x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

After Israel's assault on Syria, revenge response from Iran is likely

Iran's reaction to Israel's latest attack on Syria might be different from its past reactions, argues an Arabic-language columnist. Also: Iran's provocations over three Emirati islands and a contentious offer from the Syrian opposition

Israel's air strike on a scientific research centre in southern Damascus last week was a major embarrassment for the Syrian government, but it also amounted to a serious affront to the Iranians, who made no effort to hide their fury, wrote Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi, in his front-page column yesterday.

"Saeed Jalili, the head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, flew out to Damascus as soon as the news came out. He met with President Bashar Al Assad and declared in the subsequent press conference that 'the Israelis will regret their aggression,'" the editor observed.

In fact, on many previous occasions, Iranian officials have reiterated their entire commitment to Syria's sovereignty. They went as far as to say that any assault on Syria is synonymous to an assault on Iran, and that Tehran will not allow the regime of President Bashar Al Assad to be toppled, according to the author.

Obviously, the Israeli strike has come as a serious test to such pronouncements, especially given that members of the Syrian opposition are already using it to impugn the seriousness of that commitment.

Syrian dissidents have been quick to accuse Iran of colluding with the Syrian regime against its people but doing nothing when it comes to an Israeli assault, the editor noted.

"Mr Jalili's tone during that press conference and the revenge threats he professed were nothing like any previous Iranian intimidation rhetoric, which suggests that the probability of a forceful reaction is more likely that ever before," Atwan pointed out.

The question now is really whether this supposed Iranian response will be direct or by proxy. Is it going to be launched by Iranian forces and warplanes? Or via the Syrian army itself, which is after all the actual victim of the attack? Or through a third party like Hizbollah in Lebanon, or the Islamic Jihad in Gaza?

Many observers argue that Iran has never fought Israel directly and probably won't have to, given that Hizbollah, its military arm in the Arab region, does a good job of that.

Note also that Fajr-5 and M75 missiles that were previously used by the Islamic Jihad and Hamas, respectively, to counter Israeli offensives are entirely made by the Iranians - and are sometimes assembled by Hamas arms experts.

"What makes us inclined to believe that, this time around, a revenge response against the Israeli air strike is likely - and perhaps also imminent - is the fact it would completely mix up the cards in the region in a way that … offers President Al Assad the lifebuoy he needs so bad."

But will the Syrian regime get over its "Israelophobia"? the editor asked.

That remains to be seen.

Iranian provocations of the UAE ill advised

Every now and then Iranian media grace us with news of official visits, political and military, to the occupied Emirati islands that are announced in the most provocative ways, said the Dubai-based daily Al Bayan in its editorial on Tuesday.

Recent talks of an inspection visit by members of the national security committee to Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb islands that remain under Iranian occupation, come to add to a series of provocative measures by Iranian officials.

What is most bizarre in the Iranian behaviour is the insistence on the fact that the criminal occupation of the islands is nothing but a misunderstanding despite repeated calls from the UAE to dialogue and respect international legislation.

"No amount of provocative visits or exaggerated propaganda would change historical and geographical truths that are supported in the international law and that confirm beyond doubt that the three islands are part of the UAE territories."

Perhaps, due to bad political analysis and following the stifling siege and the heavy economic sanctions, the Iranian regime is attempting to use the islands issue as a pressure card in its negotiations with the international community over its nuclear programme.

But rather than saving it from international sanctions, tampering with the security of the Gulf would only add to Iran's isolation.

Khatib's proposal embarrassing to Assad

Moaz Al Khatib, the head of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, says that the international community doesn't have a clear vision for a solution in Syria. Therefore, he insists on establishing a dialogue with the regime, said the columnist Tareq Al Homayed in the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al Awsat.

Many interpreted his much-contested step as a way to embarrass the Assad regime before its supporters by agreeing to dialogue. Mr Al Khatib even took it a step further when he chose vice president Farouq Al Sharaa as the regime representative in the proposed talks.

"The step indeed embarrasses Al Assad. It is a clear attempt to drive a wedge between the main figures of the regime," opined the writer.

Mr Al Khatib seems to be aware of Bashar Al Assad's famous tactic of approving initiatives then systematically voiding them of their content since his ultimate aim is to allow himself more time to press on with his massacres.

But the problem with Mr Al Khatib's attempt is the lack of a support system in the face of a murderous regime. The negative reaction from various opposition factions to his initiative can't be underestimated. He has to convince his side first of the astuteness of his position.



* Digest compiled by Translation Desk