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Arabic media review

Iran to turn the Golan into ‘Fatah-land’

Who’s afraid of Islamic jihadists in Syria? Russia is, write Arab observers

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

US Secretary of State John Kerry (back to camera) speaks to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Tuesday, May 7, 2013. (photo credit: AP)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (back to camera) speaks to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Tuesday, May 7, 2013. (photo credit: AP)

US Secretary of State John Kerry’s trip to Moscow occupies the front pages of Arab newspapers on Wednesday.

London-based daily Al-Hayat reports that a meeting between Kerry and Russian President Vladimir Putin has not resulted in agreement on a mechanism to resolve the Syrian crisis.

“Strikingly, Kerry’s discussions in the Kremlin and later in the Russian foreign ministry with his conterpart Sergei Lavrov lasted more than three hours longer than allotted to them,” read the article.

Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat‘s headline notes: “Kerry: Our interest and that of Moscow is to solve the Syrian crisis,” featuring a photo of Kerry and his team apparently explaining an important point to Putin and Lavrov in a white hall with Russian flags in the background.

Meanwhile, London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi leads its front page news with the other side of the equation, namely with a meeting between Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi.

“The Golan will become a resistance front,” Assad reportedly told Salehi.

Despite the pessimism emerging from the media, UN envoy Lakhdhar Brahimi apparently believes an important agreement was reached. According to Qatari news channel Al-Jazeera, Brahimi praised the joint decision to encourage Syria’s government and opposition to find a diplomatic solution for the crisis and called it “a very important first step.”

But Al-Quds Al-Arabi editor-in-chief Abdel Bari Atwan believes the Americans and Russians agreed on something else.

“American-Russian agreement to destroy the Nusra Front?” wonders Atwan in an op-ed Wednesday.

“America and Russia share a concern regarding their involvement in a possible regional war, with Islamist jihadist organizations serving as their joint enemy.”

“The point that grabbed my attention personally … is Kerry’s words to Putin that ‘Washington shares Moscow’s point of view regarding Syria,’ adding that ‘we both want stability in Syria, which should be free of extremism and problems that could affect the entire region.”

Al-Hayat columnist Randa Taqi A-Din writes that Russia and the US could indeed agree on a mechanism to better “manage the Syrian crisis.”

“There is no doubt that Barack Obama does not want to intervene militarily in Syria. This is evident especially considering the red lines Obama placed before the Syrian regime, without acting on them or giving them any practical expression.”

“An American-Russian agreement may change things if the US gives Russia what Putin wants. The Russian president needs assurances that a jihadist Islamic regime will not emerge in Syria after Bashar Assad. Putin fears an expansion of jihadist Islam into the Russian republics in the Caucasus,” writes Taqi A-Din.

But A-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Tareq Homayed remains skeptical of the Russians’ ability to deliver what the Americans really want: Assad’s head.

“We must remember that so far Washington does not know the price the Russians want in return for Assad’s head. It is also not yet known whether the Russians are able to oust him now. It is true that a change in the Russian position would be a fatal blow to Assad and his regime, but Assad does not act rationally. He will march to the abyss, despite those who believe that a change in the Russian position will cause Assad’s close circle to turn against him,” writes Homayed.

‘Palestinian resistance does not act at the touch of a button’

Responding to reports that the Syrian regime has allowed Palestinians living in Syria to attack Israel from the Golan Heights, Fatah spokesman Amad Assaf said that Palestinians do not take their orders from the Syrian president.

“With all due respect to Syria and its stature, the Palestinian resistance does not act at the touch of a button from any state,” Assaf told Al-Quds Al-Arabi. He added that Palestinians will independently decide “when and how to respond to Israel’s aggression.

But it may not be the Palestinians who will call the shots.

According to Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, Iran has “reached a final decision” to respond to Israel’s strike on Syria by “turning the Golan into a new Fatah-land. The front has become open to Syrians and Palestinians and anyone who wants to fight Israel.”

A message to that effect was conveyed to Syrian President Bashar by Salehi on behalf of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khaminei, Al-Akhbar reported.

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