VOICES FROM THE ARAB PRESS: Is Israel the biggest loser?

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

A SECURITY staff member stands at the entrance of Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul on October 31. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A SECURITY staff member stands at the entrance of Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul on October 31.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Al-Anba, Kuwait, November 1
Those who know a thing or two about Middle East politics couldn’t have helped but be surprised by the Israeli silence in the aftermath of the Khashoggi scandal. Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, who is usually the first to comment on the dire conditions of democracy in the Middle East, completely refrained from commenting on the incident. This was not coincidental.
According to high-level officials in Tel Aviv, Israel is truly wary of the repercussions of the Khashoggi debacle on its own interests in the region. Therefore, the Israeli government decided to remain silent about the incident in an effort to back Saudi Arabia and cut its losses.
Israel’s biggest loss is on the intelligence front. Saudi Arabia’s security strongman, Maj.-Gen. Ahmed al-Asiri, who has been Israel’s point-person in the kingdom, was recently sacked in response to the affair, bringing an end to Israel’s back-door conduit to the Saudi royal family. Attempts to communicate effectively with the Saudi leadership will now become more difficult for Israeli officials, as Asiri is not an easy person to replace.
Not only did Israel witness the weakening of an ally, but it also experienced the strengthening of an enemy. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is Netanyahu’s arch-nemesis, emerged as a true victor from this affair, after Turkish authorities carried out an exceptionally nimble and thorough investigation into Khashoggi’s death and provided evidence tying Saudi diplomats to his murder. Israeli officials are particularly bitter about this. Many of them would only wish that Erdogan would one day order similarly effective investigations against Hamas’s and Hezbollah’s terrorist cells in Turkey.
To Israelis, witnessing one of their closest backers in the Arab world become ostracized, and its biggest adversary receive praise, is a painful sight. Whether it intended for this or not, Israel found itself at the core of the Khashoggi affair. Much has been said and written about Saudi Arabia’s losses as a result of the scandal, but could it be possible that Tel Aviv is, actually, the biggest loser of this scandal?
– Abd al-Nasser Essa
Al Arabiya, Saudi Arabia, October 30
Although Oman is often cited as a state with limited power, the recent visit of an Israeli prime minister to the sultanate is an important reminder of Muscat’s great geopolitical influence.
Oman is the only Arab country that maintains good relations with a wide host of countries in the region, including Gulf States, Iran and Israel. This distinguishes the Sultanate from most other countries in the Middle East, which usually belong to one specific political camp. Oman, however, isn’t shy about maintaining ties with opposing parties. It seeks to build peaceful relations with whoever desires its friendship, while remaining beholden to no single power.
Thanks to this fact, Muscat has played an important role in regional negotiations. It has been involved in mediating a cease-fire agreement in Yemen, took part in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, and even facilitated secret back-channel talks between the United States and Iran. The fact that a serving Israeli prime minister formally visited the country, therefore, raises interesting questions about the purpose of this visit and what Israeli and Omani interlocutors are planning behind closed doors.
Is Israel trying to bring Muscat on board Trump’s so-called “deal of the century” between the Israelis and the Palestinians? Alternatively, is Netanyahu trying to avoid Trump’s peace plan by preempting it with an Arab plan of his own? My belief is that Oman is trying to re-brand itself as a vital political player in the region and on the international stage. To distinguish itself from other Gulf States that are busy fighting each other over internal disputes, Oman is marketing itself as a country that is unafraid of making bold moves. Indeed, it may maintain close relations with Iran, while inviting the Israeli prime minister for an official and highly covered state visit. It can maintain close ties with Saudi Arabia, while conducting extensive trade relations with Qatar.
Although it lacks the military strength that many of its neighbors have, Oman’s political and diplomatic strength is proving to be larger than we ever imagined.
– Amal Abd al-Aziz al-Hazani
Al Watan, Egypt, November 2
Throughout its quest for power, the Muslim Brotherhood invested great efforts in establishing an economic infrastructure that would support its activities, especially in countries in which it had a heavy presence.
In Egypt, for example, the Brotherhood established large economic entities, from hospitals and grocery stores to schools and nurseries. These projects required millions, if not billions, of dollars, which the Brotherhood skillfully hid from authorities in order to avoid surveillance and taxation. With time, a large portion of the Egyptian public came to rely on the Brotherhood’s services on a daily basis, making the movement an indispensable part of Egyptian society. This became especially noticeable after the ousting of former president Mohamed Morsi and the election of a non-Brotherhood president.
As soon as the organization lost its dream of empowerment, the Brotherhood began pursuing a new strategy of punishing the Egyptian public for its decision to support the new government of President Abdel al-Fattah al-Sisi. Brotherhood members began monetizing many of their services. In some regions of Egypt, Brotherhood institutions denied services to individuals who were not explicit Sisi opponents. The strategy was simple: to create a permanent state of frustration and anger among the Egyptian people, which could undermine the stability of the new regime.
Indeed, in the past few weeks these efforts escalated even further. A potato shortage in the country caused prices of basic food commodities in Egypt to double over the course of just a few days. Grocery stores were emptied of basic supplies within just a few hours. However, following a quick investigation, authorities soon discovered that Brotherhood-backed trading groups had purchased potatoes en masse and hidden them in warehouses across the country in an effort to create an artificial shortage that would inflate food prices. This form of financial terrorism is no different from the Brotherhood’s other techniques of intimidation and violence.
A group that acts so flagrantly against the interests of the public cannot represent or care about the people of Egypt.
– Muhammad Salah
Asharq al-Awsat, London, November 1
During the quadripartite summit held last week between the Russian, French, German and Turkish leaders regarding the situation in Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been supportive of the Syrian rebels, asked his counterparts to take an active stance in the reconstruction of Syria.
His demand was politely rejected by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. Macron told Erdogan that the Syrian regime’s war against its opponents has led to millions of Syrian refugees and that the only political solution to the situation on the ground must allow all Syrians to return to their country and live in peace. Macron insisted that the regime must negotiate a comprehensive political solution with all factions within Syrian society. This is in line with the American position, which refuses to accept a situation in which Assad continues to attack his opponents using Iranian backing, while claiming to negotiate a political solution.
Like Erdogan, Russian President Vladimir Putin also asked his European counterparts for help. In doing so, he admitted that Russia cannot, alone, bear the cost of rebuilding the war-torn country. It is true that Putin imposed his country’s presence in the Middle East, and perhaps globally, through his intervention in Syria, but Russia no longer has the strength of the former Soviet Union. Putin’s appeal to France and Germany for a more active intervention in the reconstruction of Syria therefore reflects a true Russian weakness. Moscow needs Europe in order to promote its goals. However, its plan to bring European nations on board will remain impossible so long as the situation on the ground remains unchanged.
What solutions this summit might bring remains unclear. In the meantime, all participating nations expressed “modest” expectations about the prospect of mutual cooperation. This becomes all the more difficult, given the fact that the United Nations launched its own parallel process of Syrian reconstruction under the supervision of UN envoy Staffan de Mistura. There are simply too many hands in the Syrian pot.
– Randa Takiya al-Din
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