News Roundup (8 March 2008)

US places yet more sanctions on Syria. This time on ships that have visited Syrian ports.

Syria was placed on a so-called "Port Security Advisory List" amid "concerns about the connections between Syria and international terrorist organizations," the State Department's deputy spokesman Tom Casey told reporters.

The move allows the Coast Guard "to impose some additional port security measures to ships traveling to or arriving in US ports that have previously been either departing from Syria or have called on Syrian ports," he said.

Casey added he understood the measures would affect any ship that has visited Syria during its last five ports of call, but referred reporters to the Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for further information.

Nobody was immediately available for comment at DHS, while the Coast Guard public affairs office promised to try to provide details of the decision on Friday.

Video-Sampling Syria: Global Politics From a Ground’s-Eye View  


Back from Damascus: Ms. Meltzer and Mr. Thorne in their Los Angeles home.

Published: March 6, 2008

LOS ANGELES — Julia Meltzer and David Thorne decamped for Damascus in March 2005 with a vague notion of assessing the toll exacted on ordinary Syrians by the Bush administration’s treatment of their country as an “axis of evil” understudy…

The fruits of their project will be on view in three video works at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s biennial, which opens on Thursday. (Continue)

Arab Leaders, Angry at Syrian President, Threaten Boycott of Summit Meeting
Published: March 8, 2008

Several Arab leaders say they may boycott the annual Arab summit meeting scheduled for this month in Damascus, the Syrian capital, because of anger at Syria over its role in Lebanon and its continuing links to Iran.

The measures are part of an intensified campaign against Syria that comes alongside similar moves by the United States, which recently added several new financial sanctions against Syria and sent warships to cruise off the Lebanese coast — a gesture aimed directly at the Syrian government.

“There’s a new initiative to completely isolate Syria and weaken its destructive influence in Lebanon,” said an adviser to the Saudi government, who requested anonymity because of the delicacy of the issue. “We’re not going to pull them away from Iran by talking to them. We’re going to take them away from Iran by making them feel the pressure and making them understand that this time it’s as real as it can get.”..

“The king really hates Assad, and he is looking to punish him, because Assad allegedly insulted him on a couple of occasions,” said Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University who specializes in Saudi affairs….

In the past week, Saudi Arabia has recalled its ambassador from Damascus, and urged all its citizens to leave Lebanon as soon as possible — indicating that it believes any Saudi here is now a target for Syria or its allies. Last month the Saudi government deposited $1 billion into Lebanon’s central bank in a show of support for Lebanon’s government. …. 

Syria, committed to maintaining its course in Lebanon, has derided the arrival of American warships as an empty gesture and says it would rather have a meeting without major Arab leaders present than give in to intimidation.

“They do not know us,” said Samir Taqi, the director of the Orient Center for International Studies in Damascus. “Syria doesn’t need approval from anyone, and this is not the way to approach us.” …. “At the end of the day it’s about security,” said Mr. Taqi, the Syrian analyst. “Syria has often been threatened by Israel through Lebanon.” ….

“I think Syria has taken its position: they need to make sure that Lebanon cannot be used against them,” said Prof. Joshua M. Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma. Its strategy, he added, is based in large part on countering the enormous financial power of Saudi Arabia and its allies.

“This is Syria’s game: keep Lebanon paralyzed, and Saudi has to subsidize everything,” Professor Landis said. “That’s going to take billions of dollars, and where does it end? Syria thinks they can outlast them.”

Paul Salem has a new interviewout with NOW Lebanon, clarifying his thoughts on the situation. It's highly worth reading, as always. 

Iran to provide Syria $3.5b in technical services

Philip Weiss writes: "Unreconstructed Neocon Wurmser Decants 'Regime Change,' Holy War, and 'Goodbye to 2-State Solution' to a Thin Crowd"

Going into the basement conference room of a law firm on 6th Avenue in New York yesterday to hear former Cheney adviser David Wurmser speak  on "What's at Stake for the West in Lebanon?" I was afraid that the subject, Lebanon, and six years in the White House meant that I would see a domesticated Wurmser, there would be no sign of the firebreather who once pushed for the Iraq war by saying that "craven, fawning" western politicians had "appeased" Arabs who had modeled themselves on Nazis.

Not to worry. Speaking to an audience of about 70 gathered by the Middle East Forum, Wurmser said we are on our way to a catastrophic war with Iran whether we like it or not. He poured the straight old 150 proof moonshine from the old neocon jug. His extremism was untempered by the experience of the last six years.

What are the 3 things he would tell John McCain if he were his adviser?

"Let me just bluntly answer that. One, abandon the two-state solution statement that we have right now vis a vis the Palestinians. Two–Well, let me start with number one. Number one is an open, publicly expressed regime-change strategy in Iran. Two, an open expressed regime-change strategy in Syria. 3, abandoning the two-state solution policy we've had frankly since the 9/11 attacks…"

Arabist Bernard Lewis likens what he calls the 'monstrous perversion of Islam' to the evils of Nazism and Bolshevism.

Indeed, Lewis's passion for medieval Arabic texts and respect for what he calls "one of the great religions" has not prevented him from being a caustic critic of radicalization among modern Muslims. On the contrary, if anything, his erudition has led him to assert unequivocally that the extremists have perverted their own traditions beyond recognition.

Still, says Lewis, "there are hopeful signs" indicating movement toward change. He cites, for example, his Jordanian friends' reaction to watching Israeli television and seeing Arab Knesset members openly attack the government with impunity. They are at once shocked and envious. Freedom tends to have that effect on those who do not enjoy it. Which is why, Lewis explains, "one of the things that even the most oppressive regimes cannot cope with today is modern communications – the Internet and so on. People know things now in a way and to an extent that were inconceivable in earlier times. They know, for example, how bad things are in their societies, because they see the contrast with the West. And there are more and more people interested in creating open societies." …

Would you really have the West impose itself on ancient cultures?

There are things you can't impose. Freedom, for example. Or democracy. Democracy is a very strong medicine which has to be administered to the patient in small, gradually increasing doses. Otherwise, you risk killing the patient [he laughs]. In the main, the Muslims have to do it themselves….

Mikael writes:

The story on Gaza appeared in September in Jeune Afrique (an investigation by Jan Fallstrom): "WHAT REALLY HAPENED IN GAZA?", or PDF version.

David Rose is bringing some new facts, but slightly ignores the internal fight within the Fatah, I believe, not irrelevant to understand Dahlan's failure?

Comments (1)

CWW said:

As far as Lewis’ “hopeful signs,” or “glimmers of hope” as he later puts it, comments are concerned, I certainly wish he was right, however, I don’t see much of it. Hamas in Gaza, the crisis in Lebanon, Iran’s rise, Iraq’s demise, Al Jazeera’s infiltration by the Muslim Brotherhood… the list goes on

March 9th, 2008, 10:55 pm


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