Saudi Arabia has no idea how to deal with Iran

Emile Hokayem writes: Few things are as explosive as the combination of power, ambition and anxiety — and there is plenty of all three in Riyadh these days.

Once a cautious and passive regional power, Saudi Arabia has found a new purpose in recent years. The ruthless ambition of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in full display at home with his crackdown on businessmen and members of the royal family, also radiates across the Middle East, driven by the urgency to check Iranian influence. Prince Mohammed has a point. Iran is set on becoming the dominant power from Iraq to Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia may exaggerate Iranian intentions and power, but Western and Asian countries typically understate them. The Iranians themselves are clear about how they view the region: “No decisive actions can be taken in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, North Africa and the Gulf region without Iran’s consent,” Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, reportedly boasted last month. Tehran may not be in full control in Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut, but thanks to its proxies and allies, it can decisively shape their battlefields and politics.

Given these circumstances, Prince Mohammed has good reason to question the value of his predecessors’ risk aversion on foreign policy. Under previous kings, Riyadh was indeed keen to reach out to Tehran despite provocative Iranian actions, including fast-tracking its nuclear program just as King Abdullah courted Presidents Akbar Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, and plotting to assassinate a Saudi ambassador in the United States.

Now Saudi foreign and security policy has gone into overdrive. Rather than carefully pushing back Iran and enrolling broad support for this effort, the approach has been haphazard, unsettling and counterproductive — and Iran remains one step ahead. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Lebanese prime minister departs from Saudi Arabia and arrives in France

The New York Times reports: Lebanon’s absent prime minister arrived in France on Saturday morning after two weeks in Saudi Arabia, a mysterious stay that touched off intense speculation that he was being held against his will.

The prime minister, Saad Hariri, who has dismissed the speculation but has not publicly explained the nature or length of his stay in Saudi Arabia, later met with France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, at the Élysée Palace.

The office of Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, also said on Saturday on Twitter that the two leaders had spoken and that Mr. Hariri had said he would be in Lebanon for the country’s Independence Day holiday, which is Wednesday.

Mr. Hariri announced on Nov. 4 from Riyadh, the Saudi capital, that he was stepping down as Lebanon’s prime minister, but officials in Lebanon have said that his departure would not take effect until he delivered his resignation in person in Beirut.

Mr. Hariri’s unexpected trip and resignation unsettled the Middle East, sparking a political crisis in Lebanon and even raising fears of war. Saudi Arabia was widely seen as pressuring Mr. Hariri to resign as part of its escalating regional feud with Iran and its effort to isolate Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia and political party that is part of Mr. Hariri’s coalition government.

Mr. Hariri, for his part, said he feared for his safety in Lebanon.

With European diplomats scrambling to defuse the crisis, France seized the role of mediator. France has strong ties to Lebanon, dating from the early 20th century, and to the Hariri family. Mr. Hariri’s father, Rafik, was close to former President Jacques Chirac. The father, also a prime minister of Lebanon, was assassinated in 2005. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Saudis try to starve Yemen into submission

In an editorial, the New York Times says: Yemen would suffer “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims” if Saudi Arabia did not immediately allow food and medicine to be offloaded at all of Yemen’s seaports, and permit the resumption of air services to the cities of Sana and Aden, the United Nations official Mark Lowcock warned Security Council diplomats last week.

Saudi Arabia tightened its blockade against Yemen on Nov. 5 after Iran-backed Houthi rebels threatened Riyadh with a ballistic missile. The Saudis have since partly lifted the blockade, but only of ports controlled by its allies. That is not nearly enough to get urgently needed food to nearly seven million Yemenis facing famine.

Misery has been Yemen’s lot after more than three years of unrelenting war. At least 10,000 people have been killed, many by Saudi-coalition bombings carried out with military assistance by the United States. A raging cholera epidemic has sickened some 900,000 people, and 17 million Yemenis are now completely dependent on humanitarian aid for survival. Ships and cargo planes ferrying food, medicine and vital fuel to Yemen’s war-ravaged civilians are inspected by the United Nations to make sure they are not transporting arms.

Impeding humanitarian assistance and using famine as a weapon are war crimes, and Saudi Arabia must realize that the world is finally taking notice. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Bahrain pipeline explosion seen as a warning from Iran

Simon Henderson writes: Saudi crude oil is reported to be flowing again through the Bahrain pipeline damaged by an explosion late on November 10. No one was injured in the blast, which sent a plume of flames high into the sky, damaging cars and nearby buildings. As yet, there has been no claim of responsibility, although the Bahraini government has described the incident as an “intentional act of sabotage,” blaming terrorists acting under instruction from Iran. For its part, Iran has denied any involvement.

Although oil was discovered in Bahrain before it was ever found in Saudi Arabia, the island’s actual reserves are very small. The pipeline affected, meanwhile, runs from the Saudi offshore Abu Safa oil field via a circuitous route across the Saudi mainland. Revenues from the field’s production are an important subsidy to Bahrain’s budget. The crude is refined at Bahrain’s refinery at Sitra, on the east coast of the island.

One oil industry publication suggested, “It is more likely than not that Iran chose [the attack] as a plausibly deniable response to Saudi Arabia’s perceived recent escalation against Iranian influence in Lebanon.”

The explosion occurred at Buri, a Shia town where the pipeline runs exposed on the surface rather than being underground. Buri, along with other Shia towns and villages, is off-limits to U.S. diplomatic and naval personnel based on the island, according to a map on the website of the U.S. embassy in the capital, Manama. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

House declares U.S. military role in Yemen’s civil war unauthorized

Politico reports: In a rare exercise of its war-making role, the House of Representatives on Monday overwhelmingly passed a resolution explicitly stating that U.S. military assistance to Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen is not authorized under legislation passed by Congress to fight terrorism or invade Iraq.

The nonbinding resolution adopted 366-30, does not call for a halt to the American support but publicly acknowledges the Pentagon has been sharing targeting information and refueling warplanes that Saudi Arabia and other allies are using to attack Houthi rebels in a conflict that is widely considered a proxy war with Iran — and a humanitarian disaster.

It states, in part, that U.S. military operations are authorized to fight only Al Qaeda and other allied terrorist groups in Yemen, not Shiite Muslim rebels.

“To date,” the resolution says, “Congress has not enacted specific legislation authorizing the use of military force against parties participating in the Yemeni civil war that are not otherwise subject to” the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force or the 2003 AUMF in Iraq.

While mostly symbolic, the House vote was seen as a key victory for members of both parties who believe Congress, which is relegated the power to declare war in the Constitution, needs to reauthorize U.S. military operations overseas, which have expanded to many more countries and conflicts than envisioned a decade and half ago when Congress last voted for the use of force. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The upstart Saudi prince who’s throwing caution to the winds

The New York Times reports: With the tacit backing of his father, Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old crown prince has established himself as the most powerful figure in the Arab world, rushing into confrontations on all sides at once.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the arrest of 11 princes in his royal family and nearly 200 members of the Saudi business elite, and has begun to take power from the kingdom’s conservative clerics. He has blockaded neighboring Qatar, accused Iran of acts of war and encouraged the resignation of Lebanon’s prime minister. And in Yemen, his armed forces are fighting an Iranian-aligned faction in an intractable war that created a humanitarian crisis.

The crown prince has moved so quickly that American officials and others worry that he is destabilizing the region. Signs of potential blowback are growing.

Investors, nervous about his plans, have been moving money out of the kingdom. Prince Mohammed has sought to counter the capital flight by squeezing detainees and others to surrender assets. He has presented the arrests as a campaign against corruption, but his targets call it a shakedown, and he has turned for advice to a former Egyptian security chief who has been pilloried at home for brutality and graft.

Prince Mohammed’s supporters say he is simply taking the drastic measures needed to turn around the kingdom’s graft-ridden and oil-dependent economy while pushing back against Iranian aggression.

But analysts around the region debate whether the headlong rush might be driven more by a desire to consolidate power before a possible royal succession, desperation for cash to pay for his plans or simply unchecked ambition to put his stamp on the broader Middle East. And despite President Trump’s enthusiasm for the prince, some in the State Department, the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies say they fear that his impulsiveness could both set back his own goals and destabilize the region.

“He’s decided he doesn’t do anything cautiously,” said Philip Gordon, the White House Middle East coordinator under President Barack Obama. But, Mr. Gordon said, “if the crown prince alienates too many other princes and other pillars of the regime, pursues costly regional conflicts and scares off foreign investors, he could undermine the prospects for the very reforms he is trying to implement.”

The extrajudicial arrests have spooked investors enough, analysts say, to extinguish the prince’s plans for an public stock offering of Aramco, the Saudi state oil company, in New York or London next year. It had been a centerpiece of his overhaul. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The prime minister of Lebanon’s unnerving interview

Thanassis Cambanis writes: In the Middle East, the parlor game of the moment is guessing whether Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s prime minister—or is it ex-prime minister?—is literally, or only figuratively, a prisoner of his Saudi patrons. In a stiff interview from an undisclosed location in Riyadh on Sunday, Hariri did little to allay concerns that he’s being held hostage by a foreign power that is now writing his speeches and seeking to use him to ignite a regional war. He insisted he was “free,” and would soon return to Lebanon. He said he wanted calm to prevail in any dispute with Hezbollah, the most influential party serving in his country’s government.

Since Hariri was summoned to Saudi Arabia last week and more or less disappeared from public life as a free head of state, rumors have swirled about his fate. On November 4, he delivered a stilted, forced-sounding resignation speech from Riyadh. Michael Aoun, Lebanon’s president, refused to accept the resignation, and Hezbollah—the target of the vituperative rhetoric in Hariri’s speech—deftly chose to stand above the fray, absolving Hariri of words that Hezbollah (and many others) believe were written by Hariri’s Saudi captors.

The bizarre quality of all this aside, the underlying matter is deadly serious. Saudi Arabia has embarked on another exponential escalation, one that may well sacrifice Lebanon as part of its reckless bid to confront Iran.

Foreign influence seeps through Middle Eastern politics, nowhere more endemically than Lebanon. Spies, militias, and heads of state, issue political directives and oversee military battles. Foreign powers have played malignant, pivotal roles in every conflict zone, from Iraq and Syria to Yemen and Libya. Lebanon, sadly, could come next. Even by the low standards of recent history, the saga of this past week beggars the imagination, unfolding with the imperial flair of colonial times—but with all the short-sighted recklessness that has characterized the missteps of the region’s declining powers. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

People in Saudi Arabia are actually pretty supportive of the royal purge

BuzzFeed reports: Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince who paid more than half a billion dollars last year to purchase a 440-foot yacht after spotting it off the coast in the south of France, makes for an unlikely leader of an anti-corruption crackdown in the name of the people.

But that’s what Saudi Arabia, one of the last few remaining absolute monarchies in the world, is currently undergoing, with an extraordinary purge of top princes and officials last week. Many see the move as a naked power grab — but Saudi Arabia is also badly in need of the shake-up.

“People are so much in support of what’s happening,” said Ahmed Saadeldin, an advertising executive in Jeddah. “These corrupt individuals were in the way of the people’s aspirations. The general public are happy, to tell you the truth. If it’s anything it is a reverse coup.”

Bin Salman’s strike against his country’s elite has earned him wide plaudits, from both international investors who do business in the kingdom and have long complained about corruption, and ordinary Saudis struggling to get by amid rising prices and what they perceive as a rigged economic playing field. One thing that irks many Saudis is that royals have made a racket of buying land on the cheap and sitting on it, pushing up housing prices and making homeownership an increasingly unattainable goal for the middle class.

The crackdown shows no signs of ending. On Thursday, the Saudi investigation reportedly expanded to the United Arab Emirates, with authorities seeking bank account info on 19 Saudis implicated in holding illicit assets and embezzling government funds. [Continue reading…]

Simon Henderson writes that bin Salman: has been quietly orchestrating the appointments of a range of young princes in their late twenties or thirties to positions of power. They will likely be crucial to the success of his remodeling of the kingdom and could emerge as arbiters of power for decades to come. They are all either the grandsons or great grandsons of the kingdom’s founder, Ibn Saud, who died in 1953. Mohammed bin Salman is entirely prudent in promoting these younger cousins, appealing to their ambition and vanity, and securing their loyalty. It is a good way of internalizing any competition between family lines — Ibn Saud had more than 40 sons, and the number of grandsons is in the hundreds. Mohammed bin Salman’s actions have so far forestalled a collective family revolt, proving once again the utility of that old adage: divide and conquer.

As in all monarchies, bloodline is often more important than competence for prospective leaders in Saudi Arabia. Mohammed bin Salman probably wants to promote talent — but will also be paying attention to how to deflect resentment or the hint of opposition. Promoting sons can take some of the pain out of fathers being sidelined.

The House of Saud has witnessed difficult transitions before. What’s different this time is that age is no longer equivalent to seniority and instead may have become a handicap. Comparative youth necessarily means a relative lack of experience but that is a risk which Mohammed bin Salman seems to have decided he can handle. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The Middle East is nearing an explosion

Robert Malley writes: Lebanon has long been a mirror for the broader Middle East. The region’s more powerful actors use it, variously, as a venue for their proxy wars, an arena in which to play out the Arab-Israeli conflict, and a testing ground for periodic bouts of Saudi-Iranian coexistence. It’s where the region wages its wars and brokers its temporary truces. This past week, like in so many others, the Middle East has not been kind to Lebanon.

The news came on November 4 in the form of three back-to-back developments in a mere 10 hours. First, Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s prime minister, announced his resignation. That he made the statement from Riyadh told much of the story; that he delivered it with the genuineness of one forced to read his own prison sentence told the rest. The decision was announced by the Lebanese prime minister but it was made in Saudi Arabia. Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto leader, had reason to want it to happen. Saudi-Iranian tensions are rising and bin Salman is determined to depict Tehran as the source of all regional evils. For Hariri to preside over a government that includes Hezbollah fundamentally undercut that core message: It meant allowing one of Riyadh’s closest allies to cooperate with Tehran’s most loyal partner. Hariri as prime minister created the impression that coexistence with Hezbollah and by extension with Iran was possible; his departure is designed to erase any doubt. He was asked to assume the prime ministership a year ago, at a time when the goal was to inoculate Lebanon from Saudi-Iranian rivalry; with him gone, Lebanon now is fully exposed to it. It has joined the camp of Saudi Arabia’s enemies.

Act two was news that Saudi Arabia had intercepted a missile launched from Yemen and purportedly aimed at Riyadh’s airport. This was not the first missile that the Houthis, a Yemeni rebel group enjoying Iranian and Hezbollah support, had fired at its northern neighbor, but its timing and unprecedented range could make it one of the more consequential. The extent of outside backing to the Houthis is a matter of some debate, though neither U.S. nor Saudi officials harbor any doubt that the dramatic progress in the rebel movement’s ballistic missile program could not have occurred without its two benefactors’ considerable training and help. Like Hariri in his act of self-immolation, Saudi officials quickly and publicly drew a direct line connecting the strike to Iran and Hezbollah; it was, they proclaimed, an act of war for which they held both responsible and to which they would respond. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

How Saudi Arabia turned on Lebanon’s Hariri

Reuters reports: From the moment Saad al-Hariri’s plane touched down in Saudi Arabia on Friday Nov. 3, he was in for a surprise.

There was no line-up of Saudi princes or ministry officials, as would typically greet a prime minister on an official visit to King Salman, senior sources close to Hariri and top Lebanese political and security officials said. His phone was confiscated, and the next day he was forced to resign as prime minister in a statement broadcast by a Saudi-owned TV channel.

The move thrust Lebanon back to the forefront of a struggle that is reshaping the Middle East, between the conservative Sunni monarchy of Saudi Arabia and Shi‘ite revolutionary Iran.

Their rivalry has fueled conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, where they back opposing sides, and now risks destabilizing Lebanon, where Saudi has long tried to weaken the Iran-backed Hezbollah group, Lebanon’s main political power and part of the ruling coalition.

Sources close to Hariri say Saudi Arabia has concluded that the prime minister – a long-time Saudi ally and son of late prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005 – had to go because he was unwilling to confront Hezbollah. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Saudis appear to have kidnapped Lebanon’s prime minister Hariri

David Ignatius writes: Former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri is being held by Saudi authorities under what Lebanese sources say amounts to house arrest in Riyadh, apparently as part of the Saudi campaign to squeeze Iran and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah.

A startling account of Hariri’s forced detention was provided Friday by knowledgeable sources in Beirut. It offers important new evidence of the tactics used by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to bolster his rule by mobilizing anti-Iran sentiment at home and abroad.

Rumors of the virtual kidnapping of Hariri, who resigned as prime minister last Saturday while in Saudi Arabia, have rocked the Arab world; Lebanese officials worry that MBS, as the 32-year-old crown prince is known, wants to force Lebanon into his confrontation with Iran. Some Lebanese analysts complain that the Saudis treat the Hariri family, who have been bankrolled by Riyadh for decades, almost as a wholly owned subsidiary. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Will Israel go to war with Hezbollah and fight a Saudi war to the last Israeli?

The New York Times reports: There are no signs of war preparations in Israel. The country is not mobilizing troops on its northern border or calling up reservists, and Mr. Netanyahu has given no indication that he sees a conflict as imminent.

Moreover, Israel’s war planners predict that the next war with Hezbollah may be catastrophic, particularly if it lasts more than a few days. Hezbollah now has more than 120,000 rockets and missiles, Israel estimates, enough to overwhelm Israeli missile defenses.

Many of them are long-range and accurate enough to bring down Tel Aviv high-rises, sink offshore gas platforms, knock out Ben-Gurion Airport or level landmark buildings across Israel.

Nor is Hezbollah necessarily hankering for battle with Israel, according to analysts who study the militant group closely. It is still fighting in Syria, where it has been backing the government of President Bashar al-Assad, and it is being drained by medical costs for wounded fighters and survivor benefits for the families of those killed, said Giora Eiland, a retired Israeli major general and former head of the country’s National Security Council.

“Hezbollah as an organization is in a very deep economic crisis today,” Mr. Eiland said. “But at the same time, the weaker they are, the more dependent they are on Iranian assistance — so they might have to comply with Iran’s instructions.”

But there have long been fears that now that the Syrian war — in which Hezbollah played a decisive role, gaining new influence, power and weapons — is almost over, Hezbollah’s enemies might seek to cut it down to size.

Mr. Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, implied Friday that its fight in Syria was nearly finished. If Saudi Arabia’s goal was to force Hezbollah to leave Syria, he said: “No problem. Our goal there has been achieved. It’s almost over anyway.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Lebanon believes Saudi holds Hariri, demands his return

Reuters reports: Lebanon believes Saad al-Hariri is being held in Saudi Arabia, from where he resigned as Lebanese prime minister, two top government officials in Beirut said, amid a deepening crisis pushing Lebanon onto the frontlines of a power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

A third source, a senior politician close to Saudi-allied Hariri, said Saudi Arabia had ordered him to resign and put him under house arrest. A fourth source familiar with the situation said Saudi Arabia was controlling and limiting his movement.

In a televised statement indicating deep concern at Hariri’s situation, his Future Movement political party said his return home was necessary to uphold the Lebanese system, describing him as prime minister and a national leader.

Hariri’s resignation last Saturday, read out on television from Saudi Arabia, came as a shock even to his aides and further embroiled Beirut in a regional contest between Riyadh and Tehran.

Hariri’s exit fuelled wide speculation that the Sunni Muslim politician, long an ally of Riyadh, was coerced into stepping down by Saudi Arabia as it seeks to hit back against Iran and its Lebanese Shi‘ite ally, Hezbollah. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Trump is part of the Saudi story

Anne Applebaum writes: There are countries in which you are accused of an act of corruption and then you are arrested. And then there are countries in which someone decides to arrest you and only then are you called corrupt.

Saudi Arabia belongs to that second category. Last week, the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, used the excuse of “corruption” to arrest several dozen people, including close members of his family, and to lock them up in the posh confines of the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh.

Nobody took the charges at face value. “Corruption” — theft from the state — is not easily defined in Saudi Arabia, a place where the ruling family is the state, and vice versa.

Instead, those who know the country have argued that these arrests are part of a major political transition, an assault on the country’s sclerotic, traditional power structure. The crown prince appears to be “deliberately dismantling the traditional governance system in Saudi Arabia,” wrote The Post’s David Ignatius. The arrests were preceded by other changes: Talk of social modernization, for example — one of the world’s most misogynistic societies will soon allow women to drive — as well as of the diversification of an economy almost entirely dependent on oil.

But if those are the goals, these arrests also represent another setback for U.S. leadership in the era of President Trump, and a major blow to the prestige of a very different model of modernization and political transition. Most European countries were once monarchies like Saudi Arabia, but they handed over power to parliaments. The United States once denied women many rights, but it slowly enfranchised them. That Western model — to expand rights and freedom, to establish the rule of law and independent courts, to pass sovereignty from an aristocracy to a broader group of citizens — was long promoted by Americans as a matter of course. During what is remembered as the “Third Wave” of democratization, from the 1970s to the 1990s, dozens of countries in Latin America, Asia and central Europe sought to emulate this tradition and carry out this kind of reform.

Now that model is in retreat. Instead of following a Western model of modernization and reform, the crown prince has taken the path of China and Russia, where “political transition” means that power is retained by a tiny, very wealthy elite. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Saudi Arabia orders its citizens out of Lebanon, raising fears of war

The New York Times reports: Saudi Arabia ordered its citizens to leave Lebanon on Thursday, escalating a bewildering crisis between the two Arab nations and raising fears that it could lead to an economic crisis or even war.

The order came after Saudi Arabia had stepped up its condemnations of Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shiite militia that is the most powerful political and military force in Lebanon, and asserted that Lebanon had effectively declared war on Saudi Arabia.

The developments plunged Lebanon into a state of national anxiety, with politicians, journalists and even parents picking up their children at school consumed with the question of what could come next.

While analysts said a war was unlikely — because Saudi Arabia was not capable of waging one and Israel did not want one now — they worried that with so many active conflicts in the region, any Saudi actions that raised the temperature increased the risk of an accidental conflagration.

“There are so many fuses, so little communication, so many risks of something exploding, that there’s little chance of something not going wrong,” said Robert Malley, the former director of Middle East policy in the Obama White House and now vice president for policy at the International Crisis Group. “Everything needs to go right to maintain calm.”

The backdrop to the crisis was a series of steps by Saudi Arabia in recent days to confront its ascendant regional rival, Iran, and the surprise arrests of about 200 Saudis, including 11 princes, in what the government describes as an anti-corruption campaign but which critics see as a consolidation of power by the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

Lebanon had already been drawn into the crisis in two ways: After a rocket was fired from Yemen at the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on Saturday, Saudi officials accused Hezbollah and Iran of aiding in the attack. And they declared that the attack amounted to a declaration of war by Lebanon, a leap given that the weak Lebanese state does not control Hezbollah.

At the same time, the Lebanese prime minister, Saad Hariri, unexpectedly flew to Riyadh and declared his resignation there on Saturday. Suspicions were growing among officials and diplomats in Beirut on Thursday that he had not only been pressured to do so by Saudi Arabia but was being held there against his will.

Despite the worries, analysts, officials and diplomats said that although they were not privy to the thinking of the Saudi crown prince, it was far-fetched that Saudi Arabia would launch a military action against Lebanon, since it is already overstretched in a war it started two years ago against Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen.

And Saudi Arabia has expressed displeasure with Lebanon this way before: This was at least the fourth time in five years that it asked its citizens to leave Lebanon. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Lebanon’s plunge into political crisis raises specter of war with Israel

The Washington Post reports: Even for a country often used as a battleground by regional powers and their proxies, the sudden resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri has opened a new period of political uncertainty and fear in Lebanon.

The tiny nation has often been caught between the political agendas of more-powerful countries. But it now appears more vulnerable to conflict as Israel and Saudi Arabia try to isolate their shared enemy, the Iran-backed movement Hezbollah.

Hariri, a Sunni politician backed by the Saudis, cited Iranian meddling in Lebanese politics as the reason for his decision to step down.

But the fact that he made his announcement in a televised speech from Saudi Arabia left little doubt that his regional patron must have played a role in a move that caught even his aides off guard. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Deep in Yemen war, Saudi fight against Iran falters

Reuters reports: At a hospital in the Yemeni city of Marib, demand for artificial limbs from victims of the country’s war is so high that prosthetics are made on site in a special workshop.

A soldier with an artificial arm hitches up his robe to reveal a stump where his leg once was. He is angry that authorities have done little to help him since he was wounded.

“I was at the front and a mortar exploded near me. We fought well, but now I get no salary, no support from the government or anyone. They just left us,” said Hassan Meigan.

More than two years into a war that has already left 10,000 dead, regional power Saudi Arabia is struggling to pull together an effective local military force to defeat the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement that has seized large parts of Yemen.

The dysfunction is a reminder to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that his campaign to counter arch-enemy Iran in the Middle East, including threats against Tehran’s ally Hezbollah, may be hard to implement. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

UN official warns of world’s biggest famine in Yemen

BBC News reports: Yemen faces the world’s largest famine in decades “with millions of victims” if aid deliveries are not resumed, a senior UN official has warned.

Mark Lowcock, the UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs, urged the Saudi-led coalition to lift its blockade of the conflict-torn country.

On Monday, the coalition shut air, land and sea routes into Yemen after Houthi rebels fired a missile at Riyadh.

The ballistic warhead was intercepted near the Saudi capital.

Saudi Arabia said the blockade was needed to stop Iran sending weapons to the rebels.

Iran denies arming the rebels, who have fought the Saudi-led coalition since 2015. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail