The Presidential Plebiscite and Pageantry: What does it Mean?

The presidential plebiscite: What does it mean? 

I will begin with my conclusions about the presidential referendum and the many street “hafles” or parties, parades, and festivals that preceded and followed it. I have moved the conclusions to the top because this post is long. 


1. Bashar has completed the process of power consolidation begun with the 10th Baath Party Congress of June 2005.

2. He has gained legitimacy in the eyes of Syria’s elites, who are betting on him and seriously considering bringing their capital back to the country. Many, particularly expatriates have yet to do so and are hedging their bets, but many local capitalists have everything they own here. The “Ehsani” expatriates have invested considerable capital in Syria over the last three years but, I believe, are still holding back. (Ehsani is a contributor to Syria Comment. We will see if he agrees.)

3. Everywhere the posters are of Bashar only. He does not share the ground with Nasser, Nasrallah, Basil al-Assad, or his father any longer. Today, it is all about Bashar, who stands alone.

4. The parades exuded “modernity” and professionalism. This is new for Syria. Syrians like it, even if they think way too much money was spent on them. It is the message Bashar al-Assad has worked hard to convey. It is how he is marketed inside Syria. He is staying on message. He is “Mr. Modernizer,” even though the West is trying to convince Syrians that he doesn’t get it, is not new at all, and is just keeping the Assad family in power.

5. Syrian nationalism has largely replaced the old Arabism. The parades were all about Syria, its long history, and many different civilizations, peoples, and varied culture. They were not about Arabs, militarism, or the Baath Party. (Who knows, Bashar may even try to steal Phoenicianism from the Lebanese. God forbid!)

6. Bashar has not stuck a dagger in the Baath Party’s heart, but he has definitely circumscribed its authority.

7. Democracy: Bashar ran his campaign against Iraq and Bush. Many banners extolled “security, safety, and stability” – “al-`amn wal-istiqrar.”  This was a no brainer for Syrians. The campaign presented Syria’s choice as being one between Bashar and Bush or between Syria and Iraq. For Syrians, American democracy promotion in the Middle East means following the path of Iraq, Lebanon, or the Palestinian Authority, the three countries that have accepted or been forced to follow the US democracy agenda. Carpenter tried to present democracy as a disembodied magic that one can just import by following certain practices, such as free elections. There is no doubt that many Syrians yearn for more democracy, but they are now well aware of its attendant dangers, especially in a region as troubled by sectarian and ethnic differences, identity crises, and a weak sense of national community.

8. Syrians have not completely made up their minds about this regime. They want to see what will happen to the “reform” process, which could easily be reversed or stall. This is the BIG question. Many hope that following the president’s inauguration on the 17th, there will be a new government nominated quickly. They hope that the president’s new power will be used to confirm his reform agenda. These hopes will probably be dashed, as nothing has happened quickly or with resolution in Syria. There are big interests standing in the way of the 5-year plan. Local industrialists do not want Turkish tariffs to come down, for example. Many businesses depend on protected markets and privileges that the 5-year plan will eliminate. I have heard two contradictory predictions about the reform process made by well-informed people. One is that Dardari, on whom economic reform hopes have been pinned, will be out in 2 to 5 months. The other is that he has the backing of the president and will be given an important role in the future government. This is a sign of the nation’s confusion over the reform process. Many foreign investors are still sitting on their land purchases or have yet to enter the market. Unemployment is still way too high. The Iraqi influx has undercut Syrian employment and driven up prices. Inflation is eating away at the standard of living of ordinary Syrians. The floundering state sector and economic subsidies are sucking off state revenues. Only big foreign investment can balance these negatives. To get this, Bashar must make some big decisions. He seems to have the power now, but will he use it to discipline the privileged few, who have their feet on the brakes?
The Referendum as Political Theater:

Syria witnessed nearly two weeks of preparations for the presidential plebiscite that was carried out on May 27. The state-sponsored festivities and show of political dominance by the president was ubiquitous. Any analysis of the events surrounding the plebiscite must be understood on the level of pageantry, marketing, and the effectiveness of the message that the palace hoped to convey. Those who confuse the process with democracy will only become apoplectic and indignant. I have yet to speak to a Syrian who misunderstood the process.
I cannot say the same for some American observers. Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Carpenter gave a press interview on the 29th, shortly after the presidential referendum, designed to clear up any confusion Americans might have about whether the plebiscite was “pure theater,” and make sure that Americans know that Washington’s democracy agenda for the Middle East is still going strong. Here is one extract from Carpenter’s briefing: 

Q:  Well, about the, as you put it, so-called referendum:  The Syrian ministry has said that the turnout was more than 90 percent, like 12 million.  So that must mean something, or do you think it’s all faked and false statements?
DAS CARPENTER:  I think it’s – you know, when you threaten people that if they don’t vote they may lose their job, if you threaten students if they don’t vote they may not be able to take their exams, that this has an impact on people.  Anybody – you know, the Ba’ath Party has probably a million vested members in the country.  You can turn out a million people to go chanting and celebrating at midnight for their great opportunity to go vote in this farce, but as we saw throughout the day, and as pictures indicated and things, again, I’ve seen on the Web, over the course of the day, the number of people showing up at the polling sites was much, much less.  
Again, if the regime had confidence in this process, it would have introduced real competition.  If the regime had confidence in this process, it wouldn’t have moved up the date? by two months.  If the regime had confidence in this process, it would have given people the right to vote.  If the regime had confidence in the process, it wouldn’t have had, you know, small children casting symbolic ballots.  They would have taken their own process seriously.  Ten-year-olds do not have the right to vote, I believe, under the Syrian election law, and yet they feature them prominently casting ballots – and not their fathers’ ballots, but specially designed ballots for them to cast.  It’s pure theater, and I think everybody recognizes it as such.

As Carpenter insists, the referendum was about political theater, so let’s evaluate it as such.
The “Minhibak Karnaval”

Two days ago, the last of the big celebrations and parades was held at the Umayyad Circle, called the “minhibak Karnival” or “We love you carnival.” It was televised and astounding for the high quality of its artistic production and novelty of its ideological content.  The parade began around 4:00 p.m. It was billed as a pageant of Syrian history and culture or al-turath al-souri.

Roughly 12 large floats representing different aspects and periods of Syrian history and culture divided up the procession. Leading the way were the floats representing ancient cultures, each with a large castle or palace constructed in great detail and representing a different Syrian civilization. First was a large wooden ship surrounded by a blue scrim representing the sea and Ugarit civilization. On top of the ship about twenty beautiful women, dressed in blue diaphanous scarves and wearing golden bands, danced in harmony. At the stern of the ship were large cuneiform tablets representing the Ugaritic alphabet, believed to be the first alphabet in the world. Its thirty letters formed the basis of the Phoenician, Greek, and Latin alphabets. As my little Syrian guidebook trumpets: “It is a most wonderful gift that Syria has offered for the benefit of mankind.” It is hard to argue with that. Perhaps even the most jaundiced Syrian observer would have a bit of pride sparked by these reminders of their illustrious past.

Of course, the present leaders of the state are particularly proud of the Ugarit culture which was centered at the palaces of Ras Shamra 15 k. north of Lattakia, the coastal city where Bashar al-Assad is from.Other floats carried large replicas of the architectural monuments that distinguished them – Aramaic, Roman, and Babylonian, etc. Each float was proceeded by a band dressed in period clothing and playing the instruments particular to the time. It made for quite a sight. The many onlookers seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves.
Following the historical section was the economic culture of Syria. Children dressed in gold costumes with high shafts of wheat shafts ascending from their backs swayed to and fro. Another group of children dressed in elaborate white costumes and each sporting a big cotton tufted turban represented cotton fields. The large highway was girded by crowds come to ogle the show and listen to the music. I was new and profession.
Once the procession had reached the Umayyad Circle and evening had fallen, a fireworks display began on a par with the Hudson River 4th of July display in New York City lit up the city with colorful plumes?

From an artistic point of view, this parade was second to none. It was clearly planned long in advance. Syria’s most talented artisans, dancers, costume designers and craftsmen were brought into the task. What a difference from the old days of Hafiz al-Assad, when parades were dull and militaristic. There was not a hint of militarism this time around.


The President Separates Himself from the Baath Party
Moreover, there was almost no Arabism. The Baath Party was not mentioned. Nor is it referred to in any of the political advertising and banners that festoon the city. Bashar al-Assad’s transformation of the political ethos from Arabism to Syrianism is a process that I have been commenting on for several years. In the parliamentary elections earlier in the month, the Baath Party had a large role. It dominates the Assembly of Deputies. The President is separating himself from the Party within the limits offered by the regime’s structure.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Carpenter made a big to-do in his anti-Syrian press conference about the regime squandering 50 million dollars on the “scam” process. “Seeing the government spend upwards of $50 million or more on this process is an indication of how out of touch really the regime is with its people,” he explained.
This sort of comment is humorous on several levels. First Scott Carpenter is making up the $50 million from thin air. He is absolutely right that it was very expensive, but it was not the state or people’s taxes that paid for the bulk of the festivities. Carpenter knows this. As in America, large capitalists and private donors sponsored and organized the parades and festivities. They are showing loyalty to the leader who gives them their privileges, protects their wealth, and from whom they expect continuing support.
Capitalist Sponsorship of the Regime

This is an entirely new phenomenon in Syria: capitalist rather than Baath Party sponsorship of the regime. We have seen it emerge only in the last five years. It took on a particularly striking form after Syria’s military withdrawal from Lebanon, when Syria began copying the Cedar Revolution’s notions of “hafles” or street parties. Rich Syrians were asked to get out a display of support.
Throughout the referendum process, local street parties were sponsored at almost all the major street corners and parks in center city. There were tents, music, and young people dancing. Food and sweets were handed out to passers by. Rich businessmen advertised their sponsorship of the hafles openly in order to get maximum credit. The music blared until the wee hours of the morning. All city residents were delighted when they finally came to an end; they could sleep.  As many said, “Enough already! This is too much. We get it.”  Syrians did not misunderstand the message. They understood that the state was declaring its presence and proclaiming its strength and ability to mobilize the elites.

Many Syrians have explained to me that one of the reasons it went on so long was because the message was directed at the outside world. Assad was telling the West: “Istuflu” or “stick it.” “You think I am ready to collapse or weak? You are wrong.”

Carpenter argues that the pageantry of the referendum is a clear sign of the President’s illegitimacy. To prove this he referred to a Web poll carried out by a small exile group, the results of which indicated 80% of its readers voted against Bashar al-Asad. Presidential referendums in Syria, as in much of the third world, are not about the democratic process, however. They are about a show of “za`ama” or authority and the backing of national elites.

In Syria, the recent referendum demonstrated that the moneyed national elites are willing to back the president, not only with their cash, but also with institutional resources.

Legitimacy in Authoritarian States

Legitimacy is a slippery concept and exceedingly hard to gauge in authoritarian states. Most political scientists agree that in authoritarian states, where democratic polls are unknown, legitimacy is best measured by the ability of the state to retain a consensus among national elites.
States fail only when the elites split, fight among themselves, and drag the house down. This is what is happening in Iraq and some fear could happen in Lebanon.

In Syria, the referendum demonstrated rather conclusively that Syria’s elites are on board, willingly or unwillingly. Artists, labor unions, professional associations, businessmen, and industries of all kinds put their shoulders to the wheel and made this the biggest and most professional celebration of national consensus in 40 years. No one dared to speak out publicly against it. Legitimacy in Syria is about acquiescence, not votes. Syria’s elites did their job. That is why the hafles were confined to center city, where the elites live. They were hardly evident in the poorer suburbs. Carpenter can point to opposition web polls in the US as an indication of the illegitimacy of the Syrian regime, but he is missing the point. It is the elites that count, not the people.

Abdul Halim Khaddam and the Danger of Elite Defections
Abdul Halim Khaddam, Syria’s Vice President under Hafiz and under Bashar for the first five years of his rule, left Syria for France in 2005. He established the National Salvation Front in 2006 in order to rally Syrians against the regime. The 22 members of his family were compelled to follow him into exile. At first, it appeared that Khaddam’s defection might threaten Bashar al-Assad. Many believed he might attract other powerful Sunnis to join him in a revolt. This did not happen. On the contrary, Khaddam’s example has chastened Syrian elites, who see in his experience a cautionary tale. In some respects, the outpouring of support by Syria’s rich for Bashar signifies an end to the Khaddam threat.
I drove past La Noisette on Mezzeh Autostrad with a friend last night. It is a ritzy restaurant that was owned by Khaddam’s son Jihad. I asked my friend what had become of the many Khaddam businesses. I was told that they are working very well. Rather than take them over directly, authorities handed them over to Khaddam’s erstwhile managers. A government accountant who earns 5,000 pounds a month visits every morning to go over the books. A share of profits goes to the state, but there is little interference in management. My friend explained that one of Khaddam’s old managers is a buddy of his. “He is very happy to run the business alone,” I was told. “It is like he is the owner now. He retained all the employees, they are happy.


My friend followed up by saying:

I don’t understand Khaddam. He was so stupid. He had everything in Syria and was surrounded by family, businesses, and connections. Now he is nothing. Syria will forget about him. He fed off the government trough for 30 years and was rich. It was time for him to step aside and let others have their turn. Look at Tlass and others. They stood aside and let their children take over. Thirty years! It is enough, no? And Khaddam not only ruined his own family, but at least three other families, those married to his sons and daughters. They had to leave and give up their holdings in Syria. Rima Khaddam was married to an Atassi. His sons were married to good families too.” (He named the families, but I cannot remember their names or businesses.)

Then he said, “Look at Hikmet Shihabi. His children are all here. They can come and go. They still own their businesses – the BMW franchise, Fiat and many private businesses.”

Background: The Hariri Threat as Perceived by Damascus
It is important to give some background here because the Shihabi experience reinforces my broader argument about legitimacy, elite solidarity, and regime stability.
Hikmat Shihabi was Syria’s Chief of Staff under Hafiz al-Assad. He was the military commander of Lebanon for much of Syria’s rule there. He teamed up with Abdul Halim Khaddam, the political commander of Lebanon, and Ghazi Kanaan, the intelligence chief in Lebanon during the 1980s and much of the 1990s. These three men worked as a triumvirate, ruling Lebanon for Hafiz. It was widely believed in Syria that Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Rafiq al-Hariri, had bought these men. Everyone says that Hariri gave Khaddam the apartment in Paris on Rue Foch that he now lives in, just as Saad Hariri has given Jacque Chirac his present apartment in Paris.
When Bashar al-Assad took power in 2000, he distrusted the old triumvirate and believed they had been bought. He began a subtle campaign against them. Shihabi was accused of corruption and left for California. Khaddam and Kanaan were kept on in an attempt to re-domesticate them and bring them back into the fold. Khaddam continued to maneuver behind the scenes to re-build his authority and oppose the president.
In early 2005, when President Bush and Chirac decided to move aggressively against Bashar al-Assad, insisting that Syria withdraw its troops from Lebanon, give up influence there and allow for free Presidential elections to replace Emile Lahoud with a Hariri loyalist, the Assad regime balked and battle-lines were drawn.
Syria understood that the West meant war and that Syria’s regime could be next. In Syria’s ongoing war with Israel over the Golan, Lebanon is the crucial front. Hizbullah is Syria’s main asset in the tug of war over the Golan. Also, Syria feels it cannot afford to permit Lebanon to become a beachhead in the West’s attempt to destabilize Syria, as it was in the 1950s through 1960s and again in the 1980s. In 1956, the CIA trained over 300 Alawite members of the PPS in the mountains of Lebanon. They were to serve as one element in a Western backed coup against the Syrian regime. In 1957, Lebanon was the staging ground for Operation Straggle, another US inspired coup attempt. Syrian opposition groups found a ready base in Lebanon, where western intelligence agencies could help arm and handle them.
In the 1980s, following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the Muslim Brotherhood, which was backed by Saddam Hussein and others waged a war against the Assad regime. They used Lebanon as a staging ground. Several old CIA hands have written that the US also helped the M.B. at this time. The game of using Islamist groups in Lebanon is not a new one. Today, analysts are arguing over who is secretly backing Fatah al-Islam – Hariri’s people or the Syrians. We don’t know the answer to this. The reason it is so hotly debated is because past history suggests either possibility can not be exluded. It is not the first time that East and West have fought to turn Islamist organizations in Lebanon to their advantage. My sense of Fatah al-Islam is that neither side had or has any real control over the group.  In short, Lebanon has great strategic importance to Syria and to any state or alliance that hopes to destabilize Syria. This is how Syria regards Lebanon.

The Western Attempt to Split the Syrian Elite and Destabilize the State
In 2005, Bush, Chirac, and presumably Rafiq al-Hariri believed they could split the Syrian elite, turning Khaddam and his triumvirate of Shihabi and Kanaan against Assad. To eliminate such a possibility, the Syrian regime carried out a mini-purge. Shihabi de-camped to California, Khaddam was fired at the Baath Party Conference in June 2005 and decided to move his family to Paris where he teamed up with the Muslim Brotherhood rather than accept defeat and humiliation. Ghazi Kanaan “committed suicide” in the fall of 2005. Perhaps this was his way of protecting his family, all of whom have remained in Syria. One of Kanaan’s sons has resigned his officer’s commission, but other children are doing well, people say. My Damascene friends do not know much about them. Kanaan was not corrupt, people suggest, and thus his children are not big business owners. Who knows? Many believed in 2005 that Hikmat Shihabi would join Khaddam in Paris and help Bush and Chirac in an effort to destabilize the regime, perhaps by getting Kanaan, who remained in the country to carry out a coup. Shihabi refused. His children still have a life. I suspect they paid for at least one hafle in the recent referendum, as a show of appreciation.
The conclusion of this narrative is that the West believed it could split the Syrian elite by using Hariri’s money and connections as a wedge. It sought to exploit Lebanon’s desire for sovereignty and Khaddam’s desire for power. Bashar al-Assad skillfully sidestepped this danger by excising the threat and consolidating his leadership over the Syrian elite. 


Syria's economic opening is the primary tool to accomplish regime consolidation. It gives the president the means to make Syrian elites stakeholders. Big new holding companies, such as the Sham Holding Company, are perfect vehicles for this consolidation. In the case of Sham Holding, Syria’s richest businessman anteed up hundreds of millions in capital to take advantage of the economic opening. The president’s cousin, Rami Makhlouf, stepped in and matched their entire purse, making them all his and the state’s partners in the new order. As one friend explained, “That is why we call him Rambo.”
As many have observed here, the funding of the referendum ceremonies by private business was a demonstration by the elites of their loyalty to the regime and willingness to make a public show of their partnership. If Khaddam believed that wealthy Syrian Sunnis would split from the regime to join him in opposing Bashar and bringing down the regime, he sorely miscalculated. He is alone in exile. The other old guard figures have found a way back in.
“Failure is an orphan, and success has a hundred fathers,” as the saying goes. Bashar is a success. Big money is betting on him as it never has before, to which the whole country is witness. A good source told me, “businessmen didn’t know that the hafles and activities surrounding the referendum would be so big, so many, and last so long. It wasn’t all planned. A dynamic established itself and the moneybags of Syria felt compelled to jump in and outdo their competition.”
Bashar’s ability to navigate the very dangerous obstacles that have been thrown up before him since the US invasion of Iraq is astounding. Almost every Syrian I have met over the last week has reiterated this truth, some with considerable satisfaction, made all the more manifest because I am an American from Bush country. They are impressed with Bashar the politician, even as they express their disapproval of “the system” and its corruption. 




I am copying a few comments from my last post that cover the referndum ceremonies.

zenobia wrote:

ok so some people addressed me about what i said about the convincing spectacle that the regime has pulled off…and also about my perception of people’s feelings.

I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT PEOPLE …REALLY REALLY REALLY FEEL. but this is significant in itself i think…. precisely that i can’t tell….

yes… certain people who are explicit about their negativity for the government or the president… are definitely afraid. i would agree with that.
i have now seen a kind of afraid i have never seen before… the afraid of making sure the windows or the doors to the porch are closed when you talk…even though there isn’t anyone around or you are on the seventh floor. People are fearful in an automatic kind of way to voice any dissention. no question about that.

And of course i didn’t manage to find the only dissentors or persons with negative all of syria in only a couple of weeks…
so, of course there are many many of these people.

but what i really don’t comprehend…unless one admits that a huge percentage of the youth of syria have bought into a myth..or genuinely believe in the goodness of their president… is HOW TO ACCOUNT for that amazing spectacle i saw!
no, i am not kidding. i really don’t know how to interpret it.
i asked many people to explain it to me, as they understand it.

yes, i understand that there are very elaborate complex networks of associations and entities…pressured and paid and persuaded to organize, and produce the celebration. the tents, the banners the huge ads, the lights, the balloons, the ‘chocolates’ and even …. even…. even, George Wassuf..singing in the middle of Omayad circle… to throngs of young men and women..and really they are kids…everywhere… (i age myself by clarifying that i mean…20-28 year olds… but that is ‘kids’ to me)

and all of that…is certainly a big SEDUCTION… of course.

Still…still i want to say…it didn’t seem enough to explain… what appeared for the life of me…as spontaneous…participation..

the part i mean.. was the zillion kids… parading in their groups and hanging out of their cars…waving flags.. flooding the streets… singing, chanting, dancing, and generally causing a ruckus for several days… in a fashion that seems – way beyond what would be required if it was all on instruction from on high….

are they brainwashed completely???? i have no idea.
are they stupid…and don’t know what they supporting? maybe.
are they just interested in an excuse for a party?… seems a bit extreme lengths to go… and this doesnt’ really require chanting the ridiculous bashar song does it?…

dear commentors, no i am not kidding…maybe- these activities all seem trite, meaningless, and unimportant. after all , who cares what the 21 year old ignoramous thinks….

but let us not forget… that something like 70 percent of the country is under the age of 25. !!!!!
it is not a hard statistic to believe…babies and little kids everywhere…teens, college students… you feel old…just walking in the street! 30 is over the…

and these kids, dear friends…are everything coming…they are the dealbreakers, the ones who will decide…the future…

and that big show that went on..was definitely for was a big pseudo rock concert, light show, production, delivered especially for them…
it is very carefully crafted with full understanding of who is important in the long run.

and who is REALLY in the hearts of these young people??????
dear commentors, i cannot accurately say.., but the fact that they were no serious ruptures in the visual fabric… (albeit, my foreign and untrained eyes might have missed it) says something…it must in itself reveal something about what is happening…

these children want desperately to believe in this myth..and to grab onto it. if nothing more than the naive, fickle, adoration of youth… still…it has that passionate essense…and force..the force of pride and stubborness, and need to make the image be can’t easily be dismissed or ignored or rationalized.

i think.

May 30th, 2007, 9:46 pm

bilal wrote:

To Zenobia,
When a dictatorial regime is ideologically bankrupt,economically corrupt and politically unpopular as is the Assad regime it is only a question of times before it collapses

EHSANI2 wrote:


Those who think that Bashar is unpopular are wrong. I think that it is incorrect to assume that fear of the leadership drives so many people into such a showing of support.

Indeed, compared to the Syria of 1980-2000, it is easy to see why. Those of us who lived/visited the country during the above period can vividly recall how hard it was to find even bananas and toilet paper then. Hafez Assad was feared and respected but not liked. The same cannot be said of Bashar. His youth, looks, wife and kids, education and general demeanor are surely a big hit. Moreover, Bashar’s opening of the economy has allowed more people to drive and own cars and cell phones. Fear of the security services may still exist but nowhere near the levels under Assad senior. During Hafez’s days, once you were picked up, it was highly probable that you would not be heard from again. Now, you may get interrogated for a few days or months but you will be back. The cumulative impact of all this is what you see in the streets. Anyone who denies the level of the man’s support within the people of the country is being disingenuous.

May 30th, 2007, 10:18 pm

Comments (133)

George Ajjan said:

Fascinating Josh. Thanks for the excellent analysis. Looking forward to your thoughts on the tribunal. Ehsani and I have an eagerly anticipated bet to settle.

June 4th, 2007, 11:31 pm


G said:

In Syria, the recent referendum demonstrated that the moneyed national elites are willing to back the president, not only with their cash, but also with institutional resources.

And Scott Carpenter’s comment is humorous?! Like these guys have a choice!? Or better still, these guys are the clients so they are as much part of the regime as anyone!

Pathetic as usual. So are you now formally part of the regime, or you’re still working your way/nose up?

June 4th, 2007, 11:39 pm


G said:

Bashar’s ability to navigate the very dangerous obstacles that have been thrown up before him since the US invasion of Iraq is astounding.

It’s rather curious — in the typically funny way that is characteristic of this blog — to note how in this heartfelt ode to your boss Bashar Assad and his abiding strength, how one rather gigantic elephant squatting smack in the middle of the room has been completely overlooked and conveniently ignored; not even mentioned once (as I’m sure your minder Imad Moustapha instructed you to do): the Hariri tribunal, now a chapter vii resolution.

But I’m sure this post was a mere set-up: poor victimized “Syria” (not Bashar or the regime), who is only fighting for its rights in the Golan (through Lebanon of course, which you note as a given, as though it were their prerogative), that poor victimized heroic “Syria” that the “West” seeks to “destabilize,” by using those evil Lebanese, who are the real aggressors in this case (not the ones who have been brutalized by the Syrian regime for the last 30 years), who are a “beach head” (and other militaristic descriptions to mobilize jingoism. You’re learning quick from your regime masters I see. It’s good to be the lame version of Goebbles it seems). And Hariri was a devious “conspirator” against the “stability of Syria” and other regime one-liners that you’ve been instructed to sell, and which has been your job for the last two, three years.

So my guess is that the next post, now that you’ve mobilized the jingoism, is to attack the tribunal as “yet another beachhead” in the attempt to “destabilize Syria.”

What an evil loser.

June 4th, 2007, 11:52 pm


G said:

And who do you think you’re kidding with lofty words like “Syrian elites”?! Do you mean Bashar’s cousins!?

June 5th, 2007, 12:02 am


norman said:

Excellent analysis that explains the survival Of Syria without war ,The question i have is whether Bashar,s intention is Syria alone or greater Syria ( Syria , Lebanon Jordon ,and Palestine).
I hope Dardary will have a greater rule as he seems to represent the free market economy that Syria adopted in the last two years ,
Syria should abandon subsidy for products and give subsidies to the poor who need these products , Directed subsidies will cost less while the rich can pay fair market value.

June 5th, 2007, 1:18 am


Akbar Palace said:

Professor Josh,

Thanks for the analysis. Now for the important question:

Can you send me a Bashar Assad face-sign and tee-shirt like the ones pictured above? You wouldn’t be able to find such a treasure in this part of the world!

Of course, I would be happy to pay for the shipping and your time.

Also, if you find a copy of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in Arabic, this too, could be quite an educational find. It would provide an interesting discussion in my kid’s hebrew school class. (Since they don’t read Arabic, make sure the cover has some good Jewish stereotypical characteristics; sidelocks, yarmulke, tallis, etc).

Just think, if I could purchase these things from you, I feel that in some way, I have provided some nice Syrian family enough income to feed their family for one or two days. A week??


June 5th, 2007, 1:56 am


EHSANI2 said:

Dr. Landis,

Our friend G may not agree with a word of what you write judging from his comments above. Speaking for myself, I find your reports interesting, passionate and anything but boring or predictable. Some will continue to attack your allegiances. Those of us who have come to know you a bit better cannot help but be impressed with your love and interest in our region and its people. It would be great if people refrain from character assassination every time they read something they don’t like. Regrettably, this is not going to happen. Passions around Syrian politics run high. Syria Comment is a perfect demonstration of that.

A brief comment on your post:

While you are absolutely correct to argue that the Syrian elites as well as the general populace are solidly behind the leadership, I think that Bashar’s current challenges are non-domestic in nature. Bashar’s hold on power has never been in doubt. Whether the so-called elites support him or not is not a key to his survival. This is not to say that their support is worthless. Indeed one can argue that it is precisely because of the unfavorable predicament that Bashar finds himself in where the international community is concerned that he has turned the charm offensive with his domestic constituency. It is highly doubtful that this strategy will prove to be enough however. I still maintain that the international tribunal and the confrontation with the U.S. may pose an existential risk for the leadership going forward. The haflas and the support of the elite may do little to change the facts on the ground when it comes to dealing with the legal repercussions heading our way.

June 5th, 2007, 3:47 am


majedkhaldoun said:

beautiful clean bandage,covering dirty wound,where infection will fester.nice palace,built over rotten wood.
depending on the elite,mean by-by to democracy.
But it is deceiving,it may not last, it may be good for mameluke period,but in computer time and internet time,T.V. and sophisticated phone,what guarantee it will not crumble when wind blows.
I agree with Ihsani, the tribunal is earthquake, and the regime knows this.
Dardari may leave!what is going on? why?please elaborate.

June 5th, 2007, 4:24 am


K said:

I second the gist of G’s comments (without the vitriol). Buthaina Sha’ban herself couldn’t have put it any better. Eupehmistically: On the spectrum of cynical to optimistic, the Prof’s viewpoint expressed here is at the maximum point of optimism.

As G points out (crudely), Prof Landis’s silence on the tribunal is deafening. Any observer, and the regime itself, recognizes this as an ultimate threat to regime survival. Making a taboo of the tribunal also excises from the narrative the circumstances around the ‘suicide’ of Ghazi Kanaan. He was about to be interrogated by Mehlis and he was believed to be intent on making explosive revelations. I believe he was murdered into silence, pure and simple.

As for the street festivals, any dictator can summon masses into the streets for festivals. Repressed societies are easily manipulated – create rituals where restrictions are temporarily lifted, and watch the outpouring of excitement.

“are they brainwashed completely???? i have no idea.
are they stupid…and don’t know what they supporting? maybe.
are they just interested in an excuse for a party?…”

It’s all of the above. I’d hazard these kids are in total denial about their beloved leader’s real role in the region. They don’t believe Bashar actually helps murderous Islamists foster sectarian war in Iraq and Lebanon. I think they believe regime propaganda about a global Zionist-US-French conspiracy to divide the Middle East along sectarian lines. I think they believe Zarqawi is a CIA agent trained by the Mossad to tarnish the image of Islam, and that Hariri, Hmeideh, Kassir, Tueini, Chidiac, Ashrafieh, Ain Alaq, Kaslik, Monot, Verdun, ABC, Aley, the Danish cartoons riots, the Hizballa war, and Fath el-Islam is ALL PART OF THE CIA-MOSSAD PLOT TO SOW ‘FITNA’ IN “GREATER SYRIA”!

They love Bashar because they truly believe he is the Guardian of Arabism and the Palestinian Cause, rather than just another cynical and murderous regional operator.

I believe – to my great distress – that these kids would love to see Lebanon swallowed up by Syria, and possibly Palestine and Jordan too. I believe they get a kick out of the misfortunes of the “fake colonial entity” Lebanon – this insolent “beachhead” of subversion. Whenever the Mossad knocks off one its own supposed “agents” in Lebanon (to frame Syria of course) I believe those kids say to themselves, “the punk deserved it”. Hell, many of the highly educated, well-traveled contributors to this blog hold these same views, far from the grasp of the regime… so imagine those who live under tyranny.

I don’t blame them entirely. (The kids, that is. The commentators who should know better have no such excuse.) I believe they are brainwashed by decades of propaganda and traumatized by decades of repression, dictatorship and fear. This poor generation has never known a single day’s freedom.

Not everything is the regime’s fault. Like the other peoples of the region, the Syrian people have been scarred and traumatized by regional events.

I hope they wake up, because they have the potential to be an unstoppable force for freedom and justice in Syria, and the region.

June 5th, 2007, 4:41 am


bilal said:

Prof. Landis did you write all this or cut & paste most of it from Althawra newspaper?
Any elite that does not fully surrender & accept Bashar will become a traitor and be imprisoned. With all due respect to these elites but I know that Riad Seif is one of the best if not the most successful business man in Syria. He was able to produce and export Adidas to the whole world in the worst times of Syria. Look what happened to him when he said what he really believes in. Don’t you think these elites know what could happen to them? There are numerous examples like Riad Seif. Who do you define elite? The cousins?
Looking forward to hear about the tribunal in Techrine Newspaper.

June 5th, 2007, 5:27 am


Enlightened said:

Akbar Said;

“Also, if you find a copy of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in Arabic, this too, could be quite an educational find. It would provide an interesting discussion in my kid’s hebrew school class. (Since they don’t read Arabic, make sure the cover has some good Jewish stereotypical characteristics; sidelocks, yarmulke, tallis, etc).”

How many times do you have to rehash this sh#t ?

While we are at it you forgot the bignose bit! be more accurate next time!

June 5th, 2007, 6:41 am


t_desco said:

For the record:

Reports outline details of alleged terror plot

‘Operation 577’ called for large bombings, assassinations of key political and religious figures

Fatah al-Islam militants were planning a string of terrorist attacks throughout Lebanon, including attacks on UN offices, large-scale bombings and assassinations, in a plot known as “Operation 577” which was revealed during interrogations of arrested Fatah al-Islam members, London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat said on Monday.

Citing Lebanese security sources, Al-Hayat said the goal of the plot was to lay the foundation for an “all-Sunni emirate in North Lebanon.”

Sources told the newspaper that Al-Qaeda fighters from Iraq made their way to Lebanon through Syria and vowed to conduct a series of terrorist attacks across Lebanon, while Fatah al-Islam leader Shaker Youssef al-Abssi pursued his expansion plans in the North.

The pan-Arab daily said while Abssi counted on Al-Qaeda mercenaries to join the fight on his side, those same members “let down” Abssi, “because they did not show any sort of cooperation during the continuing fighting between the army and Fatah al-Islam.”

Al-Hayat added testimonies of arrested Fatah al-Islam fighters revealed Abssi’s intention to launch more attacks against the army which would have a “larger and more violent scope.”

Testimonies of fighters made available to Al-Hayat showed that Abssi’s plan was “doomed to failure because of several factors on the Lebanese as well as Palestinian levels.”

The same testimonies said groups such as Hizbullah and Amal, in addition to secular Palestinian factions such as Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, “would not tolerate movements such as Fatah al-Islam expanding and invading their territories.”

Local daily Al-Mustaqbal, which is owned by the Hariri family, said Operation 577 aimed “in its preliminary stages” to hit Christian targets.

The group has been blamed for twin bus bombings in Ain Alaq in February which killed three people and wounded more than 20 others.

The operation also plotted the assassinations of Christian political and religious figures such as Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, MP Butros Harb – a candidate for the presidency – and March 14 Forces MP Hadi Hobeish, Al-Mustaqbal said.

The plot also included attacks on the UN headquarters in Beirut, as well as on the defense and interior ministries and the Phoenicia InterContinental Hotel, the daily said.

Al-Mustaqbal also said that the Islamist group “planned to launch attacks on the Chekka tunnel linking Beirut to Tripoli, with the aim of cutting off the North and proclaiming an Islamic state there.”

Later on Monday, judiciary sources told The Daily Star that Military Investigative Magistrate Judge Rasheed Mezher questioned 11 Fatah al-Islam suspects Monday after having interviewed nine last week. During preliminary investigations, suspects said the “mastermind” of the terror operation was a Lebanese citizen who fled to Syria after the Nahr al-Bared clashes erupted.

The Central News Agency reported Monday that various diplomatic missions in Lebanon “likely to constitute easy targets for terrorist attacks,” such as Western embassies and UN centers, “have doubled security measures in their surroundings.”
The Daily Star, Al-Mustaqbal

June 5th, 2007, 7:12 am


Alex said:


Everything about Syria the past few years has been dramatic. The plot is out of some third rate political thriller in the fiction section. Every week brings “news” that reverses last week’s news.

This is not the time to make confident predictions. It is the time to estimate probabilities attached with every question and every expected outcome.

As for the Tribunal, “my sources” tell me that probably (notice the probably) nothing will come out of it…it was mostly adopted to please some in the US administration, Lebanon, and France who, for two different reasons, insisted on the tribunal.

Even the prominent Saudi journalist Abdel Rahman El-Rashed seems to beleive that there is nothing in the tribunal that can hurt the Syrian regime.

The tribunal will take few years to reach any conclusion … until then things will change in the Middle East… any guesses in which direction things will change as far as Syria in concerned?

June 5th, 2007, 7:13 am


EHSANI2 said:

If Alex’s “sources” are correct about the fact that nothing will come out of the Brammertz report, then of course all bets are off. Case closed. There is no story here to get excited about.

Dr. Landis echoes a similar sentiment when he reported that a foreign diplomat has told him that only when we see what is in the report, would we know if the tribunal is a big deal or not.

Many commentators here also feel that the report will reveal little and will end up lacking in strong evidence as to the identity of the perpetrators or those behind them.

Were this to be the case, of course the tribunal will not amount to much.

Since my friend ALEX likes to attach probabilities to certain outcomes, it would be interesting to entertain the scenario where the Brammertz report may contain a heavier punch than the consensus opinion.

Dr. Landis,

I think that what some of the readers want to know is what you think will happen if the above scenario that I described comes to fruition. In other words, what if the Alex ‘s sources were wrong and that the Brammertz report agrees with that of Mehlis and Fitzgerald before him?

Indeed, the truth is that we may not even need to go that far before things start to turn south. Mr. Walid Al-Muaalem has already indicated that Syria will not hand over any of its citizens to questioning by the court. The tribunal does not concern Syria according to him. How does the UNSC resolution deal with non-compliance with the court order to make a witness available to the sitting judges? Do economic sanctions follow such a refusal to cooperate? Are these economic sanctions enforceable under chapter VIII? Once economic sanctions run their course, what does the use of force mean when it comes to the same resolution?

I think these are the type of questions that need to be entertained in order to have a comprehensive and full discussion on this critical subject.

June 5th, 2007, 3:25 pm


Ford Prefect said:

Dear Josh,
Thanks for the brilliant analysis. As always, you speak with superb combination of objectivity and passion to analyze one of the most complicated societies on earth. Unlike many who see things as either black or white, your analysis underscores the complexities exhibited in Syria, its politics and its people.

Few comments:

Regarding Khaddam’s family, his daughter Reem (and not Rima) is not married to an Atassi; his son Jihad is. Reem is married to a Damascene entrepreneur Arfan Tarabishi. His oldest son, Jamal is married to Hanan Kehir Beik from Lattakia. That is just for the record.

Your analysis of the Khaddam/Shihabi/Kanaan connection was excellent but you have missed some important and relevant facts regarding Khaddam:
o He and his family are Saudi citizens. Their citizenships were arranged by the late Hariri. Why? I will leave this to the intellect of the readers.
o Khaddam did have Syrian presidency ambition supported by Hariri and KSA as part of an overall Saudi (Sunni) hegemony aspiration in the area. His alliance with the MB underscores this notion. BTW, the current strain of the Syrian MBs are very Saudi-friendly.

The haflats and street parties celebrating Bashar ascent to the throne reminds me of similar events in 1970 when his late father had similar experience. In fact, the pictures you posted show Bashar having striking resemblance to the Hafez of the 70’s (that had a chilling effect on me; I am sorry to say). I hope that Syrian photographers will heavily use Photoshop to remove any resemblance to the late king. Hajee ba’a!

Back in 1970, when Hafez came to power, many Syrians were excited, genuinely (and wrongly, we later found out), about the new era of Hafez. The haflat were not forced or staged (I was there) and the people were truly happy to rid themselves of the previous Ba’athists ideologue and the dark days of the Atassi, Zou3ayyen, Makhous, and Salah Jdeed. I remember how Hafez allowed the Annahar newspaper to be sold in Syria and the first issue to be sold had an extensive interview with him. The openness that Hafez brought in the 1970’s rallied many people (and elitists) behind him. For those of you old enough to remember consider the following historical events: special permits to travel to Lebanon were abolished; a new highway liking Damascus with Aleppo was commissioned to a Western company (with many late model cars arriving that had the special blue plates); a new Damascus Airport that allowed many Western Airlines to start flying to Damascus; restaurants, clubs, consumer products (relatively speaking) started to appear on store shelves; and so on. These events were undreamed of in Syria under the old regime and had significant rallying effects on the Syrian populous behind Hafez.

In reading your analysis above and seeing the pictures of Bashar plastered on an otherwise nice parts of female anatomy (thus unwillingly diminishing their natural beauty!) I just couldn’t help remembering similar events in October of 1970. I know things are different today, but heaven forbids if we are headed to an encore of that cycle.

Finally, Akbar, I would have thought that with such an analysis that Josh provided, you could provide a more sober point of view. Do you really think that by asking the same question in many different ways you will finally get an answer that you will like?

Cheers Josh for the great work and analysis. Keep up the good work and stay hydrated.

June 5th, 2007, 4:22 pm


idaf said:

With such deep analysis, insight and entertaining writings, I suggest you spend at least 10 month a year in Syria 🙂

Dear G and K,

Please notice that 95 percent of the “haflat” that took place in the main square of almost every major city in Syria all had celebrity Lebanese singers as the main attraction! The musicians were also those well known Lebanese musicians who you see on Future TV and LBC sponsored programs daily. The singers singing on the stage were in front of huge portraits of Bashar! They all sang their own brand-new “long live the leader Bashar” dedicated songs. Do you think that these Lebanese also “did not have a choice”? Were they “traitors” to Lebanon? Or were they also threatened by jail to cheer for Bashar and decided to dump their thousands of fans in Lebanon?

G, K, please stop lecturing us using terms such as “we the Lebanese”, “Lebanon wants this”, “Lebanese demands”. K said: “They love Bashar because they truly believe he is the Guardian of Arabism and the Palestinian Cause, rather than just another cynical and murderous regional operator.. many of the highly educated, well-traveled contributors to this blog hold these same views.”.. G, REPEAT AFTER ME: A considerable portion of the Lebanese populace does also hold these views and support Bashar (Yes, do believe what you are reading!).

Moreover, a bigger portion of the Lebanese people (a majority?) couldn’t care less who killed Hariri. As I said earlier, the Hariri tribunal is irrelevant in the collective Syrian people’s perception towards Bashar. Moreover, because the whole Hariri affair (including the Tribunal) is widely seen by most Syrians today as just another WMD false accusation to get their country to its knees a la Iraq, regardless of the real culprit, the fact that the US is so vehemently supporting the tribunal is actually fueling Bashar’s popularity in Syria and beyond (including Lebanon!).

I really hope that you are not loosing sleep waiting for the tribunal’s result as the panacea to your “Syrian regime” nightmare. This is highly unlikely neither in the short nor in the long run.

Noticing the amount of anger in your tones, I offer the following sincere advice to you that might help you understand how Syrians think and give you some comfort: When you make an argument, accusation or remark about Syria or even Bashar, try not to start by implying or stating that “Bashar killed Hariri”. Do not make your argument starting from this point as if it was a well known fact that everybody agree on. This actually only undermines your argument to follow. Try (even just for the fun of it) to start your thinking process from a point where “Bashar might and might not have killed Hariri”. Then and only then, your arguments and lectures to most Syrians will make more sense.

I obviously disagree with you on the impact of the tribunal. While “attaching probabilities to certain outcomes” regarding the tribunal will be a fun exercise to conduct, I think that it will only lead us to another Byzantine discussion. People have already made up their minds and placed their bets. Not many will change their perception of the tribunal and Syria’s guilt or innocence. Furthermore, the exercise will be useless as when it comes to Syria as Alex said: “every week brings “news” that reverses last week’s news”. I suggest that Prof. Landis spend more of his time in Syria bringing us more on-the-ground analysis rather than hypothetical ones on the tribunal process (which is of little relevance to Syria on the short run).

Ford Prefect,
I honestly had the same thoughts. Now this is another excellent topic worth Josh writing on from Syria. How different this support that Bashar enjoys now is from the support that his father had when he first came to power? The striking difference that comes to mind however, is that Bashar unlike his father, is not a military/security person.

June 5th, 2007, 4:38 pm


George Ajjan said:

Ford Prefect said:

Hajee ba’a!

When I read this, I felt as though you were one of my relatives. I could not stop laughing! Great one!

June 5th, 2007, 4:46 pm


Atassi said:

Unwanted Attention; Arab bloggers face government clampdowns.
By Dan Ephron

11 June 2007
U.S. Edition

Copyright (C) 2007 Newsweek Inc. All Rights Reserved.

In the two years since he start-ed writing political commentary on his Web site, Syrian blogger Ammar Abdulhamid has called President Bashar Assad a thug, a dictator, Mr. Bean, the village idiot and Fredo Corleone–the bumbling mob-family brother from “The Godfather.” A 41-year-old novelist and the son of Syria’s most-celebrated screen actress, Abdulhamid wants Assad’s regime replaced by an elected government. Like hundreds of other dissidents in the Arab world, he began blogging with bluntness during a brief window of liberalization that opened after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But geography sets him apart: Abdulhamid writes from his home outside Washington, D.C., having been forced into exile by the Syrian government in 2005. In recent months, he has watched as regimes from Tunisia to Iran jailed bloggers and intimidated others into ditching their keyboards. Now he’s working with another Arab blogger to establish a group to protect the dissenters.

“If the regimes are allowed to shut us out of the blogosphere, we have nothing left,” he tells NEWSWEEK.

Press censorship and intimidation are hardly new in the Middle East. But until recently, bloggers were too marginal to gag. Only about 10 percent of Arabs have access to the Internet, compared with the huge penetration of satellite TV, which beams Al-Jazeera and other networks to hundreds of millions of homes. “Governments in the region didn’t take the blogger phenomenon seriously,” says Elijah Zarwan, the Egypt researcher for Human Rights Watch. The harassment began when a handful of bloggers focused on corruption and brutality in their own countries, sometimes linking to incriminating photos and videos. By the time regimes took notice, the pressure to liberalize coming from Washington had waned, a result of the crisis the Bush administration faced in Iraq. Last year Al-Jazeera aired a documentary on opposition bloggers in the Arab world that caused their readership to soar. So did the attention they got from security police.

An Egyptian writer whose nom de blog is Sandmonkey ( felt particularly threatened. His site describes him as “an extremely cynical, snarky, pro-U.S., secular, libertarian,” and his entries since December 2004 have included some of the most caustic remarks about the regime of Hosni Mubarak ever printed by an Egyptian. Last November, he and others linked to a 39-second video that showed an Egyptian bus driver allegedly getting sodomized by officers in a Cairo police station; two officers from the precinct are now on trial for torture, which is almost unheard-of in Egypt. When other bloggers were jailed–one was sentenced recently to four years–Sandmonkey launched campaigns for their release. Earlier this year Sandmonkey (he keeps his real name secret) started hearing suspicious clicks on his phone and noticing plainclothes policemen lurking in his neighborhood. “They would ask my doorman about me,” he tells NEWSWEEK. Worried about his own possible arrest, Sandmonkey discontinued his blog six weeks ago, writing in his last entry: “I grew bolder and more reckless at a time where everybody else started being more cautious … Stupid Monkey. Stupid!”

Since then, Sandmonkey and Abdulhamid have met with government and nongovernment figures in Washington to gather support for a committee to protect Arab bloggers. Tentatively named the Voice Initiative, it would spring to action whenever bloggers face state harassment, mobilizing political pressure in Western capitals and providing legal support. Funding is still uncertain: “Where you get the money can be a very delicate issue,” Sandmonkey says. The group would need enough muscle, he says, to make regimes think before jailing bloggers. For Abdulhamid, it was apparently pedigree that kept him out of prison. “I think they were afraid of the public reaction, given how famous my mother is in Syria,” he says. Other high-profile bloggers may not want to count on that kind of leniency.

Freedom Rings: Abdulhamid works to protect Arab bloggers; his site (above) and Sandmonkey’s

June 5th, 2007, 5:21 pm


EHSANI2 said:


With your last comment, you have demonstrated why you are one of my favorite participants here. Those of us who lived through the 1970-1976 days of Hafez’s rule cannot but help make the parallels that you so ably articulated. One can argue that it was the Moslem Brotherhood movement that set in motion the reversal of that honeymoon period. To a much lesser extent (for now at least), it is presently the external pressures that have prevented a true honeymoon from progressing much further this time. I personally believe that internal security and the continuity of the leadership at the helm come above all else. Reforms will be offered in piecemeal fashion a teaspoon at a time. Once security is compromised by the slightest, a reversal in that trend will take place at a blink of an eye. It was the case with Hafez for 30 years. It will be the same with Bashar for the next 30 years.


Attaching probabilities to certain outcomes regarding the tribunal is not a “fun exercise”. While you may find it a fun exercise, policy makers, investors and most thoughtful citizens are very much involved in making precisely such probability calculations when it comes to predicting the future and what may happen to their careers, capital and lives. I did not ask about whether people have already made up their minds about the culprits. What I am talking about is the legal aspect of what has already transpired on the ground. Come June 10th, chapter VII will commence. Over the next one year or earlier, judges will be chosen and a court venue will be picked. Brammertz will then open his report once he guarantees the protection and security of his 150 witnesses. The sitting judges will have to start calling these witnesses to testify. Some of those called will be Syrian officials. The country’s leadership has already indicated that it will not comply with the court’s request. Chapter VII states that those who fail to comply or cooperate with the proceedings will be subject to economic sanctions and the use of force if necessary.


What I have described above is not a “Byzantine discussion”. One can sink his head in the sand and refuse to want to talk about it as one of the many probabilities. You may consider it a “fun exercise”. As for my taste, I don’t consider it to be too funny. Whether some want to admit it or not, the tribunal matter IS a critical issue facing the country going forward. Talking about other things may well turn out to be the “real fun exercise”

June 5th, 2007, 5:33 pm


Ford Prefect said:

Well said and I appreciate your insights. Also, consider the following quotation:

“Israel and the United States should adopt a coordinated strategy to regain the initiative and reverse their regionwide strategic retreat. They should broaden the conflict to strike fatally, not merely disarm, the centers of radicalism in the region—the regimes of Damascus, Baghdad, Tripoli, Tehran, and Gaza. That would reestablish the recognition that fighting with either the United States or Israel is suicidal.”
– David Wurmser, Published in the Washington Times, January 1, 2001

Such a peace-lover is the Vice President’s Middle East Advisor. He is still espousing messages of hate and war. If such a person is advising our VP, no wonder Iran has such war mongers running around.

If you look closely at the above quotation, with many similar ones underlining the drive to remove any opposition to Israel’s illegal occupation of land and subjugation of Palestinians as sub-humans, one shouldn’t be surprised that using the Hariri Tribunal to destabilize Syria is not a far-fetched idea.

George, lol! Glad I reminded you of some real Aleppinians!

June 5th, 2007, 5:44 pm


Nur al-Cubicle said:

Dear Joshua:

What I reward I received in reading today’s post. Thank you.

June 5th, 2007, 6:00 pm


Ford Prefect said:

Cheers buddy. I am one of your biggest fans and must admit that some of my thoughts are blatantly ripped off from your writings!

New leaders in countries that have not yet reached social, political, and liberal essentialism of democracy must first demonstrate that they are lovable, huggable, T-shirt wearable, and photogenic-able. Once that is accomplished, they start believing in themselves, wholeheartedly.

It is often said about Hafez that he believed that he was truly loved. His advisors consistently reported to him how the people are ready to die for him. How the street are buzzing with his pictures, voluntarily. They showed him how clean Damascus was but they never told him that the al Malki Street and other streets were power- washed just before they took him out on a tour. Soon thereafter, a snowballing effect starts feeding a self-fulfilling prophecy – “if I wasn’t that good, I wouldn’t have lasted that long,” Hafez convinced himself. Ironically, leaders in the Middle East are hostages to their own security apparatus. They are not free to seek any knowledge, their information is censored, filtered, and massaged, and their connections are severely curtailed. Historical facts show that they live under the same authoritarian conditions they imposed on their subjects!

Once a leader is convinced (and they do get convinced, miraculously!) that they are that good, that loveable, and that essential to the survival of their country, they move into doing the Lord’s (or plug in a word of your liking) work – that is protecting the people wishes of keeping the leader on top safe and secure.

I was genuinely disappointed by the organized and the disorganized ihtifalat and celebrations mentioned in Josh’s article above. I know that most of them were not forced or staged – people in Syria do have raging emotions and sure enough, Bashar captured the imagination of many. (Side note: play a debkeh song anywhere in public and observe how many people get up and dance VERY happily. Celebrating what? Now one knows exactly!)

Of course, the inept US Administration helped many leaders in the area achieve their aura with disastrous policies and loosing wars across the region.

But nothing good usually results from these glorifying events. I truly hope that I am wrong and my fears are baseless. But history and past experience is on the side of my fears at the moment.

June 5th, 2007, 6:33 pm


idaf said:


I do appreciate your concerns, however in my personal opinion, I still think that Prof. Landis’ time in Syria can be better utilized to get his insights on the less theoretical issues (real issues on the ground such as the one above that you can’t read in western papers or academic papers). I’m sure that a time will come in the near future where an influx of such risk assessment pieces on the tribunal will clog our internet bandwidth. You, however, may want to elaborate on the probabilities to certain outcomes regarding the tribunal from your point of view. I know that you have the authority to publish on this blog and I do look forward to reading your views.

June 5th, 2007, 7:11 pm


Atassi said:

I see that most of you reached the defensive behavioral state of denial with regard to the Hariri tribunal, even some of you claiming it as irrelevant and advocating the notion that it should be ignored!!
This is going to be a big mistake, Keep in mind any assurances and self security you may have, will disappear in the face of any new threat of incoming sanctions.
Libya went that road before. I don’t wish Syria to be slapped with a “No fly” sanction. “Otherwise most of you will have to travel to Lebanon or Jordon fly out 🙁 “
The late King and his Son came form the same class “both are dictators” and by anyone standers! This haflats and street parties you seen and witnessed in the past and present were a temporary, directed, and staged events.
Please trust me in this one. When the Shit hit the fan, The “Hot Money” owned by the relatively new made-up Syria’s elites will the first one to take a flight outside of the country.
I would think at a minim, the regime inner circle should be truly worried and fearing any unfavorable outcome which in turn may possibly create a rift and a cracks within this ruling circle.
I am sure Khaddam and others like him flip flappers had no choice but to Flip to another path and flee after the Harri killing. They must have realized the newer “rules” were put in place, “No immunity under the new security arrangements for weak hands”. Shihabi and Tals were not considered weak link by the regime! Khaddam was…
I would bet Khaddam would prefer to stay in Syria and enjoyed the life of the privileged elite!! He is NOT one of the Re-born Again fellows for sure. And the regime can’t offered and in no mean able to play God and forgive him for his mistakes!!

June 5th, 2007, 7:50 pm


Atassi said:

Guardian Leader Pages
We should support the Arab peace offer
Crispin Blunt MP, Richard Burden MP, Neil Gerrard MP, Dr Brian Iddon MP, Lord Hylton, Mark Lazarowicz MP, Kerry McCarthy MP, Lord Andrew Phillips, Christine Russell MP, Andrew Slaughter MP, Dr Phylli
6 June 2007

The Guardian
Forty years ago, Israel launched the six-day war that changed the face of the Middle East and initiated one of the longest occupations in modern history (Six-day war, June 5). Since then, the Israeli military has expanded and tightened its hold over Gaza, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights, settling Israeli citizens illegally on occupied Palestinian and Syrian land.

Today the Gaza Strip is the world’s largest prison, with 1.4 million Palestinians trapped inside, deprived of the freedom to travel or trade, and with little hope for the future. The West Bank is covered in hundreds of illegal settlements containing almost 500,000 illegal Israeli settlers, and carved up by settler roads, 549 roadblocks and a wall that serves not just to protect Israelis, but to imprison the Palestinians within it and to annex around 10% of the West Bank.

The Israeli army has used overwhelming force to expand this occupation, leading to the loss of thousands of Palestinian lives. As with nearly every occupation in history, it has led to increasingly violent resistance, which in turn has led to the loss of wholly innocent Israeli lives. Palestinians are further away than ever from being free and their chances of having a viable state is being swallowed up before their eyes, leaving around 12% of what was once their country.

The international community formally opposes this colonisation and land theft. But instead of insisting Israel ends its occupation, its inaction has condoned its expansion. Ending this occupation after 40 years is a matter of urgency not just for Palestinians, but for Israelis as well. The Golan Heights could and should be returned to Syria in exchange for peace.

The British government and the EU should throw their full weight behind the Arab peace plan that offers peace and normalisation in return for full Israeli withdrawal from Arab land before 1967. There is now a united and moderate Arab peace proposal that offers the best prospect for peace in a rapidly disintegrating environment. It both deserves and requires support.

Crispin Blunt MP, Richard Burden MP, Neil Gerrard MP, Dr Brian Iddon MP, Lord Hylton, Mark Lazarowicz MP, Kerry McCarthy MP, Lord Andrew Phillips, Christine Russell MP, Andrew Slaughter MP, Dr Phyllis Starkey MP, Derek Wyatt MP

* You omit many facts in Israel’s legitimate defence. Nasser did more than “put on a show of force”; his bellicose claims to “wipe Israel off the map” had been broadcast for years and it was a massive army he sent to the Sinai. The withdrawal of UN peacekeepers from the border was another sign that nothing would stand in the way of an Egyptian attack. As your maps illustrate clearly, had the Arabs accepted the UN resolution in 1948, they would have had far greater territory today. Israel is being blamed for winning wars that if they had lost would have led to the country’s annihilation.

Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein

Northwood, Middlesex

June 5th, 2007, 8:29 pm


Philip I said:

If the unholy alliance between illegitimate dictatorial power and monopoly capital results in widespread employment and wealth for the 20 million Syrian people, I promise never to mention the word democracy, ever again.

June 5th, 2007, 8:41 pm


Observer said:

I am glad that this post shed some important light on the behind the scenes actions and the moves and motives of the players. Khaddam left for he saw the writing on the wall but what is puzzling is his delusion about being able to return a la Chalabi to Damascus. For those that bemoan the lack of democracy in Syria; a country that is not socially or politically ready for such a concept in my opinion, at least not democracy a la francaise or a la anglo saxon variety here is my comment:

It is interesting to note that as we see a lack of transparency in most of the ME we are also seeing a similar mirror image trend in the West where big interests are shaping so called democratic debates. The latest debates among the democrates and the republicans are in the end going to give the establishment candidates their chances to compete not for new direction but for slight variation on the same direction that the country will continue to take along the path of increasing the military industrial political media empire. In Syria you grab power to become rich and in the West you get rich to grab power.

June 5th, 2007, 8:58 pm


EHSANI2 said:


Would you care tell us how rich Bill Clinton was when he assumed the Presidency of the U.S.?

June 5th, 2007, 9:04 pm


Ford Prefect said:

I saw a car driving around the capital beltway in Washington DC with the following bumper sticker:

“Be nice to America or We Will Bring Democracy to Your Country Too”.

I googled it, found it, and had to order a couple. We need to let the world know, especially those terrorist Syrians, don’t we?

June 5th, 2007, 9:12 pm


R said:

Your analysis does not predicate the array of possible conclusions you and your chosen contributers claim. The reasons for the plebiscite (your word) you talk of, has nowt to do with the human condition, nor the actions of Syria’s leadership.

Rather the rallying cries of this increasingly feeble nation of good people has all to do with the inherent instinct of humans to find security en mass. Only by effectively collaborating can people prosper, thrive and avoid adversity.

Given the repressive grip Assad the “moderniser” is it not surprising that the ordinary Syrian, with their ancient customs have come to practice – consciously or unconsciously – a culture a collective maturity that recognizes that they would be better off controlling their thoughts.

In the words of Darwin “The tree of life is self pruning.” Something this ancient culture probably knows very deep down indeed. Why rock the boat? Besides a pruning seems on the horizon, no?

June 5th, 2007, 9:24 pm


Ziad said:

The biggest damage that is the result of asad rule is the degradation of the syrian people personality.

June 5th, 2007, 10:45 pm


Ford Prefect said:

Ziad, that damage can be traced to the Ba’ath and Ba’athists everywhere they existed from Akram Hourani to Michele Aflak to Amin Hafez to Salah Jdeed to Salim Hatoom to Salah Bitar to Abdel Halim Hafez (sorry Khaddam). (P.S. Have you noticed that nice ethnic cocktail?) Bashar Asad is irrelevant compared to the forcing of ideologies of the Ba’ath since 1963.)

The Ba’athists damage can also be now observed in schools and universities, public institutions, the press, the arts, the sciences, the literature, the agriculture, the industries, and everything in between.

June 5th, 2007, 11:02 pm


norman said:

Peace or war if war erupts between Syria and Israel American kids will not be dieing , only syrian and Israeli ones ,
The question is : should Israel and Syria leave for the US to deside the future of their children , I hope not.

US still opposed to Syria Israel talks

Anshel Pfeffer, THE JERUSALEM POST Jun. 6, 2007


For the foreseeable future, negotiations between Israel and Syria would only further destabilize matters in the region, according to a member of the US administration.

The administration source, accompanying US President George W. Bush in Prague, said the Syrian issue would not be on the agenda when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visits Washington in two weeks. He was responding to calls in Israel in recent days in favor of engaging the Assad regime.

The US continues to believe that Syria should be isolated from the diplomatic process in the region until it severs ties with Hizbullah and Hamas. Talks between Israel and Syria would quickly break down, creating an explosive situation in which warfare between the two countries might break out, the source said. The US administration was aware of the fears within the Israeli intelligence community that an isolated Assad would launch a military attack on Israel, but didn’t view that outcome as likely, the source added.

In 2000, president Bill Clinton passed on an offer from prime minister Ehud Barak that Israel would retreat from almost the entire Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria. Similar ideas have been raised in the past, but the US does not believe an Israeli government could or should return the Golan to a regime with such strong terrorist ties.

Despite the recommendation of the Iran Study Group’s Baker-Hamilton report that the US should reengage Syria as part of its efforts to end the insurgency in Iraq, Bush is determined not to have any official US representative hold talks with the regime. He recently said various international envoys had visited Damascus in recent months but the Syrian policy hadn’t changed.

The US administration is still pushing for talks between Israel and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and believes that talks with Syria will only serve to deflect attention from the Palestinian channel.



This article can also be read at

[ Back to the Article ]

Copyright 1995-2007 The Jerusalem Post –

June 6th, 2007, 1:23 am


EHSANI2 said:

By John D. McKinnon

PRAGUE, Czech Republic (Dow Jones)–U.S. President George W. Bush’s speech to
a conference of political dissidents sought to reinvigorate his push for
freedom and democracy around the world by putting a human face on the effort.
In fact, dozens of them.
The diverse array of activists who gathered for Tuesday’s speech included
major figures from reform movements across the Middle East, as well as in
Eastern Europe and Asia, Cuba and the emerging powers of Russia and China,
where Bush worries that authoritarian regimes are creating new threats to
“You follow different traditions, you practice different faiths, and you face
different challenges,” Bush said. “But you are united by an unwavering
conviction – that freedom is the non-negotiable right of every man, woman and
child, and that the path to lasting peace in our world is liberty.”
One Syrian activist, Farid Ghadry, gently patted his countryman, Mamoun
Homsy, a former member of the Syrian Parliament, on the back as Bush described
how Homsy had been imprisoned for seeking reform. Conference participants
interrupted Bush frequently with applause, and there a few whoops at the end,
after Bush promised to renew his efforts to face down tyranny and oppression
wherever they occur, including among U.S. Allies and trading partners.
For the White House, the speech represented a carefully stage-managed
opportunity to revive the president’s freedom agenda, which he first outlined
in his ambitious second inaugural address, in January 2005. At the time, Bush
cited former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky as one of his inspirations.
Bush pledged then to push for democratic reform across the Middle East,
including in repressive countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia that are
important U..S. Allies.
Since 2005, however, Bush’s plan has hit a few setbacks. In particular, the
difficult military situation in Iraq has left the president with little
political capital to spend on promoting freedom elsehwere.
In effect, with Tuesday’s speech, Bush and his aides sought to transform the
largely moribund initiative into a politically potent public relations campaign
that he can use as needed against other leaders, including Russian President
Vladimir Putin and China’s Hu Jintao.
To be sure, the concrete measures the White House outlined Tuesday – new
outreach by U.S. embassies to dissidents and new funds to help them survive
when they get in trouble – appeared meager. But Tuesday’s event was a reminder
of the issue’s enduring power.
Sharansky, one of the organizers of Tuesday’s conference, had a front row
seat during the speech, and nodded emphatically at times. Other organizers
included Vaclav Havel, the first president of the Czech Republic, and Spain’s
former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.
Bush noted that the conference was being held in a palace where a coup by
Communists following World War II left Czechoslovakia’s foreign minister dead,
illustrating freedom’s fragility, but also – given the Czech Republic’s
resurgence – its continuing appeal.

June 6th, 2007, 1:24 am


Akbar Palace said:

Enlightened asked:

How many times do you have to rehash this sh#t ?

Until it becomes hard to find material?

Ford Prefect:

Finally, Akbar, I would have thought that with such an analysis that Josh provided, you could provide a more sober point of view.

Don’t worry about my point-of-view. It’s been clouded by years of jihadists trying to murder my people. BTW – Where did the name “Ford Prefect” come from? Are you into cars?

Ford Prefect states:

I saw a car driving around the capital beltway in Washington DC with the following bumper sticker:

“Be nice to America or We Will Bring Democracy to Your Country Too”.

I googled it, found it, and had to order a couple. We need to let the world know, especially those terrorist Syrians, don’t we?

I’ve seen several cars with the following bumper sticker:

“War is not the answer”

Then I thought to myself, where were these bumper stickers before 9-11?

And, BTW, can you find similar stickers in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Iran?:

“Jihad is not the answer”

I doubt it. But if you do find one, please be sure to send me a handful of ’em. I bet they’re harder to find than a 17th century american penny.

June 6th, 2007, 3:22 am


Enlightened said:


We can find equal and copious amount of material whether it comes from the Jihadists, Mad Mullahs, The KKK, The Nazis etc etc etc. On the previous thread I asked you about the chief Rabbis spoken words to carpet bomb the palestinians. Your response was shock.

However your constant Badgering of Josh and others about Anti Semitic Issues in Syria has got rather stale, and I will tell you why! Ask any person on this site and the State school system in Syria has no official policy to rabidly enforce anti Semitism on its students, Iran and The PA might be another matter.

But this is what really concerns me Akbar since you are a father;

“It would provide an interesting discussion in my kid’s hebrew school class.”

Should kids be discussing these issues? Should young minds be exposed to this? You are best answering this.

Let me relay this to you our first house we ever purchased was bought off a jewish family,( surname Cohen forgot his first name)my father and him became friends and he would always drop over for coffee, his two sons attended my primary school, some kids were aware of their “jewishness”, I asked my father why other kids avoided them etc, my fathers answer were that the majority of people are stupid and asked me how I treated them, I told him that I spoke to them and treated them as I do others. ( I didnt tell him tha I bullied everyone equally, that would have had repercussions my fathers back hander was painfull)

I remember one conversation they had about the Arabs having 22 countries and that the Jews only have 1, and my fathers response was that he had a fair point. You might think I am rambling here but, This is my question to you Akbar, I have three jewish friends I keep in contact with from my Uni days, how many Arab friends do you have? Or do you think they are all Jihadists and Anti Semites?

Be honest here.

June 6th, 2007, 4:31 am


Akbar Palace said:

Englightened said:

We can find equal and copious amount of material whether it comes from the Jihadists, Mad Mullahs, The KKK, The Nazis etc etc etc. On the previous thread I asked you about the chief Rabbis spoken words to carpet bomb the palestinians. Your response was shock.

The KKK, the “jihadists” and the ex-chief Rabbi do not represent any government official. However, the “Mad Mullahs, the Nazis (during Hitler’s tenure), and MOST of the statements found on MEMRI are statements by current (except for the Nazis today) government officials found in the government controlled media. Not a big surprise that all these racist governments have no free media.

Ask any person on this site and the State school system in Syria has no official policy to rabidly enforce anti Semitism on its students, Iran and The PA might be another matter.

I’m not sure you’re telling the whole story:

Should kids be discussing these issues? Should young minds be exposed to this? You are best answering this.

Jewish children in hebrew school learn jewish history. They also learn tolerance and understanding.

But I’m delighted you would ask such a good question:

This is my question to you Akbar, I have three jewish friends I keep in contact with from my Uni days, how many Arab friends do you have? Or do you think they are all Jihadists and Anti Semites?


A good question, and I’m glad you asked. I have had minimal contact with Arab and Muslim Americans. I’ve worked with a few. All were nice and friendly. But there aren’t too many Arabs and Muslims in this part of the evil US, or in my circle of life. I actually worked with a Syrian-American who was very nice. We lunched together several times, lightly discussed ME issues, our careers, life in Syria, etc. He was no jihadist. Few are.

I guess my point is that whether or not an individual is tolerant or “enlightened”, we are all responsible for what our government and people do. If the Lebanese, for example, don’t want to control their border with Israel, and instead give armed Hezbollah jihadists the freedom to attack Israel, then, unfortunately, “tolerant” people in Lebanon will have to pay the price. If the Arab middle east doesn’t act to stop anti-semitism and terrorism in their own respective countries, jihadists and terrorists will thrive among good, tolerant middle easterners and place their lives at risk.

So where you may think all is good, my daily newspaper and my history books don’t say the same thing.

I hope you found my answer to be honest.

June 6th, 2007, 11:10 am


t_desco said:

Nice example of An-Nahar spin:

Authorities Seize Truckload of Arms Coming From Syria, Discover Explosives Depot

The Lebanese army seized a truckload of weapons coming from Syria intended for use in new battle fronts to ease pressure on Fatah al-Islam militants (sic) locked up in fierce fighting with army troops trying to crush the terrorists entrenched inside the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared.

The daily An Nahar on Wednesday said Lebanese authorities also discovered a depot containing more than 200 kilograms of explosives in house raids on suspected Fatah al-Islam militants in the northern Akkar province.

As it turns out, the two stories (seizure of the truck near Baalbek/explosives depot in Akkar) are not related in any way. The truck belongs to Hizbullah and it is not even clear if it was coming from Syria:

Lebanese officials: Troops seize Hezbollah weapons truck

Lebanese troops have seized a truckload of rockets and ammunition belonging to the Hezbollah guerrillas in eastern Lebanon, security officials said Wednesday.

The shipment of Grad rockets and ammunition for automatic rifles and machine guns was seized late Tuesday at a random army checkpoint near the town of Baalbek, a stronghold for the Shiite Muslim militant group.

Six Hezbollah members in the truck were let go but the confiscated weapons were taken to nearby army barracks. There was no immediate comment from Hezbollah on the weapons’ seizure.

It was not clear whether the militants were transferring the weapons within the country or bringing the shipment in from neighboring Syria, as they have reportedly done in the past. Also, the shipment’s destination was not known.

More on Ahmed M.:

“Security sources said one of the Fatah al-Islam members in custody, Ahmad Merhi, who was arrested while staying in a luxury hotel in Beirut’s Achrafieh neighborhood, confessed to smuggling fighters into Lebanon from Syria via illegal crossing points in the Bekaa and North Lebanon.

The security sources said that Merhi would rent out apartments for the fighters in Beirut before transferring them to the Palestinian camps, usually to Nahr al-Bared.”
The Daily Star

June 6th, 2007, 11:21 am


Ford Prefect said:

Olmert seeks peace with Syria. (It is about time, Mr. Olmert!)

June 6th, 2007, 12:19 pm


norman said:

Israel lost last summer war , Israel is seeking peace with Syria , Hizballa and Syria won last year war , Syria is seeking peace , conclusion : To have peace Syria should a war and Israel should lose one. any comments.?,

June 6th, 2007, 12:37 pm


George Ajjan said:

re: the WSJ article posted above –

How is “Frank” Ghadry a countryman of Mamoun Homsy?

الحقيقة: He is a 4th-rate Lebanese con-man. A perfect sweetheart for Liz Cheney.

June 6th, 2007, 12:40 pm


idaf said:

This is a growing trend now in the gulf, there’s a reverse brain drain for skilled knowledge workers from places like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Qatar into Syria. In the last 2 years, I have met at least 15 successful businessmen, engineers, academics and bankers who decided to leave their secure jobs in the gulf to go work for the new companies popping-up in Syria. In addition bankers in Jordan are complaining that the Syrian market is sucking the talented bank workers they have trained for better opportunities in Syria.

There’s also a trend going on for headhunting Syrians working in the gulf for managerial positions in Syria (personally, I have received 3 offers to go back to work in Syria in the last 6 months). Moreover, in the last year or so, I have also came across around 5 Americans and Canadians of Syrian origin who have decided to go back and create start-ups in Syria.. so far they are satisfied with the results.. Ehsani and Alex.. is it about time for you guys? 🙂

Here’s the related story from Reuters..
Syrian girls learn entrepreneurs aren’t all vermin
By Alistair Lyon, Special Correspondent

DAMASCUS (Reuters) – It could be a scene from a reality TV show as a young Syrian entrepreneur pitches her team’s plan for a wheelchair factory to a potential investor. Twisting her fingers nervously, Rama al-Habri, a 16-year-old in jeans and red top, has never done anything like it before and nor have her friends at the Omar Ibn al-Khattab girls’ school. In a state education system dominated by rote learning, the idea of working in groups to produce ideas, solve problems, make decisions and stand up to explain them is a novelty. But unless young Syrians can acquire such business skills and shake off their prejudices about the private sector, rampant unemployment will only get worse and Syria’s attempt to transform its state-heavy economy will run into the sand.

“Before I thought that starting a business needed lots of money and only very rich people could manage it,” Habri said during a break in the workshop at the girls’ secondary school. “They showed us how anyone can do it.”

“We never work in groups at school, but it’s fun. Everybody can put forward their own ideas.” The buzz in the classroom was palpable as each team worked on its presentation, the competitive climax of two days of workshops run by SHABAB, a private non-profit organization backed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma.

In the past, when Syria’s ruling Baathist party preached an Arab socialist ideology, capitalists were despised as parasites. Two years ago the party embraced a change towards a “social market economy,” but old habits die hard. Surveys published in Syrian newspapers show 60 to 70 percent of youngsters still want jobs in the public sector which cannot absorb the 200,000 newcomers entering the labor market every year.

“The aim of the program is change the mentality a bit,” said Tamara Kabbour, who led the workshop at the girls’ school. “Almost no young people think of becoming entrepreneurs or starting their own business. They think the public sector is more secure and they all want to be doctors or engineers.”

SHABAB’s business awareness program, which reached 80 Syrian schools this year, brings people from the private sector into the workshops to share their experiences with the students. Syrian businessmen trying to build on stuttering reforms promoted by Assad to liberalize the economy are acutely aware of a skills gap they say is hampering private sector growth.

“It’s a humungous problem,” said Basel Nasri, 45, founder of the Syrian Entrepreneurs Association. “We advertised for a marketing manager and received over 200 applications. None was good enough. After four months we still haven’t found anyone.” Nasri, whose businesses run from steel to marketing and communications, said the skills shortage might ease in 10 years as new private universities turn out more graduates. Foreign banks, insurance companies and telecom firms newly allowed to operate in Syria have grabbed much of the available talent, forcing local businesses to match higher wage scales.

“In the past a starting salary of $300 to $400 a month was considered good in Syria. Now you can hardly find a starter who will accept less than $500 or $600,” Nasri said. Syrian companies have begun headhunting in the Gulf to try to attract expatriate Syrians home, he said. “These people, with experience of working for foreign companies, can be the engine for change. The wages are no longer so different.”

Hayssam Joud, scion of a long-established business family whose interests include a Pepsi plant in Damascus, agreed it was tough to recruit good people, but said Syrians were quick to learn. “Give them training and expertise and they will deliver.”

Syria’s population of 19 million is growing at 2.45 percent a year. More than 40 percent of Syrians are aged under 15. Economist Nabil Sukkar put unemployment at 20 percent, more than twice the official figure. He said Syria faced a difficult transition. Only the private sector could create new jobs as the public sector shrank, along with its ethos of secure employment.

“A draft labor law will reduce job security and the unions are resisting it,” he said. “We need unemployment benefits and health care to make people feel less insecure.” Young Syrians must also overcome a general fear of business, said Yamama Al-Oraibi, SHABAB’s project manager. “To them, marketing is a scary word. Human resources? You might as well be talking Chinese,” she said. “We try to remove this mystique and show them how much is just commonsense.”

“What’s a bit ludicrous is that Damascus was on the Silk Route and Syria’s merchants were known for centuries as the quickest and smartest, so there’s a strong business tradition. “That seems to have slipped slightly. We need to get it back and link people up to their own traditions,” Al-Oraibi said.

June 6th, 2007, 1:39 pm


Innocent_Criminal said:

Anyone else sees a glaring contradiction?

Israel wants peace with Syria, Olmert says but IDF holds simulation of war with Syria

June 6th, 2007, 2:54 pm


EHSANI2 said:


43 years of socialist Baathism has done so much harm to this country. The ship has been sailing in the wrong direction for too long. What you are describing is the first hint that the captains of this ship have finally realized that they are on the wrong course. The poor passengers have wasted a lot of time in the interim. They have been lied to. They have been told that socialism was going to rid their country of its ills and the unfair distribution of its wealth. Generations of Syrians have been fed the notion that capitalism is evil. The party and the state seized wealth and property as it pleased. The country’s “elites” of the time saw their property rights violated and plundered. Many saw the writing on the wall and fled. Those that stayed faced a steady erosion of their place in society. They were certain that their children had no place in this hijacked country. Many of the participants on this forum are those children who got educated and succeeded abroad.

Today, the young Mr. Assad wants us and the world to believe that the past ugly 43 years is behind us. The new elite class, which has been born, has formidable financial and “other” resources. They know the terrain and are experts at navigating the rather chaotic business and regulatory scene. They have established a powerful base in a virgin country with large potential. Where initial investments of $USD 5-10 may have been enough to start a business in the past, you now hear that $USD 50-100 million has become the new norm.

There is reportedly close to 15 million Syrians living abroad (the 43 years of the Baath has made this an easy decision). Some will decide to go back and look to benefit from the recent changes. My suspicion is that the vast majority will not be quick to pull the trigger. For that to happen, more wholesale and dramatic steps need to be taken.

The power of the state has to be reduced. Monopolies have to be replaced by a more competitive free market system. Regulatory red tape and the associated cancer-like corruption have to end. The legal system has to go through a revolutionary overhaul. No sane person will invest in this country without property right protection. It should not be enough to know Mr. Makhlouf for investment protection. A functioning legal system ought to carry out this function instead.

Does this mean that I would not invest any money in the country? No. Should Gulf-based Syrian citizens consider going back to the country? Sure. Do I think that it is all systems go? No way. Selective and opportunistic investments in the country are something that makes sense. Taking all your hard earned capital (already taxed at 42%) and family back though strikes me as reckless, unwise and simply too early.


I just read your comment below. Your point is well taken. Please don’t start me on Abdulnaser.

June 6th, 2007, 3:13 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

I totaly agree with you, but we ought to be fair,it was Jamal Abdulnaser who came with agrarian reform,and nationalize private companies,however Baath ,and Asad rule continue his policy and stole and enriched their own families.

June 6th, 2007, 3:32 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Not-so-Innocent-Criminal asks:

“Anyone else sees a glaring contradiction?”

Israel wants peace with Syria, Olmert says but IDF holds simulation of war with Syria

My response:


Syria MP confirms preparation for war with Israel

June 6th, 2007, 4:09 pm


Observer said:

Ehsani: I do not know how much money Bill Clinton had, my point is about a trend whereby the rich go on to pursue politics and increase power. Kerry Heinz, Kennedys, rockefellers, Carnegie Mellons, Van Der Bilts and so on and so forth. Rich people can pursue anything they want, the problem is that there is a military industrial political media complex that is the effective ruler at this stage. While you and I and others debate real issues the vast majority of the people are following Paris Hilton, Michael Jackson, and before that OJ Simpson. If this is not the same charade that you find in the ME then I do not know what a charade is.

June 6th, 2007, 4:16 pm


Atassi said:

How did you know my life story? 🙂
Investing money in the Syria by the Syrian expatriates is an accelerating trend since two to three years back. But most of this type of investments tends to be a short term inflow toward a small projects, and mostly parked personal real-estate investments.
Any major external capital inflow by large institutions will not happen any time soon. Since this type of capital requires a policy implementations for safe guarding the inflow and capital control policy for outflow in the events of a financial crisis

June 6th, 2007, 4:23 pm


idaf said:


And I thought that you are a risk-taking entrepreneur 🙂

Don’t you agree that the ROI for those expats who are taking the higher risk now by investing in Syria at this stage is most likely to be much higher than the return on investments for those who will go back to Syria when regulation and rule of law improve?

I think that they are making a calculated risk now. I’m sure that the Syrian-American who went back with his family and started a company in Syria has kept a back-up fund in the states just in case. But however you look at it, it is the time to start investing in Syria.

While I do strongly agree with you that a lot of work is still required, you have to agree Ehsani that much improvement have took place in a relatively short (and troubled) period of time. Economically, things are starting to go in the right direction. Evidence is proving this.

June 6th, 2007, 4:32 pm


idaf said:

Atassi said:
“Any major external capital inflow by large institutions will not happen any time soon”

Oh but it is happening Atassi. There’s almost not a week that passes without a new holding company is announced or established by joint gulf expats and gulf investors and start working in Syria. For now, real-estate is taking the bigger portion of these investments, but many creative “knowledge economy”-based investments have been pouring into Syria recently.

June 6th, 2007, 4:39 pm


Ford Prefect said:

Ehsani, I agree but I don’t think that the “the captains of this ship have finally realized that they are on the wrong course”. More like the captains of the ship are seeing the iceburg and they are trying to steer away from it. It happened once before and we all know how it ended.

I am hoping this time it is different.

June 6th, 2007, 4:46 pm


Ford Prefect said:

Idaf, I don’t want to sound an alarm as I wish Syria all the best. I am also very encouraged with the pace of economic reforms and thrilled to see Syria thriving.

But my concern (and alarm) remain due to the lack of stable and reputable government institutions and judiciary. While things are improving, risk takers would be further assured if they know judges can’t be bought and sold and that every institution of the government is in the service delivery and protection business.

So far, these risk takers are not totally convinced. Where are putting their money? Real estate as you have just mentioned.

Things are getting better daily and must heal at their natural pace. Let’s not rush into anything.

June 6th, 2007, 5:12 pm


Atassi said:

idaf said:
“without a new holding company is announced ” you said it”
Most can and will announce since the “PR cost $1000 or less”
Just keep in mind, I was one of the early and few expats to pour hard earned capital …
SYRIA: External economic relations evolve slowly
Friday, May 25 2007

Oxford Analytica 2007

EVENT: A draft resolution to establish a UN tribunal under Chapter VII to try suspects in the Hariri assassination is circulating at the UN.
SIGNIFICANCE: Non-cooperation with the tribunal could trigger sanctions on Syria, delaying further its accession to the WTO and other trade bodies. A long-awaited new investment law was introduced in January, the latest stage in the government’s plans to liberalise the economy. However, the gap between the liberalisation in trade envisaged by the law and that which would have resulted from WTO membership and conclusion of its EU Association Agreement is very wide.
ANALYSIS: There is still no sign of progress on Syria’s WTO membership, in contrast to the more open regional markets such as Jordan, which joined the WTO in 2000. There is also no sign of the EU-Mediterranean Association Agreement, initialled in October 2004, being signed off, making Syria the only Mediterranean country not yet party to it (see SYRIA: Liberalisation looks to domestic private sector – April 18, 2007). At the end of end 2006, it held bilateral talks with EU trade representatives but still seems determined to open up its economy according to its own timetable (see SYRIA: Unreformed economy suits regime stability – November 24, 2006).

External trade. In the meantime, the outlook for sectors of the economy which could compensate for declining oil revenues is only mixed:

Most manufacturing is focused on the domestic market, and many companies are a long way from being able to compete internationally.
Foodstuffs and textiles (which make up 15% of Syrian exports to the EU) are often poorly packaged and of mixed quality.
This is in contrast to industries in Jordan such as pharmaceuticals, where WTO membership has meant international patent regulations and standards have been applied allowing Jordanian companies to win EU contracts.
However a number of EU schemes exist which could help the Syrian private sector companies with advice on exporting to the EU. This would help the manufacturing sector compete with European goods and boost output of the agricultural sector, which currently employs around one third of the population. In the meantime, the trade balance will be helped by rising exports to regional markets and the current account by rising tourist numbers (up 20% in 2006).

Trade barriers. There has been some relaxation of exchange restrictions on private sector imports, following new regulations in 2005. The new investment law also exempts imports for projects from tariffs. However, this still falls far short of the goals of the unsigned EU-Mediterranean Association Agreement, which stipulates that Syria dismantle tariffs on all imported goods and open up its domestic market over a twelve-year period.

Syria also still imposes non-tariff trade barriers, although the customs system is currently undergoing an overhaul. This process was begun with the Law on Customs No 38 of 2006 which aims to bring Syria into line with international laws on customs.

Exchange rate. Enhancing competitiveness is made more difficult by the lack of clarity about the exchange rate. In 2006, the governor of the Central Bank announced that total unification of the Syrian currency would be implemented from January 1, 2007. However there are still two rates of exchange, the public sector rate and the free exchange rate.

The government is also making slow progress in launching the interbank foreign exchange market. Importers are required to seek permission to use any dollars they hold abroad by going through the state-owned Commercial Bank of Syria, which operates a supply and demand scheme, trading dollars and local currency between importers and exporters. This has allowed the private sector to take advantage of the Commercial Bank’s continuing inability to cope with the rapid pace of change in prices of foreign currency.

Capital account. While the trade account faces challenges, prospects for the capital account are better:

Remittances and investment from oil-rich Gulf countries are boosting boost the capital account (see SYRIA: Gulf capital boosts modernisation – October 30, 2006).
Assuming oil prices stay high, capital expenditure in Syria from the Gulf region will increase, since Gulf investors are comfortable with Syria’s political risk profile. They will seek out the new opportunities and potentially higher returns in newly liberalising markets.
While Saudi business activities in Syria have been stymied by the Hariri assassination, Qatar will not miss the opportunity to take the place of its regional rival.
A memorandum of understanding has been signed by the government and private Kuwaiti firm Noor Financial Investment Company for the building of a new a joint venture oil refinery in Syria costing 1.5 billion dollars. The refinery will have a capacity of 140,000 barrels of oil and oil derivatives per day.
The repatriation of remittances from Syrians employed in the Gulf will continue to rise.
Government plans to simplify investment procedures for Syrian nationals resident overseas will also boost the capital account.
Arab Gas Pipeline. Syria will earn rent from the Arab Gas Pipeline Project, which brings natural gas from Egypt, and possibly the Gulf, to Europe via Syria (see EGYPT: Israeli deal part of wider gas export plan – July 18, 2005):

The second phase of the pipeline through Jordan has already been constructed and the next phase through Syria is set to go ahead.
The growing demand for natural gas in Turkey and Europe will also make the expansion of domestic natural gas production more likely.
EU assistance. Foreign accounts would be improved by financial packages from European institutions such as the European Investment Bank, but the prospect of this is receding at present as a confrontation over the UN tribunal looms. However, in the longer term, both sides remain committed to Syria’s economic opening. Such economic support would be facilitated by Syria’s remarkably low foreign debt and, more importantly, improved relations with the IMF and the World Bank:

Syria is working with the IMF on a reform programme, and there are plans to carry out a comprehensive review of public expenditure in partnership with the World Bank.
While Damascus has traditionally resisted attempts to impose these institutions’ neo-liberal recommendations, their outlooks are beginning to converge as the World Bank now recommends regulatory agencies be put in place as a precursor to privatisation.
Outlook. The government will always determine the timing and type of liberalisation:

Its long-standing commitment to a centrally planned economy means that Damascus is wary for ideological reasons of the liberalisation path followed by Egypt and Jordan.
Damascus wants to avoid the difficulties, such as job losses and price rises, experienced by Egypt due to what many officials believe to be a too hurried privatisation programme.
The example of Iraq, and the chaos that can ensue from deposing a dictator, have unified ordinary Syrians behind President Bashar al-Assad, who has cracked down on domestic opposition in the run up to the referendum on his second seven-year term and speaks less about economic reform these days.
CONCLUSION: Bashar will not risk political unrest by adopting wholesale liberalisation, and in particular, large-scale privatisation. However, influential technocrats who advocate strengthening the private sector and membership of international trade bodies are likely in the longer term to push Syria towards a compromise with the EU. In the meantime, increased income on the capital account will go some way towards making up for the loss of oil revenues

June 6th, 2007, 5:34 pm


EHSANI2 said:


It is risk-adjusted ROI that is critical. Of course you will be rewarded with a higher ROI if you take more risk. It is risk-adjusted returns that matter. Investors buy 30-year US Government bonds (lending money to the US Government) at a yield of 5.09% per annum.
Investing in Syria today will sure give you a high return if you are lucky enough to preserve your capital and get it back as your investment matures. But, risk-free it is not. Indeed, with the sleepless nights that you have to endure, you must demand that high ROI that you are touting.

June 6th, 2007, 5:35 pm


SimoHurtta said:

I guess my point is that whether or not an individual is tolerant or “enlightened”, we are all responsible for what our government and people do. If the Lebanese, for example, don’t want to control their border with Israel, and instead give armed Hezbollah jihadists the freedom to attack Israel, then, unfortunately, “tolerant” people in Lebanon will have to pay the price. If the Arab middle east doesn’t act to stop anti-semitism and terrorism in their own respective countries, jihadists and terrorists will thrive among good, tolerant middle easterners and place their lives at risk.

So where you may think all is good, my daily newspaper and my history books don’t say the same thing.

Rarely I have read such Nazi like opinions Akbar Israeli now presents. Adolf Hitler used to speak about a “racial responsibility”. If Akbar is serious then also all Israelis and Jews are also responsible for that what Israeli Jews do, as a nation and as individuals. The idea of a collective responsibility works both ways.

Israel is full of Jewish religious and ideological extremists who do not differ from “Talebans” in behaviour, appearance, ideology and extremism. Israel has a fair share of its own Jewish “jihadists”. Jewish Defense League, Kach and Kahane Chai etc are not so widely known as the counterparts on the other side.

When Israeli extremists make a terrorism acts against Christians and Muslims, like attacking Churches, Mosques, buses etc and killing innocent Palestinians Israelis always say that this was done by a mentally sick individual. What should we think about Baruch Goldstein (a member of Kach) who killed in the cave of the Patriarchs 29 Muslims and wounded over 100? There are hundreds of Palestinians murdered by Jewish settlers and other extremists. One of latest a couple of days ago when a Israeli-French Jew killed his Palestinian taxi driver. “I decided to murder an Arab,” the suspect who recently became religious told police. To what Jewish Jihadist group did this religious Jew belong, Akbar? Is the local synagogue where he attended and his spiritual mentors under investigation?

With Akbar Israeli’s ideology Jews all around the world must suffer for the deeds of Israeli extremists if the tolerate Jews are not able to stop the Jewish extremists organizations and individuals. Otherwise all Jews place their lives at risk. Isn’t it so Akbar? Jews to not have the monopoly of revenge.

By the way Akbar have Finns the right to retaliate to our Jews and Israelis the deaths of Finnish UN soldiers caused more or less directly by IDF? The latest was last summer, when IDF by “mistake” in extremely shady circumstances bombed the UN observation post killing a Finn (among others).

June 6th, 2007, 10:05 pm


Enlightened said:

Akbar Said;

“So where you may think all is good, my daily newspaper and my history books don’t say the same thing.”

Well I disagree with the first sentence, obviously Akbar all is not good, thats why we need dialogue and communication thats what we do here.

Belligerence, intolerance, bigotry and racism should be torn down and that should be for both sides of the fence whether you are jew, muslim or christian. It is only when we can learn to respect and learn about one another and accept each others existence can we truly achieve peace.

Be well Akbar I think you really dont know or understand us as ive said to you in earlier conversations, its only when we take small steps to know each other we can make progress.

June 6th, 2007, 10:41 pm


norman said:

Does anybody know when the Syrian stock market is going to start and what are the companies that will make the Syrian index .( ETF).and how we can invest in them before they are listed on the Syrian exchange.

June 7th, 2007, 1:33 am


Ford Prefect said:

Worth reading.

Why Hariri resolution divides Lebanon

06/06/2007 08:51 PM | By Bashir Al Baker,

The UN Security Council Resolution No. 1575 to set up an international court to try suspects in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, was viewed by the ruling party as a victory.

The resolution, which widened the Lebanese divide, came at a time of high tensions. And this is why the parties in power suppressed their joy and could not celebrate their long-awaited tribunal resolution.

Why does one team feel victorious? What would the court bring to Lebanon? Will it really bring about justice and hold the killers of Hariri accountable? Would this court end the fiery situation in Lebanon and restore peace and stability to the country? And, if we assume that the international community is serious about helping Lebanon and has no hidden agenda, is setting up an international court the right way to achieve that?

Both parties have not taken these questions into consideration. The first party that tried very hard to establish the international court, and the second that rejected it. This is dangerous by all measures, for what may seem in the interest of Lebanon can easily backfire on the smallest miscalculation or even mistiming.

No one can argue the necessity of establishing a court to bring to justice the suspected murderers of Hariri, Samir Kassir, George Hawi and Gebran Twaini. It is a must to stop the country from turning into a jungle.

Yet, was the international court the only requisite for trying those killers? It seems that only a fool would be convinced that such a court would solve the Lebanese issue, as the worst is yet to come.

Three main points must be considered. The first is the reason behind the rejection of the international court by some Lebanese. No matter how valid this team’s excuses are, it is not in their best interest to appear as if they were opposing justice and neglecting the rights of the victims. In addition, no one would accept to rebuild the country unless there was a strong base of consolidation.

The second point is the insistence of the other party to depend on foreign support for justice, and dealing with others as suspects until proven innocent, thus giving themselves the right to accuse others and try them.

There are many consequences to this position, including moral damage and defaming as well as circulating rumours that the other party’s objection stems from their fear to face justice.

Based on this, there are two key observations. The first of which is that both parties are responsible for throwing the ball of the international tribunal to the other party’s court, regardless of the outcomes of the investigation carried out in complete secrecy by Judge Serge Brammertz.

The second observation is that the court should not be taken as an excuse for a Lebanese-Lebanese war, because both parties can arrive at a common ground of understanding about the bases and method of the court’s deliberations.

Promising chance

Both sides must realise that the international court holds a promising chance to become an international judicial guarantee for Lebanon and families of the victims.

The third important point is related to the tribunal and Syria, which is well known to be the main target.

Syria was branded the “obvious suspect” by Peter Fitzgerald, deputy commissioner of the Irish police and Head of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission in Lebanon, before Judge Detlev Mehlis started the investigation into the assassination of Hariri.

The international court issue is confusing in terms of the investigation and liability, especially when there were many honest and malicious objectives behind it.

For some, the goal behind the court was to bring the perpetrators to justice and find out the truth, while for others, it was to be used as a tool to settle scores with the Syrian regime, and that is why they were insisting on the court to bring about radical changes in Syria. This has given Damascus a pretext to consider the court a political one, and carry out a political campaign on this ground. Syria has also built a defensive strategy on this principle, which helped it mobilise a huge support on the Arab and international levels.

It has become clear for the Arab and international public opinion that the real goal behind the tribunal is not to try Hariri’s assassins, but to undermine the Syrian regime.

This can be obviously concluded from the stance of US President George W. Bush and former French president Jacques Chirac, as well as the way Sa’ad Hariri, leader of the Lebanese parliamentary majority, handled the dossier of his father’s murder.

Apparently, France and the US’s sole purpose of this court is to apply more pressure on Syria, while leaving the door open for negotiations and settlements for some issues, similar to the Lockerbie settlement.

Nevertheless, the moment Bush receives Syria’s assistance on the Iraqi front, he would not hesitate to wrap up the international court without the slightest remorse.

Regretfully, domestic and foreign clashes of interest left no purpose for the tribunal as well as no hope for Lebanon and the truth to prevail.

This article was published in Al Khaleej, Arabic daily newspaper.

June 7th, 2007, 2:00 am


Akbar Palace said:

Be well Akbar I think you really dont know or understand us as ive said to you in earlier conversations, its only when we take small steps to know each other we can make progress.


I can’t disagree with you on this point. And what small steps have those on this forum made to get to know Jews and Israelis?

June 7th, 2007, 2:15 am


Ford Prefect said:

I have wined, dined, studies, partied, worked with, sponsored, taught, learned from, served as a reference (for clearances and non clearances), hired, promoted, spent nights and days talking, visited, and read Theodor Herzl’s (the Jewish State and the Old New Land) many times over. I am a paid subscriber to Ha’aretz (but not the JP. I read it daily for free!).

I was also sponsored, hired, recommended, promoted, encouraged, and enriched by Jewish friends, colleagues, and many others.

My program deputy is an American Jew with an Israeli citizenship. Her daughter serves as a medic in the IDF. We talk. I learn as much as they did.

My kids grew up with mainly Jewish friends (I live in Montgomery County, MD) and I have practically spent a year’s income buying gifts for bar and bat Mitzvas when my kids where at that age.

My kids Jewish friends literally grew up in our house as mine grew up in theirs. They eat the same hummous and tabbouleh we eat. I consider them my kids too.

On Christmas Day, my Jewish friends and I volunteer at county soup kitchens, hospitals, and emergency dispatches to give our Christian friends a day to enjoy.

I am a Muslim. I am an Arab. I am a Syrian American. And I am on this forum. These are my small steps. Glad you asked.

June 7th, 2007, 2:52 am


Akbar Palace said:

SimoHurtta said:

If Akbar is serious then also all Israelis and Jews are also responsible for that what Israeli Jews do, as a nation and as individuals. The idea of a collective responsibility works both ways.

That is correct. Israelis and Jews are responsible for what government they vote in and what path they want their government to take. Similarly, Palestinians are responsible for choosing their government, and so on and so forth.

Rarely I have read such Nazi like opinions Akbar Israeli now presents.

What “Nazi-like” opinions did I present? Huh?

Adolf Hitler used to speak about a “racial responsibility”. If Akbar is serious then also all Israelis and Jews are also responsible for that what Israeli Jews do, as a nation and as individuals. The idea of a collective responsibility works both ways.

I never said I believe in “collective responsibility”. What I pointed out to Enlightened is that “good” and “tolerant” people have a responsibility to provide safe borders to neighboring countries. It is not my responsibility to keep Lebanon’s borders safe, it is up to the Lebanese and their government. The Lebanese are responsible for their borders, period.

This applies to every country in the world, including Israel.

I’ve always like the saying that is attributed to Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. Is Edmund Burke a Nazi?

Israel is full of Jewish religious and ideological extremists who do not differ from “Talebans” in behaviour, appearance, ideology and extremism.

I haven’t heard of Jewish religious extremists who has cut the head off a hostage, who has blown themselves up in front of innocent Arabs, who has hijacked commercial airliners and fly them into a skyscrapers, who does not permit his daughters from attending school, or destroy the ruins of non-Jewish archaeological sites.

Do you?

Israel has a fair share of its own Jewish “jihadists”. Jewish Defense League, Kach and Kahane Chai etc are not so widely known as the counterparts on the other side.

That is why Kach, long ago, was kicked out of the Knesset. Now we have Arab MKs who advocate the destruction of Israel. What a difference a day makes. Meanwhile, the whole Arab world is full of government officials and bureaucrats who are 10 time worse than the banned Kach party. And BTW, the number of Kach members could easily fit inside a small phone booth.

When Israeli extremists make a terrorism acts against Christians and Muslims, like attacking Churches, Mosques, buses etc and killing innocent Palestinians Israelis always say that this was done by a mentally sick individual.


What if I told you Arab extremists have killed orders of magnitude more Muslims and Christians than any Israeli “extremist”. Would you believe me? Where do you get this information anyway?

What should we think about Baruch Goldstein (a member of Kach) who killed in the cave of the Patriarchs 29 Muslims and wounded over 100?

That’s correct. Tell me more about the churches and buses.

There are hundreds of Palestinians murdered by Jewish settlers and other extremists.

Where do you get your statistics? What about Palestinians murdered by Palestinians or by Lebanese? Do you point fingers at your own people as well?

One of latest a couple of days ago when a Israeli-French Jew killed his Palestinian taxi driver. “I decided to murder an Arab,” the suspect who recently became religious told police. To what Jewish Jihadist group did this religious Jew belong, Akbar? Is the local synagogue where he attended and his spiritual mentors under investigation?

I don’t what “Jewish Jihadist group” he belongs to. Maybe he belongs to the same jihadist group Arafat, Assad, and Ahmadinejad belong to. Maybe he’s in an Israeli jail. And what are you complaining about, in Palestine and all over the Arab ME, murderers like this only get promoted!

Anyway, feel free to post a link. I’d be happy to read more about such an anomaly.

With Akbar Israeli’s ideology Jews all around the world must suffer for the deeds of Israeli extremists if the tolerate Jews are not able to stop the Jewish extremists organizations and individuals.

Israelis have picked many different governments. Whether “hard line” or “pro-peace”, it doesn’t seem to matter. Oslo is one such deed we had to suffer for.

Otherwise all Jews place their lives at risk. Isn’t it so Akbar?

Life is risky for everyone. I’d say life is more risky today for Palestinians and Lebanese.

Jews to not have the monopoly of revenge.

6 million Jews died in Europe not too long ago. What revenge did we take on Germany? Jews move on. Like I said, “build a bridge and get over it”.

By the way Akbar have Finns the right to retaliate to our Jews and Israelis the deaths of Finnish UN soldiers caused more or less directly by IDF?

And Palestinians have the right to retaliate against Palestinians.

The latest was last summer, when IDF by “mistake” in extremely shady circumstances bombed the UN observation post killing a Finn (among others).

Maybe it wasn’t a mistake.

June 7th, 2007, 3:11 am


bilal said:

Hi guys. Does anyone know what happened to Prof. Landis? It has been 3 days since we last heard from him. I read his last post and did not find anything that would put him in an awkward position to the point where you could become a roommate with Mr. Kilo? On the contrary I think his last post could win him an audience with Mr. B. himself. I wish this will happen as he may ask him the question I have been dying to ask him :
Where is Syria now June 10th, 2007 and where it was June 10th 2000?
When President Hafez died we have seen unheard off international support for Bashar. As we all know that when a person dies he is finished. All the people that attended his funeral were in support of the new president which was very clear it is going to be Bashar. Let’s look at the list of people that attended:
President Chirac of France, Secretary Albright from the US, Crown Prince Abdallah who was the acting ruler of KSA, ALL of Lebanon and I mean ALL of Lebanon, several other head of States and foreign ministers. Can you believe the amount of International support Bashar had on his first day on the job? Did anyone expect this overwhelming international support?
Look at where we are now. We all know the amount of international support he has now. It is very clear black on white. Maybe the best indication is the number of UNSC resolutions that directly or indirectly targeting Syria.
Prof. Landis, please ask him: What in the hell has happened?
He may say it is because of 9/11 or the Iraqi invasion, or,…
I would say it is because he is inexperienced and POINT.

June 7th, 2007, 4:47 am


SimoHurtta said:

The latest was last summer, when IDF by “mistake” in extremely shady circumstances bombed the UN observation post killing a Finn (among others).

Maybe it wasn’t a mistake.

Maybe not, because UN informed Israel several times about the the presence of the UN soldiers and that they are under Israeli fire. So Akbar what should we do? Should we Finns, Chinese, Austrians and Canadians adapt the Israeli modus operandi?

I never said I believe in “collective responsibility”. What I pointed out to Enlightened is that “good” and “tolerant” people have a responsibility to provide safe borders to neighboring countries. It is not my responsibility to keep Lebanon’s borders safe, it is up to the Lebanese and their government. The Lebanese are responsible for their borders, period.

If you read what you yourself wrote you soon notice, that you used Lebanon’s border security as an example, but you spoke about whole Middle East and responsibility of its people to fight against extremists otherwise their life is in risk. What else is that besides collective responsibility?

When Jewish extremists steal Palestinian land, destroy their property, poison wells, uproot their olive trees (and sell them as good business men), harass children and women etc and kill some of them during those actions. Aren’t good Jews equally responsible to stop these Jewish extremists actions? The same you demand from Arabs in Middle East by the way. But what does Israeli government do? It encourages Jews to move on the occupied area and pays considerable compensations and gives tax relief for that. Hmmm Akbar where are the good Jews?

Even you Akbar must understand that the level of violence would be much less without the settlements and military zones on Palestinians area. With a different policy Israel would not be among the most violent countries on the earth.

I haven’t heard of Jewish religious extremists who has cut the head off a hostage, who has blown themselves up in front of innocent Arabs, who has hijacked commercial airliners and fly them into a skyscrapers, who does not permit his daughters from attending school, or destroy the ruins of non-Jewish archaeological sites.

Do you?

I have read about destroyed villages and massacres (Deir Yassin, Qibya, Kafr Qasim, Sammu etc), poisoned wells, hundreds of slaughtered people. I have read how Jews planted bombs and introduced terrorism as a fighting method to the region. I have read how Jewish extrimists set Al Aqsa Mosque on fire and damaging the church of the Holy Sepulchre. I have read how religious Jews beat women in busses when they refuse to sit in the back.

As you see Akbar Israeli there is nothing where Israelis and Jews like you can pretend to be morally superior. Not in killing, not in women’s rights, not in respect for religious sites.

By the way Akbar the Israeli-French Jew cut the throat of the Palestinian taxi driver. Maybe he tried to cut his head. I find hilarious your explanation / interpretation of this latest murder. Did the IDF destroy the houses of the family of this Israeli-French Jewish terrorist? Probably not.

June 7th, 2007, 6:26 am


Enlightened said:


Ford answered you perfectly (forgive the pun Ford LOLZ), Any more of you here willing to come out of the closet with your jewish experiences and friends??

Come on dont be shy now! Lets all show Akbar that some of us if not all of us are not the ignorant, violent jihadist Arabs that he would like us all to be!

June 7th, 2007, 6:32 am


Akbar Palace said:

Ford Prefect,

cc: Englightened

Thank you for your long resume detailing your experience with Jews. I will try to keep this in mind as we continue our exchange here. Without going back into archives, I wouldn’t think you have had much contact with Jews considering some of your off-the-wall opinions. Nevertheless, thanks for the update.

BTW – If you are from Montgomery Co., perhaps you know a peace activist by the name of Dr. Ira Weiss?


June 7th, 2007, 10:50 am


Akbar Palace said:

SimoHurtta said:

Even you Akbar must understand that the level of violence would be much less without the settlements and military zones on Palestinians area. With a different policy Israel would not be among the most violent countries on the earth.

A person who has little knowledge of the ME may come to the same conclusion you have written above. The anti-semites here in the US are your best bet. Unfortunately, even the most clueless Amercians are waking up to the stories eminating from the pro-Palestinian camp. Someone like me, for example, who has more than a cursory understanding of the issues, would disagree with you completely. What you wrote above is a MYTH.

– When Israel had NO settlements (ZERO, EFES, NADA) say June 1, 1967, the level of violence AND the threat against Israel was HUGE.

– When Israel left all settlements/occupation in Gaza and Lebanon (unilaterally, and without any agreement), the assumption was quiet or a small step toward reconciliation would open up on the Arab side. Conversely, both these moves were interpreted as Israeli weakness and the level of violence has increased.


You will have to rethink your story and come up with something different. Try to make it factual; not fiction.

June 7th, 2007, 11:00 am


idaf said:

Akbar said:
“I haven’t heard of Jewish religious extremists who has cut the head off a hostage, who has blown themselves up in front of innocent Arabs, who has hijacked commercial airliners and fly them into a skyscrapers, who does not permit his daughters from attending school, or destroy the ruins of non-Jewish archaeological sites.”

Is this statement for real?!

I’ve read numerous essays and real-life stories and met with Palestinians, Lebanese, Egyptians, Syrians, Israeli Arabs and even Iraqi and Moroccan Jews that suffered worse atrocities on the hands of Jewish organizations than those on your list, much worse!

Akbar, you are obviously either totally ignorant on Israel’s history or in a state of total denial. Maybe both.

June 7th, 2007, 12:12 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Is this statement for real?!


Yes, my statement is for real. In fact, I challenge you to estimate the number of people (not just Arabs) “Jewish religious extremists” have murdered by:

1.) Decapitation

2.) suicide bombing

3.) ramming commercial airliners into office buildings

and why not fratricide?

4.) How many “Jewish religious extremists” have intentionally killed other Jews?

When you’re done, we can compare your numbers with mine.

On the women’s rights issue, (responding to Simohurrta: “Not in killing, not in women’s rights, not in respect for religious sites.”)

I challenge you to estimate the number of “Jewish religious extremists” who:

1.) Do not permit women to drive a car.

2.) Do not permit women to be educated.

3.) Have killed a woman for “dishonor”.

Getting back to my previous point about the myth of occupation:

Arab leaders in Egypt and Syria had promised to wipe Israel off the map in the run-up to the war.

I see history repeats itself like clockwork.

June 7th, 2007, 3:54 pm


seeking the truth said:

To Akbar Palace,

I’m interested to know “the truth and nothing but the truth” in regard to what is mentioned about Palestinian people in the Israeli school textbooks.

June 7th, 2007, 5:29 pm


Ford Prefect said:

If my earlier remarks concerning the banned cluster bombs that Israel dropped on South Lebanon, Israel ignoring of 138 UN resolutions calling it to comply with basic principles of international law, comments by John Bolton being “damned proud of what we did” to prevent an early ceasefire in Lebanon, Israel being responsible for the longest illegal occupation in the world (and the only one remaining today), and my mentioning of many other illegal acts by Israel and this incompetent “Brownie you are doing a heck of a job” US administration make my remarks “off-the-wall” then that is great! I shall continue to make such remarks until that wall comes down.
I really do not know Dr. Weiss, but I am a big fan of peace activists like Amy Goodman (, Prof Noam Chomsky among many others including Albert Einstein and David Grossman. (I believe you have discredited them all).
Finally, I am not into cars as much as I am into Douglas Adams’ novels. Ford Prefect can be found there.
Shalom and Salam back to you.

June 7th, 2007, 8:36 pm


ugarit said:

Akbar Palace:

“Jewish religious extremists” have jet fighters, tanks and a super power behind them. Therefore, they use those weapons to decapitate, dismember, dissolve, burn, commit homicide bombings, and shoot down civilian jet liners and highjack civilian airliners, etc. When one looks at it this way the numbers committed by “Jewish religious extremists” would be much higher.

One comment before I attempt to answer your questions about women. “Jewish religious extremists” males have a prayer where they thank God for not making them women and “Jewish religious extremists” relegate menstruating women to the back of the bus.

1.) Do not permit women to drive a car.

I grant you that one; however, this is only in Saudi Arabia

2.) Do not permit women to be educated.

This is not the norm

3.) Have killed a woman for “dishonor”.

This has nothing to do with Islam or Arabs. This a problem in many societies.

June 7th, 2007, 9:26 pm


Enlightened said:

AkBar; Said

“Without going back into archives, I wouldn’t think you have had much contact with Jews considering some of your off-the-wall opinions. Nevertheless, thanks for the update.”

You are completely wrong , about my opinions, but the only bad exchange we had was concerning Daniel Pipes!

Let me be frank my opinions regarding Jews are no way insulting or opinonated with a slight hint of bigotry as your stand towards Arabs and Muslims are.

Ford what about Norman Finkelstein?

June 7th, 2007, 11:33 pm


Atassi said:

This guy is making you all race each other and contest the issue of who knows the Jewish people more!! Relax …

June 8th, 2007, 1:01 am


norman said:

On spy hill, old enemies could be looking at a new peace
Strong leadership and negotiation may see deal between Syria and Israel

Ian Black in Quneitra
Friday June 8, 2007


Half a mile beyond Quneitra, nothing is moving at the Israeli army observation post on a whaleback ridge above the valley – but its bristling antennae and golfball radar domes are pointing at Damascus, less than an hour’s drive across the Golan.
It is a perfect day on the frontline of one of the world’s most dangerous conflicts: the trees groan with apples and cherries and flowers bloom in the dry stone walls; to the north, even in summer, snow is visible on Jebel al-Sheikh – Mount Hermon – where the borders of Syria, Lebanon and Israel meet.

UN observers gazing out over the minefields between Quneitra and “spy hill” opposite see little to trouble them. The opposing armies are out of sight, their tanks and artillery – limited by agreement – dug into scrapes and bunkers. “Not much ever happens here,” said a bored Slovakian corporal.

Yet if comprehensive peace is ever to come to the Middle East, there will have to be changes on this plateau. And as the world’s attention focuses on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians 40 years after the June 1967 war, the signs are that a settlement with Syria could be closer than many think.

Quneitra itself provides nothing to be optimistic about. The Golan capital, reduced to rubble by the Israelis when they withdrew partially in 1974, has been preserved as a memorial to the war and the 150,000 Syrians who lost their homes, a piece of lifesize agitprop in collapsed concrete, weeds and stone.

“The Israelis always refer to this region as the Golan Heights to mislead public opinion and to emphasise that they need it to protect themselves against us,” said Mohammed Khneifis, the Syrian government spokesman for the Golan. “But they really wanted it for its riches as much as for its strategic position.”

The Israelis have built 44 settlements, marked by inappropriately festive twinkling red lights on the three-dimensional model in Mr Khneifis’ office (on which Israel is identified as “Palestine”). And unlike the West Bank and Gaza, the Golan was annexed in 1981, implying that it would never be returned. Opinion polls show that only a third of Israelis support the idea of surrendering this rugged territory, but analysts believe that a serious deal and strong leadership could change that.

It is easy to forget that these bitter enemies negotiated on and off for nine years. Talks began at the Madrid conference in 1991 and ended in Shepherdstown, Virginia, in 2000, the final breakdown confirmed at a Geneva summit between Bill Clinton and President Bashar al-Assad’s late father, Hafez, shortly before his death.

“We managed to solve about 85% of the problems, including the security arrangements,” Walid Muallem, Syria’s foreign minister, told the Guardian, smiling wryly at the memory of negotiating with four Israeli prime ministers, from Yitzhak Rabin to Ehud Barak. “We have dealt with all their visions.”

The deal-breaker then was ownership of just a couple of hundred metres on the north-eastern shore of Lake Tiberias. “The devil is in the detail,” said another Syrian negotiator. “The agenda, the process, it’s all very difficult.”

But the current impasse masks some significant changes. In 2004, under President Assad, the ruling Ba’ath party deleted an article stating there could be no peace or negotiations with the “Zionist entity”, replacing it with a milder formula calling for the liberation of Arab land occupied in 1967. Syria also backs the Arab peace plan, reaffirmed at the recent Riyadh summit.

Unofficial or back-channel contacts are reported regularly. An Israeli newspaper claimed this week that Ehud Olmert was now seeking American agreement for a dialogue with Mr Assad, even as the Israeli prime minister said publicly that he was ready for negotiations “without preconditions”.

On the ground, the status quo is broken by occasional silly or unfounded rumours: that the Israelis have released a python trained to eat Syrian goats; that they are building a dam to flood what was left of “martyred” Quneitra.

But there are real concerns. Syria has reportedly been upgrading its missile defences, buying kit from Iran and accelerating army training, though foreign military observers – and Israel’s military intelligence, watching from “spy hill” – insist their posture remains defensive. The Israelis, with complete superiority, especially in air power, have been intensifying exercises too.

“In a minor way it feels a bit like August 1914,” said one Damascus-based diplomat, worrying about a second round between Israel and Hizbullah, supported by Syria and Iran, after last summer’s war in Lebanon. “No one can see an interest in sparking something new, but you can’t legislate for unpredictability.”

Syria has also maintained an element of ambiguity as it highlights the Golan issue in the state media. “Peace is our strategic option,” said the information minister, Mohsen Bilal, “but we can’t wait forever.”

Midhat Salah, a burly Druze from the occupied Golan, is still waiting. He is a weekly visitor to “Shouting Hill” opposite his home village of Majdal Shams, where divided families can see each other – and talk, using megaphones, across the minefields.

In 1985, then a teenager, he helped to blow up an Israeli ammunition store and spent 12 years in prison before fleeing to Damascus, where he runs the government’s Golan bureau, supporting both those under occupation and those displaced elsewhere in Syria.

“I am not saying we will kill the Jews or drive them away,” he said. “I just want to live on my land.”

Israelis, still scarred by the strategic surprise of the Yom Kippur war in 1973, and by Lebanon last summer, remain sceptical and divided about Syria’s intentions.

Ibrahim Hamidi, a journalist with the Al-Hayat newspaper, sees a clear parallel with the aftermath of 1973, when Assad senior took Syria into battle and then negotiated the Golan disengagement the following year: that was when the current ceasefire lines were established and Quneitra was abandoned in ruins by Israel.

The point is graphically made on a cheap tin keyring sold in newspaper kiosks in Damascus: President Assad, in field marshal’s dress uniform is on one side, and the Hizbullah leader, the turbaned Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, on the other.

“The Syrians said a year ago that they wanted peace with Israel but they didn’t really mean it because they just wanted to improve relations with the US and Europe,” argues Hamidi.

“Now it’s different. The government has presented the war in Lebanon as a victory for Syria. Assad fought Israel by proxy and he has the legitimacy of the victor, so now he can make peace.”

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

June 8th, 2007, 2:24 am


Atassi said:

Is Syria’s gregarious new ambassador
the face of a kinder, gentler Damascus?
Even Imad Moustapha, The ambassador in Washington, is reaching out to American Jews,,,

June 8th, 2007, 2:25 am


K said:

Israeli ministers holding a cabinet session Wednesday, June 6, are divided over the mixed war and peace signals coming from Damascus. DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that Syrian ruler Bashar Assad’s war intentions and methods are easy enough to read in Lebanon and Gaza, where Damascus launched proxy offensives on the same day, May 15.

The pro-Western Fouad Siniora in Beirut has abruptly called off his army’s efforts to crush Damascus-backed uprisings in the Palestinian refugee camps of Nahar al-Bared in the north and Ain Hilwa in the south. Lebanese troops failed to break through despite military assistance from the US and friendly Arabs governments. Therefore, Fatah al-Islam and the pro-Syrian Palestinian Fronts headed by Ahmad Jibril and Naif Hawatme have come out on top. Assad has pulled off a signal victory in Lebanon.

In Gaza, Israel’s half-hearted aerial strikes did nothing to snuff out the missile offensive Hamas and its Syrian and Iranian patrons launched three weeks ago, the same day as the Palestinian uprising in Lebanon. The missiles fly at a slower pace but the initiative for resuming them to the 20-per-day level rests with Hamas. Its ceasefire proposal reads like a dictated Israeli capitulation plan. Here, too, the Syrian proxy tactic is working well.

Bashar Assad is likely to maintain this local war pressure while deploying his surrogates in additional targeted zones. The UN force in southern Lebanon is in his sights. A bomb planted at a beach house resort popular with international peacekeepers near Tyre was safely defused Wednesday, June 6. The next one may strike home.

During the summer months, the Golan can expect to be targeted by “Golan Liberation Fronts” fashioned in Damascus out of Syrian and Palestinian “resistance fighters” (terrorists). They will find succor and sanctuary in the Druze villages of the territory for harassing Israeli civilian locations, military positions and roads.

This will go on until Israel is goaded into striking back against targets inside Syria. At that point, Damascus will fire up Hizballah for action against Israel from the Lebanese border, just as it activates the Palestinians in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. The Syrian army will meanwhile stand ready for the final confrontation with Israel.

The Assad regime is getting away with this low-intensity combat tactic for waging war through proxies on Israel, the Lebanese government and the Palestinian Authority headed by the Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, with little risk to itself. No one is raising a finger to scotch this war of attrition, even though it is building up step by step to the next full-scale Middle East conflict.

June 8th, 2007, 4:30 am


Ford Prefect said:

Yes, Norman Finkelstein is indeed a towering figure of intellect and reason. Now that you mentioned his name, I know that you are well read and look for the truth in many unfiltered places. Cheers.

Atassi, you are absolutely right brother. I got sucked into a personal discussion that I always try to avoid. Thanks for the reminder.

One last note: People everywhere are mainly fair and unbiased. Generalizing a whole society based on the actions and professions of the very few is truly regrettable.

June 8th, 2007, 5:04 am


SimoHurtta said:

A person who has little knowledge of the ME may come to the same conclusion you have written above. The anti-semites here in the US are your best bet. Unfortunately, even the most clueless Amercians are waking up to the stories eminating from the pro-Palestinian camp. Someone like me, for example, who has more than a cursory understanding of the issues, would disagree with you completely. What you wrote above is a MYTH.

Seems that you as an American have about history the general average knowledge of Americans, which doesn’t provide much for “life”. Combined with the fact that you are a extreme Zionist, you watch the world trough double polaroid glasses. The result is that you are completely unable to see and understand what has happened and what is happening. You repeat like a parrot the propaganda you have been fed with. And when you are not able to answer using factual arguments (which happens relative often), you take out your fictional anti-Semitic card.

The most vocal (and quoted) “anti-Semites” in USA are Jews as you perfectly well know. Am I a anti-Finno-Ugrian if I criticize something Finland, Estonia or Hungary are doing? (For example I see Estonia’s statue episode as a stupid provocative move.) Criticizing Israel’s actions (or Zionist ideology) is certainly not anti-Semitic as for example the Nordic countries foreign ministers have time after time repeated to the Israeli counterparts. Bad, cruel and violent behaviour creates the need of the critics. Simple as that.


You will have to rethink your story and come up with something different. Try to make it factual; not fiction.

What story is fictional? That Israel started the wars in 1956 and 1967? Or that Jews have made massacres and destroyed villages? Or that Jews have made terrorist acts like at the King David Hotel? Or that extreme Jews beat women in buses? Or that Israel is annexing Palestinians land and water and the government supports it with tax relief? Or that Jews uproot Palestinians olive trees and sell them? Or that extreme Jewish settlers have murdered Palestinians? Or that extreme Jews have damaged holy sites? ETC.

You Akbar and fellows like you write constantly fiction about Jews being the victim in Middle East instead of admitting the factual truth that Israel has been the aggressor for ever since 1948. Some of your bunch have even the nerve to claim that Palestine was “empty” of Palestinians when Israel was created. I suppose that Akbar you are more “educated” and do not agree with your fellow extremists’ views about the promised land being “empty” in 1948.

June 8th, 2007, 5:30 am


Enlightened said:

Ford Said:

“One last note: People everywhere are mainly fair and unbiased. Generalizing a whole society based on the actions and professions of the very few is truly regrettable.”

Ford you hit it in a nutshell, you are now my new super hero!

June 8th, 2007, 7:05 am


ugarit said:

Israel tells Syria willing to return Golan

By Ari Rabinovitch

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – An Israeli newspaper said on Friday that Israel has told Syria it is prepared to withdraw from the Golan Heights in return for lasting peace, adding to growing signals that Israel is looking to resume negotiations.

June 8th, 2007, 11:04 am


norman said:

Israel tells Syria willing to return Golan: paper

By Ari Rabinovitch
Friday, June 8, 2007; 5:16 AM

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – An Israeli newspaper said on Friday that Israel has told Syria it is prepared to withdraw from the Golan Heights in return for lasting peace, adding to growing signals that Israel is looking to resume negotiations.

Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had sent messages through foreign envoys to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that Israel is ready to “fulfill its part” in a peace deal, even if it means giving up the strategic Golan Heights, captured in the Six Day War of June 1967.

Spokesmen for Olmert and the Foreign Ministry declined comment on the report although a Foreign Ministry spokesman noted Israel had long been willing to give Syria the Golan area, which commands the approaches to Damascus, in return for peace.

The Yedioth report, quoting an unidentified senior diplomat who it said was involved in the contacts with Syria, said Olmert contacted Assad with the help of German and Turkish leaders but has yet to hear back from the Syrian president.

Israel’s price for handing back the Golan would likely be very high. Yedioth said the Israeli message to Damascus was that Syria must abandon its alliances with Iran, Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and Palestinian militants.

Yedioth Ahronot also reported that during an hour-long conversation with U.S. President George W. Bush in April, Washington gave Israel the green light to begin negotiations with Syria in an attempt to distance Syria from Iran.

Earlier this week Olmert sought to calm speculation in Israel that war with Syria was imminent.

“Israel does not want war with Syria and we need to be careful to avoid a scenario of miscalculations that could cause the security situation to worsen,” Olmert said on Wednesday.

Assad has expressed interest in resuming talks with Israel that stalled seven years ago over the extent of an Israeli pullback from the Golan Heights, but has also hinted Syria could resort to force if it deemed diplomacy a dead end.

Olmert has demanded Syria cease supporting Hezbollah and Palestinian militants as a condition for restarting talks.

Israeli officials said last month there was a growing consensus within the Israeli government that Syria was serious about resuming negotiation with the Jewish state.

Some Israeli intelligence officials, political sources say, remain concerned, however, that Syrian military preparations may not be defensive and have warned Israel’s political leaders to beware that Damascus might see advantage in an attack.

A poll in Israel’s Maariv newspaper on Friday showed that half of all Israelis support at least a partial withdrawal from the Golan Heights. Only one Israeli in 10 would be willing to give all of the territory back to Syria.

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June 8th, 2007, 12:52 pm


Atassi said:

This how they work. Even Ambassador Imad is sounding like brown nosing to the American Jewish community . he really Doesn’t need to do that. Ass kissing Don’t work with them

June 8th, 2007, 1:37 pm


Atassi said:

Damascene rose rises from decades of neglect
582 words
8 June 2007
Reuters News
(c) 2007 Reuters Limited

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

MRAH, Syria June 8 (Reuters Life!) – The intense smell of the famed Damascene Rose, associated with a bygone era of romance and Arab grandeur, fills the foothills of the Qalmoun mountain range north of the Syrian capital.

The pink double flower is being revived in its birthplace after decades of neglect that almost sent its cultivation into extinction through a project led by a Syrian-Turkmen notable, whose village was once a major centre of production.

“I just could not live with the idea of the rose I grew up seeing all around me dying. Luckily I secured funding from a Damascene businessman and the fields are blossoming,” Amin al-Bitar told Reuters as labourers picked rosebuds from the thorny branches.

“I hope others realise that with the right marketing there can be livelihood from agriculture and our old rose,” he said.

Although the Damascene Rose does not need much irrigation if there is enough rainfall, output has declined as residents of the Turkmen village left agriculture for jobs in the bureaucracy and countries such as Turkey and Bulgaria became main producers of the rose.

The rose used to fill Damascus, one of the oldest cities of the world. It was cultivated in the surrounding Gotah gardens, which were heavily bombed by French occupation forces during the Great Syrian Revolt in the 1920s.

Al-Razi, an eminent Arab scientist who is buried in Damascus, wrote about distillation of the petals and its extracts are still thought to heal wounds and treat cancer. One kilogram of Damascene Rose oil, which requires tonnes of petals, can still fetch thousands of dollars.


As Syria’s commercial and cultural life declined, so did the Damascene rose as concrete blocks took over the capital’s green spaces.

Cheap imitations of the rose extracts now fill the market. A shop called the Damascus Rose sells tulips and imported roses but not the product it was named after.

Bitar has set up a small workshop in his village to extract rosewater, dry the rosebuds and make jam from the petals, but he has yet to find a efficient way to extract the expensive oil.

The project has attracted the attention of President Bashar al-Assad’s wife Asma, who is championing development of the Syrian countryside. She recently visited the rose fields and asked officials to assist Bitar.

“Marketing is a Syrian weak point. Before relations with Lebanon worsened we used to send them the rose buds and the Lebanese knew how to market them in Europe as a premium product,” Bitar said.

The crusaders, who occupied parts of the Levant, brought the Damascene Rose to Europe, although ancient Egyptians learnt its cultivation from Syria and exported it to Rome.

Legend has it that the warrior Saladin carried loads of the rosewater and sprinkled it over Jerusalem when he liberated the city from the crusaders in 1187.

Nizar Kabbani, an Arab literary giant, said the rose “condenses the history of perfume” and reminded his compatriots of the folly of letting their symbols fall into decay.

“I am your destitute moon, donate me a bed, I haven’t slept for centuries,” wrote the Syrian poet, who lived for years in exile before his death in 1998. “I am your Damascene rose; put me in the first vase you find.”

June 8th, 2007, 2:01 pm


Atassi said:

Mideast ‘democracy’ not worth the purple finger
Michael Slackman
The New York Times
8 June 2007
The Hamilton Spectator
Copyright (c) 2007 The Hamilton Spectator.

CAIRO, Egypt

This is election season in the Middle East. Syria just held presidential and parliamentary elections. Algeria held parliamentary elections. Egyptians will be asked to vote next week on a new upper house of parliament. There will soon be elections in Jordan, Morocco and Oman, followed by elections in Qatar.

Is democracy suddenly taking root in the strongman’s last regional stronghold?

The consensus among democracy advocates, diplomats and citizens interviewed around the Middle East is that the reverse is true. Elections, it appears, have become a tool used by authoritarian leaders to claim legitimacy.

“There is a state of depression and lack of trust, or faith, among the Arab masses in the regimes and little belief that these elections can lead to the change aspired to,” said Jaffar al-Shayeb, a member of the municipal council in Qatif, Saudi Arabia, an advisory body without legislative authority.

The problem is not just what that means for people forced to live under authoritarian rule, but what it does to the broader perception of democracy in the region. Countries like Egypt and Syria, which hold elections, also allow a ruling class to hold a monopoly on power, limit freedom of speech and assembly and deny their citizens due process.

“There isn’t any democratic regime in the whole world,” Abbas Mroue, 29, said as he sat in a coffee shop with friends in Beirut, Lebanon, one day recently, chatting about politics and governance.

“Yes,” replied Hussein Jaffal, 31, “there is democracy, but there are no freedoms.”

That view seems to be spreading — one that has confused the process of elections with the principles of democracy.

It is a conclusion that may have roots in Washington, where officials have frequently pointed to elections as a barometer of progress, but it may contribute to tarnishing the concept of democracy, diplomats and democracy advocates in the region agreed.

Iraq, where a freely elected government has been paralyzed by sectarian disputes, stands as a particularly damaging example. “Democracy itself has lost credibility as a way of government,” said a Western diplomat based in Algiers, speaking on condition of anonymity, following customary diplomatic protocol. “I think the Iraqi experiment, and the purple finger, didn’t help anything. People now say this democracy is not the answer to anything.”

The purple finger had initially been a symbol of pride in what was hoped to be Iraq’s nascent democracy. Millions turned out to cast their ballots in the first post-Saddam-Hussein election, dipping a finger in ink to prevent double voting.

Rightly or wrongly, the purple finger has become a symbol of failure.

“I voted because I was so excited. Finally I can pick the candidate I want,” said Hussein Marzouk, an Iraqi refugee living in Lebanon. “But then I found out that I risked my life for nothing. It turned to be a phoney game the Americans brought with them that was full of fraud. So why would I vote again?”

For decades, there have been less-than-democratic elections in the Middle East, where ruling parties control candidates’ and voters’ access to the ballot and also control the vote counting.

In Egypt’s parliamentary elections last year, witnesses reported that the police fired live ammunition at voters — killing some — to keep them from casting ballots for candidates aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood. As Egypt gears up for elections to the upper house of parliament next week, security agents have imprisoned more than 150 members of the Brotherhood, which although officially banned is the only viable political opposition in the country.

In Syria, the presidential election was a referendum on one candidate, President Bashar Assad, in a country that has sentenced democracy advocates to several years in prison for signing a petition asking for political reforms and recently handed down a 12-year sentence to one man for membership in the Muslim Brotherhood.

“The system is rigged to bring to power people who are already in power,” said Daoud Kuttab, director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “That is what explains low voter turnout and why elections are turning people away.”

With the outcome almost always certain and the manipulation so evident, why do the leaders even bother? From Syria to Bahrain, elections have helped bleed off some internal and external pressure for change without making any substantial alteration to the power structure, opposition political leaders and diplomats said.

Electing a parliament in Bahrain, or local councils in Saudi Arabia, for example, helped satisfy the growing public desire for more accountable government. Over time, though, it became clear that the parliament and the councils had little authority and that the election was itself the greatest achievement.

“We know that these are things that were introduced to further embolden the leader, to serve him rather than the people,” said Nabeel Rajab, a Bahraini human rights advocate in the capital, Manama.

A member of the Algerian parliament, Said Boughadja, who is an official in the governing party, said such complaints were unfair because voter turnout was low all over the world, including in the West. An independent Algerian vote-monitoring commission declared that there was widespread stuffing of ballot boxes in the recent parliamentary election, which Boughadja dismissed, saying that if his party or its supporters were to stuff ballot boxes, turnout would have appeared to be above 50 per cent. Instead, it was 36.5 per cent, 10 points lower than the parliamentary elections in 2002.

But Boughadja also did not hide his bigger complaint about democracy — that with truly free elections, there is no guarantee who will win. In the early 1990s, Algeria’s military cancelled elections when a moderate Islamic party appeared poised to take control of parliament. That decision touched off a nearly decade-long civil war that claimed at least 100,000 lives.

June 8th, 2007, 2:43 pm


Ford Prefect said:

I hear you. But the end of the day, whether it is ass kissing, butt heading or outreach, no one loses by keeping the dialogue going. We all know how far the Bush Administration has gone by not talking.

Enlightened, I am just a galactic hitchhiker searching for the answer to The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything. Cheers buddy!

June 8th, 2007, 4:22 pm


t_desco said:

“Citing ministerial sources, An Nahar said Ahmed Merhi, a Lebanese recently detained in Ashrafiyeh, had confessed that he was a “servant” and that he had been receiving instructions from Syrian officers.

The sources said Merhi had also admitted to “organizing Fatah al-Islam activities” in Lebanon and to recruiting young men from Syria and Iraq to join the terrorist group.

Merhi said the recruits were smuggled overland from Iraq to Lebanon via Syria.”

Al-Mustaqbal reports the same, whereas Al-Akhbar speaks only of ties to al-Qa’ida.

The following is the most detailed account I have seen so far of how Fatah al-Islam came into being:

“Soon after arriving in Lebanon, al-Absi spread out his growing recruits to other Palestinian camps — about 120 in Beirut’s Bourj el-Barajneh, 60 in Beddawi in the north and 150 in Nahr el-Bared.

Abu Mohammed and another Fatah Uprising official, Mahmoud Doulla, told The Associated Press that their leaders were so impressed with al-Absi’s selfless dedication to the Palestinian cause that, at first, they ignored warning signs of other trouble.

“We weren’t of the same ideology,” explained Abu Mohammed. “They followed a more puritan kind of Islam, you can say fanatic Islam. … They were ready to kill disbelievers.”

Their politics also seemed contradictory to Fatah Uprising’s. Abu Mohammed and Doulla said they were concerned when they noticed al-Absi and his men showed hostility toward Syria and its regime as well as toward Lebanon’s Shiites and the militant Shiite group Hezbollah — all allies of Fatah Uprising.

When Fatah Uprising officials in Lebanon alerted their superiors in Damascus that al-Absi’s men “were behaving strangely,” they were swiftly dismissed and told the group was in Lebanon for the “struggle” and to fight the “Zionist enemy,” said Abu Mohammed.

He said at the start, only 20 Fatah Islam men were based in the Shatilla camp, but during last summer’s Hezbollah war with Israel, their numbers had risen to about 100.

Al-Absi’s relationship with Fatah Uprising showed its first public sign of cracks last Nov. 23, when Palestinian and Lebanese security forces raided an apartment occupied by his gunmen in the Beddawi camp in northern Lebanon.

In the ensuing battles, a Palestinian security man was killed and two of al-Absi’s militants were wounded and handed over to Lebanese security by the camp’s Palestinian security. Al-Absi was angered that Fatah Uprising did not protect the men or protest their handover to Lebanese authorities.

On Dec. 5, Fatah Uprising leader Saeed Moussa ordered al-Absi and his fighters to leave his group’s bases in the Shatilla and Bourj el-Barajneh camps. Al-Absi withdrew to Beddawi.

In a new ultimatum three days later, Abu Moussa gave al-Absi 24 hours to leave Beddawi.

“Where am I going to take 400 men in 24 hours? Throw them in the sea?” Abu Mahmoud quoted al-Absi as telling a Fatah Uprising official. Other Palestinians confirmed the remark.

The following day, al-Absi seized Fatah Uprising positions and weapons in Nahr el-Bared, where he had regrouped his fighters — and he announced the creation of Fatah Islam.”

June 8th, 2007, 5:15 pm


Atassi said:

Sure the end of the day , all incentives and agendas will cross the path of The “Minhibak Karnaval” ..

It’s Pathetic thinking!!!

June 8th, 2007, 5:59 pm


Enlightened said:

My Mother arrived from Lebanon two nights ago, she was visiting my sick grandmother who sadly passed away, they are residents of Tripoli.

My mother gave me a rundown of what was happening, and I cross referenced what I knew and learnt from reading articles on the net. She told me something very interesting but i dont know if it was scuttlebut or rumour, apparently Sulemein Frangieh had positioned his heavy artillery pointed towards the Tripoli suburbs during the armys fight with the militants. I found what she told me alarming.

Can anyone coroborate?

June 8th, 2007, 11:01 pm


Akbar Palace said:

seeking the truth said:

I’m interested to know “the truth and nothing but the truth” in regard to what is mentioned about Palestinian people in the Israeli school textbooks.

Perhaps you can ask some Israelis. I am sure you will not find anti-Islamic statements and nothing nearly as anti-semitic as what has been found in Middle Eastern schoolbooks and media.
Atassi said:

Atassi said:

This guy is making you all race each other and contest the issue of who knows the Jewish people more!! Relax …

I agree. We should all relax and learn more about the other. That is why I’m here. I don’t claim I know it all or have all the answers. I know one thing, I wouldn’t give back land unless I got a verifiable, permanent peace. No more Oslos.

“Jewish religious extremists” have jet fighters, tanks and a super power behind them.

Yes, well it is good to know that “Jewish religious extremists” have what every other country has. Why shouldn’t they?

Therefore, they use those weapons to decapitate, dismember, dissolve, burn, commit homicide bombings, and shoot down civilian jet liners and highjack civilian airliners, etc.

Firstly, I said “suicide bombings”, not “homicide bombings”. Civilians, unfortunately get killed in every war. Whereas most of the time, the IDF warns civilians to clear an area, this is sometimes not adhered to. Because Arab terrorists illegally fight among the civilian population, sometimes the IDF carries out targeted killings within a civilian neighborhood. There have been times when Israel may have used methods too powerful for the task at hand, but when Arab terrorists use whatever method they want year after year without impunity, I suppose some in the IDF lose their interest in “following the rules”. This is unfortunate.

Further, I have no knowledge of the IDF decaptating innocent civilians and dismembering them. Deir Yassin does stand out as an exception and does qualify as a terrorist attack. Also, FYI, the Arabs mutilated quite a number of Jews during the War of Independence. Lastly, I am not aware of an Israeli who has hijacked a commerical airliner as well as fly it into an office building.

Ford Prefect said:

I am a big fan of peace activists like Amy Goodman (, Prof Noam Chomsky among many others including Albert Einstein and David Grossman. (I believe you have discredited them all).

I’ve only discredited Noam Chomsky. That’s fairly easy to do. Don’t know the other two “activists”, and I only have good words for Dr. Einstein.

As far as Olmerts statements today, don’t worry. Assad will not entertain any such peace overtures. He’s sitting pretty. He just won 97% of the vote!

June 9th, 2007, 12:07 am


Enlightened said:

Akbar Said;

“There have been times when Israel may have used methods too powerful for the task at hand”

Akbar your credibility is climbing! What an admission, Il go one better, Terrorists and the use of terror has no place in our modern times!

Can you up the ante?

June 9th, 2007, 5:01 am


MSK said:


what “heavy artillery” is Suleiman Frangieh supposed to have? This story sounds very much like a rumor.


June 9th, 2007, 11:10 am


t_desco said:

Captured militant reveals plot against UN, diplomats

Suspect admits fatah al-islam planned attack on downtown beirut hotel hosting top officials

A recently captured Fatah al-Islam militant confessed to Lebanese authorities that his group planned to attack UN officials and foreign diplomatic figures, a security source told The Daily Star on Friday. The militant, Mohammad Merhi, admitted during interrogation that Fatah al-Islam had aspired to attack a downtown Beirut hotel hosting UN officials and other diplomatic figures, added the source.

The source also said that a Saudi national named Abu Talha planned and financed the operation, while adding that Talha had traveled to Lebanon to provide Fatah al-Islam with instruction and funding, before leaving for Iraq through Syria.

Additionally, a judicial source told AFP on Friday that “in the course of interrogations, some members of Fatah al-Islam confessed that one of the principal aims of their group was to militarily attack the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).”

The judicial source said the militants spoke of being “indoctrinated” to oppose Christians, depicted as Crusaders. The militants were also taught to oppose others considered to be “infidels,” a category including Shiites and leading Sunni MPs, ministers and senior officials.

The judicial source added that, in the view of Fatah al-Islam, “Lebanon’s political system, as well as anyone who participates in it, is ungodly. It is just, from a religious point of view, to fight the participants.”

Military Investigative Magistrate Rashid Mezher is expected to interrogate Mohammad Merhi’s brother Ahmad next Tuesday. Ahmad Mehri is a key member of Fatah al-Islam.

“Ahmad Merhi’s testimony will be of the highest importance, as he maintains a relationship with Syrian intelligence services,” the security source said.
The Daily Star

Perhaps this is just my impression, but it seems that Mohammad Merhi wasn’t aware of his brother’s alleged links to Syrian intelligence… Some may also remember that according to the first report by An-Nahar (based on a “reliable source”, of course…) Ahmed Merhi had “turned in to the Syrian intelligence a ranking Saudi member of al-Qaida known as Abu Talha” in exchange for being offered a safe heaven before miraculously returning to Lebanon just one week later…

Meanwhile, As-Safir reports that Investigative Magistrate Mezher was unable to question Ahmed Merhi because the latter had to be transferred to a hospital.

June 9th, 2007, 12:13 pm


t_desco said:

safe haven*… whoopsy daisy 🙂

June 9th, 2007, 2:19 pm


DJ said:

Josh has apparently gone dear hunting (or mourning doves hunting probably?) around his in-laws village…

June 10th, 2007, 8:28 am


Jamal said:

Dr Landis out hunting? I hope so, out hunting for good information and insights he can share with us.

As Bilal asked several days ago, where is he?

I note the Prof’s last on the spot post dated June 1st read: “Tomorrow I travel out to Jaramana, one of the suburbs where the Iraqis have concentrated.”

Should we worry? When in Damascus a few weeks ago I heard that district was not a place where even Syrians feel at home, let alone blue-eyed blond-haired Americans.

June 10th, 2007, 9:32 am


t_desco said:

More examples of media manipulation:

An-Nahar “quoted unnamed security sources as saying fighters from all the factions affiliated with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime are taking part with Abssi terrorists in confronting the army at Nahr al-Bared.

An-Nahar also said security forces busted suspected terrorist hideouts in north Lebanon’s Zghorta province and arrested an undisclosed number of suspects, including two Syrian men.

The region is a traditional stronghold for Suleiman Franjieh’s pro-Syrian Marada Movement.”

Mind you, the “journalist” is not actually saying that the Marada Movement is supporing battle-hardened takfiri fanatics who’d love to expell all Christians from Lebanon, he is merely suggesting it.

Ya Libnan has this supposed “update” “on last week’s … report on the arrest by the Lebanese security agents of the Al- Qaida terrorist mastermind at a Beirut hotel” which turns out to be largely identical to the earlier report by Naharnet, only that all those embarrassing passages which showed that the “reliable source” was not reliable at all (Merhi’s nationality, the safe haven, Abu Talha…) were carefully deleted from the “updated” version.
“Journalism” at its best…

June 10th, 2007, 12:49 pm


K said:

NAHR AL-BARED, Lebanon (Reuters) – Fighting between the Lebanese army and al Qaeda-inspired militants in north Lebanon entered its fourth week on Sunday and five soldiers died from wounds sustained in heavy battles the previous day.

The army has now lost 57 soldiers in its conflict with the
Fatah al-Islam group, a military source said. At least 42 militants and 31 civilians have also been killed in Lebanon’s worst internal violence since the 1975-1990 civil war.

“There is tense calm today,” the military source told Reuters. The army on Saturday heavily shelled the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp where Fatah al-Islam is based.

Sporadic bursts of machinegun fire were heard early on Sunday at the camp — home to some 40,000 before the fighting forced thousands to flee, mostly to a nearby Palestinian camp.

The army says the militants triggered the conflict on May 20 by attacking its positions around the camp and on the outskirts of the nearby city of Tripoli. Fatah al-Islam says it has been acting in self-defense and has vowed to fight to the death.

A Palestinian source in the camp said at least one civilian was killed on Saturday but the toll could be higher. “He was hit in the chest and bled to death because there were no ambulances,” the source said.

Rescue workers have been unable to give an accurate death toll because of the difficulty of moving in the camp — a sprawling warren of alleyways on the Mediterranean.

The lull in violence on Sunday allowed rescue workers to remove two bodies from the camp. It was not clear when they were killed or whether they were civilians or militants.


Relief workers estimate that 3,000 to 7,000 civilians are still inside the camp. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said those trapped wanted to flee but organizing a mass evacuation was impossible because of the fighting.

“There are many people who want to get out. But it is very difficult to group them in one place,” ICRC spokeswoman Virginia de la Guardia said. At least 80 people filtered out of the camp through army checkpoints during Sunday’s lull in fighting.

The army is not allowed into Palestinian camps in Lebanon under the terms of a 1969 Arab agreement.

The fighting has further undermined stability in Lebanon, already paralyzed by a seven-month-old political crisis.

Deadly clashes erupted last week in the south at the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, and five bombs have targeted civilian areas in and near Beirut since May 20.

The Islamic Action Front, a Lebanese organization grouping Sunni Muslim politicians and clerics, has been trying to persuade Fatah al-Islam fighters to surrender.

But Fathi Yakan, the leader of the Front, said his mediators had been unable to speak to Fatah al-Islam leader Shaker al-Abssi. “I do not think those speaking in the name of the group are able to give a decision. The fate of (Abssi) is not known,” Yakan told Reuters.

Abu Salim Taha, a Fatah al-Islam spokesman, told Reuters late on Saturday that Abssi, a Palestinian, was still alive.

Abssi and his fighters, including Arabs from Saudi Arabia,
Syria and Lebanon, share the militant Sunni Islamist ideology of al Qaeda but do not claim organizational ties to the network.

June 10th, 2007, 6:11 pm


Frank al Irlandi said:

Er Chaps

Sarkozy and his pals have got a landslide in the French elections.

This doesn’t look good at all for Lebanon and Syria.

June 10th, 2007, 7:31 pm


norman said:

With Syrians like these i doubt that can change or find any better than Asad.

‘Don’t make peace with despotic Syria’

Sheera Claire Frenkel, THE JERUSALEM POST Jun. 10, 2007


Entering into peace negotiations with Syrian President Bashar Assad would mean condoning dictatorships across the Middle East, Farid Ghadry, the exiled leader of Syria’s opposition Reform Party, said Sunday.

“Peace with Syria is important, but peace with Assad would be a disaster,” said Ghadry during a conference at the Harry Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University. “Don’t make peace with a dictator, or you will send a message to 19 million Syrians that you don’t care about their freedom and their liberties.”

Israel should “be patient and wait for Syria to become democratic” before beginning peace negotiations, said Ghadry.

“Syria will become democratic, have patience… how it will become democratic is the million dollar question,” said Ghadry. He said that he envisioned Syria emerging as a pluralistic democracy through pressure from the US-led international community and pressure from within by the “Internet generation” – Syrian youths who use the Internet to expand their horizons beyond the state-controlled media.

Some 800,000 Syrians are on the Internet, representing less than five percent of the population, said Ghadry.

“Israel needs to ask itself: What happens when Internet penetration in Syria reaches 20% or 30%? What happens when those cynical young people are finding their own answers?” said Ghadry. “Peace with a non-democratic Syria ignores this force. This is perilous and short-sighted.”

Ghadry founded the Syrian Reform Party while in the US in 2003 with the aim of bringing down Assad’s regime. The 51-year-old left Syria in 1971 and became a US citizen in 1982. Though he last visited Syria in 1996, he said that he keeps in touch with the Syrian public through a network of contacts. He estimates that his party has “several hundred members, but is representative of much more.”

On his second visit to Israel this week, he plans to warn Israeli officials not to be tempted by the recent calls for peace sounded by Syria.

On Monday, Ghadry will become the second Syrian expatriate to address the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Last month, the committee met with Syrian-American businessman Ibrahim Suleiman on a proposed Israel-Syria peace agreement.

Like Suleiman, Ghadry will tell the committee that Syria views the Golan Heights as Syrian territory.

Ghadry said, however, that he did not believe Assad would attack Israel because it would be a “fatal mistake” that would end Assad’s rule.

On Tuesday, Ghadry will tour the Golan Heights with MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud), the hawkish former Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee head.



This article can also be read at

[ Back to the Article ]

Copyright 1995-2007 The Jerusalem Post –

June 11th, 2007, 1:16 am


Akbar Palace said:

Enlgihtened said:

Can you up the ante?

Yes, unfortunately I can:

In an especially grisly incident, Hamas militants kidnapped an officer in a Fatah-linked security force, took him to the roof of a 15-story apartment building and threw him off. Mohammed Sweirki, 25, from the Presidential Guard of President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, was killed in the plunge.

Can someone post a link showing Arab outrage or is all the noise reserved for Jews and Israel?;_ylt=ApstLWdLk4lwpH9CJMAzNNIE1vAI

June 11th, 2007, 2:49 am


Alex said:

Zvi Bar’el on war and peace with Syria

Best indeed to prepare for war

Israel is once more contemplating whether to do an Arab leader a favor and determine that he is truly interested in making peace. Whether to grant him a seal of approval, and in so doing, enable him to request the lifting of Western sanctions, or reject him for another decade until he matures. Come back when you’re older.

The ongoing disagreement with Syrian President Bashar Assad, who came to power 7 years ago, pertains to whether he is someone to talk to and not to whether there is anything to talk about with Syria. Does Assad mean business, or is he still a 42-year-old kid?

The debate is based on two strategic conceptions. The first is that in the Middle East, one signs agreements with leaders, as opposed to nations. After all, the states of the region are headed by tyrants, whose ability to survive can determine the durability of a treaty. The second assumption is that signing a peace agreement with Israel is a privilege that Israel deigns to grant its partners.

This is not strictly an Israel perception. It comes neatly packed straight from Washington. The U.S. administration recognizes that any peace deal between an Arab country and Israel requires an American dowry. And for that, the prospective groom must first obtain the in-laws’ approval.

This is fair enough, except the American in-law is not too keen on seeing Assad receive peace with Israel when he is still suspected of aiding the terrorist organizations operating in Iraq. Hence, President Bush is forcing a linkage between the Iraq War and the Arab-Israeli conflict, even though the two conflicts are not interdependent. Bush is therefore ready to prolong the Syrian-Israeli standoff and make it a hostage of the Iraqi imbroglio.

Just or unjust, the American interest prevents Israel from addressing a homemade paradox. Why are the statements of the unreliable Assad that he might consider acting with force against Israel to regain the Golan Heights received here with total credence, when his references to peace are subjected to the scrutiny of microscopic analysis?

After all, if Assad’s belligerent intentions are credible, so, too, should be his peaceful intentions. If he is willing to embark on such a potentially costly military gambit, then we can assume that he will be willing to launch a similar maneuver with regard to peace.

This reasonable assumption, however, finds its way blocked by a colossal obstacle: the famous Israeli fixation that leads Jerusalem to believe that every Arab state – with the exception, that is, of Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Tunisia, Oman, Morocco and perhaps a few others – is serious only when it comes to war. Talk of peace, however, is invariably a bluff, designed to camouflage hidden intentions and buy time for the preparations for the next war.

This perception, too, is false. For those who claim Assad is preparing for war cannot seriously go on to argue that the Syrian leader needs peace to prepare Syria for that war. He is well prepared as it is.

The trouble with the negotiations with Syria does not end with Assad himself, but includes the package he is able or unable to deliver. Israel is not simply interested in a bilateral peace agreement with Syria, such as that which it has with Jordan or Egypt. Through Assad, is seeks as well to neutralize Hezbollah and Iran.

In addition, Israel also aims to secure the Iraqi bonus for the U.S., demanding on top of everything else that Hamas and Islamic Jihad hightail it out of Damascus. Anything short of that, Israel argues, is just not worth the effort.

The package Israel is bucking for is a brazen one. Israel does not demand of Turkey that it terminate its relations with Iran, nor will Israel sever its ties with Egypt if it resumes its diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic.

Moreover, Israel would be willing to sign a peace deal with Lebanon even with Hezbollah maintaining its presence on the border. It will not turn its back on Saudi Arabia, which regards the Palestinian unity government, in which Hamas is a participant, as legitimate. Syria, though, is a different matter.

In order to be regarded as a partner for peace, Assad must satisfy criteria no less demanding than the ones set by the Interior Ministry for allowing the reunification of Palestinian families from the territories with their Israeli relatives.

With terms such as these, it is indeed best to prepare for war.

June 11th, 2007, 8:08 am


SimoHurtta said:

Can someone post a link showing Arab outrage or is all the noise reserved for Jews and Israel?

Akbar this is a rather desperate propaganda attempt even from you. USA and Israel have done much to divide Palestinians and to inflict a civil war among Palestinians. Akbar if you would have a more objective attitude about the regions history you would remember how Israel once “supported” Hamas.

Some time ago there was a story where a British diplomat claimed how Israel used / created the famous Entebbe raid for it own “benefit”.

In the document, written on 30 June 1976 when the crisis was still unresolved, DH Colvin of the Paris Embassy writes of his Euro-Arab Parliamentary Association source: “According to his information, the hijack was the work of the PFLP, with help from the Israeli Secret Service, the Shin Beit.

“The operation was designed to torpedo the PLO’s standing in France and to prevent what they see as a growing rapprochement between the PLO and the Americans.”

The day when Israel has to give up the occupied areas and return to the 1967 borders it can be that it is the Palestinians who lean back and “enjoy” watching the Jewish civil war. Akbar you certainly do not want that people then make with malicious pleasure equal comments as you have done about the sad situation in the Palestine areas.

Do you remember Akbar the historical fact how members of Irgun, dressed as Arabs – naturally as courageous soldiers, put bombs in the King David Hotel and killed 17 Jews among many others? Hmmmm…

June 11th, 2007, 8:52 am


EHSANI2 said:

By Jay Solomon
WASHINGTON — As the Bush administration strives to ward off another summer
war in the Middle East, it is being forced to balance the potentially diverging
interests of two of its most important allies in the region, Lebanon and
Both countries are locked in standoffs with Syria over its alleged role in
arming and funding militias that threaten their borders and internal security.
But Lebanese and Israeli leaders are exploring what may be conflicting
strategies to counter the Syrian threat, U.S. and Middle Eastern officials say.

In recent months, Beirut, with Washington’s support, has used diplomatic,
military and legal means to directly challenge Syria’s influence in the region.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, however, is under growing pressure from his
military and intelligence services to embrace recent peace overtures made by
Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Any direct Israeli engagement with Damascus would require at least tacit U.S.
support, Arab diplomats say. To date, the White House has worked to isolate
President Assad internationally because of his government’s support for
militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah and its alleged role in destabilizing
Iraq and Lebanon.
Over the weekend, Israeli officials confirmed that Mr. Olmert’s government
has put out feelers to Mr. Assad, through third countries, about pursuing the
peace track, but has yet to receive a positive response. “The problem is that
the Syrians are not ready . . . to negotiate directly with Israel,” Deputy
Prime Minister Shimon Peres told reporters in Jerusalem yesterday. “They want
to do it through the United States.”
How Washington navigates the competing interests of its two allies with
respect to Syria could have a major impact on its ability to prevent another
major regional clash after last summer’s war between Israel and the Lebanese
militia Hezbollah.
“If the U.S. decides it’s going to the mat to secure Lebanon, then this will
have huge implications on the Syrian-Israeli front,” says Daniel Levy, a former
Israeli peace negotiator who is now a scholar at the New America Foundation, a
Washington think tank.
“If something blows up between Syria and Israel,” he added, it will probably
be tied to “events inside Lebanon.”
Last summer, the White House was viewed as squarely backing Israel in its
weeks-long attacks against Hezbollah, which included extensive bombing of
southern Lebanon and parts of Beirut. This summer, Washington is viewed as
tilting toward Lebanon and supporting its desire to pressure Damascus to stop
exerting influence inside Lebanon.
“The Bush administration has to be firm on Lebanon,” says Emile El-Hokayem, a
Middle East expert at the Henry L. Stimson Center, another Washington think
tank. It is seen as “its biggest success in the region,” he says.
The Bush administration regards Lebanon as central to its effort to promote
democracy in the Middle East. A pro-Western government swept to power there
after the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri sparked
protests that led to the end of Syria’s long military occupation of Lebanon.
Even so, Washington is likely to continue to face troubles balancing its
desire to support both Lebanon and Israel. U.S. lawmakers and independent
policy groups such as the Iraq Study Group, headed by former U.S. Secretary of
State James Baker and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, have pushed the
White House to convene a regional peace conference that includes Syria and Iran
to address broader Mideast issues. But while the U.S. has begun engaging in
regional talks on Iraq, the discussions haven’t turned toward Lebanon and
The U.S. also is engaged in a wider initiative with Arab countries to
kick-start Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.
U.S. diplomats fear that Damascus could demand that it regain some of its
once-strong influence inside Lebanon in return for helping assure peace with
Lebanon’s security has been inextricably linked to Israel’s over the past
five decades. Palestinian militant groups targeting Israel had based themselves
inside Lebanon during the 1970s and 1980s, leading to raids and invasions by
Israel. More recently, Hezbollah has emerged as a military force on Israel’s
northern border, a situation that led to another invasion by Israel last
Washington’s views toward Beirut have also changed, especially after street
protests there in 2005 forced Syria to withdraw its remaining forces from
Lebanon. The Bush administration seized on the election of Lebanese Prime
Minister Fuad Siniora months later as a symbol of what it described as a
democratization wave sweeping the Middle East. After last summer’s war, the
White House made stabilizing the Lebanese government a cornerstone of its
Middle East strategy.
This policy has increasingly placed the Bush administration on a collision
course with Damascus. Late last month, the U.S. pushed through the United
Nations Security Council an international tribunal to try suspects in Mr.
Hariri’s assassination. Damascus has denied any involvement in Mr. Hariri’s
murder, but has refused to cooperate with U.N. investigators.
In recent weeks, Lebanese and U.S. officials have alleged that Syria is
backing Sunni and Palestinian militant groups inside Lebanon in a bid to
undermine Mr. Siniora’s government. Clashes between the Lebanese army and two
militias, Fatah Islam and Jund al-Sham, near the cities of Tripoli and Sidon
have left hundreds dead. Lebanese and U.S. officials say Syrian-backed militias
have also infiltrated near to the Lebanese city of Kozhaya in the Bekaa Valley.

Syria denies it has been supporting the unrest. But the Bush administration
is significantly increasing military aid to Lebanon’s army to help it crush the
militias, earmarking nearly $250 million for that purpose this year, up from
$40 million last year. The U.S. and Lebanon are also in talks to find new ways
to secure the porous Syrian-Lebanese border and prevent the infiltration of
more militants and arms.
Mr. Assad’s government has said any international-monitoring presence on its
border would be viewed as a hostile act, a statement that raises the potential
for an escalation of tensions.
The increasingly confrontational stance taken by President Bush and Lebanon
toward Syria could have repercussions on Israel and the on-again, off-again
Mideast peace talks. In recent weeks, U.S. and Israeli officials said they have
detected a growing Syrian military presence along the disputed Golan Heights
region, which Israel seized from Syria during the 1967 war.
These officials said they believe Damascus has significantly upgraded its
military capabilities in recent months through the purchase of Russian and
Iranian arms.
Israeli and U.S. officials are seeking to reconcile these seemingly
aggressive activities with repeated overtures from Mr. Assad to engage in peace
talks with Mr. Olmert’s government. One theory is that Syria’s leader’s
saber-rattling is intended to jump-start talks over the future of the Golan
Heights. Another is that Syria is working with Iran to deter moves that aren’t
in their interests in Lebanon, and to discourage possible U.S. or Israeli
strikes on Tehran’s nuclear facilities.
A U.S.-Israeli strategic dialogue scheduled for later this month in
Washington is expected to focus on Syria’s peace overtures.
Mr. Olmert is expected to come under increasing pressure from elements inside
the Israeli Defense Forces and Military Intelligence to engage Damascus in a
peace dialogue to diminish the chances of another summer war. Israeli officials
say the country needs to reduce the growing threats on its borders, including
Hamas in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, Hezbollah on its northern border and now
Syria across the Golan Heights. Last summer’s war failed to dismantle
Hezbollah’s military capabilities.
Many regional analysts express skepticism that any Israeli-Syrian peace talks
would bear long-term dividends. For one, Syria is seen as having significantly
less influence over Hezbollah and other militant groups fighting Israel than it
did before its 2005 withdrawal from Lebanon, when Damascus in essence ran
Beirut. Analysts argue also that Mr. Assad is unlikely to jeopardize his
military alliance with Iran in a bid to achieve peace with Israel.

June 11th, 2007, 10:34 am


Akbar Palace said:

Ex-patriot Syrians more pro-Israel than Israeli (Arab) MKs. What a surprise! Not so for Israeli democracy.,7340,L-3411213,00.html

June 11th, 2007, 11:15 am


SimoHurtta said:

Ex-patriot Syrians more pro-Israel than Israeli (Arab) MKs. What a surprise! Not so for Israeli democracy.

Can a person who left his country at the age of ten, is a a citizen of a hostile country and earns his living from the “donations” of the hostile country really be called as an opposition leader? Then those American exiles living Havana can be called as US opposition leaders. 🙂

How many supporters has Ghadry in Syria? He him self said a couple of hundred party members. Then the Syrian opposition is really tiny if this strange guy is one of the most important opposition leaders. Though I believe after this what Ghadry said in Israel is more widely known in Syria many of his “party members” deicide to choose a better party.

If Ghadry really admires Israel’s system and “democracy”, as you Akbar claim, he will, when he gets the power, declare Syria as a one religion state and put the minorities under strict military control in ghettos surrounded by walls. Just as they do in the “democratic” Israel. By the way Akbar if Ghadry is the ruler of Syria will he make peace and let Israel keep Golan or will he demand more from Israel as the present regime?

June 11th, 2007, 12:15 pm


EHSANI2 said:

Dr. Landis,

Earlier on, I posted the full article by Jay Solomon of the Wall Street Journal. This reporter has been outstanding when it comes to the way this US Administration has handled its policy towards Syria. While Mr. Solomon has written a number of articles on Syria recently, this one is the first that made it to the newspaper’s front page. As many of you know, newspaper editors pick their important stories for their front page.

The headline on the front page reads:

U.S. faces Test As Mideast Allies Diverge on Syria
Lebanon keeps pressure on Damascus, but Israel Explores Peace Overture.

I think that this is a significant new twist and in my opinion the first sign of a crack in the US Administration’s hawkish policy towards Syria.

When Israel and Lebanon push the U.S. in two different directions, it does not take a genius to figure out the likely winner.

June 11th, 2007, 12:19 pm


Milli Schmidt said:


Landis’ analysis in the post above is not comprehensive and misleading! The use of the word “elites” is, as others have already pointed out, particularly obscuring and it confers a legitimacy, benevolence and homogeneity on those benefiting from current rule that is very much mistaken.
In general it is mistaken to try and analyse Syria too much from the “top down”. This is the mistake ruling most analysis of the country today. It would be much more interesting and telling to understand how “ordinary” people navigate the bureacracy and the secret services and how middle to high ranking officials cope with the ridiculously centralised decision-making processes,w hich clog up the administration.
Also, when wondering about why BAshar has survived the “dangerous obstacles” thrown up by the invasion of Iraq is it not worth mentioning that the situation in Iraq has made Syrians more fearful of regime change and that in this (and other) ways, the invasion has actually made things easier for the dictatorship. But when only looking at the so-called elites, one will not stumble across these kind of ideas, of course.

June 11th, 2007, 1:26 pm


K said:

Badran vs Solomon

Here’s an example of how even decent journalists fall in the trap of swallowing the Syrian regime’s sinister and twisted line.

Exhibit A, Jay Solomon in the WSJ today.

I won’t go into the asinine quote by Daniel Levy, as Solomon is not responsible for its depravity. Nor will I actually discuss the issue of “peace talks” with Israel, which Solomon completely misreads and misunderstands.

However, the following formulation has earned Jay this entry into the annals of the absurd: “The increasingly confrontational stance taken by President Bush and Lebanon toward Syria could have repercussions on Israel.”

So, wait. Let’s review the lead-up to this astonishingly foolish (and, at the risk of tautology, Moustapha-esque and Landis-esque) statement.

First, Solomon recounts how Syria is implicated in the terrorist assassinations in Lebanon, which are a UN investigation which culminated last month in the creation of an international tribunal under Chapter VII that will try the culprits (it went into effect just yesterday).

Second, Solomon notes the serious charges of Syria’s involvement in the current clashes in northern Lebanon between the Lebanese Army and a terrorist group deeply penetrated by Syrian intelligence, which had allegedly “splintered” from a Syrian-created proxy, which is little more than an extension of Syrian intelligence. The leader of this group, who had spent most of his life in Syria as part of that proxy, is accused by Jordan of training fighters headed for Iraq (to kill Iraqis and US soldiers) at a training camp in Syria. Other elements of the group were reportedly liaisons between Syrian intelligence and al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Third, Solomon mentions Syria’s violation of multiple UNSC resolutions. For example, it’s in violation of UNSCR 1701 through its continued smuggling of arms and fighters through its borders with Lebanon.

Not only is it in violation of a UNSC resolution, but, as Solomon notes, it has threatened that any attempt by the international community to help in the monitoring of that border will be — get this — “viewed as a hostile act”! Talk about chutzpah.

Yet it is at precisely this moment in the article that Solomon drops his beauty. After all the above, which amount to an open declaration of war against the US, the international community and Lebanon, Solomon musters his mental faculties to produce the most pathetic of lines, fully swallowing the thuggish regime’s propaganda: it is not Syria that is waging a terrorist war. Oh no. It’s President Bush and Lebanon who are “increasingly confrontational”!

Naturally! How dare they call for the implementation of UNSC resolutions, demanding that Syria stop killing people in Lebanon, supporting and dispatching terrorists to its neighbors, and for it to be held accountable for its actions!?

This is what happens when you drink from the “stupid tap” of the Syrian regime’s thuggish propaganda. You come out sounding repugnantly absurd.

June 11th, 2007, 2:46 pm


idaf said:

An excellent and comprehensive joint study by the The Brookings Institution, University of Bern and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Iraqi refugees in Syria. A must read in full for anyone interested in humanitarian issues in Syria and Iraq as well as the Syrian economy. This was based on the empirical findings of around 200 interviews of Iraqi refugees in Syria. Here’s the executive summary:

Iraqi refugees in the Syrian Arab Republic: A field-based snapshot
Ashraf al-Khalidi, Sophia Hoffmann, Victor Tanner
Executive Summary

In the past four years, the number of Iraqis who have been displaced by violence, both within Iraq’s borders and in neighboring countries, has increased drastically. Of the estimated two million Iraqis who have sought protection in neighboring countries, at least 1.2 million to 1.5 million are presently in Syria. This study, part of a project funded by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that will assess patterns of Iraqi displacement inside Iraq and throughout the region, focuses on Iraqis who have come to Syria since 2003. Subsequent research will examine internal displacement in Iraq and the situation of Iraqis in other countries of the region. The research was carried out by a team of international and Iraqi researchers in March-April 2007 and is based on several hundred interviews with Iraqis living in Syria, as well as with Syrians, Palestinians and international officials.

Two waves of Iraqi refugees have come to Syria over the course of the past 25 years. The first wave came in the 1970s and 1980s, many of them Sunnis who opposed the Saddam Hussein regime. Others were Shi’a fleeing persecution. Following the first Gulf War and the Iraqi government’s repression of Shi’a in the South, the Syrian-Iraq border remained closed throughout the 1990s and only re-opened in 2001-2002. The second wave of Iraqi displacement began in 2003 as a result of the US invasion. The study focuses on this second wave of Iraqi refuges and traces the milestones of displacement within the period of 2003-2007.

The Iraqis who have come to Syria in the past four years come primarily from urban areas and represent diverse sectarian backgrounds, including Sunni, Shi’a and Kurds as well as minority groups of Christians (who are over-represented as refugees in Syria compared to their numbers in Iraq), Sabean-Madeans and Palestinians. Both Sunni and Shi’a Iraqi radical groups, especially the Ba’thi resistance, are also present in Syria.

Iraqis in Syria reported numerous reasons for leaving their country. Many left as a direct result of conflict, mostly from the rising sectarian violence but also from fighting between the insurgents and the Multinational Forces (MNF) allied with the Iraqi military. Individuals also left because they perceived themselves to be at risk for one reason or another – because they worked with the former regime or for the MNF, or because their ethnicity or occupation had become a target in the new violence. Others left for economic reasons – because they could no longer make a living in Iraq or because their homes had been taken by others. Many came because they had family members in Syria or needed health care which was not available in Iraq. In some cases, Iraqis came to Syria with their entire families while in other cases, individuals or some members of a family would be sent to Syria for their safety.

Iraqis sought refuge in Syria, rather than in other countries, for a number of reasons: geographic proximity, simple entry requirements, easy access to services, common language, the low cost of living and often the presence of family or friends in Syria.

Most Iraqis use buses and collective taxis to reach Syria although the roads are increasingly dangerous. People are not only targeted by sectarian militias, but are also attacked by bandits and looters seeking financial gain. Entry into Syria is relatively easy although Iraqis need to leave the country periodically to renew their entry stamps.

Iraqis fleeing overland to Syria generally do not bring much money with them because they fear looters on the road. Once in Syria, many rely on hawala transfers from friends and family in Iraq. And, as the situation in Iraq worsens, many Iraqis send money back to kin at home. While Syrians generally believe that the Iraqi refugees are rich, in fact wealthy Iraqis are a small minority of those living in Syria. Most Iraqis arrive with limited funds that often run out before steady employment can be secured, and many Iraqis must periodically make dangerous return trips to Iraq to sell off cars and other valuables. The situation is made worse by the fact that Iraqis are not allowed to work. Consequently, unemployment is high among the Iraqis, even if some have managed to work with a Syrian partner or for Iraqi-run businesses. Some Iraqis continue to draw government pensions and food rations, which are usually transferred to them in Syria – in cash or in kind – with the help of friends or family in Iraq. Many Iraqi families have stayed in Syria longer than they intended and the situation grows worse as their resources run out. Iraqi refugees have turned to both child labor and prostitution as coping mechanisms.

The largest area of Iraqi concentration in Syria is the greater Damascus urban area where they have established communities in specific neighborhoods, many of which have thriving businesses. Sectarianism has not spilled across the border. Most of the neighborhoods in which Iraqis settle are mixed. Unlike other refugee crises, most of the Iraqis who fled are skilled or have access to some finances. They do not live in tented camps or collective centers, but like most Syrian urban dwellers, in apartments. Unlike in Jordan, few Iraqis buy property in Syria, and prices for real estate and rents for apartments are increasing.

In terms of access to services, Iraqis who have the means to do so visit private doctors and clinics. Poorer Iraqis can only visit the Syrian public health service for emergency and primary health care and most poor Iraqis rely on Syrian Red Crescent clinics. Syrian charitable organizations also provide some health services. Religious affiliation seems to have no impact on the quality of health care Iraqi refugees receive.

Syrian elementary and secondary schools are open to Iraqi refugee children who can attend Syrian schools at no cost. But admission can be arbitrary, and they have to pay for supplies and uniforms (around 5,000 LS per year or $100). However, the Syrian Ministry of Education estimates that only 30,000 Iraqi children are enrolled in schools – a very low rate of registration.

The only real assistance that most Iraqis receive comes from the Syrian state. UNHCR is stepping up its assistance for refugees in the country, particularly for health services. There are very few self-help organizations within the Iraqi refugee community. The economic impact of the refugees on Syria has been substantial, but has probably not been all negative. The deterioration of relations between ordinary Syrians and their Iraqi guests is a cause for concern.

In the region, Syria has been the most open country to Iraqi refugees, allowing them to enter without stringent visa requirements, to come and go, to settle freely and to access basic services. Although many of the Iraqis have managed to survive in Syria, the study concludes that there are three challenges: the condition of a small core of highly vulnerable Iraqi refugees, the likely increase in the number of Iraqis coming to Syria, and a possible hardening of Syrian policies.

While it is clear that many of the Iraqis would like to return to their country, the overwhelming majority of Iraqis in Syria do not think that it will be safe enough to return in the near future and many believe that it will never be safe enough. The international community should work with Syrian authorities to help meet the needs of the refugees.

June 11th, 2007, 2:50 pm


idaf said:


I didn’t read Solomon’s article until I read Badran’s “commentary” on it. I figured that if Tony Badran does not like the article, then for sure this would prove an insightful one, unlike other boring unconvincing stereotypical (and in many time racist and sectarian) pieces on Syria that Badran keeps throwing at us.

I was not disappointed.

The only error I spotted in Solomon’s article was in this quote: “Damascus has denied any involvement in Mr. Hariri’s murder, but has refused to cooperate with U.N. investigators”. Surely, everybody read all the Brammertz reports on how Syria cooperated with the investigation, while 10 other countries did not (of course the Lebanese and US governments did not make a peep about these uncooperative countries).

June 11th, 2007, 3:14 pm


K said:


Solomon is better than most (thanks Ehsani for always posting his articles). Badran’s criticism here is rather specific: after laying out Syria’s relentless, ongoing crimes against Lebanon, Solomon then frames the situation as the Lebanese being confrontational towards Syria.

As for Badran, I don’t share all his views (I find him ‘soft on Israel’) but I have never seen evidence he is “racist and sectarian” – serious charges to throw around. It’s a cheap tactic to use against critics of the Syrian regime and its tyrannical reign in Lebanon.

June 11th, 2007, 3:44 pm


t_desco said:

According to Al-Akhbar (quoting anonymous security sources), the al-Qa’ida cell recently arrested in Bar Elias was deliberately trying to escalate tensions between Lebanon and Syria by targeting a festival in the Bekaa Valley with car bombs, knowing that it would be blamed on Syria.

If true, this has some interesting consequences (but, of course, one has to be extremely cautious with reports based on “anonymous sources”).

June 11th, 2007, 3:50 pm


ugarit said:

اعترضوا طريقه ونعتوه بالغدار
النواب العرب يتصدون للغادري في الكنيست

تصدى النواب العرب في الكنيست الإسرائيلي اليوم للمعارض السوري المقيم في أميركا فريد الغادري الذي وصل إسرائيل لإقناعها بعدم التفاوض مع سوريا وإعادة الجولان المحتل.

وكان المعارض السوري الأميركي الذي يسعى لإسقاط نظام الحكم في سورية، قد شارك اليوم في جلسة لجنة الأمن والخارجية في الكنيست، بدعوة من زعيم الليكود بنيامين نتنياهو، وطالب بعدم التفاوض مع دمشق بدعوى “خلوها من الديمقراطية”.

واعتبر النائب جمال زحالقة الغادري “عميلا تافها لأميركا وإسرائيل ودمية صغيرة بيدهما للتحريض على سوريا والأمة العربية”، وأضاف أن “الشعب السوري براء منه ومن أمثاله الذين احترفوا الزعيق باللهجة الأميركية في حث إسرائيل وتشجيعها على العدوان”.


June 11th, 2007, 8:03 pm


bilal said:

To Ugarit,

That should be a lesson to you, me, & every Syrian official or private that dare talking to Israelis like that.

I wish these protestors did the same thing to Bashar envoy Mr. Souleiman last month & I hope they do it to every Syrian traitor that dare do this.

June 12th, 2007, 2:52 am


Alex said:


Mubarak, Farouk Shara, and the pope all talked to the Israelis … it is not the act of talking that makes Ghadry a traitor. It is his intentions.

June 12th, 2007, 4:43 am


Enlightened said:

Guys read this article very interesting, its to do with Norman Finkelstein; What do you think?

June 12th, 2007, 8:10 am


Akbar Palace said:

SimoHurtta, et al,

Unfortunately, the editors of this forum have prevented me from responding to your Israel-bashing. So far 2 posts have not made it through “The Filters of Truth and Honesty”. And I guess it is too early to expect to debunk a few myths and far too easy to blame the usual suspects.

Oh well.

June 12th, 2007, 11:21 am


EHSANI2 said:

While Saad Hariri is busy with Lebanese politics, his brother Bahaa is just as busy constructing a Falcon Metropolis in the deserts of Saudi Arabia

By A. Craig Copetas
June 12 (Bloomberg) — It’s molting season in the Kingdom
of Saudi Arabia and change is in the air.
“How a man handles the falcon tells us much of his passion
and character,” royal falcon master Hadi al-Aimi says while 35
peregrines trained for the hunt screech and shed feathers above
an oasis of date palms outside the northwestern city of Tabouk.
Perched on the frontier of a 62-square-mile (161-square-
kilometer) tract of untamed desert almost three times the size
of Manhattan Island, al-Aimi strokes the quill of a fallen plume
for clues on how the winged predator was treated during the
It is here that the falcons’ owner, Tabouk Regional
Governor Prince Fahd bin Sultan, this year will begin
construction on what is intended as a showcase for a new Saudi
Arabia: a $300 billion multicultural metropolis designed to lure
700,000 inhabitants from around the globe.
The construction of this and five other megacities
scheduled for completion by 2020 will be funded by oil revenue.
Five extended families in the Middle East own about 60 percent
of the world’s oil, and the House of Saud controls more than a
third of that amount, according to Robert Baer, a former Central
Intelligence Agency field officer in the Middle East.

Friendly Competition

While they constitute a major financial force in the modern
world, all these families maintain falcons and often pursue this
ancient sport — dating back thousands of years –hunting in
friendly competition, mixing business and leisure like any other
“Falconry is our form of golf, a place to relax and
conduct business,” Prince Fahd says. Al-Aimi says the prince’s
falcons are swift and merciless.
“Prince Fahd is the greatest of all living falconers,” al-
Aimi says, placing the feather in a leather pouch.
That’s no idle tribute in the Islamic world, where King
Abdul Aziz, the creator of modern-day Saudi Arabia and Custodian
of the Two Holy Mosques, was revered as Al Saqr al Jazira, “the
Falcon of the Peninsula.”
The moniker, bestowed on Prince Fahd’s grandfather by Arab
leaders, honored what they perceived as his blessed ability to
capture and become as one with the falcons, releasing the
hunters into the wasteland at speeds of 300 miles (483
kilometers) per hour to fetch nourishment for his subjects.

`Birds of Prey’

“They ask you as to what is allowed to them,” the Koran
says about such talent and the falcon’s overarching significance
in Islamic culture. “Say: The good things are allowed to you,
and what you have taught the birds of prey, training them to
hunt — you teach them of what Allah has taught you — so eat of
that which they catch for you and mention the name of Allah over
In testimony before the 9/11 Commission, former White House
counterterrorism analyst Richard Clarke said the U.S. in the
1990s planned to bomb a falconry camp in Pakistan when
Osama bin Laden was present. The raid, Clarke said, was scrubbed
because a minister from the United Arab Emirates was a member of
the hunting party.
Although some falcon species can cost as much as $100,000,
an increasing number of young Saudis are embracing the sport and
tapping its emotive legacy to launch often controversial
projects in a theocratic kingdom spiritually ruled by Islam’s
puritanical Wahhabi movement.

Economic Cities

One of the prince’s fledglings is 30-year-old Fahd al-
Rasheed, deputy governor for economic cities at the Riyadh-based
Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, the organization
behind the New Tabouk project and the five other cities.
“There are many critics against us,” al-Rasheed says,
soaring 30,000 feet above the desert. Sitting beside him in a
private jet, en route to a meeting with Prince Fahd, is Lebanese
construction mogul and New Tabouk architect Bahaa Hariri, the
son of assassinated Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
“They are jealous of our success,” says al-Rasheed, who
has a master’s in business administration from Stanford
University. “New Tabouk can’t be explained on a spreadsheet.
The most critical aspect is getting people to understand our
soul and culture by participating in the new city.”
Hariri’s plans call for the sprawling Red Sea megacity to
be powered by solar energy and wind farms. A golf course and
yacht club are in the works, along with residential estates and
vacation villas. Cheap Saudi oil will fuel the industrial parks
scheduled to fan deep into the now hardscrabble desert.

`Cheap Oil’

“Refining, technology, consumer-goods production, you name
it, we’ll have it,” Hariri says. “Our access to cheap oil will
save companies now based elsewhere at least 50 percent alone in
energy costs.”
As Prince Fahd tells it, “the migration of dollars to the
new city comes with a migration of culture.”
The falcons will assemble there, too, an integral part of
what Prince Fahd envisions as the world’s first university
completely devoted to environmental studies alongside Saudi-
endowed satellite campuses of Harvard, Princeton, Yale and
Oxford universities.
The prince recalls his first hunt at the age of 5. “It was
very cold, so cold that my father put me between him and the
driver to keep warm during our trip into the desert.”
More than half a century later, enveloped by the retainers
who encircle his palace desk, Prince Fahd suddenly turns his
attention away from the Herculean chore of using the kingdom’s
oil wealth to erect the new city.
“Zadim,” whispers Prince Fahd. “That was the name of my
first falcon.”

June 12th, 2007, 12:13 pm


Jamal said:

To Enlightened

Regarding Finkelstein being denied tenure

What do I think?

I am always stunned when reminded of the powerful culture of fear in the American establishment in the face of economic threat and harassment from the Jewish lobby.

It’s black magic. The push-button hysterical yapping of Dershowitz defies all logic in the way it signals supernatural powers of censorship.

Questioning Israel and allied subjects in US public life is an act of political martyrdom. Offering employment to anyone who does carries the risk of financial damage.

To quote from the NY Times, June 11, 2007:

In a full-court press against Mr. Finkelstein, Mr. Dershowitz lobbied professors, alumni and the administration of DePaul, a Roman Catholic university in Chicago, to deny him tenure. Many faculty members at DePaul and elsewhere decried what they called Mr. Dershowitz’s heavy-handed tactics.

Sounding resigned, Mr. Finkelstein said of DePaul, “Rationally, it has to deny me tenure.”

“Any time I wrote or spoke would evoke another hysterical response and would be costly for them,” he said, referring to the college’s fund-raising efforts.

June 12th, 2007, 12:18 pm


Jamal said:

The article above posted by Ehsani claims:

“It is here that the falcons’ owner, Tabouk Regional
Governor Prince Fahd bin Sultan, this year will begin
construction on what is intended as a showcase for a new Saudi
Arabia: a $300 billion multicultural metropolis designed to lure
700,000 inhabitants from around the globe.
The construction of this and five other megacities
scheduled for completion by 2020 will be funded by oil revenue.”


Why not put the $ and effort into fixing up the existing ratheap of Saudi Arabia? No matter how high they build a garish hollow disneyland, it’s built on the shifting sands of a potential failed state.

It sounds like a sci-fi scheme dreamed up by 30-year olds whose main occupation is sycophancy and swaggering. Pissing the oil money into the sand dunes.

June 12th, 2007, 12:52 pm


norman said:

الماضي الاخبار السياسية

معلومات عن التحضير لمؤتمر مدريد الثاني خلال شهري أيلول وتشرين الأول القادمين

كشفت معلومات لصحيفة الديار اللبنانية إن “وفد أميركي رفيع المستوى زار سورية الأسبوع الماضي ،هو الأكبر منذ العام 1990, ويضم كبار جنرالات ‏الجيش الأميركي, ومسؤولين في وزارة الخارجية ورؤساء مراكز الدراسات ، للقيام بمباحثات شاملة مع مسؤولين سوريين تتعلق ‏بالشؤون السياسية والاقتصادية والعلاقات بين البلدين”.

واعتبرت سورية زيارة عدد من أعضاء الكونغرس الأمريكي الجمهوريين والديمقراطيين, وعدد من المسؤولين الأوروبيين إلى دمشق في الأشهر الماضية “فشلا لسياسة العزل” حيث شهدت العلاقات السورية الأمريكية توترا منذ غزو العراق عام 2003, كما رفضت الإدارة الأمريكية فتح حوار مباشر مع سورية.

وأفادت المعلومات إن “المنطقة تتحضر لمدريد 2 خلال شهري أيلول وتشرين الأول في حضور الدول ‏الراعية لعملية السلام، بما فيهم روسيا والمفوضية الأوروبية لبحث عملية السلام على المسار ‏السوري – الإسرائيلي، في ضوء قناعة أميركية بأن المحاور الفلسطيني ما زال عاجزا عن خوض ‏غمار عملية السلام والالتزام بوعوده، وهذا ما يستدعي تحريك عملية السلام السورية – ‏الاسرائيلية”.

وتوقفت مفاوضات السلام بين سورية وإسرائيل في كانون الثاني عام 2000 بسبب الخلاف على الوصول إلى مياه بحيرة طبريا الإستراتيجية ورفض الرئيس الراحل حافظ الأسد الإقرار بالخرائط التي قدمها إليه بيل كلينتون الرئيس الأميركي الأسبق في قمة جنيف من عام 2000 .

وتشير المعلومات إلى إن “المسؤولين السوريون سمعوا من أعضاء الوفد الأميركي بان زمن الشروط الأميركية ولّى إلى غير ‏رجعة وبأن الأميركيين بدأوا بتغيير سياساتهم، حيث اتضح أن هناك تعاون أمني أميركي – ‏أوروبي – عربي مع سورية في موضوع الإرهاب وفتح الإسلام وحركتها في لبنان، وأن الدول ‏الأجنبية استندت إلى التقارير الإستخباراتية السورية عن هذه الحركة ونشاطها، وان منظمات ‏فلسطينية قدمّت ما لديها في هذا الأمر.

وتطالب الإدارة الأمريكية سورية بتغير سلوكها كالكف عن دعمها للإرهاب, والتوقف عن استمرارها بالتحالف القائم مع الرئيس الإيراني أحمدي نجاد”.

June 12th, 2007, 2:46 pm


AL-SYASY said:

الثورة الإيرانية صناعة أميركية

في عام 1977، أعلن (بريجينسكي) على الملأ رأيه بأن التمسك بالإسلام هو حصن ضد الشيوعية، ففي مقابلة مع جريدة (نيويورك تايمز) بعد الثورة الإيرانية، صرح (بريجينسكي) أن واشنطن سترحب بقوة الإسلام التي بدأت تظهر في الشرق الأوسط، لأنها كأيدلوجية تتعارض مع تلك القوى في المنطقة، التي يمكن أن تكون مؤيدة للاتحاد السوفيتي.

ولقد أعاد سكرتير الرئيس (كارتر) الصحفي (جودي باول) هذا الرأي في 7 نوفمبر 1979، وذلك بعد ثلاثة أيام من أخذ 53 من الرهائن الأمريكيين في طهران.

وعلى الرغم من أن مصادر موثوقة تقول إن (بريجينسكي) يكاد يكون على جهل تام بالظروف السياسية في الشرق الأوسط، إلا أنه كان مشغولاً باستخدام الأديان والمذاهب الدينية، كأدوات للحرب السياسية، فهو قد تدرب على أيدي اليسوعيين في جامعة (ماكجل)، وقد قال إنه يعتبر نفسه قريباً من اليسوعيين في طريقة تفكيرهم، إلى درجة أنه رقى إلى درجة عضو شرف في جمعيتهم.

… وكان (بريجينسكي) قد ألقى خطاباً أمام الجمعية السياسية الخارجية في واشنطن في 20 ديسمبر 1978، وهو أول خطاب يكشف فيه عن التفكير الاستراتيجي الجديد للولايات المتحدة، والذي يركز فيه بشكل خاص على مبررات وجود أمريكا في الخليج.

وفي المذكرة الرئاسية رقم 18 في صيف عام 1977، أمر الرئيس كارتر بإجراء مراجعة شاملة للوضع العسكري للولايات المتحدة، وقد ارتكز (بريجينسكي) في نظريته على ضرورة التحالف مع قوى التغيير الجديدة والتودد إليها حالما تنتصر فقال ما نصه:

“ان الأمن الأمريكي القومي يعتمد على قدرته على تقديم توجيه إيجابي لهذه العملية الصاخبة من اليقظة السياسية والموجات الثورية التحررية، وهذا يعني ان على ولايات المتحدة أن تنغمس انغماسا نشطا في الشئون العالمية لتعزز صلاتها بالتطورات عن طريق التزامها بالتغيير الايجابي فقط، ذلك أننا إذا خلقنا عراقيل مصطنعة في وجه التغيير من أجل الحفاظ على الوضع الراهن فإننا سنعزل أنفسنا فقط وسنهدد أمننا القومي”.
وفي ذروة الأزمة ضد (الشاه) أصدر (بريجينسكي) تصريحه الشهير، الذي يقول فيه : “ ان المنطقة تشكل هلالاً للأزمات يمتد من شمال وشرق افريقيا، عبر الشرق الأوسط وتركيا وإيران والباكستان”.

وأضاف : “ في هذا الجزء من العالم، يقوم الاتحاد السوفيتي بلعبة للسيطرة على منابع النفط في الخليج، والتي تعتمد عليها صناعة الغرب”.

ولم تكن الفكرة جديدة، فقد اقترح (بريجينسكي) في يوليو 1978 بحث هذه الفكرة، حيث يرى أنه إلى جانب الاستفادة من تنظيمات اليسوعيين، ومختلف المنفيين من أوربا الشرقية، وتطوير ورقة الصين في آسيا، يمكن للتعاون من التنظيم الإسلامي أن يساعد على تطويق الاتحاد السوفيت بجيوش معادية له أيدلوجياً.

… يضاف إلى ذلك أن الأمريكيين كانوا على ثقة، من أن الطبقة المتوسطة قد تشربت جماهيريا الثقافة الغربية، وأصبحوا لا خوف عليهم من الشيوعية، لكن الأمريكيين كانوا في حاجة إلى طبقة أخرى لدعم العناصر المتطرفة والمعادية للنفوذ السوفيتي، وأنه إذا كانت سيطرتهم على عقول الطبقة المتوسطة تتم عبر أجهزة الإعلام والأنماط الاستهلاكية، فان السيطرة على الطبقات الفقيرة لا تكون بغير رجال الدين، الذين وإن كانوا يعتبرون من الطبقة المتوسطة، لكنهم يسيطرون في نفس الوقت على الطبقات الدنيا، والتي هو في حاجة إلى استخدامها الآن.

ويزيد من أهمية رجال الدين في إيران، في نظر (بريجينسكي) أنهم المجموعة الوحيدة في إيران المهيأة للدخول في أنشطة المعارضة، لأنها تملك نظاما متقدما للاتصالات والتسهيلات المحلية، في شكل مؤسسات دينية (كالمساجد) وكمؤسسة (ارشاد حسينية) المرتبطة بها، وكل ذلك يجعلهم يتمتعون بحصانة في مواجهة بطش (الشاه).

وبناء على ذلك وفي ديسمبر 1978، وهو الوقت الذي تصاعد فيه المد الثوري ضد (الشاه) قررت لجنة التنسيق الخاصة لمجلس الأمن القومي بشكل سري، زيادة إذاعات وكالة المخابرات الأمريكية باللغات السائدة في المناطق الإسلامية السوفيتية زيادة كبيرة.

كذلك تقول الأميرة (أشرف) شقيقة الشاه: “ انه في السبعينات راح الإعلام الغربي يعدد ويضخم مشاكل وأخطاء (الشاه)، وكان هناك نحو ستين جمعية ومجلة، بالإضافة إلى الدوريات الأمريكية كلها تنشر مقالات معادية للشاه، وكانت ترسل بالبريد لعشرات الألوف من الإيرانيين داخل وخارج إيران، وإن بعض هذه الدوريات كان يصدرها محترفون، يتلقون تمويلا مكنهم من إخراجها في شكل جذاب، جعلها تنجح في شن حرب باردة ضد (الشاه).

ولقد ثبت انه كان هناك قدر من المعلومات المتوفرة عن طبيعة (الخميني) ونواياه الحقيقية، وكانت كتبه موجودة في مكتبات الجامعات الأمريكية، وكان هناك العديد من الباحثين الأمريكيين في الولايات المتحدة، الذين يعرفون تعاليمه معرفة جيدة، وكان البروفسور (مارفين زونس) من جامعة شيكاغو، قد أجرى نقاشاً مطولاً معه، نقل تفاصيله لعدد كبير من المسئولين بوزارة الخارجية الأمريكية بعد ذلك بوقت قصير، وقال هذا الأستاذ الجامعي، الذي كان مهندس الحرب النفسية ضد (الشاه) انه وجد نفسه في مواجهة (الخميني) أمام شخص يفتقر إلى المنطقية بدرجة كبيرة.

وعلاوة على ذلك فإنه منذ إقامة (الخميني) في فيلته الصغيرة بحي (نوفل – لو –شاتو) بباريس أصبح (الخميني) على اتصال بالصحافة والتلفزيون، ولكنه في نفس الوقت كان موضع متابعة مستمرة من المخابرات المركزية الأمريكية، التي قامت باستئجار منزل بالقرب من فيلا (الخميني) وأجرى أعضاء السفارة الأمريكية اتصالات منتظمة مع أقرب مستشاري (الخميني) أمثال (بني صدر) و (صادق قطب زاده) و (إبراهيم يزدي) الذي يحمل جواز سفر أمريكي ومتزوج من أمريكية، وأول من استخدم لتنفيذ فكرة الانقلاب في إيران، حين أسس منظمة الطلبة المسلمين في الولايات المتحدة، وجند لها الطلبة الإيرانيين وغير الإيرانيين، وكان همزة الوصل بين رجال المخابرات الأمريكيية و (الخميني) للإعداد لقلب عرش الطاووس في إيران، حيث يعيش في الولايات المتحدة منذ ثمانية عشر عاما، ورفضت زوجته (سرور)ـ التي تقيم بصورة دائمة مع أطفالها الستة في مدينة (هويستون) الأمريكية، رفضت العودة إلى إيران أو التنازل عن جنسيتها الأمريكية.

لكل ذلك، اقتنعت أمريكا بفكرة الدولة الدينية (الإسلامية) ورصدت إمكاناتها المادية والإعلامية لخدمتها.

ص 195/196/197/198/199

المصدر:كتاب ” إيران بين التاج والعمامة” لمؤلفه أحمد مهابة، وهو آخر قنصل مصري في إيران/ صادر عن دار الحرية- الطبعة الأولى 1989

June 12th, 2007, 3:24 pm


t_desco said:

Al-Akhbar on the Merhi brothers and alleged links to Syrian intelligence.

Syrian Qaeda-inspired group warns Lebanese government to lift siege of Fatah Islam

A Syrian Al Qaeda-inspired group on Tuesday warned of attacks on Lebanese interests and citizens if the country does not lift its siege of militants barricaded inside a Palestinian refugee camp.

In a Web statement, the group Tawhid and Jihad in Syria promised its support for Fatah Islam, the militant group holed up in the camp. The Tawhid and Jihad leader, Abu Jandal al-Dimashqi, met with representatives from Fatah Islam recently, the statement said.

“We warn the Lebanese government that its vital interests, officials and sons living in Syria (sic; t_d) will be moving targets for us if it does not lift its siege of the camp,” said the statement, posted on a Web forum where militant groups often issue messages.

Tawhid and Jihad in Syria first became known in November, when its former leader Omar Abdullah clashed with Syrian security forces and blew himself up on the border with Lebanon.

Al-Dimashqi then issued a May 28 audiotape claiming to be the group’s new leader and calling on Syrians to kill Syrian President Bashar Assad and on other Arabs to topple their leaders as well.

“Tawhid and Jihad” — Arabic for “monotheism and holy war” — is a name used by several groups apparently inspired by Al Qaeda — though their actual links to Osama bin Laden are not clear. Al Qaeda in Iraq formerly went by the name. The most prominent militant group in Syria is known as Jund al-Sham, but it is sometimes called the Jund al-Sham for Jihad and Tawhid. …

Any comments on how to translate “as-Sham” in this context…?

See also this report by As-Safir.

June 12th, 2007, 4:34 pm


K said:


Bilad ash-Sham = the Levant (?)

P.S. How hilarious: Unknown Syrian jihadist group “clashes” with Syrian security on the Lebanese border, then threatens Lebanese civilians and interests *humorless laugh*


Thanks as always for the great articles.

June 12th, 2007, 5:12 pm


K said:

In a significant diplomatic shift, French President Nicolas Sarkozy will invite Hizbullah to take part in a conference on Lebanon scheduled for later this month in Paris, and begin “engaging” Syria, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

New French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has invited delegates from across Lebanon’s political and religious divide to the conference aimed at quelling Lebanon’s violence and political strife.

In another sign that France has decided to step up its involvement in the Middle East, Sarkozy is to meet Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Paris on Tuesday.

Regarding Syria, diplomatic sources in Jerusalem said France had let Damascus know it was willing to reengage with it, but that it would not in any way back down from its firm support for an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri, or from its demand that Damascus “keep its hands off” of Lebanon.

“The tribunal is established and is behind us,” a senior French Foreign Ministry official told the Post from Paris. “There is an understanding between the US and the UN Security Council. The tribunal proposal has passed, in the form of Resolution 1757, so the question will not be raised between us and Hizbullah, or with anyone else.”

Hariri and 22 others were killed by a bomb attack in Beirut that many believe was orchestrated by the Syrians. Sources in Jerusalem said there was a great deal of concern among Syrian officials close to President Bashar Assad that they would be implicated by the tribunal, and that Assad was very keen on getting the tribunal squashed.

Hariri was a close friend of then-French president Jacques Chirac, and his assassination put Franco-Syrian relations into a deep freeze.

The view in Jerusalem is that Sarkozy wants to bring about a gradual thaw in the ties, in order to play the “honest broker” and stabilize Lebanon. The conference in Paris, according to this assessment, is part of this effort.
The invitation to Hizbullah largely puts an end to hopes articulated in Jerusalem after Sarkozy’s election victory that he might be persuaded to place Hizbullah on Europe’s list of terrorist organizations, a position that was opposed by Chirac.

“The objective is to restore confidence between parties. We have the opportunity to end the conflict, and not talking to them [Hizbullah] would mean neglecting the Lebanese political situation, where Hizbullah is an important component,” the French Foreign Ministry official said. The official also said that even though the “guest list” had yet to be finalized, Hizbullah would definitely be there and involved in the negotiations.

Asked if the France was concerned about international criticism for inviting Hizbullah, which Israel, the US and a number of other countries consider a terrorist organization, the official said the priority was Lebanon’s stability, not France’s image.

Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said they were not surprised by the invitation to Hizbullah, and that it must be seen within the context of Paris’s decision to invite all the major players in Lebanon to the conference.

Lebanon has faced a political deadlock since November, when six pro-Syrian ministers quit the cabinet, charging it was violating the power-sharing arrangements drawn up after the 1975-90 civil war. The current wave of violence between Fatah al-Islam, a Palestinian group with suspected al-Qaida and Syrian ties, and the Lebanese army has not let up since it began on May 20.
France’s readiness to engage Hizbullah politically was foreshadowed by remarks Sarkozy made to the Post in a pre-election interview, when he said it would be counterproductive to place Hizbullah on the EU’s terrorist list, but that if Hizbullah wanted to be treated as “the political party that it claims to be, then they must act us such.”

France, along with other EU nations such as Sweden, Greece and Spain, have long argued against placing the Islamist organization on the list, saying that it also has a legitimate political component, and that it would be a mistake to delegitimize a movement that provides political representation for a large and growing segment of Lebanon’s population.

“We are for the disarmament of Hizbullah. We were the first to support UN Security Council Resolution 1559, and for years we have been trying to turn them into a purely political entity,” the French official added. Resolution 1559 called, among other things, for Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon and the disarmament of the armed militias there.

Former French ambassador to Syria Jean-Claude Cousseran organized the Paris conference after meeting with several Lebanese political figures in Beirut last week.

Both Lebanon Prime Minister Fuad Saniora’s Future Movements party and Hizbullah welcomed the French proposal. Hizbullah MP Hassan Hobballah told the Lebanese press, “We will deal positively with any initiative from any friendly or brotherly state that attempts to help Lebanon out of its crisis,” but stressed that the solution to the unrest in the country must be based on the participation of all Lebanese political groups.

Hizbullah has 13 deputies in the Lebanese Parliament, but is widely seen as a rogue faction trying to take over the legislature from within. The Hizbullah lawmakers have blasted Saniora’s government for not granting them important cabinet positions, and have accused the government of trying to squeeze them out.

Among those expected to attend the Paris conference will be representatives from pro-Syria Michel Aoun’s opposition Free Patriotic Movement, who indicated at a meeting with Kouchner in Paris on May 28 that he would respond favorably to the proposal, as well as a delegation representing pro-Syria Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

June 12th, 2007, 5:25 pm


K said:

Lebanon complains to UN pro-Damascus Palestinian fighters massing on its border

June 12, 2007, 7:50 PM (GMT+02:00)

The complaint describes “…concentrations of armed men from Fatah-Intifada and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command” in two areas, Qussaya and Halwa, in Lebanon’s eastern Beqaa Valley near the Syrian border.

Beirut’s complaint was filed as the UN voiced fears of rising violence in Lebanon, focusing on the month-long Syrian-backed Palestinian uprising in the northern Lebanese Nahr al-Bared camp near Tripoli.

When the fighting began, DEBKAfile reported that Syria was pumping reinforcements including Ahmed Jibril’s PFLP-GM into the camp.


DEBKAfile’s Military sources: Iran and Syria are the winners of Hamas’ military coup against Fatah in Gaza Strip

June 12, 2007, 6:46 PM (GMT+02:00)

It was the second triumph in a week for a Palestinian force backed by Iran and Syria, after the Lebanese army failed in four weeks’ combat to crush the pro-Syrian factions’ barricaded in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian camp near Tripoli in four weeks of combat.

Tuesday, Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah Palestinian Authority forces faced disaster. Their inevitable ejection from the Gaza Strip effectively severs Palestinian rule between Ramallah, where Fatah will have to fight to retain control of the West Bank and Gaza, dominated now by an Islamist Palestinian force manipulated from Tehran and Damascus.

The Iran-Syrian alliance has acquired by brute force two Mediterranean coastal enclaves in northern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

Its momentum, launched a month ago in both sectors was unchecked. The Fouad Siniora government’s troops failed to break through to the Palestinian camp and crush the pro-Syrian uprising. The Olmert government stood by unmoved as the most radical elements in the Middle East snatched the Gaza Strip on Israel’s southwestern border.

The Bush administration is finding itself forced out of key Middle East positions, its main assets Siniora and Mahmoud Abbas trounced on the battlefield.

Israel’s technological feat of placing the Ofeq-7 surveillance satellite in orbit Monday quickly proved ineffective against the sort of tactics Tehran and Syria employ: mobile, suicidal Palestinian terrorists, heavily and cheaply armed with primitive weapons, who are winning the first round of the Summer 2007 war and preparing for the next.

June 12th, 2007, 6:16 pm


SimoHurtta said:

SimoHurtta, et al,

Unfortunately, the editors of this forum have prevented me from responding to your Israel-bashing. So far 2 posts have not made it through “The Filters of Truth and Honesty”. And I guess it is too early to expect to debunk a few myths and far too easy to blame the usual suspects.

Oh well.

Akbar also I (and some others as I heard) have had a mysterious breaks in the ability of sending comments. Professor Landis and Alex tried, when I complained of my “banning”, to find the reason for these mysterious comment sending breaks but were unable to find a technical reason. Nobody banned me and in a couple of days I was able to send comments. So Akbar I am quite certain that there is no conspiracy against you and the line of opinions you represent.

If you could send your last comment why did you not answer what you mean by my Israel-bashing. What Israel bashing I have done? I only told true stories about what Israel and Israelis have done as a response to your opinions of Arabs and Arab states.

Is telling that the terrorists of Irgun were dressed as Arabs Israel bashing or a historical fact? I did not invent the possibility that the “admired” raid at Entebbe might have been more complex than the official story lets us to believe. It was widely discussed even in Israeli papers.

Akbar you have granted your self the right of criticising Arabs and Arab countries, but you seem to have the Dershowitzian attitude with critics about Israel. You and the Dershowitz’s around the world seem to have the opinion that free speech is only possible when we speak about the “bad Arabs”. Seems that the more or less fictional tale of creation of the Jewish state and her victorious wars written by Zionists and what Israel is today are a a part of a new Zionist “Talmud”, a “holy truth” which gentiles (= non Zionists in this case) are not allowed to criticize. What is the to hide, when people like Burg, Chomsky and Finkelstein are tried to be silenced with all possible means? Truth and honour maybe…

June 12th, 2007, 8:04 pm


Observer said:

أنا السببْ .
في كل ما جرى لكم
يا أيها العربْ .
سلبتُكم أنهارَكم
والتينَ والزيتونَ والعنبْ .
أنا الذي اغتصبتُ أرضَكم
وعِرضَكم ، وكلَّ غالٍ عندكم
أنا الذي طردتُكم
من هضْبة الجولان والجليلِ والنقبْ .
والقدسُ ، في ضياعها ، كنتُ أنا السببْ .
نعم أنا .. أنا السببْ .
أنا الذي لمَّا أتيتُ : المسجدُ الأقصى ذهبْ .
أنا الذي أمرتُ جيشي ، في الحروب كلها
بالانسحاب فانسحبْ .
أنا الذي هزمتُكم
أنا الذي شردتُكم
وبعتكم في السوق مثل عيدان القصبْ .
أنا الذي كنتُ أقول للذي
يفتح منكم فمَهُ :
‘ شَتْ أب ‘
نعم أنا .. أنا السببْ .
في كل ما جرى لكم يا أيها العربْ .
وكلُّ من قال لكم ، غير الذي أقولهُ ،
فقد كَذَبْ ..
فمن لأرضكم سلبْ ..؟!
ومن لمالكم نَهبْ .؟!
ومن سوايَ مثلما اغتصبتكم قد اغتَصبْ .؟!
صريحةً ،
بكل ما أوتيتُ من وقاحةٍ وجرأةٍ ،
وقلةٍ في الذوق والأدبْ .
أنا الذي أخذتُ منكم كل ما هبَّ ودبْ .
ولا أخاف أحداً ، ألستُ رغم أنفكم
أنا الزعيمُ المنتخَبْ .!؟
لم ينتخبني أحدٌ لكنني
إذا طلبتُ منكم
في ذات يوم ، طلباً
هل يستطيعٌ واحدٌ
أن يرفض الطلبْ .؟!
أشنقهُ ، أقتلهُ ،
أجعلهُ يغوص في دمائه حتى الرُّكبْ .
فلتقبلوني ، هكذا كما أنا ، أو فاشربوا ‘ بحر العربْ ‘ .
ما دام لم يعجبْكم العجبْ .
مني ، ولا الصيامُ في رجبْ .
ولتغضبوا ، إذا استطعتم ، بعدما
قتلتُ في نفوسكم روحَ التحدي والغضبْ .
وبعدما شجَّعتكم على الفسوق والمجون والطربْ .
وبعدما أقنعتكم أن المظاهراتِ فوضى ، ليس إلا ،
وشَغَبْ .
وبعدما علَّمتكم أن السكوتَ من
ذهبْ .
وبعدما حوَّلتُكم إلى جليدٍ وحديدٍ وخشبْ .
وبعدما أرهقتُكم
وبعدما أتعبتُكم
حتى قضى عليكمُ الإرهاقُ والتعبْ .
يا من غدوتم في يديَّ كالدُّمى وكاللعبْ .
نعم أنا .. أنا السببْ ..
في كل ما جرى لكم
فلتشتموني في الفضائياتِ ، إن أردتم ،
والخطبْ .
وادعوا عليَّ في صلاتكم وردِّدوا :
‘ تبت يداهُ مثلما تبت يدا أبي لهبْ ‘.
قولوا بأني خائنٌ لكم ، وكلبٌ وابن كلبْ ..
ماذا يضيرني أنا ؟!
ما دام كل واحدٍ في بيتهِ ،
يريد أن يسقطني بصوتهِ ،
وبالضجيج والصَخبْ .؟!
أنا هنا ، ما زلتُ أحمل الألقاب كلها
وأحملُ الرتبْ .
أُطِلُّ ، كالثعبان ، من جحري عليكم فإذا
ما غاب رأسي لحظةً ، ظلَّ الذَنَبْ .!
فلتشعلوا النيران حولي واملأوها بالحطبْ .
إذا أردتم أن أولِّيَ الفرارَ والهرب.

June 12th, 2007, 9:43 pm


Jamal said:

Where IS Dr Landis?

Maybe he lost his footing and fell off that ugly crumbling public footbridge outside the Damascus Sheraton Hotel.

Maybe he’s gone missing in Syria for sinister reasons like that young Canadian woman – see

Meanwhile I’ll keep hanging around SyriaComment waiting for more of his first-hand postings because I know it will be worth the wait.

June 12th, 2007, 9:53 pm


norman said:

Jamal ,
DR Landis keeps an eye on the site and will be back very soon , I think.

June 13th, 2007, 1:02 am


PoliticalCritic said:

Fascinating perspective on Syria. As an American, it’s always good to hear from the other side.

June 13th, 2007, 2:53 am


Enlightened said:


Its sad when the likes of Dershowitz can use heavy handed tactics to smear someone like Finkelstein. It is appalling when the LOBBY can use its weight to deny free speach and impound those with divergent views, it borders on the pathetic.

Please note all, I urge you to read the Link, you to Ford.

June 13th, 2007, 5:18 am


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