It is very unusual in the Middle East to turn on the television or read a newspaper without finding a major story about a new development in Iraq, Lebanon, Iran, Israel and Palestine. However, this week was different. The crisis in the Caucasus stole the headlines, but it was not for lack of important news in the Middle East. Just recently, Lebanon was rocked by another devastating explosion, tensions over Kirkuk continue, and the death of a Palestinian legendary poet brought tears to millions. But it was the Russian-Georgian confrontations which remained an important story with most news editors in the region linking the crisis in the Caucasus to what is happening in the Middle East.
"What goes around comes around." This is how one of the editorials in a major Arab newspaper described the Georgian ordeal. The writer went on to poke fun at Georgia for having to withdraw its troops from the occupation of Iraq, which it obviously approves of, to try to prevent a possible occupation of Georgia, which it seems to consider a bad idea.
On a very popular talk show on Al Jazeera, a guest dismissed the Russian incursion into Georgian territories as having nothing to do with the vicious conflict over South Ossetia but rather with the price of oil. According to him, with oil prices having dropped from $145 a barrel to $115 in just two weeks, only an armed conflict could push prices higher. This is a great benefit to both Russia's economy as well of those oil producing countries in the Persian Gulf. This has yet to be proven true.
Meanwhile, there is no exciting debate or conversation on Arab TV that does not discuss the U.S. "double standards" in the region. Arab commentators had a field day with the president's statements declaring the Russian invasion of Georgia "disproportionate and unacceptable", and that great powers should not go about "toppling governments in the 21st century." As if he had never done such a thing!
There was also the Israeli connection. However, this debate did not start in the Arab, but rather the Israeli media. According to the Jerusalem Post, Israeli companies sold military equipment to Georgia worth approximately $300 million. The story then took off in the Arab media when the story of a Russian jet downing an Israeli-made drone in Georgia was reported, as well as the role that retired senior Israeli officers have played as advisers to the Georgian security forces. Both Arab and Israeli media reported that the Georgian defense minister, Davit Kezerashvili, is a Jew who attended high school in Israel.
Something everyone in the Middle East wondered was, "what did President Bush really see when he looked in Putin's eyes?"
Jamal Dajani produces the Mosaic Intelligence Report on Link TV