Arabic media review

Following island crisis, Iran is the great villain

Inspectors in Syria fail to bring calm and Saudi Arabia refuses to negotiate with terrorists

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

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at an Army Day parade Tuesday (photo credit: AP/Vahid Salemi)
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at an Army Day parade Tuesday (photo credit: AP/Vahid Salemi)

A delegation of international inspectors has spent barely 48 hours in Syria, but already its mission is deemed a failure by most Arab media Wednesday.

“Syria: The world seeks the next step, and missiles fall on Homs like rain,” reads the headline of Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat, based in London. The daily reports 65 victims in Syria Tuesday, mostly in the city of Idlib.

London-based daily Al-Hayat leads its coverage of Syria with a report that Arab foreign ministers endorsed the mission of international envoy Kofi Annan during a meeting in Qatar Tuesday. Qatari foreign minister Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani told reporters he believed the ceasefire’s prospects of success were no more than 3%, adding that Qatar had favored Arab military intervention in Syria from the start, Al-Jazeera reports.

Elaph, a Saudi-owned news website, interviews Lebanese writer Radwan Sayid who remarks that Iran, presuming that the US wishes to avoid a war in the Middle East, is causing Syria to fight to the bitter end for its survival.

“What is left to bomb in Homs?” asks an Al-Jazeera reporter, as he displays images of heavy shelling and government tank movement across Syria.

Further escalation in Iranian-Arab tensions

Six foreign ministers representing Gulf Cooperation Council countries met in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday to condemn Iran and pledge solidarity with the United Arab Emirates following a provocative visit by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the occupied island of Abu-Moussa last week. The story tops the front page of Al-Hayat Wednesday, and stars in the opinion section of Arab papers as well.

The Arab states supported “all steps which [the Emirates] may take in restoring its rights and sovereignty over the occupied islands,” Al-Hayat reports.

A-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Adel Tarifi describes the “love-hate relationship” between Iran and the Gulf states, noting that trade between the Emirates and Iran has surpassed $13 billion and that Dubai is one of the main import-export hubs for Iran, boasting a sizable Iranian expatriate community.

“Why did President Ahmadinejad visit the islands at this time in particular?” asks Tarifi. He explains that the visit should be understood on the backdrop of two events: the negotiations surrounding Iran’s nuclear program and its dwindling influence in the region as a result of the Syrian crisis.

On the nuclear issue, Iran may be forced to deliver concessions and wishes to display its strength through the provocative visit so as not to lose face in the region.

With regards to the Syrian issue, Iran wishes to show that it is capable to seriously damage the Emirates’ economy if push came to shove on Syria, argues Tarifi.

Abdallah Iskandar in Al-Hayat speculates that the visit is part of an internal political struggle in Iran between Ahmadinejad and ultra-conservatives. But he asserts that the visit should be understood as part of the deep, visceral hatred that Iran harbors towards Arabs.

“Iran never misses an opportunity to assert its condescension towards the Arabs in general and Gulf states in particular,” he writes. President Ahmadinejad’s visit to the Emirate island of Abu-Moussa was nothing but another chapter in this view.”

The headline of Al-Quds Al-Arabi’s lead editorial reads “Iranian provocation and at the wrong time,” arguing that not only did the visit aim to provoke Arabs, but that its timing is off, for its own sake.

“Iran is currently facing international isolation and unjust economic sanctions for its nuclear program, imposed unilaterally by the United States which bowed to Israeli dictations. Therefore, it does not need to escalate hostility toward it within Arab and Gulf circles.”

Al-Qaida kidnaps an Saudi diplomat in Yemen

Al-Qaida has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of a Saudi diplomat in Yemen’s port city of Aden, demanding the release of  prisoners held in Saudi Arabia and a money ransom. Saudi Arabia’s refusal to negotiate with al-Qaida over the diplomat’s release is reported on the front page of Al-Hayat Wednesday.

Tareq Homayed writes in A-Sharq Al-Awsat Wednesday that the kidnappers demanded the release of all female prisoners, claiming that they were prisoners of conscience arrested for protesting the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia. But this is merely a ploy, argues Homayed, as the women all belong to al-Qaida and are not human rights activists at all.

“The appropriate question now is, has the terrorist organization al-Qaida join the human rights [movement], or have the human rights joined al-Qaida?” writes Homayed.

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