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Tag Archives: Houthis

THE ANGRY ARAB: The Saudi Crown Prince’s Crippled Agenda, by As`ad AbuKhalil

So far, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Muhammad bin Salman’s tenure has been distinguished only by his ineptitude. From As`ad AbuKhalil at consortiumnews.com:

From launching a war on Yemen to having Jamal Khashoggi murdered, As’ad AbuKhalil sizes up the magnitude of MbS’s miscalculations.

All is not well with the Saudi regime.  Despite amassing more power than any previous Saudi ruler, with the possible exception of founding King `Abdul-`Aziz (known in the U.S. as Ibn Saud), Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, or MbS, has not been able to deliver on any of his political and economic promises.

MbS offered the Saudi people a bargain: that he would achieve military, political and economic successes while imposing brutal repression at home.

He also offered a modicum of social relaxation, probably at the behest of Western PR firms that have influence with Gulf regimes. But these social reforms have been neither consistent nor smooth. Women were permitted to drive but the feminist men and women who advocated rights for women were jailed and tortured. (The easing of social restrictions was presumably meant to be popular, but it’s hazardous to measure public opinion in Saudi Arabia: Western media’s “conversations-on-the-street” don’t really say much because this is a government that imposes long prison sentences for the wrong retweet.)

Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman in 2018. (YouTube)

Power Grabber

MbS began seizing power when his ailing father took over as king in 2015.  He then became minister of defense. The post had long been held by his uncle, Prince Sultan, and it was widely expected that Sultan would be succeeded by his son, Khalid Bin Sultan (the figure-head deputy commander of the Desert Storm war). But MbS disregarded customary succession and the balance of power among the various royal factions, including his better-educated and more-experienced half-brothers.

In 2017, when he promoted himself to crown prince from deputy crown prince, he became the sole undisputed leader of Saudi Arabia. To consolidate his economic and military control, he weakened the National Guard, the vehicle for tribal alliances in the kingdom.

As soon as MbS became defense minister, he launched the war on Yemen. He calculated that the war would only last a few weeks and that the Huthis would quickly surrender. (The Obama administration presumably found this credible, since it lent support to the adventure, probably as a compensation for the U.S.-Iran agreement, which the Saudis vigorously opposed.)

Epic Huthi Resistance

But the war has dragged on and the Huthis have proven a formidable military force. Their resistance to the brutal military campaign by Gulf and Western countries is nothing short of epic.  And, while the war was launched in the name of weakening Iranian hold in the region, it has actually cemented ties between the Huthis and the Iranian regime and its allies in the region.

This calculation backfired on other fronts as well. The assault on Yemen brought international media scrutiny to his atrocious war crimes there, while repressions inside the kingdom have been exposed in the wake of the horrific killing and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi.

President Donald Trump with MbS in March 2017. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

President Donald Trump with MbS in March 2017. (White House/Shealah Craighead)

MbS assumed that his excellent relations with the Trump administration, and with the other Western governments, would be sufficient to shield his regime from criticism.  But Turkey — which has its own feud with the Saudis, largely due to Ankara’s alliance with Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood, and its good relations with Iran — released embarrassing details about the complicity of the MbS government in the murder of Khashoggi in the consulate in Istanbul. Turkey left no doubt that MbS was the mastermind of the murder, and the CIA seems to agree, according to U.S. media.

Khashoggi’s slaying became a permanent stigma for MbS. With the exception of his brief appearance at the G-7 summit in France a few weeks ago, he has not visited the U.S. or the West since.

Confronting Iran

MbS’s miscalculations have extended to his entire confrontation with Iran in the region.  Last year he kidnapped the prime minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri (who has been a loyal Saudi client) to punish him for not going far enough in confronting Hizbullah. After subjecting him to beatings and humiliation, he forced him to read on a Saudi TV station a resignation letter prepared for him. But as soon as Hariri was released due to Western pressures, he returned to Lebanon and rescinded his resignation.

Furthermore, MbS was hoping — along with MbZ of the United Arab Emirates [Mohammed bin Zayed, crown prince of Abu Dhabi] — that Donald Trump would be the U.S. president they had been waiting for: the one who would launch a devastating war on Iran to end Teheran’s influence in the Middle East once and for all.

In the first few years of the Trump administration Saudi regime media were full of scathing attacks on former President Barack Obama, going so far as to suggest that he was a secret Shiite Muslim who harbored religio-political sympathy for Iran.  That same press was filled with glowing profiles of Trump and praise for his impending military campaign against Iran. (This was during Trump’s famous twitter threats against Iran and North Korea.)  But Trump has proven more cautious about military adventures than either of his immediate predecessors.  Once the Saudi regime media picked up on those signals, criticism of the Trump administration surfaced.

Change of Mind

MbS seems to have now changed his mind about the desirability of war with Iran.  What Iran has done in recent months (assuming it was responsible for the various attacks on shipping in the Gulf and on the oil installations in Saudi Arabia), is to demonstrate to Saudi Arabia and the UAE not only the reach of its bombing capability, but its determination to extend the war to the Arab Gulf countries if Iran is attacked by Israel or the U.S.  This can explain the recent Saudi and Emirati overtures to the Iranian regime. Both are suddenly expressing concern over the cost of war, if it were to erupt in their region.

Istanbul protesters outside Consulate General of Saudi Arabia following the murder of Khashoggi. (Hilmi Hacaloglu, VOA via Wikimedia Commons)

Istanbul protesters outside Consulate General of Saudi Arabia following the murder of Khashoggi. (Hilmi Hacaloglu, VOA via Wikimedia Commons)

MbS must not be a happy man.  He wanted the war on Yemen to become his signature victory and cement his reputation domestically and regionally.  But it has served the opposite purpose.

His 2017 blockade of Qatar has not gone well either. Qatar managed to survive economically and its impending regional isolation did not materialize either, as it worked to improve its relations with the unlikely odd mix of Turkey, Iran and the U.S.

Finally, MbS hoped Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be able to elevate his stature in Washington. But the latter has proven unable or unwilling to intervene on Capitol Hill to lower the tone of criticism aimed at MbS. Furthermore, Netanyahu is today the least popular Israeli prime minster in Congress, perhaps since 1948, because he has associated his fortunes so closely with the Republican Party, and with a president detested by Democrats.  Netanyahu has been dealing with his own personal scandal, and the recent election didn’t guarantee him his premiership. In other words, MbS can’t count on Netanyahu.

Limited Choices

Bin Salman’s economic promises have also failed to bear fruit for the Saudi population. He may now be facing rising resentment within the royal family itself, although he’s so far managed to deal with that ruthlessly in the last two years.

MbS has limited choices.  He can’t afford to antagonize Trump and nor can he influence Trump one way or another regarding U.S. policies toward Iran.

His best hope is that war does not take place, and that Khashoggi will be forgotten. That is very unlikely given the recent publicity surrounding the first anniversary of the killing. A man who made arrogance a key part of his personality, has been humiliated by Khashoggi, a former member of the Saudi royal entourage.

But then again, Western governments have short memories when it comes to war crimes, assassinations and human rights violations by despots who are loyal to Western agendas.  Any rehabilitation that MbS can work out will require him to sacrifice much of his original agenda. It will mean curtailing his appetite for war in Yemen and elsewhere and to drop his plans to confront Iran on all fronts. The recent crippling of oil installations responsible for more than 50 percent of Saudi oil production had the effect of also crippling the foreign policy agenda of Mohammed bin Salman.

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MBS must shelve his vicious war in Yemen, by Pepe Escobar

Saudi Arabia has lost its war with Yemen, and the Houthis now pose a threat to Mohammad bin Salman’s regime. From Pepe Escobar at asiatimes.com:

More attacks on Saudi Arabia appear inevitable unless it agrees to stop war against Houthi rebels

Never underestimate the power of blowback. Right now, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), the de facto ruler of the House of Saud, is staring at it, an ominous abyss opened by the Houthis in Yemen.

This past weekend, Yemeni Armed Forces spokesman Brigadier Yahya al-Sari clinically described how Ansarallah, also known as the Houthi rebel movement, aided by what Yemenis describe as “popular committees,” captured three Saudi brigades of 2,400 – ragged – soldiers, plus Yemeni and Sudanese mercenaries as well as several hundred battle vehicles. At least 500 Saudi soldiers were killed, Ansarallah said. (A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition denied the claim).

This was part of the significantly named Operation Nasrallah in Najran province, Saudi Arabia. The Houthis, who did learn a lot, tactically and strategically, from Hezbollah, duly praised mujahideen and ‘popular committees’ involved in Operation Nasrallah.

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Three Saudi Brigades Annihilated in Devastating Houthi Offensive in Saudi Arabia, by Federico Pieraccini

If this story is true, it has serious implications for both Saudi Arabia and the United States. Saudi Arabia in its present form may be at risk. From Federico Pieraccini at strategic-culture.org:

Many may have hitherto been led to believe that the Houthis were a ragtag armed force lacking in sophistication. Many, seeing the drone and missile attacks on Saudi oil plants, may have declared it to be a false-flag attack carried out by Riyadh to boost Aramco’s market value; either that or it was an operation carried out by Iran or even Israel. On Saturday September 28, the Houthis put paid to such speculation by confirming what many, like myself, have been writing for months; that is, that the asymmetrical tactics of the Houthis, combined with the conventional capabilities of the Yemeni army, are capable of bringing the Saudi kingdom of Mohammed Bin Salman to its knees.

The Yemeni army’s missile forces are able to carry out highly complex attacks, no doubt as a result of reconnaissance provided by the local Shia population within the Kingdom that is against the House of Saud’s dictatorship. These Houthi sympathisers within Saudi Arabia helped in target identification, carried out reconnaissance within the plants, found the most vulnerable and impactful points, and passed this intelligence on to the Houthis and Yemeni army. These Yemeni forces employed locally produced means to severely degrade Saudi Arabia’s crude-oil-extraction and processing plants. The deadly strikes halved oil production and threatened to continue with other targets if the Saudi-conducted genocide in Yemen did not stop.

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Just How Swampy Are U.S-Saudi Arms Deals? by Andrew Cockburn

Nothing  about Saudi Arabia is on the up-and-up. From Andrew Cockburn at theamericanconservative.com:

CEO of Lockheed Martin, Marillyn Hewson (L) and Ahmad Bin Aqeel Al Khatib (R), Director of Saudi Research and Marketing Group pose for a photo after signing a bilateral agreement, worth $280 billion, between United States and Saudi Arabia at Al-Yamamah Palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on May 20, 2017. (Photo by Bandar Algaloud /Saudi Royal Council/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The old maxim that “the U.S. government exists to buy arms at home and sell arms abroad” was never truer than today. Our defense budget is soaring to previously undreamed-of heights and overseas weapons deals are setting new records.

Indeed, the arms sales industry has become so multi-faceted that while some American corporations push weapons, other U.S. firms are making money by acting on behalf of the buyers. Thus a Lockheed Martin-Raytheon team recently dispatched to Riyadh to negotiate the finer points of the ongoing $15 billion deal for seven Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) batteries jointly manufactured by the two companies, found themselves facing not Saudis across the table, but a team of executives from the Boston Consulting Group. This behemoth, which has $7.5 billion in global revenues, is just one of the firms servicing Mohammed “Bone Saw” Bin Salman’s vicious and spendthrift consolidation of power in the kingdom.

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How the Saudi Oil Field Attack Overturned America’s Apple Cart, by Conn Hallinan

Saudi Arabia has the world third largest defense budget, $68 billion, with which it buys some of the world’s best weapons, but it can’t stop a drone and missile attack on one of its most valuable oil installation. The Houthi attack, if it was indeed the Houthis, may be the moment when the world first became generally aware of a development in the making since World War II: the decentralization of cheap but very violent weaponry. The implications are enormous. From Conn Halinan at antiwar.com:

For all their overwhelming firepower, the U.S. and its allies can cause a lot of misery in the Middle East, but still can’t govern the course of events.

In many ways it doesn’t really matter who – Houthis in Yemen? Iranians? Shiites in Iraq? – launched those missiles and drones at Saudi Arabia. Whoever did it changed the rules of the game, and not just in the Middle East. “It’s a moment when offense laps defense, when the strong have reason to fear the weak,” observes military historian Jack Radey.

In spite of a $68 billion a year defense budget – the third highest spending of any country in the world – with a world-class air force and supposed state-of-the-art anti-aircraft system, a handful of bargain basement drones and cruise missiles slipped through the Saudi radar and devastated Riyadh’s oil economy. All those $18 million fighter planes and $3 million a pop Patriot antiaircraft missiles suddenly look pretty irrelevant.

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How Yemen’s Houthis are bringing down a Goliath, by Pepe Escobar

So far the US government’s assertions that Iran was really behind the drone and missile attack on the Saudi Arabian oil installation have been evidence-free, and you have to figure that if it had evidence it would have been made public by now. The realization that the Middle East’s poorest nation can bring down it’s richest goes down very hard with the US establishment. From Pepe Escobar at thesaker.is:

An image taken from a video made available on July 7, 2019 by the press office of the Yemeni Shiite Houthi group shows ballistic missiles, labeled ‘Made in Yemen,’ at a recent exhibition of missiles and drones at an undisclosed location in Yemen. Footage showed models of at least 15 unmanned drones and missiles of different sizes and ranges. Photo: AFP/ Al-Houthi Group Media Office

“It is clear to us that Iran bears responsibility for this attack. There is no other plausible explanation. We support ongoing investigations to establish further details.”

The statement above was not written by Franz Kafka. In fact, it was written by a Kafka derivative: Brussels-based European bureaucracy. The Merkel-Macron-Johnson trio, representing Germany, France and the UK, seems to know what no “ongoing investigation” has unearthed: that Tehran was definitively responsible for the twin aerial strikes on Saudi oil installations.

“There is no other plausible explanation” translates as the occultation of Yemen. Yemen only features as the pounding ground of a vicious Saudi war, de facto supported by Washington and London and conducted with US and UK weapons, which has generated a horrendous humanitarian crisis.

So Iran is the culprit, no evidence provided, end of story, even if the “investigation continues.”

Hassan Ali Al-Emad, Yemeni scholar and the son of a prominent tribal leader with ascendance over ten clans, begs to differ. “From a military perspective, nobody ever took our forces in Yemen seriously. Perhaps they started understanding it when our missiles hit Aramco.”

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How Holes in the Burning Saudi Oil Fields Narrative Could Draw the US Into a War With Iran, by Mnar Muhawesh

The US government insists that Iran was behind the attack on the Saudi Arabian oil field, not the Houthis who are claiming credit for the attack. From Mnar Muhawesh at mintpressnews.com:

Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran are escalating to new heights, drawing the United States into a confrontation with the Islamic Republic after a sophisticated attack targeted Saudi Arabia’s Aramco oil facility — the largest oil processing facility in the world — knocking out half of the country’s oil capacity, or more than 5 million barrels a day, and leaving the oil fields in flames.

The attack was nothing the Kingdom had seen before or expected: According to U.S. and Saudi intel, 18 drones and seven cruise missiles were launched and went undetected by both American and Saudi radar systems. The weaponry even went unnoticed by the U.S. military base nearby, the Prince Sultan Airbase, which is guarded by an American Patriot missile defense system and over 500 U.S. military personnel.

You better believe an attack at this level targeting a crossroad for global oil supplies did more than ruffle a few feathers.

Panic not only struck the Kingdom and the international economy, where oil prices spiked 19 percent — the highest ever recorded one-day increase — but U.S. and Saudi politicians, as well as a chorus of mainstream pundits, began to beat the drums of war targeting an old foe: Iran.

Saudi and U.S. military analysts have presented satellite images of where the missiles landed in the oil fields, purporting to show that the drones/missiles came from the direction of Iran. However, some experts are already countering these claims, pointing out that the images show impact points that are indeed west-northwest, which is the opposite direction of Iran.

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