x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Jordan shifts on Syria

Jordan finally moves beyond its long-protected stance of neutrality on the struggle in Syria, an Arabic language columnist writes in today's roundup. Other topics: Israel and Gaza, and cyber terrorism after Boston.

Jordan finally moves beyond its long-protected stance of neutrality on the struggle in Syria

The policy of "distancing oneself" from the Syrian crisis will soon lose its significance for all parties concerned, columnist George Semaan suggested in the London-based daily Al Hayat.

The Assad regime and its opponents have managed to drag stakeholders to show their cards, and pushed many of those with an interest to adjust their positions, he wrote.

"Talk about transferring the conflict across borders has become an evident and undeniable fact. It can't be ignored and it can't be responded to with neutrality," he said.

A close look at the countries neighbouring Syria reveals the extent of changes that have occurred in their policies since the beginning of the revolution.

Israel, which until recently was overwrought about Syria's chemical weapons, has become a party to the discussion over the arming of the opposition. Israel sent clear warnings and voiced its concern that ordnance would fall into the hands of extremist groups that have become dug in on Israel's northern border.

Extremist rebel groups, led by the well-known Jabhat Al Nusra, have been intensifying their presence at the borders with Israel and Jordan.

Hundreds of Jordanians have been rushing across the border to join up to fight with the group, and this is one reason that has prompted the Jordanian kingdom to step out of its neutrality.

Since the beginning of the conflict, until recently, Jordan had resisted all pressure to allow the transport of weapons to the opposition through its territories. For good reason: no matter what the outcome of the war, Jordan would simply be incapable of warding off the repercussions.

"President Bashar Al Assad's recent threats to Jordan don't frighten it. The two neighbours' history has had an abundance of conflicts since the days of King Hussein and Hafez Al Assad. The Baath party in Damascus always saw its southern neighbour the same way it saw Lebanon and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation - as cards to play in its foreign relations.

Amman's recent decision to allow weapons to the Syrian opposition doesn't necessarily mean it has decided to follow the opposition indiscriminately. Delicate internal issues have had to be taken into account.

"It is OK [for Jordan] to facilitate the movement of Free Syrian Army troops and to turn a blind eye to efforts to arm them sufficiently to form a weighty bloc against the jihadists, and able to secure a buffer zone," added the writer.

The Jordanian government's decision to get involved is not without some merit. In fact, it deprives its domestic detractors from an essential card they have been wielding for the past two years through repeated calls to offer assistance to their "brothers" in Syria.


Netanyahu threatens - and Gaza prepares

Palestinian resistance factions in Gaza are on full alert in anticipation of a new Israeli aggression, following the Israeli prime minister's threats to retaliate for a recent missile attack from the Sinai Desert, the London-based paper Al Quds Al Arabi observed in its editorial on Monday.

Benjamin Netanyahu, claiming that the missiles came from Gaza and were launched from Sinai, threatened to respond harshly. Palestinian factions in Gaza take the ultimatums seriously, and are gearing up for a likely Israeli invasion.

"The shape of the expected Israeli aggression is still unknown. Would it be in the form of raids, assassinations of Palestinian leadership figures or a full-blown invasion similar to the one in December 2008?" the paper said.

The Palestinian resistance would respond to any assault with Fajr-5 missiles that have previously hit the heart of Tel Aviv and sent millions of Israelis into shelters. And Israeli forces seem to be preparing for such missiles as they began a drill on the inner front of the town of Eilat that included the army, the police and civil defence force members.

"The Egyptian mediation that stopped the last assault on Gaza is the only one capable of calming the situation. But it seems that such mediation only happens after the altercations and not a moment before," the paper concluded.

New kind of terrorism requires new weapons

If there is a lesson to be learnt from the Boston terrorist bombings last week, it is that we have entered the phase of cyber terrorism, wrote Tariq Al Homayed, a contributing columnist with the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al Awsat.

The Boston Marathon explosions on April 15 prompted an unprecedented state of alert in the US. The suspects are two Muslim brothers of Chechnyan origin. The older brother, who was killed, was 26. The other, who has been arrested, is 19 - and he moved to the US when he was only nine.

The incident focused attention on the role of social media in forging the identity of extremists. Authorities are baffled about the circumstances that drove a young man who was brought up in the US to become a terrorist.

"It is indeed a frightening thought to any parent," said the writer. "Today, with the easy access to social media such as Twitter and YouTube, a young man doesn't need to leave his room to become a terrorist."

This suggests that the fight against terrorism can't be restricted to security; it has to be intellectual too. "Terrorism is a symptom, it isn't the disease," Al Homayed said. "The Boston bombings should be a lesson for everyone, especially in our region where, unfortunately, extremist and hatred rhetoric runs unbridled."

* Digest compiled by Racha Makarem