Archive for the ‘Saudi Arabia and Islamic State’ category

U.S.: Strategic Objectives in the Middle East

June 22, 2017

U.S.: Strategic Objectives in the Middle East, Gatestone InstitutePeter Huessy, June 22, 2017

On relations with the Palestinian Authority, the administration has moved to improve matters but has not moved to advocate a two-state solution — for which there is no contemplated security framework sufficient to protect Israel.

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The new “test” of our alliance will be whether the assembled nations will join in removing the hateful parts of such a doctrine from their communities.

What still has to be considered is the U.S. approach to stopping Iran from filling the vacuum created by ridding the region of the Islamic State (ISIS), as well as Iran’s push for extending its path straight through to the Mediterranean.

The tectonic plates in the Middle East have shifted markedly with President Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia and Israel, and his announced new regional policy.

The trip represented the beginning of a major but necessary shift in US security policy.

For much of the last nearly half-century, American Middle East policy has been centered on the “peace process” and how to bring Israel and the Palestinians to agreement on a “two-state” solution for two peoples — a phrase that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to say.

First was shuttle diplomacy during 1973-74 in the Nixon administration; then second, in 1978, the Camp David agreement and the recognition of Israel by Egypt, made palatable by $7 billion in new annual US assistance to the two nations; third, the anti-Hizballah doctrine, recently accurately described by National Security Advisor General H.R. McMaster, as Iran, since 1983, started spreading its terror to Lebanon and elsewhere in the region. This last effort was often excused by many American and European analysts as a result somehow, of supposed American bad faith. Fourth, came the birth, in 1992, of the “Oslo Accords” where some Israelis and Palestinians imagined that a two-state solution was just another round of negotiations away.

Ironically, during the decade after Oslo, little peace was achieved; instead, terror expanded dramatically. The Palestinians launched three wars, “Intifadas,” against Israel; Al Qaeda launched its terror attacks on U.S. Embassies in Africa; and Iran, Hizballah, and Al Qaeda together carried out the forerunner attacks against America of 9/11/2001.

Since 9/11, despite wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, terrorism has not only failed to recede; on the contrary, it has expanded. Iran has become the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism, and the Islamic State (ISIS) has tried to establish a transnational “Islamic caliphate.” Literally tens of thousands of terror attacks have been carried out since 9/11 by those claiming an Islamic duty to do so. These assaults on Western civilization have taken place on bridges, cafes, night clubs, offices, military recruitment centers, theaters, markets, and sporting events — not only across the West but also in countries where Muslims have often been the primary victims.

Particularly condemnable have been the improvised explosive device (IED) attacks against U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, perpetrated to a great extent by Iran, according to U.S. military testimony before Congress.

All the while, we in the West keep trying to convince ourselves that, as a former American president thought, if there were a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, most of the terrorist attacks we see in Europe and the United States “would disappear.”

No matter how hard we may rhetorically push the “peace process”, there is no arc of history that bends naturally in that direction. Rather, nations such as the United States together with its allies must create those alliances best able to meet the challenges to peace and especially defeat the totalitarian elements at the core of Islamist ideology.

If anything, the so-called Middle East “peace process” has undercut chances of achieving a sound U.S. security policy. While the search for a solution to the Israel-Palestinian “problem” dominated American thinking about Middle East peace for so many decades, other far more serious threats materialized but were often ignored, not the least of which was the rise of Iran as the world’s most aggressive terrorist.

The United States has now moved in a markedly more promising and thoughtful direction.

The new American administration has put together an emerging coalition of nations led by the United States that seeks five objectives:

(1) the defeat of Islamic State;

(2) the formation of a coalition of the major Arab nations, especially Egypt and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to clean up in their own back yards financing terrorism and providing terrorists with sanctuary. As Elliott Abrams, an adviser to former U.S. President George W. Bush, cautions us, however, this will not be an easy effort: “Partnerships with repressive regimes may in some cases exacerbate rather than solve the problem for us” but, Abrams says, “gradual reform is exactly the right approach…”;

3) “driving out” sharia-inspired violence and human rights abuses from the region’s mosques and madrassas;

(4) a joint partnership with Israel as part of an emerging anti-Iran coalition — without letting relations with the Palestinian authority derail United States and Israeli security interests; and

(5) the adoption of a strategy directly to challenge Iran’s quest for regional and Islamic hegemony, while ending its role in terrorism.

Defeating Islamic State

Defeating ISIS began with an accelerated military campaign and a new American-led strategy to destroy the organization rather than to seek its containment. According to the new U.S. Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, “Our intention is that the foreign fighters do not survive the fight to return home to North Africa, to Europe, to America, to Asia. We’re going to stop them there and take apart the caliphate.”

Secretary of Defense James Mattis. (Dept. of Defense/Brigitte N. Brantley)

So far, the United States coalition has driven ISIS from 55,000 square kilometers of territory in Iraq and Syria.

A New Coalition

Apart from a strategy to counter ISIS, the Trump administration also called on our allies in the Middle East to put together a new joint multi-state effort to stop financing terrorism. Leading the multi-state effort will be the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States, which together will supposedly open a new center dedicated to the elimination of terrorist financing. Positive results are not guaranteed, but it is a step in the right direction.

According to Abdul Hadi Habtoor, the center will exchange information about financing networks, adopt means to cut off funding from terrorist groups, and hopefully blacklist Iran’s jihadist army, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). These measures in turn will help eliminate the sanctuaries from which terrorists plot and plan.

This move also places emphasis on the responsibility of states to eliminate terrorism. As President Trump said, each country — where it is sovereign — has to “carry the weight of their own self-defense“, be “pro-active” and responsible for “eradicating terrorism”, and “to deny all territory to the foot soldiers of evil”.

This determination was underscored by many Arab countries breaking diplomatic relations with Qatar for its support of Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS. Most of Qatar’s Arab neighbors, including the Saudis, Egypt, and the UAE did so, while the US, although denouncing Qatar’s support of terrorism, continues to maintain access to, and use of, its critical military base there.

In short, the U.S. is playing good-cop, bad-cop in the region, while U.S. allies are putting together what Josh Rogin of the Washington Post described as “a regional security architecture encompassing countries on the periphery of Iran.”

Such an approach is not without risk: Turkey, allied with Iran and Qatar, has already has pledged to help Qatar defy the Gulf States’ trade cut-off. If Turkey, for example, seeks to move its promised aid shipments to Qatar through the Suez Canal, the ships could possibly be blocked by Egypt or attacked on the high seas. Does the U.S. then come to the assistance of a NATO member — Turkey — against an ally in the strategic coalition?

Drive Hateful Ideology Out

A companion challenge by the new American President underscored this new security effort. President Trump said to the assembled nations of the Islamic conference that they have to expel the ugly Islamist ideology from the mosques and madrassas that recruit terrorists and justify their actions.

Trump said: “Drive them out of your places of worship”. Such words had never been spoken so clearly by an American president, especially to the collection of nearly all the Islamic-majority countries (minus the Shi’ite bloc) gathered together.

The president’s audience doubtless understood that he was speaking of the doctrine of sharia (Islamic law). The new “test” of our alliance will be whether the assembled nations will join in removing the hateful parts of the doctrine from their communities. It was a sharp but critical departure from the previous American administration’s message in Cairo in 2009, and placed the Islamic doctrine that seeks to establish the sharia throughout the world in a contained context.

New Israeli Partnership

With Israel, the administration has cemented the next part of its strategy. Here the Trump administration successfully improved our political and military relations with Israel. Markedly so. One part of that effort was enhanced missile-defense cooperation called for in the FY18 United States defense budget, specifically to deal with Iranian and Iranian-allied missile threats.

On relations with the Palestinian Authority, the administration has moved to improve matters but has not moved to advocate a two-state solution — for which there is no contemplated security framework sufficient to protect Israel.

Challenge and Roll Back Iran

The final part of the administration’s strategy starts with a thorough review of our Iran strategy and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or “nuclear deal”, with Iran. As Max Singer recently wrote, even if we discount what secretive nuclear capability Iran may now have, the Iranian regime will at the very least be much closer to producing nuclear weapons down the road than when the JCPOA was agreed to.

As Ambassador John Bolton has warned the nuclear deal with Iran did nothing to restrain Iranian harmful behavior: “Defiant missile launches… support for the genocidal Assad regime… backing of then Houthi insurgency in Yemen… worldwide support for terrorism… and commitment to the annihilation of Israel” continue.

In addition, uranium enrichment, heavy water production, the concealed military dimensions of warhead development and joint missile and nuclear work with North Korea all lend a critical urgency to countering Iran’s lethal efforts. The United States did not make these counter-efforts any easier by providing to Tehran $100 billion in escrowed Iranian funds, equivalent to nearly one quarter of the Islamic Republic’s annual GDP.

The United States’ and Europe’s easing of sanctions on Iran has helped reintegrate Iran into global markets via mechanisms such as the electronic payment system run by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT). That, in turn, has helped Iran expand dramatically its military modernization budget by 33%, including deals worth tens of billions of dollars in military hardware with China and Russia.

Added to that is Iranian financial- and weapons-support for foreign fighters in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Afghanistan. Iran’s significant support to the Houthi rebels in Yemen includes weaponry, financing and logistical support, including advanced offensive missiles. The Houthis regularly attempt to carry out missile attacks against Saudi oil facilities.

Such Iran activity is described by the Commander of U.S. Central Command, General Joseph Votel, as “the most significant threat to the Central Region and to our national interests and the interest of our partners and allies”.

As such, it can only be challenged through exactly the kind of military, political, and economic coalition the Trump administration is seeking to band together, which would include the Gulf Arab nations, especially Saudi Arabia, as well as Egypt, Jordan, and Israel.

The administration’s five-step strategy has a chance to work. It creates a policy to destroy ISIS; oppose Islamic terrorism and specifically the imposition of sharia; adopt measures to go after the financing of such terrorism; implement improvements in Gulf allies’ military capabilities — including missile defenses — parallel with pushing NATO members to meet their military spending obligations; put back into place a sound and cooperative relationship with Israel; and specifically contain and roll back Iranian hegemonic ambitions and its terror-master ways.

What still has to be considered, however, is the U.S. approach to stopping Iran from filling the vacuum created by ridding the region of ISIS, as well as Iran’s push for extending its path straight through to the Mediterranean.

If successful, some modicum of peace may be brought to the Middle East. And the arc of history will have finally been shaped toward America’s interests and those of its allies, rather than — however inadvertently — toward its mortal enemies.

Dr. Peter Huessy is President of GeoStrategic Analysis, a defense consulting firm he founded in 1981, and was the senior defense consultant at the National Defense University Foundation for more than 20 years.

Naming Bin Salman Saudi heir impacts US, Israel

June 21, 2017

Naming Bin Salman Saudi heir impacts US, Israel, DEBKAfile, June 21, 2017

US President Trump is taking the lead role along with Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, another crown prince, Egypt’s President Abdul-Fatteh El-Sisi, and Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

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The Saudi king’s decision to elevate his son Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 31, to crown prince and heir to the throne, in place of his cousin Mohammed bin Nayef – as part of a broad reshuffle, is not merely the internal affair of the royal hierarchy, but a game-changing international event.

DEBKAfile’s analysts see it as the outcome of a global and regional process initiated by Donald Trump soon after he settled in the White House in January. With his appointment as de facto ruler of the oil kingdom, the Saudi king’s son is ready to step into his allotted place in a new US-Arab-Israeli alliance that will seek to dominate Middle East affairs. Israel will be accepted in a regional lineup for the first time alongside the strongest Sunni Arab nations who all share similar objectives, especially the aim to stop Iran.

Trump’s trip to Riyadh and Jerusalem in early May laid the cornerstone for the new US-Sunni Arab bloc versus Iran’s Shiite grouping and also cemented Israel’s co-option.

This bloc is in its infancy and has yet to display staying power and prove the wisdom of its policies. But its contours have taken shape. US President Trump is taking the lead role along with Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, another crown prince, Egypt’s President Abdul-Fatteh El-Sisi, and Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Three of those leaders already maintain strong direct – albeit discreet – ties with Israel’s prime minister, its security establishment, military and various intelligence agencies.

In a lecture on Tuesday, June 20, Israel’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gady Eisenkott, spoke of the covert relations between the IDF and certain Arab nations, which he did not name. There is clearly a lot going on under the surface in various political, economic, financial, intelligence and military fields.

Recent events in the region already point to President Trump acting on important matters, such as the confrontation with Iran, the war on terror, the Syrian conflict and US intervention in the Yemen conflict, on the advice of the two Arab crown princes rather than Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

This was strikingly demonstrated when Trump overrode Tillerson’s recommendation to apply diplomacy for resolving the dispute that led to four Arab nations boycotting Qatar, with the Saudis in the lead, whereas the president then demanded strong action to stop Qatar’s funding of terrorists. He therefore opted for the aggressive Saudi and UAE stance against Qatar’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

These developments bear strongly on US-Russian relations. The two crown princes maintain active ties with President Vladimir Putin. They could, of course, act as go-betweens for smoothing relations between the White House and the Kremlin. But, on the other hand, their influence could be counter-productive and goad Trump into engaging the Russians in a limited confrontation in Syria. It is hard to see Washington and Moscow coming to terms in Syria at this point when the former is closely allied to Saudi Arabia and the UAE and Moscow maintains its loyalty to Tehran.

The evolving bonds between the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Israel are the source of President Trump’s optimism about the prospects of pulling off an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, a vision which eluded all his predecessors in the White House, while knocking over the decades-old barriers between the moderate Arab nations and the Jewish State.

The first steps towards this goal are in the making. They will include exposing parts of their hidden interaction to the light of day, as well as such important symbolic actions, as opening Arab skies to the passage of Israeli commercial flights, or direct telephone links.

None of this is expected to transpire overnight but rather over years, especially since there is opposition to the process still to overcome in the Arab world, including Saudi Arabia, and also in the United States. Critics lay into Mohammed bin Salman, who has made his mark as a visionary social and economic reformer at home, as too young, brash and impatient to rule the kingdom. His decision to entangle Saudi Arabia in the Yemen war, which many believe it cannot win, is held up as evidence of his reckless nature.

But the process switched on by Trump in Riyadh took a large stride forward on June 21, with the formalization by King Salman of his young son’s role as the top mover and shaker in the Saudi kingdom. King Salman obtained the support of 31 out of 34 members of Saudi Arabia’s Allegiance Council for confirming Prince Muhammad Bin Salman as crown prince as well as deputy prime minister and minister of defense.

More citizens of Saudi Arabia have joined the Islamic State than from any other country

March 11, 2017

More citizens of Saudi Arabia have joined the Islamic State than from any other country, Jihad Watch

(Saudi Arabia is a hell-hole for human rights and its ideology is congruent with that of the Islamic State. However, we have allied with other bad regimes with which we have shared common interests. Russia during WWII comes to mind. Our common interest with Saudia Arabia, beyond defeating the Islamic State, lies in diminishing Iran as a world power and, perhaps, finding common ground with other Arab nations via a vis Israel. — DM)

Saudi Arabia and the Islamic State share a history in the Wahhabi movement. “The Islamic State’s religious genealogy comes from ‘Jihadi Salafism’, a theological current that is very old in Islam that is quite literalist.” Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab is the founder of Wahhabism, rooted in the Salafist tradition. He eventually connected with “the leader of the al-Saud family in 1744. That alliance had very strong and lasting effects,”: the Saudi state was and is based on Wahhabism.

President Trump’s anti-Iran coalition would bring together Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Israel, Egypt, and Jordan.

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The Sunni Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) has boasted that key U.S. Middle East ally Saudi Arabia is the top provider of terrorists for the jihadist group in Iraq, reports Fox News, citing Iraqi military sources.

Reports of a Saudi Arabia/Islamic State alliance have been ongoing, despite the Saudi “friendship” with the West:

i) Slaves taken by the Islamic State are sold in auctions in Saudi Arabia;

ii) Saudi Arabia was caught funding Taliban forces in Afghanistan, and the Taliban’s former financial minister regularly traveled to Saudi Arabia to raise millions of dollars;

iii) A leaked intelligence report from Germany’s BfV domestic intelligence agency and Federal Intelligence Service (BND) revealed that Saudi Arabia (along with Kuwait and Qatar) was promoting and funding the growth of the jihadi Salafi ideology in Germany, where it has already attracted 10,000 followers and continues to expand.

Saudi Arabia and the Islamic State share a history in the Wahhabi movement. “The Islamic State’s religious genealogy comes from ‘Jihadi Salafism’, a theological current that is very old in Islam that is quite literalist.” Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab is the founder of Wahhabism, rooted in the Salafist tradition. He eventually connected with “the leader of the al-Saud family in 1744. That alliance had very strong and lasting effects,”: the Saudi state was and is based on Wahhabism.

Al-Wahhab “would appoint teachers to educate people in his version of the faith” once a town was conquered by his jihadis. “He wrote a number of short books that were the basis for the teaching, books that are used by ISIS today.”

Saudi Arabia has denied financing the Islamic State, and the Islamic State is not happy with the Saudis, either: “ISIS claims that the Saudi state has deviated from the true beliefs of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, and that they are the true representatives of the Salafi or Wahhabi message.” Nonetheless:

A high-ranking Iraqi intelligence officer said, “The Saudi presence in ISIS is very large. What we have left are mainly Iraqis and Saudis.”

Report: More Citizens of Saudi Arabia Have Joined Islamic State Than Any Other Country”, by Edwin Mora,  Breitbart, March 10, 2017:

The Sunni Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) has boasted that key U.S. Middle East ally Saudi Arabia is the top provider of terrorists for the jihadist group in Iraq, reports Fox News, citing Iraqi military sources.

Sunni Saudi Arabia shares an estimated 500-mile-long border with war-ravaged Iraq.

Nevertheless, Fox News reports that the Saudi jihadists crossed into Iraq over the border the country shares with both Turkey and Syria.

The news outlet learned from unnamed Iraqi intelligence sources that jihadist from the Saudi kingdom comprise nearly one-third (up to 30 percent) of all ISIS terrorists in Iraq, adding that “Saudis comprise the largest single contingent of ISIS fighters, with Russian Chechens making up the second-largest contingent.”

Speaking to the news outlet on condition of anonymity, a high-ranking Iraqi intelligence officer said, “The Saudi presence in ISIS is very large. What we have left are mainly Iraqis and Saudis.”

“The Saudis make up a large number of suicide bombers, as they already have the ground work of radicalization installed in their minds from radical sheikhs in Saudi [Arabia]. And we’ve caught important ISIS commanders,” he added.

Fox News points out that it has seen various ISIS-linked photographs and documents showing identification and credit cards of Saudi terrorists.

The report comes nearly a month after an article by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) revealed that President Donald Trump’s administration is considering forming a military alliance with major Middle East allies, including the Sunni Saudi kingdom, to combat Shiite Iran.

President Trump’s anti-Iran coalition would bring together Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Israel, Egypt, and Jordan.

The Sharia law-compliant kingdom Saudi Arabia is regarded as a hotbed and top global exporter of radical Islamic thought, namely the Sunni extremist ideology of Wahhabism, adhered to by ISIS and various other jihadists groups.

Saudi Arabia imposes extremely strict Islamic laws on its citizens.

“Wahhabism was born in Saudi Arabia. Saudi is leading those extremist organizations like ISIS,” an anonymous Iraqi official told Fox News. “They have high-ranking officials and fighters among their ranks. Saudi is nothing without U.S. protection; it is only a bite for Iran to eat.”

Sunni Saudi Arabia considers Shiite Iran its regional rival. Iran exerts tremendous influence over the Shiite-led government of Iraq where militias backed by the Islamic Republic are fighting ISIS.

Saudi Arabia is part of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria…..