x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Israel's attack on Syria raises the stakes

Arabic-language newspapers comment on the dilemma facing Egypt's government, as well as the broader issue of political compromise in 'Arab Spring' countries.

Israel's assault on Syria might lead to a war that would further destabilise the entire region

As the Syrian tragedy is getting gloomier by the day, with the rebels and government forces ripping each other apart and more innocent lives being lost, Israel has decided to enter the fray, wrote Mohammed Khalifa, a contributor in the opinion pages of the Sharjah-based newspaper Al Khaleej.

Last Wednesday, Israeli warplanes crossed into Syrian airspace via the Golan Heights and launched a strike on a scientific research facility on the outskirts of Damascus, destroying the building and killing and wounding a number of researchers and workers on the site.

"This is the most serious Israeli assault on Syria since 1973," the writer noted, although there was another similar assault in 2007 against a suspected nuclear facility.

Israel has denied over the years responsibility for a number of strikes on Syrian targets, but these assaults "have never been of the scope of this recent attack", the writer said.

"This time the strike hit just several kilometres from Damascus and the target - according to a statement from the general command of the Syrian armed forces - was a scientific research facility working to boost the Syrian army's resilience."

A lot has been said about the earlier Israeli strike on the Syrian nuclear site in Deir Ezzor, but the Syrian government denied on that occasion that the site was operational. It said it was an abandoned garrison, which lessened the urgency of a counterattack.

"This time around, the Syrian state admitted that Israel did, in fact, conduct an air strike on its critical infrastructure," the author said. "So if Syria now decides to hit back, it will be war between the two countries."

Syria still has more than 50 special army units, in addition to missiles and air and marine forces that have not yet been mobilised in the government's fight against the Free Syrian Army, the writer said.

"Syria knows that Israel will try to capitalise on [the crisis in Damascus] as it did in Lebanon in 1982 when it took advantage of serious developments at the time and invaded Lebanese territories all the way to Beirut."

Indeed, a Syrian counterattack would "set the whole region on fire, which is what the Syrian regime really wants", he argued.

That said, Israel might have an ulterior motive behind last week's assault. Its real goal might be to exploit the reaction of Damascus, a close ally of Tehran, to launch a long-trumpeted attack on Iran and drag the United States into a war it has neither the time nor the energy to fight.

The situation is now so tense in the region that the casus belli does not even have to be a Syrian counterattack; it could be anything - "something much smaller, but dangerous all the same", the writer observed.

Muslim Brotherhood has a tough task

Following Friday's clashes outside the presidential palace in Cairo, the Egyptian presidency said security forces will act strictly to apply the law and protect the country's institutions.

"It is difficult to understand what is meant by 'act strictly' in view of the current circumstances in Egypt. Does it mean that the president intends to practise oppressive and aggressive measures against citizens?" asked contributing editor Tareq Al Homayed in the London-based daily Asharq Al Awsat.

It certainly sounds strange that the presidency resorts to such threats. What is required in Egypt at the moment is compromise rather than firmness. The matter necessitates an effort to come up with practical solutions to ease the tension on the street; threats will only complicate matters further.

"The problem with decision-makers and the powers of the Muslim Brotherhood is that they thought that it would be easy to control people by resorting to legal tricks and ultimatums. But the task is anything but easy and the opposition is powerful and real."

Compromise is the only viable solution in the country's crisis. A takeover will never be acceptable especially if the Brotherhood forgets that the outcome of the elections didn't reflect an overarching support for its authority. In fact, they shed the light on the widening rift between various political camps.

No alternative to political dialogue

Protests and movements that turn to violence at times in the so-called Arab Spring countries and in Iraq point to alarming chaos should the protesters' demands remain unanswered, suggested the Dubai-based newspaper Al Bayan in its editorial on Sunday.

"Such disregard threatens to lead to renewed revolutions and more casualties and additional hindrances to development plans," said the paper.

It is no longer sufficient to claim that the ballot box has spoken, just as it isn't sufficient either to claim the ability to mobilise the masses.

"No one party, group or alliance holds the keys to the truth or a carte blanche to do what they please. The crowds that toppled totalitarian regimes are also capable of toppling those parties that adopt totalitarian attitudes despite the fact that they rose to power through popular vote," added Al Bayan.

It is indeed time for the transitional parties to listen to the pulse of the street and to save themselves and their peoples additional bloodshed and economic strain.

"Time is running out, initiatives are becoming scarce and outrage is on the rise. There is no alternative to dialogue. The simplest rule of democracy dictates that the majority listen to the minority and take it seriously."

* Digest compiled by Translation Desk