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Tag Archives: Saudi Arabia

Qatar: the new kid on the block in the Middle East

By Mike Mizzi

An old Arab motto goes something like this: “The young son against the elder brother, the elder brother against the father, the daughter against the mother, the family against the clan the clan against the tribe and the tribe against the world”.

In the current escalating wars in the Middle East we could almost trace this idea into every and each nation now embroiled in what is turning out to be a military fiasco brought on by a spark ignited way back after September 11 2001 when the US invaded Iraq.

The complexity of the scenario unfolding there is immense and so are the stakes.

Everyone knows of the major actors such as Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq and Iran but little has been said about the tiny and filthy rich oil state of Qatar.

Decreased US interest in the region creates an opportunity for regional actors such as Qatar to take on a greater role in the resolution of conflicts in the region. Dr Kristian Coates Ulrichsen of London School of Economics and Political Science, believes that:

“The country took advantage of the unique niche which it had spent years crafting in order to play an astoundingly high-profile and increasingly controversial role in the uprisings. Initially, it displayed unprecedented regional leadership bordering on outright activism in responding to crises across the Arab world”.

There are also economic reasons that drive its policy.

In 2012 Felix Imonti, an analyst cited by Ansa Mediterranean, posed the article entitled Qatar: Rich and Dangerous, published by specialized website “Oilprice.com”. There he provided the clue to the real motives behind Qatar’s Middle East policy. Imonti suggested that:

“Qatar’s involvement in the Syria civil war was based in part on its desire to build a pipeline to Turkey through Syria. According to him, the discovery in 2009 of a new gas field near Israel, Lebanon, Cyprus, and Syria opened new possibilities to bypass the Saudi Barrier and to secure a new source of income. Pipelines are in place already in Turkey to receive the gas. Only Al-Assad is in the way. Qatar along with the Turks would like to remove Al-Assad and install the Syrian chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is the best organised political movement in the chaotic society and can block Saudi Arabia’s efforts to install a more fanatical Wahhabi based regime. Once the Brotherhood is in power, the Emir’s broad connections with Brotherhood groups throughout the region should make it easy for him to find a friendly ear and an open hand in Damascus”.

That’s the gist of it. First and foremost it is a matter of finances. Transporting gas by pipeline is quicker and far more economical than cooling it down to liquid form to be shipped in specialised tankers. And although Saudi Arabia and Qatar may be working hand in hand to remove Bashar Assad from power, this is where their cooperation stops. Both the Saudis and the Qataris want to control the outcome of the Syrian conflict.

Enter Vladimir Putin.

At the Valdai discussion forum on October 22, Russian President Vladimir Putin said some countries are playing a double game, adding that while they fight against terrorism they also “place figures on the board” in their own interests. “Success in fighting terrorists cannot be reached if using some of them as a battering ram to overthrow disliked regimes” Putin told the forum, saying that this way the terrorists would not go anywhere. “It’s just an illusion that they can be dealt with [later], removed from power and somehow negotiated with” he added.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are already embroiled in an expensive and bloody war in Yemen that may limit both their military and financial resources. An overt intervention in Syria would be a gross violation of international law if it is not sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council or conducted upon an invitation of Syria’s government. The notion that Qatar would even consider going into Syria against Russian forces is too bizarre to be considered let alone acted on. But there may be bigger cats in the bushes waiting to pounce once given the raison d’etre to act namely the USA and allies. America may just be biding her time to see how successful Putin is in pushing back ISIS and the other forces arrayed against Assad.

After the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre the US moved its Middle East base from Saudi Arabia into Qatar, effectively giving Qatar client state bases and a launch pad into the Syrian theatre of war. The US has been in Qatar since the 1970s and has two bases there; the Al Udeid Air base which also services Australian and British air force squadrons.

So the idea that Qatar would be engaging in Syria alone would be facile. In fact current US operations in Syria would most likely be implemented from Qatar.

There is an odd prophetic overtone to all these gatherings of armies in the Middle East. It seems that a final battle for control of the lucrative Middle East oil and gas trade are definitely winding out.

As alliances form and the spoils eyed off a conflagration of epic proportions is in the making. The result of which will form the basis for the economic and cultural landscape across the entire region for decades to come.

 

The end of the House of Saud?

By Mike Mizzi

Recent reports have it that there is a family feud going on in the House of Saud in Arabia. The Huffington Post reports that King Salman is possibly on his death bed and a letter leaked to the press indicates an in family plan to perform a coup by other members of the family.

A house divided shall surely fall, as the old adage goes and why should one of the most corrupt and oppressive regimes on earth be exempt?

As we have seen throughout the ages, an oppressive regime, whether it be a monarchy like the Russian Czars or French emperors – or even Communists – have had a bad record of maintaining their grip on power when the people eventually rise up demanding freedom and some form of equality under the law and economically. From the Roman Empire right through to the Persians, Ottomans, British and Russians, internal and foreign ructions, the desire for a better life and the ever increasing oppression needed to keep a lid on the boiling pot has eventually back-fired and created the very fertile fields in which the seeds of freedom sprout and blossom. In American newspeak this is called “blowback”.

The American Revolution showed the world what a scantily armed people can do against enormous power in the form of the British redcoat army of King George. Similarly and much earlier, the peasants rising up in France swept away the ancient regime and produced one of the longest lasting democracies on earth, one which withstood the onslaught of Nazi fascism and is now dealing with the internal attack of Islamic fundamentalism. “Je sui Charlie” the banners shouted as Muslims were left with no doubt Liberté, égalité, fraternité remain the baseboard underlying much of what the French see themselves as. However, such notions have never been a part of the Islamic world and even more so in those proclaiming themselves to be kingdoms, like Saudi Arabia but that might all be about to change. The pressures under which the House of Saud has been under recently are manifold. Falling oil revenues have been bleeding the kingdom of its foreign currency reserves to the tune of $12 billion US per month. Houthi rebels in Yemen which borders the kingdom have been getting pummeled by the Sauds in airstrikes of inhumane ferocity and they are having the opposite effects in the Muslim world as the Huthi rebels gain more and more support and seem to be enduring these attacks by the Sauds in a cat and mouse game of epic proportions. No doubt Putin’s adventure in Syria may also motivate Muslims and further radicalise them against what many would deem infidel aggression.

The fundamental shift of power in the Middle East cannot be underestimated. What we are seeing is the bubbling up of resentment and what is at the moment a small tidal wave will soon become an all engulfing tsunami that will sweep entire regimes away. No one in the region is immune, not even the smug Ayotollahs can count on their power base remaining unscathed by what can only be called a revolution in the Muslim world. Too many years of Western ideals being promulgated and countered will produce a series of wars that will make WWII seem like a picnic. Billions of Muslims are rising up against the regimes which have kept them poverty stricken and powerless for too long. Despite military attacks such as Putin’s bombing in Syria, the wave of human misery it will cause will rebound and eventually Assad will be swept from power or be forced to run away to Russia at least. Sheer numbers alone will make all outside actions futile. After all, how long can Russia sustain a war in a far off land while its oil revenues dwindle as well? This is the same dilemma the house of Saud faces and with an inexperienced prince taking the throne it is likely vast reforms will have to be made or he will precipitate a downfall which will see Osama Bin Laden’s dreams come true. Once the Muslim hordes have been inflamed it will take a lot to douse the fire and the outcome will be a smouldering mess. We only need to look at the mess in Syria to get a glimpse of the coming scenario. Sunni and Shia are in a battle for their very existences. It is therefore understandable that the US and its allies will tactically withdraw from the Middle East and allow Russia and China to fill the vacuum. However, what they will inherit will be not a stable and prosperous Middle East but a cauldron of fire into which they will sink their nations’ lives and treasures.

As Sun Tzu advised: “All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him” (Sun Tzu, the Art of War). The bait in the case of the Saud’s and Syria are oil and territorial hegemony. However, as the chips fall one can be assured of one thing: sadly, millions will die and much will be destroyed.

 

Julie Bishop’s Epiphany on the Road to Damascus

It comes as welcome news that Australia is set to abandon its opposition to Bashar al-Assad as part of a durable peace settlement in Syria.

The recent military escalation by Russia and reported sightings of Chinese war ships in the Mediterranean in the last week must come as something of an embarrassment to the war hawks in Washington, and the knives may well be out for whichever rookie secretary forgot to register the war on terror as a trademark. Still this has done little to change the tri-partisan rhetoric coming out of Canberra. “I don’t for a moment shy away from the comments that we have made in the past about the illegitimacy of the regime.” “President Assad unleashed chemical weapons on his own people, and the death and destruction in Syria is appalling and at unprecedented levels”, Ms Bishop recently said in an address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

In hearing these remarks I can’t help be reminded of the outrageous claims and bald faced lies which led us into war in Iraq in 2003. Whatever happened to all those weapons of mass destruction which Saddam was stockpiling? Was he able to secretly shield them from UN weapons inspectors with an invisibility cloak? Perhaps the same cloak that Dr Assad is using to hide his chemical weapons arsenal? Or the one that Iran is evidently using to conceal its uranium enrichment program? Not to put too fine a point on it, but when the executive director of Human Rights Watch is leading the cheer for the removal of the legitimate government of a sovereign nation state which currently enjoys the support of 80% of its people, one might wonder if we are being told the whole truth.

Having taken part what now seems like an age ago in the rallies against the 2003 invasion of Iraq – the biggest protests Australia has seen since the Vietnam War, I’m more than a little miffed at the lack of public outrage at Australia’s compliance in 2015. Perhaps the media is doing a better job of selling its lies and deception this time around, but so far I remain unconvinced. I am tired of the blatant propaganda surrounding this illegal war. I’m tired of the persistent references to “civil war” in a country which is clearly being attacked by outside forces. I’m tired of hearing the government of Syria constantly referred to as “the Assad regime”, and carnal knowledge of dead animals aside, I’m well tired of David Cameron referring to Bashar al-Assad as a butcher.

So far as Washington’s support for terrorists is concerned, there’s no putting the cat back in the bag. I have argued this extensively in other essays, but it doesn’t take a political analyst to see that Obama, Netanyahu, Ergdogan, Salman and Abdullah before him have been working hand in glove with various terror groups to destabilize and ultimately remove the Syrian government for their own nefarious ends. Washington’s war hawks have bypassed congressional appropriations by directing their client state Saudi Arabia to deploy radical anti-Syrian (and often anti-US) militants against Assad, unleashing a wave of terror on the region. Playing both sides against the middle may have some merit in games of strategy, but willingly supporting terrorists who commit atrocities against civilians by any other name is still a war crime.

Of course there are many players in this proxy war, each with their own interests: Obviously there’s the US and its allies, who in their relentless quest for world domination just can’t seem to keep their grubby hands out of other people’s business. In their latest adventure, United States Secretary of State John Kerry and the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in collusion with Wall Street insiders had contrived to control the entire region’s oil and gas reserves and to weaken Russia and Iran by selling cheap oil to China.

There’s Russia, whose soft underbelly comprises almost every country ending in ‘stan’ from which Islamist extremists might enter its borders. Already feeling the squeeze of tough trade sanctions since the shooting down of MH17, this manipulation of the oil market, despite weakening its economy, will likely strengthen its resolve.

There’s Israel, a newly created, US backed, militarised rogue state whose original British colonial design includes not just the annexation of both the West Bank and Gaza but of all the land from the Nile to the Euphrates including parts of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, the Sinai, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. (The plan for Greater Israel involves the Balkanization of surrounding Arab states, beginning with Iraq, which is to be divided into Shia and Sunni territories and a separate Kurdish state.)

There’s China, an emerging superpower now lumbered with a stalling economy and forced to choose between a ready supply of cheap oil and the prospect of the war in Syria spilling into Iran, Southern Russia and eventually breaching its own western borders.

There’s Germany, which seems to have embraced the prospect of close to a million new low paid workers with the same enthusiasm with which it welcomed the surge of cheap skilled labour at the close of the Soviet era (an attitude perfectly consistent with EU ambitions to enforce human misery through austerity.)

And then there are the endless hordes now beating a path to Europe in what’s been called the biggest mass movement of refugees since WWII. It’s not just the Alawites, Yazidis and other religious and ethnic minorities once protected under Syria’s Ba’athist government who now face a grim future, but the entire Syrian population, of whom more than half are now internally displaced or have fled in fear for their lives. Pray tell what conceivable form of ‘regime change’ would ever allow these people to return to their homes?

Syria was and is the last secular nation state in the Middle East, and as has been argued by many, not least President Putin himself, it is for the people of Syria and nobody else to decide who will govern them. Russia is now working in concert with Iran, Hezbollah and other regional partners to end the horror brought to bear by Washington’s incessant meddling, and while Obama still condemns Russia’s strategy as “doomed to failure” and continues to demand Assad’s ultimate resignation, this outcome is looking increasingly less likely.

While China’s last minute arrival is obviously a game changer, it’s not like the US were never invited to the party. Putin’s attempts to forge an alliance of nations to deal with the growing threat of global terror have never specifically excluded US participation, but with the US demonstrably the world’s greatest sponsor of terrorism, it does make things a little awkward. As well as Iran, Iraq, Hezbollah and the Syrian Arab Army, the new coalition looks likely to include all members of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO); Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan, and Tajikistan. This poses an obvious question right off the bat. Is Washington really afraid that Russia’s intervention will make matters worse in Syria? Or rather that putting an end to ISIS once and for all might render the US irrelevant?

What emerges from this picture is a strong sense that Washington’s war hawks are losing, or have lost, their grip over Middle East politics. The Iranian moderates who are inclined to cooperate with the West for economic reasons are naturally allied to Russia where the Syrian ISIS threat is concerned; the Gulf monarchies seem only too happy for Russia to broker a peace between warring Shi’ite and Sunni factions, and with Russia now flexing its military muscle, Netanyahu is hardly likely to be spoiling for a fight either.

Whether or not any of this could lead to a lasting peace in the Middle East it’s too early to say, and with the likes of Carly Fiorina now set to trump Trump for the GOP candidacy, and Hilary Clinton still a likely choice for the Democrats, Washington’s campaign for global hegemony is unlikely to end any time soon. It does however seem that we may have reached a turning point. Could the battle for Syria prove a victory for peace and diplomacy in an increasingly multi-polar world? Or is this how WWIII begins?

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