x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Israeli strikes in Syria can set the region on fire, even if Damascus is too weak for another war

Bashar Al Assad is unlikely to hit back at Israel. But if he does, it will destabilise the whole region. Other topics include: Iran, Arab Maghreb Union.

"The anchor on the Syrian state television reminded me of the commentators on the Sawt Al Arab (Voice of the Arabs) radio back in 1967," wrote Hilmi Al Kaoud, a columnist with the Cairo-based newspaper Al Ahram, yesterday.

"Back then, the [Egyptian] radio speakers talked about a sweeping victory against the Zionist enemy, downing dozens of its warplanes, destroying hundreds of its tanks and advancing into its colonies. What was really happening, in fact, was that the enemy had invaded Gaza and was making steady advances on the eastern shore of the Suez Canal."

With similar misplaced confidence, the Syrian anchor was talking about "the open options" for the regime of President Bashar Al Assad to respond to two successive Israeli air strikes near Damascus this month that targeted army assets, including arms shipments that were allegedly meant for Hizbollah, the Lebanese militia.

What "open options" was the Syrian regime alluding to? It has none, Al Kaoud suggested. The Syrian army is already overstretched trying to contain the Free Syrian Army that seeks to overthrow Mr Al Assad.

"I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. The butcher of Damascus [Mr Al Assad] has, for more than two years now, been using his 'resistance' army to kill his own people, destroying towns and villages and torturing hundreds of thousands of detainees," the author said. "But, he surely never fired as much as a bullet on the Zionist enemy throughout his time in power."

Now the Syrian regime will suddenly not decide to act firmly against Israeli aggressions. Moreover, Syria was struck before by Israel when the country was politically stable. Even then there was no response, the columnist argued.

Instead, soon after the Israeli strike, Syrian warplanes went back to their preferred business, which is throwing bombs in residential areas in Homs, Aleppo and Idlib, he went on.

Opposite Al Kaoud's column, Al Ahram ran an editorial which said that a desperate Al Assad might still consider "a Samson-style option", which is to retaliate while knowing that it will be the move to hasten his undoing - and in the process, setting the entire region on fire.

"Israel might have had the certainty that the Syrian army is incapable of responding to these attacks … But things have changed, and Bashar Al Assad might well consider the option of turning the tables on everybody and go for a Samson-style stunt, opening fire on Israel to show how strong his country can be in defending itself," the newspaper said.

The question, then, will be this: are Arabs going to come to his rescue, or maintain their position against him?

Iran should stop its UAE provocations

"The visit by an Iranian Shura Council delegation to three of the Emirati islands - Abu Musa and the Lesser and Greater Tunbs - is another episode in a series of provocative and transgressive practices that the Iranian authorities have practically turned into a habit," wrote the columnist Ali Al Amodi of the Abu Dhabi-based Al Ittihad newspaper.

The three islands have been occupied by Iran since it invaded them on the eve of the establishment of the United Arab Emirates in 1971.

Denouncing the Iranian visit as "a flagrant violation of the sovereignty of the UAE over its territory," the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: "It undermines all efforts to find a peaceful solution to this issue through bilateral negotiations or through recourse to the International Court of Justice".

For his part, Al Amodi said the visit was a symptom of the severity of Iran's internal woes as the country's international isolation was taking a toll.

The Emirati side has started several goodwill initiatives to work out a solution with the Iranians, based on reason and dialogue, but they were stonewalled by the kind of mentality "that rejects the lessons of history and geography", the writer said.

"Brinkmanship, which is a specially of Tehran's political stuntmen, will only lead to further crises and isolation of Iran, whose population is paying a high price."

Will security issues revive the Maghreb?

Member states of the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) - Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania - have agreed to link their agenda for economic complementarity to security, in a new bid to set up "an integrated framework" that will help them go bypass their political issues to tackle pressing security challenges in the Sahel region, Mohammed El Sharqi reported yesterday for the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat.

At the end of AMU's 31st session in Rabat on Monday, all members agreed that their union "is an inevitable necessity, imposed by internal and regional transformations and challenges in all areas".

The work of the AMU, a body that was created in 1989 in Marrakech, has been reduced to protocol since the mid-1990s, largely due to an escalation in border tensions between Morocco and Algeria. This exacerbated the lingering quarrel between the two nations over the Western Sahara, a disputed territory under the de-facto sovereignty of the Kingdom of Morocco.

Now, AMU foreign ministers are stressing the ineffectiveness of the pre-Arab Spring structure of the AMU and calling for joint efforts to rebuild it so that it becomes a more "strategic" and "holistic" platform for the member states, the writer said.

* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi

aelbahi@thenational.ae

 

Will security issues revive the Maghreb?

Member states of the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) - Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania - have agreed to link their agenda for economic complementarity to security, in a new bid to eventually set up "an integrated framework" that will help them go past their political issues and tackle pressing security challenges in the Sahel region, Mohammed El Sharqi reported yesterday for the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat.

At the conclusion of AMU's 31st session in Rabat on Monday, all five countries agreed in their final statement that their union "is an inevitable necessity, imposed by internal and regional transformations and challenges in all areas".

The work of the AMU, a body that was created in 1989 in Marrakech, has been reduced to protocol since the mid-1990s due, in large part, to an escalation in border issues between Morocco and Algeria. This only exacerbated the lingering quarrel between the two nations over the Western Sahara, a disputed territory under the de facto sovereignty of the Kingdom of Morocco.

Now, AMU foreign ministers are stressing the obsoleteness of the pre-Arab Spring structure of the AMU and calling for joint efforts to renovate it so that it becomes a more "strategic" and "holistic" platform for the member states, according to the reporter.