Reactions in Middle East to deal on Syria by Russia, US are mixed

Kuwait professor says Moscow is "calling the shots."

September 16, 2013 14:48
4 minute read.
Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby speaks at the World Economic Forum, May 25, 2013.

Nabil Elaraby 390. (photo credit: Reuters)


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The Russian initiative to stave off a US attack by having Syria agree to give up its chemical weapons was met by positive, if not exaggerated reactions from the Syria/Iran axis. Whereas profound disappointment came from the Syrian rebels, Gulf States, and Turkey, as other Arabs quietly accepted the deal such as those in Egypt.

Saudi Arabia, which is increasing its aid to the rebels according to a report by The New York Times last week, is keeping relatively quiet, but trying to influence events behind the scenes and on the ground in light of developments.

Mordechai Kedar, director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation) and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, wrote on his blog that the Saudis are quietly trembling about the repercussions this may have for dealing with Iran.

Kedar believes that the relative silence from the Saudis is because they do not want to attack US President Barack Obama personally while they still depend on him to deal with Iran; and because of Arab honor. He says that he spoke with a Saudi member of the royal family who “hinted an important Middle Eastern character” – “manliness,” meaning that acting in accordance with manly conduct, and avoiding any appearance of weakness, is honorable.

“Emotionality and whining are considered feminine qualities that express weakness, while a male is expected to keep a cool head and emotional balance and remain calm and functional even in difficult and complex situations. It seems that the Saudi government’s silence during the last few days stems from this characteristic,” said Kedar.

Gulf News, based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, published an article by Abdullah al-Shayji, the chairman of the political science department at Kuwait University titled, “Has Russia eclipsed US on world stage?” He stated, “The unintended consequence of the Syria crisis is that Russia is slowly replacing the US as the dominant player in the Middle East.”

It is Russia that is “calling the shots,” he said.

Turkey, which has strongly backed the Syrian rebels, was reserved in its response to the deal, saying that the killing by the Syrian regime still needed to be stopped.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told US Secretary of State John Kerry this in a conversation on Saturday, according to a report in the Turkish daily Today’s Zaman on Sunday.

“The ultimate goal in Syria must be to end the crimes against humanity that have been perpetrated in this country by the regime for nearly three years, to meet the legitimate demands of the population and to enable the people of Syria to establish a legitimate administration,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

Arab League chief Nabil el-Araby, an Egyptian former foreign minister, who has been against an attack all along, was content with the Russia-US deal to remove Syria’s chemical weapons, believing it to be “a step closer to a political solution,” according to a statement reported by AFP.

Doaa el-Bey, in the latest Egyptian Al-Ahram weekly argues that the people and the government generally reject a US attack against Syria.

Hussein Haridi, Egyptian assistant foreign minister told the paper that the fall of Syrian President Bashar Assad would lead to extremism in the country.

Egypt, fighting its own Islamist rebellion, does not want to see the Islamist dominated Syrian rebels succeed, thus giving extra motivation to Islamists at home.

“The advent of a post Assad extremist regime in Syria would widely affect stability in the region and encourage extremist groups in Egypt to escalate their conflict with the government,” Haridi said.

Writing in the Lebanese al-Akhbar, which tends to support the Iran/Hezbollah/ Syrian axis, Ibrahim al-Amin sought to explain what went on behind the scenes. He wrote on Friday that Moscow told the leaders of Syria and Iran that the planned strikes were not aimed at being limited as claimed, but would try to help the opposition overthrow the Syrian regime.

As a result, Moscow reportedly told the Americans that Damascus and its allies, Iran and Hezbollah, were preparing “for a major confrontation, even suggesting that the Russians themselves cannot sit idly by and will support the regime, just as the US backs the opposition.”

Amin quoted sources saying that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei threatened the gas supplies of Gulf States, telling Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said that whoever supported the Syrian opposition “should be prepared to lose their oil and gas in the region.”

The author went on to add that Russian President Vladimir Putin told the American president that Syria is as close an ally to his country as Israel is to the US and that an attack could destabilize the world.

Seyed Hossein Naqavi Hosseini, a member of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee told Iran’s Tasnim News Agency on Sunday that the deal was due to Iran’s diplomatic efforts.

Another Iranian lawmaker, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said that the US had no option but to decide not to attack.

“The Americans have no other option but to back away from attacking Syria as their pretext [for the strike] was the issue of chemical weapons,” he said.

Mohsen Rezaei, secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council, said that he hopes that US President Barack Obama does not follow in former president George W. Bush’s footsteps.

Rezaei stated, “There is still a possibility for an attack.”

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