Voices from the Arab press: 2023: Pivotal moment in int’l & regional history

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

 (FROM L) Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hold a press conference during the AUKUS summit in San Diego, California, March 13.  (photo credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images)
(FROM L) Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hold a press conference during the AUKUS summit in San Diego, California, March 13.
(photo credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

2023: Pivotal moment in int’l & regional history

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, April 6

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In recent weeks, I have been closely monitoring international events, particularly those related to the Middle East. These events have raised numerous questions that remain unanswered. Initially, I was hesitant to address these issues due to their complexity and the unpredictability of their consequences. However, I realized that their importance and gravity require us all to carefully consider them and prepare for the turbulent and unstable period ahead.

While this stage carries many risks, it could also present potential opportunities for those who are able to take advantage of them. The central question standing in front of us now is: how can the intensifying tensions between Russia and Ukraine be quelled after the UK announced the delivery of potentially hazardous armaments to Ukraine, while Russia declared the deployment of certain nuclear components in Belarus? Is the situation slipping out of control? NATO’s stance is that Russia must be fought until it is defeated.

On the other hand, there are many who believe that concessions must be made to Moscow in order to push it toward a cease-fire. The outcomes so far are disputable and not promising. Given that Russian culture is not accustomed to conceding defeat, has Putin’s political future become linked to that of Ukraine? Is Joe Biden’s political future contingent on the Ukrainian situation?

Will their respective political futures be compromised if either president appears to show weakness or an unwillingness to compromise? Are we entering a cycle of escalation and de-escalation similar to the Korean conflict, with citizens on the ground paying the price? Are the US and the West seeking to escalate tensions and start a new Cold War with China?

 U.S. President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak gather for a trilateral meeting, at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego, California U.S. March 13, 2023. (credit: Leah Mills/Reuters) U.S. President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak gather for a trilateral meeting, at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego, California U.S. March 13, 2023. (credit: Leah Mills/Reuters)

There is evidence of a clear attempt by the US to maintain its international hegemony since the end of the Cold War. The recent AUKUS agreement between the US, Britain and Australia, which allowed for the supply of nuclear submarines to Australia, has angered China and many Asian nations. This has sparked speculation of a potential Chinese-Russian counter-alliance in response to the West.

However, despite China’s rejection of American and Western hegemony, it still prefers fierce competition with the West over direct confrontation with it, as long as the US does not attempt to extend its hegemony to neighboring regions in Asia. As major powers rise and decline, other countries are adjusting their policies in response.

India, which borders China and has historical relations with Russia, has held back from condemning Russian actions in Ukraine. This shift in attitude has been accelerated by Russia’s provision of advanced weapons to China that India did not receive, as well as Russia’s strengthening of ties with the Arab Gulf and Middle East, including Israel.

Russia has also entered into groups such as I2U2, made up of the US, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, and India, as well as BRICS, which comprises Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. The Philippines has gone a step further, modernizing a runway at Basa Air Base to create the first new US naval base in the country in 70 years.

It is clear that these shifts in major power dynamics can have a significant impact on the policies of other nations. As the world continues to grapple with the economic cost of the pandemic and the Ukrainian conflict, questions remain as to whether the dollar will stay the main currency in the global economic system. Meanwhile, the lifting of medical restrictions in China could open the door to its markets and its productive power, reviving international trade.

It is uncertain how this will affect the economies of affluent and developing countries. The long-standing Algerian-Moroccan rift, which has focused on the Western Sahara issue, is yet to be resolved. Similarly, the future of Tunisia remains uncertain, as does the potential for bridging the gaps between the Libyan parties vying for power with various international interventions.

While the UN Security Council has proposed a pathway forward and there are signs of hope in Egyptian-Turkish relations, Egypt still faces economic hardship, huge debt, and the challenge of water scarcity. There is also instability in Sudan, which continues to alternate between relief and crises.

In the Middle East, one of the pressing questions is whether the Israeli government’s intransigence has completely eliminated the prospects of a peaceful solution with the Palestinians. This has resulted in the continuation of the conflict between the two peoples over land and national identity, with the number of Palestinian deaths increasing since the formation of the current racist Israeli government.

How does this failure of the peace process affect the stability of Jordan? Will we continue to see normalization with Arab countries? Are we witnessing a shift in regional dynamics between Arab and Middle Eastern countries after years of decline? And as Turkish presidential elections approach, could this extend to its illegal military presence in Syria and Iraq?

What is the impact of the Saudi-Iranian agreement, negotiated with Chinese backing, which follows decades of US hegemony in the region? Will this lead to the reshaping of the Middle East and its international relations? Evidence suggests that a thaw in relations between a number of Arab countries and Syria is underway, most recently evidenced by the Syrian foreign minister’s visit to Cairo.

While it is difficult to predict the outcome of these developments, it is evident that we are at a pivotal moment in international and regional history. The decisions taken in 2023 will shape the future of the region politically, economically, and socially. Everyone has a stake in this process, and only God knows what will happen next. – Nabil Fahemy

Rocket attacks on Israel: Who really controls Lebanon

An-Nahar, Lebanon, April 7

Lebanon has once again come to the fore of regional attention, with the recent rocket attacks targeted at Israeli territory. Although Israel, Hezbollah and official Lebanese security forces have attempted to pass blame to “Palestinian factions,” the truth is that Hezbollah, as a faction of the Iranian Quds Force, is responsible for these missile attacks.

In the region, Hezbollah exerts complete and decisive influence, and it is highly unlikely that any missile was launched at Israel from Lebanese territory without clear consent from Hezbollah’s leadership. Not only was the decision taken by Hezbollah but it was also implemented with its sponsorship. It may have been carried out by Hamas or other smaller Palestinian factions, but Hezbollah orchestrated it.

Israel is aware of this, so it prefers to hold Hamas responsible and avoid a clash with Hezbollah, and by extension, Iran, which is now reconciling with several Arab nations. The ongoing Israeli-Iranian shadow war was exacerbated last week when severe Israeli airstrikes targeted sites in Syria where members and officials of Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps were stationed.

This resulted in the loss of many lives. It is believed that in response, Iran allowed Hezbollah to organize the launch of rocket volleys, though the responsible “Palestinian factions” remain unidentified. These factions move freely between the western and eastern regions of southern Lebanon.

We are witnessing a process of diplomatic exchange between two regional powers: Israel and Iran. Hezbollah, however, does not have the autonomy to engage in major skirmishes with the Israelis without the approval of its regional authority. The scope of Hezbollah’s authority is confined to the Lebanese context, and any confrontation may begin in the Galilee region but could potentially spiral into the heart of Tehran itself, as has been experienced in recent months.

Amid all that is occurring, there is a missing presence of the Lebanese government, which is more akin to a local municipal council that operates within the confines of what Hezbollah grants it. Thus, we saw Prime Minister Najib Mikati deny the gravity of the attack on Lebanese sovereignty initially, instead of contacting international bodies in order to avert further escalation.

All of this leads us to conclude that the incident of rocket fire from Lebanon to Israel – whatever the excuses and justifications presented are – reaffirms that the issue of illegal militia weaponry in Lebanon is a national concern; just as the question of withdrawing Palestinian arms and disbanding Palestinian military bases in Lebanon – as agreed upon at the Lebanese national dialogue 17 years ago – must be included in the agenda of any future government immediately following the election of a president. – Ali Hamada

Solidarity & partnership among oil-producing states

Al-Ittihad, UAE, April 5

This week, the OPEC+ countries took an important step to ensure fair prices for their oil exports. They agreed to reduce production by 1.66 million barrels per day until the end of 2023, in addition to their previous two million barrel-per-day reduction at the end of last year. This brings the total reduction to 3.66 million barrels per day, which is 3.5% of global oil production.

The OPEC+ countries’ proactive step came at the right time, as oil prices dropped to $70 a barrel before rising back to $80 at the end of last week. By taking this step, OPEC+ countries are attempting to maintain oil prices at a reasonable level and support their economic conditions amid global competition marked by tension and geopolitical issues, which have serious implications for the economic and social stability of many countries.

The decision to reduce production again within six months is an impressive display of solidarity among the organization’s countries. Despite some media outlets claiming otherwise, there is a strong sense of interdependence between the member states that transcends their respective national interests.

This strong solidarity is not only shaping the future of global energy markets, but also driving many economic trends. The recent crisis of Western banks has come to the fore, alerting the OPEC+ countries to the consequences that could arise from its recurrence. Many observers expect this will have a ripple effect, impacting overall financial and economic conditions and dragging other sectors, including oil markets and prices, into a regressive crisis.

Day after day, news of an impending global recession grows stronger. This could lead to a decrease in demand for oil, creating an imbalance between supply and demand. The US recently achieved record levels of oil production, compounding the issue, and likely resulting in further price drops.

Last week, the International Monetary Fund downgraded its forecasts for global economic growth, suggesting that demand could fall even further, and prices could suffer even more. The economic landscape, particularly the highly volatile oil markets, poses serious challenges that must be addressed to safeguard the interests of oil-producing countries.

International competition is fierce, so any delay in taking proactive steps could lead to significant losses. Conversely, proper preparation for expected developments can protect and increase these benefits. The recent decision has caused oil prices to rise again by 6.5%, reaching $85 a barrel. This is a recovery from the losses due to the banking crisis, as Pickering Energy Partners predicted that this decision could lift oil prices by $10 a barrel.

The International Energy Agency even warned that “sudden new cuts may drive oil prices to $100 a barrel.” The countries that make up the OPEC+ group have shown a commitment to defend their interests in various circumstances, despite the pressures they have faced. It is not out of the question that the organization will have to resort to production cuts, should the global economy worsen.

However, they have also demonstrated a willingness to increase production should the challenges ahead be successfully navigated. The members of the group have acted intelligently and flexibly to reconcile their national interests with those of the consumer countries, thereby promoting economic stability and growth and helping to protect the global economy from suffering further crises and shocks. This role must continue to be maintained with stronger cohesion, solidarity, and harmony among the countries of the group. – Mohammed Al-Asoumi

Between Beijing, al-Aqsa & Damascus

Nida Al Watan, Lebanon, April 8

The firing of rockets from the Qlaileh region in Lebanon toward the Israeli Galilee, and the Israeli response to this event, marks the climax of complex and rapidly escalating regional events. This confluence of factors, involving Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon, has thrust the region back into the maelstrom of unpredictable risks.

While yesterday’s exchange of fire may remain just that – a mere “exchange”–both parties fear an outbreak of war that the parties to the confrontation do not desire. The Israelis have stated that they do not want war and it is assumed that Hezbollah, the dominant force in the South, does not wish for one either.

The formation of the new Israeli government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu has caused stagnation of extremist policies in Israel and provoked numerous Palestinian terrorist attacks. This year’s events have exacerbated tensions between Palestinians and the Israeli ruling class, which has long been subject to racism and extremism.

These tensions reached a new level when National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir entered Al-Aqsa Mosque on January 3, claiming the right of Jews to pray there and violating the “status quo” that is recognized by all countries. This was part of a previous conception, design, and planning process coordinated with Netanyahu.

What is happening in occupied Palestine may not be enough to explain yesterday’s escalation with southern Lebanon. The ruling Israeli government is facing internal turmoil due to the strong disapproval of its extremist policy, amid proposed amendments to judicial laws that would end the myth of Israel’s democracy, which is used to disguise the country’s racism and apartheid practices.

This is not the first time the nation’s leaders have sought to divert attention away from an internal crisis by fabricating a conflict with the Palestinians or its Arab neighbors. The recent agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran to restore diplomatic relations has had a profound impact on Israel.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and military leaders have been vocal about their preparations for war with Iran, due to the failure of negotiations to halt its nuclear program. The US has, so far, prioritized the war in Ukraine over this issue. This agreement, if implemented, would strip Israel of its pretext of Arab concern over Tehran’s potential to produce nuclear weapons as justification for waging war.

Saudi Arabia has reaffirmed its commitment to the Palestinian issue by rejecting normalization with Israel and abstaining from the Abraham Accords until a complete solution is reached through the establishment of two states. This renders the Arab openness toward the Jewish state incomplete and insignificant.

It may be more than mere coincidence that the recent tensions in the region reached a climax on the day Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, and Iran’s Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, signed a statement in Beijing to restore relations. It is difficult to ignore the apparent Iranian impetus behind the recurrence of Lebanon as a battleground.

Reports from the Israeli media about the Israeli defense minister, Yoav Gallant, putting his army on alert on the northern border after Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the political bureau of Hamas and close ally of Tehran, visited Lebanon were remarkable. Gallant issued the order before Haniyeh landed at Rafic Hariri International Airport, presumably in anticipation of reactions to what is happening at al-Aqsa from Lebanese territory.

Complicating matters further is the intensity of Israeli airstrikes on Iranian sites in Syria, from Aleppo to Damascus and Homs, over the past two weeks that have resulted in the death of several Iranians, including two Revolutionary Guard officers three days ago. Iran’s retaliatory efforts, in the form of a drone shot down by the Israelis, were not successful in creating similar stirs to those emanating from Lebanon. – Walid Shukair

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.