Archive for the ‘Saudi Arabia and Iran’ category

A secret Middle East alliance

January 16, 2018

A secret Middle East alliance, Washington Times, Herbert London, January 15, 2018

Illustration on an alliance between Irael and Saudi Arabia by Linas Garsys/The Washington Times

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A Swiss newspaper, Basler Zeitung, reported recently that a secret alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia aimed at restraining Iran’s imperial desire for a land mass between Tehran and the Mediterranean was moving into a new phase. While there aren’t formal diplomatic ties between the two countries, military cooperation does exist. In fact, the Saudi government sent a military delegation to Jerusalem several months ago to discuss Iran’s role as a destabilizing force in the region.

Now it appears that officials in Saudi Arabia are considering the purchase of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, as well as the Trophy Active Protection System developed by Rafael and Israel Aerospace. Seen against a backdrop in which Riyadh rejects any official normalization with Israel, this development is quite remarkable. It also bespeaks a new-found respect for Israel and an emerging belief that in any Sunni defense condominium Israel will have a role to play.

It is instructive that neither Saudi Arabia nor Egypt was actively hostile to the address change for the American Embassy in Jerusalem. They voted to repudiate the decision in the U.N. vote on the matter, but that was the end of it. The tide of alliance building is moving in a new and unpredictable direction in the Middle East.

The Saudi stance is ostensibly related to a Palestinian-Israeli deal on a two-state solution, but the reality is that Iran is the real threat that poses the greatest danger to Riyadh. An Israel with its advanced technology has become an ally of necessity, not necessarily an ally of long-term common interests, albeit history has a way of uniting unlikely bedfellows.

A recent missile fired from Yemen to Riyadh awakened the Saudi leadership to their vulnerability. Hence, the interest in the Iron Dome. The missile — identified as Houthi fired — had all the markings and signature of an Iranian weapon. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said this was an “Iranian act of war.” Saudi Arabia has resources, but despite the military training of the crown prince, the Saudis are not yet prepared to go to war against Iran. They will build and train and purchase advanced technology, but they will not revert to war, not yet anyway.

This explains why the Iron Dome is so critical as a strategic defense. It is impossible to know if the Houthis will launch again soon. But there is every indication that will be the case. The Houthis are a mere surrogate for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. They are armed, supported and directed from Iran.

The shakeout in the Middle East will have many turns and missteps. For now, it provides an interesting opportunity for Israel. From a U.N. vote establishing the state in 1948 to the present, Israel has been surrounded by hostile nations. That may change in the years ahead.

Imponderables fill the Middle East air. Will demonstrations against the Iranian government lead to its fall? Will the crown prince’s desire to modernize Saudi Arabia and seize control of military affairs work? Will the Egyptian war in the Sinai against ISIS and al Qaeda forces be successful? Will the United States continue to be an active participant in Middle East affairs? Is Russia prepared to make continued sacrifices to secure Bashar Assad’s position in Syria? These questions and a host of others dot the landscape.

If the Saudi-Israeli alliance yields some form of regional stability, many of the issues described above disappear. That is why the alliance is the harbinger of hope and the insurance policy for the moment.

• Herbert London is president of the London Center for Policy Research.

Iran Looks to Seize Opportunity as Rivals Fall

December 13, 2017

Iran Looks to Seize Opportunity as Rivals Fall, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Yaakov Lappin, December 13, 2017

(Please see also, Congress ignores Trump’s deadline on Iran nuclear deal. — DM)

Today, the Shi’ite axis is on the move. Iran is the mother ship, and its most prominent agent is Hizballah, which has more firepower at its disposal than most NATO members. The axis has tens of thousands of Shi’ite militia members active across Iraq and Syria. And it is preparing to expand.

The threat to international security posed by Iran far outweighs the one ever posed by ISIS.

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As it approaches victory in Syria with the help of Russian air power, Iran and its terrorist axis members are turning their attention to Israel, and trying to ignite fresh Palestinian violence.

Israel’s Channel 10 News reported on Monday evening that Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force foreign operations unit, called the leaders Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza, urging them to escalate attacks on Israel.

“There is huge Iranian pressure on the Palestinian factions to begin a maneuver,” the Channel 10 report said. “And [Hizballah chief Hassan] Nasrallah is calling for a third intifada.”

It is a clear sign that, as the ISIS caliphate is erased from the map, another radical Islamist force is gaining strength, this one many times more powerful. Radical Shi’ite forces backed by Iran are moving into the vacuum left behind by ISIS.

With confidence growing due to battlefield victories in Syria and Iraq, Iran and its radical proxies are seeking to take over the Palestinian arena as well, increasing terrorism against Israel.

In a speech delivered from Hizballah’s south Beirut stronghold of Dahiya on Monday, Hassan Nasrallah said his organization – which has evolved into a hybrid guerilla-terrorist army – and its allies would renew their focus on the Palestinians, following “victories elsewhere in the region,” Reuters reported.

Thousands of followers chanted “death to Israel,” as Nasrallah promised assistance to armed Palestinian factions and called on them to keep up their conflict with Israel.

These developments are the latest signs of a regional shift, which has left the Iranian axis as the dominant radical Islamist force in the region.

Only a few years ago, the Middle East was the battleground involving four rival blocs:

1. The Iranian-Shi’ite axis

2. The Salafi-jihadist ISIS camp

3. The Muslim Brotherhood bloc, and

4. The pragmatic Sunni coalition.

Today, only the pragmatic Sunnis and the Iranian-Shi’ite axis remain as major regional forces.

ISIS is reverting back to a decentralized terror network, while the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is decimated.

Saudi Arabia leads the moderate Sunni coalition of states, which are allies of the United States. This bloc views Israel as an ally too, out of a recognition that Iran is its real enemy, not the Jewish State.

Today, the Shi’ite axis is on the move. Iran is the mother ship, and its most prominent agent is Hizballah, which has more firepower at its disposal than most NATO members. The axis has tens of thousands of Shi’ite militia members active across Iraq and Syria. And it is preparing to expand.

In recent days, a powerful Iranian-backed Iraqi militia member visited southern Lebanon, where Hizballah provided him with a tour of the Israeli border. The visit signals Iran’s intention to direct its regional assets against Israel.

Missiles, a nuclear program, and a growing terrorist influence

The core of the Shi’ite axis is the Islamic Republic of Iran itself, whose regime is guided by Shi’ite Islamist doctrine.

“The Islamic regime in Iran wants to fully implement the Islamic Shari’a. It will be the instrument that triumphs over the enemies of Islam,” Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamanei said last month.

Iran’s military industries are flush with cash, and they are mass producing powerful weapons. These arms don’t just stay in Iran – many are exported to Iran’s dangerous clients across the Middle East. . These are the forces moving into the vacuum left by Islamic State’s demise.

“I welcome the recent and great victories of the Islamic Revolution front against the front of lies and the destruction of the accursed regime of ISIS,” IRGC commander Mohammed Al Jafari said recently.

Iran wants to establish a continuous land corridor linking it to Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Such a corridor would enable Iran to move fighters and weapons from its border all the way to the Mediterranean coast. It would run parallel to the air corridor used by Iran to traffic weapons and fighters from Iran to Syria and Lebanon.

The Shi’ite axis monopolizes political and military power in Lebanon, via Hizballah, and uses its proxy forces to heavily influence Syria and Iraq.

In addition, it wields heavy influence in Yemen, where the IRGC supports the Ansar Allah radical Houthi group, which recently said it fired a cruise missile at a nuclear reactor in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. The repeated use of surface-to-surface firepower by the Houthis against civilian targets in Saudi Arabia mimics tactics used by Hamas and Hizballah against Israel.

Terrorism under an Iranian nuclear umbrella?

The idea that the threat posed by the Iranian axis can be limited to the Middle East was recently disproven by Iran itself.

After European criticism of Iran’s ballistic missile program, officials threatened to increase Tehran’s ballistic missile ranges in order to reach Europe.

Israel, for its part, has vowed to stop the Iranian axis from taking over next-door Syria. A recent surge, according to media reports, of Israeli strikes on Iranian axis targets in Syria would seem to be evidence of Israel’s determination to challenge Iranian plans. Earlier this month, the strikes reportedly targeted an Iranian military base under construction south of Damascus, and the CERS weapons development and production site on the outskirts of the Syrian capital.

Yet the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, dormant for now, remains the elephant in the room.

A powerful Shi’ite axis operating under an Iranian nuclear umbrella would pose a new level of threat to global security. Iranian-run terrorist networks and armed forces could operate with impunity if the Iranians reactivate their nuclear sites in the future, which they intend to do.

The threat to international security posed by Iran far outweighs the one ever posed by ISIS.

Jerusalem: Trump and Congress Challenge the Palestinians to Grow Up

December 6, 2017

Jerusalem: Trump and Congress Challenge the Palestinians to Grow Up, PJ MediaRoger L Simon, December 5, 2017

(There have been numerous conflicting guesses about what President Trump will say this afternoon. We will have to wait to find out. — DM)

Mahmoud Abbas visit to Brussels, Belgium – 27 Mar 2017Mahmoud Abbas visit to Brussels, Belgium – 27 Mar 2017

The irony is that anyone who actually cares about the Palestinians as people should welcome what America is doing now.  It is perhaps the last best chance for the Palestinians to grow up, break free of their endless pattern of self destruction, and give up looking for excuses for another pointless intifada.  Unfortunately, too many of those players enjoy the status quo, profit from it, or resist change in general, like the self-righteous European leadership.

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The president’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to be announced Wednesday is already sending the usual suspects into a tizzy.  The famous Arab Street, we are told, will be erupting.  The despicable fascist that runs Turkey has warned of imminent disaster.  And the president of France is doing what the French usually do vis-a-vis the Jews — well, not quite that bad.

But the real question is how the Palestinians themselves will react once the dust has settled. Will they continue decades of self-destructive violent protests that have led many of us to believe they never had an interest in a two-state solution in the first place, that it was all posturing for handouts? Or will they grow up and realize the time has come to negotiate to a conclusion and accept the responsibility of their own state and the adult compromises that would naturally entail?

By finally moving U.S. policy at least two degrees off years of unimaginative stagnation, Trump has forced the Palestinians to face some measure of reality.  But he is not alone. They are also being challenged forcefully by Congress.  From the Algemeiner:

The Taylor Force Act passed the US House of Representatives by unanimous consent on Tuesday, confronting the Palestinian Authority with the prospect of a massive cut in US aid for as long as it maintains its policy of paying monthly salaries and other benefits to the families of slain or convicted Palestinian terrorists.

Named in memory of Taylor Force – the former American army officer stabbed to death during a knifing spree by a Palestinian assailant in Tel Aviv in March 2016 – the legislation prevents the transfer of funds “that directly benefit the Palestinian Authority” for a six-year period beginning in 2018 unless the PA verifiably ends its so-called “martyr payments” policy. The Taylor Force Act also requires the PA to repeal any laws enabling or favoring the payments policy, as well investigate terrorist acts for the purpose of “bringing the perpetrators to justice.”

Though the embassy move may be more superficially dramatic in a part of the world rarely governed by logic, the congressional action might just be more persuasive to a Palestinian leadership that has been living off global largesse since the Oslo Accords of 1993.  There’s nothing like taking the money out of the hands of kleptocrats. (The U.S. is the PA’s biggest donor to the tune of approximately $700 million per annum, directly or via the UN. The PA, in its turn, paid out $355 million to terrorist — or, as they say, “martyr” — families in 2017.)  At the very least, two branches of the American government seem to be working together for once.

Of course, their attempt  may produce nothing.  Those Hamas and PA billionaires may have enough stashed away to continue their sadistic games, seducing their own impoverished people with dreams of martyrdom over nothing, but for once the dial has been moved.

It will be interesting to see what happens.  The global chess game has changed.  Saudi Arabia, as we all know, is terrified of the Iranians and has found itself a covert ally of Israel against the mullahs.  The Palestinians are aware of that and not happy about it.  They are in a box.  Trump and Congress have chosen an auspicious time to make a move.  Various players will undoubtedly yell and scream in public and say something totally different in private.  That is the way of the Middle East (and America, unfortunately, these days).

The irony is that anyone who actually cares about the Palestinians as people should welcome what America is doing now.  It is perhaps the last best chance for the Palestinians to grow up, break free of their endless pattern of self destruction, and give up looking for excuses for another pointless intifada.  Unfortunately, too many of those players enjoy the status quo, profit from it, or resist change in general, like the self-righteous European leadership.

The Axis of Moderation vs. the Axis of Resistance in the Middle East

December 1, 2017

The Axis of Moderation vs. the Axis of Resistance in the Middle East, Gatestone InstituteNajat AlSaied, December 1, 2017

(Please see also, Saudis Fed Up: “Palestinians Milking Us for Decades.” — DM)

“We are just returning to the Islam we are used to… The moderate Islam”. — Saudi Crown Prince, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh on October 26, 2017.

Saudi Arabia’s complaints against Iran’s interference and spreading extremism cannot sound credible if extremism is being practiced inside Saudi Arabia.

There urgently needs to be a unified American position to confront the Axis of Resistance. Iran continues to be the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, empowering these armed militias and extremist groups — the basis of terrorism both in the region and across the world. It makes death threats, cooperates with a nuclearized North Korea, and all the while races toward nuclear weapons capability itself.

The dispute between the Arab states, often known as the Axis of Moderation, and the officially designated terrorist regime in Iran often known as the Axis of Resistance, is no longer just a political disagreement but a threat to the national security of Arab countries.

While the Arab states seem pro-statehood and work with other states, Iran and the Axis of resistance seems not to. Even though Iran calls itself Republic, it has a militia mentality and rarely deals with states. In general, rather than dealing with governments, it instead establishes militias, as it has in Lebanon and Yemen. Even in Iraq, where the government is considered its ally, Iran has established more than 15 militias. Qatar, by supporting Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as Syria under the Assad regime, seem to have the same mentality as Iran. If you trace the Axis of Resistance, all of them appear to have adopted the concept of supporting militias and extremist groups under the slogan of “resistance.”

The Iranian regime’s long history has now culminated in Saudi Arabia being targeted by Iranian missiles located in Yemen. They are coordinated in Lebanon by the Hezbollah militia, who train the Houthis in Yemen. It is important to understand that these violations and proxy wars carried out by the Iranian regime not only threaten the Arab Gulf states but also pose a threat to a regional and international security.

The Axis of Resistance is led by Iran, and includes Syria, Qatar, Hezbollah, Hamas, Arab Shiites loyal to Wilayat al-Faqih (“The Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist”) in Iran and Arab nationalists. Its slogans consist of fighting imperialism, empowering the (supposedly) vulnerable — mainly Muslim Shiites — and furthering “Arab nationalism,” which usually manifests itself in support for Palestinians against Israelis.

The expansionist objectives of the Axis of Resistance — in its drive to build a “Shiite Crescent” from Iran to the Mediterranean, are clear, compared to the objectives of the Axis of Moderation, which have not announced any specific aims, except to denounce Iran’s interference in the Arab countries’ affairs.

The Axis of Moderation comprises Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Arab Gulf countries, except for Qatar. The great mistake that the Axis of Moderation has made in confronting the Iranian regime — to try to curb its export of the its “Revolution” — has been to fall into the trap of propagating sectarianism. While Iran portrayed itself as the defender of all the Shiites in the world, Saudi Arabia, as a result, acted as the defender of all the Sunnis in the Muslim world — accordingly, sectarianism was propagated. This polarization, however, has only furthered the interests of the Iranian regime, whose chief objective seems to be to continue igniting this division in an apparent policy of divide and conquer. Instead of the members of the Axis of Moderation confronting Iran politically or militarily, they challenged it on religious and sectarian grounds, such as publishing countless books against Shiites that describe them as the enemies of Islam and labelling all Shiites as subordinate to Iran, as if all Shiites were Iran’s puppets, which not all of them are.

U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump join King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, and the President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in the inaugural opening of the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology, May 21, 2017. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

This divisiveness has brought extremism and terrorism to the region, and has only harmed everyone.

Now the Axis of Moderation has become shrewder in its confrontation with the Iran and has employed a greater number of experts in Iranian affairs. The Axis of Moderation, especially Saudi Arabia, has realized that it cannot face down the threat of Iran without radical internal reforms. Saudi Arabia’s complaints against Iran’s interference and spreading extremism cannot sound credible if extremism is being practiced inside Saudi Arabia. These internal reforms, and liberalizing the society, are important internally: they will boost the economy by creating an attractive investment environment, especially for foreign investors. As importantly, reforms will stop any adversary from saying that Saudi Arabia is a state supporter of terrorism or a land that exports terrorists.

The most obvious changes are Saudi Arabia’s internal reforms that cover “social openness” in the form of concerts and festivals, coordinated by an entertainment body, and the country’s attempts to undermine clerical control, both by arresting extremists and establishing a committee at the Islamic University in Medina to codify the interpretation of Quranic verses that call for extremism, especially against other religions.

Saudi Arabia has also clamped down on corruption by arresting suspected businessmen, princes and former ministers. The kingdom has also raised the status of women by giving them more of their human rights, such as the recent lifting of the ban on women driving. In another important change, Saudi Arabia will also allow women to be clerics to confront all the patriarchal interpretations of verses in Quran related to women. Eventually, that could mean that lifting the ban requiring male guardians for women might also coming soon. The Saudi crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has also said that he will allow women to take sports classes in school, attend sporting event for women and to permit music. His wish, he has said, is to “restore Islam.”

The most important matter of all was pointed out by the Saudi Crown Prince, at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh on October 26, 2017: “We are just returning to the Islam we are used to… The moderate Islam.” He also said, “We will not continue to be in the post-1979 era.”

This is essentially a confession that the approach that Saudi Arabia followed after 1979 to try to oppose the Khomeini Revolution was not helpful, and that now it is time for real reform to face both internal and external challenges.

What Saudi Arabia is doing will eventually contribute towards clarifying the aims of the Axis of Moderation, which will be to support countries whose primary objectives are development, modernity and stability. The most important goal is to stamp out terrorism by supporting a “moderate” Islam or, more specifically, supporting the approach that Saudi Arabia took before 1979. This approach was echoed by the UAE ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al Otaiba, who said that the moderate countries boycotting Qatar are heading towards secularism — in contrast to Qatar’s support for Islamist militias such as Hezbollah, and radical groups in the Axis of Resistance, such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

What has complicated the situation has been an exploitation of the conflict in the United States between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party over how to fight terrorism by countries in the Axis of Resistance such as Qatar.

The double face of Qatar is revealed in many ways. Al Jazeera in English, for instance — as mentioned the article, “Al Jazeera: Non-Arabs Should Not Be Fooled” — is totally different from Al Jazeera in Arabic.

Ahmed Mansour, for example, one of Al Jazeera’s anchors, tweeted about Hurricane “Irma” in Florida by citing a Koranic verse to say that what is happening in America is God’s curse: “Twenty million Americans fled out of fear from Hurricane Irma,” he wrote; then he cited a verse from Quran saying,

“And He shows you His signs. So which of the signs of Allah do you deny?” (40:81, Sahih International)

After his tweet in Arabic was read by American journalists, he apologized in a very sweet tweet in English.

Qatar also pretends to the US that it is supportive of its values, but in fact has close ties with all the enemies of the US. Sultan Saad Al-Muraikhi, Qatar’s permanent envoy to the Arab League, for example, has called Iran, which the US has officially designated as a terrorist state, an “honorable state”. Qatar also disagrees with designating Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations and calls them, instead, “resistance movements” against Israel.

Qatar has, moreover, used that dispute for its own ends by way of an alliance with the Democratic Party’s allies and supporters.

Many Qatari writers and Qatar’s supporters, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, have written articles against the Trump administration, as opposed to the previous administration which clearly had a soft spot for the Muslim Brotherhood. From the beginning, the administration of US President Barack Obama overruled Egypt’s President, Hosni Mubarak, by insisting that the Muslim Brotherhood attend Obamas speech in Cairo, thereby setting the stage for the fall of Mubarak; and also strongly supported the subsequent regime then Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi (who was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood). Obama also openly counted the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, among his “best friends.”

These opinion-makers in the US, evidently nostalgic for the previous administration, and known, especially during the Iran Deal, as not exactly alignedwith the Axis of Moderation, seem to have been exploiting the rift between the Democrats and Republicans, apparently hoping for the impeachment of Donald Trump. As a Saudi academic and researcher, Ahmad Al-faraj, wrote in his article, “Qatar: The dream of isolating Trump!,” they possibly think that a Democrat President, like Obama, would again support them.

While Qatar makes itself out to be tolerant and a supporter of democratic Americans and Westerners, anyone who watches Al Jazeera in Arabic will find nothing other than pure hatred of Western values and enormous support for armed militias such as Hezbollah and terrorist groups such as Hamas.

There urgently needs, therefore, to be a unified American position to confront the Axis of Resistance. Iran continues to be the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, empowering these armed militias and extremist groups — the basis of terrorism both in the region and across the world. It makes death threatscooperates with a nuclearized North Korea, and all the while races toward nuclear weapons capability itself. The United States would also do well to advocate a unified European position, and draw support from across the political spectrum. Unfortunately, European governments, for their own economic interests, have turned a blind eye to all the terrorism, extremism and sectarianism that Iran is fomenting. European countries should be warned that if they continue to put these economic interests ahead of global security, not only will the decision undermine the already-fragile national security of their own countries but also those of the region.

It is in the interest of the United States and world peace to support the pillars of an Axis of Moderation that would:

  • Eliminate political Islam because it exploits religion for radical political goals in both the Sunni and Shiite sects. The Shiite version of political Islam failed in Iraq and the Sunni version of the Muslim Brotherhood failed in Egypt and Tunisia. In both versions of political Islam, violence and terrorism are exacerbated.
  • Undermine Iran’s influence among armed militias in the region such as the militia Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthi in Yemen and the sectarian militias in Iraq. These should be classified as terrorist organizations. Hamas in the Gaza Strip has already been classified as such by the United States on October 31, 2001. Any country that supports Hamas or defends it, even in its media, should be classified as terrorist too.
  • Prevent the existence of armed militias operating as a state within a state; they are the beginning of the collapse of states and therefore a serious threat to peace and stability.
  • Consolidate the principles of secularism in internal and external dealings. Incitement to sectarian and racial hatred must be prevented as well as the use of Quranic verses to spread violence and extremism. To keep Iraq out of Iran’s control, non-sectarian neighborly relations need to be maintained.
  • Instill the principles of tolerance and respect for all religions and sects and guarantee the free practice of religions and the protection of minorities.

Moderate countries will not promote the rhetoric of a fight with Israel, as does the Axis of Resistance, led by Iran; instead, the Axis of Moderation is now committed to the principles of peace, which are based on the common interests of states to ensure the security and prosperity of all citizens.

The region and the world as a whole have suffered from the actions of the Iranian regime and its allies. There should be no justification for the existence of militias and extremist groups under the banner of resistance or similar pretexts. The international community needs to be firm in challenging states that allow or support such groups and should stress that states can only protect themselves with armies and armed forces, not with militias. A unified American and European position needs to help the Axis of Moderation to prevent countries in turmoil from becoming cantons of militias and extremist groups. That seems a more constructive way to fight terrorism and build global stability.

Najat AlSaied is a Saudi American academic and the author of “Screens of Influence: Arab Satellite Television & Social Development”. She is an Assistant Professor at Zayed University in the College of Communication and Media Sciences in Dubai-UAE.

This article was first published in Arabic at Al Hurra.

Jared Kushner, Mohammed bin Salman, and Benjamin Netanyahu Are Up to Something

November 8, 2017

Jared Kushner, Mohammed bin Salman, and Benjamin Netanyahu Are Up to Something, Foreign Policy, November 7, 2017

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL – JUNE 21: (ISRAEL OUT) In this handout photo provided by the Israel Government Press Office (GPO), Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Jared Kushner on June 21, 2017 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Photo by Amos Ben Gershom/GPO via Getty Images)

Mohammed bin Salman may or may not have recently visited Tel Aviv, where Israel’s Defense Ministry is located. But even if he never set foot in the HaKirya complex, there is little doubt that he has authorized ever closer relations with the Israelis, who view the Iranian threat exactly as he does. And the crown prince is not the only one Jared Kushner has been speaking to: Trump has given his son-in-law overall leadership on the peace process between Israel and the Arabs, and he is reportedly a welcome guest in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.

Given Kushner’s role, did Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman signal his plans when Kushner last met with him — and did Kushner then inform his father-in-law? And if so, how far will Washington, or more precisely, the White House, go to back up the Saudis if their confrontation with Iran gets hot? Or will Israel serve as Trump’s proxy? With this president, this crown prince, and the current prime minister of Israel, anything is possible.

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There seems to be a general consensus in Washington that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ongoing purge of princes and businessmen — including the wealthiest of them all, the business mogul and Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal — is motivated by his determination to consolidate his power, well before his father, King Salman, passes from the scene. He is in this regard a latter-day Adonijah, who had himself crowned king while his father King David was alive. And, like Adonijah, Mohammed bin Salman has made some very powerful enemies in the process. Unlike that Biblical figure, however, he has his father’s support and has taken care to arrest anyone who might threaten his drive to preeminence.

Jared Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, was in Riyadh again only recently. It was his third trip to Saudi Arabia since Trump took office. He again met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with whom he appears to have established a close personal relationship. It should therefore come as no surprise that Trump, who shares the young crown prince’s antipathy toward Iran, has commented favorably on the recent developments in Riyadh.

It is said of Donald Trump that he has undermined America’s credibility with its allies. That may be the case in Europe, and perhaps in parts of Asia, though not in Japan or India. But it is certainly not the case in the Middle East. Tensions with Turkey and Egypt emanate primarily from the U.S. Congress, not from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Relations with Israel are better than they have been since the day former President Barack Obama took office. The same can be said of U.S. relations with both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates or, for that matter, Bahrain and Morocco. The force that unites them all is Iran, whose support for instability throughout the region received a financial fillip from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — that is, the Iran nuclear deal.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may or may not be a true reformer. His record on that score is not unequivocal. But he is determined to halt the expansion of Iranian influence, which now really does manifest itself as the Shiite crescent about which Jordan’s King Abdullah II forewarned over a decade ago. The crown prince recognizes that his country’s worst nightmare is slowly materializing: Iran is supplying the Houthi rebels to its south and dominates neighboring Iraq to its north. 

It foments instability in Bahrain and could well do the same in Saudi Arabia’s Shiite-majority Eastern Province. And if that were not enough, Iran’s influence is entrenched in Damascus and Beirut. It is particularly for that reason the Saudis forced their ally Saad Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister, to resign his office while on a visit to the Kingdom.

Mohammed bin Salman may or may not have recently visited Tel Aviv, where Israel’s Defense Ministry is located. But even if he never set foot in the HaKirya complex, there is little doubt that he has authorized ever closer relations with the Israelis, who view the Iranian threat exactly as he does. And the crown prince is not the only one Jared Kushner has been speaking to: Trump has given his son-in-law overall leadership on the peace process between Israel and the Arabs, and he is reportedly a welcome guest in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.

Given Kushner’s role, did Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman signal his plans when Kushner last met with him — and did Kushner then inform his father-in-law? And if so, how far will Washington, or more precisely, the White House, go to back up the Saudis if their confrontation with Iran gets hot? Or will Israel serve as Trump’s proxy? With this president, this crown prince, and the current prime minister of Israel, anything is possible.

Saudi Purges and Duty to Act

November 8, 2017

Saudi Purges and Duty to Act, FrontPage MagazineCaroline Glick, November 8, 2017

Originally published by the Jerusalem Post

While many of the officials arrested over the weekend threaten Mohammed’s power, they aren’t the only ones that he has purged. In September Mohammed arrested some 30 senior Wahhabist clerics and intellectuals. And Saturday’s arrest of the princes, cabinet ministers and business leaders was followed up by further arrests of senior Wahhabist clerics.

At the same time, Mohammed has been promoting clerics who espouse tolerance for other religions, including Judaism and Christianity. He has removed the Saudi religious police’s power to conduct arrests and he has taken seemingly credible steps to finally lift the kingdom-wide prohibition on women driving.

Given Saudi Arabia’s record, and the kingdom’s 70-year alliance with Wahhabist clerics, it is hard to know whether Mohammed’s move signals an irrevocable breach between the House of Saud and the Wahhabists.

But the direction is clear. With Hariri’s removal from Lebanon, the lines between the forces of jihad and terrorism led by Iran, and the forces that oppose them are clearer than ever before. And the necessity of acting against the former and helping the latter has similarly never been more obvious.

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For 70 years, Saudi Arabia served as the largest and most significant incubator of Sunni jihad. Its Wahhabist Islamic establishment funded radical mosques throughout the world. Saudi princes have supported radical Islamic clerics who have indoctrinated their followers to pursue jihad against the non-Islamic world. Saudi money stands behind most of the radical Islamic groups in the non-Islamic world that have in turn financed terrorist groups like Hamas and al-Qaida and have insulated radical Islam from scrutiny by Western governments and academics. Indeed, Saudi money stands behind the silence of critics of jihadist Islam in universities throughout the Western world.

As Mitchell Bard documented in his 2011 book, The Arab Lobby, any power pro-Israel forces in Washington, DC, have developed pales in comparison to the power of Arab forces, led by the Saudi government. Saudi government spending on lobbyists in Washington far outstrips that of any other nation. According to Justice Department disclosures from earlier this year, since 2015, Saudi Arabia vastly increased its spending on influence peddling. According to a report by The Intercept, “Since 2015, the Kingdom has expanded the number of foreign agents on retainer to 145, up from 25 registered agents during the previous two-year period.”

Saudi lobbyists shielded the kingdom from serious criticism after 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were shown to be Saudi nationals. They blocked a reconsideration of the US’s strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia after the attacks and in subsequent years, even as it was revealed that Princess Haifa, wife of Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to Washington at the time the September 11 attacks occurred, had financially supported two of the hijackers in the months that preceded the attacks.

The US position on Saudi Arabia cooled demonstrably during the Obama administration. This cooling was not due to a newfound concern over Saudi financial support for radical Islam in the US. To the contrary, the Obama administration was friendlier to Islamists than any previous administration. Consider the Obama administration’s placement of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in key positions in the federal government. For instance, in 2010, then secretary for Homeland Security Janet Napolitano appointed Mohamed Elibiary to the department’s Homeland Security Advisory Board. Elibiary had a long, open record of support both for the Muslim Brotherhood and for the Iranian regime. In his position he was instrumental in purging discussion of Islam and Jihad from instruction materials used by the US military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies. The Obama administration’s cold relations with the Saudi regime owed to its pronounced desire to ditch the US’s traditional alliance with the Saudis, the Egyptians and the US’s other traditional Sunni allies in favor of an alliance with the Iranian regime.

During the same period, the Muslim Brotherhood’s close ties to the Iranian regime became increasingly obvious. Among other indicators, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated president Mohamed Morsi hosted Iranian leaders in Cairo and was poised to renew Egypt’s diplomatic ties with Iran before he was overthrown by the military in July 2013. Morsi permitted Iranian warships to traverse the Suez Canal for the first time in decades.

Saudi Arabia joined Egypt and the United Arab Emirates in designating the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group in 2014.

It was also during this period that the Saudis began warming their attitude toward Israel. Through Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and due to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leading role in opposing Iran’s nuclear program and its rising power in the Middle East, the Saudis began changing their positions on Israel.

Netanyahu’s long-time foreign policy adviser, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs president Dr. Dore Gold, who authored the 2003 bestseller Hatred’s Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism which exposed Saudi Arabia’s role in promoting jihadist Islam, spearheaded a process of developing Israel’s security and diplomatic ties with Riyadh. Those ties, which are based on shared opposition to Iran’s regional empowerment, led to the surprising emergence of a working alliance between Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE with Israel during Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas – the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is in the context of Saudi Arabia’s reassessment of its interests and realignment of strategic posture in recent years that the dramatic events of the past few days in the kingdom must be seen.

Saturday’s sudden announcement that a new anti-corruption panel headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the near simultaneous announcement of the arrest of more than two dozen royal family members, cabinet ministers and prominent businessmen is predominantly being presented as a power seizure by the crown prince. Amid widespread rumors that King Salman will soon abdicate the throne to his son, it is reasonable for the 32-year-old crown prince to work to neutralize all power centers that could threaten his ascension to the throne.

But there is clearly also something strategically more significant going on. While many of the officials arrested over the weekend threaten Mohammed’s power, they aren’t the only ones that he has purged. In September Mohammed arrested some 30 senior Wahhabist clerics and intellectuals. And Saturday’s arrest of the princes, cabinet ministers and business leaders was followed up by further arrests of senior Wahhabist clerics.

At the same time, Mohammed has been promoting clerics who espouse tolerance for other religions, including Judaism and Christianity. He has removed the Saudi religious police’s power to conduct arrests and he has taken seemingly credible steps to finally lift the kingdom-wide prohibition on women driving.

At the same time, Mohammed has escalated the kingdom’s operations against Iran’s proxies in Yemen.

And of course, on Saturday, he staged the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri amid Hariri’s allegations that Hezbollah and Iran were plotting his murder, much as they stood behind the 2005 assassination of his father, prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

There can be little doubt that there was coordination between the Saudi regime and the Trump administration regarding Saturday’s actions. The timing of the administration’s release last week of most of the files US special forces seized during their 2011 raid of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan was likely not a coincidence.

The files, which the Obama administration refused to release, make clear that Obama’s two chief pretensions – that al-Qaida was a spent force by the time US forces killed bin Laden, and that Iran was interested in moderating its behavior were both untrue. The documents showed that al-Qaida’s operations remained a significant worldwide threat to US interests.

And perhaps more significantly, they showed that Iran was al-Qaida’s chief state sponsor. Much of al-Qaida’s leadership, including bin Laden’s sons, operated from Iran. The notion – touted by Obama and his administration – that Shi’ite Iranians and Sunni terrorists from al-Qaida and other groups were incapable of cooperating was demonstrated to be an utter fiction by the documents.

Their publication now, as Saudi Arabia takes more determined steps to slash its support for radical Islamists, and separate itself from Wahhabist Islam, draws a clear distinction between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Given Saudi Arabia’s record, and the kingdom’s 70-year alliance with Wahhabist clerics, it is hard to know whether Mohammed’s move signals an irrevocable breach between the House of Saud and the Wahhabists.

But the direction is clear. With Hariri’s removal from Lebanon, the lines between the forces of jihad and terrorism led by Iran, and the forces that oppose them are clearer than ever before. And the necessity of acting against the former and helping the latter has similarly never been more obvious.

Iraq Without Iran? Riyadh Takes the Lead

August 22, 2017

Iraq Without Iran? Riyadh Takes the Lead, Iran News Update, August 21, 2017

Iran’s eviction from Iraq must come along with efforts to end its presence in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. The Iranian regime’s meddling and the IRGC’s presence across the region are the main obstacles to establishing peace in the region. Support by the Arab world for Iraq will fill the economic void. The US Congress’ new bill against the IRGC, give Riyadh the chance to expel all IRGC members, and Iran-related elements from the region.This will allow peace in the Middle East.

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INU – Iraq was traditionally known as a homogeneous society, where Arabs, Kurds and Turks lived alongside and in mixed societies for centuries. Before Iran’s meddling the majority of Shiites lived and prospered with their Sunni, Christian, Yazidi and other religious neighbors.

Now that we’ve witnessed the liberation of Mosul, the battle for the town of Tal Afar is predicted to end soon. This opens an opportunity for Iraq to distance itself from Iran.

Iraqi officials have been visiting Saudi Arabia and other Arab Sunni states, signaling that changes may be in store. Late in July, the Sadrist leader Muqtada was seen meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman. Days later, Sadr also visited the United Arab Emirates, who has also criticized Iran’s policies. During Sadr’s visit, launching a Saudi Consulate in Najaf, one of the two holiest Shiite cities in Iraq, was proposed, and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, did not block the proposition.

Iran has criticized Sadr’s visits to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, calling it an act of betrayal to the Houthis in Yemen.

However, Sadr is also planning a visit to Egypt, and other senior Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the ministers of foreign affairs, interior, oil and transportation plan to visit Saudi Arabia.

After 14 years invested in Iraq, Iran has not been the recipient of visits of such high stature.

Iran’s has taken the credit for much of the fight against ISIS on the ground, but it stands accused of violations of the law and refusing to obey the state of Iraq. This has become a major issue for former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is known to have close relations with Tehran and Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

As well, Majid al-Nasrawi, governor of Basra recently left for Iran. He is accused by a government transparency committee of numerous corruption offenses.

There are also major talks underway between Baghdad and Riyadh to establish a new alliance that would provide Saudi Arabia a leading role in rebuilding war-torn cities across Iraq. In fact, on August 14th, the Cabinet of Saudi Arabia announced a coordination committee to spearhead a variety of health care and humanitarian projects, including building hospitals in Baghdad and Basra, and providing fellowships to Iraqi students in Saudi universities. Also on the agenda are talks of opening border crossings and establishing free trade areas between the two countries. Riyadh is leading the way for the Arab world against Tehran’s interests in Iraq.

Iran’s eviction from Iraq must come along with efforts to end its presence in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. The Iranian regime’s meddling and the IRGC’s presence across the region are the main obstacles to establishing peace in the region. Support by the Arab world for Iraq will fill the economic void. The US Congress’ new bill against the IRGC, give Riyadh the chance to expel all IRGC members, and Iran-related elements from the region.This will allow peace in the Middle East.