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The Syria Waiting Game: A Middle East Media Roundup

  • Cecily Hilleary

A Free Syrian Army fighter watches U.S. President Barack Obama's speech with his family in Ghouta, Damascus August 31, 2013. Obama on Saturday backed away from an imminent military strike against Syria to seek the approval of the U.S. Congress, in a decis

A Free Syrian Army fighter watches U.S. President Barack Obama's speech with his family in Ghouta, Damascus August 31, 2013. Obama on Saturday backed away from an imminent military strike against Syria to seek the approval of the U.S. Congress, in a decis

As European support for military intervention in Syria continued to slip, U.S President Barack Obama decided over the weekend to leave the matter to American lawmakers. But Congress won’t reconvene for another week, and this delay has only heightened tensions in the Middle East. Over the weekend, the issue made headlines across the region as governments grappled with the possible consequences of another war in the region. Here is a sampling of some very mixed opinions:

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has taken a tough stand, urging the international community to take ‘decisive and serious action’ against the regime of Bashar al Assad, and Saudi commentators are critical of what they see as a lack of resolve on the part of the U.S. to take action. The Saudi-owned pan-Arabic daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat says no matter what Obama decides, he remains a weak leader: “Obama seems to be afraid of any consequences such a strike may entail. What he wants is a quick, limited and narrowly focused strike. He does not want to be dragged into a wider regional war.”

Al-Jazirah’s Nasir Al-Sirami says this is Obama’s “last chance” and urges him to take action that will save his—and America’s—credibility: “Strike at all the jihadi terrorist gatherings and the murderous regime…Mr. Obama, quite frankly, we do not have anyone other than you.”

An editorial in Jedda’s Al-Madinah called “Test of Credibility” says that America’s insistence that any intervention in Syria will be brief and limited only strengthens Assad and gains him more support domestically.

Obama to Bashar: "Missiles, bombs, tank shells, artillery and warplanes are allowed, but NOT chemical weapons!"

Obama to Bashar: "Missiles, bombs, tank shells, artillery and warplanes are allowed, but NOT chemical weapons!"

Qatar

In an Al-Arab editorial Saturday, Awad al-Salman wrote that while he “strongly supports any Western and US military strike on Syria against Bashar al-Assad's forces and thugs,” he questions why the US does not want to topple the regime, concluding that Washington actually seeks Assad’s survival. Meanwhile, in the same publication, Isma'il Basha wrote, “We approve a military intervention in Syria to prevent Al-Assad's regime and its satanic allies from persecuting with impunity the Syrian people who are defenseless against the Scud missiles, the massive bombs, the chemical weapons, and the collective killing machine.”

United Arab Emirates:

Radwan al-Sayyid wrote in Sunday’s Al-Ittihad that it is still not known who was actually involved in the chemical attack outside Damascus August 21. In the same issue, writer Shamlan Yusuf al-Aysi looked at the potential consequences of a strike on Syria, asking, “What will be the Gulf’s reaction if Hezballah responds in Lebanon? Will its supporters in the Gulf remain silent if Israel launches a war with Lebanon?” And he asked how Gulf states will deal with Gulf jihadists now involved in the Syrian conflict:

“Realistically, our Gulf region produces jihadists due to the politicization of region and the regimes’ silence over the imposition of ideological viewpoints on education and mosques that are against the nationalist, liberal, civil thought,” he said.

In the Dubai-based English-language newspaper Khaleej Times, Eric S. Margolis wrote Sunday, “Let’s face some hard facts about the vicious conflict in Syria: If the US directly attacks Syria, the real cause will not be the recent chemical attacks... The Syrian conflict is a proxy war being waged against Iran by the United States, conservative Arab oil producers, and three former Mideast colonial powers, Britain, France and Turkey who are seeking to restore their domination in the region.”

Egypt:

Al-Azhar, Egypt's highest Islamic institution, released a statement Sunday expressing its disapproval of the use of chemical weapons in Syria, while at the same time condemning US plans for a military strike as an assault on and threat to the Arab world and the nation of Islam.

Meanwhile, in a Monday commentary in the state-owned Al- Gomhuria daily paper, Yasser Abdallah wrote that the Egyptian public opposes a strike on Syria, not because it supports the Assad regime but because it opposes destroying the Syrian military.

And Al-Akhbar’s Nabil Zaki says that the real goal of the war in Syria is to destroy the Syrian entity, partition and divide the country by sects and establish an even more totalitarian regime.

Israel:

In Israel there is concern that Obama’s apparent reticence to strike Syria bodes ill for a future strike on Iran. Yediot Aharonot noted Sunday that senior Israeli officials were stunned by President Obama’s decision to seek congressional approval for a strike: “Al-Assad is sitting rubbing his hands gleefully, and the Iranians are laughing all the way to the nuclear bomb.”

But the Jerusalem Post says the U.S. president has taken an unfair beating: “…The West’s reaction on the Syrian front shouldn’t be perceived as a litmus test regarding how we can expect the US and other Western countries to react if and when Iran is on the verge of attaining nuclear weapon capability.

Syria

Assad himself, who met with Iranian officials in Damascus over the weekend, appears determined to continue what he calls a “fight against terrorism” and says Syria is perfectly capable of dealing with any confrontation by external force. Syrian state media Sunday labeled Obama’s delay as a retreat due to the “disappearance of his allies.”

Al-Thawra’s Chief editor Ali Qasim wrote Sunday: “Today, the policeman of the world does not content himself with blowing his whistles and waving his thick baton, which has long been his tool for the implementation of his aggression. But he also lectures in ethics, treaties, and principles, while he is the only one in the world who has used every banned weapons, from the nuclear to the chemical, passing by the napalm, and not ending with the bacterial ones, the depleted uranium, and other.” And he concludes with: “And while the regional and global ebullition reaches its peak, the American's allusion to the use of the stick of aggression, deferred, or brought forward temporarily toward Congress, means that he is playing in the last quarter-time before the fig leaf falls -- or what is left of it -- as a season of political nakedness awaits him, even if he tried to wear, or covers himself up with the mantle of Congress."

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