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Entries in Bashir al-Assad (4)


Syria-Lebanon: What is Prime Minister Hariri Seeking?

Flag-Pins-Syria-LebanonAccording to the Syrian news agency Champress, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri told Syrian President Bashar Assad on Saturday that he wishes to improve Lebanese-Syrian relations to better defend Lebanon against Israel, which continues to violate Arab rights. Assad's adviser Buthaina Shaaban said that the talks were "frank" and "succeeded in overcoming difficulties that marred relations in the past five years."

Hariri loyalist and former lawmaker Mustafa Alloush was more cautious: he said that the visit was "very difficult on the personal level" and involves "great sacrifice" and did not mean Lebanon had dropped its belief that Syria was responsible for the killing of Hariri's father Rafik, the former Lebanese Prime Minister assassinated in 2005. However, Alloush added, "As prime minister of Lebanon, it is quite normal to have such a visit....It is necessary and there is a need to settle all aspects of the relationship."

"At the end of the day, Syria is the nearest country to us. God willing this visit will bring stability and security to Lebanon," Bahia al-Hariri, a member of the Lebanese parliament and the premier's aunt, said in Lebanon.

So, what is the outcome of this visit by Hariri? Is it a natural consequence of Hezbollah's weight in the cabinet or just a part of the coalition deal? Or is this an initiative by Hariri to decrease the tension inside Lebanon through an opening to Damascus, offering a diplomatic victory to Syria after five years of tension?

The Latest from Iran (10 December): Reading the Chessboard

16 AZAR POSTER5 2015 GMT: Josh Shahryar has posted an overview with new data on the 16 Azar marches.

1930 GMT: Back from the Iran conference in Durham to find a write-up in The New York Times ( on the Internet attention to the case of Majid Tavakoli, the student leader arrested in the 16 Azar (7 December) demonstrations. It's a good piece on an important matter of Iranian "justice" and dissent, quoting Twitter-prominent activists/bloggers "madyar" and "omidhabibnia".

One correction, though. The article kindly cites me for posting Tavakoli's last entry on Facebook before he was detained. All the credit should go to Setareh Sabety, who brought the piece to Enduring America.

NEW Breaking News: Khamenei Wins 2009 “Dictator of Year”
Iran Analysis: Are Rafsanjani and National Unity Plan “Spent Forces"?
Iran: Latest Updates On Demonstrations
New Videos – Protests Continue at Tehran Universities on 18 Azar
Iran Exclusive: Clerics and Rafsanjani Plan The “Third Way” of Unity

1645 GMT: Propaganda of the Day. Javan, the newspaper of the Revolutionary Guard, says Mehdi Karroubi sent a letter to former President Mohammad Khatami declaring, "You are not part of the movement and have been useless for reformists."

Nice try, gentlemen.

1235 GMT: Rumour of Day. Following yesterday's rumour that plans had been made to fly the Supreme Leader to Russia if life became too difficult for him in Iran, this claim races our way: "Jamaran (the area in northern Iran where Imam Khomeini lived) is being fortified to defend the Supreme Leader against mutiny and provide safe escape in case of ambush"

1215 GMT: The Economic Battle. It is being reported that the Guardian Council, finding the amendments of President Ahmadinejad's subsidy reform bill unacceptable, has returned the legislation to the Parliament.

1015 GMT: An EA reader points us to yet another regime attack on Hashemi Rafsanjani, this time from Minister of Intelligence Moslehi in Qom. The reader summarises, "It is an indication that the risk of Rasfanjani turning into Trotsky is still real."

0905 GMT: What Does This Iran-Syria Meeting Mean? Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi met in Damascus yesterday to discuss bilateral defense relations.

Ritual statements followed the discussion. Al-Assad said the development of defense ties between the two countries could “contribute significantly to regional security and stability”. Vahidi said Iranian-Syrian defense ties could “play a positive role in establishing peace in the region”.

Behind the rhetoric is a political story to be explored. Vahidi's meeting followed a trip to Syria last week by the head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalili, which was marred by a bus explosion and rumours of strains between Iran and Syria.

0855 GMT: Green Humour Highlight. Tehran City Council member Ma’soumeh Ebtekar, celebrating 16 Azar, gave a green chocolate to the sister of the President, Parvin Ahmadinejad, and said, "Eat it so that you become Green too."

Apparently Parvin Ahmadinejad refused to eat the chocolate .

0820 GMT: A Not-So-Incidental Note on Rafsanjani. As we continue to assess whether Hashemi Rafsanjani still has political influence, the regime maintains the pressure on his family.

A group of pro-Ahmadinejad Tehran University students have issued a statement condemning Faezeh Hashemi, Rafsanjani's daughter, for taking part in the 16 Azar protests on the campus, claiming that Hashemi is not a student of this university. They have asked Iran's judiciary to take action against her.

Fars News is also playing up the claim by a member of Parliament, Zohreh Elahian, of "very strong evidence" that Rafsanjani's son, Mehdi Hashemi, had an important role in leading post-election protests and thus Judiciary has to take action against him. She also asserted that 120 MPs have written a letter to the head of Itran's judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, asking him to put the leaders of post-election protests, such as Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, on trial.

0810 GMT: I'm just catching up after being on the road to London and now to northeast England. Still have to go through all the comments on yesterday's post on clerics, Hashemi Rafsanjani, and the National Unity Plan but the discussion has already led me to re-evaluate the political dynamics in a morning analysis, "Are Rafsanjani and the National Unity Plan 'Spent Forces'"?

Meanwhile, protest is far from a spent force, although the centres of demonstrations were limited to Tehran and Sharif Universities yesterday. Inevitably, there would be a need to draw breath after Monday's 16 Azar protests. The question may now move to what is planned for the celebrations of Moharram, which beginning in just over a week. So far, no sign of specific plans for protest.


Israel-Syria: Peace Talks Back on Track With Turkey's Mediation?

israel_syria_On Saturday, Egypt's Al Ahram newspaper reports that Israeli-Syrian peace talks will resume in the first half of 2010 with Turkish mediation. According to the newspaper, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is going to visit Syrian President Bashar Assad on 22 December where Syria s expected to present Israel's acceptance of the arrangement.

Turkey’s Erdogan to Israel: “Syria Will Never Come to Table without Me!”

However, criticism of Turkey continues in Israeli newspapers. In The Jerusalem Post, Sarah Honig argues that Turkey is still seen as a lokum --- a "Turkish delight" confection --- by Israeli leaders. She questions Trade and Industry Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer's praise for Turkey and Israel's changing position on the relaunch of peace talks under Turkish mediation. The article in full:
'Turkey has a very special place in my heart and special relationship with Israel... Turkey can bridge the gaps between us and our neighbors and help promote normalization and coexistence in the region" - Trade and Industry Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer in Turkey last week.

No wonder Rahat Lokum, that delectable Istanbuli confection marketed since the 19th century as Turkish Delight, conquered Europe without any resistance. If anything, there was willing cheerful surrender to the jelly-like starchy cubes, flavored with rose water and nuts and liberally dusted with icing sugar. There's an unquestionable exotic whiff to these pale-pink mouthfuls, accentuated by repeated suggestions that they are an addictive pleasure (to which, for instance, the untrustworthy Edmund succumbs in C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe).

The soft candy is almost emblematic of the land in which it originated. Of all the world's Muslim powers, Turkey appears the most accessible. A negligible corner of it even protrudes into what's arbitrarily defined as Europe. The founder of its post-World War I republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, seemed to transform the abolished Ottoman sultanate with political, cultural, social, economic and legal reforms. Despite the occasional resort to military coups to protect its threatened secular quasi-democracy, Turkey became a NATO stalwart and for decades held radical Islam at bay.

It's enticing to relish this political confection, smacking with traces of alien seduction, even if excessive indulgence guarantees indigestion.

Bigger players on the international arena have very realpolitik motives to suck up to Turkey. For Israel the attraction is overpowering. An outcast in its neighborhood, Israel yearns for Muslim friends. It fell headlong for the vision of the region's non-Arabs banding together in a comradeship of self-preservation. This made particular sense in the heyday of nationalist pan-Arabism. It was bound to erode as jihadist fervor supplanted nationalist zeal, and Arabs could theoretically welcome Iran and Turkey into their club rather than shun their coreligionists as rank outsiders.

We know the way Iran went. We lost what we trusted was a bosom ally in Teheran. But Turkey, obstinately maintained in our midst by both academics and intelligence pundits, is a whole other story because its eyes are set westward and it covets EU membership.

It's sweet supposition, like Turkish delight and addictive too.

THEREFROM SPRANG the sugar-coated "strategic alliance" with Ankara, in the framework of which Israel supplied Turkey with sophisticated weaponry, among other security-oriented and less-publicized services. The wishful thinking was that even 2002's electoral victory of a religious Muslim party won't impel Turkey to follow in Iran's footsteps. Turkey after all is a strategic ally.

That, at least, was what we sweetly whispered to ourselves. It was comforting, like Turkish Delight - until Turkey vetoed Israeli participation in a joint NATO drill within its borders.

That slap-in-the-face evidently stunned our powers-that-be, who professed "sudden shock" at the "unexpected" turn of events. Nevertheless chatty know-it-all experts continued pouring heaps of sugar on the surprisingly bitter lokum.

But Turkey lost no opportunity to hector that we'd have to go cold-turkey on Turkish Delight. It demonstratively hypes its new-found fellowship with Iran and Syria. Its head honchos routinely unleash virulent anti-Israel invective. Turkish state-run TV broadcast a libelous anti-Israeli drama, Ayrilik, which portrayed IDF soldiers callously shooting Arab children, among other bogus homicidal atrocities. Turkish Delight is now unpalatable.

But cold turkey wasn't unavoidable. This shouldn't have been a startling upset. Even given our self-delusion and insatiable hunger for syrupy companionship in a hostile environment, we make a predictably worsening situation a whole lot worse by abject fawning. Turkey's Islamic leadership plays us for suckers while spurning our misplaced affections.

The most egregious errors were made by prime minister Ehud Olmert and his foreign minister, Tzipi Livni. It boggles the mind, but this duo single-handedly promoted Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the role of a regional super-statesman when initially choosing him, of all unlikely facilitators, to mediate between Israel and Syria.

Intermediaries are altogether a bad idea because inevitably their personal egos get entangled in their mission. Should Israel hesitate to risk its vital interests, despite any go-between's ambition-driven whims, his prestige might be wounded. This is precisely the disaster we keep courting with Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and it's the self-inflicted disaster we should have dodged like the dickens with that renowned lover-of-Zion, Erdogan.

Instead of exposing Bashar Assad's duplicity, Olmert-Livni managed to legitimize him as a "peace partner" and they allowed Erdogan to portray Operation Cast Lead as a personal affront. Erdogan persistently claims he was on the very verge of a breakthrough to restart negotiations with Syria, only just then Israel went and ruined it all by breaching his trust and inconsiderately attacking Gaza. It became all about him and he took umbrage.

The fat was already irretrievably in the fire before Erdogan insolently scolded the dumbstruck Shimon Peres in Davos last January, before the effusively chummy Turkish and Syrian foreign ministers signed military and non-military cooperation treaties in Aleppo recently, before Erdogan hobnobbed with Ahmadinejad and lauded him as "doubtlessly our friend," before Erdogan outrageously charged that Avigdor Lieberman schemes to nuke Gaza.

There was never sense in unnecessarily involving Turkey in the misguided mediation gambit. Olmert-Livni should have realized that Turkey is hardly a neutral bystander. They blundered spectacularly. Why, however, replicate their fundamental bungle, as Ben-Eliezer obsequiously does? Erdogan is hell-bent on regaining his peace-broker stature and he'd love to mollify Damascus, still embroiled in assorted disputes with Ankara. But need Israel boost Erdogan?

The preposterous upshot of Israeli lust for lokum is that Turkey, of all nations, tongue-lashes us for mass murdering innocents. Ironically, while we never did the evil deed, Turkey's record is atrocious.

It's high time we indeed go cold turkey on Turkish delight. Why not answer Erdogan in his own idiom? Why not counter his lies with incontrovertible historical truths? Why, for starters, not quit our unsavory habit of regularly helping Ankara overcome proposed US congressional resolutions on the Armenian genocide?

We could elaborate on Turkey's first Armenian massacre of 1890 (100,000-200,000 dead); Turkey's subsequent mega-massacres of 1915 in which hundreds of thousands of Armenians perished in a series of bloodbaths and forced marches of uprooted civilians in Syria's direction; the World War I slaughter of tens of thousands of Assyrians in Turkey's southeast; the ethnic cleansing, aerial bombardments and other operations that cost Kurds untold thousands of lives throughout the 20th century and beyond and still deny them the sovereignty they deserve (eminently more than Palestinians); and finally the 1975 invasion and continued occupation of northern Cyprus (which incredibly fails to bother the international community).

What are we afraid of? Losing our Turkish Delight fix? There are no more Turkish Delights on offer. Those which still tempt us exist only in the fevered imaginations of incurable junkies, like Ben-Eliezer.

The Latest from Iran (4 December): The Weekend Before

16 AZAR POSTER42110 GMT: No to Sanctions. The National Iranian American Council has responded quickly to the news that members of the US House of Representatives are pressing for a vote on petroleum sanctions against Iran within the next two weeks: "Sanctions can play a constructive role within [engagement], but in order to be effective they must target the Iranian government and the individuals responsible for the government’s reprehensible behavior, with a special emphasis on those guilty of human rights violations."

NEW Iran: Routes and Information for 16 Azar (7 December)
NEW Iran’s Critical Moment: Three Days to Go
Iran, the Greens, and the ex-Bushman: With Washington Friends Like These, Who Needs….?
The Latest from Iran (3 December): Normal Service?

2020 GMT: Here's the Real Nuke Story. Put away the distracting rhetoric from Tehran and keep an eye on Saeed Jalili, the Secretary of the National Security Council and one of the key players in Iran's nuclear manoeuvres. He has been in Damascus bending the ear of President Bashir al-Assad, and now he is in Turkey meeting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Jalili may be needing Turkish help more than ever, because it looks like he got a cold shoulder from Damascus. Rumours are circulating that Syrian-Iranian relations are deteriorating, to the point where yesterday's bus explosion may have been a tough signal to Tehran.

So here's a question, given that Turkey has been a broker for the "third-party enrichment" deal? Is Jalili trying to get the Turks to accept a package where uranium stays inside Iran? Or will the pressure work the other way, with Tehran trying to find a way to accept third-party enrichment and not lose face?

1840 GMT: Yawn. Ayatollah Jannati may have gotten worked up about the possibility of protesting "American agents" taking away 16 Azar, but Iranian state media can't even care enough to give this as much coverage as Enduring America's update (see 1210 GMT). Press TV puts out the stale rhetoric, "The recent resolution by the [International Atomic Energy Agency's] Board of Governors on Iran's peaceful nuclear activities and other anti-Iran resolutions by the UN Security Council have all been adopted under US pressure," and, um, that's it.

1825 GMT: Non-News of the Day. Even though it was a slow afternoon for events, I couldn't be bothered to update the posturing on the nuclear issue: "Iran will inform IAEA on new nuclear sites when ready", "Iran says it will give just six months’ notice before it begins operating 10 planned nuclear sites," etc., etc.

EA reader Catherine, however, has not only picked up those headlines but has given them the appropriate cursory analysis: "I have to laugh at the news about Iran coming out in the last couple of hours, as if it were some big act of defiance. Well duh....of course they’re going to take their time –-- they don’t even know where five of the 10 sites are going to be located yet."

1210 GMT: The Fight for 16 Azar. So the regime isn't worried? Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati used Friday Prayers in Tehran to warn that some people will try and take over National Students Day (7 December) to "satisfy the United States". He added to those who have "betrayed Islam and the revolution, "Criminals will see your work."

Perhaps Jannati should have taken a tip from Tehran Revolution Guard Commander Ali Fazli who played down the prospect of any trouble on 16 Azar, which is a "flower of a day" to be presented as thanks to Iranian students.

1010 GMT: Tehran Politics. Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf steered an interesting course in a long video interview with Al Jazeera this week. He defended the "democracy" of the Presidential election but criticised both President Ahmadinejad and his opponents for post-election behaviour that fuelled conflict. Qalibaf say "no one was happy" with detentions but evaded placing any blame, saying "everyone is doing his or her best to resolve the issue and I hope no one will be left in prison".

Qalibaf also played down reports of the Revolutionary Guard's expanding influence in the Iranian economy, while saying that Iran's Article 44 governing privatisation must be respected.

1000 GMT: The Green Brief is Back. Josh Shahryar has resumed his updates on the Iran situation, from protests to political developments.

0800 GMT: It is the weekend in Iran, providing an opportunity to catch up on news and to take a breath before the escalation of events leading up to the demonstrations of 16 Azar on Monday. We've posted a special analysis, "Iran's Critical Moment: Three Days to Go".

Included in that piece is the latest manoeuvre from Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani to challenge the authority of and around President Ahmadinejad, albeit without naming his rival, “Creating tension in the country is easy but (fostering) unity is not that simple. Damaging reputation is easy but respecting others’ dignity is important. We should not slander others in order to solidify ourselves.”

Meanwhile, Pedestrian has a short, powerful blog on the protest and uncertain fate of Mohammad Younes Rashidi, a student at Amir Kabir University (formerly Tehran Polytechnic). During a visit by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he held up a sign, “Polytechnic is not your place, you Fascist President.”

Rashidi was expelled and is now reported to be in custody in his native city of Mazandaran.