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Tag Archives: Saudi Arabia

Scapegoats for Jamal Khashoggi

The hit squad that went about its deadly business with varying degrees of competence in Istanbul last year is set to be thinned. Five members of the group tasked with strangling and carving up the Saudi journalist and out-of-favour Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate on October 2, 2018 are now facing the generous justice of their employers. As this process takes place, there is gleeful hand washing taking place in the highest quarters of the kingdom.

The finding behind sentencing five members of the squad to death is inconsistent and even idiosyncratic. (Three others were given prison sentences). The proceedings were closed, save for a few diplomats gagged by undertakings not to reveal anything. Despite lacking any intent to kill (forget the presence of a forensic specialist, a bone saw or a body double intended to mimic the slain journalist), death sentences were still seen as appropriate. State responsibility was to be eschewed; the entire matter, it seemed, had been an act of unwise adventurism. According to the prosecutors, the killing took place in a “spur of the moment”.

The odds were always going to be stacked in favour of a premature adjudication. For one, witness testimonies were not sought, making any credible gathering of evidence impossible. Cross-examination as a method tends to be shunned in such criminal proceedings.

What was clear in this theatre of the non-event was that any big fish found in the net were going to be let free. Two other figures linked to the killing, Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri and the close adviser to crown prince Mohammed bin Salman and social media fiend, Saud al-Qahtani, were given the necessary institutional acquittals for a lack of evidence.

To have found them guilty would have drawn a thick line of accountability to the crown prince himself, a darling of dissembling and venality. Finding scapegoats in the low rung of the chain served the stretched illusion of cleaning the stables. It also had another external purpose: to give such administrations as those in Washington the false impression that something was being done.  President Donald J. Trump has tended to look upon the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with moneyed keenness. Lucrative arms deals are, and have been struck.

The human rights fraternity have been predictably scandalised if somewhat unsurprised. Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Director, took issue with the absolute secrecy and lack of due process for either victim or the defendants. “We don’t have information about the most basic facts on why Khashoggi was killed, who ordered the killing or what was done to his body.”

Human rights activist and blogger Omaima al-Najjar showed some weariness at the whole business; of course, there could be no expectation of due process in a political and judicial system hostile to a separation of powers. It all begins, and ends, with the royal family.

The entire process has proved disorienting to the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary killings, Agnes Callamard. The killers who had carried out the vile wishes of a regime had effectively become victims of that very same state apparatus geared to neutralise dissent. “The executioners were found guilty and sentenced to death. Opposed to the death sentence, this is a first shock to me.” She observed how “those who ordered the executions not only walk free but have barely been touched by the investigation and the trial. This is the second shock.”

Callamard’s approach to the killing of Khashoggi has been to regard it as a matter of international concern and jurisdiction. The Saudis, she implies, cannot be trusted with the case and she has much to go on. In June this year, she argued while presenting the conclusions of her six-month investigation that six violations of international law had taken place in the killing, ranging from the prohibition against arbitrary deprivation of life, the requirement that states use consular missions for official purposes and the violation of the protection of freedom of expression. Seeing it as such, the death of Khashoggi “constitutes an international crime over which other States should claim universal jurisdiction.”

In her report, Callarmard concluded that whatever theory might lie behind the death of Khashoggi, state responsibility had to be attributed to Saudi Arabia. “His killing was the result of elaborate planning involving extensive coordination and significant human and financial resources. It was overseen, planned and endorsed by high-level officials.  It was premeditated.”

Once the shocks have worn off, Callamard and her band of legally interested observers will have to accept that the Khashoggi affair, from the start, was one of a bold if bungled assassination (in so far as it could not be concealed), one executed at the behest of a regime suffering from intense hubris. The crown prince, who has found an ear in every significant forum of consequence on the world stage, had a hiccup, and has, since then, been trying to cure himself of it. That it will take the deaths of another five men and prison sentences for three others says much about the man.

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Send a peace-keeping team where it’s needed most, ScoMo

Em şîv in hûn jî paşîv in,” or, if we are dinner you are supper,  Armenians warn Kurds before Turkish massacres – a recurrent motif in Kurdish oral history.

 

As Donald Trump abruptly withdraws US air support and a trip-wire of US troops from North-East Syria, in the vast Kurdish-controlled triangle, locals call Rojava or “The West”, Sunday, he clears the way for Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to begin Operation Peace Spring, a long-planned, long-threatened military offensive to purge the Kurds. Erdoğan’s blitzkrieg starts Wednesday 9 October.

Turkey is pressing on with its alternative buffer zone concept, trashing the neutral corridor plan the US and Turkey say they’ve been working on for a year – at least. Erdoğan’s plan is to invade Syria and fill the illegally occupied territory along Turkey’s southern border with 2 million Syrian refugees – or “up to half the 3.6 million people”, the UN registers as currently taking refuge in Turkey. The EU can pick up the tab. Ankara’s pitch is far-fetched, impracticable and threatens to re-ignite ISIS but Trump buys it.

ISIS is more acceptable to an anti-Ataturk Erdoğan than Rojava, a Kurdish radically decentralised and democratic social revolution which embraced gender equality and inspired activists worldwide. Rojava’s the antithesis of the more common Middle Eastern patriarchal despotism. It’s easy to see why its radical egalitarian political and social structure is ideologically repugnant to the conservative autocrat Erdoğan.

On top of ancient hatreds are grafted newer layers of distrust. And on top of these are military realities. Former legionnaire and YPG (Peoples’ Protection Unit) volunteer, Jamie Williams successfully volunteered to fight with the Kurds against Daesh in 2017,  he writes in The Saturday Paper. He soon realised that the Kurds were as much at risk from Turkey as from Daesh or ISIS as it prefers to be known.

Kurdish force YPG has its women-only counterpart the YPJ. Our government has provided air support to the group – yet it is linked with PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party, whom Erdoğan regards as terrorists, responsible for acts of terror in Turkey. To many commentators they are one and the same group.

Propaganda from Turkey is all about fighting terrorists, spin which our own PM repeats even as civilians are indiscriminately killed in the first few days of the Turkish onslaught. Trump sets off a powder keg.

“All hell breaks loose” says The Washington Post after a Sunday phone call between the two populist presidents. Talk turns to trade and help with defence in the exhausted superlatives Trump favours. Only late in the call, does the topic turn to Erdoğan’s impending invasion and grander aims.

Trump offers a “really good package”, of F35 jets, lemons at $100m a pop, from Lockheed’s $1.5 trillion defence boondoggle, the most expensive in the world, even though Turkey will still buy a missile defence system from Russia, and keep a multi-billion dollar plan to dodge US sanctions on Iran. A presidential visit is thrown into the deal. Trump tells Erdoğan not to invade, he insists. Turkey’s actions attest otherwise.

A White House statement issued after the phone call certainly appears to confirm the withdrawal.

“Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria. The US Armed Forces . . . having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘Caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area.”

Turkish officials maintain Trump privately gave Erdoğan the go-ahead. Trump ups his bluster.

Congressional Republicans erupt in protest. Trump denies all report of any such undertaking. Hapless administration officials are scrambled to explain, ineffectually, that Trump’s yes means no; the US does not consent to Turkey’s plans to invade Syria nor collude in Erdoğan’s fantasy of an Ottoman Empire 2.0.

A bipartisan group forms to devise sanctions; put Turkey’s war machine genie back in its bottle. As if.

By Monday, having provoked outrage from even the typically recumbent if not supine Republicans in the House and the Senate, Trump threatens to “obliterate” his NATO ally’s economy, if Erdoğan doesn’t stop invading Syria; rhetoric he quickly tones down.  Turkey is now warned not to do “anything outside what we think is humane” – or the country will “suffer the wrath of an extremely decimated economy.”

What we think is humane? Pressed for time to interpret Trump’s double-speak, Ankara could do worse than glance at Amnesty International’s summary of the Trump administration’s human rights abuses in its immigration policy alone. Amnesty says the Trump administration’s policy and practices have caused,

“..catastrophic irreparable harm to thousands of people, have spurned and manifestly violated both US and international law, and appeared to be aimed at the full dismantling of the US asylum system.”

Meanwhile, a new wave of 2000 US troops is deployed in Saudi Arabia, the Pentagon announces, topping up a thousand recently deployed there to pot-shot the odd drone, all part of the US bogus war on Iran which Trump & Co are trying to gin up, purely to help his 2020 re-election prospects. The troops will be on hand to “assure and enhance” Saudi Arabia’s defence and no doubt help its women learn to drive.

It’s a low blow to Canberra’s attempts to paint Trump’s capitulation to Erdoğan as consistent with The Donald’s avowed isolationism; his public wish to “get out of these ridiculous endless wars”. Someone needs to tell ScoMo and Co not to confuse Trump’s performance shtick with any deeper conviction.

ScoMo tells Nine Newspapers and others that there’s nothing to see here. The most erratic president in US history is just acting consistently. It’s all going to plan. A po-faced ScoMo claims Trump outlined his aim to withdraw troops from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq a year ago and is now acting on that message.

“I think it would be wrong to not draw an element of consistency between those statements almost a year ago and the action the United States has been taking since, including most recently,” ScoMo bloviates.

“As is the nature of alliances and friendships, you work through these issues together and you understand them together and you speak frankly to one another and you do that in the spirit of that relationship.”

Bunkum. Part of the outrage amongst even his own party, is Trump’s total lack of consultation. Left out of the loop, say Politico and others, were foreign allies, Congress even some in his own administration.

Trump is working nothing through together, ScoMo. Nor is there any element of consistency. Trump’s administration has, in fact, increased US involvement in what he calls their “ridiculous endless wars”.

US Air Forces central command reports late last month, it launched the most airstrikes in Afghanistan over a single month in roughly a decade. American troops have ramped up airstrikes in Libya targeting ISIS fighters there. And the US continues its shadow war in Somalia to repel terrorists there. The new wave in Saudi Arabia means a total net increase of 17000 US troops in the region since May.

Stung by accusations of incompetence, Saturday, Trump appears on Fox’s Justice with Janine to utter his most pathetic self-justification yet, “He (Erdoğan) was going to go in anyway. They’ve been fighting the Kurds for 200 years. He was going in anyway,” Trump professes US impotence to host Jeanine Pirro.

In doing so, Trump unwittingly confirms that he’s given in to Erdoğan’s demands. It is unlikely to boost his party’s trust or Trump’s self-appointed role as super-patriot and nationalist. His wimpy surrender to Turkey’s territorial ambitions makes America great again? Like his protégé, Scott Morrison, when the chips are down he doesn’t give a toss about principle or consistency or even plausible deniability.

As with any of our current crop of political monsters, the winner-take-all strong men thrown up by neoliberalism’s decline, sky-rocketing inequality and the rise and rise of hyper-nationalism, it’s all about political survival – at any price.

Trump needs a diversion from his impeachment narrative and Rudy Giuliani’s erratic stunts are not helping. He puts on his isolationist mask when it suits. Only Murdoch hacks and ScoMo take it seriously.

Isolationist Trump is stymied because continuous war is vital to the United States military industrial complex if not the economy, a neoliberal supreme being second only to the free market in the cult’s articles of faith. Kentucky’s Senator Rand Paul – even more of an embarrassing Trump fanboy than our own PM, rushes to defend his president’s isolationism but, as with toady ScoMo, his credibility is low.

As Republicans and Democrats alike bag Trump for enabling Turkish attacks on U.S. Kurdish allies which could enable ISIS prisoners of war to escape and reform, Paul declares that most Americans would actually agree with President Trump that this is not a war that has our national interest at stake.”

Even if national interest can mean whatever you choose it to mean, it’s difficult to agree with Paul that America’s national interest will emerge unscathed as its reputation as an ally is trashed – and as the Kurdish body count mounts – so far, Turkish authorities claim to have killed 277 terrorists.

Kurdish sources claim that most of those killed or maimed by bombs and air strikes are civilians.

Does Trump give “a green light” or “a trigger” to Turkey’s military ambitions? Experts differ. Trump, himself, is increasingly incoherent and – like his disciple, Scott Morrison -consistently fast and loose and with the truth. What is certain is that the US betrays its military allies, the Kurds who have lost eleven thousand men and women fighting America’s Syrian military intervention in the last five years at least.

What is also clear is that Trump crafts a week of utter confusion over US Middle-East policy in a desperate bid to stem the growing movement to impeach him for enlisting Ukraine’s sad clown, former comic turned President, Volodymyr Zelensky, to help him smear Joe Biden and the whole Mueller inquiry.

Zelensky is now rapidly running up a trust deficit in polls reported this week. His dealings with Trump; his proposals to end the Kremlin-backed war in Ukraine’s East – don’t help. Ukrainians see him less as a running gag on Ukraine’s hopelessly corrupt political system and more like a puppet of a local billionaire.

“Never get into a well with an American rope,” goes a saying, The Independent’s Patrick Cockburn reports, is spreading across the Middle East. Will Trump’s treachery also be an object lesson to Canberra?

It’s unlikely given the obsequious fawning of ScoMo’s recent Washington junket, to say nothing of Titanium Man’s subsequent mimicry of Trump on how China is a developed nation and expect no favours over Kyoto targets such as Australia enjoys. But ScoMo knows that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and this week sees him morph even further into a Trump even without fake tan or combover.

On song with Donald, ScoMo also rails against “unaccountable internationalist bureaucracies” which UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, reminds our PM, Australia helped set up. The scrutiny Morrison’s government rejects is based on international standards it helped create.

We’re also backing out of the UN Climate fund, Morrison decrees, following Trump’s inspiring example. Money saved can go to the Pacific, (it would, anyway, under the fund), especially our fruit-picking Fijians who will love their rugby until Fiji’s playing fields are underwater courtesy of our heroic contribution to global warming as we squib our commitment to our Paris Agreement target with carry-over credits.

Heroic? When we take into account our exports’ carbon dioxide emission potential, Australia ranks as the world’s third largest fossil fuel exporter, behind only Russia and Saudi Arabia reports The Australia Institute. Wherever our exported fossil fuels may be burnt, they emit more carbon dioxide than the exported emissions of all but two of the world’s biggest oil- and gas-producing nations.

Helping galloping Trumpism sweep the nation in their own self-righteous, dismissive way on Sunday’s ABC Insiders are Murdoch’s Michael Stuchbury and mining lobby tool, The Sydney Institute’s, merry Gerry Henderson who talk up ScoMo’s climate leadership and still find time to defend Peter Dutton for just stating the obvious about how China does not share our “Australian values”.

Gerry scotches all notion of ScoMo criticising his mentor and BFF Donald Trump.

“There is no reason why the Australian government should criticise the American President” says Henderson, airily, ignoring years of utter chaos, corruption and racist violence since January 2017.

Certainly no criticism of Trump appears in ScoMo&Co’s fabulous Dr Doolittle routine, the Payne-Morrison Foreign Policy Pushmi-pullyu duo who sing from the same ponderous song-sheet, in eerie fidelity.

“The Australian Government is deeply troubled by Turkey’s unilateral military operation into North-Eastern Syria. It will cause additional civilian suffering, lead to greater population displacement, and further inhibit humanitarian access. While Turkey has legitimate domestic security concerns, unilateral cross-border military action will not solve these concerns.”

Take that, Erdogan and your domestic security concerns. Neville Chamberlain couldn’t have put it better.

Or as Orwell warns, “A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details…. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.”

Weasel words and the vexed question of his aiding and abetting mad elected-King Donald aside, ScoMo and Co are “deeply troubled” only by having to fake moral outrage at Turkey’s turpitude. It’s a tough gig.

Causing “additional human suffering” bothers a PM who plans to revoke Medevac legislation in November? Hardly. “Humanitarian access” worries the gate-keeper of our asylum-seeker gulags both on and off-shore where mandatory, indefinite, detention is denounced by the UN as be a form of torture?

Greater population displacement worries the architect of the Cambodian Solution? A government which opens Christmas Island for one family is averse to additional civilian suffering? A key aim of our mandatory detention of asylum seekers is to punish those on Manus and Nauru or those locked up on the mainland and deprived of any social welfare payments -as a deterrent to other aspiring boat people.

Shunning the UN and similar international bodies is a retreat from co-operative globalism into barbarism. It is also, as the UN makes clear, a denial of our own humanity, a futile attempt to evade our own conscience; our sense of accountability and social responsibility.

Trump’s sudden withdrawal is a triple betrayal. The Kurds are now at risk not only from Turkey but from ISIS fighters they have captured, five of whom already liberate themselves after Turkish shelling from nearby. Kurdish fighters also face hostility from Assad’s regime – and will lose their homes to strangers.

Many of Syria’s Kurdish people live in cities and towns such as Qamishli, Kobani and Tal Abyad just south of the Syrian-Turkish frontier. By Sunday, hundreds of thousands are fleeing south, terrified by the prospect of a Turkish occupation, backed by bands of Syrian Arab paramilitaries with links to al-Qaeda type groups. CNN reports that the bombardment could displace 300,000 people. Some say more.

Operation Peace Spring is Ankara’s Orwellian title for Turkey, and its Syrian proxies’ air strikes, heavy artillery, rocket fire and land assault; a campaign to illegally annex a “peace corridor” of Northern Syria thirty kilometres deep and some say 480 kilometres along Turkey’s entire Southern border with Syria.

Some sources suggest a more modest but no less illegal 120 kilometres of lebensraum is Turkey’s aim. But how can anyone be sure? In a Rafferty’s Rules-based world of disorder only might is right.

Is this what we’ve become?

Ankara has plans to relocate two million Syrian Arab refugees from other parts of Syria it currently has within its borders immediate aim is to seize Rojava; embark upon further Kurdish ethnic cleansing. As it happens, President Erdoğan announces, he’s just discovered that the land doesn’t belong to the Kurds.

It’s not his first invasion. On 20 January 2018, Turkey attacked the Kurdish city of Afrin in Operation Olive Branch, an offensive which displaced 300,000 Kurds who lost family homes to strangers resettled from eastern Ghouta, an urban suburb of Damascus. Human Rights Watch reports that armed Syrian paramilitary groups were permitted to detain and “forcibly disappear civilians.

Nothing to fear from a “mafia, murderer and serial killer” Turkish state mobilising its armed forces to massacre more Kurds? Hurriedly, publicly walking back any commitment he has made privately to Erdoğan, Trump says he’ll keep the Turks in check; “obliterate” their economy if they try any funny stuff.

“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!)” the USA’s Tweeter-in-Chief warns Ankara via Twitter.

His Stable Genius has it all under control.

Erdogan gets a hand, meanwhile. Prior to withdrawal, CNN reports, the US persuades Kurds to dismantle fortifications and to move troops away from the border whilst helpfully giving Turkey airspace access and intelligence on the area to improve its aim – or in military newspeak, formulate its target lists”.

Our own Trumpista, Scott Morrison has only recently returned from a brief but sell-out US tour where he did a star turn as Trump’s muppet. It’s a stunt, as Bernard Keane puts it, in which all of Australia’s foreign policy is outsourced to The White House. Now ScoMo must come up with something. He fails.

He rushes to urge “restraint of all those who are involved” – lest Kurds throw themselves rashly under Turkish tanks, or rush to put themselves or their families in line of fire of bullets or mortar attacks.

It’s all in a good cause. More grandiose plans and delusions aside, Erdogan and Trump are both down in the polls. Trump happily abandons US allies, Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, (SDF) and Kurdish civilians to Turkish genocide. It’s certainly diverting attention from moves to impeach him for seeking Ukraine’s help, for his own political advantage; to dig dirt on Joe Biden’s son. He has to be prepared. What if Joe Biden should win the Democratic nomination and not Elizabeth Warren?

Trump’s dumping of former US allies ought to be a wake-up call to those who fetishise the ANZUS alliance- merely an agreement to consult in times of crisis, despite the reverence our MPs bestow upon it.

The world sees clearly both the limits of US authority and how Trump treats US allies, an object lesson unlikely to be missed by Asian nations. Yet the warning is unlikely to be heeded by ScoMo and Co. Morrison’s government and its Murdoch mouthpiece is now so much part of the Trump cult that not only does our PM’s speeches on foreign policy now mimic the US President’s pre-occupations; lecturing China on trade and climate, he reneges on Australia’s commitment to the UN Green Climate Fund.

“I’m not writing a $500 million cheque to the UN, I won’t be doing that. There’s no way I’m going to do that to Australian taxpayers,” ScoMo tells reporters, an antipodean Zelig aping Trump’s 2017 decision.

In other words, ScoMo, you’ll sell us short. Don’t copy Trump. The UN Green Climate Fund -decades in the making – was inspired by the urgent need to support developing nations in responding to the challenge of climate change. It helps developing nations curb their emissions and adapt. It provides for our children and grandchildren – and their children and grandchildren.

Above all, aping your mentor Trump in attacking the UN and other international bodies designed to promote global citizenship and co-operation, you are betraying all Australians and especially those who helped create internationalism; a set of rules and responsibilities, which might help us to act according to our higher instincts. These include resolving conflict, offering refuge, respecting human rights and applying  the rule of law so that we might all benefit from a civilised international society.

The least Australia can do, for starters, is to censure Trump for colluding in Erdoğan’s invasion of Syria; giving the green light to his genocidal plans towards the Kurds. Other nations are already applying sanctions on Turkey. It is imperative we also take a stand against Erdoğan’s invasion before it is too late.

Prevailing on your BFF Donald Trump to resume control of the skies over North-East Syria would be a start while an international peace-keeping team could follow. You can send a team to the Golan Heights on Israel’s border. Surely you can also send a team where it’s needed most.

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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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