Abdel-Aziz bin Fahd has reacted strongly to UAE Ambassador Otaiba’s announcement that the UAE seeks secular government to be installed throughout the Arabian peninsula, which was clearly aimed at pushing Mohamed bin Salman (MbS) to take yet another leap in the dark by distancing himself from the Wahhabi establishment. Ex-King Fahd’s son said that ‘… we will die before we will allow our religion to be sidelined’. Given the powerful hold Mohamed bin Zayed (MbZ) of the UAE has over MbS, Otaiba’s announcement was not only a brazen attack on the Saudi establishment but a clear indication that MbS seems helpless in the face of UAE machinations, which is extraordinary for someone holding all the reins of power in Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, behind UAE Ambassador to Washington Otaiba’s statements about “secular” government, which upset Abdul-Aziz bin Fahd lies the influence of the UAE, or more precisely Abu Dhabi, in the US. Ziad Jilani and Alex Emmons discuss evidence of the shady relationships of the UAE with Beltway think-tanks: ‘One of the documents obtained by The Intercept [from ‘GlobalLeaks hackers of UAE Ambassador Otaiba] was an invoice from the Center for New American Security, an influential national security think tank founded in 2007 by alumni from the Clinton administration. The invoice, dated July 12, 2016, billed the UAE embassy $250,000 for a paper on the legal regime governing the export of military-grade drones. It was signed by Michele Flournoy, a senior Pentagon official under President Barack Obama; Hillary Clinton was widely expected to name Flournoy as her secretary of defense. Flournoy co-founded CNAS and, in addition to outside work as a management consultant, currently serves as the think tank’s CEO.’
They continue: ‘The UAE has one of the most repressive governments in the world. The Gulf dictatorship brutally cracks down on internal dissent and enables abusive conditions for its massive migrant labor force. It also plays a key role in the bloody war in Yemen, running a network of torture prisons in the “liberated” parts of the country. That makes it all the more shocking that the UAE is so rarely criticized by leading U.S. think tanks, who not only ignore the Gulf dictatorship’s repression, but give a privileged platform to its ambassador, Yousef Al-Otaiba. Otaiba is a deeply influential voice in U.S. foreign policy circles, and is known in Washington for using his pocketbook to recruit allies.’ Read their full article here.
Ben Walsh, Ryan Grim, Clayton Swisher at the Intercept write: Not long before a major crisis ripped through the Middle East, pitting the United States and a bloc of Gulf countries against Qatar, Jared Kushner’s real estate company had unsuccessfully sought a critical half-billion-dollar investment from one of the richest and most influential men in the tiny nation, according to three well-placed sources with knowledge of the near transaction.
Kushner is a senior adviser to President Trump, and also his son-in-law, and also the scion of a New York real estate empire that faces an extreme risk from an investment made by Kushner in the building at 666 Fifth Avenue, where the family is now severely underwater. Read full article here.
The G-4 group of the world’s TOP Tyrannical Nations (TTN) (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Bahrain) have received Qatar’s response to their ultimata. Note that they blinked first. When they initially received no response, they unilaterally extended their deadline by 48 hours.
Qatar refuses to shut down Al-Jazeera. It has the backing of most of world on this. A link is now provided at the top of this page for all those who wish to watch Al-Jazeera LIVE either in English or in Arabic. The TV and news network is riding high on current events, as the world takes note of the self-inflicted discomfort these events are causing the G-4 TTN.
If Al-Jazeera stays, so does the Turkish military base, which the G-4 sought to unwind, in the event that a Bahrain-type intervention by Saudi Arabia would be in the offing. In Qatar, unlike Bahrain, Saudi forces would have to confront a military response, rather than merely unarmed protestors. The Turks pushed forward the agenda for supplying new troops to the base as soon as the G-4 announced their siege of Qatar.
The Turkish base became part of an urgent discussion between Javad Zarif and Erdoğan which took place in Ankara at the request of the Iranians immediately the siege started.
Thirdly, in its only concession, Qatar announced it would be willing to sever relations with Iran, if the UAE and Bahrain did so as well. Saudi has already severed relations. The Qataris are fully aware that this is a matter of severe disagreement between Mohamed bin Zayed (MbZ) and the Maktoum family in Dubai. Dubai’s success as a marketplace is largely due to its massive trade links with Iran. Sever these and Dubai goes into decline. MbZ maintains that he rescued Dubai during the financial crisis, and therefore has a right to set the foreign policy of the UAE. Nevertheless, the UAE will not end up severing ties with Iran. Besides, to keep its lights on, Dubai needs Qatari gas, which Qatar astonishingly continues to supply despite the UAE’s ridiculous behaviour.
In any event the intelligence agencies of the G-4 TTN are meeting in Cairo to plan their response to Qatar’s refusal to bend. It is clear that a covert war will now be launched against Qatar, since there are no other possible routes for them to take, given the stance taken by Turkey and Iran. As the Qatari response, delivered by the Emir of Kuwait says ‘there are no Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Qatar’. However, Iran’s missile capability is not far away and communications between the Turkish base and the Iranians have been set up. It is in Iran’s vital interest to protect Qatar, since the two countries share the North Dome/South Pars gas field (the largest in the world).
Moody’s have downgraded Qatar, although quite why this is necessary given it is a surplus nation that doesn’t require borrowing, is not clear. However, the G-4 will seek to launch cyberattacks and media storms against Al-Jazeera, and to hound its journalists and bar them from entering diverse countries around the world which cow-tow to Saudi Arabia and the UAE (the Comoros Is and the Maldives come to mind). There will also be a financial war launched against Qatari global assets, which is possibly what Moody’s is worried about. International banking groups will suddenly have to take sides, which will make for turbulent financial markets. Already the Qatari Rial has been suspended from trading in many outlets.
The G-4 TTN cannot stand the light that Al-Jazeera regularly shines on their dysfunctional nations, although its reporting is always balanced. Talking heads from all sides are invariably included in their broadcasts. Everybody gets a chance. Its just that the arguments put forward by those defending the policies of the G-4 TTN more often than not, embarrassingly, fail to hold water. Al-Jazeera is key to Qatar’s response to the covert war that is about to start. It can raise or lower the temperature of its broadcasts as time goes on and as circumstances dictate. For closed tyrannical nations existing in a satellite and internet dominated world, the propaganda of their state media, whether it be through Sky News Arabia, Al-Arabiyya TV, OnTV, or whatever, can never achieve the ratings of Al-Jazeera with their own locals.
From another perspective, the Qatar debacle is yet another victory for Iranian domination of the Gulf, and signals the end of any Trumpian dream to create some kind of Sunni front against Iran. Saudi Arabia is in fact up for grabs in the medium to long term.
‘Secrets of the Arabs’ reports that with the arrival of Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) to the position of crown prince in Saudi Arabia, and thus acting king (on the basis of his father’s advanced dementia), the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) succeeds in his second important coup in the Arab region, after his orchestration of the military coup in Egypt.
MbZ is almost completely in control of 32 year old MbS. From the very moment MbZ began to flirt with MbS, his plan had been to topple his arch-enemy Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. WikiLeaks had revealed that MbZ had called Mohammed bin Nayef’s father, at the time that Prince Nayef was interior minister and one of the most powerful people in Saudi Arabia, a “monkey”. Mohammed bin Nayef clearly stood in the way of MbZ’s ambitions. The video released of MbS kissing Mohamed bin Nayef’s head and hands as the latter appeared to accept his replacement, had in fact been filmed days before the succession was announced, and followed Mohamed bin Nayef’s house arrest within the grounds of the royal enclosure.
What most of the international press fail to grasp is that the blockade of Qatar is actually part of a planned isolation of Saudi Arabia by MbZ, who intends to direct MbS’s internal reforms sidelining the Saudi religious establishment and privatising Saudi oil assets, which MbZ wants to pick up on the cheap as part of his long held dream of splitting up Saudi Arabia. Qatar, with far stronger tribal links in Arabia than MbZ’s Nayahan family, would have most certainly stood in the way of his dream of buying up Aramco on the cheap. So, the trap was set for Trump at the Riyadh summit by the UAE, while the list of 13 demands made of Qatar (and issued by the UAE’s Anwar Gargash, rather than by Saudi FM Adel al-Jubeir) were intentionally made to be provocative, and clearly impossible for Qatar to even consider fulfilling. So, the Qatari blockade is not – as some would have it – presaging a war with Iran. It presages rather the approaching implosion of the Saudi régime.
Saudi Arabia’s isolation began with the unnecessary decision to execute Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr and the subsequent severing of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, relations which the UAE is careful to continue maintaining. The execution in January 2016 was intentionally provocative and raised sectarian tensions in Saudi Arabia at a time when the Kingdom was facing numerous internal challenges relating to the fall in oil prices and the need to cut government salaries as a result. The move had all the fingerprints of MbS’s aggressive approach, and must be considered in the context of the execution of 47 other (Sunni) Muslim clerics at the same time. It was clearly a warning to all MbS’s critics, and like the Yemen War happened to have an international dimension, but had a purely domestic rationale.
Meanwhile, on an old matter, it has been revealed in leaked Libyan videos of the interrogation of Saadi Ghaddafi that an old 2003 assassination plot against King Salman’s predecessor, King Abdullah, blamed by the UAE on the Qatari leadership and used by MbZ’s cohorts as one of the many excuses for imposing the blockade on Qatar, had nothing at all to do with Qatar. In fact, the perpetrator of the plot, Mohamed Ismail, appears to have ties with the UAE and currently lives in Abu Dhabi.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE want Qatar to close down Al-Jazeera, Arabi21, Rassd, Middle East Eye, and Al Araby al-Jadeed before they lift their embargo! I, personally, will have little left to read or watch should this happen, which is highly unlikely, given that
(1) Qatar doesn’t fund all of those news outlets anyway
(2) Qatar will fight to the end before closing or interfering in Al-Jazeera, and
(3) Al-Jazeera became a substantially more valuable property the moment those demands were made
All the opinion pages that insist Qatar will pay a price are wrong. Qatar scored a major coup by soliciting an official presentation of the Saudi/Emirati demands (which include shutting down the Iranian Embassy and the Turkish military base). What Qatar has now done is classic: officially stating the demands are unreasonable, plunging Saudi Arabia and the UAE into an international diplomatic situation they cannot retreat from without loss of face. Britain and Germany in particular have insisted on an immediate resolution of the crisis on the basis of a respect for Qatar’s sovereignty. If Trump found the idea of closing Al-Jazeera funny, Theresa May and Angela Merkel didn’t.
Mohamed bin Salman (MbS) buys a £472m yacht from Russian oligarch Yuri Schefler, as he imposes austerity on Saudi Arabians and total misery on the Yemeni population.
The endless pointless war in Yemen, as I wrote when it started, has ‘everything to do with [his]’ succession’ to the throne. More than 8,000 people have been killed since a Saudi-led coalition launched the military campaign in March 2015, 17 million people face dire food shortages – 7 million of whom are only one step away from famine, in a country now ravaged by illness including a cholera outbreak, which has killed more than 1,100 people.
The Yemen War was launched to subjugate Muqrin bin Abdulaziz after he had been sidelined from the line of succession to the throne, together with Mutaib bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz who controlled of the National Guard. The Qatar blockade, on the other hand, was instituted in order to put Al-Jazeera and the outspoken Sheikh Tamim on the back foot while Mohamed bin Nayef bin Abdelaziz was in the process of being removed and, it is said, put under house arrest. Now that two of the major obstacles to MbS’s ambitions as his dementia-ridden father’s direct successor, have been overcome. Given his roles as Secretary to the Court (i.e. Prime Minister), Defence Minister, and Economic Supremo, MbS is thus effectively acting king.
Mohamed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi (MbZ) has guided the young prince to power, and gained his confidence despite having plotted against him and his father when Abdullah bin Abdelaziz was still king. The apparently odd alliance between them, however, is testament to the extent to which there is generalised mistrust between members of the Saudi royal family, as well as the extent to which MbS is gullible.
MbZ will undoubtedly want his pound of flesh, which as far as I can see will involve the division of Yemen to enable him control the entire South and with that, control of the Bab al-Mandab straits. This must ultimately lead to conflict between Saudi and the UAE, at some stage. Expect also conflict between members of the royal family after the unprecedented political changes which were engineered in hushed and rushed meetings before dawn of the 21st. The dawn of the longest day was also the night of the long knives.
The ‘arrival’ of MbS is feted in some quarters as the prospect of the rule of a millennial, who will ‘open up’ his country and take it out of its tawdry past. But for that to have any credence the country must become a democracy not merely a neoliberal paradise in an autocratic cage. The influence of the religious establishment on the daily life of the Saudis may be waning, but a series of recent tweets by the Ulama evidences the fact that Saudi religion will consolidate its role as the protector of autocracy against democracy.
Trump’s jamboree in Riyadh was intended as part of a US plan to ‘confront’ Iran. This certainly will be good for the stock prices of Northrop Grumman, Lockheed-Martin and Raytheon as Saudi Arabia, fresh from spinning its way out of responsibility for the 9/11 attacks in NY, piles up an unbelievable amount of weaponry, most of which it can’t possibly use. Nobody has told the Saudis that the Iranians have developed an asymmetrical style of warfare for the past 35 years, which has defeated all attempts by even the US to overcome it.
But from the Saudi point of view the $110bn arms (+ $220bn commercial) deal signed with Trump is nothing but a bribe to get the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) repealed, to keep the US onside in the increasingly unpopular Yemen War, and to buy the US President’s acquiescence to the whims of Saudi foreign policy. This, Trump is quite happy to do for the money, being as it is in character for him to issue contradictory statements within minutes of each other, even if, in the case of the Saudi/UAE sanctions against Qatar, this stands in stark contrast to the Pentagon’s statements on the effectiveness of its alliance with the country and the importance of CENTCOM’s HQ there.
On the face of it Saudi and the UAE leaders came out of the Trump meeting feeling they had carte blanche to crush Qatar as part of the ‘anti-Iran’ front, because of Qatar’s friendly relations with Iran with whom it shares its most important asset, the South Pars/North Dome Gas Condensate field. The odd thing is that the UAE is actually itself one of Iran’s largest trading partners. Nevertheless, this doesn’t compare with the strategic importance of Qatar’s cooperation with Iran over LNG exports from the joint field and through the Straits of Hormuz. This lies at the centre of Qatar’s independent foreign policy which Saudi and the UAE view antagonistically.
Over the past four years the relationship Between Qatar and the UAE has been strained over Qatar’s independent stand against UAE leader Mohamed bin Zayed’s (MbZ) counterrevolutionary rampage across the Middle East.
The UAE media has developed and promulgated the meme that Qatar ‘supports terrorism’ which the help of neocon think-tanks such as the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), which are only too thankful for the new UAE largesse coming their way and for the attention they are getting, having been marginalised within the Washington Beltway after the advent of Trump.
In sum, Trump’s anti-Iranian project is being invested by MbZ, who has considerable personal influence on the ambitious and highly impetuous Mohamed bin Salman (MbS), son of the dementia-afflicted Saudi king, to further his personal goals. These have been understood to have always centered on the division of Saudi Arabia, and the integration of the Eastern Province into the UAE. The fact that Qatar lies next to this area, and that its leadership is keenly aware of MbZ’s machinations, has made them traditional enemies.
Oddly, while MbZ’s previous involvement in a plot against King Salman, MbS’s father, during the last Saudi succession, is well known, all seems to have been forgotten from the Saudi government perspective since the UAE agreed to join MbS’s signature war in Yemen: a war which he would direct as effective Prime Minister and Defence Minister and which was supposed to catapult the young man over two generations of claimants onto the throne in short measure. This meant MbZ turning against the Houthi rebellion, which he had backed and funded against the Yemeni government led by the Muslim Brotherhood party, al-Islah, from the start.
The sudden sanctioning and cutting of relations with Qatar is clearly a step beyond the 2014 diplomatic row, and an invitation for a coup to take place in Qatar. But while UAE media claims that Qatar, among its ‘terrorist’ activities, is supporting the rebel Houthis in Yemen, it is well known that MbZ is actually host in Abu Dhabi to Ali Abdulla al-Saleh the ex-Yemeni president and chief backer of the Houthis to this day, and that his support for the Houthis had never really ended. MbZ is playing both sides against the middle.
Meanwhile, Qatari soldiers are regularly reported killed, fighting the Houthis in support of Saudi Arabia. The Qatari Emir’s resistance to MbZ’s idea of a formal north/south division of Yemen was the most recent flashpoint between the two leaders. Called the ‘Aden Coup’ plot, the UAE leader was planning to control Aden, which would have then given him control of both sides of Bab el-Mandab, given his newly acquired military bases on the Horn of Africa, in the twilight zone of Somaliland.
There is no end to MbZ’s ambitions. He runs a police state in the UAE almost out of science fiction, which has followed a systematic counterrevolutionary policy against Muslim Brotherhood political parties throughout the region. Having funded the military coup in Egypt, he now controls Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, and he followed that gambit with similar but less-successful ones in Libya and Tunisia. He was opposed to pro-Muslim Brotherhood and anti-Assad Qatari and Turkish policy in Syria, and backed Turkish coup plotters in July 2016 (recently confirmed in email leaks from the UAE Ambassador’s computer in Washington).
Russia’s announcement that it doesn’t care about this new row between Gulf States, in the face of contradictory US statements, reflects its new geostrategic strength in the Middle East region. If the Gulf states become an area of instability, this massively enhance Russia’s position as a reliable source of energy, and will boost its oil and gas exports. But a Saudi/UAE invasion of Qatar, given the failure of the expected coup, is highly unlikely given the open wound of the Yemen War. Such a move would also open up a direct front with Iran, which will respond aggressively in defence of what it will understand as a threat to the South Pars Field, exactly where CENTCOM HQ is located.
If MbS might be thinking of such a move, under the influence of MbZ, this would destabilise his position within the Saudi Royal Family, given that his signature war isn’t going that well. The Yemenis didn’t roll over like he expected. Furthermore, many powerful elements in Saudi society have close relations with the Qatari al-Thani family. The Saudi/UAE move against Qatar is unlikely to achieve it objectives, and an embarrassed retreat will be more than likely.
As it is, Qatari sources deny the UAE media reports of panic buying in the shops in Doha. The Prime Minister’s office announced that food supplies have been secured for the foreseeable future, despite the closure of the Saudi border. Indeed, on the evening following the Saudi/UAE gambit the Qatari Emir, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, was filmed hosting iftar with Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood scholar, as a guest. The message was clearly that he was unmoved.
After Javad Zarif’s hurried visit to Ankara, Erdoğan now deploys Turkish troops to its Qatar military base ahead of the relevant legislation which has also been fast-tracked, and also changes his tune to take a hard line against the Saudi position after earlier making more diplomatic statements. With Turkish and Iranian help, Qatar will easily ride this storm. Even if there is reconciliation with Saudi, the die are cast. Qatar will have moved further away from the GCC axis and strengthened it relationship not just with Turkey, but Iran. The future looks bleak for MbS and more generally for Saudi Arabia.
Also read David Hearst on this subject.
In my last article on the Middle East peace process, the potential success of the Astana talks was explored. The conflicting priorities between the main players – Russia, Turkey and Iran – were described, despite all the difficulties, as ultimately supportive of a new stable solution in the region. Saudi Arabia, it was clarified was silently supportive of the process, resigning itself to its withdrawal from the Syrian scene. This surprise visit by Jubeir to Baghdad, clearly heralds a new positive rather than disruptive approach to the Iraqi scene, and is a strong confirmation that the factors in favour of the Astana process are consolidating rather than dissipating. The visit will help the Saudi-Iranian relationship (something the Russians are pushing hard), but will also encourage the Iraqi government to move on from the bunker mentality adopted by al-Maliki during his rule – a potentially very positive prospect.
This is an important development in the light of the difficulties expected after the battle for Mosul is over