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March 4, 2010 Special Dispatch No. 2846

Assad-Ahmadinejad-Nasrallah Summit Seen By Arab Resistance Media as 'War Council' in Anticipation of War Breaking Out 'Within a Few Months'

March 4, 2010
Syria, Lebanon, Iran | Special Dispatch No. 2846

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent meetings, during his visit to Syria, with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah, and representatives of the resistance were perceived mainly as coordination meetings for the resistance camp in preparation for a possible escalation in the region. This perception was based, inter alia, on statements by Ahmadinejad and Assad at a joint press conference, in which both condemned the U.S. and praised the resistance.[1]

Editorials in the London daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi and in the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to the Syrian regime, called the Ahmadinejad-Assad-Nasrallah summit a "war council" at which the three leaders formulated a plan of action and assigned tasks in preparation for an upcoming war (expected to break out in a few months, according to Ahmadinejad's assessment). The dailies also saw the summit as an attempt to create a "new equation" vis-à-vis Israel, in which Iran takes Egypt's place. They also speculated that Syria has turned to the Iranian option, and away from the American option, because the U.S. has not offered it sufficient incentive to distance itself from Iran, and, more importantly, has done nothing to help it win back the Golan Heights.

Following are excerpts from the editorials:

Al-Quds Al-Arabi: Assad-Ahmadinejad Summit – A "War Council"

Al-Quds Al-Arabi editor 'Abd Al-Bari 'Atwan wrote: "The [February 25] tripartite meeting in Damascus of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, his Iranian guest Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah, was a 'war council,' [at which the three] outlined future courses of action and assigned tasks and roles in case of an Israeli attack on one of the sides, or on all three at once...

"Also [noteworthy was] the expanded meeting between Ahmadinejad and the commanders of the Palestinian [resistance] factions... The timing [of this meeting], the manner in which it was held, and the press conference that followed it indicate that a strategic alliance is coalescing and a new front is forming, to serve as a spearhead against the U.S.-Israel alliance and the Arab governments that will join it, openly or covertly, should war break out. The Iranian president assessed that this war will break out... within a few months...

"We are witnessing a new language, an unprecedented [level of] confidence, and a readiness [to endorse] reactions the likes of which we have never seen – especially on the part of the Arab regimes – since [the adoption of] the peace option... embodied by the Arab peace initiative, which was carefully concocted in the American kitchen by expert chefs...

"It seems that the Syrian leadership has determined its position: It has decided to shut the door on America's cheap and pathetic attempts to court it, and [has resolved instead] to strengthen its strategic alliance with Iran. This was its clear response to the advice of U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who demanded that Syria distance itself from Iran, the regional troublemaker...

"It seems that the imminence of conflict [in the region] has prompted [Syria] to abandon the course of quiet diplomacy and half-open doors to [rapprochement with] the West, and to begin preparing for the possibility of 'the mother of all wars."[2]

Lebanese Al-Akhbar Daily: A New Equation vis-à-vis Israel, with Iran Replacing Egypt

Ibrahim Al-Amin, chairman of the board of the pro-Syrian Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, wrote that whoever thought Syria would be intimidated by the threats of war against it and would distance itself from Iran has been proven wrong, and that the Damascus summit was meant to create a new balance of power vis-à-vis Israel, in which Iran takes the place of Egypt: "The young [members of] the March 14 [Forces] were not the only ones who spoke of Syria's [alleged] intention to distance itself from Iran and from the resistance forces. In Saudi Arabia, Jordan, some European countries, and the U.S. State Department, there were also those who thought that [Syria would choose] this option.

"The basis for this [belief] was [their assessment] that Syria would be unable to withstand the threats of war against it, and that, faced with a choice between its own [survival] and its political position, the [Syrian] regime would quickly withdraw [from its alliance with Iran]...

"Then came the warnings: The Europeans conveyed direct threats from Israel and the U.S., to the effect that Syria would be a target [of attack] if it continued to transfer weapons to the resistance in Lebanon and Gaza, and that the continuation of its alliance with Iran would mean continued isolation and pressure [for Syria]... Influential circles in Tel Aviv, Washington, and other capitals thought that these threats would be enough to deter the opposite camp...

"[However, ultimately it was] Iran that conveyed a message to the U.S. and the West in general, and to Israel in particular – by means of Ahmadinejad's visit to Damascus – to the effect that it was willing to supply Syria with all the support in needed to withstand any war [launched] against it. The visit ended with an Iranian-Syrian summit attended by Nasrallah, and with the convening of the Iranian conference for supporting the Palestinian resistance. [The aim of the summit and the conference] was to create a new equation vis-à-vis Israel, the essence of which is that the resistance forces will no longer agree to any war waged according to [Israel's] perception...

"The notion that without Egypt the Arabs are unable to form a new equation for the conflict with Israel is no longer supported by reality. This is because Iran compensates for Egypt's absence, both politically and militarily...

"The future of the Arab-Israeli conflict thus no longer depends upon one of the dangerous deviations in Arab [history, namely] the Camp David [Accords]..."[3]

Al-Quds Al-Arabi: The U.S. Did Not Provide Syria with Sufficient Incentive to Distance Itself from Iran

'Abd Al-Bari 'Atwan mocked the incentives offered to Syria in attempt to persuade it to distance itself from Iran: "Syria cannot withdraw from its strategic alliance with Iran, which has endured for over 30 years. It would be no exaggeration to say that [Syria] never even considered this option, because the alternatives offered to it were ridiculous and humiliating. Mrs. Clinton, whose demand that Syria distance itself from Iran violated [all] diplomatic and moral standards, offered Syria nothing in return, except some hints that the U.S. might recall its ambassador to Damascus – as though Syria cannot live without an American ambassador... What has Washington offered Syria in return for its moderate [policy]? Has it given it back the Golan? Has it [permitted] investments [in Syria]... or removed it from the list of terrorist states?..."[4]

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Muhammad Sadeq Al-Diyyab stated that the U.S. demand that Syria distance itself from Iran without any suitable compensation, "[such as] a serious vision for solving some of Syria's problems, first and foremost the Golan Heights... [means] that the U.S. wants Syria to sacrifice several of its relationships for free...

"Syria cannot not be expected to be satisfied... with being seen as having the proximity or distance [in its relationships] forced on it by others... The U.S. – which is seen to be damaged by this [Syria-Iran] relationship – needs to look at its accounts, its policy, and its political discourse, and to distance itself from dictating, issuing orders, and forcing its will on others. The world has changed, and the time has come for the U.S. to listen to the Arabs' just demands."[5]

Saudi Columnist: The Iran-Syria Alliance is Long-Standing and Ideological

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Hamid Al-Majd wrote that foundation of the years-long Iran-Syria alliance is ideology – despite their obvious differences in ethnic origin and in their connection to the religion. He emphasized that Iran has military capability and influence, unlike the Sunni Arab world, which is rife with internal disputes: "...Some observers do not understand that... the Iran-Syria relationship is not like the Libya-Chad relationship, which waxes and wanes in accordance with the political atmosphere and individual mood. The [Iran-Syria] relationship is an example of the importance of 'ideological affiliation' in the deepening and stability of alliances in spite of the changes and calamities wrought by time.

"Many observers, in a superficial view, pinned their hopes on the certain collapse of the Iran-Syria alliance after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, or at the very least on its gradual weakening. Their view relied on [the fact that] Saddam was the bitter enemy of both countries... But the days that followed the fall of the Saddam regime proved that this alliance was long-term and deeply rooted, not transient...

"The Syria-Iran relationship developed on the economic and cultural levels, [and] was translated into several trade and cultural agreements... even though the Syrian regime is pure Ba'thist, 'not religious,' and a clear contradiction to the Iranian regime. [Likewise], the Syrians are Arabs, and their Iranian colleagues are Persians. Ultimately, ideological ties are the strongest and most stable – and this is what several Arab and Western commentators fail to comprehend.

"Facing this powerful alliance is the Sunni world, constituting the vast majority of the Muslim world – and most of which is not useful at all, because the Muslim world has no country that compares to Iran in ideological influence or in military [might]... Time has proven that the Iranians have a tremendous ability to plan and to influence. Iran, in its shrewdness, has successfully mocked and rejected the West with its 'evasion' on its nuclear capability, which it will ultimately use to strengthen its ideological influence – while some governments in the Sunni world are still struggling with their electorate [within their countries, in an attempt] to prove that they have disengaged their Islamic affiliation. [These countries'] identity has been lost – drowned in the disagreements that have caused their failure... [allowing] Iran and those around it to be the main players."[6]

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Editor: Assad's Contempt for Clinton Contradicts Syria's Previous Statements

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat editor Tariq Alhomayed wrote: "Whilst U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that her country has asked the Syrians to distance themselves from Iran, the Syrian president [welcomed] his Iranian counterpart to Damascus, celebrating the occasion of Mawlid [the birth of the Prophet Mohammed]. [The two presidents] signed an agreement to cancel [the need for] travel visas between the two countries. Was this [a case of] Syria challenging the U.S. – or just public embarrassment [for the U.S.] in response to Secretary Clinton embarrassing Damascus, especially as Assad's comments about Clinton were clearly sarcastic…

"But if Damascus is the one that determines how things go, and believes that its interest lies in consolidating its ties with Tehran, then why is Syria openly asking the Americans to intervene in negotiations with Israel[?]... If Damascus agrees with Ahmadinejad… that the 'Zionist entity is on its way to disappearing,' and 'will be confronted by all nations in the region, especially Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq,' then why is Syria cooperating with the Americans on security issues and with acknowledgement from Washington, as the number of foreign [jihad] fighters heading to Iraq [via its borders] has decreased?…

"...If the Syrians want to normalize relations with the U.S. and want the U.S. to mediate between Syria and Israel, then how can they fight on Ahmadinejad's side and agree with him on eliminating Israel?... If the idea of Syria negotiating with Israel is accepted by Iran, then why does Tehran denounce others as traitors?...

"...[W]ho is deceiving whom? There is something not right about the Damascus-Tehran relationship today. The loud voice suggests that one side is nervous whilst the other is portraying something contrary to what is on the inside. Let us wait and see!"[7]

Endnotes:

[1] About the Assad-Ahmadinejad summit, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 2829, "At Damascus Summit, Ahmadinejad and Assad Attack U.S. and Israel; Ahmadinejad: Israel's Elimination is Near; Assad: The Resistance Is Winning," February 26, 2010, At Damascus Summit, Ahmadinejad and Assad Attack U.S. and Israel; Ahmadinejad: Israel's Elimination is Near; Assad: The Resistance Is Winning.

[2] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), February 27-8, 2010.

[3] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), March 1, 2010.

[4] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), February 27-28, 2010.

[5] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 1, 2010.

[6] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 27, 2010.

[7] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 27, 2010

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