Why Things Are Going to Get Much Worse in the Arab World Before They Get Better
This last Wednesday 29th April Saud al-Faisal was retired from his 40 year tenure as foreign minister which started, oddly, five days after his father King Faisal was murdered on 25th March 1975 by his nephew, Faisal bin Musaid. Whoever let the young man into the King’s “open house” session with a gun obviously wanted him dead. Since 1933, the US and the Saudi royal family had been joined at the hip with their Aramco deal – a deal on which the Empire was subsequently built, and which had saved it from British and French machinations to control all the oil fields of the Middle-East, trying to exclude America from the region.
So, although this one isn’t on William Blum’s list of the Empire’s political assassinations, the US must have known about the event beforehand. The problem with King Faisal, as far as the US was concerned, was that he took seriously the business of retaking Jerusalem for Islam.
He had also, a year earlier, planned and executed the 1974 oil embargo, which had the effect of trebling oil prices, and had backed Sadat in his retaking of Sinai. While it was impossible for the US to put the oil price cat back into the bag, they could at least put royals in charge of Saudi Arabia, who didn’t carry with them the erroneous notion that it was a normal country with a people. As kings came and went Saud al-Faisal pursued the policy that Saudi Arabia was, in fact, an oil company and that the people living there were totally incidental its purpose – a burden to manage. He is succeeded by career diplomat Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir, ex-ambassador to the US, whose task it had been after 9/11 to run a massive PR campaign to get the Americans to soften their ire towards Saudi Arabia, redirecting it to other less fortunate Middle-eastern nations.
Al-Jubeir will be tightly controlled by the group around King Salman and his 34-year old son Mohamed. Having foiled a plot to section Salman and prevent his accession to the throne upon the death of the old King Abdulla, who died on 23rd January, Salman and his sons are now in the process of consolidating power. The idea of the plotters (Abu Dhabi, the Egyptian military, King Abdulla’s son Mutaib, Bandar bin Sultan, and ex-secretary to the court Khalid al-Tuwaijri), had been for the very last of the old generation, Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, then deputy crown prince, to become crown prince and effective ruler, and for Abdulla’s son Mutaib to become deputy crown prince and eventually, under their control, to take over from Muqrin. As it was, the plot failed, Salman became fully-fledged ruler, Muqrin became crown prince, and Salman’s close ally, Mohamed bin Nayef bin Abdelaziz became deputy crown prince.
Also last Wednesday, along with the Saud al-Feisal retirement, Muqrin bin Abdulaziz was retired from the crown princeship, to which position Mohamed bin Nayef bin Abdelaziz was promoted. Unsurprisingly, Salman’s son Mohamed takes over the deputy crown princeship. Having been appointed as Secretary to the Court, Mohamed bin Salman, a lawyer by training, is already effectively prime minister, as well as being defence minister, overseeing the Yemen War, and economic supremo, as president of the all-new all-encompassing “Council for Economic Affairs”. Mohamed’s brother Abdulaziz bin Salman had become Deputy Petroleum Minister with his father’s accession to the throne, and will soon succeed the ageing Ali bin Ibrahim al-Naimi in the top job.
The Yemen War is only incidentally about the Houthi takeover of the country and Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi’s call for help. It has, unfortunately for the poor Yemenis, everything to do with this succession – but more on the war shortly. Just as 63-year old Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani of Qatar had abdicated in favour of his 35-year old son Tamim bin Hamad, the series of events above seems to be leading towards a potential double abdication over time in favour of Mohamed bin Salman. The intention behind the new war is to establish him as a warrior king in the eyes of the restless Saudi Twittersphere, and to cow the plotters. Sweeping away the old generation with the departure of Muqrin, and with the potential eventual double abdication in sight, this is a clear response to a long-standing view among all Arabs of the region that the Saudi royal family are inbred failures destined to collapse. It is not true that the US planned the Yemen War. When Salman and Mohamed decided on the war, the US – in perpetual reactive mode in the Arab world since the catastrophic failure of the Iraq War – had no choice but to support them and, in view of their negotiations with Iran, to try to keep them sweet.
That Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani of Qatar is probably the most far seeing Arab leader was revealed in secret tapes (only the first two videos in this sequence are directly relevant) released from Libyan intelligence archives after the fall of Ghaddafi. In conversations with the deceased Libyan leader, he reveals his concerns about the future of the Arab world and the need to support opposition groups, to guide them wisely into new political structures for the region, in order to ensure a soft landing in a post monarchical world. He reveals his views of the UK intelligence community as a bunch of thick throwbacks, who want to stick with the Saudis whatever happens, to prevent Islamic movements from coming to power. Note that both he and his son (now emir of Qatar) were educated at Sandhurst military academy, and that he owns much of London including the freehold of the US Embassy there.
The tapes reveal that Hamad is marginally more positive about US policy-makers than he is about those in UK, although he says that the Americans are angry with him about his policy of greater transparency through news coverage in the region (i.e. al-Jazeera), and that US administrations are too soft on the Saudi royal family. Deceased King Abdulla, Hamad treats for a mental retard and Bandar bin Sultan (aka Bandar Bush), he has for a psychopath. The pressures and complications of the Syrian Arab Spring, and the incautious, aggressive, and ham-fisted interventions of Bandar, grinding Abdulla’s axe against Bashar al-Assad, which led to the complete collapse of the situation in Syria, eventually led to Hamad’s own decision to abdicate in favour of his son, whom he advised to take a fresh view of the situation.
The old Saudi régime pressurized Tamim bin Hamad, upon his accession, to muzzle al-Jazeera and relinquish Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, figuring him for a young inexperienced whelp. Under extreme pressure Tamim surprised them and stuck to his father’s guns. His political savvy showed when he threw the Saudis enough of a bone for them to save face at Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) meetings. The Qatari example resonated with many Saudis. The future had to be in the hands of a new generation.
The Yemen War
With the accession of Salman and his son Mohamed in Saudi Arabia, a new régime has come about which may be beginning to realize that Saudi Arabia is not just an oil company with three vast professional security services: the army, to protect the oilfields, the National Guard, to protect the royal family and the Royal Guard, to protect the court. The arms purchases of these three organizations put Saudi Arabia third in the world after the US and China in terms of arms expenditures. The National Guard is composed of Ikhwan tribesmen traditionally loyal to the al-Saud family, and while Mohamed bin Salman controls the armed forces, the big loser in this latest political shake-up in Saudi Arabia, Abdulla’s son Mutaib, still controls the National Guard.
The standoff was palpable as Salman ordered Mutaib’s forces into action in Yemen. Iran had warned the Houthis in Yemen not to pursue their grievances through an armed takeover. It didn’t take a genius to work out that the situation would play into Salman’s hands, as he declared a religious war against the Zaydi Shia Houthis. The Ikhwan under Mutaib couldn’t refuse the call, irrespective of their leader’s position. So, one of the most important elements that will decide the course of the Yemen War is the process of re-integration of the National Guard into the army that Salman seeks.
But Salman also has the clergy on his side. Having now reinstated all who had preached against the Egyptian coup and signed the proclamation declaring the coup illegal under Islamic law, Salman now benefits from a call by the Grand Mufti for conscription to back up the war effort. This is Salman’s most powerful weapon against his opponents – the frightening prospect of forging the jihadic energies of Saudi youth into a Thermidorian army – one that is, besides, already on the ground around the world and in Yemen – one that merely involves turning al-Qaeda into regulars of sorts. The Ikhwan of the National Guard are not the force they once were, having compromised themselves over the years as a result of their blind loyalty to a corrupt régime.
The Yemen War is a proxy war, but not one between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Saudis have their intelligence services and five of their own AWACS, they know there are no Iranian forces in Yemen and that Iran has no intention of sending any. The Sunni-Shia conflict is a smokescreen originally started by the media in Abu Dhabi with the billions it has to promote a story with journalists in the mainstream media, a story which, among others, the old Saudi régime swallowed hook line and sinker. Clearly, old King Abdulla, hemmed in by the conspirators and fed false information, started having visions of the return of the Sassanian Empire with armoured divisions of the IRGC lining up in Iraq, ready to march into Riyadh. What seemed to be worse from him was that Americans were going to cut a deal with Iran, so secretary to the court and co-conspirator Khalid al-Tuwaijri, received the go-ahead for payments of vast amounts of money to Israel to lobby against the Iran deal. As if the Israelis needed to be paid for that. If was obviously convenient for the conspirators that such payments had to be keep secret, so they could go through shady bank accounts.
The alliance between Abu Dhabi and Israeli interests gave the stories about the Shia take-over additional legs, since they are passed on to mainstream media from the ever “trusted sources” in Tel Aviv. The war in Yemen is actually between Salman’s circle and Mohamed bin Zayed, the effective ruler of Abu Dhabi and the UAE, together with MbZ’s allies in and out of Saudi Arabia. Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani’s tapes reveal that it had been MbZ’s understanding since some time that Saudi Arabia was ripe for territorial division, given that the royal family had gone gaga, and that all the oil was in the eastern Shia province on the western littoral of the Persian Gulf. The size of the mini-emirate of Abu Dhabi was clearly beginning to irk the trillionaire prince.
Fanning a Shia –Sunni conflict would seem therefore to the unchained Mohamed bin Zayed to be a great idea, enthusiastically seconded by his protectors and close allies – Israel – which benefitted from his funding of the 2014 Gaza War, and who are pushing for Mohamed Dahlan, the MbZ’s Palestinian gofer, to take over the Palestinian Authority. The alliance with Israel is apparently crucial to Abu Dhabi’s security. Report (scroll down for English document) of a conversation between William Burns of the US State dept and Mohamed bin Zayed on 22nd January 2007, revealed by an officer in the UAE Army, shows MbZ doesn’t trust his own armed forces. But the wacky plan to actually split up Saudi Arabia couldn’t rely on the alliance with Israel for boots on the ground. So an alliance with the heavily armed (by the US) bitter and twisted deposed leader of Yemen, Ali Abdulla al-Saleh, and the Zaydi Shia Houthis, was also necessary. To this end MbZ funded them to the tune of at least $1bn, with the full knowledge of the old Saudi régime, who bought his story that the whole idea was to get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen.
The Iran Deal
Jake Sullivan (apparently slated to become Hillary Clinton’s National Security adviser), together with the same William Burns, had been negotiating on half of the US in secret with Iran, through the auspices of Oman, since March 2013. It was these discussions which led to the disqualification of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hard-line protégé, from the 2013 presidential elections in Iran by its Guardian Council, and to the eventual election, on 14th June, of Hassan Rouhani, a miraculous combination of liberal mind and nuclear negotiating skills within a single human being. Obama’s surprise phone call to Rouhani on 27th September was no surprise.
Obama’s administration had been working on coming to terms with Iran ever since his offer to Iran of a “new beginning” in March 2009. The White House with its myriad advisers had come to the same conclusion as strategic studies institute Chatham House that: “The wars and continued weaknesses in Afghanistan and Iraq have further strengthened Iran, their most powerful immediate neighbour, which maintains significant involvement in its ‘near-abroad’. The US-driven agenda for confronting Iran is severely compromised by the confident ease with which Iran sits in its region”.
If the deal is now almost certain of being completed by the end of June, this is mainly due to the fracturing of the 2002-2003 neocon war coalition in Washington. Netanhayu, flush with the old Saudi régime’s money, clearly overplayed his hand in the March speech to Congress, and that helped. Obama’s cool handling of the affair seemed, however, to betray a confidence that the Iran deal had already gathered considerable momentum. Hillary Clinton, sensing a change in the political climate, executed a lightning volte-face and backed him, sending Bill on a mission to further drum up support into the bargain. The proposed anti-Iran legislation in Congress is in trouble, as is now one of Obama’s chief antagonists on the Iran deal.
It is essentially the collapse of the neocon coalition, which Obama seems to have figured out would eventually have to occur, which lead to the success of the deal. To Bill Kristol’s dismay, Aipac is now also taking Obama’s side. The fact is, over the longer term, reality is ultimately hard to avert. The neocon balloon had eventually to pop.
Much has been made of its resurgence in respect of the Ukraine, but little attention is paid to the fact the prime mover in the whole affair is in fact Angela Merkel in alliance with the Poles. John McCain and Victoria Nuland may have been at Maidan handing out cookies, but photo-ops, speeches and mistakenly recorded expletives don’t necessary amount to the neo-cons being in the driving seat. The whole thing in Ukraine was actually about the EU deal, and it would seem from Nuland’s mistakenly recorded expletives that she was particularly put out by this. There seemed to be a sort of neocon desperation about the need to be seen at the forefront of events in Ukraine. Merkel not only initiated the Ukraine crisis, but has managed it all the way through, taking the initiative to force the Ukrainians to agree peace at Minsk II just when war – which was clearly not her aim – looked likely to erupt on a European scale [Please read the postscript below for a summary of my understanding of Merkel’s position].
Reality seems to have punctured the neocon balloon in the US. Iran’s power has grown immeasurably as regional hegemon as a direct result of their mistaken policies. The nation has never looked back since the overthrow of two of its direst enemies – Saddam and the Taliban régime of Mullah Omar. It would have been almost unthinkable 10 years ago for Pakistan to refuse to send soldiers to help the Saudis against Shia insurgents, yet they have, insisting on a neutral position in the region.
The Iraq and Afghan wars have been enormously wasteful and have eroded US power and reputation around the world, while boosting Iranian power. The threats of “all options are on the table” in regard to Iran have regularly been made to keep the Israel lobby sweet. However, war was never really on the table as Uri Avnery has regularly reminded readers of Counterpunch, because Iran controls the straits of Hormuz. A war with Iran would end up with West facing a situation probably much worse than March 1974. The very UK and US fleets protecting the Persian Gulf would – out of port – become targets for sizzler missiles, blocking passage to the VLCCs. All bluster aside – these missiles still cannot be effectively countered.
Little Israel, however powerful in the legislative corridors of the US, can no longer supply the strategic backing the Empire needs. Iran sits astride the Middle-East and Central Asia, and with the commercial centre of gravity shifting dramatically to the East, Israel is left feeling, like Venice in 1497 when Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape, ever so slightly irrelevant. What is more, as Israeli policies have pursued the increasingly myopic goal of covering the ethnically-cleansed hills of Palestine with suburbs full of crazed extremists, to the exclusion of working on the position of Israel in the region and the world, the Empire gave its judgement when David “too big to jail” Petraeus said his peace.
The Empire, having been egged on by Israel to undermine the secular régimes of Egypt, Syria, and Iraq over the years, have now destroyed secular nationalism in the region, only for its populations quite naturally to revert to older traditions in order to structure their lives, ushering in the Islamic resurgence. Now the West is, like a fat man continually changing crash diets, trying to figure out how to deal with the Islamic phenomenon, claiming that the Arab world needs to be secular.
On the view expressed by Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani in the Libyan tapes, the failure to see the need to nurture indigenous movements that seek to structure and order life in the region, comes from the psychological hang-ups of thick policy-makers, especially from the UK, but also from the US and France, who are overtaken by a sudden crusader complex as soon as they set foot on desert soil. The result of the West’s policies is now evident in the institutional scale banditry in the Arab world.
The problem isn’t simply with Mohamed bin Zayed. For every one lunatic prince in the region there are 100 self-seeking oligarchs and 1000 mini-war lords, all of whom are media savvy, confusing the issues for the uninitiated observer, sending press conferences into senseless cross-purposes, while Iran basks in a limelight not of its making, and plays to the gallery. This situation in the Arab world is what explains the rise of ISIS. As Ramzy Baroud writes on this problem: “The answer does not lie in understanding either Islam or Muslims, but by following the money trail, regional intrigues, and obvious and not so-obvious competing political agendas. Simply put, ordinary people are not the force behind IS.” They merely pay the price.
The Egyptian morass
The Egyptian Junta leader continues to benefit from Gulf largesse, despite his biting the hand that feeds him, by his exploitation of the divisions between Gulf leaders. He was and continues to be a pillar of the Mohamed bin Zayed alliance, fêting the Abu Dhabi ruler’s birthday in March, holding hands to cut the birthday cake, whilst keeping another mischievous hand in the Yemeni pie. The new Saudi régime, despite its change of policy with regard to the Muslim Brotherhood, whose help it now seeks in Yemen, continues to keep Sisi on side, as they grapple with the problems created by the old régime and the new ones of their own creation.
On April 19th CIA director John Brennan visited junta leader Sisi to ask him why exactly he was massing troops on the Libyan border. He must have mumbled something about a quick campaign to clear ISIS out of Derna, when Brennan probably remind him that he already had a fully fledged war with the tribes in Sinai, which he had created from nothing. The Egyptian army is faring so badly there, it has had to start paying one of the larger tribes to take its side and turn on the others. Sisi has brought mayhem and terror to Sinai to keep up his image of the saviour and protector of Israel against the Gazans, who have largely survived over the years because of their extended family ties with the tribes of Sinai. So Sisi, along with the cream of Israeli planners and some geniuses within its security, reckoned that destroying the whole of Sinai was a good idea.
But the top Egyptian military generals, having already profited from and disposed of Egypt’s gas reserves in mind-boggling deals with corrupt Israeli officials, are now looking for new plunder. The oilfields of Cyrenaica, plunged as they are in a power vacuum, beckon to be taken over: hence the massing of troops on the Libyan border. But this is one adventure the Israelis are not going to lobby for on behalf of its pet régime in Cairo – those oilfields are far too valuable and would make the Egyptian military uncontrollable from their point of view. Besides, America wants the oilfields for itself – it is merely biding its time, keeping the cauldron boiling while it fries other fish and thinks what to do. Having the Egyptians in there in the meantime is thus presumably not a favoured option of theirs.
The Israelis are concerned about Sisi’s relationship with that other enemy of the Arab Spring, Vladimir Putin, since the idea was floated that Egypt could get the S-300 after a cringe-making joint visit to the Cairo opera last February. Sisi should have regaled Putin with one of the Operettas, which Cairo regularly produces as eulogies to the army and to Sisi, North Korean style. In any event, these two champions of the “fight against terror” aim to strengthen their relationship, presumably using Abu Dhabi money. Sisi already supplies rockets to Assad with the bright yellow insignia of the Egyptian “Arab Organisation for Industrialisation” carefully painted over each rocket. He also supplies Assad with TNT for his barrel bombs (here is a picture of the factory in Egypt, where the stuff is made). Putin has, with great economy, ensured Assad’s future by floating the idea of supplying the S-300 to the Egyptian military, which would spoil Israel’s plan to keep it under its control. They are bound now to lend their support to the Syrian dictator.
[Postcript: Why Merkel is behind the Ukraine crisis. Merkel is in control of the EU at the moment, and this is what allowed her to focus the EU’s attention on the Ukraine despite all of its other (substantial) problems and – incredible as it may seem in the current economic situation – to pass sanctions legislation against Russia. The EU Commission is beholden to her for supporting the disgraced Jean-Paul Juncker. The EU Council is run by her appointee English-challenged but German-speaking ex-Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, and the largely toothless EU Parliament is cleverly managed by CDU member and leader of the parliamentary majority, Martin Schultz. The complaints of the German old-guard (viz. Gerhard Schröder) and of big industry (VW-Audi, BASF, Bayer, Siemens etc..) about sanctions and the Russia policy ignore the fact that the German Mittelstand, which the CDU represents, depends on the new neo-colonial symbiosis with the east Europeans, especially Poland. Their potential increasing dependence on a fast developing Russian consumer market to their east is what Merkel wants to stymie. That the Ukraine does not meet any of the standards for EU entry was of no consequence: the EU deal wasn’t about the Ukraine. Finally, it should be noted that the insane demonisation of Putin’s Russia in the Western Press is actually led by Merkel’s personal friends, empresses of international media, Liz Mohn of Bertelsmann, and Friede Springer of Axel Springer. These media giants have always been overtly ideological organizations. Consider the Springer employment contract which requires journalists, not to swear an oath to truthful reporting, but to nurture transatlantic ideals and defend the state of Israel.]
Omar Kassem can be reached through his website Different Traditions.