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SYRIA

 
  
  

 

Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 21,517 21,900  19,500 67
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,160 1,130     1,040 130
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Syria

REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq.km)
185,180


Population
17,585,540

Capital
Damascus

Currency
 Syrian pound (SYP)

President 
Bashir al-Asad


Update No: 037 - (04/12/06)

Cui Bono?
The murder of the Lebanese minister of industry and heir of one of Lebanon's most important Christian political families Pierre Gemayel on November 21 has raised social and political tensions in Lebanon to an even more intense degree than the period immediately after the murder of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The murder took place just days after the Shiite and Hezbollah dominated opposition called for street demonstrations against the government, after the latest failure of national unity talks. The Sunni parties represented by prime minister Fouad Siniora fear losing power, the Shiites refuse to disarm and are still revelling in their 'victory' against Israel in last summer's war, while the Christian parties and Hezbollah arch-enemy Walid Jumblatt are regrouping to regain lost influence. All the while, Israel has a strategic interest in rendering Lebanon ungovernable, while Syria looks for ways to re-establish its own influence. In this context, however, most of the Western establishment has in knee-jerk fashion once again pointed the blame for the Gemayel murder on Syria (and Iran), just as it had in the Hariri case. Ostensibly, holds a mainstream view, Syria's interest in eliminating Gemayel was to hamper the establishment of an international court to investigate the Hariri murder and to regain influence in the country through its 'proxy' Hezbollah. However, while it cannot be excluded that there may have been Syrian involvement - it is unlikely that the Gemayel investigation will point to any good leads, considering the success rate of Lebanese investigations into other recent politically charged murder cases - Syrian participation seems unlikely if we consider a 'cui bono' (who benefits) logic. 

Syria, Iran and Iraq
In other words, why would Syria squander its growing position of strength, and influence when the United States, in a desperate need to find a solution for the Iraq quagmire, appears to be considering bringing Syria back in the game? In fact, though the White House still denies this officially, Bush will inevitably have to ask for Syrian (and Iranian) for help in getting out of Iraq; a prospect made even more likely by the fact that Syria and Iraq have re-established full diplomatic relations - on the very day that Gemayel was murdered no less. It is widely expected that the Bush appointed Iraq Study Group, led by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, shall recommend seeking the cooperation of Syria and Iran to help devise an effective exit strategy out of Iraq. The supreme leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei warned, just as the prospect of the US having to talk to Iran and Syria looms closer, that US troops must first leave Iraq if security is to be restored. President Ahmadinejad stressed Khamanei's 'advice' during a meeting with Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, calling for the US to withdraw its troops from Iraq. Meanwhile, from Jordan, King Abdullah warned that the Middle East - implying that Bush's policy in the Middle East over the past six years has done nothing but exacerbate tensions - faces the prospect of three civil wars: one in Lebanon, one in Iraq and one in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. King Abdullah made the statement just days before Bush's visit to Amman. At the meeting in Amman, Abdullah is expected to urge Bush (and Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki) to start talks with Syria, something that Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has also recommended. In a surprising turn, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert announced a ceasefire just days before Bush's visit. The ceasefire and other 'peace offerings' proposed by Olmert such as a Palestinian - Israeli prisoner exchange, however, may be ways to focus peace efforts on the Palestinian issue alone, pre-empting a need to include Syria in regional peace talks, which would necessarily involve the Golan. 

International Meddling in Lebanon
In other words, the Israeli strategy, likely discussed with Washington, may simply be a last attempt to prolong Syria's isolation and to avoid the talks that so many now consider inevitable. There is also the matter of Saudi Arabia and its growing concern over Iran and Shiite Islam's growing influence in the Middle East. If Saudi Arabia and Iran have improved relations in recent years, the sectarian strife in Iraq and its rising potential in Lebanon worry Riyadh. In that sense, where Lebanon is concerned, Saudi Arabia and the United States have a mutual interest in isolating Damascus. The Saudis have favoured the establishment of an international tribunal to look into the murder of Rafiq Hariri. Nevertheless, it was a joint Syrian and Saudi effort that led to the Ta'if agreements in 1990 that effectively ended the 15 year civil war in Lebanon, suggesting there is room for compromise between the two countries to revise the Lebanese power sharing arrangement in favour of Hezbollah.
If anything, the current Lebanese situation reaffirms the murky nature of Lebanese politics, where the influence of foreign powers is always lurking in the background. Therefore, even as Syria's enemies allege that Damascus ordered the murder of Pierre Gemayel, there are far too many potential competing interests to prove this to any degree of certainty, even the fact that Syria and its Hezbollah allies are once again denounced before public opinion - after gaining moral ground last summer - suggests Syria's involvement in the Gemayel murder is highly unlikely. Syria is no doubt concerned by the spread of what is by all indications a civil war in Iraq. Moreover, Syria fears that an Islamic regime may emerge in Iraq. This would inevitably have internal consequences, raising the hopes of their own fundamentalists, which have so far been repressed. Syria, therefore, also has a strong interest in stabilizing Iraq. Syria would, likewise, have much to fear from an imploding Lebanon. Should Hezbollah's energy be consumed in a civil war, Israel would be in a much better position to attack Lebanon again. 

Israel's Interests
The addition of the 'hawk' Avigdor Lieberman to the Israeli cabinet might prompt the Israeli army to seek to settle the score with Hezbollah in another round of fighting. Israel, as it had before it invaded Lebanon in 1982, would also be able to conduct a proxy war against Hezbollah by supporting Hezbollah enemies in Lebanon.This further suggests that, the Gemayel murder obstructs Syrian interests in Lebanon much more than it favours them….unless of course there are elements within the Syrian leadership that have an interest in confronting president Asad himself, which was also hypothesized as a motive behind the Hariri murder. There are also indications that the Israeli minister of defence, Amir Peretz, may become the first exceptional political victim of the failed war against Hezbollah. According to a poll by the daily Ma'Ariv, 80% of Israelis blame Peretz for having failed to lead the war in Lebanon as well as not having sufficient resolve to stop the launch of Qassam rockets from Gaza into Sderot. Lieberman's entry into the cabinet has come as an additional obstacle to Peretz, especially as the 'radical' government would be more likely to support an Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities (a' la 'Osirak), something Peretz may be unwilling to support. Moreover, Peretz has shown to be far more willing to consider negotiations with Syria to reach an agreement over the Golan. Peretz is known to entertain this notion, as he sees Golan talks as way to isolate Teheran, which has an alliance of shared interests and cooperation with Damascus that could be altered if one of the parties finds other avenues to achieve strategic goals. For the time being Syria has not been completely isolated. If France has indicated that there are no 'bases' yet to resume high level talks with Syria, aligning itself with Washington, Italy, which shall have the largest peacekeeping contingent in Lebanon (under UNIFIL), believes that Syria is a fundamental player in the Middle East that must be included in any talks. France and Italy, as well as Spain, have proposed a resumption of a comprehensive Middle East process that would involve an Israeli Palestinian ceasefire (partly applied already by Olmert), a prisoner exchange and an international conference on the Middle East that would necessarily include talks over the Golan.

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