Saturday, July 29, 2006

A country for rent

Syria is not used to being its own master. Before independence in 1946, it had been a part of the Ottoman Empire for several centuries and a French protectorate between the first and second World Wars. Soon after independence, and until 1991, it was a client of the Soviet Union. Earlier this year, it has turned itself into a client of Iran.

Syria's support for the Palestinians since well before the creation of the State of Israel has always resonated well with the emotional Arab masses. Most of the time, this support has been blind, insincere or selfish, rather than constructive. Strategically, it is the kind of support that the Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian populations could have done without. It has resulted in three wars with Israel (1948, 1967 and 1973) which led to the expansion of Israeli settlements over much of Palestine, the pillaging and destruction of Lebanon, the loss of the Golan Heights and the stifling of Syria's own political, cultural and economic development. It is the kind of destructive support that Iran and Al Qaeda have also been dishing out, which the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, has publicly stated that the Palestinians did not need or want.

One of Syria's answers to its own security and economic concerns has been to maintain control of a clandestine network of intelligence and militia groups in the region. The purposes of this network are to protect the country and the regime, gather information, intimidate opponents and serve, or otherwise, sabotage the interests of other powers. This Mafia-like network has allowed the regime to punch well above its weight in the last three decades. Hizbullah, which is armed and financed principally by Iran, remains one of the strongest elements in this network. The regime's alliance with Iran is pragmatic but strategically misguided and dangerous. It allows Iran to use Syria as a regional hub for supporting Hizbullah and other clandestine groups, but Syria cannot be described as an ideological extension of Iran. The alliance affords the Syrian regime a measure of protection against Western powers which have been trying to impose their own democratic and liberal ideologies on the region. The regime opposes these ideologies because they threaten its very existence and harm the economic interests of its own supporters. Moreover, such ideologies, rather conveniently for the regime, arouse deep suspicions among the Arab masses, which believe that regime change can only serve the interests of Israel and Western powers. Few bother to draw a distinction between imposed regime change and gradual, genuine democratic transformation from within.

Syria's foreign policy is shrewd and pragmatic but its currency is extortion and sabotage. It is immensely harmful to the cultural and economic development of the people of Syria and their relations with their neighbours and other civilised nations.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Syria has had an opportunity to re-shape its policies and carve out a niche for itself in the new world of productivity and creativity. Its rulers have, instead, remained entrapped in their own laberinth of clandestine networks and enslaved by their own extortionist policies. As the civilised world has begun to shun them, and their tiresome tactics, they have turned themselves, in their desperation, into rent boys for the CIA and Iranian Mullahs. How proud a Syrian can you be?


Fares said...

Great post Philip, very well written and I could not agree more with your analysis and diagnosis of the regime's fatal illness.

Keep it up in these very difficult times...

R said...

Well said...
People around the world (mainly the west)need to see that everyone from the middle east is not an islamic extremist and rational views like these expressed on a public forum help break that prejudice...

Markbnj said...

Thank you for your post.

One Question.
Where did Syria support the Palestinians before 1948???
I'd like to know.

(Feel free to visit my place.
I am REALLY interested in peace, as WELL as a dialog.)

The only way we can LIVE together is to understand each other... I heard of your site from Amarji's.

One thing that I (and many other :excuse the dirty word {zionists} feel, is that the arab leadership in the british mandate time period did NOT deal honestly, and fairly with their people at that time.

This conclusion comes from an example when the grand mufti of Jerusalem told all the people there under his dominion to flee, as it would only be a few hours before the jews were all killed.

What I see is a consistent personal attempt at enrichment, and personal gain, at the expense of the "people".

We can fast forward to today, and use Amarji's analysis of why Hizbollah is out for themselves, as opposed to the lebanese, or even the palestinians.
IT's all about POWER, remaining in control. NOT about keeping poor civilians alive, or even driving the Israelis into the sea.

I really want peace.
Here's a question. It's been 58 years since the catastrophe (Israel's independence). When will YOU people (arabs...) start to call it their independence day. AMerica has and independence day. France has one. Mexico has one.
When will we have peace?
When they stop calling it the day of the catastrophe .

Make sense?

I welcome your comments and ideas.
I really DO want a dialog that makes us ALL smarter.

Philip I said...


Between 1920 and 1948, Arabs and Jews in Palestine clashed many times over immigration. Syria, naturally, always sided with the Palestinians as a matter of official policy and Arab solidarity.

The 1919 Balfour Declaration was extremely unpopular among Arabs in the Levant, but some accepted it on the condition that Arabs would be given independence after the deafeat of the Ottomans. Instead, France and Britain established mandates over Syria and Palestine-Transjordan. This "betrayal", rapid Jewish immigration into Palestine and disagreement over the nature and extent of the promised "Homeland" for Jews in Palestine caused much animosity between Arabs and Jews. I don't want to teach a Zionist about Jewish history, but see for example this document
British White Paper of 1939. It is worth quoting the following rather long paragraph from it because it highlights some of the root causes of the Arab Israeli conflict:

"In practice, from that date onwards until recent times, the economic absorptive capacity of the country has been treated as the sole limiting factor, and in the letter which Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, as Prime Minister, sent to Dr. Weizmann in February 1931 it was laid down as a matter of policy that economic absorptive capacity was the sole criterion. This interpretation has been supported by resolutions of the Permanent Mandates Commissioner. But His Majesty's Government do not read either the Statement of Policy of 1922 or the letter of 1931 as implying that the Mandate requires them, for all time and in all circumstances, to facilitate the immigration of Jews into Palestine subject only to consideration of the country's economic absorptive capacity. Nor do they find anything in the Mandate or in subsequent Statements of Policy to support the view that the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine cannot be effected unless immigration is allowed to continue indefinitely. If immigration has an adverse effect on the economic position in the country, it should clearly be restricted; and equally, if it has a seriously damaging effect on the political position in the country, that is a factor that should not be ignored. Although it is not difficult to contend that the large number of Jewish immigrants who have been admitted so far have been absrobed economically, the fear of the Arabs that this influx will continue indefinitely until the Jewish population is in a position to dominate them has produced consequences which are extremely grave for Jews and Arabs alike and for the peace and prosperity of Palestine. The lamentable disturbances of the past three years are only the latest and most sustained manifestation of this intense Arab apprehension. The methods employed by Arab terrorists against fellow Arabs and Jews alike must receive unqualified condemnation. But it cannot be denied that fear of indefinite Jewish immigration is widespread amongst the Arab population and that this fear has made possible disturbances which have given a serious setback to economic progress, depleted the Palestine exchequer, rendered life and property insecure, and produced a bitterness between the Arab and Jewish populations which is deplorable between citizens of the same country. If in these circumstances immigration is continued up to the economic absorptive capacity of the country, regardless of all other considerations, a fatal enmity between the two peoples will be perpetuated, and the situation in Palestine may become a permanent source of friction amongst all peoples in the Near and Middle East. His Majesty's Government cannot take the view that either their obligations under the Mandate, or considerations of common sense and justice, require that they should ignore these circumstances in framing immigration policy."

This history is still vivid in many people's minds today. Although their sense of betrayal, frustrations and fears were understandable, the Arabs committed a great political folly by rejecting the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

Since then, we have had layer upon layer of clashes, wars, injustices, killings, bombings...etc, all to the detriment of the people in the region.

Not everything can be fixed and no one can turn the clocks back. However, this does not give either party a licence to hold on to war gains or cede legal rights. The important thing is stop the hostilities and start talking and talking until there is a full understanding on all sides of grievances and aspirations.

No solutions are possible without trust, realism and compromise. So the first step is to build trust by rejecting extremism, violence, arrogance, subtle provocations and clandestine operations to create new facts on the ground and gain strategic advantage.

On the Arab side, a free media and adoption of more open systems of government are prerequisites. On the Israeli side, stopping the spread of settlements and giving the existing Arab-Israeli population 100% equal rights (see my post on Azmi Bishara and associated links) would be a good way to engender tust and demostrate the power of democracy in promoting peace and progress.

M. Simon said...

One of the great black marks on the Palestinians which neither they nor the ME has ever come to terms with is The Palestinian Role in the Holocaust.

Anonymous said...

Wonderfull post, thanks for thinking free. Much time I did not a licid syrian

Anonymous said...

Wonderfull post, thanks for thinking free. Much time I did hear not a lucid syrian

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