Category Archives: Saudi Arabia

Al-Jazeera sees its best days

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.

Rejuvenating tyranny: Mohamed bin Salman power grab. Treatment of Qatar, a warning to critics

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 walks into a trap designed by the UAE, but comes out with tons of money

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).

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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.

Extraordinary Saudi visit to Baghdad confirms new geopolitical realities

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

Saudi Arabian power waning fast, as the US looks like becoming an oil exporter once again

The U.S. Geological Survey just published an assessment of oil reserves for a section of the Permian Basin, revealing the largest estimate of continuous oil that the agency has ever assessed.

The Wolfcamp shale in the Midland Basin, which is part of the Permian Basin, is one of the most prized shale formations in the United States, and for good reason. The USGS estimates that the West Texas shale formation could hold an estimated mean of 20 billion barrels of oil, 16 trillion cubic feet of associated natural gas, and 1.6 billion barrels of natural gas liquids. Those figures are the largest for any single continuous pool of oil the USGS has ever surveyed.

wolfcamp2

Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act

Christopher Davidson writes

The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act will represent the latest in a series of milestones for a long-running class action lawsuit filed by the “9/11 Families and Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism”.

The suit had its first big break in 2014 when a New York federal court ruled that the Saudi government was not allowed to claim sovereign immunity, and was thus liable to be sued for damages if the link to 9/11 could be proven.

It seems that every extra piece of evidence that is assembled by the 9/11 lawyers and is reported on in the media will serve to lower Saudi Arabia’s reputation even further amongst the American public, and perhaps eventually bring it down to the sort of level last experienced by Gaddafi’s Libya or Ahmadinejad’s Iran.

Furthermore, it is also entirely possible that long before the lawsuit is concluded, a consensus will have emerged in the US that important elements of the Saudi state were indeed involved in 9/11.

Recent revelations, including the release of about 85 percent of the content of 29 pages (known erroneously as the “28 pages”) that were originally redacted from the joint congressional inquiry into 9/11, have provided additional, but unconfirmed circumstantial evidence about a Saudi role. But there also now exists a considerable body of recently declassified documents, leaked materials, interrogation transcripts, and court subpoenaed files that point to a much more substantial connection and the clear existence of Saudi 9/11 financiers and the operation of a Saudi cell in the US that provided logistical assistance for the hijackers.

Read Davidson’s Shadow Wars: the Secret Struggle for the Middle East

 

 

Arabia will have to change drastically. The tectonic plates are shifting

The US is sending some kind of message to the Saudis, as Congress votes overwhelmingly by 348-76 (well above the two-thirds majority needed for an override) to reject Obama’s veto of the bill allowing relatives of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia, the first veto override of Obama’s eight-year-long presidency.

The Senate had earlier opposed the veto by 97-1, so the “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act” now becomes law.

As it is money is fast running out for the Kingdom. The 32.5 million bpd production “limit” that OPEC have just agreed will not hold oil prices in the mid-forties for very long.

The strikes of foreign hospital workers in Saudi Arabia, who have been unpaid for seven months, follow the complaints of those in work camps far out in the desert that they are no longer even receiving supplies of food and electricity, let alone salaries.

Now for the first time financial cuts are hitting public sector workers who are Saudi citizens, 70 per cent of whom work for the government. So far the austerity is limited with lower bonuses and overtime payments and a 20 per cent reduction in the salaries of ministers, though those close to political power are unlikely to be in actual need.

Some $120 billion, or half of Saudi government spending, went on salaries, wages and allowances in 2015. But with a Saudi budget deficit of $100 billion, the haemorrhage of cash will neither be sustainable nor possible to rein in. Construction companies like Oger and Binladen that are the backbone of the Saudi economy are not getting paid and are owed billions of US dollars.

Meanwhile, the war in Yemen drags on – a war that Mohamed bin Salman can only stop at his peril, since the power of the Saudi clan both internally and externally depends on a victory.

Read the redacted 28 pages of the 9/11 report

Read the redacted 28 pages of the 9/11 report.

The information in the report centers on two men, Omar Bayouni and Osama Bassman. Bayouni was said to have provided “substantial assistance” to the hijackers in 2000, and had extensive contact with the Saudi government at the same time.

Bayouni was nominally an employee of Ercan, a subsidiary of a company with substantial ties to the Saudi Defense Ministry, and was in frequent contact with a Defense Ministry official responsible for air traffic control. Though he was only confirmed to have ever actually gone to Ercan one time, he received a $465 per month “allowance” from them, which was increased to $3,700 a month after he met with the hijackers.

In addition to the money he got from Ercan, Bayouni’s wife also received $1,200 a month from Princess Haifa Bint Sultan, the wife of the then Saudi Ambassador to the United States. The two kept receiving this money after Bayouni’s contact with the 9/11 hijackers right up until late July or early August of 2001, when they left the country.

Bassman, on the other hand, lived across the street from the hijackers, and says he was introduced to them by way of Bayouni. The CIA says they believe he got a fake passport from the Saudi government, and the FBI says he was a known support of al-Qaeda who spoke of bin Laden “like a god” as far back as 1992. He and his wife also received significant financial support from Princess Haifa, to the tune of $74,000 for “nursing services” that there is no evidence were ever provided.

The FBI also reported millions of dollars in wire transfers from Saudi Arabia, purportedly laundered through the Tamiyah Mosque in Culver City, delivered to al-Barakaat, a Somali company affiliated with Osama bin Laden. The FBI said they believed this was a way for the Saudi government to covertly and indirectly fund al-Qaeda.

The 28 pages also mention that several active-duty Saudi Naval officers had contact with the hijackers in the lead-up to 9/11. Interestingly, however, despite the high-profile “declassification” of this documents, essentially this entire section is redacted in the final release, meaning the details are still secret.

Worried About “Stigmatizing” Cluster Bombs, House Approves More Sales to Saudi Arabia

Alex Emmons writes

The House on Thursday narrowly defeated a measure that would have banned the transfer of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia, but the closeness of the vote was an indication of growing congressional opposition to the conduct of the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led bombing coalition in Yemen.

The vote was mostly along party lines, with 200 Republicans – and only 16 Democrats – heeding the Obama administration’s urging to vote against the measure. The vote was 204-216.

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U.N. Chief Admits He Removed Saudi Arabia From Child-Killer List Due to Extortion

Alex Emmons and Zaid Jilani write

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon publicly acknowledged Thursday that he removed the Saudi-led coalition currently bombing Yemen from a blacklist of child killers — 72 hours after it was published — due to a financial threat to defund United Nations programs.

The secretary-general didn’t name the source of the threat, but news reports have indicated it came directly from the Saudi government.

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