Four months into the implementation of the fourth round of economic sanctions on Iran, opinions diverge on their feasibility and impact on Tehran's behaviour, wrote Abdelkhalek Abdallah in a comment for pan-Arab newspaper Al Sharq al Awsat. The Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims the sanctions are futile and won't alter his government's policies. He insists that Iran won't back down on its nuclear programme.
The US defence secretary Robert Gates, however, maintains that the sanctions are powerful and are starting to yield results, mainly in creating divisions within the Iranian leadership. Preliminary indications show that the sanctions could lead to increased tensions in the Arabian Gulf area. They could harm Iran and add to its political and economic isolation, although not to the point of succumbing to Washington's requests.
The economic restrictions put GCC countries in a vulnerable position due to geographic proximity to Iran. From a political standpoint, the restrictions as stated in UN Resolution 1929 aim to sequester Iran's diplomacy, cripple its military and wear out its economy, which would halt its regional expansion. GCC countries must contribute to this effort in order to bring some equilibrium to the balance of power in the Arabian Gulf, which has tipped in favour of Iran since the Iraq invasion in 2003.
The Israeli government's freeze on settlement building is due to expire this month, and the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has declared that he will withdraw from talks if settlement activities resume, wrote Jihad al Khazen in pan-Arab daily Al Hayat. With the deadline approaching, will the US president Barack Obama be able to pull a rabbit out of his hat and save the peace process?
Although the new round of negotiations is still in its early stages, the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this week that he had not committed to extending the settlement freeze. His foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman declared his refusal of the principle of land in exchange for peace and is calling for the deportation of Israel's Palestinians. In a bid to rescue the peace process, there is an alleged proposal to free Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for an extension of the freeze. This could give Mr Netanyahu a valid pretext to halt settlement efforts. However, the point is that negotiations revolve around occupation, not settlements, which the Israeli government is using to avoid a solution. In any case, "nothing at all will transpire, no peace is viable with this Israeli government".
In his editorial, Al Quds al Arabi's editor-in-chief Abdul Bari Atwan commented on an article featured in the Financial Times revealing that four Gulf states are planning to spend $123 billion to purchase weapons and military equipment from the US in preparation for a war with Iran.
Gulf states weapons deals are always met with scepticism, especially on the part of Saudi citizens. In their opinion, such deals only serve to rescue the faltering US weapons industry and provide jobs for the unemployed in America. No one can disagree with Gulf states' right to possess military power and defend their interests and security as long as such ends are achieved through sound strategic calculations that put the interests of the region's countries above those of the US.
Educated Saudi youth are demanding that such funds allocated for military empowerment be spent on building schools and hospitals in their country where the unemployment rate has reached 10 per cent. The US administration's politics of fear in the Gulf region focuses on magnifying threats to prompt countries to buy more weapons. The same scenario that was used to instigate the Gulf against Iraq is now being used against Iran. However, the biggest threats jeopardising these countries now are mostly internal. And no F-15 aircraft can confront them.
Not all UAE citizens are highly paid; there is a minority of low-income Emiratis who definitely could do without the recent rise in fuel prices, commented Mohammed al Hammadi in the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper Al Ittihad. Let's do the maths and see if a petrol subsidy scheme for that segment of society is feasible or not. According to official figures, Emiratis make up 20 per cent of the total UAE population. Discounting the elderly, children and other ineligible drivers, we end up with approximately 150,000 Emiratis who actually drive cars.
"If we consider that three quarters of these are very highly paid and the remaining quarter are in the low-income bracket, we are talking a ballpark figure of 40,000 low-income Emirati drivers. Let's keep this figure in mind." Now, if petrol-distribution companies are really incurring significant losses every month, we need a creative idea to curb those losses without overcharging citizens. "And that is subsidising fuel prices for low-income Emirati citizens, via a monthly pre-paid fuel card - worth, say, Dh500."
Emiratis are drawing parallels with other Gulf states, and for good reason. "Petrol prices in the world's fourth oil-producing country shouldn't be this high." * Digest compiled by Achraf A El Bahi @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org