News Round Up (12 Aug. 2008)

Middle East expert Joshua Landis sees U.S. policy in the region at a “crossroads.”
Interview by Daniel Luban | Posted August 12, 2008
Right Web,

Landis … describes the Syrian regime as making an unprecedented push to normalize relations with the West. But neoconservative hardliners in Washington continue to resist any engagement with Syria, presenting the possibility that this window of opportunity will be lost…..

Syria is engaging in a major charm offensive. And significantly, they’ve been courting people like [former American Israel Public Affairs Committee president] Thomas Dine to help set up meetings in Washington. This is new! For Syria to reach out to the Israelis not just through the negotiations in Ankara but through the Jewish community in the United States is a potential game-changer in many ways.

But it hasn’t worked—not yet. Where we are now is at a crossroads. There is a moment of opportunity right now to change the entire strategic architecture of the region which could be missed—and probably will be missed.

For instance, we just had a Syrian delegation that came to Washington, and initially Riad Daoudi, legal counsel for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and lead negotiator in the Israel talks, was supposed to meet with [U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs] David Welch. For reasons that remain a little murky to me, that fell through. A friend in the State Department told me that part of the reason was that it was just too much for the Bush administration to absorb. Washington had just announced that it was going to meet with the Iranians in Geneva, which had caused a firestorm of protest, and they could deal with only one meeting with one ‘axis of evil’ power at the same time. These are the sort of opportunities that are being lost….

JL: The real debate in Washington right now is about whether you can “flip” Syria, meaning to use the Golan as an incentive to tear Syria away from Iran and Hezbollah. The alternative policy, the more sane and feasible policy, is to try to bring Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah along together.

Hezbollah and Syria and Iran are not stupid. They know exactly what Washington is trying to do, and they’re not going to be flipped, ….

Barak: Hezbollah getting stronger UPI.

"We are seeing a significant strengthening by Hezbollah in the past few years," Barak told Ynetnews. "We're monitoring any possibility of a shift in balance (of power) due to the Syrians supplying Hezbollah with advanced weapons systems."

Barak made the comments Tuesday while attending live-ammunition training exercises by the Israeli military forces in the occupied Golan Heights near Syria, the Israeli Web site reported.

In Haaretz, here (Thanks FLC)

"…During the interview, Barak also said the 2006 Second Lebanon War – in effect, carried out to stop Hezbollah armament – had actually strengthened the Lebanon-based militant group.

The defense minister said the the six years prior to the war had actually been some of the quietest on Israel's northern border, despite the growth in Hezbollah's military capabilities.

"Sharon and his leadership were wise not to respond to Hezbollah's strengthening," Barak said. "We went to war unprepared and unjustified."

Visiting President of the European Parliament (EP) Hans-Gert Poettering Monday said Syria is "important and pivotal" in achieving regional … Poettering also expressed appreciation of the development in Syria in all fields, adding that the completion of the partnership pact between Syria and the EU will contribute to economic cooperation.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Thursday he was prepared to bring about a peace agreement between Israel and Syria during his term in office, according to a report in the magazine Paris Match.

Syria's Stock Exchange to Open in 6 Months, Deputy Premier Says
By Massoud A. Derhally

Aug. 12 (Bloomberg) — Syria plans to open its first stock exchange in the next six months in an effort to boost investment in the Arab country's economy, Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Abdallah Dardari said.

“Before the end of this year, even if it means trading on a chalk board, I told them they have to start dealing,'' Dardari said in an interview in Damascus today. “We gave them a temporary new building and the green light to buy the software but then the company said there are U.S. sanctions.''

The U.S. imposed sanctions on Syria in May 2004, including a ban on trade transactions with the Commercial Bank of Syria, the country's largest bank. The U.S. government has accused Syria of aiding Iraqi militants and pursuing weapons of mass destruction and destabilizing Lebanon. OMX AB, the Nordic bourse operator acquired by Nasdaq Stock Market Inc. and Borse Dubai this year, refused to sell Syria the software, Dardari said.

The ruling Baath Party, which came to power in 1963, began moving toward a market economy in the 1990s, allowing private banks and insurance companies to operate for the first time. About 25 companies are expected to list on the Damascus Securities Market when it opens, according to Dardari. Ratib Shallah, the president of the Federation of the Syrian Chambers of Commerce will head the exchange.

Syria first announced plans to establish the bourse in July 2006.

To contact the reporter on this story: Massoud A. Derhally in Damascus at

Lebanese president's upcoming visit to Syria carries tough mission

(Xinhua) — Lebanese President Michel Suleiman is faced with a tough mission during his upcoming two-day official visit to Syria, local analysts said. …

Future TV station owned by majority leader Saad Hariri hosted on the eve of the Lebanese president's visit to Damascus, former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam and a number of Syrian opposition leaders who are in exile.

This move was seen as a sign of disagreement on Suleiman's visit, observers said.

Moreover, a political bureau member of pro-government Christian Phalange party told Al-Akhbar daily that the Syrian invitation to the Lebanese president was "not positive, because there was no invitation sent to Premier Fouad Seniora to participate in the meeting as well."…

Syria Opposition Members claim that Syrian security forces have arrested several suspects in the assassination of Mohammed Suleiman, a senior aide to Syrian President Bashar Assad, earlier this month.


Comments (145)

Naji said:

«لا يهينُ الشعوبَ إلاّ رضاها
رضيَ الشعبُ بالهوانِ فهان»

A commentary by the veteran Lebanese MP Husain Al-Husaini upon resigning from the Lebanese Parlimant, July 12th, 2008

August 13th, 2008, 7:30 am


In Damascus said:

Does anyone know if the President Suleiman will still come to Syria as planned today after the bus bombing in Tripoli earlier this morning?

August 13th, 2008, 9:45 am


norman said:

Damascus – Syria condemned Wednesday the bus bombing in the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli which killed at least 17 people, among them nine soldiers from the Lebanese Army. “Syria vehemently denounces the criminal act which occurred this morning (Wednesday) in Tripoli in which many innocent citizens were killed,” the Syrian Foreign Ministry said in an official statement.

The ministry also offered its condolences to the families of the victims, assuring Lebanon of its support in combatting threats to its security.

The Syrian condemnation came a few hours before Lebanon’s President Michel Suleiman was scheduled to travel to Damascus for the first summit between the two countries in three years.

The summit is expected to focus on the establishment of diplomatic relations for the first time, including the opening of embassies.

Copyright, respective author or news agency

August 13th, 2008, 11:51 am


Averroes said:

Someone is really pissed off at Suleiman’s visit to Syria. Someone who’s known to use bombings and sectarian profiling.

Expect Asharq Alawsat’s headlines tomorrow to read “Lebanese Sunnis killed in bombing as Suleiman visits Syria.”

God have mercy on those who fell today. It is so unfortunate how cheap human life is to some.

August 13th, 2008, 4:10 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

I don’t think we can conclude that the bombing is tied to Suleiman’s trip to Damascus.

It may simply be a revenge attack against the army by one of the salafist groups. It takes very little intelligence and technology to terrorize people.

August 13th, 2008, 5:26 pm


Averroes said:


If there were bombings going on every other day, then the timing coincidence would not be statistically significant. But like this .. it’s quite indicative, I would say.

August 13th, 2008, 6:11 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


The problem with the timing argument is that it is ambiguous.

When March 14 politicians were getting blown up at the rate of one per month, their supporters cried out that Syria had to be behind the bombings because of the government’s decision to authorize the Tribunal. Meanwhile, Syria’s defenders said that March 14 was cannibalizing itself (or Israel was responsible) in order to frame Syria.

My point is that timing does not tell us which of two diametrically opposed arguments is correct.

It could be that someone is sending Suleiman a message about Syria. But who?

I tend to believe that the salafists (or what’s left of them) are trying to keep the country on the brink. All kinds of reasons: misdirection for another, bigger operation (God forbid); stirring the pot in Tripoli; who knows?

August 13th, 2008, 6:47 pm


Shai said:


How do you read from your angle what’s going on in Israel?

Also, why is SC so quiet these past few days? Summer holidays? 🙂

August 13th, 2008, 7:21 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


Isn’t it obvious why SC is quiet? Everything is great! Syria is ascendant! Life is wonderful! Who wants to read grumpy old Syria Comment when the milk and honey are flowing?

As for what’s going on in Israel… do you mean the military exercises? If so, I have no idea.

August 13th, 2008, 7:39 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


When you say:

Hezbollah and Syria and Iran are not stupid. They know exactly what Washington is trying to do, and they’re not going to be flipped, …

… it makes it sound like you think that Washington is the one that is forcing Syria to hold round after round of indirect talks with the Israelis, but the Syrians and their allies are wise to their evil intentions.

Syria is pursuing these talks of its own accord. It is disingenuous to pursue peace talks knowing the likely terms involved, and then to state loudly: “But don’t think we don’t know what you’re trying to do! We’re not stupid!”


August 13th, 2008, 10:02 pm


Off The Wall said:


I am alive, not arrested, nor shot from a boat, and definetly not bombed by Georgia, or by Russia, . Just been very very very busy since Sunday

August 14th, 2008, 1:55 am


norman said:

SC is alive .Thank GOD .

August 14th, 2008, 2:50 am


Shai said:

Oh… thank god. I started to feel like being in limbo… 🙂

Here’s a letter to the next U.S. President:

August 14th, 2008, 3:59 am


Qifa Nabki said:

Michel Suleiman has met with Bashar al-Asad, and they have agreed to demarcate borders between Syria and Lebanon. The catch is that the Shebaa Farms will not be demarcated, the rhetorical reason given being because they are under occupation.

This is another classic instance of what Ayman was talking about on another thread: the ubiquitous Syrian “yes, but”. They have agreed to demarcate Lebanon’s border, but left out the most important part of it. The reason why? Because Syria does not want Israel to take advantage of the newly drawn border and withdraw from Shebaa, thereby diminishing the pretext for a Lebanese resistance, prior to the conclusion of a deal for the Golan heights.

August 14th, 2008, 1:40 pm


Shai said:


I imagine the last four sentences are your own interpretation, rather than “official” explanation, right? Though this explanation sounds very correct. A bit of a shame, no? God forbid Barak shouldn’t have reasons to conduct exercises on the Golan… 🙂

Some of my Arab friends used to believe strongly in conspiracy theory (Saddam is an American agent, or an Israeli one, etc.) I’m starting to believe Barak’s best friends are Assad and Michel Suleiman…

August 14th, 2008, 2:21 pm


norman said:


That is smart of Syria isn’t it.

August 14th, 2008, 2:21 pm


Shai said:

Norman, why? Why not take the “wind” also out of the Israeli sail?

August 14th, 2008, 2:24 pm


norman said:


Syria and Lebanon are like Husband and wife ,

If you have a fight with your neighbor , would you want your wife to have contact with them before you resolve the issues between your household and your neighbor , I doubt it.

Shai, It is peace for all at the same time , That is the only way.

August 14th, 2008, 2:39 pm


Shai said:


No, I understand that. But why can’t Shebaa farms be decided upon by Syria and Lebanon, officially? If it is Lebanese territory, why should Syria “benefit” from it during talks with Israel? As comprehensive as any agreement should be, we can safely assume that it will not finalize all the details with the Palestinians, and maybe not even with the Lebanese. For instance, I can imagine the Israeli negotiator telling his Syrian counterpart “We would of course ask that Syria use its influence to disarm Hezbollah…”, and the Syrian answering “Syria will of course do everything it can to calm things down, and create an atmosphere of peaceful negotiations, but HA is a Lebanese entity (resistance group), and it cannot be influenced by Syria…” In other words, Syria cannot discuss Shebaa Farms as a precondition to anything, just as Lebanon cannot discuss the Golan Heights.

The only exception to the above, is in the case where any Arab nation plans not to even sign a peace agreement (not talking about real peace yet between people) until the entire Arab-Israeli conflict is resolved, all at the same time (as many have suggested be done). At the moment, at least, that seems an unlikely possibility, especially since Hamas and Fatah have yet to resolve their differences.

August 14th, 2008, 2:49 pm


Alex said:

Marty Peretz in the New Republic does not approve

Condi’s Shame

Lebanon is not a state, and certainly not a nation-state. It’s rather more like a market place, for evidence of which you need only know that bombs are exploded in its souks and shopping bazaars regularly. Like yesterday, in Tripoli, where at least 18 people were never to return home. And elsewhere in the Muslim world where wars are fought not across battle lines but on demographically indeterminate streets and within neighborhoods that are home to the poor.

The market place model has finally been settled for in Lebanon, and the evidence is that Syria will finally recognize its independence after 65 years. I do not mean this ironically. But the country has been divvied up. The Christians and the less and less important Sunnis have been defeated but not removed; they will get their discounted share of the market which is all that really counted and really all that could be salvaged after Hariri père was assassinated in the streets of Beirut. The March 14 movement turned out to be a sham. The Cedar Revolution a few-month phenomenon. The Druze, always corrupt and usually portentous, have also been bought off. So the chief of the roost is Nasrallah, secure enough for Bashar Assad to recognize his limited dominion but otherwise reliant on Damascus, most notably for arms.

That is, Syria has just about achieved its ambitions to make Lebanon a vassal state, for Assad the historic goal that eluded his father. This will mean an embassy and an ambassador and the utter subordination of Lebanon to Syrian intelligence and the Syrian military.

Only an utter idiot like Condi Rice–and she is an utter idiot–would see good in this news of reunion between Beirut and Damascus. And, in a very material way, she is largely responsible for it. She was the great force behind Security Council Resolution 1701 which handed the victory in the Lebanon war of 2006 to Hezbollah, this cease-fire that was not a cease-fire, the restrictions on weapons transfers that was not restrictive, the UNIFIL detachments without numbers or orders or will, the fraud of a cobbled together agreement that had no mortar and no glue and, thus, no power. That Israel fell for it is to its shame and regret.

And now it is our shame…but not yet Ms. Rice’s regret.

There is an old adage about the Lebanese, attributed to an old French consul in Beirut: “They would burn their houses to light a cigarette.” And they would. In fact, they have.

August 14th, 2008, 2:57 pm


Alex said:

Syria will be first renting, then buying a few planes AIRBUS

Airbus can not sell Syria anything for now, but it seems the expectations are that by 2010 everything will be fine … sanctions against Syria will be removed a year after the Bush administration is out of office, or few months after an Israel/Syria peace treaty is signed?

Syrian airlines are now operating with 8 planes only. The United States applied enough pressure to ensure no one sells Syria anything, not even spare parts.

وزارة النقل تضع خطة لاستئجار وشراء طائرات لصالح مؤسسة الطيران السورية

أكد الدكتور يعرب بدر وزير النقل أنه تم وضع خطة زمنية لاستئجار وشراء عدد من الطائرات لصالح مؤسسة الطيران العربية السورية.

وقال الدكتور بدر في تصريح لوكالة سانا إن الخطة تتضمن استئجار طائرتين هذا العام للعمل خلال موسم الحج وأعياد رأس السنة ومن ثم استئجار أربع طائرات أخرى خلال العام 2009 على أن يعقب ذلك توريد 14 طائرة ايرباص بحجوم مختلفة من الفترة ما بين 2010-2018 ومن ثم دراسة الجدوى الاقتصادية لجدولة 36 طائرة خلال الفترة المقبلة.

وبين وزير النقل أن مفاوضات أجريت مؤخراً بين مؤسسة الطيران العربية السورية وشركة ايرباص في دمشق اذ يتم العمل حالياً من قبل الجهات الوصائية المختصة في سورية لبلورة مذكرة تفاهم بين الجانبين ليتم توقيعها خلال الزيارة المقررة للرئيس الفرنسي نيكولا ساركوزي إلى سورية قريباً.

يذكر أن عدد الطائرات العاملة لصالح مؤسسة الطيران السورية انخفض من 11 طائرة العام الماضي إلى 8 طائرات العام الحالي اذ تعاني المؤسسة من نقص في أسطولها لعدم قدرتها على شراء طائرات في الفترة السابقة نتيجة الحظر المفروض من الشركات الأمريكية التي تمتلك أسهماً في أغلب الشركات المتخصصة بصناعة الطائرات.

August 14th, 2008, 3:07 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


Yes, the last four sentences were, in fact, my interpretation. 🙂

I personally feel that there should be Lebanese negotiators at the table in Istanbul, alongside the Syrians. It makes little sense to me that Syria should be bargaining with Lebanese cards, while we sit and wait for the outcome.

I think that the Syrians are paranoid (as they have always been) about Israel trying to drive a wedge between them and the Lebanese, and this is why no politician in Lebanon (besides disgraced has-beens like Amin Gemayel) are allowed to insist on direct talks with Israel. Bashar and co. will simply not take a chance on it, and so it is off limits.

August 14th, 2008, 3:53 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Here’s Michael Young’s take on the Tripoli bombing. (It’s a fairly popular one, judging from the blogosphere).

Once again, the trap is set in Tripoli
By Michael Young
Daily Star staff
Thursday, August 14, 2008

If you’re wondering what happened yesterday in Tripoli, where a bomb exploded alongside a bus, killing several Lebanese soldiers and civilians, here’s an interpretation based on a visit to the city earlier this week. The bomb attack will probably be claimed by Shaker Absi and Fatah al-Islam, or by some unknown Salafist group. You, the reader, must have already established a link between the Ain Alaq bus bombings, which security officials blamed on Fatah al-Islam, and the Tripoli bombing, and that’s no coincidence. The killing of soldiers was no coincidence either. Like the attack against a military intelligence office in Abdeh several weeks ago, the aim of those placing the bombs was to convince you and I that Sunni extremist groups are alive and well in the North, that they have an axe to grind with the army because of Nahr al-Bared, and that an insurrection has begun, one directed even against the Hariri camp, as when parliamentarian Mustapha Alloush was roughed up last week by Salafists trying to secure the release of imprisoned relatives.

The reality, I believe, is different. Recently, colleagues who closely follow events in Tripoli have started hearing of Syrian warnings to the Lebanese that there would be no peace in the city until the Salafists were routed. Who would conduct such an operation but the army, explaining why soldiers have been the victims of recent attacks. Syria’s implication in the bombings is highly probable, its objective being to push the army and the Salafists into a confrontation. This would create a serious rift within the Sunni community, weaken the disoriented pro-Hariri forces in Tripoli, and allow Damascus’ allies to regain the initiative in the city.

The reality is that Salafists in Tripoli are not strong. In the recent fighting between the Sunni quarters of Bab al-Tebbaneh and Qobbeh and the Alawite quarter of Jabal Mohsen, the Salafists, who belong to a variety of small groups, proved to be much less numerous than anyone had imagined. As a neighborhood leader in Bab al-Tebbaneh described it, the confrontations exposed the Salafists’ weaknesses, not their strengths. The brunt of the fighting was borne by the men of Bab al-Tebbaneh, though followers of a leading opposition politician used the hostilities to burnish his legitimacy as a “defender of the Sunnis.” The Alawite official Rifaat Eid admitted that the fighting erupted after a rocket propelled grenade was fired at his men by partisans of this opposition politician.

If you see a contradiction between an opposition politician fighting against the pro-Syrian Alawites while also helping implement Syria’s agenda of destabilizing Tripoli, you shouldn’t. That’s par for the course in the North these days, in a situation growing more cynical by the day. The Alawites of Jabal Mohsen, like the Sunnis of Bab al-Tebbaneh and Qobbeh, are pawns in a game larger than they are, and will say so openly. Neither side wants fresh violence, which has damaged the livelihoods of most people in the dirt poor quarters and those around them.

If the Lebanese Army were to attack the Salafists, this would only pour oil onto the fire in Tripoli and make the situation there far worse than it already is. Surveying the Islamists and Salafists in the city, the picture that emerges is a complicated one. There are several smaller Salafist groups, some of which have been penetrated by the security forces and are therefore more manageable. Others may prove more problematic, but are apparently too small to do much damage on their own. There are Islamist groups with ties to the Hariri camp, and there are those close to Syria, such as the followers of Bilal Shaaban, Hashem Minqara, and Fathi Yakan. This mishmash is further complicated by the obscure networks existing between many of these groups, whatever their public loyalties, and by their relations with mainstream Tripoli politicians. In other words if the army were to enter the fray against the Salafists, this could open up a Pandora’s box of recrimination, militancy, and political manipulation, leading to the situation we saw at the start of the Nahr al-Bared fighting last year, when it was plainly the Syrian intention to create rifts within the Sunni community, before the army managed to take things in hand.

It was no coincidence, either, that the bombing occurred on the day of Michel Sleiman’s visit to Damascus. There were several messages to the president: that Lebanese security will continue to remain vulnerable if he opposes Syrian priorities (and that includes, among other things, Syrian choices for the post of army commander and military intelligence chief); that Sleiman’s priorities, in turn, such as addressing diplomatic relations between Beirut and Damascus and the fate of Lebanese prisoners in Syria, are secondary to the Syrians; that intimidation remains Syria’s modus operandi when it comes to its relationship with Lebanon; and that Sleiman would make a mistake to rely too much on the parliamentary majority, which is buttressed by a Sunni community that can be readily split.

Judging from the political vacuum that today exists among Tripoli’s Sunnis, the Syrians may just be right. The Future Movement’s representatives in the North are not liked at the street level. Saad Hariri is respected, but given that he has yet to create a political center of gravity in Tripoli, the approval could begin to fray – indeed is already showing unsettling signs of fraying. Hariri will have to be careful in the elections next year. Depending on which alliances take shape he may be unable to take his entire list into Parliament, and this could be a blow to his prestige. Even some politicians close to the Hariri camp are wondering whether they would not be better off standing as independents.

Hariri and his people didn’t want to get involved in the recent Bab Tebbaneh-Jabal Mohsen fighting because they didn’t want to be seen as backing armed militias. Fair enough, but nature abhors a vacuum. Unless the Future Movement gets an organizational hold on what is happening in Tripoli, unless it imposes a sense of focus on its fractured and bewildered Sunni base, that vacuum will be filled by its enemies. The bus bombing yesterday ultimately targeted not the army but the Sunnis. Syria wants them irredeemably divided. Hariri must ensure that such a plan fails.

Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR.

August 14th, 2008, 4:14 pm


Nour said:

I’ll summarize Michael Young’s take on everything. Syria is evil.

August 14th, 2008, 5:23 pm


Shai said:


I can’t imagine Syrian negotiators saying anything about Lebanon, which directly or indirectly suggests that Syria is still in control there. So there’s a limit to the kind of Lebanese cards Syria can play at the table. The only meaningful ones, I believe, are HA and its Iranian-originated arms supply. Syria will have to discuss this point, and I’m sure they already have the answers (and probably voiced them in Istanbul). But what can they “give” with regards to Shebaa Farms, if they belong to Lebanon? Nothing. Israel also will not allow Syria to act as Lebanon’s representative, because it is very much in Israel’s best interest to deal with two nations, and not one.

It is indeed puzzling why Lebanon is not represented in the talks. Why is Siniora, for instance, insisting to be “the last to make peace with Israel”? Is it because of the super-delicate issue regarding the 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon? Is he (and all other politicians) afraid of another civil war, should Lebanon participate too soon in direct talks with Israel?

August 14th, 2008, 5:29 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


That’s probably it, in a nutshell.

August 14th, 2008, 7:39 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


Lebanon’s insistent mantra “We will be the last country to sign peace with Israel,” is a classic exemplification of: “The lady doth protest too much.”

There are many Lebanese who would like to see peace with Israel… yesterday. Some of these people are right wing Christians who are xenophobic towards Muslims and consider Israel as an ideological partner. Others are just capitalists desiring stability in order to build their businesses, etc. (as they watch the Gulf states vie to become what Beirut once was). Still others are just sick and tired of the conflict and want to have their children and grandchildren grow up around them instead of emigrating to other countries.

But the Lebanese tried this before, with disastrous results. The confessional system cannot tolerate an injection of half a million Sunnis. Hence the Memorandum of Understanding…

August 14th, 2008, 7:56 pm


norman said:


Syrians are not paranoid , Syrians learn from others , We the wise old men know that during the camp David deal between Israel and Egypt , Israel was supposed to up on it’s deal with Egypt with the same deal with Syria and the Palestinians only to see that what Israel wanted was to neutralize Egypt role in the conflict , We are still waiting for the second part of Camp David ,

No Syrians are not paranoid as you say Syrians are wise men.

Israel wants to do the same thing to Isolate Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinians to try to have separate deals so it can dictate it’s demands.

August 15th, 2008, 1:25 am


Qifa Nabki said:

Ammo Norman

Whatever we call it (wise or paranoid) it does not change the fact that Syria is calling the shots on Shebaa. My point is that the Lebanese should play a role in determining their own future instead of simply accepting that Syria has their best interests at heart.

Then again, talking about a Lebanese role in peace talks is fine in theory, but very difficult in practice. The Lebanese are having enough difficulty forming a government. I don’t know that there is a consensus on what kind of deal would be acceptable. Most Shi`a and Christians would probably like to see the Palestinians absorbed by another country. The Sunnis… who knows? It’s not straightforward.

So maybe it is better, after all, that Syria is not asking their opinion.


August 15th, 2008, 1:55 am


norman said:


You are right Syria needs to include Lebanon in the peace agreement , as you know Lebanon has only the Shebaa farms to worry about and they are between Syria and Lebanon , so a deal between Syria and Israel will leave Lebanon in stronger position to negotiate peace with Israel so Lebanon can demand a better deal with Israel has no land to give Lebanon so they will need to give Lebanon more especially if they want Lebanon to absorb the Palestinians , like better economic and technology agreements.

I think Lebanon is the big winner from a deal between Syria and Israel.

August 15th, 2008, 2:06 am


norman said:

QN ,

I think you said before that the salafist are behind the explosion in Lebanon,this is interesting.
Robert Fisk: Al-Qa’ida sends its warriors from Iraq to wage ‘jihad’ in Lebanon
Bomb attack in Tripoli has exposed the brutal infighting in the country’s second city

Friday, 15 August 2008

Abdullah got it about right. Picking his fingernails in the ticket office of the local bus station, he lowered his eyes. He had seen everything; the severed arms and legs of Lebanese soldiers, the still uniformed but headless infantryman slumped out of the window of the minibus round the corner, and the bodies of all the little people who die when bombs go off here: the old man who sold sandwiches to the troops, the lemonade salesman, the child who polished shoes. All dead, of course. “Collateral damage” to the man who left the bomb in a bag on the pavement at 7.45am on Wednesday. “We think it was either Fatah al-Islam or some unknown forces,” Abdullah said. “Why do you ask?”

Why indeed. Fatah al-Islam is a Salafist version of Sunni Islam, a weird al-Qa’ida satellite which held out against the Lebanese army in the Palestinian Nahr el-Bared camp north of here last year at the cost of 400 deaths and the flight of 40,000 civilians. Most Lebanese concluded that they were implanted in Lebanon’s soil by Syria.

But Wednesday’s bomb in Lebanon’s second city, the ancient crusader port of the Chateau de Saint Gilles, disfigured by massive unemployment and grotesque advertising hoardings, was of Iraqi proportions: 15 dead, nine of them Lebanese soldiers, and 50 wounded.

Gunfire crackled like broken matchsticks across Tripoli yesterday as the local “martyrs” were buried. Most had been queuing for buses to the south, alongside the usual bus drivers – six of them – sipping coffee on the pavement. One of their number, Kasser Chebli, who had turned up as usual and begun to drink his morning coffee, woke up in hospital, minus one leg. On the streets, the printed funeral notes told their own story.

“The Martyr Mohamed Mustapha Mrai,” it said in beautifully printed Arabic script above an army identity photo of the young man. “The martyr who died in the Tripoli bomb,” the funerary notice added.

But who were Abdullah’s “other forces”? A walk down Syria Street – and yes, that really is the name of this shattered, burnt- out, bullet-spattered thoroughfare – provides a few terrifying clues. It divides the large Sunni district of Tripoli from the tiny Alawite community. The Sunnis are generally loyal to Saad Hariri, son of the assassinated ex-prime minister whose Future Movement now forms part of the government in Lebanon.

The Alawis are, as the saying goes, an “offshoot” of Shia Islam and are close to Syria for a very obvious reason: President Bashar al-Assad of Syria is an Alawi and so are most of the powerful men in Syria.

The soldiers murdered in Wednesday’s bomb were members of a large military force deployed after Sunni-Alawi sectarian gunbattles had killed 22 Lebanese and wounded another 68 in June and July alone. The battles still continue.

Syria Street is a shameful place of ethnic cleansing, of burnt-out apartments and smashed shops, of fear and unemployment. “Don’t stand here any longer because you can be shot from the top of the side road,” Rabih al-Badawi quietly informed me as we inspected the wreckage.

Rabih’s business card says he is in “General Trading” – he is a Sunni and he sells lavatory fitings – but his “trading” took a blow this summer when he refused to pay protection money to local gangs. He takes me through his upper offices, carbonised, trashed, looted, his remaining windows starred with bullet holes. Outside, bullets crackle in the hot afternoon. It’s like a return to the old Beirut of the war.

“Look at these shops,” Rabih tells me as we stroll down Syria Street with a grotesque display of self-confidence. “This is Alawi-owned. Bullet holes in the door. This is Alawi. The same. These are Sunni shops: all burnt out.”

Was all this, perhaps, the work of Abdullah’s “unknown forces”? “I think this is the work of weapons’ dealers,” Rabih replies at once. “They want to sell guns. So here everyone needs a gun because everyone is frightened. So the place has filled up with guns. The army does nothing. Why not? Don’t they know the names of the gangs? Don’t they know who is behind this?”

I take a drive round the corner to the slums of the little Alawi community, and there is Ahmed Saadedin, sipping coffee opposite another row of “martyrs” pictures, this time of Alawis, who says, correctly, that at least 9,000 Alawi refugees have fled their homes here.

“The violence started after Hariri’s assassination,” Ahmed says. “When Syria’s forces were here, all Lebanon enjoyed security.” Which – if you forget the presence of 40,000 Syrian troops, two Israeli invasions and a 15-year civil war – is an absolutely correct statement.

The truth is that Tripoli has slunk back into the civil war, block after block of gaunt, workless homes in which the Salafists and the “al-Islamists” and the haunted young men who have returned from their “jihad” against the Americans in Iraq now nestle and ponder a dangerous, frightening future amid these disgraceful battles.

In Tripoli, the fears of every Lebanese are brought to fulfillment; it’s the cold fear of those “outside forces” that roam throughout the Middle East.

Lebanon’s bitter legacy

Independent from French rule since 1943, Lebanon has four million people made up of numerous religious groups. The 15-year civil war ended in 1990, but the country is still deeply unstable. The worst violence since the civil war erupted in 2006 when a month-long war broke out with Israel. When President Emile Lahoud’s term finished in November 2007, the dispute over his successor led to a six-month power vacuum. Finally, in May, the former army chief Michel Suleiman was chosen as President, and on Tuesday a new cabinet was approved by MPs. The country has been shaken by political assassinations since the February 2005 killing of the former prime minister Rafik Hariri. The role of Syria, which withdrew its troops in 2005 after 29 years, has been a source of conflict. But this week Lebanon and Syria agreed to establish diplomatic relations.

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August 15th, 2008, 2:10 am


Zenobia said:

Somebody needs to instruct Michael Young on the principle and use of Occam’s Razor.

Syrians and Lebanese are both paranoid.

August 15th, 2008, 4:41 am


Majhool said:

Since many here, with regard to the assassination of Hariri and others in the M-14 camp, acquitted the Syrian regime under the premises that it was not in their best interest to kill them, using the same logic: in whose interest it is to blow up bombes in Tripoli? Especially when the election is arround the corner and Aoun is trying to scare Christians from Salafism .

Also, does anyone around here see a Syrian interest in empowering the Sunni community in Lebanon keeping in mind internal Syrian sensitivities (if you know what I mean?)

August 15th, 2008, 6:12 am


Zenobia said:

no, actually, i don’t know what you mean. it sounds like you are asking questions, but I think you are making a point. I am not sure what the point is though.

I think the answer would be NO to the last question. I don’t see any interest in syria empowering etc….

August 15th, 2008, 7:12 am


Majhool said:

what about the first question

in whose interest it is to blow up bombes in Tripoli? Especially when the election is arround the corner and Aoun is trying to scare Christians from Salafism .

August 15th, 2008, 7:42 am


why-discuss said:


The only way Lebanon can get anything out of Israel, compensation and relocation to Palestinians, the Shebaa Farms is to court Syria, so the peace deal with Israel would include Lebanon. The only cards of pressure that Lebanon has now are Hezbollah Weapons and an alliance with Syria.
I am shocked by the stupidity of the ones who wonder what the Hezbollah weapons have to do with the ‘return’ of the Palestinians. If the Hezbollah weapons are eliminated, and Syria does not make a favor to Lebanon in including it or some part in the peace deal with Israel, Lebanon should say Good bye to the Shebaa Farnms and welcome to the 500,000 new lebanese citizens!

August 15th, 2008, 10:10 am


Qifa Nabki said:


I agree with what you are saying, but do you think it necessary that Lebanese negotiators be present as part of the peace talks?

Or is it preferable to just let there be behind the scenes agreements, with Syria controlling the point?


I think I understand what Majhool is saying. Namely, we can’t apply Occam’s razor in an inconsistent way. In general, I think Occam’s is the way to go in almost any scenario, and I also agree with you that Michael Young’s reading is convoluted and unlikely. But if we use Occam’s razor in the context of Hariri’s assassination and many of the ones that followed, this makes Syria a prime suspect.

But most people on SC rejected the principle of Occam’s razor, in those cases. That is what Majhool is saying, if I may speak for him.

Correct me if I’m wrong, Majhool.

August 15th, 2008, 11:48 am


Nour said:


I don’t believe the us of Occam’s Razor in the Hariri investigation leads to Syrian complicity. To me, the simplest explanation is that the US/Israel killed Hariri to pressure Syria. Syria had no interest or reason to kill Hariri and I believe people who concluded that Syria was guilty did so based on a severe disdain they feel toward Syria rather than a rational explanation.

August 15th, 2008, 12:51 pm


norman said:

QN , This might help to know who could be behind the attack.

Bookmark & Share DAWN.COM

August 15, 2008 Friday Sha’aban 12, 1429

Lebanon attack is a message for army

By Rima Abushakra

BEIRUT: The bomb attack that killed nine soldiers in Lebanon was a message to the army and aimed at undermining a landmark visit by President Michel Sleiman to former powerbroker Syria, analysts said.

The soldiers were among 14 people killed in Wednesday’s morning rush hour blast at a bus stop frequented by troops in the northern port of Tripoli, Lebanon’s second city.

The city has been rocked by recurrent violence since last year, when the army fought a 15-week battle with militants of the Al Qaeda inspired Fatah al-Islam in the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp on Tripoli’s outskirts.

Oussama Safa, head of the Lebanese Centre for Policy Studies, said the attack could have been one of a series he saw as retribution for the army,s crushing of Fatah al-Islam last year.

The Lebanese forces have come under repeated attack since those battles that left 400 people dead, including 168 soldiers.

“I see this within a spate of attacks against the army that could be reprisal attacks for the army,s crushing of Fatah al-Islam last year,” said Safa.

In December the head of the army’s military operations, General Francois el-Hajj, was killed in a massive bomb attack and just over a month later Major Wissam Eid, a top intelligence officer, was killed in similar circumstances.

MP Ahmed Fatfat saw in Wednesday,s attack “a clear message to the army, warning it against playing an effective role,” in restoring law and order across Lebanon.

The bombing was the deadliest attack since Lebanon,s Western-backed anti-Syrian ruling majority sealed a power-sharing agreement with the Syria- and Iran-backed opposition in Doha, Qatar, in May.

The deal paved the way for the election of Sleiman, the former army chief, and the formation of a national unity government developments widely seen as only possible with Syria,s approval.

The bombing, which has not yet been claimed by any group, also came one day after the national unity cabinet secured a much-delayed vote of confidence from parliament.

Analysts and politicians also saw in it a clear political message aimed at undermining Sleiman’s visit on Wednesday and Thursday to Damascus whose goal is to redefine relations between the two neighbours after decades of rocky and uneven ties.

The timing of the attack reflects its aim “to prevent the improvement of Lebanese-Syrian relations,” said parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a stalwart of the pro-Syrian opposition.

Syria dominated Lebanon politically and militarily for nearly three decades until April 2005 when it withdrew its troops from Lebanon following international pressure.

The pullout came two months after the assassination in a massive Beirut bomb blast of Lebanese ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, for which Damascus has denied any responsibility despite accusations by Lebanese anti-Syrian groups.

Wednesday,s bombing “may hasten Sleiman,s demand for faster stability. That will probably mean that a fast appointment of a commander-in-chief and heads of the security agencies”, according to Safa.

“For that, they will need a kind of green light from Damascus,” he said.

The 64,400-strong army has been without a commander-in-chief since Sleiman’s election as president. Other top security positions also need to be filled.

These positions have been left empty as a result of a debilitating political crisis that lasted over 18 months and pitted the ruling majority against the Hezbollah-led opposition.

The crisis turned violent in May when Hezbollah took over swathes of mostly Muslim west Beirut amid fighting that left 65 people dead.

For the NOW Lebanon independent internet website, the bombing is “a reminder to the Lebanese that… Syria still controls this neighbourhood and is seeking to smash any concerted opposition to its local and and regional influence.”


The DAWN Media Group

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August 15th, 2008, 1:40 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


You see: Occam’s razor isn’t even reliable when it comes to the Hariri assassination! Nour and I can’t agree, even though we are adopting the same methodological principle.

: )

Nour, we’ll just agree to disagree then. I find the US/Israel argument not only implausible but far less parsimonious than the Syria argument, and parsimony is the key ingredient in any application of Occam’s razor.

Syria had plenty of reasons to kill Hariri. He sponsored 1559, he was very close to the Saudis and the French, he had the regime’s men in Lebanon in his pocket. The Syrians had every reason in the world to get rid of him, particularly as the winds began to change following the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

But we’ve been through this about 1559 times, so there’s no need to rehash it.

August 15th, 2008, 2:24 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Ammo Norman,

I more or less agree with that article. I don’t think Syria has any reason to kill Lebanese soldiers in Tripoli. My best guess is that it was the work of the Salafist community up there who are still nursing their wounds after Nahr al-Bared, and who are currently protesting the imprisonment of dozens of Islamists in Roumieh prison.

The message is: stay out of Tripoli, or there will be a bomb targeting the army every week. The government should use this as an opportunity to unite around a common cause.

August 15th, 2008, 2:27 pm


Nour said:


Yes, we will agree to disagree ;-). But I am just about 100% sure that the Syrians had nothing to do with Hariri’s assassination, and I think in time, we will all come to know this, but of course what happened will have happened. And we will probably be repeating the same mistakes again and again, because we are too busy hating each other, rather than focusing our efforts against the real enemy.

August 15th, 2008, 3:22 pm


norman said:


If Syria was seeking revenge then you are right and Syria might have killed Hariri, but if Syria wanted to change the dynamic in Lebanon then you are wrong as killing Hariri was not a plan that would make Syria stronger , so the question to you do countries seek revenge or change policies , I think they try to change policies and for that Hariri was doing what Syria wanted IE extension to La-hood and ignoring the 1559 , and for that he might have targeted because he did not deliver for the Saudi and the West as he promised .

August 15th, 2008, 3:23 pm


Naji said:

From the June 5th, 2008, LRB:
Short Cuts
Andrew O’Hagan

One of the first words I ever heard at school was ‘Bethlehem’. For the pupils at St Winnin’s Primary in North Ayrshire it was infinitely more familiar than the word ‘Edinburgh’ or – starry heavens forfend – ‘London’. We knew all about the little town of Bethlehem and its shepherds who watched their flocks by night: it was the place where Baby Jesus was born, and by Christmas in that first year at school we were trudging through the assembly hall in black sandshoes and towelling headgear, keen to find the infant saviour in a shed draped with fairy lights. On Christmas cards it was often snowing and that seemed something to imagine.

The joke in Scotland was that nativity plays were confined to primary schools because after that it was difficult to find three wise men and a virgin. (I still hadn’t heard of London the first time I heard that joke.) But the question of nativity itself – of coming from somewhere, of being native – was never complex in our Catholic stories and our great myths of authorship. Sure, the men who came from the East had darker faces and the Romans were bastards, but I always wondered why our town couldn’t be more like Bethlehem, a place of bright stars and tinsel, where even the cattle could find a child impressive.

Last week, from my window at the Pilgrim Deluxe, Bethlehem initially looked just as it should. The hills in the distance were grey and blue and unmarked by passing arguments. ‘This was once the more prosperous end of town,’ our guide said. ‘But the wall has ended all that. The town cannot grow and the Palestinians are not allowed to look at their own horizon. We are caged here, that is the story.’

We had come in via Jordan. Posters of terrorist suspects adorned the walls of the checkpoint, offering millions of dollars for information leading to arrests. My face got me waved through in minutes by a couple of girl custodians who seemed more interested in their nail polish than in incipient threats to the state of Israel: until, that is, our colleague the actor Khalid Abdalla came through, in company with the novelists Ahdaf Soueif and Hanan al-Shaykh. ‘What’s your grandfather’s name?’ the girls said. ‘Stand there.’ For two hours the rest of us waited outside until the harassment was over and the cultural visit could proceed.

By the time we reached Bethlehem we had been in the Occupied Territories for two days. Television images of Bethlehem and Ramallah had left an obscure impression of washed-out war zones with few buildings and lots of smoke. Yet Bethlehem thrives at the business of daily living, and it does so while existing in a state of geographical squeeze, as if a vice had been installed at every point where the bustle of the town threatens to make way for the countryside. Many of the students arrived late for the workshops or left early. ‘That’s because of the roadblocks,’ one of the lecturers explained. ‘No one can rely on getting anywhere on time.’

The refugee camp we visited in Bethlehem was squeezed between oily garages and a busy road. The people living there had lost most of their things, and everything of their way of life: many had lived in rural areas before being forced out of their homes, and their status entitled them to free schooling and medical care. I had seen refugee camps before – in the Sudan, in Malawi – but the difference here was that the residents were living in concrete blocks and no longer had any sense of what their status was in relation to their land. Many of the children played down by the wall, looking at graffiti by Banksy of children being hoisted skywards by balloons. Another mural showed people being transported over the wall by a giant escalator, figures disappearing into the blue sky that airily denoted freedom.

In the week that Israel celebrated its 60th anniversary I had come as one of the writers attending the first ever Palestine Festival of Literature. Thousands of people turned out: they wanted to believe that Palestine is not just a cause but also a culture and a country, a place not simply for stone-throwing but for ideas and for modernity. But everywhere we went the wall seemed a shadow, a heavy ornament of Israeli aggression and a horrible reminder to those of us who grew up to see the wall come down in Berlin and the end of apartheid in South Africa. Even in those infamous places, merely mentioning the problem did not invite hatred the way trying to say anything at all about Israel does. Discussion lacks traction in a land scarred from end to end with barriers to progress.

When we reached Hebron, we found a ghost town where no one would have blinked to see tumbleweed roll past the checkpoints that tell Palestinians whether they can walk on the left or the right of the street. On several occasions, settlers came jogging past; they were out for a run with the person at the front carrying an AK-47, and each jogger bearing the menacing grimace of Liberty Valance. Most of the shops in Hebron have been closed down and the general atmosphere is of a people being harassed, obscured, denied and cancelled. Broken masonry and piles of litter seem to line every street, as if a siege mentality expresses itself in a resistance to public orderliness. A net had been strung up over a dark alleyway leading from one checkpoint to another, and it was now filled with the international debris of big-brand fizzy drinks and sweets and chain stores. A Palestinian who lived nearby explained that they’d had to put the net up ‘because the Israelis who live up there were dropping things down on the heads of people passing.’

At Birzeit University – sign on the gate, ‘No Guns’ – the young women studying English wanted to talk about Foucault and George Eliot. Near the place where Yasir Arafat is buried, graffiti on the wall says, ‘ctrl+alt+delete’, the command you key in when your computer freezes. And that is the feeling one gets in Ramallah, the feeling of a system that is paralysed and awaiting radical action. There are many newly built houses and much evidence of life going on – water machines piled up by the road, old Amstrad computers awaiting salvage, trash cans overflowing – but at the centre of it all the people, especially the young people, are busy outpacing the terms of their detention. The students later stood around under olive trees, their conversations moving between gossip and ideas about the development of a moral imagination. They seemed to agree that too much talk about one’s suffering is a kind of provincialism and more than anything wanted to see themselves as a generation that could inhabit the world.

Andrew O’Hagan’s The Atlantic Ocean, a collection of essays on Britain and America, many of which were first published in the London Review, will be published in June. Be Near Me, his last novel, won the 2008 Los Angeles Times Book Prize award for fiction.

August 15th, 2008, 4:25 pm


Majhool said:


You sure can speak for me and yes you are correct.

Using Occam’s Razor principle will lead to the following

• Hariri was killed by the Syrians to undermine Hariri/Saudi influence (let’s place a check mark for completion). Not only it was dangerous in terms of undermining Syrian influence in Lebanon, but this would have had internal ramification in Syria given sunni sensitivities within Syria.
• Kasir was killed to undermine the alliance that was starting to form between Syrian and Lebanese intellectuals (Check mark for completion?)
• Bombing in Tripoli serve to undermine Hariri in the upcoming elections (pending completion?)

I am not advocating one principle or the other but let’s be consistent.

August 15th, 2008, 5:21 pm


Observer said:

From the Syria Lebanon front there are no news indeed.
Let me comment:

a camel is a horse created by a committee. Delegating the issues to committees on borders, relations, demarcations, etc… is another way of saying nothing will happen. All that Syria has to do is to appoint a new committee head every 6 months to stall the process.

(This is what the British did with the EU integration project of the free movement of professionals to insure that Italian doctors could not practice in Britain).

More important is this summary of events in 1914, after the assissination of Arch Duke Ferdinant of the Austro-Hungarian Empire by a Serb Nationalist/Terrorist and the accusation that Serbia is responsible by Vienna, here are the sequence of events:

Austria-Hungary, unsatisfied with Serbia’s response to her ultimatum (which in the event was almost entirely placatory: however her jibbing over a couple of minor clauses gave Austria-Hungary her sought-after cue) declared war on Serbia on 28 July 1914.

Russia, bound by treaty to Serbia, announced mobilisation of its vast army in her defence, a slow process that would take around six weeks to complete.

Germany, allied to Austria-Hungary by treaty, viewed the Russian mobilisation as an act of war against Austria-Hungary, and after scant warning declared war on Russia on 1 August.

France, bound by treaty to Russia, found itself at war against Germany and, by extension, on Austria-Hungary following a German declaration on 3 August. Germany was swift in invading neutral Belgium so as to reach Paris by the shortest possible route.

Britain, allied to France by a more loosely worded treaty which placed a “moral obligation” upon her to defend France, declared war against Germany on 4 August. Her reason for entering the conflict lay in another direction: she was obligated to defend neutral Belgium by the terms of a 75-year old treaty.

With Germany’s invasion of Belgium on 4 August, and the Belgian King’s appeal to Britain for assistance, Britain committed herself to Belgium’s defence later that day. Like France, she was by extension also at war with Austria-Hungary.

With Britain’s entry into the war, her colonies and dominions abroad variously offered military and financial assistance, and included Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa.

United States President Woodrow Wilson declared a U.S. policy of absolute neutrality, an official stance that would last until 1917 when Germany’s policy of unrestricted submarine warfare – which seriously threatened America’s commercial shipping (which was in any event almost entirely directed towards the Allies led by Britain and France) – forced the U.S. to finally enter the war on 6 April 1917.

Japan, honouring a military agreement with Britain, declared war on Germany on 23 August 1914. Two days later Austria-Hungary responded by declaring war on Japan.

Italy, although allied to both Germany and Austria-Hungary, was able to avoid entering the fray by citing a clause enabling it to evade its obligations to both.

In short, Italy was committed to defend Germany and Austria-Hungary only in the event of a ‘defensive’ war; arguing that their actions were ‘offensive’ she declared instead a policy of neutrality. The following year, in May 1915, she finally joined the conflict by siding with the Allies against her two former allies.

Now we have the following news items

Poland and the Baltic States join or attempt to join Nato

A missile defense shield is proposed to counter Iranian missiles on the doorstep of Russia

Ukraine has an “orange revolution”

Geoargia has a “rose revolution”

Pipelines from the Non ME countries for Gaz and Oil are routed around the US

Bases are put in the Southern part of the Russian Federation

Georgia blunders and attacks South Ossetia

Russia invades with a protection force

The EU rushes to establish a cease fire, Georgia is abandoned, troops remain on the beach in Cannes and Nice

Poland signs the missile shield agreement

Humanitirian aid is flown in by huge US cargo ships

Russia questions what is in the cargo

Kashmir is up in arms

Musharraf will step down and be granted immunity

India sends more aid to Kabul

Syria gobles up Lebanon ( indirectly )

Israel is flabergasted that there is a distraction from Iran

Ahmadenejad goes to Ankara to insure that the turkish airspace is tight, in exchange for cooperation on the Kurdish issue

Iraq is eerily quiet as Iran is trying to insure that no pretext for war is available

The Saudi Defense ministery is still trying to purchase all the jet fuel stock from several oil companies for a sustained air campaign.

Now put the two set of news and events together


August 15th, 2008, 5:42 pm


Zenobia said:

I think it is almost impossible to hold the idea that Syria was uninvolved in the murder of Hariri. I don’t know how this could happen since they were all over Lebanon and controlling so much.

But the question for me is WHO do we mean when we say “the Syrians” and the question is “and who else”.
I believe that the simplest explanation is that a combination of Syrians and Lebanese (who it would also be very hard to imagine that no Lebanese were involved) killed him.

but such a simple and obvious conclusion doesn’t tell us very much, actually. Things get much more complicated when one tries to figure our the WHO exactly or how high up the chain of knowledge the assassination went on either side.

but, in this present article by Michael Young, I could barely understand what the man was saying at first… he is so very smug in twisting all kinds of things to fit his desired conclusion. And he does it by saying something like… ‘you might think x, but really it all comes down to S .’

In the case of the bombings in Tripoli, how is not the simplest explanation that the the same fellows and group who were fighting the army last summer are still fighting the army. And that these ‘elements’ are alive and well.
I think it such a stretch to blame Al Qaeda on Syria. And the question was what would Syria have to gain by foster this violence. I think Syria has absolutely nothing to gain, and it would be quite dangerous for them.

Even Fisk, who has no problem implicating Syrians in the Hariri assassination (along with Lebanese) and potentially the other assassinations, didn’t make a convoluted argument about how Syria is being Nahr al Bared or this recent bombing. He called it a mini civil war, or a continuation of payback for Nahr al Bared. These are much more likely and not pandering to the grand Syrian conspiracy.

August 15th, 2008, 5:58 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


Could you put the two sets together for us? 🙂 I’m a bit slow today.

Ammo Norman,

I don’t think that Syria would have killed Hariri for revenge, but rather to change the dynamic, as you say. He was becoming a major liability to them. For the first several years he played the game according to Syrian rules. As long as he did not cross any red lines, they let him have a free hand in Lebanon, and this made him and them rich. When he began to buck the system with his confrontations with Lahoud and by sponsoring 1559… it was unacceptable.

Syria has eliminated Lebanese politicians for much less, in the past.

August 15th, 2008, 6:10 pm


Shai said:


I’ve heard from close sources that in negotiations, the Syrians have already offered to make their 400,000 Palestinian refugees citizens of Syria (assuming proper compensation, etc.) But no such offer has come out of Lebanon, and from what I know, “their” refugee problem is a far more sensitive one. What do you think will happen to the 400,000-500,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon? I can tell you that no Israeli would support a right-of-return (into Israel) for most of them. Perhaps a few tens of thousands, but no more. The rest could either receive compensation, or return to the newly established state of Palestine. But not to Jaffa, Haifa, Lod, etc. So what will happen to all of these refugees?

August 15th, 2008, 6:18 pm


Majhool said:


I believe it’s obvious that the near future of Lebanon and its relation with Syria will be determined in the upcoming elections.We all know that the Christian vote is going to be decisive in determining the outcome.

If you follow the trend at Aoun’s media outlet ( you will see a consistent message (Hariri and the Salafism and Jihadists are one of the same). This can only discredit Hariri among Christians.. something Hariri consistently tried to avoid.

Hariri and his group have denounced and acted upon (quite firmly) salafist mishaps. He came publicly and called them (ze3ran) when the riots broke as a reaction to prophet Muhammad bashing by the Danish. As for Jihadist he firmly supported the army in the Nahr El barid.

Pro-Syrian elements have been trying relentlessly to achieve two things

1) Link the Hariri to Armed Jihadist
2) Create a wedge between him and salafists groups that are not necessary violent yet voted for him in the last election.

August 15th, 2008, 6:21 pm


Shai said:


There was an article in Ha’aretz yesterday (in Hebrew) that said an international tribunal was going to be created, against Syrian will. Have you seen this in other media? What has been Syria’s response, if any?


In our region of the world, if a bird dies, it could have been anyone. All seem to have “interests” in the killing of others… How advanced of us, isn’t it?

August 15th, 2008, 6:21 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


I can tell you that very few Lebanese Christians and Shi`a would support giving citizenship to the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. The Christians in particular have no qualms about saying: “Let the big and rich Arab states take them: we don’t have room.” This, obviously, reminds one of what the Israelis say.

August 15th, 2008, 6:23 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


I heard that certain Lebanese judges have been tapped to serve on the Tribunal. They have been notified to leave their current duties, in preparation to go to the Hague (or wherever the trials will be held).

Who knows what is true, however?

August 15th, 2008, 6:25 pm


Observer said:

I was afraid of this as you usually have ALL the answers.

The news round up is small change to what is happening now. BBC says that the US is demanding immediate troop pull out from Georgia.

As usual the Brits are very happy to have someone else wage a war on their behalf.

There are no news from the ME that is the main story.

Hariri is dead and more importantly his case is dead

August 15th, 2008, 6:25 pm


Alex said:

I agree with Observer. Saad Hariri is probably finished.

He was nothing more than a visual display of Saudi Arabia’s presence in Lebanon… and he signed the checks locally.

Sunnis of Lebanon have many impressive leaders.

Saad should go back to Saudi Arabia and take care of his family’s investments.

August 15th, 2008, 6:36 pm


Shai said:


I can’t imagine half a million (or even 100,000) being forced to leave their homes, their kindergartens, their schools, their jobs. So Ze’evi’s Transfer ideas were inhuman, but these aren’t? It is a real problem, when refugees end up staying in your country for 60 years, and a few generations already know next to nothing of their motherland. I don’t think you have a choice – you must accept them as complete citizens. You can’t expect them to leave, even if theoretically Israel were to accept them all back (which it won’t). So what will happen to them?

As for the Int’l Tribunal, and participation of Lebanese judges, does that hint at another future “problem” between Syria and Lebanon? In any case, if I was one of these judges, I wouldn’t want my face shown anywhere… And I’d start sleeping with a gun… a big gun.


But Lebanon is prettier than Saudi Arabia, and so are the women… from what I hear… no? 🙂

August 15th, 2008, 6:39 pm


Alex said:


Saad is already married to a very pretty woman … a Syrian : )

August 15th, 2008, 7:10 pm


Shai said:

Alright, don’t get upset… I just said Lebanese women were pretty – and Saudi perhaps less so, but I wouldn’t even know because unfortunately, their faces are covered. Syrian women are also very pretty… I can understand why Hariri married one. Is it possible for an Israeli to marry a Syrian woman? 🙂 Maybe we should add that to the peace agreement.

August 15th, 2008, 7:24 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


I’m with you. They should be given citizenship. But the Aounists (and other Christians of course) and Hizbullah have other ideas.

The only way to give them citizenship is by changing the political system in Lebanon, which I am also for, but again… people have other ideas.

As for the judges, they have nothing to worry about. Even if any are targeted for assassination, we will always be able to apply Occam’s razor to figure out who did it, right?

: )

August 15th, 2008, 7:52 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Alex habibi,

The Hariris have plenty of investments in Lebanon too. 🙂

He will be a player no matter what. He’s not leadership material, but he is the rule not the exception.

August 15th, 2008, 7:53 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Nasrallah More Determined than Ever to Discuss Defense Strategy
Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said he was more determined than ever to discuss a national defense strategy for Lebanon, stressing that keeping weapons “secret” was part of Hizbullah’s power.
“We insist, now more than anytime before, on the need to discuss and come up with a defense strategy for Lebanon so that we all know how we can defend our country,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech to supporters Thursday night, marking the second anniversary of a U.N.-brokered cease-fire that ended the 2006 war between Israel and Hizbullah.

The Hizbullah chief also stressed the need to discuss two more crucial points.

“Coming up with a national strategy to rebuild the Lebanese state as well as a strategy to settle the deep-rooted economic and social problems are two crucial items to be discussed,” he said.

Nasrallah said that he has informed President Michel Suleiman’s advisers of the need to debate these issues during roundtable talks.

He described the economic situation in Lebanon as “a total disaster,” stressing that failing to deal with this problem “will lead to a total collapse of the Lebanese economy.”

He made a point of not revealing whether the group now has anti-aircraft missile systems that could stand up to Israeli air raids.

“There has been an Israeli uproar about the reinforcement of Hizbullah’s strength,” he said. “There has been talk of sophisticated arms and an air defense system and threats if Hizbullah uses this kind of system.”

“No one can expect me to stand up and say (whether) we possess new weapons or we don’t,” he added. “Keeping (weapons) secret is part of … (Hizbullah’s) strength. This is part of directing the battle of liberation and resistance against this (Israeli) enemy.”

Nasrallah said his fighters won’t be frightened by Israeli threats to attack Lebanon.

He accused Israel of planning to assassinate Hizbullah leaders, saying this would not deter the Shiite group from continuing its battle against the Jewish state.

“I tell the Zionists: We don’t fear you. Say whatever you want and do whatever you want. We know that you are planning new assassinations of resistance leaders. But this will not make us retreat,” he said. “We are staying here and standing fast here.”

Turning to rival Lebanese leaders, Nasrallah said that “if a 33-day war on the resistance didn’t defeat it then fiery speeches in Parliament won’t change anything in the political scene.”

Nasrallah called on Hizbullah politicians and MPs to hold their temper despite harsh criticism directed at Hizbullah and its arsenal.

He hailed two key agreements between Lebanon and Syria — the establishment of diplomatic ties and the deal to resume demarcating the border between the two neighbors.

Nasrallah said the developments ushered in “a new phase and signals a qualitative development” in relations between Lebanon and Syria.

“A positive attitude will help in solving all pending issues between the two countries,” he said.

Nasrallah also surprisingly sent his greetings to Beirut and its residents.

“We are no aliens to Beirut,” he said. “We are an integral part of the capital and we wish all the best to Beirut and its residents.”

He was responding to calls from leaders of the ruling March 14 coalition, particularly Druze MP Walid Jumblat, who had asked Nasrallah to “salute” Beirut as a sign of reconciliation after the May battles that saw Hizbullah wresting control of west Beirut.

Beirut, 15 Aug 08, 08:05

August 15th, 2008, 8:05 pm


ayman said:

Dear Shai.

This is in response to your’s and others comments on Nabki’s post with Alex regarding Syria and Israel, I hope you get it and like it.

To understand the dymanics of Syria and Israel’s Brand conflict it is important to look back, because any system of thought that is not self-referential is not intelligent (if we are to believe Douglas R. Hofstadter). Using Alex’s complex systems and Majhool’s regression theory won’t do unless we use the golden braid analogy in GEB. Also useless is both optimism (yours) and pessimism (mine) regarding what is going on now. So, and at the risk of making you (and everyone else) bored I’ll present to you my take on this conflict. It is emotion based…but may be helpful to you since you seem to want to understand us, and our understanding of you.

The first chronicle of this seemingly eternal Israeli Syrian conflict was in 175 BC in the story of Hanukkah. It as you know (but as my fellow Syrians may not) is the story of the struggles of the Maccabees, led by Judas Maccabeus, against Antiochus IV of Syria, a struggle Judea won. Their latest Israeli Syrian (I’ll explain why it was Syrian not Lebanese in a second) conflict was in 2006 in southern Lebanon, and it resulted in a tie at best.

Just as the Holocaust provided the moral justification for Judea’s reemergence as “Israel”, the 1948 “Nakba” caused the re-packaging of Syria’s southern branch as “Palestine”. Prior to 1948, and the creation of the modern state of Israel in Palestine, Jews identified more with Judaism than Israel, and Syrians identified with Syrian nationalism and not the Palestinian cause per se. Palestine was then considered by all Syrians as Syria’s southern province, this pan-Syrian élan was especially prevalent in the Orthodox Christian community in every Middle East city.

European pogroms were the immediate cause of the birth of Israel and a new “Brand” re-alignment in both the Jewish and Syrian communities of the world. Jews had been praying “next year in Jerusalem” for centuries and they had read their Old Testament which seemingly gave them an exclusive title to all the Promised Land, especially-though not exclusively-Palestine. And with the fulfillment of their prayers came a new brand; brand Israel. Its brand logo was a Star of David; its credo was why, not? (A can-do attitude similar to the attitude of American culture). It is now a ubiquitous brand that is often confused with Brand America. One may even argue that the celluloid America of Hollywood fame was created by them, and not vice versa. Brand Israel was born of scattered, well-heeled, intelligent, yet marginalized parents. In just sixty years it has taken a stunning proportion of them from the ghetto into the gazebo. Its reluctant low profile representatives were innately prudent, but recently they have gotten cocky. This change in attitude may have been earned, but it may not be wise. Imagine going from Freud and Einstein, to Perle and Wolfowitz! The last ten decades have been a virtual pantheon of Judean men and women of guile and substance, while today the Jews are hitching their wagon to a bunch of intellectual lightweights and Bush administration cronies. These impractical and soon to be forgotten theorists have set their sights on Syria and its brand.

The saying: our enemy defines us, was never truer than it is today. Brand Syria is (and has always been) more about “reaction” than it is about action. So today it defines itself as the brand of rejection to Israeli inspired U.S. world hegemony. Even before the Iraq war and the birth of Israel in 1948 Brand Syria had rejected Ottoman, Crusader, Fatimid etc., world hegemony. Presently it’s reacting to spreading Israeli-inspired U.S. foreign policy. Its credo is a soft “yes,” or more precisely; “no, but”! The ‘but’ cancels the no or yes by it’s qualifying the answer. Our most common Syrian phrase is this “ay, bas” (yes, but.) Look carefully at it…it’s an equivocation of an affirmation. It’s so bad, that we can’t say a single yes or a simple no without a caveat. Brand Syria’s logo would be-if it had one-a Kufi LA (a big no in calligraphy) inside a crescent. A fertile crescent, not an Islamic crescent one…mind you. Yes, but…that subtle no, is the only thing that binds Syrians. If you ask Syrians; do you want to fight Israel? They’d say; yes, but! It’s a nuanced no. Ask them do you want Peace with Israel? No, but. Are you anti American? No, but. Pro American? No, but. For Iraqi freedom? Yes, but. Saddam? No, but. Pro Lebanon’s freedom? Yes, but. etc. An example of this odd mindset, so prevalent in Syrians of all types, is the Syrian Jews in Brooklyn N.Y… Ask them; are you more Syrian than Jews or vice versa? I challenge you to get a straight answer from any member of that community, they-more than anyone-on earth exemplify Brand Syria at it’s nuanced best.

Brand Syria has no brand (tenets) or brand explaining rules because there’s nothing they wouldn’t say no, or yes but, to. Still by surviving 10,000 years Syria has done well with this mind-set. So, Brand Syria (or its non-brand) allows for everything except extinction. Brand Judea is again in conflict with Brand Syria, but today they aren’t the Maccabees and Syria’s on its way to its own Hanukkah victory and rebirth. The recent war in Southern Lebanon may be the first of many skirmishes that Brand Judean can only lose. Syria is good at survival, but if it is to prevail it can do so only by its adversaries’ tendency to self-destruct.

Shai, Brand Syria is brand Judea’s Semitic cousin, and not its natural enemy. Brand Judea’s only natural enemies are the anti-Semites of the world, the abhorrent neo-Nazis who may still be around but are now (in turn) very marginalized. If the two Semitic sister-brands merged they’d make good global partners. These two Semitic brands are in conflict in Israel proper, and nowhere else. Brand Syria should learn from its sister brand, and emulate its ways, and brand Judea should in return ease up on Brand Syria while it’s still ahead. Syrians know that under similar circumstances of world wide general indifference and occasional attack, their Judeans cousins who were like they are today ( a scattered bright and talented minority in Diaspora) reconciled, and by adopting a “why not” attitude now rules. Brand Syrians can do it, and by globalization what was once achieved by Brand Judeans in sixty years can be achieved in twenty, but only after real Semitic brand reconciliation begins.


* Shem came before Abraham, he was the son of Noah, and settled bilad el-Shem after the Flood. He (not Abraham) fathered all of us Semites or Shemites, because from Shem comes the word Semite, and Sham is still the most commonly used name for Syria’s capital; which is “Sham”. Or more exactly (Dimashq-E-Shem, ergo Damascus) I am a Shami. I’m not (as some would gather) a Syrian Nationalist because I believe Sham is bigger than Syria, it includes you all.

August 15th, 2008, 10:22 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


Shai responded to your piece earlier. See here and further down that page.

This is from The Economist:

Still more murk than light

Aug 14th 2008 | CAIRO
From The Economist print edition


THOSE who speak do not know and those who know do not speak. That classic adage of how information flows in a dictatorship has always fitted Syria rather well. But the fog in the Syrian capital, Damascus, has rarely been thicker than now.

Take the mysterious death of a top general, Muhammad Suleiman, at a seaside resort earlier this month. Was he shot by a lone sniper from a passing yacht, as first alleged, or killed at closer range, perhaps even by a masked hit squad? Was he targeted because he had fallen out with Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, or because he had angered Israel by funnelling Iranian and Syrian arms to Hizbullah, the Lebanese Shia guerrilla group with which the Israelis fought a messy war in 2006? Or was he killed in revenge for his role in other assassinations, such as the lorry-bomb killing of the Lebanese leader, Rafik Hariri, in 2005, or, contrarily, in the death of Hizbullah’s elusive tactical mastermind, Imad Mughniyeh, whose car blew up last February inside a compound housing Syrian intelligence operatives?

Who was General Suleiman, anyway? Was the 49-year-old really the shadow of the regime, a behind-the-scenes operator whose powers were second only to President Assad’s, as some allege? Certainly, he came from the same Alawite religious minority as the Assad family, and had been a close friend of Basil, Bashar’s elder brother. Basil had been the anointed heir to the presidency seized in 1970 by their father, Hafez Assad, until he drove his Mercedes off the road in 1994. After Bashar Assad’s accession in 2000, the general is said to have taken responsibility for several sensitive files: the supply of arms to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and later to Hizbullah; military relations with Syria’s ally, Iran; and development of a mysterious, allegedly North Korean-designed nuclear facility on a remote stretch of the Euphrates river that Israeli aircraft destroyed last September.

The political and military murkiness in Syria covers larger strategic questions too. Unusually, Syria revealed earlier this year that it is engaged in secret talks with Israel. Mr Assad, who had been ostracised by fellow Arab and Western leaders for his suspected role in the Hariri killing, for meddling in other Lebanese matters and for sponsoring radical groups such as Hizbullah and the Palestinian Islamist movement, Hamas, has lately taken some less confrontational stances. Syria blessed the deal worked out in May to resolve a long-simmering constitutional crisis in Lebanon. This week it is hosting Lebanon’s new president, Michel Suleiman (no relation to the slain general), promising to establish normal diplomatic ties with the smaller neighbour it has long dominated. As a result, Syria’s relations with European governments have markedly thawed.

Yet on the day of General Suleiman’s death Mr Assad was on a state visit to Iran, where his officials stressed the strength of the two countries’ ties. Syria reasserted Iran’s right to seek nuclear technology, which does not endear it to those, including America and its allies, who feel threatened by Iran. Meanwhile, Israel says that Syria has increased its arms flows to Hizbullah, including an alleged supply of anti-aircraft missiles. And even as it promises to turn a new page with Lebanon, Syria is putting on trial a group of dissidents whose main crime was to call publicly for normal relations with its smaller Arab neighbour. Perhaps their fate merely proves that one should not speak until one knows.

August 15th, 2008, 10:48 pm


norman said:

Nasrallah: War led Israel to negotiate with Syria

Aug. 14, 2008 staff and ap , THE JERUSALEM POST
Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah on Thursday claimed that “Israel’s failure in the Second Lebanon War led it to change its policy, from waging war with Syria to negotiating with it.”

Speaking on Lebanese television in a special broadcast marking two years since the end of the Second Lebanon War, Nasrallah said that the outcome of the war “affected Israel and the entire region.”

Nasrallah said that in the war, Hizbullah succeeded in defeating the strongest army in the area, which was supported by the US. He also ridiculed Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who served as prime minister during the 2000 Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, claiming that Hizbullah forced Israel to withdraw from southern Lebanon ahead of schedule.

The Hizbullah leader went on to say that keeping the group’s arsenal a “secret” was part of its battle against Israel and that his guerrillas wouldn’t be frightened by Israeli threats to attack Lebanon.

“There has been an Israeli uproar about the reinforcement of Hizbullah’s strength. There has been talk of sophisticated arms and an air defense system and threats if Hizbullah uses this kind of system,” Nasrallah said.

“No one can expect me to stand up and say (whether) we possess new weapons or we don’t,” he added. “Keeping (weapons) secret is part of … (Hizbullah’s) strength. This is part of directing the battle of liberation and resistance against this (Israeli) enemy.”

Nasrallah accused Israel of planning to assassinate Hizbullah leaders, saying this would not deter Hizbullah from continuing its battle against Israel.

“I tell the Zionists: We don’t fear you. Say whatever you want and do whatever you want. We know that you are planning new assassinations of resistance leaders. But this will not make us retreat,” he said. “We are staying here and standing fast here.”

The Hizbullah leader went on to say that Israel was helpless in dealing with the Iranian Islamic Republic, and that even Israel recognizes its own inability to cope with the rockets fired from the Gaza Strip.

Nasrallah referred to the Georgians’ failure to win the war with Russia after relying on Israeli weapons and military specialists.

He referred specifically to Brig.-Gen. Gal Hirsh, who commanded Division 91 during the Second Lebanon War and stepped down from his post after he was blamed by an internal military probe for the abduction of reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser.

“Gal Hirsh went after the war in Lebanon to Georgia to train its forces at Israel’s instruction,” claimed Nasrallah.

He said that the Georgian forces troops had now suffered a defeat to Russia “because they were trained by failed Israeli generals.”

He said that Georgia’s defeat sent out a message of warning to all those supported by the US, that they were only being used to fulfill American purposes.

In his speech, Nasrallah also praised two key agreements this week between Lebanon and Syria – the establishment of diplomatic relations and the deal to start demarcating the contested border between the two long-estranged neighbors.

Nasrallah said the developments ushered in “a new phase and signals a qualitative development” in Lebanon-Syria relations.

This article can also be read at /servlet/Satellite?cid=1218710366333&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull
[ Back to the Article ]
Copyright 1995- 2008 The Jerusalem Post –

August 16th, 2008, 1:11 am


Alex said:

Qifa Nabki,

Nasrallah’s statements above are a relatively clear indication that he supports peace negotiations between Syria and Israel. Actually he sounds even proud that his performance during the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon helped convince Israel to talk to Syria.

This is almost obvious to me, but you had doubts … not sure if Syria can convince Hizbollah to support its decision to talk with Israel.

August 16th, 2008, 2:13 am


Qifa Nabki said:


Israel and Syria were negotiating before the 2006 war, if we are to believe the reports. Nasrallah’s comments are for local consumption; ya3ni, to hedge bets.

What you are saying is that Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon, has less of a problem with these peace talks than many folks even here on Syria Comment like Nour, Joe M. and Sami D. This is a man who has suffered far more at the hands of Israel than anyone on Syria Comment, I’d wager.

I don’t think any of us really know what is going on in his head.

But if you’re right, I will be very happy. 🙂

August 16th, 2008, 3:11 am


Sami D said:


I think Nasrallah is rejoicing because Israel is agreeing to a different type negotiations after 2006. These are negotiations that follow demonstration of successful resistance and strength, hence negotiations that may bear fruit. I don’t see any problems with that type of negotiations, as opposed to the empty ones like Mahmoud Abbas’s, ones that only serve to give Israel cover to carry on with its campaign.

August 16th, 2008, 6:32 am


Shai said:


Thank you once more. Please see my response here:

August 16th, 2008, 9:00 am


why-discuss said:

Syria has benefited greatly from Hezbollah’s political and military successes, rendering Israel obviously weaker. Syria can now negotiate in a position of relative strength, that is the new important elements since 2006. Israel has never been historically in such a weak position, aggravated soon by the possible election of Obama and the possible cool down of the Iran nuclear conflict.
The other unknown is Iraq. Will Iraq be actively anti Israel, adding one more layer of existential threats?. Peace with Syria may trigger peace with Iraq. Israel has to rush into peace before a worse situation appears. I guess that, besides the still wishful thinking Israeli population, any Israeli government is becoming aware that the country is loosing the upper hand in their conflict with the arabs and that time has come for ‘painful’ sacrifices.

August 16th, 2008, 10:12 am


rumyal said:

Shai, Ayman,

Thinking of the UME and merging-of-the-brands, I’m trying to imagine what language would be spoken there when we all reach nirvana. The only plausible answer is… Aramaic, which makes these new schools ( ) such a great future-looking initiative 😉

August 16th, 2008, 10:41 am


norman said:

QN ,

I do not know if noticed that Hezbollah and Nassralla do not seek revenge , they keep their eye on the prise , they did not seek revenge after the death of Maghneia , they elected to proceed with prisoner exchange , probably Israel knew what the reaction would be so they went ahead with the assassination.

August 16th, 2008, 12:33 pm


norman said:


These are the article written on Syria/Lebanon relation,

Recent posts containing: syria1 day ago

Syria, Lebanon to negotiate demarcation of border – San Diego Union-Tribune
DAMASCUS, Syria – Syria agreed Thursday to begin negotiations with Lebanon on demarcating their border, making its second concession in two days to longtime demands from the Lebanese as they seek to normaliz…

1 day ago
Lebanon and Syria to demarcate border, normalise ties – Times of Oman
DAMASCUS: Syria and Lebanon agreed on Thursday to take formal steps to demarcate their borders as part of a string of decisions to normalise their relations for the first time after decades of tension. The a…

2 hours ago
Egyptian president, Lebanese PM meet on Lebanese situation – Xinhua News Agency
CAIRO, Aug. 16 (Xinhua) — Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak held talks on Saturday with visiting Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Seniora in the northern Egyptian coastal city of Alexandria. During the one-hour…

1 hour ago
Syria, Lebanon to negotiate demarcation of border – San Diego Union-Tribune
DAMASCUS, Syria – Syria agreed Thursday to begin negotiations with Lebanon on demarcating their border, making its second concession in two days to longtime demands from the Lebanese as they seek to normaliz…

1 day ago
Syria, Lebanon to negotiate border demarcation – San Diego Union-Tribune
DAMASCUS, Syria – Syria agreed Thursday to a longtime Lebanese demand to negotiate the demarcation of their border a day after the countries said they would establish full diplomatic relations for the first …

1 day ago
Syria, Lebanon agree to negotiate border – USA Today
Syrian and Lebanese foreign ministers, Walid al-Moallem, right, and Fawzi Saloukh, left, are seen, during a press conference held in Damascus. Syria and Lebanon agreed to establish full diplomatic ties for t…

1 day ago
Syria, Lebanon agree to negotiate border demarcation in another step … – Newsday
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) _ Syria agreed Thursday to a longtime Lebanese demand to negotiate the demarcation of their border a day after the countries said they would establish full diplomatic relations for the f…

1 day ago
Syria, Lebanon Agree to Work on Demarcating Border – ABC News
Syria and Lebanon have agreed to negotiate the demarcation of their border — a longtime Lebanese demand — as part of a new push to normalize relations. Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and Syrian President…

1 day ago
Syria, Lebanon to start diplomatic relations – San Francisco Gate
Thursday, August 14, 2008 The two countries have not had full relations since they won independence from France in the 1940s – seen by many Lebanese as a sign that Syria never gave up historical claims to it…

1 day ago
Lebanon-Syria to demarcate border – BBC News
Lebanon and Syria have had strained relations since the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in 2005. Many Lebanese blame Syria for the killing, but it has repeatedly denied inv…

2 days ago

August 16th, 2008, 12:43 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Sami, Why-D, Ammo Norman,

Politicians will always find ways to justify actions to their constituents; some will buy it, some won’t. Of those who buy it, some will do so because they genuinely believe it… others, because the alternative is just too uncomfortable to stomach.

The arguments that you (and others) are making come down to the idea that Hizbullah and Syria have now turned the corner on Israel, and so these peace talks are qualitatively different from previous ones because the Arabs are now negotiating from strength rather than weakness. I don’t see it in the same way. To me, this is the story that we tell ourselves in order to sell Syria’s peace talks to those who would prefer to keep fighting. And as you know, I am a 100% supporter of the talks, so I’m not opposed to painting them in whatever colors are necessary to make them acceptable to those who would otherwise reject them.

In my opinion, however, the current talks are the product of intense strategy and cost/benefit assessment by both sides. Hizbullah may have fought the IDF to a stalemate in 2006, but Lebanon surely suffered far more than Israel did. Syria may have managed to recover some influence in Lebanon after being thrown out in 2005 but it does not control the system. Israel may have been unable to dictate its will on Hizbullah in 2006 but now faces little threat from the Palestinians who are busy fighting each other.

Let’s wait and see what the real prices of peace are going to be, before we decide who is weak and who is strong. And, anyway, if the talks are successful, it won’t really matter.

August 16th, 2008, 3:27 pm


ugarit said:

It’s very easy to exploit people’s expectation of Occam’s Razor (OR)

If event A will be blamed on X (using the logic of OR)

then if I am Y and know that OR will be applied, then I can perpetrate event A and have the event be blamed on X.

August 16th, 2008, 3:34 pm


Zenobia said:

jesus, mary, and joseph!
what did i start with the stupid Occam’s Razor….

i was just complaining about michael young!…not interpreting the way the world should or does work… nor that others operate by the twisted logic Ugarit just described. This is the ‘theorizing’ that goes on about America and Israel… all the time, that they are conspiring and taking covert action to make things appear to be someone else’s doing. Sometimes it has been true, but I think it also a bit paranoid to assume it is always or even frequently true.

and now the same logic is being applied by Michael Young and Majhool above to say that behind these many events is Syria playing games and committing violence in ways to make it appear to be others at work. And now, the Aounist are conspiring and making things look like the islamist are at work killing people.

I brought up Occam, not to say that sometimes there aren’t complicated subplots and hidden actions or conspiracies. But rather , that one should assume first the most complicated explanation involving conspiracies that we really don’t have substantial evidence for. I mean REALLY substantial. Not just, oh it happened in the past, therefore, that is what must be happening now. That is lame reasoning.

The thing is…. There is plenty of hard evidence that there really are Al Qaeda in lebanon and all kinds of shady characters from all over the middle east who decended into Lebanon … and some have been interviewed or people that know them ( what about the Rosen pieces)… where’s T-Desco when we need him. So, this is known, not assumed. The Syria connection is always some hypothesis. Have we noticed this?

The presence of radicals or ‘jihadists’ or whatever you want to call them in Lebanon isn’t all someone’s imagination. Nor did Syria’s security service amazingly orchestrate it all. They are not the CIA, you know.

August 16th, 2008, 4:34 pm


Shai said:

Zenobia, what have you done?!… 🙂

August 16th, 2008, 5:12 pm


norman said:

Hi Shai,

I want to ask you about the school system in Israel , is it the same as the US with a different curriculum for each district or they teach the same books in all schools and do you have a high school exam like the SAT in the US or the one in Syria at the end of high school , is high education free , are the schools to high school public and private , are they single sex or both sexes .

Can you tell me about your education system in details ,

After this one i would like to know about your housings , I like the red roofs that you have in Israel , what are the building materials and are the houses expensive to build , you know that in Syria there is a housing shortage , I am just trying to see if there anything that Syria can learn from Israel in these two subjects.

August 16th, 2008, 5:43 pm


Shai said:

Hi Norman,

School system:

The Ministry of Education determines the national curriculum for all schools, regardless of district. They’re all supposed to study the same stuff. The exception, of course, are the religious schools. I don’t actually know what interrelationship exists between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Religion, but normally, whichever has more “pull” in the given administration, may influence more the funding, the content, etc. of its own school system. Clearly, it has always been in the interest of the (secular) Ministry of Education, to standardize curriculum for all schools, but it’s an uphill battle always with the religious sector, as they put the stress on religion for obvious reasons.

During the last year of high school, students study for their Baccalaureate (like in France), which essentially determines what subjects in University they are likely to be able to study or be accepted for, and which universities or colleges may accept them. There is a separate exam (a Psychometric one), for actually getting accepted to university, which could be compared to the SAT. So in essence, Israeli students take at least two sets of exams before making it to college. Beyond the first degree, the rest is identical to what you’re used to (i.e. GRE, GMAT, etc.) Higher education is not free (unfortunately), and depending on the university, could cost from as little as $5,000-$6,000 per year, to almost 10 times that, in certain programs (top-notch MBA programs, etc.) But typically, to become a doctor at a good university, for instance, you needn’t pay nearly as much as you would in the U.S. I can’t tell you how Tel-Aviv University’s Medical program is, compared with the U.S.’s top schools (Johns Hopkins, etc.) You’d probably know much better about that. Most schools in Israel are public (“public” as used in the United States, not England, where it means “private”… crazy Brits). But there are also private schools as well. Overwhelming majority of schools are for both sexes.


The red roofing you like is made with red clay/ceramic roof tiles, that are quite cheap, and very effective. Most houses in Israel are built of concrete (rarely out of wood). Costs are normally between $1000-$1500 per meter, but that can easily go beyond, depending on what you’re building, what material you use, etc. In general, housing is very expensive in Israel. Most people do not own a house, but instead own either an apartment, or are renting. It is also very common for Israelis to start with an apartment, sell after a few years, buy a fancier apartment, sell, etc., and settle after 2-3 times in something they’ll live in for the rest of their life. That’s a young couple’s way of “movin’ on up” (using The Jeffersons terminology). Richer families live in super-fancy houses, worth millions of dollars, that are as big and luxurious as anywhere in the world. But even a relatively small penthouse in Tel-Aviv could easily be worth a million-plus dollars.

August 16th, 2008, 6:05 pm


ausamaa said:

Qifa Nabki,

Sorry, but when are you going to realise and admit that your sugar-coated arguments carry as much wisdom and insight as those of AIG, and perhaps less than those of Michal Young (the neocon of Lebanon).

Khalas ya Habibi, somebody won and somebody lost. If you dont realise that yet, you have a big problem. Why do you keep skirting around various issues endlessly? In search of what ?? To prove what???And to convince who?!

Syria and its allies stoodfast, said a big NO to what ran against Arab intersts as they belived in them for decades, told others to get lost, and forced those Others to come to terms with realities that Syria and its allies helped to creat and consolidate in the face of one of the most furious attacks and threats that has confronted the Middle East in recent history. And even managed to thrive while doing so. And the alliances they formed stoodfast to all pressures and will grow stronger with each passing day. I know it is painfull for you and some ohers to acknoweldge that. But come on, this should not be very hard for you to see… after the fact.

August 16th, 2008, 6:35 pm


norman said:

Hi Shai,
Thank you ,

The education system is the same as in Syria , In Syria if you have very good grades you can go to college for free ,

How can people after collage afford housing and paying back their student lawns ?.

are there programs to help them .

August 16th, 2008, 6:44 pm


Shai said:


If and when the UME will become a reality, I’ll be the first Israeli to do a super intensive crash-course in Arabic at Berlitz. I doubt they teach Aramaic, but I can call to find out… 🙂 But, I hope Alex will still enable us to communicate in English on SC. ‘Course, chances are this will happen when Alex and I are in our early 90’s, and by then I’m counting on fully translatable voice recognition systems, which can take any language, including Hebrew and Arabic.

August 16th, 2008, 6:46 pm


Shai said:


If college is free in Syria, perhaps I’ll be sending my girls to do their first degree there! (it’ll be in 13-15 years, so hopefully that will be possible by then…)

Most cannot buy a house, or even an apartment, right after college. They normally begin to work, start saving, then get married, and get both sets of parents to help the young couple out in purchasing an apartment (usually with a good-size mortgage). Again, this relates to the average Israeli, not to very wealthy (or very poor) ones. Most Israelis do not take college loans, but either get a scholarship from the army (now widely available to soldiers, unlike in my time), or work for a while first, save up, and then go to college. Remember, since most Israelis serve in the army at age 18, most college students (boys) are 21 and above. We have a 3-year delay, which most kids on this planet do not… A terrible waste, of course.

August 16th, 2008, 6:51 pm


Shai said:

This just in from a few minutes ago (comment by Muslim Brotherhood):,7340,L-3583386,00.html

What do you guys (and gals) make of it?

August 16th, 2008, 6:57 pm


rumyal said:

Sari Nusseibeh: ‘We are running out of time for a 2-state solution’

August 16th, 2008, 7:40 pm


norman said:


The MB and their allies can go to hell , If Syria gets a good deal from Israel for Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians the MB will have no future and that is why they and others against the talks.

They do not want a good future for the children of the Mideast they want themselves in power no matter what and on the sculls of these children , I hope they do not succeed.

By the way your children can go to Damascus university , there are chairs set aside for non Syrian nationals and i am sure your children will get a priority .

The EU has no one language so we do not have to have one language in the Mideast although I like Aramaic to be the one.

August 16th, 2008, 8:27 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Did someone turn on the Baathist radio station in here? I suddenly feel very patriotic.

August 16th, 2008, 10:02 pm


Zenobia said:

lol. yah, so do i.

common aussama, that is a low blow comparing him to Aig and michael young… QN is trying to keep you guys from bursting out of britches with self congratulations lest you, like so many, descend into the territory of fatal hubris.

August 16th, 2008, 11:09 pm


norman said:


I am glad you listening to your heart talking , we all should.

August 17th, 2008, 12:36 am


norman said:

This is probably the most imprtant news ,

Syrian court overturn a dision by the Syrian govenment to replace an elected commitee , that is unpresidented and indicate that Syria is moving toward rule of law and civil sociaty,

What do you think ?.

2008-08-16 22:36:50

جمعية المغتربين السوريين بأمريكا تربح دعوى بإلغاء قرار الوزير لإقالة مجلسها

أصدرت محكمة الاستئناف في دمشق مؤخرا قرارا يلغي قرارا اتخذه وزير الإسكان نهاية العام الماضي يتعلق بإقالة مجلس إدارة أول جمعية للمغتربين السوريين بأمريكا وتعيين مجلس مؤقت بدلا عنه.

وشهدت الجمعية انقساما حادا بين مجلسين كل منهما يعتبر نفسه شرعيا منذ صدور قرار الوزير الذي تناولته سيريانيوز في مادة سابقة.

وتضمن قرار المحكمة إلغاء قرار الوزير وإعادة المشروعية القانونية للمجلس المنتخب واعتبار قرار العزل “كأنه لم يكن” وفقا للصيغة الحرفية لنص القرار.

ورأى رئيس الجمعية أديب الصباغ في قرار المحكمة عودة إلى جادة الصواب, وقال إن “المحكمة لم تتخذ قرارها إلا بعد أن تأكدت من كل الثبوتيات، لقد تضررت الجمعية وأعضائها من القرار السابق للوزير بعزلنا، لقد توقفت الأعمال لمدة سنة، ارتفعت خلالها أسعار مواد البناء، وكل ذلك بسبب شكوى مغرضة لم يجر التحقق منها من قبل السفير السوري بالولايات المتحدة ولا من قبل السيد وزير الإسكان, فجاء قرارهما متسرعا، وها هي المحكمة تنصفنا اليوم بقرار مبرم تعيد الأمور لمجراها”.

فيما عبرت د.ميساء رستم اغا (مغتربة منتسبة للجمعية) عن ارتياحها لقرار المحكمة وانتقدت القرار السابق للوزير بالقول “بلنا جهودا كبيرة لاستقطاب الجالية السورية في الولايات المتحدة وإقناع نحو 300 عضو مسجلين بالجمعية وموزعين على نحو 50 ولاية ليقبلوا فكرة بناء قرية سكنية ببلدنا الأم سورية، ليأتي قرار العزل وينسف كل شيء. نحن نعمل الآن على استعادة ثقة الأعضاء, وهذا يتطلب من السفير السوري بالولايات المتحدة الاعتراف بالخطأ الذي ارتكب بحق الجمعية”.

وبنفس الاتجاه تساءل المغترب عماد الدين عطورة (أمين صندوق الجمعية) بالقول” لا اعرف على أساس قام الوزير ببناء قراره..؟ لقد وصل الأمر إلى تناول سمعتنا الشخصية، والوزارة تتعامل مع مشروعنا كأي جمعية سكنية في حي مخالف، غير مدركة للأبعاد الوطنية التي ينطوي عليها استقطاب أهم الكفاءات العلمية والاقتصادية المهاجرة منذ عشرات السنين، وربطهم بالوطن”.

وأبرز رئيس الجمعية وبعض الأعضاء صكوك شراء نحو 300 دونم باسم الجمعية، وعبر الصباغ عن عزم المجلس فتح مقر للجمعية في دمشق لتسهيل التواصل مع الوزارة، واستكمال شراء الأراضي، وتوزيع دفاتر الجمعية على الأعضاء.

يذكر أن المجلس المؤقت الذي عينه الوزير عقد اجتماعا عاما لانتخاب مجلس دائم في شهر حزيران الماضي وانتخب نفس الأعضاء الذين عينهم الوزير، إلا ان الصباغ عرض نحو 20 شكوى من أعضاء بالجمعية لم يبلغوا بالاجتماع ولم يحضروا.

وأوضح الصباغ أن هذا مخالف للقانون 13 المادة 40 التي تعتبر الاجتماع لاغيا إذا لم يبلغ أي عضو ببطاقة مسجلة قبل 15 يوم من عقد الاجتماع.

وتابع أن “قرار المحكمة التي أنصفتنا يجعل اجتماعهم الذي لم يحضره سوى 16 شخصا من أصل 300 عضو لا معنى له بكل المعايير”.

ولم نتمكن من الاتصال بالمجلس المؤقت لمعرفة ردة فعلهم على قرار المحكمة.

جديع دواره – سيريانيوز

copy rights © syria-news 2007

August 17th, 2008, 12:49 am


trustquest said:

You are talking about the patriotic felling, it looks like nationalism is well and alive, but let me tlle you, I feel like the baathist will win the election in Iraq and things will come back as use to be. But, except one thing, the Israelis will be allowed to go to Damascus UN.

August 17th, 2008, 12:58 am


norman said:


Do you not like the members of the Baath party and what they did and do or you do not like the principles of that party ( Unity, freedom and social justice ) One Arab nation under God with a mission to improve the world.

I personally think that the members made many mistakes , That does not mean the party in principle is not good.

I do not think that the Republicans in Congress were true to the Party but i think the party is good and will come back.

August 17th, 2008, 1:11 am


Zenobia said:

People (that means norman)! he was being ironic!

why is it I am having to interpret QN’s comments here….

August 17th, 2008, 1:16 am


trustquest said:

Are you comparing the system in the USA to the System in Syria, I think this is a little of stretch between the 400 years of principals based on democracy and a military coup lasted 40 years under despot with phony name of social party. Otherwise, I should be there speaking freely of what I think without the fear of prison.

August 17th, 2008, 1:24 am


Qifa Nabki said:

: )

Thanks Zenobia.

Ammo Norman, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a political party that didn’t have good principles, in theory. All things being equal, therefore, it’s practice that counts, no?

Am I too cynical for my very young age? 😉

August 17th, 2008, 1:38 am


Alex said:

Ausamaa habibi,

Walla I don’t understand why you are so determined to continue being hostile with Qifa Nabki.

Please write to me whenever you have the time, I forgot your email address.

I can call you too if you want.


August 17th, 2008, 2:13 am


Alex said:

Amr Moussa says he is expecting some promising developments that might lead to improved relations between Egypt/Saudi Arabia and Syria.

Mubarak and King Abdullah met and they claim that now that Syria is willing to have an ambassador in Lebanon, they might feel a bit more generous with Syria.

How sweet, and honest, of them.

وكان لإعلان بيروت ودمشق الاتفاق على تبادل التمثيل الديبلوماسي الكامل بينهما صدى في لقاءات الإسكندرية. ووصف السنيورة هذا الاعلان بالخطوة «المهمة (وتأتي) على المسار الصحيح»، ونقل عن مبارك «تأييده وتأييد مصر لكل عمل يؤدي إلى دعم العلاقات العربية – العربية وهذه خطوة على الطريق الصحيح». وتوقع موسى «تطورات إيجابية ستؤدي إلى نتائج إيجابية»، حين سئل عن ما إذا كان هناك تحسن في الأجواء بين القاهرة والرياض من جهة ودمشق من جهة أخرى.

August 17th, 2008, 2:15 am


norman said:


They are just trying to save face before the train leaves with Syria on it while they are crying to their uncle Sam.


I do not agree with the principle of the Democratic party and i do not agree with idea of taking from the rich to give the poor as i do not think they do that , They just take from the working middle class to make the poor dependent on them ,

So , no , not all parties have good principles ,and yes the Baath party has good principles and their social justice might be misguided with wind of the communist ideals , Half the world thought that that economic system was more just , I do not believe that .I did though in my twenties , and as you that was many moons ago .

The members of the Republican party became corrupt after only 8 years in power , I think the problem with the Baath party that it has been in power for many years without fear of being deposed , I think the Baath party will be better off on the long run with a democratic system and election, that needs to be eased in syria to prevent ethnic and religious interference in the election .

August 17th, 2008, 3:40 am


Shai said:


Do you think Egypt/KSA would improve their ties with Syria, if Israel and Syria exchanged ambassadors? If so, we’d be honored to help… 🙂

Zenobia, your expertise is in rhetoric, Occam’s Razor, and translation, amongst others. It is clear you need to start your own talkshow – “The Zenobia Show”. Each morning, at 10:00 am, broadcast throughout the world on Sat TV. You’ll bring in guests from SC each week… like me, and AIG, and QN, and Ausamaa, and Norman. Alex of course would run the show, from behind the scenes, and would moderate it. Yalla, if you need signatures, you’ve got mine.


No party is “good” if it is the only alternative. There must always be at least two, with equal rights, so that people have a choice. In theory, the two parties should be fairly equal in size, so that each can have a chance to run the country, on its turn, depending on its success or failure the previous term (assuming free elections are held, and represent the will of the people). Having too many parties, like in Israel, is also a very big problem. Small parties, whether “good” or “less good”, essentially become expert blackmailers. They see that the only way to exist is to threaten each winning party with either not joining its attempted coalition or, worse, in leaving it and forcing new elections. Much of Israel’s political stagnation (and its consequences on the Israeli-Arab conflict), I believe, is due to our multiplicity of parties, which have and exercise the kind of power I’m describing.

August 17th, 2008, 3:43 am


norman said:


I agree with you and i think , I believe like you , that two party system is better for Syria and it could be better for Israel ,
Actually , I like the system to be the same as the American system of government , a Republic , with two parties , conservative and liberal , with primaries and general election.

August 17th, 2008, 4:00 am


Shai said:


If a system can produce one 23 year-old Michael Phelps, that wins 8 gold medals, breaks world records on a daily basis, and will probably not be outdone until our grandchildren are our age, then it must be doing something right… I’m talking, of course, of the Speedo Company… 🙂

August 17th, 2008, 4:07 am


Zenobia said:

you flatterer you.

problem is that if I start the Zenobia Show, you need someone much tougher than Alex in the background to keep things in line (like a bouncer practically), cause you know how I am…
I am worse that Aussama. He loses his tongue sometimes, being a bit unfairly saucy and sharp mouthed. I can hardly scold him given my own transgressions. But, I can just imagine Zenobia’s SC show. It would be worse than Jerry Springer or Heraldo used to be!

It would start out nicely with the civilized people like you sitting calmly on the panel at your mic, behaving yourself, then inevitably, I would throw out some provocative thing (as I am prone to do, from time to time), and then next thing you know….
It would be like a mud wrestling match in the middle of the stage between all the naughty SCers who can’t control themselves going at each other.

THAT would be some truly interesting political entertainment.

August 17th, 2008, 5:21 am


Shai said:

There you go… And that, my dear Zenobia, is the making of some great stuff!

So are we starting to look for sponsors? Or do you prefer to wait until after the weekend? 🙂

August 17th, 2008, 5:42 am


Zenobia said:


I hadn’t really planned a media career for myself, you know…other than that stint with HA’s PR, so… I have to check my calendar coming up for the next couple years … and review all my high rolling cable network contacts. But i will get back to you on that.

August 17th, 2008, 6:01 am


Shai said:

Imagine what Oprah would be like, if she had started as a blogger here… So much wiser, so much more “well-rounded”… well, maybe not. Don’t give up – it’s either NBC, or Al-Manar… 🙂 “Ladies and Gentlemen… (or Saidati wa Sadati)… Live, from LA, it’s… The Zenobia Show!!!” (loud cheers, unqueued)

August 17th, 2008, 6:09 am


why-discuss said:


what will happen to all of these refugees?

This is Israel’s and the UN’s problem( especially the countries who recognize and supported Israel) as they are directly responsible for the eviction of the palestinians to create the state of Israel and the present situation of the refugees. Syria is showing itself human and helpful in accepting the refugees in their land, I am not sure Lebanon , with a smaller population, a sensitive religious balance and the memory of the 1975 civil war partly triggered by the palestinians will be as understanding. I have already suggested the solution I believe is the most reasonable but hard to achieve:
– Israel and the countries recognizing Israel under the UN should find a pool of host countries that are willing to accept palestinian refugees
– Israel should compensate the palestinians financially for their loss and for their acceptance of not claiming their homeland anymore.
-Palestinians should be offered a package deal, money and a choice of countries to relocate.
-Many married with lebanese be granted the lebanese nationality as well as their children togther with a compensation package.
Others with family in the west bank or Gaza will return there.

Of course all that has to be part of a comprehensive peace with exchange of land to make Palestinian state less than a gruyere cheese and more like a viable country.


Concerning the Syria-Isreal negotiations. Now that Lebanon seems less antagonistic to Syria and the ghost of the international tribunal on Hariri fading in the unknown future, I am sure there are already talks at high level to have Lebanon entering in any package deal with Israel. As Shai mentionned it , the peace with Lebanon that should include the fate of the palestinian refugees in lebanon is a much more complex issue and Syria will probably ask for a high price to have this included in the peace negotiations (Already some part has been paid with the Doha accord, stripping greatly the anti-resistance pro US groups of their real power). I am forecasting more to come in terms of Lebanon granting more rights and attention to Syria.
Lebanon has no choice. They have no card to play in front of Israel to get any tangible results, other than Hezbollah’s weapons and their newly revived alliance with Syria. I guess they know that by now and are trying to court Syria to include Lebanon into the eventual peace deal. The game is now again in Syria’s hand this time without the need of mokahbarat and military presence.

August 17th, 2008, 9:08 am


Shai said:


Thank you for the response. I tend to agree i about the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, and hope that a solution like that will be found. Still, that is a lot of people (I believe 400,000-500,000) to take care of. If we are all smart (Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, the U.S., etc.) we can market a comprehensive peace as something that starts with Syria, being a well-positioned key player that can positively influence all parties involved, and that can bring about the desperately needed peace and stability in the region. Syria is willing to play that role, and we should all take advantage of that, while the opportunity exists. Let us remember, that windows of opportunity have a tendency to not only open up, but also close. We mustn’t miss this one. If we do, we may all pay a very dear price in yet another regional war that will form as a result of frustration and stagnation.

Let’s hope our leaders tend to visit blogs like these every so often, or at least tend to use their brains also for long-term thinking, not only short-term one.

August 17th, 2008, 10:33 am


norman said:


I think that all the cards are in Israel Hands ,

Again , what will it be war or peace?.

August 17th, 2008, 12:37 pm


Shai said:


I don’t know. I’m hoping that Bibi will opt for peace. I don’t see anyone else delivering it, besides him. They’re now saying that even if Tzipi Livni wins the primaries in Kadima next month, she will immediately opt for general elections, rather than try to put together a coalition government. To me, that says she’s not yet made of leadership material. Even if she believes Kadima will receive many of Labor’s seats in the next election, and hence become a stronger party, surely she must also realize that the Likud will win, and Bibi will become PM. So she’ll be Nr. 2 and, at best, remain Foreign Minister under Bibi. Is that what she is hoping for? What about leading Israel as Prime Minister? Is that not her ultimate goal? And, she could at least try to achieve that, without elections (!), by putting together a coalition. If she doesn’t even try, she will disappoint me terribly, and I doubt I’d vote for her in the future.

All things considered, Bibi still looks like the only choice. If he’s changed for the better, he’ll make peace with Syria and then with the entire Arab world (and of course the Palestinians). If he still believes in “How the West Can Win”, then we’re off to war…

August 17th, 2008, 1:34 pm


Shai said:

Ha’aretz article on Egypt/KSA’s role in the region (or lack thereof):

And here’s the foolish release of prisoners to our puppet, Abbas:

Instead, Israel should be talking to Hamas, and releasing 200 prisoners as a sign of good will. When will we understand that taking a nice Palestinian guy (Abbas), giving him money, and weapons, and providing him security, and then asking him to sit across from us at the negotiation table and act as our enemy, just doesn’t work…! The worse the enemy, the sweeter the peace.

And, from Iran:,7340,L-3583784,00.html

I can’t understand Iran’s policy. If this is like Nikita Khrushchev’s “we’re producing missiles like sausages” arrogance, then it’s only tempting the West to call their bluff. If it’s true, then why boast about it? The more they reveal their offensive strategic capabilities, the more likely they’ll be attacked by Israel and/or the U.S. How can it be that they’re interested in being attacked? Do they seek the legitimacy to one day use a nuke on Tel-Aviv? And they’re willing to pay a heavy price to earn this? Can anyone explain this policy? There must be some rationale behind it, even if I can’t see it.

August 17th, 2008, 2:14 pm


Off the Wall said:

The news about the housing association is rather big. In fact very big. This is the first time I know of a Syrian court annuls a decision by the executive branch. As such it is a good indication and a wonderful precedent. Of course I have no idea about the actual case, but the fact that the Judicial branch is finding some bone is a good start.

Funny it came from a case initiated by Expats. But I think expats and more likely to challenge the un-natural status quo and do exactly what I have been talking about, which is forcing the Judicial branch to be what it is meant for. May be others will take notice and recognize that the are means to redress issues that do not involve carnage.

On the note in Ynet. Which constitution is the MB referring to, the 1973 or the 1956. The two are quite different with respect to the legitimacy of the current Syrian government. Under the 1973, and its modification (which by the way was constitutional since the Parliament has the right to amend the constitution),

Article 149 [Initiative, Majority]

(1) The President of the Republic as well as a two-thirds majority of the People’s Assembly members have a right to propose amending the Constitution.
(2) The amendment proposal includes the provisions to be amended and the reasons for it.
(3) Upon receipt of the proposal, the People’s Assembly sets up a special committee to investigate it.
(4) The Assembly discusses the amendment proposal, and if approved by a two-thirds majority of its members, the amendment is considered final, provided it is approved by the President of the Republic. It will then be included in the body of the Constitution.

And this is exactly what happened after the death of Hafez. Khaddam, (the acting president) asked the assembly to amend the constitution and reduce the mandatory age of the president from 40 to 35, the motion was constitutional and Assad was elected from the Baath party and subsequently nominated by the assembly for referendum, which he has won as well as his renewal. I have a feeling that in the first case, the populace wanted to maintain stability and continuity so a majority (not necessarily the 96% announced) may have truly voted yes on the referendum. In the term renewal referendum, the public, and again, a majority, were likely to stand by the president given the external pressures that were mounting then.

In conclusion:
Whether one agrees or not with the constitution. The Syrian government is constitutional. While some may not like the ability to customize the constitution. The act in itself was constitutional. Of course, practices and acts of any government can be constitutional as well as unconstitutional, it would take the Judicial and Legislative branches to correct these practices. I am not making a personal character judgment about the Syrian government, all I am saying is that one has to be careful in throwing words around. The MB can not argue that the election is unconstitutional, but they can argue that the constitution is not a modern one and a pluralistic one. Had that been their argument, it would have been more honest.

This brings a major challenge to the notion of American sponsored regime change in Syria (Iraqi style). Internationally, such would be an outright violation with less ambiguity than Iraq’s case. The constitutionality of the Syrian government makes it harder to argue for regime change only because the Neocons do not like it. And in fact, you can see the way the US deals with Syrian opposition by indicating to them that the ultimate demand is “to change behavior” not a regime change for the neocons do not have a shred of argument regarding the legality of government from a constitutional stand point. Arguments about human rights and freedom of expression are different matters that we have discussed before, but not exhaustively.

August 17th, 2008, 4:44 pm


Off the Wall said:

Why Discuss

Thank you for the proposal. I fully agree that Palestinian Refugees in syria are much better integrated into society than those in Lebanon. This in fact is the hardest part of any negotiation between Israel and Lebanon. Syria would not suffer in any way by granting all of Its own Palestinian refugees full citizenship for after all, all what is missing is the title of (or the adjustment of legal status) from refugee to a Citizen. I think ths same thing applies to Jordan.

Lebanon has to tread that issue much more carefully, but I do not think it is undoable. Your start with those married to lebanese is an excellent start, but I am afraid it is not sufficient. To begin with, a settlment that reliniquish the right of returen is already taking away one of their choices. So by forcing them with a packaged deal to emigrate once more to am unfamiliar country withoug the possibility of remaining, if they chose to stay in lebanon, strikes me as a bad deal. Can we think of a solution which gives them a choice (at personal level).

August 17th, 2008, 5:01 pm


norman said:


Do you think that if any of the Palestinians is given the choice between going back to Palestine or migrating to the US , Canada or Australia they would rather stay in Lebanon or go back to Palestine , I think that most of them would rather migrate away from the Mideast.

August 17th, 2008, 5:54 pm


Off the Wall said:


I fully agree with your comment, but the only way to know is to guarantee that they do have such a choice. Forced relocation even of a 100 out of 500,000 is immoral, and it breaks ones heart to see them, once more, being shuttled across the globe against their will.

August 17th, 2008, 6:01 pm


Off the Wall said:

Dear Shai

I think the Iranians should just “shut up” for now and enjoy the reprieve provided to them curtsy Georgia and Russia.

The article in HAARETZ is as usual a good one. It seems that “Brand” Syria, with its “yes-but, no-but” had the ability to penetrate beyond the surface of events because of this skepticism. This is funny as Syria’s entire expenditure on think-tanks is probably less than the budget of a minor neo-con think tank.

I also noticed a recent interview with Sari Nusseighbeh, which I will be reading in few moments and I hope to discuss later.

One could not help but to realize that history will finally recognize little Georg as a transformer (my be same as in the movie 🙂 ) not only of the ME but also of the globe. By insisting on using might and power to accomplish a selfish stupid act such as removing Saddam, he has practically initiated the beginning and the end of the US hegemony in the region with one stroke. Furthermore, significant transformations are occurring daily in South America which is hailing the emergence of new approach to “fair and humane democracy”. China is flexing its muscles, not militarily but economically and soon “culturally” which will probably carry wider implications as to the pragmatism of the form of government that can bring rapid economic prosperity with slow or stagnant progress on human rights (I do not like that, but it is happening). Russia is finding the courage to finally say No and to bush pack, and regional players, who are accurately reading the writing on the wall are beginning to take their rightful place after being sidelined for decades. Is Israel capable of reading the new realities, which clearly dictate that military might is not a guarantee of hegemony and that the region will never be dominated by a single power, not from the inside or from the outside. I think it may be so and we will know more in the next few months.

While I do not subscribe to the notion that Israel wants to dominate the region, realities on the ground demonstrate that as a Soverign state, the country has been rleying heavily on the military and technological parity to force her own vision of “acceptable” future at the expense of others’ basic rights to security and stability. One would hope that the new initiatives, and that Turkey’s sincere efforts would carry the day and lead to a new ME, free of WMDs, and ready to jump into the world stage and to assert its regional rights against both internal and external threats.

August 17th, 2008, 6:02 pm


Shai said:

OTW, Norman,

This is a very important point, which we in Israel must also understand. Maybe I should have stressed it in my response to Why-Discuss. There’s no doubt that you cannot uproot half a million people yet again from their homes. Yes, if offered an opportunity to emigrate to the West, I’m sure many refugees, perhaps even most, would choose to do so. But they cannot be forced to leave Lebanon. Their tragedy of 60 years ago cannot be followed by another modern-day tragedy involving a forced transfer anywhere. Having said that, I fully understand the complexity and sensitivity of the issue, and the real concerns of the Lebanese people. But surely even they could not consider half a million people as “temporary residents”, with “temporary” meaning 60 years!

What I’m hoping will happen, is that the kind of financial compensation to each and every Palestinian refugee throughout the region will be such, that every host nation will very much opt to keep, for pure economic interest. That is, if for instance each family received the equivalent of $450,000 (what Israeli settlers received in Gaza), that may be more than sufficient to enable every family a “fresh start”. And, the host nation might be very happy to have that kind of money invested in it, instead of taken out. Such compensation will influence the real-estate market, new businesses, job market, etc. If invested inside the host nation, it will create much more income, and will prove a sufficient economic reason to enable the refugees to become full citizens, I believe.

Any thoughts on this?

August 17th, 2008, 6:05 pm


trustquest said:

Doing Business in Syria:

Population: 19,496,430. GNI per capita (US$): 1,570.00
Ease of doing business recent report:
First column is Ease of doing Business, second is doing business rank in 2008, third is doing business rank in 2007 and the last is the change in rank:
Doing business,(137), (134), (-3)
Starting business,(169), (148), (-21)
Dealing with license,(86), (83), (-3)
Employing workers,(126), (98), (-28)
Registering property,(89), (87 ), (-2)
Getting credit,(158), (156), (-2)
Protecting investors, (107), (105), (-2)
Paying taxes, (98), (97), (-1)
Trading across borders, (127), (119), (-8)
Enforcing contracts, (171), (171), (0)
Closing business, (77), (77), (0)

Not only they ranked from average but also Syria ranked low in most criteria comparing other countries in the region.

Graph of ease of doing business – global rank

Singapore 1
Israel 29
Turkey 57
UAE 68
Jordan 80
Lebanon 85
Syria 137
Well done Israel and Lebanon and for Syria we hope for better days.


August 17th, 2008, 6:09 pm


Shai said:


Russia warned the U.S. when it supported Kosov’s independence that it was creating a precedent. The U.S. claimed that any independent province, that has been overrun by a large army that uses ethnic cleansing, deserves the right to secede and become fully independent. Now, Russia is claiming the same has happened in the two provinces, where the Georgian army used ethnic cleansing. The roles are reversed, and now Russia is backing the underdog. Won’t be so easy for the U.S. to get Russian troops out. And of course placing missiles in Poland won’t exactly encourage Russia to comply with U.S. demands. Seems we are experiencing some Cold War aftershocks… let’s hope only that.

As for Israel reading the map correctly, I’m afraid to say that we don’t have a great record in doing so. I’m not terribly optimistic, and I’m hoping that at least we’ve been put on some course (by Syria, Turkey, or the U.S.) from which it will be difficult to get out. I hope things will happen fast enough, so that no trigger-happy general here (or in the U.S.) will have a chance to go on wild adventures any time soon. But, as you may have read in my comments above, it looks like at least Tzipi Livni won’t be assisting us very much, when it comes to pushing for peace with Syria. If she’s not going to be PM, she won’t be able to run the show…

August 17th, 2008, 6:20 pm


Off the Wall said:

Excellent and reasonably good detailed study and neutral, thank you for posting it. If one puts the pessimistic hat on, it is rather depressing and hopeless. But looking deeper into the study and especially at the very creative GANTT charts showing the duration and cost of each task (procedure), the solutions seem easier than one might think. Across the board, obtaining approvals, or registering with a government agency are always the longest and most consuming parts of the process. As such administrative reforms, which include training, computerization of record and cutting down red-tape within one or more agencies would substantially improve the performance and rank.

Take for example the chart on page 10 (page 15 in the pdf file), the two longest but not most costly procedures are (3 and 11)

3. Register with the Ministry of Supply and Interior Trade
11. Register for tax

Another problem that is clearly identifiable from that chart is the fact the process is near fully serial nature of the process with every step being a milestone where even starting the subsequent step depends on the successful completion of its predecessors. Except for procedures 7 and 8

7. Make payment to the Syrian Bar Association
8. Publication in the Official Gazette

But that is the end of it, because procedure 9 (Return to the Court to complete incorporation)
can not start until 7 is completed. Clearly, and in this case, without even reforming the entire process (i.e. keeping all 13 steps) fundamental reforms in the Ministry of Supply and Interior Trade (Tamween wa Tijara Dakhilyyah) as well as in the Tax registration process (Finance or Mallyyah), will go long ways in improving Syria’s performance on entrepreneurship.

Now, take for example the (property registration) chart on page 24, (page 29 in the pdf file). The fact that the numbers of steps is minor (5 steps) does not help much. Again, we see that of the procedures, registering and approval by the ministry of finance are both the most time consuming steps.

This is the stuff and the type of studies that can adequately point decision makers to bottlenecks hindering economic progress in areas they have been advocating for the past 7 years. I do not read such studies politically, I try to read them with the mentality of a system’s engineer (although I am not one). Needless to say, anyone who knows bureaucracy recognizes that most of the task duration is spent as the file is transiting from one approval, archival, or documentation step to another, but I think areas which can result in the most substantial gains for the least cost are somehow clear and they include among other things the following:

1. Decentralize the process and remove the ministries from the approval process for businesses below certain size and have them focus on policy instead of record keeping

2. Provide local authorities with the mandate to approve projects of small to medium size and facilitate sharing of archive and documentation from local to national level by creating computerized Data-bases

3. Reduce the transit time by reducing the number of required signatures

Clearly, most important issue would be to conduct internal audits by experts of the most time consuming steps and split them into yet smaller steps (i.e., multi-signatures and duplicate approvals within each ministry). Based on such audits, these procedures can be reformed and streamlined. This is not a matter of making a law allowing investment, this is mostly a managerial issue, which of course does not reduce its significant impact on the economy and the livelihood of Syrian citizens. By the way, this does not make the government’s job any easier, commitment to reform must be demonstrated by addressing these bottlenecks, which are also present in non-commercial affairs.

August 17th, 2008, 7:03 pm


Shai said:


Good thing we’re not enemies. I’d hate to meet your analytic skills on the battlefield. Wait a minute… we ARE enemies! Doe!… 🙂 (it’s late – I better head in before my Simpsons humor kills someone… of boredom…)

August 17th, 2008, 7:24 pm


Off the Wall said:

What scares me is that the with the US having established the Kosovo precedent under Clinton, democrats in the US are taking a stance on the issue that is similar if not worst than that taken by the hawks in the administration. With only few exceptions, which include a strange compilation of far left and libertarians and far right (i.e., Pat Buchannan), most political analysts here are ignoring Georgia’s aggression against Ossetia civilians and calling the entire debacle the Russian invasion and by that setting the stage for transforming the events from a minor military incursion with defined objectives into a new cold war. Take for example the foolish announcement earlier today by Germany advocating Georgia’s case for NATO membership, and contrast that with Turkey’s announcement of trying to work with all the regional players in the region to prevent similar events.

The US has been establishing precedents in rather thoughtless manners. This will be the legacy of the neo-cons. In the past, only developing countries argued that the US and the West are rather hypocritical, but now, that hypocrisy has given the eastern bears (the Russian grizzly bear and the Chinese Panda bear) a chance to counter attack. Now, if the US argued against the independence of the two autonomous regions of Georgia, China will have a ball as it can make the same argument vis a vis Taiwan. It is called blow-back effect, and we have seen it almost everywhere where the US and its allies get their hands into someone else’s affairs.

I am saddened by your comment regarding Israel’s inability to read the new realities for such inability will be costly and will result in continuing mindless loss of blood and treasures. Yet, one would hope that whatever postures we are now seeing are more electoral postures than real plans for action. I, like you, hope that things will move too fast to allow anyone to backtrack. Let us hope that politicians will get locked onto the peace path. And let us hope that even with that, they will be wise enough not to rush into making choices that can not be accepted by their constituents or force their adversaries into doing the same. This will only lead to further confusion as we have seen in the aftermath of Oslo.

August 17th, 2008, 7:39 pm


Off the Wall said:


Thanks, I would love to put both of our analytic skills in the service of the welfare of our extended Semitic family, and later, the world (I am a humanist, but it doesn’t hurt to start with the family).

I have a feeling that you and I are incapable of being enemies. While others fight, we may be discussing philosophy or Homer (not the guy who wrote the Iliad 🙂 ). Of course I do not doubt your patriotism to your country, but I find your grasp of that patriotism refreshing and hope that It would be infectious not only in Israel but also in the entire region.

By the way, I just tried Homer’s voice on one of my navigation softwares, (TOMTOM). It was hilarious.

August 17th, 2008, 7:45 pm


Shai said:


Agree with every word. In a way, this is why I may prefer Netanyahu in power. If we’re going to have peace soon, let him deliver it, as he will definitely win the support of most Israelis. And if we’re heading in the opposite direction (towards another regional confrontation), let it also be the Likud that later gets blamed for its arrogant view of our neighbors in the region. Either way, Israelis will choose peace soon, or after a failed conservative administration. The Left or Center will not be able to do it. And we already see how Olmert’s fiasco in Lebanon is essentially forgiven or forgotten. Time to let the Right try… (opposite of what should now occur in the U.S.)

And you’re right. We could not be enemies. Ever.

Good Night! (wish I had some Duff beer right about now…)

August 17th, 2008, 7:50 pm


Off the Wall said:

Good night.

August 17th, 2008, 8:57 pm


trustquest said:

Thanks for the analysis, you have put a positive spin on a very grim report, however I hope someone will take notice of your points. I liked the fact that the index cover annual changes and it provides a weapon for the argument that support a previous report which states that the only chance for the micro-economic changes to happen in these states are to adopt free speech and expression to flare the knowledge and the critical thinking to be the currency of new society.

An optimistic comment can light a candle, thanks. But still criticizing the continuous failure in administering change till now is past due also. Decentralizing calls and empowering executives will not reach a listening ear because these calls contradict the fundamentals of the System, some clashes has to happen before reach the point of equilibrium so hammering the system will increase the chances for forcing action. In the last 7 years a lot of tries to apply new modern applications by the administrative regime ended in failure, as far as I know. The 2000 decrees issued by the head of the state since 2000, are ineffectual and not reaching its intended goals, which is means the reform impact in Syria is negative; actually the reform score was zero on the list. However as long as there is some one as patient as you are, may be there is a light in the end of the tunnel.
And since recent Russia moves, bringing the bears to the world scene and this might in a way empower dictators it is not good news for civil society and for democratic society to move away from dictatorship.
So, let’s hope that Syria next year will learn from Egypt and compete with her to be in the top ten in the easiness of doing business, and may be it will learn even the backward and clannish stiff monarch of neighboring state of Saudi Arabia is doing better than the constitutional state of Syria.

Thanks again.

August 17th, 2008, 9:51 pm


Off the Wall said:


Thank you for your comment. My intent was not to put a positive spin on the depressing situation. As you notice from my comment on the report I indicated that this problem permeate more than the economic aspect and expands into the daily lives of Syrian citizens. I was trying, as you said, to point how such reports, even when they carry negative implication, can be used by the government not to rhetorically support a call for reform but to identify what kind of information will really tell wheather things are moving in the right direction, and what are the most efficient ways of addressing deficiencies and hurdles.

Modernization is not as simple as my comment indicated, but as long as true committment exist, which must includes the ability to listen to critique without knee jerk reaction, there would be a chance, but the chance to reduce knee jerk reaction would be maximized by taking a professional look at this and similar report and provide a detached assessment. I beleive i tried to point that decrees are only a small part of the solution, and too many decrees risk entrenching the micromanagement mentality, which requires, for example, that every minister be in charge of every single hiring, firing, and promotion in the nation wide system . This has been a problem in many reformist movements in developing countries where the leadership only trust itself in reform, and by that end up making the reform decrees additional weight the system has to carry. I am off course talking generalities here, because I am not familiar with all these 2000 decrees you mentioned.

A while ago, I was hoping that Syria would follow the Chinese model, but since then and after doing more reading, and you have grasped my comment about the bears exactly for what I wanted it to be, the notion of economic progress being detached from human rights progress may gain more traction. And this should and does concern me a greate deal.

I understand that in many countries in the ME, including Syria, professionals, who are much more qualified than I could ever be, have a problem voicing an analysis similar to my simplistic analysis of the report. Only when these proffessional can voice their concerns and suggestions for solutions without being called traitors, and when such recommendations are put foth for public waide discussion, and these professionals are considered partners, things can move in the right direction. Syrian and Lebanese professionals are all over the place managing highly sucessfull enterprises and investment funds in the Gulf, and some of them know exactly what needs to be done to streamline processes even in government owned businesses. I sure hope that they are consulted.

I have some ideas on how professionals and experts can be brought on board without making them bureaucrats (i.e., polluting them with the daily grunts of running an agency). I am still working on that and hope to have it brought for discussion. This would be similar to NORMAN’s educational project

Lastly, I am afraid that I do not share your positive view of Egypt’s progress on this issue, for it has not translated into a single iota of improving the livelyhood of Egyptians, I was there a couple of years ago, and what I witnessed scares the crap out of me. As a dear egyptian friend told me, the country is on the verge of a revolution of the poor (thawret alghalaba), and he does not see it being a peaceful one.

In all cases, you always provide me with the opportunity to refine my position and argument with your “reality” checks. Thank you for that. I value your responses more than I would value a concurring point of view.

August 17th, 2008, 10:52 pm


trustquest said:

I’m inline of what you described and I have the same worries, and if you like to know where are my pessimists views coming from, I would tell you that in Syria there are good quantity of qualified professionals which I read to them in the past. The Syrian Economic society (, contributed a great deal but unfortunately it has been frozen since 2005, and this is the answer to bringing them on board. It seems to me that the intellectuals are far distance from the current System because they pushed out not because they shied away.
The Egyptian case is valid only for the last year as show the “doing business report”. As far as the revolution, I think a lot of countries as going in this direction for the lack or decent and minimal role of the state in improving the livelihoods of people.

I do not want to praise you here in response and say the obvious, but your contribution to SC is valuable and I enjoy reading your comments.

August 17th, 2008, 11:51 pm


norman said:

& Business

Syria lures investment as Gulf countries ignore US sanctionsPublished: Monday, 18 August, 2008, 12:59 AM Doha Time

Foreign investment into Syria from the Gulf was about $750mn last year and may have exceeded $2bn annually over the past five years, said Abdallah Dardari, the country’s Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs
DAMASCUS: Abdallah Dardari, Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs, has said his country is luring record foreign investment, mostly from oil-rich Arabian Gulf states, and that US sanctions have had a limited impact.
“I don’t think the US has managed to damp foreign direct investment,” Dardari said in an interview in Damascus last week. “Sanctions have failed, especially when they are unilateral.”
Foreign investment into the nation of 19mn from the Gulf was about $750mn last year, according to official statistics, and may have exceeded $2bn annually over the past five years, Dardari said. The funds from wealthy Arab states are compensating for a drop in oil production, helping push economic growth to about 6% this year, he said.
The US imposed sanctions on Syria in May 2004, including a ban on trade transactions with the Commercial Bank of Syria, accusing the country of aiding Iraqi militants and destabilising Lebanon. Syria has denied both allegations.
While relations are strained with the European Union, the bloc has granted aid money and resisted calls for sanctions.
Dardari’s growth forecast may prove optimistic, with the Economist Intelligence Unit estimating that growth will slow to 2.4% this year, from 4.3%, because of falling oil production and a poor harvest.
Oil output has declined to 385,000 bpd from a peak of 590,000 bpd in 1996.
Revenue from oil dropped to less than 4% of gross domestic product last year from 17% in 2004, Dardari said. Non-oil exports exceeded $12.5bn, compared with less than $1bn in 2000, spurred by regional demand for items such as textiles, pharmaceuticals, cotton and agricultural produce.
Rising inflation is also a challenge, forecast to accelerate to 16.8% in 2008 from 12.2% last year because of reductions in fuel subsidies and a 25% increase in government salaries and pensions, according to the EIU.
Reducing some of the fuel subsidies “has cooled an overheating economy in the first half of 2008 which helped reduce inflation rates contrary to what everyone thought,” Dardari said. “Raising the price of diesel reduced inflationary expectations and everyone realized the market will stabilise.”
To boost investment, in January of last year, Syria introduced a law allowing foreign investors to own or rent land and take profits out of the country in any currency.
Dubai-based Emaar Properties, the Middle East’s largest developer, is carrying out a $4bn investment plan announced in 2005. National Bank of Kuwait, the Gulf state’s biggest lender by market value, has said it wants to operate a joint venture in the country.
It currently takes 43 days on average to start a business in Syria, compared with 14 days in Jordan, 46 days in Lebanon and 62 days in the United Arab Emirates, according to a report by the World Bank.
Sanctions have had a limited impact. Turkcell Iletisim Hizmetleri, Turkey’s biggest mobile-phone company, suspended plans to purchase Syriatel, the country’s main mobile-phone company, because of US objections, according to the Turkish company’s chief executive Officer Sureyya Ciliv.
Sanctions “haven’t been devastating, in part because of Gulf money,” said Justin Alexander, an economist at the London-based EIU. “Gulf money is critical and will remain so.”
Dardari said he couldn’t give a precise figure for Gulf investment because “much of it comes through unofficial channels like Syrian partners and joint ventures with Syrian entrepreneurs.”
“Gulf inflows, whether into real estate, banking and industrial projects, as well as from tourism, have certainly been a contributing factor to economic growth,” said Nassib Ghobril, head of research at Lebanon’s Byblos Bank.
To achieve more than the targeted 7% annual growth rate and reduce unemployment to below 6% from an official figure of 8% now and keep poverty below 10%, Syria needs to attract $16bn a year by 2015.
The government is trying to build up tourism. About $3.5bn has been invested in the industry in the past three years, and Dardari said he expects the number of hotel beds to double to 80,000 by 2010 from 40,000.
The tourism industry is forecast to contribute about $9.6bn to Syria’s gross domestic product by 2018 up from $4.9bn this year, according to a report by the World Travel and Tourism Council. Employment in the tourism industry will also rise, increasing the number of jobs to about 2mn in ten years, or 18% of the total workforce, from 1.1mn this year.
The government is also in the process of formulating a thorough value added tax regime that will be ready by the end of the year, Dardari said. The VAT will increase the government’s revenue with a limited impact on production and investment, according to the International Monetary Fund.
The ruling Baath Party, which came to power in 1963, began moving toward a market economy in the 1990s, allowing private banks and insurance companies to operate for the first time. – Bloomberg

August 17th, 2008, 11:56 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


This one is for you:

Russia and the Middle East
by Walter Laquer


What does Russian domination mean? Not the imposition of the Soviet model as in the Cold War. The present Soviet example (the petrostate) hardly lends itself for export. But the Kremlin will certainly insist on control of the foreign policy of the states in its sphere of influence, as well as (for instance) censorship and some other measures of control.

Ideally, the restoration of the Russian sphere of domination (or at least influence) should proceed gradually, even slowly. It was Stalin’s mistake after World War Two that he proceeded hastily, which generated resistance, including the emergence of NATO.

But Russia is under time pressure for at least three reasons. First, there is the emotional factor. The temptation to show that Russia has returned to a position of strength is very great. Which Russian leader does not want to enter history as another Peter the Great—not to mention some more recent leaders? Second, Russia’s strength rests almost entirely on its position as the world’s leading oil and gas supplier. But this will not last forever. Nor will it be possible to prevent technological progress forever—alternative sources of energy will be found.

Above all, there is Russia’s demographic weakness. Its population is constantly shrinking (and becoming de-Russified). The duration of military service had to be halved because there are not enough recruits. Every fourth recruit is at present of Muslim background; in a few years it will be every third. The density of population in Asian Russia is 2.5 per square kilometer—and declining. There is no possible way to stop or reverse this process, and depopulation means inevitably the loss of wide territories—not to the Americans.

In these circumstances there is a strong urge not to wait but to act now.

read the entire article

August 18th, 2008, 12:28 am


norman said:

The attack on Russia might be for the benefit of Syria and Iran ,

The question is , will Russia stay the course or back down as usual .

August 18th, 2008, 1:21 am


Shai said:


I still doubt Iran will partake in any way in a near-future peace agreement between Israel and the Arab world. Relations may thaw in time, after the Iranians see a living, breathing Palestinian state created, but this will take time. Until then, the Arab world will accept Israel much faster, and vice-versa. Therefore, at the moment it seems Iran should be left out of the equation. If Syria, for instance, insists on including Iran in some fashion (allowing Iranian support to flow to HA) in an agreement, Israel will reject it outright. Even if a future Israeli PM will not be able to get Syria to leave the “axis of evil”, he/she will have to sell it to the Israeli people in such way as to essentially suggest the same. So a newly formed axis which includes Russia, Syria, Iran, and others, may not be such a good thing right now, at least not if we’re interested in peace soon. In the long term, it may be a good thing, as an alternative to America in the region. But in the short term, it will cause many in the region, and worldwide, to suspect, fear, and therefore harden their views.

August 18th, 2008, 4:12 am


Khorshid Khanoum said:

Haaretz, ynetnews and any site hosted by blogspot are blocked by the main Syrian internet service provider. Do you think you guys could cut and paste extracts rather than just providing the link. Thanks.

August 18th, 2008, 8:21 am


Khorshid Khanoum said:

Also, anything from opposition sites, of course. Do you keep a list of what’s blocked and what’s not, Alex?

August 18th, 2008, 8:23 am


why-discuss said:

Shai, OTW

Many educated and low skilled arabs already dream to move to the west for a peaceful, secure and lucrative life. Young educated palestinians will jump on the opportunity to relocate in a western country where they can develop and use their skills. Just see how many lebanese and syrians emigrated to South America with no claim on coming back. You’ll be surprised about the number of professional palestinians settled in Honduras or Nicaragua.
I guess with enough financial compensation and a choice of countries (some may be arabs), most palestinians will relocate gladly. The ones who would be reluctant are the elder and the ones who have established family connections in lebanon. Many palestinians in Lebanon have probably some members of their family already in a western country. For these, relocation would be easier. I doubt many palestinians would prefer to live in camps in lebanon with no future for their family, except the impossible dream of finding their ancestor village intact in occupied Israel.

Most arabs have experienced emigration to a new country with the usual traumas associated with it, so it won’t be that unusual.
The main difficulty would be to have the UN pressure Israel and the international community to pay the financial compensation and get a list of countries who would offer to accept whole families of refugees. I think the rest should be easy.

August 18th, 2008, 9:28 am


Sami D said:

Qifa Nabki wrote:

… because the Arabs are now negotiating from strength rather than weakness. I don’t see it in the same way. To me, this is the story that we tell ourselves in order to sell Syria’s peace talks to those who would prefer to keep fighting. And as you know, I am a 100% supporter of the talks, so I’m not opposed to painting them in whatever colors are necessary to make them acceptable to those who would otherwise reject them. In my opinion, however, the current talks are the product of intense strategy and cost/benefit assessment by both sides. Hizbullah may have fought the IDF to a stalemate in 2006, but Lebanon surely suffered far more than Israel did.

Dear Qifa,

In order to settle the talks-vs-resistance issue, the basics of the situation need first to be agreed upon. If we consider that the Arab-Israeli conflict is merely a normal dispute between two neighbors over real estate, rather than a situation of an aggressor who covets and has devoured someone else’s land and resources, then talks by themselves might indeed be the way to go. This is not the situation here, however. Israel is an aggressor who wants and has stolen Arab land and resources, mainly Palestine, as well as acts as a regional hegemon. As such, it is not likely to be persuaded by those it dispossessed through negotiations alone. The victims of this conflict do not “prefer to keep fighting”; they want their rights, land and resources restored.

True, Lebanon paid a dear price for standing up, and that is not unexpected from an enemy that has repeatedly demonstrated barbarian behavior when the victims dared raise their head. What is quite new here is that all this orgy of wanton destruction by Israel didn’t produce for it any of its main goals in 2006. The opposite sometimes happened. Hezbulla was not destroyed; it got stronger. Nasralla wasn’t finished; he emerged as the most credible Arab leader ever. Israel could not liberate its soldiers with its muscles. Israel couldn’t stop thousands of rockets that landed on its side of the border. Israeli forces couldn’t cross far into Lebanon. Israeli soldier casualties versus those of Hezbulla were not that different, which is unusual. Israeli tanks were turned into heaps of scrap metals. Israeli leaders and upper military commanders faced ouster thanks to their performance. And finally, Hezbulla’s conditions for returning captured soldiers were met obediently and humiliatingly by Israel, and Lebanese prisoners and bodies were returned.

Syria, as a result of its alliance with Hezbulla and Iran, is in a position of slightly more power after 2006 than before vis-à-vis Israel, hence just a little more likely to convince it through talks, whether someone wants to use this argument to “sell Syria’s peace talks” to convince others or not. But I doubt the persuasion will go beyond the Golan, hence my suspicion of a Syrian sellout of the Palestinians. Without demonstration of successful resistance to aggression, talks with the aggressor, as the Palestinians have found out, “are for the birds” 😉

August 18th, 2008, 9:45 am


norman said:

Last update – 09:31 18/08/2008
Iran and Syria, in the role of Russia
By Itamar Rabinovitch

Now that the fighting in Georgia has died down, policy shapers and pundits in the West are free to analyze the maneuvers and results, and draw lessons. The picture that emerges is a dismal one. Vladimir Putin’s Russia exercised brutal force with the object of bringing a rebellious neighbor to its knees. The United States, which encouraged Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to defy Moscow, did not give him any real support. Former Soviet republics and satellites will now think twice before confronting Russia, or will be tempted to seek shelter beneath the cover of the U.S., NATO or the European Union. Oil is now much less likely to reach the Caspian Sea without Russia’s involvement.

The Georgian crisis will have specific repercussions on the Middle East. There is less of a chance that the United States and Russia will be cooperating to stop Iran’s nuclear program. There is a greater chance that Russia will wage a more ambitious and aggressive policy, including selling advanced weapons systems to Iran and Syria. There will also be a host of indirect repercussions. In this context, there is a striking similarity between the Russian move in the Caucasus, and Iran and Syria’s move in Lebanon.

On May 7, an armed struggle broke out between Hezbollah and the so-called March 14 coalition, led by Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. The crisis was prompted by Siniora’s refusal to put up with Hezbollah having its own nationwide communication network, another blatant blow to the Lebanese government’s sovereignty. Hezbollah beat its rivals in the violent conflict, but refrained from extracting a military achievement, opting instead for political gains.

On May 23 a political compromise was reached in Doha, Qatar, enabling a new government led by Siniora, and letting the elected president, General Michel Suleiman, enter his post. In addition, Syria agreed, with French mediation, to establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon, thereby obliquely recognizing it neighbor’s independence and sovereignty. That understanding paved the way for Bashar Assad’s invitation to the July 13 conference of the new Union for the Mediterranean, as an honored guest of France.

However, the full significance of the Doha compromise soon became clear. When Hezbollah threw a homecoming party for Samir Kuntar, the president and prime minister took part (the latter, at least, seemed to be under duress), and thus were seen as accepting Hezbollah’s hegemony and role as a semi-state institution, and as accepting Kuntar and his murderous acts as a heroic Lebanese operation.

More importantly, the new government’s guidelines and President Suleiman’s speeches gave legitimacy to Hezbollah’s ongoing battle for the Shaba Farms. Hezbollah was therein given a standing equivalent to the Lebanese Army’s, and a rationale for continuing its violence against Israel – not as a terror organization, but as an arm of the Lebanese state.

Hezbollah and its patrons have settled for these accomplishments for now, and have chosen not to use their military victory as a springboard for a complete takeover of the Lebanese state.

The similarity between this chain of events and the crisis in Georgia is striking: Iran and Syria parallel Russia, Siniora and Saakashvili are the pro-Western leaders, Hezbollah resembles the separatists in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, France is the frenetic Western mediator, and above all – the Bush administration, encouraging Saakashvili and Siniora as supporters of democracy. Both leaders tried to stem the tide, wound up confronting a superior force, and discovered that the waning Bush administration was of no use.

Israel continues to monitor the crisis in the Caucasus, but has a far greater, more immediate interest in how things play out in Lebanon. So far, it has been a nearly passive spectator. The Israeli government, approaching the end of its term, has learned from the 1982 attempt to shape Lebanese politics and the baggage left by the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

For Israel, the developments in Lebanon are part of a complex strategic, political picture – Iran’s aspiration to regional hegemony and nuclear weapons; the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis; the negotiations with Syria, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas; the Bush administration’s decision to refrain from attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities and its pressure on Israel to wait for diplomacy – all while the Israeli government and the Bush administration are approaching their end, with their potential heirs mired in elections and inheritance battles.

This interim period is expected to end in early 2009. That is when the new U.S. administration and the Israeli government will have to formulate both an overall strategy and specific solutions to the above issues. In view of the dilemmas Hezbollah and its patrons are posing in Lebanon, Israel will have to choose between a political response (from an Israeli standpoint, an agreement with Syria; from an American standpoint, dialogue with Syria and possibly Iran), and preparing to meet more serious challenges than the ones we faced in the summer of 2006.

The writer served as Israeli ambassador to the United States.

August 18th, 2008, 12:23 pm


norman said:

Another boost for Syria

Aug 18th 2008
From The Economist Intelligence Unit ViewsWire

A string of diplomatic successes for Syria’s government

The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, has been on a diplomatic roll since his triumphant appearance in Paris on Bastille Day. He has had further opportunities to display his statesmanship this month with visits to Iran and Turkey, and a visit by Lebanon’s new president, Michel Suleiman, on August 13th and 14th was crowned with the announcement of a widely applauded agreement to establish diplomatic relations. Next week Mr Assad is off to the Black Sea resort of Sochi for talks with the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, and in early September he is to host the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who only nine months ago declared that he had severed contacts with the Syrian regime.

Give a little…
The main thrust of Mr Assad’s diplomacy has been to convince the West that it has a better chance of achieving the goals of peace, stability and security in the Middle East through engaging with Syria than through trying to put pressure on Syria to break its long-standing alliances with Iran and Hizbullah. Syria’s critics maintain that Mr Assad’s means of getting this message across has entailed combining the role of arsonist and firefighter—creating problems such as the prolonged constitutional crisis in Lebanon and then using its influence to engineer solutions, for which it is happy to claim credit.

Mr Sarkozy, for one, has chosen to overlook past transgressions and to concentrate on positive outcomes—the election of Mr Suleiman; the Damascus agreement on Syrian-Lebanese bilateral relations; the indirect peace talks between Syria and Israel; the Hamas ceasefire in Gaza; improved security in Iraq; and Mr Assad’s agreement to act as a channel of communication to the Iranian leadership. However, the extent of Syria’s actual contribution to achieving these outcomes is open to question, and the suspicion remains that Mr Assad’s objective is to re-establish Syria’s hegemony over Lebanon, albeit in a different form from the past, while bolstering external supports to the Syrian economy through signing the Association Agreement with the EU (which has lain dormant since it was initialled four years ago) and persuading the US to lift its sanctions.

Lebanon limits
The agreement announced at the end of Mr Suleiman’s visit had six points, including the plan for exchanging ambassadors, which is likely to be put into effect relatively quickly. The other points cover border delineation, border security, missing persons (from both sides), review of existing accords, and promotion of trade and other economic ties. The agreement represents a significant concession from Mr Assad, inasmuch as Syria has been reluctant to confer such formal recognition on Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence owing to long-standing grievances over the way in which the two countries were established in their current form after the First World War.

However, Syria was quick to clarify a number of aspects of the agreement, casting some doubt on the extent of Mr Assad’s actual concessions. The Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Muallim, said that the Shebaa Farms, an Israeli-occupied enclave on the western flank of the Golan Heights, would be excluded from the border delineation discussions. After Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, the Lebanese government, with Syria’s rhetorical backing, laid claim to the Shebaa Farms, and Israel’s continued presence there has been used ever since by Hizbullah as justification for maintaining its weapons in the cause of resistance to occupation. The UN has deemed the enclave to be part of Syrian territory occupied by Israel in 1967. Syria has thus far refused to cede the territory formally to Lebanon. To do so would be to undermine Hizbullah’s resistance claim.

Mr Muallim also made a distinction between Syrian and Lebanese citizens who had gone missing during the 29-year period when Syrian troops were deployed in Lebanon and between people who had been convicted of offences. Lebanese human rights groups have recently stepped up their campaign to ascertain the fate of several hundred Lebanese who disappeared after being picked up by Syrian security services. Syria has responded by claiming that many of these people are common criminals, and that up to 700 Syrians are unaccounted for in Lebanon. Mr Muallim also cast doubt on the likelihood of a formal visit to Lebanon by Mr Assad in the near future, noting that certain unspecified conditions would need to be met before this could happen. He also doused speculation that the exchange of ambassadors would result in the disbandment of the joint commission that currently deals with bilateral issues and which was constituted at a time when Syria was in control of Lebanese security affairs.

Noises off
In a reminder of the combustible nature of Lebanese politics, on the morning of Mr Suleiman’s visit to Damascus a powerful explosion was set off in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, killing 15 people, including nine Lebanese soldiers travelling in a bus, which appeared to have been the target of the bomb. The incident followed several weeks of intermittent clashes between rival militias from the Sunni and Alawi communities in the city. Variants of such clashes have occurred at regular intervals in Tripoli over the past 30 years, and have often reflected wider political machinations. The bomb attack could mark a resurgence of activity by the extreme Islamist Fatah al-Islam group that fought a three-month war with the Lebanese army in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp outside Tripoli last year. However, it has also been suggested that the attack may have been intended to draw the Lebanese army into an assault on radical Sunni Islamist groups in Tripoli, which would be likely to exacerbate divisions within the wider Sunni community. The ultimate purpose of such destabilising activity would be to ensure that the Sunni-led anti-Syrian front, which holds the majority of seats in parliament, loses the general election scheduled to take place in mid-2009.

Copyright © 2008 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All rights reserved.

August 18th, 2008, 12:33 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Syria, as a result of its alliance with Hezbulla and Iran, is in a position of slightly more power after 2006 than before vis-à-vis Israel, hence just a little more likely to convince it through talks, whether someone wants to use this argument to “sell Syria’s peace talks” to convince others or not.


I think that you and I agree. My point was made to those who believed that Syria had emerged victorious and was now in a position to force Israel to submit to its terms. This is just not realistic to me. The way you put it is far more acceptable: Syria is in a position of slightly more power, than it occupied before 2006. Actually, I’d go further to say that Syria is in significantly better shape on a number of fronts: diplomatic isolation has largely ended, economic indicators are looking up, the Lebanese situation is far more stable, etc. But this does not mean that Syria has turned the corner. That’s all I was saying.

As for talks vs. resistance, I appreciate your point, I do! I didn’t mean to suggest that those who reject talks are just being difficult. We’re talking about two different visions of the future of the conflict. I prefer the one that Bashar is trying to actualize.

August 18th, 2008, 12:51 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Shai said:

If Syria, for instance, insists on including Iran in some fashion (allowing Iranian support to flow to HA) in an agreement, Israel will reject it outright. Even if a future Israeli PM will not be able to get Syria to leave the “axis of evil”, he/she will have to sell it to the Israeli people in such way as to essentially suggest the same.

Shai, I’m interested in hearing what you think will be Israel’s terms for an agreement, with respect to Iran and Hizbullah.

When pressed to give specifics, the Syrians always respond by saying things like: “We want a just and comprehensive solution based on UNSC resolutions, etc.” But do you think that Sami is right, i.e. that Syrian persuasion will not “go beyond the Golan”?

I mean, even just for the Golan, Israel’s going to demand ending all support for Hizbullah, etc. Syria knows this and is trying to transform Hizbullah’s arsenal into a much more imposing threat, with the strategy that they will be able to get more than just the Golan.

August 18th, 2008, 1:20 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

The Region: Israel’s grand strategy
Aug. 17, 2008

I’ll bet you didn’t know that Israel has a strategy. After all, given politicians’ maneuvering, the difference between what is said in public and private, the partisan sniping and so on, it’s easy to miss the underlying coherence of policy. This is not to suggest that politicians are thinking great ideas and putting them into effect; rather it is the set of interests, threats and opportunities that push people into a coherent structure.

There is no solution; the enemy is not going away, nor will it moderate. The world wants to hear that Israel is seeking peace and doing everything possible, and it will.

Yet the fact that these expectations are wrong is also an essential part of the idea package.

Total military triumph is also not a way to solve the problems, as far as ending them is concerned. Attacks can be deterred, reduced in number and made less effective, but actual peace is beyond reach.

If, however, the threats and their effect can be minimized, life goes on and the country does well. So far this year, unemployment has hit a 20-year low, the economy is doing incredibly well and tourism has hit an all-time high. Morale is high despite contempt for the current prime minister. Things are pretty good.

This does not mean people are naïve, even compared to the levels of hope in the 1990s. Lessons have been learned. So here’s what underlies what’s happening.

ISRAEL IS facing threats on four fronts. In each case, there is an effort under way to neutralize, or rather reduce, those problems.

1. To the north is Hizbullah. The Lebanese radical Islamist group will never accept Israel’s existence. If it thinks such actions are profitable Hizbullah will attack, at least through cross-border raids. The prisoner exchange has not sated its appetite; instead, it has produced more bragging. But it has also contributed to undercutting one of its most compelling means of incitement.

Hizbullah’s main problem, however, is two-fold. Its top priority is securing the bulk of power within Lebanon and at least doing well in next May’s election. Fighting Israel right now is a distraction from that goal. In addition, Hizbullah reduced its popularity in 2006 with just such a war and has not been able to rehouse many of its supporters after two years, despite lavish promises.

Aside from the cost of the attack, Israel’s tactic is to warn Lebanon that now with Hizbullah back in the government, any aggression will result in all of Lebanon being a target. Israel’s deterrence on this front should not be underestimated, and it is likely to remain relatively quiet for a while.

2. To the northeast is Syria, with whom the government is currently negotiating. Virtually no one in the leadership expects an agreement. But aside from domestic politics, the immediate goal is to give Syria an incentive to keep Hizbullah on a leash. The attack on Syria’s nuclear installation, probable involvement in assassinating a high-ranking Hizbullah official allied to Syria and a possible part in killing a Syrian general also signalled Damascus that Israel can hit it hard if necessary.

A key aspect is the humiliating nature of these three incidents. The IAF showed its planes could attack anywhere in Syria. and that a high-ranking terrorist was not safe even in Damascus’s most secure area. That sent a clear message.

So Syria is constrained from attacking directly or indirectly. But there is another element of Israeli policy towards that country that is little understood: the looming confrontation with Iran over nuclear weapons. If Israel some day attacks Iran, it wants to minimize the extent to which Syria or Hizbullah would retaliate. By providing them incentives to remain quiet – reinforced by deterrence power – these two forces are less likely to attack, or would do so at a lower level. A similar pattern exists on the eastern front, with the Palestinian Authority, and southern one, with Hamas.

3. Regarding the PA, Israel wants to see Fatah remain in power: Hamas would be worse, and the PA does do a bit to block terrorism. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni are eager either to reach an agreement in principle with the PA (nowadays called a shelf agreement) or pretend to have done so to claim great success. At the same time, though, there is little illusion about possible peace and no better real alternative than maintaining the status quo.

4. In the short term, the Hamas front is the most potentially volatile. Through the cease-fire, Hamas has been given incentive not to go to all-out war if its patron Iran is attacked. Of course, Hamas frequently violates the cease-fire, either directly or by tolerating attacks – but at a low level. For Israel, the decision posed is what amount of violations (or in the longer run, Hamas military buildup) should trigger an offensive. There are also few illusions about a military attack “ending” the problem or stopping rocket firing completely. Virtually nobody thinks Hamas will make peace or even a long-term, reliable cease-fire. Yet again the status quo is about the best that can be accomplished.

THE EFFORTS on these four fronts will not necessarily diminish the response to a future attack on Iran, but they could and are – for other reasons as well – basically worth trying. This doesn’t mean all politicians would implement this strategy the same way or that the current government’s actions are brilliant – in general terms, the current leadership gives up more than is advisable or necessary – but the gap isn’t huge.

The bottom line is that being prepared to focus on the Iranian front, the relatively good domestic situation, internal politics, the lack of attractive alternatives, the intransigence of opponents, the weakness and doubtful moderation of potential negotiating partners and international passion for the mirage of peace have created a strategy based on a relative consensus across the political spectrum. It looks messy and certainly poses a range of problems, yet is neither terrible nor irrational.

One might apply here in joking terms the anecdote about Winston Churchill being asked what it was like to be 90 years old. “Terrible,” he replied, “but consider the alternatives.”

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal and Turkish Studies.

August 18th, 2008, 1:36 pm


Shai said:


I just read the Jerusalem Post article by Rubin, and I must say that I don’t recall anything I so much disagreed with, as this one. I can barely think of a single sentence I agreed with. The entire analysis was flawed. Nothing there made sense. I’m quite shocked by this “director of research”. What a miserable piece…

As for your questions above, the real question, I believe, is what would Israel’s red lines be vis-a-vis Syria. We can imagine every Israeli PM would love to claim responsibility for having removed Syria from the Axis-of-Evil, but this is quite unrealistic. I believe the most we can demand of Syria (and to which I hope Syria will agree), in return for the Golan, is the following:

1. No more weapons passing hands between Iran and Syria.
2. Not to allow weapons from Iran (or anyone else) to cross into Lebanon or Hezbollah.

That’s it. Israel knows it cannot ask Syria to cut off its diplomatic ties with anyone, be it Iran, HA, or Micronesia. And Syria would never agree to it. You know my own opinion about this – that it is very much in Israel’s best interest, that Syria remain very close to Iran, to HA, and to Hamas. Israel only stands to benefit from that, not the opposite.

As for Sami’s suggestion that Syria will not get more than the Golan and, that in essence, it may indeed be “selling out” the Palestinians, I believe there is much truth to that. First, I find it hard to believe that Syria will put the end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as precondition to accepting the Golan back. If it were possible, they’d take it back tomorrow morning, Palestinians or not. What is true, is that in the agreement, the Palestinian issue will receive great attention, and a perception will be created, that real peace between the countries will occur only if the Palestinian issue is resolved. The only part that will be true, is the real peace between the people of the two nations, not between the nations, their leaderships, or the governments. An Israeli flag will fly atop an embassy in Damascus, and vice-versa in Tel-Aviv, before the Palestinians and Israelis have resolved all their differences. I hope not long afterwards, Syria will help broker talks between Israel and Hamas/Fatah, and will help us end the conflict. But it will not place any preconditions, I believe.

Your last sentence was “… with the strategy that they will be able to get more than just the Golan.” I’m not sure what you mean. What else will Syria demand, aside from the Golan?

August 18th, 2008, 5:27 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


Thanks for your response.

What you’re basically saying is that Sami’s fears are going to be realized. 🙂

In other words, in order to get the Golan back Syria is going to have to “sell out” the Palestinians in the short term, with the hopes that they will be able to broker a deal in the long term. So, there will be a “cold peace” until a warmer one can be brought about through that much-discussed but ever elusive “comprehensive solution”…

This begs the question: what is going to make it different this time around? Hasn’t this been tried before? And haven’t we regularly heard from Syria and its allies that Egypt and Jordan’s peace deals sold out the Palestinians and the Arab cause with no net benefit? If the Egyptian/Jordanian model is NOT the operative one for the current talks, then what is?

I think we had a version of this discussion recently… I can’t quite remember.

August 18th, 2008, 6:39 pm


Shai said:


Three different Arab nations (Egypt, Jordan, Syria) have already proven they are perfectly willing to discuss, and close a deal with Israel, without a “comprehensive solution”. If you consider other Arab nations that were perfectly willing to have certain relations with Israel, that list is even greater (including Morocco, Qatar, UAE, etc.)

This term, “comprehensive solution”, is used to make everyone around happy. To make the Arabs on the street feel that their leaders aren’t selling the Palestinians away. Because if they ARE selling them away, then what have the past 60 years of wars and struggle been about, right? But in reality, I sincerely believe that Bashar Assad is far more interested in the Golan than in Nablus or Ramallah. He wants the Palestinians to have a state of course, and he wants to see a just solution to the refugee problem, there’s no doubt about that. But he’s not going to wait for that to happen first. He also knows that he can’t really place preconditions that relate to the Palestinians, before receiving his own Golan back. That’s called wishful thinking, for those who think this will happen.

Having said that, I don’t believe the Palestinians will be “sold out”, like perhaps they were with Egypt and Jordan. The difference will come in what Syria will do once the agreement is signed. What Syria can demand (and I hope it does), is to be able to participate in helping bring the parties together. I cannot think of a better key player than Syria, for this role. But there will not be a comprehensive peace solution, in the sense of a large round table, all the parties sitting around, coming to a comprehensive agreement, which is signed by all. That may take place, symbolically, with the Arab league and Israel, once we make peace with Syria, and then with the Palestinians. The 3 Yes’s of Beirut, Riyadh, and Damascus, will be met, but not in one shot.

I fully understand the skepticism, and outright fear, that many Arabs (and particularly Palestinians) feel about such a scenario. They still suspect Israel’s intentions to “divide-and-conquer”, to make peace with Syria so as to further legitimize their hold on territory and their Occupation in Palestine. They believe this is what happened with Egypt and Jordan. But we must be realistic. While Fatah and Hamas can barely speak to each other, except through bullets, what do the Palestinians expect, that the whole Arab world will wait for them? That suddenly Israel will “see the light” (even if that light is the oncoming Hezbollah rocket…)? That Israel will pack up tomorrow morning, end the Occupation, and leave a big fat check on the table as it leaves? That it will find a just solution to the refugees, without first coming to agreement with Hamas? None of this can happen, until we at least start talking, and especially with Hamas. This is my opinion, and I do apologize for the “harsh” language. I’m trying to be pragmatic, and not dream of something that just isn’t going to happen that way.

Syria has a right to the Golan regardless of whether the Palestinian have achieved their legitimate rights. And therefore, it should receive back this territory as soon as possible. Israel, on the other hand, will not hand the Golan back, just because it’s the right thing to do. It’ll do so, if it gets something back, namely peace with Syria. And personally I believe we won’t move forward a single inch, without having a serious broker involved. Egypt could have, in theory, played that role. It proved that it can’t. As someone mentioned earlier (can’t recall who), if Mubarak can only go as far as suggesting “he’s sent the invitations to both parties, and is now waiting…”, then what can we expect? Syria is the only party that can be trusted by all sides (Fatah, Hamas, and Israel). It therefore must help us talk to each other, and solve our differences. That will happen the minute Israel and Syria sign an agreement. Most Israelis will not opt to “further legitimize their occupation”. They want peace. In fact, while most Israelis right now are not ready to give back the Golan, most ARE ready to give back most of the West Bank, realizing that Palestine must be created. Israel will be more than ready to have Syria help on this realm. But it can’t happen in parallel (since there’s no trust yet), it needs to happen in line. And it will.

August 19th, 2008, 3:56 am


Qifa Nabki said:


Good response. I’m saving the URL of your comment to refer people to it whenever there is talk of comprehensive solutions.


August 19th, 2008, 10:34 am


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