x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Is US upholding 'Arabian Gulf' tag?

The nomenclature used to designate the Gulf is still a highly sensitive issue in the region.

In the ongoing arm-wrestle between the United States and Iran over the latter's nuclear programme, something fell through the cracks of the media: senior US officials have been using the phrase "Arabian Gulf" to refer to what Washington officially calls the "Persian Gulf", wrote Abdullah Khalifa al Shaiji, the head of the political science department at Kuwait University in the UAE newspaper Al Ittihad.

The nomenclature used to designate the Gulf is still a highly sensitive issue in the region. Arabs started using the term "Arabian Gulf" since the 1960s with the rise of pan-Arab nationalism; it is the name all Arab nations use officially to refer to the Gulf. Then, after the 1979 revolution in Iran, the new leaders in Tehran proposed the appellation "Islamic Gulf", but the suggestion was quickly forgotten.

In a news conference two weeks ago, Andrew Shapiro, the US Assistant Secretary of State, used the phrase "Arabian Gulf and Greater Middle East", even though the Greater Middle East does include the Arabian Gulf region. So there seems to be an over-emphasis there. A few days later, Kurt M Campbell, the US Assistant Secretary of State for East-Asian and Pacific Affairs, talked about "piracy in the Arabian Gulf", which irked the American Iranian Council, Tehran's lobby in Washington.

So is the US abandoning the "Persian Gulf", an appellation it has officially adopted since 1917?


Yemeni bombs will fuel fear

The sophisticated design of the mail explosives believed to have been air-shipped by al Qa'eda to hit targets in the West three days ago has raised suspicions about the actual level of al Qa'eda's bomb engineering abilities, according to the London-based newspaper Al Quds al Arabi.

"Such doubts may be on point, but it is hard to deny the probability that explosives experts with the network have acquired highly advanced skills. Indeed, the second generation of active members in al Qa'eda are young graduates of western universities. It is not unlikely, then, that they have put their expertise at the service of the organisation," the newspaper noted in its editorial.

This said, these mail bomb attempts must not be blown out of proportion. They must not be used to nurture fear of Islam among western societies, something that will increase the pressure on Muslim communities in a progressively right-leaning West.

Al Qa'eda, if it indeed turns out to be behind those booby-trapped parcels, is proving that it is still alive and kicking, and capable of spreading terror.

This also goes to show that the multi-trillion dollar war the United States has waged on terrorism - which cost it its good reputation in the Muslim world - looks like it is still at its beginning, although a decade has passed since the first missile was fired in Afghanistan.


Boycotting the tribunal may divide Lebanon

The latest declaration by Hassan Nasrallah to boycott the Special Tribunal signifies the unchanging nature of his party's attitude towards the investigation, wrote Abdullah Iskanadar in a commentary for the London-based newspaper Al Hayat.

Mr Nasrallah has always expressed a strong opposition against the establishment of the Tribunal since its inception, when he withdrew his ministers from the government. Since then, rounds of national dialogue have been held on key issues related to the national army and the resistance military. This agreement was conducive to achieving internal security and making progress towards national reconciliation.

But the recent statements by the party are likely to breach the minimum consensus achieved in the recent past between political actors. Moreover, it might put an end to the ambitious national plan aimed at reintegrating Hizbollah's weaponry into the national defence system.

Although Hizbollah was an active player in Lebanon in accordance with outcomes of internal political talks and also of those mediated by third parties, Hizbollah has made it clear this time that it has repositioned itself in the Lebanese political scene by threatening to break all the previous accords. The party may see its future from a different perspective and on a different path than that of its Lebanese counterparts.


Syria-America detente turns cold in Beirut

In an opinion piece for the UAE newspaper Al Khaleej, Saad Mehio wrote that the US administration suddenly changed its diplomatic policy towards Syria after it warned Damascus to stop interfering in Lebanon's internal affairs.

The visit of the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Lebanon instigated this change because it undermined the American-French roadmap to isolate Lebanon from the direct influence of Iran and Syria.

Although busy with Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Arab-Israeli conflict, Washington reiterated its support for the International Tribunal for Lebanon, and put Lebanon at the top of its foreign policy agenda.

Washington has mobilised the UN Security Council to back the tribunal by virtue of the UN resolution 1559, which calls for the end of Syrian hegemony over Lebanon, and allows the international community to help the country overcome its political crisis.

This change is likely to push Syria to ponder the US's possible reactions in the near future regarding issues of the Middle East, and whether it is serious in its pursuit. Damascus might also resort to new strategies to maintain its influence in Lebanon by way of its inside allies and Iran.

* Digest compiled by Achraf el Bahi