News Round Up (29 August 2010)

Imad Moustapha has written a wonderful review of The Road to Damascus, Elaine Imady’s new book which was featured on Syria Comment, and which inspired spirited debate with Elaine Imady herself.

When Joshua Landis recommended to me Elaine Imady’s book, I wasn’t sure that I had time for it. I had a large backload of books on my desk …. Now that I have read the book I realize how far from getting it right I was. …

Damascus Stock Market is up 52.5% YTS.  3rd best performing after Mongolia and Srilanka’s, which were up about 65% YTD.

Investments in Syria’s Industrial Cities Increased Sharply over the Last 12 Months (Syria Report)

The combined value of the investments in Syria’s industrial cities reached SYP 441.7 billion at the end of the first half of this year or an annual increase of 70 percent. Read

“The Syrian Colony, Washington Street,” by W. Bengough, depicts a turn-of-the-century street scene This is not what the lower west side of Manhattan would look like if the much-debated Islamic community center were built two blocks from the World Trade Center site. This is what it looked like decades before the World Trade Center was even envisioned. This is its heritage. not far from the focus of the current debate over an Islamic center.

To be clear: this neighborhood, called Little Syria, was south of what would become the trade center site, while the Islamic center would be to the north. And Muslims, chiefly from Palestine, made up perhaps 5 percent of its population. The Syrians and Lebanese in the neighborhood were mostly Christian.

But it is worth recalling the old sights and sounds and smells of Washington Street as a reminder that in New York — a city as densely layered as baklava — no one has a definitive claim on any part of town, and history can turn up some unexpected people in surprising places.

بشار الاسد بعد عقد: اقتصاد السوق..لكن بأي ثمن؟

داماسكوس بيرو

Salam Kawakibi, Senior Researcher for the Arab Reform Initiative has two new articles that are excellent and worth the read. The review of the history of private media is particularly well researched. The Private Media in Syria —And — Internet or “Enter Not” the Syrian Experience

Syria sex trade uncovered
Saturday, August 28 ABC News Video
A well done and heart breaking video story – a must see. Iraq – What a mess and the US is declaring victory.

Tony Karon has an excellent piece, “Two Minutes to Midnight? Cutting Through the Media’s Bogus Bomb-Iran Debate,” on Tom Dispatch. Here is a good quote from David Kay that he uses:

Israel is engaged in psychological warfare with the Obama administration — and it only partly concerns Iran… [B]eyond Iran, of probably greater importance to the current Israeli government is avoiding the Obama administration pushing it into a choice between settlements and territorial arrangements with the Palestinians that it is unwilling to make and permanent damage to its relationship with the U.S. Hyping the Iranian nuclear program and the need for early military action is a nice bargaining counter… if the U.S. wants to avoid an imminent Israeli strike, it must make concessions to Israel on the Palestinian issues.

Despite Israeli protests, Russia won’t halt arms sale to Syria – Haaretz Daily Newspaper

The agreement in question is for P-800 Yakhont missiles, a highly accurate Russian weapon with a 300-kilometer range capable of carrying a warhead of up to 200 kilograms.

Jack Matlock has begun to blog. He was ambassador to Russia and served on the NSC under Reagan. He weighs in on Goldberg:

Iran, even with nuclear weapons, does not pose an existential threat to Israel, as fanatics claim.  Iran’s leaders, though unprincipled hoodlums, are not suicidal and Israel’s reported hundred or so nuclear weapons are sufficient to pose an existential threat to Iran.

I do not believe that Bibi Netanyahu is as deranged on this issue as Jeffrey Goldberg pictures him. He is a master manipulator, and I believe that he and his Likud-minded colleagues are using the issue to distract attention from Israeli policies that are making the peace process impossible: the continuation of settlement activity in the West Bank and the illegal isolation of the Gaza strip.  These are policies that make a true settlement with the Palestinians impossible. They are policies that empower Iranian diplomacy in the area, even in Arab countries  which traditionally fear Iranian influence.

The most serious existential threat to a Jewish state in Palestine comes from the policies of the existing Israeli government. All the bru-ha-ha about an alleged “existential threat” from Iran is most likely designed to deflect U.S. and world attention from that fundamental fact.

Hamas, the I.R.A. and Us
By ALI ABUNIMAH, August 28, 2010, in the New York Times

… Both the Irish and Middle Eastern conflicts figure prominently in American domestic politics — yet both have played out in very different ways. The United States allowed the Irish-American lobby to help steer policy toward the weaker side: the Irish government in Dublin and Sinn Fein and other nationalist parties in the north. At times, the United States put intense pressure on the British government, leveling the field so that negotiations could result in an agreement with broad support. By contrast, the American government let the Israel lobby shift the balance of United States support toward the stronger of the two parties: Israel….

Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman says settlement building will restart in September.

Israel is planning to attack Hezbollah arms depots in Syria – Haaretz

Israel is planning to attack Hezbollah arms depots and weapons manufacturing plants in Syria, the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Rai reported on Saturday. The report is based on Western sources who asserted that Israel has increased its military force level along the northern border in the Golan Heights and Mount Dov areas.

US Threatens Turkish Firms Over Business With Iran: Report
2010-08-20 12:42:26.751 GMT

Istanbul (dpa) — The United States has warned Turkey of possible sanctions against Turkish firms doing an increasing amount of business with Iran, … The warning comes at a time of strongly expanding economic ties between Turkey and Iran, and after Turkey had voted against the UN Security Council resolution in June on new sanctions against Tehran.Turkish Minister of State Hayati Yazici was cited as saying that Turkey aims to achieve a trade volume with Iran in the coming year to 20 billion dollars. Last year’s trade volume was 5.5 billion dollars.Among other steps, the countries plan to double, to four, the number of customs control points on their joint border.

Republicans reject Obama’s Turkey envoy –  The Cable:

“…The nomination of Frank Ricciardone to be the next U.S. ambassador to Turkey is being held up in the Senate and the GOP has no intention of allowing a vote on the nomination any time soon.

A spokesperson for Sen. Sam Brownback, R-KS, confirmed to The Cable that his office has placed a hold on the nomination, which was reported out favorably by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month. Brownback is preparing a letter now to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explaining the reasons for his objections.

Brownback’s office declined to specify the contents of the letter, but multiple GOP senate aides from other offices said that there was widespread support throughout the caucus for Brownback’s position and that there was nothing specific the administration could do to convince Ricciardone’s detractors to allow his nomination to proceed. If Brownback did release his hold, it’s likely another one would surface soon after. “He’s just the wrong guy for this sensitive post at this time and the hope is that the administration will recognize that he won’t be confirmed this year and nominate someone better,” said one senior GOP aide close to the issue…”

The Caspian Sea: China’s Silk Road Strategy Converges with Damascus
By Christina Lin

The Caspian region is becoming enmeshed in a web of overlapping political, military, trade and energy interests of countries extending from Asia, to the Middle East, to Russia, to Europe. Given the rising instability of Middle East energy supplies, the Caspian basin has emerged in prominence as an alternative resource for the world’s growing energy consumers. It is estimated that the Caspian Sea is home to the world’s largest reservoir for oil and natural gas after the Persian Gulf and Russia [1]. Historically, Russia had a monopoly of influence in the region during the Soviet era, but after 1991 the United States began making inroads into the region to reduce Russia’s influence over the newly formed independent states [2]. In recent years, both China and the European Union have stepped up their presence and have become active players in the region. Other new players albeit smaller but with increasing footprints include countries such as India, Japan and South Korea. Of the various players, China has the fastest growing presence in the region—driven by its voracious energy appetite but also enabled by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) framework. As China embarks on its “look west” development Silk Road Strategy, Syria’s “look east” policy appears to be converging with Chinese interests at the Caspian Sea. The interplay of China’s growing footprint in the Caspian region via its modern Silk Road—reinforced by Syrian President Assad’s nascent “Four Seas Strategy”—will have important implications for the United States, the European Union and other allies. ….

Syria’s Four Seas Strategy

While China is moving west towards the Caspian Sea, Damascus is concurrently moving eastward. Since 2009, Bashar al-Assad has been promoting a “Four Seas Strategy” to turn Damascus into a trade hub among the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Persian Gulf/Arabian Sea and the Caspian Sea. Aligning Syria with countries that lie on these shores—Turkey, Iran, and Azerbaijan (The Weekly Middle East Reporter, August 1, 2009)—Assad peddled this idea in May 2009 with Turkey, stating that “Once the economic space between Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran become integrated, we would link the Mediterranean, Caspian, Black Sea, and the [Persian] Gulf … we aren’t just important in the Middle East…Once we link these four seas, we become the compulsory intersection of the whole world in investment, transport and more.” He described Syria’s nexus of “a single, larger perimeter [with Turkey, Iran and Russia]…we’re talking about the center of the world” [17]. Syria can thus act as a means of access for EU countries to markets in the Arab world and western Asian countries [18]. Assad discussed this vision with Medvedev in May this year, and in August 2009 he received Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s blessing when he presented this strategy [19].

To this end, Assad is taking steps to expand the Arab Gas Pipeline (AGP) to pipe gas from Egypt and Iraq via Syria, and connecting with Nabucco pipelines to Turkey onto Europe.

AGP currently links Egypt with Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and a new 62 km link between Syria and Turkey was signed in 2009 to be completed in 2011 (Forward Magazine, February 2010). This would provide a much-demanded supply of gas to northern Syria, and as gas becomes available form other sources (primarily Iraq), it will ultimately serve as a supply route to Turkey and the EU. Syria’s long-term aim is to be a transit state for Egypt, Iraq, Iran and Azerbaijan (Eurasia Review, June 29). In 2009 Assad visited Azerbaijan—the first Syrian president to visit since Azeri independence in 1991—and signed 19 cooperation agreements and MOUs on economic, political and commercial fields. This included a deal for Azerbaijan to export 1.5 bcm of gas annually to Syria via Turkey in mid 2011 (World Bulletin, July 2; The Turkish weekly, June 29). It is also eyeing a role in the Nabucco gas pipeline project, while Russia’s Gazprom considers joining the Arab Gas Pipeline that will feed gas from Egypt, Iraq, and Azerbaijan into Nabucco (Pipeline International, May 12). Another Russian company, Stoytransgaz, has been involved in the construction of the first two stages of the AGP, building a gas processing plant in central Syria and another 75km south of Al-Rakka (World Bulletin, July 2; The Turkish Weekly, June 29).


China’s Silk Road Strategy is linking up with Syria’s look east policy at the Caspian region. The region is a key source for feeding various pipeline projects: Azeri gas to the first stage of the Nabucco pipeline to Europe, which will eventually connect with the AGP to the Middle East; Turkmen and Kazakh gas via the Central Asia-China Pipeline and the Kazakhstan-China Pipeline to China; and Turkmen gas to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India via the TAPI pipeline to South Asia. Concurrently, a new Eurasian regional security architecture based on energy security appears to be emerging, with Turkey, Syria and Iran in the Four Seas Strategy to connect with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. In 2007 an Iranian Fars News Agency article, entitled “Inevitable Iran-Turkey-Syria-Russia Alliance,” discussed how this “union of four” would challenge U.S. policies in the Middle East (Fars News Agency, November 5, 2007). Likewise, Russia and China may be taking steps to use the SCO to build a new regional security architecture that reinforces each other’s territorial integrity while retrenching Western influences [20]. As Russia is steadily increasing its Black Sea Fleet (Reuters, July 12; Christian Science Monitor, May 19), gaining a foothold in the Mediterranean via the Syrian port Tartus and forming a Black Sea military alliance with Turkey and Ukraine to be signed in August 2010 (RIA Novosti, June 28; Vestinik Kavkaza, June 29; World Security Network, July 7), China is increasing its footprint in the Caspian region via the SCO and Silk Road of pipelines, rail and highways [21]. Once again, there appears to be a new “great game” around the Caspian region and the Greater Middle East.

Islamophobia as the New Antisemitism <>

Daniel Luban has written a timely and well-researched article <>  in Tablet  on what he calls, the “New Antisemitism,” the anti-Islamic bigotry that is on the rise in the United States. Using the term “New Antisemitism” to describe this bigotry is much more appropriate than using it to describe anti-Zionism or anti-Israelism;

The American Mideast Leadership Program is in full swing, and so are the blogs. Here is a  blog about some of the students’ experiences so far.

Discussion of this poll is contained in an excellent piece about Israel’s desecration of Muslim graveyards. No coincidence that the world’s most popular leaders are the most belligerent towards the US and Israel:
If some politicians and intellectuals in the West still think of a peace process that isolates Hamas and Iran, or divides the region’s resistance groups, then they are wasting their time. The pulse of the people in the Middle East has overtaken them and is heading in a different direction.

Max Blumenthal writes:

A survey conducted recently by Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland presents a window on the new reality in the Middle East for the benefit of those on the other side of the Atlantic who have failed miserably to understand the aspirations, strength and will of the people of this region. Telhami’s poll indicated that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan tops the “new real world order” popularity stakes with 20% of the votes, followed by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez with 13%; close behind Chavez with 12% is America’s current bête noir, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. What was described as particularly bad news for the White House is that 77% of those surveyed believe that Iran has the right to possess nuclear energy and 57% of them consider that a nuclear Iran would be better for the Middle East. Israel, remember, stands unopposed at the moment as a nuclear power in the region.

Discussion of this poll is contained in an excellent piece about Israel’s desecration of Muslim graveyards. No coincidence that the world’s most popular leaders are the most belligerent towards the US and Israel:
If some politicians and intellectuals in the West still think of a peace process that isolates Hamas and Iran, or divides the region’s resistance groups, then they are wasting their time. The pulse of the people in the Middle East has overtaken them and is heading in a different direction.

Ignatius in the WaPo tries to be positive about the renewed Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. Steven Walt, “Road to Nowhere” feels no obligation to make such a bow.

Ignatius in the WaPo:  “… It’s a classic piece of diplomacy: One side is responding to one letter of invitation; the other is responding to a subtly different request. It’s a finesse that has succeeded in getting both to the table, but it also highlights the huge differences that exist between the two sides — and could scuttle the talks.

The Obama administration is also finessing the question of whether the moratorium on Israeli settlement-building, which is set to expire in late September, will be extended. Administration officials had hoped Netanyahu he would agree to an extension as a confidence-building measure before the talks started. But he hasn’t given any formal assurance. Now, American officials are evidently hoping that once talks are rolling, the Israeli prime minister won’t want to blow them up by resuming settlement activity — and won’t want the political onus of being seen as having undermined the U.S.-led peace effort.

The Arab side has feared that Netanyahu would drag out negotiations without delivering major concessions. In a nod to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Friday’s announcement said there would be a one-year time limit on the talks.

After opening meetings in Washington on Sept. 1 and 2, U.S. officials plan to move the talks to a venue where the parties can bargain without intrusion. Camp David in Maryland and the Wye Plantation on the Eastern Shore have provided such hideaway meeting places in the past. This time U.S. officials have looked at a range of sites, from White Oak in Florida to retreats in the Middleburg area of Virginia. The final location hasn’t been set, but senior officials favor a spot that’s relatively close to Washington.

The opening of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks will be a milestone for President Obama, who came to office with high hopes that he could achieve a breakthrough but quickly discovered the pitfalls of peacemaking. It’s the culmination of a process that included unusual outreach to the Arab world, including his speech in Cairo last year. It also follows the withdrawal of the last official U.S. combat troops from Iraq and Obama’s defense of the right of Muslims to build a mosque in the neighborhood of “ground zero” in lower Manhattan — all steps aimed in part at engaging Arab and Muslim critics of the U.S.

From the first, the administration has been divided over the question of whether the talks should be framed by an opening statement of principles (as the Arabs wanted) or be open-ended (as the Israelis insisted). In the end, they appear to have had it both ways.

But if it was this hard to get people to agree to come to the table, that surely doesn’t bode well for the larger issues that need to be resolved.”

Doors Start to Open to Activists in Syria

ALEPPO, Syria — For five years, Chavia Ali’s attempts to start a disability rights group were thwarted — by prejudice, a lack of money and the Syrian government’s stranglehold on civic life. The government gave her a license, but prevented the group from meeting because of what Ms. Ali believes was a whisper campaign against her, a Kurd with a growing profile.

Chavia Ali has helped Zahra Sheikhi of the village of Ayn al-Arab, who is blind, become more confident. Ms. Sheikhi has learned to play the tanbour and hopes to move away from home.

Then everything changed.

Last year, Ms. Ali was told that a third of her budget would be paid by a group led by Asma al-Assad, the wife of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. Now Ms. Ali, 29, is everywhere, giving television interviews, speaking at ministry conferences and having her picture taken with the first lady.

The reversal of her group’s fortunes is part of an overture that government officials have described as a new embrace of civil society.

But the embrace is complicated. Even as doors have opened for a few people, like Ms. Ali, they have shut with increasing frequency on activists demanding greater political rights, according to human rights lawyers here.

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