Saudi Arabia replaces key official in effort to arm Syria rebels

n13-iconThe Wall Street Journal reports: Saudi Arabia has sidelined its veteran intelligence chief, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, as leader of the kingdom’s efforts to arm and fund Syrian rebels, replacing him with another prince well-regarded by U.S. officials for his successes fighting al Qaeda, Saudi royal advisers said this week.

The change holds promise for a return to smoother relations with the U.S., and may augur a stronger Saudi effort against militants aligned with al Qaeda who have flocked to opposition-held Syrian territory during that country’s three-year war, current and former U.S. officials said.

Prince Bandar, an experienced but at times mercurial ex-diplomat and intelligence chief, presided over Saudi Arabia’s Syria operations for the past two years with little success, as a rift opened up with the U.S. over how much to back rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who has won praise in Washington for his counterterror work against al Qaeda in Yemen and elsewhere, is now a main figure in carrying out Syria policy, a royal adviser and a security analyst briefed by Saudi officials said Tuesday. [Continue reading...]

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Syria and the parable of the poisoned arrow

e13-iconA Buddhist scripture recounts a parable in which the Buddha said:

Suppose a man is struck by a poisoned arrow and the doctor wishes to take out the arrow immediately. Suppose the man does not want the arrow removed until he knows who shot it, his age, his parents, and why he shot it. What would happen? If he were to wait until all these questions have been answered, the man might die first.

Translate this to Syria and this parable takes an ugly twist:

Suppose a man is struck by a poisoned arrow and he asks a doctor to take out the arrow immediately. Suppose the doctor does not want the arrow removed until he knows who shot it, his age, his parents, and why he shot it. What would happen? If the doctor were to wait until all these questions have been answered, the man might die first.

The principle, do no harm, applies just as well to politics as it does to medicine, yet it’s a mistake to view this as a choice between action and inaction. If conceived in those terms, the balance will always incline towards inaction because we can’t know the future. We can never say with certainty that our actions will cause no harm.

Yet if we endeavor to do no harm, we have to recognize that inaction has effects. A passive bystander who actually possesses a significant amount of power yet declines to wield it in any meaningful way, is not lacking in agency. More often, he is simply climbing through the moral escape-hatch which every day affords people across the globe some fragile peace of mind: it’s not my problem. I don’t need to worry about it.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post last week, Stephen Hawking wrote:

What’s happening in Syria is an abomination, one that the world is watching coldly from a distance. Where is our emotional intelligence, our sense of collective justice?

When I discuss intelligent life in the universe, I take this to include the human race, even though much of its behavior throughout history appears not to have been calculated to aid the survival of the species. And while it is not clear that, unlike aggression, intelligence has any long-term survival value, our very human brand of intelligence denotes an ability to reason and plan for not only our own but also our collective futures.

We must work together to end this war and to protect the children of Syria. The international community has watched from the sidelines for three years as this conflict rages, engulfing all hope. As a father and grandfather, I watch the suffering of Syria’s children and must now say: No more.

Hawking is clearly frustrated with global inaction, he sees the suffering of the Syrian population as an affront to any conception of universal justice, and he is appealing for the war to end. What he fails to do is propose any course of action which might lead to that outcome.

A theoretical physicist can reasonably claim he is unqualified to outline such a plan. Nicholas Burns, on the other hand, was a career diplomat and was the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs in the Bush administration. We might expect that while appealing for action he would go further than offer a McCainish something must be done.

Burns writes:

There are no easy answers to the Syria crisis. A US-led ground invasion would require something on the scale of the 1991 Gulf War — hundreds of thousands of troops. That’s not in the cards for a president, Congress, and public emerging from two major wars since 9/11. Russia and China continue to shield Syrian President Bashar Assad from international pressure at the UN, going so far as to object to proposals to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid. For now, the main, and mainly vain, hope is UN-led talks for a ceasefire and transition from Bashar Assad’s rule. At its current languid pace, that could take years to materialize.

Washington finds itself in an uncharacteristically weak position to drive events in Syria. President Obama has taken force off the table, refusing to strike last September following Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians. Obama has still not provided effective, lethal support to moderate rebels or threatened strikes on Assad’s air force if the brutal killings continue. As a result, the United States lacks the leverage and credibility to intimidate Assad. The administration plods along the diplomatic path, remaining a responsible contributor of humanitarian aid but lacking the strength to produce a solution on its own.

The one country that could make a decisive difference to stop the fighting is Vladimir Putin’s Russia. But Putin, aligned with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah, prefers to run arms to the Syrian government and serve as Assad’s de facto lawyer in Geneva.
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Putin will never reach a “Srebrenica moment” on Syria. That leaves the rest of us to consider once more — how many more lives will be claimed by Syria’s ceaseless civil war before we are finally shamed to stop the killings?

The question is: how?

Opponents of war, who nowadays seem to be much more concerned about avoiding involvement in other people’s wars than in ending wars — let’s call them the Not-Our-War-ists — seem to commonly have a kind of organic perspective on Syria.

If allowed to, the war will follow its natural course — though no one’s particularly clear about where that leads. In one breath the conflict in Syria involves no “good guys” and thus there is no basis for taking sides. Yet in the next breath, the conflict is driven by external powers and the Assad regime is resisting Western imperialism.

While it’s impossible to construct a coherent picture from these elements, the unifying theme is that Syria must not become another Iraq.

On those terms, since there has been no invasion, no bombs dropped nor cruise missiles launched from American warships, I guess — at least for now — Syria counts as one success story in the campaign to end U.S.-led wars in the Middle East.

While 140,000 have been killed and 6 million Syrians have lost their homes, this hasn’t become America’s war.

If this is mission accomplished, this is the kind of victory that leads to ruin.

So what’s the alternative?

One of the many reasons Americans tend to have a twisted view of war is because the continuation or end of a war has often had so little impact on life in America. Ending a war is a political choice here, but the physical implications play out elsewhere. America and American civilians collectively, face no existential threats.

The day the war ends is not the day the bombs stop dropping because for most Americans during wartime the bombs were always dropping somewhere else. War thus appears to be nothing more than the product of the callous calculations of governments — governments which might just as easily choose to end such wars as they chose to start them.

In Syria, on the other hand, both sides see themselves as facing an existential threat. There can be no return to a status quo ante bellum.

But as much as this is true for the Assad regime, it is not true for its principal supporters. Iran’s future does not depend on its alliance with Syria and neither does Russia’s. And while Hezbollah’s dependence may be the greatest, its involvement in Syria is actually serving to postpone its greatest existential challenge: whether it can ever fully evolve into a political entity, or whether it will always need weapons to compensate for a deficit in its popularity.

Without these three pillars of support, Assad is finished, and everyone knows that all four will not all rise or fall together.

Burns is right that Putin will never reach a “Srebrenica moment” on Syria — but neither will the U.S. and its allies. That moment came and went last August.

So what’s left?

Assad rules Syria from the air and now more than ever through barrel bombs which plummet aimlessly from helicopters. This crude use of power utterly depends on the weakness of his opponent, but that may soon change.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal, quoting Western and Arab diplomatic sources, reported that Saudi Arabia is about to supply Syrian rebel forces with “Chinese man-portable air defense systems, or Manpads, and antitank guided missiles from Russia”.

[I]f the Manpads are supplied in the quantities needed, rebels said it could tip the balance in the stalemated war in favor of the opposition. The antiaircraft and Russian Konkurs antitank weapons would help them chip away at the regime’s two big advantages on the battlefield—air power and heavy armor.

“New stuff is arriving imminently,” said a Western diplomat with knowledge of the weapons deliveries.

Rebel commanders and leaders of the Syrian political opposition said they don’t know yet how many of the Manpads and antiaircraft missiles they will get. But they have been told it is a significant amount. The weapons are already waiting in warehouses in Jordan and Turkey.

Earlier in the conflict, rebels managed to seize a limited number of Manpads from regime forces. But they quickly ran out of the missiles to arm them, the Western diplomat said.

Following the logic that more weapons means more violence, the supply of Manpads would have to be viewed as an unwelcome development. Moreover, no one can plausibly claim that Saudi Arabia has an interest in promoting democracy in the region. Yet assuming that the Manpads do in fact materialize, the most immediate and likely effect they will have is to bring a sudden end to the regime’s use of barrel bombs. Perhaps a broader shift in the balance of power will follow.

An end to this war depends less on finding enough people willing to give peace a chance than it does on changing the status quo.

And while some observers will always be inclined to see nefarious motives in all Saudi actions, their decision at this time, along with Washington’s quiet acquiescence, provides yet another telltale sign of AIPAC’s dwindling power.

The most vociferous opposition to Manpads circulating in Syria comes from Israel — which also happens to be the power that appears most content with a continuing stalemate.

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Saudis pledge $3 billion to support Lebanon’s army

The Wall Street Journal reports: Saudi Arabia pledged $3 billion to bolster Lebanon’s armed forces, in a challenge to the Iranian-allied Hezbollah militia’s decadeslong status as Lebanon’s main power broker and security force.

Lebanese President Michel Sleiman revealed the Saudi gift on Lebanese national television Sunday, calling it the largest aid package ever to the country’s defense bodies. The Saudi pledge compares with Lebanon’s 2012 defense budget, which the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute put at $1.7 billion.

Lebanon would use the Saudi grant to buy “newer and more modern weapons,” from France, said Mr. Sleiman, an independent who has become increasingly critical of Hezbollah. It followed what he called “decades of unsuccessful efforts” to build a credible Lebanese national defense force.

As a direct challenge to Hezbollah, the Saudi gift—and the Lebanese president’s acceptance—has potential to change the balance of power in Lebanon and the region. It also threatens to raise sectarian and political tensions further in a region already made volatile by the three-year, heavily sectarian civil war next door in Syria.

The Saudi move was announced hours after thousands of Lebanese turned out for the funerals of former cabinet minister Mohamad Chatah and some of the other victims killed Friday in a bombing in downtown Beirut. The bomb was believed to have targeted Mr. Chatah, an outspoken critic of Hezbollah’s dominance of Lebanese affairs and security. No group has claimed responsibility. [Continue reading...]

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Why won’t the West call out Saudi Arabia for persecution of democratic activists?

Andy Fitzgerald writes: At the memorial for Nelson Mandela, President Barack Obama eulogized the fallen leader:

Like Gandhi, he would lead a resistance movement – a movement that at its start held little prospect of success. Like [Martin Luther] King, he would give potent voice to the claims of the oppressed.

Listening in the crowd sat Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s second deputy prime minister. Apparently the words were lost on the government His Royal Highness was representing (though it’s questionable he even relayed the message), because within the next week, a Saudi judge sentenced democratic activist Omar al-Saeed to 4 years in prison and 300 lashes. His crime: calling for a constitutional monarchy (a government that would likely outlaw such cruel and unusual punishment).

Saeed is a member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (Acpra), an organization documenting human rights abuses and calling for democratic reform. He is its fourth member to be sentenced to prison this year. In March, co-founders Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani (who I have met in the past, and previously wrote about) and Abdullah al-Hamid were sentenced to prison terms of 10 and 5 years on charges such as “breaking allegiance with the ruler” and running an unlicensed political organization – despite repeated attempts to obtain a license.

Not surprisingly, there has been no strong public statement from the Obama administration regarding Saeed’s sentencing. [Continue reading...]

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Lebanon: The meaning of the Shatah assassination

Rami G. Khouri writes: Lebanon was jolted into a fresh political crisis on Friday after a car bomb in central Beirut assassinated Mohammad Shatah, a prominent political ally and adviser to former Prime Ministers Saad Hariri and Fouad Siniora. Such attacks have been a sad part of Lebanese political culture since the 1970s. The target, timing and location of the attack perhaps shed light on the perpetrators and purpose of the criminal deed, which killed at least four others and wounded over 70 people.

The attack should probably be analyzed at three levels simultaneously: the domestic confrontation between the March 14 and March 8 coalitions; the armed conflict to bring down or save the Syrian regime; and the wider ideological conflict across the Middle East that is driven to a large extent by Iran and Saudi Arabia. Killing Shatah at this time and in the heart of March 14’s political terrain in West Beirut echoes elements of all three conflicts.

Lebanon has been gripped by political stagnation in its formal governance institutions for much of the past year, as the Parliament, Cabinet and National Dialogue have all been moribund due to a deep ideological divide between the Hariri-led March 14 forces that are close to Saudi Arabia and the Hezbollah-led March 8 camp that is close to Syria and Iran. Both rhetoric and violent actions have escalated between these two groups and their allies in Lebanon in the past year. They are also engaged in combat inside Syria, where Hezbollah and Iran support Bashar Assad’s regime and Lebanese Sunni Salafists are fighting to bring down the Damascus regime. [Continue reading...]

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Growing hostility between Hezbollah and Saudi Arabia

Time magazine reports: Speeches by Hizballah head Hassan Nasrallah are usually predictable affairs. Each time he speaks, be it in front of the podium or from a secure, undisclosed location, the bearded, turbaned and bespectacled leader blends fiery rhetoric, anti-Western exhortations and bombast in a familiar pattern designed to inspire his followers, fire up new recruits and strike fear into enemy Israel. But in an interview with Lebanese TV station OTV late on Tuesday night, he went radically off script, zeroing in on a new target for his rhetorical darts: Saudi Arabia.

Nasrallah rarely mentions Saudi Arabia by name, only referring to the monarchy in vague terms in order to maintain plausible deniability. But that all changed on Tuesday, when he accused Saudi agents of being behind the suicide-bomb attack on the Iranian embassy in Beirut last month that claimed 23 lives. (The assassination of a senior Hizballah commander on Wednesday, though the assailants remain unknown, deepened the group’s sense of embattlement.) In doing so he has openly declared a war that has long been fought in the shadows, first in Lebanon where Hizballah-allied parties are at a political impasse with the Saudi-backed Future Movement of Saad Hariri, and now in Syria, where Hizballah, with Iranian assistance, is fighting on the side of President Bashar Assad against Saudi-backed rebels. “This is the first time I have ever seen such a direct attack [by Nasrallah] against Saudi Arabia,” says Lebanon-based political analyst Talal Atrissi. “This was the formal declaration of a war that has been going on in Syria since Saudi first started supporting the rebels.” [Continue reading...]

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Zarif asks Saudi Arabia to work with Iran

Al Jazeera reports: Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister who is currently on a tour of the Gulf states, has appealed to Saudi Arabia to work with Iran towards achieving regional stability.

He said on Monday in Doha, Qatar, after visits to Kuwait and Oman for meetings on its recent nuclear deal with world powers that his goal was to assure Gulf Arab states that the deal was in their best interests.

“We believe that Iran and Saudi Arabia should work together in order to promote peace and stability in the region,” Zarif told AFP news agency.

Zarif suggested the deal should not be seen as a threat.

“This agreement cannot be at the expense of any country in the region,” he said on Sunday. [Continue reading...]

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Iran deal could reconfigure the Mideast

Rami G. Khouri writes: The most striking implication of the agreement signed in Geneva last weekend to ensure that Iran’s nuclear industry does not develop nuclear weapons while gradually removing the sanctions on the country is more about Iran than it is about Iran’s nuclear industry. The important new dynamic that has been set in motion is likely to profoundly impact almost every significant political situation around the Middle East and the world, including both domestic conditions within countries and diplomatic relations among countries.This agreement breaks the long spell of estrangement and hostility between the U.S. and Iran, and signals important new diplomatic behavior by both countries, which augurs well for the entire region. It is also likely to trigger the resumption of the suspended domestic political and cultural evolution of Iran, which also will spur new developments across the Middle East.

Perhaps we can see the changes starting to occur in Iran as similar to the developments in Poland in the early 1980s, when the bold political thrust of the Solidarity movement that enjoyed popular support broke the Soviet Union’s hold on Polish political life, and a decade later led to the collapse of the entire Soviet Empire. The resumption of political evolution inside Iran will probably move rapidly in the years ahead, as renewed economic growth, more personal freedoms, and more satisfying interactions with the region and the world expand and strengthen the relatively “liberal” forces around Rouhani, Rafsanjani, Khatami and others; this should slowly temper, then redefine and reposition, the Islamic revolutionary autocrats who have controlled the power structure for decades but whose hard-line controls are increasingly alien to the sentiments of ordinary Iranians.

These domestic and regional reconfigurations will occur slowly, comprising the situations in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and the Gulf Cooperation Council states led by Saudi Arabia. The critical link remains a healthy, normal, nonhostile relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which I suspect will start to come about in the months ahead, as both grasp the exaggerated nature of their competition for influence in the region and learn to behave like normal countries. They will learn to compete on the basis of their soft power among a region of half a billion people who increasingly feel and behave like citizens who have the right to choose how they live, rather than to be dictated to and herded like cattle. [Continue reading...]

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Saudi Arabia welcomes Iran nuclear agreement

Al Jazeera reports: Saudi Arabia has said an interim deal on Iran’s nuclear programme could be a step towards a comprehensive solution – and hoped it could lead to the removal of WMD from the Middle East.

“The government of the kingdom sees that if there was goodwill, this agreement could represent a preliminary step towards a comprehensive solution to the Iranian nuclear programme,” the cabinet said in a statement.

It said the deal could eventually lead “to the removal of weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons, from the Middle East and the Arab Gulf region”.

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Arab states show cautious optimism on nuclear deal

The Wall Street Journal reports: Saudi Arabia maintained a pointed silence Sunday on the new nuclear pact between world powers and Saudi Arabia’s top rival, Iran, while other Gulf and Arab states gave a cautious welcome to a deal hoped to ease tensions in a region bloodied by proxy battles between Shiite Iran and Sunni Arab states.

Saudi political commentators voiced persistent fears that Iran would now see itself as freed to advance on other, non-nuclear fronts against its Middle East rivals.

By early Monday in the Middle East, most of the region’s Muslim powers — Turkey, Egypt, and at least four of the six wealthy Arab Gulf countries — had issued statements expressing support for the deal. The United Arab Emirates., a commerce-minded nation that traditionally has thrived on doing business with both Iran and Arab states, welcomed the deal as one it hoped would protect the region “from the tension and danger of nuclear proliferation,” the emirates’ council of ministers said.

Saudi Arabia, the most powerful of the Arab states and the most intensely suspicious rival of Shiite Iran, made no public comment on the pact Sunday, and its foreign ministry didn’t return requests for comment. [Continue reading...]

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Saudi prince frets about ‘this perception that America is going down.’

The Wall Street Journal reports: ‘The U.S. has to have a foreign policy. Well-defined, well-structured. You don’t have it right now, unfortunately. It’s just complete chaos. Confusion. No policy. I mean, we feel it. We sense it, you know.”

Members of the Saudi royal family have voiced their displeasure with the Obama administration’s approach to the Middle East through private channels and recently in public as well. None of them puts it quite like HRH Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Alsaud.

One of some three-dozen living grandsons of the first Saudi King Abdulaziz, this prince is a prominent but atypical royal. His investment company made him the Arab world’s richest businessman. He strikes a modern image for a Saudi, employing female aides and jet-setting on a private Boeing. He’s at ease with Western media.

Passing through New York earlier this week, Mr. Alwaleed, who is 58, sits down with the Journal editorial board between a couple of television appearances. He wears a blue suit, shirt and tie. These days, his bouffant widow’s peak has more salt than pepper. The prince holds no important government post in Saudi Arabia, but it’s hard to shake the impression that here is the uncensored id of the reserved House of Saud.

“America is shooting itself in the foot,” he says. “Saudi Arabia and me, myself, we love the United States. But what’s happening right now here, from Republicans and Democrats, is just not helping the image of the United States and is making this perception that America is going down a reality.” [Continue reading...]

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Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s Gatsby, master spy

Christopher Dickey writes: Prince Bandar bin Sultan, once famous in Washington for his cigars, parties and charm, is now Saudi Arabia’s point man, fighting Iran in Syria and denouncing the Obama administration.

When the prince was the ambassador he was the toast of Washington, and plenty of toasts there were. Bandar bin Sultan smoked fine cigars and drank finer Cognac. For almost 30 years as Saudi Arabia’s regal messenger, lobbyist, and envoy, he told amazing stories about politicians and potentates, some of which, surprisingly, were true. Washington journalists loved him. Nobody had better access to more powerful people in higher places, or came with so much money, so quietly and massively distributed, to help out his friends.

Over the years, Bandar arranged to lower global oil prices in the service of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and both the Bushes. At the behest of the CIA’s Bill Casey, and behind the back of Congress, Bandar arranged for the Saudis to bankroll anti-Communist wars in Nicaragua, Angola and Afghanistan. He was thick with Dick Cheney, and he was so tight with the George H.W. Bush clan—the father, the mother, the sons, the daughters—that they just called him “Bandar Bush.”

Now, the prince is a spy, or, more precisely, the master spy of the Middle East. He is the point man for a vast Saudi program of covert action and conspicuous spending that helped overthrow the elected Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt and is attempting to forge a new “Army of Islam” in Syria. Without understanding the man and his mission, there’s no way, truly, to understand what’s happening in the world’s most troubled region right now.

Bandar’s goal is to undermine Iranian power: strip away Tehran’s allies like Assad and Hezbollah; stop the Shiite mullahs from acquiring nuclear weapons; roll back their regional designs; and push them out of office if there’s any way to do that.

At the same time, he aims to crush the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni organization that pays lip service to democracy and is fundamentally anti-monarchy.

The Bandar program makes for some interesting alliances. Never mind that there’s no peace treaty between Saudi Arabia and Israel, in these parts, as they say too often, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and Bandar has become the de facto anti-Iran ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. [Continue reading...]

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Iran: don’t let the naysayers prevail

Jonathan Steele writes: France’s scuppering of the carefully negotiated interim nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers was reckless but not unexpected. As a brazen affront to the Obama administration’s desire to mend relations with Tehran after 35 years it needs to be linked to Saudi Arabia’s recent and similarly abrupt repudiation of US policy on Syria. A historic shift is under way in US strategy towards the Middle East. After decades of isolating or overthrowing regimes that profess independence, Washington has decided that its long-term interests are better served by stability than subversion.

The shift has been caused by several factors: the unforeseen popular uprisings which led to the Arab spring and are still bringing unpredictable consequences; the incomplete revolt in Syria which has led to a multiplication of al-Qaida and other jihadis rather than the fall of Bashar al-Assad; the increasing chaos in Iraq which ought to be a warning to the Gulf of the dangers of letting Sunni versus Shia tensions rip; and finally Washington’s declining need for the region’s oil.

Confused and not forewarned by their American ally, France, Israel and Saudi Arabia are lashing out in wild and undiplomatic terms. [Continue reading...]

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Crackdown on migrants: Saudi Arabia’s self-inflicted crisis

Brian Whitaker writes: Two people died in Riyadh on Saturday in fights involving foreign migrants, Saudi citizens and police.

The rioting, in the Manfouhah district of the capital – a poor neighbourhood where many East Africans live – was the worst outbreak of violence since the Saudi authorities launched their “all-out” campaign to round up “illegal” workers and expel them from the kingdom.

On Tuesday an Ethiopian man was shot dead by police in the same district, reportedly while resisting arrest.

The two who died on Saturday night are said to be a Saudi man who was hit by a stone and a man of African origin who was shot by police. AFP says a further 68 people were injured (28 Saudis and 40 foreigners) and 561 people were arrested.

An Ethiopian official told AFP that trouble broke out when Saudi police attempted to round up Ethiopians who had failed to regularise their status in the kingdom and move them to a camp which had been specially set up in the area, to await deportation.

Arab News reports:

Armed with knives, the rioters gathered in the district’s narrow streets early evening Saturday, threatening policemen, motorists, and pedestrians, witnesses and police said.

Anti-riot police fired guns into the air and used truncheons to disperse the large crowds, mostly foreigners who appeared to be Africans, notably Ethiopians …

The injured, mostly Saudis and legal residents, have suffered knife-stabbing wounds and bruises from the rioters, who were among those receiving hospital treatment …

A large security force cordoned off the central Riyadh district and closed its entry and exit points, arresting a number of the violent illegal workers and calling on the rest of them to turn themselves in, according to Brigadier General, Naser al-Qahtani, media spokesman for Riyadh Police.

The Riyadh Connect website has a collection of photos and videos from the scene. Twitter user Mona Kareem has also been posting links to photos and videos.

The crackdown on migrants, which has so far been largely ignored by western media, is rapidly turning into a full-blown and self-inflicted crisis. The authorities have clearly spent a lot of time planning for the mass arrests and deportations but seem to have given almost no thought to the knock-on effects. [Continue reading...]

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Saudi nuclear weapons ‘on order’ from Pakistan

Mark Urban writes: Saudi Arabia has invested in Pakistani nuclear weapons projects, and believes it could obtain atomic bombs at will, a variety of sources have told BBC Newsnight.

While the kingdom’s quest has often been set in the context of countering Iran’s atomic programme, it is now possible that the Saudis might be able to deploy such devices more quickly than the Islamic republic.

Earlier this year, a senior Nato decision maker told me that he had seen intelligence reporting that nuclear weapons made in Pakistan on behalf of Saudi Arabia are now sitting ready for delivery.

Last month Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, told a conference in Sweden that if Iran got the bomb, “the Saudis will not wait one month. They already paid for the bomb, they will go to Pakistan and bring what they need to bring.” [Continue reading...]

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Syria: A war with no end in sight

Stuart Montgomery writes: The Syrian Civil War has been raging for two years. Countless casualties have been sustained on each side, and the humanitarian problem continues to worsen.

So how do you end a civil war?

There are three potential outcomes: regime victory, rebel victory and a negotiated settlement. Currently, the last option is the championed outcome in the international context of the Syrian Civil War. Recently, the United States and Russia, reeling on the recent success of the chemical weapons deal, announced plans to convene an international conference to negotiate peace. Turkey, France and the United Kingdom, countries once considering military action, now support a peace settlement. Political pundits point to the example of Kosovo, as they argue for a quick, clean and negotiated peace. Respected strategist Edward Luttwak argued that a negotiated settlement would best serve U.S. interests. This option has appeal, because it avoids a messy military intervention. However, a negotiated peace is not risk-free.

Historically, negotiated settlements ending civil wars, are temporary at best. Angola, Sudan and Lebanon provide unfortunate examples of civil wars that were only temporarily halted by a negotiated peace. Another example, Kosovo is now relatively stable, but has been governed by a large, expensive, U.N. force for over a decade.

Why do negotiated settlements break apart?

Conflict reignites, because the issues that are at the root of the war are never truly resolved. Monica Duffy Toft, professor at Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government, argues that rebel victories result in a more stable peace in her book Securing the Peace, on civil war termination. Shouldn’t the choice be clear? Unfortunately supporting Syrian rebels is unpalatable, because of their fractious nature and key groups’ affiliation with Al Qaeda. Supporting Bashar al-Assad is equally unattractive, and unrealistic. Therefore, wouldn’t a negotiated settlement, even if temporary, best protect U.S. security interests?

A negotiated peace is not without problems. First, both Assad’s regime and Al Qaeda affiliates would continue to exist and be armed in some power sharing structure in Syria. Without the presence of a large peacekeeping force, which is unlikely with the lack of support and enthusiasm in the United States and abroad, each side would have little incentive to disarm and cooperate. Instead, these factions would focus on outmaneuvering each other for survival, rather than rebuilding Syria. [Continue reading...]

CNN reports: Al Qaeda has swept to power with the aim of imposing a strict Islamist ideology on Syrians across large swathes of Syria’s rebel-held north, according to a CNN survey of towns, activists and analysts that reveals an alarming increase in al Qaeda-linked control in just the past month.

Al Qaeda-backed militants known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are the predominant military force in northern Syria, according to activists and seasoned observers, and have a powerful influence over the majority of population centers in the rebel-held north.

Rami Abdul Rahman, from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said: “ISIS is the strongest group in Northern Syria — 100% — and anyone who tells you anything else is lying.”

CNN conducted dozens of interviews with activists, local and international observers and residents of the towns affected by ISIS in preparing this study. Many of the Syrians CNN spoke to talked anonymously for fear of angering ISIS, saying ISIS has in some areas made it a crime punishable by flogging to even say their name.

The swift al Qaeda expansion poses a severe policy dilemma for the United States and its European allies who have long delayed their promised armed assistance to rebel groups as they struggled with fears that the weapons could end up in the hands of al Qaeda-backed extremists.

Observers say the delay has provided a vacuum in the often chaotic rebel ranks that the organized and fearless Islamists have moved to fill.

Many observers explain that the extent of ISIS’s discipline and resources — they are said to have considerable cash at their disposal — means that the other rebel groups operating in the north do not seek to confront them.

Charles Lister, analyst at IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre, said: “Although not a numerically dominant force, ISIS is playing an increasingly pre-eminent role in the northern Syrian insurgency.

“Much of this is a result of its capability to exploit superior levels of financing and resources — essentially, to spread itself thinly enough to exert influence and/or control, but not too thin as to be overpowered by rivals.”

Most activists point to a clear strategy by ISIS — which aims to dominate a large swathe of the north from the north-western town of Idlib to the north-eastern city of Raqqa and beyond — of focusing on population centers on the edges of rebel-held territory and slowly choking off central areas. Some ISIS figures have described a broader aim of trying to link the Sunni province of Anbar in Iraq to the Mediterranean coast, near the Syrian town of Latakia.

Reuters reports: The international body tasked with eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons has raised only enough money so far to fund its mission through this month, and more cash will have to be found soon to pay for the destruction of poison gas stocks next year.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which won the Nobel Peace Prize last month, is overseeing the destruction of Syria’s nerve agent stocks under a U.S.-Russian agreement reached in September.

It has so far raised about 10 million euros ($13.5 million) for the task.

“It is the assessment of the Secretariat that its existing personnel resources are sufficient for operations to be conducted in October and November 2013,” said an October 25 OPCW document seen by Reuters. At the time, its account held just 4 million euros.

Lally Weymouth interviews Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki:

What do you and your country think is the best outcome in Syria?

The best outcome is to stop the killing.

How?

We had a proposal, put forth by our foreign minister, that you have to level the playing field. And that means Bashar’s military superiority has to be checked by giving the opposition the means to defend themselves. You’re not talking about sending troops on the ground. Over the past two and half years, if anti-tank, anti-aircraft defensive weapons had been distributed to the opposition—and not all the opposition, [but] the opposition that is for an inclusive Syria—then they would have been able to checkmate the military superiority of Bashar al-Assad and force him to come to the negotiating table. Unfortunately, that did not happen. While Europe and America continued to deny the opposition the means to defend against Bashar’s lethal weapons, the Russians and the Iranians continued to supply Bashar with whatever he needed.

So it’s up to the United States and the Europeans to arm the opposition?

Absolutely. The Europeans put an embargo on arms to Syria. They could see … that that embargo wasn’t affecting Assad but it was definitely denying his opponents … weapons. It took the Europeans two and a half years to change their view and finally say “OK, we can afford to sell these weapons to the opposition.” But none of these countries did. The Americans have not only not sold them, but they have declared they have no intention of providing these weapons to the opposition. So how can you level the playing ground if one side is continually supplied with what it needs by the Russians and the Iranians, and the other side is continually denied those things?

Do you think your country will sit by?

My country has been trying to push not just the United States but the Europeans as well.

Do you feel Saudi explanations fall on deaf ears with the Obama administration?

Every day there are more than 50 to 100 people killed in Syria. And the world sits back and watches.

Do you feel President Obama just doesn’t get it?

I don’t know if he gets it or not. But I think the world community is definitely at fault here. The Russians because they are supporting Bashar and allowing him to do the killing. The Chinese because they have vetoed any measures in the United Nations to prevent him from doing that. The Europeans for not supplying the opposition with weapons. The United States for continually not supplying the opposition with what they need. It’s a worldwide apathy—a criminally negligent attitude toward the Syrian people.

So what do you think will happen in Syria?

They are going to continue the killing.

And Assad will stay in power as things stand now?

As things stand now, Bashar al-Assad is under the protection of the Security Council because of the chemical weapons resolution.

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