x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Context of the $60bn US-Saudi arms deal

In the next few days the US defence department will send a memo to Capitol Hill regarding the $60 billion arms deal that was reached between Washington and Riyadh several months ago, wrote Khaled al Dakheel in the comment pages of the London-based newspaper Al Hayat.

In the next few days the US defence department will send a memo to Capitol Hill regarding the $60 billion arms deal that was reached between Washington and Riyadh several months ago, wrote Khaled al Dakheel in the comment pages of the London-based newspaper Al Hayat.  By virtue of the 10-year contract, Saudi Arabia will be purchasing 84 F15 Eagles, 178 helicopters, plus warships and various types of missiles. Since it is the heftiest contract in the history of US arms dealing, it rightly received wide media attention and raised questions among analysts. 

Some noted that Riyadh is offering a much-needed cash injection into the US treasury. But such a myopic reading ignores the security and political implications of the deal in the Middle East. "The Gulf region suffers from a chronic case of instability that has lasted for four decades." The main reason behind this long volatility is the skewed power balance the British empire left behind in the early 1970s. Then, the Iranian revolution in 1979, the two Gulf wars and the fall of Baghdad in 2003 came to make an already hazy picture all the more opaque. In light of Iran's suspicious nuclear ambitions and the heterogeneous attitude of GCC states toward Tehran, Saudi Arabia appears to be taking upon itself the duty of offsetting Iran's military edge to restore some power balance in the region.

Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, has been one of the staunchest opponents of talks between the Palestinians and Israelis, but now he seems to have made an about-face, the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds al Arabi stated in its editorial.

The Arab League archives are full of statements preaching against the Palestinian participation in the direct peace talks since previous rounds of indirect negotiations did not leverage the peace process in any way. Last week, however, in a news conference on the sidelines of a meeting among Arab foreign ministers, Mr Moussa declared that the current peace talks ought to be given a chance. The Arab states will encourage any progress that may come out of them, he added.

"This changing, in fact contradictory, stance puts in sharp focus the limitations of the pan-Arab institution," the newspaper declared. "It is hard to come up with a justification for giving direct talks a chance, since the whole process has been bent to comply with all the Israeli terms." Some may argue that the Arab League's intent is to expose Israel's fickle commitment to peace and to absolve the Arab and Palestinian sides from any blame should the talks fail.  But Israel has had no qualms in failing the peace process many times before, and there is no sign it will behave differently this time around.

"Paradoxes in Lebanese politics have no end," wrote Hossam Kanfani, a columnist with the Emirati newspaper Al Khaleej. Smoke seems never to clear in a country that keeps parading the motto of "coexistence", a notion that, so far, has merely served the purposes of socio-political posturing. A recent event perfectly captured this reality: the September 16 anniversary of the infamous Sabra and Shatila massacre which saw the killing of hundreds of Palestinian refugees on Lebanese soil in 1982.

Lebanese society generally avoids talking about the perpetrators of Sabra and Shatila, convinced that "national reconciliation" is precious enough to warrant the glossing over of atrocities that have preceded it. But a reconciliation based on denial will not last; it will only generate more contradictions. When some Lebanese and Palestinian groups were commemorating the 28th anniversary of the massacre last week, other Lebanese citizens, were remembering the assassination of Bachir Gemayel, the mastermind of the massacre that was conducted by "Lebanese hands under an Israeli cover". Commemorating Gemayel's assassination is a form of homage to the perpetrators of the crime against the Palestinians. Add in the paradox of Hizbollah's weapons and other dark collusions with the "enemy" Israel, and you'll see it clearly: it's rain and sun in Lebanon's single sky.

Iyad Allawi, the leader of the Al Iraqiyya coalition and the former prime minister of the first Iraqi government after the fall of Saddam's regime, said it is irrational to replace one dictatorship with another in Baghdad. He said the Iraqi prime minister Nouri al Maliki is in the wrong for insisting to stay in power.

In an interview with the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al Awsat, Mr Allawi said in London that his coalition has won fairly the parliamentary elections in March, and any move to hijack its right to form a government would necessarily flout the will of the Iraqi people and the democratic process, and "would mean that force imposes its terms on the constitution". "If this kind of thing ever happens, the leaders of Al Iraqiyya will get together and take the position they deem fit," Mr Allawi said. "Some political forces want to establish the once-theoretical sect-based quota system as a political practice, so they are now attacking Al Iraqiyya and threatening to expropriate its legitimate rights." 

About his main political rival, Mr Allawi said: "Al Maliki must understand that no one stays in power forever. I do feel like there are some serious tribulations ahead and I expect - God forbid - that resulting reactions will run counter to the principles of democracy." * Digest compiled by Achraf A El Bahi aelbahi@thenational.ae