Voices from the Arab press: Trump's sanctions might come back to haunt him

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

FEMALE SUPPORTERS display pictures of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah as he remotely delivers an address, in Beirut on August 14. (photo credit: REUTERS)
FEMALE SUPPORTERS display pictures of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah as he remotely delivers an address, in Beirut on August 14.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Al Sharq, Qatar, August 23
It seems as if the global resentment of America is growing stronger with each passing day. When US President Donald Trump was first elected, world leaders expressed hope that their countries’ relations with the United States would remain steadfast. But in the months since Trump took office, the American president succeeded, quite skillfully, to turn the US into an international pariah – a subject of mockery and ridicule among much of the free world.
Consider, for example, Trump’s recent attempt to squash the Turkish economy. Following the president’s orders, the Treasury Department imposed extensive tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum imports, sending the Turkish stock exchange into a tailspin. Washington also placed sanctions on the Turkish ministers of justice and interior. Yet despite a quick decline in the exchange rate of the Turkish lira, the economy managed to recover. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan succeeded in securing high-profile investments from other trade partners, such as Qatar, which vowed to save Ankara from Trump’s sanctions.
A similar reaction took place following Trump’s decision to re-impose sanctions on Iran. Instead of cooperating with Trump’s dictates, many European nations were quick to inject money into the Iranian economy in order to protect vital Iranian industries. There are now talks of a new nuclear agreement that would be signed directly between Iran and the EU, China and Russia, leaving the United States excluded. Therefore, it is important to remember that even while Trump takes pride in the strength of his country’s economy and boasts of his achievements, the US is becoming increasingly isolated under his leadership. More and more countries prefer to do business elsewhere in the world, with more faithful trade partners that provide stability and security.
This, combined with the growing attraction of rising powers such as India and China, may very well render the US an isolated country in just a few years. Washington may find itself alone, with no trade partners other than Israel and a few oilwealthy states willing to stand by its side.
– Rabiya Bin Sabah al-Kawari
Al-Hayat, London, August 22
Last week, Hezbollah officials, led by the organization’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah, held a formal reception for a delegation of Yemen’s Houthi leadership in Beirut. The event took place at the Dahieh, Hezbollah’s stronghold located in the southern outskirts of the capital, just a few miles away from the official seat of the Lebanese government.
This level of defiance of Lebanon’s autonomy is unprecedented. Hezbollah has already dragged Lebanon into the Syrian civil war by sending Lebanese men and women to fight alongside Assad’s forces. It also deployed troops to Yemen in order to train Houthi militias to fight against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Yet the ceremony held for the Houthi delegation marks an even higher level of shame, as Hezbollah succeeded in manipulating key forces in order to promote its agenda.
It has been operating as a state within a state, slowly buying off its political opponents in order to take over the country. Indeed, one of Hezbollah’s key allies is the Lebanese foreign minister, who acquiesced to the movement’s demand to normalize ties with the Assad regime and assist in the reconstruction of Syria. It remains unclear how this move serves the interests of the Lebanese people and how the minister could begin to justify his subordination to a terrorist regime. But Hezbollah’s pressure seems to have worked and Lebanon is now on a trajectory to formally become a Hezbollah-run nation that partners with a Syrian government that undermined its borders; launched an unparalleled wave of refugees into its territory; and disrupted its economy.
If this does not suffice to send the Lebanese economy into a downfall, then the American sanctions that will come in reaction certainly will.
Hezbollah is taking over every last good piece of Lebanon and it is only a matter of time until it ceases to do so covertly and begins doing so blatantly.
– Randa Takya al-Din
Al Khaleej, UAE, August 24
Today’s Middle East can be divided ideologically into three camps: the Arab world, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkey. There is a fourth, secluded camp, which is Israel. While the first three camps have been historically united against the fourth, recent years have seen the warming of ties between Israel and some Arab states. Furthermore, growing tensions among Arab states have led to rifts within what was once a united front against Israel.
The main beneficiary of this strategic change has been Tel Aviv, which took advantage of internal Arab conflicts in order to isolate certain players to its own advantage. Israel’s ultimate goal, of course, is to divide and conquer the Arab world and broader Middle East. Ever since the Arab Spring, countries like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have focused their attention on fighting political forces within their own societies instead of those threatening them externally. These regimes have cracked down on organizations promoting political Islam, fearing their growing popularity among the public. Their anti-Islam campaigns have put many of these regimes at odds with Turkey, which is governed by an Islamic party that openly supports organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood. It is enough to look at the current relations between Cairo and Ankara to understand just how distant these two camps have become.
Then there is Iran, which has been a source of division in the region due to its government’s aggressive expansionist agenda and its intervention in wars in Syria and Iraq. Tehran extended its realm of influence, creating divisions within alliances that were once unshakable. Here, too, the main beneficiary has been Israel, which was able to deflect attention away from the Palestinian issue and point fingers at the Islamic Republic instead. Thus, under the current conditions we are witnessing, it is difficult to envision a future in which the Arab world would once again be united around the Palestinian cause. Too many battles currently dominate the relationship between the Arab world, Turkey, and Iran.
The only way to isolate Israel and confront its practices is to put away the divisions plaguing our societies and come together as one. This is no easy feat, but it is a necessary one.
– Yasser Zatara
Asharq Al-Awsat, London, August 23
Nearly three weeks after the United States re-imposed financial sanctions on Iran, and despite serious threats voiced by the mullahs in Tehran, not much has changed on the ground.
We’ve heard Iranian intimidation regarding the closure of the Strait of Hormuz to international oil tankers, which never came to fruition. We’ve been told of potential Iranian retaliation against US assets in the Middle East, yet not a single attack has taken place.
The Iranian regime proved that it can bark, but it can’t bite. The hateful rhetoric that came from the mouths of the Supreme Leader and the commander of the Quds Forces quickly dissipated.
Most international banks, automakers and energy companies have pulled their operations out of Iran. The Iranian currency, the rial, entered a death spiral that brought its value to an all-time low. Iranian banks and financial institutions are on the verge of collapse. And the second wave of American sanctions, set to take effect in November, has not yet kicked in.
This reveals two important facts about the Iranian regime. First, it is incapable of delivering on many of its threats, and not every doomsday scenario, particularly those geared towards European ears, is plausible. Second, the Iranian regime is facing an unparalleled level of internal opposition. Part of the decision to refrain from strongly reacting to the American sanctions is the regime’s fear of the domestic push-back at home.
The Iranian people have grown frustrated with their government’s wasteful endeavors abroad. They want to make a decent living and are truly worried about their future. The mullahs understand this reality very well and have thus chosen to maintain a low profile.
Their only option is the next US presidential elections in 2020, which, they hope, will usher in a new leader that will undo Trump’s actions.
– Salman al-Dossry