Posted tagged ‘Trump and Saudi Arabia’

Trump Breaks the Diplomatic Mold

May 23, 2017

Trump Breaks the Diplomatic Mold, Commentary Magazine. May 22, 2017

President Donald Trump walks with Saudi King Salman at the Arab Islamic American Summit, at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center, Sunday, May 21, 2017, in Riyadh. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Upon arrival, Trump received a royal welcome. Saudi King Salman braved the 101-degree heat of the tarmac to greet the presidential plane personally. A brass band serenaded the two world leaders as cannons issued celebratory volleys and seven Saudi jets streamed trails of red, white, and blue overhead. The president and the king joined one another in the presidential limo and rode off together to an extravagant ceremony at the Saudi Court, where attention was even lavished upon the president’s aides.

The intentional contrast this reception struck with Barack Obama’s 2014 trip to the Saudi Kingdom was stark. Upon Obama’s arrival, King Salman dispatched only his distant nephew, the provincial governor of Riyadh, to meet the leader of the free world. The Obama White House did its best to save face, but the snub was a clear indication that tensions surrounding Iran nuclear deal, the ongoing bloodshed in Syria, and Obama’s explicit antipathy toward the Saudi Kingdom as a nation unworthy of an alliance with America.

As COMMENTARY’s Evelyn C. Gordon discussed, in exchange for Israeli technology and intelligence, a relaxation of the Gaza blockade, and the cessation of settlement construction in “some areas,” this Sunni alliance would “establish direct telecommunication links with Israel, let Israeli aircraft overfly their countries, lift certain trade restrictions and perhaps grant visas to Israeli athletes and businessmen.” And all of this would occur with existing Palestinian realities utterly unchanged. Even if no further progress toward peace in the region is secured, that bell cannot be un-rung.

A truly successful presidency in the Middle East may begin first with the abandonment of that burdensome, dog-eared diplomatic playbook.

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There is perhaps nothing a global class of calcified diplomatic professionals appreciates more than subtlety and nuance. Donald Trump’s tour of the world’s three major religious capitals is about as unsubtle and unnuanced as you can get. To many seasoned diplomats, this administration’s naïve effort to forge peace in this fashion is downright dangerous—possibly more than the administration even knows. Maybe. Or maybe the president and his team are dispensing with ossified convention in a field that could desperately use some fresh thinking. With the first leg of Trump’s world theological tour complete, it is not impossible that something new is taking shape.

In Saudi Arabia this weekend, Donald Trump danced with swords, touched an ominous glowing orb, and delivered a narrowly tailored and reasonably well-received speech on radical Islamic terrorism in the heart of the Islamic world. Among many other regional power brokers, the president also met with the leaders of Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain. What Trump did in the Saudi Kingdom is, however, less interesting than how the Saudis responded to him.

Upon arrival, Trump received a royal welcome. Saudi King Salman braved the 101-degree heat of the tarmac to greet the presidential plane personally. A brass band serenaded the two world leaders as cannons issued celebratory volleys and seven Saudi jets streamed trails of red, white, and blue overhead. The president and the king joined one another in the presidential limo and rode off together to an extravagant ceremony at the Saudi Court, where attention was even lavished upon the president’s aides.

The intentional contrast this reception struck with Barack Obama’s 2014 trip to the Saudi Kingdom was stark. Upon Obama’s arrival, King Salman dispatched only his distant nephew, the provincial governor of Riyadh, to meet the leader of the free world. The Obama White House did its best to save face, but the snub was a clear indication that tensions surrounding Iran nuclear deal, the ongoing bloodshed in Syria, and Obama’s explicit antipathy toward the Saudi Kingdom as a nation unworthy of an alliance with America.

From Saudi Arabia, Trump traveled directly to Israel—itself a shift in convention—where he was also greeted warmly. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife met the president and first lady at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. Using his remarks alongside Trump to issue a veiled rebuke of Obama, Netanyahu noted: “We appreciate the reassertion of American leadership in the Middle East.”

President Obama entered office with the objective of creating a new power balance in the region that would allow the United States to withdraw confidently. The former president’s stated belief that America’s alliance toward Israel “erodes our credibility with the Arab states” in combination with his mistrust toward Sunni Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Egypt left him with few ways of achieving that goal. There’s a cosmic irony in the fact that Obama’s navel-gazing paved the way for a radically new and promising dynamic to emerge in the Middle East. Conceptually, the strategy Trump is pursuing in the Middle East is wildly divergent from his predecessors. He is effectively abandoning the idea that there can be no resolution of the Arab World’s hostility toward Israel without first creating a Palestinian state.

As recently as February, administration sources began providing details to the press about a proposed pan-Sunni military alliance designed to both counter Islamist extremism and a resurgent Iran. That alliance would include states with unfrozen relations with Israel, like Egypt and Jordan, and nations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which do not recognize the Jewish state. According to a recent bombshell report, however, the prospect of a radical relaxation in tensions between Israel and the Arab World is real.

As COMMENTARY’s Evelyn C. Gordon discussed, in exchange for Israeli technology and intelligence, a relaxation of the Gaza blockade, and the cessation of settlement construction in “some areas,” this Sunni alliance would “establish direct telecommunication links with Israel, let Israeli aircraft overfly their countries, lift certain trade restrictions and perhaps grant visas to Israeli athletes and businessmen.” And all of this would occur with existing Palestinian realities utterly unchanged. Even if no further progress toward peace in the region is secured, that bell cannot be un-rung.

Donald Trump isn’t the first American president to benefit from warm feelings solely because he isn’t the last guy to have occupied the Oval Office. When it comes to the Middle East, crises and chaos have a habit of scuttling even the best-laid plans. Iranian power projection into places like Iraq, Yemen, and Syria has, however, created new avenues of cooperation between adversarial powers with a common enemy in Tehran. If Trump can translate this new reality into tangible accomplishment (a big “if”), he will have the makings of a potent argument for his presidency and a second term.

On foreign affairs, in particular, President Donald Trump has invited the wrath of the critics. He is “the world’s most undiplomatic” diplomat who has embraced illiberal and strategically inept “lame-stream diplomacy.” Indeed, his “rejection of traditional diplomacy for his own distinctive, brusque style has incurred costs without any visible offsetting benefits.” In his article “Is This the End of the Free World,” Abe Greenwald demonstrated that Trump has an appalling and lamentably familiar habit of alienating America’s natural allies. It’s a nasty feature of a distorted worldview, and it may result in the continued loss of allied faith in American vision and authority. For now, however, not only is the Middle East obviously thrilled for the Obama era to be over but that has provided Donald Trump with the opportunity for a real diplomatic triumph. A truly successful presidency in the Middle East may begin first with the abandonment of that burdensome, dog-eared diplomatic playbook.

Al Qaeda criticizes Saudi relations with West during President Trump’s visit

May 22, 2017

Al Qaeda criticizes Saudi relations with West during President Trump’s visit, Long War Journal May 22, 2017

Al Qaeda seized on President Donald J. Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia to once again criticize the royal family and call for an uprising.

According to bin Laden, these early Saudi dealings with the West led to the British capture of Palestine and, later on, the establishment of the Israeli state.

Osama bin Laden liked to argue that there is a “Zionist-Crusader” conspiracy against Muslims. His son, Hamza, has continued with these themes, making it one of his central talking points and accusing the House of Saud of being part of it.

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On May 20, al Qaeda’s propaganda arm, As Sahab, released an audio message from Hamza bin Laden. The junior bin Laden follows in his father’s footsteps by blasting the Saudi royal family. His speech is the second part in a series aimed at the House of Saud. Part 1, in which Hamza called for regime change, was released last August.

It’s not clear when Hamza recorded his latest anti-Saudi message. He does not mention President Trump or the American delegation. Instead, he focuses on the early decades of the Saudi dynasty, portraying it as a corrupt regime that serves the interests of the West. Still, al Qaeda undoubtedly wanted to maximize the audience for Hamza’s audio by releasing it during President Trump’s visit.

Then, on May 21, al Qaeda published the 15th issue of its Al Nafir Bulletin (seen below). The one-page newsletter is devoted to Trump’s visit. “The Al Saud rulers and all apostate rulers appear before us today in wasteful ceremonies to offer loyalty and renew their allegiance to the hateful Crusader master of the White House, Trump,” the newsletter reads.

Just hours before Al Nafir was released online, President Trump attended a ceremony with King Salman and Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi to commemorate the opening of the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology in Riyadh. Unsurprisingly, Al Nafir’s editors criticize the move, arguing that the “rulers” had really committed to building “an apostate army to fight jihad and the Mujahideen in the name of fighting terror and terrorism.” The center will be used “to fight faith, purity, and commitment, under the call to fight extremism, backwardness, and intolerance,” al Qaeda contends.

In Al-Nafir, al Qaeda also argues that the Saudi government should give its money to the people instead of investing it in defense deals and other arrangements with the US. Al Qaeda uses these two issues — the Saudis’ supposed misuse of funds and the creation of the new center — to renew its call for jihad.

“So here are the Crusaders and the apostates, and they have stolen your money, fought your religion, shed your blood, and transgressed against your honor,” Al Nafir reads. “When will you return to your religion and do jihad in the cause of Allah?”

Hamza bin Laden’s critique of Ibn Saud

Al Qaeda has been raising Hamza’s media profile since the summer of 2015, when he was first introduced as a prominent jihadist figure. On May 13, just one week before Hamza’s new anti-Saudi message, As Sahab released another speech from Osama’s heir. In that talk, Hamza provided advice to “martyrdom seekers” living in the West. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report: Hamza bin Laden offers ‘advice for martyrdom seekers in the West’]

In his latest message, Hamza accuses the Saudi government of promulgating a false version of its own history, arguing that “generations have been raised” ignorant of what truly transpired during the first years of the 20th Century, when the House of Saud rose. Bin Laden is keen to undermine King Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahman Al Saud’s (Ibn Saud) legacy, portraying him as a witting agent of the British. Only when the proper history is told, Hamza says, will Muslims “understand the magnitude of the injustice brought upon” their country and then work to “restore” their “stolen rights.”

Bin Laden accuses Ibn Saud of working with the British from the beginning, seeking their “approval” before leaving Kuwait (where the Saud family lived) and conquering the city of Riyadh in 1902. Riyadh and large parts of the Arabian peninsula were controlled by Ibn Rashid’s men, who were allied with the Ottoman Empire at the time. Bin Laden says Ibn Saud could only expand his power at the expense of the Ottoman Empire’s allies and he sought assistance from the British to do it. This, from al Qaeda’s perspective, violates Islamic law, as Ibn Saud attacked fellow Muslims while working with the British.

According to bin Laden, the Saudi telling of Ibn Saud’s early conquests omits these “sharia violations,” including the assault on the Ottoman’s ally “to serve the English” and the “unlawful killing of Muslims.”

In the period leading up to World War I, the Ottoman government sought to reconcile the opposing forces inside the Arabian Peninsula. And so a deal was struck between the Ottomans and Ibn Saud, which granted the Saudi patriarch territorial rights in exchange for military cooperation and an agreement to prevent “foreign powers” from expanding their influence in the region. But Ibn Saud broke this agreement as well, bin Laden says, after he again sided with the British. (Ibn Saud’s territory was declared a British protectorate as part of a treaty in 1915.) Ibn Saud moved on the Turks’ main client, Ibn Rashid, despite their previous understanding. In so doing, bin Laden charges, the founder of the Saudi dynasty paved the way for “the English and their allies to occupy the homelands of the Muslims.”

Bin Laden reminds his audience that Captain William Henry Irvine Shakespear, a British emissary, served as Ibn Saud’s military adviser and had “command” of the Muslim forces while organizing “their ranks.” This was part of Britain’s broader “financial and military” support for Ibn Saud. This is all “clear evidence” of English support, bin Laden says, and led to “Crusader hegemony” over the region.

According to bin Laden, these early Saudi dealings with the West led to the British capture of Palestine and, later on, the establishment of the Israeli state.

Osama bin Laden liked to argue that there is a “Zionist-Crusader” conspiracy against Muslims. His son, Hamza, has continued with these theme, making it one of his central talking points and accusing the House of Saud of being part of it.

A Dose of Reality in Riyadh

May 22, 2017

A Dose of Reality in Riyadh, Front Page MagazineBruce Bawer, May 22, 2017

Early on in his speech, Trump addressed his audience as friends and partners; within a few minutes, without pointing a finger, and without abandoning the collegial tone or the complimentary language, made it clear he was lecturing them. He was the boss, the capo di tutti capi, and he was laying down terms. This wasn’t Obama, who naively thought he could change the world with groveling apologies for the West, praise for Islam built on sheer fantasy, and yet another retelling of his own supposedly inspiring personal story – all the while oozing beta-male deference and docility. No; this was a man of power who – never once talking about himself – made expert use of that power, wielding an iron fist in a velvet glove. His message was unmistakable: either set aside this stupid religion (or at least rein it in, and now), join the modern world, and set your people free to dream, hope, create, grow, and prosper. Or else face the consequences. When, at the end, he summed up the assets of the Islamic world, he didn’t even mention Islam: he cited, among other things, its “spirit of enterprise” and ambitious young people. Where Obama had falsely attributed all kinds of past wonders to Islam, Trump imagined an implicitly Islam-free future in which the region could finally enjoy “glorious wonders of science, art, medicine, and commerce to inspire mankind.” 

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On June 4, 2009, Barack Obama went to Cairo and delivered a speech, addressed to the Muslim world, that was full of praise for Islam and apologies on behalf of the West. In the address, entitled “A New Beginning” (“I’ve come here to Cairo,” he explained, “to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world”), he called the university at which he was speaking (which, if it were anywhere in the West, would probably not be able to gain accreditation) “a beacon of Islamic learning”; he blamed tensions between the West and Islam largely on Western “colonialism”; he said “Salaam aleikum” and kept referring to “the Holy Koran”; he asserted, in a ridiculous example of hyperbole, that “Islam has always been part of America’s story”; he served up a big wallop of revised history, giving Islam unmerited praise for centuries-old accomplishments in science, architecture, music, art, and medicine and even holding it up as “a model of tolerance and equality” (at one point, he seemed to imply that in some ways women’s rights are more advanced in the Muslim world than in the U.S.); and, with utter predictability, he quoted the the “Holy Koran” out of context, plucking out that favorite verse of all Western apologists that supposedly teaches “that if one kills an innocent, it is as if it he has killed all of mankind.”

And of course, as always, he talked about himself: a descendant of “generations of Muslims” in Kenya; a man who, in his Indonesian boyhood, daily heard the beautiful Islamic call to prayer; a president who had “known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed.” As someone with such intimate ties to the Religion of Peace, asserted Obama, he saw it as part of his job to “fight against negative stereotypes of Islam.” Yes, he spoke about the need to fight terror, but he was quick to maintain that “Islam is not part of the problem” but rather “an important part of promoting peace.” He defended U.S. ties to Israel and recognized the “reality of the Holocaust,” but quickly pivoted to the “suffering” of Palestinians, the “pain of dislocation” they experienced, and the “daily humiliations” of the “occupation” – preaching, in short, to Israel from a Cairo pulpit. He quoted from the Talmud, but was careful not to call it holy. He implied that the histories of the Jews and Palestinians were equally tragic. And he preached to America too, suggesting that when Americans criticize the “choice” of women – and girls (!) – to wear hijab they were disguising their “hostility” to Islam “behind the pretense of liberalism.” Similarly, instead of thundering against the evil of 9/11, Obama apologized for the supposed excesses of some Americans’ responses to that atrocity, saying with nauseating chagrin that “in some cases it led us to acts contrary to our principles and our ideals.” Oh, and he vowed to close Guantánamo “by early next year.”

This Sunday, almost exactly as far into his presidency as Obama was when he gave his Cairo speech, Donald Trump spoke in Riyadh. For some of us, the very prospect of this appearance had been, to put it mildly, dismaying. Trump won the election, after all, largely because of his tough and bracingly realistic talk about Islam. Now, on his first trip abroad as president, he was going to Saudi Arabia. It was bad enough that this was a trip to a Muslim country. But Saudi Arabia isn’t just any Muslim country. It’s the mother of all Muslim countries. It’s the single most backward of them all. It’s a state sponsor of terrorism. It, and members of its royal family, have bankrolled mosques and madrassas and university departments of Middle Eastern Studies throughout the Western world – places that are nothing more than centers of Islamic propaganda. Most of the 9/11 hijackers, as the whole world knows, were Saudis. And the whole point of Trump’s visit to Riyadh was to celebrate a gigantic sale of U.S. arms to the Saudis on the premise that they represent a major bulwark against an even more dire threat, namely Iran. Nor was Trump just addressing the Saudis: also in attendance were the leaders of most of the other Muslim countries on the planet – in other words, a whole boatload of really nasty customers. It was hard not to conclude that Trump, like Obama, was going to try to brown-nose his way into a “new beginning between the United States and Muslims.”

The opening minutes of Trump’s speech certainly did nothing to dispel this expectation. It was gag-inducing to hear him praise the “magnificent kingdom” of Saudi Arabia, “the splendor of your country,” “the grandeur of this remarkable place,” and so on. It was absurd to hear him talk about working together with the ultra-extremist Saudis to eliminate “extremism.”

But then something happened. Even as he continued to serve up the usual glowing rhetoric about Islam being “one of the world’s great faiths,” and to refer to this and that as being “holy,” he made a couple of exceedingly elegant transitions. First, he began mixing the ethereal praise with realistic businessman-type talk about the value of international partnership. “We are not here to lecture, to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship,” he said. “Instead, we are here to offer partnership” between the West and the Muslim world – a partnership that would bring prosperity to future Muslim generations. But he underscored the fact that in order for such a partnership to work, something would have to change. And it would have to change a lot. The Islamic world, he insisted, had to turn into a place where young Muslims could grow up “innocent of hatred.” And then he spelled out the results of that hatred, presenting first a roll call of some of the “barbaric attacks” on America – 9/11, Boston, San Bernardino, Orlando – and then a list of other places (“Europe, Africa, South America, India, Russia, China, and Australia”) where that hatred has manifested itself.

However delicately he worked his way around to it, it was nothing less than an accusation.

No, he didn’t explicitly charge Muslim leaders with funding terrorism – but he told them, in no uncertain terms, that they needed to cut off funds to terrorists. Nor did he explicitly blame Islam for terror or explicitly call it evil (as much as some of us would have loved to hear him do so) – but he came tantalizingly close to doing so, speaking bluntly about the “vile creed,” the “wicked ideology,” the “craven ideology”, that underlies terror. He did use the word “evil.” And, yes, he spoke of “Islamic” (not “Islamist” or “radical Islamic”) terror. And he made it clear he wasn’t just talking about terrorism – he was talking about Islam itself. He condemned “the oppression of women, the persecution of Jews, and the slaughter of Christians.” He warned: “barbarism will deliver you no glory. Piety to evil will bring you no dignity.”  Yes, “piety to evil.” Even as he continued to make flattering references to Islam, they felt increasingly pro forma, and it became increasingly manifest that he was identifying that religion as the root not just of terror but of all that is primitive and barbaric about that portion of the world in which it is most commonly practiced. In one remarkable passage, he listed a number of wonders of the Arab region of which his listeners should be proud. What was remarkable was that they were all wonders that dated to pre-Islamic times. In short, he was reminding these people that they had a proud history, a proud identity, that predated their prophet and that could, if they wished, help form the foundation of a new, free, forward-looking culture.

Of course, even to express such thoughts, in some Islamic countries, is considered heretical, illegal; but Trump did it in such a masterly way that you could imagine some of these Muslim big shots sitting there trying to figure out whether they should be offended or not.

In fact, it was all quite masterfully done. Early on in his speech, Trump addressed his audience as friends and partners; within a few minutes, without pointing a finger, and without abandoning the collegial tone or the complimentary language, made it clear he was lecturing them. He was the boss, the capo di tutti capi, and he was laying down terms. This wasn’t Obama, who naively thought he could change the world with groveling apologies for the West, praise for Islam built on sheer fantasy, and yet another retelling of his own supposedly inspiring personal story – all the while oozing beta-male deference and docility. No; this was a man of power who – never once talking about himself – made expert use of that power, wielding an iron fist in a velvet glove. His message was unmistakable: either set aside this stupid religion (or at least rein it in, and now), join the modern world, and set your people free to dream, hope, create, grow, and prosper. Or else face the consequences. When, at the end, he summed up the assets of the Islamic world, he didn’t even mention Islam: he cited, among other things, its “spirit of enterprise” and ambitious young people. Where Obama had falsely attributed all kinds of past wonders to Islam, Trump imagined an implicitly Islam-free future in which the region could finally enjoy “glorious wonders of science, art, medicine, and commerce to inspire mankind.”

Yes, it would have been terrific to hear an American president spell out the truth about Islam in a less nuanced, less diplomatic fashion. And it was frankly bizarre to hear Trump, in his closing moments, singling Iran out as uniquely malevolent after having heaped praise on other equally nefarious regimes whose leaders were right there in the room with him. But we critics of Islam have our jobs and Trump has his. Given the occasion and the purpose, this was, even at its worst, an immense improvement over Obama’s Cairo oration, and, at its best, a convincing assertion of authority, a strongly pitched demand for radical transformation, and a perfectly calibrated use of the carrot-and-stick approach.

No, international Islam is almost certainly beyond meaningful reform. But history has shown that it can at least be contained and controlled in ways that give citizens of Muslim-majority countries a certain degree of freedom and that keep to a minimum the scale of violence in the West originating in those countries. (The rampant Islamization of the West, and the concomitant increase in home-grown Islamic terror, are separate questions.) And no, a single speech can’t accomplish much of anything. But Trump’s tough presentation in Riyadh, if followed up by equally tough interactions with our “friends” in that audience, may well get a few things, here and there, moving in welcome directions.

Tillerson and Saudi Foreign Minister hold briefing

May 20, 2017

Tillerson and Saudi Foreign Minister hold briefing, PBS via YouTube, May 20, 2017

 

Syria & allies push back at US-held border post

May 20, 2017

Syria & allies push back at US-held border post, DEBKAfile, May 20, 2017

The US bombardment of that force Thursday underlined for Saudi Arabia and the dozens of Arab and Muslim rulers, gathered in Riyadh to meet the US president, his administration’s determination to prevent Iran and its Lebanese surrogate, Hizballah, from gaining control of Syria. American troops were accordingly engaged proactively in securing the border crossings between Syria and Iraq.

This clash of arms is likely to expand into an outright US showdown with the US and Syria, Iran and Hizballah in the next 24-48 hours ahead of President Trump’s visit to Israel, the second stop of his four-national trip.

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The Syrian-pro-Iranian-Hizballah force in southern Syria renewed its advance on the Iraqi border on Saturday, May 20, two days after sustaining heavy casualties from a US air strike on its convoys and in spite of US Defense Secretary James’ Mattis warning, “We will defend our troops.”

Syrian military sources reported the capture Saturday of the Suweida region and another 60 square kilometers. This offensive brought the Syrian army and its allies closer to the strategic Al-Tanf crossing at the Syrian border intersection with Iraq and Jordan, which is held by US and other special operations units.

The US-led coalition force is also made up of elite units from Britain, Holland, Germany and the Czech Republic, as well as Jordan and a large contingent of the rebel Free Syria Army trained and armed by American instructors in Jordan.

The latest arrival to boost this force, DEBKAfile’s military sources report, was a unit of Norwegian special forces, which entered Syria from Iraq through the Al-Waleed border crossing in western Anbar. They arrived along with American reinforcements and linked up with the US and British forces deployed at Al Tanf.

However, the Syrian force and its allies to the US air strike moved fast enough Saturday to threaten the FSA troops fighting there with being trapped by a siege. They have pushed their offensive forward against the US-led force, despite their losses from an American air raid, as a show of defiance that was timed for President Donald Trump’s arrival in Saudi Arabia.

Another US air strike appears to be unavoidable for pushing them back. The danger is also rising of a major clash on the ground between US-led coalition special forces troops and the combined Syrian-Iranian-Hizballah force.

The US bombardment of that force Thursday underlined for Saudi Arabia and the dozens of Arab and Muslim rulers, gathered in Riyadh to meet the US president, his administration’s determination to prevent Iran and its Lebanese surrogate, Hizballah, from gaining control of Syria. American troops were accordingly engaged proactively in securing the border crossings between Syria and Iraq.

However, Tehran, Damascus and Hizballah are evidently not about to shirk a direct confrontation with Washington and the Trump administration, apparently with the support of Moscow.

This clash of arms is likely to expand into an outright US showdown with the US and Syria, Iran and Hizballah in the next 24-48 hours ahead of President Trump’s visit to Israel, the second stop of his four-national trip

Saudi Royals signal the real magnitude of the deal they made with Trump

May 20, 2017

Saudi Royals signal the real magnitude of the deal they made with Trump, American ThinkerThomas Lifson, May 20, 2017

President Trump’s spectacular reception in Riyadh is a signal to the world (and to Saudi subjects, in particular) that big changes are coming. Elderly and frail King Salman ventured out onto the apron in 110 degree heat and actually shook Melania Trump’s hand as she deplaned Air Force One, thereby touching a female infidel.

 

 

 

Perhaps even more important in terms of Saudi daily life, the women in attendance at functions did not wear head coverings and abayas.  The entire nation saw this on television and understands that the fracking-created global oil glut changes everything, that the infidels no longer cower in fear of a cutoff of the oil that Allah granted to the protectors of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.  The old arguments of the fanatics hold less water.  Change is coming. The King signaled that the restrictions declared by the Wahhabi clergy are no longer the ultimate arbiter of personal behavior, and that Saudis are going to have to start respecting the customs of the infidels.  Something like his handshake gesture can seem trivial, quaint, or even humorous to Americans, but it is very serious business. The role modeling of the women at the highest and most formal level reaches deep into the culture.

It is now clear that the King and his two designated successors (Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nyef and Mohammad bin Salman) have made a deal to liberalize Saudi Arabia. The deal-maker president has told them that there is a price of continued American support.

This would be against the wishes of powerful factions of the Saudi Royal Family (about 5,000 strong), some of whom are closely aligned with (and fund) the radical Wahhabi clergy. For decades, the (principally) Saudi-funded Wahhabis have poisoned the Ummah (the global Muslim community) with their feudal views. Saudi Arabia only became mega-wealthy in the 1950s, and the world’s Muslims were not violently engaged in much jihad. The Wahhabi clergy and the Saudi-funded mosques they brought with them prepared the soil for Al Qaeda at home and abroad.

Make no mistake: there is every possibility that a violent reaction or a coup within the Royal Family if sufficiently provoked. The clergy are important because they preach to the Saudi masses, and could whip them up into an attempt at an overthrow of the corrupt Royals who siphon off so much of Allah’s bounty for their own decadent pleasures, many of them haram. That is why Saudi Arabia has such a large investment in its security forces. The plan is for them to remain loyal in the event of an uprising, but man plans and Allah laughs.

The Royals are in a very delicate position.  The dominant faction, the King and his two designated successors, have to loosen things up gradually, step by step, so as to not put their opponents over the edge into a revolt that would brutally slaughter untold numbers, quite possibly including themselves. Like the mythological frog in a pot of water on the stove, they have to increase the heat very slowly.

They have already agreed to a deal to reward President Trump with a massive arms purchase worth $109.7 billion. That’s jobs and profits. But this aspect of the deal, from the New York Times, is important:

 On the afternoon of May 1, President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, welcomed a high-level delegation of Saudis to a gilded reception room next door to the White House and delivered a brisk pep talk: “Let’s get this done today.”

Mr. Kushner was referring to a $100 billion-plus arms deal that the administration hoped to seal with Saudi Arabia in time to announce it during Mr. Trump’s visit to the kingdom this weekend. The two sides discussed a shopping list that included planes, ships and precision-guided bombs. Then an American official raised the idea of the Saudis’ buying a sophisticated radar system designed to shoot down ballistic missiles.

Sensing that the cost might be a problem, several administration officials said, Mr. Kushner picked up the phone and called Marillyn A. Hewson — the chief executive of Lockheed Martin, which makes the radar system — and asked her whether she could cut the price. As his guests watched slack-jawed, Ms. Hewson told him she would look into it, officials said.

Mr. Kushner’s personal intervention in the arms sale is further evidence of the Trump White House’s readiness to dispense with custom in favor of informal, hands-on deal making. It also offers a window into how the administration hopes to change America’s position in the Middle East, emphasizing hard power and haggling over traditional diplomacy.

This is a tangible and personal signal to the factions of the Saudi family represented in the high-level delegation. An Orthodox Jew, married to the favored child of the President (who became a Jew herself) saved them money using his personal connections. Call me suspicious but I think this was carefully planned theatre. You have to see this against the background of the sudden new confluence of interests between Israel and Saudi Arabia, united in opposition to Iran and Arab Radical Islamic terrorists. The two nations already covertly cooperate, a ruse that cannot last forever. Slowly and surely the Saudis have to turn away from the Palestinians and toward an embrace of Israel.  And it turns out that there can be a considerable upside to making peace with Israel and the Jews.

So, where do the Saudis go from here? How do they demonstrate to Trump, the world, and their own subjects that things are changing, and that it is acceptable.

My guess is that a symbolic measure that does not affect anyone in Saudi Arabia would be the next step. An easy one would be to end the prohibition against Israeli civilian airliners flying over Saudi airspace when flying eastward toward India, Thailand, and beyond. Israel’s economic and tourism ties with Asia are large and growing, so this restriction, which adds hours and costs, is an irritant to Israelis, as well as a political statement to the world that Israel is illegitimate.

The fact is that President Trump’s planned nonstop Air Force One flight from Riyadh to Ben Gurion Airport in Israel will be the first publicly-known flight between the two nations. (There is a decent chance that secret flights have taken place because the governments do talk to each other covertly.) So Trump is already liberalizing their aviation restrictions.

Allowing Israeli airliners to fly over Saudi territory would be a good first step toward eventual direct flights, a sign of complete acceptance of Israel as a legitimate nation, which is the only long term solution to peace between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East. It is a long path, but there is no alternative to a step at a time, given the delicate political situation of the Saudi Royals.

It is clear to me that President Trump has made a transformational deal, and that the West has stake in helping it come to fruition.

ISIS’s real target: Saudi Arabia

May 20, 2017

ISIS’s real target: Saudi Arabia, Fox News OpinionAli Shihabi, May 19, 2017

(An old Scotts proverb states that many a mickle makes a muckle — much little stuff makes lots.  A Chinese proverb states that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Rather than taking one step forward, President Obama took several leaps backward, and not only by bowing to the King of Saudi Arabia. President Trump took a step forward by not bowing and therefore meeting the King on an equal basis. First Lady Melania helped by not wearing a head covering. Apparently, Saudi Arabia is already moving in, or at least toward, the right direction. 

Saudi Arabia will not reject Islam, but there are signs that efforts are underway to temper it. The trip will take longer than we might wish, but with perserverence and good will we will get closer and closer and perhaps even arrive. — DM)

As custodian of Islam’s holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, and as leader of the 41-nation Islamic coalition established to combat terror, Saudi Arabia is on the front line of the global fight against radical jihadi terrorism. It is also the ultimate target of terrorist organizations that dream of controlling the center of the Islamic world and the nation’s vast oil wealth. President Trump, in making Riyadh his first overseas stop, is demonstrating this weekend that the U.S.-Saudi strategic relationship is a vital one, and that the kingdom is an essential partner in countering and crushing violent jihadi extremism.

And yet, some critics in the West continue to ridicule any Saudi role in fighting terrorism. They accuse the kingdom of promoting “Wahhabism,” the conservative Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia, arguing that its teachings are a precursor to terrorism. This, despite the fact that the kingdom is itself in the crosshairs of ISIS, al-Qaeda and a revolutionary and belligerent Iran and has seen multiple terror attacks since 1995. 

In truth, the Saudi government understands that it has a problem, and it is working to temper the intolerance and rigid thinking of its clerics, a process that will be durable only if done gradually. Part of reforming its reactionary, conservative religious establishment involves utilizing it as a force that, while still not liberal by Western standards, can leverage its considerable stature, prestige and influence in the Muslim world to outlaw all forms of terrorism and ostracize those who promote them.

Saudi Arabia’s progress in the fight against extremism will be also be marked by Mr. Trump when he attends the opening of a center in Riyadh intended to fight radicalism.

“By establishing and operating this center, our Muslim friends, including Saudi Arabia, are taking a firm stand against extremism and those who adopt a perverted interpretation of religion to advance their criminal and political agendas,” National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told journalists earlier this week.

The kingdom is well-versed and battle-tested in this fight. The Saudi government has built a world-class anti-terrorism capability that uses intelligence, community outreach, rehabilitation and, when necessary, brute force to fight terrorism, perhaps more effectively than any other country facing such militancy in its homeland.

Saudi Arabia’s commitment to the fight against terrorism may be hard to fathom for many Americans. After all, in the confusion following the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a narrative developed that the terrorists attacked America because they wanted to change the American way of life.

In fact, Al Qaeda – a strain of which became ISIS – has never held illusions about its capacity to spread its ideology in the United States. Instead, the 9/11 attacks were highly strategic, designed with one goal: to sever the strong Saudi–U.S. alliance. There is a reason Al Qaeda deliberately chose 15 Saudis among the hijackers. It was not because of “Wahhabism” or because of a secret Saudi hatred of the Western way of life. It was because Al Qaeda’s goal has been, and remains, the provocation of a U.S.-Saudi divorce.

Al Qaeda then, and ISIS today, hope to use terror to push the U.S. into withdrawing from the Gulf region, because they perceive the American presence as essential to preserving the existing political order in the Arabian Peninsula. Iran shares this strategy with ISIS, which is why it funds and arms destabilizing terror groups in the region, from Hezbollah in Syria to the Houthis in Yemen. Without an American presence in the region, jihadi leaders believe they could overthrow the Gulf monarchies.

Meanwhile, campaigns of terror have only brought the U.S. and Saudi Arabia closer together, deepening a relationship that has endured for three-quarters of a century. Trump’s decision to visit Riyadh first is evidence of that.

This bilateral bond and strengthening alliance against terrorism between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia will ensure that neither Mecca nor Main Street, USA, will fall to the perverted and murderous ideology of radical jihadis. The Trump administration is signaling its strong understanding of the critical value Saudi Arabia brings to the table in its partnership against terror. Now that’s an idea worth spreading in the U.S.

Ali Shihabi is the executive director of the Arabia Foundation (www.ArabiaFoundation.org), a Washington, DC-based think tank focused on the geopolitics of the Arabian Peninsula.