Voices from the Arab press: Israel has no alternative to escalation

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

 ISRAELI AIRSTRIKES: Aleppo airport. (photo credit: AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)
(photo credit: AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)

Israel has no alternative to escalation

Al Rai, Kuwait, September 9

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Israel recently conducted two airstrikes against the Aleppo airport within a single week. Air traffic was disrupted for two or three days because of the first strike, and more damage was caused to the airport runway the second time. It is still unknown when the airport will resume its normal operation, in light of these attacks.

Israel’s actions reveal an atmosphere of tension in the region, especially considering Tel Aviv’s insistence on preventing the flow of Iranian weapons into Syria and, from there, into Lebanon.

While we don’t know how things will evolve, it’s clear that the government of Yair Lapid, which is on the brink of a general election that will determine its fate in less than two months, is willing to go far to prevent Iran from establishing its foothold on Israel’s borders. Lebanon and southern Syria have joined other regions, like the Gaza Strip, Iraq and Yemen, in the long list of places where Iranian missiles can reach deep into Israeli territory.

There is nothing funny about the Israeli insistence on launching strikes inside Syria. The only funny thing about the matter is the Syrian regime’s response to the two recent Aleppo raids, which it considered “war crimes.” Prior to the raids, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad claimed that “Israel is playing with fire and pushing the region into a war.” In an interview with Russian TV, Mekdad was asked about his country’s lax response to Israeli raids on Syrian territory. The minister responded by warning Israel that Syria maintains the right to respond “whenever it wants, using whatever means it has,” and that “Syria’s patience must not be tested.” Mekdad didn’t clarify the meaning of the phrase “whatever means” and what he meant by it.

 READING UAE-BASED ‘The National’ newspaper near Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, 2020.  (credit: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP via Getty Images)
READING UAE-BASED ‘The National’ newspaper near Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, 2020. (credit: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP via Getty Images)

Given recent geopolitical developments, including the potential of signing a new nuclear agreement with Iran, Israel has no choice but to escalate the situation.

The Israeli escalation comes at a time when the entire region is dealing with the repercussions of four simultaneous crises. The first is the crisis of the Syrian regime itself. The second is the crisis of the American inability to play a constructive and clear role in the Middle East and the Gulf. The third is the energy crisis, which has become a global problem, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The fourth is the crisis of the Iranian regime. At the basis of the Iranian regime’s crisis is an expansionist project based on spreading sectarian militias in the region so that the Islamic Republic emerges as the dominant regional power. Israel’s strikes in Syria take place where the four crises converge.

What will Israel do, as it finds itself increasingly encircled by Iran and its proxies with each passing day? The answer is very simple: It has no choice but to escalate. The option of escalation has become clear and has even received a degree of American blessing. Even if the Biden administration signs a new deal with the Islamic Republic, the White House will not play a role in restraining Israel and preventing it from escalation.

Interestingly, the Israeli strikes on Syrian territory come in the wake of a Turkish-Israeli rapprochement, which was most recently expressed by the visit of a Turkish military frigate to Haifa Port. This is something that happened for the first time since 2010. Is it a coincidence that this rapprochement comes at this particular time and in light of Israel’s expansion of its military operations in Aleppo, located not far from Turkey? Only time will tell. – Kheirallah Kheirallah

The death of the Queen of England

Al-Ahram, Egypt, September 10

At the age of nearly 96, the UK’s Queen Elizabeth II died last week. She ruled for more than seven decades, marking the longest period of a living head of state in the world.

I will refrain from using this column to summarize the reactions and comments broadcast around the world about the late queen. However, on this occasion, I would like to note some of my own impressions about the British Crown, especially since Egypt was under British occupation until 1954, when the government of Gamal Abdel Nasser succeeded in driving British troops out of the country.

When I heard of the queen’s death, I immediately recalled a book that I had read at an early age – about 16 years old – in my father’s library. The book’s title was The Secret of the Progress of the Anglo-Saxons. The book immediately caught my eye! Among many other things, the book taught me that the natural and understandable rejection of the English occupation of Egypt shouldn’t prevent us from recognizing the great advantages and developments brought about by the British nation.

The funny thing is that this book is nothing but a translation of a French book first published in 1897, in which its author tries to crack the secret behind the advantage held by the English over the French.

As for me, the book prompted me to ask myself: Did we, the Egyptian people and government, learn anything from the English? Indeed, many of Egypt’s brilliant students traveled to study in Britain and returned home with their degrees to benefit our people and our country. But have we learned and benefited from the institutions left behind by the Brits in Egypt?

I don’t think so! I know that the Indians, who were also subjected to British occupation, learned three important things from the English: the English language, administration, and democracy. So what have we learned? – Osama Al-Ghazali Harb

Journalism as the Fourth Estate

Al Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, September 7

There is discussion from time to time about the future of the Arab press and whether it will disappear from our lives, given the diminishing financial returns of publishers. Newspapers and magazines, which were once popular staples in every household, have become ancient relics. Subsequently, advertisers, which once relied on print media to promote their products, cut back on their investment in printed publications. Over time, print media became less and less important – not just commercially but also politically and culturally.

The role of the news consumer also changed. In the past, the reader was just that: a passive reader. Today, the reader can also be a writer, a creator and a commentator. The rise of social media and the advancement of technology changed people’s preferences and attitudes toward news consumption. Readers now prefer immediate, bite-size news that summarizes key events, as opposed to detailed chronicles and analyses of each and every occurrence. People also cut down on their spending and developed a disdain for spending money on newspaper and magazine subscriptions.

Many newspapers began to believe that the mere use of social networks may get them out of this crisis. Some of them launched electronic platforms, while others tried to use social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram to reach their audiences. Some even recruited celebrities, in the hope of attracting a new and younger readership.

But the truth is that this inevitably caused publishers to move away from serious analysis and pursue more yellow journalism. Political and cultural analysis was replaced with strange stories about funny events, clickbait and cheap gossip. Loyal readers who were committed to the publications they’ve been reading for years were left neglected.

From here, the imbalance increased and the problem deepened because the news media lost its power as the Fourth Estate – that is, its ability to advocate for and frame serious political issues and influential ideas that transform society over time.

Indeed, every society needs a “parallel mind”: something that will force us to think out of the box and challenge our assumptions and convictions. Herein lies the real power of journalism, which is based on professionalism, impartiality, objectivity, analysis, investigation and reliability.

When the news media cease to espouse those traits, they become nothing more than tabloid journalism that seeks to please the masses. – Hassan Mustafa

Will Liz Truss become the second ‘Iron Lady’?

Al-Ittihad, UAE, September 8

On September 6, just days before her death, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth invited Liz Truss to form a new government, following the resignation of Boris Johnson. Truss thus became the 15th prime minister under the queen.

Truss was Johnson’s foreign secretary and won the support of Conservative party members after a two-month leadership battle.

She is the third woman to hold the position of prime minister after two fellow Conservatives, Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May. Conversely, the Labour party has never elected a woman to its leadership position.

Truss, 47, had a mixed career, and her performance will be judged by comparison with Johnson, who lacked discipline but who had a riotous charisma and a mastery of speech. Johnson and his Conservatives won an overwhelming majority in Parliament in the 2019 general election – a victory mainly attributed to the poor performance of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was a far-left populist, unfriendly to America, and anti-NATO.

In her youth, Truss was vocal about ending the monarchy. She was also very supportive of Britain’s membership in the European Union. But when the majority of Britons voted to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum, Truss became a staunch supporter of Brexit and remained loyal to Johnson until the end of his tenure at 10 Downing Street.

Truss’s first public speech as prime minister addressed the economic crisis facing Britain, including energy shortages, the highest inflation among the G7 economies, and the threat of the Ukraine war.

In her speech, Truss focused on these issues as priorities, saying, “I’m going to get Britain to work again.” It is a promise she intends to fulfill by cutting taxes, enacting fiscal reforms, and increasing investment in growth sectors. Truss pledged to deal with the energy crisis caused by the Ukraine war and to “make sure that people don’t face huge energy bills.” She also said she would put health services on an equal footing and “make sure people can get doctors’ appointments.”

These are undoubtedly laudable goals, but Truss will have to provide more details to quell the country’s growing anger. No doubt, bringing about practical changes that affect people’s daily lives before the onset of winter will be a difficult challenge. What makes it even more difficult is the fact that she is not a popular politician, especially within her party and among the public. She has also been widely criticized in Europe for her outspoken, often reproached disregard for existing sensitivities.

Truss needs to establish herself quickly with a new, dynamic government. For the first time in British history, top government positions, including those of prime minister, chancellor of the exchequer, foreign secretary and home secretary, will not be held by white males. This is a remarkable development for Britain. However, if the government promises reforms that won’t work, Truss will face strong opposition from within and outside her party. She now has only two years to establish herself before the next election, in 2024.

Truss says she wants to follow in the footsteps of Thatcher, who worked with Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II to end the Cold War, fought a tough fight with unions, and became one of Britain’s most controversial prime ministers.

It is not known, however, whether Truss can match Thatcher’s assertiveness and deal with the inevitable backlash she would face in the age of social media if she calls for controversial and sweeping reforms. Does Truss have the personality and skills she needs to become the second “Iron Lady”? – Jeffrey Kemp

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.