Why are US Analysts Surprised that Syria Arms Hizbullah?

US analysts are constantly astonished that Syria does not cut off Hizbullah in order to reward Washington and Israel. What do they think that Obama will do for Syria, I wonder? Most seem to believe that the US should be able to buy the Golan from Syria for an extra point in GDP growth. US sanctions and enmity are the price Syria pays for continuing its resistance to Israeli occupation of its land.

The Obama administration is returning an ambassador to Damascus and reengaging with Syria, but it is doing this to advance US interests. Neocons try to make out that the return of an ambassador is a favor to Syria, when in actuality it is driven by US interests. Washington wants to be able to gain intelligence and have some small influence on Syria, which returning an ambassador will provide it. Syria is clearly gratified to have relations return to what they were before President Bush decided to invade Iraq with thoughts of regime change in Syria, but relations between the two countries will not be normal or good. The US has made it clear that relations will remain bad so long as Syria resists the occupation of its land.  Returning an ambassador will only restore the bad relations that existed previous to the Bush administration, when relations became horrid. The US insists on punishing Syria as a supporter of terrorism.

Washington has been very clear about its insistence on maintaining economy sanctions on Syria. It is not pressuring Israel to give back the Golan Heights — at least it has made no statement about the illegality of Israel’s occupation or the right of the 300,000 Golanis, whose parents or who were themselves expelled from the Heights in 1967 in complete disregard for international law. Yes, Obama talks about re-starting the peace process, but he doesn’t seem very serious about it. Mitchell is given the run around by Netanyahu, who has Obama by his congressional short hairs. Obama seems more intent on claiming that it wants a peace process than actually getting one started.

In the long run, Syria concludes that its only reliable strategy for getting the Golan back and bringing Israel into fruitful negotiations is by evening up the balance of power. This, of course, will not be done in a few years or even a decade. But the US will not remain the only world superpower for ever. Syria is counting on the strategic environment changing markedly in the future. Who knows, Israel may conclude that it will trade the Golan for peace before the decade is out – if so, Syria wants to be in a position to be able to offer Israel something in return. To do that, Syria must keep Hizbullah strong and must keep hope for resistance alive – not only in the hearts of Palestinians, but also in the hearts of the broader Arab and Islamic World, the two sources of assistance and ideological backing Syria can count on. The governments of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have made peace with Israel, but their people have not. They are horrified by what they see on TV and feel a deep sense of injustice and humiliation for the powerlessness they must endure in not being able to right the wrongs they believe that Israel and the US do to the Palestinians. President Obama and the US military establishment recognize the strategic necessity for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Lebanese and Syrians. They recognize that it is costing the US money and lives, but the political price for changing that reality is too costly.

The real way to encourage peace is by allowing the balance of power between Israel and its Arab neighbors to come into equilibrium. This is the first principle of realism. American analysts swear by this principle in every corner of the globe but the Middle East. When it comes to Israelis and Arabs, Washington somehow has convinced itself that only by skewing the balance of power in Israel’s favor, will peace materialize. Somehow the Jews are different from the rest of humanity. They operate by special laws of international relations that are explainable by some holocaust psychosis. Because Israelis have suffered more than others, the logic goes, they will only feel secure enough to make peace when they can completely dominate their neighbors and are an unassailable powerhouse. There must be no “light separating Israel and Washington.” This  argument is hokum through and through. It was invented and maintained by people who are happy with the status quo and happy to see Israel keep the Golan and Palestinian land. It has resulted in constant failure to negotiate peace. Why wouldn’t it. Israel does not need to return land or cut a deal. It pays no price for its expansionism.

It doesn’t really matter whether one approves or disproves of this state of affairs — it is the present reality. The US does not offer Syria a chance of getting back the Golan. It does promise to lift economic sanctions if Syria ceases to resist Israel and acquiesces to the permanent annexation of the Golan by Israel. Syria has made it very clear that it will not negotiate away the Golan. That leaves the region in constant upheaval. It is the source of deepening hatred on all sides.

New Round Up follows

The Mitchell visit to Israel Via FLC

“… Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell wrapped up a three day trip to Israel and the Palestinian Authority ……invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to meet President Barack Obama in Washington next month,….. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is flying back with Mitchell to Washington, Ynet reported. Mitchell is expected to return to the region on Friday….”

Haaretz: Israel must topple Assad in next conflict with Syria proxies

Share | Israel must topple Assad in next conflict with Syria proxies By Oded Tira Tags: Hezbollah, Syria, Israel news Syria, according to recent reports, is supplying Hezbollah with Scuds and other missiles that possess a range covering all of ..

Miss Me Yet? The Freedom Agenda After George W. Bush
Wall Street Journal: 2010-04-23

Dallas No one seems to know precisely who is behind the “Miss Me Yet?” billboard—the cheeky one featuring a grinning George W. Bush that looks out over I-35 near Wyoming, Minn. But Syrian dissident Ahed Al-Hendi sympathizes with the thought. In …

Egypt Dismisses Israel’s Scud Warning

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit dismissed as “laughable” on Saturday US and Israeli fears that Syria has been supplying Lebanese militant group Hezbollah with Scud missiles. “These allegations are lies and are laughable,” Abul Gheit told reporters in Beirut as he began an official visit. “Egypt stands by Lebanon under all conditions and in the face of all threats,” he added….

Josh Rogin – FP Cable

When U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Michele Sison met with Lebanese officials on Wednesday, she had a mission: She was there to urge Lebanon to help avoid a new outbreak of violence between Israel and the Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

Sison, an affable and well-liked career Foreign Service officer, was given the difficult task of both urging the Lebanese to do what they can to avoid an eruption of war and convincing them that U.S. and Israeli concerns about alleged Syrian arms transfers over the Lebanese border should be taken seriously.

Arab press reports cited anonymous sources as saying Sison showed Lebanese Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri photos of truck convoys, evidence of increasing and escalation weapons shipments to Hezbollah. More shockingly, the reports said that she told Lebanese officials the United States had stopped Israel from launching an imminent strike against the convoys. Neither of those details is true, according to multiple administration sources.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told The Cable that the idea American waived Israel off of a strike on Syrian weapons transfers is “totally false,” but declined to describe the specifics of the meeting. Another U.S. official described the Arab press reports as “bullshit.”

Two administration officials close to the issue, however, said that the meeting did in fact take place, but no photos were shown and the United States did not halt an imminent Israeli strike.

“The Israelis weren’t ready to shoot anything. There was never a point where they said, ‘We are going to strike something,'” the official said, adding that at some point Israeli action could of course be a possibility — albeit a disastrous one.

Regardless, the controversy surrounding Sison’s meeting reflects the extremely high tensions in the region following reports of new Syrian weapons transfers, including possibly SCUD missiles, to Hezbollah — tensions the Obama administration is trying to tamp down.

Sison’s message was the same message the U.S. is sending to all the parties, which is, “A war now is not in anyone’s interest,” the official said.

The administration is still not clear that any SCUDs have been transferred, but there is an acknowledgement that Syrian weapons transfers are increasing in both quantity and quality.

“It’s a deterrence game and each side is building up its deterrence capability,” this official said, adding that as both the Israelis and Hezbollah prepare for war, the seriousness of any actual outbreak of fighting is keeping both sides from initiating battle — for now.

“In a way, the deterrence is working,” the source added, noting that the downside risk of the arms buildup is that any miscalculation that begins an open conflict would precipitate a large-scale war that whose consequences would be impossible to predict.

According to this official, who stressed that they were only conveying their personal analysis, not the overall administration position, Hezbollah is still seeking revenge for the 2008 Israeli assassination of its military leader Imad Mughniyeh, and sees some spectacular attack on Israel as a way to achieve that.

But Hezbollah, now accountable to the Lebanese people due to its role in the government, doesn’t want to be seen as firing the first shot that could lead to devastating retaliation from Israel. So the group is trying to goad the Israelis into starting the conflict, the official believes.

The Israelis are aware they are being goaded, the official said, and are doing their best to resist while warning Washington that at some point violence might be unavoidable. “The Israelis know that once they strike, that’s all the excuse that Hezbollah needs to wage a full-scale war,” the official explained.

As for why Syria seems to be playing such an unhelpful role, “that’s the million-dollar question,” the official said. The Obama administration genuinely does not understand Syrian intentions and there are three basic theories within the administration as to why Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would continue to escalate arms shipments to Hezbollah despite U.S. warnings.

According to one school of thought, this is Assad’s way of playing hardball with the Israelis in advance of Israeli-Syrian negotiations. No one wants to negotiate from a weak position, so he is amassing chits that he can bargain away later.

An opposing theory is that Assad has no interest in engaging with the Americans or negotiating with Israel at all. This line of thinking concludes that he is simply paving the way for eventual conflict with Israel.

The third, more nuanced analysis portrays Assad as a man in a bind. He has himself so tied up with Iran and Hezbollah that perhaps he can’t disengage as easily as those in the West think he can. Also, Assad has always been a gambler and may have simply become entangled in his own web of deals with so many competing interests.

“We do not understand Syrian intentions. No one does, and until we get to that question we can never get to the root of the problem,” the official said. “Until then it’s all damage control.”

Meanwhile, the administration is trying to explain to the Syrians how foolish the weapons transfers are, if they are really happening, while telling the Israelis to be patient and arguing that the only beneficiary of a new Israeli-Hezbollah war would be Iran, which would seize upon a new conflict to deflect international pressure over its nuclear program.

And what about Hariri, who said the SCUD allegations were “reminiscent of the weapons of mass destruction allegations against Saddam Hussein” and “a pretext for threatening my country”?

“Hariri is terrified that another war is going to break his country apart and if that means denying the weapons transfers or whatever, he’s going to do it,” our official speculated. “He’s desperately trying to save his country from utter decimation.”

Saudi Arabia sets up nuclear energy science center
Top oil exporter witnesses sustained growth in demand for power
April 19, 2010, Daily Star

KHOBAR, Saudi Arabia: Top oil exporter Saudi Arabia said it would set up a scientific center for civilian nuclear and renewable energy to meet rising demand for power and desalinated water, state news agency SPA said on Saturday.

Fast growing power demand is forcing Saudi Arabia to look at all sources of energy, the kingdom’s deputy minister of electricity, Saleh Alawaji said last month.

Ackerman rips critics of Obama on engagement: “Shameless nonsense!”

Calling the last administration’s record in the Middle East a “spectacular disaster,” Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Middle East subcommittee, came out guns blazing today to ridicule hawks who criticize the Obama administration’s efforts to engage Syria as appeasement.
“And from the policymakers and supporters of the previous Administration, who in decency ought to have slunk off in shamed silence for having watched fecklessly as this disaster—like Iran’s steady march toward nuclear weapons-capability—unfolded under their watch, what do they have to say today?” Ackerman charged at the subcommittee’s hearing on U.S. policy to Syria today at which Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman testified:
“Appeasement! Appeasement!” they cry, attempting to evoke the days leading to World War II.

This charge is grotesque. Apart from the indecency of comparison with the unique horror and evil of Nazi Germany, the cheap demagoguery of the word utterly fails to capture what the Obama Administration is actually doing. Where, one might ask, is the long list of concessions from America to Syria? Where is the surrender and sell-out of allies? Where is the retreat in the face of challenge? A few airplane parts? A few inconclusive meetings?

The string of defeats and failures that brought us to the current impasse occurred, let us not forget, during the previous Administration. The seeming limits of American power were brutally exposed well before Barack Obama was even elected to his high office.

Appeasement? Shameless nonsense. And more empty words.

It is true that the Obama Administration is pursuing a different policy than the spectacular failure of its predecessor. But that’s just good sense. Everywhere but Washington, not repeating mistakes is considered a good, or even a very good thing.

But Ackerman does have one criticism of the Obama administration: it doesn’t explain itself very well. “Nothing explains itself,” Ackerman said. “Nothing sells itself.”

If you want people to understand that our policy with Syria is not predicated on compelling major changes in Syrian behavior in the short-term, that has to be explained.

If you want people to understand that our policy of sanctions and political pressure will be sustained until there are changes in Syrian behavior, that has to be explained. If you want people to understand that dispatching an American ambassador to Syria is a tool to send and receive messages and to gather political intelligence for our own use, that has to be explained. If you want people to understand that trying diplomacy with Syria is not a betrayal of either our values or our friends, that has to be explained.

That is why we are here today. To make things clear. ….

Israel Rebuffs U.S. on Building By: Jay Solomon and Charles Levinson | The Wall Street Journal

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conveyed to the White House this weekend his rejection of a U.S. call for a total Israeli construction freeze in East Jerusalem, calling into question the path toward Middle East peace.

Commentary: Blindness to the Real Syrian Problem

Cliff May wonders whether Dianne Feinstein is dumb or just pretending to be. Feinstein on the shipment of missiles to Hezbollah and the potential for war, pronounces: “There’s only one thing that’s going to solve it, and that’s a two-state …

Israel Billionaire Tshuva Strikes Gas, Fueling Energy Expansion
2010-04-21 Business Week
By David Wainer and Calev Ben-David

(Bloomberg) — Isaac Tshuva uses sugar packets on a table in the lounge of his Leonardo City Tower Hotel in Tel Aviv to mark the spots of three natural-gas fields off Israel that he said will fuel global growth of his energy business. The Israeli billionaire, owner of New York’s Plaza Hotel, said his Delek Group Ltd. and partners including Houston-based Noble Energy Inc. are now homing in on more deposits after last year announcing a record find in waters off Haifa, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports in its April 26 edition.

“The amounts we’ve found are going to provide much of Israel’s energy needs for the next two decades,” said Tshuva, 61, who grew up in a one-bedroom apartment in Netanya with 10 family members after immigrating from Libya in 1948. Source close to leadership in Damascus responds to Israeli threats, tells Kuwait newspaper Syria continuously upgrading military capabilities….

Hezbollah: We possess arms that can hit deep in Israel.
By Roee Nahmias in Yediot Aharonot

Syria has threatened to “send Israel back to the era of prehistoric man” if the Jewish state attacks it with unconventional weapons.

A source close to decision-makers in Damascus was quoted by Kuwaiti newspaper al-Rai on Saturday as saying that “If Israel uses unconventional weapons, we’ll respond in a similar fashion.”

Earlier this week, an Israeli minister told the Sunday Times that Syria would be “sent back to the Stone Age” if Hezbollah launches ballistic missiles.

The Syrian official said Damascus has upgraded its military capabilities and has prepared for a number of possible scenarios in case a war against Israel breaks out.

“Despite the fact that Syria has been outside the cycle of war since 1973, it did not sit idly by for even one day and is still working to develop its capabilities via missiles,” he was quoted by the Kuwait paper as saying.

The official said Syria has drawn lessons from Hezbollah’s “success” during the Second Lebanon War and has since then developed “advanced methods of warfare.”

‘War could break out tomorrow’

The Syrian source said Damascus’ wartime strategy is based in part on the possibility of opening a broad front against Israel – from Rosh Hanikra to the Golan Heights.

In addition, said the official, Syria is capable of launching 60 ballistic missiles deep into Israeli territory if the Jewish state will “dare to try and undermine Damascus’ sovereignty.”

“Syria can also launch 600 short-range tactical missiles into Israel in one day,” he said, while detailing plans to attack Israel’s coastline if a war breaks out.

In this framework, he said, Syrian forces would employ sea-to-surface missiles against Israeli civilian and military targets, including ports.

The official did not address claims that Syria was transferring Scud missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Hezbollah political bureau member Ghaleb Abu Zainab said during an interview with NBN television on Friday that his group does not need Scud missiles to defend Lebanon.

“The resistance possesses arms that can reach deep into Israel,” Abu Zainab said, adding that Hezbollah is completely ready to confront the Jewish state.

Kais Salman

According to Abu Zainab, Washington and Jerusalem are using their accusations of the Scud transfer to attempt to divert attention away from Israel’s “violations” in the Palestinian territories.

Syrian art market rides wave of reform
Improvements in the Syrian economy inspire an art market renaissance.

Contemporary art from Syria finds favor with international buyers

As Syria becomes more integrated into the international market, the country’s arts scene is also changing. With the help of galleries and auction houses, more Syrian artists are selling their work to foreign buyers.

By Mark Archer in Financial Times: April 24 2010

….It was difficult to take leave of Damascus, a city in which the historic mingling of different peoples and civilisations seems to have left it remarkably hospitable. One of the best evocations of its appeal comes from Mark Twain, who invoked his visit in The Innocents Abroad: “She measures time not by days and months and years but by the empires she has seen rise and crumble to ruin … Damascus has seen all that ever occurred on earth and still she lives. She has looked upon the dry bones of a thousand empires, and will see the tombs of a thousand more before she dies.”

There is change afoot in Syria under its reformist president Bashar al-Assad and his telegenic wife, who was formerly a hedge fund manager in London. The economy is being overhauled and there are plans to expand its tourist industry. But it’s reassuring to think that the special charm of Damascus should remain unaltered by even the best-intentioned reforms.

11 heritage hotels open in Damascus Old City

Saadallah Agha al-Qalaa, the Syrian tourism minister, has said that the tourists’ number has increased 71 percent in comparison with the year 2009, pointing out that Syria will witness important tourist investment project in the year, earlier reports said.

Al-Qalaa said that these projects give a chance for millions of tourists to get acquainted with Damascus’ heritage.

In a statement released on April 15, the Syrian tourism minister said that Syria occupies the third position in the world tourism growth due to canceling visas with some countries such as Turkey and Iran and enhancing relationships with Arab and foreign countries.

Comments (21)

Hassan said:

I want to make sure you guys don’t miss Lee Smith’s latest piece of analysis on US-Syrian relations.

Shadow Play
Syria may be getting a new U.S. ambassador, but the problem of Syrian engagement is far from solved
BY LEE SMITH | 7:00 am Apr 21, 2010

Robert Ford at a hearing on his nomination to be ambassador to Syria last month.

CREDIT: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Ambassador Robert Ford is a career foreign-service officer with a distinguished record who now finds himself under a strange spotlight, one that illuminates one of Washington’s most heated debates: What direction should U.S. policy on Syria take? Some argue that the United States should continue to isolate a regime that has declared itself our enemy, as we did during the Bush years; others contend that we should turn the page and engage Damascus. Ford is the man the White House has tapped as the next U.S. ambassador to Damascus, five years after the last one was withdrawn following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Hariri’s murder touched off the Cedar Revolution that seemed, for a time, as if it might herald the rebirth of a democratic Lebanon, free from the control of the Assad regime in Syria, which saw Lebanon as part of its historical inheritance. The prospect of an independent Lebanon was even less appealing to the Syrians than was the prospect of a democratic neighbor in Iraq, where Damascus also employed terrorism as part of its strategy to roll back the United States and its partners in the Middle East. Syria’s war targeted not only American allies in Lebanon, Iraq, and Israel, but also U.S. diplomats and military personnel. Since 2003, Syria has served as the main transit route that foreign fighters use to enter Iraq, and it has provided financial, logistical, and operational support to a wide range of insurgent forces aiming to kill American soldiers.

Accordingly, Damascus has few friends in Washington. But it nonetheless occupies a unique position in U.S. policymaking circles: Syria kills Americans and our allies, but its strategic significance pales in comparison to China, Russia, and Iran, which makes it a second- or even third-tier issue. And even as Syria policy fosters loud debate, surprisingly, that debate doesn’t break over strictly partisan lines; the split is reflected throughout Washington, even in the U.S. military, and within the Obama Administration.

The foremost proponent of reaching out to Syria is the commander-in-chief, and yet more than a year after taking office, President Barack Obama has been unable to make good on his campaign promise of engaging this adversary. The first step is to return an ambassador to Damascus, a White House campaign spearheaded, oddly, by Sen. John Kerry, who has effectively become Damascus’s voice in official Washington and the most prominent U.S. official with a soft spot for a regime that much of Washington loves to hate.

This past week was a bad one for those eager to reach out to Syria. It was reported that Damascus is believed to have transferred to Hezbollah Scud missiles that would be able to reach any part of Israel. “The threat that Syria might transfer more advanced weapons to Hezbollah has existed for a long time,” says Elliott Abrams, who oversaw Middle East affairs in the George W. Bush White House and is now a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “With respect to Scuds, it has been understood the Israelis would interdict such a shipment. I do not recall the Bush Administration ever expressing disagreement with that view.”

The Obama Administration seems to feel differently. Initial reports explained that the White House convinced the Israelis not to attack the arms shipment and promised that Kerry would deliver a strong message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during his visit to Damascus early this month. U.S. officials confirmed Kerry did indeed convey the Americans’ displeasure even as more recent reports suggest that the Obama Administration now believes that the actual transfer may not have occurred.

“If it didn’t happen now it will happen in the future,” says Dov Weisglass, at one time a close adviser to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, speaking by phone over the weekend from Israel. “The concern is about long-range missiles, which would put two halves of Israel under threat by Iranian assets. Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south. You don’t have to be a strategist to understand that if Iran will be pressured, or there will be an operation against Iran by any party, the entire length of Israel will be in range of missiles fired by Iran’s allies.”

There are others in Israel, however, who don’t think it’s that large a cause for concern. “It’s not that dramatic,” Giora Eiland, Israel’s former national security adviser, told me last week. “It means that for the first time Hezbollah has ballistic missiles, but this is not a game-changer. Due to Israeli air superiority, their launchers would be a relatively easy target. We are much more concerned about the thousands of other rockets in Lebanon that despite their limited size and effective range can cause much more significant damage.” Even Weisglass is quick to admit that Israel has more pressing concerns than the Scud story, noting that the story didn’t even make the local front pages, which are occupied with a corruption case against former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Despite the claims of some American analysts that Israel is using the Scud scare to change the subject and divert attention from the stalled peace process, the Syrian Scud story has had more traction in the United States than in Israel. The story is less about Israeli security than it is a chapter in the ongoing Washington feud over Syria policy, an intra-American conflict that touches on larger issues like terrorism and the direction of U.S. foreign policy.

Even those who want to engage the Syrian regime do not necessarily believe that Damascus is a likely friend. While it is no secret in Washington that CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus wants to speak with the Syrians himself, his reasons for wanting to go to Damascus have never been clear. Does Petraeus think he can make the Syrian regime see the light, or does he just want to stare down the men he and his successor in Iraq, General Raymond Odierno, accuse of backing the foreign fighters that kill U.S. soldiers?

Many of those who are most contemptuous of the Syrian regime are to be found in the State Department, which in the past has been an Arabist stronghold where Damascus has held pride of place. That is no longer the case, at least in part due to the history that the Arabists’ boss, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, has with the Assad regime. Three years ago, when Feltman was serving as the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, Syria tried to assassinate him in Beirut. Today, the State Department barely conceals the fact that one of their reasons for wanting to send an ambassador back to Damascus is to allow U.S. diplomats to circumvent the untrustworthy and obnoxious Syrian envoy to Washington, Imad Moustapha.

One of the best known, and least liked, diplomatic presences inside the Beltway, Moustapha was heard around town boasting that Syria had the new president in its pocket before Obama even came to office. So, when Feltman invited Moustapha to Foggy Bottom for the 2009 meeting that was meant to signal a new beginning between the two countries, State Department staffers enjoyed humbling Moustapha: Among other things, the Syrian ambassador was unceremoniously yanked off a red carpet that he assumed had been rolled out for his arrival. The State Department believes that Moustapha can’t even be trusted to relay simple messages back to Damascus, and indeed it was Middle East envoy George Mitchell who had to explain U.S. sanctions to the Syrians when Mustapha had failed to perform his job.

That brings us to what is perhaps the most salient point of the Scud story—that the political official representing Washington’s views to Damascus is Kerry. Some of those in favor of engaging Syria—a group that might include Kerry himself—would argue that having a senator rather than a diplomat running interference proves that the U.S. needs an ambassador in Damascus who can deliver tough messages to a recalcitrant regime. However, it is not clear that the White House really wants to send tough messages or it would not be using Kerry, as it is an open secret around town that the Massachusetts senator and his wife, Teresa, are enamored of Bashar al-Assad and his stylish first lady, Asma.

One American official who is less smitten with the Assad regime is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who, like others in Foggy Bottom, has a history with the Syrians. Her sentiment is at least partly due to her husband having sent his secretaries of state, Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright, to Damascus almost 50 times during the 1990s in a series of unsuccessful attempts to broker a deal between Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez, and successive Israeli prime ministers. Maybe Clinton is not handling Syria policy because she does not want a Syrian president keeping her waiting on the tarmac at Damascus Airport for hours, as Hafez al-Assad did to Christopher, or perhaps it is because Obama trusts Kerry more. In any case, the fact that Kerry is on point and Clinton has been silent on the Scud story is a sign of how high up the split over Syria policy goes.

While the senators holding up the appointment of the ambassador are all Republican, the Syria argument crosses partisan lines, with prominent Democrats like Eliot Engel, Gary Ackerman, and Sen. Barbara Boxer having expressed their misgivings about the aadministration’s stated policy of engaging Damascus. Washington officials’ feelings about Syria are not determined by their affection for Israel. Indeed, this is one place where America’s pro-Israel camp and Israeli opinion appear to part company. Surprising as it may seem, many Israeli political, military, and intelligence officials are somewhat kindly predisposed toward Syria.

From the Israeli perspective, Syria’s is a weak regime that can make neither war nor peace. Assad is an Alawite, a minority Muslim sect that would incur the wrath of the country’s majority Sunni population if he dared sign a treaty with the Zionists. This suits Jerusalem just fine, as it has no desire to return the Golan Heights to Syria. While Damascus is allied with Iran and supports proxies that wage war against Israel, a more significant fact for many Israeli strategists is that the Assads, father and son, have kept the Syrian-Israeli border the most peaceful in all the Middle East for more than 35 years. Jerusalem is loath to change the equation by risking an attack on Syria that, in some Israeli scenarios, may topple Assad and bring to power a militant Islamist regime.

It’s true that in the wake of the Scud story, the Israelis warned Damascus that missile attacks from Hezbollah would precipitate immediate retaliation against Syria itself. But it’s unclear how seriously anyone takes that threat. After all, a few months ago when Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman engaged in a constructive bit of deterrence and warned Assad that, “when there is another war, you will not just lose it, but you and your family will lose power,” he was quickly hushed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

In the event of a Hezbollah attack, all that is certain is that Israel will level Lebanon. “People believe there is a confrontation in Lebanon between the bad guys, Hezbollah, and the good guys, the government of Lebanon,” Giora Eiland says. “But the only real strategic decisions are made by Hezbollah. So, if there is real violence from Lebanon, Israel policy will be very different than it was during the 2006 war. We will hold the government of Lebanon responsible, and the immediate consequence will be the total destruction of Lebanon.”

That prospect, which is abundantly clear in Washington, is one reason for the split on Syria policy. Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution won a lot of sympathy on both sides of the aisle. We may have abandoned Lebanese democracy, but that doesn’t mean that the sentimental attachment to the country and its citizens in the pro-democracy March 14 movement is entirely dead. Lebanon’s American friends do not want to see the land of cedars turned to rubble on behalf of a joint Syrian and Iranian project.

The argument over how to engage Syria encompasses, then, both sentimental and strategic logic. It’s a debate in which emotions run surprisingly high for a country that has nothing like the significance of China, Russia, or Iran, because finally the argument is little more than a shadow play. Washington doesn’t like the fact that Syria kills Americans and our friends, but since we are not willing to stop them by killing those Syrians responsible, there is little that we can do about it. So, we argue with ourselves about sending an ambassador to Damascus.

The reality is rather more consequential than the phony argument over Syria policy would suggest. The issue is finally about terrorism, which is not the work of shadowy networks hiding in caves and rogue operators whose grievances about the end of the Ottoman caliphate and the plight of the Palestinians can be soothed by an American public diplomacy campaign. This is a fiction, and the truth could not be any clearer. As Syrian support for Hezbollah, Hamas, Al Qaeda in Iraq, and a host of other organizations shows, Islamic terrorism is how Middle Eastern regimes fight for their strategic interests. If we let Syria off the hook for its proven acts of terror against U.S. military and diplomatic personnel, as well as U.S. allies in Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq, we have all but announced that in the event of future attacks on the U.S. homeland we will never retaliate against the states without which so-called stateless terrorist organizations cannot exist. We will have effectively disabled any deterrence we have against our adversaries and make our cities vulnerable to anyone who can lie his way past the Transportation Security Administration.

Obama’s public diplomacy is premised on the notion of reaching out to the Muslim masses and encouraging moderate streams of Islam, a strategy that is incongruous with a diplomacy that also reaches out to Muslim states that not only breed and support extremism but also arm it to kill Americans.

April 25th, 2010, 6:56 pm


norman said:

We Arabs are naive to think that the US can force Israel into giving back the Golan or giving the Palestinians their rights , the only people can do that are the Arabs if they are willing to fight for their rights , if they are not then they might as will forget their rights , nobody is giving anything back to them and nobody is willing to fight for them if they are not willing to fight for themselves , The Arab has been waiting for the right president or the right second term for the last 43 years ,

It is time for a change of plan , surrender or appeasement to Israel and the US did not work ,

Rights are taken not given or begged for ! ,

April 25th, 2010, 7:12 pm


Akbar Palace said:

John Bolton’s opinion.

Just another American Christian more pro-Israel than AIPAC…


April 26th, 2010, 2:32 am


opit said:

And what has Syria gained ? The country that occupies neighbours on various pretexts of innate virtue is not about to stop its nonsense about the victim of aggression being the one at fault of violence. This constitutes U.S. ‘diplomacy’ : standard misrepresentations presented as other than delusions and mindwashing. Maybe I should say countries that occupy, as US or UK is a matter of Tweedledum or Tweedledee.

April 26th, 2010, 3:31 am


Alex said:

Thank you Joshua for writing this post the way it needed to be written … bluntly.

The hypocrisy in Washington’s Mideast policies has many layers … lies get repeated enough times before they become part of the foundation of American policy and in that sense, no one can mess up with that foundation.

Things like seeing Syria as a supporter of terror which was first shaped into a solid foundation in the late 70’s when Syria successfully isolated Sadat’s Egypt after Sadat’s separate peace treaty with Israel.
Why is Syria a supporter of terror? .. for many reasons. One of them is that it “harbors terrorists”. Like Hamas’ Khaled Mashaal.

Before moving to Damascus, Mashaal used to live and operate as part of the Hamas political bureau from Amman Jordan! … no one labeled Jordan a supporter of terror though.

Washington is corrupted … almost a hopeless case.

The only “hope” is that Israel is decaying … financial and military achievements will not save that country which has no moral foundation anymore. Israel will decay relatively fast.


Israel’s top philosopher: “lift the siege”

April 26th, 2010, 5:32 am


jad said:

Dear Alex,
“Washington is corrupted … almost a hopeless case.”
Here you go a ‘great’ news…Obama was busy preparing for this important summit that will bring peace to the region, for him and his administration, this is defiantly more important than stealing lands, illegal settlement, treating Palestinians like animal or the Israeli Occupation, THIS IS THE SOLUTION……A freaking summit!

Obama Fulfills Cairo Pledge With Entrepreneur Summit

(Obama hosts a two-day Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship that will bring together about 250 successful business and social entrepreneurs from more than 50 countries, most with large Muslim populations, fulfilling a pledge he made in his Cairo speech to the Islamic world last June.
The president will address the summit at the end of the first day to underscore his commitment to “deepening our engagement around the world with Muslim-majority communities,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said.)


April 26th, 2010, 7:06 am


Badr said:

Yes, raising the standard of living for the people in the Middle East will go a long way toward reducing political tensions.

April 26th, 2010, 8:22 am


Akbar Palace said:

Hatikva Hasheyni

The only “hope” is that Israel is decaying …


I’m not sure how much time you’ve spent in Israel, but what if Israel ISN’T decaying? What then?

…financial and military achievements will not save that country which has no moral foundation anymore.

When DID Israel have a “moral foundation”? Please clarify.

Israel will decay relatively fast.

Please define “decay”? How “fast” exactly? What makes you think Israel will “decay” any faster than any of the neighboring states?

Anyway, it is nice to know that Syria Comment’s main editor is “hoping” for the destruction of Israel. It fits entirely with the purpose of this blog.

April 26th, 2010, 11:31 am


Shai said:


Excellent piece, as usual. Indeed as Alex mentioned, the simplicity of the message is what’s important, and it is high time officials in Washington (and I believe in Jerusalem) understood Syria’s strategic outlook and why it does what it does.

With friends and colleagues, I always like to flip the question around, and ask “Give me one reason why Syria SHOULDN’T develop a nuclear program in secrecy, arm Hezbollah to the teeth, ally itself with Iran and Turkey, support Hamas, etc.”

We like to bury our heads in sand, and every now and then pop out and find reality rather shocking and disturbing. We can’t fathom the notion that we might have something to do with it.

April 26th, 2010, 11:44 am


Shai said:


I don’t think Alex wishes for the destruction of Israel. But you know what, let’s assume for a second he does.

Here’s an imaginary scenario: Tomorrow morning Syria achieves nuclear capability and has, let’s say, 20 bombs. It makes this very clear to Israel, and then goes on a military “operation” to retrieve the Golan. For whatever reason, it succeeds in getting its troops not only on the Heights, but even a few kilometers into Israel proper. Into the Upper Galilee, and now occupies a stretch of land 10-15 kilometers deep, and many kilometers long. Fearing Syria’s newly-acquired capabilities, Israel decides it cannot risk total war, and temporarily gives up this territory. Its residents are allowed to escape into Israel.

Forty years later… Syria still holds on to this territory. All attempts by Israel to peacefully, or otherwise, retrieve this territory fail. We support every anti-Syria group possible, but Syria won’t budge.

Can you, Akbar, honestly say you’d be surprised if Amir_in_Tel_Aviv would hope for Syria’s destruction? Wouldn’t you? Or I?

We must be able to put ourselves in our enemy’s skin, and to look at us through his eyes, to understand the thoughts that lie behind his decisions and his actions. If we cannot do that, we will clash like blind moles.

April 26th, 2010, 11:56 am


Alex said:

Thanks Shai,

Akbar knows I did not call for the destruction of Israel. But he has his AIPAC/Camera.org/Likud online robot role to fulfill on Syria Comment. You know that the formula they program their robots with says: if anyone says anything negative about Israel, try to follow by distorting what he/she said in a way that makes it sound like he/she is another Hitler/Ahmadinejad who hates the Jews.

And of course Akbar the robot made sure he mentioned “It fits entirely with the purpose of this blog” .. so the PURPOSE of this blog is the destruction of Israel! .. how did you miss that part Shai?

Akbar Habibi… part of Israel’s decay is people like you … no matter what Likud/CAMERA.ORG feeds you, you eat it… and they have been increasingly feeding you dirt because they have no moral values.

Let me help you understand what I wrote by quoting a Jew (that you can not accuse of WANTING the destruction of Israel) … he is “Israel’s top philosopher” Avishai Margalit. In the article I linked he said “I think for Israel it’s the defeat of Zionism in a grand way, and the only way is basically the small Israel”


I was simply repeating what he said Akbar.

April 26th, 2010, 1:56 pm


idaf said:

Excellent post Joshua.. if only people in DC stop trying to “fix” the symptoms and actually try for once to cure the illness (the occupation), and maybe the symptoms will just disappear!

On economy, few fresh headlines from Syria report:

IMF Revises Upward Estimates for Syria’s GDP Growth
The International Monetary Fund has revised upward its estimate and projections for Syria’s Gross Domestic Product growth.

Economy: Syria Concludes Settlement of All Soviet-era debt
Bulgaria has written off three quarters of the debt it was owed by Syria and has accepted to reschedule the remaining amount.

Agriculture: Wheat Crop to Rise Again on the Back of Good Rain Levels
Syria’s production of wheat is expected to increase by some 10-15 percent during the 2010/11 crop as rainfalls during February were good, a report from the US Department of Agriculture said. Read

April 26th, 2010, 2:36 pm


Alex said:

IDAF, you will break Andrew Tabler’s heart with the news you linked to.

Last year he wrote Policy watch 1482 for WINEP:

” … a record three-year drought has devastated the Syrian agricultural sector” … “As the fiscal crisis unfolds in Syria, existing U.S. sanctions could have a powerful negative impact on the Syrian economy, prompting Damascus to reevaluate its policies”


April 26th, 2010, 3:52 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Shai’s Blind Mole

I don’t think Alex wishes for the destruction of Israel. But you know what, let’s assume for a second he does.


Thank you for translating Alex’s words in English to English?

The only “hope” is that Israel is decaying … financial and military achievements will not save that country which has no moral foundation anymore. Israel will decay relatively fast.

I will try to use Alex’s own words when describing the “vibrant” and hugely successful Arab neighborhood. Whether the thug-led country is Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Lebanon, etc. I will say the following:

The only “hope” is that Syria is decaying…financial and military achievements will not save that country which has no moral foundation anymore. Syria will decay relatively fast.

Of course, it is certain the participants here will understand that I am not calling for the “destruction” of Syria.

Here’s an imaginary scenario

Save the imaginary scenario for a children’s book.

The reality and history shows Israel was willing to accept an extremely small piece of land when their backs were up against the wall. Now the shoe is on the other foot.

So sorry.

Can you, Akbar, honestly say you’d be surprised if Amir_in_Tel_Aviv would hope for Syria’s destruction? Wouldn’t you? Or I?


But you said you didn’t “think Alex wishes for the destruction of Israel”. Make up your mind.

We must be able to put ourselves in our enemy’s skin, and to look at us through his eyes, to understand the thoughts that lie behind his decisions and his actions.

In the case of Egypt and Jordan, Israel has successfully done that. To a lesser extent, Palestine.

And then the question arises, what has the Syrian government done to “look at us through our eyes”?

If we cannot do that, we will clash like blind moles.


Go find a Syrian peace organization, and report back on “blind moles”.

April 26th, 2010, 4:15 pm


Alex said:

Akbar, even with Shai’s added English to English translation help you can not understand a thing … because you are a robot .. repeating the talking points they programmed you with.

Read them again in your last comment above:

– There is no peace partner (in Syria)
– Israel accepted in 1948 to live in peace but the Arabs did not

In addition to the one before, … Where you implied that Alex wants all Jews to die!

Akbar let me try again: I only wanted the decaying of the regional super power status of the dangerously immature, selfish and aggressive Israel of today that the United States created … the state your Zionism is in today is scary (I’ll get you lots of links from Jewish thinkers writing the same if you need to) … the same way I want the decaying of religious extremism in Saudi Arabia (and to a lesser extent in Iran) … the three countries are dangerous … The rest of the world learned to not bring religion into decision making of government, but Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran are going the other way and they will lead us to the next world war if they are not confronted.

Among those three the most dangerous by far is Israel. Remember this worldwide poll that showed similar results year after year?


The whole world agrees that Israel is the biggest danger on earth .. right next to Iran, and the United states, under the Bush admin at the time of the poll .. the Bush admin which was loaded with Israeli agents, neocons Like Eliott Abrams.

Yes I want that paranoid, aggressive, bloody totally selfish entity to decay … to be replaced by a more gentle, civilized, modest, and surely highly successful Israel living within its pre 67 borders that the whole world recognizes, including all Arab states.

I want “An ordinary Israel”, as Roger Cohen wrote in the New York Times this year.


April 26th, 2010, 5:00 pm


Shai said:


“Yes I want that paranoid, aggressive, bloody totally selfish entity to decay … to be replaced by a more gentle, civilized, modest, and surely highly successful Israel living within its pre 67 borders that the whole world recognizes, including all Arab states.”

But you’ll still tell your buddies SC is a Syrian-propaganda tool, won’t you?

I’m beginning to think Alex may be right – perhaps you really are an AIPAC-robot, or at least a robot-wannabe.

Stop with the paranoia nonsense. The whole fricken world is telling you you’re wrong, and you still think you’re right. Not A SINGLE NATION on the face of this little green planet recognizes Israel’s occupation of either the Palestinian territories, or Syria’s. Not a single country, ally of Israel or not, recognizes Israel’s annexation of the Golan. Jerusalem is the ONLY CAPITAL in the world that has NO EMBASSIES!!!!!!

Ever asked yourself why? Don’t you wonder sometimes about these things? Don’t you think others in Israel should wonder about them? Or does our blue-white flag, with the Hatikva sounding in the background, bring such tears to your eyes, that the emotions simply overwhelm your ability to see anything beyond Israel’s view of the world?

April 26th, 2010, 5:35 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Holding my Jewish Mirror up to your “Hope”

Where you implied that Alex wants all Jews to die!


I never implied you wanted “all Jews to die”.

And in a similar manner, I would like you to know that when I say:

The only “hope” is that Syria is decaying … financial and military achievements will not save that country which has no moral foundation anymore. Syria will decay relatively fast.

I am not saying I want “all Syrians to die”.

April 26th, 2010, 5:38 pm


idaf said:


An update to the BBC Poll you referred to (the one conducted during Bush time). This newer one, released a week ago, shows that the global view of Israel continue to go downhill:

According to the poll, the least favorably viewed nations on earth are Iran (15%), followed by Pakistan (16%), North Korea (17%) and Israel (19%). Notice that the difference is probably within the margin of error. I don’t think many would be surprised that all around the world, nation after nation, thought that Israel continue to rank with countries like North Korea, Pakistan and Iran.

I wonder if Israel did not have the humungous PR machine that AIPAC and CAMERA provide it with, how much lower in the ranking would it go? Despite their endless propaganda, positive ratings of Israel have dropped in the US by 7 points last year, down to 40.

Or put differently, if either Iran, North Korea or Pakistan had a fraction of percentage of the spending on PR that Israel receives, how much would have Israel gone down relatively in the global rank of popular opinion.

Talk about the real “pariah states”!

You also may want to update the highly cited “Case for Syria” with the latest figures 🙂

April 26th, 2010, 7:06 pm


Husam said:

Alex, Shai:

As a newcomer to SC, I immediately realized this AP (aka: PPP Paid Propaganda Parot) responding like a robot…kind of aggravating and useless. I posted several times stating responding with long rebuttals to this robot does absolutely nothing but waste our time with tit-for-tat.

Q: What kind of guy (or girl-robot) likes to be proven wrong every time, but still comes back for more of the same?

A: A faulty robot with a virus. Programmers were drunk when Akbar was coded.

April 27th, 2010, 3:05 am


Joshua said:

Merci Shai, Alex and Idaf.

April 27th, 2010, 3:59 am


Ford Prefect said:

Hussam, Indeed. Not only that discussion is a waste of time, but as Barney Frank once said, it’s like having a discussion with your dining room table!

And programmers were not drunk, they just coded a remote procedure call to an infinite loop.

April 27th, 2010, 5:16 pm


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