|Southwest Asia News Digest
No Peace Without Damascus!
Jan. 21 (EIRNS)Under the headline "No Peace Without Damascus," French-Polish writer Marek Halter authored a commentary in the Jan. 21 issue of the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, calling for an Israeli-Syrian peace deal as crucial for peace in the region.
Halter, who is Jewish, wrote, "Peace in the Middle East will only happen with the involvement of Damascus.... I have been convinced of this since my first visit to Syria under the regime of Bashar Assad...." He adds, "It seems obvious that peace can only be reached through negotiating with one's enemies. Unfortunately, this common-sense statement is not shared by all...."
"I believe Syria is now ready for peace," Halter wrote, pointing to Syria's presence at the Annapolis conference in November 2007. "The presence of the Syrian deputy foreign minister side-by-side with Israeli and Saudi Arabian delegates, the sworn enemies of its Iranian ally, at the Annapolis conference, is an important sign. It is a mistake for the West to continue to isolate Syria, a country with extensive borders with Israel, Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, particularly at a time when the United States is wallowing in the Iraqi quagmire and struggling to find a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine acceptable to both sides."
Continuation of the policy of isolating Syria could "provoke the disappearance of Lebanon as a state, and lead to a war between Syria and Israel in the not too distant future." Halter also made the point that Syria has the strongest secular tradition in a region which is drifting towards religious states, saying, "The Syrians value their secular society. Even the Syrian Grand Mufti, Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun, prides himself on his secularity."
Halter wrote that Assad has made his commitment to have peace with Israel during an address delivered before the leaders of the Ba'ath party, but it was ignored by the Western media, and the Israeli press.
"We want to resume negotiations," Halter reported Assad a having said. "The Israelis must realize that lasting peace is preferable to any other form of temporary solution." Assad went on to say that if it was not possible to publicly discuss the issue of "the return of Syrian land in exchange for peace," then at least "they should do as Yitzhak Rabin did, and state his position clearly in a letter of engagement."
This referred to a written promise by Rabin to withdraw from the Golan Heights in exchange for a comprehensive peace, Halter wrote. Although the exact contents of this letter remain unknown, it included the proposal that the Golan Heights were to be repossessed by the Syrians over a period of ten years. But Rabin's assassination and the death of Assad's father, led to the burying of the initiative.
Halter writes again that, "Peace in the Middle East is inconceivable without Syria, not because Syria is a great power within the Arab world, but because its national pride must be taken into account. Its nuisance power must also not be underestimated.... Should Israel agree to negotiate with Syria, it would weaken all terrorist groups who have their headquarters in Damascus, including Hamas. In the present situation, only a strong government, such as Bashar Assad's, can take that first step toward peace with Israel, without fear of creating havoc in the streets of the Arab world."
Iran Urges Nuclear Case Be Handled by IAEA, Not UNSC
Jan. 13 (EIRNS)Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told visiting International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei during their meeting yesterday, along with President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, that Iran's nuclear case should be handled by the IAEA and not by the United Nations Security Council. "There is no justification for Iran's case to remain at the UNSC," Khamenei is quoted as saying. Reuters reported that the IAEA today said that Iran had agreed to answer the remaining questions about its secret nuclear work, within a month, in high-level meetings in Tehran. Lyndon LaRouche commented that this is consistent with previous reports, that the Iranian leadership does not want to go too far on agreement with the U.S., striking a balance between getting into a war, on the one hand, and exercising restraint on dealing with the U.S. on the other hand.
No Agreement on Iran Sanctions
Jan. 20 (EIRNS)A spokesman for the U.S. State Department has admitted the Permanent Five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany are nowhere close to an agreement on new sanctions against Iran, on the eve of scheduled talks in Berlin this coming week. Russia and China have hardened their opposition to new sanctions, citing the recent U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran's nuclear program, in arguing against new action. The State Department has downgraded the Berlin meeting to a "brainstorming session."
Al-Sadr Threatens To End Shi'ite Ceasefire in Iraq
Jan. 18 (EIRNS)In another move toward the disintegration of Iraq, Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr issued a statement on Jan. 18, warning the Iraqi government and U.S. occupation forces, that he may end the freeze on the activities of his Mahdi Army militia. That freeze has been one of the factors credited with substantially reducing violence in the country.
"The decision to suspend the Mahdi Army's activities has not been rewarded with good results," al-Sadr spokesman Sheikh Salah al-Obeidi said, according to Agence France Presse, "because the government is still counting criminal gangs inside their security system." Obeidi added that senior security officials remain in their jobs despite arrest warrants issued against them for human rights abuses, according to Associated Press. Obeidi did not elaborate on whom he was referring to, but thousands of Sunnis who used to be insurgents are also being brought into the security forces, and are being paid by the U.S. military as "concerned local citizens" to provide security in local neighborhoodsmuch to the chagrin of some Shi'ites, especially in the government in Baghdad.
Pianist Barenboim Adopts Palestinian Citizenship
Jan. 14 (EIRNS)Israeli pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim has adopted Palestinian citizenship, hoping that he can serve as a model for peace between the two peoples:
"It is a great honor to be offered a passport," he is quoted as saying in the Jan. 14 Ha'aretz, after giving a piano recital in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where he has been active in bringing Israeli and Palestinian musicians together. "I have accepted it because I believe that the destinies of ... the Israeli people and the Palestinian people are inextricably linked. We are blessed. Or cursed. To live with each other. And I prefer the first. The fact that an Israeli citizen can be awarded a Palestinian passport can be a sign that it is actually possible." Commenting on President Bush's call for the end of the occupation during his visit to Israel, Barenboim said, "Now even not very intelligent people are saying that the occupation has to be stopped."
Barenboim has offered music in the service of seeking peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and has been a target of the wrath of the Israeli extremists. For almost a decade he has led a Palestinian-Israeli orchestra comprised of young musicians, and has held master classes for Palestinian music students.