MIDEAST MIRROR 02.11.18, SECTION B (THE ARAB WORLD)
1-The new balance in Yemen
2-Prince Ahmad's return
3-What Erdogan wants
1- The new balance in Yemen
Washington's demand, backed by London, to end all military action in Saudi Arabia's disaster-stricken neighbor, and specifying a timetable of 30 days to achieve this aim, is not just about Yemen. It also seeks to record negative points on the political 'driving license' Washington has issued to bin Salman– perhaps as a prelude to withdrawing it completely if he does not comply. In other words, it represents the first step towards withdrawing the political cover the Trump administration has extended to the crow-prince. And this is an extremely important development for the balance of political power inside the Kingdom. A number of media outlets have suggested that the next step in the growing pressures on the crown-prince consists of action to end the Saudi/Emirati/Bahraini blockade on Qatar. The third step has to do with restructuring the ruling equation inside the Kingdom and loosening bin Salman's hold on all its sources of power--pan-Arab al-Quds al-Arabi
Mattis's statement is closer to a military order to Saudi Arabia and Yemen to end the war. The rest consists of calls and demands made to the Yemeni leadership and Ansarullah [Houthis] in particular to accept an end to the Saudi and Emirati military operations in return for stopping the missile fire at Saudi territory. These calls received a clear response from the Ansarullah, linking any further discussion to the demand for a comprehensive end to hostilities, and for lifting the blockade imposed on Yemen as the first step to be taken in this regard. The new balance in Yemen is now clear after the U.S. position. It places Ansarullah on equal footing with Washington, which has now declared that it has taken control of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and their Yemeni backers' decision. It is also clear that Muscat will manage the negotiations between the American and Yemeni sides, and that Washington is doing this after forcing Muscat to pay for the prize of playing a mediation role by normalizing its relations with Israel--Nasser Qandil in Lebanese al-Bina'
Thanks to the problem resulting from the journalist Jamal Khashoggi's affair, the appetite of every party that has a demand or a bill to settle with the Saudi state has been whetted. Some want Saudi Arabia to end its hostility to the Muslim Brotherhood; others want it to stop confronting the Iranian threat; and other demands are being made, including some that are nothing short of financial blackmail. Among the bills that Saudi Arabia is being asked to settle is one that calls upon it to stop confronting Iran's agents in Yemen – the Houthis – on the pretext of being merciful towards humanity. This is humanitarianism the likes of which we failed to see the British left's journalists shedding any tears for in the case of this century's greatest humanitarian catastrophe, namely, in Syria--Mashari adh-Dhaydi in Saudi Asharq al-Awsat
The U.S. and UK's call for all military action in Yemen to end within a period of 30 days represents an ultimatum to Saudi Crown-Prince Mohammad bin Salman, maintains the editorial in a Qatari-owned pan-Arab daily. But this is not just about Yemen; it is also the prelude to curbing the crown-prince's power and reversing his policies in the region. Washington's apparent decision to end the Yemen war appears to be an admission of its regional allies' failure to secure the U.S.'s aims in its confrontation with Iran, claims the editor-in-chief of a pro-Damascus Lebanese daily. It also demonstrates that Washington is not convinced of the effectiveness of its sanctions on Iran, and that it is hoping to open a back channel with Tehran via Oman. The Khashoggi affair is being used to blackmail Saudi Arabia politically and financially and to secure concessions from it, maintains a Saudi commentator. Under the guise of humanitarian concern, a number of leftist hacks in the West are seeking to end the war in Yemen and to ensure the victory of Iran's proxies.
OPENING THE DOOR TO A NEW PHASE: "U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis's unexpected call on Tuesday to end all military action in Yemen within 30 days has opened the door wide to a new phase that could end the raging Yemeni war that has become a factory for catastrophes and a giant and bloody mill that is grinding down the Yemeni people," writes Friday's editorial in the Qatari-owned, London-based, pan-Arab daily al-Quds al-Arabi.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt welcomed the American call and it was commended by both sides to the Yemeni conflict: President 'Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi's legitimate government that is backed by the Saudi-led military coalition, and the Iranian-backed Houthis. But it has been met with complete silence from Saudi Arabia and its allies so far.
The implications of the coalition's delayed response are clear. For when the Americans set a specific timeframe for ending all military action, that seems closer to a command than an entreaty. And since the current Yemeni war has been linked to Saudi Crown-Prince Mohammad bin Salman's name, he will judge this order to be directed at him in person. It represents a no-confidence vote in one of the most important pillars of the Saudi crown prince's rule.
The decision to go to war in Yemen was, in effect, a declaration by the crown prince that he has taken control of the Kingdom's military capabilities. It was also the prelude to a different sort of war waged against the Saudi interior that sought to impose a one-man rule over the Kingdom's political, security, financial, and media resources.
This paved the way for various forms of unprecedented arrogance exercised against the Saudi political and financial elite. In fact, this extended beyond the Kingdom's borders, and was inflicted on leading Arab and non-Arab figures such as Lebanese PM Sa'd al-Hariri, Palestinian/Jordanian businessman Sabih al-Masri, and Ethiopian/Saudi billionaire Mohammad Hussein al-Amoudi. It also led to exceptionally rash clashes with significant countries around the world, such as Germany and Canada.
And this arrogance reached its limits with the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a reckless and savage manner whose details continue to be revealed, eliciting global reactions that the Saudi crown prince's team had not expected.
Since all these major developments were linked to the rise of bin Salman and the small coterie around him, it was only natural for him to be held directly responsible for them, and for the fall-out from the Khashoggi affair to create pressures on the crown prince's protectors in U.S. President Donald Trump's administration.
It was also natural for the growing political and media demands to produce an American review of the dangerous consequences of the U.S.'s political investment and support for the young crown prince and all the catastrophic consequences that have occurred as a result in Yemen, the Arab region, within Saudi Arabia itself, and around the world.
In this sense, Washington's demand, backed by London, to end all military action in Saudi Arabia's disaster-stricken neighbor, and specifying a timetable of 30 days to achieve this aim, is not just about Yemen. It also seeks to record negative points on the political 'driving license' Washington has issued to bin Salman– perhaps as a prelude to withdrawing it completely if he does not comply. In other words, it represents the first step towards withdrawing the political cover the Trump administration has extended to the crown prince. And this is an extremely important development for the balance of political power inside the Kingdom.
A number of media outlets have suggested that the next step in the growing pressures on the crown prince consists of action to end the Saudi/Emirati/Bahraini blockade on Qatar. The third step has to do with restructuring the ruling equation inside the Kingdom and loosening bin Salman's hold on all its sources of power.
"In this sense, ending the war in Yemen is a necessary prelude to putting the Saudi household in order again, so as to end the series of political, financial, and military losses as a result of bin Salman's rising star," concludes the daily.
SIGNIFICANT FORMULA: "The formula for ending the war in Yemen proposed by U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis is significant," notes Editor-in-Chief Nasser Qandil in Friday's pro-Damascus Lebanese daily al-Bina'.
He did not issue a merely political call; instead, he presented a practical calendar with a ceiling of 30 days to end the fighting and begin political negotiations. And he did so without bothering to visit Riyadh and consult with the Saudi leadership in its capacity as the U.S.'s strategic partner in the region – the previous description of the U.S./Saudi relationship used by Mattis and U.S. President Donald Trump.
Mattis's statement is closer to a military order to Saudi Arabia and Yemen to end the war. The rest consists of calls and demands made to the Yemeni leadership and Ansarullah [Houthis] in particular to accept an end to the Saudi and Emirati military operations in return for stopping the missile fire at Saudi territory. These calls received a clear response from the Ansarullah, linking any further discussion to the demand for a comprehensive end to hostilities, and for lifting the blockade imposed on Yemen as the first step to be taken in this regard.
The new balance in Yemen is now clear after the U.S. position. It places Ansarullah on equal footing with Washington, which has now declared that it has taken control of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and their Yemeni backers' decision. It is also clear that Muscat will manage the negotiations between the American and Yemeni sides, and that Washington is doing this after forcing Muscat to pay for the prize of playing a mediation role by normalizing its relations with Israel.
But regardless of the fact that Ansarullah's relations with Iran are not that of lackey and its master, the geopolitical equations in the region are such that Saudi Arabia and the UAE's war in Yemen represents the gateway for ensuring [the U.S.'s] superiority over Iran in the seas, ground, and water passageways. The need for Saudi Arabia in the U.S.'s declared confrontation with Iran finds no clearer translation than in what the war on Yemen provides. Ending the war in Yemen by an American decision will compel the various parties to address the Yemeni demands and preconditions having to do with lifting the blockade. And this means that the Saudis have officially been forced to resign their role, especially in what Washington refers to as the 'confrontation with Iran.'
In practice, Washington is well aware that even without any coordination between Ansarullah and Iran, the preconditions for ending the war do not include the removal the Ansarullah's ballistic missiles. It also realizes that talk of international supervision over these missiles is a mere media delusion, and that the Ansarullah will not accept a temporary self-rule of the Yemeni areas. Washington also knows hand that the road will be open for a provisional government that paves the way for elections, and that the course of developments in Yemen will be no different from that in Syria, where the U.S.'s failure in the war against the independent Syrian state will be sufficient to declare Iran's victory.
What Iran is seeking, according to the American media and the research centers that the U.S. administration relies on in determining its policies, is to ensure that there will an independent, capable and combat-ready Syrian state on Palestine's borders, and there will be a Yemeni state that believes in its national independence on the Gulf and Red Sea's shores – a state that Washington cannot take under its wing directly or via Saudi Arabia. And this is something that Washington knows will happen as soon as the war whose end it has been trying to prevent, now actually ends.
The course of U.S. sanctions on Iran, and the fact that they coincide with what appears to be an important Yemeni message of openness to meeting Iranian interests, and the opening of a negotiating channel via Muscat – all raise a question concerning Washington's seriousness about heading towards a confrontation with Iran, and its confidence in its sanctions' ability to break Iran's will.
"For these sanctions have merely become a necessity for facilitating negotiations, after the cornerstone of the confrontation as represented by Saudi Arabia has been badly wounded and is being withdrawn from the arena," concludes Qandil.
GLAD TIDINGS: "It is often said that crises bear glad tidings within their wombs; for changes emerge and at the lowest of prices from within the folds of problems," writes Mashari adh-Dhaydi in Friday's Saudi daily Asharq al-Awsat.
Thanks to the problem resulting from the journalist Jamal Khashoggi's affair, the appetite of every party that has a demand or a bill to settle with the Saudi state has been whetted. Some want Saudi Arabia to end its hostility to the Muslim Brotherhood; others want it to stop confronting the Iranian threat; and other demands are being made, including some that are nothing short of financial blackmail.
Among the bills that Saudi Arabia is being asked to settle is one that calls upon it to stop confronting Iran's agents in Yemen – the Houthis – on the pretext of being merciful towards humanity. This is humanitarianism the likes of which we failed to see the British left's journalists shedding any tears for in the case of this century's greatest humanitarian catastrophe, namely, in Syria.
The British Guardian published an analysis by a hack by the name Patrick Wintour, who is the paper's diplomatic editor, as to how to use the Khashoggi crisis to compel Saudi Arabia to end its actions in Yemen that aim to erase the Iranian threat from that country. Wintour specifically referred to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman – the bane of the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran, and the left everywhere. Our hack friend wants to intensify the pressures on Saudi Arabia regarding Yemen after Jamal Khashoggi's death because this is 'an opportunity not to be missed.'
What he is really saying meaning is this: Exploit the opportunity and transform the situation in Yemen in Iran's favor; and preoccupy Saudi Arabia with the Houthi cat's claws; and do this now since Saudi Arabia is suffering from the 'Jamal' [Khashoggi] crisis!
This crude political exploitation and stark blackmail of Saudi Arabia did not escape the notice of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, for example, who commented on the exploitation of the Khashoggi crisis to target Saudi Arabia thus: 'It is frightening for this tragedy to be magnified with so much political machination and fabrication that we see today.'
What Zakharova is referring to is obvious to any fair person who would tangibly notice it. For example, the researcher at Oxford University's Oxford Internet Institute Lisat-Maria Neudert has written that Khashoggi's death has contributed to exposing how information and the social media are being manipulated to promote political aims.
As for the American initiative to stop the fighting in Yemen and to pave the path for a political solution there, neither Saudi Arabia nor the coalition members have said they oppose such a solution. In fact, Saudi Arabia's demand and aim was that of a political solution from day one. And we can all recall the Kuwaiti and Geneva negotiations regarding Yemen.
In fact, Saudi Arabia and the coalition have demonstrated their concern and made way for a political solution and halting their air raids on more than one occasion; but every time, the Houthis have viewed this matter as no more than a 'truce' during which to rally their ranks.
Al-Houthi will once again deal with the ceasefire as no more than a tactical truce. Yet Saudi Arabia and the coalition will continue to support the political efforts; and that is nothing new.
"But this is not the heart of the matter. The heart of the matter is to ask people such as the British hack whether the UK would accept to reconcile with a bordering country ruled by a pro-Russian gang that fires missiles on London and Liverpool," concludes Dhayidi.
2- Prince Ahmad's return
Saudi Prince Ahmad bin 'Abdelaziz unexpected return to Riyadh has fuelled speculation of a shake-up at the summit of power in the Kingdom, says 'Abdelbari 'Atwan on today's pan-Arab www.raialyoum.com
The Khashoggi case continues to reverberate and have momentous consequences for Saudi Arabia and its ruling family, notes the editor-in-chief of an online pan-Arab daily. The return to Riyadh of one of King Salman's brothers who had mildly criticized the king and his crown-prince has led to speculation of imminent changes at the summit of power in Saudi Arabia.
THE PRINCE'S VISIT: "The visit to the UK by former Saudi interior minister Prince Ahmad bin 'Abdelaziz, who is also the youngest son of King 'Abdelaziz's seven sons from his Sudairi wife, had given rise to many questions," writes Editor-in-Chief 'Abdelbari 'Atwan on the pan-Arab www.raialyoum.com.
This was especially after he confronted a group of protestors in front of his house, declaring: 'Do not blame the ruling family; blame those who have caused the war in Yemen.'
But his return to Riyadh and the fact that Saudi Crown-Prince Mohammad bin Salman was at the head of those receiving him have raised even larger questions and flung the door open to speculation regarding the Saudi throne's future 'surprise.'
Prince Ahmad left the Kingdom before journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder. But the prevailing view is that he would not have returned to Riyadh and been accorded such a special welcome had that murder not occurred, and had the current Saudi leadership not admitted to committing it and ordering a 'death squad' of 18 security officers along with a specialized pathologist to carry it out inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who is currently the true ruler of the Kingdom due to his father's illness, has never shown his opponents any leniency, including those who did not pledge allegiance to him, whether members of the ruling family, or common folk. In fact, and at his own admission, some 1500 of these opponents, including some princes, are still behind bars. This is why it was noteworthy for him to receive the most prominent of these opponents, his uncle Prince Ahmad, who has never pledged allegiance to him. So was the fact that Prince Ahmad did not hang bin Salman's picture next to that of his father the King [Salman] and the picture of his grandfather, the Kingdom's founder, in his living room where he receives his guests in Riyadh.
A reliable Saudi source who resides in London has confirmed to us that Prince Ahmad bin 'Abdelaziz – who is married to his cousin, Prince Mohammad bin Nawwaf bin 'Abdelaziz Al Saud's daughter, the Saudi ambassador to London, was planning to stay in the British capital for a long period. His sudden return three weeks after Khashoggi's assassination could not have happened without some British and American 'arrangements' regarding restructuring the ruling regime in Riyadh via a 'white coup.'
It is difficult to guess what formula may emerge as a result of Prince Ahmad's contacts with American and British officials in London, then with others after his return to Riyadh. The most important contact was with Prince Talal bin 'Abdelaziz who used to head the Allegiance Council [the body responsible for determining future succession to the Saudi throne], but also with the former crown prince Prince Muqrin bin 'Abdelaziz, who was deposed by King Salman as soon as he rose to the throne, despite the late King 'Abdullah's instructions that he should remain crown prince and occupy throne if it became vacant for whatever reason.
Changing crown princes in the Kingdom has ceased to be a difficult process since King Salman ascended to the throne in 2015. Since that time, he has changed two crown princes with a few months. He replaced his brothers Prince Muqrin and Prince Mohammad bin Nayef, and made his son Prince Mohammad crown prince. In fact, and in light of many leaks and reports, it is not unlikely that we may be witnessing some movement in this regard in the next few weeks.
A number of questions need to be considered in this regard:
- First, in case there is a wish to appoint Prince Ahmad bin 'Abdelaziz in a leading post, what could it be? Will he be made king or crown prince? And if he is made king, who will be his crown prince?
- Second, has Prince Ahmad met with King Salman after his return or not? There are two reports in this regard, the first claiming that he has met with the King and the other denying that.
- Third, what is President Trump's administration's attitude towards Prince Ahmad bin 'Abdelaziz? Will it accept him as king or as crown prince?
- Fourth, what post will Saudi Arabia's current ambassador to Washington, Prince Khaled bin Salman, (who is was slated to replace 'Adel al-Jubeir as foreign minister within a short period) occupy? Will he be made crown prince if King Salman is removed from power and is officially replaced by his brother Mohammad bin Salman in a preemptive strike?
There is one important issue that needs to be taken into account, and that many people may not know. Prince Ahmad bin 'Abdelaziz did not visit Washington throughout the period when he occupied senior posts in the Saudi state – whether as deputy interior minister under his brother Prince Nayef, or when he succeeded Prince Nayef in that post. A Saudi friend of mine who visited him a number of times in his office has confirmed that Prince Ahmad never received any American official, and that Prince Mohammad bin Nayef, who was in charge of security, was in charge of receiving such officials. In fact, Prince Mohammad bin Nayef had many disagreements with Prince Ahmad because he bypassed him on a number of issues and coordinated directly with the late King 'Abdullah and his Diwan instead.
The Saudi ruling family always tends towards secrecy when dealing with its internal affairs. For this reason, anything that can be said regarding these sensitive issues remains mere speculation, leaks, and analyses – which is why most of the family's decisions seem to be surprising and without any prelude.
In conclusion, we say that all that interests the U.S. – and the Trump administration in particular – which views its relations with Saudi Arabia as one of a strategic nature, is to ensure that the arms deals with Riyadh will continue. In fact, we think that there is no disagreement over this issue among the ruling family's princes, whether at the summit of power or powerless. We have said this before, and we repeat it now: The U.S. gives priority to its arms deals over its principles, and resorts to inciting minorities and partitioning states when dealing with those who oppose it.
The consequences of Khashoggi's murder will continue to be full of surprises and changes, and at the summit of power specifically. We are still at the beginning of this road, and what lies ahead is even more momentous.
"But God knows best!" concludes 'Atwan.
3- What Erdogan wants
Turkish President Erdogan's handling of the Khashoggi affair matter has nothing to do with the desire to punish the party behind the assassination; it is about restructuring the Saudi regime, says Mohammad Yaghi in today's Palestinian al-Ayyam
The manner in which Turkish President Erdogan has been handling the Khashoggi affair is part of his broader strategy for the Arab world, argues a leading Palestinian commentator. His campaign has focused on the Saudi crown prince who is seen as a major obstacle to that strategy; but there is no guarantee that this strategy will succeed in achieving Erdogan's goals even if it manages to remove the crown prince from power.
PHASED REVELATIONS: "Everyone now knows that Turkey knew the details of the heinous murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi only a few hours after it occurred," writes Mohammad Yaghi in Friday's leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
But instead of publicizing the facts at one go, Erdogan's Turkey chose to reveal them gradually and in phased installments that have still not reached their end.
Why choose this method that resembles Turkey's own long TV soap opera series? Was the release of the American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was accused of spying for the U.S., during the investigations into Khashoggi's murder a mere coincidence?
Moreover, why has Erdogan made every effort to preserve his friendship with the Saudi king, while continuing to target the crown prince at the same time?
To begin with, I should say that the episodes of this 'Turkish series' regarding Khashoggi's murder have still not reached their peak, and that Turkey is still holding back cards to use in its hard and simultaneous haggling with both Saudi Arabia and the U.S.
I believe that the matter has nothing to do with the desire to punish the party behind the assassination; or, more accurately, to seek justice in the Khashoggi case. It is about Turkey's strategy in the Arab world.
The release of the American pastor Brunson, after a surprise verdict of innocence, is intended to improve relations with the U.S. and hence to ensure its endorsement of the Turkish project that targets Saudi Arabia.
For in Turkey's view the Saudi crown prince is the man behind the collapse of the Muslim Brotherhood's rule in Egypt, who pushed for hostility towards Qatar and for imposing a blockade it, and who abandoned support for Syria's 'rebels' and ended the Arab/Turkish alliance in addressing the Syrian dossier.
In all these files, Turkey was among the parties that was most harmed. To give an idea of the scale of Turkish interest in the Arab world, it is worth noting that over 3000 Arab journalists now reside in Turkey. Most work in satellite TV stations that broadcast to the Arab world, and most belong to the Muslim Brotherhood that became a pursued and suspect organization overnight, accused of conspiring with the U.S., despite its decades' long close relations with a number of Arab regimes.
Turkey is interested in the Arab world for economic, security, and ideological reasons. Economically, Turkey wants the Arab world as its largest trade market. It also wants to end its reliance on Iranian oil and Russian gas, replacing them with Arab oil and gas. But that cannot be achieved as long as the current Iranian regime remains in place, especially since Iran's hegemony over Iraq is even greater than its hegemony over Syria.
As for security, Turkey feels that the main threat comes from its Southern Syria/Iraqi borders where the Kurds are located. Toppling the Syrian regime and replacing it with a regime loyal to it would protect a significant part of its borders. And a regime in Syria that is loyal to Turkey can also play a role in Iraq in coalition with the civilian Sunni groups there.
And ideological terms, the ruling Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP) is an advanced version of the Muslim Brotherhood. Therefore, the Brotherhood is the closest to the AKP ideologically; they are the horse that Erdogan believes he can ride to achieve his strategic aims in the Arab world.
Here, we should remember that the fact that Turkey has interests in the Arab world does not mean that the Arabs have to be hostile towards it. If the Arabs understand these interests correctly, they can build on them to benefit from Turkey in creating a regional balance that enables the Arab world to secure a higher level of political and economic independence.
For example, Turkey and Iran compete with each other in the region; but this has not prevented them from pursuing trade exchanges and trying to reach understandings over many political issues. This is what nation states that care for their interests do.
Regardless of the Khashoggi case, the Saudi crown prince's policies conflict with Turkey's strategy, and have been a major reasons for weakening, if not foiling them: He backed toppling the Brotherhood's rule in Egypt, imposed a blockade on Qatar that is Turkey's ally, declared the Brotherhood to be a terrorist organization, and withdrew from the Arab/Turkish alliance in Syria.
If my analysis is correct, then Erdogan's courtship of U.S. President Trump by releasing Brunson, as well as his courtship of the Saudi monarch by saying that Turkey respects and appreciates him, are intended to create an American/Saudi/Turkish consensus on the need to replace the crown prince with another member of the Saudi ruling family.
This will not restore to Turkey what it has lost strategically in the Arab world; but it could help lift the siege imposed on the Brotherhood in the Arab world and end the crisis with Qatar, and may improve Turkey's chances in Syria.
We say 'may' because there is no guarantee that changing Saudi Arabia's ruling structure will produce harmony in its positions with Turkey, especially since the current U.S. administration may not concur with Turkish strategy. But such a change would provide Turkey with a broader margin with to push forward its strategy in the Arab world.
Will Erdogan achieve his aim? I tend to believe that he is more likely to fail, for two main reasons:
- First, the U.S. under Trump does not want to bring about the change that Erdogan is seeking. Its current Middle East strategy has been built on the foundations of what is now in place in Saudi Arabia. Any change at the summit of Saudi power could mean a different policy towards Iran and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, to be added to the loss of financial deals worth tens-of-billions of dollars.
- Second, based on what they have seen and heard, Saudi citizens will reject foreign intervention. And this means that external pressures will add to the cohesion within the ruling family, backed by popular Saudi support.
"This will make it impossible to bring about any change," concludes Yaghi.