New Cold War or Merely Jockeying for Position? What Does Syria Want?

[Landis analysis]

The Russian move into Georgia has begun a tectonic shift in the region. It has emboldened Syria, Hizbullah and Iran to push harder against Israel and the US in an attempt to capitalize on recent set backs in the Balkans, Lebanon, and Afghanistan.

Hizbullah's and the Lebanese opposition's success in rolling back the influence of the March 14 coalition in Lebanon has emboldened Syria to push its advantage.

The peace talks with Israel, which Syria is counting on, have stalled due to US opposition and Israel's conviction that Syria is asking too high a price for the Golan. The notion that Syria is weak and unable to deliver a shift in the regional security balance has led to its isolation over the last 6 years and to the failure of peace talks under president Clinton. An Obama advisor, Daniel Kurtzer, has recently asked Syria to make deeper concessions to Israel in order to move the talks to another level. The implicit threat in such advice is that the Obama team of policy makers will follow the Bush administration in shunning the Syria-Israel negotiation track, unless Syria is forthcoming. In short, the democrats agree with Israel that Syria is too weak and demanding too high a price from Israel. Israel recently acquired new promises from Washington for technology transfers and missile improvements that improve Israel's defense posture. This has emboldened it to demand deep Syrian concessions in the peace negotiations. (see Ahram article below)

Syria's bad negotiating position is leading it to look for more weapons and to try to grow more teeth before returning to the table with Israel. Both Assad and Hizbullah are hoping to get new weapons systems from Russia and greater diplomatic backing. Israel cannot afford to sit idly by as Syria and Hizbullah flex their muscles. They are raising the military bar themselves, suggesting that they are not frightened to use force and next time they strike, it will be much more devastating and effective than it was in 2006. If Syria can up the ante, so can Israel. Yesterday, Israel threatened that if it bombs again, Lebanon will be smashed in its entirety – the North and Beirut will not be spared. It is in this context that Hizbullah threatens today that "Israel will no longer exist on the map," when it strikes back.

This is a new war of words. For the time being the diplomatic jockeying is tactical and not a game changer. All eyes remain on the peace process. Nevertheless, the increasingly bellicose rhetoric is not propicious for peace. We will have to see if all sides can climb down from their new and hardened stands to make compromises that will lead to a peace deal. There is little chance of the peace process advancing during the next year of elections and reorganization in the US. In the mean time, both Israel and Syria will be elbowing each other.

[end of analysis]

News Round Up:

Under Moscow's wing
Events in Georgia have had some surprising repercussions in the Middle East, leaving Syria looking perkier than usual
James Denselow, Guardian
Friday August 22 2008

James Denselow 

Israel's involvement with the Georgian military has been somewhat overlooked in light of more blatant US support, such as the airlift of some 2,000 Georgian troops from Iraq at the start of the conflict. However Misha Glenny spotted it, writing in the New Statesman that Prime Minister Putin warned President Shimon Peres to "pull out your trainers and weapons or we will escalate our co-operation with Syria and Iran" – after which Israel dutifully complied.

Hizbullah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah also spotted it and subsequently mocked Israel's withdrawal, claiming that "the entire front line of the [Israeli] army's brass stepped down because of the [Lebanon] war. Gal Hirsch, who was defeated in Lebanon, went to Georgia and they too lost because of him."

The Russians are indeed emboldened by their sweeping victory which has highlighted the impotence of both the US and Nato. Jonathan Spyer, in the Jerusalem Post, described Russian action as throwing down "a direct challenge to the US-dominated post Cold-war international order" and expressed concern over Moscow's willingness to supply Syria with the S-300 long-range anti-aircraft missile system, a defensive measure that has the potential to impede Israeli airstrikes such as the one that targeted a suspected Syrian nuclear site last September.

Then the BBC reported yesterday that Syria's President Assad met with President Medvedev at the Black Sea resort of Sochi to discuss "deals on anti-aircraft and anti-tank missile systems".

Like any customer visiting his main arms dealer, Assad praised Russian actions in Georgia, explaining that "we understand the Russian stance and the Russian military response as a result of the provocations which took place. We appreciate the courageous decision taken by the Russian leadership in responding to the international initiatives and the start of withdrawing its forces".

Assad also signalled his willingness to have Russian Iskander missiles (which according to are capable of overcoming the enemy's anti-missile defences and hitting targets at a distance of 280 kilometers) situated on Syrian territory, although he refused to commit to any timeline for such a deployment.

The Syrians have survived six years of Isolation led by Washington and Tel Aviv following 9/11, an isolation that has only shown recent signs of ending. If a small country like Syria can survive years of western isolation then the Russian bear empowered with petrodollars and a stable, if undemocratic, leadership, will surely feel more confident in throwing its foreign policy weight around.

The Times reported that Russia's activism, particularly in arms dealing, was sparking fears of a Middle East "Cold War". …. (read the rest)

U.S. to Syria: Do not meddle in Russia-Georgia conflict

Senior U.S. officials severely criticized Syria on Thursday after Syrian President Bashar Assad voiced his country's support of Russia in its military conflict with Georgia, saying that Syria should keep out of issues that don't pertain to them.

The officials suggested that Syria refrain from meddling in the affairs of other nations, "such as Georgia," Channel 10 reported Thursday. They added that Syria should remain focused on its own problems in the Middle East and keep trying to achieve peace in the region.

Israel threatens to target 'entire Lebanese state' in next war (AFP)

Hizbullah Responds:

Hizbullah to Israel: Expect Huge Surprises Soon

Hizbullah threatened "earth shattering" retaliation against Israel which the group accuses of killing its top commander Imad Mughniyeh in a car bombing in Damascus last February.

"Retaliation is coming soon," Hizbullah official in south Lebanon Sheikh Ahmad Mrad said in remarks published by the daily Al Akhbar on Friday. "Retaliation is going to be earth shattering and there will be huge surprises," he vowed. "Resistance weapons will stay in the hands of Hizbullah until Palestine is liberated," Mrad pledged. He declared that Hizbullah would go deep into Palestine and vowed that "Israel will no longer exist on the map."

In Haaretz, here (Thanks to Friday Lunch Club)

"…Earlier Thursday, Assad backed Russia's military action against Georgia at talks with President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday
…According to Russian media, Assad offered to host the Russian missiles as a response to a deal signed by Washington and Warsaw this week to deploy elements of a U.S. missile defense system in Poland, which has aggravated Moscow's relations with the West. Assad's visit is likely to become an additional irritant for Washington. In the past, the United States has more than once warned Moscow against selling arms to its longstanding ally Syria….."
Jason Koutsoukis in Damascus
August 23, 2008
THE visit to Moscow by the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, has received saturation coverage in Syria, with the media reporting the trip as a move to strengthen already close relations between the nations.

Israeli media described Mr Assad's two-day visit to Moscow as a "weapons shopping trip", but the Syrian Government broadcaster carried a statement yesterday morning angrily denying the reports.

Israeli and Russian media reported yesterday that he had offered to host Russian Iskander missiles on Syrian territory.

The reports said Mr Assad had made the offer in response to a deal signed by Washington and Poland this week to deploy elements of a US missile defence system in Poland. The Syrian statement, shown on Damascus television last night, said the reports were groundless.

Syria's Al-Watan newspaper, a self-described independent political broadsheet, reported that Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, had told Mr Assad that Russia was ready to help Syria build a defensive shield. But it said Mr Lavrov had not indicated that Russia was willing to supply Syria with weapons that could be used to attack another country.

"We are indeed prepared to sell only defensive weapons which do not violate the regional balance of power," Mr Lavrov was quoted as saying.

Russia's acting ambassador to Israel, Anatoly Yurkov, was even more direct.

"Why in the world would we need to deploy our missiles [in Syria]? Against whom? We have no enemies in the region," he told the Israeli news site Ynet.

Al-Thawra, the official newspaper of the ruling Ba'ath party, carried a front-page headline trumpeting Mr Assad's visit. It reported that President Dmitry Medvedev had emphasised Russia's warm friendship with Syria, and pledged to help Syria regain control of the Golan Heights, seized by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Israel's US missile shield
Aug. 21, 2008, al-Ahram
While Israel appears the beneficiary of US interests in the Middle East region, its place is ultimately as one pillar under a US strategic umbrella, writes Galal Nassar

During his visit to the US last month, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak announced that Washington would soon link Israel to two advanced missile detection systems that would strengthen Israel's preparedness against any Iranian threat. Following his meeting with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Barak also announced that Israel and the US were at an advanced stage in talks on upgrading Israel's Arrow-II ballistic shield, though they disagreed over whether it should incorporate an American interceptor missile. He told reporters that Washington would also increase Israel's access to its Defence Support Programme (DPS) satellites that can detect missile launches, adding that the US and Israeli governments "see eye to eye on the need to keep all options on the table, though we may not agree on each and every detail. It's important the Americans understand our position, and I think that they understand it a lot better after this visit."

Click to view caption

The Pentagon has also agreed to install a powerful radar system in Israel in the coming months. Israeli officials described the system as capable of tracking an object the size of a baseball from about 4,700 kilometres away; it would enable Arrow to engage an Iranian Shehab-3 ballistic missile about halfway through what would be its 11 minute flight to Israel.

According to Al-Ahram Weekly sources, after heavy pressure on the part of the Israeli defence minister, Washington agreed to include Israel in the US global satellite defence system, capable of spotting missile launches on a constant rather than per-request basis. They also said that Israel has been seeking assurances of logistical support from Washington in the event that the Israeli army is forced to launch an assault. In addition, Washington will help finance and upgrade the Iron Dome antiballistic shield, which will strengthen Israel's protection against Qassam missiles, and it will also finance a new phase in the Arrow project. The new Arrow III antiballistic system would be capable of shooting down missiles at greater atmospheric heights. Informed sources told the Weekly that all these secret talks, arrangements and agreements ultimately aim to include Israel in the American missile shield. …. (read the rest)

Sami Moubayed writes: "Overall, however, the crisis is playing nicely into the hands of Syria, which is using it to strengthen its ties with an old and resurrected friend, send messages to a traditional foe (Israel, and pressure the United States into changing course over Damascus.

Although the "great red army that defeated Hitler" was never a match for the American one that ended World War II and helped bring down the Soviet Union, it was always an influential player in the complex web of Middle East politics, and seemingly signals one thing: the Russians are back, and the Syrians are making the best out of it.

Lysander wrote in the last comment section:

I want to address some points by AIG et al regarding the notion that a new cold war would benefit Israel more than Syria.

A true cold war scenario (if one were to actually happen) is of no benefit to Israel at all. Its influence over American politics has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 10 years in the absence of any Russian threat and being able to say its ‘protecting’ the west from mighty Syria is unlikely to add to that.

By contrast, the realist camp will argue that to persuade Syria…and Iran…to leave the Russian camp concessions will have to be made. Such concessions are hardly necessary if Syria is alone. But in a global competition Syria has options. I would not dismiss this effect. I doubt Sadat could have possibly gotten the Camp David deal were it not for America’s desire to place Egypt firmly in the American camp. Does anyone disagree? Zbig Brzerzinski was NSA in Carter’s tie. He is Obama’s advisor now.

AIG is correct that Western tech and trade would be much better for Syria. Alas, that option doesn’t exist. Until recently, Syria had a large target sign on its head and can count itself lucky America was too distracted in Iraq. So Assad’s choices are Russian help or nothing. Russian tech is definitely better than nothing. Otherwise, nobody in Israel would care about Russian rearmament of Syria and yet they clearly do.

Outside of Syria, it presents new found leverage to America’s “moderate” allies (Egypt, Saudi Arabia)

Again I would add that cold war is hardly inevitable. The Russians would love to cooperate with the west. They have no wish to aquire a Syrian dependent. But with any push to get Georgia in NATO and insistence on the missile shield, Russia will find a way to retaliate.

P.S. I would add that the same is triply true for Iran. Also, Assad may very well have miscalculated, not by picking the wrong horse. But by discovering the horse wont let him ride. Russia may very well rebuff Syria’s request for closer relations, which means Assad will have annoyed the west but gotten nothing in return.

Still, no reward without risk and if the missile shield in Poland moves forward its not a bad risk.

Comments (87)

norman said:

Syria should be careful as the Husband ( USA ) and wife ( Russia )

can fight but as the In Laws ( Syria ) Interfere to side with one against the other , the husband and wife could kiss and make up for the in laws ( Syria ) to find itself lonely again.and both mad at it for trying to take advantage of the situation.

August 22nd, 2008, 4:30 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Syria is negotiating from a point of weakness not because it is militarily weak but because more importantly it is weak economically and structurally. The West sees the Syrian economy as unable to deal with the huge demographic growth and thus sees Syria getting weaker. The structural reforms required to improve the economy be they strictly in the realm of the economy or in democratic reform are just not happening. And the ongoing process of Syria becoming a net oil importer is not helping at all. A country with 40% or so unemployment among its young is an explosion waiting to happen.

Time after time Syria has believed that it can strengthen its position by buying more weapons. But this is just falling into the Israeli trap of devoting more money to weapons instead of building the economy. Weapons, especially in the hands of technologically weak countries, soon become obsolete. Israel quickly develops countermeasures to Russian weapons.

If the Syrians want to negotiate out of a position of strength they need to strengthen their economy and society. All other steps will just harm Syria more. The bottom line is that Asad is repeating the same mistakes that created the huge economical and technological difference between Israel and Syria over the last 60 years. It seems nothing has been learned.

August 22nd, 2008, 4:39 pm


norman said:


I agree with most of what you say.

August 22nd, 2008, 5:42 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Do you also agree with the following:

The Asad regime is in a bind. If Syria is to grow stronger it needs economical and democratic reforms and a demographical revolution. Unfortunately, the regime cannot make the needed economical and democratic reforms without risking its position. It feels that even little reform will be used by Saudi Arabia and the West to bring down the regime.

As for following the Chinese model of growth without democratic reforms, in order to do that, the regime needs to install something similar to the Chinese one child policy and open trade with the West. The first is impossible to implement. Syrians are mostly religious and will not accept a one child policy forced upon them by the government. As for trade with the West, that could only happen if Syria leaves the path of “resistance” and that will not happen soon because the “resistance” stance is critical for the regime’s survival.

So the current Syrian regime cannot pursue the democratic model nor the Chinese model for economic growth. In my opinion they are out of options and Syria will slowly but surely continue to lose ground relative to other countries in the world until finally demographics will force change against the will of the regime.

August 22nd, 2008, 6:12 pm


Shai said:


Is it also possible we (Israel) are falling into our own trap as well? Is it possible that a buffoon like Barak, that has succumbed to the 60-year mantra of “Israel doesn’t have the luxury to cut back on its defense budget”, is only enlarging our trap? Is our society and economy getting stronger, or weaker, when so much of our taxes go to preparing for a 20th century war that will never occur again?

I once heard a very interesting lecture at the university, by a professor who claimed that Israel should not only end its so-called policy of nuclear ambiguity, but indeed should declare complete dependency on its nuclear capabilities. That is, Israel should come out telling the whole word (and Israelis) that we indeed have nuclear capabilities (no need to quantify), and that instead of continuing to develop and build Merkava tanks, and sophisticated infantry weapons, and more accurate 155 mm artillery, we will from now on invest only in strategic bombers and nuclear submarines. So that if we are ever attacked by a major power (i.e. regional war), we would have no choice but to respond with nuclear weapons. We would have no tanks to fight with on the battlefield. No infantry troops on the ground. No artillery shells, or attack helicopters, to slow down the enemy advance. We would have only the most dangerous weapons at our disposal.

If Israel wants its deterrence back, this is a very interesting way of getting it, wouldn’t you say? 🙂
But to go into further adventures into Lebanon, Gaza, or even Iran, is clearly not the way. All of these are getting stronger, they are getting much tougher to destroy, and world opinion will eventually side with them (not us), if we keep preempting, rather than reacting (and even then, in proportion, not for 34 days, and 1500 dead civilians later). Did you read what our Interior Minister, Meir Sheetrit, said yesterday of an attack on Iran? Interesting to hear these views from all these ex-Likudnicks, eh? Maybe Mofaz will make the same mistake again, and head back to the Likud (his views are identical with those of Bibi’s, except that he’s too foolish to see the need for flexibility options). I still remember him stating on live radio how “I am not leaving my home… (Likud)”, merely hours before he closed a deal with Kadima. That guy should leave politics (like Barak), and the sooner the better.

August 22nd, 2008, 6:13 pm


Akbar Palace said:

We would have no tanks to fight with on the battlefield. No infantry troops on the ground. No artillery shells, or attack helicopters, to slow down the enemy advance. We would have only the most dangerous weapons at our disposal.

Hi Shai,

Just to chime in, I think Israel’s greatest successes have been pro-active. To sit and wait for the next breach in her borders or wait for another surprise attack like the Yom Kippur War has never boded well for Israel.

OTOH, a pro-active approach like the ’67 war or even the destruction of a Syrian “military facility” has always provided the best results for Israel. So the nuclear card is something Israel will never use unless her survival is at stake. We aren’t there yet fortunately. Moot point at this time.

August 22nd, 2008, 6:35 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Would Israel’s economy grow faster if we could devote less money to defense and if our 18 to 21 year olds could go to university instead of wasting time on military service? Of course.

But this is the miracle of Israel. Even with these serious handicaps, Israel has been able to build a thriving economy, in certain instances making our military experience an economic advantage. Also, the mandatory army service has been over the years a great tool for integrating Israeli society and even if there is peace, it might still make sense to keep it.

And as for most what Israel does, it is reacting. From 2000 Israel has not done anything proactive in Lebanon. In Syria, one proactive action has been taken in decades. We are in a reactive mode in Gaza also. So I am not sure what you are talking about.

As for your idea, you contradict yourself. When Sderot or Kiryat Shemona are targeted by rockets, according to you, we should react with nuclear weapons or just sit back and enjoy the bombardment. The nuclear response would be proportional and well accepted, no?

August 22nd, 2008, 6:57 pm


Shai said:


Welcome back – hope you had a nice vacation in Europe.

It is true that deterrence for Israel was usually gained through proactive operations, such as Antebbe, Osirak, and possibly 1967 (though for both Israel and the Palestinians, the aftermath of the war and the last 40 years have been disastrous). But Israel also cannot be viewed as an aggressor forever. There is only so much “patience” the world will have, for operations such as Nablus (“Homat Magen”, under Mofaz), Gaza, Lebanon 2006, or even Deir ez-Zur. If we cannot prove that we are reacting to an attack, and doing so proportionally, then sooner or later, we’ll pay the price. Ben Gurion understood very well that Israel cannot fight prolonged wars. We cannot conquer other nations (he wasn’t dreaming of occupying the Palestinians forever). All we can do is hit back and hit hard, hoping that would deter our enemy from trying once more. Or at least, delaying the next round as long as possible.

If we keep investing in a 20th century army, one that fights with armored divisions, and artillery, against SCUD, Shihab, or even Qassam missiles, we’ll be wasting precious budgets, that could and should go to education and welfare. Our national strength must depend on our education, and cohesion of the society, no less than on our nuclear capabilities. So we have to be, like Barak once coined it (but had no idea whatsoever how to make it happen), a “small and smart army”. The only way to do that, is to have very few capabilities, but to be the strongest in the region in those. Deterrence will come only if our enemies believe that we will use these capabilities, if we have no choice. So, make it so that we “have no choice”. Declare it, build yourself that way, and then you’ll have deterrence. Which, by the way, is needed for one thing, and one thing only – peace. The only way Syria or the Palestinians, or Iraq or Iran, would ever consider recognizing Israel and making peace with us, is if two things happen: First, Israel shows it is ready to return lands that are not ours. Second, Israel is strong enough, that it cannot be defeated.

Withdrawing from Gaza was Sharon’s first step, which showed readiness to carry out the first step. But operations later into Gaza and Lebanon, contradicted the second part (our strength), because they actually demonstrated our weaknesses. That bought us no deterrence, only further determination for resistance by our enemies. We need to know what battles to seek, and which ones to stay at home for. We are not a superpower, though others often like to refer to Israel as such. The billions of dollars we spend in 34 days in an adventure in Lebanon, is that much less we have for our children’s education the next few years. Certainly the latter is no less important to our national strength than the first.

August 22nd, 2008, 7:00 pm


Shai said:


Did I suggest we should use nukes if Sderot is bombed? Of course not. And the reason not, is because Sderot is not attacked by a sovereign nation. We know why Sderot is being bombed, and we have to take care of the Palestinian issue as soon as we can (hopefully, using Syria as a broker). Now that Hezbollah is as strong as it is politically in Lebanon, I certainly could see a situation in the future, where if rockets continue to cross our northern border, we would give Lebanon x-amount of days to put a halt to it, or otherwise, small tactical nukes will rain down on certain parts of that country. When you have nuclear capability, you don’t need to use a bomb large enough to destroy half Beirut.

But do notice – what nation has attacked Israel since 1973? With the exception of Saddam Hussein’s 30 useless SCUDs in 1991, none. But resistance has gotten stronger and stronger. So much so, that two summers ago, some 1 million Israelis in the north sat in underground shelters for 34 days. And why? Because a small militia of a few thousand was able to lob rockets over Israeli towns and cities almost unhindered during this time. What deterrence did we have over HA? None. After the war? None. Why? Because we still think we can fight HA and Hamas, using tanks and infantry. The existing paradigm must be changed, and the army must be changed, if we are to achieve any kind of deterrence once again. But it will not be the case with the Palestinians, because they are fighting for their basic rights and freedom. No weapon can stop that. And no weapon should.

August 22nd, 2008, 7:11 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

The article in al-Ahram, which Joshua linked to above, is very impressive. One wonders how the author gained access to so much information about current military tactics and technology development agreements.

Joshua, I take issue with a couple of the points you make. You are making two assumptions:

(A) The peace talks have stalled;

(B) They have stalled “due to US opposition and Israel’s conviction that Syria is asking too high a price for the Golan.”

First, how do we know that they have stalled? Second, what proof is there that the U.S. and Israel are to blame, if the talks have indeed stalled? You read Daniel Kurtzer’s informal advice as a strong signal to Bashar that the Democrats regard Syria as weak and demanding too high a price from Israel. What persuades you that this was in fact the subtext?

Let me suggest a different reading, and you can tell me why I’m wrong. Instead of assuming that it is American/Israeli superciliousness that is causing the talks to founder, thereby forcing poor little Syria to “try to grow more teeth before returning to the table,” why not wonder if the talks are foundering because many Israelis are having trouble taking Bashar seriously, given that Hizbullah is three times the size it used to be and Syria is test-launching missiles, signing military treaties with Tehran, etc.

You say that this is “a new war of words.” I think you’re right, but it is also looking increasingly like a game of chicken. And those games sometimes end badly.

I don’t think that Israel and America believe that Syria’s price (the Golan) is too high. I think that it has more to do with Israel’s price, which they don’t think that Syria will be able to pay. As the Ahram article states, Syria is likely to become MORE not less dependent on Iran in the coming years, because of its depleted oil reserves. And Hizbullah is not the little Dahiyeh militia that butted heads with AMAL in the 80’s. It’s a mass movement with a leader who is supposedly Man of the Year in the Middle East. They’ve got their own timetable now.

Anyway, sorry for the rambling post.

August 22nd, 2008, 7:55 pm


Alex said:

So, what is the new one-and-only news item that is worth analyzing for this month? … Syria’s relations with Russia?

Remember few months ago when we were supposed to believe that the only thing that counts was Syria’s ability or failure to “help” in making sure Lebanon has a president? … By now, Lebanon is not an issue anymore?

Anyone interested in analyzing how France will deal with Syria for now? … Sarkozy will visit in a couple of weeks.

If the new American administration is convinced that “Syria is too weak” and therefore if it refuses to support serious peace talks between Syria and Israel … would that make America able to handle Iraq without active Syria/Turkish/Iranian help??

Will Israel continue to deal with the new Lebanon (Syria’s best friend) through threats of total destruction?

Why do many of you like to focus on one chapter and forget the rest of the other chapters?

AIG … I agree to some extent with what you said above … but as usual, Syria will surprise you, high birth rate or not.

August 22nd, 2008, 8:34 pm


Joshua said:

Dear QN,

Why do I think that talks have stalled? Why do I think that Israel believes Syria is asking too much?

1. I have no insider knowledge that talks have reached an impasse, but here is the logic I base my presumptions on –
a. Syria wants all the Golan back.
b. Israel wants Syria to flip to support the West and break ties with Iran; it want Syria to cut connections to Hizbullah, it wants water and security guarantees on the Golan, yet it does not believe that Syria can or will deliver the above.

The US could help close the large gap in demands between the two governments if it provided lots of money, weapons to Israel, and security guarantees.

The US is refusing to do this. It also has a very dim view of Syrian capabilities and intentions. it will not help close the gap.

That is why Syria made its big play to break out of its isolation with Washington by trying to get Daudi into a meeting with Welch and US blessing for talks.

None of this was successful.

Israelis have always thought that Syria asks too high a price for the Golan. It does not want Syria to be on the water. It wants lots of security guarantees – hence peace parks and the like, which Israeli listening posts remaining on the Heights with no Syria soldiers allowed.

b. Syria will not flip, etc. it will help Israel with Hizbullah and to bring around others, but that is a far cry from the guarantees Israel wants to see. Israel will demand Syria take some decisive moves in Lebanon and against Hizb in order to demonstrate its bona fides and that it has the authority to change the strategic calculus of the region.

Syria will do none of these things until it has Golan in its hands for fear of being duped. There is no trust.

That is why I think talks have or will reach there limits until the US gets on board with all its diplomatic might.

The only reason Israel is talking to Syria now is because of Iran’s nuclear program and Hizbullah’s ability to survive 2006.

Israel has to test the diplomatic waters to see whether it can peel Syria away from Iran or turn it against Hizbullah.

many Israelis also think that time is on Israel’s side because of a weakening Syrian economy and depleting oil supplies in Syria.

Syria needs to disabuse Israel of this notion, by insisting that the reverse is true, that Russia will supply arms, that Syria is willing to make the sacrifice to purchase more arms, etc. Syria needs to demonstrate that time will erode Israel’s bargaining position.

August 22nd, 2008, 8:38 pm


ausamaa said:

By showing such an eagernes to side with Russia despite the small carrots Europe thinks it is dangling in front of Syria, I guess Syria wants to make sure that if the recent Israeli “sudden interst” in Peace Talks is no more than a mere strategic maneuver by Israel to gain time ( as Israel is neither weak enough, nor Peace-hungry enough to be really serious about Peace now and that the ), then Syria would be ready for such an eventuality by using this opportunity with Russia to Strengthen its position both militarily and strategically.

And what could one expect from Syria in such a case anyway; To condemn the Russian response to Georgia’s stupidity?

The sudden Olmert visit can be understood in terms of extending apology for supplying Georgia with arms and to reduce the pressure on Olmert internally and ivert the Israeli puplic’s attention fro his misery, but what is mind boggling though, is what could Jordan’s king Abdullah’s reasons, or expectation, from visiting Russia at such a time? Or was it a long-standing pre-arranged visit only?

As to a new Cold War, does anyone really think that the US have anymore stomach for new wars after the successful and brilliant manuevers it has been holding in Afghanistan and Iraq? Naah…I think they will just turn the other cheek this “little” time. The US can blame on ammaturish Georgians and the adveturist Israelies (Olmert’s quick visit to Moscow?) and turn the page over quickly to something more “productive” and “achievable”.

Let us wait and see who else will be arriving at Sheremetyeov Airport!

August 22nd, 2008, 9:01 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

An arms race will erode Syria’s position as the last 60 years easily prove. The only way to show Israel that time is not on Israel’s side is to make Syria an economic miracle. So far the reverse is happening but as Alex says, Syria is full of surprises. I for one would be pleasantly surprised to see Syria become an economic miracle. Since it cannot go the Chinese route, economic success would be a result of democracy which I strongly support.

August 22nd, 2008, 9:06 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

Syria is depending on Iran, and HA to gain startegic and diplomatic position, depending on Turkey to prevent isolation of Syria, but the only way for Syria to get stronger is by improving its relation with Saudia Arabia, and Egypt, and ( if things change in Iraq)by waiting for a change in Iraq. this could prove the best chance for Syria to get better bargaining position, and for this I believe time may not be to the advantage of Israel, USA will not be able to continue its occupation of Iraq,the economic cost is too high,there is nothing that is called partial withdrawal, it is humiliating, once Bush and his friends leave the white house, Israel will have to deal with different Iraq, and Syria.

August 22nd, 2008, 9:41 pm


Alex said:


We are making too much out of this story.

Syria’s 13.5 billion debt to the Soviet Union was reduced to 3.5 Billions in 2005 … this is the cost of Syria’s arms purchases in the 80’s and 90’s.

Similarly (in a different way) the 2007 and 2008 arms purchases from Russia are not costing Syria more than a fraction of the real cost.

Others are paying. A strong and secure Syria that can help other friends of Syria be (and feel) more secure, is worth the investment from a few friends of Syria.

The few billions Russia will get out of recent ars sales to Syria, are nothing when compared to the tens of Billions the Gulf states had to pay for Saddam’s war against Iran, or the hundreds of Billions they payed since then to buy weapons they can not use, or to finance the war efforts of other players in the region.

Everyone is getting a good deal, and if Israel genuinely wants peace with its neighbors, this arms deal is nothing more than an insurance policy for Syria … it will not have any material ramifications on the ground.

August 22nd, 2008, 10:00 pm


Akbar Palace said:

So far the reverse is happening but as Alex says, Syria is full of surprises.

Has anyone thought of buying “Syria Bonds”??

The high holidays are quickly approaching…

August 22nd, 2008, 10:03 pm


Lysander said:

An economic miracle for Syria would be nice indeed. Alas, miracles don’t grow on trees. Good relations with the west are pleasant but not magical. Or is there an economic miracle in Egypt right now that we have overlooked.

But while useful, a great economy is not essential for the matters at hand. Did Egypt have a great economy in 1977? Did Menachem Begin’s advisers tell him “Look out! That’s an economic miracle in the making”? Quite the contrary. Egypt’s problems of overpopulation and lack of water and employment prospects for its youth were clear as a bell even then. (Full disclosure, I’m of Egyptian blood)

And yet, after a couple of years of negotiating, a full peace for full return of the Sinai. Even Taba was returned later on. Why did Israel accept that deal but not try a similar one with Assad? Because Sadat was nice guy? Or was it a combination of 1) the relative success of the ’73 war combined with 2) a desire by the U.S. to bring Egypt out of the Soviet sphere and into the west?

The theatrics of the Jerusalem visit was great but its the sort of thing that can only be done once.

Two things were clearly NOT a factor
1) Egypt’s great economy
2) Its long and illustrious democratic tradition.


August 22nd, 2008, 11:58 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Dear Joshua

Thanks for your response. If we assume that these talks are for real, and not, as some believe, just a tactical holding pattern for Olmert or Bashar, then I would argue that they suffer from a basic problem. This problem is the ambiguity concerning where Syria will position itself, strategically, following a deal.

Different people say different things. Sami Moubayed and my good friend Alex both believe that Syria wants to be a very close ally of the United States. Others feel differently, arguing that a functional relationship would emerge, but that would be about it. No one, however, likes the idea of Syria “flipping”, because this would presumably make Syria just like the so-called moderate puppet regimes, getting to the party a couple decades late.

The problem is, in my view, that there have been too few hints at what a post-peace Syria would look like, and this is probably what Daniel Kurtzer was talking about. We are told two things: Syria wants the Golan, and Syria will not flip. Ok, so what will Syria do? You write:

Syria will not flip, etc. it will help Israel with Hizbullah and to bring around others, but that is a far cry from the guarantees Israel wants to see. Israel will demand Syria take some decisive moves in Lebanon and against Hizb in order to demonstrate its bona fides and that it has the authority to change the strategic calculus of the region.

What does it mean for Syria to “help Israel with Hizbullah”? I thought that Hizbullah was a legitimate national resistance movement that will transition to a legitimate national defense once its lands are liberated? And how will Syria “bring around others”? Bribery, assassinations, guns, whiskey, women? And how will it manage its best-friend relationship with Iran — the country that so generously funded its expensive arms deals with Russia?

Nobody told Syria to pursue these specific teeth-growing strategies. It decided to pursue them on its own. The problem is that it now has a mouthful of these large and mismatched teeth, and is trying to look simultaneously menacing and attractive towards its dancing partner, who is neither particularly frightened nor aroused.

If Syria truly wants peace, it will either have to use these teeth to take back the Golan, or find a way to extract them from its mouth.

In either case, a painful proposition.

August 23rd, 2008, 12:02 am


idaf said:

What Israel Lost in the Georgia War
By Tony Karon

“It is important that the entire world understands that what is happening in Georgia now will affect the entire world order,” Georgian Cabinet Minister Temur Yakobashvili said last weekend. “It’s not just Georgia’s business, but the entire world’s business.” Such sentiments would have been unremarkable but for the fact that Yakobashvili was expressing himself in fluent Hebrew, telling Israeli Army Radio that “Israel should be proud of its military, which trained Georgian soldiers.”

However, the impression that Israel had helped bolster the Georgian military was one the Israeli Foreign Ministry was anxious to avoid. Last Saturday it reportedly recommended a freeze on the further supply of equipment and expertise to Georgia by Israeli defense contractors. (Israel doesn’t supply foreign militaries directly, but its private contractors must get Defense Ministry approval for such deals.) The Israelis decided to refrain from authorizing new defense contracts, although those currently in effect will be fulfilled. Israel stressed that the contracts are to provide equipment for defensive purposes. But if the Israelis were looking to downplay the significance of military ties, they weren’t helped by comments like Yakobashvili’s — or by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s enthusing at a press conference earlier this week that “the Israeli weapons have been very effective.”

Nor did the Russians fail to notice. “Israel armed the Georgian army,” grumbled General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of staff of the Russian military, at a press conference in Moscow earlier this week. An Israeli paper had, last weekend, quoted an unnamed official warning that Israel needed “to be very careful and sensitive these days. The Russians are selling many arms to Iran and Syria, and there is no need to offer them an excuse to sell even more advanced weapons.” As if on cue, on Wednesday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad arrived in Moscow hoping to persuade Russia to sell him sophisticated air-defense systems — and reportedly offering the Russian navy the use of one of its Mediterranean ports. Late on Wednesday, the Israeli Foreign Ministry announced that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev had spoken on the phone to clear the air over the Georgia conflict and Russian arms sales to Syria.

The extent of involvement in Georgia by Israeli defense contractors may be overstated, and most of the equipment used by the Georgian military comes from the U.S. and other suppliers. Still, Israeli companies had been sufficiently involved in supplying specialized equipment and advanced tactical training to the Georgian military that the connection — and Russia’s perception of it — created a ripple of anxiety in Israeli government circles. Israeli officials say that, in anticipation of a showdown between Georgia and Russia, Israel began to scale back the involvement of Israeli companies in Georgia as early as the end of 2007. Georgia’s Yakobashvili charged this week that Israel, “at Russia’s behest,” had downgraded military ties with Georgia, a decision he branded a “disgrace.”

Israel’s weapons sales, just like Russia’s, are driven by the commercial interests of domestic arms industries. Israeli military exports to Georgia are driven more by the logic of business than by a strategic choice to back Tbilisi against Moscow — indeed, the Israeli response since the outbreak of hostilities is a reminder that, on balance, even a relatively cool friendship with Russia may be more important to Israel than a close alliance with tiny Georgia. Despite Israel’s pecuniary imperative, Georgia has used these commercial military ties to press closer ties on Israel.

President Saakashvili has noted that both his minister responsible for negotiations over South Ossetia (Yakobashvili) and his Defense Minister, Davit Kezerashvili, had lived in Israel before moving to post-Soviet Georgia. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, the Georgian leader this week enthused that in Tbilisi, “both war and peace are in the hands of Israeli Jews.” Working through the Georgian Defense Ministry (and with the approval of its Israeli counterpart), Israeli companies are reported to have supplied the Georgians with pilotless drones, night-vision equipment, anti-aircraft equipment, shells, rockets and various electronic systems. Even more important than equipment may have been the advanced tactical training and consultancy provided, as private contractors, by retired top Israeli generals such as Yisrael Ziv and Gal Hirsch, the man who commanded Israeli ground forces during their disastrous foray into Lebanon in 2006. (Never one to resist an opportunity to mock his enemies, Hizballah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah quipped in a speech this week, “Gal Hirsch, who was defeated in Lebanon, went to Georgia, and they too lost because of him.”) Not necessarily: Russia applied overwhelming force against the tiny Georgian military, which, according to Israeli assessments, still managed to punch above its weight.

The Russians were piqued by Israel’s military trade with Georgia even before the latest outbreak of hostilities — Moscow expressed its annoyance over the pilotless drones supplied by an Israeli company to the Georgians, three of which were downed by Russian aircraft over South Ossetia in recent months. Obviously mindful of the need to avoid provoking Russia, Israel declared off-limits certain weapons systems the Georgians had asked for, such as Merkava tanks and advanced anti-aircraft systems. “We have turned down many requests involving arms sales to Georgia, and the ones that have been approved have been duly scrutinized,” a Defense Ministry official told the Israeli daily Yediot Ahoronot amid concerns raised over a possible fallout from the Israeli ties to the Georgian military. The extent of damage to the Israeli-Russia relationship — if indeed there is any — remains to be seen. Despite General Nogovitsyn’s comments, Israeli officials say they have received no formal complaints from Russia over ties with Georgia.

Israel’s strategic priority now is countering the threat it sees in Iran’s nuclear program, and on that front, Russian cooperation is essential. If the Israelis are to achieve their objective of forcing Iran to end uranium enrichment through diplomatic coercion, they will need Russian support for escalating U.N. sanctions — a course of action for which Russia has thus far shown little enthusiasm. And if Israel were to opt for trying to destroy Tehran’s nuclear facilities through a series of air strikes, then the presence of the sophisticated Russian S-300 missile system in Iran would considerably raise the risk to Israeli pilots. Unfortunately for Israel, however, there may be little it can do to shape Moscow’s Iran policy for the simple reason that Israel is not a major factor in Russia’s strategic outlook. Moscow’s actions on Iran are less likely to be determined by Israel supplying a few drones to Georgia than they are to be shaped, for example, by the deployment over extreme Russian objections of U.S. interceptor missiles on Polish soil.

August 23rd, 2008, 12:03 am


norman said:

Syria after peace is the same as Syria now , Syria wants to advance the economy , improve the education of it’s people and provide jobs for all the Syrians , Syria wants to help establish a comprehensive peace between Israel on one side and Syria , Lebanon , The Palestinians and the Iranians on the other side , Syria wants to improve it’s politecal System but wants guarantees that there will be no forign interference , that is something can come only with peace ,

with a comprehensive peace there will be no need for the military , people of the Mideast will be more worry about the fence that separate their houses from their neighbors than about the border with their neighboring country ,

With decentralization every town will be ruling itself and everybody will have a say in their city council .

August 23rd, 2008, 2:43 am


Karim said:

Comrade Norman ,there is no other solution for Syria in order to join the civilized world.=democracy ,rule of law ,the end of the ultra sectarian monopoly of power.

August 23rd, 2008, 3:48 am


Innocent_Criminal said:


When I grow up, I wanna be like QN 😉 you are hands down my favorite SC commentator.

No let me try to answer some of your excellent questions.

QN: “The problem is, in my view, that there have been too few hints at what a post-peace Syria would look like”
IC: You are right, it is a big problem, but it’s a problem for Syria itself. Since it does not have guarantees that it will be better off it does actually “flip”. Consider what did Egypt or Jordan get out of the peace deal with Israel in the long term except more security for their ruling regimes, a luxury the Syrian leadership enjoys without the help of Washington? Egypt gets about $2bn a year in support from the Americans which is nice but after considering corruption the leftover is hardly noticeable to an 80mn population. Syria needs to keep its cards very tight to its chest because of the thin line it treads. If it goes out on a limb and promises to flip before signing a treaty, Iran & HA will hang out to try dry only for Israel to burn it in the last minute like it did in 2000. Not to mention the fact that Israel too has given too few hints on whether its willing to pay the price of peace.

QN: What does it mean for Syria to “help Israel with Hizbullah”? I thought that Hizbullah was a legitimate national resistance movement that will transition to a legitimate national defense once its lands are liberated?
IC: Well it depends on who you ask the answer to the question is either yes or no. If HA is nothing more than a Syrian/Iranian tool then the answer is simple, it will be easily turned off the second Damascus wants it to. If the answer is yes it still means that HA is a political entity that is subject to outside influence and pressure and therefore can be “steered” or need it be “squeezed” to play ball through cutting off money and support. At the end of the day HA will need to face reality and play along. So either way the conclusion can be the same IMHO. And that can also work (but to a much lesser extent) with Iran who will be truly and utterly alone without Syria. That can be a catalyst for it to become more “realistic”.

QN: Nobody told Syria to pursue these specific teeth-growing strategies. It decided to pursue them on its own. The problem is that it now has a mouthful of these large and mismatched teeth, and is trying to look simultaneously menacing and attractive towards its dancing partner, who is neither particularly frightened nor aroused. If Syria truly wants peace, it will either have to use these teeth to take back the Golan, or find a way to extract them from its mouth.
IC: I couldn’t agree more. Like I said in my piece in the last post (btw Innocent Criminal = Tarek Barakat) that IF the Russians agree to selling new arms to Syria, it can be a new negotiating card in Syria’s hand. That said, I agree that this proposition is highly unlikely since Russia will never upset the balance in the region. And here lies the dilemma Syria has positioned itself in for decades. It wants to move westwards but the west block such moves by unequivocally supporting its enemy, so it is forced to rely on mediocre “dentists” in Moscow, Tehran & Pyongyang to sharpen its teeth instead.

August 23rd, 2008, 6:33 am


Shai said:


These are indeed interesting and challenging times for the peace process, and for the entire region. I believe Israel will not react in any major way to Syria receiving defensive capabilities from Russia, assuming no actual Russian missiles (with Russian batteries, troops, etc.) are placed on her soil. Weapons systems, radar, etc. are things Syria has received in the past, and will get this way or the other (after all, they could get the same Russian made stuff, via China, or N. Korea, or even Iran). If Russia does wish to counter the American missiles in Poland, by placing its own systems in Syria, then the balance will indeed change (I don’t know if it will be “tectonic” as Joshua suggested, but it might).

It’s very difficult to say right now, before Israel has a new government, what kind of reaction is to be expected. In a way, I almost hope that Netanyahu will win the elections, and that Syria becomes stronger. True, both could bring us closer to a confrontation, but also to peace. I fully agree with many here who suggest that Syria is apparently not strong enough (at least not perceived as such by Israel), at the negotiation table. Rather than overtly assisting HA (which will push Israel to react), receiving sophisticated hardware from Russia is a safer and more efficient way for Syria to become stronger. Netanyahu will not be able to attack Syria over such purchases, nor HA. Yet he will inherit a new balance to deal with. If there’s no legitimacy to change that balance by force, the only thing remaining are diplomatic options, namely peace talks.

August 23rd, 2008, 7:04 am


Alex said:

So … Obama has chosen Joe Biden to be his running mate.

Excellent choice… finally! …. someone who really understands what is happening in Pakistan and other crazy places… like our wonderful Middle East.

It seems the only thing he is criticized for is that “he is not acquainted with his grammatical friend … Mr. Period”

He talks too much.

But I think Obama is a little too robotic. Joe Biden will help appeal to the many Americans who (like I do) like more blunt talkers.

And he is Catholic … which means he will appeal to the Caholic swing voters without losing votes of those who are not compatible with voting for Catholics. They were not going to vote for “Hussein Obama” anyway.

August 23rd, 2008, 2:48 pm


Off the Wall said:

Could’nt agree more. I was hoping he would consider Jim Web as well, but Biden has much more experience.

It is now in the hands of Hillary voters. Let us hope that Bill and Hillary will not screw it up for the party,

August 23rd, 2008, 4:13 pm


Alex said:


Obama should appoint Bill his Mideast envoy … or offer Hillary something interesting.

August 23rd, 2008, 4:25 pm


norman said:

Joe Biden wanted to divide Iraq ,

What do you think about that Alex and OTW?.

August 23rd, 2008, 4:31 pm


norman said:


Democracy and role of law can not be established with people thinking that they are better than everybody else because of their religious or ethnic associations ,

You know who i mean don’t you ?.

August 23rd, 2008, 4:35 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Habibi Innocent_Criminal, I’ll respond to your comment in a bit. But in the meantime, here’s my two cents on Obama/Biden.

Joe Biden was the best choice out of the official shortlist, but I have a feeling that by not picking Hillary, Obama might have made an error. Biden is exactly the kind of character that Obama was is fighting in this election: a white male Washington insider who has been sitting in the Senate for over half of his life. As such, Obama can no longer unambiguously call himself THE candidate of change.

There have been several suggestive polls among Clinton voters which show that a considerable proportion of them will not vote for Obama and may even consider voting for McCain. If these numbers hold strong, and the following conditions are valid, then we could see an “upset” in November:

a) McCain taps Romney for the VP spot.

b) The situation in Iraq remains stable.

c) The U.S. economy slumps further.

Romney will be an attractive VP because of his economic credentials. And this, as Frank Rich or Thomas Friedman noted some time ago, could play a more significant role to most American voters than irrelevant and obscure issues like world peace.

August 23rd, 2008, 4:52 pm


Innocent_Criminal said:

i agree with QN but for a different reason. I think Biden is the right candidate IF they end up winning. Otherwise it would have been a huge mistake to not pick Hilary. she is the ONLY candidate that would have actually gotten more votes for Obama.

August 23rd, 2008, 4:59 pm


norman said:

Hillery’s voters will not vote for Obama for a simple reason , because he is black , there are many closet racists in the US , Hillery could have brought in the baggage of Bill Clinton and Obama will be second even if he wins the presidency with Hillary as they will make it look that they were the reason for his win ,

Obama is better off winning on his own or not than having Hillery there.

August 23rd, 2008, 5:09 pm


trustquest said:

Alex, you only gave the positive aspect of Joe Biden but forgot to mention the negative ones.
Although I like Joe Biden, but still you have to remember there are some negative aspects about him and that does not make him the best choice for Obama. His blatant copying of a British politician’s speech twenty years ago is a bad spot on his file. Also, he might not be welcomed by Iraqi’s politicians and may be by Arab nationalist at large because of his suggestion to divide the country into three pieces, and this is could come back strongly if the USA wanted to quickly pull their forces from Iraq.
The last point I would add, that Obama does not need to appeal to Catholic as urgent as to appeal to broad base of evangelicals.
Me too, I would think Jim Web is better choice especially for his military background and his strength.

August 23rd, 2008, 5:23 pm


norman said:

I do not think that we Arabs have a say in the American presidential election , so Obama will not worry about that , Biden has not repeated his plan to divide Iraq and what he said might have pushed the Iraqis to conciliation , turkey is also against a Kurdish state and the US does not want to antagonize Turkey

According to MSNBC , The Hillary campaign is happy with choosing Biden so that could be a plus .

August 23rd, 2008, 5:39 pm


Shai said:

In Israel it’s so much easier… When a new PM can’t find an appropriate Defense Minister, he simply appoints himself to both roles… 🙂

August 23rd, 2008, 5:54 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Innocent_Criminal said:

You are right, it is a big problem, but it’s a problem for Syria itself. Since it does not have guarantees that it will be better off it does actually “flip”… Syria needs to keep its cards very tight to its chest because of the thin line it treads.

I recognize the importance of keeping cards close to the chest, particularly because Syria wants to maintain its street cred with Iran and Hizb. But, as you say, it’s a problem, simply because people need to be convinced that Syria can and will put out the fire. What do you think? Can it? Will it?

If HA is nothing more than a Syrian/Iranian tool then the answer is simple, it will be easily turned off the second Damascus wants it to. If the answer is yes it still means that HA is a political entity that is subject to outside influence and pressure and therefore can be “steered” or need it be “squeezed” to play ball through cutting off money and support. At the end of the day HA will need to face reality and play along.

What about you, IC? Which of the two versions is true? 🙂

I don’t see the Hizb as a tool, but I also don’t think that it can be steered or squeezed easily. Recently either Joe M. or Sami D. (ya`ni, one of our two highly intelligent and articulate Palestinian commentators) made the point that Hizbullah doesn’t take these talks seriously and is just playing along for Damascus’s sake. Let’s face it, peace with Israel is not in the current interests of the party. I think they need more time to transition effectively.

…here lies the dilemma Syria has positioned itself in for decades. It wants to move westwards but the west block such moves by unequivocally supporting its enemy, so it is forced to rely on mediocre “dentists” in Moscow, Tehran & Pyongyang to sharpen its teeth instead.

I don’t think it is forced to rely on crappy dentists, I think it chooses to do so rather than making the painful decisions that will benefit it in the long run. If we are going to be cynical about power and politics when we speak of Israelis and Americans, Saudis and Egyptians, M14ers and ex-M8ers, then we should also be cynical about power and politics when we speak about Syrians. The Asads did not rule the complex confederation of tribes and sects known as Syria for decades by being innocent little pussy cats. These guys know what they’re doing just like everyone else. If peace was priority numero uno, they could make it happen. I’m just not sure that it is, although I remain (somewhat) optimistic.


August 23rd, 2008, 7:22 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Innocent Criminal,

I don’t agree entirely with the following quotes from Senator Joseph Biden, but he gets to the gist of what I was trying to say above:

“There are plenty of reasons to mistrust Assad, but there could be real benefits to hard-headed diplomacy. Syria is the common denominator of many problems – in Lebanon , the Palestinian territories, and to a lesser extent Iraq. They are Iran ‘s closest ally. But it is also a fundamentally weak and isolated regime. We should work to break up its marriage of convenience with Iran. If Syria could be encouraged to act less irresponsibly it could have a real impact in the region.” (August 8, 2007)

“It is a mistake not to let Israel, if it wishes to, if it sees an opportunity to go out and explore possibilities with the Syrians. If I’m in Damascus, what’s in my best interest? My best interest is to be free of Iran’s yoke, on the good side of the equation with the oil-producing Sunni states, and able to deliver for my people what appears to be a victory by having a settlement on the Golan. Now, whether that can be accomplished remains to be seen, but it should be explored.” (March 20, 2007)

For more on what Biden thinks of various Middle East issues, see this helpful page assembled probably by AIPAC (they’re so useful, aren’t they?) 🙂

August 23rd, 2008, 7:32 pm


Shai said:


You see? That’s politicians. They can say in one sentence 5 contradicting messages, and still sound like they’re saying something smart.

At least it seems like Biden is open to Syria playing a major role in the region.

August 23rd, 2008, 7:39 pm


Charles Coutinho said:


One can only read today’s post, and, the prior ones, which focus on this particular subject matter, with some amusement. All of the many
comments, come from people who are: a) not Russian experts, and, of course do not read cyrillac; b) have not even cared to read-up on those english or french language sources which are well-informed on current Russian politics and foreign policy. So, with that being said, what is the reality of what Russia wants to do in the Near East and most especially the Levant? Aside from perhaps thumbing its nose at the USA, not very much. For the simple reason that Syria has almost nothing that Moskva needs or wants. It is not rich in natural resources, nor is it a market for Russian oil or gas exports. It has
no surplus capital to invest in Russia (as opposed to the rather large amount of Israeli capital investment in Russia), and, there is
nothing for Russian investors to buy or purchase. The dollar amounts that any potential arms deal with Syria (much less say Hezbollah), is dwarfed by the current two way trade between Israeli and Russia.

The whole premise of both Joshua Landis’ analysis and the others is based upon a rather simple, but, in fact erroneous syllogism: a) Russia is hostile to the USA [over Georgia and other things], plus b) Syria, Persia and Hezbollah are also hostile to Washington and its local ally Israel, equals c) therefore the Cold War relationship between Moskva and Damascus is ipso facto back in business.

The error in the above equation comes from the fact that the rationale, for Moskva’s alliance with Syria in the period running from the late 1950’s to the end of the Cold War, is completely absent today: ideological and geopolitical. Syria (along with a whole host of other countries like Nasser’s Egypt, Baathist Iraq, Algeria, Libya, South Yeman as well as the PLO), was part of an ‘anti-imperalist’, aka anti-American, and, anti-Israli alliance. For Sovietskaya Vlast, that was more than enough to provide a reason
to ally with Syria and the other countries mentioned. The fact that these alliances were, in retrospect, in most senses of the word, deadweights, never in fact giving off a positive return (both geopolitically, much less economically), was not that important.

In the Russia of Putin and Medvedev, where the line between economics and politics is a fine line indeed, a return to the old, balance of power politics of Sovietskaya Vlast in the Near East, is a complete non-starter. Unless Israel were to turn itself into an anti-Russian force in the Kavfaz region, which it has been very careful not to do (hence Tel Aviv’s refusal to align itself with Washington in the now concluded Georgian War), there is no reason for
the Kremlin to align itself with either Syria or Hezbollah. In a bidding war, involving dollars, Tel Aviv can quite easily outbid both. Not to speak of the influence, exercised both the One Million plus Russian-Jewish diaspora, in Israel. The only possible exception to the above, is of course Persia. And, even in that case, Moskva has not yet chosen to signal that it is walking away from the ‘Contact Group’, of countries (USA, France, Germany, UK, EU, China, as well as Russia) that are negotiating with Teheran over its
Nuclear programme. If it does so, than at that stage, one may speak of a return, to some type of balance of power, policies in the region. Especially if it were to involve, active Russian assistance with Persia’s nuclear programme. But, as I have mentioned, as of yet, there is no mention by Moskva that it wants to drop its co-operation with the West over preventing Persia from acquiring nuclear weapons (assuming that Persia wants in fact to do that).

I think that everyone caring to make simplistic comments and analyses on this topic, would do well, to indulge in a little background reading on Russian politics and economics, both past and present.

August 23rd, 2008, 8:53 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Dear Charles,

Not sure if I am one of those making simplistic comments, but I would like to commend you on yours. Much to think about…

In other news, an interesting piece by Rami Khoury:

Jordan’s behavior, a harbinger of change
By Rami G. Khouri
Daily Star staff
Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Jordan is the great survivor in the Arab world, so when it starts shuffling its diplomatic cards, it means there is something going on worth watching. More specifically, when the Jordanian Intelligence Department chief holds political talks with a top Hamas official based in Beirut – as has just happened – we should anticipate important changes ahead in the region.

This is not a purely bilateral or local matter. It suggests that both sides are looking out for their own best interests, by making preliminary moves to adjust to changing circumstances. Also, when the director of intelligence does politics, it signals that whatever is going on is worth watching.

The Jordanians threw Hamas out of the country a few years ago, soon after King Abdullah II assumed office, and ever since then two major trends have defined their ties. The first is that Jordan has seen Hamas (and Hizbullah) as significant strategic threats because of their close relationship with Iran. At one point a few years ago I heard from senior officials in Amman that they feared Hamas and Hizbullah would fire rockets and attack Jordanian targets in retaliation for any possible Israeli attack against Iran. For several years now, Jordanian officials would tell anyone who cared to hear that Iran and its friends were a huge strategic threat to the entire region.

That struck me as rather far-fetched, reflecting a highly exaggerated Jordanian perception of a threat from the Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah. That exaggeration was probably a result of Jordan being influenced too much by Israeli and American views – both of which are deeply flawed because of their almost total lack of contact with or deep knowledge of what Iran, Hamas, Hizbullah and friends stand for or aim to achieve.

The second Jordanian policy was to side firmly and operationally with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in his political show-down with Hamas in Palestine. Jordan has provided Abbas political support and significant security assistance. It has also given him the illusion of major Arab support in the battle against Hamas. As for fearing Iran and allies, in this policy Jordan was heavily constrained by its heavy dependence on the United States for financial aid and security support. Reliance on Western support has been one of the bedrocks of Jordan’s success as a state since its independence in the middle of the last century. The policy is often unpopular in Arab nationalist, Islamist and leftist circles, but it has worked well and served Jordanians handsomely, making the country one of the most stable and rational in the Arab world.

These two principles that have defined Jordan’s attitude to Hamas in recent years today seem weak, if not total failures. The need for an adjustment in Amman’s policy probably reflects the realization that pursuing failed policies is foolish. Resuming normal ties with Hamas is a dramatic change of policy, but drama to preserve Jordan’s security and stability seems preferable to a failed strategy of siding with Israel and the US against the obviously strong and growing Islamist forces in the region.

Jordan’s reconsideration of relations with Hamas may also hint at underlying changes in Palestine and in the Hamas-Syrian-Hizbullah-Iran camp. In Palestine, President Abbas has fared badly in his domestic struggle against Hamas, and simultaneously he has not achieved any breakthrough in his American-backed peace negotiations with Israel. The likelihood is that Hamas will do well in upcoming elections for parliament, and perhaps even for president, in the Palestinian territories.

The Jordanian monarchy, government, and intelligence service do not operate by hunches alone. They have excellent insights into sentiments in their society and surrounding societies, by a combination of good intelligence sources and regular quality polling. Unlike Israeli and American officials who are mostly ignorant of trends in large swaths of the Arab world, the Jordanians have their ear to the ground and rely on solid analyses of current and expected future trends.

Their exploration of resumed normal relations with Hamas suggests that we should keep our eye on possible slow changes in the Hamas-Syria-Iran relationship, and on a new phase of nationalist leadership in Palestine in which Hamas plays a larger role. This is a welcomed development, for two reasons: it suggests that both Jordan and Hamas are being realistic rather than romantically idealistic about their world; and it could promote new diplomatic possibilities on the now-dim Hamas-Israel horizon.

Changes in strategic relationships tend to occur gradually in the Middle East, as actors sense that regional ties may be changing and adjust accordingly, to ensure that they are not left dangling without friends or allies. So the meetings between Jordanian intelligence officers and Hamas may be as important for what they signal about Iran, Syria, Israel and Palestine as for what they tell us about Hamas and Jordan.

August 23rd, 2008, 11:32 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

In the business of peace: U.S. billionaire pursues his dream of Mideast peace

By Akiva Eldar

Between meeting in the Knesset with Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon and visiting his friend, President Shimon Peres, S. Daniel Abraham felt like pouring his heart out. The 84-year-old billionaire, who visited Israel earlier this month, says that for the last seven years, since meeting Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Saud – who has since been crowned king – he has not known peace. Abraham’s eyes become dewy as he talks about the meeting in Riyadh. That was when he heard the great news: 22 Arab countries had agreed to recognize Israel within the June 4, 1967 boundaries, and were offering it normal neighborly relations, as part of what became known as the Arab Initiative. Abraham recalls that he was moved to tears and told the prince that, being a Jew, he was at loss for words to describe how wonderful it was to hear such a declaration from an Arab leader of his standing…

[click above to read the rest]

Shai, are you sure you’re not S. Daniel Abraham, a 84 year old billionaire? (i.e., Shai Daniel Abraham?) This guy talks almost exactly like you.

Long but interesting article… 🙂

August 24th, 2008, 12:02 am


Alex said:

Dr. Coutinho, I would say you are perhaps guilty of a moderate degree of plagiarism

Although I do not speak Russian, and although I refer to the Russian capital as the simple “Moscow”, and not the intriguing Moskvá, my few comments on this topic are still more or less the same as your lecture above.

1) There is nothing overly dramatic in whatever took place during Assad’s visit to Russia this week.

2) The new relation between the two countries is not the same as the old ideological one that existed few decades ago.

3) The relationship is temporary … both Russia and Syria do not want to be excessively hostile to the United States.

Here are few references

I would love to read more from you on Syria Comment, but please avoid the part where you tell everyone here that they are too naive and not qualified enough to participate.

August 24th, 2008, 2:04 am


Shai said:


I prefer Zenobia’s approach. She thought I might be Shai Agassi (who is a year older than me, and far less good looking…) But an 84 year-old billionaire?! Do you think I’m that rich? 🙂 But yes, I do think like him about peace.

August 24th, 2008, 4:26 am


Shai said:


While indeed many of the comments on SC are “simplistic”, this is, still, a blog. Not a professional journal. I don’t know how long you’ve been following SC, but I do promise you that most “simplistic” comments here are far more sophisticated than most of the crap you’d find out there. Plus, most write here from Syria’s point of view (or the Arab’s POV) and in that realm, I believe, they are more than qualified. So much of what is happening in our region is so because of perception and misinterpretation. It is not at all about “facts”. If Russia doesn’t place a single missile on Syrian soil, but here in Israel the media talks about Syria’s perceived (or actual) interest in that option, damage is already done. And politicians and up-and-coming PM’s will capitalize on that.

I am not suggesting in the least fashion that facts are not important to our discussion – of course they are. But most of what I get out of SC, is less an objective analysis of the issues in our region, as much as the perceived one from “my enemies'” side. And for me to better understand Syria, and the Palestinians, and the rest of the Arab world, this is what matters. Not what I think, or know, of reality (which of course is also subjective). Erroneous assumptions have, and always will be, used and abused. But they are still assumptions, and the side making them must still be respected.

Still, thank you for your remarks above. It sounds as if you are indeed more of an expert than, certainly, I am. And therefore we can only benefit from your analysis.

August 24th, 2008, 4:49 am


Off the Wall said:


I did not yet have a chance to read all postes since my hasty post earlier today.

Joe Biden is the right choice because this country can not and should not take another very strong vice president. Obama is a constitutional scholar, and He is aware that there is a need to restore some balance between the branches. As a president, he is unlikely to yield back the powers that Bush and Chainy have claimed for the presidency, but he will not tolerate a vice president who will outstep his constitutional bounds, and that is to be a president in waiting if something happened. He will consult with Biden and with many others, but has is not going to allow Biden to claim any responsibilities not charged directly by him. Hillary is a different story. She is too strong to be a “president in waiting” and she would probably want to share the office.

I would personally have preferred a true progressive team and in my opinion neither Obama, nor Clinton are true progressive. They both have an agenda that occasionally intersects progressive agenda, but thats the end of it. They are more centrists, and 50 years ago, they would have been considered conservative not liberals.

Biden would be the administration’s envoy to troubled spots same as James Baker was for Bush the father. He is acceptable friend of Israel but not overly influenced by the need to cow-tow to AIPAC. He will be a very important person in an Obama administration, but it will be Obama who is, as it should be, the Boss. I am not sure that such is possible with Hillary being the VP.
I am for a strong person for a VP, but for a weak VP office. This is the least one would expect in returning things to Normalcy.

Also I believe that the Senate, would probably be more accepting of Biden being the president of the Senate, which is the only constitutional duty of the VP.

August 24th, 2008, 6:41 am


Alex said:

Interesting … Top Saudi journalist Abdel Rahman Elrashed (Director of MBC and AlArabiya) writes in Asharq alawsat:

“Syrian President Bashar Assad showed he is highly skilled in raising Syria’s international presence after going on a diplomatic offensive on most fronts … Lebanon, the Arab Gulf, France, Israel, the United States, and finally Russia.

His moves were accompanied by exciting developments on the ground, such as the agreement to exchange ambassadors with Lebanon. This followed Syria’s successful management of major events in Palestine and Lebanon”

Then Rashed invited Syria to deal with the parties closer to home … if Syria accepted to reach an understanding with them, things will be much easier.

I would imagine, he means “Syria’s Arab brothers”

سورية وروسيا وشائعة التحالف

كيف نقرأ زيارة الرئيس السوري الى روسيا التي حظيت بدعاية في منطقتنا ألصقتها بأزمة حرب جورجيا، وان موسكو أخيرا ستساند سورية بالمواقف السياسية، والسلاح، ضد الولايات المتحدة واسرائيل؟ أي ان دمشق شقت التحالفات الدولية مرة ثانية، بعد زيارة فرنسا، حيال قضيتها، على اعتبار ان روسيا لم تكن تصوت لصالح سورية في قرارات قضية المحكمة الدولية، وغيرها.

كلام كبير، ونتيجة مهمة لو كانت صحيحة، لان فيها نقل الأزمة الى صراع المستوى الدولي. حدسي انه كلام ليس صحيحا، بل هي حملة علاقات عامة جيدة أخرى من دمشق، ومحاولات لبناء علاقات دولية قد تكون مفيدة مستقبلا. بقدر ما تبدو الرحلة مفيدة، الا ان سورية مثل من يفتش عن حل في آخر الدنيا في حين ان المفاتيح في جيبها. باختصار، لمن لا يطيق الانتظار الى نهاية المقال، روسيا لن تعارك اميركا من اجل سورية، كان هذا يحدث في زمن الاتحاد السوفييتي وليس في عهد الرئيس بوتين. روسيا لم تعد بلدا ايدولوجيا كما كانت زمن السوفييت بل تحسب سياستها وفق مصالحها، وهذا سبب معركتها مع جورجيا.

ولحسن الحظ فان دمشق نفسها من تعجل نفي رواية سلاح اسكندر الصاروخي، الذي قيل ستنشره موسكو على الاراضي السورية، وأكدت على ان الموضوع كله لم يبحث مع الروس. فالمبالغة وترويج مثل هذه الاشاعات سيمهد لإسرائيل ضرب سورية، في حين القيادة السورية ارادت من حملة العلاقات العامة رفع المعنويات الداخلية والاقليمية، لا الدخول في حرب غير متكافئة مع اسرائيل.

الاشاعة الأخرى، ابحار بوارج روسية الى ميناء طرطوس وانه تم تحويله الى قاعدة بحرية لروسيا ضمن اتفاق عسكري. لم تنف لأنها شائعة مكررة، بنيت على زيارات مكررة تقوم بها قطع بحرية عسكرية روسية للميناء منذ زمن لاغراض تموينية.

روسيا اكدت لكل الاطراف انها لن تساند سورية ضد الآخرين في الصراع الاقليمي. لم تبدل موقفها المحايد رغم ان اسرائيل زودت الجورجيين بأسلحة جاءت نتيجتها فاشلة، حيث خسرت جورجيا الحرب في زمن قياسي. فمعظم الدول العربية الرئيسية الأخرى لم تؤيد اميركا ولم تصدر بيانا او تصريحا مع جورجيا، ولم تستنكر هجوم روسيا، ولم توقع ضد «احتلال» روسيا اوسيتيا. فلماذا تقف روسيا ضدهم مع سورية؟

نستطيع ان نرى ان الرئيس السوري بشار الاسد ابدى مهارة عالية في رفع الحضور السوري دوليا، تبنى سياسة الهجوم الدبلوماسي على معظم الجبهات، لبنان، والخليج، وفرنسا، واسرائيل، والولايات المتحدة، وروسيا أخيرا. وصاحب زياراته نشاطات ميدانية مثيرة، كما نرى اخيرا في تبادل السفارتين مع لبنان، وما سبقها من ادارة ايجابية لأحداث كبيرة في فلسطين ولبنان. ومع الإقرار بحيوية الدبلوماسية السورية يظل السؤال، ما الذي جنته دمشق في سبيل حل قضيتها الرئيسية؟ القضية المركبة من المحكمة الدولية، والاحتماء بايران، ومواجهة المقاطعة الاميركية المتزايدة؟

سورية لن تجد مفرا من التعامل مع اطراف القضية مباشرة والتفاهم معهم، لو فعلته اليوم لاختصرت الكثير.

August 24th, 2008, 3:19 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

You see Alex affandi, the Saudis are not so bad after all. 😉

August 24th, 2008, 5:08 pm


Shai said:


Who was it that said Hezbollah will not react if Israel attacked Iran? Can’t get much clearer than the Sayyed’s latest warning: “The first shot fired from the Zionist entity toward Iran will be met by a response of 11,000 rockets…”

August 24th, 2008, 5:11 pm


norman said:


Talk is talk , If he said that he will not retaliate , Israel will see that as a permission to attack Iran , he just does not want Israel to stop thinking and calculating the price that they might pay.

August 24th, 2008, 5:25 pm


Shai said:


I agree, but the problem is that some here will use that as political ammunition. If there’s one thing Israelis have learned to respect Nasrallah for, it’s his word. So now the conservatives here will say “You see? Iran is on Israel’s southern border, as well as the northern one, and it is seeking nuclear capabilities. We have no choice…” And of course, there are some that are just waiting for the opportunity to settle an old score with HA for summer 2006, and they’ll be more than happy to have rockets landing in Israel again, as the perfect excuse to destroy much of Lebanon. Olmert himself foolishly paved the way yesterday, by suggesting that next time around (since Hezbollah is now a political power, supported by government), all of Lebanon will pay the price, not just HA.

Words, like those used by Ahmedinejad, Nasrallah, Olmert, Mofaz, Barak, etc. scare me very much. They give the wrong people the justification and support they seek. And then, we have the luxury of considering our mistakes, only in retrospect (like summer ’06). A serious tone-down in rhetoric is needed. These are quickly becoming unstable times.

August 24th, 2008, 5:45 pm


Lysander said:

From Shai’s link;

“The first shot fired from the Zionist entity toward Iran will be met by a response of 11,000 rockets in the direction of the Zionist entity. This is what military leaders in the Islamic republic have confirmed,” said the Hezbollah official Mohammed Raad. His remarks were reported by Lebanon’s National News Agency.

Its not entirely clear but it seems he meant Iran would retaliate with “11,000” missiles, and not Hizbollah. I doubt Hizb can be seen so obviously in Lebanon as acting in Iran’s interest.

Its probably a moot point since honestly, I don’t see any attack on Iran anytime soon. If they didn’t attack when oil was 40-50$/barrel, why would they do it when it’s 110-115?

August 24th, 2008, 9:34 pm


Charles Coutinho said:


Once every so often (not very these days), I venture to make a comment on this site, and, as often as not, am taken aback by the vulgarity and stupidity of the response. Yesterday, I ventured to hope that the result would be a bit different, alas I was mistaken.

Specifically, I refer of course to the fellow who goes by the name of ‘Alex’ (what is your real name by the bye? Would you care to tell us a bit about yourself? Why the nome de plum?). I will not of course stoop so low as to respond to the idiotic charge that he made yesterday. Except to remark, that when he advances a little bit on the academic hierarchy (B.A.? M.A.? Ph.D.? Where from?), I will take start to take his commentary a little bit more seriously. Until then I am afraid that he is just whistling Dixie…

Addio amici.

August 24th, 2008, 10:53 pm


norman said:


You are mistaken about Alex,

By the way , click on his name you will find out who he is , and yes that is his real name.

August 24th, 2008, 10:58 pm


Alex said:


I am 42 but I am in high school, repeating the year before last for the third time. wish me good luck.

I am also taking introductory English language courses. When I speak, I still have a heavy Syrian accent.

I definitely do not live in a Manhattan Penthouse like you proudly announce on your blog … a blog about diplomacy.

Because I have nothing better to do in my life, I happen to be the moderator for this blog.

So I would ask you again to please stop lecturing everyone here like you used to do in almost every comment you left last year when I asked you the same, in case you forgot.

If you are looking for a place to lecture students, this is not the right blog for you. Most others here are Ivy League Ph.D.’s or physicians**

In other words … You are not the only one with a “Dr.” title.

If you click on my name (“Alex”), it will take you to my site … click on contact us if you want to complain to me by email or if you want me to give you my full, real name. Then you can google it to find out more.

Thank you

** Except Shai and Ehsani … they were never good in school.

August 24th, 2008, 11:07 pm


Off the Wall said:

Mr. Charles

Hold on, as we say 7abibi, vulga-what?.

We are a bunch of simpletons here, and we believe that since specialists in Russian affairs such as our indomitable Condi Rice, have demonstrated abysmal performance, my be some of us can help by attempting our own way of reading Putin’s soul through his blue, or whatever color, eyes and can probably get a hint of things to come. We find that a good supplement to our astrologers predictions and horoscopes, to our highly reliable “fish entrails” readout, and most importantly to our Turkish coffee mud reading.

The only problem is that I have not observed vulgarity on this site. My be my vulgari-meter is in need of re-calibration, but what does a simpleton like me, and like many on this site, with barely a high school educatin, if at all, know about vulgarity or about stupidity.

Unlike a sophisticated blogger, we follow the teachings of our supreme leader in the white house and feel politics with our guts and then just gush out what we feel.

August 25th, 2008, 2:32 am


Shai said:


I once felt intimidated by a few professors, it was more than twenty years ago, while I was doing my Bachelors in Mathematics. Back then, it was because they truly WERE geniuses, and I, a mere mortal. It wasn’t because they were arrogant, or rude. But not every PhD is a genius, and some indeed ARE arrogant. And the sad thing is, some don’t even realize it. I guess one doesn’t need to realize much, from atop a Manhattan penthouse, eh? 🙂

August 25th, 2008, 4:24 am


Off the Wall said:

Dear SHAI,
I hope you tell your precious daughters that story and instill in them not to fear or be intimidated by any Professor. After all, professors are mortal, but they do have big egos. Funny I was talking with my nephew today about Ego, and we agreed that it combines both pride and vanity and by that It should qualify as a “composite sin”. 🙂

Yup, Manhattan it is. 🙂

But seriously, I have been in the presence of genius few times in my life, and it is awe inspiring and intimidating simply to try to imagine how their minds connect things together. And i can easily understand how one can be intimidated by such. In some cases, what seems to be their arrogance is nothing more than impatience with our slowness. 🙂

August 25th, 2008, 6:54 am


Shai said:


Yes, I’ve known a few lecturers that initially turned me off by sounding arrogant, but later I fell in love with them, because of their brilliance. But none of them had penthouses in Manhattan… 🙂

August 25th, 2008, 8:16 am


Off the Wall said:

Dr. Charles
Here is a guy who knows Russian, in he lives and works in Moscow. But he probably is inexperienced and may not pass your test.

Fallout from the Georgian War


Fortunately, the Russia-Georgia war was short-lived, but its repercussions will be felt for quite a long time. By defeating Georgia and showing that Washington was unable to defend its own ally, Russia humiliated the United States in front of the whole world.

While U.S. officials and the global media criticized Russia for its “unforgivable” conduct in invading South Ossetia and Georgia, most of the world was filled with delight: At last, someone put high-handed Americans in their place. Against the background of anti-U.S. sentiment during President George W. Bush’s two terms in office, this desire to snub the United States is not surprising.

Perhaps Georgia deserves some sympathy. After all, it is a small country that tried to resist its powerful neighbor. But the conflict was less about Georgia and South Ossetia than it was a global battle between East and West.

Russia won the latest round with unexpected ease, but this will surely not be the final battle. After experiencing an embarrassing humiliation, the Bush administration will have difficulty forgiving Russia. Even worse, the U.S. government’s indignation has turned into an anti-Russian consensus among Washington politicians and their electorates. As a result, the anti-Russian views of presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain hardly differ from those of Bush. Coming from U.S. politicians, however, the argument that Georgia’s territorial integrity should be preserved doesn’t sound very convincing. After all, it was the United States that set an example after it invaded sovereign Iraq and overthrew the local government. It later separated Kosovo from sovereign Serbia.

The war with Georgia was a sharp turning point in U.S.-Russian relations. From now on, the desire to punish Moscow will become an important component of U.S. foreign policy. The underlying conflict of interests will turn into a protracted confrontation.

Paradoxically, this conflict will most likely turn out to be good news for Russia. What Washington thinks is punishment for Moscow may in fact turn out to be a blessing. For example, the United States believes that blocking Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization is one way to retaliate. But for Russia’s domestic industries — particularly when there is a global economic downturn — entry into WTO would be a death sentence. Therefore, if this sentence will be postponed, the Kremlin can only thank the United States and Georgia.

In addition, Washington and London are threatening to investigate the bank accounts of senior Russian officials that are held abroad. It’s surprising that this wasn’t done earlier. Russians can only benefit if the United States leads a new fight against money laundering, particularly when it involves top officials from the Russian government. Moreover, NATO is threatening to suspend joint military exercises with Russia. That means Russia will save a nice amount of money and fuel. Finally, in light of the increased tension, liberal opposition groups in Moscow will receive more active help from the West. This is also beneficial because new financing will mean the creation of new media outlets, new nongovernmental organizations and new jobs.

When it condemned Russia’s incursion into Georgia, the United States appealed to international public opinion and threatened Moscow with global isolation. But it is the United States that will becoming increasingly isolated in the world. Over the last five years, Washington has met worldwide criticism, including from its allies in Europe. As a result, Moscow’s heightened conflict with the United States makes Russia more appealing for a significant part of the world. The question is only whether the Kremlin is able to take advantage of this new opportunity.

Boris Kagarlitsky is the director of the Institute of Globalization Studies in Moscow.

August 26th, 2008, 3:51 pm


Alex said:

It is getting serious. The Russians are now taking a hard line position on everything from Georgia to Afghanistan.

August 26th, 2008, 4:17 pm


norman said:

Russia maintains pressure with recognition of Georgian territories
Medvedev approved the move a day after parliament voted unanimously in favor of it.
By Steve Gutterman | The Associated Press
from the August 27, 2008 edition

Moscow – Defying the United States and Europe, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced Tuesday he has signed a decree recognizing the independence of the breakaway Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Few other nations are likely to follow Russia’s lead, but the move is likely to further escalate tensions between Moscow and the West.

“This is not an easy choice, but this is the only chance to save people’s lives,” Mr. Medvedev said in a televised address a day after Russia’s Kremlin-controlled parliament voted unanimously to support the diplomatic recognition.

Medvedev’s declaration comes as Russian forces remain in Georgia after a war, staking out positions beyond the de facto borders of the separatist regions. Abkhazia and South Ossetia have effectively ruled themselves following wars with Georgia in the 1990s.

Russia’s military presence seems likely to further weaken Georgia, a Western ally in the Caucasus region, a major transit corridor for energy supplies to Europe, and a strategic crossroads.

Russian tanks and troops drove deep into the US ally’s territory in a five-day war this month that Moscow saw as a justified response to a threat in its backyard. The West viewed it as a repeat of Soviet-style intervention in its vassal states.

Medvedev said Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili had forced Russia’s hand by launching an Aug. 7-8 overnight attack to seize control of South Ossetia by force. “Saakashvili chose genocide to fulfill his political plans,” he said. “Georgia chose the least human way to achieve its goal – to absorb South Ossetia by eliminating a whole nation.”

On the heels of Russia’s first post-Soviet invasion of a foreign country, recognition was another stark demonstration of the Kremlin’s determination to hold sway in lands where its clout is jeopardized by NATO’s expansion and growing Western influence.

After Russia’s parliament backed the move Monday, the US State Department said recognition of the areas would be “unacceptable.”

President Bush urged the Kremlin against it. “Georgia’s territorial integrity and borders must command the same respect as every other nation’s, including Russia’s,” he said late Monday. Vice President Dick Cheney is visiting Georgia next month to show supportn.

Russia says the West badly undermined its own arguments for the sanctity of Georgia’s borders by supporting Kosovo’s declaration of independence from traditional Russian ally Serbia in February.

Georgia lashed out at Russia. The recognition has “no legal status,” Georgia’s state minister on reintegration, Timur Yakobashvili, told the AP.

Russia can expect “further diplomatic isolation” following the decision, said Masha Lipman, a liberal expert with the Moscow Carnegie Center think tank. She noted that even Germany, which has maintained close ties with Russia even as Moscow’s estrangement from other Western nations grew, had warned the Kremlin against formal recognition.

August 26th, 2008, 4:31 pm


Alex said:

“Russia ready to break off relations with NATO – Medvedev. A Multi-Polar World is needed. The US blackened the UN when they invaded Iraq illegally and no WMD were found. Russia must not become The Grand Area of the EU.”

August 26th, 2008, 4:58 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

I think this is great for the US. First, it brings the US and Europe much closer together. See the recent missile defense deals. There is nothing better than common enemies.

Second, the US has become serious about eliminating its dependence on foreign oil. In 10 years, when oil is $25 a barrel, the Russians will be talking in another tone.

August 26th, 2008, 5:44 pm


Off the Wall said:


Only lip service to independence from foreign oil in the US. Only lip service. The republican plan is a disgrace, and the democrats have none.

Also, I am not sure US independence from foreign oil will be good for Israel.

August 26th, 2008, 6:20 pm


Shai said:


Many enjoyed the Star Wars movies, and would like to see the world’s “Evil Empire” emerge once more. A bipolar world helps them define themselves as, naturally, the Good Guys. So much easier than contemplating complex scenarios such as the Arab-Israeli conflict, when you’ve got Israel on the Good Axis (U.S.-Europe) versus Syria on the Evil Axis (Russia-Iran, etc.)

The dependency on oil has indeed caused the world much pain and suffering. It is time (probably a few decades away still) for nations to become energy independent, wherever possible. Alternative energy sources and technology are just a matter of time. There’s an Israeli startup company, doing a lot of research with MIT, which apparently has found a way to create commercially-viable fuel out of algae grown through depleted CO2 from power-stations. Check them out on Sounds interesting… Maybe not next year, but a decade from now? At least for some nations…

August 26th, 2008, 6:30 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Not lip service at all. The First Cold War was won by making the Russians spend too much. The Second Cold War will be won by reducing their income.

Some combination of the Pickens and McCain plan could easily do the trick. Move electricity manufacturing to wind and nuclear predominantly. Free natural gas (of which there is plenty in the US) to run cars and develop in the meantime all the technologies that will power cars on electricity, hydrogen, air-pressure etc. It is quite doable and both the Democrats and Republicans understand there is no choice.

August 26th, 2008, 6:41 pm


Shai said:


But what if all these green-startups (like the one I mentioned) are bought up by Saudi investors? Or Russian and Iranian ones… ? Then we’re back in square one, no? 🙂

August 26th, 2008, 6:57 pm


Alex said:

Why I had to recognise Georgia’s breakaway regions

By Dmitry Medvedev

Published: August 26 2008 18:48 | Last updated: August 26 2008 18:48

On Tuesday Russia recognised the independence of the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It was not a step taken lightly, or without full consideration of the consequences. But all possible outcomes had to be weighed against a sober understanding of the situation – the histories of the Abkhaz and Ossetian peoples, their freely expressed desire for independence, the tragic events of the past weeks and inter­national precedents for such a move.

Not all of the world’s nations have their own statehood. Many exist happily within boundaries shared with other nations. The Russian Federation is an example of largely harmonious coexistence by many dozens of nations and nationalities. But some nations find it impossible to live under the tutelage of another.

Relations between nations living “under one roof” need to be handled with the utmost sensitivity.

And this is one of the two main reasons Syria will not allow anyone to mess up with Lebanon … what happens in Lebanon WILL eventually affect Syria.

August 26th, 2008, 7:13 pm


Shai said:


But didn’t the U.S. and France basically say the same thing in 2005, that Russia is saying now? They “recognized” Lebanon’s independence. Could it have happened without the interference of a superpower?

August 26th, 2008, 7:20 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

The problem Alex is that Syria has a problem with Lebanon being a simple country of tourism and trade that lives peacefully with its neigbors. THAT is what the Syrians do not want in Lebanon because it will undermine their position relative to Israel. But of course, only for the Syrians peace and quiet in Lebanon means messing Lebanon up.

August 26th, 2008, 7:23 pm


Alex said:


The Syrians are using Lebanon to some extent, that’s true.

But Israel, Saudi Arabia, the US, and France also used Lebanon.

And of course, comparing Bashar’s approach to Lebanon, to Israel’s Bashar did not spray millions of cluster bombs over Lebanon like Israel did … You don’t want me to link a few You tube videos here.

The point I made is there for anyone who want to understand the main reason Syria is always going to fight anyone over Lebanon.

Our area is full of minorities and complexities … your Israel has no sensitivity whatsoever to others … it is a heavily armed nation living inside a fortress.

The Saudis proved they are totally unqualified to manage anything outside their region.

The United States alone does not understand Lebanon (or Syria, or Iraq) … can only mess up and destroy.

France talks a lot but accomplish nothing.

Syria will not allow any of the above to introduce hell to Lebanon … then to Syria.

When Hafez Assad decided to send the Syrian army into Lebanon to stop the civil war, it was an extremely costly decision … but he had no choice.

Here is a reminder from History.

Glass-photo, ca 1860, of the destruction of the Christian Quarter in Damascus in 1860. The violent incident started on the 9th of July, when a mob of 20,000-50,000 from the Maidan, and Salihya districts of Damascus attacked, killed and pillaged the Christian Quarter and its inhabitants, 5,000 to 12,000 were estimated to have perished. The Greek Orthodox, the Greek Catholic and the Armenian churches were the first to be burned. The Russian consulate was the first to be attacked, followed by the French, then the Dutch, Austrian, Belgian and the American consulates. Abdu Costi, the American Consul was beaten and left for dead. The Prussian and the English Consulates were saved. “AN OCCASION FOR WAR, Leila Tarazi Fawaz, University of California Press, 1994”. Abdul Qadir al-Jazairi, the exiled Algerian hero, along with his 1000 volunteers protected most of the Diplomats, and thousands of Christians in his houses. He was awarded the highest medals by the European governments. The building on the left is the French Lazarists Monastery and school burned by the attackers.

And this followed what started in Lebanon:

Read this

August 26th, 2008, 7:43 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

The situation today is quite simple. Syria wants to use Lebanon to fight Israel. Israel is not using Lebanon anymore for anything. We just want to be left alone. Most Lebanese believe that what Syria is doing is not moral and that Syria should fight Israel from the Golan. But, Lebanon is weak relative to Syria so I guess it must suffer.

August 26th, 2008, 7:52 pm


Alex said:


the situation is actually even more simple

Syria wants to have peace with Israel and to be the best friend of the Untied States int he whole Middle East.

But for some Israelis to say “we just want to be left alone” … without returning the lands they “captured” to their owners, is equivalent to saying “We will use our power if necessary until you are convinced that we can keep the lands we want to keep, AND we can convince you one day that it is on your best interest to leave us alone”

Nothing is simple in the Middle East … only AIPAC propagandists can magically frame it that way.

August 26th, 2008, 8:09 pm


Shai said:


That’s the perfect Likud platform for the next election: “Leave us alone!”

Sounds like my two girls, when their daddy is in one of his annoying moods… 🙂

August 26th, 2008, 8:13 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Syria wants to have peace with Israel and to be the best friend of the United States in the whole Middle East.

What?! If this doesn’t say “I am a puppet regime in waiting,” I don’t know what does.

(Just kidding ya habibi Alex. I couldn’t resist.)

August 26th, 2008, 9:19 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

It is very simple. Syria has a problem with Israel because Israel does not want to return to Syria the Golan. Therefore, Syria has decided to use Lebanon to get back the Golan because Lebanon is weak relative to Syria and therefore Syria believes it can be bullied to further Syria’s interests at the expense of Lebanon’s interests.

You would agree that most Lebanese do not understand why Syria does not fight Israel from the Golan but from Lebanon. You have a problem with Israel keeping the Golan. I get it. But why does Lebanon have to pay the price? Your answer is: Because Lebanon is weaker than Syria. Well, if that is a valid answer then you should not really complain about Israel keeping the Golan.

August 26th, 2008, 10:02 pm


Alex said:


True, Syria is weaker than Israela nd Lebanon is weaker than Syria, but there is big difference … Syria is not trying to take part of Lebanon like Israel is trying to keep the part it took from Syria.

To the contrary .. Syria GAVE Lebanon the Shebaa farms … most Israelis, and many at the UN, were trying few years ago to force Syria to claim the Shebaa farms.

And Syria withdrew immediately from Lebanon when there was a UNSC resolution and when it was obvious most Lebanese wanted Syria out in 2005.

August 26th, 2008, 10:15 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

To the contrary .. Syria GAVE Lebanon the Shebaa farms … most Israelis, and many at the UN, were trying few years ago to force Syria to claim the Shebaa farms.

Umm, Alex? As much as we Lebanese are grateful for this lovely gift, we were wondering if it would be possible to return the Shebaa Farms to Syria and exchange it for a nice piece of coastline near Tartus/Latakia. Would that be ok?

August 26th, 2008, 10:39 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

I don’t understand your argument. Syria has a problem with Israel. Fair enough. But why put Lebanon at great risk to solve it? Just because Syria is stronger?

As for giving Sheba, that is just not true. All Syria has to do is send a letter to the UN saying Sheba is Lebanese, but Syria will not do that.

And it is true that Syria is not trying to take part of Lebanon. It wants to control all of it.

August 26th, 2008, 10:45 pm


Alex said:


Lak I know : )

Actualy many Lebanese initially did not want the Shabaa farms .. they knew that it will be used as an excuse fro Hizbollah and Syria to continue confronting Israel.


Again you are trying to blame Syria for Israel’s faults.

Shebaa is Lebanese … Syria is not claiming them. You can link to this comment and prove me wrong at any point in the future if you want.

But here is what your friends at are arguing:

The Washington Post’s Misrepresentation of the Shebaa Farms

Washington Post news coverage of and commentary on Israel’s war against Hezbollah in Lebanon often refer to “the disputed Shebaa Farms” region and “Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms.” Such descriptions frequently accompany reports of Hezbollah insistence that it will continue “armed resistance” until Israel ceases occupying Lebanese territory.

But there is no international dispute over the status of the 10-square-mile area at the intersection of the Lebanese, Israeli and Syrian borders. In the successful self-defense of the 1967 Six-Day War,Israel took Shebaa Farms and the Golan Heights from Syria.

August 26th, 2008, 10:50 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

I am not trying, I am in fact blaming Syria for bullying Lebanon and puting it at grave risk.

If Syria agrees that Sheba is Lebanese, why does it not just send a letter to the UN saying this? I will pay for the stamp. Israel will then be forced to return Sheba to Lebanon because its committment to the UN on this issue. It is really that simple.

Until Syria officially tells the UN that Sheba is Lebanese, it is part of the Golan and therefore by Israeli law (the only one that matters in this case) Sheba is Israeli since the Golan was annexed to Israel and is part of Israel now.

August 26th, 2008, 11:01 pm


Off the Wall said:


Move electricity manufacturing to wind and nuclear predominantly. Free natural gas (of which there is plenty in the US) to run cars and develop in the meantime all the technologies that will power cars on electricity, hydrogen, air-pressure etc. It is quite doable and both the Democrats and Republicans understand there is no choice.

Couldn’t agree more. But i really do not think that it is being approached with the seriousness it requires as a National priority.

In fact I am a firm believer in the value of nuclear energy not only for the US but also for developing countries. I believe that safety standards are now reasonable enough to move towards more reliance on nuclear energy.

I agree, and part of that was what tried to say in a much earlier post by alluding to the possibility that even if Russia does not want to carry a multi-polar banner, there are countries around the world eager for that to happen. Some are justified, and some are not. But we can not ignore the fact the the US has gravely abused (or as bush says missabused) the first two decades of the uni-polar world.

I still believe that the future is for regional alliances built on economic cooperation between countries with similar value systems.

Be careful what you wish for, there are assassins lurking in the waters along that segment of the coast you like to have. 🙂

August 27th, 2008, 12:30 am


jad said:

Someone here is always arguing when he should concentrate on trying to understand and listen to the other side, like Shai, that I do respect for his vision and willingness of listening to the other side not just arguing without even reading the answers he got.
What I don’t understand is how can this person argue rationally about democracy and being the defender of Lebanon that his army destroyed and invade so many times, especially when his “democratic” government daily job for the last 60 years is killing Palestinians and Arabs (including Lebanese), humiliating them, supporting settlers to do the worst any human can imagine, destroying houses, burning olive tress, stealing the lands, and lately confiscating historical documents from it’s owners and keep occupying our land.
How can we take such person’s endless arguments and turn it into a worthy debate, I don’t think that is possible…it’s like wasting our time and ideas over a wall…

August 27th, 2008, 12:48 am


Shai said:


When one doesn’t want to make peace (recognizing what that entails), one seeks and finds an infinite amount of reasons not to. While I am deeply disappointed in my own people’s ability to exercise such numbness when it comes to peace initiatives (not to mention the continued Occupation of lands that were never ours), I am at least “comforted” by the knowledge that most are not using the Democracy-excuse. Most Israelis have never met an Arab, have never listened carefully to his/her concerns, have never had to face the truth up close. The closest any Israelis have come to that, are patrolling the streets of Palestinian villages and towns in Gaza and the West Bank and, in fact, exercising the role of Apartheid police.

I know that some soldiers (mere 18 and 19 year-old kids) completely lose their minds over it. They were raised one way, and now they’re forced to act another. They are literally forced to become animals. While it is customary for guys in a particular unit to keep in very close contact after the army, and meet every so often for get-togethers, many who have served in the Territories for a long time do the opposite – they keep a long distance from one another – for fear of having to discuss what they’ve done there. So these Israelis can’t even begin to digest the evils of our Occupation, and raise it to the level of national discussion.

So what most Israelis discuss, is the very superficial level of “land-for-peace”, spending more time interpreting this as “giving-into-terrorism”, rather than doing what is just, and 60 years overdue. Most Israelis are actually not aware of the extent of their nation’s crimes. When considering peace, they have only one side to look at, their enemy’s. There is no self-introspection and certainly no remorse. But that is due not to innate inabilities, but rather to the lack of serious national discourse, and to the near-decade long numbness that has engulfed most Israelis since the second Intifada.

The near future is very unclear. Who will lead Israel? When will a new PM be in power (as early as two months from now, or as late as next March) Will the new PM continue the peace talks? Are we to face more military “adventures” (Iran, HA) by Israel? All these could have major and dramatic effects on peace, both negative as well as positive ones. Let’s hope cooler minds will prevail, and the slight momentum (which I’m actually suspecting to be quite major, behind-the-scenes) will continue. While I believe Netanyahu will win the next elections rather easily, I’m hoping he will not miss his second, and last, opportunity to end the Israeli-Arab conflict by delivering peace. As I’ve stated many times on SC, the political absurd in Israel, is that precisely those who speak against peace, are best suited to deliver it…

As for democracy, let’s first prove we can give equal rights to the Palestinians… before we suggest freedom somewhere else. I’ve never appreciated a smoking cardiologist telling his patients smoking is bad for them… 🙂 (no relation to Al-Taqi, as I know he’s also a cardiologist).

August 27th, 2008, 4:21 am


jad said:

The reality that you are from the other side yet you are trying to understand your enemy (me) point of view is a courage that very few people can do, I envy you for that, I honestly do.
When we were kids we had a Jewish neighboor, my parents liked him and I did to, for my family he was as Syrian as us, he had couple kids, I remember that one day his older son was crying because someone called him a Jew not in a nice way, I felt so bad for this kid that someone called him names just because he was a different “Syrian” than them. Since that time It bothers me so much to see anybody talking about religion as an obstacle of communicating.
I admit that we as syrian didn’t treat our citizens fair enough that we lost most of our Jewish Syrian community because of that, however we didn’t kill any of them or take their homes, if you go to Damascus you will see that all their properties and houses are untouched.
my point is that eventhough we don’t have the democracy in it’s new European or American forms we still have morals, it may not work perfectly all the time but it works fine most of the time.
I know very well that there are people of honor in Israel that are fighting for the right thing and for justice but they are not the average joe, they are minority, when your majority have the same mentality and way of thinking that somone here always show, I doubt that we can move forward anywhere, it’s a sad fact, yet I’m optimistic by nature and I wish that one day we can share the same vision. Again, I respect you and I hope more israelis can see and understand the other side point of view as you do unlike other blinded ones.

August 27th, 2008, 5:33 am


Shai said:


In’shalla, we will all become unblinded one day, and at last understand how pride and arrogance has cost us and too many generations precious years and life. It’s not courage that’s required, it’s empathy. It’s the ability to understand that there are two sides (at least) to this “coin”. That unless we are ready and willing to not only listen, but indeed to understand the other side, as he sees us (not as we see ourselves), we cannot move forward. Empathy is the key, I believe.

I too am optimistic, and not only because it’s a better way of living, but because I do believe that most Israelis have the moral makeup that can bring them to change their view of the Arabs (and in particular the Palestinians). We should, perhaps no less than anyone on earth, understand the suffering of an entire people, at the hands of their masters, in this case, us. It will take some time, however, and these peace initiatives (even if initially leading to mere superficial peace) are the first steps on the way to breaking the innate emotional walls we in Israel have created over the years, mostly to justify not needing to look ourselves in the mirror, again, especially when it comes to our treatment of the Palestinians for the past 60 years.

Please know that most Israelis do not share the views expressed by some anti-peaceniks here. They do not require “democracy” in any of our neighboring nations as preconditions to anything (peace, normalization, etc.) They are making their decisions purely based on emotions of fear, distrust, and suspicion, and not on rational thinking. Most, like anywhere else, are led, and are not leading. They swallow what they are fed. So when the right leader comes along (and believe it or not, it may be Netanyahu as I’ve suggested previously), they’ll swallow the right pill… and support peace.

August 27th, 2008, 7:41 am


Bookmarks about Lebanon said:

[…] – bookmarked by 1 members originally found by Emogirl953 on 2008-09-19 New Cold War or Merely Jockeying for Position? What Does Syria Want? – bookmarked by 5 members originally found by hominymanchild […]

October 9th, 2008, 1:00 am


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