Friday, September 14, 2007


A casus belli?

SYRIA WORKING GROUP CIRCULATIONA casus belli?Syria alleged on Thursday that Israeli aircraft had entered its airspace and dropped munitions over Deir al-Zor. Syria claims to have warned off the planes.The Israeli government is maintaining a cryptic silence over the matter – neither confirming nor denying the incident. For a notoriously leaky cabinet, this is somewhat strange. Today, Major Dayan even came out calling for a statement from the government.
In the Haaretz, Akiva Eldar suggests that there may not even have been Israeli jets over Syria. He writes that Syria may be playing a double game by arming itself and Hizbollah while calling for peace talks with Israel. To read the full article click here As proof that there was an Israeli overflight, Turkish daily al-Hurriyet, reports that jettisoned fuel tanks from Israeli F-15s were found inside Turkey.Joshua Landis speculates (but with no acceptable corroboration) that Israel may have sent IAF to attack a Syrian military base as part of a US-led strategy against Axis of Evil countries. Landis notes that there is a belief among the Cheney circle, that North Korea, Iran and Syria may be co-operating on nuclear technology. He suggests that this implies that Israeli warplanes were sent to “take out” potential Syrian R & D facilities.
More realistically perhaps, Farouq Al-Shaara, Syria’s vice-president, claims that the incident was a provocation to see how Syria would re-act. He said Syria reserved the right to retaliate any way it wanted. Syria says it responded immediately with anti-aircraft fire on Thursday. Al-Hayyat also quoted its senior correspondent in Damascus, Ibrahim Hamidi, as saying that the Syrian military's warning to Israel "against such operations" was "serious, deterring, and non-escalating."Lebanese, anti-Syrian daily, Al-Nahar, adds fuel to this provocative statement. Without naming sources, the paper claims that Syria is calling up its reserves.If Syria really wanted a military confrontation with Israel, it had every excuse last Thursday. But the fact that Syria has not taken the bait might indicate Syria is not keen to be drawn into the asymmetrical war which many commentators have mooted. The truth may never be known. It would probably suit both sides to obfuscate what actually happened and what the motivation was. Whatever the reality, where this incident leaves the possibility of peace negotiations between Israel and Syria is unclear. Is Israel waiting for the outcome from the March 2008 Arab League summit before considering any direct contact with the Syrian government? Will Israel agree to quietly renew its informal contacts with various SARG officials? (SARG is a State Department acronym for the Syrian Arab Republican Government)Keep a watch out for the planned NCF second-track conference on the subject this December.Mid-East Peace ConferenceNext November’s US sponsored Peace Conference on the Middle East is a strange beast. There has been no definite date set, no list of invitees, and certainly no detailed agenda decided. At this time, it appears hard to understand what the point of it all really is. A photo-op for Bush, a stalling-tactic for Israel, a sop to Ms Rice – these are just some of the explanations given for holding the meeting. Without either Syria or Hamas attending, the event will certainly be a damp squib.While Abbas and Olmert meet today in Jerusalem to discuss a possible agenda, none of the Arab countries are expecting much progress. Even Saudi Arabia has said it would not attend a conference unless key issues were agreed between Israel and Palestinians beforehand. If this conference goes ahead as planned, it is likely that the big loser will be Abu Mazen -- and why the US should want this as an outcome points to the continuing absence of any real understanding of Middle Eastern realities at the top levels of the USG. See this article
From Mehreen Saigol, NCF Syria Working Group co-ordinator.

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