Un­cer­tainty in Mideast

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -


Un­cer­tainty spread across the Mid­dle East fol­low­ing Don­ald Trump’s US elec­tion win, with ques­tions hang­ing over the war against the Is­lamic State group, the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict and Iran’s nu­clear deal. In some parts of the re­gion the sur­prise vic­tory was wel­comed with calls for Trump to take ac­tion, in oth­ers it sparked alarm. But it was un­clear what im­pact Trump’s iso­la­tion­ist views would have on US en­gage­ments in the Mid­dle East, adding more con­fu­sion to an al­ready volatile re­gion.

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu rushed to con­grat­u­late Trump on his win, call­ing him a “true friend” of the Jewish state. “I look for­ward to work­ing with him to ad­vance se­cu­rity, sta­bil­ity and peace in our re­gion,” the rightwing premier said in a state­ment.

“I am con­fi­dent that pres­i­dent-elect Trump and I will con­tinue to strengthen the unique al­liance be­tween our two coun­tries and bring it to ever greater heights.” Ne­tanyahu’s of­fice said Trump in­vited him to a meet­ing “at the first op­por­tu­nity”.

Meet­ing Ne­tanyahu in New York in Septem­ber, Trump pledged to rec­og­nize Jerusalem as Is­rael’s “un­di­vided” cap­i­tal if elected, in a break with long­stand­ing US pol­icy. Trump’s ad­viser on Is­rael, David Fried­man, also said last month the can­di­date was “tremen­dously skep­ti­cal” about the prospects for a twostate so­lu­tion to the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict. Is­raeli Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Naf­tali Ben­nett, who heads the hard­line Jewish Home party, said that with Trump’s elec­tion: “The era of a Pales­tinian state is over.” Pales­tinian re­ac­tion to Trump’s win was muted. “We are ready to deal with the elected pres­i­dent on the ba­sis of a two-state so­lu­tion and to es­tab­lish a Pales­tinian state on the 1967 bor­ders,” Pales­tinian pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas’s spokesman said. Na­bil Abu Rudeina said fail­ure to re­solve the decades-old con­flict would mean “the un­sta­ble sit­u­a­tion will con­tinue in the re­gion”.

Dur­ing the cam­paign Trump re­peat­edly pledged to “de­stroy” the Is­lamic State group, but pre­sented no clear plan for how. A US-led coali­tion is back­ing Iraqi forces and a Syr­ian mili­tia al­liance as they bat­tle to drive IS from Mo­sul and Raqqa, its last ma­jor strongholds in the two coun­tries. How Trump moves for­ward with the anti-IS of­fen­sive will de­pend on how he in­tends to deal with tra­di­tional US al­lies in the re­gion, in par­tic­u­lar Sunni Arab Gulf states, and his ap­proach to the war in Syria.

Wash­ing­ton has backed rebel forces op­pos­ing Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-As­sad in Syria’s five-year civil war, and Hil­lary Clin­ton was es­pe­cially sup­port­ive of regime change. But Trump has re­peat­edly voiced ad­mi­ra­tion for Vladimir Putin and ad­vo­cated a US rap­proche­ment with Rus­sia - one of As­sad’s strong­est sup­port­ers along with Iran. Trump said ear­lier this year that fight­ing both IS and As­sad si­mul­ta­ne­ously was “mad­ness, and id­iocy”.

Wad­dah Abed Rabbo, ed­i­tor-in-chief of pro-regime Syr­ian daily Al-Watan, said Trump’s win came as a “nice sur­prise” in Da­m­as­cus. “It is time for the poli­cies of the United States to change and stop be­ing hostage to the cat­a­strophic wishes of the Gulf coun­tries, which have de­stroyed sev­eral coun­tries in the re­gion,” he said.

A Syr­ian rebel of­fi­cial said op­po­si­tion forces were ac­tu­ally hop­ing for more sup­port from Wash­ing­ton. “The Amer­i­cans, by their hes­i­ta­tion, have al­lowed the regime and its al­lies to com­mit bar­baric mas­sacres against civil­ians in Syria,” said Bas­sam Mustafa of the Nured­din Al-Zinki rebel group, one of the more pow­er­ful fac­tions in rebel-held ar­eas of Aleppo city.

Dis­placed Syr­i­ans near the Turk­ish bor­der re­acted with cyn­i­cism to Trump’s win. “The new Amer­i­can pres­i­dent won’t be any dif­fer­ent from the last one,” said Ab­dul Rah­man Ah­mad, a teacher and one of mil­lions forced to flee their homes since 2011. “When it comes to us Syr­i­ans, both of them have the same view­point. They don’t care about the Syr­ian peo­ple, all they care about is killing Mus­lims.”

While Trump’s in­ten­tions else­where in the Mid­dle East may be vague, his stand on last year’s nu­clear deal be­tween world pow­ers and Iran was clear - Trump de­scribed it as “dis­as­trous” and said it would be his “num­ber one pri­or­ity” to dis­man­tle the agree­ment. Iran’s Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani, who staked his po­lit­i­cal rep­u­ta­tion on the deal in the face of fierce hard­line op­po­si­tion, said there was no way Trump could rip it up. “The ac­cord was not con­cluded with one coun­try or govern­ment but was ap­proved by a res­o­lu­tion of the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil and there is no pos­si­bil­ity that it can be changed by a sin­gle govern­ment,” Rouhani said, ac­cord­ing to state tele­vi­sion. “The United States no longer has the ca­pac­ity to cre­ate Ira­nopho­bia and to cre­ate a con­sen­sus against Iran,” Rouhani said.

For­eign Min­is­ter Mo­ham­mad Javad Zarif said Trump needed to “un­der­stand the re­al­i­ties of to­day’s world.” “The most important thing is that the fu­ture US pres­i­dent stick to agree­ments, to en­gage­ments un­der­taken,” he said.

Wash­ing­ton’s long­stand­ing al­lies in the Gulf have bris­tled un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, who they felt was re­luc­tant to get in­volved in re­gional con­flicts and did not do enough to check the am­bi­tions of their re­gional ri­val Iran. Con­grat­u­lat­ing Trump on the win, Saudi Ara­bia’s King Sal­man praised “his­toric and tight” ties with the United States and wished him suc­cess “in your mis­sion to achieve se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity in the Mid­dle East and world­wide.” United Arab Emi­rates Pres­i­dent Sheikh Khal­ifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan also said his coun­try was ea­ger to strengthen “strate­gic re­la­tions” with Wash­ing­ton.

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