Voices from the Arab press: Chaos in the White House and Iran

The most important stories - as seen through the eyes of the Arab press.

The White House is pictured in Washington D.C. (photo credit: REUTERS)
The White House is pictured in Washington D.C.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Trump ousts McMaster, taps Bolton as national security adviser, March 23, 2018 (Reuters)
Al Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, March 29
The rate at which US President Donald Trump has gotten rid of his closest aides in the White House surprised even his biggest critics. Every few days Trump goes on a rampage on Twitter, after which he dismisses yet another administration official.
Trump ousts Secretary of State Tillerson, taps CIA director Pompeo, March 13, 2018
A few months ago, rumors began spreading about the possibility that Trump would fire secretary of state Rex Tillerson, who apparently described the president as a “moron.” Trump’s retribution came shortly afterwards, with Tillerson’s dismissal revealed in one of the president’s tweets. Granted, Tillerson was never suited for the job. A former oil and gas mogul, he was used to having the final word. He ran ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest energy companies, where the only opinion that mattered was his own. Then, in February 2018, he joined the Trump administration, effectively shifting from giving orders to receiving them. Most of the time he made recommendations that mattered to no one, not least to his new boss.
With Tillerson gone, Trump quickly moved on to his next target: namely, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. It remains unclear what dispute prompted this second dismissal, but one can only assume that McMaster, like Tillerson, did not see eye-to-eye with the president on certain issues, including the Iran nuclear deal.
Now, a little over a year into his presidency, Trump has brought on John Bolton, a conservative nationalist with a track record of supporting every single American intervention abroad. Having in the past publicly called for the overthrow of the regimes in North Korea and Iran, Bolton is a true hawk who appears unafraid to use American force to achieve political ends. Therefore, this change of personnel seems like Trump’s way of establishing a new cabinet that shares his worldview.
Whether an actual war will break out is a difficult question to answer, but the obvious target is, undoubtedly, Iran. The US president has already spoken out against the nuclear deal on many occasions and continues signaling to the mullahs that he is serious about his threats. This is an alarming development, one that suggests big trouble for the Iranian leadership.
– Ahmed al-Faraj
Al-Okaz, Saudi Arabia, March 28
After several months of Saudi claims that Iran is funding and arming the Houthi militias operating in Yemen, remnants from a missile fired on Saudi Arabia last week finally provided the evidence that Riyadh was looking for; that is, features of weapons manufactured in Iran. While this is very worrying, the revelation is the ultimate vindication for the Saudis, who for years have raised concerns about Tehran’s military involvement in the region.
Iran is, beyond any doubt, engaging in a direct confrontation with Saudi Arabia via its Houthi proxy. The fact that Iranian-manufactured ballistic missiles have made their way to the Arab Gulf is unsurprising. What is surprising is that the Houthi militias, which claim to be fighting to liberate Yemen, have blindly chosen to take orders from the Revolutionary Guards – even when these orders completely contradict their agenda. There are growing voices calling on Riyadh to end its attacks on terror strongholds in Yemen. The United Nations has even accused Saudi Arabia of indiscriminately bombing civilian targets. But the recent findings prove, once and for all, that the real vicious actor in this war is Tehran, not Riyadh.
It is those who target innocent populations with ballistic missiles, at the behest of other actors, who are the culprits in this war. The Saudi-led Arab coalition would be wise to continue its effort to eradicate terrorist hotbeds in Yemen at any cost. This is the only way to delineate clear lines that cannot be crossed by the mullahs, who seek to annihilate Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Gulf.
– Mashri al-Zayidi
Al-Ittihad, UAE, March 28
Last week, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, and Moon Jae-in, president of South Korea, attended a celebration marking the opening of the UAE’s first nuclear reactor, built by the Korean Electric Power Company.
The facility is the first nuclear power plant in the Arab world and will significantly help the Emiratis reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. Jae-in’s visit, however, evidences much more than the two countries’ growing collaboration on nuclear technology. The state visit of an acting Korean president demonstrates the deepening relations between the two powers on all levels.
According to several foreign sources, Seoul and Abu Dhabi have already signed several military deals that will provide the latter with extensive training opportunities in Korea. In return, the UAE has opened its borders to hundreds of Korean laborers, while curbing the work visas issued to North Koreans who send remittances back to Pyongyang. The number of UAE citizens visiting South Korea, and vice versa, has also grown dramatically, with direct flights between the two capitals offered by both the Emirati and Korean national carriers.
Indeed, Korea and the UAE share many common values. Both nations have invested immense resources into developing their societies through education, healthcare and a thriving economy. Similarly, both nations face growing security threats from their neighbors: namely, South Korea from Pyongyang and the UAE from Iran and its proxies in Yemen. The growing ties between the Korean and Emirati leaderships represents a pivotal geopolitical moment, with Abu Dhabi turning into an important player both regionally and globally.
The UAE will continue to establish closer relations with a growing number of world powers that understand and value its innovation and entrepreneurship.
– Mohammad Hamadi
Asharq al-Awsat, London, April 1
In a surprising turn of events, US President Donald Trump last week announced a plan to withdraw all US forces from Syria. Speaking to a crowd of supporters in Ohio, the president vowed to bring American troops back “very soon.”
What might this development mean? Truthfully, US forces in Syria have played no major role in the war. Their primary focus was to defeat Islamic State, which has been largely accomplished. But at the same time, American boots on the ground remain the last barrier to Iran’s takeover of Syria.
US military installations are blocking the Revolutionary Guard from establishing control over a contiguous territory between Iran and Lebanon.
It seems increasingly likely that Bashar Assad will remain in power once a cease-fire is reached in Syria, a reality largely attributable to Iran. Without the support of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Assad would have lost control over most of his country. He therefore has no ability to rid Syria of its Iranian patron. Accordingly, the presence of American troops is of utmost importance – not only for the United States but also for countries like Saudi Arabia and Israel.
If Trump is serious about withdrawing his forces, then other solutions must be put in place. Iran should be treated as an occupying power in Syria and thus must be removed before any diplomatic solution is reached.
– Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed