A restless week in the Middle East.

A restless week in the Middle East.

A restless week in the Middle East.

What the foreign papers are saying.
Jan. 27 2003 2:16 PM

Middle East Massacres

The coming days will be restless and paradoxical: restless because everyone awaits the outcome of Israel's general election, the report on Iraqi weapons that will be issued Monday by U.N. inspectors, and George W. Bush's State of the Union address; paradoxical because restlessness is unwarranted—the outcomes are already known.

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The Jerusalem Post captured Israel's electoral mood well with a story titled "Mitzna confident of victory—next time." Indeed, polls continue to suggest that Tuesday's elections will be a washout for Labor and the left in general: According to a Ha'aretz-Dialogue poll released Monday, "The right-wing bloc appears to have consolidated a lead of 67 seats against 37 seats for the left-wing bloc and 16 for the centrist bloc of Shinui and One Nation." Labor is expected to emerge with 18-19 seats to Likud's 30-31. There is even fear among Laborites that the party may finish third behind the secular Shinui. Ben Caspit, writing in Ma'ariv, quotes a senior Labor official as saying, "We're crashing. This could be the end of the party."

The Arab press focused on Israel's attack against Gaza City Sunday, which, the Sharon government claimed, targeted arms factories. The headline in Beirut's left-wing Al-Safir read, "Massacre in Gaza: 14 martyrs and dozens injured." The cross-town Al-Anwar, mainly read by Christians, was just as evocative, though it offered a different casualty count: "13 Martyrs Killed in a New Israeli Massacre." The paper also referred to Israeli threats to reoccupy the Gaza Strip, an Islamist stronghold that has suffered relatively less from Israeli operations than the West Bank. For an Israeli military official cited in the International Herald Tribune, fear of reoccupation "should motivate Palestinians who want peace. 'They don't want to lose Gaza.' "

Regional papers also looked at the release of the U.N. weapons inspectors' report on Iraq. Al-Anwar predicted they "will find Iraq neither innocent nor guilty." This is the consensus in other papers, with the New York Times reporting that U.N. officials expect inspectors "will criticize Iraq for withholding important information and blocking aerial reconnaissance flights … but they will also say they need more time to produce conclusive results."

While a number of papers led with Secretary of State Colin Powell's statement in Davos Sunday that the United States is prepared to act alone against Iraq, less emphasis was placed on the Bush administration's apparent willingness to permit several more weeks of inspections, if only to buy time to deploy additional forces to the Gulf. This was the gist of a Saturday Washington Post article that cited Defense Department officials indicating "the Pentagon has only begun sending major combat elements to the Persian Gulf and cannot assemble the force required for an invasion of Iraq until late February or early March."

The piece was odd. It followed the release of U.S. polls suggesting eroding support for an Iraq war and a substantial public desire to see weapons inspectors given more time. By suggesting that the armed forces needed the time anyway, Pentagon officials may have been downplaying a setback, hoping public opinion will shift in the meantime. Restraint was also palpable in reports that President George W. Bush will not impose an ultimatum on Iraq, nor a timetable for war, in his State of the Union address Tuesday.

On another front, the Arab illuminati are still at each other's throats over Iraq. In the Al-Ahram Weekly a few weeks ago, Palestinian writer Edward Said eviscerated Iraqi expatriate Kanan Makiya, a prominent supporter of a U.S. invasion of Iraq, describing him as "a man of pretension and superficiality, flattering himself on his reasonableness even as he condemns his own people to more travail and more dislocation." Subsequently, President Bush met with Makiya and two colleagues at the White House.  The meeting prompted a vitriolic comment Sunday in the cultural supplement of Beirut's Al-Nahar by the section's editor, novelist Elias Khoury. He described those like Makiya as "new Orientalists," eager to serve the U.S. empire, who "forget that the drums of war announce a deep crisis in their societies, and that the collapse of the Arab world today … demands a cultural, intellectual, and political renaissance to prevent [the Arab world] from becoming the permanent sick man in the age of American Imperium."

There is an irony: Khoury and Makiya both detest Saddam Hussein. Khoury was one of two people who recently penned a statement condemning the Iraqi leader and demanding his resignation. The statement was signed by 30 Arab intellectuals (this writer among them), including Said. So, the enemy of my enemy can, after all, be my enemy.