Unholy alliance bad for Middle East
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
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.