Wednesday, August 30, 2006

"What do Sunnis intend for Alawis following Regime change?" by Khudr

I received this article by an old friend who has posted on Syria Comment before: Asad's Alawi Dilemma. His present article is remarkable for its honest and direct approach to Syria's essential sectarian problem. He wrote:

Dear Joshua,

I wrote the attached article in poor English full of grammatical mistakes but I hope you can publish it on your website under a pseudonym, such as "Syrian in the far east," or "Khudr", or whatever you like.

Many people read your blog and comment about it in their blogs or sites, which makes the chance that this will find a proper readership high. Many Syrian expatriate intellectuals will also discuss it on other sites, at least the English language forums. The subject is too sensitive in Arabic, alas.

The subject is: What do Sunnis intend for Alawis following regime change? I ask this question in light of the general discussion now being carried out about the prospects for change in Syria.

In a time when everybody is emphasizing national unity, many would think that talking about issues between religious communities in Syria should be put aside or that they come from a backward Alawi fanatic. I am not a zealot, the only thing I am fanatical about is my hope, one I know will never come true, of the creation of a pure Syrian nationalism as strong and independent as Japanese or Korean Nationalism.

As an engineer, I find it absurd that Syrians believe they can solve a problem without first analyzing it and dealing with it head on.
What do Sunnis intend for Alawis following regime change?
by Khudr
Syria Comment
August 30, 2006

I came across an article in a blog in which the writer, a Syrian dissident, calls for a coup-d’etat by a Musharraf-like Syrian Army General. This is a reformulation of an earlier article by, Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, which was written when the West was casting about for a new leader for Syria during the Fall of 2005. The assumption is that this will move the stagnating economic, social, and political situation in Syria forward in the proper direction. Although the author is deliberately provocative, he raises an extremely important question in a country where almost all the rulers in its modern history, except two presidents, have risen to power through a coup-d’etat.

The article is also, unintentionally, asking a more fundamental question regarding the position of the Alawi sect on the issue of regime change. The Army General who is to take power should be an Alawi. This is because non-Alawi officers (mainly Sunni and Druze) have no leverage to lead mostly Alawi soldiers, sergeants and officers against the Alawi regime in power.

Although, rarely explicitly said, few people would argue that radical change from within can be achieved without the help of the Alawis themselves, excluding a full-fledged mass uprising or a foreign invasion. At the very least, this change has to be approved by Alawi Syrians if they have to stand aside watching the Alawi rule terminated.

The original question of the article (why a Syrian Army General would not do a coup d’etat?) can then be re-written as: Why the Alawi Syrians do not terminate Assad’s rule?

First, I think it is not an exaggeration if we say that many Alawis are not happy, to say the least, with the present regime. The reasons that are usually circulated are:

- Poverty (slum living Alawis around Damascus, poor villages and deteriorated unemployment rate in the costal area, etc, as examples); and
- Political imprisonment if they dare to challenge (Salah Jdeed and Communist Work Party in the past, and Aaref Dalilah in the present given as examples).

There are also other fundamental reasons that are rarely spoken of. I refer by “we” herein to a generation of Alawis borne after the beginning of the sixties, when the Baath took power and the Alawis assumed for the first time a dominant position in ruling Syria:

1. Most of us have not lived the unjust circumstances that our fathers and grand-fathers were subjected to by the Sunnis. As such, we do not have the same appreciation as our fathers of the Alawi rule that the late president Hafez Assad brought.

2. Hafez made huge improvement to our rural areas after they had been completely and utterly neglected by successive Syrian governments, whether Ottoman or Syrian. (A negligence that the Assad regime has sadly repeated in the Jazeera, the east-northern parts of Syria). However, these improvements have long been frozen, and for more than one generation, things have been heading backwards and not forwards.

In our fathers’ youth, coastal cities at the foot of the Costal Mountains, such as Tartous, Banias, Jabla, Lataqia, were transformed from purely Sunni communities to organized multi-sectarian modern cities (of course relatively speaking). But, our generation lived during times when those nice cities became slum-like dirty places due to corruption, bad-planning and patronage. We watched them become a playground for the cowboys of the new generation, the Assad clan in Kurdaha, sometimes called the Shabbiha.

3. Our fathers’ support for Hafez was driven largely by their resentment for the wealthy bourgeois that Hafez and his Baath claimed to oppose and which imbued their movement with much of its legitimacy. The followers of Rifa`at al-Assad used to recount to us in the seventies how they admired him because he would pick up a dirty used tuna can from the floor and drink tea from it. I wonder what those people think about him now that he uses golden utensils in his multi-million dollar villas in France and Spain? In the past, older Alawis honestly admired many Alawi figures in power. I still have not met a single person who has the slightest admiration for Rami or Asaf, for example. Unfortunately, we are watching how the Alawi rulers and many of their children, are becoming the very same thing they taught us to despise.

4. It is a fact that Alawis still control the important positions in the security systems in Syria. However, it is also a fact that this control serves only a small circle at the top of the pyramid and is becoming less and less beneficial or responsive to the poor members at the base.

5. Seeing that most of the Assad regime on top has made full-fledged alliances with Sunni families through marriage (like the president himself, Nassif’s daughters etc..), or through monopoly enterprises (like Maher, Bahjat Suleiman, Asaf, etc..), the regime has lost any claim to representing the Alawi sect or to defending its rights. The claims that Hafez and his generation used to convince our fathers to support him with have largely been lost.

6. The direction Syria is now heading does not look good. The last thing Alawis want is to have a group of people (composed of many sects, not only Alawis) leading Syria to a catastrophe, while everyone else in Syria accuses the Alawi sect of being responsible for it.

So why then don’t Alawis are do anything about the situation? Why are we silent? Why doesn’t an Alawi Army General carry out a coup?

A. Reasons general to all Syrian citizens:

1. The culture of fear has been deeply planted in every Syrian person regardless of their sect or race.

2. We have been deeply conditioned to mistrust and be suspicious of everyone, making it extremely hard for any two Syrians to work together, not to mention organize in a group. To see how deep this problem has become, look at how much the Syrians in the Diaspora are fragmented even when they are away from the regime and its influence. No two Syrian expatriates are able to organize a cultural gathering, not to mention a political party. No sooner does a new party emerge than its members, who are from the same sect and race and background, start to split apart into uncountable factions.

3. The external animosity of the United States paralyzes internal movements, organized to act against the regime, no matter how well intentioned they are. No one wants to risk a serious move against the regime while there is an enemy at the door. The United States has not shown any sings that is interested in improving Syria’s internal situation or helping Syria. What the U.S. is asking for clearly and loudly are changes in external policies, period. Most of those policies are not attractive to the Syrian opposition. The regime is popular on most of these issues, such as the occupation of Palestine, the Golan, or Iraq.

A coup-d’etat at this moment risks being labeled American-made even if it does not have the slightest connection to America.

The present sentiment in the Syrian street is anti-American. This means that any opposition that seeks support from the Syrian street will be anti-American and will be spurned by the West, as happened with Hamas. Any opposition that seeks external support will lose the street, as is the case with Khaddam. We are in a tricky situation; the regime understands this well and has exploited it well.

4. The organization of the Army and security forces was masterminded very cleverly by the late president Hafez Assad to prevent coups similar to those that rocked Syria during the three decades after Syrian independence. The Syrian forces capable of carry out a coup-d’etat (Army, Special Forces, Police Force, and Security Apparatuses) are all bulky and centralized with an extremely complicated command structure, purposefully designed to frustrate plotters. Lateral communication is absolutely forbidden between units; all communications between units must travel through a cumbersome vee, first ascending up the command structure to the top level of one unit before descending down again through the ranks of the other unit. Most importantly, the many units and departments have an interlocking command structure so that no entity is autonomous. They cannot act without several other departments knowing about it. For example, any air force unit is under the influence of aerial-security (Mukhabarat Jawiyyah), army-security (Mukhabarat Askariyyah), the morale-guidance headquarters (Idarat el Tawjih al-manawi), military police, air force headquarters, army general headquarters, the Republican Guards, and the Palace. Officers with loyalties to theses various branches of security are sprinkled liberally throughout the security forces. This command structure makes the military practically useless against foreign enemies because of its stultifying array of conflicting loyalties, but extremely effective at guaranteeing internal stability. Any attempt to rebel is quickly thwarted and can be dealt with on the spot.

5. Most Syrians, as unhappy as they are with the present regime, see no point in changing the regime without a solid alternative. The opposition has yet to present a clear vision for the future that would inspire people to risk the few joys of Syrian life that they have, security being at the top of the list. Vague and generalized talk about democracy and a better life are the only promises made by present regime-change advocates. They aren’t reassuring.

6. We have to admit that corruption has insinuated its deep into the souls of almost every Syrian. It is highly questionable that any form of regime change is going to achieve real economic or social change, without being preceded by a long process of grass roots reform and cultural revival.

We do have a corrupt leadership, but even an honest leadership would find it impossible to overcome the pervasive culture of bribery, disrespect for hard work, and indifference to public interest that is shared by state, and indeed, private sector employees. Most Syrians’ sense of virtue has become so crooked that fooling a customer is defined as cleverness.

Can change really be enforced from the top down? The regime changers avoid this thorny question, but it must be aired and debated. Are we willing to act, think, and work differently when the regime is changed?

B. Reasons specific to Alawi Syrian citizens:

The main reason that prevents Alawis from being active in supporting any regime change plans is their fear of the “other.” Those who propose regime change without explaining to us what the end of Alawi rule will mean for thousands of ordinary Alawis will get no where.

There are two sorts of “others” in Syria:
a. First are the Sunni religious and Kurdish opposition leaders who say bluntly and clearly: “We want to end the Alawi rule”.

b. Second is everyone else, who says shyly and elliptically: “The monopoly over top army and security posts by one sect should end.”

Not a single Syrian intellectual, political leader, or plain good-will writer, has ever dealt with the following fundamental question:

What exactly are your plans for the Alawis after we give up power?

Why do answers to this question have to be vague and general? What are your plans for the tens of thousands of Alawis who work in the army and other security apparatuses? What are your plans for the republican guard and the special forces that are staffed primarily by Alawis? Are you going to pay them pensions if you decide to disband their forces? Or will they be fired and dumped on the streets, humiliated and ostracized as the Americans did in Iraq? Do you have any idea of the impact on security such dismissals would engender? Will you be satisfied with a scenario by which these forces remain in their positions in exchange for their giving up political power?

What are your plans for the tens of thousands of Alawis who work as government employees in many non-functional establishments? Are you going to close these establishments? Do you have any idea of the social impact of such closures? Are you going to stop improvement projects in the costal area as all past Sunni governments have done since independence? Are you going to reverse confiscation laws to return land taken from Sunni landlords and distributed among tens of thousands of farmers?

Are you going to demand that security officials stand trial for their actions during the last 35 years? What is the highest rank that you are going to hold responsible? Are you going to ask for trials for past deeds? How about the present leading elite? Who exactly are the people you want to hold responsible? And If you do bring them to trial, are you going to hold the Sunni elite to the same standard? Will Sunni families who have benefited from the regime through monopolies and sweet-heart deals, such as the Nahhas family in Damascus and the Jood family in Latakia, be treated as Alawis are?

These questions should be answered not only by opposition intellectuals, but also by every non-Alawi Syrian. What do you want to do with us if we give you back political power? Are you really willing to live side by side with us, to cherish Syria’s diversity, and consider the past 40 years merely another failed episode in our long history of failed revolutions.

A change for the better must include all sectors of Syrian society, including Alawi Syrians. Because Alawis control all the main security forces of the state, regime change will not happen without assuring them that they too will have a place in Syria’s new future. Without such assurances, there will be no Alawi Musharif, nor will any other army General carry out a coup d’etat that will bring anything other than chaos to Syria.

Syrians refuse to speak openly and honestly about our most important challenges; so much is kept in the dark. But this is no time for “shatara” or dissembling. We must confront and discuss religious and communal issues directly and honestly. If Sunnis really want regime change, then they have to address the Alawi issue head on. Unless the answers to these questions are cleared up by all concerned forces and individuals, Alawis, no matter how dissatisfied and disappointed with the present leadership, will not entertain the idea of regime change; they will not relinquish the ramparts of power.

"Doubts whether Bush is good for Israel" by Jim Lobe

Doubts whether Bush is good for Israel
By Jim Lobe
Asia Times
Aug 31, 2006

.... In Washington, the traditional foreign-policy elite - from Republican realists such as former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage to Democratic internationalists such as former secretaries of state Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright - have publicly criticized Bush for rejecting talks with Damascus, at the very least to probe its willingness to rein in Hezbollah, if not loosen its alliance with Iran, during the past month's fighting.

"I can't for the life of me understand why we don't [talk with] Syria," said James Dobbins, an analyst at the RAND Corporation who, as a senior State Department official, coordinated the Bush administration's diplomacy during and immediately after the war in Afghanistan.

"I think this idea that we don't talk to our enemies simply has to be jettisoned," he told a forum at the New America Foundation (NAF) last week.

Dobbins' critique echoes that raised by a number of prominent Jewish figures, such as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, former ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke and Dennis Ross, the main US negotiator on Israeli-Palestinian issues under presidents George H W Bush and Bill Clinton, and organizations in recent weeks.

The most direct challenge surfaced on Tuesday when the Zionist group Americans for Peace Now sent a letter to President Bush calling on him to clarify whether his administration opposes renewed peace negotiations between Israel and Syria.

"Unfortunately, many in Israel and the US believe that your administration is standing in the way of renewed Israel-Syria contacts," the letter, which also called on Bush to "reject the thinking of those who view the Syrian regime as irredeemable", stated. "We urge you to clarify, publicly and expeditiously, that this is not the case."

While the administration is likely to dodge the question, its commitment to isolating Syria, particularly since the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, has never been in doubt.

Indeed, in the opening days of hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel, the White House not only reportedly rebuffed an appeal by Olmert himself for Washington to quietly approach Damascus about pressing Hezbollah to release two Israeli soldiers whose capture touched off the crisis, but also urged the Israeli prime minister, according to one account in the Jerusalem Post, to attack Syria directly.

"In a meeting with a very senior Israeli official, [Deputy National Security Adviser Elliot] Abrams indicated that Washington would have no objection if Israel chose to extend the war beyond to its other northern neighbor, leaving the interlocutor in no doubt that the intended target was Syria," a well-informed source, who received an account of the meeting from one of its participants, told Inter Press Service.

While Abrams was discreetly urging Israel to expand the war to Syria, his neo-conservative allies, some of whom, such as former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle and former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, are regarded as close to Vice President Dick Cheney, were more explicit, to the extent even of expressing disappointment over Israel's lack of aggressiveness or success in "getting the job done".

Cheney's own Middle East advisers, John Hannah and David Wurmser, have long favored "regime change" in Damascus and, according to the New York Times, argued forcefully - and successfully, with help from Abrams and pressure from the Israel lobby's leadership - against efforts by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to persuade Bush to open a channel to Syria in an effort to stop the recent fighting.

But Bush's adamant refusal to engage Damascus is precisely what has raised doubts in Israel about whether his policies are in the long-term or even in the immediate interests of the Jewish state.

Since the ceasefire, a growing number of former and current senior Israeli officials, including Olmert's defense, interior and foreign ministers, have called for talks with Damascus. And, while Olmert himself has rejected the idea for now, he has also abandoned his previous pre-condition for such talks - that Washington remove Syria from its terrorism list.

Of the officials, the two most important are both former Likud Party members - Interior Minister Avi Dichter, the former head of Israel's Shin Bet intelligence agency, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who reportedly enjoys a strong relationship with Rice and has appointed her former chief of staff, Yaakov Dayan, to explore possible ways to engage Syria.

Meanwhile, other prominent Israelis are asking even more basic questions about the regional strategy pursued by Bush and its consequences for Israel.

In a column published by the newspaper Ha'aretz, former foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami argued that, in the aftermath of the Lebanon war, which, in his view, had proved "the limits of [Israeli] power", a peace accord with Syria and the Palestinians had become "essential" for Israel, particularly in light of "the worrisome decline of the status of Israel's ally in this part of the world and beyond".

"US deterrence, and respect for the superpower, have been eroded unrecognizably," he wrote. "An exclusive pax Americana in the Middle East is no longer possible because not only is the US not an inspiration today, it does not instill fear."

Indeed, the widespread perception that Washington's influence in the region has fallen sharply as a result of both the war in Iraq and the Bush administration's stubborn refusal to engage its foes diplomatically has raised new questions about whether Bush and his neo-conservative advisers have actually made Israel less rather than more secure.

"The Bush administration at first avoided and then was unable to deliver the diplomatic agility that was called for, and that is bad news for Israel," wrote former Israeli peace negotiator Daniel Levy in this week's Forward. "The United States had no direct channels or leverage with key actors, and could not commit troops to any ceasefire-implementation force.

"The idea that current American policy advances Israeli security and national interests is thoroughly discredited - something that is now openly aired in the Israeli media, and raised, albeit in more discreet circles, by Israeli cabinet ministers," wrote Levy, who currently directs the NAF's and Century Foundation's Middle East initiative.

(Inter Press Service)

Also, see the letters sent out byFarid Ghadry posted by Ameen Always (in Arabic) One is entitled, "Why the Alawites Should Go Back to the Mountains." Another, "Damascus Will Remain the Umayyad Capital and Not the Capital of the Alawites." I understand these letters to be the beginning of a new campaign designed to convince the United States and Sunnis to embrace violent regime change in Syria. He has taken a page right out of the old Muslim Brotherhood handbook, accusing the Alawites of being non-Muslim and non-Arab in order to incite sectarian violence.

In his last English language note, he writes: "The United States... should concentrate on... plans for Assad's departure...."

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Should Syria and Israel Negotiate? - Syria Think Tank

Camille-Alexandre Otrakji has done it again at Syrian Think Tank. Four excellent articles on the question: Should Syria and Israel start peace negotiations now?

Interestingly, all come to a similar conclusion despite getting there is different ways. Each reveals a slightly different perspective. Must reads, all of them. Missing is the perspective of the neocons, but this perspective can be found in your local paper. Also worth reading is Katherine Zoepf's article on the Qubaysiat organization in Syria, which has had a number of good articles written on it, in particular by Ibrahim Hamidi a few months ago.

Ibrahim Hamidi Dar Alhayat

After the October War of 1973, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger conducted famous shuttle diplomacy between Damascus, Tel Aviv, and Cairo. This led to the disengagement agreement between Syria and Israel, setting buffer zones between the two warring countries, and establishing a no-peace, no-war relationship. Both parties have remarkably respected this relationship despite all the tension in the Middle East. Kissinger’s shuttle diploma......

Ammar Abdulhamid Tharwa Project

In order to answer this question in a meaningful manner, we should bear in mind that neither Syria nor Israel can actually plan such a major undertaking step without first consulting their respective allies and supporters, namely Iran and the United States. Moreover, we should not be oblivious here as the current regional context in which these talks are to be held, a namely: the ongoing investigation into the assassination for former Lebanese P......

Patrick Seale Syrian Think Tank

Recent indications would suggest that Israel – or at least some Israelis – are beginning to explore the possibility of restarting negotiations with Syria after a six-year interruption. The Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had appointed a senior official – Yaakov (Yaki) Dayan, formerly head of the diplomatic desk at the Ministry – as ‘project manager’ of possible future talks with Damascus. There have ......

Ghayth Armanazi Syrian Media Centre

Before the recent war in Lebanon, the idea of resuming peace talks between Syria and Israel seemed far-fetched. Nothing in the then prevailing regional geopolitical dynamics, nor in the rigidity of Washington’s approach to dealing with a demonised Syria , pointed to any appetite for revisiting the dust-encrusted dossier of the moribund Syrian-Israeli ‘peace track’. Within Israel the previous government of Ariel Sharon had cold-shouldered the c......

Monday, August 28, 2006

A Personal Memo - By EHSANI2

I have just returned from a three-week vacation to Syria. I must admit that I have struggled to think of something incisive to write about. What possible insight can I offer readers of this forum I thought? Given my personal interest in economic matters, it made sense for me to concentrate on this topic first. I will conclude my note with the inevitable discussion of non-economic issues as well. I warn the scores of regime supporters here: The truth is sometimes painful to hear.

One tends to often read statements like “Syrians” are behind Bashar and are keen to maintain the status quo. Others may offer a different picture by proclaiming that “Syrians” are very unhappy with the regime but are afraid to say so in public.

But which “Syrians” are we referring to here?

In the personal opinion of this writer, Syria is made up of two separate countries: Syria 1 which contains close to one million people and Syria 2 which contains the remaining 19 million.

Syria 1 is made up of the affluent, highly connected industrialists, merchants and very high Government officials. Given the high standard of living of this group, one would expect them to support the regime and the current status quo. While most may admit that that progress has been slow, they are quick to point that given the circumstances, the country is on the right track. They highlight their latest cell phones, home and office Internet connections as well as their brand new cars as irrefutable signs of the economic and social advances that the country has been experiencing as of late. My suspicion is that most readers of this forum fall in this group. My Syrian friends and I certainly do too. Seen from their prism, the Syrian economy seems prosperous judging by the superb outdoor dinners, number of servants, lovely homes, fancy cars, latest cell phones, rising land values, and monopolistic businesses.

Life could not be more different for the 19 million people of Syria 2. As I opined in the past, Syria’s Baath has caused enormous economic damage to this country. It is clear that this silent majority has suffered the brunt of this grave economic mismanagement. This is evident in this group’s salary levels. If they were lucky enough to have jobs, salaries of this group is likely to be around Syp 10,000 ($200) per month. Their average family size is 6-7 (four to five children). They all seem to feel that what they really needed was an extra $100 per month before things would be “fine”. Almost a year ago, the Government has stopped offering new jobs in its vast public sector. You now need a huge connection to land such a job. What was truly amazing to me was how valuable people considered a job with the Government. A stable income of $200 was the envy of those aspiring to find such positions. Taxi drivers were an interesting case to study. 90% of them do not own their vehicles but are hired to drive it for close to 8 hours a day. Asked how much they expected to make on a daily basis, the level of Syp 300 ($6.0) was often cited. When asked how many children they had to support with this salary, an average of five children always seemed to be the answer. This does not mean that members of Syria 2 do not move up the income ladder. Highly technical machine technicians cited to me figures approaching Syp 20,000 ($400). Private Bank employees (newly commissioned ones) expected closer to $500 a month. Our highly connected and very entrepreneurial area “Mukhtar” is able to draw in close to Syp 40,000 (he sells gas cylinders on the side). Though not statistically accurate, it is my observation that close to 19 million lives in this $200 to $400 per month world.

What can $200-$400 buy this group is the obvious next question. It is perhaps best to answer this by offering these anecdotes:

A close friend of mine has recently started a small chain of coffee shops (call it a Syrian Starbucks). I frequently visited it during the past 3 weeks. A double espresso was my usual order at a cost of Syp 150 ($3). Two such orders a day cost me what my taxi driver earned in 8 hours of driving in a boiling non-air-conditioned Iranian or Chinese-made vehicle. Remember that this had to cover his cost of shelter, food, medical bills, and school supplies for all 6-7 members of his family.

Eating out in Syria is relatively cheap. Before I left the country, my wife and I invited 10 of our best friends out for dinner. The food was amazing. The bill was Syp 8,000 ($160). Given what I would have paid for this overseas, I considered the outing an excellent value of money. For the record, my poor taxi driver will have to drive for 27 days to be able to afford this meal (his family can expect no money in the meantime).

I am sure that lots of readers are going to argue that every country has its haves and have-nots. So what is special about Syria they might ask?

What distinguishes Syria is how its middle class has been squashed by the horrific economic mismanagement by the country’s economic leadership. $6 a day for 6 people (average family size) is the unmistakable result of this catastrophic system.

Every time I asked how they could possibly get by with such low income, the answer was “We have gotten used to it”.

A note on politics:

Contrary to what many people on this forum think, most of the people that I spoke to seem to think that the Hariri investigation is a massive cloud that continues to hang over the regime’s leadership.

Another thing that struck me was the low confidence that most people have in the personality of their young President. Even his loyal supporters seem to admit that he lacks the charisma and purpose of his late foxy father.

As for the regime’s ability to hold on to power, I found absolutely no evidence to indicate a weakening in the regime’s grip. Internal dissent was nonexistent.

Why have the 19 million people decided to accept living in such conditions?

I think the following quote by Karl Marx can answer this question best:

“The great mass of the French nation is formed by the simple addition of homologous magnitudes, much as potatoes in a sack form a sack of potatoes.”


This visit to Syria has convinced me that the country’s economy is in a far worse position than currently believed. When Syria becomes a net oil importer by 2010, the current economic challenges will multiply. A very small minority of Syrians will continue to benefit from the current system and hence get even richer in the meantime. My own close friends are some of the richest people in the country. A number of them made hundreds of millions following the recent climb in land values. Money laundering was thought to be the main explanation behind the incredible advance in real estate. While it is easy to assume that Syria 1 is the reality of the situation, the truth is otherwise.

The vast majority of the population is likely to suffer even further going forward. Though inconceivable, their children may fare even worse than their horrific $6 payday. The population explosion has resulted in scores of unemployed men walking its major cities. Those residing in the rural part of the country have fared even worse. Their decision to locate to the big cities has made things even worse. It is my conviction that this regime cannot reform fast enough to arrest the decline in its economy and the standards of living of its citizens. Bashar’s last interview with Dubai Television was striking. His admission of complete isolation from the other Arab leaders was rather shocking. It is my opinion that the Hariri investigation may unsettle this regime to the point where its survival beyond one more year could well be questioned. My friends in Syria 1 sure hope that I am wrong. The potatoes that make up Syria 2 are hopeless, powerless and confused. They have been squashed for 43 years now. They have learnt to accept their fate. They know no better. I have heard and read all the commentary that Syria has won the recent battle. Most Syrians on this forum and inside the country have rallied around their leader and the flag. This is to be expected in such times. This writer, on the other hand, sees things differently. He sees a country in decay. A majority that is deep in poverty. Soaring unemployment is unavoidable. Significantly falling standards of living is inevitable. This is the picture of Syria that most refuse to hear. Their nationalistic genes have blinded them to these obvious facts on the ground. Regrettably, our once proud nation is in a state of despair and decline.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

News Round UP (27 August 2006)

Hezbollah leader admits regret
27 Aug 2006: ITN

Shiekh Hassan Nasrallah has made a surprise admission about the capture of two Israeli soldiers. In a remarkable interview, he said if he had known the scale of the resulting war he would never have ordered the kidnappings.

Hezbollah is trying to negotiate a prisoner exchange with Israel for the safe return of the soldiers. Nasrallah's comments come ahead of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's visit to Lebanon.
Jesse Jackson says Syria backs prisoners' release: Washington Post
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad said: "We look kindly toward Reverend Jackson's mission and encourage it. He is someone who is concerned about the human dimension of crisis."

Jackson is heading a group of Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders on a humanitarian mission to the Middle East aimed at shoring up a cease-fire in Lebanon. He will visit Lebanon and Israel next.

Jackson used his clout as a non-establishment politician to negotiate the release of several U.S. prisoners abroad in the 1980s and 1990s. He secured the freedom of an American Navy pilot held by Syria in 1983 after meeting with the late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad.
Tom Lantos, one of Israel's leading congressional supporters, said in Israel on Sunday he would block aid President George W. Bush promised Lebanon and free the funds only when Beirut agreed to the deployment of international troops on the border with Syria.
"The international community must use all our available means to stiffen Lebanon's spine and to convince the government of Lebanon to have the new UNIFIL troops on the Syrian border in adequate numbers," said Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives' International Relations Committee.

Lantos said he was putting a legislative hold on Bush's proposal to provide $230 million (121.8 million pounds) in aid for Lebanon in the aftermath of the 34-day war between Israel and Lebanese Hizbollah guerrillas.
Syria is ready to resume the peace process with Israel whenever the Jewish state is ready, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Meqdad said on Sunday.
"When Israel, supported by the US, is ready to resume the peace process on the basis (of international resolutions), Syria will be constantly ready to achieve results that restore the Arabs' legitimate rights, notably a just peace" in the region, Meqdad said.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Bashar and Siniora Both Come Out Winners in the Post War Diplomacy

Syria seems to have maneuvered well in the post war wrangle over Lebanon. Lebanon's PM Siniora says foreign peace keeping troops will not police the border with Syria. Chirac seems to have gotten guarantees from Israel that it will stop bombing Lebanon. He also says that on 6,000 and not 15,000 foreign troops are needed to police Lebanon. With no policing of the Syrian border and fewer foreign troops in Lebanon, Syria has diminished the likelihood that it will be challenged by Washington in the UN or Israel in the air.

Siniora has wisely decided that foreigners should not decide Lebanon's future and that only some form of political deal between the March 14 crowd and Hizbullah will pave a way out of the terrible situation Lebanon finds itself in as the man in the middle. He has effectively elbowed both Syria and Israel aside as much as he can in order to leave himself room to maneuver. He has done about as much as he can to preserve Lebanese sovereignty by playing all sides off against the other in Lebanon's interest.

US Blasts Syria on Lebanon Peacekeeping By David Gollust, 24 August 2006

The United States Thursday welcomed apparent progress in Europe toward fielding an upgraded U.N. peacekeeping force for Lebanon. At the same time, the State Department condemned as "preposterous" Syria's stand that the U.N. force should not be allowed to patrol its border with Lebanon.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of Israel told her Italian counterpart, Massimo D'Alema, yesterday that Israel will not end its current military blockade of Lebanon until an effective weapons embargo against Hezbollah is in place, Ha'aretz reported.

Syria has said it will oppose patrols of foreign troops to prevent arms smuggling along its border with Lebanon. President Assad said earlier this week that he would consider any deployment of foreign troops along the border "an act of aggression."

Prime Minister Siniora yesterday reiterated his unwillingness to confront Damascus. A diplomat familiar with the meeting between Mr. Siniora and U.N. representatives Vijay Nambiar and Terje Roed-Larsen earlier this week told The New York Sun that Mr. Siniora refrained from asking that foreign troops patrol the Syrian border.

"We want amiable relations with Syria and we are concerned about the border matter to prevent any infiltration into Lebanon," Mr. Siniora told France's TV5 yesterday. "We have deployed the Lebanese army and we have no intention of showing any animosity toward Syria."

Mr. Siniora said the force will not disarm Hezbollah. "It's clear that the Lebanese army will carry out this mission," he told an Italian newspaper, La Repubblica." The multinational force is not supposed to do that and should not bother itself with it. Hezbollah is a political party represented in the government and it agreed to the seven-point plan presented to the U.N. by the Lebanese government."

French President Jacques Chirac, whose diplomats helped draft the August 11 Security Council resolution that authorized up to 15,000 peacekeepers to deploy in Lebanon, said he was unsure how many troops were needed but that 15,000 was too many.

The number was "completely excessive", Chirac told a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Paris.

"It doesn't really make sense. So what is the right number, 4,000, 5,000 or 6,000? I don't know," he said.
More than 60 pct of Israelis want Olmert to quit: poll

An excellent summary of the wrangle going on in Israel over whether or not to engage Syria appears in the Jewish News: Calls for Talks With Syria Increase in U.S., Israel Olmert Says Not Now, Bush Also Seen as Being Opposed. The conclusion is that Israel will have to push for talks over US objections if it wants to plum the possibilities of peace with Syria, because Washington wants war. Here is the conclusion of the article.

“There is so much static that it would make more sense for Israel to find its own lines into the Syrians,” said Edward Walker, who has served as the American ambassador to both Israel and Egypt.

Theodore Kattouf, a former American ambassador to Syria, said the only way the United States would ever overcome its resistance is if Israel pushed hard. “Without the Israelis urging it, it’s not going to happen,” Kattouf said.

The tone in Israel has not been about moving forward, but rather on evaluating the military failures in Lebanon, said David Makovsky, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who has been in Israel for the past week.

“Right now Israel is traumatized and is looking inwards, not talking about diplomatic initiatives,” Makovsky said.

But Makovsky also said that given the lack of hope in negotiations with the Palestinians, the attention may return to Syria when the period of introspection is over.

“I don’t think anything is going to happen soon on Syria,” he said, “but I wouldn’t rule it out, in a way that was ruled out until very recently."


Russia blew American plans to sanction Iran out of the water by announcing that it will not support sanctions on Iran for the time being. Russia is finding a way back into the Middle East as the protector of the resurgent Shia bloc. It is a powerful combination at a time when the US can only pressure local states through multilateral action in the UN. From French pronouncements, it looks as if the Europeans are delighted to have Russia run interference for them with Washington. America's stand on Lebanon disgusted most European leaders. They don't trust the US to do the right thing with its leading role in the UN. France undercut US plans in Lebanon. Now Russia will take the heat for Karate chopping Washington on Iran.

Russia ruled out on Friday any discussion for now of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme, saying these had proved ineffective internationally in the past and there was still room for diplomacy.

"I know of no instances in world practice and previous experience in which sanctions have achieved their aim and proved effective," Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said.

"Moreover, I believe that the question is not so serious at the moment for the U.N. Security Council or the group of six to consider any introduction of sanctions. Russia stands for further political and diplomatic efforts to settle the issue."
Gareth Porter, writing in Asia Times, deftly explains how Washington has undermined European efforts to engage Iran and to head off the confrontation that has now emerged between Iran and Washington over its nuclear plans. The Europeans wanted Washington to promise that it would not attack Iran in exchange for rolling back its nuclear program. Washington refused.

Rice denied on Fox News on May 21 that the US was being "asked about security guarantees", but that was deliberately misleading. As a European diplomat explained to Reuters on May 20, the only reason the Europeans had not used the term "security guarantees" in their draft was that "Washington is against giving Iran assurances that it will not be attacked".

Thursday, August 24, 2006

News Round UP (24 August 2006)

Bitter Lemons has another excellent round table on Lebanon and Hizbullah:

Whose Lebanon will it now be? Joseph Bahout
A symptom of the Lebanese system Ferry Biederman
Hizballah: where to go from here Oussama Safa
Force will not disarm Hizballah Rhonda Roumani

All four articles come to similar conclusions. They argue that the March 14 coalition must accommodate Hizbullah and struggle for a political compromise, by offering the Shiites a greater political role in the central government, either by renegotiating Taif (Biederman) or by offering them more cabinet positions (Safa). All insist that it cannot be disarmed by force and urge the international community no to force the government into a corner on this issue.

Bahout very skillfully describes the opposing projects of the March 14 movement and Hizbullah. He argues that the expulsion of Syria, which contained and balanced the aspirations of both groups, followed by the imposition of UN resolution 1559, demanding Hizbullah's demilitarization, forced the group on the defensive and drove it to reassert itself by kidnapping the Israeli soldiers. Bahout argues that Hizbullah did not carry out a "coup" as some have argued, but that "If Hizballah is not to become a state within a state or even the state itself, it will still have the ambition--some would say the right--to implant its own definition of Lebanese statehood and the new "Lebanonism". In such a venture, in which many Lebanese will have to learn to accommodate those they consider newcomers."

Another excellent article on Hizbullah is: Iran, the Vatican of Shi‘ism? Roschanack Shaery-Eisenlohr.

Roschanack deftly argues that Hizbullah is not a creature of Iran, as some have argued. She explains how it has defied Iran on a number of issues, by asserting its Lebanese and Arab identity in the face of Iranian efforts to dominate its cultural and spiritual agenda.

Firas Mikdad of the Eurasian Group helps explain what the French think they are doing in Lebanon:

24 August, 2006

French President Jacques Chirac will likely reverse course and announce a significant troop contribution to UN Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNFIL), possibly a battalion of more than 2000 French troops. The expected announcement will reinforce a fragile ceasefire and persuade other European countries to follow suit. On the other hand, Syria's 23 August threat to blockade Lebanon should UN forces deploy on the Lebanese-Syrian border is unlikely to materialize since Lebanon is not expected to sanction such a deployment.

President Chirac's is expected to put an end to differences between the French Foreign and Defense Ministries on the deployment of troops by announcing France's contribution of additional forces later today. Despite concerns voiced by French Defense officials about troop safety, Gaullist Chirac favors taking the risk in order bolster France's longstanding influence in Lebanon rather than surrendering force leadership to Italy. His expected decision was probably made easier by Israeli assurances against renewed hostilities and an amendment that now permits UN forces to engage Hizbullah if provoked.

France's expected announcement will likely bolster the fragile ceasefire and prompt hesitant European countries to step up their contribution. It will also help the UN meet its target of having 3,500 peacekeepers in place by 2 September, 6,500 by October, and 15,000 by yearend. That will then set the stage for a visit by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to the region next week, followed by the start of negotiations on a possible second UN resolution on an exchange of prisoner and the status of the disputed Sheba'a Farms by mid-September.

Despite Israeli demands however, UN forces are unlikely to take up positions on the Lebanese-Syrian border. UN resolution 1701 leaves the issue vague enough for Lebanon to deploy its own forces instead, thereby averting a confrontation with Hizbullah and Syria's threat to close all border crossing. Such an unlikely move would have a chocking effect on the Lebanese economy, preventing the great majority of Lebanese exports from reaching their markets in Arab Gulf countries.

Firas Maksad
Associate, Middle East & Africa
Eurasia Group
1101 30th Street NW, Suite 100B
Washington, D.C. 20007
Syria bars UN patrols on Lebanon border
Agence France-Presse, The Associated Press
Published: August 23, 2006
The deployment of international troops along the Lebanon-Syria border would be unacceptable, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria was quoted as saying Wednesday.

"This is an infringement on Lebanese sovereignty and a hostile position," Dubai Television quoted him as saying in an interview without showing video in advance of its airing.

Assad also urged the Lebanese government to adhere to its responsibilities and not embark on anything that could sabotage relations with Syria.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Tuesday that Israel had no plans to lift its air and sea blockade on Lebanon until an international peacekeeping force took up positions along the Syrian border and at Beirut's airport.

Foreign Minister Philippe Douste- Blazy of France said again Wednesday that Israel must end its sea and air blockade of Lebanon.

The blockade "cannot continue," Douste-Blazy told France 2 Television. "If Lebanon is to reconstruct, if it is going to recover economically, this blockade must be lifted."

He also said that the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, or Unifil, should at the same time enforce a strict embargo on arms. Israel accuses Syria of sending weapons into Lebanon to arm Hezbollah.

"The reinforced Unifil will have two missions," the foreign minister said. "It will be there to permit the Lebanese Army to deploy, and to guarantee the embargo on arms delivery across all borders - I repeat, across all borders."

Israel imposed a total embargo on Lebanon shortly after the start of its offensive against Hezbollah on July 12 and has maintained it even after a UN- brokered cease-fire went into effect on Aug. 14.

While the resolution did not explicitly call on the force to police the Syrian frontier, it said it could help Lebanon, at its government's request, to secure its borders and prevent illegal weapons from entering the country.
How the Shebaa Farms will be demarcated is also of importance to the resolution of this problem. Sami Moubayed has an excellent article of the regions checkered past, which sheds light on who it belongs to. As Sami shows the disputed area is legally Syria's but it has always been owned, registered, and farmed by Lebanese. The French Mandate authorities were lazy. Sami suggest there is a real dispute and it should be Lebanese. Here is a continuation of the API article quoted above:
Assad also was quoted as rejecting the demarcation of his country's border with Lebanon in Shebaa Farms, a small sliver of land where the corners of Lebanon, Syria and Israel meet.

Lebanon claims the region as its own, but Israel has occupied the area since capturing it from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war.

Syria says the territory is Lebanese but has not provided official documents stating that, and the United Nations has said the territory is Syrian.

The Lebanese government has asked that Shebaa Farms be put under UN control until an official border with Syria could be delineated.

The UN-brokered cease-fire called for Secretary General Kofi Annan to come up with proposals to demarcate Lebanon's borders, especially in disputed areas such as Shebaa Farms, and to present those ideas to the Security Council within 30 days.
Italy refuses to send troops until Israelis stop shooting: Globe and Mail
Max Boot: Israel Should Hit Syria First: Los Angeles Times

Syrian Foreign Minister Waleed Muallem stressed in an interview with Kuwaiti daily al-Anbaa' Wednesday that "Israel tried military option in Lebanon lately, but the Lebanese national resistance inflicted on it a certain defeat."

"This is a lesson that Israel should acknowledge... The option of military force and arrogance is not useful, leaving no choice for Israel but that of a just peace settlement," Muallem added.

Syria has been trying to take credit for and advantage of Hezbollah's resistance during the 33 days of Israeli onslaught on Lebanon in reviving its peace discussions with Israel. The hostilities, which came to a halt Aug. 14 in line with Security Council Resolution 1701, claimed the lives of 1,200 people, mostly civilians. Three thousand people were injured, and the civilian infrastructure largely destroyed.

Muallem said the path for a just and comprehensive peace is based on returning Arab territories seized in 1967 and
"guaranteeing the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people according to international resolutions."

Muallem called on Arab countries to boost and warm up relations with Syria's non-Arab but Muslim ally, Iran, which he said adopts the Arabs' rightful cause against Israel.

"We do not see any contradiction between our Arab allegiance and alliance with Iran, which is a Muslim country with clear standing on the just causes of the Arabs."
The shaky cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah was tested Wednesday as the Israeli Army fired artillery into a disputed border region in response to what it said was an attack from inside Lebanon.
An Israeli soldier was killed Wednesday and three others were wounded by a land mine that Israel had planted in southern Lebanon, Israeli officials said.

Israel said its army had planted the minefield just inside Lebanon to prevent Hezbollah guerrillas from infiltrating. Lebanese security officials said the soldiers' tank drove over a mine, but Israel said it could not confirm that.

Another Israeli soldier was shot in the head during a military operation in the Lebanese border village of Taibe, Al Arabiya television reported. It did not specify the soldier's condition. Israel did not immediately comment on that report.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Asad says there is a "Big Chance for Peace"

This Elaph article explains that Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, after meeting with Asad yesterday, said that Syria's president believes there is a "big chance" for peace in the region and renewed talks for Golan.

دمشق: أعلن وزير الخارجية التركي عبد الله غول اليوم أن دمشق وأنقرة تريان "فرصة كبيرة" للسلام في الشرق الأوسط وذلك بعد لقائه الرئيس السوري بشار الاسد. وقال غول للصحافيين "كنت سعيدا جدا للاستماع الى الرئيس الاسد ونائبه (فاروق الشرع) يقولان ان هناك فرصة كبيرة لاعادة تحريك عملية السلام في المنطقة". واضاف ان تركيا "تؤمن في ذلك. نعتقد ان هناك فرصة لتحقيق السلام. على كل واحد ان يستخلص العبر من الاحداث الاخيرة"، في اشارة الى الهجوم الاسرائيلي على لبنان.

Asad will be speaking on Dubai TV this evening. Let's see if he repeats this phrase and how he tries to repair relations with Gulf rulers.

The 'New Middle East' Bush Is Resisting

By Saad Eddin Ibrahim
WASHINGTON POST Wednesday, August 23, 2006; A15

President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may be quite right about a new Middle East being born. In fact, their policies in support of the actions of their closest regional ally, Israel, have helped midwife the newborn. But it will not be exactly the baby they have longed for. For one thing, it will be neither secular nor friendly to the United States. For another, it is going to be a rough birth.

What is happening in the broader Middle East and North Africa can be seen as a boomerang effect that has been playing out slowly since the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001. In the immediate aftermath of those attacks, there was worldwide sympathy for the United States and support for its declared "war on terrorism," including the invasion of Afghanistan. Then the cynical exploitation of this universal goodwill by so-called neoconservatives to advance hegemonic designs was confirmed by the war in Iraq. The Bush administration's dishonest statements about "weapons of mass destruction" diminished whatever credibility the United States might have had as liberator, while disastrous mismanagement of Iraqi affairs after the invasion led to the squandering of a conventional military victory. The country slid into bloody sectarian violence, while official Washington stonewalled and refused to admit mistakes. No wonder the world has progressively turned against America.

Against this declining moral standing, President Bush made something of a comeback in the first year of his second term. He shifted his foreign policy rhetoric from a "war on terrorism" to a war of ideas and a struggle for liberty and democracy. Through much of 2005 it looked as if the Middle East might finally have its long-overdue spring of freedom. Lebanon forged a Cedar Revolution, triggered by the assassination of its popular former prime minister, Rafiq Hariri. Egypt held its first multi-candidate presidential election in 50 years. So did Palestine and Iraq, despite harsh conditions of occupation. Qatar and Bahrain in the Arabian Gulf continued their steady evolution into constitutional monarchies. Even Saudi Arabia held its first municipal elections.

But there was more. Hamas mobilized candidates and popular campaigns to win a plurality in Palestinian legislative elections and form a new government. Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt achieved similar electoral successes. And with these developments, a sudden chill fell over Washington and other Western capitals.

Instead of welcoming these particular elected officials into the newly emerging democratic fold, Washington began a cold war on Muslim democrats. Even the tepid pressure on autocratic allies of the United States to democratize in 2005 had all but disappeared by 2006. In fact, tottering Arab autocrats felt they had a new lease on life with the West conveniently cowed by an emerging Islamist political force.

Now the cold war on Islamists has escalated into a shooting war, first against Hamas in Gaza and then against Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel is perceived in the region, rightly or wrongly, to be an agent acting on behalf of U.S. interests. Some will admit that there was provocation for Israel to strike at Hamas and Hezbollah following the abduction of three soldiers and attacks on military and civilian targets. But destroying Lebanon with an overkill approach born of a desire for vengeance cannot be morally tolerated or politically justified -- and it will not work.

On July 30 Arab, Muslim and world outrage reached an unprecedented level with the Israeli bombing of a residential building in the Lebanese village of Qana, which killed dozens and wounded hundreds of civilians, most of them children. A similar massacre in Qana in 1996, which Arabs remember painfully well, proved to be the political undoing of then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres. It is too early to predict whether Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will survive Qana II and the recent war. But Hezbollah will survive, just as it has already outlasted five Israeli prime ministers and three American presidents.

Born in the thick of an earlier Israeli invasion, in 1982, Hezbollah is at once a resistance movement against foreign occupation, a social service provider for the needy of the rural south and the slum-dwellers of Beirut, and a model actor in Lebanese and Middle Eastern politics. Despite access to millions of dollars in resources from within and from regional allies Syria and Iran, its three successive leaders have projected an image of clean governance and a pious personal lifestyle.

In more than four weeks of fighting against the strongest military machine in the region, Hezbollah held its own and won the admiration of millions of Arabs and Muslims. People in the region have compared its steadfastness with the swift defeat of three large Arab armies in the Six-Day War of 1967. Hasan Nasrallah, its current leader, spoke several times to a wide regional audience through his own al-Manar network as well as the more popular al-Jazeera. Nasrallah has become a household name in my own country, Egypt.

According to the preliminary results of a recent public opinion survey of 1,700 Egyptians by the Cairo-based Ibn Khaldun Center, Hezbollah's action garnered 75 percent approval, and Nasrallah led a list of 30 regional public figures ranked by perceived importance. He appears on 82 percent of responses, followed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (73 percent), Khaled Meshal of Hamas (60 percent), Osama bin Laden (52 percent) and Mohammed Mahdi Akef of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood (45 percent).

The pattern here is clear, and it is Islamic. And among the few secular public figures who made it into the top 10 are Palestinian Marwan Barghouti (31 percent) and Egypt's Ayman Nour (29 percent), both of whom are prisoners of conscience in Israeli and Egyptian jails, respectively.

None of the current heads of Arab states made the list of the 10 most popular public figures. While subject to future fluctuations, these Egyptian findings suggest the direction in which the region is moving. The Arab people do not respect the ruling regimes, perceiving them to be autocratic, corrupt and inept. They are, at best, ambivalent about the fanatical Islamists of the bin Laden variety. More mainstream Islamists with broad support, developed civic dispositions and services to provide are the most likely actors in building a new Middle East. In fact, they are already doing so through the Justice and Development Party in Turkey, the similarly named PJD in Morocco, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Palestine and, yes, Hezbollah in Lebanon.

These groups, parties and movements are not inimical to democracy. They have accepted electoral systems and practiced electoral politics, probably too well for Washington's taste. Whether we like it or not, these are the facts. The rest of the Western world must come to grips with the new reality, even if the U.S. president and his secretary of state continue to reject the new offspring of their own policies.

The writer is an Egyptian democracy activist and a sociology professor at the American University in Cairo. He is currently a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, writing his prison memoirs.

Monday, August 21, 2006

"SYRIA VERSUS IRAN," by Alon Ben-Meir

Alon Ben-Meir
view author's other articles
August 21, 2006
American Chronical

The Bush administration’s strategy of treating Syria and Iran as if they are evil twins is fundamentally flawed. Although Damascus and Tehran have many common interests in addition to their grievances against the United States, they differ dramatically in their assessment of their regional roles and strategic objectives. To foster a more peaceful Middle East, Washington must take these into account and pursue a different strategy, one that seeks to further separate Syria’s interests from those of Iran.

Syria’s and Iran’s long-term alliance is based more on circumstance than common strategic interests. Although both fear the U.S. policy of regime change, Washington’s hostility provides a greater incentive for them to cooperate. While Syria has embraced Iran to avoid isolation, Iran has used Syria as an “assistant” in building Hezbollah into a tool to promote the Islamic revolution. Their common interest in Lebanon has also led Iran to embrace Syria’s Alawites ruling elite, viewed disfavorably by the Sunnis. In addition, both nations, which previously considered Saddam Hussein as a threat, are now concerned that the turmoil in Iraq could spill across their borders. Finally, whereas Israel is seen as a common enemy, both Tehran and Damascus boast few allies inside and outside the region, making each other’s support critical.

Even a cursory look at what both nations share suggests that their enduring alliance has little to do with strategic objectives. Iran, which espouses revolutionary Islam, finds itself, as a Shiite country, frequently at odds with the Arab world, and in fact criticizes Arab leaders for turning away from Islam. In addition, Iran's nuclear ambitions arise not only from the desire to neutralize Israel's presumed nuclear power, but because it wants to establish regional hegemony, including over Syria. With the rise of Hamas to power, made possible in no small measure through Iran’s direct support, Tehran is determined to take over the Palestinian agenda from the Arab states. And, with the election of the Shiites in Iraq, Iran sees an historic opportunity to consolidate the Shiite crescent, extending it, under its own leadership, from the Persian Gulf to Lebanon, thereby fulfilling an historic quest to dominate the region. Finally, Iran’s interest in Western financial incentives has dramatically diminished due to the rise in the price of oil, which has nearly quadrupled Iran’s earnings in the past few years allowing Tehran to amass close to $100 billion in foreign currency reserves.

In contrast, Syria, in its role of secular Arab nationalist state, has an entirely different agenda. This agenda is based on four main principles or goals. The first is for the United States to abandon its desire to change the regime in Damascus. The second is to ensure that the Golan must be returned to Syrian sovereignty in exchange for peace with Israel. The third is that the United States and Israel must recognize that Syria has a special relation with Lebanon. The fourth is to normalize relations with the United States because this would bring great benefits to Syria, such as the possibility of critically needed economic development.

Certainly the United States has many grievances against Syria, including that it offers refuge to several extreme terrorist groups, mostly Palestinians, sworn to undermine U.S. and Israeli regional interests. Among the other sticking points are Syria’s alleged support of the insurgency in Iraq, which contributes to the instability and bloodshed there, its being behind the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and its colluding with Iran to provide Hezbollah with arms to stir up trouble for Israel, all of which led to the recent war in Lebanon. These are obviously serious charges, and Damascus needs to address them in one form or another, but they pale compared to the mischievous and dangerous conduct of Iran toward the West and Israel in particular, which, if unchecked, could precipitate a major regional war involving weapons of mass destruction.

Nothing will more undermine Iran’s strategic interests and bring Tehran down to size than breaking the so-called Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis. Although separating Iran and Syria’s tactical interests is itself important, engaging Syria now could yield many other benefits. These include changing the dynamic of the Arab-Israeli peace process, disarming Hezbollah, stabilizing Lebanon, strengthening the Sunni camp against the growing power of the Shiites, diminishing Iran’s influence in the Mediterranean, weakening Hamas’ resolve and slowing the rising tide of Islamism everywhere. A change in American policy toward Syria is especially vital at this point because just about every initiative of the Bush administration seems to have backfired, creating an unprecedented Arab and Muslim backlash. Promoting democratic reform in the Middle East has failed, Iraq has plunged into civil war, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has worsened, the war in Lebanon has left half the country in ruins, and the anger and hatred of Arabs and Muslims toward the United States has reached new heights.

The future danger to the region will come from Iran, not Syria. Yes, Syria may have played a dangerous game by supporting Hezbollah’s reckless provocation of Israel. No one is saying that Syria is entitled to a special treatment. Rather, the suggestion is that the growing regional danger demands urgently a new strategy toward Syria that addresses Damascus’s special national requirements and in so doing distancing the Assad government from that of Iran with its own very different agenda. Such a strategy will call Syria to task while offering Damascus clear incentives to separate from Iran. Bullying Damascus will not lead to submission: it will simply force Syria to seek ever-closer relations with Iran and that’s where the greater danger lies.

News Round Up (Aug 21, 2006)

t_desco has brought this Le Figaro article by Georges Malbrunot to our attention: L'ombre du Hezbollah sur l'assassinat de Hariri: 19 aug. 2006. It claims that UN investigators are now searching for a member of Hizbullah, implicated in the Hariri murder. Malbrunot goes on to quote people close to the search to suggest that Syria remains the prime target, but investigators believe that Hizbullah may have had a role and that Syria distributed responsibilities among its allies in Lebanon. Hariri people were helpful with the leaks. It is hard to know how much of this is politically motivated.

Another article from Le Figaro is also of interest: Hubert Vedrine: 'We have to speak with Hamas and with Syria'. The former foreign minister of the Lionel Jospin government denounces "the fiasco" of the US policy in the Middle East. Vedrine explains what France has done wrong in Lebanon and what it has done right and where it should be headed in its relationship with Israel, the US, and Lebanon. He concludes:

I welcome what former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami has rightly written on this score: "war on Hezbollah, peace with Hamas!" We have to go back on the boycott of Hamas, which makes our democratic message inaudible, we have to speak with the Hamas government, and we must restore international aid. That is the meanest blow that we can inflict on the Syrian and Iranian governments and the Islamists. The Bush administration is doomed to fail in the Middle East, and, by refusing to understand this, it exposes us.
Public Security Minister Avi Dichter of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima party said Monday that in return for a genuine peace with Syria, it would be legitimate for Israel to cede the Golan Heights.

Asked if in exchange for a genuine peace with Damascus, he would be willing to return the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War, Dichter told Army Radio:"In return for a true peace with Syria or with Lebanon, over those issues that from the standpoint of the land have a history, which we know and the Syrians know and the Lebanese know, I think that what we did with Egypt and with Jordan is legitimate here as well. "Dichter said that meant a return to the internationally recognized border.
IsraelNN“The territorial concessions are similar to those we paid for peace with Jordan and Egypt,” stated Dichter. However, he added that the “water issue and the Kinneret are a matter that I would not yield on so easily.”

PM: No talks with Syria if it continues backing terror
By Haaretz Service and Agencies
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday that Israel would not negotiate with Syria unless it stops sponsoring terrorist groups. His remarks followed comments earlier in the day by Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, who said that in return for peace with Syria, Israel could give up the Golan Heights.
Asad apologizes: President Asad claimed that he was not referring to Saudi or Egyptian leaders when he called some Arabs "half men" in his speech last week. Walid Muallim, Syria's foreign minister is trying to repair the damage done to Syria's relations with fellow Arab states by the President's speech.
"What President Assad meant by this phrase was those individuals inside Syria and maybe outside it who threw doubts on the ability of the resistance to achieve victory," Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told the Al-Anba daily
Massoud Derhally, the Diplomatic Editor of "Arabian Business," has two new articles of interest on Lebanon: He pursues the Michael Young debate but brings in pro-Hizbullah voices. He also quotes interesting Lebanese on what lessons should be learned from this conflict.

The unvarnished truth: Sunday, 20 August 2006
Rising from the rubble: Sunday, 20 August 2006

Turkish FM heading to Syria as part of peace mission:

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Israel Appoints "project manager" for Syria Talks

For readers in Canada, A half-hour talk show on Canadian Broadcasting C. that I recorded with Afshin Molavi, who wrote the excellent book, The Soul of Iran, will air on the Sunday Edition across Canada (and border states) on CBC Radio One, right after the 9 a.m. news. We talk about the Iran-Syrian relationship and how people in both countries view the Lebanon war. It also airs across North America on Sirius satellite radio, channel 137 (at a different time, but people with satellite radio should have the schedule). People can also listen live online by clicking here

FM Livni appoints envoy for possible Syria talks
By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz Correspondent

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni appointed a special "project manager" for possible negotiations with Syria. Yaakov (Yaki) Dayan, who until recently was head of the diplomatic desk in the Foreign Ministry, met last week with Tel Aviv University President Prof. Itamar Rabinovich, who headed the Syrian negotiations team under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in the mid-1990s.

Dayan is scheduled to meet shortly with Uri Sagi, who held the same post under PM Ehud Barak in the late '90s. Dayan has been asked to present Livni and Foreign Ministry officials with a document detailing the chances for resuming the diplomatic dialogue with Syria in the light of Syrian and Israeli positions on substantive issues such as borders, security and normalization.

Ido Aharoni, Livni's media adviser, confirmed Saturday Livni's appointment of Dayan but said there is no reason to infer from his appointment that Livni advocates resuming talks with Syria.

Israeli experts are divided when it comes to analyzing Syrian President Bashar Assad's intentions. Military Intelligence officials emphasize Assad's recent military threats, while Foreign Ministry officials take seriously his call to renew the peace talks.

People in both camps have expressed concern about the growing relations between Iran and Syria as well as their increasing support for Hamas. The declaration last week by Defense Minister Amir Peretz advocating the creation of conditions for talking to Syria followed a series of talks with Syria hands. Associates of Peretz say he has become convinced of the need to examine Assad's intentions. They see he views the Syrian president as an important factor in preventing a renewal of fighting on the northern border and in enforcing the arms embargo on Lebanon.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert opposes any deviation from his strict policy of boycotting Syria as long as the U.S. keeps it on its list of states that support terror. After the outbreak of hostilities in the North, Washington began considering a more conciliatory approach to Damascus. Israeli officials, however, do not expect to see a change in American policy before the Congressional elections this November.
The Syrian Ambassador to Kuwait too a rather different line than President Asad in calling for Arab Unity.

Massoud Derhally writes in Arabian Business (20 August 2006) that the Lebanon war has:
lessons for the Arab world as well. For those of us who believe in democracy it is now all too clear that we cannot rely on untrustworthy friends like the US or for that matter Britain. No one knows that more than the embattled Lebanese prime minister Fuad Siniora, who was eagerly courted by Washington when it suited its purpose during the so called "Cedar Revolution," last year, only to realize he and his nation are nothing more than an expendable asset. If anything France's stance has been most honorable and a barometer of what others should have done.

For the impotent Arab governments that stood idly by and watched, as Israel callously butchered innocents, their behavior is reprehensible and despicable. The ineptitude of Arab nations will only serve to confirm the perceived mendacity of regimes among their citizens and portentously add to the political malaise that pervades the region.
Addendum: Here is Farid Ghadry's response to Israel's opening the door to dialogue with Syria sent in an email circular. He is the head of the Washington based Syrian Reform Party:
The present leadership of Israel is weak and inexperienced. Faced with adversity, it is buckling under the pressure. It believes that Assad will become a civilized man suddenly and will, once he collects back the Golan Heights, refrain from attacking Israel using the plateau as a military point to finish what Iran started in the Middle East: The destruction of the Jewish State. The present Israeli leadership simply do not understand that once the Golan Heights is returned, Assad's nationalism and raison d'être will, eventually, break down his system of tyranny. Assad does not want the Golan Heights back. He just screams for it to gain more popularity. The only way Israel can have peace is when real democratic changes take place in Syria after the fall of the Assad minority-led regime.
Arab Foreign Ministers are meeting in Cairo today (Sunday) to agree on a plan to rebuild Lebanon: ``This is a war over the hearts and mind of the Lebanese, which Arabs should not lose to the Iranians this time,'' said a senior Arab League official. Kuwait has offered 800 million dollars.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Where Does Syria Stand in the Post War Middle East?

David Ignatius of the Washington Post moderates an interesting discussion between Michael Young (Lebanese-American) and Saul Singer (Israeli-American) on:

How to End the Mideast War

Michael Young and Saul Singer
Lebanese and Israeli Journalist
Tuesday, August 15, 2006; 12:00 PM

Lebanese journalist Michael Young and Israeli commentator Saul Singer were online Tuesday, August 15, at noon ET to debate how best to deal with Hezbollah and Iran and end the conflict in Lebanon.
This is a fascinating discussion of how Hizbullah must be disarmed. Both journalists seem to believe Iran will and should be attacked within the next two years in order to keep Israel and Lebanon safe from terrorism and destruction. Young is skeptical that Siniora will find the resolve or power to disarm Hizbullah. Singer believes he will if the international community holds his feet to the fire and threatens to cut Lebanon off if he doesn't. Singer believes this will be the defining battle for Israel. If it loses, Israel's existence is in jeopardy.

The Israeli attack on Hizbullah forces near Baalbek seems to indicate that this cease fire will be very messy. The New York Times article by Steven Erlanger, "Israel Carries Out Raid Deep Into Lebanon" is interesting for its long interview with an unnamed Israeli commander, who says:
that the Hezbollah leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, remains a target for Israel as the head of a group that Israel and the United States have labeled terrorist. At one point in the interview, he said simply: "This man must die."

The pro-Syrian president of Lebanon, however, Emile Lahoud, praised Mr. Nasrallah and Hezbollah for what he called their victory over Israel.

In a nationally televised speech, Mr. Lahoud said that Mr. Nasrallah "willed this victory to be a victory for all Lebanese and all the Arab peoples."

Israel and the United States, however, view Hezbollah as a tool of Shia, non-Arab Iran, which created it, and of Syria, which supports and helps to supply it, rather than being loyal to Lebanon and its multi-religious government.

Israel, the officer said, views Hezbollah as "Iran's western front," and regardless of how poorly the new United Nations forces may perform, he argued, Israel will benefit from new international support for the extension of Lebanese sovereignty to the Israeli border, made most visible in the deployment of the Lebanese Army.

"I don't care about the capability of the Lebanese Army," he said. "What is more important, and here I'm not speaking for the Israeli government, is the understanding that the Lebanese government took control of southern Lebanon. Now we can deal with them as a country and a government, and speak and compromise. This is the huge change this operation created."
It is clear that Israel will now hold Siniora's feet to the fire in order to force the weak Lebanese government to act against Hizbullah. The alternative for Siniora is to stand by and watch Israel carry out more and more raids, such as the one near Baalbek. Lebanon will then become another failed state with the full sanction of the United Nations and International Community.

The Washington Post's article on the Israeli raid is interesting because it raises the possibility that Israel was not targeting the resupply of Hizbullah from Syria (which would make the raid sanctioned by the UN resolution, which calls for stopping the supply of weapons to Hizbullah) Rather the Post quotes sources speculating that the Israeli raid was not directed at halting weapons transfers, which would make it a clear violation of the UN cease fire. Edward Cody of the Post writes:
Local officials speculated to journalists that a senior Hezbollah leader, Sheik Mohammed Yazbek, may have been the commandos' target. Other Lebanese suggested that the raid may have been an attempt to recover two Israeli soldiers whose seizure by Hezbollah commandos on July 12 precipitated the war.

The Israeli military, however, specified that preventing the transport of weapons was its objective. "The goals were achieved in full," it added in a statement.
Interestingly, neither the Post nor Times correspondents were able to track down any indication that weapons were being transferred or were intercepted by Israeli troops, suggesting, as PM Siniora stated: "The attack was a "flagrant violation" of the U.N. cease-fire.

Published: August 19, 2006

A road to peace through Syria?
Newsday Staff Correspondent
August 18, 2006
JERUSALEM -- On the day after a cease-fire with Hezbollah, Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz turned to Syria, another longtime enemy, and held out the prospect of negotiating for peace.

"Every war creates an opportunity for a new political process, and I am sure that our enemies understand today they cannot defeat us by force," he said Tuesday. "We must hold a dialogue with Lebanon, and we should create the conditions for dialogue also with Syria."

It was a somewhat surprising declaration, given that Israeli and American officials had just spent a month blaming Syria and Iran for supplying sophisticated weaponry to the Lebanese militia. The United States cut off relations with Syria last year.

Immediately, conventional Mideast politics took over. Right-wing Israeli politicians attacked Peretz as soft. Later that day, Syrian President Bashar Assad spoke in Damascus, strongly criticizing Israel and the United States for fomenting unrest.

"We don't like to use the word 'hatred,' but Israel has left no option for itself but to be hated," Assad said. "The Israeli leadership needs to save itself from its own stupidity."

But if Israel and the United States draw lessons from the war against Hezbollah, some experts and analysts believe they most certainly will take a long look at new talks with Syria.
The following quote comes from former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam's Free-Syria organization in an article entitled:

لبنان دفع ثمن اختلافات 4 أجندات هل استهدفت حسابات الأسد الخاطئة "14 آذار" أم حزب الله؟قد تكون هناك اسباب عديدة دفعت الاسد الى هذا التصعيد الاستثنائي ضد العرب وضد فريق لبناني اساسي، ابرزها فشل دمشق في فتح نافذة في جدار العزلة حولها خلال ثلاثين يوما من الحرب على لبنان من خلال استدراج عروض حول دور سوري جديد، سواء داخل لبنان او على صعيد المنطقة.. هذا بالاضافة الى هاجس قيام محكمة دولية تستدعي مسؤولين سوريين لمحاكمتهم بجريمة اغتيال الرئيس رفيق الحريري، وهو هاجس يضغط على دمشق باستمرار، وكان هذا الامر حاضرا بوضوح في خطاب الاسد الذي اشتكى من عدم تشكيل محكمة دولية لضحايا قانا متسائلا 'هل لأنهم فقراء لا يستحقون محكمة' وكأنه يوحي بأن قتل الاغنياء ممكن من دون محاكمة!

وقد سارعت بعض الاوساط في بيروت، خصوصا المقربة من حزب الله، الى اعتبار هذه المعركة السياسية محاولة من قوى 14 آذار لتجميع صفوفها واستنفار قواها مجددا بعد الانجازات التي حققها الحزب، ولكن هذه الاوساط تتجاهل ان الذي فتح المعركة هو الاسد. ودمشق لم تتورع طيلة فترة الحرب، وبواسطة حملة سياسية متواصلة، عن اعتبار هدفها الوحيد هو الاطاحة بحكومة السنيورة والترويج لحكومة اتحاد وطني تعيد جماعة سوريا وميشال عون الى الحكومة، مما يؤدي عمليا الى استعادة النفوذ السوري في لبنان.

He argues that Asad instigated the Lebanon war in order to reassert Syrian power in Lebanon and bring down the Hariri led government. He believes Syria has failed and will fail. He sees Asad's speech to Arab journalists as a fit of desperation and anger at this failure and at his having been cut out of all UN negotiations. He writes that Asad saw this war as a window of opportunity to break out of Syria's isolation, but was unsuccessful. Thus, he believes that the Syrian opposition will be strengthened along with the Hariri led opposition to Syria.

Where Does Syria Stand in the Post War Middle East?

My own analysis is that Lebanon will come out the big loser in this war. Not only because it has been badly destroyed, but because it will be unable to put its house back together again. Israel will continue to violate the spirit of the cease fire. Hizbullah will not be disarmed; rather, Syria and Iran will successfully help rebuild its forces. Siniora will try to triangulate but will fail to nail down Hizbullah and satisfy US and Israeli objectives. This will lead to the US and international community abandoning Siniora and his weak government. The boming of Lebanon demonstrated that they already have. Moreover, Lebanon is already in debt up to its eye balls. Who would want to throw good money after bad. Saudi Arabia and Iran will be the primary donors because each has a lot to lose in the struggle for Lebanon's soul.

As for Iran, I don't think that Europe will rally behind America and Israel's drive to sanction it through the UN. Europeans no longer trust the US to handle such dimplomacy responsibly. This will leave the US with the choice of bombing alone. Michael Young argues that because of Israel's unsuccessful bombing campaign in Lebanon, the US will have to use ground forces in Iran for a short period. I guess that this will not come to pass. Although Bush's campaign to pin this war on Iran is working in the US media, my hunch is that the American people will not have the heart for another campaign, especially one as messy as a campaign against Iran is sure to be.

Where does that leave Syria? I think Syria scrapes by. It is saved by its own weakness and by the universal conclusion that chaos would prevail in Syria should the regime be destroyed. Alex, writing in the comment section of the last post, made a number of excellent observations. He argues that Syria is actually in a stronger position than it was in 1982, when the regime had to face the Muslim Brothers alone and was opposed by every one of its neighbors. Today Syria can count on the support of Iran. It can count on Turkey, within limits. It is developing good relations with many Iraqi leaders. It has taken back the Palestine card from Egypt. It has Hizbullah, which promises to remain a vital force in Lebanon. There is a small chance that new elections could be called and anti-Hariri politicians in Lebanon would do better than they did in the last elections. I don't put much store in a pro-Syrian Lebanon emerging from this war. The animosities between the two peoples are great. What is more, I see Lebanon getting mired in its old rivalries and becoming more chaotic with no one the winner. This will actually be OK for Syria in a very cynical way. Today, Lebanon is considered American territory by Syrian politicians. If Syria can deny it to America, it will be a mitigated win for Damascus. Damascus would much prefer for Lebanon to be consolidated within its sphere of influence, but absent that possibility, it will continue to work to make it useless terrain for future assaults on Syria by Washington and Tel Aviv.

What is more, Syria is exploiting new possibilities open to it in the East with China and Russia on the make.

Syrian leaders believe the US has about shot its wad in the Middle East, whether in terms of its ability to project military force or unite the international community behind multilateral action that can impose economic sanctions and real financial pain of the sort Syria could not survive. Syrians know that the US remains dangerous. They will continue to play rope-a-dope and wait for the remaining powers to drain out of the Bush administration. It will provoke, but not overly much. Such a plan is popular with the Syrian public even if it means making little headway on economic reform and full scale forward progress. Most Syrians have come to the conclusion that the US under the present administration has nothing to offer Syria. It will not encourage economic progress in Syria. It will not allow the Golan to be put back on the table. It will not encourage Israel to change its tune. It will not restrain Israel on the Palestinian front. It will not leave Iraq. It will forbid Lebanese politicians from working out an accommodation with Hizbullah and Syria. In short, Syrians are convinced that the US offers only woe and insult. If Bashar continues to insult America in return without drawing Syria into open conflict, they will continue to conclude that he is doing what he can.

This is a bleak prognosis, but I don't see any other that seems probable. After we watched two hours of LBC and al-Jazeera the other night, which were repleat with accusations and insults being hurled between various Lebanese politicians, Syrians and Saudis, Syrians and Israelis and every other possible combination of Middle East faction, subfaction and malefaction, my wife shut off the tube claiming she could no longer watch - "Nothing good will come of our region," she concluded. "It is worse than ever," and went to bed.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Was President Asad's Speech Radical?

Fadi's article on SC was quoted by UPI's interesting article by Claude Salhani

Was President Asad's Speech Radical?

Syria came out of the Lebanon war mercifully unscathed. It is now Syria's turn to repay Hizbullah for the strong support Nasrallah gave Syria when it was unceremoniously expelled from Lebanon in April of 2005. When Bashar was down, following the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and needed time to consolidate his forces and repair internal divisions at home, Nasrallah stepped forward in dramatic fashion to reassure Syria that it was not alone and attack Syria's enemies. He organized a stunning demonstration of support for Syria in the heart of Beirut and publicly thanked Syria for all it had done for Lebanon in bringing the civil war to an end and preserving "Arab" values. I was living in Damascus at the time; Nasrallah's speech was a great tonic for Bashar and his regime and aleviated much of the anxiety and self doubt Syrians felt about their government's involvement in Lebanon and Bashar's abilities.

The President's speech to Syrian journalists a few days ago was Bashar's effort to pay Nasrallah back. It was meant to lift Shiite spirits in Lebanon and assure them that they had strong and loyal support in Syria and beyond. Nasrallah is in no position to take a hard and combative stand at this time. He must triangulate for the next several months, allow the divisions within Lebanon to emerge and ferment without seeming to drive them forward. Asad has stepped forward to play this role.

The anti-Hariri politicians in Lebanon see this as their moment to place the blame for the war on Hariri and America's allies in Lebanon. They have been emboldened by the war with Israel, which discredited Hariri's promise that he could protect his country with Western support. Nasrallah is not in a position to drive forward this debate because he must lay low and concentrate on getting as much government and international support for rebuilding the south as possible. He must also make sure the cease-fire holds and Israeli troops are withdrawn from Lebanon. Asad can drive forward the attack on Hariri's parliamentary majority. He is acting much like Newt Gingrich in the US Republican Party. No Republican campaigning for office can declare that the US is fighting World War III, but Newt can. His job is to put backbone into the American right and shore up his party's all or nothing stand on Iraq and the War on Terrorism. He is serving his party by dishing up the fire and brimstone militarism that those officials running for office dare not.

Asad has temporarily stepped into the role of party whip, while Hizbullah repairs its home base and Iran faces its own troubles at the UN. With international pressure temporarily off Syria, Asad must stop forward to take the fight to the opposition.

Asad's speech was not so radical, however. Yes, he blamed Hariri and his people for being on the side of Israel and set off powerful counter-attacks from Hariri and Jumblat. But this is nothing new. The two sides have been at war for almost two years now. What is more, Hariri and Jumblat got in some good digs of their own. All the same, Hariri was forced on the defensive. He was obliged to open his speech with a condemnation of Israel, claiming "The history of Israel is a black history, a hateful one, of destruction.... Israeli attacks can destroy Lebanon (physically) but will not touch Lebanese unity." He said, Israel had a history of "living off the blood" of Palestinians, Lebanese and other Arab people. He also was forced to praise Hizbullah's fierce resistance for placing Lebanon at the forefront of the Arab cause and for winning it respect from friends and foe alike. Hariri was forced to claim Hizbullah's struggle as his own, something his enemies must take pleasure in hearing.

Asad is tilling the ground for the demand for new Lebanese elections, which many Lebanese politicians have already begun to demand. This was their demand during the National Dialogue of March and April and it has only become shriller in the aftermath of the disastrous war.

But at the heart of Asad's speech was Syria's demand to reopen negotiations with Israel over Golan. This is anything but radical. He is appropriating Israel's long announced stand in favor of land for peace.

By accompanying his demand for peace with an equivalent insistence that Syria has a military option as well is simply normal politics. George Bush would not suppose to negotiate with his adversaries without stating that America has a military plan and that "all options are on the table." The use of both carrots and sticks is accepted diplomatic procedure.

Syria would be foolish not to draw lessons from Hizbullah's successful resistance and military tactics. Israel is now discussing how to counter Hizbullah's successful tactics. The Baath Party's announcement that it will do the same is smart. Syria will hire Hizbullah officers to train a new Syrian force in methods to resist an Israeli attack. This is not only smart for the military, it is also good domestic politics: many Syrians feel the army is backward and incapable. They want to be at the cutting edge. Many Syrians wanted to join Hizbullah because they feel their own government is doing nothing. Syria would be foolish not to try to import Hizbullah knowledge and tactics. Whether it can adapt such tactics to its highly centralized military command structure is doubtful, however. All the same, Syria would be foolish not to try.

Was Asad's speech directed at internal consumption alone? Following Asad's confrontational speech, Germany's Foreign Minister announced the cancellation of his imminent visit to Damascus. Many believed a visit of such a prominent European official was an important coup for Damascus and a first step in easing Syria away from the diplomatic isolation in which it has been sequestered. They were non-plussed by Asad's willingness to scuttle it.

I spoke to an officer at one of Germany's leading think tanks yesterday, who explained that Asad must have been focusing on his domestic constituency and had "made a mistake" by not taking Germany into consideration.

I suggested that Asad had not made a mistake. As evidence, I mentioned that when I spoke on the Charlie Rose Show the other day and explained that Syria wanted to break out of its isolation and looked forward to a call and possible visit of the Secretary of State, Imad Mustapha, Syria's Ambassador in Washington, corrected me. He explained that Syria doesn't want dialogue for dialogue's sake. It wants substantive negotiations as an equal and respected power. This explains why Asad reacted coldly toward the visit of the German Foreign Minister. He was coming to Damascus to ask the Syrians to stop supplying arms to Hizbullah. Germany declared that it would not be sending troops to police the south of Lebanon, but would send officers to help police the border crossings with Syria in order to stop weapons from being smuggled in from Syria. Asad is not interested in stopping such traffic unless it is part of a larger regional deal that involves the Golan. He was letting Europe and the US know that he is not begging to find a way out of isolation under any terms. He is demanding a price.

Asad knows the Bush administration is gunning for regime change in Syria, if not sooner, then later. Washington's support for Israel's war on Lebanon and refusal to bring Syria in on the cease-fire negotiations did nothing to dissuade him from this conviction.

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.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

"Bashar's Four Messages," by Fadi

Here is the English translation of Bashar al-Asad's speech Journalists Union 4th Conference on Tuesday, August 15, 2006.

"Syria Comment" recieved the following article from a Syrian named Fadi who works in the Gulf, but was in Syria during the war. He asked,

"I wrote this on the Bashar's latest speech. I thought you might be interested in my Syrian view on it from in and outside Syria. If you think it's worth postings then I would love to read other people's view on it.
Here is Fadi's article:

"Bashar’s Four Messages"
By Fadi (?)
"Syria Comment"
August 17, 2006

Bashar’s Four Messages

In his almost unprecedented speech in the Arab regimes recent history, Bashar came out of his silence with a vengeance in a way no one was expecting. He lambasted the Israelis, the US administration, the pro-US Arab regimes and the 14-March bloc politicians in Lebanon. His main message was simple: “Our camp won, yours lost, accept defeat.. here are my terms”. In a sense he was right, all the Arab regimes who were betting on Israel winning this war were defeated politically. The only winners (politically) in this conflict –beside Hizballah- were Syria, Iran, the gulf Shiites communities (mainly in Iraq and Saudi) and to a lesser extent the Qatari government. The US is yet to start calculating its political losses in the region after its failed “adventure” in Lebanon.

Despite the huge anti-Syria PR campaign launched by the Lebanese and Saudi media (who predominantly control the Arab media scene), the Arab masses are increasingly seeing Bashar as their “more skillful version” of Naser in the 21st century. According to my own research while traveling in many Arab countries during the last month, Bashar’s popularity in the Arab street now can only be eclipsed by that of Nasrallah.

For example, In Syria, it is very common now to find trendy college girls in mini-skirts and Christian youth having Hassan Nasrallah’s photos as screensavers on their mobile phones and his most catchy phrases from his speeches as ring-tones. I was sitting in a café in Aleppo inside a Christian school (used to be the American missionary) when one mobile phone rang on the table next to me with Nasrallhah’s voice and all the fashionable ladies on the table jumped with joy. Suddenly, the bluetooth and infrared devices were transmitting and replicating the ring-tone.
Bashar’s messages yesterday to the Arab street were so attractive and convincing that no matter what insults Junblat and co. can come up with, I doubt they would be able to shake his new positive image among Arabs.

His message has been on the minds of all Arabs for the last month. For example: “Why didn’t anyone ask for an international investigations or tribunal for the Qana massacre (and other Israeli massacres)”; “We need resistance to achieve just piece”; “no more need for defeatism”; “the new middle east is our [anti-US] middle east”.. etc.). In Syria, he’s now even more popular than a month ago. He’s not just the kid that stood-up to the US anymore, he’s now perceived by Syrians as someone that can really get them back their Golan.. somehow! Bashar had 4 main messages in his speech proclaiming the new middle east – the Syrian version :

1- Bashar to Arab regimes: “It’s pay day”! His main message to Arab regimes was: “no more mr. nice guy”. Their “anti-syria free ride” is over. Syria will not accept anymore being your punching bag as for the last 18 months. This means that Syria will not tolerate Arab regimes scoring brownie points with the neo-cons in Washington by throwing anti-Syria propaganda to the media. For example, from now on, Syria’s reaction to being falsely blamed on CNN by the king of Jordan (and other “half-men” as Bashar put it) if Al-Qaida strikes Amman would not be utter silence. The king would not be able to get a pat on the back by Bush for portraying Bashar as the villain. Arabs “apologists for immorality ” could not blame the civilian deaths in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon on Syria. Syria will not be the punching bag of the opportunists in the Iraqi government who used to get mediocre political gains by performing the rituals of coming out on the media and blaming Syria for the sectarian violence and the insurgency in Iraq. This show of power is only aimed at silencing the opportunists.

2- His second message was to the Lebanese pro-US politicians and warlords: “You bet on Israel winning, our allies won, roll over”. He’s empowering the pro-Syria camp in Lebanon (which now should at least count for more than 60% of the country.. 40%+ HA supporters plus the rest of the pro-Syrian camp and the not-anti-Syria Aounists). They have been waiting for this day for months now, and Aoun, Arslan, Franjie and the rest are already preparing the comeback. Hariri’s people are scared and they know that their popularity is in its worst state so they are asking the Lebanese people to “be loyal to the government” in every speech. If Israel does not “assassinate someone ” in Lebanon now, it pretty much seems that Syria would have its allies back in office in Beirut while the Israel-US preference; the pro-US/Saudi group would really have roll over.

3-Speaking to the Israelis, he said: We are not afraid to fight to get back the Golan”. This was wildly popular among Syrians. While many would argue that this is pure rhetoric, many Syrians see this as the first time a Syrian politician since 1973 has said publicly that he would fight to get back the Golan.. and meant it. When I traveled around Syria during the third and fourth week of the war, everywhere I went I found Syrians psychologically preparing for war with the highest of morale. People were really pushing the government to go to war with Israel to stop it from destroying Lebanon and to regain the Golan. Syria might get its own Hizballah soon , but either case, Bashar’s call seems to have worked. Peretz and a growing body of analysts, politicians and think tanks are arguing that Israel should start considering giving Syria its land back or more conflicts will be in the offing.

4-To the Syrian people, his main message was “I’m proud of you”. The Syrian people translated their anger over Israeli aggression on Lebanon magnificently. The Syrian civil society was revived in an astonishing way. While many Lebanese propaganda websites were busy inflaming people against Syria during wartime with ludicrous “journalism”, thousands of Syrians from all over the country volunteered to deal with the 200,000+ Lebanese refugees who were called “guests” in Syria. I witnessed first hand how the civil society rose from the dead after 40 years of systematic destruction. Self-organized charity groups and NGOs mushroomed. Tens of neighborhoods in Homs, Tartous and Aleppo and Damascus relentlessly organizing and distributing daily food packages all over the country for a month. Large groups of doctors in Damascus and Aleppo setting up mobile van-hospitals and running from a refugee place to another on their own expenses. Pharmaceutical companies around the country donating complete warehouses of medicines to be sent to Lebanon for free. People donating their hard-owned money in churches and mosques in millions like no time before in Syria. I met many Taxi and “service” drivers in Reef Dimashq, Tartous and Homs working day on and day off just to do tens of free-of-charge round trips to and from the borders on their off-days to get hundreds of displaced Lebanese from the border to Syrian cities. Thousands of families hosting as many Lebanese as they can in their homes. If you went to one of the beach or mountain resorts this summer in Lataqia or Tartous, you would have found -instead of the regular Saudi tourists- scores of poor Lebanese families housed in luxurious beach front chalets and panoramic mountain summer houses of rich Syrian families. The less advantaged Syrians were even more impressive. Syrian women selling their few gold jewelry pieces, men spending their life savings and families cramping in one room to feed and give space to “guest” Lebanese families. And by the way, if you are wondering about the mattresses and luggage the Lebanese refugees are carrying on their cars going back to Lebanon, those are all donations from the Syrian people. This is really impressive given that:

(1) this is no Saudi Arabia, it’s socialist Syria, with the poor economy. Many Syrians made a real sacrifice for the Lebanese.

(2) The Syrian people were furiousness with the Lebanese last year for their continued insults, anti-Syrian diatribes, and the way they treated Syrian workers over the last 18 months.

Syrians wanted to hear this “I’m proud of you” badly. It played very well with Syrian people, scoring Bashar lots of popularity internally. Syrians knew they did a great job in dealing magnificently with a national crisis. Many Syrians I spoke to are filled with pride that their civil society was able –and continue to be- hospitable to 1.5 million Palestinians, Iraqi and Lebanese during the last month (thanks to the US and Israel).

One possible positive outcome of this war might be a “magical healing” to the animosity between the Syrians and the Lebanese that thrived after the influx of insults to Syrians in the Lebanese streets and media and the many crimes committed against ordinary Syrians during the last 18 months in Lebanon. The hundreds of thousands of Lebanese going back to Lebanon with magnificent stories of hospitality and support would last with them forever and might heal whatever self-serving animosity the warlords and politicians on both sides created to achieve their political goals.

Israel’s (only?) way out
The only thing that Israel can do today to save face and give a blow to Syria is to re-launch its assassination network in Lebanon. If Israel still has remaining assests in Lebanon of its assassination network, which was caught by the Lebanese security a couple of months ago (and confessed of committing tens of political assassinations), then there have to be someone in Tel Aviv now thinking of mobilizing them to try to kill a Sunni Lebanese politician (or maybe Junblat).

If Israel succeeds now in assassinating Saniora , little Hariri or Junblat it will reshuffle the cards again and might be able to steal the victory from Nasrallah and Bashar. This is like the magic solution that worked every time for Israel in Lebanon and its sectarian system for years.. “You kill a critic of Syria, you automatically create a thousand in Lebanon”. The bigger the name of the assassinated person the more anger you could trigger at Syria and the more you’ll push the Lebanese public towards obeying Israeli demands (through the US). It’s a win-win situation for Israel, the neo-cons, the anti-Syria warlords in Lebanon and the pro-US-Israel Arab regimes. With each anti-Syria politician killed, you get a free chorus of Lebanese sectarian warlords inciting the public against Syria. You also get the Saudi-regime backed media to spin it for you in Arabic (as no one watches alHurra anymore in the Arab world).

This had worked magnificently in the past and the Lebanese kept falling for the same trick time and again. I think that it’s the only formula that could work for the Israelis now, unless the Lebanese people have learned the lesson?!.. we’ll have to see. For now, I hope Hariri junior stays in Paris, Saniora people tighten their security and Junblat sticks to his castle in Mukhtara.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Assad and Bush both claim Victory: Next Stage of Conflict Begins

The next stage of the Lebanon conflict has begun. Both Asad and Bush are claiming victory. Bush has turned his sights on Syria and Iran. He must limit their influence in Lebanon and attempts to rearm Hizbullah and rebuild it as an independent force in Lebanon. In the coming weeks we will see the Bush administration paint Syria as a force of evil that doesn't want peace and that is building dangerous nuclear and WMD programs.

Syria will try to paint Washington and Israel as the aggressors who don't want peace. His statement that: "Peace would involve Israel returning occupied lands to their owners and restoring their rights," is a first salvo. He is claiming that real peace means supporting international borders and all UN resolutions. He accuses Israel and the US of only wanting justice for themselves and of aiming to dominate the region in their own narrow interests.

Assad Accuses March 14 Forces of Inciting Strife by Asking Hizbullah to Disarm (Naharnet)

Syrian President Bashar Assad said Tuesday that Lebanon's anti-Syrian parliamentary majority is responsible for Israel's war on Lebanon and accused it of inciting strife in the country by asking Hizbullah to lay down its arms.
"Saving the present Israeli government is among the tasks of these (March 14) forces. After the failure of this war, these forces want…to provoke strife in Lebanon by trying to disarm the resistance," Assad said in a speech at the opening of a journalists' conference in Damascus.

He said that the March 14 forces "barely waited for the blood to dry before they started speaking of removing the arms of the resistance. But they have failed and their fall is not far away."

"They are the ones who bear responsibility for the war and the destruction," Assad charged in his hard hitting speech.

The Syrian leader, in his first major public address since Israel launched its offensive against Lebanon on July 12, said that America's plan for a "new Middle East" has collapsed after Hizbullah's successes in fighting against Israel.

He said the region had changed "because of the achievements of the resistance."

"The Middle East they (the Americans) aspire to ... has become an illusion," he said.

Assad also lashed out at Arab regimes, without naming them, who have criticized Hizbullah for kidnapping two Israeli soldiers and starting the war. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan -- all allies of the United States -- criticized Hizbullah's actions at the start of the conflict.

"We do not ask anyone to fight with us or for us ... But he should at least not adopt the enemy's views," Assad said.

He accused Israel of using Hizbullah's capture of two soldiers as a pretext for launching its massive assault adding that the Jewish state does not want peace.

"Peace would involve Israel returning occupied lands to their owners and restoring their rights," he said. "Israel is an enemy founded on the basis of aggression and hegemony."

"The peace process has failed. It has failed since its inception," he said.

Israel reacted strongly to Assad's speech warning Damascus not to intervene in Lebanese affairs or try to use Hizbullah to influence the Lebanese government.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, speaking in northern Israel, said after Israel's war against Hizbullah, Syria must "understand that Lebanon is taking off, or is at least meant to take off, in a different direction without them."

She said Syria would no longer be able "to influence (Lebanon) through such groups like Hizbullah.

Turning to the United States, the Syrian leader said Washington's participation was needed for a peace settlement in the Middle East, but he said peace cannot be achieved under the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush.

"This is an administration that adopts the principle of pre-emptive war that is absolutely contradictory to the principle of peace," he said. "Consequently, we don't expect peace soon or in the foreseeable future."

In the absence of negotiations, he said, resistance against Israel is a legitimate option.

"Resistance is aimed at achieving peace not war."

Assad defended Hizbullah and criticized U.N. cease-fire resolution 1701 for holding the group responsible for the violence.

"Israel is the one who is responsible," he said.

Assad said this war revealed the limitations of Israel's military power.

During the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Israeli forces surrounded Beirut within seven days of invading, he said. "After five weeks it (Israel) was still struggling to occupy a few hundred meters."

"From a military perspective, it (the battle) was decided in favor of the resistance. Israel has been defeated from the beginning," Assad said. "They (Israelis) have become a subject of ridicule and have lost their credibility."(AFP-AP-Naharnet)
Commentary: The price of not trying to bring Syria into a Lebanon deal is renewed opposition from Syria and a determination on Asad's part to rearm Hizbullah. This Asad speech is the counterpart of Nassrallah's speech thanking the Syrians following their departure from Lebanon. Both sides are determined to bolster the language and stand of the other in order to present a united front to their enemies. Asad promises that the Hariri led government's "fall is not far away."

It is not certain whether Washington could have promised Syria enough to win its support in a deal to disarm Hizbullah. But by not having tried, Washington and Israel guaranteed the opposition of Syria. So long as Israel presumes to be able to keep the Golan Heights as annexed territory, Syria will do everything in its power to thwart attempts to win a separate peace agreement with Lebanon.

Syria has now rededicated itself to opposing the disarming of Hizbullah and the fall of the March 14 coalition in Beirut.

President Bush has come out swinging as well. He insists that Damascus can be thwarted and subdued.
U.S. President George Bush said the United Nations resolution to halt the fighting between Israel and Lebanon will stop Hezbollah from acting as a "state within a state" and deal a severe blow to the efforts of Syria and Iran to exert influence in the Middle East.
The US Calls Lebanon Peace Deal Strategic Setback for Iran, Syria. Farid Ghadry's Washington sponsored Syrian opposition party has begun spinning stories about Washington's fear of a revived Syrian nuclear program. Their primary evidence for this derives from Ambassador John Bolton's unverified claims of a year ago. See this article: Syria's Secret Nuclear Program and Long Term Threat.

In this article: "Israel Finds Evidence That Syria, Iran Arm Hezbollah With Russian Weapons" Israel explains that Hizbullah did not manufacture all its own missiles and anti-tank weapons, but in fact purchased them elsewhere. They came from Russia and Iran; some passed through Syria.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Hersh and Young on the Causes of War

Two interesting background articles on the Lebanon war are Seymour Hersh's article in the New Yorker and Michael Young's in the New York Times Magazine.

Hersh argues that Washington backed Israel's use of the Hizbullah kidnapping of Israeli soldiers as an opportunity to launch a far reaching war on Hizbullah, not only to destroy the Shiite militia, but also to provide a test-case for an eventual attack on Iran. Hersh writes:

"The Israelis told us it would be a cheap war with many benefits," a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said. "Why oppose it? We'll be able to hunt down and bomb missiles, tunnels, and bunkers from the air. It would be a demo for Iran." A Pentagon consultant said that the Bush White House "has been agitating for some time to find a reason for a preëmptive blow against Hezbollah." He added, "It was our intent to have Hezbollah diminished, and now we have someone else doing it."
Michael Young's article, "Hezbollah's Other War," argues that Hizbullah was looking for a way to destroy the new liberal, prosperous, and open Lebanon that was emerging in the post-Syrian era. He writes,
"the radical Shiites are well on their way to destroying the creation of a new Lebanon, which may have been the point all along."
Both articles are important reading.

Washington's interests in Israel's war
New Yorker Magazine
Issue of 2006-08-21
Posted 2006-08-14

In the days after Hezbollah crossed from Lebanon into Israel, on July 12th, to kidnap two soldiers, triggering an Israeli air attack on Lebanon and a full-scale war, the Bush Administration seemed strangely passive. "It's a moment of clarification," President George W. Bush said at the G-8 summit, in St. Petersburg, on July 16th. "It's now become clear why we don't have peace in the Middle East." He described the relationship between Hezbollah and its supporters in Iran and Syria as one of the "root causes of instability," and subsequently said that it was up to those countries to end the crisis. Two days later, despite calls from several governments for the United States to take the lead in negotiations to end the fighting, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that a ceasefire should be put off until "the conditions are conducive."

The Bush Administration, however, was closely involved in the planning of Israel's retaliatory attacks. President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney were convinced, current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials told me, that a successful Israeli Air Force bombing campaign against Hezbollah's heavily fortified underground-missile and command-and-control complexes in Lebanon could ease Israel's security concerns and also serve as a prelude to a potential American preëmptive attack to destroy Iran's nuclear installations, some of which are also buried deep underground.

Israeli military and intelligence experts I spoke to emphasized that the country's immediate security issues were reason enough to confront Hezbollah, regardless of what the Bush Administration wanted. Shabtai Shavit, a national-security adviser to the Knesset who headed the Mossad, Israel's foreign-intelligence service, from 1989 to 1996, told me, "We do what we think is best for us, and if it happens to meet America's requirements, that's just part of a relationship between two friends. Hezbollah is armed to the teeth and trained in the most advanced technology of guerrilla warfare. It was just a matter of time. We had to address it."

Hezbollah is seen by Israelis as a profound threat—a terrorist organization, operating on their border, with a military arsenal that, with help from Iran and Syria, has grown stronger since the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon ended, in 2000. Hezbollah's leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has said he does not believe that Israel is a "legal state." Israeli intelligence estimated at the outset of the air war that Hezbollah had roughly five hundred medium-range Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 rockets and a few dozen long-range Zelzal rockets; the Zelzals, with a range of about two hundred kilometres, could reach Tel Aviv. (One rocket hit Haifa the day after the kidnappings.) It also has more than twelve thousand shorter-range rockets. Since the conflict began, more than three thousand of these have been fired at Israel.

According to a Middle East expert with knowledge of the current thinking of both the Israeli and the U.S. governments, Israel had devised a plan for attacking Hezbollah—and shared it with Bush Administration officials—well before the July 12th kidnappings. "It's not that the Israelis had a trap that Hezbollah walked into," he said, "but there was a strong feeling in the White House that sooner or later the Israelis were going to do it."

The Middle East expert said that the Administration had several reasons for supporting the Israeli bombing campaign. Within the State Department, it was seen as a way to strengthen the Lebanese government so that it could assert its authority over the south of the country, much of which is controlled by Hezbollah. He went on, "The White House was more focussed on stripping Hezbollah of its missiles, because, if there was to be a military option against Iran's nuclear facilities, it had to get rid of the weapons that Hezbollah could use in a potential retaliation at Israel. Bush wanted both. Bush was going after Iran, as part of the Axis of Evil, and its nuclear sites, and he was interested in going after Hezbollah as part of his interest in democratization, with Lebanon as one of the crown jewels of Middle East democracy."

Administration officials denied that they knew of Israel's plan for the air war. The White House did not respond to a detailed list of questions. In response to a separate request, a National Security Council spokesman said, "Prior to Hezbollah's attack on Israel, the Israeli government gave no official in Washington any reason to believe that Israel was planning to attack. Even after the July 12th attack, we did not know what the Israeli plans were." A Pentagon spokesman said, "The United States government remains committed to a diplomatic solution to the problem of Iran's clandestine nuclear weapons program," and denied the story, as did a State Department spokesman.

The United States and Israel have shared intelligence and enjoyed close military coöperation for decades, but early this spring, according to a former senior intelligence official, high-level planners from the U.S. Air Force—under pressure from the White House to develop a war plan for a decisive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities—began consulting with their counterparts in the Israeli Air Force.

"The big question for our Air Force was how to hit a series of hard targets in Iran successfully," the former senior intelligence official said. "Who is the closest ally of the U.S. Air Force in its planning? It's not Congo—it's Israel. Everybody knows that Iranian engineers have been advising Hezbollah on tunnels and underground gun emplacements. And so the Air Force went to the Israelis with some new tactics and said to them, 'Let's concentrate on the bombing and share what we have on Iran and what you have on Lebanon.' " The discussions reached the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, he said.

"The Israelis told us it would be a cheap war with many benefits," a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said. "Why oppose it? We'll be able to hunt down and bomb missiles, tunnels, and bunkers from the air. It would be a demo for Iran."

A Pentagon consultant said that the Bush White House "has been agitating for some time to find a reason for a preëmptive blow against Hezbollah." He added, "It was our intent to have Hezbollah diminished, and now we have someone else doing it." (As this article went to press, the United Nations Security Council passed a ceasefire resolution, although it was unclear if it would change the situation on the ground.)

According to Richard Armitage, who served as Deputy Secretary of State in Bush's first term—and who, in 2002, said that Hezbollah "may be the A team of terrorists"—Israel's campaign in Lebanon, which has faced unexpected difficulties and widespread criticism, may, in the end, serve as a warning to the White House about Iran. "If the most dominant military force in the region—the Israel Defense Forces—can't pacify a country like Lebanon, with a population of four million, you should think carefully about taking that template to Iran, with strategic depth and a population of seventy million," Armitage said. "The only thing that the bombing has achieved so far is to unite the population against the Israelis."

Several current and former officials involved in the Middle East told me that Israel viewed the soldiers' kidnapping as the opportune moment to begin its planned military campaign against Hezbollah. "Hezbollah, like clockwork, was instigating something small every month or two," the U.S. government consultant with ties to Israel said. Two weeks earlier, in late June, members of Hamas, the Palestinian group, had tunnelled under the barrier separating southern Gaza from Israel and captured an Israeli soldier. Hamas also had lobbed a series of rockets at Israeli towns near the border with Gaza. In response, Israel had initiated an extensive bombing campaign and reoccupied parts of Gaza.

The Pentagon consultant noted that there had also been cross-border incidents involving Israel and Hezbollah, in both directions, for some time. "They've been sniping at each other," he said. "Either side could have pointed to some incident and said 'We have to go to war with these guys'—because they were already at war."

David Siegel, the spokesman at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, said that the Israeli Air Force had not been seeking a reason to attack Hezbollah. "We did not plan the campaign. That decision was forced on us." There were ongoing alerts that Hezbollah "was pressing to go on the attack," Siegel said. "Hezbollah attacks every two or three months," but the kidnapping of the soldiers raised the stakes.

In interviews, several Israeli academics, journalists, and retired military and intelligence officers all made one point: they believed that the Israeli leadership, and not Washington, had decided that it would go to war with Hezbollah. Opinion polls showed that a broad spectrum of Israelis supported that choice. "The neocons in Washington may be happy, but Israel did not need to be pushed, because Israel has been wanting to get rid of Hezbollah," Yossi Melman, a journalist for the newspaper Ha'aretz, who has written several books about the Israeli intelligence community, said. "By provoking Israel, Hezbollah provided that opportunity."

"We were facing a dilemma," an Israeli official said. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert "had to decide whether to go for a local response, which we always do, or for a comprehensive response—to really take on Hezbollah once and for all." Olmert made his decision, the official said, only after a series of Israeli rescue efforts failed.

The U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel told me, however, that, from Israel's perspective, the decision to take strong action had become inevitable weeks earlier, after the Israeli Army's signals intelligence group, known as Unit 8200, picked up bellicose intercepts in late spring and early summer, involving Hamas, Hezbollah, and Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader now living in Damascus.

One intercept was of a meeting in late May of the Hamas political and military leadership, with Meshal participating by telephone. "Hamas believed the call from Damascus was scrambled, but Israel had broken the code," the consultant said. For almost a year before its victory in the Palestinian elections in January, Hamas had curtailed its terrorist activities. In the late May intercepted conversation, the consultant told me, the Hamas leadership said that "they got no benefit from it, and were losing standing among the Palestinian population." The conclusion, he said, was " 'Let's go back into the terror business and then try and wrestle concessions from the Israeli government.' " The consultant told me that the U.S. and Israel agreed that if the Hamas leadership did so, and if Nasrallah backed them up, there should be "a full-scale response." In the next several weeks, when Hamas began digging the tunnel into Israel, the consultant said, Unit 8200 "picked up signals intelligence involving Hamas, Syria, and Hezbollah, saying, in essence, that they wanted Hezbollah to 'warm up' the north." In one intercept, the consultant said, Nasrallah referred to Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz "as seeming to be weak," in comparison with the former Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak, who had extensive military experience, and said "he thought Israel would respond in a small-scale, local way, as they had in the past."

Earlier this summer, before the Hezbollah kidnappings, the U.S. government consultant said, several Israeli officials visited Washington, separately, "to get a green light for the bombing operation and to find out how much the United States would bear." The consultant added, "Israel began with Cheney. It wanted to be sure that it had his support and the support of his office and the Middle East desk of the National Security Council." After that, "persuading Bush was never a problem, and Condi Rice was on board," the consultant said.

The initial plan, as outlined by the Israelis, called for a major bombing campaign in response to the next Hezbollah provocation, according to the Middle East expert with knowledge of U.S. and Israeli thinking. Israel believed that, by targeting Lebanon's infrastructure, including highways, fuel depots, and even the civilian runways at the main Beirut airport, it could persuade Lebanon's large Christian and Sunni populations to turn against Hezbollah, according to the former senior intelligence official. The airport, highways, and bridges, among other things, have been hit in the bombing campaign. The Israeli Air Force had flown almost nine thousand missions as of last week. (David Siegel, the Israeli spokesman, said that Israel had targeted only sites connected to Hezbollah; the bombing of bridges and roads was meant to prevent the transport of weapons.)

The Israeli plan, according to the former senior intelligence official, was "the mirror image of what the United States has been planning for Iran." (The initial U.S. Air Force proposals for an air attack to destroy Iran's nuclear capacity, which included the option of intense bombing of civilian infrastructure targets inside Iran, have been resisted by the top leadership of the Army, the Navy, and the Marine Corps, according to current and former officials. They argue that the Air Force plan will not work and will inevitably lead, as in the Israeli war with Hezbollah, to the insertion of troops on the ground.)

Uzi Arad, who served for more than two decades in the Mossad, told me that to the best of his knowledge the contacts between the Israeli and U.S. governments were routine, and that, "in all my meetings and conversations with government officials, never once did I hear anyone refer to prior coördination with the United States." He was troubled by one issue—the speed with which the Olmert government went to war. "For the life of me, I've never seen a decision to go to war taken so speedily," he said. "We usually go through long analyses."

The key military planner was Lieutenant General Dan Halutz, the I.D.F. chief of staff, who, during a career in the Israeli Air Force, worked on contingency planning for an air war with Iran. Olmert, a former mayor of Jerusalem, and Peretz, a former labor leader, could not match his experience and expertise.

In the early discussions with American officials, I was told by the Middle East expert and the government consultant, the Israelis repeatedly pointed to the war in Kosovo as an example of what Israel would try to achieve. The NATO forces commanded by U.S. Army General Wesley Clark methodically bombed and strafed not only military targets but tunnels, bridges, and roads, in Kosovo and elsewhere in Serbia, for seventy-eight days before forcing Serbian forces to withdraw from Kosovo. "Israel studied the Kosovo war as its role model," the government consultant said. "The Israelis told Condi Rice, 'You did it in about seventy days, but we need half of that—thirty-five days.' "

There are, of course, vast differences between Lebanon and Kosovo. Clark, who retired from the military in 2000 and unsuccessfully ran as a Democrat for the Presidency in 2004, took issue with the analogy: "If it's true that the Israeli campaign is based on the American approach in Kosovo, then it missed the point. Ours was to use force to obtain a diplomatic objective—it was not about killing people." Clark noted in a 2001 book, "Waging Modern War," that it was the threat of a possible ground invasion as well as the bombing that forced the Serbs to end the war. He told me, "In my experience, air campaigns have to be backed, ultimately, by the will and capability to finish the job on the ground."

Kosovo has been cited publicly by Israeli officials and journalists since the war began. On August 6th, Prime Minister Olmert, responding to European condemnation of the deaths of Lebanese civilians, said, "Where do they get the right to preach to Israel? European countries attacked Kosovo and killed ten thousand civilians. Ten thousand! And none of these countries had to suffer before that from a single rocket. I'm not saying it was wrong to intervene in Kosovo. But please: don't preach to us about the treatment of civilians." (Human Rights Watch estimated the number of civilians killed in the NATO bombing to be five hundred; the Yugoslav government put the number between twelve hundred and five thousand.)

Cheney's office supported the Israeli plan, as did Elliott Abrams, a deputy national-security adviser, according to several former and current officials. (A spokesman for the N.S.C. denied that Abrams had done so.) They believed that Israel should move quickly in its air war against Hezbollah. A former intelligence officer said, "We told Israel, 'Look, if you guys have to go, we're behind you all the way. But we think it should be sooner rather than later—the longer you wait, the less time we have to evaluate and plan for Iran before Bush gets out of office.' "

Cheney's point, the former senior intelligence official said, was "What if the Israelis execute their part of this first, and it's really successful? It'd be great. We can learn what to do in Iran by watching what the Israelis do in Lebanon."

The Pentagon consultant told me that intelligence about Hezbollah and Iran is being mishandled by the White House the same way intelligence had been when, in 2002 and early 2003, the Administration was making the case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. "The big complaint now in the intelligence community is that all of the important stuff is being sent directly to the top—at the insistence of the White House—and not being analyzed at all, or scarcely," he said. "It's an awful policy and violates all of the N.S.A.'s strictures, and if you complain about it you're out," he said. "Cheney had a strong hand in this."

The long-term Administration goal was to help set up a Sunni Arab coalition—including countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt—that would join the United States and Europe to pressure the ruling Shiite mullahs in Iran. "But the thought behind that plan was that Israel would defeat Hezbollah, not lose to it," the consultant with close ties to Israel said. Some officials in Cheney's office and at the N.S.C. had become convinced, on the basis of private talks, that those nations would moderate their public criticism of Israel and blame Hezbollah for creating the crisis that led to war. Although they did so at first, they shifted their position in the wake of public protests in their countries about the Israeli bombing. The White House was clearly disappointed when, late last month, Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, came to Washington and, at a meeting with Bush, called for the President to intervene immediately to end the war. The Washington Post reported that Washington had hoped to enlist moderate Arab states "in an effort to pressure Syria and Iran to rein in Hezbollah, but the Saudi move . . . seemed to cloud that initiative."

The surprising strength of Hezbollah's resistance, and its continuing ability to fire rockets into northern Israel in the face of the constant Israeli bombing, the Middle East expert told me, "is a massive setback for those in the White House who want to use force in Iran. And those who argue that the bombing will create internal dissent and revolt in Iran are also set back."

Nonetheless, some officers serving with the Joint Chiefs of Staff remain deeply concerned that the Administration will have a far more positive assessment of the air campaign than they should, the former senior intelligence official said. "There is no way that Rumsfeld and Cheney will draw the right conclusion about this," he said. "When the smoke clears, they'll say it was a success, and they'll draw reinforcement for their plan to attack Iran."

In the White House, especially in the Vice-President's office, many officials believe that the military campaign against Hezbollah is working and should be carried forward. At the same time, the government consultant said, some policymakers in the Administration have concluded that the cost of the bombing to Lebanese society is too high. "They are telling Israel that it's time to wind down the attacks on infrastructure."

Similar divisions are emerging in Israel. David Siegel, the Israeli spokesman, said that his country's leadership believed, as of early August, that the air war had been successful, and had destroyed more than seventy per cent of Hezbollah's medium- and long-range-missile launching capacity. "The problem is short-range missiles, without launchers, that can be shot from civilian areas and homes," Siegel told me. "The only way to resolve this is ground operations—which is why Israel would be forced to expand ground operations if the latest round of diplomacy doesn't work." Last week, however, there was evidence that the Israeli government was troubled by the progress of the war. In an unusual move, Major General Moshe Kaplinsky, Halutz's deputy, was put in charge of the operation, supplanting Major General Udi Adam. The worry in Israel is that Nasrallah might escalate the crisis by firing missiles at Tel Aviv. "There is a big debate over how much damage Israel should inflict to prevent it," the consultant said. "If Nasrallah hits Tel Aviv, what should Israel do? Its goal is to deter more attacks by telling Nasrallah that it will destroy his country if he doesn't stop, and to remind the Arab world that Israel can set it back twenty years. We're no longer playing by the same rules."

A European intelligence officer told me, "The Israelis have been caught in a psychological trap. In earlier years, they had the belief that they could solve their problems with toughness. But now, with Islamic martyrdom, things have changed, and they need different answers. How do you scare people who love martyrdom?" The problem with trying to eliminate Hezbollah, the intelligence officer said, is the group's ties to the Shiite population in southern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and Beirut's southern suburbs, where it operates schools, hospitals, a radio station, and various charities.

A high-level American military planner told me, "We have a lot of vulnerability in the region, and we've talked about some of the effects of an Iranian or Hezbollah attack on the Saudi regime and on the oil infrastructure." There is special concern inside the Pentagon, he added, about the oil-producing nations north of the Strait of Hormuz. "We have to anticipate the unintended consequences," he told me. "Will we be able to absorb a barrel of oil at one hundred dollars? There is this almost comical thinking that you can do it all from the air, even when you're up against an irregular enemy with a dug-in capability. You're not going to be successful unless you have a ground presence, but the political leadership never considers the worst case. These guys only want to hear the best case."

There is evidence that the Iranians were expecting the war against Hezbollah. Vali Nasr, an expert on Shiite Muslims and Iran, who is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and also teaches at the Naval Postgraduate School, in Monterey, California, said, "Every negative American move against Hezbollah was seen by Iran as part of a larger campaign against it. And Iran began to prepare for the showdown by supplying more sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah—anti-ship and anti-tank missiles—and training its fighters in their use. And now Hezbollah is testing Iran's new weapons. Iran sees the Bush Administration as trying to marginalize its regional role, so it fomented trouble."

Nasr, an Iranian-American who recently published a study of the Sunni-Shiite divide, entitled "The Shia Revival," also said that the Iranian leadership believes that Washington's ultimate political goal is to get some international force to act as a buffer—to physically separate Syria and Lebanon in an effort to isolate and disarm Hezbollah, whose main supply route is through Syria. "Military action cannot bring about the desired political result," Nasr said. The popularity of Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a virulent critic of Israel, is greatest in his own country. If the U.S. were to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, Nasr said, "you may end up turning Ahmadinejad into another Nasrallah—the rock star of the Arab street."

Donald Rumsfeld, who is one of the Bush Administration's most outspoken, and powerful, officials, has said very little publicly about the crisis in Lebanon. His relative quiet, compared to his aggressive visibility in the run-up to the Iraq war, has prompted a debate in Washington about where he stands on the issue.

Some current and former intelligence officials who were interviewed for this article believe that Rumsfeld disagrees with Bush and Cheney about the American role in the war between Israel and Hezbollah. The U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said that "there was a feeling that Rumsfeld was jaded in his approach to the Israeli war." He added, "Air power and the use of a few Special Forces had worked in Afghanistan, and he tried to do it again in Iraq. It was the same idea, but it didn't work. He thought that Hezbollah was too dug in and the Israeli attack plan would not work, and the last thing he wanted was another war on his shift that would put the American forces in Iraq in greater jeopardy."

A Western diplomat said that he understood that Rumsfeld did not know all the intricacies of the war plan. "He is angry and worried about his troops" in Iraq, the diplomat said. Rumsfeld served in the White House during the last year of the war in Vietnam, from which American troops withdrew in 1975, "and he did not want to see something like this having an impact in Iraq." Rumsfeld's concern, the diplomat added, was that an expansion of the war into Iran could put the American troops in Iraq at greater risk of attacks by pro-Iranian Shiite militias.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on August 3rd, Rumsfeld was less than enthusiastic about the war's implications for the American troops in Iraq. Asked whether the Administration was mindful of the war's impact on Iraq, he testified that, in his meetings with Bush and Condoleezza Rice, "there is a sensitivity to the desire to not have our country or our interests or our forces put at greater risk as a result of what's taking place between Israel and Hezbollah. . . . There are a variety of risks that we face in that region, and it's a difficult and delicate situation."

The Pentagon consultant dismissed talk of a split at the top of the Administration, however, and said simply, "Rummy is on the team. He'd love to see Hezbollah degraded, but he also is a voice for less bombing and more innovative Israeli ground operations." The former senior intelligence official similarly depicted Rumsfeld as being "delighted that Israel is our stalking horse."

There are also questions about the status of Condoleezza Rice. Her initial support for the Israeli air war against Hezbollah has reportedly been tempered by dismay at the effects of the attacks on Lebanon. The Pentagon consultant said that in early August she began privately "agitating" inside the Administration for permission to begin direct diplomatic talks with Syria—so far, without much success. Last week, the Times reported that Rice had directed an Embassy official in Damascus to meet with the Syrian foreign minister, though the meeting apparently yielded no results. The Times also reported that Rice viewed herself as "trying to be not only a peacemaker abroad but also a mediator among contending parties" within the Administration. The article pointed to a divide between career diplomats in the State Department and "conservatives in the government," including Cheney and Abrams, "who were pushing for strong American support for Israel."

The Western diplomat told me his embassy believes that Abrams has emerged as a key policymaker on Iran, and on the current Hezbollah-Israeli crisis, and that Rice's role has been relatively diminished. Rice did not want to make her most recent diplomatic trip to the Middle East, the diplomat said. "She only wanted to go if she thought there was a real chance to get a ceasefire."

Bush's strongest supporter in Europe continues to be British Prime Minister Tony Blair, but many in Blair's own Foreign Office, as a former diplomat said, believe that he has "gone out on a particular limb on this"—especially by accepting Bush's refusal to seek an immediate and total ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah. "Blair stands alone on this," the former diplomat said. "He knows he's a lame duck who's on the way out, but he buys it"—the Bush policy. "He drinks the White House Kool-Aid as much as anybody in Washington." The crisis will really start at the end of August, the diplomat added, "when the Iranians"—under a United Nations deadline to stop uranium enrichment—"will say no."

Even those who continue to support Israel's war against Hezbollah agree that it is failing to achieve one of its main goals—to rally the Lebanese against Hezbollah. "Strategic bombing has been a failed military concept for ninety years, and yet air forces all over the world keep on doing it," John Arquilla, a defense analyst at the Naval Postgraduate School, told me. Arquilla has been campaigning for more than a decade, with growing success, to change the way America fights terrorism. "The warfare of today is not mass on mass," he said. "You have to hunt like a network to defeat a network. Israel focussed on bombing against Hezbollah, and, when that did not work, it became more aggressive on the ground. The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result."

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Landis on Charlie Rose Show - Friday, Aug 11, 2006

Charlie Rose invited me to speak on his show with Ambassador Imad Moustapha. Rose was


IMAD MOUSTAPHA, Syria’s Ambassador to the United States

JOSHUA LANDIS, University of Oklahoma


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Many Reasons the US Should Engage Syria

Many Reasons the US Should Engage Syria
by Joshua Landis
"Syria Comment," August 9, 2006

The debate over whether to find a diplomatic solution to the Lebanon conflict or to press for a total military victory is becoming ever more heated. More and more analysts are pressing President Bush to talk to Damascus. I will sum up the arguments for and against.

Arguments why Syria is key to any solution:

Syria is the key to controlling Hizbullah. Hizbullah's arms are all delivered through Syria, regardless of their point of origin. This gives Damascus an iron grip of Hizbullah’s weapon supplies; only when Damascus signs onto an agreement can Hizb be brought under control. Damascus has been the main patron of Hizbullah in the past, using it to hurt Israel in order to get it to cough up occupied Golan.

Diplomacy has worked in the past; it can work in the future: Syria's diplomacy has been marked by pragmatism not radicalism. Hafiz al-Asad kept his promises. He promised to hurt Israel so long as it did not give back the Golan; he did. During the 1990s he tried to reach a peace agreement with Israel, brokered by the US. Both Clinton and Israel’s head of military intelligence claimed Israel deserved more blame than Syria for the failure to reach an agreement. Bashar al-Asad has repeatedly asked for the same deal Barak got “cold feet” on.

The Asads' pragmatism is manifest in their accurate assessment of Syria’s limited power. Both father and son accurately assessed that Syria could not and can not attack Israel alone or directly, and must use proxies. Hafiz had a canny grasp of his constraints that Saddam Hussein did not. He exploited Syria's capabilities to punch above his weight. When American and Syrian interests coincided, Asad proved a capable partner. The Asads have kept Syria's border with Israel quieter than any other Arab border since 1973. When the US asked Hafiz to save Lebanon's Christians from subjugation by Lebanon's Muslim-PLO forces in 1976, he did. Syria brought Lebanon's civil war to an end, which no other country could do. Syria fought along side the US the 1991 Gulf War.

Syria did not try to ruin Lebanon or annex it. On the contrary, Syria’s security umbrella allowed Lebanon to stabilize and launch a stunning economic recovery. Asad did not try to colonize Lebanon or annex its land or water, as Israel did to the Palestinians. When asked by Lebanon's Communist Leader George Hrawi to unite the two countries, Hafiz al-Asad said, “No, Lebanon is its own entity," proving that Syria's presence in Lebanon was not governed by “Greater Syria” ideology. Nothing confirms this more than the swiftness and ease of Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon in April 2005, which was carried out in a matter of weeks. There were no important disruptions to either country's economic growth or underlying political structures. No Syrian spoke out against the withdrawal of Syria’s military from Lebanon. Almost all Syrians lamented that their government had not left Lebanon years earlier, under happier conditions. There is no grass roots constituency for annexing Lebanon. Yes Syria wants to retain Lebanon in its sphere of influence. This is hardly surprising, given its economic and strategic importance.

Bashar is turning out to be as shrewd as his father was. He has not miscalculated or misunderstood the realities of a “new era,” as so many have argued. He said the invasion of Iraq was a mistake and wrong; It was. In 2003, after opposing the invasion, he tried to patch up relations with the US, offering to continue giving the US intelligence on al-Qaida and to deliver senior Iraqi Baathists who had taken refuge in Syria and who were aiding the insurgency in Iraq, but at the price. Syria demanded that the US do nothing to end its influence in Lebanon. This was the same bargain that Asad the father had offered Bush the father so successfully in 1990. Bush the son refused it. Asad still thought he could reason with W. Bush and delivered a handful of top Iraqi Baathists to Washington, stopped the free flow of Jihadists from crossing into Iraq, and halved the number of Syrian troops in Lebanon, but US anti-Syrian invective did not diminish. Bush was determined to take Lebanon away from Syria with or without its cooperation on Iraq. Bashar did not miscalculate; Bush did.

The only real price Syria has paid for not cooperating with the US on Iraq is that Washington imposed ineffective economic sanctions on Syria and isolated it from visits from Western heads of state. This is a serious annoyance, but not a threat. Syria’s economy is growing faster than it has in a decade, its foreign debt is lower than ever, and it’s good relations with the West have been traded for good relations with the East. Losing Lebanon was not the price of opposing the US in Iraq. Washington never offered Lebanon for Iraq.

Bashar did not miscalculate. Opposing Washington’s demands on Iraq and Lebanon was good politics. He has consolidated his power over his state and is more popular than ever. On the contrary, Bush and Chirac miscalculated; they said Bashar was weak and would fall within a year of his pullout from Lebanon. Bush’s Middle East policy is in ruins; Bashar’s looks prescient by contrast. Rather than trying to dictate policy to Asad, which has proven a failure, Bush should listen to Bashar.

Borders are the key: This is the time to set the stage for giving back the Golan and concluding a region wide solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, including the oft-talked about Palestinian state. The conflict is about borders more than ideology or religion.

Dry up the swamp: Radical groups such as Hizbullah and Hamas will be kept in check and may eventually melt away if regional governments are brought into a solution that they can sign onto. With the majority of Arabs on the side of peace, the minority will be deprived of the sea of resentment and recruits that nourish it. Economic development and stability will see to the rest.

We are losing: There is no military solution to the present conflict. We are losing the battle. If we press ahead with the destruction of Lebanon, we will only weaken the Lebanese central government and produce another failed state, giving greater freedom for radical groups to defy central authority and build on chaos. It is better to cut our losses and make peace, while Israel is at the top of its game and much more powerful than the Arabs. Israel should have made peace in 2000, when it was truly at the top of its game, but now is better than later. Hizbullah's fierce resistance proves that time is running against Israel - better for Israel and the West to lock in now while Syria is weak and Israel remains a regional super power.

The clearest, recent argument for engaging Syria is put forward by Alon Ben-Meir in his article:

Outside View: The case for engaging Syria
By Alon Ben-Meir Aug 8, 2006, UPI

He writes:

By refusing to engage Syria, the Bush administration will forfeit another historic opportunity to bring an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, however remote that prospect may now seem.

But while Syria can be penalized for its underhanded activities, it cannot be left out of any arrangement involving Israel and Lebanon. Excluding Syria may seem appropriate punishment for its actions; yet the consequences will be far more negative for the United States and Israel.

It is hardly a secret that Syria has a special interest in Lebanon. Washington must accept the reality that, with or without Syrian troops in Lebanon and with or without Hezbollah`s active militia, this interest will not end. To suggest that any lasting resolution between Israel and Lebanon can be achieved without the full support of Damascus is more than utter naiveté: it is a truly dangerous illusion.
Arguments against engaging Syria:

Syria is evil and irrational. It cannot be negotiated with. The US tried to convince Bashar al-Asad to change his policies from 2000 to 2005 through diplomacy; this failed. The only real solution is for regime change. The second best solution is to weakening Syria such that it is deprived of its influence in Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq. Bashar cannot be trusted.

This is a fight between Islamic fanaticism and Western civilization: It is not about borders. Withdrawing from Southern Lebanon and Gaza were mistakes which emboldened radical Islam and signaled Western weakness.

We are winning: We destroyed Saddam, turned Libya, weakened Syria, isolated Arafat, and have "moderate Arab regimes" on our side: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the Hariri-led government of Lebanon. We are now destroying Hizbullah. This is no time to go wobbly. Press on to victory. This is an all or nothing battle. If we show any signs of weakness, radical Islam will win. Our allies are counting on us.

This argument is made by Dan Schueftan, a senior fellow at the capital's Shalem Center and a lecturer at the University of Haifa. He claims:
"Unless Arab radicalism is defeated historically and permanently, he says, Israel can't survive in this hostile region." Therefore, he stresses, Israel should not negotiate with Syria. "It is not the price of a particular agreement" that is the problem, he says, "but rather the value of such negotiations in the context of the broad currents in the Arab world.

"In a world in which Saddam is destroyed, Gaddafi is domesticated, Assad is frightened and permanently on the defensive, Arafat was quarantined and the new Palestinian government is in very deep trouble," a settlement would send the wrong message to the Arab world. "If you can be a radical and win," Schueftan says, there will be increased radicalism among the Arabs, "putting Israel in a more difficult situation."

In this context, "any settlement with Syria would only strengthen one of the most radical regimes in the Arab world".

Here are some recent articles covering this debate:
Never Say Never Again to Damascus
Sami Moubayed
04 Aug 2006, World Politics Watch Exclusive

crazy like a fox: Jerusalem Post

Syria is key: Jerusalem Post

Engage Syria or engage Iran?
New Anatolian

Syria's crucial role: Why Damascus meddles - and matters
International Herald Tribune, Aug. 8, by Stanley A. Weiss

A CRACK IN THE DOOR Can Damascus Help Stop the Violence?
Spiegel Online

Talking and Shunning in the Mideast (8 Letters)
New York Times

It was Syria that had kept Hizbollah in check
Indian Express

Americans press Bush: Talk to Syria

Analysis: Iran and Syria exploiting weak Israeli leadership to ...
Israel Insider

Experts debate Syria's
Jerusalem Post

How the U.S. fired Jack Straw
By William Rees-Mogg, The Times, August 7, 2006

Monday, August 07, 2006

Is the US inspired UN Resolution Dead on Arrival?

As the UN Security Council prepares to vote on a joint French - US resolution to prepare the way for the creation of an Israeli controlled buffer zone in Southern Lebanon, President Bush explained: "I understand that both parties aren't going to agree with all aspects of the resolution. But the intent of the resolutions is to strengthen the Lebanese government so Israel has got a partner in peace."

The New York Times has a good article on the differences between the two countries here.

Siniora's government has stood against the resolution. He and the Arab foreign ministers, who met in Beirut on Monday,

pressed for changes in the Franco-American U.N. draft resolution. Siniora has proposed a speeded-up deployment of Lebanese troops with the support of U.N. forces in order to ensure that thousands of Israeli soldiers leave the south with any cease-fire.

In a related development, the Lebanese army recalled reserve troops who have been released from service less than 5 years ago for a possible deployment in the south.

The Arab foreign ministers warned of "the consequences of adopting resolutions that are not applicable and complicate the situation on the ground and do not take Lebanon's interest and stability into account." Lebanon and the Arabs see the draft resolution as heavily tilted toward Israel.
Siniora, who gave a Tearful speech pleading for Lebanon not to be a 'Punching Bag' got strong backing from the foreign ministers, who warned the U.N. Security Council against adopting resolutions that don't serve Lebanon's interests. They decided to send a high-level delegation to New York to press Lebanon's case.

Bush brushed off Siniora's demand for an Israeli troop withdrawal: "Whatever happens in the UN, we must not create a vacuum into which Hizbullah and its sponsors are able to move more weapons," Bush said.

Paul Woodward's extraordinary site, War in Context, summarizes a number of good articles. Here is one of his summaries:

The loser in Lebanon: The Atlantic alliance
By Mark Perry and Alastair Crooke, Asia Times, August 8, 2006
The [Security Council] resolution ... seems to satisfy the French and Americans - but no one else, and so angered Arab diplomats that Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League, denounced it publicly, while privately calling the resolution "a surrender document".

A spokesman for Hezbollah in Beirut was even blunter, saying that the resolution was "dead on arrival". He added, "The French caved in to American and Israeli pressure. Israel gets to stay on our land. We are required to disarm. Why isn't an international force deployed in northern Israel? Our arms get cut off and the US gets to fly cluster munitions into Ben Gurion [Airport in Tel Aviv]. Just who do they think is winning this war?"

For now, Condoleezza Rice is hailing the US-French draft as a symbol for US-European cooperation. But for many European diplomats, agreement on the draft resolution has only papered over a deepening rift between the United States and its European partners, with some European diplomats muttering that America's real goal is to induce the Europeans to wade into Lebanon on the side of a defanged and humiliated Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert "bragged that Israel would destroy Hezbollah", a French diplomat said in Washington, "and if he can't do it that's his problem. I don't care what the secretary of state says, we're not going to do it for him. “There are more difficult days ahead - particularly when the US and France square off in the coming week over the draft of a second resolution. With nearly everyone now wondering whether the US position in the Middle East is unraveling, one UN diplomat said the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict may spell the end of an era in which the US and Europe established a tradition of diplomatic cooperation: "We might as well face up to it. Sooner or later the United States is going to have to choose what is more important - its strategic alliance with Europe, or its friendship with Israel." [complete article]
Robert Fisk comes to a similar conclusion in his: This draft shows who is running America's policy... Israel.

Leila Hatoum of the Daily Star is barely able to conceal her outrage at US hypocrisy in her article covering US Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch's visit to Lebanon yesterday. She writes:

Welch took careful aim to reiterate Saturday that the United States is "determined to support Lebanon." "President [George W.] Bush and Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice are determined to support Lebanon," Welch said after a meeting with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora in Beirut. "Much has happened in the past three weeks, but the commitment of the US to Lebanon remains firm; it remains enduring and it is not negotiable."
Hatoum intersperses these warm reassurances from the US administration with a laundry list of the lives lost, refugees send running from their homes, and infrastructure destroyed by America's client, Israel. Welch's reassurances that "the relationship of the US with Lebanon is based on mutual respect and the shared interests" and his personal statement, "I grieve for the lives that have been lost," should go a long way to convince Siniora and other Lebanese that Washington has Lebanon's best interests in mind as it buys time for Israel to continue bombing.

On the eve of Monday's diplomatic discussions, Israel and then Syria raised the rhetoric of war in order to scare the other side into making concessions.

Olmert Discusses Expansion of War with Defense Officials Amid Report of Escalating Attacks on Infrastructure

Syrian foreign minister warns his country ready for regional war
Syria's foreign minister said Sunday his country was ready for regional war and will respond "immediately" to any Israeli attack, as he offered to join Hizbullah's ranks. "We will respond to any Israeli aggression immediately," Walid Moallem said on arrival in Lebanon ahead of a Monday-meeting for Arab foreign ministers to discuss.Full Story

Annahar, a pro-American Lebanese paper, claims that because the Security Council resolution "does not call for an 'immediate cessation of violence,' that it appeared to be a victory for the U.S. and Israel. France and many other nations were demanding an immediate halt to violence without conditions as a way to push the region back toward stability.

Secretary Rice, in an interview with MSNBC on Friday, said "if anyone were to disarm Hizbullah, it would be the Lebanese, not an international force." How this is to happen, she did not say.

Rami Khouri, in his latest Newsweek article, explains how the tensions among Lebanese are getting worse beneath the facade of unity. He believes Hizbullah will come out of the conflict more powerful, but is not aiming for more seats in parliament. He writes:

Soon comes Hizbullah's next fight—a postwar political reckoning. Whether the party emerges from the current conflict weaker or stronger—and stronger seems the answer now—it will then have to battle the country's other political, religious and ethnic groups for the soul and identity of Lebanon. ...

Hizbullah, as arbiter of a settlement, would likely emerge from these talks with far more clout than it went in with. Would it then try to flex its newfound muscles by dominating the domestic political scene and seeking more cabinet or parliamentary seats? Or, as some analysts who are intimately familiar with the party suggest, would it continue to leave national governance to a consensus cabinet in which it is only symbolically represented, while focusing its energy on defining Lebanon's overall political identity and strategic orientation? From Hizbullah's perspective, that would involve loosening traditional ties to the United States and France, and engaging more with the Arab-Islamic world. Critics also fear this would mean a renewed (even dominant) role for Syria in Lebanon—along with a greater Iranian say in Lebanon's foreign policy.

The question that Khoury begs is: How will Hizbullah define Lebanon's overall political identity and strategic orientation without greater clout in government? The only answer to this is that it will retain its militia, rearm, and continue to hold the government hostage. If this happens, which seems likely, other Lebanese groups will undoubtedly rearm, leading to renewed civil war.
Khouri sums up the stakes as follows:
This face-off will transcend borders, for it is a microcosm of the wider struggle in the Middle East. On one side is the American-led West and Israel, with some very quiet Arab allies; on the other is the movement to affirm an Arab-Iranian-Islamist identity. The ultimate contest will be the confrontation over Iran's nuclear program, followed by the ongoing tug of war over Hamas's democratic incumbency in the Palestinian territories. As for today's war, the Lebanon-Israel conflict will shape the contours of this emerging ideological battle in a variety of important ways.
It is worth reading Khouri's previous article: One day in the life of Bush-Blair democratization on how Lebanon will become another failed state in America and Israel's failing war to confirm their control over the larger Middle East.

John Waterbury, the President of AUB and a previous professor of mine at Princeton, confirms Khouri's view in his Washington Post article: A Bad Status Quo: We Must Address the Roots of the Mideast Crisis. He explains how the US has sought to preserve the status quo in the Middle East that was established during the 1967 War by allowing Israel to keep control of the occupied territories and not using its full diplomatic might to enforce recognized international borders. He believes this status quo is no longer tenable, at least not without turning more of the Middle East into a battle ground.

Imad Mustapha, the Syrian ambassador to the US, is interviewed by the Council on Foreign Relations. He makes a strong argument that Syria is willing to play a constructive role in stabilizing the situation if broader peace negotiations are encouraged. He gives an interesting version of how Syria tried to keep diplomatic channels to the US open following the Iraq War and was willing to offer Washington qualified help in Iraq, but was rebuffed by the US, which wanted all or nothing. The Syrian version of this is an important corrective to the record, which has been misrepresented by US diplomats. His insistence that Syria does not arm Hizbullah is belied by today’s NYTimes article: "A Disciplined Hezbollah Surprises Israel With Its Training, Tactics and Weapons," which reports:
The former Syrian president was careful to restrict supplies to Hezbollah, but his son, Bashar, who took over in 2000 — the year Israel pulled out of Lebanon — has opened its warehouses. Syria has given Hezbollah 220-millimeter and 302-millimeter missiles, both equipped with large, anti-personnel warheads. Syria has also given Hezbollah its most sophisticated antitank weapons, sold to the Syrian Army by Russia.
Although Syria seems to have supplied Hizbullah with arms, Iran is its main supplier. Interestingly, Iran has been practicing considerable restraint, according to an Israeli analyst: "But Iran, so far, has not allowed Hezbollah to fire one of the Zelzal missiles, the Israelis say."

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Lebanese Anger

Someone asked why I don't discuss Syria's role in this war. Gideon Levy does just that in this fine article. Syria's policy toward Israel is simple. It will make life as difficult for Israel as it possibly can without confronting it directly, which it hasn't the power or military to do. It will support radical Palestinian organizations, Hizbullah and other opponents of Israel so long as the Golan is occupied and it hasn't reached a satisfactory peace agreement. This is not a mystery. It is what Syria claims it does. Bashar al-Asad has stated his price, which is the Golan to the 1967 borders. Syria is willing to make significant security guarantees to Israel in order to achieve this and might well accept a special regime for the strip of land running along the Syrian side of the Jordan River. Israel doesn't want to pay the price and believes it can thwart Syria's provocations at an acceptable cost.

The Lebanese have been caught in the middle of this conflict for years and are again paying the price for it. Because they have been unable to resolve their internal conflicts, they are victims of a sort. Israel has no patience for their victim hood, however. It is holding the government and all Lebanon responsible for its inability to come to terms with the Shiites. America is too. It coddled the Hariri led government for a year and then decided it could not get the task of disarming Hizbullah done, which is what Washington was interested in. Now it is in the process of destroying Hariri and the extraordinary coalition he inherited from his father along with the exemplary legacy that Hariri left - the rebuilding of Lebanon.

Clearly there are two things which the Lebanese government will have to do once the shooting stops: redefine the Shiites' position in the government in order to get them to disarm and press for a regional peace with Israel.

It is easy to understand the anger many Lebanese have for Hizbullah and Syria, which supports it. But rather than direct all their anger at Hizbullah and the Shiites of the South, who support it, they should spend their ingenuity and political capital on pressing for a region-wide resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, as Gideon Levy suggests. Only by establishing sovereign UN recognized international borders will the radicalism of the region begin to drain out of it. In the long run, this is the only solution to Lebanon's long trail of tears as the victim of the Arab-Israeli conflict. That – and renegotiating the Taif Accords.

The real estate war
Aug 7, 006 - Haaretz
By Gideon Levy

This miserable war in Lebanon, which is just getting more and more complicated for no reason at all, was born in Israel's greed for land. Not that Israel is fighting this time to conquer more land, not at all, but ending the occupation could have prevented this unnecessary war. If Israel had returned the Golan Heights and signed a peace treaty with Syria in a timely fashion, presumably this war would not have broken out.

Peace with Syria would have guaranteed peace with Lebanon and peace with both would have prevented Hezbollah from fortifying on Israel's northern border. Peace with Syria would have also isolated Iran, Israel's true, dangerous enemy, and cut off Hezbollah from one of the two sources of its weapons and funding. It's so simple, and so removed from conventional Israeli thinking, which is subject to brainwashing.

For years, Israel has waged war against the Palestinians with the main motive of insistence on keeping the occupied territories. If not for the settlement enterprise, Israel would have long since retreated from the occupied territories and the struggle's engine would have been significant neutralized. Not that a non-occupying Israel would have turned into the darling of the Arab world, but the destructive fire aimed at Israel would have significantly lessened, and those who continued to fight Israel would have found themselves isolated.

The war against the Palestinians is therefore unequivocally a territorial war, a war for the settlements. In other words, in the West Bank and Gaza, people were killed and are getting killed because of our greed for land. From Golda Meir to Ehud Olmert, the lie has held that the war with the Palestinians is an existential one for survival imposed on Israel when it is actually a war for real estate, one dunam after another, that does not belong to us.

The situation is different with Syria. For 33 years, the Syrians gave up the military effort to reinstate their occupied lands. Israel can pass a dozen Golan Heights laws to annex it, but occupied territory remains occupied territory. During those three decades, the prevailing view in Israel was that there was no need for peace with Syria: The Syrians sat quietly anyway, so why give them back the Golan?

This is the same dangerously foolish thinking that characterized the first 20 years of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinians sat quietly, surrendered under the Israeli occupation boot, and it did not occur to anyone to return their territory. Instead, Israel established the settlements. Only when the Palestinians woke up and realized they were going to lose their lands forever did they begin a violent campaign; and only after blood was spilled, did Israel wake up from its dreams and realize that it could not hold onto all of the territories forever. Thus, with regrettable delay and years of bloodshed, the recognition of the PLO, the Oslo accords, the disengagement and the convergence were born - all partial and fake solutions meant to postpone the end of the occupation.

We did not need all of that with the Syrians - after all, they sat quietly all of these years. Now comes the war in Lebanon and proves that this was a mistake. Although the Syrians sat on the sidelines, the danger from that direction was not removed and the delusion that the Golan would forever remain in Israeli hands, without our being asked to pay for its occupation, is now slapping us in the face.

But the current war could yet turn out to be only an appetizer for the coming wars, which will be far more dangerous. The saying that time is on our side is another delusion. The Arab and Muslim world has armed, in all of this time, and the danger of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles is already hovering over our heads. The only response to that is maximum neutralization of the flashpoints, before the bomb arrives. But Israel has chosen to close its eyes and build its future on a horrifyingly temporary quiet, or on more and more war operations.

Just when territory is losing its military importance because of the development of new fighting technology, Israel is using security excuses to stay in the territories. Former-prime minister Ehud Barak criminally missed the opportunity to sign a peace treaty with Syria after he got "cold feet," as witnesses said, and retreated at the last minute. That's how it works with us. When the other side is quiet, why return territories? And when they do go to war, "there's nobody to talk to," and certainly not while we are "under fire."

While we are ready to jump on any war bandwagon, as in this time, we endlessly procrastinate when it comes to peace negotiations. Now, too, when Syria, pushed around by the U.S., desperately wants to return to the "family of nations," is an excellent time to try to make peace with it - but there are those who say now is not the time. What will the Americans say? They, after all, are against any deals with Bashar Assad of "the axis of evil."

So, there it is, another excuse to miss a golden opportunity, another mendacious excuse. As in the case of the peace with Egypt, the move that has guaranteed Israel's security for years far more than any war, and which was put together behind the America's back, America would not be able to oppose a peace agreement with Syria. Now, after we've hit Hezbollah and ruined Lebanon, the prime minister of Israel should declare: the Golan for peace. That could contribute a lot more to our security than a thousand useless daring operations in Baalbek, but it would take a lot more courage than going off to fight another unnecessary and useless war.

"It's Not Syria's Problem Anymore," by Robert Baer

Appointment In Damascus
In March I asked an old friend what he though would happen in Lebanon. 'It's not Syria's problem anymore,' he told me. 'We gave Lebanon to Iran.'

By Robert Baer
Newsweek International
Aug. 14, 2006

In March I ran into an old friend in Damascus, a Syrian businessman close to President Bashar al-Assad. I asked him what he thought would happen in Lebanon. "It's not Syria's problem anymore," he told me. "You threw us out. We gave Lebanon to Iran."

I never thought forcing Syria out of Lebanon had been a good idea. The Lebanese government left in charge was weaker than the one that

had been powerless to stop the civil war in 1975. Brutal as its rule had been, it was Syria that put an end to that war with the 1989 Taif accord. Syria kept Hizbullah in check, limiting its parliamentary representation in the 1992, 1996 and 2000 elections. With the Syrian Army gone, I feared, Lebanon would again become a divided and dangerous country.

To be sure, Damascus is hardly a benign influence. It arms Hizbullah and harbors violent Palestinian groups. Still, when Syria controlled Lebanon, Damascus was the closest thing America had to a return address for Hizbullah's terrorists. This was never clearer than during the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847. When passengers were about to be executed on the tarmac of Beirut International Airport, President Ronald Reagan appealed to Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, who ordered his commanders in Lebanon to gas up their tanks and prepare to crush the militia. Hizbullah released the hostages.

There were other occasions. In 1987, after Hizbullah kidnapped ABC correspondent Charles Glass within sight of a Syrian checkpoint, the Syrian Army pulled Hizbullah members out of their cars and beat them. Glass was soon free. When the group kidnapped two U.N. employees in 1988, along with others, Assad threatened to arrest Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, a cleric close to Hizbullah, and hang him. Hizbullah quickly let the captives go. In July 1982, a Lebanese Christian militia kidnapped the Iranian chargé d'affaires, two other Iranian diplomats and a Leba-nese journalist. In hopes of an exchange, Iran's Republican Guards arranged to kidnap David Dodge, the acting president of the American University of Beirut, and smuggle him across the border to Syria and thence to Tehran. Washington protested to Assad, who was furious. Unless Iranian authorities freed Dodge, he told Tehran, Syria would expel the Republican Guards from Lebanon. Needless to say, Dodge soon arrived unharmed in Damascus.

As I say, like Saddam Hussein in Iraq, it was the Syrians who kept the lid on Lebanon. So the idea of Damascus's handing its Lebanon portfolio to Tehran sounded like trouble. What happens next, I asked my Syrian contact. He shrugged, then dropped a bombshell. During Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to Damascus in January, he claimed, the Iranian president had met a shadowy figure in the terrorist world named Imad Mughniyah, the man widely suspected of kidnapping Dodge and killing U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem during the TWA hijacking, among other bloody episodes.

I'd heard this story before. The Mossad was big on it, but I've never quite believed it. The point is that my source did. Essentially, he was telling me he feared that Lebanon was spinning out of control—with dangerous consequences for everyone, including his own country. Freed from Syria's restraint, Hizbullah might soon be hijacking planes and kidnapping people again. If backed by Iranian radicals, it could go even further.

At the time I didn't imagine the full-scale war that has since erupted. But in retrospect, it's hardly surprising. Western diplomats may now seek a ceasefire and send in international peacekeepers. Israel may create an ethnically clean "buffer zone" along its northern border. But does anyone really believe the violence will stop? Will Iran prove a better safety valve than Syria? Not likely.

When the last Syrian tank rattled across the border last year, Syria fell back on a policy of trying to seal itself off from the chaos it could see building around it in Iraq and Lebanon. Bashar al-Assad especially fears the sort of crisis his father confronted in February 1982, when an insurrection backed by the Muslim Brotherhood broke out in Hamah. Assad senior contained it by flattening the town with heavy artillery. Combing through the rubble, the Syrians were astonished to find that the rebels' weapons had come from Lebanon. With no strong central government, it had become a failed state, an open arms bazaar and a haven for terrorists the world over. Today Syria sees history repeating itself, only worse.

Baer, a former CIA officer, is author of "Sleeping With the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude."

Critics Cite 'Constrained' Mideast Policy
U.S. Refusal to Engage Syria, Iran and Palestinians Said to Limit Negotiation Options

By Glenn Kessler and Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, August 6, 2006; A16
The Bush administration's policy of refusing to engage with nations and groups linked to terrorism, including Syria, Iran and Palestinian factions, has sharply limited U.S. maneuvering room during the war between Israel and Hezbollah, according to former administration officials and outside experts.

Iran is Hezbollah's prime sponsor, and Syria is the key conduit for the flow of missiles that have rained on Israeli territory -- facts that experts say make those countries essential to achieving a lasting solution. But after nearly six years in office, the administration has had increasingly limited contacts with those countries, if such contacts exist at all. Former officials charge that the administration has missed numerous opportunities to encourage Syria and Iran to cooperate more closely with U.S. interests....

Senior administration officials reject the criticism, saying they have made it clear what they expect from countries such as Syria, which they say has failed to respond appropriately. "The problem is, talking is not a substitute for strategy, and at the end of the day, countries make choices, and Syria has made, in our view, bad choices -- bad for them, bad for us and bad for the Syrian people," said national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley.

The administration's approach is enshrined in the National Security Strategy released earlier this year, which asserts that "the fundamental character of regimes matters as much as the distribution of power among them."...

For instance, administration officials have always demanded that Syria prevent militant groups from operating on its territory but have never explained what Syria would get in return. Leverett said the administration should have explicitly linked Syria's removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism to its expelling groups such as Hamas and severing the links that allow arms to flow to Hezbollah.

Syria also could be induced to cooperate if it receives some acknowledgment that it has a role in an Arab-Israeli peace deal, experts said. Syria nearly reached a peace agreement with Israel during the Clinton administration, but the Bush administration has been reluctant to involve Syria in its peace efforts.

Richard N. Haass, the State Department's director of policy planning in Bush's first term and now president of the Council on Foreign Relations, noted that after intense diplomatic engagement, Syria in the 1990s joined the coalition that ousted Iraq from Kuwait and was the first country to accept the U.S. invitation to join an Arab-Israeli peace conference in Madrid. "This administration tends to look at diplomatic interaction as an inducement or a reward, something to bestow, rather than seeing it as a neutral tool in foreign policy," he said.

After Syria was suspected of involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri last year, Rice withdrew the U.S. ambassador in Damascus. In the absence of high-level U.S. contacts, the European Union has tried to fill the breach, sending Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos to meet with Assad.

Moratinos reported that Assad was willing to help but also wanted to take part in talks on a "comprehensive and lasting peace" for the region -- suggesting he is seeking the return of the Golan Heights, seized by Israel in the 1967 war.

Syria provided intelligence about radical extremist groups after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Leverett said. The CIA praised the quality of the information, he said, but a State Department effort to build on that relationship was thwarted by the Pentagon and Vice President Cheney's office.

"As unattractive as they are, the Syrians are in a position to affect U.S. interests in Iraq and Lebanon," Haass said. "We should be having a broad-based dialogue with them -- not as a favor to them but as a favor to ourselves."

James Dobbins, former U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and now at the Rand Corp., said the administration's approach has similarly been counterproductive in countering the deteriorating situation in Iraq. He said the United States has made little effort to engage Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria, in helping to stabilize the country.

"We can't possibly stabilize Iraq unless we use the same methods that we used to stabilize Bosnia and Afghanistan," Dobbins said. "In both cases, we did that by engaging our adversaries and giving them a privileged place at the bargaining table."

Saturday, August 05, 2006

More Calls to Engage Syria

Rebecca Sinderbrand writing from Damascus for the Washington Monthly explains:

TALKING TO SYRIA....There are still plenty of nay-sayers, but the chorus calling for Syrian involvement in crafting a Lebanon ceasefire solution now includes Richard Armitage, Warren Christopher, and Mr. Flat World himself, Tom Friedman.

The idea isn't limited to diplomacy's backseat drivers. With the notable exception of France (which is trying to seduce Syria's closest ally, Iran), most EU governments believe the path to peace runs through Damascus. In the same way that the U.S. is the only party that can influence Israel to stop the bombing, they say, then like it or not, Syria is the only actor with the clout — and the willingness — to do the same on the other side. European and Arab ministers have been shuttling in and out of Damascus for days now. The Spanish foreign minister met with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad yesterday, and his German counterpart — who spent several days chatting up officials here — has already laid out the outlines of a deal that could simultaneously end the current conflict, get Syria out of the diplomatic doghouse, and pry it loose from the Iranian death grip.

For their part, the Syrians say they're ready to play ball. Officials I've spoken with here in Damascus say the regime is ready to help convince Hezbollah to sign on to an immediate ceasefire and enter sincere prisoner exchange negotiations that could return the two kidnapped Israeli soldiers. They'd also like to return to talks with Israel over a permanent land-for-peace deal. It's far from a perfect plan — there's plenty here that won't play particularly well in Washington or Jerusalem — but it's a decent starting point. Even a growing cadre of Israeli analysts seem to think that now is the moment to draw Syria out of the international isolation.
A number of Israeli analysts are writing that "without some positive inducement, it is unlikely that Syria will be persuaded to mend its ways, and will instead remain a major source of instability in the region." This line comes from a recent WINEP (Washington Institute for Near East Policy) report written by Barak Ben-Zur and Christopher Hamilton. It is a major shift for WINEP. Its director, Rob Satloff has been a consitant supporter of the don't-reward-Syria school. Another Israeli analyst is David Kimche, one of the two Kimche brothers who have been at the heart of Israeli foreign policy for decades. He migrated to Palestine from London and fought in the 1948 war. A former Deputy Head of Mossad, he was Director General of Israel's Foreign Ministry from 1980 to 1987.

Pry Syria Away from Iran
By David Kimche
August 4, 2006
Jerusalem Post, Israel

Condoleezza'a New Middle East: Are talks with Syria part the recipe?

... For starters, we should be demanding a second international "Madrid" peace conference to regulate our relations with our northern neighbors and to reactivate the multi-national groupings created after the first "Madrid."

The joker in the Middle Eastern pack of cards is Syria - Syrian President Bashar Assad is a dictator, yet for us in Israel a secular dictator is preferable to a democratically elected fundamentalist Muslim fanatic. He is one of the three ultra-weak leaders who are impinging on our present strategic situation - Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas, Lebanese Fuad Saniora and Bashar Assad.

In the past few years, his weakness was considered sufficient reason not to deal with him. "Why should we negotiate with the Syrians and give up territory when they are too weak to threaten us?" was the understandable reasoning behind our refusal to answer Bashar's repeated offers to sit down with us and negotiate peace.

Syria is an integral part of our present problem in the North, but it could become part of the solution to that problem. It is the weak link in the Iranian-Syrian-Hezbullah axis. Without Syria, the Iranians would find it vastly more difficult to support its surrogate army in Lebanon. With Syria firmly in the axis, they can, through the Syrians, go a long way to undermining any agreement reached replacing the old order in south Lebanon with a multinational force. The international community will find it very difficult to establish such a force without at least the tacit agreement of Hezbullah, and its attitude will depend to a large extent on the stand taken by the Syrians.

Weak as it is, Syria still has the capacity to throw a spanner in the works and make the aftermath to the fighting much more difficult for us.

Our refusal to have anything to do with the Syrians is, to a large extent, an extension of American policy toward Damascus. President Bush has, time and again, made it very clear that the Syrian regime is not his preferred flavor of the month. In his eyes, the Syrians aid and abet terror, and for him, very correctly so, there is no worse crime than that. Yet not so long ago the Libyans were in exactly the same situation, and today the Stars and Stripes fly proudly and defiantly over the newly reopened American Embassy in the Libyan capital.

The Syrians would dearly like to mend their fences with the Americans and emerge from their present isolation. They would have to pay a heavy price - close their frontier with Iraq, eject the Iraqi insurgents harboring inside Syria, expel Khaled Mashal and his cronies from Damascus, stop arming Hezbullah and cut their links with Teheran. A tall order? Not necessarily, especially not if it would help them to extricate themselves from the ongoing investigation into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri. Their preferred route for reengaging the US is to start talking with Israel.

Should we? Can we pick up the Syrian gauntlet? Only within a package deal involving the United States, and Lebanon. The Americans must first be persuaded that prying Syria away from the clutches of Iran is an objective worth pursuing. The advantages
for us are manifest: defusing the dangerous Iranian-led axis in the North, expelling the Hamas and Jihad extremists from Damascus, paving the way for relations with the rest of the Arab world. There is, of course, the Golan. Successive prime ministers, including Binyamin Netanyahu, had been willing to compromise our position on the Golan for the sake of peace with Syria. Future negotiations with the weak Assad could probably produce better results for us than previous efforts.

As we enter the last stages of this present war, we must face the challenge of the political and diplomatic aftermath and make sure that we are not, yet once more, in a situation where we win military battles but lose the political ones coming in their wake. The fighting that Hezbullah provoked is creating an opportunity for change, providing we think big and know what to demand. Let us not miss this opportunity.

Robert Rabil of WINEP is also very concerned that Syria's allies in Lebanon may come out winners should Lebanon's pro-American government be voted out of office because its mentors in Washington refused to protect Lebanon from Israel's fury. To avoid this outcome he recommends that only a strong foreign force can bolster the present government.

He fears that "Hizballah [will] employ its “projected victory” in a postconflict Lebanon to change the political equation" in its favor. Hizbullah's allies, he writes, "are preparing for a political comeback in a postconflict Lebanon by riding the wave of the victory Hizballah is sure to claim whatever the outcome."

To this effect, a number of politicians who hope to bring down the Hariri led, pro-American parliamentary leadership are seeking to
"undermine Siniora’s plan and thus potentially lead to the collapse of Siniora’s government. At a time when France has been trying to help set up an international force, which some countries have already expressed reservations to join, President Emile Lahoud lambasted the idea as a “new French Mandate over Lebanon.” He also implied that French and American troops could become targets by stating that “he does not want to see the 1982 bombings repeated,” a reference to suicide bombings against the French and American troops who were then part of a multinational force to pacify Beirut.

At the same time, Aounist leader Michel Aoun called for an emergency government to replace Siniora’s government, and pro-Syrian leader Suleiman Franjieh announced that the March 14 coalition had been defeated and called upon them to recognize their defeat. He also supported Aoun’s call for an emergency government.

All these activities are related to Hizballah’s plan to capitalize on its Pyrrhic victory in postconflict Lebanon; Hizballah seeks to change the country’s political equation by strengthening its pro-Syrian allies and depriving the March 14 coalition of the political capital it needs to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1559.
Rabil calls for a strong foreign force to stop this eventuality. He entitles his article "Why a Multinational Force is Essential in Lebanon."

He concludes his article by quoting Walid Jumblat's warning that US and Israel medicine are killing the patient and turning Lebanon into a failed state:
"Jumblat said, “We will be a weak state next to a very strong militia. Our government will be like the government of Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] next to Hamas—or maybe worse, like the government of [Nouri al-] Maliki in Iraq.”
In order to avoid this weak-state ending, Rabil insists the foreign cavalry must sound their bugles and ride in from stage left to kill the Indians and save the nice people of the Lebanese north.

This is all very confusing. First, we must doubt whether Lebanon is a good stand in for the American West. Second, in most of the movies produced by WINEP, Israel is the cavalry coming to kill the Indians. But Rabil doubts the Israelis are going to fix things, so he wants the Israeli cavalry replaced by the French cavalry. This isn't the plot-line of most Westerns I have seen. I doubt there will be any cavalry. Better for the Hariri people to fix up their relations with Aoun and Lebanon's Shiite leaders so that neither side looks at the other as savage Indians - that way there will be no need for cavalry. It might even be a recipe for a democracy where half the population is not restrained at the point of a gun.

Preliminary Cease-Fire Agreement for Lebanon Reached between US and France

AP is reporting that a cease-fire agreement has been worked out between France and the US.

The draft calls for a "full cessation of violence" between Israel and Hezbollah, but would allow Israel the right to launch strikes if Hezbollah attacks it.

"It does not say immediate cessation of violence," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the draft had not yet been made public.

That appeared to be a major victory for the U.S. and Israel. France and many other nations had demanded an immediate and halt to violence without conditions as a way to push the region back toward stability.

The full 15-nation Security Council was expected to meet later Saturday to discuss the resolution, and it was likely to be adopted in the next couple of days, Bolton said.

Bolton said the resolution would be the first of two. He said this one deals with the immediate issue of the fighting. The second would likely spell out a larger political framework for peace between Israel and Hezbollah.

"We're prepared to continue to work tomorrow in order to make progress on the adoption of the resolution but we have reached agreement and we're now ready to proceed," Bolton said. "We're prepared to move as quickly as other members of the council want to move."
Lebanese government officials had swung into full gear in order to get a cease-fire as soon as possible.

Saad Hariri, the parliamentary majority leader, went to Russia to get support there. This is a sign of how isolated the US is becoming. Hariri's normal path has been between Washington and Saudi Arabia. But with the US pushing for more bombing of Lebanon in support of its ally, Israel, Hariri has been forced to find new allies in struggle to get the UN Security Council behind Lebanon. Hariri announced yesterday, "Above all I have come to Russia in order to solve the problem of achieving an immediate cease-fire."

MP Michel Aoun on Friday emphasized the need for a "unified Lebanese solution to the crisis" including a prisoner swap.

PM Siniora has a 7 point cease fire plan which more and more states are signing on to.

Siniora’s plan calls for an end to hostilities, for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon, the return of displaced Lebanese to their homes and the strengthening of a U.N. force which has been operating in southern Lebanon for almost three decades.

It also calls for the deployment of the Lebanese army in southern Lebanon, which has been controlled by Hizbullah for years, and the disarming of group.

Arab Foreign Ministers will meet on Monday in Beirut 'to Express Solidarity with Lebanon. Arab League number two Ahmed Ben Helli said, "The meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Beirut is to express solidarity with Lebanon." The meeting is aimed to "support the overall seven-point plan" of Prime Minister Fouad Saniora. "Syria is invited to the meeting."

Arab countries have been divided on the stand to take since Israel launched its onslaught, with the more moderate regimes refusing to rally behind the Iran-backed Hizbullah despite vocal criticism of Israel's assault.

Iran: Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, in remarks published on Friday, accused Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki of "going over the limit" by criticizing his plan to end the war between Hizbullah and Israel.

During a visit to Lebanon last week, Mottaki expressed implicit reservations about Siniora's seven-point plan to bring peace to Lebanon, saying there was no rush to discuss questions beyond an immediate cease-fire.

Syria: Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said Syria backs Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora’s seven-point plan to end the conflict. Asad has declared that “Syria will exercise its influence on Hezbollah if circumstances change in Lebanon.” “The Syrians are going to exercise all their influence on Hezbollah, but the circumstances and political and military context of Lebanon must change,” Moratinos told reporters after after a meeting Thursday with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The foreign ministers of Italy and Syria, Massimo D’Alema and Walid al-Muallem, on Friday agreed to call for an immediate ceasefire in Israel’s assault on Lebanon.

The main division on a draft U.N. Security Council resolution has been between France and the United States. Paris wants existing U.N. peacekeepers and Lebanon's army to monitor a truce, while Washington wants the Israeli army to stay in southern Lebanon until an international force arrives.

Friday, August 04, 2006

"To Help Israel, Help Syria," by Andrew Tabler

Andrew Tabler has lived in Damascus for more than four years. He is a fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs and the editor in chief of Syria Today magazine. He frequently writes on economic matters in Syria.

To Help Israel, Help Syria
New York Times
Published: August 5, 2006
Damascus, Syria

IT is hardly surprising that when discussing the Lebanon crisis, President Bush tends to couple Syria’s role with Iran’s. After all, Damascus and Tehran have spent the better part of the last year deepening their ties, culminating in a June military cooperation agreement. But the United States may well have leverage in Syria that it lacks in Iran. If it is true, as it is reported to be, that Washington seeks to drive a wedge between Hezbollah’s two backers, the Bush administration would do well to modify its democracy agenda to include support for Syrian reform.

Syria has long used its influence to make or break political deals in Lebanon, and the proposed international cease-fire plan will be no exception. In all likelihood, the Israeli offensive in southern Lebanon will not disarm Hezbollah, which, even under the noses of vulnerable peacekeepers and a weak and untested Lebanese army, could easily redeploy its long-range rockets north and into the Bekaa Valley, near the Syrian border. From there the missiles could still reach Israel, and Hezbollah could be re-supplied through the smuggler’s den that is the 233-mile-long Lebanese-Syrian frontier.

Only an Israeli pullout from the Golan Heights would entice Damascus to help seal off Hezbollah-controlled areas and ensure that the fighters are eventually disarmed. But negotiations for that could take years. Meanwhile, hard-liners, buoyed by Syria’s recent alliance with nuclear-hungry Iran, are now in favor in Damascus, while reformers scramble for cover and hope that the assistance their programs receive from the European Union, the United Nations and the World Bank won’t cast doubt on their loyalty.

If Washington wants to break President Bashar al-Assad from Tehran, it should promote economic liberalism as the thin end of the wedge. It should support efforts to combat corruption, cut red tape, and promote transparency and the activities of nongovernmental organizations. Germany has already adopted a similar approach. And here is why an American version might work.

Syria’s economic future — and that of the Assad regime — is in jeopardy. The country is weighed down by old-style state socialism and plagued by issues that breed Islamic extremism, including high birth rates, growing unemployment and one of the lowest productivity rates in the world.

State expenditures — most notably military spending — are financed by oil production, which is in rapid decline. High oil prices have given the regime a temporary lease on life, but the reprieve won’t last: Syria will be a net importer of oil within four years. That is likely to change the state’s relationship with its growing private sector.

At the moment, tax rates are high, but the private sector seldom pays them, and in return accepts not having a say in how it is governed. When oil revenues dry up, the state will need to spread its tentacles into the private sector in search of cash, at which point it will undoubtedly face a trade-off that will force it to cede some political rights to its citizens.

Unlike in Iran, with which the United States does not have diplomatic relations, there is an American Embassy in Damascus that can coordinate assistance to Syria’s reformers. Given the mistrust between the two governments, however, America’s vibrant private sector should lead the way. It can do this by sharing its expertise in building a strong and transparent market economy.

This would increase American credibility in Syria without violating American sanctions, which ban American exports, certain banking transactions and direct flights to Syria, but not the exchange of knowledge. If Damascus demonstrates its ability to rein in and disarm Hezbollah, American economic aid could follow.

Yes, American support for Syrian reform might perpetuate President Assad’s grip on power in the short term, but over time it would erode Syria’s reasons for backing Iran and Hezbollah. It would undermine the widespread and increasingly corrosive suspicion in the region that Washington’s democracy agenda is a cover for an Israeli-inspired plan to spread chaos in the Arab world, so as to break up Arab states and neuter their threat to Israel. And it would finally demonstrate that the United States is committed to spreading liberty, even in the face of great adversity.

Four Important Articles explaining how the US has misinterpreted the Lebanon Conflict

Here are four articles of interest. They explain why the new security regime between Lebanon and Israel will look much like the old one. Why the fight against Hizbullah is not simply a fight against "Islamic" terror, as argued by Bush. How the break-out of Shiite Islam, started by the Iranian revolution but unleashed in the Arab World by the US invasion of Iraq, is changing the balance of power in the region and will force the US to engage Iran and, by extension, Syria and the Shiites of Lebanon. And why Olmert will have to back track away from his goal of destroying Hizbullah and recognize international borders of his Arab neighbors and negotiate a prisoner exchange.

3 prerequisites for an effective international force
By Augustus Richard Norton
Daily Star
Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Civilian deaths in Israel's war in Lebanon now exceed 700, including about 60 victims in Qana and 18 Israeli civilians killed by Hizbullah rockets. By comparison, the six-year period between Israel's unilateral withdrawal from South Lebanon in May 2000 until the Hizbullah operation of last July 12 was more or less placid. During that earlier period, half a dozen civilians succumbed to Hizbullah weapons, and only a few more Lebanese civilians were killed by hostile action.

The rules of the game were well understood by Israel and Hizbullah. As Israeli analyst Daniel Sobelman wrote in 2004: "[T]he sides have abided by these ground rules, prudently avoiding disproportionate moves. Infrequently, when one party identifies an apparent imbalance, steps are quickly taken to re-impose the status quo ante. This dynamic has become one of the most important stabilizing features in the border landscape."

Contrary to superheated commentary in the United States and Israel, which often blurs the lines between the occupied Golan Heights and Israel, there were few attacks on Israeli civilians across the Lebanese border, and only about six on Israeli soldiers deployed in Israel, some of which were in retaliation for Israeli-caused deaths in Lebanon. This is important to recognize because it illustrates that the task of maintaining stability across this hostile border is not impossible.
Israel's over-the-top reaction to Hizbullah's abduction of two Israeli soldiers has more to do with settling scores with the party and eradicating an Iranian proxy than with the level of violence coming from Lebanon. Hizbullah provided a handy pretext, much as the attempted assassination of Ambassador Shlomo Argov by a sworn foe of Yasser Arafat provided a pretext for the launching of Israel's 1982 war in Lebanon to topple the Palestine Liberation Organization and install a puppet regime in Beirut.

Israel was given a green light for its latest war by the Bush administration, which found the opportunity to decimate Hizbullah and signal to Iran that "you may be next" too delicious to pass up. It is still early for a requiem, but it is clear that Israel's failure to deliver on its early promises of a decisive victory has left the White House discomfited and compelled to recognize, finally, that Israel's campaign is turning into a disaster in which time is working against success.

While it is noteworthy that the US is now working with greater seriousness toward an enduring cease-fire, there are significant issues to be resolved concerning the contemplated international force that is intended to stabilize South Lebanon and create a buffer zone there.

Under the right circumstances, it is certainly possible that an international force would help to restore calm in the border area, but this is one of those ideas that may sound more impressive at a press conference than on the ground. Aside from the practical problem of convincing skeptical states to send contingents to Lebanon, there is a substantial question that first needs to be answered: What would the mandate of the force be?

Will it be tasked to disarm Hizbullah? Will it use lethal force to prevent attacks on Israel, and will it protect Lebanese sovereign territory from Israeli incursions? How would the force respond to Israeli projects to impose a depopulated security strip inside Lebanese territory? Will the force be complicit in preventing Lebanese from returning to their homes, which may have been flattened and which occupants will want to rebuild? In addition, how will the new force complement or replace the present United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon? There is a bountiful minefield awaiting the "crisis force," especially if it lacks the mandate and determination to serve the core concerns of both Israelis and Lebanese.

In Israel and the US there is a callous disregard for the fact that residents of South Lebanon have good cause to worry about their security and safety. In the past three decades, some 20,000 Lebanese civilians have died at Israel's hands, most in the invasion of 1982. It is hard to find a family in Southern Lebanon that has been immune from the violence, a factor that significantly explains the popularity of Hizbullah. Any stable solution must take account of the security deficit afflicting the South.

Most of the attacks led by Hizbullah prior to July 2006 spared civilians and were directed at Israeli targets in the occupied Golan Heights, or border posts abutting Lebanon. Even so, Israelis living in the Galilee confront a non-trivial threat from a hostile group pledged to Israel's destruction. Especially after some 2,400 rockets fell on Israel in July, it is preposterous to think that the Israeli government would accept a solution that leaves Hizbullah lurking just across the border. Israelis need to be persuaded that the party's ability to act independently of the Lebanese state has been significantly curtailed.

In order to reconcile these dilemmas three conditions are essential. First, Hizbullah should be prevented from acting independently of the Lebanese state, especially for decisions of war and peace. Of course, the party is comprised of Lebanese citizens who see in it and its resistance wing both an effective political party and a stalwart defense force against Israel. The notion that Hizbullah can be disassembled - still popular in some Washington offices - is not serious. Thus, there must be a plan for bringing the resistance wing of the party under government control in conjunction with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559.
It is in Lebanon's interest to sustain a capacity for deterring Israel. Therefore, the resistance component of Hizbullah would be subsumed by the Lebanese Army, which is far more professional than is commonly understood. Several respected generals (representing several religious communities) are from the South, and they could be prime candidates to play a key role in the absorption of the resistance.

Second, Israel's scheme to flatten border villages - there are dozens of these lying only a few kilometers or less from the border - only provides instigation for organized efforts to destroy the buffer zone and for people to return to and rebuild their villages. Israel's plan is a sure recipe for further violence and needs to be expressly condemned in the Security Council resolutions now being drafted
Third, unless the international force pays as much attention to protecting the sovereign territory of Lebanon as it does to meeting Israel's security concerns, the force risks being seen as a mere extension of American and Israeli hegemonic ambitions. Only if the force is robust in its capability and fair-minded in practice will it avoid becoming part of the problem.

Much depends right now on the commitment of the belligerents to restoring stability and calm to the South, as well as on the behavior of mentors like the US, Iran and Syria. I have no doubt that the repercussions from this war will reverberate in Lebanon and in Israel, and across the Middle East in ways that that cause chagrin and regret on all sides, notwithstanding halcyon rhetoric from this or that house.
Augustus Richard Norton is a professor of international relations at Boston University. He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.
Ground to a Halt
August 3, 2006
New York Times, Op-Ed

ISRAEL has finally conceded that air power alone will not defeat Hezbollah. Over the coming weeks, it will learn that ground power won’t work either. The problem is not that the Israelis have insufficient military might, but that they misunderstand the nature of the enemy.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom, Hezbollah is principally neither a political party nor an Islamist militia. It is a broad movement that evolved in reaction to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in June 1982. At first it consisted of a small number of Shiites supported by Iran. But as more and more Lebanese came to resent Israel’s occupation, Hezbollah — never tight-knit — expanded into an umbrella organization that tacitly coordinated the resistance operations of a loose collection of groups with a variety of religious and secular aims.

In terms of structure and hierarchy, it is less comparable to, say, a religious cult like the Taliban than to the multidimensional American civil-rights movement of the 1960’s. What made its rise so rapid, and will make it impossible to defeat militarily, was not its international support but the fact that it evolved from a reorientation of pre-existing Lebanese social groups.

Evidence of the broad nature of Hezbollah’s resistance to Israeli occupation can be seen in the identity of its suicide attackers. Hezbollah conducted a broad campaign of suicide bombings against American, French and Israeli targets from 1982 to 1986. Altogether, these attacks — which included the infamous bombing of the Marine barracks in 1983 — involved 41 suicide terrorists.

In writing my book on suicide attackers, I had researchers scour Lebanese sources to collect martyr videos, pictures and testimonials and the biographies of the Hezbollah bombers. Of the 41, we identified the names, birth places and other personal data for 38. Shockingly, only eight were Islamic fundamentalists. Twenty-seven were from leftist political groups like the Lebanese Communist Party and the Arab Socialist Union. Three were Christians, including a female high-school teacher with a college degree. All were born in Lebanon.

What these suicide attackers — and their heirs today — shared was not a religious or political ideology but simply a commitment to resisting a foreign occupation. Nearly two decades of Israeli military presence did not root out Hezbollah. The only thing that has proven to end suicide attacks, in Lebanon and elsewhere, is withdrawal by the occupying force.

Thus the new Israeli land offensive may take ground and destroy weapons, but it has little chance of destroying the Hezbollah movement. In fact, in the wake of the bombings of civilians, the incursion will probably aid Hezbollah’s recruiting.
Equally important, Israel’s incursion is also squandering the good will it had initially earned from so-called moderate Arab states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The countries are the court of opinion that matters because, while Israel cannot crush Hezbollah, it could achieve a more limited goal: ending Hezbollah’s acquisition of more missiles through Syria.

Given Syria’s total control of its border with Lebanon, stemming the flow of weapons is a job for diplomacy, not force. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, Sunni-led nations that want stability in the region, are motivated to stop the rise of Hezbollah. Under the right conditions, the United States might be able to help assemble an ad hoc coalition of Syria’s neighbors to entice and bully it to prevent Iranian, Chinese or other foreign missiles from entering Lebanon. It could also offer to begin talks over the future of the Golan Heights.

But Israel must take the initiative. Unless it calls off the offensive and accepts a genuine cease-fire, there are likely to be many, many dead Israelis in the coming weeks — and a much stronger Hezbollah.

Robert A. Pape, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, is the author of “Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism.”

Ancient Rift

Rising Academic Sees Sectarian Split Inflaming Mideast. Vali Nasr Says 'Shiite Revival' Is Met by Sunni Backlash; Resurgent Iran Leads Way Can Mullahs be Moderated?
Wall Street Journal, August 4, 2006; Page A1 (Thanks to Ehsani)

WASHINGTON -- As Vali Nasr dashed for the airport last week after briefing a small group of academics and policy makers here, a hand pulled the political scientist aside.

"That was the most coherent, in-depth and incisive discussion of the religious situation in the Middle East that I've heard in any setting," said Richard Land, a Southern Baptist leader and influential conservative.

Sen. Joseph Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, heaped similar praise on Mr. Nasr in May for giving what Mr. Biden called the most "concise and coherent" testimony on Iran he had ever heard.

From the violence in the Mideast, new realities are emerging -- and a new generation of experts to interpret them. Shiite Muslims are asserting themselves as never before. Followers of this branch of Islam, generally backbenchers in the region's power game, are central players in Lebanon, Iran and Iraq -- often acting out against traditional powers such as Israel, the U.S., and Sunni Arab states.

Mr. Nasr, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., calls this a historic "Shiite revival" and has gone further than most in identifying it as a central force in Mideast politics. He also frames a possible U.S. response: Engage Iran, especially over the issue of reducing violence in Iraq, and try to manage Tehran's rise as a regional power rather than isolating it.

The issues are more than academic for the 46-year-old professor. He was raised in Tehran and hails from a prominent intellectual and literary family in Iran that traces its lineage to the prophet Muhammad. His father was once president of Iran's top science university and chief of staff for the shah's wife.

In 1979, after the Iranian revolution, the Nasrs "started from zero" in the U.S., says Mr. Nasr. He received a doctorate in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, writing his thesis on the political dimensions of radical Islam, while his father, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, became a renowned professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University.

The younger Mr. Nasr has laid out his views in a series of speeches and articles, as well as a new book. He is gaining a wide hearing in Washington. "The problem with the current Middle East debate is it's completely stuck. Nobody knows what to do," says political economist Francis Fukuyama of Johns Hopkins University, who attended Mr. Nasr's private briefing last week. "Vali Nasr offers a plausible alternative that may gain traction."

Mr. Nasr's analysis begins with the idea that the removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq has transformed the Mideast, but not in the ways promised by President Bush. By replacing Iraq's Sunni-led dictatorship with an elected government dominated by the country's Shiite majority, the U.S. destroyed the Sunni wall that had contained the restless Shiite power to the east, Iran. The clerical regime in Tehran was immeasurably strengthened.

Reopening a Fault Line
This power shift, Mr. Nasr argues, has reopened an ancient fault line between Shiites and Sunnis that crosses the entire region. The schism dates back to the prophet Muhammad's death in 632, when his companions -- the forebears of the Sunnis -- chose Muhammad's close friend and father-in-law, Abu Bakr, to succeed him and become Islam's first caliph. Shiites believe Muhammad's son-in-law, Ali, was more deserving.

Ali managed to become Islam's fourth caliph, only to face multiple rebellions. He was ultimately murdered while at prayer at a shrine in what is now Iraq. His son, Hussein, refused to accept his father's Sunni usurpers and was slain 19 years later.

Shiites commemorate Hussein's murder in the holiday called Ashura, a 10-day period of mourning and self-flagellation. Their reverence for Hussein's stand against tyranny is the touchstone of Shiite political passions -- often invoked during the Iranian revolution, the ensuing war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and even recently by the leader of the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah in its war against Israel. Traditional Sunnis view Shiites as heretics, led astray by Persian Zoroastrianism and other pagan beliefs.

Today, the conflict is most visible in Iraq, where foreign and local Sunni insurgents refuse to accede to the country's Shiite majority. But Mr. Nasr sees the backlash in Iraq as auguring a wave of similar sectarian battles in a broad swath of Asia from Lebanon to Pakistan where the populations of the two sects are roughly even.

"In the coming years, Shiites and Sunnis will compete over power, first in Iraq but ultimately across the entire region," Mr. Nasr writes in his new book, "The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future," published by W.W. Norton & Co. "The overall Sunni-Shiite conflict will play a large role in defining the Middle East as a whole and shaping its relations with the outside world."

For the U.S., the Sunni-Shiite divide is fraught with challenges -- and opportunities. By creating in Iraq the first Shiite-led state in the Arab world since the rise of Islam (Iran is mostly ethnic Persian), the U.S. ignited aspirations among some 150 million Shiites in the region, Mr. Nasr says. Many live under Sunni rule, such as in Saudi Arabia, where they have long been persecuted. Yet U.S. foreign policy still operates under the "old paradigm" of Sunni dominance, he contends.

Take the current crisis in Lebanon. The U.S. has long relied on its traditional Sunni Arab allies -- Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia -- to keep the Arab-Israeli conflict in check. But now the Sunni axis is failing, says Mr. Nasr, because these nations are incapable of containing a resurgent Iran and its radical clients on the front lines against Israel -- Hezbollah and the Palestinian group Hamas.

To adapt, the U.S. must "recalibrate" its diplomacy and re-establish contacts with Iran, he says. That would require disavowing any interest in "regime change" in Tehran -- an unrealistic aim anyway, Mr. Nasr argues -- but would offer the best hope of moderating Iran's growing influence.

"The Iranian genie isn't going back in the bottle," he says. "If we deny these changes have happened -- that Cairo, Amman and Riyadh have lost control of the region -- and we continue to exclude Iran, we'd better be prepared to spend a lot of money on troops in the region for a long time," Mr. Nasr says.

The Bush administration is listening to Mr. Nasr, but his influence on U.S. policy is unclear. Two White House foreign-policy aides attended his talk here last week. And last year, Mr. Nasr briefed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Since last year the influence of neoconservatives who championed the invasion of Iraq has ebbed at the White House, and Mr. Bush recently held a roundtable discussion at Camp David with other analysts critical of his Iraq policy.

One White House official points out that Mr. Nasr's prescription assumes the U.S., by recognizing and engaging Iran as a regional power, could moderate its behavior. But that outcome, the official adds, doesn't inevitably flow from Mr. Nasr's core argument about the Shiite revival. Many Republican foreign-policy specialists, including some who opposed the Iraq war, believe Iran is a threat and may have to be confronted militarily if diplomatic efforts fail.

In the Lebanon crisis, the U.S. has so far ruled out talking to Syria or Iran, Hezbollah's main suppliers of money and missiles. "Frankly, there is nothing to negotiate," White House spokesman Tony Snow has said.

Mr. Nasr sees it differently. Hezbollah's brazen attack on Israel July 12, and its heady self-confidence from parrying Israel's onslaught since then, illustrate why the U.S. needs a new policy toward Iran and the region's Shiites, he says. Immediately after the fighting stops in Lebanon, he says, the U.S. should convene a conference with all of the interested parties -- including Syria and Iran -- to redraw Lebanon's political map. In 1989, Saudi Arabia convened a similar conference in the Saudi city of Taif that helped end Lebanon's civil war by redistributing political power among the country's four main religious groups.

Lebanon's Sunnis emerged from Taif much stronger, particularly under Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a Sunni construction magnate who helped rebuild Beirut after the civil war. Mr. Nasr sees the Shiites, who he estimates make up 40% to 50% of Lebanon's population, as relatively disenfranchised. Shiites hold just 35 of 128 seats in Lebanon's Parliament, largely because the country hasn't held a census since 1932. Lebanon's system assigns the nonexecutive post of parliamentary speaker to a Shiite but bars Shiites from becoming president or prime minister.

Mr. Nasr says the crisis in Lebanon underscores the importance of engaging Iran as the U.S. did after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. At a conference in Bonn, Germany, the U.S. and Iran negotiated extensively, giving rise to the relatively stable government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In Lebanon, America's Sunni Arab allies are likely to oppose apportioning rival Shiites greater political power. Mr. Nasr argues that is the only way to give Lebanon's Shiites -- and Iran -- a stake in stability.

"You can beat Hezbollah to a pulp, but you can't change the fact that around 45% of Lebanese are Shiites," Mr. Nasr says.

Mr. Nasr also sees room for engagement with Tehran over Iraq. Prior to the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the Bush administration argued change in Iraq would help spawn democracy in the region. At a seminar in Toronto around the start of the war, historian Bernard Lewis, who was instrumental in advising Vice President Dick Cheney and other top U.S. officials on the Iraq invasion, said: "The Iranian regime won't last very long after an overthrow of the regime in Iraq, and many other regimes in the region will feel threatened."

This prediction was based on a pivotal misunderstanding about Iraq's Shiites, Mr. Nasr says: that their Iraqi and Arab identity would supersede their Shiite affinity with Iran. As it turned out, as soon as Shiites took power in Iraq, they eagerly threw open the gates to Iranian influence and support. Now, Iran operates a vast network of allies and clients in Iraq, Mr. Nasr says, ranging from intelligence agents and militias to top politicians in Iraq's Shiite parties.

"Ethnic antagonism [between Arabs and Persians] cannot possibly be all-important
when Iraq's supreme religious leader is Iranian and Iran's chief justice is Iraqi," writes Mr. Nasr in the current edition of Foreign Affairs magazine. The references are to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the Iranian-born Iraqi religious leader, and the Iraqi-born head of Iran's judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi.
Mr. Lewis, in a phone interview, says he still believes the "tyrannies" neighboring Iraq feel threatened by the prospect of a stable democracy in Baghdad. He says Iran's activities in its neighbor are a sign of its fears.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, quipped about Iran's influence in a recent speech in Washington. When he met his Iranian counterpart in Afghanistan, Mr. Khalilzad said, "I used to joke with him that 'you guys ought to be much more helpful to us, because look, you couldn't deal with the Taliban problem, you couldn't deal with the Saddam problem, and we've dealt with both. That's a big deal. We'll send you a bill one day for that.' "

Two Main Threats
Mr. Nasr sees two main threats arising from today's Shiite revival. The first is Iranian nationalism, fueled by perceptions in Iran that a Sunni Arab-U.S. nexus wants to stifle its rise as a regional power. That explains the widespread support among Iranians for their country's nuclear program, he says. It also explains why some Iranian leaders have been sounding less like Islamic revolutionaries and more like the late shah, a Persian nationalist who extended Iran's influence into Shiite and Farsi-speaking areas beyond its borders.

The second major threat, he says, is the Sunni reaction to the Shiite revival. As Iraq's insurgents have shown, hatred of Shiites is ingrained in Sunni militancy, Mr. Nasr says. He worries about a replay of the 1980s and 1990s, when Saudi money poured into Sunni extremist groups throughout the region to counter the Shiite fervor coming out of Iran after the revolution. The same groups became the backbone of al Qaeda, Mr. Nasr says.

In a speech last year in New York, the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said it "seems out of this world" that U.S. forces would protect allies of Iran who are building a power base in Iraq. "Now we are handing the whole country over to Iran without reason," the prince said.

But Mr. Nasr says U.S. and Iranian interests in Iraq may converge because both want lasting stability there. Comparing Iran to 19th-century Prussia and Japan of the 1930s, he says it is important to manage the rise of regional powers. "You can't regulate them by isolating them," he says.

Write to Peter Waldman at peter.waldman@wsj.com1
A history of miscalculations
By Mark Perry, Conflicts Forum, August 3, 2006
When Ehud Olmert responded to the killing of three Israeli soldiers and the kidnapping of two others by saying that Israel would "destroy" Hezbollah, he meant it. When, five days later, Olmert said that he would hold the Lebanese government responsible for disarming Hezbollah, he meant that too. And when, just fourteen days into the war, he said that Israel would push Hezbollah north of the Litani River he also meant that. Now, on Day 23 of The War for Lebanon, it's clear that Ehud Olmert does not exactly know what he means -- an uncertainty that is resulting from an internal Israeli cabinet debate about the war's goals: something that, we would have thought, might have been decided on the night of July 12.

The Israeli cabinet debate is the result of the less-than-stellar military results handed to Olmert by the IDF senior leadership. It is no secret that IDF senior commander Lt. General Dan Halutz believed that the vaunted Israeli Air Force would have little problem chasing Hezbollah from the Lebanese border. As recently as July 28, Halutz was telling the international press that the IAF had inflicted "enormous" damage on Hezbollah "at the strategic level" and that "hundreds of [Hezbollah] fighters" had been killed. After a short lull -- purposely corresponding to the a U.S. call for a 48-hour cessation in Israel's air campaign -- Hezbollah responded, firing 230 rockets at Israel on August 2 and 160 on August 3.

This is not the first time that Halutz has miscalculated. Shortly before midnight on July 23, 2002, Halutz ordered a bombing mission that destroyed the house of Hamas militant Salah Shehada -- as well as every member of his family: 15 people in all, including six children. The attack took place after Hamas announced that any cessation in Israeli activities would be followed by a complete end to Hamas operations. When he was killed, Shehada was actually in the process of initialing a ceasefire order for all members of Hamas's brigades, due to take effect immediately. Shehada's killing ended whatever chances for a ceasefire remained and Hamas continued its campaign targeting Israeli civilians. Asked how he felt knowing that his order resulted in the killing of innocent people, Halutz answered by saying that he was undisturbed: "...if you want to know what I feel when I release a bomb, I will tell you: I feel a light bump to the plane as a result of the bomb's release. A second later it's gone, and that's all. That is what I feel."

Halutz is now caught in a similar situation. While the U.S. press treated Hassan Nasrallah's recent (August 3) speech saying that Hezbollah would attack Tel Aviv if Israel attacked Beirut as a threat, the Hezbollah leader's clear intent was to limit the war. Condi Rice, touted as an intellectual heavyweight, didn't get it: "The international community needs to say to Hezbollah that these kinds of threats are also not helpful at a time when the international community, the Lebanese people, the Israeli people, all want an end to the hostility," she told CNN. Nasrallah went further, saying that Hezbollah would stop its rocket attacks if Israel stops its "aggression." Halutz, who is still apparently confident in IDF capabilities, apparently agrees with Rice. He told the Israeli cabinet that any attack by Hezbollah on Tel Aviv would result in an attack on the Lebanese infrastructure -- or what's left of it. As in July 2002 -- when an antagonist held out an olive branch -- Halutz may live to regret his words.

Hezbollah is alive and fighting well, according to one of the movement's leaders in contact with European officials in Beirut. "The leadership wants to report that it is intact at the very top," one of these diplomatic officials reports, "and was not surprised by the Beirut bombing of last night [Wednesday evening, August 2]." These officials say that Hezbollah's leadership claims that its communications systems -- "though somewhat degraded" -- are still "working well" and that Hezbollah's command and control of its units in the south "remains surprisingly resilient." How long can Hezbollah hold out? According to the European diplomat, the Hezbollah official laughed when he heard the question: "The real question is how long can Israel hold out."

Mark Perry is U.S. director of Conflicts Forum.

"Syria Wants to Talk" by Imad Mustapha

As of Friday, the UN Security Council has made little progress in drafting a resolution to end the Lebanon conflict despite efforts made by France and the US to close their disagreements on measures necessary for a cease-fire agreement. Secretary Rice, in a sign of maximum US effort, says she has ordered US diplomats to work on the weekend. Naharnet explains:

The new French text is only slightly changed from the earlier version it distributed to the Security Council on Sunday.

It still calls for an "immediate cessation of hostilities" and once a political agreement is in place for the sending of an international force to south Lebanon.

But it also demands "full respect" of the Blue Line, the unofficial frontier between Israel and Lebanon, by both sides.

It calls for the disarming of Hizbullah and the release of two Israeli soldiers abducted by the militia -- the act which sparked Israel's military offensive.
The draft calls on Israel to give the United Nations the maps of landmines it has left in southern Lebanon and the implementation of a 1949 armistice agreement between Israel and Lebanon.

The Blue Line dates from the 1949 armistice agreement, one of many signed by Israel at the time to end the Arab-Israeli War.

The text also calls for "the settlement" of a dispute over Lebanese prisoners held by Israel.(AFP)
The key deal-breaker is respect for the blue line and the 1949 armistice. This would deprive Israel of the right to over-fly Lebanese airspace, something Israel has done since the outbreak of the civil war in Lebanon in 1975. It would also deprive Israel of the right to launch raids into Lebanon and police or pound the new free-fire zone it is creating with cannon fire. If such language is introduced into a UN resolution, Israel will lose its bargaining position, which is to trade land for Hizbullah's dissolution.

Every time Israel disregarded Lebanese sovereignty, the Lebanese government would have an instrument to compel the UN to make a statement condemning Israel. The US would be forced to veto the measure in the UN to protect Israel. It would embarrass the US to do this and create a situation in which the US would find itself isolated in the UN. Furthermore, it would provide Russia and China a bargaining position over Iran. Each time the US asked them to sign a resolution condemning Iran, Russia and China might ask Washington to vote positively on efforts to uphold Lebanese sovereignty at the expense of Israel's right to self defense. Other nations would be able to do the same.

Hassan Fattah has a good article in the NY Times explaining the remaining disputes between the French and US over the resolution.

Here is the clearest statement of Syrian policy put forward by any Syrian official. Syria's ambassador to the US makes a forceful argument for why the US should engage Syria.

Syria Wants to Talk, But Bush Won't Answer the Phone
Damascus has effectively cooperated with Washington on terrorism, says Syria's ambassador.

By Imad Moustapha,
IMAD MOUSTAPHA is the Syrian ambassador to the United States.
LA Times
August 4, 2006

LATE LAST MONTH, a number of congressmen called me and asked for an urgent, unscheduled meeting. There, at the Rayburn House Office Building, we spent a couple of hours discussing in-depth the crisis in the Middle East. The paramount concern of these legislators was not the typical Capitol Hill rhetoric (offering unconditional support for Israel, or delivering the routine condemnation and demonization of Syria). Instead, they simply wanted to know what they could do to stop the ongoing massacre in Lebanon.

Their frustration and exasperation about the total nonchalance of the U.S. administration was overwhelming. The very first question they had for me was to clarify the confusion about whether the White House is talking to Syria or not. Although the media have reported that no contacts have been made between the two countries over the last three weeks, administration officials have sent vague signals that this might be happening through back channels.

But no communication whatsoever has taken place. U.S. policy remains to ignore the Syrian government. And it remains fundamentally wrong.

It hasn't always been this way. When President George H.W. Bush faced Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, he realized the strategic need for Syria and knew how to lure us into the American-led alliance: by inviting Syria to the Madrid peace conference.

As a result, and within a short period of time, the Clinton administration engaged Syria and Israel in serious peace talks that, had they succeeded, would have created a very different paradigm in this troubled area.

In Syria, we consider the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as the fatal blow that felled the peace efforts, and since that tragic event, Israel has had no leader with the courage or vision required to accept the inevitable "land for peace" compromise enshrined in U.N. Security Council resolutions 224 and 338.

In sharp contrast, the current U.S. administration has publicly dissuaded Israel from responding to the repeated Syrian invitations to revive the peace process. Syria still hopes that this position might change, as there exists a growing alienation against the U.S. and its policies in the Arab and Islamic world, which is undoubtedly creating fertile breeding conditions for terrorism.

Syria thought that the atrocious events of Sept. 11, 2001, would be a much-needed wake-up call for the Bush administration.

After Sept. 11, we cooperated with the U.S. in fighting terrorism. Syria had been fighting extreme fundamentalist movements in the region for the previous three decades, so we promptly initiated intelligence and security cooperation with the U.S., providing a wealth of information about Al Qaeda, some of which was described in a letter to Congress by former Secretary of State Colin Powell as "actionable information" that led to "saving American lives." Consequently, bilateral relations improved dramatically at the time, much to the chagrin of the neoconservative cabal that doggedly opposed any engagement with Syria, no matter how productive.

This effective cooperation ended when Syria and the U.S. found themselves at odds over how to address the Iraqi problem. Syria fiercely opposed the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq and continues to do so. The fact that Hussein was Syria's archenemy did not blind our eyes to the grave consequences such an occupation would bear on our region: bloodshed, destruction, instability, extremism and the ugly face of sectarianism.

The Bush administration never forgave Syria for its opposition to the war. Despite the fact that Syrian-U.S. intelligence and security cooperation continued, even after the fallout on Iraq, well up to January 2005, heavyweights in the White House continued to engage in a rhetorical campaign against Syria. Members of Congress, influenced by the powerful pro-Israel lobby, overwhelmingly passed the Syria Accountability Act in November 2003, enacting trade sanctions on Damascus without serious debate or reference to the crucial intelligence support provided by Syria.

Concurrently, administration officials devised a new "policy" toward my country: Don't talk to Syria at all, and maybe its regime will collapse.

That is why the U.S. decided to change its 20-year position toward Syrian involvement in Lebanon. Suddenly, Syria's "stabilizing and necessary presence" in Lebanon became, overnight and without any change in Syria's behavior, "an evil occupation that should immediately be ended."

The underlying idea behind demanding Syrian withdrawal was simple: It would precipitate the fall of the Syrian regime, and the U.S. would end up with a new government in Damascus that is both Israel-friendly and an ally of the U.S. Does that have any resemblance to the neoconservative justification for the war on Iraq?

To the dismay of U.S. policymakers, this belligerent attitude only rallied Syrians behind their own government.

Ultimately, the Bush administration has to realize that by trying to isolate Syria politically and diplomatically, the U.S. continues to lose ability to influence a major player in the Middle East. In the wake of the ongoing instability in Iraq and violence in Palestine and Lebanon, it begs the larger question: Has isolating Syria made the region more secure?

Currently, the White House doesn't talk to the democratically elected government of Palestine. It does not talk to Hezbollah, which has democratically elected members in the Lebanese parliament and is a member of the Lebanese coalition government. It does not talk to Iran, and it certainly does not talk to Syria.

Gone are the days when U.S. special envoys to the Middle East would spend hours, if not days, with Syrian officials brainstorming, discussing, negotiating and looking for creative solutions leading to a compromise or settlement. Instead, this administration follows the Bolton Doctrine: There is no need to talk to Syria, because Syria knows what it needs to do. End of the matter.

When the United States realizes that it is high time to reconsider its policies toward Syria, Syria will be more than willing to engage. However, the rules of the game should be clear. As President Bashar Assad has said, Syria is not a charity. If the U.S. wants something from Syria, then Syria requires something in return from the U.S.: Let us address the root cause of instability in the Middle East.

The current crisis in Lebanon needs an urgent solution because of the disastrous human toll. Moreover, the whole Middle East deserves a comprehensive deal that would put an end to occupation and allow all countries to equally prosper and live in dignity and peace.
Marwan al-Kabalan deftly sums up the dispute in Washington over the pros and cons of engaging Syria in his article: "Engaging Syria helps prevent wider conflict," published in Gulf News.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Lebanese Sovereignty: Will it be Restored?

One of the central arguments against incorporating Syria in negotiations to end the present fighting in Lebanon is that this would compromise Lebanese sovereignty so soon after the West was successful in pushing Syrian troops out of Lebanon. The presumption and claim is that the US is working to restore Lebanese sovereignty by liquidating Hizbullah as a military organization.

What will Lebanese sovereignty look like at the end of hostilities?

As things stand today, the plan is for Israel to clear a 20 kilometer zone of Lebanon of all civilians and fighters to create a no-go zone or free-fire zone. It will hold the strip of land between the Litani and the Israeli boarder either by continually strafing it with cannon fire or by actually leaving Israeli troops in place to occupy it. The 300,000 Lebanese that have been cleared from the region will not be allowed to return to their homes until the Lebanese government has sent the Lebanese army to displace Hizbullah. Very possibly the Lebanese Army will be backed up by a 10,000 to 12,000 strong compliment of UN troops, led by the French.

Israel and the States have also voiced the demand that European troops man the Lebanese ports and border crossings to inspect all goods coming into the country in order to interdict any arms shipments to Hizbullah from Syria or Iran.

Lebanon in the short run will lose its sovereignty to European troops should such a plan be carried forward.

The Western argument is that this will be a temporary loss of sovereignty until the Lebanese Army can be beefed up to replace UN troops.

But what promise is there that Lebanese troops will be able to replace Europeans in order to restore Lebanese sovereignty?

The three leading politicians in the Lebanese government are the President, Prime Minister, and Speaker of the Parliament. Only one of these officials, PM Siniora, is a friend of the US, and he does not command the Lebanese Army. The other two are friends of Syria.

President Emile Lahoud is the Commander in Chief of the Lebanese Army. In theory, he has constitutional control over military affairs. He was appointed by Syria, and his term as President runs for another year. The Presidential contender most likely to replace him is General Michel Aoun, who has allied with the Shiites of Lebanon and has sought to blunt the anti-Syrian attacks of the Siniora government over the last two years.

It will be very difficult for the West to build up the Lebanese army under these conditions, to say nothing of the often mentioned fact that the Lebanese Army has a large proportion of Shiite soldiers serving in its ranks, who may not be happy about the task of shooting at fellow Shiites and at Hizbullah members.

When PM Siniora and Jumblatt traveled to Washington earlier this year, they went to ask for money and arms to build up the Lebanese Army. Washington promised them a trifling 4 million dollars. This insult was an indication that Washington believes the army is a useless instrument so long as Lahoud is president. The main task of the Lebanese officials was to force Lahoud's exit from the office during the National Dialogue meetings that took place in March and April. Hariri's bloc failed to accomplish this task. In fact, it became clear that they preferred Lahoud to Aoun, his main contender. Hence, Washington gave no money to the army at the time.

Nothing has changed in the leadership of the army or presidency of Lebanon to suggest that Washington can now expect the Lebanese government to deploy the army against Hizbullah. How will it ever be able to replace a French led UN force? How will Lebanon regain its sovereignty should Israeli and European troops be placed on its soil to take over the task of policing national and border security. Lebanon rid itself of Syrian troops last year. It looks like it has merely exchanged them for some combination of Western and Israeli troops.

In some respects, the Lebanon war is a classic struggle between East and West over whose sphere of influence Lebanon will be included in. The power of the Hariri bloc is now largely finished. The Cedar revolution is over. Lebanon will return to its previous role of being the rope in a game of Tug of War.

A big question will be how far Hizbullah is willing to take its resistance role. Now that Israel has snatched an additional handful of Hizbullah officers in Baalbek to strengthen its bargaining position in the eventual prisoner exchange, we will have to see how Hizbullah responds. If it is willing to return to its 1980s tactics, it will abduct an equal number of Europeans and Americans to strengthen its hand. Fortunately John Waterbury left Lebanon for the States, where he cannot be taken or killed as two previous presidents of AUB - David Dodge and Malcolm Kerr - were. There are many other Americans still in Lebanon, however.

Amid the diplomatic wrangling, Hizbullah's chief spokesman said his group will not agree to a cease-fire until all Israeli troops leave Lebanon.

"Declaring a cease-fire is not the concern of the people of Lebanon as long as there is one Israeli soldier on Lebanese soil ... It is the right of every Lebanese to fight until liberation," Hizbullah spokesman Hussein Rahal said in a live interview with Al-Jazeera TV network.
In Damascus, a European official said Syria has promised to use all of its influence on Hizbullah in a bid to bring an end to the fighting.

"The Syrian authorities are going to exercise all their influence over Hizbullah and over the various actors" in the conflict, said Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos after meeting with President Bashar al-Assad and other senior officials.

However, he told reporters, Syrian leaders want a "change in the circumstances and the political-military context in which Lebanon lives."

The Germans are negotiation with the Syrians to find a deal according to the Herald Tribune.

Sami Moubayed in his latest article: "The Three Lebanons" explains why it will be very difficult to restor Lebanese sovereignty in such a way that will be pleasing to either the US or Israel. He explains how Hariri and Siniora are losing popularity within their home base community. Sunnis are angry - and not just at Hizbullah. General Aoun has helped drive up Hizbullah popularity among Christians.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Anonymous Syrianist and Rabinovich argue "Talks with Syria, - Yes - But Not Now"

I quote a long response to my latest post by a friend and fellow Syrianist, whom I respect. He disagrees that Syria should be brought into negotiations at the present time, arguing that this would squander the gains for Lebanon's sovereignty that have been achieved over the last year. My friend is in excellent company.

Itamar Rabinovich, writing in Haaretz: "Talks with Syria, yes - but not now" argues along the same lines. This is an important article and should be read by all Syrians. Rabinovich is the best Israeli Syrianist who has also served his country as a diplomat with great wisdom. He helped lead the Israeli dialogue with Syria during the 1990s and has been writing on Syria for over 40 years. Every article he has written on Syria is a gem.

Here is my friend’s analysis. He asked not to be named.

Historical analogies are useful, but can also be pushed too far. A lot has changed since the 1980s – in the role of Hizballah, in the position of Syria,, in the standing of the Lebanese state, in the regional context, and in international system more broadly. And these changes suggest a more robust basis for U.S. policy than you acknowledge - despite its many evident flaws.

Syria’s presence in Lebanon has weakened considerable relative to the 1980s. The incomplete (and now damaged) effort to make Lebanese sovereignty a reality is (still) further along than at any time since the end of the civil war, in no small part thanks to Syria’s own mis-handling of its role in Lebanon. You earlier summed up the situation in the sound bite: “Bashar lost Lebanon, but he won Syria.” Your analysis made sense then. It still does, even taking changes on the ground into account.

One of the many questions facing the U.S. at this point is what posture it should take vis a vis Lebanon as a sovereign state, and it seems to me that this is the wrong moment to take actions that would undermine this standing – or weaken its future prospects further than they have been already. For a lot of reasons, it is politically useful to treat Lebanon *as if* it is a sovereign state, to expect that Syria’s relationship with Lebanon will be guided by the norms and standards of international relations between sovereign states, and to take the view that Syria does not automatically and legitimately exercise a veto over the arrangements by which Lebanon and the states that are parties to this conflict (in which Syria is not directly involved as a participant–whatever its clandestine role), negotiate a settlement.

Of course we know the reality is different. The Lebanese state is a shell. Syria is a power-broker in Lebanon. Syria supports Hizballah to generate instability that it feels gives it leverage in its relationship with Israel, and so on (though it is fair to ask whether a strategy that Syria has pursued for 25 years but has delivered nothing positive thus far – and has imposed significant costs on Lebanon – is one that should, at this moment, be validated by U.S. and Israeli recognition).

Still, for diplomatic and tactical reasons, it is not inappropriate for the U.S. to treat Lebanon as sovereign, for Rice to avoid visiting Damascus first (what a great signal that would be about Lebanese sovereignty), and to treat Syria as a concerned party but not one that has a veto over what happens inside Lebanon. These reasons include our sense that we prefer to see Hizballah occupy exclusively a political role in the future; our modest hope that the conflict might lead to a debate about the political accommodation on which Lebanese politics will be organized in the future – and might even, finally, give Lebanon’s Shi`a the standing they deserve; and the even more modest hope that this debate will take place under conditions in which the shadow of Syrian influence over Lebanon is diminished.

None of this implies a policy of ostracizing Syria. It does not mean a policy that ignores reality on the ground, where Syria looms large. Yet neither does it suggest a basis for bringing Syria to the center of the diplomatic efforts to find a solution to this conflict, to validate Syrian claims to being a spoiler, to give credibility to the view that addressing Syrian claims is the only way to resolve “root causes” of the current conflict, or to permit Syria to dictate the kind of international presence that is needed to stabilize Lebanon’s southern border. The question is what kind of outcome would be preferable, from the U.S. perspective? One in which Syria’s role as a spoiler is validated, and Lebanon’s limited sovereignty further eroded? Or one in which the guiding assumptions provide a framework for the strengthening of Lebanese sovereignty and the transformation of Hizballah into a (no-doubt powerful) domestic political actor?

There’s no doubt at all that Syria will resist this strategy, and is already doing so in voicing its opposition to the kind of international presence that might actually constrain its behavior – as opposed to a larger version of the utterly inept UNIFIL which Syria seems to prefer. Hizballah will resist it, too, but it isn’t clear that Syrian-Hizballah interests are all that closely aligned on this issue -- and exploring/pushing these differences is a useful thing to do. Hizballah will have an important role in Lebanon in the future even with a robust international presence on the border. Syria’s options, however, will become much more limited. And at some point, the question of how far Hizballah is willing to sacrifice its longer-term political future in order to preserve Syrian options will be on the table. It won’t happen right away. The conflict is, for now, reinforcing Syrian-Hizballah relations. But it will be there in the future, and the way Hizballah answers that question - down the road - will depend in large part on how the U.S. and others treat Syria now, as we look for a way out of the current conflict.

Again, this doesn’t imply ignoring Syria, but it does suggest that a U.S. framework in which the foundations of the settlement being pursued should reinforce rather than undermine Lebanese sovereignty, should advance Hizballah’s transformation into a political rather than a military presence, and should not create the conditions in which Bashar wins back what he lost with the death of Harriri, is worth trying.
I am adding a bit of an Haaretz Editorial:

Opportunity on Syria's doorstep
By Haaretz Editorial
Last update - 03:08 31/07/2006
Thus, for example, one of the essentials of the settlement being formulated is based on Lebanon's wish to receive the Shaba Farms from Israel. The government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora believes that this is the way to take away from Hezbollah one of its main excuses for continuing to hold arms, and to rally public support for its disarmament.

The transfer of Shaba Farms to Lebanon requires that Syria officially recognize that this territory is Lebanese and not Syrian, as it has been described to date. It can be assumed that Syria will pose its own conditions for making concessions on Shaba Farms, which will allow it to retain its influence both in Lebanon and the region. Herein lies the window of opportunity to which President George Bush referred to, most recently on Friday, when he called on Syria to become an active partner in peace in the Middle East.

It is possible that Bashar Assad is not a leader with the vision and courage necessary to make use of this window of opportunity which the war in Lebanon created, and it is possible that the best he can do is to retain hermetic control over the situation in Syria. However, this should not prevent Israel or the United States from presenting him with the basis for a different option.