Tag Archives: Saudi Arabia

The Iranian Question (and the Same Old Saudi Answers), by JP Sottile

It’s no contest: Saudi Arabia is far more of a state sponsor of terrorism than Iran. From J.P. Settle at antiwar.com:

When was the last time you heard of an Iranian running down people on a London bridge? Or stabbing Parisians? Or attacking Canadians? Or murdering American club-goers?

What was the last terrorist plot you can recall being “inspired” by Iran or by an Iranian proxy or by Shia Islam? How many of the 9/11 hijackers were Iranian? How much money have Iranians given Al-Qaeda? Or ISIS?

Now ask yourself why US officials and politicians and the news media reflexively label Iran as “the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism”? Is it just because of Hamas (contained in Gaza) and Hezbollah (rooted in Lebanon)? Is that enough to make Iran, which isn’t Salafist or Wahhabi or even Sunni, such a perennial target? Why isn’t Saudi Arabia also demonized for its behaviors and for its funding and for actively exporting a peculiar Islamic sect’s specific religious ideology to those who often end up “inspired” to commit the terrorism against which we are fighting a seemingly endless war?

And how it is that everything we hear said about “The Mullahs” of Iran is actually true of the Saudis, but the Saudis get baskets filled with carrots … while Iran is repeatedly threatened with sticks?

Of course, there is the issue of Iraq and the fact that Iran has actively supported the Shiites in its neighbor. But it wasn’t Iran that invaded Iraq under false pretenses. It sure seems pretty rich to criticize Iran for trying to solidify its allies next door, particularly given America’s bloodstained support for Saddam Hussein and the growing encirclement of Iran with US bases. Was their support for Shia militias “terrorism” or really just a sound strategy in a war that threatened them? What would the US do if Iran invaded Mexico to stop a mythical WMD program?

So, is it Iran’s fault that the US completely effed-up the Middle East by wantonly destroying a bystander nation? They didn’t create ISIS … or the conditions that made ISIS possible. That rare honor goes to the United States, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

To continue reading: The Iranian Question (and the Same Old Saudi Answers)

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Trump’s Middle East Foreign Policy is a Disaster Waiting to Happen, by Michael Krieger

Lie down with venomous serpents and you may never get up. From Michael Krieger at libertyblitzkrieg.com:

Today’s post will focus on Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia, a revolting spectacle which I could barely bring myself to follow. It all started Saturday morning as I tried to enjoy a beautiful day with my growing family and parents who were in town for a visit. My day was more or less ruined upon witnessing the appalling scene of Trump and his top advisors dancing with the rulers of the terrorist sponsoring state of Saudi Arabia while clutching swords. I’m sorry for doing this to you, but in case you missed it…

– From last month’s piece: America Has Become a Total Joke

The main thing we learned from Trump’s grotesque, orb clutching spectacle of a visit to the 9/11-funding absolute monarchy of Saudi Arabia, was that our demented President essentially green-lighted the Saudis to do whatever the heck they want in the Middle East. Considering Saudi Arabia is effectively being run by a 30-something princeling with sociopathic tendencies, absolutely nothing good can come of this. While Obama’s foreign policy in the Middle East was an unmitigated humanitarian and geopolitical disaster, it appears Trump’s doing his best to one up his predecessor.

Saudi Arabia is the most dangerous entity in the Middle East, and the writing’s been on the wall for a long time. In fact, German intelligence warned about it back in 2015. As The Telegraph reported:

Saudi Arabia is at risk of becoming a major destabilizing influence in the Arab world, German intelligence has warned. 

Internal power struggles and the desire to emerge as the leading Arab power threaten to make the key Western ally a source of instability, according to the BND intelligence service. 

“The current cautious diplomatic stance of senior members of the Saudi royal family will be replaced by an impulsive intervention policy,” a BND memo widely distributed to the German press reads. 

Saudi Arabia has previously been accused of supplying arms and funding to jihadist groups fighting in Syria, including Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil).

To continue reading: Trump’s Middle East Foreign Policy is a Disaster Waiting to Happen

The Shocking Trigger Behind Today’s Gulf Scandal: Qatar Paid Al-Qaeda, Iran $1BN In Hostage Deal, by Tyler Durden

Here’s one way to fund terrorists: pay their ransom demands. From Tyler Durden at zerohedge.com:

The FT has unveiled what its believes is the key trigger behind the shocking overnight collapse in diplomatic relations between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors. According to the FT, the catalyst that forced the Saudis and their allies to unveil the cut in diplomatic and economic ties, is that Qatar allegedly paid up to $1 billion to Iran and al-Qaeda affiliates “to release members of the Gulf state’s royal family who were kidnapped in Iraq while on a hunting trip, according to people involved in the hostage deal“; the secret deal was allegedly one of the triggers behind Gulf states’ dramatic decision to cut ties with Doha.

The details of the payoff: “around $700m was paid both to Iranian figures and the regional Shia militias they support, according to regional government officials. They added that $200m to $300m went to Islamist groups in Syria, most of that to Tahrir al-Sham, a group with links to al-Qaeda.

A regional Arab official said the total paid to jihadi groups was closer to $300m. “So, if you add that up to the other $700m they paid to Iran and its proxies, that means Qatar actually spent about a billion dollars on this crazy deal,” he said.

* * *

The Iraqi Shia militia commanders in Iraq, all from hardline Iranian-backed groups, said that, to their knowledge, Iran had obtained around $400m after giving them a payment they would not disclose. They agreed to share some details because they were unhappy about their share of the payment.

“They [the Iranians] took the lion’s share,” said a member of one of the Iranian-backed Shia militias in Iraq. “That’s caused some of us to be frustrated, because that was not the deal.”

The “ransom payments are the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said one Gulf observer.

Not to be confused with the Obama administration secretly airlifting crates full of $1.7 billion in cash to Tehran to release five US hostages held by Iran, the FT writes that commanders of militant groups and government officials in the region told the Financial Times that “Doha spent the money in a transaction that secured the release of 26 members of a Qatari hunting party in southern Iraq and about 50 militants captured by jihadis in Syria.”

To continue reading: The Shocking Trigger Behind Today’s Gulf Scandal: Qatar Paid Al-Qaeda, Iran $1BN In Hostage Deal

Theresa May urged not to suppress report into funding of jihadi groups, by Jessico Elgot

The British government may sit on a report detailing foreign funding and support of jihadist groups. From Jessica Elgot at theguardian.com:

Jeremy Corbyn and Tim Farron have challenged Theresa May over a long-delayed inquiry into foreign funding and support of jihadi groups in the UK, after the Home Office suggested the investigation may not be published.

The inquiry into revenue streams for extremist groups was commissioned by David Cameron when he was prime minister and is thought to focus on Saudi Arabia.

But the Guardian revealed last week that the report was still incomplete and its contents may not be published.

The Labour leader used a speech in Carlisle on Sunday evening to challenge the prime minister over the delayed report.

Corbyn referenced May’s speech after the London Bridge attack on Saturday, in which she said challenging terrorism would “require some difficult and often embarrassing conversations”.

In a speech that also criticised May for ignoring warnings about the impact of police cuts, he said: “Yes, we do need to have some difficult conversations, starting with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states that have funded and fuelled extremist ideology.

“It is no good Theresa May suppressing a report into the foreign funding of extremist groups. We have to get serious about cutting off the funding to these terror networks, including Isis here and in the Middle East.”

The Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, Tom Brake, wrote to May last week asking her to commit to not shelving the report.

Writing in the Guardian on Monday, the Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, said it was essential the report was not suppressed.

“Theresa May now has a choice. Does she publish that report or keep it hidden?” Farron said.

“Theresa May talks of the need to have some difficult and sometimes embarrassing conversations. That should include exposing and rooting out the source funding of terror, even it means difficult and embarrassing conversations with those like Saudi Arabia that the government claims are our allies.”

The Conservatives were criticised last year for selling billions of pounds of arms to the Saudis.

To continue reading: Theresa May urged not to suppress report into funding of jihadi groups

It’s A “Geopolitical Earthquake”: A Stunned World Responds After Saudi Alliance Cuts All Ties With Qatar, by Tyler Durden

This wouldn’t have happened before Trump’s recent trip (see “Powerball, Part Two). From Tyler Durden at zerohedge.com:

Virtually nobody saw it coming.

Late on Sunday night, the Saudi-led alliance of Gulf Arab states, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain including Egypt, shocked the world when they announced they had severed ties and closed borders with one of the Gulf’s wealthiest, if smallest, neighbors Qatar, a (now former) member of the Gulf Cooperation Council in what we called a “geopolitical earthquake” and what Bloomberg dubbed an unprecedented move designed to punish one of the region’s financial superpowers for its ties with Iran and Islamist groups in the region.”

As we noted first last night, just days after president Trump left the region, a “geopolitical earthquake” took place in the Middle East as the rift between Qatar and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council exploded with Bahrain, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt cutting all diplomatic ties with Qatar accusing it of “spreading chaos,” by funding terrorism and supporting Iran. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt all said they will suspend air and sea travel to and from the Gulf emirate. Saudi Arabia will also shut land crossings with its neighbor, potentially depriving the emirate of imports through its only land border.

It was not immediately clear when the proposed measures would be implemented. Saudi Arabia said it would “begin immediate legal measures with friendly, sisterly countries and international companies to implement that measure as quickly as possible for all types of transit from and to the state of Qatar.”

Powerball, Part Two, by Robert Gore

Last month, Donald Trump may have become virtually unchallengeable.

In Powerball, Part One, it was suggested that President Trump and Attorney General Sessions may have acquired James Comey’s files, and thus significant leverage against “much of official Washington.” If that has happened, it may come to be viewed as one component of the most sweeping Washington power consolidation since FDR’s first term.

Trump’s recently traveled to Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Europe. He made magnanimous overtures to the Saudi regime he had harshly criticized during his presidential campaign. That regime has been rightfully condemned for repression, institutionalized misogyny, religious intolerance, a draconian legal system, and sponsoring global terrorism (including the 9/11 attacks), among other transgressions. Trump not only reversed his rhetoric, he signed a deal to sell the Saudis $110 billion worth of American armaments. Saudi atrocities against its southern neighbor, Yemen, had prompted Obama to hold up some arms sales; now they’ve all been green-lighted.

Nations who foolishly venture into the Middle East should pick a side—Sunni or Shia—and stick with it. For decades the US government has tried to play both ends against the middle. In Syria and Iraq, it has allied with both Sunnis and Shias and found itself played: manipulated by both sides, blood and treasure lost, in the midst of self-inflicted chaos and instability, and afflicted, with its European allies, by refugee and terrorism blowback.

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Trump’s visit made clear that game is over: the US government will back the Sunnis—Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) monarchies, Egypt, Turkey—and their tacit ally, Israel. Under Obama, relations with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and Israel had deteriorated, with no offsetting improvement in relations with the Shia crescent: Iran, Iraq, Alawite (a minority Syrian Shia sect—Bashar al-Assad is Alawite) Syria, and the Hezbollah in Lebanon. Trump stepped up criticism of Iran while assuring the Sunni-Israel axis he wouldn’t interfere in their internal affairs . There were no criticisms of Saudi Arabia’s, Turkey’s, and Israel’s treatment of Yemenis, Kurds, and Palestinians respectively.

Commentary about Trump making nice with the Saudis has been widespread; questions about what he received in return much less so. What did the Sunni-Israel axis give up for this amplification of US allegiance? The Deep State has used Islamic guerrillas for its own geopolitical aims since the US aided the mujahideen’s war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. While Sunni ISIS is an offshoot of al Qaeda, purportedly behind the 9/11 bombings, it is the main source of opposition to Assad and the Shia regime in Iraq. Deposing both is a longstanding goal of the Sunni-Israel axis. The US has not objected to their military and financial aid to ISIS. The US itself stands accused of directly aiding ISIS. By supplying training and arms to purported moderate rebels, it has certainly indirectly aided the group. Those “moderate” rebels often fall in with ISIS or the Al-Nusra front, ISIS’s ally, supplying manpower and their US-provided weaponry.

Trump has shifted the goal from deposing Assad to defeating ISIS and allies once and for all, a sea change in American policy. He may have entirely abandoned using Islamic proxies for US ends, another sea change. For arms deals and other goodies, he probably extracted a pledge from the GCC states and Turkey to quit supporting ISIS. Tellingly, this weekend Saudi Arabia and other GCC members severed relations with member Qatar, citing, among other alleged transgressions, its funding of Islamic State and al Qaeda.

Trump’s shift recognize reality in Syria. As long as Russia, Iran, Iraq, and Hezbollah support Assad, it will be virtually impossible to depose him. Helping them defeat ISIS is the only way the US will have any post-ISIS negotiating leverage in Syria. Getting rid of Assad or giving up its Syrian port would be deal-breakers for Russia, but a de facto or de jure partitioning of Syria and perhaps Iraq: Kurdish autonomy, up to and including their own country; a pipeline through Syria to Europe for Qatari natural gas (if the current GCC spat is resolved), and other issues concerning the fate of post-ISIS Syria and Iraq would be on the table.

As Joseph Stalin recognized, controlling territory is the strongest argument in post-war negotiations. Moving decisively against ISIS will give the US coalition eastern Syrian territory and negotiating leverage. Importantly for Israel, it also breaks the transportation link and hinders the supply of arms from Iran and Iraq to Syria and Lebanon. That would make a diminished western Syrian state, albeit one still ruled by Assad and protected by Russia, easier to swallow.

If, as posited in Part One, Trump’s primary motivation is power, arguments that the US should seek better relations with Iran—leader of the Shia crescent and less repressive and more democratic than Saudi Arabia—will continue to be ignored. Sunnis are 90 percent of Islam, and in the Middle East only Iraq, Iran, and Bahrain are majority Shia. Trump will back winners; that’s the logic of power. Corrupt, repressive, and destined for the dustbin as its government may be, Saudi Arabia has the largest Middle Eastern oil reserves and is the linchpin of the petrodollar arrangement. Erdogan is an aspiring tyrant, but Turkey has the largest military in the region. Israel is the only nuclear power.

There is another factor crucial to the power calculus. Shia Islam has virtually no influence on domestic US politics. Saudi Arabia and Israel both have outsize influence, spending millions on lobbying, campaign donations, and efforts to sway US public opinion. Turkey, to a lesser extent, plays the same game. Tilting towards them will come in handy as Trump bolsters his position in Washington and seeks reelection in 2020.

Trump went to the Middle East bearing carrots and kept the sticks hidden. In Europe he did the opposite. He berated the Europeans for insufficient defense spending and signaled that he would withdrew the US from the Paris Climate Change Agreement. However, if he has implemented the hypothesized changes in US Middle Eastern policy and the US and Russia defeat ISIS, he will make European leaders’ life easier. For the first time official NATO forces are joining the war against ISIS, which probably means Europe’s leaders are on board with Trump’s plans. If a semblance of order is restored to Syria and Iraq, even if that means one or both are partitioned, refugee flows to Europe should diminish. Refugees already in Europe may return to their homelands. It might reduce terrorism, although that could be wishful thinking.

To answer a question posed in Part One: if Trump has consolidated power both at home and abroad, don’t hold your breath waiting for a swamp draining. The most effective power is often power of which only a few know. Those he has by the short hairs would be most helpful to him—sub rosa—if they’re still in government. If such is the case, don’t be surprised if the Russia probe fades away, Trump’s nominal opposition consigns itself to rote denunciation, the Deep State sits still for his Middle Eastern policy changes, and he gets more of his agenda through than anyone expects.

The thought of a virtually unchallengeable Trump may delight his supporters, but it should scare the hell out of them and everyone else. Saints don’t take positions in government. If in a mere four months Trump has made himself unchallengeable in a way few people recognize, he’s employed a series of ruthlessly Machiavellian calculations and strategies to do so. Imagine what he could do in four or eight years. But human nature is human nature. Consider these last words on power, which come not from Machiavelli, but nineteenth-century British noble Lord Acton: Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.

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Trump Submits to Neocon Orthodoxy, by Daniel Lazare

Does Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia and Israel signal that he’s gone all in on neoconservatism? From Daniel Lazare at consortiumnews.com:

Exclusive: In his Mideast trip to Saudi Arabia and Israel, President Trump sought some political safe harbor by tacking toward neocon orthodoxy and jettisoning his campaign promises of a more rational strategy, writes Daniel Lazare.

With astounding precision, Donald Trump zeroed in on the worst possible Middle East policy option in his recent trip to Saudi Arabia and made it his own. He rebuffed the efforts of Iran’s newly elected moderate government to open up communications with the West and instead deepened America’s alliances with decrepit autocratic regimes across the Persian Gulf.

Turning up his nose at Iran — a rising young power — he embraced Saudi Arabia, which is plainly on its last legs. It was a remarkable display —  rather like visiting a butcher shop and passing up a fresh steak for one that’s rancid and smelly and buzzing with flies.

Saudi Arabia is not just any tired dictatorship with an abysmal human-rights record but one of the most spectacularly dysfunctional societies in history. It takes in half a billion dollars a day in oil revenue, yet is so profligate that it could run out of money in half a decade. It sits atop 18 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves, yet is so wasteful that, at current rates, it will become a net importer by the year 2030.

Its king travels with a thousand-person retinue wherever he goes while his son, Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, plunked down $550 million not long ago when a 440-foot yacht caught his eye in the south of France. Yet this pair of royal kleptocrats dares preach austerity at a time when as much as 25 percent of the population lives on less than $17 a day in trash-strewn Third World slums.

Similarly, Saudi Arabia’s appetite for high-tech weaponry is such that in 2015 it became the largest arms importer in the world. Yet its military is so inept that it is unable to subdue ragtag Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen or even stop them from raiding deep inside Saudi territory and launching regular missile attacks.

To continue reading: Trump Submits to Neocon Orthodoxy