By Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad
Once, in 2006, tensions between the Syrian and Gulf-state regimes reached a point where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called Saudis "half men." Some commentators said he'd crossed a red line then.
They'll have to redraw that marker after the back and forth of recent days. The vitriol followed a call by the Arab League, under pressure from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, for Assad to step down. An estimated 5,000 Syrians have died in unrest since anti-regime protests began last March. The league urged the formation of a national unity government within two months, followed by presidential and parliamentary elections.
Defending the Arab League's move, media funded by Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states argued that Assad's regime had lost its chance to negotiate, that it only understands force and that it had, quite simply, turned into a killing machine.
The Saudi-based Al-Watan wrote that Saudi Arabia was declaring its refusal “to grant the Syrian regime more opportunities to spill blood.” (Left unaddressed by the editorial was the issue of Saudi military involvement in the violent crackdown on anti-government protesters in neighboring Bahrain.)
Responding to the Arab League's initiative, Syrian media, which traditionally have been cautious about criticizing the oil-rich Gulf monarchies, took the gloves off.
Ziyad Ghosn, editor-in-chief of the state-controlled Teshreen daily, went after Qatari Prime Minister Hamad Bin-Jassem, who explained the league's decision in a press conference. Ghosn asked how, "if he is as concerned about the blood of Syrians as he claims," Jassem "justifies the presence of armed groups," the regime's characterization of the opposition. Ghosn accused these groups of "slaughter, dismemberment and destruction."
(The editor-in-chief did not mention that human rights groups accuse the regime itself of committing a wide array of atrocities in its response to anti-government protests.)
Ghosn also turned his wrath on Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal. He wrote that Faisal's "conscience had not awakened" when U.S. aircraft and Tomahawk cruise missiles “crossed Saudi airspace on their way to bomb the homes of innocent Iraqi citizens in 2003, or when his government signed arms deals with Western countries that constantly participate in the shedding of Palestinian blood.”
He charged that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are supporting "the gunmen" opposing the Syrian regime, "providing them with money and weapons."
Writing in the state-controlled Ath-Thawrah, Editor-in-Chief Ali Qasim called it ironic that "these instigators and supporters of terrorists boast about slogans of a democracy, the taste of which they never knew."
Qasim did not leave it at pointing out ironies. He warned:
There are no doors any more apart from that of confrontation. So, let all Arabs excuse us for this sincerity: You have drowned your ships. The next storm will not exclude you. The coming flood will be sweeping.
The daily Teshreen also used menacing language in an editorial that said:
The Syrian regime itself can topple states and thrones. Let the Qatari premier Sheikh Hamad assist them with weapons and money, but the lesson will be in the outcome.
Either relent, Qasim seemed to suggest, or Syria will go on the offensive. It was no hollow warning. For more than 40 years, Syria has projected its power, often violently and through proxies, through assassinations and other terrorist action, throughout the Middle East and beyond.
(Nicholas Noe and Walid Raad are the Beirut correspondents for the World View blog. The opinions expressed are their own.)
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-0- Jan/25/2012 00:14 GMT