x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

US air strike in Syria seems to be a possibility

The American stance on Syria has started to grow more assertive since the Geneva 2 conference, writes Oraib Al Rantawi in Addustour. Other topics: Hassan Nasrallah's weakening position (Tariq Hammad – Asharq Al Awsat), the price of the Egyptian revolution (Mohammed Salah – AL Hayat)

A US air strike in Syria seems more likely today after the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis with the ensuing likelihood of Russia exchanging Syria for Ukraine, wrote Oraib Al Rantawi in yesterday’s edition of the Jordan-based newspaper ­Addustour.

Washington has always been hesitant to use military force against the regime of Bashar Al Assad. Reasons reportedly ranged from President Barack Obama’s hesitant personality, to the US failures in Afghanistan and Iraq, the painful recession in the US, Iran’s role and other regional factors.

Today, however, the US president is asking his officials to rethink the US policy towards Syria and put all options on the table, including the use of direct military force and an end to the ban on supplying Syria’s opposition with sophisticated weapons.

In fact, the American stance on Syria has started to grow more assertive since the Geneva 2 conference. The US had suggested that all options were on the table, blamed the Assad regime for the two failed rounds of talks in Geneva and said that the regime did not honour the chemical weapons deal.

Also the US position on Syria has become akin to that of Saudi Arabia, especially after it gave the green light to arming the Syrian opposition with advanced weapons, something it has long opposed for fear that they might fall into the wrong hands.

Yet this has not led to a shift in power balance in Syria. The regime is making progress on most fronts. Meanwhile, the opposition, plagued by division and extremism, is losing ground.

Recently, some senior US officials and allies contended that the time was ripe for painful military strikes on the Assad regime without the risky business of a ground war, as was the case in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Advocates of this view have been buoyed by the turmoil in Kiev.

On the other hand, a settlement in Ukraine will make a US war in Syria a much less likely scenario. Some believe that there is a chance to trade Syria for Ukraine, in a scenario where the Kremlin abandons Mr Al Assad in return for Washington and Europe abandoning their allies in Kiev.

However, such a deal remains highly unlikely, as Syria ranks low in American and European priorities, compared to Ukraine. Still, it is certain that escalated western pressure on Russia in Kiev will cause Moscow to retaliate in Syria, and any gamble by Russia in neighbouring Ukraine will lead to the West reacting in Syria and on other fronts.

Hizbollah chief is weaker than Assad

A preliminary analysis of the Israeli air raids against Hizbollah’s targets at the Lebanese-Syrian border last week reveals that the chief of the Shiite militia in Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, is weaker than President Bashar Al Assad, who he is trying to protect, wrote Tariq Hammad in the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al Awsat.

Ever since making its foray into Syria, Hizbollah has been receiving blows from Israel as it targets its posts and weapons in Syria and on the border with Lebanon. Hizbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah’s only response to the aggression seems to be empty speeches, the writer said.

“Hizbollah itself is besieged. Recent explosions that targeted its positions in Beirut proved that it isn’t the impregnable fortress it claimed to be,” he added.

Recent operations against Hizbollah are aimed at complicating its situation amid its popular bases that are already divided. There are those who are unhappy with Hizbollah’s involvement in Syria as they fear repercussions sooner or later. Others see how Mr Nasrallah’s intervention in Syria has weakened the party’s position at the formation of the new Lebanese cabinet. Another section of Hizbollah looks at the repeated Israeli air raids as an insult that shows the militia in a weak light.

Mr Nasrallah is in trouble. There is nothing he can do to ward off attacks on his positions. His bigger predicament is the changed popular perception of his party’s objectives, now seen as sectarian.

Egyptians are paying the price of freedom

The Egyptian people continue to pay the price of two successive revolutions. There were those who benefited and were catapulted to the forefront and those that got burnt, but the people themselves didn’t have big ambitions. They sought nothing more than decent living, an ambition which, three years later, hasn’t materialised yet, observed the columnist Mohammed Salah in the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat.

“In fact, their living conditions have become harder,” the writer said. “Egyptians at present are made to assume the consequences of their own mistakes that require more than mere apologies to be overcome.”

Egypt’s revolutions succeeded in removing an autocratic regime, bringing freedom and dazzling the world. At the same time, however, the revolutions churned out opportunist groups whose schemes led to the collapse of the economy and therefore people’s livelihoods.

“Thus far, the military is able to guarantee the state’s survival and facts suggests Egypt is heading towards a ... a form of government it hasn’t seen before. But the cost of the past three years has been exorbitant: billions of Egyptian pounds lost, investments halted and institutions on the brink of collapse,” Salah noted.

* Digest compiled by Translation Desk