Un­holy al­liance bad for Mid­dle East

Sunday Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - NA’EEM JEENAH

THE dra­matic news out of Saudi Ara­bia over the past week, in­clud­ing sto­ries of ar­rests of mem­bers of the royal fam­ily, as­sas­si­na­tions, purges and tor­ture, are not en­tirely a do­mes­tic mat­ter.

There is most cer­tainly an in­ter­na­tional di­men­sion to it, as ev­i­denced by the co­erced res­ig­na­tion of Le­banese prime min­is­ter, Saad Hariri, Saudi threats to Le­banon and Iran, and the Saudi call for its cit­i­zens to leave Le­banon.

That in­ter­na­tional di­men­sion, it is be­com­ing clearer, also in­cludes the US and Is­rael.

Soon af­ter Muham­mad bin Sal­man, or MBS as he is of­ten re­ferred to, the king’s son and now crown prince of Saudi Ara­bia, was ap­pointed deputy crown prince, he be­gan in­gra­ti­at­ing him­self with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion in the US, with the as­sis­tance of the United Arab Emi­rates, and is now close friends with Don­ald Trump’s son-in-law and ad­viser Jared Kush­ner, who was briefed about last week­end’s crack­down a week be­fore when he saw MBS on a “per­sonal visit” to Saudi Ara­bia.

There are nu­mer­ous rea­sons MBS would want the king­dom and the US to strengthen relations that had frayed over the US ap­proach to the 2011 up­ris­ings in North Africa and, in par­tic­u­lar, their lack of sup­port, from the Saudi view, for Egypt’s pres­i­dent, Hosni Mubarak.

One of those rea­sons is the com­mon ha­tred of Iran MBS and Trump share.

Both ad­min­is­tra­tions are bit­terly un­happy about the Iran nu­clear deal, which the US signed onto dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

In this, MBS has also made com­mon cause with Is­rael. And that has led to a de­vel­op­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Saudis and Is­raelis. It was re­cently re­ported that the Saudi crown prince vis­ited Is­rael on a se­cret but of­fi­cial trip, an un­prece­dented oc­cur­rence.

And, less than a day af­ter MBS ar­rested dozens of po­ten­tial ri­vals in Saudi Ara­bia, the Is­raeli for­eign min­istry sent a cable to its for­eign mis­sions ask­ing them to pig­gy­back on the Saudi re­pres­sive ac­tions to ramp up crit­i­cism of and ac­tion against both Iran and Le­banese group Hizbol­lah.

The clas­si­fied cable, made pub­lic by Is­rael’s Chan­nel 10 News, also asked Is­raeli diplo­mats to ex­press sup­port for the Saudi war against Ye­men, which has be­come a hu­man­i­tar­ian nightmare.

Is­raeli diplo­mats were told to con­tact for­eign min­istries in their host coun­tries, and re­it­er­ate the Saudi po­si­tion on Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion, us­ing it to paint Hizbol­lah and Iran as “de­struc­tive”, and to pres­sure the host gov­ern­ments to re­gard Hizbol­lah as a “dan­ger to the sta­bil­ity of Le­banon and other coun­tries of the re­gion”.

Is­rael re­gards Hizbol­lah as prob­a­bly its sec­ond most dan­ger­ous en­emy af­ter Iran. It was, af­ter all, Hizbol­lah which forced Is­rael to end its oc­cu­pa­tion of ar­eas in the south of Le­banon, and which with­stood a sus­tained war by Is­rael in 2006. How­ever, Hizbol­lah is a le­gal po­lit­i­cal party in Le­banon and is part of the THE mis­ery ofye­me­nis trapped in a pro­tracted war has wors­ened as the Saudi-led mil­i­tary coali­tion block­ade is pre­vent­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian aid. On Mon­day, the coali­tion an­nounced a stepped-up air, land and sea block­ade to stem the flow of arms from Iran af­ter it in­ter­cepted a mis­sile at­tack by Houthis near Riyadh’s air­port.

Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders (MSF) flights were pre­vented from fly­ing in to or out of Ye­men de­spite prom­ises by the Saudi-led coali­tion to al­low the pas­sage of hu­man­i­tar­ian sup­plies and crew.

In a state­ment by the Saudi-led coali­tion, hu­man­i­tar­ian or­gan­i­sa­tions were warned to avoid cer­tain ar­eas within Ye­men, a move con­demned by MSF as con­tra­dic­tory to the hu­man­i­tar­ian prin­ci­ple of im­par­tial­ity, which dic­tates that as­sis­tance should reach those who need it most, re­gard­less of po­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions.

“The coali­tion’s de­ci­sion is se­ri­ously ham­per­ing MSF’S abil­ity to pro­vide med­i­cal hu­man­i­tar­ian re­lief to a pop­u­la­tion al­ready se­verely af­fected by more than two-and-a-half years of con­flict,” said MSF’S head of mis­sion in­ye­men, Justin Arm­strong.“for three days, the Saudi-led coali­tion has not al­lowed MSF to fly from Dji­bouti to Sana’a or Aden.”

MSF has called on the Saudi-led coali­tion to im­me­di­ately al­low un­hin­dered ac­cess to and within Ye­men for staff to be de­ployed and hu­man­i­tar­ian cargo to reach those in most need.

Ye­meni civil­ians are al­ready suf­fer­ing as a re­sult of the fight­ing, mass dis­place­ment and spread of dis­eases. Hun­dreds of health fa­cil­i­ties have been closed, dam­aged or de­stroyed in the con­flict.

Mil­lions of peo­ple lack ac­cess to ba­sic goods, ad­e­quate nu­tri­tion and safe wa­ter, while nearly 1.2 mil­lion civil ser­vants, in­clud­ing health work­ers, have re­ceived lit­tle or no salaries for a year.

The World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion says the cholera epi­demic that has af­fected 700 000 and killed 2 090 peo­ple is a stark ex­am­ple of the con­se­quences of the non-pay­ment of health work­ers.

The lat­est block­ade will push up the prices of ba­sic com­modi­ties, put­ting many at risk.

“The broader im­pact of this block­ade is al­ready ev­i­dent. Fuel prices have sky­rock­eted, sup­plies of diesel and cook­ing gas are be­com­ing scarce and ship­ments of es­sen­tial medicines are stuck at bor­der cross­ings,” said Arm­strong.

“The al­ready dev­as­tated Ye­meni econ­omy will un­doubt­edly de­cline fur­ther, mak­ing it more dif­fi­cult for Ye­me­nis to meet their ba­sic needs, which is why hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance is so vi­tal.” gov­ern­ment headed by Hariri.

Not long af­ter the Is­raeli cable, Saudi Ara­bia, strangely, an­nounced Le­banon had de­clared war on the Saudi king­dom, sim­ply be­cause Le­banon had Hizbol­lah as a po­lit­i­cal party.

Many Le­banese in­ter­preted that an­nounce­ment as a Saudi dec­la­ra­tion of war, a per­cep­tion that was strength­ened when, on Thurs­day, the king­dom called on its cit­i­zens in Le­banon to evac­u­ate the coun­try.

Clearly, the Saudi and Is­raeli agen­das not only dove­tailed, but were feed­ing off and re­in­forc­ing one an­other.

There is a strong be­lief among Le­banese peo­ple and com­men­ta­tors on Saudi Ara­bia that the Le­banese prime min­is­ter, Hariri, was forced by MBS to an­nounce his res­ig­na­tion, and that he is be­ing held pris­oner in the king­dom, along with the scores of oth­ers ar­rested last Satur­day night.

Even Hariri’s own Fu­ture

Party made sim­i­lar com­ments to the me­dia later in the week. Hariri an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion on Saudi TV rather than on his own TV chan­nel, and did so from Riyadh rather from his own

Doc­tors with­out Bor­ders

coun­try.

In an an­nounce­ment that was scripted for him, Hariri blamed his res­ig­na­tion on in­ter­fer­ence in Le­banon by Iran, and non-co­op­er­a­tion with Hizbol­lah.

Trump’s tweets of sup­port for the au­thor­i­tar­ian ac­tions of MBS re­in­force the com­mon agenda of Saudi Ara­bia, Is­rael and the US.

“They know what they are do­ing,” he said, re­fer­ring to

MBS’ crack­down, which in­cluded Satur­day’s ar­rests – in­clud­ing those of two sons of the for­mer king, a son of the for­mer crown prince (who was also sacked Refugees at Al Man­joorah tem­po­rary set­tle­ment on the out­skirts of Beni Has­san, in north-western Ye­men.they were dis­placed by heavy fight­ing in the re­gion. Pic­ture: Nar­ciso Contreras from his po­si­tion as head of the pow­er­ful Na­tional Guard), nu­mer­ous busi­ness­peo­ple (in­clud­ing Waleed bin Talal, one of the rich­est men in the world), heads of three ma­jor me­dia net­works, and for­mer min­is­ters.

Through these moves, MBS has taken full po­lit­i­cal con­trol and side­lined all other sec­tions of the Saudi royal fam­ily; he now has com­plete con­trol of all sec­tions of the Saudi se­cu­rity and armed forces; he is able to shape the

Saudi nar­ra­tive as he wants it; and he has pre­pared the way for his fa­ther’s ab­di­ca­tion and his as­cen­sion to the throne – with­out any crit­i­cism from other Saudis.

That he is in the process of trans­form­ing an au­thor­i­tar­ian sys­tem and power struc­ture into an ab­so­lute monar­chy where all power is con­trolled by one per­son does not faze Trump or the Is­raelis.

The reper­cus­sions of this tri­umvi­rate of co-op­er­a­tion could be cat­a­strophic for a Mid­dle

East re­gion al­ready mired in con­flict, with large parts of Syria and Ye­men de­stroyed, fac­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter and deal­ing with more than 13 mil­lion dis­placed peo­ple (mainly from Syria and Ye­men).

While Iran is more than ca­pa­ble of de­fend­ing it­self against all three, in Le­banon, more than 20% of the pop­u­la­tion are refugees from neigh­bour­ing Syria and Pales­tine.

The coun­try is now un­der psy­cho­log­i­cal, pro­pa­ganda, diplo­matic and mil­i­tary threat from both Is­rael and Saudi Ara­bia.

With a frag­ile po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, Le­banon is brac­ing it­self for a pos­si­ble ex­ter­nal at­tack from Is­rael, and in­ter­nal up­heaval from Saudi-funded ex­trem­ists.

If such ac­tions be­gin, it could be plunged into an­other civil war that could de­stroy the coun­try.

And it is likely all three coun­tries will bring their bat­tle with Iran to Africa as well.

The emerg­ing Saudi-usis­raeli al­liance could prove to be dis­as­trous for the Mid­dle East and Africa.

Jeenah is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Africa-mid­dle East Cen­tre in Joburg.

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