A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

flying high in Damascus

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 9, 2009

S is the one and only person I know who waxes lyrical about Syrianair, the state-owned Syrian airline. He likes it for reasons that might be considered fairly culture- and person-specific: it is a partner with Olympic, his national airline, which allows him easy bookings and frequent flyer miles. And when he wanted to change a Damascus-Athens return for not one but two weddings, the Syrianair personnel were more than sympathetic. Not only was there no change-of-ticket fee, but they wished the brides and grooms well, and told S “insha’allah 3arees” to boot.

I thought of S yesterday when I read the news that the Obama administration has approved the sale of spare Boeing 747 parts to Syrianair.

Here is CBS’ take on the story, posted by George Baghdadi – who I had thought was not a journalist but a kind of semi-corrupt Godfather. I’ve never met him, but I heard several stories of his having magically obtained visas for journalists who agreed to hire him as a fixer while sympathizing effusively but ineffectually with those who had chosen other fixers’ services and (hence) been denied visas. And now he works for CBS. Go figure.

President Barack Obama has pioneered a route towards Syria that is distinctive from that of his predecessor President Bush, dispatching congressional delegations and signaling a rare authorization to sell Damascus plane parts for repairing two aging Boeing 747s.

Airplane parts are an often-overlooked area of trade, and yet – as was suggested recently at a symposium I attended on Iran, another country with old Boeing planes – they offer a low-cost, low-profile way for hostile countries to engage in “confidence building”. Authorizing this exception to SALSA (the US sanctions on Syria) isn’t particularly glamorous, but to me it is an important gesture. By authorizing the sale of these spare parts, we affirm that we want Syrians to be able to travel easily and in safety – two “freedoms” (of movement and from fear) dear to Americans’ hearts as well.

I do think that we need to think carefully about the impact of any major efforts toward rapprochement – I support partnership, not capitulation. This move to me is a very smart use of political power. It is a gesture that demonstrates our our support for Syrians – who consider themselves as modern as Americans – to continue enjoying the modern convenience of speedy and safe air-travel. (And of course as someone with strong Seattle ties, I support their flying Boeing!)

As for the mysterious George Baghdadi, someone at CBS needs better fact-checking math skills. Count the number of Boeing 747s in the lead paragraph above, and then compare that number to the one that appears later in the same article:

Syrianair, set up in 1946, has only five operating single-aisle Airbus A320s, one aging jumbo Boeing 747, two planes for local flights, and more than 5,000 employees.

If the number dropped from two to one in the course of a few paragraphs, we really need to rush those parts to Cham :).


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