Livni Wins Vote to Lead Kadima - Syria Comment

Livni Wins Vote to Lead Kadima

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni narrowly won election Wednesday to replace Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as the leader of Israel’s Kadima party, edging past her main rival, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, by just over a percentage point, according to official results released Thursday.

[Landis analysis] Livni will undoubtedly call off talks with Syria as she tries to form a new cabinet. She must show that she is strong and independent. All the same, it will be up to her whether she begins talks again once the dust has settled and a new government is formed.

Syria would like the talks continued in order to keep the momentum going. Momentum would increase the chance that the next US administration will decide to jump on board and support them. So long as the US does not support Syrian-Israeli negotiations, the gap between the two countries will remain wide. The US has a lot to offer both sides — money, security, help with water guarantees, economic and diplomatic cover.

Syria’s interest right now is to position itself so that the next US and Israeli governments will understand the benefits of pushing ahead with a Golan deal.

Lebanon Jews Tap Diaspora to Rebuild Beirut’s Shelled Synagogue
By Massoud A. Derhally
Bloomberg, September 18, 2008

In 1983, Isaac Arazi and his wife were caught in sectarian fighting during Lebanon’s 15-year civil war. A Shiite Muslim militiaman helped the couple escape.

Arazi, a leader of Lebanon’s tiny Jewish community, sees the incident as a lesson in the Arab country’s tradition of tolerance. Now he is trying to make use of that tradition, along with the global diaspora of Lebanese Jews, in a drive to rebuild Beirut’s only synagogue, damaged during the war…..

“Christians, Muslims and Jews were all living together when I was growing up,” said Liza Srour, 57. “Whenever there was a war with Israel, or tension, the government used to provide protection for us.” …..

Sleiman predicts official ties with Syria by end-2008
By Hussein Abdallah
The Daily Star, September 18, 2008

BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman said Wednesday that Lebanese-Syrian relations were on the right track, adding that Beirut and Damascus were likely to exchange ambassadors by the end of 2008. Sleiman’s remarks came during a meeting with a delegation from the French-Lebanese Friendship Committee at the Presidential Palace. The meeting was attended by French Ambassador Andre Parrant, Minister of State Wael Abu Faour, and MPs Michel Murr, Assem Araji, Walid Khoury, and Michel Pharaon.

Sleiman told the delegation that France had played a major role in helping Lebanon out of its 18-month political crisis…..

Assad says ‘Syria will stand with Iran’
Tehran Times, September 18, 2008

Syria will stand with Iran on all the major strategic issues,” President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview with Syria’s Channel 10 broadcast on Tuesday.

“Only one situation would distance Syria from Iran, and that is if Tehran sided with Israel, and if America sided with the Arabs,” the Jerusalem Post quoted the Syrian president as saying.

Assad also downplayed the recent indirect talks between Israel and Syria, insisting that the term “negotiations” is just too strong for such talks.

“What’s happening today is not negotiation, but they are called ‘negotiations’ in the media,” the Syrian president told the interviewer.

Assad’s comments come as Israel has recently stepped up efforts to persuade Damascus to cut its ties with Iran.

Recently, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., Sallai Meridor, declared that the main reason that his government began indirect talks with Syria earlier this year was to “bring about a strategic repositioning” in the region by breaking up Damascus’ alliance with Iran.

Syria: New Ambassador to Iraq
By ROBERT F. WORTH
The New York Times, September 17, 2008

Syria announced Tuesday that it had appointed an ambassador to Iraq for the first time since the early 1980s. The ambassador, Nawaf Fares, was sworn in as the envoy before the Syrian president….

CIA: Syria strike aided by foreign intelligence
The Jerusalem Post, September 17, 2008

The air strike on a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor last year was the result of intelligence cooperation that included a “foreign partner” that first identified the facility’s purpose, CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden said on Tuesday.

“Our foreign partnerships … were critical to the final outcome,” Hayden said in a speech for delivery to the World Affairs Council of Los Angeles, Reuters reported, adding that a US intelligence official declined to specify the partner Hayden referred to or to say whether it was Israel.

“We were able last year to spoil a big secret, a project that could have provided Syria with plutonium for nuclear weapons,” Hayden said.

The CIA chief added that the information from the foreign partner first identified the facility as a reactor similar to one in North Korea, although US intelligence had identified it as suspicious.

“When pipes for a massive cooling system were laid out to the Euphrates River in the spring of 2007, there would have been little doubt this was a nuclear reactor,” Hayden said.

“We would have known it was North Korean, too, given the quantity and variety of intelligence reports on nuclear ties between Pyongyang and Damascus…”

Israel postpones Turkish-brokered talks with Syria
AFP, September 17, 2008

DAMASCUS (AFP) — A fifth round of Turkish-brokered peace talks between Syria and Israel this week has been postponed at Israel’s request, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said on Wednesday .

“It has been postponed at the request of the Israeli side,” Muallem told a press conference with visiting Spanish counterpart Miguel Angel Moratinos.

The next round of talks between the two neighbours — which have technically been at war for 60 years — was due to be held on Thursday.

“When Israel is ready to resume the talks, we will be too because we want to build a solid base that will allow the launch of direct negotiations whatever the outcome of the Kadima party election in Israel,” Muallem added.

He was referring to the party of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, which was voting for a new leader on Wednesday after the premier announced he was stepping down to fight corruption and influence-peddling allegations.

Turkey, which has been acting as mediator in the talks, confirmed that Thursday’s planned meeting had been cancelled at Israel’s request.

Israel said it failed to complete the formalities that would allow its chief negotiator, Yoram Turbowicz, to remain on the negotiating team after he resigned from his post as Olmert’s general secretary, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office said.

“The Israeli side has emphasised that it is ready to resume the talks as soon as this technical and legal process is completed,” it said, adding that a new date for the fifth round had not yet been fixed…

Comments (91)


Akbar Palace said:

[Akbar Palace analysis] Assad will undoubtedly call off talks with Israel as he reshuffles his cabinet. He must show that he is strong and independent. All the same, it will be up to Assad whether he begins talks again once the dust has settled and his new set of cronies is formed.

Israel would like the talks continued in order to keep the momentum going. Momentum would increase the chance that the next US administration will decide to jump on board and support them. So long as the US does not support Syrian-Israeli negotiations, no noticable gap between Syria and Iran will exist. The US has a lot to offer both sides — money, security, help with water guarantees, economic and diplomatic cover.

Israel’s interest right now is to position itself so that the next US and Israeli governments will understand the benefits of pushing Syria and Iran together.

September 18th, 2008, 4:34 pm

 

offended said:

She would continue the talks. Discontinuing would make her look bad. There is no harm in negotiations. Yes, fruitless talks are sometimes better than nothing. If for nothing else then just to ‘keep the momentum’ until better guardians are in charge…

September 18th, 2008, 5:30 pm

 

offended said:

She would continue the talks. Discontinuing would make her look bad. There is no harm in negotiations. Yes, fruitless talks are sometimes better than nothing. If for nothing else then just to ‘keep the momentum’.

September 18th, 2008, 5:32 pm

 

Shai said:

Akbar,

It’s not even Rosh Hashana yet… and already you’re drinking that god awful Manischewitz wine? 🙂

September 18th, 2008, 6:01 pm

 
 

Alex said:

President Assad appointed two new ministers

Kayyali will head the Ministry of electricity, and Ghalawenji the ministry of housing.

To me “Ghalawenji” in Arabic sound like “the one who raises prices”… given the fast rising real estate prices in Syria, I’m sure some will start blaming the new minister for the “ghala”

الأسد يجري تعديلا وزاريا صغيرا يطال الإسكان والكهرباء

الاخبار المحلية

غلاونجي وزيرا للإسكان والتعمير .. وكيالي وزيرا للكهرباء

أجرى الرئيس بشار الأسد يوم الخميس تعديلا وزاريا بسيطا طال وزارتي الإسكان والكهرباء في رابع تعديل على حكومة محمد ناجي العطري منذ تشكيلها عام 2003.

وعين الرئيس الأسد مدير المؤسسة العامة للإسكان عمر غلاونجي وزيرا للإسكان والتعمير خلفا لحمود الحسين.

كما عين نائب رئيس جامعة حلب وعميد كلية الهندسة الكهربائية سابقا أحمد قصي كيالي وزيرا للكهرباء خلفا لأحمد خالد العلي.

ولم يشر المرسوم إلى أسباب التعديل الوزاري على أنه جاء في وقت حساس بالنسبة للوزارتين, حيث تعمل وزارة الإسكان على وضع إستراتيجية وطنية للإسكان لتجاوز الأزمة القائمة في هذا المجال.

كما تستعد وزارة الكهرباء لمرحلة جديدة تتمثل بدخول مشاريع ضخمة في مجال توليد الكهرباء بالغاز الطبيعي وباستخدام الطاقات المتجددة.

وأجرى على حكومة العطري التي شكلت في عام 2003 تعديلين الأول في عام 2004 والثاني في عام 2006, وجرى التعديل الثالث في شهر تموز الماضي عندما تم تعيين جوزيف سويد وزيرا للمغتربين بدلا من بثينة شعبان التي أصبحت مستشارة لرئيس الجمهورية للشؤون السياسية والإعلامية بمرتبة وزير.

September 18th, 2008, 8:00 pm

 

offended said:

I laughed outloud at Mr. Ghalawanji becoming minister of housing!

September 18th, 2008, 8:06 pm

 

Akbar Palace said:

It’s not even Rosh Hashana yet… and already you’re drinking that god awful Manischewitz wine?

Shai,

That’s the typical comment I would expect from you to a neocon like myself.

Of course, when these predictions come from pro-Syrian academics like Professor Josh, they never get scrutinized in a similar fashion.

So yes, this is just my little way of saying “Zzzzzzz”.

September 18th, 2008, 8:30 pm

 

Alex said:

Lebanese singer Julia Boutros who sang praising Hizbollah’s victorious fighters in 2006, will be singing in Damascus.

So will the legendary Lebanese singer Marcel Khalifeh.

Earlier this year Fairouz and Ziad Rahbani sang in Damascus.

September 18th, 2008, 8:43 pm

 

trustquest said:

The wonderful Terry Gross, interview Maher Arar and his lawyer Maria LaHood.
Listen to the intelligent Syrian Canadian telecommunication engineer describing the hospitality of the Syrian regime to its intellectual high achiever citizens; even he was a Canadians who never spoke of bad word of the regime.
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=94732037
I hope after winning his lawsuit against the Federal government he would file a lawsuit against the executor who actually committed the crime, then the proverb: “individual can make a difference” is real even in Syria. And I hope for most expats to have a spouse like his wife who is really a fighter and they needed against a vicious authorities like the Syrian authority.

September 20th, 2008, 2:28 pm

 

Alex said:

Trustquest,

While I agree that political prisoners in Syria often get beaten or treated badly in general, I do not trust Arar’s story.

September 20th, 2008, 4:04 pm

 

Off the Wall said:

I want to congratulate Kadima on their choice. Livni is far more qualified to lead a country than our own bag of fluf, witch hunting, neocon VP candidtate (Sorry Shai) i know you do not want her as a PM, but for heaven’s sake, just think of our choices vs yours.

Cool new website features ALEX, good job. Thanks for working so hard to bring SC back to life. Can the editing window be a little longer

September 20th, 2008, 4:14 pm

 

trustquest said:

Alex, could you explain what you mean by: do not trust Arar’s story?
Which part you do not trust, and why?

September 20th, 2008, 4:24 pm

 

Alex said:

Trustquest,

I concluded he added a lot of salt and pepper to his story.

OTW,

You’re welcome. It was mostly about improving the speed, efficiency and security of the site.

We are not sure we are totally done. We will continue to try things and monitor other things : )

September 20th, 2008, 5:05 pm

 

Shai said:

OTW,

Great to see you here again. Don’t be sorry… I’m also happy Livni won. Had Mofaz won, we would have been back twenty years in time, with his “peace-for-peace” proposal to Syria. Still, how amazing was it that ALL the major polls were at least 10% off, and in the end, she barely won by a mere 400 votes! That, actually, is not such great news to me, because it does reinforce the common belief that Kadima may still be a “Sharon-party”, and quite split up between ex-Labor and ex-Likudnicks. If so, Livni will not have an easy time making decisions there, although certainly it will be easier now that Mofaz has taken a “time out from politics” (sounds awfully familiar… Netanyahu said exactly the same, when Barak defeated him). Her biggest challenge now is forming a coalition within 90 days. She’s trying to do so with the Left-bloc (Meretz, Labor, etc.), which is good news for us doves, wus-liberals, etc. But it won’t be enough, and she’ll likely need Shas in there. We’ll see if she’s willing or able to “pay” their price (undoubtedly greater funds for their programs, not to mention no-discussion of dividing Jerusalem).

But although I’m still quite pessimistic about her ability to deliver the peace we’re all seeking, I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, and even develop a bit of optimism. What the heck… But I imagine Bibi is starting to rehearse his pre-election speeches, preparing for the best. The real test for Israel now (not only for Livni), is whether we’re able to change our view of the Arab world, or not. If we continue to practice Bushism, Livni will be politically incapacitated. If god-willing Obama wins, and the U.S. begins to pressure Israel in another direction, then there’s hope.

On that note, when are we having that cigar? 🙂

September 20th, 2008, 5:38 pm

 

norman said:

Arar was sent to Syria as a terrorist by the US government,

If Syria did not interrogate him , it would have been called a terror supporting country and the American army would have been in Syria,probably .

He was better off that he was not sent to Egypt , KSA or Morocco , he would have been dead by now.

September 20th, 2008, 5:40 pm

 

norman said:

Shai,

400 out of how many.

September 20th, 2008, 5:44 pm

 

Shai said:

Just under 40,000. Livni got 43.1% of the votes, and Mofaz got 42%.

September 20th, 2008, 5:52 pm

 

Shai said:

According to the Turkish, talks will restart soon…
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1022850.html

And Tishreen did its share to welcome Livni as well…
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1022840.html

September 20th, 2008, 5:57 pm

 

norman said:

Shai,

i am glad you saw the article, i was going to post it.

September 20th, 2008, 5:59 pm

 

Shai said:

Norman,

Yes, I was very happy to see it. Livni can’t really ask for a better welcome than that, can she? Certainly not from our enemy… 🙂

September 20th, 2008, 6:04 pm

 

norman said:

Shai,

Did you notice that he did not ask for the return of the Palestinian refugees , I wounder if that was done intentionally. What do you think?.

September 20th, 2008, 6:12 pm

 

Shai said:

Norman,

I’m sure every word was measured carefully and had its intention. And words that weren’t there also had their intention. I wonder, however, how the public here in Israel will perceive this “welcoming note” by Syria. We’ll find out tomorrow, in the morning radio shows that will certainly be talking about it.

This note by Syria had benefits to the peace camp, but it may also backfire on Livni. After all, some may hear it like this: “We (Syria) are happy YOU have been chosen, as the enemy with whom we will be negotiating…” You see the problem this may cause her. Ironically, perhaps Tishreen should have said the opposite: “Oh NO, not YOU!…” She would have gotten 5 extra votes just from Likud for that… 🙂

September 20th, 2008, 7:07 pm

 

Off the Wall said:

Shai
Glad to be back. Things are a little hectic at work. But I will try, to take the advice of some friends and keep sometime for my self from now on.

Did you notice the language of the Tishrin Article, “Mrs Livni”, This is a major development as the official Syrian press is not using the words (the potential prime minister of the enemy zionist entity) and IMHO, this idicate a “sort of” formal recognition and pre-normalization of the language of discourse. A good and rather wellcomed sign.

I think Livni can probably play that card positively in Israel, She can argue that she has already established a minimal level of civility in dialogue, albiet from strength, with the Syrian leadership. For rational Israelis, and I believe that there are plenty of you, this is as they say a “sin qua non” for the tough negotiations ahead.

To think that an Insraeli politician is now an “acceptable”, or even “welcomed” candidate in Syria signals a shift in attitude towards a realist vision of Syria, and it signals a maturing politics. Again, from a point of strengthed (it does not matter if that strength is precieved or real).

I sure hope that what your call for Israel to revisit the country’s view of the Arab world will heppen. I do not think it will happen within the 90 days, but If Livni cab pull a coalition, even with Shas, she will have the opportunity and I hope that she reaches for it with all of her strength, her skills, and the skills of her advisors and governing partners.

BTW
What is Shas oppoinion on a Unified Jerousalem that is a capital of the world’s western relegions. “Nuseibeh vision”

September 20th, 2008, 7:30 pm

 

Off the Wall said:

Shai
Also forgot to ask, would KADIMA maintain some form of unity in the national election or would it split into the original roots of the party’s constituents?

On the Cigar, anytime my friend. The sooner, the better. Although I age my cigars in a small humidore, and I am saving a couple of nice ones for that occasion.

September 20th, 2008, 7:39 pm

 

Off the Wall said:

NORMAN
I have been a way from SC for a while. How is you educational project going?

September 20th, 2008, 7:45 pm

 

Shai said:

OTW,

If you think things are hectic at work now… wait ’till Palin instills mandatory prayer in every American workplace… 🙁 Not to mention the book-burning that follows…

Yes, I do hope Livni will be able to turn her opposition’s comments that are bound to appear starting tomorrow morning on the radio, and suggest this level of dialogue has been created out of position of strength, not weakness. The problem is, that she’s going to try to move away from any kind of support of the (very controversial) Olmert politicking. Even peace camp members are unsure about Olmert’s real motivation when it came to talks with Syria. Was it to shift attention away from the 6-7 investigations of corruption against him? Was it to try to paint him in a different light? So Livni will have to find the way to follow some of his footsteps, without seeming to be doing so…

As to Shas, they’re vehemently against any division of Jerusalem. But, as almost any religious party in Israel’s past has done, if and when the question of a violent alternative comes up (war, intifada, etc.), they do tend to permit giving up land (even holy land), in order to save lives. But if things are ham’dela, they won’t support any such idea. What worries me right now, should Livni form a coalition, is her apparent belief that the Palestinian track should continue, together with Abbas, and that the Syrian track is less urgent. This is what I’m reading between the lines, though I hope I’m wrong. It’s no coincidence that Syria is trying to shift her attention (peacefully) northwards, and as Norman mentioned, not to discuss the Palestinians right now. They probably fear the same as I do. Ironically, maybe that’s precisely the reason Shas would join the coalition, if it got an indication from Livni that Syria was more important to her today than peace with the Fatah (and dividing Jerusalem).

September 20th, 2008, 7:48 pm

 

Shai said:

OTW,

That’s precisely what will be occupying Livni’s mind from now on – keeping Kadima together. There’s no way to tell right now. Mofaz supporters may be disappointed in his sudden departure, and theoretically could go back to the Likud (especially if Livni forms a coalition with Labor and Meretz). Netanyahu has met this evening with Barak to “discuss the political developments”. Barak is pushing for national unity government right now (his last chance to survive politically). Bibi is refusing. He wants elections, ASAP. And it’s easy to understand why. If anything, Labor supporters are bound to leave Labor for Kadima in the next elections. But Livni does have a tough one on her hands. Next few months will tell…

I’m also keeping the good cigars for that occasion! And it will happen, in’shalla.

September 20th, 2008, 7:56 pm

 

Off the Wall said:

Dear Shai
In’shalla,

One thing that I find intriguing now is how would any country such as Israel, Syria, or any other country prepare for one of the two diametrically opposing world views that may end up leading the US for the next 8 years. Anyone must take a gamble and I do not think there is an easy way for anyone to hedge their bet here.

With the Palin farce, the vulnerability of the two parties system we have here should have been exposed wide open and should have become a major discussion topic. Yet, the press, or the blog-sphere completely ignore this issue and continue to focus on irrelevant stock-market style political polling to create a new story for the news cycle every morning and evening. The only good news is that the more we talk economy the more Shallow Sarah becomes irrelevant to the election. We are long overdue for electoral reforms that will not join moderate and enlightened republicans at the hip to the minority relegious fanatics. There is no such equivalent at the democratic party, for the far left has already been marginalized and demonized decades ago.

There was an interesting article in the new republic, in which the author uses the term “teleological suspension of the ethical” to describe the way the religious right has embraced the ill equipped shallow palin. And the more I learn from you about how tough is it to navigate a true multi-party system, the more I am convinced that the failure of our own democracy is due to our two parties system. As I read the blogs, I can easily see many smaller parties that can be formed and if we did not have the dictatorship of the two parties, which gerrymander districts, these parties could have more say both at the national and local levels. A true dialogue and discourse would emerge with the potential for visionary and surprising alliances. It would be much more exciting and It would force many Americans to get out of the provincial (vote for someone like me) mentality.

I remember that when I served on a search committees for a department chair, all members, and some of them were quite distinguished and recognized, were looking for someone whose CV is better than their own, for if they are to select someone with less qualification than their own, they would be doing disservice to the department.

Finally, i think Palin stole the line (I can see Russia) from a Syrian diplomat (Was it Muallem or Shara), who once said, I can see Israel on a clear day from my window 🙂

The New Reuplic Article
http://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=98095efe-b735-456b-a729-cda0285f5269

September 20th, 2008, 8:46 pm

 

Alex said:

OTW

It was Samir Taqi who said it.

I seriously doubt Sarah reads Samir’s statements. You will have to give her the credit for that thing she said about seeing Russia from her house.

Shai,

“Israel” replaced “the Zionist entity” long time ago.

in 1995, Hafez Assad himself condemned late prime minister Rabin’s assassination as a “tragic event”

Syria has been ready for peace for a long time : )

September 20th, 2008, 10:02 pm

 

norman said:

The biggest change which took place after 1967 was the change in the conflict from a conflict on the existence of Israel to a conflict on border and Palestinian rights.

September 20th, 2008, 10:50 pm

 

Off the Wall said:

Alex

Thanks for the clarification about Samir Taqi. I was just making a jab. She doesn’t probably read anything other than tele prompters of prepared speaches, and she is very good at that, so of course it would be a huge stretch for her to read SC, where I read this comment, or even the old paper of records (NYT).

As for Israel vs Zionist entity, I was not sure when that happenned. I recall Hafez genuine comments about Rabin, but i wasn’t sure when Israel replaced the Zionist entity. So again, thanks for another clarification.

September 21st, 2008, 12:38 am

 

norman said:

OTW,

It was after 1973 war ,

Look at this ,

Diplomats: Syria passes 1st test of nuclear probe

By George Jahn
ASSOCIATED PRESS

1:33 p.m. September 20, 2008

VIENNA, Austria – Partial results of samples from a Syrian site bombed by Israel show nothing to back up U.S. assertions that the target was a secret nuclear reactor, diplomats said Saturday.
The diplomats cautioned that the results from the International Atomic Energy Agency probe are preliminary because findings of more detailed environmental tests are still outstanding.

Advertisement Still, two of the three who spoke to The Associated Press said that IAEA officials did not expect the results from the samples still being tested to strongly contradict the first results.
All three diplomats were informed of the status of the IAEA probe but demanded anonymity because their information was confidential.

Washington says that the Al Kibar site that Israel destroyed last year was a near-finished plutonium-producing reactor built with North Korean help, and that Damascus continues to hide linked facilities. Syria denies that.

While allowing a small IAEA team to visit the bombed structure in a remote part of the Syrian desert earlier this year, Damascus subsequently turned down an agency request to revisit that and other suspect sites. That, and no evidence of a nuclear program from the rest of the samples, could spell the end of the investigation into the U.S. allegations.

IAEA inspectors looking for unreported nuclear activity usually test for radioactivity. But in this case, their mission was more difficult.

According to intelligence given to the Vienna-based agency by the U.S., Israel and a third, unidentified country, the alleged reactor was not yet completed at the time of the Sept. 6, 2007, bombing. That meant no nuclear material would have been present.

So, the inspectors looked for minute quantities of graphite, which is used as a cooling element in the type of North Korean prototype that was allegedly being built. Such a reactor contains hundreds of tons of graphite, and any major explosion would have sent dust over the immediate area.

But – if they were interested in a cover-up – the Syrians would have scoured the region to bury, wash away and otherwise remove any such traces. Long before the time of the June IAEA visit to the site, it had been encased in concrete that served as the foundation of a new building erected by the Syrians.

Former U.N. nuclear inspector David Albright, whose Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security closely tracks suspect secret proliferators, said another possibility was that the Israeli bombs did not penetrate deeply enough into the building to disperse the graphite.

While it is possible that none of the samples will yield traces of graphite, Albright said it was important to wait for the second batch of results, which “are more sensitive and can pick up smaller quantities.”

Beyond Al Kibar, the agency is also interested in going to three other locations suspected of harboring other secret nuclear activities – sites the Syrians insist are off limits because opening them up would expose military secrets.

More broadly, IAEA experts want to use a follow-up visit to put questions to Syrian officials based on intelligence they have been given outlining years of extensive cooperation between the Syrians and teams of visiting North Korean nuclear officials.

North Korea exploded a nuclear device in 2006. It is believed by experts to have produced enough weapons-grade plutonium to make as many as 10 nuclear bombs before agreeing to dismantle its weapons program early last year. It recently threatened to restart its nuclear reactor because of alleged U.S. failure to fulfill obligations under an international disarmament-for-aid deal.

Diplomats say Syria is strenuously denying any concerted North Korean presence in the country – despite U.S. intelligence alleging that the building bombed was a reactor of the type only built by the communist state.

They said Syrian officials described meetings between nuclear officials from Pyongyang and their Syrian counterparts as occasional and informal.

September 21st, 2008, 1:57 am

 

Shai said:

OTW,

I’ve been debating the multi-party vs. two-party systems myself as well. But, to be honest, I usually find myself siding with the latter. The reasons are mainly because of how corrupt the system can become, once too many parties partake in the political dance. In Israel, for over 30 years, no government could ever be created by a single party. Whichever party got the most votes was now forced to run around looking for other smaller parties to join a coalition. To achieve this, it had to do two main things: One, immediately compromise on major components within its platform (on the scale of, for instance, dividing Jerusalem yes/no). Two, be prepared to “pay” a very heavy price to those who join (always in form of huge budgets to their specific populations, as well as significant positions within the government).

That has allowed parties such as Shas, who represent around 8-10% of Israelis, to almost always achieve make-or-break power, and to quite bluntly “blackmail” any government from Right to Left. But the worst case scenario isn’t Shas, it’s when winning parties ended up creating so-called national-unity governments. That’s a situation where completely opposing parties join hands, and ya’ani run the country. What I’ve seen of these types of governments is, generally, absolute political stagnation. Decision making abilities are slowed down almost to zero, and there is no real policy that leads such a coalition. Instead, politicians are constantly wasting their time reminding one another of their debts (“you owe me this, remember?”), and worse, that they may walk out at any moment, and force new elections.

How can a government actually lead a nation through such a system? My belief is that the endless peace initiatives over the past 35 years have gone untreated largely due to this system. When you know that you can’t make tough decisions unless you convince a few parties that may be diametrically opposed to you, mustering up the necessary courage and being ready to pay the political price for failure once your initiative has been exposed, have occurred less than a handful of times in Israel’s history (Begin’s peace with Egypt, Rabin’s Oslo, and Sharon’s Gaza and future W. Bank…) It is said that Barak pulled back from closing a deal with Syria, because he feared he would not be re-elected. So instead of going around his coalition convincing parties to support him, he chose to delay this to a second term, gambled, and of course was thrown out and replaced by Sharon, who opposed a withdrawal from the Golan. Another opportunity missed.

In theory, and in the academic sense, multiplicity of ideologies and having multiple interest groups working together might be something good. But in politics run like they do in Israel, that has been a major handicap which too often left Israel politically passive, tending to react to external events and policies of others, instead of forming and acting according to its own. I don’t know if it could work better in the U.S.

September 21st, 2008, 3:57 am

 

Off the Wall said:

Dear Shai
Thanks for the thoughtful response. I understand your frustration with the political deadlock a multi party system causes. But the primary question facing Israeli politicians and their constituents is rather different than those facing us here in the US. Your politics is for now, more existential. Israeli governments face the issue of defining the state itself with sizable constituents wanting to keep what they consider to be an historical right and the rest of citizens, while supporting notions such as land for peace, are not yet sure that such deal will bring the security a people need and deserve to live in peace.

Israel has managed to avoid the important social questions of services, health insurance, and taxes by establishing a state that was built first on communal ideals. In essence, while you do have a vibrant capitalism, especially in the past 20 years, you have a semi-socialist infrastructure that has been providing services for current citizen and for new immigrants and as such, the political campaigns are all about the one and primary issue of the state’s security and peace negotiation. The job of the government in that regard is mainly to ensure that such occurs from a point of strength and the immediate interest is such that for all parties, giving up land is in one way or another a Sacrifice and there is no single party that approaches this issue as an obligation to correct an injustice. Given that, all parties tend to posture and to avoid the courageous thing to do without paying the real heavy political price. The public agrees with all parties on the “Sacrifice” notion and demands absolute guarantees before such sacrifice is to be made. And the deadlock, would seem to many, a natural things to do since Israel as a country has managed to make the others pay the price of the stalemate much more than the average Israeli citizen would pay. With the exception of those in the front of the battle (Settlers and border towns), the larger portion of Israeli citizenry has been shielded, since 1973, from the ramification of the political deadlock.

The US is different in that manner. Answering the questions we are now debating in one form or another will have gigantic implications on our daily lives. Would we all have a guaranteed health insurance or not. Who pays for government, does a bigger share of the country’s wealth translate into a bigger tax burden and a larger responsibility for sharing with the others, or do we accept that if the rich are to keep their money, they will create more jobs, are we, as a society, benefiting from globalization or is globalization eroding our industrial base.

The two party system has failed to deliver essential services that many in less wealthy countries take for granted. The failure, IMHO, is due to the ability of one party to successfully mobilize half of our citizenry to work against their own economic interests under banners such as economic freedom, morality, and religion. And has forced progressives, who even if they do not form a majority, can become much more vocal advocate of real change in our 19th century mentality, into accepting and supporting democratic candidates who have been making political compromises that kept us from reaching our goals.

Add to the two party system this arcane notion of electoral collage. It doesn’t matter who wins the popular vote, what matters is how many electoral votes a candidate takes. And given that in this system, winner takes all, winning a state even by a single vote, eliminate the votes of the remaining citizens completely and hands the entire state to the winning party and in fact voids an equal number of votes won in another state. The conditions of the electoral college make it impossible for any third party to win the election or to pose any real threat to entrenched interests. It has also given some states, with much smaller population, much more power than their contributions to the national wealth or economy.

At local levels, greens have accomplished some rather minor victories but the system remain rigged to the advantage of the two party system.

As for corruption, we solved it by legalizing it. We call it lobbying 🙂

September 21st, 2008, 4:09 pm

 

Off the Wall said:

NORMAN

Thanks for the article on the IAEA

David Albright and the likes remind me constantly why do they call them Think Tanks, it seems that their job is not to be a Tank (Reservoir) of ideas, but a Tank that rams ideas through weather right of wrong.

September 21st, 2008, 4:17 pm

 

Off the Wall said:

Dear Shai
In my previous posting, i did not mean to indicate that Israeli citizens have been completely shielded from the impact of the conflict, or to minimize the tragedy many families have suffered due to terrorist acts inside Israel, but these have recently diminished. I was trying to highlight that the price paid by others is much larger than that paid by the average Israeli citizen. One thing I learned is never to minimize anyones tragedy, for that is the pre-conditions to solving any conflict.

I would still argue that a Palestinian daily interaction with the tragedy is much more intense that that of the average Israeli. Yet, that does not make one tragedy more important than another. As you said once, they are joined.

September 21st, 2008, 4:28 pm

 

Shai said:

OTW,

I understand what you’re saying about the system in the U.S. It is truly astonishing that the Republicans have managed to convince half of America to support Bushism for the past 8 years. I guess I have an innate fear of multi-party systems, having experienced up close their dark side. But perhaps in the U.S. it would be different. I don’t know…

As for tragedies, you’re right. There’s no doubt whatsoever, that the Palestinians separately and as a whole, have been suffering infinitely more than any Israeli (settler or not), over the past 60 years. I wish more of my own countrymen would come to recognize this. And change.

September 21st, 2008, 5:48 pm

 

norman said:

Shai, OTW ,

I think that the American System of Government would be the best in the Mideast , with people from different ethnic and religious background , small districts and representatives from these districts elected by the people of these districts is the only way for people to have a say in their government assuming that there are anti discrimination laws in housing and working , and yes Shai two party system and a Republic is the better way.

About Jerusalem ,
It does not have to be divided , It could be one city with Burrows or towns and city council in each town with a Mayer for all the city elected by all the people of the city and has to be a resident of the city without religious a particular religious affiliation , people of the city will be able to live anywhere in the city with anti discrimination laws protecting them
The police and the fire department will be made of people residents in these towns ,

Having the Mayer elected by all the people of Jerusalem will make him responsible for all the people of the city.

What do you think?.

September 21st, 2008, 7:31 pm

 

Off the Wall said:

NORMAN

A poll conducted by NBC/WSJ in Dec 2007 with the following ques

Which of the following statements is closest to your own view of the two-party system today, in terms of how well it defines issues and provides choices for voters? The two-party system works fairly well. The two-party system has real problems, but with some improvements it can still work well. The two-party system is seriously broken, and the country needs a third party

Works fairly well: 20%
Has Real Problems 47%
Is Seriously Broken 29%
Unsure 4%

No other poll was conducted with the same question recently, but It would be interesting to see the new problems. During general presidential election year I would expect that more would say that the system works fairly well (probably 35% instead of 20%) but the larger majority think that the system has real problems and a sizable minority (me included) think that the system is seriously broken.

I like the small district concept, and I like the local grass root level democracy. I do believe that in the end all politics are local. But at the national level, the two party system has stunted our political evolution.

On Jerusalem, Fully agree.

September 21st, 2008, 8:52 pm

 

norman said:

OTW,

If the American people have such a low opinion of the two party system , then how do explain the lack of success of third parties or their presidential candidates ,
What i like about the American system is that the representatives are voted in as individuals with a general direction but not obliged to that direction , they are responsible to the people they represent not to the party leaders as in a representative democracy , where they can get rid of them they do not hold the line ,

September 21st, 2008, 10:11 pm

 

Alex said:

Norman,

It is one thing for a majority of Americans to answer a question for an opinion poll in which they criticize the two party system, but it is another thing for them to actually vote for an untested third party.

When it comes to such long-term constants as the two-party system, people are generally risk averse.

Our dear AIG always wonders why we don’t have a courageous Syrian revolution against the Syrian regime despite all the corruption and mismanagement …etc.

Syrians, like Americans, do not like to rock the boat either… it “has serious problems” .. but they hope to fix it somehow.

I don’t like the two party system, but I know that if an independent won a future election, he will fail … “they” will make sure he fails.

So I would not vote for an independent, even if he was much cleaner than the other two candidate.

September 21st, 2008, 10:31 pm

 

norman said:

Alex,

I agree that people do not vote for the candidate that they agree with on all issues , they vote for the candidate that they agree with on most issues ,

All candidates in the US are in reality independent candidates as they are not obliged to hold the party line , you can have for and against choice in the Republican and the Democratic parties , you can have people for and against foreign interference in the Republican and the Democratic parties , you can have people for and against government interference in both parties

look at Hegel, Buchanan, Lieberman , Clinton , It is difficult to know to differentiate on some issues.

September 21st, 2008, 11:22 pm

 

Zenobia said:

Norman,
the explanation for the lack of success of third parties is because of the terrifically flawed functioning of American voting systems. The problem is not just with the matter of two parties. We are allowed of course to run third party tickets… however, the way that we vote , one person / one vote makes it utterly impossible to have alternative candidates win. People will not vote for a long shot candidate because if they believe that this candidate can’t possibly win, then they will see their vote as wasted. In addition to being wasted, it can also inadvertently cause the election of their least favorite candidate by taking votes away from , say, their second choice.

The electoral college system is a piece of crap and many people know this, however it would take a constitutional amendment to change it- which is an extremely hard thing to get. We especially can’t get it, because certain entities know that it benefits them… if they can manipulate the system to an advantage. It in effect means that one can win majorities without having to accommodate a minority part of a district or region. This is because it is a winner take all system. If you can get 51%.. screw the rest.

The answer is a change in voting systems to other schemes such as rank voting. In essence, it would allow a person to vote for their favorite candidate, however, if that candidate cannot statistically win… as the counting is in progress, the vote would roll over to the second choice, and so on… the vote is not wasted…and leads to the next likely winner.
there are also other amazing systems following the principles of proportional representation for congressional elections. However, politically, they are dismissed as unconstitutional. Really the issue is that they would benefit minorities and long shot candidates.
So the establishment has no interest in supporting such reform or even letting this knowledge see the light of day.

Nonetheless, smaller election districts have adopted rank voting and possibly another model as well. The county of San Francisco, for example. I believe there are a few other smaller localities around the country that have done the same.
These voting reform ideas have been around for many decades if not a century, and yet only now have made small headway in very progressive communities.

It is difficult to promote them because it is not even easy to explain them in plain language. You have to be an expert in math and statistics to even understand how voting systems work, so it is hard to build a political reform movement around them.

September 22nd, 2008, 6:19 am

 

Off the Wall said:

NORMAN, Zenobia, and Alex

I am glad that the issue of electoral reform is occupying The Syrian community in North America. It shows that we are well integrated into our new country’s political life and it raises my hopes for the next generation of Arab Americans as involved citizens.

Our voting system should not be as static as it is now. There are changes that occur here and there as Zenobia outlined, but the fundamental reforms would first include getting rid of the electoral college. To my understanding is that much of the other restrictions that disfavor third party candidates are local rules that have nothing to do with the constitutionality of the voting system. I need to do more search on that.

Winner takes all has been a way of life here in the states. It starts in our educational system where we rank students not based on their true knowledge, but based on the lack of knowledge their colleagues have. I am talking about the ABC grading system. Bell curve rating gives A to a select few even if the remaining students were only one point behind, so if you have 85% and three others get 90%, your 85 translates into 75 on your GPA, while the 90% translates into 100% how fair is that. While I advocate education, I see no reason to reward achievers by robbing those who are as just about close to them. Is it a method of concentrating wealth, if grades are the students’ intellectual wealth, you bet it is. I find this practice to be repulsive and while I can do nothing to change it but be a lone, and often ridiculed voice among my colleagues, i try my best to use the +,- to reflect the actual performance in the students’ GPA.

Examples of “winner takes all” as an American approach to wealth concentration are abound. Sports, Entertainment, Stock market, even the stupid popularity contests in junior high and high schools where sport jocks and pretty girls are the only ones with social life, and the rest are either nerds, or unnoticed.

It is good to reward meritocracy, talent, and hard work. But it is not good to exclude all and only reward the best of the best.

Here you go, another Off the Wall social rant.

September 22nd, 2008, 1:44 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Hi folks, QN here.

Kudos to Alex et al for getting SC up and running again. A couple of quick observations from the Lebanon front (which has been quiet of late):

1. Nasrallah’s latest speech (from a couple of days ago) was noteworthy, mostly for what he said about Israel. He gestured to the change-up in the government as a way of launching into a piece of historiography. There are, he said, three different Israels. There is the dream of Greater Israel (from the Nile to the Euphrates), a project that was thwarted by the Islamic Resistance in 2000, when Israel left southern Lebanon. There is the project of Hegemonic Israel, a project that was also thwarted by Hizbullah in its successful war in 2006 (do you notice a trend here?). And there is Normal Israel (Isra’iil al-`adiyyeh) whose status — its borders and relations with other powers — is still unclear, and may become clear in the future.

What was interesting to me about Nasrallah’s words was the very fact of his recognition of such a thing as a potentially “normal” Israel, rather than the preferred terms “the Zionist entity”, “the plundering entity”, etc. Strangely, no one really picked up on this in the Lebanese press the following day.

2. Polls conducted in Lebanon by Jawad `Adra’s I International this summer show that the political opposition enjoys a much higher approval rating than the current majority. While no one politician can claim to be Lebanon’s number one za’im, the figures with the most support are President Michel Suleiman, Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, General Michel Aoun, Nabih Berri, and Suleiman Frangieh. Much of this can be attributed to the deep frustration among partisans of March 14 following the Doha Accord, but it seems likely that the upcoming elections will bring about a new political balance of power.

Furthermore, analysis shows that of the 128 seats in the Parliament, 121 are more or less in the bag for one side or the other (kind of like the red states and blue states in U.S. politics). Only 27 will witness a real electoral battle, but of course, these 27 will make all the difference in who comes out on top.

In my opinion, all of this competition is actually rather good for Lebanon. Politicians are scrambling to win points with the electorate, with the result that things are actually (gasp!) getting done. A draft bill of the new electoral law is due to be published on Thursday. The electricity authority is under heavy scrutity. The two mobile phone companies which charge exorbitantly high rates are likely to be privatized. The minimum wage has been raised. Etc. All good developments, but there remains so much to be done.

September 22nd, 2008, 5:46 pm

 

Zenobia said:

Off the Wall,
I don’t think there is a barrier to third party candidates running either on the national or local level.
the reason it doesn’t work is that they cannot win , as people know the candidate is a long shot, and will not waste a vote.

so the barrier as I said before is really that the system of voting does not allow people to take a chance on a long shot, and if the candidate simply cannot achieve enough votes, then the vote roles over to another second choice. This other kind of voting, rank voting for example, is said to violate the constitutional provision of one person – one vote.

September 22nd, 2008, 6:10 pm

 

Alex said:

OTW,

If the democrats had the same “winner takes all” system, would we still end up with Obama? or was Clinton going to win the nomination?

If the results were to change, then the American people should know about it … and should really think about it. simply by switching to “winner takes all” in the Democratic party, America could potentially have a different president.

http://elizainhollywood.wordpress.com/2008/05/06/democrats-winner-take-all-hillary-winner/

As for the Bell curve system in education … sometimes it is meaningful. I took a graduate course in semi conductors. I must say that I did not understand much … yet my mark was 94% !

Luckily, I had an adjusted B, not A+ .. because it seems everyone had above 90% (the prof practically told us what will be on the final)

Qifa Nabki,

If you are to act as our man in Beirut you better show up here more often! .. twice a week at least.

I’m happy with everything you reported today. Opposition likely to win next elections (but things can change of course) … President Suleiman being the most popular man in Lebanon … and Nasrallah’s calm recognition of Normal Israel.

It was indeed an invitation to Israel to act normal .. not hegemonic and not expanding. THEN he will drop his drive to fight Israel. He explained in his last speech that it is up to Israel to decide how Hizbollah will relate … Israel at peace (with defined borders) will get him to do what we hoped he will do after a just and comprehensive Syrian Israeli peace agreement.

You always had questions about that. And I was optimistic that he will be able to live with Israel.

Same with Hamas… a bit more difficult though. But it is also doable.

September 22nd, 2008, 6:12 pm

 

Zenobia said:

and btw, also I love your analysis of how the theme of Winner Take ALL permeates the American culture in a multitude of ways…

It is SO TRUE! We are trained to be obsessed with the winner… hence our foreign policy…. and will risk anything and hurt our competition to be that supposed winner.

Alex,
actually the democratic primaries were not a winner take all system…it was proportional. I am not sure how it would have turned out if it had been winner take all- like the Republican primaries. But I know it would have not been the excruciating cliff hanger it was…

September 22nd, 2008, 6:18 pm

 

Alex said:

Zenobia,

But .. I did not say that the Democratic primaries were a winner takes all system 😉

This is what I asked:

“If the democrats had the same “winner takes all” system, would we still end up with Obama? or was Clinton going to win the nomination?”

I wanted to point out the one sigificant example of proportional gains (democratic primaries) and how it probably resulted in a different final winner from the one we would have had (Clinton) if the democratic primaries were also the “winner takes all” type.

September 22nd, 2008, 7:00 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Alex,

Sorry for falling down on the job. I will try to make more appearances in the future. But it’s not just my fault! The Middle East is dullsville these days. Look at you guys: you’re talking about proportional gains in U.S. electoral politics. The thrill is gone…

September 22nd, 2008, 7:06 pm

 

Zenobia said:

I didn’t mean to imply that you said it was winner take all. And I know what you were asking. I don’t know the answer.

there was still also the problem of caucasing verses straight voting. It was pretty complex.

yeah, the thrill IS gone…

September 22nd, 2008, 7:39 pm

 

Alex said:

The thrill is in the United States lately

Nasrallah’s speech does not come close to a Sarah Palin interview.

And … while Syrian news agency SANA says that Syria’s financial situation was not affected by what is happening in Wall Street, it is not the kind of news story that can compete with the other one about the trillion dollar bailout.

Here are some other Syria news (since I visited SANA today):

President Assad attended Syrian army’s military training yesterday:

http://www.sana.sy/servers/gallery/20080922-175411_h193712.jpg

City of Latakia will be developed to promote internal Tourism

http://www.sana.sy/servers/gallery/20080922-164638_h193673.jpg

Syrian oil minister says that Syria’s oil reserve is at 44 billion barrels… many promising discoveries lately.

September 22nd, 2008, 8:21 pm

 

norman said:

Back to web version Monday, Sep 22, 2008
Posted on Mon, Sep. 22, 2008
Syria’s love affair with Livni
By DION NISSENBAUM
McClatchy Newspapers
As expected, Israeli President Shimon Peres has tapped Tzipi Livni to take on the daunting task of trying to form a new coalition government and, thus, head off unpredictable national elections that could put the country back in the hands of a more conservative government.

Over the next 42 days, Livni will have a tough time wooing rivals on the left and on the right who want to extract as many concessions as they can before they agree to join any Livni-led coalition.

But the foreign minister who is a few steps away from becoming the second woman to ever lead Israel is getting some support from an unlikely place: Syria.

In an editorial titled, “Tzipi – Israel’s new bird” (a reference to the fact that her full name – Tzipora – means “bird” in Hebrew), Syria’s state Tishrin newspaper praised Livni as a “Mossad beauty,” according to Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

(Livni spent two years in her early career working for the Mossad in Paris. While the nature of her work during her short duration with the Israeli spy agency is unknown, The Times of London wrote a questionable story in July that suggested that Livni was a young “terrorist hunter.” The story, which probably helped boost her thin security credentials and credibility among some Israelis, received a lot of attention, especially in the Arab world.)

“International commentators describe Livni as a dove among hawks,” the editorial states. “If this ‘Mossad dove’ wishes to repent for her crimes and the crimes of her family, and if she truly wishes to secure peace, she will get peace. If she doesn’t want that, the region will remain in a state that is neither peace nor war, while facing a tense and unstable atmosphere.”

Ok, it might not be a genuine love letter, but it does show a level of intrigue in the Arab world in Livni’s rise to power.

Meanwhile, The Jerusalem Post reports that Israel’s ultra-Orthodox newspapers won’t even publish Livni’s photograph so as not to violate cultural sensitivities.

“For us, the newspaper is an educational device that not only informs but also teaches people how to behave,” an anonymous editor at the Haredi newspaper Hamodia told The Jerusalem Post. “If it detracts from yiddishkeit (Jewishness), it won’t be in our paper.”

The editor did concede that papers published Golda Meir’s photos when she was Israel’s prime minister.

But.

“Golda was an institution,” the editor said. “She was a respected figure with decades of political experience before she became prime minister. But in recent years there has been depreciation in the level of politicians.”

But, don’t take it personally, Tzipi!

Welcome to the highest echelon of Israeli politics!

You’ve got 42 days before the carriage turns into a pumpkin.

Dion Nissenbaum covers the Middle East as Jerusalem bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers. E-mail him at dnissenbaum@mcclatchydc.com.

To read more of this writer’s blog – as well as those of other McClatchy foreign correspondents – go to http://news.mcclatchy.com/

© 2007 Kansas City Star and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved. http://www.kansascity.com

September 23rd, 2008, 2:05 am

 

Off The Wall said:

I feel a little guilty starting the “Multi-party” discussion and not showing up for more than 12 hours during which several rounds have taken place.

However, I think Zenobia did much better than I would have done had I been here.

Now, I have been thinking, shouldn’t we elect some space shuttle astronaut as our next VP or even our next POTUS. For heaven’s sake, these gals and guys can see the entire world rolling underneeth them from their cramped office-workshop-bedroom-diningroom-bathroom combo window.

September 23rd, 2008, 4:04 am

 

Off the Wall said:

Zenobia
I agree with you that there are no official barriers, but why aren\’t Bob Barr, Cynthia McKinney, or Ralph Nader, who qualified for more than 40 states as a ballot candidate on the debate.

Just imagine a VP debate where Joe Biden can stand back and watch Rosa Clemente, a true community organizer shread the basket of fluf, and send her back hunting whatever she like to kill from her plane, only to turn back on him and have him face the music. This is where third, fourth and fifth party candidates excell and their exclusion from the debates is mainly to avoid embarrasing the entrenched two parties. They expose the hypocricy and dullness of the main stream candidate and show the fact that they are almost the same with nothing really new. This is not to say that I do not like Biden or Obama, this year I am voting for the democratic ticket because any vote that does not translate into electoral college vot to throw the republicans out would take us into a bigger tragedy than where we are. In fact I do like biden very much, despite of his wrong judgement about dividing Iraq (which we talked about before).

There are no barriers, but there are plenty of bars in the wheal.

September 23rd, 2008, 4:24 am

 

Shai said:

QN,

Welcome back! While I’m typing, I could have been driving your way, and being there in two hours… Oh well, just a little thing called Peace getting in the way again. Thanks for the update regarding Nasrallah’s speech. I don’t know if to view it positively or not, but I guess hearing the word “Israel” is better than “The Zionist Entity”. Look at what kind of world we live in – we have to generate optimism from use of a particular word, or pessimism from another… I’m sure that’s what Isaac Asimov had in mind, when writing hundreds of books about humanity 10,000 years from now. Still, please keep us updated. Personally, I’m very concerned about HA’s likely revenge for Mughniyah’s assassination. If what we’re told in Israel is true, at least 2-3 real attempts were thwarted abroad. If some Jewish community center “happens” to be bombed somewhere in the world, no “Dove from the Mossad” is going to be able to stop the Generals from attacking Lebanon. It’s a vicious cycle, but the stakes are getting higher with time, not lower. I still fear HA’s retribution.

Norman,

As I suggested earlier, I have a feeling this “love affair” between Syria and Tzipi Livni (via Syrian media) is not a very healthy thing for her right now. Her opposition is already suggesting she could more easily form a coalition government in Damascus, than in Jerusalem. In this part of the world, before agreements are signed, being deemed too close to your enemy is NOT a good thing… Wouldn’t it be a “neat thing” if Damascus actually understands this quite well, and in a roundabout way, is actually helping Netanyahu get elected, so that it will face him in peace talks, rather than someone less likely to deliver?

September 23rd, 2008, 4:46 am

 

Off the Wall said:

Shai
Her opposition is already suggesting she could more easily form a coalition government in Damascus, than in Jerusalem

So you also have the concept of “Takhween” (Betrial) in your political lingo. Man, aren’t we a like. I heard that phrase about Sadat and King Hussain so many times in my “not so rightuous years”, but with Tel Aviv replacing Damascus. 🙂

But please my friend, do not be depressed. Both HA and the Syrians apear to be preparing their constituents for some psychological shift. A necessary condition for that shift is the “humanization” and normalization of the enemy. It is a big step, which I hope would last and become sustainable.

BTW, one more thing we share in common, ASIMOV.

September 23rd, 2008, 5:08 am

 

Zenobia said:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/03/world/middleeast/03lebanon.html

slide show

By ROBERT F. WORTH
Published: September 2, 2008 New York Times

NABATIYE, Lebanon — The children crowd forward around the glass case, eager for a glimpse of the martyr’s bloodstained clothes. His belt is here, and the shoes he died in, scarred with shrapnel. The battered desk where he planned military operations still has his box of pencils on it, his in-box, his cellphone.

An exhibit in Nabatiye celebrates the life of Imad Mugniyah, the shadowy Hezbollah commander suspected in the West of masterminding devastating bombings, kidnappings and hijackings in the 1980s and ’90s. Busloads of schoolchildren have flocked to the exhibit, which includes bloodstained clothes and, at night, light and laser shows.
An exhibit in Nabatiye, Lebanon, honors Imad Mugniyah.

“May God kill the one who killed him,” an old woman says, wiping tears from her eyes as she stares through the glass.

The dead man being shown such veneration is Imad Mugniyah, the shadowy Hezbollah commander. Until his death in a car bombing in Syria in February he was virtually unknown here, his role in the militant Shiite group clothed in secrecy. But since then Hezbollah has hailed him as one of its great military leaders in the struggle against Israel.

Now, the group has opened an exhibit in this southern town in honor of Mr. Mugniyah, who is widely accused in the West of masterminding devastating bombings, kidnappings and hijackings in the 1980s and ’90s. His stern, bearded face towers over the transformed parking lot where the exhibit is taking place, along with banners exalting him as “the leader of the two victories” — the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 and the 2006 summer war with Israel.

The presentation, which opened Aug. 15, is Hezbollah’s most ambitious multimedia exhibit to date, meant to dramatize the group’s bitter conflict with Israel on the second anniversary of their latest war. Schoolchildren pour in throughout the day, absorbing the carefully honed message of heroic resistance. At night, light and laser shows illuminate the weaponry and tanks, and overflow crowds have been keeping it open until after 1 a.m.

At first glance, the exhibit could almost be taken for an outdoor children’s museum. The green entrance awning is a huge replica of Mr. Mugniyah’s signature cap, and visitors then cross a “victory bridge” made partly from artillery shells. But it soon takes on a more grisly cast.

A fake skeleton stands upright in a torn uniform and helmet beneath the legend, “The invincible Israeli soldier.” There are captured Israeli tanks jutting up from the ground at odd angles, their hatches burned and broken. As visitors crowd from one display to another, a soundtrack blares overhead, mixing the sounds of bombs and machine-gun fire with mournful operatic voices and warlike speeches.

There is also an impressive array of Hezbollah’s antitank missiles and artillery, all neatly labeled. There are even display cases containing the eyeglasses, letters and clothes worn by two other major Hezbollah figures, both assassinated by Israel.

But the eerie heart of the exhibit is the glass-encased room displaying Mr. Mugniyah’s possessions. His prayer mat is here, his slippers, even his hairbrush, as if they were a saint’s relics.

On a recent afternoon, a crowd of onlookers stared through the glass in awe, some of them weeping openly.

“Look, there’s his gun!” shouted a small boy dressed in army fatigues, leading his parents in for a closer look.

A young Hezbollah guide, standing nearby, explained that the gun was a modified AK-47, more powerful and capable of firing faster than the standard model. “He never went anywhere without it — it was part of his soul,” said the guide, who like others working at the exhibit declined to give his name, in accordance with Hezbollah’s policy of secrecy about its members.

This is a tense moment in Lebanon. Israeli leaders have issued warnings that they would carry out a more devastating attack than the 2006 war if Hezbollah were to lead Lebanon’s government. Last month Lebanon formed a transitional government in which the Hezbollah-led opposition has enough cabinet seats to wield veto power. New elections are scheduled for next year.

Hezbollah officials have recently renewed warnings that they will retaliate against Israel, which they blame for Mr. Mugniyah’s death. Indeed, this week, newspapers in Israel reported that intelligence agents had foiled at least five attempted kidnappings of Israeli citizens in foreign countries.

Israel has denied any role in the Mugniyah killing, which took place in Damascus, the Syrian capital. But Israeli and Western agents had spent 25 years pursuing Mr. Mugniyah, who was blamed for a series of spectacular attacks, kidnappings and hijackings, including the suicide bombing of a United States Marines barracks in Beirut that killed 241 American service members in 1983.

Mr. Mugniyah was believed to have spent much of his time in Iran and Syria, though his whereabouts were unknown.

If the exhibit is testimony to Mr. Mugniyah’s new public status as a Hezbollah hero, it is also evidence of the group’s increasingly sophisticated efforts to capture the hearts and imaginations of a new generation.

Hezbollah has organized similar exhibits before, most notably a mock-up of a military bunker that opened in southern Beirut a year ago, titled “The Spider’s Web,” to commemorate the first anniversary of the 2006 war.

But the new presentation is more extensive. It was conceived by the architect Ahmed Tirani and built in just three weeks by a staff of 290 working around the clock. In addition to an extraordinary array of weaponry and martyrs’ paraphernalia, it includes a large indoor room that was remodeled to resemble “what we believe the martyrs’ heaven is like,” according to one of the guides on duty.

In the darkened room, a figure representing a dead Hezbollah fighter lies on his back on a large sloping bank of white flowers. A sound of exploding bombs gives way to patriotic anthems as a screen shows a brilliant sunset and a coffin being carried through a dark forest. Later, a laser show illuminates the darkness. Other videos braid together images from the 2006 war, including some showing Mr. Mugniyah, along with scenes of Hezbollah soldiers training in the green hills of southern Lebanon.

On a recent afternoon, busloads of schoolchildren were arriving to see the exhibit, with a group of Boy Scouts.

“I came here to teach my kids the culture of resistance,” said a visitor who gave his name only as Ahmed, as he stood with his wife and two children. “I want them to see what the enemy is doing to us, and what we can do to fight them, because this enemy is not merciful.”

September 23rd, 2008, 5:16 am

 

Rumyal said:

QN,

Good to have you back! Looking forward to the next taxi-driver report!

But did Nasrallah say Israel without quotes or was it “Israel”, as Nour loves to write… Man all those double quotes must be killing the SHIFT key…

As Shai mentioned, I’m also not sure how to interpret the “progression”:

Option 1: expansionist -> hegemonic -> normal -> tolerated(?)
Option 2: expansionist -> hegemonic -> normal -> depleted -> annihilated (?)

Do you have a link to this interview? I just got a new Arabic dictionary and grammar book and after a 20 year hiatus I’m ready to test my Arabic skills again…

September 23rd, 2008, 6:11 am

 

Shai said:

OTW,

Thanks for the reassuring words. I hope you’re right. I remember how Syria also gave Barak the utmost benefit of the doubt, practically hailing him as a brave hero in pursuit of peace. And then… that most-highly-decorated officer, genius analytical mind, Stanford graduate, couldn’t even last half a term in office. Sometimes it’s better not to build expectations, and to just let things develop slowly, than to risk the effects of failure. Of course, that does contradict my constant push for more CBM’s, but I guess I’d rather see support of Livni only if and when she’s very close to presenting us with a peace agreement. Beforehand, just gives all the skeptics more power and motivation to foil any of her attempts.

Asimov is one of my favorite authors. I’ve read the Foundation trilogy probably more than 10 times in my short lifetime… 🙂

September 23rd, 2008, 6:14 am

 

Shai said:

Rumyal,

Boker (or Lyla) Tov! How do you see Livni’s chances of making progress with Syria? Are you optimistic that she could enough backing to accept a potential peace agreement? Given, of course, that my “favorite” politician (Bibi) will undoubtedly oppose anything she initiates, short of an all-out attack on Iran?

September 23rd, 2008, 6:26 am

 

Rumyal said:

Shai,

You put me on the spot, eh? From where I’m looking at this (which is oh so far far away), things do look very erratic and random so it’s tricky to hazard a guess but fundamentally she declared that she would require Syria to flip before a deal is signed, so that means that not a lot of progress can be expected, even if she does manage to form a stable coalition. Then again, who knows what her true position is or will be? Who knows whether your Bibi gambit would work? It’s all a toss-up and stagnation is more likely than anything else. None of the current set of leaders is a peace visionary, nor does the electorate value a peace with Syria. The country is stuck in its self-perpetuating hysteria and superiority complex. Sorry for being so depressing. You asked.

September 23rd, 2008, 6:55 am

 

Shai said:

Rumyal,

Hmmm, I guess I was hoping for a more “uplifting” response… 🙂

Yeah, I agree with you. Things are so unclear right now, that speculating is the most we can do, and probably a useless exercise… at least until we see what this leader or the other actually do, not to mention say. I’m desperately hoping that with the exception of Mofaz (who I really think deserves a nice, long, vacation), all other potential leaders say “Flip Syria”, but believe something else. Manipulation of constituents and potential voters is an age-old art that has been exercised throughout history, so I’m not terribly upset if it is indeed the intention here. We’ve already seen Bibi publicly reject a return of the Golan, while talking to Hafez Assad about precisely that, so anything is possible.

I can’t believe, though, that Livni still thinks Abu Mazen is a “partner”… Do we actually need a formal introduction of Geppetto, before we understand how limited puppets tend to be?

September 23rd, 2008, 8:53 am

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Dear Shai,

Nice to be back. Yes, it’s hard to know what the effect of a possible revenge attack would be. Part of me thinks that Nasrallah is just keeping the Israelis guessing. He will not retaliate in a spectacular fashion without a Syrian green light. And of course, the Syrians will not give him the green light unless they are rebuffed at the negotiation table with Israel. Then some Israeli tourists will be attacked abroad and the Syrians will say: “You see?! When you don’t deal with us, the region becomes unstable. We can’t help it!” 😉

Rumyal,

I am storing up my taxi driver anecdotes for a proper post on Syria Comment, maybe next week. (I need to take a few more taxis to the southern suburbs before I have enough “data”).

Nasrallah did not use quotes like Nour. And I do think that he meant option one, not two. I have not met a single person in Lebanon who believes that Hizbullah should fight Israel until it is destroyed. There is simply no appetite for such a struggle. People want a solution, not a winner-takes-all death match.

September 23rd, 2008, 10:43 am

 

Off the Wall said:

Shai
I probably read the foundation series about 7 times. I was introduced to AZIMOV by a former adviser after I was 30, but I never stopped reading him since. My sizable AZIMOV collection, along with few books on philosophy and some hard science books are among the set of books I plan to send to you for safe keeping when Sarah Palin starts burning books after imposing mandatory prayers. 🙂

Rumyal
I tend to agree with QN on option 1 instead of 2.

QN
Look forward to your “TAXI” series. In the meantimes, what is the Lebanese street saying about the Syrian troop deployment near border crossing point. Is that causing any anxiety?

September 23rd, 2008, 3:44 pm

 

norman said:

Alex,

Where is Ausama , he should be happy that Livni won ,

September 23rd, 2008, 5:01 pm

 

norman said:

Shai,

This is for you,

Syria hopes indirect talks with Israel can lead to direct negotiations

DAMASCUS, Sept. 23 (Xinhua) — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Tuesday that indirect peace talks with Israel are confined to specifying principles which can govern direct negotiations between the two sides.

Assad made the remarks at a meeting of the central leadership of the National Progressive Front, a political coalition led by the ruling al-Baath Party, according to the official SANA news agency.

“These indirect talks are preparatory contacts that could lead to the launch of direct negotiations … and need more time and effort,” Assad was quoted as saying.

Syria and Israel have conducted four rounds of indirect peace talks under the auspices of Turkey since May. But a fifth round had been postponed twice due to the volatile internal politics in Israel.

The key issue between the two neighbors remains the strategic Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and annexed in 1981, a move not recognized by the international community.

September 23rd, 2008, 5:08 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

OTW,

No mention of the Syrian deployment… people are more interested in the upcoming meeting between Nasrallah and Hariri.

September 23rd, 2008, 5:33 pm

 

Alex said:

QN,

Even if Nasrallah was “given the green light from Syria” to retaliate, it won’t be against Israeli tourists. Nasrallah is mature enough by now not to make the mistake of initiating terrorist acts against Israeli civilians outside the Middle East.

If he decided to retaliate, I can only imagine it will be against an Israeli General or official … just like Israel started by assassinating his top general.

And if he can not easily get an Israeli General or official, then … he will wait another year until he can.

September 23rd, 2008, 5:38 pm

 

Shai said:

Norman,

Indeed good news. Let’s just hope Livni can form a government quickly (she’s trying to do this in the next 10 days…), and that she’ll indeed pick up where Olmert’s advisers left off. Israelis were dreaming of a Syrian president that is as open to peace as Bashar Assad is and has been, and there’s really no excuse for missing the opportunity this time. There is no policy in Israel that has ever enabled NOT-talking to our enemy. Only Bushism has brought about this behavior, over the past 8 years. Hopefully, Livni won’t be overly influenced by Axis-of-Evil rhetoric and ideology. At least she’s not a religious fanatic like that little Palin of yours… so there’s a good chance she’ll be more pragmatic about our own real-politique in the Middle East.

OTW,

All my silly snickering about Palin ended quite abruptly upon hearing her demands of a local library not too long ago, as a town mayor in Alaska. The thought of removing certain books from libraries makes one shiver, as we recall the various “democratically-elected” leaders in the 20th century that started with such steps, and ended quite a bit farther… I wonder how Palin would have reacted, upon reading Asimov’s description of the ease with which an entire population (and as a consequence its leadership) can be manipulated by the power of religion (recall the priests on Anacreon). I was just saying to my wife today, how amazing it is that America is actually considering voting in a VP, who could easily become a President (McCain isn’t exactly Michael Phelps), whose first trip outside the United States was only one year ago! That’s how “well-rounded” she is. That’s how “worldly” this most-powerful-woman-on-earth wannabe is. That’s how adventurous and open-minded this “support the Palin-McCain ticket” (not other way around) Alaska she-hunter is.

QN,

I’m also eager to hear more Taxi-Driver stories. I find that in every country, from East to West, they represent the majority view far better than any political analyst could. They’re the ones to listen to.

September 23rd, 2008, 5:51 pm

 

Shai said:

Alex,

I’m going to take off that General Electric cap I usually wear on holidays when I’m abroad then… 🙂 (A version of an old joke about ex-Likud dinosaur David Levy).

September 23rd, 2008, 5:53 pm

 

Alex said:

Shai said:

I was just saying to my wife today, how amazing it is that America is actually considering voting in a VP, who could easily become a President (McCain isn’t exactly Michael Phelps), whose first trip outside the United States was only one year ago! That’s how “well-rounded” she is.

Hey … by voting for Sarah they would be voting for continuity!

Actually it is an improvement. Sarah traveled to both Mexico and Canada. .. President Bush only traveled to Mexico at the time he was elected a President.

But he did go to Israel

and China .. . in 1975

September 23rd, 2008, 6:19 pm

 

Shai said:

To Palin, “Foreign Policy” refers to that rare decision making process that has to take place whenever Deer migration from Asia crosses the frozen Bering Sea into Alaska… 😉

September 23rd, 2008, 6:44 pm

 

offended said:

McCain, when asked what national security experience Sarah Palin had, he said that as a governer of Alaska, she’s also the commander in chief of the aforesaid state’s national guards. And Alaska is very close to Russia…. so there…

(real story)

September 23rd, 2008, 7:16 pm

 

AIG said:

Hafez Asad only visited the Soviet Union before taking over Syria and that was for army training purpose. He was the first in his family to finish high school so we can all imagine how educated he was. He loved guns and shooting, people though, rather than animals. He came into power through a coup and let his mentor rot and die in jail. And let’s not talk about the many racist and antisemitic publications he endorsed.

You were saying about Palin?

Yes, I know. You would rather have someone like Hafez be VP of the US. That would be much better, no?

September 23rd, 2008, 9:42 pm

 

SimoHurtta said:

AIG how about the Israeli PMs and other ministers? How educated was for example Ariel Sharon and what was his favourite hobby (besides that Israeli politician favourite hobby = corruption and pocketing collective funds)? Israel has the world record with former terrorists serving as prime ministers. AIG in Israeli politics Palin would probably seen as an educated, rather secular “peace builder”. You have your share of lipstick (publicly or privately 🙂 ) using attack dogs as politicians.

September 23rd, 2008, 10:14 pm

 

Jad said:

For “smart” and “highly educated” people only:
Hafez Asad was Anti Zionist not Anti Semitic…
I guess we always need to repeat the same note over and over till those smart people get smarter…(I doubt that they will get any smarter 🙂 )

September 23rd, 2008, 10:18 pm

 

Alex said:

Hafez also visited other Arab countries like Egypt, was a top pilot, and most importantly .. he was running Syria .. not the Untied States!

If the United States were to be only operating in Canada and Mexico, then I would not complain about Sarah’s ZERO knowledge.

But the United States is a “Super power” … whoever will lead the Untied States will need to understand what happens overseas! … do you think Sarah (before training) knew what is the difference between Alqaeda and Hizbollah?

Hafez did not have to sent his troops thousands of miles away.

I appreciate your comic attempt to compare Sarah Palin to non other than Hafez Assad … but … Hafez was one of the most brilliant strategists on earth…

“Nixon found Assad to have “a great deal of mystique, tremendous stamina, and a lot of charm . . . elements of genius.””

September 23rd, 2008, 10:20 pm

 

Alex said:

Top adviser: McCain would not get in way of Israel-Syria talks
By Reuters
Tags: Iran, Syria, McCain, Israel

Republican presidential nominee John McCain would not get in the way of communication between Israel and Syria, a top adviser said Tuesday.

“A McCain administration’s not going to second guess Israel’s security decisions, whether they’re decisions about who they engage with diplomatically or whether they’re decisions about who to confront militarily,” Randy Scheunemann, McCain’s senior adviser on foreign policy, told Reuters.

September 23rd, 2008, 10:25 pm

 

Qifa Nabki said:

Alex,

I actually don’t think Bashar will give him the green light anytime soon. But you’re probably right. It will be a military target.

September 24th, 2008, 4:55 am

 

Rumyal said:

Alex,

I found your response regarding Maher Arar unsatisfying. The person was exonerated of all charges and compensated by a Canadian inquiry committee. Do you know anything they don’t? If not then accusing him of embellishing his story is just plain cruel.

And I really don’t want to make my question the beginning of a futile accusation contest on which country tortures more. I believe anybody on the face of the earth who engages in torture is damned forever and hopefully will see justice brought upon him.

September 24th, 2008, 5:53 am

 

Alex said:

Rumyal,

I will not defend anyone who tortures.

September 24th, 2008, 8:20 am

 

Off the Wall said:

RUMYAL

Amen to that. And excellent point about the contest of which country tortures more.

September 24th, 2008, 8:30 am

 
 

Off the WALL said:

Shai
Did you notice this comment
“In Syria, one person can negotiate with Israel for decades without being replaced,” said one source. “In Israel, the negotiators are replaced every so often, and none of them can reach any arrangement.”

It raises an interesting point. Do you think that both sides would be better off leaving the initial talks, which are not yet at negotiation level to career diplomats instead of political appointees or to elected officials. Both countries have quite few capable diplomats. This reminds me of divorce cases, the two sides can bicker forever and be on the bridge to no where if it wasn’t for the lawyers who represent their interests, but with cooler heads. May be it is naive.

September 24th, 2008, 3:45 pm

 

Shai said:

OTW,

To be fair, I don’t think the problem is only in Israel. Look at the case of the Lauder meetings with Hafez Assad. I have a copy (can be downloaded on the net) of the draft agreement presented to Hafez on August 29th, 1998, by Netanyahu’s best buddy in the U.S., which talks of a complete withdrawal from the Golan in exchange for peace. From what I understand, Hafez rejected this offer, because he demanded to “wash his feet in Lake Kineret”. With the assumption that there weren’t other pitfalls, this means the peace deal that could have been reached was rejected by Syria, based on a principle issue of border demarcation. Do I think Syria should accept anything border we offer? Of course not. Do I think principles are important? Of course I do. But it cannot be that 10 years and 26 days have passed, because both sides couldn’t come up with a formula that resolved a few meters, or even a few hundred meters. Look at how the United Kingdom and China resolved the issue of Hong Kong, as just one example. I’m sure if there was enough will and motivation on both sides, we could have had peace already for a decade.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting Netanyahu was some peace-dove once, and Hafez was too hawkish. Nor do I think that Syria hasn’t done enough (certainly in the past 4-5 years) to show readiness to end our 60 year-old conflict. But clearly both sides are responsible on some level for where we stand today.

September 24th, 2008, 4:06 pm

 

Off the Wall said:

Shai
I agree with you regarding the fragility of the process. That is why I wanted to make sure that cooler heads, with no political stake in the outcome start the talks and carry them as far as possible. And I fully agree that both sides have wasted many opportunities for reasons serious or not.

Sometimes i get the feeling that it is similar to a proverb we use to describe procrastinators. It has to do with someone saying, the mosque is closed, so why would worry about praying. ( It is very hard for me to translate that one). But the idea is that each side has not yet approached the peace issue with the earnest determination such problem deserves. The current ambiguous situation is paying off politically for both sides. In Syria, it is providing a leverage with discontent Arabs, in Israel, it is making politicians by giving them something to talk about. You have argued before that in that region of the world, Symbolism is extremely important. How I wish it was not.

September 24th, 2008, 4:18 pm

 
 

Alex said:

September 24, 2008 8:03
Syria’s Smuggling Problem
Posted by Andrew Lee Butters | Comments (2) | Permalink | Trackbacks (0) | Email This

In recent days, anti-Syrian politicians in Beirut have been crying wolf about an increase in Syrian soldiers on the border with northern Lebanon. They worry that the buildup is a prelude to Syrian incursions on the pretext of stamping out radical Islamist fighters there, but really aimed at reasserting Syrian hegemony. On the other hand, the Syrians say that the buildup is part of an attempt to clamp down on smuggling, and there is reason to believe them.

The double whammy of rising global energy prices and Syria’s social subsidies on diesel and gasoline, has created a big black market in oil smuggling that is one of Syria’s biggest financial problems. Until recently, the price of diesel fuel oil, the most commonly used petrol product there, was up to six times higher in neighboring Lebanon than in Syria. (Since Syria increased diesel prices this year, the figure is three or four times higher in Lebanon.) The Syrian government estimated that the 1.5 billion liters of diesel smuggled out of the country last year cost $1.2 billion USD, and accounted for 15 percent of all Syrian consumption.

Lebanese farmers with land in Syria come over the mountains in specially built 4×4’s or vans with extra tanks that can hold an additional 300 liters. Lebanese and Syrian smugglers also use mules, which can carry 100 liters each. A mule train can cross the mountain paths at night without any guides, since they know the routes by memory. “With two mules, you don’t need to work for a living,” said one Syrian gas station owner who lives in the mountains near Lebanon where smuggling is one of the main local industries. Even if the mules are caught, they can’t sing to the police. “The mules have no passports. What are the police going to do arrest them?”

Actually, police snipers have begun shooting mules, and burning their carcasses with the black market diesel the animals carry. The Syrian government has also begun to crack down on diesel smugglers, and in mid-August, it increased jail sentences from 6 years to 12 years and declared that diesel smugglers would be treated like drug smugglers.

Energy costs are an existential issue for the Assad regime. Oil production once accounted for 90 percent of government revenue, but the country’s aging oilfields have been in steep decline to the extent that Syria is now a net importer of oil. So Syria ran a budget deficit of almost 2 percent of GDP last year, and the government predicts a 10 percent defict this year. When a country with a controversial reputation starts running a budget deficit this is a big problem — there aren’t a whole lot of international investors who want to buy Syrian debt.

The difficulty with cracking down on illegal activity like oil smuggling is that some elements within the government are almost certainly profiting from it. Which is one reason why the Assad regime declared that fighting corruption is one of its biggest priorities, and perhaps why some of the soldiers recently sent to the border may have been elite troops. Those movements suggest that the Assad regime isn’t reading the attack, but circling the wagons.

–Andrew Lee Butters in Beirut, with reporting by Obaida Hamad in Damascus

September 24th, 2008, 7:17 pm

 

Zenobia said:

LOL. Mickey Mouse must be killed in all circumstances. so, i wonder how many times we have to kill him?

and Tom and Jerry… wow, really it’s the decline of civilization…

September 24th, 2008, 11:30 pm

 

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