Arab Media Reactions to Iran Deal Reflect Regional Divisions

The consensus seems to be that the Syrian regime has emerged a winner, but the big question is how Saudi Arabia will act.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

The Arab reaction to the agreement between Iran and the world powers, as evinced in countless media articles and analyses, has mainly focused on the implications for the region as a whole and for Syria in particular.

The Syrian regime's satisfaction with the deal was apparent from the foreign ministry statement, which described it as “historic” and said it promised stability in the region.

“In Damascus, they believe now that there is no longer any chance of military action against President Bashar Assad and his regime and that any future solution will be political or diplomatic,” a Beirut resident with ties to Hezbollah, told Haaretz. “This stood out during the talks in Geneva, especially as the Syrian peace committee also held talks, alongside the negotiations with Iran. The presence of United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi In Geneva shows that the deal with Iran and the West will have immediate ramifications for Syria as well.”

Al-Manar, the Hezbollah website, published an analysis by Moroccan analyst Hani Idris who wrote that, after Iran, Syria has most to gain from the agreement. “Assad is closing in on significant military achievements, and the Syrian president has spoken about six crucial mouths. If the opposition does participate [in the committee that will negotiate with the regime], it will get there tired and worn-out, after suffering an additional blow from the rapprochement between Washington and Iran.”

The Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar was more cautious in its remarks, stating that the next six months would be crucial. To illustrate how Iran had bought itself time, the paper mentioned a legend about a rabbi who told the Russian czar that his dog would speak like a human if the rabbi and his wife were allowed to stay in the czar’s court, rather than being executed. The rabbi’s wife was furious, but the rabbi told her, “in two years, one of the three of us will die anyway – me, the czar or the dog.”

As far as Syria is concerned, the Lebanese newspaper wrote, the final agreement to the crisis must be diplomatic, rather than military, and Russia and Iran will play a central role in whatever agreement is forged.

Many Arab newspapers mentioned the central role played by Saudia Arabia in the region, now that Egypt is sidelined by its own internal issues. Although the Saudi government stated on Sunday that it welcomed the agreement as a possible step toward peace in the Middle East, the Syrian-associated Al Hayat newspaper, published in London, wrote that the Saudis may toughen their stance on Syria. “Saudi Arabia, which staunchly opposes a deal with the world powers, feels betrayed by the U.S. and the West. The public Saudi support for the Syrian rebels and the March 14 camp led by Saad Al Hariri in Lebanon, is now liable to bring about a fierce head-on clash in Syria and Lebanon, of all places. The signal was seen in the last few days, when Hezbollah-associated newspapers accused Saudi Arabia of funding terrorist groups, and claimed that Riyadh was behind the attack on the Iranian embassy in Beirut.”

Al-Hayat analyst George Samaan agreed with these sentiments, writing that “the region can expect more burning and scarring. The Arab states will not tolerate the huge Iranian incursion into their arena, and it is to be expected that all sides will now entrench themselves in their respective positions. The Syrian opposition will not accept any framework in which Assad remains in power, Hezbollah’s opponents in Lebanon will raise their voices against the organization’s continued arming and Syria will build a high wall that will thwart any solution in sight.”

But a high-ranking official in the Syrian opposition told Haaretz that the situation is less clear. “Our feeling is that the Americans and the Russians are cooking up something. The big question remains: after Syria dismantles its chemical weapons and arrangements for inspecting Iran’s nuclear program are set, will the U.S. decide to lower its profile as long as Israel is safe? WIll they leave the Arabs – the Syrians and Lebanese, or Sunnis and Shi’ites – to slaughter one another? Another possibility is that the Russians will forge an agreement for Iran to participate in the second Geneva committee, where the stakes will be clear – give up Assad in order to preserve Iranian and Russian interests in Syria and help implement a transitional government. Only time will tell.”

Saudi's King Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz (R) meets with Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah (L) and Qatar's Emir Shiekh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (L) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Credit: AFP

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