News Round Up (30 June 2009)

Syrian-Saudi Rapprochement Imminent Amid News Hariri Received Damascus’ Blessing
by Naharnet

Regional players once again swung into action amidst reports that a Saudi envoy will soon visit Syria to discuss, apart from bilateral relations and the Middle East situation, Lebanon in light of the upcoming speakership election and formation of a new government….

As Safir said Hariri is surely to become Lebanon’s new prime minister before Monday while parliament, which is scheduled to meet Thursday, will re-elect current Speaker Nabih Berri for a fifth term in office.

The paper quoted Palestinian officials close to President Mahmoud Abbas as saying that Saudi King Abdullah has expressed during a recent summit between them his wish to visit Syria.

The officials said Abdullah conveyed his wish to the Syrian leadership.

They said the course of the birth of the new Lebanon cabinet headed by Hariri “will be a decisive point in terms of setting a date for Abdullah’s Damascus visit.”

As Safir quoted visitors coming from Syria as saying that Damascus welcomes Hariri’s nomination as Lebanon’s next premier, adding that future relations between the two neighboring countries await the new cabinet’s policy statement.

The daily Al Akhbar, meanwhile, quoted Lebanese sources as saying a summit is likely to take place between the Saudi monarch and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “in an effort to convince Damascus to cooperate with the Hariri government.”

It also quoted Arab and Egyptian sources as saying Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak supports Hariri’s nomination for the post “in the framework of a Saudi-Egyptian consensus and non-objection from Syria.”

Al Akhbar said Mubarak encouraged Hariri to “take a goodwill gesture toward Syria.”

The regional action coincides with ongoing contacts that should culminate in a meeting between Hariri and Berri ahead of Thursday’s parliament session.

Once More the Smell of Falafel
by Zvi Bar’el (Haaretz)

Syria, like Israel or the Palestinians, gives nothing away for free. For the revival of ties with the United States it pays in hard currency at the Iraqi border, and by avoiding any involvement in the Lebanese elections, which led to the victory of Saad Hariri’s coalition. It will also require full payment for peace with Israel. ….

Last week Syrian President Bashar Assad said once more that Israel is not a partner for peace. This declaration was not intended for the Israeli people to press their government. Assad is addressing Washington when he says “take this recalcitrant player and start shaking him up.” … On this front, a relatively easy one, Washington appears to be in no hurry.

Making peace is not a bitter medicine that needs to be taken in doses. Multilateral peace talks have been held in the past; the impression is that even without a detailed plan the Mideast is preparing to give the peace process another chance. But this time Israel will find it very hard to say the Syrians and Palestinians are not “ready” for peace. The Americans have matured the Arab side quite rapidly, and Israel needs to hurry and respond in kind.

What we need is not a competition on who is a refusenik, but an Israeli diplomatic initiative. … Not a clinical evaluation of the degree to which Assad is serious, but the reestablishment of the negotiating teams, the rallying of Turkey to set up the venue, and a declaration of principles on a withdrawal from the Golan Heights. There is no other way to start the overall process, and it might spur a revolution in the Middle East…..

I thank Moran Banai for many of these links. She edits the Middle East Bulletin for the Center for American Progress in Washington. See

An Ambassador to Syria and a Message to Iran —The National, Editorial

Whether Socialism: Syria Baath Party Debates Renewal —by Ayman Abalnour for Institute for War and Peace Reporting.

Edward Djerejian, former U.S. ambassador to Syria and Israel; former assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, “Job Advice for the New Ambassador to Syria,” interview with National Public Radio, June 25, 2009:

“When I was assigned to Damascus in 1988, under President Reagan and, later, President Bush, 41, we had a very adversarial situation between the two countries, as we do today, and admittedly in a different historic context, but we had major issues: the civil war in Lebanon, the Israeli-Syrian relationship, issues involving Syrian Jewry, et cetera. … But yet, we engaged. We engaged in a very direct, very authoritative manner with the president of the United States and the secretary of state fully behind the dialogue. And we were able, in that context, to achieve results … helping to end the civil war in Lebanon, getting Syria on board our coalition against Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, getting freedom of travel of Syrian Jews. And the big prize was getting the Syrians and—especially then President Hafez al-Assad—to agree to face to face direct negotiations with Israel. So I am a very strong proponent of dialogue with our adversaries. I support President Obama’s initiatives for a dialogue with Syria and Iran, for example, but as long as that dialogue is conducted in a very authoritative and tough-minded manner.”

Israel to leave Shebaa after peace deal – UN envoy
By Patrick Galey,Daily Star staff, Monday, June 29, 2009

BEIRUT: Syria will hand back the Shebaa Farms as soon as it signs a peace deal with Israel, according to a senior UN official on Saturday. The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams said that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem personally indicated to him that Syria considers the Farms to be Lebanese territory during talks this weekend. ….

Chinese exports could crush fragile markets Financial Times
By Ben Simpfendorfer , Financial Times, 29 Jun 2009

.– Syria’s government imposed tariffs on Chinese textile imports in response to rising factory closures in Aleppo, the country’s historic centre for textile production…..

The writer is chief China economist for The Royal Bank of Scotland and author of The New Silk Road

Sami Moubayed explains why: “Michael Jackson will be missed, and forever remembered, by his Arab and Syrian fans.”

Sex Matters:Low birthrates aren’t the result of economic growth and political stability; they’re a prerequisite. BY MALCOLM POTTS, MARTHA CAMPBELL | JUNE 22, 2009 / Foreign Policy

There is a well-known story about how a society stabilizes its population. As a country transitions from poverty to affluence, birthrates plunge—from six or eight children per woman to just about two. Population growth levels off. Prosperity and education, the story goes, are just about the best form of birth control there is. But this tale gets it backward. Low birthrates aren’t a consequence of national wealth; rather, they’re needed to create it. Soaring unemployment, endemic poverty, and flailing schools are quite simply impossible to combat when every year adds more and more people…..

[Iran has reduced its birthrate dramatically and should be ready for economic growth according to this article. Read why.]

Reuters– A joint venture led by Greek engineering firm Metka (MTKr.AT) signed a deal worth more than 640 million euros to build a natural gas-fired power plant in Syria, Metka said on Monday.
The project involves the construction, engineering and procurement of a 700 megawatt plant 35 km south of Damascus. Metka has a 75 percent stake in the venture with Italy’s Ansaldo Energia, a unit of Italy’s Finmeccanica (SIFI.MI), holding 25 percent.

Have we found the body of St Paul?
By A N Wilson Last updated at 2:43 AM on 30th June 2009

Ruthless, half mad, he stoned Christians to death. He also founded modern civilisation. And until yesterday, his fate was one of history’s great mysteries…

Deeply moved, the Pope delivered the news on Sunday that fragments of bones found in the tomb traditionally considered to be that of Saint Paul did indeed date from the first or second century.

Which means that, in all likelihood, they are the bones of the Apostle Paul – bones that have lain there for 1,950 years yet, astonishingly, have only been discovered in our time….

On the subject of St. Paul, see this article by S. Farah

Also see this article [in arabic] about President Assad’s meeting with Christian religious leaders

Iraq after the US withdrawal

Anthony Shadid believes the situation in Iraq will get worse following the US withdrawal but explains that few foreign reporters will be there to report on it: “We are withdrawing, in more ways than one, even as the mud gets wetter.”

Joost Hiltermann writes:

“Much could go wrong, and much probably will. The warning signs will include flawed elections, an end to political negotiations, a return to sectarian fighting in Baghdad, and a renewed refugee flow. Or Iraqis could manage to keep talking and somehow muddle through. Either way, this week’s much-ballyhooed deadline won’t decide much of anything.”

ANDREW J. BACEVICH: Professor of history and international relations at Boston University; author of “The Limits of Power; The End of American Exceptionalism”

American interests are best served by sustaining the pretense that “the surge has worked.” By ignoring the absence of any meaningful political reconciliation among rival Iraqi factions and by pretending that Iraqis should find tolerable levels of violence that would be deemed intolerable anywhere else, the Obama administration may yet be able to extricate the United States from a war that has failed utterly: no Iraqi weapons of mass destruction found, no ties between Saddam Hussein and the jihadists established, no democratic transformation of the Islamic world set in motion, no road to peace in Jerusalem discovered in downtown Baghdad.

JOHN A. NAGL: President of the Center for a New American Security

It is time for America to take the long view. Neither Iraq’s nor America’s stake in a stable, peaceful Middle East will vanish when the last American combat brigade departs. American policymakers must advance U.S. interests in Iraq and the Middle East through a long-term, low-profile engagement to help resolve Iraq’s internal challenges, strengthen its government and economic institutions, and integrate it as a constructive partner in the region. While shaping this new relationship will be difficult, neglecting it will have serious consequences for U.S. national security.

Israel and Palestine

In the West Bank, Suburb or Settlement?

MODIIN ILLIT, West Bank, June 29 — Chaim Hanfling knows a lot about this settlement’s population boom. Six of his 11 siblings have moved here from Jerusalem in recent years to take advantage of the lower land prices, and at age 29, he has added four children of his own. (By Howard Schneider, The Washington Post)

by Grant F. Smith
June 20, 2009, OpEd News

“A newly declassified 1960 report on Israel’s nukes underscores role in foreign policy “assertiveness.”

“Possession of a nuclear weapon capability, or even the prospect of achieving it, would clearly give Israel a greater sense of security, self-confidence, and assertiveness…Israel would be less inclined than ever to make concessions…” are conclusions of a CIA Special National Intelligence Estimate released on June 5, 2009.

The December 1960 intelligence analysis, parts which are still classified, offers timely context as the Obama administration struggles to slow booming settlement activities in lands Israel captured during preemptive attacks in 1967.

Do nuclear weapons enter the calculation as Israel continues to reject pressure from the very country providing billions in yearly foreign aid, preferential treatment of exports and US charitable donations? Yes, is the clear conclusion.

For years the CIA resisted public calls to declassify files about the financing, development, deployment and strategy behind Israel’s nuclear weapons. This was in line with the policy of “strategic ambiguity.” Both the US and Israel officially refused to confirm or deny the existence of a nuclear arsenal. Such secrecy has been used to justify military aid to Israel despite explicit bans on proliferators legislated by Senators Symington and Glenn in the 1970s. Recent public confirmations of Israel’s nuclear status by US officials could enable legal challenges and new public scrutiny of taxpayer funds flowing to Israel.

The authors of the 1960s CIA estimate focus on the military deterrent nature of Israel’s nuclear capability. Nevertheless the possibility of subtle nuclear blackmail in return for diplomatic and foreign aid support was implicit. The declassified CIA report reveals that Israeli “assertiveness” and reluctance to negotiate could be empowered by nuclear weapons. Longstanding Israeli rejection of UN, US and human rights initiatives partially depend upon the influence of its secret arsenal. Success also depends on regional nuclear hegemony, explaining Israel’s ongoing drive to focus world attention on Iran’s civilian nuclear program.

Ironically, Israel may now be driving regional nuclear proliferation as it successfully demonstrates how such weapons bestow the ability to resist outside pressures and international accountability. Unlike Iran, Israel has never signed the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty. Recent estimates conclude Israel has deployed approximately 200 nuclear bombs and warheads.

الوضع في المنطقة الشرقية من سورية، هو أسوأ من الوضع في الهند التي يوجد فيها 30% من السكان تحت خط الفقر، ومن أجل ذلك فإن المساعدات الطارئة ضرورية جدا لأهالي المنطقة التي زارتها مؤخرا بعثة من منظمة الأغذية والزراعة وحيث استمع وزير الزراعة الدكتور عادل سفر بحضور الدكتور عبد الله بن يحيى ممثل منظمة الفاو بسورية إلى المقترحات والتوصيات التي توصل لها أعضاء بعثة منظمة الأغذية والزراعة والمنظمات التابعة للأمم المتحدة للحد من أثار ظاهرة الجفاف ، وذلك بعد زيارة البعثة للمحافظات المتضررة من الجفاف التي شهدتها سورية في السنوات الثلاث الماضية .

هذا وقد أقرت اللجنة بحجم مشكلة الجفاف وآثارها على السكان وإنتاج المحاصيل في مناطق الاستقرار الثالثة والرابعة ، حيث لم يتم حصاد محصول الشعير هذه السنة ، كما تأثر نمو بقية المحاصيل … وهذا أثر على قدرة المزارعين على الاستمرار في الزراعة .

أما في البادية فالمربون هم الأكثر تضرراً حيث فقدوا جزء من ثروتهم الحيوانية وسطياً بين 30 – 40 % وبعض الفقراء فقدوا قطيعهم بالكامل مما سبب هجرة كبيرة لهذه الأسر إلى المناطق الداخلية ، يضاف إلى ذلك مشكلة أخرى تتمثل في عدم وجود مياه شرب صالحة

Comments (13)

Shami said:

I don’t believe that Hariri would be so easily accepted by the Syrian regime ,i dont see how a democratic lebanon and a dictatorial Syria can co exist.
And on the other hand the iranian proxy Hezbollah would resist any change in the statu quo gained after decades of exaggerated support from Iran and Syria.They are trying to tell their people ,that without these weapons we would finish slaughtered by our environment,in the exactly same way that the alawites are told in Syria that their fate depend on asad familly regime survival and its special armed forces.

June 30th, 2009, 10:24 pm


jad said:

Kareem, why can’t you believe that Syria and Lebanon can have good relations away from personal disagreements? Isn’t China and The United States co-exist regardless of their political and ‘religions’ differences? Welcome to the political world!

Your problem is not the political orientation of Syria nor is the one of Lebanon, for you personally the main issue is that President Assad is an Alawite and Hezbollah and Iran are Shia, here you go I translate what you wanted to write more clearly.

Regarding your note about the Alawite and Shia paranoia of being (finish slaughtered) as you put it, well, you need to take a closer look at some of your grand teachers written materials and Fatwas against them from Iben Taymiya to Saeed 7awa to understand that most of that fear is not a myth, most of those teaching are still alive and kicking. Until you clean that hearted sectarian teaching from your own house, Alawite and Shia has the right to feel vulnerable.

As long as you have this sectarian way of thinking printed into your brain you would never ever have peace at mind and you will never ever accept your neighbour if he is not the same ‘sect’ not even the same religion as you are. It’s time to go out from this self destruction way of thinking; you will feel and be a better person.

July 1st, 2009, 3:50 am


majid said:

Hey Shami,
You’re forcing me to divulge more personal information than what I’d like to. But what the heck? Half my family (or tribe as you may want to say more accurately) is Sunni and the other half is Shiites i.e. through intermarriages. I have well informed sources that reach to high places on both sides. No one is going to slaughter anyone or telling its people the other side will slaughter you. Got that?
You’re living on a different planet. Why not find a better subject to talk about than this silliness?

July 1st, 2009, 4:23 am


Shami said:

Jad ,if i love or hate the alawites and shias ,doesnt matter here.
I’m speaking a fact that you acknowledged regardless my own opinion.
Majid ,yes i know ,in Iraq or in the arab countries of the persian gulf ,the things are different.(as noticed by offended few weeks ago).

July 1st, 2009, 9:05 am


jad said:

-YES your personal feeling toward any different sect of your own main faith or toward any other faith does matter, it affects every decision you take and every word you say.

-NO, my acknowledgment wasn’t regardless of your opinion because your opinion is the one that is keeping these unhealthy and sectarian ideas alive.
Do you Kareem like or consider liking any Syrian person after you know that he is an Alawite or Shia or as you prefer to call them Rafidi? I’ll dare to say NO because I know you long enough through your writing and you have no shame of showing that, so everything you write is related to your own views and is considered as prejudice.

-You wrote that ‘yes i know’ about Shia/Sunni in Iraq? Are you kidding me? You obviously know nothing or you are pretending to be blind to avoid to see the ugly reality you live in: With millions of Iraqis Shia and Sunni killed and you call that different? WAKE UP!! They’ve been killed because they are either Shia or Sunni or Christian or Yazede and not because they were good/bad citizens or good/bad looking.

July 1st, 2009, 5:23 pm


trustquest said:

It seems to me that each statement from the above is true in its standing. I think you guys are not listing to each other and responding not exactly of what each one said but responding to the other fellow principals which is of course is suppose to be different. Don’t we suppose to have different principals and different opinions? Don’t we suppose as a common principal to respect others views or we should rectify others to suit our needs like that wonderful tailor in Syria who is fixing his clients according to the suit. I think we should try to tackle our differences the same way you guys on SC tried that with the eternal “enemy” the Israelis. I’m saying that because when ever the arguments fall in that direction, I get bored and leave the site for a while before I get back.

Anyway, all of you missed the great news of the Syrian president amending a law (no discussions and no secret comity here) in a decree (like all other laws for 50 years, made by one guy, how wonderful) sentencing for at least 2 years those wonderful people who kill their children, wives or daughters it they caught them in the act at a moment of passion. Someone should read how much written about that in the site, an amendment like is cherry on top of the new status law which issued after 50 years of secular State in power?
And we should feel sorry for the guy in the parliament who criticized the decree and called him short of what is needed, because he is gone because he dares to criticize the big kahuna.

July 1st, 2009, 7:49 pm


Shami said:

jad ,i agree with you ,and when i call a rafidi a rafidi ,it’s because he is rafidi ,and proud of his rafidism ,it’s not an insult,rafidi is a shia version of zakaria butros ,i would also not call him a christian.
As for iraq,most of the iraqis i know are from mixed families,,qaida or wilayat faqih trained militias are not representative of the iraqi people.

July 1st, 2009, 7:58 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

The word Rafidi has negative meaning.
my Arab shiaa friends are not rafidi,but the Iranian friends seem to be, some of them,rafidi.that is why I can not trust all what Iran is saying.

July 1st, 2009, 8:40 pm


norman said:

To All of ,

What is Rafidi, what are they rafidi ,can somebody explain why they call them that.

July 1st, 2009, 11:06 pm


jad said:

Hi Norman,
I’m sure sheikhna Kareem will answer you with the usual but until then you can get the idea from here:رافضة
Be careful Norman, if you meet any Rafidi in the street he might eat you according to sheikhna!!

July 1st, 2009, 11:17 pm


norman said:

Thank you Jad,

So we are talking about something 1400 years ago , why do they care ?.
It looks like we always look at the past instead of the future , what a waste.

July 1st, 2009, 11:30 pm


jad said:

To be fair, I think what Kareem and many others feel emotional and disrespected about is the vulgar way some Rafida curse Al Khulafaa Alrashedden, It’s kind of public blasphemy and they still doing it in very few isolated areas.
I can understand his feeling but I don’t justify his discrimination against all and everything Shia.
And that is my take!!

July 1st, 2009, 11:48 pm


Shami said:

Jad ,your wikipedia definition is not exhaustive,Norman,there are two kind of deviant groups who abuse, curse and slander the caliphs ,the rawafedh who insult most of prophet’s friends and Aisha his wife and from the opposite side the nawasib,the so called kharidji sect ,those who insult the caliphs Ali and Osman,today the only remaining shatameen and la3anin are the rawafedh,the ibadis who derive from the khawaridj have corrected their mistakes.
And jad ,it’s precisely for this reason that i call them rawafedh instead of shias ,in order to avoid generalization,not all the shias are rafida,for example,the oldest group of the shias ,the zaydis are not.

July 2nd, 2009, 1:40 am


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