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Mixed Arab World Reaction to US Strikes

  • Edward Yeranian

Arab world reaction to the U.S.-led airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria, carried out Tuesday with participation or support from Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, has been mostly positive with some nuances.

People in a number of countries, however, decried the attacks online. One man, calling himself Nizar, wrote on al Jazeera TV's Arabic website that “ISIL and the United States were the “alternate faces of the terrorist coin.”

The Syrian Information Ministry would not comment on the raids when asked, but Syrian State TV said that Damascus was “ready and willing to help in the fight against Islamic State militants and the [al Qaida-linked] Jabhat al Nusra.”

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, was mildly critical of the strikes, claiming they killed a handful of children and civilians in Idlib, along with militants.

Solid backing

Kurdish leaders, Syrian refugees, and the head of the main Western-backed Syrian opposition coalition welcomed the strikes, which expanded the U.S.-led coalition's efforts that were previously focused in Iraq.

Once reluctant to join the U.S.-led coalition, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday also spoke positively of the strikes in Syria, adding that Ankara could provide military or logistical support.

Arab media broadcast amateur video of the airstrikes against Islamic State positions in Syria throughout the day Tuesday, with mostly positive reaction from analysts and the man-on-the-street interviews.

In Egypt, state TV drew a parallel between the Islamic State group and terrorists who have been attacking Egyptian Army and police officers in the Sinai and elsewhere across the country.

Veteran Egyptian commentator Hisham Kassem told VOA that most Egyptians are more focused on domestic issues these days, but that he observed a general satisfaction with the U.S. and Arab coalition raids on the Islamic State organization.

"With people, they're not interested in anything outside the border," he said. "There's been no public reaction."

A comprehensive solution to the problem of Islamist militancy in general, he added, needs to be identified, or the international community will “continue to act like firemen, going to put out every fire that breaks out, while leaving the root causes for more fires to start.”

"We do know that there is an understanding right now that there has to be a clear position taken by all Arab governments against terrorism and militancy and militias in the Middle East.”

In Lebanon, there appeared to be a generally favorable reaction to the raids against the militant group, which continues to hold a handful of Lebanese Army soldiers captive after beheading several.

Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, says many Lebanese are disappointed that it's taken the U.S. and its allies so long to attack the jihadists.

“The main concern has to do with the fact that striking [the Islamic State militants] happened a little bit too late. Bombing them ought to have happened earlier," he said. "During the fighting of the last two years, ISIL was able to defeat other groups in the [Syrian] opposition and they were left with no rivals on the ground."

Khashan added: “[mainstream Syrian] opposition may not be able to fill the vacuum” left after the Islamic State is weakened, allowing the government of President Bashar al-Assad to “fill the void.”

Prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi told VOA the strikes show the resolve of Arab governments to win the war against terrorism and fulfill commitments made to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during a conference in Jeddah earlier this month.

“[The strikes] are a reflection of the meeting that was held in Jeddah ... along with Turkey," he said. "[The Arab and Gulf states] showed their support for the campaign against ISIL. For Saudi Arabia, I see it this way: the Saudi Arabians see ISIL as a serious threat not only externally, but internally. It is already at war with ISIL.”

Ryan Crocker, who was ambassador to Syria from 1998 to 2001, also lauded the campaign.

"You only have one chance to make a first impression, and I think we made a very strong first impression," said Crocker, a veteran diplomat who served throughout the Middle East and most recently in Afghanistan.

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