Tag: Yemen


Erdoğan: Ideological But Not Suicidal: Burak Bekdil, BESA, Dec. 7, 2018— Is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a devout ideologue or a pragmatist?

Erdogan is Deepening his Involvement in Sudan: Zvi Mazel, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 9, 2018 — Pursuing its strategic goals in Sudan, Turkey is turning to the economy.

US Senate Resolution on Saudi Arabia Could Change Middle East Dynamics: Dr. James M. Dorsey, BESA, Dec. 9, 2018— A six-page draft US Senate resolution does more than portray Saudi policy as detrimental to US interests, which is striking in and of itself.

Standing With Saudi Arabia: Tony Badran, Tablet, Dec. 2, 2018— This week the Senate will vote on and likely pass a resolution of disapproval calling for the United States to cease activities related to the Yemen war.

On Topic Links 

Turkey Sides with Hamas on U.N. Resolution Condemning Rocket Attacks: John Rossomando, IPT News, Dec 5, 2018

Anti-Semitism: The Fast Track in Turkey to a Government Career?: Uzay Bulut, Gatestone Institute, Dec. 4, 2018

Senate to Vote on Withdrawing U.S. Support to Saudis in Yemen War: Natalie Andrews, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 9, 2018

World Chess Contest Moved from Saudi Arabia After Two Israelis Complain of Ban: Stuart Winer, Times of Israel, Dec. 3, 2018



Burak Bekdil                                

BESA, Dec. 7, 2018

Is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a devout ideologue or a pragmatist? The answer is both. Perhaps a more relevant question is: When is he a devout ideologue and when a pragmatist? In late 2010, at the peak of the diplomatic crisis between Turkey and Israel after the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident, a senior Israeli diplomat asked this author: “Is there a way to push Erdoğan from blind (anti-Zionist) ideology to rationalism so that we can normalize our relations?” My answer was, “Costs… If a crisis costs him economically, then politically, he will switch from ideology to reason.” A comment on that conclusion made by a friend of the diplomat explains why Ankara and Jerusalem have had erratic but deeply hostile relations since 2009: “Israel is a powerful country but not big enough to make Turkey pay a price for its antagonism.” After a theoretical normalization of diplomatic ties in December 2016, Turkey and Israel once again downgraded their diplomatic missions in May 2018.

In 2009, then-PM Erdoğan (or his Islamist/ideologue self) boldly challenged Beijing when more than 100 Muslim Uighurs were killed in clashes with China’s security forces. This was at a time when Turkey’s economy was performing spectacularly and posting high growth rates year after year. Championing his “leader of the umma” persona, Erdoğan called the deaths of Uighur Muslims “a genocide.”

Today, with Turkey’s economy badly ailing over record-high inflation and interest rates and the national currency having lost a third of its value against major western currencies since the beginning of the year, a much different Erdoğan is on display: Not a word against Beijing from the “leader of the umma” in the face of a crackdown in which China has forcibly put hundreds of thousands of devout ethnic Uighurs in “rehabilitation camps.” Erdoğan has also rejected relocating Uighur militants fighting in northern Syria into camps on Turkish soil. Why Erdoğan’s reasonable self all of a sudden instead of his ideological self, which champions the Uighur cause? Simple: He needs loans, investment, and more trade with China.

In September and October 2015, Turkey started to complain of airspace violations by Russian military aircraft along its border with Syria. It announced that it had changed the rules of engagement with foreign aircraft violating Turkish airspace: Such (Russian) aircraft would be shot down. In November of that year, the Turkish military did indeed shoot down a Russian Su-24, claiming it had violated Turkish airspace. Then-PM Ahmet Davutoğlu announced that the same rules of engagement would be applied if there were further violations. Erdoğan boldly demanded of the Russians, “What business do you have in Syria? You don’t even have a border with Syria.”

An angry Vladimir Putin immediately installed Russian air defense systems in northern Syria in a not-so-subtle move to threaten Turkish military aircraft flying over Syrian skies. The Turkish military had to stop flights in Syrian airspace. Putin also announced scores of punishing economic sanctions on Turkey and Turkish companies doing multi-billion dollar businesses in Russia. The sanctions included bans on Turkish exports and a travel ban that quickly hurt Turkey’s tourist industry. More threateningly, Putin said the Russian sanctions could include “military retaliation,” reminding the Turks of their less-than-glorious military past with pre-Soviet Russia.

It took a mere six months for Erdoğan to move from demanding an apology from Moscow to personally apologizing to Putin. In June 2016, Turkey and Russia “normalized” their frozen diplomatic ties. Since then, Ankara has committed to acquiring the Russian-made S-400 air and anti-missile defense system despite warnings from its NATO allies, and will become the first NATO member state to deploy that system on its soil. Erdoğan has said Turkey would also consider buying the S-500 system now under development. Non-military trade normalized too, and flocks of Russian tourists have arrived at Turkey’s Mediterranean resorts.

More importantly, Turkey has radically moved from “what business do you have in Syria” to allying with Russia in Syria. The two countries, along with Iran, are partners in the Astana process. Moscow orchestrates every strategic move in northern Syria, and Ankara simply complies with its dictates.

Enter America. In the first half of 2018, Ankara and Washington went through their worst diplomatic crisis in decades over several major disputes. Turkey claimed that America was harboring its most wanted terrorist, Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric in self-exile in Pennsylvania accused of being the mastermind behind a failed coup against Erdoğan in July 2016. Also, a senior Turkish government banker was in a US prison, with his bank a potential target of billions of dollars in US sanctions for violating the Iran sanctions. In addition, Ankara accused Washington of equipping what it calls “Kurdish terrorists” east of the Euphrates in northern Syria. America views them as allies in its fight against ISIS.

The US responded to Ankara’s purchase of the S-400 system by threatening to suspend delivery of the next generation F-35 fighter to Turkey. Washington also sanctioned two Turkish ministers and doubled its tariffs on imports of Turkish steel and aluminum. Ankara retaliated by sanctioning two US secretaries. At the heart of the matter was an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, held in a Turkish prison on charges of espionage and terrorism. “As long as I am in power,” Erdoğan once roared, “that spy (Brunson) will never be set free.”

Then came the reversal. The Turkish lira lost more than 40% of its value in eight months. In what traders called the Brunson effect, the markets went into a meltdown. Turkish bond yields rose to record highs and recession loomed, with huge conglomerates knocking on banks’ doors demanding debt restructuring. Several large-scale companies announced bankruptcy. In October, “the spy who would never be set free” was released, flew to America, and posed for the cameras with President Trump. Markets sighed with relief, and the lira is now trading at its highest point since August. On Nov. 2, Ankara and Washington bilaterally dropped sanctions against each other’s ministers.

Erdoğan can be offensive and confrontational, in keeping with his neo-Ottoman ideology. But he is not suicidal. He knows that an economic crisis can quickly turn into a political crisis that could cost him his closely guarded power, and he will change his tune accordingly.



ERDOGAN IS DEEPENING HIS INVOLVEMENT IN SUDAN                                        

Zvi Mazel                                                    

Jerusalem Post, Dec. 9, 2018

Pursuing its strategic goals in Sudan, Turkey is turning to the economy. On November 29, Turkish Agriculture and Forests Minister Bekir Pakdemirli told Sudanese daily Al Shuruk that his country and Sudan had established a joint agricultural and livestock company; its offices, he said, had opened in Khartoum a few days earlier.

TIGEM, the general directorate of agricultural enterprises of Turkey, holds 80% of its shares and Sudan 20%. According to the minister, as a pilot project the company will lease 12,500 hectares to Turkish companies in the private sector out of the 780,000 hectares Sudan agreed to lease to Turkey for a period of 99 years when president Erdogan visited the country in 2017. These vast tracts of land are spread across five districts. The purpose of the pilot project is to study culture and export feasibility. According to the minister, it is to help develop Sudanese agriculture while providing Turkey with agricultural produce that cannot be grown locally because of the climate. That produce will not be taxed. The company was established following the Turkish-Sudanese agricultural agreement signed in 2014, which aimed at developing Sudanese agricultural potential in order to produce foodstuffs.

This public and important development demonstrates the common and long-range determination of both countries to consolidate their relationship. During Erdogan’s December 2017 visit, Sudan had agreed to lease the Suakin Island to Turkey for an indeterminate period. Turkey is to build a port, develop agriculture and restore the citadel, which had been for centuries the seat of the Ottoman Governor. The island is situated in the Red Sea opposite the Saudi port of Jedda.

President Erdogan is using Sudan to establish a foothold on the Red Sea to further is grand design of making Turkey a regional power and perhaps giving it back the glory of the Ottoman Empire, a policy he started implementing as soon as he was in power. He first came to Khartoum in 2006, when he was head of government and relations between the two countries kept getting warmer. Ankara provided much-needed economic relief when the United Stated imposed sanctions on Khartoum and in the past decade Turkish companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Sudan.

But it was during his December 2017 visit that the Turkish president set the seal on the special relationship between the two countries. Arriving with an impressive delegation of ministers and industrialists, he signed no fewer than 12 economic cooperation agreements for a total of $650 million. A high committee for strategic consultations was established. Another agreement dealt with security cooperation, but no details were published; what is known is that the commanders in chief of Turkey, Sudan and that of Qatar (who “happened” to come to Khartoum during the visit) met for unspecified meetings. A few days later the ministers of defense of those three countries arrived in Khartoum; they joined president Omar el Bashar for the inauguration of a textile factory that will manufacture uniforms for their armies as well as for neighboring African countries.

In March 2018, the Sudanese finance minister signed with Soma, a leading Turkish construction firm, a contract for the establishment of Khartoum’s new airport at a cost of $1.5 billion. In June of the same year, the joint Turkish-Sudanese businessmen committee met in Ankara with the participation of the finance and economic ministers of both countries, who signed a reciprocal agreement to promote trade with the ambitious goal of reaching exchanges of $2b. During the two preceding years, trade volume was barely $500m. a year, with Turkish exports making up 90% of the total.

There are important international aspects to their cooperation as well. Because of its closer ties to Turkey, Khartoum reduced significantly its participation in the Saudi-led Arab coalition against the Houthis in Yemen. At the same time, it developed its ties with Qatar, whose investments in Sudan reached $3.5b. in 2017.  But Turkey sees beyond Sudan. It set up a military base in Somalia. Inaugurated in October 2017, it is intended “to train the Somalian army.” The year before it had set up a similar base in Qatar and later dispatched reinforcements to bolster the small kingdom engaged in a confrontation with Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, fearing an invasion by the latter.

What the three countries involved in the Turkish alliance – Sudan, Somalia and Qatar – have in common is that they are ruled by Islamic parties close to the Muslim Brotherhood. Turkey, itself a strong supporter of the Brotherhood, took advantage of that fact to enhance its the strategic importance in the Red Sea area. It has now a political basis through its allies and a military presence through its outposts in Somalia and the Sudani port city of Suakin and could therefore threaten freedom of navigation in the Red Sea. As things stand today, it has no reason to do so, but it has demonstrated that it should be taken into consideration even far from its own borders.

This is a state of affairs that Egypt and Saudi Arabia, fighting the Muslim Brotherhood, are unhappy with, but cannot tackle at this point because they are embroiled in other conflicts. Saudi Arabia is focused on the threat of Iran and on the long-drawn Yemen war against the Houthis; Egypt has not yet quelled the Sinai insurgency and is trying to implement much-needed economic reforms. They are not ready for a confrontation with Turkey. Nevertheless, Cairo fears a deterioration of its own relations with Sudan, since it needs the help of that country in its efforts to preserve its share of the Nile waters, threatened both by claims of other African countries and by the massive “Renaissance” dam being built by Ethiopia on one of the tributaries of the Blue Nile. Though Riyadh and Cairo are so far behaving with circumspection, there is a very real potential for a regional flare-up that would speedily expand to the whole Middle East.





Dr. James M. Dorsey                                 

BESA, Dec. 9, 2018

A six-page draft US Senate resolution does more than portray Saudi policy as detrimental to US interests, which is striking in and of itself. It also identifies Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman as “complicit” in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, holds him accountable for the devastating war in Yemen that has sparked one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, and blames him for the failure to end the 17-month-old Saudi-United Arab Emirates-led economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar as well as the jailing and torture of Saudi dissidents and activists.

The resolution confronts not only Prince Muhammad’s policies but also, by implication, those of his closest ally, UAE Crown Prince Muhammad bin Zayed. The UAE was the first country that Saudi leader visited after the Khashoggi killing. By in effect challenging the position of king-in-waiting Prince Muhammad, the resolution raises the question whether some of his closest allies, including the UAE crown prince, will in future want to be identified that closely with him.

Moreover, by demanding the release of activist Raif bin Muhammad Badawi (better known as Raif Badawi) and women’s rights activists, the resolution further the challenges fundamentals of Prince Muhammad’s iron-fisted repression of his critics, the extent of his proposed social reforms as part of his drive to diversify and streamline the Saudi economy, and the kingdom’s human rights record.

Badawi, a 34-year-old blogger whose website is entitled Free Saudi Liberals, was barred from travel and had his assets frozen in 2009, was arrested in 2012, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam. His sister, Samar Badawi, a women’s rights activist, was detained earlier this year. His wife and children have been granted asylum and citizenship in Canada. A diplomatic row that stunned many erupted in August when Saudi Arabia expelled the Canadian ambassador after the foreign ministry in Ottawa tweeted a demand that Ms. Badawi and other activists be released.

Prince Muhammad and Saudi Arabia, even prior to introduction of the Senate resolution, are discovering that the Khashoggi killing weakened the kingdom internationally and made it more vulnerable to pressure. Talks in Sweden between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and Houthi rebels to end the war are the most immediate consequence of the kingdom’s changing position. Another is the Senate resolution, which is unprecedented in the scope and harshness of its criticism of a long-standing ally. While the resolution is likely to spark initial anger among some of Prince’s Muhammad’s allies, it could, if adopted and/or implemented, persuade some – like UAE Crown Prince Muhammad – to rethink their fundamental strategies.

The relationship between the two Muhammads constituted a cornerstone of the UAE leader’s strategy to achieve his political, foreign policy, and defense goals. These include projecting the Emirates as a guiding light of cutting-edge Arab and Muslim modernity; ensuring that the Middle East fits the crown prince’s autocratic, anti-Islamist mold; and enabling the UAE, described by US defense secretary Jim Mattis as “Little Sparta,” to punch above its weight politically, diplomatically, and militarily. To compensate for the Emirates’ small size, Prince Muhammad opted to pursue his goals in part by working through the Saudi royal court. In leaked emails, UAE ambassador to Washington Yousef al-Otaiba, a close associate of Prince Muhammad, said of the Saudi crown prince that “I don’t think we’ll ever see a more pragmatic leader in that country.”…[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]




Tony Badran                                            

Tablet, Dec. 2, 2018

This week the Senate will vote on and likely pass a resolution of disapproval calling for the United States to cease activities related to the Yemen war. The resolution is essentially a call to cut off Saudi Arabia, which, in turn, would signal that the United States does not care if Iran, the other party in the conflict, were to emerge on top in Yemen—an outcome that carries direct consequences for the global economy. Some senators who supported moving the resolution forward have cited the killing of Saudi national Jamal Khashoggi, which suggests, as one senator who opposes the resolution put it, that the Yemen issue is being tied to the broader issue of the relationship with Saudi Arabia. All of this is a display of strategic recklessness. In contrast, President Donald Trump’s statement two weeks ago titled “Standing with Saudi Arabia” was an example of strategic clarity. It bears revisiting for a closer read.

The president’s statement was followed by a torrent of criticism and outrage. What struck the sourest note for the president’s critics was his injection of colloquial language into a formal statement on foreign policy. For critics of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, the style of Trump’s statement amplified the repulsive crudeness of its substance. It offended their sense not just of what American foreign policy ought to be, but also about how it ought to be presented to the public.

Unsurprisingly, the criticism of D.C. foreign policy experts misses the point entirely. What they found crude and distasteful is precisely what made the president’s statement so powerful. The furious objections to both the content and the style of Trump’s statement point up the ways in which the foreign policy establishment has often used high-flown language about morality and ethics to cloak a series of failures in logical reasoning about the American interest, to say nothing of the negative impact of their preferences on the far-away places where they’re applied.

The opening two lines—“America First!”; “The world is a very dangerous place!”—establish the document as indubitably the president’s own. This stamp of Trumpness is critical to establish the statement’s credibility with its intended audiences, which may or may not include America’s Trump-hating foreign policy elite. While the president may enjoy sticking his thumb in his enemies’ eye, his key audiences here are Americans who share his America-centered approach to foreign policy, who can be found on both the right and the left these days, as well as foreign leaders, who must calculate whether they can rely on the United States as an ally and what being America’s enemy might cost. To both groups, Trump’s opening language makes a clear point: What follows are the words and beliefs of the American president himself.

President Trump is selling his foreign policy directly to the American people, rather than talking over their heads. This is, to be sure, a different way of playing the foreign policy game, one that Harry Truman might recognize but more recent presidents, of both parties, might not. There is no hidden pitch, masked with supposedly sophisticated lingo or flowery rhetoric that can then be spun by an echo chamber of political and media operatives, who will use their highly credentialed expertise to assure Americans that the money we send to Iran actually belongs to Iran, so we aren’t actually sending them money, or that the Iranians have no intention of building nuclear weapons, which is why making a deal with them right now on Iran’s own terms is a matter of urgent national importance. Or, assuring Americans and the world that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction and is planning to use them, which is why America needs to invade Iraq, where it will then use its occupation forces to attempt to turn the country into a democratic model for the entire Middle East…[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]



On Topic Links

Turkey Sides with Hamas on U.N. Resolution Condemning Rocket Attacks: John Rossomando, IPT News, Dec 5, 2018—NATO ally Turkey plans to oppose an American-sponsored draft resolution at the United Nations condemning Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian terror factions. A vote on the resolution is scheduled for Thursday.

Anti-Semitism: The Fast Track in Turkey to a Government Career?: Uzay Bulut, Gatestone Institute, Dec. 4, 2018—As the Islamist government of Turkey grows increasingly authoritarian, religious minorities in the country seem to be the most targeted and affected group. The concerns of Turkey’s Jewish community were addressed recently by Mois Gabay, a columnist for the country’s Jewish weekly, Şalom, in an article entitled, “What Kind of Turkey Are We Living In?”

Senate to Vote on Withdrawing U.S. Support to Saudis in Yemen War: Natalie Andrews, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 9, 2018—The U.S. Senate this week is set to vote on a resolution to withdraw U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition at war in Yemen, an effort to punish Riyadh for the killing of a Saudi Arabian journalist.

World Chess Contest Moved from Saudi Arabia After Two Israelis Complain of Ban: Stuart Winer, Times of Israel, Dec. 3, 2018—The governing body for international chess confirmed Monday that an upcoming tournament that was to be held for the second year in Saudi Arabia has been relocated to Russia because of the kingdom’s policies, which exclude some eligible players.


In Saudi-Canada Standoff, Riyadh Should Stand Down: Jonathan Schanzer & Varsha Koduvayur, New York Post, Aug. 9, 2018— The last time Canada undertook an act of aggression was in 1999, when it declared war on the United States — in the comedic universe of “South Park,” that is.

Saudi Arabia’s Global Ambitions Leave No Room for Meddling: Father Raymond J. de Souza, National Post, Aug. 9, 2018 — The diplomatic fight between Saudi Arabia and Canada bears watching, and not for the astonishing novelty that anyone could really take offence at our prime minister, whose prime directive is generally not to give offence.

Saudi Arabia and Israel: Know Thine Enemy: Dr. Edy Cohen, BESA, July 20, 2018— Saudi Arabia and Israel do not maintain official relations, but by the time Crown Prince Abdullah published the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, bilateral ties between the two countries had already been established behind the scenes.

‘Unite with the Devil’: Yemen War Binds US, Allies, Al-Qaida: Maggie Michael and Trish Wilson and Lee Keath, Washington Times, Aug. 7, 2018— Again and again over the past two years, a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States has claimed it won decisive victories that drove al-Qaida militants from their strongholds across Yemen and shattered their ability to attack the West.

On Topic Links

Why Has Canada Spent Billions of Dollars Buying Saudi Arabian Oil?: Tristin Hopper, National Post, Aug. 8, 2018

Good Riddance to Our Ties with Saudi Arabia: Tarek Fatah, Toronto Sun, Aug. 7, 2018

Saudi Arabia Cuts Exports to Canada Over Raif Badawi: Daniel Bordman, Post Millenial, Aug. 6, 2018

US Withdrawal From Iran Deal Helping Wind Down Yemen War, Officials Say: Hollie McKay, Fox News, Aug. 7, 2018   



Jonathan Schanzer & Varsha Koduvayur

New York Post, Aug. 9, 2018

The last time Canada undertook an act of aggression was in 1999, when it declared war on the United States — in the comedic universe of “South Park,” that is. But few were laughing Monday when Saudi Arabia shockingly cut ties with Canada and enacted severe punitive measures against Ottawa.

Riyadh’s gripe? A Canadian Foreign Ministry tweet criticizing the kingdom’s arrests of several human-rights activists. After new arrests last week, the total number of detained activists is now 18. In retaliation for what it described as Canadian meddling, Riyadh divested from its Canadian assets, froze new trade and investment, halted flights to the Great White North and recalled Saudi doctors and students from Canadian hospitals and universities.

The kingdom called Canada’s response an “unacceptable affront” and a direct violation of its sovereignty. That’s a valid, diplomatic response. But every other measure is utterly disproportionate. Riyadh’s actions undercut its recent unprecedented progress. Women finally got behind the wheel of their cars in June — legally. Movie theaters opened. Western visitors have lined up. The once-dreaded religious police have been effectively declawed. And many regulatory changes have been implemented to open up the Saudi economy for foreign investment.

Mohammed bin Salman, the energetic crown prince helming this vast metamorphosis, has articulated his vision to put the kingdom on the right track. He vowed to roll back fundamentalist Islam and return the kingdom to a “tolerant, moderate Islam” — unprecedented words from a Saudi leader, given the kingdom’s historical role in spreading Wahhabism. Saudi reform could have enormously positive consequences for the region. Which is why MbS, as he’s known, should be lauded every time he takes a step in the right direction, and why legitimate criticism is important, too.

Of course, the Saudis don’t always take criticism well. In 2015, Riyadh temporarily recalled its envoy to Sweden after the latter criticized human-rights violations, and last November it recalled its ambassador to Germany after its foreign minister protested Riyadh’s meddling in Lebanon. Saudi Arabia even blacklisted some German companies as a result.

Such moves may play well in Saudi Arabia, but may not have much of an impact in the current fracas. Riyadh is Canada’s 17th-largest trade partner, and total trade last year amounted to $3 billion. That may sound like a lot, but compared to the $673.9 billion that Canada traded with the US in 2017, that’s a drop in the bucket for Ottawa. Saudi institutions shed their Canadian asset holdings, but these divestments will likewise be small. Similarly, the Saudi decision to halt wheat and barley imports from Canada will not have a severe effect given that the kingdom had already been importing less in recent years.

Pulling Saudi students and doctors from universities and hospitals could have more of an impact: In 2017, Saudis made up about 2 percent of Canada’s international students. Yet yanking them from their studies undercuts the kingdom’s goal of creating a knowledge economy more than it will affect Canadian universities’ bottom lines. Whether this holdout lasts for a semester, a year or longer, it’ll deprive the kingdom of the talent and knowhow that it needs to increase private-sector employment.

Neither is Canada likely to feel much of a pinch from the drop in 75,000 to 80,000 barrels of Saudi crude that it imports per day. That’s less than 10 percent of Ottawa’s total oil imports and a gap that could be plugged by the US. But for Riyadh, that’s a loss of $2.48 billion. Perhaps that’s why the Saudi energy minister put out a quick message that this diplomatic spat will “not, in any way, impact Saudi Aramco’s relations” with Canadian customers. More concerning for Ottawa would be an $11 billion arms deal to supply the Saudis with light-armored vehicles, which it doesn’t want to lose.

But whatever pain Saudi Arabia ultimately inflicts on Canada, the kingdom may get the worst of it. Western institutional investors, actors that avoid risk whenever they can, are undoubtedly spooked. Foreign investment in Saudi Arabia had already plummeted to a 14-year low after last year’s opaque anti-corruption purge that put a number of high-profile Saudis under house arrest. Riyadh certainly has a right to contest Canada’s statements. But it must find a way to climb down from this senseless escalation. And in the process, it wouldn’t hurt to reassure its supporters that it remains committed to reform, not to mention human rights.                                                             Contents



Father Raymond J. de Souza

                                                National Post, Aug. 9, 2018

The diplomatic fight between Saudi Arabia and Canada bears watching, and not for the astonishing novelty that anyone could really take offence at our prime minister, whose prime directive is generally not to give offence. His Indian tour was ridiculed precisely because he was too aggressively ingratiating.

It bears watching because it is an indication of a possible new configuration in the geopolitics of Islam. One hundred years ago, the end of the Great War effectively meant the demise of the Ottoman Empire, which had been the geopolitical expression of Islam for centuries. Since then, global Islam has sought different political expressions, the various developments of which have been a major factor in international relations.

So whatever may be at the heart of the completely unexpected fight between Saudi Arabia and Canada, it cannot be an offensive tweet from our foreign affairs ministry which, in the age of Trump, is not even in the minor leagues when it comes to offensive tweets. Somehow, Saudi Arabia’s ruler, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, has decided that he needs to have a fight with someone even as he presents himself at home and abroad as a reformer who is out to change traditional Saudi ways.

MBS, as he and his admirers style him, is the next generation in a state that is really a family business, and not a very good one at that. His grandfather — Abdulaziz al Saud — was the founder of Saudi Arabia, and his father — Salman — is the current king, the last of the seven brothers who inherited the throne from their father. Salman has given MBS the scope to rule now as crown prince, and in future as king. In the massive Saudi royal family, with its hundreds of descendants of Abdulaziz, MBS was not the obvious successor, but was named that last year by Salman. He has been taking the kingdom and the world by storm ever since.

The House of Saud has ruled Saudi Arabia for a century by using the country’s massive oil wealth for two purposes. Spread around the family, it keeps dynastic struggles in check, as everyone has a stake in the ongoing chokehold they maintain on the country’s resources. And spread around the population in generous public benefits, it suppresses thoughts of revolution. But both the family and the country have grown too large for indefinite high living off oil alone, so the country’s economy must become more dynamic and diversified. Hence the new economic vision and reforms of MBS.

The other element keeping the House of Saud in business has been a pact with Wahhabi religious authorities. If the latter do not challenge the former’s legitimacy as the “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,” as the king of Saudi Arabia is styled, in exchange the royal family will permit extreme Wahhabi mores to prevail in Saudi Arabia and be funded abroad. That’s why women weren’t allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia until just six weeks ago, and why extremist madrassas are funded the world over.

That pact though prevents Saudi Arabia from leading the Islamic world. The majority of Muslims, who are Sunni, would prefer to see Saudi Arabia eclipse Iran, a Shia power, but from Egypt to Indonesia there is little appetite to elevate Wahhabism in Islam’s geopolitical leadership. So MBS is seeking both economic and social reform, which means less money to buy alliances and less power for the religious authorities. Hence he has trumpeted around the world his decision to allow women to drive. But all reform generates opposition, which MBS has dealt with by deposing rivals and imprisoning dissenters, including resorts to violence and torture.

Will MBS pull off his plan to make Saudi Arabia the new centre of global Islam? He has sought to reconfigure the politics of the Gulf States, and is open to alliances with Israel to contain Iran. When Obama was president, he went to Cairo in his first visit to the Muslim world. Trump made Saudi Arabia his first foreign visit to any country, the first of a three-part religious journey, completed later with visits to Jerusalem and Rome.

So there is an openness abroad to the rise of Saudi Arabia, both in economic and strategic relations. But friends abroad may embolden rivals at home. MBS needs their investment and diplomatic support, but not their meddling, from his point of view, in the security of his regime. Hence the decision to escalate this contrived fight with Canada. MBS wants a more dynamic, moderate Saudi Arabia to be the heir to Ottoman-era influence, an alternative to the militancy of Iran or the failed pan-Arab nationalism of the 1960s. But he wants on it on his own terms.                         Contents



                                                         Dr. Edy Cohen

                                                                        BESA, July 20, 2018

Saudi Arabia and Israel do not maintain official relations, but by the time Crown Prince Abdullah published the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, bilateral ties between the two countries had already been established behind the scenes. In 2015, ties increased and some were even made formal as a result of the joint effort by both countries against the Iranian nuclear program. Saudis visited Israel and there were reports that the late Mossad chief Meir Dagan visited Saudi Arabia to coordinate on the Iran issue. Over the past two years, ties have reportedly reached new highs, with Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman allegedly holding a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

If there was once talk of a moderate Sunni alliance against Iran, this term has lost all meaning in the last two years. The Middle East is now divided into two camps: one made up of Turkey, Qatar, Iran, and Sudan, and the other made up of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt. The latter camp, which has the support of the US and Israel, imposed the boycott on Qatar  over its growing ties to Iran and Turkey.

There can be no doubt that the growing ties between Riyadh and Jerusalem are a result of the hostility between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Tehran is aggressive in its attacks on Riyadh, including in the cyber arena. In 2012, a cyberattack on Saudi Arabia’s national petroleum and gas company Aramco caused unprecedented damage, partially wiping or in some cases completely destroying some 35,000 of its computers. There have also been reports of Iranian hackers breaking into the bank accounts of Saudi princes to reveal how much money they have at their disposal.

Faced with these threats, Riyadh established the National Cyber Security Authority to fight Iran and the hackers. In 2017, the authority was tasked with an additional goal – inciting the Arab world against Qatar. Abdullah adviser Saud bin Abdullah al-Qahtani is responsible for the unit, which, according to assessments, employs some 4,000 people.

The National Cyber Security Authority’s Twitter account has 400,000 followers. Employees operate online under false identities, and their job is to create hashtags that trend online. Their brief is to moderate and control public opinion and to vilify Qatar and its leaders. The agency’s Twitter account tweets daily, mostly against Qatar and Iran. It uses anti-Semitic terminology, referring to Qatar as “Qatariel,” a portmanteau of Qatar and Israel, and claiming the Al-Jazeera network “belongs to the Israeli Mossad.”

“The deal of the century” is a Qatari scheme to sell Palestine to the “Zionist entity,” one tweet reads, while another alleges that the “Zionist” Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the father of Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, is scheming to divide the Arab states to fulfill the dreams of the “Zionist entity” and Iran. In another tweet, the authority alleges Qatar is “trying to destroy the Arab world to serve the enemies of the Muslim world: Israel and Iran.” These statements penetrate deep into the Arab consciousness and increase their existing hatred towards Jews and Israel.

The Saudis are thus playing a double game. Behind the scenes, they send the Israelis the message that Tehran is a common enemy and goad it to fight Iran and Hezbollah. At home, however, they say that the enemy is first and foremost the State of Israel, followed by Iran. Their formula is clear: covert ties with Israel coupled with overt hostility to the Jewish state to satisfy the people, a majority of whom hate Israel.

The Saudi double game is sadly familiar. It is reminiscent of the Egyptian model under Egyptian Presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Hosni Mubarak: dozens of anti-Semitic articles were published on a daily basis, but the Israeli audience was not exposed to the phenomenon and the politicians closed their eyes. In the two-and-a-half decades since the onset of the Oslo “peace process,” successive Israeli governments have similarly turned a deaf ear to the vitriolic Palestinian incitement that has indoctrinated the residents of the West Bank and Gaza with implacable hatred for Israel and helped pave the road for the BDS movement. Jerusalem must not accept anti-Israel incitement, and that is also true where Saudi Arabia is concerned. Incitement translates into action, and that action comes at a deadly price.




Maggie Michael and Trish Wilson and Lee Keath

Washington Times, Aug. 7, 2018

Again and again over the past two years, a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States has claimed it won decisive victories that drove al-Qaida militants from their strongholds across Yemen and shattered their ability to attack the West. Here’s what the victors did not disclose: many of their conquests came without firing a shot.

That’s because the coalition cut secret deals with al-Qaida fighters, paying some to leave key cities and towns and letting others retreat with weapons, equipment and wads of looted cash, an investigation by The Associated Press has found. Hundreds more were recruited to join the coalition itself. These compromises and alliances have allowed al-Qaida militants to survive to fight another day – and risk strengthening the most dangerous branch of the terror network that carried out the 9/11 attacks. Key participants in the pacts said the U.S. was aware of the arrangements and held off on any drone strikes.

The deals uncovered by the AP reflect the contradictory interests of the two wars being waged simultaneously in this southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula. In one conflict, the U.S. is working with its Arab allies – particularly the United Arab Emirates – with the aim of eliminating the branch of extremists known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. But the larger mission is to win the civil war against the Houthis, Iranian-backed Shiite rebels. And in that fight, al-Qaida militants are effectively on the same side as the Saudi-led coalition – and, by extension, the United States.

“Elements of the U.S. military are clearly aware that much of what the U.S. is doing in Yemen is aiding AQAP and there is much angst about that,” said Michael Horton, a fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, a U.S. analysis group that tracks terrorism. “However, supporting the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia against what the U.S. views as Iranian expansionism takes priority over battling AQAP and even stabilizing Yemen,” Horton said.

The AP’s findings are based on reporting in Yemen and interviews with two dozen officials, including Yemeni security officers, militia commanders, tribal mediators and four members of al-Qaida’s branch. All but a few of those sources spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals. Emirati-backed factions, like most armed groups in Yemen, have been accused of abducting or killing their critics. Coalition-backed militias actively recruit al-Qaida militants, or those who were recently members, because they’re considered exceptional fighters, the AP found. The coalition forces are comprised of a dizzying mix of militias, factions, tribal warlords and tribes with very local interests. And AQAP militants are intertwined with many of them.

One Yemeni commander who was put on the U.S. terrorism list for al-Qaida ties last year continues to receive money from the UAE to run his militia, his own aide told the AP. Another commander, recently granted $12 million for his fighting force by Yemen’s president, has a known al-Qaida figure as his closest aide. In one case, a tribal mediator who brokered a deal between the Emiratis and al-Qaida even gave the extremists a farewell dinner. Horton said much of the war on al-Qaida by the UAE and its allied militias is a “farce.” “It is now almost impossible to untangle who is AQAP and who is not since so many deals and alliances have been made,” he said.

The U.S. has sent billions of dollars in weapons to the coalition to fight the Iran-backed Houthis. U.S. advisers also give the coalition intelligence used in targeting on-the-ground adversaries in Yemen, and American jets provide air-to-air refueling for coalition war planes. The U.S. does not fund the coalition, however, and there is no evidence that American money went to AQAP militants. The U.S. is aware of an al-Qaida presence among the anti-Houthi ranks, a senior American official told reporters in Cairo earlier this year. Because coalition members back militias with hard-line Islamic commanders, “it’s very, very easy for al-Qaida to insinuate itself into the mix,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under the terms of the briefing.

More recently, the Pentagon vigorously denied any complicity with al-Qaida militants. “Since the beginning of 2017, we have conducted more than 140 strikes to remove key AQAP leaders and disrupt its ability to use ungoverned spaces to recruit, train and plan operations against the U.S. and our partners across the region,” Navy Cmdr. Sean Robertson, a Pentagon spokesman, wrote in an email to the AP. An Emirati government spokesman did not reply to questions from the AP.

But on Monday, Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash tweeted that the UAE-backed counter-terrorism strategy is working. He said it had “removed” thousands of militants and deprived them of safe havens. AQAP is “at its weakest since 2012,” he wrote, adding that the UAE and its allies “have all lost troops in the fight.” Coalition spokesman Col. Turki al-Malki on Monday said the AP’s findings were “incorrect” and “not based on convincing facts and evidence.” “The coalition is waging a war on terrorist organizations in Yemen, like al-Qaida, the Islamic State group and the Houthi militia,” he said. “It continues to carry our joint operations with its friends and brothers to dismantle these groups’ capabilities.”

The coalition began fighting in Yemen in 2015 after the Houthis overran the north, including the capital, Sanaa. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are determined to stop what they consider a move by their nemesis, Iran, to take over Yemen, and their professed aim is to restore the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Al-Qaida is leveraging the chaos to its advantage.

“The United States is certainly in a bind in Yemen,” said Katherine Zimmerman, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “It doesn’t make sense that the United States has identified al-Qaida as a threat, but that we have common interests inside of Yemen and that, in some places, it looks like we’re looking the other way.” Within this complicated conflict, al-Qaida says its numbers – which U.S. officials have estimated at 6,000 to 8,000 members – are rising…

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



On Topic Links

Why Has Canada Spent Billions of Dollars Buying Saudi Arabian Oil?: Tristin Hopper, National Post, Aug. 8, 2018—As Saudi Arabia aggressively severs ties with Canada, the two countries’ trade relationship hangs in the balance. On one hand, Canada will lose out on Saudi foreign students, military contracts and sales of wheat and grain. On the other, Saudi Arabia will lose the billions of dollars it earns every year by selling oil to Canada.

Good Riddance to Our Ties with Saudi Arabia: Tarek Fatah, Toronto Sun, Aug. 7, 2018—Most Canadians were taken aback by the hostile reaction of Saudi Arabia towards Canada after Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland issued statements late last week calling on Riyadh to release imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, whose wife, Ensaf Haider, and three children are Canadian citizens.

Saudi Arabia Cuts Exports to Canada Over Raif Badawi: Daniel Bordman, Post Millenial, Aug. 6, 2018—Many of us have been waiting around for Justin Trudeau’s administration to finally take a moral stand on the international stage.  Justin Trudeau has always shown a knack for lecturing countries with complete gender equality on their need for even more gender equality.  However, his first real foray into morality isn’t going so well.

US Withdrawal From Iran Deal Helping Wind Down Yemen War, Officials Say: Hollie McKay, Fox News, Aug. 7, 2018    —Despite Tehran’s repeated denials of arming Shiite Houthi rebels in war-torn Yemen, government and military officials insist President Trump’s withdrawal from the landmark Iran nuclear deal has had an immediate impact in helping bring the four-year conflict at least a step toward closure.







The First Saudi-Iranian War Will Be an Even Fight: Afshon Ostovar, Foreign Policy, May 7, 2018— Since 2011, first in Syria and then in Yemen, proxy forces of Iran and Saudi Arabi have been in constant, brutal competition.

Natural Gas: An Underrated Driver of Saudi Hostility Towards Iran and Qatar: Dr. James M. Dorsey, BESA, Apr. 25, 2018— With signatories to the Paris Climate Accord moving towards bans on gasoline- and diesel-driven vehicles within decades and renewable energy technology advancing by leaps and bounds, natural gas has taken on a new significance.

The Saudi Revolution: Yoel Guzansky, INSS, Apr. 22, 2018 — Saudi Arabia is in the midst of revolutionary processes that aim to change the economic and social fabric in this conservative kingdom.

Houthis, Hezbollah and Hamas: Israel and Saudi Arabia Face Similar Threats: Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, Mar. 26, 2018— Patriot missiles blazed skyward in an epic display over Saudi Arabia around midnight on Sunday, as Saudi air defenses intercepted seven missiles fired from Yemen over Riyadh.

On Topic Links

Saudi Moderation? Prince Muhammad Is on Shaky Ground: Dr. James M. Dorsey, BESA, Apr. 12, 2018

Saudi Arabia, Vatican Reportedly Agree to Build Christian Churches in the Kingdom: Caleb Parke, Fox News, May 5, 2018

The Strange Saga of a Pro-Saudi Tabloid in America’s Heartland: New York Post, Apr. 24, 2018

Iran’s Brutal War in Yemen Threatens the Entire Middle East: Mosaic, Apr. 30, 2018



Afshon Ostovar

Foreign Policy, May 7, 2018

Since 2011, first in Syria and then in Yemen, proxy forces of Iran and Saudi Arabi have been in constant, brutal competition. Both sides seem to have concluded that a direct war isn’t in their interest, with neither having ever directly attacked the other. But there has always been a risk of escalation — and that risk will heighten dramatically on Tuesday if President Donald Trump withdraws from the Iran nuclear deal, as seems likely. That could lead to an increase in military provocations by Iran in the region, and embolden any Saudi response.

It’s far easier to assess the likelihood of direct conflict between Tehran and Riyadh, however, than to predict a winner. The outcome of the first Saudi-Iranian war would ultimately depend on the shape it ended up taking.

The two countries differ markedly in the size and capabilities of their forces. Iran has the larger military, with two forces — the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Artesh regular military — composed of complementary air, naval, and land branches. The Artesh has an estimated 350,000 active-duty soldiers and controls most of Iran’s more sophisticated conventional capabilities, especially in the air and maritime domains. By comparison, the IRGC, with an estimated force of 125,000, has maintained a focus on asymmetric warfare but also oversees Iran’s growing unmanned aerial vehicle fleet and strategic ballistic missile programs. Additionally, through its special forces division, known as the Quds Force, the IRGC commands Iran’s foreign military operations and relations with client allies, such as in Syria and Iraq.

Since the 1980s, intermittent sanctions and political pressure from the United States have severely degraded Iran’s ability to procure military technology and weapons from other countries, which has made some of its military capabilities relatively outmoded and weak. Iran’s defense spending (around $12.3 billion in 2016) is modest compared with Saudi Arabia’s as one of the top defense budgets in the world ($63.7 billion in 2016 and $69.4 billion in 2017), and its defense technology generally falls well below that of other regional states. Iran’s air forces fly dated platforms, such as F-5 and F-14 Tomcat variants, which have been updated domestically from aircraft inherited from the pre-revolution Pahlavi state, but struggle with intermittent inoperability. Similarly, Iran’s mechanized armor is mostly a hodgepodge of pre-1979 U.S. stock (such as the M60A1) and older Soviet tanks (such as the T-72S) procured from Russia during the 1990s.

Unable to update its military capabilities, Iran has instead invested in other areas, especially ballistic missiles, to provide a competitive edge with its neighbors. Its ground-to-ground ballistic missile variants, such as the Zolfaghar (435-mile range) and Shahab-3 (994-mile range), could potentially target strategic infrastructure and population centers well within Saudi territory. Those ranges and the large stockpile Iran has amassed have made ballistic missiles Iran’s core strategic deterrent. Iran showcased that capability in June 2017 when it fired six Zolfaghar missiles at Islamic State-held territory near the Syrian city of Deir Ezzor, some 435 miles from the launch points in western Iran. Beyond that hard deterrent, the IRGC’s investments have concentrated on developing less expensive platforms that can challenge adversaries through asymmetrical tactics. Foremost in this regard is the IRGC Navy’s large fleet of fast attack crafts, which includes various types of small speed boats that can be armed with 107 mm rockets, heavy machine guns, and anti-ship cruise missiles, or loaded with explosives and used in kamikaze-style strikes. These boats, along with its large stockpile of naval mines, are the IRGC’s primary offensive tool against maritime adversaries in the maritime domain.

The Saudi military is smaller but better armed. Saudi Arabia’s primary military land, air, naval, and missile forces fall under the command of its Ministry of Defense. Combined with auxiliary forces in the Saudi Arabian National Guard, Royal Guard, and the Ministry of Interior’s border defense force, the Saudi military is estimated to have around 250,000 active-duty personnel. Its chief strengths lie in airpower and air defense. The Royal Saudi Air Force possesses several squadrons of F-15C/D Eagle and F-15 Strike Eagle fighters, along with three squadrons of Tornado multirole aircraft, and 72 Eurofighter Typhoon attack aircraft. The Royal Saudi Air Defense Forces have similarly impressive capabilities, focused mainly on U.S.-supplied Patriot missile batteries concentrated around critical infrastructure, military bases, and population centers. Saudi Arabia also has a small but perhaps growing stockpile of ballistic missiles. Its Strategic Missile Force is believed to possess dozens of aging liquid-fueled Chinese DF-3 medium-range missiles (2,485- to 3,100-mile range) and possibly some solid-fueled DF-21 medium-range missiles (1,050-mile range) as well…

Much of Iran’s military know-how was developed during the nearly eight-year Iran-Iraq War, where it fought against a technologically superior adversary with far greater international backing. If the Iran-Iraq War taught Iran’s armed forces how to survive and make limited gains through asymmetrical tactics, the post-2011 experience of the IRGC and its client allies (such as Lebanese Hezbollah and various Iraqi militias) in the Syrian, Iraqi, and Yemeni conflicts has helped it develop further in terms of command and control, integrated operations, and ground offenses. Although Iran and its clients have been inseparable from the ground successes in both Syria and Iraq, those advances have been paved by foreign air power (by the United States in Iraq and Russia in Syria). Without the support of such air power, it is doubtful that Iranian-led forces would have made any serious gains against Syria’s rebels or the Islamic State. Further, they have relied on artillery bombardments, which essentially flattened the adversarial-held population centers before they were retaken.

The Saudis have comparatively less combat experience. In 1991, Saudi and Kuwaiti forces struggled to defeat an Iraqi tank column that had occupied the Saudi town of Khafji. They ultimately prevailed with U.S. support, but the battle exposed the inexperience of the Saudi military. In a precursor to the current conflict in Yemen, Saudi forces intervened across the southern border in 2009 in support of the Yemeni government’s war against the Houthis. The Saudi campaign, which included Jordanian and perhaps Moroccan troops, lasted only a few months and concentrated on the bombing of Houthi positions near the border. Despite retaking some strategic high ground along the border, the aerial campaign had only a small impact on the overall ground war. That limited track record clearly did not prepare the Saudis for the current war in Yemen. But the longer the current war continues, the more experience the Saudi military will gain…

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




Dr. James M. Dorsey

BESA, Apr. 25, 2018

With signatories to the Paris Climate Accord moving towards bans on gasoline- and diesel-driven vehicles within decades and renewable energy technology advancing by leaps and bounds, natural gas has taken on a new significance. These global energy trends are hastening in an era in which oil will significantly diminish in importance and natural gas, according to energy scholar Sergei Paltsev, will fill gaps in the provision of renewable energy that await technological advances.

Saudi Arabia’s problem is that Iran and Qatar have gas reserves it does not. That is one reason why renewables figure prominently in Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform program – not only to prepare Saudi Arabia economically for a post-oil future, but also to secure its continued geopolitical significance. Prince Muhammad, like his counterpart in the United Arab Emirates, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Zayed, hopes the kingdom will have an advantage in the generation of solar energy given that the sun hovers higher over his country than over Europe and other parts of the world and that it has less interference from clouds.

As a result, natural gas is a factor in mounting tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Some analysts say it is a driver of the Saudi-UAE-led, ten-month-old diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar. In what could constitute a serious escalation of hostilities, the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen threatened recently to retaliate against Iran in response to missile attacks on the kingdom by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

“Perhaps, the Saudi elite knows all too well that the basis of its power is hollowing out rapidly as a result of the global climate response and anticipated dwindling of conventional oil. The stakes could never have been higher,” said international relations scholar David Crieckmans in a recently published volume on the geopolitics of renewables. Contributing to the same volume, Thijs van de Graaf, another international relations scholar, suggested that of all the Middle Eastern oil producers, Saudi Arabia might have the most to lose.

There is a certain irony to this state of affairs. Crippling sanctions severely hampered Iran’s oil production and only began to be lifted following the 2015 international agreement that curbed that country’s nuclear program. Yet US threats to withdraw from the accord and potentially reimpose sanctions may work in Iran’s favor in the transition to a post-oil world. “Iran…has a lot of advantages. It has a much broader economic base, a longer tradition of trading, and lower fertility rates… The country’s oil production is much under its potential due to years of sanctions. This might in the long run turn out to be an advantage as these economies prepare themselves for a post-oil age,” Van der Graaf said. Add to that the fact that it is likely to be gas supplies from Iran and Turkmenistan, two Caspian Sea states, rather than Saudi oil that will determine which way the future Eurasian energy architecture tilts: towards China, the world’s third largest LNG importer; or towards Europe.

“Iran, within five years, will likely have 24.6 billion cubic meters of natural gas available for annual piped gas exports beyond its current supply commitments. Not enough to supply all major markets, Tehran will face a crucial geopolitical choice for the destination of its piped exports. Iran will be able to export piped gas to two of the following three markets: European Union (EU)/Turkey via the Southern Gas Corridor centering on the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP), India via an Iran-Oman-India pipeline, or China via either Turkmenistan or Pakistan. The degree to which the system of energy relationships in Eurasia will be more oriented toward the European Union or China will depend on the extent to which each secures Caspian piped gas exports through pipeline infrastructure directed to its respective markets,” energy scholar Micha’el Tanchum argued.

In other words, the existential threat Iran poses to Saudi Arabia goes far beyond the fact that the Islamic Republic challenges Saudi monarchical rule by offering an alternative, albeit flawed, form of Islamic governance that incorporates a degree of popular sovereignty. It involves competition in which Iran can leverage assets Saudi Arabia does not have, leaving the kingdom dependent on containment that at best postpones issues rather than accommodates solutions. It also means that the antagonists’ regional proxy wars in Yemen and elsewhere are unlikely to remove the fundamental issues that drive the Saudi-Iranian rivalry and translate into destabilizing short-term policies.

Hardliners, including US President Donald Trump’s newly appointed national security advisor, John Bolton, and nominee for secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, may be proponents of regime change in Iran, but the question remains whether that would truly alleviate Saudi fears (which are shared by Israel). If successful, it would eliminate the Islamic governance challenge, but it would do nothing to alter the reality of a changing energy landscape. Barbara Slavin, an Iran expert at the Washington-based Atlantic Council, cautions that a possible US withdrawal next month from the nuclear agreement with Iran does not necessarily mean either the demise of the accord or a re-imposition of a crippling sanctions regime.

“Twenty years ago, Congress passed similar secondary sanctions – the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act – threatening penalties against foreign companies investing in Iran’s oil and gas sector,” Slavin noted. “Europe cried foul and the sanctions were never implemented. That could well be the outcome in May,” when Trump will have to decide whether the US remains a party to the accord.



Yoel Guzansky

INSS, Apr. 22, 2018

Saudi Arabia is in the midst of revolutionary processes that aim to change the economic and social fabric in this conservative kingdom. In contrast to the bottom-up Arab revolutions that took place over the past decade, the Saudi revolution is guided top-down by Crown Prince and acting ruler Mohammad bin Salman from his palace in Riyadh. The 32-year-old prince is also trying to impose change to the house of Saud itself: a switch from collective rule by the different branches of the family, which created a system of checks and balances, to what more and more appears to be the autocratic rule of bin Salman himself. Opponents of bin Salman, whether by choice or circumstance, including people in the media, religious figures, businessmen, and even princes have been dismissed, arrested, or dispossessed in the name of the struggle against corruption in a process that has thus far lacked transparency.

“You have a body that has cancer everywhere, the cancer of corruption…[and] we have developed a case of oil addiction in Saudi Arabia,” bin Salman declared. On his recent visit to Europe and the United States, he strove to give Saudi Arabia the image of a dynamic, young, and innovative kingdom that is also more tolerant and egalitarian. At the same time, the kingdom is spending large amounts of money on lobbyists and public relations firms, and aiding think tanks in the United States in order to improve its image. Many in the West have indeed been quick to hail bin Salman’s stature as a reformer. Some of them compared him to Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey. Some of those who know him, however, have reportedly said that he was modeling himself after figures like Chinese President Xi Jinping. Will bin Salman adopt a model of political repression combined with economic openness, similar to the Chinese pattern? It is certainly possible, although an attempt to lead Saudi Arabia in this direction is likely to encounter quite a few challenges.

The need for comprehensive reform in Saudi Arabia, as urged by the International Monetary Fund in the late twentieth century, is not disputed. The Saudi revolutionary vision, which was devised by international consultation firms, was presented in April 2016 under the title “Vision 2030.” This vision focused above all on an effort to diversify the kingdom’s sources of revenue away from oil. New taxes were imposed as part of the reforms, including VAT, and subsidies for electricity, water, and fuel were reduced. The price of fuel was doubled in early 2018. As of now, the kingdom is successfully financing its budget deficit, projected to reach $52 billion this year, by depleting its currency reserves and selling bonds. Through these measures it raised $40 billion in 2016-2017, and seeks to raise $30 billion more in 2018. The effort to raise $100 billion through a wave of arrests in November 2017 in the name of the war on corruption appears to have failed, with estimates of the amount gained being far less.

Two years after the program was launched, unemployment is still high and growth negligible. Seventy percent of the kingdom’s citizens are under 30, and in this age group, which ostensibly supports bin Salman, unemployment is estimated at 30 percent. Furthermore, the timetable and very feasibility of an overseas public issue of shares in Aramco, the Saudi national oil company, for the purpose of paying for the reform is questionable. This IPO has a greater chance of occurring on the local Saudi stock exchange as a way of avoiding economic and legal obstacles. In order to help households cope with the rising cost of living and prevent potential unrest, the royal house has launched the “Citizen’s Account” Program for those eligible in the lower middle class (about 10 million citizens). Foreign workers, who make up a third of the kingdom’s residents, are not eligible for this program, which has prompted many of them, especially among the blue collar workers, to return to their countries of origin, although Saudi citizens are in no hurry to take their places. More highly skilled workers are also leaving, primarily because of high taxes and costs…

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






Seth J. Frantzman                                                          

Jerusalem Post, Mar. 26, 2018


Patriot missiles blazed skyward in an epic display over Saudi Arabia around midnight on (March 25), as Saudi air defenses intercepted seven missiles fired from Yemen over Riyadh. The attack was the largest of its kind since Houthi rebels in Yemen began using ballistic missiles to target Saudi Arabia in response to a wide-ranging campaign by the kingdom and its Arab coalition allies.

A spokesman for the coalition condemned the “aggressive and hostile action by the Iran-backed Houthi group.” Spokesman Turki al-Malki said it shows the Iranian regime “continues to support the armed group with military capabilities.” Patriot missile batteries deployed around the capital fired salvos to stop the attack. An Egyptian resident was killed and two were injured during the attack. Saudi Arabian media reported he died from shrapnel, however, video appeared to show one Patriot missile malfunctioning and slamming into a residential neighborhood. The man’s name was given as Abdelmontale Ahmed Hussein Ali, from Upper Egypt.

The Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed they had targeted airports in Jizan, Najran and Abha as well as Riyadh in response to Saudi Arabia’s operations in Yemen. The Houthis have increased their use of ballistic missiles recently. According to Arabic language Masirah TV, the ballistic missiles fired at the kingdom were of the Badr type the Houthis possess. Riyadh is almost 1,300 km. from Yemen.

By the end of 2016, the Houthis had fired 34 ballistic missiles at the kingdom, according to an article in Jane’s by Jeremy Binnie. Iran has allegedly been involved in aiding the rebels to extend their missile capability, but it is not clear how the missiles have been supplied to the Houthis. In November 2017, they attempted to hit Riyadh for the first time. In December, at Bolling Air Force Base, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley displayed pieces from a Houthi ballistic missile and accused Iran of supplying the Yemenis with them.

Saudi Arabia’s use of Patriot missiles came just one hour after Israel’s Iron Dome system had also been activated near the border of Gaza. This symbolizes the increasingly similar threats the two countries face. On March 23, a spokesman for the Houthis had said that the rebels were ready to fight Israel alongside Hezbollah. “We would have fought in the past if Yemen shared a border with Israel. God willing, we will be able to fight in the future.”

According to a translation by David Daoud, one day earlier, Houthi leader Abdel Malek al-Houthi had said if Israel got involved in a new war in Lebanon, the “tribes of Yemen” would come to fight Israel. he missile war comes as Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman has been conducting a major visit to the United States. The US State Department strongly condemned the missile launches against Riyadh.

With Iran deal critic and hardliner John Bolton taking over as national security advisor in April, the Saudi’s constant reference to the Iran threat will play into his hands to be tough on Tehran. The missiles fired at Riyadh were therefore a much larger message to Washington, and perhaps to Israel as well.


On Topic Links

Saudi Moderation? Prince Muhammad Is on Shaky Ground: Dr. James M. Dorsey, BESA, Apr. 12, 2018—No doubt, Prince Muhammad’s recent reforms have benefitted women and created social opportunity with the introduction of modern forms of entertainment, including the opening this month of Saudi Arabia’s first cinema as well as concerts, theater, and dance performances. Anecdotal evidence testifies to the popularity of these moves, certainly among urban youth.

Saudi Arabia, Vatican Reportedly Agree to Build Christian Churches in the Kingdom: Caleb Parke, Fox News, May 5, 2018—Saudi Arabia reportedly agreed to a historic deal with the Vatican to build Christian churches in the Kingdom, a potentially stunning development for the country that’s home to Islam’s holiest site, Middle Eastern media is reporting. The move would continue the nation’s effort to transition to a “moderate Islam.”

The Strange Saga of a Pro-Saudi Tabloid in America’s Heartland: New York Post, Apr. 24, 2018—It landed with a thud on newsstands at Walmart and rural supermarkets last month: Ninety-seven fawning pages saluting Saudi Arabia, whose ambitious crown prince was soon to arrive in the US on a PR blitz to transform his country’s image.

Iran’s Brutal War in Yemen Threatens the Entire Middle East: Mosaic, Apr. 30, 2018—During Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s confirmation hearings, Senator Rand Paul voiced objections—shared by a handful of other senators and congressmen—to U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, which is fighting alongside local forces to defeat the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.


Israel and the Gulf: Samuel Ramani, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 26, 2017— On November 19, Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz announced that the Israeli government possessed covert diplomatic links with Saudi Arabia.

US-Saudi Nuclear Talks: A Middle East Barometer?: Dr. James M. Dorsey, BESA, Jan. 10, 2018— President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was perhaps most challenging for the Saudis…

Yemen’s Humanitarian Nightmare: Asher Orkaby, Foreign Affairs, Dec. 2017 — On February 20, 2015, as the residents of Sanaa prepared for evening prayers, Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi put on a woman’s niqab and slipped out the back door of his official residence, where a car was waiting for him.

Tiny, Wealthy Qatar Goes Its Own Way, and Pays for It: Declan Walsh, New York Times, Jan. 22, 2018— For the emir of Qatar, there has been little that money can’t buy.


On Topic Links


Arbor Day (Tu Bishvat) Guide for the Perplexed, 2018: Yoram Ettinger, Ettinger Report, Jan. 29, 2018

Yemen Separatists Capture Aden, Government Confined to Palace: Residents: New York Times, Jan. 30, 2018

A Changed Saudi Arabia (Video): Amb. Dore Gold, JCPA, Jan. 3, 2018

Like Israelis, Saudis Pin Their Hopes on Iranian Protestors: Ben Lynfield, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 3, 2018



                                    ISRAEL AND THE GULF

Samuel Ramani

Jerusalem Post, Dec. 26, 2017


On November 19, Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz announced that the Israeli government possessed covert diplomatic links with Saudi Arabia. As Israel’s economic and defense links with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries have been an open secret for years, Steinitz’s announcement was unsurprising. Nevertheless, his statement was symbolically significant as it broke the decades-long veil of secrecy surrounding the Israel-GCC partnership.


Many analysts have described the Israel-GCC partnership as a purely tactical alignment aimed at containing Iran and expanding Israel’s formal diplomatic recognition in the Arab world. This depiction mischaracterizes and understates the depth of the partnership. Israel established security and economic ties with the GCC bloc long before Iran emerged as a mutual threat, and this informal partnership will likely continue to strengthen even if Saudi Arabia and the UAE do not give Israel diplomatic recognition. The current Israel-GCC security partnership emerged from a common desire to confront sources of instability in the Middle East. The first major example of a joint Israel-GCC stabilization effort was Israel’s 1981 Operation Opera strike on Iraq’s nuclear facilities. This military strike was likely undertaken with Saudi Arabia’s tacit consent, as Israeli pilots flew over Saudi airspace to Iraq without active resistance from Riyadh.


Iran’s rising military assertiveness after the 2003 Iraq War and pursuit of a nuclear deterrent further entrenched the pro-stability agenda that binds Israel to Saudi Arabia. Despite denials from Israeli and Saudi officials, numerous reports pointed to an increase in Jerusalem-Riyadh intelligence cooperation during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tenure as Iran’s president. This cooperation culminated in an alleged 2009 test of Saudi Arabia’s air defense capacity and a covert 2010 assessment of the ability of Israeli planes to pass safely through Saudi territory to Iran in the event of war.


Recent military activities like Israel’s joint air force drills with the UAE in March 2017 build directly on Ahmadinejad-era intelligence sharing, and highlight the persistence of the Israel-GCC stabilizing coalition. The Qatar crisis represents the natural extension of this coalition, as Israel and Saudi Arabia both regard Qatar’s financial support for Islamist groups as threatening to regional stability. Al Jazeera’s journalism license underscored Jerusalem’s solidarity with Saudi Arabia against Qatar. Israel and Saudi Arabia’s clandestine collaboration to undermine Qatar’s influence in the Middle East demonstrates that the stabilization role served by their alignment is likely to survive even if Iran eventually moderates its belligerent conduct.


The economic dimension of the Israel-GCC partnership has equally deep roots. During the 1990s, Israeli investors expressed interest in developing economic ties with GCC countries, due to their rapidly growing financial sectors and real estate markets. Pressure from Israeli investors and GCC business owners who were interested in gaining access to Israeli capital and technology resulted in the development of state-to-state trade relations. Israel’s landmark 1996 agreement to open trade offices in Oman and Qatar began this process. This agreement was followed by Saudi Arabia’s decision to legalize Israeli capital inflows in 2005.


Even though disagreements over the status of the Palestinian territories abruptly halted Israel’s outreach efforts to Oman and Qatar during the early 2000s, Israel’s informal trade relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE have grown rapidly over the past decade. Through trade liberalization initiatives, Saudi Arabia has gained access to Israeli irrigation technology. The UAE’s fledgling renewable energy sector and real estate markets have also received substantial capital inflows from Israel. The development of person-to-person links between Israel and the GCC through trade initiatives has encouraged the development of informal defense sector cooperation. In 2016, Saudi Arabia began purchasing Israeli drones via South Africa. An October 2017 report revealed that the UAE has a long-standing partnership with Israeli businessman Metai Kokhafi, which has allowed Abu Dhabi to gain access to Iron Dome technology.


Despite these positive developments and Bahrain’s recent expression of support for Israel’s recognition, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are unlikely to establish formal ties with Israel. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir continues to deny the existence of informal cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Officially, Saudi diplomats also continue to adhere to the terms of the 2002 Abdullah Plan, which only allowed for the recognition of Israel if a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict was successfully implemented…

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





Dr. James M. Dorsey

BESA, Jan. 10, 2017


President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was perhaps most challenging for the Saudis, who, as custodians of Islam’s two holiest cities, would have been expected to play a leading role in protecting the status of the city that is home to the faith’s third holiest site. Yet Saudi Arabia sent its foreign minister, Adel al Jubeir, to the summit of Islamic countries in Istanbul that recognized East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine rather than the king, the crown prince, or another senior member of the ruling family.


The difficulty for the Saudis is not only their close cooperation with Israel, their willingness to hint in public at what was long a secret relationship, and their position as the closest friend the US has in the Arab world – a friend who reportedly was willing to endorse a US Israeli-Palestinian peace plan in the making that would fail to meet the minimum demanded by Palestinians and Arab public opinion.


With Trump backing Saudi efforts to counter Iranian influence in a swath of land stretching from Asia to the Atlantic coast of Africa despite mounting US criticism of the kingdom’s conduct of its military intervention in Yemen, Riyadh has a vested interest in maintaining its close ties to Washington. While Riyadh has been put in an awkward position by Trump’s declaration, international condemnation of the move has also increased Saudi leverage.


Trump’s support for Saudi Arabia as well as his transactional approach to foreign policy, which aims to further US business interests, holds out the promise of tipping the Middle East’s military balance of power in favor of the kingdom. In the president’s latest effort, his administration is weighing allowing Saudi Arabia to enrich uranium as part of a deal that would ensure that bids by Westinghouse Electric Co. and other US companies to build nuclear reactors in the kingdom are successful. Past US reluctance to endorse Saudi enrichment and reprocessing of uranium has put purveyors of US nuclear technology at a disadvantage.


Saudi Arabia agreed with the US in 2008 not to pursue enrichment and reprocessing but has since backed away from that pledge. “They wouldn’t commit, and it was a sticking point,” said Max Bergmann, a former special assistant to the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. Testifying to Congress in November, Christopher Ford, the US National Security Council’s senior director for weapons of mass destruction and counterproliferation, refused to commit the Trump administration to the US restrictions. The restrictions are “not a legal requirement. It is a desired outcome,” Ford said. He added that the 2015 international agreement with Iran, which severely restricts the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program for at least a decade, made it more difficult for the US to insist on limiting other countries’ enrichment capabilities.


Saudi Arabia plans to construct 16 nuclear power reactors by 2030 at a cost of an estimated $100 billion. Officially, Saudi Arabia sees nuclear power as a way of freeing up more oil for export in a country that has witnessed dramatic increases in domestic consumption, as well as contributing to the diversification of its economy. It would also enhance the kingdom’s efforts to ensure parity with Iran in terms of its ability to enrich uranium and its quest to be the Middle East’s long-term, dominant power. Saudi Arabia has large uranium deposits of its own. In preparation for requesting bids for its nuclear program, Saudi Arabia in October asked the US, France, South Korea, Russia, and China for preliminary information. In recent years, the kingdom has concluded a  number of nuclear-related understandings not only with the US but with China, France, Pakistan, Russia, South Korea, and Argentina.


Trump’s apparent willingness to ease US restrictions services his campaign promise to revive and revitalize America’s nuclear industry and meet competition from Russia and China. Saudi contracts are crucial for Westinghouse, a nuclear technology pioneer whose expertise is used in more than half the world’s nuclear power plants. Westinghouse declared bankruptcy in March because of delays in two US projects. A deal that would lift US restrictions in return for acquiring US technology could enmesh Saudi Arabia in bitter domestic political battles in Washington revolving around alleged Russian interference in the US presidential election. Controversial Trump campaign aide and short-lived national security advisor Michael Flynn sought to convince Israel to accept the kingdom’s nuclear program as part of his efforts to promote Russian nuclear interests in the Middle East.


Trump’s willingness, against the backdrop of uncertainty about his readiness to uphold US adherence to the 2015 agreement with Iran, could unleash an arms race in the Middle East and North Africa. Trump recently refused to certify to Congress that Iran was compliant with the agreement. Dropping restrictions on Saudi enrichment could not only fuel the Saudi-Iranian rivalry that has wreaked havoc across the region, but also encourage other recipients of US nuclear technology to demand similar rights. The United Arab Emirates and Egypt have accepted restrictions on enrichment in their nuclear deals with US companies as long as those limitations were imposed on all countries in the Middle East…                   

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





Asher Orkaby

Foreign Affairs, Dec. 2017


On February 20, 2015, as the residents of Sanaa prepared for evening prayers, Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi put on a woman’s niqab and slipped out the back door of his official residence, where a car was waiting for him. For a month, Houthi rebels, who had taken Sanaa in late 2014, had been holding him under house arrest. By the time the guards noticed that he was gone, Hadi had reached the relative safety of the southern port of Aden. A month later, as Houthi forces advanced south, he fled again, this time to Riyadh, where he called on Saudi Arabia to intervene in Yemen’s civil war.


Within days, a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states began a campaign of air strikes against Houthi targets that rapidly became a siege of the entire country. Cut off from imports, and under a ceaseless Saudi bombardment, Yemen has turned into one of the worst humanitarian crises of modern times. Seven million Yemenis live in areas that are close to famine, nearly two million children are suffering from acute malnutrition, and an outbreak of cholera has infected over 600,000 people.


The conflict in Yemen is often described as an outgrowth of the Shiite-Sunni rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, as Iran has supplied weapons and military advisers to the Houthis. But this misunderstands both the origins of the war and the reason why Saudi Arabia intervened. The war is not about regional interests; it is a continuation of a long-standing conflict between the Yemeni government and marginalized northern tribes, which escalated thanks to a gradual decline in the legitimacy and competence of the central government in Sanaa. And Saudi Arabia intervened not to counter Iranian expansionism but to secure its southern border against the Houthi threat. As a result, only an internal Yemeni political settlement can end the war, although Saudi Arabia, the United States, and international humanitarian organizations can do much to improve the situation in the meantime.


The modern state of Yemen was born in 1962, when revolutionaries, many of whom had absorbed contemporary ideas of nationalism at foreign universities, deposed Imam Muhammad al-Badr and created the Yemen Arab Republic, or North Yemen. For the next 40 years, the foreign-educated elite who had sparked the revolution occupied some of the most important positions in the new republic, serving as presidents, prime ministers, cabinet ministers, and chief executives. They based their legitimacy on the roles they had played during the revolution and its aftermath, achieving an almost mythic status in the national imagination. The revolution also transformed the rest of Yemeni society. It empowered Yemen’s growing urban population and ended the dominance of those families—known as “sayyids”—who could trace their lineage back to the Prophet Muhammad. And it sent Yemen’s northern tribes, which had supported the deposed Badr, into the political wilderness. Shut off from government funding, their region stagnated and their problems festered.


After North and South Yemen unified, in 1990, discrimination against the northern tribes gave rise to a protest movement in the north, led in part by the Houthi family, one of the most prominent sayyid dynasties in northern Yemen. Then, in 2004, during early clashes between northern tribes and the government, the Yemeni military killed Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, one of the leaders of the movement. His death marked the beginning of the northern tribes’ armed insurgency and gave the rebels their name. For the next seven years, sporadic fighting continued, with neither side gaining a meaningful advantage.


At the same time as the government was fighting the Houthis in the north, its authority in the rest of the country was fading. The greatest challenge for a revolutionary state is maintaining its legitimacy after the founders have died, and half a century after the revolution, few of Yemen’s original leaders remained. In June 2011, Abdul Aziz Abdul Ghani, one of the last of the revolutionary generation, was mortally wounded in an assassination attempt on the country’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, during popular protests that had paralyzed Sanaa. Both sides of the political divide paused the hostilities to mourn. But from that point on, the Yemeni state created by the revolution effectively disappeared.


The passing of Yemen’s revolutionary generation created not only a crisis of national identity but also one of governance. Once, Yemeni students who had obtained degrees abroad took pride in returning home as future leaders. But over the last ten years, much of the educated elite has left the country, citing worsening government corruption and ineptitude and a lack of domestic employment opportunities. Political appointments are now granted on the basis of tribal membership rather than training or experience, and technocrats have gradually given way to the beneficiaries of nepotism.


As the central government’s legitimacy declined over the last decade, a political void opened. Beginning in 2009, extremist groups, including al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, emerged to fill the gap. But it was the northern Houthi movement, already organized and opposed to the central government, that was positioned to take the fullest advantage of the derelict republic.


The Houthis’ chance came in early 2011, when revolts in places such as Egypt and Tunisia inspired months of mass protests against the corrupt, autocratic government in Sanaa. That February, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, a northern rebel leader, declared his support for the antigovernment demonstrations and sent thousands of his followers to join the rallies in the capital. Some of the most powerful images of the uprising were those of tribesmen in traditional robes demonstrating alongside members of the urban youth movement. Fifty years earlier, these two groups had fought each other for control of Yemen; in 2011, they marched together against a common enemy, Saleh…

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






Declan Walsh

New York Times, Jan. 22, 2018


For the emir of Qatar, there has been little that money can’t buy. As a teenager he dreamed of becoming the Boris Becker of the Arab world, so his parents flew the German tennis star to Qatar to give their son lessons. A lifelong sports fanatic, he later bought a French soccer team, Paris Saint-Germain, which last summer paid $263 million for a Brazilian striker — the highest transfer fee in the history of the game. He helped bring the 2022 World Cup to Qatar at an estimated cost of $200 billion, a major coup for a country that had never qualified for the tournament.


Now at age 37, the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, has run into a problem that money alone cannot solve. Since June, tiny Qatar has been the target of a punishing air and sea boycott led by its largest neighbors, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Overnight, airplanes and cargo ships bound for Qatar were forced to change course, diplomatic ties were severed and Qatar’s only land border, a 40-mile stretch of desert with Saudi Arabia, slammed shut.


Not even animals were spared. Around 12,000 Qatari camels, peacefully grazing on Saudi land, were expelled, causing a stampede at the border. Qatar’s foes accuse it of financing terrorism, cozying up to Iran and harboring fugitive dissidents. They detest Al Jazeera, Qatar’s rambunctious and highly influential satellite network. And — although few say it openly — they appear intent on ousting Qatar’s young leader, Tamim, from his throne. Tamim denies the accusations, and chalks up the animosity to simple jealousy. “They don’t like our independence,” he said in an interview in New York in September. “They see it as a threat.”


The boycott turned out to be the first strike of a sweeping campaign by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, that has electrified the Middle East. Obsessed with remaking his hidebound country and curbing the regional ambitions of its nemesis, Iran, the young, hard-charging Saudi has imprisoned hundreds of rivals at a five-star hotel in Riyadh, strong-armed the prime minister of Lebanon in a failed stab at Iran and stepped up his devastating war in Yemen.


The Saudi prince has shaped the Trump administration’s approach to the Middle East and his endeavors could have far-reaching consequences, potentially driving up energy prices, upending Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and raising the chances of war with Iran. The Qatar dispute is perhaps the least understood piece of the action, but it has a particularly nasty edge. In September, at a normally soporific meeting of the Arab League in Cairo, Saudi and Qatari diplomats exchanged barbed epithets like “rabid dog” and heated accusations of treachery and even cruelty to camels. “When I speak, you shut up!” yelled Qatar’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Sultan bin Saad al-Muraikhi. “No, you are the one who should shut up!” his Saudi counterpart shouted back.


The highly personalized rancor has the unmistakable air of a family feud. Qataris, Saudis and Emiratis stem from the same nomadic tribes, share the same religion and eat the same food. So their dispute has shades of quarreling cousins, albeit ones armed with billions of dollars and American warplanes. The crisis took an alarming turn last week when the Emirates accused Qatar’s warplanes of harassing two Emirati passenger airliners as they crossed the Gulf. Untrue, said Qatar, which fired back with its own accusation that Emirati warplanes had already breached its airspace twice.

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



On Topic Links


Arbor Day (Tu Bishvat) Guide for the Perplexed, 2018: Yoram Ettinger, Ettinger Report, Jan. 29, 2018— 1. Judaism stipulates four New Years, one of them is the New Year for the trees, Arbor Day, (Tu Bishvat in Hebrew), the 15th day of the month of Shvat (January 31, 2018). The zodiac of Shvat is Aquarius – the water carrier (bucket in Hebrew). Tu Bishvat highlights the rejuvenation and blooming of trees and the Jewish people. According to Rashi, the leading Jewish Biblical commentator, this date was determined because most of the winter rains are over by Tu Bishvat, sap starts to rise and fruit begins to ripen.  Israel’s Legislature, the Knesset, was established on Tu Bishvat, 1949.

Yemen Separatists Capture Aden, Government Confined to Palace: Residents: New York Times, Jan. 30, 2018—Southern Yemeni separatists took control of the port city of Aden after two days of fighting, residents said on Tuesday, confining the internationally recognized government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to the presidential palace.

A Changed Saudi Arabia (Video): Amb. Dore Gold, JCPA, Jan. 3, 2018—I get asked all the time, “You wrote a book, we seem to remember, about Saudi Arabia’s contribution to the rise of global terrorism after 9/11. Yet you are now associated with the effort of the State of Israel and others to bring Saudi Arabia into the tent and to create a kind of new relationship – perhaps a reconciliation – between the Jewish state and the Saudi Kingdom. How do you explain that? Isn’t that an inconsistency.”

Like Israelis, Saudis Pin Their Hopes on Iranian Protestors: Ben Lynfield, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 3, 2018—Tehran on Tuesday ratcheted up its accusations against Saudi Arabia for allegedly stoking the unrest in Iran and vowed there would be strong punishment against Riyadh. Meanwhile, Saudi media praised the protesters and voiced hope the unrest would force Iran to scale down its regional involvements in Lebanon, Yemen and Syria, which the Saudis view as a grave threat.






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

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

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

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


On Topic Links


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

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

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

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





Behnam Ben Taleblu

Fox News, Dec. 17, 2017


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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





Peter Huessy

Gatestone Institute, Dec. 6, 2017


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




Sohrab Ahmari

Commentary, Dec. 11, 2017


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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





Dr. James M. Dorsey

BESA, Dec. 7, 2017


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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




On Topic Links


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

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

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

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









Riyadh Realpolitik: Elliott Abrams, Weekly Standard, Nov. 17, 2017 — What are the Saudis trying to do in Lebanon? They have clearly forced the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

It’s Not the Saudis Destroying Lebanon — it’s Iran: Benny Avni, New York Post, Nov. 20, 2017— If you read media coverage of the latest crisis in Leba

non, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s all pretty simple…

Hizballah's Firm Grip Over Lebanon Fuels Region's Sectarian Strife: Yaakov Lappin, IPT News, Nov. 14, 2017— Chief Iranian proxy Hizballah has a firm grip over Lebanon, and its bloody intervention in Syria was instrumental in preserving the brutal Assad regime.

Israel's Coming War with Hezbollah: Thomas Donnelly, American Interest, Nov. 3, 2017— Donald Trump’s feud with North Korea’s “Little Rocket Man” notwithstanding, the most likely major war on the horizon is one between Israel and Hezbollah…


On Topic Links


Lebanese PM Hariri lands in Beirut, Attends National Day Parade: Jerusalem Post, Nov. 22, 2017

Iran Commander: Hezbollah’s Weapons are ‘Nonnegotiable’: Times of Israel, Nov. 23, 2017

Hezbollah Consolidates Its Stranglehold Over Lebanon: Michael J. Totten, World Affairs Journal, Nov. 7, 2017

The Iran-Hamas-Hezbollah Connection: Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute, Nov. 8, 2017





Elliott Abrams

Weekly Standard, Nov. 17, 2017


What are the Saudis trying to do in Lebanon? They have clearly forced the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Do they want to destabilize the country? Destroy its government? Is the new Saudi approach another example of the often-alleged incompetence and overreach of the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman? Does it show, once again, that he is in over his head? Not in my view. On the contrary, the new and tougher Saudi approach seems to me more realistic—and (unsurprisingly) in line with the new Israeli approach. And both are not actions but reactions to the reality that Hezbollah is in fact in charge of Lebanon.


First, a bit of history. In the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon, Israel made a sharp distinction between Hezbollah and Lebanon. Israeli attacks decimated Hezbollah targets but did not focus on Lebanon’s infrastructure. For example, to put the Beirut airport out of use the Israelis hit the runway, making takeoffs and landings impossible. They did zero damage to the terminal and hangars, so that repaving the runway and opening the airport could be done fast when hostilities ended. Similarly, I recall visiting Beirut with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during the conflict and seeing the tall lighthouse in the port. An Israeli missile had gone right through the lighthouse’s top and taken out its searchlight. There was no significant damage to the structure, so that all that was needed was a new searchlight for the lighthouse to be operational again. Israel made a special effort to avoid major damage to the Lebanese national infrastructure, despite claims to the contrary from the Lebanese government.


In May 2008, Hezbollah ended a government crisis over its own powers by using its weapons—allegedly meant only to protect the country from Israel—to seize control of Beirut’s streets and effectively of the entire state. The New York Times quoted one expert on Hezbollah concluding back then, “This is effectively a coup.” In the near decade since, Hezbollah’s power has grown and so has its domination of Lebanon. During the war in Syria since 2012, Hezbollah has served as Iran’s foreign legion and sent thousands of Lebanese Shia across the border to fight. A story in the New York Times this August summed up the current situation:


[Hezbollah] has rapidly expanded its realm of operations. It has sent legions of fighters to Syria. It has sent trainers to Iraq. It has backed rebels in Yemen. And it has helped organize a battalion of militants from Afghanistan that can fight almost anywhere. As a result, Hezbollah is not just a power unto itself, but is one of the most important instruments in the drive for regional supremacy by its sponsor: Iran. Hezbollah is involved in nearly every fight that matters to Iran and, more significantly, has helped recruit, train and arm an array of new militant groups that are also advancing Iran’s agenda. That story concluded that “few checks remain on Hezbollah’s domestic power” in Lebanon. And throughout 2017, Israeli officials have been warning that the distinction between Hezbollah and Lebanon can no longer be maintained. Hezbollah is quite simply running the country. While it leaves administrative matters like paying government salaries, paving roads, and collecting garbage to the state, no important decision can be taken without Hezbollah’s agreement.


Lebanon’s president must constitutionally be a Christian, but today that man is Michel Aoun, an ally of Hezbollah since 2006. That is why he got to be president in 2016. As an analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel put it, “Hezbollah has been very squarely backing Aoun for president, and this was always the deal between Aoun’s party and Hezbollah. Hezbollah has upheld its end of the deal. With this election .  .  . you can see Hezbollah being consolidated in terms of its political allies as well as its position in Lebanon.” Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who specializes in Lebanon, concurred: “In terms of the actual balance of power, the actual power on the ground, regardless of the politics, regardless of the cabinets, regardless of the parliamentary majorities: It’s Hezbollah.”


The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), a recipient of U.S. assistance, is increasingly intertwined with Hezbollah. David Schenker of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy described the situation this way: [I]n April 2017, Hezbollah brought more than a dozen international journalists on a tour of Lebanon’s frontier with Israel, breezing through several checkpoints manned by national intelligence organs and LAF units, suggesting a high degree of coordination. The next month, Hezbollah turned over several of its Syria border observation posts to the LAF. .  .  . Finally, in late June, the LAF sent 150 officer cadets to tour Hezbollah’s Mleeta war museum, near Nabatiyah, a shrine to the organization’s “resistance” credentials vis-à-vis Israel. Where does all that leave Lebanon? Last summer Badran, in an article entitled “Lebanon Is Another Name for Hezbollah,” concluded, “The Lebanese state .  .  . is worse than a joke. It’s a front.”..

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




Benny Avni

New York Post, Nov. 20, 2017


If you read media coverage of the latest crisis in Lebanon, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s all pretty simple: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is pushing Lebanon to the brink of war that will involve Israel and perhaps even America. But that simplistic take ignores the fact that the crisis was instigated a while ago — by Iran.


It’s easy to see why the Saudis get blamed: Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri is scheduled to return to Beirut on Wednesday. He’ll officially hand in his resignation and return to Paris, where he’ll live comfortably from now on — all because his patrons in Riyadh, where the Hariri family acquired its considerable wealth, pushed him to quit. The Saudis, so the narrative goes, are intensifying this crisis even beyond Hariri’s resignation. They’re pulling cash from Beirut banks, calling on their citizens to avoid Lebanon’s posh hotels and withdrawing investments from the country. Lebanon’s ensuing economic collapse will intensify sectarian rivalries and embolden its most aggressive hotheads. And (in this narrative’s most ridiculous form) Israeli soldiers will next do Riyadh’s bidding and fight Hezbollah on behalf of the Saudis.


That last one, often heard in conspiratorial tones in Mideastern cafes, rings awfully familiar: From Pontius Pilate through the tsar to Washington’s neocons, Jews have long been accused of whispering evil in the king’s ear. Except in this version, the roles are reversed, and a young, irresponsible Saudi royal is pushing gullible Israelis and Americans into a proxy war in Lebanon. That, of course, isn’t how Riyadh sees it. Saudi officials point out it was their country that spent a fortune rebuilding Lebanon after the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah left it in ruins. But rather than regaining its status as “Paris on the Mediterranean,” Beirut became an Iranian stronghold and Hezbollah now controls every aspect of Lebanese life.


Which is true. Under plans enshrined in UN Security Council resolutions, the Lebanese Army was supposed to disarm all militias. Instead, Hezbollah now controls the army. What happened since the 2006 war was a spectacular Lebanese takeover by Hezbollah. America, which under President Barack Obama saw no evil coming from Tehran, allowed it to happen, blind to the Iranization of Lebanon’s politics, culture and military. (We still train and equip the Lebanese army.)


Meanwhile Hezbollah, created by Iran in the 1980s to counter Israel’s military power, has repurposed its mission. Arguing it must stay armed and dangerous as part of “resistance” to Israel, it in fact became Iran’s model proxy army and its global gun for hire. Far from a “Lebanese” power, it’s a Persian tool. When Tehran says jump, Hezbollah asks how high. Every Shiite Lebanese family has lost someone in Syria, where for over six years Hezbollah has been fighting to achieve Iran’s goal of securing Bashar al-Assad’s hold on power. Hezbollah agents train and supervise Iraqi forces, building Iran-affiliated militias in their own image. They’re in Iranian outposts in Asia, Africa and South America. They even tried to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, DC.


In Yemen, Hezbollah supervises the Houthis’ fight against Saudi-backed forces. Recently the Saudis intercepted Iranian-made missiles shot at Saudi territory from Yemen. No wonder the Saudis are fed up with Lebanon. True, Prince Mohammed is much better at diving into a crisis than at plotting a strategic way out of it. But it’s Iran, not him, that’s responsible for bringing us here.


And no, Israel isn’t being pushed by Saudis. Jerusalem has long known it one day might need to eliminate the estimated 150,000 Lebanese-based warheads Hezbollah has aimed at its urban centers. But Israel has long sought to postpone that war, knowing how bloody and painful it would be for both sides. After ignoring Iran’s ruinous Lebanese-centered strategy for over a decade, it’s time America woke up, too: The Saudis aren’t an enemy. They just decided to stop financing, aiding and giving diplomatic cover to a state that endlessly acts against their interests. Perhaps so should we.





Yaakov Lappin

IPT News, Nov. 14, 2017


Chief Iranian proxy Hizballah has a firm grip over Lebanon, and its bloody intervention in Syria was instrumental in preserving the brutal Assad regime. Yet Hizballah's meddling in other regions of the Middle East usually does not receive as much attention. That changed drastically earlier this month, when Saudi Arabia publicly accused the Shi'ite terrorist organization of firing a ballistic missile at its capital, Riyadh, from Yemen.


Saudi Arabia is alarmed at the rapid expansion of Iran and its proxies. It is leading a coalition of Sunni states in a war against the Iranian-supported Shi'ite Houthi radical organization, Ansar Allah, which has taken over parts of Yemen. "It was an Iranian missile, launched by Hizballah from territory occupied by the Houthis in Yemen," charged Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. A Saudi air defense battery shot the missile down before it struck Riyadh's airport, but the incident has seen Saudi- Iranian tensions, which were already high, spike. A United States Air Force source has reportedly confirmed the Saudi information about the Iranian origins of the missile.


Iran denied the Saudi accusation, and played down its links with the Houthis. But this denial flies in the face of mounting evidence of an important Hizballah and Iranian role in assisting Ansar Allah in Yemen. Some of this evidence comes from Hizballah itself, or more precisely, its unofficial mouthpiece in Lebanon, the Al-Akhbar newspaper. Editor Ibrahim Al-Amin published a boastful article in July 2017 detailing Hizballah's spread across the region. "In Yemen, Hizbullah has become a direct partner in strengthening the military capabilities of the Houthi Ansar Allah, who consider Hizballah to be their truthful ally," Al-Amin wrote. The same article proudly said that in Iraq, Hizballah's "experts are present in the biggest operations rooms … [Hassan] Nasrallah serves as the commander of the Popular Mobilization Units [the Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias] in Iraq."


Hizballah's activities around the Middle East have become a controversial topic in Lebanon, where a portion of the population opposes its monopoly on political and military power, its militant ideology, and Iran's proxy control of the country. Last year, Future TV, a station owned by the recently retired Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri (who quit in protest of Iran's takeover of Lebanon), broadcast what it said was a video of a Hizballah operative providing military-terrorist training to Houthi fighters. "So I have (for example) the assassination, God willing, of the head of the Saudi Border Guard," the Hizballah operative says in the video. "We take a group, a special unit, it goes in, assassinates, kills and plants a large bomb. This is what we call a special operation. I have a special operation in Riyadh".


At this stage in the video, the Hizballah member briefing the Houthis is interrupted with a question: "[Is this] a suicide operation?" He replies: "Possibly a martyrdom operation. We do not call it suicide. We call it a special operation." An examination of the flag used by Ansar Allah finds that its red and green colors are influenced by the Iranian flag, and more importantly, the motto etched on the flag: "Death to America, Death to Israel, A Curse Upon The Jews, Victory to Islam" is inspired by official Iranian mottos.


The Houthis have been influenced by Hizballah in more than one way, said Ely Karmon, a senior research scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Israel. "The group's use of militant anashid (jihadist anthems) in its videos further portrays it as more in line with Hizballah's models of 'resistance,'" he told the IPT. "Images depicting Houthi fighters with the sun as a background further draw a parallel to other Shi'ite jihadist groups, giving the Houthis spiritual legitimacy within the context of a Shi'ite jihadist organization." Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, the current Houthi leader, delivers speeches in a style inspired by Hizballah's Nasrallah, Karmon said.


Houthi leaders also appointed a prominent Iranian-educated religious figure with close links to the Islamic Republic as the top Islamic authority in Yemen's capital, Sana'a. A May 2015 Financial Times report, "Lebanon's Hizballah and Yemen's Houthis open up on links," cited Hizballah members saying they have "played a more active role on the ground in Yemen. A Houthi official in Beirut said relations with the Lebanese movement span over a decade, while a Hizballah commander said Houthis and Hizballah trained together for the past 10 years in Iran, then in Lebanon and in Yemen." …


Earlier this year, Karmon assessed that "[a] physical Iranian presence based on a strategic cooperation with the Houthis, both ground and naval," in Yemeni ports on the Red Sea, as well as control over other strategic waterways "represent a direct threat to Israel's security and interests."The Houthi takeover of Yemen's capital and other regions increased Shi'ite Iran's influence there, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center reported. Based on publicly available information, it seems safe to conclude that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps uses Hizballah to strengthen the Houthis militarily in Yemen, and to help Iran increase its influence over this poor, war-torn state, which is also experiencing a humanitarian disaster on a grand scale due to the ongoing conflict. Hizballah's role as a regional proliferator of terrorism, radicalism, and high-level operational capabilities is a constant threat to the Middle East and beyond.




Thomas Donnelly

Weekly Standard, Nov. 3, 2017


Donald Trump’s feud with North Korea’s “Little Rocket Man” notwithstanding, the most likely major war on the horizon is one between Israel and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia that, thanks to years of experience and an increasingly lethal arsenal, has become part of the vanguard in Iran’s drive for hegemony in the Near East. Indeed, such a war would be a huge next step for Iran after its rescue of the Assad regime in Syria and its increasingly powerful posture in post-ISIS Iraq. For just such reasons, this war would be a potential tipping point in the Middle East balance of power, a frightfully violent prospect that is equally ripe with strategic opportunity for the United States.


As Willy Stern chronicled in these pages last year (“Missiles Everywhere,” June 20, 2016), an Israel-Hezbollah conflict would be nasty and brutish but not short. Ever since its 2006 clash with Israel, Hezbollah has been stockpiling hundreds of thousands of rockets, missiles, and mortars capable of reaching not just border areas but deep into Israel. This arsenal includes hundreds of ballistic missiles capable of carrying chemical warheads—some of Assad’s chemical weaponry no doubt made its way to Hezbollah—as well as substantial conventional explosives. More important is their improved accuracy; Hezbollah might actually hit something for a change, and not just large cities like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv but military bases and airports. Despite Israel’s successful development of missile defenses like the “Iron Dome,” “Arrow,” and “David’s Sling,” it’s unlikely that an all-out or sustained series of attacks could be fully blunted.


Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has been making increasingly warlike comments in recent months and claimed in June that his men would be reinforced in battle by “tens .  .  . or even hundreds of thousands” of Shiite fighters from Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Nasrallah may be boasting, but Israeli intelligence assessments put the likely strength of such forces at about 40,000. In addition to expanding the number of Hezbollah-like militias it commands, Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the IRGC, has improved its ability to shuttle forces to decisive points. In the fight to evict ISIS from western Iraq, the Iranian proxy Popular Mobilization Units have played as critical a role as U.S. or Iraqi regular forces, not least in the recent clashes that drove Kurdish militias out of Kirkuk.


Jeffrey White of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy has long argued that the next Israel-Hezbollah conflict would be quite unlike the 2006 edition of this “forever” war or any of the recent Israeli campaigns against Hamas. The numbers of missiles, including anti-ship cruise missiles, would dwarf previous Hezbollah salvos and, including upgraded versions of the ubiquitous Scud, could be launched from deep within Lebanon at targets deep within Israel. And the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) could well confront its nightmare scenario—a two-front war in the form of simultaneous attacks launched from the Syrian part of the Golan Heights. As White and his colleague Michael Eisenstadt recently noted, an IRGC general was killed in a January 2015 IDF airstrike while he was touring the Syrian Golan with Hezbollah hosts.


Israel has not faced such a powerful threat since the 1973 war, and confronting the Iran-Hezbollah-Assad coalition will tax the IDF heavily. To begin with, even if its missile defenses live up to their advertising, they cannot obviate the need to conduct counterstrikes into Lebanon and Syria. While the Israeli air force has long ruled the local skies, the proliferation of advanced Russian-made air defenses calls into question how rapidly—and at what cost—the IDF can establish or sustain the kind of air supremacy it will need. The best way to remove the Hezbollah missile threat is to seek and destroy the launchers or to deny use of customary launch sites. The Israelis have worked very hard to improve their mobile-missile-hunting abilities, but this would be a risky mission.


Moreover, the best missile defense is a large-scale ground assault. Both sides know this, and Israel’s enemies have made strenuous preparations for the IDF counterattacks—again, simultaneously into Lebanon and Syria—that must come. The IDF has worked to improve the survivability of its mechanized infantry and armored forces and the responsiveness, lethality, and accuracy of its artillery. For its part, Hezbollah, which showed considerable tactical skill in defending southern Lebanon in 2006, has added advanced anti-armor weaponry and new layers of defenses. The terrain in southern Lebanon and on the Golan is well suited for such purposes; the IDF will have to pick its way forward cautiously, through ambush after ambush, and ultimately it may have to go farther north and east than in 2006.


These daunting tactical challenges also, as in the past, generate strategic and geopolitical problems. The perception of victory often counts more than the battlefield result, both in the region and in the larger international contest. Nasrallah excels at spinning defeat into victory. The 2006 war began when Hezbollah captured two IDF soldiers. In an unguarded moment shortly after the cessation of hostilities, he admitted that he did not anticipate, “even by 1 percent,” that the snatch “would result in such a wide-scale war, as such a war did not take place in the history of wars. Had we known” what would result, “we would not have carried it out at all.” But in short order, survival became triumph, a bit of propaganda that caught on in outlets such as the Economist, which declared, “Nasrallah wins the war.” By now even many Israelis, especially on the political left, concur; in an otherwise thoughtful analysis of the current situation, Ha’aretz concluded that the 2006 campaign “remains a resounding failure.” The standard of victory for Israel remains almost impossibly high…

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




On Topic Links


Lebanese PM Hariri lands in Beirut, Attends National Day Parade: Jerusalem Post, Nov. 22, 2017—Saad al-Hariri attended independence day celebrations in Beirut on Wednesday after returning to Lebanon for the first time since resigning as prime minister in a broadcast from Saudi Arabia. Hariri, whose sudden resignation on November 4 pitched Lebanon into crisis, flew into Beirut late on Tuesday. He stood alongside President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri at a military parade in central Beirut.

Iran Commander: Hezbollah’s Weapons are ‘Nonnegotiable’: Times of Israel, Nov. 23, 2017—The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on Thursday rejected the possibility of disarming the Iran-backed and Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror organization or entering into negotiations over its ballistic missile program.

Hezbollah Consolidates Its Stranglehold Over Lebanon: Michael J. Totten, World Affairs Journal, Nov. 7, 2017— Saad Hariri resigned his post as Lebanon's prime minister, citing an assassination plot brewing against him, presumably from his former government coalition partner Hezbollah.

The Iran-Hamas-Hezbollah Connection: Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute, Nov. 8, 2017—The Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, has had enough. Last week, Iran finalized its takeover of Lebanon when Hariri resigned, and reportedly fled to Saudi Arabia.







Escalation in the Conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia: Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall, JCPA, November 9, 2017— Iran and Saudi Arabia, on the two sides of the Sunni-Shiite fault line, are trying to gain influence in reshaping the Middle East.

Saudi Purges and Duty to Act: Caroline B. Glick, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 6, 2017— For 70 years, Saudi Arabia served as the largest and most significant incubator of Sunni jihad.

Saudi Crackdown Raises Specter of Wider Dissent: Dr. James M. Dorsey, BESA, Nov. 6, 2017— Prince Muhammad has dismissed and/or detained eleven princes…

Jared Kushner, Mohammed bin Salman, and Benjamin Netanyahu Are Up to Something: Dov Zakheim, Foreign Policy, Nov. 7, 2017— There seems to be a general consensus in Washington that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ongoing purge of princes and businessmen…



On Topic Links


Saudi Arabia Might Recognize Israel Because Of NEOM: Andrew Korybko, Oriental Review, Oct. 26, 2017

What the Political Turmoil in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon Means for Israel: Ron Kampeas, Times of Israel, Nov. 8, 2017

The End of Saudi-Style Stability: Thomas W. Lippman, New York Times, Nov. 8, 2017

Saudi Arabia’s 'Saturday Night Massacre' Might Play Right Into US Interests: John Hannah, The Hill, Nov. 7, 2017




IRAN AND SAUDI ARABIA                                                                     

Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall

JCPA, November 9, 2017


Iran and Saudi Arabia, on the two sides of the Sunni-Shiite fault line, are trying to gain influence in reshaping the Middle East. They are ratcheting up the war between them in their secondary arenas of conflict, namely Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran has also warned that its Houthi allies in Yemen will launch missiles at the United Arab Emirates because of its involvement, alongside the Saudi Arabian coalition, in the ongoing conflict in Yemen.


The erstwhile Lebanese prime minister, Saad Hariri, who resigned and took refuge in Saudi Arabia, accused Iran of trying to assassinate him. (In 2005, working with Hizbullah and Syria, Iran assassinated his father, Rafik Hariri). Iran today is indeed working, through Hizbullah, to consolidate its grip on Lebanon. It hastened to deny Hariri’s accusation and claimed his resignation was nothing but a “plot” to raise the tension in the region. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s adviser, Hussein Sheikh al-Islam, who served as ambassador to Syria, charged that the United States and Saudi Arabia were behind the plot.


With Hariri’s resignation and accusations against Iran, the protracted struggle between the two rival regional powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia, has reached an apex. Both powers are trying, in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, to shape the Middle East in line with their respective worldviews. This struggle has been waged for a long time – since before the Arab Spring – and now extends over all of the Middle East from the Persian Gulf to North Africa.


A short time after Hariri arrived in Saudi Arabia and denounced Iran, the Houthi rebels in Yemen – who receive military and propaganda support from Iran and Hizbullah – fired a Borkan-2 (Volcano-2) long-range ballistic missile at Riyadh’s international airport. Saudi Patriot defense batteries fired, and parts of the missile landed on the outskirts of the airport and caused property damage. Houthi “combat information” claimed the attack and uploaded to its Twitter account a video of the alleged launch. In the background, the launch crew shout “Death to America, Death to Israel, curse upon the Jews, Victory to Islam.”


After the firing of the missile, the radical Iranian newspaper Kayhan, which is Khamenei’s mouthpiece, had a lead headline “Ansar-Allah’s missile launch at Riyadh, next target, Dubai.” It praised the launch and justified it “in light of the ongoing Saudi aggression in Yemen and their strikes against women and children.” Kayhan also leveled a direct threat at the United Arab Emirates, which is part of the Saudi coalition in Yemen, saying it is now a target for Houthi missiles. “The Saudi nightmare is coming true, and even the UAE recognizes the fact that the recent threats of Abdulmalik Houthi, leader of the Houthis, to hit the Emirates are being fulfilled. A spokesman for the Houthis said at the end of October 2017 that Abu Dhabi is the main target of their ballistic missiles.”  Kayhan noted that not only the missiles’ range but also their accuracy is improving. Hence the UAE’s rulers must


“… recognize the new reality and flee from Yemen…. They must understand that their turn has come and they must pay the price for their crimes in Yemen…. Not only is Saudi Arabia no longer safe but the same is true of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which, though they have not been hit [by missiles] so far, can no longer be considered a safe location, not for the Western capitalists either…. From now Ansrallah [the Houthis] will mark targets for long-range missiles in Riyadh, Jeddah, Ta’if, [cities in Saudi Arabia] or perhaps the port of Dubai…”


Since the Houthi ballistic missile attack, the Saudi-led coalition has tightened the siege of Houthi-held areas in Yemen, blocking even UN-supervised relief supplies, claiming that its action was aimed at preventing “smuggling of (Iranian) missiles and military equipment” to the Houthis. It should be noted that UAE forces are operating mainly in southern Yemen against the Al Qaeda and Islamic State terror organizations and are also training local forces to fight these organizations as well as the Houthi rebels…

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





Caroline B. Glick

Jerusalem Post, Nov. 6, 2017


For 70 years, Saudi Arabia served as the largest and most significant incubator of Sunni jihad. Its Wahhabist Islamic establishment funded radical mosques throughout the world. Saudi princes have supported radical Islamic clerics who have indoctrinated their followers to pursue jihad against the non-Islamic world. Saudi money stands behind most of the radical Islamic groups in the non-Islamic world that have in turn financed terrorist groups like Hamas and al-Qaida and have insulated radical Islam from scrutiny by Western governments and academics. Indeed, Saudi money stands behind the silence of critics of jihadist Islam in universities throughout the Western world.


As Mitchell Bard documented in his 2011 book, The Arab Lobby, any power pro-Israel forces in Washington, DC, have developed pales in comparison to the power of Arab forces, led by the Saudi government. Saudi government spending on lobbyists in Washington far outstrips that of any other nation. According to Justice Department disclosures from earlier this year, since 2015, Saudi Arabia vastly increased its spending on influence peddling. According to a report by The Intercept, “Since 2015, the Kingdom has expanded the number of foreign agents on retainer to 145, up from 25 registered agents during the previous two-year period.”


Saudi lobbyists shielded the kingdom from serious criticism after 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were shown to be Saudi nationals. They blocked a reconsideration of the US’s strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia after the attacks and in subsequent years, even as it was revealed that Princess Haifa, wife of Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to Washington at the time the September 11 attacks occurred, had financially supported two of the hijackers in the months that preceded the attacks.


The US position on Saudi Arabia cooled demonstrably during the Obama administration. This cooling was not due to a newfound concern over Saudi financial support for radical Islam in the US. To the contrary, the Obama administration was friendlier to Islamists than any previous administration. Consider the Obama administration’s placement of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in key positions in the federal government. For instance, in 2010, then secretary for Homeland Security Janet Napolitano appointed Mohamed Elibiary to the department’s Homeland Security Advisory Board. Elibiary had a long, open record of support both for the Muslim Brotherhood and for the Iranian regime. In his position he was instrumental in purging discussion of Islam and Jihad from instruction materials used by the US military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies. The Obama administration’s cold relations with the Saudi regime owed to its pronounced desire to ditch the US’s traditional alliance with the Saudis, the Egyptians and the US’s other traditional Sunni allies in favor of an alliance with the Iranian regime.


During the same period, the Muslim Brotherhood’s close ties to the Iranian regime became increasingly obvious. Among other indicators, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated president Mohamed Morsi hosted Iranian leaders in Cairo and was poised to renew Egypt’s diplomatic ties with Iran before he was overthrown by the military in July 2013. Morsi permitted Iranian warships to traverse the Suez Canal for the first time in decades. Saudi Arabia joined Egypt and the United Arab Emirates in designating the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group in 2014.


It was also during this period that the Saudis began warming their attitude toward Israel. Through Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and due to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leading role in opposing Iran’s nuclear program and its rising power in the Middle East, the Saudis began changing their positions on Israel. Netanyahu’s long-time foreign policy adviser, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs president Dr. Dore Gold, who authored the 2003 bestseller Hatred’s Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism which exposed Saudi Arabia’s role in promoting jihadist Islam, spearheaded a process of developing Israel’s security and diplomatic ties with Riyadh. Those ties, which are based on shared opposition to Iran’s regional empowerment, led to the surprising emergence of a working alliance between Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE with Israel during Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas – the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.


It is in the context of Saudi Arabia’s reassessment of its interests and realignment of strategic posture in recent years that the dramatic events of the past few days in the kingdom must be seen. Saturday’s sudden announcement that a new anti-corruption panel headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the near simultaneous announcement of the arrest of more than two dozen royal family members, cabinet ministers and prominent businessmen is predominantly being presented as a power seizure by the crown prince. Amid widespread rumors that King Salman will soon abdicate the throne to his son, it is reasonable for the 32-year-old crown prince to work to neutralize all power centers that could threaten his ascension to the throne.


But there is clearly also something strategically more significant going on. While many of the officials arrested over the weekend threaten Mohammed’s power, they aren’t the only ones that he has purged. In September Mohammed arrested some 30 senior Wahhabist clerics and intellectuals. And Saturday’s arrest of the princes, cabinet ministers and business leaders was followed up by further arrests of senior Wahhabist clerics. At the same time, Mohammed has been promoting clerics who espouse tolerance for other religions, including Judaism and Christianity. He has removed the Saudi religious police’s power to conduct arrests and he has taken seemingly credible steps to finally lift the kingdom-wide prohibition on women driving.


At the same time, Mohammed has escalated the kingdom’s operations against Iran’s proxies in Yemen. And of course, on Saturday, he staged the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri amid Hariri’s allegations that Hezbollah and Iran were plotting his murder, much as they stood behind the 2005 assassination of his father, prime minister Rafiq Hariri. There can be little doubt that there was coordination between the Saudi regime and the Trump administration regarding Saturday’s actions. The timing of the administration’s release last week of most of the files US special forces seized during their 2011 raid of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan was likely not a coincidence…

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





Dr. James M. Dorsey

BESA, Nov. 6, 2017


Prince Muhammad has dismissed and/or detained eleven princes, various senior government officials, top military officers, and an unidentified number of prominent businessmen largely linked to different factions within the ruling family. He will also be heading a new anti-corruption committee that will be looking into the handling of the Jeddah floods of 2009.


Those floods killed 120 people and caused destruction as well as prolonged power outages in Jeddah. The floods triggered an unusual public debate about the management of public funds and infrastructure defects. The Saudis said the port city’s poor infrastructure was the reason why the floods had such a devastating effect, prompting dozens to protest. In 2011, another protest arose in response to a mass Blackberry message campaign calling on residents to gather on the city’s main shopping street. Up to 50 protestors are believed to have been arrested.


The government, in a bid to address the frustration in Jeddah, this year contracted China’s state-owned Chinese Communication Construction Group (CCCG) to build a 37-kilometer channel to catch rain and flood water. “It might be an ordinary channel in another area, but it isn’t the same in Saudi Arabia and it has special importance and came after painful lessons,” said Ma Chifeng, the director of CCCG’s Jeddah City Project for Flood Drainage.


The political crackdown is of course about much more than the Jeddah floods, even if making them one of the anti-corruption committee’s initial focal points is significant. Among those dismissed and/or detained were National Guard head Prince Meteb bin Abdullah; economy minister and former Jeddah mayor Adel bin Mohammad Fakeih; and navy commander Abdullah al-Sultan, as well as reportedly businessmen such as multi-billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz, a major shareholder in some of the world’s best-known blue chips and a media mogul who is widely seen as a liberal. Also swept up in the crackdown were Waleed bin Ibrahim al-Ibrahim, a brother-in-law of King Fahd; Abdulaziz bin Fahd, the late king’s son and owner of the Middle East Broadcasting Company (MBC), which operates the Al Arabiya television network; and Saleh Kamel, head of one of the Middle East’s largest conglomerates, who in the past had close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood…


The crackdown on National Guard and military commanders coincided with the firing of a missile by Houthi rebels at Riyadh, a signal that the Saudi capital is now within their range. The firing suggested that Saudi Arabia’s strategy in the two and one-half year-long Yemen war, based on an air campaign rather than the commitment of Saudi ground troops, has so far failed to achieve its declared goal of ensuring the kingdom’s security. The crackdown also follows the disappearance and alleged kidnapping of three of four known dissident members of the Saudi ruling family who had gone into exile in Europe. Among the four were Prince Turki bin Bandar, a former senior police officer responsible for policing the ruling family; and Prince Sultan bin Turki, the husband of a late daughter of King Abdullah.


It also follows a wave of earlier arrests of scores of Islamic scholars, judges, and intellectuals whose views run the gamut from ultra-conservative to liberal. Among those arrested were scholars Salman al-Odah, Aaidh al-Qarni, and Ali al-Omari; poet Ziyad bin Naheet, and economist Essam al-Zamil, some of whom have more than 17 million followers on Twitter. The detentions were designed to silence 1) alleged support in the kingdom for an end to the almost four-month old Gulf crisis that has pitted Saudi Arabia and its allies against Qatar; 2) mounting criticism of the kingdom’s conduct in the Yemen war; and 3) criticism of Prince Muhammad’s reforms.


Beyond grandiose plans, Prince Muhammad has yet to deliver on the economic aspects of his reform plans articulated in his Vision 2030. He has so far delivered on limited, headline-grabbing social changes, such as lifting the ban on women’s driving and the granting of access for women to sports stadia. These changes were needed for his economic reforms as well as for the encouragement of greater entertainment opportunities that contribute to economic growth and address grievances among youth, who account for a majority of the kingdom’s population. Prince Muhammad has yet to deliver on jobs in a country that has high un- and under-employment and whose population has been weaned on cradle-to-grave welfare.


The most recent crackdown breaks with the tradition of consensus within the ruling family, whose secretive inner workings are equivalent to those of the Kremlin at the time of the Soviet Union. The dismissals and detentions suggest that Prince Muhammad, rather than forging alliances, is extending his iron grip to the ruling family, the military, and the National Guard to counter what appears to be widespread opposition within the family as well as the military to his reforms and the Yemen war. This raises questions about a reform process that is increasingly based on a unilateral rather than a consensual rewriting of the kingdom’s social contract. “It is hard to envisage MBS [Prince Muhammad] succeeding in his ambitious plans by royal decree. He needs to garner more consent. To obtain it, he must learn to tolerate debate and disagreement,” wrote The Economist.





Dov Zakheim

Foreign Policy, Nov. 7, 2017


There seems to be a general consensus in Washington that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ongoing purge of princes and businessmen — including the wealthiest of them all, the business mogul and Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal — is motivated by his determination to consolidate his power, well before his father, King Salman, passes from the scene. He is in this regard a latter-day Adonijah, who had himself crowned king while his father King David was alive. And, like Adonijah, Mohammed bin Salman has made some very powerful enemies in the process. Unlike that Biblical figure, however, he has his father’s support and has taken care to arrest anyone who might threaten his drive to preeminence.


Jared Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, was in Riyadh again only recently. It was his third trip to Saudi Arabia since Trump took office. He again met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with whom he appears to have established a close personal relationship. It should therefore come as no surprise that Trump, who shares the young crown prince’s antipathy toward Iran, has commented favorably on the recent developments in Riyadh.


It is said of Donald Trump that he has undermined America’s credibility with its allies. That may be the case in Europe, and perhaps in parts of Asia, though not in Japan or India. But it is certainly not the case in the Middle East. Tensions with Turkey and Egypt emanate primarily from the U.S. Congress, not from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Relations with Israel are better than they have been since the day former President Barack Obama took office. The same can be said of U.S. relations with both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates or, for that matter, Bahrain and Morocco. The force that unites them all is Iran, whose support for instability throughout the region received a financial fillip from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — that is, the Iran nuclear deal.


Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may or may not be a true reformer. His record on that score is not unequivocal. But he is determined to halt the expansion of Iranian influence, which now really does manifest itself as the Shiite crescent about which Jordan’s King Abdullah II forewarned over a decade ago. The crown prince recognizes that his country’s worst nightmare is slowly materializing: Iran is supplying the Houthi rebels to its south and dominates neighboring Iraq to its north. It foments instability in Bahrain and could well do the same in Saudi Arabia’s Shiite-majority Eastern Province. And if that were not enough, Iran’s influence is entrenched in Damascus and Beirut. It is particularly for that reason the Saudis forced their ally Saad Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister, to resign his office while on a visit to the Kingdom.


Mohammed bin Salman may or may not have recently visited Tel Aviv, where Israel’s Defense Ministry is located. But even if he never set foot in the HaKirya complex, there is little doubt that he has authorized ever closer relations with the Israelis, who view the Iranian threat exactly as he does. And the crown prince is not the only one Jared Kushner has been speaking to: Trump has given his son-in-law overall leadership on the peace process between Israel and the Arabs, and he is reportedly a welcome guest in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.


Given Kushner’s role, did Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman signal his plans when Kushner last met with him — and did Kushner then inform his father-in-law? And if so, how far will Washington, or more precisely, the White House, go to back up the Saudis if their confrontation with Iran gets hot? Or will Israel serve as Trump’s proxy? With this president, this crown prince, and the current prime minister of Israel, anything is possible.



On Topic Links


Saudi Arabia Might Recognize Israel Because Of NEOM: Andrew Korybko, Oriental Review, Oct. 26, 2017 —The ambitious Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman unveiled a $500 billion project at an investment forum earlier this week in an effort to bring some serious substance to his Vision 2030 project of fundamentally diversifying his country’s oil-dependent economy in the coming decade.

What the Political Turmoil in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon Means for Israel: Ron Kampeas, Times of Israel, Nov. 8, 2017—What is MBS? Why did Lebanon’s prime minister resign — and why in Saudi Arabia? What’s Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas doing in Saudi Arabia? Where is Jared Kushner in all this? And what does it all mean for Israel?

The End of Saudi-Style Stability: Thomas W. Lippman, New York Times, Nov. 8, 2017—For decades, Saudi Arabia was a stable and reliable economic and strategic partner of the United States. That country no longer exists.

Saudi Arabia’s 'Saturday Night Massacre' Might Play Right Into US Interests: John Hannah, The Hill, Nov. 7, 2017—Most of us have told our kids that the ends don’t justify the means. But what if your objective is something as audacious as rapidly modernizing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?






Saudis and Women: Editorial, Jerusalem Post, Apr. 24, 2017— Saudi Arabia is a fiercely, even violently, religious nation.

Hatred, Courage and the Israeli-Saudi Connection: Lela Gilbert, Algemeiner, Apr. 2, 2017 — During recent years, dramatic political changes have shaken the Middle East.

Sino-Saudi Alignment in Yemen and Escalating Conflict: Michael Tanchum, Jerusalem Post, Mar. 25, 2017— Like a weather vane, the recent visit to China by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman points to changing strategic directions in the Middle East-Asia security architecture.

With an Arab NATO and a Contained Iran, Trump is Changing the Middle East: Lawrence Solomon, National Post, Mar. 27, 2017 — Donald Trump’s Middle East policy is emerging.


On Topic Links


Jim Mattis, in Saudi Visit, Calls for Political Solution in Yemen: Helene Cooper, New York Times, Apr. 19, 2017

Yemeni Minister: Our Last Jews Are at Risk of Ethnic Cleansing by Iran-Backed Rebels: Tower, Apr. 17, 2017

Like Israel, Saudis Pinning Hopes on Trump: Ben Lynfield, Jerusalem Post, Mar. 16, 2017

Oman: The Middle East's Most Surprising Country: Daniel Pipes, Washington Times, Mar. 15, 2017




                                                 Jerusalem Post, Apr. 24, 2017


Saudi Arabia is a fiercely, even violently, religious nation. Deera Square (also known as Chop Chop Square), where beheadings are carried out for offenses such as blasphemy or homosexuality, is a testament to the brutal seriousness with which Saudi Arabia guards its traditions at home. Of course, there is a Janus face to this fanaticism. It is an open secret that royals fly abroad to enjoy the pleasures of the West, while at home they give free rein to reactionary clerics to treat women like chattel and demonize Westerners.


Cleaving to a hardline and literal interpretation of Shari’a law and strongly influenced by pre-Islam Beduin customs, Saudis have never claimed to be anything but zealots and bigots who view the female sex as inherently subordinate and deserving of abusive treatment. Nearly every society must grapple with balancing ancient traditions with freedoms. For the Saudis it was always a no-brainer. And they are proud of it.


The world community has done little to champion human rights in Saudi Arabia. Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom’s denunciation of Riyadh in 2015 for flogging Raif Badawi for purportedly criticizing Islam was a rarity. But neither has there been a campaign to tout the Saudis as champions of gender equality or religious diversity or to nominate them for distinction in the field of human rights. Yet, a UN body has done just that. Saudi Arabia was elected last week via secret ballot in the UN Economic and Social Council to the 45-member UN Commission on the Status of Women.


Saudi Arabia, a country that has in place a system of institutionalized male dominance, has now been tapped to monitor the status of women in the world. Vital decisions for Saudi women, such as availing oneself of medical care, enrolling in a university or traveling abroad, must receive the approval of a father, brother or other male relative. Every Saudi woman has a designated guardian that essentially runs her life. This guardian can be many years younger, less educated and less responsible. Often gender is his only perceivable advantage.


A litany of prohibitions regulates the lives of the Saudi woman. She is not permitted to drive, she cannot wear clothes or makeup that “show off beauty” but must wear an abaya (long cloak) and a head scarf. Government buildings, hotel lobbies, restaurants, public transportation, parks and other public places are strictly gender-segregated. Women face harsher punishment than men for unlawful mixing. Women are not allowed to try on clothes when shopping, as though the very thought of a partially dressed woman behind a dressing-room door is too suggestive.


Why would the UN appoint Saudi Arabia as a defender of women’s rights, a country where a woman cannot even open a bank account without her husband’s permission and received the right to vote and run for office in municipal elections just two years ago? It should not come as too much of a surprise. After all, this is the same UN whose Human Rights Council enforces Agenda Item 7, which dictates that Israel’s purported human rights violations must be raised and discussed every single time the UNHRC convenes. More UNHRC condemnations are made against Israel than against all other countries in the world combined.


Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, has pledged to change what she calls the “culture” of the international body. She has already done much to combat the knee-jerk criticism directed against Israel that characterizes so much of UN discourse. Perhaps her next order of business will be to help ensure that countries like Saudi Arabia are singled out for their human rights violations. It would be fitting if Haley’s strong female leadership became the driving force for a campaign within the UN to condemn Saudi Arabia for the suppression of half of its population.


The UN once was and might again be a force for good in the world. The potential is boundless for an institution that brings together all the nations of the world. Wars can be prevented; blatant human rights abuses can be stopped; the damage resulting from famine and natural disaster can be ameliorated. All this and more can be achieved through dialogue and cooperation. However, before any of this can happen, the UN must have a minimum level of self-respect that prevents it from appointing Saudi Arabia to a council responsible for safeguarding the rights of women.






Lela Gilbert                                                                      

Algemeiner, Apr. 2, 2017


During recent years, dramatic political changes have shaken the Middle East. Some have described these events metaphorically as “shifting desert sands.” They have also been defined as dramatic realignments of political seismic plates. Some of the more terrifying changes have called to mind the proverbial “end of days.” Others look a little like minor miracles, so unlikely are the players and so unexpected their praiseworthy actions. Who could have predicted, for example, that a young Saudi intellectual would visit Jerusalem and then courageously write an open letter to his generation, expressing both hope and desire for political transformation? His dream? That Saudi Arabia’s vibrant young defense minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud will embrace a new vision for Saudi Arabia – including peace with Israel.


Consider the writer’s opening paragraph: “Having read the article in Foreign Affairs about Prince Mohammad bin Salman, and in the wake of publicity following his meeting with President Trump this week, I would like to offer a candid view that speaks for many Saudis of my generation. Like King Talut of the Holy Quran (corresponding to the biblical King Saul), whom the Quran credits with saving the Jewish people from an enemy bent on their destruction, the young prince bears a similar responsibility — addressing many challenges in order to achieve the goal of transforming his people to greater strength. Prince Mohammad bin Salman may well be God’s chosen to help lead Saudi Arabia through the political, economic, and social challenges it faces. This letter offers suggestions he may consider useful in dealing with them.”


Yes, it really happened. Abdul-Hameed Hakeem’s open letter was published by the Washington Institute on March 21. And here’s how it came to pass. One excellent writer about Middle East realities is Ambassador Dore Gold, who until recently served as director-general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He is now president of the highly regarded Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Gold’s 2003 book, Hatred’s Kingdom, focused on Saudi Arabia and spelled out the precarious balancing act the oil-rich Arab country has been performing for decades – juggling two opposing forces: the secular Western world that buys massive amounts of its oil, and radical Islamism, embodied in Saudi’s Wahabi religious leadership.


In Hatred’s Kingdom, Gold summed up the danger personified by the Saudis: “President Bush asked, after the destruction of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon, whether nations are with the United States or with the terrorists. Despite Saudi Arabia’s insistence to the contrary, the record makes it frighteningly clear that the Saudi kingdom is, at this point, with the terrorists. Indeed, it is Saudi Arabia that has spawned the new global terrorists. Unless the Saudi regime feels pressure to change, the hatred that has motivated a horrifying series of worldwide terrorist attacks – including the attacks of September 11 – will only go on. And as long as the hatred continues, the terror will go on.”


The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s leadership – its enormous royal family – has for decades relied on the West’s consumption of its petroleum resources to support the kingdom’s economy; Western oil purchases also finance the royals’ lavish and sometimes decadent lifestyle. But the royal family is, at the same time, obliged to enforce hardline religious laws established by the severe Wahabist religious system. Wahabism, a sect that came into being in the 18th century, seeks to return Sunni Islam to its earliest roots – the days of Mohammad and his first followers. It curses both Christians (Crusaders) and Jews (sons of pigs and dogs), as was explicitly declared in several of Osama bin Laden’s pontifications.


Much of the anti-Jewish animus in Saudi Arabia is focused on Israel and Zionism. Israeli passport-bearers are banned from entering the country; even travelers with Israeli visas stamped in their passports are turned away. Obvious Jewish religious attire and symbols, such as Star of David jewelry, and religious books are also forbidden. In December 2014, the Saudi government opened the door just a crack, declaring that Jews could work inside the kingdom. But they made it clear that their newfound openness to Jews did not include Israelis.


Gold’s book meticulously documents the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s dangerous ideology, which inspired Al-Qaeda and innumerable other Sunni jihadi groups. These days, however, bin Laden is history; no longer the incarnation of Wahabism. At the same time, several stunning and unforeseen political events have perhaps permanently shifted Middle East politics.

First came the so-called Arab Spring in 2011. Despite its custodianship of Mecca and Medina – sometimes described as “Islam’s Vatican” – Saudi Arabia’s kings and princes have long attracted the ire of Sunni and Shia radicals alike. The Arab Spring perilously increased the likelihood of fanatical revolutionaries spilling across Saudi Arabia’s borders. At the same time, it became uncomfortably clear that the Obama Administration was taking a hands-off approach to the Middle East turmoil, proving itself unwilling to stand behind its historic allies. This became alarmingly evident across the region after President Barack Obama’s “red line” regarding chemical weapons remained unenforced in the Syrian Civil War.


Then came unmitigated upheaval in Libya, Iraq and Egypt in which America seemed to side with her enemies and turn away from her allies. Would the kingdom’s betrayal come next? Meanwhile, the centuries-old Sunni-Shia conflict was edging toward center stage again. The gradual exposure of Obama’s initially secret negotiations with Iran – the avowed archenemy of the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia – encouraged and emboldened the Ayatollahs. Would the alleged (and likely) Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapon ever actually be stopped? On the other hand, there was no denying an impressive array of Israeli achievements: ever-increasing high tech innovation and mastery, cyberwarfare capabilities, natural gas discoveries, a flourishing economy, and thriving international relations. The successful international diplomacy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – sometimes at the expense of Obama’s agenda – was reflected in his effective outreach to friends and former foes alike…                                                                          

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



SINO-SAUDI ALIGNMENT IN YEMEN AND ESCALATING CONFLICT                                                                   

Michael Tanchum                                                                                                                    

Jerusalem Post, Mar. 25, 2017


Like a weather vane, the recent visit to China by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman points to changing strategic directions in the Middle East-Asia security architecture. The significance of the Saudi monarch’s meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other top officials goes well beyond the hefty $65 billion of economic and trade deals signed between Riyadh and Beijing. The visit confirmed the nascent strategic partnership developing between China and Saudi Arabia as Beijing seeks to promote stability along the trade routes of China’s 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, now threatened by the escalating violence of Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen.


Although the first day of the Saudi monarch’s visit, March 16, 2017, grabbed international headlines with the signing of a $65b. Sino-Saudi trade and investment package, the 20-plus agreements on oil investment and energy largely follow the traditional transactional pattern of Sino-Saudi cooperation. King Salman’s visit to Beijing was truly noteworthy for cementing and advancing the strategic partnership established between China and Saudi Arabia during Xi Jinping’s January 2016 visit to Riyadh. Three days prior to the Saudi monarch’s visit, China’s Foreign Ministry declared, “We stand ready to take King Salman’s visit as an opportunity to take [the] China-Saudi Arabia comprehensive strategic partnership to a higher level.” King Salman reciprocated with his declaration in Beijing that “Saudi Arabia is willing to work hard with China to promote global and regional peace, security, and prosperity.”


The source of China and Saudi Arabia’s increasing alignment of interests is China’s effort to create its self-declared 21st Century Maritime Silk Road – a China- to-Europe maritime commercial transportation corridor consisting of a series of Chinese-built port installations extending westward across the Indian Ocean and then via the Red Sea and Suez Canal to the now Chinese- owned Pireaus seaport, on Greece’s Mediterranean coast. Having heavily invested in Piraeus to transform it into one of the world’s state-of-the-art container ports, Beijing now owns and operates one of the European Union’s major seaports as the MSR’s main outlet point for Chinese goods to enter European markets.


The single greatest threat to China’s economic interests in creating and preserving the reliable and cost-efficient flow of commerce across the MSR is Iran. Overall, Beijing maintains a careful balance between its relations with Iran and its relations with Saudi Arabia. In January 2016, Xi Jinping visited both Riyadh and Tehran, where he and his Iranian counterpart agreed to a 10-year program to raise Chinese-Iranian bilateral trade to $600 billion. Nevertheless, Tehran’s effort to expand its sphere of influence to the Gulf of Aden-Red Sea corridor through its proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen and the Horn of Africa represents a disruption to the maritime security domain that China cannot tolerate. In January 2016, Beijing declared its support for Yemen’s efforts to defeat Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.


Two weeks after Beijing’s declaration for Yemen’s government, Houthi rebels supplied with Iranian technology attacked a Saudi frigate with an improvised “drone” attack boat, a remote-controlled boat laden with explosives. Iran has continued to escalate its support to Houthi rebels with the provision of more sophisticated weapons technology including the transfer of Iranian aerial drones and quite likely anti-ship missiles. On March 10, a Yemeni coast-guard vessel was destroyed in the narrow Bab el-Mandeb strait between the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. In response to the maritime threats, China is constructing of its first overseas base in Djibouti, which strategically straddles the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea on the shore opposite Yemen in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. Just prior to Xi Jinping’s January 2016 visit to Saudi Arabia, Djibouti formally severed diplomatic relations with Tehran and then signed a security cooperation agreement with Riyadh. Saudi Arabia is currently finalizing arrangements with Djibouti for the establishment of a Saudi base in addition to the Chinese naval base that will have the capacity to house 10,000 personnel.


The Sino-Saudi agreement to collaborate on drone manufacturing signed during King Salman’s Beijing visit serves as another indication that the two countries may be looking to their strategic cooperation to contain Iranian activities in Gulf of Aden-Red Sea corridor. China’s acceptance of Saudi Arabia’s interventions in a vital sea lane of the MSR and Saudi Arabia’s embrace of China as potential security partner signals a consequential shift in the Middle East-Asia security architecture. Any further escalation of Iran’s proxy wars in the Gulf of Aden-Red Sea corridor is likely to drive Beijing and Riyadh close together as strategic partners for maritime security.                                     



WITH AN ARAB NATO AND A CONTAINED IRAN,                                                     

TRUMP IS CHANGING THE MIDDLE EAST                                                                                   

Lawrence Solomon                                                                                             

National Post, Mar. 27, 2017


Donald Trump’s Middle East policy is emerging. Apart from supporting Israel, he wants to eradicate ISIL and other Islamic jihadists, he wants to deter Iran and its dream of hegemony over the entire Middle East, and he wants the Arab countries to bear the burden of their own defence. His answer: an Arab NATO, funded by its Arab members and aided by the military and intelligence assets of Israel and the United States.


The idea of a military alliance among the Arab nations first came from Egypt’s President Abdel al-Sisi two years ago in February, 2015, when he went on national television to warn about radical jihadis across the Middle East. The Arab League at its summit the following month endorsed the concept, and military heads from 11 Arab countries (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Sudan, Libya and Jordan) then met to work out the details.


But al-Sisi’s plans soon went into a deep freeze, despite a push by Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who argued in June 2015 testimony to two Congressional subcommittees that the U.S. should “fully support, help organize, and assist those regional partners create an ‘Arab NATO-like’ structure and framework. Build an Arab Army that is able to secure their regional responsibilities.” Flynn was especially focused on deterring a Russia-backed Iran, which poses a nuclear threat to the United States as well as to the countries of the Middle East — not just Israel, about which Iran is most vocal, but also the Sunni Arab states and Sunni Turkey, a NATO ally of the U.S.


Upon becoming president, Trump immediately revived the al-Sisi-Flynn plan. Rather than accepting America’s outsized military burden in the Middle East, he pressed the Arab NATO plan with Arab diplomats in Washington through Flynn, who had become his national security advisor, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Trump personally took the issue up with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was immediately receptive. “I believe that the great opportunity for peace comes from a regional approach from involving our newfound Arab partners,” Netanyahu stated at a joint press conference with Trump when in Washington in February. Elaborated Trump: “It is something that is very different, hasn’t been discussed before. And it’s actually a much bigger deal — much more important deal in a sense. It would take in many, many countries and would cover a very large territory.”


The “much bigger deal” involves something for all the Sunni Arab states in the region. Saudi Arabia needs help fighting the Iranian-backed Houtis in Yemen, Egypt needs help countering threats from Libya, all are at risk from ISIL. As a down payment on the deal, the Trump administration launched a commando raid into Yemen. To seal the deal, Trump must overcome Arab fears of being accused of entering an alliance with Israel. Arab leaders have asked Trump to hold off moving his embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and to prevent Israel from building new settlements, requests with which Trump is complying. In short order, Trump has begun to realign the Arab armies, at the same time indicating he has their back against a nuclear-powered Iran bent on hegemony over the Middle East. Judging by the reaction of Iran, Trump’s approach is working.


After Iran’s long-range missile launch on Jan. 29, shortly after Trump’s inauguration, it was menacingly “put on notice” by the Trump administration, and to immediate effect. Iran soon cancelled a follow-up launch of a long-range missile that had been planned, and even cancelled a non-military launch of a satellite, for fear of rousing Trump’s ire. According to Iran’s Tasnin News Agency, a frustrated Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force, bitterly complained that Iran had been deterred “because of America’s angry tone … How much longer will we be blackmailed and forced to compromise? If we do not change our strategy, and continue to operate according to orders from officials who are stuck in the mud, our situation will deteriorate daily.”


The deterrence went further. Iran has stopped provoking U.S. navy vessels on the water, all but stopped its public threats to sink them, all but stopped burning the American flag, all but stopped its “Death to America” calls. Iran’s reticence to provoke the U.S. has continued despite criticism. As put in one Iranian article earlier this month, “when Trump was elected, (government officials) said that Trump was unpredictable and makes unconsidered decisions – and that is why it is better for us to refrain from saying anything to offend him…” Adding to Iran’s angst is a fear that Russia has abandoned it, after being wooed into an alliance with the U.S. that will see Iran squeezed out of Syria.


Iran is now on its back foot, concluded an analysis by the Middle East Media Research Institute, saying “These developments have given rise in Tehran to a sense that it is besieged and under an emerging existential threat, in light of the crystallization of a comprehensive U.S.-Russia-Arab (including Israel) front against the Iranian revolutionary regime.” Trump, in contrast, is leaning forward, his assertive Middle East diplomacy, two months into his presidency, showing astonishingly promising results.




On Topic Links


Jim Mattis, in Saudi Visit, Calls for Political Solution in Yemen: Helene Cooper, New York Times, Apr. 19, 2017— Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called on Wednesday for a political solution in Yemen between Sunni Arabs, supported by a Saudi-led coalition, and Iranian-backed Houthis, but he stopped short of publicly warning America’s Sunni allies against a planned bombing campaign targeting the port city of Al Hudaydah.

Yemeni Minister: Our Last Jews Are at Risk of Ethnic Cleansing by Iran-Backed Rebels: Tower, Apr. 17, 2017—There are an estimated 50 Jews remaining in Yemen—all at risk of an ethnic cleansing campaign spearheaded by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, Yemen’s information minister told Israel Radio on Sunday.

Like Israel, Saudis Pinning Hopes on Trump: Ben Lynfield, Jerusalem Post, Mar. 16, 2017—New winds are blowing from Washington, and the Saudis, like Israel, believe they are far more favorable than those that prevailed under the Obama administration. Saudi officials were so ebullient about a meeting at the White House between Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman and Donald Trump Tuesday that they praised the US president as a “true friend of Muslims who will serve the Muslim world in an unimaginable manner.”

Oman: The Middle East's Most Surprising Country: Daniel Pipes, Washington Times, Mar. 15, 2017—Oman, where I have spent the past week, is an Arab country unlike any other. Count the ways.





















Selling Trump a New Afghanistan Commitment: Josh Rogin, Washington Post, Feb. 26, 2017— The Trump administration is considering whether to plunge more resources and troops into the United States’ longest war — Afghanistan — as some of the president’s top generals are calling for.

Will President Trump End the 'Total Disaster' War in Afghanistan?: Javid Ahmad, National Interest, February 27, 2017— The Afghan war, now in its sixteenth year, has arguably become one of the world's most consequential conflicts.

Yemen Has Become Iran’s Testing Ground for New Weapons: Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall, BESA, March 2, 2017— The ongoing crisis in Yemen, whose end is not in sight, is giving Iran an opportunity to turn Yemen into a testing ground for various weapons it is developing for the maritime and military arenas.

The Dangerous Implications of Democrats’ Obsession with Trump’s Yemen Raid: David French, National Review, Mar. 2, 2017— On Saturday, December 6, 2014, there was an American commando raid in Yemen.


On Topic Links


Dozens Killed in ISIS Attack on Kabul Military Hospital: Ehsanullah Amiri & Margherita Stancati, Wall Street Journal, Mar. 8, 2017

Why Russia is Returning to Afghanistan: Jeffrey Mankoff, World Politics Review, Feb. 28, 2017

Saudis Bankroll Taliban, Even as King Officially Supports Afghan Government: Carlotta Gall, New York Times, Dec. 6, 2016

How America Lost Afghanistan: Bonnie Kristian, The Week, Mar. 7, 2017

SELLING TRUMP A NEW AFGHANISTAN COMMITMENT                                                         

Josh Rogin

Washington Post, Feb. 26, 2017


The Trump administration is considering whether to plunge more resources and troops into the United States’ longest war — Afghanistan — as some of the president’s top generals are calling for. The issue pits President Trump’s commitment to end nation-building against his promise to stamp out terrorism in a conflict where a clear U.S. strategy is sorely lacking.


After more than 15 years of U.S. fighting, the war is at a crossroads. The Afghan national security forces are on their heels. The government is asking the United States and its NATO partners to help it go on offense against the Taliban, which has been taking territory with the help of Pakistan, Iran and Russia. The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John W. Nicholson, has publicly testified that he wants “a few thousand” more troops there. He also says there is a need for a more “holistic review” of the mission.


As Defense Secretary Jim Mattis prepares a formal recommendation to the White House, debate has renewed in Washington on whether the United States is throwing good money after bad in Afghanistan. But as far as the Afghan government is concerned, there’s really no safe alternative. “The Taliban, while they may not be directly planning direct attacks on U.S. territory, they provide the environment for all kinds of terrorist groups to operate,” Hamdullah Mohib, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Washington, told me. “If we allow any terrorist group to succeed, it doesn’t matter what terrorist group, it emboldens all of them.”


There’s an immediate need for equipment and personnel, he said, before the start of the summer fighting season, which is sure to be bloody. If thousands more U.S. troops arrive, they would serve in an advise-and-training role, not direct combat. But the idea is to embed them in Afghan units, placing them closer to the fighting. The Afghan government is also asking for helicopters, special forces gear and intelligence assistance to fill urgent shortfalls. For example, the Afghan military’s fleet of Russian helicopters is mostly grounded, in part because of a lack of spare parts as a result of U.S. sanctions against Russia.


Mohib is optimistic that Trump’s team is open to the idea of committing more resources to Afghanistan. “The hesitation that existed in the previous administration is gone,” Mohib said. “The hesitation was that the U.S. didn’t have a good partner to work with in the Afghan government.”


Republican leaders in Congress are cautiously supportive of an Afghanistan troop increase they would be responsible to fund. But they want to make sure the Trump administration doesn’t repeat what they see as President Barack Obama’s mistakes, including setting timelines for withdrawal and failing to bring the American people along. “Arbitrary political limits make it harder to accomplish the mission,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Tex.) told me. “It is equally important that the president make the public case for our continued presence in Afghanistan. . . . President Obama never made that case, and our mission suffered for it.”


Trump barely mentioned Afghanistan during the campaign, other than to say it was “not going well” or to compare it favorably to Chicago. The lack of campaign rhetoric gives Trump something of a free hand to choose any policy he wants. The generals supporting the plan could strengthen their case by getting NATO allies to make human and financial commitments up front. That would address Trump’s criticism that NATO doesn’t do counterterrorism and doesn’t pay its fair share. The generals might also argue that Afghanistan is a natural long-term partner for the regional fight against terrorism, which is not going away soon.


Experts mostly agree, though, that surging resources to bolster the Afghan security forces is a stopgap measure at best. Without a comprehensive strategy that deals with Pakistan’s insistence on providing support and sanctuary for the Taliban, no gains are sustainable. A new strategy also must include a plausible path to return to negotiations to end the conflict. For now, the Taliban doesn’t feel enough pressure to compromise. “An open-ended commitment with no strategy poses a very high risk of very expensive failure,” said Christopher Kolenda, a former senior adviser on Afghanistan and Pakistan at the Pentagon.


Mattis, Nicholson, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. and new national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster all have deep experience in Afghanistan and understand that the military aspect of the plan is necessary but not sufficient. Selling a new U.S. commitment to Trump and then to the American people will not be easy. But if the administration is able to tune out the politics, share the burden and follow a clear strategy, the benefits of the deal will outweigh the costs.                            






Javid Ahmad

National Interest, February 27, 2017


The Afghan war, now in its sixteenth year, has arguably become one of the world's most consequential conflicts. The steady stream of news from Afghanistan is as relentless as it is depressing. More important, the eerie silence in Washington, DC to discuss the future course of Afghan conflict—and America’s role in it—is deafening. President Donald Trump, now the third U.S. president to lead the Afghan mission, has called the war a “total disaster,” which the United States should abandon altogether. Trump, who has claimed to have a foolproof plan to defeat the Islamic State, has not yet discussed his strategy for fighting America’s longest war. The silence, however, does not qualify as an improvement from the policy of the Obama administration, whose excessive caution while dealing with Afghanistan and arbitrary deadlines for withdrawal of U.S. troops made the Afghan campaign more challenging.


Nonetheless, the stakes are high for the United States. For one, the security conditions have exacerbated, and the emboldened Taliban now controls more territory in Afghanistan than any time since 2001. Pakistan, who is in cahoots with the Taliban, continues to provide the group with extensive sanctuaries and support network on its territory. At the same time, the Islamic State has made significant inroads into Afghanistan and has carved out a footprint in eastern parts of the country. Meanwhile, the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, who are boldly fighting the insurgency, have endured an alarming number of causalities and have suffered a 2.4 percent attrition rate every month. Civilian casualties have hit a record high with 3,498 deaths and 7,920 injured in 2016 alone, with a ten-fold increase in losses caused by the Islamic State.


Additionally, the influx of returning Afghan refugees from Pakistan and Europe, and over 600,000 people internally displaced by rising insecurity, have created a humanitarian crisis. Last year, the UN reported that one-third of Afghans (9.3 million) needed immediate assistance. Moreover, regional countries have engaged in unhelpful machinations to deepen their ties with armed groups that undermine American and Afghan interests. Among them Iran and Russia have extended their support to the Taliban, including sharing intelligence with the group, to contain the growing threat of the Islamic State. Unfortunately, these grim realities, coupled with an absence of a coherent U.S. strategy to address the terror group, have sown anxiety among U.S. allies and partners.


More vitally, Washington’s continued silence is dangerous. Earlier this month, Gen. John Nicholson, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told Congress in his testimony that the Afghan war is at “stalemate.” However, Trump has a better chance of success in Afghanistan than his predecessor, Barack Obama, a hesitant warrior who focused less on winning the war and more on not losing it. In the course, however, Washington was repeatedly reminded that the Afghan mission was broader than initially anticipated, but little was done to adjust accordingly. More crucially, by any measure, U.S. and coalition forces have won every major battle with the Taliban and other militants, but these tactical feats have not yet led to a decisive victory. This is mainly because the Taliban are free to retreat, train and regroup in sanctuaries inside Pakistan. Pakistan’s duplicity is arguably the greatest contributor to international failure to achieve stability in Afghanistan.


In his testimony, Nicholson told Congress that “it is very difficult to succeed on the battlefield when your enemy enjoys external support and safe haven,” and called for a “holistic review” of U.S. relations with Pakistan. Pakistan has repeatedly shown through its actions that any chaos it can manage in Afghanistan is better than a noncompliant regime in Kabul. In the past, concerns about Pakistan’s sincerity have even prompted suggestions that the United States engage in unilateral action against militants inside Pakistan. Pakistan uses “good” militants as proxies not only because they are expendable and low-cost compared to deploying military forces, but also because it offers Pakistan a plausible deniability.


More significantly, Pakistan has bolstered Taliban’s two-pronged approach in Afghanistan: to stoke fear by inflicting maximum damage and to undermine the Afghan government by temporarily seizing key provincial districts across the country. In doing so, Taliban has targeted district governors, police chiefs and provincial leaders. Meanwhile, the Taliban’s leadership council, or the Quetta Shura, has been steadily moved from the city of Quetta in Baluchistan province to the northeastern city of Peshawar. Key Taliban leaders are reportedly hosted by Pakistan army officials in military garrisons in Peshawar. More vitally, the Taliban’s has gradually moved from their guerrilla hit-and-run tactics into more conventional military methods in the battlefield. Among the group’s new tactics are conducting large-scale coordinated raids and sabotage activities, such as planting land mines and IEDs across major roadways to block the mobility of Afghan forces and starve them for resources.


Furthermore, Taliban fighters reportedly have access to advanced weaponry, including night-vision goggles, sniper rifles, sophisticated communication equipment and drones for reconnaissance and propaganda purposes. Additionally, the group has significantly improved its human and open-source intelligence gathering capabilities, including operating robust informant networks, which collect and disseminate information in a decentralized structure. Access to these resources and the change in battleground tactics exceeds beyond the Taliban’s traditional capabilities and suggests that it is propped up by a support network.

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




YEMEN HAS BECOME IRAN’S TESTING GROUND FOR NEW WEAPONS                                         

Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall

BESA, March 2, 2017


The ongoing crisis in Yemen, whose end is not in sight, is giving Iran an opportunity to turn Yemen into a testing ground for various weapons it is developing for the maritime and military arenas. The Houthi rebels, who have taken over parts of northern Yemen including the capital, Sana’a, are getting ongoing assistance from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), mainly via Hizbullah trainers, in the use of missiles and rockets along with an ongoing supply of other weapons such as drones, explosive devices, and battlefield materiel…


On February 10, 2017, Abd al-Malik al-Houthi, leader of the Houthis in Yemen, said that they were beginning to manufacture drones and other airborne weapons, including surface-to-air missiles that can intercept the Saudi-led coalition planes as well as missiles “that can hit Saudi territory and beyond.” Since the beginning of the year, the Houthis have increased their missile fire, including Scuds, from Yemeni territory at different targets in Saudi Arabia, including airports and civilian infrastructures, along with missile fire at coalition targets in Yemeni territory. Hizbullah advisers are taking part in some of the missile launches.


Since the beginning of 2016, the Houthis have been using drones for intelligence-gathering missions, and also, according to some reports, to attack the Saudi-led coalition forces in Yemen. Sheikh Abdulmalik Mikhlafi, deputy prime minister of the recognized Yemeni government, said that a Houthi drone intercepted by the Yemeni army had a missile-firing capability, a fact that points to Iran’s growing involvement in the crisis in Yemen. Notably, the Qasef attack drone is very similar to previous drone models manufactured by Iran in the Ababil series. The other models, too, have similar features to drones deployed by Iran.


Along with the use of drones in the aerial domain, the Houthis have been increasingly active in the maritime domain in the Bab el-Mandab area. In addition to the occasional launch of Iranian-supplied anti-ship cruise missiles, the Houthis have begun to deploy, apparently with Iranian assistance, unmanned remote-controlled maritime craft. Sources in the U.S. Navy believe the January 30, 2017, attack on the Saudi frigate Al-Madinah near the Yemeni port of Hudeida was carried out by an unmanned and guided boat. Vice Adm. Kevin Donegan, U.S. Fifth Fleet commander, said, “Our assessment is that it was an unmanned, remote-controlled boat of some kind.” According to a report by the U.S. Naval Institute, the naval craft was provided by the navy of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (the IRGCN).


At first, Saudi Arabia claimed the attack had been carried out by boats bearing suicide bombers, and the Houthis claimed they had fired a shore-to-sea missile (at the moment of the strike there were shouts in the background of a video of “Allahu Akbar [Allah is the Greatest]! Death to America! Death to Israel! Curse upon the Jews! Victory to Islam!”). It later turned out that it was an unmanned naval drone ship. Such vessels pose a new threat to civilian maritime traffic, open a new page in the clashes between Iran and Saudi Arabia in this sensitive arena, and could reach other Iranian-supported terror organizations in the world.


Iran is constantly developing its capabilities for asymmetrical maritime warfare. The aim is to contend with the United States’ superior maritime capabilities, including by attacking U.S. ships with swarms of manned and unmanned speedboats. The attack on the Saudi frigate offers a good example of Iran’s offensive unmanned-warship capability. The attack reflects the Iranian combat doctrine of using asymmetrical means against enemies that have a technological advantage. In that way, the Houthis have managed to firmly hold their ground against Saudi Arabia and the Arab-coalition forces for several years. Recently, the fighting has also spread to the maritime sphere.


During President Obama’s tenure, small IRGC craft often flaunted their power very close to the U.S. naval forces in the Persian Gulf, threatening them; U.S. reactions were minimal for fear of a clash. Iran would also send drones over U.S. vessels and photograph their activity. The aim was both to prepare for a possible confrontation with these ships and to disrupt their ongoing activity in the area. In the naval maneuvers Iran conducts from time to time, like the recent one in which it revealed a new shore-to-sea missile, it practices the sinking of large U.S. vessels including aircraft carriers.


The continuing conflict in Yemen, which is being waged both at sea and on land, gives Iran an opportunity to test some of its capabilities and military doctrines “for real.”…Iran’s active involvement in the conflict in Yemen, including the various weapons it is introducing and testing in the arena has implications for the Palestinian terror organizations’ and Hizbullah’s future rounds of warfare against Israel. Hamas and Hizbullah are already deploying unmanned aerial and naval craft manufactured by Iran, or built with Iranian know-how, in the struggle against Israel. Unmanned warships like those the Houthis used in Yemen would pose a new kind of threat both to Israel’s navy and to its natural gas rigs in the Mediterranean. The longer the conflict in Yemen continues, the more experience Iran and Hizbullah will gain in using this weapon. Iran already has a record of testing weapons in different places and deploying them in different arenas. Explosive devices were used against the IDF in Lebanon and the U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq, and the Houthis are now deploying them in Yemen.          






                                                       David French

                                            National Review, Mar. 2, 2017


On Saturday, December 6, 2014, there was an American commando raid in Yemen. As reported by the New York Times, special forces attacked a village in the southern part of the country in an effort to free hostages, including an American journalist, held by jihadists. But instead of accomplishing what it set out to accomplish, the raid “ended in tragedy”: Terrorists killed two hostages, including the American, and in the ensuing firefight, a number of civilians died. That’s not a scandal; that’s war.


Fast-forward to late January of this year. Donald Trump, just nine days after assuming the presidency, ordered a raid into Yemen that had been planned during the Obama administration and endorsed by James Mattis, the new secretary of defense. During the attack, American forces encountered tougher-than-expected resistance, Navy SEAL Ryan Owens was killed, and civilians died in the crossfire. At the end of the attack, American and allied forces took possession of intelligence that may or may not (reports conflict) be valuable to the war against jihad. That’s not a scandal; that’s war.


But don’t tell that to the Democrats, to the Trump administration’s most committed critics, or to multiple members of the media, including some who should know better. Suddenly, there is an odd new standard for success or failure in military operations: Special-forces raids are scandalous unless they 1) yield exactly the intelligence or other assets they sought; 2) do so without encountering unexpected resistance; and 3) do not cost any American lives. By that standard, my own deployment to Iraq was one scandal after another. Even though we had boots on the ground, a consistent presence in our area of operations, and access to intelligence from a wide variety of sources, we still encountered surprises and ambushes. Multiple raids “failed” in the sense that we didn’t seize our targets or obtain the information we had hoped to find. Our intelligence “failed” sometimes, with inaccurate assessments of enemy capabilities or intentions leading to deaths. But none of that was scandalous; it was all war.


I’ve written at length about the Yemen raid before, but it’s vital to revisit the issue again. In part because of the profound moment in Trump’s address to Congress when he honored Carryn Owens, Ryan Owens’s widow, and in part because of his clumsy and inexcusable effort to deflect blame for Owens’s death to his generals, the Yemen raid is back in the news. And it’s thus vital to establish standards for evaluating and reporting the Trump administration’s military efforts.


First, do we really want presidents — especially those with exactly zero military experience — ordering individual raids in the context of ongoing military operations? Obama famously agonized over “kill lists,” reportedly even viewing the faces of targets before issuing his orders. Elevating strike authority to POTUS himself risks not only slowing down military operations, but also placing the decision in the hands of a person with less information and less experience than a professional military trained to identify and destroy our nation’s enemies.


Obama’s moral dilemmas made for good newspaper copy, but did they result in the best application of American military power? The rise of ISIS and the spread of jihad suggests that they did not. Second, should Americans really have zero or near-zero tolerance for casualties? It’s a simple fact that the less we risk American forces, the less effective they are. For many good reasons, we’ve delegated much of the fight in Mosul to local allies, but that carries a cost, too. Parts of the city are still in enemy hands, and progress is slow. How much could we speed up the fight (and perhaps capture and kill more enemy fighters) if we put American soldiers closer to the action or empower them to engage the enemy directly?


When soldiers enlist, they trust their commanders (including the commander-in-chief) not to throw away their lives carelessly or recklessly, but they know that they could die in the line of duty nevertheless. Americans are allegedly “war-weary” (a strange term for a nation in which only the tiniest fraction of citizens have fought), and we’ve already suffered thousands of casualties abroad, but so long as the enemy still seeks to do us harm, we’re crippling our national defense if we unilaterally decide to fight without loss.


Third, when terrorists use civilians as human shields, who’s to blame for the civilian deaths that result? By adopting a near-zero tolerance for civilian casualties (as the Obama administration often did), we incentivize violations of the laws of war, extend combat operations, and risk American life. When jihadists hide behind women and children, they bear the legal and moral responsibility for civilian deaths…

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




On Topic Links


Dozens Killed in ISIS Attack on Kabul Military Hospital: Ehsanullah Amiri & Margherita Stancati, Wall Street Journal, Mar. 8, 2017—Islamic State fighters disguised as doctors fought elite government forces inside Afghanistan’s largest military hospital on Wednesday in a seven-hour battle that left at least 30 people dead and 50 others wounded, Afghan officials said.

Why Russia is Returning to Afghanistan: Jeffrey Mankoff, World Politics Review, Feb. 28, 2017—n his speech to the 27th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in February 1986, Mikhail Gorbachev described the war in Afghanistan as the USSR’s “bleeding wound.” Gorbachev would order Soviet forces out of Afghanistan two years later. During the subsequent three decades, Soviet and subsequently Russian leaders sought to steer clear of the country that many likened to Moscow’s Vietnam.

Saudis Bankroll Taliban, Even as King Officially Supports Afghan Government: Carlotta Gall, New York Times, Dec. 6, 2016—Fifteen years, half a trillion dollars and 150,000 lives since going to war, the United States is trying to extricate itself from Afghanistan. Afghans are being left to fight their own fight. A surging Taliban insurgency, meanwhile, is flush with a new inflow of money.

How America Lost Afghanistan: Bonnie Kristian, The Week, Mar. 7, 2017—Some 16 years in, the war in Afghanistan is the longest in the history of The United States. It is also our most disproportionately ignored, and — with a new president in office after an election in which Afghanistan was barely mentioned — perhaps our most uncertain major intervention going forward.













Saudi-Egyptian Tensions: Rifts Within the “Camp of Stability” Serve Iran’s Interests: Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman, BESA, Dec. 4, 2016 On July 31, 2015, the dominant player in Saudi Arabia today, Defense Minister (and the King's son) Muhammad Bin Salman, met Egyptian president Abd al-Fattah Sisi…

Iran and the Houthis of Yemen: Joseph Puder, Frontpage, Nov. 29, 2016 — Arab News has reported on November 23, 2016 that Yemen’s Houthi rebels and supporters of the former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh are responsible for the killing of 9,646 civilians. 

How the Iranian-Saudi Proxy Struggle Tore Apart the Middle East: Max Fisher, New York Times, Nov. 19, 2016— Behind much of the Middle East’s chaos — the wars in Syria and Yemen, the political upheaval in Iraq and Lebanon and Bahrain — there is another conflict.

Western Leaders: Pressure Saudis to Give Christians Religious Rights: Hilal Khashan, The Hill, Nov. 1, 2016Bloomberg recently listed Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman 42nd on its list of 50 Most Influential movers and shakers in finance.


On Topic Links


Saudi Arabia's Flawed "Vision 2030": Hilal Khashan, Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2017

Yemen is a Horror Show That Obama Used to Call a Success: Benny Avni, New York Post, Oct. 11, 2016

How Iranian Weapons are Ending Up in Yemen: Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Washington Post, Nov. 30, 2016

Iranian Missiles in Houthi Hands Threaten Freedom of Navigation in Red Sea: Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall, JCPA, Oct. 13, 2016




Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman                                                             

BESA, Dec. 4, 2016


On July 31, 2015, the dominant player in Saudi Arabia today, Defense Minister (and the King's son) Muhammad Bin Salman, met Egyptian president Abd al-Fattah Sisi and signed the Cairo Declaration, which pledged closer ties. On April 9, 2016, the Egyptian government declared – against strong opposition at home – that the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir would be restored to Saudi sovereignty.


This burgeoning relationship appears to have soured. On November 7, 2016, the Saudi authorities let it be known that they are indefinitely halting oil shipments that were to have been provided under a US$23 billion aid package agreed to during King Salman's visit to Cairo in April. This signaled in no uncertain terms that a dangerous rift has emerged between the two pillars of the "Camp of Stability" in the region.


Though the two countries have common enemies, important strategic differences have come to the fore, mainly on two points of regional policy. On Yemen, the Saudis – who, together with the Emiratis, have been fighting a long and bloody war to dislodge Iranian-backed Houthi forces – are bitter about the underwhelming Egyptian response to their calls for help. From their perspective, a Shiite stronghold in Yemen, heavily armed and actively supported by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), is a dagger pointed directly at the Hijaz and the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina. It is, in other words, an existential threat.


For the first time, the Saudis have engaged in active fighting in a neighboring state, with significant losses, rather than letting the US do their fighting for them. (The Obama administration, while willing to respond locally to a Houthi attack on US naval assets, has been careful to steer clear of the Yemeni conflict.) It is thus not surprising that Riyadh expects, and resents its failure to obtain, more effective support from the largest standing army in the region, beyond a limited involvement by the Egyptian Navy.


The Egyptians, in turn, raise an eyebrow at Saudi policy in Syria. They see Assad not as an Iranian agent busy murdering his own people, which is how he is viewed by Riyadh and most other Gulf states (including Qatar, whose policies are a source of serious concern in Cairo), but as an element of stability. He is a "devil we know," and his survival is preferable to the rise of an Islamic State or Muslim Brotherhood regime (which, for Sisi, would be as bad or worse). In the Egyptian view, the alternative to Assad’s rump state will not be a peaceful Syria but an even worse slaughterhouse than it is already. Saudi policies are thus causing growing concern in Cairo: not least because they coincide with the course set by Erdoğan, who remains a virulent opponent of Sisi's.


Quick to fish in these murky waters were the Russians, who endorse the Egyptian point of view. They are highly suspicious of the Saudis, primarily because the Saudi-produced glut in the oil markets is threatening Russia's economic future. This position explains Russia’s strategic embrace of Egypt, as well as of Sisi's surrogate in Libya, General Hiftar, who recently paid his second visit to Moscow in recent months. Military links between Egypt and Russia are tightening. While Cairo cannot afford to shed its dependence on American military aid, its developing relationship with Moscow is part of a general drift away from the firm US alliance that has marked Egyptian relations with the Obama administration since 2013.


The danger, not only for Israel, is that the Saudi-Egyptian rift will play into Iranian hands in Yemen, in Syria, and on other frontiers. The IRGC is vocal about Tehran’s revolutionary ambitions and the growing spread of its influence across the region. They now see one of their enemy camps cleaved in half. Moreover, the decline in Saudi aid to Egypt comes at a delicate moment. Sisi has devalued the Egyptian pound as part of the measures required for its IMF loan. Tensions are growing over shortages from baby formula to sugar. The potential consequences cannot be overstated. If Egypt were to sink into social and political chaos, the implications for the Mediterranean and beyond are unthinkable.


It should thus be a top priority for the incoming Trump administration (as neither side, unfortunately, has much trust in the outgoing administration) to work hard to patch up this rift. Each side must respond to the legitimate concerns of the other and restore coherence to the forces of stability as they face a mounting Iranian challenge.                                          



IRAN AND THE HOUTHIS OF YEMEN                                                                                               

Joseph Puder                                                                                                       

Frontpage, Nov. 29, 2016


Arab News has reported on November 23, 2016 that Yemen’s Houthi rebels and supporters of the former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh are responsible for the killing of 9,646 civilians. 8,146 of them men, 597 women, and 903 children, from January 1, 2015 to September 30, 2016 in 16 Yemeni provinces.  According to Shami Al-Daheri, a military analyst and strategic expert, the Houthis are being led by Iran and follow Tehran’s orders.  “They are moving in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria following Tehran’s orders.  If the country sees there is pressure on its supporters in Iraq, it issues orders to the Houthis in Yemen to carry out more criminal acts in order to divert attention and ease pressure on its proxies in these countries.”


The brutality of the Iran led campaign in Syria, and U.S. voices calling for some form of intervention, might have prompted Tehran to give the Houthis a green light to attack American naval ships. The Houthis fired three missiles at the U.S. Navy ship USS Mason last month, in all probability following Tehran’s orders. In retaliation, U.S. Navy destroyer USS Nitze launched Tomahawk cruise missiles, destroying three coastal radar sites in areas of Yemen controlled by the Houthis.  These radar installations were active during previous attacks, and attempted attacks on ships navigating the Red Sea. The USS Mason did not sustain any damage.  U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the top American commander in the Middle East, said that he suspected Iran’s Shiite Islamic Republic to be behind the twice launched missiles by the Houthi rebels against U.S. ships in the Red Sea.


Al-Arabiya TV (August 16, 2016) claimed that Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) said that missiles made in Tehran were also recently used in Yemen by Houthi militias in cross border attacks against Saudi Arabia.  The Saudis it seems, were able to intercept the Iranian manufactured Zelzal-3 rockets, also delivered to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Assad regime forces in Syria.  The rockets were fired into the Saudi border city of Najran, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.  The Saudi-led coalition has been targeting the Houthis in an effort to restore the internationally-recognized Yemeni president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.


The conflict in Yemen has its recent roots in the failure of the political transition that was supposed to bring a measure of stability to Yemen following an uprising in November, 2011 (The Year of the Arab Spring) that forced its longtime authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to hand over power to his deputy, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.  President Hadi had to deal with a variety of problems, including attacks by al-Qaeda, a separatist movement in the South, the loyalty of many of the army officers to the former President Saleh, as well as, unemployment, corruption, and food insecurity.


The Zaidi-Shiite Houthi minority captured Yemen’s capital Sanaa on September 21, 2014. They were helped by the Islamic Republic of Iran, who have provided the rebel Houthis with arms, training, and money.  As fellow Shiite-Muslims, the Houthis became another Iranian proxy harnessed to destabilize the Sunni-led Arab Gulf states, and Saudi Arabia.  Since 2004, the Houthis have fought the central government of Yemen from their stronghold of Saadah in northern Yemen.  The Houthis are named after Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, who headed the insurgency in 2004 and was subsequently killed by Yemeni army forces.  The Houthis, who are allied with Ali Abdullah Saleh, against Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, the legitimate President of Yemen, have the support of many army units and control most of the north, including the capital, Sanaa.


The Houthis launched a series of military rebellions against Ali Abdullah Saleh in the previous decade. Recently, sensing the new president’s (Hadi) weakness, they took control of their Northern heartland of Saadah province and neighboring areas.  Disillusioned by the transition of power and Hadi’s weakness, many Yemenis, including Sunnis, supported the Houthi onslaught.  In January, 2015, the Houthis surrounded the Presidential palace in Sanaa, placing President Hadi and his cabinet under virtual house arrest. The following month, President Hadi managed to escape to the Southern port city of Aden…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link






TORE APART THE MIDDLE EAST                        

Max Fisher

New York Times, Nov. 19, 2016


Behind much of the Middle East’s chaos — the wars in Syria and Yemen, the political upheaval in Iraq and Lebanon and Bahrain — there is another conflict. Saudi Arabia and Iran are waging a struggle for dominance that has turned much of the Middle East into their battlefield. Rather than fighting directly, they wield and in that way worsen the region’s direst problems: dictatorship, militia violence and religious extremism.


The history of their rivalry tracks — and helps to explain — the Middle East’s disintegration, particularly the Sunni-Shiite sectarianism both powers have found useful to cultivate. It is a story in which the United States has been a supporting but constant player, most recently by backing the Saudi war in Yemen, which kills hundreds of civilians. These dynamics, scholars warn, point toward a future of civil wars, divided societies and unstable governments.


1979: A threatening revolution: Saudi Arabia, a young country pieced together only in the 1930s, has built its legitimacy on religion. By promoting its stewardship of the holy sites at Mecca and Medina, it could justify its royal family’s grip on power. Iran’s revolution, in 1979, threatened that legitimacy. Iranians toppled their authoritarian government, installing Islamists who claimed to represent “a revolution for the entire Islamic world,” said Kenneth M. Pollack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.


The revolutionaries encouraged all Muslims, especially Saudis, to overthrow their rulers as well. But because Iran is mostly Shiite, they “had the greatest influence with, and tended to reach out to, Shia groups,” Dr. Pollack said. Some Saudi Shiites, who make up about 10 percent of the population, protested in solidarity or even set up offices in Tehran — stoking Saudi fears of internal unrest and separatism. This was the opening shot in the sectarianization of their rivalry, which would encompass the whole region. “The Saudis have looked at Iran as a domestic threat from the get-go, from 1979,” Dr. Gause said. Seeing the threat as intolerable, they began looking for a way to strike back.


1980-88: The first proxy war: They found that way the next year, when Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded Iran, hoping to seize oil-rich territory. Saudi Arabia, Dr. Pollack said, “backed the Iraqis to the hilt because they want the Iranian revolution stopped.” The war, over eight years of trench warfare and chemical weapons attacks, killed perhaps a million people. It set a pattern of Iranian-Saudi struggle through proxies, and of sucking in the United States, whose policy is to maintain access to the vast oil and gas reserves that lie between the rivals.


The conflict’s toll exhausted Iran’s zeal for sowing revolution abroad, but gave it a new mission: to overturn the Saudi-led, American-backed regional order that Tehran saw as an existential threat. That sense of insecurity would later drive Iran’s meddling abroad, said Marc Lynch, a political scientist at George Washington University, and perhaps its missile and nuclear programs.


1989-2002: Setting up a powder keg: The 1990s provided a pause in the regional rivalry, but also set up the conditions that would allow it to later explode in such force. Saudi Arabia, wishing to contain Iran’s reach to the region’s minority Shiite populations, sought to harden Sunni-Shiite rifts. Government programs promoted “anti-Shia incitement in schools, Islamic universities, and the media,” Toby Matthiesen, an Oxford University scholar, wrote in a brief for the Carnegie Endowment. These policies, Dr. Matthiesen warned, cultivated sectarian fears and sometimes violence that would later feed into the ideology of the Islamic State.


In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, a Saudi ally. The United States, after expelling the Iraqis, established military bases in the region to defend its allies from Iraq. This further tilted the regional power balance against Iran, which saw the American forces as a threat. Iraq’s humiliating defeat also spurred many of its citizens to rise up, particularly in poorer communities that happened to be Shiite Arab. In response, Dr. Gause said, “Saddam’s regime became explicitly sectarian,” widening Sunni-Shiite divides to deter future uprisings. That allowed Iran, still worried about Iraq, to cultivate allies among Iraq’s increasingly disenfranchised Shiites, including militias that had risen up. Though it was not obvious at the time, Iraq had become a powder keg, one that would ignite when its government was toppled a decade later.


2003-04: The Iraqi vacuum opens: The 2003 American-led invasion, by toppling an Iraqi government that had been hostile to both Saudi Arabia and Iran, upended the region’s power balance. Iran, convinced that the United States and Saudi Arabia would install a pliant Iraqi government — and remembering the horrors they had inflicted on Iran in the 1980s — raced to fill the postwar vacuum. Its leverage with Shiite groups, which are Iraq’s largest demographic group, allowed it to influence Baghdad politics. Iran also wielded Shiite militias to control Iraqi streets and undermine the American-led occupation. But sectarian violence took on its own inevitable momentum, hastening the country’s slide into civil war.


Saudi Arabia sought to match Iran’s reach but, after years of oppressing its own Shiite population, struggled to make inroads with those in Iraq. “The problem for the Saudis is that their natural allies in Iraq,” Dr. Gause said, referring to Sunni groups that were increasingly turning to jihadism, “wanted to kill them.” This was the first sign that Saudi Arabia’s strategy for containing Iran, by fostering sectarianism and aligning itself with the region’s Sunni majority, had backfired. As Sunni governments collapsed and Sunni militias turned to jihadism, Riyadh would be left with few reliable proxies. As their competition in Iraq heated up, Saudi Arabia and Iran sought to counterbalance each other through another weak state: Lebanon.


2005-10: A new kind of proxy war: Lebanon provided the perfect opening: a frail democracy recovering from civil war, with parties and lingering militias primarily organized by religion. Iran and Saudi Arabia exploited those dynamics, waging a new kind of proxy struggle “not on conventional military battlefields,” Dr. Gause said, but “within the domestic politics of weakened institutional structures.” Iran, for instance, supported Hezbollah, the Shiite militia and political movement, which it had earlier cultivated to use against Israel. Riyadh, in turn, funneled money to political allies such as the Sunni prime minister, Rafik Hariri. By competing along Lebanon’s religious lines, they helped drive the Lebanese government’s frequent breakdowns, as parties relied on foreign backers who wanted to oppose one another more than build a functioning state…

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





                                           Hilal Khashan

                                           The Hill, Nov. 1, 2016


Bloomberg recently listed Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman 42nd on its list of 50 Most Influential movers and shakers in finance. An Oct. 15 New York Times profile called him the "most dynamic royal" in Saudi Arabia, "a man who is trying to overturn tradition." Unfortunately, he's not trying hard enough.


Prince Mohammed, 31, is the public face behind Saudi Vision 2030, a 15-year plan of regulatory, budget, and policy reforms unveiled in April. It is designed to build a "prosperous and sustainable economic future" for the kingdom by reducing dependence on oil exports and implementing a privatization program that will supposedly create a sovereign wealth fund of more than $2 trillion, the world's largest.


Acutely aware of its growing need for Western capital investment and technology, the kingdom has shown small signs of reducing its horrendous violations of political and civil liberties, such as granting women limited suffrage, and improving government transparency. The Saudis are today even willing acknowledge the role their kingdom played in creating Al-Qaeda and other Islamist currents. "We did not own up to it after 9/11 because we feared you would abandon or treat us as the enemy," one senior Saudi official told Politico. "And we were in denial."


But there is one area where no reform appears to be in the offing. As the kingdom embarks on a revolutionary project to reduce its dependence on oil and increase direct foreign investment, it does not seem to appreciate the importance of religious tolerance in a society trying to open its economy to the world. In recent weeks, the Saudi authorities deported 27 Lebanese Christians for the crime of conducting non-Islamic prayers, the kingdom's religious police ordered a clothing outlet to cover the U.K. flag on the logo of British International School uniforms because it displays the Christian cross, and a video surfaced of a leading Saudi cleric calling on God to grant mujahideen (jihadists) in Syria and Iraq "victory over the godless Rafidah (Shia Muslims) … the treacherous Jews, and over the spiteful Christians" in a sermon at the Grand Mosque in Mecca.


As William McCants of the Brookings Institution recently told Politifact, "official Saudi textbooks teach that Christians are seeking to destroy the religion and must be hated as a consequence." Despite the fact that 1.5 to 2 million Christians, mostly Filipino and other southeast Asian expatriates, live and work in the kingdom, Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that does not allow the building of churches or even the open practice of Christian religious rites. Most expatriates live in loneliness away from their families and loved ones. Restrictions on their freedom to worship compounds this isolation.


The Saudis can take advantage of poor Christian workers (and those of other faiths) because their remittance dependent governments lack negotiating leverage. While there is little that labor-intensive Asian societies can do to pressure Riyadh to extend full religious rights to Christian workers, there is a lot that the West can do. So long as the Saudis depend on Western capital investment and advanced technology, the United States is uniquely positioned to press for greater religious freedoms for Christians and other non-Muslims.


While it may be unrealistic to expect this from the White House, the U.S. Congress has shown greater willingness to challenge Saudi Arabia as of late. The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which would strip away the "sovereign immunity" of foreign governments against terrorism lawsuits, has passed both houses of Congress, with the Senate overriding President Obama's veto last month. Another bipartisan bill was introduced earlier this month to block the recently-proposed sale of Abrams tanks and other military equipment to the kingdom until its human rights record improves.


It's time for the United States and other Western governments to tell the Saudis that business-as-usual relations cannot continue unless their kingdom puts in place the building blocks of religious tolerance and pluralism. Saudi officials may bitterly object, but those who are fighting for real reform inside the kingdom need this ultimatum to win out over hardliners.




On Topic Links


Saudi Arabia's Flawed "Vision 2030": Hilal Khashan, Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2017—The dramatic drop in oil prices has depleted Saudi Arabia's cash reserves by a whopping US$150 billion and driven the ruling family to contrive hastily a financial rescue plan. On April 25, 2016, Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman announced the "Vision 2030" plan to revolutionize the Saudi economy by ending its dependency on oil.

Yemen is a Horror Show That Obama Used to Call a Success: Benny Avni, New York Post, Oct. 11, 2016—Yemen, one of the world’s poorest countries, has become a battlefield for the Mideast’s most vicious rivalries. That’s bad for Yemenis, bad for the region and bad for us.

How Iranian Weapons are Ending Up in Yemen: Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Washington Post, Nov. 30, 2016—Weapon shipments intercepted in the Arabian sea by Australian, French and U.S. warships this year contained large quantities of Russian and Iranian weapons, some of which had markings similar to munitions recovered from Houthi fighters in Yemen, according to a new report released by an independent research group Wednesday.

Iranian Missiles in Houthi Hands Threaten Freedom of Navigation in Red Sea: Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall, JCPA, Oct. 13, 2016—Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have been waging war against the Yemeni army and the Saudi-led Arab coalition in Yemen for several years. Since the beginning of October 2016, the conflict has assumed a new naval and international dimension that could endanger civilian freedom of navigation in the Red Sea’s Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which serves as a gateway for oil tankers headed to Europe through the Suez Canal.