Is Israel for or against Assad?
Arabic media review

Is Israel for or against Assad?

Leading Arab columnist eggs Iran on to hit Israel in retaliation for Syrian strike

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

US Vice President Joe Biden, right, and Sheikh Moaz al-Khatib, Syria's top opposition leader, shake hands at the Security Conference in Munich, southern Germany, on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Matthias Schrader)
US Vice President Joe Biden, right, and Sheikh Moaz al-Khatib, Syria's top opposition leader, shake hands at the Security Conference in Munich, southern Germany, on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Matthias Schrader)

The willingness of Syria’s opposition leader to talk to the Assad regime is leading the news in Arab dailies on Tuesday.

Moaz Al-Khatib, head of Syria’s opposition coalition, told Iranian foreign minister Ali Akhbar Salehi on Monday that he was willing to negotiate with Farouq A-Shara, Assad’s deputy, on terms for the “regime’s departure,” London-based daily Al-Hayat reports.

Saudi-owned newspaper A-Sharq Al-Awsat reports that Khatib’s demand for “a clear message” from Assad comes amid the regime’s “policy of silence.”

Addressing Assad directly during a meeting in Munich, Khatib said: “Look into the eyes of your children and try to find a solution. You will find that we are willing to cooperate for the benefit of the country.”

Al-Khatib told Dubai-based news channel Al-Arabiya that he asked the Iranian foreign minister to convey his message to the Assad regime directly.

Qatari news channel Al-Jazeera reports that the US State Department has endorsed Khatib’s initiative. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that she does not believe that the initiative would constitute immunity for Assad.

“Is Khatib clever or a gambler?” wonders A-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Tariq Homayed, commenting on the oppositionist’s “outstretched arm” to the Assad regime. He claims that Khatib’s demand of engaging with Shara is a major embarrassment for Assad and an attempt to “drive a wedge between members of the regime.”

Homayed, who has advocated arming the Syrian opposition in the past, reminds Khatib of his previous statements whereby “the Assad regime understands nothing but the language of killing.”

“There is no clear answer to the question of whether Khatib is clever or a gambler, but what is obvious is that by agreeing to dialogue with Assad he is riding a very high and dangerous wave,” writes Homayed.

Some members of Syria’s opposition coalition were not pleased with Khatib’s statements. The coalition held an emergency meeting on Monday, with one member telling the daily that Khatib is “confused,” and his position “unrepresentative.” Some members of the coalition told the daily that the idea of dialoguing with Assad reflects the opposition’s discouragement with the prospect of toppling him.

Is Israel for or against Assad?

Arab columnists continue to react on Tuesday to the reported Israeli strike on Syria last week.

Al-Quds Al-Arabi editor-in-chief Abdul Bari Atwan gloatingly predicts an Iranian response to the Israeli attack in an op-ed titled “Israel will regret this, we are waiting.”

“It is true that the Israeli attack on a scientific research center south of Damascus, which lasted no more than four minutes, has embarrassed the Syrian regime. But it has embarrassed Iran even more, which explains — in our opinion — the angry Iranian response which promised to retaliate.”

Iran has stated in the past that any attack on Syria is like an attack on Iran, writes Atwan, egging on the Islamic Republic to attack Israel.

“The question is whether this supposed response will be direct, meaning by Iranian planes, missiles or forces; whether it will be through the Syrians who have been subjected to similar aggression even before the eruption of the revolution; or whether it will be done through a third party such as Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip?”

“What we want to argue, in short, is that this Israeli bullying must stop. The Iranian and Syrian threats must be translated into actions so that they are taken seriously. If this happens, the masks of lies, hypocrisy and subjugation to Israel and America will fall off of many ugly faces.”

Hazem Saghiyeh, writing for Al-Hayat, asks in an op-ed, “Is Israel for or against Assad?”

He claims that the Israeli attack has sparked a debate between Syria’s government and opposition, with the former claiming the strike proves that Israel supports the Assad regime and the latter retorting that Syria’s inaction following the strike proves Israel’s collusion with the Assad regime.

“Clearly, both arguments are based on a valid premise … but the fact remains that using Israel’s supposed position to prove one of these two positions is the vestige of an old political culture used by Arabs at times of internal conflict,” writes Saghiyeh.

“This position has developed and solidified decade after decade, and now we find it difficult to rationalize the world without defining where Israel stands first.”

read more: