Thursday, March 31, 2011

The baby dictator prepares for a long battle

From JPost, 31 March 2011, by JONATHAN SPYER:

Assad wants to keep his job - his speech indicated he will use all the violence and subterfuge he deems necessary to do.

President Bashar al-Assad’s speech to the Syrian parliament was noteworthy more for what the Syrian dictator did not say than for what he did.

Remarks by Assad aides to the media in the last days had raised expectations that Assad might try to defuse protests by offering a series of concessions. In particular, the possibility of a lifting of emergency laws in place in Syria since 1963 had been hinted at by senior adviser Bouthaina Shaaban.

No such commitments were forthcoming from the Syrian president. The brief address was an announcement by the regime of its determination to stand its ground. It reflected a belief on the part of Assad that to appear to waver at this moment might prove costly. He apparently believes that his regime is sufficiently strong to be able to wear down the protesters without seeking to compromise with their demands.

Instead of wavering, he chose to reiterate the core elements of his regime’s by-now-familiar take on current events in Syria and the wider region.

Since the outbreak of the unrest, the official information channels of the Syrian regime have maintained that an Israeli plot is responsible for the protests. Sana news agency has claimed to have identified mysterious “armed gangs” seeking to commit acts of violence against civilians. The Syrian media has also cited SMS messages coming from Israel that encourage Syrians to take part in the revolt.

Assad’s speech followed and developed this line.

“Plots are being hatched against our country,” he told the assembled parliament members. “Saboteurs are trying to undermine and divide Syria, and to push an Israeli agenda.”

Assad likened the current events to the situation in 2005. In that year, a popular uprising in Beirut and the presence of US forces in Baghdad forced Syria to end its 15-year occupation of Lebanon. The regime faced a Kurdish uprising in the same period.

“Similar to 2005,” the Syrian president told his parliament, “there is chaos in the country under the pretext of reform, especially among sects.”

The reference to sects is perhaps evidence of Assad’s sense of irony, since his own regime rests on the support of the minority Alawi sect, who comprise 12% of the population.

The protesters, meanwhile, hail overwhelmingly from Syria’s 75% Sunni Muslim majority.

But Assad’s irony is no laughing matter. This reference, and the remark about an attempt to “divide” Syria, signal that the regime is accusing the protesters of two of the cardinal sins in the professed Arab nationalist viewpoint of the Baathist regime in Syria.

It matters little whether Assad himself takes seriously his own rhetoric. The point is that this type of terminology has the sound of a regime preparing for a long and ruthless fight against an internal enemy which it is seeking to characterize in the most negative terms at its disposal.

The reference to 2005 is instructive in another way. In that year, the Syrian regime was on the ropes, with some commentators predicting its imminent demise. By citing it, Assad is also reminding his listeners and the world of his staying power. By its favored methods of clandestine violence and intimidation, the Assad family dictatorship bounced back hard from the doldrums in the subsequent years. Bashar believes it can do so again.

Hence the tone of defiance that summed up the speech.

Here the dictator’s feline sense of humor was on display again. “We don’t seek battles,” said Bashar (an assertion which would come as news to the peoples of Israel, Lebanon and Iraq, frequent targets of the myriad proxy military groups maintained by the Syrian regime).

“But if a battle is imposed on us today – ahlan wasahlan – welcome.” Syria would fight the “domino project,” and make it fall.

So there it all was. Israeli plots, domino projects for fragmentation and division.

Armed gangs, chaos, and a welcoming of the battle by the Syrian dictator, casting himself in the nationalist-tragic mode which is the style of stifling rhetoric that he and other regional leaders of his stripe prefer. All by way of a not-soveiled threat.

This time against his own people.

This was the authentic voice of the Arab old order – or at least the military dictatorial part of it. Intoning its old certainties.

No mention of reform or change. “Stability” said Assad, was the number one interest.

The response was swift in coming, and suitably irreverent.

The Facebook page “Syrian Revolution 2011 against Bashar Assad,” a few minutes after the speech, carried a message beginning with the ringing call, “To the public squares, youth of Syria – grab freedom from these clowns, go down now to the streets.”

But if anyone among the Syrian opposition or elsewhere was still under the impression that the Assad family dictatorship would consent quietly to reforming itself out of existence, Wednesday’s speech should be sufficient to put them right.

Bashar Assad wants to keep his job. All the familiar and wearying clichés were on offer, beneath which he will prepare the violence and subterfuge he deems necessary to ensure his survival.

U.S. leaders should not excuse the brutality of Syria’s dictator

From NRO, March 30, 2011, by Claudia Rosett, journalist-in-residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and heads of its Investigative Reporting Project:

If Pres. Barack Obama prefers not to intervene on behalf of the protesters being slaughtered in Syria, the least his administration could do is refrain from endorsing their tyrant.

In Obama’s speech Monday night about America’s interest in defending Libyans and standing alongside other freedom-seekers of the Arab world, Syria didn’t even rate a mention. That discussion was handled Sunday in remarks by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation. Not only did Clinton nix any thoughts of action on Syria, she ran interference for Syria’s murderous president, Bashar Assad, saying: “Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.”

Such deference to U.S. lawmakers was absent from Obama’s decision to go to war in Libya; the president sought a resolution from the United Nations, but not from Congress. But if Congress is now back in the loop, with some members singing the praises of Assad, clearly the State Department needs to do a much better job of briefing them on the realities.

Clinton could start by highlighting the findings of her own department’s annual reports on human rights in Syria. These reports go far to explain why, after 40 years of the Assad family’s totalitarian rule, Syrians are so unhappy with this regime that tens of thousands of them have been risking prison, torture, and death in order to burn offices of the ruling Baath party, topple a statue of the late Hafez Assad, and march through the streets of cities across Syria, demanding freedom from the current Assad. The most recent State Department report, dated 2009, does not include the current season of shooting protesters. But it covers more than enough to convey the general idea.

The report begins with the observation that during 2009, the government and members of its security forces “committed numerous serious human rights abuses, and the human rights situation worsened.” Then come accounts of “arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life” and “enforced disappearances” that go back to the vanishing of “an estimated 17,000 persons in the late 1970s and early 1980s.” Those numbers, which look like a conservative estimate, presumably include the regime’s 1982 massacre in the city of Hama, which was how the elder Assad dispatched an uprising of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hillary Clinton, in her remarks Sunday, dismissed that mass murder with the comment, “There is a different leader in Syria now.”

Yes, but since the younger Assad took over in 2000, the reign of terror, reinforced by the echoes of Hama, has carried on. The State Department report lists a slew of “suspicious” deaths, disappearances, and arrests in 2009 alone, for offenses such as “degrading speech” or “insulting the president and the judicial system.” The Syrian government, with its long record of allegedly “disappearing” individuals, offered no legal redress and “did not investigate or punish any security force members for their role in disappearances.”

There is a description of the methods of torture and abuse inflicted on the inmates of Syria’s filthy and crowded prisons. Among these are: “electrical shocks; pulling out fingernails; burning genitalia; forcing objects into the rectum; beating, sometimes while the victim was suspended from the ceiling; other times on the soles of the feet.” (I heard a first-person account of this technique some years ago from a survivor of Syria’s prisons, who showed me the horrible scars.) In a 21st-century reprise of the medieval rack and wheel, other methods include “hyperextending the spine; bending the detainees into the frame of a wheel and whipping exposed body parts; . . . [and] using a backward-bending chair to asphyxiate the victim or fracture the victim’s spine.”

This report goes on to enumerate other forms of agony, insult, theft, and repression inflicted by the Assad regime on the 21 million people of Syria. Corruption is rampant. Assad’s Baath Party keeps its monopoly on power by prohibiting criticism of the government and violating its own constitution in order to severely restrict such rights as freedom of assembly. A permit can be required for a gathering of more than three people. There is brutal censorship. Among the cases cited in this report is that of a blogger who was sentenced to three years in prison for “publishing information aimed at weakening national morale.”

For a source other than the State Department, consult the Washington-based Freedom House. The organization puts out a handy report on “The World’s Most Repressive Societies”; in 2010, Syria ranked, as usual, among these “Worst of the Worst.” Freedom House also puts out a country report on Syria. The 2010 version includes an illuminating note about the regime’s practice of rewarding or coercing Syrians into informing on their own relatives, friends, and associates.

This is the regime that Syrians, with incredible courage, are now daring to defy. Assad is shuffling his cabinet and promising concessions he says will “please all the Syrian people.” But it’s a sure bet his security forces will be standing by, just in case the people aren’t pleased enough to stop protesting. One can see what Assad means by “please all the Syrian people” by looking at Syria’s 2007 elections, in which Assad officially produced a voter turnout of 96 percent and won 98 percent of the vote.

Along with all this, Assad’s Syria is a threat to the U.S. and its democratic allies — notably Israel. Its officials welcome terrorists and sanctions-busting weapons traffic, and Syria has amassed its own considerable arsenal of missiles and chemical weapons. It is one of four countries currently on the State Department’s list of terror-sponsoring states, a list it has helped populate since 1979. Under Assad, Syria hosts an array of terrorist groups, including leaders of Hamas, which controls Gaza.

Syria’s regime is a bedfellow of the terror-sponsoring, nuclear-bomb-seeking mullocracy in neighboring Iran. The country supports and abets the flow of weapons to the terrorists of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorist group that now controls the government of neighboring Lebanon — which Syria occupied from 1976 to 2005. Not only is Syria a longtime missile client of North Korea’s, but under Bashar Assad, Syria became an enterprising nuclear client as well, building a secret reactor with North Korean help (it was destroyed by an Israeli air strike in 2007) and displaying a continuing and alarming interest in nuclear development to this day.

Calling Bashar Assad a “reformer” might satisfy the likes of the United Nations Human Rights Council, where — with Libya only recently suspended — Syria has now brazenly entered the running for a seat. For the U.S. State Department, which, along with those giddy congressional delegations, has been trying to “engage” Assad, it may look like reform when Assad grants them an audience, or Assad’s wife trots out her French designer handbag for an interview with Vogue. Or perhaps Obama and Clinton consider it simplest to try to dismiss Syria’s protests in whatever way might most seem to favor continuing attempts at “engagement” with the Damascus regime.

If it was right for America to intervene in Libya to protect people trying to rid themselves of a bloody tyrant, there can be no excuse for American officials’ doing anything that might help or encourage Assad in his efforts to hold on to power. The long and ugly record of Assad’s regime suggests that he will try to crush this uprising by jailing, torturing, and killing as many protesters as he needs to. Obama may be chiefly concerned with trying to avoid another military intervention in the Middle East. But with his administration praising Assad and signaling that Syria’s regime is exempt from the kind of punishment now descending on Qaddafi, Obama risks ending up with a lot of blood on his hands.

Egypt Minister Proposes Opening ‘New Page’ With Iran

The bad guys include Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas...then Lebanon, Turkey EGYPT TOO???

From Bloomberg, Mar 30, 2011, by Mariam Fam:

Egypt is ready to “open a new page” with Iran, with which it hasn’t had full diplomatic relations since 1979, Foreign Minister Nabil el-Arabi said, according to the state-run Middle East News Agency.

“The Egyptian government doesn’t consider Iran to be an enemy state,” MENA cited el-Arabi as saying. “We’re opening a new page with all countries, including Iran.”
...Egypt has accused Iran in the past of using proxy groups such as the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement to increase its influence in the Middle East. The two countries haven’t had full diplomatic relations since 1979, when former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat gave refuge to the deposed Iranian shah, Reza Pahlavi.

ALL South Koreans study Talmud

From Ynet (Hebrew version), 24 March 2011, translated by The Muqata, 27 March 2011, by Jameel:

Close to 50 million people live in South Korea, and almost everyone is taught the Talmud at home by their parents.

"We tried to understand why the Jews are geniuses, and we came to the conclusion that we think it is because they study Talmud," said the Korean ambassador to Israel, Mr. Young Sam Ma. And this is how "Rav Papa" became a more well known scholar in Korea than in Israel.
A Talmud translated into Korean, courtesy of the South Korean Embassy to Israel.

Almost every home in South Korea now contains a Korean-translated Talmud. But unlike in Israel, the Korean mothers teach the Talmud to their children. In a country of close to 49 million people who believe in Buddhism and Christianity, there are more people who read the Talmud - or at least own their own copy at home - more than in the Jewish state. Much more.

It is doubtful if the Amoraic scholars, Abbaye and Rava imagined their discussions of Jewish law in the Beit Midrash in Babylon would be taught hundreds of years later in East Asia. Yet it turns out that the laws of an "egg born on a holiday" ("ביצה שנולדה ביום טוב") is actually very interesting to the South Koreans ...
"So we too will become geniuses"
"We were very curious about the high academic achievements of the Jewish people”, explains Korean Ambassador to Israel, Mr. Young Sam Ma, who was hosted on the channel 1 TV programme “Culture Today”.
"Jews have a high percentage of Nobel laureates in all fields: literature, science and economics. This is a remarkable achievement. We tried to understand what is the secret of the Jewish people? How they - more than other people - are able to reach those impressive accomplishments? Why are Jews so intelligent? In our opinion, one of your secrets is that you study the Talmud”.
"Jews study the Talmud at a young age, and it helps them, in our opinion, to develop mental capabilities. This understanding led us to teach our children as well. We believe that if we teach our children Talmud, they will also become geniuses. ..."
Ambassador Ma says the he himself studied the Talmud at a very young age: ...“I, for example, have two editions of Talmud: one my wife bought and the other I got from my mother in law”....
Koreans don't only like the Talmud because they see it as promoting genius, but because they found values that are ​​close to their hearts.

"In the Jewish tradition, family values ​​are important," explains the South Korean Ambassador. "You see it even today, your practice of the Friday evening family meal. In my country we also focus on family values. The respect for adults, respect and appreciation for the elderly parallels the high esteem in my country for the elderly."
Another very significant issue is the respect for education. In the Jewish tradition parents have a duty to teach their children, and they devote to it lots of attention. For Korean parents, their children's education is a top priority. 

Hamas is to blame for Palestinian misery

From an interview of IDF spokesman Captain Avichai Adraee on Al Jazeera, 24 October 2009, but freshl;y relevant now:

(In Arabic with English subtitles)
"...if they store weapons in a civilain house then we will strike it because otherwise they'll use those missiles against us."

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Jordan Facing Violent Demonstrations, Demands for Change

From Arutz Sheva, 28 March 2011, by Chana Ya'ar:

Jordan is facing violent demonstrations and political protests that have the potential to destabilize the country...On Sunday, the Jordanian parliament voted to make sure there would be no legislative challenge to the king's authority.

...A demonstration in Amman last Friday by the grassroots “March 24 Youth” activist group demanded the government dissolve the lower house of the parliament and reform the constitution...But the rally ended in violence as supporters of King Abdullah II hurled rocks at the demonstrators. At least 30 were injured. Meanwhile, some 10,000 demonstrators rallied in support of the king in a parallel protest.

The violence was followed by the resignations of 21 of the 53 members of the National Dialogue Committee established by King Abdullah II to sooth tensions in the kingdom. Reformist protesters also blamed the government for allowing the king's supporters to beat them.

Three Islamist members who were appointed to the new committee refused to participate in deliberations over amendments to the Elections Law and Political Parties Law, unless constitutional amendments were on the agenda as well.

The committee did not bend to the will of the Islamists, and in general, the government has thus far ignored most demands for reforms with the exception of reshuffling the cabinet, and creating the new committee.

However, Jordanian journalists are reporting that tensions are rising in the Hashemite Kingdom.

“Concern is no longer the correct description for the situation we are going through over the past days. There is a sense that the situation may explode at any moment,” wrote Fahed Al-Khitan, political columnist in the Al-Arab Al-Yawm.

Jordan, located on Israel's eastern-most border, was the second Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with the Jewish State and has long been a partner with Israel in numerous business, scientific and other regional projects.

Abbas prefers Hamas to the US

From JPOST.COM, 28 March 2011, by STAFF*:

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is willing to give up hundreds of millions of dollars of US aid if that is what is necessary to forge a reconciliation deal with Hamas, the Associated Press quoted his adviser as saying on Monday.

...According to official Palestinian Authority news agency WAFA, Abbas also requested that the Palestinian Liberation Organization's (PLO) Executive Committee convene the body's Constitution Committee as quickly as possible, either in Amman or Cairo, in order to begin drafting amendments to the organization's charter.

...Since 2005, the committee has not successfully drafted amendments to the PLO charter, and has not convened since Hamas was elected to power in 2006.

Over the weekend, Abbas met with a Hamas delegation from the West Bank in Ramallah to discuss ways of ending the dispute between his Fatah faction and the Islamist movement. It was the first such meeting in more than a year.

... While some [Hamas leaders] have welcomed it, others have announced that Abbas was unwelcome in the Gaza Strip.

Abbas briefed the Hamas officials on his initiative, saying it was aimed at discussing the formation of a new government that consists of independent figures to prepare for presidential and legislative elections, and rebuild the Gaza Strip.

Hours after the meeting, a senior government official said that Israel will stop dealing with the Palestinian Authority if it brings Hamas into the government.

“Abbas has to choose whether he wants peace with Israel, or peace with Hamas,” the official said. “He can’t have both. If he chooses peace with Hamas it will bury the peace process.”
*Khaled Abu Toameh and Herb Keinon contributed to this report.