News Round UP (May 16, 2009)

Gul: Syria is Turkey’s door to the Middle East. Assad talks with Gul included the situation in Iraq in addition to talking over means to support the Iraqi government in its endeavors to reach national reconciliation and the withdrawal of all the foreign soldiers.

Gul: Syria is Turkey’s door to the Middle East. Assad talks with Gul included the situation in Iraq in addition to talking over means to support the Iraqi government in its endeavors to reach national reconciliation and the withdrawal of all the foreign soldiers.

Syria Looking for Improved Relations with Obama Administration
Council on Foreign Relations
by Joshua Landis, May 15, 2009

بعد تجديد العقوبات الامريكية :اتهامات تطال كبار المسؤولين السوريين وتهويلات مغرضة حول طردهم ؟
طباعة أرسل لصديق
خاص (كلنا شركاء)
16/ 05/ 2009

Israel’s Secret War With Iran
The Mossad has stunning achievements to its credit, yet the mullahs remain a threat.
By RONEN BERGMAN Wall Street Journal, MAY 16, 2009 (edits by FLC)

” ……The Israeli intelligence community is now learning this lesson the hard way. It has penetrated enemies like Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Hezbollah and Hamas. Yet despite former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s willingness to authorize highly dangerous operations based on this intelligence, and despite the unquestionable success of the operations themselves, the overall security picture remains as grim as ever.

In 2002, then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon appointed his friend and former subordinate, Gen. Meir Dagan, director of the Mossad. Gen. Dagan found the organization lacking in imagination and shying away from operational risks. Mr. Sharon, who knew Gen. Dagan from his days as head of a secret assassinations unit that acted against Fatah in the Gaza Strip during the 1970s, told the general that he wanted “a Mossad with a knife between its teeth.” Gen. Dagan transformed the Mossad from top to bottom and made the organization’s sole focus Iran’s nuclear project and its ties to jihadist organizations. He put tremendous pressure on his subordinates to execute as many operations as possible. Moreover, he built up ties with espionage services in Europe and the Middle East on top of Israel’s long-standing relationship with the CIA.

In tandem with Gen. Dagan’s Mossad revolution, other Israeli military intelligence has also made outstanding breakthroughs. The Shin-Bet (Israel’s internal intelligence service), in cooperation with the military, has made huge strides in its understanding of Palestinian guerilla organizations.

The results have been tremendous. During the last four years, the uranium enrichment project in Iran was delayed by a series of apparent accidents: the disappearance of an Iranian nuclear scientist, the crash of two planes carrying cargo relating to the project, and two labs that burst into flames. In addition, an Iranian opposition group in exile published highly credible information about the details of the project, which caused Iran much embarrassment and led to International Atomic Energy Agency inspections.

On July 12, 2006, thanks to precise (?) intelligence, the Israeli Air Force destroyed almost the entire stock of Hezbollah’s long-range rockets (Huh?)stored in underground warehouses. Hezbollah was shocked.In July 2007, another mysterious accident occurred in a missile factory jointly operated by Iran and Syria at a Syrian site called Al-Safir…. In September 2007, Israel destroyed a nuclear reactor built by Syria and aided by North Korea in Dir A-Zur — In February 2008, Hezbollah’s military leader, Imad Mughniyah, was killed in Damascus. In August of that year, Gen. Mohammed Suliman, a liaison to Hamas and Hezbollah who participated in the Syrian nuclear project, was assassinated by a sniper…..

In December 2008, Israel initiated operation Cast Lead, which dealt Hamas a massive blow. Most of its weapons were destroyed within days by Israeli air strikes. (Israel also knew where the Hamas leadership was hiding, but since it was in a hospital Mr. Olmert refused to authorize the strike.(NOW THIS IS REALLY FUNNY!)) In January 2009, Israeli Hermes 450 drones attacked three convoys in Sudan that were smuggling weapons from Iran to the Gaza Strip.

These are all excellent achievements, but did they change reality? Mostly not.

Even worse, the heads of Israeli intelligence are now losing sleep over recent information showing that attempts to delay the Iranian nuclear project have failed. Despite some technical difficulties, the Iranians are storming ahead and may possess a nuclear bomb as early as 2010. Hezbollah, although weakened by the 2006 war and Mughniyah’s assassination, has become (JUST NOW?) the leading political force in Lebanon. ……the trafficking of weapons and ammunition into the Gaza Strip continues. Hamas’s standing among Palestinians has strengthened. ….”

George Mitchell prepares for possible Syria visit AP

“President Barack Obama’s special Middle East envoy is laying plans to visit Syria as a way to push forward talks between the Arab world and Israel, U.S. officials said Friday. Former Sen. George Mitchell and his team have applied for Syrian visas for an as-yet unannounced trip that could come within a month….

Obama and the Middle East
By Hussein Agha and Robert Malley, New York Review of Books, May 14, 2009

The time will come for the US to unfurl a grand diplomatic initiative. Not now. The most urgent task is to prepare the way for that day by countering the skepticism that has greeted and torpedoed every recent American idea, good or bad—from Secretary of State William Roger’s 1969 plan to the road map. The time is for a clean break, in words, style, and approach.

For many in the US, the notion of such radical change often is reduced to the question of whether or not to talk to Hamas. That is a diversion. The challenge is whether Obama can speak to those for whom Hamas speaks. They are the people who have lost faith in America, its motivations, and every proposal it promotes.

The broader point is this: a window exists, short and subject to abrupt closure, during which President Obama can radically upset Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim preconceptions and make it possible for his future plan, whatever and whenever it might be, to get a fair hearing—for American professions of seriousness to be taken seriously. It won’t be done by repackaging the peace process of years past. It won’t be done by seeking to strengthen those leaders viewed by their own people as at best weak, incompetent, and feckless, at worst irresponsible, careless, and reckless. It won’t be done by perpetuating the bogus and unhelpful distinction between extremists and moderates, by isolating the former, reaching out to the latter, and ending up disconnected from the region’s most relevant actors.

It won’t be done by trying to perform better what was performed before. President Bush’s legacy was, in this sense, doubly harmful: he did the wrong things poorly, which now risks creating the false expectation that, somehow, they can be done well….

…For the new president, the starting point should be recognition of some uncomfortable, brutal realities. These include the depth of inherited anti-American animus; of cynicism toward old plans and tired formulas; of popular estrangement from the regional leaders on whom Washington has come to depend; and of popular attraction to militant activists, militant behavior, and a radical worldview….


Senior al Qaeda leader in Syria sanctioned by US Treasury
By Bill RoggioMay 14, 2009 11:00 AM

A senior al Qaeda leader based in Syria who recruits and facilitates the entry of foreign fighters into Iraq has been sanctioned by the US Treasury Department.

Sa’ad Uwayyid ‘Ubayd Mu’jil al Shammari, an Iraqi member of al Qaeda who operates from inside Syria, has been designated as a terrorist under Executive Order 13224. The designation allows the US to freeze his assets, prevent him from using financial institutions, and prosecute him for terrorist activities.

“We will continue to aggressively implement the international obligation to target al Qaeda-linked terrorists, like Abu Khalaf, who threaten the safety of Coalition Forces and the stability of Iraq,” said Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence said in a Treasury press release issued today.

Shammari, who is better known as Abu Khalaf, is known to recruit suicide bombers from North Africa and aids in setting up their travel arrangements into Syria and ultimately Iraq. “The facilitator recruited a few suicide bombers, who attempted to travel to Iraq,” the Treasury press release stated.

Khalaf also helped al Qaeda suicide bombers based in the Persian Gulf region travel to the Levant to conduct suicide attacks. The Levant consists of the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea and includes Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Egypt. He is believed to operate in Tal Hamis in Syria and Tal Wardan and the ‘Awinat village in t Rabiah district in Iraq.

US targets Syrian al Qaeda network

Syria has long supported or looked the other way as al Qaeda and Sunni insurgents used the country as a transit point and safe haven for fighters entering western Iraq. More than 90 percent of the suicide bombers who have entered Iraq since the insurgency began in 2003 have entered Iraq via Syria…….

Will the Parties Honor Their Planks?
What Palestinian Refugees Need From Lebanon’s Elections
By FRANKLIN LAMB in CounterPunch, May 12, 2009

Wavel Palestinian Refugee Camp, Bekaa Valley.

“My work here is very difficult. To be honest with you there isn’t a single day when I don’t leave work completely depressed, sometimes in tears. The amount of abuse of Palestinians in Lebanon is at a level that you cannot even imagine unless you live here. At the end of the day I go home and sit. And think. How is this possible? I think of these Palestinians and feel they are so pale and patient and ‘moderate’ compared to what I feel. I tend to keep quiet but what I feel inside is shocking and I am not comfortable describing it. This place is close to exploding.”

–European NGO social worker who assists children of NON-ID Palestinians in Ein el Helwe Refugee Camp

Beirut’s Casino de Liban north of Beirut at Maameltein, perched above the Mediterranean north of Jounieh, was offering as late as 3 a.m. Saturday morning May 9, 2009, 2 to 1 odds that US President Barak Obama will drop out of the sky a la C. Rice and H. Clinton in an 11th hour ‘hail Mary’ to score a last minute goal for Israel. Another US ‘quick drop-in’ to shape the ‘US Ruling Team’ into a ‘US Wining Team’ during President Obama’s upcoming visit to the region.

Will he and will it work?

Hard to say, but the likes of David Hale, Michele Sison, Jeff Feltman, Madeleine Albright, Susan Rice, Alenjandro Wolf (from the sidelines) David Welch, John Burns and David Shapiro—various USAID and other officials do not appear to have built up their squad sufficiently and the election is in less than one month away. Signs of desperation are wafting down from Mount Lebanon and Awkar, site of the US Embassy.

Soon George Mitchell and his expanding entourage will give it a go and maybe, according to this morning’s rumors, President Obama himself, dues ex machina, since the State Department knows he is way more popular among Arabs and Muslims than is current US policy.

As Lebanon wonders if the much admired ‘gifted one’ will appear, the US coaching staff insists that it has been trying not to interfere in the internal affairs of this independent, democratic and sovereign country and explains during carefully culled media interviews, that before the election, none of them will engage or even dialogue with Lebanon’s Hezbollah led Resistance or with Hamas. Some here believe that after the election they may be obliged to seek meetings with both.

The job of recent visiting American officials has been to convince Lebanese voters that PM Fuad Sinioria’s Campaign slogan: “Our policy is to negotiate; theirs is to deter,” (emphasis mine) as he runs for Parliament from the voter and cash rich Hariri home base in Sidon, will deliver votes. The problem is that many Lebanese feel Lebanon is far better off with deterrence against Israeli aggression than what Human Rights Ambassador Ali Khalil calls “fake negotiations carefully designed in Washington and Tel Aviv to achieve nothing”.

Arriving Americans campaign advisors are also expressing alarm over the number of alleged Israeli spies that are being caught—on average of one a week since last January. The US concern appears not to be that there are an awfully lot of Israeli spies in Lebanon, but rather the fact that since the July 2006 War Hezbollah and the Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF) seem to be working well together and have revamped the ISF unit into Lebanon’s first effective spy snatching outfit.

The implications of this Opposition-Majority cooperation are sobering for the White House. If Hezbollah can so …..

Binyamin Netanyahu’s delicate balancing act with Barack Obama
James Hider, The Times of London, May 16, 2009

…Mr Netanyahu has talked about granting autonomy to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, accompanied by massive economic investment to raise standards of living, which would bring down violence.

Mr Obama cannot be seen to endorse such a vision publicly. Washington has reiterated its commitment to a two-state solution and insisted that peace talks should be resumed. Mr Netanyahu, bowing to such pressure, said in a meeting this week with Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian President, that he expected negotiations to resume in the coming weeks. He cannot, however, yield too much to America without losing the support of his religious-nationalist coalition.

The United States and Britain are also keen on capitalising on an Arab League peace initiative, presented seven years ago, which would see the entire Arab world make peace with Israel if it returned lands seized in the 1967 Six-Day War. Israel argues that key clauses would allow millions of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in what became Israel in the 1948 war, destroying its identity as a Jewish state.

There have been leaks that the Arab plan has been watered down to make it more palatable to Israel, although, with so much bargaining ahead, all sides are keeping silent about what concessions they might be ready to make.

Mr Obama and Mr Netanyahu will agree on one thing — the need to confront Iran’s nuclear ambitions….

…the two leaders may instead focus on further isolating Iran from its key ally Syria, which has expressed an interest in resuming peace talks with Israel under US auspices. …

In response to Bashar Assad’s statement according to which Syria was keen to resume Middle East peace talks just as soon as it had someone it could deal with on the Israeli side, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon (Yisrael Beiteinu) said the Syrian president was “lying”. “He does not want peace. For peace he would have to offer normalization and openness, and this may result in the collapse of his regime,” Ayalon, a former ambassador to Washington, told a cultural forum in Beersheba Saturday. “Assad does not want to open Syria to the rest of the world because he is a tyrant. He wants to pursue a process that will end his isolation and ease the international community’s pressure.” According to Ayalon,…”You can’t wish for peace and at the same time support and arm Hizbullah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad,” he added.

Comments (16)

Sasa said:

Brilliant hearing Danny Ayalon accusing Bashar of not wanting peace – when Ayalon is the man who wants to ethnically cleanse Israel of its non-white population (again!).

May 16th, 2009, 8:46 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Meanwhile, the Syrian controlled media doesn’t waste any time with their anti-semitic articles…

(just another Syrian foreign policy decision folks)


Can you provide a link showing Ayalon “wants to ethnically cleanse Israel of its non-white population”?


May 16th, 2009, 11:27 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Who killed Hariri ? .. (.. directly, or through proxy ),
You get the sense, when reading what Major General Ashraf Rifi,
from the ISF has to say:

May 17th, 2009, 1:53 am


Shai said:

1) Re: Who Killed Hariri?

In the poll above, Alex I believe you should have put another option – saying: “Does it matter anymore?”

Whoever committed this horrific crime, has caused a situation whereby nearly every side benefited in some fashion or another. Israel gained by seeing Syrian troops leave Lebanon. Lebanon gained by the same. Syria gained by sending a clear message to dangerous opposition. Democratic and Free KSA and Egypt gained by differentiating themselves from a regime that practices state-terrorism, thus depicting themselves as “more moderate”. So whoever DID kill Hariri was an absolute genius. Everyone benefited! (Please note the sarcasm – I am certainly NOT for murdering leaders, or anyone else for that matter).

2) Re: Israel’s Secret War

I have long been of the opinion that Syria missed yet another PR opportunity with the Deir Ez-Zur bombing. If we assume that Syria’s main means of pressuring Israel to one day withdraw from the Golan is via ambiguous or less-than-ambiguous deterrence, then its blunt rejection of the accusations that flew her way following the CIA-disclosure may have been a mistake. If indeed it WAS a nuclear installation, why not adopt the same ambiguous response Israel has always given vis-a-vis its nuclear program, namely “We (e.g. Syria) will not be the FIRST to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East…” If it WASN’T a nuclear installation, why not say the same?

After all, if Israelis are to begin taking Syria seriously, enough to actually develop a concern (god-forbid fear) of the alternative to a future of peace with Syria, then Syria needs to at least use the cards that it has. So while many believe that Bashar is being masterful at both surviving and supporting the Resistance, few can claim that he is successful at deterring Israel. I’m no expert at IAEA affairs, nor at the NPT sections, but it seems to me that ambiguity is often stronger than clarity. And of course, as a war-rejecting “liberal”, I always prefer powerful words, over foolish action…

May 17th, 2009, 3:20 pm


norman said:


syria signed the NPT and can not be ambigious.

May 17th, 2009, 5:08 pm


Shai said:


So did Iran. And I believe they’re finding it quite easy to play the no-weapons-yet-technology game. And they’re succeeding all the way.

May 17th, 2009, 5:22 pm


norman said:


You did not say should seek nuclear technology , you said that Syria should be ambiguous about nuclear weapon and say that it will not be the first to introduce them to the Mideast , even Iran does not say that .

I agree with you that Syria should be seeking a peaceful nuclear program .

May 17th, 2009, 6:23 pm


Shai said:


Indeed I think Syria should have capitalized on the attack, by at least remaining ambiguous about what was or wasn’t there. Why flatly reject the accusations, if her biggest rival doesn’t do the same? Peres coined the phrase “won’t be the first to introduce…”, and Syria could have killed two birds in one stone by using the exact same phrase. Ambiguity would not have contradicted the NPT.

Remember, we both seem to agree that Israel and Israelis aren’t threatened enough by Syria. You believe we may have to go to war, and I’m hoping we won’t. But hinting at either existing or sought-after capabilities, could help in the psychological balance which needs to be created, if we’re ever going to see peace in the region. Israelis are more afraid of useless $10 rockets made by Hamas, than they are of Syria’s strategic capabilities.

May 17th, 2009, 6:54 pm


norman said:


If syria declare that it is building a nuclear reactor and notify the IAEA, then it can say that it is a nuclear reactor and Syria will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons , the problem that syria made a mistake and did not say that or that it was an old plan that never was meant to be put to action ,

either way i agree with you that Syria has to show some back bone to force Israel off the Golan.and convince Israel that peace is better for the Israelis..

May 17th, 2009, 7:57 pm


Yossi (AKA Rumyal) said:


Thanks for providing the link to the hateful and anti-Semitic articles in the Syrian press. Someone needs to dig the dirt every now and then.

I know for a matter of fact that some right-wingers in Israel express themselves not less hatefully towards Muslims and Arabs, but at least they don’t get a national stage for their drivel.

There is one interesting “trick” that is employed in the pieces: instead of blaming “The Jews” for historic libels, such as killing Jesus and sucking his blood, the term “The Zionists” is used instead. This I guess, very crudely, provides some sort of deniability: “why do you say that we are anti-Semitic, we are merely anti-Zionists!”.

It’s funny to note that both the Syrian authors and the MEMRI commentary are happy to conflate Zionism with Judaism. In the case of the Syrians, so that they can draw a connecting line between the sins Jews carried against Jesus and those of current days Zionists. In the case of MEMRI, they conflate the terms in order to blur the line between legitimate criticism towards current-day Israel with historic blood libels against the Jews, such that they can label it all part-and-parcel as “anti-Semitic”.

May 17th, 2009, 11:02 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Thanks for providing the link to the hateful and anti-Semitic articles in the Syrian press. Someone needs to dig the dirt every now and then.


Your disingenuous “thanks” notwithstanding, I don’t consider articles from the government-controlled press anything remotely like “someone needs to dig the dirt”. What governments say to the press and the media is actually how governments communicate.

Or you didn’t know that?;o)

I know for a matter of fact that some right-wingers …

Which is why MEMRI usually quotes from government sources and not “some” “Yoram” or “Mustapha”.

There is one interesting “trick” that is employed in the pieces…

A “trick” perhaps for you; not for me.

It’s funny to note that both the Syrian authors and the MEMRI commentary are happy to conflate Zionism with Judaism.

Of course they “conflate”, but not as a rule. Anti-zionism IS anti-semitism when it is overused or used without pro-Israeli statements made in some sort of balance. Any statement using the words “blood-sucking” and “Zionism” together is blatant anti-semitism. I guess this is how the Syrian government cries every time the US government gives them the finger.

Now back to another topic I touched on earlier:

I just learned the “terrorist group”, the Tamil Tigers (not a baseball team) once controlled an area of Sri Lanka greater in size to the West Bank and Gaza. Their control included “…courts, police and a tax system…”.

They’ve just been defeated by the Sri Lankan government without a cry from the UN.

I guess the Tamil Tigers are playing in a different “league”.

May 17th, 2009, 11:50 pm


norman said:


Can you put the Arabic version of the article as written , I want to read it in Arabic, I have never seen antisemitic article in Syrian press in the seventies when i was there and would like to read for my self , I still can read Arabic.

May 18th, 2009, 12:00 am


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Yossi, AP,

And don’t forget the anti-semitic ‘Damascus affair’.
If I’m not wrong, it is the first (if not the only) incidence
of this kind in an Arab environment.
And it happened some 40 years before the period of modern Zionism.

Shai and Yossi, if you didn’t read “the monk’s death” ( מות הנזיר ),
a novel about this incident, I highly recommend !!
While reading the book, you get the sense of 1840 Damascus.

May 18th, 2009, 12:01 am


Yossi (AKA Rumyal) said:


My thanks were sincere. As I stated in my previous post, I find it highly disturbing that this kind of material appears in government affiliated communications.

I disagree with your definition of anti-Semitism as it relates to anti-Zionism. But I don’t feel like arguing today, so I will not try to justify my position.


Very interesting. Is one of the Jews that were tortured, named Abulafia, that got freed after accepting Islam, the same one as the bakers Abulafia family in Jaffa? I know that the ones in Jaffa also were Jews about a hundred years ago. Jews or Muslim, their bakes are amazing, especially at 3AM after a good night outing 🙂

May 18th, 2009, 2:59 am


Observer said:

It has been awhile since I posted here. Quite busy these days.

It is not important to know who killed Hariri, what was important is to find who to blame. I think that blaming Damascus for the killing has gotten some very good rewards: Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, the regime survival on the table of negotiations, cooperation on the border with Iraq. It did not achieve divorce with Iran or Hamas or HA. On the other hand, Syria’s withdrawal was good for Syrians as we saw a liberalized economy, more internet, more international flavor to the life of every day people. More tourists, and the finding of new allies in the region including Qatar and Turkey.

The Palestinian front is now quite pending the meeting of the Isaeli PM with Obama. The idea that will be put forward will be as follows: a two state solution based on a modified Arab initiative and proposal with “confidence building measures” and “dismantling of the terror infrastructure” with the EU footing the bill of providing money for economic improvement in the Occupied Territories; albeit via Israeli financial control and via corrupt PA go in between. The negotiations will drag on for about 4-5 years. If there is any pressure applied on the Israelis, they will have the current coalition go through a crisis, and then call for new election to drag the feet forever. Yet colonization continues full speed ahead. This drag your feet is a mirror image to the five years of negotiations that Iran and the EU have had about the nuclear program. It takes on bazaari to negotiate with another bazaari in this arena.

The Arab regimes are now more entrenched than ever. They are all looking to stay in power forever. With the so called struggle for the liberation of Palestine no longer in tune, the struggle to contain Iranian-Shia influence is now in vogue. Most telling is Morocco breaking relations with Iran over a Bahrain comment, and now descending upon the tiny Shia community as a source of evil and subversion. Mubarak is preparing his son shamelessly. As to who killed Hariri we do not know, but the famous Lebanese beauty killed in the UAE, well we know that Gamal’s hands were behind the scenes; yet no one is calling for an investigation.

A glimpse into the nature of the Arab regimes was re confirmed with the airing of the torture video in Abu Dhabi. This is the kind of mentality that is pervading the Arab world.

When in a survey the EU found that the majority of the citizens viewed Israel as the greatest threat to world peace, followed by Iran by the way, they forgot that the sclerosis of the despots and the artificiality of the post colonial ME as being the greatest threat to world peace.

I do not know how long oppression can keep the lid tight: consider that a million of the citizens of Cairo live on the roofs of building and another two million live in the cemeteries as they occupy the condolences rooms next to the graves. A whole shanty town lives off recycling Cairo’s garbage.

Many rulers of the ME have lost their ability to affect short and long term changes they can only manage the situation from day to day and hope for the best.

If Israel attacks Iran then we will have a whole new game in town.


May 18th, 2009, 7:45 pm


Ghat Albird said:

Observer’s comments almost covers the ME water front.

Interestingly enough he stays away from conjectures as what specifically and materially significant will Obama’s much heralded speech to the “Muslim World” have to be for the Muslim World to buy it.

At the present some 240 million Muslims in three different countries are in daily contact with the US military taking on another 66 million Iranians would dramatically make the early part of the 21st. Century a time to note in history books.

Read on a Russian website that the Russian President invited the President of Iran to attend the Shanghai Group conference in Moscow. That seems like a whole new game in the making.

May 19th, 2009, 10:23 pm


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