News Round Up (17 July 2009)

Qifa Nabki writes: This is how I think Saad is going to move, within the next couple of weeks, provided Hizbullah (and Syria) sign off.

Saudis Step Up Efforts to Repair Syria Ties

Saudi Arabia is accelerating its effort to lure Syria from Iranian influence, Saudi officials said, a move they hope will improve chances for a renewed peace initiative in the region.

Saudi Arabia, the Middle East’s largest economy and the world’s biggest oil exporter, is offering economic incentives to Syria, including the promise of increased investment in Syria’s moribund economy. It has also moved aggressively to repair the nations’ strained diplomatic ties.

Saudi King Abdullah and Syrian President Bashar Assad
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Saudi King Abdullah, right, welcomes Syrian President Bashar Assad on a visit to Riyadh in March. Saudi Arabia has been working to repair strained diplomatic ties with Damascus.

Riyadh’s efforts come alongside a more public push by the Obama administration to improve U.S. ties with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

A detente could have significant repercussions for the region. Washington is hoping to engage Syria in a new round of peace talks with Israel. Both the Obama administration and its Arab allies want to diminish the influence Iran-backed groups Hezbollah and Hamas have over regional affairs. Syria wields influence over these militant organizations, classified by Washington as terrorist groups.

Syria’s relationship with Iran, which dates back to the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, has always involved a measure of convenience and pragmatism. Mr. Assad’s father, former President Hafez Assad, broke from fellow Arab leaders and supported Tehran in that war because of his vehement opposition to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.

Saudi-Syrian ties soured after the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a close Saudi ally. Many inside and outside Lebanon blamed Syria, but Damascus has denied any complicity.

Just over a year ago, relations between the two were so strained that Saudi King Abdullah al Saud boycotted an Arab League summit in Damascus. Earlier this month, however, the king named a new ambassador to Syria, after a yearlong absence. Saudi diplomats say King Abdullah is also considering a bilateral summit this summer in Damascus with Mr. Assad.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has accused Syria of meddling in Iraq and in Lebanese affairs after Damascus ended its long occupation of the country, shortly after the Hariri assassination. The U.S. has slapped tough economic sanctions on Syria.

But by late last year, Mr. Assad appeared to have orchestrated a diplomatic makeover. Western powers applauded him for helping to broker a peace deal between political parties in Lebanon in 2008. Then, Mr. Assad agreed to indirect peace talks with Israel — though those talks broke down early this year after Israel’s assault on Gaza.

Late last year, Saudi Arabia began shuttle diplomacy that has included visits between intelligence chiefs and top decision makers in both Riyadh and Damascus.

“We are reminding [the Syrians] of the natural links that we share,” said a Saudi royal adviser. “We have presented a way for them to get out of the hole that they have dug for themselves” with their alliance with Iran, the adviser said.

During the oil boom of the past few years, cash-flush Gulf states like Saudi Arabia showered Syria, whose own oil output has dwindled, and other poorer Arab neighbors with investments.

In 2006, Saudi Arabian businesses were the largest foreign investors in Syria, injecting €645 million, or about $910 million, according to European Union statistics. But as relations soured, investment dropped. In 2007, Saudi investment in Syria was just €10 million.

Government statistics are difficult to come by, but anecdotal evidence suggests investment is headed back up again. A Saudi construction firm this month announced the opening of a $110 million industrial park in Syria. Saudi tourists are filling Damascus cafes and hotels, giving a needed boost to the country’s services and real-estate sectors.

The biggest potential beneficiary of the warmer ties is Lebanon, which has long served as a proxy battleground for bigger regional powers. Last month, a coalition of Western-leaning politicians, backed by Saudi Arabia, beat back an opposition slate led by Hezbollah and backed by Iran and Syria, in parliamentary elections.

Lebanese Prime Minister-elect Saad Hariri, from the Saudi-backed front, sat down Wednesday with parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri, a leader seen as close to Syria. At the end of their meeting in Beirut, Mr. Berri declared that a Lebanese government should be formed by the end of the month, the clearest sign yet that political patrons in Riyadh and Damascus are getting along.

The Saudi royal adviser said the planned bilateral meeting between King Abdullah and Mr. Assad will seek to cement the two leaders’ cooperation in forming the Lebanese government.
—Julien Barnes-Dacey and Nada Raad contributed to this article.

According to Levant News, Syria and Israel will carry out unofficial talks in Greece next week.

مباحثات سورية إسرائيلية في أثينا برعاية يونانية
وأمريكية الأسبوع القادم

يعقد مسؤولون سوريون وباحثون مقربون من الحكومة السورية؛ مباحثات “غير رسمية” مع إسرائيليين، وذلك خلال مؤتمر ينعقد في اليونان الأسبوع القادم.

Feltman: U.S. Ties with Syria Promising…but Face Problems, Particularly over Hizbullah

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said relations with Syria are getting out of the “deep freeze” that has prevailed since the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a massive Beirut bombing.

“The current relationship with Syria is promising, yet it faces problems. It is promising on the one hand because there are a lot of areas where the U.S. and Syria can work together in order to achieve objectives of common interests,” Feltman said in an interview with pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, published on Thursday.

“However, some of the key issues that have contributed to the freezing of relations continue to pose problems,” Feltman explained. “We simply do not agree with Syria on the nature of Hizbullah, be it (Hizbullah) a positive or a negative impact on the security of the region.”

He said that while Syria defends Hizbullah, Washington still considers the Shiite party a terrorist organization.

“This is a very serious matter. We have different views on this issue,” Feltman added.

2009-07-16 11:40:
Lebanese Druze leader calls for opening new page with Syria49.758 GMT

BEIRUT, Jul 16, 2009 (Xinhua via COMTEX) — Lebanese Druze majority leader Walid Joumblat said that the political and geographical fate of Lebanon lies in the hands of Syria, his remarks were published in an interview with local daily Nahar Al-Shabab annex Thursday.

In a significant turn around of his previous political stands, Joumblat called for opening a new page with Syria, hinting to the possibility of visiting Damascus soon.

“The Syrian army withdrew from Lebanon ending 30 years of military presence, so why do we always have to refer to the past,” Joumblat said.

Jumblatt warns of Israeli ‘extremism’ after surprise meeting with Nasrallah
Daily Star, Saturday, June 20, 2009

Jumblatt warns of Israeli ‘extremism’ after surprise meeting with Nasrallah

BEIRUT: A surprise reconciliation between the leaders of Hizbullah and the Progressive Socialist Party was followed on Friday by Walid Jumblatt’s re-directing his rhetoric south, to Palestine, and warning of the “absolute extremism” of the Israeli government. “I call on all of our people in Palestine to reject sectarian and non-sectarian violence and cling to their Arabism and Palestinian national project, to confront Zionist projects that promise to be more dangerous and fiercer in the coming phase,” Jumblatt said in a statement.

The PSP leader said the Israeli government had no interest in a peace settlement and “insisted on absolute extremism” in its current policies.

Jumblatt, or the burden of reinvention
Michael Young, Thursday, July 16, 2009

When Walid Jumblatt visited Hassan Nasrallah recently in a catacomb of Beirut’s southern suburbs, he took with him two books, Tariq Ali’s “The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power” and Ahmed Rashid’s “Descent into Chaos,” about America’s failure at nation-building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central

Jewish Leaders Give Obama No Push-Back on Settlement Freeze
By Nathan Guttman, Forward

As Jewish leaders left their July 13 meeting with President Obama, it was clear that despite some misgivings, the bulk of the organized Jewish community is in full support of his peace efforts, including his policy on settlements…..

Commentary: Syria receptive to U.S. advances
By Mohamed H. Hamdan | The Institute for War & Peace Reporting

DAMASCUS, Syria — Syrian analysts and officials are applauding Washington’s decision to send an ambassador to Damascus after a four-year absence.

The move, these observers say, reflects awareness by the new American administration of the important role Syria plays in bringing peace and stability to the Middle East.

Washington withdrew Ambassador Margaret Scobey from Damascus in February 2005 to express its “profound outrage” over the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria was widely believed to be behind the killing.

The U.S. embassy has remained open since then, but headed by a charge d’affaires. Syria retained its envoy in Washington during the period.

Observers view the Obama administration’s decision to return an ambassador to Damascus as a reward for Syria’s improved attitude in the region, including the exchange of diplomatic representation with Lebanon and boosting security along its border with Iraq.

The move also comes as the government in Iran, Syria’s strongest strategic ally, is undergoing political turmoil in the wake of its disputed presidential election.

One Damascus-based political analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern for his security, said Washington sees an opportunity to weaken ties between Damascus and Tehran.

This analyst also said that the United States has tried to persuade its allies in the region, mainly Saudi Arabia, to reconcile with the Syrians in order to further isolate Tehran.

There were already signs of divergence between Iran and Syria on some regional issues.

But this analyst cautioned that “the price of breaking their alliance with Iran would be very costly” for Syrians.

“What the U.S. has offered to the Syrians is not enough to take that risk,” he said.

To sever its ties with Iran, this analyst said, Damascus would insist on the full commitment of the United States to the peace process with the Israelis and eventually the return of the Golan Heights.

George Hajouj, a Damascus-based political analyst, said he believed that Damascus had a clear vision of what role the United States should play after the appointment of the new ambassador.

Damascus wants Washington to pave the way for a settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict based on the “land-for peace” principle whereby Israel would relinquish occupied territory in exchange for a peace agreement with Palestinians.

The ‘Could’ with the Likkud (and others in Israel) is an exercise in futility. PULSE, Julian Brody

“…. By distancing itself from Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah and strengthening its relationship with the United States, Syria could increase its regional influence.

….By strengthening its relationship with the United States and Europe through an Israeli-Syrian peace deal, Syria could continue to refinance its heavy foreign debt and attract foreign investment to spur economic growth.

Prime Minister Netanyahu could also benefit from an Israeli-Syrian treaty. Such a deal would demonstrate his commitment to the peace process and improve his relationship with President Obama. However, Prime Minister Netanyahu will face strong opposition to a Golan withdrawal. According to Hof, polls consistently show that 70 percent of Israelis are unwilling to give up the Golan …

Since Israel relies on the Sea of Galilee as its primary natural reservoir to serve its dense population centers, Hof’s proposal avoids giving Syria the ability to increase its population density in the Golan Heights and possibly jeopardize Israel’s water supply. Instead, the proposal strives to “minimize the Syrian impact on waters vital to Israel’s economy, facilitate Israeli civilian access to the full circumference of the Sea, and carve out an area where Syrian-Israeli people-to-people contacts might easily and informally take place.” …..In essence “Syria gets the land and regulated access to the water, and Israel gets the water and regulated access to the land.” Bi-national access to the preserve will further increase Israeli-Syrian civilian contact and contribute to the development of a “warm peace.”

Though Hof offers a practical and feasible solution, he neglects a major source of contention within the Israeli-Syrian relationship: terrorist sponsorship. It is unlikely that Israel will reach an agreement if Syria does not promise to renounce its ties with Hezbollah and Hamas.

Hof contends that Syrian renunciation of terror is a consequence, not a stipulation of the treaty, since “Syria would be unable to uphold its end of normal peaceful relations.” …”

Syria’s National Museum makes it into this list of the top ten museums in the world.

Treasure trove: Roman, Byzantine and Arab Islamic collections sit side by side in the museum

Treasure trove: Roman, Byzantine and Arab Islamic collections sit side by side in the museum

For the sheer volume of artifacts displayed, Syria’s national museum deserves a place in the top ten. Located in the oldest continually inhabited city in the world the museum certainly equals its surroundings with its two wings hosting Arab Islamic, Classical and Byzantine collections. Many of the most important finds from excavations throughout Syria are on display here and the collection begins even before you enter. The facade of the building incorporates the transplanted gateway of Qasr al-Heir al Gharbi, a desert castle near Palmyra. Visitors can see clay tablets of the oldest alphabet in the world, the Ugaritic Alphabet and ivory, bronze and marble classical statues found at the many archeological sites throughout the country.

Star attraction

By far the most popular part of the museum is the reconstructed 2nd-century AD Synagogue, with walls that are covered with Talmudic laws and scenes from the scriptures.

Entrance fee?

According to the Syrian Embassy, entrance to the museum is free.

Comments (41)

norman said:

This is a jock,

“We are reminding [the Syrians] of the natural links that we share,” said a Saudi royal adviser. “We have presented a way for them to get out of the hole that they have dug for themselves” with their alliance with Iran, the adviser said.

It Is Syria that is bringing KSA back to the Arab fold and away from the Israeli western connection ,

July 17th, 2009, 11:47 am


norman said:

KSA is trying to lure Syria into submission, they keep trying , Syria should always remember who stood by Syria in the time of need and assault on the safety of the Syrians and the Palestinians and the Lebanese people.from Israel and the West,

The summit that never was
The Syrians are hoping for an end to their four years of estrangement from the Saudis, Bassel Oudat reports from Damascus


Unconfirmed reports published in Syria and Lebanon spoke of a possible visit to Syria by Saudi King Abdullah, perhaps for a mini-summit with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, one that Saad Al-Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister-designate, may attend. As it turned out, neither Syria nor Saudi Arabia confirmed the reports, and the Saudi monarch has yet to show up in Damascus.

Syrian presidential adviser Bothayna Suleiman said that no date has been decided for such a visit, adding that the Saudi king is welcome in Syria at any time. She noted that Syrian-Saudi relations are “relations between two brotherly countries, related to all Arab concerns, and cannot be confined to the Lebanese dossier alone.” She further stated that there is no “Lebanese complex” impeding relations between the two countries.

According to Syrian sources, Saudi Arabia has named a new ambassador to Damascus, following 16 months in which the post remained vacant. The new ambassador is Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz Al-Ayfan, a man known to be close to King Abdullah.

Saudi Arabia withdrew its last ambassador to Damascus, Ahmed Al-Qahtani, in March 2008. It named him envoy to Qatar in a move many saw as the start of a possible long- term diplomatic estrangement.

Differences between the two countries erupted in 2005, following the assassination of prime minister Rafik Al-Hariri, a close ally and friend of the Saudis. The Saudis blamed Syria implicitly for the killing, and it was said at the time that King Abdullah told Al-Assad to withdraw Syrian forces from Lebanon immediately and stop interfering in Lebanese internal affairs.

Tensions worsened following Israel’s war on Lebanon in 2006, when Hizbullah, Syria’s ally, was blamed for triggering the fighting. Al-Assad’s description of Hizbullah’s detractors as “half-men” upset the Saudis, who were also critical of Hamas, another friend of Syria, for provoking the recent war in Gaza.

Syrian-Saudi differences cast a shadow over the region. At one point, the Saudis were said to have asked some Arab countries to stay away from the Damascus summit of March 2007.

Syrian semi-official media became particularly critical of Saudi Arabia, breaking with the reconciliatory tone they maintained for four decades under late President Hafez Al-Assad. Despite his numerous differences with the Saudis, the late president never involved the media in the dispute.

Syrian-Saudi reconciliation efforts began in earnest last January, with Qatar, Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia meeting on the sidelines of the economic summit in Kuwait. That was followed by a meeting in Riyadh in March between Saudi King Abdullah, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, Kuwaiti Emir Jabir Al-Sabbah, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

In February, Saudi Chief of Intelligence Prince Moqren bin Abdel-Aziz visited Syria, bringing a verbal message from the Saudi King. The visit was a surprise to observers who failed to see the strategic and long-term implications of the four-way reconciliation session in Kuwait. A week later, the Syrian foreign minister took a message back from Al-Assad to King Abdullah.

Nothing has been disclosed about the content of the exchanges apart from the usual statement that the two leaders were exchanging views over “developments in the region and the need for Arab solidarity in the face of challenges.” It is a stock phrase that the Syrian media uses whenever President Al-Assad receives Arab officials. News about the Syrian president is usually written by his press officers and appears in the media without change.

Early this month, Prince Abdel-Aziz bin Abdullah, a personal envoy of the Saudi king, and Saudi Culture Minister Abdel-Aziz Khoja visited Damascus. Prince Abdel-Aziz was the highest level official from the Saudi royal family to visit Syria in years. Syria didn’t disclose the aim of the visit, but there has been speculation that the prince was preparing for a summit between the Saudi and Syrian leaders in Damascus.

Although the summit never came to pass, an official Syrian source told me that “apart from the conflict between the two countries in recent years, which has taken on a personal dimension involving the two leaders, the relations between Saudi Arabia and Syria need to be urgently improved for the sake of the region and its future.”

Fayez Ezzeddin, a leading figure in Syria’s ruling Baath Party, said that “Syria is maintaining an open door policy towards Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, and the Saudis can use this to build strong ties with the Syrians.” He added that the Syrians are acting out of the belief that the two countries share similar concerns and a common future, and that the regional situation now calls for the cooperation of all Arabs. Recently, he said, Saudi Arabia has reviewed its policy towards Syria and realised that “quarrelling was useless and that it was wrong to turn its back on Syria.”

It has been said that tensions eased between Syria and Saudi Arabia because the Lebanese cabinet was formed according to Saudi terms. Damascus denies that its relations with Saudi Arabia hinge on events in Lebanon.

“We do not interfere in the formation of the future Lebanese government, this is all up to the domestic dialogue in Lebanon,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallim said. He added that Syrian-Saudi consultations are continuing. “We’re talking, and not through third parties, and continue to do so,” Al-Muallim pointed out.

Many, however, suspect that the Syrian-Saudi rapprochement is little more than lip service. The two countries are exchanging views, but these views are still far apart. More time is apparently needed for reconciliation to take root.

Syria and Saudi Arabia are not in disagreement about Lebanon alone. Syria’s ties with Iran and Palestinian groups, as well as the progress of peace talks with Israel and the situation in Iraq are all matters of dispute.

For now, however, it seems that Syrian-Saudi tensions are being defused. The two countries acknowledge their differences, but go on talking. And few would be surprised if President Al-Assad and King Abdullah were to meet face to face before the summer is over.

July 17th, 2009, 11:57 am


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

When I read the Zionism-bashing remarks by Jumblatt, I have no anger
in my heart. Just a feeling of sorrow, sadness and sympathy to him.

He has no choice. He realized that in May 2008, when he found
himself, and his community in a reality, that only the Druse
were resisting the ‘resistance’. All the rest deserted him.

If in his shoes, I would do just the same.
This is not particularly courageous, but it is wise.

July 17th, 2009, 1:21 pm


Syrian Diaspora said:

Amir in Tel Aviv, when did Jumblatt ever not participate in Zionist-bashing?

Jumblatt in 2003: “The oil axis is present in most of the U.S. administration, beginning with its president, vice-president and top advisers, including (Condoleezza) Rice, who is oil-colored, while the axis of Jews is present with Paul Wolfowitz, the leading hawk who is inciting (America) to occupy and destroy Iraq,’ he continued.”

“I would have liked to have felt sorry for the space shuttle that was destroyed (Saturday) but my joy was great because one of those killed was an Israeli astronaut [or a Jewish astronaut, there is no difference][2] who had previously been part of the Jewish criminal army, particularly against Lebanon and Iraq,’ Jumblatt said, referring to Israeli Colonel Ilan Ramon, who participated in the mission that bombed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981.””

July 17th, 2009, 1:40 pm


jad said:

Dear Norman,
I agree with you, what a bad joke!!!!!
The Saudi’s politicians know very well that they can’t do anything without Syria yet they keep coming with such meaningless comments and lies.
Bunch of losers!

What do you think of the two faces Jumblat, he is such a freak, I don’t know how could he face his supporter when he will visit Damascus and surrender after 4 years of daily personal attacks against the President? or how is Our president going to meet with him? I can’t wait to see how that will look like.
They are preparing Jumblat apt in Damascus now for the visit!
Lebanese Soapopera!

July 17th, 2009, 3:51 pm


jad said:

Did anybody notice that the barbarian ‘Honor crimes’ are increasing after the decree? Every day I read about couple of victims, it seems that the full of ‘honor’ Syrian men are in a race of killing their sisters, wives and mothers in the name of ‘honor’ those men actually don’t have, before the implementing of the new disappointing law to get in place so they can get away with their horrible crimes.
The worst and what makes me disgusted and really really sick is reading the comments after every crime they put in the local media…some are calling for the women to be stoned or slaughter or something sick as those who wrote the comments, shee be2rref!

July 17th, 2009, 4:20 pm


Alex said:

The Athens conference is periodic but never publicized. Syrians attend it often. It does not necessarily imply “peace talks”.

July 17th, 2009, 6:29 pm


jad said:

Dear Alex,
It seems that this is the main outcome of Athens’ meeting:
في خطوة مفاجئة : سوريا لا تمانع من لقاء الاكاديميين بنظرائهم الإسرائيليين ؟

July 17th, 2009, 7:10 pm


Nur al-Cubicle said:

Why does Feltman have Mitchell’s job, and Mitchell Feltman’s job?

July 17th, 2009, 7:36 pm


t_desco said:

“She reiterated that the prosecution was not seeking to speak further with Mohammad Zuhair Siddiq, the former Syrian intelligence officer who alleged that Syrian President Bashar Assad and his then-Lebanese counterpart Emile Lahoud ordered Hariri’s killing.

Siddiq was initially treated as a witness by the tribunal but became a suspect after his testimonies were discredited.

“The evidence he provided is not acceptable and we are not interested in him,” said Ashouri.”
The Daily Star


Would it not be interesting to find out who was trying to manipulate the investigation?

And what about the other fake witnesses? Have all been released?

July 17th, 2009, 9:16 pm


Innocent Criminal said:

Michael Young’s article on Jumblatt is excellent. But it continues to paint this image that Jumblatt has no choice but to switch side to keep himself and his community from becoming irrelevant.

I think there is a third option, avoiding the extremes and playing a constructive role to bridge differences. And when that is not an option there is always laying low for a while until opportunities present themselves. I dont know, but I really doubt his father would have acted the same way if he was around today.

July 17th, 2009, 9:27 pm


norman said:

hi jad,

Jumblatt is Machiavellian , the end justify the means and he is willing to change his clothes and even wear nothing to get by and be forgiven , and knowing Syria , they tend to forgive and forget there,

About the honour killing , The only way to stop that is separate the deeds of the individual from the name of the family and to shame the deed as cowardly as it really is , harsh punishment will help too and some abuse in prison might help.

Jad ,

About the Syrians meeting teh Israelis in Athens , I agree with Alex, we should not expect too much from that , after all we meet our Israeli freinds here every day and nothing comes out of it.

July 18th, 2009, 1:39 am


norman said:

Welcome to the Middle East, 2030
If Barack Obama can negotiate a Middle East peace settlement, what might the region look like over the next 20 years?

Paul Eedle, Wednesday 15 July 2009 12.00 BST Article historyWhat if Barack Obama can make peace between the Arabs and Israel? It’s easy to see how he might fail. But what if he succeeds and really does create a “new beginning between the United States and Muslims”? Here is a first draft of history for the next 20 years. The events are fantasy, of course, but the logic is based on four big trends:

First, Islam will slowly work out what it is for instead of simply what it is against. It will stop being used as an anti-western ideology but will remain a destabilising force, mobilising people against tyranny and corruption. Second, Arab nationalism will finally be buried after decades of failure, and non-Arab identities will re-emerge. Arabism powered the struggle for independence from colonialism and then the fight against Israel, until political Islam overtook it in the 1980s. But it suppressed the real religious, ethnic and cultural diversity of the Middle East. As Arabism declines, urban elites will become more cosmopolitan but local and minority identities will sharpen, some to the point of violence.

Third, democracy will advance but only slowly and patchily. Without an Arab-Israeli conflict, autocrats will find it tougher to justify represssion by citing national security. Rulers in countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Algeria will no longer be able to assume US support. However, oil revenues will free many governments from any need to consult their citizens. No taxation, no need for representation. Intelligence services and armed forces will shore up rulers so they themselves can continue to enjoy power and wealth.

Last, Middle Eastern economies will boom. Three of the potentially most dynamic economies in the region have been crippled by war and/or political sanctions: Israel, Iraq and Iran. All three have a skilled, entrepreneurial middle class, and Iraq and Iran have oil. Stability and open borders will make possible waves of investment in infrastructure, property and services. Growth will be dragged down, though, by corruption, cronyism, and a chronic shortage of water made worse by climate change. Rising prosperity will barely keep up with rapid population growth and the chasm between rich and poor will not narrow.

So imagine the unimaginable, Barack Obama at a ceremony on the White House lawn signing a comprehensive Middle East peace agreement. It’s still only January 2010. This could be the future:

2010: Marwan Barghouti, jailed by Israel in 2002 for leading the second intifada, is elected the first president of an independent Palestine. The Israeli prime minister Tzipi Livni announces that Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich will fund reconstruction of the oil export pipeline from Kirkuk in northern Iraq to Haifa, closed since 1948.

2011: Property prices in the West Bank triple in a year as former Palestinian refugees buy or build houses with payouts of $100,000 per family from the new Palestine Refugee Compensation Fund.

2012: Kurds vote to secede from Iraq and establish an independent state. Kurdish peshmerga forces seize the disputed city of Kirkuk, centre of Iraq’s northern oilfields. But Israel joins Turkey and Syria in blocking Kurdish oil exports through pipelines to the Mediterranean coast and after three months, Kurdish resistance crumbles. A peace agreement gives the Kurds control of Kirkuk, but keeps Kurdistan as a semi-autonomous region within a federal Iraq.

2013: Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Iraq establish the Middle East Water Community (MEWC). Its first project is a giant pipeline network to carry water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in southern Turkey to Israel, Palestine and Jordan.

2015: Revolution in Egypt. President Gamal Mubarak (son of the late Hosni) escapes by private jet to Jeddah after three weeks of million-strong pro-democracy demonstrations paralyse Cairo. An emergency committee led by the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood announces that presidential and parliamentary elections will be held within three months.

2018: Zahra Rahnavard is elected Iran’s first woman president, succeeding her husband Mir-Hossein Moussavi. The slogans “Death to America, Death to Israel” are banned from Friday prayers. The other original revolutionary chants, “Death to the Shah” and “Death to the Soviet Union”, have long since come true.

2020: The Gulf Co-operation Council (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman) merges with the Middle East Water Community to form the MEC, the Middle East Community, a free trade area in which citizens of any member state may live, work and buy property in any other member state. Egypt, Sudan and Yemen immediately join the new grouping. The Arab League is dissolved and its 1950s headquarters in Cairo leased to Arab Disney as the hub of a new entertainment complex.

2022: After closely-fought referendums, voters in the 16 MEC countries agree to admit Iran. Saudi Arabia’s vast solar power arrays in the desert will now be linked with Iran’s five nuclear power stations in a grid which will halve electricity prices across the Community. Cartoonists mock the MEC’s grandiose new solar-powered parliament building in Baghdad as a modern Tower of Babel, where every document and debate now have to be translated into Arabic, Hebrew, Kurdish, Turkish, Farsi and Aramaic at great expense. In practice, most Community business is done in English.

2026: Crude oil production in the Middle East falls below 20m barrels a day for the first time this century as climate change policies across the world cut fossil fuel demand and reserves in smaller producers run out. The total labour force, though, in MEC countries has doubled since the turn of the century to 200 million, 60 million of whom are unemployed – 7.5m of those in Saudi Arabia alone. Former US President Barack Obama accepts an honorary doctorate in law from the University of Tehran. A woman driving a car is arrested in Riyadh.

2030: Osama bin Laden dies in North Korea. Al-Jazeera reports the news half way down its evening bulletin, below items on the evacuation of yet another Nile Delta town after the collapse of shoddily-built defences against the rising level of the Mediterranean and the award of the 2034 World Cup to Jerusalem.

July 18th, 2009, 2:28 am


Shai said:


That’s a great article! What he called MEC, I call UME. You see, I’m not the only “dreamer”… 🙂

As for your comment about the Athens meeting “… after all we meet our Israeli freinds here every day and nothing comes out of it.”, I beg to differ. I’m learning tremendously from comments and discussions on SC. And I imagine so do other Israelis, whether active or passive participants.

July 18th, 2009, 5:30 am


Chris said:


Thanks for bringing to our attention that Syria’s national museum has made it to a list of the top ten museums of the world. This reminds me of another list that Syria made it to recently.

I want to Congratulate the Baathist/Alawi/Assad monarchy of Syria. It made it on to Foreign Policy magazine’s list of the least free places in the world. Foreign Policy magazine took Freedom House’s least free places and compiled a little summary of their current situation. You can view it here:

My heart goes out to those living under the iron grip of the Alawi regime.

July 18th, 2009, 5:47 pm


Shai said:

Yossi linked this article on our blog. I found it very interesting.

By Crown Prince of Bahrain:

July 18th, 2009, 6:54 pm


Shai said:


As one of the resident so-called “Western commentators” here, don’t you think your role would be better served by contributing ideas on the way out of our Middle Eastern “mud”, rather than exhaustively holding up mirrors and ensuring people don’t forget or dismiss reality as you see it?

You’ve got a wonderful opportunity to think creatively with people here, who are obviously intelligent, educated, open and willing enough to discuss things with you. And yet, you almost seem intent on ruining it all. Does it really bother you THAT much, that you don’t hear anti-Ba’ath chants echoing in the halls of SC? Do you doubt there’s anyone here who’s AGAINST freedom in Syria, or anywhere else?

I’ve come to realize long ago that mirror-holding exercises more often than not produce the opposite results than the ones we hope for.

July 18th, 2009, 7:10 pm


Chris said:


I think the political system and repression of Syria are certainly pertinent to a discussion on a blog about Syrian politics. I’m sure there are people on this blog who are supportive of the current regime.

July 18th, 2009, 7:54 pm


Alex said:


Why are you wasting your time here in the comments section? go do your favorite activity in the top left corner of this blog. Eight times was not enough… after all you are helping democracy and freedom every additional time you vote against Syria.

By the way, thank you for your sincere feelings. I know there is nothing you would love to see more than happiness in Syria. But Syria is much happier a place than you would like to see:

Check page 61

“Freedom House” is located in your successfully brainwashed Washington DC … until they pay equal attention to the endless criminal actions of the state of Israel, their freedom lists belong here.

You are such a genuinely caring enemy… wow I can almost cry.

July 18th, 2009, 8:20 pm


nafdik said:

I find Chris FP article very interesting and I am surprised that the news that Syria is cited as top oppressed country did not make it to the front page of SC.

Shai, as a Syrian I am interested in people who contribute their real opinion in a straight fashion; rather than having a bunch of patronizing anthropolgists who are delighted that there is a dozen Syrians who have a computer, and “are obviously intelligent, educated, open and willing enough to discuss things”.

As for your last question “Do you doubt there’s anyone here who’s AGAINST freedom in Syria, or anywhere else?”

Anybody who is accepting of the Syrian dictatorship or any other dictatorship is AGAINST freedom.

July 18th, 2009, 11:12 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:


Syrians are Happy? Look how euphoric are Saudis (No. 13) and Egyptians (No. 12).

Compeering to the Saudis, the Syrian are relatively, really miserable.

Now, Chris has nothing against the Syrians. In fact, I suspect that
his presence here on SC suggests that he’s interested with Syria and
Syrians in a good way; he wishes them well.

Not so with the dictator (please, say “dikta-tur” with Farsi accent!)

Or with the Syrian national budget finance of this:

(with $2,601 GDP per capita).

July 19th, 2009, 2:07 am


norman said:

This proves that only force will get the Golan back,

Share |

Zvi Bar’el / Israel doesn’t want to make peace with Syria

By Zvi Bar’el

Tags: Israel News, peace

After nine years of rule, Syrian President Bashar Assad can note with satisfaction that his situation has never been better. Damascus has become the main stop for senior American and European government officials. Lebanon, even without the presence of the Syrian army, is under strong Syrian influence and will form a government when Syria wants it to. Saudi Arabia has renewed its warm relationship with Syria after four years of stagnation, and internal Palestinian reconciliation depends quite a bit on Damascus.

Assad can chalk up another “achievement”: In Israel there is no partner for peace. Assad is managing to persuade others that he is not the “unripe” leader for peace – Jerusalem is in refusal mode. This time it’s not just a question of a stubborn Israeli prime minister, but an entire flock of legal jugglers who know very well how to foil diplomatic moves.

Until U.S. President Barack Obama came on the scene, Israel could depend on the theory of Syrian isolation to protect it from having to consider withdrawing from the Golan Heights. According to this theory, if Syria wants relations with “the world,” that is, with America, it must sever ties with Iran, expel the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaderships, and neutralize Hezbollah’s militia. Only then would Israel consider negotiating with it. The slight deviation during Ehud Olmert’s term in office, in which indirect talks were held with Syria through Turkey, went out with a whimper. Now, with the crash of the isolation theory, Israel has no alternative plan that would put the blame on Syria.

The Golan Heights lobby, frightened by the Syrian-American rapprochement and expected pressure on Israel to withdraw, has quickly mobilized its legal efforts. It will not be the government and prime minister who will have to hold up under pressure, but rather “the law.” And the law, as we know, is much harder to bend than a politician.

As in the Passover Haggadah, if the Knesset had been satisfied with the Golan Annexation Law of 1981 – dayenu, that would have been enough. Menachem Begin explained at the time that the law does not prevent negotiations with Syria, but even then it was clear that if Israel was not withdrawing from occupied territory, it would certainly not withdraw from territory it had annexed “by law.” Then came 1999, which gave us the law mandating a referendum for surrendering sovereign Israeli territory, but in the same breath also determined that a basic law on referenda should be passed. Such a bill has not been passed, so according to opponents of withdrawal, the law has no real significance.

Then came 2008, when a bill passed in first reading, proposed by Avigdor Itzchaky, then coalition chairman under Kadima. It was very simple: There would be no withdrawal from the Golan. True, like every bill, it was carefully formulated, outlining possible conditions for leaving the Golan: a majority of 80 MKs in favor of withdrawal, which would release the government from holding a referendum; or new elections, which would obviate the need to forge an 80-MK majority. If neither of these prevailed, there could be a referendum to decide on peace with Syria. In short, no withdrawal from the Golan.

That’s an easy bill to vote on. Now, after the delay because of the early elections, we have to see if the bill can be brought for a second and third reading, a decision that can be made in a day, even an hour. The matter was to have been discussed on Thursday by a special subcommittee of the House Committee and Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. The debate was postponed but not taken off the agenda, because now Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also wants extra protection from expected American pressure.

This ostensibly is a legal, constitutional matter: Why does the public need to be asked after it has already decided in elections that brought in a Knesset and cabinet? Is it necessary to waste NIS 200 million on a referendum? Perhaps a referendum on non-peace, and then war, could be decided by text message? These are all certainly very important questions that have blurred the main issue: Israel is neither ready nor ripe, nor does it desire to make peace with Syria.

July 19th, 2009, 3:03 am


Shai said:


The clearer Israeli governments are about withdrawal from the Golan (clearly against it), the easier it is for America to formulate and carry out policy in the region. For years, indeed for decades, successive Israeli governments and leaders “lulled” Washington to sleep over issues of settlements, withdrawals, and peace. AIPAC had enough representatives and enough money to convince gullible politicians on the Hill that “Of course Israel wants peace! It’s the Arabs that don’t…” And the dance went on, and on, for 60 years.

But now, with a much clearer Israeli government, especially on the issue of the Golan, finally the ambiguity will dissipate. There’s no need for war over the Golan, Norman. Trust me, if Israelis had to choose tomorrow morning between the serene and “strategic” Golan Heights with barely 26,000 Jewish residents, and billions of dollars in annual support by the U.S., the choice would be clear. It’s now not up to Syrian tanks to begin rolling, but rather for Washington to find its “huevos”.

July 19th, 2009, 5:13 am


jad said:

The moment Christopher (AKA) CHRIS wrote “ALAWI” in the list of his own worthless negative views about Syria and from his past comments that show his opinion of looking down on Syria and Syrians while he was wasting his time as student in Syria learning nothing, his views should immediately dismissed and thrown in the garbage where it belongs alongside his older ones; Since he is not close to the sect/religion he is criticising in the most sectarian and stupid way as him (you should learn from Buddha teaching: Do not insult any other religion) not to mention that he has no clue whatsoever of what ALAWITE means. Beside, mixing the rich Syrian culture heritage in the National Museum of Damascus with the contemporary political system is so dumb.

July 19th, 2009, 6:41 am


SimoHurtta said:

Now, Chris has nothing against the Syrians. In fact, I suspect that his presence here on SC suggests that he’s interested with Syria and Syrians in a good way; he wishes them well.

Hmmm Chris is the strangest self-claimed “orientalist” ever visited SC’s comment section. If he wishes good for Syrian’s he surely wishes more good (=land) for Israelis.

Anybody with some abilities to make some background checking soon notices that the Washington based Freedomhouse is as neutral and professional as an equal democracy level rater in Soviet Moscow would have been some decades ago.

With Israel Freedomhouse gets good results and that is only possible by eliminating the occupied areas under Israeli control from the “analysis”. Astonishing good points for a country with no constitution and countless reports of discrimination of the minorities.

Israel (2008)
Population: 7,300,000

Political Rights Score: 1
Civil Liberties Score: 2
Status: Free

Israeli-Occupied Territories [Israel] (2008)
Population: 4,149,000
Political Rights Score: 6
Civil Liberties Score: 6
Status: Not Free

It is somewhat “funny” that with Israel the problematic area is viewed as an separate entity. With an equal problem erasing method most of the world’s countries would have excellent “Washington freedom” ratings when the problematic minorities and areas would be whipped off “the freedom map” in the Israeli style.

One remarkable point is that why it seen that Palestinians have better political rights than Syrian’s or Saudis. Palestinians can basically vote for many parties, but even the wining party has real political control and possibilities only in the imagination of Israeli/US propaganda makers.

With Syria the results are
Syria (2008) Political Rights Score: 7
Civil Liberties Score: 6
Status: Not Free

With Egypt
Egypt (2008)
Political Rights Score: 6
Civil Liberties Score: 5
Status: Not Free

It would be interesting to know how exactly Egypt is better than Syria.

And the Freedomhouse’s “top analysis”. Afghanistan (2008) Political Rights Score: 5 Civil Liberties Score: 5 Status: Partly Free
Hmmmmm have the US and NATO troops (= US political interests) something to do with the rating? Surely only a naive propagandist can say that the political and civil rights in Afghanistan, where government controls basically a tiny part of the country, are better than in most Arab countries.

Iraq had in 2002 the points 7 and 7. In 2008 the points are 6 and 6. The question is that was the “liberation” worth all the chaos, suffering and lives. And why is Iraq seen to be in a worse situation than Afghanistan is?

Amir in Tel Aviv have you already got your IDF copy of the new militant Judaism’s (=Zionism) handbook – the new “Hezbollah-Vatican conspiracy theory”.

A Hizbollah officer who converted to Judaism and calls himself as Avi, even though he still smells (acts like they say in the article) like an Arab. Hilarious.

The IDF spokesman’s offices statement is also record breaking in the level of taking responsibility: “The book was received as a donation and distributed in good faith to the soldiers. After we were alerted to the sensitivity of its content, distribution was immediately halted.”
Don’t they read what propaganda is “donated” to their soldiers before it is delivered to the troops? Obviously not, simply asthonishing.

July 19th, 2009, 7:30 am


t_desco said:

Israel: UN learned of Hezbollah arms cache months ago

UNIFIL learned a few months ago about the cache of Katyusha rockets that exploded in the southern Lebanese village of Hirbet Salim last Tuesday, a government source in Jerusalem said. The source said UNIFIL had precise information about the cache and a number of other installations where Hezbollah is storing rockets, but that UNIFIL had done nothing.

A discussion is scheduled in the UN Security Council for late August on renewing UNIFIL’s mandate in southern Lebanon; Israel hopes last week’s explosion will show the need to strengthen UNIFIL. Israel believes that UNIFIL could sharpen its rules of engagement and act more forcefully with the Lebanese army in southern Lebanese villages. (…)

(my emphasis)

July 19th, 2009, 8:21 am


norman said:


I definitely do not want war , but Israel is leaving no other choice , 35 years after the disengagement agreement and a peaceful border , Israel is not appreciating the commitment of Syria to the peacfull return of the Golan,

July 19th, 2009, 10:52 am


Avi said:

Shai lol,I came here in the beginning to try and defend Israel’s position and i found you an israeli the seems not to understand that his enemys wishes his destruction or you do not understand the danger….and at the same time you call me hezb…what a joke do you know your hezb put a fatwa on my unit…so if you have some brains you will let go of the insults!

July 19th, 2009, 2:07 pm


Avi said:

Norman it will put us in an easier position if you make war on us again….but don’t cry about your victory afterwards….and also for the little story it is your country norman that is not giving us a chance!thats how you lost the golan in the beginning but continue thinking we are the ones against peace i find it very funny and hypocritical coming from your part!And Norman people like shai are just afraid of your nation and they think they must appease you before someone destroys their country but they are not the majority the majority thinks like me fight to survive fight to have the chance to talk your master norman in Syria ….he will eventually see his interest i guess,while your people continue to educate themselves that their jewish israeli neighboors are just theives and colonizers!your country is against peace and is for another genocide …am i clear to you!

July 19th, 2009, 2:10 pm


Avi said:

Actually Norman your dictator in Syria is against peace with Israel because it would mean the end to his power ,plus he makes sure you Syrians will never be for peace by using the hate in your society and a hate education against Israelis in your schools, plus you always say Israel just wants lands when you are the ones that want to destroy Israel from day one!I hope your underdstand that your society makes Israelis like me sick and not very hopefull for peace.

July 19th, 2009, 2:23 pm


Shai said:


At Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport, there’s always a routine, where someone yells out something like “Bulgarian translator to booth 73…”

Can you please translate “… and at the same time you call me hezb…”?

Or you know what, maybe better not…

July 19th, 2009, 3:04 pm


Avi said:

well you seem shai to have put the israelis that are ready to defend their country on the same level as hezb….i think you are nuts!and i wish you will understand what it means to be israeli and to have to put up with the situation every single day!and the situatin is having neighboors like norman!intelligent hypocrits that just want our nation dissapeared!

July 19th, 2009, 3:16 pm


Shai said:


Please calm down. And please do not speak this way of Norman, or any of the other peace-seeking commentators here. You may be forgetting, but you and I are guests here. This is a Syrian forum, not an Israeli one. Let’s try to remain more respectful, if not of each other, then at least of our hosts.

And please do not lecture me about “what it means to be Israeli” or what it means to “have to put up with the situation every single day…” To remind you, I live here, not outside of Israel. And again, I promise you I have given no less to my country (and still doing so), than you or any other hot-headed Israeli.

Take it easy Bro’, or take a chill-pill. On me.

July 19th, 2009, 3:26 pm


Avi said:

But still Shai how am I to react to Norman’s Israel ony understands violence theory and then threatens Israel with war….I mean is this someone that wants peace??I mean look at th syrian history curriculem in high schools…does it not disgust you shai that they teach hate their in schools…i mean what intention of peace is there…and also why does syria not do the same to turkey that also occupys their land…because they are afraid of turkey not of Israel…so yes I am fed up with the unfriendly anti peace attitude in general in syria!And i think first they must learn that we can not be beaten!so they might think it their interest to make peace with us!

July 19th, 2009, 3:32 pm


Avi said:

And yes Shai i think they treat us like this because they think we are weak and because we are Jews because they live in a hate society which only purpose is to keep a dictator in power so i warn their dictator and his poeple not to under estimate us or our will to survive!!And i dare them with all due respect to consider another option than trying to destroy us…for this is the root of the conflict like it or not!it is too easy for syrians not to take this into consideration and open a dialogue for a fair and just peace!

July 19th, 2009, 3:44 pm


Shai said:


I really feel like we’re starting to hijack this forum like with AIG before you, with silly discussions that surely bore the hell out of everyone here. Can we please stop this? If you’re convinced that everyone here (Norman included…) are out to destroy Israel, then what are you doing here? Wasting your time? Wasting ours?

“so yes I am fed up with the unfriendly anti peace attitude in general in syria!And i think first they must learn that we can not be beaten!so they might think it their interest to make peace with us!”

If you’re fed up with it, go put your helmet on, load up your gun, and get ready. I can almost hear those Syrian tanks rolling off the Golan Heights, on route to Tel-Aviv.

And for the record, I think most experts would probably agree, it is Syria that has publicly stated, through every channel possible, that peace with Israel is a strategic decision for her (Syria). But it is very clearly Israel (our country) that has also publicly stated, through every channel possible, that withdrawing from the Golan is NOT in our interest. So what do you want now? From your expert-analysis, do you think Syria could make peace without the Golan? If you were Syria, would you accept anything less?

July 19th, 2009, 6:26 pm


norman said:


The sun rises in the East , It does not matter how much yo say otherwise, I hope you get this one,

July 19th, 2009, 7:12 pm


Alex said:

Dear Avi,

I’m afraid I will have to ban you.

Majid was banned last week after insisting on calling all Israelis “parasites”, you are going to be banned because you are insisting on portraying many peace seeking, open minded, secular Syrians as Hitler like haters of Jews.

And you are monopolizing the comments section.

As in the case of Majid, you are in moderation … which means you can leave comments but they will not appear here. They will have to be read and released later (within 24 hours usually) by an admin (Joshua, IC, or I)… they will only be released if they have something interesting to say … some of your comments are interesting, others are simply aggressive.

July 19th, 2009, 7:37 pm


norman said:


Thank you , It is nice to hear from you , you should send me some of the pictures you used to send .

July 20th, 2009, 12:59 am


jad said:

Hi Norman,
Here are some nice pictures of Syria,I linked that before,

The Syrian photographer Mr. Shuairi updates his site every couple days so I recommend you save his link.


July 20th, 2009, 4:39 am


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