Flipping Peace Tracks Again? - Syria Comment

Flipping Peace Tracks Again?

by Camille Alexandre Otrakji

Over the past few weeks, Israeli leaders Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres and Saudi diplomats have been energetically promoting the Saudi / Arab peace initiative of 2002 as an alternative to the current Syrian and Palestinian peace negotiations tracks.

The initiative has many merits, but it also contains a deal breaker for Israel.

Saudi Plan / Arab initiative

The Arab Peace Initiative is based on the Saudi peace plan which was first formulated by (then-Crown Prince) King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia during and after a meeting he had with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in 2002. Mr. Friedman had actually written a column a few weeks earlier suggesting a similar plan for reaching a comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The plan is an initiative that aims to achieve a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. It offers Israel normalization of relations and comprehensive peace with all Arab countries in exchange for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from all of the occupied territories including the Golan Heights, and the recognition of “an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital”.

A month later, at the Beirut Summit of the Arab League, the peace initiative was endorsed unanimously by all participating members of the Arab League after the plan was amended to include, at the request of Syria and Lebanon, an article about a just solution to the Palestinian Refugee problem, to be agreed upon in accordance with section 11 of UN General Assembly Resolution 194.

The Arab Peace Initiative is therefore an expanded version of the Saudi peace plan. The main difference between the two plans is the inclusion of the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Revival of interest in the Arab Peace Initiative

It started last month at the United Nations.

Israeli President Shimon Peres, in his speech to the UN General Assembly, said: “The Arabs replaced the three NOs of Khartoum (no peace, no negotiation, no recognition) with a peace initiative, inaugurated by King Abdullah Abdul Aziz Al Saud. I call upon the king to further his initiative; it may become an invitation for comprehensive peace, one to convert battlegrounds to common grounds.”

Last Thursday, Mr. Peres met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Sharm el-Sheikh. After that meeting he made the following statement: “We accept the Arab peace initiative in order to bring peace to the entire region”. Peres added that while the Saudi plan “needs to be negotiated”, its spirit is “correct.”

Also last week, Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak indicated his support for the Saudi plan. He suggested that the current Syrian and Palestinian tracks are not making much progress and therefore he decided that it is better to move them all to a single track based on the Saudi plan. “There is definitely room to introduce a comprehensive Israeli plan to counter the Saudi plan that would be the basis for a discussion on overall regional peace”. Then Mr. Barak noted the “deep, joint interest” with moderate Arab leaders in containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions and limiting the influence of the radical Islamic Hezbollah movement in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

Also this month, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal and his brother, former Ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal both promoted the Saudi peace plan

Last week Syrian ambassador to the United States, Dr. Imad Moustapha, was asked about the way he sees Israel’s future role in the Middle East after the end of the Arab Israeli conflict. The ambassador said “It is important to understand that any Syrian approach to peace with Israel falls under its endorsement of the Pan Arab Peace Initiative. Therefore, any long-term relationship with Israel will ultimately fall within a broader Arab strategic plan.”

Advantages of the unified Arab track

Israeli leaders will find it easier to justify the necessary land concessions to the Syrians and Palestinians, if they are part of a comprehensive settlement. Currently, most Israelis are not sure if they are getting a good deal. Because the Syrian front has been quiet since 1975, “peace” with Syria is not considered as a valuable reward that will clearly translate into more security for Israel. Moreover, Syria made it clear that its relations with Hizbollah, Hamas, and Iran are non-negotiable. And finally, Israelis see Syria as an economically weak country that won’t offer Israel any financial benefit.

In contrast, being able to do business with Dubai, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia (after a comprehensive settlement between Israel and all Arab countries) would probably be perceived as a much more attractive reward for Israelis.

Additionally, a clear commitment by the Arab world to a peaceful settlement to the Arab Israeli conflict will be more reassuring in terms of the settlement’s extent and endurance.

Syria, always a proponent of a comprehensive settlement of the Arab Israeli conflict, will probably feel more comfortable with the scope of the Arab peace initiative compared to having to conduct separate peace negotiations. Syria’s current indirect talks with Israel through Turkish mediators were enough to earn Syria an intensely negative Saudi media campaign which portrayed Syria as a fake nationalist that used Arab nationalist movements for the sole purpose of gaining more favorable rewards exclusively for Syria at the expense of Palestinian and Lebanese rights. By moving from a Syrian track to an Arab track, the Saudis and Egyptians will have a role to play and will therefore be expected to stop trying to obstruct Syria’s current efforts towards a peaceful settlement.

The weaker Arabs (the Palestinians and the Lebanese), can also expect to benefit from the added combined weight and support of the Arab world.

The Arab plan makes it easier for individual Arab leaders to carry out their future normalization with Israel in a systematic way. Instead of needing to debate it and to justify it, each ruler will be able to explain to the hard liners among his people that they have no choice, since the whole Arab world agreed to normalize with Israel.

On the other hand …

Mr. Barak is already talking about his interest in formulating Israeli proposals to “counter” the Saudi peace plan.

There are multiple problems with Mr. Barak’s approach. First, the Arab world did not adopt the “Saudi” plan. It adopted the more strict “Arab peace initiative”. The difference is in the Arab initiative’s call for the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Is Israel ready to tacke that challenge at this point?

If the Arab initiative is to be countered or renegotiated, who is Mr. Barak expecting to negotiate with on the Arab side? Is he planning to exclusively talk to his favorite “Arab Moderate” partners? Wouldn’t that be another attempt to isolate Syria? Is he expecting to split the Arab world in two camps, a “moderate camp” that accepts his counter proposal, and a rejectionist camp that does not?

An “Arab” peace initiative requires some kind of unity, or cooperation among the leading Arab states. A few days after Saudi Prince Saud Al-Faisal stated that Syria and Saudi Arabia will be able to solve any issues between them without any need for third party mediation, Tariq Alhomayed, the editor of the largest Saudi owned newspaper, Asharq Alawsat, wrote an editorial that only a bitter enemy of Syria can write.

Israel has been negotiating with the Palestinians and Syrians since 1991. During those long seventeen years neither track led to an agreement. The same Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres who are calling today for abandoning the Syrian and Palestinian tracks in favor of a unified Arab track, spent the better part of the nineties advocating freezing the Syrian or Palestinian tracks in order to apply pressure on Israel’s two Arab partners in negotiations with the hope of making them accept more compromises, rather than risk losing the interest of the Israelis in pursuing their respective tracks.

President Clinton wrote in his memoirs that former Prime Minister Ehud Barak “got cold feet” when he reached a final agreement with late Syrian President Hafez Assad. Instead of risking his political future by proposing to his people an agreement that included a withdrawal to the June 4th 1967 line in the Golan, Mr. Barak decided to withdraw from south Lebanon in order to weaken Syria’s negotiating position by taking away the Lebanon/Hizbollah card from the hand of Hafez Assad. The prime minister was hoping that by doind so Syria will be forced to take his offer next time they talk.

Throughout the past decade, Mr. Peres consistently advocated weakening and isolating Syria in order to bring it to the “moderate” Arab camp. He has pursued a strategy of refusing to settle the conflict with Syria based on UN resolutions calling on Israel to withdraw from Arab lands it occupied during the 1967 war, and instead trying to weaken Syria until it accepts terms that comply with what Mr. Peres was willing to offer. While Mr. Peres always managed to be generous in praising his many friends among the leaders of the “moderate Arab” nations, he actively contributed to the demonization of Syria that took place during the past few years.

If Israel is falling in love again with the Arab Peace Initiative for all the right reasons, then it can only be good news for everyone. Syria will be the first to sit on that table.

But if Israel’s aging leaders are devoid of courage or creative ideas and are merely trying to recirculate their tried, tested and proven delaying tactics, or if Mr. Peres managed to convince his desperate friends among the “moderate Arab” allies that together they can marginalize Syria and its allies simply by reviving the Arab peace initiative, then there will probably be another cycle of chaos, violence, war threats followed by a sequence of flipping peace tracks.

Comments (67)


Innocent Criminal said:

Alex,

Very good post. BUT…. I wouldn’t give the arab demand for a “just” solution to the Palestinian Refugee problem much weight. Its almost certainly just a negotiating tool to get the rest of their demands.

All countries including Syria have come to the realistic conclusion that the Palestinian refugees in their countries are there to stay permenantly. The US, Europe and the GCC will probably inject huge cash donations to these countries to soften the blow on behalf of Israel and to reach a final solution.

Obviously the issue will be more probematic for some countries (i.e. lebanon) But we can say with much certainty that Israel will not allow more than a symbolic handful of refugees to return to the final Palestinain state.

October 29th, 2008, 8:18 am

 

Alex said:

I agree IC

But from what I have been hearing, I am expecting that there will be a disagreement when it comes time to define what that symbolic number should be.

Besides .. who will be the first Arab state to publicly propose only a symbolic number of returning refugees?
And finally … what will Moamar Qaddafi tell the head of state (or king) of that country? : )

Shai … what do you think that number can be? : )

October 29th, 2008, 8:24 am

 

Innocent Criminal said:

Whatever the number will be i am sure the sum of all money donated to the arab countries will be less than what Israel will get in return for giving up land that is not even their’s to begin with. Arab lives are cheap to their own regimes, so can you blame the west for negotiating a better deal than they can with the Israelis 😉 ?

October 29th, 2008, 8:29 am

 

Shai said:

Alex,

Excellent piece! Perfectly analyzing two important angles, and Israeli leaders need to understand these thoroughly before adopting the Arab Initiative at the possible expense of separate, bilateral talks. Btw, practically speaking, I’d like to hear how exactly we can all adopt the Arab Initiative – that is, who does Israel talk to? The Arab League? And if I recall correctly, the Initiative talks about an agreed-upon (by all relevant parties) solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. So clearly that suggests bilateral talks between Israelis and Palestinians. How on earth can this take place nowadays? Who will represent the Palestinians, a member of Fatah, sitting next to a member of Hamas? And how do you determine the June 4th demarkation on the Golan, with representatives of the Arab League? So clearly once again bilateral talks between Israel and Syria. So someone needs to explain how this whole Initiative will work.

As for Barak and Peres, thankfully, they’re not really going to be in position to decide. Peres is temporarily taking advantage of a vacuum he discovered in the political arena (due to Olmert’s problems, Kadima’s inability to form a government, etc.), so he’s doing what he can in the few months he is able to. Once a new PM will come to power (Bibi or Livni), neither will ask his advice too much, I believe. You’re not the only one that noticed Peres’s innate ability to NOT lead us forward, by making endless wrong decisions (divide-and-conquer, Syria, Palestinians, etc.)

Our politicians know this quite well, and as a last gesture of gratefulness to a man that DID contribute tremendously to his country, perhaps more than any other still alive, they elected Peres President of Israel. But his powers are super limited. Best and most recent evidence of this – he was completely kept out of the Syria-Israel loop over the past year. Olmert did not share anything with him, nor with Barak or Livni. In our part of the world, if you’re not “in the loop”, you become against it. So Barak and Peres are against the Syrian track, because they know nothing about it. Barak, of course, has no reason to see someone else succeed with Syria, where he failed so miserably.

As for Barak, well, his days are numbered. 90 days from now, I doubt anyone will remember his name, aside from a few curses and finger-pointing at the miserable state he has brought upon his failing party, Labor. My hope, of course, is that internal pressure will force him and half of Labor’s leadership to pack up their bags, and go do something else. They’re mostly good people, with good intentions, but are just not smart and capable politicians. Their time is up. It’s time for new blood in Labor. I therefore doubt Barak will influence any initiative, Arab, Saudi, or Israeli. His countdown in politics has started.

As for the figures on a symbolic solution to the refugee problem, I really can’t guess if or what that would be. I fully agree with you and Innocent Criminal, that Israel will not accept all, most, or almost any refugees back into Israel-proper (Haifa, Jafa, etc.) And I believe the entire Arab world knows this. The correction of the Initiative over the Saudi Plan is indeed a negotiation/pressuring tool, and I think it is completely legitimate. Personally, I think a very-lucrative financial solution will have to replace the physical return of hundreds of thousands (if not more) refugees to their homes in pre-1948 Palestine. Like some settlers in Gaza received $450,000 to vacate their homes (enough to buy a house elsewhere in Israel), so too will all the refugees have to be compensated, but obviously with more significant components, including what we may normally refer to as “pain and suffering”.

That part, obviously, is the toughest issue of all. And therefore it cannot be a make-or-break for peace in the region. We must first reach an agreement with the entire Arab world (all together, or one nation at a time), and then the nature of that so-called “peace” will be determined by how “just” a solution will be to the refugee problem. Notice I haven’t said anything about withdrawing to the 1967 lines – that’s obvious.

October 29th, 2008, 8:51 am

 

alloushi said:

very good post indeed!!!!to change the mood of the last few days. I feel the bias of this blog more and more. who talks about peace now? after the American Raid. it is better to publish a list of incidents on which the syrian land being violated.

it is apparent from the syrian reaction that this incident was really shocking and not expected and they want to proble the American motive behind it and more importantly whether it is going to be repeated again and most importantly whether it has any implications about the regime itself.

October 29th, 2008, 10:39 am

 

Murphy said:

I think we need to emphasise what may be the most crucial sentence of all. By which I mean:

” Peres added that while the Saudi plan “needs to be negotiated”,

If experience is anything to go by, when Israelis say that something ‘needs to be negotiated’ they don’t mean tweaking a few points here and there. They mean radically altering the entire document. So for Perez or whoever to say they ‘broadly accept’ this or that peace initiative really means very little in practice.

October 29th, 2008, 11:53 am

 

norman said:

السفارة الامريكية بدمشق تقول إن هناك احتمال لاغلاق السفارة

October 29th, 2008, 11:53 am

 

norman said:

U.S. embassy in Syria says it could close to public
Posted 46m ago | Comment | Recommend E-mail | Save | Print |

Enlarge By Hussein Mala, AP

The United States says it could close its embassy in Damascus, Syria. Here, the VIP entrance to the embassy riddled with bullet holes is seen as a Syrian policeman stands guard in September 2006.

Yahoo! Buzz Digg Newsvine Reddit FacebookWhat’s this?DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The U.S. Embassy in Syria warned Americans in the country to remain alert and said it could close to the public after the deadly U.S. raid near the country’s border with Iraq over the weekend.
The attack, in which U.S. troops landing in helicopters raided a compound and killed eight people, drew an angry response from Syria. The government on Tuesday ordered an American school and cultural center in the capital to shut down. Both, however, remained open on Wednesday.

The warning on the U.S. Embassy’s website advised Americans to avoid demonstrations and review their personal security and said events could cause it to close to the public.

“The American community in Syria should be aware that unforeseen events or circumstances may occur that could cause the U.S. Embassy in Damascus to close to the public for an unspecified period of time,” said the message, which was dated Monday but was not widely available until Wednesday.

Meanwhile, students and teachers attended classes as usual at the Damascus Community School in the capital’s upscale Maliki neighborhood despite the government’s closure order. An employee at the American cultural center, which is linked to the embassy, said it was also open.

FIND MORE STORIES IN: United States | Iraq | al-Qaeda | Israel | Arab | Syrian | Maliki
“We have not received official notification from the Syrian government (about the closure order) and it would be premature to speculate about the embassy’s reaction,” an embassy information official said, declining to be named because he was not authorized to give official comment.

Syria’s Cabinet said the ministers of education and culture were instructed to implement the closures of the school and the cultural center, but there was no sign Wednesday that they have.

The Damascus Community School, better known in Syria as the “American School,” caters to the small American community and other foreign residents in the Syrian capital but most of its students are Syrian.

The cultural center is about 50 yards from the embassy and has a media and press section, a cultural section and a library.

U.S. officials said Sunday’s raid killed a top operative of al-Qaeda in Iraq who intelligence suggested was about to conduct an attack in Iraq, but Syria and the Iraqi government criticized the raid.

Syria’s state-run newspapers, meanwhile, kept up their criticism of the United States for the attack, which they said will not make Syria change its regional policies.

“The U.S. administration could not be serious if it thinks that such terrorist behavior would make Syria accept occupation,” Al-Thawra newspaper said in an editorial in an apparent reference to U.S. troops in Iraq and Israel’s occupation of Arab territories.

It said Sunday’s attack near the Iraqi border was carried out because of Syria’s stance against the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Posted 46m ago

October 29th, 2008, 12:58 pm

 

norman said:

المعلم: مفجري السيارة المفخخة بدمشق سيدلون باعترافاتهم على التلفزيونI .

قريبا

October 29th, 2008, 1:21 pm

 

trustquest said:

DAMASCUS – On Wednesday, 12 Syrian dissidents were sentenced to two-and-a-half years each by the National Security Court in Damascus. The 12 were held behind a cage in a court room packed with family members and well-wishers. After the sentences were read out, several of the detained shouted cries of defiance and locked hands together.

I’m deeply disturbed by the cruelty of this regime and its disregard to human basic right of speech. People are not slave to punish them for speaking. Now we have some real ideals to be proud of.

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/JJ30Ak01.html

October 29th, 2008, 1:24 pm

 

SAGHIR said:

General Petraeus will have the power to order and fight a regional war “without” clearance from the next White House. Centcomm is now in charge. An Obama White House will end up outsourcing the decision to strike sovereign countries to the new king in town, general Petraeus. This White House wanted to tie up the hands of the next Administration. It seems to have done its best to ensure that this in the bag now.

October 29th, 2008, 2:00 pm

 

Shai said:

Saghir,

I can’t believe Obama would allow Petraeus that much freedom, particularly while he’s in the process of learning the situation on the ground, and wishing to have nothing interfere in his own agenda for the region. If Petraeus attempts something foolish under Obama (such as this latest attack), my guess is he’ll be out on his ass faster than he can spell “USA”. And no general wants to be kicked out of office in such manner. Obama may seem a young, inexperienced commander-in-chief, but he’s no dumb cookie. Amongst the smiles and pats-on-the-back the cameras will pick up on Obama’s first tour of Iraq as President, will be a few stern “warnings” to Petraeus, I imagine.

Like Alex said, I can see Obama reopening the American school in Damascus, and not letting some talented general get in the way.

October 29th, 2008, 2:14 pm

 

norman said:

Saghir,
Can’t the next president change the rule , he is after all the commander in chief,

October 29th, 2008, 2:21 pm

 

norman said:

OIC head condemns US attack on Syria, as inter-Arab tensions rise
Posted : Wed, 29 Oct 2008 13:13:10 GMT
Author : DPA
Category : Middle East (World)
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Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, general secretary of the Organization of Islamic Conference, on Wednesday condemned last Sunday’s US attack inside Syria as Damascus took issue with Saudi Arabia’s official silence on the issue. In a declaration from OIC headquarters in Jeddah, Ihsanoglu held the US responsible in the deaths of innocent civilians in Sunday’s helicopter-borne commando raid on a remote Syrian border region village in which the US said it killed an Iraqi militant.

Syria’s state-run media said eight civilians, including four children, were killed in the raid.

The incident has meanwhile further increased tensions between Syria – and ally of Iran – and Saudi Arabia as Damascus has taken offense to Riyadh having not yet condemned the attack.

“Those who in their palaces have remained silent, these we will forget, just as they will be forgotten by history,” wrote Syria’s state-run al-Thawra newspaper on Wednesday.

Another Syrian state-run daily, Tishrin, warned Arab states such as Saudi Arabia that are allied to the United States “that the US has only a single friend in the region, and that is Israel.”

Copyright, respective author or news agency

October 29th, 2008, 2:53 pm

 

Off the Wall said:

Dear Alex
I have lost few posts in the past few days. I just tried to post format free and link free post, and it was lost. I got site is too busy to view and The whole thing was lost as happenned yesterday as well.

October 29th, 2008, 3:31 pm

 

SAGHIR said:

The “formal powers” granted to Centcom by Bush will have to be “formally withdrawn” by Obama.

Can he do that? Sure.

But, the very next hit on American soldiers will of course be blamed on foreign fighterS who infiltrated from Syria as well as on a “slow” new White House which is soft on protection of the troops. Taking that power back from Centcom will be blamed for everything thereafter.

October 29th, 2008, 3:49 pm

 

Shai said:

Saghir,

You may well be right, and I’m sure the powergame that will be played out between the new administration and Centcom will include mutual accusations. However, I imagine Barack Obama has, before deciding to run for office, come to the realization that getting out of Iraq will be perhaps not less complex than getting out of Vietnam was. As a responsible President-to-be, you would expect Obama to have thoroughly studied precisely those tension-spots he is likely to encounter as commander-in-chief, attempting to indeed end the American occupation of Iraq. Obama doesn’t come off as someone who reads “Cliff’s Notes” on Vietnam (as George W. Bush probably did), and therefore I give him the benefit of the doubt that he’ll know how to handle any general, admiral, or other defense official, that might get in his way.

Look at how much this man has achieved in his 48 years, against all odds. If there’s a man that can stand up to the Pentagon, or to trigger-happy 4-star generals, I have a feeling Barack Obama is such a person. And don’t forget that Syria would treat “mistakes” by Obama very differently than it does by Bush. People and nations around this globe, that are placing their hopes in Obama, will also give him some slack. Hopefully, no major disasters will occur under his belt. But Bush is certainly someone who could and has been manipulated so easily. Obama is no Bush.

October 29th, 2008, 4:02 pm

 

SAGHIR said:

It was Obama who wanted to strike against Pakistan for harboring terrorists who may hit the troops, no?

What Bush has done is leave a policy that fits well within the Obama doctrine 🙂

October 29th, 2008, 4:08 pm

 

Shai said:

Saghir,

Good one! 🙂 But to be honest, I think Obama must talk like that now (also not removing the option of hitting Iran, etc.) before election. Think back to October 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis (my favorite example). Who do you see as being solidly convinced by the generals, admirals, heads of intelligence agencies, defense secretary, and national security advisers who made up the EXCOM, and who unanimously recommended hitting Cuba – Obama, or McCain? Who might have stood up to them, and listened to the only sane voice in the room, that of Tommy Thompson, an ex-diplomat who knew Khrushchev well, and decided against an attack – Obama, or McCain? We know today that at the time, 162 nuclear warheads were already on the island, ready to be launched against 90 million Americans. If a single soviet soldier on Cuba (out of the tens of thousands that were there) would have been hurt, WWIII would have occurred, and you and I may not have been blogging right now.

You may recall, that John Kennedy was elected, amongst other reasons, for blaming the previous administration’s severe underestimation of the USSR’s nuclear threat and its strategic capabilities. He won that election, seeming like a much tougher guy than his opponent, Republican Vice President Richard Nixon. Except that, later in 1961, first use of spy satellites by the U.S. actually revised totally the estimations of the intelligence community, dispelling the famous Bomber and Missile Gaps as absolute myths! A certain senator (I can’t recall his name) actually demanded to have re-election, claiming Kennedy won based on an untrue reality… 🙂

October 29th, 2008, 4:22 pm

 

norman said:

BAGHDAD — Iraq wants a security agreement with the U.S. to include a clear ban on U.S. troops using Iraqi territory to attack Iraq’s neighbors, the government spokesman said Wednesday, three days after a dramatic U.S. raid on Syria.

Also Wednesday, the country’s most influential Shiite cleric expressed concerned that Iraqi sovereignty be protected in the pact. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani wields vast influence among the Shiite majority and his explicit opposition could scuttle the deal.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the ban was among four proposed amendments to the draft agreement approved by the Cabinet this week and forwarded to the U.S.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said U.S. negotiators in Iraq are closely reviewing the new amendments from the Iraqis to see if they are acceptable to the administration.

Mr. Dabbagh said the Iraqis want the right to declare the agreement null and void if the U.S. unilaterally attacks one of Iraq’s neighbors.

U.S. troops launched a daring daylight attack Sunday a few miles into Syrian territory against what U.S. officials said was a key figure in al Qaeda’s operation that moves foreign fighters and weapons into Iraq.

A senior U.S. official said the al Qaeda figure, an Iraqi known as Abu Ghadiyah, was killed. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the raid was classified. Syria says eight civilians died and has demanded an apology.

For nearly two weeks, Iraqi politicians have been considering the draft security agreement, which would keep U.S. troops in Iraq through 2011 unless both sides agree that they could stay longer.

The pact would also give the Iraqis a greater role in supervising U.S. military operations and allow Iraqi courts to try U.S. soldiers and contractors accused of major crimes off duty and off base.

But critics say the current version, reached after months of tough negotiations, does not go far enough in protecting Iraqi sovereignty, and key Shiite politicians argue it stands little chance of approval in Iraq’s fractious parliament in its current form.

The agreement must be approved by the end of the year when the current U.N. mandate expires or the U.S. military would have to suspend all operations in Iraq.

Mr. Dabbagh said other amendments sought by the Iraqis include a clear definition of “duty” when cases arise involving crimes committed off base. The Iraqis also want to inspect all U.S. military shipments entering or leaving Iraq.

“The Americans must realize that these changes are necessary to enable the government to persuade the people to accept the agreement,” Mr. Dabbagh said.

The Iraqis insist those measures are essential to convince the public that the government is truly sovereign, a theme repeated by Mr. Sistani.

A statement issued by his office said the Iranian-born cleric wants to ensure that “Iraq’s sovereignty not be breached” by the accord and that he was monitoring the situation “until the final content of the security agreement becomes clear.”

The U.S. military, meanwhile, handed over security responsibilities for the southern province of Wasit to Iraqi authorities. Wasit was the 13th of Iraq’s 18 provinces to revert to Iraqi security control.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have been jointly seeking to shut down arms smuggling routes from Iran that use Wasit as a transit point. The weapons are thought to be going to Shiite militant groups.

The No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, told the handover ceremony that Wasit seven months ago saw a weekly average of up to 18 attacks but now goes for weeks without an incident.

“The security conditions in Wasit province greatly affect the security of Baghdad and many other parts of the country.” said Austin. “In the last few years, enemies have attempted to move their weapons and explosives through this province to attack Iraqi security forces and coalition forces in other parts of the country.”

The handover comes when much of Iraq has seen a dramatic drop in violence although attacks persist.

On Wednesday, at least eight people were killed and wounded dozens in separate attacks.

Three people died when gunmen stormed the house of Miteb Hassan Jaddua, leader of a local U.S.-backed Sunni group in Diyala province, killing him, two relatives and wounding 14, according to the Diyala Operations Command.

Elsewhere, gunmen in speeding cars opened fire on crowds in central Hillah, 60 miles south of Baghdad, killing two people, including one policeman, and wounding five, police said.

Bombs killed a 5-year-old girl and wounded 10 people in Diyala’s capital of Baqouba, police said. A roadside bomb killed one civilian and wounded eight in Baghdad’s eastern Benouk district, including two policemen, authorities said.

A parked car bomb killed a policeman and wounded five people in the northern city of Mosul, according to provincial police.

Copyright © 2008 Associated Press

October 29th, 2008, 4:55 pm

 

why-discuss said:

Trustquest

Syria is in a state of war, hosting 1.5 millions iraqi refugees, have an open border to arabs(including possible terrorists), they have had two illegal incursions on their territories and do you expect that they will be sweet to people who call for the overhaul of the state! It is not the right moment when the country is already highly vulnerable. Self restraint is necessary. 30 months? Remember Guantanamo

October 29th, 2008, 5:05 pm

 

Marc Gopin said:

Excellent analysis. Thank you.

October 29th, 2008, 5:12 pm

 

Alex said:

Thanks Shai,

To answer your questions

1) Israel would negotiate Palestinian issues with President Abbas, and he will coordinate daily with Mashaal.

But in order for Hamas and President Abbas to finalize their agreement (it is almost finalized) the Saudis and Egyptians will have to finalize their own agreements with Syria. Yet, some of the Saudis are not able to talk to the Syrians.

This is one of the challenges of going with the Arab peace plan. The Arabs need to be ready first. The Palestinians will be ready then though.

2) Israel will negotiate general modifications to the peace initiative (directly or indirectly) with Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, then wait for an emergency Arab summit to adopt the modifications to the Arab peace initiative that the Syrians, Egyptians, and Saudis accepted and that the Palestinians publicly supported too.

In general, I can not see what can be modified in the plan beyond the obvious limitations/clarifications on the right of return clause. I am sure there will also be discussions on some borders related issues … but not much beyond that.

————-

As for Mr. Barak … I’m afraid that politicians in Israel, like those in Lebanon, are cyclical. They keep coming back when others fail. Netanyahu for example was much less popular few years ago, now he is back.

In addition to that, Shimon Peres has special relations with the Moderate Arab leaders. He is like an older brother to some of them (even though they are all old brothers).

Internationally and regionally, he can be more influential than some of your elected leaders.

And unfortunately for Syria, he is more interested in helping his moderate Arab brothers when they are confronting Syria’s policies in the region.

Again … going beyond the Syria track (which is a great thing) will require some work and solid foundations. We are not there yet.

My hope is that an Obama administration will make it clear to the moderate Arabs that they must settle their differences with Damascus.

If we get McPalin instead … I don’t even want to imagine what will happen.

October 29th, 2008, 6:54 pm

 

Alex said:

Thank you so much Mr. Gopin : )

October 29th, 2008, 7:12 pm

 

Shai said:

Alex,

Good points. With regards to the Palestinians, I don’t know how close Fatah and Hamas really are. They’ve been “close” quite a few times in the past 2 years, and yet Fatah is clamping down on any hint of Hamas activity in the West Bank, and Hamas is threatening to take over this part as well, like in Gaza. There’s still way too much tension in the air, and much has to be done to bring it back to the pre-2006 environment. As for Barak, I can’t fathom him being cyclical. True, he did try a second time, and was elected head of his party. But people in Israel are so disappointed in him, and the numbers will soon show it. Barak was a great commando, a brilliant field commander, a genius general. But he’s no politician, and he is not made of the material to be head of state. He failed miserably the first time around, and even worse this time. He will not receive another chance, I believe.

But with regards to Peres, you are right that he indeed does have a special relationship with leaders in the region, from as far as Morocco, all the way to the Emirates. And there is likely some unstated respect also with “enemy” state leaders around us. This can indeed help Israel if or when it goes back to the Arab Initiative. But this is true ONLY if Peres manages to convince the next PM that he should have a role to play, even if behind the scenes. If Olmert didn’t trust Peres, I doubt Livni or Bibi will. So it’s not enough to be some special icon in the eyes of others around us, it’s essential to also market your ideas to those who’ll ultimately decide whether or not Peres will have an influence over matters. And still, I cannot forget the amount of times he has erred in his judgment, in his understanding of the conflict, in his interpretation of his enemy. I’m not convinced that Peres knows how to talk to our less-moderate neighbors. It was easy to talk to the belated King Hussein, or to Mubarak. But Assad, or Hanniyeh, or Siniora, is another story.

October 29th, 2008, 7:22 pm

 

Shai said:

AIG, AP,

Here’s what can be gained by empathizing with your enemy. And pay close attention to Marc Gopin’s very last comment.

October 29th, 2008, 7:33 pm

 

Milli Schmidt said:

Why-Discuss –

your comment makes me so angry. These innocent people have NOT called for an ‘overhaul of the state’ but are simply standing up for very basic rights in a very modest and non-violent manner. Akram Al-Bunni has already spent 17 Years in prison for nothing. Your post is so incredibly stupid that I just don’t know where to begin: you think that Syria is better positioned to deal with its difficult situation by oppressing the voices of its most intelligent citizens? And what is the ominous ‘Remember Guantanamo’ doing at the end of your post? I guess you must be congratulating the US for adjusting its domestic policies to those of Syria.

October 29th, 2008, 9:00 pm

 

trustquest said:

Why D
You better remember that their crime is that they talked what they think, is this a crime in your dictionary, other countries strive to build civil society while the ones you are defending destroying the civil society. Those people are your Syrians brothers have rights like the people who are designing and implementing the racist policies in one name that they are responsible for protecting citizens’ lives not to destroy citizens’ lives. It is not the task or the duty of the echelon in the governing to play god and prevent people from talking.
It is the same old story, we are vulnerable, it is an old story been repeated for 40 years. Do you think only you and the echelon top levels in the country know what is best for the country, I think many others know what is good for the country and if they can mime these voices in prison does not mean they can mime all other voices. Are you accusing me with ignorance and not understanding of what is going on or only you know?
If you think that we can not do better, build the country, provide equality and justice for all and face the challenges at the same time, I do excuse you, but I think we can do all that.

October 29th, 2008, 10:04 pm

 

Alex said:

DAMASCUS, Oct 29, 2008 (Xinhua via COMTEX) — The U.S. embassy in Syria would be temporarily closed on Thursday due to a demonstration in Damascus to protest a deadly U.S. cross-border raid in Abu Kamal near the Iraqi border.

The U.S. embassy made the announcement on its website, noting a reported a demonstration on Thursday and warning American citizens to avoid to be near the possible vicinities of it.

The U.S. embassy will be closed on Thursday “due to past demonstrations which resulted in violence and significant damage to U.S. facilities and other embassies,” said the announcement.

It added that a Damascus-based U.S. school would also temporarily close on Thursday.

October 29th, 2008, 10:24 pm

 

Alex said:

Andrew Leee Butters / Time

On the face of it, last weekend’s raid by U.S. Special Forces on Iraqi insurgents sheltering just over the border in Syria was a risky roll of the dice. After all, the political and diplomatic balances in the region are in a state of flux, anticipating possible changes resulting from forthcoming elections in America, Israel, Iran and Iraq, and also peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians and possibly Syria. And then there are the troubled negotiations over a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that would allow U.S. forces to continue operating in Iraq next year, in which the Iraqis are particularly concerned to avoid their country being used as a platform from which the U.S. can attack their neighbors.

Still, the attack on al-Qaeda weapons smuggler Abu Ghadiya may not have been quite as risky as it may appear. Sure it embarrassed the Iraqi government, which loudly condemned the action. And it was grist to the mill for Iran, which has strongly opposed the SOFA deal because of its own fears about the presence of U.S. troops on its doorstep, and which remains influential within the Iraqi ruling coalition. Syria, obviously, felt compelled to ritually denounce what it called “terrorist aggression.” But unable to either prevent the Americans entering its territory or to retaliate directly, the Assad regime was left to demand that the U.N. ban such cross-border raids, and to shut down the American Community school and an American cultural center in the Syrian capital.

But the Syria attack is unlikely to have any real impact on the prospects for reaching agreement on SOFA — those were looking grim even before the raid, largely because Iraq’s leaders, who face regional and national elections over the next year, are mindful of the fact that most Iraqis want foreign troops out of Iraq as soon as possible, and that in the ballot booth, they might not look favorably on politicians who had invited the American forces to stay. At the same time, Iraqi public opinion is hardly opposed to the U.S. killing jihadis and smugglers who have wrought terrible carnage in this country. Iraqis have been more inclined to ask why Syria seems to still be harboring the kind of terrorists who have killed so many innocent civilians here.

And even Syria may not be as angry with the American actions as the vitriol out of Damascus would suggest. Although reading the goings-on in the opaque authoritarian regime is never easy, it’s certainly clear that Syria faces its own jihadi problem, which may have festered as a result of its own policies: After the U.S. invaded Iraq and began talking about regime-change in Damascus as well, the Syrian government began turning a blind eye toward — even possibly supporting — Ba’athist Iraq insurgents and foreign jihadis who used the Euphrates River valley (where last weekend’s attack occurred) as a kind of a Ho Chi Minh trail into Iraq. But in the last year or so, the Syrians had begun clamping down on the jihadis, in part because they feared the danger of being dragged into a chaotic conflict if Iraq falls apart. And the secular regime in Damascus has long been a target of a homegrown Sunni insugency. But Syria may be having more trouble reining in the jihadis than it expected. Earlier this month, a car bomb exploded in Damascus, an attack that many interpreted as a retaliation from jihadi groups. If so, the Syrians may not be all that sad to see the last of Abu Ghadiya and his ilk.

Damascus has much to fear from allowing a robust jihadi insurgent underground to grow roots on Syrian soil, and much to gain from U.S.-sponsored peace talks with Israel, which Syria says its wants so badly. Allowing American incursions now to pass without response may give the Syrians more leverage when they finally get to the bargaining table.

But that’s not to say that these cross-border incursions won�t have consequences. The Bush administration is claiming the right to go after terrorist groups even if that means violating the sovereignty of other countries. But others may be inclined to make use of the precedent in a manner less welcome to Washington. Already, Turkey has been launching strikes against the PKK, a militant group of Turkish Kurds hiding in the mountains of northern Iraq. The Turks say this is self-defense, but Iraq’s Kurds worry this is just the beginning of a move to crush Kurdish aspirations for autonomy. And one day Iran could decide that it, too, has a right to attack militant groups — some of them allegedly receiving covert U.S. backing — that are launching attacks on Iran from the mountains of northern Iraq. And to the extent that Iran fears cross-border raids from U.S. forces in Iraq, it has plenty of incentive to do whatever it can to dissuade its Iraqi allies, who include key players in the current government, from agreeing to extend the American presence.

October 29th, 2008, 10:55 pm

 

AIG said:

Marc Gopin is either a very good Mossad agent or a useful idiot. He is simply being used by the Syrian regime for internal propoganda. There is no difference between him and the Neturai Karta Rabbis that go to Iran to kiss Ahminajad. Shai, why don’t you go with them next time? They will love to hear how bad Israel is. Sheesh.

As for similarities of culture, I am sorry to say Shai that you are totally wrong. Syrians in general do not appreciate freedom of speech and democracy. That it is a sea of difference relative to Israelis. The difference could not be bigger. On this blog even the “intellectual” Syrians support the oppressive regime. Why Discuss and Offended are excellent examples. The simialrities are a figment of your imagination.

October 29th, 2008, 10:56 pm

 

AIG said:

Slowly but surely the noose around Syria is tightning. Yes Alex, I agree that most probably Bashar will stay in power for another 10-20 years and who knows, maybe his son will replace him when he dies, but the sanctions are going nowhere and therefore there will not be any significant economic development in Syria which will continue to fall behind other nations. You can’t have both “resistance” and economic development. Bashar will have to choose.

————————-
Evidence found for Syrian nuke probe
October 30, 2008

VIENNA: Freshly evaluated soil and air samples from a Syrian site bombed by Israel on suspicion it was a covert nuclear reactor provide enough evidence for a UN probe, Western diplomats said yesterday.

The findings are important after months of uncertainty about the status of the investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Preliminary results from environmental samples collected at the site by an IAEA team and made public earlier this year were inconclusive, adding weight to Syrian insistence that no visits beyond the initial IAEA inspection in June were necessary.

But the diplomats said the IAEA’s final evaluation, completed this week, convinced the agency it needed to press on with its investigation.

The agency feels “there is enough evidence there to warrant a follow-up”, one of the diplomats said.

The US says the facility hit by Israeli warplanes about 13 months ago was a nearly completed reactor that could have produced plutonium, a pathway to nuclear arms.

Damascus denies running a nuclear program. Mohammed Badi Khattab, Syria’s chief IAEA delegate, said yesterday he was unaware the evaluation had been completed and could not comment on the diplomats’ claims.

Syria’s nuclear chief, Ibrahim Othman, has said his country would wait for the final environmental results before deciding how to respond to IAEA requests for follow-up visits.

Beyond wanting to revisit the bomb site, IAEA experts would like to follow up on US and Israeli intelligence reports that North Korea was involved in the alleged Syrian program.

Syria fears the IAEA probe could lead to an investigation similar to the probe Iran has been subjected to for more than five years, with related fallout from the West. Iran is under sanctions by the UN because of its refusal to heed demands to curb nuclear program.

AP

October 29th, 2008, 11:12 pm

 

Alex said:

AIG,

You are right. They should have established Israel in a location on the map that is more compatible with your highly civilized culture.

October 29th, 2008, 11:19 pm

 

AIG said:

Alex,
There are mean idiots eveywhere. But who filmed it and brought this incident to light? Other Israelis. And THAT is the difference. In Israel we have the freedom to criticize our wrong doings and to improve. We DEMAND that we have this right and we exercise it. In Syria most people do not care about this. There are tons of evidence on how the Syrian army treated Lebanese at roadblocks. Stealing from them, beating them etc. Was any Syrian citizen allowed to film this and show it on television? Did any Syrian complain about the Syrian army? NO. Syrian dissidents have just be given jail sentences for speaking their mind. Why-D approves of it. The rest of the Syrians basically ignore it, which is not different in any way from accepting it. Don’t you see the cultural difference?

And that is why there is a HUGE difference between Syrian and Israeli society. The two societies are fundamentally different. You accept oppressive regimes and cower in front of them. We don’t. In Syria the regime makes the law and is not answerable to anybody and most Syrians accept that. In Israel prime ministers and presidents pay the price if they abuse the law. There is just a huge fundamental difference and all similarity is in Shai’s imagination.

October 29th, 2008, 11:38 pm

 

norman said:

Millishmitt,

1_can you tell me the contributions of these people to Syria.
Did they help the sick , did they contribute toward reducing illiteracy , did they work to lift the sanctions that are imposed on the Syrian people or encourage them , did they tell the world about the sacrifices of the Syrian people taking care of more than 1.5 million Iraqi,

The only thing the opposition in Syria does is to say ( I want to be in power , I can do better but never how , Syrians can not take chances with people who talk a lot and do nothing , Let them show us some sacrifices , being in jail does not mount as a way to help the Syrian people.

2_, By the way They are not the most intelligent people that Syria has , The most intelligent people that Syria has are here on this blog ,

Ask Alex , He knows who is here.

October 30th, 2008, 12:21 am

 

AIG said:

Norman,
What sacrifices have the Asads made? Ah yes, they and their families have become billionaires at the expense of the Syrian people.

And again you highlight the deep cultural difference between Syrians and Israelis. You believe that people who want democracy for Syria are just talkers and cannot help Syria. I believe that democracy is the only way to harness the true potential of the Syrian people.

By the way, how do you want the opposition to DO anything if they are thrown in jail just for talking? If you compare the achievements of Syria to most other countries, you can see that Syria has fallen seriously behind under the rule of the Asads. Yet you complain about the opposition??? In the US you demand democracy, in Syria you accept the same oppressive regime for 40 years. Do you ever examine your position seriously? Did you ever look in the mirror and explain to yourself how your views are so contradictory? Don’t you ever want to be rational?

October 30th, 2008, 12:45 am

 

norman said:

AIG,

Keep barking , you are not worth answering.

October 30th, 2008, 12:55 am

 

AIG said:

Norman,

You don’t answer because you don’t have a good answer. It is as simple as that. Your anti-democratic and despotic nature is finally exposed for all to see.

And then Shai and Alex will argue that there are no cultural differences. Yeah, sure.

October 30th, 2008, 1:02 am

 

norman said:

AIG,

Blah , Blah ,Blah,

Don’t drink and write .Bad things that come out of your mouth tells only about what is in your heart.

October 30th, 2008, 1:13 am

 

AIG said:

Norman,
Thank you for making it clear to me why Syria is such a failure as a country. Just as Landis has said, the Syrian “elites” do not want democracy. You are part of a despicable anti-democratic clique that really wants to continue manipulating the majority of Syrians which are dirt poor in order to keep their privileges and power.

I suggest that all Syrians in the US be put in jail if they complain about the US government. Do you like that idea also, or do you just support putting the Syrians in Syria in jail when they complain about the government? Shameless hypocrite.

October 30th, 2008, 1:22 am

 

jad said:

(There are mean idiots eveywhere. But who filmed it and brought this incident to light? Other Israelis.)
Don’t lie next time, it was a Palestinian girl who filmed that, not Israelis.. Obviously you are one of those you mentioned…

(A 14-year-old girl reportedly filmed the incident from the window of her home in the town of Nilin, which has been the scene of violent protests against Israel’s West Bank barrier.)

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7516477.stm

October 30th, 2008, 2:18 am

 

Alex said:

AIG, don’t answer. you already wrote 6 wonderful comments the past hour or two.

October 30th, 2008, 2:30 am

 

Alex said:

Hi Shai … here is a story that’s related to what we discussed earlier about Peres and Barak and their friendship with the leaders of the “moderate Arab” countries.

Lieberman: Mubarak can ‘go to hell’; Egypt responds: Lieberman is a racist

By Shahar Ilan and Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondents

President Shimon Peres issued an official apology to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Wednesday, after right-wing MK Avigdor Lieberman said earlier that the Egyptian president could “go to hell.”

During a special Knesset plenary session marking the seventh anniversary of the assassination of far-right minister Rehavam Ze’evi (Gandhi), the Yisrael Beiteinu chairman said that “Gandhi would have never approved of our self-effacement vis-a-vis the Egyptians. Time and time again our leaders go to Egypt to meet Mubarak, and he has never made a single official visit.
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“Every self respecting leader would have conditioned such meetings on reciprocation. If he wants to talks to us, he should come here, and if he doesn’t want to come, he can go to hell,” Lieberman continued.

Peres expressed regret over Lieberman’s remarks, saying “in a memorial ceremony in our parliament, one of the members made an impolite remark concerning President Mubarak. All of us are very sorry about it. I want to make clear that we have the highest respect for President Mubarak. He is a really stable leader for peace in the Middle East. He does not stop for a moment from acting for peace. And he continues to do so. I just talked to him on the phone, and I am so glad that he is trying to see what are the chances of furthering the causes of peace in all of our region.”

Outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert also phoned Mubarak and apologized on behalf of the state of Israel for the insulting remarks made by Lieberman. “These kinds of comments should be made, and when they are made they cosist of unnecessary content,” Olmert said.

Olmert emphasized to Mubarak that he views Lieberman’s comments as detrimental. “Israel sees in Egypt’s President a strategic partner and a close friend, and understands the utmost importance of tightening relations with Egypt and strengthening ties between countries in general,” Olmert went on to say.

October 30th, 2008, 3:27 am

 

Shai said:

AIG,

Your purpose here is to destroy, never to build. You’ve wasted no effort in rejecting any attempt that has ever come across your path. Your personal-quest here on SC to first “present the truth as it is”, not as others may see it, is at best a pathetic exercise in useless, endless, and uninvited argumentation. At worst, it is pure evil and intentional sabotage.

October 30th, 2008, 8:09 am

 

AIG said:

Shai,

You are of course entitled to any opinion you want of my position.

My opinion of what you are doing is the following. You are not “building” peace, but trying to push for an agreement between Israel and an anti-democratic minority in Syria, thus just aggravating the situation in the middle east long term. The core problem in the middle east is the autocratic regimes, and you are not willing to face this fact.

Furthermore, your position is that Israel should not demand that Syria “flip”. In this your position is different than that of 99% of Israelis and even that of Alon Liel.

Instead of selling castles in the sky, why don’t you want to have a frank dialog? In Israel itself you have no patience whatsoever for anti-democratic forces and rightly so. Why have you chosen those bedfellows in Syria? Don’t you see the outright support on this blog for the repressive actions of the Syrian regime? Can’t you see how our support of Mubarak has brought a catastrophe on the Egyptian people that eventually will impact us when Egypt blows up? Why repeat this mistake?

We will reach a solution in the middle east when we have frank discussions and not by BSing each other. That is why the so called “peace” camp has been failing so miserably. Both the Israeli public and the Arabs see through this insincere talk and understand it can only lead to a momentary high of “good feelings” that in the longer term only hampers peace efforts.

October 30th, 2008, 1:13 pm

 

Shai said:

AIG,

It’s a nice attempt to refocus on my intentions, but I still believe you are here to destroy, not build.

You said: “Both the Israeli public and the Arabs see through this insincere talk…”

Funny, but Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ariel Sharon, and Ehud Olmert, all lifelong Likudnicks, apparently didn’t see through this insincere talk, and were perfectly willing to recognize, and negotiate, with the same regimes you are attacking. You are wrong, AIG, 99% of Israelis do not support your demand to first see democracies replace these regimes. It is you who is in a minority.

But in one way you stand out more than any Israeli I’ve ever met, I must say. You are the first Israeli I’ve seen, that is so dedicated, so devoted, so energized, by a quest to reject and destroy any bridge whatsoever between Jews and Arabs. I don’t buy your moral excuses for a second, and I imagine none of our readers do.

October 30th, 2008, 1:30 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

We will reach a solution in the middle east when we have frank discussions and not by BSing each other.

In that case, let’s call the whole thing off. 🙂

The day we start having frank discussions and stop BSing each other is the day that the very fabric of our identity unravels and we become just like the cold, sterile, charmless West.

If we can’t make peace while lying through our teeth, I’m not sure it’s worth it.

October 30th, 2008, 1:35 pm

 

Joshua said:

Alex, You article is the clearest and smartest I have read on the recent interest by some Barak and Peres in the “Saudi Peace Plan.”
Here is a recent statement by Asher Susser, a smart Israeli analyst, which is quoted in the main post:

“When you look at the Palestinian issue, there’s a sense of urgency. There’s no sense of urgency with Syria,” said Professor Asher Susser, the head of Middle East Studies at Tel Aviv University. “I don’t see any Israeli government handing over the Golan.”

The Arab peace plan is a fig leaf for inaction on getting down to business with the two countries whose land Israel continues to occupy. As you argue, it is mechanism for Israeli rapprochement with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries.

Israel is looking for a way – not only to open business ties to the Gulf – but to give Saudi Arabia political cover with its people, while working together with it on national security issues to oppose Iran, Syria, and Hizbullah.

I fear that this latter purpose is the main aim of the renewed interest in the Saudi Peace Plan.

The Saudi government finds it difficult to work closely with Israel against Hizbullah and Syria so long as Israel continues to dispossess Palestinians. The monarch leaves himself open to Syrian accusations of being a half man in Arab eyes.

It is possible that the Saudi Peace Plan can be used to paper over this short coming.

October 30th, 2008, 1:39 pm

 

Shai said:

Here’s what Ari Shavit of Ha’aretz had to say about the next Israeli government’s chances of delivering peace:

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1032836.html

I disagree with his pessimism, which could have also fit the 1977 Likud-formed government. Read, however, his last paragraph.

October 30th, 2008, 1:53 pm

 

Shai said:

Joshua,

It seems to me that this is simply an attempt to take advantage of the political vacuum that was created recently, and that it will not last beyond the next 90 days. In this part of the world, if you’re not “in the loop”, you turn against it… Neither Peres nor Barak were kept in the Syrian loop by Olmert.

October 30th, 2008, 1:57 pm

 

Off the Wall said:

Alex
Thanks for the excellent analysis.

Joshua
If you recall from my response to his excellency Dr. Mustapha, my argument against the Pan Arab initiative was quite similar to yours. I see it as simple rope given to Israeli politicians by KSA to delay or halt any real progress on the Syrian track. KSA is unhappy and they want to buy time.

I believe that the recent effort by KSA is a preemptive strike against possible change in official Washington policies. With both campaigns openly talking of “energy independence” and calling for weaning ourselves from middle eastern oil, the new president, no matter who he is, will have to take some public position on our relationship with oil producing countries that is contrary to the friendly attitude of the current leadership in Washington.

Expect both Obama and McCain to be cold, at best, to gulf countries. KSA will even become more irrelevant than it is now. I am positive that the current attempt to revive the Saudi initiative is rooted in the kingdom’s concern about its future role in the ME where the US public and policy makers have less than friendly attitude to oil producing countries.

On the one hand, Obama’s calls for withdrawing the troops from Iraq responsibly indicates a strong departure from the Cheney and the neocons doctrine of full control of ME oil as a mechanism to halt China’s progress. Although the buys a lot of oil from other sources, departure from Cheney’s policy, and the removal of the US as a major buyer of Gulf oil will only hurt the economic interests of gulf countries as it will reduce competition for their oil, and allows China and India to be in a better bargaining position. While this is not feasible in the short-term, the threat of a National energy initiative proposed by both candidates is already having some minor effect on the prices of oil. One can only imagine the impacts of a real “Apollo” like energy program. Yet, true energy independence will require major investment in high yield energy production (i.e. Nuclear), an issue Obama is not very strong on.

Enters McCain. and Drill baby Drill Palin. Granted, the Drill baby Drill is merely a populist rhetoric, McCain strong support of nuclear energy and his willingness to invest nationally in the construction of new reactors will probably have more devastating impacts on KSA. As I mentioned earlier, alternative sources of energy (wind, solar, bio-fule) are much more expensive and have lower yield than Nuclear energy. If the US, under McCain invests in Nuclear plant construction, and these plants prove to be successful in delivering cheaper and more reliable energy, expect the worst for gulf countries. A simple relaxation of rules on nuclear plant construction may result in a sizable number of new plants.

Independent of my agreement/disagreement with either platform, both
candidates are serious about energy and about energy independence. Motivations aside, (racist, or nationalist), the public is ready for a new energy policy and paradigm, and this will have an impact on KSA’s power in the region.

October 30th, 2008, 3:23 pm

 

Milli Schmitt said:

Dear Norman,

have you ever sat and spoken with a member of the democratic opposition (stupid term)? Have you ever discovered how thoughtful and gentle this opposition is and most importantly how non-violent? Your comments about this matter on this forum are just so silly, so macho and dumb, especially so uneducated (have you ever heard about the ‘state of exception’ and its use by government elites to oppress their populations?) that it is hard for me to even make the effort to reply to you. The only thing that makes me do so is the respect that I have for my friends who now have to suffer through more years in prison, the respect for their courage and the personal tragedies that they live through for a public goal. And my anger at someone who cannot even oppose this court decision out of compassion. Shame on you.

October 30th, 2008, 5:05 pm

 

trustquest said:

Good post Alex, and that is what most of civil society people in Syria said when Syria started negotiations with Israel.
And amen to what you said:
“Syria’s current indirect talks with Israel through Turkish mediators were enough to earn Syria an intensely negative Saudi media campaign which portrayed Syria as a fake nationalist that used Arab nationalist movements for the sole purpose of gaining more favorable rewards exclusively for Syria at the expense of Palestinian and Lebanese rights. By moving from a Syrian track to an Arab track, the Saudis and Egyptians will have a role to play and will therefore be expected to stop trying to obstruct Syria’s current efforts towards a peaceful settlement.”

October 30th, 2008, 5:14 pm

 

AIG said:

QN,

You may be joking, but immediately Joshua and Alex agree that the Israelis are stalling on purpose and of course many Israelis think that the Syrians are playing for time and have no intention of paying any price for peace.

So, the players currently think each one is BSing the other. Shouldn’t this be brought to an end if we want peace? Can’t we retain our middle eastern charm but cut the BS about 90%? At least that way we can build a little respect for each other.

October 30th, 2008, 5:16 pm

 

Alia said:

AIG,

What ME charm?

Israel is much more in need to solve its ME problem than Syria is. Several decades later, the Palestinians are no problem for Syria, the absent Golan is none either. The 21st century will be an Asian century and Israel’s allies- those by wish and those by force (and that is another interesting conversation)- are not going to be the main players in that game anymore.

Israel, on the other hand, MUST solve its problem which is aggravating over time or it will implode. The logic of arrogance and belligerence that you have been pursuing yourself here which mirrors that of your government is outdated, you have no leg to stand on anymore. But typically the concerned party is the last to notice…

October 30th, 2008, 6:27 pm

 

jad said:

QN,
I actually believe in what you wrote, I to think that it was a pure mistake they didn’t expect it to be noticed, there is no conspiracy behind that at all, otherwise Syrians wouldn’t open their mouth.
The problem now is how to deal with that mistake without making fool of the American intelligence.

What I totally disagree with is the reaction of closing education institute and culture centre, that is just wrong. (Don’t be very happy AIG, I’m stating that out of care not hate)

Dear Norman, I don’t agree with you and WD regarding the way we deal with the opposition, it’s wrong to put people in prison for what they believe in, especially those who didn’t show any sign of aggression against the authorities, it’s always for the good to criticise your opponent and tell them their flaws that they have to work on and improve.
Norman, you are absolutely right, that they didn’t do what they should to improve the society as a whole on many levels instead of concentrating on the political one but even that shouldn’t cost them years in prison…that is unfair don’t you think?

October 30th, 2008, 6:49 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

AIG,

Of course, I’m joking.

But let’s see how far “cutting the BS” gets us. Let’s play out one of our little thought experiments. I’ll be Bashar, and you can be Bibi.

Tell me, Mr. Prime Minister (to be), what’s your best offer? I’ll take it to my people, and we’ll counter-offer. Then you counter-offer, and we’ll counter-offer, until we have a deal.

Remember, no BS.

PS: If this is tiresome to the rest of you, just say so, and AIG and I will do this on a different blog.

October 30th, 2008, 6:53 pm

 

AIG said:

QN,
Bibi is not going to make any offer to Bashar so I am not sure I understand what you are proposing. But if you insist here is the offer: Syria can have peace for peace. The Golan stays Israeli but sanctions will be lifted and Syria will get $3 billion per year from the US as long as it cuts its ties to Hamas, Hizballah and Iran. We are not interested in a counter offer. This is a take it or leave it proposition. If you do not like it, do your worst. So will we.

October 30th, 2008, 8:45 pm

 

Shai said:

“Bibi is not going to make any offer to Bashar…”

We’ll see, AIG, we’ll see. Oh, by the way, he DID, to Bashar’s father, in case you may have forgotten, precisely 10 years and 2 months ago. But Bashar is a cruel dictator, member of the Axis-of-Evil, unlike his dovish father Hafez. So maybe Bibi won’t talk to him… Ha!

October 30th, 2008, 9:03 pm

 

offended said:

AIG, your ex-mercenary rant is getting boring. Go get a life and get used to the forthcoming peace. Just get out of the way, for your own sake that is.

October 30th, 2008, 9:09 pm

 

AIG said:

Shai,
The Likud party manifesto clearly says that the Golan will not be returned. Bibi has gone to the Golan a few months ago and said publicly that under no circumstances will the Golan be returned. As for Kadima, practically half of the voters in the primary voted for Mufaz the “architect” of the “peace for peace” solution. It is law that a majority of Israelis in a plebiscite is required to return the Golan.

All these facts are of no interest to you. What you care about is an unclear episode from 10 years ago. Let’s even say that the impossible happens and Bibi after getting elected becomes like you. Do you think Asad will be willing to take a chance that a deal he agrees to will be voted down by Israelis? He will be a double loser then. He will anger his allies and get nothing in return. So you are claiming that two impossible things will happen. Actually three, because Asad does not really want peace but that is another issue.

Therefore, you are hallucinating or peddling BS. What you are certainly not doing is building bridges. The truth will set you free.

October 30th, 2008, 9:20 pm

 

AIG said:

Offended,
What is it about many Syrians that they can rarely make a reasoned argument but are very good at threats? Maybe its cultural. Keep threatning, I will just add it the list of amusing threats that the Arabs have made over the last 60 years.

October 30th, 2008, 9:34 pm

 

SimoHurtta said:

Offended,
What is it about many Syrians that they can rarely make a reasoned argument but are very good at threats? Maybe its cultural. Keep threatning, I will just add it the list of amusing threats that the Arabs have made over the last 60 years.

AIG what I have been observing it is your guys who do the most of the threatening and bulling. You might have some success among US deeply religious “Palin people” but among a more intellectual and learned audience, as here, you are the best proof that Israel has to chance and quickly, if it wants to see the next 60 years. That is no threat, it simply an opinion based on the conclusion that 60 years more of your country’s racist aggressive politics is simply impossible.

By the way AIG the Russia Nordic fleet task force with the Black see fleet are coming to practice on your doorway (again). This time with an aircraft carrier.
http://en.rian.ru/russia/20081030/118036772.html

AIG have you ever imagined how the world from your point of view will look when Russia has naval and other bases in Syria packed with nukes and competitive gadgets, when Russia joins OPEC and forms with Gulf states and Iran a gas cartel. That day might be rather close. Arabs and Muslim nations hold many cards which Israel doesn’t have in this long geopolitical poker game. Actually Israel has now very week cards (nukes are rather useless cards in this game).

October 31st, 2008, 12:18 am

 

offended said:

AIG,
What is it with Zionists that they percieve every piece of advice as a threat and get their knickers in a twist when they hear the word ‘peace’?

October 31st, 2008, 12:21 am

 

norman said:

Millishmitt,

I do know these people as i am not as connected as you are you Little comrade ,

I went to public schools in Syria , I went to Damascus university because i had the grades , I was treated in Syria when i got sick or my father got sick , I did not go to private schools like your smart friend , did not go to the US or the EU to study and did not go abroad to get health care , all this was provided to me by this corrupt Government and country that your friends keep insulting while doing nothing for it , tell me how much taxes they paid to Syria that provided free education and health care to them and their children , nothing probably ,
Until they do they are just parasite in Syria ,and their Friends and defenders like yourself are.

October 31st, 2008, 12:27 am

 

why-discuss said:

Trustquest, Milli Schmitt

Talking their mind freely is what Lebanese leaders did since 1975 and we have seen where it lead. Sorry to disagree with you, it is not time to express own’s mind in putting seeds that can be interpreted as seeds of sectarian provocation in such a fragile society. This may endanger the cohesion of the country, that, even if it is constrained by force, has avoided the chaos that Lebanon and Iraq have lived.
Time will come when the voice of these intellectuals calling for a civil society can be heard.
I am amazed that you don’t seem to realize the complex and dangerous game the syrian governement had to play to avoid the effects of the Lebanese sectarian violences, the Iraqi terrorism, the absorption of one million iraqi refugees in addition to the palestinians, and above all the US-Israel manipulations and provocations and to keep some kind of peace and cohesion in the country. Egypt has no Iraq or Lebanon as neighbours, it is an ally of Israel and the US, and its has simply jailed the opposition leader and not for 30 months.
Under pressures and threats, it is expected that governments become tougher and often injust. But the overall pictures shows that Syria has passed through these years of chaos and threats in neighboring countries unharmed and cohesive, and that is an achievement.

October 31st, 2008, 4:09 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

AIG

You originally said: So, the players currently think each one is BSing the other. Shouldn’t this be brought to an end if we want peace?

Actually, exactly! The (illusion of) BS should be brought to an end, not the initiative itself. Right now, the peace talks are being hampered by the reality of mistrust. When that changes, over time, the prospects for a successful plebiscite will change.

Peace for peace is not going to cut it. Neither is denying the Palestinians a capital in East Jerusalem, and ignoring the right of return. Your country will remain the prosperous little nation with the big ugly problem, a stain on the image of American credibility abroad.

You should be putting that good brain to use coming up with real solutions to this conflict, not la-la-land peace-for-peace fairy tales that ignore the root of the problem.

October 31st, 2008, 7:00 am

 

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