Archive for the ‘Trump and Saudi Arabia’ category

Trump’s strategic vision

December 3, 2017

Trump’s strategic vision, Israel National News, Ted Belman, December 2, 2017

Former Minister of Defense for Israel, Moshe Yaalon, just wrote a major opinion piece titled United States Policy in the Middle East: The Need for a Grand Strategy, which was published by the Institute for National Security Studies. In it, he claimed:

“The first year of the Trump administration has been characterized by the lack of clear policy guidelines vis-à-vis the Middle East. The great hopes that many countries in the region hung on the change of administration and a new proactive president in the White House have slowly been eclipsed by a sense of confusion, given United States behavior that shows little consistency and no clear strategic objectives.”

Yaalon, who has been out of office now for two years doesn’t know what is going on. On the contrary, the Trump administration does have a grand strategy, grander than imagined.

Many countries in the region, including Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have never been more hopeful about what they understand to be his strategic objectives and his plans for achieving them.

Remember Trump has consistently refused to telegraph his foreign policy moves while at the same time has consistently repeated that he intends to push back against Iran expansionism.

Saudi Arabia

When President Trump was campaigning, he kept saying that he wanted to defeat ISIS and its ideology. He was ridiculed for thinking he could eradicate the ideology.  It didn’t take him long to make good on his word.

His administration got to work immediately with the Sunni states, but principally with Mohamed ben Salman (MBS) of Saudi Arabia.  Al Sisi of Egypt was already on board as evidenced by a speech he made two years ago in which he said:

“I am addressing the religious scholars and clerics. We must take a long, hard look at the situation we are in. It is inconceivable that the ideology we sanctify should make our entire nation a source of concern, danger, killing, and destruction all over the world. It is inconceivable that this ideology… I am referring not to ‘religion,’ but to ‘ideology’– the body of ideas and texts that we have sanctified in the course of centuries, to the point that challenging them has become very difficult.

“It has reached the point that [this ideology] is hostile to the entire world. Is it conceivable that 1.6 billion [Muslims] would kill the world’s population of seven billion, so that they could live [on their own]  [..]. You cannot see things clearly when you are locked [in this ideology]. You must emerge from it and look from outside, in order to get closer to a truly enlightened ideology. You must oppose it with resolve. Let me say it again: We need to revolutionize our religion.”

Four months after his inauguration, Pres Trump made his historic trip to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in which he addressed 50 Arab and Muslim leaders:
“Later today, we will make history again with the opening of a new Global Center for Combatting Extremist Ideology – located right here, in this central part of the Islamic world. This groundbreaking new center represents a clear declaration that Muslim-majority countries must take the lead in combatting radicalization”

“But above all we must be united in pursuing the one goal that transcends every other consideration. That goal is to meet history’s great test — to conquer extremism and vanquish the forces of terrorism.

“Young Muslim boys and girls should be able to grow up free from fear, safe from violence, and innocent of hatred.”

His message was clear and had already been agreed upon.

“Yesterday, we signed historic agreements with the Kingdom that will invest almost $400 billion in our two countries and create many thousands of jobs in America and Saudi Arabia.“This landmark agreement includes the announcement of a $110 billion Saudi-funded defense purchase – and we will be sure to help our Saudi friends to get a good deal from our great American defense companies. This agreement will help the Saudi military to take a greater role in security operations.”

The last sentence suggests that the fighting will be done by the Sunnis with American backing rather than the other way around.

“But this (prosperous) future can only be achieved through defeating terrorism and the ideology that drives it.”

The Arab world understands this and is all for it. With the price of oil being what it is and likely to stay low, the Saudis will be bankrupt in a 5 years as they are eating into their surplus of $750 billion at an alarming rate. By jointly agreeing to spend $400 billion to achieve prosperity, they are putting their money where their mouth is. They are committed and so is the US.

As further evidence of their commitment, MBS announced the Vision 2030.

Essentially this is an economic vision that requires Saudi Arabia to open up to the world to create an environment conducive to foreign investment. Thus, it must westernize.

“Our Vision is a strong, thriving, and stable Saudi Arabia that provides opportunity for all. Our Vision is a tolerant country with Islam as its constitution and moderation as its method. We will welcome qualified individuals from all over the world and will respect those who have come to join our journey and our success.”

They also can’t take on Iran without Israel.

Egypt is in a worse position. She needs Israel’s help in building her economy and in defeating the terrorists in Sinai and Libya.

Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar in June 2017. The severing of relations included withdrawing ambassadors, and imposing trade and travel bans.

The crisis is an escalation of the Qatar–Saudi Arabia proxy conflict. The Saudi-led coalition cited Qatar’s support for terrorism and open alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) as the main reasons for their actions. Saudi Arabia and other countries have criticized Al Jazeeraand Qatar’s relations with Iran.
Qatar is a big supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and Hamas, whereas Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the others have banned the MB as a terrorist organization and are coming down hard on Hamas.

In October 2017, Saudi Arabia announced plans to build a $500 Billion city to be called Neom in the north west corner of Saudi Arabia. It will reach into Jordan and Egypt.

Bloomberg reported:

“It would be a microcosm of Saudi Arabia 2.0 while its new 32-year-old leader reconfigures the rest of the economy to make it fit for the modern world in a way that past rulers have failed to do. Other massive cities in the desert have been announced with much fanfare, then have floundered short of expectations, like the $10 billion office park on the outskirts of Riyadh sitting largely unoccupied and unfinished.

“The city “constitutes an attempt to create an economic zone that is more efficient and streamlined than the overall economy that will take time to reform,” said James Dorsey, a Middle East specialist at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. “The question is whether one can isolate a megacity from the inefficiencies of the country’s economy.””

As you can see, it is a huge gamble, born no doubt out of the huge need to to transform Saudi Arabia.

Jordan

Jordan too is a supporter of the MB, who have their headquarters in the country. While King Abdullah has enjoyed a good reputation among Congressmen and Members of Knesset, his reputation has been greatly tarnished in the last two years, so much so that the White House and the Netanyahu government are ready to ditch him.

What may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back for them is the fact that Jordan’s king very own security agencies, which he controls with an iron-fist, have been caught red-handed stealing US and British weapons and selling them to ISIS.

Here are some recent articles which tell the tale.

Another Jordanian-made knife in the back of Israel.

Israel-Jordan peace agreement: The emperor has no clothes 

They see King Abdullah as an obstacle to peace rather than a guarantor of peace. They also believe that civil war is coming to Jordan unless they make a move to prevent it. While they may not say so publicly, some Israeli journalists do.

The US made their first move this week by announcing:

“Now, according to Stars and Stripes, Congress has added $143 million to the Pentagon budget, to upgrade the strategic Muwaffaq Salti Air Base, close to Jordan’s border with Syria and Iraq. The base has played a key role in the US military in its war with ISIS, and requires urgent upgrades, according to the Air Force, being overwhelmed as it is by the increased numbers and scope of operations.”

This is just the first step in moving the base in Qatar with its 11,000 US airmen to the base in Jordan.

General Charles Wald, USAIR, told Fox News US doesn’t need Qatar air base if Qatar won’t support our fight against terrorism .

This has been done to forestall a civil war in Jordan. The King has lost control of Jordan and the US is calling the shots. Watch for the drama to unfold.

The Arab/Israeli Conflict.

The right in Israel are very unhappy that Trump won’t move the Embassy to Jerusalem, won’t let Israel build though out Judea and Samaria, won’t let her expand the boundaries of Jerusalem and won’t let her demolish illegally build Arab structures. They are also unhappy that Trump keeps working on a plan, a process, for achieving “peace”.

But as the Economist pointed out in a recent article, Whatever the administration produces, Saudi Arabia is likely to support it.

“For Prince Muhammad, it seems, Palestinian aspirations to statehood are less important than countering Iran.”

“Prince Muhammad may calculate that a viable peace process would give him political cover to make the alliance more overt.”

And one might conclude that that is what the purpose of the process is.

Lebanon

Prime Minister Saad Harari resigned his post in Lebanon and then travelled to Saudi Arabia where he made a speech denouncing Hezbollah. On returning to Lebanon, he withdrew his resignation. But all is not lost.

BESA reports, “Hariri is believed to be demanding that Hezbollah halt its support to Houthi rebels in Yemen and withdraw from Syria, where its fighters supported the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. “ and argues that this goal may yet be achieved.

Iraq Kurdistan

The US reprimanded them for holding the referendum against its wishes and allowed Iraq to take back Kirkuk. Do not fear for the independence of Kurdistan. Their day will come. America has a strategic plan which mandates dealing with Jordan first.

The US wants to cement the alliance of Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt before pushing back on Iran.

Syria Kurdistan

According to the Washington Post, no friend of Pres Trump, The U.S. must prepare for Iran’s next move in Syria

“A task force of senior former U.S. diplomatic and military officials has come up with suggestions for how Trump could prevent Iran from taking over what’s left of liberated Syria and fulfill his own promise to contain Iranian influence in the region”.

“First, the United States needs to declare a clear Syria policy that removes suspicions that the United States is going to pull up stakes now that the Islamic State caliphate has fallen. The policy should make clear that a U.S. military presence will remain on the ground and in the air, to ensure that the Islamic State doesn’t reemerge and Assad doesn’t retake the entire country, and to provide security for reconstruction.

“Second, the Trump administration must increase its assistance to Sunni communities lucky enough to live outside Assad’s rule and help U.S.-supported local groups hold valuable territory in Syria’s southeast. This territory can provide local communities economic benefits now and political leverage down the line.

“Third, the United States should work with regional allies to stop Iran from moving weapons and troops into Syria. That would require interdicting shipments by sea and ensuring that U.S.-supported forces control key border towns in Syria and Iraq. Such moves could check Iranian aggression without triggering armed conflict with Tehran.”

“Accordingly, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis pledged last week that U.S. forces would remain to prevent the emergence of “ISIS 2.0” and until the political process gets off the ground, but he stopped short of saying America would keep Iran’s aggression at bay.”

As Caroline Glick rightly points out, in Portents of Quagmires in Syria, recently published:

“If Trump keeps US forces in Syrian Kurdistan, and if he refuses to help pay for Syrian reconstruction so long as Assad remains in power and Iranian and Hezbollah forces remain on the ground and if the US ends its civilian and military assistance to Lebanon, the US and its allies will be strengthened, and Russia and its allies will be weakened.

“If the Americans do not interfere as Syrian “freedom fighters” defend against Iranian or Russian “aggression,” it won’t matter what terms the Iranians give Putin for gas, or oil or nuclear deals. He will seek a way out of Syria.“

And she concludes:

“If the Americans do not save them, the situation on the ground augers quagmire, not triumph, for their axis and for their separate regimes.”

So rather than United States behavior showing “little consistency and no clear strategic objectives” as Yaalon writes, I would argue that Trump, does indeed, have a strategic vision. That vision involves the US fostering an open alliance of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Israel so that they can do the heavy lifting in pushing back Iran and its allies and ultimately to prevent Iran from getting the bomb.

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.

Will Trump’s Greatest Triumphs Be in Foreign Policy?

November 8, 2017

Will Trump’s Greatest Triumphs Be in Foreign Policy? PJ MediaRoger L Simon, November 7, 2017

(Please see also, Trump strikes at the heart of the North Korean regime with speech. Here is a video of President Trump’s address to the South Korean National Assembly:

— DM)

Of course, it is highly unlikely that the president will get the deranged Kim to back down.  (The media, in its smug majesty, keeps repeating this as if we hoi polloi are so stupid as not to figure this out by ourselves.) But at least Trump is trying.  He is not repeating the same endless  State Department-approved ritual that has been tried and has failed so miserably for the last twenty-five years.

Perhaps only someone with little or no foreign policy experience would have the “ignorance” — or is it originality or just plain cojones — to try this.  The government bureaucrats in Virginia who so disdain Trump at the ballot box certainly wouldn’t.  They just want to go and on and on collecting their waterproof swamp pay checks without some orange-haired billionaire reminding them of their hollow lives.

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Watching the normally Trump-phobic talking heads at CNN bend themselves into pretzels to say something bad about our president’s foreign policy address in South Korea Wednesday (our Tuesday), you knew POTUS had to have scored a home run in front of that country’s National Assembly.

In fact, if you had viewed the event live on television yourself, as I did here in Los Angeles, you would have known that already because Trump’s speech was superb — at once as tough and determined toward the North Korean dictator as it was complimentary toward the miraculous achievements of the South.  You also got a good short history of the Korean Peninsula since the 1950s into the bargain. Kudos to speechwriters Stephen Miller and Michael Anton and whoever else might be involved.

Trump may have received setbacks by proxy at the ballot boxes in New Jersey and Virginia, but in the realm of foreign policy he is achieving signal success.  Who knew this would be the area of his greatest accomplishments, the area where he appeared to have no prior experience whatsoever?

Nevertheless, the far more trivial electoral defeats will no doubt dominate the news.  Already the same talking heads are placing blame for Virginia squarely on Trump, as if a Republican could ever again be victorious in a state whose northern part is rapidly turning into one giant government employee bedroom.  Call it Swampburbia.

On the foreign front, however, Trump is succeeding as no American president has in years. By taking the gloves off our troops, he has given ISIS the boot (at least in their quondam caliphate) and helped put in place conditions that are causing the current shakeup in Saudi Arabia that most see as salutary. This will enable the Saudis to modernize and confront Islamo-imperialist Iran before the mullahs run rampant over the entire Middle East — something any decent person should applaud, at least if he or she isn’t part of the former Obama administration.

In the next day or so Trump will facing his biggest foreign test yet… no, not Putin, though he is apparently on the schedule… Xi Jinping. China is obviously our primary adversary with Russia not much more than a sideshow, despite what Robert Mueller or Fusion GPS might tell us.  The battle for the 21st century will be between China and the U.S., possibly with India, not Russia, as a distant third.

Trump may have entertained Xi in Mar-a-Lago, but he’s on the Chinese leader’s home turf now and Chairman Xi has recently consolidated his power like no Chinese head of state in years, possibly since Mao.  The American president will have a complicated task in front of him, balancing the need to get Chinese engagement on North Korea and chastising Xi on trade and China’s continued expansionism.

This is more than most American presidents dare to take on — and so far Trump has been doing it with considerable aplomb.  With few exceptions, our media gives him little credit for this. They are so invested in Trump’s failure that even if he were to single-handedly get North Korea to denuclearize they would do their best not to acknowledge it, quickly switching attention to the latest poll, which no doubt will show Trump less popular than Jack the Ripper.

Of course, it is highly unlikely that the president will get the deranged Kim to back down.  (The media, in its smug majesty, keeps repeating this as if we hoi polloi are so stupid as not to figure this out by ourselves.) But at least Trump is trying.  He is not repeating the same endless  State Department-approved ritual that has been tried and has failed so miserably for the last twenty-five years.

Perhaps only someone with little or no foreign policy experience would have the “ignorance” — or is it originality or just plain cojones — to try this.  The government bureaucrats in Virginia who so disdain Trump at the ballot box certainly wouldn’t.  They just want to go and on and on collecting their waterproof swamp pay checks without some orange-haired billionaire reminding them of their hollow lives.

But forget about Virginia, Virginia.  As we used to say, “the whole world is watching.”

King of Saudi Arabia Personally Intervenes in Temple Mount Crisis, Says Metal Detectors ‘Routine’ at Holy Places

July 18, 2017

King of Saudi Arabia Personally Intervenes in Temple Mount Crisis, Says Metal Detectors ‘Routine’ at Holy Places, The Jewish PressHana Levi Julian, July 18, 2017

King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman of Saudi Arabia personally intervened in the Temple Mount crisis via the United States, according to a report posted Tuesday by the Arabic-language Elaph website, based in London.

The decision by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and top Israeli security officials late Saturday night to reopen the holy site to Muslim worshipers, visitors and tourists allegedly came after receiving a message from the Saudi monarch via the White House.

Moreover, the Saudi king expressed no reservations about Israel’s decision to upgrade security by installing metal detectors at the entrances to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount in the wake of the terror attack last Friday that left two Israeli policemen dead and others wounded.

“The issue of metal detection machines, said the source, is a matter that has become routine in the holy places because of terrorism, which strikes without discrimination and in most places regardless of the sanctity of the different religions,” reported Elaph.

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Hussein, warned followers that their prayers would not be accepted in Heaven if they pass through the metal detectors to enter the Temple Mount for prayers in Al Aqsa Mosque — the third holiest site in Islam.

Given that King Salman is the Custodian of the Two Mosques, Islam’s two holiest sites, one might consider his authority to overrule that of the Mufti in spiritual matters such as effect of metal detectors on the human body and its ability to convey prayer to heaven.

Israel’s prime minister also reportedly invited King Salman and Saudi officials to visit the Al Aqsa Mosque to see “the situation on the ground,” but “received no response.”

In addition, Netanyahu reiterated his pledge via the White House that Israel would maintain the status quo at the site, the report noted, adding Jordan was also involved in the communications. Israel’s prime minister, Elaph reported, told Jordan’s King Abdullah II he was not pleased about remarks by Jordan’s parliamentary speaker, Atef Tarawneh over Al Aqsa, which he considered “irresponsible.”

On Tuesday, Tarawneh added to the incitement, commenting from the podium of the Jordanian Parliament that the legislative body “is documenting all the racist laws of the Knesset that support the settlements and the occupation, and we will spread them to all the parliaments that are brothers and friends of Jordan around the world.”

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.

The Saudis hold the key

June 20, 2017

The Saudis hold the key, Israel Hayom, Prof. Abraham Ben-Zvi, June 20, 2017

This multi-phased approach is not overly ambitious. It does not seek to solve everything all at once, nor does it impose an agreement on the two parties. Instead, the goal is to reach an agreement on those issues that are less charged, thereby creating an island of relative stability in a chaotic and violent environment.

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The focus of the international media has ostensibly shifted away from the Middle East to other parts of the world following U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit last month, but the administration has not stopped pushing for renewed peace talks.

The efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate by redrawing the fundamental principles so that they satisfy both sides are clearly evident in the decision to send two senior White House officials, senior adviser to the president Jared Kushner and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, to the region.

Even though the magic formula that could produce such fundamental principles is not within reach, one fact is abundantly clear: Trump does not consider a permanent agreement between Israel and the Palestinians a necessary stepping stone to a new Middle East under U.S. auspices, unlike his predecessor Barack Obama, who held this belief from the moment he became president.

In fact, Trump believes an Israeli-Palestinian accord is just one issue that needs to be addressed while he puts together a much wider regional framework. Moreover, Trump has placed a particular emphasis on Saudi Arabia rather on the Israeli-Palestinian axis. The kingdom, which fears that Iran has become more powerful since the 2015 nuclear deal, has reacted to this renewed threat by abandoning its long-held policy of kowtowing to radical entities and rogues states and has instead embarked on an uncompromising path of containment. This has generated a host of opportunities for the United States.

The strength the U.S. is projecting now (including Trump’s willingness to provide Saudi Arabia sophisticated weapons in unprecedented quantities) stands in stark contrast to the weakness during the Obama years, giving Trump a great deal of room to maneuver and influence over Riyadh.

Thus, the key to ending the impasse between the Palestinians and the Israelis is not in Ramallah or in Jerusalem but in the Saudi capital. Saudi Arabia’s willingness to publicly take on Iran and its proxies (as well as other regional entities such as Qatar), means that the president can demand confidence-building measures from the Saudis toward Israel.

In light of Riyadh’s newfound willingness to take on Hamas and similar organizations, the president’s advisers want the Saudis to pressure Ramallah and convince the PA to scale back its demands. In that context, Kushner and Greenblatt’s visit is designed to gauge what confidence-building measures Israel and the Palestinians would be willing to offer.

This multi-phased approach is not overly ambitious. It does not seek to solve everything all at once, nor does it impose an agreement on the two parties. Instead, the goal is to reach an agreement on those issues that are less charged, thereby creating an island of relative stability in a chaotic and violent environment.

Qatar’s Comeuppance

June 15, 2017

Qatar’s Comeuppance, Gatestone InstituteRuthie Blum, June 15, 2017

Ironically, pressure from this new anti-Iran Muslim bloc in the Middle East has done more to call the world’s attention to Qatar’s key role in the spread of Islamist terrorism than years of cajoling on the part of previous administrations in Washington to get Doha to live up to its signed commitments.

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Putting Doha on the Well-Deserved Defensive

Qatar’s extensive ties to terrorism and abetting of financiers to bolster it are well-documented.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain issued a statement designating 59 individuals and 12 organizations as having terror ties to Qatar. According to the statement, Doha “announces fighting terrorism on one hand and finances and supports and hosts different terrorist organizations on the other hand,” and harbors “terrorist and sectarian groups that aim to destabilize the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Daesh [ISIS] and Al Qaeda.”

Ironically, pressure from this new anti-Iran Muslim bloc in the Middle East has done more to call the world’s attention to Qatar’s key role in the spread of Islamist terrorism than years of cajoling on the part of previous administrations in Washington to get Doha to live up to its signed commitments.

A mere two weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump delivered his first major foreign policy speech in Riyadh to delegates from dozens Muslim/Arab countries, Bahrain announced on June 5 that it was halting all flights to Qatar for being a sponsor of radical Islamist terrorists. Immediately, Saudi Arabia joined the boycott, as did the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Yemen, all of which also shut off access to Al Jazeera, the anti-American, anti-Semitic Qatari television network established in 1996 and operating since then to foment unrest across the Middle East and bolster the terrorist organization the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoot, Hamas.

The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and other officials in Doha fiercely denied the charge that their government has been backing terrorism, blaming a “fake news” report on the website of the state-controlled Qatar News Agency for the eruption of the Gulf crisis.

The report, which the FBI and other U.S. security agencies believe was the result of a Russian hacking attack, quoted Al Thani calling Iran an “Islamic power,” referring to Hamas as “the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people” and saying Qatar’s relations with Israel were “good.”

Although the report did turn out to be a hoax, Qatar’s extensive ties to terrorism and abetting of financiers to bolster it are well-documented. A Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) study, titled “Qatar and Terror Finance: Private Funders of al-Qaeda in Syria,” shows that while Doha has pretended for more than a decade to be partnering with the United States to defeat Al Qaeda, the monarchy, in fact, has taken no action whatsoever against the Qatari financiers of the terrorist organization’s Syrian branch, the Nusra Front, which continues to plot attacks against the West. One of the reasons that this group eluded U.S. strikes operating in Syria was that it, like America, has been fighting ISIS. Another was that it changed its name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS or the Front for the Conquest of Syria), in an effort to distance itself from Al Qaeda. This effort was led by Qatar.

According to the FDD study, the second of a three-part document written by David Andrew Weinberg:

“…[I]ntelligence officials from Qatar and other Gulf states met several times with Nusra’s leader [in 2015] to suggest that his group could receive money, arms, and supplies after stepping away from al-Qaeda.”

While the first part of the study, released in 2014, revealed “Doha’s dismal record” during the reign of Emir Hamad Al Thani (the current monarch’s father), this one

“evaluates the publicly available evidence on Qatar’s record since then, focusing primarily on individuals sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2014 and 2015. All of these sanctions were imposed after Qatar agreed in September 2014, as part of a U.S.-led initiative called the Jeddah Communiqué, to bring terror financiers to justice.”

Weinberg concluded that Qatar has done little or nothing to comply. On the contrary, he wrote, “The funders of certain terrorist groups still enjoy legal impunity there. Nusra/JFS appears to be foremost among them.”

It is just as unlikely that a single news item was responsible for the banding together of several Arab states to impose a blockade on Qatar as it is implausible that these states, particularly Saudi Arabia — which itself has backed and spread radical Islamist ideology — are holding Qatar accountable for its ties to global jihad. Equally simplistic is the view, expressed by Trump on Twitter, that the embargo indicated the seriousness with which the above states took his call to “drive out the terrorists and extremists” from their midst.

“During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar — look!” Trump tweeted on June 7.

“So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”

This prompted pundits on both sides of the political spectrum to question whether Trump was simply being reckless in his response, or actually announcing a shift in decades of U.S. policy regarding Qatar, home of the Al Udeid Air Base southwest of Doha. Al Udeid is not only America’s largest military base in the Middle East — with some 10,000 troops, but since 2003, it has served as forward headquarters for CENTCOM (the U.S. Central Command), and has been crucial in America’s operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

The following day, Trump was accused of backtracking, when he phoned Al Thani and offered to “help the parties resolve their differences, including through a meeting at the White House if necessary.”

Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick pointed out that this was not a case of Trump reversing his position, but rather of proposing the most reasonable course of action available:

“With the Pentagon dependent on the Qatari base, and with no clear path for unseating the emir through war or coup without risking a much larger and more dangerous conflict, the only clear option is a negotiated resolution.

“Under the circumstances, the best option for the US to openly work towards is to diminish Qatar’s regional profile and financial support for Iran and its terrorist allies and proxies.”

Nevertheless, mixed messages appeared to be emerging from the Trump administration. On June 9, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the blockade was hindering U.S. operations against ISIS. On the same day, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis asserted that the isolation of Qatar so far has had no negative impact on U.S. operations in and out of Al Udeid. “All of our supplies are getting in just fine,” he told reporters. “The Defense Logistics Agency is certainly always looking at contingency plans if they’re needed, but for right now they’re OK.”

On the day that these conflicting claims began to circulate, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain issued a statement designating 59 individuals and 12 organizations as having terror ties to Qatar. According to the statement, Doha “announces fighting terrorism on one hand and finances and supports and hosts different terrorist organizations on the other hand,” and harbors “terrorist and sectarian groups that aim to destabilize the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Daesh [ISIS] and Al Qaeda.”

Bygone days of unity. The leaders of the Gulf states pose with British PM Theresa May at the Gulf Cooperation Council summit, on December 7, 2016 in Manama, Bahrain. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

On June 7 — the day of Trump’s phone call and two days before the release of the Saudi statement — Qatar hired of the law firm of John Ashcroft, former attorney general under President George W. Bush, to help counter terror accusations. This clearly was a calculated move, as Ashcroft had been instrumental in pushing through the post-9/11 “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001,” more commonly known as the Patriot Act.

According to the “Scope of Engagement” of the Ashcroft retainer, its “broad purpose,” for a “flat fee” of $250,000, is to:

“provid[e] the Client with comprehensive strategic advice, legal counsel, support, and representation related to confirming, educating, assessing and reporting the Client’s efforts to combat global terrorism and its support of and compliance with international financial regulations, including compliance with United States Treasury rules and regulations.

“The firm understands the urgency of this matter and need to communicate accurate information to both a broad constituency and certain domestic agencies and leaders…will advance, advocate, represent, and protect the Client’s interests as necessary, including but not limited to the development of comprehensive legal and government affairs strategy, coordination as necessary and in the interest of the Client, assessment of the pending news and certain nations’ claims that adversely impact the Client’s reputation and pose serious risk and consequences.”

Hiring Ashcroft is not the only indication that Qatar is running scared. Another is its leaders’ simultaneous attempt to assuage fears among its populace – reported to have begun “panic-shopping” at supermarkets — and threaten fellow Gulf Cooperation Council countries that they will suffer severe financial consequences as a result of their boycott.

“If we’re going to lose a dollar, they will lose a dollar also,” warned Qatari Finance minister Ali Shareef Al Emadi. Emadi added, “Our reserves and investment funds are more than 250 percent of gross domestic product, so I don’t think there is any reason that people need to be concerned about what’s happening or any speculation on the Qatari riyal.”

In spite of Emadi’s posturing and Doha’s assertion that it is not in cahoots with Iran, Tehran announced that it has begun sending hundreds of tons of food products to Qatar. Oman, too, is transferring goods to Doha. Turkey went a step further, authorizing the dispatch of 3,000-5,000 troops to its military base in Qatar, to assist Al Thani’s regime, should it be jeopardized by the Saudi-led initiative and internal power struggles.

This unfolding of events is creating what Middle East expert Jonathan Speyer called a “clear drawing” of the “lines of confrontation between the two central power blocs in the region…”

As Speyer wrote on June 10:

“The shunting aside of little Qatar… is ultimately only a detail in the larger picture. What is more significant is the re-emergence of an overt alliance of Sunni Arab states under US leadership, following the development of military capabilities in relevant areas, and with the stated intention of challenging the Iranian regional advance and Sunni political Islam.”

Ironically, pressure from this new anti-Iran Muslim bloc in the Middle East has done more to call the world’s attention to Qatar’s key role in the spread of Islamist terrorism than years of cajoling on the part of previous administrations in Washington to get Doha to live up to its signed commitments.

Ruthie Blum is a journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama and the ‘Arab Spring.'”

Lapid’s cynical Saudi blunder

May 30, 2017

Lapid’s cynical Saudi blunder, Israel Hayom, Jonathan S. Tobin, May 30, 2017

The point of the transaction is an attempt to preserve the Saudi monarchy from falling victim to radical foes. More importantly, it’s intended to bolster Riyadh against the main threat to both Sunni Arab regimes and Israel: Iran.

That the man who is seen as a serious candidate for prime minister is oblivious to the imperative for Israel to make common cause with the Saudis against an Iranian foe committed to the destruction of both countries is a shocking indictment of Lapid’s strategic vision. Lapid is trying to divide Israel and the United States at a time when former President Barack Obama’s efforts to increase the “daylight” between the countries is being reversed.

The last thing Israel needs right now is to push away Sunni Arabs who have finally realized that the Jewish state is an asset to the region rather than a threat or to pick a fight with Trump.

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It’s hard to beat a man by agreeing with him. That’s why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most credible foe is struggling to find a way to distinguish his own views from those of the man he wishes to replace. Polls show that Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid is the man Netanyahu needs to watch out for in the next election. But after proclaiming earlier this year that a two-state solution must wait another 20 years for the Palestinians to show that they want peace, it’s hard to see how Lapid can possibly gain an edge over the prime minister on the most important issue facing the Jewish state.

That’s why Lapid is attempting to make an issue of Netanyahu’s apparent acceptance of a massive $110 billion arms deal concluded between Saudi Arabia and the Trump administration, without so much as a whisper of protest. In a recent interview, Lapid noted that the entire Israeli security establishment was deeply concerned about the transaction, which will place a wide array of sophisticated weaponry in Saudi hands. In doing so, Lapid is not just trying to goad Netanyahu into a suicidal spat with Trump but also demonstrating how ignorant he is of American Jewish history.

Lapid’s broadside aims to imply that the prime minister is so afraid of U.S. President Donald Trump and so dependent on his good will that he won’t speak up for Israel’s interests. But his main point of concern is that giving such weapon systems to Saudis means they are “one inch away” from falling in the hands of Sunni terrorists.

Perhaps Lapid will get some traction with the charge but for anyone who’s been following the news in the region in recent years, it’s fairly obvious that he’s woefully behind the times. The point of the transaction is an attempt to preserve the Saudi monarchy from falling victim to radical foes. More importantly, it’s intended to bolster Riyadh against the main threat to both Sunni Arab regimes and Israel: Iran.

That the man who is seen as a serious candidate for prime minister is oblivious to the imperative for Israel to make common cause with the Saudis against an Iranian foe committed to the destruction of both countries is a shocking indictment of Lapid’s strategic vision. Lapid is trying to divide Israel and the United States at a time when former President Barack Obama’s efforts to increase the “daylight” between the countries is being reversed.

Lapid is also forgetting an important precedent: In 1981, the Reagan administration wanted to sell five sophisticated AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) airplanes to the Saudis. Like the far larger sale just concluded, the AWACS deal was an effort to shore up the Saudi regime against an Islamist regime in Iran. But since the Saudis were then a key player in the effort to isolate and demonize Israel as well as part of a potential eastern front against it, friends of the Jewish state, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, denounced the transaction as a blow to Israel’s military qualitative edge. Unfortunately, it was a bitter fight and one the pro-Israel lobby lost ignominiously.

That defeat led AIPAC to reassess its former emphasis on the executive branch and replace it with one that sought to ensure congressional support for Israel regardless of who was in the White House. But while AIPAC licked its wounds and began preparing to win future fights, friends of Israel generally forgot about what happened to the planes they had warned would be so dangerous to place in the hands of the Saudi state.

But, contrary to the predictions of those who worried that the AWACS planes would coordinate attacks on Israel rather than defending Riyadh against Iran or the Soviets, nothing of the kind every happened. The AWACS planes did nothing to harm Israel. Saudi Arabia may be the source of an ocean of anti-Western and anti-Israel propaganda but its leaders were never interested in fighting Israel. Moreover, three decades later, what was once covert security coordination between the Saudis and Israel is now an open secret and the basis upon which Trump’s hopes of an “outside-in” strategy for peace rests.

The Saudis are allies of convenience rather than conviction. It is wise to be skeptical about whether their goodwill extends beyond mutual antipathy for Iran. But the moral of the story is that nations have permanent interests not permanent allies or enemies. The last thing Israel needs right now is to push away Sunni Arabs who have finally realized that the Jewish state is an asset to the region rather than a threat or to pick a fight with Trump. Talking about the Saudis in this manner may have given Lapid a momentary edge but urging a repeat of AIPAC’s historic blunder is no way for him to prove his security chops. On the contrary, it seems to suggest that he is still not ready for power.

Jonathan S. Tobin is the opinion editor of JNS.org and a contributing writer to National Review. Twitter @jonathans_tobin.

The onus is on us

May 25, 2017

The onus is on us, Israel Hayom, Isi Leibler, May 25, 2017

(Iran is the greatest threat to Israel; it has or will have nukes and the means of delivering them to obliterate the “little Satan.” The Palestinians don’t and, at least in the foreseeable future, are unlikely to. By working with the Saudis, et al, to defang Iran, President Trump rejected Obama’s policy of yielding to Iran and thereby benefitted both the Saudis, et al, and Israel. — DM)

Trump did not try to force unreasonable concessions. A Palestinian state is not ‎even on the horizon. Neither is there any indication of a return to former President Barack ‎Obama’s policy of freezing all settlement construction.‎

In King Salman’s ‎statement outlining the Saudi position, rather than condemning Israel, he merely expressed the ‎hope that peace will be achieved. This was a clear message, as was the fact that Trump flew to ‎Israel on the first openly direct flight from Riyadh to Tel Aviv.‎

According to The Wall Street Journal, the Saudis no longer demand a complete ‎settlement freeze. Instead, they propose that Israel restrict construction outside the ‎settlement blocs and provide additional humanitarian aid in Gaza. ‎

In return, the Saudis would inch toward normalization by allowing ‎Israeli aircraft to fly over their territory, set up direct telephone connection and even provide ‎tourist visas for Israelis. While this was not officially confirmed, there were no denials, which ‎tends to confirm the veracity of the report. ‎

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U.S. President Donald Trump has delivered. He will not have satisfied the delusional ‎aspirations of Israel’s radical right but, despite some missteps before he arrived, the Trump visit was favorable for Israel and outlined ‎parameters of what can be achieved with the Palestinians.‎

It was disappointing that he postponed transferring the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, but we appreciate that he is the first sitting ‎American president to visit the Western Wall. ‎

He should have been more explicit about the extent of terrorism in Israel in his ‎address to the Muslim world. But he more than compensated in his extraordinarily warm ‎address at the Israel Museum.‎

There is also some concern that the substantial commercial and defense relationship with the ‎Saudis ($380 billion in deals, including $110 billion in arms purchases) might impact Israel and ‎will require steps to ensure that we maintain our qualitative military edge.‎

Trump did not try to force unreasonable concessions. A Palestinian state is not ‎even on the horizon. Neither is there any indication of a return to former President Barack ‎Obama’s policy of freezing all settlement construction.‎

Indeed, the president expressed support for Israel in a far more open and ‎positive manner than his predecessors. In his address to the leaders of 55 Muslim-‎majority countries, he reversed Obama’s moral equivalence approach and described the ‎conflict as being between the forces of decency on the one hand, and an evil death cult on the ‎other. He urged the Arab and Muslim states to actively eradicate terrorism and extremism ‎from within their ranks. He specifically condemned Hamas and ‎Hezbollah together with ISIS and al-Qaida. And he explicitly called on Arab and Muslim ‎leaders to combat anti-Semitism. ‎

For the first time, the Saudis, backed by the Egyptians and Gulf states, appear to be promoting ‎peace or at least easing the tension between the Palestinians and the Israelis. In King Salman’s ‎statement outlining the Saudi position, rather than condemning Israel, he merely expressed the ‎hope that peace will be achieved. This was a clear message, as was the fact that Trump flew to ‎Israel on the first openly direct flight from Riyadh to Tel Aviv.‎

According to The Wall Street Journal, the Saudis no longer demand a complete ‎settlement freeze. Instead, they propose that Israel restrict construction outside the ‎settlement blocs and provide additional humanitarian aid in Gaza. ‎

In return, the Saudis would inch toward normalization by allowing ‎Israeli aircraft to fly over their territory, set up direct telephone connection and even provide ‎tourist visas for Israelis. While this was not officially confirmed, there were no denials, which ‎tends to confirm the veracity of the report. ‎

Whether this was the outcome of discussions with Trump’s representatives, or ‎because the Saudis recognize the value of Israel’s support against Iran’s efforts to achieve ‎regional hegemony, is irrelevant. There have already been widespread rumors attesting to ‎covert Saudi cooperation with Israel against Iran and similarly with Egypt against ISIS.‎

Trump demanded that the Palestinians cease incitement and stop ‎rewarding terrorists murderers and their families, and avoided suggesting that Israel cease settlement activity. But he undoubtedly pressed Prime ‎Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for confidence-building measures such as ‎improving Palestinian economic conditions.‎

At this potentially historic turning point, Netanyahu must stand firm against the radicals in his ‎coalition and impose a limited freeze beyond the settlement blocs. Most Israelis ‎would endorse this, and if it brings down the government, and forces elections, the ‎nation will support Netanyahu.‎

At this crucial time, decision-making must reflect ‎the views of the centrist majority. No minority groups should ‎be able to veto our national interest.‎

Yesh Atid and elements in Labor embrace this centrist view, and should either join the ‎government or support it on this issue. ‎

Of course, this is only the beginning. Before we engage in negotiating details, ‎Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas must make some concessions. Let him recognize ‎Israel as a Jewish state and abrogate the Palestinian right of return. Then we can ‎discuss borders and a demilitarized state. For now, we must demonstrate to the ‎world and to Trump that we are reasonable and respond positively to genuine Arab ‎gestures.‎

Despite these efforts, Abbas is probably unwilling or unable to ‎change. He is unlikely to make genuine efforts to stem incitement ‎or cease awarding lavish pensions to murderers and their families. Should that be the case, ‎most of the world, especially the Europeans, will still automatically blame Israel for failure to ‎advance the peace negotiations.‎

Trump’s determination will then be put to test. If, to appease the Saudis, he was to continue to ‎make believe that Abbas is a moderate peace partner and extend the fake “peace process ‎negotiations” we have endured under Obama, we would justly feel betrayed. ‎

However, if the Trump administration performs as an honest broker and recognizes Israel’s ‎efforts and genuine desire for peace, it will conclude that in the absence of a Palestinian ‎negotiating partner, all we can achieve is an improvement in Palestinian quality of life under ‎their own autonomy while we maintain our security. At the same time, as has been hinted by ‎Trump, he may then look more seriously at alternative solutions in cooperation with Egypt and ‎Jordan and backed by the moderate Arab States, which do not involve a two state solution. It ‎is no coincidence that Trump failed to explicitly refer to a Palestinian State while visiting the ‎region. It is this veiled threat that Trump is hoping will entice the Palestinian leadership to ‎conduct bona fide negotiations for the first time.‎

We are today in an exceedingly strong position. Israel has never been so powerful militarily, ‎economically and socially.‎

Israel has never had such widespread international recognition. Whether you adore or loathe ‎Netanyahu, nobody can deny that he has been an outstanding statesman in the international ‎arena. He has a unique relationship with the Americans and with Russian President Vladimir ‎Putin, and has built up relations with India, China, Japan, Southeast Asia, Australia, Eastern ‎Europe and now Africa. ‎

The extraordinary opportunities of today may never be replicated. We must demonstrate ‎restraint and ensure that our elected representatives neither undermine us nor project the ‎image of extremists by engaging in foolish or intemperate outbursts primarily designed for ‎personal political promotion. ‎

Today, we have in our grasp this remarkable opportunity to genuinely move toward ‎improving and stabilizing our relationship with our Arab neighbors. ‎