Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Israel's Position on Bashar - No Good Alternative

Here are several stories from the Israeli press, which help us to understand what Israel wants from Syria. Some worry about chaos. Others worry that a weak democratic leader in Syria would mean giving up the Golan because America would seek to prop him up by demanding Israel cede the Golan.

Experts Say the Assad Regime Won't Collapse
Orly Halpern,
Oct. 16, 2005 (Kindly sent to me by Timur Goksel of AUB)

With one week to go before the release of the UN report about the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri and the US ratcheting up the rhetoric of Syria's imminent demise, experts say that the last Baathist regime is under no immediate threat of collapse.

“I don't think anything could topple the regime other than a full scale invasion,” Ambassador Edward Walker, former assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs and president of the Middle East Institute, a Washington, DC-based think tank, told The Jerusalem Post.

According to a Western analyst based in Beirut, the Syrian Baathist regime is not likely to fall because “there is no substitute.” Speaking to the Post on condition of anonymity he said that although the Syrian regime is under “tremendous pressure, it is in no imminent danger. If you want this regime to go there has to be a substitute. But there is no opposition, no civil society. Everything is under control, it's a police state. Is any one waiting in the wings? If there were he wouldn't be here anymore. Look what happened to Ghazi Kenaan.”

Last week, Kenaan, the powerful Syrian interior minister died in what the Syrian administration said was suicide. Some Western analysts suggested that Kenaan was killed because he was responsible for Hariri's death. But the Beirut-based analyst told The Post that Kenaan was a supporter of Hariri and was likely killed because he could implicate the guilty parties. Whatever the cause of his death it has put the spotlight stronger on Syria.

Recently US officials have either publicly stated or leaked to the press possible action against Syria. Walker said that limited military action was in the cards. “If the Syrians don't [act], then this administration will up the ante with military action and we would see cross-border operations,” he said acknowledging that “all this talk of military intervention is a conscious leak to build the pressure.” However, if the results of the UN investigation of Hariri's death point to Syria, the affect on Syria could be fatal to the regime. Elements in the Syrian regime are widely believed to be responsible for the assassination of Hariri in February. International pressure led by the US and France following his death forced Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon after almost 30 years.

Now, as a UN investigation into Hariri's death comes close to the October 21 submission date, the US and France have joined efforts to prepare to act in the case that someone from Syria is implicated in the assassination. Together the two countries are trying to rally international support for a resolution against Syria in the UN Security Council in the form of an economic embargo. That said, a US-based Syrian expert, could cause the collapse of his country. “If the Europeans and the Arab states went along with the American pressure then yes, it could bring the collapse of the regime,” Dr. Murhaf Jouejati, a Syrian national and the Director of Middle East Studies at George Washington University, told The Post. The US accuses Syria of supporting insurgents fighting in Iraq by allowing them to cross through Syria. It also accuses Syria of supporting terrorist groups in Israel and meddling in Lebanese affairs. Since Hariri's death a number of journalists and former politicians that opposed the Syrian presence in Lebanon have been targets of assassination. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday in Paris that Syria must demonstrate “full cooperation with Detlev Mehlis,” head of the UN investigation team.

After her meeting with the Foreign Minister of France, which went hand in hand with the US in pressuring Syria to withdraw from Lebanon, Rice renewed the US demand on Syria not to get involved in Lebanese internal affairs. “What is very clear is that the international community is demanding of Syria that it fully implement 1559 and that it not engage in activities that destabilize its Lebanese neighbor,” said Rice. Such action is expected to include a demand to hand over the individuals who took part in the murder, even if they are holding positions in the Syrian government, said diplomatic sources. This notion is similar to the deal reached with Libya after the bombing of the Pan-Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland. Then too, Libya was pressured to hand over its citizens accused of planning the attack and only after Muammar Gaddafi agreed to this condition, the international pressure was eased.

The Times of London reported Saturday that “in the past ten days” the US has offered Syria a deal in which the Assad regime will agree to cooperate with the UN investigation, turn over citizens involved in the murder, stop interfering in Lebanon and close the border with Iraq, in return for ending Syria's international isolation. This is similar to the “Gaddafi deal” in which he cooperated in the Lockerbie case and gave up his nuclear program, resulting in improved relations with the US and the West.

Analysts say the deal was leaked to The Times by the American ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, who opposes it. By leaking it “he scuttled it,” said the Beirut-based analysts and Joshua Landis, an American analyst based in Damascus, writing in his weblog. In a speech in London, Bolton said that if Syria is involved in the Hariri murder the Americans will deal with it “very seriously.”

“The military option is talk at this point but could quickly turn into reality if Syria is implicated in the Mehlis report,” said Walker. “If it's not implicated, you have to go to the drawing board. But we will certainly continue to put pressure on Syria over the border issue.” “The collapse of the regime, if it were to happen, would be dangerous to the region,” said Jouejati. He added, “The only opposition group in Syria that would be able to mobilize the street is the Muslim Brotherhood, a political party, which albeit banned, has an ideology rooted in the local culture.”

“If Washington wants a regime change it has to weigh the consequences. If that were to happen, Israel would have the Muslim Brotherhood as its northern neighbor. And what Murhaf Jouejati says to that is: 'good luck.'”

Herb Keinon of the Jerusalem Post has a story in the same issue entitled: Israel Wants Assad "Bloodied not Beaten." He writes that a senior Israeli diplomatic official said that Israel

"is not interested in seeing Syrian president Bashar Assad's regime fall." The official said Israel was concerned that if Assad were to be toppled as a result of international isolation and pressure, this could unleash a civil war and the type o chaos similar to that now taking place in Iraq, which could spill over to Israel's northern border.

"Infighting, chaos and civil war in Syria, like that taking place in Iraq, is not necessarily beneficial to Israel," the official said. On the other hand, the official said Assad's collapse could lead to the emergence of a pro-Western and Western-backed leader in the same mold as Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas who would likely have difficulty asserting his authority.

In this case, the official said, Israel might then come under considerable international pressure to "prop him up" by entering into negotiations with him over the Golan Heights. "An Abu Mazen on Israel's northern...
Ma'ariv (p. B2) by Jacky Hugi
Director of Military Intelligence Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi (Farkash) is not hurrying to eulogize the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

In an interview to Ma'ariv's holiday supplement, the director of Military Intelligence reveals that figures in the Alawite family that rules Damascus are opposed to Assad's steps, and fear that his policies could ultimately cause [them] to lose their hold on power. But he believes that this will apparently not happen in the near future.

Q: Aren't the American threats rocking Assad's seat?

"I think that he understands this."

Q: His seat is wobbling?

"The wobbling has not reached a situation where Assad is close to losing his seat."

Q: Is it an Israeli interest to have a strong Bashar Assad?

"I don't know. I think that this is something that policymakers should say."

Q: I am asking you as an analyst.

"A link between the global Jihad and the Sunnis, who are 70 percent of the population in Syria, is not a positive trend for the Israelis. On the other hand, a leader who is too weak, and harbors terrorist headquarters in Damascus and provides backing to Hizbullah, encourages this terrorism."

Q: Without American pressure on Syria on the topic of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad headquarters in Damascus, there is not much Israel can do. The Air Force can strike in Syria again, but that is playing with fire.

"The campaign is not only military. The strike at Ein Saheb (a training base on Syrian soil that was bombed two years ago-JH) hit a camp belonging to Jibril, where Hamas and Hizbullah operatives also train, but it was more of a message than a strike. I think we are not attacking the Syrians wildly. The policy we are conducting is quite correct. It makes use of pressure in all kinds of directions, while Israel is not at the forefront. I think that is correct."

Pressure on the Iraqi border

These are very sensitive days in the Syrian-Lebanese arena. On Friday, the Lebanese government is scheduled to receive the UN investigation report in the Hariri assassination affair. The threads lead to Damascus.

Maj. Gen. Zeevi believes that Hizbullah was also a partner to the plot, and offers a first comment by a senior intelligence official on the organization's part in the assassination that rocked the world.

Q: Is Assad behind Hariri's assassination? "We don't know for sure. But we suspect, from all the information in our hands, that Syria is behind the assassination, possibly also with the involvement of Hizbullah members and Iran. Apparently the person who led to this assassination, ultimately, was someone in Syria, not far from Bashar."

Q: With his knowledge? "I can't be definite on this issue. But in such regimes, as a rule, things do not happen by accident. The execution itself may have used a Hizbullah infrastructure in order to carry out this assassination."

The conversation in Zeevi's office was held before the mysterious death of interior minister Ghazi Kanaan, former director of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon. When we asked to send Zeevi questions on the matter in order to update the interview, the IDF firmly refused, apparently at the request of the Americans, to permit him to comment on the latest developments in Damascus.

But Kanaan's death is only one of the problems that the Syrian president currently faces.

"Assad's most significant challenge is not the Kurdish minority and the demonstrations that took place on this matter, but rather the Muslim Brotherhood, which is taking on a Wahabi (messianic) tinge. If he were asked what is most painful to him, it is the stability of his regime and how he can lower the pressure on the Iraqi border, solve the Lebanese problem properly and deal with the Muslim Brotherhood, global Jihad, al-Qaida."

Q: What kind of aid is Syria extending to Iraq? The Syrians say that they have 600 kilometers of border to seal, and it is impossible.

"If the Syrians want to seal a border, they seal it. That is what happened with Turkey, with Jordan, and also on the Lebanese border. Assad is not sealing the Iraqi border hermetically. He is allowing smuggling of explosive charges manufactured in Lebanon into Iraq."

Q: In other words, on one hand he suffers from extremist Islam, on the other hand he encourages it.

"That is his dilemma. Islam is starting to prove to Assad that if he begins to seal the borders too tightly, at the request of the US, he will be in its sights. This is a dilemma that he will have to confront and decide on, and in my opinion he will not make this decision. Whether to seal the border completely and then be subject to internal Jihad and a continuation of Islamic terrorism, or to refuse-and reach a situation where the Americans might attack him within Syria."

Q: Is that a reasonable option?

"I see an option for American-British military involvement in the end, if he does not seal the border. The Americans will not agree for any length of time to have the infiltrations continue from the Syrian border into Iraq."

The director of Military Intelligence assesses that behind Assad's insistence not to bend before the world powers, there are also ideological considerations.

"In his worldview, if he were locked in a closed and isolated room, he would say that he is in favor of the success of Abu Musab Zarqawi," says Zeevi. "Ideologically, he would like the Americans to disappear from here."
Rice Enlists European Support on Syria. Over three days, Rice held talks with the leaders of France, Russia and Britain -- all holders of vetoes at the U.N. Security Council - on how to make the two U.S. foes meet U.N. security demands.

Her spokesman Sean McCormack said the countries were "unified" on Syria but they were "at a different stage" with Iran.

Farrah Hassen has a good overview of events in Syria in the October 14 issue of CounterPunch entitled, "A Somber Ramadan in Syria."


At 10/17/2005 01:32:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

“I don't think anything could topple the regime other than a full scale invasion,” Ambassador Edward Walker, former assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs and president of the Middle East Institute, a Washington, DC-based think tank, told The Jerusalem Post."

I am so sorry for the Syrian people, but it seems that they will have to bear the kleptocratic Baathi dictatorship for a lot of time. Don't despair! If Saddam is out, then any dictator can be ousted.

At 10/17/2005 02:51:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

Walker also adds "The military option is talk at this point but could quickly turn into reality if Syria is implicated in the Mehlis report. If it is not implicated, you have to go back to the drawing Board".
If Syria is not implicated?
I guess Norway is the next logical suspect!

At 10/17/2005 04:22:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

"If the Syrians want to seal a border, they seal it. That is what happened with Turkey, with Jordan, and also on the Lebanese border. Assad is not sealing the Iraqi border hermetically. He is allowing smuggling of explosive charges manufactured in Lebanon into Iraq."

This is an interesting claim. Is it true? Could you smuggle things from Syria toIraq under Saddam? If Syria can close the border on one side, why can't the US close it on the other side?

Can the Syrian on this blog provide us with info about this? What was the security level of the Syro-Iraqi border before the 2003? I know that the Lebanese border was never hermetically closed, and it's really shorter.

At 10/17/2005 09:22:00 PM, Blogger Suha said...

"If Syria can close the border on one side, why can't the US close it on the other side?"

That's a very good question, VP. From what I understand, Saudi Arabia is fully cooperating with the US on this issue and even they, with tons of money to spend, cannot seal the border completely.

More here:

That's only one study, however. Anyone know of others?

At 10/17/2005 10:05:00 PM, Blogger norman said...

If the US want Syria to close the boarder then they should force israel to withdrow from the Golan hights for a full peace treaty so Syria can justify taking most the Syrian army from the Golan hights deffending Damascus from Israel which is thirty miles from Damascus that will make about 100000 syrian soldsers available to help stabelize iraq by preventing infiltraters ,but i believe the US goverment lacks the politecal will to force peace even if tat will save american lives in Iraq.

At 10/17/2005 11:08:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

Why was Kanaan really eleminated? Was he a potential rival for Bashar or a declared rival? Was there a coup in preparation in Syria?

According to Courrier international, Khaddam and Shihabi are in Paris. Sorry if you can't understand French.

Après le suicide, la semaine dernière, du ministre de l'Intérieur Ghazi Kanaan, et en attendant le rapport de l'enquête internationale sur l'assassinat de Rafic Hariri, on apprend que l'ancien vice-président Abdelhalim Khaddam et l'ancien chef d'état-major de l'armée Hikmat Chehabi se trouvent en France.


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