News Round Up (1 May 2008)

Turkcell has many Finish investors and, according to Ehsani, many US mutual funds own a substantial amount of its shares.

Turkcell Denies Pressure against Syrian deal

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey's leading mobile operator, Turkcell TCELL.IS(TKC.N: Quote, Profile, Research), denied on Thursday there was U.S. pressure on the company to abandon a takeover of a Syrian operator, saying that the talks were continuing.

"The U.S. has put no written or spoken pressure on Turkcell or made such a statement … There is no warning on investment (in Syria)," said one Turkcell official, who declined to be named.

Diplomats and Arab financiers on Wednesday told Reuters the U.S. Treasury Department was warning American investors in Turkcell, which is listed on the Istanbul and New York bourse

Shaping Lebanon’s Future
by Bilal Y. Saab, senior research assistant, foreign policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, The Brookings Institution

In many ways, the current U.S. stance is a policy of denial, denying Lebanon to Syria but with little hope of promoting a resolution to Lebanon’s internal crisis. The danger of such a policy is that it hands the political initiative to Syria and its allies in Lebanon who can win by waging a gradual war of attrition. Instead, Washington should craft its policy to support the Lebanese state, not to promote partisanship and political parties.

Washington should continue to provide technical and military assistance to Lebanon in its pursuit of democracy consolidation and military modernization, such as by building up the Lebanese Armed Forces. Always stressing transparency and local ownership, U.S. efforts should focus more on inclusive programs such as strengthening the capacity of the Lebanese state as a whole in developing and supporting institutions that are responsive and accountable to all Lebanese citizens. …

Providing the Shi’ah with an alternative to Hizballah will require implementing some of the reforms called for in the 1989 Ta’if agreement. These reforms will impose political costs on some parts of the governing coalition. Changes would include: the decentralization of administration and municipalities, the creation of a bicameral legislature with the lower house holding the legislative initiative and an upper house to represent communal interests, a new electoral law (to more fairly represent the popular vote and end the gerrymandered constituency system), and a stronger, independent judiciary. The abolition of political sectarianism, while essential to the future of liberal democratic politics in Lebanon, is not a realistic goal in the near term (a gradual process is a more stable and desirable path).

The Syrian obstacle

The continued negative interference of Syria in Lebanese domestic politics makes resolving the domestic crisis even more daunting. Syria has not left Lebanon quietly. Instead, Syria has obstructed the introduction of any serious reforms in Lebanon and has for years systematically eliminated its political enemies in Lebanon and cruelly silenced Lebanese voices calling for change and freedom from Syrian rule. Lebanon’s democracy and its foreign policy orientation directly affect Syrian national security. Damascus has been very clear that it will resort to any measure to regain its lost influence over Lebanon. The Syrian regime will also seek to impede any attempt by the UN tribunal to find the killers of Rafiq Hariri, whose murder the Syrian regime is strongly suspected of committing….

 US Policy

Lebanon is at the heart of the Bush administration’s Middle East democracy promotion strategy. But for the United States, Lebanon is also the perfect battlefield for settling scores with its adversaries, namely Iran and Syria. As such, Lebanon is where U.S. idealism and realpolitik meet and often conflict. The result is a shattered country torn between two divergent trends of U.S. foreign policy.

Washington treated Damascus’ suspected role in killing Hariri, a U.S. ally and very close friend of Saudi Arabia, as a threat to its interests in the region. The U.S. administration therefore set out to punish Syria. The United States pushed to isolate Syria regionally and internationally, most notably by sponsoring three United Nations Security Council Resolutions (1559, 1701, and 1757) calling on Syria to stop meddling in Lebanese internal affairs. Washington also took bilateral action with presidential executive orders against Syrian government officials.

From denial to support

While U.S. diplomatic initiative, especially at the United Nations, has played an important role in supporting the Lebanese government, U.S. policy has now reached its limits. U.S. policy is having little effect.

Like most of the regional and international players, the United States supports the “March 14” coalition against Syria through diplomatic and economic means while seeking to prevent any military confrontation with Syria. In many ways, the current U.S. stance is a policy of denial, denying Lebanon to Syria but with little hope of promoting a resolution to Lebanon’s internal crisis. The danger of such a policy is that it hands the political initiative to Syria and its allies in Lebanon who can win by waging a gradual war of attrition……

Access the full article>>

Photo: Taliban sympathizers in the Pakistani border village of Rahim Kor at the execution on Sunday of a man accused of kidnapping. Pakistan’s government has little influence or formal presence in the tribal regions near Afghanistan, to the United States’ dismay.

April 30, 2008

WASHINGTON — Bush administration officials are expressing increasing alarm that a deal being negotiated between the new Pakistani government and militant tribes in the country’s unruly border area will lead to further unraveling of security in the region.

Cross-border attacks into Afghanistan by militants based in Pakistan doubled in March from the same period a year ago and have not diminished in April, a Western military official said, while Pakistani counterinsurgency operations in the tribal areas have dropped sharply during the talks.

American counterterrorism officials express concern that the new coalition government in Islamabad may withdraw some of the 120,000 Pakistani troops in the border area or curtail flights by the Central Intelligence Agency’s armed Predator aircraft in the region.

Indeed, Washington and Islamabad seem to be on dueling timetables, with the Bush administration trying to cripple Al Qaeda’s safe havens before leaving office, and the new Pakistani government seeking to establish credibility with its public by distancing itself from the American-backed policies of President Pervez Musharraf.

American officials say that Washington’s options now are even more limited, in part because Mr. Musharraf is no longer calling the shots, and that the situation in the tribal areas is unlikely to significantly improve before President Bush leaves office. American economic and development aid aimed to help wean the region off the militants’ influence is just now seeping into the tribal areas, while a tribal paramilitary force still needs years of training and equipping to be an effective counterinsurgency unit.

The problems confronting the administration reflect what critics say is a failure over the past several years to pay sufficient attention to the growing numbers of Qaeda and Taliban fighters drawn to safe havens in the tribal area. Even under Mr. Musharraf, the administration’s main ally in Pakistan, the United States failed to develop a governmentwide plan to combat the militancy in the turbulent borderlands, these critics say.

The leaders of Pakistan’s new government, Asif Ali Zardari of the Pakistan Peoples Party and Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, have vowed to honor their campaign pledges to break with Mr. Musharraf’s emphasis on using military force in the tribal areas, a practice critics say has been heavy-handed and has undercut the government’s goals.

Pakistan Regime, Military At Odds
(Seattle Times)….Saeed Shah and Jonathan S. Landay, McClatchy News Service

Pakistan's newly elected government is clashing with the country's powerful military over peace deals that the military has secretly initiated with Islamic militants allied with al-Qaida along the country's border with Afghanistan.

New Traffic Regulations in Syria (thanks Naji)
On May 01, 2008, the Syrian government will begin enforcement of new traffic regulations which were announced in January, 2008. Many of these regulations are designed to increase road safety for both vehicles and pedestrians, and call for fines and a “point system” for violations. The following is a partial summary. The full text in Arabic can be found here.

Traffic Fines
Fines ranging from 500 to 10,000 Syrian lira (SYP) will be imposed for infractions such as:
• Children riding in the front seat or in the driver’s lap
• Tossing rubbish from vehicles while driving
• Playing loud music while driving through neighborhoods at night
• Failing to use directional signals when turning
• Reckless speed and changing of lanes
• Transporting items exceeding the body of the vehicle in a dangerous manner
• Using cellular phones (mobile phones) while driving
• Having a license plate with illegible numbers
• Allowing unlicensed drivers to drive the vehicle
• Passing other vehicles on corners, uphill slopes, tunnel, bridges and crossroads
• Driving without a valid insurance contract
• Not using safety belts in the front seat
• Not keeping a first aid (medical) kit in the vehicle
• Not keeping a fire extinguisher in the vehicle
• Driving with an expired license
Pedestrians may be fined 200 SYP for “jay-walking” — crossing the street not in the designated location or against the light.

Point System
In addition to fines, a “point system” has been developed to track repeat offenders. Each infraction carries a certain number of points, based on the severity of the infraction and the judgment of the official issuing the citation. The maximum number of points is sixteen (16). When someone reaches 16 points, the following rules apply:
• First instance of 16 points: suspension of driving license for three months
• Second instance of 16 points: suspension of driving license for six months and requirement to take a driving course
• Third instance of 16 points: suspension of driving license for nine months and requirement to take a driving course
• Fourth instance of 16 points: cancellation of driving privileges, requirement to take a driving course and a new examination will be required to get a new driving license. Also, a new license cannot be obtained in less than one year.

Additional Penalties
The following additional penalties have also been enacted:
• The “black box” speed governors are mandatory for public transport, small and large trucks.
• If someone is killed because a driver is violating the new traffic laws, that driver will be imprisoned for between three months and one year; will be fined between 50,000 and 100,000 Syrian lira; and will be banned from driving for two years.
• If a driver leaves the scene of an accident, speeds more than 40 km per hour over the designated speed limit, or drives without vehicle plates visible, that driver will be imprisoned for between one and three months; will be fined 25,000 Syrian lira; will have the vehicle seized by authorities; and will be given 16 points (see “Point System” above).
• If a driver leaves a vehicle parked on railway lines, allows materials to fall from a vehicle on public roads, or fails to have appropriate documents for Special Vehicles, that driver will be imprisoned for between ten days and seven months; will be fined 15,000 Syrian lira; will have the vehicle seized by authorities; and will be given eight points (see “Point System” above).

'It is very hard to be the wife of a brave man'

Raghida Issa, wife of human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni, imprisoned for his human rights work in Syria, will receive the Front Line Award on his behalf from President McAleese today. She hopes that the award will put pressure on the regime to free him.

Raghida Issa has come to Dublin to accept an award on behalf of her jailed husband, a Syrian human rights lawyer, writes Lara MarloweRECENT VISITORS to the home of the jailed Syrian human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni told his wife Raghida Issa that she had been invited to Dublin to receive the "Front Line Award for Human Rights Defenders" on his behalf."The phones are tapped," Issa explained in Front Line's office in Blackrock, Co Dublin. "So they had to tell me in person. The only people I told were our children and Anwar's lawyers. I was afraid if the government knew, they'd stop me travelling. I sent my passport to Dublin via DHL [courier service], and Front Line got the visa."

President Mary McAleese will present Issa with the award in Dublin's City Hall this morning. "I don't know if it will help," Issa says. "But we need pressure from outside, just to remind them there are people in prison." ……..

Issa is "afraid of what will happen when I go back. They may interrogate me: 'Why did you go? Who did you meet?'. . . When they kidnapped Anwar, I lost my job". Issa was fired without notice after 27 years as an engineer in the transport ministry. Now she helps nuns working with Iraqi refugees.Does she ever wish her husband had just kept quiet? "All the time," Issa admits. "I would still love him as much. Anwar thought only of helping political prisoners, to the point of neglecting his family. When he gets something in his mind, he is like his five brothers (two of whom have served 15-year prison sentences). He has to do it – for Syria."

Though a frail, humble man, Bunni has the aura of a future Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Ghandi. When I ask what she loves most about him, Issa at last breaks into a smile. "His enthusiasm," she says. "He never gives up. He is brave." Then she sighs.

Israeli rabbi visits Syria

An Israeli rabbi visited the Jewish community of Syria.

Yisrael Meir Gabbai, a fervently Orthodox rabbi who holds Israeli and French passports, traveled to
Syria on the latter last month.

Gabbai told the religious newspaper Hamodia that he was welcomed by the local Jewish community and walked around Damascus freely, despite his distinctive garb.

The rabbi came away with a fairly positive impression of a state that Israel considers an arch-foe, though
there has been recent talk of reviving peace talks between Jerusalem and Damascus.

"It's not Iran, which wants to destroy Israel," Gabbai told Hamodia. "All they want is the Golan."

According to the report, leaders of the small Syrian Jewish community told Gabbai that they are well treated by President Bashar Assad. But Assad critics have noted that minorities in Syria, a police state, are unlikely to voice open criticism of the regime.

Iraqi refugees in Syria: A report of the ICMC-USCCB mission to assess the protection needs of Iraqi refugees in Syria

Executive Summary

This protection assessment mission to Syria is a joint effort of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB-MRS). The mission was funded by the United States Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BPRM). The main objective of the mission was to provide an in-depth evaluation and analysis of the protection needs of vulnerable Iraqi individuals and families residing in Syria, to assess the existing system of response to these needs, and to make recommendations of the best approaches to address their protection needs.

Brief summary of the present situation of Iraqi refugees in Syria:

– In February 2008 this mission found the Iraqi population in Syria to be living a fragile, isolated existence with limited services and depleting resources.

– Most of the Iraqi refugees in Syria have experienced extremely distressing events in the last few years and appear to be struggling to manage the effects of these events.

– To this date UNHCR in Syria has registered 161,613 Iraqi Refugees.

– Estimates of the total number of Iraqi refugees in Syria are disputed and vary from 300,000 – 1.5 million with the vast majority residing in Greater Damascus.

– Regardless of numbers, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has stated that there are not enough funds and services to address the assistance needs of Iraqi refugees in Syria.

– The Syrian Government has good relationships with United Nations agencies and societies of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. International non-Government organizations are presently not operational in Syria.

– Recognizing the need for a joint effort in response to the Iraqi refugee situation, the Syrian government has currently given approval to 14 international non- Government organizations to work with the Iraqi refugees. They are in the process of being registered so as to become operational.

– Due to the lengthy process of registration of international non-Government organizations UNHCR has very few implementing partners and those that it has are stretched in capacity.4 In many instances UNHCR is implementing its own programs.

– The Iraqi refugee population that has registered with UNHCR has access to basic services such as essential non-food items, health clinics and food. Iraqi children can attend Syrian schools.

– The unregistered Iraqis have limited access to the same basic services, mostly through local Church organizations.

– There are insufficient resettlement places for those Iraqi who cannot return to Iraq.

– Iraqis arriving in Syria are now required to have a visa issued from the Syrian Embassy in Baghdad. Many, who arrived earlier, are now residing in Syria with lapsed visas and some are fearful of deportation. …. (Continue)

Syria and the prospect of an Iraqi
By Marwan Kabalan, Special to Gulf News
Published: May 02, 2008, 00:30

…. True or not, the fabricated nuclear crisis with Syria, many expect, would have far-reaching consequences. The aim is to put Syria in an awkward position. Many believe that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be soon submitting an inspection request to the Syrian authorities. If Syria complies, that would give the US and Israel an access to its military secrets. If it refuses, the case will go to the Security Council and we will be then facing another Iraqi scenario.

Comments (17)

Rowan Berkeley said:

Regarding the US propaganda about Pakistan, may I paste in something I wrote as a comment to an item on Ignatius and Zakaria’s PostGlobal site at

The claim that a region described a few sentences earlier as “desperately poor, undereducated and underdeveloped, with a per-capita income of less than seventy cents per day” contains a mystery master-terrorist who is “using the Pakistani safe haven to put the last element necessary to launch another attack against America into place” is no more plausible than any of the other claims the USA has used to attack defenseless starving third world populations almost all over the world. The real reason for this agitation is that, thanks to its incompetent and traitor-ridden “counter-proliferation policy,” the USA has now lost all influence over the nuclear weapons policy of Pakistan, and so the USA is trying to concoct a suitably James Bond style pretext for invading Pakistan, bit by bit. The Pakistanis, incidentally, know this, and even say it, in their own press. One can only thank one’s lucky stars that the dollar is collapsing at an ever-increasing rate.

May 2nd, 2008, 4:35 am


Enlightened said:

Bilal Saab’s Article:

Some Key points:

“Washington should craft its policy to support the Lebanese state, not to promote partisanship and political parties.”

Lets be clear on this point, The Bush policy has been Pscyzophrenic to say the least here. By not acting to solve this issue in a non partisan way, their argument for Democracy building are hollow.

“Washington should continue to provide technical and military assistance to Lebanon in its pursuit of democracy consolidation and military modernization, such as by building up the Lebanese Armed Forces”

I disagree here, the emphasis should be on building the civil institutions first, The judiciary and the constitution should be the starting parameters , the rest will all follow.

The war of attrition as Saab notes hands the initiative to Syria

“the current U.S. stance is a policy of denial, denying Lebanon to Syria but with little hope of promoting a resolution to Lebanon’s internal crisis. The danger of such a policy is that it hands the political initiative to Syria and its allies in Lebanon who can win by waging a gradual war of attrition……

And we know that Waging a war of attrition is what the Arabs are expert at, with the Bush era entering its last phase, the attrition war has only 10 months to go. The US policy has clearly failed in regards to Lebanon, this policy of denial and inaction on the part of the US, can mean only one thing, The Lebanese need look no further than their own borders for an end to the crisis. It is the settling of their own internal problems can the political crisis be resolved. Rather than blaming the US, Syria, Saudi, Iran, France etc, Lebanese Politicians must be mature enough to solve their own problems internally with out outside help or arbitration.

This however is a big ask!

May 2nd, 2008, 6:05 am


Alex said:

Many believe that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be soon submitting an inspection request to the Syrian authorities. If Syria complies, that would give the US and Israel an access to its military secrets. If it refuses, the case will go to the Security Council and we will be then facing another Iraqi scenario.

Not really … I am convinced that if some smart strategists in the current administration (and in Israel) are planning to cross some new lines in making life difficult for Syria (after exhausting all the classic tactics), political leaders who are advised by those strategists should be prepared to be busy 24 hours a day trying to deal with a chaotic Middle East like they have never seen before.

If they want to steer the Hariri tribunal away from normal legal process and towards a planned pressure campaign against Syria, and if they want to use the Nuclear story in a way that allows them to spy on Syria’s military capabilities on the ground and to humiliate Syria the way they humiliated Iraq … then I have no doubt that everything will go wrong in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Palestine … and maybe even between Iran and its Arab neighbors who are supporting this anti-Syria strategy.

Given how the first stage of pressuring Syria worked (2003-2008) I don’t think it takes a genius to conclude the above! … Sometimes one wonders if those strategists still imagine that “the axis of evil” will sit down and watch as the geniuses of the Iraq war and the Mehlis/Seddiq investigation try their latest tricks.

Basically I am repeating what Eyal Zisser wrote last week … if the current administration wants to weaken Syria … only a massive invasion will do.

Otherwise, they are only messing up the whole Middle East.

May 2nd, 2008, 7:12 am


Naji said:

This is also what you answered to the alarm I voiced when all this first broke out a few days ago, but this time your argument contains its own refutation in your own words…: “smart strategists”,….”I don’t think it takes a genius to conclude”,…etc. Where have you seen any evidence of “smart strategy”, “genius”, or of anybody in this administration concluding anything from their past mistakes…!! It has been the sheer lunacy and ineptitude of these flunkies, wielding unimaginable power and impunity, that has had the entire human race on the edge of a nervous breakdown for the past 7 years…!!

Also, when have you seen these criminally irresponsible kooks give a damn about “a chaotic Middle East”, or about whether or not “everything will go wrong in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Palestine”… hasn’t it already…??! After all, they have God on their side and it will all turn out for the best, somehow… What does a weak delusional flunky at the end of his political life (e.g. Bush, Olmert, Abdalla, Mubarak, et al) have to lose anyway…?!

“Otherwise, they are only messing up the whole Middle East.” Haven’t they, already…??! Do they seem overly concerned to you…?!

Until a new set of actors are on the scene, worry…!
and !!

May 2nd, 2008, 8:02 am


Naji said:

Faking an interest in Syrian-Israeli peace prospects
Thursday, May 1, 2008, 21:46

Many people have been hopeful that negotiations could resume between Syria and Israel, but those who know me will not be surprised by my cynicism. Olmert just promised Syria the entire Golan, my oh my, and suddenly we’re all excited, as if this was supposed to be a fringe benefit.

I don’t buy Israel’s sudden peaceful disposition; I think they’re faking it.

Faking It

Rime Allaf

Facts have rarely gotten in the Bush administration’s way when demonizing a political opponent, even when that opponent has actually tried to accommodate multiple American demands. Accused of enemy complicity in most places where the US or its allies are involved, Syria has nevertheless regularly offered concrete help in the “war on terror” (including in the infamous extraordinary renditions) and in policing and sealing the Iraqi border.

A last minute invitation to Annapolis, in November 2007, was merely a reluctant move by US President George W. Bush to pretend he was serious about reaching a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. Under no circumstance should Syria have imagined this meant American pressure would stabilize, or even decrease, especially after the Israeli raid on a mysterious Syrian target in September 2007, which was clearly blessed by Bush.

Seven months after that raid, the US suddenly divulged that Israel had destroyed a nuclear reactor, built with North Korean help, which would have produced enough plutonium for one or two weapons within a year of becoming operational. The allegations were supported by “proof” presented in a series of graphs and photographs of “North Korean faces”, nuclear equipment and satellite images of buildings, which were promptly discredited by some experts while used as evidence by others.

The IAEA was understandably outraged that this information was not produced for its inspection, before the Israeli raid and in the months following it. While some have chosen to believe that the current disclosure was meant to pressure North Korea, Bush offered several reasons for this delay. In particular, he explained, the US wanted to prevent confrontation and conflict in the region (raid notwithstanding, apparently) and was concerned that Syria would feel pressured to retaliate against Israel if the nuclear intelligence was made public, a reasoning that is difficult to take seriously. Clearly, the US is somehow convinced that Syria’s urge to defend itself has now passed.

Even by the low standards of the Bush administration and its record of manufactured intelligence and fabricated liberations, the allegations about the timing are implausible and have other aims: since his arrival at the White House, Bush has done everything to thwart a potential peace deal between Syria and Israel, regardless of the fluctuating positions of the latter.

Indeed, even when taking into account the invitation to Annapolis, US behavior toward Syria has at least been consistent throughout the tenure of the Bush administration, with political pressure steadily increasing over the years and sanctions imposed. In contrast, Israel’s demeanor vis-a-vis Syria has been erratic, sending mixed messages and failing to adopt a solid position.

It is odd that a prime minister raiding a site on enemy ground, supposedly knowing it is a nuclear facility, should praise that same enemy leader ten days later, declaring his respect. It is also strange that a massive war drill should subsequently be choreographed, groundlessly fueling war speculations. At the same time, Israeli officials have repeatedly confirmed that Syria poses no military threat, an acknowledgement that not only lays to rest looming war fears from its side, but also annuls the security factor in the Golan withdrawal equation.

The sudden emergence of peace talk rumors is confusing in the midst of such conflicting messages. Divulged by Syria, uncharacteristically, an initiative by Turkey has put negotiations back on the agenda. Most importantly, Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, confirmed to his Turkish mediators that Israel would return the entire Golan in exchange for peace with Syria. Normally, such statements are unnecessary, given that UNSC Resolution 242 already obliges Israel to return to its June 4, 1967 position. Furthermore, the Rabin Deposit, since the early 1990s, had already pledged Israel’s full withdrawal from occupied Syrian land. In the current regional balance, however, Olmert’s unexpected statement would have been music to Syrian ears.

Lest there be too much enthusiasm that an immediate deal is imminent, however, the Syrian president was quick to clarify that this would not be possible before 2009, when a more reasonable US administration, one assumes, is in place. Syria seems to be discounting the possibility of a McCain presidency, or else ignorant of the latter’s own visions, and it seems to expect that whoever Bush’s successor is, he or she will be a more willing and honest broker. Even if Syria and Israel warm to each other under the matchmaking talents of their common friend Turkey, all parties know that an eventual wedding can only be officiated by an American minister. It would thus be premature to interpret the current messages as signs of seriousness or of a breakthrough.

Damascus has often been accused of wanting to engage for engagement’s sake, but its position has not changed over the years as it called repeatedly for a return to negotiations. In contrast, Israel continuously found excuses to procrastinate while claiming it doubted Syria’s intentions. Obviously, Israel knows a peace deal means a complete withdrawal from the Golan, to which Israelis seem to have gotten rather attached over the years, and whose return to Syria will cost the latter a lot more than just “peace” according to the blueprints developed in track two talks. Israel is clearly in no hurry to reach this stage, making the timing of Olmert’s declaration suspect as well, especially when considering his domestic political struggles and his attempt to avoid “painful concessions” on the Palestinian track.

It seems rather unfortunate that the public acknowledgement of Israel’s full withdrawal from the Golan should coincide with the “revelation” of Syria’s amazing nuclear capacities. What remains to be determined is whether Bush was helping Olmert retract, whether Olmert was helping Bush attack, or whether both were simply, as usual, simultaneously scratching each other’s backs.
– Published 1/5/2008 ©

Rime Allaf is associate fellow at London’s Chatham House.

May 2nd, 2008, 8:20 am


Rowan Berkeley said:

The guy from the Saban Center is not surprisingly framing the whole issue in terms of a false set of alternatives, carefully phrased to exclude the positive and natural solution, which is to get out the f***ing way and let relations between ‘Lebanon’ and ‘Syria’ find their own natural balance. To prevent the reader from conceptualising this outcome, he presents the false dilemma of either propping up [x] and [y] or subverting them to give [z]. This conceptual pre-emption is a very common technique, which is why I express it in general, algebraic terms.

May 2nd, 2008, 8:23 am


Naji said:

Alex said:
“Basically I am repeating what Eyal Zisser wrote last week … if the current administration wants to weaken Syria … only a massive invasion will do.”

Yes, Alex, that is also what I was suggesting… they have tried everything else…!! However, I am interpreting the signs as being for a massive attempt to defang and humiliate Syria/Iran by a “shock and awe” campaign to cripple HA, Hamas, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and their proxies in Iraq. They just do not have the wherewithal for a “massive invasion” of Syria (or Lebanon, or Gaza, or Iran), and that is why they are trying to keep Syria out of direct involvement in the fighting, should it commence.

If the war scenario is not pulled off, then at least they would have engineered enough entanglements, inspections, and tribunals to keep Syria busy well into the next administration, and to inhibit the next administration and the Europeans from freely engaging Syria in a meaningful dialogue… They would have already dictated the agenda for any such future dialogue…!

They already know that Syria will not cave in to such pressures, unless it has a profitable alternative (that is what Syria has been saying, anyway), which is why, I believe, they have been dangling that fake carrot of a “peace process”, return of the Golan, PPP, and lately even a piece of the Lebanese pie…

May 2nd, 2008, 10:11 am


norman said:

Executions Could Strain Syrian-Saudi Relations Print

Friday , 02 May 2008

The recent executions of three Syrians convicted of drug trafficking in Saudi Arabia may mark a downturn in the already frosty relationship between the two countries.

Syrian national Ibrahim al-Jarkh was beheaded on April 25, eight days after the execution of two other men, Feras al-Aghbar and Feras al-Maktabi. All three were executed in Tabuk in northwestern Saudi Arabia.

Dozens of people with relatives detained in Saudi Arabia staged protests in Damascus following the executions. At protests outside the Saudi embassy and Syrian interior ministry, participants held signs aloft calling on President Bashar al-Assad to “save our families and brothers from Saudi Arabia’s unpredictable verdicts.”

State-run television reported the demonstration in some detail, and other media gave broad coverage to news of the executions.

As a local human rights activist pointed out, “It’s well known that no demonstrations are allowed in Syria unless they have a green light from the authorities. This appears to be a move against the Saudi government.”

The activist said political tensions over the executions could further complicate the cases of Syrian prisoners currently held in Saudi Arabia.

Several Syrian media outlets last week reported that as many as 1,200 Syrian nationals were being held in Saudi prisons, and 300 of them were awaiting execution.

There are no official statistics on this from either government, and these figures could not be independently verified.

The Syrian embassy in Riyadh sent a letter to the Saudi foreign ministry condemning the executions.

Under the Saudis’ strict interpretation of Islamic law, convicted drug traffickers are liable to be executed. But a source in the Syria’s Riyadh embassy told the pro-government website Syria News that the Saudis normally hand down seven-year sentences for the offence, and release prisoners early if they learn the Koran.

The embassy source also said that Syrian diplomats had not been notified about the two earlier executions, which took place on April 17.

The pro-government Al-Watan newspaper took a similarly critical line, questioning whether Syrian nationals imprisoned in the kingdom received fair and independent trials, “particularly in view of the Saudis’ hostile political attitude toward Syria”.

Relations have soured in recent months over the role Damascus plays in Lebanon, which has not elected a president since November due to strong opposition from Syrian-backed parties in parliament.

In a press conference earlier this week, Saudi justice minister Abdullah al-Sheikh denied that politics played any role when capital punishment was used on convicted Syrians.

Iran’s official news agency IRNA reported on April 27 that Tehran – an ally of Damascus – was prepared to “help Syria and Saudi Arabia resolve their dispute”.

A Syrian writer and intellectual noted that while the Saudis carried out many executions, media and human rights groups were politicising the recent cases because of the strained relationship between the countries.

“The hostility has moved from the two regimes to the two people. That’s crazy,” he said.

Meanwhile, the human rights activist, who opposes the death penalty, said the Syrian government was “using human rights for political reasons”.

She noted that several prisoners were executed in Syria last year after being convicted in special military court, in which no attorneys are present.

Syria executed at least seven prisoners in 2007, according to Amnesty International.

Amnesty says Saudi Arabia executed at least 143 prisoners in 2007, giving it the highest number of executions per capita of any country.

(Syria News Briefing, a weekly news analysis service, draws on information and opinion from a network of IWPR-trained Syrian journalists based in the country, whose identities cannot be revealed for security reasons.)

May 2, 2008

May 2nd, 2008, 12:47 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


There is no such thing as a “natural” balance in Lebanon that can be arrived at by subtracting U.S. influence. Syria is not sitting idly by in Lebanon, and neither are Iran, KSA, France, the Arab League, etc.

Letting the chips fall where they may will mean that they will almost certainly fall in Syria’s lap again.

Many Lebanese are against such an eventuality.

May 2nd, 2008, 1:04 pm


Rowan Berkeley said:

OK, I can see that, really, sorry. The layers of effects of colonial and neocolonial influence need removing in stages, in the correct order.

May 2nd, 2008, 1:37 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic.

But ok.

May 2nd, 2008, 1:40 pm


Friend in America said:

The following is a summary from Global Security Newswire on the 2008 report on global terrorism dated 1 May:

Terrorists Continue to Seek WMD, U.S. State Department Study Finds

“Guerrilla” terrorists, particularly al-Qaeda, continue to seek weapons of mass destruction for a major attack, according to a U.S. State Department review released yesterday (see GSN, May 1, 2007).

The finding came in an annual department report on terrorism that also featured North Korea as one of five state sponsors of terrorism, a designation that has played a role in six-nation talks to denuclearize the Stalinist state (see related GSN story, today).

The interest in WMD capabilities corresponded to a trend from “expeditionary” terrorism to “guerrilla” terrorism, says Country Reports on Terrorism 2007. In its expeditionary form, al-Qaeda would select and train terrorists in one country and then deploy them to a target nation. Under the guerrilla model, the organization tries to recruit and train local residents to conduct terrorist attacks in their home countries.

Last year “witnessed the continuation of the transition from expeditionary to guerrilla terrorism,” the report says. “These ‘guerrilla’ terrorist groups harbor ambitions of a spectacular attack, including acquisition and use of weapons of mass destruction.”

Indeed, “the nexus of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism poses one of the gravest potential risks to the national security of the United States and its global partners,” says the report’s chapter on WMD challenges. “A successful major WMD terrorist attack could result in mass casualty events and produce far-reaching economic and political consequences that would affect all members of the international community.”

The chapter expresses particular concern over al-Qaeda’s interest in biological weapons.

“Among present-day terrorist organizations, al-Qaeda is believed to have made the greatest effort to acquire and develop a bioterrorism program. U.S. forces discovered a partially built biological weapons laboratory near Kandahar after expelling the Taliban from Afghanistan. Although it was not conclusive that [al-Qaeda] succeeded in obtaining a biological weapon, the discovery demonstrated a concerted effort to acquire a biological weapons capability,” the report says.

Furthermore, “the required scientific capabilities are not beyond the expertise of motivated biologists with basic university-level training. And, unlike other types of WMD, the materials required to produce a weapon are widely available — some are even found in nature,” the report finds.

The report identifies five nations — Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria — as sponsors of terrorist activity, the same list as in last year’s report. However, it highlights nonstate support as an expanding concern.

“Nonstate facilitators have emerged as a growing WMD proliferation threat in recent years, and could eventually provide terrorists with conduits to materials and expertise that are particularly hard to acquire,” the report says.

May 2nd, 2008, 1:50 pm


Rowan Berkeley said:

No, I wasn’t being sarcastic. You’d know if I was. Understatement is not one of my gifts.

May 2nd, 2008, 2:18 pm


norman said:


How many counties are there in Lebanon and are they the same as the Syrian counties , made up of multiple cities with one major one.

May 2nd, 2008, 2:38 pm


Observer said:

Yesterday Michael Hayden did give a speech that was reported by the WashPost on line about the fact that the world is essentially no longer a unipolar world. In very polite terms he essentially said that the US has lost its leverage in all spheres of influence in all areas of the world. In Latin America the countries are even more independent than the Europeans. In Europe, the Eurozone is under strain with the Southern half and France concerned about the Euro not being a panacea for all issues. I would add that Richard Hass wrote in the Daily Star about the danger of the new non polar world as a transition to the next phase of a multi polar world. The interview with Newt Gingrich in Newsweek this week also confirmed the weakening of the US on the global stage when he said that as long as oil is being traded in dollars the value of the dollar in exchange rates does not matter. Should the OPEC or the GCC ask for trading in non dollars, then a new ball game is in order.
All indications with the latest impasse in Iraq as fighting does not seem to be achieving its goal of dislodging Sadr forces either political or military will force the US to negotiate with Iran. Iran is accumulating more cards in its hands both in Iraq and in other parts of the Indian Ocean. It has positioned itself as a major source of energy to China, an answer to the energy thirst of India, and quite effectively a stability factor in the Gulf.
All of this and despite the US navy presence, means that the US and Iran will come to some deal together otherwise Iran will continue to slowly deprive the US of its assets in the region without provoking a full confrontation.
Expect the following:
Tying down of the US in Iraq until after the inauguration of the next President

Multi lateral deals with local powers to break the isolation be it financial or energetic or economic

A resolution of the Lebanese crisis to the satisfaction of HA

A shrinking role of the KSA

A growing role for Egypt as it moves away from the US orbit

I think everyone in the region has seen the writing on the wall and are already positioning themselves for a post unipolar world. Evne the Israelis are inching towards this realization but alas the tribes and families that make up the Arab League are still in denial. They thought that the Iraq invasion will cow the people for ever and they will be left hanging in there to dry by themselves.

Here is some reading for you today

May 2nd, 2008, 3:16 pm


Rowan Berkeley said:

I read that Kaveh L Afrasiabi thing too, but after working my way through this by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach :
it seemed uselesss and unhelpful by comparison. I edited Muriel Mirak-Weissbach down for my blog, as I always do, and got it down to about half length.

May 2nd, 2008, 3:38 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


Not sure how many qada’s there are. I’ll find out for you. (Yes, they are usually centered on a city).

May 2nd, 2008, 7:09 pm


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