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Reloaded

Thursday, May 12, 2005

There's a new design. There will be regular updates again.

Have a look here. Let me know what you think. Let me know when something looks strange. I didn't test the new design on a Mac yet.

On the homepage (weblog) I will write in English and Dutch. The user will be able to set a preference: to display only texts in English, only in Dutch, or both. My choice to write a text in either English or Dutch will depend on the subject - I will probably not publish the same text in both languages.

No, this (and other things) doesn't work yet. The design is almost ready - but I've still got a few things to do. Mainly the installation of WordPress and the integration of WordPress in my site.

More soon.

Will the U.S. keep up the pressure on Syria?

Monday, 14 April, 2003 @ 23:53 | link

A few years ago, in a discussion with friends and colleagues, I voiced the thought that I would support a system of U.N. weapons inspectors when they would monitor not only Iraq, but all the states that are not indirectly involved in the major Middle East conflicts - Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Egypt - and the Palestinian Authority. In practice, the U.S. would probably veto such a proposal because of the inclusion of Israel on this list. And when Israel would be exempted from inspections, Syria would never allow inspectors inside its borders.

Today, the U.S. has started complaining about Syria's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction. Judging from the statements made by some of the most senior U.S. government officials - president Bush, Powell, Rumsfeld and Bolton, to name a few - the U.S. government seems to prepare the world for some kind of action against Syria. That is not a surprise. Senator Bob Graham (D), as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, visited the Middle East last year, and has since then been urging his government to put diplomatic pressure on Syria and Lebanon to diminish the perceived threat of Hezbollah. Graham even suggested airstrikes against alleged "terrorist" training camps in the Lebanese Bekaa valley.

Which motivations does the U.S. say it has for putting pressure on Syria? In short: Syria's support for the Lebanese movement Hezbollah, Syria's support for various Palestinian factions that have their headquarters in Damascus, Syria's alleged possession of chemical and maybe biological weapons, and Syria's alleged hosting of Iraqi officials.

  1. Syria has some influence over the Lebanese movement Hezbollah. It most likely cannot dictate Hezbollah's actions: that would require a much stronger military presence in Lebanon than it has now. Moreover, trying to strengthen its grip on Hezbollah would create a conflict with Iran, the other state with some influence over Hezbollah.
  2. The Palestinian factions Syria has some control over don't play a major role anymore in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Yasser Arafat and his Fatah movement have not had good relationships with Syria for more than twenty years. Hamas gets most of its support from Saudi Arabia, not from Syria. (The Syrian leadership isn't too fond of organizations related to the Muslim Brotherhood, for reasons of protecting their own grip to power.) The many small Palestinian factions that are headquartered in Syria, don't do much more than quibble some about the control over a few Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Think "Life of Brian" to get the idea. ("We're the People's Front of Judea!")
  3. Syria probably has chemical and maybe even biological weapons. If they exist, they are probably being considered (by Syria) as being a counterbalance for Israel's nuclear weapons. Israel is occupying the Syrian Golan Heights since 1967, and Syria wants Israel to stop this occupation. Water sources are probably the stumbling block there. Israel wants to keep the Golan for access to those sources.
  4. Probably Syria is allowing some lower Iraqi officials to find refuge in Syria. But I cannot imagine that it would be so stupid to welcome those high Iraqi officials the U.S. is looking for. Why would it? Syria is certainly not looking for American pressure...

I don't expect the U.S. to act militarily against Syria any time soon. It would open a Pandora's box. Syria's army is strong. The situation could very well escalate via Lebanon/Hezbollah: the chance that Israel would become involved is high. Probably the Syrian intelligence chief in Beirut has already passed the message to the Hezbollah leadership that they should refrain from making too much noise for a while, so as not to provoke the U.S.

But suppose the U.S. continues to put pressure on Syria in the coming weeks. What are they aiming for? Is the U.S. slowly preparing the world for an initiative to get the U.N. Security Council to issue a resolution demanding Syria to disarm itself and Hezbollah? That seems to be too ironic to believe. What kind of pressure can the U.S. put on Syria, if not military? Am I underestimating the U.S. government? Am I overestimating the U.S. government?

 
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