x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Aleppo is no Benghazi, but military assistance is needed

Military assistance to the Syrian rebels would guarantee the end of the Assad regime, argues an Arabic-language columnist. Also, Egypt's relations with the Palestinians, and Mitt Romney's comments in Israel.

More than 17 months since the revolution began and after monumental sacrifice, Syria's rebels are steadily headed towards establishing a buffer zone in the nation's north between Aleppo and the Turkish borders, said the columnist Ali Hamadeh in the Lebanese newspaper Annahar.

"The battle of Aleppo carries great strategic significance. This is why the regime is desperately defending its positions and wreaking havoc ... to prevent the revolution from settling in the country's primary economic capital and turning it into a second Benghazi," he said.

Shortly after the revolution in Libya erupted, the city of Benghazi enjoyed the protection of a Nato mission, which allowed the city to become the main launching platform for the fight against the former regime. In the case of Aleppo, however, the situation will be different, but the outcome promises to be somewhat similar.

The main difference between the two cases is that Syria isn't divided into two separate regions, as the case was in Libya during the revolution. Syrian president Bashar Al Assad doesn't hold any real power over any specific parts in his country, with the exception of the Alawite-dominated areas that are proportionally negligible in the conflict.

From the north to the south, from the east to the west and along the borders with adjacent countries, the revolution is ablaze and battles are raging everywhere, even in the heart of Damascus. Now it has reached Aleppo, the very core of Syria's economic hub and the city with the highest demographic concentration.

"In this sense, should the rebels prevail in the bloody battle over the city, it would be a pivotal achievement in their mission to bring down Mr Assad," the writer added. "But it wouldn't be a secure area as Benghazi was as long as Nato doesn't impose a no fly-zone over it and, with the help of the Turkish army, turn it into a buffer zone."

The fight for Aleppo marks a big leap forward for the opposition and the free army. There was a time, not so long ago, when the regime couldn't even fathom losing its grip over both the political and economic capitals.

Mr Assad "carried on the killings unabated and suddenly found himself besieged in Aleppo and Damascus by the surrounding smaller towns and villages", Hamadeh said. "Despite its tremendous fire power, which it uses with unprecedented brutality, the regime is inevitably stuck."

Regardless of the outcome of the continuing struggle in Aleppo and even if the scale of power were to tip in favour of the Assad regime, matters would never be the same again in the city.

What matters at this junction of the struggle is that substantial military support is provided for the rebels. Antitank and anti-aircraft weapons would improve, if not guarantee, the chances of victory for the rebels.

Peace and complicity must be distinguished

After the Egyptian revolution, a distinction must be made between the peace treaty with Israel and complicity with Israel against Palestinians, Fahmi Huwaidi wrote in the Cairo-based daily Al Shorouk.

Gaza's elected prime minister Ismail Haniyeh recently paid an official visit to Egypt - the first such visit in the 30 years during which no official in the Egyptian government was allowed to meet any of the Gazan ministers.

"Egypt has committed to the US-Israeli decision that Palestinian opponents of the peace treaty must be excluded and ostracised," he said. "Although the Israelis who opposed the treaty, one of whom tore it up at the Knesset, were members of the cabinet and the parliament."

Gaza officials were denied access to several Arab countries, while Israeli tourists have been allowed to visit.

There are many signs of complicity. The leaked information on security coordination between Egypt and Israel is testament to this. Journalist Hassanein Heikal once explicitly called for an end to that coordination, which was the main source of intelligence about the Arab world.

Some media outlets have played a major part in souring the relationship with Palestinians. Examples are rumours on the expansion of Palestinians into Sinai and the false reports on the arrest of 13 Hamas terrorists who were just returning home after their Egyptian residency expired.

Romney stoops too low for Jewish vote

Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican US presidential candidate, made statements that were "more pathetic than criticisable" during his recent visit to Israel, wrote columnist Ilyas Harfoush in yesterday's edition of the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat.

"He came across as a beggar for the votes of Jewish Americans, adopting an even more zealous position than that of Benjamin Netanyahu when it comes to Jerusalem and how it should be 'the capital of Israel'."

Mr Romney also backed Israel's "right" to launch a military strike on Iran, the columnist said, prompting Shaul Mofaz, Israel's opposition leader, to strongly disagree with him and warn of "disastrous" consequences.

"Even more than begging, he came across as completely uninformed about the realities of the conflict and its history."

Mr Romney appeared oblivious to the fact that many candidates before him - like George W Bush - have promised to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital and relocate the US embassy there.

But Washington's ties with other key players in the region have made it impossible for such campaign promises to be honoured, given the highly symbolic status of Jerusalem for Muslims.

Mr Romney has indeed found a shortcut to gain Arab disfavour, the columnist argued.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk