John Kerry and Leveretts Talk to Assad

IraqElectionMarch2010_JohnWrefordJohn Wreford was among among the hundreds of Iraqi refugees inside a Damascus sports stadium this evening who listened to Tarek al-Hashemi kick of the election campaign. He sent this photo.

Iraq VP thanks Syria for embracing refugees
Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Iraqi Vice President Tarek Al Hashemi accused powerful decision makers of stalling a major decision to resolve the issue of Iraqi refugees.
Al-Hashemi thanked Syria for its “historic” stand of embracing refugees despite bilateral political rows. Iraqi VP’s statements came in a meeting with Iraqi Community in Damascus. Al Hashemi in Syria coming from Amman, is carrying a message to Syrian President Bashar Al Asad from Iraqi Government about the future of Iraqi-Syrian relations.

Kerry: No imminent flashpoint between Syria and Israel
02/03/2010 05:29

Senator spoke to Assad from Jordan before coming to Israel.

Visiting US Sen. John Kerry tried to put the recent escalation of rhetoric and tensions between Israel and Syria into context Monday, telling a Jerusalem press conference that he did not believe there was a “flashpoint imminent” between Syria and Israel.

Kerry’s comments came shortly after his arrival and meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

On Sunday, Kerry was in Amman and, along with meetings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, he spoke by phone with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“I had a conversation last night with President Assad on a number of different topics, and – needless to say – I raised the issue of the visit of [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and some comments made there,” said Kerry, who heads the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee.

“I don’t believe that there is somehow some flashpoint imminent between Syria and Israel, though I am obviously very cognizant of the increased arming of Hizbullah and the types of weapons they have, and I recognize there is an inherent threat to Israel in that,” he said.

Israeli defense officials said that Israel’s primary concern was that Syria would supply Hizbullah with advanced air-defense missile systems such as the SA-8. Israel has in the past warned that it would be prepared to take preemptive action to stop the delivery of these systems to Lebanon.

This concern was reinforced by last week’s terror summit between Iranian President Ahmadinejad, Assad and Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.

“Our assumption is that these three sit together and come up with ways to hit Israel,” one official explained.

In an apparent reference to Assad’s disparaging comments last week during Ahmadinejad’s visit about US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s efforts to drive a wedge between Syria and Iran, Kerry said “no one should be surprised, given the relationship of the last years, that discussions are continuing between Syria and Iran.”

The two countries are neighbors, he said, “and they have obviously been pushed somewhat together by the events of the last years. My hope is that we can offer a better alternative, a better set of choices.”

He said that the meetings held in Damascus between Ahmadinejad, Assad, Nasrallah and Hamas’s Khaled Mashaal, “say more of President Ahmadinejad than the intentions of President Assad. We need to keep the door open.”

In a related development, Clinton reportedly passed on a message to Lebanon saying that Washington would not be able to restrain Israel from taking military action if arms smuggling from Syria to Hizbullah was not stopped.

According to the pan-Arabic Al-Hayat published in London, Clinton passed on a letter making this clear to the speaker of the Lebanese parliament, Nabih Berri.

According to the paper, Berri – who received the letter via the US Ambassador to Lebanon Michele Sison – replied that while Lebanon has “no problem” finding a solution to the arms issue, “the US should stop supplying weapons to Israel.”

Likewise, the Qatari newspaper Al-Watan reported on Monday that Clinton has told European colleagues recently that she planned to visit Syria in the near future, a move that she said would come following recent developments in the US-Syrian relationship, specifically the appointment of a new US ambassador to Damascus.

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett visit Assad

A week before Ahmadinejad’s arrival in Damascus, we had our own conversation with President Assad—a conversation that came one day after U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns met with the Syrian leader.  In our session with him, Assad expressed satisfaction over his meeting with Undersecretary Burns.  However, Assad also made clear that Syria’s relations with Iran, as well as its ties to Hizballah and HAMAS, are not on the table.

Syria’s relationship with the Islamic Republic seems increasingly strategic in character.  Over the past year, key advisers to President Assad have told us as much; one of them went so far as to describe Syrian-Iranian relations with the French adjective, “intime”.  If the Obama Administration is unable or unwilling to acknowledge this reality and the regional dynamics that have given rise to it, the already limited effectiveness of American diplomacy in the Middle East will be further undermined.  To understand Syria’s increasingly strategic partnership with Iran, a bit of history is in order…..

For Bashar al-Assad, these developments have created both enormous challenges and, over time, new strategic opportunities.  In this context of daunting challenges and emerging opportunities, Syria’s diplomatic calculations have shifted in at least three important ways during Bashar’s presidency; one consequence of these shifting diplomatic calculations has been an ever greater inclination in Damascus to see Syria’s relationship with the Islamic Republic as a unalloyed strategic partnership.

First, Syria’s ties to regional “resistance” forces—including groups like Hizballah and HAMAS that are also closely linked to Iran—have taken on an increasingly strategic character during Bashar’s tenure.  As we have discussed previously, with the removal of Syrian military forces from Lebanon following the Hariri assassination, Hizballah has become an even more valuable asset for Syria.  Similarly, on the Palestinian front, it is hard to imagine that, at this point, Bashar would agree to expel Khalid Mishal from Syria as part of a purely bilateral peace settlement with Israel—as, it would seem, his father had been prepared to do.  (For our assessment of the strategic implications of HAMAS’s rise as a force in Palestinian politics, click here.)

On this point, it is noteworthy that, since late 2008, Bashar has adopted a rhetorical position on Arab-Israeli issues emphasizing the need for a “comprehensive” Arab-Israeli settlement, along the lines indicated in the 2002 Arab League peace initiative, and with HAMAS playing a central role on the Palestinian side.  When we asked him about this evolution in his rhetoric, President Assad said that, if Israel were prepared to conclude a peace treaty with Syria meeting his longstanding requirements (full return of the occupied Golan Heights to the June 4, 1967 line, etc.), he “could not say ‘no’.”  He noted, though, that, while Israel could get a “peace treaty” with Syria, such a settlement would give Israel little more than a “ceasefire” and, perhaps, a heavily guarded embassy in Damascus.  For real “peace”, according to President Assad, Israel will need to negotiate a comprehensive settlement, including on the Palestinian track.

Second, the Islamic Republic has proven its steadfastness to Syria in recent years.  Syria and Iran were the two regional states which argued most vociferously that the United States would face serious difficulties in its occupation of post-Saddam Iraq, and their stance was widely viewed in the region as having been vindicated by events.  More practically, Syria’s ties to Iran were critical in fending off the heavy pressure applied on the Assad regime by the United States, most of Europe, and moderate Arab states in the wake of the Hariri assassination.  As another of Bashar’s advisers said to me recently, it would be hard for Syria to forsake Iran, as Iran, in the period following Hariri’s assassination, had “stood by us when no one else did”.  This should not be interpreted as a sentimental statement.  Rather, it is a statement that, in an uncertain strategic environment, Syria will continue to need the “hedge” provided by its close relationship with the Islamic Republic.

Third, the perceived value in Damascus of strategic realignment with the United States through a carefully conditioned peace deal with Israel is slowly declining as America’s hegemonic standing and influence erode.  Certainly, the Syrian leadership was relieved by President George W. Bush’s departure from office and his replacement by President Obama.  But, with a right-leaning coalition headed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in power in Israel, expectations in Damascus for what Syria would see as major improvements in America’s Middle East policy are not high.  And, as President Assad noted to us, poor policy choices in the Middle East by the United States over the last decade have created “vacuums” which “others [Iran and Turkey] filled”.  (In this context, Assad argued that Iran’s evolving regional role does not represent “new ambitions” on Tehran’s part.)  This has expanded Syria’s strategic optionality.  In this context, Assad underscored that the rise of Iran and Turkey to new levels of regional influence has not come at Syria’s expense; rather, all three states have been able to improve their own relations and bolster their regional influence.

This is not to say that Hafiz al-Assad’s preferred strategic option of realignment toward the West through a “principled” peace with Israel does not remain deeply attractive to his son and successor.  But, the longer that Damascus must wait for the United States to deliver on its end of the peace process, the more time that Bashar and his advisers have to internalize what they see as the reality of America’s slow decline.  And that has a palpable effect on the price they are willing to pay for realizing Hafiz al-Assad’s preferred strategic option.

In closing, we would note that we had not had an in-depth meeting with President Assad for five years.  Flynt’s Inheriting Syria—for which he interviewed President Assad—was published in 2005, shortly after the Hariri assassination.  At the time, many U.S. and Western commentators were predicting the downfall of the Assad regime.  We visited Damascus in June 2005, immediately following the withdrawal of Syrian military forces from Lebanon, to observe the Ba’ath Party congress.  We came away from that visit convinced—contra the conventional wisdom in Washington—that the Lebanon withdrawal had been well internalized in Syria, that President Assad was more in control of the Syrian government than he had been before Hariri’s assassination, and that U.S.-French efforts to isolate Syria from regional affairs would ultimately fail.  That assessment has been powerfully validated with the passage of time.  Bashar al-Assad has weathered the storm unleashed in the aftermath of the Hariri assassination and has emerged as a masterful player of the regional game.  It is striking that many of the people who argued in 2005 that the Syrian leadership was internally conflicted and uniquely vulnerable to external pressure are now making the same arguments about the Islamic Republic of Iran. They were wrong then; they are wrong now.

US State Dept. Warns Lebanon It Can’t Stop Israeli Attack:
by Jason Ditz, March 01, 2010

If anyone is interested in why Syria has not signed the Mediterranean Process which would bring it neareror the free trade agreement with Europe, read no further than this report on what has happened with Syria’s trade with Turkey as a result of freeing up cross-border traffic….

Syria’s Trade Deficit with Turkey Doubles as Exports Decline, Thanks to Syria Report

Syria’s trade deficit with Turkey doubled last year to USD 1 billion as Syrian exports halved while Turkish exports continued to increase, Turkish statistics show.


“…The Emirates will now deny entry to anyone suspected of having Israeli citizenship, Tamim said at a security conference in Abu Dhabi Monday.
It was unclear if the measure would apply to Israeli athletes competing in international sports events being held there, such as tennis player Shahar Peer, a recent semifinalist in the local WTA tennis tournament…..

“Mossad shouldn’t come to us. We haven’t done anything to Israel. This is an insult to us, to Britain, to Australia, to Germany and to New Zealand and it’s shameful,” Tamim told reporters in Dubai, a member of the United Arab Emirates…”

Haaretz: Iran, Syria may talk a big talk, but too scared to act

The banquet at Syrian President Bashar Assad’s palace last weekend was held in the best tradition of Western state dinners, complete with white silk tablecloth, name cards at every place setting, fine china, pure …

“Syrian source: Assad-Ahmadinezhad meeting surprised Washington…
by Kamel Sakr, March 2, Al-Quds al-Arabi (thanks to

No sooner had Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad returned to Tehran after a “war” visit to Damascus during which he met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the figures of the resistance represented by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and the leaders of the Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front, that another meeting was being held between Iranian Revolution Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and one of the leaders of the ruling Ba’th Party in Syria and member of the local command Haytham Satayhi. A prominent Syrian source commented by saying to Al-Quds al-Arabi that this meeting corroborated the message which was announced in Damascus following the Assad-Ahmadinezhad meeting and then the Ahmadinezhad-Nasrallah meeting in the presence of Al-Assad.

“According to the information, Damascus may have failed to find hope in seeing Obama’s administration pushing Israel toward the adoption of any step on the Syrian-Israeli peace track and was growing tired after over a year of stalemate. The Syrian source added that what was mostly important for Syria was for Washington to force Tel Aviv into accepting the resumption of the indirect peace talks from the point where they had stopped in Ankara and under Turkish sponsorship before the eruption of the Gaza war in 2008. He continued: “Any other American step, regardless of its importance, will fall behind this priority for Damascus, including the reappointment of the American ambassador, the lifting of the level of political relations and the annulment of the economic sanctions imposed on Damascus by Washington…

“On the other hand, the Syrian source stated that the Assad-Ahmadinezhad meeting was not a political maneuver as much as it was a clear Syrian message saying that the relations with Iran were a “red line” that could not be the object of any compromise, denying at the same time that Syria turned its back on Obama’s administration. The Syrian source then bet that the American contacts toward Syria will intensify during the upcoming stage which will witness additional gestures of good intention, assuring that what recently happened in Damascus (Ahmadinezhad’s visit and the tripartite meeting) surprised the American diplomacy which did not expect the Syrian response to be that clear and that fast, and raised its political appetite toward Damascus.

“The source continued: “Damascus wanted to put an end to the American hope of seeing Damascus distancing itself from Tehran, in order to focus the awaited efforts from Obama’s administration on the peace and bilateral relations dossiers…”” – Al-Quds al-Arabi, United Kingdom

The Hariri Trial and Comments on Articles about the Hariri Case and the STL
by T_Desco

  1. Bellemare und die Bombe von Beirut
    Markus Bickel, F.A.Z.., 12. Februar 2010
  2. “Cinq ans après la mort de Rafic Hariri, le Tribunal pour le Liban n’a toujours pas rassemblé de preuves décisives”,
    Stéphanie Maupas, Le Monde , 13.02.10

If you watched Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s speech, you will remember that he described the Le Monde article as ‘psychological warfare’.

Both articles are similar to a degree that they seem to be following the same talking points:

– both quote the Spiegel article;

– both claim that the Spiegel allegations are (in essence) true;

– both cite unnamed investigators as sources for these claims; in addition, the F.A.Z. says it got confirmation directly from the STL and apparently also from Serge Brammertz;

– both say that the STL does not have sufficient judicial evidence (surprise, surprise);

– both still point the finger at Syria, but Iran is now mentioned as well;

– both contain attacks on Bellemare.

Frankly, I don’t think that Serge Brammertz confirmed anything at all. He was so careful in all his reports, why would he now ‘spill the beans’ to some reporter? And if you look at the actual quotes, they are ‘pure Brammertz’, typical abstract generalities very similar to what he said in his reports. But they are cited in a way that seems to suggest that he is confirming the Spiegel allegations.

However, an unnamed high-ranking former investigator who worked under Brammertz does confirm at least some those allegations: “The Spiegel article was certainly not entirely wrong”.

“Ein ranghoher früherer Ermittler, der zu Brammertz’ Beiruter Zeit mit dem Fall befasst war, bestätigt die Verdachtsmomente gegen die Hizbullah: „Der Artikel im ‘Spiegel‘ war sicherlich nicht ganz falsch.“”

Le Monde also quotes an anonymous investigator to back up the Spiegel allegations:

“”Qui est la taupe ?”, s’interrogeait alors un chercheur proche de l’enquête.”

Perhaps most importantly, the F.A.Z. claims, without naming the source, that it obtained confirmation directly from the STL that members of Hizbullah “could” be indicted (literally: “the prosecution could have its sights on members of Hizbullah”):

“Denn wie die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung aus dem (…) Tribunal erfuhr, könnten Mitglieder der schiitischen Hizbullah ins Visier einer Anklage geraten.”

The article is silent about a possible motive, but does conspicuously mention Resolution 1559. Hizbullah’s links to Iran are also stressed, apparently to suggest the involvement of Teheran.

However, both articles agree that the judicial evidence is insufficient:

-“Hinzu kommt, dass es genügend gerichtsverwertbare Beweise gegen die Verdächtigen aus Kreisen der Hizbullah bislang offenbar nicht gibt”;
– “le Tribunal pour le Liban n’a pas rassemblé de preuves décisives”, “l’analyse ne suffit pas à monter un dossier judiciaire”.

It is interesting that both articles also contain attacks on Bellemare. This could be interpreted as an attempt to influence and put pressure on the Canadian regarding the timing of his next steps, be it either an indictment or just summons orders (as Michael Young suggested).

Even mere summons would indicate to the public in Lebanon in which direction the investigation is being taken, so they could potentially be used to great political effect (a fact missed by Michael Young).

The F.A.Z. indicates that the “donor nations” are getting impatient with Bellemare because of the delay in issuing the indictment:

“Länger als bis Ende dieses Jahres kann sich Bellemare mit der Erhebung der Anklage kaum Zeit lassen – schon heute wächst die Ungeduld der Geberstaaten, die nicht bereit sind, weiter Geld in ein Tribunal ohne Angeklagte zu stecken.”

Even more telling are the comments by a French government source in Le Monde:

“Mais la discrétion du procureur Bellemare agace néanmoins les diplomates “qui essayent de lui tendre des pièges, mais il reste muet sur l’enquête”, raconte une source proche du Quai d’Orsay. “Il est très prétentieux dans ses rapports avec les autres, notamment les autorités nationales et les services étrangers, et donc peu populaire. Il se sent surpuissant mais ne comprend pas bien les finesses du dossier. Il veut adapter des méthodes d’enquête traditionnelles canadiennes à une enquête politique sur un territoire qu’il ne contrôle et ne comprend pas”, regrette un enquêteur.”

As an aside, it would be absolutely unthinkable, say, in social sciences to have a researcher who does understand neither the “finesses du dossier” nor the country he is investigating, but apparently in matters of international justice this is acceptable…

Add to this investigators sporting a world view not dissimilar to that of Michael Young and you got a recipe for disaster:

“”Si on estime que c’est le Hezbollah, on peut assumer qu’il n’aurait jamais fait cela sans l’aval de la Syrie, et éventuellement l’aide de l’Iran”, affirme une source au sein de l’enquête.”

The many leaks just in these two articles, in disregard of official policy, do not exactly inspire confidence in the professionalism and neutrality of the investigation:

– “wie die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung aus dem (…) Tribunal erfuhr”, “ein ranghoher früherer Ermittler, der zu Brammertz’ Beiruter Zeit mit dem Fall befasst war”, “heißt es in Beirut, wo das Tribunal ein Büro unterhält”;
– “selon certaines sources”, “un chercheur proche de l’enquête”, “plusieurs sources”, “une source au in de l’enquête”, “un autre enquêteur”, “une source proche du Quai d’Orsay”, “un enquêteur”.

It seems that I was way too optimistic in the past about the possibility of international justice. Of course, there is no moral foreign policy, countries simply pursue their interests and these can only occasionally coincide with the truth. Events are primarily seen from the angle of how to make political hay out of them. The UN investigation was probably very useful in that regard (e.g. the intelligence resulting from the analysis of all telecommunication data in Lebanon that was handed over to the commission). And the temptation is certainly there to use the STL against Hizbullah and Iran.

Of course, the possibility that both articles are just ‘psychological warfare’ cannot be discarded, but even that has significant consequences. It means that either both Le Monde and the F.A.Z, (and also Le Figaro‘s Georges Malbrunot) are lying about their sources, or, even worse, that manipulation sits right at the heart of the UN investigation and the STL.

Comments (28)

Hassan said:

See article below. Perhaps if Bashar, his cronies, and extended family weren’t treating Syria as their personal fiefdom the economy would be better managed.

Drought Threatens Syria Economy as Refugees Flee Parched Farms
By Daniel Williams

March 2 (Bloomberg) — A few miles beyond an irrigated golf course on the outskirts of Damascus, scores of refugees fleeing drought in Syria’s northeastern breadbasket have settled into tents on a rocky field.

“Our wells are dry and the rains don’t come,” said Ahmed Abu Hamed Mohieddin, a wheat farmer from the town of Qamishli in the Fertile Crescent, a rich agricultural area stretching from Iraq to Israel. “We cannot depend on God’s will for our crops. We come to the city, where the money is.” He and three sons work as porters in the capital’s vegetable markets.

They are among about 300,000 families driven to Damascus, Aleppo and other cities in one of the “largest internal displacements in the Middle East in recent years,” according to a Feb. 17 report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The water shortage is undermining efforts to maintain economic growth in a country where agriculture until recently accounted for about 25 percent of gross domestic product. The drought is also a potential source of tension as Syria seeks to increase its political influence in the region, where it competes for shared river resources with Turkey, Iraq and Israel.

“It’s a problem for the government,” said Jihad Yazigi, editor-in-chief in Damascus of The Syria Report, an online business journal based in Paris. “They don’t like the image of Syria as a drought-ridden, Middle Eastern Ethiopia. Also, it’s not just a lack of water, it’s bad water management by the government itself.”

Modernization ‘Neglected’

Much of Syria’s farmland is irrigated by flooding, which wastes water, instead of through pipes and tubes, Yazigi said. “Modernization of agriculture has been neglected.”

Rainfall has averaged between 45 percent and 66 percent less than normal in three eastern provinces during the past two years, according to a February UN report. The country uses more water than it receives from rivers, and wells dug to make up the shortfall are depleting aquifers, Theib Oweis, a senior researcher at the Aleppo-based International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, said in a telephone interview.

Syria’s economy grew about 4 percent last year, a decline of 1 percentage point from 2008, the International Monetary Fund said in a Dec. 21 report. The harvest of wheat, Syria’s biggest crop, fell to about 2 million metric tons, half the usual amount, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Net Importer

“For the first time in two decades, Syria has moved from being a net exporter of wheat to a net importer,” said a February 2010 report by the U.S. State Department, which added that agriculture accounted for about 17 percent of 2008 GDP. The country buys wheat mainly from Mediterranean and Black Sea countries, including France, Ukraine and Russia, according to Syria’s official government news agency.

Rain and snow this winter have raised hope for a revived harvest, although one isn’t assured, Abdulla Bin Yehia, a UN Food and Agriculture Organization representative in Damascus, said in the Feb. 17 UN report.

“If there is no more rain in the drought-affected areas within the next six to seven weeks, then we may not have any crop,” he said. Frost could destroy produce and devastate farmers “for another year,” he added.

The water shortage has contributed in the past to conflict with Israel over the Golan Heights, which the Israelis conquered in the 1967 Middle East War and Syria wants back. The area contains watersheds that flow into the Sea of Galilee, a major source of Israel’s water, and control of these resources has been a sticking point when the countries have met in negotiations.

Water Policies

Repeated requests to discuss the drought and water policies went unanswered by the government of President Bashar al-Assad, 44, who has ruled Syria for a decade.

The lack of water has caused more than 800,000 people in eastern Syria to lose “almost all of their livelihoods and face extreme hardship,” according to an Aug. 11 report by the UN humanitarian office. About 80 percent of the hardest hit “live on a diet consisting of bread and sugared tea,” the report said.

Mohieddin, 47, said he left Qamishli when his well ran dry and he couldn’t afford a new pump. He sold a flock of sheep because grazing land had withered and he didn’t have commercial feed. He came to Damascus last May and lives among the dusty lanes separating do-it-yourself tents of plastic and cotton sheets.

“I’m thinking maybe we can build a little house here,” Mohieddin said. “We can’t go back to Qamishli. We prayed for rain too long.”

Limited Help

Complicating life for the refugees is limited humanitarian help. The World Food Programmme in Rome appealed last August for $23 million in aid. It received only about $6 million, the organization’s country director, Mohannad Hadi, told Syria Today magazine.

The winter rain “means farmers in the northeast may have crops after the harvest,” he said. “But it won’t put food on the table for them today.”

Or fill their tea cups. Mohieddin trudges 200 yards into Khirbet al-Waled village to get drinking water from a trickling outdoor faucet.

“I’m used to this,” he said. “Water is as hard to get for us as gold.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Williams in Damascus at

Last Updated: March 1, 2010 17:01 EST

March 2nd, 2010, 10:24 pm


jad said:

Regarding the drought issue and after seeing the shocking images on SC back in January

I came up with a sketch then I worked on the primitive idea even more and submit it to a competition, (the results are not out yet), but regardless of the results of that competition I want to share my idea with the forum since the main reason to do this was solely to help Syria.
Dearest OTW (I used your words about drought destroying civilizations) and Dr. Elie the expert: please give me your feed back, Thanks.

What is the title of your proposal? •

How would you describe it? •
Proposed solution for soils that are highly susceptible to drought as a method of food protection strategy worldwide

What does it fix and why? •
The suggested solution is to help keep soil moist which will lengthen the life cycle of the soil and thereby sustaining populations as well as all other living beings that depend on fertile soil.

What makes it important? •
Floods destroy buildings but droughts destroy civilizations.
The solution of water retention for dry soil is important because it gives people a chance of having a stable and sustainable environment. Future generations will not be forced to abandon their lands because of drought and famine but, instead, they can thrive and grow from their land. Yet the harsh reality that we actually see today is drought victims leaving their lands in search of a better life only to become homeless wanderers living on the fringe of cities without any future.

As droughts have hit many areas of the world and will continue to become a more common problem in the near future, especially with global warming, I came up with this idea of saving soil itself as a way to help save the people who depend directly on it for food, shade, and habitat.

The suggested idea is a theoretical attempt to help prevent dry soil and make it more resistant to drought. In the event of a drought, constant and direct sunlight makes the soil extremely hot and eventually evaporates every drop of water in it. The result is a very dry soil that is unable to sustain any plant growth. But since it has already been proven that drought-hit soil can still be efficient for plant and tree growth when it has enough moisture, water retention in soil becomes a key factor in creating sustainable lands.

How do the photos or renderings illustrate the concept? •
The concept is illustrated in 4 layers:
1- The first layer will use a super absorbent polymer and soil mixture to cover the existing dry soil and to fill in the existing cracks in it. This will help make the soil moist and, in turn, support plant growth with even a little amount of rain or water. This layer will also work as a protective shield from direct sun light.
2- Existing soil that will need moisture continually to support plant growth
3- To encourage water retention and maximize results, we need to lay some pipe lines of water, where water is accessible, and employ dripping techniques so that only a small amount of water is required. It is believed that this will help the process.
4- To stop water from leaving the site and prevent any wasted water, a bed clay soil underneath the existing soil might be another helpful technique. The clay will help retain water for longer periods of time and keep the main soil ready for planting.

What is your business plan for realizing your proposal? •
1- The first step would be by doing detailed studies and further research on different types of soils and different materials that can hold water in one area for as long as possible.
2- The second would be a field research on the proposed techniques to get the right data that will support the safety, affordability, and success of the idea
3- Negotiating a governmental process to integrate this theoretical solution particularly in developing countries where people may need these techniques the most.
4- Finally it will be mass produced and introduced as an easily accessible product in order to reach the people who need it most.

The idea of the presentation layout is to show the importance of fixing dry soil as the first step toward a healthy future for all beings.

March 3rd, 2010, 12:45 am


norman said:

Assad: U.S.’s misguided Mideast policy empowered Iran

By Akiva Eldar

Tags: Iran sanctions, Syria

Syrian President Bashar Assad told former senior White House officials two weeks ago that U.S. policy in the Middle East has been wrong for the past decade and has created a vacuum that has been filled by other countries, meaning Iran and Turkey.

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, who served on the National Security Council during the Clinton and Bush administrations, said yesterday on their Web site that Assad told them Iran’s rise has not come at Syria’s expense because all three countries have improved their regional strategic standing.

Despite Assad’s criticism of U.S. policy choices, the Leveretts said the Syrian president seemed satisfied with his meeting the day before with Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns. However, Assad made clear that Syria’s ties to Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas were “not on the table.”

Flynt Leverett said that an Assad adviser had told him recently that Syria would find it difficult to distance itself from Iran because only Iran had stood by Syria in the aftermath of the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

Leverett added the following: “If Israel were prepared to conclude a peace treaty with Syria, meeting its longstanding requirements [full return of the occupied Golan Heights to the June 4, 1967 lines, etc.], [Assad said he] ‘could not say no.'”

March 3rd, 2010, 2:53 am


epppie said:

As you know, of course, though you state otherwise, Hezbollah and Hamas are not a threat to Israel. In fact, the opposite is quite blatantly true, as you know. As you yourself state, Israel continues to claim that it has the right to attack Lebanon anytime it wants, should Hezbollah acquire weapons it doesn’t like, though Hezbollah is now a legitimate share in the Lebanese government AND military. This kind of impunity is routine for ISrael. It has the right to attack whenever it wants and others do not even have the right to defend themselves.

In fact, as you know, Hezbollah and Hamas WOULD be an advantage to Israel if Israel really wanted peace, because they offer negotiation partners that have legitimacy and credibility in the regions where, theoretically, Israel wants peace (only it obviously doesn’t want peace, except for the peace of the totally vanguished, utterly humiliated, completely crushed).

But carry on with your incessant ‘catapulting’ of charming warmongering propaganda.

March 3rd, 2010, 11:31 am


ghassan said:

The image (the photos) is good for your lawn “front or backyard” not for an agricultural area. Drip irrigation and using pipes (instead of open channels) is one of the solutions. Also, dry areas should plant crops that do not need a lot of water. Last solution is desalination.

March 3rd, 2010, 12:34 pm


norman said:

How did Firas Talas make his money ?,


EFG-Hermes Expands Into Syria, Starts Syrian Private Equity Fund
March 03, 2010, 6:37 AM EST

March 3 (Bloomberg) — EFG-Hermes Holding SAE, the biggest publicly traded Arab investment bank, will open an office in Damascus with a local partner and start a Syrian private equity fund at the same time.

EFG-Hermes has a 70 percent stake in EFG-Hermes Syria, while Syrian businessman Firas Tlass has a 30 percent stake, the Cairo-based company said in an e-mailed statement today.

March 3rd, 2010, 12:38 pm


idaf said:

Check these titles in Israeli media:

Ha’aretz: Trucks carrying Israeli Golan apples into Syria
Ynetnews: Syrian markets to enjoy Israeli apples

It is funny that the titles insist that the apples are “Israeli”?! They were grown by Syrians who do not have Israeli nationality, living on Syrian land that no country in the world (other than Israel) recognizes as anything but Syrian! Are the authors suggesting that the apples speak Hebrew or something? Or is it a media policy to hammer the Israeli public with the message of “Israeliness” of the Golan and everything in it!?

March 3rd, 2010, 12:51 pm


Alex said:


This reminds me, as universities around the globe marked Israeli Apartheid week, there was a new counter campaign that was most likely funded by Canadian Israel lobby groups but is promoted as the output of an initiative by Canadian Jewish students.

The Golan, is of course part of Israel.

Write to them to let them know (they have a moderated comments section) … I wrote a polite comment but of course, two days later, it did not show up.

Site link:

“Israel, small country, big appetite for peace”!!

(lucky Syrian neighbors!)

background on Canadian Israel lobby and how they tried to conceal their funding to this innocent Canadian students’ project:

And here is their, eh … promotional video

March 3rd, 2010, 3:29 pm


Ghat Albird said:

ALEX said

background on Canadian Israel lobby……..:

The Canadian israeli lobby has managed to convince an aide to PM Harper of Canada to state, “that an attack on Israel is an attack on Canada”.

Interesting that the Apartheid Week commemorations in over 40 cities around the world are being referenced in a JP article on “depleted uranium” being found all over Gaza.

March 3rd, 2010, 4:32 pm


EIU said:

A couple of points on Turkish trade and Firas Tlas.

Syrian exports to Turkey declined last year because the oil price fell — this is no reason to blame free trade agreements. It is also worth bearing in mind that a significant portion of Turkish exports to Syria is likely to be re-exported to Iraq, with profits accruing to Syrian middlemen.

Firas Tlas has had obvious advantages in his business career, but he has also faced obstacles, in particular from import lobbies that have obstructed his plans to invest in sugar and cement production. He finally prevailed on the cement front three or four years ago in a partnership with Orascom Construction Industries (of course owned by the same Egyptian family that had such a difficult time doing business with Rami Makhlouf in Syriatel). Orascom sold its cement interest to Lafarge a couple of years ago. It is no surprise to see EFG Hermes teaming up with Tlas, after he showed his seriousness in executing the Aleppo cement project, which is thus far the only significant example of privately financed large-scale industrial investment in modern Syria.

March 3rd, 2010, 5:10 pm


jad said:

Nothing new about the Conservative Canadian government, they’ve been asking to be in Israel service since day one and they keep pushing the Canadian political sphere to become similar to the weird American one.

on top of that, lately, someone?, somewhere ‘up’? is pushing against Canadian for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (Alex told us about this org earlier):

March 3rd, 2010, 5:49 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:


Here’s a deal: stop moderating AIG and Chris, Sizedoesntmatter will stop moderating you.
Let’s have a world with no moderation.
How about that? 🙂

BTW don’t miss CNN’s Cristian Amenpour tonight Wed 22:00 local, interview with the Hamas son who turned Shin Beit agent.

March 3rd, 2010, 6:36 pm


EHSANI2 said:


As of two years ago, officials from EFG Hermes were not interested in entering the Syrian market. They thought at the time that the country was not ready yet. Clearly, the announcement today is a proof that they had a change if heart. As for their choice of partners, an investor with deep pockets and wide connections in the business community must have been two prerequisites. Mr. Tlass of course fits the bill. He had been keen to enter the financial services area. They of course found their match. Mt. Tlass did not need the Lafarge deal to prove his credentials. He has always been considered the second most powerful business go-to guy in Damascus.

March 3rd, 2010, 7:21 pm


Ghat Albird said:



Here’s a deal: stop moderating…… Let’s have a world with no moderation.
How about that?

BTW don’t miss CNN’s Cristian Amenpour tonight Wed 22:00 local, interview with the Hamas son who turned Shin Beit agent.

A in ta.

BTW don’t forget to let us know when CNN’s Amenpour, finally gets to interview Jonathan Pollard.

March 3rd, 2010, 7:35 pm


Alex said:


1) AIG is moderated after he left over 2000 comments and after he managed to get on everybody’s nerves and after I discussed it with him a million times

I left one polite comment (I even wrote that the site’s design is nice) … and they could not take it.

2) There are many Israelis here who are always welcome to comment.

March 3rd, 2010, 8:05 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

OK Alex, but as you already know, I’m against any kind of moderation.
A comment section is for commenting. 1 or 2300.

The Amanpour interview is here

March 3rd, 2010, 8:56 pm


Elie Elhadj said:


Sorry. I really am not qualified to comment on a scientific matter like the one outlined in your comment to help keep soil moist. I am not an engineer, scientist, or hydrologist. My interest in water issues in arid/ semi arid areas is economic and political.


March 3rd, 2010, 9:30 pm


jad said:

Dear Alex,
The bottom line for the Prince, AP and their other similar mentality ‘JUNTA’ is not a matter of principles at all, they are using that issue as a cheap excuse, non of them can even stand that rude lunatic.
Their main issue is that they are for the first time in their lives seeing a respected SYRIAN person having some moral authorities over their comments; it has nothing to do with freedom or moderation.
It’s all racist and out of hate, nothing more nothing less.
If they miss him that much they can go to QN blog and catch up with him, why do they want to disturb the whole forum?

March 3rd, 2010, 9:43 pm


jad said:

Dear Dr. Elie,
I’m not a specialist in soil at all, it’s not my major.
My idea was based purely on rational thinking and I have no clue if it works or not.
But I thought that it would be fun, challenging and more productive to come up with something instead of just criticizing. Even if this idea doesn’t have any strength, the challenge is to try and never ever gave up giving ideas even when it’s not your specialty.
We all have to try.

March 3rd, 2010, 9:54 pm


Hassan said:

Speaking of Israel Apartheid Week, David Frum had an interesting column on Israel Apartheid Week and its supporters.

Something’s seriously wrong at York University
David Frum, National Post

Next week, York University will once again open its halls and classrooms to “Israel Apartheid Week,” so-called. This year as every year, militants and activists will use the taxpayer-funded facilities of York to vilify the Jewish state.

Well, that’s free speech, isn’t? Everybody gets to express his or her point of view, no matter how obnoxious, right?

No, not right. Not at York. At York, speech is free — better than free, subsidized– for anti-Israel haters. But for those who would defend Israel, York sets very different rules.

In advance of York’s annual hate-Israel week, the campus group Christians United for Israel applied to use university space to host a program of pro-Israel speakers.

The university replied that this program could only proceed on certain conditions.

It insisted on heavy security, including both campus and Toronto police — all of those costs to be paid by the program organizers. The organizers would also have to provide an advance list of all program attendees and advance summaries of all the speeches. No advertising for the program would be permitted — not on the York campus, not on any of the other campuses participating by remote video.

These are radically different and much harsher terms than anything required from the hate-Israel program. The hate-Israel program is not required to pay for its own security. It is free to advertise. Its speakers are not pre-screened by the university.

The pro-Israel event, scheduled for this past Monday, Feb. 22, was cancelled when the organizers declined to comply with the terms. A university spokesman told the Jewish Tribune that it insisted on the more stringent requirements on pro-Israel groups “due to the participation of individuals who they claim invite the animus of anti-Israel campus agitators.”

The logic is impressively brazen: Since the anti-Israel people might use violence, the speech of the pro-Israel people must be limited. On the other hand, since the pro-Israel people do not use violence, the speech of the anti-Israel people can proceed without restraint.

Over the past days, however, the university appears to have realized that this “We brake for bullies” policy on speech might present some PR problems.

So now it seems they have reverted to a bolder policy: flat-out denial.

I called York on Thursday for comment on the incident. York’s smooth chief communications officer was out for the day. So apparently was his deputy. I got instead an audibly nervous substitute.

I asked: Is it York’s policy to allow thugs to decide what may be said on campus, and what can’t? He insisted that, no York had the same rules for all.

“Are you telling me,” I asked, “that York imposes precisely the same requirements on all student groups?”

“All student groups that request university space, yes.”

I said: “I’m going to print that answer in the newspaper. It’s going to be kind of embarrassing if you are quoted as saying something blatantly untrue. Do you want to modify your statement in any way?”

The spokesman said he would stick with his “precisely same requirements” quote.

I offered one more chance to amend the answer. Pause. And then burst forth a flood of amazing flack-speech reprising Chevy Chase’s legendarily incoherent performance in Spies Like Us.

What he meant, he said, was that it was the “process” and the “protocols” that were the same, leading to a “needs-based assessment” of each particular case. Hemina, hemina, hemina.

The truth is this: York students are treated “the same” only in the sense that every student is equally exposed to the utterly arbitrary ad hoc decision-making of a fathomlessly cowardly university administration.

It was not always this way. One of the speakers invited to the pro-Israel event, Daniel Pipes, spoke at York in 2003. Violence was threatened then too. Local militants distributed leaflets urging the disruption of Pipes’ talk. But York’s then-president Lorna Marsden refused to allow thugs to veto academic speech. She provided the police presence to ensure that Pipes’ talk could proceed unmolested, although admittedly in a tense atmosphere that might have daunted someone less personally courageous than Pipes.

But the current York administration lacks Marsden’s commitment to freedom.

Even when public speech is not an issue, Jewish students at York experience ethnically and religiously based intimidation and even violence. On the rare occasions when the university disciplines anyone for such incidents, it takes care always to penalize both the Jewish targets of harassment and the anti-Jewish culprits. The motive again is not fairness, but fear.

Something has gone seriously wrong at Canada’s third-largest university. You can find a list of York’s board of governors at so minded, maybe you should contact them and ask them what they will do to correct York’s betrayal of the values of a free society.

March 3rd, 2010, 11:15 pm


jad said:

“Interesting column”
Very interesting indeed!! In bizarro, sectarian and racist world. Not in this real world we all live in.
What is wrong with people? Why they always use either the Religion card or the Race card to stop anybody from showing their mistakes or even trying to make things right?
If you kill, you are a killer, regardless if you are a Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Shinto or atheist? I don’t care if you are A Caucasian, African, Asian or Native? You pay for what you do? Isn’t it the rules in the ‘Civilized’ world as well as the ‘Backward’ one, the ‘religious’ as well as the ‘Secular’ world? You are responsible of what you do so you better be ready to pay your deed.
I never heard of any lawyer in any court calling for his client to be out of the sentence because he is a ‘Christian’ killing a ‘Non-Christian’? Or Let this man free, because he is an African and if you blame him for what he did, Mr. the judge you are a racist or a sectarian.
All those writers trying to defend Israel using the religious card are bunch of idiots and bullies and they are doing more harm to Jews than good.

March 4th, 2010, 12:40 am


Akbar Palace said:

Watch the “Shocked” BBC reporter question the …

“Son of Hamas” who spied for Israel

March 4th, 2010, 2:56 am


norman said:

This is interesting ,

March 3, 2010 Wednesday 17 AdarI 5770 22:06 IST

Photo by: courtesy
Analysis: Bashar Assad: What you see is what you get

Syria’s president is not a ‘pragmatist’ but fiercely anti-Israel, which is why efforts to lure him out of Iran’s orbit aren’t working.

In Damascus last week, the full array of leaders of the so-called “resistance bloc” sat down to a sumptuous meal together.

Presidents Ahmedinejad of Iran and Assad of Syria were there, alongside a beaming Khaled Mashaal of Hamas and Hizbullah General-Secretary Hassan Nasrallah. There were some lesser lights, too, to make up the numbers – including Ahmed Jibril of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), a fossil from the old alphabet soup of secular Palestinian groups.

The mood – replicated a few days later in Teheran – was one of jubilant defiance.

The reasons underlying Syria’s membership in the “resistance bloc” remain fiercely debated in western policy discussion. It has long been the view of a powerful element in Washington – strongly echoed by many in the Israeli defense establishment – that Syria constitutes the “weakest link” in the Iranian-led bloc.

Adherents to this view see the Syrian regime as concerned solely with power and its retention. Given, they say, that Syria’s ties to the Iran-led bloc are pragmatic rather than ideological, the policy trick to be performed is finding the right incentive to make Damascus recalculate the costs and benefits of its position.

Once the appropriate incentive tips the balance, it is assumed, the regime in Damascus will coolly absent itself from the company of frothing ideologues on display in Damascus and Teheran last week, and will take up its position on the rival table – or at least at a point equidistant between them.

The specific incentive required to perform this trick varies depending on who you ask. In Israel, it is generally assumed that the recovery of the Golan Heights is the great prize. In this view, Syrian backing for Hizbullah and for Palestinian terror groups is intended to keep up the pressure on Israel, in order to force it to concede the Golan.

In Washington, one may hear a number of other incentives discussed – the removal of the Syria Accountability Act, US aid and investment, and so on.

The logic of all these positions depends on the basic characterization of the Assad regime as ultimately motivated purely by Machiavellian power interests. This characterization remains received wisdom in Israeli and US policy circles to a far greater extent than the evidence for it warrants.

Western wooing of Syria has undeniably produced remarkably little in terms of changing the regime’s behavior. In recent weeks, the Obama administration increased the volume of its formerly cautious overtures to Damascus. Undersecretary of State William Burns visited Damascus, and attempted to raise the issue of Syrian support for insurgents in Iraq, and for Hizbullah and Palestinian terror groups. Assad, according to reports, denied all knowledge of such support.

The recently announced US decision to return an ambassador to Damascus was followed by the resistance jamboree in Damascus – in which Assad openly mocked US hopes for a Syrian “distancing” from Iran.

It has now been announced that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is considering a visit to Damascus. In the meantime, Syria is gaily crashing through the red lines on its military support for Hizbullah. Sophisticated anti-aircraft equipment, such as the Russian-made Igla system, is rumored to be following the advanced surface-to-surface missiles and antitank systems supplied to the Lebanese terror group.

Which brings us back to the core question of Syrian motivation. Clearly, the Syrians have a habit of swallowing incentives and giving nothing in return. But if the alignment with Iran is purely pragmatic, then why does it prove so difficult to offer Syria the right carrot to lure it away from Teheran?

There are two possible answers. The first and most obvious one is that Syria calculates, probably correctly, that since there will be no real price imposed on it for not changing its behavior, it can afford to maintain its current level of relations with Iran, while happily accepting any gestures from the west or Israel designed to induce it to change them.

But this explanation fails to account for the brazenness and fervor of Syria’s current stance of defiance. The statements of individuals close to the Syrian regime in recent months suggest that there is more to the current Syrian stance than simply playing all sides off against the middle.

Rather, the Syrians believe that a profound restructuring of the balance of power is under way in the Middle East – to the benefit of the Iran-led bloc. This restructuring is being made possible because of the supposed long-term weakening of the US in the region.

This enables the aggressive, Islamist regime in Teheran to fill the vacuum. It also renders feasible policy options – such as direct confrontation with Israel – which in the 1990s seemed to have vanished forever.

The characterization of the young Syrian president and his regime as ultimately cool-headed and pragmatist is incorrect. The Damascus regime always held to a fiercely anti-Israeli and anti-American view of the region.

In the 1990s, realities appeared to require a practical sidelining of this view. But the 1990s were over a while ago.

Regimes like that of the Assads (and even semi-farcical figures like old Jibril and his PFLP-GC) are not anomalies in the alliance based on Iranian ambition and regional Islamist fervor. Rather, they are natural partners, sharing a base-level understanding of the region, common enemies, and a common, brutal approach to asserting their interests.

It is for this core reason that attempts to prise Bashar Assad away from his natural habitat will continue to prove fruitless.

The writer is senior researcher at the Global Research in International Affairs Center.

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March 4th, 2010, 3:24 am


offended said:

I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Ford Prefect and Idaf yesterday. It was brief and yet most enjoyable. If you had your buzzing at the time (12:00-14:00 EST) then we’re real sorry. Gossiping is irresistible. 🙂

March 4th, 2010, 8:29 am


Ghat Albird said:

The Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum and Richard Cohen have joined Daniel Pipes in suggesting that Barak Obama can guarentee himself being re-elected in 2012 if he does what Israel’s Netanyahu wants done and that is ” take pre-emptive military action on Iran”.

In reading so to speak between the lines there seems to be a growing impatience as well as possibly splits among the hard core neocons/zionists and their influence on starting wars to Istael’s liking.

March 4th, 2010, 1:57 pm


norman said:

I am jealous ,

March 4th, 2010, 2:54 pm


Avi said:

I just want to leave a humble message …….there are only scuffles between Israelis here!!By showing such deep divisions and by explaining to everybody that the Palestinians are the original population while the Israelis are tourists???…..Once a wise man said there is an analogy between Kosovo (the Serbs and the Albanians) and Israel and the Palestinians anyways he took into account by saying that Kosovo was a Serb nation before it turned into an Albanian majority one just like Israel……which was a Jewish nation before being turned to an Arab or Muslim one……so why all this black and white South Africa type comments???Jews are meant to be free so all those that want their chains back on head back to Iraq and Yemen maybe then you will feel that bitter taste in your mouths we need to be free and sovereign….Message to Syrians:Anyway not all Israelis have existential problems on what they are and where they came from and what they are ready to do for their children.And i don’t come from no settlement either inside 1967 lines and i am not for Likud!But I hate rockets and terror!

March 4th, 2010, 3:26 pm


Off the wall said:

add me to the jealous group. that must have been one heck of a meeting. We all expect a gossip report. 🙂

March 4th, 2010, 3:35 pm


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