Across the Bay

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Syria: Terror Inc.

The list of countries affected by Syrian terror sponsorship had (most recently) included states like Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the US, Germany (and US targets there), Spain, Israel and more. Now add Bahrain to the list (Arabic articles here and here).

The Bahraini (Shiites) who were arrested for plotting to carry out major terror attacks during Bahrain's national holiday on December 17, trained for their operation in Syria, adding further support to the charge that Syria is Terror Grand Central -- consciously using its territory as a safe haven, revolving door, and distribution/reorientation hub for terrorists of all stripes targeting Syria's enemies (which happen to be the US and its allies).

What's interesting about this latest episode is that it involves Shiite terrorists, highlighting how Syria works with terrorists of all stripes, while also further bringing into light the multiple functions of the Iran-funded Shiite centers now proliferating in Syria.

Furthermore, it sheds light on a pillar of the Syrians' 30 year-old strategic alliance with Iran (which some geniuseszzz today believe they can break through "engagement" over the Golan). The Syrian nexus with Khomeinist Shiite terrorism is chronic, dating back to the earliest days of the Islamic Revolution, even prior to the Khomeinist takeover in Iran, all the way to the current intricate and intimate relationship with Hezbollah, whose Imad Mughniyeh was killed in Damascus, where he was staying in a building owned by a business associate of Assad's cousin, Rami Makhlouf (meaning, he was personally patronized by Assad's inner-most circles).

The nexus also involved Mughniyeh and Hezbollah's training of Muqtada Sadr's Mahdi Army, whose fighters traveled to and via Syria to be trained by Hezbollah.

One of the essential aspects of the Syria-Iran alliance (which is the farthest thing possible from that ignorant cliche, "marriage of convenience" label), is how it allows Syria, a weak and resourceless Third World country, to blackmail, threaten and intimidate the far richer Gulf states, as well as to target Western enemies as well, thereby allowing Syria to punch well above its weight.

As such, and by way of example, Syria had a direct role in the attacks against the US and France in Beirut in 1983.

Furthermore, Mughniyeh, Hezbollah and Iran, all were directly involved in sabotage in Gulf states with substantial Shiite populations, and were behind groups like the Saudi Hezbollah and the Kuwaiti Hezbollah.

The Kuwaitis provide a recent example of how Syria benefits from Iran's muscle to blackmail and extort weak Gulf states like Kuwait. Earlier this year, around the time of the Arab summit, which was to be held in Syria for the first time, and was being boycotted by most Arab heads of state, the Kuwaiti embassy was threatened by Hezbollah, and other Mughniyeh-related problems surfaced in Kuwait, and lo and behold, Kuwait was one of the handful of Arab states who sent a high-ranking delegation to Syria.

And so, terror sponsorship and the alliance with Iran are not reactive Syrian policies remedied by the return of the Golan Heights. They are proactive policies by a regime whose only way to project influence well above its capacities is through violence, terrorism, intimidation and blackmail, as I emphasized in my most recent article.

This always was the case, as noted by Jubin Goodarzi, and the relationship with Iran afforded Assad possibilities on a number of regional fronts that would enable him to play out his regime's overinflated role conception, self-image and self-importance, and even possibly financing Assad's efforts to acquire a North Korean nuclear reactor (not to mention Russian advanced weaponry. See also the Syrian-Venezuelan-Iranian nexus in that regard). Michael Rubin recently discussed a variant angle of this function of the alliance, with regards to the chronic Syrian claims to Arab primacy.

Far from wanting to "flip" to the American side, Syria wants to enlist the US in its campaign to undermine US Arab allies -- as Lee Smith put it, to have Washington play "the bagman in an extortion racket" against US Arab allies -- while maintaining the alliance with Iran, as it did throughout the 90s.

The notion that Syria will abandon this long-held and overall successful symbiosis for the sake of a tiny piece of land betrays utter ignorance of the regime's nature and interests. Efraim Inbar said it well today:

The naïve belief that territorial concessions will dissuade Syria from continuing its cozy relationship with Teheran is baseless. Precisely those who belittle the strategic importance of the Golan Heights believe that Syria ascribes great importance to this piece of territory and its transfer to Syrian hands could change the foreign policy orientation of Damascus. Henry Kissinger, former US secretary of state, tried unsuccessfully to move Syria toward a pro-American orientation in 1976. Under more auspicious international circumstances, after the Cold War, the formidable US secretary of state James Baker tried again but failed. Even when Washington was the only game in town, the Syrians preferred no ties with the Americans.
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Similarly far-fetched is the expectation that Damascus would stop arms and cash flow to Hizbullah and would expel the Islamic Jihad and Hamas headquarters from Syria.
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The expectations that the Syrian regime will behave differently than in the past betrays an ignorance of Middle Eastern politics, and espouses unfounded optimism.

Terrorism is literally the Assad family business, and has been so since they came to power. The notion that the same policies that failed miserably in the 90s will result in the opposite outcome for reasons unbeknownst to all, is the best definition not just of delusion, but also of insanity. It's what Lee Smith dubbed "the Damascus Disease":

In the 90s, when the Bush 41 and Clinton administrations thought it was buying off the conmen in Damascus, instead it wound up with a strengthened Hezbollah, the consolidation of the Syria-Iran alliance, and the second intifada.

You'd think US policy speculators would've learned by now. But then again, many of them continue to confuse diplomacy with appeasement and inducement.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

What the IAEA Report Tells us about Assad

I've finally come around to posting this item as a follow-up to my posts on the Syrian nuclear facility. Here is the leaked version of the IAEA report [PDF] on Syria courtesy of the ISIS site.

The report shows pretty clearly that the site destroyed in September of 2007 was a North Korean-style nuclear site and makes a mockery of the already pathetically hilarious Syrian statements on the site.

But one particular paragraph in the report struck me for what it tells us about Bashar Assad:

10. Analysis of the available satellite imagery shows that construction activities were started at the Dair Alzour site between 26 April 2001 and 4 August 2001. The images show ongoing construction until August 2007. Imagery taken prior to and immediately after the bombing indicates that the destroyed box-shaped building may have had underground levels. Its containment structure appears to have been similar in dimension and layout to that required for a biological shield for nuclear reactors, and the overall size of the building was sufficient to house the equipment needed for a nuclear reactor of the type alleged.

Construction started in 2001. That means that proceeding with a project for a clandestine nuclear site was among the very first acts Bashar undertook after coming to power. At the time, everyone was gushing over the garbage mythology about Bashar as a "Western oriented reformer." Meanwhile, what he was doing was setting up a secret nuclear program, continuing his father's policy. (For the history of Syria's nuclear ambitions, see here.) This was also around the time when tensions between the Bush Administration and North Korea over the latter's nuclear program were running high (here's a timeline of the North Koreans' program).

Furthermore, this means that he went ahead with this project before the Iraq war, before September 11, and during the era of the policy of active high-level US "engagement" with Syria, and when Syrian occupation of Lebanon was absolute and uncontested. Moreover, this also means that when Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair received Bashar in June 2001 and December 2002 respectively, in an attempt to encourage the young "reformer" to adopt more "constructive" policies and show him goodwill to nudge him closer to the West (snicker!), the terror-sponsoring dictator had already begun constructing the clandestine nuclear facility.

Aside from the sponsoring of al-Qaeda in Iraq against the US, the harboring of arch-terrorists like Imad Mughniyeh as well as al-Qaeda figures on Syrian soil, the attempt to station Russian ballistic missiles in Syria, the transfer of advanced Russian weaponry to Hezbollah from the Syrian military stockpiles, the attacks on UNIFIL, the alliance with Iran, the direct threats against, attacks on and destabilization of US allies, and the rest of the seemingly endless list, in many respects this little fact about when the Syrian nuclear project began is the most telling item (for all the enthusiastic "engagers" out there) about who and what Bashar Assad really is.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Syrian "Logic"

A refreshing piece on Syria by Matthew Brodsky in the JPost describing what he calls "Syrian logic" -- what I've elsewhere dubbed Syria selling snake oil:

Sami Moubayed, a Damascus-based professor, analyst and regime mouthpiece, recently floated a quasi-official trial balloon when he declared that if relations with Washington were to improve, Damascus could use its influence with Hizbullah and Hamas, and help to find a solution to the Iranian nuclear issue. In reality, this is an empty offer. Syria, in effect, is proposing to prevent itself from arming the terrorist groups it already supports while offering the US a chance to end Syria's regional isolation. And in return, Assad wants "normalized" relations, a new US ambassador (recalled after Hariri's assassination in Lebanon in 2005), an end to the economic sanctions, compensation for the recent US air strike, and American sponsorship of indirect peace talks with Israel.

In other words, in return for agreeing to an increased regional role and an end to its isolation, the Assad regime would like to be offered an increased regional role, an end to their isolation - and a pile of cash to boot. This kind of circular reasoning might sound new and bizarre, but it is, in fact, the norm. Welcome to Syrian logic.
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Apparently, the hope of the regime in Damascus is that if it creates a regional problem, it should receive an international reward for fixing it.

The new overtures toward Damascus now being contemplated by some in Washington, then, are not motivated by hopes Syria can help, but simply a desire to have Syria sit out the fight. Needless to say, this amounts to a colossal perversion of diplomacy. Carrots, be they diplomatic or economic, should be offered to those who adopt genuinely helpful policies. Providing them to states that merely offer to temporarily reduce their degree of rogue behavior is not only bad policy; it is bound to lead Syria to light more fires and then ask for additional rewards for extinguishing them.

The Syrians' concept of dialogue was recently fully articulated by none other than Farouq Sharaa. Diplomats and engagers take heed of what Syria means by dialogue:

Those close to Obama say he wants a dialogue with Syria and that is very important. Obama had declared in his campaign that he wanted a dialogue with Syria and Iran as well, and that this dialogue would not be a dialogue of "compliance" such as the dialogue Bush wanted to have.

Sharaa demanded that the new American administration work on two essential points for Syria: first, have the US Congress lift Syria's name from the list of states sponsors of "terrorism." Second, repeal the law known as "[The] Syria Accountability [Act]," which was passed months after "the fall of Baghdad." Sharaa said: "If these issues were placed on the Congress's agenda, then that shouldn't be taken lightly, and as such, the dialogue would be one that doesn't target Syria, and after that we could seek settlements on various levels."

Get that? Read Martin Kramer's essay again. This is what the Syrians mean by unconditional dialogue. It means that no conditions (read: expectations) should be imposed on Syria, but Syria reserves every right to impose its own conditions for it to consider the dialogue to be "not targeting" Syria! And so, before doing anything, the US must give Syria everything it wants up front, then sit down and talk -- without conditions! Update: The memo has also been repeated verbatim by Walid Moallem.

Now, you'll note an intriguing resemblance between what Sharaa said and the article written by the regime clown Moubayed, which Brodsky cites. The comedian Moubayed recently fumed (in a non-denial denial) over the proposition that his pathetically laughable article was essentially a regime talking points memo (which applies to most everything he and his comrades write). Moubayed doth protest too much, however. Upon reading what Sharaa said, you realize that what this is is the Syrians placing their preconditions and setting the trap for the incoming administration to ensure that "unconditional engagement" would be -- to quote Martin Kramer -- "tantamount to accepting the enemy's conditions. ... [T]he prelude to unconditional surrender." Or if you prefer Syrian parlance: an "honorable exit."

This is related to another important point briefly touched on in Brodsky's article and that is the hilariously over-inflated Syrian self-image and role conception (see Jana Hybaskova's comments on that here) and what it can supposedly "offer" (hence, snake oil) even as it openly premises engagement on a US defeat and surrender -- honorable or not.

Staying with Sharaa for a moment, a particularly amusing example of Syria's over-exaggerated sense of self-importance was evident in how Sharaa explained his and the Syrians utter fury with the Iraqis over passing the SOFA (needless to say, this memo was channeled by the poodle Moubayed a few days ago, as usual). Sharaa explicitly expressed his ire with the Iraqis, stressing that "Syria has told many officials in the current Iraqi government that they should ask the UN Security Council to remove Iraq from under Chapter VII, and do so through Qatar, when it was the Arab member in the Security Council, or from Libya now, as the Arabs' representative in the Security Council."

This nonsense (which is nevertheless very brazenly and openly hostile to American interests -- for those who talk about "shared" and "converging" interests between the US and Syria in Iraq and the region) is an example of the Syrians' severely over-inflated sense of their own weight. It also highlights a point I've made repeatedly in the past, which is that Syria's claims of a "central role" and "influence" in Iraq are utter piffle. Their only "role" is what we saw last month: allowing free movement for foreign Jihadists and harboring senior al-Qaeda officials on their soil. And even there the US military has rendered their role secondary and secured gains with the Sunni tribes and the Iraqi military against al-Qaeda in spite of Syria's best, or rather, worst efforts.

One particular instance of hilarity involves, naturally, the aforementioned Moubayed (aka. the King of Comedy), who, in trying to doll up what Syria can supposedly offer, proceeded to repeat over and over again that Syria was instrumental (right after they finished inventing the internet) in releasing the British sailors that the IRGC held hostage in 2007. Moubayed kept including that in the memos he was putting out in Asia Times and Gulf News and it was just absolutely hilarious to behold how the Syrians were trying to find something, anything, to over-hype and sell in the hopes that some gullible Western official would take the bait.

Needless to say, of course, the Syrians had absolutely nothing to do with that entire episode, and Western officials in the know that I've spoken to about it openly laugh it off in ridicule -- that includes Brits.

This in fact can be said about another line of argument that's being sold now by regime flacks like Moubayed as well as some geniuszzes of the policy world. First we were told that engagement with Syria would lead to prying it away from Iran (uh huh). When it became apparent that not only was this utter fantasy, but that the Syrians were repeatedly and openly dismissing it as an option, the line changed to: no, what you should do is use Syria to help moderate Iran! Yeah! That's the ticket! I mean, look at the British hostages!

In reality, the Iranians put Bashar in his place very quickly. When it was floated that Assad was tasked by Sarkozy to relay some sort of message to the Iranians regarding their nuclear program, the Iranians came out and publicly ridiculed the notion that they needed someone like Assad to relay anything. "Our channels are open directly with the West," said an Iranian source back then. "We don't need a Syrian intermediary or any other." This same message was later repeated by Khamenei's advisor, Hussein Shariatmedari, who dismissed any notion that Iran needs a mediator, let alone Assad, whose role he belittled very blatantly: "We talk directly with the West. We tell them what we want directly. We declare our positions ourselves. We have spokesmen for Iran. But if Assad wishes to repeat Iran's known position, we have no objection. I don't know what's meant by a Syrian mediation. Do they want Syria to attend the meeting [between Solana and Jalili]? I believe Sarkozy asked Assad to relay to us the demand to halt uranium enrichment. Our position on this matter is clear: we will not accept halting enrichment."

Not only that, during his visit to Tehran, the Iranians made sure to have Assad publicly state in a press conference that he was not there to mediate or carry any messages, and that Iran doesn't need mediation. They also ensured that all he said about their nuclear program was exactly what they told him to say: the official Iranian line.

That's the extent of Assad's "influence" with Iran. The notion that the Iranians, who have an even more inflated self-image and role conception than the Syrians, and who see themselves as an unstoppable soon-to-be nuclear power on a mission to restore hegemony in the Gulf, would somehow listen to what a weak Arab dictator -- who relies on them and the proxies they create, finance and supply for any regional depth -- has to say about their nuclear program and regional interests, let alone "moderate" them (perhaps Bashar can fit that in with sponsoring al-Qaeda in Iraq, building a clandestine nuclear site with the North Koreans, passing along Russian weapons to Hezbollah, hosting Imad Mughniyeh, harboring Khalid Meshaal and the Palestinian terror groups, and ordering hits in Lebanon) is just laughable hallucinatory nonsense. You know, the kind of comedic material that is left for the likes of Moubayed to try and sell as "analysis."

Engagement of that type and on that basis is indeed a "perversion of diplomacy." Subprime engagement, as it were, with Sharaa and Moubayed junk repackaged as AAA rated securities with fake over-hyped value, is a sure path to serious damage.