‘Iran is not a friendly country’
Arabic media review

‘Iran is not a friendly country’

Arabs raise their tone over an occupied island, and the Syrian government continues to shell cities in wake of ceasefire

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, second from left, visits a nuclear research facility in Tehran in February 2012 (photo credit: AP/Iranian President's Office)
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, second from left, visits a nuclear research facility in Tehran in February 2012 (photo credit: AP/Iranian President's Office)

As a team of international monitors begins its work in Syria, Arab media is closely monitoring violations of the ceasefire. The only debate is whether Assad forces alone are abusing the relative calm to make tactical gains or whether the opposition is to blame as well.

Al-Hayat‘s headline delivers the opposition’s point of view, reading: “Opposition: the insistence to bomb Homs threatens the monitors’ mission.” The photo features the international team arriving in Damascus, blue berets on their heads.

Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat, always more explicit, claims in its headline that “Assad forces abuse the ceasefire, and the US threatens to return to the Security Council.” The article leads by quoting Syrian opposition sources who claim that Assad has taken advantage of the ceasefire which went into effect last Thursday to “liquidate the opposition and arrest Syrian activists.” The article features an eerie photo of three civilians walking through a bombed-out residential street in Homs.

Arab-nationalist daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, published in London, is the only large Arab publication whose editorial line puts the blame evenly on both government and opposition. On Tuesday it claims to have received access to a UN report which blames both sides for violating the ceasefire. According to the report, the level of violence in Syria has diminished, but the government continues to bomb residential areas and the opposition has executed Syrian soldiers.

According to Al-Hayat columnist Elias Harfoush, the only element that’s complicating the Syrian crisis is the state of denial displayed by Syrian officials.

“Damascus is critically wrong this time if it deals with the latest international decision [to send monitors] as it did with the Arab initiative [the Arab league inspectors sent last December],” writes Harfoush. “It is important to note that resolution 2042 has placed the Syrian crisis in the world’s view, and it is no longer only an Arab crisis. This is what the Syrian leadership tried to avoid from the start, claiming to preserve an ‘Arab solution.'”

Abd Al-Rahman Rashed, manager of the news channel Al-Arabiya and a regular columnist for A-Sharq Al-Awsat, argues that even if the mission of the international monitors fails, their visit may be a fatal blow to Assad.

“We know that Assad will invent excuses to put the blame on the rebels and may endanger the lives of the monitors in the name of armed terrorist opposition,” writes Rashed. “But the international community knows all the tricks which have become transparent, and as hard as Russia tries — it will not manage to protect Assad from the latest developments.”

Iran and its two fronts

Iran is being reported Tuesday in two separate contexts: the escalating tension with Gulf states surrounding the Island of Abu-Moussa and negotiations on its nuclear program.

Saudi Arabia has joined other Arab Gulf states in condemning Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit last week to the occupied  island of Abu-Moussa as a violation of the Emirates’ sovereignty.

Emirates foreign minister Abdullah bin Zaid declared Monday that failure to resolve the question of the three Persian Gulf islands occupied by Iran in the early 1970s may “threaten world peace and security,” A-Sharq Al-Awsat reports.

Meanwhile, Iran has declared that it is willing to swiftly resolve its nuclear issue in the upcoming round of talks in Baghdad in May, Al-Hayat reports on its front page. But the daily quotes a statement from Denmark, the current president of the EU, as commenting that Iran is the world champion in protracted negotiations that lead to nothing.

A-Sharq Al-Awsat editor Tareq Homayed lashes out at Iran Tuesday in what can only be interpreted as the unofficial position of the Saudi government toward the Isalmic Republic.

“For over seven years we have been warning against the Iranian expansion in the region, and Tehran’s penetration of our states,” writes Homayed. “We have said repeatedly that Iran isn’t ‘a friendly’ country but an occupier of Arab lands. Most, not few, were dismayed by these warnings and considered them exaggerated. But today, following the Iranian president’s visit to the occupied Emirate island of Abu-Moussa they have all awoken and realized the Iranian danger!”

Sudan draws nearer to war

Arab media is widely reporting the escalating conflict between Sudan and its newborn southern neighbor, South Sudan, after South Sudanese forces occupied the oil-rich city of Higlig, on the unmarked border between the two states, last week.

On Monday, the Sudanese parliament voted to declare the South an “enemy state,” a move Saudi-owned news website Elaph describes as “beating the war drums.”

Meanwhile, Dubai-based news channel Al-Arabiya reports that the coalition of Sudanese opposition parties has accused the government of Omar Bashir of mismanaging the situation in Sudan, calling on him to resign. The parties also condemned South Sudan for invading the north, calling for an immediate withdrawal.

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