x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Small things speaks volumes at Mecca summit

A commentator asks whether the apparent truce between Iran and Saudi Arabia will last. Other topics: Morsi's decision to demote generals and why Syrian rebels should be armed.

Little events at the Mecca summit offer insights about how power relationships are changing

Watching the Mecca emergency summit which ended Wednesday, one finds several possible developments ahead, Abdel Bari Atwan wrote in the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi.

The Mecca summit saw two striking embraces, one case of neglect, and a TV channel incident, the writer observed.

Saudi monarch King Abdullah and his guest, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, embraced each other warmly. "Who imagined that the two leaders who are in a proxy war on the Syrian ground could be this friendly to each other?"

Was this an example of political hypocrisy? Or is it the start of a détente to prevent an even bigger clash in the region, under the banner of destroying Iran's nuclear facilities, the writer asked.

The second embrace was between the new Egyptian president and Mr Ahmadinejad. This was the first time in 40 years - since the signing of Camp David Accords which led to a rupture between these states, that the heads of the two governments shook hands.

Following a successful Egyptian revolution and a Muslim Brotherhood candidate becoming president, a rapprochement between Egypt and Iran is not unlikely, especially considering the growing distance between Egypt and the US with Israel, the writer went on.

The case of neglect involved the Saudi king ignoring the Egyptian president. The king had the Emir of Qatar seated on his right and Mr Ahmadinejad on his left, while Mr Morsi was farther away.

The TV incident came when Mr Ahmadinejad made a victory gesture before the camera of the Saudi-owned satellite TV channel Al Arabiya, and asked the photographer if he had really recorded the scene - a hint at the channel's anti-Iranian policy.

"I disagree with the opinion that agreement between the two men [King Abdullah and President Ahmadinejad] could lead to a solution to the Syrian crisis and stem the bloodshed," the writer said.

This is because the two countries are no longer the leading players; other forces are. Besides, the situation on the ground suggests the presence of a powerful third party: hardline Islamists.

Due to Arab, and particularly Saudi, political mistakes in Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Lebanon, Iran has become a major regional military power.

Today, Iran pulls the strings in two-thirds of Iraq, most of Lebanon, and the Syrian regime. It also creates a strategic and military balance in its standoff with Israel, and has "dormant and active cells" in most Gulf states.

"I do not think that President Ahmadinejad … can give up these strategic assets in a passing meeting … because decision-making [in Iran] is not in the hands of one man," he noted.

The Mecca summit can, at best, result in a "media truce" or probably a political truce, but that may soon evaporate under the US and Israeli menace of war.

Rebels must have advanced weapons

Two things are certain in Syria, columnist Abdul Rahman Al Rashed argued in the Thursday's edition of the London-based paper Asharq Al Awsat: First, the regime's collapse is only a matter of time. Second, the regime and its allies are capable, in the meantime, of inflicting harm on the Syrian people and the region.

The Assad regime is infamous for sabotage. The latest setbacks for the Syrian rebels and the regime's kidnappings and conspiracies in Lebanon require that the rebels be immediately supplied with advanced weaponry, the writer noted.

The rebels could have so far been able to down only one warplane. This is only because they are short on advanced weapons to combat fighter aircrafts and armour.

"The battle is definitely disproportionate, and so this equation prevails: a wounded Assad is able to keep killing, but is doomed to fall after a while."

There are several reasons for denying the rebels advanced weapons. The rebels are disunited. Israel and its allies don't want the rebels to have anti-tank and aircraft missiles that might end up being used against Israel. And Turkey is worried that such weapons could fall into the hands of the separatist Kurdish Workers' Party. Also there is the fear of extremists.

But such worries must not cloud the fact the Assad regime is cracking, and arming the rebels would expedite the fall.

Morsi's decisions were not coordinated

While the latest moves by president Mohammed Morsi have surprised Egyptians, they have shocked Israelis, wrote Fahmi Huwaidi in the Cairo-based daily Al Shorouk.

Israeli radio reported last Monday that the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, had told his inner circle that the dismissal of top military leaders by the Egyptian president was - for Israel - worse than the toppling of former president Hosni Mubarak.

The report also said that Mr Netanyahu had halted discussions about Iran to have the cabinet study the ramifications of Mr Morsi's decisions.

Likewise, commentator Amnon Abramovic told Israel's Channel 2 that President Morsi would be a nuisance to Israel and it should therefore adapt to the new situation in Egypt.

Such views refute claims by some Egyptian analysts who had rushed to comment on the president's decision to retire top generals, claiming it had been coordinated with regional and international players, in reference to US and Israel. That is certainly not the way Israel has interpreted the move, apparently.

"The fact that Israel was shocked and annoyed … proves that Egypt is heading in the right direction," the writer said.


* Digest compiled by Abdelhafid Ezzouitni