In a “rare expression of concern and determination” Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz stepped out for a landmark peace mission (July 28-31, 2010) to Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Though threat of Zionist aggression against Lebanon still persists, perception of internal strife and threat to unity government has greatly subdued, thanks to Shah’s bold initiative. Mutual understanding between various Arab groups is basic necessity for resolution of conflicts in the heart of the world. King’s mission has underlined this basic necessity.
The mission’s success, in spite of American uncalled for intervention is remarkable. A day before Shah’s arrival in Damascus (July 30), the spokesman of US State Department made a comment obliquely aimed to derail the agenda of King’s mission.
Commenting on scheduled meeting in Beirut between the Saudi King Abdullah, Syrian President Bashar Assad and the Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, Phillip P. Crowley, the US spokesman said, “Certainly, King Abdullah, through the Arab Peace Initiative, has put on the table constructive and concrete plans to help move the region towards the kind of peace and stability that everyone should have.”
“I would suspect that the current state of play and efforts towards Middle East peace will be part of their conversation. I certainly would expect that they’ll look at the region more broadly, including the concern that they have about Iran. So I would expect that’ll be part of a conversation,” said the spokesman, buttressing Israeli and US agenda of targeting Islamic Republic of Iran and creating wedge among the countries of the region.
Syria is a close ally of Iran and in recent past Saudi Arabia also has some apprehensions against Iran’s nuclear programme. Ironically, US administration had never shown concern against stockpiling nuclear warheads clandestinely by Israel, but has been targeting other countries of the region.
Syrian reaction to US intervention was prompt. President Bashar Assad’s government advised the US against interfering in King Abdullah’s visit to Damascus, saying the two countries “know better” how to stabilise the Middle East.
It seems fomenting a fresh flashpoint in the region is aimed to divert world attention from the miseries of Palestinians and ease pressure against Israeli regime to end blockade of Hamas ruled Gaza, which sharply came under criticism after Israeli attack on Turkish humanitarian aid ship to Gaza, in which Israeli soldiers shot down nine activists.
KING IN DAMASCUS
Defeating the un-called for intervention of US State Department, King Abdullah and President Assad during their talks at the presidential palace in Damascus voiced their united and unconditional support for any measure that enhances Lebanon’s stability, unity and trust among its people. They also stressed that the current Arab situation necessitated promoting of Arab ties and looking for mechanism to enhance Arab solidarity and joint action.
Shah Abdullah’s visit to Syria and his cordial meeting with Syrian President has a special diplomatic significance, too. Both countries have long been on opposite sides of a deep rift in the Arab world, with Syria backing resistance groups such as the Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas while Saudi Arabia has been seen as a US ally, along with Jordan and Egypt. Now both, Syria and Saudi Arabia have stepped in collectively, to the much discomfort of Zionist regime of Israel and its sympathisers in US administration. There have been loud indications that Saudi Arabia under Abdullah is shrewdly shedding out the impression of being a protégé of US foreign policy.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the son of slain leader Rafik, first blamed Syria for killing his father. But Hariri’s ties with Damascus have warmed following the Syrian-Saudi rapprochement that led to the formation of a national unity Cabinet headed by Junior Hariri. The prime minister has so far made four trips to Damascus since he came to office in November 2009.
In Beirut the Saudi King with President of Syria launched an unprecedented effort to defuse political tension and fears of fresh sectarian violence, potential to pull down the unity government.
Four-hour long Beirut summit (July 30) between King Abdullah, President Assad and President Suleiman focused on instilling sense of confidence and relief that any attempt of mischief to break the unity of Lebanon and to destabilise the coalition government will be defeated. The message of visiting dignitaries was clear to their supporters that even if the fear of indictments of certain Hezbollah’s members by Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), investigating 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, comes true, people need not fear fresh civil disturbance. Israel, America and France have blamed Hezbollah for the crime while Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has indicted Israel and had declared that he has evidence implicating Israel. There is a long list of leaders assassinated by Israeli forces or agents openly or secretly and blaming others for the misdemeanour.
The visit underscored the depth of Arab concern that new violence between Lebanon’s Shi’ite and Sunni communities could break out if the international tribunal investigating Hariri’s death implicates Hezbollah members and gives clean chit to Israel who is understood to have manipulated the proceedings.
“The leaders concentrated on the issue of peace in the region and stressed the importance of unity and stability in Lebanon. They stressed the commitment (of the Lebanese) not to resort to violence and the need to place the country’s interests above all sectarian interests,” said a communiqué issued following a mini-summit between Abdullah, Assad and Suleiman.
It also stressed the need to “resort to legal institutions and Lebanon’s unity government to resolve any differences.”
QATAR EMIR FOLLOWS
Rapprochement and understanding between various groups is anybody’s guess, however black clouds on the horizon of Lebanon have certainly drifted away after Shah’s peace initiative which was further strengthened by unprecedented support from Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who arrived in Lebanon for a three-day visit on July 30. Speaking at a dinner given by President Michel Suleiman, the Qatari Emir endorsed the appeal of Shah Abdullah and President Assad and said: “I would like, just like the Saudi and Syrian leaders before me, to urge all Lebanese parties to avoid resorting to violence in the face of political tension.”
Sheikh Hamad drew the attention to the fact that his visit was well timed, since it occurred just after Saudi King and Syrian President’s summit with the Lebanese President, earlier in the day. He praised both leaders for their efforts in helping Lebanon maintain its stability.
The Emir voiced his hope that “Lebanon would not drift to where its enemies want,” and said Qatar wants “Lebanon to remain sovereign, free and united in facing all the circumstances arising from the region’s developments.”
Qatari Emir also visited Bint Jbeil, a Hezbollah stronghold in south Lebanon destroyed by Israel in the July 2006 war. He was warmly greeted by Hezbollah. The Emir praised the “Mujahedeen who have sacrificed their wealth and lives to defend the homeland.”
Qatar is helping finance the rebuilding of south Lebanon, devastated by indiscriminate Israel’s airstrikes during 34-day war on Hezbollah aimed to brutally destroy the organisation. But Israel miserably failed to achieve the target and Hezbollah has emerged far more powerful than it was before the war.
From Bint Jbeil, Sheikh Hamad also visited Town of Khiam and Fatima border crossing. In Khiam he inaugurated the municipal building with President Suleiman.
MEETIG WITH MUBARAK
King Abdullah arrived in Sharm El-Sheikh on July 28, on the first leg of his four-nation tour and held talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on major regional and international issues and ways of boosting bilateral relations.
Khaleej Times reported from Cairo that the leaders “discussed events and developments in the Arab world and focused on the Palestinian issue, the faltering peace process and the suffering being experienced by the Palestinian people due to the Israeli siege, demolition of their houses and confiscation of their lands.
“They stressed the importance of reaching a just and comprehensive solution that guarantees the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people according to legitimate international resolutions and the Arab peace initiative.”
It is further reported that two leaders “also covered the situation in Iraq and need for a national government, formed without foreign intervention, to achieve security, stability and unity.”
King Abdullah and President Mubarak also addressed the situation in Lebanon and the need to ensure that leaders there disavow factional divisions. They also touched on the situation in Sudan and Somalia and reviewed overall developments in the Islamic and international arenas and ways to boost cooperation in all areas.
KING’S VISIT TO AMMAN
After Beirut summit Shah flew in to Amman and discussed almost all the issues with King Abdullah of Jordan that he had discussed with President Mubarak in Sharm El-Sheikh.
Jordanian officials and media gave great prominence to Saudi Shah’s visit, focusing on the close and special ties that exist between the two countries in various spheres. They singled out the leading role played by Saudi Arabia in both regional and world affairs.
The Syrian-Saudi initiative also seals a striking turn-around from five years ago when Riyadh joined the United States and France in an international outcry over Hariri’s killing that forced Assad to withdraw Syrian troops from Lebanon.
Syria may now have Saudi blessing to play a bigger role in Lebanon, where it has already revived much of its sway thanks in part to the military-political clout of its Hezbollah friends.
President Assad’s visit to Lebanon is considered important as it was his first visit since his troops withdrew from the country in April 2005. Similarly, King Abdullah paid his first visit to Beirut since he ascended the throne in the same year.
[The writer is General Secretary of Forum for Civil Rights. firstname.lastname@example.org]