Reactions to the Assad-Ahmadinejad Summit

Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah meeting new front against USA, Israel
BBC MidEast: 2010-02-27 tanslation of
“‘Council of War’ in Damascus”
by Chief Editor Abd-al-Bari Atwan, Al-Quds al- Arabi 27 February Article

The tripartite meeting held in Damascus the day before yesterday between Syrian President Bashar al-Asad and his Iranian guest President Mahmud Ahmadinezhad in addition to “Hezbollah” leader Hasan Nasrallah was tantamount to a “council of war” to draw up future plans and distribute roles in case of any Israeli attack on any of the three parties or all of them. We do not forget an expanded meeting between Ahmadinezhad and leaders of the Palestinian factions within the same framework.

The timing of this meeting, the way it was held, and the press conference held at its conclusion confirm that a strategic alliance’s bonds are being tightened and a new front is being formed that will be the spearhead against the US-Israeli alliance and any of the Arab governments that might join it, covertly or overtly, if war broke out. The Iranian president expected this war to break out this coming spring or summer, that is, after very few months, while Nasrallah
stressed he would strike Tel Aviv, its airports, and electricity stations if Israel dared to strike Lebanon’s airport or any of its electricity stations and vital targets.

We have here a new language, unprecedented self-confidence, and readiness to retaliate which we have not heard before, especially from the Arab regimes, from when they turned towards the peace option, dropped all other ones, and underlined this turning in an Arab peace initiative whose provisions were prepared carefully in the US kitchen by expert chefs….

Syria was for 30 years a major side in the Egyptian-Saudi troika which ruled the region for 30 years and wagered on peace. What has Washington offered it in return for “its moderation?” Has it returned the Golan Heights to it, unleashed its billions to end up in investments that create jobs and a dignified life for the unemployed, or is it still on the list of terrorist countries?

There is no direct air flights between Damascus and any American city and we have not even seen a single American plane landing at Damascus Airport for 50 years even though Syria opposed Iraqi President Saddam Husayn’s regime, took part directly in the “liberation” of Kuwait, and cooperated fully in the war on terror and continues to do so.

We are facing quickening developments in the region. When did we see Nasrallah arriving openly in Damascus and when did we see Ahmadinezhad praying in a Sunni mosque and behind a Sunni imam and reacting emotionally when Al-Alam television channel’s correspondent tried to provoke him by asking him about this matter!

Some might argue that it was a carefully-prepared media step for the purpose of getting closer to the Sunni community. This might be the case and what is wrong with it? We are all Muslims and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia -a leading country in the moderation axis which is opposed to Iran -launched through its King Abdallah Bin- Abd-al-Aziz two important initiatives during the past two years, the first by opening dialogues in depth for bringing the Islamic doctrines closer, in particular the Sunni and Shi’i ones, and the second was the launch of the interfaith dialogue between followers of the three divine

We understand very well that the new Syrian-Iranian alliance does not possess nuclear warheads or the sophisticated weapons that Israel and the United States possess. In other words, the military balance is unequal. But was this not the situation when Israel sent its warplanes and tanks to invade south Lebanon in the summer of 2006? What was the result?

The US-Israeli strike force is mighty by all standards and this is indisputable. But we must remember that Japan remained Japan even though two atomic bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Germany was reunited 50 years after being partitioned, and Syria and Egypt survived after the 1967 defeat. But the question is whether Israel will remain in existence if it embarks on new aggression and even if it survives, will it be as it is now?

Israel is in a suffocating crisis, internally and externally, and is hated even in the circles of its Western allies who are fed up with its arrogance, swaggering, repeated aggression against the weak in Gaza and elsewhere, and its provocative rejection of all peace plans and proposals and is therefore in a state of confusion that was clearly manifested by its dispatch of a “regiment” of agents to assassinate a single unarmed person called Mahmud al-Mabhuh in Dubai
and which was totally counterproductive for it despite its success.

The Israelis are beating the drums of war and the Obama administration seems to be incapable of keeping it under control and has probably became more convinced of their theory about the inevitability of launching an aggression against Iran and Syria. ….

We do not believe it was a “slip of the tongue” when Ahmadinezhad said at the press conference with President Al-Asad that the peoples of Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Palestine… and Iraq” would confront Israel and its aggression. Has Washington heard this “slip” which confirms the failure of its aggression against Iraq and its spending of more than $800 billion on it!

The coming days are going to be full of surprises and we are hoping that they will be good news for us Arabs and Muslims.

Originally published by Al-Quds al-Arabi website, London, in Arabic 27 Feb 10.

A Syrian in the Emirates writes:

It’s not just Atwan who is happy with the Assad-Ahmadinejad summit. Almost everyone in this part of the world is jubilant (other than Saudi media who are still waiting for the official reaction to follow). You have to see the commentary in Arab newspapers or your average shisha-smoking man in the street. The underlying message in all commentaries is: finally, someone with real balls standing up to Israel, and its cronies in DC (AIPAC, the senate, etc.)

Here is a taste of reaction in right-wing land; from the comment section of Gateway Pundit

One cruise missile and we could have saved a lot of blood and treasure.

Dial-in the coordinates Bibi, save us all a lot of trouble

This would have been a great opportunity to use our super top secret earthquake machine that Chavez claimed we tested recently on Haiti.

Would somebody kindly tell me how that building remained standing ? That’s the kind of get-together worth starting a war over.

Mossad agents need to change tactics to kill Nasrallah. If they use some 28 or more to kill one arms dealer. He may have been a trial run but Mossad will get him sooner or later.

Where is a Predator strike when you need one……?

Haaretz: ‘Israel pressing U.S. not to send new envoy to Syria’

Israel is urging the United States to freeze its decision to send a new envoy to Syria, in the wake of this week’s tripartite meeting between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, according to a report Saturday in London-based Arabic daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat.

According to the report, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and an aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu both made the request during meetings with U.S. officials in Washington this week.

The report added that Israeli officials made the request after witnessing Assad’s public defiance of U.S. calls to curb its ties with Iran this week. Assad said his long-standing alliance with Tehran remains strong despite overtures from Washington intended to shift his loyalties. With Ahmadinejad by his side, Assad told America not to dictate relationships in the Middle East.

Asharq al awsat carries the same news: Barak and Netanyahu try to convince Washington to rescind the decision to return an ambassador to Damascus and push for war.

“… According to the Saudi princely pulpit, Ehud Barak and an adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu made the request in meetings in Washington this week…”

Politico on Ehud Barak says US and Israel wide apart on how to deal with Iran

“………… But the most interesting moment of Barak’s address to the friendly Washington audience with lots of familiar faces for him came when Barak finished his overview. And the Institute’s executive director Rob Satloff, in the typical format of such events, asked Barak a first question to get the discussion going before turning to the audience for questions………. Satloff asked Barak about how well he thought U.S. and Israel were coordinating on the Iran issue.

Barak listened to Satloff’s question and then said, ‘Let’s take a few more questions and I will answer them in a bunch.’ And Satloff, the event host and moderator, laughed and said, ‘Well, answer that opening question and then I can call on members of the audience and take several questions’ in a bunch. And Barak smiled, acknowledging the laughter, and then said, again, “Let’s take a few more questions.” Until it became quite clear that he did not want to answer Satloff’s question about the state of U.S.-Israel relations on Iran, and this was not based on a misunderstanding of the format procedure….

Asked by a Middle Eastern correspondent, why Israel couldn’t live with a nuclear Iran, Barak said Israel welcomed U.S. leadership in seeking international sanctions on Iran. But he added, that with all the instability the U.S. is currently managing including a nuclear Pakistan and North Korea, Afghanistan, draw down in Iraq, etc. it was his impression that Washington believes that while it’s highly undesirable, at the end of the day the U.S. could live with a nuclear Iran. While for Israel, Barak said, it would be a “tipping point” in the strategic equation in the region…. some in the U.S. see a world with a “nuclear Pakistan, India, North Korea….From this corner of the world (Washington), [perhaps] it doesn’t change the equation” if Iran goes nuclear. ….

For his part, Barak also said he thought Iranian leaders’ decisionmaking is quite sophisticated, and he thought it highly unlikely that they would lob a nuclear weapon at Israel. And he said he thought that neither a nuclear Iran, nor anything else, poses a threat to the continuity of Israel’s existence.”

Ehud Barak on Syria
Speaking at WINEP
, Minister of Defense State of Israel
Friday, February 26, 2010

….. I cannot ignore the issue of Syria. It’s not a secret that in Israel, both myself as defense minister in the past and now, as well as the Israel defense establishment on all its levels, believe that we have – in the Middle East – have strategic interest in putting an end to our conflict with Syria. We have been in negotiations in this city and in the  other places regarding to this issue under Rabin and during Peres’ government, Netanyahu previous government, my government and Olmert’s government.

And all of us know what is on the table. All of us know what kind of decisions are needed to be taken by both sides. All of us are realistic about what could be achieved and what probably cannot be achieved at the very first moment. And I insist that this is an opportunity more than a threat if navigated cleverly keeping the dignity of the other side on all stages. Having said that, I can tell you that we are strong enough to face a deterioration if it happens on our northern front, but we are not interested in it; we will not initiate it; and I don’t believe that anyone in the region – in the immediate neighborhood of Israel – really needs it.

We follow carefully what happens in Lebanon and I think that the time has come to deal with it in a much more straight and real manner. The essence of 1701 – the U.N. Security Council resolution following the last war in the north in 2006 – was to put an end to this anomality (ph) of the existence of Hezbollah in Lebanon. And instead of solving the problem, it just allowed it to become more complicated. There is a bizarre anomaly there. Lebanon is a member state of the United Nations. It happens to have a militia. The militia happen to have members in parliament, even ministers in the cabinet with a veto power over the decision of the Lebanese government.

Now, it is supported and equipped by two other member states of the United Nations, Syria and Iran, technologically and with equipment. And many civil servants in uniform and without uniform of both member states of the United Nations are serving in Lebanon within the chain of command of Hezbollah and giving orders stemming out of the interests not of the Lebanese people but of other players. And it happens to be that this militia doesn’t just develop a new long bow or more effective arrows, but it happened to have 45,000 rockets and missiles that happen to cover all Israel and they are part of a deployment that tells that they will activate it and we have seen that they already did it in the past. This militia happens to have a weapons system that some – many sovereigns do not have.

We cannot accept it. We cannot accept these artificial differentiations between the terrorists of Hezbollah and the state of Lebanon and their sponsors. And we keep saying, we do not need any conflict there; we will not lead it towards one. But if attacked, we will not run or chase any individual Hezbollah terrorist – and they are in fact building and digging within the urban concentration, inside the cities, inside the civilian population and these weapons that they have mainly cannot be used against any military target. They are not accurate enough – the only conceivable use of most of those weapons is against civilian populations in heavily urban concentration and that’s what they tried to do in the past. So we make it clear: We don’t need this conflict but if it is imposed upon us, we will not run after every individual terrorist but we will take both the Lebanese government and other sources of sponsorship, but mainly the Lebanese government and the Lebanese infrastructure as part of the equation facing us.

China accuses US of online warfare in Iran
Iran election unrest an example of US ‘naked political scheming’ behind free speech facade, says Communist party editorial
Tania Branigan in Beijing and agencies

The United States used “online warfare” to stir up unrest in Iran after last year’s elections, the Chinese Communist party newspaper claimed today, hitting back at Hillary Clinton’s speech last week about internet freedom.

An editorial in the People’s Daily accused the US of launching a “hacker brigade” and said it had used social media such as Twitter to spread rumours and create trouble.

“Behind what America calls free speech is naked political scheming. How did the unrest after the Iranian election come about?” said the editorial, signed by Wang Xiaoyang. “It was because online warfare launched by America, via YouTube video and Twitter microblogging, spread rumours, created splits, stirred up and sowed discord between the followers of conservative reformist factions.”……..

Here’s Sami Moubayed on the question of “Who Wants War in Lebanon?”

“Syria does not want war either, but top officials have said that they will support Lebanon if it comes to it. The Saudis feel the same way. Iran, however, would not mind another war in Lebanon. There are certain radicals within Iran who are not pleased about the so-called ‘Lebanonisation’ of Hezbollah. The party, they believe, is becoming overly immersed in Lebanese domestic issues, pursing more of a political programme than a military one — a programme very different from the one formulated by Hezbollah’s founding charter in 1982. They are itching for another war, to remind the world what Hezbollah is really all about. They are seemingly very convinced that Hezbollah can strike back at Israel, surviving a war just as it did the one in 2006, inflicting maximal damage on Israeli cities and infrastructure. These people believe Hezbollah would do sufficiently well that the international community would think twice before pushing for another confrontation with the organisation or, at a later stage, with Iran itself.

Others, however, are more sceptical, fearing that if Israel lives up to its threats, striking at all of Lebanon and not just the Shiite south, then this would create a very unfavourable environment for Hezbollah within Lebanese society, at least among Sunnis, Maronites and Druze.”</blockquote

Ayman Abdalnour who puts together the invaluable Website and newsource all4syria has inaugurated a new service for people interested in Syria. He writes:

We have started to publish a weekly report about Syria in English ( please check this out)

Josh Ruebner: U.S. Can’t Afford Military Aid to Israel

In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama pledged to “go through the budget line by line to eliminate programs that we can’t afford and don’t work.” One week later, he sent his FY2011 budget request to Congress, which included a record-breaking $3 billion in military aid to Israel.
This requested increase in U.S. weapons to Israel — part of a ten-year $30 billion agreement signed between the two countries in 2007 — qualifies on both counts as a program that the United States can’t afford and that doesn’t work in establishing a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Data published recently by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation shows that U.S. military aid to Israel comes at a financial and moral price that this country cannot afford to pay. Its website reveals that this same $3 billion earmark for Israel could be used instead to provide more than 364,000 low-income households with affordable housing vouchers, or to retrain 498,000 workers for green jobs, or to provide early reading programs to 887,000 at-risk students, or to provide access to primary health care services for more than 24 million uninsured Americans.

If U.S. weapons were going to Israel for a good purpose, then perhaps a coherent guns versus butter debate would be appropriate. However, Israel repeatedly misuses U.S. weapons to commit grave human rights abuses against Palestinians who are forced to live under its illegal 42-year military occupation of the West

New York Post: Syria bites Bam’s open hand (again)

How many times does the Obama ad ministration have to get bitten before it stops leading with an “open hand”? Hillary Clinton this week called on Syrian President Bashar Assad to respond to recent US overtures by distancing his country from Iran. …

Commentary: RE: Must We Waste Another Year?

A route to resolution for Syria and Israel
Gabrielle Rifkind in the Guardian, Friday 26 February 2010

Any agreement between Israel and Syria depends on Turkey and the US to mediate the process

The diplomatic crisis following allegations that the Mossad assassinated Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai has come on top of what looks like ongoing deadlock in the two-state talks between Israelis and Palestinians. But the hysteria of conflict and the ensuing dramas tend to have more appeal than the careful steps of conflict resolution.

When it comes to Israel and its regional neighbours, bellicose language often drowns out peacemaking in a conflict that so often looks intractable. But a potential opening on the Israel-Syria track deserves attention because it could offer movement in a process that suffers from fatigue and cynicism.

The recent furore over potential Syrian-Israeli negotiations revealed both the extent of mistrust and the danger of misunderstanding between two veteran foes. The rhetorical battle flared up when Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, declared that it was vital to resume peace talks with the Syrians because otherwise a war was likely to break out. His remarks were interpreted in ­Damascus as a threat to pursue war.

Shortly afterwards Barak said: “This is a tough neighbourhood and there is no compassion for the weak.” Behind the statement was the belief that if words were used like bullets the enemy would come to the table more likely to escalate the conflict.

The belief that only the tough can win is common in a region where politics are all too often redolent of macho posturing. The model is that only an iron fist will bring security, and no calculation is made about the traumatic consequences of war. Addressing the legitimate grievances of the conflict is too readily dismissed as weakness – and in any case remains impossible if no one listens to what the other side is saying.

Walid Muallem, Syria’s foreign minister, reveals a very different approach to the revival of peace talks. In a meeting with myself and colleagues in December last year, he said: “For peacemaking, Israel needs to be ready to recognise that Syria is entitled to every inch of the Golan, but we wish to engage in talks.” “For us,” he continued, “the land is sacred and a matter of honour.”

Muallem suggested that Syria was prepared to contemplate a step-by-step approach to the return of the Golan Heights, territory that Israel captured in the 1967 war. “There could be stages of withdrawal, the timing of which could involve a form of normalisation,” he said. “Half of the Golan could lead to an end of enmity; three-quarters of the Golan, to a special interest section in the US embassy in Damascus: a full withdrawal would allow a Syrian embassy in Israel.” Key issues, such as Syria’s support for Hamas, Hezbollah and its policy to Iran, would, he said, “only be answered after withdrawal”.

In terms of third-party mediation the Syrians are in favour of indirect talks through Turkey, which has already worked on defining the 1967 border. This unresolved issue is the demarcation of the line on the water between Syria and Israel, and ­determining who controls the shoreline on Lake Tiberias.

The next stage, said Muallem, “would entail direct talks with America to address the security concerns. The key issue here is US flights over the Golan in order to provide security.”

In Syria’s view, Turkey plays the role of an honest broker. But relations between Israel and Turkey plummeted after last year’s war in Gaza, and the latest diplomatic spat does not augur well for any Israeli recognition of Turkey’s good faith as a mediator.

Syria’s insistence that it will not negotiate any change in its relationship with Hezbollah and Hamas until after the Golan is returned is particularly hard for Israel to swallow. This is because Israel believes that Syria plays an active role in providing passage for Iranian weapons to these groups.

If Syria and Israel managed to scale the initial peak of agreement on the Golan, the view from the top may be significantly different. A potential role for Syria as a mediator between Israel, Hamas and Hezbollah could drastically improve the chances of a long-term truce – or even a permanent resolution – between these parties. Without any legitimate process, a deluded fiction will prevail around a temporary quiet with the dangers of escalating violence, potentially leading to conflict.

As so often in conflict, it is not the end game that is the problem, but the inability to find a route to a resolution – not least because of the consequences of endless mistrust and suspicion that sets an inauspicious tone for peacemaking. It is in these conditions that active third party mediation becomes central to nurture any process and calm dangerously short-tempers. Turkey and the US now need to play a very active role.

Damascus Day One
February 26, 2010 01:23 PM EST by Cheryl Casone, Fox Business News

I had been told that in Syria, the younger generation was obsessed with their I-Phones, their Blackberry’s, and their computers. I can tell you first hand, they absolutely are.  Today is actually a national holiday in Syria, the birthday of the prophet Muhammad, but still we found our first real images of consumerism in this isolated Middle Eastern country.

I am in Syria to begin our series on Frontier Markets, a small subset of investment opportunity that is has been all the chatter in the halls of fund managers looking for a place that offers big returns.  With the United States and even markets like China showing signs of fatigue, Fox Business is looking for the next investment opportunity for you.  I have been on the ground less than 24 hours, but I am not surprised to see Dell Computer, KFC, and Coca Cola.  If American companies are looking at this nation the size of North Dakota, should the rest of us?

I have more questions than answers, but that is why I am spending a week in the Middle East, to find out if this region is worth your money.

More tomorrow…

Iraq to reinstate 20,000 Saddam-era officers

The Iraqi military will reinstate 20,000 Saddam Hussein-era army officers who were dismissed from their posts after the 2003 US-led invasion for serving under the former dictator, an Iraqi defense spokesman said Friday….

Kyodo (EN): N. Korea provided raw uranium to Syria in 2007:

TOKYO, Feb. 28 KYODO North Korea provided about 45 tons of ”yellowcake” uranium to Syria in September 2007 for production of fuel for an undeclared nuclear reactor, diplomatic and military sources knowledgeable on North Korean issues said …

The Syrian Crackdown
by Mohamad Bazzi, The Nation, February 26, 2010

Kurdish Autonomy Calls Split Dissidents

Opposition wants to retain unitary Syrian state, rejects self-rule for Kurds.

By an IWPR-trained reporter (SB No. 94, 25-Feb-10)
A rift has emerged between Kurdish opposition groups and other Syrian dissidents over calls for Syrian Kurds to be granted autonomy.

Against the backdrop of Kurdish minorities in neighbouring Turkey and Iraq gaining more rights, the Syrian Yakiti party, one of the main Kurdish opposition groups, declared that the solution to the Kurdish issue would be to give Kurds the right to self-government.

The statement, which came during the party’s convention last December, sparked a wave of criticism from other elements of the Syrian opposition.

Pro-democracy dissidents, who in 2005 formed a united opposition front against the Syrian regime known as the Damascus Declaration for National Democratic Change, rejected these demands as “untimely” and “separatist”.

The Damascus Declaration is an umbrella gathering of secular, Kurdish, and Islamist dissidents and other minority groups.

Kurds constitute around ten per cent of the 22 million Syrian population and live mostly in the agricultural areas of the north and northeast. International and local organisations say they suffer political and cultural discrimination.

The Kurdish language is not recognised and is banned from being taught in schools. Many Kurds are denied Syrian nationality even if they were born and live in the country.

New-York based Human Rights Watch said in a report in November, “Syria has been especially hostile to any Kurdish political or cultural expression.”

The report said that repression greatly intensified following large-scale Kurdish demonstrations in March 2004.

Fouad Aliko, the Yakiti party’s secretary general, said Syrian Kurds had a legitimate right to govern their own affairs and be granted autonomy as long as this does not harm Syria’s security and geographical integrity.

Aliko added that the opening of the Turkish government towards the Kurds and the autonomy of Kurds in Iraq had encouraged Syrian Kurds to hope for a regional solution to the issue.

But neither Aliko nor the Yakiti party have elaborated on the nature of their demands for autonomy.

Following their conference, the Syrian authorities rounded up four leading members of the Kurdish group, Hassan Saleh, Mohamad Mustafa, Maarouf Mala Ahmad and Anwar Naso. They remain behind bars.

The human rights watchdog Amnesty International called for their unconditional release in a January statement.

“Four Kurdish political activists were detained on December 26 in Syria, and have been held incommunicado since then. They are at risk of torture and other ill-treatment,” Amnesty said.

Although Kurdish groups in Syria had been calling for recognition as the country’s second largest ethnic group after the Arabs since 1957, it is only lately that Kurdish dissidents have clearly expressed their desire for autonomy.

“The universal declaration of human rights gives Kurds the right to self-determination, like any other ethnic group in the world,” said a Kurdish advocate who wished to remain anonymous.

Their demands have clearly irritated other members of the opposition. Hassan Abdel-Azim, leader of the Democratic Arab Socialist Union, said, according to media reports, that the opposition “rejected categorically the use of terms like Syrian Kurdistan, self-rule or any separatist talk”.

He said that Syrian opposition groups in general seek solutions to the Kurdish issue “within the limits of the unity of Syrian land and people”, adding that they supported granting Kurds equal citizenship and cultural rights.

Many in the opposition believe that the moment is not ripe in Syria for talk of self-rule.

Separatist demands are divisive and weaken the opposition, said Faek al-Mir, a member of the Syrian Democratic Party, an opposition group.

“Syrians today need to be in a state of total unity and solidarity in their struggle to build a free society and democratic state,” he said.

The Syrian opposition has been violently crushed by the authorities for decades and hundreds of prisoners of conscience remain in jail for their peaceful opposition to the regime.

Twelve prominent figures from the Damascus Declaration are in prison today, serving sentences of two and a half years.

Another dissident said that there was no point in raising the issue of autonomy while the whole country remained under the tyranny of emergency laws, effective since the Baath party took power in 1963.

In 2005, when the Damascus Declaration voiced its vision for democratic change in Syria, the solutions presented to the Kurdish issue remained vague and contentious, according to observers.

“The rejection by Arab groups of the notion of autonomy results from a misunderstanding of that principle, which had been confused with separatism,” Aliko said.

He added that Kurdish dissidents were disappointed with the rest of the opposition, which viewed their demands the same way the government did.

A lawyer and civil rights activist based in Damascus who asked to remain anonymous agrees that Kurds should be allowed to decide their own future.

“Unity cannot be forcefully imposed on people who see themselves as independent. This only complicates the situation,” he said.

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