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A POLICE officer stands guard near Japanese and South Korean flags at a hotel in Tokyo..(Photo by: TORU HANAI / REUTERS)
Al-Arab, London, August 23
Six years ago today, the Syrian regime resorted to the use of chemical weapons against its people for the very first time. More than 1,500 civilians were killed in the province of Ghouta near Damascus.
The Obama administration quickly promised to respond to the attack, especially after the US president drew redlines against the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. Then-US secretary of defense Chuck Hagel hastily returned to Washington, where he was preparing a response to Assad’s criminal attack.
But suddenly the US president changed his mind, just as everyone was prepared to deal a blow to the Syrian regime. The Syrian opposition was encircling Damascus and approaching sensitive sites in the Syrian capital, the international community condemned Assad, but Obama backed down. Hagel himself, who resigned from his position, wondered why Obama changed his mind in such a dramatic way.
A few years later it finally became clear: the Obama administration was secretly negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program. Obama did not want to take any steps that could upset Tehran. He allowed the mullahs to kill hundreds, even thousands, of Syrians. What he didn’t allow was any attempt to prevent the Islamic Republic from blackmailing the West, including the United States. In the summer of 2015, the G5+1 signed an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program.
The deal was the ultimate goal of the US president, who falsely believed that terrorism comes only from al-Qaeda or ISIS. He forgot, for example, that the ideological roots of al-Qaeda and ISIS came from the Muslim Brotherhood, whose leader Obama supported during the Egypt coup. Thankfully, in the end, the Egyptian street, supported by the Egyptian military and Gulf states, had the courage to defy the American administration regarding Egypt. It is no secret that these Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait, rushed to support Egypt and provided it with the necessary financial and political support it needed to get back on its feet.
What was unique about the Arab position at this time was not only its caution with the Obama administration, but also its boldness to confront Washington’s foreign policy. Arab leaders witnessed Iran reaping the benefits of its blackmail. Tehran received billions of dollars from the United States and spent a good portion of this money on its expansion project, which spewed violence and hatred through the entire region, including in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
Although President Donald Trump’s administration has been the antithesis of the Obama administration, especially in regard to Iran, in 2019 there is still reason to be cautious and fearful of reliving the 2013 experience. This past summer, the Iranians downed an American drone carrying sensitive equipment worth well over $140 million. The United States prepared to respond to this hostile act, especially after it confirmed that the plane, which was shot down over the Strait of Hormuz, was outside Iranian airspace. But at the last minute, Trump backed down for reasons still unknown to us.
Arab countries have the right to defend their interests regardless of who sits in the Oval Office. Of course, the current US administration knows Iran well. But this knowledge is not enough if one considers the broader American stance in the region. What is America’s policy in Yemen? What is its Syrian policy? What is its Iraqi policy? Last but not least, is there an American position that truly understands what is at stake in Lebanon? We are living in a turbulent world and we must act with caution. More importantly, we must get answers and assurances from America about where it stands in regard to our security interests. – Kheir Allah


Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, August 24
Last week, on an unplanned trip to the city of Qatif, I had the chance to visit the home of Sayyed Hassan al-Awami, a local community leader. At the door to his residence, I met his granddaughter, along with her two sons. We chatted briefly, and I soon learned that she had recently returned from MIT, one of the most respected universities in the world, where she received a full scholarship to study chemistry.
That evening, I also visited a commercial center in one of the local neighborhoods overlooking the ocean. The shopping center was filled with young men and women, alongside families, walking around and enjoying their evening. Everyone seemed happy. Most of the women around me were unveiled, and walked around confidently and comfortably. The young men were sitting with each other, and I did not notice any disconcerting behavior, such as strange looks or any inappropriate remarks directed at the women. People were civil and polite.
Although they seem mundane, these two scenes are but a simple picture of the social and cultural changes taking place in the kingdom. They are noteworthy changes. Today, the Saudi woman can attend the most prestigious universities in the world and pursue a full career in business, academia or the sciences. Society gives women confidence to pursue their dreams, even at a time when public figures remain predominantly male. Similarly, there are major social transformations taking place among the middle class, especially in the peripheral provinces like Qatif: people are finally able to walk around malls, eat out at restaurants, or grab a coffee with friends. In Qatif, Dammam, Riyadh, Jeddah and other parts of the kingdom, Vision 2030 is finally helping people live their lives openly, without fear from religious groups or political persecution.
We have set out on a path toward real change in Saudi Arabia, and there is no turning back. The strength of a nation is measured by its ability to innovate and adapt to new realities. We are on the right track.
Hassan al-Mustafa

Al-Ayam, Bahrain, August 20
“For five decades the United States has succeeded in maintaining peace in the Far East and has managed to provide prosperity to South Korea and Japan by focusing on cooperation, not division.” This is what Scott Snyder, director of the North Korean unit at the Council on American Foreign Relations, wrote in a recent Forbes article. But this is no longer the case. An all-out trade war has broken out between Tokyo and Seoul in recent weeks, threatening to bring an end to the two nations’ political, military and security alliance under the US umbrella.
While the US-China trade war is caused by US President Donald Trump’s policies to curb and dwarf Chinese global ambitions, the cause of the Korea-Japan trade war is quite different. According to official Japanese statements, there has been fear in Tokyo that sensitive Japanese technical exports to South Korea would possibly end up in the hands of North Korea. But this isn’t the real issue.
The real hatred stems from an old dispute dating back seven decades, when Japan occupied South Korea between 1910 and 1945. The Japanese occupation forces humiliated the dignity of hundreds of thousands of Korean women by enslaving them, while forcing their husbands and fathers to work for Japanese factories located nearby. Last year this saga returned to the fore, when the South Korean Supreme Court ruled that two major Japanese companies, Mitsubishi and Nippon Steel, must pay compensation to Korean survivors of the Japanese forced labor.
But the authorities in Tokyo didn’t like this. They retaliated by imposing restrictions on the export of 1,120 technical components to Seoul, especially components needed to manufacture phones and screens by the Korean multinational conglomerate Samsung. Not only that, but Tokyo also removed all South Korean companies from the white list of trusted trading companies.
However, the Japanese decision has been a double-edged sword. It is true that South Korea (the world’s largest producer of chips) will be hit if the Japanese restrictions persist, and its companies will be hard pressed to find alternative exporters. But it is also true that Japan (the largest supplier of chemicals used in the manufacture of technological chips) will also be hurt by its hasty, suicidal decision. Last year alone, Japanese companies exported more than $11 billion worth of technologies to South Korean phone companies.
The government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe quickly realized the difficult situation in which it put itself and called for negotiations to remove tension between the two governments. But these negotiations so far have resulted in no major change, other than a Korean wake-up call to begin diversifying the country’s imports. South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced his plan to make Korea economically superior to Japan in a short period of time. Given that Seoul has allocated about $6.5b. to this effort, which includes the acquisition of rival foreign companies with high-level technologies, Tokyo’s decisions may have inadvertently launched a new trade war.
– Abdallah al-Madany

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