x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Nasrallah moves from defence to offence

Hassan Nasrallah's remarkable self-confident about the future in both Lebanon and Syria was apparent in two of his latest speeches, wrote Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor of the website Rai Al Youm. Other Digest topics: US presence in the Middle East, North Africa's security issues.

During two public speeches delivered recently to mark Ashura, Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah appeared remarkably self-confident and comfortable about the future in both Lebanon and Syria, wrote Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the website Rai Al Youm.

In all his speeches since the Syrian uprising, Mr Nasrallah would provide explanations and make excuses for his positions, and refute the arguments of his rivals in Lebanon and elsewhere.

In his last two speeches, however, he went on the offensive, explicitly pointing fingers at others, including Saudi Arabia, and defied all of the Gulf States backing the Syrian opposition.

The signs of confidence are demonstrated by the following: Mr Nasrallah addressed his supporters twice in two days and he did so directly, unlike on most recent occasions when his speeches were televised. He clearly stressed that his organisation would continue to fight alongside the Al Assad regime and he turned his back on the Lebanese government and President Michel Suleiman, firmly backing the Syrian regime and its Lebanese allies.

Several reasons are behind this unprecedented self-confidence. In Syria, the regime troops are making noticeable advances on the ground in Aleppo, where they have reseized more than 14 locations. Syria’s opposition and rebel fighters are deeply divided, with more than a thousand factions on the ground.

Many are fighting each other, which reflects more disagreement between opposition’s backers – Saudi Arabia with Qatar and Turkey – than the actual conflict against the Al Assad regime. In contrast, supporters of the Syrian regime including Hizbollah, Abu Al Fadl Al Abbas Brigade and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards seem to share clear goals.

Internationally, the Iranian-Russian axis is making successive diplomatic breakthroughs. The US-Iranian dialogue is gaining momentum, with a good prospect of reaching agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme. Many US allies in the region have paid visits to Russia, and Russian ministers have travelled to Egypt to seal an arms deal. Meanwhile, the US role is shrinking and its Arab allies seem confused and chaotic, the writer said.

Pro-opposition Arab countries must be biting their nails, seeing their ambitions to overthrow the Syrian regime thwarted despite the huge resources they have put in to that end. They are also watching their Iranian-led rivals as they push for regional domination and threaten vengeance.

Allies of the armed opposition who have bet on the US and the West to topple the Syrian regime and thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions were let down, while the Syrian regime’s bet on Russia, Iran, Hizbollah and Iraq’s Shia supporters seems about to be rewarded. All this explains Mr Nasrallah’s confidence and defiance in his recent speeches.

Arabs last in race to replace US presence

After decades of active presence, the US seems to be officially retiring from the Middle East while maintaining cooperation agreements that aim to salvage some of its economic interests and military bases in the region, wrote Abdullah Iskandar, the managing editor of the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat.

Regardless of the causes and motivations behind the apparent US withdrawal, the consequence is the same: a vacuum left by the US, which creates a new complex struggle of interests.

“It appears that the US’s traditional rivals are the most active in the quest to inherit its shrinking role, especially that Europe, which enjoys old relationships in the region, doesn’t possess the tools needed to reclaim the role it once lost to the US expansionism after the Second World War,” the writer said.

Russia isn’t coy about its ambition to fill some or all of the void. Putin’s Russia believes its geopolitical position and its economic capabilities entitle it to maintain such aspirations. Iran too, led by Hassan Rouhani, is renewing its diplomatic offensive in the region. Tehran sees this as an optimal opportunity to gain more ground in the Middle East.

“In the heated race to succeed the US, the absence of Arab systems can be felt. These systems lack the self-preservation strategy and the regional power combined with a serious political project to be an element of attraction,” he added.

North African security issues need attention

A regional forum on border security was held in Rabat, Morocco, last Thursday to look into ways to boost border security and reinvigorate regional cooperation in North Africa and the Sahel region.

In an opinion article for the Sharjah-based daily Al Khaleej, columnist Chouaib Meftah said the conference, which saw the participation of 19 countries and organisations, revealed various complications that hinder the implementation of the security agreements featured in the Rabat Declaration.

“Terrorism is ambulant throughout the region and the economic situation is weighed down by smuggling, parallel trade and growing poverty. Political relationships too are strained by chronic conflicts,” he said.

The realisation of any agreement in the region requires a basic common ground to launch the monumental tasks listed in the declaration. There is no shortage of divisions there.

In addition to the Moroccan-Algerian conflict over the Sahara, there is a regional apprehension of the ongoing turmoil in Libya. Meanwhile, Mali and Niger continue to fight off extremist groups. For its part, Tunisia is swamped in its attempt to overcome its internal political crisis with the least amount of damage.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk