The Arab world is extremely on edge as US President Barack Obama begins his campaign to convince Congress to authorize a limited military strike on Syria. Arab columnists say Obama’s foot-dragging is not fair to the region and lacks moral gumption, and will only embolden Syrian President Bashar Assad to act out even more, Arab dailies report.
The Dubai-based media channel Al-Arabiya reports that Assad has already begun a diplomatic offensive against the United States and France, the only two nations that still seem interested in a military strike. Assad, who analysts say senses that Obama’s will to attack is weakening by the day, coolly warns that it is difficult to predict what will happen “when control over the situation is lost and the powder keg explodes.”
Refusing to admit or deny holding a stockpile of chemical weapons, Assad reiterates the improbability that it was his forces that were responsible for the chemical weapons attack on August 21 outside Damascus.
“The Syrian army was located right in the area where the (chemical weapons) attack occurred and soldiers were among the wounded,” Assad said. “International investigators saw our soldiers in the hospital. Where is the logic that we would be responsible for attacking our own soldiers?”
According to the Doha-based media network Al-Jazeera, Assad is trying desperately to turn the tables on the US and France and convince the international community that Obama and French President Francois Hollande are warmongers looking to support Al-Qaeda-aligned terrorists. He also threatened that French interests would not be safe if they proceeded with an attack.
“If the policies of the French state are hostile to the Syrian people,” Assad warned, “then there will be negative consequences on French interests.”
To compound Assad’s words with facts on the ground, the London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat notes that the United Nations announced on Monday night that the number of Syrian refugees displaced outside the country has risen above two million.
“This increases the pressure dramatically on host countries,” said UN High Commissioner of Refugees Antonio Guterres. “Syria has become the plight of this century — a disgraceful humanitarian disaster causing unparalleled suffering in modern history.”
The UN report adds that an additional 4.25 million Syrians are displaced inside Syria too.
The leading editorial in the London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi argues that with these facts in hand it is disgraceful that the United States does not immediately intervene. However, it attributes Obama’s decision to seek congressional authorization to its desire to serve the interests of Israel.
The article notes that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the only world leader notified of Obama’s remarks from Saturday before they were actually delivered and that Israeli President Shimon Peres expressed his “overwhelming support and trust” in Obama’s decision making. The postponement of the US military attack allows Israel to send its reserve soldiers home and gives it more time to prepare for an Assad counterattack.
This perspective is ironic due to reports in Israeli newspapers stating that senior military leaders quietly disagree with Obama’s plans of action.
“It is no coincidence that for the past 65 years, US government officials have turned a blind eye on the Palestinian issues, ignoring every violation of international law committed by Israel, its ally and the first and largest recipient of US aid,” the article states. “The American attitude raises new doubts about its policies in the region, which is determined only by the interests of Israel. Can Obama convince the world that he is acting out of moral and humanitarian interests when he never does so regarding the Palestinian issue?”
The editorial in the Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat takes a different tone completely from the outwardly pro-Palestinian Al-Quds Al-Arabi. Entitled “Syria, between pain and hope,” the article expresses understanding for US hesitance to act against Syria when it is unclear if Bashar Assad’s opponents would rule any more effectively and morally than he. Nevertheless, the daily urges the international community to take a chance on a fight with Assad because the alternative is too painful to bear.
“Western powers have allowed Russia and China to defy the international community in the UN Security Council,” the editorial reminds readers. “Thus, Assad is certain that he can do as he pleases, which is exactly what he does. He kills tens of thousands and leaves millions homeless. He destroys towns and villages and the whole fabric of society without a shred of conscience.”