WHILE SAUDIS CHALLENGE IRAN AND BEGIN REFORMS, HOUTHIS FIRE TEHERAN-SUPPLIED MISSILES AT RIYADH

Iranian Missiles Going to Rebels in Yemen Pose a Danger to Our Ally Saudi Arabia: Behnam Ben Taleblu, Fox News, Dec. 17, 2017— The debate about whether Iran is providing ballistic missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen has been ended…

Is Saudi Arabia Key to America's Mideast Strategy?: Peter Huessy, Gatestone Institute, Dec. 6, 2017 — In early November, Houthi rebels in Yemen, backed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, launched a missile strike targeting the King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Making Saudi Great Again: Sohrab Ahmari, Commentary, Dec. 11, 2017— Writing in these pages last month, I described Muhammad bin Salman’s reform agenda in Saudi Arabia as “the real Arab Spring.”

Qatari vs. Saudi Wahhabism and the Perils of Top-Down Change: Dr. James M. Dorsey, BESA, Dec. 7, 2017— A multi-domed, sand-colored architectural marvel, Doha’s national mosque symbolizes Qatar’s complex and troubled relationship with Saudi Arabia.

 

On Topic Links

 

Saudis Intercept Yemen Rebel Missile Targeting Royal Palace: National Post, Dec. 19, 2017

Saudis Move Toward Netanyahu’s Vision on the Palestinians: Alexander Fulbright, Times of Israel, Dec. 4, 2017

Keeping Our Cool with Saudi Arabia: Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Mordechai Kedar, BESA, Dec. 4, 2017

On Recent Saudi Reforms: A Conversation With Daniel Pipes: Nozhan Etezadosaltaneh, International Policy Digest, Nov. 21, 2017

 

 

IRANIAN MISSILES GOING TO REBELS IN YEMEN

POSE A DANGER TO OUR ALLY SAUDI ARABIA

Behnam Ben Taleblu

Fox News, Dec. 17, 2017

 

The debate about whether Iran is providing ballistic missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen has been ended, thanks to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who has unveiled components of Iranian missiles recovered from target sites in Saudi Arabia fired on by the Houthis. The U.S. has now made clear that Iran is not just violating a U.N. Security Council Resolution that imposes an arms embargo on Yemen. Iran is also violating another resolution by the U.N. Security Council that codifies the 2015 Iran nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Typically, Iran has backed the Houthis with rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and anti-tank weapons like the Toophan, which is an Iranian copy of the American TOW missile. This transfer of basic infantry weapons has been confirmed by numerous intercepted arms transfers between Iran and the Yemeni insurgents. However, Iran’s provision of ballistic missiles to the Houthi insurgents means that Tehran may be willing to escalate a conflict once assumed peripheral to its regional designs.

 

Speaking Thursday in front of the remains of an Iranian Qiam-1 missile on display at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, Haley underscored that the threat posed by Iran’s ballistic missile program is not limited to launches. Its missile proliferation is equally as serious and destabilizing. Iran wants to tip the scales in Yemen while keeping its footprint light. The missiles Iran has given to the Houthis can hit major Saudi population centers, such as its capital Riyadh. This means that the Houthis can now intimidate and deter the Saudi-led coalition arrayed against them. That’s why the Qiam-1 missile is a potential game-changer.

 

The Qiam-1 is an Iranian liquid-fueled short-range ballistic missile based on a modified Scud design. First debuting in Iran in 2010, the Qiam-1 is Iran’s first finless ballistic missile. Iranian outlets claim the Qiam-1 can carry up to a 750-kilogram warhead and travel up to 800 kilometers. This means that the Qiam-1 can be considered a “nuclear capable” missile, as it meets the Missile Technology Control Regime’s range and payload specifications.

 

The Houthis are already using the Qiam-1 to inflict terror on the Saudi population. On Nov. 4, the Houthis fired a missile they call the Burkan-2 towards King Khalid International Airport, a civilian airport in the Saudi capital. While initial media reports said the missile was intercepted, more recent analysis by missile experts revealed that it penetrated Saudi defenses. Although the Houthis captured some ballistic missiles from Yemeni military stockpiles, including liquid-fueled Scuds and the solid-fueled Tochka SRBM, these missiles lack the range to reach Riyadh.

 

In her remarks Thursday, Haley said: “The Iranian Qiam missile is the only known short-range ballistic missile in the world that lacks such stabilizer fins and includes nine valves that you will see running along the length of the missile. Those valves are essentially Iranian missile fingerprints.” Missile experts have since seconded Haley’s assertion about the missile’s links to Iran, noting the materials used in the airframe matched those used by the Iranians.

 

Until now, Washington had not offered hard evidence to support its charge that Iran was providing surface-to-surface missiles to the Houthis. But the Defense Department has now publicized photos of the valves and markings on the Qiam missile. Earlier it was unclear how Iran snuck the Qiam into Yemen, if at all. In the fall of 2016 Reuters reported that Iran was using land routes via Oman to smuggle other weapons to the Houthis. Previously, a U.N. report suggested it would be extremely challenging to smuggle a ballistic missile over land, yet now the Defense Department photos indicate that Iran cut the missile’s body into pieces and later welded them back together.

 

The more information the U.S. makes public about Iran’s provision of men, money and munitions to the Houthis and other violent non-state actors in the Middle East, the easier time it will have making the case for tougher sanctions and coercive measures against Tehran. Washington must work to stem the flow of Iranian arms to Yemen, impose economic costs on Tehran and beef up the missile defense systems of its partners in the region. While Iran can be expected to continue denying that it is arming the Houthis, the evidence presented by Ambassador Haley speaks for itself.

 

                                                                       

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IS SAUDI ARABIA KEY TO AMERICA'S MIDEAST STRATEGY?

Peter Huessy

Gatestone Institute, Dec. 6, 2017

 

In early November, Houthi rebels in Yemen, backed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, launched a missile strike targeting the King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Although the missile, like more than 100 others launched at Saudi Arabia from Yemen over the past two years, was intercepted, and no casualties were incurred, the incident served as yet another reminder of Tehran's aggression and hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East, through proxy terrorist organizations. The Houthis are but one example; al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah are others.

 

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, U.S. President Donald Trump telephoned Saudi King Salman to repeat the importance of fighting terrorism in the region and the world — the stated purpose of the joint American-Saudi Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology, which the two leaders inaugurated in Riyadh in May, at a gathering of representatives from 50 Islamic nations. Since that summit in the spring — the first leg of Trump's first official trip abroad as president – King Salman's son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has been pushing economic and social reforms, announcing a crackdown on corruption and an increase in women's rights, including allowing them to drive.

 

At the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh at the end of October, Crown Prince Mohammed vowed to "return to a more moderate Islam," saying: "We want to lead normal lives, lives where our religion and our traditions translate into tolerance, so that we coexist with the world and become part of the development of the world…. Saudi was not like this before '79. Saudi Arabia and the entire region went through a revival after '79. … All we're doing is going back to what we were: a moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world and to all traditions and people." This development vindicates what syndicated columnist…Charles Krauthammer called the Trump administration's "progress in the Middle East." In May, after the Riyadh summit, he wrote: "That progress began with Trump's trip to Saudi Arabia, the first of his presidency — an unmistakable declaration of a radical reorientation of U.S. policy in the region. Message: The appeasement of Iran is over."

 

Krauthammer further explained: "The reversal has now begun. The first act was Trump's Riyadh address to about 50 Muslim states (the overwhelming majority of them Sunni) signaling a wide Islamic alliance committed to resisting Iran and willing to cast its lot with the American side. That was objective No. 1. The other was to turn the Sunni powers against Sunni terrorism. The Islamic State is Sunni. Al-Qaeda is Sunni. Fifteen of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi. And the spread of Saudi-funded madrassas around the world has for decades inculcated a poisonous Wahhabism that has fueled Islamist terrorism. Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states publicly declaring war on their bastard terrorist child is significant. As is their pledge not to tolerate any semiofficial support or private donations. And their opening during the summit of an anti-terrorism center in Riyadh. After eight years of U.S. policy hovering between neglect and betrayal, the Sunni Arabs are relieved to have America back. A salutary side effect is the possibility of a detente with Israel."

 

Crown Prince Mohammed appears to be acting on this "relief" — and on his declared commitment to combating Iran and shifting to a policy more consistent with the goals of the current American administration — in a number of ways. Not only has he made concrete moves to end widespread corruption among members of the royal family, but he also detained two prominent Islamist clerics and other radical Islamists critical of his decision to lead the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt in an embargo against Qatar for its sponsoring of terrorism. In addition, on November 19, the Saudi kingdom convened an emergency meeting of the Arab League in Cairo, to condemn Iran and its Lebanon-based proxy Hezbollah for "supporting terrorism and extremist groups in Arab countries with advanced weapons and ballistic missiles" — such as the Houthis in Yemen.

 

According to the Jerusalem Post's Seth Frantzman, "The main takeaway from the meeting in Cairo is it cements the Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE ties that have been clear since the Qatar crisis in July," spurred by Doha's support for Islamist terrorist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and close ties with Iran, with which it shares the world's largest gas field.

 

Saudi Arabia deserves praise for recognizing and acknowledging the threat from Iran and for calling on other states to do the same. Before the administration in Washington puts too much faith in the regime in Riyadh, however, it must not ignore findings of a recent investigative report revealing that hundreds of Saudi and Kuwaiti nationals residing in the United States — many of them students with dual citizenship and receiving government scholarships — have joined ISIS and other terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq during the past three years, and the Saudi government has reportedly kept this information from American authorities.

 

As the Iran scholar Amir Taheri recently wrote: "If Saudi Arabia is genuine in its declared desire to become an active member of the global system, the first thing it has to do is to offer the rule of law in the sense understood by most people around the world." Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed, who is 32, has the opportunity to exact genuine change, particularly in a country more than half of whose population is under the age of 30. Whether he will follow through on his promise to liberalize the kingdom and fight extremism remains to be seen, but it is in the interest of the United States that it do so.

 

At a summit in Moscow in the spring of 1988, U.S. President Ronald Reagan said: "Here's my strategy on the Cold War: we win, they lose." This is the kind of strategy that the current administration in Washington needs to adopt in relation to the Middle East. Let us hope that Saudi Arabia will be part of that strategy, and not an obstacle to it.                                                              

                                                                                   

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MAKING SAUDI GREAT AGAIN

Sohrab Ahmari

Commentary, Dec. 11, 2017

 

Writing in these pages last month, I described Muhammad bin Salman’s reform agenda in Saudi Arabia as “the real Arab Spring.” The 32-year-old Saudi crown prince, widely known as MBS, seeks to dramatically transform the ultra-conservative kingdom, I argued. But he is pursuing change in a top-down, authoritarian manner that is better-attuned to the character and needs of his people. His methods are less likely to yield the chaos and state failure that resulted from the popular uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa in 2010 through 2012.

 

Now comes more evidence that MBS is serious about liberalization. On Monday, Saudi authorities lifted the 35-year ban on commercial movie theaters in the kingdom. Americans encountering the news might be tempted to laugh it off: “Saudi Arabia takes a bold step into 1905!” But for Saudis with few outlets for fun, dating, and socialization, the return of movie night is no small matter. The announcement follows MBS’s decision to give women the right to drive and attend soccer games. No longer will being young and female in Saudi be synonymous with suffocating boredom.

 

There are other benefits associated with these changes. First, by empowering young people, MBS is rewriting the Saudi social contract. For decades, the kingdom buffeted its people with generous lifetime entitlements, in exchange for which Saudis traded in most of their citizenship rights. That arrangement worked for a time, but it is increasingly unsustainable, especially with oil prices hovering at $50 a barrel and unlikely to climb anytime soon.

 

It was this looming economic crisis that spurred MBS to act. Granting young Saudis greater personal freedoms, the thinking goes, will encourage them to see themselves as citizens rather than subjects and welfare-state dependents. In parallel to this social opening, the kingdom under MBS aims to expand the private share of gross domestic product, boost women’s participation in the labor market, and scrap a number of subsidies and benefits. These are politically challenging economic reforms. MBS is wisely adding spoonfuls of sugar to make the medicine go down.

 

Second, MBS’s liberalizing reforms will help secure his own position. As I argued in November, the crown prince is creating a permanent constituency of women and young people who are determined to see him succeed. Here is a prince from their own age cohort, who makes bold promises and delivers. Other princes and princelings within the House of Saud will now be that much more reticent to challenge MBS for fear of incurring the wrath of these young people. This is populism, Saudi-style.

 

Finally, there is the salutary PR effect. Riyadh’s regional arch-rival, the Islamic Republic of Iran, can no longer paint itself as a beacon of progress next to hidebound Saudi Arabia. For years, Tehran tried to win regional hearts and minds by showcasing its sham elections and Iranian women’s freedom to drive. But Saudi women can now drive, too. And they are even ahead of their Iranian counterparts, in that they are permitted into soccer stadiums.

 

Riyadh still has far to go. One important area, so far left untouched by MBS, is the status of religious minorities. The crown prince can put Tehran to shame, and further bolster his regime’s legitimacy, by ending the restrictions and petty persecution targeting the kingdom’s Shiite minority. Extending a hand to the Shiites and appointing them to positions of responsibility within government would help alleviate the community’s sense of grievance and inoculate Shiites against Iranian anti-Saudi propaganda. Similarly, it is long past time to permit non-Muslim believers to practice their faith openly in the kingdom.

 

Taking such steps within an authoritarian framework won’t win Muhammad bin Salman plaudits from the West’s universalist human-rights brigade. But they will secure his status as the pivotal Arab figure of the first half of the 21st century.                                 

                                                                       

 

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QATARI VS. SAUDI WAHHABISM AND THE PERILS OF TOP-DOWN CHANGE

Dr. James M. Dorsey

BESA, Dec. 7, 2017

 

A multi-domed, sand-colored architectural marvel, Doha’s national mosque symbolizes Qatar’s complex and troubled relationship with Saudi Arabia. Its naming six years ago after eighteenth century Islamic scholar Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab, the founder of one of Islam’s most puritan strands, sparked controversy, becoming an episode in the latest Gulf crisis.

 

The naming of the mosque, which overlooks the Qatar Sports Club in Doha’s Jubailat district, was intended to pacify more traditional segments of Qatari society as well as Saudi Arabia, which sees the tiny Gulf state, the only other country whose native population is Wahhabi, as a troublesome and dangerous gadfly on its doorstep. Qatar has long challenged the Kingdom’s puritan interpretation of Islam. Now, together with the Saudis’ other nemesis, the United Arab Emirates, it offers an unacknowledged model for Saudi reforms envisioned by the Kingdom’s powerful crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman.

This does not mean that Qatar no longer poses a challenge. If anything, it poses a greater challenge through its opposition to Saudi Arabia’s and the UAE’s counterrevolutionary strategy in the Middle East and North Africa – even if its vision of a Gulf ruled by more forward-looking, less socially conservative autocrats is shared by Prince Muhammad and United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Muhammad bin Zayed.

 

The challenge posed by Qatar prompted the two princes six months ago to impose a diplomatic and economic boycott on Qatar. The crisis is likely to figure prominently in the upcoming first meeting of Gulf leaders since the imposition of the boycott at a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Kuwait. By naming the mosque after Ibn Abdul Wahhab, Qatar reaffirmed its adherence to the Wahhabi creed that goes back to nineteenth-century Saudi support for the rise to dominance of the Al Thani clan, the country’s hereditary ruling family – even if its social norms and foreign policy differed sharply from those of the kingdom.

 

In fact, social change in Qatar in the past two decades has contrasted starkly with efforts by King Salman’s predecessor, King Abdullah, to maintain as much as possible of the status quo prior to the popular revolts that swept the Middle East and North Africa in 2011 in demand of greater freedom, transparency, and accountability. They also diverged radically from King Khalid and King Fahd’s earlier empowerment of the ultra-conservatives in response to the 1979 Iranian revolution and attack by Saudi militants on the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

 

Qatar is a traditional Gulf state and a Wahhabi state to boot, but it has never had a powerful religious establishment that could enforce ultra-conservative social norms. Nor did it implement absolute gender segregation. Non-Muslims could practice their faith in their own houses of worship and were exempt from bans on alcohol. Qatar became a sponsor of the arts, including a Doha version of the Tribeca Film Festival, and hosts the state-owned Al Jazeera television network, which revolutionized the region’s controlled media landscape and became one of the world’s foremost global broadcasters. The UAE boasts many of the same traits minus the history of an ultra-conservative strand of Islam.

 

Qatar’s projection of a different approach to Wahhabism is rooted in the DNA of the Qatari state, which, from its founding, was determined not to emulate the Kingdom. Privately, Qataris distinguish between their “Wahhabism of the sea” as opposed to Saudi Arabia’s “Wahhabism of the land.”

 

Political scientists Birol Baskan and Steven Wright argue that on a political level, Qatar has a secular character similar to Turkey’s and in sharp contrast to that of Saudi Arabia, which they attribute to Qatar’s lack of a class of Muslim legal scholars. The absence of scholars was in part a reflection of Qatari ambivalence towards Wahhabism, which it viewed as both an opportunity and a threat: on the one hand, it served to legitimize domestic rule; but on the other, it was a monkey wrench Saudi Arabia could employ to assert control. Generating a clerical class of its own would have enhanced the threat, because to do so, Qatar would have been dependent on Saudi scholars. That would have produced a religious establishment steeped in the Kingdom’s austere theology and inspired by its history of political power-sharing, which it then would have demanded.

 

As a result, Qatar lacks the institutions that have often held the Kingdom back. Similarly, Qatar does not have families known for producing religious scholars. Qatari religious schools are run by the ministry of education, not, as in Saudi Arabia, by the religious affairs authority. They are staffed by expatriates rather than Qataris and attended by less than 1% of the total student body, and of those, only 10% are Qatari nationals. By the same token, Qatari religious authority is not institutionally vested. Qatar has, for example, no Grand Mufti, as do Saudi Arabia and various other Arab nations. It did not create a Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Endowments until 22 years after it had achieved independence…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]

 

Contents

 

On Topic Links

 

Saudis Intercept Yemen Rebel Missile Targeting Royal Palace: National Post, Dec. 19, 2017—The Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Shiite rebels said it intercepted a missile fired over southern Riyadh on Tuesday while the Yemeni rebels said they targeted the royal palace in the kingdom’s capital.

Saudis Move Toward Netanyahu’s Vision on the Palestinians: Alexander Fulbright, Times of Israel, Dec. 4, 2017—An American peace plan rumored to be backed by Saudi Arabia has reportedly fueled concerns among Palestinian and Arab officials that Washington has adopted Israel’s views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Keeping Our Cool with Saudi Arabia: Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Mordechai Kedar, BESA, Dec. 4, 2017—Rivers of enthusiasm washed over the Israeli media regarding the recent interview by Chief-of-Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot with the Arabic news website Elaph. “Saudi newspaper interviews Israeli chief of staff!” “Peace with Saudi Arabia has begun!” “The days of the messiah are upon us!” was the general gist of the responses.

On Recent Saudi Reforms: A Conversation With Daniel Pipes: Nozhan Etezadosaltaneh, International Policy Digest, Nov. 21, 2017International Policy Digest: Is the recent Saudi permission for women to drive cars and enter a stadium to watch men in sports competitions merely a political maneuver or a real reform? Daniel Pipes: All signs point to Mohammad bin Salman, the effective ruler of Saudi Arabia, being very serious about basic changes. So, I see this as a real reform.