x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

France's intervention in Mali an 'impossible' war

Arabic newspapers comment on Israeli's airstrike in Syria, France's intervention in Mali, and how Israel's policy of indifference in Palestine may spark another Intifiada.

France's intervention in Mali is another case of a western power engaging in an 'impossible' war

Last Saturday, François Hollande, the president of France, visited the "liberated" Timbuktu, a heritage-rich city in Mali which has turned into chaos in recent weeks, wrote Dr Sayed Ould Bah, a Mauritanian scholar, in yesterday's edition of the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper Al Ittihad.

The city's ancient cites and manuscripts were destroyed either by Azawad rebels - and their hard-line Islamist allies - who controlled northern Mali for several months, or in the ensuing three-week French military intervention that threw the militants out of their strongholds.

During President Hollande's visit, one of Timbuktu's elders told a French television channel: "We used to call our city 'the City of the 313 Saints', but now we have more, as we see Hollande as a blessed saint", Dr Bah reported.

"The scene reminded me of similar ones of jubilant Kabul women [at the beginning of the US invasion] and smiling children in Somalia, and I imagined the outcome of those wars," he wrote.

There are three dimensions to the crisis in the Sahel region, which is a geographical belt crossing sub-Saharan Africa from the Atlantic to the Red Sea. First, there is the "geopolitical map" left behind by French colonisers, which completely ignored "existing balances and tribal and ethnic specificities" that have, for centuries, governed the ties between the major communities in a very diverse landscape.

Secondly, most Sahel countries suffer from a paradox: a fragile central government that has to extend its sovereignty over large arid territories that are rich in minerals and oil. They are subject to international envy.

Thirdly, these hard-to-control areas are fertile ground for drugs and arms smugglers, and religious extremists, the author noted.

In light of the above, can the French intervention in Mali, which is aimed at the Azawad rebellion, resolve the larger Sahel problem?

The answer is "no, he wrote.

France is aware of the lessons learnt from the United States' wars against terrorism. Paris did all the necessary paperwork: it obtained a go-ahead from the UN Security Council, had the Malian army involved politically and militarily in the intervention, and proposed a political road map to fix Mali's internal woes through dialogue with non-extremist members of the Azawad tribe that demands autonomy.

Indeed, a military intervention by a western power - particularly France - was predictable, given the increasing reach of the rebels across the Sahel, including former French colonies, the writer noted. And outcome of the intervention was also not surprising.

"Yet, prevailing militarily in this kind of confrontation does not mean resolving the whole crisis from its roots," he wrote.


Israel's raid on Syria is a warning message

The Israeli raid on Syria last week served its purpose, notwithstanding the mystery that shrouds its objectives and exploitation attempts by the Syrian regime and its enemies, suggested the columnist George Samaan in the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat.

Tel Aviv had so far opted not to intervene in the events that are unfolding behind its north-eastern borders. The last strike can be classified as part of its conventional preventive measure to thwart any plans to breach its security.

"It doesn't look like Israel wants an expansive war. Nonetheless, it can't remain silent over the attempts to disrupt the balance of power in the region, or any threats to its so-called vital security vis-à-vis Iran's efforts to protect the 'resistance alliance' from south Lebanon to Iraq," the Samaan wrote.

In the last couple of years, Israel lost two of the main pillars of its strategic security when its relationship with Turkey was strained following the attack on a Turkish aid ship to Gaza and when the Mubarak regime was toppled in Egypt.

"Its matrix of arrangements that have been in place since the late president Hafez Al Assad came to power are no longer effective," he added. "Now, it finds itself forced to establish a new formula to maintain the security of its north-eastern borders, whether the Assad regime were to collapse suddenly or to remain in place for some time."

Netanyahu stand may spark another Intifada

Israel's policy not to engage in any talks with the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah is weakening Fatah and strengthening Hamas in the occupied West Bank, wrote the columnist Mazen Hammad in the Qatar-based newspaper Al Watan.

"It is a fact that seems evident to the entire world, except Benjamin Netanyahu... Upon his re-election, he expressed his intention to form a wide coalition to focus on economic prosperity and housing projects without once referring to the conflict with Palestinians," the writer noted.

Mr Netanyahu even brags about wiping the Palestinian issue off the domestic political agenda.

But he can't simply turn his back to the Palestinians. All of the settlements that he and his predecessors have helped to build are adjacent to and even inseparable from Arab towns and villages. Mr Netanyahu's illogical practices have severely weakened the PA.

"The Israeli policy of indifference opens the gate to a possible third Intifada… that may entail, this time around, the participation of organisations such as Al Qaeda and Hizbollah," the writer concluded.


* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi and Racha Makarem