Syrian Growth Figures; More Scary Drought Figures from the East



Syrian Statistics: A Guessing Game

Deputy Prime Minister Dardari informs us here that GDP is $60 billion. Gross Domestic Product is the most important economic indicator. This is 20% higher than what most have been led to believe and is more than double what it was in 2004. To have the country’s GDP more than double in 6 years is remarkable. This is faster growth than even China has experienced in the last six years.

Moreover, we are also told that inflation now is less than 3%. This is also substantially lower than what most have been led to believe. Both the budget as well as the trade deficit is also thought to be less than 3% of GDP. If these numbers are correct, Syrian government spending can afford to be much more expansionary than people thought. It is time for the economic team to allow the statistics office in charge of these numbers to make such data available to the public on a regularly. This would eliminate the guess works and the confusion that stems from analyzing the economy from the various speeches of members of the economic team.

Ehsani writes: If the Syrian government were to triple government salaries from $300 to $900 the cost to the government would be 14.4 BILLION Dollars or 28.8 % OF GDP – or less is we accept the new $60 billion figure.

Gen. Ray Odierno, told journalists that al-Qaeda in Iraq, which he blamed for Monday’s bombings, has “morphed into a covert terrorist organization.” Odierno said al-Qaeda in Iraq is currently controlled by five to 10 highly educated Iraqis with backgrounds in engineering and finance. Those leaders continue to take orders from Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian militant thought to head the group. No longer able to control large areas in Baghdad and northern Iraq, the group has set up small, well-trained cells, Odierno said.(Washington Post)

Facts about Eastern Syria, which borders Iraq and Turkey, comprises the provinces of Hasakah, Raqqah and Deir al-Zor.
— Population growth is 3 percent a year and the majority of the population are under 15 years old.
— The region contains 40 percent of Syria’s farmland and accounts for 56-58 percent of its wheat production.
— The region’s wheat output fell to 1.3 million tonnes in 2008, when the worst drought in four decades hit, compared with 2.4-2.9 million tonnes a year between 2003 and 2007.
— Around 59,000 families each owning 100 head of cattle or less lost half their animals.
— Poverty levels hover around 80 percent.
— The region has a water shortage of 2.5 billion cubic metres a year out of the 3.5 billion cubic metre shortage for the whole of Syria.
— Officials did not estimate the number of people displaced by the drought. Independent estimates give a range of 300,000 to one million.
— The East received 30 percent of its average rainfall in 2008. No figures were available for 2009, but the officials said rainfall has improved.
— The government has started charging market prices for fuel and fertilisers, but still buys wheat and cotton at higher than market prices.

Sandstorm overtakes a village in northeastern Syria. (Photo by Rocco Palermo)

Sandstorm overtakes a village in northeastern Syria. (Photo by Rocco Palermo)

“It is no exaggeration to say that people are dying from hunger here,” said an official of the ruling Baath party from a village in the Jazeera area. The local authorities have repeatedly told the central government of the gravity of the situation but to no avail, he added on condition of anonymity. “Food baskets are not enough especially because corruption is rife and some of the food gets stolen,” he said. In June 2009, the government started distributing food packages containing flour, sugar, oil and other commodities to crisis-stricken families.

Eastern Syria grapples with drought, poverty
27 Jan 2010, Reuters
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

DAMASCUS, Jan 27 (Reuters) – Syrian officials addressing a rare public forum have revealed the full impact of a drought that ravaged the 2008 wheat crop and displaced hundreds of thousands of people in the east of the country.

The officials recommended diversifying the eastern Syrian economy and finding alternatives to subsidised cash crops, whose cultivation has severely depleted water resources, mainly in the eastern region along the River Euphrates.

The officials, speaking at a forum that is a rare reminder of the “Damascus Spring” democracy movement snuffed out in 2001, recognised they faced a huge challenge, tackling high levels of poverty, unemployment and illiteracy, and low investment.

Rainfall in eastern Syria fell to 30 percent of the annual average in 2008 — the worst drought for 40 years — and al-Khabour, a main tributary of the River Euphrates, dried up, they told the meeting on Tuesday.

The region’s wheat crop fell by about half to 1.3 million tonnes that year, and the number of people displaced is estimated at between 300,000 and one million, though there are no official figures.

“We must plan an overhaul that includes an integrated economy, health and education, not just agricultural production,” said Hassan Katana, head of statistics and planning at the agriculture ministry.

Poverty levels stand at 80 percent and the region’s investment budget is only $17.4 million, according to Khader al-Muhaisen of the government-backed Peasants Union.

Infrastructure in the east, which accounts for the bulk of Syria’s grain and cotton output, has fallen into disrepair.

Illiteracy is rising because the education system has been neglected, and many of those displaced by the drought have moved to Damascus, Aleppo and Hamah where they live as squatters.

Syria was an important Middle East wheat exporter before the drought began in 2007, while the water table had already been depleted by the thousands of illegal wells sunk to irrigate subsidised wheat.

Official figures put national wheat output at 2.1 million tonnes in 2008 against 4.1 million in 2007, rising to 3.8 million last year.


The state controls the production and marketing of wheat and cotton, part of the command economy imposed by the Baath Party when it took power in 1963, banned all opposition and imposed emergency laws that are still in force.

Katana said the government had already reduced the area allocated for cotton production because of the lack of water, but he did not expect cash-strapped farmers to obey the order. “All our agricultural resources have been used up. The real challenge is to develop strategies and knowhow to provide for new economic activity in this region,” Katana said.

Poverty is widespread in the east, although it produces all of Syria’s 375,000 barrels per day of oil and contains some of the world’s most important sites of antiquity, such as the Greco -Roman city of Dura Europos, called the “Pompeii of the desert”.

The region is also home to a substantial Kurdish minority, tens of thousands of whom have been effectively shut out of mainstream society since the 1960s when they were excluded from a national census.

Atieh al-Hindi, head of the National Agriculture Policy Centre, said the government subsidies policy had helped to improve living standards in the east but had contributed to its water shortage. Several speakers said part of the problem was that qualified experts such as Katana and Hindi were not consulted by the government when it set economic policy.

Meetings of the forum, organised by the Syrian Economics Society, were packed and lively events until 2001 when the ruling apparatus crushed a democracy movement that later became known as the “Damascus Spring”.

The event has since lost its lustre. Most of the seats in the auditorium where the debate was held were empty on Tuesday. Most of the Damascus Spring figures were jailed, including economist Aref Dalila, a regular speaker at the forum who was imprisoned for seven years and released in 2008.

Two tall sky scrappers and an intercontinental hotel to tower over downtown Damascus. The huge shortage of commercial retail space in Damascus is about to be addressed. Al Khrafi from Kuwait is financing these towers; it is in a joint venture with Syria Holdings (the holding company associated with the Joud family and not Rami Makhlouf).

26/ 01/ 2010
أخيراً برجان عملاقان في قلب العاصمة دمشق، بل أكثر من ذلك سيكونان الأكبر على مستوى بلاد الشام.
في الخبر الكثير من الشد والجذب، والأهم أنّ فيه «قهراً» لتحدٍّ مزعج طالما طالعنا على شكل تهمة تقول أننا لم نحظ عمرانياً بما يواكب نهضتنا في كافة مجالات الحياة، إنْ في السياسة أو في الاقتصاد، أو في التربية والتعليم، وبالفعل ليس في عاصمتنا أو مدننا الكبرى ولا الصغرى نقاط علام عمرانية- إنشائية يمكن الإشارة إليها كخصوصية سورية.
على جانب آخر مادي إجرائي، أي بعيداً عن الاعتبار المعنوي و«شوفة الحال» التي نستحقها فيما لو كان البرجان فعلاً الأكبر على مستوى بلاد الشام، بعيداً عن ذلك ثمة مؤشر هنا يجب الوقوف عنده، فإقامة هكذا برجين تعني أنه ليس لدينا ما يمنع جيولوجياً من إقامة الأبراج، فلمَ الإصرار على «السقوف الواطية» في أنظمتنا العمرانية وضوابط دوائر الإدارة المحلية والمحافظات أي /5/ طوابق أو /4/ وغير ذلك يعني التجاوز.؟!

Jihadism, anti-Jihadism and Palestine
By Daniel Larison, The American Conservative, January 25, 2010

A lot of ink has been spilled since 9/11 trying to argue that bin Laden doesn’t really care about Palestine. But that’s always been silly — nobody knows what he “really” cares about, and it doesn’t especially matter since he talks about it a lot and presents it as a major part of his case against the United States. An Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement surely would not convince bin Laden or al-Qaeda and its affiliated movements to give up their jihad — but it would take away one of their most potent arguments, and one of the few that actually resonates with mass publics. Marc Lynch (via Andrew)

One of the reasons there has been a consistent effort to deny that Bin Laden has any “real” interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that such an interest, sincere or not, suggests jihadist groups are fueled by U.S. and allied policies, or at least that they successfully exploit U.S. and allied policies for propaganda purposes. Washington would then be faced with at least one of two unpalatable truths. Either our policies are correct and necessary, but strategically disastrous in their effects on Arab and Muslim public opinion and jihadist recruiting, or they are and incorrect and unnecessary while also being strategically disastrous. Washington would then have to decide if it wants to live with perpetual, low-level conflict occasionally exploding into major military campaigns every decade, or if it wants to make enough policy changes (and push our allies to make similar changes) to reduce that conflict to a bare minimum…..

Israel plans to repatriate ‘lost Jewish tribe’ in India
Jonathan Cook, January 26. 2010

A member of the Bnei Menashe community paints Israeli flags on childrenís faces for the Israeli Independence Day in 2009. Michal Fattal / Getty Images

Nazareth, Israel // The Israeli government is reported to have quietly approved the fast-track immigration of 7,000 members of a supposedly “lost Jewish” tribe, known as the Bnei Menashe, currently living in a remote area of India.

Under the plan, the “lost Jews” would be brought to Israel over the next two years by right-wing and religious organisations who, critics are concerned, will seek to place them in West Bank settlements in a bid to foil Israel’s partial agreement to a temporary freeze of settlement growth.

A previous attempt to bring the Bnei Menashe to Israel was halted in 2003 by Avraham Poraz, the interior minister at the time, after it became clear that most of the 1,500 who had arrived were being sent to extremist settlements, including in the Gaza Strip and next to Hebron, the large Palestinian city in the West Bank.

Dror Etkes, who monitors settlement growth for Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group, said there were strong grounds for suspecting that some of the new Bnei Menashe would end up in the settlements, too.

“There is a mutual interest being exploited here,” he said. “The Bnei Menashe get help to make aliyah [immigration] while the settlements get lots of new arrivals to bolster their numbers, including in settlements close to Palestinian areas where most Israelis would not want to venture.”

The government’s decision, leaked this month to Ynet, Israel’s biggest news website, was made possible by a ruling in 2005 by Shlomo Amar, one of Israel’s two chief rabbis, that the Bnei Menashe are one of 10 lost Jewish tribes, supposedly exiled from the Middle East 2,700 years ago.

He ordered a team of rabbis to go to north-east India to begin preparing Bnei Menashe who identified themselves as Jews for conversion to the strictest stream of Judaism, Orthodoxy, so they would qualify to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return.

The Bnei Menashe belong to an ethnic group called the Shinlung, who number more than one million and live mainly in the states of Manipur and Mizoram, close to the border with Myanmar. They were converted from animism to Christianity by British missionaries a century ago, but a small number claim to have kept an ancient connection to Judaism…..

Comments (30)

Doc said:

It’s nice to paint the picture rosy, but solemnly looking at the GDP neglects other important factors that influence how much GDP has actually grown. Taking numbers from the IMF, inflation from 2004 to 2009 alone would make GDP seem to grow by almost 60 percent. At the same time, population has grown quite fast as well. Now, real GDP growth, averaging about five percent mentioned years, does take into account inflation, but not population growth. Yes, Syria’s economy has grown, but not enough, especially considering the huge cohorts of young that will enter the job market each year. Syria needs, amongst others, job creation, and that the state will not be able to provide on its own. Ahlan wa sahlan ya private sector!

January 28th, 2010, 8:07 am


norman said:

Syria’s foreign trade hits $34.3 bln in 2009
Jan 28, 2010 at 13:01 View count (9) | | | |

BEIRUT – The volume of Syria’s foreign trade, comprising exports and imports, hit 1.57 trillion Syrian pounds ($34.3 billion) in 2009, Damascus-based Al Thawra daily reports Thursday citing the country’s Export Development and Promotion Agency, or EDPA.

Syrian exports have been growing at an annual average of 14% since 2000 while the average annual growth for imports was 18% due to further opening of the local market to foreign trade, according to EDPA data, the paper reports.

January 28th, 2010, 12:56 pm


EHSANI2 said:

The Syrian Pound has appreciated by close to 10% against the Dollar since 2004. This has made GDP higher in Dollar terms. As DOC said above, when Mr. Dardari talks about GDP he is talking about nominal or current Dollars. Real GDP growth strips out inflation and the effect of rising prices. I wish that the economic team stress this distinction and explain this difference to avoid the public confusion when it comes to real economic growth. Since inflation has risen smartly between 2004 and 2005, the nominal GDP figure did too. This makes his inflation-is-less-than-3%-now comment most notable.

January 28th, 2010, 1:43 pm


Ghat Albird said:

There are no statistical guesses in reference to Israel.

Extracts from and comments on a NYT op-ed.

A curious op-ed “The Tel Aviv Cluster” by the reliably neoconnish David Brooks appeared in the New York Times on January 12th.

Brooks enthused over the prowess of Israel’s high tech businesses, attributing their success in large part to Jewish exceptionalism and genius, which must have provided the ultimate feel good moment for Brooks, who is himself Jewish.

That Israel has a booming technology sector is undeniably true, but Brooks failed to mention other contributing factors such as the $101 BILLION DOLLARS in US economic and military aid over the course of more than four decades, which does not include the additional $30 BILLION DOLLARS recently approved by President Barack Obama.

American assistance has financed and fueled Israel’s business growth while the open access and even “preferential treatment” afforded to Israeli exporters through the Israel Free Trade Implementation Act of 1985 has provided Israelis with the enormous US market to sell their products and services.

By act of Congress, Israeli businesses can even bid on most American Federal and State government contracts just as if they were US companies………

For those who gloat in comparisons of standards of living and per capita incomes lets get real.

January 28th, 2010, 1:43 pm


EHSANI2 said:

With respect to the issue of corruption, I had talked about the low salaries and how they contribute to the problem. Some of the commentators have argued that there is more to it than economic need. I want to say that I agree. One of the main factors that lead to corruption is bureaucracy. People get fed up and will pay anything not to waste more time in government offices. As any Syrian knows, bureaucracy and bribery are so intertwined. When you need 5-6 documents/signatures to complete a simple task, long lines form. People with means cannot waste all day waiting. The government workers know this. The result is a culture of bribery that becomes pervasive and the only way to get things done. This phenomenon extends to large project approvals and the like.

High bureaucracy = Need to bribe = corruption

January 28th, 2010, 2:07 pm


Akbar Palace said:

That Israel has a booming technology sector is undeniably true, but Brooks failed to mention other contributing factors such as the $101 BILLION DOLLARS in US economic and military aid over the course of more than four decades, which does not include the additional $30 BILLION DOLLARS recently approved by President Barack Obama.


I guess being an ally of the USA is worthwhile. BTW, how many
$billions did Egypt get these past 40 years? Let’s see, $2 billion/yr x 40 is about $80 BILLION DOLLARS.

January 28th, 2010, 2:22 pm


Ghat Albird said:



I guess being an ally of the USA is worthwhile. BTW, how many
$billions did Egypt get these past 40 years? Let’s see, $2 billion/yr x 40 is about $80 BILLION DOLLARS.






January 28th, 2010, 3:08 pm


Akbar Palace said:



When the US decides on foreign aid, she doesn’t make calculations to ensure all foreign-aide recipient countries get the same per capita dollar amount.

Life isn’t fair except, maybe in Paradise.

The $90 Billion Clinton promised Arafat would have surpassed Israel’s foreign-aide on a per-capita basis by an order of magnitude.

Another lost opportunity…

January 28th, 2010, 3:33 pm


Averroes said:

Ehsani and Alex,

Thank you for your responses. I agree with Alex’s classifications of corruption, and I think that bureaucracy is a significant factor in Type-I corruption (which is also need based), but probably not the other types.

I also agree that the government should not be “fighting” big business, and that there are many ways where such businesses can be made to give back to society.

However, I think that Type-II corruption is neither need-based nor bureaucracy triggered. Tripling salaries cannot be expected to convince those entrenched government officials and bullish army officers to abandon their ways.

There is one solution that has a lot of potential: the use of IT and the automation of governmental procedures. To the credit of the government, it is not easy to expose the acts, given the caution these people take in keeping themselves distant. It is not easy to prove acts of corruption, and currently it’s mostly cases of one man’s word against another. Technology can be a tremendous boost to transparency. A sophisticated accounting and decision trail system has the potential of revealing a lot. Also, investigations will become more affordable and more effective.

Such technology is available and can be installed within a maximum of five years, in spite of the US sanctions. Building such a system from the ground up is a very achievable task that’s doable with reasonable resources. Such a project can also launch the country into a new age. Technology can help us make quantum leaps in many fronts.

January 28th, 2010, 5:08 pm


Shami said:

Asad and Makhlouf corruption is the big problem,in the pre dictature era ,corruption among civil servants was unknown or rare.Ask your fathers !
I think even in Asadian Syria the majority of civil servants are not corrupt.Only those who have direct acces to the public are member of the group,for example a civil sevant who work as teacher in a public school how can he be corrupt?
Alex as you know very well,all the top army and mukhabarat officers are very corrupt people ,they are also a problem.And dadly it appears that you prefer to insult the syrian people as whole in order to make a relativization of regime corruption disease which is clearly located at the head of the regime and cronies.(yes there are non alawites among them)
This culture of corruption has been inculcalted by the regime and is not inherent to the syrian culture.
Without this corruption ,the regime would not survive ,one of its main pillar is corruption.
I would also say ,that many in the syrian governments are clean and not corrupt at all.the problem is the regime and not the government.

January 28th, 2010, 6:42 pm


Averroes said:

Shami … long time no see.

There are many other factors that can explain why need-based corruption was rare among civil servants in the 1950s and 60s, compared to later years. For one, the population was less by almost an order of magnitude, There were no embargoes on the country, and the military expenditures were much less due to the lower conflict intensity and the incredibly lower cost of military technology.

Basically, there was more to go around, and the primitive management and accounting systems of the day sufficed for the small size of the country. Not any more.

That’s one aspect of it. The other aspect is that those times were not so rosy for a large part of the population that you may not be accounting for. Huge parts of Syrian society (during the times you’re mentioning) were still, and had been severely marginalized for centuries on end. A fact that, by its own, can reduce the merit of your argument.

Are you saying there were no Type-III moguls in the 1950s that claimed unearned and unfair advantages?

I disagree with your assessment that “without this corruption, the regime would not survive”. I think that is not true. At some stage, and because you’re dealing with too many factors at the same time, and because of the primitive nature of the management tools available, you resort to survivalism. You reduce the whole system to points of power and you demand only loyalty from those points. You give them a free hand to handle their circle of influence in exchange for absolute loyalty. Yes, Hafez al-Assad used that tactic. But the more I learn about the events Syria was going through at the time, the more I wonder what other choices he had.

I’m not saying that there were no mistakes made, and I’m not saying that free-hand approach to management is a good thing. It is for sure a very bad thing, almost as bad as the Iqta’ regime that the Turks employed for centuries. Both concentrated too much power in the hands of a few people, and both had very little accountability and transparency.

We’re talking about today and about the future. I believe that the president and his inner circle are trying to move in the right direction. To move in that direction, I think that investment in Information Technology would give them the tools to monitor and detect the most damaging type of corruption, which is the Type-II corruption described by Alex.

The more you try to solve your problems by pointing fingers at others, the less successful you will be in solving those problems. We are all fil Hawa Sawa, my dear Shami.

January 28th, 2010, 10:03 pm


Shami said:

Averroes,so your logic is(the same than Alex one) :the Syrian people are inclined to corruption.
Ay hawa sawa ya Averroes….i hate corruption and i consider it as a crime against the country,the zionists of Syria are those
So for the sake of Palestine and Syria ,we should be corrupt ,destroy our economy,our intellegensia,our culture,our values…to lie to our own reason.. Averroes in the end ma bisah ela el saheeh,the countries are eternal not the regimes.And it seems that Bashar has opted for the frontal crash for regime’s end scenario.
I advice you to read the real Averroes ,and to be honest with yourself.

January 28th, 2010, 11:05 pm


Shami said:

Averroes ,the inner circle of Bashar (his mother,bross,uncles,cousins,mukhabarat and army officers….)?? do you mean them ?are there people more corrupt than them in the world?
if not plz give us names !!!(Bashar’s inner circle people)

January 28th, 2010, 11:23 pm


norman said:

Averroes , Alex
I understand the first group as the people who get money to have your paperwork done faster

The third group as the ones who get insider information or given contracts without bids , by the way that happens in the US too , and projects are not offered to all to bid on requirements have to be met
I just do not understand the second group , do you mean that some people get cheated out of their money by extortion of military officers or other government employees , as i did not know that .
and where do you find the government officials who gives contracts to foreign companies for a commission or a kickback .and how can we stop that ,

January 28th, 2010, 11:40 pm


trustquest said:

Mr. Dardari plan contradict with the intention and spending of governances around the country. For example see these pictures of the government building in Raqqah (the place where the article talking about 80% of people below the poverty line).

When they talk about investment of $17.4 m I think they mean those buildings. I don’t think this can be called smart planning and money well spent; 332 million is the cost of this lavish building which surrounded by hungry people. It does not end here but the mayor had his own castle and another lavish building to his guests which I think initiate the oligarchy period and the returning of Sultanate under the social constitution.

January 29th, 2010, 3:09 am


Averroes said:


Yes, unfortunately, there are many cases where government officials use their positions to extort money from individuals. Typically it hits people who show signs of having some money (like entrepreneurs and investors). Theydon’t hold a gun to their heads for the money of course, but they use their positions to harass and stall your endeavor until you pay up.


I assure you that I’m being as honest with myself as I can. I think the signs are there if you want to see them.

January 29th, 2010, 3:25 am


jad said:

Dear Alex,
I have bad feeling, there are scary signs that a real war/offense is going to happen very soon that Israel is planning to start it on Syria and HA/Lebanon as the first stage of taking down Iran:
1- The Israeli’s army are preparing their solders and their machines along the northern borders and secretly calling lots of reserved
2- HA is calling all its people to get ready, they don’t know when this new war will start but apparently soon.
3- The Syrian military is calling the reserved
4- Moubarak is panicking, he called Ehud Barak for a private meeting, I assume he is worried of the situation not out of love to Syria but to make the transition of his son as smooth as possible in a peaceful time
5- The american administration playing the innocent-ignorant since it doesn’t want to be seen as part of this coming mess
Any thoughts?

January 29th, 2010, 3:41 am


Alex said:

Dear Jad

I still hope Mr. Netanyahu won’t move without American backing. And I hope he is not close to getting that.

I think he feels that a decisive victory in Lebanon (with a couple of air raids on Syrian targets, just for fun) will excite enough friends of Israel in the United States (Americans love it when Israel puts a good military show) .. and then he can be heard more clearly when he tries to form his coalition to fight Iran.

On the other side, Nasrallah can’t wait for the Israelis to decide to go for it .. he feels they will be spectacularly defeated this time.

Meanwhile, President Assad is in Qatar helping them celebrate some cultural event looks very comfortable and relaxed. And Mrs. Asma Assad was very busy organizing an international development conference.

I don’t think there is anything coming very soon.

January 29th, 2010, 5:55 am


Joshua Landis said:

Dear Jad, I concur with Alex. I think it is a lot of bluffing by Israel. The US and Israel are trying to gin up a bit of fear because they are at a crossroads with Iran. Two deadlines have now passed; Israel and the US want to up the pressure, hoping to convince Iran to take a deal. Best, J

January 29th, 2010, 6:03 am


Shai said:

Dear JAD, Alex, Joshua,

The “nice thing” about our region, is that we have the luxury, and maybe the responsibility, to always be fearful of war. Indeed it can happen at any moment, because the barrel of TNT is quite full and can be lit with any tiny match (which can be thrown in by almost any party).

I disagree with Alex however on one point – Netanyahu’s hopes, or even thoughts, on a “decisive victory” in Lebanon. There is no such thing, and Netanyahu knows it well. His mentor, Menachem Begin, taught him this through his own failure. One of our founding fathers, Ben Gurion, already established in Israel’s military doctrine, that Israel cannot win “decisively”, because that would require capturing and conquering territory too big for Israel to control. It was/is tough enough to “control” the West Bank – it would be impossible to “decisively” defeat Lebanon, by controlling the entire country. And 18 years of holding on to just a few kilometers brought upon us enough deaths of soldiers, that certainly Netanyahu isn’t about to do a retake on some “Security Zone” in southern Lebanon. He’s not even willing to do it in Gaza, certainly not elsewhere.

And remember one last note – Likud tends to let Labor (or Kadima) do its dirty job for her. Netanyahu let Barak, Sharon, and Olmert not only uproot Jewish settlers, but also put them there! He didn’t go on wild military adventures, and I seriously doubt he’s about to do so now…

January 29th, 2010, 7:25 am


Alex said:

Dear Shai

First, notice today we are all starting with Jad’s “dear”

Back to war and peace.

I did not mean the imply that Mr. Netanyahu would like to occupy Lebanon … I think he wants to simply see the IDF perform noticeably better than they did in 2006…. less losses at the hands of Hezbollah fighters, more pain inflicted on Hezbollah, and perhaps more Hezbollah leaders killed.

January 29th, 2010, 7:44 am


Alex said:

Middle East Peace was totally absent from his state of the Union speech.

Today he had to talk about it .. and his answer shows that there is probably nothing he can or will do other than to wait for the players in the Middle East to settle things among themselves .. somehow

January 29th, 2010, 10:02 am


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Your comment, dear Jad, shows that you know nothing and understand nothing about Israel. Israel “secretly calling lots of reserved” to attack Lebanon HA and Syria. What a comedian you are. Well, it’s not a secret any more.. is it?

Israel will attack only when being provoked before. And provoked for a long period of time (2000-2006 Lebanon ; 2007-2009 Gaza).
Netaniyahu is en economist PM and not a General PM. Wars are bad for the economy.

January 29th, 2010, 10:07 am


jad said:

Alex, Dr. Landis,
Thank you.
Don’t you agree that if Israel made the ‘show’ for the West by hitting couple of Syrian and HA/Lebanese sites without breaking the Syrian regime will make it harder if not impossible for both of them to retaliate in case it goes with the plan of hitting Iran by making them busy fixing the afterward mess.
Isn’t it going to be less costly for Israel than going after Iran without doing the needed preparation of its border during the real operation?
It may not be happening very soon, like tomorrow, but it seems that it’s coming soon enough, especially with a busy and weak American administration and a far-right government in Israel, the political atmosphere feels so much like 1982.

I’m not sure why you think that Netanyaho wont do the ‘show’. The show will strengthen his personal and his party position in Israel, at the end of the day, Israelis are like Arabs, they both Semites and they both idiots who get excited and drunk over feeling powerful about themselves. Netanyahu is not going to be any different with or without his economist mindset, it is in his genes. One last thing, don’t underestimate that Ehud Barak is the minister of war today and he is another guy who want to be seen as Israel’s man.
Besides, an Israeli military show doesn’t mean a decisive victory, it always meant wining one more small battle on the road, Israel never did more than that.

January 29th, 2010, 11:30 am


Shai said:


What I was trying to say, is that Netanyahu is less likely to take risks like non-Likud PM’s do. It is no secret in Israel, that Leftist (or, recently, Centrist) leaders are constantly searching for ways to “prove” their ability to keep Israel safe. And they do so, by launching military operations in the Territories, and in Lebanon. For some odd reason, the Likud hardly ever has to prove itself. By publicly rejecting the return of territory of any sort, or at least not until our rivals capitulate, the Likud gets an automatic Security Award in the hearts and minds of most Israelis.

If Netanyahu’s own record is anything to go by, he will not launch any military operation for PR purposes, not internal or external ones. Shimon Peres, Ariel Sharon (as Head of Kadima), and Ehud Olmert, all felt they needed to prove themselves, and all initiated harsh military attacks upon the Palestinians and Lebanese. Netanyahu did not. While campaigning for PM last time around, he said he would “never shake the hand of that terrorist (Arafat)…”, and later, not only kissed him on numerous occasions but also referred to him as “a friend.” Netanyahu, as you know, also gave back control of key Palestinian cities to the same PLO he campaigned so extensively against.

Last thing Netanyahu wants on his shift is a scenario even worse than Lebanon 2006. He would look like the ultimate failure, if thousands of rockets landed atop every major Israeli city and town, from two or more directions (HA, Hamas, Syria?, Iran?) He knows he cannot defeat HA or Hamas, and I doubt he wants to try to go down that road. Like Joshua suggested, Netanyahu will try to bluff all the way. Obviously, he’s capable of reacting, but I doubt he’ll initiate. Btw, if he wanted reasons to go beat up more Palestinians in Gaza, for instance, he had plenty of opportunities thus far, each time a few Qassams were launched into Southern Israel. Somehow, he’s showing far more “patience” than he did as head of the Opposition. Funny things happen when you’re in charge… 🙂

Jadman, that’s the political absurdity in Israel – that the Left/Center talk about peace but in reality make war, and the Right talks rough and acts like a puppy.

January 29th, 2010, 11:49 am


Akbar Palace said:

Dangerous Zionist Bluffing NewZ

I think it is a lot of bluffing by Israel.

Professor Josh,

Could you list for us exactly what this “a lot of bluffing by Israel” was?



January 29th, 2010, 11:57 am


jad said:

Shaiman 🙂
For our area and people sake I hope that you are right, but as a Semite, I only trust my instinct and I still have bad feeling with all this bluffing game. As you wrote earlier, this area is a barral of TNT that doesn’t need more than a tiny lit to go off.

January 29th, 2010, 12:02 pm


jad said:

Way to go Blair!
WHAT A SHAME, hundreds of thousands of people killed because of this bloody war and he doesn’t regret a thing..millions of refuges and he doesn’t regret a thing…
He is after Iran now..

Iraq inquiry hears defiant Blair say: I’d do it again

January 30th, 2010, 4:15 am


norman said:

new ambassadore to Syria,

U.S. to Name Ambassador to Syria
CBS News Learns Obama Administration Will Fill Long-Vacant Post in Move to Bolster Syrian-Israeli Peace Talks
Font size Print E-mail Share 0 Comments By George Baghdadi

A June 2009 file photo of U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell shaking hands with Syrian President Bashar Assad. (AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi)

Fast Facts


Learn about the people, economy and history.
Obama To Send Ambassador Back To Syria
: Syria Seeks “Natural Relations” With U.S.
(CBS) Five years after the United States pulled its envoy from Damascus in response to the assassination of Lebanon’s prime minister, Washington is prepared to fill the post of Ambassador to Syria, CBS News has learned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mitchell’s trip comes following Israeli official statements that Turkey was no longer wanted as a mediator between the two countries.

Ankara brokered four rounds of indirect talks between the two countries in 2008 – the first such contacts since previous peace negotiations were broken off in 2000 over the fate of Israeli-occupied land in the Golan Heights, along Syria’s border.

But Syria froze communication at the beginning of last year, when Israel launched a three-week devastating offensive against the Gaza Strip, controlled since June 2007 by the Islamic militant movement Hamas. Hamas’ exiled leader, Khaled Mashaal, lives in Damascus.

Syria has insisted that the promise of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights be a precursor to any renewed peace negotiations between the two countries. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vehemently rejected the notion of a withdrawal.

Since being sworn in as president, Mr. Obama has cautiously sought to improve ties with Syria, and Congressional visitors have made a flurry of trips to Damascus. Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal al-Mekdad, a leading figure in Syrian foreign policy, also visited Washington.

Arab diplomats suggest Syria might represent a slightly more attainable goal of the Obama White House’s Mideast agenda – certainly when compared to the prospects of a breakthrough in Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations.

Israel and its chief ally, the United States, want Syria to cool its ties with Iran, as well as to stop supporting the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and help sideline them as armed players.

Syria has appeared increasingly confident on the world stage, breaking out of its previous international isolation. Barely a day goes by without a Western politician or envoy knocking on Assad’s palace door.

The American Under Secretary of State for political affairs William J. Burns was also said to turn up in Damascus next month for a new round of talks with the Syrians.

The U.S. has not had an ambassador in Damascus since President Bush recalled Ambassador Margaret Scobey in the wake of Hariri’s February 14, 2005 assassination in a massive bombing in Beirut that also killed 20 others. Syria later rejected claims made in a U.N. report implicating top Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officials in the explosion.

CBS News’ George Baghdadi reports from Damascus

January 30th, 2010, 1:36 pm


CrisisMaven said:

I have just added a Reference List to my economics blog with economic data series, history, bibliographies etc. for students & researchers.

January 31st, 2010, 11:23 am


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