Saudi Arabia, Bahrain voice support for US missile strike on Syria

US President Donald Trump ordered a massive military strike against a Syria on Thursday. (AFP/US NAVY)
Updated 07 April 2017
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Saudi Arabia, Bahrain voice support for US missile strike on Syria

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are among the first Middle Eastern nations to have expressed support for the US missile strike on Syria early Friday, which came in response to an apparent chemical attack by President Bashar Assad’s regime.
 
An official source at the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed the Kingdom’s “strong support for the military operations carried out against military targets in Syria,” according to a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.
 
The US strike “came in response to the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime against innocent civilians that caused the deaths of scores of people, including women and children,” the statement said. 

 
The official source places the responsibility for these military operations squarely on the Syrian regime.
 
On Thursday, US President Donald Trump ordered a massive military strike on a Syrian air base in retaliation for a “barbaric” chemical attack he blamed on Assad.
 

The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs source described the move as a “courageous decision” after the failure of the international community to stop the Syrian regime “from brutalizing its people.”
 
Bahrain also welcomed the US military strikes that followed the apparent chemical attack targeting the town of Khan Sheikhun in Syria. Bahrain said the move was necessary to save the lives of the Syrian people and prevent the spread and use of banned weapons against innocent civilians. 
 
The Bahraini Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday underlined the huge efforts exerted by the US in combating terrorism, and asserted the Kingdom’s support in this regard. 
 
It called on all parties to commit to working seriously and transparently to end the Syrian people’s suffering, and to implement a cease-fire to pave the way for negotiations and a comprehensive political solution.
 
The Syrian army said that at least six people were killed and serious damage was caused by the strike on an airbase in the centre of the country.
 
“At 3:42 am (0042 GMT) the United States carried out a flagrant aggression with missiles against one of our airbases in the central region, killing six people and wounding a number of others, and causing significant damage,” a spokesman said, reading from a statement on state television, without specifying whether the casualties were civilian or military.
 
In a brief televised address delivered hours after the UN Security Council failed to agree on a probe into the apparent chemical attack, Trump confirmed the US strike on Syria and urged “all civilized nations” to unite to end the bloodshed in the country.
 

“On Tuesday Syrian dictator Bashar Assad launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians using a deadly nerve agent,” Trump said. “Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack.”

 
“Tonight I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched. It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”

 
“Tonight I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end this slaughter and bloodshed in Syria and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types,” Trump said.

 
The US military fired dozens of cruise missiles at the Shayrat Airfield at 8:45 p.m. Eastern Time (0000 GMT), officials said.
 
Some Russian officials believe that the US air strikes on a Syrian airbase could undermine efforts to fight terrorism, RIA news agency quoted Viktor Ozerov, the head of the defence and security committee at the Russian upper house of parliament, as saying on Friday.

 
He also said that Russia would call for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council.

 
A White House official said 59 “precision munitions” had been blasted at the base, while a US defense official said “dozens” of Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched.

 
The missiles were fired from the USS Porter and the USS Ross, which belong to the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet and are located in the eastern Mediterranean. A US official said the missiles targeted aircraft and runways at the base.

 
The sudden US military action against the Assad regime marks a stunning development in Syria’s brutal, six-year conflict and a sudden about-face for Trump.

 
It came despite a warning from Russia of potential “negative consequences” if Washington strikes Syria.

 
“All responsibility if military action occurs will be on the shoulders of those who initiated such a doubtful tragic enterprise,” Russian Ambassador to the UN Vladimir Safronkov said.

A US official said Washington had informed Russia ahead of the Syria strike.

 
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had earlier vowed an “appropriate response” to the attack in Khan Sheikhun in rebel-held Idlib province, which killed at least 86 people, including 27 children.

 
The White House official said the US assesses that the Assad regime used a chemical nerve agent consistent with sarin in Tuesday’s attacks.
 
The fast-moving events come just days after the Trump administration had signaled it was no longer seeking the Syrian leader’s departure from power.
 The attack on Khan Sheikhun appears to have marked a turning point for Trump and his administration.

 
On Wednesday Trump decried the attack as an “affront to humanity.” He seemed horrified by photographs showing dead children and victims suffering convulsions, breathing problems and foaming at the mouth.

 
“It crossed a lot of lines for me,” Trump said, alluding to Barack Obama’s failure to enforce his own “red line” on the use of chemical weapons in Syria four years ago.

 
In 2013, Trump had urged then-president Obama not to intervene against Assad.
 In a startling about-turn, Tillerson called Thursday for “a political process that would lead to Assad leaving” and said his future role in the country was “uncertain.”

 
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem on Thursday repeated the regime’s denial it conducted a chemical strike.

 
“The Syrian army has not, did not and will not use this kind of weapons — not just against our own people, but even against the terrorists that attack our civilians with their mortar rounds,” he said.

 
Russia has stood by its longtime ally, with President Vladimir Putin warning against a rush to judgment.

 
Putin underlined “the unacceptability of making unfounded accusations against anyone before a thorough and impartial international investigation is carried out.”

 
The UN children’s agency UNICEF says at least 546 people were wounded in the suspected chemical attack.

 
More than 30 people were transferred across the border into Turkey for treatment, and Ankara said a preliminary probe found a link between these injuries and sarin.
 
(With Agencies)
 


Saudi Arabia seeks to improve its knowhow

The challenge remains in changing a mindset in the Arab world which still focuses on the number of graduates rather than the quality of education.
Updated 19 January 2019
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Saudi Arabia seeks to improve its knowhow

  • With the Kingdom ranking 66th out of 134 countries in the Global Knowledge Index, education is key to improving its standing
  • The Arab world needs to make strides in research, development and innovation in order to bridge the gap with the West

DUBAI: With Saudi Arabia standing 66th out of 134 countries in the Global Knowledge Index, the Kingdom is hoping that a focus on  innovative education will boost its ranking. 

Improving the quality and nature of education to enable youth to innovate and be creative will prove key to achieving that goal.

The index results were announced in Dubai last month by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation, in partnership with the UN Development Programme (UNDP), to measure the knowledge sector in 134 countries.

“With Saudi Arabia, we obtained the information from international organizations which were provided data from the government,” said Dr. Hany Torky, chief technical adviser at the UNDP and project director at the Arab Knowledge Project. 

“We rely on international organizations like the World Bank and UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization),” but Arab countries “don’t convey data to international organizations” or they do so “very late,” he added.

The aim of the index is to map trends in different areas of knowledge to be able to identify challenges facing countries in the field.

Saudi Arabia scored high in sectors such as health and environment, information and communications technology, and features of the labor market.  It also proved strong in research, development and innovation, ranking 38th, and the economy, at 47th. 

But in other sectors, the Kingdom scored relatively low. Technical and vocational education and training landed it in the 117th position, followed by 87th in the general enabling environment.

Khaled Abdul Shafi, director of the regional bureau for the UNDP, said focusing on education will be paramount for Arab countries. 

“Education can give young people this freedom and not consider that it should be based on memorization,” he added. 

“All the stages of education are important, and if Arab countries focus on education, we’ll be in a much better position compared to where we stand now.”

The knowledge gap between the Arab world and the West is large, with the exception of the UAE and a few other countries. 

Abdul Shafi blamed this on the quality of education in the Arab world, which he said is based on spoon-feeding and does not encourage innovation as much as it should. 

“It’s also not really related to the marketplace, so students are graduating without really having the skills required for the economy,” he added. 

“Education is the main reason, so we need to pay a lot of attention to the education sector in all its different stages to enhance its quality. It’s very important to determine where the problem is to work on dealing with it.”

He said research, development and innovation as a whole are lacking in the Arab world compared to other countries, with an absence of youth participation and the unavailability of data and research. 

“The importance of the index isn’t the ranking of countries, but to analyze the knowledge status in each country,” he added. 

“They’ll be able to put their hands on their weak points and work on further enhancing these indicators to achieve much more progress,” said Abdul Shafi.

“We encourage countries and work with them to transfer the practices of developed countries to less-developed ones, so we’re not just producing a report, we’re also collaborating with some of these countries to transfer their experience and knowledge.”

As part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reform plan, a major focus has been placed on youth and their education. 

With a predominantly young population, the Kingdom has identified and developed initiatives to bridge the knowledge gap between the Arab world and the West.

Some include the Misk Global Forum, the flagship platform of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s foundation, which held its “Skills for Our Tomorrow” conference in November to focus on youth, knowledge and innovation. 

The Misk Foundation has also launched a number of programs to foster talent across the Kingdom, with the aim of developing a knowledge-based economy as the country shifts away from oil.

“The report enables us to face reality,” said Aysha Al-Mansouri, a Saudi specialist in youth capabilities development. 

“In Saudi, we have a clear vision and a future objective, which we hope to achieve through our Vision 2030. We need to do right by our youth and our country.”

But with 30 million illiterate people under the age of 18 in the Arab world, the task at hand is momentous. 

“It’s shameful for us as Arabs, and I was surprised to see so many young illiterates,” said Jamal bin Huwaireb, CEO of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation. 

With 30 million illiterate people under the age of 18 in the Arab world, the task at hand is momentous.

“Success is going to be the result of those who work continuously and have a clear strategy. In 40 years, illiteracy was completely eliminated in the UAE, so countries like Egypt or Iraq, which used to disseminate knowledge for centuries, should work on this. We all share the same goal, so it’s not impossible.”

The challenge remains in changing a mindset in the Arab world, which Torky said still focuses on the number of graduates rather than the quality of education. 

“What’s the point in having 100 percent of graduates if they don’t have the skills required for the labor market?” he asked. 

“Investment in education is almost the same in all Arab (Gulf) countries, but the process and deliverables of education are problematic. To maintain the status quo is a failure, and we need to keep improving.”

The education sector will have to keep up with the pace of technological transformation. “There are impacts of the acceleration in technology, like artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, blockchain and the Internet of Things, and the related skills that you need to acquire to deal with such developing technologies,” Torky said. 

“In the near future, there will be seven countries that will lead the world in knowledge, and the UAE is one of them, having jumped six positions in the index in 2018,” he added.

“Arab countries can actually reach such status, like the US, the UK, Singapore, Finland, Sweden and Brazil.”

Bin Huwaireb expressed hope that other Arab foundations will eventually collaborate with the UNDP in disseminating knowledge. 

“We have a single goal of reinforcing the concept of knowledge in the Arab world,” he said. “Over the years, we can now see that the difference is clear and everybody is speaking about knowledge, the knowledge economy, the industrial revolution and knowledge reports.”

Workshops are being held in Arab countries such as Jordan and Egypt to create momentum across the region. 

“We are beginning to reap the benefits of this project,” bin Huwaireb said. “Many Arab countries have a problem with empowering environments, but they should do their best to bridge this gap between them and other developed countries so their knowledge indicators can climb to higher rankings.”

He touched on scientific research, a vital element still lagging in the region. “Scientific research centers are a real obstacle we suffer from in the Arab world, because without such centers there will be no progress and no knowledge generation,” he said.

“But there are major plans and strategies to allocate the proper funds for scientific research, and we want it to increase in all Arab countries. It needs some time, but encouragement, motivation and collaboration should continue.”