'Syria is not Iraq'
The Israeli jet attack on Syria and America's unequivocal support of Tel Aviv continued to be the focus of the Egyptian press this week, writes Jailan Halawi
The Egyptian press continued to respond with both alarm and resentment at last week's Israeli bombing of what Tel Aviv claimed was an alleged terrorist training camp deep inside Syrian territory. Commentators argued that while Syria did not respond militarily, its relative silence should not be read as meaning a fait accompli. Bearing in mind the complex security situation in the region, this silence, argued the pundits, entails ominous implications for the future. What has made the situation even more complex is Washington's blatant support of the Israeli aggression and indications that the US was prepared to veto a proposed resolution at the United Nations that condemned the attack and described it as an act of "military aggression".
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In Mustafa Hussein's work in Al-Akhbar, the plastic surgeon whispers to the government, "Frankly speaking, you're the one in need of a new look" a thuggish President Bush holds up two signs -- the veto and the Syrian Accountability Act. The club says, "reserved for Arabs and Muslims". An Arab, dodging bullets being fired by a blood-drenched Sharon, cries out: "What's strange is that Americans are still asking why Arabs hate them so much." Gomaa, in Sawt Al-Umma
In its 15 October issue, the weekly magazine Akher Sa'a dedicated its pages to extensive commentaries on the Israeli attack as was evident from its front page editorial, "The raid on Syria... an American message and Israeli targets". The article, like many similar others, highlighted the American support of Israel which gave it the green light to attack Syria under the pretext of self-defence -- no matter how "illegitimate" or "unjustified" the raid was.
The same issue of the magazine included an exclusive interview with Syria's ambassador to Egypt who said he noted that "America missed the target: Syria is not Iraq."
The daily Al-Ahram's 13 October issue had more than one opinion piece condemning the Israeli attack, describing it as being conducted according to America's will. In an article headlined, "Syria's choices in the face of global challenges", Mohamed El-Sayed Said wrote: "Now the United States is turning to Syria even before it's done with Iraq. What exactly is the US administration targeting and what are Syria's chances of escaping? The latest Israeli aggression was, in fact, nothing more than a US message which has been to reiterate warnings to Syria ever since it [the US] entered Baghdad. Although Israel has an avowed interest in humiliating Syria and putting pressure on it, it has no rationale for attacking Syria. Israel knows full well that Syria poses no serious threat and that the Palestinian resistance will not stop even with such an aggression against Syria.
"Since 1967 Syria has been committed to preventing Palestinian resistance groups from crossing its border to hit Israeli targets. Similarly, the Palestinian resistance has changed its strategy from working via Arab countries to directly carrying out its operations from the occupied territories. This most recent strategy has proven to be of tremendous success when compared with the traditional modes of resistance.
"It is hence impossible," added El- Sayed, "to believe that Israel would have attacked Syria without the permission -- or rather insistence -- of the US administration. We all know that the hawks within the US administration opposed the Oslo accords and urged Israel to force its collapse while giving priority to hitting Syria and toppling its government by force.
"But what is the US administration up to exactly? It is very difficult to ascertain the American aim because such reasoning is ill-defined by US policy, because such goals remain unclear even in the minds of US decision-makers."
In another opinion piece, in Al-Ahram's same issue, Mohamed Basha wrote, "Syria... between the Israeli strategy and American law" in which he lashed out at the Israeli aggression, describing it as "a dangerous escalation which will lead to more violence in the region".
"There is a new strategy by Israel, one in which it will broaden the scope of its aggression from that of using force against the Palestinians to using violence against Arab countries. In doing so, the Israelis have deliberately eliminated any hope in proceeding with the peace process or achieving any progress with regard to implementing the roadmap."
In his article, Basha noted that both the US and Israel have a common strategy aimed at putting pressure on Syria as part of a united plan. "The strategy entails Israel attacking Syria under the banner of 'combating terrorism' which allows it to carry out a military aggression against its neighbours. Under this pretext, Israel can never be criticised by the US which, since the September attacks, has been obsessed with what it calls 'the global war on terrorism'.
"The Bush administration has repeatedly threatened Damascus, describing the Syrian government as a 'sponsor of terrorism' while alleging that it possesses weapons of mass destruction. It claims it has allowed guerrilla fighters to cross into Iraq to fight the US occupation. The US has demanded that Syria closes down alleged Palestinian military camps, stop its support of Lebanon's Hizbullah and withdraw its troops from Lebanon."
Continues Basha: "The flagrant declaration of the Israeli strategy, coinciding as it does with a US bill slapping punitive measures on Syria reveals the dangers facing the security and stability of the region. Such dangers pay no heed to respecting international law which forbids the use of force against sovereign states."
In its front page on Sunday 12 October Al-Arabi, the weekly mouthpiece of the Nasserist Party, published a statement called, "The Israeli aggression on Syria is terrorism against the Arabs". "The Arab Democratic Nasserist Party was not surprised by the Israeli aggression on Syria since they [Israelis] exist to violate Arab rights and press on with their aggression in Palestine and other Arab countries without any consideration of international law or order. In so doing, they are armed with the endless support of its strategic ally the US, thus forcing the entire region to live in continuous tension and be the subject of a prolonged, organised terrorist assault from Zionism.
"This aggression, supported by the US, has targeted Syria for its support of Arab rights in Palestine and Iraq as it defends the legitimacy of both. This aggression has come to terrorise other Arab countries that support the Palestinian and Iraqi peoples against the new Anglo-American colony."
The Nasserist Party condemned the US "which always stands against Arab rights. It declares its blatant bias to Zionism and impedes the work of the United Nations Security Council, hampering the world body from fulfiling its role in confronting Zionist aggression and the Anglo- American occupation of Iraq."
On behalf of the Arab world, the Nasserists declared "there unwavering support for Syria and Lebanon... denouncing vehemently any talk of imposing sanctions against Syria." While calling upon Arab leaders to take clear-cut action, the statement warned that their [Arab governments] "muted response has become unjustified in the face of the repeated aggression against the Arabs".
An editorial in Al-Akhbar on Sunday, headlined, "Punishment for Syria... bias for Israel", called on Arabs to unite and confront the Israeli challenges in the region. "It has become mandatory that the Arab world stands united in the face of this new colony." The editorial warned that the Israeli aggression on Syria augured the start of a new phase of violence against Arabs that could surpass in danger what is currently taking place in the occupied territories and in Lebanon. The article urged Arab governments to unite against this new threat "before it's too late. The US is always biased towards Israel, putting the blame -- after every aggression by Israel -- squarely on the victim, be they Palestinians or Syrians. This bias encourages Israel to "violate even more the sovereignty of Arab land.
"Choosing to remain silent and seek a diplomatic solution as a way to resolve the problem was a wise move," explained the editorial, "not because Syria is incapable of hitting back but because it knows better than to fall into the Israeli trap of dragging the region into a full-fledged war.
"If the US wants to improve its relationships with both the Arab and Muslim world and win the respect of Arab public opinion, it must examine closely its position on the Middle East. It must exert at least some pressure on Israel, committing it to implementing the roadmap instead of being flagrantly biased."
Attacking Syria, argued Mohamed Abdel-Moneim, editor-in-chief of the popular weekly magazine Rose El-Youssef, reflects "more American tension and confusion". Abdel-Moneim described the aggression against Syria as a sign of an upsurge in tension in the whole region.
Abdel-Moneim wrote, "We must be cautious and wary of the Israeli strategies that are based on forming an alliance with a powerful country to help it in achieving its goals." As an example, the article referred to Israel's alliance with France in the 1950s through which Israel obtained its nuclear capabilities. A new alliance, warned Abdel- Moneim, has taken shape, one which he called "strange bedfellows" of targets and interests, of Israel and that of its allies. "In its alliance with the US, Israel has succeeded in persuading the US that they are fighting the same enemy [terrorism] but this is only to serve its own interests even at the cost of increasing tension in the region and stirring up confusion as to the way the US is handling Middle East issues."
The release of the leaders of Egypt's most militant group Al-Gama'a Al- Islamiya took up some space in this week's Egyptian press. Akher Sa'a dedicated an article on the issue, "The big release", in which it discussed the benefits of releasing Gama'a leader Karam Zohdi after serving 22 years for his role in the assassination of President Anwar El-Sadat.
"The release was the result of revised ideologies shown by the incarcerated Gama'a leaders after launching their unilateral cease-fire initiative in 1997. Knowing the long history of conflict between militant groups and the government, it was unlikely that any of the so-called "historic leaders" of the Gama'a would be released. Hence, the release of Zohdi and two other leaders of the Gama'a [who also served 22 years in the same case, Fouad El-Dawalibi and Assem Abdel-Maged], along with thousands of junior militants, marked a new chapter in the relationship between the state and the Islamist movement, giving hope to other jailed militants of a possible pardon once they've denounced violence."
Inspired by the releases, Al-Arabi in its front page reported having received a letter from the brother of Jihad's jailed leader, Abboud El-Zomor, appealing to President Hosni Mubarak to release him. Zomor's brother gave assurances that his brother was now committed to the Gama'a's peace initiative.