Voices from the Arab press: A strike on Syria reveals West's true intentions

This week's most pressing stories.

SUPPORTERS OF Eastern Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar take part in a rally in Benghazi, Libya, calling for Haftar to take over after a UN deal for a political solution missed what they said was a self-imposed deadline in December 2017 (photo credit: REUTERS/ESAM OMRAN AL-FETORI)
SUPPORTERS OF Eastern Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar take part in a rally in Benghazi, Libya, calling for Haftar to take over after a UN deal for a political solution missed what they said was a self-imposed deadline in December 2017
Al-Hayat, London, April 17
It should surprise nobody that the recent tripartite attack in Syria has nothing to do with the Syrian war. The attack, carried out a few weeks ago by the United States, the United Kingdom and France, targeted Syria’s chemical weapons infrastructure. However, in no way, shape or form did it change the balance of power on the ground. It did not diminish Assad’s military capabilities or help the Syrian opposition advance its cause. Instead, it was an attack against Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
While we often refer to this war as the “Syrian Civil War,” by now it has become very clear that this conflict has little to do with the Syrian people themselves. President Bashar Assad is a mere pawn in a game of chess being played by the world’s superpowers. Accordingly, the recent attack on Syria was meant to send a message far beyond Damascus. If the true aim of this attack was to protect the Syrian people, as world leaders so frequently assert, then the three Western powers would have taken action long ago. If they were truly concerned about human rights violations, these powers would have demanded the removal of Assad from power.
Sadly, they have accepted reality as it is. Russia has been challenging US dominance, first in Crimea and now in Syria. US President Trump and his allies in Europe are not truly concerned about the suffering of the Syrian people. What they are actually worried about is projecting their own power. – Khaled al-Dakheel
Akhbar al-Youm, Egypt, April 19
There has been a wide range of rumors surrounding the fate of Libyan army chief Khalifa Haftar, who disappeared in Libya a few weeks ago.
At first, several reports suggested that Haftar had been assassinated in a car bombing. Later, he was said to have suffered a severe stroke that left him in a coma. He also was reported to have been transported to receive medical treatment in France, according to several government officials in Paris. Regardless of Haftar’s whereabouts, one thing remains clear: that is, his disappearance spells trouble for Libya, as there will be a violent struggle to fill the power vacuum.
Haftar, who led a failed American-backed attempt to oust Muammar Gaddafi in the late 1980s, has been a bad bet. During the last decade, and especially since the death of Gaddafi, he has done nothing but foment violence and spread sectarian hatred throughout Libyan society. While he frequently claimed to be fighting the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic State in Libya, in reality he did nothing to crush terrorism. Instead, Haftar and his loyalists, armed militias funded by Western powers, crushed their opponents and tortured anyone who dared to defy their rule.
This is what the Libyan people have been claiming for years, but to no avail. The United States placed its trust in Haftar by providing him with money and protection while training his soldiers to rebel against Gaddafi. America’s attempts failed time and again until Haftar finally rose to power following the Arab Spring. Thereafter, he continued undermining America’s interests by allying with shady forces in the region and turning a blind eye to terrorist groups that entered Libya.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Haftar disappeared. Whether he suffered a stroke or was targeted for assassination, there is no doubt in my mind about who is behind his disappearance. – Kadi bin Umar
Al Bayan, UAE, April 20
When US President Donald Trump announced a few weeks ago his plan to withdraw all American forces from Syria, he made sure to note that if “other countries” want to spend money on governing the country, they are free to do so.
Political commentators assumed that Trump was “invitation” to enter the Syrian quagmire was more of a ploy than anything else: namely, an attempt to remind Moscow and Tehran just how costly an armed intervention in another country can be.
Trump understands this reality very well, given that Washington has spent trillions of dollars on its military operations in the Middle East since its invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Now, political experts contended, it was time for Russia to carry the brunt of the burden.
But a few weeks after Trump’s announcement, we suddenly learned what the president was really referring to. Following a series of visits by Gulf leaders to the White House, Trump announced his expectation that Arab countries – like Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt – step up to the plate and help in Syria. This proposal seems ridiculous at best. Syria has been controlled by Russia, a global superpower which can only be counter-balanced by a player of similar caliber such as the United States.
In addition, as the Syrian war enters its eighth year, it is almost impossible to imagine any outside party intervening at this stage. The sad reality is that Trump is not really interested in seeing another power fill the vacuum that would be left by the United States in Syria. He also isn’t concerned with the suffering of the Syrian people.
If the White House really wanted to withdraw and allow a new player to take its place, it would have conducted a closely-coordinated, gradual transfer of power to a new Arab army. Or, at the very least, it would have equipped Syrian opposition forces with weapons to enable them to survive. –Razzy Duhman
Asharq al-Awsat, London, April 20
During one of my afternoon walks around London last week, I ran into a group of demonstrators standing outside of the US Embassy who were holding banners and chanting in protest of the American-British- French military operation in Syria. One of the signs read: “America must stop killing Muslims.”
I stopped to speak to the activists who were there and asked them whether they had also considered protesting in front of the Russian Embassy. They seemed taken aback, as they hadn’t even considered Russia’s crimes in Syria.
Sadly, the face of these protesters is the face of our younger generation. It is a generation that views injustice as something that could only possibly be committed by Western governments. It blasts a pinpoint missile assault against chemical weapons facilities – which did not kill a single civilian – as a crime against humanity, while completely ignoring the atrocities committed by Russia around the world. These are individuals who said nothing when Russia invaded Crimea.
They cared not when human rights activists were unlawfully detained in Moscow for undermining Putin’s regime. And they certainly did not take to the streets when Russia carpet-bombed Aleppo, killing hundreds of innocent civilians and injuring and displacing thousands of others. This is a generation that suffers from self-loathing, portraying Russia as a force fighting evil and the West as the ultimate nemesis.
Some have even described this political environment as the “New Cold War,” but the truth of the matter is that we’re far from such a scenario. Despite its size and power, Russia cannot truly undermine the United States. Both its economic and military power lag significantly behind those of America. Its scientific and academic capabilities lag far behind those of the US and Europe. In fact, Russia is a “superpower” only in its nuclear capability.
The problem, as these protesters remind us, is legitimacy. While the Russian government crushes any dissent, Western democracies permit these kinds of demonstrations. Therefore, Russia can freely exercise its military power, even if limited in size. By contrast, the United States, despite its strength and capabilities, can barely project a fraction of its power.
This is where Russia trumps the West. Until these protesters turn their attention to what matters most – that is, the true crimes being perpetrated across the globe today – we will continue to live in a world of misplaced political priorities. –Eyad Abu Shakra