x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Israel has itself to blame as security vacuum in Sinai

Israel must take responsibility for the poor security in Sinai, a commentator says. Other topics in the Arabic-language press: a book about Muammar Qaddafi's vices and a proposed solution to the Syrian crisis.

For the past 40 years, the only news coming from Egypt's broad Sinai desert and its undeclared capital, Sharm El Sheikh, was about either a high-profile visit involving the former president Anwar El Sadat, or about a summit chaired by his successor Hosni Mubarak, wrote Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi.

These summits would usually discuss topics such as counter-terrorism, the need to protect Israeli settlers, and ways to reinforce normalisation between Israel and Egypt, and potentially other Arab states, the editor wrote yesterday in a front-page column titled An Israeli nightmare called Sinai.

"But things have started to change diametrically after the Egyptian revolution and the toppling of the Mubarak regime," he noted.

"Sinai is now becoming a springboard for armed resistance against Israeli targets."

Last Friday, an armed group attacked an Israeli detail near the Sinai border. The soldiers were watching over some workers believed to have been building a wall to prevent such infiltrations.

One Israeli soldier and the three attackers were reported killed. One of the attackers was wearing an explosive belt.

"We are by no means suggesting here that the post-revolution government in Egypt is behind these operations or condones them," the editor noted.

"For during President Mubarak's last days in power, there had been attacks on Israeli targets in the Port of Eilat, with a number of rockets aimed at Israeli settlements and residential areas. Egypt's gas pipelines to Israel and Jordan have also been sabotaged multiple times."

If there is anyone to blame for the volatility of the security situation in Sinai, that would be Israel itself, the editor argued.

The new Egyptian government has made considerable efforts to reinforce its diminished sovereignty over the Sinai desert. But it generally failed its mission due to Israel's incessant demands that Cairo - in line with the Camp David Accords - keep Sinai demilitarised and withdraw its armoured vehicles.

"Israel categorically rejects any amendment to the accords … which actually absolve the Egyptian side of any blame when attacks like [the one on Friday] take place," the editor said.

Israel is also to blame because it still cherishes a hawkish policy despite the changes in its immediate neighbourhood.

On virtually a daily basis, Israeli tanks penetrate the Gaza Strip. Just last week, an Israeli warplane killed two Hamas commanders. "And this keeps escalating tensions in the region and prompting Jihadist groups to seek revenge."

Walling out its neighbours is never going to protect Israel from retaliatory attacks, the editor said in conclusion. "Only a halt of its massacres … and humiliation of the Arab and Muslim people can."

Is a Taif-style solution possible in Syria?

Mikhail Bogdanov, the Russian deputy foreign minister for Middle Eastern affairs, recently suggested that the resolution of the 18-month crisis in Syria would be something along the lines of the Taif Agreement, which ushered in the end of the 15-year civil war in Lebanon, columnist Suleiman Taqiy Al Din noted in the UAE newspaper Al Khaleej.

The National Reconciliation Accord, more commonly referred to as the Taif Agreement after the Saudi city where it was negotiated, was signed in 1989 by warring Lebanese factions.

The outcome of the agreement, which still stands in Lebanon, has been to distribute power to the main sectarian groups in such a way as to maintain political balance. Since the situation in Syria resembles - if it isn't already - a sectarian civil war, some analysts have been discussing the feasibility of a similar arrangement.

"There is talk in some circles about a 'Syrian Taif', with some even venturing a precise breakdown: the Alawite sect keeps the presidency, but with seriously reduced powers - just enough to reassure the minority; the Sunnis get the premiership with expanded executive powers; and the parliament gets a Christian speaker," the columnist said.

The Russians have recently been suggesting that they would not mind the departure of President Bashar Al Assad, as long as a Syrian national dialogue takes place, the columnist noted.

French book recounts Qaddafi's sexual vices

Published earlier this month, The Prey - Inside Qaddafi's Harem is based on testimonies of underage sex slaves that the slain Libyan dictator, Muammar Qaddafi, used to "order", sometimes on a random visit to a school, according to a book review on the front page of the London-based newspaper Al Hayat yesterday.

Written by French journalist Annick Cojean, the book offers "a journey into the cruel, twisted and sick world that Col Muammar Qaddafi chose to make his own", wrote Arlette Khoury, Al Hayat's Paris correspondent.

Soraya, now 23, told the journalist about the fateful day when, aged 14, she was selected by her school to be the one special child to hand a bouquet of flowers to "Papa Muammar", as children used to call him.

Little did she know her life was going to turn to hell the minute Papa Muammar put his hand on her head, a rehearsed signal for his aides to pick her up later.

Mabrouka, his top female adviser on these matters, went to Soraya's home in Sirte and informed her parents that "The King of Kings of Africa" - another of his many titles - wanted their daughter to present flowers to a guest.

"Hours later, Soraya was making her first step into a world of slavery, violence and rape," the reviewer wrote.

* Digest compiled by AchrafEl Bahi