by Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya
Global Research, July 12, 2007
“Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.” (Ernest Hemingway)
Despite the discussions of détente in the Middle East, the peril of war is still a real menace that threatens to proliferate globally. The dialogue taking place between the U.S., the E.U., Russia, Syria, and Iran seems to be merely a transient point in the timeline of the Middle East and Central Asia. The ongoing international discussions focused on the Middle East are part of an instant in time and history that will come to pass. Attached to these discussions are the fate of the Middle East, or so it may seem. With certainty, only time will tell what will unfold in the Middle East and become recorded in the annals of history.
A deeper look must be taken at the evolving domestic conditions within the “American Homeland” and at the wave of events that are unfolding in the Palestinian Territories, Israel, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, the Persian Gulf, the former Soviet Union, and Iran.
There have been reports and chatter about war between Israel and Syria and a “Summer War” that could breakout in the Levant with the initiation of Israeli strikes in the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon. The summer-months of 2007 may see international tensions rise, but witness no regional war that could potentially spread in the Middle East and beyond.
America Genuinely Engaging Iran and Syria?
“Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region [meaning the Middle East] in the face of extremist challenges. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria.”
-George W. Bush Jr., 43rd President of the United States (January 10, 2007 Speech on “New Iraq Policy”)
It can be argued that the U.S. and Britain, the Anglo-American alliance, have had their hands tied up in the quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan. France and Germany, the Franco-German entente, have also become further involved, as active partners, in Anglo-American foreign policy objectives. The White House has now reversed its policy of trying to isolate Iran and Syria and is trying to publicly engage both. Or so it seems at first glance. Is there substance behind these international developments or are these events merely part of the diplomatic waltz before a potential hail storm starts?
Javier Solana, the Foreign Policy and Security Chief of the E.U., has called on the U.S. to open a direct “channel of communication” with Tehran for negotiations after discussions with Dr. Ali Larijani, the Secretary-General of the Supreme Security Council of Iran. It was after the late-April 2007 discussions held in Ankara between the two individuals that Javier Solana publicly called on the White House to engage Tehran.  White House National Security Spokesman Gordon Johndroe responded directly to Javier Solana’s call by indicating that the U.S. government was ready to hold talks with Iran.  The White House also made it clear that U.S. officials were willing to engage in high-level talks with Iran and Syria during the international conference on Iraq in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Condoleezza Rice, the Syrian Foreign Minister, and the Iranian Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, all attended the international summit discussing Iraq. [3
Iranian officials also highlighted that without the attendance of Iran at the International Compact for Iraq or Sharm el-Sheikh Summit that the U.S. government would not be able to rescue itself from the quagmire and bloodbath it has created in Iraq.  Syrian officials have likewise highlighted the significance of Syria in regards to Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine.
Prior and subsequent to the meetings in Egypt a whole set of notable and closed door discussions have taken place across the Middle East and beyond involving energy, security, geo-political, and defensive precautions. The winds of war are blowing and the thought of war is constantly reeking in the air. Alliances are being broken, made, and formed as the whole Middle East is shifting and waiting to see if some form of a conflict or another will brake out. Lines are being drawn and redrawn in the sand across the Middle East.
Damascus has started consultations with Ankara and Baku
Syria has been the object of American and E.U. diplomatic pressure and visits.  Aside from the visits of E.U. and U.S. officials to Syria, the most notable visits to Damascus have come from Turkey and the Republic of Azerbaijan in the first half of 2007.
The Turkish Prime Minister visited Damascus in April of 2007 where he discussed bilateral relations on trade, security, economics, and energy with Syria. Prior to the Turkish Prime Minister’s visit, military cooperation was also discussed between the Syrian Defence Minister and the Commander of the Turkish Air Force. 
The Foreign Minister of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Elmar Mammadyarov, also met with Syrian officials, including the Syrian President in April of 2007. Baku and Damascus have been discussing economic cooperation and joint projects.  Energy has been part of the discussions between Damascus and Baku. The Republic of Azerbaijan also announced during the visit of Elmar Mammadyarov to Syria in April of 2007 that Baku subsequently intended to establish an embassy in the Syrian capital.  The Republic of Azerbaijan is establishing an embassy in Syria as a direct result of the economic cooperation and joint projects that have been discussed between Damascus and Baku.
Prior to the meeting of Condoleezza Rice and the Syrian Foreign Minister in Egypt, U.S. officials and military commanders, including General David Petraeus, stated that there were “indications that Syria may be acting to restrict the ability of foreign fighters to cross [the Syrian] border into Iraq.”  It should be noted that such statements by General Petraeus and U.S. officials were made after the initiation of negotiations between Damascus, Ankara, and Baku. On one level, it could have been these negotiations that opened the door for further discussions between the U.S. and Syrian governments and the easing of U.S. accusations against Syria.
The Consultations between Damascus and Baku have included Lebanon
The Foreign Minister of the Republic of Azerbaijan was also in Lebanon for meetings with all the representatives of the Lebanese political establishment. Baku also signed economic agreements with Lebanon, in addition to the economic agreements signed with Syria.  The agreements with Lebanon are supplementary to those with Syria.
The Republic of Azerbaijan’s Special Envoy to Syria and Lebanon and Foreign Minister Mammadyarov both held talks with Lebanese leaders from both the governing and opposing camps of the Lebanese political environment. The Lebanese President, the Lebanese Prime Minister, and the Lebanese Speaker of Parliament were all consulted by Baku. Directly or indirectly Amal, Hezbollah, the Hariri-led Future Movement, the Free Patriotic Movement, and other Lebanese political parties were all consulted by Baku. In most cases, no major decisions can be made and fully implemented in Lebanon without the approval of both the governing and opposing political parties in Lebanon.
What these agreements between Baku, Damascus, Ankara, and Beirut could mean is that Syria and Lebanon are conceivably allowing the establishment of an energy corridor on their borders. This energy corridor could link and operate between Israel, Turkey and the entire Eastern Mediterranean in some form of an energy grid and arc.
The Syrian Factor: Establishment of a “Levantine Energy Corridor?”
Turkey and Syria are both involved in a project that is supposed to bring Egyptian natural gas to Turkey, which could potentially involve cooperation with Israel and the establishment of an energy corridor on the coastline of the Eastern Mediterranean.  According to the public layout of the official plan, the gas pipeline is to bypass Israel through Jordan. There seems to be a premeditated argument between the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and Egypt over the gas project that has resulted in an examination of having several pipelines and routes.
Israel is heavily involved in Egyptian natural gas projects. On June 30, 2005, Egypt and Israel signed a preliminary joint agreement in Cairo that was valued at $2.5 billion (U.S.). The gas deal was signed and called for a 15-year allocation of gas to be sent to Israel from Egypt. The Israeli-Egyptian gas deal went unnoticed and was barely reported in the state-controlled Egyptian media.  The Israeli–Egyptian natural gas deal was initially set to ensure the delivery of Egyptian natural gas to the Israeli port of Ashkelon via undersea pipelines. 
It is apparent that infrastructure is being developed to connect the whole Eastern Mediterranean within a single energy arc or some form of energy corridor. Israel could easily integrate itself in this network and even seems like it could be the focal point of the energy projects in the Levant and the Eastern Mediterranean. A parallel branch of the Egyptian gas pipeline will also go through Lebanon vis-à-vis Syria and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  Turkey could easily directly enter the project, should Ankara wish to enter the energy project and move away from its dependency on Iranian gas reserves or any energy dependency on Russia.
Is Syria the Linchpin of an Energy Arc in the Eastern Mediterranean involving Israel?
Many diversions are at play in the Levant and the entire Middle East. In tandem, it also seems that Israeli-Syrian negations were throbbing to be restarted during the same timeline as energy discussions with Ankara, Baku, and Cairo.  Clearly, the E.U. and U.S. representatives that visited Damascus also represented Israeli interests and energy interests.  Israel is taking a two-pronged approach in regards to Syria; the Israeli government is talking about both war and peace in chorus.
Iran has also been playing an elusive role through backdoor negations in the ongoing developments in the Eastern Mediterranean. During the same timeline as the talks between Damascus, Ankara, and Baku, the Iranian Foreign Minister made an unannounced visit to Syria and another to Turkey.  Turkey is dependent on Iran for a great deal of its economic and energy needs.
Russia is also involved in the geo-strategically important projects and developments in the Eastern Mediterranean. In Syria alone the Russians are involved in three energy projects. Syria and Russia have also signed a gas deal worth 160 million euros.  One of these projects is the construction of the Syrian segment of the Egypt-Jordan-Syria gas pipeline.  The Syria Gas Company (SGC) and Stroytransgaz (a subsidiary of Russia’s Gazprom) will also jointly work on developing Syrian gas reserves discovered in the fields of the governorate of Homs. 
Syria is a vital piece towards creating an energy arc or corridor in the Eastern Mediterranean. Whereas the integration of Lebanon is optional in the creation of an Eastern Mediterranean energy corridor, Syria is a required segment of the energy arc or corridor. Without Syria the Eastern Mediterranean cannot be linked together. It also seems that the area around Tripoli, Lebanon has been considered as the location of a future American or NATO military base to guard an Eastern Mediterranean energy arc. The integration of Jordan into the corridor also seems optional, unless Jordan is meant to be part of a route connecting Iraqi and Persian Gulf oil to Israel and the Eastern Mediterranean.
Without Syria there can be no north-south link between Turkey in the northern Eastern Mediterranean and Israel and Egypt in the southern Eastern Mediterranean. Caucasian and Caspian oil can be delivered to Israel and the southern areas in question from Turkey if the north-south link is made. Egyptian gas can also be delivered to Turkey from the southern area in question if the north-south link is made. In this scheme Israel seems to be positioned as the vanguard of this energy arc, but Syria seems to be the remaining piece necessary to making the north-south link.
The Call for Negotiations between Syria and Israel
Abraham Suleiman (Solomon) an American citizen of Syrian background has spoken visibly to the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) maintaining that he at one time represented Damascus in “secret negotiations” with Israel. In Tel Aviv he has declared that Syria is ready for peace with Israel. Syria immediately distanced itself from him. Syrians have stated that Israel and the U.S. are merely trying to dissociate Syria from Iran and Russia by portraying Syria as having negotiations without the knowledge of its allies. The Syrian Information Minister, in a televised address to the Syrian people and the Arab public, said that Abraham Suleiman expresses “his personal point of view, and Syria has nothing to do with this visit [to Israel] or statements [to Israeli officials].” 
Syria has been calling for open discussions with Israel, with the knowledge of Tehran. Several overtures have been made by official channels from Damascus to Israel for several years, even with the involvement of the Clinton Administration and the U.N. in the past.
“Syria’s call for a renewal of the peace process is genuine,” Ilan Mizrahi, the Chairman of the Israel National Security Council, has also told Israeli parliamentarians and officials.  In reality, Syria has been reaching out for peace talks and demanding the return of the Golan Heights (called the “Syrian Heights” by Israel in the past) since the late 1990s. La Repubblica, one of Italy’s major newspapers, in February of 2005 asked the Syrian President in an interview what he had to say about Arial Sharon’s statements that Syria was insincere about peace with Israel. The response the Syrian President gave to the Italian paper was that Arial Sharon and Israel should evaluate Syria’s sincerity through talks that would cost Israel nothing. 
The International Compact for Iraq: Bargaining over the fate of the Iraqi People?
It is ridiculous to believe that anyone can decide the fate of the Iraqi people other than the Iraqi people themselves. The nature of the talks unfolding between the U.S., the E.U., Russia, Iran, and Syria are tied to Iraq, but are not based merely on the unadulterated interests of the Iraqi people. Many facets are involved in these discussions, including the strategic global balance of international relations.
The Sharm el-Sheikh Summit, formally called the International Compact for Iraq, was held from May 3 to May 4, 2007 and involved the U.S., Britain, Russia, Japan, China, France, the Arab League, Iran, Syria, the E.U., Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Germany, Canada, the U.N., and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (O.I.C.).
At the end of the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit in Egypt, Iran and the U.S. did not “visibly meet,” but low-key talks took place between the two countries. The American Ambassador to Iraq held talks with the Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister, Dr. Abbas Araghchi.  The U.S State Department’s Iraq coordinator, David Satterfield, was also present at the talks that were played down and described by the American Ambassador to Iraq as only being “three minutes long.”  It was possibility through these contacts that talks in Baghdad were arranged between the Iranian and American embassies in Iraq.
At the Sharm el-Shiekh Summit it was publicly made known that the Syrian Foreign Minister and Dr. Rice, the U.S. Secretary of State, had a half-hour meeting. The Times (U.K.) called the talks a “diplomatic shift” that was prepared for by U.S. officials who were offering “rare praise for Syria,” before the meeting in Egypt.  In reality the talks in Sharm el-Sheikh were mostly cosmetic. Genuine talks and negotiations were mostly undisclosed in nature and through different backdoor channels.
The opening day of the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit in Egypt, saw the Iraqi government get pledges of $30 billion (U.S.) in debt relief.  Amongst the countries that nullified part of the Iraqi debt was Saudi Arabia which refused to do so during the period of humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq caused by U.N. sanctions. Debt relief to Iraq should be scrutinized. The debt relief amounts to less than a substitute to the billions of dollars (U.S.) that are being appropriated from Iraq because of the privatization of Iraqi oil and other national assets by the U.S. and British governments. Whatever is left of the Iraqi debt will also prove to be profitable to the creditor nations. Iraqi national assets may also be handed over to creditor nations in place of Iraqi debts.