Syria and Washington, the Likely Path Ahead

Syria and Washington, the likely Path Ahead
by Joshua Landis, Syria Comment, May 6, 2009

Washington seeks to corner Syria into deciding between the gun and the olive branch. The only problem is the prize is getting to talk to Israel – not very enticing at a time when Israel’s leaders insist that they will give up no land to Syria. Instead Israel demands that Syria flip its regional alliances as a sign of seriousness. Syria insists on the return of the entire Golan in exchange for cutting military support to Hizbullah and Hamas and triming its rhetoric. Israel believes it can defeat — or perhaps it has defeated — Hizbullah and Hamas. It asks, “why give back the Golan for nothing?”

A deal between Syria and Israel does not seem promising.

My guess is that Syria will grudgingly go down the road of accepting US sponsored reconciliation with Israel — not because it believes Israel will give it a pot of gold – the Golan, but rather, in the hope that the United States will shell out some trinkets. The trinkets will be the easing of US sanctions and more normalized relations with Washington, normal enough that is, that other nations will be able to trade and invest in Syria without inhibition.

Syrians do not believe that Netanyahu is a pragmatist, capable of ceding the Golan for peace. They assume that whatever process Washington devises will be Kabuki theater – designed to keep Israel and the US from outward conflict. In contrast to the jaundiced Syrians, some American diplomats may actually believe that they can clinch an historic agreement by putting the squeeze on both sides.

Other US diplomats may simply believe that getting the Syrians to trim their “resistance” sails and play nice in Lebanon – even for a few years – is improvement enough for the reward of normalized US-Syrian relations. If Israel doesn’t go along, Washington will be effectively punishing it by retreating from Bush’s hard line on Damascus and by normalizing relations – or, rather, somewhat normalizing them. The US and Syria will never have “normal” relations so long as the Golan is not returned and there is not an accommodation for the Palestinians. All the same, Washington can return to the sort of modus vivendi it had worked out under Bush-the-father and Clinton — “We will pretend to broker peace and you pretend to restrain hotheads and resistance; we will share intelligence; we will both encourage regional stability.” It is not a perfect deal, but it sure beats “creative chaos.” What is more, it allows all sides to kick the ball down the road. Everyone can claim that success is just over the horizon and that they are engaged in the important work of avoiding war.

News summary:

Al Khaleej Via FLC

Feltman and Shapiro in Damascus to push for Israeli-Syrian talks in exchange for a visit by Mitchell

Feltman and Shapiro in Damascus to push for Israeli-Syrian talks in exchange for a visit by Mitchell

“…Feltman said he had found some ‘common ground’ with Damascus. He also said there must be some momentum on indirect peace talks between Syria and Israel which have been suspended since Israel’s incursion into Gaza last December to counter attacks by militants on the Jewish state. ‘This visit is really a test to see whether Syria is interested in a different relationship with us,’ said a US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity…”

US to propose Syria restart talks with Israel, 05.06.09, YNet, (Roee Nahmias)

The UAE-based al-Khaleej newspaper reported on Wednesday that two American envoys were sent to Damascus on Tuesday to propose the Syrians restart peace negotiations with Israel.

Western diplomatic sources told the paper that if the response is positive, the US government will decide on the next step and may even send its special Mideast envoy George Mitchell to Damascus.

U.S. demands Israel negotiate with Syria May 5, 10:45, By Richard Shulman, (Arutz-7, 4/26)

The U.S. had urged Israel and Syria to resolve their differences. Israel replied that it could not sit down with a regime that supports Iran, Hizbullah, and Hamas.

The State Dept. retorted that Israel and Syria need peace, so they must talk.

After that, Foreign Min. Lieberman said he would be willing to negotiate, but without a precondition or ultimatum from Syria that first Israel should agree to cede the Golan Heights to it, and without much hope of resolving anything .

Israel wants peace. Syria does not; it wants conquest. Its old doctrine calls for incorporating Lebanon, Israel, the Territories, and Jordan. Its new doctrine allies itself to Iran’s attempt to foist Radical Islam on the whole Mideast and beyond. Such a doctrine does not permit diplomatic resolution, just conquest or defeat…..

Leaders of Iran and Syria Vow to Back ‘Palestinian Resistance’, New York Times

Two American diplomatic envoys, Jeffrey Feltman and Daniel Shapiro, left Washington on Tuesday for Syria, their second visit in less than three months, to explore ways to ease tensions between the United States and Syria, the State Department said. Mr. Ahmadinejad and Mr. Assad made little specific mention of American diplomatic efforts at a news conference after their meeting.

But Mr. Ahmadinejad boasted that unnamed countries, which he said had tried for years to put pressure on Iran and Syria, now say they need support from the two countries to solve regional problems.

“Those who one day called Iran and Syria part of ‘the axis of evil’ now want to develop relations with Iran and Syria,” he said.

He also contended that the Syria-Iran alliance had achieved “victories” in preventing “the big powers’ offensive to dominate the region.”

“Syria and Iran have been from the very beginning united and in agreement to stand on the side of the Palestinian resistance,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said, adding, “We see that the resistance will continue until all occupied territories are liberated.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials have been sending mixed messages in response to President Obama’s calls for dialogue — at times taking a moderate tone, and at others talking a tough line.

AIPAC speakers portray Ahmadinejad as a ‘gift’ by Phil Weiss

Two pro-Israel speakers at the AIPAC policy conference said yesterday that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the bete noir of the lobby, is also a boon to the lobby; for if the Iranian President is not reelected next month, AIPAC’s case against Iranian nukes will be damaged…..

Ken Pollack of the Saban Center of the Brookings Institution: “….And if we get somebody who basically is pursuing the exact same policies [as Ahmadinejad] but doing so in a less inflammatory manner, that may make things even more difficult… to get countries on board with the kind of sanctions and kind of pressure [we need to bring to bear]… Without Ahmadinejad it will be an even more challenging task.”

Syria’s Foreign Minister, Walid Moualim went to Amman to invite King Abdullah to visit President Assad in Syria. King Abdullah responded that he would visit as soon as possible. (in Arabic) Here is a Jordanian version of the visit, which suggests that Syria was rude to Jordan by not attending the Arab summit held in Amman in April, convened before the King’s historic visit to Washignton.

Daily Star: Hariri spoke about the possibility of becoming the next Lebanese prime minister if the Feb 14 alliance wins the parliamentary majority, saying, “When we reach that stage we will decide. I will announce my decision then.” – The Daily Star

Qifa Nabki on Lebanon’s Elections in Foreign Policy “Why Hezbollah is not the new Hamas.” By Elias Muhanna

The end of Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution, by Nicholas Noe

…even though some in the Obama administration might want to continue US support [if March 8 wins], a decidedly less engagement-friendly Congress holding the purse strings would probably put up a strong fight over continued assistance – a fight that the administration would be hard pressed to join, given its need to expend political capital on the more important Iranian, Syrian and Israeli-Palestinian arenas.

Were this to come to fruition, the results for Lebanon and quite possibly for wider US and European interests could be disastrous, pushing the country further into the arms of purported regional foes….

Joe Biden

Joe Biden

Barack Obama hints at tougher line on Israel
The Times of London, May 5, 2009 by Tom Baldwin

The Obama Administration has signalled a tougher approach towards Israel ahead of fresh talks on the Middle East peace process by insisting it must endorse the creation of an independent Palestinian state….

“Israel has to work toward a two-state solution,” declared Vice-President Joe Biden today in a speech to the annual conference of a powerful pro-Israel lobby group in Washington. General James Jones, Mr Obama’s National Security Adviser, is also said to have told a European foreign minister that — unlike the Bush Administration — the White House was now ready to be “forceful” with Israel.

“The new Administration will convince Israel to compromise on the Palestinian question,” General Jones was reported to have written in a confidential telegramme. “We will not push Israel under the wheels of a bus, but we will be more forceful toward Israel than we have been under Bush.” General Jones is due to travel to London next week for talks with British officials and Mr Netanyahu’s security adviser, Uzi Arad…..

MJ Rosenberg, in IPF’s The Pulse, Via FLC

“…The inclination in Israel will be to ignore Khaled Meshal’s pledge to end the rocket fire and to abandon its territorial ambitions within the pre-’67 lines. But the Hamas’ chief’s interview with the New York Times is a very big deal. And if Israel — and the United States — are smart, they will seize the opportunity.

Frankly, I can’t see Prime Minister Netanyahu doing that. He was the prime minister who personally ordered Meshal’s assassination by poison in Jordan during his last term in office. That act, which almost killed both Meshal and the peace process, demonstrated rather starkly how Netanyahu felt about Meshal.

But, hey, if the intended victim of that assassination attempt is willing to let bygones be bygones, maybe Bibi will too.

The main thing is to pay attention. Both Israel and the Bush administration ignored the Saudi initiative praying it would go away — and it pretty much did. Here is an opportunity to bring Hamas into the peace process while simultaneously preserving a key role for the Fatah moderates.

If stopping the rockets from Gaza was so significant a priority that it was worth going to war over (and taking the lives of 1,400 Palestinians, mostly innocent), it should be important enough to take a chance and explore what Meshal may be offering.

Or is taking risks for peace been ruled out in favor of more war. …”

Obama outreach to Muslims worries Israelis, By AMY TEIBE

JERUSALEM (AP) – A solid majority of Jewish Israelis worry that President Barack Obama’s outreach to the Arab and Muslim world will come at their expense, a new poll showed Monday.

Israelis also strongly back stopping Iran’s nuclear program, even if Israel has to attack Iran without American approval, according to the survey.

Aleppo Hit by Crime Wave
By an IWPR-trained reporter (23-Apr-09)

Spate of murders and armed robberies are linked to economic downturn.

Serious crime is on the rise in Syria’s industrial capital, Aleppo, against a backdrop of soaring unemployment resulting from the global financial crisis.

Residents are calling for the authorities to tackle increased job losses and inner-city deprivation – factors they say are behind the crime wave.

Since the beginning of the year, local armed gangs have committed a series of high-profile crimes – most of them in broad daylight – in the northern city’s fashionable and upper class neighbourhoods.

Twenty-seven people have been murdered since January 1, according to a March 26 report in the pro-government newspaper Al-Watan.

Around 20 armed robberies occurred in the heart of the city in the first three months of the year, reported the pro-government website Syrian Days.

In February, armed men raided a popular downtown market, shooting and killing a local merchant. That same month, burglars robbed a local factory, and a 15-year-old boy shot and killed five members of his family in their home before taking money and gold from the house.

In March, two armed men raided a store selling gold trinkets, killing one customer and injuring another. Also in March, a former member of parliament and his wife were shot to death in their upmarket home by robbers…..

Muslim Brotherhood Leader Retires to Set Example for Mubarak
2009-05-05 By Daniel Williams, Bloomberg

May 6 (Bloomberg) — Mohammed Akef, leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, chuckles when asked if his decision to step down as head of the country’s largest opposition group might set an example for President Hosni Mubarak.

“You know that Egypt has no such thing as former leaders,” said Akef, 81, who announced his retirement in March.
“Only dead leaders.”…

…Formally banned from politics, the organization has about 1 million members in Egypt, its officials say. Activists are frequently rounded up by police and thrown in jail for periods ranging from a few hours to months or years.

The group holds 88 seats in Egypt’s 454-member parliament, making it by far the biggest opposition bloc. Legislators identify themselves as brotherhood members and are selected by the group’s leadership; they are officially designated as independents.

Having given up violence 40 years ago, the organization now limits street activities to occasional peaceful protests. In January, leaders in Alexandria used a network of mosques and a Web site to mobilize tens of thousands of activists to protest Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip. It was the largest demonstration mounted against the war.

“Why should we change? We have achieved our goals,” Akef said in his Cairo office overlooking the Nile River. “We mobilize, carry out social and charitable work. As for power, that’s after this corrupt regime falls.”….

Egypt’s Christian Farmers Protest Cull

Egypt ordered the slaughter of thousands of pigs amid concerns about the flu outbreak, despite evidence it isnt spread by animals to humans.

Egypt ordered the slaughter of thousands of pigs amid concerns about the flu outbreak, despite evidence it isn't spread by animals to humans.

Egypt pressed ahead Monday with plans to kill all pigs in the country, amid rising concerns there that the animal considered unclean by Islam may cause a swine-flu epidemic.

Officials in the majority Muslim nation say they are targeting the estimated 250,000 pigs raised by Egypt’s minority Christian community as a public-health measure, despite international scientific opinion that the animals don’t spread the disease to humans. But what was intended to be a vigorous response to the global flu scare has instead highlighted gaps in Egypt’s public-health policy and acted as a lightning rod for religious tension.

[Egypt ordered the slaughter of thousands of pigs amid concerns about the flu outbreak, despite evidence it isn’t spread by animals to humans.] Reuters

Egypt ordered the slaughter of thousands of pigs amid concerns about the flu outbreak, despite evidence it isn’t spread by animals to humans.

On Monday, government veterinarians visited Christian neighborhoods to mark animals for the cull, a process that could take a year due to the lack of slaughterhouses authorized by religious authorities to handle pork.

“I don’t see the logic in the government decision. Our pigs aren’t sick but they want to kill them anyway,” said Hala Morcos, managing director of Maison Morcos, one of Egypt’s largest pork manufacturers. “They are killing our capital.”

Egypt hasn’t diagnosed any cases of A/H1N1, but it has a poor record of handling health crises. More than two dozen Egyptians have died of bird flu since it hit the country three years ago. The latest fatality was in April. Cairo’s crowded neighborhoods, where families live closely with farm animals, offer a fertile environment for illness to spread.

The order last Wednesday to kill the country’s pigs satisfies a widespread cultural belief that pigs and their farmers, who double as Cairo’s main garbage collectors, are a blight on society. The announcement came on the heels of a health conference held outside Cairo by Islamic scholars, who likened swine flu to heavenly retribution against an unfaithful world.

Comments (5)

Amir in Tel Aviv said:

“…Syria insists on the return of the entire Golan in exchange for cutting military support to Hizbullah and Hamas and triming its rhetoric”.

And the source is..?
Because, this isn’t what Mr. Mu’alem told AlJezeera.

May 6th, 2009, 7:57 pm


Akbar Palace said:


Obviously you don’t subscribe to Professor Josh’s secret Baathist newletter. It’s all in there. You just have to purchase it.

May 7th, 2009, 1:07 am


norman said:

If Syria agrees to close relation with the US without working for the return of the Arab lands including the Golan and the return or the compensation for the Palestinian people with the rights to have their own state , It would have lost it’s sole , and that will leave nothing for Syria to be proud of .

May 7th, 2009, 2:52 am


majid said:

Norman said, ” It would have lost it’s sole”

Did you mean that Syria will be walking around with a pair of shoes that have no underside?

Either way, some one who walks around with such pair of shoes may have less pride than somebody wearing a brand new pair. But it depends.

May 7th, 2009, 3:42 am


Frank al Irlandi said:

The Guardian (London) reports an interesting development today, related to Obama’s tougher line on Israel.

It is interesting to compare this with the narative in New York Times on Pakistan and its weapons.

If we take a moment to wonder which one is talking about attacking someone, the more bemused we become.

May 7th, 2009, 4:05 am


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