Syria is the Only Game in Town

[Landis Analysis]

Syria is the only game in town for those wishing to advance peace between Arabs and Israel. This has the Jewish right apoplectic. Danielle Pletka who worked under John Bolton in the State Department tries sarcasm and insults in her “The Syrian Strategy” to embarrass those who would advance this strategy.

Barry Rubin, publisher of MERIA journal and author of The Truth About Syria gathered several Washington Institute types such as Patrick Clawson and David Schenker and other likeminded policy types to tell Americans that they are foolish to negotiate with Syria and Iran. Equally foolish is to try to make peace between Arabs and Jews or to withdraw from Iraq anytime soon. Rubin knowingly asserts that Obama’s

“belief, that [America] can make friends with Iran and Syria, soothe grievances that have caused Islamism and terrorism, and solve the Arab-Israeli conflict …. is a miscalculation about the Middle East.”

Americans perennially make the mistake of viewing the Middle East “in Western terms,” Rubin informs us, which leads “to frustration and even disaster.” Why? Because “You have to inspire fear in your enemies.” “Unfortunately, the change they want means wiping other states off the map.”

This “good versus evil” world view is repeated by the other participants of this round table, who seem to be nodding at each other in their desire to sound the toxin of existential extinction should the new administration lift its foot off the throat of its Arab and Persian enemies. The US’s only choice is to keep its many enemies in the region in a state of abject fear.

David Schenker explains that Bush viewed Bashar al-Assad as “basically as irredeemable.” Schenker basically agrees. He worries that “Obama appears to believe that Syria can play a more productive role in the region.” To Schenker’s chagrin, even “Dennis Ross, himself who is being mentioned as the possible Middle East coordinator has written that Assad should be tested.”  Dennis Ross is The Washington Institute’s counselor and Ziegler distinguished fellow. David Schenker is a senior fellow and director of the Program on Arab Politics at The Washington Institute.

Schenker concedes that if Syria were to flip, and cut its relations with Iran and “jettison Hizballah and Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups and move into the Western camp,” it would be a good thing. Like, Barry Rubin, Schenker clearly does not expect Syria to do any such thing. To guard against the Golan being given away for what he seems to believe will be nothing, Schenker will have to police the Obama administration and encourage it to make many up front demands for change.

He and his colleagues will work assiduously to hang all kinds of Christmas balls and bobbles on the engagement tree, such that it is hard to imagine any progress or deal being struck. In order to protect her flank from such criticism, Israel’s foreign minister Livni reassured Israelis that she would be tough and not accept a “humus” peace. She said,

“What is important to us is not a peace of opening embassies and eating Humus in Damascus, but the halting of arms smuggling through Syria to Hezbollah, their strong ties to Iran and their endless support of terrorist organizations such as Hamas,” said the foreign minister.

Olmert has defended his drive to continue negotiations:

Referring to the ongoing indirect talks, Olmert said “the talks with Syria were thorough and important. Removing Syria from the radical axis is one of Israel’s top priorities.””Tough sacrifices will be required,” Olmert said, “but the prevention of lost lives is worth it. Syria is not interested in belonging to the axis of evil and wants to forge ties with the U.S.”

For his part, Bashar al-Assad also has demands and wants to tamp down expectations that he flip. He wants Israelis to agree on the exact 1967 Golan borders, (see: Assad seeks Israeli stance on Golan) so that the two sides will not get stuck in Geneva as they did in 2000 with very different expectations about borders. Assad also told European diplomats that he isn’t responsible for restraining Hezbollah, and won’t be “Israel’s bodyguard.”

Syrian President Bashar Assad has told a number of European foreign ministers and senior diplomats this month that he would not lift a finger to restrain Hezbollah’s arming in Lebanon. “I am not Israel’s bodyguard,” he reportedly said…. On the one hand, the officials said their impression was that the Syrian president was serious about negotiations, but that Assad’s positions remained uncompromising.

The source said Assad told the Europeans that Syria was willing to take significant steps in talks with Israel only after an Israeli declaration that it would withdraw from the entire Golan Heights.

Assad refuses to make concessions before he gets guarantees about withdrawal. Israel will also refuse to make concessions until it has guarantees.

Another topic that will be interesting to those of us that follow Syria closely is David Schenker’s successful enticement of Andrew Tabler to work for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Andrew Tabler will give the Institute’s Program on Arab Politics some real expertise on Syria. As WINEP’s site explains, “Andrew Tabler …. will focus on how to engage Syria in a way that best advances U.S. interests.”

Anyone who follows Syria will know Tabler for his long and founding association with “Syria Today,” Syria’s first English language magazine. He has been a powerful and creative presence in the expat scene in Damascus for almost eight years. This is how Tabler describes himself for WINEP’s bio:

A journalist and researcher, Mr. Tabler has achieved unparalleled qualitative and long-term access to Bashar al-Assad’s Syria. He is the cofounder and former editor-in-chief of Syria Today, Syria’s first private-sector English-language magazine, and has been a media consultant for Syrian nongovernmental organizations (2003-2004) under the patronage of Syrian first lady Asma al-Asad.

Lebanon Now carries a lengthy interview with Tabler as he prepared to leave Beirut, where he has lived half the time.

On the surface, we’re [American and Syria] very, very similar. But there are fundamental differences. The Arab world is badly ruled. Its rulers are not accountable to their people, and they often make very bad decisions. Because of that, people keep a lot of their personal feelings to themselves. When you get a chance to know people and find out about how they feel, you realize about their everyday frustrations, especially from the lack of reform. It’s not just a lack of democracy. It’s a lack of reform in these countries. …

There are many people in Washington right now that believe that Syria can be flipped and so on, and that by getting Syria to agree to sign a peace agreement with Israel is the key. It’s true, that if you had a peace treaty between Israel and Syria, it would definitely change the way Syria is regarded by the international community [and] would definitely change the way the regime would govern the country. But there is no silver bullet when it comes to Syria. There is no easy solution. ….

[The Obama people] have indicated they will use sanctions and other punitive measures to cajole their adversaries into cooperation. I expect the Obama administration… to use all the arrows into America’s quiver to bring Syria around…. I was the only foreign correspondent to ever travel with the Syrian president on a foreign state visit (China, 2004), and so I understand… [Syria’s] strengths and weaknesses. I want to try and make it so that whatever discussions come about are based on Syria as it is as well as what it could realistically be.

What do you think of Syria’s role in Lebanon?

I just think it’s important to not go back to the way things were in the 1990s. The 1990s for some people was an era of stability. For other people, especially in Lebanon, it was a nightmare. So it’s very important for US policymakers… [and] people who work on Syria in general to make sure that the US says very clearly to Syria that whatever happens, we can’t go back to the way things were in the 1990s. It’s not good for Lebanon, and it’s not good for Syria. …  I don’t think [Obama’s] advisors are naïve. I don’t think they’ll be handing Lebanon back to Syria like in the 1990s. That was the historical exception. This isn’t going to happen again. It shouldn’t happen again because the first time, it didn’t work out very well. Also, perhaps most importantly here, this would also not be very good for Syria. During those years that Syria was in Lebanon and controlled Lebanon, they used Lebanon as the economic lung that stifled economic reform at home. Syria has to reform in order to accommodate the globalization. I recently attended a conference where Obama and McCain’s senior foreign policy advisors spoke in detail. I found Obama’s advisors very well-informed. We’ll have to see, but I’m optimistic.

I must say that I was a bit surprised to hear that Tabler was successfully recruited by WINEP. Some critics argue that the Institute acts as a quasi arm of the pro-Israel lobby. All the same, it does make sense in that it is the most influential Washington think tank on things Middle Eastern, in particular on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Martin Indyk helped to found it and Dennis Ross has hangs his hat there when he isn’t working for the president. What is more, precious few think tanks would hire a Syria specialist, so it is quite possible that Tabler had few choices. It is hard to think of a pro-Arab think tank in Washington that supports fellows – certainly not one that would hire a scholar for his knowledge of Syria. Unlike Jewish-Americans, Syrian-Americans don’t give money to think tanks, perhaps for the reasons that Tabler outlined in his interview.

As Tabler says, he is the “only foreign correspondent to ever travel with the Syrian president on a foreign state visit (China, 2004), so I imagine that someone in Syria is catching hell for his choice of employer after eight years in Damascus.

The Lebanese are also busy policing the Obama administration’s urge to engage Syria, as the following conference suggests.


Lebanon: The Future of a Sovereign State

(CSRwire) Washington, DC – December 15, 2008 – With an eye towards exploring the legacy and the future of Lebanon’s 2005 Cedar Revolution, which forced the exit of Syrian forces from Beirut, the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation (LRF) and the Aspen Institute hosted a forum event with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Dep. Asst. Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, Saban Center Director Martin Indyk, US Representative Charles Boustany (D-La.), US Representative Nick Rahall (D-WV), The Daily Star Opinion Editor Michael Young, Washington Post Columnist David Ignatius, Lebanese Minister of State Nassib Lahoud, several Lebanese Members of Parliament, and foreign policy experts from the Council of Foreign Relations, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Religioscope Foundation. The December 12 forum was the first major US program sponsored by the LRF.

During the day-long event, panelists discussed how Lebanon can ensure its sovereignty, establish a functional democracy, and eliminate threats from inside the country and from abroad. The event kicked off with a call from Secretary Albright for the United States to support the efforts of the non-Hezbollah forces in Lebanon to provide the basic services of a democratic government: “Democracy has to deliver. People want to vote and eat.”

“Our goal is to help Lebanon claim its birthright as a great nation, a regional center of finance and the arts, an example of what’s possible among people when they can work on building something up, rather than tearing each other down,” said Eli Khoury, president of LRF.

Citing the impressive ability of Lebanon, a country the size of Delaware, to “get the attention of the world,” Feltman spoke to an audience that included a number of Lebanese citizens about the likelihood of a shift in tone and emphasis with an incoming Obama Administration. “Changes in style and tactics should not be viewed with alarm,” he said. “Refrain from your habit of overanalyzing [the United States].” Feltman was also quick to warn that Hezbollah is just as much of a threat to the security of Lebanon as it is to Israel. It was a theme echoed by Indyk, who said that the “disarmament of Hezbollah is a Lebanese responsibility.” Indyk said that as long as Hezbollah was more militarily advanced than the government, it would continue to be a state within a state-jeopardizing Lebanon’s sovereignty and US support. Some speakers observed that Hezbollah should be able to retain its role as a political entity, but only if it disarms and yields to the government’s “monopoly of force” essential for the survival of Lebanese democracy.

Meanwhile, in a panel discussion among Lebanese members of parliament, political rivals debated the upcoming Lebanese election. Moderator Michael Young observed that the panel represented the “divisiveness of the Lebanese political class.” Still, all the panelists agreed that Lebanon should be a sovereign state, free from all forms of outside interference and manipulation. As Rep. Rahall said later in a keynote speech, “Do not let Lebanon be a prize for signing a peace treaty.”

Other notable quotes from the December 12 conference included:

“The support of the democratic values of Lebanon is something that is bipartisan in this nation.” – Walter Isaacson, President and CEO, The Aspen Institute

“Syria is a master at playing the spoiler role if it feels ignored or that its interests are threatened.”- Theodore Kattouf, President, AMIDEAST

“If Hezbollah and its allies take control of Lebanon, … the basis of US support for Lebanon will be jeopardized.” – Martin Indyk, Director, Saban Center, Brookings Institution

“We have to look at Syria’s intention toward Lebanon by the facts on the ground, not by what Syria is saying.” – Jeffrey Feltman, Deputy Secretary of State for Near East Affairs

“Iraq is the greatest disaster in foreign policy primarily because of what it did to the good name of democracy.” – former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

“As we elect the 44th president, we have turned power over peacefully longer than any other place in the world.” – former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

“Lebanon’s failure would be a failure of opportunity for the United States in the Middle East.” – US Representative Charles Boustany

“The stakes are existential. … Lebanon is at the intersection of the realists and the transformationalists.” – Nayla Mouawad, Qornet Shehwan MP, Zghorta

“There is more competition over parliament seats than there is dialogue in Lebanon right now.”- Ghassan Mokheiber, Change and Reform MP, Metn

“Unless Hezbollah and the situation with Lebanon is high on the next administration’s list of priorities,” the Middle East will remain insecure. – Steven Cook, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

“I keep waiting for the actions of Hezbollah to create a counter – reaction. But it never seems to, and that worries me.” – David Ignatius, Columnist, The Washington Post

“Using one religious group to stop another is part of the tragedy of Lebanon.” – David Ignatius, Columnist, The Washington Post

Video of the conference will be posted at

The Lebanon Renaissance Foundation is an independent civil society group whose members are drawn from all religious denominations, who, through their professional activities, have been engaged in efforts aimed at preserving the core values of the Cedar Revolution. For more information, visit

Assad seeks Israeli stance on Golan
Reuters, 16 December 2008

Syria has drafted a document defining the boundaries of the Golan Heights and was waiting for an Israeli reply through Turkish mediators, sources familiar with the talks said this week.

President Bashar Assad recently told Western officials that Damascus wants Israel to take a clear position on the territorial problem between the two countries before agreeing to push stalled peace talks forward.

The Syrian document sets the boundaries with reference to six geographical points, the sources told Reuters.

“The president was clear that Syria wants to know the Israeli view about what constitutes occupied Syrian territory before progress could be made,” one of the sources said.

“According to Syrian thinking, Israeli agreement on the six (geographical) points could help seal a peace deal next year. But Israel may not be able to provide a response any time soon, when it is in such political turmoil,” a second source said.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in response to the report, “We do not negotiate through the media.” ….

Assad tells European diplomats that he isn’t responsible for restraining Hezbollah, and won’t be “Israel’s bodyguard”…

Livni: Syria peace must involve more than just eating hummus in Damascus, 16 December 2008

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Tuesday said peace with Syria would have to involve more than mere culinary tourism, speaking in response to reports of Syria’s demands in indirect negotiations with Israel.

“What is important to us is not a peace of opening embassies and eating Humus in Damascus, but the halting of arms smuggling through Syria to Hezbollah, their strong ties to Iran and their endless support of terrorist organizations such as Hamas,” said the foreign minister.

Livni, the chairwoman of the leading Kadima party and a prime ministerial hopeful, made the comments at a conference in the northern Galilee.

She added: “I don’t know of negotiations that end before they have begun.”

Earlier Tuesday it emerged that sources familiar with the peace talks said this week that Syria has drafted a document defining potential boundaries for the Golan Heights and is waiting for an Israeli reply through Turkish mediators.

President Bashar al-Assad recently told Western officials that Damascus wants Israel to take a clear position on the territorial problem between the two countries before agreeing to push stalled peace talks forward…

Israeli diplomat: No more talks with Syria at this time
By Barak Ravid and Yoav Stern, 17 December 2008

Israel and Syria have both told Turkey that they are not currently interested in conducting another round of indirect talks with each other, an Israeli diplomat told Haaretz this week.

The diplomat said Damascus and Jerusalem explained that they are suspending the Turkish mediation in peace negotiations because talks would be pointless before Israel’s general election on February 10. Turkish officials said they believed talks would be resumed after Israel gets its new leader.

The decision to shelve the process did not invoke much protest from the Foreign Ministry, where top diplomats have said they are unhappy with the way peace talks have allowed Syria to break out of its isolation, despite its classification as a terror-sponsoring country.

This problem reached new levels when the European Commission issued a draft early this month for updating its free trade agreement with Syria, which had been suspended for several years. The signing of a final free trade deal will not happen any time soon, but the draft represents a significant achievement for Damascus…

Olmert: It is possible to negotiate peace deal with Syria
By Barak Ravid
Haaretz, 19 December 2008

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Thursday in a speech that it was possible to negotiate a peace deal between Israel and Syria.

Speaking at a conference of the Institute for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, Olmert said that the indirect Israel-Syria talks mediated by Turkey can lead to direct negotiations, stressing that a peace treaty with Syria can be achieved.

Referring to ongoing indirect peace talks, mediated by Turkey, Olmert continued, saying “the talks with Syria were thorough and important. Removing Syria from the radical axis is one of Israel’s top priorities.”

“Tough sacrifices will be required,” Olmert continued, “but the prevention of lost lives is worth it. Syria is not interested in belonging to the axis of evil, and wants to forge ties with the U.S.”

Olmert said a peace treaty would break the ties between Syria and Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah, but he could not guarantee success. He said, “How will we know if we don’t try? How can we try if we are not prepared to take any risks?”

“A peace deal with Syria will alter the balance of power between moderates and extremists in the Middle East? A deal with Syria will minimize the threat of war from the north and will eliminate the assistance it gives to terror organizations,” Olmert went on to say.

Right-wing MKs were quick to respond to Olmert’s address, with Likud MK Yuval Steinitz saying “the Golan is essential to Israel’s security, welfare and future, and cannot be used as currency by the Olmert-Livni government.”

MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) also criticized Olmert’s remarks, saying that the prime minister “dreams that the Israeli public will forget the corruption scandals that brought about the end of his reign, while [Syrian President Bashar] Assad dreams of wading in the Kinneret.”

Meanwhile Thursday, Olmert announced that he would be meeting Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Monday to discuss Israel’s indirect peace talks with Syria and other issues.

Turkey has been mediating the indirect talks but they were suspended earlier this year after Olmert announced his resignation over a corruption scandal.

Olmert remains Israel’s caretaker premier until a new government is formed after a February election.

“Prime Minister Olmert spoke yesterday to the Turkish prime minister and they agreed to meet on Monday in Ankara,” said Mark Regev, Olmert’s spokesman. “The meeting will deal with bilateral issues as well as regional issues, including the political processes in the region.”

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said indirect peace talks with Syria will be high on the agenda during the Olmert-Erdogan meeting.

“It’s possible that there will be another round but it has not been decided,” the official said of the Israeli-Syrian track.

On Tuesday, it emerged that sources familiar with the peace talks said this week that Syria has drafted a document defining potential boundaries for the Golan Heights and is waiting for an Israeli reply through Turkish mediators.

Israel and Syria held almost 10 years of direct talks under U.S. supervision which collapsed in 2000 over the scope of a proposed Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

Israel captured the plateau in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed it more than a decade later – a move rejected by the United Nations.

Change they can believe in
By Walter Russell Mead Published: December 17, 2008

Reviving the Middle East peace process is the worst kind of necessary evil for a U.S. administration: very necessary, and very evil.

It is necessary because the festering dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians in a volatile, strategically vital region has broad implications for U.S. interests and because the security of Israel is one of the American public’s most enduring international concerns.

It is evil because it is costly and difficult. The price of engagement is high, the chances for a solution are mixed at best, and all of the available approaches carry significant political risks.

The incoming U.S. president, Barack Obama, faces a daunting task. He needs to develop a Middle East peace strategy that makes a clear break with the past, that is politically sustainable at home and abroad, that offers real hope for a final resolution, and that in the interim can bring benefits to the two peoples, the wider region, and the United States itself.

The way to do this is to change the way that a peace deal is framed.

In the past, U.S. peacemakers have had an Israel-centric approach to the negotiating process; the Obama administration needs to put Palestinian politics and Palestinian public opinion at the center of its peacemaking efforts.

Despite their military weakness and their political factiousness, the Palestinians hold the key to peace in the Middle East. And if the United States hopes to create a more secure and stable environment for Israel, it must sell peace to Israel’s foes.

The Syrian Strategy
by Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute. 2008-12-21

….It is not inconceivable that the regime in Damascus might throw its supporters in Tehran under the bus in exchange for prestige, cash and a free hand in Lebanon. But it is unrealistic to expect President Assad to dispose of Hezbollah and Hamas in the same way. Mr. Assad — broadly disliked at home, a member of a mistrusted Alawite minority, comically inept at managing his country’s resources — can maintain his grip on power only as long as he is seen as a vital instrument of Israel’s defeat. ….

Carter meets with political leader of Hamas in Syria
CNN, 14 December 2008

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter met Sunday in Damascus, Syria, with Khaled Meshaal, the exiled leader of Hamas’ political wing, a Hamas official said.

The five-hour meeting ended late Sunday and covered several issues, including Cpl. Gilad Shalit — an Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas since June 2006, the official said.

Carter previously met with Meshaal in April.In that meeting, the Hamas leader promised Carter that the group would allow Shalit to send a message to his parents, Noam and Aviva. Carter also asked Hamas to release Shalit, Meshaal said after the former president’s visit, but the request was rejected. Hamas said Sunday it will soon release a statement about the latest meeting between Carter and Meshaal.

Carter’s series of meetings with top Hamas officials in April garnered condemnation from the U.S. and Israeli governments. They criticized him for engaging in diplomacy with a group that both governments consider a terrorist organization. How the incoming Obama administration will receive Carter’s meetings with Hamas remains to be seen.

During his visit in Syria, Carter also visited the Saint Taqla convent in the city of Maalula, north of Damascus, with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Syria, EU closer to economic deal, hurdles remain
Daily Times, 16 December 2008

Syria and the European Union nudged closer to signing an economic agreement on Sunday but political differences among EU powers on how to handle relations with the Damascus government could delay a deal, diplomats said.

Officials from the two sides finalised the draft text of the association agreement, which focuses on economy, trade and security, and initialled it in a late ceremony on Sunday.

“This is mainly an economic agreement that will put reforms in Syria on a clear tack, but we don’t ignore the fact that it will also establish a political dialogue with the European Union,” Abdullah al-Dardari, Syria’s deputy prime minister for economic affairs, told reporters.

“The European Union is a market of 430 million people. Our goods have to be well priced but also of higher quality to be able to penetrate it,” he added

The agreement drops tariffs gradually between the two sides over the next 12 years.

It also has chapters on weapons of mass destruction and human rights, an issue that has been repeatedly raised by the European officials after Syrian authorities stepped up arrests of President Bashar al-Assad’s political opponents…

Syria looks to better times
By Sami Moubayed
Asia Times Online, 16 December 2008

There are two main schools of thought regarding the future of Syria, now that George W Bush has begun his long march into history and will be leaving the White House in January. Optimists claim that the future will be promising and rosy, citing Barack Obama’s expressed desire to engage with Damascus to find solutions to regional peace, Iraq and Lebanon.

Signals of this optimism are already emerging, the latest a statement by President Bashar al-Assad saying that the United States will be re-appointing an ambassador to Damascus in 2009. That went unchallenged by Washington. Other signs include Obama toying with the idea of appointing veteran US diplomat

Daniel Kurtzer, who wrapped up a visit to Syria in mid-2008, as his Middle East envoy. Kurtzer, who is close to the Syrians and served as Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Israel, is someone who has repeatedly called for dialogue with Damascus.

Others, however, are careful not to get too optimistic over Obama, claiming that dialogue between Damascus and Washington will be difficult – in some cases, very difficult. A third school, currently a minority, believes that Syria is in for difficult times because the international tribunal over the assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister, Rafik al-Hariri, has been set for March 1, 2009. This will roll the clock back to 2005, when Syria’s relationship with the international community was at a historic low. Pessimists argue that after becoming president, Obama will find it difficult to deliver on Syria, because of loose ends leftover from the Bush era, and would rather pursue the Palestinian-Israeli peace process…

….  What many people fail to understand is that Syria is not seeking financial reward for a peace deal with Israel – unlike the case with Egypt in 1978 or Jordan in 1994. Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state, once even commented that she was always surprised that the Syrians were not seeking direct US financial assistance, when talks were on the verge of succeeding in the mid-1990s.

Syria’s argument always has been that the only reward it wants is the lifting of sanctions, allowing the Syrian economy to grow and attract investment in a prosperous and healthy manner, from Europe, the US and the Arab Gulf. Syria is a rich country that has enough wealth and potential to manage and develop its own economy, without US money. Paying it to sign a peace agreement would mean that strings are attached, the Syrians believe. If peace does materialize in late 2009 – or early 2010 – this would give, in addition to restoration of the occupied Golan Heights, a tremendous boost for the Syrian economy, providing jobs, attracting investment and increasing growth.

Matters began shifting in Syria’s favor after the Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006….


Comments (68)

offended said:

My my, the piece written by Pletka is full of lies and false claims. It suggests that Bashar doesn’t want syria to become a normal state because a normal state will ‘endanger his regime’. He wants it like this. What a load of crap.

Well I am glad to report to Pletka that at this very moment, and even before all the bounties and bonuses that will shower Syria from the west once diplomatic channels are restored, even before the arrival of those, Syria IS a normal state! Somebody tell that b**** there are more political prisoners in the magic kingdom than there are in Syria. Somebody please tell her there are now diplomatic ties with Lebanon and a Lebanese ambassador to Syria was appointed yesterday. (btw, any idea who he is?)

Somebody tell her that Bashar is more popular in the Arab street and among Arab people than she’d like to believe.

And what about the rapprochement with Europe? Was Bashar also able to dupe Sarko and Brown that easily?

And above all, there is a major dichotomy in her argument, she started off by suggesting that the regime is weak and therefore is a candidate for a military coup and not worthy of inclusion in a long term settlement. And then she arrived at the conclusion that the regime WANTS the state to be unstable. Now doesn’t instability make coups more likely? how do you circle this square oh Pletka?

I wonder who’s behind ‘financing’ such pundits and their ‘institutes’…

December 22nd, 2008, 12:48 pm


Akbar Palace said:

It suggests that Bashar doesn’t want syria to become a normal state because a normal state will ‘endanger his regime’.


If that were false, wouldn’t Assad permit opposition parties and other freedoms? I think most Syrian would agree the above is true.

Politicians are the most power-hungry of individuals. The Governor of Illinois is no exception, except that the people can force him out of office.

December 22nd, 2008, 2:07 pm


trustquest said:

Offended, please explain where did you read in Danielle’s article that the regime wants the State to be unstabel ?

“And then she arrived at the conclusion that the regime WANTS the state to be unstable.”

December 22nd, 2008, 3:02 pm


offended said:

Here Trustquest:
Herein lies the fatal flaw of this transformational vision. It assumes that Syria’s leaders want Syria to become a normal state, when in fact, it is essential to the regime’s survival that it remain a pariah.

Don’t you think pariah states are unstable?

more prone to coups?

the premise of the argument is that syria is weak and liable to coups and not worth inclusion in a regional dialouge or solution. and then it says Bashar wants Syria to remain pariah state forever, isn’t that a contradiction in your book?

December 22nd, 2008, 5:05 pm


trustquest said:

Offended, sorry to tell you that the same sentence you posted, me and you see it in a very different ways, this is not a good sign. There is a difference between cause and results, Syria has chosen to be pariah and not all pariah states are unstable. Syria did not choose to be unstable state but this policy of being pariah could result in unstable state.
Syria is prone to coup, I believe Syria under any regime is prone to coup, but this regime had strong hold on power but gradually is loosing it, because it is unattainable and because the amount of mishaps they commented so far on all levels of governing and because of the amount of corruptions in the high levels which is not scalable with others sects, will create strong imbalance. On the other I still hope my analysis will fail me!

December 22nd, 2008, 5:38 pm


norman said:


you said,

(( the amount of corruptions in the high levels which is not scalable with others sects, will create strong imbalance. ))

I do not think that corruption in Syria is limited to one sect , single party rule corrupt angels.

December 22nd, 2008, 6:29 pm


Alex said:

Dear Trustquest,

If the regime was indeed prone to coups don’t you think something would have already happened?

We had five years of intensive international efforts led from Washington, Paris, Beirut, Riyadh, and tel Aviv to weaken and/or overthrow the regime … and it was not even close.

Can you please write a short description of how you see a coup taking place and when?

Khaddam promised his supporters about four times so far that within 6 month or within 3 months or “soon” there will be an end to the regime …

I agree with you that eventually, there will be a need for political reforms and for sharp reduction in corruption.

But I’m talking 5 to 15 years … not soon.

December 22nd, 2008, 6:30 pm


Alex said:

Assad: Direct peace talks with Israel possible and will happen
By Haaretz Service and The Associated Press

Syrian President Bashar Assad said Monday he believes direct peace talks with Israel are possible and that they will eventually take place.

“It’s natural that we would move, at a later stage, to direct negotiations. We cannot achieve peace through indirect talks only,” Assad said, speaking at a joint press conference with visiting Croatian counterpart Stipe Mesic.

The comments reflect a softer stance taken by the Syrian leader, who only recently rebuked Israel by claiming it is not genuine in its professed desire for peace with its Arab neighbors.
Four rounds of indirect Syrian-Israeli talks have been held this year through Turkish mediators, though no breakthroughs were made. The talks were suspended after outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced he would step down.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, declared on Monday that Israel will not cede the Golan Heights, a key Syrian demand, if he is elected prime minister in February’s general election.

“The government of Israel under Likud’s leadership will make sure that we stay in the Golan, and will keep it for the state’s security,” said Netanyahu, the Likud chairman. He made the comments while on a tour of the strategic plateau.

No new date for the Syria-Israel talks has been set, and Assad didn’t say Monday when the indirect talks would resume. They are not expected to go on until after the election that would determine Olmert’s successor.

The Syrian president compared the peace process to the construction of a building, and said Syria and Israel are now laying the foundations for peace through the Turkey-mediated indirect talks.

“We should first lay solid foundations and then construct the building, and not vice versa,” he said. “If the bases are successful, then direct negotiations will be successful.”

December 22nd, 2008, 7:39 pm


Alex said:

It is finally end of life for Syrian Airlines’ Jubmo and Caravelle planes:

نتهاء خدمة خمس طائرات على الخطوط السورية دون اتخاذ أي إجراء

نوبلزنيوز: خرجت خمس طائرات من الخدمة على الخطوط السورية للطيران, بسبب انتهاء صلاحيتها للسفر على الخطوط الطويلة, وهي من أنواع الجامبو والبيونغ والثويو/1540/ والثويو/132/ وطائرة كرفيل قديمة جدا.

وتؤكد المعلومات الفنية ان مؤسسة الطيران لم تحرك ساكنا بخصوص هذه الطائرات, التي بقيت جاثمة في أرض المطار, رغم إمكان صلاحيتها للعمل على الخطوط الداخلية المتوسطة أو حتى لأشياء اخرى, كأن ينسق بعضها ويرسل الى معمل حديد حماه, وذلك عن طريق تحديد لجنة فنية متخصصة من مؤسسة الطيران العربية السورية, وحسب ما ورد في صحيفة الثورة في عددها الصادر اليوم, فإن المؤسسة الطيران حتى الآن لم تقم بتشكيل أي لجنة.

December 22nd, 2008, 8:11 pm


trustquest said:

Alex, thanks first for responding positively to my humble vision or analysis. Why nothing had happened so far because it was not meant to happen and those external powers have no real effect on such an event such as a coup. Also, I do see it the same as many that all this pressure was not designed to topple the regime as much as to put pressure on. These efforts for the last five years most of them reached their goals even if some goal was only meant to scare the foe and resize it.

Lastly, your way in putting years on hope or expectations does hit me as a good empirical way to help any side of the case. Because events happen in that part of the world suddenly and out of the blues. Khadam expectations are organized propaganda and I have a feeling that he will never be at the center of change during his life time. As we all know, mismanagement can not live or provide for living for good, it has a life on its own. The Syrian censes has recently put on their site: C:\Users\Kamal\Documents\political sience\censes-natural-syria.mht
some very valuable information it gives a darker image than the political one. The Barada basin water supply has dropped to 3715 l/sec, if we know that it was 16869 l/sec, in 2003 we could imagine the dark scenario of mismanagement where it can go.
More gloamy information about the solution some prediction for hydrological future in Syria is also can be found on:

Norman, I did not say corruption is limited to one sect, I said the corruption in one sect is not scalable with other sects which cause two problems, that it is limited to one sect on the larger scale and it create big problem for the advancement of country as a capitalism needs a scalable wealth.

December 22nd, 2008, 8:46 pm


idaf said:

So much for the notion of “US’s only choice is to keep its many enemies in the region in a state of abject fear”…

50% of Americans View Iran as a Threat but Majority Oppose Military Action and Believe Negotiations Can Dissuade Iran from Developing Nuclear Weapons

WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 22, 2008) – A Zogby International poll released today shows a significant disparity in how the American public perceive the Iranian government and the Iranian people. While 68% of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of the Iranian government, 51% hold a favorable view of the Iranian people.

The poll, which was commissioned by the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA), found similar patterns in how the American public views Iranian Americans. Almost two-thirds of Americans believe Iranian Americans share the same values as most Americans. Of those Americans who have had a business, professional, or social relationship with an Iranian American, 90% came away with a generally favorable impression of the experience.

“We commissioned Zogby International to conduct this survey to facilitate greater understanding of the Iranian American community’s standing in American society,” said Rudi Bakhtiar, former CNN anchor and current PAAIA official. “To do so, and given the acrimonious state of relations between the two countries over the past three decades, it is necessary to also learn about the attitudes of the American public towards Iran.”

According to the Zogby data, while 50% of Americans surveyed view Iran as a threat to America, more than 60% oppose military action in dealing with that threat. Moreover, despite the negative attitude toward the Iranian government, 56% of Americans believe Iran has the right to peaceful nuclear technology and a significant majority (64%) believe diplomacy can dissuade Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.

Zogby International was commissioned by PAAIA to conduct this telephone survey of U.S. adults. The sample is 1003 successful interviews with approximately 59 questions asked. The margin of error is +/- 3.2 percentage points. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups. The survey was conducted between August 4th and 12th, 2008.

Zogby International and PAAIA also released a national survey of Iranian Americans last week, showing among other things that a large majority of Iranian Americans support the establishment of a U.S. interest section in Iran to provide consular services for Americans traveling there and to facilitate issuance of visas for Iranians wishing to visit the United States.

Publicly launched in 2008, PAAIA is a national grassroots organization that profiles the achievements of Iranian Americans; provides a powerful public and political voice for Iranian Americans; and aspires to imbue future generations of Iranian Americans with a permanent sense of their heritage and identity.

December 22nd, 2008, 9:39 pm


Shami said:

Syria’s President Assad eyes direct peace talks with Israel on condition

December 22nd, 2008, 10:11 pm


Nur al-Cubicle said:

You have to inspire fear in your enemies.” – Rubin

Arik Sharon blood-mouthed palaver, if there ever was any.

use sanctions and other punitive measures to cajole their adversaries into cooperation

Oh yes, Ye Olde Carrot and Stick, treating your adversaries as your recalcitrant beasts of burden. Will they never learn that it doesn’t work?

December 22nd, 2008, 11:47 pm


Alex said:

Olmert to Turkish PM: We must advance toward direct Israel-Syria talks

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with Turkish counterpart Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Monday, telling him that “Whatever we don’t do today in the Middle East, we may not be able to achieve tomorrow. We must advance toward direct peace talks between Israel and Syria as soon as possible.”

December 23rd, 2008, 1:20 am


Rumyal said:

Alex, Shami,

These are good news. (I mean the Assad announcement, not the new Latkes eating world record :-)) The fact the statement was done in Arabic should also put to rest any claims that Assad might be saying two different things internally and externally.


Bibi’s remarks are depressing. He’s digging into hole he won’t be able to easily come out of with his Golan proclamations. Perhaps consider your vote again?

December 23rd, 2008, 1:26 am


majid said:

I do not know of any one as skillful as Dr. Landis in misrepresenting others’ analyses and points of view. Yet Dr. Landis has the audacity to call his own an analysis as in [Landis Analysis]. I find such behavior to be lacking in academic professionalism and of very poor taste to say the least!!!
There is no sarcasm, nor insults whatsoever in Danielle Pietka’s article. In fact, it is a very well written, objective and thoughtful analysis, unlike many so-called analyses of the Dr. of OU. Mrs. Pitka’s article definitely deserves careful attention and consideration by the policy makers of the future US administration. The US is in fact fortunate that there are such individuals as Mrs. Pietka who can present convincing arguments that may pull the brakes on shortsighted dreamers who may believe appeasing autocrats is in the best interests of the US and its allies in the free world.
Mrs. Pietka has raised the important fact that Assad of Syria is neither capable nor willing to partake in making the rosy picture in return for a respite from his pariah state. History has proven as Mrs. Pietka noted that this regime cannot be trusted nor does it have the legitimacy to speak on behalf of a population it rules by the gun. The regime has never shown the slightest inclination towards reform and therefore it should never be rewarded for such clear deficiency in its record. Assad wants to be paid in advance in return for a fake promise. This is a well known Middle Eastern bogus way of seemingly doing business. In fact, this so called scheme of trading has a very well known coined term in the Middle East. It is called selling the fish in the sea. So Assad wants to sell the fish that he has no ownership of!!!

December 23rd, 2008, 6:25 am


Alex said:


I realize that you are more impressed with “Danielle Pietka’s article” and that you believe that “Mrs. Pitka’s article definitely deserves careful attention”

But … The last time I checked, the council on Foreign Relations referred to Joshua as leading Syria expert.

What’s “of very poor taste” is your comment above.

If you disagree with Joshua on specifics, go ahead and explain why, but spare us the insults.

December 23rd, 2008, 7:41 am


Shai said:


Yes, I was very happy to hear both Assad’s and Olmert’s announcements. Let’s hope in the next 45 days something positive will turn out. That’s all the time we have left, before the elections. If Livni wins, in theory we may a few more weeks while she tries to put together a coalition. If Bibi wins, Olmert will not be able to do anything with Assad.

I’m not disappointed in Bibi’s hole-digging. I was expecting nothing less of him. Remember, he’s trying to win here, and he won’t exactly get those voices going to Israel Beitenu (Liebermann) and Baruch Marzel (with Ariel Zilber!), if he hints at flexibility on land-for-peace. I know he seems rigid, and is in a way digging a hole for himself. But Bibi, like Bibi, knows how to manipulate his own party members, as well the general public (us included). He’s an expert politician, he knows the game inside-out, and he’ll find the way to get out of the hole if and when he chooses to. Knowing how much Bibi loves himself, I refuse to believe he’s not fully intent on doing his best to become “THE prime minister to bring final peace and security” to the people of Israel.

We might easily recycle politicians and leaders in Israel, giving failed ones a second chance a decade later (Barak, Bibi), but we’re still not Baseball, and Bibi won’t get a third chance. He knows it’s either now, or never. And last thing he needs is to be there, in power, while an all-out 21st century Middle Eastern war is waged against us, the result of which is not Greater Israel, but Smaller Israel, after being forced by the International Community to cut the crap once and for all. He’s too smart for that, and I’d therefore like to believe that he’s preparing for his own moves in the way he believes would maximize his chances to succeed. To be honest, I’m not sure sounding of the drums of war before negotiating peace isn’t as-useful a strategy, if not more, than peaceful-indications in advance. Maybe all sides of our conflict truly understand only force, be it verbal, or physical. Very sad, but perhaps true…

As for my vote, I still haven’t decided, and I promise NOT to announce my choice come February 10th. Believe me, you don’t want to be in my shoes right now… the dilemmas are huge, and the battle between the heart and the mind is at its peak… 🙂

December 23rd, 2008, 8:19 am


Shai said:


As a token-Israeli here, I must say that I absolutely consider Joshua Landis an expert on Syria, and on the Middle East in general, regardless of his opinions on one particular issue or another.

As for Syrian-opposition to the policy that seems to be developing anew, to engage rather than isolate Syria, I have to say that it in fact is representative of not only renewed understanding of the Middle East, but indeed of life in general. That is, that we cannot force our ideology upon people, that era is over with. From now on, we must engage enemies, strangers, foreigners, dictators, autocrats, etc., rather than isolate them, if we want to have a chance at any kind of future “conversion”. Not that I’m at all sure the Middle East can be “converted” to Democracy in the Western sense of the word, but whatever reforms may or may not happen in the near future, I believe we are finally coming to recognize that they must be encouraged rather than forced.

I assume, from your level of English, that you’ve spent some time living in the West. You’ve therefore experienced Democracy and freedom in a way 99% of the population of your home country hasn’t. You know its power, and you understand its benefits. But I dare say that most in our region do not. Watching “Baywatch” on satellite tv doesn’t make you understand democracy. Seeing Americans vote in and vote out American presidents (at last also black-American ones) every four years also doesn’t “explain” democracy. Democracy, I believe, is a language, and has to be learned. And, just as you cannot force someone to learn a language, you cannot bring Democracy by force to our region. Today, justified or not, good or not, most of the Middle East is run by dictatorships, kings, emirs, sultans, whatever. We cannot force them out, or we will light up the entire region aflame, and offer extremists such as Al Qaeda an opportunity to replace the resulting vacuum. This is clearly something you do not wish to see either.

I understand your fear of appeasement. Chamberlain’s famous “peace in our times” declaration, after appeasing Adolf Hitler, is perhaps one of the most horrific reminders of the dangers of appeasement. But, the world is different today. We are much more inter-dependent on one another than we ever were before. Today Syria cannot function without the support of European nations, European banks, European trade agreements, etc. Nor can Syria exist without Asia, or even America. Bashar Assad, who listens to country music on his iPod, knows this “at least” as well as you and I do. He also knows the difficulties that lie ahead of Syria in changing. True, he does rule Syria with an autocratic regime. And he does withhold certain basic rights from his people. But how much longer can he do this, when his country is no longer at war, is no longer under “Emergency Laws”, and the entire International Community is breathing down its neck? Start the economies of the Middle East going, bring peaceful atmosphere that hasn’t existed in over 60 years, and you’ll start planting the seeds for Reform.

Even in Israel so much necessary reform is delayed, because of our “Emergency” situation (one heck of a long “emergency”). Let us get rid of at least THIS major problem, and start looking inward, at our own societies, when around us are friendly and peaceful neighbors, rather than sophisticated military hardware, and war-ready generals. Today we have dictators and one or two democratic leaders that have never experienced peace. Tomorrow we’ll have leaders that are ready to start a new page in our history. I believe, if we do things correctly by engaging, rather than isolating and fighting, there’s a good chance they’ll achieve power peacefully. Otherwise, we’re in for continuous bloodshed also for the next 60 years…

December 23rd, 2008, 8:41 am


why-discuss said:

Danielle Pletka report.

What can you expect from an American Institute staff member, after the bloody failure of their policies in the Middle East and the threat of being be discarded by the Obama administration. Danielle Pletka has often hurled threats and venom at Syria, Iran and any country who dares oppose the grand projects the AI geniuses have for the ME. By his sarcastic tone, I believe our Majid-Cassandra is very close to the AI, or even he may be one of them, injecting his venom in this still civilized Blog.

December 23rd, 2008, 10:51 am


Akbar Palace said:

Assad wants to be paid in advance in return for a fake promise. This is a well known Middle Eastern bogus way of seemingly doing business. In fact, this so called scheme of trading has a very well known coined term in the Middle East. It is called selling the fish in the sea. So Assad wants to sell the fish that he has no ownership of!!!


You are not supposed to say such things. Afterall, our experience with Abu Amar proved to be the exact same experience. Deja vu?

Our “token-Israeli” Shai speaks very well for himself, but the majority of the Jewish People have no interest in so many smelly “fish”.;)

Danielle Pletka doesn’t have a Phd….maybe that’s to her benefit;),scholarID.50/scholar.asp

December 23rd, 2008, 12:07 pm


Ghat Albird said:

The topic heading, “Syria is the only Game in Town” prompted my going back to commentaries and discussion points of a few years back which I am passing along as refreshing points on the “Syria Game”.

David Wurmser who used to work with Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and part author of a Nethayahu project on how best to protect Israel has long advocated the overthrow of the Assad/Baathist government in Syria.

He was one of the early supporters of Ahmed Chalabi, the now-discredited con artist / embezzler, and would-be Iraqi savior who was embraced by Paul Wolfowitz, Cheney, and Rumsfeld. to be Iraq’s first prime minister.

Wurmser authored a paper in January 2001 arguing that the U.S. and Israel jointly launch a preemptive war throughout the Middle East and north Africa to establish U.S. – Israeli dominance. The U.S. and Israel should “strike fatally, not merely disarm, the centers of radicalism in the region – the regimes of Damascus, Baghdad, Tripoli, Tehran, and Gaza,” he wrote. He then added that, “crises are opportunities.” (James Bamford, A Pretext for War , p. 268-69.)

Given the present hiatus of in between administrations its hard to determine whether the above views in TA and DC have changed any.

December 23rd, 2008, 3:21 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Hindsight is always 20-20. Judging from Salon’s 2004 article (excerp below) and the realities on the ground, I would say the neocons’ best-case scenario of a democratic Iraq is more accurate today than the 2004 Salon prediction of an Iraqi-Iranian love-fest:

In the end, despite the neocons’ best hopes, Iran has emerged as crucial to the administration’s desire for a political settlement in Iraq. Governments in the neighboring countries have taken notice of the neocons’ big blunder. “The Iranians have proven to be absolutely brilliant in all of this,” says a well-connected Jordanian. “They’re showing that they’re going to be the ones to win this one, and they’ll do it with American money and lives.”

For his part, Allawi praises what he sees as the U.S. military’s new realism about the need for what he calls “a cold peace” with Iran. “There is no way to have stability in Iraq without Iran,” he insists. “The U.S. military has been very correct in its contact with Iran at the border, and has never violated the unwritten agreement.”

The neocons’ Iraq triumph of last year has turned to ashes. Their Likud allies in Israel are bitterly split over Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plans for the settlements in the territories. They have a coldly hostile Iraqi government coming in the near future. The clerical regime they loathe in Iran has dramatically improved its strategic position. Some of them must be rueing the day they met Ahmed Chalabi, who told them the fairy tales they wanted to hear.

– a rather stale prediction really

Given the present hiatus of in between administrations its hard to determine whether the above views in TA and DC have changed any.


Considering that no terrorism has occurred on American soil since 9-11, I would say things are going fairly well. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Bush’s Legacy May End Up Better Than You Think: Kevin Hassett

December 23rd, 2008, 5:49 pm


Welcome | Project on Middle East Democracy said:

[…] Landis at Syria Comment says, “Syria is the only game in town for those wishing to advance peace between Arabs and […]

December 23rd, 2008, 6:24 pm


norman said:

Cairo protests anti-Egypt demos in Syria over Gaza

The Associated Press
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
CAIRO, Egypt: The Egyptian Foreign Ministry is protesting demonstrations held in Syria over Egypt’s role in the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The state-owned Middle East News Agency says Deputy Foreign Minister Abdel-Rahman Salah expressed concern about the demonstrations to the Syrian ambassador after summoning him to the ministry Tuesday.

The agency quotes Salah as describing the protesters as mobs.

Thousands of protesters, mostly Palestinian refugees, took part in demonstrations this week in Damascus demanding the closure be reversed.

Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza after the Islamic militant group Hamas seized power last year, ousting the forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.



Copyright © 2008 The International Herald Tribune |

December 23rd, 2008, 6:30 pm


Shai said:


Sometimes having “smelly fish” is better than no fish at all… 🙂

Btw, I don’t have a PhD either. Does that make me less, or more, than Pletka?

December 23rd, 2008, 9:13 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Dear Joshua & Syria Comment Regulars

A very Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy New Year, and belated Adha Mubarak to you all. Here’s hoping that 2009 will bring positive change to the region.

Now back to brass tacks…

Joshua, you said:

Syrian President Bashar Assad has told a number of European foreign ministers and senior diplomats this month that he would not lift a finger to restrain Hezbollah’s arming in Lebanon. “I am not Israel’s bodyguard,” he reportedly said…. On the one hand, the officials said their impression was that the Syrian president was serious about negotiations, but that Assad’s positions remained uncompromising.

Does this strike you as the right strategy, at the current moment? With Obama about to take the reins, and the anti-engagement folks looking for any reason to prevent the U.S. from stepping into the ring between Israel and Syria… Seems a bit counter-productive.

December 24th, 2008, 12:07 am


norman said:


This looks like something you wrote,Did you?,

w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m


Last update – 00:00 05/11/2008
Advice for the winner
By Aluf Benn

Forget the cliches. The accepted wisdom is that George W. Bush “abandoned” the Israeli-Arab conflict, paying it nothing but lip service. By this view, had he only gotten involved and forced Israel to leave the territories, we would long since have been living in a New Middle East, a thriving, pro-American region. But Bush ignored the conflict, and the result was a rise in extremism, the distancing of the two-state vision and the increasing erosion of the legitimacy of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.

Such claims are fine for a campaign, where the focus is on criticizing the outgoing president. But now it is time for reality – which is rosier than it might seem. During the Bush administration’s eight years in office, the slow processes of Israel leaving the territories and the Arabs reconciling themselves to Israel’s existence continued. This occurred despite two wars that killed thousands of people – the second intifada and the Second Lebanon War – and despite the fact that the Palestinian Authority disintegrated and Israel became mired in a leadership crisis.

Does that sound delusional? Here are the facts: Israel left the Gaza Strip and evacuated 25 settlements. A mini-state led by Hamas arose in the Strip, proving that the Palestinians can govern themselves, even under difficult siege conditions. The Arab League twice approved a peace initiative that offers Israel normalized relations and integration into the region if it leaves the territories and contributes to solving the refugee problem. Israel resumed negotiations with both Syria and the Palestinians from where they left off eight years ago. Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton’s proposals for dividing the land, which were ostensibly shelved when the two left office, have risen from the dead.

Bush’s impact on these developments was secondary, aside from his support for the disengagement and his (unintentional) contribution to Hamas’ victory in the Palestinian elections. On the other hand, during his tenure, Iran approached the threshold of nuclear capability, Hezbollah became a strategic threat and Gaza terrorized the surrounding area, until Israel agreed to a cease-fire. The conclusion is that the Middle East does not look great, but it also contains opportunities.

Be a nudnik. Bush’s Middle East problem was not a lack of ideas. He was convinced that a Palestinian state was in American interests, and his rhetoric went beyond that of his predecessors in terms of his commitment to the two-state solution. But he had trouble backing up his ideas with action, and most of his initiatives soon evaporated in the face of Israeli and Palestinian determination to continue fighting. Condoleezza Rice succeeded in convening the Annapolis conference, in somehow preserving the Palestinian Authority as a partner for negotiations and in extracting an offer from Ehud Olmert to leave all the territories solely because she nagged both Israelis and Palestinians. Therefore, do not let the sides wear you down with excuses. Wear them down, with polite insistence.

Start with Syria. The Arabs and Europeans will flood you with pleas to solve the Palestinian problem. They will argue that this is the source of all the problems in the Middle East. But the chances of obtaining an agreement are slim. Good intentions and “100 percent effort” will not be enough to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The gaps are too wide; the Palestinian side is split between a hostile Hamas and a fading Fatah; and Israel is afraid of a settler intifada. You need an achievement, and quickly. Therefore, forget the Palestinians for now and move forward on the Syrian track.

The Syrian track is less complicated than the Palestinian mess. There is no argument over whether Bashar Assad can supply the goods – facilitating your exit from Iraq and your dialogue with Iran, and moderating the Hamas and Hezbollah threats. Israel’s leader will also have more freedom of action with regard to Syria than he or she will have on talks with the Palestinians about dividing Jerusalem and allowing refugees to return. No Israeli government has fallen over the Golan Heights.

The problem with the Syrian track is that the status quo is convenient for both sides: Israel wants to stay in the Golan, and Syria fears domestic change. Only active American leadership, to move the process forward and support it through security arrangements and economic aid, can break this stalemate. Even then, there is no guarantee of success, but at the moment, your best shot at a Nobel Peace Prize lies between Jerusalem and Damascus.

Beware of surprises. “All our wars began in circumstances that afterward should have required very thorough investigations to explain and understand why they began at all,” Moshe Dayan once said. That statement is always true in the Middle East, where war is liable to break out at any moment, and it is especially true today, against the background of the Iranian bomb, an expected changing of the guard in Egypt and wild fluctuations in oil prices.

Your predecessors were judged by their handling of crises, and two of them – Richard Nixon and George Bush senior – succeeded in leveraging the Yom Kippur War and the Gulf War to advance peace between Israel and the Arabs. You would do well to learn from their experience, because the next crisis will land on you.



close window'Advice%20for%20the%20winner%20'&dyn_server=

December 24th, 2008, 1:38 am


norman said:


I do not know why you expect Syria and Assad to give anything for nothing after what we saw in the last five years of sanctions , Investigations and abuse and near blockade of Syria , They have to put up before Syria does anything for anybody, as DR Landis always said ( Syria is not a charitable organization ) , they have to give to get anything from Syria , at Last a president who can get something for Syria as he has done in the last five years.

December 24th, 2008, 2:24 am


Qifa Nabki said:

I do not know why you expect Syria and Assad to give anything for nothing

Ammo Norman,

In his statement, Assad isn’t offering something for nothing. He’s offering nothing for something. He is saying that even after peace, he is not going to restrain Hezbollah. If he is telling the truth, then Israelis will find themselves asking the exact same question you ask: “why would we give something for nothing?”

I actually don’t think that Bashar is telling the whole truth about not restraining Hezbollah. The question is, why?

December 24th, 2008, 2:58 am


norman said:


Deals are made behind close doors not in the media , and I agree with you that he will restrain Hezbollah but he needs to know the maximum things they are willing to pay for that .

December 24th, 2008, 3:06 am


Qifa Nabki said:

Ammo Norman

Deals may be made behind closed doors, but public opinion matters, if not in Syria, then in Israel.

December 24th, 2008, 3:17 am


norman said:


Listening to what the Israeli leaders are saying in their quest to be elected makes any promises from syria with no promise from the Israeli side is just a give away , these leaders needs to say that they got Syria’s help with Hezbollah in return for their cooperation so if Assad offers help with Hezbollah now , they will be questioning their leaders of the Syrian compromise, with help on Hezbollah and Lebanon they would get that.

December 24th, 2008, 3:43 am


Joshua said:

Dear QN,

Top of the year to you. May 2009 be better and more joyous than 2008.

When Bashar says he will not be Israel’s body guard, I suspect, he is making a point, which is that Syria will not get nasty with Hizbullah.

What Syria can do is cut off arms transfers, but it will not do this and lose Hizbullah as an ally. Syria must be able to offer Hizbullah something in exchange – afterall, Lebanon’s Shiites are key to Syria’s influence in Lebanon. Syria does not want to lose its influence in Lebanon so it will not get into a war with Hizbullah.

This means that Hizb will have to be placated and offered something in exchange. What that is, you would know better than we would. Why not ask your Shiite friend? Ask him what Hizb might accept in exchange for arms transfers. Explain that Hizb will not have a choice because it is about getting back the Golan. Ask if he would prefer that Syria not get the Golan.

The Syrians have explained that if there is peace, the strategic context of Israel’s northern border would change. What this means is fuzzy. Everyone is reading into it what they want and expect. The Syria haters argue that it would be a humus peace for Syrians must fight Israel. It is in their blood. Others claim that Asad will do an about face and dump all his friends and backers in order to embrace the US and Israel. Both extremes are unrealistic. It is illogical to expect Syria not to come out of peace stronger.

Syria has insisted that it will not cut relations with either Hizb or Iran. It must bring benefits to both countries in order to sell its Golan deal and peace with Israel. Syria has said that it will act as a mediator with Iran. This is not just a finger in the eye of Washington, I suspect it is a genuine offer. Syria believes that in the end Washington will have to come to terms with Iran’s Ayatollahs over regional security, nukes, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the rest.

So long as Washington and its Middle East allies believe that Iran can be sanctioned or bombed into giving up its regional reach and that Hizbullah can be taken down by Israel in a coming war, there will be no progress with Syria or elsewhere.

My suspicion is that this is what Asad is trying to convey to western negotiators. Syria is not going to be Israel’s Abu Abbas. Anyway, it wouldn’t do Israel any good to acquire another leader who has no clout.

December 24th, 2008, 4:26 am


Shai said:

Dear SC Friends,

I join Qifa Nabki in wishing all of you a wonderful Holiday Season and a Happy New Year! May all our hopes and dreams come true this coming New Year, and may 2009 bring true peace at last to our region, and end the suffering of so many that deserve to live safely, equally, and in control of their own fate.


Here’s what I said about the issue when it first appeared in Israel:

I actually didn’t think about the possible interpretation by the American side (and instead focused merely on the Israeli public side), but I agree with you, Syria will need to consider such messages very soon, when Obama enters office. He seems certainly open-minded enough to change his views, also in other directions, not only in ones we seek…


I’m afraid I didn’t write that Ha’aretz article – it seems Aluf Ben did. But of course, I agree with it almost completely. I think the style of delivery, however, was almost cynical and somewhat lackadaisical. I wouldn’t have urged upcoming Israeli leaders to enter the Syrian track because “even then, there is no guarantee of success, but at the moment, your best shot at a Nobel Peace Prize lies between Jerusalem and Damascus.”

December 24th, 2008, 4:48 am


idaf said:

A New Partner In Syria?

By David Ignatius
Washington Post
Wednesday, December 24, 2008; Page A11

DAMASCUS, Syria — President Bashar al-Assad says he doesn’t want to send a message to Barack Obama, exactly, but to express a three-part hope for the incoming administration’s Middle East policy:

First, he hopes Obama won’t start “another war anywhere in the world, especially not in the Middle East.” And he trusts that the doctrine of “preemptive war” will end when George W. Bush leaves office.

Second, Assad said, “We would like to see this new administration sincerely involved in the peace process.” He hopes that Obama will back Syria’s indirect negotiations with Israel, and he urges the new administration to pursue “the Lebanese track and the Palestinian track, as well.”

Asked whether he would mind if the Syrian track went first (a sequence that has worried some Syrians who prefer the ideological purity of following the Palestinians), Assad answered: “Of course not. Each track will help the other.”

Third, he says he wants Syria and the United States to work together to stabilize Iraq as American troops begin to leave. “We can’t turn the clock back,” Assad said. “The war happened. Now we have to talk about the future. We have to forge a process, a political vision and a timetable for withdrawal.”

In all three “hopes,” Assad seemed to be looking for a new start with Obama after years of chilly relations with Bush. Assad said he knew little about Obama or his policies but has heard that he is more in contact with ordinary people than Bush has been, which, Assad contended, would give Obama a better understanding of America.

Assad spoke in English during the 30-minute interview Monday. He was accompanied only by his political and media adviser Bouthaina Shaaban. This time, in contrast to my interview with him in 2003, when Assad was often stiff and doctrinaire, he was loose and informal, breaking several times into laughter.

Assad’s easy demeanor suggested that he’s more firmly in charge now. The Bush administration’s attempt to isolate Syria has failed, even in the judgment of senior White House officials. That leaves Assad in the catbird seat, courted by European and Arab nations and conducting back-channel talks through Turkey with his erstwhile enemy Israel.

Asked, for example, about reports that Saudi Arabia is seeking to improve its relations with Damascus because it sees U.S. engagement with Syria ahead and fears that “the train may be leaving the station,” Assad laughed.

“Maybe it has already left the station,” he said. But he vows that he is ready to receive any emissaries. “I have no problem with the Saudis. We would like good relations with every country in this region.”

Assad said that he is ready to move to direct talks with Israel as soon as he receives clarification on two points: One, he wants assurance that the Israelis will withdraw fully from the Golan Heights. To clarify that issue, he sent a “borders document” to the Israelis this month that highlights some points along the pre-1967 border. As of Monday, he said, he hadn’t received an Israeli response. His second condition for direct talks is that the United States join as a sponsor.

On the crucial question of Syria’s future relations with Iran, Assad was noncommittal. He said the relationship with Iran wasn’t about the “kind of statehood” Syria has or its cultural affinities but about protecting Syrian interests against hostile neighbors. “It’s about who plays a role in this region, who supports my rights,” he said. “It’s not that complicated.”

Asked whether Syria was prepared to restrain Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite militia in Lebanon, Assad said this was a matter the Israelis should sort out in separate negotiations with the Lebanese. Indeed, he promoted the idea of the other negotiating tracks — which would draw in, at least indirectly, Hezbollah and Hamas.

“The longer the border, the bigger the peace,” Assad said. “Hezbollah is on the Lebanese border, not Syrian. Hamas is on the Palestinian border. . . . They should look at those other tracks. They should be comprehensive. If you want peace, you need three peace treaties, on three tracks.”

A relaxed Assad clearly believes that Syria is emerging from its pariah status. An international tribunal is still scheduled to meet in The Hague to weigh Syria’s alleged role in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri. But in the meantime, Assad is receiving a stream of visiting diplomats. He looks like a ready partner for Obama’s diplomacy, but a cautious one — waiting to see what’s on offer before he shows more of his hand.
== End===

IDAF: It was also smart of David Ignatius and the WP to republish the following interview David had with Asad in February 2003 just before the war on Iraq. Looking in retrospect, one cannot but objectively conculde that young Asad was spot-on on each of his arguments about the war.. another must read:

RePosted: Syria’s Cautious Son

Washington Post
By David Ignatius
Wednesday, December 24, 2008; 12:00 AM

Editor’s Note: This column was first published on Feb. 11, 2003. David Ignatius interviewed the Syrian president again this week and writes that the exchange was more informal than when they met almost six years ago.

DAMASCUS — Syrian President Bashar Assad sat down for a rare interview here yesterday. The ground rules don’t allow me to quote directly from our conversation, but I can offer a snapshot of what the young Syrian leader is thinking on the eve of a possible U.S. war against Iraq.

A simple way to sum up Assad’s comments is that his father, Hafez, one of the toughest hard-liners in the Arab world, would have found little to disagree with. While recognizing the need for political change, Syria’s new leader remains tied to the traditional Arab political consensus. In that sense, the Arab future may be unstoppable, but so is its past.

The 37-year-old Syrian president expressed strong and sometimes scornful opposition to U.S. war plans. He likened American policy to a car hurtling toward a big concrete block and said the coming weeks will test which is stronger — the car or the concrete block.

Even if America’s military power allows it to drive through the concrete block, Assad asked, what will it find on the other side? Will it be a beautiful road paved with roses, as optimistic U.S. policy planners seem to believe, or a cliff off which the American car will tumble into a deep and dangerous valley?

As for the Bush administration’s hopes that a quick victory in Iraq will open the door to a new future for the Arab world, Assad was dismissive. He views such talk as a mask for America’s true strategic goal, which he suspects is control of Iraqi oil. But he noted that the lack of clearly articulated American objectives was unusual in the history of warfare.

Assad fears that rather than moving the region forward, an Iraqi war will set it back for decades — reinforcing old attitudes and ideologies. If war comes, he fears that terrorism will increase and events may spin out of control. The Arab region will be boiling, he believes, and when water boils, it’s bound to spill over.

This practical science analogy is typical of Assad, who was trained as a doctor and spent two years in Britain practicing his specialty of ophthalmology. He’s an articulate man who speaks good English but preferred to conduct most of the interview in Arabic through an interpreter.

Despite his youth and interest in modern technology, Assad is his father’s son. He speaks in a similarly didactic style — mixing references to science with comments about Syrian history and culture. This straddle of past and future can be seen in the twin portraits of father and son that appear along every Syrian highway and in every public place. The son’s legitimacy clearly depends in part on the continuity of his father’s policies.

Assad knows that there’s ferment in Syrian society, with younger people yearning for more openness and economic opportunity. But he governs with the support of his father’s old guard of military and intelligence officers, and he needs to move carefully. He doesn’t want to link his own modernization plans to America’s military campaign in Iraq, viewing that as a potential kiss of death.

Instead of “democracy” or “liberalization,” Assad talks of political development in Syria. In modernizing the country, he wants to work on its weak points, which he says include the lack of a modern, scientific approach to solving problems. He thinks Syria was too cautious in its approach to the Internet during the 1990s. Syria’s basic Internet backbone should be finished in about a year, he says.

Looser political controls would be good for Syria, Assad says, and not simply as a price to be paid for economic development, Chinese-style. But the transition must take place under a ceiling of stability. Characteristically, Assad offered a mathematical formula: Stability plus freedom equals a stronger region.

Certainly, Syria could use a makeover. Damascus, once a wealthy crossroads of the Middle East, seems a bit threadbare these days. During the Cold War, Soviet guns and money propped up the socialist regime here, but that era is long gone.

Behind the scenes, there are hints of movement. Assad confirmed, for example, that Syria’s intelligence services are quietly helping the United States and Europe in the hunt for al Qaeda terrorists. Syria also joined in the U.N. Security Council’s 15 to 0 vote last October to authorize Resolution 1441 demanding Iraqi disarmament.

Critics would argue that Assad is being too cautious — that the moment to embrace political change is now, and that if Syria hangs back it will lose a crucial opportunity. But the Syrian leader clearly feels that right now the risks of being too openly connected with America’s war in Iraq far outweigh any potential gains.

What the Bush administration doesn’t understand about the Arabs, Assad said, is that above anything else — even food — they value dignity. Unless U.S. policy recognizes that reality, he warned, it will fail.

December 24th, 2008, 11:04 am


why-discuss said:

From Damascus

A beautiful syrian film is showing : the ID. Set in a druze village in occupied Golan, it follows a young man coming from Syria for a combatant funeral. This trip brings back the memories of the occupation and a troubled love affair. Very well done and very moving.

December 24th, 2008, 12:33 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Dear Joshua,

If a deal is going to take place, there are going to have to be compromises someplace. The blanket is only so big… someone is going to have to be left out in the cold. I’m not saying that this is a zero-sum game, but at the end of the day, some sacrifices will have to be made.

Does this mean that Syria is going to dump Hizbullah and Iran and turn into another Egypt or Jordan? Probably not. But Syria can’t have its cake and eat it too. It needs to give something up. And frankly, when Bashar tries to pretend like he cannot or will not pressure Hizbullah, it makes it all the more easy for the “Syria-haters” to paint him as any combination of weak, disingenuous, slippery, false, and untrustworthy.

You say that Syria does not want to lose Hizbullah as an ally, and therefore its influence in Lebanon. I agree that it would be very nice for Syria to keep all of its cards and somehow still win the pot, but how is this going to play out? I mean, honestly, can you even see the Israelis going for it? For that matter, how does it even make sense from a Syrian perspective to sign a peace deal without guaranteeing in advance that Hizbullah respect it? Recently Hizbullah publicly differed with AOUN on the prospect of Lebanese negotiations with Israel. They are not sending any conciliatory signals vis-a-vis a Lebanese track.

Can the Hizb be placated? I don’t know. I’ve posted on this subject on my blog before. As I recall, my friend Abbas was completely dismissive of the peace talks. He didn’t think that the Golan was of any worth whatsoever to the average Syrian, and so Bashar would not dare give up his alliance with the Hizb in exchange for peace. Is he representative of most supporters of Hizbullah? Probably.

The Syrians have explained that if there is peace, the strategic context of Israel’s northern border would change. What this means is fuzzy. Everyone is reading into it what they want and expect.

What do you read into it?

So long as Washington and its Middle East allies believe that Iran can be sanctioned or bombed into giving up its regional reach and that Hizbullah can be taken down by Israel in a coming war, there will be no progress with Syria or elsewhere.

Ok. But is it fair to say, equally, that as long as Syria believes that it can get the Golan back without giving up a single definable strategic interest, that there will be no progress with Israel and the West?

December 24th, 2008, 5:14 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

Merry Christmass to all our christian friends.

most of syrian will object to Assad flips,HA also will not drop its weapons,and I still believe Assad is waiting for time,when US will leave Iraq,and things will change there.

It is all to avoid a tribunal.

December 24th, 2008, 5:41 pm


Jad/2 said:

Patrick Lang :

“The “borders” issue in the Golan Heights has become a non-issue. This is not the ’60s. Israel’s survival does not depend on the possession of a few hundred square kilometers of stony, scruffy land. Technology and capabilities have moved on. The military realities that the Likudniks like to talk about render such consideration “oldspeak,” mere excuses for not giving up a square centimeter of the others side(s) land,”

“Bashar Assad’s Syria has sought accommodation with the US for the last several years. This was firmly rejected by the Bush people because it was and is neocon/Likud doctrine that Syria must be subdued and eviscerated, not accommodated. Assad wants to be let out of the “doghouse.” He wants there to be a new beginning for the Middle East, one that a modern man like him can accept. This is our chance and the biggest opportunity the Israelis have ever had. Can the Israelis and their American “friends” rise to the occasion. I doubt it. They are so paralyzed by fear that their options are self limiting. We should hope for the best.”

December 24th, 2008, 5:47 pm


Alex said:


Great to hear from you… thank you so much and hope you have a wonderful holiday.

Qifa Nabki,

I think the answers to your (and their) questions can be more convincing when you have a total paradigm shift in the way we see the Middle East…

We can’t?

Ehh … “Yes we can” : )

December 24th, 2008, 5:58 pm


Ras Beirut said:

First, I wish all of you happy holidays, and may the new year bring joy and peace to the ME.

On Bashar’s comment about not wanting to be Israel’s body guard, I’m in line with QN’s position in that he can’t have the Golan back without giving up something. One would think that even the doves in Israel would require him to stop the arms transfers, let alone the hardliners. Certainly, his current position won’t sway more Israeli public opinion in returning the heights.

But who knows why he’s taking such a position now. It could be for different reasons. I could think of few:

1. He’s lending Bibi a hand in the election, calculating that Bibi would be able to deliver on a deal
2. Too early in the process to lay all his card on the table before getting real assurances that Israel would indeed withdraw
3. HA & Hammas (at the urging of Iran)could have told him already that Syria can make peace with Israel anytime, but they would continue their resistance regardless

Given Israel’s distrust of Iran today and its view that Iran is a big threat, I think this is an opportune moment for Syria to work with the situation in order to get back the Golan. But you would expect that Israel would demand that Syria severe its “Military” ties with Iran, HA & Hammas. Israel probably could care less if Syrian/Iranian relations get reduced to trading oriental carpets and tourmos, etc.

Now, if that’s the journey Syria decides to embark on, it would probably need to do lots of convincing work to change Iran, HA & Hammas positions of shunning negotiations & convince them about the benefits of a peace deal. Ofcourse, Israel would have to be in a position to also make concessions (like handing back Shebaa Farms as an example) to smooth and help the process.

December 24th, 2008, 7:42 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


For the paradigm shift to take place, the deal has to be signed.

December 24th, 2008, 8:27 pm


Alex said:


I understand.

There are many prerequisites along the challenging path.

We understand Israel well enough by now … I don’t think we are planning to offer them nothing in return for getting our Golan Heights back.

December 24th, 2008, 10:29 pm


Akbar Palace said:

But Syria can’t have its cake and eat it too.


Absolutely Syria can have its cake and eat it too. Just get a handful of stupid American and Israeli liberal parties to win the elections, and, voila, Syria will gets it all.

This is what the Syrians and the Iranians are PRAYING for: the correct alignment of all the planets, the moon, sun and stars, and a repeat of the Clinton-Barak administrations. We’re already halfway there!

It needs to give something up. And frankly, when Bashar tries to pretend like he cannot or will not pressure Hizbullah, it makes it all the more easy for the “Syria-haters” to paint him as any combination of weak, disingenuous, slippery, false, and untrustworthy.


Have you no faith??;)

December 25th, 2008, 2:34 am


Ras Beirut said:


I think your views on American and Israeli liberals positions in this context are not correct. Here in the US, liberal politicians of all stripes, including Obama give speeches at AIPAC events and promise to always stand by Israel no matter what. Just as the consevatives do. Is that always a good thing? I don’t think so. Since it gives Israel the opportunity to kill valuable time in reaching a solution with its neighbors and increase the points of contentions in the conflict. It would be a good thing for the US to nudge Israel into a fair and just peace with the Palestinians, Lebanese and Syrians.

Don’t know much about the Israeli liberals, but if Shai is an average representative of that group, he doesn’t seem to me as a sellout or a softy in regards of the land for peace formula. He seems very realistic and has a genuine desire to live in peace with the surrounding countries. And what’s wrong with that?

December 25th, 2008, 3:33 am


norman said:

The only way for the Mideast to have peace is to have a full peace between Israel on one side and Syria, Iran, Hezbollah ( Lebanon )and the Palestinians on the other side ,
Peace has to be comprehensive and include the return of all Arab lands , might have some modifications in the west bank with exchange of land but the return of the Golan has to be complete and not in years but in months.Israel in return will get the most deal in return , the settlment of the Palestinians in the countries that are in and open the chance for the ones in Lebanon to immigrate to the west , that will save Israel from the time bomb that it worry about The return of the Palestinians ),

Iran and Israel will open to nuclear inspection and abandon their nuclear ambitions

They will have as well as other countries in the Mideast the chance for peaceful nuclear technology for electricity and water desalination.

December 25th, 2008, 4:19 am


norman said:

This is syria,

I do not think that we can see anything like in any other Arab country or in Israel.

December 25th, 2008, 4:31 am


Rumyal said:

Dear Norman,

Happy Holidays! Check this out:

December 25th, 2008, 5:13 am


norman said:


happy holiday to you ,

I am glad that Israel celebrate all holidays,

December 25th, 2008, 5:18 am


idaf said:

Latest census in Syria: Population stands at 22.331 million. The work force is around 4.9 million, of which 1.38 million employed with the government..

مكتب الإحصاءالسوري ” الرجال أكثر من النساء في سوريا”
كشف مكتب الإحصاء السوري أن عدد الذكور في سوريا أكثر من عدد الإناث مشيرا الى أن نسبة الإناث قد انخفضت .

ووفقا للمجموعة الإحصائية التي أصدرها المكتب لعام 2007 فان عدد سكان البلاد بلغ 331، 22 مليون نسمة، 11،220 منهم ذكور فيما بلغ عدد الإناث 11،111

وذكرت صحيفة الثورة أن نسبة الإناث في سوريا انخفضت بنسبة 1% قياسا بالذكور حيث أصبح كل 100 أنثى لكل 101 ذكر.

وقالت الإحصائية ان أكثر من 600 ألف حالة ولادة عام2007، بينها نحو 147 ألف حالة في محافظة حلب (شمال البلاد)

بينما بلغت معدلات الزواج تسجيل137 ألف حالة زواج بمعدل 11 حالة لكل ألف من السكان ، وبلغت قوة العمل السورية 4،945 ملايين عامل منهم 1،379 مليون عامل في القطاع الحكومي .

December 25th, 2008, 11:56 am


Ghat Albird said:

If as President Assad states the Arabs value dignity over food and for all intents and purposes that quest for a just and fair resolution of the problems created in the Middle East with the creation of Israel in 1948 and subsequent wars it should be quite evident that “jaw jawing” as Churchill said, without military threats aint gonna do it.

While not advocating military showdowns between Israel and any of its neighbors the issue that must be addressed seriously by all concerned is ” talking between equals is one thing and talking between unequals is another kettle of fish” and the last has gone on for half a century with no dignified resolution.

Will the year 2048 in the Middle East still have its separation walls and attendant jaw jawing or real peace?

December 25th, 2008, 1:13 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Ras Beirut said:


I think your views on American and Israeli liberals positions in this context are not correct. Here in the US, liberal politicians of all stripes, including Obama give speeches at AIPAC events and promise to always stand by Israel no matter what. Just as the consevatives do. … It would be a good thing for the US to nudge Israel into a fair and just peace with the Palestinians, Lebanese and Syrians.

Ras Beirut,

AIPAC speeches nothwithstanding, the US government has pressured Israel successfully many times before under various “pro-Israel” administrations. Of course, I really can’t blame the US, because in each case, the Israelis softened up and accepted US “assurances”. The Oslo Farce comes to mind, as well as Madrid and the F-15 sale to Saudi Arabia (which, to me was the least of Israel’s worries).

So in short, it is the GOI that has to take the blame each time she succumbs to pressure from the American administration.

Don’t know much about the Israeli liberals, but if Shai is an average representative of that group, he doesn’t seem to me as a sellout or a softy in regards of the land for peace formula.

Considering Shai’s statements, he may THINK he is NOT a “sellout of softy in regards to the land for peace formula”, but I would have to say he IS. That’s my opinion of course.

For example, in retrospect, Oslo was a mistake. Let’s ask Shai if he would repeat Oslo under the same circumstances.

He seems very realistic and has a genuine desire to live in peace with the surrounding countries. And what’s wrong with that?

Nothing. Most Israelis are. The devil is in the detail and the agreement. Oslo was an undefined agreement with no consequences for failing to comply. Israel suffered more violence then than she is she is now w/o any agreement.

As we turn toward the Golan and Syria, the consequences of a bad agreement could be fatal.

December 25th, 2008, 4:14 pm


Alex said:


You will not have a bad agreement with Syria … If Israel, the United States,and the “moderate Arabs” insist on not understanding what makes an agreement a good one, Syria does and always did.

Syria will not sign a bad agreement with you.

Only Syria opposed Oslo (passively, because President Clinton was a good friend).

December 25th, 2008, 6:12 pm


norman said:

‘Troops pullout key to Iraq sovereignty’
Thu, 25 Dec 2008 15:17:18 GMT

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) and Iraqi VP Tariq al-Hashimi
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has told visiting Iraqi VP Tariq al-Hashimi that Iraq’s sovereignty could be restored after foreign troops pull out of the country.

In a meeting with al-Hashimi in Damascus on Wednesday, Assad underscored that withdrawal of foreign forces form Iraq would expedite political process and ensures self-rule and liberty in the country, SANA News Agency reported.

He also reiterated his country’s solid support for Iraqi unity and stability, calling for further growth of Damascus-Baghdad relations to serve both nations’ interests.

Al-Hashimi, for his part, lauded the principal stance taken up by Damascus towards Baghdad. He noted that his country seeks close and comprehensive relations with Syria.

He stated that the Baghdad government is committed to Arab national security as it is committed to Iraq’s own sovereignty. He also assuaged Syrian worries over US-Iraqi pact saying, Iraq won’t be used by US troops as a launching pad for attacks on Syria.

The prominent Iraqi official stressed that the security pact Baghdad signed with Washington dictated that all future US operations should be in coordination with Iraq.

As to attack which American forces carried out inside Syria in October, al-Hashimi said the attack was a “separate incident before signing the security pact.”

In early October, US commandoes in four helicopters attacked the Syrian village of al-Sukkariya some eight kilometers from the Iraqi border. The assault took nine civilian lives and inflicted injuries upon 14 others.


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December 25th, 2008, 8:01 pm


majid said:

It looks like SyriaComment disclaimer must be updated in order to indicate that certain views cannot be published here, and that there are limits on freedom of expression that go beyond what some people consider as insults. For example I posted a comment which was basically saying that the best achievable deal between Syria and Israel would be a peace for peace deal and not a land for peace deal. The comment appeared as number 55 for a short period of time and Norman commented on it as comment # 56. Both comments disappeared shortly afterwards!!!

December 25th, 2008, 8:48 pm


norman said:

Analysis: Israel’s reluctant allies

Dec. 25, 2008
There has recently been a significant increase in tension between major Arab states. The ongoing crisis in Gaza is the focus for the deterioration in relations, though it is only one aspect of a larger picture.

The crisis is in relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia on the one hand, and Syria on the other. The intra-Arab wrangling is itself linked to the broader strategic issue of Syria’s relations with non-Arab Iran.

Among the strategic goals of the Iran-led regional alliance is the destruction of Israel. The doctrine of muqawamma – resistance – is the rhetorical framework by which Iran and its allies explain their activities.

The “status-quo” Arab states, meanwhile, have in the past sought to combine fiercely anti-Israel rhetoric with a decidedly pro-western orientation.

Iran and the muqawamma forces are currently calling this bluff. The tensions derive from this process.

How does Gaza fit into this? Egypt has been watching the situation in the Strip with growing concern since the Hamas coup of June 2007. This past May, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said that the meaning of Hamas rule in Gaza was that Egypt now has a “border with Iran.”

In November, Cairo-sponsored talks were planned, to facilitate reconciliation between Hamas and the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority. The objective was to bring Hamas back under the PA wing – thus returning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to its strictly Israeli-Palestinian dimensions.

This, it was hoped, would remove from Egypt the embarrassment of appearing to side with Israel against Hamas by keeping the Rafah crossing – which Egypt controls – sealed.

But Hamas declined to attend the talks.

The Hamas entity in Gaza’s is underwritten by Teheran and Damascus, which provide both financial and military aid. The pick of Hamas’s fighters train at Revolutionary Guard facilities in Iran.

Since the Hamas takeover of Gaza, several hundred of these men have made their way clandestinely from Gaza to Egypt, Egypt to Syria and then Syria to Iran to learn the techniques of light infantry and guerrilla warfare.

No less importantly, Iranian money keeps the Islamist mini-state of Gaza afloat. Exact amounts are difficult to gauge. But the Iranians pledged $250 million to Gaza after Ismail Haniyeh visited Teheran in December 2006.

Given the end of the cease-fire and the growing possibility of renewed open conflict between Israel and Gaza, positions have hardened. In Teheran, demonstrators called for Mubarak’s execution. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem accused Egypt of blatant bias toward Fatah.

Muhammad Ali Ibrahim, an Egyptian MP and editor of the government-sponsored Al-Gumhouriyya newspaper, expressed the essence of the Egyptian position in the following terms: “The steps taken by Syria today are not promoting the Palestinian cause but rather the interests and goals of the Iranians. Forgetting its Arab identity, Syria is handing the region to Teheran on a golden platter.”

Hamas-controlled Gaza currently forms one of the most active “fronts” in the new regional stand-off. Gaza also encapsulates the salient characteristics of the new reality.

The shooting war is being conducted largely between the pro-Iranian forces and Israel. The pro-Iranian axis seeks to shame the mainstream Arab states and inflame their publics, by use of the shared currency of anti-Israel sentiment.

The mainstream Arab elites of Egypt and Saudi Arabia are deeply embarrassed at the turn of events. They want the return of the cozy status quo, in which they could indulge in anti-Israel rhetoric of their own, while relying on American support to keep themselves in power.

But this option is becoming increasingly untenable. Hamas’s control in Gaza threatens to reveal the extent to which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become subsumed within a larger regional conflict – one which, de facto, places Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel on the same side.

Hence the latest Egyptian attempt to prevent a major Israeli operation into Gaza. Hamas, by destroying the barrier at Rafah during such a confrontation, could present Egypt with the choice of either accepting a mass of unwanted Palestinian refugees onto its territory, or joining the fight against the allies of Iran alongside Israel.

Egypt is desperate to avoid either option.

So the war of words between Iran and Syria on the one hand, and Egypt and Saudi Arabia on the other, is real and heartfelt. The former are laying claim to the immensely popular cause of hatred of Israel. The latter regimes have played their own part, for their own reasons, in creating the public climate in the Arabic-speaking world in which this hatred occupies center stage. Their bluff is now being called by Iran and its allies.

Rhetoric aside, Egypt and Saudi Arabia hope to emerge intact from the roiling conflict between Iran and its allies and Israel and the west. They will probably succeed in doing so, since for the West the alternative to indulging them is to risk their falling and being replaced with something worse.

But as current events in Gaza are demonstrating, the heavy lifting in the work of facing down the Iranian attempt at building regional hegemony, if it is to be achieved at all, will be carried out by the west – and first and foremost by Israel.

The writer is a senior researcher at the Global Research in International Affairs Center, IDC, Herzliya.

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December 25th, 2008, 8:50 pm


Alex said:


I did not remove yor comment and Norman’s reply.

I did not see it in the spam filter.

Joshua or IC can also edit comments. I will ask them if they removed it.

Post it again if you don’t mind. I am online now and will make sure it appears.

December 25th, 2008, 9:27 pm


majid said:

Thanks Alex. Here is the comment again.

I do not think that a peace for land deal is in Israel’s interests or even the US for that matter. The 1967 war was instigated by Syria. Egypt and Jordan were sucked into the war against their own interests. Israel won the war and later on signed peace deal with Egypt based on the land for peace formula which makes sense in this case. The Jordan deal also makes sense because the land captured from Jordan is inhabited by Palestinians.
Syria was the aggressor in the 67 war and she lost the war and the Golan. Assume for the sake of argument Syria was successful in her attempt to conquer the Jewish State and occupied some of its land. Would Syria consider a land for peace swap in this case? I doubt it. In fact, Syria would be seeking the total annihilation of the Jewish State for the purpose of creating Greater Syria (or the Fourth Reich).
I think the best achievable deal is a peace for peace treaty which recognizes Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan (territory gained through right of defense against an aggressor). I’m sorry guys but Syria has to swallow its pride, grow up and take responsibility for its behavior. You cannot reward a kid (even if he has pride) for bad behavior.

December 25th, 2008, 9:44 pm


Norman said:

Syria and Egypt had a treaty Israel attacked Egypt syria joined int law prevent keeping la
Nd no matter how obtained

December 25th, 2008, 10:46 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Syria will not sign a bad agreement with you.


Your confidence is appreciated. I’d rather see the agreement and all the related fine print (and lack thereof).

And if I may, I would like to add that Sadat not only made an appearance within the halls of the Zionist Knesset, he was fortunate enough to have a highly unpopulated and unmilitarized land mass like the Sinai as a natural security barrier. Unfortunately, Syria does not have such a luxury. IMHO, Dr. Bashar will have to work a bit on his public image. How’s his english?

Certainly Bashar’s wife could certainly score points in the Israeli-female-fashion circuit… Have you ever read “LaIsha”?


I just have one question for you: Where did you get such a pro-Israeli point-of-view? Do you mind sharing some of your personal experiences? If you don’t want to, I’ll understand.

Of course, your post above is shared by the Israeli right, which, as you know, is very muted in the main stream (western) media.


I purchased my tickets to the Zionist Project this morning. Thanks to King Saud, the airfare has dropped substantially. Please email me your contact information so we can arrange to meet (my email below).

I think it would be fitting if we could meet at a Ashkenazi coffee house (like Kapulsky’s) so we can sip our filtered coffee and savor our biskvitim while discussing the lastest good news regarding the peace process (whatever that is).;)



December 25th, 2008, 10:56 pm


majid said:

I don’t consider my views pro-Israeli. I’m just trying to be objective. If the situation was reversed I’ll be arguing in favor of Syria.
I don’t believe they allow personal exposures on this blog. They’re quite itchy even on matters of less importance than personal issues.

December 25th, 2008, 11:09 pm


Akbar Palace said:


Your objectivity is appreciated. Hopefully, you are situated somewhere where freedom of speech is sanctified by the local government.

Personal experiences are not necessary when discussing the Arab-Israeli conflict. The emotions run high though, and you can never know if such discussion could be “distraction”.

IMO, I think personal experiences sometimes helps the reader to understand the writer a little bit more. That’s all. I don’t think the owners here care one way or the other.

For example, most of the participants know that I once lived in Israel (for over 2 years) and that my ex-wife was Israeli (her father is of Syrian heritage and her mother is of Yemenite heritage). In this way they know I speak with some amount of experience.

December 26th, 2008, 3:03 am


majid said:

Thanks Akbar, and I do live in a very free ‘location’ if that’s important for you to know.

December 26th, 2008, 4:19 am


Rumyal said:

Hello Majid,

>>> I don’t believe they allow personal exposures on this blog. They’re quite itchy even on matters of less importance than personal issues.

With all due respect, that hasn’t been my experience here. I have been able to share personal experiences and so were many others. The only occasions I’ve seen somebody censored was when they used hurtful language towards other commentators, or flooded the thread with endless repetitions of the same views, in a manner that stifled meaningful discussion.

At any rate if you feel you can’t express yourself here you’re free to start your own blog! Also, QN just agreed to have AIG on his blog, maybe he’ll entertain you too 🙂

December 26th, 2008, 4:47 am


majid said:

You must be very special and also full of unsolicited suggestions. I hope I didn’t hurt you with my words. So I’ll make it very brief lest….

December 26th, 2008, 5:28 am


Peter H said:

I think the best achievable deal is a peace for peace treaty which recognizes Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan (territory gained through right of defense against an aggressor). I’m sorry guys but Syria has to swallow its pride, grow up and take responsibility for its behavior. You cannot reward a kid (even if he has pride) for bad behavior.

Why would Syria agree to that deal, if it wasn’t going to get up the Golan Heights back? “Peace-for-peace” is a concept propagated by the far right in Israel, which opposes any territorial compromises; nobody serious about Mideast peace subscribes to it.

Even if you believe that the 1967 war was 100% the result of Syrian aggression (something which I don’t believe can withstand any serious historical scrutiny), that still would not be justification for Israel retaining control of the Golan Heights. It is against international law to acquire territory by war, even if the war was “defensive”. Resolution 242, with its emphasis “on the inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war”, reaffirms this. The proper method for punishing an aggressor country is through sanctions & reparations, as the UN did wth Iraq in 1990, not through destroying its territorial integrity.

December 27th, 2008, 6:33 am


Qifa Nabki said:

Rumyal said:

Also, QN just agreed to have AIG on his blog, maybe he’ll entertain you too

Yes, please come, one and all!

My blog is open to Syria Comment outcasts of all stripes!

If you find yourself being ganged up on by Alex, Norman, Offended, Why-Discuss, and then kicked while your down by Shai, please come and make yourself at home chez moi, where the menu is capacious enough for any appetite or dietary restriction, be it kosher or halal, vegan or carnivore.

I’ll leave the keys under the mat, and you guys can talk yourselves silly.

December 27th, 2008, 5:31 pm


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