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August 29, 2006

Comments

A Syrian In The Far East

Mr. Ammar,
I appreciate if you can mention your source of information about this Iranian “total control” that happened in the past year as you wrote. If what you are saying is true, it is scary indeed.
You live quite far! Is it just info that was conveyed to you by people coming from there? Are any sources from the Alawie sect or close to the regime?
You know very well how rumors grow huge in our society, especially at these days of uncertainty.

I was in Syria just at the beginning of this year, and did not notice it. But maybe it was just because I was not particularly searching for these signs.
I know that the present regime and its head, unlike his father, does not give a damn shoe about the Alawie faith (You probably know the suspicion about Mr. Asef being an Alawie to begin with). But from what I know, Alawie clerks have previously absolutely-refused the rebuilding of some shrines by Iranian money. There was even a big dispute a couple of years ago about allowing Iranian pilgrims to Ali-Zein-El-Abedeen shrine in Hama. How did that change?
I am planning on going there at the end of this year, and I will thoroughly check the correctness of all the matters you mentioned. It should not be hard to recognize signs of this influence if it exists, especially if they reached the level you are describing.

On a different note, and just working logic without materialistic proofs, I find it really hard to believe that there are “whole villages” leaving their Sunni faith and converting to Shiia as you wrote!! “whole villages”!! Are we a little too paranoid here?
I also cannot see how Iranians can control the republican guard by supplying arms to it! Why it would need arm supply in the first place? The republican guard is not there to fight Israel or America, you know better. It is there to "protect the republic" as its name suggests. Protecting it by frightening Syrians who thinks of raising their head above what is allowed. It does not need really additional arms to do that, does it? Do you really think that if a confrontation was to happen with Israel, the regime will push the republican guard to the front? That is absurd!!
Even if the regime decided to renovate their rusty tanks just to match the new Mercedes cars they are buying, how could Iranians gain influence in most closed and protected Syrian army units by supplying arms? I can not see that happening unless the whole Alawie clergy, together with every Alawie officer in the army, decided to give up supporting the rule in Syria and convert into Shiia! I have no intention of showing the dirty laundry here, but despite what you hear for media consumption, there is really no lost love nor lost respect between the two sects.
Having dirty deals with the top-figures and security apparatuses leaders does not mean they can control them. Every single Sunni big-merchant in Syria and Lebanon had deals like these, Saudis had deals like theses (Do you remember that King Abdullah is Mr. Refaat brother-in-law). But that did not give them the amount of control over this regime as the one you are saying the Iranians have acquired.

Anyhow, I will have to go and see with my own eyes.

Philip I

Ammar

You are right to shine the spotlight on Iran's expanding power and influence in the region, and seemingly pervasive hold over Syria.

Syria can now be described as a client state of Iran's but the regime still retains a degree of choice as to the depth and breadth of this relationship. It is true that the more intimate this marriage of convenience becomes the harder it is for Syria to extricate herself from the relationship and the less power she can exercise over strategic decisions. If Iranian-made missiles are supplied to Syria so they can be pointed at Israel's nuclear installations, it would be particularly difficult for Syria to take military action against, or make peace with, Israel without prior consultation and agreement with Iran. Iran needs Syria to pose such a threat to Israel in order to influence US policy towards Iran.

But such arguments and idle speculation give both Iran and Syria more weight than they really deserve. Iran's nuclear installations and Syria's missile sites can be taken out by combined NATO-Israeli air operations quite quickly. The Americans let the Israelis provoke a Hisbullah missile response in order to test both Iranian missile technology and the latest US arial bombardment technology on difficult terrain. But it is also possible that the Iranians have outwitted the Americans in that they either did not supply Hizbullah or did not let them fire the most advanced and longer-range missiles on Israel, so keeping some of their cards close to their chest.

You still seem to be expecting an armed conflist to flare up soon in the region. I do not see what incentives any of the parties have to ignite such a conflict at this time. Equally I do not see Israel being Serious about peace with Syria that would involve handing back the Golan. Israel alreay enjoys peace with Syria and the Golan provides Israel with geographic depth in the case of a gound attack and keeps her tanks within 50 miles of Damascus.

The ball is really in the Americans' court. All Iran can do is stir up trouble in Iraq to buy time. At some point the American's might decide it is time to put an end to Iranian mischief but both camps appear to be playing it safe for the time being. Just as well, we all need a break.

Alex

Very impressive article, Ammar. I of course do not agree with all its content, but overall, it was very useful reading.

Philip, the Iranians and the Syrians know the old trick of small wars meant to test their latest war technology. Before the 1973 war, they did not use their SAM 6 missiles for example. they prefered to keep it as a surprise for the real war.

But I totally disagree with your assupmtion that missile bases can be easily taken out with a combined NATO-Israeli attack. There are thousands of bases from which Syria can launch missiles for days if not weeks before they can all be taken out.

Anyway, it will not get to that. this is all about NOT going to war. No one will risk Syiran chemical weapons on Israeli cities, or Israeli nuclear boms on damascus.

howie

Guys guys?

"The Americans let the Israelis provoke a Hisbullah missile response in order to test both Iranian missile technology and the latest US arial bombardment technology on difficult terrain."

Do people here really believe this? Israel provoked the rocket attacks and did so on USA orders? Wow!

In terms of negotiations...I think negotiations are critical. One thing nobody brings up that I would like y'all to consider:

Syria would want to the Golan, which they lost in wars. What would Syria be offering? And if the answer is "a promise to be nice"...well then so much for negotiations.

Anonymous

I mean I know that Ibrahim Hmeidi is a tool for the regime, but his contribution is incredibly pathetic. Disgusting.

Philip I

Howie

No, the Israelis do not act on US orders but the interests of the two sometimes coincide as they have on this occasion. The Americans have been able to exploit the conflict to their own advantage as indeed Syria has. Do you really think that either Rumsfeld or Chaney care much for Israeli or Arab lives?

howie

Philip I


On that we are in FULL agreement. History is filled with teenage boys who died fighting for the amibitions of folks that couldn't give a hoot about their suffering or the suffering of others.

In this particular case...I just don't see huge conspiracies. I think Nasrallah wanted to play hero and he grossly underestimated the response and then he "could not" back down. So ego lead to lots of death and destruction. That is my take.

In terms of the subject...peace between israel and Syria would is a very complex issue. An enormous factor is that I any Israeli politician is going to put his neck in a guillatine (sp??) when he tries to sell giving back the Golan. Many Israeli's are already screaming loudly about giving up Gaza and leaving S. Lebanon...lot's of "we told you so"?
To pull something like that off is going to take a tremendous mind('s). Israel is not, by any measure, a political monolith but filled with about as many opinions as there are people, plus folks can vote, there is a free press, scurtiny of the whole world and everybody is going to be screaming like crazy.

Any...I am not being a wiseass when I say..."what will Syria offer?" This won't be a Sinai type thing of "land for promises"...This will have to be much more creative and probably would mean much more compromise. A handshake and a smile won't carry it.

Ammar

Indeed, Syrian In the Far East, I have to admit that my recent impressions on growing Iranian contacts within the Alawite community, especially the clergy, despite all the differences in credo between the two faiths, is based on personal contacts with figures inside Syria who are in a position to know a thing or two about this, I have been out for a year now and cannot claim direct knowledge of the matter. Still, I myself have my doubts about this, knowing of the ideological differences between the two faiths. People say that things have changed in the last year and the number of Hussainiyyahs has grown steadily in key cities. Still, it would indeed be interesting to hear what you have to say about this upon your return.

As for whole Sunni villages converting, exaggerations notwithstanding (and they are not mine by the way, but they tend to be quite common among religious Sunni circles in Syria). Still, I have observed first hand over the years, prior to my departure, the activities of visiting Shia clerics, especially in the Suburbs of Damascus and Aleppo, and the growing number of conversions that is associated without. So, the rumors and exaggerations in this regard are based on reality.

As for contacts and coordination in the Republican Guard, now here my sources are as credible as can be, and the whole thing here revolves around the economic deals, gifts and straight out bribes that get paid, and not only arms. My point about arms is that Iran is now the sole supplier to the Assads I this regard, they simply cannot turn their back on your sole supplier, unless you can guarantee another. Yes, the Republican Guard is meant to protect the regime against the people and not some hypothetical invasion, as such, helping to arm it is meant to reassure the regime on this score. For, frankly, both regimes, but especially the Assads, are counting on the fact that an actual invasion is out of the question, and that the worst that can happen is aerial attacks. Seeing that such attacks might be sufficient to weaken the Assads’ hold on power enough to create potential challengers, arms supplies to the Guard are meant to reassure the Assads and put them in a position where they can quash any potential rival or any hypothetical popular or semi-popular uprising.

Indeed, having dirty deals with regime figures may not suffice to control them, but, when you put all these things together, with the stress on the innate and growing paranoia of the Assads vis-à-vis the Americans, especially the current administration, their international isolation and how they have manage to alienate all their potential supporters in the region, other than the Iranians, and their record of internal squabbles and blundering over the past 6 years, then the picture I have drawn of strong Iranian control over the decision-making process in the country, become too daunting to be dismissed.

In the final analysis, we really need to take heed of the fact that the Assads were the ones to leave themselves too little room to maneuver here. Had the Assads not been in charge of the situation in Syria, there would have been enough wiggling room here. The irrational aspect of the equation should never be dismissed when dealing with the Assads. Rational leaders would not have been caught in this untenable situation, growing external pressures notwithstanding. This is what happened when your entire existence becomes based on constantly playing a zero-sum game.

Philip I

Howie

I really don't think it will be possible to have real peace between Syria and Israel in the foreseable future. By real I mean open borders, trade, sports events, rebuilding of synagogues in Old Damascus or a Syrian art centre in Tel Aviv.

The problem is more Syrian than Israeli. Until our nation has dug itself out of the economic, political and cultural hole that it has been burried in for over 40 years, it cannot be a real partner in peace. The most we can hope for is a phased normalisation of relations over a twenty or twenty five year period under a new Syrian regime. In the meantime, the truce holds. I worry more however about the stalemate between the Israelis and Palestinians. I think Hanniyeh can do deal but Isreal too needs strong leaders with a vision to make peace with the Palestinians.

Although I am digressing, it is better either to allow the Palestinians to build a viable state or no state at all (i.e. full integration into Israel. As the latter is highly unlikely and would in any case be totally unacceptable to this generation of Palestinians, the choice is between a proper state and continued conflict.

howie

Philip I

I could not agree with you more. It is a relief to hear somebody from "the other side" not making wild accusations about Israeli's desire to commit genocide against the "Arab nation". Let's face it...by far the biggest killer of Moslems has been Moslems.

Israel is FAR from perfect. It has its pimps, whores, mafia's, crooks, liars and just flat miserable human beings. Also...the political ideology runs in every direction. But I know this people pretty well...overall an enormous percentage would love peace with Syria, Lebanon...but the fear and distrust runs so so so deep. Again...it is even in the culture...there was a popular song for example...where the writer sings about a day when we could shop in Damascus (no...and not after we bombed it and took over).

Personally, knowning the "Jewish mentality"...the Palestinian thing will not be settled through the tactics Fatah et. al. have used for the past 60-70 years. Terror has increased, which has only increased the anger, distrust and has only supported the "I told you so camp". In my own family, there are folks who marched for the Peace Now camp who would vote for somebody right of Netanyahu tomorrow...

I pray that maybe through folks like some of us here...a little light can be shined.

Have you ever watched a dying child? I have...The pain and horror is something you cannot imagine, it has to, God forbide, happen to you. When it happened to me...I swore to God I would try to do what I could to prevent others from experience that...I guess this is a tiny part of my miniscule contribution.

I still look forward to the day promised by Isaiah 19:23...I keep telling people to read it...just amazes me and I am not that religiouis of a guy.

God bless you Philip I...you have been blessed with a clear mind that you probably worked hard at steering towards honesty and introspection.

ghassan

Congrats for a well written analysis. At least seven or is it eight of the other readers of Creative Syria seem to agree with me. It looks that the other contributors have been trounced this go around.

trustquest

Ammar, I do think that your analysis is worth thinking deeply in it. However, I would like to say something from the other side of the equation. I think the people of Syria should refuse to let the current regime to seek or go to peace talk with Israel as long as this drama of international accusation of the president and the main player around him. The involvement in peace talk would jeopardize the national interest of the country. The parties in the government, and the opposition should scream loud about this not advising the regime but demanding not to get involve until the Harriri investigation is completed.

Sam

Howie,

Your are suggesting that Syria must offer something physical in return of the Golan? I guess you want another Syrian piece of land instead? Does Damascus sounds good? How about some Syrian oil fields? Maybe 10,000 Syrian slaves? No, the Euphrates river? The Syrian Coast sounds better? Syria wants it land; the Golan. Peace is an equation with two sides. The Syrian side has been established, but the Israeli one is not.

Just tell me what do you and Israel want? Please, think carefully before making another pathetic statement.

Fares

Ammar, excellent analysis and you wrote an amazing article.

I hope that your description of the Iranian control is not as real and that we won't reach the conclusion that you stated.

Howie, Israel will benefit a lot from embarking on a global peace with its neighbors or al least the palestinians. Now is the optimal time to do it...We want Peace and not wars.

Ammar

Thanks Ghassan and Fares, and indeed, trustquest, you make an excellent point.

howie

Sam

My my Sam...forget our medication today did we?

You can keep the slaves...and the Euphrates..oh and if you are mad about the land...do remember Syrian attacked Israel numerous times and lost it...so yes I do think some concessions are in order...oh...how about your Pacific Coast with the view?

But to answer your question;

Stop supplying money and weapons and other support to know terrorist organizations.

Stop providing haven to known terrorists.

Why not stay the hell out of Lebanon and stop stirring of unrest there?

There's a start.

Unlike many of your former leaders...Israel never wanted a fight with Syria nor did we ever covert your land...can't say the same about your past and present governments...

Sam

Howie,

I am not in any position to defend our corrupt leaders. I am totally aware of their mistakes and misclaculations.

I doubt that Israel will give up the Golan if Syria acts "nice". Do you think that your Israeli government will be able to convince the Isreal populaion, especially settlers and exteremists, that they should give up "their lands and homes" to reward Syria for being a nice peaceful nation. If you beleive so, I am very sorry about you.

Syria did attacked Israel and thats right. But Israeli is not the innocnect angle you are dreaming about.

Did the Native Americans get any of their land back after they became "nice" to the new commers?

You are suggesting the treatment of the symptoms before that of the disease, but I am sure that a treatment of the disease before the symptoms is by far more effecient and effective.

howie

Sam-

OK...now we are being calmer and attacking ideas instead of people.

Would Israel easily give up the Golan...no..that was what I was trying to say earlier and I think you may have missed that part. It would be an enormously hard sell...especially now. There is an ENORMOUS "I told you so" happening in Israel right now with regards to giving up Gaza and S. Lebanon...espcially with no concessions. It is referred to as "the land for war" agreements.

That is precisely why I would suggest that Syria would have to show SOMETHING...not just a promise. Look...I can't hold Sam or those like you responsible for the "sins of your fathers". But Sam...for most Israeli's it is not about honor, or revenge...it is about distrust and fear.

Please don't forget that Israel DID give up Sinai, DID give us Gaza, DID leave Lebanon. Yes...Golan would be a much harder sell...too many people remember the blood and horror and too many people feel betrayed by the huge sacrifice that was Gaza.

Personally...I would be enormously hesitant to give up the Golan...not because I covet your land, but that I legitimately fear it becoming a launching pad for yet another attack.

Ah...I much prefer talking to you in a reasonable manner.

Let's start with me and you being friends...would be a good example for our leaders ;)

howie

Sam

Oh...and do I think ISrael is a bunch of angels...just look at what I boosted earlier on this very post...here I will save you the trouble...this is part of what I wrote:

"Israel is FAR from perfect. It has its pimps, whores, mafia's, crooks, liars and just flat miserable human beings. Also...the political ideology runs in every direction. But I know this people pretty well...overall an enormous percentage would love peace with Syria, Lebanon...but the fear and distrust runs so so so deep. Again...it is even in the culture...there was a popular song for example...where the writer sings about a day when we could shop in Damascus (no...and not after we bombed it and took over)."

Sam

Hoiwe,

I would love to see Syria having a peaceful and healthy relationship with Israel. I understand that Syria must stop supporting all anti-Israeli groups and rehtrotic in return of the Golan.

I really understand Israeli fears but they should not be used as an excuse. The Syrian government acts stupid sometimes but they are not going to break any peace treatment if the Golan is returned. Why would Syria attack Israel if it has the Golan back? If Israel used the same rationale with Egypt, it would have never had peace with it. Syria of today is no longer interested in initiating a direct war with Israel and I think Israel is the same, but a no-war and no-peace situation is not in favor for both.

Sam

***rhetoric ***

howie

Sam...

I think you are essentially correct.."who blinks first"...


At the risk of sounding overly "poetic"...the Jewish memory is very long...the fear and distrust...that won't change overnight. Again..for psychological and political reasons...something has to change on the Syrian side or no politician could ever ever sell this to the Israeli public. I am not making that statement out of spite...once again...the view in Israel is "yes..we have peace...cold peace with Egypt...but we got nothing but spit in the face leaving Lebanon and giving up Gaza". That view is not without merit. Especially with Syria being a dictatorship...even if a huge percentage of the Syrian people wanted to make positive moves...as long as the government wants something else, and has control of secret police and the military...well...you get the problem...but yes...this is not good for MOST of us...a very small minority do benefit.

Alex

Howie,

I am happy you are a regular here by now.

I hope you realize the difference between returning lands in a negotiated way (Sinai, Quneitra of the Golan), and unilateral withdrawal (Gaza, south Lebanon).

The differences between the two are

1) When you negotiate something that both sides sign on (without being forced to sign, after an invasion let's say) then you have "an agreement"

2) When you have a larger country like Egypt and Syria, versus a weak and divided Lebanon, a totally destroyed Palastenian authority (in Gaza) then don't expect the non-reliable other side to deliver on the non-agreement that was never signed.

conclusion: The agreemetns you signed with Egypt and Syria were not bad. You did not have war on either front, not from the Golan and not from Sinai.

Regarding Syria's support for groups that threaten Israel's security ... return the occupied Syrian lands and see the differnece. You want to act in a barbaric way when you decide to keep "the spoils of war" (as you said few weeks ago) then you get an equally barbaric reaction.

Syrians will want you to give the Palestinians back their lands, but if Syria signs a pece treaty with Israel, Syria will respect it. If you settle with the Palestinians, then Syrians will more than respect their treaty with Israel ... they will become your best friends.

Just imagine if Barak did not decide to try to outsmart Hafez Assad in 1999 and instead if he just signed that treaty .. there would have been no Lebanon war for example.

diana

...an honorary member of the "axis of evil?"

play guitar

Ammarji,

Very well written post and some great thoughts from philip, howie and others.

I am not qualified enough to respond to it but definitly gained some valuable knowledge.

Peace should prevails.... and ultimately that day would also come... how soon? my guess is as good as others.

-Anish
(Love from India)

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