Friday, August 18, 2006

Jews Divided over Assad's Offer of Land for Peace

Bitter Lemons International has posted four articles under the title: Syria and the Lebanon conflict (August 17, 2006). These articles along with two others linked below are important in appreciating the debate being carried out by Jews in Israel and the US over whether to engage Bashar al-Asad and test his offer of land for peace. The Lebanon war has served to sharpen Syria's position on settling its conflict with Israel. Imad Mustapha, Syria's ambassador in Washington, and President Bashar al-Assad, in his speech two days ago, have been hammering home Syria's position: land for peace. Syria wants the Golan back and offers peace and an end to the ceaseless conflict in the region. This position is no different than the Saudi Abdullah plan offered in 2002, which promised peace with all 22 Arab states in exchange for Israel giving up the land it occupied in the 1967 War with only slight and negotiated modifications.

Don't hand Syria a political victory
David Schenker

Given Syria's continued unhelpful behavior on Lebanon, Gaza and Iraq, the international community should not presently be pursuing a dialogue with Damascus.
Try secret diplomacy
Itamar Rabinovich
It is possible, if not likely, that Syria might seek the political and diplomatic dividends of such a dialogue without actually disengaging from Iran. If the US and Israel wish to establish, as they should, whether Syria could become a genuine partner in stabilizing Lebanon, the best course open to them is secret diplomacy.
Russia reestablishes the Damascus connection
Konstantin Eggert
The Kremlin has decided to take Syria under its wing and use it to stage a "comeback" to Middle East politics.
Countdown to Armageddon
Ammar Abdulhamid
The prospect of a wider regional war is something the Iranian and Syrian regimes actually welcome.

To these articles should be added:

A Cease-Fire Reality: Dealing With Syria
Dennis Ross
Washington Post
Thursday, August 17, 2006; Page A25

The Bush administration, which has expressed an interest in weaning Syria away from Iran, won't be able to do that without talking to the Syrians. And it won't be able to do it by continuing to make threats that have no consequences. It will not be enough to continue saying, "The Syrians know what they need to do."

The United States must reinforce a tough E.U. message with one of its own to Assad, namely this: We are prepared to implement a range of sanctions, including the Syrian Accountability Act and executive orders that would make it difficult for companies and financial institutions that do business in Syria to conduct business in the United States.

This would have the potential of choking off European, Asian (and even Arab) countries and businesses from having any commercial or investment relations with Syria -- and it could be devastating for an already weak economy. That's a lever that should be deployed to build the Syrian interest in cooperating.

No doubt the Syrians would want to know what they'd get from such cooperation. They should be told that the page can be turned in our relations, that economic benefits could be forthcoming, and that even a resumption of the peace process between Syria and Israel on the Golan Heights could be in the offing. None of these things can be available if Syria is not prepared to cut off Hezbollah and Hamas.

This editorial in the Forward (Aug 18) , "Time to change the Tune," is wiser than Ross's. Ross still believes the US can creditably threaten regime change in Damascus and find supporters for such a policy in Europe and the Arab World.

Israelis rejected the Saudi plan back in 2002 as demanding too much from them. At this point, given a choice between the Fahd plan and the prospect of Iranian regional dominance, the Fahd plan is looking better and better, officials say privately.

There are a few wild cards in the scenario. One of them is Syria. As long as it remains tied to Iran and Hezbollah, there may be no way to neutralize the terrorist militia, a basic Israeli condition for any deal. Nor can the Fahd plan be completed with Syria, a key Arab state, holding out. This week’s “victory” speech by the Syrian president, Bashar Assad, set an alarmingly shrill tone, promising continued support for Hezbollah and even threatening military action on the Golan Heights, something Damascus has avoided for 33 years. Tucked within Assad’s speech, though, was a very different message: a call to Israel, repeated several times, to “turn toward peace” and so avoid defeat. Assad may have been reading from the playbook used by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in the early 1970s: Threaten fire and brimstone, claim you’ve redeemed your honor through military victory, then open a quiet channel to talk peace.

And that raises the second wild card: Are Israelis ready to join? The answer isn’t simple. Defense Minister Amir Peretz, the Labor Party leader, opened the debate this week with a speech urging Israel to “renew our dialogue with the Palestinians” and to “create the conditions for dialogue with Syria.” “Every war creates an opportunity for a new political process,” he said.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of the Kadima party said much the same thing the same day. Last week’s unanimous United Nations Security Council resolution, with its clear blaming of Hezbollah and refusal to condemn Israel, creates “a window of opportunity,” she said.

For now, the main roadblock is Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Whether out of mistrust of Arab intentions, emotional attachment to the settlements or fear of political retribution from the right, he is rejecting talk of a Syrian opening or a renewed Fahd plan. Aides say he’s not ready to jump in.

A plan for easing into regional dialogue more gently was offered this week by Yossi Beilin, leader of the left-wing Meretz party and architect of the 1993 Oslo Accords. Beilin is calling for a reconvening of the Madrid Conference, an all-party Middle East roundtable convened in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush. Summoned in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War, the conference brought all the main Middle East players around a single table and then broke up into working committees, some of which continue to stumble along, at least on paper. In Beilin’s view, calling a conference like that would let the parties sit together without committing themselves to a predetermined result. They could simply say that Uncle Sam made them come.

And that raises the third wild card: whether the current President Bush is willing and able to do what has to be done. Right now he’s torn between the pragmatists in his administration, who favor dialogue, and the ideologues, who insist on seeing the world in blacks and whites and are willing to keep fighting to the last Israeli. Bush’s own instincts are with the ideologues, though he’s shown himself capable of acting pragmatically when he sees the need.

That is the challenge for Israel’s friends right now. Bush has been convinced by self-appointed spokesmen for Israel and the Jewish community that endless war is in Israel’s interest. He needs to hear in no uncertain terms that Israel is ready for dialogue, that the alternative — endless jihad — is unthinkable. Now is time to change the tune.


At 8/18/2006 03:19:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

Just a small correction on your first paragraph. It was Prince Abdullah’s peace initiative and not Fahed’s. King Fahed had been a vegetable long before 2002. Or as my (Saudi) girlfriend used to call him “Al-Muhanat” (in English The-Mummified.)

At 8/18/2006 04:38:00 AM, Blogger t_desco said...

"True Facts",

why do you keep posting Al-Seyassah pieces without ever naming the source? Are you too embarrassed? Is it because you know that they are crap?


I think you are being too pessimistic when you say that "HA & Co. lost big politically". The battle has only just begun and its outcome is yet unclear.

The question of Hizbullah's arms needed to be addressed anyway. Hizbullah is now able to make a very good case for why they should be integrated into a national defense strategy. In my view, the Lebanese army being deployed in the south of the country does not constitute a problem as long as they are part of such a national defense strategy (and get rid of any "tea serving elements"...).

There is a chance that Annan will declare that the Shebaa Farms are Lebanese. This would certainly be a mayor step forward, even if it does not mean that Israel will directly hand them over to Lebanon.
Secondly, there is now a chance that the problem of Lebanese prisoners in Israel will be addressed.
Once these two problems are solved, there is no further need for offensive operations anyway.

I am much more worried about the deployment of foreign troops in and around the country because it clearly interferes with the sovereignty of Lebanon. Instead of strengthening Lebanese democracy, foreign governments may be tempted to to block any move towards a more just political system because it would necessarily give more power to the Shi'ite population.

Ammar Abdulhamid seems to have lost it. If Syria wanted Har Megiddo instead of the Golan, why didn't it enter the war in Lebanon in the first place? This doesn't make any sense at all.

By contrast, the editorial in the Forward is absolutely correct in its observation:

"Tucked within Assad’s speech, though, was a very different message: a call to Israel, repeated several times, to “turn toward peace” and so avoid defeat."

I wonder how the German FM could have missed that. Lost in translation? Volker Perthes, what were you doing...?

At 8/18/2006 05:35:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

“The Lebanese army being deployed in the south of the country does not constitute a problem as long as they are part of such a national defense strategy”

But they wont be. March 14 and sponsors do not want a unified armed front that HA is a partner in. And in a logistical sense it will be very unrealistic and dysfunctional for two separate military entities with two separate commands to operate as one.

As for the tucked messages in the president’s speech I ask you what’s new? We have been calling for the same thing for years now. So what are we offering in return for the Golan? Peace??? They said you can keep your peace and we can keep the Golan so what else is on the table? Reigning down HA is definitely not worth the Golan in Israeli eyes anyways it’s a “Lebanese” problem now. In simpler terms, neither the EU nor the US needs Syria to have a fair resolution to their problems. You call me pessimistic and that is probably true but I also believe reality is screaming pessimism.

At 8/18/2006 06:43:00 AM, Blogger t_desco said...

You are of course correct in saying that "March 14 and sponsors do not want a unified armed front", but there are already calls for a national unity government (What now for Hizbullah?, Al-Ahram Weekly), and perhaps such a government would adopt a more reasonable strategy.

Yes, combining an army and a guerilla force requires some creative thinking, but on the other hand it is clear that the Lebanese army will never be a match for the IDF and that only a guerilla strategy offers some hope of success.

As'ad AbuKhalil made one very important observation some days ago:

"There is a massive book by Kenneth Pollack titled "Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness, 1948-1991." ...There are many things that I disagree with in the book ... , but there is an important point that Pollack makes. He talks about how Arab military units are not permitted to take the initiative, and Arab regimes--for political reason and for reasons of insecurity--centralized the military decisions, even at the smallest and most lowest levels of combat. This was a great disadvantage of Arab armies in their wars with Israel, and this was ALSO a great disadvantage of PLO's forces in Lebanon. ... It seems that Hizbullah military units are operating in small cells, and with no centralized command. It seems that these small units are given the powers--and they are people who are from the villages that they are defending--to be in charge of the battle."
As'ad AbuKhalil

This is why I am against simply integrating the resistance into the Lebanese army because it would mean repeating the same error. It would seem more reasonable for the army to learn from Hizbullah's strategy.

BTW, I had complained that Western media offered little analysis of Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah's speeches. Well, at least Al-Ahram has now an interesting article in English, including comments from Ghassan Ben-Jedo:

Revisiting Nasrallah
Al-Ahram Weekly

At 8/18/2006 06:59:00 AM, Blogger t_desco said...

Retired US generals, diplomats criticize Bush Middle East policy

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A group of former diplomats and retired generals called on President George W. Bush to open negotiations with Iran, warning that the use of military force would have catastrophic consequences for the region.

The open letter signed by 21 former senior officials comes amid growing criticism of US refusal to deal directly with Iran and Syria despite crises in Iraq and Lebanon.

"As former military leaders and foreign policy officials, we call on the Bush administration to engage immediately in direct talks with the government of Iran without preconditions to help resolve the current crisis in the Middle East and settle differences over the Iranian nuclear program," the letter said.

"We strongly caution against any consideration of the use of military force against Iran. The current crises must be resolved through diplomacy, not military action," it said.

It warned that an attack on Iran would have disastrous consequences for the region and for US forces in Iraq, further inflaming Muslim hatred and violence.

Among the signers were retired general Joseph Hoar, a former commander of US forces in the Middle East, and Morton Halperin, a former State Department director of policy planning.

Halperin accused the Bush administration of stifling debate on Middle East policy "by accusing anybody that disagrees with it of being disloyal or somehow helping the terrorists."

"This administration by refusing to talk to the Syrians, to the Iranians, to the North Koreans has in my view jeopardized our national security," he said in a teleconference with reporters.

At 8/18/2006 08:37:00 AM, Blogger majedkhaldoon said...

the strong resistance by HA during the recent fight speaks for re-arming HA with better and more weapons, not disarming them,
the lebanese army is not going to the south to protect Isreal,it is to protect HA from the UNIFIL forces that are to be sent there.
Nasrallah has not spoken yet,he has a party,and military force, Saad Hariri has no party nor a force,he has money ,and his fathers world leaders friendship,the Sunni in Lebanon may support HA.we need new election in Lebanon,and hew goverment.

At 8/18/2006 09:28:00 AM, Blogger True Facts said...

Don't be too presumptuous. Definitely, I don't think "al-Seyassah" is crap as you say. I think it is one of the most accurate sources of information in the Middle East.

At 8/18/2006 10:44:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

thats a funny one True Facts or should i say JAM ;)

At 8/18/2006 11:48:00 AM, Blogger Eric said...


I came to the same conclusion, the LA as constituted cannot offer force-on-force to Tsahal, however, it can offer force-on-force to Tsahal if it modifies operationally to resemble a no-target, decentralized, defense-in-depth, light infantry, that is, if it "becomes" the IRML, rather than the other way around.

At 8/18/2006 03:04:00 PM, Blogger majedkhaldoon said...

Mr. Hasanain Haykal,just strongly condemn Mubarak fo his statement about Lebanon,when he said he is not going to fight for Lebanon

At 8/19/2006 12:29:00 AM, Blogger qunfuz said...

I really respect Ammar AbdulHamid for his Tharwa project and for his work for human rights in Syria. But it seems contradictory when people like Ammar write articles describing Syrian support for Hizbullah or for the Aqsa intifada or for nationalist (not Qaida) elements of the Iraqi resistance as 'radical'. In a Syrian context these positions are not radical at all. If there were democracy in Syria, the people would vote overwhelmingly for these positions. Syrians are nationalists, and they naturally reject the US/Zionist narrative of 'radicalism' or 'terrorism' or whatever. Regaining the Golan, its crucial water resources and the national pride attached to it, is a national priority.
What the regime does wrong is justify its dictatorship and stagnation by pointing to its nationalist positions. Nationalist positions are entirely compatible with democratic reform. In fact, stagnation, corruption and the crushing of civil society make it more difficult to achieve nationalist aims. Any opposition that one day will be able to gain the support of the Syrian people must show that it is more in tune with nationalist aspirations than the present regime. Ammar hasn't understood this, it seems.

At 8/31/2006 06:03:00 PM, Blogger Ameen Always said...



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