x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Netanyahu visits Washington to promote Iran strike

Arabic newspapers discuss Netanyahu's trip to Washington, Putin's fresh comments on Syria and using religion in publicity stunts.

Netanyahu's trip to Washington is about when - not about whether - to go ahead and strike Iran

It is no secret that the visit to Washington this week by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, will be about the next steps to take regarding Iran and its nuclear programme, but does the US president stand a chance of talking Mr Netanyahu out of an air raid?, asked Abdelbari Atwan, editor of the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi.

The answer, he said, is No.

In his front-page weekend column, the editor wrote: "In all his confrontations with US President Barack Obama, the Israeli premier has been the winner.

"And there are strong indications that their most critical confrontation yet - this Monday at the White House - won't be an exception to that."

Remember, Mr Obama kicked off his term in office by pledging to give priority to the Palestinian issue. However, Mr Netanyahu kept insisting that Iran should top the regional agenda. And sure enough, "he had his way," the editor said.

Mr Obama stopped calling for a halt to Israeli settlement-building as a precondition for the resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians. He also abandoned his pledges to help establish a Palestinian state.

"Mr Netanyahu's mission in Washington this time won't be any harder than his previous missions," the editor said.

This one will actually be easier, he said, because the difference of opinion between Israel and the US is not about the principle of launching a destructive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, but only about the timing of the assault.

Mr Netanyahu wants it to happen as soon as possible, probably in April, whereas Mr Obama wants to allow time for economic sanctions against Tehran to take effect. Meanwhile, Iran is holding its own, valiantly vowing to retaliate forcefully if attacked.

"But Mr. Netanyahu doesn't like to wait, and has grown accustomed to snubbing the US president anyway," the editor argued.

What's more, the Israeli government has a couple of so-called "achievements" under its belt that come in handy when making the case for a limited-risk strike on Iran.

Israel attacked Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 and Syria's Deir Ezzor reactor in 2007. Both attacks succeeded, according to Amos Yadlin, the former Israeli intelligence chief, who wrote a column last week in the New York Times making the case for an attack against Iran.

Mr Obama, who never misses a chance to express how sacred Israel's security is to the US, shows no sign of ability or desire to stand against Israel's plans to chip away at Iran's strength.

And if by some miracle Mr Obama manages to convince the Israeli premier to delay a strike, it will be in exchange for further US military support for Tel Aviv.

It is a win-win situation for the Netanyahu administration.

Moscow's conflicting messages unhelpful

The statements made on Friday by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin about the situation in Syria are compelling, said Tariq Al Homayed, editor-in-chief of the London-based newspaper Asharq Al Awsat. Are these comments a new Russian hoax or a message to the West and the region?

Mr Putin said Moscow has no special relationship with the Syrian regime, and encouraged the two sides to sit down at the negotiating table.

"Do these statements, by the would-be Russian president, signal a shift in Moscow's stance [towards Syria]?" the writer asks. "Has Moscow put the Syrian regime up for sale? Or is it simply another hoax to provide another chance for [President Bashar] Al Assad to pounce on the Syrian revolution and kill it?"

It has been recently rumoured that Moscow told visitors, including a Lebanese politician, that "Al Assad will stay as long as Putin is a prime minister to Russia". Mr Putin is expected to be elected president tomorrow.

Mr Putin's statements were made to six international newspapers, not to Russian voters.

Messages coming out of Moscow are conflicting, the editor wrote. We cannot trust Moscow.

It is important to take steps to support the Syrian revolutionaries with weapons, among other things, he said, because Syrians are being mercilessly slaughtered.


Stop using religion in publicity stunts

Remember the Salafist member of Egypt's parliament who started chanting the muezzin's call to prayer in the middle of a parliamentary session about a month ago? Well, it looks like we're going to be seeing more of that kind of fanatical behaviour in the Arab Muslim world as so many new Islamist officials take office, Kuwaiti academic Mohammed Al Yusefi wrote in the Dubai-based newspaper Al Bayan.

"Some are becoming crafty at pulling the strings of religion for the purposes of self-promotion."

Consider Osama Al Munawar, a new Kuwait MP who posted an incendiary tweet even before setting foot in the parliament building. "He called for the demolition of churches in Kuwait. And though his statement was immediately denounced and booed, he still managed to achieve the intended effect of drawing attention to himself, and titillating a specific segment of society."

Under pressure, Mr Al Munawar later issued an explanatory statement, but it only made matters worse. He said he was not talking about existing churches but would oppose the licensing of new churches.

"I'm not sure if the parliamentarian in question is aware of Article 35 of the Kuwaiti constitution, which says that 'freedom of faith is unconditional'," the writer said.

* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi