News Round Up (27 July 2007)

Two new excellent blogs are:

  1. Daniel Levy's, "Prospects for Peace." In his most recent posts he discusses Solomon's WSJ article on the Syrian Brotherhood and makes some interesting points. He also discusses David Wurmser's departure from Cheney's office. Wurmser has been pushing for regime-change in Syria since the very beginning. In fact, my very first post on Syria Comment in 2004 was on David Wurmser. His wife, Meyrav, is a founder of MEMRI.
  2. Jim Lobe's, Lobelog: Jim Lobe has been reporting it like it is for a long time. He has a fine nose for neocon silliness and reports on them with humor and wisdom. His most recent post, "Follow-up on Syria" explains how "Michael Ledeen and Mark Steyn wrote that they were deeply disappointed that stronger action was not recommended and were particularly provoked by Gerson’s description of Damascus’ (and Tehran’s) roles as mere “accelerants to Iraq’s frothing chaos.” Read his post on Syria and the neocons.

Jihad Yaziji writes in the Syrian Report that only 14% of Iraqi refugee children in Syria enroll in school.

Only 14 percent of school-aged Iraqi children residing in Syria are currently enrolled in Syrian schools according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). During his first tour to the region after he was appointed in June, Craig Johnston, deputy high commissioner of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), told Iraqis gathered at the UNHCR refugee centre in Damascus to send more of their children to school, according to a report by IRIN. Only 35 000 out of an estimated 250 000 school-aged Iraqi children attend school.

An explosion at a weapons depot in the north killed at least 15 soldiers and wounded 50 others, the official news agency SANA reported. It said that the blast could be heard for miles and was a result of a heat wave that has gripped the country and that the authorities had dismissed the possibility of sabotage. Witnesses said high temperatures, which reached 113 degrees Fahrenheit, also caused fires in northern Syria starting Wednesday night that might have spread to the military complex. The depot belonged to a military unit in Musalmiya, about 200 miles north of Damascus, SANA said.

France unlikely to repeat Libya triumph in Lebanon
By Alistair Lyon
27 Jul 2007, Reuters

BEIRUT, July 27 (Reuters) – Fresh from diplomatic success in Libya, France is pursuing a reconciliation drive in Lebanon that could prove a daunting task for Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who starts a visit to Beirut on Friday.

Navigating Lebanon's complexities looks far harder than persuading Libya to free Bulgarian medics under a deal clinched by French President Nicolas Sarkozy only after years of patient diplomacy by the European Union, Britain, Germany and others.

"It's mission impossible," said Ousama Safa, director of the Lebanese Centre for Policy Studies. "The answers aren't in Lebanon, but in Damascus, Washington and Tehran.

"In Libya, the French could offer European incentives that the Libyans really wanted. In Lebanon, the Syrians want American incentives and the Americans are not in a mood to offer any." "The United States wants a solution that keeps Siniora in power and doesn't give the Syrians anything," Safa said.

But the omens from three days of preparatory contacts by French envoy Jean-Claude Cousseran this week are not promising.

Lebanese political sources say he had suggested all parties discuss a package deal on electing a new president and forming a national unity government to end an eight-month-old impasse.

But the Shi'ite Hezbollah group, allied to Syria and Iran, demanded a unity cabinet before any dialogue on other issues. The opposition has long sought veto power in a new cabinet so that its assent would be needed (Continued)

U.S. kills plans to build embassy in Hezbollah area of Beirut

U.S. Officials Voice Frustration with Saudis' Role in Iraq
New York Times, Published: July 27, 2007

Bush administration officials are voicing increasing anger at what they say has been Saudi Arabia’s counterproductive role in the Iraq war. They say that beyond regarding Mr. Maliki as an Iranian agent, the Saudis have offered financial support to Sunni groups in Iraq. Of an estimated 60 to 80 foreign fighters who enter Iraq each month, American military and intelligence officials say that nearly half are coming from Saudi Arabia and that the Saudis have not done enough to stem the flow.

One senior administration official says he has seen evidence that Saudi Arabia is providing financial support to opponents of Mr. Maliki. He declined to say whether that support was going to Sunni insurgents because, he said, “That would get into disagreements over who is an insurgent and who is not.”

Senior Bush administration officials said the American concerns would be raised next week when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates make a rare joint visit to Jidda, Saudi Arabia.

Officials in Washington have long resisted blaming Saudi Arabia for the chaos and sectarian strife in Iraq, choosing instead to pin blame on Iran and Syria. Even now, military officials rarely talk publicly about the role of Saudi fighters among the insurgents in Iraq.

Several officials interviewed for this article said they believed that Saudi Arabia’s direct support to Sunni tribesmen increased this year as the Saudis lost faith in the Maliki government and felt they must bolster Sunni groups in the eventuality of a widespread civil war.

The former ambassador, Edward W. Gnehm, who has served in Kuwait and Jordan, said that during a recent trip to the region he was told that Saudi Arabia had pressed other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council — which includes Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman — to give financial support to Sunnis in Iraq. The Saudis made this effort last December, Mr. Gnehm said.

…One adviser to the royal family said that Saudi officials were aware of the American accusations. “As you know by now, we in Saudi Arabia have been active in having a united Arab front to, first, avoid further inter-Arab conflict, and at the same time building consensus to move toward a peace settlement between the Arabs and Israel,” he said. “How others judge our motives is their problem.”…

The administration “thinks the Saudis are no longer behaving the role of the good vassal,” said Steve Clemons, senior fellow and director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. The Saudis, in turn, “see weakness, they see a void, and they’re going to fill the void and call their own shots.” (continue)

Comment by JL: The Syrians also see a void created by the US in Iraq. The US is asking them to support its policy and the Maliki government in Iraq, but Syrians are asking themselves why they should support leaders they believe will, in all likelihood, end as losers at the expense of opposition members that may very well become winners. It would not be surprising if Syrians are eyeing Saudi Arabia's new interest in "Arab unity," announced at the Riyadh summit meeting this spring, and the Kingdom's financing of Iraqi Sunnis with the hope of building a common Syrian-Saudi policy toward Iraq. By supporting the Kingdom in its Iraq policy, Syria may see a means to close the rift opened up between the two countries over their divergent Lebanon policies. At the very least, Syria will seek to act as a mediator between Saudia Arabia and Iran in Iraq, a role that will be extremely difficult and undoubtedly strain relations with Iran.

Bush line distorts Iran's real interest in Iraq (Via War in Context)
By Gareth Porter, IPS, July 25, 2007

As U.S. and Iranian diplomats met in Baghdad Tuesday for a second round of talks on Iraq, the domestic U.S. political climate appears decidedly more supportive of an aggressive U.S. posture toward Iran than just a few months ago, reflecting the apparent triumph the George W. Bush administration's narrative on Iran's role in Iraq.

That new narrative threatens to obscure the bigger picture of Iranian policy toward Iraq, widely recognised by regional specialists. Iran's strategic interests in Iraq are far more compatible with those of the United States than those of the Sunni regimes in the region with which the United States has aligned itself.

Contrary to the official narrative, Iranian support for Shiites is not aimed at destabilising the country but does serve a rational Iranian desire to maximise its alliances with Iraqi Shiite factions, in the view of specialists on Iranian policy and on the security of the Persian Gulf region. [complete article]

The United States finds few non-Iraqis among insurgents (US News & World Today).

Insurgents meet on post-U.S. future (Via War in Context)
By Rebecca Sinderbrand, Time, July 24, 2007

The convention of Iraqi insurgents was scheduled to take place Monday at the resort-like Sahara Hotel outside Damascus but, within hours of the plenary session actually starting, the Syrian government suddenly canceled the summit. However, high-level representatives of much of the Iraqi nationalist insurgency, remained at the venue informally negotiating and laying out a framework for what a post-U.S. Iraq would look like.

Late Monday evening, dozens of conference attendees — a group drawn primarily from the ranks of former military officers, Ba'athist officials, and the Sunni insurgency — gathered for a catered dinner beside the hotel's outdoor pool. Several, including a high-ranking former military officer now overseeing Ba'athist resistance activities in his region, talked openly, if carefully, about strategy, although some asked that their names be withheld. ("We are not afraid," said the former Iraqi army colonel, as waiters delivered the main course of steak and carrots, "but we do not want to give the [Shi'a] militias justification to kill us.") They said victory was in the air; one delegate celebrated the looming U.S. withdrawal over Diet Pepsi and watermelon slices. "This gathering here is unprecedented. When this conference occurs, it will be historic," said Sarmed Abdel Karim, founder of the popular iraq4all website and a non-insurgent who calls the gathering one of "the Iraqi opposition." "It will be the cornerstone of a new Iraq." [complete article]

Towards Peace in the Middle East: Lessons for European Policymakers
by Gareth Evans 
President of the International Crisis Group
3 July 2007

Address by Gareth Evans, President, International Crisis Group, to Closing Session, PSE/Socialist Group in the European Parliament Conference on  Moving Toward an International Peace Conference for the Middle East,  European Parliament, Brussels, 3 July 2007

The only objective that matters is a comprehensive solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict – which has at its heart a two-state solution in which Israelis can live in safety behind secure and recognized borders, at peace with Palestinians and all their neighbours, and in which Palestinians have a recognized, viable state of their own, with its capital in East Jerusalem, borders based on those of 1967 and a just resolution of the refugee issue.

Looking back, it is extraordinarily depressing to recall how the tactics of the moment have led the key players to miss the main game, for example:

o the failure, twice now, to recognize the historic significance of the Arab Peace Initiative,  parsing the words,  missing the sentiment and overlooking the scale of the bargain on offer;

o the failure to support Abu Mazen in 2005, after he had won in a landslide, was the uncontested leader of all Palestinians, and in a position to sell difficult compromises; and

o the recurring failure to learn the key lesson of Oslo, that incremental and sequential solutions will never work, condemning everyone to be prisoners of the last extremist on either side: that there simply has to be an endgame-first approach, working back from first-agreed parameters….. (Continued here.)

Sharp rise in Israelis seeking German citizenship (Reuters). Some 300,000 Israelis are entitled to German citizenship. The past year has seen 4,300 Israelis receive German citizenship.

Thoughts on the Attempted Murder of Palestine
The Siren Song of Elliott Abrams
Counterpunch, July 26, 2007

"Coup" is the word being widely used to describe what happened in Gaza in June when Hamas militias defeated the armed security forces of Fatah and chased them out of Gaza. But, as so often with the manipulative language used in the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel, the terminology here is backward. Hamas was the legally constituted, democratically elected government of the Palestinians, so in the first place Hamas did not stage a coup but rather was the target of a coup planned against it. Furthermore, the coup — which failed in Gaza but succeeded overall when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, acting in violation of Palestinian law, cut Gaza adrift, unseated the Palestinian unity government headed by Hamas, and named a new prime minister and cabinet — was the handiwork of the United States and Israel.

The Fatah attacks against Hamas in Gaza were initiated at the whim of, and with arms and training provided by, the United States and Israel. No one seems to be making any secret of this. Immediately after Hamas won legislative elections in January 2006, Elliott Abrams, who runs U.S. policy toward Israel from his senior position on the National Security Council staff, met with a group of Palestinian businessmen and spoke openly of the need for a "hard coup" against Hamas. According to Palestinians who were there, Abrams was "unshakable" in his determination to oust Hamas. When the Palestinians, urging engagement with Hamas instead of confrontation, observed that Abrams' scheme would bring more suffering and even starvation to Gaza's already impoverished population, Abrams dismissed their concerns by claiming that it wouldn't be the fault of the U.S. if that happened… (Continued here.)

Turkish poll starts seismic power shift
By James Button, Sydney Morning Herald, July 24, 2007

A landslide win by Turkey's former Islamist party in national elections is set to redraw the country's political landscape, making a coup unlikely and dramatically reducing the power of the military and secular elite.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by the charismatic Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, won nearly half the vote on Sunday, an increase of 13 percentage points on its 2002 victory and the highest vote recorded by any party in 50 years.

The result gives the party about 340 seats in the 550-member parliament and reveals a huge transfer of power from the Istanbul and Ankara elites – which have accused the AKP of secretly planning to introduce Islamic law – to business people and traders in Anatolia, the Turkish heartland. [complete article]

Welcome to Richistan, USA
By Paul Harris, The Observer, July 22, 2007

America's super-rich have returned to the days of the Roaring Twenties. As the rest of the country struggles to get by, a huge bubble of multi-millionaires lives almost in a parallel world. The rich now live in their own world of private education, private health care and gated mansions. They have their own schools and their own banks. They even travel apart – creating a booming industry of private jets and yachts. Their world now has a name, thanks to a new book by Wall Street Journal reporter Robert Frank which has dubbed it 'Richistan'. There every dream can come true. But for the American Dream itself – which promises everyone can join the elite – the emergence of Richistan is a mixed blessing. 'We in America are heading towards 'developing nation' levels of inequality. We would become like Brazil. What does that say about us? What does that say about America?' Frank said. [complete article]

(Comment by JL) I couldn't help but see a few similarities with Syria, which is developing a serious class gap. Globalization is dividing nations in both the West and East. Richistan is here and there, but will they begin to marry each other?

Comments (16)

ausamaa said:

The US will not build its Embbassy near “Hizbullah” areas. Well, good news for Hizbullah!

By simple calculation, it can take up to three to five years to build, furnish and ready an Embassy for “action”. So, in a way, this means that the US believes that Hizbullah will still be a “considerable force” in Labanon five years from now.

But given the nature of Lebanese politics, has the US determined where “exactly” it now wants to locate its new Embassy. Let us know who the long-term freinds are expected to be even at this “early” point in time!

Is the micro-management of issues becoming a registered trademark of US Foriegn Policy?

July 27th, 2007, 5:02 pm


ausamaa said:

While Bush still talks and “thinks” about a successful SURGE in Iraq, yet the Iraqies are “planning” for the Post-US arena ( in “irrelevant” Damascus of all places, mind you)as the article above reads:

“Insurgents meet on post-U.S. future (Via War in Context)
By Rebecca Sinderbrand, Time, July 24, 2007”

So those bombed-back-to-the-stone-age Iraqies are miles ahead of the Think-Tanks in the US!

Thank you Neo-cons,,,

July 27th, 2007, 5:10 pm


ausamaa said:

Haaretz. 20:17

U.S. Sec. of State Rice and Defense Sec. Gates to visit Mideast next week (Reuters)

About time someone “showed” the Elliot Abrams-led Condi the “truth| of the matter! And who better than an old fox called Gates. He has “cleaned up” the Pentagon, now he is cleaning the State Department (With Baker-Hamilton-Belosi in the shadows??).

Chenney must be going into a frenzy with his only cosoloation being the amounts of money he will make once he swings into full business action and relocates his residence to Dubai.

What a joy ride for many!

July 27th, 2007, 5:28 pm


t_desco said:

Kassem Kassir mentions in passing that Khaled Taha and Abu Adass were linked to the cell headed by Hassan Nabaa:

Conférence – Fateh el-Islam n’est qu’un maillon de la chaîne
La fin de la bataille de Nahr el-Bared pourrait préluder à d’autres batailles
Par Jeanine JALKH

«La guerre menée par l’armée libanaise à Nahr el-Bared contre le mouvement salafiste Fateh el-Islam n’est qu’un début. » C’est ce qu’a affirmé le professeur Ahmad Moussalli, spécialiste du fondamentalisme sunnite. S’exprimant lors d’une conférence sur le salafisme et les mouvements qaëdistes, organisée par le Carnegie Middle East Center, M. Moussalli a indiqué que Fateh el-Islam n’est qu’un maillon de la chaîne qui nous sera révélée au fur et à mesure que la situation interne continue de se détériorer et que le vide politique s’élargit. Désormais, dit-il, le Liban n’est plus un point de passage pour les combattants salafistes, mais un siège pour les mouvements intégristes au vrai sens du terme.

Allant dans le même sens, notre confrère du quotidien al-Moustaqbal, Kassem Kassir, également expert dans les mouvements radicaux, a exprimé son inquiétude quant aux répercussions que pourrait avoir la bataille de Nahr el-Bared une fois que l’armée aura fini de nettoyer les poches où se sont retranchés les derniers combattants. « À ce jour, il reste près de 150 combattants, dont une cinquantaine avec leurs femmes et enfants. Une fois que l’armée aura lancé le dernier assaut, nous devons nous attendre à une scène digne de la bataille de Kerbala, ou du moins c’est ainsi qu’elle sera perçue par les sunnites salafistes du Liban, qui chercheront à prendre leur revanche. »
Les deux experts sont formels : plus la crise libanaise s’envenime, plus la situation sécuritaire se détériore, et plus les mouvements salafistes de type qaëdiste ont les coudées franches pour prospérer et opérer sur le terrain.

« Si le conflit politique s’aggrave, il faut s’attendre à voir même les mouvements salafistes non jihadistes prendre les armes pour combattre dans la même tranchée que leurs frères dans la secte », précise M. Kassir en utilisant l’expression du « djinn qui sortira de la boîte au moment voulu ». Les deux experts faisaient allusion aux multiples cellules dormantes qui pourraient ressortir si le contexte le permettait.

Autrement dit, malgré les dissemblances qui existent entre les différents mouvements salafistes – jihadistes, réformistes ou théologiques –, ce sont autant de réservistes qui seraient prêts à combattre au nom de l’islam sunnite pour le défendre si les circonstances géopolitiques ou sécuritaires l’ordonnaient.

M. Moussalli a tenu cependant à rectifier les multiples « idées reçues » sur ce qu’on appelle communément el-Qaëda ou sur le salafisme en général, en passant en revue le développement historique de ces tendances. Le conférencier distingue le mouvement el-Qaëda, du wahhabisme entendu dans son acception théologique, ou encore des mouvements réformistes et modernistes prônés par des penseurs tels que Jamaleddine el-Afghani, Mohammad Rachid Rida et Mohammad Abdo.

Il faut également différencier le nouveau salafisme du mouvement des Frères musulmans, « qui est une tendance relativement modérée dans le paysage de l’islam politique actuel », a-t-il précisé.

Le nouveau salafisme, incarné notamment par l’alliance idéologique qui s’est établie entre Ayman Zawahiri et Oussama Ben Laden, se fonde sur le slogan suivant : « Al walla’ wal barra’ wa hakimmiyat Allah », signifiant l’allégeance à Dieu, le désaveu des apostats (chrétiens, juifs et chiites), et le recours au Coran et à la vie du Prophète comme référence suprême et unique instrument du pouvoir politique, explique le conférencier. Les salafistes ont « une vision globale du monde », dont l’ultime objectif est la fondation du grand État islamique ; dit-il.

Selon M. Moussalli, c’est le retrait des troupes syriennes qui a surtout permis aux mouvements salafistes libanais – qui, selon lui, existaient depuis les années 50 déjà – de se révéler et de se répandre, ayant été longtemps opprimés par les services de renseignements syriens. « Une fois Damas retiré de la scène libanaise, c’est au tour de l’Arabie saoudite de faire son avancée en direction des mouvements salafistes libanais en tentant de les récupérer par le biais d’un soutien financier notamment », a-t-il dit.

Kassem Kassir fait cependant remarquer que la présence syrienne n’a pas empêché les divers groupuscules qui étaient déjà présents sur le terrain d’être actifs et de commettre plusieurs opérations risquées et criminelles. Souvent, dit-il, les services de renseignements syriens fermaient l’œil lorsque cela les arrangeait, notamment pour laisser libre le chemin en direction de l’Irak aux « combattants de Dieu ». C’est d’ailleurs l’un de ces mouvements qui se trouvait derrière l’attentat contre le cortège des évêques de l’Université Balamand suite aux événements dramatiques de la Bosnie, a-t-il précisé en rappelant que ce groupuscule n’avait pas de cadre organisationnel. « Certains de ses membres venaient de la Jamaa islamiya, d’autres du mouvement al-Tawhid. C’est un peu le même schéma qui s’applique au groupuscule nébuleux qui était derrière l’assassinat de cheikh Nizar el-Halabi (ancien chef du mouvement al-Ahbache) », poursuit le journaliste. « Depuis, plusieurs autres opérations ont été conduites par ces nébuleuses, notamment l’attaque contre l’ambassade de Russie, l’assassinat des quatre juges à Saïda, des vols de banques qui leur ont été attribués. La plus grande opération était sans aucun doute celle de Denniyé, organisée et menée par Bassam Kanj », ajoute le conférencier.

M. Kassir distingue trois types de courants salafistes au Liban : les mouvements wahhabites, qui incarnent un salafisme de type culturo-religieux, regroupant plusieurs ulémas qui ont étudié en Arabie ; les mouvements jihadistes déclarés comme Fateh el-Islam ; et une troisième catégorie de jihadistes qui reste secrète et dont certains des membres ont été révélés à la presse au lendemain d’opérations qu’ils avaient montées et qui ont mené à leur arrestation. « Autant de tendances et de mouvements qui sont éparpillés sur l’ensemble du territoire libanais, notamment à Denniyé, dans la Békaa à Majdel Anjar, au Arqoub, à Chebaa et à Nabatiyeh », précise l’expert.

Selon lui, les mouvements salafistes appartenant à la première catégorie, c’est-à-dire les non-jihadistes, ont pour fonction de propager la pensée coranique. Cependant, dit-il, « ils constituent une base solide pour les mouvements jihadistes à l’avenir ».
Outre Fateh el-Islam, le journaliste place dans la seconde catégorie également Isbat el-Ansar et Ansar Allah (présidé par Jamal Sleimane qui était membre du Fateh au départ). « Ce dernier n’est pas un salafiste pur et dur, mais il est influencé par la pensée intégriste », précise-t-il.

L’intervenant ne manque pas de citer au passage « le groupe des 13 », dirigé par Hassan Nabaa, qui avait fui la Syrie où il était surveillé pour venir au Liban. Khaled Abou Taha et Ahmad Abou Adass – dont les noms ont figuré dans les rapports de la commission d’enquête sur l’assassinat de Rafic Hariri – sont liés à ce groupuscule qui comprend des Saoudiens, des Palestiniens, des Syriens et des Libanais. Plusieurs membres de ce groupe ont été arrêtés, ajoute-t-il.

« Actuellement, on estime que près de 5 000 combattants seraient disposés à venir au Liban », conclut le conférencier.
(L’Orient-Le Jour, 27 Juillet 2007)

(my emphasis)

One should point out that the “nébuleuse” had direct links to al-Qa’ida. BTW, in his famous study The Call for Global Islamic Resistance, Abu Musab al-Suri did not differentiate between the Dinniyeh group and Asbat al-Ansar:

“In his portrayal of Abu `A’isha, al-Suri lauds the group for fighting against the neo-Sufi group, the Ahbash. …
However, al-Suri seems to claim that the Dinniyya was responsible for the assassination of their Lebanese president Nizar al-Halabi on Aug. 31, 1995, which seems unlikely. This assassination is usually associated with other Sunni radical groups such as Asbat al-Ansar (based in the Palestinian refugee camp of `Ayn al-Hilwa) who did indeed loathe the Ahbash.61 However, since the Asbat al-Ansar supported the efforts of Abu `A’isha and his close followers to establish a Muslim state in the hills behind Tripoli during the fall of 1999 and gave them refuge after its failure there may be some overlap.”
(David Cook, “Paradigmatic Jihadi Movements”, CTC 2006, p.22-23)

Other interesting articles:

Bush Policy Pushes Lebanon to the Brink of Civil War
By Clancy Chassay
(CounterPunch, July 26, 2007)

This is OT, but possibly important for people living in the region:

“In the 6th century AD, John of Ephesus wrote of a cataclysmic event that devastated coastal Lebanon: “The sea withdrew and retreated from the coastal cities of Phoenicia for a distance of nearly two miles…. A tremendous surge of the sea rushed up to return to its original depths.” Tripoli was swamped. Beirut took almost 1,300 years to recover.

Now an international team of geophysicists has traced the origins of the July 9, 551, tsunami to an earthquake along a previously unknown fault roughly four miles off Lebanon’s coast. The fault traces the coast for up to 90 miles. The data come from a research cruise in 2003 during which the scientists used high-resolution sonar to map the contours of the sea floor. The evidence shows up as relatively fresh fault scarps along the ocean bottom.

The team also examined stretches of coast whose beaches rise in stair-step fashion out of the Medi terranean – indicators of past quakes that pushed up Lebanon’s coast. They estimate that major quakes come in clusters, separated by 1,500 to 1,750 years of relative calm. If that’s true, they say, the region is long overdue for a major seismic event. The results appear in the August issue of the journal Geology.”
(“On the horizon: news from the frontiers of science”, Christian Science Monitor, July 26, 2007)

July 27th, 2007, 6:30 pm


Enlightened said:

Its amazing how time and age moderates some people (Gareth Evans ex Australian Foreign minister and staunch Israeli supporter during his political career) is now advocating a just solution to the Palestinian/Israeli dispute with a capital in East Jerusalem and a just solution to the refugee crisis.

During his tenure as Australian Foreign minister his stance and obvious bias towards the Israeli position, and his hard position towards the right of return and or compensation towards the refugees was embarrassing.

However reading his article last week before Josh posted it I was amazed that his stance has changed. The treatment, and compensation of the refugees I think will go a long way in solving the conflict ( on both sides both ex Jewish refugees in Arab lands that were either forced out or made to move to Israel, and the Palestinians who were forced of their lands and were settled into camps).

Next year will mean sixty years of conflict!!!!!! This has been too long and a clear failure of political Leadership on both sides of the fence, to perpetuate a conflict this long.

July 27th, 2007, 11:58 pm


Imad Naasan said:

To Check Syria, U.S. Explores Bond With Muslim Brothers

Activist Group Provides Link to Syrian Islamists; Seeking Women’s Rights


July 25, 2007; Page A1

WASHINGTON — On a humid afternoon in late May, about 100 supporters of Syria’s largest exile opposition group, the National Salvation Front, gathered outside Damascus’s embassy here to protest Syrian President Bashar Assad’s rule. The participants shouted anti-Assad slogans and raised banners proclaiming: “Change the Regime Now.”

The NSF unites liberal democrats, Kurds, Marxists and former Syrian officials in an effort to transform President Assad’s despotic regime. But the Washington protest also connected a pair of more unlikely players — the U.S. government and the Muslim Brotherhood.

One of the NSF’s most influential members is the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood — the decades-old political movement active across the Middle East whose leaders have inspired the terrorist groups Hamas and al Qaeda. Its Syrian offshoot says it has renounced armed struggle in favor of democratic reform.

In the months leading up to the May 26 rally, the NSF held a string of meetings with officials from the State Department and the National Security Council. They discussed media and political strategies, and the administration dispatched a camera crew from the U.S. government-funded Al Hurra television station to beam scenes of the rally across the Arab world.

How Bush hard-liners and the Brotherhood’s Syrian branch came together is a tale of desperation to keep up the pressure on Mr. Assad, whose regime has weathered all attempts by the U.S. to cripple it in recent years. The unusual relationship is also a measure of the evolving strategies on both sides as they seek ways to counter the Syrian government.

The White House views Syria — along with its allies, Iran and militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas — as a main threat to stability in the Middle East. So it is exploring the potential benefits of engaging with the Brotherhood. Despite its checkered record, the Sunni group could provide a counterweight against the rising influence of Shiite political power in the region. It could also, the reasoning goes, emerge as a force for democratic change.

The U.S. has traditionally avoided contact with the Brotherhood across the Middle East. But now the State Department and National Security Council have begun to hold regular strategy sessions on Syria policy with the NSF and is funding an organization linked to it. Senior officials from the State Department and the National Security Council confirm the meetings. The U.S. has also discussed with the NSF and linked groups ways to monitor elections and promote civil society in Syria.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scott Carpenter says the U.S. talks “with everyone in the Syrian opposition” to understand what is happening in the country and hasn’t bestowed the NSF with special status. The front “is the largest coalition of groups that have come together” to promote democratic change, Mr. Carpenter adds. “It’s begun to have its own gravitational pull.”

U.S. diplomats and politicians have also met with legislators from parties connected to the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, Egypt and Iraq in recent months to hear their views on democratic reforms in the Middle East, U.S. officials say. Last month, the State Department’s intelligence unit organized a conference of Middle East experts to examine the merits of engagement with the Brotherhood, particularly in Egypt and Syria.

A Syrian embassy spokesman in Washington, Ahmed Salkini, described the NSF as “an insignificant force,” and said Damascus is aware of the NSF’s activities and its meetings with the Bush administration. “It’s a coalition that lacks any form of legitimacy inside or outside Syria,” he said.

Set up in the 1920s by an Egyptian schoolteacher amid the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders argued that only a society governed by Islamic law could buttress the Muslim world against foreign aggression and internal corruption. A principal credo of founder Hassan al-Banna states, “The Prophet is our leader. Quran is our law.”

Branches spread across the Arab world, including Syria, Jordan and Iraq. Though ideologically linked to the Egyptian group, they were largely autonomous. In the Palestinian territories, Muslim Brothers established Hamas in 1987 as a militant response to Israel’s occupation; the organization seized control of the Gaza Strip this June. The U.S., Europe and Israel designate Hamas as a terrorist organization for its use of suicide attacks.

Today, the Brotherhood’s relationship to Islamist militancy and al Qaeda in particular, is the source of much debate. Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders cite the works of the Brotherhood’s late intellectual, Sayyid Qutb, as an inspiration for their crusade against the West and Arab dictators. Members of Egyptian and Syrian Brotherhood arms have also gone on to take senior roles in Mr. bin Laden’s movement.

Al Qaeda’s leadership, however, has also criticized Brotherhood branches recently for their embrace of democratic elections and dialogue with Western powers. The Brotherhood’s modern leadership has renounced al Qaeda’s use of violence.

The Brotherhood’s Syrian branch was established in the 1940s and won seats in early parliamentary elections and government cabinets. In the 1960s, the Baath party and the Assad family seized power, ushering in a violent chapter in Syrian history. Arms of the Brotherhood assassinated senior military and Baath party officials in the 1970s. Syria made membership in the Brotherhood a capital offense in 1980. In 1982, the regime killed up to 25,000 civilians in the city of Hama, a Brotherhood stronghold, driving many of its leaders into exile.

Syria currently has mixed relations with Islamist groups. Damascus supports the Brotherhood-inspired Hamas, as well as Hezbollah, in their fight against Israel’s presence in the region. The U.S. charges Syria with facilitating the entrance of al Qaeda fighters into Iraq, a charge Syria denies. But the staunchly secular regime represses these or other Islamist groups seeking political change within the country.

Among the Syrian exiles pressing for regime change is Ali Sadreddin Al Bayanouni, a lawyer and former bodyguard to Brotherhood officials. Mr. Bayanouni fled to Jordan in 1979 and eventually took over as president of the Brotherhood’s Syrian arm. In 2000, Amman expelled him to appease Damascus, and Mr. Bayanouni settled in London. Fit and energetic despite his 69 years, he personifies to many the new, moderate leadership of the Brotherhood.

Though his son-in-law was executed during the 1982 crackdown, Mr. Bayanouni says he rules out armed struggle as a way to change Syria. He advocates the rights of women and ethnic minorities, and envisions a government based on “pluralism and power sharing.”

“The Brotherhood has a very moderate understanding of Islam that needs to be taken into account,” he says.

The seeds of the NSF were planted four years ago by Abdul Halim Khaddam, who was among the longest-serving senior Baath party officials under late President Hafez Assad.

President Assad died in 2000, replaced by his son Bashar. By 2003, Mr. Khaddam says he believed one-party rule was fueling corruption and wrecking Syria’s economy. Mr. Khaddam, then Syria’s vice president, secretly contacted Mr. Bayanouni to discuss a rapprochement. Through a third party, Mr. Khaddam says he conveyed his belief that Syria could progress only if the Muslim Brotherhood was brought inside the political system. In 2005, Mr. Khaddam resigned and fled to Paris.

Messrs. Khaddam and Bayanouni formed the NSF in February 2006. The marriage of the Muslim Brothers and breakaway Baathists shocked many in the Arab world. The pair also reached out to the Bush administration, hoping a partnership with the U.S. could increase pressure on President Assad.

Instead of requesting military aid or financing, the group is seeking Washington’s help in focusing on Syria’s human-rights record. It is pressing for more financial sanctions on President Assad’s family. (The U.S. already has some sanctions on Syria, including on senior government officials.) The NSF also wants Washington to give up its historical bias against Islamists in government, saying the Brotherhood could help moderate Damascus’s behavior.

“We don’t want to see the U.S. give the regime a way out from its violations,” Mr. Khaddam says.

An initial contact between the White House and NSF was forged by Najib Ghadbian, a University of Arkansas political scientist. In 2005, Mr. Ghadbian and other Syrian-Americans had set up the Syrian National Council in a bid to influence the U.S. policy debate. Meeting that fall with a senior State Department official, he suggested the U.S. work with his group and its contacts, including the Brotherhood. U.S. officials confirm they were initially resistant to talking with Syrian groups tied to the Brotherhood.

Syrian-Americans were also divided. At a January 2006 conference of Syrian-American activists in Washington, participants debated whether to align with the NSF. The Syrian Reform Party, a group of pro-democracy activists close to the Bush national security team, declined to attend. “We can’t trust our future to Islamists,” says its president, Farid Ghadry, a regular visitor at the White House. “The Brotherhood will never moderate itself.”

Mr. Ghadbian’s group, however, decided to join the NSF. Syrian-American activists, he explained, “Wouldn’t be taken seriously” in the Arab world without ties to arguably the largest group opposing President Assad.

As 2006 progressed, Washington became increasingly concerned about Syria’s military alliance with Iran, and the threat it posed to U.S. interests in the region. Damascus and Tehran backed Hezbollah, which fought Israel to a virtual draw that summer. The White House also worried about the threat Syria posed to Lebanon’s pro-Western government.

By early summer, the stance of key administration officials — including the White House’s chief Middle East adviser, Elliott Abrams — began to shift, say U.S. diplomats and NSF members. The White House’s National Security Council quietly vetted Messrs. Bayanouni and Khaddam through retired diplomats and Syrian-American activists, participants in the process say. U.S. officials sought assurance that the Syrian Brotherhood was committed to democracy and had renounced violence. They also hoped Mr. Khaddam could provide information on the inner workings of the Assad regime.

During 2006, Syrian exile and democracy activist Ammar Abdulhamid emerged as one of the NSF’s main liaisons with senior White House officials. In the weeks surrounding the Lebanon war, which began in July, Messrs. Abdulhamid and Ghadbian and other Syrian-Americans met with Mr. Abrams’s deputies in the Old Executive Office building next to the White House. Through these intermediaries, the White House exhorted the NSF to build a wide coalition of opposition groups and to run it in a transparent and democratic manner, participants say.

The two sides began discussing ways to highlight the problems of Syria’s parliamentary and presidential elections, approaching in 2007. The Baathists allowed no candidates from other parties to run in the May 27 presidential poll.

In the weeks before the presidential election, the State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative, which promotes regional democracy, and NSF members met to talk about publicizing Syria’s lack of democracy and low voter turnout, participants say. A Washington-based consulting firm, C&O Resources Inc., assisted the NSF in its planning for the May 26 anti-Assad rally at the Syrian embassy, providing media and political contacts. State Department officials stress they provided no financial or technical support to the protestors.

Turnout for the May 26 rally in Washington was smaller than expected. From behind the windows of Syria’s colonial-style embassy building, officials snapped photos of the crowd. Some protesters, worried they could be linked with family members back in Syria, covered their faces with scarves.

The cooperation has come at a price for both sides. The Bush administration has come under fire from critics who point to the Brotherhood’s ties to Hamas and al Qaeda. They also argue that any U.S. partnership with the group could destabilize governments in Jordan and Egypt, two U.S. allies where the Brotherhood is a growing opposition force. The U.S. says it is committed to opening political processes across the Middle East.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bayanouni and the Syrian Brothers have drawn criticism from some Brotherhood leaders in the Middle East, who say contacts with the U.S. discredit their movement. And inside Syria, courts have ordered long prison sentences for three prominent democracy activists in recent weeks, one of whom visited the White House last year.

Senior State Department and National Security Council officials say they haven’t ruled out meeting with Mr. Bayanouni and other Brotherhood leaders in the future. Mr. Bayanouni says the cooperation through the NSF is merely a good start. “In the absence of direct dialogue” between the U.S. and the Syrian Brothers, he says, “we believe the American image of the Brotherhood will always remain vague

July 28th, 2007, 6:45 am


t_desco said:


US: Lebanese should elect president without outside intimidation
(Ya Libnan, 28 July, 2007)

Aoun warned of ‘Grave Consequences’ over alliance with Hezbollah (by US ambassador Jeffrey Feltman)
(Ya Libnan, 3 November, 2006)

More on the tsunami threat (also on Al-Akhbar front page):

Major Quake, Tsunami Likely in Middle East, Study Finds
(National Geographic News, July 26, 2007)

It could happen any day in the next 250 years.

July 28th, 2007, 10:07 am


why-discuss said:

Blame the Saudis..

The US is running out of scapegoats to their pathetic failure in Iraq: After having blamed Syria and Iran, now they are blaming their
“friends” Saudis. When would they ever blame themselves?

L'”allié” saoudien accusé à Washington d’attiser la guérilla en Irak,1-0@2-3222,36-939954,0.html?xtor=RSS-3210

July 28th, 2007, 1:19 pm


t_desco said:

German train bomber update (indirect link al-Qa’ida-Fatah al-Islam)

German intelligence believes that “Chalid Ibrahim”, a brother of train bombing suspect Youssef al-Haj Dib who is living in Sweden, was in direct contact with al-Qa’ida (Geheimdienste sehen in den gescheiterten Kofferbombenanschlägen Vorboten für neue Attacken, ddp, 28.07.2007; see also the earlier report by German newspaper Die Welt, Kofferbomber wegen Mordversuchs angeklagt, 20. Juni 2007).

Another suspect in the attempted train bombing, Youssef’s brother Saddam al-Haj Dib was a leader in Fatah al-Islam, killed in the initial battle with the Lebanese army in Tripoli.

One should stress that so far the information about Chalid Ibrahim’s links to al-Qa’ida does not seem solid enough to be used in court.

The Stern reported in August 2006 that one of Youssef’s brothers was living in Sweden and another in Denmark, working as “taxi driver” (“Jussef liebte Deutschland”, 25. August 2006).

In June I quoted reports about the arrest of Danish citizens in Lebanon (“UNIFIL and Eido Car Bombs the Same: Murr Blames al-Qaida”, Syria Comment, June 27th, 2007).

Two were released, one remains in prison.

His name is Ali Ibrahim. He is working as a bus driver in Copenhagen. He was visiting his parents in Tripoli. He has a brother named Khaled Ibrahim, living in Sweden (Dansk familiefar og muslim arresteret i Libanon, Politiken, 26. jun 2007; 2 Danish men released from Lebanon detention, 2 others with Danish ties remain, AP, 2007-06-27).

“Chalid Ibrahim” and Khaled Ibrahim – one and the same person?

July 28th, 2007, 1:33 pm


Akbar Palace said:

So long David Wurmser. Thanks to you and your wife Meyrav, we have a better understanding of what the aims and goals are of Islamic terrorists and their supporters. Thank you for your hard work dedicated to confronting the enemies of the US, the West and the moderate Middle East.

This will be a long battle that no “instant gratification” will quell, and one day, when ME terrorism will be a thing of the past, your efforts will be congratulated.

July 28th, 2007, 3:43 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Why-Discuss asks:

The US is running out of scapegoats to their pathetic failure in Iraq: After having blamed Syria and Iran, now they are blaming their
“friends” Saudis. When would they ever blame themselves?

The US will blame themselves when it is their fault. And Arab and Islamic terrorism is not the fault of the US government. Is is the fault of the terrorists. The deaths caused by Saddam Hussein and his henchmen are the fault of Saddam Hussein and his henchmen. Just remember, those Iraqis civilians that died while Saddam Hussein was in power far outnumber the civilians who have died from coalition forces (yet no one faults Saddam Hussein on this and other anti-American websites).

July 28th, 2007, 4:34 pm


why-discuss said:

Akbar….come on

Invading Irak on a false pretext, creating a confortable nest for the eclosion of a more violent Al Qaeida terrorism, allowing the growth of sectarian violence, not be able to protect a country they occupy and thus allowing hundred of thousands of iraqi innocent to be killed.. No, it is the fault of Syria, Iran, Saudis etc.. come on!! It is for sure the fault of that neo-con polluted US administration who was blinded by their pride and the certainty of their power and who now has blood on their hands, both iraqis’ blood and young US soldiers’s blood.

July 28th, 2007, 6:06 pm


Offended said:

G is silent, K is silent, MSK with his very infamous ‘you don’t know me’ mantra is also pretty quiet…

The little unbridled brute called Akbar is barking alone….

All is well, I am going to have a sound sleep tonight..

July 28th, 2007, 6:43 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Invading Irak on a false pretext, creating a confortable nest for the eclosion of a more violent Al Qaeida terrorism, allowing the growth of sectarian violence, not be able to protect a country they occupy and thus allowing hundred of thousands of iraqi innocent to be killed.

The US is not “allowing the growth of sectarian violence”, they are trying to prevent it. Actually, Syria and Iran are “allowing the growth of sectarian violence”. Islamic fundamentalists are killing most of the innocent Iraqis by using suicide bombs and IEDS. Address your scorn to these terrorists if you don’t mind.

UNSC Resolution 1441 was not a “false pretext”. Saddam Hussein turned away UN investigators who could not determine what WMD was left remaining in Iraq. Syria was one of the UNSC members who signed the resolution. Professor Josh needs to remind you of this.

Offended stated:

The little unbridled brute called Akbar is barking alone….

I’ve never used an IED or semtex bomb in my life. And I’m a “brute”? Rethink your value system.

July 28th, 2007, 7:33 pm


SimoHurtta said:

The US will blame themselves when it is their fault.

USA’s present government is completely incompetent to blame “themselves” with their numerous domestic and international failures even the US population blames vocally their government. Actually it would be interesting to know in what Bush’s regime has succeeded. Bin Laden is running loose, New Orleans is in ruins, banking system is near collapsing …

I’ve never used an IED or semtex bomb in my life. And I’m a “brute”? Rethink your value system.

Have you Akbar been beating women and shooting children in the occupied areas? The new program of IDF to get Israeli expatriates to serve and “motivate” young IDF soldiers for a short period in the occupied areas gives you finally an opportunity to do that. You should consider it if you do not want to go to fight in Iraq against “islamic terrorists” and search for the “vanished” WMD’s.

Akbar you must rethink your value system. Writing propaganda doesn’t really belong to your fields of expertise.

July 28th, 2007, 10:44 pm


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