Thursday, September 16, 2004

No basis to Allegation of Syrian use of Chemical Weapons

A number of people have written me to ask about the allegations made by the German Die Welt newspaper that Syria is testing chemical weapons on civilians in Darfur "and killed dozens of people." The story was pushed by the Washington Times here in the states and has subsequently been picked up by a number of papers.

Both German intelligence and US State Department officials say they are unaware of any intelligence from Western or Eastern sources indicating that these claims are based on anything but mistaken information or malicious intent. Unfortunately Die Welt does not specify which Western intelligence source informed them of the use of WMD in Darfur.

Deutsche Presse-Agentur put out this warning:

German intelligence sources said Wednesday they had no information, which could confirm a report claiming Syria had tested chemical weapons in cooperation with the government of Sudan on black Africans in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region.

Germany’s Die Welt newspaper - citing “Western intelligence reports” - said dozens of people were killed in the tests carried out from last May. Frozen corpses were brought to a Khartoum hospital after the tests and examined by Syrian doctors, said the report. The report did not identify what type of chemicals were allegedly used in Darfur but said five airplanes from Syrian Arab Airlines flew in the chemical weapons and specialists from Damascus.

“We find the details very surprising and would have evaluated them differently,” said a German intelligence source speaking on the condition of anonymity. Asked to comment on the report, a spokesman for Syria’s embassy in Berlin said: “We have nothing to say on this - the newspaper can write whatever it wants.” He refused any further comment.

In Washington, a U.S. State Department spokesman said the U.S. was ”not aware of any corroboration of the transfer of Syrian chemical weapons to Sudan”. In a statement, the official said the U.S. would follow up on the allegations, adding: “There have been reports for several years alleging use of chemical weapons in Sudan. None of these have been corroborated.”


At 9/17/2004 07:49:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Professor Landis,

With respect I take issue with several aspects of your message. It is clear to me that you have an outsider’s view and subsequent description of Middle Eastern habits and traditions. Moreover you tend to paint the whole region with one brush and one color. As the Lebanese proverb says “la’ita min danaba”, or “holding it by its tail”.

In particular is your use and conceptualization of the term “za’im”. Although your definitions might apply in authoritarian settings such as Saddam’s Iraq or Assad’s Syria it definitely does not in Lebanon. As I understand it your concept of “za’aama” is a form of leadership that is widespread in the “Levant” and quite acceptable in such settings because of its apparent balance between ruthlessness and subsequent mercy.

In Lebanon governmental office was only reached constitutionally (even during some periods of the war). Before the war leaders did not resort to “force” or “intimidation” to quell the opposition, which rendered that opposition the most effective method of policy change in Lebanon bringing presidencies to crashing halts most memorable of which are Khouri’s in 1952 and Chamoun’s in 1958. So the people of the Levant are not generally predisposed to only respond and be governed by the laws of “za’aama”. Secondly your examples of Assad’s “mercy”, “justice”, “generosity” and “wisdom” are laughable. It is unconceivable to anchor Hama by the release of prisoners from Hama 22 years later, and the return of Riifat el Assad.

But even more importantly is the term “za’im” itself. It is abstract and retrogressive to the people of the Levant; I mean no one uses it. This is indicative of a disconnect between the reality in the Middle East and the conceptual reality of Mr. Friedman and Dr. Landis.

Moving on:

You say: “Prime Minister Harriri plays Damscus’s game, so does the speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri”. To equate these two figures with respect to their relationship with Syria is blasphemous. Berri’s relationship with Syria is one of the most organic, ideological and robust relationships out there. Going back to 1974 when Musa al Sadr, founder of Amal accepted the Alawites as true Muslims. Giving them the Islamic credentials or teeth they needed to legitimize and materialize Arab nationalism in Syria. In the 80’s Amal was the go to party for Syria to implement anything in Lebanon from cleansing the Palestinian camps in 83, 85, 87 and 88 (which eclipsed the 82 massacre in Sabra and Chatilla by the way) to mobilizing “alliwa’ al sadiss” or “the sixth regiment” of the army to help invade east Beirut in 1990. Today Harriri and Berri are two different players with repect to Syria; it is very possible to envision Harriri in an opposition role whereas it is impossible to do the same for Berri.

You also said (speaking of Lebanese Christians) “they had no allies in a land that has a crushing majority of Muslims”. If by that land you mean Lebanon then you are mistaken; there is no Muslim majority because there is no evidence of such majority. Secondly it is also inaccurate to state that they have no Muslim allies. IT is true that they might not have allies in Muslim leaders but when it comes to the people they are in opposition to Syria’s presence and its handling of Lebanese affairs as several recent polls have shown.

This also amused me: A while back ago you had a post that asserted that the sanctions on Syria were insignificant and theatrical now you use “onerous” to qualify the same sanctions.

And lastly your conslusion. It is very surprising to me that after this fiasco you can deduce that the US came out on the loosing end of this showdown. For the first time the US has succeeded in gathering support for its offensive against Syria from across the Atlantic. This “zai’im” (right?) move on the part of Assad allowed the US to garner international support for its pressure in a matter of days. IT is true that this will be one more brick in the pathway to peace in Middle East but the US is in no rush to get back to the negotiating table. With Afghanistan and Iraq there is no vacuum in the political discourse in the US regarding the Middle East. But when back at the negotiating table the UN resolution and the Lebanese occupation would be automatics in return of the Golan. So if anything the US is stacking its chips and is in no rush to start the game. On the other hand the young “za’im” (last one I promise) is under pressure at home to show his prowess and shrewdness, traits his father was known for, something he did not achieve with this last confrontation. I doubt the average Syrian cares more about lahoud’s three more years than he does about the Golan.


At 9/17/2004 07:59:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just realized that I posted my comment under the wrong message. Sorry.


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