Monthly Archives: June 2018

Kim and Trump: It Finally all Makes Sense

Trump cancels US participation in the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), against international law. This leads now to the (legal under the terms of the multilateral agreement) increase by the Iranian government (under pressure from the right-wing “Principalists” in its parliament) in the number of centrifuges it is deploying to enrich uranium. It is thus shortening the breakout time for acquiring a nuclear device.

Trump then makes a wild and vague deal with a like-minded dictator (Kim), which although historic and signed, is a threadbare rehash of previous agreements signed with North Korea in the 1994 and 2005.

So is the problem that North Korea actually has nukes and Iran doesn’t (yet)? Is the lesson that to impress the Americans you have to have nukes? Iran is going to attacked because it doesn’t have a deterrent? Maybe, but this is isn’t the essence of the problem. There is no plan to take on Iran militarily and actually never has been. Gareth Porter in Manufactured Crisis has shown that even Netanhayu was always bluffing about attacking Iran (it was all about bluff and counter-bluff on both sides), and Trump is certainly not going to want to put troops on the ground to fight Iran.

Both he and the Pentagon (although perhaps not his mentally disturbed National Security Adviser) understand the failure in Iraq, while Iran, on the other hand, has always been a much bigger fish.  Paul Jay sets out the case for “Trump the Peacemaker” being cover for preparing  war against Iran. Given Trump’s disconnected and impetuous policy-making this seems unlikely. One has to note that Iran is much more powerful (and its national security establishment – the IRGC- much more experienced) even than it was in 2003, while the US is beset with problems with all its allies across the world: problems of Trump’s own making. This is hardly an environment in which the US could plan a major military offensive against such an asymmetrically powerful nation.

Using its vast conventional missile capability Iran could easily destroy the Saudi Arabian Gawar oilfield (the planet’s largest single field), as well as Tel Aviv (either from Lebanon or even from Iran), irrespective of US patriot missiles protecting them (Russia has shown the limited capability of this kind of defence to concerted attacks). It could also block the Persian Gulf for traffic, especially the Straights of Hormuz, by sinking the US 6th Fleet, deploying and using SS-N-27A “Sizzler” missiles (ground to sea missiles that accelerate to twice the speed of sound, 2 km before their target, flying only feet above sea level). The US admits it has no defence for this capability. Iran acquired the technology from China, and all of China, Russia and India, as well as Iran possess them.

Such missiles are almost as strategically important as nuclear weapons, when a narrow objective like the straights of Hormuz is to be destroyed/blocked, while sizzler missiles are much more likely to be used in conflict than nuclear weapons, even if you possessed the latter.

In addition, as far as Trump’s own attitude to the region is concerned, we have to take into account the fact that he is pressuring the Pentagon on pulling out of Syria (which is why the Turks are now getting their way about the alliance between the US and the Kurds in Northern Syria, against the objections of CENTOM Chief Gen. Vogel). This goes against the views of his mentally disturbed National Security Adviser, whom Trump only hired in order to get a massive (2020) campaign donation from Rebecca Mercer. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Pompeo follows the President’s line and doesn’t deviate, taking on the Pentagon’s middle management, especially Joseph Votel on this matter. Votel doesn’t want to cooperate with the Turks after Erdoğan’s ejection of his allies and contacts within the Turkish army after the failure of their attempted coup in 2016.

Trump has no policy other than self-aggrandisement and getting re-elected. His Jerusalem move and cynical stroking of the Wailing Wall is all about campaign contributions and domestic political support. He did a lot for his base of religious nuts already with the Jerusalem decision, he doesn’t have to do more, no-one in the US political scene can now outflank him on the Zionist front. He isn’t going to risk all that by going to war in the exceptionally dangerous and ropey situation the US is in right now, against Iran.

So, on a lighter note, is the nub of the matter as to why cancel the JCPOA and then do a deal with Kim simply that he is an unaccountable dictator, whereas Iran is a complicated polity, with a parliament and an ideology that makes no sense to someone like him? Yes, but you have to understand the detail. A Tweet by Trump suddenly revealed all according to the BuzzFeed UK editor:

As Trump said in his Singapore press conference, these guys (meaning Kim and Co.) own all the real estate between China and South Korea – … can’t be bad, can it? If he had one iota of strategic sense though, he would have realised that in signing such a vague deal without easing sanctions, which was Kim’s main aim in the whole peace process, he has opened up the golden opportunity for China to do just that, and for Kim to launch (largely with Chinese and South Korean help) his own personal chain of hotels along the country’s beaches. Eat your heart out Donald…

Oil Kingdom In Crisis: Saudi Royal Family Rift Turns Violent

Saudi Arabia has plunged its immediate region into major strategic uncertainty. What can only be described as a serious outbreak of shooting in the Royal Palace in Riyadh on April 21, 2018, was the catalyst for events which could determine the fate of the Crown, the Kingdom, and the regional competition, particularly with Iran, for influence.

By June 1, 2018, however, the crisis seemed to be subsiding.

The delicacy of the situation posed serious questions for Russia, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and the US, in particular, in shaping their strategies, given that it raised serious questions over energy supply, the war in Yemen, control of the Red Sea, and the Eurasia-Africa links in the PRC’s Silk Route network. It is clear that the Saudi Government, controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, itself was, even by early June 2018, uncertain how the situation would evolve.

Gregory Copley of Defense and Foreign Affairs noted recently: “Saudi Arabia now appears to have moved beyond the point of recovery, and could collapse at any time into internal conflict or fracturing.” On October 8, 2015, he had previously noted: “Concerns are growing within Saudi Arabia that the Kingdom is facing systemic challenges which could see its break-up within a decade or two.”

Matters came to a head on the evening of April 21, 2018, when heavy automatic weapons fire was heard over a fairly long timespan, coming from the compound of the Al-Khazami Palace in the neighborhood of Khuzama, in Riyadh. Government officials issued a report that the shooting was by Palace guards, firing at a civilian “toy” drone (unmanned aerial vehicle) which had strayed into forbidden airspace over the Palace. However, it was clear that some of the firing occurred within the Palace itself.

There were a significant number of casualties, and Riyadh had some discreet but clearly high-level funerals in the days which followed, although no announcements were subsequently made (even by early June 2018) of the deaths of any senior officials. It was understood that some visiting and very senior princes and officials were in the Palace with their armed bodyguards at the time of the incident.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) was reported to have been struck by at least two rounds. The Government had said that King Salman bin ‘Abd al-’Aziz al Sa’ud was not in the Palace at the time of the “drone incident”, and that he was at a family/military compound in the north-west of the Kingdom.

Other, private reports said that the King was in Riyadh at the time, and was quickly moved to a safe haven. The incident showed the extent of the anger felt by a significant number of family members of the House of Sa’ud toward Crown Prince Mohammed’s policies and methods.

Neither the King nor the Crown Prince appeared in open public situations from the time of the incident until early June 2018, although, on May 31, 2018, the Government released video footage of Crown Prince Mohammed meeting that day in Jeddah with Abd al-Rab Mansour al-Hadi, the Saudi-supported President of Yemen. What was significant about the video and still imagery released on May 31, 2018, was that one shot showed the Crown Prince standing and shaking hands with the President. King Salman met in Jeddah with the President the day before.

What is significant is that this was the first occasion in which Crown Prince Mohammed was shown standing since the April 21 shooting incident; all other imagery — and there was very little of that — only showed him seated. Clearly, however, if the Crown Prince was injured in the incident, then the wounds were not life-threatening, even though they were sufficient to ensure that he could not be presented to the public in a way which would allay rumors.

It has been confirmed that Crown Prince Mohammed was in a position to meet and conduct significant business with visiting Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali on May 18, 2018, just 27 days after the shooting incident, although no imagery exists of their meetings during the official visit of Dr Abiy (May 18-20, 2018). This was a significant visit, not only due to some tensions between the Kingdom and Ethiopia, but because Crown Prince Mohammed was attempting to act as an intermediary between Ethiopia and Eritrea, healing several decades of tensions and, for Saudi Arabia, to ensure that the influence of Iran and Qatar in both countries was minimized.

[The Crown Prince also agreed to release 1,000 Ethiopians imprisoned for minor offences in the Kingdom, a move seen as positive in Ethiopia, but Prince Mohammed’s attempts to reduce the number of foreign workers in the Kingdom — which is under severe economic constraints — in 2017 saw 14,000 Ethiopians forcibly deported, and 70,000 voluntary returnees. Overall, the Kingdom wants to deport 500,000 Ethiopian workers, of whom some 160,000 have already left.]

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the Kingdom on April 28, 2018, a week after the shooting, and met with King Salman and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, but not with the Crown Prince.

Iraqi cleric and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr, the key victor of the May 12, 2018, Iraq parliamentary elections, had requested to visit the Kingdom, to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed, after his visit to Kuwait on May 30, 2018. The Shi’a cleric had visited the Kingdom in 2017, and had been warmly received, because of his independence from Iran, a position which only became more valuable following his recent election win. But the Saudi Government asked him to delay his visit to the Kingdom, a sign that there were still difficulties in the country.

But what was also significant was that Crown Prince Mohammed and King Salman had apparently spent much of the five weeks after the incident ensconced in the Rabigh Palace — a military compound with its own port — in Makkah (Mecca) Province, on the Red Sea. There was some speculation that the choice of this compound gave the option of rapid departure from the Kingdom if medical conditions demanded a move, or if the internal situation worsened. Read original article