The intention of this blog is to give further insight into the background to the current Saudi Arabian intrusion into the Yemeni civil war. At this stage, I would like to issue a caution. My interpretation of recent events is only an interpretation. Especially in the case of the Middle East, the would-be analyst attempting to discern the true facts behind the political façade is faced with daunting difficulties.
I learnt as a rather young intelligence officer in central Oman, that understanding what is actually going on in Middle Eastern politics is a question of fortuitous insight and of listening to (and evaluating on the basis of their past performance) as many different sources as possible. My superior used to compare it to observing a sack full of fighting dogs. One could guess, from the noise and the movement, that a battle was raging inside, but to tell from the ever-changing bulges in the sack, which dog had hold of which and where, was often a matter of luck. Nevertheless, over time, you could come to recognise which growl and which yelp belonged to which dog.
In evaluating what is actually going on in Middle Eastern corridors of power and in the secret closets of its intelligence agencies, the blogger, as opposed to the investigative journalist, has to rely largely on what is available on the Internet and in the Main Stream Media (MSM.) Occasionally, if he or she is fortunate, personal contacts are positioned to give further insights obtained at first hand.
The MSM has its own corporate welfare at heart and the players strive to gently nudge, without adversely affecting their cash-flow, their readers’ opinions to conform to whatever coincides with the views and intentions of their owners. Though the MSM has huge power, it is not where one would look to find the whole and unvarnished truth. Furthermore, given its economic imperatives, that part of the MSM which is overtly ‘independent’ is vulnerable to falsehoods deliberately planted by the specialist agencies, which the major players in international affairs maintain for the purpose of shaping public perceptions to conform to their own political agendas.
These agencies do not confine themselves to the MSM. They are also extremely active in social media and in the blogosphere. Even with the best will in the world, the blogger in search of accurate information is bound to get caught out on occasion. I stress that what I write about Middle Eastern politics is not necessarily true – it is just my best attempt to choose a path through the maze of lies and disinformation in the hope of getting as close to the truth as possible. In short, some of what I write is bound to be wrong – and intentionally so, on the part of some of the sources I have erroneously chosen to use.
Here is an additional map for reference.
After the US ‘redirection’ away from its ostensibly pro-Shia policy that started in 2006, Saudi Arabia was confident that, despite the inevitable and gradual strengthening of the Shia political position in Iraq, the USA remained staunch in its pro-Israel, pro-Saudi and anti-Shiite policies. Catch up at https://khakispecs.com/?p=761
2006 also saw, what is so far, the most recent Israeli incursion into Lebanon, defeated by Hezbollah. It also saw in Somalia, the moderate, Islamic Courts Union, whose offensive against the warlords had finally reached the point from where peace might have been restored, being crushed by the United States. It was a serious error to have included the word ‘Islamic” in their title! As a consequence of this misunderstanding of the American mind-set, their shattered remnants have now mutated into the al Shahab terrorist movement. This is much to the pain of Kenya and, doubtless, to the delight of the newly formed United States African Command, for whom it provides a core raison d’etre. (I apologise if I sound particularly bitter about this, but I had some fringe involvement in the event and regard it as one of the most stupid of the multiple crimes committed by the Pentagon. The Internet is full of the history of this event as written by the ‘victors’ and which does not tally with first-hand accounts.)
After those two events, and other than Operation Cast Lead (Israel’s first destruction of the Gazan ghetto in 2008) little of note occurred until 2011. There was however one major external development in the interim. The start of 2009 saw the ousting of George Bush’s hawkish Republican presidency and its replacement by Obama’s, apparently more dove-like, Democrat presidency.
Despite the change in Presidency, much to Israeli and Saudi satisfaction, the USA continued its policy of tightening its economic sanctions against Iran. Between 2006 and 2012 the USA persuaded the UN to ratchet up the sanctions against Iran a total of eight times. The EU joined in by delivering its own set of measures designed to cripple the Iranian economy. This would have provided some consolation to the Saudis, as they witnessed the USA beginning to gain an upper hand over the Sunni insurgency in Iraq.
They would have been in need of such comfort, as they heard Obama’s announcement of his intention to draw down the American forces committed to Iraq, with a view to handing over to any civilian government ( inevitably to be Shia dominated) that the US could cobble together. December 2011 saw the USA’s (sadly, not-to-be- final) retreat from Iraq, leaving an overwhelmingly Shiite government in power.
Events in Afghanistan continued not to go as the USA and NATO had intended. The western allies began to realise that they would be well advised to declare victory and exit the quagmire at the earliest possible moment. Though they did not finally manage to do this until the end of 2014, it would not have particularly worried Saudi Arabia had Afghanistan reverted back to the control of its Taliban protégés.
February 2011 saw the start of the Saudi and Qatari inspired and funded Islamist revolution against Gadhafi in Libya. Enabled by the application of US and NATO air power, it ended with his overthrow and murder in October of that year and has resulted in ripples of failed state chaos ever since.
March 2011 saw Saudi military intervention to suppress peaceful protests in Bahrain by the Island’s overwhelmingly Shiite citizenry against their Sunni ruler. This was much to the relief of the US 5th Fleet, which is based on that island. (Of course, no unfair comparisons should be drawn with Russia’s securing of its naval base in Sevastopol under ostensibly similar circumstances – other than in that instance, unlike in the Bahrain case, the local population was overwhelmingly in favour.)
February 2011, saw the start of the popular revolution in Egypt, which was to end Hosni Mubarak’s safe dictatorship and, in June 2012, bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power under Morsi – much to Israel’s and the Saudi Royal Family’s dismay.
This revolution brought to public notice an emerging difference of opinion between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Qatar supported the Morsi revolution. However, Saudi Arabia was terrified by it and contributed greatly to the successful campaign to have it replaced by a secular military government under General al-Sisi in July 2013. There is more on the Saudi-Qatari relationship below.
March 2011 also saw the fruition of several years of planning by the US, UK and Saudi intelligence services and the start of the Syrian revolution against Bashir al Assad’s Alawite regime. This is a report of an event two years prior to the outbreak of Syrian insurrection. https://www.sott.net/article/262842-UK-planned-war-on-Syria-before-unrest-began-French-ex-foreign-minister-Roland-Dumas
Liaison between the Intelligence agencies of other nations and the CIA is often used as a screen to enable the CIA to indulge in operations that can escape Congressional oversight. If it is someone else’s’ operation and not the CIA that is taking the lead, then the CIA is merely doing some enabling for a friendly ally and it is none of Congress’s business. If, by 2009, the planning had reached the stage when Dumas was approached, it would seem a good bet that planning had started somewhat earlier and probably at the time of the ‘redirection’ in 2006.
Anyone who believes that the Arab Spring in 2011 saw a spontaneous uprising of the Syrian people against their cruel dictator has been seriously misinformed. The fact that Assad’s government has stayed in power, against the overwhelming sum of forces and mountains of cash allied against it, is testament to the solid support his regime has received from Sunni as well as Alawite Syrians. How the campaign against Syria has developed since the outset of the insurrection can be seen in this report https://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n08/seymour-m-hersh/the-red-line-and-the-rat-line
Seymour Hersh’s above report (it needs to be read in its entirety) records an event in August 2013, which I believe must have been instrumental in the rapid development of American Middle Eastern (and European) policy. The extent of the US intended military strike against Syria, as revealed by Hersh, should scotch any fond hopes that Obama is a peacenik. Whatever might be his personal preferences; he is a prisoner of his circumstances and is gripped in the currents generated by mighty lobby groups. However, this last minute retreat from the brink, as described by Hersh, must have given both the White House and the American military establishment a pause for serious thought.
After the American military’s extraordinarily expensive failures to achieve desired outcomes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and a peace-deal in Israel, the Obama administration was looking for a new strategic template to apply to its international interventions. In 2012 it announced yet another ‘redirection’ – its ‘pivot to Asia.’ Ideally, the forces and budgets being drawn down from Iraq and Afghanistan, would become available to confront what was now seen as the most important challenge facing America’s claim to global hegemony, China and its Russian ally. With the USA’s newly found independence from Middle Eastern oil, it is not surprising that both Saudi and Israel should view this as a pivot away from the Middle East.
Their worst suspicions were confirmed when, in the form of the 2014 ISIS invasion of Iraq, the USA was faced with the blowback from its previous collaboration with Saudi Arabia using Sunni terrorism as a tool for regime change in Syria. The White House accelerated its moves to tone down its stand-off with Iran and even announced that it was no longer committed to regime change in Syria.
Furthermore, it made clear that the days of large scale US ground operations in support of Middle Eastern allies, were over. Whereas it would continue to provide training, munitions, logistic and intelligence assistance, military interventions, placing large numbers of American personnel at risk, would not happen again. In short, local powers would, from now on, have to develop their own balance of power and police their own backyards.
So what are the weights in the balance: who are the dogs in the sack? Basically these consist of Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel – and fast changing combinations of the lesser powers they have allied with, subverted or bought.
In future blogs I will try and go into further detail on some of these newly emerging and not yet fully bedded-in relationships. Here follows a very simplified outline of the Saudi connections.
Saudi Arabia (in effect, the House of Saud) is fearful of loosing its throne. The threat it sees itself as facing is firstly, the possibility of an Iranian outreach to its coreligionists in Saudi’s eastern oilfields to cause dissent (and possibly support that dissent with military force.) Secondly it is the Moslem Brotherhood (MB.) Thirdly, it is any other political grouping with republican or anti-monarchical ambitions. There is no reason to suppose that the House of Saud has forgotten the fates of King Farouk in Egypt (1952); Imam Muhammed al-Badr in Yemen (1962); of Faisal II in Iraq (1958) or of King Idris in Libya (1969), who were all overthrown by middle-ranking army officers in the belief that their country would be better off under a president than a parasitical royal family. None of these countries have returned to monarchical rule.
The MB is a long-established, moderately moderate Islamic movement, which, over the years, has gathered considerable political savoir faire (as witnessed in Egypt, by its ability to step into the breach when Mubarak was ousted.) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muslim_Brotherhood The Saudi Royal Family regards the MB’s political ability and its comparatively democratic ideals as having the potential to pose a serious threat to the continuation of their medieval rule. Having made a pact with the extreme Wahhabi Islamist religious establishment and resting their claims to legitimacy on that pact, they feel far more comfortable dealing with fanatical jihadists (provided they conduct their jihads outside the Kingdom) than they would with any serious grass-roots, modern political movement.
Provided it is not MB inclined, and not Shia inclined, Saudi Arabia regards whatever Middle Eastern movement or regime, which is not actively trying to promote republicanism outside its own borders, as a potential ally. The secular Egyptian regime, which is busy suppressing the MB, whose elected government it overthrew, is in need of funds that Saudi can provide. They are now allies.
The Israeli regime is Jewish, but is working for the destruction of Iran and is at war with the MB-inclined Hamas regime in Gaza, with the Shia regime in Syria and with Iranian backed Hezbollah in Lebanon. Consequently, Israel and The Saudi Royal Family are in reality the closest of allies (though in public they keep their formal distance, lest the Arab street be offended at their sleeping with the enemy.) Ever since the USA’s intended disengagement became obvious, a closer relationship with Israel and access to shelter under its military umbrella has become increasingly attractive to the Saudis. https://www.israeltoday.co.il/NewsItem/tabid/178/nid/24790/Default.aspx
This alliance will become obvious to the remainder of the Arab world and will work to undermine the legitimacy of the House of Saud – especially in view of the increasingly brutal confidence with which the Israeli government maltreats its Arab population.
The ISIS Caliphate, and the sundry al Qaeda oriented organisations, which are in a state of conflict with both ISIS and the majority Shia governments of both Syria and Iraq, are viewed with favour – provided they remain oriented towards Islamic fundamentalism and don’t show moderate MB tendencies. American pressure forced the Saudis to make a token gesture of hostility towards ISIS by joining the coalition, which New Zealand has recently joined. Though trumpeted from American rooftops, it was absolutely no more than a token. The Saudi’s see their US provided air force as being far more usefully deployed against Yemeni tribesmen.
It is hard to understand how the Saudi Royal Family can feel so confident in the face of ISIS’s repeated references to them as apostates (Caliphate law: penalty beheading.) It is probably that they feel confident that the Iraqi regime, with Iranian support, has the military strength to stop any military incursions. As for the danger of internal subversion by the fundamentalists, they have excellent American trained security services. More importantly, their Wahhabi regime in Saudi is, in itself, sufficiently fundamentalist to divert any Saudis, who yearn for more robust expressions of their religious belief, towards overseas jihad – targeting apostate regimes that lack the support of a Wahhabi clergy.
The Jordanian monarchy is supported financially so as to ensure that it doesn’t succumb to the large MB element among its population. Kuwait and the UAE are all seen as friendly Sunni regimes, which can be called upon, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, to support the anti-Shia struggle. The Sunni ruling family of Bahrain is given military support to suppress the democratic urges of its largely Shia population.
More problematical for the Saudis is the al-Thani family, Emirs of Qatar. Their desert emirate of just two million people, with the world’s highest per capita GDP ($94,000) is extremely influential in the Arab world. This is due not only to its wealth, but also to the Al- Jazeera broadcasting service, which is controlled by the Emir. They have positioned themselves as seemingly detached from Saudi influence. To the House of Saud’s disgust, they have sought the favour of Arab public opinion throughout the Middle East, by proclaiming their support for the more democratic Moslem Brotherhood. This, they could afford to do, as such wealthy subjects as theirs, are most unlikely to dabble in revolutionary politics.
Throughout 2013-2014, the animosity over the question of support for the MB, between Qatar, on the one hand, and Saudi Arabia, together with the other Emirates, developed to the point where ambassadors were recalled and diplomatic relations ruptured. The USA’s declared intention to improve its relations with Iran, concentrated the warring parties’ minds wondrously. It is possible that the Qataris were faced with the threat of military force unless they moved closer to the Saudi position.
In November 2014, the Arab parties reconciled publicly and diplomatic relations were restored. It would appear that this was on the basis of an understanding of which sphere of influence should belong to the MB supporting Qatar, and which to Saudi. Qatar would abandon all support for the Egyptian MB, currently being extirpated by al-Sisi. However, it was left free to foster the MB in Libya, the Maghreb and all points to the west of Egypt. It could continue to support the Palestinians and cooperate with the other major MB- inclined, player, Turkey. Most importantly, no MB influence was to be encouraged in Jordan or infiltrated into the Arabian Peninsula, which was to remain a stronghold of traditional, absolute monarchies. MB leaders, resident in Qatar, were expelled. For a background and a feel for the wheels within wheels https://english.al-akhbar.com/node/22511
Sitting on the periphery of the Arab world, are three non-Semitic forces for the Arabs to reckon with and with whom the USA can play its new Middle Eastern balancing act. These are Turkey, (75 million) the Kurds (a nation without a state, 15 million live in Turkey, 6 million in Iraq, 6 million in Iran and 2 million in Syria) and Iran (77 million.) Until 1918 Turkey, under the Ottomans, had colonised most of the coastal communities in the Arabian Peninsula (except Muscat & Oman, which remained safely insulated behind the Rub al-Khali sand-sea.) Ex-colonial powers tend not to be held in high esteem. This is particularly so in the case of Turkey, in that it abandoned Islam as its official religion and secularised under Kemal Ataturk.
In recent years, Turkey, snubbed in its attempt to join the EU, has attempted a return to the Islamic fold. Its government has become more Islamic (Sunni) and has sought to regain influence in the Arab world, using as one of its re-entry vehicles, support for the MB. This policy has been characterised by its pursuit (at least in public) of anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian policies and by being less compliant with the wishes of its fellow members of NATO than the USA would like. It has however cooperated fully with the USA in its moves to destabilise Syria. This it has done by providing insurgent groups with safe havens along its Syrian border, in the (now forlorn) hope that a compatible and moderate MB government will replace the Alawite government of Bashir Assad.
Turkey is very much in the Qatari, as opposed to the Saudi, camp and there are reports of tens of billions of Qatari dollars being used to encourage the MB ambitions of the current Turkish government. In playing its MB card, Turkey became an ardent supporter of the Morsi government in Egypt and fell out with the new Egyptian military regime after Morsi was overthrown. In the last few months, Riyadh has been able to persuade Turkey to swallow its hostility to al-Sisi and be seen, once again, as a mild and uncommitted supporter of the now ‘united’ Saudi- Qatari quest for Arab self-sufficiency in face of the Iranian ‘threat.’
Turkey’s position in the balance of Middle Eastern power is somewhat compromised by its problem with the independence movement of its indigenous Kurds. It has good trading relations with its Shiite Iranian neighbour, which also has a Kurdish problem – albeit, not on the same scale. Both know that they are in competition for the position of top dog in the region and they are both in heavy competition in Syria – while sharing mutually compatible aims for the Palestinians.
The Yemen. In January of this year King Abdullah died and was succeeded by King Salman, who appointed his son, Prince Mohammed as the world’s youngest Minister of Defence. With no military experience, it is Mohammed, as the Black Prince, anxious to win his spurs in combat, who is pulling together the alliance that is currently assaulting the al-Houthis in Yemen and, incidentally, greatly aiding the local al-Qaeda franchise. As the Saudis enter the three-way Yemeni civil war between the Zaidi al-Houthi, a Sunni breakaway group in South Yemen and al-Qaeda, in an attempt to install their own puppet government, they would appear to be tilting at a windmill. There seems no way, as the Saudis are claiming, that the al-Houthis represent a potential Trojan horse by which Iran is planning to enter and destabilise the Saudi Kingdom. A cynic might feel that there need be not much more reason for this war than that, having acquired all this state of the art weaponry from the Americans, the urge for a young man to try them out, is irresistible. https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/04/iran-yemen-saudi-arabia-houthis.html#ixzz3XPGnPZE3
This is the comment of Iranian President and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei:-
“Despite disputes, Saudis used to display composure with us, but now inexperienced youngsters have come to power and replaced composure with barbarism. I warn that they should refrain from any criminal move in Yemen. The US will also fail and face loss in this issue.”
I will wait until the situation has developed further before writing a detailed blog on the subject. At his stage it looks almost certain that Iran will not be drawn in (just as Pakistan has prudently refused to oblige Saudi requests to send troops for a ground invasion.) The Americans, who are bound to assist the Saudis, in line with the terms of their petrodollar agreement, will be trying hard to restrain their ally. They can see a repeat of the Afghanistan al-Qaeda scenario looming. The Egyptians, their 1960s invasion of Yemen, under Nasser, having ended in a dismal defeat, will certainly try to avoid any ground engagement. If the Saudis went in alone, in that terrain, they would be severely whipped by the locals. In a protracted occupation and guerrilla war, Prince Mohammed would place enormous strains on the loyalty of his military.
Rather than a surfeit of youthful testosterone, a more likely explanation of the assault on Yemen is that the Kingdom’s actions are grounded in genuine fear. Rather than the fear of direct Shia unrest emanating from the Iranian theocracy, it is the potential for contamination of their subjects by the republican form of government that the al-Houthis represent, which is giving the Saudi royal family its moment of extreme Angst. Whatever the House of Saud’s motivation, the certain outcome of their assault on Yemen is enormous human suffering, and most probably, yet another failed Arab state. This is likely to become a hotbed of enhanced international terrorism – next door to the world’s most important shipping line.
As no one ever succeeded in defeating a well-established indigenous force by air-power, unaccompanied by boots on the ground, one can anticipate a Saudi defeat. If they try a ground invasion, they will be defeated and if they don’t, they cannot win. Whichever way, the outcome might well place the royal family’s anachronistic hold on power in question. It is not a question of if, but of when the House of Saud will fall. The question is whether it will fall, as did America’s puppet Shah in Iran, to religious fundamentalists, or whether it will fall, as did so many other Middle eastern monarchies, to a nationalist coup led by a politicised military. The only other fate that might indeed intervene would be a full-scale war with Iran. The only circumstances in which such an event could be foreseen, would be an Israeli aerial assault on Iran making use of its Saudi Arabian ally’s airfields.
The fall of the House of Saud, impending within the next ten or so years, is a perfectly foreseeable ‘black swan’ event, which is likely to seriously undermine the role of the petrodollar in the global economy and in so doing will impact on the East-West power balance.
One man who has practical experience of successfully facing down an assault by an infinitely militarily superior adversary, is Hassan Nasrallah, who has led the Hezbollah resistance to repeated Israeli assaults on the Lebanon. Here is what he has to say about the probable outcome of Prince Mohammed’s Yemen adventure: https://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article41530.htm
If anyone wants immediate background to the Yemeni jar of worms they could read this (Sputnik is a Russian blog.) It contains an excellent map and a chronology up to the point immediately prior to ex-President Hadi’s arrival in Riyadh. There is no shortage of other commentary on the Web. https://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article41377.htm
Had the Russians opened up a full blown aerial assault on the Ukraine in order to restore Viktor Yanukovych to power after his ousting, the world would have been appalled. As it is, in a far more blatant case of unjustified aggression, the UN, with not a squeak of protest from the New Zealand representative on the Security Council, has moved to condone the illegal Saudi intervention and to impose sanctions on the al-Houthi, in the hope of denying them weapons with which to defend themselves. It certainly is a world of double standards!