they are to talking about it.

December 30th, 2009, 9:43 am


why-discuss said:

Shai, i really appreciate your insights.
When there is a such distrust and fear on both side and each one believes he is a victim, there is no other way that having a third party to intervene, like a shrink will do in a couple in trouble.
Unfortunately each time the US, who is certainly the best arbitre, tries to intervene, you have this massive jewish lobby and the AI neo cons who keep throwing oil on the fire. Do these people want peace like the 70% of Israelis? I have a hunch they don’t. They live in the US and seem to find satisfactions in helping Israel to live the way they want it to: Detached from the primitive arabs and westernized to resemble the US. And this is what is seem to be happening in Israel, the oriental roots of the jews are gradually been eaten up by western type of values.
I saw the Cohen brother’s film ‘a serious man’ and i was shocked to see what happened to the jewish religion in the US. It has become just a facade. I wonder if Israel, under the US jewish business lobby influences is not moving that way too. Or in the extreme like the hysterical settlers who believe they are the chosen people and therefore Hashem is on their side.
That may explain the loss of the sense of moral values that we have seen during the Gaza war.
Shai, from the Israeli films ( Amos Gitai and others ) I saw and text I read, I feel that Israel is going through a very deep moral and psychological crisis and that the Palestinian issue is just hiding this internal crisis.
Most Arabs do not an identity issue, they know they outnumber the israelis. They know that sooner of later, the cards will change with the growing arab demography in Israel. Unfortunately while the 70% of Israelis may want peace, they are ruled by the 30% who do not want. I believe the 70% should masively elevate their voices through demonstrations and not sit and watch: WE WANT PEACE

December 30th, 2009, 10:41 am


Shai said:


Those 70% I claim still want peace (but at the moment aren’t willing to pay the price), will “awaken” in one of two options – either from within (Netanyahu giving a super pro-peace speech), or from without (Assad doing the same). In both cases, the Israeli people will have to understand that it is in our best interest to trust the Arabs, and not to continue to define ourselves as the victim. Rabin was the kind of leader that led his people to that conclusion. I’m not sure Netanyahu is. But there are no others I can see on the horizon, besides him.

My call for Syria to target Israelis directly with their PR is intended to either help Netanyahu (if he really wants to make peace), or circumvent him (if he doesn’t).

I agree with much of what you said above.

December 30th, 2009, 2:31 pm


norman said:


I agree with you that Syria and Israel should sell any agreement to their people but they should reach an agreement first in secret then sell , so nobody will feel that they are waisting their time ,
any agreement that include the settlement of the Palestinians in Syria should be a GOD sent to Israel .
What do you think ,
and by the way ,

Can you tell me the peace that Israel wants and think that if it is the other way around they would accept ,

December 30th, 2009, 5:17 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Responding to the Uninformed (continued)

Why-Discuss said:

Shai, i really appreciate your insights.

Why Discuss,

Of course you do, because Shai feeds you your favorite food: anti-Zionism.

… the US, who is certainly the best arbitre…

Of course te US is the best arbitrator, but that doesn’t stop people like yourself from believing every US adminstration is beholden to a “jewish lobby”. What you and other should realize one day is that Christian lobbies, Jewish Lobbies, and the vast majority of Americans are pro-Israel and recognize Israel as an independent state with the right of self-defense.

… you have this massive jewish lobby and the AI neo cons who keep throwing oil on the fire

Your comment above is silly, innaccurate simplification. If the Arabs want to terrorize the world in order to create a wedge against Jews and Israel, you will have to also create the wedge against a LOT of pro-Israel Christians. This is the lobby you’ll need to change, and it hasn’t happened yet.

I saw the Cohen brother’s film ‘a serious man’ and i was shocked to see what happened to the jewish religion in the US. It has become just a facade.

I’m glad you enjoyed “A Serious Man”, but watching American movies should never be a “learning experience”. Just remember, Hollywood makes great entertainment, and about 97% of it is fiction.

Another thing you should know is that Hollywood is dominated by liberals, and many of these liberals are Jewish (in name), and highly critical of Israel and their own Jewish upbringing. Because the USA is built on freedom or expression and freedom of speech, many “villains” and anti-heroes are religious, be they Christian, Jewish or Muslim, and it all incorporates what we call “political correctness”.

I take issue with your observation that “jewish religion” is a “facade”. You aren’t Jewish and you must not know very much about the Jewish community. My family, for example is made up of secular and religious Jews, and I can say with overwhelming assurance, the the religious Jews in my family take their religion seriously. It is who they are, and they live and breathe the jewish religion every day.

I, myself, would NEVER claim that the muslim religion was a “facade”, and, therefore, I resent your above statement.

Here is what an intelligent american jewish woman had to say about the movie you saw. Read it and hopefully you’ll come away with a more balanced view:


Or in the extreme like the hysterical settlers who believe they are the chosen people and therefore Hashem is on their side.

Just FYI, Israeli settlers aren’t “hysterical” for the most part. They don’t lob missiles into the West Bank and Gaza like Hamas does to Israel (speaking of “hysterical”). To put it simply, they believe Jews should be able to live wherever they want in their own country. I don’t find that to be “hysterical”. If the GOI and the PA had their border defined, then the term “settler” goes away and they are just plain-old “Israelis”.

December 30th, 2009, 7:11 pm


Shai said:

“To put it simply, they believe Jews should be able to live wherever they want in their own country.”

Funny, why is it Israel never annexed the West Bank, as it did the Golan? Could it be that NO Israeli administration really saw the West Bank as being “their own country”? Hmmm… something to ponder on this New Year.

December 30th, 2009, 8:46 pm


Shai said:


I agree, things should be finalized behind closed doors. But if nothing’s happening there (i.e. if for instance the current Israeli leader is not interested), then PR must target the Israeli public directly.

As for what kind of peace, if it were the other way around, that’s a difficult question because it presumes empathy on some level. I don’t think we can assume this, for either side by the way. I don’t think Israelis really think about what kind of Peace Syria needs, and I imagine most Syrians don’t think about what Israelis need.

December 30th, 2009, 8:52 pm


norman said:

Shai ,
I actually do and that is how i think things could move forward , if we are not able to put ourselves in each other shoes then will always be talking at each other instead to each other ,

December 31st, 2009, 3:33 am


Shai said:


Amen to that. You’re right.

December 31st, 2009, 5:17 am


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