VOICES FROM THE ARAB PRESS: Trump's clever policies against Iran

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

UNLOADING A grain shipment at the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen, on August 5. (photo credit: REUTERS)
UNLOADING A grain shipment at the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen, on August 5.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Asharq al-Awsat, London, November 7
On the morning of November 5, renewed US sanctions against Iran kicked in and Tehran’s hope for a last-minute miracle that would save it from economic meltdown vanished. The mullahs really hoped that the Khashoggi affair would deflect attention away from their actions and toward those of Saudi Arabia. But as the days went by and implementation day arrived, the Saudis let out a deep sigh of relief just as the Iranians were coming to terms with their misfortune.
The new sanctions are terrible news for the mullahs, who fear nothing more than domestic political unrest. Tehran, which is currently the world’s third-largest oil producer, will have its ability to sell product severely limited. In addition, anyone trading with Iran will be prohibited from using American financial institutions or even the US dollar. US President Donald Trump repeatedly has spoken out against Iran’s actions, but also left the door open for new negotiations. The Iranian regime, always stubborn, refused to engage. It is unlikely that the sanctions will have an immediate effect on Tehran, as it is not in the Iranian DNA to come crawling to the US begging for forgiveness. However, it seems very plausible that in two years’ time the regime will find itself in such dire straits that it will have no other choice but to give up its nuclear program.
Indeed, Trump was strategic about the implementation of these sanctions. Although many commentators criticized his administration for allowing a few countries to continue importing oil from Iran, this may be a positive thing. First, it provides these nations with more time to adjust to the sanctions and find new trading partners. Otherwise, Trump would have sabotaged the economies of some of the US’s closest allies. Second, and perhaps more importantly, this gives Iran a taste of what its economy could be like if it relinquishes its atomic ambitions and ballistic missile program. It will serve as a stark reminder to the mullahs and the Iranian people that there is a way out of their crisis, one which involves diplomacy and not force. These are very positive developments for everyone that wishes to see peace in the region. Perhaps, in time, this will happen thanks to Trump’s clever approach to Iran.
– Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed
Al-Nahar, Lebanon, November 6
In response to the widely criticized trip of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Oman a few weeks ago, Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah rushed to defend his government under the pretext that the trip was “used to discuss the Palestinian issue” and bring it back to the international agenda. While I don’t believe a single word the minister said, his message is still important nonetheless. It serves as an important reminder that the Arab public still resents the notion of normalization with Israel and will refuse to accept any attempt to portray a state visit of an Israeli politician, let alone the Israeli prime minister, to an Arab state, as a trivial matter.
This is all the more important today, when support for the Palestinian issue has reached an all-time low. Arab countries around the region have come to treat the Palestinian problem as a headache rather than as a cause to which they are indebted. The relationship formed between the Netanyahu and Trump administrations has pushed the Palestinian leadership into the corner and moved the Palestinian cause away from the center stage to the sidelines of the global agenda. Even Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has been quoted saying that he supports Trump’s peace plan and decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
In the wake of these shifting loyalties, the Palestinian leadership has maintained a steadfast and clear position against normalization with Israel. It turned down the Omani invitation to launch talks with the Israelis so long as the Americans are involved in any way. Sadly, more and more Arab governments are pressuring Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to engage in talks with Israel not for the purpose of advancing Palestinian interests, but in order to deepen their own relations with Netanyahu’s government without being accused of betraying the Palestinian cause. Only a firm stance against this Arab attempt to embrace Israel will suffice in protecting the Palestinian cause against those who seek to erase it. We must not accept such state visits or any other form of normalization with Israel.
– Abd al-Nasser Essa
Al Sharq, Qatar, November 5
When Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007, nobody knew what the future of the region would hold. Unfortunately, during the decade that has passed since then, Gaza has been placed by Israel under a merciless siege that severely restricted the lives of people living in it.
Things took a major downturn last year, when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas decided to punish Hamas and cut off Gaza from its funding. The already-dire economic conditions in the Strip turned from bad to disastrous. This affected the younger generation of Gaza’s population particularly hard. With no other outlet to express their grievances, Gaza’s youth began organizing weekly Marches of Return. These have caused a massive scare on the Israeli side, resulting in the deployment of hundreds of soldiers to the Gaza border and an increased use of live ammunition against non-armed civilians who are protesting the Israeli occupation.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians have participated in these marches in the few months that passed since they started. Sadly, hundreds have been killed and injured. The real question now, however, is what is going to happen moving forward? The way I see it, there are two options: Either Israel lifts its siege on Gaza and gives its population hope for a better future, or Israel fully takes over the Strip and governs it. Both of these options have been seriously weighed by Israel. According to undisclosed officials, Israel proposed the second option to several Arab leaders, and even suggested to re-occupy the Gaza Strip and transfer control over it to a third party in the Arab world. However, no Arab leader is truly interested in claiming ownership over the Gaza problem.
Therefore, the only option left for Israel is lifting of the siege and removing the strict restrictions imposed upon Gaza’s population. Whether it likes it or not, Israel cannot launch another military offensive against Hamas that would restore quiet to its borders for a few months or years. As soon as the war would end, new waves of protests would immediately begin. The status quo in Gaza has changed. The dire conditions have turned it into a barrel full of explosives, looking for a spark. Israel will have to take drastic measures to rectify this situation, and none of the solutions on the table will be easy to do, both financially and politically. – Sleeman Saed Abu Sita
Al-Arab, London, November 7
The battle for the rebel-held city of Hodeidah in western Yemen is particularly important for several reasons. Chief among them is the fact that Hodeidah is a port city overlooking the Red Sea, which provides the Houthi rebels with all the resources they need to sustain themselves over the long run. This explains why the rebels have put their weight into this battle, in which they’ve been engaged since last May.
In the last few days, significant progress toward liberating the city has been achieved. However, this wasn’t enough to facilitate a political transition of power, and the UN special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, called for a new round of negotiations between the Yemeni forces in less than a month. It is no secret that Griffiths is receiving American and British support in his efforts to hold a new round of talks.
It is not yet clear which parties will participate in his dialogue. Will it be limited to one group representing “the government” and another representing the Houthis, while the multitude of other factions that are part of Yemeni society will simply be disregarded? What should be noted on the sidelines of the fighting and the terrible humanitarian crisis that is unfolding in Hodeidah is that the forces currently controlling the city, the Houthis, are ultimately nothing more than an Iranian tool used to destabilize the Arab Gulf.
If this grace period of one month given to the Houthis by the UN does not suffice to resolve the conflict over Hodeidah, then the solution would have to shift to the use of force. Griffiths, who does not seem to know much about Yemen and the Houthis, has already spoken out against this option. However, Griffiths, together with his proponents, might soon run out of alternatives. The next 30 days are going to be crucial. They are a true crossroads for Yemen. The possibility of a “Houthi emirate” in Sana’a and its surroundings leading to Hodeidah will become very eminent unless real action is taken on the ground. On the other hand, the removal of the Houthis from Sana’a will not be enough, since they are embedded in Yemeni society and live in other parts of the country as well.
We can only hope that Griffiths’s endeavor will be successful, but we must be prepared in case it fails. Hodeidah will have to be liberated one way or another. Let’s hope that this is achieved through diplomacy and not through more bloodshed.
– Kheir Allah
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