Summit Shame and Hersh’s “Syria Calling”

Here are some extracts from Seymour Hersh’s excellent New Yorker article on the state of US-Syrian relations (copied below). Hersh quotes from the main actors and analysts to give us a sense of what is at stake and how likely real progress is to be made. Perhaps one has to discount a bit because most of those quoted have a stake in the success of a Syrian-Israeli peace. These who would throw up obstacles can remain silent.

The main debate at this stage is whether Israel and the US should demand Syria make a clean break with Iran or whether it is wiser, and perhaps more realistic, to try to bring both along in a larger deal where everyone gets something.

Gadhafi speaking during the opening session of the Arab Summit in Doha, Qatar, Monday, March 30, 2009.

Gadhafi speaking during the opening session of the Arab Summit in Doha, Qatar, Monday, March 30, 2009.

The Arab Summit was pretty much a disaster. Qadhafi stole the show again by calling Saudi King Abdullah a dupe of Britain and the US before he stormed out of the meeting, which lasted only one day of the intended two. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak skipped the summit, apparently upset that Qatar has been stealing the diplomatic limelight. Jordan’s King Abdullah II left early, reportedly because he was received at the airport by a member of the Qatari royal family instead of the emir. The Palestinians were overlooked, due to the failure to broker a unity government between Hamas and the PLO.

Everyone is horrified that the single agreement was to rally around Sudan’s president Bashir (see  the New York Times), who has been called before an international tribunal for crimes against humanity. The usual American interpretation of this is that the Arabs are incorrigible miscreants and their kings are only concerned about the West establishing a precedent that could threaten their own throwns. The Arab leaders respond by pointing to Iraq and its unhappy fate ever since “altruistic” Westerners strung up Saddam in the name of human rights, international justice, and improving the neighborhood.

Here are the Hersh bits.

Syria Calling
The Obama Administration’s chance to engage in a Middle East peace.
by Seymour M. Hersh in the New Yorker

…The consensus, as an ambassador now serving in Tel Aviv put it, was that the two sides had been “a lot closer than you might think.”

At an Arab summit in Qatar in mid-January, however, Bashar Assad, the President of Syria, angrily declared that Israel’s bombing of Gaza and the resulting civilian deaths showed that the Israelis spoke only “the language of blood.” He called on the Arab world to boycott Israel, close any Israeli embassies in the region, and sever all “direct or indirect ties with Israel.” Syria, Assad said, had ended its talks over the Golan Heights.

Nonetheless, a few days after the Israeli ceasefire in Gaza, Assad said in an e-mail to me that although Israel was “doing everything possible to undermine the prospects for peace,” he was still very interested in closing the deal. “We have to wait a little while to see how things will evolve and how the situation will change,” Assad said. “We still believe that we need to conclude a serious dialogue to lead us to peace.”

American and foreign government officials, intelligence officers, diplomats, and politicians said in interviews that renewed Israeli-Syrian negotiations over the Golan Heights are now highly likely, despite Gaza and the elections in Israel in February, which left the Likud Party leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, at the head of a coalition that includes both the far right and Labor. Those talks would depend largely on America’s willingness to act as the mediator, a role that could offer Barack Obama his first—and perhaps best—chance for engagement in the Middle East peace process.

A senior Syrian official explained that Israel’s failure to unseat Hamas from power in Gaza, despite the scale of the war, gave Assad enough political room to continue the negotiations without losing credibility in the Arab world. Assad also has the support of Arab leaders who are invested in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Sheikh Hamid bin Khalifa al-Thani, the ruler of Qatar, said last month when I saw him in Doha that Assad must take any reasonable steps he can to keep the talks going. “Syria is eager to engage with the West,” he said, “an eagerness that was never perceived by the Bush White House. Anything is possible, as long as peace is being pursued.”

A major change in American policy toward Syria is clearly under way. “The return of the Golan Heights is part of a broader strategy for peace in the Middle East that includes countering Iran’s influence,” Martin Indyk, a former American Ambassador to Israel, who is now the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, at the Brookings Institution, said. “Syria is a strategic linchpin for dealing with Iran and the Palestinian issue. Don’t forget, everything in the Middle East is connected, as Obama once said.”

A former American diplomat who has been involved in the Middle East peace process said, “There are a lot of people going back and forth to Damascus from Washington saying there is low-hanging fruit waiting for someone to harvest.” A treaty between Syria and Israel “would be the start of a wide-reaching peace-implementation process that will unfold over time.” He added, “The Syrians have been ready since the 1993 Oslo Accords to do a separate deal.” The new Administration now has to conduct “due diligence”: “Get an ambassador there, or a Presidential envoy. Talk to Bashar, and speak in specifics so you’ll know whether or not you’ve actually got what you’ve asked for. If you’re vague, don’t be surprised if it comes back to bite you.”

Many Israelis and Americans involved in the process believe that a deal on the Golan Heights could be a way to isolate Iran, one of Syria’s closest allies, and to moderate Syria’s support for Hamas and for Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are listed as terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department. There is a competing view: that Assad’s ultimate goal is not to marginalize Iran but to bring it, too, into regional talks that involve America—and perhaps Israel. In either scenario, Iran is a crucial factor motivating each side.

…. Assad said, “The land is not negotiable, and the Israelis know that we are not going to negotiate the line of 1967.” But he suggested that compromises were possible. “We only demarcate the line,” he said. “We negotiate the relations, the water, and everything else.” Many who are close to the process assume that an Israeli-Syrian settlement would include reparations for the Israelis in the Golan Heights, and, for a time, the right of access to the land. Assad said, “You discuss everything after the peace and getting your land. Not before.”

If Israel wants a settlement that goes beyond the Golan Heights, Assad said, it will have to “deal with the core issue”—the situation in the West Bank and Gaza—“and not waste time talking about who is going to send arms to Hezbollah or Hamas. Wherever you have resistance in the region, they will have armaments somehow. It is very simple.” He added, “Hezbollah is in Lebanon and Hamas is in Palestine. . . . If they want to solve the problem of Hezbollah, they have to deal with Lebanon. For Hamas, they have to deal with Gaza. For Iran, it is not part of the peace process anyway.” Assad went on, “This peace is about peace between Syria and Israel.”

In his e-mail after the Gaza war, Assad emphasized that it was more than ever “essential that the United States play a prominent and active role in the peace process.” What he needed, Assad said, was direct contact with Obama. A conference would not be enough: “It is most natural to want a meeting with President Obama.” …

…Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli Ambassador to Washington, who was Israel’s chief negotiator with Syria under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and informally advises his government on Syrian issues, argued that the war in Gaza had not changed Israel’s essential interest in a Golan Heights settlement: “Gaza is Gaza, and I say that Bashar Assad definitely wants to go ahead with the talks. And he may find a partner in Bibi Netanyahu. Bibi would prefer to make a deal with Syria rather than with the Palestinians.”

But if the talks are to proceed, Rabinovich said, “they will have to be transformed to direct negotiations.” This would require the support and involvement of the Obama Administration. Rabinovich said that he thought Obama, like Netanyahu, “after weighing the pros and cons, will see a Golan Heights settlement as being more feasible” than a deal with the Palestinians. “The talks are serious, and there is a partner.”

…Obama said that he would be willing to sit down with Assad in the first year of his Presidency without preconditions. He also endorsed the Syrian peace talks with Israel. “We must never force Israel to the negotiating table, but neither should we ever block negotiations when Israel’s leaders decide that they may serve Israeli interests,” he said at the annual conference, last June, of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). “As President, I will do whatever I can to help Israel succeed in these negotiations.”

….As the Bush era wound down, U.S. allies were making their own openings to Syria. In mid-November, David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, distressed the White House by flying to Damascus for a meeting with Assad. They agreed that Britain and Syria would establish a high-level exchange of intelligence. Vice-President Dick Cheney viewed the move by Britain—“perfidious Albion,” as he put it—as “a stab in the back,” according to a former senior intelligence official.

Obama Did Pressure Israel — somewhat — on Gaza

…The Obama transition team also helped persuade Israel to end the bombing of Gaza and to withdraw its ground troops before the Inauguration. According to the former senior intelligence official, who has access to sensitive information, “Cheney began getting messages from the Israelis about pressure from Obama” when he was President-elect. Cheney, who worked closely with the Israeli leadership in the lead-up to the Gaza war, portrayed Obama to the Israelis as a “pro-Palestinian,” who would not support their efforts (and, in private, disparaged Obama, referring to him at one point as someone who would “never make it in the major leagues”). But the Obama team let it be known that it would not object to the planned resupply of “smart bombs” and other high-tech ordnance that was already flowing to Israel. “It was Jones”—retired Marine General James Jones, at the time designated to be the President’s national-security adviser—“who came up with the solution and told Obama, ‘You just can’t tell the Israelis to get out.’ ” (General Jones said that he could not verify this account; Cheney’s office declined to comment.)


… yria’s relationship with Iran will emerge as the crucial issue in the diplomatic reviews now under way in Washington. A settlement, the Israelis believe, would reduce Iran’s regional standing and influence. “I’d love to be a fly on the wall when Bashar goes to Tehran and explains to the Supreme Leader that he wants to mediate a bilateral relationship with the United States,” the former American diplomat said, referring to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

An Israeli official acknowledged that his government had learned of “tensions between Syria and Iran in recent months.” Before Gaza, he said, there had been a noticeable change in the Syrian tone during informal contacts—“an element of openness, candor, and civility.” He cautioned, however, “You can move diplomatically with the Syrians, but you cannot ignore Syria’s major role in arming Hamas and Hezbollah, or the fact that it has intimate relations with Iran, whose nuclear program is still going forward.” He added, with a smile, “No one in Israel is running out to buy a new suit for the peace ceremony on the White House lawn.”

Martin Indyk said, “If the White House engages with Syria, it immediately puts pressure on Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah.” He said that he had repeatedly sought, without success, to convince the Bush Administration that it was possible to draw Syria away from Iran. In his recent memoir, “Innocent Abroad,” Indyk wrote, “There is a deep divergence between Iran and Syria, captured in the fact that at the same time as Iran’s president threatens to wipe Israel off the map, his Syrian ally is attempting to make peace with Israel. . . . Should negotiations yield a peace agreement, it would likely cause the breakup of the Iranian-Syrian axis.”…

A Pentagon consultant said, “If we ever really took yes for an answer from Syria, the Iranians would go nuts.”

The official Syrian position toward Iran, which Assad repeated to me, is that Iran did not object to the Golan Heights talks, on the principle that any return of sovereign land was to be applauded: “They announced this publicly . . . and I went to Iran and I heard the same.”

….Alastair Crooke, a former British intelligence officer who operated in the Middle East and later served as an adviser to the European Union and a staff member for a fact-finding committee on the Middle East headed by Mitchell, said that the new Administration should not assume that Bashar Assad could be separated easily from Iran, or persuaded to give up support for Hamas and Hezbollah. “Bashar now has enormous standing in the Arab world, and it comes from these pillars—he was among the first to oppose the American war in Iraq and his continued support for Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas,” Crooke said. “He cannot trade the Golan Heights for peace with Israel, and cut off his allies. What Syria can do is offer its good standing and credentials to lead a comprehensive regional settlement.” But, he said, “the Obama Administration is going to make it really painful for Syria. There will be no bouquets for Syria.”

He went on, “The real goal of Assad is not necessarily an agreement on the Golan but to begin to engage America and slice away the American demonization of his state.” ….

….Khalid Meshal said that he believed that the Iranians would not interfere with negotiations between Israel and Syria, although they were not enthusiastic about them. Meshal also said he doubted that Israel intended to return the Golan Heights to Syrian control. But, he said, “If we suppose that Israel is serious, we support the right of Syria to negotiate with Israel to attain its legitimate rights.”

….“Of course, the Iranians are nervous about the talks, because they don’t fully trust the Syrians,” Itamar Rabinovich said. “But the Assad family does not believe in taking chances—they’re very hard bargainers. They will try to get what they want without breaking fully from Iran, and they will tell us and Washington, ‘It’s to your advantage not to isolate Iran.’ ” Rabinovich added, “Both Israel and the United States will insist on a change in Syria’s relationship with Iran. This can only be worked out—or not—in head-to-head talks.”


The White House has tough diplomatic choices to make in the next few months. Assad has told the Obama Administration that his nation can ease the American withdrawal in Iraq. Syria also can help the U.S. engage with Iran, and the Iranians, in turn, could become an ally in neighboring Afghanistan, as the Obama Administration struggles to deal with the Taliban threat and its deepening involvement in that country—and to maintain its long-standing commitment to the well-being of Israel. Each of these scenarios has potential downsides. Resolving all of them will be formidable, and will involve sophisticated and intelligent diplomacy—the kind of diplomacy that disappeared during the past eight years, and that the Obama team has to prove it possesses. ♦

Comments (32)

Frank al Irlandi said:

From UK Foreign Office Website

Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell is visiting Syria on 1-2 April for a series of high level discussions with prominent Syrian politicians and opinion formers.

During the visit Bill Rammell is due to have meetings with Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and Europe Minister Abdul Fattah Ammoura. He will also meet the Minister of Awqaf (Religious Affairs).

Discussions will be wide ranging and will include cooperation on counter terrorism, the Middle East Peace Process and regional issues.

Bill Rammel’s visit is timely as it comes a day after the Arab League Summit in Doha, which was chaired by Syria, and just four months after Foreign Secretary David Miliband visited the region.

April 1st, 2009, 9:42 am


Akbar Palace said:

Assad has told the Obama Administration that his nation can ease the American withdrawal in Iraq….and the Iranians, in turn, could become an ally in neighboring Afghanistan, as the Obama Administration struggles to deal with the Taliban threat…

Professor Josh,

Your description above seems to me like two (uneducated) urban street thugs asking for protection money from the US “or else”.

If the US was smart, they’d tell these two little runts to “bugger off”.

April 1st, 2009, 10:53 am


Qifa Nabki said:

Hi folks

Do you all remember the debate we had a couple of months ago about the efficacy of nonviolent protest in the West Bank? Here’s some worthwhile reading on the subject.

Also, some big news on the Syria/Israel front.

April 1st, 2009, 11:08 am


Nour said:

No one is asking for “protection money” from the US except “Israel,” which has drained the US of over $100 billion. Syria has never asked for a single penny from the US, nor has Iran. Syria believes that relations between nations ought to be based on cooperation over common interests, which is why AP believes its president is “uneducated.” For AP, an “educated” leader would treat other nations as pariahs and use force and intimidation to bully them into accepting whatever conditions he wants to impose, in the process killing hundreds of thousands of people. I mean, how dare Syria tell the US that they have a common interest in building a stable Iraq after the US withdrawal? How “uneducated” and “thuggish” of Bashar al-Assad to make such a suggestion.

April 1st, 2009, 11:14 am


Akbar Palace said:

QN –

Non-violent Palestinian protest in the West Bank and Gaza? Sure.

The best place for non-violent Palestinian protest is in the “racist”, “Apartheid” Knesset.



April 1st, 2009, 11:52 am


Shai said:

Next month’s battle: Bibi vs. Barack (Obama), over Iran. Bibi wants blood. Will Barack stand up to the ex-furniture salesman? Let’s hope so.

April 1st, 2009, 12:41 pm


Shai said:

Racism in Israel? Apartheid? Nah… A bunch of anti-Zionist propaganda.

April 1st, 2009, 12:53 pm


Akbar Palace said:


Thanks for posting an article that proves my point. The government took action to bring this problem to light, and the government squarely condemned it. My link above doesn’t show a few individual cases of racism, it shows institutional acceptance of anti-Zionist Arabs in government, free to speak their opinions (though not shared by the vast majority). SHow me a country that doesn’t have elements of racism. Show me an Arab country where the opposition is allowed to voice their opionions in government.

But you’re reaching pretty low to judge the whole of Israel by what a few sick T-shirts some IDF enlisted printed.

But since you brought up the issue of “sick humor”, your comment on QN’s website could be considered “bad taste” as well, especially for the many Holocaust survivors living in Israel:

Bibi swore he will only go to Damascus once he learns how to say in Arabic “Ich bin ein Berliner”.

I wouldn’t judge Israelis by your brand of strange humor as well.

Meanwhile Hamas’ charter is still founded in killing any Jew. I wonder if that includes you?

April 1st, 2009, 1:56 pm


Chris said:

I remain very skeptical of Seymour Hersh’s journalism generally because of the outlandish claims that he makes.

Just a little hard to believe:
“The Obama transition team also helped persuade Israel to end the bombing of Gaza and to withdraw its ground troops before the Inauguration. According to the former senior intelligence official, who has access to sensitive information, “Cheney began getting messages from the Israelis about pressure from Obama” when he was President-elect. Cheney, who worked closely with the Israeli leadership in the lead-up to the Gaza war, portrayed Obama to the Israelis as a “pro-Palestinian,” who would not support their efforts (and, in private, disparaged Obama, referring to him at one point as someone who would “never make it in the major leagues”)”

April 1st, 2009, 2:12 pm


Chris said:

Akbar Palace,

As per comment 2, that exactly what is happening. The thugs in Damascus, turn up the heat in Lebanon, Gaza, or Iraq when others won’t do their dirty work. Now they are offering up, a smooth exit from Iraq to Obama. With the elections in Lebanon approaching and the International Tribunal on the Hariri assassination progressing, we can only hope that they will keep their hitmen at bay.

April 1st, 2009, 2:29 pm


SImoHurtta said:

This new government is starting “well”

17:14 Lieberman: If you want peace, prepare for war (Haaretz)
(17:10 Abbas: Lieberman doesn`t believe in peace, so PA can`t deal with him (AP))
15:48 FM Lieberman: Israel not bound by Annapolis commitments (Reuters)

FM Lieberman will be a success in his new “occupation”. A couple of months with statements like this and nobody wants to meet him or other Israeli ministers.

April 1st, 2009, 2:41 pm


jad said:

Dear Shai,
Before the election you were somehow optimist of BiBi, lately you sound disappointed, is there any particular reason? and do you still believe that BiBi can deliver anything and why?
Thank you

AP, you have a weird way of thinking:
Speaking in German would offend you and any Holocaust victim who might still alive in his 90th, while those words were Kennedy’s not of Hitler. at the same time you have no problem to see a racist gangster uneducated immigrant being a FM, or worst, you justify killing thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese in the last couple years not 60 years ago, WOW, you are going down the hill of racism really fast, you better use your rational thinking breaks, I bet they are brand new, aren’t they? USE THEM.

April 1st, 2009, 4:17 pm


majid said:

Chris’ assessment of S. Hersch is accurate. This man’s journalism is oulandish, and this is not the first time he makes use of half truths to spin an argument in favor of thugish regimes (Syria/Iran) that should actually be shunned by the whole world. However, S. Hersch’s style of journalism is quite suitable for the author of SyriaComment. They both belong to the same ‘major league’.

April 1st, 2009, 4:51 pm


Shai said:

Akbar Palace,

Who said “all of Israel” should be judged for those racist t-shirts? It is you who’s getting all upset by the example I gave. Sure, every country has racism. Question is what people DO with it.

As JAD pointed out, and of course you would be the one to miss it, the Bibi joke was about mimicking John F. Kennedy’s famous supportive words to West Berliners in 1963, shortly after the Berlin Wall was erected by the Soviets. I don’t know of many Holocaust survivors who were offended by that, do you?

April 1st, 2009, 5:23 pm


Shai said:


I’m trying not to be pessimistic about Netanyahu, giving him a chance to prove us all wrong, by becoming the next Menachem Begin. You know the funny thing, and I’m disclosing this secret prematurely (because Yossi and I will likely write something about our Golan visit soon), we heard residents on the Golan say they’re much more afraid now, with Netanyahu as PM, than they were before. I won’t disclose everything just yet, and let you try to figure out why they said that… 🙂

Look, in many ways I’m actually happy that the new government is starting out quite hawkish – indeed perhaps more hawkish than we’ve ever had. This is the first time in Israel’s history, when a new government does not lay out a clear political agenda with a regional policy. And we see what Lieberman is already saying. This is good, because it will leave no doubt whatsoever in everyone’s mind about what Israel is becoming, and who is leading her. Imagine Livni and Kadima would have won and formed the government (Center-Left, Center-Right, whatever). Once again, they would have “lulled” Washington and the Europeans to sleep, by yapping about two-state, peace, equality, you name it. And another 4 years would have gone by, with nothing but further suffering for the Palestinians, further instability for the region, maybe another war or two…

This way, if there is a chance on earth that someone (Obama?) will place enough pressure on Israel to shape up, it’s now, or soon. Let’s look at this seemingly-extreme situation as also an opportunity. I prefer to look at it this way… Maybe I’ll be proven right… 🙂

April 1st, 2009, 5:32 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Who said “all of Israel” should be judged for those racist t-shirts?


It is pretty clear to me that when you made the following statement…

Racism in Israel? Apartheid? Nah… A bunch of anti-Zionist propaganda.

…and then link to the T-shirt incident directly below it, you were condemning “All of Israel”.

You didn’t say, “Racism in the IDF“, or “Sick humour in some IDF units“.

But thanks for not judging “All of Israel”. Who knew?;)

April 1st, 2009, 5:36 pm


Shai said:

Lieberman is a great student of military philosophy (not). His recent statement (“If you want peace, prepare for war”) is a Russian-accent repeat of the famous “Si vis pacem, para bellum”, by Flavius Vegetius the Roman military writer. I say he gets the first shoe within 60 days from now… 🙂

April 1st, 2009, 5:37 pm


Shai said:


Now you’re going to tell me about the IDF, like you did about Israeli-Only roads in the Territories? You know nothing about either, so I suggest you pick a different topic. Just a suggestion, between friends.

April 1st, 2009, 5:40 pm


jad said:

Thank you Shai,
Looking forward to your Jolan piece, I hope that you didn’t visit AP’s rich and happy friends over there.

IDF issue; Being an honest human doesn’t mean you are a traitor, does it?

April 1st, 2009, 5:54 pm


Shai said:


“I hope that you didn’t visit AP’s rich and happy friends over there.”

You mean the well-to-do Arabs and Druze? 🙂

IDF issue: The dishonest and apathetic are the traitors.

Thank you for posting that blog. Maybe AP can tell us how “easy to navigate” those checkpoints are (for the Palestinians).

April 1st, 2009, 6:42 pm


Yossi (AKA Rumyal) said:


Rest assured that Shai and I had lots of fun in our latest visit to the Golan. It’s simply beautiful. The only thing we weren’t sure about was how much teasing would be appropriate, but some teasing is ought to be healthy for us (Syrians and Israelis) to start thinking practically and creatively…

April 1st, 2009, 7:54 pm


Chris said:

Shai and Yossi:

In my previous trips to Israel I seem to have neglected much of the North, outside of Haifa. Any suggestions on what to see in the Golan next time I visit Israel?

April 1st, 2009, 8:13 pm


Shai said:


Patience… patience… 😉

We’ll write about it soon, I promise.

April 1st, 2009, 8:18 pm


Peter H said:


I agree that Seymour Hersh’s reporting can be outlandish, but I don’t understand why it’s so hard to believe that Cheney would disparage Obama to Israeli officials. It’s no secret that Cheney is a polarizing figure, and we’ve already seen him publicly attack Obama since he left the VP’s office. Nor do I have a hard time believing that the incoming Obama Adminisration pressured Israel to end the Gaza offensive – do you think it’s coincidental that it ended right before Obama’s inaguration?

April 1st, 2009, 10:21 pm


Akbar Palace said:


There are so many beautiful place to visti up north:

My favorites:

1.) We visited the Katzrin winery (a must)

2.) Safed

3.) Banyas (and boating, Tel Dan)

4.) Rosh Haniqrah

5.) Capernium

6.) Mt. of Beatitudes

7.) Hamat Gader

8.) Sea of Galilee/Tiberius

April 2nd, 2009, 12:48 am


Al said:

Prof. Landis writes:

The main debate at this stage is whether Israel and the US should demand Syria make a clean break with Iran or whether it is wiser, and perhaps more realistic, to try to bring both along in a larger deal where everyone gets something.

I think the overal dynamics are somewhat more complicated than this. The US seems set on drawing Syria away from Iran to give it more leverage over negotiating the nuclear issue. March’s month long Saudi courting of Syria suggests that the Saudis were on board with this ploy as well, though the lack of any consummation of King Abdollah’s efforts on Monday in Doha doesn’t bode well for the Saudi-Syrian rapprochement. What seems to be happening, as I argue here , is that the Syrians want to bring Iran more deeply into the Arab fold, while reassuring the Western aligned Arab states that this is broadly in Arab “interest”. Thus, unlike Prof. Landis, I see that the US and the Saudis have made their choice that Syria ought to break with Iran and the Syrians are apparently trying push the alternative agenda of a “larger deal where everyone gets something”.

April 2nd, 2009, 5:01 am


Off the Wall said:

Chris and Majid
Seems that you two prefer the journalistic style and ethics of Judith Miller. Keep it up, you may be rewarded with a place on the neo-neocon islamophobic, antiarab lectures circles. I heard that you can get a lot of money doing that. Just ask Ahmad Chalabi. He can give you the address of some paymasters who like to be duped. How precious.

Both of you speak of freedom and democracy, and yet, your posts, when read in their totality are loud and clear defense of establishment rhetoric and attack on free thinking journalists who happen to expose the political and intellectual corruption of your cherished positions. Was the mai-lai outlandish journalism, was exposing abou ghraib also outlandish journalism, was telling the world about the constant bombing of Iraqi cities during the first three years of the crime against humanity in iraq half truth, were the facts about excesses of black water and the jailhouse mercinary thugs staffing these war for profit outfits outlandish, and was exposing the campaign against iraqi intellectuals and scientists a lie. Seymore Hirsh is one of the very few remaining true journalists within the bloated, spineless US media. He scares poeple like you as he shows us all how blind, dishonest, and criminal are the actions and policies you defend. Keep it up, the criminals of the world will always need enablers like you, it make their attempts to silence the truth easier.

April 5th, 2009, 3:27 pm


Off the Wall said:

Shai and Yossi

Can the Golan become an area of cultural, economic, and intellectual cross feterlization of our two nations?

I recon that the golan of today is not like the golan of 67 and its inevitable return to the motherland must be viewed creatively and in an out of the box manner, but that would take very bold and brave thinking on both sides. Unfortunately, such thinking is a most rare commodity nowadays. One can envision the establishment of a joint agricultural institute focussing on “semi-arid high-lands agriculture” sometime in the not-so-distant future, but probably beyond my lifespan.

April 5th, 2009, 3:50 pm


Shai said:

Dear OTW,

I’m sorry Yossi and I haven’t yet reported on our visit to the Golan. Yossi’s visit to Israel is almost over, and we will do so shortly (both on SC and on our blog). We’ve jotted down notes, so we won’t forget anything.

As to your question and suggestion – of course it is a wonderful idea, and in’shalla will become a reality. I can’t think of a better way to help heal the wounds that have plagued our two nations for too long. But by the way, a creative project in the form of a Peace Park on 1/3 of the territory has already been suggested, by Syria! Although it was briefly reported on in Israel, most Israelis don’t know this (I’ve asked many, and they don’t know, or remember). It is actually a very important initiative, that would enable Israelis to maintain certain businesses on this Park, to enter/leave every day without visas (and Syrians the same), and to essentially own and operate their business investments abroad, in Syria. For many, this could be an “acceptable” compromise. That might change the 70%-30% ratio against-for withdrawal, when the time comes.

OTW, it WILL happen in your lifetime and mine. I’m sure of it. I’m not sure if we’ll have to endure another regional war beforehand, God-willing we won’t, but the younger generation is quickly growing impatient with “our” nonsense and the addiction we seem to have to the evils of the past. Our youth today are thinking light years ahead of us, always looking forward. It is only us, and our ancient, conservative, and impotent leaders, who are still holding on to the hand-brake. But not for long. Just as our kids aren’t waiting for us to teach them about computers (as if we could), our future leaders won’t wait for us to teach them about politics. I see it not only in youth organizations that belong to the traditional-Left, but also in ones from the Right. Regular (voluntary) visitors to some Jewish-Arab organizations in Israel are Likud-youth members, who probably recognize that the demon might not be so bad, or that it may be necessary to live with it after all. Perhaps after a few meetings, they begin to consider that “the demon” might be within us.

I’m hopeful, and even more so when I see how many administration and Congress members are already visiting Syria and meeting with Bashar. There is no doubt whatsoever that U.S.-Syrian relations are already changing, and that Syria is about to play an important role in helping solve much of the Mideast conflict. Israel will have no choice. We’ll have to play by the rules (that Washington will set), or be out of the game. I’m not sure we can afford to do the latter.

April 5th, 2009, 5:46 pm


Off the Wall said:

I have been sensing in some of your recent posts, especially those after your last visit to Israel a touch of rationalist approach to problems. Yet you seem to have hard time getting over knee jerk reactions and you continue to resort to sophomoric “but your are worst” tactics. Please think a little about details before jumping to call others thugs and uneducated. After all, you have two or three awe struck followers on this site who eagerly await your hint to move the discussion into one direction or another, you owe Chris and Majid at least more thoughtful arguments for them to advocate.

Syria, to no avail, asked the US and Europe for help in establishing modern monitoring network to ensure that its borders with Iraq are not as porous. With such long borders, Syria’s antiquated surveillance equipment (thanks to the embargo) makes such a job impossible at best. Take it a notch up, and think of the much longer and porous Iran’s tribal borders with both Pakistan and Afghanistan. These borders are becoming an easy route for drug smuggling and for criminal activities brought back to life as a result of the “educated” world failures in Afghanistan. These drugs are far beyond the market capacity of the region, and they end up in European countries as well as in Israel through countries like Jordan and Syria after passing through the newly created routes in Iraq, which by now have replaced the traditional “Turkish” route due to the lawlessness in ‘liberated” Iraq. We all know the collusion between Terrorism and Drugs, and I continue to be baffled by the self destructive attitude of our policy makers who continue to act in manners counter to our own national interests not to mention the interest of the global community simply because they are forbidden to talk to Israel’s adversaries before these adversaries submit to the demands of the right wing nuts in Israel and the US.

The region and the world will pay for Bush-co crimes for a long time to come. I guarantee you that future generations will not thank you for enabling and defending these policies, nor would Israeli children be thankful for your efforts to delay the inevitable abandonment of the racist policies and practices of their own country for fifty more years. Isn’t it time to stop limiting their choices. I find the attempt to demonize anyone who dares to expose Israel’s problems anything but democratic. The sites you keep plucking posts from are well known racist sites with a single racist agenda and that is demonizing Arabs and Muslims and discrediting and intimidating anyone who dares say otherwise. How consistent with your calls for democracy is it for you to associate your own intellectual arguments with the likes of a well known anti-freedom anti-intellectual; discredited daniel pipes, who has become a toxic persona non-grata on many “semi-respectable” talk shows mainly because of his nervous attempts to silence and intimidate free thinking on campuses. He and his gang have been exposed as racists xenophobes and as anti intellectual tyrants with comic hysterical insecurities and anxieties. What is next, are you going to quote anne coulter, or michell malkin.

I would like to leave you with a quote from a well known libertarian “Ralph Raico”, with whom i usually have many disagreements, who wrote

“In 1925, Churchill wrote: “The story of the human race is war.” This, however, is untrue; potentially, it is disastrously untrue. Churchill lacked any grasp of the fundamentals of the social philosophy of classical liberalism. In particular, he never understood that, as Ludwig von Mises explained, the true story of the human race is the extension of social cooperation and the division of labor. Peace, not war, is the father of all things.”

April 5th, 2009, 5:57 pm


norman said:


You would like this ,

James Backer said today on GPS with Fareed Zackariah/ CNN ,that Netanyahu does not get enough credit for his pragmatism and that a deal with Syria is at hand and could change everything and bring peace to Israel , That is what he thinks Netanyahu will do.

April 5th, 2009, 6:43 pm


Shai said:


Well, I hope Netanyahu’s listening. Because Bush Jr. didn’t… (remember the Baker Report?)

April 5th, 2009, 6:54 pm


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