What Will Syria Do in Lebanon? (15 June 2007)

I recently received this note from a Western analyst working for a private risk analysis outfit.


I hope your stay in Syria is going well and you are not working too much. I have a quick question – while off the record it could start a nice discussion on the site.

It seems to me as if Syria is being forced into a tough corner right now. When the Arab League left Beirut, the finger was pointed at the opposition and Syria for foiling the talks – Mussa even said that Beirut will not be left in control of foreign powers. Pretty direct talk for him. Since Saudi, Qatar, Egypt and others were involved in those talks, the Arabs may try to isolate Syria again with the hope of changing Presidents in Lebanon by the end of the summer. At the same time, the UN is moving forward with Hariri trial and is even considering UN forces along the Syria-Lebanon border. Both real no-go areas for Syria.

Now, Asad has a number of options to him to try to stop these. One was nicely outlined by Michael Young in the Friday article – while I cant see a Hizballah coup, a parallel government seems the likely path for Lebanon after Aug. 5 elections are held. At the same time, we can also see more action by Sunni militant groups – i.e. the UNIFIL attack on Sunday or other bombings – or Hizballah activity along the border with Israel. Syria can also encourage allies in the PA – i.e. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad – to attack Israel. Or, Syria could attempt a cross border attack to re-capture small parts of Golan Heights back from Israel (or all 3 at the same time).

The way I read Syria, it could easily take a military approach to getting out of this whole – and frankly, I don't think it has a diplomatic way out unless it is willing to make major concessions with so signs that it will be rewarded for it. I wanted to get your perspective on this. Any help you have will be greatly appreciated.

Landis Responds:

One gets the sense in Damascus that the regime feels embattled by the situation in Lebanon and Palestinian, the International Tribunal, and the lack of any progress with the US or Israel. Most Syrians cannot see a way out, but they are quite anti-Lebanese (or more correctly, March 14) and anti-US, which gives the government latitude to raise the pressure in Lebanon and dig in its heels. The president is popular and the regime faces no organized opposition, which has been dealt with severely. The regime has prepared the ground in Syria for struggle.

I think the bombing of the UNIFIL troops was an indication of the troubles that the UN can look forward to if it presses the Syrians or their ally Hizbullah. My sense is the Syrians are angry and believe they are not being offered an acceptable way forward. Syrians believe they are a crucial piece of the regional geo-strategic architecture and should not be treated with disdain. They are not about to allow Hizbullah to be isolated. The government is confident it can withstand considerable international pressure if needs be. It will fight, but covertly.

I do not think they will do anything on the Golan, however. This would be to hand Israel a golden opportunity to pound Syria. There is too much Western and Arab opposition to Syria for the regime to risk any open hostilities with Israel. No one would be there to stop Israeli attacks as they were in the case of Lebanon 2006. Anything Syria might grab for a few hours on the Golan would be retrieved by Israel in no time and at great cost to Syria.

The Syrian government is gambling on economic growth in Syria. It would not want to squander that on adventures with Israel. The example of Lebanon's economic slump since its 2006 misadventure with Israel is a stark warning. Syria has nothing to gain from direct conflict with Israel. The March 14th government and Western troops in Lebanon, however, are sitting ducks. They are exposed, militarily, politically, and economically. If Western leaders believe they can take on Syria and the Lebanese opposition without engaging them or making concessions, I think they will be in for a nasty fight. The Lebanese will suffer, particularly the well off, who are not used to deprivations.

Many Western diplomats here are of the opinion that this Syrian policy of tit for tat is short sighted because any increase of extremism in the region will eventually bleed back into Syria. The West is far away, they observe. This is probably true in the long run. Extremism is good for no one. However, Syria seems willing to play this game of chicken. It believes it can survive it. The fact that there have been no successful acts of terrorism in Syria for 20 years has produced a sense of invulnerability – perhaps a false one, as foreign diplomats like to point out.

One Syrian recently wrote on Syria Comment the following indelicate warning:

Do not keep f…ing with the long arm of Syria. Shar’a [Faruq al-Sharaa, Vice-President] has already given the US/Moderate camp another not so subtle hint when he said Syria’s friends in Lebanon are more powerful than their opponents. Know what he meant and implied? Forget Iraq; it is gone, now forget Gaza and the West Bank, and Lebanon is a done deal with the eventual collapse of Saado/Jaja/Junblat looming not far away.

I think this sentiment encapsulates the dominant thinking of authorities here.

I do not know what strategy the Syrians will support toward the upcoming Lebanese presidential elections. Much of this will probably be left up to the Lebanese opposition to decide. So long as March 14 cannot establish a constitutional and viable way forward without coming to the negotiating table, Syria will have made its point.

Not a rosy picture. I don't see anything good happening in the region so long as the present constellation of forces remains entrenched. There is zero trust between the various actors, hatreds are being nourished, and each side believes it can win a war of attrition.

Best to you, Joshua

On another topic, here are some interesting articles recentlybrought to my attention:

The Collateral Damage of Lebanese Sovereignty
Jim Quilty, Middle East Report, June 18, 2007

"Eyes Wide Shut"
Peter Harling and Joost Hiltermann, Le Monde Diplomatique, 14 May 2007
full article: https://exchange.ou.edu/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=4831%26l=1

"The Road from Mecca"
Robert Malley and Hussein Agha, The New York Review of Books, 10 May 2007
full article: http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=4844&l=1

بعد مكة: إشراك حماس؟
Middle East Report N°62, 28 February 2007
full report: https://exchange.ou.edu/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/getfile.cfm?id=2783%26tid=4677%26type=pdf%26l=6

استئناف المفاوضات الإسرائيلية – السورية
Middle East Report N°63, 10 April 2007
full report: https://exchange.ou.edu/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/getfile.cfm?id=2893%26tid=4758%26type=pdf%26l=6

"Dialoguer avec la Syrie, une nécessité"
Robert Malley and Peter Harling, Le Monde, 2 June 2007
full article: https://exchange.ou.edu/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=4881%26l=1

"'West Bank First': It Won't Work"
Robert Malley and Aaron David Miller, The Washington Post, 19 June 2007
full article: https://exchange.ou.edu/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=4908

Comments (36)

K said:

Prof Landis acknowledges Syria is behind the attack on UNIFIL, but in a typically slippery style:

“I think the bombing of the UNIFIL troops was an indication of the troubles that the UN can look forward to if it presses the Syrians or their ally Hizbullah.”

And also identifies the regime’s cowardly strategy of exploiting Lebanon’s weakness to achieve its goals, because it cannot risk direct confrontation with Israel:

“I do not think they will do anything on the Golan, however. This would be to hand Israel a golden opportunity to pound Syria.”

Then we get nothing less than a series of threats:

“The March 14th government in Lebanon and Western troops in Lebanon, however, are sitting ducks. They are exposed, militarily, politically, and economically. If Western leaders believe they can take on Syria and the Lebanese opposition without engaging it and making concessions, I think they will be in for a nasty fight. The Lebanese will suffer, particularly the well off, who are not used to deprivations.”

Yes, this is indeed the strategy of the evil Syrian regime and its terrorist proxies. (I’m just not sure why the well-off will especially suffer? I have no indication that the innocent bystanders of Syrian assassinations and the civilian victims of Syria’s proxies’ terrorist attacks were more well-off than the rest of Lebanon.)

And to top it all off, the good Prof channels a thuggish threat made by that sicko, Ausamaa. At least he acknowledges that Ausamaa serves as a mouthpiece for regime talking-points. Someone get him at a job at the Ministry of Information.

Prof Landis, these are declarations of war against Lebanon.

June 25th, 2007, 9:28 pm


ugarit said:

Dr. Landis:

Why does Syria not have a diplomatic way out and what does a diplomatic way out mean? Can someone help me out on this?

If Syria has a diplomatic way out and capitulates how can one be assured that it is not blamed for the next bombings, assuming it were involved in the previous bombings and truly stopped any future bombings. Perhaps that’s what’s meant by “no diplomatic way out”, or is it?

June 25th, 2007, 9:50 pm


why-discuss said:

The Syrian regime as any other country is rightfully defending its national interest: Part of its land is occupied in the total indifference of the Western powers, it has lost the exploitation of rewarding lebanese businesses, it has 1.5 million iraqi refugees in the indifference of the western powers, so it appear to play the cards it has, and if the accusations are founded, we should admit that it appear to play them masterfully: manipulating sunnis islamic extremists to attack the lebanese army, and to attack the UNIFIL under the nose of their other ally Hezbollah, refurbishing Hezbollah with weapons, organizing the serial killers of ex-friends that become foes such as Walid Eido, destabilizing the lebanese governemment that looks like a chicken with no head, running haphazardly. If Syria is responsible of all that they are really brilliant and could even teach the Pentagon and Israel some of their tricks!!!

June 25th, 2007, 10:08 pm


Majhool said:

Hesitant to support or go against the Syrian Regime, I tried to list major deliverables that I (merely a Syrian citizen) would like for the Syrian government to achieve to get my support:

1) The Palestinian Cause:
a. Support (politically and economically) consolidated, legitimate, accountable, and moderate leadership capable of negotiating a peace deal with Israel.
b. Take conservative approach towards Islamists groups by
i. Engaging these groups into the decision making process/
ii. Apposing their unilateral arm actions against Israel or other Palestinian groups.
2) Lebanon:
a. Support a consolidated pro-Syrian, accountable, & strong government in Lebanon
i. Improve relations with Sunni and Maronite communities
ii. Support the independence of the Lebanese government
iii. Replace the corrupt pro-Syria base of support in Lebanon by more accountable and legitimate (representative) base.
iv. Eliminate all Syrian financial corruption in Lebanon
v. Work with the Lebanese government to gradually and systematically eliminate all armed militias including Hizbollah
vi. Support replacing the confessional system with accountable representative system that will strengthen the Lebanese state
3) Israel
a. Negotiate a comprehensive peace deal with Israel good enough that will help Syria’s alignment with the Arab block.
b. The return of the Golan Heights
4) Syria
a. Improve the legitimacy of the Syrian Government
i. Create a new more representative parliamentary law
ii. Come up with a more legitimate platform to replace the “national progressive front”
b. Improve the accountability of the Syrian Government
i. Eliminate emergency laws
ii. Enforce the rule of law and curb corruption
iii. Improve freedom of press.
c. Reconcile with segments of the society associated with the Muslim Brotherhood especially those who did no participate in acts of violence. Ease travel restrictions and put an end to acts of retribution towards their families.
d. Curb extremism by allowing civil community-run and driven secular institutions to operate freely. ( Tala2e3 and Shabibeh are not working)

How far do you guys think the Syrian government is from delivering the above?

June 25th, 2007, 10:33 pm


youngsyria said:


I agree….

any country (regime) would use whatever tools in its hand to achieve its goals. from your point of view, sadly, syria is evil because its goals (somehow) harm you and your people.

what you should know is that there are no good ones and bad ones. pick your favorite side (lets say march 14) and imagine what would they do if their interests conflict with yours.

June 25th, 2007, 10:46 pm


t_desco said:

FINUL cree que el atentado de ayer contra un contingente militar español ‘puede ser una operación de Al Qaeda’

‘Puede ser una operación de Al Qaeda que ya desde meses había declarado la Yihad en Líbano, lo hizo (el número dos de la red de Al Qaeda, Ayman) Al Zawahiri hace tiempo. La primera vez en octubre y después lo repitió. Hay también ‘quaedistas’ que llegaron a Líbano y esto lo sabemos desde hace tiempo’, explicó. ‘Ayer fue un explosivo de alto potencial, tecnológicamente refinado, pero hoy se puede encontrar fácilmente’, agregó.

La segunda posibilidad que baraja FINUL, incidió, ‘es que sea un grupúsculo de palestinos… Jund al Sham, Al Fatá al Islam… que como las Brigadas Rojas en Italia, es gente que desarrolla su Yihad inventando nuevos nombres para bautizarse ellos mismos con nuevos títulos’ y agregó que ‘lo que ocurrió ayer se puede hacer con un grupúsculo dos, tres personas porque fue un coche normal Renault, se puede fácilmente encontrar en Líbano 100 kilos de explosivo’.

Además, descartó toda responsabilidad o implicación de la milicia chií libanesa Hezbolá en el atentado de ayer. ‘Fue un embarazo muy grave para Hezbolá porque dice que ellos efectivamente controlan el territorio’, aclaró, al tiempo que esta mañana fuente de la milicia le explicaron que Hezbolá no puede ‘poner un sello total en el territorio’. Tras negar ‘inmediatamente su paternidad’ del atentado la milicia aseguró que el atentado ‘es un golpe contra la población del sur’ y la estabilidad de esta región. ‘Hezbolá no tiene nada que ver con este caso’, aseguró en una entrevista con Europa Press.

‘¿Cómo puede Hezbolá, FINUL o el Ejército libanés evitar que en una carretera donde pasa mucha gente un coche se pare con explosivos dentro. No se puede controlar todo?. Además, ellos (los terroristas) escogieron una carretera (…) en la que están trabajando para asfaltarla de nuevo, porque es una carretera muy vieja que tuvo muchos problemas durante la guerra pasada (entre Israel y Hezbolá)’, explicó. …
Europa Press

“Una pista

El Ejército español y la policía libanesa investigan de forma coordinada la masacre y creen disponer ya de una pista importante para esclarecer quiénes fueron sus autores. Se trata, según fuentes militares, del testimonio de un vecino de la zona que aseguró a los militares haber visto desde un terreno cercano de su propiedad cómo los terroristas colocaban el coche bomba.

Interrogada por los oficiales de Inteligencia del contingente español, esta persona relató cómo vio llegar hasta el cruce donde se produjo la explosión dos vehículos, cada uno conducido por un individuo. Tras aparcar la furgoneta Renault Express que estalló, un hombre se bajó de ella a toda prisa y se introdujo en el otro coche, que se alejó del lugar.

Las fuentes citadas aseguran que se trata de una pista “fiable” y creen que el Ejército dispone a estas alturas de una descripción física aproximada de la persona que dejó la furgoneta a la espera de que por allí pasasen los españoles. El propio ministro de Defensa admitió en la rueda de prensa que los investigadores tienen “alguna otra pista”, pero apeló a la obligada “discreción” para no arruinar la investigación en curso.”

“Un habitante de Jiam que no quiso identificarse dijo a Efe que ayer observó ese mismo coche dentro de la localidad circulando junto a un Mercedes y que algún detalle que no especificó le llamó la atención, pero al poco tiempo desaparecieron.”
EFE, 24 de Junio de 2007

Experts say C4 explosives used in attack on UNIFIL

Powerful C4 plastic explosives were used in Sunday’s car-bomb attack on the Spanish contingent of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), a security report said on Monday. Military experts from UNIFIL and the Lebanese Army on Monday began probing the scene of the attack. Investigators rejected the hypothesis that a suicide bomber carried out the explosion, which killed six members of the Spanish contingent in the southern village of Khiam.

Investigators used special equipment to determine that the bomb used in the attack consisted of 70 kilograms of C4, or the equivalent of about 300-350 kilograms of TNT. C4 explosives are roughly five times more powerful than TNT.

A “meticulous analysis” found no traces of blood on the front seats of the Renault Rapide, which allowed investigators to dismiss the theory that a suicide bomber had carried out the attack, according to the security report. …
The Daily Star

June 25th, 2007, 11:24 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Young Syria states:

any country (regime) would use whatever tools in its hand to achieve its goals. from your point of view, sadly, syria is evil because its goals (somehow) harm you and your people.

Translation: “Syria can do what she wants”*

*except for the Zion Entity, naturally

(Saddam believed in this hypothesis as well – he was wrong)

Why-Discuss states:

If Syria is responsible of all that they are really brilliant and could even teach the Pentagon and Israel some of their tricks!!!

Yes, for Syria it’s called “tricks”. For the rest of the world it’s called murder.

June 25th, 2007, 11:40 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

what happen with recocilliation between Syria and KSA,things do not look good now between them,I think Asad was offered a deal and then he ignored it.
Is Asad, is he popular among the Syrian, or people do not care,it is not their fight, they just do not like to see what is going in Iraq,they hate to see it in Syria.
Frequently we say Syria,and we mean the regime.
Any fight between Syria and Isreal,is unlikely to occur,at least Syria will not provoke Isreal,if Syria was attacked,it is different,what Isreal wants is to destroy the syrian army,control water(Yarmook),and force peace treaty,and eliminate HA.
Is there diplomatic way out,for Syria? yes,but I doubt Asad will go this way.
In Lebanon, it looks very bad for Syria, once Lahoud term is up,he must leave,he will not be allowed one minute more,lahoud can not form another goverment,no one will recognise it,and possible no one will accept this position,either.after Lahoud is gone things will move much faster against the regime

June 26th, 2007, 12:54 am


ausamaa said:

Dear Josh (and Western Analyst who sent his query):

Very legitimate questions and very good analysis. But in the end any forecast or a projection of what “may” happen in the area is anyone’s guess because the Bush Admin which is the most powerfull player has not only failed to formulate, let alone execute, a coherent approach to dealings with the situation, and it lacks the determination and the means to follow up on any such meaningfull policy. The US is militarily stuck in Iraq with no viable exit strategy (no victory is in sight, niether is a withdrawl currently feasible). So what to do? An Administration with a vision and a solid internal support can find a solution and convince the Americans and the world community that the price is justifiable. But this is not the case with the Bush Admin. So, the best Bush can do is leave the problem to the next Administration, and can then of course accuse a lot of people of not having supported him when he needed support. So he and his neocons will get home somewhat safe in the end.

While he is in office, he will still try to play the “tough” guy, shooting himself further in the foot every time he acts. But overall, he has lost the benefit of Strategic Initiative. The other side while capable of foiling Buh’s plans, does not also have the ability to mount a Strategic Initiative on its own. So, they wait. And the anti-Bush camp continues to score more small points. One after the other, until a new Administration is in place. Then they may turn the pressures up a little bit more so that the new Administration finds itself forced to do something (Pelosi and the others seem to have given signals that the current state of affairs from Iraq to the Golan to Palestine would be on the table then). Add to this the expected pressures from China, Russia and Europe, and from the -by then- orphant Arab moderates, and all will be screaming at and for the US to do something, and the wheels of diplomacy would start turning. Having looked disaster in the eye during Bush time might be enough incetive for all to look at the other options.

Those sought options or solutions can be summed up as being “enforcing” a serious overall Mid-East settlement with Israel being told to shut up and get real. As to Iran, it will be welcomed back into the fold, even on probationary basis. And if Israel screames bloody murder, there will be many who will shout back:You have got us here, and we have discovered that “here” was not a good place to be, and you can not hold your wieght on your own. And short of trying another go at Hizbullah, or a more risky attack on Syria (both actions carrying more risk than reward even in the short term), Israel has no option but to see the light. And forget about that the so much talked about Israeli strike at Iran, Israelies are just saying that after having their fourth or fifth scotch. The Pentagon does not Also seem to have it on its To Do List. Chenny still seeing it as option on the table or not.

So, practically, Syria can sit tight and do nothing and watch the Mountain comes to Mohammed. If its fingered, it will retaliate in kind, in a measured way without overdoing it. If not, it is under no serious military, economic, political or any sort of serious pressure to do anything out of the ordinary. At the same time, and feeling that it had been used and taken advantage of recently by the US after agreeing to help Bush out of his Iraq blackhole, it would not go out of its way to extend offers of help again. Rice’s and Bush’s actions proved that positive signals from Syria were not responded to positively by the recipients. So why even bother?

Military action by Syria against Israel? I doubt it unless the other side starts it. Syria’s estimate? 1)The other side is too weak to contemplate it, and 2)If it happens, we will absorb the effects of such an attack and our response will prove as damaging to Israel as Israel expects (and stays away from attacking Syria as a result of such expectations). Coming to the support Hizbullah if a major attack is launched against it by Israel? A possibility, a strong probability maybe, but definitly not a move that anyone should execlude.

Economic Sanctions, Diplomatic Boycot, Threats and the infamous International Tribunal? They maybe bothersome, but that is all they can ever be. Syria thinks that those are things that it can live with, and whoever is promoting them and counting on them can shove them up somewhere and get lost.

In short, Syria knows what it wants, knows what it can do, knows the limitations of what others can do to it and does not seem worried about a situation that turning in its favore by the day. Not because it is super smart, but because the other side is super dump.

June 26th, 2007, 1:17 am


Observer said:

I am intrigued by the premise of the posting which implies that Syria is on the run. I believe the others are on the run. The events in Lebanon are further weakening the goverment, and the events in Gaza show that Hamas has essentially fired the administration of Abbas. The vehemence of Egyptian attack on Iran blaming it for the events in Gaza was telling. The only thing that the Olmert goverment did do is to free 250 fatah people and release overdue tax revenues. The initiative so far in Iraq has remained with the insurgency and the blog of Juan Cole at Informed Comment clearly shows that the surge is not working. The Maliki goverment is terrified of the prospect of armed Sunni tribes, and the latest attack on their leaders in the Mansour hotel may be devastating for any reconciliation. The mood of the US now is for eventual withdrawal except for the President and the VP who would like to stabilize the situation long enough to give cover to the republicans in the coming elections and then to pass the problem for the next administration. The Syrian regime has all the patience in the world to wait it out. Once they realized that US troops will not be crossing the border any time soon, as we say in Damascus “put their feet in cool water”.
In all of this I believe that they are learning from the Iranians who never panicked in contrast to the Arab regimes of the region.
For those vehemently against this or that side of this conflict that involves Lebanon, please remember what De Gaule said: nations have no friends they have interests. This is politics not ethics.

June 26th, 2007, 2:05 am


Observer said:

Further reading following my comment is from Haaretz today

June 26th, 2007, 2:11 am


Alex said:

Observer said: “In all of this I believe that they are learning from the Iranians who never panicked in contrast to the Arab regimes of the region.”

I believe the Iranians learned from them. Syria has been in the same situation of being practically alone facing America, Its Arab moderates allies and Israel since the mid seventies.

Why should anyone have any hope that the same useless collection (Egypt, KSA, Jordan, Moderate Palestinians, and the United States) will come up with a successful conflict resolution strategy?

K, there is nothing cowardly about not going to war with Israel. The USSR and the United States did not go to war against each other, they used smaller allies to do the occasional fighting. Syria is doing the same… it is the right thing to do, the balanced thing to do … accepting the loss of the Golan permanenetly is not an option, starting a bloody war with Israel is also not an option.

June 26th, 2007, 2:23 am


Frank al Irlandi said:

UN troops on the Lebanon Syria border?

There is a bit of a logistic problem here. As I recall it there was great difficulty in finding enough countries willing to contribute troops to the Force last year.

According to the CIA factbook there are 2250 km of frontier in Lebanon of which about 2000 km are with Syria. That is a lot of area to patrol or perform interdiction operations on.

I wonder what countries would be willing to provide the extra 20,000 men for an unspecified period of time?

Perhaps as a sign of their good faith and commitment to bettering their international image Iran might be a candidate to provide say 5000 men?

June 26th, 2007, 4:04 am


norman said:

The middleast is on the verge of a war this Summer , the conflict between the US , Israel and the defeat seeking Arab regimes of Saudi Arabia , Egypt , Jordon , the Palestinians /Abbas and the Siniora gov and the resistance of Syria , Iran , Ha mas and Hezbollah is coming soon and will start with installing a new Lebanese president and an attack on Ha mas , Iran , Syria and Hezbollah, All the talk of peace talks between Syria and Israel is just talk to plan a surprise attack , Syria might not be wise to start a war with Israel but should be ready for one and a long one i Say , that is the only way to get the Golan back .

June 26th, 2007, 4:06 am


K said:


Fighting by proxy is cowardly no matter who does it. It really means big bullies pushing around little dudes and exploiting them and profiting from their misery. Cold War powers both used atrocious tactics in their global war. I insist on condemning vicious, immoral and illegal tactics wherever I find them; I do not play the game of excusing criminality on the grounds of ‘realism’.

Friends, Akbar Palace makes a recurring good point – many of you hold a double standard that (correctly) condemns Israeli crimes while (incorrectly) defending the actions of other players as morally neutral ‘tactics’, sometimes going so far as to praise them for ‘displaying strength’, ‘playing their cards right’, etc. Whenever you do that, you let Israel off the moral hook, in addition to serving as apologists for tyranny.

I want to maintain my ability to condemn Israeli crimes. To do so, I must be careful to condemn evil tactics no matter who carries them out.

If I were to play your game, I would advocate nothing short of all-out war on Syria, including Syria’s pro-regime civilian population. I would support the kidnapping of Syrians in Lebanon to hold as bargaining chips against the hundreds of innocent Lebanese rotting in Syria’s torture dungeons. I would lobby the US and Israel to blow Syria to little pieces. I would fund anti-regime elements by the bucketload, be they Kurdish, liberal or jihadist.

Is this what you want?

June 26th, 2007, 4:09 am


norman said:

Israel intelligence chief warns country on brink of war

http://www.chinaview.cn 2007-06-25 20:24:46

Adjust font size:

BEIJING, June 25 (Xinhuanet) — Israel’s military intelligence chief, Major General Amos Yadline, warned Sunday that Israel is on the brink of a war that could break out as early as this summer, according to the Jerusalem Post.

 Yadlin told the Israeli Cabinet that several factors were moving the nation toward war, reported the Post. Yadlin cited Iran, Hizbullah, Hamas and Syria who the paper quoted Yadlin as saying “are all actively working against Israel, and may force a conflict as early as this summer.”

“Any one of these authorities can bring about a deterioration in the situation this summer,” Yadlin said.

Yadlin’s comments come as the militant Islamic faction of the PLO has taken control over Gaza and is battling with Fatah for control of the West Bank. Along Israel’s northern border, Iran’s backing of Hizbullah in Lebanon has added more worry for Israel.

Earlier this month Britain’s London Telegraph reported Israeli officials believe Syria is preparing for a major war against the Jewish state.

“Israeli intelligence officials have been warning for weeks that Syria is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in antitank weapons, antiaircraft rockets, and other missiles, and bolstering its presence along the Israeli border,” the paper reported.

Also unsettling were comments from Mohammad al Habash, a Syrian parliament member, who made a recent appearance on the Al Jazeera satellite channel.

Al Habash said Syria was “actively preparing for war with Israel, which he said he expected to break out this summer.” This month Israel’s military engaged in war games in preparation for a Syrian attack.


Editor: Gareth Dodd

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June 26th, 2007, 4:12 am


Majhool said:

Hmm, Looks like no one was interested in my contributions. I guess you guys are more interested in fortune telling than really discussing something useful to the average Syrian. I guess Power no matter how corrupt has it charm. On a funny (cynical) note : that explains why high society damascenes ladies used to sleep around with the crude vulgar Syrian generals. Hehe. Enjoy your voodoo game.

Maybe I should try Abu KAreem instead.

June 26th, 2007, 4:38 am


Qifa Nabki said:

Prof. Landis,

You write: “My sense is the Syrians are angry and believe they are not being offered an acceptable way forward… If Western leaders believe they can take on Syria and the Lebanese opposition without engaging it and making concessions, I think they will be in for a nasty fight.”

What is your sense of the nature of such an “acceptable way forward”, based on your discussions with Syrians? What would these concessions have to look like for the regime to stop “[raising] the pressure in Lebanon,” as you quaintly put it?

You argue that, “so long as March 14 cannot establish a constitutional and viable way forward without coming to the negotiating table, Syria will have made its point.”

Again, I would ask you what kind of terms would be acceptable to Syria, vis-a-vis its relationship with Lebanon? I find the “comprehensive peace plan for the region” argument to be a conveniently elusive carrot. Isn’t it a little bit suspect that leaders who construe ‘statesmanship’ as promoting the severe crippling of their societies suddenly try to fashion themselves as de Toquevilles when asked for their terms? The prospect of waiting for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to be solved, the Iraq War to end, and the Golan Heights to be returned before Syria stops terrorizing Lebanon is not one which fills me with optimism.

Alex, Observer, and Ausamma: you all seem like educated, intelligent, well-informed people. I’m puzzled by the utter lack of cynicism or irony or plain discernment in your commentaries when it comes to the Syrian regime’s adventures in Lebanon. I can guess that you’re probably all Syrian, but surely that doesn’t mean that you cannot point out that which is objectionable or morally repugnant about the regime’s current campaign.

Speaking to people in Beirut, the general tone seems to be one of depression, or even disgust, really: disgust with the absolute lack of leadership on either side of the political spectrum; disgust with the spinelessness of local actors to disassociate themselves from their foreign sponsors, etc. Turn on NPR in the U.S. or BBC in the U.K., and you will be treated to many varieties of disgust with the neo-colonialism of the West.

I would imagine that such a dialectic would be beneficial to Syria as well, and I’m puzzled as to why it is almost wholly absent from this blog.

June 26th, 2007, 4:51 am


sam said:

Too much spin on a war looming this summer. Isreal can’t afford it more than the Syrians. They need to rebound from last summers war. As for Syria, getting out of this isoloation is like trying to hold 3 melons with one hand, but the Syrian regime has a giants hand. With the deadlock in Leb, problems as usual in PA and Hamas,multiple daily suicide bombings in an unstable Iraq. Status quo alone will bring Syria out of the cold, and a seat on the dinner table, because Tiiiiime is on my side… Yes it is……Tiiiiime is on my side

June 26th, 2007, 4:54 am


Nur al-Cubicle said:

Gee, forest fires are raging in the Golan.

June 26th, 2007, 7:23 am


Alex said:

K, Qifa Nabki,

Why do I (and few others here) understand, or sometimes support, regional policies of Syria? (or the Syrian regime, as many prefer to put it)?

I will speak about my part and I’ll leave it to Ausamaa or Norman to write their opinions if they wish.

I believe in balanced policies that are not based on the best interest of any single country, but rather, that take into account the best long term interests of the whole region … Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Iraq.

I realize many of you disagree, but I am quite confident that the Syrians know best. Why? perhaps because they are at the center and they can see better and they interact more … perhaps because they really care about the whole area since it used to be “Syria”, and since they will be affected by anything bad that happens to any of their neighbors … you do realize that Syria, who you see as “evil” is the country that saved the most lives … tens of thousands of Armenians in 1915, hundreds of thousands of Kurds in the 60’s 70’s and 80’s (from Turkey), millions of Iraqis (the two wars), hundreds of thousands of Lebanese (in 1976, until 2006), hundreds of thousands of Palestinians …

Which other country can compare? … This “good” American administration who is the main reason why we have millions of dead or humiliated Iraqis, accepted only a minute fraction of the number of Iraqi refugees that Syria allowed.

In 1976 when Saudi Arabia and Egypt each sent 500 soldiers to stop the Lebanese civil war, Syria sent tens of thousands… and did manage to stop the civil war and allow the late Hariri a decade of peace during which he re-built Lebanon that you are all proud of today.

And during those decades when they controlled Lebanon, they did not annex Lebanon like Saddam annexed Kuwait in days.

Of course not everything that Syria does is as beautiful as saving millions of refugees. When you have neighbors such as Saddam Hussein (whose only enemy in the Arab world for decades was Syria), or like King Hussein who tried to assassinate Hafez Assad in 1980 and who flew to Israel to warn them against Syria and Egypt’s plans to liberate their occupied lands in 1973, and like Walid Jumblatt who does not need any introduction … then when you have Israel and the United States and their “Arab allies” planning for decades to weaken Syria and to assume its natural role in its neighborhood … you can’t expect “the Syrian regime” to be always harmless.

Do I like everything that “Syria” does? .. no. Do I understand why they do it? .. most of the times, yes. They are smarter, wiser, and more experienced in this area than all the others combined. It sounds dramatic I know, but recent history speaks for itself. I don’t know how can you argue with a perfect record of Syria betting on the winning horses (like its participation in the first Iraq war) and betting against the losing horses … like its solo opposition to the second Iraq war which according to Syrian critic ex-president Amin Gemayel who predicted at the time that the Iraq war “will bring fundamental change to the area, and there will be a kind of Pax Americana for a while that will shake several regimes in the area.”

And of course there was the slam dunk prediction of the very capable former head of the CIA at the time.

Meanwhile, the Syrian moukhabarat which many of you like to think of as simply a bunch of stupid thugs, collected (without the help of the sophisticated technology at the disposal of George Tenet at the time) the best and most comprehensive information on the people of the whole area and the way they will react to the inevitable war … The Syrian leaders, who know how to read everyone in their neighborhood, analyzed the information and took the right decisions…they said that the United states will “win” at the beginning but will get stuck with no way out in the Iraqi mud and that the Iraqi war will be a disaster for them.

K, Lebanon to me is just like Syria. I believe that the two countries will eventually merge (in a decade perhaps)… not the bad way, but by the free choice of the majority of people in both independent countries … remember when the Syrian people wanted to unite with Egypt and have Cairo as their capital and have Abdel Nasser as their president? … That was not a natural union, it was an emotional decision.

But one day, when Syria is a much more attractive country (more political freedoms, free press, booming economy …) it will be very natural that a majority of Syrians and Lebanese will want to unite, at least economically, but probably more.

And I’ll be perfectly happy if our combined future president is Lebanese.

June 26th, 2007, 7:24 am


Nur al-Cubicle said:

For the record, it appears that the discredited Olmert is not interested in negotiations with Abbas. Abass can be saved only if Barghouti is among the 250 released prisoners. Personally, I think that LIkud is running out the clock, waiting for Bibi.

June 26th, 2007, 7:29 am


Akbar Palace said:

K said:

Friends, Akbar Palace makes a recurring good point – many of you hold a double standard that (correctly) condemns Israeli crimes while (incorrectly) defending the actions of other players as morally neutral ‘tactics’, sometimes going so far as to praise them for ‘displaying strength’, ‘playing their cards right’, etc. Whenever you do that, you let Israel off the moral hook, in addition to serving as apologists for tyranny.

I want to maintain my ability to condemn Israeli crimes. To do so, I must be careful to condemn evil tactics no matter who carries them out.

K –

I agree with you. Thanks. Let me just add one small note: I don’t think missiles ever flew out of Lebanon and into Syrian terrortory. However, there have been many instances where missiles were launched from Lebanon into Israel.

For example, note that Israel did not respond to the last missile launch this past week, however, I wonder how many missile launches are necessary before Israel is “allowed” to respond?


June 26th, 2007, 11:04 am


ausamaa said:

K says:

“If I were to play your game, I would advocate nothing short of all-out war on Syria, including Syria’s pro-regime civilian population says”

An all out war against Syria which your side of Lebanon will sure win hands down, once the Lebanese Army Legions victoriously conclude its Naher Al Bared blitzkrig.. Right? Dont you wish!

BTW, do you have a drinking problem? Drugs? Disorders? Stuff like that..??? Dont just ignore it. It could get worse without you knowing.

June 26th, 2007, 2:34 pm


why-discuss said:


In an recent interview with Al Jazeera arabic about the Hariri chapter 7 international Tribunal, Najid al Nuaimi, former Qatar Ministry of Justice and lawyer of Guantanamo arab detenees said in his conclusion that in 20 years Lebanon and Syria will merge… he believes that this is one of the consequences of the International Tribunal.

June 26th, 2007, 5:19 pm


why-discuss said:

After the Unifil killings, Israel media did not seem alarmed about the presence of islamic sunni extremists near their border, isn’t strange? I supppose Israel ‘eye for an eye’ is undoubtedly plotting against Hebzbollah to take revenge for the humiliating aug 2006 failure. I wonder if the Unifil killings is not part of a dark plan.

June 26th, 2007, 5:27 pm


K said:


Forget the Army. We could fight Syrian-style, by sending mercenary proxies to do the dirty work, how about that?

June 26th, 2007, 5:56 pm


Alex said:

Why Discuss,

I missed that interview. Interesting, although I do not understand how the tribunal will have an effect on that outcome.

Even Noam Chomsky, during his last visit to Lebanon clearly suggested that he expects a number of natural pairs in the middle East to unite in few years… he meant Syria and Lebanon.

June 26th, 2007, 7:43 pm


why-discuss said:


Lebanon is a hybrid society with powerful poles and opposing views on on the future of the country:
Many western educated lebanese seem to have lost hope in an arab “renaissance” and are opting to submit to the western style of life and culture. I know more than one arab writer who prefer to write in french or english instead of arabic, just because there is no audience for their arabic writings. This is further facilitated by the powerful western media, TV etc.. going into any house now with the satellite.
Many arab-educated lebanese believe in an arab cultural renaissance, some by returning to Islam hoping for a new spontaneous era of an illuminating islamic civilization, some but very few by actively analyzing the western media and proposing a culture to counterbalance the appeal of the western media in the middle east.
There is a light of hope coming from other sources:
Qatar with Al jazeera is doing a good job in promoting awareness and respect of arab values in opposition with the biased and often racist western media. Unfortunately, it is sad to say, no arab government is actively supporting arts and we have to turn to Iran for that with its government active support for cinema, paintings, classical music and poetry. But isn’t it what happenned in the golden age of the arab-islamic civilization, the decisive influence of the persian culture? Would the arab intelligentsia accept to be influenced by ‘persians’?

June 26th, 2007, 8:41 pm


Alex said:

I hope Iran would be able to participate in a collecitve effort to reduce the hostilities and the perceptions of threats that many people in the Middle East are part of these days.

I think that a good start for many good things int he Middle East is a solid peace agreement between Syria and Israel … this will make things easier in Lebanon, Palestine, and hoepefully Iraq. It can (if everyone tries) lead to better Sunni/Shia relations.

One of the problems with Lebanon today is that it is too tempting for each party to refuse outside help. Maybe the nest solution is to reduce the need for outsiders to play politics against each other in Lebanon… Israel will not help Jumblatt anf Geagea, Syria will not help HA in their internal disagreements.

Syria used to do a good job of “staying at an equal distance from all the Lebanese parties” in the 90’s .. when no other outsiders tried to compete over Lebanon.

June 26th, 2007, 9:57 pm


ausamaa said:


Forget about your occupation with the high possibility of the Lebanese Army or Lebanese “operatives” attacking Syria. If you have noticed, people above have been discussing and refereing to a more exciting possibilities: The Eventual Unification of Syria and Lebanon.
Go get them before something real comes out of such “dangerous” brainstorming.

June 26th, 2007, 11:31 pm


K said:


I was in Lebanon when Noam Chomsky visited. I followed his tour in the media, watched his interviews with Lebanese TV stations, and friends of mine attended his lecture at AUB.

To my great disappointment, it was evident that he simply put himself in the hands of his hosts – Hizballa and their pro-Syrian allies. They literally took him on a tour of the country. And at the end of his trip, he simply repeated their talking points.

Search for his interview with NewTV on MemriTV.org.

Alex, I think you are naive about Lebanese history, and Syria’s hand in Lebanese history. I think Syria has played a more sustained, more malicious role in Lebanon than even Israel has. For example, I completely disagree with your comment on “staying at an equal distance”. I mean, how do I even begin to respond to that?


Create a democratic, liberal, pluralistic, productive society in Syria, and I’ll be the first to sign up for unity. But so long as Syria is a backward, impoverished, oppressive, authoritarian country, I tell you, regime change in Syria is a million times more likely than “unity”.

June 27th, 2007, 1:33 am


why-discuss said:


The two Germanies united despite the wide gaps in the economy and the political and social system.. Will we see the fall of Masnaa wall some day?

June 27th, 2007, 2:49 pm


K said:


If Syria would like to join Lebanon in a democratic federation that protects minority rights, ahlan wa sahlan.

June 27th, 2007, 3:01 pm


Alex said:


I’m sure you can find exceptions, life is not digital, there are variations in nature and in human behavior. But in general, Syria stayed at an equal distance from those who did not oppose Syria’s role in Lebanon.

In the future, as I said, I am hoping that Syria will be compatible enough with Lebanese way of life and standard of living that the Lebanese people will prefer to unite to some degree with Syria.

I don’t advocate an earlier East Germany west Germany type of union.

And yes, a future union between Syria and Lebanon would, as I mentioned in a discussion with an American mideast expert who loved the idea, mean a more clearly secular country … no Hizbollah majority in Lebanon and no Muslim brotherhood majority in Syria … makes it easier to go for one-man-one-vote elections one day in both countries.

June 27th, 2007, 4:27 pm


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