Voices from the Arab Press: A war with no instigators

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

SECURITY PERSONNEL examine the remains of an Israel Air Force F-16 fighter plane near Kibbutz Harduf on February 10, 2018. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters) (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
SECURITY PERSONNEL examine the remains of an Israel Air Force F-16 fighter plane near Kibbutz Harduf on February 10, 2018. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
Asharq al-Awsat, London, February 12
There has been a dramatic turn of events in Syria.
Over the course of just a few days, three fighter jets – one Russian, one Turkish, and one Israeli – were downed in the country. These are three important events not only because they challenge the claim that Western armies enjoy air supremacy, but also because the three downed planes belong to nations that shape, to a great degree, the situation on the ground in Syria.
While the Russians are still directly involved in the fighting, the two other states have, to date, chosen to remain on the sidelines. Both Turkey and Israel stood idly by as the Syrian war unfolded and refused to take action. Now, as the fighting reaches their own backyards, they seem to be reacting with fury.
Unfortunately, it does not look like the situation in Syria will be resolved any time soon. The Russians will continue their aggressive campaign against Syrian rebels; the Iranians will enhance their footprint in the country; and Turkey will expand its operations against the Kurds. In addition to this hodgepodge of actors, Israel will prepare to confront Iran in the Syrian arena.
Sadly, this reality perhaps best encapsulates the Syrian war – namely, it is a conflict without any instigators, one in which everyone, as a result no one in particular, is at fault. The Russians deny any connection to the downing of the Israeli F-16. The Americans claim they have nothing to do with the rockets fired by rebels at the Russian jet. And Iran rejects the accusation that it sent a drone into Israeli territory. All of the parties pretend that they aren’t involved, when in reality all of them are guilty of exacerbating the war.
Make no mistake: the only way to bring about a lasting cease-fire in Syria is by removing foreign powers from the country. Only then can the core issues at the heart of this war be addressed.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Al-Araby al-Jadeed, London, February 9
Air India, the Indian national carrier, reportedly received a green light from Riyadh to cross Saudi airspace during flights between New Delhi and Tel Aviv.
While Israeli news outlets reported extensively about the agreement, Saudi officials were quick to deny the claim.
Let us take a step back and consider the dilemma at hand: Should the Saudis prevent Indian commercial planes from flying over their territory? I believe the answer is unequivocally no. Riyadh’s relationship with its allies should have nothing to do with where these nations’ planes fly. Air India can transport passengers to Athens, Berlin, New York or Tel Aviv. This should not be our concern. Why penalize India for exercising its sovereign right to transport its citizens wherever deemed fit? This [preventing such flights] would not be the way to promote the Palestinian cause. In fact, such a boycott on India would only benefit Israel, whose national carrier would continue to enjoy a monopoly over all flights between Israel and India. Providing the green light to Air India would actually open up the Tel Aviv- New Delhi route to competition and thus undermine Israel’s market share.
Finally, and most importantly, this agreement with Air India should not be viewed as an agreement with Israel. Saudi airspace will remain closed to Israeli air traffic, and Israeli airliners will have to travel the extra 2,400 km. to reach India. If anything, this deal can act as another political lever to pressure Israel in the future.
Samir Attalah
Al Jazeera, Qatar, February 9
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly rejected the United States’ historic role as a mediator in peace talks with Israel, following President Donald Trump’s recognition in December of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Abbas has already reached out to other international players, such as Russia and India, requesting they play a part in a multilateral mechanism for negotiations.
But there are those who are dismayed by this move, chief among them the American president, who allegedly ordered his staff to begin a process of identifying a potential successor to Abbas. According to some sources, several Palestinians have already been contacted by officials in Washington, although their identities remain unknown.
For his part, Abbas seems to be well aware of the American move. Surely, attempts to forcibly remove Palestinian leaders from power are nothing new. They began in the early 1990s during the Madrid Conference, when the US and Israel empowered Saeb Erekat and Hanan Ashrawi, for example, to represent the Palestinian people at the expense of Yasser Arafat. These efforts culminated with the American demand to decentralize the authority of the Palestinian president by establishing the position of prime minister and, eventually, the poisoning of Arafat by Israel.
It appears that 13 years after Arafat was killed, Abbas is staring down the same fate. The accusations that were once made against his predecessor are now being made against him, and it is only a matter of time until similar actions are taken to remove Abbas from power – whether by replacing him with a US-backed successor or perhaps even by assassination.
These threats should not be undermined or ignored.
If there is a glimmer of hope, it is that the Palestinian people has always remained steadfast in its battle for self-determination, irrespective of the identity of its leader. What matters at the end of the day is not who is sitting in the Mukata presidential compound in Ramallah, but, rather, the elements that unify and motivate the masses to continue their fight. That source of strength, much to America’s dismay, cannot be removed or broken.
Arib al-Antawi
Al Ittihad, UAE, February 10
The volatile border dispute between China and India, which occasionally makes global headlines, remains one of the most burning issues on the international agenda. Last year, India forcibly intervened to stop Chinese engineers from building a road in the Doklam region, a territory claimed by both countries, leading to a standoff between Indian and Chinese troops. Following a month-long impasse, both sides agreed to withdraw their forces from the area.
But the Doklam region has in recent weeks again emerged as a point of contention, as China has started to undermine India’s sovereignty over the territory by strengthening its military presence and defense capabilities in the zone. Recent satellite imagery shows that over the past three months China has established eight new airstrips in Doklam and deployed a squadron of S-30 fighter jets to a nearby area. In response, India has upped its forces, deploying over 1,800 troops to the region.
This is a major cause for concern, with India already dealing with growing tensions on its shared border with Pakistan. But India has a different view of Beijing, with China having defeated New Delhi in a war in 1962, the memory of which still lingers in the minds of many Indians.
China’s brazen activity on the border, meanwhile, signals that Beijing isn’t afraid of a new confrontation.
Despite the Indian-American rapprochement, China remains a strong power that is able to influence the political dynamics in the region.
While most eyes are focused on Russia and the United States, previously the world’s two lone superpowers, today the real risk of major conflict originates from emerging countries. And sometimes they share the very same border.
Zaker al-Rahman