Jewish World Review April 5, 2002 / 24 Nisan, 5762

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Arab winners and sinners | As far as news value goes, the headline: "Discord Mars Arab Summit" ranks up there with "Sun Rises in East," and "Water Flows Downhill."

The debacle that was the meeting of the Arab League in Beirut last week was a more dramatic illustration of a longstanding pattern. The leaders of the Arab world can agree only on blaming all their problems on the Jews and on the United States.

The two-day summit ended with a facade of unity, as all present endorsed a disingenuous Saudi proposal for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and passed a resolution declaring that the Arab League would regard an attack on one Arab nation (read Iraq) as an attack upon all.

This was widely reported by hyperventilating television commentators as a diplomatic setback for the United States, but there is much less here than meets the eye.

The less begins with the dismal attendance. Eleven of the 22 heads of state in the Arab League gave the summit a bye. Among the no-shows was Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. This was significant not simply because Egypt is the most powerful Arab country, but because the Arab League is largely an Egyptian creation. It's as if the host didn't show up for his own party.

Mubarak and another no-show, Jordanian King Abdullah, had good reasons for not coming. They had received intelligence reports that Hezbollah, the Iranian and Syrian financed terrorist group, would try to assassinate them if they did.

That the rulers and senior officials of other nations, such as Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates did not attend suggests that Vice President Cheney's trip to the Middle East was more successful than it has been portrayed in some quarters.

"There is every indication that most of the Arab world is resigned to, and is indeed paving the way for, the removal of Saddam Hussein," said MSNBC's Mideast reporter, Sue Lackey.

Jordan, which depends on Iraqi oil obtained at discount prices, has the most to lose if the United States attacks Iraq, Lackey noted. Despite this, she said, King Abdullah has eased pro-Iraqi officials from power.

Qatar is quietly accepting the U.S. Air Force bases the Saudis have said they no longer want in their country. Bahrain, which hosts a U.S. naval base, is pleased that President Bush has elevated it to a status equivalent to a NATO ally.

Syria has been the most strident member of the Arab League, Lackey notes. But the Syrian military has deteriorated alarmingly since the Russians turned off the arms and aid spigot, and is in no condition to have the gunsights of either the United States or Israel trained upon it, she said.

"There is no doubt the United States is preparing for an attack upon Iraq, and there is no doubt the nations of the Arab League, despite their symbolic show of unity, will pay only lip service to their objections if that occurs," Lackey said.

The big loser was Saudi Arabia, concludes, a private intelligence service based in Texas. The low turnout for the summit was an implicit rejection of Crown Prince Abdullah's Mideast peace plan, Stratfor said.

"(Abdullah's) loss of face will reduce Saudi Arabia's political clout with the rest of the world," Stratfor said. "The Saudi humiliation may also trigger an internal backlash as Saudi citizens may feel ashamed of their leaders and being criticizing them more openly."

Contributing to Abdullah's loss of face was the absence of the Saudi Defense Minister, Prince Sultan bin Aziz, who is considered the most pro-American of the Saudi royal family.

The failure of the summit could make Abdullah more cooperative when he visits President Bush at his ranch in Texas this month than he was when he met in Riyadh with Vice President Cheney.

The winners in the debacle in Beirut, Stratfor said, are Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, who can claim to be indispensable to a Mideast peace because no credible Arab intermediary has emerged, and Ariel Sharon, who can now tell Washington that because there is no peace proposal to discuss, the military option is the only option.

Despite appearances to the contrary, Saddam Hussein is another loser. The kiss Iraqi Vice President Izatt Ibrahim bestowed upon Crown Prince Abdullah might just have been a kiss goodbye.

Comment on JWR contributor Jack Kelly's column by clicking here.

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© 2002, Jack Kelly