x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Obama sets stage for war with Iran

The US president used his trip to the Middle East to assign roles for a potential confrontation, an Arabic-language commentator says. Other topics: Israel and Syria.

The US president's visit to the Middle East, including Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, was a preamble to war. It was intended to distribute roles and responsibilities among its leaders, suggested Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor of the London-based newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi.

"In his unprecedented courtship speech to the Israelis, President Obama vowed to avoid another holocaust. He confirmed that Israel would always be strong and could always wager on US support," he wrote.

Talking about the Iranian nuclear programme, he emphasised that all options were on the table and that a nuclear Iran wouldn't be possible to contain. He went on to give Israel free rein in tackling Iranian threats without need to refer to Washington.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, got the message and was quick to respond to it directly by threatening to crush Tel Aviv and Haifa should Israel wage an attack on Iran.

It was not just a tour for Mr Obama. If it was so, he would not have mediated an almost impossible reconciliation between Israel and Turkey.

He was able to compel Mr Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, to personally call his Turkish counterpart and offer a clear apology for the Mavi Marmara incident that resulted in the severance of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

"It is a known fact that Israeli leaders have never apologised for any of the crimes or massacres they have perpetrated since the creation of their state on Palestinian territories.

Mr Netanyahu himself repeatedly confirmed earlier that he wouldn't apologise to Turkey. He even went as far as demanding an apology from Turkey," Atwan wrote.

Hence, the question here is what are the motives behind such a digression on part of Mr Netanyahu? Not only did he call Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, to apologise, but he also acquiesced to all of his terms, including lifting the siege on the occupied Palestinian territories, according to the official statement.

As for Mr Erdogan, he too must have had strong reasons to accept Israel's apology immediately and normalise bilateral relations.

"Turkey is a Nato member. Its role in bringing down the Syrian regime has been public from the beginning and it has reasons to be alarmed over Iran's rising nuclear power just as much as Israel or Saudi Arabia," the writer added.

A plan for the Middle East has been simmering in Washington's kitchen. It may become clear in the coming weeks or months. In no way is it going to be peaceful, Atwan suggested.

There is no need to hold talks with Israel

We can only hope that the news we hear in the Israeli media about the Palestinian Authority's return to negotiations with Israel isn't true, said the columnist Mazen Hammad in the Qatari newspaper Al Watan.

"We hope it isn't true because President Obama, during his visit to the region, not only disappointed the Palestinian people, but didn't even dare to call for a freeze on settlement building, even if only to give President Mahmoud Abbas a justification to accept negotiations," he wrote.

"Now that the US president has openly and fully adopted the Israeli vision, we urge President Abbas to rise to the interests of his people and close down the PA's headquarters in the West Bank, handing Ramallah to the occupation authorities to manage."

Mr Obama did admit that settlement plans impede peace, but he didn't propose any practical measures to ensure a return to negotiations. By doing so, he revealed his bias towards Israel. However, he had no qualms about asking the Palestinians to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state.

"President Abbas mustn't hesitate to take Israel's leaders to the International Criminal Court for their crimes against the Palestinian people," the writer stressed. "He must act now and admit that any negotiation with the Jewish state would be nothing short of a crime against the rights of Palestinians."

New Syrian PM must get support from all

Ghassan Hitto was last Tuesday elected the first prime minister of an interim Syrian government. As expected, there were different reactions to the election, wrote the columnist Abdulrahman Al Rashid in the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al Awsat.

"The coalition, which is the large umbrella that includes all of Syria's oppositions, is made up of 16 groups representing various Syrian denominations and categories. This alone indicates the difficulty of managing the opposition and is enough cause for concern over Syria's future after the fall of the Assad regime," he noted.

However, the history of other nations that went through similar changes reveals that the Syrian case isn't one of a kind. After all, the Assad regime has marginalised all other political forces for more than 40 years and it is natural that these forces will compete among themselves once they get a chance.

"I don't know whether Ghassan Hitto is the right choice to lead the interim Syrian government or not. It is too early to judge him. But since there is no mechanism in place to represent all the Syrian people at the coalition's elections, believers in the cause of Syrian rebels have no other choice but to accept the ruling of the majority," he wrote.

* Digest compiled by Racha Makarem