Daily Briefing:THE GULF STATES’ WIDENING RIFT  (October 6,2020)

Saudi journalist, Global Opinions columnist for the Washington Post, and former editor-in-chief of Al-Arab News Channel Jamal Khashoggi offers remarks during POMED’s “Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia: A Deeper Look”. March 21, 2018, Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), Washington, DC. (Wikipedia)

Table of contents:

From 9/11 to Khashoggi: The Saudi Islamist State Within a State (Part III of III):  Irina Tsukerman, BESA, Oct. 4, 2020

Saudi Arabia Says It Dismantled an Iran-Backed Terrorist Cell:  Stephen Kalin and Sune Engel Rasmussen, WSJ, Sept. 29, 2020

Qatar’s Media Campaign Against UAE-Israel Deal Reflects a Wider Gulf Rift: Haisam Hassanein, Washington Institute, Sept. 10, 2020

Why Qatar Should Not be Designated An Ally of the United States:  Efraim Inbar, Jerusalem Post, Sept. 25, 2020


From 9/11 to Khashoggi: The Saudi Islamist State Within a State (Part III of III)
Irina Tsukerman
BESA, Oct. 4, 2020

Jamal Khashoggi, whose name has peppered assorted seemingly unrelated stories about corruption and Islamist activity inside Saudi Arabia, was a witness to all the events they discuss. Ali Soufan admitted to knowing him, and indeed it is obvious that Khashoggi would have met Soufan in his capacity as an intelligence operative. But given that Khashoggi had openly embraced Islamist views, and given that his history with Osama bin Laden predates the widely known narrative of their encounter when Khashoggi was an embedded reporter in Afghanistan, the story of Turki Faisal’s reported engagement of Khashoggi to prevent al-Qaeda attacks in Saudi Arabia needs to be reevaluated. Also of interest are Khashoggi’s reported efforts to unite the London-based Saudi opposition, including the blacklisted Qatar-backed al-Qaeda suspect Saad Faqih, who fancied replacing the Saud family with himself as a “constitutional” monarch beholden to Islamist ideology.

Why would a reputable, loyal, and supposedly liberal-minded reporter be associated with a suspected terrorist supporter and with other dissidents known to be funded by Qatar, a longstanding adversary of the Kingdom? Khashoggi was one of those best positioned to have known of Emir Hamad’s funding of the Saudi Islamist networks and assorted fellow travelers, and of the Qaddafi tapes. Indeed, it seems that Soufan, Khashoggi, Jabri, and others were part of the same network and had been working toward the same goal.

This could explain why Jabri and Soufan both parroted the Khashoggi-inspired narrative that Muhammad bin Salman was allegedly sending out a squad of assassins to eliminate “dissidents.” Rumors that Khashoggi was eliminated because he had knowledge of the financing behind the 9/11 attacks and was ready to inform on his former colleagues connected to the Islamist network in the Saudi intelligence services began circulating shortly after his death.

However, rather than going all the way to the natural conclusion of this line of inquiry, which would be to examine the Islamists who had been at the helm and their counterparts in Western intelligence, most commentators on the topic implausibly attributed this “cover-up” to Muhammad bin Salman. This, of course, defies logic, as the Crown Prince was not only just a teenager when 9/11 took place, but came from the branch of the family strongly opposed to Islamism. Since coming to power he has sought to remove Islamist corruption and conspiracies that obstruct the Kingdom’s path to progress. But the main point bears scrutiny.

Had Khashoggi, who had been threatened with arrest by Muhammad bin Salman, become a cause for worry among those involved in the schemes? Is Ali Soufan’s repetition of the old chestnut about the “15 Saudi nationals” in response to VP Pence’s recent comment about Qassem Soleimani and Iran not just a repetition of the traditional pro-Qatar attack on the Kingdom’s image? Perhaps Soufan is attempting to redirect belated scrutiny away from Khashoggi’s role in, for instance, the cover-up of contacts between the Islamists and Iran and the coordination between Iran, the Brotherhood networks in Saudi Arabia and at the IDB, and al-Qaeda.

This could also explain how by another strange coincidence the same law firm, Debevoise & Plimpton, that worked on the effort remove Yassin Qadi from the US sanctions list represented the Committee to Protect Journalists this past July in an effort to force the US government to release documents that would confirm or deny Khashoggi’s awareness of threats to his life—a narrative championed by Khashoggi’s Qatar-backed dissident associates, such as Omar Abdulaziz and Iyad Baghdadi. The same firm also represented George Soros’s Open Society Justice Initiative in an FOIA request for government records related to the Khashoggi investigation. Open Society had previously funded the efforts of UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard, who concocted a report, funded by outside parties, concerning the Khashoggi killing without interviewing any Saudi sources. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Saudi Arabia Says It Dismantled an Iran-Backed Terrorist Cell
Stephen Kalin and Sune Engel Rasmussen
WSJ, Sept. 29, 2020

Saudi Arabia said it dismantled a terrorist cell with ties to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the latest indication of heightened tensions in the Middle East as the two longtime rivals compete for regional supremacy.

Saudi security forces arrested 10 people on Sept. 23, including three the kingdom said had received military training and instruction in making bombs in late 2017 at sites in Iran belonging to the Guards, the Saudi national security agency said late Monday. It didn’t identify the suspects, citing continuing investigations.

The agency, known as the State Security Presidency, said it had seized nine improvised explosive devices and more than five kilograms of gunpowder, along with fuses, chemicals and electronics used in bomb-making. Photographs published in Saudi media showed a cache of arms including assault rifles, scopes and thousands of rounds of ammunition as well as military uniforms that had been confiscated at a house and a farm being used as storage sites.
Iran didn’t comment on the arrests.

Neil Quilliam, senior research fellow at Britain’s Chatham House think tank, said the message that Iran remains a threat to stability in the Persian Gulf was likely to be repeated often ahead of U.S. presidential elections and Saudi Arabia’s hosting of a G-20 summit, both in November.

“It certainly fits with a new and bold pattern of Saudi messaging against Iran, which is intended to draw international attention to Tehran’s transgressions against its neighbors,” he said.

The announcement follows a United Nations address in which Saudi Arabia’s King Salman lashed out at Iran over what he called expansionist activities in the region. Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally, warily accepted a 2015 nuclear deal that six world powers struck with Iran but was quick to endorse President Trump’s decision to abandon it.

“The kingdom welcomed international efforts to deal with Iran’s nuclear program, but time and again, the entire world witnessed how the Iranian regime exploited these efforts in order to intensify its expansionist activities, create its terrorist networks, and use terrorism,” King Salman said in the U.N. address, which took place on Sept. 23.

“Our experience with the Iranian regime has taught us that partial solutions and appeasement did not stop its threats to international peace and security,” he added.

The power struggle between Riyadh and Tehran—the two main powerhouses in the turbulent Middle East—comes against a changing geopolitical backdrop. The recent normalization of ties between Israel and two Arab Gulf states—the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain—helped firm up anti-Iranian alliances. Saudi Arabia has come under pressure to follow suit but tensions atop the ruling family suggest such a shift would be turbulent. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Qatar’s Media Campaign Against UAE-Israel Deal Reflects a Wider Gulf Rift
Haisam Hassanein
Washington Institute, Sept. 10, 2020

In the weeks since U.S., Emirati, and Israeli leaders announced a historic normalization agreement on August 13, Qatari media has leveled major criticism of the deal. Yet the motivations for this criticism seem to reflect direct competition between Qatar and the UAE as much as genuine critique.

The direct competition between the UAE and Qatar, combined with the broader boycott of Qatar by the Arab Quartet—the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Bahrain— helps contextualize vocal, conflicting media responses to the deal, as Qatari, Saudi, and Emirati media have some of the broadest reach and largest influence regionally.

In Qatar, both semi-official and government-backed media have come out strongly against the deal, emphasizing Palestinian outrage and criticizing the UAE directly for the diplomatic move. Pro-Qatari government Al-Sharq newspaper mischaracterized the accord with a headline quoting Turkish President Erdogan, “History won’t forgive the UAE for signing a deal with Israel.” The same newspaper also ran the headline, “MbS is ready to establish open relations… The mediator is the Jew Haim Saban.”

State-owned Qatar TV claimed that Israel had deceived the UAE and is not planning to stop annexation, featuring images of Israeli police forces stopping Palestinian protesters from burning the Emirati flag and images of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) inside Al-Aqsa mosque to claim that Israelis are protecting Emiratis from Palestinian outrage.

Additionally, the Al-Jazeera channel aired tens of political shows in which interviewees from different Arab nationalities condemned the deal aggressively. Most of the coverage was directed specifically against the persona of the Emirati leadership, and the wording of these programs sought to delegitimize them.

In contrast, Arab Quartet media has pushed hard in the opposite direction as Emirati, Saudi, and Bahraini channels—with the notable exception of those channels affiliated with Bahrain’s Shia opposition—have defended the normalization deal. The fourth member of the Quartet—Egypt—has been notably quiet.

Unsurprisingly, Emirati newspapers have glorified the deal as historic, conferring massive praise on MbZ for his success in stopping annexation in exchange for keeping the two state-solution alive. UAE media outlets were keen on hosting Israeli commentators fluent in Arabic to emphasize Israeli-Qatari relations, bolstering the Emirati narrative that Qatar’s criticism is hypocritical. For example, Knesset member Eli Avidar argued on Sky News Arabia that Qatar wants to have an exclusive relationship with Israel. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Why Qatar Should Not be Designated an Ally of the United States
Efraim Inbar
Jerusalem Post, Sept. 25, 2020

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Arabian Gulf Affairs Timothy Lenderking says the US hopes to move forward with designating Qatar as a major non-NATO ally. This status provides a country with US benefits in defense trade and security cooperation. Specifically, “Major Non-NATO Ally” or MNNA status gives a country preferential access to US military equipment and technology, including free surplus material, expedited export processing and prioritized cooperation on training. Currently, 17 countries have MNNA status, including the Gulf Arab states Kuwait and Bahrain.

American consideration of MNNA status for Qatar probably also reflects domestic and corporate interests: the desire to sell arms to one of the richest countries in the world. But this privileges domestic considerations over longer-term foreign policy considerations, namely the importance of bolstering allies against foes.

An American decision to designate Qatar as an MNNA would not be wise. Although Qatar hosts the largest US military facility in the region, it does not deserve to be considered a true ally of America.

Qatar spends enormous amounts of money in systematic support for the nefarious activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and its branches all over the world. The Muslim Brotherhood is an anti-Western and anti-democratic organization. Qatar also funds numerous jihadist groups, and many Qatari citizens have been convicted of regional terrorist activities.

Qatar also uses its influential Al Jazeera television network to undermine the stability of its pro-Western Arab neighbors. The US recently concluded that Al Jazeera is not a media outlet, but a lobbying outfit. As far back as the so-called “Arab Spring,” Al Jazeera fomented trouble. Today, Qatar seeks to subvert the regime of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi (a regime that put an end to the dangerous Muslim Brotherhood-backed presidency of Mohamed Morsi).

Not surprisingly, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have imposed a blockade on Qatar since 2017, in an attempt to check the subversive behavior of Doha, to little avail.

Qatar has called in Turkish help. President Recep Erdogan’s Turkey (which also is associated with the Muslim Brotherhood) has stationed 5,000 soldiers on Qatar’s soil in order to defend the sheikdom. Moreover, Qatar has supported Erdogan’s adventuristic foreign policy that is driven by Ottoman and Islamist impulses.

Qatar has helped Erdogan overcome the economic difficulties of recent years. Qatar is also financing the Turkish intervention in the civil war in Libya (on the side of the Tripoli government, whose Islamist links are well known) against Egypt, which backs the other protagonists in Libya.

SEEKING SHORT-TERM stability, Israel has allowed Qatar to regularly provide funds to sustain Hamas rule in Gaza. Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, a terrorist organization intent on destroying Israel. (This Israeli policy is short-sided and foolish.)
Overall, the US has failed to discern the emergence of a not entirely new anti-Western axis in the Middle East, comprised of Turkey and Qatar. This is a dangerous radical Sunni alignment. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

For Further Reference:

Saudi Arabia Says Flights between UAE and Israel Can Cross its Airspace:  JNS, Sept. 2, 2020 — Saudia Arabia announced on Wednesday that all flights between Israel and the United Arab Emirates can traverse its airspace.

US Eager To See Gulf Dispute End, Qatar Blockade Lifted Michael Hernandez, AA, Sept. 14, 2020 — The US is eager to see Qatar and its Gulf Arab neighbors end a three-year diplomatic crisis that has led to the blockade of the emirate, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday.

The Dangerous New Iran-Qatar-Turkey-Hamas Alliance: Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute, Sept. 28, 2020 — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s continued rapprochement with the Iran-backed Hamas is jeopardizing the Palestinians’ relations with Egypt.

Inside the Rise of Mohammed bin Salman: Bradley Hope and Justin Scheck, WSJ, Aug. 20, 2020 — The models arrived first. Boats carrying some 150 women, from Brazil, Russia and elsewhere, docked in the summer of 2015 at Velaa Private Island, an opulent Maldives resort.