MIDEAST MIRROR 08.05.15, SECTION B (THE ARAB WORLD)
1-Blackmail, common interests and freedom
2-ISIS prepares the ground for partition
3-Window of opportunity
1-Blackmail, common interests and freedom
Even if we were to assume for the sake of argument that this [proposed] American 'missile shield' is necessary for the Gulf's security and for reassuring and dispelling the Gulf's nations and rulers' fears, why have the Gulf governments spent tens of billions of dollars on anti-missile Patriot systems, specifically meant for Iranian missiles? And why is the U.S. administration speaking of an arms deal with Saudi Arabia worth over 150-billion dollars, not to mention the French Rafale jet fighters that Qatar has bought and the UAE is negotiating to buy, which will add another 20-billion dollars to the Gulf’s arms’ expenditure? This is a clear case of American/French 'blackmail' of the Gulf states that is meant to rob them of their resources and recycle their financial assets so as to ensure that they return to the West's banks without the Arab nation benefiting from them to help them emerge from their economic and social crises--'Abdelbari 'Atwan on pan-Arab www.raialyoum.com
The fact that the U.S. secretary of state informed his Saudi counterpart of the talks between the '5 + 1' and Iran regarding its nuclear program-- that the GCC foreign ministers will discuss in Paris – confirms the importance of the Kingdom's political role in bolstering regional security. Kerry also made it clear that Iran now poses a real threat to its neighbors. But this talk of Iran only emerged so frankly after Operation Decisive Storm exposed the Persian project in the region and stripped it naked before the world. This forced Washington to refrain from its courtship with Tehran…There are other issues that are certain to be discussed at the Camp David summit in a few days' time, as Kerry made clear. But all indications are that the Iranian nuclear file [blackmail] card has begun to lose its value, and that the region is on the verge of radical changes that will promote the interests of the moderate states--Saudi al-Watan
The U.S. has already said that its policies in the Middle East are not confined to its alliance with the Arabs, and that it can reach an understanding with Iran, as well as being on the side of the Israeli occupation – as it has always has. Moreover, it can shut its eyes to what is happening in Syria, reach an understanding with Iran in Iraq, and remain unconcerned with what is happening in Libya, Egypt, and Lebanon. What was said best by the Arabs was said by Amman: The Arabs should not wait for an American decision, especially after their success in Operation Decisive Storm. In fact, this operation is not momentous because of its military implications; it is so because it indicates that the Arabs have released themselves from the need to 'ask for permission' or wait for an American decision to act--Tareq Masarwah in Jordanian al-Ra'i
The U.S. and the West in general are blackmailing the Gulf Arab states into buying more and more of their weapons by setting up Iran as a 'bogeyman', even though an agreement will be signed with it to ensure that its nuclear program remains peaceful, warns the editor-in-chief of a pan-Arab online daily. And the Arabs seem willing to spend their fortunes on such arms deals, oblivious of the fact that they are being deceived. The U.S. was forced to change its tune on Iran after the success of Operation Decisive Storm that exposed Tehran's regional schemes, claims the editorial in a Saudi daily. As a result, Saudi/U.S. relations have greatly improved, as evident from the results of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's visit to Riyadh yesterday (Thursday). The recent sale of French warplanes to Qatar against the background of Operation Decisive Storm shows that the Arabs should end their reliance on U.S. protection and waiting for Washington’s permission before taking matters into their own hands, maintains a Jordanian commentator.
A WELL-DEVELOPED PLAN: "The U.S. administration is pursuing a well-developed plan to scare the Arab Gulf states and spread concern among their peoples and leaders," writes Editor-in-Chief 'Abdelbari 'Atwan on Friday on the pan-Arab www.raialyoum.com.
The object is to push these states to spend their vast financial reserves – estimated at around two trillion dollars – on arms deals. And the use of Iran as a card or as a 'bogeyman' lies at the heart of this plan.
The Gulf states are supposed to be worried and terrified come what may, whether the U.S. is preparing for the military option against Iran and is mobilizing its aircraft carriers in preparation for such an assault, or whether it enters negotiations with Tehran behind these states' backs to reach a peaceful political solution – which is what actually happened.
We would understand it if the U.S. were to convince the Gulf states to spend billions of dollars to buy modern warplanes and advanced missiles to protect themselves against any threat stemming from Tehran's nuclear ambitions. But we cannot understand its pursuit of the same line after signing an agreement that will ensure the Iranian nuclear program’s peaceful nature for at least ten years to come; an agreement, moreover, that subjects that program to international monitoring. Why, then, acquire weapons en masse and squander Arab fortunes on purchasing them?
Had these weapons been intended to be used in the Arab nation's battles against Israel with the object of liberating the holy sites, such a step would have been gratifying indeed, and would have warranted our support. But the U.S. as well as the other European states – whose leaders have turned into arms salesmen and middlemen for their arms’ companies – cannot sell a single rocket to any Arab state if they knew that it would strike Tel Aviv, rather than Tehran or Damascus or Baghdad.
Reports from Washington indicate that President Obama will renew his efforts to reassure the Gulf leaders during next week’s meeting with them at the Camp David retreat. He will propose the deployment of a 'missile defense shield' system intended to protect the region against Iranian missiles, and express his willingness to sell them advanced weapons and intensify joint military maneuvers as well.
But why set up this missile shield in the Gulf region, similar to what happened in East European states such as Poland and Romania, and expose it to certain threats in any future war between the superpowers? The system, which consists of missiles that can be equipped with nuclear warheads and that was set up in a number of Eastern European states, was introduced with the aim of confronting any Russian missile threat. Is Iran more advanced than Russia, for example? And does it possess the nuclear warheads with which to equip its missiles?
If Iran’s missiles pose an existential threat to the Gulf states and endanger their security and stability – as may be the case – of what use then are the American bases (in Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait), the French bases (in the city of al-Dhafra in Abu-Dhabi), and the British base that will return to Manama? Why are they present on these lands if they cannot provide protection for the countries that host them and perhaps cover their costs directly or indirectly as well?
Even if we were to assume for the sake of argument that this American 'missile shield' is necessary for the Gulf's security and for reassuring and dispelling the Gulf's nations and rulers' fears, why have the Gulf governments spent tens of billions of dollars on anti-missile Patriot systems, specifically meant for Iranian missiles? And why is the U.S. administration speaking of an arms deal with Saudi Arabia worth over 150-billion dollars, not to mention the French Rafale jet fighters that Qatar has bought and the UAE is negotiating to buy, which will add another 20-billion dollars to the Gulf’s arms’ expenditure?
This is a clear case of American/French 'blackmail' of the Gulf states that is meant to rob them of their resources and recycle their financial assets so as to ensure that they return to the West's banks without the Arab nation benefiting from them to help them emerge from their economic and social crises.
The U.S. set up a 'missile shield' system in Poland and Romania; but it did not blackmail them by forcing them to conclude deals to buy advanced American weapons and warplanes worth tens of billions of dollars. In fact, the exact opposite occurred: Washington offered them billions of dollars financial and investment aid as a reward for hosting these missiles. But the irony is that the presence of these American 'missile shield' systems in Poland and Romania, Ukraine's two neighbors, did not prevent the recent Russian military and political intervention in Ukraine, or the Russian takeover of the Crimea, or the break up of the country's eastern parts by its Ukrainian allies.
The Gulf's sovereign wealth funds, which may lose most of their monies financing arms deals, are supposed to kept as a financial reserve for future generations; a sort of 'white’ penny to be saved for unexpected ‘black’ days. They are supposed to be reserved for times of need, which seem to be imminent in light of the drop in oil prices to half their previous level and possibly more as we draw nearer to the time when the siege imposed on Iranian oil exports is lifted, and as Russia increases its oil exports.
The U.S. and the European West are falling on the Gulf region to consume as much as they can of its financial cake. They are using scare-mongering techniques and the intimidation card very adeptly. Only recently, Obama told the American journalist Thomas Friedman that the greatest threat to the Gulf states was not from Iran, but from the frustration among these states' peoples, hinting at the levels of youth unemployment amongst them, as well as the absence of equality and justice in the distribution of wealth. Today, Obama and his French counterpart Francois Hollande (who was an honored guest at the recent Gulf consultative summit) are saying that the threat comes from Iran, and that they have to arm themselves to confront it. This is a strange contradiction that exposes what little respect these leaders have for the Arabs and the Muslims.
Of course, no one is speaking of the Israeli threat any more, perhaps because it is no longer so. Israel must remain the militarily superior power in the region as evident from the fact that the weapons already sold or will be sold to the Gulf states will not include the American F-35, which the Hebrew state has already received, becoming the sole state other than the U.S. to acquire this warplane.
We Arabs have turned into a laughing stock,' with the U.S. toying with us as it wishes, looting our monies, tearing our states apart, drowning us in civil wars, and creating hostilities among us. And we are being led into its bloody trap with eyes wide open. This is the epitome of tragedy and insult.
"If anyone believes otherwise, let them offer their evidence," concludes 'Atwan.
COMMON INTERESTS: "The only way to describe Saudi/U.S. relations is that they are firm and imposed on both sides by their common interests," writes the editorial in Friday's Saudi daily al-Watan.
But at the same time, they are relations between equals, where there is agreement on many complex regional and international issues, as well as disagreement over a number of contested issues in the region. In fact, this sort of disagreement is only normal in politics where new developments occur every day, especially in times of crises such as those currently taking the region by storm. Yet, relations between Riyadh and Washington remain at their peak because the vital interests of both countries demand this.
With its economic weight, religious depth, strategic position, and political stability, Saudi Arabia is the safe and promising oasis in this heated region. Its stability is an international necessity since it protects 40% of the global economy from facing a true crisis – which would happen if this country were to suffer any harm (God forbid!).
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived yesterday to discuss a number of important regional issues with the Kingdom's leadership. The Yemeni file was one such issue, and Saudi Foreign Minister 'Adel al-Jubeir announced that 'the Kingdom has adopted a five-day truce to allow aid to reach our brothers in the Yemeni people, provided that the [Houthi] rebels lay down their arms.' He added that the Kingdom and the U.S. do not intend to send ground forces to Yemen.
As for Iran, the fact that the U.S. secretary of state informed his Saudi counterpart of the talks between the '5 + 1' and Iran regarding its nuclear program-- that the GCC foreign ministers will discuss in Paris – confirms the importance of the Kingdom's political role in bolstering regional security.
Kerry also made it clear that Iran now poses a real threat to its neighbors. But this talk of Iran only emerged so frankly after Operation Decisive Storm exposed the Persian project in the region and stripped it naked before the world. This forced Washington to refrain from its courtship with Tehran.
Kerry also noted that his country has 'provided weapons and is raising the level of naval activity by deploying a number of warships to the region,' reflecting a real sense of the potential Iranian threat.
"There are other issues that are certain to be discussed at the Camp David summit in a few days' time, as Kerry made clear. But all indications are that the Iranian nuclear file [blackmail] card has begun to lose its value, and that the region is on the verge of radical changes that will promote the interests of the moderate states," concludes the daily.
HOLLANDE’S SATISFACTION: "President Hollande made no secret of his satisfaction at the warplanes deal whose signing he attended in Doha," writes Tareq Masarwah in the Jordanian daily al-Ra'i.
His satisfaction is primarily of an economic character. Dassault Aviation [which manufactures the Rafale] will now reemploy thirty thousand employees who had lost their jobs because its warplane did not succeed in the European arms market. After all, Europe has its own warplanes, and so does Britain. France only managed to sell them to India and Egypt. And now, Qatar has bought them.
From Qatar, the French president attended the Gulf summit as a guest of honor who sells Rafale warplanes, as well as political positions in a region whose problems never seem to end.
We do not concur with the analysis that says that the Gulf leaders’ aim was to ensure that the U.S. administration would clearly understand their stance before meeting with President Obama at Camp David later this month: ‘It is true that we are your strategic allies; but, at the same time, we are allies of France and other countries.’
We do not agree with this analysis, because the U.S. has already said that its policies in the Middle East are not confined to its alliance with the Arabs, and that it can reach an understanding with Iran, as well as being on the side of the Israeli occupation – as it has always has. Moreover, it can shut its eyes to what is happening in Syria, reach an understanding with Iran in Iraq, and remain unconcerned with what is happening in Libya, Egypt, and Lebanon.
What was said best by the Arabs was said by Amman: The Arabs should not wait for an American decision, especially after their success in Operation Decisive Storm. In fact, this operation is not momentous because of its military implications; it is so because it indicates that the Arabs have released themselves from the need to 'ask for permission' or wait for an American decision to act.
An administration such as President Obama's is not happy to play the role of the world's sole superpower. This places a huge burden on its shoulders, since global interests are not one and the same. There are other world powers with which the U.S. has to maintain reasonable relations. Russia is one, so is China, and so is India; and before them, Europe is also a power now that there is no Soviet threat.
And in addition to these international powers, there are regional powers that should not be handled by waving a stick – as happened in the case of Iraq and Libya, and has been threatened in the case of Iran and Turkey. Nor is it proper to ride on the back of some of these regional powers, as in the case of the Arabs.
The Arabs should end their policy of relying on American protection. Japan, which developed and flourished thanks to such protection, is now trying to free itself from it. Had it not been for North Korea's megalomania, South Korea would have followed Japan. After all, Seoul is an economic power and can easily become a military and nuclear power.
"The Arab Gulf leaders will head to Camp David after Operation Decisive Storm to discuss their own issues, Iran's issues and the region's issues, freely and in a new spirit. And they will find in the U.S. president an ally who is willing understand their interests and policies and work to adapt to them," concludes Masarwah.
2-ISIS prepares the ground for partition
Talk of partitioning Iraq is not new, but what is noteworthy today is that ISIS is playing a major role not only in partitioning this country, but in fragmenting Syria as well, says 'Othman Mirghani in Saudi Asharq al-Awsat
Against the background of the draft law under discussion in the U.S. Congress to arm Iraqi Sunnis and Kurds directly without passing through the Baghdad central government, ISIS is playing a major role in promoting Iraq's partition, argues a Sudanese commentator in a Saudi daily. The organization's puzzling rise appears to be linked to schemes to implement such partition plans.
OLD/NEW SCHEME: "At the end of June 2014, the American weekly Time was published with a cover that caused much uproar bearing the headline 'The end of Iraq'," recalls 'Othman Mirghani in the Saudi-owned pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.
The article spoke of an old/new scheme to partition Iraq into three mini-states – a Shiite one in the south, a Sunni state in the center along the borders with Syria, and a Kurdish state in the north that includes Kirkuk. But the article did not stop there. It went on to speak of severing territories from the Arab states bordering Iraq and annexing them.
The article was published at a time when the mystery-shrouded ISIS was rapidly expanding its alleged Islamic state, bypassing border lines, and creating more confusion and uncertainty in the demographic map by targeting minorities, and pouring oil on sectarianism's fires.
Today, one year on, an argument is raging over another scheme linked to the war on ISIS, namely the U.S. Congress's Armed Forces Committee's proposed law to offer direct military aid to the Sunnis and Kurds, in tandem with aid to the central government. The Shiite MPs in the Iraqi parliament have protested against this move because they do not want U.S. weapons to reach the Sunni clans, even if they are to be used to fight ISIS.
The irony is that even among the Sunni clans in al-Anbar, there were those who expressed their reservations about the American armament project. The Sunni clans have long been complaining that the central government in Baghdad is not supplying them with sufficient arms to confront ISIS, claiming that sectarian motives lie behind this stance. This is why these clans quickly welcomed the U.S. Congress' armament law. But this did not prevent certain clan dignitaries from coupling their welcome with their open opposition to any other ‘hidden’ aim having to do with schemes to partition Iraq. This is because of their suspicion of the U.S., which they hold responsible for what has befallen them since it invaded Iraq.
This argument has intensified along with the reemergence of voices both inside and outside Iraq, calling for the country's partition into three provinces or mini-states on the grounds that the united state has actually collapsed, and because the failure of the formula for government and coexistence in post-invasion Iraq, the sectarian and regional tension, and the intensification of the regional conflict and its effects on Iraq, mean that there is no solution left for the crisis other than accepting partition, which is a de facto reality on the ground anyway.
In this regard, and within this same conceptual framework, ISIS is playing a major role, whether by accident or design. Like al-Qa'ida, ISIS has played a major part in fanning the flames of sectarianism and turning the various Iraqi constituents against the Sunnis. Before ISIS, al-Qa'ida in Mesopotamia under Abu Mus'ab az-Zarqawi tried to stir sectarian sedition by targeting the Shiites, Christians, and other minorities with bombings and forced displacement. When ISIS dominated the scene after its rapid and 'puzzling' rise, it has pursued the same path, but on a broader scale and via a fiercer war, declaring the alleged Islamic state that expanded in a strange way and captured a broad swathe of territory stretching from Syria to Iraq.
But ISIS's role did not end there. The war on it, in turn, contributed to pouring more oil on the fire of sectarian sensitivities and revived the fear of partition. When the Shiite 'popular' militias, backed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, become the spearhead of the operations that have been continuing for months to expel ISIS from the areas it has captured near Baghdad, this provokes fear among the Sunnis and elicits their hostility, especially after the reports of major violations during these operations, such as stealing, looting, and attacks on people and property in the Sunni areas.
In this manner, ISIS has contributed to giving Iran a free hand in Iraq to take part publicly on the side of the Iraqi Shiite militias, with American air cover, in operations to regain control of the areas near Baghdad, and in entering certain Sunni areas.
In the context of confronting ISIS as well, the Kurdish peshmerga forces received Western weapons, increased their power, took control of Kirkuk and consolidated their contacts with Syria's Kurds by playing a major role in the operations to regain lands and cities from the alleged Islamic state organization.
So if the scheme to partition Iraq, which many have called for including some American politicians, were to be implemented in the manner presented in the maps published in Time and other periodicals and studies, ISIS would have contributed to this, whether by linking together the Sunni areas that stretch into Syria, or by linking Iraqi Kurdistan to the Kurdish areas inside Syria. To complete the picture, weapons are also being distributed to the Sunni Arab clans to fight ISIS, as happened before in the case of al-Qa'ida.
Talk of partitioning Iraq is not new; such proposals have been made at various times. But what is noteworthy now is that ISIS is playing a major role, not only in partitioning the country, but in fragmenting Syria as well.
"And it may play the same role later in Libya and other areas as well," concludes Mirghani.
3-Window of opportunity
A surprise meeting in Beirut may revive the hitherto blocked prospects of Fateh/Hamas reconciliation, suggests Talal 'Awkal in Palestinian al-Ayyam
Fateh/Hamas reconciliation has proven unachievable for almost a decade now, despite the formation of a Palestinian national accord government, notes a Palestinian commentator. But there are signs that the preoccupation of major regional powers, primarily Egypt and Saudi Arabia, with other more burning issues, is creating a window of opportunity for an inter-Palestinian dialogue that may finally lead to such a reconciliation.
SURPRISE MEETING: "While there is growing talk of an active Saudi role in the inter-Palestinian reconciliation file that may produce a Mecca-2 agreement [after Mecca-1 in 2007], and as leading Hamas figures raise their voices calling for a Saudi role, everyone was taken by surprise by a meeting between a Fateh delegation headed by 'Azzam al-Ahmad and a Hamas delegation headed by Dr. Musa Abu-Marzouq in the Lebanese capital, Beirut," notes Talal 'Awkal in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
This meeting – that nothing had suggested would occur on 'neutral' grounds that are not part of the calculations of the parties that are likely to play a role in the Palestinian reconciliation file – represents an attempt to 'return the baby to its mother's womb.' In other words, no external force can succeed in achieving the reconciliation unless the two parties concerned are willing to do so themselves.
The truth is that there are no objective indications that either Saudi Arabia or Egypt are seriously interested in resuming their efforts to achieve this reconciliation. If reconciliation depends on action by either of these states, or any other state for that matter, then the Palestinians will have to wait for a very long time.
Egypt exerted enormous efforts that succeeded in reaching an agreement that bears its capital's name; but that was not enough to bridge the gap between the two sides. Each makes its calculations on different bases in accordance with illogical visions that are more likely to prolong and deepen the split, rather than the opposite. Although both parties – Fateh and Hamas – admit that they cannot bypass Egypt’s role for numerous reasons, Egypt’s current political climate that is hostile to Hamas prevents it from being in exclusive charge of this file, even though it may preserve the right to veto any role for any other state.
Resorting to Saudi Arabia as an alternative is possible; but this requires it to exert an enormous effort that may or may not succeed in lifting the Egyptian veto. It may also produce a situation in which Egypt could play a positive role in ending the split. But Saudi Arabia will not risk its relations with Egypt for either Hamas or Fateh’s sake.
Realistically, all talk of changing Saudi Arabia's policy towards the Muslim Brotherhood, or perhaps only towards Hamas, is exaggerated, even if it may be grounded in realism. This is because the entire Palestinian file and all the parties to it are not the subject of great Saudi concern or interest today.
Saudi Arabia is up to its ears in major issues of strategic consequences, carrying threats and risks for the country and the entire Arab Gulf. The first is Yemen, in all its dimensions and repercussions, due to Iran’s aspirations to control the Bab al-Mandab Straits in addition to the Straits of Hormuz. This is over and above the threat that it poses to Saudi Arabia and its Gulf sisters' stability, now that Tehran's nuclear agreement with the great powers has allowed it to devote its attention to the region's issues.
The Syrian and Iraqi files are two other major issues at the forefront of Saudi Arabia and its Gulf sisters' concerns. This is because Saudi Arabia is involved in the conflicts raging in these states. Moreover, it is not safe from the possibility of the fire of terrorism reaching it.
The question is this: What place do Hamas or Fateh or the entire Palestinian file and all its various parties have in Saudi Arabia’s calculations regarding those issues it sees as its priority? What direct interest will Saudi Arabia serve by risking joining the reconciliation fray that will be unsafe for it, especially after the failure of the  Mecca Agreement that barely stood its ground for three months?
Heading to Beirut was the right option, which spares the Palestinians the need to pursue other options that may anger Egypt even more. Furthermore, it does not discomfit Saudi Arabia, which is up to its ears in other files.
This meeting was necessary, and perhaps even more than necessary. But it is also imperative for it to occur within a broader national framework that has been always vital for enabling the two sides overcome their separate calculations. This is because there is a need for a strategic dialogue that produces a national accord on the basic policies and options in a phase that is certain to bear great risks.
A considerable time has passed since the national accord government has been trying to do what it can to get the wheels of the reconciliation in motion. But despite all its attempts, and all the understandings and decisions that have been reached, it has failed to push the carriage one inch forward. It faced numerous problems during its ministers’ last visit to the Gaza Strip, which forced them to return to the West Bank after only 24 hours.
The truth is that it is no longer useful to issue verdicts and hold this or that party responsible for the government's failure. Both parties are not concerned about what is said about them, and each seems determined to proceed down its own path in accordance with its own vision. Nothing shows this more clearly that Hamas's continued implementation of the so-called 'Solidarity Tax Law,' even though the national consensus is opposed to this, and the PA continues to pursue its security coordination with Israel even though the national consensus is against this.
The ministers' return to the West Bank and their failed attempt was due to political reasons, not because the government does or does not want to succeed. Their return to Ramallah was requested by the presidency and not by the PM, who had asked them to remain in Gaza.
If that were the case, it would be logical to argue that the government's success depends on the resumption of dialogue at the political level. There are sufficient reasons and bases for believing that Fateh now wishes (or needs) to overcome the obstacles facing the government regarding the issues that the reconciliation is blocking.
"This is not to deny that the current dialogue does not rise to the requisite level," concludes 'Awkal.
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