x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Obama confirms US does not always follow Israel's lead

Arabic newspapers comment on Obama speech, elections in Russia and Iran, and the Arab League's meeting in Baghdad.

Obama speech proves that the US won't always do whatever Israel's government asks it to do

If you believe that the Israeli prime minister's eagerness for war with Iran reflects the opinion of the whole of Israel, you may now want to reconsider, CNN's former senior editor of Middle East affairs, Octavia Nasr, wrote in the Lebanese daily Annahar.

"Anyone who thinks that the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) still wields absolute power, as it did for decades within the US should get their facts right," she added. "And those who expected or feared that President Barack Obama would respond favourably to Israel's plans to attack Iran must be either confused or elated right now."

On Sunday, Mr Obama spoke to the annual meeting of Aipac, the US pro-Israel lobby. This yearly address has become routine.

As anticipated, Mr Obama wooed the highly influential lobby and uttered all the right words. He punctuated his speech with many a cliché, said "the US will always have Israel's back" and once again confirmed that Israel is "the historic home of the Jewish people".

He didn't forget to mention "my administration's unprecedented commitment to Israel's security".

"It is obvious that this American president, just like all of his predecessors have been and all of his successors will be, is aware that this is a rite that he needs to go through to guarantee the Jewish vote in the race for a second presidential term," the writer commented.

In fact, the US's absolute support for Israel, and the unique bond between the two nations, is deeply rooted in American culture. It is taught in schools and continuously asserted in various aspects of the American daily life.

However, the US president did not tell the war-hungry politicians and commentators what they wanted to hear. They wanted Mr Obama to declare war on Iran. They wanted him to address a strong message to the Iranian leadership that the US would support the Israelis' "unanimous" decision to attack Iran.

But, does this really depict the whole picture of the Israeli public opinion? In truth, under the commotion and the escalatory rhetoric, there are voices in Israel calling for a new approach towards Iran and its nuclear ambitions.

"The fact is the majority of Israel's supporters are against a war with Iran. The Israeli media abounds with evidence of this fact and a survey of Israeli views via social networks leads to the same conclusion," the writer argued.

In light of these circumstances, Mr Obama's position at AIPAC's conference was brave, bold, responsible and balanced. It reveals the president's leadership skills.

"Mr Obama took a risk that could prove costly. But, should he succeed, it will be a step with positive repercussions on the Middle East and the future of Arab-Israeli relationships," the writer concluded.

Voting unconvincing in both Russia and Iran

Iran and Russia held major elections at about the same time this month, columnist Hazem Saghiya noted in yesterday's edition of the London-based newspaper Al Hayat. The two countries are quite different but the election results have been equally spurned in both, he said.

The presidential elections in Moscow and the parliamentary vote in Iran were equally publicly impugned, he said. "In fact, challenging the result in Russia … started in the form of demonstrations even before the vote."

Former president and outgoing prime minister Vladimir Putin, seemingly won the Russian contest hands down, but members of the opposition dismissed the results as fixed. Some Russians went as far as to say the elections were conducted by "mobsters", the columnist said.

As to the Iranian parliamentary elections, they were challenged in a different manner: boycott. "The reform movement simply did not take part. Its two emblematic figures, [Mir Hussein] Mousavi and [Mehdi] Karroubi are still under house arrest - and not many people know exactly how that's going," the columnist said.

Russia has come a long way on the path of democratisation, but more recently, and certainly after these cooked-up elections, the country has regressed. Iran, for its part, has already proved that there is a minimum level of democracy it will not go beyond.


Plate is full as Arab League summit nears

Baghdad, of all Arab capitals, will be hosting at the end of this month one of the most complex Arab League summits in a long time, the Dubai-based newspaper Al Bayan said yesterday.

"The Syrian file will certainly take centre stage,: the editorial noted, "as the Arab League is required to find a peaceful way to stop the violence and bloodshed perpetrated against civilians."

The League will also have to determine how it will route concrete assistance - medical and other - to the Syrian people.

Yet, as complicated and pressing as it is, the Syrian crisis is not going to be the only item on the agenda. All Arab countries that have seen uprisings have problems of their own.

For instance, the transition in Yemen is still brittle. The country is "still faced with notorious security and economic challenges". In Libya, the long road to building a modern, sovereign state is at its very early beginnings.

Moreover, the critical presidential elections in Egypt - the country reputed for its stabilising potential in the Middle East - will not take place until late spring.

As if that were not enough, the internal politico-sectarian issues of the host country, Iraq, will be the elephant in the room at the gathering.


* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk