US Making Progress in Reshaping the Region
December 21, 2003
CAIRO -- Libya has put Syria on the spot and added to Middle Eastern anxiety about U.S. and Israeli military dominance with its decision to give up programs to develop weapons of mass destruction, analysts said on Sunday.
Egypt and Iran overtly welcomed the Libyan decision announced on Friday but the analysts said that behind the scenes Arab governments would interpret it as a sign the United States might be making progress in plans to reshape the region.
The silver lining was that Arab leaders could press more readily for reciprocal action by Israel, which is widely believed to possess some 200 nuclear warheads. The Israeli government refuses to say whether it has nuclear weapons.
Another mitigating factor is that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi probably acted mainly for reasons particular to Libya -- such as his desire to improve the domestic economy and pave the way for his son Saif al-Islam to succeed him, they added.
But the analysts doubted the United States would start to make any noise soon about Israel's programs, which Washington does not see as a threat to its regional interests.
With Libya neutralized, the Bush administration is more likely to shift its attention to Syria, which senior State Department official John Bolton has accused of actively pursuing plans to make chemical and biological weapons, they added.
Hard-liners close to the Bush administration have named Syria as a leading candidate for "regime change" of the kind the United States brought about in Baghdad, even if Washington's problems in Iraq have put a damper on their ambitions.
"Gaddafi has put the Syrians in a critical corner. If the Americans saw in him the example of the good guy, the Syrians will be under very intense pressure," said Diaa Rashwan, an analyst at the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a Cairo think tank.
"But I doubt the Syrians will take the same decision because they are in a state of war and their land is under occupation," added Rashwan, who heads the comparative politics unit.
"It will affect everybody (in the Arab world) very badly because it is unilateral. It puts everyone in a bad position," said Mohamed al-Sayid Said, the deputy director of the center.
Prominent Syrian political analyst Imad al-Shuaibi predicted that Washington would use the Libyan example to put pressure on other countries other than Israel.
"Libya acted in isolation and wasted a card which was a pressure tool without a regional gain...but it's not in the interest of Arabs to have an extreme reaction," he added.
The anxiety was reflected in the Middle East press, which put the emphasis on a need for Israeli reciprocation.
'WORLD OF POLITICAL HYPOCRISY'
Egyptian commentator Galal Duweidar said the Libyan decision was in line with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's longstanding campaign for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.
"But of course that was never meant to be taken on the basis of a double standard or to be applied selectively...The aim was that all the states in the region should submit to it without exception," he wrote in the mass-circulation newspaper al-Akhbar on Sunday.
"The only interpretation...is that we are living in a world of political hypocrisy," he added.
In Tehran, the hardline English-language newspaper Kayhan International said it was the United States which must disarm.
"It (the pressure on Libya) is part of an intricate plot to pressure independent Third World countries to drop whatever meager defenses they have against the big powers' aggression and stand naked against the onslaught of the armed-to-the-teeth U.S., Britain and Zionists (Israel)," it said in an editorial.
"The truth is that the world will be a safer place to live only when the Great Satan (the United States) is stripped of all its WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) and brought to trial for its sanguine crimes against humanity," it added.
The analysts said the decision, which took most of the region completely by surprise, was characteristic of Gaddafi, who is well known for his dramatic gestures.
"It is shocking and in a way really novel. It constitutes a fundamental turn away from the revolutionary politics of the 1980s and 1990s," said Mohamed al-Sayid.
But others said Gaddafi was already abandoning his old role as champion of Arab and Palestinian nationalism, and outspoken opponent of the United States in the Middle East.
Many analysts agreed with the international consensus that Gaddafi's main motive was to improve the economy by opening Libya to foreign investment in the oil industry and to protect foreign assets that Libya has accumulated abroad.
"It's also related to the succession," said Rashwan. "There are rumors that he favors his son and needs to take precautions against any American or British objections, to guarantee a secure succession."
(Additional reporting by Inal Ersan in Damascus and Paul Hughes in Tehran) http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=reutersEdge&storyID=4028134