Musa al-Gharbi writes: The U.S. was the only non-Arab actor to participate in the Syria raids. Collaborating with the U.S. were five other Arab states: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, and Jordan.
While many pundits have and will continue to describe them as “moderate Arab allies” — what “moderate” usually means is something akin to “compliant with the U.S. agenda in the region.” What may be more significant to note about these powers is that they are all monarchies—in fact, the actors who took part in the strike are most of the region’s surviving dynasties (excluding only Oman, Kuwait, and Morocco).
The Gulf monarchs are far from beloved in Iraq, even among the Sunni population. Readers may remember that the “Sunni” Hussein regime wanted to go to war with the KSA, provoking the U.S.-led Operation Desert Shield. There is a long enmity between the peoples of Iraq and the Gulf monarchs — and an even deeper enmity between these powers and the Syrians. So the idea that the populations of IS-occupied Iraq and Syria will find these forces and their actions legitimate simply in virtue of the fact that they are “Sunni” is a gross oversimplification that reinforces problematic sectarian narratives even as it obscures important geopolitical truths. Among them:
If anything, the alliance that carried out the strike actually reinforces the narrative of the IS: it will be framed as the United States and its oppressive monarchic proxies collaborating to stifle the Arab Uprisings in order to preserve the doomed status quo.
In a similar manner, it is somewhat irrelevant that salafi and “moderate” Sunni Muslim religious authorities have condemned al-Baghdadi’s “caliphate” as invalid and ill-conceived — in part because it presupposes that most of the foreign fighters who are joining ISIS for ideological reasons are devout, well-informed about fiqh and closely following the rulings of jurists, etc. In fact, the opposite seems to be true, and many of those coming from abroad to join the IS are motivated primarily by factors other than religion. Even much of their indigenous support is from people who join for money, or else due to their grievances against the governments in Iraq and/or Syria — not because they buy into the vision of al-Baghdadi and his ilk. Accordingly, the value of “Sunni buy-in,” framed religiously, is probably both misstated and overstated.
And not only will the involvement of the Gulf kingdoms strikes be extremely controversial on the ground in Iraq and Syria, but also within the emirates who took part in these raids. Syria and the so-called “Islamic State” remain highly polarizing issues across the region — many will be apprehensive of their governments getting involved, others actually support the aspirations of these mujahedeen and view their own regimes as corrupt. [Continue reading...]
— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) September 23, 2014
Vast majority of strikes were American, not by a coalition partner, the Pentagon admits: “The math supports that.” http://t.co/8n45zHQuvu
— Tom McCarthy (@TeeMcSee) September 23, 2014
The New York Times reports: The United States and allies launched airstrikes against Sunni militants in Syria early Tuesday, unleashing a torrent of cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs from the air and sea on the militants’ de facto capital of Raqqa and along the porous Iraq border.
American fighter jets and armed Predator and Reaper drones, flying alongside warplanes from several Arab allies, struck a broad array of targets in territory controlled by the militants, known as the Islamic State. American defense officials said the targets included weapons supplies, depots, barracks and buildings the militants use for command and control. Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from United States Navy ships in the region.
“I can confirm that U.S. military and partner nation forces are undertaking military action against ISIL terrorists in Syria using a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles,” said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, using an alternate name for the Islamic State. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: The United States has begun to mobilize a broad coalition of allies behind potential American military action in Syria and is moving toward expanded airstrikes in northern Iraq, administration officials said on Tuesday.
President Obama, the officials said, was broadening his campaign against the Sunni militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and nearing a decision to authorize airstrikes and airdrops of food and water around the northern Iraqi town of Amerli, home to members of Iraq’s Turkmen minority. The town of 12,000 has been under siege for more than two months by the militants.
“Rooting out a cancer like ISIL won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick,” Mr. Obama said in a speech on Tuesday to the American Legion in Charlotte, N.C., using an alternative name for ISIS. He said that the United States was building a coalition to “take the fight to these barbaric terrorists,” and that the militants would be “no match” for a united international community.
Administration officials characterized the dangers facing the Turkmen, who are Shiite Muslims considered infidels by ISIS, as similar to the threat faced by thousands of Yazidis, who were driven to Mount Sinjar in Iraq after attacks by the militants. The United Nations special representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said in a statement three days ago that the situation in Amerli “demands immediate action to prevent the possible massacre of its citizens.”
As Mr. Obama considered new strikes, the White House began its diplomatic campaign to enlist allies and neighbors in the region to increase their support for Syria’s moderate opposition and, in some cases, to provide support for possible American military operations. The countries likely to be enlisted include Australia, Britain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, officials said. [Continue reading...]
Foreign Policy: Two airstrikes in the past week on Islamist militias fighting for control of Tripoli, Libya, are raising questions about who was behind the attacks and whether the United States knew about or condoned them. On Saturday, Aug. 23, Agence France-Presse reported that Islamist militants in Libya pointed the finger at Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Egyptian military quickly denied any involvement. On Monday, the New York Times reported that American officials confirmed that the Egyptians and Emiratis had launched the strikes, but said they’d caught the United States by surprise.
That claim seemed incredible, though, in light of the presence in the region of the U.S. military, which would have certainly detected a series of airstrikes. “With as many Aegis-class ships as the U.S. Navy has in the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean, there is no possible way the UAE could pull this off without the U.S. knowing it,” said Christopher Harmer, a former Navy officer and an analyst with the Institute for the Study of War. Harmer said that he had no information about U.S. involvement, “but the U.S. government knows who bombed what,” he said.
Egypt and the UAE are highly motivated to strike out at Islamist fighters, whose gains in Libya are only the latest reminder that a new wave of religiously aligned political groups and militias threaten secular regimes and monarchies across the region.
“Libya is a serious situation,” Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar told Foreign Policy earlier this month. Morocco has organized a political dialogue among various factions in Libya in an effort to bring the country together. Mezouar has also worked closely with Egypt on the issue, specifically discussing concerns about terrorism in his July visit to Cairo.
State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki provided no additional information on the strikes during a press briefing on Monday. She reiterated the Obama administration’s policy that “Libya’s challenges are political, and violence will not resolve them.” She added: “Our focus is on the political process there. We believe outside interference exacerbates current divisions and undermines Libya’s democratic transition.”
When asked whether Washington would be “disappointed” if Egypt and the UAE had conducted the airstrikes, Psaki replied, “I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole.” [Continue reading...]
The Associated Press today reports: Egypt and the United Arab Emirates secretly carried out airstrikes against Islamist militias inside Libya, U.S. officials said Tuesday, decrying the intervention as an escalation of the North African country’s already debilitating turmoil. They said the United States had no prior notification of the attacks.
One official said the two countries and Saudi Arabia have been supporting for months a renegade general’s campaign against Libyan militant groups, but that the Saudis don’t appear to have played a role in recent strikes. Another official said Washington knew about Egyptian and U.A.E. plans for a possible operation and warned them against going through with the effort.
The New York Times reports: Battling Palestinian militants in Gaza two years ago, Israel found itself pressed from all sides by unfriendly Arab neighbors to end the fighting.
Not this time.
After the military ouster of the Islamist government in Cairo last year, Egypt has led a new coalition of Arab states — including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — that has effectively lined up with Israel in its fight against Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip. That, in turn, may have contributed to the failure of the antagonists to reach a negotiated cease-fire even after more than three weeks of bloodshed.
“The Arab states’ loathing and fear of political Islam is so strong that it outweighs their allergy to Benjamin Netanyahu,” the prime minister of Israel, said Aaron David Miller, a scholar at the Wilson Center in Washington and a former Middle East negotiator under several presidents.
“I have never seen a situation like it, where you have so many Arab states acquiescing in the death and destruction in Gaza and the pummeling of Hamas,” he said. “The silence is deafening.” [Continue reading...]
National Post reports: A week after a Montreal businessman claimed Canada had provided a new identity and passport to an Israeli Mossad agent involved in the assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai, the government denied the sensational story on Friday.
While Ottawa is usually reluctant to comment on national security matters, the allegation of Canadian involvement in the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was apparently considered so damaging it required a response.
“There is no truth to these allegations that the government of Canada provided support to protect those wanted in the 2010 death of a Hamas leader,” said a government official with knowledge of the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The charge that the government had secretly resettled a member of the hit squad that drugged and suffocated Mr. Al-Mabhouh in a five star hotel room was made last weekend by Arian Azarbar, an Iranian-Canadian businessman.
He told the Ottawa Sun he learned about it from a Passport Canada employee with whom he had an affair. The passport officer, a member of the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team, had been investigating Mr. Azarbar and has since been suspended. [Continue reading...]
A non-denial denial? It depends on whether the individual in question had been identified as one those “those wanted.”
The Montreal Gazette adds: [A] Montreal police detective was reportedly reassigned in January after allegations surfaced that he, too, leaked information to Azarbar. The businessman is identified in Montreal police documents of being a possible Iranian spy, according to Montreal media reports.
Azarbar said Tuesday he has known the police officer for years, but said he had nothing to do with the officer’s reassignment. He also categorically denied any involvement with his native Iran. He said he has lived in Montreal’s West Island community since the age of five.
“I’ve been to Iran once in my whole life for two weeks,” he said.
He said his troubles began when he received a government letter asking him to meet with federal agents.
There followed one or two initial meetings with Kennedy and a man he believes was from the Department of Foreign Affairs. He said they were most interested in learning about his business trips to Venezuela, where he sells housing construction products.
He said he also had spent time around Hugo Chavez, the country’s fiery socialist leader who died last year.
“Did I work for the Iranian government? No, never. Did I like Chavez? Absolutely. I thought he was one of the greatest men in the world.”
Azarbar blamed much of his situation on a federal customs official in Toronto. Azarbar believes the man was jealous of his relationship with Kennedy, who has been separated from her husband, he said.
“When he found out about my relationship with Trina, he went berserk. It’s him that made this whole story.”
Human Rights Watch: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2013 stifled free expression, and subjected dissidents to manifestly unfair trials marred by credible allegations of torture, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2014.
A court sentenced 69 dissidents to prison terms of up to 10 years in July on charges of aiming to overthrow the government, though most of the evidence the court cited in the 243-page judgment suggested that they had only engaged in peaceful political activities. Many of those convicted, and another group of 30 dissidents facing similar charges, said they experienced mistreatment in pretrial detention that in some cases amounted to torture.
“The UAE’s repressive laws and dysfunctional justice system belie the government’s efforts to present the country as moderate and progressive,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The UAE might seem like a safe place to shop, do business, or take a winter holiday but it’s becoming a very dangerous place to express a political opinion.” [Continue reading...]
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...]
The Times of Israel reports: Israel has held a series of meetings with prominent figures from a number of Gulf and other Arab states in recent weeks in an attempt to muster a new alliance capable of blocking Iran’s drive toward nuclear weapons, Israel’s Channel 2 reported Wednesday.
According to the report, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been supervising a series of “intensive meetings” with representatives of these other countries. One “high ranking official” even came on a secret visit to Israel, the report said.
The report came a day after Netanyahu, in an overlooked passage of his UN speech, noted that shared concerns over Iran’s nuclear program “have led many of our Arab neighbors to recognize… that Israel is not their enemy” and created an opportunity to “build new relationships.”
The Arab and Gulf states involved in the new talks have no diplomatic ties with Jerusalem, the report noted. What they share with Israel, it said, is the concern that President Hasan Rouhani’s new diplomatic outreach will fool the US and lead to a US-Iran diplomatic agreement which provides for “less than the dismantling of the Iranian nuclear program.” [Continue reading...]
The New Statesman: On Tuesday next week, Britain will roll out the red carpet for the leader of a country which not only has a terrible record on human rights, but has even tortured our own citizens.
Sheikh Khalifa – the unelected President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – will be given the honour of a State Visit to the UK, while back in his country, three British citizens continue to be held over eight months after they were arrested and brutally tortured by police in Dubai.
The ordeal of the three young men – Grant Cameron (25), Karl Williams (26) and Suneet Jeerh (25) – included savage beatings resulting in broken bones, and electric shocks administered to the testicles from stun batons; after which they were forced to sign documents in Arabic, a language none of them understand. They were then charged with drugs offences, to which they have pleaded not guilty.
This took place against a wider context of rampant police torture and extensive fair trial violations in the UAE – notably in the ongoing mass trial of 94 political activists which has been condemned as “shamelessly unfair” by Human Rights Watch.
The three Brits – from London and Essex – are expecting the verdict in their case on Monday, the day before Sheikh Khalifa is set to arrive in Britain. Their trial has proceeded despite the UAE’s failure to properly investigate their torture; in fact, the authorities in Dubai have even gone so far as to put the police officers who abused the men on the witness stand to testify against them. [Continue reading...]
David Hearst writes: A strange trial has opened in Abu Dhabi. For most of the past seven months, up to 70 of the 94 activists accused of plotting to overthrow the government of the United Arab Emirates have been held in secret detention.
It was only after their families threatened a sit-in that their relatives were brought to the court blindfolded, some showing obvious signs of torture, malnutrition and mistreatment. Some pleaded with their jailers to “give them the tablets”. All were terrified to speak.
The evidence against them is also a mystery. The state prosecutor’s file, which was only sent to the court a few days before the trial began, relies heavily on the forced confessions of two of the accused. On the first day, one of them, Ahmed Ghaith al-Suwaidi, had a dramatic change of heart. Denying the charges, he pleaded with the court to protect his family: “I know that what I am going to say may cost me my life, but I deny the charges and I ask the court to protect my life and the life of my family,” he said, according to witnesses.
The accused come from all walks of Emirati life. The leader of the alleged plot, Sheikh Sultan bin Kayed al-Qassimi, is the cousin of the ruler and a member of one of the UAE’s seven ruling families. There are three judges, two human rights defenders, lawyers, teachers, academics as well as students. The social spread of the group is at least consistent with the sweeping nature of the charge. The state hopes to convince the court that the members of the group were plotting to form nothing less than a parallel government. [Continue reading...]
Nesrine Malik writes: On a Cambridge University panel on the future of the Arab spring late last year, I nodded and agreed wholeheartedly as a fellow panellist criticised the west’s complicity with fallen Arab dictators, citing the sale of arms to Middle Eastern despots as an indicator of the west’s apathy towards poor human rights records in the region. After rapturous applause, a retired British diplomat in the audience raised his hand, and politely proceeded to dampen the speaker’s moral indignation by stating that the UK was in a difficult situation. Diplomacy, he said, was a far less black and white affair. He pointed out that lucrative military and oil contracts sold to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Gulf provided, especially in a time of recession, both much-needed revenue for the state and employment opportunities in the UK.
He acknowledged that human rights abuses in an ideal world should be a primary concern for the west, but said that there were more immediate needs that subordinate such crimes. He even went on to suggest that selling arms, and generally putting trade first in this context, was patriotic – fulfilling a country’s duty to look out for the interest of its citizens. Put starkly, would you take food off British tables to uphold a moral cause abroad?
The extremes of this diplomatic tension occurred in stark uncomfortable proximity this week. The human rights charity Reprieve yesterday claimed that three British tourists arrested for the possession of a synthetic form of cannabis, who have been in custody in the UAE for seven months, had been tortured. Speaking on BBC Radio 4 this morning, the father of one of the three detainees detailed the extent of the mistreatment they endured. A spokesperson for the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) confirmed it had been providing “consular assistance” and added the usual “The FCO takes all allegations of mistreatment and torture extremely seriously”. If this is how seriously the British foreign office takes the alleged torture of its own citizens, spare a thought for those non-western prisoners and expats without such representation.
Meanwhile, it was announced two days ago that the UAE had purchased $1.4bn worth of military defence contracts, including drones, from the US. Last year, David Cameron visited the country peddling Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets in a deal apparently worth over £3bn. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: On the eve of a summit meeting here between the United States and Arab nations of the Persian Gulf to deepen security ties, one of those countries, the United Arab Emirates, announced that it had shut down an American-financed organization that promotes democracy, State Department officials said.
The United Arab Emirates announced the shutdown on Friday of the office of the National Democratic Institute, State Department officials said, a day before the meeting on Saturday attended by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The country, which has good relations with the United States, did not explain the action, which seemed especially provocative with Mrs. Clinton in the region.
Nesrine Malik writes:
Visiting Dubai on a work trip, I was wandering the resplendent hallways of my a hotel searching for an ATM when a commotion occurred. Some of the hotel staff were scurrying about, looking obviously distressed. I asked one of them if there was any trouble and he responded with a glossy smile. There was no trouble, madam, and was there anything he could help me with?
A few hours later, I discovered that there had indeed been trouble. A man – an Indian worker – had jumped from Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, and a symbol of Dubai’s prowess. It is a needle-shaped skyscraper which impales the bleak Dubai sky.
Originally known as Burj Dubai, the building was planned during the city’s orgiastic construction phase, where the sky was the limit, but completed after the bubble had burst. It was then renamed in honour of Abu Dhabi’s ruler, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, who rescued Dubai from its debt crisis.
Gossip about the suicide was horrifyingly callous. “It only took 10 months” [after the opening of the hotel], one person said. “He’s inaugurated the building,” another almost laughed. “Why did he jump?” I asked. People shrugged. He’s probably an expatriate worker, I was told – it’s usually them.
There is nothing remarkable about people being desensitised to suicides. London commuters on the underground can probably understand, but when the suicides are almost exclusively from one minority working in certain jobs, it is nothing short of inhumane. The dark underbelly of Dubai is never far away and sometimes we see the effect of this uglier side lying lifeless on a pavement.
The man, apparently an Indian cleaner who had been denied a holiday, was scraped off the floor on which he landed on and life went back to normal. Tourists and expats lapped up the luxury and sunshine, while workers from south Asia, little moving dots on the facades of the buildings under construction throughout the city, were ferried in buses to and from their living quarters. A couple of days later, another Indian man jumped from Jumeirah Lake Towers.
The Indian consulate in Dubai has since revealed that at least two Indian expats commit suicide each week. The consul-general stated that most are blue-collar workers who are either semi-skilled or skilled.
The New York Times reports from Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates:
Late one night last November, a plane carrying dozens of Colombian men touched down in this glittering seaside capital. Whisked through customs by an Emirati intelligence officer, the group boarded an unmarked bus and drove roughly 20 miles to a windswept military complex in the desert sand.
The Colombians had entered the United Arab Emirates posing as construction workers. In fact, they were soldiers for a secret American-led mercenary army being built by Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of Blackwater Worldwide, with $529 million from the oil-soaked sheikdom.
Mr. Prince, who resettled here last year after his security business faced mounting legal problems in the United States, was hired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi to put together an 800-member battalion of foreign troops for the U.A.E., according to former employees on the project, American officials and corporate documents obtained by The New York Times.
The force is intended to conduct special operations missions inside and outside the country, defend oil pipelines and skyscrapers from terrorist attacks and put down internal revolts, the documents show. Such troops could be deployed if the Emirates faced unrest in their crowded labor camps or were challenged by pro-democracy protests like those sweeping the Arab world this year.
The U.A.E.’s rulers, viewing their own military as inadequate, also hope that the troops could blunt the regional aggression of Iran, the country’s biggest foe, the former employees said. The training camp, located on a sprawling Emirati base called Zayed Military City, is hidden behind concrete walls laced with barbed wire. Photographs show rows of identical yellow temporary buildings, used for barracks and mess halls, and a motor pool, which houses Humvees and fuel trucks. The Colombians, along with South African and other foreign troops, are trained by retired American soldiers and veterans of the German and British special operations units and the French Foreign Legion, according to the former employees and American officials.
In outsourcing critical parts of their defense to mercenaries — the soldiers of choice for medieval kings, Italian Renaissance dukes and African dictators — the Emiratis have begun a new era in the boom in wartime contracting that began after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. And by relying on a force largely created by Americans, they have introduced a volatile element in an already combustible region where the United States is widely viewed with suspicion.