Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :
Ghassan Charbel
Editor-in-Chief of Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt newspaper

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : The Travelers Headed towards the Abyss 

Once upon a time, a man named Saddam Hussein took a pivotal dangerous decision. He ordered his forces to invade Kuwait and he headed to Basra to oversee the operations. Throughout that day he did not reply to messages that urged him against hurtling towards the abyss.

One of the people who worked at the Iraqi presidential palace recalled those tense times. He recalled how Tariq Aziz returned from a party leadership meeting, with worry written all over his face. He said he had tried at the meeting to shed light on the dangers that may result from the decision to annex Kuwait to Iraq. He added that Saddam remained quiet throughout the meeting, as if to say that the gatherers were in on decision-making. Aziz’s pleas were drowned out by the others and the decision was taken to invade Kuwait. Iraq and the region would pay a heavy price for the move.

I recalled this story as I watched the 80th commemoration of D-Day - the Allied forces’ landing in Normandy - that was a turning point in World War II. The organizers of the event did not invite Vladimir Putin despite the massive price the Soviet Union paid in the fight that led to the defeat of Nazism.

The celebrations confirmed that the world was living in the most dangerous period since WWII. These days are more dangerous than the buildup to the Vietnam and Korean wars and the Cuban Missile Crisis that almost led the United States and Russia towards nuclear war.

I know very well that Russia is not Iraq, and that Vladimir Putin is not Saddam Hussein. I know that the arsenal of Saddam’s army cannot compare to the arsenal of Putin’s Red Army. This time, the stage and play are more dangerous. It is no trivial matter for a Russian soldier to be killed on Russian soil by an American missile fired by the Ukrainian army with Washington’s blessing. It is no trivial matter for a Russian soldier to be killed by a shell fired by a German-made tank. It is no trivial matter for Putin and his aides to normalize talk about the use of nuclear weapons.

It is no trivial matter for the master of the White House to claim that the Russian leader was “not a decent man and a dictator.” He also said that his country will never abandon Ukraine and its president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who was warmly embraced by officials at the D-Day celebrations as if they were commiserating him over his army’s recent setbacks.

I’ll say it again: Putin is not Saddam and Russia is not Iraq. But did the master of the Kremlin believe that the West will stand helpless and rush to persuade him to accept a modest prize? His army is advancing in Ukraine, but will he be able to make it surrender while the West is pumping weapons and billions of dollars in its veins? And what about the awakening of generals in NATO countries and their comments that a war with Russia is inevitable no matter how much it is being delayed?

What if the Chinese leader decided to crown his career by reclaiming Taiwan or tightening the siege around it? Can the world withstand this rapid advance towards the abyss? There is no doubt that the West mishandled the Russia that was emerging from the rubble of the Soviet Union. It went too far in turning its weapons towards its border, reawakening old fears of a siege among its generals. The world is wrestling with the Ukrainian trap that is open to all dangers.

As we were watching the D-Day celebrations, Israel committed a horrific massacre in the al-Nuseirat camp. It is no longer easy to tally the Israeli massacres. We have run out of words to express the barbarity taking place in Gaza. The current Nakba is more terrible than the first one that placed the Middle East on a path of instability seven decades ago. It is more dangerous and its consequences more severe. It indicates what is in store for Gaza if Biden’s plan were to fail and if the chances for a long open war were to increase. Its danger lies in the Israeli army’s success in releasing four hostages, which may entice it to repeat the operation and therefore repeat the massacres and horrors.

There is no question that Israel is primarily responsible for current conflict with the Palestinians as it had closed all doors for peace, starting from the Oslo Accord to the Arab Peace Initiative. Let us set aside the analyses of the regional aspects of the Al-Aqsa Operation, its timing, Iran’s role in planning it, and its connection to normalization efforts in the region. The horror of the massacres does not allow us today to debate such issues.

The Nuseirat camp massacre is terrible. We will witness many more massacres if efforts to stop the war fail and if a prisoner and hostage swap is not carried out. If the chance of the long open war wins out, then the next day scenario in Gaza will be horrific. Can the limits of the war be maintained if the Israeli military machine forges ahead in its goal to crush Hamas regardless of the price that will incur? Can talk about the “rules of engagement” between Israel and Hezbollah be sustained if Israel went ahead in its mission to sever the Palestinian arm of the Axis of Resistance?

What about Iran if the war expanded? Did Sinwar believe that the Al-Aqsa Flood Operation was going to lead to a long war? Was the operation really the spark that lit a limited war of attrition? The Middle East must be prevented from hurtling towards the abyss at a time when the Ukrainian war is headed towards an abyss whose outcomes and catastrophes are unpredictable.