“Syria’s Assad Says More Groundwork Needed Before Olmert Meeting”

Syria's Assad Says More Groundwork Needed Before Olmert Meeting
2008-06-19 08:05 (New York)tell
By Bibhudatta Pradhan and Massoud A. Derhally

June 19 (Bloomberg) — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said negotiators must do more groundwork in order for any meeting he may have with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to have a chance of producing progress toward peace.  A meeting “would have no meaning without technocrats laying the foundation,'' Assad told reporters in New Delhi today on an official visit. "This isn't like drinking tea.''… His remarks came as Olmert told the Paris daily Le Figaro that the two leaders may meet during a July 13 summit of Mediterranean leaders in France.

Washington's choice: subdue Iran, secure Iraq
Paul Rogers in Open Democracy
In managing its unfinished business with Tehran and Baghdad, the George W Bush administration seeks to bind the region – and its successor.
16 – 06 – 2008

The decision over Iran, put crudely, is whether and when to go to war in the attempt to counter and/or disable Iran's nuclear-power developments. The signs that this prospect is returning to active consideration in the White House have been accumulating for weeks (see "Iran and the American election", 5 June 2008). ….

The strongest supporters of military action against Iran are on the neo-conservative right, both within the administration (principally vice-president Dick Cheney) and in the media (notably the Weekly Standard). They are dismayed at evidence of Iran's increasing influence in the region, and at its extension of diplomatic and trade links to a range of countries; Iran, for example, has applied for membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which includes China and Russia (see Anna Fifield, "For oil-rich Iran, friends are not proving hard to find", Financial Times, 27 May 2008).

The prospect of a grinning Mahmoud Ahmadinejad outlasting the administration that for so long excoriated him would be a form of humiliation as well as confirmation of deep policy failure. What makes it even more exasperating is the ever-stronger view that the Iraq war is winnable. The neocons, and more generally hardliners inside and outside the administration (such as former United Nations ambassador John Bolton), would regard victory in Iraq as hollow if the regime in Iran – which they have always seen as the real threat to the US's regional interests – survives and thrives.

The head of the Inter-Press Service's Washington bureau, Jim Lobe – one of the more astute White House-watchers – focuses especially on Dick Cheney's obsessive desire to avoid leaving a pivot of the "axis of evil" unscathed and defiant as the Bush administration's eight years in office near their end. Lobe has over the past two years expressed scepticism when talk of a war with Iran has arisen, but this time confesses to genuine concern (see Jim Lobe, "Hawks still circling on Iran", Asia Times, 9 June 2008). ……

Middle East serves US some humble pie
By Sreeram Chaulia in Asia Times
20 June 2008

A series of new developments raises doubts about whether the US can still be the ultimate intersection in the Middle East through which all roads must cross. The just-hammered ceasefire between Hamas and Israel to halt violence across the Gaza Strip lacked American inputs and bypassed Washington's stated goal of marginalizing the democratically elected Islamic militant movement.

The reason why Egypt could mediate the ceasefire without apparent American backing is because both parties to the conflict had confidence in the contextual neutrality of Cairo. If Egypt had taken the advice of its American friends and brought in American wishes through backdoor channels, Hamas and possibly even Israel would have walked out of the dialogue process. The hostile and punitive policies of the George W Bush administration towards Hamas ruled out any chance of Washington itself being a mediator or facilitator of the negotiations.

A similar logic underlies the "indirect peace talks" being held in Turkey between two long-time antagonists, Israel and Syria, the first in eight years. Turkish mediation is palatable to Syria and Israel due to Ankara's general non-involvement and neutrality in Arab-Israeli disputes. As the only non-Arab Muslim country in the region besides Iran, Turkey is viewed favorably in Tel Aviv. Ankara is also acceptable as a third party for Syria as a means of breaking free from the American stranglehold that denies Damascus the chance to normalize relations with so-called "moderate states" of the region. …

The most startling departure of a client regime from the American patrimonial grip is the announcement that Saudi Arabia has signed a massive $4 billion arms deal with Russia, breaking the American monopoly over military hardware supplies to the kingdom. The Saudis had earmarked $12 billion for defense upgrading this year and the revelation that one-third of it was awarded to Russian companies dismayed Washington to no end. …

So weak is the US in its current state of dependency on Saudi Arabia to overcome the staggering price of oil that it could not convince Riyadh to spurn the Russian arms manufacturers. In fact, in a bid to placate Riyadh, the Bush administration is mooting a new civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with the Saudis against stiff opposition from Congress. … Washington thinks that it must stoke Saudi Arabia's nuclear program in order to keep the "balance of terror" in the region.

Iran's shadow also looms heavily on the US's difficulties in getting Iraq's Nuri al-Maliki government to acquiesce in the new "Status of Forces" agreement….. Maliki's threat of asking US troops to go home at the end of the year when their United Nations mandate expires might be political posturing for domestic consumption, but it certainly adds to the erosion of American traction in the region….

Last, but not least, in the saga of depleting American hegemony in the Middle East is Washington's loss of face in last month's stand-off between Hezbollah and pro-Western forces in Lebanon. Hezbollah emerged as the victor…

It is still early to conclude that the Middle East is the graveyard of Pax Americana. The flow of localized negotiated settlements could clog and return to old stalemates, necessitating grand "roadmap for peace"-style solutions that Washington espouses. …. However, the paradox that the world's largest possessor of diplomatic resources and skills has to rely on its military machine and the loyalty of despots to remain relevant in the Middle East speaks of how poorly Washington harnessed its cachet under George W Bush.

Shai, an Israeli, writes in the comment section:

This cease-fire that has gone into effect this morning (1.5 hours ago) is not a result of no-option for the IDF.  In fact, many in the Israeli army are ready to roll into Gaza in a large scale operation.  I believe there are two main reasons for not seeing such an operation right now:  First, Hamas did negotiate well through Egypt and made Israel look like the aggressor if it should refuse the offer.  And second, the Israeli government wants to be able to tell the Israeli people "You see, we tried our best", before going in again.  All the newspapers are readying Israelis for, what they call, an inevitable eventuality which is clash with Hamas.  This cease-fire, unlike perhaps others in the past, is meant to be the last "test" for both sides, before a major operation is authorized.  Trust me (and you know my opinion on these operations), the IDF really IS preparing to go in, and it really WILL do so in an instant should the cease-fire terms be broken by Hamas, Jihad, or even Israel itself.  Everyone knows the price Israel will pay by going in, and this is why the government is trying to avoid it as long as it can.  But Hamas also knows it'll suffer heavy losses, not to mention many many innocent Palestinians, and it too wants to avert such a catastrophe.

Personally, I don't think the attack on the Syrian installation was "cowardly".  I think it was foolish, and it gambled on almost everything we tried to do with Syria behind the scene over the past 3-4 years.  Syria could have, after all, attacked back.  At the very least with missiles.  And then we'd be at war.  But Bashar chose not to, thank god, and therefore many on my side are claiming he is weak.  I think that's a dangerous assumption to make, and I'm truly hoping that we Israelis won't avoid making the necessary decisions in the coming 1-2 years (giving back the Golan), and instead push Syria into such a corner, from which it could only come out through war.

As for Iran, I wouldn't rule anything out just yet, though I do believe an attack is unlikely.  Even if the U.S. doesn't attack, Israel still might.  I hope it doesn't, but there are enough hardline advisors to the PM, and his trouble with the Talansky investigation could, in theory, cause him to authorize a terrible operation that would distract the public long enough to make him look good (protectorate of Israel against nuclear threats).  I agree with you – the way the IDF traditionally fights, it is indeed very weak against HA and Hamas.  But against regular armies, regular targets, etc., it is still the strongest in the region.  If god forbid it went to war against Syria, or Iran, it would fight much better than against some armed militia.  By the way, it should be assumed that the IDF has been learning its lessons from Lebanon 2006, and that it will not fight the same way next time.  Translating that into action, it probably means it will do far greater damage to civilian targets, and take a far greater toll next time around.

U.N. atom watchdog faces tough search mission in Syria

The following article by Yasin Hajj Salih, one of Syria's smartest commentators, is entitled: Traitorising Nationalism and Apostasising Religion. He compares religous fanatics who declare fellow Muslims apostates to Nationalist fanatics who declare fellow nationalists treasonous.

All4syria.org الوطنية التخوينية والتدين التكفيري

ياسين الحاج صالح

لماذا يبدو أن كثيرين منا، المواطنين المفترضين في دولنا المعاصرة، خونة؟ وأن كثيرين آخرين من المسلمين المعاصرين كفار؟ هذا إن كان صحيحا ما تقوله سلطات سياسية وإيديولوجية ودينية نافذة الكلمة

Comments (17)

Qifa Nabki said:

It seems Michel Aoun is back to proving why he is so good for Lebanon.

All and sundry flay Aoun for bid to curb premier’s powers

Daily Star staff
Thursday, June 19, 2008

BEIRUT: Sunni leaders from across the political spectrum slammed Christian opposition leader MP Michel Aoun for demanding that the authorities of the premier be amended. Former Prime Minister Omar Karami, a staunch opposition supporter, criticized Aoun for seeking to transform the prime minister into “a junior aide.”

Karami made the remark during a news conference on Wednesday to express opposition to a call that Aoun made one day earlier to amend the premier’s powers.

He said Aoun’s call aims at “stripping the prime minister of all the powers gained by the Taif Accord.”

“This is totally unacceptable,” Karami added.

Read the rest: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=1&categ_id=2&article_id=93306

In addition to Karami, Hoss and Miqati also slammed Aoun for this pulpit preaching. It seems the opposition also has little patience for a megalomanical spoiler.

I’m beginning to think that, but for Aoun, HA, Amal, and the FM would have solved all of their problems back in 2006.

June 19th, 2008, 4:55 pm


Nur al-Cubicle said:

Meanwhile, relations are not so good between the Arab League and Israel:

“A sharp verbal exchange occurred yesterday in Petra between Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa and Israeli President Shimon Peres, When Peres gave a speech at a working lunch, he called upon Arabs to “follow the path of peace in the example of Anwar Sadata and the late King Hussein of Jordan”. Mr. Moussa stood up and chastised Peres, “We haven’t heard anything about Israel’s opinion on peace. All you talked about was King Hussein and Anwar Sadat. What is your opinion on the Arab peace initiative? Oh, yes, you’re a master talker but you can’t go on fooling us forever, we’re not dumb!…Stop building those colonies!…Mr. Moussa then left the room….”

Via L’Orient-LeJour

The paper also reported that according to opposition leader Mohammad Raad, Condoleeza Rice, having flown to Beirut unexpectedly, has urged a delay in forming the government for “pending a certain event”

June 19th, 2008, 5:02 pm


norman said:

norman said:


I agree with you , they asked Hafez Assad that , He said the conflict is not psychological but on the basic human rights for the Palestinians and on the return of our land and when these principles are there then all options for CBM can be there too.

June 19th, 2008, 5:50 pm


norman said:

They asked Hafez Assad that , He said the conflict is not psychological but on the basic human rights for the Palestinians and on the return of our land and when these principles are there then all options for CBM can be there too.

June 19th, 2008, 5:51 pm


Alex said:


I’m glad Amr Moussa react that way to Mr. Peres who still issues challenges to Arab leaders to demonstrate their compatibility and serious intentions regarding peace .. yet he does not state his clear position approving Arab peace initiatives or the return of the Golan to Syria …

Peres, was known in Israel as “Mr. ABC” in the 80’s when he used to be considered the smoothest Israeli politician to appear on ABC’s very popular daily news show “nightline” … let’s say that he lost that charm… he is a hawk who wants more settlements, not peace.

June 19th, 2008, 5:52 pm


norman said:

UN atom watchdog faces tough search mission in Syria

June 19th, 2008, 6:08 pm


Shai said:


I beg to differ. Peres doesn’t want more settlements. He does want peace. But, he wants to enjoy the supporting voices of as many Israelis as possible, and to feel like a true “king-of-Israel” in his last post as a leader, even MORE. As President of Israel, he wants to win over the trust of the people, half of which have never given him a chance (were always against him). In this position now, he is supposed to represent “all” Israelis, not just the Left. So his tone is becoming more hawkish than ever. But he’s still dreaming of a New Middle East, he’s still working in various ways toward that goal. In a way, Barak is trying to imitate Peres now… by being both dovish and hawkish at the same time. He’s for peace with the Palestinians, but maintains the hundreds of roadblocks in the West Bank. He’s for peace with Syria, but still believes in an inevitable clash with HA and Hamas.

God knows what his platform will look like in the upcoming elections…

June 19th, 2008, 7:30 pm


Shai said:

Condi Rice had to suddenly postpone, because she was invited to Talansky’s grandson’s Bar Mitzvah in Brooklyn… 😉 Olmert would have shown up, but it wouldn’t have been clear whether he’s supposed to TAKE the envelope, or GIVE one…

June 19th, 2008, 7:34 pm


why-discuss said:


Your perception that the IDF is ready to attack Gaza is probably right, but I doubt the politicians will this time again follow the army as they did in the 2006 Lebanon war. A failure there and too many israeli casualties will be a second and final disaster for the IDF credibility and will leave Israel more exposed then ever.
For the Palestinians, of course it is terrifying but they don’t have much to loose and they know that Israel won’t be able to eradicate Hamas. Do you think the palestinians in Lebanon will remain quiet while their brothers are butchered?
In the possible Gaza invasion, Israel has a lot to risk, this is why they have accepted now the deal proposed by Hamas a year ago that was immediately rejected.
As for the Iran war, you are very optimistic that the IDF would do better than in Lebanon. Iran has a formidable army, much more motivated than the IDF and they will not stop the war when they will have casualties. If Iran is attacked, fighting back will be a sacred duty for ALL iranians and the loss of lives will be an issue of pride not of deterrence.
As for the attack on the military site in Syria, it was foolish, yes, but I insist to say it was a cowardly act as Syria is known to have weak military equipment and it was a very easy target.
This attack for me was supposed to be a message of strength but on such easy target, it looks more to me as a sign of weakness.
Overall, the weakness of the US is clearly reflected in the disarray of Israel’s administration and the disillusion on the ability of the military force to solve problems.

June 19th, 2008, 7:40 pm


Alex said:


I understand, but I judge him by his actions … since Rabin died, Peres has been working against peace with Syria .. he has been working with the UN and with the “moderate Arabs” to weaken the Syrians… the past 4 years he used his influence too many times against Syria.. actually I would say he was one of the main figures working against Syria… together with Chirac and King Abdullah …

June 19th, 2008, 7:49 pm


norman said:

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Olmert: Israel ready for major concessions on border dispute

JERUSALEM, June 19 (Xinhua) — Israel is ready to make major concessions on the redrawing of its borders in an effort to secure peace with Syria and the Palestinians, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in an interview broadcasted Thursday on BBC Arabic Television.

“There is no cause or reason to enter a war with Syria,” Olmert said during the interview, which was held in Olmert’s Tel Aviv office.

Olmert said his government was determined to continue efforts to resolve the conflict that has been going on for generations, and that he was working towards bridging the “historical gap” between Israel and Syria through negotiations.

On Wednesday, the prime minister said in an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro that Israel and Syria, which have recently renewed indirect talks under Turkish mediation, are not far away from direct peace talks.

Olmert said that direct peace talks could be opened once Israel and Syria agree on a precise agenda and issues to discuss, adding that better relations with Syria would alter the whole dynamic of the Middle East.

Turning to relations with the Palestinians, the prime minister told BBC that progress has been made on numerous issues in Israel’s talks with the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), including the dispute over the borders.

Despite boasting progress in many fields with the PNA, Olmert remains skeptical that a full agreement can be signed and delivered during the remaining months of U.S. President George W. Bush’s term.

The Bush administration sponsored an international meeting in Annapolis, Maryland, in November 2007 in a bid to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas pledged at the Annapolis meeting to try to reach a deal before Bush leaves the White House in January 2009.

During the BBC interview, Olmert also touched on Hamas.

Olmert said the Islamic movement would be welcome to join peace negotiations after it accepted and complied with the demands of the international community, namely calling off terror attacks and recognizing Israel.

“I don’t think there can be reconciliation (with Hamas) without basic acceptance,” said the prime minister.

The conditions set by the Quartet, the Middle East peacemakers which consist of Russia, the United States, the UN and the European Union, also call for Hamas to observe past accords signed with Israel and release Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped by Gaza militants in a 2006 cross-border raid.

June 19th, 2008, 7:55 pm


Shai said:

Alex, I understand. Yes, Peres has been playing his cards wrong. So have most Israeli politicians. They bought into the whole Bush-Cheney us-versus-them theory, and in essence became puppets at their will. Historians will one day judge many of these “leaders”, and spell out the infinite missed opportunities. Shame so much bloodshed, and so many innocent people had to pay the price, for the foolishness and stubbornness of impotent leaders.

Why-Discuss, I am not at all optimistic about war with Iran. I don’t think their army will be fighting the IDF, I think their Shihab missiles, and their proxy militias in the form of HA and Hamas, will be hitting most major cities and towns in Israel, and will cause a great amount of damage, which will naturally be reciprocated tenfold. It will be a terrible war, and I wouldn’t want to see it happen, ever.

As for the recent decision to support the cease-fire, not all the politicians supported it. In fact, Olmert said on numerous occasions this past week that it is only Barak that is holding back the major operation into Gaza. Ya’ani, if Barak as Defense Minister would have give the green light, Olmert as his boss would have supported the operation. So he’s learned nothing from Lebanon 2006. In this particular case, it seems Barak “saved the day”. But, not for long. He too has said a few times that a major clash with Hamas seems to be an inevitability. It’s just a question of time. So with that kind of thinking, how long do you think this cease-fire can last?

All along I’ve been afraid of the catastrophe potential of a major operation into Gaza, with Lebanon 2006-like consequences (but probably worse). Things could easily get out of control when, as you suggested, the Lebanese Palestinians could come to Nasrallah and say “Remind us why you have those tens of thousands of rockets, if not to resist the Israelis? So look now what they are doing to our people in Gaza…” Most here seem to think that in such a case, HA wouldn’t get involved. I don’t share that optimism, and I fear that if they do, then we’re essentially at a regional war, because Israel will be fighting on two fronts at the same time, which means it’ll cause terrible damage, and may invite others to join in (Iran?) Bashar recently mentioned in the UAE that if Iran is attacked, Syria will not join the war. That was a seemingly calming message to many (Syrians, Israelis, Americans), but it was also interpreted by some as a possible “green light” for adventurous initiatives by Israel and/or America vis-a-vis Iran, or I suppose also Hamas (by the IDF).

As a general note, I must say that I know of very few armies in our world’s history, that have ever managed to “solve problems”, as you mentioned. I know of many armies, that have managed to “create problems”. The IDF is no exception. Our fear should not be of a particular side miscalculating, but rather of the catastrophe that could befall us all, in any miscalculation on anyone’s side.

June 19th, 2008, 8:09 pm


trustquest said:

Thanks Dr. Landis for referring to Mr. Yasin article. Mr. Yasin insight has contributed greatly to the social, political and anthological studies of Syria and Arab World. Sadly, the regime has always treated him and the civil society with disrespect and ignorance while he and other Syrian intellectuals should be their light to make the change and the reform.

June 19th, 2008, 8:22 pm


JustOneAmerican said:

Well, fortunately for both Israel, Iran and the region, there is a lot of geography between them. I maintain that neither has the capability to do much to the other and that Israel could not carry out a strike without US support and US support will not be forthcoming.

June 19th, 2008, 9:00 pm


Majhool said:

I find the article by Yasin Haj Salih to be excellent

June 19th, 2008, 9:14 pm


why-discuss said:

All along I’ve been afraid of the catastrophe potential of a major operation into Gaza, with Lebanon 2006-like consequences (but probably worse). Things could easily get out of control when, as you suggested, the Lebanese Palestinians could come to Nasrallah and say “Remind us why you have those tens of thousands of rockets, if not to resist the Israelis? So look now what they are doing to our people in Gaza…

Do you really think that Barak will bear such responsibility as it is obvious that a invasion of Gaza will be very bloody and worse that Lebanon for the Israelis who have avoided the infantry in Lebanon but would not be able to avoid it in Gaza, thus exposing the IDF to life threatening danger. Is the Israeli street blind? Over optimistic about the IDF even after the failed war against hezbollah? Don’t they see that this operation could imbalance totally and irreversibly Israel, both militarily and in the world opinion.
I really question the sanity of the israeli free media , if they encourage such operation.

June 20th, 2008, 4:38 am


Shai said:


The media isn’t encouraging such an operation, it is merely reporting what the political leadership is feeding them, namely, that a clash seems inevitable and it is only a question of time. Barak will bear his own responsibility as Defense Minister, and of course Olmert the ultimate responsibility as PM. But we’ve already seen how the Vinograd Report enabled him to stay in power. He’s a lame duck, so he’s not concerned about that.

What you don’t seem to understand, I think, is that it’s not that Israelis think that Gaza 2008 will be easier than Lebanon 2006, or less bloody. Most Israelis would probably agree that many more soldiers will die in Gaza than in Lebanon. But two factors are probably working against those (like me) who are very much against such an operation. First, Israelis are getting sick and tired of having Sderot and some of the areas around it shelled so much (sometimes almost daily) for over 7 years. This war of attrition is having its toll finally, and Israelis are fed up. They want something done, anything. They’re ready to pay a heavy price, just not to be seen as being impotent (like their government). To put it bluntly, they want action and revenge, and they’re less concerned now about the toll, for either side. Second, the IDF knows that although Hamas is quite well equipped with armaments, TNT, mines, etc., it is nothing compared to HA.

That’s not to say it can’t kill more Israeli soldiers (it probably can, because fighting in Gaza is so much different and tougher), but mostly in the area of medium and long range missiles, Hamas has no capability even close to HA’s. Which means that in order for another 1 million Israelis to again be living underground for 34 days, HA would have to get involved in such a case. As most in this forum are suggesting (and I disagree with them), the likelihood of HA joining is slim. So if most IDF chiefs think like most on this forum, they’re less worried about Israeli civilians or cities being bombarded during such an operation. It then becomes a limited conflict, the extent of which is defined basically by the IDF.

As for world opinion, I’m afraid most nations in this world have shown in recent years that they’re willing to accept almost anything. The moral world is becoming a thing of the past (if it ever was one). Look at what’s happening in Iraq, look at the Palestinian refugees, look at Gaza and its ongoing suffocation by Israel. Do you hear anyone complaining? I don’t. So the so-called world public opinion is something that has been moving far away from the real concerns of most, in deciding whether to act, and how. Heck, even the Arabs can’t bring themselves to place an embargo on anyone anymore. It’s a different world now, I think.

June 20th, 2008, 5:59 pm


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