Tag: Persian Gulf States



Qatar’s Support of Islamists Leads to Global Terrorism: Ariel Ben Solomon, Jerusalem Post, August 1, 2017— Should Israel join the status-quo Sunni states led by Saudi Arabia in their pressure campaign against terrorism-supporting Qatar, which is promoting Islamist revolutionary movements across the region, including in Israel?

Qatar's Comeuppance a Long Time Coming: Raymond Stock, The Diplomatist, July 2017— Jutting into the Persian Gulf like lower Michigan minus its thumb, the super-rich peninsular nation of Qatar has long been a problem—one that has now brought the region to the brink of a potentially catastrophic conflict.

The Cost of Supporting Israel Has Never Been Lower: Elliot Kaufman, National Review, July 17, 2017— In Oslo, the Tony Award–winning play set in the early 1990s, a Palestinian negotiator makes a powerful claim to his Israeli counterpart: “Until you make peace with us,” he says, “you’ll never be accepted by your neighbours.”

Living in the Real World Means Doing Business with Bad Guys Like the Saudi Regime: Editorial, National Post, Aug. 4, 2017 — It isn’t terribly surprising to learn that Canadian-made military vehicles are apparently being used against civilians by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.


On Topic Links


Joining Arab States, Israel Says it Plans to Ban Al-Jazeera: National Post, Aug. 6, 2017

Latest Developments in Saudi Arabia Chart a Course for Israeli Ties With Arab World: Sean Savage, JNS, July 3, 2017

Qatar and the Saudis – Getting Ready for the Next Round: Dr. Mordechai Kedar, Arutz Sheva, July 10, 2017

Former Liberal Cabinet Minister Calls for End to Canadian Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia: Steven Chase, Globe & Mail, Aug. 1, 2017




Ariel Ben Solomon

Jerusalem Post, August 1, 2017


Should Israel join the status-quo Sunni states led by Saudi Arabia in their pressure campaign against terrorism-supporting Qatar, which is promoting Islamist revolutionary movements across the region, including in Israel? Israel took a step in this direction on Wednesday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated on Facebook that he will seek to remove Qatar’s pan-Arab media channel Al Jazeera from the country for inciting violence in Jerusalem.

Also on Wednesday, US Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) stated in congressional testimony, “Qatar has been known to be a permissive environment for terror financing reportedly funding US designated foreign terrorist organizations such as Hamas as well as several extremist groups operating in Syria.” The congresswomen went on point out that all Gulf states have had problems with facilitating terrorism, but that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are dealing with the issue at a “faster rate.” Not so in Qatar.


In a study by David Andrew Weinberg that was published in January by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) titled “Qatar and Terror Finance: Part II: Private Funders of [al-Qaida] in Syria,” he wrote: “Based on these cases, there is no persuasive proof that Qatar has stopped letting certain terror financiers off the hook…Indeed, it is impossible to identify even a single specific instance of Qatar charging, convicting, and jailing a US- or UN-designated individual,” said the report.


Qatar is a principal funder of Hamas – both in Gaza and in the West Bank.  For example, Israel could lobby the US and European governments to up the pressure on Qatar, so that it withdraws support for radical groups, preachers and the radical Islamist content promoted on its popular pan-Arab Al Jazeera media channel, which is broadcast in hundreds of thousands of Israeli Arab living rooms.


By joining with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain, which already cut ties with Qatar, Israel would be able to further align its national interest with these countries, and particularly in opposition to Iran, the leading sponsor of terrorism in the world. Israel could also join the lobbying effort to get Qatar to break off its relations with Iran, with which it shares the largest offshore gas field in the world, known as the North Dome/ South Pars.


Qatar hedges its position with Iran because it fears that its relatively small population of 250,000 citizens and over 2 million people total (and lackluster military prowess), would place it at risk from the regional power of nearly 83 million that is located just a hop across the Persian Gulf. Qatar has invited Turkey, another supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, to deploy its troops there, to deter Saudi Arabia and other neighbors. Additionally, Qatar feels protected because it hosts the Al Udeid military base, the largest US base in the Middle East.


However, the Trump administration has hinted that it could easily be moved to another Arab country. “If we ever had to leave, we would have 10 countries willing to build us another one, believe me, and they will pay for it,” US President Donald Trump said in an interview with CBN News this month. This coalition of Sunni states led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, along with Israel and the US, could work to counter the Brotherhood brand of Islamism globally – by cutting off its funding and incitement on media platforms – and this starts with Qatar.


The US has tremendous leverage over Qatar not only because of the base, but also because it could put pressure on the country through the international financial banking system Washington controls. Qatar and prominent financiers residing there back the Muslim Brotherhood movement, its Palestinian offshoot Hamas and allegedly also jihadi groups al-Qaida and Islamic State. The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, has served as the ideological gateway for more radical Islamist offshoots such as Islamic Jihad, al-Qaida and Islamic State, which strike out against regional governments and the West.


As John Hannah at FDD, a former official in the George W. Bush White House, stated at a conference in May: “It’s no coincidence, Muslim Brotherhood has been the gateway drug for violent Islamists the world over.” However, all Islamist groups have the ultimate goal to strive for global power, they just go about it with varying degrees of violence and pragmatism…

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





Raymond Stock

    The Diplomatist, July 2017


Jutting into the Persian Gulf like lower Michigan minus its thumb, the super-rich peninsular nation of Qatar has long been a problem—one that has now brought the region to the brink of a potentially catastrophic conflict.


Seen for decades as a more liberal extension of the arch-conservative Saudi Kingdom, since the mid-1990s Qatar has striven to maintain that façade, even as it aided and funded the global jihad, both directly indirectly, and grew dangerously close with an ever-more strident and aggressive Iran. As the tensions built, erupted, subsided and built again during this time, it finally took a US administration willing to back up and rally the countries that Qatar's actions have threatened—primarily the very states that have moved against it now—to bring matters to a head.


The result has been a lengthening physical and diplomatic embargo on Qatar that could lead to war, or perhaps impede the war to kill the Islamic State (IS). In either case it would leave a lasting rift among four of the six states in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and lands far beyond them. Begun by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain, later joined by Chad, Libya, the Maldives, Niger and Yemen, this was a crisis, sadly, whose time had come.


While much has been made of the reaction to a May 23 report by Qatar's state news agency (improbably) praising both Iran and Israel and predicting a short term in office for Trump, it does not appear to have been the real trigger for the incident. Qatar claims it was hacked, dismissing the disputed posting as "fake news." CNN reported on June 7 that US intelligence believes it was the work of unnamed Russians, though the FBI is now on the case.


Yet the real kicker was clearly the $1 billion Qatar paid in April to free a group of 26 of its nationals kidnapped by the Iran-linked Shi'ite militia Kita'eb Hizbollah while hunting in Iraq in December 2015. Freed in the same deal were 50 Islamists seized by other jihadis in Syria, as reported in The Financial Times on June 5—thus both "Iranian security officials" and an al-Qaeda (AQ) affiliate, al-Nusra Front, apparently received the cash. Worse, the deal was evidently done behind the back of the Baghdad government led by Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi—who is trying to rein in the brutal Shi'ite militias while fighting ISIS. Al-Abadi announced in April that Iraq had confiscated "millions of dollars" in suitcases from Qatari planes on its territory, says the FT.


Meanwhile, Iyad Allawi, Iraq's secular Shi'ite vice president, quoted by Reuters at a Cairo news conference June 19, accused Qatar of seeking to divide Iraq "into a Sunni region in exchange for a Shi'ite region…It is time we spoke honestly and made things clear (to the Qataris) so that we can reach some results," Allawi insisted. "After that confrontation, comes reconciliation," he stated–without saying how.


Qatar has not always behaved this way. I served as Head of the Academic Section under the Cultural Attaché of the State of Qatar, part of the Qatari embassy in the US, from 1986-90, advising students on university scholarship from Doha in North America. The Qataris with whom I worked and met at the time were generally conservative, but kind-hearted, forward-looking and not fanatical—hence it is hard indeed to personally advocate action against their country.


The trouble began with the overthrow of the old emir, Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani, by his son, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, in 1995. Sheikh Hamad pushed for a more modern, constitutional, somewhat more egalitarian government at home (primarily for its roughly 300,000 citizens, rather than its 2,000,000-plus, often virtually enslaved foreign workers)—while apostasy from Islam, adultery and homosexuality remain capital crimes.


He also allowed the creation of Al Jazeera television, hailed by many as a voice of open democracy—though its Arabic arm has mainly carried a mixture of Islamist and other anti-Western propaganda with agitation against other Arab regimes (along with often vociferous debate programs), and has had ties to AQ behind the scenes. (The network's more secular-left leaning English-language service has won many fans in the West, who do not grasp or would even rationalize the radicalism of the Arabic version seen in the Middle East.)


Stunningly, Al Jazeera's former bureau chief in Cairo, Canadian-Egyptian citizen Mohamed Fahmy, jailed for 438 days in Egypt for allegedly colluding with efforts by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) to overthrow Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi in 2014, has recently filed a lawsuit in British Columbia against his former employers. Eli Lake of Bloomberg News wrote on June 23 that Fahmy accuses Al Jazeera of deliberately serving the MB and of being "a mouthpiece for Qatari intelligence" and "a voice for terrorists," something he says he learned from Islamists in Cairo's infamous Tora Prison, who told him how they had cooperated closely with the network…

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





                             Elliot Kaufman

                                                  National Review, July 17, 2017


In Oslo, the Tony Award–winning play set in the early 1990s, a Palestinian negotiator makes a powerful claim to his Israeli counterpart: “Until you make peace with us,” he says, “you’ll never be accepted by your neighbours.” But that’s just not true any more for Israel — with major implications for American foreign policy. Allying with Israel no longer risks losing the Arabs to the Soviet camp or risks the wrath of OPEC. In fact, U.S. support for Israel no longer alienates Arab governments at all. In a surprising twist of fate, Arab states now tend to view Israel as a crucial partner in their more important standoff against Iran. These nations do not have the luxury of worrying about the Israeli–Palestinian conflict right now. The rise of Iran, its nuclear program, and its proxies are far more pressing.


All of this means that American support for Israel has never been less costly — and has never made more sense — than it does now. As Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, declared in February, “for the first time in my lifetime, and for the first time in the life of my country, Arab countries in the region do not see Israel as an enemy, but, increasingly, as an ally.” Even the leader of Hezbollah, Iran’s terrorist proxy in Lebanon, has noticed that “these days Israel is [no longer] officially considered the Arab League’s enemy.”


When Israel and Hezbollah agree about something, it’s probably true. Take Saudi Arabia, the most powerful Gulf state. Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini used to call Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi leaders a “band of heretics,” and the Wahhabis feel more or less the same about Iran’s Shia majority. Moreover, both nations struggle for power in the region. Especially since the rapid ascent of Mohammed bin Salman, the hawkish new Saudi crown prince, Saudi Arabia has worried about Iran’s efforts to expand its control over Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. It worries even more about the Iranian nuclear program.


On all of these issues, Israel is a key ally. It was Israel, after all, that pushed for a better nuclear deal, that delayed Iran’s nuclear program with cyberwarfare and targeted assassinations, that fights Hezbollah in Lebanon, and it is Israel that destroyed the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007. Furthermore, reports have suggested that Israel is providing the Saudis with crucial intelligence on Iran, ISIS, and Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen and Syria. Relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia have not yet been normalized, but they are no longer frigid. Last summer, a Saudi general met a former Israeli diplomat at the Council on Foreign Relations. The two shook hands and smiled before flashing cameras. If that had happened just a few years ago, the general could have expected to find himself out of a job or worse.


Another meeting joined Saudi prince Turki al-Faisal with a retired Israeli major general. Remarkably, Prince Faisal spoke of “cooperation between Arab countries and Israel in meeting the threats, wherever they come from — whether it is Iran or any other source.” Ahmed Asiri, the kingdom’s deputy intelligence chief, acknowledged in February that “we have the same enemy, the same threat . . . and we are both close allies of the Americans.” Numerous reports support these statements; senior Israeli and Saudi officials have supposedly been secretly meeting for at least the past six years.


The Saudis still want Israel to make peace with the Palestinians, but protracted negotiations will not get in the way of security cooperation. After all, if you believe that “Iran is on a rampage” in order to “reestablish the Persian Empire,” as the Saudi foreign minister told Politico, you start looking to untraditional allies. You might even try convincing your people that Israel isn’t so bad. As early as last summer, the tightly controlled Saudi media began criticizing anti-Semitism repeatedly. Saudi TV no longer fixates on “Israeli aggression.” Now the new buzzword is “Persian aggression.” A column in the Saudi daily Al Riyadh argued that there was no reason to “unjustifiably demonise” Israel. These things do not happen by accident in Saudi Arabia. Saudi leadership is preparing their people for better relations with Israel. Saudi propaganda and the reality of the Middle East — Iran is advancing while Israel is not — have steadily combined to get the message across to regular Saudis. A recent poll found that only 18 percent of Saudis view Israel as their principal enemy, good enough for just third place, while 22 percent pointed to ISIS and 53 percent chose Iran.


The good news for Israel, however, is not limited to Saudi Arabia. Israeli officials have reportedly made multiple secret trips to the United Arab Emirates, where Israel has opened its first diplomatic mission. Almost bizarrely, the UAE’s foreign minister recently went so far as to slam Al Jazeera for its anti-Semitic coverage. Who knew they cared? Jordan, fearing Iran, ISIS, and the spillover from Syria, has also found reason to turn to Israel. Israeli intelligence now helps keep Jordan safe, and a new agreement ensures that Israeli natural gas keeps it prosperous. Their peace treaty, signed in 1994, goes unchallenged…

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





BUSINESS WITH BAD GUYS LIKE THE SAUDI REGIME                                                                           


National Post, Aug. 4, 2017


It isn’t terribly surprising to learn that Canadian-made military vehicles are apparently being used against civilians by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The decision by the former Conservative government to sell Saudi Arabia light armoured vehicles — infantry carriers armed with machine guns, anti-tank cannons and missiles and light automatic cannons — was controversial at the time for this very reason. Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is appalling. Its oppression of its own people at home (including the entire female population) is a matter of record. International rights groups have also slammed the Saudi military’s conduct in combat during the ongoing intervention in Yemen’s civil war, with reports of air strikes that have not only killed civilians, but seemed to have no apparent military objective. Collateral damage is bad enough; deliberately bombarding civilian areas is a war crime.


None of this was unknown or unforeseeable when Canada agreed to sell the Saudis military equipment. But the Conservatives first, then the Liberals (who stood by the arms sales after the 2015 election), were clearly seduced by the amount of cash on offer: at least $15 billion for 900 light armoured vehicles from London, Ont.’s, General Dynamics, and a series of smaller contracts with other Canadian firms for other items of military kit. And while it was the giant General Dynamics contract that attracted all the attention, it is a smaller contract, to Terradyne, a firm north of Toronto, that has thrust this issue back into the spotlight.


Video footage has recently emerged that appears to show Canadian-made Terradyne Gurkha vehicles — similar to an American Hummer-style vehicle — being used in a security operation against Saudi civilians, specifically, members of the Shiite Muslim religious minority in a restive province of the kingdom. This isn’t surprising, given the monarchy’s horrific record of abusing its own civilians, particularly its small Shiite minority. But it does put Ottawa in an awkward position. Both the Conservatives and Liberals had insisted that they had been given Saudi assurances that our weapons would not be used against civilians; if they were, we could suspend further sales.


We have that right. Canada’s export rules, flagging restrictions on defence sales to countries with “poor human-rights records,” even point in that direction. But as appalling as the Saudi regime can be, there are other Canadian interests involved here that Ottawa has a duty to also consider. Saudi Arabia is not an ally, per se, but it is a security partner. Given the multiple overlapping disasters currently unfolding in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is a country we need on our side. Geopolitics is an unavoidably ugly business and the reality that these kinds of arrangements are necessary is the reason why.


We would prefer to live in a world where we could have our armoured cake and sell it, too. If it was possible to sustain our large and growing armaments industry entirely on the back of sales to The Netherlands and New Zealand, we could content ourselves on providing everything our Dutch and Kiwi allies need to annihilate a Russian tank division or two, and for a tidy profit. Though we often roll our eyes at the horrible habit all Canadian governments tend to fall into of using military procurement projects to develop or sustain a domestic armaments industry, we do acknowledge the strategic value of our military having domestic supplies for advanced weaponry. Exporting those arms abroad helps offset the simple reality that the Canadian Armed Forces are themselves not large enough to sustain the kind of industry we have developed here. Exports are essential to sustain these jobs and capabilities.


While this whole affair stinks, consider the alternative: Canada doesn’t sell to Saudi Arabia, our economy suffers, our own domestic military production capabilities suffer (or die); meanwhile, Saudi Arabia sinks its vast cash reserves into buying someone else’s weapons and carries on as ever. Canada can keep its hands more or less clean, or it can sustain an arms-export industry that provides important economic and security benefits to our own country. If it’s possible to do both at once, we’ve yet to figure out how.


Canadians are not used to pondering geopolitics in these terms. We prefer to view the world as neatly divided into good and bad. Two generations of relative peace, along with our peacekeeping myths, have sheltered us from the realities of a frequently violent world. But there is nothing new about doing business with governments we find odious because it serves a greater good. Saudi Arabia, for all its offences, has proved to be a fundamental Middle East partner in combating the Islamic State and containing Iran’s belligerent ambitions and regional warmongering. Given the grave new stakes at play in the Middle East, even Israel has recognized the need of working alongside the Saudis.


It’s always possible that this sort engagement will help bring Saudi Arabia further into the fold of Western liberal democracy, just as some Canadians believe that our deepening friendship with China can moderate that inhumane regime. We’re skeptical on both counts. But in the meantime we must deal with, and make deals in, the world as it is, with all its imperfections.





On Topic Links


Joining Arab States, Israel Says it Plans to Ban Al-Jazeera: National Post, Aug. 6, 2017 —Israel said Sunday it plans to ban Qatar’s flagship Al-Jazeera news network from operating in the country over allegations it incites violence, joining Arab nations that have shut down the broadcaster amid a separate political dispute.

Latest Developments in Saudi Arabia Chart a Course for Israeli Ties With Arab World: Sean Savage, JNS, July 3, 2017—Building off the last few years of rumors and reports regarding clandestine relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, mainly motivated by their shared concerns over Iran’s nuclear program and destabilizing regional activities, two recent developments highlight a potential route for Israel to firm up support within the Arab world.

Qatar and the Saudis – Getting Ready for the Next Round: Dr. Mordechai Kedar, Arutz Sheva, July 10, 2017—Tensions are at an all time high between the four countries – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Emirates and Egypt – and Qatar, supported by the large, powerful forces of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Russia and Hezbollah. The four countries handed Qatar a list of 13 demands and an ultimatum: either carry them out to the letter or else. They have since retracted them.

Former Liberal Cabinet Minister Calls for End to Canadian Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia: Steven Chase, Globe & Mail, Aug. 1, 2017—A former federal Liberal cabinet minister and human-rights lawyer says Saudi Arabia’s apparent deployment of Canadian-made combat vehicles against Saudi citizens demonstrates why Canada should end all arms sales to the Islamic kingdom.










Will Trump Inflame or Defuse Gulf Crisis?: Ben Lynfield, Jerusalem Post, July 4, 2017— The Gulf crisis could escalate in the coming days, with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt tightening the economic screws on Qatar.

Fear Is What Changed Saudi Arabia: Walter Russell Mead, Wall Street Journal, June 19, 2017— Saudi Arabia used to be one of the most cautious players in the world of diplomacy.

Saudi-Israeli Diplomatic Relations in the Works? Latest Developments Indicate Possibility: Sean Savage, JNS, July 3, 2017— Building off the last few years of rumors and reports regarding clandestine relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia…

Yemen: A New Mideast Flash Point?: Heshmat Alavi, American Thinker, June 13, 2017— With the new U.S. administration blueprinting its Iran policy after escalating developments in Syria and the recent attacks in Tehran, one major battleground between the two arch-rivals is set to be Yemen.


On Topic Links


Journalist Joins His Jailer’s Side in a Bizarre Persian Gulf Feud: David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, July 1, 2017

Two Princes: Kevin D. Williamson, National Review, June 29, 2017

A Young, Determined Heir: Maj. Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Amidror, Israel Hayom, June 22, 2017

Are Israel and Saudi Arabia Getting Closer?: Nitsan Keidar, Arutz Sheva, June 18, 2017


WILL TRUMP INFLAME OR DEFUSE GULF CRISIS?                                                           

Ben Lynfield

                                        Jerusalem Post, July 4, 2017


The Gulf crisis could escalate in the coming days, with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt tightening the economic screws on Qatar. They would be doing this with a green light from Washington, which is anything but a neutral mediator. Washington shares the goals of the four allies that imposed a boycott and severed diplomatic relations with Doha on June 5, saying the moves were a response to Qatari support for terrorism.


“This administration probably shares the broad sentiments driving the Saudi and Emirati pressure on Qatar but at the same time doesn’t want to see the situation spin out of control or deteriorate to the point of armed conflict or an unmanageable crisis,” said Brandon Friedman, a specialist on Gulf politics at Tel Aviv University’s Dayan Center.


A two-day extension by the four allies of an ultimatum that Qatar meet a list of 13 demands to change its policies expires Tuesday. A meeting of the allies to discuss the next steps against Qatar will take place Wednesday unless Qatar caves in. Among the demands are that Qatar close Al Jazeera television, curb ties with Iran, close a Turkish military base and hand over designated terrorists. UAE Ambassador to Moscow Omar Ghobash was quoted recently by The Guardian as saying the allies could force their trading partners to choose between working with them or with Doha. There is also talk of expelling Qatar from the Gulf Cooperation Council.


In the view of Gabriel Ben-Dor, a Middle East specialist at Haifa University, “The US will go along with anything as long as it doesn’t involve the direct use of force. The problem is that the Saudis and their allies are threatening, if necessary, the use of force, which is really out of bounds as far as the international rules of the game are concerned.” Washington and Kuwait are leading the diplomacy. But given the increasingly intimate US-Saudi ties – which became even closer during US President Donald Trump’s recent visit to Riyadh – this is a classic case of the umpire also wearing the uniform of one of the teams.


This was apparent at a Republican fund-raiser in Washington last week. According to the website of Sky news and other media reports, Trump said: “We’re having a dispute with Qatar – we’re supposed to say Qatar,” making fun of the country’s name being pronounced in two different ways. “It’s Qatar, they prefer. I prefer that they don’t fund terrorism.”


Trump has even taken credit for the Saudi moves, saying on June 9 that they grew out of the Riyadh meeting. On Twitter he has accused Doha of funding terrorism “at a very high level,” although his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, perhaps mindful of the large US airbase in Qatar, has been more diplomatic. Friedman, the Tel Aviv University analyst, said: “The US would like to see Qatar back in the Saudi-UAE camp and that it stop sitting on the fence trying to be all things to all people. The Saudis and Emiratis want the Qataris to choose a side, to choose their side. And the US is sympathetic to that.”


While hosting the US base, Doha has at the same time maintained ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Taliban, groups affiliated with al-Qaida and Hamas, in addition to having cordial relations with Tehran. In Ben-Dor’s view, the Qataris would like to find a compromise solution in which they concede some points but not ones essential to their national pride. But Turkey and Iran are encouraging Qatar to refuse compromise.


“They can’t sever relations with Iran and they can’t close down Al Jazeera,” Ben-Dor said. “But they can tone down its propaganda directed against Arab regimes. They can continue expelling some Hamas and other terrorist leaders to show they mean business. They can make some gestures which are not irreversible.” The US would like a deal that largely meets Saudi demands while enabling the continuation of the airbase in Qatar, which is a center for operations in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan.


The problem, as Ben-Dor noted, is that the situation is highly combustible. “If things keep deteriorating and Qatar appeals for assistance, the Russians might come into the picture and the Turks might become more assertive. Things are just dangerous. The region might be set aflame.” The question is whether Donald Trump has the judgment and skills to prevent such a conflagration.






Walter Russell Mead

Wall Street Journal, June 19, 2017


Saudi Arabia used to be one of the most cautious players in the world of diplomacy. Not anymore. In the past three weeks, the Saudis have launched a coordinated diplomatic offensive against neighboring Qatar, hinted at new ties with Israel, scolded Pakistan, turned up the heat in their confrontation with Iran, and carried on a war of words with Turkey. Meanwhile, they continue to bomb Yemen to support their local allies in that country’s increasingly bitter civil war.


The Saudis are also bringing new gusto to domestic policy: The 2030 plan backed by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is the most far-reaching and ambitious program for Saudi reform and restructuring ever seriously proposed. Privatizing the state oil giant Aramco (or at least part of it) and using the money to diversify the economy is, by Saudi standards, a revolutionary idea.


The jury is out on whether the Saudis’ new foreign and domestic policies will work, but no doubt something fundamental has changed in what used to be one of the world’s most cautious and slow-moving countries. The question is why. Some look to the deputy crown prince, a 31-year-old reformer elevated to his current role in 2015. But his rise is more a sign of the times than the main force driving change. After all, in the old Saudi Arabia, a mere 30-something never would have been allowed anywhere near the reins of power.


So what is behind the new Saudi activism? Fear. It’s an emotion that comes naturally to an oil-rich kingdom with a relatively small population in a neighborhood full of predatory rivals. For years fear made the Saudis cautious, since they felt they could take shelter behind a strong and confident America. Now they aren’t so sure. In Riyadh, the Age of Insecurity began during President Obama’s tenure. Mr. Obama’s outreach to Iran—and his willingness to overlook its unprecedented regional aggression in his quest for a nuclear deal—left the Saudis feeling isolated and betrayed. As Iranian power spread across Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, Saudis concluded that the U.S. no longer saw Saudi security as part of its core national interest.


The Trump administration has sought to reassure the Saudis that the “tilt to Iran” has ended, but their insecurity runs deep. From Riyadh, and from many other world capitals, the erratic shifts in American foreign policy—from Bush to Obama to Trump—raise disturbing questions about the future. Who comes after Mr. Trump? Elizabeth Warren ? Sean Hannity ? As American politics becomes less predictable and more extreme, countries that have grounded their national strategy on the stability of an American alliance must reassess their options.


Then there is oil, an issue on which Saudis and Americans once saw eye to eye. With their enormous reserves, the Saudis believed that they were in the oil business for the long term. Unlike more aggressive players, who wanted to push oil prices as high as possible, the Saudis used their position as a “swing producer” to keep markets reasonably stable—something the U.S. appreciated. The Saudi goal was to keep their customers committed to oil long term and forestall heavy investment in alternative fuels. The shale revolution is shifting this balance. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia are no longer allies in the oil market. American frackers, who can quickly increase or decrease output as prices change, are challenging Saudi Arabia’s role as the global swing producer.


Worse, from a Saudi point of view, the long-term dynamics of the oil market seem to be changing. There is much less talk of “peak oil” in the sense of peak production, and more talk of “peak demand.” Advances in energy efficiency and alternative power-generation are shifting the long-term demand curve for hydrocarbons. At the same time, Saudi Arabia’s rapidly growing population will place increasing demands on its economy. Riyadh worries that if oil becomes less profitable, it will be unable to keep its people happy.


All this suggests that the current turbulence in the Gulf is here to stay. If the Trump administration wants to restore tranquillity, it should think holistically about Saudi Arabia’s economic and security problems—and creatively about how this American alliance, a pillar of Middle East stability since World War II, can be renewed.                                                                    






Sean Savage

JNS, July 3, 2017


Building off the last few years of rumors and reports regarding clandestine relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, mainly motivated by their shared concerns over Iran’s nuclear program and destabilizing regional activities, two recent developments highlight a potential route for Israel to firm up support within the Arab world.


Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi ratified a treaty to hand over two strategic islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman promoted his 31-year-old son, Mohammed bin Salman, to crown prince, making him next in line to be king.


The deal to hand over the islands of Tiran and Sanafir was reached in 2016 after a visit to Egypt by King Salman. The uninhabited islands that sit on the southern entry to the Gulf of Aqaba were originally given to Egypt in 1950 by Saudi Arabia, in order to protect them from Israel. Later, the islands played an important role in setting off the 1967 Six-Day War when Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli ships, preventing Israeli access to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.


United Nations peacekeepers maintain a presence on Tiran Island as part of the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty. Under the treaty’s terms, Israel gave its approval for the Egyptian-Saudi agreement as long as the Saudis maintained the treaty’s clauses pertaining to Israeli shipping through the Straits of Tiran. According to Joshua Teitelbaum, a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and a professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, it is not of utmost importance to Israel who controls the Tiran and Sanafir islands as long as the Jewish state has unimpeded shipping access.


Instead, Teitelbaum argued, the constructive cooperation between Egypt and Saudi Arabia is more crucial for Israel as it relates to the Arab alliance to counter radical Islam and the Iranian threat. “Israel wishes to keep that camp strong,” Teitelbaum told JNS.org. “If Egypt and Saudi Arabia can get together, whether on confronting Iran or Qatar, or even the exchanges of these two islands, then that is beneficial for Israel. This firms up the Saudi-Egyptian relationship.”


Mohammed bin Salman’s rise to crown prince signals a new direction in Saudi Arabia, and may have implications for Israeli-Saudi ties and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Saudi Arabia is dealing with low oil prices, its rivalry with Iran, a dispute with Qatar, and civil wars in Yemen and Syria. In his former role as defense minister, Prince Salman sought to boost ties with the U.S. as well as to overhaul and diversify the Saudi economy, which is heavily dependent on oil. In a rare public comment on Saudi Arabia by an Israeli official, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara said the appointment of the new crown prince “means more economic cooperation in the Middle East, and not just regarding oil.”


“The strengthening of relations with the Trump administration is the beginning of a new and optimistic time between Saudi Arabia and regional states, including Israel and the Jewish people,” Kara said, adding, “This crown prince is really one of the architects of this post-Arab Spring Saudi policy that has pushed for…an anti-Iran and anti-radical Islam policy, which includes targeting Hamas….Israel will be pleased to cooperate with the new crown prince.”


Prince Salman has already been tied to rumors that he has met with Israeli officials as part of efforts to establish closer economic and security relations. “In terms of the general trend of things, the Saudi prince is the guy who has been running Saudi foreign policy for the past two years,” Teitelbaum said. “During that period, there’s been an increasingly closer relation between Israel and Saudi Arabia. That’s going to likely continue.”


Israel and Saudi Arabia are discussing allowing Israeli businesses to operate in the Arab Gulf as well as letting Israel’s El Al airline to fly over Saudi airspace, the London Times recently reported, citing Arab and American sources. Prince Salman has been in talks with Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, about improving Saudi ties with Israel as a step towards Israeli-Palestinian peace, the report added.


Despite the Saudi-Egyptian cooperation and reports of Prince Salman’s interest in ties with Israel, Teitelbaum cautioned against expectations for official diplomatic ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia. “There is a limit on the relationship, with most of the relations being clandestine,” he said. “The Saudis don’t really have a motivation to make these relations overt because they get what they need from Israel—intelligence, security, technology—without open diplomatic relations.”


In May, The Wall Street Journal reported that Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia would take steps to normalize relations with Israel if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes gestures for the Palestinians, such as freezing settlement construction or easing trade restrictions in Gaza. “In order to bring Israeli-Saudi relations out into the open, the Saudis would really need to see major progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track. And that is really tough,” Teitelbaum said, adding that “we are a long way from full diplomatic relations.”





Heshmat Alavi

American Thinker, June 13, 2017


With the new U.S. administration blueprinting its Iran policy after escalating developments in Syria and the recent attacks in Tehran, one major battleground between the two arch-rivals is set to be Yemen.  Sitting at the opening of a major waterway through which a significant amount of the world's seabound oil flows, this country of 27 million has been war-torn and desperately grappling with a famine currently risking the lives of 7 million people.


All the while, Iran and its offspring terror organization, the Lebanese Hezb'allah, are escalating their meddling in a war that has already left more than 10,000 killed and literally leveled the country's already poor infrastructure.


And while the United Nations has issued pleas for support to boost the efforts of humanitarian aid organizations, signs show that Iran and its Houthi proxies are ignoring these calls.  The larger picture of the Middle East power struggle is casting a long shadow over this entire nation.  It is, however, worth noting that the Saudi-led coalition welcomed a U.N. proposal to hand the port city of Hodeidah, currently the country's lifeline, to a neutral third party to supervise the urgent flow of humanitarian aid into Yemen.


The Iran-backed Ansar Allah militia group, aka the Houthis, will most likely turn down the proposals.  Such a handover would render the loss of their last remaining port in Yemen, choking the flow of Iran-supplied arms and ammunition.  It is a known fact that Iran's involvement in Yemen is in line with its broader strategy of encircling the entire Arabian peninsula and upping pressure on its regional arch-rival, Saudi Arabia.


Iran seeks the destabilization of the Gulf States and to ultimately obtain the capability of replacing these governments with rulers loyal to the Islamic Republic's doctrine.  Iraq is a vivid example of how Iran usurped the opportunity of the 2003 invasion to cast its shadow over this nation, especially during the eight years of former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and eight years of Obama's Chamberlain-style appeasement.


This is the very philosophy behind establishing and procuring terror cells with the objective of purging government officials and staging attacks targeting the infrastructure of various states, including Bahrain, Kuwait, and the UAE.  Bahrain, particularly, in March busted a terrorist cell linked to Hezb'allah and Iran's Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).


It is a known fact that the IRGC and Hezb'allah are present in Yemen, with their troops and foot soldiers fighting alongside Houthis, parallel to providing much needed training and advice to these forces. The number of Hezb'allah fighters being captured is on the rise, with such statistics in the first three months of 2017 matching the entire course of 2016.  The death toll of Hezb'allah and IRGC forces also escalated in the first quarter of 2017.


More Iranian equipment across scattered front lines in Yemen is being discovered by advancing Yemeni and Saudi forces.  Further concerning is the fact that Iranian weapons convoys and shipments, consisting of drones and high-tech missiles, have been intercepted on the Yemen-Oman border. Maritime traffic snaking the Yemeni coast lengthwise has experienced a dangerous rise in attacks staged by the Iranian IRGC and Hezb'allah.  Advisers to these two sources are busily training Houthis how to develop sophisticated drone boats packed with explosives and how to lay mines in Yemen's Red and Arabian Sea waters.


Recent reports in the media shed light on the Houthis launching their first such attack, targeting an oil tanker in the southern Bab el-Mandeb Strait.  Assailants of unknown identity fired rocket-propelled grenades – a favorite tactic of insurgents – at the 70,362-ton M.T. Muskie, sailing under the Marshall Islands flag, using the strategic waterway heading into the Red Sea entrance, according to Reuters.


Involvement in the attack was denied by the Houthis, despite a history of evidence showing these Iran-supplemented proxies staging attacks on various navy vessels using the narrow water passage.  The Houthis are also known to have direct interest in disturbing the flow of Bab el-Mandeb's maritime traffic to provide Tehran unprecedented influence over the Red Sea and up north to the Suez Canal.


As tensions continue to escalate in this vital corner of the globe, it becomes imperative for the international community, and especially U.S. allies in the region, to take urgent action against Iran's meddling, with the aim of curbing its dangerous influence and establishing peace and tranquility in the Middle East.




On Topic Links


Journalist Joins His Jailer’s Side in a Bizarre Persian Gulf Feud: David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, July 1, 2017—The journalist Mohamed Fahmy had been working in Cairo for Al Jazeera when the Egyptian authorities threw him in prison for more than a year, accusing him of stirring up unrest as an agent of the channel’s owner, the Qatari government.

Two Princes: Kevin D. Williamson, National Review, June 29, 2017 —The confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which currently takes the form of an embargo and the severing of diplomatic relations with Qatar by governments from Egypt to the United Arab Emirates, might be the result of a strictly local genital-measuring contest between two ambitious young men in rival royal families feeling their oats: The 37-year-old Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, is the youngest reigning monarch in the Gulf Cooperation Council and has held power only since 2013, while 31-year-old Mohammad bin Salman was named the Saudi crown prince only a week ago.

A Young, Determined Heir: Maj. Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Amidror, Israel Hayom, June 22, 2017—I recently heard from a foreign expert that the Saudi royal family is undergoing a process of change — a process that gathered steam after the recent visit by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Are Israel and Saudi Arabia Getting Closer?: Nitsan Keidar, Arutz Sheva, June 18, 2017 —Israel and Saudi Arabia are in talks to establish formal economic ties and preliminary agreements could be coming soon, the London-based Times newspaper reported on Saturday.













Of Tribes and Terrorism: Lee Smith, Weekly Standard, June, 2017— Last week, several Arab states, including Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, put Qatar on notice.

Qatar, Trump and Double Games: Caroline B. Glick, Jerusalem Post, June 8, 2017 — US President Donald Trump has been attacked by his ubiquitous critics for his apparent about-face on the crisis surrounding Qatar.

How Can Canada Pretend that Saudi Arabia is an Honourable, Peaceful Country?: Robert Fulford, National Post, May 12, 2017 — If you believe the official word from Ottawa it appears Saudi Arabia and Canada are on good terms.

Saudi Arabia's 'Lavish' Gift to Indonesia: Radical Islam: Mohshin Habib, Gatestone Institute, Apr. 29, 2017 — Accompanied by a 1,500-strong entourage, Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz arrived in Indonesia on March 1 for a nine-day gala tour.


On Topic Links


Gregg Roman on the Rift Between Qatar and the Arab Gulf States (Video): I24News, June 6, 2017

The “Game of Camps” Revisited: Why Qatar? Why Now?: Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman, BESA, June 12, 2017

Qatar's Increasing Isolation in the Arab World: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, June 10, 2017

Saudi Arabia is Destabilizing the World: Stephen Kinzer, Boston Globe, June 11, 2017




Lee Smith

Weekly Standard, June, 2017


Last week, several Arab states, including Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, put Qatar on notice. They removed their diplomats from Doha, closed airspace and ports to Qatari vessels, expelled Qatari nationals, and prohibited their own nationals from visiting the country. Among other key demands, Qatar's Arab opponents want the emirate to stop backing Islamic extremists, Sunni and Shia, and shut down hostile press outlets, including Doha's jewel, Al Jazeera.


Reports suggest the breaking point was Doha's decision to send nearly $1 billion to rescue a hunting party held captive in Iraq—a ransom paid to Iran and to Sunni extremists, both of whom the Arab states consider threats to their national security. The ransom may be the proximate cause of the crisis, but tension has been brewing for some time.


The key players are the Emiratis and Saudis, the two major powers in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which Qatar is also a member. Bahrain is effectively a Saudi province and Egypt, while contemptuous of Qatar, is incapable of projecting much power without the financial support of its Emirati patrons. In 2014, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE removed their diplomats to protest Qatar's interference in their internal affairs. That crisis was partly precipitated when Qatar backed Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood government while the others supported General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's coup.


Regional experts explain that the conflict goes back further still: "2014 was just a culmination of problems that were brewing for 20 years," says Mohammed al-Yahya, a Saudi analyst close to the government in Riyadh and a fellow at the Atlantic Council. "Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani [who ruled Qatar until 2013; his son rules now] overthrew his father in a coup in 1995. The Saudis disapproved. It's not part of the culture of the GCC states to overthrow monarchs in coups like this. And Sheikh Hamad had a lot of animosity toward Saudi Arabia, Qatari posture shifted 180 degrees after the coup."


Indeed, that was the central purpose of Al Jazeera—to serve as an instrument with which Hamad attacked his larger and richer Gulf neighbor. Internationally, the satellite network is known for its anti-American posture. After 9/11, it was virtually Osama bin Laden's bulletin board, posting videos the al Qaeda leader sent to the network through couriers. During the U.S.-led coalition's invasion of Iraq, Al Jazeera openly sided with the remnants of Saddam Hussein's forces as they targeted American troops and allies.


From Doha's vantage point, though, beating up on the Americans was just another way to target Washington's local client, Saudi Arabia. The Qataris have no real problem with the United States—they host Al Udeid, the biggest American military base in the Middle East and CENTCOM's headquarters in the region. But that's the Qatar way, play both sides—making nice with the Americans and the people who want to kill Americans, Sunnis as well as Shiites, is just another day at the office in Doha. Similarly, Qatar shares with Iran the world's largest natural gas field, South Pars, the source of nearly all its revenue, so it's cozy with Tehran even as its GCC allies see Iran as threat.


The hope, says al-Yahya, "was that things would be different under the new emir, Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, whom Hamad appointed after he abdicated in 2013. But to Riyadh, these hopes turned out to be misplaced." Indeed, many assume that the father is still running the show. "Tamim is so weak," said another Saudi analyst who requested anonymity. The same source explained that Qatar's former prime minister, Hamad Bin Jassim al-Thani, spent last week on Capitol Hill to lobby Congress after President Donald Trump identified Qatar as a source of terrorism in yet another ill-advised tweet. The Qataris have a powerful ally in the Pentagon—Al Udeid Air Base is a key installation from which the United States runs operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other regional hotspots. No one wants the Americans to leave Al Udeid—except the Emiratis…


It's perhaps useful to see the current crisis in a wider aperture, since it goes back way beyond the last 20 years. Many of the Gulf's ruling families are from the same region on the Arabian Peninsula and have been bickering with or actively fighting each other for a very long time. Rival clans that became energy-rich monarchies are playing out their feuds on a very large stage now for several reasons. First, with the region embroiled in conflict from Libya to Syria to Yemen, the stakes are high. Second, both Qatar and the UAE exercise a considerable amount of influence in Washington, largely but not exclusively through the money they donate to think tanks. But most crucially, the president of the United States inserted himself in the middle of it.


Trump's visit to Riyadh was a success, it was the aftermath that was a problem. While there, he enlisted the support of Arab and Muslim leaders in the fight against terrorism. From the perspective of the Saudis and others, Trump's promise to forswear interference in their societies marked a welcome change from the last two administrations—and was likely read by them as a green light to sort out local affairs, starting with Qatar. His tweet two weeks after his visit confirmed that. "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!"


"Obama protected Doha," the Saudi analyst explained. "He used them to keep the Saudis off balance, but now that he's gone the Qataris lost their defender." The point is not that Trump should likewise shield an adventurist Doha but that it's probably not prudent to widen the natural rift in the GCC, an institution designed to project American power in the Persian Gulf. Further, when you have problems with an ally, scream at them in private, rather than chide them in front of the world.


If the Emiratis had a specific goal in mind, hosting a major U.S. base, the Saudis aimed to show the Americans that they can be helpful. "The Saudis wanted to get the GCC in line to take on Iran," says Tony Badran, research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "They wanted to show the Trump administration that they are part of the solution, an American partner against all the destabilizing stuff in the region, whether that's Iran or Sunni extremism." What the Saudis don't need is an argument over who funds terror, says Lebanese political analyst Elie Fawaz. "Once they open that can of worms, they'll get dragged into it. The pro-Iranian camp attacked them for backing terrorism to win support from the Obama administration, and now the Qataris will get into it."


The reality is that there are plenty of problematic actors in the GCC, including the Emiratis, who do business with Iran and have sheltered figures from the Syrian regime that the Saudis and Qataris oppose. "The Arabs are divided," says Fawaz, "but there isn't much wisdom in opening up another front in a destabilized region." Mohamed al-Yahya, the analyst close to the Saudi government, agrees. "The Saudis want a unified GCC. The point is not to bring Qatar to its knees, but to get it back on track to join in pushing a unified GCC agenda. No one wants this to continue." Trump later walked back his tweet and in a phone call with the Qatari emir offered to mediate the crisis, even if it takes a White House meeting. What's most important, however, is that the administration doesn't let local players, whether that's Qatar or the UAE or Saudi Arabia, set American priorities. Intra-Arab conflict should not distract the administration from keeping regional partners focused on the two key issues on the U.S. agenda— stopping Iran and crushing ISIS.                                                 




QATAR, TRUMP AND DOUBLE GAMES                                                                                                        

Caroline B. Glick                                                                                                                        

Jerusalem Post, June 8, 2017


US President Donald Trump has been attacked by his ubiquitous critics for his apparent about-face on the crisis surrounding Qatar. In a Twitter post on Tuesday, Trump sided firmly with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and the other Sunni states that cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and instituted an air and land blockade of the sheikhdom on Monday. On Wednesday, Trump said that he hopes to mediate the dispute, more or less parroting the lines adopted by the State Department and the Pentagon which his Twitter posts disputed the day before.


To understand the apparent turnaround and why it is both understandable and probably not an about-face, it is important to understand the forces at play and the stakes involved in the Sunni Arab world’s showdown with Doha. Arguably, Qatar’s role in undermining the stability of the Islamic world has been second only to Iran’s. Beginning in the 1995, after the Pars gas field was discovered and quickly rendered Qatar the wealthiest state in the world, the Qatari regime set about undermining the Sunni regimes of the Arab world by among other things, waging a propaganda war against them and against their US ally and by massively funding terrorism.


The Qatari regime established Al Jazeera in 1996. Despite its frequent denials, the regime has kept tight control on Al Jazeera’s messaging. That messaging has been unchanging since the network’s founding. The pan-Arab satellite station which reaches hundreds of millions of households in the region and worldwide, opposes the US’s allies in the Sunni Arab world. It supports the Muslim Brotherhood and every terrorist group spawned by it. It supports Iran and Hezbollah. Al Jazeera is viciously anti-Israel and anti-Jewish. It serves as a propaganda arm not only of al-Qaida and Hezbollah but of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and any other group that attacks the US, Israel, Europe and other Western targets.


Al Jazeera’s reporters have accompanied Hamas and Taliban forces in their wars against Israel and the US. After Israel released Hezbollah arch-terrorist Samir Kuntar from prison in exchange for the bodies of two IDF reservists, Al Jazeera’s Beirut bureau hosted an on-air party in his honor. Al Jazeera was at the forefront of the propaganda campaign inciting against then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2012. Its operations were widely credited with inciting their overthrow and installing in their places regimes controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood and other jihadist groups.


As for the Qatari regime itself, it has massively financed jihadist groups for more than 20 years. Qatar is a major bankroller not only of al-Qaida and Hamas but of militias associated with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. In a State Department cable from 2009 published by WikiLeaks, US diplomats referred to Qatar as the largest funder of terrorism in the world. According to the Financial Times, the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Saudis and their allies was their discovery that in April, Qatar paid Iran, its Iraqi militias and al-Qaida forces in Syria up to a billion dollars to free members of the royal family held captive in southern Iraq and 50 terrorists held captive in Syria.


Given Qatar’s destabilizing and pernicious role in the region and worldwide in everything related to terrorism funding and incitement, Trump’s statement on Tuesday in support of the Sunnis against Qatar was entirely reasonable. What can the US do other than stand by its allies as they seek to coerce Qatar to end its destabilizing and dangerous practices? The case for supporting the Saudis, Egyptians, the UAE and the others against Qatar becomes all the more overwhelming given their demands. The Sunnis are demanding that Qatar ditch its strategic alliance with Iran. They demand that Qatar end its financial support for terrorist groups and they demand that Qatar expel terrorists from its territory. If Qatar is forced to abide by these demands, its abandonment of Iran in particular will constitute the single largest blow the regime in Tehran has absorbed in recent memory. Among other things, Qatar serves as Iran’s banker and diplomatic proxy.


If the story began and ended here, then Trump’s anti-Qatari stance would have been the obvious and only move. Unfortunately, the situation is not at all simple. First there is the problem of Doha’s relations with key Americans and American institutions. Ahead of the 2016 US elections, WikiLeaks published documents which disclosed that the emir of Qatar presented Bill Clinton with a $1 million check for the Clinton Foundation as a gift for his 65th birthday. During Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, Qatar reportedly contributed some $6m. to the Clinton Foundation. Clinton, for her part, was deeply supportive of the regime and of Al Jazeera. For instance, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2011, Clinton praised Al Jazeera for its leading role in fomenting and expanding the protests in Egypt that brought down Mubarak. Clinton wasn’t the only one that Qatar singled out for generosity. Since the 1990s, Qatar has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in US universities. Six major US universities have campuses in Doha…

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







Robert Fulford

National Post, May 12, 2017


If you believe the official word from Ottawa it appears Saudi Arabia and Canada are on good terms. A Canadian government website, dealing with trade, takes care to assert that we share with the Saudis “many peace and security issues, including energy security, humanitarian affairs (including refugees), and counter-terrorism.” It also says admiringly that “The Saudi government plays an important role in promoting regional peace and stability.”


No wonder Canada seems willing to sell military vehicles and other products to Saudi Arabia. It sounds like a friendly government we should enjoy dealing with. Not democratic, of course, but sort of on the right side, at least sometimes. On the other hand, UN Watch, an independent monitoring service, this week sent out a bulletin headed “UN holds lavish NGO forum in Saudi Arabia while rights activists languish in prison.” It seems that the Saudis, with support from a Saudi foundation headed by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the Saudi minister of defence, generously hosted a large global gathering of non-government organizations on the subject of Youth and their Social Impact. It was staged in the luxury of the Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh (which advertises Distinguished Fine Dining and All-Men’s Spa) — even as, UN Watch went on, “young bloggers and human rights activists like Raif Badawi languish in prison for the crime of advocating freedom in Saudi Arabia.”


The name “Raif Badawi” was placed near the top of the bulletin because UN Watch knows it’s the name most likely to upset Saudi officialdom. In fact, to many people the treatment of Badawi damns Saudi Arabia as irredeemably evil. Saudi law gives the state the right to ban any organization the government opposes, on grounds that it violates “Islamic Sharia” or public manners or national unity. Individuals committing such crimes, even if they are otherwise peaceful, get long prison sentences. Many activists are currently in jail for advocating human rights reforms. And Raif Badawi? The more you know about Saudi Arabia, the worse it appears. Once you digest the stifling and humiliating rules governing women, and perhaps even consider them routine, you may begin to wonder how the Saudis treat men. And then you come across Raif Badawi and everything grows darker still.


He’s a young Saudi Arabian writer, the creator of the website Free Saudi Liberals. He was arrested in 2012 for insulting Islam through electronic channels and charged as well with apostasy, the abandonment or breach of faith (though he says he’s still a Muslim). He’s not respectful of the grand institutions of the country. He’s referred, for instance, to Al-Imam Mohammad Ibn Saud Islamic University as “a den for terrorists.” Even worse, he believes in secular government — “Secularism is the practical solution to lift countries (including ours) out of the Third World and into the First World,” he says. “Look at what happened after the European peoples succeeded in removing the clergy from public life and restricting them to their churches. They promoted enlightenment, creativity and rebellion. States which are based on religion confine their people in the circle of faith and fear.”


Badawi apparently lives his life by words he quotes from Albert Camus: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” He was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes in 2013, then re-sentenced in 2014 to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison plus a fine. The lashes were to be carried out over 20 weeks. The first 50 were administered on January 9, 2015 — in front of a mosque while hundreds of spectators shouted “Allahu Akbar.” The succeeding lashes are indefinitely postponed, apparently because of his health. He’s known to have hypertension and his condition has worsened since the flogging began. His wife, who lives with their three children in exile in Canada, predicts that he won’t be able to survive more lashes.  Still, that part of his sentence hangs over him, capable of being invoked at the pleasure of his jailers…                                                                                  

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




Mohshin Habib

Gatestone Institute, Apr. 29, 2017


Accompanied by a 1,500-strong entourage, Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz arrived in Indonesia on March 1 for a nine-day gala tour. He was welcomed warmly not only as the monarch of one of the world's richest countries, but as the custodian of Islam's two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina.


While appearing to be taking a holiday rather than embarking on an official state visit — the 81-year-old sovereign spent six days at a resort in Bali — the king had some serious business to attend to. In what was advertised as an effort to promote "social interaction" between Saudi Arabia and Indonesia — with His Majesty announcing a billion-dollar aid package, unlimited flights between the two countries and the allotment of 50,000 extra spots per year for Indonesian pilgrims to make the hajj to Mecca and Medina – it seems as if the real purpose of the trip was to promote and enhance Salafism, an extremist Sunni strain, in the world's largest Muslim country, frequently hailed in the West as an example of a moderate Islamic society.


Jakarta-based journalist Krithika Varagur, writing in The Atlantic on the second day of the king's visit, describes Saudi efforts in Indonesia: "Since 1980, Saudi Arabia has devoted millions of dollars to exporting its strict brand of Islam, Salafism, to historically tolerant and diverse Indonesia. It has built more than 150 mosques (albeit in a country that has about 800,000), a huge free university in Jakarta, and several Arabic language institutes; supplied more than 100 boarding schools with books and teachers (albeit in a country estimated to have between 13,000 and 30,000 boarding schools); brought in preachers and teachers; and disbursed thousands of scholarships for graduate study in Saudi Arabia."


This Saudi influence has taken a serious toll on Indonesia, 90% of whose 250 million people are Sunnis. Despite its pluralistic constitution, which says, "The state guarantees each and every citizen the freedom of religion and of worship in accordance with his religion and belief," Indonesia — which declared independence in 1945 — has grown increasingly intolerant towards Christians, Hindus and Shiite Muslims. Prior to Saudi Arabia's attempts to spread Salafism across the Muslim world, Indonesia did not have terrorist organizations such as Hamas Indonesia, Laskar Jihad, Hizbut Tahrir, Islamic Defenders Front and Jemmah Islamiyah, to name just a few.


Today, it is rife with these groups, which adhere strictly to Islamic sharia law, Saudi Arabia's binding legal system, and which promote it in educational institutions. Like al-Qaeda and ISIS, they deny women equal rights, believe in death by stoning for adulterers and hand amputation for thieves, and in executing homosexuals and "apostate" Muslims. The most recent example of the way in which this extremism has swept Indonesia took place a mere three weeks after the Saudi king wrapped up his trip. On March 31, at least 15,000 hard-line Islamist protesters took to the streets of Jakarta after Friday prayers, calling for the imprisonment of the capital city's Christian governor, who is on trial for "blaspheming the Quran."


This paled in comparison to the crowds — numbering about 200,000 at each violent rally — which flooded the city last November, December and February. The crowds were demanding that Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (known familiarly as Ashok) be jailed for telling a group of fishermen that, as they are fed lies about how the Quran forbids Muslims from being governed by a kafir, an infidel, he could understand why some of them might not have voted for him. If convicted, Ashok stands to serve up to five years in prison. Sadly, such a jail term is nothing, when one considers the Islamist prison that the country as a whole has become — courtesy of King Salman and his lavish "gifts."




On Topic Links


Gregg Roman on the Rift Between Qatar and the Arab Gulf States (Video): I24News, June 6, 2017—Middle East Forum Director Gregg Roman appeared on i24NEWS English to discuss the recent decision by Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf states to cut ties with neighboring Qatar.

The “Game of Camps” Revisited: Why Qatar? Why Now?: Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman, BESA, June 12, 2017—Sheikh Tamim’s recent tweet urging a soft line towards Iran might be authentic (as the Saudis say) or a deliberate hoax (as the Qataris were quick to claim), but the subsequent onslaught against Qatar has little to do with Iran. Qatar is no Iranian proxy: in practice, the Qataris finance anti-Iranian forces in Syria and joined the anti-Houthi war in Yemen.

Qatar's Increasing Isolation in the Arab World: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, June 10, 2017—The decision by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and Yemen to cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar is the latest step in the reemergence of a clearly defined US-led Sunni Arab bloc of states. The task of this alliance is to roll back Iranian influence and advancement in the region, and to battle against the forces of Sunni political Islam.

Saudi Arabia is Destabilizing the World: Stephen Kinzer, Boston Globe, June 11, 2017—Just a few months ago, the governor of Indonesia’s largest city, Jakarta, seemed headed for easy re-election despite the fact that he is a Christian in a mostly Muslim country. Suddenly everything went violently wrong.












Is Saudi Arabia Warming Up to Jews?: Elliot Friedland, Clarion Project, Aug. 23, 2016 — Saudi Arabia has long been the hub of the austere form of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism, and has long perpetuated anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews in the country’s media.

A Joyous Holiday and a Sad World: Dr. Mordechai Kedar, Arutz Sheva, Sept. 20, 2016 — Two million Muslims will be making the obligatory pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the Hajj, this month, as mandated by the Islamic calendar.

Holy War of Words: Growing Saudi-Iranian Tensions: Simon Henderson, Washington Institute, Sept. 7, 2016 — In the coming days, hundreds of thousands of Muslims will visit the Saudi city of Mecca to partake in the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

Yemen: The War Canada Can’t Afford to Ignore: Elizabeth Renzetti, Globe & Mail, Aug. 26, 2016— Far from the watchful eye of the world’s media, war is ravaging Yemen, killing thousands of civilians, and starving and displacing millions more.


On Topic Links


No Saudi Money for American Mosques : Daniel Pipes, The Hill, Aug. 22, 2016

In Saudi Arabia, a Revolution Disguised as Reform: Dennis Ross, Washington Post, Sept. 8, 2016

‘We Misled You’: How the Saudis Are Coming Clean on Funding Terrorism: Zalmay Khalilzad, Politico, Sept. 14, 2016

Hajj Prep: Search Soul, Buy Sturdy Shoes, Pay the Dentist: Diaa Hadid, New York Times, Sept. 9, 2016



Elliot Friedland

 Clarion Project, Aug. 23, 2016


Saudi Arabia has long been the hub of the austere form of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism, and has long perpetuated anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews in the country’s media. For example one sermon broadcast on the official state channel from the Holy Mosque in Mecca said “O God, destroy the tyrant Jews. O God, deal with the Jews and their supporters. O God, destroy them for they are within your power.” But now relations seem to be thawing between Saudi Arabia and Israel and several prominent media personalities have publicly written about changing attitudes towards Jews.


Famous Saudi columnist Saham al-Kahtani wrote that references in the Quran to Jews as being “apes and pigs” could only be taken to refer to the Jews of the time of Muhammed and did not apply to contemporary Jews. Yasser Hijazi, of the influential paper Riyadh, published in the nation’s capital, went further, calling on Muslims to “leave behind their hostility and hatred of Jews” in a piece translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).


Israel’s Channel Two TV, reported on this trend in a recent newscast. Israeli media attributed the change in focus to warming ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia following the Iran Deal over Iran’s nuclear program. “The change in tone in Saudi rhetoric towards Israel comes a year after the signing of the nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers — a deal that leaves Riyadh concerned over its position in the Middle East — and as Tehran’s proxies in Syria and Lebanon are holding their ground in the Syrian civil war,” The Times of Israel wrote. The Times of Israel cited a July delegation to Israel of academics and businessmen headed by a retired Saudi general as further evidence of warming ties. The delegation met with Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold and other senior military and political officials, as well as with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.


Over the last few years there have been subtle changes in Saudi Arabia’s position that may indicate a gradual shift towards a less anti-Semitic policy. In 2013, an assistant professor at King Saud University in Riyadh published an article praising Israel’s democracy and explaining that Arab youth was unaware that in Israel many young people “strongly believe that Israel’s stability is conditional upon its coexistence with the Arabs.” She also condemned Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians in the piece and condemned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Yet in a heavily-censored country like Saudi Arabia writing anything remotely praiseworthy about Israel is fraught with peril, so it condemning the “occupation” is pretty much essential if discussing the topic at all.


In December 2014 the Saudi Labor Ministry said Jews would be permitted to work in Saudi Arabia, provided they were not Israeli citizens. “We bar entry [into Saudi Arabia] only to those with Israeli citizenship. Other than that, we are open to most nationalities and religions,” an unnamed government source told Saudi daily Al-Watan in a report translated by MEMRI. “For example, if a worker is a citizen of Yemen but practices Judaism, the [Saudi] Embassy [in Yemen] would not object to issuing him a work visa for the kingdom.”


The Saudi Labor Ministry later issued an ambiguous statement denying the reports saying that while new forms do allow those applying for a visa to list Judaism as a faith, the government has not made an official decision to allow the employment of Jews in the country. This disconnect can perhaps be explained by the difference between the public and private dealings of the Saudi state. The July visit of the Saudi delegation to Israel was officially not coordinated with the royal family and participants did not visit any Israeli governmental institutions, rather, they conducted their meetings in hotels. Similarly media attention to the employment of Jews in Saudi Arabia may have prompted an official denial, while in practice some Jews are able to obtain visas to travel and work in Saudi Arabia with no problems.


Saudi Arabia is a long way from supporting equality for all faiths equally and becoming a liberal state instead of a theocratic monarchy. Yet any progress is to be welcomed and change takes time. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring it is worth considering that the violent overthrow of states has so far failed to bring liberalism to the Middle East. Perhaps supporting gradual change as fought for by liberals within Middle-Eastern societies is more likely to yield tangible and largely bloodless positive results.          






Dr. Mordechai Kedar                                                   

Arutz Sheva, Sept. 20, 2016


Two million Muslims will be making the obligatory pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the Hajj, this month, as mandated by the Islamic calendar. The Hajj is one of the five basic pillars of Islam, a commandment that every Muslim must fulfill at least once in his lifetime.  Muslims from all over the Islamic world come to the Hajj, differing in appearance, skin color, language, dress, culture and customs, but all take part in rituals performed according to the stringent dictates originating in the Hannibal code of law as interpreted by the Wahhabi Saudi regime.


The Hajj symbolizes the ingathering of all Muslims to “The House of Allah,” as well as the love and affection that are expected to reign between Muslims and the happiness that unites them in their joint dedication to the service of Allah. The robe worn by the pilgrims – the “ihram” – a white sheath without pockets – signifies the modesty that man must show when coming to the home of his Lord and the absence of pockets proves that all belongs to Allah, that man’s property is worth nothing,  is temporary and perishable at best. The fact that the robes are identical and worn by all symbolizes that all are equal before Allah, rich and poor, king and servant, honored and despised. The pristine color of the ihram expresses the forgiveness for transgressions that takes place at the Hajj where every man who repents is cleansed of his sins.


The Hajj is an wrenching emotional experience, the most massive assembly in the world.  The intensive and crowded meeting with Muslims from a myriad of different cultures, the religious rituals, the speeches and prayers, all turn the Hajj into an ecstatic experience that creates a feeling that believers cannot achieve in other places or occasions. Pilgrims return from the Hajj with glowing eyes, veins suffused with religious adrenaline, heightened religious fervor and renewed and intense loyalty to Allah.


For most of those who return from the Hajj, this heightened religious fervor is expressed in adherence to the behaviors that are central to Islam: five prayers a day, fasting during Ramadan charity to the poor, modest dress, proper behavior and speech, avoidance of sins and transgressions and better relations with family and surroundings. Some of those returning from the Hajj interpret their heightened religious intensity as a reason to turn to Jihad, not only against the evil inclination within man’s soul but against infidels as well. And thus, not a small number of the Jihadists fighting in various areas were drawn in by representatives of terror groups who come to the Hajj in order to meet those most vulnerable to their efforts.


A massive gathering in an average-sized city like Mecca causes acute safety dangers because of the extreme crowding due to the fact that everyone has to perform the same rites at the same time and on the same day. The Saudi royal household invests enormous sums to build an infrastructure that will allow the crowds to perform the rituals safely, and builds bridges, lanes, passages, sidewalks and roads that create a secure environment for the millions who come to the Hajj.


The Saudi king calls himself “Guardian of the Holy Sites” in order to bestow religious sanctity on himself and his regime. This is the reason he feels responsible for arranging the Hajj so that it is safe. The Saudis build thousands of air conditioned tents for the pilgrims, and provide them with tens of thousands of sheep so that they can celebrate “Id Al Adha” – the “festival of the offering” that follows the Hajj. Sometimes, however, there are slip-ups and misunderstandings, and when two groups, each consisting of tens of thousands of people march towards each other by mistake, the tragic result is that many of them lie trampled underfoot and that many lives are lost in the resulting stampede.


Last year a crane fell over and killed tens of people, but the worst part of the accident was the altercation between the Saudi police and the Iranian pilgrims which left many of the Iranians dead.  The pilgrims from Iran are Shiites and the Saudis suspect them of attempting to perform rituals according to Shiite tradition, in direct opposition to Sunni Islamic principles – and certainly to the Wahhabi version of those rites. In past years there were other altercations between Iranian pilgrims and Saudi police, so that this is nothing new.


This year the dispute between Iran and the Saudis started anew as they rehashed the arguments over the accidents that occurred in previous years until the anger of both sides reached such a frenzy that the Mufti of Saudi Arabia declared Khamenei – the Supreme Ayatollah of Shiite Iran – an “Amgushi,” that is, not a Muslim, a heretic, a follower of the pre-Islamic Persian religion disguised as a Muslim. There is no more insulting epithet in the Muslim dictionary than the word “Amgushi.” As a result, Khamenei decided to move the Hajj this year from Mecca to Karbala, the Iraqi city closest to Mecca. In the year 680 C.E., Hussein Ibn Ali the leader of the Shiite rebels, was murdered and beheaded there by a military unit of the Sunni Umayyad Caliph Yazid ibn Muawiyah…


This rift over the Hajj is just another aspect of the war between the Saudis and the Iranians in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and in my estimation we are approaching the day when rockets are going to be flying through the air from Iran to Saudi Arabia and vice versa. This will be a disastrous development for the entire world because these two powers have both called on the ultimate player to help them, Allah, and both sides claim they are fighting for him and in his name. This kind of situation leads to a frenzy with which the world cannot cope, because no earthly or human considerations can put an end to a war that Allah wages against the infidel.


Economic considerations, oil infrastructure, loss of lives and damage to other countries do not have the slightest effect on Allah and his armies, and if – Heaven forfend – a real war breaks out between Saudi Arabia and Iran it will be a war to the bitter end using chemical and biological weapons. If one of the sides has atomic weapons, it is quite possible that they will be employed. I am stressing this point because both Saudi Arabia and Iran can get their hands on nuclear weapons, Iran has developed its own and the Saudis have acquired them from Pakistan. World leaders, especially those who gave their support to easing the sanctions on Iran and allowed that country to advance its military nuclear projects and continue to develop its missile arsenal, will have to answer for the decisions they made that may bring the Middle East and possibly other parts of the world to the point of no return on the road leading straight to hell.


And that is how the Hajj, the holiday that is meant to bring humankind closer to God and to a life spent under his protective shadow, may bring the Saudis, Iranians and perhaps other countries to their deaths under the shadow  of a horrendous mushroom cloud. A culture whose concepts range from “cursed tree” to “Amgushi” and which incorporates all-powerful Allah in its ranks, might find it perfectly acceptable to destroy a world that was built by mankind and for mankind, using concepts taken from the world of mankind. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.  




HOLY WAR OF WORDS: GROWING SAUDI-IRANIAN TENSIONS                                               

Simon Henderson                                                                                               

Washington Institute, Sept. 7, 2016


In the coming days, hundreds of thousands of Muslims will visit the Saudi city of Mecca to partake in the annual Hajj pilgrimage. Unlike last year, there will be no Iranians there. Tehran and Riyadh were unable to agree on visa allocations and security arrangements intended to avoid the type of tragic stampede that killed hundreds of pilgrims last time around — an incident in which Iran suffered more victims than any other country. Two days ago, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei declared that Iranians who were injured last year and subsequently died were "murdered" by the kingdom's inadequate emergency response. He went on to suggest that Saudi Arabia was not a proper custodian of the holy places — effectively a direct challenge to the legitimacy of the kingdom's Sunni royal family, since the monarch has been styled "Custodian of the Two Holy Places of Mecca and Medina" since the 1980s.


Khamenei's words prompted a damning response yesterday from the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, the country's chief cleric, who described Iran's Shiite majority as "Zoroastrians" and "not Muslims." Anti-Shiite sentiment is common in Saudi Arabia, and the "Zoroastrian" jibe (meaning fire worshippers) is sometimes mentioned in the press. But the very public use of such words by a mainstream religious leader is extraordinary — though hardly surprising given Khamenei's comments.


The verbal escalation did not stop there: a few hours later, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif entered the fray, tweeting about the "bigoted extremism that Wahhabi top cleric & Saudi terror masters preach." This was no doubt a direct response to the Grand Mufti (since the Saudi brand of Islam is often labeled "Wahhabism"), and a reiteration of the longstanding Iranian claim that Riyadh supports the Islamic State terrorist group. The situation is arguably as bad as it was in 1987, when Iranian pilgrims in Mecca shouted political slogans that prompted trigger-happy Saudi National Guard forces to open fire, killing scores. Even without Iranians in Mecca this year, the risk of further escalation between the two countries is high.


In this regard, a key decisionmaker on the Saudi side will be Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, who will likely favor a resolute rather than conciliatory approach. As defense minister, he has been the main proponent of the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, which was prompted by Iranian support for the Houthi rebels. That campaign is now a proxy war between the two countries, as are the struggles in Iraq, Syria, and, to a more limited extent, Bahrain. Saudi Arabia's own Shiite minority, concentrated in the oil-rich Eastern Province adjacent to Bahrain and the headquarters of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, will likely be inflamed by the war of words, and miscalculation is possible, even direct military clashes. In light of this danger, the international community — collectively and individually — should urge both sides to calm the rhetoric.


At the very least, the tension represents a setback for U.S. policy, since the Obama administration had hoped that such animosity would be reduced at least somewhat by last year's nuclear agreement with Iran. In a January 2014 interview with the New Yorker, the president stated, "It would be profoundly in the interest of citizens throughout the region if Sunnis and Shias weren't intent on killing each other"; he also expressed his hope of "an equilibrium developing between Sunni, or predominantly Sunni, Gulf states and Iran in which there's competition, perhaps suspicion, but not an active or proxy warfare."


Part of the challenge of quieting the situation is coping with the apparent belief in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states that the Obama administration favors Iran. The president's April interview with the Atlantic caused considerable surprise in Riyadh and other capitals, particularly when he stated, "The competition between the Saudis and the Iranians…requires us to say to our friends as well as to the Iranians that they need to find an effective way to share the neighborhood and institute some sort of cold peace." Four months prior, Saudi Arabia had broken off diplomatic relations with Iran after its embassy in Tehran was gutted — an incident that followed the kingdom's execution of a leading Saudi Shiite preacher.


Given recent reports of aggressive maneuvering by Iranian Revolutionary Guard naval units in the Gulf, a confrontation with U.S. forces is also possible. Accordingly, Washington's response to the spike in tensions should combine diplomatic and military components — for example, dispatching Secretary of State Kerry or another senior official to the kingdom while visibly reinforcing the Fifth Fleet. America's allies in the region will be hoping for nothing less. Without a significant U.S. response, Saudi Arabia will likely be tempted to consider a more independent and perhaps dangerous course of action.




Elizabeth Renzetti

Globe & Mail, Aug. 26, 2016


Far from the watchful eye of the world’s media, war is ravaging Yemen, killing thousands of civilians, and starving and displacing millions more. This brutal conflict should be in the spotlight, especially in countries that supply arms to Saudi Arabia, which leads the coalition accused of causing most of the civilian deaths. Countries such as Canada.


This year, the Liberal government approved $15-billion in sales of light-armoured vehicles (LAVs) to the Saudi kingdom, a sale that gave this country the dubious honour of being the second-greatest exporter of arms to the Middle East, The Globe and Mail’s Steven Chase reported in June. Earlier versions of Canadian-made LAVS seem to have been used in the war against Houthi rebels in Yemen, The Globe reported in February. Human-rights groups protested against the sale, but otherwise there has been little public outcry.


The government’s argument for selling the combat vehicles to a country with an abysmal human-rights record boiled down to, “it creates jobs,” and “if we don’t, someone else will.” Those are lousy arguments for a country aiming to be a leader in global freedom and progress. The Saudi-led Arab coalition’s air strikes are responsible for the majority of the 3,800 civilian deaths in Yemen in the past 18 months, according to a new report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released Thursday.


The Saudis’ enemies, the Shia Houthi rebels and their allies backing the deposed president Ali Abdullah Saleh, are also responsible for atrocities, possibly including the use of land mines. Cluster bombs are landing on civilian targets. Children are being recruited into militias. An entire country is running out of medication and food. The war in Yemen is said to be a proxy war that Saudi Arabia is waging with Iran through the Houthi militia, but there’s nothing proxy about a bomb landing on a wedding celebration. “The resilience of the Yemeni people has been stretched beyond human limits,” the UN report warns. It calls for an independent report into the civilian devastation, which may be cold comfort to the people who are being bombed in marketplaces, schools, factories and hospitals.


A ceasefire ended in early August, which has caused the destruction to increase again. Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) recently withdrew its staff from six hospitals in northern Yemen, after a devastating hospital bombing on Aug. 15 killed 19 and injured 24. MSF said it gave the GPS co-ordinates of its facilities to the warring parties. Announcing its pullout from the region, the medical aid group said: “MSF is neither satisfied nor reassured by the Saudi-led coalition’s statement that this attack was a mistake.” At the same time, it’s hard to know the exact scope of the destruction, considering how lethal it is for journalists to operate in Yemen. It’s extremely difficult for foreign reporters to gain access to the country, and local journalists have been killed, harassed, kidnapped and imprisoned.


John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State, was in Jeddah this week for “peace talks” with Saudi officials, even as his government is selling billions of dollars worth of arms to Saudi Arabia. The most recent deal, $1.15-billion (U.S.) in tanks and other arms, was approved earlier this month, though a small group of U.S. lawmakers is trying to delay the sale until Congress can study it further. The Obama administration has approved $110-billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia in the past six years, New York University professor Mohamad Bazzi recently wrote in The Nation, part of a complicated geopolitical dance to balance interests in the region. “The United States is complicit in this carnage,” The New York Times wrote in an editorial about the war in Yemen this week.


If the United States is the No. 1 supplier of arms to the Middle East, Canada is now No.2, according to figures compiled by the defence-industry publisher IHS Jane’s…Canada is not in the same weapons-dealing class as the United States, which supplies Saudi Arabia with helicopters, missiles and arms. However, the Canadian government has diluted the language around arms-export controls to make them less sensitive to human-rights concerns and more attuned to commercial interests. All of this should raise alarm bells, or at least spark interest in knowing more about this country’s arms-export deals. Unfortunately, the war in Yemen is grinding and complicated and far, far away. An entire population will pay the price for the world looking the other way.




On Topic Links


No Saudi Money for American Mosques : Daniel Pipes, The Hill, Aug. 22, 2016 —Saudi Arabia may be the country in the world most different from the United States, especially where religion is concerned. An important new bill introduced by Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) aims to take a step toward fixing a monumental imbalance.

In Saudi Arabia, a Revolution Disguised as Reform: Dennis Ross, Washington Post, Sept. 8, 2016 —Today, it’s hard to be optimistic about anything in the Middle East. And yet having just visited Saudi Arabia, in which I led a small bipartisan group of former national security officials, I came away feeling hopeful about the kingdom’s future.

‘We Misled You’: How the Saudis Are Coming Clean on Funding Terrorism: Zalmay Khalilzad, Politico, Sept. 14, 2016 —On my most recent trip to Saudi Arabia, I was greeted with a startling confession. In the past, when we raised the issue of funding Islamic extremists with the Saudis, all we got were denials. This time, in the course of meetings with King Salman, Crown Prince Nayef, Deputy Crown Mohammad Bin Salman and several ministers, one top Saudi official admitted to me, “We misled you.”

Hajj Prep: Search Soul, Buy Sturdy Shoes, Pay the Dentist: Diaa Hadid, New York Times, Sept. 9, 2016 —My father was on the phone from Australia, giving gravely voiced advice on preparing for the hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. “Have you paid the dentist?” he asked. “He ruined my teeth!” I shrieked. “No matter, Baba,” he said, using an Arabic endearment. “This is the hajj. You have to clear your debts, even if you don’t think they are fair.”








Bashar Assad's Pivot to Palmyra: Paul Salem, Real Clear World, Apr. 3, 2016— There are currently three tracks in the Syrian civil war…

ISIS May be Losing, But the Big Winners are America’s Enemies: Benny Avni, New York Post, Mar. 30, 2016— With the retaking of Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra, we seem to finally have made tangible, on-the-ground gains against ISIS…

With Jihadists at the Door, Syrians on Both Sides of the Conflict Rush to Rescue their Ancient History: Maeva Bambuck, National Post, Mar. 31, 2016— With Islamic State group militants on the doorstep of his hometown in eastern Syria…                                                          

Gulf Arab States Close Doors to Syrian Refugees: Raheem Kassam, Breitbart, Mar. 31, 2016— U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has surfaced, once again to lecture the Anglosphere and the Western world…


On Topic Links


Syria’s Civil War Has Done More Than Just Ruin Lives. It Has Devastated the Region’s Economy: Frances Charles, National Post, Mar. 17, 2016

Putin's "Sacred Mission" in Syria: Dr. Anna Geifman, BESA, Mar. 27, 2016

How to Win Friends and Kill People: Lee Smith, Weekly Standard, Apr. 11, 2016

War and Madness: A Retrospective of Five Years of Reporting on the War in Syria: Jonathan Spyer, Rubin Center, Mar. 29, 2016



Paul Salem

Real Clear World, Apr. 3, 2016


There are currently three tracks in the Syrian civil war: the cessation of hostilities between the government and the opposition; the negotiations in Geneva; and the war against the Islamic State group. The cease-fire is barely holding, and the war on ISIS is moving forward, but the talks in Geneva are fully stalled. The Assad regime's move late last month to recapture the ancient city of Palmyra from ISIS is related to all three tracks.


The pause in fighting declared in late February proved surprisingly durable, until a few days ago. The opposition was already dispirited and exhausted in the face of a sustained Russian-backed offensive, and thus welcomed — and have largely stuck to — the cessation. On the regime side, the Russian insistence on the cease-fire, followed by the partial Russian withdrawal, indicated to President Bashar Assad that Russia had reinforced the regime's battlefield positions, but would go little further in engaging in an open-ended war against the opposition. At the same time, the Russians have indicated their willingness to be more engaged in the fight against ISIS.


The cease-fire and the evolving Russian position affected Assad's strategy. His intention had been to maintain Russian help until a full battlefield defeat of the opposition, while leaving the fight against ISIS for a later stage. With the first lane closed, he was forced to reevaluate.


President Vladimir Putin announced the partial withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria on the same day that world leaders were meeting in Geneva for scheduled peace talks, with the Kremlin calling for "an intensification of the process for a political settlement" to the conflict. But the Assad government has effectively refused to negotiate. Assad himself has said that the war will continue until the regime subdues all of Syria, and his officials have insisted that any talk of a political transition is off the table. The government delegation doesn't even recognize the opposition as a negotiating partner, referring to them regularly as "terrorists." With Assad being the clear spoiler at Geneva, to the ire of both Russia and the West, the campaign to retake Palmyra deftly shifted attention from Assad's unwillingness to negotiate, to Assad's role in defeating ISIS.


Indeed, there are already politicians and commentators in Europe and the United States who have forgotten how Syria and ISIS got to where they are today, and are now rushing to embrace Assad. They are mistaking the cause for the cure. While the Assad regime can play an important role in the war on the Islamic State, and the main institutions of the Syrian state must endure through any political agreement, only a serious resolution of the Syrian political conflict — including a political transition and the eventual expiration of Assad's presidential term — will stabilize the country and ultimately defeat not only ISIS, but the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front as well.


Furthermore, while Assad's forces took Palmyra, other groups were moving against ISIS strongholds elsewhere. The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which include Kurdish YPG forces and allied Sunni and Christian militias, moved closer to the ISIS capital of Raqqa. Other rebel units backed by the United States and Gulf states have pushed toward ISIS strongholds in Deir Ezzor and Dabiq. With the cease-fire freeing up fighting capacities on both sides, the war against ISIS in Syria appears to have finally begun in earnest. All sides will be scrambling to gain territory as this fight proceeds.


Although the regime has finally decided to engage the Islamic State group after allowing it to flourish for three years, it faces constraints. Palmyra was relatively close to the capital and fairly easy to capture. Campaigns to reclaim Raqqa or Deir Ezzor will be far more challenging. The regime's own fighters are stretched thin and exhausted from five years of combat; they are still willing to fight and risk death in defense of strongholds in Damascus, Aleppo, and the Alawite coastline, but embarking on ambitious campaigns in the north and east of the country will be a very difficult sell.


Among the regime's allies, Russia now regards the war on ISIS as the priority and has proven willing to provide extensive air support. But the Syrian government's Iranian and Hezbollah allies will be less enthusiastic about providing manpower. They have indicated a firm commitment to defending the core territories of the regime, but have expressed little enthusiasm for ambitious campaigns further afield. The defeat of ISIS in Syria will have to be a multiplayer affair with a role for the regime, but also important roles for the Kurdish and Arab rebel militias. Indeed, Interfax has reported that Russia and the United States are discussing concrete military coordination to liberate the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa…                      

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





Benny Avni

                                                                              New York Post, Mar. 30, 2016


With the retaking of Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra, we seem to finally have made tangible, on-the-ground gains against ISIS — that is, if “we” refers to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. President Obama and several of his would-be successors are satisfied: The terrorists of ISIS are losing ground. America exerts little treasure and sheds no blood. Our allies in Syria are on the march. What’s not to like? Wait, “allies”?


During the half-decade Syrian civil war, the White House has repeatedly deemed Assad unfit to lead the country. If anything, administration officials stress again and again, he should stand trial for war crimes. Meanwhile, Hezbollah tops the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. Despite Obama’s endless overtures to Iran, the administration still considers it, at least officially, an adversary. And Russia? Well, it’s complicated, but a trusted friend they’re not.


Over the weekend, Syrian army troops loyal to Assad took Palmyra, supported by Russian warplanes. (Strange — while Vladimir Putin announced earlier this month that Russia is getting out of Syria, he keeps pouring military assets into the country.) Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps fighters helped out. It was a first for Assad. Syrian sources tell me that the Syrian army and its allies could have successfully mounted a similar attack at any time since last May, when the ISIS gangs took over Palmyra and proceeded to shock the world by smashing its cherished antiquities — or as ISIS called them, “symbols of idolatry.”


Beyond its value to Indiana Jones types, by the way, Palmyra is a strategic asset, located between Damascus and the country’s eastern deserts and the Iraqi border. So how come Assad waited so long before instructing his army to take back the city? Because Assad never really saw ISIS as his main enemy. Rather, the group was his insurance card: The scarier and stronger it seemed to the West, the more we’d see the war as a choice between him and ISIS — and choose him. So he went easy on ISIS, and attacked all other Sunni groups that vied to overthrow him.


Now, as America, Russia and the United Nations are (perhaps prematurely) beginning to plan the postwar political arrangements, Assad needs to demonstrate his value as the only serious buffer against ISIS. And so, with Russia, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah, Assad wrestles Palmyra away from those ISIS goons who shocked the world by ruining its beautiful ancient artifacts, and the world is impressed.


Publicly, official Washington maintains the “Assad must go” mantra. But behind the scenes, we welcome his latest maneuvering. After all, anyone who’d weaken ISIS is welcome. Except ISIS will be fine. Indeed, it’s already moved assets to Libya. With our hands-off approach, we failed to cultivate significant alliances in Syria (as opposed to our success in doing so during the 2007-2009 Iraq “surge”). As a result, no one does our bidding there. We therefore must rely on Russia — even though Moscow also brings along Hezbollah, Iran and (for now, at least) Assad. Beyond the stench, is a victory for that odious coalition in our interest? It’ll lead to endless unrest. Sunnis won’t accept it.


The growth of Iran’s Shiite Crescent has already ignited Iran-Saudi proxy wars in Yemen and Bahrain, in addition to Syria. And as Thomas Friedman reports from Iraq, this is a region-wide war. Meanwhile, Hezbollah and Iran are trying to establish a base on the Golan, where they hope to open a new anti-Israeli front. So, no. “We” didn’t gain in Palmyra. We farmed the battle out to others, who are no allies. Thus, we’re guaranteed intensified mayhem, which sooner or later can reach our shores, too.


It should teach us the perils of the hands-off approach. Instead, our leading presidential candidates increasingly take up Obama’s complaint that our allies don’t sufficiently shoulder the burdens of global security. One of the lessons of the Syria mess is that when America sheds responsibilities, our allies won’t pick up the baton. Instead, the void tends to be filled with the worst of the worst.





                                         RUSH TO RESCUE THEIR ANCIENT HISTORY                                                                                 Maeva Bambuck                                                                                             

National Post, Mar. 31, 2016


With Islamic State group militants on the doorstep of his hometown in eastern Syria, Yaroob al-Abdullah had little time. He had already rushed his wife and four daughters to safety. Now he had to save the thousands of ancient artifacts he loved. In a week of furious work in summer heat, tired and dehydrated from the Ramadan fast, the head of antiquities in Deir el-Zour province and his staff packed up most of the contents of the museum in the provincial capital. Then al-Abdullah flew with 12 boxes of relics to Damascus.


The pieces included masterpieces: A nearly 5,000-year-old statuette of a smiling worshipper. A colourful mural fragment from a 2nd-century temple for the god Bel. Thousands of fragile clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform writing, including administrative records, letters and business deals that provide a glimpse at life nearly 4,000 years ago in the Semitic kingdom of Mari. The move, carried out in 2014, was part of a mission by antiquities officials across Syria to evacuate everything that could be saved from Islamic State extremists and looters. The extent of the operation has been little known until now, but its participants described … a massive effort — at least 29 of Syria’s 34 museums largely emptied out and more than 300,000 artifacts brought to the capital.


The pieces are now hidden in secret locations known only to the few specialists who handled them, said Maamoun Abdulkarim, who as head of the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums in Damascus oversaw the operation. “Other than that, no one knows where these antiquities are — not a politician, not any other Syrian.” There’s much that couldn’t be saved. The damage is most symbolized by Palmyra, the jewel of Syrian archaeology, a marvellously preserved Roman-era city. ISIL militants captured it last year and proceeded to blow up at least two of its most stunning temples.


Over the weekend, Syrian government forces recaptured Palmyra from the militants and discovered they had trashed the city museum, smashing statues and looting relics — though fortunately about 400 pieces had been hidden away by antiquities officials before the ISIL takeover.


Across the country, the destruction has been tragic. Wherever they overran territory in Syria and Iraq, Islamic State jihadis relentlessly blew up, bulldozed or otherwise tore down monuments they consider pagan affronts. They and other traffickers have taken advantage of the chaos from the 5-year-old civil war to loot sites and sell off artifacts. Even in the museums that were evacuated, some items were too large to move — giant statues or ancient gates and murals — and fell into ISIL hands, their fate unknown. But the 2,500 archaeologists, specialists, curators and engineers with Syria’s antiquities department, including some who defected to join the opposition, have often risked death to protect what they can.


One 25-year-old woman led a military convoy carrying antiquities out of the northern city of Aleppo, a major battleground between rebels and government forces. Out of fear for her safety, she requested anonymity. Guards at archaeological digs and other sites in areas now under ISIL control secretly keep tabs on the ruins and feed Abdulkarim photo updates on WhatsApp. Several of them have been killed.


Khaled al-Asaad, Palmyra’s retired antiquities chief, was beheaded by the extremists in August after spiriting away artifacts from the city’s museum. Ziad al-Nouiji, who took over from al-Abdullah as head of antiquities in Deir el-Zour, brought a second load of relics to Damascus last June. But otherwise he has remained in the government-held part of Deir el-Zour city. He knows the danger: ISIL militants besieging the area are hunting for him, posting his name on their Facebook pages as a wanted man. He relocated his family abroad but is staying put. “This is my duty, my country’s right. If we all left the country and our duties, who would be left?” he asked.


In the rebel-held northwestern city of Maarat al-Numan, archaeologists affiliated with the opposition protected the city’s museum, which houses Byzantine mosaics. There the danger was from government airstrikes, so they erected a sandbag barrier with financial and logistical support from former antiquities directorate chief Amr al-Azm, who sided with the opposition. Last June, just after the sandbagging was complete, a government barrel bomb damaged mosaics in the outside courtyard, he said. “The heroes here are the Syrian men and women on both sides who … are willing to risk their lives for their heritage,” al-Azm said by telephone from Shawnee State University in Ohio, where he teaches. “That’s what gives me hope for the future of Syria.”


The antiquities authorities didn’t take any chances, even clearing museums in government-controlled areas. At the National Museum in Damascus, the halls and galleries have been empty since the artifacts were hidden away in 2013 for fear rebel shelling could hit the building. In the pottery room, dust rings mark where the pieces once stood and only the labels remain. In 2014, with EU funding, the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO began training Syrian staff in storing artifacts and helped establish a nationwide system to document their inventory. In Damascus last month, a team of archaeologists and archivists was still processing the collection brought from the Daraa Museum in southern Syria. “With a good team, a charismatic leader and our support they managed an extraordinary feat,” said Cristina Menegazzi, head of UNESCO’s Syrian heritage emergency safeguard project.


A vital crossroads throughout history, Syria holds a legacy from multiple civilizations that traded, invaded and built cities across its territory — the Akkadians, Babylonians and Assyrians of ancient Mesopotamia, various Semitic kingdoms, the Romans and Byzantines, and then centuries of Islamic dynasties. The country is dotted with “tells,” hills that conceal millennia-old towns and cities, some of which have been partially excavated and many more that are still waiting to be discovered…

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





Raheem Kassam                    

                                                  Breitbart, Mar. 31, 2016


U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has surfaced, once again to lecture the Anglosphere and the Western world about its "duties" to hurriedly absorb nearly half a million more Syrian migrants. The war-torn country's surrounding nations, he argues, have done the heavy lifting already. Now the U.N. chief wants you and your communities to do more. There is a misconception that all Syria's neighbours have shrugged their shoulders towards their Muslim brethren, scorning the Ummah out of rugged self interest. It's not strictly true. But the dichotomy presented – that it is us or them – is a false one, and one that European and American leaders should not be afraid to reject outright.


The New York Times reports that the Sec. General opened a conference in Geneva today, demanding "an exponential increase in global solidarity", insisting that "Neighboring countries have done far more than their share" and imploring "Others [to] now step up." And, of course, the stress was on European Union member states and the United States of America to do more. The news follows quickly on the heels of Oxfam – one of the world's most political charities – demanding that France, the United Kingdom, the United States, the Netherlands, and Denmark all take in more "refugees" and faster.


Of course, of the nearly 5 million fleeing Syria, most remain in the Middle East, with countries like Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, and Jordan inundated by refugees. In part, this is what has spurred Turkey on to shipping their problems off into Europe – especially the Kurdish one. It is noteworthy too, that Oxfam and Ban Ki Moon's criticisms were levelled at Western nations not because we have the infrastructure or capability to deal with the influx (we don't) – but because we are, apparently, "rich". (We'll just casually ignore our gargantuan debt crisis for the moment, shall we?)


But while the United Nations lumps the responsibility onto the West, you might ask why countries like Saudi Arabia, which claims to have absorbed around half a million Syrians, do not provide any data to support their statements. Indeed, in 2013, net migration of those deemed to be Syrian nationals stood at around just 20,000, with criticism aimed at the country for only accepting Syrians who already have families in the Kingdom.


In fact countries that could take more, and haven't remain free of criticism, presumably because they aren't signatories to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. This isn't a sign that we are better. It's a sign that we are dumber. We as Western nations afford moral and political equivalence for almost all other countries around the world nowadays (most recently, Cuba and Iran) but we don't make the same demands of these countries as we place upon ourselves.


What about Malaysia? Why can't they take more migrants and refugees? Indonesia? India? China? Argentina? Has Ban Ki Moon lobbied his home nation, South Korea? It's almost as if there's a whole world out there. But the onus is, apparently, on Britain, France, and America. We are destined to follow Germany's lead, a country now inundated with migrants not just from Syria, because Mrs. Merkel stupidly threw her doors open and declared, "Come one, come all!" Perhaps we should look to the words of Batal, a Syrian refugee who spoke to Bloomberg, for why the pressure is being placed on Western countries and the Anglosphere: "In Europe, I can get treatment for my polio, educate my children, have shelter and live an honorable life… Gulf countries have closed their doors in the face of Syrians."

On Topic


Syria’s Civil War Has Done More Than Just Ruin Lives. It Has Devastated the Region’s Economy: Frances Charles, National Post, Mar. 17, 2016—Blood-stained bodies lie on the ground. Bombs hurtle downward. A black helicopter gunship hovers menacingly overhead. When six-year-old Heba draws pictures, the only colours she uses are blood red and death black.

Putin's "Sacred Mission" in Syria: Dr. Anna Geifman, BESA, Mar. 27, 2016—On September 30, 2015, Vladimir Putin ordered Russian warplanes into Syria to begin regular aerial bombardments of targets that Moscow defined as sources of “jihadi terror.” The intervention followed an official invitation from the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who had asked his Russian ally for help against the “jihadists.”

How to Win Friends and Kill People: Lee Smith, Weekly Standard, Apr. 11, 2016—Last week the mayor of London heaped praise on the president of Syria for liberating Palmyra, and thereby saving its prized antiquities from ISIS. In his column for the Telegraph, Boris Johnson wrote that he knows “Assad is a monster, a dictator. He barrel-bombs his own people. His jails are full of tortured opponents. He and his father ruled for generations by the application of terror and violence."

War and Madness: A Retrospective of Five Years of Reporting on the War in Syria: Jonathan Spyer, Rubin Center, Mar. 29, 2016—The cold numbers are the first thing that hit you. Figures telling of a human catastrophe on a scale hard to compute. Suffering on a level to which any rational response seems inadequate – 470,000 people killed, according to the latest estimates; 11.5 percent of the population injured; 45 percent of a country of 22 million made homeless; 4 million refugees and 6.36 million internally displaced persons.















Download Today's Isranet Daily Briefing.pdf 





Engulfed by Fear: Mordechai Kedar, Mordechai Kedar Blog May 26, 2012 —The Persian Gulf suffers from severe geo-political disproportionality: on its eastern shore lies one large state, Iran, which operates methodically and consistently to implement its agenda, the goal of which is regional, if not wider, hegemony.


More Trouble in Jordan: Mudar Zahran, Gatestone Institute, Nov. 23, 2012—Last week, protests broke out in Jordan after a government decision to raise fuel prices. While protests have been taking place in Jordan for almost two years now, for the first time there is major involvement from Jordan's Palestinians, with open calls for toppling the regime.



On Topic Links



Has the US Administration Decided to Get Rid of Jordan's King Abdullah?: Khaled Abu Toameh,  Gatestone Institute, November 20, 2012

The Trouble With Jordan: Joseph Hammond, The European Magazine, Dec. 10, 2012

What's the Deal with Qatar?: Greg Scoblete, Real Clear World, Dec. 10, 2012

Qatar’s Takeover of Europe: Giulio Meotti, Front Page Magazine, November 14, 2012






Mordechai Kedar

Mordechai Kedar, May 26, 2012

The Persian Gulf suffers from severe geo-political disproportionality: on its eastern shore lies one large state, Iran, which operates methodically and consistently to implement its agenda, the goal of which is regional, if not wider, hegemony; while on its western shore lie no less than twelve Arab states: Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the seven states of the United Emirates: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharqah, and Umm al-Quwain. Each state has its own story: a family that dominates the leadership, a unique character, its own internal problems, and its own individual agenda, which differs from state to state. As long as Iraq was under the control of Saddam, it was a counterweight to Iran, and the states of the Gulf took shelter in the shadow of Iraq. They also paid protection money to Iraq in the form of partial funding of the Iraqi military efforts during the years of the war against Iran between 1980 and 1988. Since their establishment, the ultimate goal of the Gulf states was to survive among the giants, Iraq and Iran, and the Emirates kept their distance from Saudi Arabia. Recently the Iranian titan took control of the Iraqi titan.

Persian Gulf States

The states of the Arabian Peninsula have been trying for years to create a mechanism that would result in a united agenda, mainly from a security point of view, and in light of the war between Iran and Iraq, they created the "Gulf Cooperation Council" (GCC) in May 1981. The main achievement of this Council was the establishment of a military force by the name of the "Peninsula Shield Force", whose role is to defend its members from external attack. However, the Force was too weak and therefore unable to rescue Kuwait in 1990 from the Iraqi invasion. The most successful action of the Force was in March of 2011, when they became involved in the internal struggle in Bahrain to stabilize the minority Arab-Sunni rule over the majority Persian-Shi'ite population, which was rebelling against the regime under the influence of the "Arab Spring" and with the encouragement of Iran.

Since the regime of Saddam was overthrown in the year 2003, and since Iran has succeeded during the last year to bring Iraq into its sphere of influence, the Gulf states feel that the Iranian steamroller is approaching nearer and nearer to them, and the guillotine of the Ayatollahs is threatening the connection between the heads and shoulders of the sheikhs, princes and kings who live in the Arabian Peninsula. The states of the Peninsula feel that they are increasingly dependent on the United States and the West to guard their independence and their political and economic maneuverability, but the West seems tired and exhausted now, as a result of their failure in Iraq and Afghanistan, and its leadership – especially the current resident in the White House, who is heavily influenced by the approaching elections – lacks a backbone and has no ability to deter the Iranians and stop them from galloping towards regional hegemony that will include the whole Arabian peninsula. The Gulf states know that if Iran invades Kuwait and conquers it, as Saddam did in August of 1990, the world will not send its armies to rescue Kuwait again, but will sacrifice it on the Iranian altar in hopes that the Ayatollahs will be satisfied with that. And any other country can expect the same treatment.

The inherent split among the states of the Arabian Peninsula has been exacerbated recently by the internal problems that are tearing Yemen from within: the conflict between the North and the South awakens the desire among the tribes of South Yemen to renew the independence that they lost 22 years ago, in the never-ending war between the Sana'a regime and the Hawthi's in the district of Sa'da in the North and the activities of Al-Qaeda (and especially egregious was the terror attack that caused about a hundred fatalities among the soldiers of the army) against the central regime, weakening the domestic front of this state and threatening its integrity.

As a result, the geo-political situation in the Gulf in the recent period is that of total inequality: On one side is one unified state with a clear goal, possessing great power and a willingness to use it and the proven ability to do anything it wants without regard to the international community; and on the other side are 13 states including Yemen, with various competing concerns, and with complex internal conflicts. And in some of the states, large Shi'ite minorities exist which are an Iranian-Shiite "Trojan Horse" within Arab-Sunni states. And added to this already problematic situation is the history, which is no less complex and problematic: The Iranian takeover of three islands that belong to the Emirates which occurred back in the days of the Shah, but continues to be a focus of tension; the visit of Ahmadinejad to one of these islands about two months ago as a sign of Iranian sovereignty over them; Iranian naval maneuvers to close off the Strait of Hormuz; Iranian talk about the historical connection between Iran and Bahrain, which has a Persian-Shi'ite majority and Iranian talk about the obligation of Bahrain to return to the Iranian bosom; Iranian complaints to Saudi Arabia about how it relates to its Shi'ite minority that resides in the area of the oil fields; and the provocative behavior of Iranians who make the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, arousing sectarian tension among the Sunnis.

Middle East Map

All of these factors together, and especially the lack of trust that the West and the United States will support them in their hour of need, has created among the leaders of the Gulf states great fear of the Iranian giant that is threatening to take them over, and today they are dominated by the feeling that there is no choice for them except to change the geo-political equation vis a vis Iran. To do this they must create common ground for their political and security policies, because the divisiveness that prevails in the Arabian Peninsula weakens them. Saudi Arabia, which sees itself – and very justifiably – as the main target of the Iranians, is leading this process. The Saudis know well that the main goal of the Iranians in the Arabian Peninsula, after or even before the oil, is the two holy cities of Islam, Mecca and Medina. Ever since the Ibn Saud family took over the Hijaz 90 years ago, the king boasts that he is "the Custodian of the Two Holy Places" and uses this as the basis of Islamic legitimization for his rule. A Shi'ite takeover of the Peninsula, which was stolen by the Sunnis, will turn back the wheel of history to the middle of the Seventh century, to the days of the Caliphate of Ali bin Abi Talib, the fourth caliph, and even now the Shi'ites dream of returning Islamic hegemony to his family. The Saudis view Shi'ism as a kind of heresy.

The Saudi push for some kind of unity in the Peninsula was declared in January 2012, when the emergency summit of the Gulf states met to discuss the Iranian threat in light of the developments of the "Arab Spring" and their ramifications for the stability of the Gulf states. In this summit, which met in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, the Saudi King Abdullah spoke to the attendees with this language (my comments are in parenthesis, M.K.): "We are meeting in the shadow of a challenge that demands that we wake up, and at a time when we must unify our forces and our voices.” The king declared to his listeners that there are threats to the security and stability of the Gulf; and despite the fact that he did not mention the source of the threats, there was no doubt to whom he was referring. He called to the leaders, his neighbors, "to rise (above the disputes) to the necessary level of responsibility that is required of them, and since the attendees were all part of the (Islamic) nation they must support their brothers (the Syrians) in order to rescue them from the bloodshed (of the Syrian regime, which is supported by Iran)".

King Abdullah added: "Our accumulated history and experience have taught us not to be satisfied with just talking about our situation and leaving it at that, because he who acts in this way will find himself at the end of the line and will be lost. And since this is not acceptable for any of us, I request from you to progress from this phase of cooperation to the phase of unification as one entity; this will remove the evil and bring goodness." There is no expression more severe than these religiously charged words in diplomatic Arabic language that can be used in order to convey a message about Iran. The fact that the name of Iran was not explicitly mentioned does not detract from the strength of the words. It must be assumed that behind the scenes, sharper, less diplomatic and more explicit expressions toward Iran were heard.

The anxiety of the Gulf states was exacerbated with the provocative visit of the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in April of this year, to the island of Abu Musa, one of three islands that belong to the United Arab Emirates according to the claim of the UAE, and that Iran took over in the days of the Shah, in 1971. This island is located in the Strait of Hormuz, opposite the shore of Abu Dhabi, and the military base that Iran established on it could serve the Iranian forces if they try to block the Strait. The visit triggered a wave of severe verbal responses by the UAE, and Iran responded with a wave of foul statements against the Gulf States. This response is important because it created a very bad atmosphere and high tension between the two sides of the Gulf. Here it is worthwhile to mention that the Arabs call the Gulf "The Arabian Gulf", while the Iranians insist on calling it "the "Persian Gulf", and whenever an Arab leader says "Arabian Gulf", the Iranians become upset and call in the ambassador for a scolding.

Hassan Sheikh al-Islam, the adviser for International Affairs to the head of "Majlis al-Shura" the Iranian parliament, said that "declarations by the leaders of the Emirates regarding the islands in the Persian(!) Gulf are part of an old plot that is supported by the leaders of Britain (which was the governor of the Gulf until it left during the process of the sixties) and the Zionist entity." Accusing the states of the Gulf of Zionism is meant to shut the mouths of Iran's detractors. (It's worthy of note that also Hitler in his day, would accuse his detractors of cooperation with the Jews.) The islands, according to Sheikh al-Islam, are an inseparable part of the land of Iran, so the president's visit to the island is a natural thing. He also accused Saudi Arabia of forgetting the two Saudi islands, Sanafir and Tiran, located at the mouth of the Gulf of Eilat, which Israel conquered in 1967 in the Six Day War, and still controls, according to him, because Sadat did not demand to get them back since they belong to Saudi Arabia. He claims that the Saudis are quiet so that they will not aggravate their friends in Tel Aviv, just as they and their friends in the Emirates are quiet about the Jewish occupation of Judea and Samaria that belong to the Palestinians, the occupation of the Golan Heights that belongs to Syria, and the Israeli takeover of Sheba Farms that belongs to Lebanon.

The Iranian spokesman accused "Abu Mut'ab" (the use of the nickname of Abdullah, King of Saudi Arabia is intended to express disrespect) of supporting the Syrian rebels, and that his Sheikhs issue fatwas (religious rulings) that obligate the Muslims to go to jihad against the Syrian rulers in order to establish a Salafi and Wahhabi regime in Syria similar to that of Saudi Arabia. Everyone knows that the enemy of the Islamic world is Israel, so why do the Gulf media deal with subtle things like the visit of Ahmadinejad to Abu Musa? The Gulf media should focus on Israel! These words against the media in the Gulf are aimed mainly at the al-Jazeera channel, which broadcasts from Qatar, and caused – in the opinion of the regime in Syria and Iran and the leaders of Hizbullah in Lebanon – the wave of Arab violence called the "Arab Spring" that was intended to improve the situation of the Zionist Entity by means of overthrowing Arab rulers.

The Iranian spokesman finished his words with a general declaration that Iran will not fall into the trap of regional bickering with the Arabs and saves all of its strength for coping with the real enemy, the Zionist enemy. The goal behind this declaration is to relax, or rather pacify, the Emirates in the Gulf, so that there will be no noise when Iran takes them over. However, their leaders know the deceptive ways of the Iranians, and are well aware of the fact that talk of the Zionist entity is precisely the proof that Iran sees the states of the Gulf as the first target for its tentacles.

In the middle of the month of May, about one week before this writing, it became known that the head of the "Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies" in Jedda, General Dr. Anwar 'Ishqi, said that the council of the summit of the Gulf states that was supposed to meet in Riyadh would decide on "a certain type of unity between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain". The meaning of such a declaration is that Saudi Arabia is already in secret negotiations with the Bahraini royal house, with the goal of declaring a union to fend off the Iranian attempts to take over the island, and to give legitimacy to the Saudi military involvement against the Persian-Shi'ite majority of the citizens of Bahrain. A union of this sort will turn such involvement into an "internal matter", so that other states will have nothing to say about it. These rumors have worried many people, in Bahrain as well as outside of it. For the Bahraini Shi'ite opposition, a union such as this would be the kiss of death; for Iran it might push off the day in which it will again control Bahrain, but the other ruling families in the Gulf states don't want to give up their independence and their wealth to become an organ in the aged Saudi political body.

All of the observers were reminded of the saying of King Abdallah from last January quoted above, and understood that Saudi Arabia and Bahrain indeed have passed from a stage of cooperation to the stage of becoming one entity in a way that will be acceptable for all sides. They are reminded that in the first Council of the Summit, a decision was taken to establish a think tank that would include three representatives from every state and would deal with the way in which the Gulf states can create some kind of union among them. The schedule was fairly tight: In February, names of participants were supposed to have been submitted, and in March – just one month afterward – the team was supposed to have served its recommendations.

When they heard about the idea of a union between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, the Iranians were beside themselves with rage. The official news agency "Fars" called the idea "an evil Saudi-Gulf step intended to give legitimacy to the occupation of Bahrain", and the Iranian spokesman said in an interview on BBC that "if Bahrain unties with any other state, it must unite again with Iran, not with Saudi Arabia".

It could be that the declaration of 'Ishqi was intended to be a "trial balloon" to see what the reaction would be, and they would decide what action to take afterward, but it could also be that it was intended to prepare public opinion in the Gulf states for the time when they must accept the hegemony of the Saudi "big brother" so that it can rescue them from the "neighboring giant" of Iran. In many Gulf states there are significant Shi'ite minorities, some of which speak Persian, and the leaders of these states are well acquainted with the Iranian attempts to arouse these minorities to rebellion against the Sunni regimes such as that in Bahrain.

They watch with great concern how the balance of power is changing to their detriment globally, while China and Russia paralyze the West and enable Iran to race forward with its nuclear military plans. Their fear is increased when the head of the International Atomic Energy Association returns this week with an "agreement" that might be no more meaningful than the 2012 version of the "Munich Agreement”, which Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of Great Britain, brought in 1938, declaring "peace in our time" which ended a year after that in the bloodshed that enveloped Europe as well as the rest of the world.

The leaders of the Gulf do not believe even one word that comes out of the Iranians' mouths, and they fear that the West may again fall into the trap of deception that Sa'eed Jalili laid in Baghdad. Western naiveté – in their opinion – will ultimately cause the states of the Gulf to fall at the feet of the Iranians and therefore they are trying now to find a way to create a union with Saudi Arabia. Bahrain is the weak link in the chain formed by the states of the Gulf, and therefore the union will begin with it. And the more that time passes and the further the West falls into the Iranian trap, the more the states of the Gulf will be pushed by their fear into the warm bosom of the Saudi family.

Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a member of the CIJR’s International Board, is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam, Bar Ilan University, Israel. 


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Mudar Zahran

Gatestone Institute, November 23, 2012


Last week, protests broke out in Jordan after a government decision to raise fuel prices. While protests have been taking place in Jordan for almost two years now, for the first time there is major involvement from Jordan's Palestinians, with open calls for toppling the regime. With the future of Jordan's King Abdullah in jeopardy, so is regional stability a,s well as Jordan's peace with Israel. Pro-Western forces have critical options to consider.


The protesters, last week, started openly to call for the king to step down. The Independent noted that previously the protests had been "peaceful and rarely targeted King Abdullah II himself," and reported that this time crowds "chanted slogans against the king and threw stones at riot police as they protested in several cities."


Al Jazeera, as well, reported that protests have been taking place "across the width and the length of the country," with "most chanting for toppling the regime." Several of the king's photographs – regularly displayed in public places in Jordan – were set on fire.


What came as a surprise in the recent protests, according to Al Jazeera, is that Palestinian refugee camps have been also participating to the fullest. These protests apparently broke out in the Al-Hussein refugee camp, close to Jordan's capital, Amman. Protesters were seen calling for toppling the regime.


In another protest, Al-Hussein refugee camp protesters chanted: "Our god, may you take away our oppressor. Our country Jordan has existed before the Arab Revolution," referring to the revolt against the Turks by which Jordan's king's great grandfather established the Hashemite kingdom.. Al-Hussein refugee camp protesters eventually marched into lively Douar Firas area near central Amman, where they were attacked by the fearsome Jordanian gendarmerie.


The gendarmerie officers were even harsher in the Al-Baqaa refugee camp, Jordan's largest, where protests broke out for the first time, and slogans targeted the king with demands that he step down. Protesters reportedly burned tires, blocking the highway which borders the camp and connects Amman to Northern Jordan.


The Jordanian news website Ammon published a video showing an al-Baqaa refugee camp leader calling for "calm" within camps in Jordan, while admitting that the refugee camp's leaders, usually favored by the regime over the Palestinian public, were not able to form a public committee to reach out to protesting youths. The Palestinian-dominated Jabal Al-Nuzha camp has also been the site of regular protests, with demonstrators also calling for toppling the king.


Other Palestinian-dominated areas are witnessing first-time protests as well, including Al-Ashrafiah, the Hiteen refugee camp and the broader East Amman.


It is not the Palestinians alone who are protesting against the king. "East Bankers" in Northern Jordan had generally kept away from the protest movements until last week, when the residents of Irbid, the biggest city in Northern Jordan, started calling for toppling the regime.


Other major protests have been taking place in several parts of the country. Tensions ran high in the southern city of Kerak, an East Banker-dominated city. A known opposition leader in Kerak, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he was expecting serious escalation from the regime, and alleged that Jordanian police were cracking down on protesters and arresting their leaders. His claim was consistent with footage that appeared on YouTube, exhibiting parts of the unrest. He also claimed that southern Jordanians "have made up their minds, they will not tolerate the king any longer …it is too late for him to make any reforms."


The Muslim Brotherhood too organized a protest, in the city of Rusifay, east of Amman. Their demonstration, critical of Abdullah's Prime Minister, Al-Nosuor, but with no criticism of the king or calls for toppling his regime, simply demanded that fuel prices be reduced.


On November 18, the popular Jordanian news website, Al-Sawt, published an article entitled: "Will the Muslim Brotherhood get the price for its realism and positivity during the fuel-prices protest?" In the article, editor in chief, Tarek Dilawani (also a seasoned journalist for the Jordanian daily, Ad-Dustor), claims that the Jordanian regime had "an arrangement with the Muslim Brotherhood not to surf the tide of the protests, and to keep their demands fixed on peaceful reform of the regime."


Nonetheless, the supposed arrangement between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Hashemite regime has not worked. It has not stopped protests by either Palestinians or East Bankers. As The Independent recently wrote: "The protesters…were led by activists that included the secular Hirak Shebabi youth movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, and various nationalist and left-wing groups." It is therefore possible that the Muslim Brotherhood is only a part of the opposition, and not "the opposition."


On 20 November, the Muslim Brotherhood-formed National Reform Council held a public conference attended by the Brotherhood's most senior Jordanian leaders. In the conference, Zaki Bani Rushied, the head of the Brotherhood's political party, the Jordanian Islamic Action Front Party, addressed the media: "The people of Jordan have chosen to reform the regime; people can choose to topple the regime or reform it, and here in Jordan we have chosen to reform the regime."


The Muslim Brotherhood does not seem to want the regime to fall, but rather to change in a manner that gives them control over the government as occurred in Morocco, where King Mohammed VI appointed Islamists to form the government. Further, the Muslim Brotherhood may not be confident that, if the regime falls, it can dominate future elections. The current protests have shown that, contrary to what it has always claimed, the Muslim Brotherhood does not have full control of the Jordanian opposition. Its members therefore would apparently prefer King Abdullah to hand them control over the government.


The current situation in Jordan raises concerns for pro-Western forces, including Israel, and rightfully so. With all its shortcomings, the Hashemite regime has kept Israel's longest border worry-free for the last forty years. If the king falls, will the future regime in Jordan keep the peace treaty with Israel, and the borders calm?


While the protests show that the Muslim Brotherhood does not have full control over the Jordanian opposition, if the King falls, the Muslim Brotherhood will be the only group that is financed and organized enough to win any future elections. Even if the Brotherhood does not win a landslide victory, it will be the group most able to influence Jordanian politics, and which has connections with Iraq and Iran – both anti-Israel and anti-West – thereby forming a major bloc of fundamentalism and terrorism.


Those interested in sustaining peace between Israel and Jordan, as well as global forces keen for peace in the Middle East, have the option of either supporting the King or supporting secular opposition forces in Jordan who might come to power should the king fall.


In a recent article, Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, opines there may still be time to help the King of Jordan, by pushing him "to enact meaningful reforms," "ensuring that international donor funds continue to flow," and "providing security guarantees that he [the king] will not go the way of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak." These might be the few steps necessary to keep the king in his place; still, these steps might be unlikely to take place now under the current US administration, which, perhaps inadvertently, at worst assisted the Islamists in taking over Egypt, and at best did nothing to offer the Egyptians a pro-democratic alternative.


Those interested in keeping Jordan calm, peaceful, and out of the hands of Islamists should either support the king significantly, or find a quiet plan B to support the secular opposition in Jordan. As the active opposition figure Kamal Khoury, a Palestinian Christian, said, "The seculars in Jordan are strong in their numbers and following, they just need financial and media support to dominate the arena." Dr. Khalid Kassimah, an East Banker opposition member residing in exile, stated: "The non-Islamist Jordanian opposition is no more in disarray than the Syrian secular opposition once was; minimal Western support might work wonders here; and I would not be surprised if a Jordanian opposition council is to be established in exile just as was the case in Syria."


Raed Khammash, an East Banker and well-known anti-Hashemite opposition member, active against the regime on social media networks, said, "I believe the opposition's success lies within the refugee camps, as they make up the majority of the population. Whoever cares for Jordan should establish contact with their leaders".


It seems the situation in Jordan is moving towards change at a faster pace than before. There ought, therefore, to be some serious effort to establish contact with, and examine the potential of future support for, the secular opposition's heads within the refugee camps, the Hirak Shababi (Youth Movement) and seculars within the East Bankers' opposition.

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Has the US Administration Decided to Get Rid of Jordan's King Abdullah?: Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute, November 20, 2012—Unless the US clarifies its position regarding King Abdullah and reiterates its full backing for his regime, the Muslim fundamentalists are likely to step up their efforts to create anarchy and lawlessness in the kingdom.


The Trouble With Jordan: Joseph Hammond, The European Magazine, Dec. 10, 2012—In recent weeks Jordan has seen its most dramatic protests since the start of the Arab Spring. Indeed, protests have flared in regions outside the capital, traditionally known for their loyalty to the regime. Some protesters have directly called for the removal of King Abdullah II and the Hashemite dynasty which has ruled the country since independence in 1946.


What's the Deal with Qatar?: Greg Scoblete, Real Clear World, December 10, 2012—There's one thing the revolt against Libya's Gaddafi and the revolt against Syria's Assad have in common: weapons have been provisioned to Islamic extremists and al-Qaeda syndicates by the government of Qatar.


Qatar’s Takeover of Europe: Giulio Meotti, Front Page Magazine, November 14, 2012—A hateful wind emanating from the small Islamic emirate is now blowing toward Europe, a wind accompanied by an ocean of poisonous, oily, bloody money – all coming from the peninsula in the Persian Gulf which today is the world’s richest country.



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