x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Syria woos Parisian regional lobby

Under Nicolas Sarkozy's tenure, the relationship between the two countries has undergone a series of positive developments, particularly in the wake of mutual visits by state officials.

The Syrian president Bashar Assad's recent visit to Paris highlights the sustained improvement in the relationship between Syria and France after years of stalemate during former president Jacques Chirac's term, wrote columnist Hussein al Zawi in an article for the Emirati daily Al Khaleej.

Under Nicolas Sarkozy's tenure, the relationship between the countries has undergone a series of positive developments, particularly in the wake of mutual visits by state officials.

Mr Assad's visit to the Elysee last week confirms his country's strategic role in the Middle East, especially as western countries, including France, do not wish to see another war erupting in the region, given the damaging effects on a precarious geopolitical equilibrium. Such a desire is compounded by the absence of alternatives if a regional conflict arises.

The French press confirmed that Mr Sarkozy is still wagering on Damascus' effective and moderate role in the region, and in Lebanon in particular, where recent political developments suggest serious repercussions.

"Damascus wanted to confirm to the international community that it doesn't want to be held accountable for the follies of some Lebanese factions, all the while assuming its regional role as a protector of interests that unites all countries in the region."


The US has proved to be a biased mediator

"Americans have been selling us words and because we are foolish, we always buy into them and at expensive prices," wrote the columnist Mazen Hammad in an article for the Qatari newspaper Al Watan. The most recent words we are to buy into are those heard in the US secretary of state's speech on the Middle East last Friday.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, applauded Hillary Clinton's speech as she agreed on two issues that not only bring Washington closer to Israel, but produce similar outcomes.

In reply to Mrs Clinton's address, Mr Netanyahu said the US has concluded that freezing settlement activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is futile and so decided to go straight into essential issues rather than borders.

The Israeli PM also expressed satisfaction with the US opposition to unilateral steps taken by the Palestinians with the UN Security Council or General Assembly to get an international acknowledgment of Palestine.

"The US cannot afford to be an impartial mediator. While it seems to defend the concept of settlement freeze, it ends up overlooking Israel's settlement expansion."

The Americans are taking us from one maze into another. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, has failed to keep his promise to resign in protest at the failure of talks with Israel.


Trying a new tack for peace through Syria

As Washington invites Palestinians and Israelis to yet another round of talks, Tareq Homayed, editor-in-chief of the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat asks: "Why doesn't Washington take another road to the long-awaited peace, as it would be much easier than the current course and could even be key to its solution,"

It is true that Syrian promises cannot be trusted, but the fact is, Syria has few alternatives. Damascus cannot protect its powerful role in the region, relinquish its support of Hizbollah and Hamas, and move away from Iran in exchange for mere promises. This would diminish its power.

Options are limited. The US has to achieve an unlikely Palestinian-Israeli peace, or it must hit Iran to isolate its allies in the region, Syria included. That would have severe consequences. Another, more viable option would be to attempt another course for peace, via Damascus, an option that can only be implemented by an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

In that case, Damascus would no longer be able to provide support to Hizbollah and Hamas or to maintain its alliance with Iran, as it would be forced to play a more active role in the region's stability.

Peace with Syria would eventually lead to peace with Palestine. It would isolate Iran's allies and lessen Tehran's power. Such a peace would support stability in the region and promote security and economic cooperation.


Hizbollah readies for menacing changes

Since last August, Hizbollah officials have threatened opponents with ultimatums and armed confrontation in response to the UN tribunal's impending indictment. Meanwhile, a number of opponents have recently dismissed such threats as void.

"This is wishful thinking," wrote the columnist Daoud al Sharyan in an article in the pan-Arab Al Hayat newspaper. Circumstances are ripe for violence today in Lebanon and the region more than any time before."

Hizbollah can take over the streets, disable the country and create a crisis that would reshuffle the political conditions in Lebanon. It is true that the Islamic party's threats betray an underlying fear, but that does not mean they are not likely to be realised. The party at the moment has no other alternative than escalation.

It is not true that Hizbollah's menacing threats do not follow any Arab, Islamic or international pressure, for the party's past behaviour reveals that it acts upon signals from regional allies. Therefore, its most recent escalatory threats reveal a regional direction.

It is indisputable that Hizbollah is gearing up for a major role change. How would this change occur and who would pay its price?

* Digest compiled by Racha Makarem