Relations between Syria and Israel may be warmer than they were, but between Syria and the Palestinians they are hotter than the New York summer. The Arab press has reacted with consternation this week to an extraordinary attack on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat by Syrian Defense Minister Gen. Mustafa Tlass. Arab papers have even adopted an “expletives deleted” policy so as not to offend their readers. In a speech on Monday to mark Syrian Army Day, Tlass attacked Arafat for selling out to Israel over Jerusalem and for kowtowing to President Clinton. “You son of 60,000 whores!” he said. “You shouldn’t have been so cowardly and submissive at the White House. … But you just stood there like a black cat and didn’t dare say a word about Palestine and Jerusalem.” Then Tlass compared Arafat to a striptease dancer in the way he made concessions to Israel, “Look at him when he’s on stage. He moves from concession to concession, like the stripper, except that she becomes more beautiful with every layer she removes, while Yasser Arafat becomes uglier.”
The Palestinian editor of the Pan-Arab daily Al-Quds al-Arabi (which was banned in Syria this June when it said President Hafez Assad sought peace with Israel only so that he would be able to pass on his job to his son) replied with vigor to Tlass’ outburst. The general could not be taken seriously, wrote Abdelbari Atwan in an editorial, “for his greatest achievements have not been in the battlefield in Palestine or the Golan but in composing romantic poetry extolling beautiful women.” Atwan said Tlass should be reminded how the female defense minister of a Scandinavian country once complained of “the disgraceful way in which he made a pass at her when she was on a visit to Damascus. … Perhaps that would embarrass him into retiring, having plumbed depths of behavior unworthy of a scout guide, let alone the defense minister of a country on whose role in recovering usurped Arab rights so much hope was pinned.” Al-Quds al-Arabi attributed Tlass’ outburst in part to a red-carpet welcome Arafat gave recently to Assad’s nephew Sumer Rif’at, a possible rival of his son Bashar’s for the succession.
In Israel, Ha’aretz led Thursday with a report that the Israel Defense Force is working on a plan to encourage Israeli Arabs to volunteer for national service. Under this plan, army recruiters would operate openly in Arab neighborhoods. “[F]aced with a choice of Muslim and Christian youths joining an extremist organization or volunteering for the IDF, it is preferable that they come to us,” a senior IDF official was quoted as saying.
Wednesday, an Iraqi writer and former ambassador, Majed al-Samara’i, predicted another pointless American military assault on Iraq because of the long-running deadlock at the United Nations over the future of sanctions and disarmament measures against Iraq. Writing in the Saudi paper Asharq al-Awsat, he said there was next to no prospect of an accommodation between Iraq and the United States but a likelihood instead of more American airstrikes that would leave the underlying problems unresolved.
The main story in the British press Thursday was the suspension from competition of Linford Christie, the 1992 Olympic gold medal winner for the 100 meters, after he tested positive for the steroid nandrolone at a German event. Christie, 39, who is now retired from top-level professional athletics, once called for a life ban on athletes found using drugs. Meanwhile, Kathy Jager, 56, from Phoenix, Ariz., who won two gold medals this week at the World Veterans Athletics championships in England, was publicly vindicated after rival competitors accused her of being a man. Jager, who has two children and four grandchildren, had her femaleness confirmed by medical tests. From Phoenix, her husband Carl, to whom she has been married for 30 years, told the Daily Telegraph of London, “She’s all woman.” Another woman hailed by the Telegraph Thursday was the queen mother, who celebrated her 99th birthday Wednesday. “Here is someone with no need for spin doctors,” the paper noted in an editorial.
Another big subject in the European press Thursday was the appointment of the British Defense Secretary George Robertson as the next secretary-general of NATO. Robertson’s “extreme” Scottishness was widely noted. “A ‘highlander’ at the head of NATO,” was the headline in Le Figaro of Paris. “The granite Scotsman at NATO,” said Corriere della Sera of Milan. His appointment was generally well received. “Descended from three generations of Scottish policemen, Mr Robertson will now have to police a large part of the world,” said the Daily Telegraph’s editorial. It said his main task–in addition to improving military capabilities and technology in Europe “so that all members, not just the bigger ones, can play their full parts in operations such as Kosovo”–was to ensure that NATO “continues to function as one, unified alliance.” The Times of London said his job was to get rid of the “body-bag syndrome” that afflicts most NATO governments, “above all that of the militarily dominant US.” The paper said, “[H]e knows that if you want peace, you must be ready for war. Psychologically, politically, and militarily, Nato is unready for the next century. He has taken on a mammoth job.”
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of Germany led Thursday with Germany’s decision to continue to ban imports of British beef, risking legal action by the European Commission in Brussels, which has declared it safe from “mad cow” disease. Le Monde of Paris argued that the EC decision was premature and that it had sacrificed public health interests to political and diplomatic expediency. In London the conservative Daily Mail accused both Germany and France of “breathtaking arrogance,” which is what it does most days.
A possibly more alarming European health scare is a case of Ebola in Germany, which also featured on the Frankfurter Allgemeine’s front page. In another front-page story, the Times of London described Germany as being “on Ebola fever alert” after a man returned there from a trip to Africa bleeding through his eyes and ears. “Ebola, which is one of the most infectious and deadly viruses, killing up to 80 per cent of its victims, is virtually unknown in the West,” it said.
The Times led with a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics warning against children watching too much television. In an editorial on the subject, it said the academy’s recommendation “that no child under two should watch television and that sets should be banned from the bedrooms of even older children represents the gravest challenge to the Western way of life since Coca-Cola tried changing its secret formula. … It would represent a radical alteration to American habits that could not conceivably be implemented.” (For Slate’s take on the report, see “Culturebox.”)