MIDEAST MIRROR 14.05.15, SECTION B (THE ARAB WORLD)
1- The charged beginning of a new era
2-Hizbollah raises the flag
3-Breaking Iraq apart
1- The charged beginning of a new era
Despite the American attempts to underplay the significance of the absence of most Gulf leaders, no one disputes the fact that the Saudi and Bahraini monarchs’ decision to boycott the [Camp David] summit – given that neither Sultan Qabus nor the president of the UAE were expected to attend from the start – is meant as a message of anger and frustration regarding the U.S.'s positions over the past few years…Whatever the explanations, the images from the Camp David meeting today will depict the momentous erosion of U.S. influence and interest in the Gulf and the region, as well as the Obama administration’s weakness. They will also reflect the profound disappointment felt by some of Washington's traditional allies, despite the tens of billions of dollars they have invested in bilateral relations in the form of huge arms deals that recent developments have shown are insufficient to ensure their security--pan-Arab daily al-Quds al-Arabi
What the Gulf states – specifically Saudi Arabia and the UAE – want from the U.S. are strong security guarantees against any foreign aggression. They also want the U.S. to confront any foreign party that tries to incite domestic parties, and to commit to seriously confront the expansion of Iranian influence from the eastern Mediterranean to Yemen. In addition, they want the U.S. to supply them with advanced weapons and institutionalize cooperation between the two sides by holding an annual summit and holding joint military manoeuvres, for example. President Obama, however, does not want to make any new security commitments he believes would tie his hands or undermine the chances of reaching a historic nuclear agreement with Tehran. After all, all of Obama's Arab initiatives or policies so far have only yielded contrary results, or have led to the persistence of the dangerous stalemate from Libya to Yemen via Syria, Iraq and the [Palestine/Israel] peace process--Hisham Milhem in Lebanese an-Nahar
The level of participation at the summit and the statements by some Gulf official, as well as what is being said in the Gulf's media, all give the impression that the gap between the two sides is much greater than the U.S. administration's ability to bridge... For this reason, the ceiling of expectations regarding the results of the Camp David summit seems to be modest in light of the two sides’ differences over fundamental issues. The U.S. alliance with the Gulf states will remain strong regardless of the current disagreements. But both sides are in the process of defining this relationship anew. The Camp David summit represents the charged beginning of a new era--Fahd al-Khitan in Jordanian al-Ghad
The absence of four out of six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) leaders from today's (Thursday's) Camp David summit with U.S. President Obama sends a clear signal of the Arab Gulf's disappointment at American policy in the region, especially as regards Iran, maintains the editorial in a Qatari-owned pan-Arab daily. Nothing tangible is likely to emerge from this meeting that can address the Gulf's concerns regarding Iran, besides the sense of a continuous erosion of U.S. power and influence. The Gulf leaders want security guarantees from the U.S. administration which Washington is unwilling to provide, says a Lebanese commentator. In particular, they want President Obama to stem Iranian influence when he is more concerned about reaching a nuclear agreement with Tehran. This new Gulf attitude towards the U.S. represents a significant shift from the 1970s and 80s. The Gulf states' disagreements with the U.S. over Iran's role in many areas in the region seem to be too severe to be contained by Washington’s offers of security guarantees, maintains a Jordanian commentator. The results of the Camp David summit are therefore likely to be modest, but they do represent the beginning of a new era in relations between the two sides.
CONFLICTING SPECULATION: "U.S. President Barack Obama will meet today with leaders from the GCC at the Camp David retreat near Washington," notes the editorial in Thursday's Qatari-owned, London-based, pan-Arab daily al-Quds al-Arabi.
This meeting will be held amidst conflicting speculation and analyses regarding its potential outcome. But it is clear that the spectre of Iran and the expected nuclear agreement with it will haunt the meeting and be its main focus.
As to its form, and despite the American attempts to underplay the significance of the absence of most Gulf leaders, no one disputes the fact that the Saudi and Bahraini monarchs’ decision to boycott the summit – given that neither Sultan Qabus nor the president of the UAE were expected to attend from the start – is meant as a message of anger and frustration regarding the U.S.'s positions over the past few years.
When Obama took the initiative a few days ago and called King Salman to try and convince him to attend, the answer was that the Saudi monarch would be 'busy supervising the humanitarian truce in Yemen.' One does not need to be an expert on Saudi affairs to realize that it would have been possible to delegate this mission to any government minister had the head of state intended to attend. Meanwhile, and until yesterday evening, no official explanation had been issued as to the Bahraini monarch's absence.
Whatever the explanations, the images from the Camp David meeting today will depict the momentous erosion of U.S. influence and interest in the Gulf and the region, as well as the Obama administration’s weakness. They will also reflect the profound disappointment felt by some of Washington's traditional allies, despite the tens of billions of dollars they have invested in bilateral relations in the form of huge arms deals that recent developments have shown are insufficient to ensure their security.
As for the true explanation of King Salman's position, it is most likely linked to the complications of bilateral relations, the topics that the summit will discuss, and the real aims behind it. The Saudi monarch cannot forget that Obama backed down from attacking Syria at the very last moment at the end of 2013 after Bashar's regime had used chemical weapons. Nor can he disregard Obama's recent unprecedented statements that 'the real threat to the Gulf comes from within and not from outside,' or the fact that he did not consult with Riyadh before reaching the memorandum of understanding regarding Iran’s nuclear program.
Even if the U.S. is no longer dependent on the Gulf's oil as it was in the past – China is now the main purchaser of Gulf and especially Saudi oil – Obama cannot justify a policy that his allies view as a form of ingratitude or even betrayal. As for the meeting's agenda, the Gulf states may try to obtain security guarantees in the form of American binding legal commitments. Washington has rejected this, and is most likely to confine itself to issuing a joint press statement stressing its commitment to 'ensure security in the Gulf as a common interest it shares with its states.' Such an American position, which is careful not to get involved in any war with Iran, contains almost nothing new, nor is it enough to compel the Obama administration to adopt any defensive measures [against Iranian schemes in the Gulf].
Gulf officials therefore seem to realize that the American goal behind this meeting is almost exclusively for PR purposes rather than anything else. Its aim is to 'mollify' the Gulf leaders as the date for signing the final agreement with Iran approaches. Yet this may not be the sole aim behind the meeting. Washington will ask its old allies to tone down their public criticism of the nuclear agreement and focus on the fact that it ensures that Tehran will not produce nuclear weapons, thereby achieving a Gulf as well as a regional and international interest.
As for the possibility of Washington cutting Iran’s role in the Syrian, Yemeni, Iraqi, and Lebanese files down to size, Obama will have no problem saying what the Gulf states want to hear. The most recent such statement was that 'Iran sponsors terrorism' and that he is 'committed to the Gulf's security.' He may add a commitment to exert efforts with Tehran to convince it to reconsider its positions. But past experience has shown that Obama will back down from any practical implementation of these statements as soon as the moment of truth arrives.
Some Arabs may see in the American media positions that will be issued today as a sort of 'psychological victory' or a justification to pursue their habit of wishful thinking. This is the habit that is leading them to believe for example, that Iran– which backed the Syrian regime when it was under siege and economically exhausted – is going to abandon this regime after the sanctions have been are lifted and it is officially recognized as a regional superpower, which will lead to the collapse of the Syrian regime soon.
Washington will naturally not volunteer to correct such illusions that serve one of its strategic aims – namely to 'smuggle through' the agreement with Tehran as soon as possible and with the least possible cost. As for the other possibility – that the agreement will give Iran a free hand and strengthen its regional influence, which explains why it is in a hurry to sign the agreement – this will not be in Washington's interest to discuss at all.
"This is especially true given that Washington has no coherent strategy for securing its vital interests in a region that is boiling over with conflicts, let alone for guaranteeing the security that its allies are demanding," concludes the daily.
OLD AXIOMS CHALLENGED: "The first summit between President Barack Obama and the leaders of the GCC will be held at Camp David amidst unusual security conditions, and in the shadow of political changes in the Gulf and the U.S. that have challenged some of the old axioms that have governed relations between the two sides," writes Hisham Milhem in Thursday's Lebanese daily an-Nahar.
Among the most important of these changes are the signs of weakness and breakdown in some of the states that were born almost a century ago, including Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. In addition, there is the emergence of alternative forces that are acting outside the framework of states, that are in control of lands and cities and that behave as if they were states. Most important of these is ISIS, which claims to represent the Sunnis in an Islamic state established on Syrian and Iraqi land, and to a lesser extent, the Shiite militias and organizations in Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen, with Hizbollah and the Houthis at the forefront.
This phenomenon has been accompanied by the weakness and marginalization of some of the most important 'historic' political centers in the Arab world – from Cairo to Baghdad to Damascus – and ferocious Sunni/Shiite fighting across a broad front, stretching from the Gulf to the Mediterranean that has been unprecedented since the dawn of Islam.
These Arab collapses have coincided with Iran's emergence as a state that seeks a central and focal role in the Middle East and Central Asia via the Gulf, after proving its ability to mobilize and use armed Shiite organizations and movements in its wars with the Sunni Arabs. In fact, Tehran has succeeded in turning proxy wars into a military art. Its tactical management of the conflicts in Syria and Iraq offers stark evidence of this fact. And in addition to all the above, the U.S. has grown near to becoming the largest energy producer in the world.
What the Gulf states – specifically Saudi Arabia and the UAE – want from the U.S. are strong security guarantees against any foreign aggression. They also want the U.S. to confront any foreign party that tries to incite domestic parties, and to commit to seriously confront the expansion of Iranian influence from the eastern Mediterranean to Yemen. In addition, they want the U.S. to supply them with advanced weapons and institutionalize cooperation between the two sides by holding an annual summit and holding joint military manoeuvres, for example.
President Obama, however, does not want to make any new security commitments he believes would tie his hands or undermine the chances of reaching a historic nuclear agreement with Tehran. After all, all of Obama's Arab initiatives or policies so far have only yielded contrary results, or have led to the persistence of the dangerous stalemate from Libya to Yemen via Syria, Iraq and the [Palestine/Israel] 'peace process.' This partially, at least, explains Obama's insistence on reaching a nuclear agreement with Iran and his unwillingness to anger it in Syria and Iraq.
When the Carter Doctrine was announced in 1980, the U.S. had forces in the region deployed ‘beyond the horizon,’ or as one clever analyst put it to the Americans: 'We want you to be like the wind; we want to feel you, but we do not want to see you.'
"How different the situation is today!" concludes Milhem.
NOT MUCH TO OFFER: "The U.S. does not have that much to offer its Gulf allies who are angry at its policies in the Middle East," writes Fahd al-Khitan in Thursday's Jordanian daily al-Ghad.
In an interview with the Saudi daily Asharq al-Awsat on the eve of the Camp David summit scheduled for today, U.S. President Barack Obama sought to dispel the Gulf leaders' doubts concerning his country's commitment to their countries' security and interests. But he also reaffirmed his administration's public positions that are not in accord with the Gulf states' policies.
What worries the Gulf states most is the nuclear agreement with Iran. For Obama, this agreement represents the sole strategic success for his Middle East policy that he cannot abandon regardless of Iran being 'a state that sponsors terrorism,' as he put it himself.
The U.S. administration shares the Gulf states' worries regarding Iran's role in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, and its intervention in the affairs of some Gulf states. But at the same time, it prefers diplomatic solutions to a military confrontation as the best means of dealing with these issues. The American approach to Syria is also not very satisfying for the Gulf states. Even if the U.S. finds no role for Bashar al-Assad in Syria's future, it still clings to political solutions and rejects a military solution to this crisis.
At present, the U.S. gives priority to defeating the terrorist ISIS, before thinking of toppling Assad's regime. The program of training moderate Syrian fighters managed by Washington in cooperation with Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, aims to end ISIS's control in Syria, primarily and before anything else. Even if they support this program, the Gulf states have ambitions to expand the list of targets to include Assad's regime. There have been wide-ranging calls in Gulf capitals for a ‘Decisive Storm’ in Syria, similar to that that Saudi Arabia is waging in Yemen.
In Iraq, the Obama administration is relying on cooperation with PM Haidar al-'Abadi's government to destroy ISIS and adopt policies of reconciliation with Iraq's Sunnis that would bring them back into the fold of the country's political life. The Gulf leaders are not keen on this policy; they still view 'Abadi's government as the other face of [former PM] Maliki's [pro-Iranian] government. They believe that Iraq as a whole has been 'occupied' by Iran, as more than one Gulf official has said.
The U.S. administration's basket contains many programs for military and security support for the Gulf states, via which the U.S. wishes to reconfirm its commitment to the region's security in confrontation with the likely Iranian threats. The Obama administration believes that the plans it is proposing to deploy a missile defense shield to protect the Gulf states' security are sufficient to dispel the Gulf leaders' fears that an agreement with Iran will come 'at our expense,' as Gulf officials repeat.
But how effective will this American offer actually be in reassuring the Gulf states and containing the tension in relations with Washington? The level of participation at the summit and the statements by some Gulf official, as well as what is being said in the Gulf's media, all give the impression that the gap between the two sides is much greater than the U.S. administration's ability to bridge by this offer.
For this reason, the ceiling of expectations regarding the results of the Camp David summit seems to be modest in light of the two sides’ differences over fundamental issues.
The U.S. alliance with the Gulf states will remain strong regardless of the current disagreements. But both sides are in the process of defining this relationship anew.
"The Camp David summit represents the charged beginning of a new era," concludes Khitan.
2-Hizbollah raises the flag
By raising the flag over the heights of al-Qalamoun, Hizbollah has sent a number of critical messages to Syria, Lebanon and Israel, says today's Lebanese daily as-Safir
The relative ease with which Hizbollah and the Syrian army have captured a strategic mountain peak in the mountainous Qalamoun area along the borders between Syria and Lebanon where thousands of Syrian opposition fighters have been deployed, has numerous implications for Lebanese domestic scene, the Syrian regime's security, the Syrian opposition, and – last but not least – Israel, maintains an analysis in a Lebanese daily.
QUALITATIVE ACHIEVEMENT: "Days after the start of the Qalamoun battle and with successive operations that have gradually taken over the positions controlled by the armed [Syrian opposition] elements in the barren lands of 'Assal al-Ward, Brital and at-Tufail, Hizbollah has secured a qualitative achievement that may represent a turning point in the conflict with these armed groups," writes an unattributed analysis in Thursday's left-leaning Lebanese daily as-Safir.
The party captured the Tallat Musa peak that lies at around 2580 meters above sea level and that allows whoever is in control to have the longest arm in the Qalamoun's barren areas.
The scene of a Hizbollah fighter raising the party's flag at this peak after the armed elements’ expulsion from it sends a clear symbolic message. It recalls the achievements of the resistance during the confrontation with the [pre-2000] Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon.
Well-informed sources have told as-Safir that the capture of the crucial Tallat Musa position means that the overall battle of Qalamoun has now been largely decided and that it is approaching its end. What remains is to mop up some scattered sites and consolidate and fortify the new positions captured by the resistance and the Syrian army.
These sources have also noted that the large-scale operation in the barren Qalamoun areas has achieved its main goal that was specified by Hizbollah’s leadership in advance as fortifying the security of the Lebanese interior and improving the resistance and Syrian army's positions in Lebanon's eastern mountain range. The same sources have also noted that the process of 'fortification and improvement' is now almost complete, and that the resistance has succeeded in protecting itself and its people, as planned.
What happened in the Qalamoun’s barren areas yesterday may be said to imply the following:
- It confirms Hizbollah’s combat readiness and ability to determine the outcome of battle at the appropriate time, despite the difficulty of fighting in these barren areas and their complex terrain.
- It confirms the professional management of the battle and the use of the appropriate tactics that are in harmony with the nature of the terrain and the enemy. This allowed the resistance to capture Tallat Musa with the least possible loss compared to the peak's strategic importance. This, after all, is the highest point east of the international Beirut/Damascus road via al-Masna' [border post]. Although it lies inside Syrian territories, it is around one kilometer away from the Lebanese borders.
- The battle has readjusted the balance of power after the [Syrian opposition] armed factions’ recent success on the ground in northern Syria, especially in Idlib and Jisr ash-Shughour.
- The capture of the mountain peak provides a security umbrella for the Lebanese areas neighboring the Qalamoun barren areas, reaching deep into Lebanese territories; it also protects the back of the city of Damascus.
- The capture of this position offers fire control over wide areas on both the Lebanese and Syrian sides of the border. It severs the supply arteries for the terrorist groups and controls the crossing points that pose a threat to Lebanon via which car bombs and explosive belts have been smuggled in to the country.
- The area in which the terrorist groups were deployed has shrunk and their ability to move has been diminished. The operation has therefore restricted the options available to the armed elements who will now find themselves confronted with the possibility of fleeing to 'Irsal's barren lands or Raqqa inside Syria, surrender, or the certainty of death. (And this is to say nothing of the clash between ISIS and the Nusra Front in tandem with the start of the battle).
- The battle of Qalamoun points to the possibility of altering the new battlefield equation in Idlib and Jisr ash-Shughour. Both may now be affected by the Barren Lands Storm and the impetus and momentum it may generate.
- The battle sends a message to Israel that the resistance is still in the best of conditions and that the war in Syria has not hemorrhaged it, but on the contrary, has enhanced its expertise and power.
"In this sense, Hizbollah’s operations in the Qalamoun's barren lands may represent a dress rehearsal for a similar scenario whose arena may be the occupied Upper Galilee in any future war [with Israel] if it were to break out," concludes the daily.
3-Breaking Iraq apart
A new Congressional bill threatens to partition Iraq and redraw the regional map, warns Yusuf Makki in Saudi al-Watan
The recent bill presented to the U.S. Congress calling for offering separate military aid to the various constituents of the country represents a serious threat to Iraq's unity that is only a step towards an old scheme to partition it, as a prelude to redrawing the map of the rest of the region, warns a veteran Saudi commentator.
TEN YEARS AFTER: "Less than ten years after the U.S. Congress's vote in favor of a non-binding bill to partition Iraq into three states, the Vice-Chairman of the Senate's Armed Services Committee Senator Mac Thornberry has proposed a bill asking the U.S. secretaries of defense and state to require the Baghdad government headed by Haidar al-'Abadi to give the Sunnis and the Kurds a greater role in ruling the country, and more specifically, in combating ISIS," writes Yusuf Makki in the Saudi daily al-Watan.
Then senator and Barack Obama’s current Vice-President Joseph Biden presented the original non-binding Congressional bill. It crowned the political process engineered by then U.S. ambassador Paul Bremer; namely, that that shaped 'the new Iraq' on the basis of distributing power between the various sects and minorities, doing away the concept of citizenship.
This process coincided with the systematic destruction of the Iraqi national state, the disbandment of the Iraqi army, and a campaign of persecution of those opposed to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. It also coincided with a shu'ubi [Iranian anti-Arab] onslaught on Iraq's history, destroying its inherited cultural foundations, which included an attack on the Iraqi Museum, Baghdad University and libraries, as well as destroying state institutions. The leaders of the sectarian militias that came from outside Iraq with the occupiers and on the back of their tanks led this destruction process with a green light from the occupation forces.
Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. secretary of defense at the time, had no qualms about declaring that the anarchy and destruction that was unfolding in Iraq was the first exercise of democracy by a nation unaccustomed to freedom, and described what happened as 'creative anarchy.'
The adoption of Biden's non-binding bill to partition Iraq coincided with a series of writings and reports from a number of Western research centers on the issue of Iraq's partition, arguing in its favor as a practical solution that would guarantee U.S. interests. This also coincided with the U.S. Armed Forces Journal revelation of the 'Blood Borders' map that includes a plan to partition the Arab world and redesign its map in a manner that creates mini-states on sectarian and ethnic bases to replace a number of existing Arab states. At the time, a number of strategic analysts noted that the implementation of this scheme had already begun in Palestine, Lebanon, Sudan, and Somalia. It later stretched to include Libya, Yemen, and Syria.
Biden's project included a plan to partition Iraq into Kurdish, Shiite, and Sunni entities on the pretext of putting an end to the violence and preventing the country from turning into a totally anarchic state. Although Biden's bill was non-binding, everything that Iraq has witnessed since its occupation suggests that partition of this age-old country has been implemented relentlessly.
The new bill proposed by Vice-Chairman of the Senate's Armed Services Committee Senator Mac Thornberry did not mention the issue of partition publicly; but it took practical steps towards this end. The bill made U.S. military aid to the Iraqi government contingent on the involvement of the Sunnis and the Kurds in governing the country. In addition, it made ending government support for the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), a precondition for providing American aid. And it called for urgent action in drafting legislation for creating a National Guard.
Although these demands may sound logical, what follows from them is a case of 'a true statement with malign intent.' The Senate's Armed Services Committee has threatened that unless its demands are satisfied, it will refrain from delivering 60% of the remaining aid to the Iraqi government and deliver most of it to the Kurds and Sunnis. And this assumes the presence of institutions that represent the minorities and various sects that can receive this aid on their behalf.
The proposed law allows for the delivery of military aid to non-governmental groups, referred to as ‘minorities in Iraq’. It openly states that 25% of U.S. military aid will be delivered to these minorities, while adding that management of this aid will be coordinated with the Baghdad government. But it returns to deception, thereby confirming the intention to partition the country by adding that 60% of this 25% will be sent directly to the Sunnis and the Kurds, if the Obama administration decides that PM Haidar al-'Abadi's government has made no 'satisfactory progress' in dealing with the problem of merging the minorities into the government, releasing prisoners who have not been charged, and addressing the unjust political treatment of some groups.
There is no doubt that what is dangerous about this project is the American decision-makers’ desire to deal with the Kurdish peshmerga forces and Sunni clans' fighters as two entities that are separate from the Iraqi army, thus allowing the U.S. to provide them with direct support to without first referring back to the Iraqi government. This prepares the ground for implementing the aforementioned notorious Biden project to partition Iraq. It delegates to the peshmerga forces and the Sunni clans' forces the mission of preserving national security in their areas. Moreover, the planned Sunni National Guard will be the equivalent to the peshmerga forces in the Kurdish areas and the Iraqi army in those areas that will remain under the authority of Baghdad. As a result, Iraq will break apart into three separate states, with no central government control over any of them.
The statement by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, that the Congress's bills do not necessarily reflect the administration’s foreign policies, and that this does not represent President Barack Obama who has the right to veto Congress's bill, makes little difference. It recalls the claim that Congressional demand to move Israel's capital to Jerusalem does not represent the [official] American point of view.
Past experience of our relations with the U.S. has repeatedly confirmed that Congress's decisions are not sidestepped simply because a long time has passed on them. On the contrary, they only pave the road to future and more decisive bills. The fact of the matter is that the American desire to partition Iraq did not begin today; it has been discussed ever since the 1970s, viewing Iraq as a soft target. This desire to partition Iraq has been reconfirmed in various ways since 1990 with the no-fly zones projecting an image of the Iraq of the future.
There is talk of a Sunni triangle, a Kurdish area, and a Shiite state in southern Iraq. All these aims highlight the U.S.’s aims and the European intentions behind it to partition Iraq.
Rejection of Iraq's partition is not a mere slogan issued by those forces that have contributed to the country's destruction. The most significant step in opposing it begins by rejecting the political process on which the current regime was based, achieving national reconciliation, building a strong Iraqi army, disbanding the sectarian militias, bringing Iraq back to its Arab environment, cancelling the decision to de-Baathify the country and rehabilitating the country's identity that created its history.
"Unless the above is achieved, the only thing lying in wait for Iraq will be more fires, further sedition, and greater eruptions of anger," concludes Makki.
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