"Things that Go Bump in the Night in Riyadh", by David Hearst & "The Israeli-Saudi Alliance beating the Drums of War" by Richard Silverstein

Undrar du vad som pågår i Saudi Arabien? Läs David Hearsts och Richard Silversteins artiklar nedan.
 
 
THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT IN RIYADH
 
 
 
 
 
Saturday night was a busy one for Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The kingdom’s 32-year old heir to the throne excelled himself. He surpassed the high levels of chaos and human misery he had already achieved as the defence minister who launched the air campaign on Yemen.


First up was the sudden resignation of the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri after just one year in office. Hariri made his announcement from Riyadh, which is a curious place to resign the premiership of Lebanon. His speech was hardline anti-Hezbollah and anti-Iran, setting a tone not heard from him in years.
 
 
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http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/things-go-bump-night-riyadh-1511882449 
 
 

A few days before he gave no indication that he was under the threat of assassination, as he claimed in his speech. He allowed airport workers to take selfies with him, and left Lebanon in a sunny and optimistic mood.

 

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that when he left Lebanon, Hariri had no intention of resigning, that he himself did not know that he would resign and that this resignation had been forced on him by the Saudis

 

Hariri thought he had survived the pressure which had been applied last year on his construction company Saudi Oger, which was facing bankruptcy, and a meeting with Saudi Minister of State for Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan went well.



Al-Sabhan tweeted that the two agreed on "many things that are of interest”. But the minister’s tone changed rapidly after Hariri’s resignation. He then tweeted: "The hands of treachery and aggression must be amputated,” referring to Hezbollah and Iran.



The well informed but anonymous Saudi commentator, who uses the Twitter handle Mujtahidd, discounted the theory that Hariri felt under threat of assassination from Iran. He said the Lebanese premier was under greater physical threat from the Islamic State group.



Mujtahidd said Hariri emerged from his latest talks with Ali Akbar Velayati, the Iranian supreme leader’s senior international affairs adviser, in good spirits.



“The main reason for summoning him back to Riyadh is to hold him captive with the rest of the detained princes and businessmen to blackmail him and force him to bring back the funds he has abroad, particularly those not linked to Lebanon.”



“The statement he read was written for him. He was not convinced about it, neither in terms of content nor in terms of submitting his resignation from Riyadh. For how is it possible for a political leader to announce his resignation from another country’s capital?” Mujtahidd wrote on Twitter.

 

Hossein Sheikholeslam, senior advisor to the Iranian foreign minister, appeared to agree with Mujtahidd. He accused US President Donald Trump and the Saudi crown prince of pressurising Hariri into resigning: “Al-Hariri's resignation was done in coordination with Trump and Mohammed bin Salman to foment tension in Lebanon and the region," Sheikholeslam said.



Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, reacted calmly to the news on Sunday. He placed the blame for Hariri’s removal on the Saudis, calling the resignation a violation of Lebanese sovereignty and an attack on “Hariri’s dignity”.  He referred to Hariri as “our prime minister,” not, note, our former prime minister.



Put all these statements together, and it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that when he left Lebanon, Hariri had no intention of resigning, that he himself did not know that he would resign and that this resignation had been forced on him by the Saudis. My information, however, is that he has not been arrested.



The second event was a bump in the night quite literally. It came just hours after Hariri’s bellicose speech.  A long range missile launched by Houthi rebels thousands of kilometres away in Yemen came down somewhere near Riyadh airport in the north of the capital. The missile was allegedly intercepted by Saudi air defence missiles, but there were reports of scenes of panic on the ground.



Until now, the Houthis have usually targeted Jeddah. A long-range missile aimed at the capital was read by the Saudis as a clear message from an Iranian proxy: “You ramp up the pressure on Hezbollah and we will ramp up the pressure on you in Riyadh,” the launchers of the missile seemed to say.

 

McCarthy reborn

 

The third event to disturb the peace had been well planned. Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah’s demise had been widely predicted. He was in charge of the kingdom’s third military force, the national guard, and as Mohammed bin Salman had taken control of the ministry of defence and the ministry of interior (after ousting his cousin Mohammed bin Nayef). It was only a matter of time before he would take the scalp of Mutaib and put all three of the kingdom’s armies under his personal control.

 

The National Guard recruits historically from the kindgom's tribes. On Sunday the bank accounts of the tribal sheikhs involved in the army were frozen and prominent sheikhs have been banned from travel. They were mainly from the Motair and Otaiba tribes who had been loyal to the late King Abdullah. This was done to crack down on dissent.

 

We did not predict how brutally bin Salman would move against Mutaib. He and his brother Turki were arrested and charged with corruption. His arrest was signalled by websites close to the Royal Court, which printed initials and said the corruption was linked to military sales in his ministry. They created a special hashtag for the occasion which read: “Salman is confronting corruption”.

 

This committee is McCarthyite in its powers and scope. The first thing to note in the decree which set it up, is that it puts itself above and beyond the law.

 

Al-Arabiya broke the news that first 10 and then 11 princes had been arrested, along with 38 top businessmen and former ministers.



In a style of government which is unique to the kingdom, the decision to carry out this purge appears to have preceded the announcement of the committee formed to make these arrests. This is how the young prince acts, a man who some Middle East experts persist in referring to as a Western-style reformer. He acts with total disregard to habeas corpus, due process and the rule of law. In his eyes, those arrested are guilty before they are proven guilty.



This committee is McCarthyite in its powers and scope. The first thing to note in the decree which set it up, is that it puts itself above and beyond the law. The decree states that the committee (which bin Salman chairs) is “exempt from laws, regulations, instructions, orders and decisions while the committee shall perform the following tasks ... the investigation issuance of arrest warrants, travel ban, disclosure and freezing of accounts and portfolios, tracking of funds, assets, and preventing their remittance or transfer by persons and entities whoever they might be. The committee has the right to take any precautionary measures it sees, until they are referred to the investigating authorities or judicial bodies.”



In other words, the prince can do anything he likes to anyone, seizing their assets in and outside the kingdom. Let’s just remind ourselves of what he now controls. The prince heads all three of Saudi Arabia’s armies; he heads Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company; he heads the committee in charge of all economic affairs which is just about to launch the biggest privatisation the kingdom has seen; and he now controls all of Saudi’s media chains.

 

If previous moves bin Salman took constituted a power grab, Saturday’s moves were a wealth grab.

 

This was apparent from the list of businessmen arrested. ART, MBC and Rotana Media group dominate the Arab media. These Saudi media corporations account for most of what is put out on air in the Middle East, apart from the news output of Qatari-owned Al Jazeera.

 

Their respective owners, Saleh Kamel, Walid al-Ibrahim and Prince Waleed bin Talal are behind bars. Presumably too their wealth has been confiscated. Forbes prices bin Talal, chairman of the Kingdom Holding Corporation, at $18bn. He owns sizeable shares in numerous companies, including Newscorp, Citigroup, 21st Century Fox and Twitter. These shares too are under new management. The head of STC, the biggest mobile operator in Saudi, was also arrested.



If previous moves bin Salman took constituted a power grab, Saturday’s moves were a wealth grab.



Quite apart from the political dangers of stripping so many very rich Saudis of their wealth, this is a bizarre way to encourage foreigners to invest in the kingdom. BIn Salman’s actions on Saturday seemed to be designed to scare them all off.



The economy is in recession and foreign reserves are being depleted. Bin Salman has just seized the assets of the kingdom’s biggest businessmen and set up a committee that can seize assets at will at home or abroad. What would stop him doing the same to the assets of foreign investors who fell out with him?

 

The purge of other top oligarchs like Bakr bin Laden, who headed the top construction company in the country, will also have a knock-on effect in the rest of the economy. The bin Laden group employs thousands of sub-contractors. Purges and business do not mix, as bin Salman will soon find out.

 

Cracks in royal family

 

I am told by a reliable source that Prince Waleed bin Talal refused to invest in Neom, the mega city bin Salman announced would be built, and that was the reason why the crown prince removed his cousin. But bin Talal had also clashed with his cousin by calling openly for bin Nayef’s release from house arrest.

 

All branches of the royal family have been affected by this purge, and others that preceded it.

 

The other point to note is that all branches of the royal family have been affected by this purge, and others that preceded it. Just look at the names of the princes who have been taken out  - bin Talal, bin Fahd, bin Nayef, bin Muqrin. The latter died in a plane crash, apparently trying to flee the country. These names tell you one thing - the cracks in the royal family go far and deep and extend to its very core.

 

Would all this have happened without another green light from Trump? He tweeted yesterday that he "would very much appreciate Saudi Arabia doing their IPO of Aramco with the New York Stock Exchange, important to the United States!” Trump also called King Salman, congratulating him for everything he did since coming to power. The moves follow Jared Kushner’s third visit to the kingdom this year.  

 

If it was not apparent to one and all, it surely must be now. The capital of insecurity in the Middle East is Riyadh, and moves by a 32-year old prince to acquire absolute power are capable of destabilising neighbouring countries and removing their prime ministers. Worse, this prince appears to be encouraged by a US president who does not know what he is doing.



Wiser heads in Washington DC, like the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson or the Defence Secretary James Mattis must be tearing their hair out - or what is left of it. It would not surprise me to learn that Tillerson has had enough of trying to put out the fires that his president and his immediate entourage keep on igniting.

 

 

David Hearst is editor-in-chief of Middle East Eye. He was chief foreign leader writer of The Guardian, former Associate Foreign Editor, European Editor, Moscow Bureau Chief, European Correspondent, and Ireland Correspondent. He joined The Guardian from The Scotsman, where he was education correspondent.

 

 

Målning av irakiern Ali Talib
 
 
 

 THE ISRAELI-SAUDI ALLIANCE BEATING THE DRUMS OF WAR

BY RICHARD SILVERSTEIN

#SaudiPurge

 

Källa http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/saudi-arabia-enlists-israel-drumbeat-war-768675850

 

- Richard Silverstein writes the Tikun Olam blog, devoted to exposing the excesses of the Israeli national security state. His work has appeared in Haaretz, the Forward, the Seattle Times and the Los Angeles Times. He contributed to the essay collection devoted to the 2006 Lebanon war, A Time to Speak Out (Verso) and has another essay in the upcoming collection, Israel and Palestine: Alternate Perspectives on Statehood (Rowman & Littlefield).

 

Netanyahu's new alliance with Saudi Arabia's crown prince might provide the military punch he needs to forge a successful series of attacks on regional enemies

 

Over the past 24 hours, the drumbeat of war in the Middle East has risen to a fever-pitch. Saudi Arabia has provoked both an internal domestic, and a foreign crisis to permit Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to realise his grandiose vision of the Saudi state.

 

Internally, Salman suddenly created an anti-corruption commission and within four hours it had ordered the arrest of some of the highest level royal princes in the kingdom, including at least four sitting ministers and the son of a former king.

 

The most well-known name on the list, and one of the world's richest men, was Alwaleed bin Talal.

 

Under duress

 

Just a few hours earlier, after being summoned to Saudi Arabia for consultations, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri told a Saudi TV audience that he was quitting his job due to "death threats" against him. Why the prime minister of a country would resign in the capital of a foreign nation is inexplicable.

 

Coverage of Hariri's statement noted that he spoke haltingly into the camera and looked off-camera several times, indicating that the statement may have been written for him and that he may have delivered it under duress.

 

Given the strong-arm tactics used by bin Salman to both secure his own title as crown prince, and the subsequent arrest of scores of prominent Saudis deemed insufficiently loyal to him, it would not be at all out of character to summon the leader of a vassal state and offer an ultimatum: either resign or we will cut you off (literally).

 

Middle East Eye editor David Hearst agrees: "It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that when he left Lebanon, Hariri had no intention of resigning, that he himself did not know that he would resign and that this resignation had been forced on him by the Saudis."

 

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah called Hariri "our prime minister" in his own address to the nation after the "resignation". This doesn't sound like a man who wanted Hariri out of power. Lebanon's president announced he would not accept Hariri's resignation till he returned in person to affirm it.

 

Further, Saudi Arabia announced that Hariri would not be returning to Lebanon due to the so-called threats on his life. Something doesn't smell right.

 

Both Hariri and his late father earned their wealth thanks to Saudi largess. They also owed their own leading role in Lebanese politics to Saudi patronage.

 

The assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005 came after threats levelled against him by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which partly explains lingering hostility between the Syrian regime and the Saudi royal family. 

 

This hostility was likely a prime factor in Saudi Arabia becoming the principal financier of the Syrian armed opposition groups, including some of the most bloodthirsty militants affiliated with Islamic State (IS) and al Qaeda.

 

Bin Salman's new ally

 

After losing in Yemen and Syria, bin Salman appears willing to try yet a third time, turning Lebanon into a political football to even scores with foreign enemies. Unfortunately Hariri, like his father before him, is being squeezed to within an inch of his life. This time, by the Saudis instead of the Syrians.

 

The Saudi crown prince appears eager to ratchet up the conflict with Iran. Bin Salman, like his new ally, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, appears willing to exploit and manipulate hostility to a foreign enemy in order to bolster his own domestic stature.

 

Given that he's hellbent on establishing his own dominance in Saudi internal politics, such an enemy is very helpful in holding rivals at bay. 

 

Israel has responded in kind. On Monday, the foreign ministry sent an urgent cable to all diplomats demanding that they mouth a pro-Saudi line regarding the Hariri resignation. Haaretz' diplomatic correspondent, Barak Ravid, tweeted the contents of the cable.

 

This indicates that Israel and Saudi Arabia are developing the sort of "no-daylight" relationshipthat Israeli leaders used to tout with their American counterparts. Together with their combined military might and oil wealth, these two countries could pose a highly combustible commodity.

 

Bin Salman may have also learned another lesson from Israel: that it is fruitless to seek the help of outside powers in waging such conflicts. He saw Netanyahu spend years fruitlessly begging two US presidents to join him in a military adventure attacking Iran. 

 

His new alliance with Saudi Arabia might provide the military punch he needs to forge a successful series of attacks on regional enemies.

 

Both the Saudis and Israelis watched ruefully as former US President Barack Obama's Iran nuclear deal, negotiated despite vociferous opposition from Netanyahu, removed this card from their political deck. Netanyahu had played the card for years in drumming up opposition to Iran's purported nuclear programme.

 

He was furious he could no longer use it to defang domestic political challenges or invoke national crisis.

 

Over the past few months, both countries have lost another critical regional "card:" Their Syrian Islamist allies have folded under a joint onslaught from the Syrian regime and its Iranian-Russian backers.

 

A few years earlier, Netanyahu had joined Saudi Arabia in intervening in Syria, attacking military facilities associated with Iran or Hezbollah. He pursued this policy as a method of deterrence, to diminish the arsenal available to the Lebanese Islamists during the next war with Israel. But he acted no less in order to bolster his security bona fides among security-obsessed Israelis.

 

But with the civil war winding down and Saudi-Israeli proxies having failed, Netanyahu can no longer offer the Syrian bogeyman to Israeli voters. He has four major corruption scandals facing him. More and more of his closest confidants are being swept up in the police investigation.

 

Netanyahu desperately needs a distraction. A war against Lebanon is just the ticket. It would do wonders to unite the country just long enough to see the charges evaporate into thin air.

 

But there would be a major difference in this coming war: Saudi Arabia will join this fight specifically to give Iran a black eye. So attacking Lebanon will be only part of its agenda while attacking Iran directly will be the real Saudi goal.

 

With Israel joining the fight, the two states could mount a regional war with attacks launched against targets in Lebanon, Syria, Iran; sparking possibly counter-attacks against Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Gulf states.

 

Foreign enemy

 

As I mentioned above, bin Salman appears to have learned a critical political lesson from his Israeli ally: you need a foreign enemy in order to instil fear within your domestic constituency. You must build that enemy into a lurking, ominous force for evil in the universe.

 

That's one of the reasons bin Salman is intervening in the Yemen civil war. Despite a Saudi massacre inducing mass starvation and epidemic, bin Salman has been able to invoke Muslim schisms in order to paint Iran as "the aggressor" and threat to Saudi interests.

 

More recently, he declared his neighbours in Qatar to be persona non grata for not siding fulsomely enough with the Saudis against Iran. With bin Salman, you are either with him or against him. There is no middle ground.

 

Fortunately, most of the rest of the human race seeks that middle ground.

 

Those who eschew the middle end up being dictators or madmen. That seems to be the direction in which the Saudi royal is headed.

 

In Lebanon, his strategy seems to be to provoke a political and financial crisis. Saudi Arabia provides a huge level of financial and commercial support to Lebanon.

 

Bin Salman seems to believe that if he withdraws such support, it will force the Lebanese to rein in Hezbollah. Though it's not clear how the Lebanese are supposed to restrain a political movement that is one of the largest and most popular in the country.

 

The Saudi prince is trying the same strategy which so far failed with Qatar. There he declared a boycott. He strong-armed all the states which relied on him for largesse to declare a blockade. Borders were closed. Flights were cancelled. Trade was halted.

 

But instead of folding, the Qataris (with Iranian encouragement no doubt) have taken their case to the world and fought back. They show no signs of folding.

 

The Russia factor

 

It's unclear how the Saudis believes he will force a much larger and distant state like Lebanon to submit. He can turn off the spigots and declare a boycott. Indeed, Bahrain, one of the Saudi vassal states, directed its citizens to return from Lebanon and declared a travel ban like the Qatari ban which preceded it. 

 

All this will only strengthen Hezbollah's hand. It will also serve as a tacit invitation to Iran to play a much larger role in Lebanon. When there is a vacuum, it will be filled.
 

There is an even larger power looming behind this all: Russia. The stalemate in Syria between the Saudi-funded rebels and Assad permitted Putin to intervene decisively and effect the eventual outcome of that conflict. If Putin perceives a similar Saudi strategy in Lebanon, I see little reason Iran and Russia might not team up in the same fashion to support their allies on the ground.

 

It's interesting to note that King Salman made the first ever visit by a Saudi royal to Moscow this past month and held talks with Vladimir Putin.

 

Wouldn't one like to know what they discussed? It certainly had to have involved Syria and Lebanon, since those are the two places in which Saudi interests either conflict, or potentially conflict with Russia's.  

 

Perhaps the Saudi king warned Putin not to take advantage of chaos in Lebanon as he did in Syria. I doubt that Putin would be much intimidated given the Saudi failure in Syria.

 

Russia's future actions will be determined by how much Putin feels he has to gain if he were to side with Hezbollah and Iran in a future conflict in Lebanon.

 

It's important to remember that during the days of the Soviet Union, with the US a dominant force in the region, it supported most of the frontline Arab states in their conflict with Israel. 

 

Putin is well-known for seeking to restore the former glory that was the Soviet empire. No doubt, it would please him no end to engineer a fully fledged Russian return to power and influence in the Middle East. 

 

Military strategists in Riyadh and Tel Aviv

 

Israel is the elephant in the room here. It borders Lebanon and has fought two major wars there, along with a 20-year failed occupation of the south. Hezbollah is Israel's sworn enemy and Iran, the movement's largest backer, is also one of Israel's chief adversaries. 

 

The Saudis have the financial wherewithal to support a protracted conflict in Lebanon (they also spent $1bn in support of Israel's sabotage campaign against Iran). They may be more than willing to bankroll another Israeli invasion.

 

Bin Salman, like his new ally Netanyahu, appears willing to exploit and manipulate hostility to a foreign enemy in order to bolster his own domestic stature

 

For their part, the Saudis may be willing to create yet another Lebanese government cobbled together by collaborators and bought-off politicians, while shutting Hezbollah out of political power.

 

Similarly, the history of Israeli intervention is filled with such sham political constructs. In the West Bank, they created the "village councils". In south Lebanon, they created the South Lebanese Army. And in Syria, they funded the al-Nusra rebels fighting the regime in the Golan Heights.

 

One can only hope that the military strategists in Riyadh and Tel Aviv aren't mad enough to contemplate such a scenario. But given the gruesome history of Lebanon, and its role as a sacrificial lamb in conflicts between greater powers, one cannot rule it out.

 

Finally, the US which had played a decisive role in preventing an Israeli attack on Iran for years, is now led by a president who's quite enamoured both of Israel and Saudi Arabia. 

 

Trump's first foreign visit as leader of the country was to Saudi Arabia. His warm relations with Netanyahu and support for Israel's most extreme policies is also well-known. No one should expect this administration to restrain either the Saudis or Israelis. If, anything, they may goad them on.

 

- Richard Silverstein writes the Tikun Olam blog, devoted to exposing the excesses of the Israeli national security state. His work has appeared in Haaretz, the Forward, the Seattle Times and the Los Angeles Times. He contributed to the essay collection devoted to the 2006 Lebanon war, A Time to Speak Out (Verso) and has another essay in the upcoming collection, Israel and Palestine: Alternate Perspectives on Statehood (Rowman & Littlefield).

 

 
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