Robert Ford Named US Ambassador to Syria

UPDATE: Now Lebanon reporting that “US Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell informed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of Obama’s decision [to nominate Ford as ambassador to Syria] during his visit to Damascus earlier this month, according to the daily” newspaper An-Nahar, in a piece published today by the very well-informed Hisham Melham (who scored the first post-inaugural Obama interview).

Ford is a native of Maryland. He received his Master of Arts in 1983 from Johns Hopkins University.  Ford is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service. He entered the service in 1985 and has been stationed in İzmir, Cairo, Algiers, and Yaoundé. Ford served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Bahrain from 2001 until 2004, and Political Counselor to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad from 2004 until 2006. He is a recipient of several Department of State awards, including the 2005 James Clement Dunn Award for outstanding work at the mid-level in the Foreign Service as well as three Superior Honor Awards and two Meritorious Honor Awards.

Robert Stephen Ford is a native of Maryland. He received his Master of Arts in 1983 from Johns Hopkins University. Ford is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service. He entered the service in 1985 and has been stationed in İzmir, Cairo, Algiers, and Yaoundé. Ford served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Bahrain from 2001 until 2004, and Political Counselor to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad from 2004 until 2006. United States Ambassador to Algeria from Aug 11 2006 until June 26, 2008. Then he became America’s deputy ambassador to Iraq.

He is a recipient of several Department of State awards, including the 2005 James Clement Dunn Award for outstanding work at the mid-level in the Foreign Service as well as three Superior Honor Awards and two Meritorious Honor Awards.

U.S. to Name Ambassador to Syria
CBS News Learns Obama Administration Will Fill Long-Vacant Post in Move to Bolster Syrian-Israeli Peace Talks
By George Baghdadi, DAMASCUS, Jan. 30, 2010

(CBS) Five years after the United States pulled its envoy from Damascus in response to the assassination of Lebanon’s prime minister, Washington is prepared to fill the post of Ambassador to Syria, CBS News has learned.

The U.S. had not had an ambassador in Syria since the Bush administration called back its envoy following the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005.

U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell named the new ambassador in a meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad last week, according to an official who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity.

The United States has passed the name of a candidate to fill a post vacant for five years, and is waiting for feedback from Damascus, a State Department official revealed on Saturday.

“Yes, the request of the Ambassador was passed to the Syrians; however, we don’t have any personal announcement to make and we will not get into diplomatic exchanges,” the official added, refusing to name the envoy, apparently until Washington hears back from the Syrian government.

But diplomats in the Syrian capital said Washington’s intended Ambassador was Robert Stephen Ford, who until now has served as the deputy ambassador to Iraq.

Ford, who speaks Arabic fluently, has also served as the U.S. envoy to Algeria from 2006 to 2008, and is considered to be an expert in Mideast affairs.

“A decision was made last year to return an Ambassador to Syria and this is a concrete example of the administration’s commitment to use our tools, including dialogue, to address our concerns,” the official said in a telephone conversation.

“The decision reflects recognition of the importance of Syria’s role in the region and we hope that it will play constructive efforts to promote peace and stability in the region,” said the U.S. department official.

Mitchell’s visit to Syria, the third since he was appointed as President Obama’s envoy to the region, was to discuss how to re-launch the long-stalled Syrian-Israeli peace talks, and review bilateral relations…..

Syria jails two for ‘fomenting unrest in Iraq’ (AFP)

NICOSIA — Damascus has jailed two Syrians convicted of seeking to foment unrest in Iraq for nine and seven years, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday.

“The state security court on January 26 sentenced two Syrians, Abbas Yusif and Maher Yusif, to nine and seven years in prison, for attempting to cause trouble in Iraq,” SOHR said in a statement.

According to the newspaper Al-Iraqi, the condemned men were arrested “while trying to supply bombs to an armed group” in the war-torn country. The Iraqi paper did not give the group’s name, while the decision by the court in Damascus went unreported in the official Syrian media.

The Syrian advocacy group said the court also “interrogated Mustafa Ibrahim Qadhi, an Algerian, who had gone to fight in Iraq for Al-Qaeda and was then sent to Syria to liaise with groups there wishing to fight in Iraq,” adding that a new hearing has been scheduled for Sunday.

Damascus, which has been accused by Washington and Baghdad of facilitating the flow of Arab combatants into Iraq, has strengthened security along its porous borders in recent years and claims to have arrested hundreds of alleged insurgents.

Some Iraqi officials blamed people backed by Syria and Saudi Arabia for carrying out coordinated bombings in Baghdad on December 8 that killed 127 people.

Nearly 400 people were killed and more than 1,000 were wounded between August and December last year in coordinated vehicle bombings at government buildings, including the ministries of finance, foreign affairs and justice.

Experiencing the Real Syria
Boutique hotels in Damascus and Aleppo offer intimate service
By DON DUNCAN, Wall Street Journal

The pillar of Saint Simeon Stylites outside Aleppo

The pillar of Saint Simeon Stylites outside Aleppo

In the past few months, the long dried-up Quweiq River that runs through Aleppo has begun to flow anew, thanks to improved relations with neighboring country Turkey, whose dams control much of the water flowing into northern Syria. Changing diplomacy has also helped bring another kind of wave — tourists.

Visitor numbers through Syria’s main airport in the capital Damascus have doubled in the past five years to 4.5 million a year, according to the Damascus Chamber of Tourism, and signs of the bump are apparent everywhere. Damascus and Aleppo are the two cities with the most pulling power for tourists. At the core of their appeal are their respective old towns — medieval walled cities replete with religious sites, sprawling souks, miniscule porticos and maze-like alleys…..

Interior of the Baron Hotel

Interior of the Baron Hotel

Syria: A Year in Review 2009
Oxford Business Group
28 January 2010

As Syria prepares to take stock of the first decade under President Bashar Al Assad’s rule, observers of the Arab state will record a period of significant reform, the implications of which are steadily transforming both the country itself, and its standing in the wider region. With a new five-year plan under development however, 2010 will not be merely a year for reflection, but an important milestone in setting the tone of reform for the decade to come.

Of the various reforms undertaken over the past decade, perhaps the most significant have been those relating to the financial services sector. Prior to 2004, banking in Syria was a static state monopoly serviced by six public banks, with the largest being the Commercial Bank of Syria (CBoS). Following liberalisation however, 10 private commercial banks now operate in the country, while restrictions on convertibility have also been eased to allow Syrians to transfer up to $10,000 in foreign currency each month.

Private insurance companies and other financial services followed banks in 2005 and 2007, respectively. The liberalisation of capital that this process kick-started will transform Syria from “a socialist to a social market economy”. The capacity of private banks to finance capital projects is growing steadily, as demonstrated by Bank Audi Syria’s provision of a $380m bridging loan to Lafarge recently for the construction of a new cement works.

Numerous challenges do remain in the financial sector. The opening of the Damascus Securities Exchange in 2009 was a significant step in widening access to capital for the private sector, although listings have been limited. Likewise, in the continued absence of treasury bills, or certificates of deposit, private banks continue to have limited tools with which to price debt. A further decree issued in the second week of January 2010, requiring an increase in minimum capital from $30m to $200m, is also likely to prove controversial, though it was sweetened by a concession allowing private banks to increase their ownership from 49% to 60%, which may well result in more big hitters entering the Syrian banking sector in 2010.

As oil revenues continue to decline, the government will be hoping that investment – both in the form of capital from the nation’s new private banks, as well as foreign direct investment – will be able to ensure the 7% annual growth estimated to be required to provide enough jobs for Syria’s ever-expanding labour market. After early predictions from the government of 6% growth for 2009 (5.2% from the IMF), a downward revision was required midway through the year to account for the impact of continued drought in the agricultural sector and a severe recession in the textiles industry. The IMF revised growth expectations to 3% for 2009, although it expects 2010 to be more positive, with growth projected at 4.2%, while the government has announced growth of 4.5% for 2009.

One tenet of the government’s reform strategy has been improving business infrastructure – a crucial step, given that a major element in holding back more rapid growth is poor standards in accountancy among small and medium-sized private enterprises, which employ up to 70% of Syria’s workforce. Low standards prompted the government to delay indefinitely the introduction of value-added tax in 2009, thus hampering the transition of the state from oil revenues to tax-based revenues. Moreover, poor accountancy is affecting access to capital for these same companies from the nascent private banking sector. The expansion of Syria’s NGO sector (a feature of the 10th Five-Year Plan currently being concluded) means that there are now organisations such as the Syrian Enterprise and Business Centre, or indeed the First Microfinance Institution, which can provide advice and/or credit to private businesses, big and small. However, strengthening private enterprise will continue to remain an economic priority.

In all likelihood, the coming period will see further liberalisation of the economy, though not necessarily towards the US and EU. Instead, the beneficiary is likely to be Turkey, which recently concluded a visa exemption agreement with Syria, and has overseen the creation of a visa-free zone now including Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

A Jewish voice warns against France’s ‘burqa ban’
By Joshua M. Z. Stanton
Commentary by
Friday, January 29, 2010

Cosmetic Eye-colour Surgery Sparks Alarm in Syria
By an IWPR-trained reporter
Friday, 29 January 2010 18:58

A controversial surgical operation carried out in Damascus to change the colour of a Syrian woman’s eyes has raised public fears about the safety of cosmetic surgery in the country.

The surgeon who performed the operation, Mohamad Shoujah, said the procedure that replaced the unidentified patient’s brown irises with artificial green ones was revolutionary.

He told a packed news conference at a hotel in Damascus in December that the surgery could be used not only for cosmetic purposes but also for the restoration of irises damaged as a result of an accident, a birth defect or a tumour.

“The operation consists in removing the iris and doing an implant of a totally new iris. The new iris is made of synthetic fibres…..

Comments (69)

Observer53 said:

I can attest to the fact that Syrian officials are flexible and learn from their experiences. In one respect the son is less dogmatic than his father and in this I see the great influence of his wife.

Syria has now coordinated with Iran the political stabilization of Iraq whereby the alliance of the Sunni tribes that straddle the border between Syria and Iraq is the responsibility of Syria and the Shia alliances are those of Iran. Iran, Syria, and Turkey are now working together to contain the instability in Iraq, reduce the Kurdish areas to their proper state as they had developed ideas of grandeur. The Iranians are conducting deep incursions into Kurdish areas to allegedly stop smuggling, but it could be for many other reasons. They are going to negotiate the exploitation of oil fields with both Kurdistan and Iraq from a position of strength. Both are slowly replacing the vacuum left by the US as it abandons Iraq in 2011. They will apply the same technique that they did in Lebanon, control the political landscape to their full advantage.

My reading of the situation in Lebanon is that the Sunnis are quite despondent about the performance of their leader Hariri. They are now divided and like the Maronites without any real power. Even France has acquiesced to allow Syria full control over Lebanon.

The State of Union speech has clearly shown that the theme that the US is falling behind is now accepted. When Obama says that we should not accept that other countries can make faster trains, he is already admitting that the US is behind at least in this area.

For those not in the US, I can tell you that there is a great malaise about the state of the country. Individuals may still be looking forward to the next football game, but all are quite concerned with the fact their children will have a worse situation than they did.

Syria, Iran, and Turkey are now moving more to the East and will continue to have a greater alliance than ever. The efforts to woe Syria away from Iran actually made Syria even stronger for now it can negotiate from a position of strength and has ever more cards in its hands.

How telling that Petraues has accused the Justice and Accountability commission in Iraq of being an Iranian instrument.

If Jumblat is a bell weather for Lebanon then Chalabi is the same for Iraq and he is singing an Farsi tune these days.

January 30th, 2010, 3:05 pm


norman said:

Observor, and others , This is from MEMRI , AP Fav , it is state of the state of Syria ,it is long but refreshing ,

Syria – From Isolation to Key Player in the International Arena
Written by
Saturday, 30 January 2010 09:08

Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No.583

In a December 29, 2009 speech to the Syrian parliament, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mu’allem summed up the achievements of his country’s political policy in 2009 by saying, “For Syria, 2009 was a year of political success in every sense of the term, and on all fronts…”[1] Indeed, the past year has seen a significant improvement in Syria’s regional and international standing; it managed to extricate itself from its isolation internationally and in the Arab world, and to position itself as an influential regional force. By the end of 2009, the Syrian regime had become self-confident and certain of the effectiveness of its “path of resistance” policy, and was challenging the regional order and the world order and acting powerfully to change both.

The following is a review of Syria’s current world view and policy, as reflected in statements by Syrian officials and articles in the Syrian government press.

Syria – From Isolation to Key Player in the International Arena

Until 2008, President Bashar Al-Assad’s Syria seemed to be a pariah state. Syria had been isolated by the West and by some of the Arab countries, and was under international pressure that spiked following the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri; in the wake of the assassination, it was forced to withdraw its military from Lebanon.

The aggressive anti-Syria line was led by the Bush administration, which saw Syria as part of an “axis of evil” together with Iran and North Korea, and accused it of involvement in terrorism in Iraq. In 2004, the U.S. intensified its anti-Syrian sanctions, and worked in the U.N. Security Council for the passage of Resolution 1559 calling for Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon. In October 2008, the U.S. even bombed insurgents on Syrian territory who were suspected of operating from there against Iraq.

The assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri was a watershed in Syria’s relationship with many countries in the West and in the Arab world, particularly France and Saudi Arabia, who had until then been its close allies. This change was evidently due to the close relationship that Al-Hariri had maintained with then-French president Jacques Chirac, and with the Saudi royal family. Evidence of the severing of relations and of the anger that the assassination evoked in Chirac was clear in an interview he gave in 2007 to the French daily Le Monde. He said: “There were times I used to speak with Bashar Al-Assad. I used to talk with his father [Hafez Al-Assad]. But to be honest, [Bashar and I] do not talk any more. It is he who caused [this halt to the dialogue]. I realized that there was no point [in dialogue]. It is hard to reconcile Bashar Al-Assad’s regime with security and peace.”[2]

In the Arab world, it was Saudi Arabia and Egypt that led the aggressive line against Syria, and there were even reports that it was they who were behind the establishment of the international tribunal to investigate the assassination.

Syria Tightens Its Alliances with Anti-Western Forces

Syria, for its part, grew closer to elements that were, and still largely are, considered to be internationally isolated – Iran and Venezuela.


Syria has maintained very close relations with Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, even though the former country is ruled by the secular Ba’th party and the latter is a theocracy. In certain instances, Syria’s relations with Iran have taken precedence over its relations with other Arab countries, as happened during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88).

Since Bashar Al-Assad and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad assumed leadership, there has been increased closeness between the two countries, as expressed by the signing of a joint defense agreement in December 2009, and by the agreement to drop the visa requirement between them. The two presidents have similar views on many issues, such as resistance to what they call “the forces of hegemony,” that is, the U.S. and Britain; viewing the current situation a victory for the resistance and a defeat for the “forces of hegemony”; and a vision of a new regional and world order and of their own prominent roles in them.

Evidence of this can be found in the words of Bashar Al-Assad on the eve of his January 13, 2010 visit to Saudi Arabia, when he called Syria-Iran relations “strategic and ideological” and said that Syria and Iran saw eye to eye on all issues.[3] The two leaders even use the same terminology, as reflected in their statements during Ahmadinejad’s May 2009 visit to Damascus. In addition, Syria advocates for Iran among the Arab countries, with the aim of reducing Arab fears regarding the Iranian regime and bringing them to see it as their ally.[4]


Syria-Venezuela relations became closer after Hugo Chavez was elected president in 1998. As part of his anti-American policy, Chavez tightened relations with countries such as Syria and Iran. In 2006, at the height of Syria’s isolation, Chavez paid an historic visit to Syria, during which both he and Bashar Al-Assad stressed their resistance to American imperialism.[5]

Nasser Qandil, a former Lebanese MP who is close to the Syrian regime, explained in his column in the Syrian government daily Teshreen the essence of the alliance between Assad, Ahmadinejad, and Chavez. He said it was like “a declaration of a new world [alliance] awaited and needed by all humanity, [one] that declares that the peoples are again managing their own affairs and that resistance is not just a romantic slogan but also a living fact…”[6]

The Armed Resistance in Lebanon and Palestine

In the recent years, Syria stepped up its support of Hamas and Hizbullah, as representatives of the resistance in Palestine and in Lebanon respectively. It also continued its mostly covert support of the insurgents fighting U.S. forces in Iraq.[7]

France, U.S. Turn Towards Syria

This strategy won Syria much support in the Arab street, but brought it into an almost unprecedented conflict – to the brink of a cold war[8] – with many Arab regimes, especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as with the U.S. Even though this policy led to its isolation by some Arab regimes and by the West, and seemed to place the Syrian regime in danger of collapse, it has as of late 2009 proven to be wise. In contrast to the Bush administration and to Chirac’s government, which saw Syria as an obstacle and as posing a risk to their attainment of their goals in the Middle East, the governments of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and of U.S. President Barack Obama, and, following them, also the Saudi regime, see Syria as a means for achieving broader goals, and they are attempting to get it on their side. With Syria stubbornly clinging to its positions, these governments are moving away from the policies of their predecessors and are abandoning the approach of clashing with Syria and isolating it. Instead, they have begun treating it as a key regional country capable of mediating between the West and Iran and of influencing the level of violence in the Palestinian territories, in Lebanon, and in Iraq.

The major change started with Sarkozy’s presidency. Sarkozy abandoned his predecessor’s policy and sought to embrace Syria and to bring it back into the French fold, apparently with the view that it was through the door of Syria that France would be able to expand its influence in the Middle East. One expression of this was Sarkozy’s statements to the Syrian daily Al-Watan during his first visit to the country in September 2008: “…Since my election, I have wanted France to regain its place on the international chessboard, and I am interested in my country bearing the responsibility for peace in the Middle East. In order to do this, it is necessary to gain the trust of all sides, and therefore I have made several changes in France’s policy in the region…”[9]

France also led the change in EU policy towards Syria, as expressed in an interview that then-president of the European parliament Hans Gert Pöttering gave to Al-Watan in August 2008. He said that during the past three years, the EU had adopted a policy of passivity towards Syria, and that now the winds of change were blowing. He noted that the EU no longer thought that the way to solving the problems was isolation, but rather dialogue among partners.[10]

It should be noted that as of now, it appears that France’s efforts have yet to bear fruit, and that Syria is assigning France only a secondary role as mediator in the peace process, and is insisting that Turkey and the U.S. be the main mediators in its negotiations with Israel. Nevertheless, Syria is reaping economic dividends from the rapprochement with France, including France’s readiness to break the U.S. embargo so that it can sell Airbuses to Syria.

As for the change in U.S. policy, it began at the end of the Bush administration. Evidence of this can be seen in an interview that then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave to the London daily Al-Hayat in August 2008, in which she denied that the U.S. was implementing a policy of isolating Syria. She said: “…There is a continuous relationship with Syria… and we have diplomatic relations with Syria… I have met with [Syrian Foreign Minister] Walid Al-Mu’allem when we were in Sharm Al-Sheikh. Our relations with Syria are correct.”[11]

This trend grew stronger when U.S. President Barack Obama took office, and it became part of a comprehensive policy vis-à-vis the region that Obama laid out in his Cairo speech on June 4, 2009. His approach might have emanated from his perception that Syria was essential to stabilizing the situation in Iraq when U.S. forces withdrew.[12]

The American openness was expressed by the start of a dialogue with Syria; by visits by senior American politicians, such as Senate Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Sen. John Kerry; and by visits by U.S. military delegations. At the same time, it should be noted that the Obama administration set conditions for improving America’s relations with Syria,[13] and even renewed the sanctions on Syria; moreover, as of this writing, the U.S. ambassador to Syria has not returned to Damascus.

The U.S.’s policy of openness towards Syria contributed greatly to the improvement of Syria’s status in the region and internationally – from an untouchable and isolated country to a country courted by several of its main rivals though it is apparently giving nothing in return.

Saudi Reactions to the West’s Change of Policy

This new approach on the part of the West was perceived at first by some of the Arab media as rewarding extremist elements and abandoning moderate allies. ‘Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, director-general of the Saudi Al-Arabiya TV and former editor-in-chief of the London Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, called Syria’s policy “genius” for successfully misleading the West: “…Damascus has created crises [and then] proposed solutions… Syria’s partner Hizbullah occupied western Beirut so that Damascus would intervene and stop it; Syria’s friends in the Lebanese opposition refused to elect Michel Suleiman [as president] even though he was the agreed-upon candidate, so that Damascus would intervene, [and then] it would be agreed [that Suleiman would be president]… Syria’s friend Hamas ratcheted up the level of violence against Israel so that [Damascus would intervene] and order it to stop. [Damascus] finished up by again ordering its allies in the Lebanese opposition to stop thwarting the formation of the Lebanese government, and thus, just two days before [Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad] left for Paris… Syria convinced [the world] that it had changed, when [in fact] it had changed nothing…”[14]

Saudi Arabia, a backbone of the “moderate Arab axis” which has vehemently opposed Syria’s policy in recent years, and which was at first displeased with the French openness towards Syria, has adapted to the shift in the international climate vis-à-vis Syria, and changed its position accordingly. The first sign of this change was Saudi King ‘Abdallah’s reconciliation with Syria at the Kuwait summit in January 2009. During the Doha Summit, in late March 2009, it appeared that Saudi Arabia was withdrawing nearly completely from its positions towards Syria and the Syria-Iran axis, or at least accepting with silence the fact that the Syrian discourse was taking over the summit.[15] The height of the change came with the monarch’s historic visit to Syria on October 7 and 8, 2009, and with the understandings regarding Lebanon, which in effect legitimized Syria’s return to Lebanon.[16]

Several days after King ‘Abdallah’s visit, the editor of the Saudi government daily Al-Riyadh, Turki Al-Sudairi wrote an op-ed stating that the solution to Lebanon’s chronic instability was for Syria to again control Lebanon. “Why shouldn’t Lebanon return to Syria?”, he asked.[17] Other official Saudi newspapers hastened to reassure that the article was not representative of the official Saudi position and to reiterate that the Saudi-Syrian rapprochement was not at Lebanon’s expense.[18] However, today it appears that Al-Sudairi’s op-ed heralded what was to come.

Currently, Egypt is the only country in the moderate Arab axis that has not backed down from its position vis-à-vis Syria, and is consequently subject to repeated attacks by the Syrian media.[19] Likewise, Syria-Iraq relations are very tense, although it seemed that they were improving, as reflected by the two countries’ August 18, 2009 decision to establish a joint strategic council, during Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s visit to Damascus. The day after this decision was reached, a series of grisly bombings aimed at government ministries rocked Baghdad. Following the bombings, Al-Maliki claimed that the perpetrators had links to Iraqi Ba’th members backed by Syrian government figures. Syria denied the accusation, and in response to Syria’s denials, Al-Maliki called for an international tribunal or investigative committee to be established, to determine who was behind the bombings; he sent a letter on the matter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the matter. Both Turkey and Iran attempted to mediate between Syria and Iraq, but to no avail.

It should be noted that none of the Arab countries stood with Iraq, and the U.S. response was both cool and slow in coming. The lukewarm international response to Al-Maliki’s call may be another reflection of the shift in attitude towards Syria.

Syria: The Era of the West Is Over; Anti-West Forces Have Triumphed

Syria, for its part, sees the shift in the Western and Arab attitude towards it as a sign that its opponents are weak, and as vindication of its course over the years. Syria also draws confidence from the situation in the region; it sees the U.S. as sinking into a quagmire in Iraq and Afghanistan, and perceives the resistance forces – Hizbullah in Lebanon in 2006, and Hamas in Gaza in 2009 – as having triumphed over Israel and the forces behind it (that is, the U.S.). This has led it to conclude that now is no time to soften its positions and to abandon the principles which, it believes, produced the shift in attitude towards it – that is, its support of the resistance forces and its alliance with Iran. Thus, the West’s new openness is actually encouraging Syria to cling to its positions, and even to toughen its stance.

Syria is not shy about discussing this approach publicly and in the presence of Western leaders. Thus, when Assad was asked at a joint press conference with Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann whether the shift in attitude towards Syria was due to a change in Syria’s positions, he replied: “What has changed is the [Western] perception of Syria’s position… Syria is an important country and no one can prevent it from playing such a role. The difference [from the past] is that there are countries that think that cooperating with Syria will make us change our policy in certain directions. After a while, they discovered that the problems of the [Middle] East cannot be resolved without Syria’s cooperation…”[20]

Syria’s sense of triumph over the new situation was also evident in Assad’s statements during his visit to Iran following the reelection of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “…The general circumstances in the region serve the front of resistance and steadfastness. The countries of the West, particularly the U.S., are facing many problems, both domestic and in the [Middle East]. So far, they have achieved nothing in the region, not even in Lebanon…” According to Assad, the Western response to Ahmadinejad’s reelection was due to “concern that the serial victories of Iran and Syria will continue for another four years.”

During the same visit, the two leaders agreed that “the global situation is an historic opportunity for the peoples of the region,” and stressed the need to make the most of it. Also during the visit, Assad predicted that “from now on, the doors of the international community will be open for Iran and Syria more than they have been in the past.”[21]

At the Conference of Arab Parties, held November 2009 in Damascus, President Bashar Al-Assad stated: “We have studied history well, prepared the present and determined the future… In the last three years, we have defined our goals with precision: the adversary is the U.S., and the enemy is Israel. In the past, the American administration itself was the enemy, [but] now this equation has changed… We have reached a stage where we believe their proposals are to our benefit… We have succeeded, and [today] we are ruled by a sense of challenge, not of fear…”[22]

Former Lebanese MP Nasser Qandil, who is close to the Syrian regime, summarized the situation in his weekly column in the Syrian daily Teshreen, using less diplomatic terms: “In the [present] world war, aimed at breaking the strategic Syrian-Iranian alliance, it is the spear of the strategic American-Israeli alliance that has broken. [Now] a new era has begun that will completely reorganize our region, as reflected in the new American [policy] of turning to dialogue with Syria and Iran… The Syrian and Iranian leadership have a profound understanding of the new starting point, which promises a transition from [a situation on which these countries] are leading the resistance to [a situation in which they are] leading a new regional order…”[23]

Syrian columnist Salim ‘Aboud wrote in the daily Al-Thawra: “…Damascus has become a meeting point for leaders and statesmen from all over the world. It has proven that its policy, which is based upon rights and upon a refusal to relinquish [these rights], is the one that can set events [in motion] and place it in an honorable position. This is the policy which has turned [Syria], and continues to turn it, into a pivotal country whose decisions and desires cannot be overlooked.”[24]

‘Imad Fawzi Shu’eibi, head of the Data and Strategic Studies Center in Damascus, wrote an article in the London-based Saudi daily Al-Hayat in which he outlined Syria’s foreign policy and its perception of its role in the region: “…Syria has regained its regional position, and has consolidated [this position] by means of [Hizbullah’s] 2006 victory [over Israel] and through a policy of biding its time. Syria has plenty of patience… and this enables it to be a country that assigns roles [to others] and withholds them [from others]. It can say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in its own way. Its ‘no’ is one that does not [completely] shut the door on regional and international relations, and its ‘yes’ [is one that] does not open the door to its enemies. This is a policy of half-open doors…”[25]

Syria is Pursuing a New Regional and International World Order

Based on this sense of self-worth, Syria is now working, along with its allies Iran and Venezuela, to create a new world order involving several blocs of countries, each with equal weight, as an alternative to what it sees as a unipolar order with America as the sole superpower. At the April 2, 2009 Doha Summit, President Al-Assad said: “…The world is currently in a state of crisis which may, despite the difficulty it entails, present us with an opportunity to seek, along with others, a foundation for a new world order… The comprehensive change taking place today is reminiscent of the global reshuffle [of power] that occurred in the middle of the previous century…”[26]

After an April 2009 meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mu’allem, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, in a similar vein, “Iran and Syria must assist one another in creating a new world order…,” to which Al-Mu’allem replied, “Syria calls for developing the relations [between the two countries] and for comprehensive cooperation with Iran in all domains.”[27] A few days later, Ahmadinejad said, “Iran is willing to play a significant role in running the world…”[28] At a press conference with Assad at the end of his May 2009 visit to Damascus, the Iranian president said: “Alongside the resistance and steadfastness, we must also strive to create a new world order; otherwise new oppressive regimes will emerge…”[29] He added, “The philosophy and order that emerged after World War II have come to the end of their road, and [the West] is unable to offer solutions for the world’s problems, since its thinking is based on discrimination and on [undermining] security.”[30]

As part of these efforts to establish a new world order, Syria is operating on several levels:

1. The Effort to Implement the “Four Seas Strategy”:

This strategy is based on an alliance between Syria, Iran and Turkey, which, these countries hope, will also be joined by Iraq and by the Caucasus countries, so as to form a geographic continuum between four seas: the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea, the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf. As part of the efforts to expand this alliance, and perhaps also as a sign of Syria’s mounting confidence, Syria offered to mediate in the crisis between Armenia and Azerbaijan and between Armenia and Turkey.[31]

Explaining the rationale behind this alliance, Assad said: “Syria and Turkey are strategically important countries. They have a significant political role, and they enjoy stability on the security and social [levels]… [Our region] is an important junction for transport, [including the] transport of energy… In addition, there is cooperation between Turkey and Iraq, and beginnings of relations between Turkey and Iran. Good relations are forming between Syria and Iraq, while Iran and Syria [already] have good relations… We are important not [only] in the Middle East. We are at the center of the world, and are bound to become a crucial link for the whole world in terms of investments, transport and the like…”[32]

During his visit to Iran, Assad presented the idea of the “four seas strategy” to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and received his blessing.[33]

It should be noted that Assad’s statements regarding the good Syria-Iraq relations predated the outbreak of the crisis between Syria and Iraq following the series of Baghdad bombings in August 2009. However, despite the present tension between the two countries, Syrian, Iranian and Turkish officials continue to regard Iraq as part of the alliance. During his visit to Syria for the first meeting of the Turkey-Syria High Level Strategic Cooperation Council, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “The Turkey-Syria High Level Strategic Cooperation Council is not just between Turkey and Syria. [Similar councils exist for cooperation] between Syria and Iraq, Jordan and Turkey, and Turkey and Lebanon. When this activity increases, I think this region will become a region of peace…”[34]

A similar hope was expressed by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mu’allem in a speech to the parliament in which he reviewed Syria’s diplomatic achievements in 2009: “…These strategic ties [between Syria and Turkey] are to be a nucleus that will soon be augmented by Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq…”[35]

The creation of the Syria-Iran-Turkey-Iraq alliance is perceived as an expression of Syria’s defiance vis-à-vis the current world order, as columnist Muhammad Zarouf wrote in the government daily Al-Ba’th: “…The region needs a strategic force that will put an end to the collapse and the disintegration that is spreading everywhere [in the region]. These allow the international forces to interfere in everything and to subjugate the region to their political will – which is not necessarily compatible with the interests and will of the region’s countries and peoples… The aim is to establish a new regional force that will be able to take part in restoring balance to the world order, which suffers from unilateralism and from imbalance, due to the ‘unipolar’ control [i.e. by the U.S.] over the running of its affairs…”[36]


Syria’s rapport with Turkey is a fairly recent development compared to its good relations with Iran. In the past, Syria-Turkey relations were rocky due to Syria’s support of the PKK, Turkey’s relations with Israel, and conflicts over the distribution of the waters of the Euphrates river and over the Alexandretta region. Tensions mounted to the point that, in 1998, Turkey deployed forces along its border with Syria, with the aim of forcing the latter to expel PKK leader ‘Abdallah Ocalan, who had received political asylum and assistance from Damascus.

In 2003, Syria-Turkish relations began to thaw, as evidenced by Assad’s historic visit to Turkey in 2004, which was the first visit to this country by a Syrian president since the end of World War I.

Assad attributed the strategic change in Syria’s policy towards Turkey to the U.S. troops’ 2003 invasion of Iraq. He said: “Following the war on Iraq in 2003, we saw that the fire was coming closer to us. Thus, we tightened relations [with Turkey] in order to protect ourselves…”[37]

Recent far-reaching developments in Syria-Turkey relations have led to the establishment of the Turkey-Syria High Level Strategic Cooperation Council, the mutual abolition of visas, joint military maneuvers, and the signing of cooperation agreements in a number of areas, including the military one.

Close relations are in the interests of both countries. Turkey, controlled by Erdogan’s Justice and Development (AKP) party, seeks to become closer to the Arab and Islamic world, and to develop into a prominent regional power. Evidence that Turkey sees itself as a regional power comes from statements by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who said that Turkey is no longer a country that follows others, but has now become a leading country, and that the other Middle East countries respect it for the role that it plays.[38] Turkey’s self-perception as a regional leader is also reflected in its readiness to volunteer to mediate in inter-Arab crises – between Syria and Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and Fatah and Hamas – as well as in international conflicts such as Iran’s nuclear crisis and the Syria-Israel negotiations.

Likewise, since the AKP, headed by Erdogan, came to power, Turkey has in some instances adopted a policy incompatible with the interests of its former allies, the U.S., and the EU; these include its refusal to permit its territory to be used for launching the attack on Iraq in 2003, and its recognition of the Hamas government in Gaza. It should be noted that within Turkey itself there are critics of this policy, which is perceived as “neo-Ottoman.”[39] Erdogan himself has denied pursuing this policy.[40]

For Syria, allying with Turkey gives it numerous advantages: It helps diffuse Syria’s sense of being under siege because of Turkey’s alliance with Israel and the presence of U.S. troops in Turkey and Iraq. Syria, for its part, has stopped supporting the Kurds, and, according to various reports, has dropped its demand for the Alexandretta region, which has been a focus of dispute between the two countries for the past five decades. Also, Syria insists that Turkey will mediate in its negotiations with Israel, thus contributing to Turkey’s international status.

The Arab Countries

Syria seeks to reassure the Arab countries regarding its intentions, emphasizing that its relations with Turkey and Iran do not come at the expense of its relations with the Arab world, and that no harm to Arab interests will result – on the contrary, these relations will actually strengthen them. However, while senior Syrian officials stress the Arab countries’ special status, Syria does not seem to be assigning them a leading role in the regional bloc that it is working to consolidate. Apparently, the Arab countries are meant to join the regional alliance, when it materializes, but will not be part of its founding nucleus.

At the annual Ba’th party conference, in December 2009, Syrian presidential aide ‘Imad Hassan Turkmani clarified the Syrian perception, saying: “Syria is acting to establish a regional bloc, to include Turkey, Iran, and Iraq, and to connect the continents… Syria wants a regional alliance that will first of all serve all the Arabs and will support the matters that concern them. [This alliance] will complete the Arab alliance on which Syria relies as a main support… In policy, there is no room for dreams; there are [only] interests that [Syria sees] as the basis [of its policy]…”[41]

Syria’s striving to consolidate a regional alliance along these lines may reflect its understanding, based on the experience of recent years, that it cannot trust the Arab countries to support it in time of need, and that it must pull together an axis that currently bypasses the Arab countries, and will later be joined by them after they realize its strength and the advantages it offers. This policy has already borne fruit: One example of this is Saudi Arabia, which did a complete about-face in its position towards Syria once it saw Syria’s steadfastness in the face of regional and international pressures.

At the same time, Syria is trying to label itself as a leader of the campaign for reconciliation in the Arab world, and it apparently seeks to lead this world, as evidenced by statements made to Syrian state television by presidential political and information advisor Buthayna Sha’ban: “Syria is a central player in the region, and no one can ignore that. It aspires to be the central player in obtaining the Arab rights, not only in the Golan Heights, but also in Palestine…”[42]

Syria’s Rejection of the Partnership Agreement with the EU

As part of its aspiration to create a new world order, in which it would have a position of influence as a member of the regional alliance, Syria seeks to free itself from the European bear hug, which is led by France. This was expressed in the shift in Syria’s attitude towards the Syria-EU partnership agreement.

For years, Syria worked towards signing a partnership agreement with the EU, its main trade partner. A draft of the agreement was drawn up, but was not signed due to European reservations regarding Syria’s domestic and foreign policy; the issue fell off the map. Only in 2008, and as part of Europe’s change in policy towards Syria, was it raised again, and an agreement was initialed. The agreement was approved by the EU in October 2009.

The agreement’s approval was received coolly in Syria. Assad said that it needed to be re-examined in accordance with Syria’s national interest, and that the partnership must be between two parties of equal status and economic soundness, and must not include either side’s intervention in the other’s domestic affairs.[43]

Syrian officials stressed their fear of the agreement’s impact on production and on the domestic economy, although when it was initialed in 2008, senior Syrian economists emphasized that it would benefit Syria’s economy, and noted that fears of its impact were unwarranted.[44] However, Assad’s statement quoted above seems to confirm the reports that Syria’s opposition to the agreement was due mainly to the conditions it included regarding human rights in Syria, and regarding Syrian foreign policy.[45] Furthermore, it seems that Syria is apprehensive about signing an agreement with a powerful political bloc like the EU, and prefers to focus on bilateral ties with each individual EU country, as expressed in late December 2009 by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mu’allem.[46]

It seems that another motivation for Syria’s coolness towards the EU in the present circumstances is this country’s confidence in the realization of the “four seas strategy” described above, aimed primarily at creating an economic-political bloc equivalent in its weight and influence to the EU itself. This is evident from Assad’s statements at a joint press conference with Finnish President Tarja Halonen, in which he clarified that “Syria’s top priority is tightening its relations with the countries in [its own] region, especially with the Arab countries and with its neighbors, such as Turkey… We must start with the countries of the region. This does not mean that we reject other countries… [but] we cannot talk of good relations with Europe and America when we have problems with the neighboring countries. That’s natural. [Good relations with the neighbors] are not a substitute [for good relations with countries outside the region], but they do take priority over them…”[47]

Statements by Syrian officials and articles in the Syrian press took a more belligerent tack. For example, Syrian Prime Minister Naji Al-‘Otri stressed that his country was interested in a partnership of equals with Europe, and that it had gained a position of power that allowed it to negotiate these matters in a different way than in the past.[48]

Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mu’allem said at a press conference with Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero that the EU’s approval of the agreement had taken Syria by surprise, and that Syria now had to reexamine the agreement, a process that could take until the end of Spain’s presidency of the EU in June 2010.[49]

Two days after the EU’s approval of the agreement, and ahead of Assad’s visit to Croatia, the editor of the government daily Al-Thawra, As’ad ‘Aboud, downplayed the importance of Europe’s five leading countries, namely France, Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain. He said that Europe also includes other countries, each of which can be a gateway for Syria into the EU, and that Syria is extending its hand to all the European countries. He added: “We want excellent relations with any European country [willing to treat us] as a partner. We approach our partnership with the EU from this broad basis of bilateral relations that are effective and influential…”[50]

The daily Al-Watan, which is close to the Syrian regime, went so far as to argue that Syria does not need the EU to develop its economy, and wondered whether Syria should sign the agreement at all in the present circumstances.[51]

2. Challenging the Legitimacy of the International Institutions

As part of its bid for a new world order, Syria is challenging the legitimacy of the international institutions, especially the U.N. and its Security Council, which it regards, in their present form, as tools of the American hegemony and hence as requiring structural reform.[52] In this approach, Syria is aligned with Iran, Libya, Venezuela and Hizbullah, all of which challenge the existing world order and are working to change it.

President Assad himself challenged the legitimacy of the U.N. institutions at a joint press conference with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: “…I did not speak [with Chavez] about the ‘international community,’ because today this term refers to a very small group of powers that are striving to control the world, the international policy and the global economy. [Instead,] we spoke of an international movement consisting of countries that can take a just approach to these issues.

“When we speak of the ‘international community’ in the prevailing sense of the word, we speak of the hegemony of [certain] international organizations. Syria and Venezuela call to reform these organizations, so as to pass from a phase of global anarchy to a phase of global order. We say that [today], what we have is not order but anarchy. We all want global order, but [we want it to be] an order in which all countries take part… We all know that the international organizations [represent] only some countries, [and the same goes for] the world order and the international community…

The international organizations, the U.N. institutions, and all the bodies subordinate to them are controlled by a small group of countries, and their resolutions are subordinate and connected to the interests of these countries. [So] obviously, [these resolutions] cannot be in our favor as well…”[53]

Similar claims were made in the Syrian government press. Faisal Sa’d, a lecturer at Tishreen University, wrote: “…The U.N. actually became obsolete in 1991, when the cold war was officially declared at an end… Today, some two decades after [this organization] became obsolete, and nothing was left of it except its name, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a crucial need to reform [the U.N.] or to reestablish it in light of the new circumstances, which form a solid foundation for a new, alternative world order. To this end, there is a need to change or amend the rationale and the operating mechanisms of many [U.N. institutions], especially the Security Council… The ‘surgical’ procedure required [to correct] the workings of [this body] will not be complete until its functions and authorities are transferred to the U.N. General Assembly, [which will then serve as] a true international parliament with the full authority to formulate and pass binding international resolutions, without anybody having a power of veto…

“A reform of the U.N. and its institutions cannot be carried out under [the hegemony] of the capitalist globalization, which was based and is [still] based upon principles of tyranny and dictatorship, and which operates through exploitation, coercion, oppression and deception. From a logical and objective point of view, the reform must be carried out through a different globalization [process] – a grassroots one – that will impose a new world order with [its own] international institutions, anchored in principles of pluralistic justice and democracy…”[54]

Syria: The Change in the West’s Attitude Towards Us Was a Result of Our Support of the Resistance

Syria has placed itself firmly at the head of the “resistance camp,” whose other main members are Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah, as well as Qatar and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Syrian spokesmen, headed by President Assad himself, have declared that resistance is the ultimate way to confront the West and Israel. At the Conference of Arab Parties, Assad made clear the importance he ascribes to the resistance: “…We have now begun to build a new Middle East, whose essence is resistance. Resistance in the cultural and military sense, and in every other sense, was and is the essence of our policy, and it will continue to be so in the future. It is the essence of our [very] existence…”[55]

Syrian spokesmen clarify that “resistance” is not just military action, but also means uncompromising insistence on principles in the face of what they see as Western attempts to impose dictates that contravene the Arab or Muslim interests. This is one of the motivations behind the strategic alliance with Turkey and Iran, as explained by ‘Imad Fawzi Shu’eibi, head of the Data and Strategic Studies Center in Damascus: “…Resistance is not just military. It also means building a geostrategic future for this region that is different from [the future that others] wish [to create] for it. This is the basis of President Assad’s perception of the ‘four seas [alliance]’ and of the strategic relations with Turkey as a form of strategic resistance…”[56]

Syria presents its insistence on its principles and its firm support of the resistance as the main reasons for the improvement in its status and for the change in the West’s policy towards it. Assad’s political and media advisor Buthayna Sha’ban said, “The wisdom of President Assad, and his perception, which is based on resistance, steadfastness and dynamic policy… have strengthened Syria’s pivotal role in the region and enabled us to stand firm and steady in the face of all the pressures and challenges of the last few years.”[57]

Nabil Fawzat Nawfal wrote in a similar vein in his column in the government daily Al-Thawra: “…If there has been any change in the course of the American administration, it is [only] thanks to the resistance forces and their victory, which was supported by the forces of resistance and steadfastness in Syria and Iran. Syria, the [emblem] of Arabism, and the heroic resistance forces have come to be the shapers of events [in the region] and the main players. If in the past the equation was that there could be no peace without Syria, today the equation is that there is no peace without Syria and also no war without Syria. Nobody can impose [upon us] a peace [agreement] that contravenes the inclinations of our Arab people, nor can anybody impose [upon us] a war that we do not want. This is proof that the path of resistance, which President Assad has chosen and which he has steered with wisdom and competence, is the right path. [Assad] has brought Syria [to a position of] strategic superiority, where it holds the reigns of political and military initiative in the region…”[58]

Columnist Salim ‘Aboud made far-reaching claims regarding the success of Syria’s policy: “…Syria’s policy has managed to shape the [power-]balance of the Middle East conflict, and to disrupt [the plans] of the American occupier in Iraq, bringing about his defeat. It shattered the dreams of the [Bush] administration, and was one of the reasons for Republicans’ defeat in the U.S. elections. It caused the whole world to reject the policy of the Bush administration and to welcome the arrival of a new administration, in hope that the world would [now] know some calm after the storms generated by Bush’s insane Zionist policy…”[59]

Resistance and the Peace Process

Syria sees no contradiction between adhering to the course of resistance and striving for peace. According to its spokesmen, resistance and negotiations are both means to “restore the usurped rights,” and both can be employed, either simultaneously or separately, according to the circumstances. On the eve of his November 13, 2009 visit to France, Assad said: “…The essence of peace is not just negotiations but also resistance. It is a mistake to think that peace will be achieved [only] through negotiations, [for] it will also be achieved through resistance. That is why we must support the resistance, because thereby we support the peace process. Resistance and negotiations are [two parts of] a single [course], whose aim is to restore our legitimate rights, which we will never relinquish.”[60]

Resistance is presented as Syria’s strategic option, which has proved its effectiveness in Lebanon and Gaza – as opposed to the option of negotiations, which has failed because of Israel’s policy. Al-Thawra editor As’ad ‘Aboud explained: “…All the documents that have been signed, from the Camp David [Accords] to the Oslo [Accords], created [only] the illusion of peace. We are living [a reality of] war, not peace… We want peace, but [we refuse to enter] the corridors of futile negotiation that we already know will lead nowhere… If [Israel] does not intend to reach a peace [agreement] and rejects the demands [for peace], what is the way to security and stability? We [Syrians] have the answer to this question: resistance. A Middle East [that embraces] resistance is a Middle East that puts an end to occupation and strengthens security and stability.”[61]

* N. Mozes is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.

January 30th, 2010, 3:52 pm


Off the Wall said:

Thank you observer53 for the keen post. I am not really very happy that A sect in Iraq or Lebanon is the responsibility of B country or C sect is the responsibility of D country. This is exactly where the neocons and George Bush’s war failed on the first day it succeeded. The Americans had the opportunity to build a modern non-sectarian Iraq, but they opted to build a sectarian country that is to become a place for others to compete for influence and control, which is typical in sectarian countries such as Lebanon and now Iraq, where loyalty to ones country is trampled on by loyalty to one’s tribe and/or sect. What is worst is that such dual loyalty is forced on the nation by virtue of pathetic sad constitutions and legal arrangements. One has to ask whether the goal was to get Saddam out of the picture or to get Iraq out of the picture for Israel’s interest. Clearly, the neocons plan, which fell to Bremmer to execute was to take Iraq out of the picture. Iraq is out, and it is now doomed to be a client state or a bigger, albeit more violent Lebanon.In that, and that only, they have succeeded beyond likud’s wildest imagination. Iraq was not liberated from Saddam, it was rolled back for Israel. Exactly as the likud’s inspired clean break document stipulated. The war was never America’s war, It was Israel’s war, fought by the US, and paid for by us taxpayers in the US, and by our sons and doughters from all stripes who died or got wounded there, and on their way, killed a million of our Iraqi brothers and sisters. A second facet is clear in the unfair and malicious anti-baath laws, which were not meant to punish Iraq’s baathists for their crimes, but mainly to preempt any nationally-minded competition from the political scene.

But, I have no doubt that the Iraq will come again. This outright repulsive sectarianism is not the norm, it is foreign to Iraq’s history. More and more Iraqis, will recognize that over time. In the end, and I am very sad to say, it may be the American made Iraqi army, when it grows strong, who will probably bring Iraq back. This is perhaps one of the reasons why the emphasis of the neocon rulers of Iraq has been on building Iraq’s “security forces” instead of building Iraq’s national army. Security forces are much easier to co-opt under personal and tribal loyalty. A national army is much harder to co-opt.

January 30th, 2010, 4:24 pm


Off the Wall said:

Notice intent not to state anything positive about Syria

“A decision was made last year to return an Ambassador to Syria and this is a concrete example of the administration’s commitment to use our tools, including dialogue, to address our concerns ,” the official said in a telephone conversation.

The operative word here is “to address our concerns”. Now take that phrase and slightly modify it to

“A decision was made last year to return an Ambassador to Syria and this is a concrete example of the administration’s commitment to use our tools, including dialogue, to improve our relationship with all nations,” the official did not say in a telephone conversation.

January 30th, 2010, 4:37 pm


Averroes said:


Thanks you for the comment. I fully agree, although I don’t think that Observer53 was in any way promoting the sectarian view. I think he was stating an observation that I think is correct.

The sectarian fault line in Iraq was deliberately drawn in blood by the US policy there. The Saudis were the main executing engine behind it, fueling the sectarian fever with money. hate media, fanatic fatwas, and of course brainwashed, sex deprived young men eager to meet heavenly virgins by blowing themselves up in Iraqi crowds.

The Shia side took it on the cheek until the blowing up of the two Askari mosques, where groups from that sect also unleashed its own wave of terror.

Both are criminal and both are totally and unconditionally condemned.

This was by no means a coincidence, or a natural defaulting of social tendencies when the state was destroyed. It was a relentlessly planned, funded, and ruthlessly executed effort to destroy Iraq the country, not just the regime, but most certainly the country and its people.

I don’t think that neocon plan has succeeded. Iraq, as a country, is not dead. It is badly wounded and scarred, but I think that it will regain its national identity again, in the not too distant future.

Syria, Turkey, and Iran saw what the US was doing, and recognized the extreme danger early on. Sectarian fire has the potential to burn everything inside Iraq and across into their own borders. So these countries acted to influence the groups closest to them geographically, not necessarily geographically.

January 30th, 2010, 8:08 pm


Off the Wall said:

I apologize to Observer53 if the tone of my introductory couple sentences gave the impression that I thought observer was promoting sectarianism. I know for sure that this was not the intent of observer53 elegant post. Quite the opposite, it was to indicate the danger and failure of the policy of containing Iraq through divide and concur approach. I was merely indicating how sad I am that Iraq is now a country where others, even those with good intention, can compete for and exercise influence that goes beyond normal, healthy influence. Intentions matter, but so does the sovereignty of a country. And I argue that sectarian countries invite undue influence and by their nature they make their sovereignty incomplete at best.

Also, thank you for the more sane post. I fully agree that what happened was not a natural consequence of the demise of the state and that it was a relentlessly planned and executed strategy that will continue to backfire until its evil implications are fully reversed. I too hope that Iraq will regain her national identity in the near future. Perhaps the recent banning of nationalists from election is the first catalyst of recovery.

What do we know about Ambassador Ford’s political inclination. He seems like many career diplomats to be quite an accomplished fellow.

January 30th, 2010, 8:29 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Great news. Better US-Syrian relations is good for the region.
Especially for Syria, but for Lebanon, Iraq and Israel too.
There are no free gifts in politics.

January 30th, 2010, 8:55 pm


Averroes said:


Tilmeezak :).

Iraq is an ancient civilization and will not go into the dark.

January 30th, 2010, 9:42 pm


norman said:

The US tried and is still trying to divide Iraq into religious states to justify the religious nature of Israel as a jewish state .

January 30th, 2010, 11:05 pm


offended said:

Dude needs to lose the mustache…

January 31st, 2010, 1:26 pm


norman said:

Italy is calling for peace between Israel and Syria with the return of the Golan as the centerpiece ,

He is repeating what we all said for Israel to have a deal then withdraw,

Israel settlement policy a “mistake,” Berlusconi says before visit
Jan 31, 2010, 8:36 GMT

Tel Aviv/Rome – Israel’s settlement policy in the occupied West Bank is a ‘mistake’ which could be an obstacle to any peace settlement, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told an Israeli daily, ahead of his three-day visit to Israel this week.

‘It will never be possible to convince the Palestinians of Israel’s good intentions while Israel continues to build in territories that are to be returned as part of a piece agreement,’ he told the Ha’aretz newspaper, in an interview published Sunday.

‘I would like to say to the people and government of Israel, as a friend, with my hand on my heart, that persisting with this policy is a mistake,’ he said.

He noted, however, that the events which followed Israel’s 2005 withdrawal of soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip ‘should prompt some thought.’

‘It is not possible to evacuate communities to (then) face burned synagogues, acts of destruction, and inter-Palestinian violence and missiles being shot into Israeli territory,’ he pointed out.

The Italian leader arrives arrives in Israel on Monday, accompanied by eight of his ministers, who will participate in a joint cabinet meeting Tuesday with their Israeli counterparts.

‘The Jewish people, with courage and persistence, created a paragon of democracy in the Middle East. Israel is part of Europe. It belongs to the West. It believes in the values of democracy in which we, too, believe,’ he told the Israeli daily.

He added that Italy was an ‘essential stop’ in any tour that Middle East leaders make in Europe, saying that ‘we feel involved in efforts to find a lasting and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian question.’

Quoting former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to the effect that war in the Middle East was impossible without Egypt, and peace impossible without Syria, Berlusconi said it was time for Israel and Damascus ‘to act together for the sake of peace.’

In this framework, he suggested, Israel would return to Syria the Golan Heights, captured in the 1967 Middle East War, and Damascus would cease its support for militant organizations which did not recognise Israel’s right to exist.

‘At the same time diplomatic and friendly relations will be established between the two countries,’ he said.

January 31st, 2010, 2:43 pm


Observer53 said:

Sect and tribe and clan grow when the central state and the idea of belonging to a nation weakens. This is the sorry state of Iraq courtesy of the invasion.
In China today everybody wants to be a Han Chinese and the regions despite significant autonomy do not dream of leaving the state or of having their local leaders create local fiefdoms. Likewise, California is not thinking of leaving the US although it could easily do so.

In the ME the division of the Ottoman empire has been surprisingly tenacious to break. The peoples of the region do truly want unity and open borders and open exchanges and we see this at the personal level with marriages and the like. Yet the grip on power by the current leaders is relentless. The joke is that the people of Egypt waved good bye to Mubarak and he responded by saying “Oh People of Egypt where are you going”; meaning that I am staying even if all Egyptians leave Egypt.

In the ME, this state of Division does not prevent the big players from intervening in its affairs but once an intervention happens, the biggest superpower gets bogged down. And if it tries to extricate itself, it will find that the local leaders are just waiting to divide the spoils. The resistance of Iraq has broken the spine of the idea of Shock and Awe. This campaign to strike fear in the world exemplified by the invasion of Iraq has left the US less impressive than in 2000.

The two editorial articles today in the NYT by Franck Rich and Tom Friedman speak of the same situation: paralysis in the US and a paucity of leadership and the avoidance of tackling years of neglect of the grand direction of the economy having left it to the pure market forces. Well the market does not care to make safe bridges and proper water treatment plans and safe food processing it cares about maximal profit even if it means a devastated country and that is the sorry state of the US.

The only sector that added a meager 0.1% of job growth was in the health care area and this one is going to be so huge that it will eat up the budget by 2015.

The Chinese model is gaining ground as I wrote before and it is very attractive to the current leaders of the ME. The most nimble and flexible is the Syrian one. More so than Iran. The least is Egypt. Egypt finds itself stuck between its stupidly misplaced pride and its extreme sensitivity to criticism. It is only reacting and no longer acting. It is IRRELEVANT.

January 31st, 2010, 3:05 pm


Ghat Albird said:

NORMAN said:

Italy is calling for peace between Israel and Syria with the return of the Golan as the centerpiece ,

He is repeating what we all said for Israel to have a deal then withdraw,

Israel settlement policy a “mistake,” Berlusconi says before visit.

The way I am reading the recent remarks from a variety of sources as well as my opinionated conjectures the end results of the recent recall of its embassadors from a number of countries for a conference the Israelis are enouraging their envoys to prod several European and other nations to express their support for peace between Israel and especially Syria.

IMO this has to be interpreted as an Israeli admission that the tables have turned and that the clock has started re-ticking in ” time not favoring Israeli policies”, and the increasing proverbial ” writing on the wall “.

Given how time is actually measured in the ME. Hard to guess how long it will take.

January 31st, 2010, 5:01 pm


norman said:

Look at this ,

Turkey PM: Israel should mull future without us as ally

By Haaretz Service

Tags: Israel news

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday warned Israel should to “take another look at its relations with its neighbors” if it wants to maintain ties with Turkey in the future.

“Israel should give some thought to what it would be like to lose a friend like Turkey in the future,” Erodegan told Euronews, regarding his thoughts on the recent tensions between the two Mediterranean countries.

“The way they recently treated our ambassador has no place in international politics,” said Erdogan, referring to a recent diplomatic incident in which Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon summoned the envoy and treated him with deliberate disrespect.

“We have done our best for Israel-Syria relations,” added Erdogan. “But now we see Benjamin Netanyahu saying: ‘I do not trust Erdogan, but I trust Sarkozy’. Do you have to give a name? This is diplomatic inexperience, too.”

Diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey deteriorated over a sequence of incidents since the 2008 Gaza offensive, which Erdogan and his cabinet in Ankara adamantly criticized.

“We have important ongoing agreements between us. How can these agreements be kept going in this climate of mistrust?” Erdogan told Euronews.

Regarding Turkey’s criticism over Israel’s Cast Lead Operation, Erdogan said: “When innocent civilians are ruthlessly killed, struck by phosphorus bombs, infrastructure is demolished in bombing and people are forced to live in an open-air prison?

“We can not see this as compatible with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, simply human rights, and we can not close our eyes to all this happening,” he said.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has declared that he would never allow Turkey to resume its role as mediator in Israel’s indirect peace talks with Syria. Following ongoing diplomatic tension, Lieberman also suggested to Netanyahu that Israel recall its envoy in Ankara, but the prime minister vetoed the idea

January 31st, 2010, 6:50 pm


alon liel said:

To all my Syrian friends – congratulations for the appointment of Amb. Robert Ford as the US Ambassador to Syria. Lets hope this is a beginning of a new era also in the Syrian-Israeli relations.

January 31st, 2010, 8:55 pm


Shai said:

I’d like to join Alon Liel’s wishes, and also congratulate Syria (and the U.S.) for the long overdue announcement and establishment of a new Ambassador in Damascus. I hope he will quickly get on the task of reviving the Israeli-Syrian track, in whatever form possible.

January 31st, 2010, 9:33 pm


norman said:

alon liel ,and shai , too

Do you really think that an American ambassador will make a difference , It is Syria and Israel who make peace ,and the change that is needed ,

January 31st, 2010, 9:43 pm


offended said:

Haiti – Gaza

By Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban

Akiva Eldar wrote an article entitled “Israel’s compassion in Haiti can’t hide our ugly face in Gaza” (Haaretz, 18/01/2010) in which he explains the contradiction in the public relations campaign conducted by Israel’s rulers in rescuing and treating the victims of the earthquake in Haiti and the their utter indifference in relation to the suffering of the people of Gaza whose children, women and elderly die on a daily basis because of the lack of medicine and the destruction of hospitals and because Israeli authorities prevent food and medicine from entering Gaza.

Larry Derfner wrote in Jerusalem Post (20/01/2010) about the aid which Israel’s rulers hasten to send to Haiti now and which they sent to Rwanda years ago – with great efficiency – while Israelis feel shame towards the actions of their government in Gaza. He wonders about the causes of the discrepancy between Israel’s efficiency in rescue and treatment actions in any disaster area in the world and its shameful disregard of the disasters caused by successive Israeli governments against Palestinian civilians!

Catherine Philip wrote an analysis (Sunday Times, 21/01/2010) explaining that the Israeli government took advantage of the disaster in Haiti to conduct a public relations campaign to cover up the disgraceful Israeli crimes described in the Goldstone report on the Israeli war on Gaza. She concludes that the earthquake was a natural disaster, while the collapse of the health system in Gaza and the hunger and destruction in Gaza were imposed by Israel and its allies on Gazan civilians.

The life of the unarmed Palestinian civilians in Gaza and the rest of Palestine has become a public relations material. The life of Palestinians has no significance for Israel except in as much as it affects its interests and image in the West. That is why they are preventing reporters, politicians, diplomats and human rights activists from going to Gaza so that they do not expose the disgraceful conditions under the blockade to the world public opinion, and in order to be able to promote their lies about their concern for saving human life somewhere in the world.

Helping the victims of disasters has become now an occasion for launching public relations campaigns or achieving hidden political and military objectives. People still fall victim to earthquakes, disasters, occupation, oppression and terrorism. They also fall victim to campaigns which use their tragedy to achieve other purposes which have nothing to do with the value, importance, sanctity and dignity of human life.

After the Swedish journalist Donald Bostrom wrote about the Israeli army killing Palestinian youth in order to harvest their organs, there were other media reports about Israelis stealing Ukrainian children in order to harvest their organs. Once again there are documented reports from Haiti that organs are being stolen by Israelis without international justice intervening to put an end to such criminal practices against innocent vulnerable people.

The United States took advantage of the chaos in Haiti to tighten its control over the island. Thus, we can see that the disaster in Haiti provided an opportunity to other parties to make a move on public relations level or on the political and military level in order to turn facts on their head and project a glossy image of the causes of human suffering in different parts of the world.

We should also note the lack of Arab initiative, not only in terms of aid and rescue, but also in terms of standing up to the attempts of our enemies to bury the suffering of the Palestinian people and hide it from the eyes of the media and public opinion. They use the Haiti disaster to cover up their crimes and blunt the impact of the Goldstone report and obstruct the launch of an international campaign in support of the Palestinian people.

The discrepancy in the Israeli official position towards the victims of the disaster in Haiti, on the one hand, and the victims of the blockade on Gaza and the war on Palestine for the past sixty years, on the other, should be highlighted and explained, particularly that Israel hastens to the assistance of any disaster-hit country – from Rwanda to Haiti – to cover up the great disaster which it caused and still causing to people who used to live safely and peacefully on their land.

The suffering of the people of Haiti is the result of a natural disaster, while the suffering of the people of Gaza is a direct consequence of a hateful and racist shelling with phosphoric bombs and the destruction of schools, hospitals and houses. In the same vein, the suffering of the residents of the Salwan and Jarrah neighborhoods is the result of a racist settler colonialism which can only sees Jews in humanity. It is implemented by malicious Israeli powers which believe in racist supremacy and religious fanaticism.

So far, no language has been able to describe this conflict and convey its nature to the minds and hearts of people all over the world. Dealing with the most sacred of human rights, the right to live a free and dignified life, is being used as a commodity in public relations campaigns and subject to distortion. If this is evidence of anything, it is evidence of the declining level of the feeling of responsibility and the distortion which has characterized political processes in recent years. There is no doubt that what the world needs today is courage and a real concern for human safety and dignity everywhere. Using earthquakes and rescue efforts as an opportunity to cover up war crimes, killing and oppression is unprecedented in international politics which is characterized today by creating a world in the media completely detached from reality.

Hence, the tragedy becomes greater and the suffering longer because of the difficulty of conveying the real picture of what is happening to people all over the world. Even allowing concerned people to see what is happening becomes subject to bargaining as a result of the meticulous calculations of the political objectives of what is being done. Thus American officials as well as, the media speak about the duties of the Palestinians and the Israelis towards the peace process forgetful of the fact that the Palestinians are prisoners of a racist occupation and subject to collective punishment and genocide, while others are involved in propaganda campaigns to prevent the achievement of justice and the realization of the legitimate aspirations of innocent people who simply want to live in freedom and dignity. Next time you hear or read “both sides” or hear an obligation related to “Palestinians and Israelis” by Western officials beware of the deliberate confusion planned between the killer “Israelis” and the victims “Palestinians”.

What each and every one of us can do is to stand for human integrity and dismiss all the propaganda designed and marketed by the enemies of justice and sacred human rights.

January 31st, 2010, 10:03 pm


Ghat Albird said:


To all my Syrian friends congratulations

“Actually its the Americans that should be congratulated for “finally” doing the right thing in appointing an Ambassador to Syria.”

IMO this is further proof that the winds of radical change in the modi operandi is underway and the most and least that can be said about that, “its about time”.

January 31st, 2010, 10:05 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

نشر صواريخ أميركية بالخليج
Ambassador? it is a cover up
8 military ships in the gulf
30,000 soldier in Afganistan,east of Iran.
Israel get F-35 planes
soon the bluff is no more bluff,at the most three months.

February 1st, 2010, 3:38 am


offended said:

The life of the unarmed Palestinian civilians in Gaza and the rest of Palestine has become a public relations material. The life of Palestinians has no significance for Israel except in as much as it affects its interests and image in the West.

I’m very glad that we, in Syria, will say the truth and could care less whether somebody likes it or not. This is one of the reasons why I’m proud to be Syrian. Yes, we haven’t sold out yet. Thank you, Dr. Bouthaina.

February 1st, 2010, 5:06 am


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

You’re suffering from a malignant type of the ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, Offended.

The child in Gaza has much better living conditions (health care, free food,
free education, free hot-lunch at UNRWA school), than the child in Yemen, the Kurdish child in north Syria, the Egyptian child from a no-electricity-no-running-water village in the delta. In fact, the child from Gaza is doing much better in all measurable living conditions than most Arab children. I’m sure that Mrs. Shaaban is aware of this knowledge, but she prefers to continue with the same tens of years old Arab brobaganda.

February 1st, 2010, 9:05 am


Shai said:


Though I’m not surprised you used the term “malignant” (great minds think alike, don’t they?), I am appalled at your poor attempt at depicting Gaza as a near-Heaven in comparison with the rest of the Arab world. Either you have no concept whatsoever of what goes on in that tiny territory not too far away from us, or you’re deliberately trying to plant your own “brobaganda”. Either way, you’re achieving the opposite of your intent. No one’s buying it.

For your information, Gaza is the most densely populated spot on the face of this planet. Over 80% of the population is dependent on food-aid (what you call “free food”). The average Gazan lives on less than $2 per day. That same average Gazan has little running water, if you can call it water, is lucky to receive one warm meal each day, and has about a zero chance in a hundred to watch his children grow healthy, strong, and educated. Poverty in Gaza is on a scale unheard of even in the worst of 3rd-world nations. Food and Health Aid pass through (at Israel’s mercy) at 10% of what it was a year ago. Even at the height of international pressure, during Operation Cast Lead, only 15% of the required quantities were allowed through. The humanitarian crisis hasn’t subsided, it has only been forgotten.

I must tell you that you haven’t ceased to amaze me with the simplicity and ease with which you state your facts. “Free food”, “Free hot lunch”, etc. It’s as if those things are just wonderful examples of humanity at its best. The image is just heart-warming – a smiling little Palestinian child, reaching her arm up to a smiling European volunteer, who’s handing her a big warm bowl of chicken soup. The act is repeated daily, for over 1.5 million people, who just stand in line, and get served right away.

Your inability to truly consider what you’re saying is, at best, indicative of either apathy or ignorance but, at worse, of plain evilness. Of the kind of disrespect, mockery, and humiliation, that only deep-seeded hatred can exhibit. If any of the commentators on this forum would say “brobaganda” to you, you’d call them anti-semites. They’d be mocking your race, not only you.

Amir, I don’t know if this is your plan, but if you think that by humiliating and trying to fool people here you’ll gain some sympathy or open-ear to your ideas, I think you already know that you’ll fail. I am ashamed to see a fellow Israeli do these things, here or anywhere else.

February 1st, 2010, 10:12 am


Nicolas92200 said:

At least a step in the right direction…

Israel has revealed it has disciplined two top army officers for using white phosphorus shells during an attack on a UN compound in Gaza last year.
The admission is contained in the Israeli response to the Goldstone report, which concluded both Israel and Hamas had committed war crimes.
Details of any punishment given to the pair have not yet been made clear.
Until now the Israeli army has denied breaking the rules of engagement over the use of white phosphorus.
During the 22-day conflict last year media pictures showed incendiary shells raining down on a UN compound.
The officers’ ranks have been confirmed as a Brigadier-General and a Colonel.
They were named in Israeli media reports as Gaza Division Commander Brig Gen Eyal Eisenberg and Givati Brigade Commander Col Ilan Malka.
“Several artillery shells were fired in violation of the rules of engagement prohibiting use of such artillery near populated areas,” the report says.
The officers were charged with “exceeding their authority” in ordering the use of the weapons in an attack on 15 January 2009.
‘Hush money’
A Hamas spokesman said the disciplinary action was “further admission of Israel’s guilt” over alleged war crimes.
But he said he did not expect any further action to be taken against military officers.
He said Israel had paid the UN $10.5 million (£6.6 million) in damages to repair their compounds, which he called “hush money”.
A UN representative who was in the compound in Gaza city during the attack told the BBC he “expected full accountability from the Israelis.”
Two UN staff and two Palestinians sheltering in the compound were seriously injured he said.
A doctor at Gaza city’s main hospital told the BBC he treated hundreds of Palestinians for phosphorus burns during the offensive.
The BBC’s Paul Wood in Jerusalem says it is the first time Israel has revealed it disciplined any officer for their actions during the offensive, named by the Israeli military as Operation Cast Lead.
This is the first time that Israel has acknowledged allegations by the UN and other international organisations that white phosphorus was used in such a way as to endanger civilians during the Gaza war.
Our correspondent says the admission was buried in the document handed to the United Nations on Friday.
The UN General Assembly has demanded that both Israel and Hamas launch independent investigations into their conduct during the Israeli operation which began in December 2008.
An Israeli official said the submission to the UN was not intended to respond in detail to the allegations and incidents outlined in the Goldstone report, but to explain why the Israeli justice system was “reliable” and “independent”.
The Islamist movement Hamas has denied that its forces deliberately targeted civilians with rockets.
Both sides have until 5 February to respond in detail to the UN General Assembly’s request for independent investigations to be launched.
White phosphorus, which is used to lay smokescreens, is legal for use on open ground but its use in built-up areas where civilians are found is banned under international conventions.
‘Repeated use’
Pictures showed chunks of brightly burning phosphorus, streaming white smoke, landing on the UN compound.
The UN compound was severely damaged and people sheltering there were injured.
Human Rights Watch, the New York based rights group, said Israel’s use of phosphorus weapons was more widespread and many people had died as a result of burn injuries.
Its report concluded that the Israeli military “repeatedly exploded white phosphorus munitions in the air over populated areas, killing and injuring civilians and damaging civilian structures, including a school, a market, a humanitarian aid warehouse and a hospital”.
In March the Israeli Defence Force issued a written statement in response to these allegations.
“Based on the findings at this stage, it is already possible to conclude that the IDF’s use of smoke shells was in accordance with international law. The claim that smoke shells were used indiscriminately, or to threaten the civilian population, is baseless,” it said.

February 1st, 2010, 11:19 am


offended said:

Amir in Tal Abib,

Read the following, slowly, and then read it again. Maybe some sense could eventually be drilled into your impervious, hate-filled head:

Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders reports that short-term psychotherapy could be an effective treatment in specific psychiatric disorders, especially in children.

Trauma from war and violence has led to a high incidence of psychological disorders in Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

The international medical nongovernmental organization Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders reports that even short-term psychological support can ease the burden of violence-induced psychiatric disorders, especially in children.

Emmanuelle Espié of the Paris-based Epicentre and colleagues from Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders, along with researchers from four French hospitals shared data collected from Palestinian patients ages 1 year and older referred to the Médecins Sans Frontières psychological care program.
Data was gathered from 1,369 patients (773 from the Gaza strip and 596 from the Nablus area) who received psychological care between January 2005 and December 2008. All patients in the study were clinically assessed by a psychologist or psychiatrist.

The patients were evenly divided between male and female with a median age of 16 years. Among the 1,254 patients for whom full clinical information was available, 23.2 percent had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), 17.3 percent had an anxiety disorder (other than PTSD or acute stress disorder), and 15.3 percent had depression.

PTSD was more frequently identified in children under age 15, while depression was the main symptom observed in adults. Among children under 15, factors significantly associated with PTSD included being witness to murder or physical abuse, receiving threats, and property destruction or loss.

Sixty-five percent of patients took part in individual, short-term psychotherapy, with 30.6 percent requiring psychotropic medication (generally Fluoxetine or Alprazolam) along with counseling.

Following psychotherapy, 82.8 percent of children and 75.3 percent of adults had improved symptoms. Psychological care was conducted principally at the patient’s home over a course of 8 to 12 weeks. Children tended to stay in therapy longer and to take part in group therapy sessions more often than adults.

Among patients that showed no improvement or aggravated symptoms at the last session, the main persistent symptoms were sadness (14 percent) and aggressive behavior (12.7 percent).

The study authors concluded, “These observations suggest that short-term psychotherapy could be an effective treatment for specific psychiatric disorders occurring in vulnerable populations, including children, living in violent conflict zones, such as in Gaza strip and the West Bank.”

The study was published in the open access journal International Journal of Mental Health Systems.

(The 48-month epidemiological study was concluding just as Operation Cast Lead was beginning. The intensive three-week military attack by Israel began December 27, 2008. More than 1,400 Palestinians — 237 combatants and 1,172 non-combatants, including 342 children — were killed and 5,000 civilians were injured during the air and land assault, according to the human rights organization, Al-Haq. More than 4,000 homes and much of Gaza’s infrastructure and buildings were destroyed during the assault.)


‘ The closure of Gaza since mid-2007 and the last Israeli military strike between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009 have led to on-going deterioration in the social, economic and environmental determinants of health.

Many specialized treatments, for example for complex heart surgery and certain types of cancer, are not available in Gaza and patients are therefore referred for treatment to hospitals outside Gaza. But many patients have had their applications for exit permits denied or delayed by the Israeli Authorities and have missed their appointments. Some have died while waiting for referral. . .

Supplies of drugs and disposables have generally been allowed into Gaza. However, there are often shortages on the ground mainly because of shortfalls in deliveries . . . Delays of up to 2-3 months occur on the importation of certain types of medical equipment, such as x-ray machines and electronic devices. Clinical staff frequently lack the medical equipment they need. Medical devices are often broken, missing spare parts or out of date. . .

– Health professionals in Gaza have been cut off from the outside world. Since 2000, very few doctors, nurses or technicians have been able to leave the Strip for training eg to update their clinical skills or to learn about new medical technology. This is severely undermining their ability to provide quality health care. . . .


Rising unemployment (41.5 percent of Gaza’s workforce in the first quarter of 2009) and poverty (in May 2008, 70 percent of the families were living on an income of less than one dollar a day per person) is likely to have long term adverse effects on the physical and mental health of the population [the unemployment is a direct result of the Israeli blockade]. . .

OPERATION “CAST LEAD” — IMPACT ON HEALTH FACILITIES AND STAFF [I.e. the Israeli war on Gaza in winter 2008-2009]

– 16 health workers killed and 25 injured on duty

– Damaged health services infrastructure:
+ 15 of 27 Gaza’s hospitals
+ 43 of its 110 Primary Health Care services
+ 29 of its 148 ambulances

– The lack of building materials is affecting essential health facilities: the new surgical wing in Gaza?fs main Shifa hospital has remained unfinished since 2006. Hospitals and primary care facilities, damaged during operation ?Cast Lead?, have not been rebuilt because construction materials are not allowed into Gaza.’

February 1st, 2010, 12:28 pm


offended said:

If I’m to post all the articles I come across everyday describing Israel’s inhumane treatment of the Palestinians, this comment section would be inundated.

“Pregnant Palestinian women are often shackled on their way to hospitals to give birth.”

February 1st, 2010, 12:55 pm


Ghat Albird said:


نشر صواريخ أميركية بالخليج
Ambassador? it is a cover up
8 military ships in the gulf
30,000 soldier in Afganistan,east of Iran.
Israel get F-35 planes
soon the bluff is no more bluff,at the most three months.

February 1st, 2010, 3:38 am.


A secret meeting between the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Leon Panetta and Israeli officials has reportedly centered on Iran’s nuclear program.

In a secret flying visit to Israel on Thursday, the head of the CIA reportedly discussed Iran’s nuclear issue in a sit-down with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Mossad Chief Meir Dagan.

The trip, which was originally scheduled to take place in May, follows a recent wave of developments in the Middle East that are strongly imply preparations for a possible new military conflict in the region.

Israel has allegedly increased the scope of its undercover operations in the region, particularly against Lebanon, Iran, Syria and the Palestinian resistance movement, Hamas.

February 1st, 2010, 2:11 pm


offended said:

Israel later today denied disciplining the officers over the white phosphorous charges.

As I said before, justice can only prevail in the Hague.

February 1st, 2010, 4:46 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Are you ashamed Shai? Why am I not a bit surprised?
Shame, self-blame, self-guilt, self-hate, all those are your trade marks.

Your rhetorical melodrama that you posted, is designed to drag me into your orgy of self-blame and guilt. But I’m not ashamed. Oh no.

Is the Saudi government ashamed about not providing food to the Huties? Is Turkey ashamed about not supplying medicines to the PKK?
Is the Sudanese government ashamed about not supplying a hot meal a day to the Darfurians?

So why should I be ashamed? Because I’m Jewish?

I’m ashamed that my pathetic government supply all this to Hamas, plus cash money (!!) in trucks full of Israeli Shekels (!!), that go directly via tunnels to buy weapons to be used against us.

Mrs. Shaaban, as a responsible Syrian minister, should be occupied with the condition of the Kurdish father in northern Syria, who struggles every day to bring bread to his hungry Kurdish child. And not with the well fed Arab child in Gaza, whos all needs are being supplied, through the courtesy of the Israeli government. And so this Arab father in Gaza, who has plenty of food, has lots of free time to plot, plan and execute his “moqawama” against you, Shai.

February 1st, 2010, 5:12 pm


Shai said:

“… the well fed Arab child in Gaza, whos all needs are being supplied, through the courtesy of the Israeli government.”

Are you from this planet, Amir, or some other one?

February 1st, 2010, 6:25 pm


Shai said:

Barak must be feeling his own political hourglass nearing empty, and is therefore throwing a Hail Mary, with the hope that someone, anyone, might catch it.

Peace with Syria:

February 1st, 2010, 6:29 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

I’m from Tel Aviv, Shai.

Here’s a proposition for you: switch to AlJezeera in Arabic (channel no. 176 on YES), and mute the sound (the AlJezeera propaganda).
And watch. Watch beyond the shoulder of the AJ reporter.

You will see: well dressed, well fed adults and children. You will see children in uniforms go to schools. You will see cars in the streets, cars that you can see only in Ashrafiye. You will see children with nice shoes, nice hair, nice clean cloths.

You will not see all of this in most of Arabia. You will not see children that are so well fed and dressed in Egypt or in northern Syria, or Yemen or Iraq or elsewhere.

Time to some reality check, Shai.

February 1st, 2010, 7:07 pm


offended said:

Yeah, forget all about the reports of UN, World Health Organization, MSF, Oxfam..and other relief NGOs. Just look over the shoulder of the AJ reporter. The proof is in the pudding!!11!!1!

February 1st, 2010, 10:00 pm


Shai said:


I don’t know what well-dressed, well-fed, fancy-car-driven children you’re seeing on Al Jazeera, but I’ve been to Gaza as a soldier, and I know what truly exists there. Except, that when I was there, it was far BETTER than it is today, and back then, it already a shit-hole. Gaza is, under any definition, one giant refugee camp. One super-dense, super-filthy, super-poor camp. It is no coincidence that some commentators on SC have chosen to compare it to the Warsaw Ghetto. The comparison is intended to evoke memory and emotions, to cause us to recall how not too long ago, the fate of our own people was held by the hands of others, just as the fate of the Gazans are held by Israel.

If you turn a blind-eye to what is happening less than an hour’s drive away from Tel-Aviv, or deceive yourself into thinking that things “really aren’t that bad”, you willingly become accomplice to the crime.

In self-hating style, I’ve adopted a little exercise I try to conduct regularly, and I highly suggest you do as well. It is simply asking yourself – “If I was in THEIR shoes, if I was a Palestinian in Gaza, what would I want from (Amir)?” Try it sometime, it’s pretty powerful, I promise.

February 2nd, 2010, 8:22 am


Yossi said:

“Once again there are documented reports from Haiti that organs are being stolen by Israelis without international justice intervening to put an end to such criminal practices against innocent vulnerable people.”

Well, well, who is it peddling her modern blood libel if not the old lady Shaaban. If there was ever a person deserving to be called a “brobagandist” it would be Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, but Mrs. Shaaban wouldn’t be far behind him. They belong to the same generation of flat out liars, and one can only hope, that like al-Sahhaf, Shaaban too is nearing the end of her career of libels and lies, because she does Syria a great disservice with her crudeness.

It seems like a Shaaban staple to burry a little libel inside a wall of standard-issue anti-Israeli text. Kind of takes you off guard since you tend to believe the veracity of what you read, being so familiar and predictable, and unless you’re careful, you’re going to swallow the libel embedded in the “stream of consciousness” that is Shaaban’s random ramblings. Brobaganda is very accurate.

February 2nd, 2010, 10:54 am


offended said:

Ya Yossi ya habibi,

That Israel (as in the body of the Israeli forensic institute) harvested Palestinians’ (and others) organs before, and without consent, is a fact.

Also a fact is a statement by Haitian prime minister that organs and children are being trafficked out of Haiti.

How Dr. Sha’ban made the connection or what documents she’s talking about, I do not. But I wouldn’t say it’s far-fetched– forgive my own crudeness.

Those who would choose to disregard the entire text, or discredit Dr. Sha’ban, because of this particular claim are, in my humble opinion, bigots to begin with.

And if she was out to demonize all Israelis she wouldn’t have quoted an Israeli journalist in the first line of the article.

And wtf does Al Sahhaf have to do with this? are we on the O’reilly factor here trying to find connections and common anomalies between all misguided ‘Arab brobagandists’?

If at all, Al Sahhaf is still thousand folds more innocent than those who used lies and fear mongering to invade and rape his country.

But I suspect you already know that…so why go there?

February 2nd, 2010, 12:06 pm


offended said:

Ya Yossi ya habibi,

That Israel (as in the body of the Israeli forensic institute) harvested Palestinians’ (and others) organs before, and without consent, is a fact.

Also a fact is a statement by Haitian prime minister that organs and children are being trafficked out of Haiti.

How Dr. Sha’ban made the connection or what documents she’d talking about, I do not. But I wouldn’t expect it’s far-fetched– forgive my own crudeness.

Those who would choose to disregard the entire text, or discredit Dr. Sha’ban, because of this particular claim are, in my humble opinion, bigots to begin with.

And if she was out to demonize all Israelis she wouldn’t have quoted an Israeli journalist in the first line of the article.

And wtf does Al Sahhaf have to do with this? are we on the O’reilly factor here trying to find connections between all misguided ‘Arab brobagandists’?

If at all, Al Sahhaf is still thousand folds more innocent than those who used lies and fear mongering to invade and rape his country.

But I know you already know that…. so why go there?

February 2nd, 2010, 12:10 pm


Off the Wall said:

Dear Yossi and Offended

I take a third point of view on this issue. Unless documented on case by case, organ theft accusations have no place in an article written by very high ranking official of the Syrian government. Dr. Shaaban’s article had enough logical and reasonable points to point the duality of Israel’s actions, and did not need this paragraph to make it strong. In fact, this may make it less appealing to a wide segment of her intended readers. This is not to mention that it may give an impression of an official Syrian position, with journalists asking high ranking Syrian officials questions about it in press conferences. This issue, and particularly the forensic institute stories is a matter that for now is better left to international bodies, especially medical ethics NGOs to investigate, but to generalize it in this manner without solid documentation is not a very good tactic and it serves no good “brobaganda” objectives.

Over the years i have found that intellectuals who assume high level official positions have hard time separating their personal intellectual life from their official position. So far, Syrian officials have been successful in dealing with facts and in quite pragmatic manners. They have been very successful in avoiding the pitfalls of some Iranian officials, which tend to get intentionally magnified and amplified and end up serving their adversaries “brobaganda”. These are unnecessary.

February 2nd, 2010, 5:18 pm


Shai said:

I fully agree with OTW’s view, and also with Yossi that Dr. Shaaban has done a greater disservice with that accusation than good. Her unsubstantiated claim is as valuable as my personal doubts that Israeli doctors stole organs from Haiti. Except that hers hints at “official position” of some sort.

February 2nd, 2010, 6:31 pm


Yossi said:

Dear Offended,

I very much agree with what OTW wrote, with one correction: it seems like the addition of the unfounded libel about Haiti is not just an unnecessary piece of personal opinion but actually a “core belief” of the writer, with the rest of the article serving as background music for the libel’s introduction.

In general, her writing doesn’t make much sense to me, the paragraphs jump from one thing to another and don’t come together to create a coherent message, they are full of generalizations and bravado. I think she believes she can just translate Syrian TV into English and serve this to international audience, as if we are a captive audience like the one back home and can’t call the bluff on her crude writing. That’s the relationship to Iraqi propaganda—she’s as pathetic and anachronistic.

February 2nd, 2010, 6:39 pm


Alex said:

Dear Yossi, Shai, Offended and OTW

I agree with … all of you : )

– Dr. Shaaban writes her personal opinion pieces in Asharq Alawsat every week and elsewhere. Most of the time there is no problem with that. But if you write that often, you do not have time to fully ponder the consequences of every sentence and every word you use.

In the past she wrote a piece in which she practically portrayed Syrians who immigrated as money loving traitors that sell their souls to the west and get humiliated in return as they beg for their monthly paychecks

– Israel’s friends in the media do the same thing Shaaban did … a typical thing you hear in Fox news “many people are suggesting that the President has been drinking a lot lately” … about President Carter when he stated publicly that Israel has nuclear weapons.

Not to mention the ferocious anti Syria campaign that lasted 5 years (2003 to 2008) in which thousands of media types and American/Israeli/Arab moderate/ officials would talk about what to do with Syria after it killed Hariri …as if there was a proof that Syria, and not Israel, did it.

So, I would say that what Dr. Shabaan did is unacceptable, but it is more like one of the millions of similar unfounded accusations that Syria and Syrians had to tolerate every hour of every day for years and years.

Syria can not afford to do that … Syria does not have Israel’s media machine that will try hard to cover our mistakes. will love to keep Dr. Shabaan’s accusations online for ever and ever as proof the Syrian regime is anti semitic

February 2nd, 2010, 7:48 pm


Nour said:

Oh please!!! Dr. Shaaban did not invent those accusations or fabricate evidence in order to justify an aggressive genocidal campaign, as do American neocons and “Israelis” on an almost daily basis. She merely mentioned the accusations others have made against “Israel” and noted the fact that no one moves when “Israel” is accused of wrongdoing. All accusations against “Israel” of any inhumane or unethical behavior are immediately dismissed as mere expressions of “anti-semitism” in order to prevent any carrying out of justice when it comes to the racist, cancerous entity occupying Palestine.

February 2nd, 2010, 8:37 pm


Shai said:

What does stealing organs from Haiti have anything to do with “the racist, cancerous entity occupying Palestine”?

If she wants to talk about the Occupation, let her talk about the Occupation. If she wants to talk about Racism, let her do that. About Cancerous entities, the same. But what do unsubstantiated stolen Haitian organs have anything to do with the Palestinian people?

I’ve also heard that “Syria” killed Hariri, and that it is a bedfellow of Al-Qaeda’s, and that its leaders write books about Jews drinking the blood of non-Jews. Should I write this in an article about “Reasons Not To Trust “Syria””? By your logic, sure I should. I’ll “merely be mentioning the accusations others have made…”

February 2nd, 2010, 8:51 pm


Off the Wall said:

Hi Nour

There is no doubt that friends of Israel have a bigger and more powerful media machine, as was evident in CNN, MSNBC, and few other outlets’ coverage of Haiti, which almost gave the impression that the Israeli field hospital was the only one in Haiti, despite of the fact that the Qatari search and rescue and medical team was amongst the first to arrive with a load of 44 tons of emergency medical supplies and aid as first installment. But that does not diminish the fact the the Israeli team was there, and the fact that its members saved many lives and rescued some people from under the rubble as did the Qtari, Turkish, American, and many other teams. One has to be careful, especially when one is a high ranking official. I agree with Dr. Shaaban when she highlights the discrepancy between Israel’s humanitarian stance on Haiti and its policies in Gaza. I believe that this is the crucial point, and nothing else.

ON another, may be unrelated point, One of the things that has been bothering me for a while is the reliance of some un-official pro-Palestinian websites on quoting people like David Duke as if he is even remotely intellectual. He has re-incarnated himself from a KKK wizard to an anti-Israel activist, but his single mindedness and rhetoric clearly delineate him as both racist and anti-semite. He may speak of love for Palestinians, of Israel’s crimes, and of AIPAC’s control, but his motives have been and remain anti-Jewish/semite. To me he is no better than Horowits, Pipes, or MEMRI who peddle anti-arab and anti-islamic half truths, lies, and innuendos in the name of combating terrorism. The last thing either side should do is to peddle this type of views despite of the emotional appeal the of the argument or the smooth construction of the rhetoric. My criticism of Israel can be both rationally cold as steel and emotionally hot as the sun, it can never be racist or informed by those with racist motivations. My blood boils in anger every time I see David Duke being cited by an Arab pseudo intellectual. There are numerous critics of Israel, of AIPAC, some are Jewish, others are Israelis, and many are neither, but they have true humanitarian and legal groundings for their criticism. It is, IMHO, much better to legitimize these intellectuals than to de-legitimize ourselves by repeating accusations without considering the motives of the accusers.

This is exactly my call to any Arab intellectual. I beg you, stick with the facts, be better than fear mongers who peddle existential threats and generalizations, and be intellectually honest, which means, practice and exercise critical thinking, even in the face of of the tremendous injustice facing our brethren in Palestine. Expose those who call Gazan children well fed for what they are, but do not generalize, for the same country that produced such callousness, also produced Shai, Yossi, and many others whose humanitarian views and motives are IMHO, impeccable.

February 3rd, 2010, 1:02 am


offended said:

Dear Yossi,

Granted that Dr. Sha’ban is no Jane Austin. I’d noticed that she even translated Arabic expressions verbatim (like turning the facts on their heads). But that doesn’t lessen the importance or the significance of the content of her message; summarized in the paragraph I quoted above.

Again, I do not know where the claim for organ-harvesting has come from. I wish she didn’t mention it. There are enough facts out there to cite without resorting to speculation. As for your belief that that’s her core belief system, well, not only I do disagree, I’d daresay that second-guessing and mind-reading aren’t conductive of peace-making efforts. We have enough declared hostilities to begin with.

Also, I am not sure to what extent we can really assess what a ‘disservice’ means in a certain message. The discourse is already marred with double standards and bias to Israel that any talk of Palestinian suffering or Palestinian rights is dismissed. Have you seen the question put to Obama about Palestine? Would you say that the woman, who asked the question, did herself a disservice since she got jeered by the crowd?

Syria has been doing itself a disservice for 60+ years by standing with the Palestinians. And I hope we continue to do so. I haven’t heard a single other Arab official speak with the clarity of Dr. Sha’ban. Jordan and Egypt are doing themselves a great service by building underground barriers and basically f***ing the Palestinians over.

February 3rd, 2010, 7:04 am


Yossi said:

Offended ya Shaqiqi,

I agree with Alex, OTW and Nour, too, Shaaban is on par with FOX pundits, although her punditry is not used towards goals as lethal as those of the West… So you could say that this discussion that Amir has started and I have picked up on is not of high significance. However, since this is *Syria* Comment, it does make sense to talk about Shaaban as a bad choice for a PR minister. To the extent that she tries to serve the Palestinian cause, she does a disservice to this cause too.

On the more interesting topic of the “discrepancy” of Israel’s treatment of Gazans vs. that of everybody else on the planet. And the quote you brought:

“The life of the unarmed Palestinian civilians in Gaza and the rest of Palestine has become a public relations material. The life of Palestinians has no significance for Israel except in as much as it affects its interests and image in the West.“

I find it difficult to understand what she wants to say here. Of course Israelis care less about Arabs in general and Gazans in particular, compared with anybody else they never had an existential conflict with. It’s much easier to be nicer to a stranger than to an enemy. I don’t view this particular aspect of Israeli behavior as a failure. Even if it is a moral failing, it is fairly universal. The big Israeli failure in my mind is the serial and deliberate failure to obtain and preserve peace.

February 3rd, 2010, 10:00 am


offended said:

Dear Yossi,

To assert that Dr. Sha’ban is on par with Fox pundits one would have to prove that she systematically seeks to demonize the other side. And to do that one would have to read her books, watch her interviews, read all her articles…etc…

You’re simply reading too much into the organ-harvesting claim. But I understand, this must be a sensitive subject for you, and hence it stood out the most.

Again, the reason I liked this particular article is that very few Arab officials would be this bold in addressing the question of Gaza.

As for Israel not caring about the lives of Gazan. You’re probably right. But then it’s important to assert that in the context of knowing that Israel is the contributor to the suffering of this particular population. That is not being reported in the MSM. Imagine if the reporting was on par with how the MSM portrayed the Chinese squashing of the Tibetan unrest? I don’t think the reactions would have been the same. And btw, did you watch that clip?

February 3rd, 2010, 11:59 am


Alex said:

In French for now … rough translation:

Mouallem advises Israel to seek comprehensive peace and to stop being the bully of the neighborhood.

I watched him in on TV in Arabic (speaking at the new Syrian foreign ministry) and he was choosing his words carefully when he said “If Israel attacks Syrian targets … or south Lebanon, it will be a widespread war and it will reach their cities as well … and I doubt our generation will engage in peace negotiations after such a war”

Rough translation again.

La Syrie met en garde Israël

03/02/2010 | Mise à jour : 14:35 | Commentaires 11 | Ajouter à ma sélection
Le ministre syrien des Affaires étrangères Walid Mouallem a mis en garde aujourd’hui Israël contre tout projet de guerre contre la Syrie, estimant qu’un tel conflit se transformerait en “guerre généralisée”.

“Vous les Israéliens, ne testez pas la puissance de la Syrie, car la guerre vous le savez se déplacera dans vos villes. Revenez à la raison, suivez le chemin de la paix (…) et appliquez les exigences d’une paix juste et globale”, a déclaré Mouallem, lors d’une conférence de presse commune avec son homologue espagnol Miguel Angel Moratinos.

Le ministre syrien était interrogé sur des propos du ministre israélien de la Défense Ehud Barak, prononcés lundi soir devant de hauts responsables militaires. “En l’absence d’accord de paix avec la Syrie, nous pourrions nous retrouver dans une confrontation militaire qui pourrait mener à une guerre totale”, avait déclaré le ministre israélien, selon son cabinet.

“Israël accentue le climat de guerre dans la région”, a accusé Mouallem. “Je dis à Israël, ‘Ne jouez plus le rôle de voyous dans la région en menaçant une fois Gaza, une autre fois le sud du Liban, puis l’Iran et maintenant la Syrie’ “.

“Si une telle guerre est livrée, et il ne faut exclure aucune possibilité de la part d’une entité (Israël) fondée sur l’agression, elle sera généralisée même si elle est livrée contre le sud du Liban ou la Syrie”, a ajouté le ministre syrien, excluant que des “négociations de paix soient lancées après une telle guerre”.

February 3rd, 2010, 6:17 pm


Yossi said:

Dear Offended,

I don’t have that level of familiarity with her writings, but some of what I’ve read before was similarly false and manipulative, e.g., this piece which she engineered to make the reader believe that Israel assassinated Swedish foreign minister Lindh:

Another reason that I’m sensitive to what can be construed as anti-Semitism from the Baath regime is that the perception that it is anti-Semitic is a true obstacle to peace, so every time I see that it has roots in reality, it really upsets me. I’d like to believe that this is isolated to old timers such as Tlas and Shaaban, although Bashar himself told the pope something nasty about the Jews a few years ago.

I watched the clip about Obama you linked to. I thought he did fairly well. That’s really just the way it is. The Arabs should be looking for friends somewhere else.

February 3rd, 2010, 6:25 pm


Alex said:

“Israel is indeed planting the seeds of war in the region, I would tell them stop playing the role of thugs in the Middle East,” Moallem told reporters Tuesday in Damascus.

“One day you threaten Gaza, next day you threaten Lebanon, later Iran and now Syria,” Moallem told a joint news conference with Moratinos.

“Don’t test, you Israelis, the determination of Syria. You know that war this time would move to your cities. Come to your senses and choose the road of peace. This path is clear,” Moallem warned.

“No doubt, if we assume that this war would erupt – and we should not exclude this possibility from an entity established on expansion – I would say it is going to be a comprehensive war, whether it starts in the south of Lebanon or from Syria,” Moallem said.

According to CBS News, Moratinos said during the news conference that he had left Israel with the impression that the country was in no mood for conflict.

“I came in from Israel after meetings with most senior officials there, and I would tell you that I heard no drums of war, rather I felt a desire for peace,” the Spanish foreign minister said.

Moallem: U.S. requests accreditation for new envoy

The United States has issued a formal request to accredit a new American ambassador to Damascus, Moallem told reporters on Wednesday.

Robert Ford, the envoy to be, will be the first U.S. ambassador to Damascus since the Bush administration called back its envoy as a response to the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February of 2005.

“The United States has nominated an ambassador. This is an American sovereign issue and it is Syria’s right to study the nomination,” Moallem told reporters in Damascus.

February 3rd, 2010, 6:31 pm


offended said:

Dear Yossi,

Thanks for the links to the earlier comments.

Dr. Sha’ban is secular and she comes from a secular background, I really can’t stress that enough. She’s highly intelligent and passionate about the Palestinian cause. She even wrote against the Minarets ban in Switzerland and the Niqab ban in France, despite, again, her secularism. Now, do writers not make mistakes or include unsubstantiated claims in their writings sometimes? they do. Does Syria need to improve her PR capabilities? we do. I skimmed through her earlier articles and it seems like the point of contention is the same: the report by the Swedish journalist about harvesting organs. Now, I don’t know why you insist to read too much into this: how could you tell for sure this is anti-semitism?

I can’t see how. If that was true, let’s reverse the case for a moment, since the Israeli forensic institute admitted harvesting organs from dead Palestinians without the consent of their families, can we then infer that the blood libel is true?


IDF commits war crimes. Does that mean committing war crimes is a Jewish thing? I can’t see how this could be concluded from Dr. Sha’ban’s writings.

But I agree with you on Syria’s need to improve its PR. And to be more aware of who we make friends with. Like OTW said, characters like David Dukes do not do us any good. And receiving him in Damascus was a mistake. Syria needs to improve the discourse and the PR game. Syria deserves better friends.

As for Obama, I’m not sure how you define a ‘good job’. He speaks of hostility in the region as if Arabs have this violent streak within them, and chooses to ignore that Israel has been equally, if not more, hostile. He talks of Palestinian ‘interests’ (which probably makes my blood boils the most). What Palestinian interests? is seeking to live in peace and freedom from occupation and harassment a luxury nowadays? are civil and human rights luxuries? will he be dubbed an anti-semite if he said ‘rights’ instead of ‘interests’?

It’s a sad world we live in, my friend.

February 3rd, 2010, 8:10 pm


Yossi said:

Offended, dear friend,

You could be correct, I may have been reading too much into it, in terms of anti-Semitism. BTW, I don’t assume that secular people are immune to racism and bigotry.

On the other hand, in my opinion, in both this piece and the previous one I reviewed, she made no mistakes but deliberate misrepresentations and manipulations with the goal of maximizing the demonization of Israel (which works out pretty well for Israel as others have noted).

When she says that there are “credited reports” about organ theft from Haiti, that can be nothing but a lie, because no such credited reports exist.

When a minister responsible for communications in the Syrian presidency writes “[…] foreign minister Anna Maria Lindh […] who also took honourable stances in support of justice in Palestine, was arrested several times by Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank and was then assassinated in ambiguous circumstances.” She knows exactly what she’s trying to achieve and there is nothing honest about it.

My problem with the previous piece about organ theft was not with the topic of organ theft which, unfortunately, appears to be true (if it’s any consolation, it appears that the head of the forensic autopsy institute, one Yehuda Hiss, was responsible for removal of organs from dead Israeli soldiers as well as Palestinians and others). This issue will hopefully get sorted out through the work of the courts, investigative journalists (not of the Shaaban kind) and NGO’s—as OTW wrote.

The issue I took with her previous piece was about the misrepresentation of her being “attacked” by JPost by order of the Zionist regime (she wasn’t attacked) and the second issue was the insinuation that Israel was behind the assassination of Lindh (which isn’t true or insinuated by anybody else except for Shaaban).

About Obama… I have no doubt in my mind that he identifies with the Palestinians and plays the game of Israel support as he is obliged to. He needs to get reelected and he has a lot to achieve. His electorate is decidedly pro-Israeli and anti-Arab and some of reasons for that are not the Israeli lobby but deep and ancient antagonisms between West and East. Given all of that… I think he did a good job of talking to his audience in a language they understand and at the same time seeding the notion that the Palestinians are also human and can’t be just killed or starved. He said something like “they need to have jobs and education”. Nothing about freedom and self-determination, or their property. He’s walking a tight rope and overstating support for the Palestinians will not do them any good, because it will kill his presidency.

It’s a beautiful world my friend, you just have to know where to look and to put things in perspective, the world is as peaceful as it has ever been. (Written from Maui :).

February 4th, 2010, 5:06 am


offended said:

Dear Yossi,

Maui? of course the world is a happy place, then. We had sandstorms in Dubai all day. : )

One was having a few hopes over the presidency of Obama. I wonder what it would take for somebody like Dennis Kucinich to be president instead? But he never will. Doesn’t toe the line.

I agree that secular people could also be racist/anti-semite/islamophobes..etc.. But less likely, since they’re not bound by a religious script.

Now. I’ll leave you to enjoy what I assume is a vacation.

February 4th, 2010, 8:28 pm


Off the Wall said:

First, I would like to indicate how impressed I am by the civility of the discussion between two of our luminaries (Offended and Yossi), both demonstrate “impeccable” character and thoughtful arguments. Kudos to both, and I am honored that my dribbles share the same domain name with both.

On a second note, If i can stand as a character witness. I still disagree with Dr. Shahbaan’s inclusion of the Haiti accusations in her article. Yet, while I do not know her personally, all I have read and heard from people, some of whom I do trust very much, tell me that Offended description of her is, to a large degree, accurate.

As a syrian expat, i know for sure that Dr. Shabaan is one of the architects of the attempts to open Syria’s doors back to many of her children, and while much remain to be done, I believe that despite of some of her earlier, controversial comments about expats, she tried hard, with few enlightened Ambassadors to make some of the progress we have seen in recent years a possibility.

One other thing for which I admire her is the recognition that politics in Syria, like most other countries, is a good old boys club, and Dr. Shabaan was able to break quite few glass and iron ceilings.

To make things clear, I still did not like her argument about the reasons to block face book, and to continue suffocating the internet in Syria, I am not sure she is behind these policies, but I do not agree with her defense of that policy. Although i have argued then that she was convinced of her own argument (Trustquest may remember that conversation).

I think that the main reason we see contradictions in intellectuals is that while they are, like all humans, full of contradictions, they are also vocal and visible, which is why we can see their contradictions.

February 5th, 2010, 6:02 am


Yossi said:

Dear Offended and OTW,

It is always my pleasure to converse and debate with both of you, you have so much to offer in terms of intellectual integrity, curiosity and of course, courtesy. Your existence and our dialog has become an important part of my life, and I’m very thankful for that.

I’m returning to the “mainland” today after a nice vacation. If you get a chance, read about the history of Hawaii and how it was coerced to become a part of the US, it will explain in some ways why it’s so natural for the Americans to support Israel.

I’m convinced Mrs. Shaaban is a talented and multi-faceted person who is very devoted to her country; that doesn’t preclude employing whatever weapon she can muster against what she views as a deeply immoral enemy (“Israel” as Nour would say). I’m sure many Syrian patriots agree that you don’t have to play fair against Israel.

Anyway, we gave this little piece too much attention already, while Leiberman has launched his Syrian peace initiative. An historic moment 🙂

February 5th, 2010, 6:14 pm


Shai said:


So you were the Israeli-team that set up camp in Maui! 🙂

Btw, Lieberman has started his “Syria Piece” initiative, not that other thing you mentioned…

February 5th, 2010, 6:41 pm


Akbar Palace said:

The usual crowd gets huffy at the statements made by Israeli leaders, but ignore the statements made by their fellow Arab leaders:

Lieberman’s exceptionally sharp words followed Syrian President Bashar Assad’s accusation on Wednesday that Israel was the one avoiding peace, and the Syrian foreign minister’s earlier threat that Israeli cities would be attacked in a future conflict.

No surprise here.

February 5th, 2010, 6:43 pm


Shai said:


I was wondering when you were going to pop up to defend Lieberman. God-forbid you’ll actually criticize the Buffoon-of-a-Minister and agree he’s doing Israel a terrible service in his belligerent-style of “diplomacy”.

But believe it or not, I actually agree with you. I think we’re focusing too much on Lieberman, and not stressing enough how this whole thing got started. It was Ehud Barak, who gave a speech before a school of army officers, who suggested that if Israel and Syria do not make Peace soon, the All-Out War option cannot be ruled. And that, if war does occur, Israel and Syria will be negotiating the same peace afterwards. I believe, that unlike Lieberman’s taunting and humiliating of Syria and of Assad, Barak intended exactly the opposite – he intended to speak to Israelis, and to suggest Peace was the better option, and the urgent one.

I think Mouallem made a mistake by interpreting Barak’s message as a flexing of Israeli muscle, and there’s little doubt that most Israelis interpreted his words as a threat to Israel. That still should not excuse Lieberman for his personal attack on the Syrian president – that is crossing lines that no politician (certainly no diplomat) should cross.

If one day, 20 years from now, Barak and Mouallem will tell us that they planned this whole thing out, to pressure the U.S. to get involved, I’ll give them both a standing ovation… 🙂 (although complementing Barak is almost the last thing I can imagine doing.)

February 5th, 2010, 7:06 pm


Ghat Albird said:

Lebanese MP: We support Syria against Israeli threats 2010-02-06 01:17:51

BEIRUT, Feb. 5 (Xinhua) — Lebanese lawmaker Walid Jumblatt on Friday expressed his support “to the people and the leaders of Syria.”

The leader of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) said in a statement that “as the Israeli madness and continuous threats hit its peak, I tell Syria and the Syrian leadership that we are with you above all considerations.”

And so it goes.

February 5th, 2010, 7:29 pm


Akbar Palace said:

I was wondering when you were going to pop up to defend Lieberman.


OK. But I would like to add that I WASN’T wondering when you were going to criticize Lieberman without saying anything about the equally belligerent Syrian foreign minister. Because this is your modus operandi.

Syria Comment is lucky to have you.

February 5th, 2010, 8:40 pm


Shai said:


Come on, I know you can say the words “Lieberman is an a##”. Don’t always look for excuses. Show us that you have the ability to criticize when criticism is due. Heck, even the majority of Israelis disapprove of him, so you have a green-light from the majority you so blindly follow.

February 5th, 2010, 10:01 pm


norman said:


Abba Eb an once said ,The question is not if Israel is going to survive , the question is what kind of Israel is going to survive , looking at what is going on in Israel makes me think that he was saved from what kind of Israel he was worry about , He would have surrendered his Diplomatic passport too,

February 6th, 2010, 12:19 am


Akbar Palace said:

… looking at what is going on in Israel …


Tell us “what is going on in Israel”. Be as detailed as you can. Were you there recently?

February 6th, 2010, 12:27 am


Yossi said:

Very wise words Norman @63.

February 6th, 2010, 9:14 am


Akbar Palace said:

Ban’s report pleases Israel

Meanwhile, Muslims are blowing up muslims on a daily basis. And the no one cares a bit, because Jews aren’t involved.

February 6th, 2010, 1:54 pm


norman said:


Thank you ,

February 6th, 2010, 7:20 pm


offended said:

Yossi and OTW, sorry I couldn’t reply earlier, was having difficulties accessing the website. Thought it might have been a new onslaught of DOS attacks (AIG?).

Thank you for the nice words. I’m no luminary. I keep a low profile in real life and most of my opinions to myself. And I find myself easily turned off by despondent or ignorant ideas while having discussions with others…. This is the main reason why I don’t usually talk politics. Except in cyber space, and here’s where this website and Dr. Landis do a great job and provide a great venue for us all to let off some steam 😉

February 7th, 2010, 11:08 am


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