22 July 2009

* Regional trend: Israeli-Syrian normalization

The Israeli-Syrian negotiations are unlikely to gain much traction in the coming quarter. The Israeli government is too fractured to form a coherent policy on the issue and will focus its attention on the Iranian threat while it has an opportunity to nudge the United States into taking a harder line on Tehran. Before Israel commits to any negotiations with Syria, it will first want to see what comes out of Syria's diplomatic engagements with Washington and Riyadh.

Syria will have its hands full in the coming quarter. Damascus laid the intelligence groundwork last quarter to reassert its influence in the newly-elected Lebanese government. The Syrian regime created a diplomatic opportunity from Lebanon's elections by carefully balancing its support between the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition and the Western- and Saudi-backed March 14 coalition. Syria does not mind if Hezbollah is limited to being in opposition. In fact, it gives Syria a chip it can use with Washington and Riyadh: that Damascus deserves hegemony in Lebanon since it can demonstrate Hezbollah's (and by extension Iran's) political containment.

Saudi Arabia and the United States are cautiously pleased with how Syria handled the Lebanese elections and will send their ambassadors back to Syria in the next quarter to give Damascus the diplomatic recognition it so earnestly seeks. Syria conducts such negotiations in piecemeal fashion, however, and will resist pressure to make any definitive moves, such as
breaking publicly with Iran and Hezbollah. Syria's slow-going rapprochement with Saudi Arabia and the United States will nonetheless add a great deal of strain to Syria's already rocky relationships with Tehran and Hezbollah.


No comments:

Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.