US-Iran: portents of 'the mother of all wars'

The editor-in-chief of the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds al Arabi, Abdelbari Atwan, wrote in his front-page column yesterday that the Arab region must brace for the "mother of all wars" that will change its political map.

The editor-in-chief of the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds al Arabi, Abdelbari Atwan, wrote in his front-page column yesterday that the Arab region must brace for the "mother of all wars" that will change its political map. Mr Atwan was responding to a statement on Sunday by Admiral Michael Mullin, the US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said the US forces have a plan for an attack on Iran.

Previous wars with the US and Israel have taught the Arabs that the decision to wage war against them usually takes months before military operations are launched. These are preceded by demonising PR campaigns. The build-up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006 attest to that.  Now, there is a host of developments that may put the future of the whole region on the line. First, there is the international tribunal which is expected to accuse Hizbollah of the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri next month. Second, there is the intensive (verging on bullying) US pressure on the Palestinian Authority to resume talks with the Israelis, the tradition being that the US and Israel wage wars only when the Palestinian-Israeli track is cleared. Finally, two days ago, mystery missiles hit Jordan and Israel. Admiral Mullen was wise to say that he was "worried".

"Our plane landed in Beirut before that of the Custodian of the Holy Places," wrote Tariq al Homayed, the editor-in-chief of the London-based newspaper Asharq al Awsat. "From there, we went straight to the presidential palace. We walked into the reception area, and there we came face to face with the key figures of the political crisis in Lebanon."

Everyone was there waiting for the arrival of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, the Syrian president Bashar Assad and their host, the Lebanese president Michel Suleiman, in a landmark tripartite summit last week. "I wished there was a camera there to broadcast live the fringe meetings and the small talk, and how many Lebanese politicians know how to crack jokes while punching each under the belt with the utmost ease," the editor wrote.

"For instance, you would hear a very well-known Lebanese figure say to the Iranian ambassador - and this I heard with my own ears: 'How about that [person X]? Are you satisfied with him?' "Then, while waiting at the reception, I told a friend: 'Imagine if this room were to be shut off and, with all its Lebanese politicians, transported on a plane to a place very far away. What a relief it would be for Lebanon and its people?' He retorted: 'Others like them will come out in a month', as he gave one of his opponents a hearty handshake and a big smile."

"Just as they wage their wars on our soil, they also conduct their reconciliations on it, in this tinderbox of a piece of land that duly sums up the degradation of the situation in the Arab region," wrote Nayla al Tweini in the Beirut-based daily newspaper Annahar. The past week teemed with official visits, meetings and calls for calm and dialogue in the Lebanese domestic scene. True, the Saudi King Abdullah's tour in the Middle East was a goodwill gesture aimed at mending fences between the regional players, but it wouldn't have succeeded if it weren't for Syria's recent "return to hide under the Arab cloak" following the Security Council's sanctions on Iran and the possibility of an indictment by the international tribunal that might involve Syria or agencies affiliated with it.

In the last two decades, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and, more recently, Qatar have been exerting every effort to save Lebanon from various traps laid in the way of its stability. Syria, however, has always held the reins of true civil peace in the country. And if Damascus is to pass "the credibility test", it must continue on the path of pacification and prompt its allies to opt for dialogue instead of confrontation.

This is not the first time Jordan is the target of "a cowardly terrorist act", and it won't be the last, the Jordanian newspaper Addustour stated in its editorial, following a mystery missile attack that killed one person and injured four others two days ago.  Terrorists seek to hurt the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in view of "its tough stances, steadfast adherence to Arab nationalist tenets and determination to support the brotherly Palestinian people in their legitimate struggle for their national and historical right to establish their independent state on their own national territory, with Jerusalem as its capital."

King Abdullah II has managed to expose the "gangs of the occupation, their expansionist goals, their disingenuous commitment to peace and their use of negotiations to enforce the status quo and ratchet up settlement building and Judaisation projects." The newspaper said the attack "smelled of Zionism" and will not serve any "insidious agendas", no matter how the perpetrators try to "scramble the cards".

The fact that Jordan has been targeted twice in the span of several months will not move the kingdom one inch away from its political commitments. * Digest compiled by Achraf A El Bahi