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Arabic media review

Friends don’t let friends get deposed

Nasrallah rushes to the defense of Assad, whose chemical weapons sow abundant confusion

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

In this Monday, Sept. 17, 2012 file photo, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, center, waves to his supporters, in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon (photo credit: AP/Hussein Malla)
In this Monday, Sept. 17, 2012 file photo, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, center, waves to his supporters, in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon (photo credit: AP/Hussein Malla)

With US President Barack Obama weighing his options on Syria in light of evidence that chemical weapons were used in attacks there, Arabic news outlets on Wednesday are preoccupied with statements by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who said he would provide backup support should the Syrian regime begin to crumble.

“Nasrallah: Syria has friends who will not allow it to fall,” reads the headline on the website of Qatari news channel Al-Jazeera atop an article featuring an image of Nasrallah in his habitual blue-background TV studio.

“He hinted at the possibility of his party’s intervention along with Iran in the confrontations taking place on the ground, if things develop,” reads the article.

The London-based daily Al-Hayat leads its coverage of Nasrallah’s speech on Al-Manar TV, along with his denial of reports that Hezbollah forces are already engaged in battle with anti-Assad rebels.

Al-Quds Al-Arabi, a London-based daily that focuses on Palestinian affairs, leads its front page news with Nasrallah’s appearance, which — with regards to Syria, at least — it dubs “Nasrallah’s threat.”

According to the Hezbollah leader, “the chemical weapons game is a new attempt to summon external intervention. They will come and destroy Syria.”

Apparently, Nasrallah’s words can be spun to mean the exact opposite of what he actually said. The headline of the Saudi news website Elaph, which translated a piece by AFP, reads, “Nasrallah admits: Our fighters are on the ground alongside Assad!”

One Arab columnist, at least, buys Nasrallah’s claim that the goal of the international preoccupation with Syria’s chemical weapons is to distract the world from the Palestinian issue.

“They are conspiring against Hezbollah,” claims the title of an op-ed by Al-Quds Al-Arabi contributor Rashad Abu-Shawer.

“The campaign against Hezbollah is not new, and it will not stop. It will continue as long as Hezbollah is present, strong, carries the banner of resistance, and brandishes its sword high in the face of the enemy of our nation which occupies Palestine,” write Abu-Shawer.

“Hezbollah has defeated the occupation, banished it from Beirut, and pursues it to the last corner of land in the south. It has garnered the astonishment of millions of Arabs and Muslims, and the respect of nations that hate America and the Zionist regime.”

Meanwhile, the Kuwaiti daily Al-Seyassah, quoting an unnamed official in the Turkish ruling party, claims that Iran is the country that has convinced Assad to use chemical weapons against his population, including in the city of Homs.

The source told the paper that Iranian members of the Revolutionary Guards are on the ground in Syria, not only guarding the chemical weapons bases but also giving out tactical orders on their use.

Two conflicting approaches exist within the Syrian leadership concerning the use of chemical weapons, the source added. One view — held by the Baath party leadership and some army commanders — opposes subordinating the weapons to Iranian command; whereas most security officials, including Assad’s security adviser Ali Mamlouk, support the Iranian control and endorse the use of chemical weapons to “protect the regime’s vital sites.”

Obama’s zigzags confuse the press

Arab commentators are finding it difficult to follow Obama’s seemingly conflicting and confused statements regarding Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

On Tuesday Obama said there is indeed proof that chemical weapons have been used in Syria, but it is yet unclear who exactly used them. Al-Hayat points out that this was “Obama’s fourth statement [on the matter] within four days.”

A-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Abdul Rahman Rashed, extensively referring to Israeli security statements on Assad’s use of sarin gas, claims that the Syrian regime is effectively carrying out an experiment on its own people.

“When Assad realized that no one in the world is concerned with his use of primitive chlorine weapons, he moved to mustard gas. When that also transpired quietly, he switched to the more dangerous sarin weapon,” writes Rashed.

“Clearly, the Syrian president was testing the waters, and he found that no one wants to stop the carnage. Thus, we find ourselves before a laboratory where an experiment is taking place. Not [an experiment] with weapons of mass destruction, but with the reaction of the international community. The result is that everyone knows and doesn’t want to do anything.”

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