Category Archives: The Middle East

The collapse of the Hariri “mansion”

Madawi al-Rasheed writes about the uneasy post-civil war truce between the ‘mansions’ of the various sectarian leaders in Lebanon, in an allusion to the familial structures of medieval Italian city states, and the explosive potential of the mysterious departure to Saudi Arabia and subsequent resignation from the post of Lebanese Prime Minister of the Sunni leader, Saad el-Hariri.

“Today the famous central “Solidaire” area is a dying hub of finance and entertainment beyond the means of most Lebanese. The Solidaire Park is a legacy of the vision of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri (Saad’s father) who represented the Sunnis in Lebanon, as a dual national of both Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, while at the same time nurturing his Saudi Arabian interests. Under post-civil war reconstruction efforts, he emerged as a financial tycoon who, in the neoliberal vein, wiped out small traders and businessmen in favour of global capitalism.

With his assassination in 2005, his son Saad became the face of Sunni power in Lebanon, albeit that this power declined in the face of the rise of Hezbollah. Money earned in Saudi Arabia was translated into philanthropy in Lebanon. Patron-client relations became the core of the Sunni za’amat, leadership, like other sectarian leadership.

Saudi Arabia seems to have lost its historical importance in Lebanon as Iran consolidated its presence there. So the last card Saudi Arabia can play to snub Iran was to summon Saad Hariri, its man in Beirut, to Riyadh where he surprisingly and unexpectedly read his resignation letter on the same night that Mohammed bin Salman started his anti-corruption purge.” Read full article here.

The third act of the Iraqi Saga: Iraq coming together under Abadi

The final act of the Iraqi gambit launched  by G. W. Bush/A. Blair gambit to “reshape the Middle-East” is underway, and may have a surprising outcome. After the 2003 US invasion and subsequent withdrawal, the US proceeded to gradually reinstate itself in Northern Iraq (and Syria) through it alliance with the Kurds, in what is ostensibly a campaign against DAESH/ISIS, the spread of which, however, there is now ample documentation to prove, the US had earlier helped to promote as part of a strategy to destabilise and remove the Assad régime in Damascus, and sever the bridge between Iran and Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon.

The US had also helped the Iraqi army reorganise after its defeat in Mosul 2014, given that Daesh/ISIS was threatening the whole of Iraq at the time, and the Iraqi army would be necessary boots on the ground for a difficult campaign against a widely spread opponent. Ultimately, it was the reorganised Iraqi army, with a few US advisers, but nevertheless under Haidar el-Abadi’s leadership, that cut its teeth, and lost much blood, in retaking Mosul. Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi was, until now, veering towards an alliance with the US against the rigidly pro-Iranian sections (e.g. Nouri al-Maliki) of the Iraqi political scene.

All this was before KRG referendum on independence and Trump’s speech decertifying the  Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action  (JCPOA) P5+1+EU Iran Nuclear Deal, and his thinly veiled threats against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Together these spelled a potential reigniting of US ambitions to sever the bridge now between Iran and Syria (Assad having survived) with a Kurdish entity under its aegis. Furthermore, with a Kurdish population in Iran, a KRG-US alliance could potentially provide the US with direct and effective lever to undermine the Iranian régime. It was hardly likely that Iran, with its deep involvement in Iraq, and its need to keep the direct link with Syria would stand idly by and allow that situation to be realised.

Abadi’s reliance on the US to bolster his own position will now melt away, as he will build on his reputation as the conqueror of Mosul. This requires his continued campaigning to keep control over the Iraqi army forces, which have now become the foundation of his rule. The Iraqi PMM militia (el-Hashd el-Shaabi) represents a potential competitor, supported directly by Iran’s IRGC, that he needs to keep on a tight leash in all future conflict. This he can only do by keeping it marginalised as a force secondary to his own.  Trump’s speech will have pushed the IRGC to increase its investment in the PMM hugely to ensure the KRG/Peshmerga’s defeat (besides the effect it is having in raising the IRGC’s stock within Iran) . The US will continue to supply Abadi, irrespective of what he does, because he is their only potentially ally in Baghdad, while Abadi himself will focus on his race against these various mounting pressures.

The KRG’s independence referendum presented a opportunity that answered Abadi’s political needs. The US can now only sit and watch as tensions mount between two of its allies. Trump’s speech made this outcome inevitable. Abadi is on the road to turning himself into a indispensable political force in Iraq as he commits to marginalising the KRG by retaking the Kirkuk oil fields and thus the major source of its revenue. This, it would appear, he has begun to do as the Peshmerga retreat from Kirkuk. The revenue itself is of little import to a government in Baghdad that produces ten times as much oil in its southern provinces. The whole point is to render the KRG’s independence gambit cashless.

Given that the Peshmerga forces that abandoned their positions in Kirkuk belong to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) faction, it would appear that a deal has been struck between Baghdad and the PUK to unseat Barzani and Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) in Irbil. Bafel Talabani, the son of PUK leader, the late Jalal Talabani, had opposed the referendum and had warned the Kurds were heading for disaster. Two large oil fields a bit further west of Kirkuk, Bai Hassan and Avana Dome, are as of writing, still under Kurdish management although the Peshmerga have now left. Temporary shutdown of oil production at the two field appears to have been reversed as the Iraqi government threatened to remove the management.

Kirkuk has been a bone of contention between Baghdad and the KDP Irbil since the very beginning of the functioning of the new Iraqi constitution. The Kurds had benefitted from US patronage ever since Bill Clinton’s no-fly zone. When the new constitution was written, the KRG was given special autonomy, but without Kirkuk which is only one-third Kurdish in demographic terms. However, it was KDP policy to change that situation by bussing Kurdish populations into Kirkuk, changing, in a phase made famous by the Israelis, “facts on the ground”. This led to bad relations with the Federal Government in Baghdad, whose leaders eventually stopped paying the KRG bureaucracy’s salaries. The referendum was only to go ahead because of the personal intervention of Kirkuk’s hawkish Kurdish governor, Najmeddin Karim. Now he has been stripped of all his powers.

What is helping Abadi to reach his goal is the fact that the US has managed to so undermine its relationship with Turkey, with its Kurdish alliances, that the Turks are now opening new direct border connections with Iraq that bypass its erstwhile KRG. This has led to the complete regional isolation of the KRG, given that Iran is also now effectively closing its own border points with the Kurdish enclave at Haji Omaran, Parwezkhan and Bashmaq. Thus under total siege, KRG’s president Masoud Barzani’s position is unenviable. Time and history is on Abadi’s side, and potentially a military triumph in Kirkuk will mean the survival of Iraq as a nation and its astonishing retreat from the brink of partition.

This will also give hope to Sunnis in Iraq, as a post-campaign consolidation of Abadi’s power vis-à-vis Iranian elements in Iraq, will require that he brings Sunnis under his political tent. This outcome would need to involve a rebalancing of the post-war sectarian régime in Baghdad with its lack of governing capability, but is likely to occur as a result of the new tripartite interaction between Turkey, Iran and Iraq at multiple economic, political and security levels and the need to satisfy the broad range of interests all this entails.

What is now abundantly clear is that the G. W. Bush/A. Blair gambit to “reshape the Middle-East” has failed, and since the beginning of the Astana process, regional powers are consolidating their hold on the region’s security, and sidelining the US. It is remarkable that, unlike Syria, which is now merely a de juro entity, Iraq looks like it will regain its sovereignty. The defeat of the KDP, will bring the KRG back as a player within the Baghdad political scene, while the clear need to include Sunnis in the process will likely be answered by Abadi, for his own political reasons, quite besides it being part of a regional settlement. It all may collapse again, but this is unlikely.

Muqtada al-Sadr’s various attacks on the Federal government over the past two years, has made it clear that there is a strong current in Shia politics in favour of an Iraqi nationalist stance, independent of Iran which Abadi can rely on, and which he can now invest in virtue of his new stature since in success in Mosul, and in Kirkuk (although this last success has something also to do with negotiations between the PUK/Talabani clan and the IRGC’s Qasim Suleimani that took place in Suleimaniya during the KRG’s referendum). A democratic federated Iraq may slowly be emerging, and the era of ethno-nationalisms fading.

 

 

Lesson number six: do not try to reconcile with those who hate you, because you will lose either way

David Hearst writes: Corbyn has much in common with the forces that led the Arab Spring: both represent the poor and the working classes; both emerged from the fringes of the political spectrum; both surprised the establishment; both had the overwhelming majority of the media against them; and both were the frequent targets of attempted coups.

The military coup in Egypt succeeded, but the same counter revolutionary forces funded by the Gulf dictatorships that unseated Morsi also tried a coup in Tunisia, Turkey and latterly in Qatar. The right wing of the Labour Party and the most senior members of the parliamentary party openly and repeatedly tried to unseat their party leader.

Corbyn was trailing 20 points in the polls behind the Conservatives, having just lost massively in local elections. His fortunes changed once his manifesto appeared. Why? Because for the first time in a generation, it offered voters a genuine alternative.There is another lesson here for the forces of the Arab Spring: public opinion is volatile and no war is ever won or lost in a battle. The counter-revolutionary forces of absolute monarchs and military dictators have squandered billions of dollars selling the notion that the Arab Spring is dead and that everyone who took part in it should pack up and go home. Corbyn proves there is life after death.

Lesson number one: never give up. Lesson number two: know your constituency. Lesson number three: never allow anyone to get between you and it. Lesson number four: create your own media. Lesson number five: construct a programme that helps the working class. Lesson number six: do not try to reconcile with those who hate you, because you will lose either way.

Whatever the future holds for him, Corbyn has changed the landscape of British politics – which is more than can be said for a host of Labour leaders before him. Arab states do not need yet another traditional leader. They need a transformation. That can only be done from the inside, from the youth upwards. No outside power is going to help them. Read full article

A Tale of Two Independence Referenda

Catalonia and the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) are instances of the central government behaving badly in Spain’s case and the regional entity behaving badly in the other. The fallout in the case of Spain will be ongoing instability, which will have a Europe-wide impact, and in the case of the KRG, contrary to all prognostications, will have a stabilising effect on the Middle East, as Barzani is forced to climb down from the tree he is sitting on.

Spain felt some of the worst effects of the financial crash in Europe and really hasn’t recovered since, except as far as the country’s manipulated national accounts are concerned. Youth unemployment officially at 39%, unofficially much higher, is foreshadowing a lost generation. The effects of all this on Catalan national feeling in the face of an unpopular government of austerity that keeps coming back into power in Madrid, cast the die.

Moreover, this north-eastern region of Spain was granted autonomy under the 1978 constitution. However, a fraught relationship between the political classes in Madrid and Barcelona began in 2010 when extra powers granted to Catalonia in 2006 were unilaterally rescinded by Spain’s Constitutional Court. An unofficial vote on independence in November 2014 showed 80% support for secession, after which the Catalan Regional Government (CRG) decided to launch the current referendum (which seems to have achieved a 90% yes vote of 2.2m people, on a 42% turnout).

Unlike the KRG, the CRG has the administrative wherewithal to make success of independence, and the democratic structures to make independence about all the residents of the region. The reaction of the central government in Madrid will cost it dear in terms of credibility. Without Catalonia, Spain as an entity may shrink, but as a geographical entity, Catalonia isn’t going anywhere, and there is no reason for either economy to suffer anymore than they have already. In fact, shaking moribund Spanish political structures is what is needed for the future.

International opinion has swung the way of Catalonia even as Madrid pummels its people into submission. Nevertheless, the EU has determined their referendum to be illegal, which now presumably makes a mockery of its decision to allow Kosovo to separate from Serbia and continue life as a failed state. The Spanish King read out the script handed to him by the Madrid government, which will reinforce Catalan resistance. The strange thing is that although a part of the Catalan population is opposed to leaving Spain, it is still wholly united with the nationalists when it comes to maximum devolution. Perhaps that is message that needs to be understood.

Barzani’s KRG on the other hand, where the independence referendum passed with over 90% of the vote, is an entity without democratic structures. It is run by the Barzani clan (politically embodied in the Kurdish Democratic Party -KDP) that decided on the referendum precisely because of the pressure it was under from rival groups (the Talabani clan represented by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Gorran movement). None of these parties meet in a parliamentary setting: their role is purely and simply to carve out and rule different pieces of Northern Iraq.

Without the support of Turkey, the KRG wouldn’t have survived its problems with a dysfunctional Iraqi government in Baghdad over the last few years. It doesn’t have the wherewithal to make independence a reality, essentially launching both the Kurdish and non-Kurdish populations of the area into the unknown. Arab and Turkmen residents in the area will fear for their lives, while even Kurds are unlikely to benefit from a system that is socially just. But Barzani is under fire now from his own followers for a gross political miscalculation, and his future is in doubt.

Ironically, however, Barzani’s rash move seems to have strengthened the hand of the Astana trio (Russia-Turkey-Iran). This would not have been predicted by Barzani’s CIA and Mossad advisers. After Putin’s visit to Ankara, Russia is likely to trade its support of Turkey against the KRG referendum in exchange for Turkey’s support for the Russian solution in Syria. This will effectively reinforce the structures of cooperation that have been forged regionally at Astana over the Syria question, and extend them into the Iraqi political quagmire, to provide a framework within which the Iraqi government can be encouraged to reform without facing new potentially existential questions.

Part of what will be driving these developments is the perception by all parties that behind Barzani’s asinine decision lies a US-Israeli axis that will seek co-opt Saudi Arabia and the UAE into exploiting the Kurdistan referendum to start another round of proxy wars in the area. There is no doubt that military manoeuvres on KRG borders by Iranian and Turkish forces together with the Iraqi army reflect an urgent sense of preparing for the worst.

The neocon philosophy dominating the thinking of Barzani’s foreign advisers is typically always linear and always fails to understand the principle of reaction. Not only can Iran and Turkey see them coming, but these regional players now have the power jointly to do something about it, especially if Russia sees it is in its interest to come off the fence.

Iran in particular sees any Kurdistani project as a potential cordon sanitaire that will have the effect of cutting it off from Lebanon, to try to achieve the results that the botched war against Assad never could. So, contained in Hassan Nasrallah’s warnings to Israel and the US over coming conflicts is a promise to take the war to the occupied territories in that  event.

 

The US is “disappointed” (but clearly not surprised) that Barzani went for the referendum

The state Department is by far the largest most complex part of American bureaucracy. But even so, the size of the new US “consulate” in Irbil, the capital of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), is astonishing. It will cost $600 million, and  be built on 200,000 square meters on the Irbil-Shaqlawa Road. This structure will be second in size only to the actual US Embassy in Baghdad which cost $750 million, and was built on 420,000 square-meters, an area the size of the Vatican.

There are currently 30 consulates, six honorary consulates, and six foreign trade offices in Irbil. The latest to open in Kurdistan was the Japanese consulate on Jan. 11. None anywhere near the size of the US project. Iran’s view was expressed by IRGC Brigadier General Mohammad Hossein Rajabi when he said that ” the opening more than 30 consulates is not normal”. The upgrading of the size of the US presence in Irbil, followed by the confidence with which KRG President Masoud Barzani went ahead with the referendum, has in diplomatic speak “absolutely nothing to do with US plans to control the dominance of Iran in Iraq” (the unintended consequence of the 2003 war).

Turkey is an ally of the KRG but has taken a harsh stance on the referendum together with Iran and the Iraqi government. Nevertheless, Masoud’s nephew, and KRG Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani, is dismissive of the idea that Turkey’s stance is anymore than a negotiating position on their relationship. This view appears to be be in line with the typical pragmatism of Erdogan’s government, reflected in the equally relaxed attitude of his Economy Minister, Nihat Zeybekci.  However, as the KRG begin intense negotiations to regain Turkey’s confidence, they may be underestimating both their clout, and the events of the referendum on the geopolitical situation.

Keeping the Harbur border crossing open isn’t what it seems. Firstly, Turkey’s main practical problem currently is how to trade directly with Baghdad, both given the change of control at the Iraq border, and given that trade with the Iraqi government is worth three times more than Turkish trade with the KRG.  Secondly, unintended consequences being a big political feature of our new 21st century, it looks inevitable that Turkey will continue to keep its military on full alert and present in large numbers on the Iraqi/KRG border.

Barzani’s gamble to save his own political future will have lit 100 fires, and as yet the KRG is still just a large tribal organisation run by a traditional blood clan. At the moment it looks like Turkey together with Iran will work to freeze Barzani’s ambitions. Russia’s position will be to trade its backing for the Turkish-Iranian position in exchange for Turkish backing for the status quo in Syria. This has now been clearly signalled since Putin’s visit to Ankara.

 

 

G-4 mulling Qatar’s negative response to their ultimata

 

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.

Turkey launches Operation Euphrates Sword: keeping Russia and the US apart

Turkish forces have built up around the Turkish-Syrian border town of Kilis in the past couple of weeks, from where Operation Euphrates Sword is currently being launched by the Turkish armed forces without any official press release. The low key operation has been billed as a mere continuation of Operation Euphrates Shield. The small Russian contingent in Afrin has withdrawn in anticipation of the Turkish advance.

The area between Al-Bab, which is held by the Free Syrian army and Turkish support troops, and Afrin – including Sheikh Isa, Tal Rifaat and Menagh, where there is an old Syrian airbase – will be the initial target of the Turkish advance. The second objective will be the area between Afrin and Idlib, which is the headquarters of Al-Nusra Front.

The Astana talks, according to the spokesman for the Turkish presidency, İbrahim Kalın, are in the process of setting up de-confliction zones in Syria. He announced that the parties to the talks (Russia, Turkey, Iran) ‘… are working on a mechanism that will probably involve Turkey and the Russians in Idlib, Russians and Iranians around Damascus and Jordanians and Americans in the Daraa area in the south.’ This particular involvement of the Americans is a proposal of the Russians and the Turks, which the US has yet to respond to (as of 07-07-2017 Trump and Putin agreed this at the G20 summit).

However, on another front, and since the consolidation of the alliance between the US and the YPG militias of the Kurdish Syrian PYD movement, Turkey is convinced that a Syrian-Kurdish state on its borders will be in the offing after the Raqqa operation is over. The massive arms supplies by the US to the YPG are being described by Gen. James Mattis as temporary, and he is described as probably being sincere on his own account. On the other hand, it is pretty clear that the American foreign policy establishment has for a long time been, and will continue to be, gunning for régime change in Turkey.

A consensus has formed in Turkey that the CIA was involved in the July 15 coup in Ankara last year with the help of the Pennsylvania-based preacher, Fethulla Gülen. The American foreign policy establishment is using its soft power to propel the narrative that Turkey is breaching human rights and sullying its democratic record in its treatment of journalists, academics, soldiers and bureaucrats suspected of links with Gülen. Turkish authorities, however, refuse to back down on their controversial methods, however, which cast a net of suspicion over a wider number of people than can stand the test of the law.

The emergency measures are, nevertheless, intended to reduce the chances of a follow-up coup, in the light of obfuscation on the part of the Americans in regard to the events of the coup, as well as clear interference on the part of Germany in Turkey’s last referendum process. Were the US and German governments keen specifically on supporting human rights and democracy in Turkey, closer cooperation with Turkey in Syria and over the Gülen affair would be a natural way forward to allay the country’s fears. Clearly, however, the two Western countries are more interested in escalating tensions over Turkey’s security embarrassments, in order to further widen the divisions within Turkey, in the continual hope that the AKP government will at some stage be overwhelmed by events.

Irrespective of whether the PYD has legitimacy among its own Kurds or not, it serves the US narrative to push the agenda of a ‘secular’  movement against the conservative AKP alliance ruling Turkey at the moment. This is especially the case since the PYD is part of the wider Kurdish KCK organisation which is fighting a guerrilla war with Turkey against the state through the PKK. Furthermore, there is no lack of funding. US ally UAE is backing the PKK against Turkey just as it funded the attempted July 15 coup.

It is clear from the recent downing of a Syrian army jet and the aggressive posturing by the White House against the Assad régime that the US is in the process of carving out an enclave in northeastern Syria from which it will seek to pursue its plans against both Turkey and Iran. These recent moves have pushed Russia to advance the de-confliction plans at Astana more quickly than expected and to allow Turkey’s plans to expand its zone of control in northern Syria to include Afrin, and Managh airbase, where some of the YPG militias are based. Turkish timing in based on the current YPG focus on the fight in Raqqa.

The Turks see this new operation as necessary to cover their backs in the coming effort to police the rebel held areas around Idlib, while the Russians do not wish to have any sizeable commitment on the ground beyond the strategic capabilities already in place at the Khmeimim airbase, which will provide air cover for the Turks. An agreement between Russia and Turkey in that zone will alleviate Russia’s difficult position by reducing the risk of outright air confrontation with the US. This is definitely in the global interest. Russia’s S-400s can easily clear the air of US fighter jets in the region, but such action would lead to a serious global escalation. Best keep the S-400s as a threat than actually use them (I think Sun Tzu said something like that).

These developments are in the interests of world peace in that they reduce the chances of conflict between Russia and the United States. Apart from the possibility of a joint US-Jordanian participation in a southern deconfliction zone, direct US influence in Syria will be limited to the area east of the Euphrates. More important is the fact that the permanence of Russian bases in the country in the Latakiyya area are no longer dependent merely on Assad’s de juro backing, but on Turkey’s de facto protection. The US is now paying a heavy geopolitical price for its double dealing with the Turks, as James Jeffrey, previous Ambassador to Ankara, predicted would happen.

Hostile takeover underway: UAE’s Mohamed bin Zayed now controls Saudi Arabia’s ruler

‘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.

 

Pakistan and the changes in the Middle East balance of power

 

In the wake of Turkish troop deployment to Qatar, Pakistan also sent troops, to the anger of Saudi Arabia with whom Pakistan has been a traditional ally. Last week in Jeddah, the Saudi King berated Pakistan Prime Minister, Nawas Sharif, over the move, but Sharif wouldn’t back down on a stance he considers to be “neutral”.

Pakistan’s circumstances are changing with a changing Asia. The massive investment China is making in Pakistan as part of the inter-Asian “One belt-one road” project, linking the Chinese north-western communications hub Urumqi with the Indian Ocean port of Gwadar in southern Pakistan, has transformed the Pakistani economic situation and given it greater financial independence.

After the imprisonment of Shakil Afridi, the doctor who guided the CIA to the place of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, where he was killed in 2011 in Abbottabad, relations with the US soured. Obama, after a while, sought to turn things around towards the end of his administration, by endorsing in 2016 a $ 1 billion aid package.Trump, however, is seeking to cancel the greater part of the package.

The move to place troops in Qatar is part of Pakistan’s strategy for better relations with Iran, and its declaration of independence from Saudi tutelage. This in the long term is seen as serving its interests in Afghanistan, where it can usefully cooperate with Iran, and in Asia more generally. The decline of Saudi Arabian influence in Central Asia, which is  accelerating since its blockade of Qatar, will ultimately impact on US influence in a region where, in the past, Saudi has been an important partner.

Grinding towards peace in the Middle East

As I wrote in February the Middle Eastern powers (Russia, Turkey, and Iran) are setting the terms for Middle Eastern peace at Astana, with the US, the effective cause of the calamities over the past thirty years, acting as an observer.

Today’s meetings between Lavrov and Tillerson will provide the formal US agreement over 4 safe zones. This is important because obviously the US have forces on the ground in Syria (N.B. the cautious US statement at the end of video ref. Iran).

Vital to all of this has been Turkey’s containment of the Syrian rebels, who have been deeply troubled (it seems like the US) by the fact that Iran is a co-guarantor. Although this led Mohamed Alloush to leave the negotiating table, he is now back, Turkey having convinced his followers that Iran’s role here is vital for the very reason that it is distrusted by them. It is a learning curve for the rebels.

The four safe zones to be established in Syria will be closed for flights by US-led coalition warplanesREAD MORE: https://on.rt.com/8arn

Posted by RT Play on Friday, 5 May 2017