Saudi/US/Israeli partnership could bring war into Africa
THE dramatic news from Saudi Arabia over the past week, including stories of arrests of members of the royal family, assassinations, purges and torture, is 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 against 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, the king’s son and now crown prince of Saudi Arabia, was appointed deputy crown prince, he began ingratiating himself to the US Trump administration – with the assistance of the United Arab Emirates – and is now close friends with President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, who was briefed about last weekend’s crackdown a week before when he saw Salman on a “personal visit” to Saudi Arabia.
There are numerous reasons why Salman 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, particularly, their lack of support – from the Saudi view – for Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak. One of those reasons is the common hatred of Iran that both Salman and Trump have. Both administrations are unhappy about the Iran nuclear deal (which the US signed during the Obama administration).
In this, Salman 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.
Less than a day after Salman 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 in order to ramp up criticism of and action against both Iran and the Lebanese group Hezbollah.
The classified cable, made public by Israel’s Channel 10 News, also asked Israeli diplomats to express support for the Saudi war against Yemen. 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 Hezbollah and Iran as “destructive”.
Israel regards Hezbollah as probably its second most dangerous enemy after Iran. However, Hezbollah is a legal political party in Lebanon and is part of the government headed by Hariri.
Not long after the Israeli cable, Saudi Arabia announced that Lebanon had declared war on the Saudi kingdom because Lebanon has Hezbollah 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. Clearly, the Saudi and Israeli agendas were feeding off and reinforcing one another.
There is a strong belief among Lebanese people and commentators on Saudi Arabia that Hariri was forced by Salman to announce his resignation and that he is being held prisoner in the kingdom, along with others arrested last Saturday night. Even Hariri’s own Future Party made similar comments.
Hariri announced his resignation on Saudi TV rather than on his own TV channel, and did so from Riyadh rather from his own country. He blamed interference in Lebanon by Iran and noncooperation with Hezbollah.
Trump’s tweets of support for the authoritarian actions of Salman reinforcethecommonagendabetween Saudi Arabia, Israel and the US.
“They know what they are doing,” he said, referring to Salman’s crackdown, which included last Saturday’s arrests – including those of two sons of the former king, a son of the former crown prince (who was also sacked from his position as head of the 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.
That Salman is in the process of transforming an authoritarian system and power structure into an even more authoritarian absolute monarchy where all power is controlled by one person does not phase Trump or the Israelis. Indeed, as the Israeli cable indicates, such authoritarianism can be useful in the effort to isolate Iran and destroy Hezbollah.
The repercussions of this triumvirate of co-operation can be catastrophic for a Middle East region that is already mired in a number of wars – with large parts of Syria and Yemen destroyed, facing humanitarian disasters 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 and the country is now under psychological, propaganda, diplomatic and military threat from both Israel and Saudi Arabia.
With a fragile political system, the country is bracing itself for a possible external attack from Israel and internal upheaval from Saudifunded extremists. If such actions begin, Lebanon could be plunged into another civil war and it is quite likely that all three countries will bring their battle with Iran on to the African continent as well, so the Saudi-US-Israeli alliance could prove to be disastrous for the Middle region and for Africa.
Jeenah is the executive director of the Africa-Middle East Centre in Johannesburg.