Across the Bay

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Syrian Regime and Jund al-Sham

A short while ago, I wrote the following:

Jund al-Sham is likely either a creation of the regime, or at the very least, an organization deeply penetrated by the regime's intelligence services (as are various Islamist organizations in Lebanon).

Abdullah T[a'i?] just wrote this to Syria Comment:

What is more, it was explained to me that Syrian Intelligence uses members of Jund Ash Sham from time to time for its own purposes. Syrian Intelligence deceives members of Jund Ash Sham into believing that Syrian Intelligence will assist them in carrying out terrorist acts in Iraq. Syrian Intelligence leads would be fighters into believing that the state authorities will help them to carry out martyrdom operations in Iraq. The authorities set up the unwitting Jihadists in houses far the city center in remote areas and supply them with weapons ostensibly for secret operations. Then the Syrian security forces surround the Jihadists swoop into the house and kill them. The security forces in triumph then trot journalists out to report on their success and the looming danger of terrorism in Syria.

I have been informed that the victims are indeed authentic Jihadists and Salafists, who hope to fight in Iraq. But the Syrian regime turns them to their own purposes to achieve two goals: first, they eliminate dangerous radical fundamentalists; second, they demonstrate to the world and especially to the United States that Syria is afflicted by terrorism just as America is. The implication is that Syria and the West must find common ground in the war on terrorism.

This once again raises the issue that many thinking people have put forth regarding the matter of the regimes and the Islamists. How seriously can we hold such a position when these regimes not only clearly penetrate, cooperate with, and manipulate these groups to their own ends (which are anti-American), but also practically talk like them, be it the anti-American rhetoric, or the amalgamation of Islam and Arabism (see post right below), or the religious social policies, or the deals with the religious establishments, or the crushing of liberals, etc.? They are two sides of the same coin.

In addition, this penetration of course means that the regime can, and does, use them in Lebanon (as we've seen) and elsewhere in the region, beside Iraq. For example, it's been said that Bashar may have threatened the Saudis with this card, especially since many Saudis came and trained in Syria, with the regime's knowledge. There were also reports that the Saudis wanted all the arrested Saudi Jihadists extradited, but the regime wasn't really complying, sending just a few at a time and holding on to the rest. (Addendum: On this issue, see here.)

More broadly, this issue of the regimes and the Jihadi Islamists is perhaps the weakest and most uninformed part of Fukuyama's latest book. It's something I'll have to come back to later.

Bashar the Historical Linguist!

Syria's dictator has a two-part interview in al-Hayat. I don't have the time to go through it, and I'm sure others will spin the hell out of it and give us the usual propaganda.

It does confirm much of what I and others have said about Syria's role as Iranian client/proxy.

There are other things I might come back to comment on. Otherwise it's your usual diet of thinly veiled threats, lies, and condescension. But one thing brought me to tears! Bashar put on his Baathist (or was it SSNP? I lost track!)-ideologue-cum-historical-linguist hat and repeated a gem he had lectured to a group of Arabist deadbeats and regime sycophants at the Arab parties conference in Damascus earlier:

When I spoke before the conference of Arab parties I said Arabism is tied to Islam, and let's not forget that Arabic is the language of Christ. That is, it is what ties all the different parts together. But when we nurture Arabism and Islam, they complement each other. After Syria's and most Arab countries' independence there was a Western plot to strike Arabism and Islam. That is why a division takes place in society, and there become tensions that these powers play with. So tying the two [Arabism and Islam] is very important to create stability inside societies.

The second point is that there are some who talk about Islam as Arabism doesn't exist. This is dangerous because Arabism is what binds the different parts of our society, be they religious, sectarian or ethnic. I always say Arabism is not a chauvinistic idea, as some say, or a racist or racialist idea. The idea of Arabism is a civilizational idea. What joins the various factions, the bases of the Arab society are Arabism and Islam. These two axes must be stable for the others to be stable as well. (Emphasis mine.)

One can quickly point out here that the ramblings of the brilliant Buthaina Shaaban or the lectures of Walid Moallem are all in line with Bashar. This nonsense should also put to rest the notion of a "secular" Assad (or any Arab nationalist) regime. It also highlights "Arabist Islam" which I have talked about in the past.

Furthermore, this also confirms what I had written recently in response to Landis' tripe, and about the pathetic basis of the Assads' rule in Syria (which Michel Kilo also exposed and was thrown in prison for). Speaking of which, it's also worth pointing out the delicious convergence in timing and substance between Bashar and Landis on how Arabism is really not fascist!

But the best part of this pile of trash, the one that had me rolling on the floor -- again -- is the part about how Jesus spoke Arabic! I mean, not only is Bashar a murderer and a brutal dictator, he's also a fantabulous historical linguist! It's just us who cannot really fathom the depth of his linguistic knowledge -- or his "reformist impulses" for that matter (for more on those, see Bashar's justification of the latest crackdown at the end of the interview. The Beirut-Damascus Declaration, he tells us, was "a threat to national security" as it was co-authored with Lebanese enemies of Syria)! Anyway, someone may want to alert historians the world over. This just in: Jesus spoke Arabic, and he did it just so that an Alawite dictator could concoct a half-baked ideology to use in order to justify his family's brutal dictatorship and to sweep under it his exporting of death and violence to his neighbors!

Ahh... the stupidity of Arab nationalism. It somehow becomes even more offensive and infinitely dumber when murderous sectarian dictators try to lecture on it!

Update: Bashar's two-part interview is now available in English, in al-Hayat's English edition.

Bayanouni on Talks With Israel

The head of the Syrian MB, Ali Sadreddine al-Bayanouni, told Reuters that should the MB reach power in Syria, it would be ready to open peace talks with Israel.

Bayanouni did stress that his group would not rule out any venue to restore the Golan, be it political or military. It should be kept in mind that there were similar mumblings by the regime about the possibility of resorting to military options in the Golan.

Nevertheless, in a rare statement by an Islamist figure, Bayanouni reportedly said that his group is willing to open peace talks with Israel, "if talks lead to withdrawal from the occupied lands and grant Palestinians their rights, then where would be the problem? There is no problem."

The Reuters report contrasted Bayanouni's statement with Hamas' position which does not even recognize Israel. The implication is that the Syrian MB may not necessarily share the position of the Palestinian Islamists (Hamas) or Egypt's for that matter. Bayanouni and Khaddam have both expressed their belief that the Israeli government prefers the survival of the Assad regime over chaos or the arrival to power of Islamists in Syria. Bayanouni told Reuters, "I think a big part of the support the regime gets is because of the fear of reaching a similar result to what happened in Iraq," adding that foreign pressure could lead to the collapse of the regime.

The aim of Bayanouni's statements, and of the NSF in general, is to present a sensible, statesmanly alternative to the Assad regime to regional powers, including Israel.

Furthermore, such a position, seemingly distancing the MB from Hamas (at least rhetorically), is aimed at the Sunni Arab regional players: Jordan and Egypt. Jordan's displeasure with Hamas and Syria is well known, and has been exacerbated in recent weeks. Egypt is also said to have differences with Syria on the Palestinian issue as apparent from the conflicting statements of Abul Gheit and Moallem after the summit on Thursday, and given the full support for Hamas' hardline by the Syrian regime, which is but an Iranian proxy at this point, and, along with Hamas and the Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, is part of the Tehran led axis in the Levant.

In the end, this is all part of the NSF's emerging campaign of regional diplomacy and the competition between the NSF and the regime, especially given reports of growing regional annoyance with Assad.

Bayanouni repeated his conviction that the Syrian regime was "fully involved" in the Hariri assassination. He added, "the Syrian regime is living in a state of fear and terror and does not know what the Hariri report will lead to." Furthermore, he said that the Syrian officials believe that an international indictment in the Hariri assassination would lead to the growing of the internal opposition. "The Syrian regime is afraid. It's afraid of the internal situation which has led to an increase in repression."

Update: Bayanouni followed up on his interview and denied saying that his group is ready to assume power in Syria. Instead he called for a national coalition government.

He did repeat however that in principle his group does not reject restoring Syrian rights from Israel through negotiations and a political settlement, provided the other side is willing.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Bill Harris on the Brammertz Report

Lebanon scholar William Harris, author of the excellent The New Face of Lebanon, wrote a commentary in the DS on the Brammertz report.

Harris points out that "Syria is as much the main focus for Brammertz as it was for Mehlis." For instance, Harris writes, "[n]o other state or organization is named in this regard [to provide 'full and unconditional cooperation'], and the report comments that 'based on the information received, further requests will be formulated and addressed to Syria'." Furthermore, Harris sees that the suspected linkages between the Hariri case and the 14 other bombings "inevitably focus attention on the Syrian and Lebanese security services." Brammertz has recommended the UNIIIC intervene in the investigations into those cases.

Moreover, Harris adds, "Brammertz confidently claims "considerable progress" despite the otherwise tentative language of the report. Assuming this is the reality, he has obviously made advances beyond the cautious assessment presented in the text. The steady build-up of personnel, expertise, and resources indicates intense commitment and forward momentum. Combined with the deep engagement of UN Security Council credibility, this is ultimately bad news for the murderers."

As for the repercussions on Lebanon and Assad's destabilization campaign, Harris writes: "As for Lebanon, the report means the country will endure more months of political paralysis while the Hariri investigation grinds on toward a full prosecution brief for a 'tribunal of an international character.' Given that the futures of both Lebanon and the Syrian Baathist regime are at stake, tension and possibly turbulence can be expected to increase later this year. Brammertz anticipates coming dangers when he remarks, 'the focus of the investigation increases the probability of individuals or groups attempting to execute threats against the Commission or its personnel for the purpose of disrupting its mandate.' Again, it is apparent that the commission has already determined that a large apparatus was responsible for the Hariri murder, not a small terrorist cell operating alone."

There's much more, read the whole thing.

France: No New Page with Syria

For those of you counting the number of times the Syrian regime's propagandists announced an imminent "deal," and for those who follow that ever-continuous search for that ever-elusive "deal," add this item to your archives.

France seems "far" from the moment when it would reconsider French-Syrian relations. French sources told Asharq al-Awsat that Paris "won't make any initiative towards Syria so long as the investigation into the assassination of Hariri has not yet concluded and since Damascus has not yet been cleared of any responsibility in it.

The source added, "we insist that Syria deal with Lebanon as an independent and sovereign country and to practically respect what the UN Security Council asked of it, and that it refrain from harming Lebanese stability in any way."

The report added quotes by the spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry that underplayed the significance of Brammertz's calling Syrian cooperation "generally satisfactory," saying that this cooperation "was only confined to the time period covered by the report," adding, "France wants to see Syria cooperate in the future since the investigation is not yet over."

The UNSC will vote tomorrow (with French, British, and European backing) to extend Brammertz's commission for another year and expand the investigation's mandate to cover all other 14 bombings that happened prior to and after the Hariri assassination, including the attempts on Marwan Hamade, Elias Murr, and May Chidiac, as well as the assasination of Samir Kassir, George Hawi, and Gebran Tueni and the 8 other bombings that targeted various neighborhoods in Lebanon.

The draft resolution could be read here in Arabic.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament will also be meeting tomorrow to vote on a resolution on Human Rights in Syria. The draft recommends that the EU-Syria Association Agreement be suspended if Syria fails to respect "democratic principles and fundamental rights" and release prisoners of conscience. The resolution recalls that Article 2 of the Euro-Med Agreement conditions membership on respect for human rights and democratic principles. It notes that all the hopes (I always called them self-delusions which is what they really are) attached to Bashar Assad and his "reforms" have been disappointed and the human rights situation in Syria has deteriorated sharply especially this year.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The NSF Conference

The Syrian National Salvation Front wrapped up its first conference yesterday. For comprehensive, up to date, coverage, you have only one place to go: The Syria Monitor. It's your one stop for news on the Syrian opposition on the web.

If you're looking for how much a cup of coffee costs at the Dorchester Hotel, where the NSF conference took place, you won't find that type of ridiculous nonsense here. Instead, you'll find some real, useful, and objective information. There should be more updates on the NSF coming up on the Syria Monitor.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Samir Kassir: One Year Later

On this day last year, the Assad regime and its cronies in Lebanon murdered journalist Samir Kassir. One of the reasons for his murder was perhaps revealed in the regime reaction to the Beirut-Damascus Declaration signatories in Syria. Kassir was the godfather of networking with the Syrian opposition and publishing its writers. Kassir's motto was that Lebanon's freedom and democracy can never be fulfilled as long as the Assad totalitarian thugocracy was in power, and that democracy in Syria was necessary for Lebanon's democracy to properly flourish. Everything since his death has proven him right.

Michael Young reflects on Kassir's one-year memorial in his Daily Star op-ed, and also notes how Kassir "always saw the inability of the Syrian regime to democratize as the major threat to a Lebanese liberal order."

Indeed, looking back at the year since his murder, Kassir would have found plenty evidence for his view "that the Damascus Baathists have no future that transcends repression."