The Arab Voice – December 2020

Arab writers opine on issues pertaining to the Middle East from the impact of an incoming Biden administration for the region to the significance of the late Diego Maradona beyond his magic on the playing field.


Iran’s Bells and Whistles

By Muhammad Al-Sheikh 

Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, November 28

The missile fired by the Houthi militias at an oil tanker docked outside the Port of Jeddah had no military value, but rather an informational one. It was done purely for propaganda.

The event took place on the direct orders of Iran, and the weapons used in the attack were likely shipped directly from Tehran. But the goal was to divert attention away from the exceptional success made by Saudi Arabia at the recent G20 summit, which gave the kingdom a significant economic boost while tightening its relationship with the European Union and the United States. The mullahs see and understand the kingdom’s growing role both in the Gulf region and on the global arena. They worry about this development. In response, they seek to destabilize the region with whatever means they have at their disposal, including through their proxies in Lebanon and in Yemen. Iran has no choice but to negotiate with the West and sign a new nuclear agreement that would lift the economic blockade reimposed upon it by the Trump Administration. Otherwise, it will most surely face political and economic collapse.

Heating Up. An official source at the Saudi Ministry of Energy said that the fire that broke out at the Jeddah fuel tank in a distribution terminal of petroleum products was caused by a terrorist attack pointing to the Iran-backed Houthi militia.

Therefore, it can be said that the tanker attack was in fact a message aimed at the new American president, Joe Biden, as well as at the Europeans, reminding them that Iran is still harmful. However, what the mullahs are failing to consider is the fact that the countries of the region are much stronger today than they were when President Obama signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The normalization of ties with Israel changed the political equation and created a new united regional front against Iran. No matter how much Iran tries to bully its neighbors, it is in a very weak position, both economically and militarily. Furthermore, the world has grown tired of Iran’s support of armed militias in the Middle East, and has placed many of these groups, including Hezbollah, on the terror watch list. The fanfare that Iran’s militias create — whether in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon or Iraq — is nothing more than bells and whistles. It will not strengthen Iran’s negotiation power or enable it to evade international sanctions. Obama’s vision for the Middle East proved to be disastrous. Thankfully, geopolitical changes that took place in the region over the course of the past four years ensured that Iran doesn’t have the upper hand even as Biden steps into office.

– Muhammad Al-Sheikh 


Gulf Security During the Biden Era

By Dr. Abdul Aziz Hamad Al-Oweishek, assistant secretary general for Political Affairs and Negotiations, Gulf Cooperation Council  Al-Sharq

Al-Awsat, London, November 29  

When US President-elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20, Gulf security will be among the most important issues that his administration will have to deal with. Biden is no stranger to this issue. He was involved in it during the era of former President Barack Obama. Prior to that, Biden spent 35 years in the Senate, during which he served as a prominent member and occasional chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, one of the most important committees in the Senate, in which Gulf security has occupied an important position over the past decades. Biden’s election marks a return to the traditional course of US policy, in terms and style, after the term of President Donald Trump, who came from outside the traditional establishment that dominates Washington. Biden represents stability and has good relations with leaders of both the Democratic and Republican parties. There is bipartisan consensus among American policymakers that the security of the Gulf is paramount to US national security. Despite the unusual personal style of President Trump, his administration relied heavily on the Gulf security architecture that was devised well before he took office in January 2017. Since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, a security framework has been developed based on the need to secure international shipping routes and American strategic interests in the Arab Gulf. This security framework confirms the central role played by the Gulf Cooperation Council in maintaining regional security. This framework has not changed much throughout the years, and Biden is not expected to change it either — unless Iran’s behavior changes drastically. Gulf countries and the United States maintained close ties ever since the establishment of the Gulf Cooperation Council in May 1981. During the war to liberate Kuwait, America relied heavily on the Cooperation Council, which played a pivotal role in the Gulf War. Amid the events of the Arab Spring and the tumultuous turmoil that led to the growing Iranian interference in the region, the two sides agreed to establish a Strategic Cooperation Forum that would facilitate even closer cooperation between the GCC and the US. In March 2012, the founding meeting of the forum was held at the headquarters of the Cooperation Council in Riyadh, headed by the late Prince Saud al-Faisal and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It was attended by foreign ministers and senior officials from the GCC countries and, on the American side, by a large delegation of administration officials. Several working groups were formed and direct lines of communication were established between the two sides, through the General Secretariat of the Cooperation Council, the US State Department and the National Security Council at the White House.

Securing Security. U.S. Marines on a removable Trident Pier leading to an American ship docked near an Emirati military base in al-Hamra, UAE, on March 23, 2020 (AP Photo Jon Gambrell)

The forum paved the way for the first summit between the Cooperation Council and the United States, which was held in Camp David in May 2015. The second summit was held in Riyadh in April 2016, during the last year of the Obama presidency. At the time, it was agreed to expand the scope of cooperation to include issues such as economic diversification and youth empowerment. In May 2017, the third Gulf-American summit was held under President Donald Trump, affirming the strong commitment to the Camp David Accords, while greatly expanding the scope of cooperation. Therefore, there is an agreement among all political parties in the United States regarding the importance of the Gulf-American partnership. This does not mean that the American political system is rigid and that changes in policy don’t happen. However, the fundamentals of the GCC-US partnership are based on a deeply-rooted alliance that has only grown stronger each year. Both parties understand that the Gulf’s security provides stability of energy markets, strengthened trade and investment, and a calmer Middle East. Therefore, the American policy toward the Gulf will not change under Biden’s leadership.

 –Dr. Abdul Aziz Hamad Al-Oweishek


Maradona: The Golden Boy of Football

By Ali Hussein 

Al-Mada, Iraq, November 27

When Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano published his famous book, “Football in Sun and Shadow”, the phrase he insisted on putting on the cover read:

Football is the mirror of the world, revealing a thousand stories on glory, exploitation, love, and misery…it represents the struggle between freedom and fear.”

“The Magician”. Regarded as one of the greatest players of all time,  Argentine professional football player Diego Armando Maradona displaying his magic on the field.

To Galeano, football was a choreographed war in which “11 men in shorts are the sword of the neighborhood, the city, or the nation” and wherein “old hatreds and old loves passed from father to son enter into combat.” Thanks to players like Maradona, and before him Pele and dozens of others, football has become a mirror to everything happening in the modern world: It provides people with a sense of identity and belonging; it allows people to fight over competing ideologies; and it has even been shaped by businesses, multinational corporations, and dirty money. What Maradona did for his country of Argentina not even a thousand Argentinian diplomats or policymakers could do. He brought Argentina to the homes of millions of viewers around the world, who watched him use his exceptional skills to manipulate and overtake his rivals on the field.

Magician of Delusion. Scoring self-goals, then  Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki lashing out at foreign criticisms of his policies. (File photo)

Despite our preoccupation with the matches taking place inside the halls of the Iraqi parliament, we, in Iraq, also follow football. But at a time when the world is grieving the loss of legend Diego Maradona, who was nothing short of a magician in the world of football, we are unfortunately dealing with another “magician,” Nouri Al-Maliki, seeking to delude us that the political failures taking place during his eight years of service have been the fault of everyone but himself. If it weren’t for the international conspiracy against him, Al-Maliki claims, Baghdad would have been competing with Singapore, Tokyo and Berlin. And Al-Maliki isn’t alone; it seems like many of our politicians are suffering from amnesia that prevents them from remembering that our country is suffering from bankruptcy and corruption carried out under the delusion of progress and development. Maradona led his country, Argentina, to victory over most of the countries of the world. He scored hundreds of goals against his opponents on the field. Unfortunately, it seems as if our esteemed parliamentarians are seeking to score goals against their own people by serving their own interests instead of ours and introducing laws that further restrict our freedoms and liberties.

–Ali Hussein 

*Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (O&EO).

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