King Abdullah’s Visit to Damascus – A New Era of Arab Relations?

Saudi Arabias King Abdullah, left, and Syrian President Bashar Assad at al-Shaab palace in Damascus on Oct. 7, 2009

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, left, and Syrian President Bashar Assad at al-Shaab palace in Damascus on Oct. 7, 2009

Analysts are universally positive about King Abdullah’s visit to Damascus. They have moved closer on a policy toward Israel – at least in words now that it is clear that Israel has no time for the Saudi peace plan or Obama’s efforts to get something started. It is not clear whether Saudi-Syrian rapprochement will make any difference to Israel, which can lick all the Arabs with one hand behind its back. Netanyahu just confirmed that Obama has agreed to cover again for Israel’s refusal to join the international nuclear agreement.

Qifa Nabki doesn’t think that Saudi and Syrian influence will be decisive in resolving the deep differences among Lebanese, even if the two countries come to a meeting of the minds on the outlines of a new government. Sami Moubayed argues that Iraq, not Lebanon, is now more important to Saudi Arabia – and on Iraq, Syria and SA are in broad agreement. Peter Harling of ICG is positive but warns “against overestimating how much of a difference reconciliation between Syria and Saudi Arabia would make in a region that remains fundamentally unstable.” Always good advice.

With Saudi Arabia back at Syria’s side and the EU ready to sign its long awaited economic agreement with Syria, the way is clear for president Obama to begin hacking away at some of the economic sanctions that the Bush administration has thrown up over the years. It will be a hard fight because congress will stand against him as it did in his effort to have Israel halt settlement expansion. All the same, with Israel refusing to cooperate on anything, there is no reason for the president to be completely acquiescent to its demands. Syria can profit from Israel’s intransigence. Many analysts are calling this a new era of regional diplomacy. It does signal the end to the Bush era. The great divide between Syria and Saudi Arabia and between “moderate” and “radical” Arab states has been bridged. But a new era? That may be going too far. Rebuilding amicable relations with Saudi Arabia, howeve, is an achievement for Syria, especially if the King’s statements about easing the way for greater Saudi economic investment in Syria comes true. Assad’s effort to pursue resistance to Israel and provide rapid economic growth for Syrians at one and the same time is more realistic today than it was last week.

Saudi Arabia, Syria call for a unity govt in Lebanon
Arab News – 09 October, 2009

Saudi Arabia and Syria called Thursday for the formation of a national unity government in Lebanon. They also backed the Yemeni government in its ongoing efforts to reinforce peace and stability across the country.

“With regard to Lebanon, the two sides emphasized the importance of achieving the unity and stability of the country through the strengthening of consensus among its groups and speeding up the formation of a national unity government,” said a joint communiqué issued at the conclusion of the state visit of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah to Damascus.

The communiqué urged joint Arab and Islamic action to stop the continuous Israeli aggression on the Palestinians. The two sides stressed the need to lift the Israeli siege on Al-Aqsa Mosque and confront the measures taken by Israel to Judaize Jerusalem, it added.

Saudi Arabia and Syria stressed the need for ensuring the unity and Arab identity of Iraq and opposed interference in its internal affairs. They supported Yemen’s efforts to end an insurgency that has been threatening the country’s unity and security.

King Abdullah returned to Riyadh on Thursday at the end of a two-day visit. He held a final round of talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad before leaving Damascus, with discussions focusing on major regional and international issues.

“King Abdullah received President Assad at his residence in Ash-Shaab Palace in Damascus on Thursday and the two leaders completed their discussions, which they began Wednesday, on a number of topics,” the Saudi Press Agency said, adding that the talks were attended by Prince Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, the king’s adviser.

The two countries agreed to strengthen political, cultural and media cooperation as well as hold a meeting of the Saudi-Syrian Joint Commission as early as possible. They also agreed to expand economic, commercial, customs and investment cooperation, the communiqué added.

A meeting of the Saudi-Syrian Businessmen’s Forum will be held in the first quarter of next year to boost joint ventures while the capital of the Saudi-Syrian Company for Industrial and Agricultural Investment will be increased.

King Abdullah arrived in Damascus on Wednesday at the head of a high-level delegation in what analysts said a historic visit by the Saudi leader to improve ties. The visit saw the signing of an agreement between the two countries to prevent double taxation and avoid tax evasion.

Finance Minister Ibrahim Al-Assaf, who signed the accord with his Syrian counterpart Muhammad Al-Hussein, said it would reduce tax burden on investors and businessmen in both countries.

Al-Assaf held a meeting with Al-Hussein on Thursday to discuss prospects of expanding economic cooperation between the two countries. “The two ministers agreed on studying the issue of fees imposed on Saudi and Syrian trucks that carry goods to both countries or pass by them,” said an official statement after the meeting.

Al-Assaf and Al-Hussein also explored prospects of cooperation in banking and insurance including establishment of a Saudi-Syrian bank and a joint insurance firm in Syria. They said the volume of trade, now only $ 2 billion a year, would begin growing in the coming days.

“We have decided to remove the hurdles to commercial exchanges, notably the taxes recently imposed by Syria on products exported to Saudi Arabia,” such as olive oil and ceramics, Hussein was quoted as saying. For his part, Al-Assaf spoke of Abdullah’s visit, his first after becoming the king in 2005, as “very important for strengthening economic relations.” The two leaders underlined their “commitment to pursue coordination and consultations at all levels on matters that interest both peoples,” the Syrian news agency SANA said, adding that they wanted to “remove the obstacles that have hindered their relations.” Analysts said the royal visit would have great impact on the region’s peace and stability. “It was a positive visit and the talks were held in an amiable atmosphere. Both the Syrian and Saudi sides expressed their satisfaction with the talks,” said Waddah Abd-Rabbo, the editor of the semi-official Syrian paper Al-Watan.

“The Saudi monarch’s visit is expected to open up new horizons between these two influential countries, who play an important role in the region and on the international level,” Abd-Rabbo said.

Assad’s political and media adviser Bouthaina Shaaban said Syrian-Saudi relations were making excellent progress. “There is a strong need to create an Arab atmosphere that can utilize the Arab capabilities to raise the voice of Arabs on regional and international forums.”

Read the fulsome praise for the Saudi King by Buthaina Shaaban, here – (in Arabic)

“Why Discuss” wrote this analysis in the comment section:

It is impossible that Syria will go to war to liberate the Golan. It does not have the means. Bashar seems to have opted for a “petits-pas” strategy:

– Getting closer to Israel’s established friends and get them to quietly show Israel that it may lose its few friends in the region if it refuses to return to serious negociations: Turkey is one of them. Erdogan, while keeping his relationship with Israel, is now openly supporting the Goldstone report and has publicly shown his anger to Peres about Gaza.
– Getting military powerful friends that Israel fears: Iran.
– Getting back its rich Arab friends who are close to the US : KSA
– Quietly returning to the international community after 3 years of ostracism orchestrated by the friends of Israel in Lebanon and in the UN ( Mehlis’s politically motivated Agatha Christie reports on Hariri’s murder): UE trade agreement, which is to be signed next month.

Will these petits-pas approach have chances to succeed? Assad is not pressed for time. Israel is, as its reputation and reliability is gradually eroding in the international community and the new US administration, hopefully here for the next 7 years, does not seem to buy blindly what Israel is claiming. The International community is slowly following the US in this respect.

No Chance of Peace for Years, Says Israel’s Foreign Minister

There is no chance of an early solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and people must “learn to live with it”, the Israeli Foreign Minister warned yesterday.

A Rapprochement Between Syria and Saudi Arabia?
By Andrew Lee Butters Thursday, Oct. 08, 2009

Syria has been slowly accommodating American and Saudi positions on several issues as well as opening an embassy in Beirut, gracefully accepting the electoral defeat of its Lebanese allies in June, and restricting the flow of foreign fighters across Syrian land into Iraq.

For their part, Saudi Arabia’s leaders have grown increasingly worried about the rising power of Iran. The Persian and Shi’ite dominated Islamic Republic is both a religious and racial challenge to Arab and Sunni Saudi Arabia’s dominance of the region, and Iran has deftly exploited the divisions in the Arab world by allying itself with radical anti-Israeli movements, in concert with Syria. With Iran’s ongoing nuclear-development program — which many Arab countries suspect is a cover for producing weapons — raising those concerns to a fever pitch, Saudi Arabia has decided it can no longer afford open confrontation with Syria.

But wooing Syria away from Iran will be no easy matter. Syrian officials have long said they would be open to a regional peace if Israel returned occupied Syrian land in the Golan Heights and offered a just settlement to the Palestinian question. But they have also maintained their right to continue Syria’s relationship with Iran and support for Hamas and Hizballah, just as the U.S. arms and supports Israel……

Indeed, rather than distance themselves from Iran, the Syrians recently gave the greenlight for Iran to expand its embassy in Damascus, already Iran’s largest in the region….

Obama agrees to keep Israel’s nukes secret
October 2, 2009
Eli Lake in Wash Times

President Obama has reaffirmed a 4-decade-old secret understanding that has allowed Israel to keep a nuclear arsenal without opening it to international inspections, three officials familiar with the understanding said.

The officials, who spoke on the condition that they not be named because they were discussing private conversations, said Mr. Obama pledged to maintain the agreement when he first hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House in May.

Under the understanding, the U.S. has not pressured Israel to disclose its nuclear weapons or to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which could require Israel to give up its estimated several hundred nuclear bombs.

Israel had been nervous that Mr. Obama would not continue the 1969 understanding because of his strong support for nonproliferation and priority on preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The U.S. and five other world powers made progress during talks with Iran in Geneva on Thursday as Iran agreed in principle to transfer some potential bomb fuel out of the country and to open a recently disclosed facility to international inspection.

Mr. Netanyahu let the news of the continued U.S.-Israeli accord slip last week in a remark that attracted little notice. He was asked by Israel’s Channel 2 whether he was worried that Mr. Obama’s speech at the U.N. General Assembly, calling for a world without nuclear weapons, would apply to Israel.

“It was utterly clear from the context of the speech that he was speaking about North Korea and Iran,” the Israeli leader said. “But I want to remind you that in my first meeting with President Obama in Washington I received from him, and I asked to receive from him, an itemized list of the strategic understandings that have existed for many years between Israel and the United States on that issue. It was not for naught that I requested, and it was not for naught that I received [that document].”

…….The secret understanding could undermine the Obama administration’s goal of a world without nuclear weapons. In particular, it could impinge on U.S. efforts to bring into force the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, two agreements that U.S. administrations have argued should apply to Israel in the past. They would ban nuclear tests and the production of material for weapons.

A Senate staffer familiar with the May reaffirmation, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, said, “What this means is that the president gave commitments that politically he had no choice but to give regarding Israel’s nuclear program. However, it calls into question virtually every part of the president’s nonproliferation agenda.The president gave Israel an NPT treaty get out of jail free card.”

……..David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said he hoped the Obama administration did not concede too much to Israel.

“One hopes that the price for such concessions is Israeli agreement to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty and an acceptance of the long-term goal of a Middle East weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone,” he said. “Otherwise, the Obama administration paid too much, given its focus on a world free of nuclear weapons.”

Syria, Saudi Arabia plot peace path
By Sami Moubayed, Asia times

DAMASCUS – The visit of Saudi King Abdullah to Syria, his first since assuming the throne in 2005, is being hailed as groundbreaking and historic by Middle East observers.

Abdullah, who is married into a Syrian family, visited Damascus countless times for decades, in private and for work, when serving as crown prince under his brother, King Fahd. He attended president Hafez al-Assad’s funeral in June 2000, and was the first Arab leader to visit Syria after President Bashar al-Assad came to power in July that summer.

Relations remained strong throughout 2000-2005, when Syria fully backed the Abdullah plan for peace, later renamed the Arab Initiative, but soured with the assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister Rafik Hariri, a long-time friend of the Saudis, in 2005…….

…..  Both are keen to bring about a rapprochement between Hamas in Gaza, which is backed by Syria, and Fatah, which is backed by the US and Saudi Arabia. More importantly, the Saudis are backing Syria in its current feud with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. They believe Syria had nothing to do with the six attacks that ripped through Baghdad on August 19 that killed 100 Iraqis, although the Iraqi government claims the masterminds were Iraqi Ba’athists based in Damascus.

Saudi Arabia is not too fond of Maliki, seeing him as a sectarian leader who has worked hard at promoting Iranian influence in Iraq at the expense of Saudi Arabia. He has refused to mend fences with Iraqi Sunnis, making no effort to bring them back into power after they walked out on him in 2007, and done nothing about Shi’ite militias in Iraq, striking at the Sunni community in revenge for having produced former president Saddam Hussein.

They are fearful that some in Maliki’s entourage are still toying with the explosive option of creating an autonomous district for Shi’ites in southern Iraq, similar to the Kurdish region in the north. If that happens, Iraqi Sunnis, who have traditionally fallen under the umbrella of Syria and Saudi Arabia, would be left in central Iraq, where there is no oil.

Both Syria and Saudi Arabia are eyeing the situation closely in Iraq, fearing that if Maliki gets the upper hand in parliamentary elections in January, Iraq will slip into more sectarianism, violence and chaos – three elements that could dangerously spill over the border into neighboring Syria and Saudi Arabia.

The more Maliki escalates tension with Damascus – as he has done by taking the August 19 case to the United Nations – the more this brings the Syrians and the Saudis closer. The countries have similar visions for the future of Iraq, once the Americans leave in 2012, and both can fill the vacuum that is expected to arise.

…. Syria is a reasonable, secular and moderate country, which has no history of radicalization against either Saudi Arabia or the United States (with the notable exception of the Bush era). By distancing themselves from Syria in 2005-2008, the Saudis only strengthened the Syrian-Iranian alliance, at the expense of Syrian-Saudi relations. That immediately backfired on Saudi interests in Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon.

Far from breaking it, Saudi Arabia wants to invest in the Tehran-Damascus alliance, similar to the situation when most of the Arab world sided with Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988, the Saudis insisted that Syria remained allied to Iran. Syria had the ear of Iranian decision-makers, and the Saudis were keen that this channel with Tehran remained open during the 1980s.

……. Iraq, for example, is more of a priority for both countries today than Lebanon and so is the situation in Jerusalem, where fighting is escalating between Palestinians and the Israeli Defense Forces. The Saudi king’s visit comes only days after a senior meeting failed to solve pending problems between Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in New York……

Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria.

On Afghanistan, I always find Rory Stewart brilliant and fun to read

Syria Fashion Designers Splash Out in Debut Show
2009-10-07 By ZEINA KARAM

Damascus, Syria (AP) — The svelte models strutted down the catwalk in sexy dresses with bare backs and short hemlines — all under the watchful portraits of Syrian President Bashar Assad and his late father, Hafez. The glitzy occasion was Syria’s first ever fashion design competition, meant to encourage young Syrian talents and local products. But perhaps more importantly, it was part of the authorities’ recent efforts to soften Syria’s image and open up the authoritarian country. A tightly controlled nation often vilified by the West for harboring militant Palestinian organizations and criticized for alleged support for Iraqi insurgents, Syria has worked hard in recent years to shed its drab, socialist image and transform itself economically….

EU Gives Tentative Go-Ahead to Sign Trade Accord With Syria
2009-10-08 By James G. Neuger

Oct. 8 (Bloomberg) — European Union governments tentatively agreed to sign a trade pact with Syria after adding language that allows the EU to suspend the accord in case of Syrian human rights violations.  The accord, first negotiated in 2004, would cover areas such as trade, transportation and research and development. It parallels efforts by the U.S. to end strains with Syria as partof President Barack Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world.  EU representatives in Brussels today endorsed the signing of the accord after reassuring the Dutch government that it could be suspended for human rights breaches, two EU officials said. The final decision is up to EU foreign ministers, who next meet Oct. 26.

The 27-nation EU imported 3.6 billion euros ($5.3 billion) of goods from Syria in 2008 and exported 3.5 billion euros, according to EU statistics.  The text of the accord, which updates a 1977 EU-Syria pact, hasn’t been published. Saving the Special Tribunal for Lebanon from failure: a response to Jamil al-Sayyed and Antonio Cassese Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah began his landmark visit to Damascus on Wednesday opening a new era in Saudi-Syrian relations. President Bashar Assad honored the king by conferring on him the country…

Fearful of Iran’s influence, Saudi king reaches out to Syria

Saudi Arabia, a close US ally, has switched from a policy of isolation toward engagement. Some hope the warming could bolster US Middle East peace efforts.

“There is an overall positive momentum in the region which kicked off with the exodus of George W. Bush,” says Mr. Moubayed, crediting Obama’s regional outreach for the more harmonious atmosphere. ….

Andrew Tabler from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says, “The Abdullah visit is significant symbolically in that it opens the door for Damascus to move away from an increasingly isolated Iran toward Washington’s Arab allies,” he says. “All of this will just be a photo shoot, however, if it doesn’t lead to progress on key issues, most notably the formation of a government in Lebanon and reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.” …

“Yes, the king is here, but the [Syrian] president was in Iran one month ago,” says Moubayed. He argues that Iran’s opponents should use Syria as gateway to the Iranian state, rather than seeking to break the relationship.

UN warns over Syria drought ‘disaster’
By Ferry Biedermann in Beirut
October 8 2009

The United Nations is gearing up to bring emergency relief to north-east Syria, where a severe and persistent drought has forced more than 300,000 people to leave their homes, but the international community has not yet come up with the necessary funds because of Syria’s tense diplomatic relations with other countries.

“Drought is a slowly ongoing disaster and because of the political situation donors do not give money easily for humanitarian action in Syria,” said Mostafa Shbib, of the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Damascus.

Syria’s relationship with many western and some Arab countries is still fraught with difficulty over a range of regional issues, in spite of recent moves towards engagement by the US and Saudi ­Arabia.

“We want more parties to be involved in this problem because we, the Syrian ­government and the people, are doing all we can but the problem is bigger than our abilities to deal with it,” said Nabi Rashid Mohammad, Syria’s deputy minister of agriculture, who heads a committee to co-ordinate the aid.

The UN is seeking some $53m (€36m, £33m) in emergency funds but has not received any money yet from donors. Mr Shbib said that he expected the organisation’s own emergency response fund to allocate some money next week, which should allow the operation to start.

Jordan faces up to water crisis

Personal Reflections on Karim Arabji
By Ahed al Hindi

Following the sentencing of Kareem Arabji on September 13, 2009, the number of openly identified bloggers imprisoned in Syria today approaches nearly a dozen. Arabji was sentenced to three years in prison by the state security court in Damascus. The court’s hall has now witnessed the unjust verdicts of thousands of Syrian political activists, journalists, dissidents and bloggers….

Comments (30)

Amir in Tel Aviv said:

It’s a very good sign, that Syria start to invest in new friends (SA,
Turkey). It shows that the Syrian leadership is unsatisfied with the
isolation, the too close relationship with Iran brings.

The water issue, and not the Golan (..sorry, Jad. the Jolan).
You should watch the documentary on ‘BBC World’ about the Syrian water
refugees; it’s seriouse and it’s real bad. The entire region in north-
east of the country is drying.

SA has good experience with water solutions, which I’m sure Abdullah and
Asad discussed.

Lets start to work on water issues for the region (Syria Jordan
Israel Egypt). Peace will come with that. And it will be a beneficial
peace, not a shity piece of paper.

October 10th, 2009, 8:07 pm


Observer said:

believe Syria has re established its influence in Lebanon. It is doing it better now as the absence of the troops is not clouding the influence with corruption. They are actually constructive and KSA has finally acquiesced to that role.

It is interesting that Obama has capitulated to Israel. Steny Hoyer made 12 trips to Israel this year and the Democrats are quite worried about losing a few seats in the House in 2010 and they may lose some governors as well. There is no pressure on the settlements and capitulation on the nuclear arsenal. This is in return for the upcoming elections and the threat of hitting Iran. I am surprised at the speed with which Obama retreated. He has a full plate however and he may have decided that he cannot afford more trouble now

My analysis of the ruling stooges of the ME is that they are usually like monkeys that go looking for salt in the crevice of a tree and they put their hand in the crevice and they hold on to the salt until they starve for they cannot remove it once it is clenched on the salt. The biggest surprise to me is the the Israeli monkey for they are holding on to eternal enmity and war by rebuffing the Saudi peace plan. This is the best that the Arabs can offer and they are hoping to pick one stooge at a time. In the long run however they are going to have to live with radicalized populations that will not be kept in check by police states. Perhaps it is one of those moments of “historical follies” that people commit such as Vietnam or the English taxation of the American colonies.

October 10th, 2009, 8:14 pm


ugarit said:

No I think it’s more like this

October 10th, 2009, 8:48 pm


norman said:

you said :;

(( My analysis of the ruling stooges of the ME is that they are usually like monkeys )),

i hate to tell you but i think that you are insulting the monkeys , at least they aim to save their tribes while the leaders of the Mideast especially Israel are leading their people toward destruction as you said by radicalizing the people .that no settlement will be accepted .

the US always said in dealing with any problem :

All options on the table ,

The meeting in Syria , hopefully opened the eyes of the King on KSA that to reach peace , the Arabs should have all options on the table and to reach that they need to understand that they should support Syria’s military to have the military option on the table as that is the only way for Israel to accept peace .

And that is my take ,

October 10th, 2009, 10:13 pm


norman said:

Hay Alex , this is your topic , what do you think ?,

October 10th, 2009, 11:33 pm


AIG said:

An entire region of Syria is dying because of climate change. Syria admits it cannot handle the situation and things will only get worse.

How can one believe that Bashar and Syria have all the time in the world? Israel just has to wait and Syria will fall apart because of the stubbornness and stupidity of the current regime.

A related question, if Syria is a regional power, how come it is begging for international help to deal with the drought problem? Its inability to deal effectively with drought just highlights Syria’s weakness.

October 11th, 2009, 1:36 am


Akbar Palace said:

My analysis of the ruling stooges of the ME is that they are usually like monkeys that go looking for salt in the crevice of a tree and they put their hand in the crevice and they hold on to the salt until they starve for they cannot remove it once it is clenched on the salt.


Don’t blame the “ruling stooges of the ME”. Blame the people who put up with it and never speak out against these “stooges”. If the people spoke out and demonstrated against their governments half as much as they demonstrate against Israel, perhaps soming positive could be attained. Otherwise, who really are the stooges?

October 11th, 2009, 11:00 am


Off the Wall said:

SA water solution are energy intensive, and may not work for syria unless Syria has major nuclear energy infrastructure. Can israel live with a nuclear syria?

Before you answer, solar and wind energy are good alternatives but their cost/benefit ratio is still far below that of nuclear energry especially for cash strapped countries.

October 11th, 2009, 11:46 am


Alex said:


Here is a long boring answer if you are interested : )

This visit is just a bit more than a photo opportunity. The real story started to take place after Syria’s ally, Hizbollah, managed in summer 2006 to force the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and France to rethink their strategies for the new Middle East.

First they realized they might have to lower their expectations… the unsuccessful use of American and Israeli power (“shock and awe” style) in Iraq and Lebanon led to nothing more than an almost total disrespect to that power by the people in the region… Ask anyone today what he thinks of an Israel or American military conflict with Iran and he will answer you “They would be crazy to attack Iran”

At that point some (Prince Turki Alfaisal for example) started to advocate an arrangement in which Syria’s prominence in the Levant must be respected by Saudi Arabia.

“Syria would be at the forefront (of the new alignment), Jordan would have a share in it and the Palestinians would have a niche,”

But others, like Prince Bandar, continued to try finding other ways to weaken Syria. He visited Iran and offered them to work together in Lebanon (excluding Syria) .. that did not work out too well for him, King Abdullah visited Turkey twice (he never did before) trying to offer them incentives to abandon the Syrians. That also failed.

In addition, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and the UAE continued to support Syria through billions of dollars invested each year.

Then Hizbollah settled a quick armed conflict with Saudi Allies in Lebanon to its advantage.

Meanwhile … the UN investigation into the murder of Rafiq Hariri continued to show that there is nothing solid against Syria … Syria’s four Lebanese allies were released without a single charge against any of them … one of them is suing Mehlis and claiming he has proof that Mehlis tried to fabricate evidence against Syria.

King Abdullah decided at the Kuwait summit that it is time for him to make a decision … So opted to make peace with the young Syrian president, while a visibly surprised Hosni Mubarak was clearly prepared to escalate his confrontation with Assad.

Since then Saudi Arabia has been trying, on and off, to make the painful move towards recognizing Syria’s role as almost being equal to that of Saudi Arabia in the region… the same arrangement they had during the time of late President Hafez Assad.

Their ego resisted that move … some of their American allies resisted … the Egyptians are still resisting … and God knows what Prince Bandar says, or is allowed to say, these days.

If you want a demonstration of how difficult it is for the Saudis to think of Syria as an equal, listen to this one hour show on Al-Hurra Television station (in Arabic).

(clip will be accessible through that link for about a week)

The Saudi guest is repeating the whole time that at the time of the late and wise President Hafez Assad, Syria used to know how to handle its relations with Iran. This implies of course that the current young President is still not up to the task and that the Saudis (as the guest says in other parts) helped him realize his mistakes …

So we are not there yet …

October 11th, 2009, 3:43 pm


Shai said:


Here’s a crazy idea – Syria receives nuclear technology from… Israel!

But as for the water issues, Boaz Wachtel can remind us that there is more than ample water for us all, straight out of two rivers in southern Turkey whose water runs straight into the Mediterranean, unused… The solution seems to be feasible, Turkey is ready, and it is up to us.

October 11th, 2009, 4:04 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:


I agree with you that the water solution is dependent upon energy supply.
There are of course solutions; the problem is the decision to concentrate on the “returning” of the Golan, and the Muqawama
The problem is with your famous Arab honor. You invest so much in
maintaining the honorable image of the Arab honor, that you lose everything
on the way.
The problem is with the prioritization of your leadership.
There are many solutions available around the corner. It needs
a decision to grab them. So far, your Arab mentality prevents you
from grabbing the many opportunities that are available out there.

October 11th, 2009, 4:50 pm


Alex said:

Amir “So far, your Arab mentality prevents you
from grabbing the many opportunities that are available out there.”

As usual … The same mentality is available by the ton in Israel too.

October 11th, 2009, 5:05 pm


norman said:

Alex ,
Thank you for this informative note, I wonder if the problem is our mentality that older is wiser , (( Not that i do not like that with i among you , older HINT , HINT )) .

If KSA wants it’s peace plan to move forward it should buy Syria weapons that can match Israel.

A fearful Israel is the only way.

October 11th, 2009, 5:10 pm


Alex said:

Older is often wiser Norman, of course … often : )

By the way , I wonder if you noticed that Saudi Arabia’s peace plan was not even mentioned during this visit … the peace process was not mentioned…

Saudi Arabia will not arm Syria, but at least the kingdom finally stated clearly what Syria has been hoping to hear from them for years: “Land first, then peace”

October 11th, 2009, 5:43 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:


As usual… The Pavlovian Conditioning, again…

Israelis have mentality issues, Oh yes. But not as acute as Arab issues.
We look inwards, we investigate, we learn our lessons, we plan,
we invest, we improve, we change.
Do you?

Norman, what a joker you are…
Yes, “A fearful Israel” will solve all of your problems; A fearful Israel
will bring you plenty of water. A fearful Israel will make your
electricity supply steady. A fearful Israel will improve your health
and educational systems.

October 11th, 2009, 6:17 pm




I visit Syria at least once a year, I can notice the progress manifested in new roads and bridges, improvement of city streets, higher speed internet, wireless available (internet and phone even in remote areas), addiational water for Damascus and its suburbs (mind you in a four year severe drought cycle) new busses and cars, many new universities, ambitious touristic resorts, a stock exchange, a prolifaration of private banks, foreign currency exchange outlets, IPO’s being offered on regular basis, new oil fields being discovered, new refineries are being planned, several gas projects are being executed, industrial zones are expanding in several Syrian cities, a lot of the medecine and drugs, appliances, consumer items and building materials are Syrian made, and I can go on and on.
My point is Syria is achieving a lot everyday, including a 3% growth rate of GDP, when most other economies shrunk within the last year.
So for you to lecture Syrians about their priorities, assuming that their Arab Honor is a drag, tells me that you have no clue what you are talking about.
Honorable people are good people, people with character and principles, and that doesn’t make them naive or backward.
Although it is a Syrian undeniable right to recover or liberate the Jolan, and it is a priority, Syria and Syrians do have other priorities, and they are persuing them all.
And I agree with NORMAN that Syria must build its military capability to detter any aggression against it and liberate the Jolan.

October 11th, 2009, 7:19 pm


norman said:

Amir ,
At least we Arab have an honor we want to protect , apparently , you do not.

October 11th, 2009, 7:54 pm


norman said:

FOCUS Information Agency

Syria bans smoking in public places
12 îêòîìâðè 2009 | 01:38

Damascus. Syria banned smoking inside public places on Sunday, the official news agency said, Reuters reported.
The decree, signed by President Bashar al-Assad, sets a fine of SYP 2,000 (USD 46) on anyone flouting the ban in cafes, pubs and restaurants, the SANA agency said.
The ban extends to schools and public transport, and covers the nargile, or water pipe, a favourite among locals and tourists alike.
Those owning and running buildings where people violate the law, which also includes strengthening a ban on tobacco adverts, will be fined and, in some cases, imprisoned.

© 2009 All rights reserved. Reproducing this website’s contents requires obligatory reference to FOCUS Information Agency!

October 11th, 2009, 7:57 pm


norman said:

Shai ,
This one for you and OTW,

Copyright (c) 2009 The Daily Star

Monday, October 12, 2009
Turning water into peace: the miracle of hydrodiplomacy

By Karah Byrns
Special to The Daily Star

BEIRUT: The future threat of water scarcity in the Middle East has sparked fears that a “water war” could ignite in the region. According to hydro-diplomacy expert Hussein Amery, in his report entitled “Water Wars in the Middle East: A Looming Threat,” he writes that water could tip the already delicate political balance in the region.

“The emotion with which water is viewed aggravates already volatile situations,” said Amery. “Society sometimes responds with violence if people are denied sufficient access to a vital resource like water.”

As water becomes a powerful and undeniable source of tension between Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon in particular, this tension could also be channeled positively, towards an agreement for peace.

Regulated access to the vital resource could be a strong motivator for cooperation on other issues that have blocked progress in the past.

Director General of the Ministry of Energy and Water (MEW) in Lebanon, Fadi Comair, introduces his ideas on the subject in his recent book, “Water Management and Hydro-diplomacy in the Middle East,” suggesting that the waters of the Jordan River Basin should be equitably managed by a single, multinational water authority.

He argues that this idea, which he outlines as the “New Mass Water Concept,” could “present a solution … to reach a sustainable peace in the region.”

Comair believes “this approach of a New Water Mass will allow the restitution of the Arab countries’ occupied territories of 1967 such as the Golan Heights in Syria and the Shebaa Farms in Lebanon,” whose occupation, he says, is largely linked to the importance of the areas for Israel to secure access to water.

Access to water also has economic implications that can reverberate politically. Following the Israeli withdrawal in 2000 from Southern Lebanon, Amery writes that “capturing and delivering fresh water are, among other factors, pivotal to the re-economic development of recently liberated towns and villages of South Lebanon,” a factor that also influences stability. When Israel attacked Lebanon in 2006, the water infrastructure of the South was one of its prime targets.

If its water resources were managed with hydro-diplomacy in mind, Lebanon has the potential to put itself in a strong position for bargaining. It has more ample water resources than Israel, Palestine, and Jordan, and is the source of the Litani, which flows into the sea, and the Orontes, known by the Lebanese as Al-Assi, which flows into Syria. It shares the Al-Kabir river basin with Syria, and the Hasbani River, though a tributary of the Jordan River, flows southeast into Israel.

According to Stefan Schurig, Director of Climate and Energy for the World Future Council, Lebanon’s water is also more than just a bargaining chip on the table. Schurig suggested during a recent speech at the American University of Beirut that another way for Lebanon to leverage itself politically in the context of limited resources would be to become more energy independent.

Schurig said the country should lessen its dependence on foreign energy by exploiting wind and water: the two sources of renewable energy that it already has in abundance.

Schurig also argued that energy independence in Lebanon would translate to it being able to enjoy greater political independence in the Middle East.

“Producing [energy] means producing more political power. Alternative power is a mechanism to address many other issues … even war and peace,” he said.

According to Schurig, a transition to energy independence could come about naturally if the right mechanisms were to be put in place to begin “mobilizing the private sector with measures at the government level to self-motivate consumers and trigger market forces that will lead to new job creation.”

In light of increasing debate on the issue of water in the region, the role of water appears to be of tantamount importance for Lebanon; not only for its utility value for citizens, but for its ability to support the country’s future diplomacy efforts.

The possibility to transform water into a positive political tool through effective management of the resource is an opportunity that should not be lost, for Lebanon or for the region.

As Comair concludes optimistically in his book, through the development of greater cooperation on the basis of a mutual need for this vital fluid, “water will then be the force of understanding for the application of a ‘peace culture’ in the Middle East.”

Copyright (c) 2009 The Daily Star

October 11th, 2009, 8:10 pm


jad said:

Dearest OTW
I agree with you that nuclear energy is far more efficient than any other green power, beside, it’s getting smaller and better every day:
I also agree with you that solar and wind energy are not in their best performance ‘yet’ but I would argue that the lack of that is blamed on the oil industry by holding the research back in that domain, however, and for Syria I strongly believe that building as many as possible giant hubs of photovoltaic solar energy fields in the middle of the Syrian desert, and harvest the wind at Homs using some great Syrian product that has been on the shelf for more than 10 years now, a man from Swaida built the best ever known efficient wind turbine, his work was actually included and referred to in many research papers related to the renewable energy issues in Syria in the journal of The World Renewable Energy Network:
At the same time we can introduce all kind of onsite renewable energy (geothermal heating and electric, low impact hydro electric and wave and tidal power at the coast on all new/existing project bigger than certain size, the bottom line for me is that green and renewable energy projects for Syria are a must and they are great investments to those who think ahead.
At the same time we also need to enforce some kind of wastewater management plan on our buildings (residential/offices) by filtering and reusing greywater and use only clean&treated no potable water for irrigation, we also need to educate people/engineers/architects/developers and contractors about the great products out there for them to use and be part of the solution instead of being just consumers, we can also encourage people to produce environmental/recycled building materials as well, all those stuff are in my opinion (not humble at all) are necessary with what we are facing right now and I don’t see any way out if we don’t start doing that yesterday.

October 11th, 2009, 8:43 pm


Off The Wall said:

Dearest Jad
Thank you for your comment. Solar and wind energy must indeed be parts of a complete energy strategy in Syria. I have seen the paper describing wind energy potential in Syria and I believe that together with Solar energy the two sources can provide substantial amount of Syria’s increasing energy demand.

Nuclear energy is undergoing a revolution. Take for example this development of a shed size reactor that contains no moving parts and no weapon grade fission fuel.

As you can see from the article, the small shed size reactor which was developed in Los Alamos National Lab can power up to 20,000 homes (with US style consumption) and it can be installed as a part of a grid and refueled when the fuel runs out. While this reactor is based in old and safe (1950) technology, the future of the technology will be brighter with competition from other countries and continuing development in our own national labs. The primary benefit is the ability of such reactor to reduce the risk of proliferation.

I am however, not much behind bio fuel. It is not as green as advertised. To begin with, we are beginning to see water shortages in areas of the US (midewest) that is supposed to be water rich mainly due to the increased production of corn for bio fuel. In addition, growing bio fuel requires substantial amounts of nutrients and fertilizer, which eventually find their way to ground water and/or surface water streams. It is also energy intensive as it requires machinery from the farm scale to the processing plant. In essence the Jury is not out yet on how clean is bio fuel, especially in water stressed countries.

I have always argued that a big part of water management is policy. Access to clean water is a right, but at the same time, water, especially ground water is a commodity once used is gone and as such future value should be accounted for in water pricing. A minimum amount/citizen should be made available at extraction cost or slightly above cost and in some countries it may be subsidized. But beyond that there should be a balance between price and future value. Similar policy should be adopted with respect to agricultural demand, which continues to have the lion’s share of water resources demand in most developing countries all be it and a much lower bio-matter yield/gallon than ideal. The moment improving agricultural efficiency becomes cheaper than pumping water, efficiency will improve. But given the water doctrine and the way ground water is treated as a common pool, the resource will collapse unless severe regulations are enacted to combat illegal unlicensed wells. Water rights legislations must be reviewed and Syria will need to adopt a water rights doctrine that is consistent with its status as a semi-arid country. It may end up being a combination of beneficial use and prior appropriation along with establishment of protected aquifers (active management areas) where restrictions on growth may be enacted. Water policy is one of the most complicated governance issues, It develops the legal and political framework for any water project. Active management areas is a concept developed in Arizona, which requires that large development identify water source before permit is granted. This may occur as developer end up buying out an agricultural water right and retiring it (some farmers became wealthy due to that). It resulted in changing the city of Tucson from a city with green lawns to city of gravel and cactus front and back yards, which is far more consistent with Tucson than what is being done in Phoenix. Tucson continues to have gulf courses, but they are mostly irrigated by affluent water.

Finally, Damascus has now a large stage 1 water sewage treatment facility that had significantly improved the water situation. Secondary treatment facilities, which cost about $350 Million to super-purify water from a primary facility serving up to 6 Millions. The super-purified water is too good for agriculture and can then be pumped into the ground water to replenish the aquifer and to further purify the water. It is what Orange County, California has done and it is paying back every penny spent as we speak.

Dear Shai,

I had more time to think over Boaz Wachtel plan since I last commented on it last year on Creative Syria. I continue to believe that it is refreshing and commendable to see water experts considering plans for water to become a medium of peace instead of conflict. However, Boaz’s plan is based on several premises that are yet to be realized. First, it is a plan that requires major political cooperation beyond what one can expect in the early phases of the illusive peace process. It may be put as a part of negotiation, but its primary goal is to assure Israel’s water supply at no cost to Israel through donor countries who will finance the plan so that Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon can be compensated for the Golan’s water and for the water that is now under Israeli control. As I understood it , the plan basically does not add to Syria’s rightful water budget, but only provides additional water to Israel, who gets to keep the Golan water and to get additional water from the canal. I can easily understand the reluctance on Syria’s part to embark on such plan and in fact the resistance to such plan as being a preemptive effort to nullify water negotiations as Syria claims rights to the Golan’s water. At this stage I see it more as a political plan and less as a water resources development plan. As usual, I may have misinterpreted what I read, and I am open to any correction.

The plan is also predicated on the old paradigm of massive water transfer engineering projects being a solution to water shortages. It views water resources development as merely moving x gallons of water y distance without due attention to the energy required for such transfer and to the ecological impacts on the streams which will now have less or no water. As I mentioned in my reply on CS,a sizable amount of California’s energy consumption is spent on water transport through the giant network of state and federal projects transporting water from Northern California to the Central Valley and to Southern California.

I am a little weary anytime I read a plan that bases its foundation on the argument that water is wasted as it goes into the sea. We should be more careful about the Mediterranean ecology. It is to start with a nutrient poor sea, and if we are to learn from the lessons of other seas, we should be very careful stopping fresh water flow along its shores. If the water is to be used for domestic consumption and to be cleaned and returned to the sea, i think it may be OK, but I do believe that most will be used to support agriculture, and will be lost to atmosphere.

Another premise that was not addressed in Boaz’s plan is Turkey’s own water resources situation under climate change. As I mentioned on several occasions, mountain snow packs in turkey are expected to undergo significant decline. In addition to reduced liquid seasonal precipitation, and other large scale changes in Siberian cold fronts, Turkey’s water resources are not as guaranteed as one may think.

That said, I am for a full basin scale integrated land/water management. This will require peace to be the norm first, and it requires a long period of normalization and cooperation before any project like that can be undertaken.

In summary, I am not dismissive of Boaz’s idea, but I am not fully convinced. I believe that much legal, technical, and peace negotiation groundwork must be done before such a plan can be contemplated. The devil is in the details.

By the way, there is another Boaz Wachtel in Israel, he leads the green leaf party aiming at legalizing Cannabis 🙂

Was #9 a comment? a rant?, or merely verbal hyperventilation?

October 12th, 2009, 10:29 am


Off the Wall said:

Dear Shai
Also, as a leading water conservation specialist, which he is, Boaz should call his plan the Peace Aqueduct, not the peace canal. In semi-arid regions evaporation losses in open canals are huge and aqueducts are much more water saving transport mechanisms.

October 12th, 2009, 10:42 am


Off the Wall said:

Dearest Jad
The key to realizing your “no humble at all” 🙂 ideas is to make them profitable. The problem is that until now investments in Syria has been geared towards fast return projects such as tourism, real-estate development, and light consumer products. Until we manage to attract long-term investment projects, and to view investment in modern education and in continuing education as part of the picture, green and ecologically sound solutions will be haphazard. One must also recognize the inordinate amount of site remediation projects that are required to reclaim Syria’s environment, which continues to undergo massive assault by greedy, well connected developers. Much is needed, and i am hoping that we can, along with our colleagues in Syria, play a constructive role in such monumental efforts.

Establishing a ministry of environment and ecology is an excellent step, but such ministry must have law enforcement teeth, and before that, laws and regulations must be established within an open process.

October 12th, 2009, 10:57 am


Off the Wall said:

Dear Norman
Thank you for posting the excellent article. Indeed, Lebanon can and must have a stronger bargaining position due to its water. But that can only be done if the country act with true independence, which in turn requires a non-sectarian outlook unavailable currently in Lebanese politics.

October 12th, 2009, 11:31 am


Shai said:


I’m forwarding your comment straight to Boaz! 🙂

October 12th, 2009, 1:58 pm


jad said:

Dearest OTW,
Thank you very much for the overall explanation about energy and water issues, I agree with every idea you represent:

The nuclear energy efficiency and the bright new technology making it available in a safer environment is a great news.

The water right registration and implementing an effective water policy that works regardless of the complication of it.
I’m also a big supporter of the active management area concept or xeriscape design for using less water where water been used is actually wasted in the worst possible way on landscape irrigation meant only for the ‘look’, we have to accept that local plants, trees and even cactus that needs very little water to grow and make shade are our friends and we need to plant them instead of using potable water to irrigate some meaningless green lawn that actually sharing our future water with us and evaporate it unless we are using a very small portion of treated greywater for that.

Regarding Damascus tertiary treatment station and from some information I know, they made a deadly mistake of not separating the industrial sewerage system form the city residential and office sewerage one which made all the process meaningless because it contains many poison components in the water after the process which make it ‘unusable’. Hopefully they fixed that mistake by now, but we never know because nobody from the respected government tells us anything.

‘no humble at all’: I think we can make anything profitable if we want, I mean producing new building materials form the waste we get out of all the building renovation process is a great start, instead of dumping the salvage materials on the street and in the mountain around Damascus just collect that in different centres and built a factory for using those materials in a new products.
Encourage the recycle and green industry and make it part of our Syrian culture as the traders of the east again in a new and great modern image, that should be very profitable for our days.

I also agree with you regarding the ministry of environmental but do you know that we have a very tough law against any person/corporation who does environmental damage but nobody enforce that law and the influential people (even the non that influential ones) get out of any environmental disaster they commit just because no enforcement.
One example came to mind; there is a massacre going on for years against our forest by lots of ignorant/evil people without anybody being trialed or confronted with what they did, there is a yearly 3-5% lost of trees and bushes in Syria today and nobody doing a thing regarding that, how sad.

Thank you again OTW for raising those issues,it is our only future and people should know about and participate in the solution, if not for their kids it is for their grand children’s best interest.

October 12th, 2009, 2:55 pm


jad said:

It’s still heaven in the northeast region of Syria according to Moualem, I think we worried for nothing after all!! (I can’t stop rolling my eyes after reading this)

المعلم ينفي لعكس السير ما تم تداوله حول أزمة الجفاف في المنطقة الشرقية و يصفها بالتضخيمات الاعلامية
الاثنين – 12 تشرين الاول – 2009 – 18:44:09

قال وزير الخارجية السوري وليد المعلم لعكس السير اليوم الأثنين أن كل ماتناقلته وسائل الاعلام حول أزمة الجفاف في المنطقة الشمالية الشرقية تضخيم اعلامي .

و جاء كلام الوزير خلال اللقاء الحاشد الذي جمعه بالصحفيين مساء اليوم الأثنين في فندق ديديمان بحلب حيث استعرض فيه برنامج عمل الجانبين السوري و التركي و الاتفاقات التي سيتم توقيعها غدا في كل من حلب و غازي عنتاب .

و كانت صحيفة أمريكية قالت يوم امس إن المجمتع الدولي رفض تقديم الأموال المطلوبة لمساعدة أهالي المنطقة الشرقية بسبب التوتر الذي يخيم على العلاقات بين سورية و العديد من الدول الغربية .

و تسعى الأمم المتحدة لجمع حوالي 53 مليون دولار كمساعدات مالية طارئة لسورية لكنها لم تحصل على أي من الأموال من الدول المانحة بسبب مواقف سورية السياسية , على حسب قول الصحيفة .

و نفى وزير الخارجية في تصريح لعكس السير صحة ما تم تداوله واصفا إياها بـ “المضخمة” .

و في ذات السياق , أشار المعلم أن سورية بصدد توقيع اتفاقية مع تركيا لمكافحة الجفاف في المناطق المذكورة و تقديم المساعدة إلى أهاليها عبر امدادها بالمياه المطلوبة .

من جهة أخرى , أشار الوزير المعلم إلى أن تركيا أبلغت سورية بشكل رسمي أن إزالة الألغام على الحدود التركية المتاخمة لسورية سيتم على أيدي الجيش التركي بمساعدة خبراء من حلف الناتو .

و كانت تقارير اعلامية تحدثت عن عرض قدمته شركة اسرائيلية لازالة الألغام على الحدود التركية المتاخمة لسورية مقابل استثمار الأراضي لمدة 44 عاما .

و ردا على ذلك , أوضح المعلم لعكس السير إنه كان هناك جدل داخلي في تركيا و ترقب داخلي في سورية , إلا أن تلك المخاوف تبددت بعد ابلاغ الجانب التركي عن رفضه للعرض الذي قدمته الشركة الاسرائيلية.

يذكر أن يوم غد سيشهد عقد الاجتماع الوزاري الأول للمجلس الأعلى الاستراتيجي السوري التركي حيث يضم الاجتماع 22 وزيراً من كلا الجانبين .

عكاش عشير ـ عكس السير

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