Arab Press: What happened in the skies over Syria?

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

John Kerry attends the NATO Summit in Warsaw on July 8, 2016. (photo credit: REUTERS)
John Kerry attends the NATO Summit in Warsaw on July 8, 2016.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Al-Anbaa, Kuwait, September 19
About two years ago a Russian fighter jet was accidentally shot done over Syrian territory by Turkish anti-aircraft missiles. This sparked a crisis between Ankara and Moscow, bringing the two countries to the brink of military confrontation. Eventually, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan apologized for the incident and vowed to investigate the attack. The two leaders subsequently normalized their ties.
Last week, an even more serious incident took place, this time between Russia and Israel. In the evening hours of September 17, a Russian aircraft carrying 15 soldiers was shot down over Syrian territory, killing all crew members on board. While the missiles that hit the plan were Syrian, the attack was triggered by Israeli air strikes in Latakia. Unlike previous Israeli operations, this time the Russians had not been informed ahead of time, resulting in this unfortunate event. It now remains to be seen whether Vladimir Putin will react to the Israeli incident with the same ruthlessness with which he approached the Turkish one. A spokesperson for the Kremlin was quick to issue a statement accusing Israel of violating Syrian sovereignty. This is to be expected of the Russians. However, Moscow’s security relations with Tel Aviv are deep and complicated. The Kremlin has so far turned a blind eye to the Israeli attacks in Syria, but things may very well change moving forward. This incident could serve as the ultimate excuse for Russia to end Israel’s free rein in Syrian airspace. At the very least, it will push the Israel Air Force to keep a low profile over the course of the next few weeks in an effort to appease the Russians.
Israeli military and security officials have already been dispatched to Moscow in order to conduct damage control. Whether this will be a watershed event in the future of Israeli-Russian relations in unknown. One thing, however, remains clear: this incident is yet another reminder of the urgent need to remove all foreign forces from Syria and to reach a long-lasting cease-fire in the country.
– Fahed al-Hitan
Al-Khaleej al-Jadid, UAE, September 18
In his recently published memoir, former secretary of state John Kerry suggests that president Obama’s ascendancy to the White House had a lot to do with him. Kerry cites several instances in which he supposedly gave Obama “golden” advice, leading to the latter’s success on the campaign trail.
While this claim is preposterous, it should not be shocking to us. Kerry, after all, has built his career around stealing credit from others while blaming them for his own mistakes. When Syrian President Bashar Assad carried out his first chemical attack against the Syrian people, Kerry, who was at the time secretary of state, immediately appeared before the cameras and vowed to retaliate. He described the attack as “an inhumane crime” that the United States would not tolerate.
However, the Americans did not take a single action to discipline Assad. When he again appeared before the press just a few days later, Kerry resorted to lying: he claimed that an American attack was unnecessary since all of Assad’s chemical weapons had been disposed of by Russia.
Everyone knew this was clearly untrue, and just a few weeks later Assad used chemical weapons again against his people.
Even today, Kerry continues to feed his ego by blowing his own horn. He has described the Iranian nuclear deal, arguably one of the worst policy failures of our time as a “great diplomatic achievement.” Now, in an effort to salvage the deal, Kerry is busy conducting meetings and negotiations with Iranian officials despite having left government almost two years ago. This brazen behavior defies all diplomatic norms. Even Democratic congressmen were shocked by Kerry’s meddling and urged him to stay out of politics.
Alas, Kerry remains obsessed with his own self-image. He has become so wedded to his nuclear deal that he now fails to distinguish US interests from Iranian ones. Indeed, in many circles in Washington, DC he has acquired the dubious title of “Mullah” – a term suggesting that his loyalty lies not with his own country but rather with Iran.
– Mamduh al-Miheini

Al-Sharq, Qatar, September 15
This month marks the 25th anniversary of the Oslo Accords, the momentous agreement signed between the late chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat, and then-Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. Today, a quarter of a century later, it is clear beyond any doubt that the agreement only served to strengthen the Israeli occupation and weaken the Palestinians. The Israelis continue to negate Palestinian rights and confiscate their lands, while the Palestinians have repeatedly been sidelined and ignored by the international community. This was confirmed symbolically last week when the United States announced its plan to shut down the Palestinian mission in Washington, DC – the very same mission that was first opened as part of these accords. This decision is part of a new American doctrine aimed at disciplining the Palestinians; first for their decision to take Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC), and for refusing to negotiate with Israel under Trump’s watch.
Although this Israeli-American behavior is unsurprising, it is very telling. First, it reveals a real Israeli fear of the ICC. Indeed, by fighting so relentlessly against the Palestinian appeal to The Hague, the Israelis are de facto admitting to having committed war crimes against the Palestinian people. Second, this behavior reveals that the unwavering Palestinian refusal to negotiate with Trump’s envoys is a real cause for concern in the White House. With no other way to get the Palestinians to comply with their demands, the Americans are now threatening the Palestinians with any possible sanctions they can think of: cutting funding for UNRWA, shutting down Palestinian hospitals in Jerusalem, and, now, the closing of the diplomatic office in Washington.
All of these developments portend the end of the Oslo Accords as we’ve known them. The so-called two-state solution is effectively dead, since its most crucial components – namely, Jerusalem and the right of return – have been taken off the table by the Americans. The only alternative left for the people of Palestine is to return to the pre-Oslo days; that is, popular resistance against the Occupation.
– Hussein al-Mussa
Al-Sharq al-Awsat, London, September 20
Iran’s OPEC head, Hossein Kazempour Ardebili, recently accused Saudi Arabia and Russia of taking the international oil market “hostage.” He claimed that the two countries have been “stealing” Iran’s share of the international oil market. When I heard this statement, it immediately reminded me of Saddam Hussein, who, in an effort to deflect attention away from his own regime’s wrongdoings in the early 1990s, accused Kuwait of manipulating oil prices to the detriment of Baghdad.
However, the truth of the matter is that Iran’s share of oil exports had dwindled due to the Iranian regime itself. Iran always maintained large oil reserves, from which it intentionally extracted only small quantities, in an effort to keep prices up. Of these barrels, even fewer were made available for international buyers. Therefore, Iran’s share of the global oil market has been small regardless of Saudi Arabia or Russia.
Now, with the second wave of American sanctions against Iran set to kick in in just a few weeks, Tehran’s last remaining trade partners are walking away. Forced to choose between buying cheap Iranian oil and doing business with the United States, most countries are opting for the latter. This will send Iranian oil exports into an even more dramatic plunge. In other words, the Iranian crisis is a direct result of the Iranian political agenda.
While Saudi Arabia makes use of its oil reserves to fund new initiatives in the kingdom, improve infrastructure, and launch strategic plans to benefit its citizens, Iran has made use of oil dollars to fund its military campaigns in the Middle East. This resulted in a dysfunctional economy that lacks any mechanisms to reinvent itself in the wake of these new sanctions. The Iranian leadership is desperately trying to blame others for the country’s financial crisis in order to salvage whatever credibility it has left in the eyes of its public. But the people of Iran know very well that their government has forsaken them in favor of military expansionism and international isolation.
– Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed