Syria’s Four Seas strategy, by Yoav Stern

For Syria Comment, by Yoav Stern

posted by Alex

Turkish attitude towards the region was very clear last week. Syria in, Israel out.

At the last minute, when Israeli, American and Italian air forces were already on the move towards Turkey, it announced the cancellation of the international part of the exercise.

Israel, and also the US, were of course very unhappy about it. American spokepersons even went public on this.

Syrian officials and analysts were quite satisfied. FM Walid Al-Mouallem said Syria supports the Turkish step. He was very happy in the festive meeting of 20 Turkish and Syrian ministers on the border between the countries (here).

Dr. Imad Fawzi Shoueibi (here on BBC Arabic together with myself and others), elaborated and said it is not only Turkey, but hinted that current honeymoon with Turkey is just a part of a wider new regional order, built on Bashar Al-Assad’s vision of “the Four Seas”.

This, he said, would put Israel in its natural position as a small state in the region. (Small it is, but full of energy… J)

Dr. Shoueibi, head of the Data and Strategic Studies Center in Syria, a well known Syrian analyst, named the states that might take part in this new regional alliance: Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, and Syria of course.

Those are the states that lie at the shores of the four seas: the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, the Red Sea and the (Persian) Arab Gulf (The Arabian Sea).

So I looked back and checked what was written about this (with my thanks to Alex). I discovered that at least since last June, if not well before, Syrian key figures have been promoting this idea as a main pillar of Syria’s Foreign Policy. And it is not only these states, but Assad also went in the summer further north to Aremenia (here), and Azerbaijan (here).

The image of Syria in the world probably bothers Assad. After all, nobody likes to be friends only with Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas. And yes, also with the friend of everybody, Emir of Qatar.

If you look West and South from Palace of the people in Damascus you see only trouble: Lebanon, Israel, Jordan (which is supposed to be taking part in this new order and signs new agreements with its big sister, here), then Saudi Arabia and Egypt. So why not heading north?

Where did the Arab unity go? Muallem denies (here) any connection:

ورفض الوزير أن يكون تفسير التعاون والاتفاقات الإستراتيجية بين بلاده وتركيا على أنه “يأس” من العلاقات العربية مع دمشق، مشيرا إلى أن بلاده استقبلت ملك السعودية عبد الله بن عبد العزيز قبل أيام “وكانت زيارة ناجحة”.

What about advocating for re-engagment with the US under Obama? This is done quietly. Peace agreement with Israel? Unfortunately, the Syrian analysis according to which not a single word is heard from Jerusalem on this, is true.

One may argue that the theory of “the Four Seas” is not a substitute for anything. This might be correct, but still, one should put his efforts somewhere.

What does Syria hope of getting out of this?

The Geo-strategic link between all those countries is of course, Syria. Being the link, Syria hopes for more infrastructure projects (here), more investments (here) and telecommunications opportunities (here), but more importantly, it means that even though the US has not engaged with Syria (yet), the times of isolation are over. So even if Ankara or Yerevan are not Exactly London, and Baku is definitely not DC, it’s good enough for the time being. Is it?


Yoav Stern is Director, Business and economics department, Peres Center for Peace

Comments (49)

Alex said:

Yoav, I agree that lack of Arab unity during the Bush administration was one of the reasons Syria was motivated to invest more time and energy in solidifying its alliances with Turkey and Iran (and other Asian countries). But in general, Syria likes to add as many vectors (force with specific direction) that point to some degree in the right direction (even if not perfectly in the right direction)

This interactive graph might explain:

To Syria, each of those countries represents a force that has a specific strength and specific direction that will at some point be needed when Syria has to assemble all the forces it needs to push the region towards some desired direction (establishing a Middle East that does not take orders from outside in this case), or to assemble enough force to attenuate an opposite group of forces pushing in an undesirable direction (resisting American policies of the Bush administration in Iraq for example).

Want to see more vectors? … take a look at who President Assad met with this week in Damascus:

He accepted the Finnish “Order of the White Rose of the Grand Cross and Collar” from President Halonen of Finland:

Another medal he got from the visiting King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia:

Met with the Prime minister of Spain:

With the prime minister of Jordan

With Foreign minister of Yemen

Receiving a letter from President Sarkozy’s special envoy

With …

As President Clinton said … “more friends and less enemies”

October 22nd, 2009, 8:28 pm


Hassan said:

There is no Arab unity because Syria and Iran are lighting the region on fire with violence. Just look at that explosion (again) in Southern Lebanon that occurred a week ago. Hizbollah is continuing to stockpile weapons in the South, flagrantly violating UN Security Council resolutions. This is the kind of thing that stirs tensions in the delicate powder-keg that is Lebanon, and by extension the region as a whole. Syria’s support for Hezbollah (and the million other terror groups that it supports) and its relationship with Iran is the main cause of Arab disunity.

October 22nd, 2009, 10:02 pm


SimoHurtta said:

Seems that “pieces” on chess board of the center of Eurasia are moving.

Ankara moves toward ‘privileged partnership’ with Moscow

When the “west” can’t provide solutions, stability and growth to the region and lets Israel to play its endless games it seems, that neighbourhood is seriously beginning to consider other options.

Lets remember that of the oil China imports 15 percent come from Iran. Also Japan’s and South Korea’s energy security and economies depend much on that that Iranian oil comes without disturbance. So the Asian economical giants surely will have stakes and a voice in that “game” around Middle East.

October 22nd, 2009, 10:25 pm


Joshua said:

Yoav and Alex, many thanks for your fine article and analysis. As you suggest, it is not bad for a plan B… and everyone needs a plan B in these days of paralysis.

Here is the latest from Politico: “A White House readout of Clinton’s oral briefing suggested that despite some progress, success in getting peace talks relaunched still eludes the Obama administration…..

October 22nd, 2009, 11:01 pm


EHSANI2 said:


Syria has had a “relationship” with Iran since 1979.

Are you saying that this 30 year old relationship has been the “main cause of Arab disunity”?

So, are we to believe that once Syria throws Iran under the bus, Arabs will kiss, unite and live happily thereafter?

October 23rd, 2009, 12:34 am


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

If this grand alliance materializes, and even grows (plus Iraq, and maybe
plus Iran and plus Jordan), then it’s great news for the region.
This will increase stability, and will put some matureness into Arab (so
far) childish politics.
Arabs will stop to complain about the western colonial powers interference
in their lives, and maybe at last, it will be possible to do
business, with a responsible and a stable Arab-Turkish-Muslim partner.

October 23rd, 2009, 3:34 am


why-discuss said:

If this is really the strategy of Bashar, then he will be the first arab leader who developped a smart strategy for an economical union beyond the arab world. Israel won’t have a place in it unless it changes it attitude and comes up with a plan for Palestine and the palestinians. The prospect of doing business with this block maybe for Israel an incentive stronger than any political pressure.
Bashar seems to have well understood that a ‘petit-pas’ strategy of luring Israel to join this block or be excluded is bound to work better than a military or political confrontation where Israel has the upper hand. If it works he should have the next peace Nobel prize.
I won’t be surprised that this strategy has the green light of the Obama administration who is finding enormous difficulty to directly pressure Israel.

October 23rd, 2009, 4:46 am


jad said:

The ‘Four Seas’ vision of President Bashar is indeed a great idea for many reasons, the most important one for me is that it actually captured the essence and the soul of Syria through her long history of being the old world’s node for exchange of culture, ideas and trades, where everything get connected and where everything go through, this vision is the first time in our history for a Syrian political vision to get out of our border on this scale and be a success.
However, I want to repeat the same concerns I wrote couple months ago about the same subject; I really hope that this vision does take seriously the Syrian environmental issues since we have to be careful not to exchange our local environment misery with wealth, money doesn’t change the climate and it certainty doesn’t make diseases resulted from pollution to disappear and it defiantly doesn’t get us back our wasted water and natural resource.
Money or wealth are only good when we can enjoy them being healthy.

October 23rd, 2009, 5:43 am


Amir in Tel Aviv said:


Leave Israel out of it.!!
Bashar for a change is doing something useful, please don’t spoil it for him.
For once, stop thinking in terms of ‘what’s bad for Israel’, and start
thinking about what’s good for you and for your peoples, that are in
great need.
For once, concentrate on civil matters, the Arab economy, the Arab
health, the Arab education, the Arab prospects for the future…

So far you need Israel more than Israel needs you.
You need Israeli Intel produced processors to run your PCs, while
Israel can buy it’s Pistachios elsewhere. So do what’s good for you.

October 23rd, 2009, 2:54 pm


Pirouz said:

“the (Persian) Arab Gulf (The Arabian Sea)”

[This comment edited by moderator for bad language and needless insult]

It is the Persian Gulf. There, was that so hard? And BTW, if you find yourself forgetting this, just google the satellite image of Abu Musa Island. On the island’s Iranian military parade grounds, you’ll see the giant letters:


October 23rd, 2009, 4:35 pm


Ghat Albird said:

Its the same ole same old. The states of the Middle East are still being played like a violin by the EU and the US/zionist block. Its Saudi Arabia versus Iran ( come to think of it Saudi Arabia that has never held an election paying for Lebanese expatriates to fly home and vote!!!!) and criticising Iran that has held several elections within the ten years.

Saudi Arabia’s polcies vis a vis its Arab neighbors seems to be dictated by the US. Egypts participation in the Israeli/Palestenian conflict seems light hearted and again non supportive of Palestenian positions.The over all criticism is that the Arab states do not seem to have an overall set of goals that is acknowledged and accepted by them to be pursued.

It stands to reason that once they agrre without rancor to a set of goals and begin pursuing them that it will be the EU, the US and even the Russians and Chinese who will be obliged to ract accordingly.

Solana of the EU has already proclaimed that Israel is part of the EU. That should be enough of a wake-up call to Syria and others. Interesting to note that no one in the EU has declared that Turkey after so many years is a part of the EU.

The fact that Turkey’s leadership has begun a positive dialogue with Syria is very encouraging and bodes well for the long vaunted and desired demand for respect and justice from the rest of the world by the arab nations of the Middle East.

October 23rd, 2009, 5:29 pm


why-discuss said:


The pressure on Israel is a by-product of this smart strategy and I thought it was worth mentionning it.

Israel does not need the business and the money in the Arab world? Are you joking?
Without the billions Israel receives from the US, I wonder how far can Israel go in making Intel chips. Anyway now most computer parts are made in Indonesia, Taiwan, China, India. Please stick to your weapons factories and diamonds trading and Arabs will stick to pistachios and .. oil and gaz!

October 23rd, 2009, 6:00 pm


Innocent Criminal said:

Dear Yoav,

Excellent article, but I have a couple of questions I can’t find convincing answers to yet. What can Syria offer Turkey and some of the “four seas” countries in exchange for their financial & strategic support that Israel & US can’t match? And more importantly, is it valuable enough to allow Turkey to be OK with angering these two very powerful nations?

Many believe that Turkey has given up on becoming a full EU member and has shifted its strategy towards becoming the new leader of the Middle East and is doing so by distancing itself from Israel/US. But I highly doubt that Turkey is completely committed to this strategy for several reasons. It’s more likely that its rapprochement towards Syria is a strategic move specifically to “blackmail” the US & Israel into supporting Turkey’s regional and international national interests. Turkey’s long term interest has always and will continue to be with the US led NATO sphere of influence and will never go too far to jeopardize it. More importantly for Syria, this warming up of relationship with Turkey is almost exclusively dependant on the “Islamic” friendly AK Party. And just like all democratic nations the tide is bound to change to a less friendly party that can annul all progress made with Syria.

So while I commend the Turkish move toward a more “balanced” Middle Eastern policy I feel that one (especially Syrians) should not bet too heavily on the Turkish card as their long-term way back to the international community. Only a healthy mix of relations with most regional/international powers can be the soundest strategy.

October 23rd, 2009, 8:30 pm


Ghat Albird said:

Innocent criminal

is already worried about the changes taking place. which to this writer attests to the positive “small” steps taking place on the ME stage.

The EU has already informed Turkey through Solana’s statements that Israei is the one that is a “member” of the EU and indirectly that Turkey is not.

Until the Europeans and Zionist/Americans re-vamp their whole policies and attitudes towards Arabs/Muslims in the ME and institute rational and respectful actions the beginning of a “blowback” to US/EU and Israeli actions may already have started.

October 23rd, 2009, 8:52 pm


why-discuss said:

Innocent Criminal

You’re right, a change in Turkey may occur if Europe shows a serious interest in considering Turkey in the EU. Also if the Islamic governement in Turkey falls to the military then Syria-Turkey relationships may be hampered in theory.
This is why Syria is holding on its relationship with Iran. The Islamic Replublic of Iran cannot forget that Syria stood with it against Saddam Hossein and the rest of the Arabs. If you believe (you dream) that this republic will not last, then it is true Syria may be in trouble.
Yet for the next few years, Syria-Turkey-Arab countries relationship may bloom to the detriment of Israel. Turkey is an industrial country and with the European market closed, it will go through Syria to access Jordan, Iraq and all the other Arab countries to sell its products.
Syria is building a 432 kms highway from the Turkish border of Bab Al Hawa to the Jordanian border and a 351 kms between Tartus et al-Tanaf, at the Iraqi border.
It is expected that even if Turkey’ government changes, its economical relationships with arab counties will survive and therefore it will still need Syria.
It looks like a win-win situation…

October 23rd, 2009, 10:14 pm


Alex said:

I agree with both Innocent Criminal and Ghat Albird.

Turkey did not drop Israel and marry Syria … Turkey took a couple of visible steps away from Israel and closer to Syria. These steps might be one day partially reversible.

But it is not strictly a product of Erdogan and his Islamic party. I am confident that the Turkish people are overwhelmingly on the side of closer relations with Syria and a smaller but still sizable majority support their government’s stricter relations with Israel after what Israel did in Gaza.

And Europe’s unlimited hypocrisy is also damaging relations with both Turkey and Syria … If Europe will rush to welcome Israel without paying any attention to Israel’s horrible treatment of the Palestinians, while subjecting agreements with Syria and Turkey to strict human rights clauses … I hope the Europeans understand how fast they are losing credit with the people (not governments) of both Syria and Turkey .. they are playing with fire on the long run … this looks like a bias against Muslim countries.

October 23rd, 2009, 10:15 pm


Alex said:

By the way, Yoav was able to get the BBC to send us the audio file to the interesting program they had on Syrian/Turkish/Israeli relations and the four seas strategy.

Here it is (in Arabic)

October 23rd, 2009, 10:18 pm


SimoHurtta said:

So far you need Israel more than Israel needs you.
You need Israeli Intel produced processors to run your PCs, while
Israel can buy it’s Pistachios elsewhere. So do what’s good for you.

You Israelis Amir in Tel Aviv have an asthonishing way of thinking that the “earth circles Israel”. Israel is the number 42 economy in the world just ahead of Romania. In the region and among Arab countries Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and UAE have bigger economies. The saga that Israel makes most patents is an urban Israeli legend. The reality is that nothing Israel produces is so vital to the world that it could not be or is already produced else where.

Let us analyse Israel’s trade with the region. Turkey is presently your only relevant trade partner. Import 1 240.8 mio € and export 1 094.4. The trade with Jordan is 267,5 mio € and with Egypt 183.9. With others little over zero.

In the Israeli comments of the recent worsening of Israel’s ties with Turkey is often mentioned that this will hurt Turkey more than it does Israel. That would be true if Israel in future would build energy and water pipelines to Turkey and sell those items to Turkey and Turkish war planes could practice in Israeli airspace. But we know that it is not so.

Look at the trade partners of Israel and Turkey (page 6 in the pdf files)
Turkey has large trade with region and is in no way depending from Israeli trade. Alone the trade with Syria is already halve of the trade with Israel.

If you Amir continue like you have done in the last year Israel will become the North Korea of Asia’s western side. The difference is that the eastern North Korea has plenty of valuable raw materials, water and area, the western has not.

The EU has already informed Turkey through Solana’s statements that Israei is the one that is a “member” of the EU and indirectly that Turkey is not.

Has EU done that? Meaning informed that Israel is a member? Surely Turkey’s membership is not popular among the public in many EU countries, but I suppose Israel’s membership would be even more unpopular.

The Turkey membership battle is far from over. EU understands perfectly well that if it wants to get alternative oil and gas lines from Middle East and Caspian region that can be only done through Turkey. If EU abandons Turkey it means Turkey will ally with Russia and China and Russian dominated gas monopoly could be a reality if Iran joins the “team”. EU needs also stability in the region to lower the unwanted high immigration from Middle East. Turkey has still excellent cards in the negotiations.

October 23rd, 2009, 10:32 pm


Ghat Albird said:


Good observations. Why people do not accept the facts that WITHOUT US financial and military support Israel will cease to exist as many Zionists think it can.

For some Israel is living in a fantasy world. And in some ways they are they are getting $15 million dollars a day everyday of the year from the USA. This at the same time that many people in the US are become homeless and unemployed. And several states like California are bankrupt.

The question is how long will the fantasy last?

October 23rd, 2009, 11:59 pm


Yossi said:

Oh well, finally a topic is raised which I’m somewhat knowledgeable about.

Many of my class mates from the Technion work in the Intel design center in Haifa and I have been working with Intel on various collaborations during the last three years (I work for Microsoft). Intel has two CPU *design* centers, one is in Portland, OR and the other is in Haifa. The parts are fabricated in South East Asia after their design is complete, but the design is the crucial part in this business (otherwise you’d see many more players in the market, and not just Intel and AMD). Over the last decade these two centers, in Haifa and Portland, have been competing for influence and “hegemony” within the Intel Mamoth. The Haifa team has been winning this battle big time after a series of flops from Portland. The Haifa team has been responsible for the Centrino and Atom designs which revolutionized mobile computers, as well as the Core design that is responsible for the multi-Core chips you buy today when you get a new PC. Portland has been bogged down with a design called P4 which never met its performance, quality and schedule goals and seriously hurt the company in its battle against AMD. The have been books written about this stuff. To some these battles are far more interesting then Israel vs. the Arab world!

One of the main tasks of Portland these days is to enter the graphical processors world with a product called Larrabee, and you can read in the Internet rumor-mill how well they are doing on that (hint: not good).

So *Intel* does depend on its Haifa team to maintain its leadership in the market. The Haifa execs have risen in the company and now basically own all of the design (both Haifa and elsewhere). Read about David Perlmutter if you want to learn what a successful hi-tech person from Israel looks like

BTW, the Haifa team continued working during the shelling in the 2006 Lebanon war, when rockets were literally falling around them. They’d grab their laptops and continue working from the underground shelter in the building whenever the siren was activated. The Portland team is a typical 9 to 5, go home if my throat is a little bit soar, corporate America type of organization with no such zeal for success.

The irony is that even though Intel as a market leader in this core technology segment has such a reliance on Israel, the only benefit the Israeli government derives from this is the tax on the salaries of the engineers employed in Haifa. The Haifa team doesn’t have any direct sales and doesn’t directly generate any revenue.

October 24th, 2009, 2:36 am


Alex said:

I’ll agree with Yossi, that the Haifa design center is producing winning products for Intel.

But another benefit for Israel from Intel’s center in Haifa: a good reputation that helps Israel to promote itself with other high tech companies to follow in Intel’s footsteps and establish R and D centers in Israel.

Everyone knows Intel has a design center in Israel.

October 24th, 2009, 3:13 am


Alex said:

And by the way Yossi .. if you read Arabic, if I were you I would not be showing off that much with your Haifa design Center.

Look at what we can do:

October 24th, 2009, 3:17 am


Yossi said:


That’s right… after Intel opened the R&D center in Haifa, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Philips Meidcal, Qualcom and others followed suit… but none of the other development centers has the impact that the Intel design center has, on their parent corporations.

October 24th, 2009, 4:50 am


Shami said:

Alex and Norman ,this is for you:

Alex ,such lebanese are a shame.Many or most recipes that we find in the lebanese restaurants are from Turkey,Syria and other parts of bilad asham.
Hummus has non precise origin but belongs to the region called bilad of sham and not solely lebanese ,we also found it in egypt and turkey since long time ago.
Anyway the best culinary art in this region is Aleppine and Turkish.
Egypt has a great cultural heritage and huge history ,which contrast with its poor cuisine.
The Maghrebian gastronomy is also great and rich.

October 24th, 2009, 4:52 am


Shami said:

I’m coming back from an a trip in north africa,previously i visited egypt ,i saw the improvment that happened there ,countries that had a 8 times less important GDP per capita than the Syrian one(Tunisia and Morroco) in the 1970’s are now ahead of us regarding the same indicator .There are important syrian communities who live there and they are among the wealthiest people and very respectable and loved by the native peoples.
May the Asad house be cursed for the disaster against Syria and the abasement of its people.
Norman ,90% of the problems find their origins from this nusayri dictatorship who acted and still act as enemies of the Arab and Muslim peoples.
They are worse than the Zionists,because they are a product of those ,this regime that destroyed Syria resulted of a Kissingerian -Israeli deal,this is a known fact.

October 24th, 2009, 12:30 pm


Shami said:

(Egypt and Morroco) sorry.

October 24th, 2009, 1:17 pm


norman said:

Thank you for the article about Mardin , i do not know if you know that my great grand father came from Mardin and settled in Hama ,

About Syria , most of the rules that put Syria on a socialist path and destroyed the interpunor’s spirit was started during the Nasser era , it is unfortunate that it took so long to change it, It is being done during president Assad time , Syria is moving in the right direction .

October 24th, 2009, 1:37 pm


norman said:

Published on Manila Bulletin (

Home > The Road to Syria


The Road to Syria

Ruins of the old city in Palmyra (photo by RONALD G. JAYME)”Every cultured man belongs to two nations, his own and Syria.” This statement somehow validates the written facts about Syria being the cradle of civilization. But this could be more substantiated by actually exploring the enormity of its role in human history, particularly in the realm of Christianity. To be present in the very place mentioned in the Holy Bible (where Syria is often cited with its capital, Damascus) is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To be able to walk along the Straight Street where St. Paul visited during his conversion to Christianity, can also be considered as a significant event in one’s journey through life.

There could be one hundred and one reasons why this ancient nation is worth exploring as it provides you not only a glimpse of the old world but also the unique story of civilization. As Syria’s Minister of Tourism Dr. Saadallah Agha Alqalah puts it: “Syria is a huge museum, harboring the antiquities of more than 20 different civilizations – depicting in all the history of human civilization and realizing a unique variety of the world level. Nature is obviously various including coast, mountains, forests, steppe, rivers, caves and caverns, natural and artificial lakes, and winter and summer resorts. It also intermixes with the variety of antiquity and ancient cities, harboring their souqs, old houses, handicrafts and traditional industries – forming a compound attractive and unique tourist products, binding visit to seeing historical lifestyles, in addition to reviewing traditional arts and practicing attractive various tourist activities.”

Syria’s geographical backdrop has played an important part in shaping trade relations and interweaving of culture and traditions among countries in the olden times. It used to be the “heart” or meeting point of Silk Road caravans coming from the east and west. To recapture this historic episode and to highlight the early interactions among people of different ethnicity, the Syrian Ministry of Tourism has organized an annual event dubbed as the “Silk Road Festival.”

Now on its eighth year, the Silk Road Festival is part of the tourism cooperation between the Philippines and Syria. Part of the Memorandum of Agreement signed between the Philippine Department of Tourism and Syrian Ministry of Tourism is “to deepen the cooperation in the field of tourism between the two countries, and shall pay attention to cultural and historical tourism.”

In his message during the opening activity held in Damascus Citadel, Dr. Alqalah shared, “In 2002, the government adopted the new vision of tourism to be a basic pillar to the national economy and a bridge of dialogue between nations, and one of the engines of the regional development. The festival was able to present to the world the method in which the old world was able to bypass its conflicts through creative interaction between civilizations in which Syria was its heart and center due to its geographical location.”

Touring some of the important places in Syria where the caravans used to converge (such as Damascus, Palmyra, Aleppo, Hama, Homs, Tartus, and Maalula) is a spectacle to behold – where history is literally present in all corners of this age-old nation of rich heritage.

The Old City of Damascus

Considered as the most ancient inhabited city, Damascus characterizes a colorful blend of antiquity and contemporary world. This Syrian capital is abounded with magnificent tradition and culture that withstood through the years. On top of its prehistoric archeological countryside, this old metropolis is also a great place for religious pilgrimage wherein Islamic mosques and Christian churches thrive. The Omayyad Mosque is one astounding attraction where the tomb of St. John the Baptist is housed. The city is also famous for its old covered souqs or markets. The Al-Hamidieh Souq, with its stretch starts close to the Damascus Citadel up to the Omayyad Mosque, is a haven for shoppers where traditional arts and other local products burgeoned.

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October 24th, 2009, 1:57 pm


why-discuss said:


I have no doubt about the intellectual capabilities of the jewish people. Throughout history they have shown amazing talents and are still among the most educated and creative people.
Unfortunatly this intelligence is not reflected in the political hierarchy of Israel as jewish talents have always be concentrated on arts, science, technology, finance, social sciences, law, psychology and not in politics as throughout history they were generally excluded from the political field.
With few exceptions, the politicians in Israel seem far below the intelligentsia in Israel. Is being lead by such people a source of frustration for Israelis?

October 24th, 2009, 1:59 pm


why-discuss said:

Bill Moyers discusses the Gaza report with Judge Richard Goldstone

October 24th, 2009, 2:04 pm


Ghat Albird said:


Javier Solana (former NATO Secretary-General and, currently, High Representative of the European Union.

A very fit Solana declared: “Allow me to say that ISRAEL IS A MEMBER OF THE EUROPEAN UNION…”. He added that Israel is an “integral part of all EU programmes”, contributing with its eminent know-how in leading technologies.

Reported on European websites.

October 24th, 2009, 4:42 pm


Yossi said:

Dear Why-Discuss,

>>> Is being lead by such people a source of frustration for Israelis?

It is a source of frustration for *some* people, for example Yitzhak Laor, who wrote a few days ago..

… When public opinion doesn’t influence anything for years it dies out, at least while its subjects are law abiding and don’t become military or tax objectors. The paralysis gripping Israelis in everyday life is fed by the emptying of political life of democratic content. Hence the thrill when “the world is against us,” or when “we’re up against the world” – the world in the latter case being the besieged Palestinians. On occasion, “public opinion” stumbles on the Armenian genocide, because that’s what the politicians told it. And the next day comes a new patriotic thrill.

At the same time, you could say the same things to a large degree about the US, France and Italy. The rule of the people is a mirage and people got tired of politics, but as long as their personal civil liberties are more or less intact, the average professional is just satisfied in channeling his or her creativity to the business domain.

Zizek also touched on this a few days ago in democracy now:

…You know Niels Bohr, Copenhagen, quantum physics guy. You know, once he was visited in his country house by a friend who saw above the entrance a horseshoe, you know, in Europe, the superstitious item allegedly preventing evil spirits to enter the house. And the friend, also a scientist, asked him, “But listen, do you really believe in this?” Niels Bohr said, “Of course not. I’m not an idiot. I’m a scientist.” Then the friend asked him, “But why do you have it there?” You know what Niels Borh answered? He said, “I don’t believe in it, but I have it there, horseshoe, because I was told that it works even if you don’t believe in it.”

That’s ideology today. We don’t believe in democracy—nobody. You make fun of it and so on, but somehow we act as if it works. It’s a very strange situation, because there are—some of us old enough still remember them, old days when the public face of power was dignity, belief. And privately you mocked it, you made fun, and so on, no? Now we are, I think, approaching a very strange state, where the public face of power is becoming more and more openly indecent, obscene. Look at Sarkozy in France. Look at Berlusconi in Italy, who is systematically undermining, for over five years now, the minimum of dignity of the state power. I mean, you are again and again surprised how is this possible. You know, after those sex scandals, two weeks ago, his lawyer, Berlusconi’s lawyer, made a public official statement, where he said that the claims that Berlusconi is impotent are lies and that Mr. Berlusconi is ready to prove this in court. Now, how? How—what did he mean? You know, there is a level of obscenity, but this shouldn’t deceive us. We really live in cynical times, not just in this cheap sense they don’t take themselves seriously, but in the sense that—how should I put it?—the ironic self-undermining, making fun of yourself, is in a strange way part of the game. It’s as if the system can function even if it makes fun of itself.

This is why I believe Giora Eiland when he says this:

… the head of the National Security Council at the time of the 2005 disengagement, Maj. Gen (res.) Giora Eiland, is convinced that Israel is incapable of evacuating settlements on the West Bank.

In his testimony before the state commission of inquiry on the handling of the Gush Katif evacuees, Eiland said: “On the level of the state, is the state capable, yes or no, of taking steps which are certainly politically controversial – the answer is certainly not. We are a neutralized country. What, that isn’t clear?”…

For about 10 years I was in a position where I constantly met with the political echelon of the State of Israel, and I can tell you about projects that are much more of an emergency than this [i.e. pullouts] – not because they are more important but because they are more urgent, they cannot be delayed,” he told the commission in explaining his lack of faith in the government’s ability to carry out its policies.

“Five years ago there was an attempt by terrorists to attack an El Al or Arkia plane in Kenya,” he said in describing one of his experiences. “They shot a missile at a plane with 278 passengers, which missed the plane by a few meters. The cabinet met and decided to provide an answer in the former of electronic warfare against missiles. A budget was set aside, there was project A and project B, everyone gathered about, but then the project was stopped. One reason was a disagreement between the Finance and Transportation Ministers, Bibi [Netanyahu] and Meir Sheetrit at the time, over NIS 5 million. Who will be responsible for the maintenance of the system, will it be part of the role of the Transportation Ministry or will it require a dedicated budget from the Finance Ministry?

“Two years after the project started,” Eiland continued, “there was a special discussion in the cabinet, lead by Sharon, and the Chief of Staff attended and me, as the head of the Planning Branch, and Dan Halutz who was then commander of the Air Force, and the relevant ministers. And the discussion – do you know how it ended? The prime minister said: ‘Good, try somehow to meet and arrange [things] between yourselves.’ That is how the State of Israel functions – for anyone who doesn’t know.”

Another example he gave was the NIS 17 billion earmarked for developing the Negev and Galilee. “What happened there?” he asked.

Part of the problem, he said, is to be found in the structure of the Israeli political and governing system. The prime minister needs cooperation, he explained, and no one is interested in cooperating. Even if a minister is from the prime minister’s party, they usually want to replace him. It is impossible to run a country this way and the cabinet is not capable of implementing large, national projects,” he said, accusing the bureaucracy of taking over the system. He also voiced criticism of the over-legalization of Israel…

October 24th, 2009, 5:30 pm


Off the Wall said:

I have been hopping planes for most of the past week. Between flights, meetings, and whenever I could muster some energy in my hotel room(s), I was reading the very interesting conversations on SC pages, but with my big fingers, it was hard to use the PDA’s virtual keyboards to comment on some major issues, especially being no fan of short bits of smart ass responses.

First, and most importantly, with the arrest and trial (by Military Court?!) of the elderly civilian Mr. Maleh, one more credible voice for civil rights and liberties in Syria has being silenced, and those who arrested and are now trying him do not recognize that by doing so, they are pushing many Syrians into other alternatives that are not necessarily conducive of National Unity . Haitham Mannaa recently wrote an article in Alquds-Al-Arabi in which he described the prevailing security bureaucracy in Tunisia, and it was obvious that similar statements, with slightly varying shades can be made from Iraq to Morocco. I believe that we need a new Arab-Baath, not to advocate socialism, or Arab unity, or a tortured concept of state freedom (which was mostly about freedom from colonialism), and certainly not to advocate an Islamic Baath, but a Baath of societal values where the focus is on human rights, civil liberties, and freedom from the vulgarity of intellectual and physical violence prevalent at all social units from family to country scales. The Arab Culture is failing, and we must face that. It is not enough to challenge one government, the whole Arab society, its founding principles, its sickening patriarchy, its quest for conformity in the name of unity, and its regression to meaningless interpretation developed during the worst era of intellectual atrophy in Islam, that must be challenged by each and every one of us. It is not enough to talk about this or that regime, for one must behold the Prophet’s words (كما تكونوا يولى عليكم) “as you are shall be your rulers”. The whole society needs a major renewal; otherwise, reforms will continue to be cosmetic and will never become drivers of true progress, and regimes, from the Gulf to the Atlantic and from the Mediterranean to the great desert of Africa, whether motivated by their misguided belief that they are the only capable guards of national interests, or by mere personal interests, will continue to isolate and hunt one civil rights advocate at a time without being challenged or even questioned. It is more than depressing, it is vulgar.

Hard as it is to set aside the Arab Israeli conflict, reading Yossi’s description of Intel’s Haifa design team, and the description of the differentiating characteristics between that productive and creative team and the other design house in Oregon, one learns not only the lesson that the US work culture is changing to the worst, but that the Israeli society, young as it is, is a society that thrives on pushing envelopes. It is doing so in art, literature, science, and in social norms. With all of its failings and continuing racism, it is a dynamic society built on facing most challenges heads on and that even leaves its marks on individuals struggling against its racism including a few Israeli Arabs. One would wish that such would transcend the close narrow vision that society has of itself regarding the inhumane occupation and I am baffled by how such a dynamic vibrant society can allow the settlers minority to hold it hostage for such a long time. It is also a society that is in desperate need for a different sort of Baath, a Baath that will shed the settlers’ mentality, which is an extreme form of racially motivated envelop pushing frontier mindset that considers ones group right to liberties and happiness as superior to the rights of others. What a shameful vulgarity of contradictions.

October 24th, 2009, 6:35 pm


jad said:

You keep repeating the same thing about Solana saying that Israel is a EU member, SO WHAT?
What is the negative/abnormal issue you are seeing in that?
If the majority of Israelis are European immigrants and Israel was created as a solution for Europe to get rid of its guilt and now Europe steps over everything it teaches about human rights when it comes to Israel did you or any rational human being in the world expect other than what Solana said? Beside, I think that this might be a good thing after all since the union is filled with human right groups and powerful organizations that has a very loud voice and has some power to actually force Israel to see the atrocity it is committing against Palestinians and in the long run it will be another pressure over Israeli politicians to change the situation we have for the last 60 years.
Have you heard or read about Leibniz’s “Best of all possible worlds” I suggest you check it out, and regardless of all the critics and fun made about this philosophy, I think it has a good logic and it makes you be optimist in this crazy world even when optimism sounds irrational and laughable.

October 24th, 2009, 6:38 pm


Alex said:


What would you suggest or hope to see in order to change the way Israel is governed?

October 24th, 2009, 6:40 pm


jad said:

I can’t tell you how angry I was and still reading Mr. Almaleh arrest by a corrupted government that lost the visions and the reasons to become a better version of itself.
What they did is not only arresting a Syrian human being or a Syrian Lawyer or a Syrian voice, they arrest the hope, the message, the freedom and the passion of every Syrian man and women who believes in a better future.
‘Vulgar’ is still mild to call those who arrest Mr. Almaleh or those fake lawyers who lost the last piece of justice conciseness they one day promised to keep by standing against their professional colleague because someone, somewhere ordered them to do as we witness.
This whole human right activism suppress machine is going to the garbage bin sooner or later with Mr. Almaleh and his friends or without, in Syria, Tunisia, Egypt even in Palestine and Israel, the old way of thinking is gone there is no place for that in any future anywhere in the world, once a blind person opens his eyes he cant pretend being blind anymore, he wants to see the beauty surrounding him he wants to run, to bike to go everywhere explore every corner around him to catch up what he misses for very long time and to march side by side with other people in building a better future.
I agree with Octavia Nasr (CNN) that what driving the real change in the Arab countries are feminists, gay people and bloggers because we don’t have ‘men’ any more in our Arab world, all our true honored ‘men’ are either dead or in prison, we the Arabs managed to put all our honor men (even the women ‘men’) away and we are still doing that, very well said OTW, “What a shameful vulgarity of contradictions’

October 24th, 2009, 8:09 pm


SimoHurtta said:

Surely big companies have research centers in Israel, but portraying the situation as Amir in Tel Aviv does “Israel doesn’t sell Intel based computers to stupid Arabs/Muslims” is absurd. If over one billion Muslims would begin to boycott computers build on Intel chips, because of the Israel connection, how long would that research center and factories stay in Haifa and Israel? One month?

Most of Israel’s export consists of rather basic products. For example the export to EU consists of
Chemical products (TDC 06) 19.9%
Machinery and mechanical appliances; electrical equipment (TDC 16) 19.4%
Gem stones (TDC 14) 14.3%
Mineral products (TDC 05) 9.4%
Plastics (TDC 07) 8%
Vegetables (TDC 02) 6.5%
Weapons (TDC 19) 0.4%

Israel likes to advertise itself as high tech center of the world and it seems that Israelis and some outsiders are believing that propaganda. Surely Israel is a high tech country compared to the countries in the region, but when the comparison group are other developed western countries the “high tech glory and success” vanishes. Finland, Sweden, Germany, Holland, France, Ausria etc have as much or more high tech “muscle” as Israel has. Not to mention the Asian giants.

The reality is that Israel is a small country with resources of a small country. The only thing which makes Israel “big and important” is its ability to manipulate USA and inflict religious tensions and wars.

By the way most of the patents of which Nokia and Apple are now in court were made in Finnish research centers in the 90’s. Without those patents building a functioning modern mobile phone like iPhone is impossible said a Finnish telecom professor. What if some Finns would bully in Tel Aviv Amir’s style on internet that no mobile phones to “stupid Russians”? Even the extreme here suffering from severe russofobia are not so crazy to express such megalomaniac views.


Solana declared: “Allow me to say that ISRAEL IS A MEMBER OF THE EUROPEAN UNION…”

Actually Solana said: “Israel, allow me to say, is member of the European Union without being a member of the institution. It’s a member of all the programs, it participates in all the programs. And I’d like to emphasize and underline, with a very big, thick line [that Israel participates] in [helping us deal] with all the problems of research and technology, which are very important.”

That statement was extremely stupid and unnecessary diplomatic ass licking by Solana, because Israel would never for its severe problems with the legislation and treatment of minorities fulfil EU membership demands. If Israel would be accepted as it is now then Croatia, of which Solana “jokes” in the same speech from where this quote is, or Turkey could “freely” put all minorities to Gaza type concentration camps and steal their lands and properties and create a religious apartheid state.

October 24th, 2009, 8:36 pm


norman said:


Amen to what you said ,

By the way , I for one don’t write long notes , because i don’t write nice notes as you do .

October 24th, 2009, 9:59 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Israel likes to advertise itself as high tech center of the world and it seems that Israelis and some outsiders are believing that propaganda. Surely Israel is a high tech country compared to the countries in the region, but when the comparison group are other developed western countries the “high tech glory and success” vanishes. Finland, Sweden, Germany, Holland, France, Ausria etc have as much or more high tech “muscle” as Israel has. Not to mention the Asian giants.

The reality is that Israel is a small country with resources of a small country. The only thing which makes Israel “big and important” is its ability to manipulate USA and inflict religious tensions and wars.


You said, “Israel likes to advertise itself as high tech center of the world and it seems that Israelis and some outsiders are believing that propaganda.”

Then you said that, “Surely Israel is a high tech country compared to the countries in the region…”.

So where exactly is the “propaganda”?

I think the only thing which makes Israel “big and important” is the “disproportionate” attention Israel gets from anti-semites. In other words, those that hate Israel can’t help from blaming Israel for whatever she does whereas other countries are left to do as they please.

October 24th, 2009, 10:30 pm


Off the Wall said:


Are you calling the US administration antisemitic?. No one pays more attention to Israel than our congress, who gives both disproportionate moral (actually immoral) support and money to Israel.

Exports are not the only measure of technological advances. The success of Israel in advertising itself as a high tech hub rests more on advertising the “know how” part of the process, not the gadget making part. It also rests on finding little but important niches in key parts of the process (e.g. design) as Finland design houses did with the mobile phone technology you described.

It its plausible that the GOI has not much to do with the successes of such IT ventures as such success relies more on the audacity and the vision of the individual team leaders and the talents and commitments of team members. But there is no doubt and as Alex said, the government, along with the Amirs of someplace or another boast these successes as part and parcel of continuing attempts to present Israel as the cultural and intellectual frontier of western civilization amongst the “Airab Barbarians”. That is racist, and there is no point in giving it the credence of attention, at least for me. I doubt that the engineers in Haifa are thinking this way, but their government is for sure using their success to its own ends.

That said, i think most of us know how to filter one from the other, especially those of us beating our heads against the wall in our attempts to get our own societies to think with a vision and to break the taboos that shackle our own economic and political progress. Success stories are what they are. But I happen to agree with your comment regarding Intel’s action if its sales in the Arab and Islamic worlds are to suffer because of the Haifa connection. But can you also imagine the “congressional resolutions” or even acts that will follow to punish any country which tries to boycott Intel. After all, While both Intel and AMD are US companies, their sales support US economy nonetheless. Here lies the success in establishing a connection that is not only important to Israel but to an important segment (even psychologically) of its own protector’s economy.

The Haifa team success story is important to me in two aspects, first as an Arab American who wants to understand why haven’t the oil money, which exceeds any financial support Israel has received from the US over the past 60 years, given a rise to an Arab technological revolution, and second in understanding the changing work ethics of my (9-to-5) fellow Americans who see the $ signs much bigger than they care about actual success and about making things as we used to do. I guess our reliance on the inertia of our might is going to be our downfall, but it is the windfall for more competitive countries small and large alike. In both cases, sucess stories from Finland, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, and other countries will also be as important if not more.

October 25th, 2009, 1:08 am


Yossi said:

Dear Alex,

>>> What would you suggest or hope to see in order to change the way Israel is governed?

I don’t know, maybe a tall and blue-eyed unelected ruler? Do you have one we could borrow? 🙂

Like I said, I think that the trivialization of the political process is not something that is unique to Israel. It has to do a lot with the mass media culture of brainwashing that we are subjected to. Just peep through your neighbors’ windows and watch them swallow whatever FOX is putting out there for them to consume (maybe Canada is slightly better than the US in this respect, though, and maybe Obama’s election reflects a change is direction, I’d hope so).

On this foundation of global propaganda and brainwashing Israel also has its unique issues due to its up-and-close conflict with the Arab world. The military budget is huge and there is very little oversight and accountability that is demanded from the army. So the average citizen is residing in a climate where he doesn’t know what is being done with his money, and he knows that this is OK, because the army protects him and needs to maintain secrecy in order to do that efficiently. Thus develops a political culture where accountability is not demanded from elected officials and therefore there is no connection between what you voted and what you get. It’s pretty much like Laor said: you elect the candidate that stinks the least and you don’t elect them to do anything specific, but to generally manage the state as best as they can. Then they do whatever they want for 4 years until the next election. In all honesty, when the rules of the game are that if two soldiers are captured, then the entire country goes to a war for a month, then what kind of promise to the voter is possible? One of the casualties of the Lebanon war was the expansion of the train line between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. They needed the budget to back-fill all the weapon they used. Was there any discussion about what is more necessary, a war or a train line? No. It’s not really a question that makes sense in Israel. The most extravagant use of power will always be more “needed” than anything else.

My wish is, of course, to get to a state of normalcy and to create an equal society, and to live in good neighborhood with the region. So peace is evidently a necessary ingredient for the enrichment of the political process in Israel, and this is why, I believe, all the parties in Israel that have been trying to promote social justice inside Israel are also the staunchest supporters or true peace between Israelis and Arabs. There really aren’t any shortcuts here.

What I would suggest is to expose people to diverse sources of information that will:
a. Give them a different perspective on current and historical events, and
b. Give them broader background about the relationships between citizen and state and how they should and can affect change

Israel, unlike the US, was not born with a healthy dose of suspicion towards government. On the contrary, Israelis to a great still do believe, that the government, just because it’s a “Jewish” government, will always have perfect alignment with their needs and ambitions and will never abuse its power. But alas the conflict between governed and governor will always exist, even in the state of the chosen people… Over time people will internalize this and will require better representation and accountability, but accelerating the process with grass roots education seems like the best that could be done at this point.

October 25th, 2009, 3:40 am


Alex said:

Thanks Yossi, I knew I will get the most informative answer from you.

If your government is optimized for fighting Israel’s Arab enemies, ours is optimized for supporting the country’s regional policies and strategies … and since Syria confronts Israel mostly by playing the regional chess game, we end up having the same problem you have in Israel … tolerance for the leadership system’s flaws (including the same secrecy about how defense spending) because of the conflict and because people generally (not all) seem to be satisfied with our leaders’ performance (foreign policy wise)

And of course now the United States joined us to some extent … Mr. Cheney wanted his countrymen to tolerate many of their administration’s mistakes because the administration is too busy .. fighting terror.

But the point I want to make is that while we in Syria know that we absolutely need to reform our political system (you know, since it is not considered a “democracy”) … People in Israel (and the United States) seem to be mostly proud of their “democracies” … not realizing that while they are surely better off than authoritarian systems, their democracies are increasingly engaging in more brain washing, corruption, racism, lack of respect of human rights, and violence (outside their borders) … not very much unlike some of the more backward governments around the world.

October 25th, 2009, 7:16 am


Shami said:

Otw,i dont like Ben Ali but as bad the tunisian autocrat is but at least Tunisia can claim some crucial achievements under this rule and the previous one.In
In Syria we have the worst,even worse than the libyan clown.
Even the most important islamic party in Tunisia recognizes that the improvment of the tunisian women status was not bad thing.
The syrian human rights activisits and the tunisian ones ,cooperate, Muncif Al Marzouqi write about the human disaster in Syria.

October 25th, 2009, 12:27 pm


norman said:

An interview with president Assad ,


Democratic initiative will affect Syria as well, says Assad
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said he appreciates the efforts undertaken by Turkey, which rushed to mediate between Syria and Iraq in order to ease the tension that arose between the two countries after several bombs recently exploded in Baghdad.

Pointing out that he supports Turkey’s democratization initiative, which aims to settle the Kurdish issue, as well as its Armenian initiative, Assad said Syria is ready to do its part to help, particularly with respect to the Kurdish initiative. He noted that whatever its results, Turkey’s democratic initiative will also affect Syria.

At the Qasr al-Shaab (the People’s Palace) in Damascus, where special guests were hosted ahead of Assad’s visit to Turkey scheduled for Wednesday, Assad held a press conference specifically for the editors-in-chief of some Turkish newspapers, including Today’s Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bülent Keneş. Assad said that if the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) decides to lay down arms, his country can accept the return of the PKK’s Syrian members in support of Turkey’s democratization initiative. Noting that they will pardon these militants, the Syrian president underlined that the outcome of the democratization initiative would inevitably affect Syria. “If some people, be they in Syria or in Turkey, decide to abandon terrorist activities, then we must accept and afford protection to them. We did the same thing with the Muslim Brotherhood issue in the 1980s. As a state, we embrace those who have abandoned terrorist practices. We will embrace and pardon again. A state should pardon, because our aim is to eliminate terrorism, not to take revenge,” he said.

Syrian President Assad says his country can accept the return of Syrian PKK members, in support of Turkey’s democratization initiative. He also warns that a possible US or Israeli attack on Iran would destabilize the Mideast

On the other hand, Assad stressed that they do not welcome the idea of holding direct talks with Israel without Turkey’s intermediation. He said they want indirect talks conducted through Turkey’s intermediation to reach concrete results before moving on to the direct talks. He also underlined that while they are against any Middle Eastern country’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, they also do not want Iran to face a military intervention by the US or Israel as a result of this issue.

The Syrian president also responded to the following questions posed by Turkish journalists:

Since the war in Iraq, there have been a number of developments that closely concern Syria and Turkey. After these numerous developments, do you think the region is now safer than before for Syria?

There are both positive and negative aspects to the developments that occurred after the occupation of Iraq. On the negative side, in terms of the consequences of the war, the security situation in Iraq, as we all know, is very bad. Confusion and chaos create a suitable environment for terrorism everywhere. And terrorism will use this environment in order to strike other countries. In this respect, the postwar region is no more stable than before. But, as you know, there are always “buts,” and there were things that we have learned from this process. In the first place, we must note that we have learned that the attitudes and views of Turkey and Syria were right and correct. As you know, before the war in Iraq, the leaders of some countries had come to us and lectured us. But, it came out that they were wrong and we were right. By the way, we have learned another thing: The solution offered from outside the region does not always solve the issue. We have insistently asserted that this occupation will not be a solution, but will have destructive effects. That is, we need to make this distinction: We need to stress that there is a difference between having good relations and surrendering.

As you know, Iraq claims that Syria is responsible for the recent bombings in Baghdad. What do you say in response to these accusations? What do you think of Turkey’s intermediation efforts between the two countries? Can you say that the problem with Iraq is close to being settled?

Turkey’s intermediation efforts arrived really quickly. Timing was an important factor. Moreover, Turkey’s approach was really objective and realistic. As a matter of fact, Turkey’s general approach is, “If some problems arise among my neighbors, this will affect me in some way or another.” Before Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu came to Damascus, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called me, and I immediately responded positively to his offer of intermediation and supported Turkey’s efforts. In several days [on Wednesday], we will hold a meeting in Turkey to discuss this problem.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met with the editors-in-chief of several Turkish newspapers, including Today’s Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bülent Keneş (L), over the weekend.

But Syria was held responsible for the explosion in Baghdad. And Iraq accused your country. What really happened there?

We were really shocked to hear those accusations because we had signed a strategic cooperation agreement with [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki only two days before. Moreover, about 1.5 million Iraqi refugees are living in Syria. Despite this, we are accused of killing Iraqi people. Some claim that Baathist insurgents are backed by Syria. Such a thing is illogical. The problem is inside [Iraq]. There is an atmosphere of conflicts and clashes in Iraq, but Iraqis tend to put the blame on external forces, and they accuse us. Since 2004, they have applied to us many times, demanding that we extradite people from the Iraqi opposition to them. But they do not offer us any proof of the crimes these people are accused of. We tell them that we will give those people to them if they submit evidence to us, but until now, they have failed to provide any such evidence.

Turkey will soon hold a joint cabinet meeting with the Iraqi government, and it has been declared that it may hold a similar meeting with Syria. What is the Syrian side’s approach to such cooperation? Do you welcome this proposal?

During my visit to Turkey, we will clarify this matter. There is already a similar mechanism in place between Syria and Iraq. It is our opinion that any good relations between two neighboring countries will prove beneficial to all neighbors. For instance, if Turkey had not had good relations with Iraq, how would it have been possible for it to initiate intermediation efforts between Iraq and us? For this reason, if bilateral relations are improved to the highest extent possible, this will be beneficial to all countries in the region.

‘The Armenian initiative closely concerns us’
Turkey has recently launched an initiative to open the common border between Turkey and Armenia. Simultaneously, it has launched a Kurdish initiative. The Armenian initiative may not be of much interest to you, but how do you think the Kurdish initiative will affect Syria? How do you see these initiatives from the Syrian perspective?

You may be surprised to hear this, but the Armenian initiative closely concerns us. And, this is not only because it is a problem that is of interest to the Armenian minority living in Syria. We believe that if the relations between Turkey and Armenia ease, this will lower tension in the region. For this reason, we need more initiatives and settlements. For instance, international trade does not occur just between two countries. Many nearby countries are involved in the process.

The Turkish government has not informed us officially about the Kurdish initiative. We follow the issue through the press. Overall, I can say that every initiative may have dozens of steps and dozens of right moves. But things may still go wrong. But for us, the important thing is: What is the framework of this settlement? Whether the framework of the settlement is national or racial/ethnic is important. Be it national or ethnic, the important thing is how this settlement will be beneficial to the country’s territorial integrity. Also, even if a framework is delineated, its implementation may take a long time. Moreover, you need to take into consideration events around the country while you implement an initiative. In my opinion, any initiative in any area is a positive thing. But this initiative should be within the framework I mentioned above.

Do you think this initiative could end in the country’s division? How might Syria be affected by such an unwelcome consequence? Do you see this initiative as an end or as a means?

In my opinion, the initiative is not an end, but a means. The main target is to ensure the country’s stability and development. As for political division, this is one of the greatest sins or one of the greatest evils. Whatever you do, you must maintain the unity, indivisibility and territorial integrity of the country as your most important target. But, in any case, we will eventually be affected by what goes on in Turkey. Therefore, we want this process to result in stability.

Were these issues on the agenda during Mr. Davutoğlu’s visit to Damascus? Did you discuss this issue with him?

I will discuss it with Mr. Erdoğan on Wednesday.

There is a technical aspect to this issue that concerns Syria. It is said that the PKK’s Syrian members do not hold Syrian citizenship, and if they lay down arms, their status will be uncertain, and this is a factor that complicates Turkey’s Kurdish initiative. What is the Syrian approach to this problem? Can Syria make any contribution to the Kurdish initiative in this regard?

If some people, be they in Syria or in Turkey, decide to abandon terrorist activities, then we must accept and afford protection to them. We did the same thing with the Muslim Brotherhood issue in the 1980s. As a state, we embrace those who have abandoned terrorist practices. We will embrace and pardon again. A state should pardon, because our aim is to eliminate terrorism, not to take revenge.

‘There must be a comprehensive settlement’
Does that mean that you will re-naturalize the 1,500 Syrians who are, according to intelligence reports, members of the PKK?

Here, we must acknowledge that the PKK issue concerns three neighboring countries. Any settlement of this issue should be discussed among these countries. At that time, I had stressed that we could not solve the terrorism issue through the US method, i.e., by hunting down terrorists. This is because the terrorists you kill will be replaced by new ones. For this reason, there must be a comprehensive settlement. The factors that cause terrorism should be assessed and analyzed exhaustively. We need to discuss how this issue can be solved through joint efforts because there are common factors in Syria, Turkey and Iraq. We need to seek ways to improve our cooperation in security and policy areas in this context. We, as Syria, have always stressed the need for cooperation on security issues.

Was the method that was applied to the Muslim Brotherhood successful in Syria?

I can say that it was relatively successful because some wanted to renounce violence and terrorism, while others did not. Thirty years later, some are still insisting on creating terrorism. But those who continue terrorism will definitely be bound to give an account before the law.

‘The Turkey-Syria friendship initiative has a very short history’
Mr. President, relations between the two countries improved significantly during your tenure. Which development sparked these relations? How can bilateral relations be developed to the desired advanced level in the economic area?

The first spark began when Mr. Ahmet Necdet Sezer visited Damascus in 2002 for Hafez al-Assad’s funeral. Later, Mr. Abdullah Gül came to Damascus in his capacity as prime minister. This was followed by my visit to Turkey in 2004. Naturally, political relations between the two countries can develop more rapidly, while developing economic relations can take some more time. Bureaucracy cannot inhibit the development of political relations because there is a strong political will behind it. But, it takes time until this will is reflected in the economy. Do not forget that the Turkey-Syria friendship initiative has a very short history. Naturally, businessmen want initiatives to be implemented quickly. But this is all we can do. The İstanbul Stock Exchange [İMKB] opened in 1980. As for us, we were able to open a stock exchange just this year. Private banks have been operating in Turkey for 50 years, but in Syria they’ve only been able to start operating in recent years. Despite this, many Turkish companies operate here. There are factories set up by Turks.

Unfortunately, we encounter problems even in privatization tenders from time to time. When there is non-compliance in tender criteria, problems arise. But my advice to businessmen would be to make assessments that are not solely based on the current situation. They should use foresight when making investments. A businessman who takes steps to invest in our country today should know that he will be in a more advantageous position in the coming period. If he waits too long, others will take this position. I am very optimistic about this issue. We achieved a trade volume between Turkey and Syria that exceeds $2 billion in a very short period of time. Our current target is to make it $5 billion. I think we are on a good path. We are moving fast, but perhaps we need to move much faster.

During US President George W. Bush’s term in office, relations between Syria and the US were very strained. Have you observed any difference in the US’s policies toward the Middle East and Syria following the election of Barack Obama as president?

From the perspective of the general political frame, we do not see any positive development in practice. If there is anything that has changed, then it is the differences in the approaches toward existing problems. There is no longer a US policy of dictating to us. There is a US that is more willing to listen to our opinions. There used to be a sentiment in the US that “think tanks in America could solve the problems in the Middle East.” Now the mentality that problems can be solved by working with countries in the region is being instilled.

To give a concrete example, in contrast to the Bush administration, there is a US administration that is more open to Turkey’s mediation efforts in the region. But in terms of solving problems, the US administration’s viewpoint is not very clear, although we do hear general things such as “comprehensive peace” in the region. This is very important from our perspective. Comprehensive means including Palestine, Israel, Lebanon and Syria [in the peace process]. There was nothing like this during Bush’s time. [Obama] needs to fill in the details under the main heading. This needs to be followed by an implementation/action plan. Nine months have passed since Obama came to office, and this is a very important period in a four-year tenure. We think he needed to act more quickly so that we could say “OK, the Obama administration is different.” All in all, I can say that there are intentions, but we need to see results as well.

Like Turkey, Syria is an important country in regional policy. We also know that like Turkey, Syria can take up an initiative with respect to regional policy. The region is currently in the middle of a critical process. The US is withdrawing an important portion of its soldiers from Iraq. In this respect, what do you envisage for the future of the Middle East?

We live in a geography that has a very rich social fabric. This social mosaic will determine upcoming developments the same way it influenced the past. First we must identify the social mosaic so that we can determine our political vision accordingly. We could create a political vision to dissolve the social fabric. This way, the human fabric would dissolve along ethnic and denominational lines. Or to the contrary, this fabric could be united by strengthening it even more. After making this kind of analysis, we can say that some countries in this region will either dissolve in this process or come out stronger. This inevitably leads to these questions: How do we view ourselves? How do we define ourselves? How do we perceive ourselves? What is our identity? How do we conduct our denominational or ethnic or secularism debates?

I think even debating these issues today is the wrong method to pursue because by debating these topics were are accepting dissolution. This debate took place in Syria as well. We debated how we could extensively establish accord between secularism and religion. By removing the perception that the secular system was hostile toward religion, we carried it to a platform where secularism meant freedom of religion. I give this example because there is a similar debate in Turkey. If a unifying instead of a dissolving approach is adopted in debates, you will help in bringing the society together. Another example is Turkish-Arab relations. Up until a few years ago, there were immense discrepancies in Turkish-Arab ties. Now, it’s vastly different. What has changed? Turks are the same and so are the Arabs. But because perceptions between the two societies changed, we are able to talk about brotherhood and friendship now. When the thought mechanism changes, so do the results. What will I gain by being hostile or the complete opposite toward Turkey? More importantly, we were always trying to define ourselves and understand who we are by looking at the West. I studied and lived in the West, and there are many things that I like about the West. Many people in Turkey and Syria may have an interest in the Western lifestyle. But despite all this, I see myself as a person of this land. This is a cultural viewpoint, and the political view should be compatible with this.

Is Turkey’s mediating role between Syria and Israel a matter of discussion again?

Turkey’s role is a very fundamental one. There are many reasons for this. As a country in this region, Turkey is more concerned with every aspect of this land than any other country. Turkey is a very skillful country both in its efforts to solve problems and in removing obstacles that lead to problems. Secondly, there is unconditional trust between Syria and Turkey both at the political level and between the peoples, and this is very important for us. There is no mistrust on any issue. Furthermore, Turkey has proven in a short period of eight months how skilful and rational it is in mediating, although this was Turkey’s first effort concerning the Arab problem.

How do you evaluate Israel’s offer to meet directly? Is your outlook positive or do you insist that Turkey mediate?

We had direct meetings with Israel in the 1990s. But we were not able to talk about concrete issues. There were main headings but no subheadings; in other words, there were no details. There were uncertainties. Because there was a failure to fill in the details, the 1990s meetings were not successful. When we started to meet again, but with Turkey as mediator, we started to talk about the details. When we reach a concrete point, we will be able to hold direct meetings. It is for this reason that we always want to shift to direct meetings once we reach a certain point through indirect meetings with Turkey’s mediation.

So should we take this as a clear “no” to Israel’s offer to directly meet?

Yes. Our answer is “no” until meetings achieve a proper and healthy foundation.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

How do you assess Erdoğan’s stance at Davos and his attitude toward the attack on Gaza?

Mr. Prime Minister’s stance incited an emotional joy among Syrians. But as president, I cannot talk emotionally. There was a demonstrative situation there, and that had consequences. When the prime minister was displaying that stance, he was not displaying his personal stance. He displayed that stance as the prime minister of Turkey. This stance proved how Turkey can adopt a respectable stance based on its own sovereign decision. This stance was completely a “made in Turkey” stance. It is very important because it is Turkey’s sovereign stance.

Is a potential US or Israeli attack on Iran a current problem for you? What is your view on this?

If Iran is attacked, the region will enter a very critical phase that will last for several decades. The region will not be able to emerge from this situation for many years. Not only will the attack prevent stability in the Middle East, it will also impose a heavy cost on the region as well as the entire world.

How does Syria view Iran’s nuclear activities? Does it see it as a threat? As you know, Turkey is trying to complete its security defenses prior to a possible Iranian attack by purchasing Patriot missiles from the US for $7.8 billion. Does Syria have similar concerns?

The important question here is who will Iran target with these weapons. Will it use these weapons against Turkey? I don’t think so. Will it use them against Israel? I don’t think that’s likely, either, because there are many Arabs living in Israel and its surroundings. Nuclear arms are owned not for use but to benefit from their deterring effect. Take Pakistan and India; they became more peaceful after becoming nuclear powers. Besides, I don’t think Iran is after nuclear weapons. But we are against nuclear weapons regardless of what country is pursuing them. We introduced a resolution on this issue at the UN Security Council.

Are your demands related to Turkey’s overuse of water being met? Are good neighborly relations dominating this issue as well?

The winter before last, Prime Minister Erdoğan called me. He told me there was a drought in southeastern Turkey. He requested that the amount of water in the Orontes (Asi) River, which originates in Jordan, flows through Syria and into Turkey’s Hatay province, be increased. Although we had water problems as well, I ordered that the amount of water provided to Turkey be increased. In the recent past, Turkey fulfilled all its commitments regarding the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. But this year it has not been able to fulfill a portion of its commitments. The amount of water that was left to us was little due to some investments Turkey made. However, the prime minister has said the amount of water which was supposed to be left over to us will be provided in the near future. Iraq, Syria and Turkey have reached an agreement over the Tigris. Relations over water were brought to a very good level by establishing a common commission.


October 25th, 2009, 3:07 pm


Alex said:

From the above interview with Turkish editors:

Question: Are your demands related to Turkey’s overuse of water being met? Are good neighborly relations dominating this issue as well?

President Assad: The winter before last, Prime Minister Erdoğan called me. He told me there was a drought in southeastern Turkey. He requested that the amount of water in the Orontes (Asi) River, which originates in Jordan, flows through Syria and into Turkey’s Hatay province, be increased. Although we had water problems as well, I ordered that the amount of water provided to Turkey be increased.

The Ornotes does not originate in Jordan, it originates in Lebanon. I doubt the President made that mistake. Does this imply that the translation provided by the editors is responsible for the other questionable part “turkey’s Hatay province”?

Note also that Alexandretta (Hatay) is not in South East Turkey that Prime minister Erdogan, according to the statement above, called President Assad to request Syria’s assistance to provide more water to.

If the President did not call Alexandretta “Turkey’s Hatay Province” then don’t we need to clarify?

October 25th, 2009, 6:22 pm


Syria, Turkey, and the Four Seas Strategy « Qifa Nabki said:

[…] Haaretz correspondent Yoav Stern has written an interesting article for Syria Comment called “Syria’s Four Seas Strategy“. It’s worth a read, but if you’re too busy to click over, here’s the […]

October 26th, 2009, 11:31 pm


Middle East Studies at Middlebury · “Is Turkey Leaving the West?” said:

[…] Policy released an article on Turkey this week following a warming up to Syria. This is a comes in the shadow of Turkish military exercises this October, from which the Israeli […]

October 30th, 2009, 5:27 am



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