x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Everything now on the table in Syria

The chemical attack in Damascus has changed the situation, an Arabic-language newspaper says. Other topics: stability and Russia's role in the crisis.

The chemical attack takes the Syrian conflict to a new stage, where everything is on the table

All the questions that were forbidden just until a few days ago are now on the table after the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict, wrote Ghassan Charbel, editor-in-chief of the London- based daily Al Hayat.

What if we wake up to reports of US and western missiles hitting critical sites of the Syrian regime? What will be the response of this regime which warned on Sunday that any US military action would create "a ball of fire that will set the whole Middle East ablaze"?

Will Damascus launch its missiles towards Israel and what if the latter strikes back by targeting the backbone of the Syrian regime: the Republican Guard and the fourth armoured division? Will Damascus broaden the conflict by firing missiles towards Turkey or Jordan?

How will Iran react if US missiles hit Syrian targets? Will and can Hizbollah, which is now engaged in the Syrian conflict, strike Israel? Can Russia act beyond condemnation, warning of the "historic mistake" and blocking UN action?

It is no overstatement to say that the Syrian conflict after the chemical attack has entered a whole new stage where all such questions are permitted, the writer noted.

Pictures of Syrian children lying dead that featured on front pages and television screens across the world have opened the most horrifying episode in the Syrian conflict.

The coming days will be critical. Syria has agreed to let UN inspectors investigate the areas hit by the chemical attack.

By doing so, Bashar Al Assad's regime has spared foreign minister Walid Al-Muallem the mistake of Iraqi foreign minister Tarik Aziz under Saddam Hussein during his now-infamous meeting with then US secretary of state, James Baker.

Before the chemical attack, the world had coexisted with the Syrian onslaught, with western capitals finding justifications to avert involvement. And the Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat Al Nusra gave a precious gift to the US administration and western nations who would argue that they would not topple Mr Al Assad to hand over Syria to disciples of Al Qaeda. Some western nations even declined to supply weapons to the rebels as promised under the pretext that they might fall into the wrong hands.

After the chemical strike, the Syrian crisis is back at centre stage after being overshadowed by the turmoil in Egypt. What western leaders cannot tolerate has happened. And US president Barack Obama cannot tolerate that, especially that it came one year after he warned of crossing the "red line".

Now, the Syrian regime will have to make concessions or face strikes. Even Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said he was distressed by the death of innocent people by chemical weapons; and even Russia cannot act as if the massacre did not happen.

Egypt's stability would be felt across region

The Arab world's security has been subjected to major tremors in the past two years that have contributed to its vulnerability, said the Dubai-based daily Al Bayan in its editorial on Monday.

Ongoing events in Arab countries ultimately affect the entire security matrix in the Arab region. With every state preoccupied by internal issues, development efforts are put on the backburner.

"Israel's presence in the heart of the region is the main factor leading to constant instability. However, internal challenges are also surfacing, meaning Arab states face a most difficult task: to recover a minimum of solidarity in light of sensitive and unprecedented regional and international circumstances. Pockets of tension and sectarian polarisation are proliferating everywhere and compounding the chronic economic and social issues in these areas," the paper said.

But there is always room for hope, especially in view of recent developments in Egypt, where the people seem to have regained their will power and their vitality. The new situation in Egypt would surely contribute to ending the chaos in the Arab region, as Egypt is the main pillar for Arab and Islamic security and its stability would reverberate throughout the region, Al Bayan opined.

Strategic transformation in Egypt and supporting Arab stances would undoubtedly change the political and economic future of the region.

Is Moscow changing its position on Syria?

Should it be conclusively proven that chemical weapons were indeed used in Ghouta in Syria, the incident would not be dealt with fleetingly, said the columnist Amine Kamourieh in the Lebanese daily Annahar.

"The Ghouta massacre was a serious turning point in the crisis. It pushes all stakeholders to change the rules of the game," he said.

The West is almost certain that chemical weapons were used and seems to be preparing for wider ranging and more aggressive action. Meanwhile, Russia finds itself in a confusing position.

If international inspectors do prove that the regime is responsible for the massacre, Moscow would have to change its strategy regarding Syria.

Although Moscow is threatening to veto any international resolution to use force against the Syrian regime, its foreign minister did state that Russia isn't willing to fight alongside any side should a unilateral war decision be made.

Does this mean that Moscow has also given up on its red lines and wouldn't get involved in any way in a possible intervention in Syria, the writer asked. "Or is there a bigger political deal that's about to mature that would guide all warring parties in and over Syria on the path to a political solution," he added.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk