News Round Up (27 December 2009)

Year End Assessment: Over the next week – with the help of readers – Syria Comment will compose a retrospective of 2009 for Syria.  We will consider – foreign policy, economic and cultural changes. To treat foreign policy, which normally gets the lions share of attention, we will review relations with each of Syria’s neighbors and with the states that have a large impact on it. I hope readers will add paragraphs in the comment section that I can copy and past into post. Comments should be directed toward one particular section so that they will fit neatly into the overall structure of the post. If they treat several topics in one paragraph, it will be hard to find the right place for them.

Talking to Syria: What About?“,
Peter Harling in The Huffington Post, 2009-12-26

Nine months into an engagement process with numerous bilateral meetings, the U.S.-Syria relationship is not going well. The administration has yet to even clarify what precise, workable objectives it seeks to achieve in talking to Syria. Renewing …

Syria launches first economic arbitration center – Some suggest that a serious attempt to establish judicial oversight of commercial law in Syria could bring the economy to a “tipping point,” which will usher in a period of more rapid economic growth and foreign investment.

Two Stages of the Syrian Ba’ath, Robin Yassin-Kassab [Qunfuz] Very good short assessment.

Iran: The police opened fire on protesters, killing at least 10 people, including a nephew of the opposition leader, as demonstrators flooded the streets.”

UAE likely to unveil nuclear deal result on Sunday
SEOUL, Sat Dec 26, 2009, Reuters

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak (R) shakes hands with an official from the United Arab Emirates embassy in Seoul, before Lee departed to the UAE at a military airport in Seongnam, south of Seoul December 26, 2009. REUTERS/Jo Bo-hee/YonhapSEOUL (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates is likely to announce the results of one of the world’s biggest nuclear power contracts later Sunday, South Korean media reported.

South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak is currently visiting the UAE in a push to win one of the largest-ever energy deals of the Middle East estimated to be worth $40 billion to build several nuclear reactors.

“A South Korean consortium is very likely to win the nuclear power deal issued by the UAE,” Korean news agency Yonhap said on Sunday, quoting sources in the UAE. Another local media agency YTN said the announcement would be made later Sunday at the earliest.

The Korean consortium includes Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO), Hyundai Engineering and Construction, Samsung C&T Corp, and Doosan Heavy Industries.

Other bidders for the massive project include a consortium of General Electric Co and Westinghouse Electric, a subsidiary of Toshiba Corp, and a French consortium led by EDF and GDF Suez and including Areva and oil group Total.

“If selected as the final business partner, South Korea will be taking its first steps from being a nuclear power importer toward being one of the world’s top 3 nuclear power developers, which will be the historic milestone,” said Kim Eun-hye, a Korean presidential office spokeswoman.

The French consortium was initially seen as a front-runner for the deal but it recently appeared to be losing ground to the Korean group.

The UAE is the world’s third-largest oil exporter, but is planning to build a number of nuclear reactors to meet an expected need for an additional 40,000 megawatts of power.

Israeli settlers burn olive groves in ‘price tag’ retaliation attack
Sheera Frenkel in Jerusalem in The Times, London, July 21, 2009

Israeli settlers on horseback set fire to fields of olive trees and stoned Palestinian cars in the West Bank yesterday, apparently in response to the Israeli army’s removal of an illegal outpost in the area. (see photo here)

At least 1,500 Palestinian-owned trees were destroyed and two Palestinians were injured in the attack, near the city of Nablus, by about 30 settlers, security officials said. Farmers fought fires late into the afternoon, as fears grew that the flames would spread across the dry summer fields.

It was the most recent example of the “price tag” policy, in which settlers seek revenge by attacking Palestinians for every outpost that is demolished. “The goal is to create a price for each evacuation, causing Israeli authorities to think twice about carrying them out,” the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din said.

A settler activist, Itamar Ben-Gvir, put it more directly: “We will not be suckers for the Israeli Government. We will not sit idly by and allow them to remove our homes,”…

Mandour Dawish and Hanni Darawshi from Awarta village took photos of the settlers and the fires. While doing this the army arrived and detained the 2 men for 2 hours and wiped the photos from one camera. They were unaware that the men had two cameras. The army did nothing to prevent the fire despite witness’s statements and photographs of the settler attack.

Awarta village is at the base one of the many expanding and aggressive settlement, illegal under international law. The olive tree’s are vital to the villages’ economy and 10,000 dunums fall near the settlement where it is forbidden for Palestinian farmers to get to their land to harvest or tend to the tree’s. Just 2 months ago settlers attacked a farmer and stole his donkey while he was attending his trees in the area.

Growing violence between Palestinians and Israelis – ” Hamas Officials’ Deaths Stoke Tensions. Beirut Bombing Is the Latest Attack Against Iran-Backed Militants in Lebanon and Syria; Israel Denies Involvement

Lieberman: No peace deal this decade
Herb Keinon , THE JERUSALEM POST\Dec. 28, 2009

Even as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is trying to lure the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Sunday that he does not see any chance for a comprehensive agreement in the next 10 to 20 years.

“We think that if we make more concessions everything will work out,” he said at a speech to the country’s 140 ambassadors and consul-generals who are participating in a conference this week in Jerusalem. “Even if we return the last grain of sand, and divide Jerusalem, and agree to all the demands, nothing will change and we will be in the same situation.”

Lieberman cast doubt on the ability of the Palestinian leadership to ever reach an end of the conflict with Israel.

“Israel has proved more than any other country that it is ready for painful concessions,” he said. “We brought here a group of terrorists from Tunisia, we gave them guns and a government and even gave up Gush Katif.”

Lieberman said that the leadership of the PA was neither ready nor willing to “sign on a peace agreement whose significance is an end to the conflict. It doesn’t matter what we offer, they will always find an excuse to say ‘no.'”

As proof of his thesis, Lieberman pointed to former prime minister Ehud Olmert who he said agreed to give the Palestinians “everything, including Jerusalem, refugees and a return to the 1967 borders – and nothing happened.”

The foreign minister said Netanyahu went a long distance toward the Palestinians by delivering his Bar-Ilan University speech on June 14, in which he spoke of a demilitarized Palestinian state, removed numerous roadblocks throughout the West Bank, and declared a 10-month moratorium on housing starts.

“We need to tell the world that there are no ‘magic solutions,'” Lieberman said. “We will not get to a permanent agreement in the coming decade, or the one after that. The Palestinians are even unable to reach a stable peace agreement among themselves.”

Lieberman also used the forum to make it perfectly clear that he was opposed to indirect talks with Syria, and especially opposed to mediation from Turkey, whose prime minister has lambasted Israel continuously over the last year.

“I am not picking a fight with anyone,” Lieberman said, “but unsuitable things were said by the prime minister of Turkey.”

In an apparent reference to the recent meeting in Copenhagen between President Shimon Peres and Turkish President Abdullah Gul, Lieberman said, “If anyone thinks that there will be meetings at the highest levels, and everything will be okay, they should forget about it.

“As long as I am foreign minister, and as long as Israel Beiteinu is the senior member of the coalition, there will not be Turkish mediation between us and Syria, but rather only direct talks, in Jerusalem and in Damascus.”

Another Israeli spy case dropped…

And there is a current spy case involving Israel which clearly is being swept under the rug. Stewart Nozette, a scientist working for the US government, was arrested on October 19th and charged with conspiring to commit espionage. Nozette was caught in an FBI sting operation in which the Bureau officer pretended to be an Israeli Mossad spy. Nozette enthusiastically embraced the offer to cooperate, demanding in return an Israeli passport and money for the information that he would provide. The US media quickly went into damage mode, the New York Times headlining its coverage “The Scientist Who Mistook Himself for a Spy.” Many in the media quickly noted that the FBI agent was not actually Mossad, meaning that Israel was not directly involved. The convenient spin ignored the fact the Nozette told the agent that he had already “communicated classified information” to Israel for many years through contacts in the Israel Aerospace Industries, for which he received $225,000. Nozette stated that he believed he had already been spying for Israel, telling the pretend Mossad but really FBI officer “I thought I was working for you already.” …

Comments (14)

Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Dear Shai,

Liberman said:”…We think that if we make more concessions everything will work out…Even if we return the last grain of sand, and divide Jerusalem, and agree to all the demands, nothing will change and we will be in the same situation”.

What do you think about this statement, which I fully agree with ?

December 28th, 2009, 3:36 pm


Shai said:


If he means “We (Lieberman et al.) will be the same Racist bunch…”, then I fully agree with him. He is the first Israeli Foreign Minister to be against dialogue with an enemy state. The first FM that is an Occupier himself (lives on Territory that even Israel doesn’t consider part of Israel). And the first FM that still dreams of millions of Palestinians boarding buses, trucks, planes and trains, on their way out.

So yes, he is right, even if we make all the concessions in the world, HE will not change.

December 28th, 2009, 6:27 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:


“…He is the first Israeli Foreign Minister to be against dialog with an enemy state”.

Arab states are in a sharp decline. What is today’s “Arab state” ?
One dictator / Junta, with lots of inhabitants who have no rights.

I think he referred to the Islamist trend of the last decade. The Arab state
is in decline (and you can make doubtful “peace” with the Junta).
The Islamists are rising (and will not accept you, or make peace with
you). This is what he meant (in my eyes).

December 28th, 2009, 7:08 pm


norman said:

Report: Syria eyes Russian aircraft after US turns down request to buy Airbus jets

12/28/2009 6:52:00 AM | Canadian Press (English)

DAMASCUS, Syria – Syria will buy two Russian-made Tupolev passenger jets to modernize its national carrier’s aging fleet after the United States rejected a bid by Airbus SAS to sell planes to Damascus, Syria’s transportation minister said.

Yarob Badr was quoted in Tishrin daily’s Monday edition as saying a deal with the Russian plane manufacturer was imminent, and that Syrian Air would first lease the two jets for a year and later purchase them.

Badr said the decision came as the U.S. Commerce Department turned down a request by Toulouse, France-based Airbus to lift the U.S. embargo affecting the sale of planes to Syria. Badr said an Airbus delegation recently informed Syria of the decision by Washington.

Airbus spokesman Stefan Schaffrath declined to comment on the specifics of the request, but said “In any case Airbus acts in accordance with the law.”

The U.S. imposed economic and diplomatic sanctions on Syria in May 2004 because of what Washington says is its support for terrorism, pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and other activities including undermining U.S. operations in Iraq. Syria denies the allegations.

The sanctions affect aircraft or parts sales to Syria, including those by a non-U.S. company, if the planes use American components.

The sanctions have hit Syrian Air hard, grounding much of its fleet and leaving only five Airbus A320s, one aging Boeing 747 and two planes for domestic flights in operation.

Badr urged Syrian Air labour unions to file a suit against the Obama administration on grounds the sanctions threaten the livelihoods of the carrier’s roughly 6,000 workers.

© The Canadian Press, 2005go to topprint email

December 28th, 2009, 7:13 pm


Shai said:


It’s astounding to me just how similar you and Ausamaa are. Both of you think exactly the same of the other, both of you believe time is on your side, both believe fate will do its thing, and you’ll be better off eventually, somehow. But both of you also don’t attempt to define this “somehow”. You just urge your side to sit and wait.

Lieberman couldn’t understand an Arab if he (the Arab) learned Hebrew, converted to Judaism, made Aliya to Israel, and served 15 years in the IDF.

December 28th, 2009, 7:38 pm


norman said:

Shai,Ausama ,

For any solution to stand the test of time it has to be just or at least perceived to be just ,

December 29th, 2009, 1:53 am


norman said:

Joshua ,

It looks like an outline for state of state speech for Syria , do you agree with me that President Assad should give a speech like this to explain where Syria is politically economically and it’s vision for the future Mideast ,?.

December 29th, 2009, 2:09 am


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Amazing YouTube clips from red-Ashura:
The Iranian people starts to attack police stations, policemen, the
Basigi’s, and the plain-cloths. The people became bolder yesterday.
They’re in a process of loosing fear.
Before, they shouted ‘Death dictator’. Yesterday, for the first time,
they sharpened their message: ‘death to Hamenei’. And in one video they
call: “No Gaza No Lebanon; long live the Iranian republic” .. and not
the ISLAMIC republic of…
Great stuff. Lots of courage.

December 29th, 2009, 2:54 am


norman said:

Amir ,

Is it possible that the whole thing in Iran is being staged one way or another to give the West a sense of divided country and that if they leave Iran it will fragment and that any attack or economic sanctions will weaken the moderate and em bold the radicals and push them to hammer the opposition ,

In the mean time Iran is winning time ,

December 29th, 2009, 3:16 am


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Dear Norman,

Staged by whom? Can you stage this amount of people? It looks spontaneous
to me.
Did you mean that it was staged by the regime? In that case, they try
to ride a wild and untamed dragon. Wouldn’t count on it to succeed.

Look at the body language of those Iranians in yesterday’s clips.
It’s a different body language from 3 months ago. (ONLY 3 months,
and what a change ! ).

To the SC’s devoted reader, Mr. president B. Assad:
If you start to worry while watching it, you are absolutely right to be.

December 29th, 2009, 3:40 am


why-discuss said:


MKO is active in Iran. They are about to be expelled from Iraq where they have military camps and were supported by Saddam Hossein. They are ruthless and violent, despite the hypocritical calls for peace by Mariam Rajavi in France. They have powerful friends in the neo cons groups in the US and in France.
I wont be surprised that with the threat of being expelled from their haven in Iraq, they are trying desperately to create more violence in Iran, using the general discontent about the economy and the the mismanagement of Ahmadinejad.

December 29th, 2009, 12:33 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Amazing YouTube clips from red-Ashura:

Amir in Tel Aviv,

One thing we can say is the Iranian people have cojones.

Of all the bitching and moaning about the lack of freedom in the ME, it seems the Iranians are the only ones risking their lives doing something about it. More power to them.

December 29th, 2009, 3:18 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

No one else seems to be heeding Joshua’s request for a discussion on a Syrian retrospective, so I’ll try to get the conversation going by focusing the relationship with Lebanon.

I think that the Syrian government had a good year, as far as its relations with Lebanon were concerned. The parliamentary elections ended with a pretty ideal result: a win for March 14, followed by the self-destruction of March 14. This meant that Syria did not have figure out how to run pass coverage for what would have surely been portrayed in the Western media as a “Hizbullah government”. At the same time, though, the defection of Jumblatt and the general fractiousness of the remaining coalition partners meant that M14 no longer posed a credible threat to Syrian interests.

The formation of a national unity government — enfranchising the Doha Accord as the new powersharing mechanism in Lebanon, at least for the time being — provided the stop-gap solution that Syria has sought, with regard to the weapons of Hizbullah.

The rapprochement with Saudi Arabia seems to have inaugurated a new agreement over Lebanon. It’s not quite a condominium like the one that existed from 1990-2004, but the two countries seem to have agreed to stop making life difficult for each other in Beirut, in exchange for cooperating on other areas, like Iraq.

It’s not clear what Syria’s long-term aim is for the Lebanese file. Some believe that it wants nothing less than to re-establish control over Lebanon, albeit without having the expense of keeping its army posted there. Others say that its interests in Lebanon are purely instrumental: using Hizbullah as a card in its effort to regain the Golan, and in its bid for greater regional clout.

What’s clear to me is that Syria is trying to diversify its relationships in the region, distributing its eggs from the “axis of resistance” basket (Iran, Hizbullah, Hamas) to other players. This does not amount to a potential “flip”, as the State Department is unrealistically hoping for. Those allies remain too valuable to Damascus. But as Tehran looks increasingly vulnerable and the credibility of the regime there is challenged, Syria’s cache as an interlocutor diminishes. This is where its relations with Turkey make much more sense, as does its rapprochement with Saudi Arabia.

Anyway, those are my humble musings.

December 29th, 2009, 9:28 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Anyway, those are my humble musings.


For humble musings, you seem smart enough to be employed in a foriegn ministry of your choice.

This does not amount to a potential “flip”, as the State Department is unrealistically hoping for.

Yes, so the status quo is the best we can hope for. I don’t think anyone is complaining, and, I think, this answers Eshani2’s question about Syrian “flexibility” (or lack thereof).

December 29th, 2009, 11:13 pm


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