Saturday, September 3, 2011

Israel And Turkey Sever Ties

The two countries are facing a major diplomatic rupture over a report on the Gaza flotilla raid, and neither side is backing down. 

By Owen Mathews

Palestinian protesters wave their national (back) and Turkish flags during a demonstration in the port of Gaza City on June 2, 2010 against Israel's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla on May 31, 2010., 
Turkey all but broke off diplomatic relations with its one-time ally Israel Friday after Jerusalem refused to apologize for the killing of eight Turkish protesters and one Turkish American by Israeli commandos last May. The break marks a dramatic deterioration in a relationship which just 10 years ago was one of Israel’s closest strategic partnerships—and certainly its closest alliance in the Muslim world.

The proximate cause of the row was Israel’s refusal to apologize to Turkey after a United Nations report on the storming of the Mavi Marmara flotilla as it attempted to break an Israeli blockade of Gaza, called Israel’s use of “substantial force… excessive and unreasonable.”

But the root causes of the rift between Ankara and Jerusalem go back to 2002 when the Israeli Defense Force went into the West Bank towns of Jenin and Nablus and Turkey’s then-newly elected prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, protested strongly. Ever since, Turkey’s Islamist-rooted AK Party government has been vocal in its condemnation of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians—most famously in 2009 when Erdogan stormed out of panel discussions in Davos after accusing Israeli President Shimon Peres of “knowing very well how to kill.” At the same time the Turkish Army, the Turkish institution traditionally closest to Israel, has also seen its once-dominant political influence slip away.
In truth, by this past week there was already little left to suspend by way of ties between Israel and Turkey. Turkey had already recalled its own ambassador to Israel last June “for consultations”—a step down, in the language of diplomatic conflict, from formally recalling him—in the aftermath of the flotilla attack. Joint training exercises between the Turkish and Israeli Air Force were also cancelled at the same time. That was a serious blow to the Israeli military’s pilot-training program because there’s not much airspace at home—an F-16 fighter can fly the 470-kilometer (293-mile) length of Israel in just 16 minutes.

With public feeling running strong in both Israel and Turkey, Erdogan and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had little possibility of backing down over the Mavi Marmara raid even if they’d wished to do so. According to a February poll by the Ankara-based MetroPOLL Strategic and Social Research Center, 23 percent of Turks singled out Israel as Turkey’s No. 1 enemy (42 percent said the U.S. was). A major rupture has been all but inevitable ever since it became clear as early as June that the U.N. report on the Mavi Marmara—leaked to The New York Times this week—would blame Israel for using “unreasonable force.” U.S. diplomats have been shuttling between Ankara and Jerusalem trying to come up with a form of words that would allow Turkey to claim that an apology had been made while allowing Israel to claim that it hadn’t. Unsurprisingly, no such face-saving solution was found.
Instead, Turkey chose to sever diplomatic ties in all but name. The Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv will remain open, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced Friday, but all staff over the rank of second secretary will be recalled, leaving only junior diplomats to maintain a token presence. Ankara has said that it will not approve a replacement for Israel’s Ambassador Gabby Levy, currently in Israel and whose accreditation is due to expire next week.

Levy’s own remarks, as reported earlier this week by WikiLeaks, may have played a role in the exact form of retaliation Turkey chose to take. In a confidential October 2009 cable sent by the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Levy is quoted as calling Erdogan a “fundamentalist” who hates the Jewish state for personal and religious reasons. “Levy dismissed political calculation as a motivator for Erdogan’s hostility, arguing the prime minister’s party had not gained a single point in the polls from his bashing of Israel,” says the cable. “Instead, Levy attributed Erdogan’s harshness to deep-seated emotion: ‘He’s a fundamentalist. He hates us religiously’ and his hatred is spreading.”
It’s not clear how Israel will react. But the Israeli blogosphere erupted with calls for Israel to pressure the U.S. to take draconian steps, from blocking the sale of F-35 stealth aircraft to Ankara to kicking Turkey out of NATO. “It’s also unthinkable that Turkey shall remain a member of NATO, as it engages in military cooperation with Iran and China, two states considered NATO enemies,” wrote one Guy Bechor on the Israeli Ynet portal. Washington, for its part, is in a quandary. With the Assad regime in Syria tottering under continued onslaughts from protesters, the U.S. badly needs Ankara’s help to manage the fallout from a possible civil war. And, damaged as the U.S.’s own relations are with Turkey, Ankara is emerging as the true regional victor of the Iraq War, becoming not only the economic power house but also a diplomatic power broker in the region. Washington still badly needs Turkey’s goodwill—and Davutoglu, too, still insisted in an interview with Newsweek earlier this year that NATO and the West is its “No. 1 strategic priority.” As if to prove the point, this week Turkey annouced that it would agree to host a U.S.-proposed missile defense system to warn NATO of missiles launched from Iran by the provinces of Adana and Mersin, the west's front line of defense against possible attack by Tehran. Israel and Turkey, then, still seek to be friends with Washington even as they become enemies of each other.

This commentary was published in The Daily Beast on 02/09/2011

Gaddafi's Feminist Third Way

The confused take on women reflects a desire to be unique that left the Gaddafis scorned by both the Arab world and the west 

By Nesrine Malik

Muammar Gaddafi flanked by a member of his female-only bodyguards

Muammar Gaddafi flanked by a member of his female-only bodyguards in 2000. Photograph: Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty Images

"We will not give up, we are not women," Colonel Muammar Gaddafi declared on Thursday. From a man who had demanded female-only bodyguards for the past few decades, and who fancies himself a bit of a forward-thinking feminist, these are rather odd words.

His Green Book, a short work setting out his philosophy, has pages and pages dedicated to his quirky views on women, underpinned by a belief that we just have to admit to our biological limitations. He dwells on the harsh realities that force women to work and states:
"The belief, even if it is held by a woman, that she carries out physical labour of her own is not, in fact, true. She performs the physical work only because a harsh materialistic society has placed her into coercive circumstances. She has no alternative but to submit to the conditions of that society, even though she may think that she works of her own accord.

In fact, the alleged basis that 'there is no difference in any way between men and women' deprives woman of her freedom. The east regards her as a commodity to be bought and sold, while the west does not recognise her femininity."
Call it a third feminist way, if you will. But it's definitely a confused one. Gaddafi holds that western feminism has forced women to overreach their physical capabilities, yet he is obsessed with powerful women. Condoleezza Rice, Madeleine Albright and camouflage-clad women in heels are the objects of his affection – but only if he is in charge.

Obviously Gaddafi is neither a feminist nor moderniser but a man desperate to be recognised for being unique and for liberating himself from the supposed backwardness of "the east", appointing himself as the arbiter of social convention in lieu of religion, tradition or culture.
It appears he applied his philosophies at home as well, spawning a family that resembled soap opera characters. His children seem to have a fascination with the trappings of western culture, but also a fixation on being some new incarnation of secular Arab leadership.

His second marriage (which bore all his offspring except one) was to a nurse with whom he fell in love when she treated him. His own daughter, a glamorous lawyer, is certainly no subjugated eastern woman. Power-suited with bleached blonde hair, she was part of the team that defended Saddam Hussein against the charge of crimes against humanity.
Gaddafi's most notorious son, Saif al-Islam, has brought the august institution of the London School of Economics into disrepute through his long-standing association and the PhD that he was awarded. A self-styled cultural ambassador, he exhibited his art in a specially erected pavilion in London's Kensington Gardens.

Another son is a footballer who managed to fulfil his dream of playing in the Italian football league. Saadi (he of gay porn DVD fame) had a director's chair with his name written on it, and a position as an executive producer for a company based in Sunset Boulevard. I can just see him in the gloaming, sat in his make-believe producer's chair, fantasising about presiding over a set of Hollywood stars at his beck and call.
The grandiosely named Hannibal, has an MBA from Copenhagen Business School and is married to an "ex-model" who fell pregnant before their marriage, and who enjoys torturing her servants. Certainly not the type of woman a traditional Arab family would approve of.

But the Gaddafis are not a traditional Arab ruling family. They are neither slick-suited businessmen like the Mubaraks, nor a conventional Arab dynasty. They neither have the poise of the Moroccan royal family, nor the glamour of the Jordanian one. They have no blue blood and no statesmanship to garner any prestige.

Fathered by a man who, when his pan-Arab campaign failed, retreated into blaming imperialism for almost everything, they are a motley crew of misfits seemingly desperate to ingratiate themselves with the west, but without internalising enough of its values to forfeit their birth right.
They never found a place or real status as statesmen or power brokers in their own backyard. Ironically, the west embraced the Gaddafi family far more readily than the Arab world ever did. They had money and found a willing audience wherever they went – even in the halls of the London School of Economics, so perhaps the finger-pointing over their gaucheness is a tad hypocritical.

The most remarkable aspect of the Gaddafis, and what many Arabs find intriguing, is their utter lack of conservative values or even attempts at maintaining some semblance of decorum. In a region where the appearance of dignity means a lot, the Gaddafis do not balk at swearing live on television. They seem not to care about keeping up appearances the way other Arab heads of state do, so the contempt and utter madness is clear for all to see.
Even Bashar al-Assad manages to pay lip service to protocol.

The Gaddafis departed from convention – not towards liberalism or liberation from suffocating traditions and religion, but towards bitterness and an embracing of their maladjustment – all underscored by the knowledge that even before being rejected by their own people in Libya, they were scorned by the Arab world at large.
-This commentary was published in The Guardian on 02/09/2011
-Nesrine Malik is a Sudanese-born writer and commentator who lives in London. She previously worked in the financial sector

Why Be Scared Of A Palestinian State?

By Rami G. Khouri 

Two major Middle East-related events will take place this month with their epicenter in New York City: the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States, and the expected Palestinian bid for the United Nations General Assembly to recognize a Palestinian state in the lands that Israel occupied in 1967.

These events will generate intense debate and high emotions – most of which will be highly exaggerated. I will comment on the 9/11 commemorations next week from the United States, but here will discuss the Palestinian bid for U.N. recognition of statehood; or rather the hysterical American and Israeli reactions to that bid.
We will know soon precisely what the Palestinians seek in terms of U.N. recognition. Most serious observers expect that this Palestinian initiative will get the required votes in the General Assembly and will generate another symbolic gain for the Palestinian cause – in a body that has always been fair to the Palestinians. When “the state of Palestine” in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem is officially seated or recognized in some form at the U.N., this is unlikely to lead to any practical changes, because realities on the ground are not determined by U.N. General Assembly votes. They are determined by the behavior of Palestinians and Israelis and that of the foreign governments that support them. So I remain personally ambivalent about the Palestinian move to seek U.N. recognition, given its largely rhetorical and symbolic impact.

Much more interesting, though, are the extreme Israeli and American reactions to the move. The American executive and legislative branches of government have forcefully condemned it, including threatening punitive cut-offs in aid in some cases. The Israeli government has used all its diplomatic weapons to try and blunt the Palestinian initiative, but is resigned to the vote passing. The argument that Israelis and Americans make most often against the U.N. move is that it would detract from attempts to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through direct bilateral negotiations. They say this with a straight face, and seem to be serious, though their incredulous argument flies forcefully in the face of history and reality.
The fact is that the United States and Israel have largely had their way in defining how Palestinian-Israeli negotiations proceed since the 1991 Madrid conference and the subsequent Oslo accords of 2003. Israel has dominated diplomatic engagements because it controls events on the ground with its occupation army, siege tactics, and settler-colonizers, and holds the Palestinians hostage via its controls of their land, water, air, trade, security and financial resources.

The United States, in turn, has dominated the mediating role in the on-and-off bilateral negotiations, and has generated a track record of consecutive and cumulative failures that must go down in history as among humankind’s greatest examples of diplomatic incompetence. Historians will one day recount whether this is due to amateurism or to the severe pro-Israel bias negating the U.S. mediator’s role.
In either case, bilateral negotiations as we have known them have no chance of success on the basis of current power balances and with American mediation favoring Israel so sharply. I suspect the real reason the United States and Israel so vehemently oppose the Palestinian move at the U.N. is that it represents a rare move to seek political movement on the Arab-Israeli issue that is not totally controlled by Israelis and Americans, but instead uses international law and the global consensus of nations as a reference point for diplomacy. This would be such a worrying precedent for Israel and the U.S. that they are using all possible tools and threats to kill it before it moves ahead any further.

This is also why the same U.S. and Israel reacted with equal hysteria to the Goldstone Report process when that happened last year. They simply cannot allow political deliberation or diplomatic processes related to Israel and Palestine to occur outside the context of Israeli priorities and the obsequious American response to all that Israel wishes, which is enforced through the formidable powers of the pro-Israel groups in Washington and at local levels across the United States (as the current “I love Zion” jamboree by most Republican presidential candidates and the U.S. Congress attests again).
So let us not be fooled by the diversionary debates about the largely symbolic September vote on Palestinian statehood at the U.N. The real issue is whether the history of Palestine and Israel will be shaped by law and the determination of the global community of nations to treat both sides equally; or by the muscle of a robust Zionism and its American diplomatic partner who resembles a ventriloquist’s dummy more than an independent actor, let alone an impartial mediator.

This commentary was published in The Daily Star on 03/09/2011

Jerusalem's Beauty Disfigured By Racist Israeli Policies

Occupiers have limited endurance in contrast to that of the occupied people who strive to keep their struggle alive  

By As'ad Abdul Rahman
Jerusalem’s beauty disfigured by racist Israeli policies
  • Image Credit: Luis Vazquez/Gulf News
  • Many observers confirm that the Israeli state is being ruled by a fundamentalist doctrine, exactly like Al Qaida, where 85 per cent of the world Jewry who do not belong to ‘the Jewish Orthodoxy’ are now being considered to be non-Jewish!

The very famous Roman/Jewish historian, Josephus, wrote: "There is no town as Biblical as Jerusalem, but it was neither built nor named by the Hebrews." Indeed, according to the earliest Jewish traditions: "[Occupied] Jerusalem is directly identified with the ancient city Salem that the Biblical Melchizedek, (King of Righteousness), dwelt and ruled and whom Abraham paid tithe (zakat)".
It is worth mentioning that Melchizedek was the founder of Jerusalem as well as the King and the priest of Al Elyon, of the Canaanites of Salem who held two other names, the Palestinians and the Jebusites who also called the city Jebus.

Also, [Occupied] Jerusalem is Yerushlem in Aramaic, Urishlem in Syriac, Ursalim in Assyrian and Beit Al Maqdis, (the Holy/ Sanctified House) in Arabic. Jerusalem is also "Zahrat Al Mada'in", the top elite of all cities that gives hope to three religions, is being distorted in a way killing all hopes for peace and peaceful co-existence between the three faiths derived from the creed of Ebrahim.

The spiritual beauty of the city of peace is being disfigured by the egotistical, racist and colonial policy of almost all Israeli governments who are hell-bent on changing history, and destroying universal values which were dearly held by Jews throughout history.

It was egotistical racism, apartheid policy and attempts to wipe out Judaism from the face of this earth which Jews faced by holding fast to the rule of law not the rule of men and by declaring all men (males and females) have equal rights regardless of gender, colour, creed or ethnicity.

These are the same values that are being trampled upon on daily basis by Israeli military boots in the occupied Palestinian land and especially in the Palestinian city of Jerusalem. Turning the Holy City of Peace into a racist Jewish city by attempting to wipe out the Palestinian living presence after vandalising graves of dead Palestinians in the city is only a recipe for disaster that shall directly affect not only the very existence of the Zionist state, but also the national security of the West as a whole, especially the American national security.

While the universal principle that all human beings have equal rights under the law is the very principle which the people of the Jewish faith held steadfastly to in the face of Nazism in Germany; this same principle is being violated now by the extreme Zionist right in Israel.

Permission to enter

Many observers confirm that the Israeli state is being ruled by a fundamentalist doctrine, exactly like Al Qaida, where 85 per cent of the world Jewry who do not belong to ‘the Jewish Orthodoxy' are now being considered to be non-Jewish! In this context, one would also ask: Then what about the destiny of the Palestinians who are the original indigenous people of the Holy Land and occupied Jerusalem? Indeed, it is comforting to witness hundreds of thousands of Jews around the world screaming from the very top of their lungs against Israel: "not in our name"!

Having been born in occupied Jerusalem myself, I had a first hand experience of the difficult conditions as I struggled years ago to get a permission to enter and visit my country Palestine and my birthplace, in the holy city. That was on November 18, 1993, when my dear friend and brother, Palestinian martyr Faisal Al Hussaini informed me that a permit from Israeli authorities had finally been obtained, but on condition that I bring with me Palestinian investors to attend a special workshop on investment issues.

I felt pain and anger to be treated like any tourist on visiting my homeland under certain conditions, but more painful was the sight I saw upon arriving. The holy city was besieged by a large wall of apartment buildings thicker than the Wall of China. One colony after the other have been planted on the ground swallowing nearly 25 per cent of the total area of the West Bank, established as accomplished facts declaring loud and clear to every Palestinian that there was no place for them in the Holy Land which only belongs to Jews! Yet, not to all, but only to Orthodox Jews, as the present rulers of Israel have chosen.

Those have cast additional black shadows that surrounded occupied Jerusalem and have dimmed hopes for peace and created a suffocating atmosphere making it hard for Palestinians to breathe. Yet, the latter will never give up their dreams and hopes to regain their city which stands at the core of their national consciousness. Lately, Dr Ayida Al Najjar brought vivid images of the holy city in her book Al Quds wal Bint Al Shalabiya (Jerusalem and the Pretty Girl) which speaks of the unwavering attachment to the birthplace while recalling the cultural role played by Palestinian women in the city during the British Mandate in Palestine.

Yet, the occupied Jerusalem of today is becoming daily unrecognisable to many of its Palestinian inhabitants. Nevertheless, the long history of occupied Jerusalem tells us that all occupiers have limited endurance time as long as the occupied indigenous people keep their struggle alive in line with set principles guaranteed by all religions and by international law.

-This commentary was published in The GULF NEWS on 03/2011
-Professor As'ad Abdul Rahman is the Chairman of the Palestinian Encyclopaedia

Libya And The Obama Doctrine

The U.S. campaign was a success but a provisional and limited one. Qaddafi is gone, but his ouster will not become a model for future interventions

By Michael O'Hanlon

As of this writing, the Obama administration's Libya policy appears to have been successful. The combination of targeted airpower, a gradual tightening of the economic and legal nooses around the necks of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi and his cohorts, diplomatic engagement with the Libyan opposition, and quiet efforts (mostly by Europeans) to work militarily with that opposition ultimately paid off.
This is, of course, a provisional judgment. If fighting rages on in Tripoli for an extended time, the basic humanitarian objectives of the original mission could be compromised. So could the prospects for reconciliation once the dust settles. Prolonged violence will make it harder for the former antagonists to form a workable and stable coalition to build a new Libya. In the end, this could be a victory -- but an ugly one, as I wrote in March ("Winning Ugly in Libya").

In that article, I compared the Libya case to another ugly win more than a decade ago: NATO's in Kosovo. In that conflict, the postwar challenge was in many ways easier than what the West faces in Libya. The Serbian leadership remained intact, and Kosovo's liberation force was generally cohesive. There was also no particular need for the two sides to reconcile; Kosovo became a haven for ethnic Albanians, Serbia remained one for Serbs. Meanwhile, NATO and the United States were presumably prepared to resume operations there if Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic attacked Kosovo again.
In contrast, many of Libya's tribes are still friendly to Qaddafi yet will need to be included in a future government. Leaving them out of the process could lead to factionalism, civil war, and even terrorism. And so far, NATO has no plans to deploy ground troops to Libya, although some, including Council on Foreign Relations Fellow Max Boot, have suggested that it be willing to do so. Even if it did, such a force would only be to the good if the United States played a modest role in it and Arab -- or at least Muslim-majority -- countries sent troops as well.

Regardless, with Libya seemingly on the right track for now, many have already called the campaign evidence of a clear Obama doctrine. To the contrary: Qaddafi's ouster will not be the signature accomplishment of a president who has somehow found a new and successful approach toward greater multilateralism and burden sharing.
Libya was a special case. For one, President Barack Obama could be patient and deferential to the Europeans there, because Libya is a second-tier regional player and of limited strategic value to the United States.

Second, during the five months of the military campaign, U.S. economic woes became so severe that the importance of the Libya issue essentially disappeared from public view. Continued killing in Syria, unrest in Yemen, and major uncertainty in Egypt reinforce this point. All of these countries are probably more important in terms of U.S. interests, yet Obama has made no moves to get involved.
Third, Libya's geography was extremely conducive to waging an airpower campaign. The country's demographics, with different tribes concentrated in separate cities along the coast and within reach of numerous NATO airfields, are not a luxury the United States will often enjoy.

Fourth, Qaddafi was so unpopular among Arabs that, even given Obama's low popularity in the Arab world today, NATO could find allies there to lend the operation legitimacy.
Finally, Obama's taking a secondary role in a humanitarian intervention is actually no great breakthrough in the annals of U.S. foreign policy. Be it Somalia, Rwanda, or another case, Washington has tended to try to minimize its role over the years. Obama played the supporting role better than U.S. presidents usually do. He deserves credit for that but not as much for novelty or creativeness.

So, yes, so far, so good in Libya. Still, I am not sure that the United States' momentary engagement with Libya will mean much in terms of its future endeavors at home and abroad. Libya was a success but a provisional and limited one to date.
-This commentary was published in The Foreign Affairs on 31/08/2011
-MICHAEL O'HANLON is the Director of Research and a Senior Fellow of Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution

Syria And The Domestic Factor

By Walid Choucair

Many people are wagering that the stance by foreign countries on the situation in Syria could evolve rapidly, despite the prevailing belief that there will be no sudden or rapid change in events there, domestically, as seen by uprisings in other Arab countries.
In terms of the domestic situation, the only surprising thing is the determination by the protestors and the opposition to continue demonstrating and taking to the streets, despite the death that awaits them. There is also the determination of the Syrian regime, to continue its crackdown and use of bullets and all forms of violence in its campaign to “confront armed and terrorist gangs.” Those who are demanding the fall of the regime are demonstrating an ability to resort to the street, despite the painful and bloody campaign by security bodies, the army and militias. When these militias complete a military operation in a given town, city or governorate, they soon return to the location as a result of people taking to the street, with an escalation in their tone and the slogans they chant against the head of the regime. This has happened on many occasions in Deraa, Hama, Homs and most areas, as more deaths are recorded, and the number of arrests rise. If this determination by both sides in the crisis demonstrates anything, it is that neither side is able to settle things in the foreseeable future.

The inability to settle things by either side has prompted several foreign actors to search for ways out of the crisis that respect the sensitivity of the Syrian people to any type of foreign intervention, while maintaining foreign pressure on this regime. Perhaps the growing isolation of Damascus will lead other elements of Syrian society and official institutions to demand change, so that the balance of power shifts in the direction of the opposition.

Up to now, the foreign intervention on the side of the regime has been more effective than that in favor of the opposition. The pressure of sanctions by Washington and the European Union on the regime has been offset by measures that involve assistance offered by Iran. This has prompted countries such as Turkey to try and intercede with Tehran, in a bid to get it to pressure its ally Syria to halt the crackdown and accelerate reform moves. This is in order to avoid a larger international consensus on tougher sanctions on Syria, which could pave the way for foreign intervention that would exacerbate the regional and international struggle over the country. Perhaps this has prompted Iranian officials, over the last two weeks, to talk about the need for reform and the importance of listening to the people’s demands. Some people have even imagined that the regional equation has changed – instead of demands that Damascus abandon its relationship with Iran, as in recent years, the developments in the external stance on Syria are paving the way for Iran to abandon the Syrian regime, if it continues to confront the opposition in a way that leaves it twisting in the wind. This will threaten Iran’s interests in the Middle East and prompt it to search for alternatives, such as the reported Iranian contacts with the Syrian opposition. However, such a scenario is unlikely to play out at present, meaning that foreign intervention is still supporting the Syrian regime, due to its ability to overcome sanctions by relying on Iranian assistance and the situation in Lebanon and Iraq.

But this raises another problem: the degree to which Beirut and Baghdad can withstand international pressure to apply international sanctions, if adopted by the United Nations. This will turn Iraq and Lebanon into arenas of escalating the struggle between Iran and the international community, because of the struggle over Syria. Both Lebanon and Iraq are subject to Iranian influence, in one way or another, and this will put each in a more difficult situation than they face today, in terms of the domestic contradictions and deep divisions with regard to the external options available to both countries.

In light of the very complicated external situation, the Syrian domestic situation appears to be the chief factor that will prompt outside countries to make up their minds, and both the regime and the opposition are aware of this.

The regime is trying to use a crackdown to settle matters, paying no heed to any foreign reactions and the possibility of seeing an international front take shape. The opposition, meanwhile, is seeking to unite its ranks and bring in more political and social groups to its side, after these elements have remained hesitant about, or frightened by, such a move. The declaration by the opposition inside the country, to form a “national transitional council,” and the naming of some figures to form such a body, is an attempt to establish a united political group that can address the outside world and expand the base of the opposition, which could allow it to keep pace with expected foreign developments. An early sign of the future stance by the opposition is that the nucleus of the transitional council has declared its commitment to agreements that have been conducted with the outside world.

This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 02/09/2011

Fate Of The Egyptian – Israeli Peace Treaty

By Bilal Hassen

The Eilat (Um al-Rushrash) Fedayeen [commando] attack on a number of Israeli targets which took place on 18 August 2011 [Southern Israel cross-border attacks], and the implications of this, continue to gather pace like a snowball rolling down a mountainside. Information surrounding this attack remains vague, and there is no concrete information about those who carried it out, or where they came from. Israel claim that the perpetrators came from Gaza, crossed the Sinai Peninsula, entered Egyptian territory, and attacked Israeli targets from Egyptian soil. Yet Gazan officials categorically reject this claim. Indeed this story does not hold up to logic, for there is no Palestinian Fedayeen-style organization that could unilaterally carry out such an operation over such a large geographic area. Due to the weakness of this theory, other opinions have emerged advocating the idea that a number of parties – including Sinai Bedouin and Egyptian organizations – joined together to carry out this attack. However none of these hypotheses have been proven correct until now. Therefore it appears as if an organization of a new type has emerged; a type of organization that has not been seen in the Palestinian arena before.
Israel held fast to its initial version of events, namely that the attack was carried out by a Gazan group from Egyptian soil. As a result Israel intensified air strikes against the Gaza Strip, and also launched an incursion along the Egyptian border which resulted in the death of an Egyptian military officer and a number of Egyptian soldiers. Following this, the situation here became far more serious, with Cairo rejecting the Israeli version of events and warning it against escalating its attacks on the Gaza Strip. Egypt also warned of the possibility of it reviewing the [1979] Egyptian – Israeli Peace Treaty. Therefore the situation developed from a Fedayeen-style cross-border attack to a threat to the strategic situation that has existed in the region since the peace accords were first signed between Egypt and Israeli over 30 years ago.

Here we come to the crux of the matter, and an issue worthy of consideration, namely: will the Egyptian – Israeli Peace Treaty remain as it is, or will its terms be reviewed, or could it perhaps even be terminated? To answer this extremely important question, we must review the stances of a number of different parties.

Firstly, Israel: Israel's reaction, intensifying its bombardment of the Gaza Strip and extending the range of its shelling towards the Egyptian border, reflects Tel Aviv’s disregard of others, and the fact that Israel only thinks of itself and never considers how others might react, particularly Egypt which has experienced vast political changes this year. In fact Israel hardly pays any attention to the feeling and views of the Egyptian public, who have established popular and political movements in Egypt today that is exerting pressure and making demands on the Egyptian leadership (the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) today which cannot afford to ignore this. Yet when matters reached the extent of Cairo threatening to review the peace treaty, Tel Aviv realized that its disregard of the position of others could have a negative strategic impact on the future of Israel. As a result of this, Israel halted the major land offensive that it was planning to carry out against the Gaza Strip, after Cairo warned of the potential consequences of going through with this. What helped matters is that Hamas responded rationally to the calls for calm; although it was not long before Israel violated this calm by launching new strikes against the Islamic Jihad movement in the Gaza Strip.
Secondly, Egypt: A considerable change has taken place in Egypt, both with regards to the public and the government. Israel, as usual, proved that it only thinks of itself and therefore took the natural Israeli reaction, that of aggression. Israel failed to understand that the new leadership in Egypt is no longer acting as an Israeli political ally and would therefore not deal with the Hamas movement – in the geographically adjacent area of the Gaza Strip – as a hostile terrorist movement. Rather the Egyptian leadership today is seeking to deal with Hamas and the Palestinian Authority as if they are on equal footing. Egypt expressed this by calling for inter-Palestinian dialogue and reconciliation, which was indeed achieved in Cairo under the auspices of the current Egyptian administration. A major result of this was that Cairo began to think of re-opening the Rafah Crossing, which was something that would have occurred were it not for the intense international pressure exerted on Egypt to reconsider. Despite this pressure, the issue of re-opening the Rafah Crossing is still on the table and will be a subject of further discussion.

In addition to this, there is the internal public pressure in Egypt, particularly following the death of the Egyptian soldiers [at the hands of the Israeli security forces who had chased the militants across the Egyptian border]. This incident had a huge impact on the Egyptian army as well as the Egyptian street. This could be clearly seen in the mass demonstration that were staged outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo and which resulted in an Israeli flag being removed, as well as popular demands for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and the invalidation of the Egyptian – Israeli Peace Treaty. Although the Egyptian leadership did not respond entirely to such difficult popular demands, it did not ignore them, and the Egyptian leadership today is aware of the need to maintain harmony with the Egyptian street. Here the issue of reviewing the Egyptian –Israeli Peace Treaty is being put forward as a new approach.

Thirdly, the Peace Treaty: this issue must be discussed objectively, not in the framework of the emotional demands of the [Egyptian] public. It is extremely important that this issue is viewed through such an objective framework, even if the issue does not result in the termination of this peace treaty. Here we must recognize that Israel was the first to talk about the uncertain future of the Egyptian – Israeli Peace Treaty, even speaking of establishing a new military force to confront Egypt. There can be no doubt that these confrontational Israeli calls will find a reaction within the Egyptian military. We must also acknowledge that the Sinai Peninsula, in reality, falls outside of Egyptian influence due to the conditions of this peace treaty which stipulate that Egypt cannot station more than 800 soldiers there. This is what opened the way for Sinai Bedouins and nomads to be able to possess and smuggle weapons. This is a state of affairs that has also facilitated weapons being smuggled into the Gaza Strip, particularly advanced missiles, as well as allowing Sinai residents to form small armed militias. Whilst Israel complains about this, Egypt cannot solely be blamed for this state of affairs, for this is the outcome of the terms stipulated by the Egyptian – Israeli Peace Treaty.
Once this situation is under discussion, the proposal of amending the Egyptian – Israeli Peace Treaty will instantly be made. Such amendments would deal with the following essential issues:

Firstly, in order to protect its own security and to monitor the situation on the ground in Sinai, Egypt requires the deployment of additional military troops and security officers; this is something that would necessitate a major amendment of certain articles of the peace treaty. This is something that represents a fait accompli if it cannot be achieved through dialogue and agreement.
Secondly, Egypt – in its attempt to respond to the public atmosphere in Egypt and the public’s demands – has sought to make Tel Aviv understand that this peace treaty is a treaty between Egypt and Israel [not Israel and the Arabs], and it represents nothing more than a mutual pact of non-aggression.

Thirdly, Israel must be aware that Egypt is a leading Arab state, and therefore has responsibilities towards other Arab states. Cairo therefore cannot and will not side with Israel against other Arab states; rather it will side with the Arabs if they are threatened by Israel. Geographically speaking, this is something that would include Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. The crux of the matter is that Egypt’s policy with regards to dealing with Israel is between one state and another; this does not represent an alliance  attitude towards Israel, unlike the policy of the former [Egyptian] regime.
In fact, amending the Egyptian – Israeli Peace Treaty in accordance with the changes that have taken place in reality [in Egypt] is a fait accompli and does not require negotiations and written amendments. Perhaps Egypt’s warning to Israel to stop its attack on the Gaza Strip and not to launch its planned large-scale military operation represents the practical expression of what I have indicated above.

-This commentary was publishing in Asharq al-Awsat on 01/09/2011
-Bilal Hassen is a renowned Palestinian writer and political analyst

Friday, September 2, 2011

Why Can't The Syrian Opposition Get Along?

Persistent divisions and a brutal crackdown have prevented Syria's dissidents from presenting a united front against the Assad regime. 

By Kate Seelye

 The Syrian opposition conference in Ankara

The buoyant images of Libya's rebels, who are currently tearing down the last vestiges of Muammar al-Qaddafi's regime, have also underscored the challenges facing the fragmented opposition in another Arab country -- Syria. Five months after the start of an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad that has left more than 2,200 people dead, dissidents are still struggling to forge a united front that could duplicate the role played by Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC).

The NTC was created just 12 days after the start of the Libyan uprising, quickly organizing resistance to Qaddafi within the country and lobbying for support on the international stage. By contrast, the opponents of Assad's regime have held gatherings in Antalya, Turkey; Brussels; Istanbul; and even Damascus, the Syrian capital, to shape the opposition's leadership and articulate a road map toward a democratic Syria. But as of yet, Syrian activists  in the diaspora have failed to establish an umbrella group that has earned the endorsement of the only body that can confer legitimacy -- the protest organizers inside Syria. Although Assad's brutal crackdown has undoubtedly made this a difficult task, the absence of a united front has hindered the opposition's ability to effectively communicate to regime-change skeptics that there is a credible alternative to the Assad government.

The disarray in the anti-Assad camp is recognized all too well in Washington. "I think the [international] pressure requires an organized opposition, and there isn't one," said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, when asked on Aug. 11 why the United States didn't throw more weight behind the protest movement. "There's no address for the opposition. There is no place that any of us who wish to assist can go."

Given the lack of a recognized leadership, different Syrian groups -- mainly based in the diaspora -- have been jockeying to assert themselves. Most recently, on Aug. 29 young dissidents speaking on behalf of a revolutionary youth group inside Syria named a 94-person council to represent the Syrian opposition. At a news conference in Ankara, Turkey, Syrian dissident Ziyaeddin Dolmus announced that the respected Paris-based academic Burhan Ghalioun would head the so-called Syrian National Council, which would also comprise the crème de la crème of Syria's traditional opposition.

Dolmus said the council would include many of the traditional opposition figures based in Damascus, such as former parliamentarian Riad Seif, activist Suhair Atassi, and economist Aref Dalila. "Delays [in forming a council] return our people to bloodshed," he said at the news conference, which was broadcast by Al Jazeera.

But no sooner had the council been announced than it started to unravel. When contacted by the media, Ghalioun and the others quickly distanced themselves from the announcement, claiming they had no prior knowledge of it, according to reports in the Arabic press. Later, Ghalioun denied any association with the group on his Facebook page. One Washington-based Syrian activist, Mohammad al-Abdallah -- whose father, Ali al-Abdallah was named to the council -- dismissed it as a joke.

Others said it was an attempt by young revolutionaries, upset over the lack of progress, to put forward a wish list of opposition members. U.S.-based Syrian activist Yaser Tabbara, who had helped organize a gathering of anti-government Syrians a week before in Istanbul, called it "an earnest attempt by youth to reach out and demand that we move faster than we have been."
According to Tabbara, the Istanbul conference that concluded on Aug. 23, was motivated by a similar sense of urgency. "It has been five months since the uprising started, and we don't yet have a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Assad and his cohorts for their massacres," said Tabbara. "Part of the reason is that some in the international community, like India, Brazil, and South Africa, do not see a viable alternative to this regime."

The four-day Istanbul gathering, according to organizers, sought to unite all the efforts of previous opposition efforts under one banner. Few of the groups or individuals from previous opposition gatherings attended the meeting, however. Members representing a consultative committee that emerged from a June opposition gathering in Antalya withdrew at the last minute, claiming, according to Reuters, that it "did not build on earlier efforts to unite the opposition."

The conference was further handicapped by what Syrian journalist Tammam al-Barazi called "the perception that it was held under an American umbrella." Its organizers included members of a grassroots community group based in Illinois, the Syrian American Council.

Although dismaying, the opposition's divisions and sniping are hardly surprising. Most activists grew up under the Assad family's authoritarian rule, and their differences reflect the many divisions inside Syrian society, which is split by sect and ethnicity as well as ideology. The opposition includes Arab nationalists and liberals with little trust for the Muslim Brotherhood, whose supporters were accused of dominating the first Istanbul conference organized in July by a leading human rights lawyer, Haitham al-Maleh.

The many Kurdish parties that have participated have also been unhappy with some dissidents' attempts to define a future Syria as "Arab." Most are also highly suspicious of the West and any support it might offer.

The other challenge has been linking the diaspora opposition, which has been leading lobbying efforts abroad, with the political activists inside Syria. Although the diaspora has contacts among the traditional Syrian opposition based in Damascus, such as writers Michel Kilo and Louay Hussein, it has struggled to familiarize itself with the young activists who have led the protest movement. These protesters, who have organized themselves into local coordination committees, have largely remained anonymous to avoid arrest.

Signs are growing that some of the protest leaders are unhappy with the recent flurry of gatherings abroad. According to Washington-based dissident Ammar Abdulhamid, a group calling itself the "Syrian Revolution General Commission," which he says represents up to 70 percent of the local coordination committees, reacted to the Istanbul meeting. In an Aug. 21 Facebook message, it supported efforts by the opposition to coordinate activities meant to support the revolution, but advised against forming any kind of representative body to speak on behalf of the revolution.

The reasons for the Syrian opposition's inability to organize an umbrella group may be understandable, but the costs of failing to do so remain real. It will take a unified effort to communicate the opposition's vision for their country's future and convince those Syrians still sitting on the fence that a viable alternative to Assad's rule exists. The opposition must also coordinate its message to encourage defections among the main supporters of the regime -- informing them that their rights will be guaranteed under a democratic Syria, but that they will eventually face justice if they continue to support the government's crackdown.

A united opposition is also urgently needed to challenge the growing call for armed resistance by some protesters in cities like Homs, where the Syrian government's crackdown has been especially harsh. Some protest leaders have suggested that the Assad regime's crackdown can only be effectively opposed at this point through force, while other protesters have held banners calling for a no-fly zone.

Just across Syria's border in Antakya, Turkey, two groups of renegade Syrian army officers -- the Free Officers of Syria and the Free Syrian Army (sometimes known as the Free Officers Movement) -- are arming, according to Abdulhamid. A YouTube video uploaded on Aug. 18 shows an announcement by the Free Officers Movement declaring itself to be an armed group committed to protecting "the peaceful revolution and protesters." Just last week, the Free Officers of Syria published a statement claiming that the defections of a significant number of soldiers were reported in a Damascus suburb.

The dissidents gathering in the many meetings outside Syria say they remain committed to a peaceful revolution free of outside intervention. The local coordination committees in Syria also released a statement condemning the use of force as "unacceptable politically, nationally, and ethically."

But clearly, the many Syrians who have not yet abandoned support for Assad's regime fear what will follow its collapse. If they are to be convinced otherwise, they will need to see the establishment of a broad-based opposition leadership whose public face is comprises respected dissidents living in exile, like Ghalioun, who reject armed struggle to achieve their aims.

Such a unified coalition has the opportunity to help Syria make a peaceful transition to a democratic, pluralistic form of government. Until that happens, a storybook ending to Syria's uprising remains little more than a distant hope.

-This commentary was published in The Foreign Policy on 01/09/2011
-Kate Seelye is vice president of the Middle East Institute and a former NPR correspondent based in the Middle East

A State of Palestine Would Backfire On Its Own People

Mehdi Hasan agrees with Netanyahu. There's nothing to be gained from the United Nations recognising this segmented fantasy state

By Mehdi Hasan

wounded palestinian gaza

Palestinians carry a wounded protester after Israeli troops opened fire during a march in the Gaza Strip in May this year. Photograph: Mahmud Hams/Getty Images

Rejoice! On 20 September, the United Nations will welcome a new member: the "State of Palestine". Senior Palestinian Authority (PA) officials believe they have secured the support of enough countries to pass a resolution in the UN general assembly recognising a Palestinian state. There is, however, little to celebrate. For the first time in my life, I find myself in agreement with Binyamin Netanyahu. The loathsome Israeli prime minister is opposed to the Palestinian bid for statehood – and so, reluctantly, am I. But for very different reasons to "Bibi".
The Palestinians are walking into a trap of their own making. With the so-called "peace process" going nowhere, and with the number of Israeli settlements on the rise, the UN vote is an act of desperation, not strength, on the part of the Palestinian leadership. The risks are high; the benefits few and far between.

Proponents of statehood hide behind a series of spurious arguments. Some argue that statehood will give Palestinians a greater voice. Mahmoud Abbas, the PA president whose electoral mandate expired more than two years ago, has said that "when the recognition of our state on the 1967 borders happens, we will become a state under occupation, and then we would be able to go to the UN [with demands]".
Yet Abbas also happens to be chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. The PLO, in its capacity as "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people", has had observer status at the UN since 1974 and been allowed to participate in security council debates since 1976. So Abbas can already raise whatever issue he likes at the UN. Why has he not, for instance, gone back to the international court of justice, which has previously declared Israeli settlements to be "illegal and an obstacle to peace", for further rulings? Why has he not pushed for a security council debate on the Goldstone report, which accused the Israelis of committing war crimes in Gaza?

Such initiatives would do more to advance the decades-long Palestinian struggle for freedom than a change in nameplates at the UN building in New York. That Abbas has failed to use the powers he possesses speaks volumes about his own weakness; it does not strengthen the case for a make-believe Palestinian state.
Then there are those who believe statehood would offer the Palestinians a legal shield against Israeli aggression. PA official Nabil Shaath has said that if a Palestinian state were to gain UN recognition, the Israelis would then "be in daily violation of the rights of a fellow member state and diplomatic and legal consequences could follow, all of which would be painful for Israel". Who is he kidding? Consider the experiences of Lebanon and Syria. The former had its southern strip occupied by Israel for 22 years, from 1978 to 2000; the latter lost the Golan Heights to the Jewish state in 1967. Did "statehood" protect Lebanon from Israeli assault? Has membership of the UN general assembly helped Syria regain the Golan Heights?

There is also a lazy assumption that if the Israelis are opposed to Palestinian statehood, then it must be the correct course of action. However, some of the shrewdest members of Israel's foreign policy elite take a different line to Netanyahu. Gidi Grinstein, a member of Ehud Barak's negotiating team at Camp David in 2000, has bluntly spelled out the strategic benefits of Palestinian statehood… for the Jewish state. "A declaration of a Palestinian state in September includes the possibility of a diplomatic breakthrough as well as significant advantages for Israel," he wrote in Haaretz in May. "The establishment of such a state will help anchor the principle of two states for two peoples, shape the permanent situation with Israel controlling the security assets and the new state's surroundings, and diminish the refugee problem by marginalising UNRWA [the United Nations relief and works agency] and limiting refugee status."
This issue of refugees is crucial. In recent years, much ink has been spilled on the divide between Palestinians in the Fatah-led West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza. But the real divide is between Palestinians living in the occupied territories and Palestinian refugees living abroad. The majority of the world's nine million or so Palestinians live outside the West Bank and Gaza, with three out of four members on the Palestinian National Council, the PLO's legislative body, representing the diaspora.

Yet a hard-hitting, seven-page legal opinion on the consequences of Palestinian statehood, published recently by Guy Goodwin-Gill, a professor of international law at Oxford University, concluded that "the interests of the Palestinian people are at risk of prejudice and fragmentation" and the refugees in the diaspora risk losing "their entitlement to equal representation" and "their ability to vocalise their views, to participate in matters of national governance, including the formation and political identity of the state, and to exercise the right of return".
Why? According to Goodwin-Gill, the PLO's UN status would be transferred to the new state of Palestine after the vote on 20 September: a state confined to mere segments of the West Bank and perhaps Gaza; a state which most Palestinian refugees would have little or no connection to; a state which, lest we forget, does not actually exist. To have a PA-led fantasy state representing only West Bank and Gaza residents replace the PLO – representing all Palestinians – as Israel's chief interlocutor would be a disaster.

Numerous Palestinian representatives and civil-society groups have expressed their concerns. Karma Nabulsi, the Oxford academic and former PLO official, says that by "losing the PLO as the sole legitimate representative at the UN, our people immediately lose our claim as refugees to be part of our official representation". The Palestinian American journalist and blogger Ali Abunimah has dismissed the UN bid as a "charade".
It is difficult to disagree with him. Will "statehood", after all, stop the relentless colonisation of Palestinian land by Israeli settlers? Will membership of the UN general assembly stop the targeted assassinations of Palestinians? Will it result in the closure of a single checkpoint or the release of a single detainee?

The truth is that, whether or not Abbas succeeds in his bid for statehood, the life of the ordinary Palestinian on the ground in Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem or, indeed, Gaza City, will change not a jot. The residents of the occupied territories will continue to be killed and maimed. The members of the Palestinian diaspora, meanwhile, could find themselves voiceless; a people disenfranchised and delegitimised.
-This commentary was published in The Guardian on 01/09/2011
-Mehdi Hasan is senior editor (politics) at the New Stateman and former news and current affairs editor at British Channel 4

The Signs Are Not Good For Assad Rule

By Rami G. Khouri

The signs are not good for the Syrian regime headed by President Bashar Assad and his tightly knit network of family members, security agencies, Baath Party members and business associates. In the past week, a steady stream of incidents and signals have strengthened the trend pertaining for several months now: The regime is increasingly isolated at home and abroad, but remains hunkered down and ready to fight to the end. The exact nature of that endgame is unclear, but seems imminent now, especially in view of recent events.
The Iranian foreign minister publically said that the Assad regime respond to the legitimate political grievances of Syrian citizens, meaning that the current military crackdown is not sufficient to calm things down and maintain regime incumbency. The secretary-general of Hezbollah, Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, also spoke out of the need for all parties to work together to resolve the tensions in Syria peacefully. When Damascus’ two closest allies in the world – Iran and Hizbullah – publically acknowledge that the problems in Syria are deep and cannot be resolved by current hard security measures, this is a monumental signal that Syria is in deep trouble.

Also in the region, Turkey has continued to pressure the Assad government and its president, Abdullah Gul, went so far as to say that if it were forced to choose between supporting the leaders or the people of Syria, Ankara would support the people. The Arab League – that old flat tire of Arab legitimacy and collective action – even spoke out about the dangers of the current Syrian government strategy, and hopes to send its secretary-general to Damascus to propose a plan to resolve the conflict.
The Europeans moved closer to imposing a full embargo on trading in Syrian oil and energy products, while the United States and the United Nations Security Council continued their endeavors to find new ways to pressure Syria.

Especially frightening was a report put out by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights about whether the Syrian regime’s response to the citizen revolt had included acts that can be classified as crimes against humanity. In other words, Assad regime figures may be inching toward indictment by the International Criminal Court.
Most significant were three moves by Syrians themselves. Opposition groups met in Turkey and announced the formation of a national transitional council; some militant groups in Syria said they would seek arms in order to resist the state militarily; and, other groups in Syria asked the international community for protection from the military retributions of the Assad regime. These were all small, individual, isolated steps that have not created a cascading effect yet; yet when combined with regional and international moves, they clearly show how the Syrian government and wider ruling apparatus are slowly being encircled by three concentric circles of domestic, regional and international pressure or outright opposition.

Many, including myself, have argued for months that the Syrian government is strong in its immediate moorings and support bases, and enjoys legitimacy among many Syrians. The problem that Assad and his system now face is that he has wasted much of that support and legitimacy, and is now “strong” in a very different and much more vulnerable manner.
The Syrian regime is strong now in the same way that a company of soldiers is strong when grouped together in a fortified camp that is totally encircled by hostile forces. The regime still has decisive leaders, many security services, a core political and demographic base of support at home, plenty of tanks and ammunition, billions of dollars of money, and tens of thousands of foot soldiers. All these assets, however, are bunched into an increasingly smaller and smaller space, with fewer and fewer regional or international connections of any sort, and are confronting mass popular rallies that steadily grow in frequency, size, bravado, and political intensity around the country. Using battlefield tanks to kill your own civilians inside cities is not a sign of strength, but rather of savagery born of desperation.

The Syrian regime is facing a significant and troubling trend. It continues to face almost daily actions by important actors at home and abroad that expose how its attempt to resolve the crisis through a combination of hard security and soft political reform dialogue has totally failed. In fact, these actions have only aggravated the three most critical dynamics that will define the regime’s future – its declining legitimacy and credibility with many of its own people; the rising intensity of the challenge from Syrians at home and abroad; and the diplomatic pressures applied by regional and global powers.
Syria’s regime is likely to – and is able to – persist in this mode for months, until either the pressures against it subside or its own ability to resist cracks. Neither of these is imminent today, but one will prevail as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow. If the Syrian regime can break its isolation from the encircling forces penning it in, it might have a chance to orchestrate a gradual change to a more open and liberal system of governance. The likelihood of that happening is zero.

This commentary was published in The Daily Star on 02/09/2011