Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A case of double talk

A saying goes, “You don’t need to be crazy to work here, but it helps!” and this perfectly applies to people who might be attempting to analyze the latest statements coming out of the Middle East.

Shortly after the cease fire in Lebanon took effect the Syrian President came out with a fiery speech essentially calling the leaders and government of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon’s March 14 alliance “half men” who held “half positions”. This was a bombshell in every sense of the word since no Syrian leader has ever come out punching that many Arab “brothers” at one time. This strategy, or so it seemed at the time, was to win the hearts of the Arab streets who were sick and tired of their incompetent and impotent leaders sitting idle while Lebanon is being bombed to the stone age. And possible veiled muscle flexing by advocating civil unrest in the mentioned countries. While most, even critics of the president, might have agreed with his actual comments. The move seemed risky to many since isolating Syria further did not seem like the prudent thing to do. Some suggested that the move was a firm stand against the US agenda and in support of HA. While that’s partly true I believe there were two main points to underline here.

First, criticizing Lebanese and regional leaders on behalf of Nasrallah as to give the latter the chance to use diplomacy later. One can say it was a version of the good-cup/bad-cop routine. We saw their March 14 counter-parts pull the same trick the next day with Hariri criticizing Assad and leaving the more sensitive criticism of Nasrallah to the more outspoken Jumblatt.

Second, I believe this was a public show of frustration by the president toward the regional/international powers for leaving Damascus high and dry without some sort of a deal as was expected (on a regional level at the very least).
But just a person’s temper got the better of him and later realized his/her actions were counter-productive. The Syrian government sent out these mending statements in the past few days. Obviously it’s too late.

Then we saw an even more extreme example coming out of Tel-Aviv the last few days. First there were reports of possible resumption of peace talks with Syria. And even the appointment of a Project Manager for the task. But a couple of days later we heard the same voices indicating the opposite. Can you spell... schizophrenia???

Friday, July 21, 2006

189 vs. 3

Above is the cover of "The Independent". It speaks volume of who runs Middle East policy. 1 super power, 1 regional super power and 1 bitch (hint: the bitch is not the US or Israel ;)). Does anyone see the humor in the fact that this battle is one-sided in favor of the 3?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The waiting game

First I should mention that the BBC called me last Sunday to be part of their show Have Your Say (previously Talking Point) which I was part of on 4 different occasions last year. You can watch the whole show here. Or if you only want to hear my part you can click on the video link (right hand side) and forward to the 22nd minute and 40th second.

Now, back to blogging:

So!!! Hints have started flying right & left that Syria will be coming in from the cold to reign in Hizbullah. The Syrian president must be expecting the phone to go off the hook by now and the red carpet is probably at the dry cleaner getting ready to be stomped on by Arab and hopefully foreign dignitaries. A front page article about the subject has appeared on the WSJ (of all papers) discussing the issue. Here is an excerpt of the article which was sent to me by Ehsani2 (Thanks Ehsani).

But one of the key players in determining the success of any efforts will be Syrian President Bashar Assad, a diplomatic neophyte, whose decisions in the coming days could either escalate or defuse the crisis that has enveloped his country, neighboring Lebanon and Israel. It is a return to regional pre-eminence for Syria, which under President Assad's late father, Hafez el-Assad, was at the center of power politics in the Mideast for years

President Bush, in remarks unintentionally picked up by a nearby microphone during a lunch meeting Monday with other Group of Eight leaders, named Mr. Assad as a central factor in any ceasefire. He told British Prime Minister Tony Blair that the most important development would be to "get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and then it's over." Mr. Bush also told Mr. Blair he wanted to tell United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan "to get on the phone with Assad and make something happen."

But I doubt things will go through so smoothly and immediate signs are in that direction. Even if the US would consider thawing their relations with Syria (which I doubt) it will come through on very modest means. Option can vary from the return of US ambassador to Damascus or pushing Riyadh and Cairo to bring Damascus back into the Arabic leadership triangle they were part of. But for now at least, time is on Damascus’s side. If the west doesn’t want to play ball they will have to solve this dilemma alone (the Israeli way). This will be counter-productive in the long term. So President Assad will continue to just sit and wait.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Lebanese Requiem

Could this just be the beginning? There are reports of tanks gathering along Israel’s northern border in what appears to be a preparation for a land invasion. Not to be outdone by Nasrallah in keeping promises. Olmret seems to be on the verge of keeping his promise in “turning the clock 20 years” in Lebanon.

Hizballah and their Syrian allies are walking a very thin and dangerous line right now. They have taken the offensive after more than a year of being on the defensive in Lebanon and the region. Syria has seen its Middle East clout diminish, with its president excluded from what used to be the Saudi-Egyptian-Syrian Arab triangle. While the US and Europe has done well in isolating Syria on the international scene. So, much like an ignored and bullied school child, Syria and HA have come out punching. It so happened to be that they came out punching the biggest and toughest bully on the block. HA and Syria are betting that chaos with super-sized Israeli brutality will force the Americans and their Middle Eastern allies to invite, instead of blaming, both parties back to the discussion table and neutralize their Lebanese and regional foes. Short of an all out war with Israel this option will remain the best possible scenario for both players (especially Syria).

6 years ago the majority of Lebanese public opinion was split on HA between annoying but largely tolerated party to legitimate heroes. Today this view has become more polarized with the majority of civilians despising Nassrallah’s gamble with Lebanese lives for his party’s interest. But his latest adventure has gained him support on the Arabic street and Nassrallah still has enough internal support to take that risk.

There is no doubt that Israel will have to negotiate the soldiers release sooner or later (if they even care about releasing them), but not before utilizing this incident to its full potential. Long gone are the days when Israel would bomb Lebanese infrastructure just to incite hate toward HA in the Lebanese community. I was living in Beirut, when on two different occasions, these types of attacks occurred. But this time it’s different!!! Israel’s is going for the party’s military force head-on in the same manner it deals with Hamas in the Palestinian territories. This is where the real losers of this conflict shine: March 14 and their Arab patrons. Because this situation has shifted the attention and much of the power away from the majority leaders in Beirut which have shown how insignificant their weight can be with their new US ally. This explains the unprecedented blame on HA by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

Whatever this new potential war and back-channel bickering might bring. The Lebanese civilians, as always, will pay the highest price for its neighbors quarreling. I just hope that we will never read “Pity the Nation II”.

Breaking news - while writing this post Al Jazeera is reporting that Syrian military positions have been hit, as many have expected. This goes back to a comment i have made on syriacomment which i paste below.

At Friday, July 14, 2006, Innocent_Criminal said...
Just got a weird thought

What if the over-reaction by the israeli's will be followed by an attack on Syria which will require a response from Iran as promised today, which in turn will require a response by the US & Israel to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities. could this be the end game?

Addendum: Syrian official deny any attack inside Syrian land. so which one is it???

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Why pulling a Gaddaffi just wont work for Syria

Today and after 26 years Washington has restored full ties with Libya. The thaw between the two countries began in 2003 after Libya unilaterally, and out of the blue, renounced its weapons of mass destruction program, terrorist activities and not to mention buying its way out of the Lockerbie bombing fiasco. As an initial reward Washington restored some political channels by opening a diplomatic office in Libya two years ago. And today Gaddaffi bore the fruits of his 180-degree turn when Washington announced Libya’s removal off of its notorious state sponsors of terror list. Of course this did not happen before major US oil and construction companies secured massive deals in the North African country ;)

But from the get-go, Washington tried to make an example of Libya on how a rogue state can be brought in from the cold if it cooperates with the US. I remember a US envoy to Syria during the first days of the Syrian Accountability Act saying that he would have never guessed that Libya would fair better if he had to choose between the two a year earlier. Washington repeatedly “advised” Damascus to take Gaddaffi’s approach and become a full member of the International community. This of course did not happen. Instead the scrutiny against Syria has intensified exponentially since and Syria has never been so isolated by the west.

So why doesn’t Syria take the Gaddaffi route if the rewards are obviously worth it? Well, the two countries might seem to have much in common (i.e. both governments are authotarian, anti-American and members of the State Departments terrorist list) but there are enough differences between that two that make it unappealing for Syria.

- Libya, a relatively small country (population wise) with high oil reserves, is wealthier than Syria. And in a world with rising China and India the fight for oil between the world’s economic super-powers has reached a cutthroat level. This has enticed the politically powerful US oil companies to lobby for opening up Libya since they have grown sick of European and international firms soaking in the riches of countries like Iran and Libya alone.

- Libya is not at war with, and will not be a threat to, any US ally in the foreseeable future. And since Gaddaffi’s hilarious political suggestions have been snubbed over and over by his Arab counterparts. He has shifted the grace of his influence onto his African brothers. Where his lengthy speeches and comical declarations (I.e. cursing shampoo companies who put eggs in their products when Africans don’t have enough to eat. Even though the shampoos in question only used the same protein. But hey!!! what’s the difference) are not only tolerated but also welcomed when they are accompanied by highly needed cash. So when good ol’ Muammar decided to surrender his nuclear and WMD program it was in his countries best strategic interests since it was unlikely he would ever need them.

- Syria is of course at war (technically at least) and is definitely part of several “struggles” in the toughest neighborhood worldwide. It 's arch enemy Israel not only occupies a piece of its land but is much more powerful than it. The Syrian army bec a me obsolete decades ago ; its only strategic deterrent is its Chemical and Biological missiles. So turning these over, from a military perspective, would be at the very least stupid if not suicidal.

- Lets not overlook the fundamental strategic errors that Syria has committed in the past 3 years. From it’s misreading and support of the Iraqi insurgency. The extension of Lahoud’s presidency, the apparent involvement in the Hariri assassination and even more importantly the dealing with its aftermath. The last of course was instrumental in shifting the Europeans tide on the American side magnifying Syria’s pariah status.

- But more importantly, America’s and Israel’s goal is not to see Syria turn over a new leaf. Because the price to pay for such a gesture is just too high. Israel’s right wing government has rejected even entertaining the thought of negotiating with the Syrians because they want to keep the Golan (Syria’s only major peace demand). Another example is the lack of kudos for Syrian help in deterring an immanent attack on American facilities in Bahrain few months after September 11 and before the Iraqi war or any of the problems in Lebanon. So isolating and weakening Syria has been the US/Israeli strategy from the start, its only thanks to Syria’s mistakes that the process was accelerated.

Excluding the Lebanese issues, the Syrians have tried to appease many of Washington’s demands. From closing (aesthetically at least) the offices of Palestinian factions to tremendously improving its cooperation on the Iraqi border and sending several signals that it was ready to start negotiating with Israel from scratch. But these overtures where not received as warmly as Damascus might have hoped because they were acts in desperate times lacking any regional/international support. And this has sent Damascus a very clear sign that the US is not willing to play nice anytime soon.

IF, and that’s a very big if, Washington had been sincere about its willingness to support an open Syria. They would have waved some carrots in an attempt to lure them to the Libyan route. By setting out clear rewards according to clear demands instead the political garbage about joining the international community that we heard the state department and the DoD regurgitating over and over again. Then Syria might have considered and even heeded such advise.

In summery, I would like to acknowledge Libya’s strategic decision to give in to the west’s demands as the best judgment Gaddaffi has ever made in his political life. The Libyan people have suffered immensely on many levels under the embargo, which their “beloved” leader has been mostly responsible for. But what’s good for one country does not necessarily work for another. Syria’s situation is different than that of Libya because of one and very simple reason. The powers to be do not want to have a peaceful resolution to this particular battle. The Golan will remain in Israeli hands for as long as possible and hey, if Israel runs out of enemies how will it be able to ask for American military & economic support? ;)

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Gone on holiday

I am off to Dubai for a couple of weeks. been quiet sick and busy lately so i haven't been posting (not that anybody is reading anyways). will probably post from there in few days.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

No comment

Just read this, i didn't know whether to laugh or cry