Friday, October 15, 2010

Pulling Teeth at the State Department


by Rick Richman


Having kept a running count of the number of times the Obama administration has refused to answer if it is bound by the 2004 Bush letter (22 times so far), it is a pleasure to report that it took only six attempts yesterday to get the State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, to answer whether the U.S. recognizes Israel as a Jewish state.

Crowley’s first response tried to throw reporters off the track with the tantalizing suggestion that George Mitchell just might go — it would be logical — back to the region at some point. Asked a second time, Crowley responded that we “recognize [Israel’s] aspiration.” On the reporters’ third through fifth tries, Crowley proved hard of hearing. On the sixth attempt, after a 14-word preface, he finally responded: “yes.”

QUESTION: P.J., do you recognize Israel as a Jewish state and will you try to convince the Palestinians to recognize it?

MR. CROWLEY: We will continue our discussions with the parties. I would expect, following up on the Arab League meetings of late last week that George Mitchell will go to the region at some point. I’m not announcing anything, but I — it would be logical for us to follow up directly with the parties, see where they are. [Blah, blah, blah.]

QUESTION: And do you recognize Israel as a Jewish state?

MR. CROWLEY: We recognize the aspiration of the people of Israel. It has — it’s a democracy. In that democracy, there’s a guarantee of freedom and liberties to all of its citizens. But as the Secretary has said, we understand that — the special character of the state of Israel.

QUESTION: Is that a yes or no?

QUESTION: P.J., it’s — do you want to answer his question or –

QUESTION: Did you say yes or no to that question from Michel?

MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?

QUESTION: Michel’s question was a yes or no sort of question. I was wondering whether that was a yes or no.

MR. CROWLEY: We recognize that Israel is a – as it says itself, is a Jewish state, yes.

The original question had a second part to it: “ … and will you try to convince the Palestinians to recognize it?” After a reporter repeated the question, it took Crowley 162 halting words to respond:

QUESTION: … Does the U.S. want the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state?

MR. CROWLEY: Look, I will be happy to go back over and offer some — I’m trying — I’m not making any news here. We have recognized the special nature of the Israeli state. It is a state for the Jewish people. It is a state for other citizens of other faiths as well. But this is the aspiration of the — what Prime Minister Netanyahu said yesterday is, in essence, the — a core demand of the Israeli Government, which we support, is a recognition that Israel is a part of the region, acceptance by the region of the existence of the state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people and that is what they want to see through this negotiation. We understand this aspiration and the prime minister was talking yesterday about the fact that just as they aspire to a state for the Jewish people in the Middle East, they understand the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state of their own.

Why is it so hard to get the Obama administration to reiterate basic commitments the U.S. has made — in writing — to Israel? The Bush letter stated that the U.S. is “strongly committed to … [Israel] as a Jewish state.” This administration has to be prodded six times to answer whether it recognizes Israel as a Jewish state and — after an affirmative response is extracted — cannot give a one-word answer on whether it wants the Palestinians to recognize one as well.

Rick Richman

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Muslim anti-Semitism: A hate reaching back 1,400 years


by Jonathan Kay


When Israeli planes smashed Egyptian airfields in the opening hours of the Six-Day War, announcers on Radio Cairo took to the airwaves, calling on Arabs in neighbouring countries to attack any Jews they could find. In the Libyan capital of Tripoli, then home to about 5,000 Jews, rioters responded with an orgy of murder, arson and looting that lasted three days. Even after the survivors had fled to Israel and the West, leaving Libya effectively judenrein, the anti-Semitic bloodlust remained unquenched. It was “the unavoidable duty of the city councils,” opined one Libyan newspaper, “to remove [Jewish] cemeteries immediately, and throw the bodies of the dead, which even in their eternal rest soil our country, into the depths of the sea … Only then can the hatred of the Libyan people toward the Jews be satiated.”

Shocking words. Yet they do not come as a shock when one comes upon them in Martin Gilbert’s newly published history of Jews in Muslim lands, recently excerpted on these pages. By that point in the chronology, I had become so numbed by the author’s relentless catalogue of pogroms, executions, expulsions, forced conversions and the generalized terrorizing of Jews that the atrocities had lost their power to appall. It is not that Gilbert, the official biographer of Winston Churchill and author of books too numerous to count on Jewish and Israeli themes, is an unimaginative storyteller; this simply is the grim, unchanging nature of the epic hatred he has taken as his subject.

The Koran contains several very specific curses against Jews. And as modern terrorists often like to remind their YouTube audiences, Muhammad himself was a prolific Jew-killer. This passage from In Ishmael’s House, for instance, describes events that took place after the Prophet’s soldiers captured members of the Jewish Banu Qurayza tribe in the year 627: “[All] 700 Jewish men were taken to the market at Medina. Trenches were dug in the market square and the men, tied together in groups, were beheaded. Their headless bodies were then buried in the trenches while Mohammed watched … All Jewish males who had not reached puberty, and all the remaining women and girls, were sold into slavery.” This mass slaughter came to be described in Muslim religious literature as the product of divine revelation. To this day, it is cited as clear proof that Allah permits the most hideous forms of punishment to be meted out against nonbelievers.

In the decades following Mohammed’s death, the rapid expansion of Islam across the Levant, North Africa, Iran, Central Asia and parts of Europe swallowed up a great multitude of ancient Jewish communities. In some cases, Jews initially welcomed, and even joined, Muslim armies, expecting deliverance from the bigotry and cruelty they suffered under Christian and other pre-Islamic regimes. And in many Muslim lands, Jewish religious and commercial life was permitted to continue.

But even in the best of circumstances, Jews were not treated as anything near equals. The eighth Umayyad caliph, Omar Abd-al-Aziz, commonly is credited with enumerating the rights of Jews and Christians — “People of the book” — under his codified rules for dhimmi communities. Yet his rules (whose spirit survives in many modern Islamic societies to this day) also declared that dhimmis could not ride horses, only donkeys; had to wear special clothing and shoes; could not serve as a witness in a case involving a Muslim; could enter bathhouses only when wearing a special sign around their neck; could not inherit property from a Muslim, or even bequeath their own property to their children.

The prospect of a Muslim being in any way subservient to a Jew was seen as especially obscene. In this regard, Gilbert describes a telling 19th-century episode from the Moroccan town of Entifa, where a 65-year-old Jewish man took in an impoverished Muslim woman as a servant during a period of extreme famine. When the town’s governor caught wind of the arrangement, he thundered, “Can a Jew have a Moorish woman serve him? He deserved to be burnt!” The man was nailed to the ground and beaten to death.

Gilbert avoids broad generalizations. As his narrative moves forward from century to century, he shows snapshots from different Muslim lands — emphasizing scattered instances, such as in Cordoba and, later, the Ottoman Empire, where truly humane and enlightened Muslim leaders took pains to protect Jewish subjects. In the courts of such leaders, Jews often rose to positions of wealth and power — typically as doctors, linguists and commercial liaisons. Yet these successes didn’t help Jews win acceptance but rather the opposite: Muslims saw Jews’ good fortune as an insult to the revealed order of the universe. In this climate of poisonous jealousy, it took only a single isolated violent spark for an entire Jewish community to be engulfed in an inferno of murder, rape and looting. In 1066, for instance, the murder by a single Jewish vizier in Muslim Spain was followed by pogroms that killed 5,000 Jews.

Centuries later, the appointment of a Jewish vizier by the Mongol emperor Arghun Khan led to similar massacres of Jews in Persia and Babylonia.

It goes without saying that Muslim civilization has no monopoly on violent and systematic anti-Semitism: Spasms of murderous Jew-hatred were common all across Christendom during the 14 centuries of Islam’s existence. But in recent generations, Western societies at least have tried to come to terms with their history in a morally serious way. Gilbert’s book makes clear that this self-critical approach to history remains foreign to Muslim societies, especially where Jews are concerned. While Israelis have wrung their hands for three generations over the relatively minor (by historical standards) bloodshed incurred in their nation’s creation and the wars that have unfolded since, no equivalent soul-searching has accompanied the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Jews from Muslim lands in the middle of the 20th century or the persecution and pillaging of countless Jewish communities throughout the entire history of the Islamic faith.

To this day, in fact, bloody episodes from early Muslim history involving the killings of Jews are often cited casually in Arab propaganda against Israel. No effort is made to interpret these stories in any sort of allegorical sense; instead, they are celebrated at face value as victories that validate the foundational Muslim narrative of conquest and submission.

The historical pattern Gilbert describes should inform the current debate over Muslim enmity toward Israel, and the exterminationist rhetoric and deeds that flow out of it. In the dream world of foreign-policy pop-punditry, it often is taken for granted that Jews and Muslims will get along like North and South Dakotans once Israel agrees to become an even smaller country than it already is. Yet this argument — reflecting Western leaders’ Asperger’s-like fixation on international law and lines drawn on maps — finds absolutely no support in the region’s history. In the unending account of violence Gilbert has compiled, it is hard to find a single episode that centres mainly on real estate: The issue was always the fact of Judaism itself rubbing up against Muslims‚ pride and conceits.

The creation of the Zionist movement radically changed the Western understanding of the Muslim-Jewish conflict — sweeping up generations of campus intellectuals who have projected upon it all their own obsessions with colonialism and class struggle. But in the Muslim world, Gilbert’s narrative shows us, Israel’s creation actually didn’t change the Muslim-Jewish dynamic as much as is commonly imagined. The rhetoric and barbarism hurled against Israeli Jews after the Zionist project began were not new but simply the old, more diffuse rhetoric and barbarism being redirected, as by a lens, toward a particular pinprick on a map. This is tied up with the reason that many Muslims refuse even to say the word “Israel,” preferring terms such as “the Zionist entity”: Deep down, they regard Israel not as a country in the proper sense but rather as a sort of soil-and-concrete stand-in for the stubborn, maddeningly ineradicable Jewish presence in Middle Eastern life since the age of Muhammad.

Aside from its value as a purely historical exposition, In Ishmael’s House is a splash of cold water for all those supporters of Israel who imagine that the world can be brought around to their side if it can just be made to appreciate how successful and advanced the Jewish state has become. As the author shows us, the continued vibrancy and economic success of Jewish civilization — so close to Islam’s very heartland — is precisely what has fed Muslim rage and jealousy for 14 centuries. The obscure, hardscrabble Jewish holy cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed and Tiberias attracted little attention from Muslims when they were poor. It was only once the desert started to bloom during the Zionist period that Muslims became obsessed with a holy city that doesn’t warrant even a single explicit mention in the Koran and that Muhammad seems never to have visited. (Indeed, it is one of the great ironies of Middle Eastern history that the ancestors of many of the Palestinians now described as “refugees” originally migrated to the area from neighbouring Arab countries only in order to profit from the regional economic boom created by the well-educated European Jews who arrived in the early part of the 20th century.)

In past eras, spiteful Muslim leaders and mobs gave expression to their ugliest sentiments by unleashing violence against defenceless Jewish communities. Until Iran gets the bomb, the closest they can come to replicating this in our own era is by way of occasional bouts of suicide terrorism and missile volleys — which is why those acts are encouraged and fetishized in such a lurid manner and why so few Middle Eastern Muslims regard them as a disgraceful or even regrettable part of their culture. However self-destructive such acts may seem to our eyes, they faithfully reflect a hateful pathology rooted in 14 centuries of Muslim history.

Jonathan Kay

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Israeli Assessments of Obama Are Far More Pessimistic Than You Know


by Barry Rubin


While I have my own point of view (which I will come to in a few paragraphs) I also think you should know what sophisticated analysts are saying in Israel about the current U.S. government when they aren't speaking in public. They are extremely concerned over what will happen in 2011.

According to these analyses, Obama is so determined to "solve" the Israel-Palestinian conflict--due to his ideology--and is so full of the belief that he can do so--due to his excessive self-confidence plus inexperience--that he will make this virtually the highest foreign policy priority during his term's remaining two years. This will be done by pressuring Israel, by backing a unilateral Palestinian independence declaration (without a deal with Israel), or perhaps by trying to impose a plan of his own.

This approach is focused on readings of Obama's personality and world view, assuming he will be little affected by countervailing factors. Factors that would inhibit such an obsessive pursuit of a "solution" at any cost include:

The desire for a second term; congressional pressure against such a policy; strong opposition by public opinion; the advice of his aides; evidence that such a strategy would be a disaster; lack of cooperation by the Palestinians; and the presence of other pressing issues, perhaps major crises. In other words, this would be a single-minded, Captain Ahab (Moby Dick reference) obsession disregarding any other consideration.

I find this rather hard to believe and would suggest that there is already evidence such an outcome is unlikely. For example, the administration discovered that its focus on settlements backfired and that both the Palestinians as well as Arab states are very uncooperative. Failures have made the administration look silly on several occasions. Losses in the November elections would increase the strong desire within the Democratic Party to avoiding actions that would increase its electoral problems. Pursuing such a course is perhaps the foreign policy move most likely to cost Obama the 2012 election--which will of course be determined mainly by domestic issues--not only because of Jewish but also due to the views of many non-Jewish voters. I could go on at length.

The question comes down to whether Obama--who, let's face it, is still more of a mystery than any previous U.S. president--is in any way a normal politician. Is he capable of learning from experience or is he so ideological and wrapped up in himself as to be pretty impervious to advice or the external world. It's pretty horrifying to realize that we cannot assume the answers to these queries.

I would suggest that this administration is less responsive to reality and less willing to learn from experience than most of its predecessors. Yet is this government--with all the advisors, appointed officials, members of Congress, and party bureaucrats--really so lacking in a sense of self-preservation?

One thing's for sure, we're going to find out. And if the evidence is going against my view I won't hesitate to change my opinion and say so in the loudest and clearest way.

And read this companion article I've written very carefully, then click on the link and read what the Qatari author wrote. You may think that Israel and the Arab states have totally opposed views. That's not true. Drop out Syria and Libya, and you'll find that Arab fears are equally great regarding whether the U.S. government will defend them against the Iran-Syria-Hizballah-Hamas axis and the other revolutionary Islamist movements.

The more moderate Arabic-speaking governments are also pushing for a more realistic U.S. policy. I think in the end all of these forces will succeed, albeit to a far lesser extent than should happen.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

News Analysis: Where Is Israel Now?


by Arlene Kushner


With regard to the possibility of face-to-face talks, it's all been a bit nonsensical. Because even if there were talks held, there would be no meeting of the minds. But at this point the situation has [de]generated to something akin to ludicrous.

I wrote two days ago about the fact that Netanyahu offered to consider a limited extension of the freeze if the PA would recognize Israel as a Jewish state. That was rejected out of hand, of course -- something I believe Netanyahu anticipated would happen. He was out to expose the Palestinian Arab position and intransigence.

But, following this, Nabil Sha'ath made another demand on behalf of the PA: No temporary freezes any more, he said. "What is needed is a full cessation of settlement activities. How can settlement continue on the lands that were supposed to be traded for peace?" And, this freeze should include Jerusalem. There will be no coming to the table unless Israel agrees on these points.

That's when it became perfectly clear that the PA was opting out.

Today's JPost carried a front page story -- written by three journalists, including Khaled Abu Toameh -- that cited a Fatah official who said the peace process based on a two state solution was over. Mahmoud Aloul, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, said that, "The Palestinian Authority made every effort to avoid reaching this conclusion, but the Israeli racist policies led to the failure of the peace process."

Opting out, indeed. And missing no opportunity to sling mud at the same time. They, who have made it clear they wouldn't want a single Jew in their state, call us "racist."

Now it has come down to the point of mockery. Said PA senior official Yasser Abed Rabbo today, the PA might ("in accordance with international law," whatever that means) consider recognizing Israel as the Jewish state, if Israel withdraws to the pre '67 lines, which he, erroneously, calls borders: "We officially demand that the U.S. administration and the Israeli government provide a map of the borders of the state of Israel which they want us to recognize...If this map is based on the 1967 borders and provides for the end of the Israeli occupation over all Palestinian lands..."

He is not serious. Mark Regev, Netanyahu's spokesman, referred to this as the “Palestinian Authority running away from the issue [of establishing borders through negotiations]."

The US is playing a nonsensical game of looking for a way out of this impasse. (It reminds me of: "Children, now, now. Let's work this out. Be nice.") But it's not a serious-minded impasse with both sides really wanting to sit down, yet stuck on some point that makes it difficult. From the beginning Abbas wanted no part of this business and made that clear by putting up roadblocks. (I will not address here what Netanyahu truly did or did not want, no matter what he said.)

I would say -- although I must qualify this, as one can never be sure of anything in this part of the world -- that the notion of Israel negotiating with the PA is likely finished for now.

I feel relief, if this is so. Because I have feared what we might have been squeezed into conceding at that table. It would be a dangerous business with statements made even tentatively coming back to haunt us.

But there is no way to say that we're home free. As if we are ever "home free."

In fact, I want to look at what seems to me the reason why Abbas and company stiffened their demands in just the last couple of days, making it clear that they weren't interested in considering compromises to make it possible for them to come to the table.

I wrote in my last posting about the two visiting foreign ministers from France and Spain, Kouchner and Moratinos, respectively. And how they were interested in "helping" in the "peace process." If you remember, Kouchner gave an interview to a PA paper, in which he said the "Security Council option" could not be ruled out.

Well, a third dignitary also showed up here yesterday: Finland's president, Tarja Halonen.

I know that Abbas met this week with Kouchner and Moratinos in Amman, and I believe Halonen was part of that meeting. Her itinerary included stops in both Jordan and PA territory. But if she wasn't at that meeting, then Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb certainly was.

In fact,The Jordan Times, in discussing this meeting between Europeans and PA officials reports that the representatives of the PA said they have six options as to how to proceed (six?), "including unilateral declaration of an independent Palestinian state without an agreement with Israel..." Of the six, only this was specified.

And what do you think these European trouble mak... excuse me, I mean diplomats said to Abbas? It is not likely that they encouraged him to lower his demands regarding the freeze and sit at the table and hammer things out. What is most likely the case is that they stiffened his back, either jointly or one at a time, giving him a sense of increased strength about the possibility of going it alone, via a unilateral declaration. I believe he has been encouraged, even if only subtly, in his plans. I believe he has heard how eager Europe is to see the formation of a Palestinian state, without delay.

So, unless Obama pulls a rabbit out of a hat, and speedily, we'll soon be able to stop thinking about the freeze and all the rest. And breathe a sigh of relief on that score.

Nor need I offer any pretense with regard to my pleasure that what Obama tried to push artificially, for political purposes of his own, but with great disregard for our rights and security needs, will likely fail. If even the prospect of direct talks disappears before the elections (something he has been trying mightily to forestall), he will be greatly chagrinned.

Of course, he has only himself to blame. For excessively raising hopes, for setting unreasonable time tables, and for himself originally demanding that we freeze construction, making it difficult for Abbas to do less.

What I ponder -- although it's unlikely we'll ever know -- is what Obama thinks of European statements and behavior now. And how angry he is at Abbas, though he'll be loathe to admit any anger at all.

But then, after we find we can breathe that sigh of relief, it will be time for the best diplomats and lawyers and international strategists that our nation has to apply themselves to what is likely to be coming down the road within the next ten months or so. It is roughly in August of 2011 that PA Prime Minister Fayyad has said he would be ready to unilaterally declare a state. Petitioning of the Security Council, if that is the way he would opt to go, would proceed next. Or, alternately, seeking the backing of Europe and possibly the US.

This will be a time when American supporters of Israel will need to act to maximum effectiveness.

Arlene Kushner, Senior Research Policy Analyst, Center for Near East Policy Research

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Iran-Syria Bloc Consolidates Alliance With Turkish Regime and Hold Over Lebanon



by Barry Rubin


Here's one more in a whole series of Iranian and Syrian statements that Turkey--which means the current Islamist-oriented regime in Ankara--is now a strategic ally of these two radical states.

Question: Can you be simultaneously an ally of the United States and an ally of Iran? Sounds hard to pull off, doesn't it?

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad added Lebanon, which is now close to being an Iran-Syria satellite, and--perhaps based on wishful thinking--Jordan to that list. The statement came during meetings he held with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan during the latter's visit to Damascus and the first meeting of the Syrian-Turkish High Level Strategic Cooperation Council during which 51 agreements for cooperation were signed.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Lebanon As he visits the Lebanon-Israel border, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is making a statement that he is the leader of the Arab world. After all, Ahmadinejad has to overcome two problems: one is that he’s Persian; the other is that he’s a Shia Muslim. Iran has been making a lot of progress on these fronts though it still faces powerful limits to exerting influence in the Arabic-speaking world.

In effect, Ahmadinejad is saying: I insult America! I am leader of the Palestinian struggle1 I'm going to get nuclear weapons! I’ve got it all!

Fortunately, while he’s playing to the mob he’s also enraging all the leaders he seeks to displace. And the Iranians in general aren’t too thrilled either as the economic situation there continues to decline since sanctions are biting.

Now, if there was only some Western leadership to organize the other side there might be more hope of defeating the Iranian and Islamist forces.

Speaking about Iran, it is becoming fashionable now for some to claim that Iran is merely a paper tiger. Yes, it is true that in a direct battle with the United States the Iranian military would certainly lose. Yes, it is equally true that Iran is not about to invade other countries the way North Korea did South Korea in 1950 or Iraq did to Kuwait in 1990. Iran might even be successfully deterred from firing nuclear-tipped missiles at Israel.

But that is not the nature of this long struggle. Remember that during the Cold War--a period of almost 45 years--the Soviet Union, which was far stronger than Iran of course--never directly engaged in battle with the United States, nor did either side fire missiles at the other. The struggle was conducted covertly, through proxies, by way of ideological recruiting, in a competition to gain allies or to install allied (or puppet) regimes.

That is the nature of this struggle. And on these terms Iran is winning. It has made gains in Lebanon, Gaza, to a lesser extent in Iraq, and to a small extent in Afghanistan. Tehran has won as allies the regimes in Syria and Turkey.

What gains has the United States made against the Iran-Syria-Hizballah-Hamas axis in the last two years? Quite the contrary, according to a remarkable column in the Qatari newspaper al-Arab that has been translated by MEMRI. It is so remarkable--and reflects what a lot of influential Arabs are saying privately--that I can't resist quoting a chunk of it:

"Reviewing the Arab reality, we find that president [Bush's policies] corresponded to those of the moderate [Arab] camp on most strategic issues... Bush portrayed some of the [Arab] countries [mainly Syria: BR] as traitor states belonging to the Axis of Evil. This position was an anchor that the moderate states relied on in addressing regional issues, a position that strengthened them vis-à-vis Iran, Syria and their proxies – Hizbullah and Hamas. President Bush's positions helped to [increase] the influence of the moderate camp in the Middle East, and to isolate Syria for a few years. They created a new situation in Lebanon, and to a certain extent forced Hamas to negotiate with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt. Bush was serious in settling scores with Syria, and he understood the Shi'ite threat, which the leaders of the [moderate] Arab countries have long been concerned about. He did not hesitate to put the resistance [radical: BR] movements on the West's list of terrorist [organizations].

"[Looking at] Obama, on the other hand, we find that he has mishandled the affairs of the Middle East in two ways. His first [mistake] is his openness towards Iran and Syria, which Americans view as exonerating evil [regimes] that have not stopped supporting terrorism and threatening America's interests in the Middle East. The moderate Arabs view this step as ingratitude towards them after all they have done for the U.S., which should have strengthened them in the region vis-à-vis their rivals [instead of reaching out to the latter]. The second [mistake] of the new America president is that, unlike his predecessor, he does not issue clear instructions to the leaders of the Middle East countries–which has caused some, even among his allies, to rebel against him, as it were. [For example,] Fatah's threats to withdraw from the U.S.-sponsored negotiations [with Israel] have become a commonplace phenomenon... Israel [too] sees Obama as a weak president who cannot fulfill [the needs] of the Hebrew state, even though he has promised to protect it from any danger..."

If you were a fly on the wall at a meeting of Saudi, Egyptian, Jordanian, moderate Lebanese, and lots of other Arabic-speaking leaders, this is precisely what you'd be hearing.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Welcome Ahmadinejad!


by Tariq Alhomayed


Contrary to everything that is being said today about the Iranian president's visit to Lebanon, I believe that this is an important visit that will contribute to raising awareness – which is absent – in Lebanon and the region to the reality of Hezbollah and its subservience to Tehran, and the danger of following Iranian slogans.

Hezbollah is today welcoming a man that is opposed by half the people of Iran, and criticized by the Iranian conservatives more than the reformists due to the deteriorating economic conditions in his country, and the clear collapse of Iranian diplomacy, whether this is regionally or at an international level. Nasrallah – a man who is trying with all of his strength to squash the investigation into Rafik Hariri's death and who has excelled at corrupting the entire political process in Lebanon – is welcoming Ahmadinejad – a man who shares similar tendencies with him which is something that can be seen by looking at Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, or even Iran – to Lebanon today. He is welcoming a guest that shares his hostility towards almost all Arab countries and the international community. Therefore, the best description that I have heard of this meeting between Nasrallah and Ahmadinejad is what a Lebanese figure told me, describing this meeting as being "the meeting of the men wanted for justice" and these two figures are indeed both wanted for justice; whether this is the justice of the international community, or internally, whether this is Iran or Lebanon.

It is true that some believe that Ahmadinejad's visit will only serve to intensify the sectarian crisis in Lebanon and the region at large, however as "every cloud has a silver lining" this visit will also help to divide the lines, and show which side Hezbollah stands on, as well as where Iran and it's Wilayat al-Faqih [Guardianship of the Jurists] stands. Many among us – in Lebanon, and the region at large – were deceived by Hezbollah and Iran, and this was due to false slogans utilized by a misleading propaganda machine, Arab states with narrow vision, and opportunistic – Islamist and non-Islamist – parties; therefore Ahmadinejad's visit will help to distinguish positions clearly.

When we say that some of the people among us were deceived, this is true, and the proof of this can be seen in the shock that shook the Arab world, and particularly Lebanon, on the day that Hezbollah occupied some Sunni districts in Beirut, as well as the shock when Nasrallah came out to attack Egypt, or when he boasted that he was a follower of the "Wilayat al-Faqih party." I remember that on that day, a former Iranian official who remains influential till this day was visiting my office, and pointing to the headline "Hassan Nasrallah: I am Proud to be a Member of the Party of Wilayat al-Faqih" in that day's (23 May 2008) edition of Asharq Al-Awsat, he told me "you have lured him into a trap…this is a mistake of a lifetime for Nasrallah!"

Therefore, many in the region, both countries and individuals, occasionally need to be shocked in order to see what is being plotted against them, and Ahmadinejad's visit is one such beneficial shock. For this will help the Lebanese and Arabs to clear their vision and see the danger that Hezbollah's subservience to Iran represents to Lebanon; this visit will also help the Lebanese, and particularly the Shiite intellectuals, to begin debating the danger of Lebanon being abducted by Iran.

In summary, Ahmadinejad's visit to Lebanon has resulted in everybody showing their cards, and this is good and beneficial!

Tariq Alhomayed

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

J'lem: Ahmadinejad in Lebanon is like a ‘landlord's visit'


by Herb Keinon and Yaakov Lappin

The IDF’s eyes are wide open, Barak asserts. “This visit shows Hizbullah’s growing dependence on Iran.”

Not wanting to detract from significant opposition inside Lebanon to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit there on Wednesday, Israel took a low official profile on a trip it deems highly provocative, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu not publicly addressing it.

Netanyahu’s silence, however, should not be interpreted as a lack of concern in Jerusalem regarding the symbolism of the trip, or what it presages for Lebanon and – by extension – for Israel.

Ahmadinejad in Lebanon is “like a landlord coming to inspect his domain,” Foreign Minister spokesman Yigal Palmor said.

“He is bringing a message of violence and extremism, and his presence makes it even clearer that Hizbullah, at the order of the Iranians, has built a state within a state,” he said. “This is far removed from Lebanese interests.”

Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev said that “Iran’s domination of Lebanon, through its proxy Hizbullah, has prevented Lebanon from being a partner in peace and turned Lebanon into an Iranian satellite and a hub of regional terror and instability.”

One of Israel’s main concerns is that the Iranian president’s visit will embolden the extremists inside Lebanon, something that could trigger another round of internal violence there that could easily spread across the border. If there was hope in the past that Lebanon was in the moderate Arab camp, this visit – according to sources in Jerusalem – shows that it is an Iranian satellite on Israel’s northern border.

“Anyone concerned with Lebanon’s real interests wants to keep the border with Israel quiet,” the official said. Iran, with its extreme ideology, has an agenda divorced from Lebanon’s interests, spurring concern in Jerusalem that Teheran may be more ready to heat up the border with Israel, because it has little real concern about the price Lebanon would have to pay, the official added.

Sources in Jerusalem said the visit demonstrates that Lebanon – thanks to Hizbullah – has turned into an Iranian client state firmly in the axis of extreme countries that support terrorism and are opposed to peace.

The US administration slammed Ahmadinejad’s visit to Lebanon on Wednesday, suggesting it threatens the stability of the small, religiously fragmented country.

“We reject any efforts to destabilize or inflame tensions within Lebanon,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in response to a journalist’s question posed while she was in the Balkans.

“We would hope that no visitor would do anything or say anything that would give cause to greater tension or instability in that country,” she said.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs called the visit, which includes a trip near the border with Israel, a continuation of Ahmadinejad’s “provocative ways.”

Gibbs also touched on a sensitive point in Lebanon – whether Hizbullah is more committed to the sovereignty of Lebanon or is a means of giving neighboring countries control in the country when he said, “I think that it also suggests that Hizbullah values its allegiance to Iran over its allegiance to Lebanon.”

Clinton emphasized that the US supports “the integrity and sovereignty of Lebanon.”

She added that while her words might not “have any influence,” the message that the world opposes those who would destabilize Lebanon is one “the world needs to convey to the Iranians.”

The security establishment sent a business-as-usual message, but behind the scenes, Israel is closely monitoring the visit.

“This visit shows Hizbullah’s growing dependence on Iran,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said. “The IDF’s eyes are wide open.”

The defense minister was touring the Golan Heights where he met with soldiers and inspected tanks.

“Lebanon could cease being an independent country, and we must follow what is taking place from the intelligence and military perspectives,” he added.

The security services are expected to keep close tabs on Ahmadinejad’s tour of southern Lebanon and Hizbullah strongholds like Bint Jbail, just a few kilometers from the border with Israel, and the scene of intense clashes between the Golani Brigade and Hizbullah terrorists during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

The Iranians have deliberately created a fog around Ahmadinejad’s exact travel plans for Thursday, and it remains unclear whether he will appear right at the border at the Fatma Gate (the Good Fence Crossing), where he had previously vowed to throw a stone at Israel, according to reports.

MK Arye Eldad (National Union) said on Wednesday that the IDF should kill Ahmadinejad if he visits the border with Israel.

“The history of mankind would be different if in 1939 somehow, a Jewish soldier had succeeded to kill Hitler,” Eldad said.

He continued, “If even for one moment, Ahmadinejad is in the IDF’s sights on the day that he comes to throw stones at us, he cannot be allowed to return home alive.

“The State of Israel was established so that the Jewish people can be responsible for their own destiny,” Eldad said.

“He is a media creature; this is what he is looking for,” said Amir Melzer, deputy head of the Metulla Regional Council, which is the northernmost town in Israel, situated 30 meters from Lebanon. “Every minute he appears in the media just makes him bigger and he is laughing at us,” Melzer, who is an attorney, added.

“His visit to Lebanon doesn’t interest me. We know this is an arch-terrorist, and the source of evil ideology, weapons proliferation, and most worrying, funds for global terrorism. What does concern me is the stage this sick man receives at the United Nations after he calls for the destruction of the Jewish nation, and after he violates the UN Charter by calling for the destruction of a member-state,” Melzer said.

“This man threatens world peace. His own people do not want him. The Iranian people are an enlightened nation with a great culture, and they are controlled by a few men in robes stained with their own people’s blood,” he said.


Herb Keinon and Yaakov Lappin

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Hizbullah Chief Echoes Iran's Call for Israel to Disappear


by Mohamad Ali Harissi


Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah echoed Iran’s call on Wednesday for Israel to disappear, speaking during a mass rally in Beirut organised in honour of visiting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“President Ahmadinejad is right when he says Israel is illegitimate and should cease to exist,” Nasrallah told an ecstatic crowd of tens of thousands via video link.

Ahmadinejad, who has called Israel a “tumour,” has denied the Holocaust and repeatedly said the Jewish state is “doomed to be wiped off the map.”

As recently as last month, he said the people of the Middle East are “capable of removing the Zionist regime” from the world scene.

Chanting “death to America” and “death to Israel,” Hezbollah supporters turned out en masse in the southern suburb of Beirut they control to welcome Ahmadinejad, whose country is a major financial, military and ideological supporter of their militant Shiite group.

A beaming Ahmadinejad, who arrived in Lebanon Wednesday morning on a two-day visit, waved at the crowd before taking a seat next to Hezbollah number two Naim Qassem.

The rally was held at an outdoor stadium where Iranian flags and photos of Ahmadinejad were hoisted alongside two life-sized pictures of overturned Israeli Merkava tanks.

A photo of a crying Israeli soldier bearing the message “Israel has fallen” was also on display as video footage of the 2006 war aired on a giant screen.

“Iran is the heartbeat of the resistance,” said Hussein Khawi, 50, who was at the rally. “Israel won’t dare come near south Lebanon anymore.”

Added Hajj Hussein, a 65-year-old Lebanese who resides in Canada: “I came to thank Ahmadinejad for what he offered us.

“Iran stands by us and that means victory is ours.”

Ahmadinejad’s trip is seen as a major boost for Hezbollah but has drawn criticism from members of Lebanon’s pro-Western parliamentary majority who see it as a bid to portray the country as “an Iranian base on the Mediterranean.”

But Nasrallah shot down fears that Iran, which wields considerable political clout in Lebanon through its Shiite proxy, had plans for an Islamic revolution in the tiny Mediterranean country.

“There are those ... who speak of an Iranian project for Palestine, for Lebanon, for the Arab region ... and work to strike fear into governments and peoples,” Nasrallah said.

“What Iran wants for Lebanon is what the Lebanese want. What Iran wants in Palestine is what the Palestinians want. That is the Iranian project.”

The highlight of Ahmadinejad’s trip comes on Thursday when he will be just a few kilometres (miles) away from the Israeli border as he tours southern villages destroyed during the devastating 2006 war between Hezbollah and the Jewish state.

Iran has been a major donor in the reconstruction of southern Lebanon following the month-long war, and Ahmadinejad is set to receive a hero’s welcome in the area.

But Ahmadinejad’s visit, his first since he was elected in 2005, comes at a sensitive time in politically turbulent Lebanon.

Hezbollah is locked in a standoff with Sunni Prime Minister Saad Hariri over unconfirmed reports that a UN-backed tribunal is set to indict members of the Shiite militant group over the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father, ex-premier Rafiq Hariri.

Tensions over the tribunal have grown steadily in recent weeks, raising fears of renewed sectarian violence and the collapse of Lebanon’s hard-fought national unity government.

Mohamad Ali Harissi

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Wilders Acquitted of 'Group Insult' Charge


by Andrew G. Bostom


Geert Wilders Kafka-esque Amsterdam trial took an initial positive turn as relayed by Ned May (in Dutch to English translation, from Elsevier) at The Gates of Vienna:

by Maartje Willems, Arne Hankel

[Tuesday, October 12, 2010] Geert Wilders must be acquitted of insulting Muslims and immigrants as a group. The Public Prosecutor (OM) said this Tuesday in court in Amsterdam.

The PVV leader is on trial for group-insult because he compared the Quran to Mein Kampf. The prosecutors Birgit van Roessel and Paul Velleman find that Wilders must be acquitted of group-insult because the statements were related to the Islam and the Quran, and not to Muslims.

Aside from group-insult, the OM retains charges against the politician of incitement to hatred and discrimination. These facts will be discussed on Friday, when the prosecutors complete their story and make their case known.

The OM also said earlier today that none of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Geert Wilders should receive a compensation. According to the OM, it has not been proven that the complainants have been directly harmed by the expressions of the PVV leader.

At the beginning of the session there was disagreement about providing a copy of the indictment. The OM wanted to hand the clerk of the court a copy of the argumentation, of which Wilders' lawyer, Bram Moszkowicz, also wanted a copy. This was refused by the OM, because the defense could then read in advance. After a brief deliberation, the court decided that the clerk would return the copy.
This was agreed to by all parties.

Andrew G. Bostom

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Style and substance in Netanyahu’s governance


by Yitzhak Klein

The country is going to need a new policy to deal with the Palestinians, based on the assumption that no peace agreement is likely any time soon.

Since the formal expiration of the building freeze in Judea and Samaria on September 26, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has tried to negotiate a formula that will allow direct talks with the Palestinians to go forward. The Americans and Palestinians have been pressing him to extend the freeze, and while it lasts to reach a deal regarding borders – an issue Netanyahu insists must be deferred until the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and until its security requirements are met.

US President Barack Obama’s offer of American support in return for a freeze extension made it clear that the White House’s idea of security requirements are very different from Israel’s. In effect Netanyahu was being pressured to capitulate on the freeze in order to capitulate again in the actual negotiations.

For two weeks, the prime minister maintained silent regarding his intentions. The silence ended with his opening speech to the Knesset on Monday, when he revealed his position and offered a deal: a limited freeze extension in return for Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state. The offer, as anticipated, was quickly rejected in Ramallah.

Netanyahu’s proposal was directed at four different audiences.

1. The White House. The statement was a declaration of independence. Obama’s thumb has been pressing heavily on the scales, tilting America’s position in favor of the Palestinians. The Americans continue to demand that Israel comply with a precondition for talks, freezing building in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. Netanyahu’s position hitherto has been that negotiations should be conducted without preconditions. In his Knesset speech he rejected the White House’s tilt and said, in effect, that if Israel had to meet preconditions, the Palestinians have to as well.

Netanyahu chose his political ground carefully. Nothing is likely to generate sympathy for Israel’s position on Capitol Hill and within the American Jewish community as insistence that the Palestinians simply acknowledge that Israel is the Jewish state. Their refusal to do so will seem incomprehensible to most Americans.

2. The Arab League. Netanyahu’s statement was a challenge to let the Palestinian issue slide, and no longer allow it to interfere with the quiet alliance between Israel and moderate Arab states now shaping up over Iran. Formally, the Arab League backed the Palestinian position on a freeze, but was notoriously reluctant to back their alternative strategy – a unilateral declaration of independence. The league’s position can be interpreted as not caring whether or not the Palestinian issue is on the road to resolution. This, of course, undermines what is supposed to be one of the Obama administration’s rationales in pressing the Palestinian issue – making up to the Arab world.

3. The Labor Party. Labor’s policy is increasingly vulnerable to ideological purists insisting that the “peace process” continue at all costs. Labor is threatening to leave Netanyahu’s coalition if negotiations break down. Netanyahu’s chosen political ground is even more potent within Israel than on Capitol Hill. If Labor – and Kadima – want to fight an election on the grounds that Israel should not insist on recognition as the Jewish state, they’re welcome to try their luck.

4. Mahmoud Abbas, Netanyahu said, in effect, “Be damned.” Netanyahu is not generally a confrontational politician. Like most prime ministers, he has to spend an inordinate percentage of his time keeping his coalition together. He bends over backward to find negotiated solutions. To ensure maximum wiggle room, he keeps his mouth shut and plays his cards close to his chest. Someone is always accusing him of lacking courage or principles.

THE BIG difference between Netanyahu today and the Netanyahu who was elected in 1996 is that he seems to have developed an intuition for when he has no choice but to turn around and fight back. One such moment was when Obama manufactured a crisis over building in Jerusalem and dissed Netanyahu in the Oval Office. As he left the White House that day, Netanyahu appeared to have understood instinctively that he couldn’t let himself be cowed. Another such moment appears to have come this week.

Chances are about even that the Labor Party will pull out of Netanyahu’s coalition – probably around December (budget time), when it can obfuscate the diplomatic issue on which Netanyahu and the Likud can craft an electoral victory. Netanyahu can maintain a narrow coalition by adding the National Union, but it’s far from clear that that’s his best option. Perhaps his next step is to learn to anticipate a crisis he cannot avoid and precipitate it – on his own terms and in his own time. If the country is going to elections, the best time for the prime minister is ASAP.

The country is going to need a new policy to deal with the Palestinians, based on the assumption that no peace agreement is likely any time soon.

Yitzhak Klein heads the Israel Policy Center, whose mission includes reinforcing Israel’s character as a Jewish, democratic state.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Franco Still Dead — and PA Still Not Talking Peace


by Jennifer Rubin


Every once in a while, someone connected to the non-direct, non-peace talks pipes up with a true statement. Here’s a particularly refreshing dose of reality:

Vice Prime Minister and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Tuesday that he saw “no chance of reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians in the near future.”

“In the eyes of Palestinians, the occupation began in ‘48 and not in ‘67,” Ya’alon told Army Radio. “Not only Hamas thinks this – Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] does too.”

“Their refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state shows they have no interest in having Israel as a state beside theirs,” he added.

Now, aside from George Mitchell and Obama, doesn’t just about every one recognize that Ya’alon is right? When given the choice between recognizing the Jewish state and continuation of a settlement freeze, the PA chooses the latter. But that will end the talks! Well, yes, don’t we think that was the point? Obama put the parties in a box, with no face-saver available to either. Bibi can’t continue the freeze absent someone huge breakthrough (e.g., recognition of the Jewish state), and the PA can’t go without a settlement freeze, which the Obama team has elevated to the top of the agenda. So both parties now focus on shaping the best possible posture for the end of talks.

The parties last spoke on Sept. 26. The longer the non-talks don’t go on, the less anyone will notice or care.

Jennifer Rubin

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

J Street: Lies Again, Gets Caught Again


by Barry Rubin


In the wake of its lies about pretending not to be getting money from George Soros, trying to help anti-Israel campaigner Richard Goldstone lobby Congress, cooperating with Iran's lobby to try to protect Iran from sanctions, and on other matters, here's another one. J Street founder and its leading "expert" on Israel, Daniel Levy--one of the mass media's favorite people to interview about Israel--was caught saying that Israel's creation was wrong. J Street lashed back calling its critics "far right" and issuing a video purporting to show that Levy never said such a thing.

Levy made the statement near the end of his talk. J Street cut out the end. This could not have been a mistake. It had to be deliberate so they could say: See! He didn't say it, he's only speaking regrettably about the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem, these critics are lying, so you should all continue supporting J Street.

What? It's not there? Well, J Street: That's only because you edited it out of the video!

This is the moral level of these people.

J Street critics--who span the political spectrum--laughed because they already knew they had the evidence, just as they did in the tape of the telephone call where the offer to help Goldstone was made. So here it is:

(To be fully accurate, Levy said that the Holocaust was a rationale for him to accept Israel's existence but otherwise it was a mistake.)

Why is J Street so reckless in lying? Because it knows the mass media will protect it and that many of its followers won't believe the accusations--even if documented thoroughly--because those presenting them will be dismissed as extreme right-wingers. (Incidentally, the two bloggers who have brought out most of the information on J Street could be more accurately described as center-left.)

Nevertheless, each such exposed lie and demonstration of J Street's anti-Israel agenda further reduces its support. Already it has become too toxic to gain support from any American member of Congress or Israeli politician.

Here's a detailed analysis of this latest development.

Barry Rubin

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

The U.N.’s War on Israel


by Stephen Brown

Canada paid the price yesterday for its principled foreign policy stance, especially for its support of Israel, when it lost its bid to Portugal for a non-permanent seat on the powerful United Nations Security Council. In an indication as to how much the world has changed, it was the first time since the world body’s inception in 1945 that Canada had not won a Security Council seat after having been elected in every previous decade.

Canada, a founding UN member, withdrew its candidacy for the two seats reserved for “Western European and Other States” after the second ballot when it lost a third of the support it had received on the first ballot. Requiring a two-thirds majority, Canada received only 78 votes while Portugal took 113. Portugal won unopposed in the third round of voting, while Germany claimed outright the other non-permanent seat, valid for a two-year term, on the first ballot with 128 votes. Canada had last served on the council in 2000.

To the chagrin of the UN’s petty tyrants and dictators, the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in power since 2006, is a strong, unabashed supporter of Israel. And to his credit, Harper steadfastly refused to “water down” his government’s foreign policy direction to curry their favour during Canada’s campaign to secure a seat. The Conservatives even announced the day before the vote that it was strengthening its trading relationship with Israel, a move that would have displeased the UN’s Arab-Muslim block. For years, these countries have tried to diplomatically isolate Israel, passing numerous motions against the Jewish state.

“The principles that underlie the policy of foreign affairs, freedom, democracy, human rights and common law, are the foundation of each of these decisions. Some would say that because of our attachment to these values, we lost the seat. If that is the case, so be it,” said a defiant Canadian foreign minister, Lawrence Cannon, after yesterday’s defeat.

Canada’s stout refusal to compromise on those values also earned a rebuke recently from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Like a schoolyard bully, the UAE abruptly banned Canada this week from its military base, Camp Mirage, on Emirate territory that the Canadians have been using since 2001 to deploy their soldiers to Afghanistan. The Emirate government even refused to allow the Canadian defence minister and chief of defence staff to fly over its territory when the two high-ranking officials were returning from a three-day tour of Afghanistan.

The alleged reason for the shocking base cancellation was a dispute over valuable landing slots in Canada for the UAE’s state-owned airlines. Despite the fact the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, where over 150 Canadian soldiers have died, will now face increased difficulties, the Harper government, taking its usual ethical stance, has refused to link “air negotiations to geopolitical issues.”

Naturally, Canadian liberal and leftist critics were quick to blame the Conservative government for the recent foreign policy reversals. The tilt towards Israel, they believe, cost Canada votes among the UN’s Arab and Muslim countries and the states they influence, which constitute about a third of the UN’s 192 votes. Liberal opposition leader Michael Ignatieff, a former Harvard professor and friend of the Obama White House, taking advantage of Conservative government’s “embarrassment” and hoping for electoral gains, has called the UN rebuff “a sad day for Canada.

“After more than four years of a Harper Conservative government, the sad reality is that too many countries have lost faith in the way Canada conducts its international relations,” Ignatieff said.

The Conservatives believe, however, that it was Ignatieff himself who helped undermine the Canadian bid and therefore bears a large measure of responsibility for Canada’s historic loss. Recently, the Liberal Party leader questioned whether his country even deserved a seat on the Security Council because of the Conservative record on global warming, foreign aid priorities and its ignoring of the UN since 2006. Cannon said Ignatieff’s comments did not allow Canada to speak with one voice, which was used in the UN against the Canadian election effort.

Iganatieff is in good company when he expressed doubt over Canada’s fitness to serve again on the Security Council. The Canadian Arab Federation (CAF) had called on Arab and Muslim UN delegations to vote against Canada. Among the reasons the CAF lists for a negative vote are that Canada was the first country to withdraw from the racist and anti-semitic UN Durban II conference and its support of Israeli incursions into Gaza and Lebanon. Another transgression, probably the greatest in the CAF’s eyes, is that Prime Minister Harper refuses to deal with the CAF.

But while the left/liberal media and politicians in Canada are calling the UN defeat “an embarrassment” and “a loss of face”, many Canadians are pleased with the vote result. They view the UN as a morally bankrupt organization that manifests its internal corruption by having Libya as head of its human rights panel. Containing tyrants whose only goals are to destroy Israel and to suck as much money out of the West as possible so that they can then steal on a larger scale than they are already doing in their own countries, such Canadians view this week’s rejection by the UN as a badge of honor. They believe it is time for Canada to reduce its economic and political investment and withdraw from this corrupt organization that regards itself as the world’s unelected socialist government and help form a league for democratic countries only.

But until then, unusual for governments in this day and age, Canadians will continue to be served by a foreign policy of unbending moral convictions, as expressed by Lawrence Cannon:

“We will not back down from our principles that form the basis of our great country and we will continue to pursue them on the international stage.”

Stephen Brown

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Dishonest or incompetent?


by Martin Sherman


Israeli academics lack either professional integrity or professional competence

Of late, there has been a major uproar in the media over alleged bias in the Israeli academe. The "eye of the storm" was centered on a research document published earlier this month by the Institute for Zionist Strategies (IZS), whose findings indicate a sharp bias in favor of post-Zionist perspectives relative to pro-Zionists ones in the sociology departments of all the nation's major universities.

According to the study, this bias was reflected in the disproportionate distribution of the political affiliation of the faculty members, in the content of course syllabi, and in the nature of the activities of related research institutes.

Unsurprisingly, the publication of the findings produced an outburst of furious protest from those faculty members referred to in the study, who attempted to dismiss its significance, deny the validity of its findings and denigrate the competence of its authors.

Despite the criticism, there is in fact no real difficulty in proving that which the detractors seek to deny - namely the prevalence of a grave imbalance in the range of political opinions represented among the senior ranks in Israel's institutions of higher education - at least as far as the faculties of social sciences and humanities are concerned.

Perhaps the most straightforward (and credible) test for anyone wishing to investigate the existence of systematic political bias in Israeli universities is what could be dubbed "The Oslo Test". The great advantage of "The Oslo Test" is that it is extremely easy to conduct, does not require complicated methodological techniques and its findings are clear, unequivocal and easily comprehensible.

According to the methodological rationale of "The Oslo Test", the focus of the investigation is not so much on identifying the dominance of a particular group in the Israel academe, but rather on detecting the absence of certain groups among its ranks.

‘Don’t give them guns’

The first stage of this test involves a thorough analysis of the development of prevailing realities in Israel. In this regard, the Oslo process is an eminently appropriate point of departure. After all, that process and the subsequent accords it begat, were far more than an "point of inflexion" in the development of the prevailing realities in Israel. They were in fact a "point of discontinuity", heralding a dramatic upheaval of accepted norms and values. Suddenly, the once admirable was adjudged abhorrent; the previously valued vilified as vile; the formerly reprehensible relabeled respectable; the detestable of old deemed the desirable of today, yesterday's foes feted as friends…

As this cataclysmic upheaval unfolded, its proponents and its opponents across the nation, each roughly equal in numbers, gathered to address it. The proponents promised benefits of approaching peace and prosperity in a "New Middle East". The opponents warned of impending danger and disaster, of imminent death and destruction, pleading "Don't give them guns."

Since then, the reality that has emerged has proved to be virtually an exact reflection of the dire caveats of the opponents - and virtually the absolute antithesis of the rosy promises of the proponents. Indeed, there is virtually no danger that the former predicted that did not in fact materialize; and not one promise of the latter that was in fact fulfilled.

A review of the ranks of the senior faculty in those areas of academic expertise most pertinent to the evaluation and assessment of the Oslo process - chiefly political science, international relations and strategic studies - will quickly reveal an astounding fact: Although in the general public there were many who expressed grave misgivings as to the prudence of the process, and the direction in which it would take the nation, this was not the case in the Israeli academe.

No sign of soul-searching

Indeed, among the senior faculty in the abovementioned areas there was virtually no representation at all of the naysayers, who challenged the wisdom of the process and predicted with chilling accuracy its bloody consequences. In fact, until it was too late, there was virtually not a single tenured faculty member - and certainly not any expectant candidate for that sought-after status - courageous enough to confront the cohorts of his compliant colleagues and their chorus of complimentary consensus; there were none who defiantly dared to diagnose the structural defects in this patently reckless gamble; none to identify the manifest and manifold perils it entailed; none with the "appropriate anatomical appendages" to articulate an argued professional position against its ill-considered implementation.

This is no trivial matter! After all, it is rare indeed to find instances in which all the basic assumptions of a major policy measure involving crucial long-term strategic ramifications were disproved and discredited so utterly and so rapidly as in the case of Oslo. So the very fact that throughout the entire academic establishment not a single figure of major stature rose to express even the slightest "heretical" doubts as to the possible adverse consequences of the chosen policy -consequences that were entirely predictable, indeed predicted (by others) - implies that one of the following two possibilities must hold true:

Either the academic silence was due to the political bias of senior faculty members, who resolved not to express any opposition to the Oslo process, lest it undermine a measure consistent with their political preferences - despite the fact that they were aware of its substantive and dangerous defects.

Or this academic silence was not due to political any bias - but simply to the failure of faculty to identify and grasp the significance of these substantive and dangerous defects.

The implication of this is both unavoidable and unequivocal: Israeli academics - at least those with expertise relevant to the Oslo process- - suffer either from a grave lack of professional integrity or a grave lack of professional competence. Indeed, what other conceivable explanation can there be for their miserable professional performance?

This is indeed a deeply disturbing state of affairs. But even more troubling is the fact that there is no sign of any serious soul-searching in the pertinent academic milieu to address this dismal debacle and to probe the reasons for its occurrence, or even a hint that anyone thinks such a measure is called for.

Martin Sherman

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

The Peace Process Lacks Palestinian Peacemakers


by Jennifer Rubin


Oh no, they tell us Mahmoud Abbas is on the ropes. A new cadre of PA figures is on the rise that is “less supportive of negotiations with Israel’s government.” Less than Abbas? Or more candid? You can’t get much less supportive than Abbas and his current crew, who continue to extol the names of terrorists and flee negotiations at the first opportune moment. But then again, Abbas has been reduced to the status of Arab League messenger boy. The new PA leadership wants to employ Gandhi-like nonviolent resistance? All they need is a tradition of nonviolent resistance, an ideology that shuns violence, and a popular consensus that killing Jews is a bad thing. I think Gandhi’s idea of a “march to the sea” isn’t exactly what the Palestinians have in mind.

But let’s understand the import of this: even within the PA, Abbas lacks a base of support. And he, we are told by the Obami, is the man and this is the unique moment that are going to give birth to a peace deal. Yes, it’s quite absurd.

It seems there is never quite the right Palestinian leader in place. This one is well-meaning, but has no backing. That one is popular, but allergic to peace talks. Another, after all, was imprisoned for terrorism. Perhaps there just isn’t someone who is willing to make a deal and who enjoys support within the Palestinian leadership and population. It might just be that the past 18 months of peace-processing, not to mention the past 60 years, have been a colossal waste of time.

Jennifer Rubin

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Sponsored Corruption and Neglected Reform in Syria


by Anna Borshchevskaya

A decade into Bashar al-Assad's rule, the Syrian economy is languishing. The police state Bashar inherited from his father Hafiz continues to obstruct any kind of reform whether in the political or economic spheres. Outspoken dissident Riad Seif, who as a member of parliament from 1994 to 1998 had firsthand exposure to the actual state of affairs, described the situation:

More often than not, the discussions were prefabricated by the speaker as if we were in a theatre rehearsing a play with a crew of talented speech makers ... If any of the new members … insisted on going against the flow, he would be brought back to the "correct" path either through incentives if available or through terrorization and punishments if necessary.[1]


Thus in 2008, Transparency International, the most respected index of perceived corruption, ranked Syria as second worst in the Middle East and North Africa, after Iraq,[2] with marginal improvement in 2009.[3] According to the World Bank, Syria ranks among the world's lowest in the ease of doing business—143rd out of 183 countries surveyed, a drop from a previous 138th place.[4] The Syrian government persists in making superficial gestures of improvement, but most state initiatives are Potemkin reform at best, merely facades.

While it is certainly possible to reform the Syrian economy, Damascus has little incentive to do so, monopolizing as it does the profits of widespread corruption. Absent pressure from external sources such as the U.S. government or the European Union, corruption—and security risks to the region and the West which derive from it—will worsen. The Syrian regime's primary goal is to stay in power and as long as this is so, its interest will never shift to economic growth and development. Syria's culture of corruption inherently blocks meaningful long-term domestic reform, and the regime instead will continue to focus on sponsoring terrorism and blaming Israel and the West for its woes. High hopes for a Damascus spring have ended in an ongoing winter.

State of the Economy

Under the leadership of Hafiz al-Assad (1971-2000), Syria closed itself to the world. Even before the 1970 coup that brought him to power, the Baath party he would soon head had enacted an emergency law on March 8, 1963, that suspended basic constitutional rights such as freedom of speech and assembly.[5] Article 8 of Syria's 1973 Constitution, developed by the Assad regime, assigned all government posts to Baath Party members. The Syrian government soon put heavy and impractical regulations in place; any significant commerce required bribery of key officials.[6] Although Syria struck oil in 1968, and high prices during the 1973-74 oil crisis boosted the country's economy significantly,[7] by 1995, Syria's oil output began to dwindle due to technological problems and depletion of oil reserves.[8] By 2007, Syria had become a net oil importer.[9]

To get an appreciation of the current state of the Syrian economy, it is instructive to look first at Syria's gross domestic income (GDI) per capita. According to the most recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) figures, that number was $2,579 in 2009. By comparison, Lebanon's GDI was $8,707 and Turkey's, $8,723. Israel's was $26,797 while two other authoritarian states, Libya and Iran, had a GDI of $9,529 and $4,460 respectively.[10]

Inflation, while fluctuating, has increased in relative terms almost every year since 2000, Bashar's first year in power. It reached double digits in both 2006 and 2008,[11] and by 2007, Syrian newspapers were openly discussing the price of eggs almost as much as key economic issues.[12]

The unemployment rate has also increased dramatically. While the government acknowledged a rate of around 8 percent in 2007, the International Labor Organization estimated the reality was more than double that.[13] The IMF assessed Syrian unemployment at the end of December 2009 at close to 11 percent.[14]

In June 2005, the United Nations Development Program found that 30 percent of Syrians (more than five million) lived in poverty, with 11 percent (almost two million) in extreme poverty.[15] In January 2008, the official Syrian daily Al-Thawra reported that the "average share of food per capita in the Arab world indicate[s] a decline in the per capita share of the Syrian individual, ranked second in 2003 among the 19 Arab nations to sixth place in 2005."[16] As recently as March 2010, Al-Thawra stated that the "real income of the majority of the population has declined."[17]

The Syrian infrastructure is also severely outdated. In the summer of 2007, widespread blackouts hit Syria. Former Minister of Industry Issam Zaim complained, "We're seeing none of our officials being held accountable for their mistakes."[18] While the regime tried to blame sanctions for the power failures, Zaim contended that real responsibility lay with those who for years procrastinated in upgrading the national power grid, which operates on decades-old technology.[19] Nevertheless, the blackouts continue.[20]

According to the U.S. State Department, Syria's trade numbers remain "notoriously inaccurate and out-of date," raising questions about the veracity of the Syrian government's claims that its non-oil export sector has been expanding.[21] While it may hope to bolster the economy through trade, its recent agreements are little more than mirages. Syria now has "all kinds of memoranda of understanding with Iran, but … most of them are worthless," said former World Bank official Nimrod Raphaeli.[22] Iran and Syria reportedly reached an agreement in May 2010 to create a joint bank to improve weak economic relations between the two countries. However, Arabnews.com reported one analyst view that the announcement is most likely "just a propaganda trick and nothing will really change."[23] Only Qatar and the United Arab Emirates invest significant money in Syria, mostly in the real estate and tourism sectors, but the amounts are not substantial enough to spur growth. The tobacco industry may have potential for development, but the Assad family's large and controlling interest prevents the entry of other investors into the sector. Indeed, Volcker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs and an expert on the Syrian economy, said that while corruption might be "more diversified in Iraq … in Syria it is more strongly linked to the 'royal family'… Nothing moves … politically, and of course, the best people are leaving the country." He notes by comparison that neighboring "Jordan has done much better … even though they have less resources."[24]

The country's population has doubled since the mid-1980s[25] with population growth estimates of 3.3 percent for 2008.[26] By comparison, the World Bank's latest available statistics put the entire Middle East-North Africa regional population growth at 1.7 from 2008 to 2009 and project it to go down to 1.6 in the next two years.[27] In fact, Syria was among the top twenty fastest growing populations in the world in the 1980s[28] with average population growth of 3.4 percent between 1981 and 1990. [29] Adding to the strain on the stagnant economy are Iraqi refugees, whose numbers are estimated at 300,000,[30] 750,000,[31] or more than a million[32] by various sources.

The Syrian government may acknowledge difficulties but seldom takes direct responsibility for the state of the economy. In a 2006 speech to Baath party loyalists, Prime Minister Muhammad Naji al-Utri blamed factors such as population pressure, a low level of foreign investment, and low technical standards for Syria's poor economic performance without drawing any connection to how the Syrian policies themselves led to some if not all of these problems.

Culture of Corruption

By the beginning of the 1980s, the desire for financial benefit and political advantage had supplanted ideology as the main reason for Syrians to join the ruling Baath Party.[33] Three families emerged as the new Syrian business elite—the Assads, the Shalishes, and the Makhlufs with perhaps ten other families forming a second tier.[34]

Upon his death on June 10, 2000, Hafiz al-Assad left Syria's economy in debt, underdeveloped, and in a shambles. Many Syrians and Western diplomats greeted his son Bashar's accession with optimism.[35] And, indeed, there was reason for hope: Analysts noted that Bashar was Western-educated and might be more reform-minded and less inclined to continue his father's rejectionist path.[36] Initially, it indeed looked as if the younger Assad might tackle corruption; as heir apparent, he had spearheaded an anticorruption drive.[37] But whatever reduction in corruption occurred at lower levels of government, it was more than offset by increases at higher levels.

For example, in 2001, when Bashar's maternal cousin, Rami Makhluf, won a monopoly over telecommunications, prominent businessman and parliamentarian Riad Seif insisted on investigating the licensing and published a report documenting the corruption involved in the deal, despite the government's warning him off. Seif's bold declaration resulted in his arrest and imprisonment.[38] Upon his release in 2006, he reiterated his claim and described how two telephone companies, Syriatel and Ariba, had colluded with the government to create a monopoly, enabling them to charge exorbitant prices—higher than in the United States—and make enormous profit while paying little tax.[39] All the while, the government continued to refuse to enforce regulations while Syriatel and Ariba unilaterally voided consumers' contracts by refusing to supply agreed-upon minutes or provide promised discounts. These two companies won a contractual concession to provide service for a maximum 1.7 million persons, but they have already doubled this number and may even double that, which went against the terms of their contract and further secured their status as twin monopolies.[40]

By 2005, corruption had reverted to the levels of pre-Bashar days, albeit with a smaller circle of participants as Bashar had purged many of the old guard. The Assad family and assorted cronies appeared to have siphoned off as much as 85 percent of Syrian oil revenues that year, according to Syrian officials' private estimates.[41] But the identities of the members of this business elite remain shadowy. It took the Syrian news magazine Al-Iqtisadi more than a year to compile a list of Syria's top businessmen because of the paucity of publicly-available information.[42] Even then, some figures were simply too sensitive to include: It is telling that Rami Makhluf, one of the biggest players in the system, was absent from the list.

According to Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index, Syria's score dropped from 2.4 (out of a possible 10) and 138th place (out of 180) in 2007,[43] to 2.1 and 147th place in 2008.[44] In 2009, Syria still hovered near the bottom of the list with a score of 2.6 and 126th place.[45] The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal's annual Index of Economic Freedom, which measures freedom from corruption, government intervention in the economy, and the preservation of property rights, rated Syria's economic freedom lower in 2010 than in the previous year—145th out of 179 countries, and 15th out of the 17 countries in the region,[46] ahead only of Iran and Libya at 16th and 17th respectively).[47] The index also notes a decline in areas including an individual's ability to accumulate private property, how well private property rights laws are written and enforced,[48] investment freedom, and freedom from corruption. The index's authors stated:

the overall entrepreneurial environment is hampered by significant institutional challenges. The regulatory and legal frameworks are deficient, and persistent state influence in most areas of the economy suppresses market competition. The judicial system is inefficient and remains vulnerable to political influence and widespread corruption. Average tariffs are high, keeping trade freedom far below the world average.[49]

Even within Bashar's police state, this sorry situation is widely known. In 2008, Syria Today, the country's only independent English magazine, reported that "the overwhelming majority of Syrians believe their country's institutions are inherently corrupt."[50]

Obstacles to Investments

Private sector growth in Syria remains sluggish and rampant corruption undercuts investment. As Volker Perthes states:

You have laws [in Syria], but you don't have rule of law … You don't have a fair, transparent judiciary system, so if you are a foreign investor, and you happen to draw the greed … of a figure closely linked to the system, you may end up with much of your investment lost.[51]

In 2002, the regime established an Expatriate Ministry in order to cultivate direct investment from abroad. But while the ministry initially attracted investment from the Syrian diaspora, financial backers' patience did not last long when they saw how unwilling the regime was to tackle corruption. A case involving SyriaTel illustrates regime tactics. In 2000, SyriaTel received a governmental license for mobile phone services. Rami Makhluf owned 75 percent of the company while Orascom, an Egyptian company, owned the remaining 25 percent. Two years later, Makhluf complained in a Damascus court that Orascom had cheated him. The Egyptian CEO and marketing director claimed they were then threatened by Syrian intelligence (Mukhabarat) and by April 2002, the CEO was given three days to leave town.[52] As Perthes observed, "If an Egyptian company with good knowledge of the intricacies of doing business in the Middle East was not able to prevail in the Syrian market, international investors are unlikely to be optimistic about their prospects."[53] As a result, many investors pulled out although those who were able to link themselves to high officials in the regime benefited greatly and stayed.[54]

The majority of Syrians who have no ability to leave the country are all too vulnerable to these kinds of manipulations. Once a business becomes profitable, the Assad government either demands a share of the profit or simply does not allow it to operate. Syrian officials who dare to go against the regime find themselves in jail or worse. Issam Zaim, for example, was forced to give up his post as minister of industry in 2003 because he made a decision in favor of a German company based on the actual text of Syrian law. His personal assets were frozen, and he temporarily left Syria in fear of his life.[55] It should come as no surprise then that domestic investment is paltry.

In 2005, the Baath Party Congress called for the creation of a "social market" economy without defining what this meant. Subsequent initiatives were haphazard,[56] and it is now evident that the tenth Five Year Plan has failed to reach its objectives. Today, the Syrian economy is less than a third of Egypt's; the IMF reported Syria's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2009 to be $53 billion, in contrast to Egypt's $188 billion. Even in war-recovering Iraq, GDP was $66 billion.[57] The World Bank ranks Syria as a lower middle-income economy.[58]

The Washington Post recently credited Bashar with reforming the Syrian economy by lifting Soviet-style economic restrictions while noting the need to tackle widespread corruption.[59] Although Syria looks different today than it did under Bashar's father, movement is not always synonymous with change. Bashar's reforms ultimately are aimed at keeping the regime alive given new regional and international realities, which necessitate a different style than his father's. Corruption in Syria prevents it from being as open to the world as it would like to appear.

Restructuring the Banking Sector

Absent any serious reform in the Syrian banking sector, it will be impossible for Damascus to mobilize foreign savings and attract foreign capital. Thirteen private banks opened in Syria as of January 2010[60] but the six state-owned banks—the Commercial Bank of Syria, the Agricultural Bank, and the smaller Real Estate Bank, Popular Credit Bank, Savings Bank, and Industrial Bank—dominate, making it harder for the private banks to grow. There has been little restructuring of public banks in order to improve their regulatory and supervisory framework.[61] The first private bank only opened in Syria in 2004,[62] and while branches have opened around the country and private banks have increased their market share, the Central Bank of Syria, under the control of the Ministry of Finance, continues to regulate these banks, so they cannot make such decisions as setting their own budget or developing a business strategy,[63] a situation reminiscent of eastern Europe during the Soviet era.

Credit remains centrally allocated and subject to manipulation. A private consultant, who compiled a confidential study on the Syrian banking sector in 2006, found that bankers expected 15 percent kickbacks on loans, in exchange for which they overvalued collateral. A bank reform expert explained that only two banks, the Commercial Bank of Syria and the Real Estate bank, "are allowed to get involved in foreign correspondence,"[64] further choking off robust growth.

Monetary policy also remains problematic. While the IMF commended Syria in 2008 for "making significant progress in strengthening the role of the Central Bank of Syria (CBS) in formulating and implementing monetary policy,"[65] Damascus has not made public information indicating its adherence to the IMF's Code of Good Practices on Transparency in Monetary Policies. Indeed, in August 2008, the IMF expressed "serious doubts about the operational independence" of Syria's Central Bank in setting monetary policy and recommended that Syria establish a new central bank law to strengthen the Central Bank, the country's monetary policy framework, and banking supervision. [66] Further, the market for Syrian treasury bills, which were introduced in late 2008, remains relatively thin because the government restricts their use to project financing, resulting in their being used sporadically rather than on a regular basis.[67] While the IMF observed overall progress in transition to a market economy, in March 2010, it noted that "the remaining structural reform agenda is substantial."[68]

Syria's regulatory environment and compliance with international standards in 2008 remained "extremely weak" according to the Financial Standards Foundation in New York:

Nine out of twelve standards are at an "insufficient information" level, indicating a serious lack of transparency. In two other areas—data dissemination and payment systems—Syria is non-compliant. Although a written bankruptcy law exists, it is not applied fairly.[69]

The Syrian government is further unwilling to take serious steps necessary to make those banks it controls more efficient. Knowledgeable insiders report that each of the six publicly-owned banks employs around 12,000 Syrians. One analyst working in the banking sector, who spoke on condition of anonymity, estimated that any reform would require the firing of between 50-70 percent of these employees.[70] The lack of any social security net further hampers government options since the regime would be forced to deal with a significantly larger unemployed population without financial or health benefits in a situation where unemployment is already high.[71]

Nor is it likely that bottom-up reform will occur. A repressive mentality predominates in which employees are unable, unwilling, or afraid to make decisions, fearing the wrong decision could earn them a jail sentence or worse. Supervisors hesitate to offer training to subordinates, fearing that they will be eclipsed by their own employees. Even when employees do receive professional training, they find little opportunity to use their new skills. The managers, ironically, also have little power. "Unless you're linked to the regime, you have no power," explained one member of a banking reform project who spoke on condition of anonymity.[72]

Can Washington Tackle Syrian Corruption?

On February 13, 2008, the U.S. Treasury Department issued an executive order linking Syrian corruption to Damascus's ability to engage in terrorist activities declaring that the corruption "entrenches and enriches the Government of Syria and its supporters and thereby enables the Government of Syria to continue to engage in certain conduct that formed the basis for the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13338." [73] (Executive Order 13338 of May 11, 2004, determined that Syria's support of terrorism, its occupation of Lebanon, and its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and missile programs undermined U.S. efforts in Iraq and constituted "an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.")[74] In July 2008, the Treasury Department designated Rami Makhluf, Bashar al-Assad's material cousin, a specially designated national (SDN),[75] finding that he

used intimidation and his close ties to the Assad regime to obtain improper business advantages at the expense of ordinary Syrians … The Assad regime's cronyism and corruption have a corrosive effect, disadvantaging innocent Syrian businessmen and entrenching a regime that pursues oppressive and destabilizing policies, including beyond Syria's borders, in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories.[76]

How effective such actions are in forcing change in Damascus is a matter of debate. SDNs are subject to the freezing of their assets, and American "individuals or entities"[77] are prohibited from doing business with them. However, like most SDNs, Rami Makhluf does not have assets in the United States. Still, it is often not in the best interest of other countries to do business with any SDN. According to the Treasury Department, the designation made it hard for Makhluf to do business, and a deal he had struck with Turkcell, Turkey's leading mobile telephone operator, fell through.[78] However, The Washington Post reports that the effect of the Makhluf designation was largely political and psychological[79] although still significant. The Syrian business community, which largely resented Makhluf for his bullying business tactics, was particularly happy to see this restraint on government-sanctioned corruption.[80]

Conclusion

The Syrian regime's corrupt practice is aimed at only one thing—maintaining power. While Syrian diplomats trumpet a series of reforms, Bashar al-Assad's regime is simply trying to stay alive, adapting to regional and international realities while impoverishing the country and eliminating anyone who wants to see change. The economy, despite many reports about improvement, is headed downward. The culture of corruption and an old, Soviet-style mentality in both the political and economic spheres prevent meaningful reforms in banking, telecommunications, and non-oil exports, all of which would help integrate Syria into the global economy as a respectable partner and improve living standards for its citizens.

The Obama administration's shift in focus in an effort to engage Damascus has emboldened the Assad regime. Bashar al-Assad openly mocked U.S. efforts to try to pry Syria away from its ally Iran only days after U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns' visit to Damascus.[81] This is all the more troubling since Syria's clandestine nuclear program, "together with [its] extensive surface-to-surface missile capabilities, is a major source of potential contention and conflict between Syria and Israel."[82] A week after Burns was sent to Damascus, Bashar made clear how little he values U.S. concerns when he hosted Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah for dinner in Damascus.[83]

Syria's recent revival of economic and political ties with Russia is also a cause for concern. After Russian president Dmitry Medvedev went to Damascus in May 2010 (the first meeting between the two countries' leaders in nearly a century), a series of deals was concluded on weapons sales alongside discussions on boosting economic ties and nuclear cooperation. Abu Dhabi's National wrote that, given slow U.S. rapprochement with Syria, "Damascus could be forgiven for thinking that, following the Russia summit, it is successfully outmaneuvering Washington and holding an increasingly stronger hand."[84]

Washington's new policy of engagement has also encouraged Syria to flex its muscles in neighboring Lebanon. As a consequence of U.S. attempts to diminish Syria's diplomatic isolation, the Lebanese leadership has had little choice but to work with Bashar, this despite the fact that Syria had occupied it for twenty-nine years and only recently was forced to leave following international pressure. These developments appear to have done nothing to hinder the Syrian regime from continuing to operate as usual.

It is in the interests of the United States and the West to put pressure on the Syrian regime rather than to continue to extend a hand in the hope that the regime will unclench its fist. By catering to Syria's demands, the West appears to be abandoning the few advocates in Syria who want reform. The corrupt practices of the regime hurt Syrian citizens but also fuel Syria's terrorist activities and interference in the affairs of neighboring states with direct consequences for the United States and the West.

Notes

[1] The Syrian Monitor, Center for Liberty in the Middle East, Washington, D.C., Apr. 21, 2007.
[2] "2008 Corruption Perceptions Index," Transparency International, Berlin, accessed May 4, 2010.
[3] "2009 Corruption Perceptions Index," Transparency International, Berlin, accessed May 4, 2010.
[4] Doing Business 2010: Reforming through Difficult Times, The World Bank, Washington, D.C., Table 1.3, p. 4.
[5] "Background Note: Syria," U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Washington, D.C., Feb. 17, 2010.
[6] Author interview with analyst for Western firm in Damascus, Damascus, Aug. 13, 2008.
[7] Eliyahu Kanovsky, "Syria's Troubled Economic Future," Middle East Quarterly, June 1997, 23-9.
[8] Business Intelligence Middle East (Dubai), Dec. 21, 2004; "Syrian Arab Republic: 2008 Article IV Consultation," Country Report No. 09/55, International Monetary Fund, Washington, D.C., Feb. 2009, p. 9.
[9] "Syrian Arab Republic: 2008 Article IV Consultation," Country Report No. 09/55.
[10] "World Economic Outlook Database," International Monetary Fund, Washington, D.C., Apr. 2010, accessed May 8, 2010.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Nimrod Raphaeli, "Syria's Fragile Economy," The Middle East Review of International Affairs (MEMRI), June 2007, p. 37.
[13] Ibid, p. 45, 35.
[14] "Syrian Arab Republic—2009 Article IV Consultation Preliminary Conclusions of the IMF Mission," International Monetary Fund, Washington, D.C., Dec. 21, 2009.
[15] Heba El Laithy and Khalid Abu-Ismail, "Poverty in Syria 1996-2004, Diagnosis and Pro-Poverty Considerations," United Nations Development Programme, New York, June 2005, p. 1.
[16] Al-Thawra (Damascus), Jan. 22, 2008, in "Syria: Population Growth Exceeded Food Production Rate," MEMRI Economic Blog, Jan. 22, 2008.
[17] Al-Thawra, Mar. 11, 2010, in "Syria: 5-Year Plan Failed to Meet Objectives," MEMRI Economic Blog, Mar. 3, 2010.
[18] The New York Times, Aug. 15, 2007.
[19] The New York Times, Aug. 15, 2007.
[20] The Moscow Times, May 12, 2010.
[21] "Background Note: Syria," Feb. 17, 2010.
[22] Author telephone interview with Nimrod Raphaeli, Washington, D.C., Mar. 2, 2009.
[23] Arabnews.com, May 27, 2010.
[24] Author telephone interview with Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Berlin, Mar. 5, 2009.
[25] Paul J. Sullivan, "Perspective: Waters, Wars, Wheat, Watts, Waste and Wasta Add Up to Syria's Liquid Worries," Circle of Blue-WaterNews (Traverse City, Mich.), Feb. 16, 2010.
[26] Al-Thawra (Damascus), Jan. 22, 2008, in "Syria: Population Growth Exceeded Food Production Rate."
[27] Author calculations: See "Regional Forecast Detail: The Middle East & North Africa," Prospects for the Global Economy 2010, The World Bank, Washington, D.C., accessed May 10, 2010.
[28] Andrew Tabler, "Global Economic Crisis Boosts Utility of U.S. Sanctinos on Syria," PolicyWatch, no. 1482, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Washington, D.C., Feb. 26, 2009.
[29] Author calculations: See World Economic Outlook Database, Apr. 2010.
[30] The National (Abu Dhabi), Mar. 3, 2010.
[31] "2010 UNHCR country operations profile: Syrian Arab Republic," The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, accessed May 14, 2010; The National, Mar. 3, 2010.
[32] The National, Mar. 3, 2010.
[33] Author interview with Bashar Elsbihi, Washington executive director, National Salvation Front in Syria, Washington, D.C., Apr. 16, 2009.
[34] Author interview with analyst for Western firm in Damascus, Damascus, Aug. 13, 2008.
[35] Alan George, Syria, Neither Bread Nor Freedom (London: Zed Books, 2003), p. 33.
[36] See, for example, Farid N. Ghadry, "Syrian Reform: What Lies Beneath," Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2005, pp. 61-70.
[37] BBC News, June 11, 2000.
[38] Mona Yacoubian and Scott Lasensky, "Dealing with Damascus. Seeking a Greater Return on U.S.-Syria Relations," The Center for Preventive Action, Council on Foreign Relations, New York, CSR 33, June 2008, pp. 10-1.
[39] At-Tiyar as-Sooriy ad-Dimocratiy (Coventry, U.K.), July 12, 2006.
[40] Al-Tiyar al-Sooriy al-Dimocratiy, July 12, 2006.
[41] Ghadry, "Syrian Reform: What Lies Beneath," pp. 61-70.
[42] "Qaaima biAhm 100 rijal 'amaal, fi Sooriya, wa Rami Makhluf yaghiib, 'anha," Al-Iqtisadi (Damascus), Apr. 30, 2009.
[43] "2007 Corruption Perceptions Index," Transparency International, Berlin, accessed May 4, 2010.
[44] "2008 Corruption Perceptions Index," Transparency International.
[45] "2009 Corruption Perceptions Index," Transparency International.
[46] "2010 Index of Economic Freedom: Syria," The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C., accessed May 26, 2010.
[47] "2010 Index of Economic Freedom: Libya, Iran," The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C., accessed May 14, 2010.
[48] "2010 Index of Economic Freedom: Syria"; "2010 Index of Economic Freedom: Property Freedom," The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C., accessed May 10, 2010.
[49] "2010 Index of Economic Freedom, Ten Economic Freedoms of Syria," Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C., accessed May 4, 2010.
[50] Obaida Hamad, "The Cancer Within," SyriaToday (Damascus), July 2008, p. 16.
[51] Author telephone interview with Volker Perthes, Mar. 5, 2009.
[52] Søren Schmidt, "The Developmental Role of the State in the Middle East: Lessons from Syria," presented at the Economic Research Forum 14th Annual Conference—Institutions and Economics Development, Cairo, Dec. 28-30, 2007.
[53] Volker Perthes, Syria under Bashar al-Asad: Modernisation and the Limits of Change, Adelphi Paper 336 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 38.
[54] Author interview with Bashar Elsbihi, Apr. 16, 2009.
[55] Author e-mail correspondence with Bente Aika Scheller, country director, Heinrich Boell Stiftung, Afghanistan, Apr. 8-11, 2010; Economist Intelligence Unit, London, Oct. 14, 2003.
[56] Author interview with analyst for Western firm in Damascus, Damascus, Aug. 13, 2008.
[57] "World Economic Outlook Database," Apr. 2010.
[58] "Syrian Arab Republic, Country Brief," The World Bank, Washington, D.C., Mar. 2010.
[59] The Washington Post, May 26, 2010.
[60] "Background Note: Syria," Feb. 17, 2010.
[61] Author interview with anonymous source, Damascus, Aug. 24, 2008.
[62] Raphaeli, "Syria's Fragile Economy."
[63] Author interview with anonymous source, Damascus, Syria, Aug. 24, 2008.
[64] Ibid.
[65] "Syria: Code of Good Practices on Transparency in Monetary Policy Article IV," EStandardsForum, Financial Standards Foundation, New York, Aug. 2008.
[66] Ibid.
[67] "Country Report Syria: Economic Performance," Economist Intelligence Unit, London, May 2010.
[68] "IMF Executive Board Concludes 2009 Article IV Consultations with the Syrian Arab Republic," International Monetary Fund, Washington, D.C., Mar. 25, 2010.
[69] "Syria: Overall Standards Summary," EStandardsForum, Financial Standards Foundation, New York, Aug. 2008.
[70] Author interview with anonymous source, Damascus, Syria, Aug. 24, 2008.
[71] Ibid.
[72] Ibid.
[73] Executive Order 13460, "Blocking Property of Additional Persons in Connection with the National Emergency with Respect to Syria," United States Department of Treasury, Washington, D.C., Feb. 15, 2008.
[74] Executive Order 13338, "Blocking Property of Certain Persons and Prohibiting the Export of Certain Goods to Syria," United States Department of Treasury, Washington, D.C., May 13, 2004.
[75] "Treasury Targets Rami Makhluf's Companies," United States Department of Treasury, Washington, D.C., July 10, 2008.
[76] "Rami Makhluf Designated for Benefiting from Syrian Corruption," United States Department of Treasury, Washington, D.C., Feb. 21, 2008.
[77] Executive Order 13460, Feb. 15, 2008.
[78] Author interviews with U.S. Department of Treasury officials: Stephanie Aken, international economist; Hagar Hajjar, Middle East policy analyst; Dan Moger, Middle East policy advisor, Washington, D.C., Mar. 6, 2009.
[79] The Washington Post, Feb. 22, 2008.
[80] Tabler, "Global Economic Crisis Boosts Utility of U.S. Sanctions on Syria."
[81] Andrew Tabler, "How to React to a Reactor," Foreign Affairs, Apr. 19, 2010.
[82] Ibid.
[83] David Schenker and Matthew Levitt, "Dinner in Damascus: What Did Iran Ask of Hizballah?" PolicyWatch, no. 1637, Mar. 2, 2010.
[84] The National, May 17, 2010.

Anna Borshchevskaya is a research analyst at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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