Posts Tagged ‘Syria’

U.S. opens up to Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood, Syria, and Iran

March 17, 2015

By Nicola Nasser*

The appointment of Robert Malley as White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf Region is not considered a sufficient indicator that there will be any radical change in U.S. strategy despite the campaign launched against the U.S. by the Zionists due to its openness to Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Syria and Iran.

On 6 March, President Barack Obama’s administration appointed Robert Malley, the former senior director of the National Security Council who dealt with the Iraqi, Iranian, and Gulf issues, and a member of the delegation negotiating the Iranian nuclear programme, as the Special White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf region. Malley is scheduled to assume his new position on 6 April, succeeding Philip Gordon.

Edward Abington, former U.S. consul general in occupied Jerusalem, described the lawyer specialised in “conflict resolution” as being an “American Jewish” and that his appointment is a “positive development”. He was also described by U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice as “one of our country’s most respected experts on the Middle East, since February 2014 Rob has played a critical role in forming our policy on Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Gulf.”

However, the Zionist Organisation of America (ZOA) opposed the appointment of Malley for several reasons, stating that Malley is an “Israel-basher, advocate of U.S. recognition of major, unreconstructed terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah, and proponent of containment of Iran (i.e., not preventing them from attaining nuclear weapons) and proponent of negotiating with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad (i.e. not changing his regime).”

He also believes that working with the Muslim Brotherhood is “not a bad idea” and called Israel’s settlements located in the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 “colonies”. He also called for abandoning the Road Map for Peace approved by the international Quartet in 2003 and replacing it with a comprehensive settlement plan to be imposed on the parties with the backing of the international community, including Arab and Muslim states. He did so before the Foreign Relations Committee in the U.S. Senate in 2004. He also continues to urge the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah, Palestinian Authority and Hamas “to unite”.

Malley also called for “involving” Hamas in the PLO’s negotiations with the occupation, explaining his statement by saying that the PLO must include Hamas because it has become “antiquated, worn out, barely functioning, and is no longer considered the Palestinian people’s sole legitimate representative.” He also called for the resumption of negotiations between the Arabs and Israel “on all levels on the basis of the Arab peace initiative.”

The ZOA did not fail to mention his father, Simon Malley who was born and worked in Egypt as a journalist for Al-Goumhouria newspaper before moving with his family to France and founding Afrique-Asie magazine. The ZOA said that Simon Malley was “a virulently anti-Israel member of the Egyptian Communist Party, a close confidante of Yasser Arafat, and an enthusiast for violent Third World ‘liberation’ movements.” As for his mother, Barbara Malley, she worked with the United Nations delegation of the National Liberation Front (NLF), the Algerian independence group.

Robert Malley was Barack Obama’s colleague at Harvard Law School and a Middle East affairs adviser for his 2008 campaign. However, Obama was forced to cast him aside due to the Zionist campaign against both of them after Britain’s the Times revealed that Malley had been in contact with Hamas.

In his media interviews Malley explained that the contacts were part of his work with the International Crisis Group, saying: “My job with the International Crisis Group is to meet with all sorts of savoury and unsavoury people and report on what they say. I’ve never denied whom I meet with; that’s what I do.”

He added that he used to inform the State Department about his meetings beforehand and briefs them afterward. During the same year, London’s Al-Hayat newspaper quoted deputy head of the political bureau of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, and Hamas official Dr Ahmed Yousef as saying: “We were in contact with a number of Obama’s aides through the internet, and later met with some of them in Gaza, but they advised us not to come out with any statements, as they may have a negative effect on his election campaign.”

Before this, Malley, who was a member of the U.S. negotiating team in the 2000 Arafat-Barak-Clinton summit at Camp David, was the target of an Israeli-Zionist campaign because he held all three leaders responsible for the failure of the summit, and not only the late Palestinian leader, who was repeatedly accused by Bill Clinton, Ehud Barak and their team of negotiators of causing the failure.

Morton A. Klein, president of the Zionist Organisation of America, said: “How exactly does someone, who is dropped as an adviser because he advocates recognition of, and meets with, the genocidally-inclined terrorist organisation Hamas, now became a senior adviser to the president, unless President Obama has all along agreed with much of what Malley thinks and advocates?”

Due to the fact that the appointment of Malley coincided with the crisis in relations between the U.S. and Israel, caused by the recent speech made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the U.S. Congress behind Obama’s back and without his approval, analysts have begun to talk about “changes in the U.S. role in the Middle East” in the context of the Israeli media outlets and its Zionist and Jewish arms abroad.

They have also predicted that “there will be no doubt that the U.S. policy will be focused exclusively on pressuring Israel over the course of the last 22 months of Obama’s term,” as written by Jonathan S. Tobin in America’s Commentary magazine on 10 March.

During this time, Obama will be “free of electoral pressure” so the Obama administration’s treatment of the Palestinian issue is about to take on a much more aggressive attitude over the next two years. This will allow Obama to “invest the little political credit he has left in ‘bringing world peace’,” as written by Alex Fishman in the Israeli daily the Yedioth Ahronoth.

In Fishman’s view, there are now two courses of work on the White House’s agenda. First, it can follow the path of the “European Initiative” which proposes issuing a UN Security Council resolution for a “lasting solution in the Middle East”, while the second path involves waiting for the results of the Israeli elections this week, as it is a “renewal of the American peace initiative, which will have behind it a very skilled, determined person, who isn’t very fond of the current government: The president’s new man in the Middle East,” Robert Malley.

It is clear that these courses of action, the appointment of Malley and his record will undoubtedly breathe life into the PLO’s negotiating team, especially since President Abbas repeatedly says that going to the UN and international organisations, as well as the latest PLO’s Central Council recommendations, do not necessarily mean that negotiations will be abandoned.

These negotiations can also be considered new material used by the American camp in the Arab League to justify its on-going pressure on the PLO to continue to rely on the United States.

The appointment of Malley indicates one conclusion: that the U.S. is heading towards a new initiative to resume negotiations between the PLO and the Israeli occupying power without making any changes to its references. If the PLO interacts and deals with the “European initiative” then it is likely to deal and interact with any new U.S. initiative, according to all indications in this regard.

In this case, the PLO’s recent diplomatic actions not related to the negotiations and the United States has merely been “playing on borrowed time” while waiting for the results of the Israeli elections.

However, these actions can still be built upon in order to completely depart from the American vision for the “resolution of the conflict” in the event that Netanyahu is re-elected as prime minister.

On the other hand, Hamas should not be fooled by Robert Malley’s positions towards the movement, despite its importance, as it is an attempt to contain the movement and drag it into “negotiations” between the PLO and Israel based on the same references rejected and opposed by Hamas thus far.

As for Malley’s performance in Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Gulf, over the past year, which was praised by Susan Rice, it has had catastrophic consequences on the ground that speak for themselves. Malley’s openness to Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran and Syria is nothing more than tactical dealings in order to serve the unchanged U.S. strategy with forces that have proved their presence.

Appointing Robert Malley as White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf Region is not a sufficient indicator of any radical change in the U.S. strategy that is on the verge of tearing the Arab world apart, along with its Islamic surroundings, unless it is deterred. This is true despite the Zionist campaign opposing his openness towards Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Syria and Iran.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com). This article was translated from Arabic and first published by the “Middle East Monitor”.

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Fighting ‘Islamic State’ is not the Israeli priority

December 24, 2014

By Nicola Nasser*

Defying a consensus that it is a priority by the world community comprising international rivals like the United States, Europe, Russia and China and regional rivals like Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia, Israel, like Turkey, does not eye the U.S. – led war on the IS as its regional priority. Nor fighting Israel is an IS priority.

The Israeli top priority is to dictate its terms to Syria to sign a peace treaty with Israel before withdrawing its forces from the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, Palestinian territories and Lebanese southern lands.

For this purpose, Israel is determined to break down the Syria – Iran alliance, which has been the main obstacle preventing Israel from realising its goals. Changing the ruling regime in either Damascus or Tehran would be a step forward. Towards this Israeli strategic goal the IS could not be but an Israeli asset.

“To defeat ISIS (The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as the IS was previously known) and leave Iran as a threshold nuclear power is to win the battle and lose the war,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the UN General Assembly last September.

Therefore, “it should not come as a surprise that the (Benjamin) Netanyahu government has not yet taken any immediate steps against IS,” according to Amos Harel, writing in Foreign Policy on September 15.

However, information is already surfacing that Israel is “taking steps” in the opposite direction, to empower the IS and other terrorist groups fighting and infighting in Syria.

Israeli daily Haaretz on last October 31 quoted a “senior Northern Command officer” as saying that the U.S. – led coalition “is making a big mistake in fighting against ISIS … the United States, Canada and France are on the same side as Hezbollah, Iran and [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad. That does not make sense.”

Regardless, on September 8 Israeli daily The Jerusalem Post reported that Israel has provided “satellite imagery and other information” to the coalition. Three days later Netanyahu said at a conference in Herzliya: “Israel fully supports President [Barack] Obama’s call for united actions against ISIS … We are playing our part in this continued effort. Some of the things are known; some of the things are less known.”
Obama’s call was the green light for Israel to support Syrian and non- Syrian rebels. Syrian official statements claim that Israel has been closely coordinating with the rebels.

Israeli statements claim theirs is confined to “humanitarian” support to “moderate” Syrian opposition, which the U.S. has already pledged to train and arm in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey. A significant portion of the $64 billion earmarked for conflicts abroad in the budget legislation signed by Obama on December 19 will go to these “moderates.”

Both Israel and the U.S. have no headaches about whether the “moderates” would remain as such after being armed with lethal weapons or whether it remains appropriate to call them “opposition.”

But the Israeli “humanitarian” claim is challenged by the fact that Israel is the only neighbouring country which still closes its doors to Syrian civilian refugees while keeping its doors wide open to the wounded rebels who are treated in Israeli hospitals and allowed to return to the battle front after recovery.

IS close to Israeli borders

The Israeli foreign ministry on last September 3 confirmed that the U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff whom the IS had beheaded was an Israeli citizen as well. In a speech addressed to Sotloff’s family, Netanyahu condemned the IS as a “branch” of a “poisonous tree” and a “tentacle” of a “violent Islamist terrorism.”

On the same day Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon officially outlawed the IS and anyone associating with it.

On September 10, Netanyahu convened an urgent security meeting to prepare for the possible danger of the IS advancing closer to the Israeli border, a prospect confirmed by the latest battles for power between the IS and the al – Nusra Front on the southern Syrian – Lebanese borders and in southern Syria, within the artillery range of Israeli forces.

On November 9, Ansar Bait al-Maqdis (ABM), which has been operating against the Egyptian army, released an audio clip pledging allegiance to the IS to declare later the first IS Wilayah (province) in the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, south of Israel.

On last November 14 The Israeli Daily quoted Netanyahu as saying in a private defense meeting that the IS is “currently operating out of Lebanon … close to Israel’s northern border. We must take this as a serious threat.”

However, “in truth, as most of Israel’s intelligence community has been quick to point out, there are no signs that anything of the sort is actually happening,” according to Amos Harel, writing in Foreign Policy five days later.

Moshe Ya’alon told journalists in September that “the organization operates far from Israel” and thus presents no imminent threat. Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery, on November 14, wrote: “The present and former generals who shape Israel’s policy can only smile when this ‘danger’ is mentioned.”

Israel “certainly does not see the group as an external threat” and the “Islamic State also does not yet pose an internal threat to Israel,” according to Israeli journalist and Associate Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, Dimi Reider, writing in a Reuters blog on last October 21.

What Netanyahu described as a “serious threat” in the north does not yet dictate any Israeli action against it because “we must assume that Hizballah,” which is allied to Syria and Iran, “does not have its house in order,” according to the Israeli premier.

The presence of the IS Wilayah on its southern border with Egypt is preoccupying the country with an internal bloody anti-terror conflict that would prevent any concrete Egyptian contribution to the stabilization of the Arab Levant or support to the Palestinians in their struggle to end the Israeli occupation of their land, let alone the fact that this presence is already pitting Egypt against Israel’s archenemy, Hamas, in the Palestinian Gaza Strip and creating a hostile environment that dictates closer Egyptian – Israeli security coordination.

Therefore, Israel is not going to “interfere” because “these are internal issues of the countries where it is happening.” Israel is “informally … ready to render assistance, but not in a military way and not by joining the (U.S. – led) coalition” against the IS, according to the deputy head of the Israeli embassy in Moscow, Olga Slov, as quoted by Russian media on November 14.

Jordan is another story

However, Israel’s eastern neighbours in Jordan and Syria seem another story.

“Jordan feels threatened by IS. We will cooperate with them one way or another,” ambassador Slov said. Jordanian media has been reporting that more than 2000 Jordanians had already joined al-Qaeda splinter the IS, al-Qaeda’s branch al-Nusra Front or other rebels who are fighting for an “Islamic” state in Syria. Hundreds of them were killed by the Syrian Arab Army.

The Daily Beast on last June 27 quoted Thomas Sanderson, the co-director for transnational threats at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as saying that Israel considers the survival of Jordan as “a paramount national security objective.”

If Jordan requested Israeli assistance in protecting its borders, Israel would have “little choice” but to help, the Beast quoted the director of the Israeli National Security Council, Yaakov Amidror, as saying.

As a precaution measure, Israel is building now a 500-kilometre “security fence” on its border with Jordan.

While Israel is willing and getting ready to “interfere” in Jordan, it is already deeply interfering in Syria, where the real battle has been raging for less than four years now against terrorists led by the IS.

A few weeks ago The Associated Press reported that the IS and the al-Nusra had concluded an agreement to stop fighting each other and cooperate on destroying the U.S. – trained and supported rebels (The Syrian Revolutionaries Front and the Hazm movement) as well as the Syrian government forces in northern Syria.

But in southern Syria all these and other terrorist organizations are coordinating among themselves and have what Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) called “a gentleman’s agreement” with Israel across the border, according to Colum Lynch in Foreign Policy on June 11.

Last October, Al-Qaeda branch in Syria, al-Nusra, was among the rebel groups which overtook the only border crossing of Quneitra between Syria and the Israeli – occupied Golan Heights. Israel has yet to demonstrate its objection.

“Many Sunnis in Iraq and the Gulf consider ISIS a bullet in their rifles aimed at Shiite extremism, in their bid to restore their lost standing,” Raghida Dergham, a columnist and a senior diplomatic correspondent for the London – based Arabic Al-Hayat daily, wrote in the huffingtonpost on September 19.

A political public agreement between Israel and the Gulf Arabs has developed on a mutual understanding that the dismantling of the Syria – Iran alliance as a prelude to a “regime change” in both countries is the regional priority, without loosing sight of the endgame, which is to dictate peace with Israel as the regional power under the U.S. hegemony. The IS is “the bullet in their rifles.” From their perspective, the U.S. war on the IS is irrelevant, for now at least.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com).

Israeli role in Syrian conflict brought into the open

December 17, 2014

By Nicola Nasser*

Overtly, the Israeli superpower of the Middle East has been keen to posture as having no role whatsoever in the four-year old devastating conflict in Syria, where all major regional and international powers are politically and militarily deeply involved and settling scores by Syrian blood.

In his geopolitical weekly analysis, entitled “The Islamic State Reshapes the Middle East,” on November 25 Stratfor’s George Friedman raised eyebrows when he reviewed the effects which the terrorist group had on all regional powers, but seemed unaware of the existence of the Israeli regional superpower.

It was an instructive omission that says a lot about the no more discreet role Israel is playing to maintain what the Israeli commentator Amos Harel described as the “stable instability” in Syria and the region, from the Israeli perspective of course.

Friedman in fact was reflecting a similar official omission by the US administration. When President Barak Obama appealed for a “broad international coalition” to fight the Islamic State (IS), Israel — the strongest military power in the region and the well – positioned logistically to fight it — was not asked to join. The Obama administration explained later that Israel’s contribution would reflect negatively on the Arab partners in the coalition.

“Highlighting Israel’s contributions could be problematic in terms of complicating efforts to enlist Muslim allies” in the coalition, said Michael Eisenstadt, a senior fellow at AIPAC’s arm, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Covertly however Israel is a key player in prolonging the depleting war on Syria and the major beneficiary of neutralizing the military of the only immediate Arab neighbor that has so far eluded yielding to the terms dictated by the U.S. – backed Israeli regional force majeure for making peace with the Hebrew state.

Several recent developments however have brought the Israeli role into the open.

First the latest bombing of Syrian targets near the Damascus international civilian airport on December 7 was the seventh major unprovoked air strike of its kind since 2011 and the fifth in the past 18 months on Syrian defenses. Syrian Scientific research centers, missile depots, air defense sites, radar and electronic monitoring stations and the Republican Guards were targeted by Israel.

Facilitating the Israeli mission and complementing it, the terrorist organizations operating in the country tried several times to hit the same targets. They succeeded in killing several military pilots and experts whom Israeli intelligence services would have paid dearly to hunt down.

Foreign Policy on last June 14 quoted a report by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki – moon as saying that the “battle – hardened Syrian rebels … once in Israel, they receive medical treatment in a field clinic before being sent back to Syria,” describing the arrangement as a “gentleman’s agreement.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu in February this year visited this “military field hospital” and shook hands with some of the more than 1000 rebels treated in Israeli hospitals, according to Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF).

Foreign Policy quoted also Ehud Yaari, an Israeli fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, as saying that Israel was supplying the rebel – controlled Syrian villages with medicines, heaters, and other humanitarian supplies. The assistance, he said, has benefited civilians and “insurgents.” Yaari ignored the reports about the Israeli intelligence services to those “insurgents.”

Israel facilitates war on UNDOF

Second, the latest quarterly report by the UN Disengagement Force (UNDOF) to the UN Security Council (UNSC) on December 1 confirmed what eight previous similar reports had stated about the “interaction … across the (Syrian – Israeli) ceasefire line” between the IOF and the “armed members of the (Syrian) opposition,” in the words of Ki-moon’s report to the Council on December 4.

Third, Ki-moon in his report confirmed that the UNDOF “was forced to relocate its troops” to the Israeli side of the ceasefire line, leaving the Syrian side a safe haven zone for the al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front, which the UNSC had designated a “terrorist group.”

UNDOF’s commander Lieutenant General Iqbal Singh Singha told the UNSC on October 9 that his troops were “under fire, been abducted, hijacked, had weapons snatched and offices vandalized.” Australia was the latest among the troop contributing countries to pull out its forces from UNDOF.

UNDOF and the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) operate in the buffer zone of about 80 km long and between 0.5 to 10 km wide, forming an area of 235 km². The zone borders the Lebanon Blue Line to the north and forms a border of less than 1 km with Jordan to the south. It straddles the Purple Line which separates the Israeli – occupied Golan Heights from Syria. The west Israeli side of this line is known as “Alpha”, and the east Syrian side as “Bravo.”

Speaking at the U.S. military base Fort Dix on Monday, President Obama warned those who “threaten America” that they “will have no safe haven,” but that is exactly what Israel is providing them.

Israeli “interaction” has practically helped the UNDOF “to relocate” from Bravo to Alpha and to hand Bravo as a safe haven over to an al-Nusra Front – led coalition of terrorist groups.

Al-Nusra Front is officially the al – Qaeda affiliate in Syria. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told the Senate Committee on Foreign relations on this December 9 that his administration considers the IS to be a branch of al – Qaeda operating under a different name. Both terrorist groups were one under the name of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and only recently separated. Whoever accommodates either one is in fact courting the other.

“The 1,200-strong UN force is now mostly huddled inside Camp Ziouani, a drab base just inside the Israeli – controlled side of the Golan Heights. Its patrols along the de facto border have all but ceased,” the Associated Press (AP) reported on last September 18.

Israeli air force and artillery intervened several times to protect the al-Nusra Front’s “safe haven” against fire power from Syria, which is still committed to its ceasefire agreement of 1974 with Israel. Last September for example, Israel shot down a Syrian fighter jet that was bombing the Front’s positions, only three weeks after shooting down a Syrian drone over the area.

Israel is not violating the Syrian sovereignty only, but violating also the UN – sponsored ceasefire agreement and the UNSC anti-terror resolutions. More important, Israel is in fact undermining the UNDOF mandate on the Israeli – occupied Syrian Golan Heights.

This situation could only be interpreted as an Israeli premeditated war by proxy on the UN presence on the Golan Heights.

“Israel is the most interested in having (UN) peacekeepers evacuated from the occupied Golan so as to be left without international monitoring,” Syria’s permanent envoy to the UN, Bashar al- Jaafari, told reporters on September 17.

The UNSC seems helpless or uninterested in defending the UNDOF mandate on the Golan against Israeli violations, which risk the collapse of the 1974 ceasefire arrangements.

Syrian Foreign Ministry was on record to condemn these violations as a “declaration of war,” asserting that Syria reserves its right to retaliate “at the right moment and the right place.” Obviously a regional outbreak is at stake here without the UN presence as a buffer.

Upgrading unanimously Israel’s status from a “major non – NATO ally” to a “major strategic partner” of the United States by the U.S. Congress on December 3 could explain the UNSC inaction.

The undeclared understanding between the Syrian government and the U.S. – led coalition against the self – declared “Islamic State” (IS) not to target the latter’s forces seems to have left this mission to Israel who could not join the coalition publicly for subjective as well as objective reasons.

The AP on September 18 did not hesitate to announce that the “collapse of UN peacekeeping mission on Golan Heights marks new era on Israel – Syria front.” Aron Heller, the writer of the AP report, quoted the former Israeli military liaison officer with UNDOF, Stephane Cohen, as saying: “Their mandate is just not relevant anymore.” Heller concluded that this situation “endangers” the “status quo,” which indeed has become a status quo ante.

Israeli strategic gains

The emerging fait accompli seems very convenient to Israel, creating positive strategic benefits for the Hebrew state and arming it with a pretext not to withdraw the IOF from the occupied Syrian Golan Heights and Palestinian territories.

In an analysis paper published by The Saban Center at Brookings in November 2012, Itamar Rabinovich wrote that, “Clearly, the uncertainty in Syria has put the question of the Golan Heights on hold indefinitely. It may be a long time until Israel can readdress the prospect of giving the Golan back to Damascus.”

Moreover, according to Rabinovich, “the Syrian conflict has the potential to bring the damaged Israeli – Turkish relationship closer to normalcy … they can find common ground in seeking to foster a stable post – Assad government in Syria.”

The hostile Turkish insistence on toppling the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, the concentration of the IS and other rebel forces in the north of the country and in central, eastern and southern Syria are diverting the potential and focus of the Syrian Arab Army northward and inward, away from the western front with the Israeli occupying power on the Golan Heights.

The protracted war on the Syrian government is depleting its army in manpower and materially. Rebuilding the Syrian army and the devastated Syrian infrastructure will preoccupy the country for a long time to come and defuse any military threat to Israel for an extended time span.

On the Palestinian front, the rise of the IS has made fighting it the top U.S. priority in the Middle East, which led Aaron David Miller, a former adviser to several U.S. administrations on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, to warn in Foreign Policy early in September that the rise of the IS would pose “a serious setback to Palestinian hopes of statehood.”

The expected fallback internally of the post – war Syria would “hopefully” relieve Israel of the Syrian historical support for the Palestinian anti – Israeli occupation movements, at least temporarily.

Netanyahu on Sunday opened a cabinet meeting by explicitly using the IS as a pretext to evade the prerequisites of making peace. Israel “stands … as a solitary island against the waves of Islamic extremism washing over the entire Middle East,” he said, adding: “To force upon us” a timeframe for a withdrawal from the Israeli – occupied Palestinian territories, as proposed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the UN Security Council, “will bring the radical Islamic elements to the suburbs of Tel Aviv and to the heart of Jerusalem. We will not allow this.”

Israel is also capitalising on the war on the IS to misleadingly portray it as identical with the Palestinian “Islamic” resistance movements because of their Islamic credentials. “When it comes to their ultimate goals, Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas,” Netanyahu told the UN General Assembly on September 29.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com).

Gaza bombings rock Palestinian reconciliation

November 21, 2014

By Nicola Nasser*

It is ironic that the annual commemoration of the death of Yasser Arafat should turn into an occasion for rekindling the flames of internal strife. This was clearly the aim of last week’s bombings that targeted the homes of Fatah leaders in Gaza, as well as the podium for the commemorative ceremonies of Arafat, who strove to make Palestinian national unity one of the pillars of his political legacy.

How desperately those concerned need to be inspired by the political legacy of that great president.

During a visit to demonstrate solidarity with the West Bank village of Al-Mughayyar, where settlers, under the protective eye of occupation soldiers, set fire to a mosque, Director of the Ministry of Awqaf (Religious Endowments) Kamel Abu Aliya remarked that his ministry have documented 20 similar attacks on mosques in the West Bank since 2011.

In targeting mosques, the occupation is clearly targeting major symbols of national and popular unity. Mosques, by definition, gather people together rather than drive them apart. Inside the mosque all the factions of the national struggle that are at odds with each other assemble as one with their fellow men, in solid ranks with a single heart.

The occupation has never foregone any means at its disposal to drive a wedge into the Palestinian national ranks. This has not changed. So it is ironic that the bombings would become an occasion to present the occupation with the gift of factional polarisation and a war of words, at a time when the factions most need to be united, and that they would serve to turn the national compass away from Jerusalem, on which Arafat had set his national compass until his dying breath.

But here is another important point. Both sides of the dispute — Fatah and Hamas — have condemned the attacks, denied all charges of responsibility and insist on the need to conduct an investigation into bombings as quickly as possible.

If these two factions can agree on these points, what would keep them from agreeing to form a joint fact-finding committee that would include representatives from all other factions (most notably the Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front) and independent figures from civil society that would be committed to publishing its findings in fulfilment of the right of the Palestinian people to know the truth?

Moreover, why couldn’t the creation of a joint committee such as this become a new mechanism for enhancing national reconciliation and ending acrimonious exchanges before they spiral out of control?

In this regard, when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says that he is not interested in “an investigation by them” — referring to Hamas, of course — but does not propose an alternative investigatory mechanism, he is not helping efforts to unearth the truth, which his people are more eager to learn than the two factions whose protracted dispute has exhausted their people.

But the most appalling irony resides in their aversion to turning the finger of accusation in the direction of the ultimate beneficiary from all this — namely, the Israeli occupation authority and its state. A focus on that beneficiary would suffice, in and of itself, to contain the dangerous repercussions of the bombings on national unity and, simultaneously, to expose the truth about the existence of parties who fear their interests would be jeopardised by the end of the rift in both the occupied West Bank and blockaded Gaza Strip.

These parties are exploited, knowingly or not, by the occupation, and collectively they form a “fifth column” that works to obstruct the process of national reconciliation in order to safeguard their interests.

But even if those who carried out the bomb attacks were Palestinian this does not obscure the identity of the first and foremost beneficiary. This, moreover, comes at a time when the occupation is escalating its aggression against the Palestinian people under occupation.

It is increasing its forces in the West Bank, intensifying its repressive measures and moving to augment its budget for settlement expansion. More significantly, the Israeli government recently approved a bill of law to extend the laws of the Israeli state to the Jewish colonies in the West Bank, as is the case in East Jerusalem and the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. In other words, we are effectively speaking of another Israeli annexation bid.

The history of dissension and strife is repeating itself. A statement by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) urges Fatah and Hamas to exercise restraint and to remain alert to the conspiracies that are being woven against the Palestinian people.

It cautions the two factions against falling into the Israeli trap of igniting Palestinian discord and urges them to give competent agencies and relevant political authorities sufficient time to unearth the threads of the crime.

Yet this statement, which applies perfectly to the current situation, was issued by the PFLP in July 2008 after four Ezz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigade members were killed in a bombing on Gaza beach. At the time, Hamas accused Fatah and the Fatah charged Hamas with carrying out an “internal purge.”

Nothing appears to have changed, apart from the fact that today Fatah accuses Hamas of planting the bombs and the latter responds that the attack was related to an internal conflict inside Fatah. In both cases, the occupation power and its government come out innocent!

That rush to judgment and finger pointing before the smoke has cleared is suspicious and raises questions regarding the political motives behind such reactions. One is reminded of a similar case of accusations that were hurled after the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri in 2005.

Before his blood had dried some fingers in Lebanon pointed to Syria, even though it was palpably evident that Damascus could not have been behind the crime as it was fully aware that it could only be harmed by the consequences.

The same applies to Hamas today. After its long political experience it would realise that it could only stand to lose from the Gaza bombings.

The hands that carried out the bombings in Gaza might be Palestinian and even Fatah or Hamas hands, but those who issued the orders could not have been Palestinian decision-makers. Anyone familiar with the history of Palestinian assassinations knows this.

The perpetrators may have been motivated by personal interests but the consequences cannot possibly serve Palestinian interests, factional or otherwise. They can only serve the occupation authority and its state, especially as the victim is certainly the Palestinian people and their national unity.

The fifth column that benefits from Palestinian division and that feels threatened by its end is still searching for opportunities to sabotage Palestinian national reconciliation. It must have seen the Gaza bombings as a perfect opportunity to fan the flames of discord, offering a service free of charge to the occupation (presuming the best possible intentions under that situation), or not free of charge (presuming the worst).

It does not take much effort to reach the above conclusion. However, building on it by containing the unpatriotic repercussions of the attacks requires great thought and effort in order to prevent outbursts of factional acrimony or to keep them contained in order to safeguard national reconciliation from collapse.

This is essential to ensure that the reconstruction of Gaza moves forward, to sustain the national unity government and to return the focus to solidifying national ranks in the face of the occupation’s ongoing aggression against the Palestinian people, their security and wellbeing and their sanctities, and behind the political battle that the Palestinian presidency is waging in the international arena.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com). This article was translated from Arabic and first published by Al-Ahram Weekly on November 20, 2014.

The endgame of the US ‘Islamic State’ strategy

November 11, 2014

By Nicola Nasser*

Dismantling what the former US President George W. Bush once described as the Syria – Iran component of the “axis of evil,” or interrupting in Iraq the geographical contiguity of what King Abdullah II of Jordan once described as the “Shiite crescent,” was and remains the strategic goal of the US – Israeli allies in the Middle East unless they succeed first in “changing the regime” in either Damascus or Tehran.

The US, Israel and their regional allies have been on the record that the final target of their “regime change” campaign in the Middle East was to dismantle the Syria – Iran alliance.

With the obvious failure of Plan A to dismantle the self- proclaimed anti-Israel and anti – US Syrian – Iranian “Resistance Axis” by a forcible “regime change” in Damascus, a US – led regional alliance has turned recently to its Plan B to interrupt in Iraq the geographical contiguity of that axis.

This is the endgame of President Barak Obama’s strategy, which he declared on last September 10 as ostensibly against the Islamic State (IS).

This would at least halt for the foreseeable future all the signed and projected trilateral or bilateral Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian pipeline networks to carry oil and gas from Iran and Iraq to the Syrian coast at the Mediterranean.

Israeli Col. (res.) Shaul Shay, a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and a former Deputy Head of the Israel National Security Council anticipated in writing on last January 21 what he called the “Salafi Crescent” that is dangerously emerging to challenge the “Shia Crescent.”

“The growing involvement of Sunni Salafi jihadis in Iraq (since 2003), among the rebels in Syria (since 2011), and in Lebanon has created a ‘Salafi Crescent’ … from Diyala [in eastern Iraq] to Beirut,” he wrote.

“A positive outcome” of this Salafi Crescent “will be the decline in Iranian influence in the region,” Shay concluded.

Conspiracy theories aside, the eventual outcome is a sectarian Sunni military and political wedge driven into the Iraqi geographical connection of the Iran-Syria alliance in a triangle bordering Turkey in the north, Iran in the east, Jordan in the west and Saudi Arabia in the south and extending from north eastern Syria to the Iraqi province of Diyala which borders Iran.

Iraqi Kurdistan is already effectively an independent state and cut off from the central government in Baghdad, but separating Iran and Syria as well and supported by the same US – led anti – IS coalition.

Amid the misinformation and disinformation, the fact is that the IS threat is being used as a smokescreen to confuse and blur this reality.

The IS was conceived and delivered in an American womb. The US – drafted and enforced current constitution produced the sectarian government that is still trying to rule in Iraq. Sectarian cleansing and exclusion of Sunnis could not but inevitably create its antithesis.

The IS was the illegitimate fetus born and nurtured inside the uterus of the US – engineered political process based on a constitution legalizing a federal system based in turn on sectarian and ethnic sharing of power and wealth.

This horrible illegitimate creature is the “legacy” of the US war on Iraq, which was “conceived” in the “sin” of the US invasion of the country in 2003, in the words of the president of the Arab American Institute, James J. Zogbi, writing in the Jordan Times on last June 16.

US Senator John McCain, quoted by The Atlantic on last June 23, thanked “God,” the “Saudis and Prince Bandar” and “our Qatari friends” for creating the “monster.”

The pro-Iran government of former Prime Minister Noori al-Maliki was squeezed by the IS military advances to “request” the US help, which Washington preconditioned on the removal of al-Maliki to which Iran succumbed. The IS gave Obama’s IS strategy its first success.

However, al-Maliki’s replacement by Haider al-Abadi in August has changed nothing so far in the sectarian component of the Iraqi government and army. The US support of Iraq under his premiership boils down only to supporting continued sectarianism in the country, which is the incubator of the survival of its IS antithesis.

Moreover, the destruction of the Iraqi state infrastructure, especially the dismantling of Iraq’s national army and security agencies and the Iraqi Baath party that held them intact, following the US invasion, has created a power vacuum which neither the US occupation forces nor the sectarian Shiite militias could fill. The IS was not powerful per se. They just stepped in on a no-man land.

Similarly, some four years of a US – led “regime change” effort, which was initially spearheaded by the Muslim Brotherhood and which is still financed, armed and logistically facilitated by the US regional allies in Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia as well as by allied western intelligence services, has created another power vacuum in Syria, especially on border areas and in particular in the northern and eastern areas bordering Turkey and Iraq.

US Senator Rand Paul in an interview with CNN on last June 22 was more direct, accusing the Obama administration of “arming” and creating an IS “safe haven” in Syria, which “created a vacuum” filled by the IS.

“We have been fighting alongside al Qaeda, fighting alongside ISIS. ISIS is now emboldened and in two countries. But here’s the anomaly. We’re with ISIS in Syria. We’re on the same side of the war. So, those who want to get involved to stop ISIS in Iraq are allied with ISIS in Syria. That is the real contradiction to this whole policy,” he said.

The former 16 – year member of the US Congress and two – time US presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, writing in the http://www.huffingtonpost.com on last September 24, summed it up: The IS “was born of Western intervention in Iraq and covert action in Syria.”

The US ‘Trojan horse’

The IS could have considered playing the role of a US “Frankenstein,” but in fact it is serving as the US “Trojan horse” into Syria and Iraq. Fighting the IS was the US tactic, not the US strategy.

On record, Iranian deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said that “the best way of fighting ISIS and terrorism in the region is to help and strengthen the Iraqi and Syrian governments, which have been engaged in a serious struggle” against the IS. But this would not serve the endgame of Obama’s strategy, which targets both governments instead.

Beneficiaries of the IS “Trojan horse” leave no doubts about the credibility of the Syrian, Iranian and Russian doubts about the real endgame of the US – led declared war on the IS.

The United States was able finally to bring about its long awaited and promoted “front of moderates” against Iran and Syria into an active and “air-striking” alliance, ostensibly against the IS.

In Iraq, the IS served the US strategy in wrestling back the so called “political process” from the Iranian influence by proxy of the former premier al – Maliki. Depriving al – Maliki of a third term had proved that there is no unified Iran – backed “Shia house” in Iraq. The US has its own influence inside that “house.”

Installing a US Iraqi satellite was the strategic goal of the US – led invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. Instead, according to Doug Bandow, writing in Forbes on last October 14, “Bush’s legacy was a corrupt, authoritarian, and sectarian state, friendly with Iran and Syria, Washington’s prime adversaries in the Middle East. Even worse was the emergence of the Islamic State.”

This counterproductive outcome of the US invasion, which saw Iran wielding the reigns of power in Baghdad and edging Iraq closer to Syria and Iran during the eight years of al-Maliki’s premiership, turned the red lights on in the White House and the capitals of its regional allies.

Al-Maliki, whom Bush had designated as “our guy” in Baghdad when his administration facilitated his premiership in 2006, turned against his mentors.

He edged Iraq closer to the Syrian and Iranian poles of the “axis of evil.” Consequently he opposed western or Israeli military attack on Iran, at least from or via the Iraqi territory. In Syria, he opposed a regime change in Damascus, rejected direct military “foreign intervention” and indirect proxy intervention and insisted that a “political solution” is the only way forward in Iraq’s western Arab neighbor.

Worse still was his opening Iraq up to rival Chinese and Russian hydrocarbon investments, turning Iraq a part of an Iran-Iraq-Syria oil and gas pipeline network and buying weapons from the Russian Federation.

Al- Maliki had to go. He was backed by Iran to assume his second term as prime minister in spite of the US, which backed the winner of the 2010 elections for the post, Ayad Allawi. The US had its revenge in the 2014 elections. Al-Maliki won the elections, but was denied a third term thanks to US pressure.

The IS was the US instrument to exert that pressure. US Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit to Baghdad on last June 23 warned that Iraq was facing “an existential threat.”

It was a US brinkmanship diplomacy to force al-Maliki to choose between two bad options: Either to accept a de facto secession of western and northern Iraq on the lines of Iraqi Kurdistan or accept the US conditional military support. Al-Maliki rejected both options, but he had paid the price already.

The turning point came with the fall of Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul to the IS on last June 10. Iraqi Kurdistan inclusive, the northern and western Iraq, including most of the crossing points into Syria and Jordan in the west, were clinched out of the control of Baghdad, i.e. some two thirds of the area of Iraq. Al-Maliki was left to fight this sectarian Sunni insurgency by his sectarian Iran-backed Shiite government. This was a non-starter and was only to exacerbate the already deteriorating situation.

Al- Maliki and Iran were made to understand that no US support was forthcoming to reign in the IS until he quits and a less pro-Iran and a more “inclusive” government is formed in Iraq.

The creation of the IS as the sectarian Sunni alternative against Iran’s ruling allies in Baghdad and Damascus was and is still the US tactic towards its strategic endgame. Until the time the US strategy succeeds in wrestling Baghdad from Iran influence back into its fold as a separating wedge between Iran and Syria, the IS will continue to serve US strategy and so far Obama’s strategy is working.

“America is using ISIS in three ways: to attack its enemies in the Middle East, to serve as a pretext for U.S. military intervention abroad, and at home to foment a manufactured domestic threat, used to justify the unprecedented expansion of invasive domestic surveillance,” Garikai Chengu, a research scholar at Harvard University, wrote in http://www.counterpunch.org/ on last September 19.

As a doctrine, since the collapse of the Ottoman caliphate early in the twentieth century, western powers did their best to keep Arabs separated from their strategic depth in their immediate Islamic proximity. The Syria – Iran alliance continues to challenge this doctrine.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com).

The ‘revolutionary’ face of the Syrian conflict

May 23, 2014

By Nicola Nasser*

Reports are abound by international organizations about the responsibility of the Syrian government for the human rights violations in the ongoing conflict in Syria, now in its fourth year, but the responsibility of the insurgents has been kept away from media spotlight for political reasons.

However, the horrible image of the “revolutionary” performance imposed itself on the media and public opinion to an extent that it has become impossible to black it out anymore.

Internationally last Thursday, for example, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said that Russia’s and China’s vetoes against a United Nations Security Council resolution to refer allegations of war crimes in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) “protect monstrous terrorist organizations operating in Syria … who are pursuing a fundamentalist assault on the Syrian people that knows no decency or humanity.”

Regionally on the same day, The Yemeni Coordination Committee for the Support of Syrian Revolution dissolved itself in protest against what it called in a statement “the diversion and transformation of the leaders of the revolution and opposition into terrorist gangs and groups.”

Since U.S. President Barak Obama imposed sanctions on April 29, 2011 on some Syrian officials reportedly accused of using violence against civilians, the U.S., European and regional sponsors of a “regime change” in the country have so far held the Syrian government as the only party accountable. The UN and western international human rights organizations followed suit.

Their blackout of the insurgents’ responsibility could not be avoided otherwise those sponsors would be held accountable as well and consequently could not continue their support to the insurgents with impunity, because without their support the insurgents would not have survived.

Their reluctance to arm the Syrian rebels with advanced weapons lest they fall into the hands of the terrorist organizations could not cover up their initial and ongoing arming and recruitment efforts, which empowered the militarization of the peaceful civilian protests with its most extreme Syrian and non-Syrian insurgents.

On last April 8, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay was quoted as saying in a briefing to the UN Security Council that the actions of the forces of the Syrian government “far outweigh” the crimes by the “opposition” fighters.

Statistics Tell a Different Story

However, scrutiny of the statistics of the death toll and the facts of the humanitarian fallout of the conflict tell a different story. On this May 19, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said it had documented more than 162,000 deaths in the conflict until this May 17, more than 61 thousand of them were government troops, 42,701 rebels and more than 1600 foreign fighters; SOHR believes that both sides of the combat strongly tend to be very conservative about their human casualties. The rest were civilians many of whom were victims of suicide bombing and mortar shells fired by the rebels.

The breakdown of these figures show the government a victim rather than a culprit and indicate that the actions of the rebels “far outweigh” those of the government, contrary to Navi Pillay’s conclusion.

“Questioning the Syrian ‘Casualty List’” in the Lebanese Alakhbar on February 28, 2012, Sharmine Narwani documented that, “The very first incident of casualties from the Syrian regular army that I could verify dates to 10 April 2011, when gunmen shot up a bus of soldiers travelling through Banyas, in Tartous, killing nine,” i.e. few weeks after the first peaceful protests broke out in Syria, a fact which questions the now wrongfully accepted public knowledge that the government was the party who initiated the “violence.”

The communiqué issued by the eleven western and Arab foreign ministers of the core group of the so-called “Friends of Syria” after their meeting in London on this May 15 was the latest example of the political motives behind the blackout, which they have imposed for too long on the insurgents’ responsibility.

They called the upcoming presidential elections on next June 3 “illegitimate” and a “parody of democracy,” ignoring the fact that any power vacuum in Syria would only create the right environment for the collapse of the central government.

The inevitable result would be an exacerbation of the humanitarian crisis in the country, rendering their humanitarian rhetoric a parody of humanity.

Worse still, the eleven “Friends of Syria” had “agreed unanimously” to boost their support to what they described as “the moderate opposition National Coalition (SNC), its Supreme Military Council and associated moderate armed groups.”

What “moderates” did they refer to? On last September 25 the BBC quoted a recent study published by IHS Jane’s analyst Charles Lister, which concluded that, “the core of the Syrian insurgency is composed of Islamist groups of one kind or another.” “The armed opposition is all too much a part of the conflict,” Red Maistre wrote in The Northern Star four days later.

Three years and three months on, the “Friends of Syria” failed to bring the “regime” down. On the contrary, it has got the military upper hand, while the organizations which the U.S. and Saudi Arabia had listed as terrorists got the upper hand in the rebel-held areas.

Whatever military supplies the “moderate” rebels could get will only prolong the war, postpone any political settlement and perpetuate and exacerbate the worsening humanitarian crisis.

Civilian protesters, political opposition and “secular” armed rebels were hijacked, sidelined and finally dumped by the mainstream terrorists, whose backbone consists of “foreign fighters,” thus dooming any political solution for a long time to come and vindicating Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s determination on last August 4 that, “No solution can be reached with terror except by striking it with an iron fist.”

As early as March 2012 Sara Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, had warned that, ““The Syrian government’s brutal tactics cannot justify abuses by armed opposition groups.”

Schools, universities, hospitals, health clinics, churches, mosques, religious monuments, power grids, railways, bridges, oil fields, historical sites, museum assets, police symbols of public safety and order and other infrastructure were targeted by the rebels with unprecedented level of destruction and civilian plight.

A survey, conducted by the Relief and Works Agency of UN’s Microfinance Programs and released early last April, said it would take 30 years for the Syrian economy to recover to its 2010 level.

According to the SOHR, the infighting among rebels has claimed more than five thousand casualties in 2014. The infighting over border crossings and oil fields displaced more than one hundred thousand civilians in north eastern Syria during the past month.

As a strategy, the rebels since the very beginning have been using Syrian civilians en masse as a bargaining chip and as human shields, a fact which the “Friends of Syria” have been keen to blackout.

On this May 12, rebels have agreed to free 1,500 families whom they had kidnapped and held hostages in Adra, a suburb of the capital Damascus, for the release of rebels jailed by the government. Two weeks ago they freed some one hundred infants, children and elderly men and women in exchange for evacuating the Old City of Homs unharmed.

On May 4, they cut off water supply to some three million civilians in Syria’s second largest city of Aleppo, a collective punishment reminiscent of a similar horrible practice by Israel in Beirut in 1982. Last month the rebels cut off the electricity supply. For less than two years now they have been bombarding the western side of the city, which is under government control, with mortar shells and turning the civilian life there into a nightmare of suicide and tunnel bombings from the eastern side, which they control.

Rule, Not Exception

These inhuman tactics are not the exception, but the norm and rule. Since the very beginning of their rebellion in March 2011, rebels stormed into Syrian city centers, where there was no official military presence, and used the civilian population as human shields against any retaliation by the government forces, thus unleashing what the United Nations described as the world’s largest refugee problem.

Civilians have paid the higher price. Syrians now hold the rebels responsible for their plight. Their sectarian public incubator has already turned against them in favour of restoring the missing safety, security and order by the government.

All factions of the rebels claim they are the representatives of the Muslim Sunni majority, but the overwhelming majority of some six million Syrians who are displaced internally are Sunnis, now hosted by non-Sunni compatriots in safe havens under government protection, let alone more than three million refugees who are also overwhelmingly Sunni Syrians and fled to neighbouring countries from the areas held by the rebels.

It’s a well-known fact now that creating a humanitarian crisis in Syria, whether real or fabricated, and holding the Syrian government responsible for it as a casus belli for foreign military intervention under the UN 2005 so-called “responsibility to protect” initiative was from the very beginning of the Syrian conflict the goal of the U.S.-led so-called “Friends of Syria’ coalition.

A second fact was the rush to militarize the Syrian civilian peaceful protests. When President al-Assad issued in 2011 the first of his six general amnesties, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went on record with a public appeal to armed rebels not to lay down their arms in response.

In March 2014 a commission of inquiry mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council, chaired by Paulo Pinheiro, for the first time accused the insurgents in Syria of “crimes against humanity” and “war crimes.”

On this May 14, Syrian Rev. Michael Rabaheih, from the Greek Orthodox Church, was quoted by The Washington Post as saying: “If this is freedom, we don’t need it.”

Rabaheih was one of some 80,000 Christians who returned to the Old City of Homs, which the opposition once proudly called “the capital of the revolution,” but which the rebels were forced to evacuate this month. He was seated next to the grave of the Dutch priest, Frans van der Lugt, who was assassinated by the rebels a few weeks earlier, not far from the gravely damaged historic Khalid ibn al-Walid mosque in the devastated neighbourhoods of Syria’s third largest city, where “little was left.”

Obviously, the “Friends of Syria” have failed to artificially create any credible alternative to the incumbent regime, which, however, did change indeed.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. An edited version of this article was first published by Middle East Eye. nassernicola@ymail.com

Survival Is the Saudi Key Word

April 18, 2014

By Nicola Nasser*

Survival is the key word to understand the Saudi dynasty’s latest external and internal policies. These are designed to pre-empt change but paradoxically they are creating more enemies in a changing world order marked by turbulent regional geopolitics and growing internal demands for change.

The seventy-year old strategic oil for security US-Saudi alliance seemed about to crack on its 69th anniversary ahead of the summit meeting of US President Barak Obama and king Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz in March.

With the US now committed to pivoting east and possibly on track to become an oil exporter by 2017, American and Saudi policies are no longer identical.

Former US President George W. Bush’s democracy campaign, which Saudi opposed, alerted its rulers to be on guard. The Arab popular protests since 2011 pushed them into leading a regional defensive counterrevolution and ever since the gap in bilateral relations has been widening.

The Saudis could not trust the US’ “regime change” strategy in the region, which depends on the Muslim Brotherhood International (MBI) as an instrument of change, sponsored by a regional rival like Turkey and a co-member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), like Qatar, which has been for long contesting the Saudi leadership of the GCC, the Saudi leading role in Arab politics and the Saudi political representation of Sunni Muslims.

This trilateral alliance of Qatar, Turkey and the MBI would develop into a real threat to Saudi’s survival if it was allowed to deliver change in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon, Tunisia, Libya and elsewhere in the region. It might quickly leave Saudi Arabia as the next target for “change.”

The US pillar of Saudi security now seems to be in doubt as the United States stands unable to meet Saudi expectations on almost all the most critical issues in the Middle East, from the Arab-Israeli conflict to the Saudi-Iran conflict and the ongoing bloody conflict in Syria, let alone the conflict with the MBI, especially in Egypt.

Within this context, using the MBI as an instrument for “regime change” in the region has created a Saudi MBI phobia. Change is overdue in the kingdom, but, after decades of intensive Islamic education, change could only come camouflaged in Islamist form.

“It might seem ironic for a Wahhabi theocracy to oppose so forcefully a party that mixes religion with politics. But it is precisely because the monarchy bases its legitimacy on Islam that it fears Brotherhood rivalry,” journalist Roula Khalaf wrote in the Financial Times in March.

Obama doesn’t seem capable of mending the bilateral fences. His refusal to fight Saudi regional wars reminds them that he is the same man who as a state senator back in 2002 stated that:
“Let’s fight to make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East – the Saudis and the Egyptians – stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality, and mismanaging their economies.”

However, as demonstrated by Obama’s visit to the kingdom on March 28, the bilateral differences will remain tactical, while the strategic alliance will hold until the kingdom finds a credible alternative to its American security guarantor, although this seems an unrealistic development in the foreseen future.

Regional Shifts

Regionally, the kingdom is not faring better. The US-promoted and Saudi–advocated anti-Iran “front” of regional “moderates,” with Israel as an undercover partner, seems now a forgone endeavor.

The Saudi call for converting the GCC “council” into a “union” is now dead.

Oman’s public threat to withdraw from the GCC should it transform into a union and the Saudi current rift with Qatar threaten the GCC’s very existence.

Saudi invitation to Jordan and Morocco to join the GCC was unwelcome by other GCC members and by Morocco.

In Bahrain, the kingdom has intervened militarily to squash a three-year old ongoing democratic uprising.

The latest Kuwait-hosted Arab summit meeting did not see eye to eye with Saudi on Syria.

Forming a Lebanese government without Hezbullah and its pro-Syria coalition has failed.

Egypt’s calls for a “political solution” in Syria and its refusal to give the Syrian Arab League seat to the opposition could not be interpreted as a friendly position from a country that Saudi Arabia has bailed out, in exchange for its transition away from a MBI rule.

Turkey is at odds with the Egyptian-Saudi newly found partnership.

Iraq is accusing the kingdom of waging a “war” against it, with Saudi now the only country to not have a permanent ambassador to Iraq.

Meanwhile, the kingdom continues to deal with Iran as an “existential threat.”

In the background, the Israeli threat could never be overlooked.

Self-confidence Challenged

Using petrodollars as soft power to gain influence abroad and secure loyalty internally, the kingdom seems self-confident enough, or overconfident, to feel secured on its own.
Speaking at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, on March 11, Prince Turki al–Faisal, chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research & Islamic Studies in Riyadh and former Saudi Ambassador to the US, said:

“Saudi Arabia represents over 20% of the combined GDP of the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region (and over a quarter of the Arab World’s GDP) making it … an effective partner and member of the G20.

“The Saudi stock market represents over 50% of the entire stock market capitalization of the MENA region.

“The Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA), the Kingdom’s central bank, is the world’s third largest holder of net foreign assets … Last but not least, Saudi Aramco, the Kingdom’s national oil company, is the world’s largest producer and exporter of petroleum and has by far the world’s largest sustained production capacity infrastructure.”

However, veteran journalist Karen Elliot House, has presented a starkly ominous picture.

“Sixty percent of Saudis are 20 or younger, most of whom have no hope of a job,” House wrote in her 2012 book. “Seventy percent of Saudis cannot afford to own a home. Forty percent live below the poverty line. The royals, 25,000 princes and princesses, own most of the valuable land and benefit from a system that gives each a stipend and some a fortune. Foreign workers make the Kingdom work; the 19 million Saudi citizens share the Kingdom with 8.5 million guest workers.”

According to House, regional differences are “a daily fact of Saudi life.” Hejazis in the West and Shiites in the East resent the strict Wahhabi lifestyle. Gender discrimination is a growing problem. Sixty percent of Saudi college graduates are women but they account for only twelve percent of the work force.

Moreover, according to Anthony H. Cordesman, published by the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) on April 21, 2011, “There are serious gaps between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots,’ regional differences in wealth and privilege, and tensions between Saudi Shi’ites and Saudi Sunnis.”

The kingdom has been squandering billions upon billions of petrodollars in a lost battle to finance a regional counterrevolution. Some $20bn dollars were pledged to bailout Bahrain and the Sultanate of Oman out of the Arab Spring. Three billions more was pledged recently to buy French arms to prop up the Lebanese army against the Hezbullah-led pro-Syria coalition. Several billions more have been pledged to Egypt to reinforce the successors of the ousted former president Mohamed Morsi, let alone the reportedly other billions spent on financing “regime change” in Syria. Reportedly, Obama tried to convince King Abdullah during his latest visit to bail out the transition in Ukraine.

To contain the repercussions of the Arab uprisings internally, the Kingdom has already spent even more on buying the loyalty of its own people; for the same purpose twenty Royal Orders, which were economically dominated, were issued in March 2011.

In February 2011, King Abdullah pledged more than $35 billion for housing, salary increases for state employees, studying abroad and social security. The next month the king announced another financial package worth more than $70 billion for more housing units, religious establishment and salary increase for military and security forces.

Bailing the population out of protests economically seemed not enough to secure internal stability as the kingdom, instead of relaxing the internal situation, has recently tightened the screws with the issuing of the Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and Its Financing on last January 31, the Royal Decree No. 44, which criminalizes “participating in hostilities outside the kingdom,” three days later and on March 7 the Interior Ministry’s “initial” list of groups the government considers terrorist organizations, both inside and around the country and both Sunni and Shiite.

“These recent laws and regulations turn almost any critical expression or independent association into crimes of terrorism,” said Joe Stork, the deputy director of the Human Rights Watch for the Middle East and North Africa region. “These regulations dash any hope that King Abdullah intends to open a space for peaceful dissent or independent groups,” Stork added.

Internally and externally, the kingdom overconfidently seems intent on creating more enemies, neutralizing none, alienating world and regional powers, mainstream Sunni, Shiite, liberal, pan-Arab and leftist forces, wrecking regional havoc, all in what looks like an unbalanced reaction to threats, real and perceived, to the survival of the ruling dynasty. However, the kingdom seems like shooting its survival in the legs.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (nassernicola@ymail.com). An edited version of this article was first published by Middle East Eye on April 15, 2014.

Assad Is There to Stay

April 9, 2014

By Nicola Nasser*

Long gone the days when the U.S.-led so-called “Friends of Syria” could plausibly claim that two thirds of Syria was controlled by rebel forces, that Syrian capital Damascus was under siege and its fall was just a matter of time and that the days of President Bashar al-Assad were numbered and accordingly he “should step down.”

The war on Syria has taken a U-turn during the past year. Assad now firmly holds the military initiative. The long awaited foreign military intervention could not take off; it was prevented by the emerging multi-polar world order. Syrian and non-Syrian insurgents are now on the run. Assad stands there to stay.

The thinly veiled UN legitimacy, which was used to justify the invasions of Iraq and Libya under the pretexts of the responsibility to protect on humanitarian grounds, failed to impose no-fly zones, humanitarian corridors and other instruments of foreign intervention; they foundered on the borders of Syrian national sovereignty.

The official Syrian Arab Army (SAA), which was strategically organized and stationed to fight a regular war in defence against the Israeli occupying power in the western south of the country, was taken by surprise by an internationally and regionally coordinated unconventional attack on its soft civilian backyard where it had zero presence.

Within a relatively short period of time the SAA succeeded in containing the initial attack, in adapting trained units to unconventional guerrilla war in cities and in winning over the support of the civilian population, without acceding any ground of its defence vis-à-vis Israel.

Ever since, the SAA was gaining more ground, liberating more civilian centers from insurgent terrorists, closing more border crossing points used for infiltration of foreign fighters into the country, cutting of their supply lines and besieging pockets of their presence in inner old cities and in their isolated concentrations in the countryside. The capital Damascus, more than 95% of the common borders with Lebanon and the central heart of Syria around Homs are now secured. Except the northern city of Raqqa, no where in Syria the insurgents can claim exclusive control. The SAA is winning all its battles.

The declared goal now of the U.S., Saudi, Qatari and Turkish financial, military and logistical support for the insurgents is no more the “regime change,” but creating a balance of power aimed at improving their standing in future negotiations with the regime. To do so, they claim they are extending their support to what they describe as the “moderate” insurgents.

However, “moderate” rebels are a rare species in Syrian insurgency. Entering its fourth year now, the war on Syria has created a highly polarized war zone that has left no room for any moderates. Combatants are fighting now to death in a battle of life or death.

The fighting lines are strictly drawn between homeland defence and foreign intervention, between national forces and international terrorists and between an existing secular and civil state and a future state perceived to be governed by an extremist or, at the best, a moderate version of Islamist ideology supported by the most backward, tribal and undemocratic regional states with similar sectarian ideologies.

During his testimony at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on last September 3, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry denied that the “moderate” Syrian rebels are infiltrated by the al-Qaeda terrorists as “basically not true.”

The Syrian “opposition has increasingly become more defined by its moderation, more defined by the breadth of its membership, and more defined by its adherence to some, you know, democratic process and to an all-inclusive, minority protecting constitution, which will be broad-based and secular with respect to the future of Syria,” Kerry testified.

However, hard facts on the ground in Syria as well as statements by other U.S. high ranking officials challenge Kerry’s testimony as a politically motivated, far from truth and misleading statement.

Last March, General David Rodriguez, head of the U.S. Africa Command, testified before the House Armed Services Committee that “Syria has become a significant location for al-Qaeda-aligned groups to recruit, train, and equip extremists.”

The previous month, James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, called Syria a “huge magnet” for Islamic extremists in testimony prepared for the Senate intelligence committee.

Last January, Clapper also told a Senate intelligence hearing that “training complexes” for foreign fighters were spotted in Syria and chair of the Senate intelligence committee Dianne Feinstein described Syria as “the most notable new security threat in the year” since the committee’s last meeting.

Matthew Olsen, director of the U.S. government’s National Counterterrorism Center, was on record to say that “Syria has become really the predominant jihadist battlefield in the world.”

Also on record was Jeh C. Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security, who stated that the Syria war “has become a matter of homeland security,” former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell who identified Syria as “the greatest threat to U.S. national security,” FBI Director until last September Robert Mueller who “warned that an increasing flow of U.S. citizens heading to Syria and elsewhere to wage jihad against regional powers could end up in a new generation of home-grown terrorists.”

All these and other high level U.S. conclusions do not testify to the existence of “moderate” insurgents in Syria and vindicate the official Syrian narration as much as they refute Kerry’s statement about the “democratic,” “secular” and “moderate” Syrian “opposition.”

“Moderate” rebels are either marginal or a rare species in Syrian insurgency and if they do exist they are already increasingly concluding “reconciliation” agreements with the Syrian government, according to which they disarm, join the government anti terror and anti “strangers” military and security campaign or simply recurring to attending to their personal lives.

The Americans and their Saudi and Turkish bullies are left with the only option of artificially creating artificial “moderates,” whom they unrealistically and wishfully dream of turning into a credible leading force on the ground.

As part of his efforts to mend fences with Saudi Arabia, a persistent advocate of war and militarization in Syria, U.S. President Barak Obama seems to have pursued recently a two-pronged diplomatic and military policy.

Diplomatically, he closed the Syrian embassy and consulates in the United States and restricted the movement of the Syrian envoy to the United Nations as a “down payment” ahead of his visit to the kingdom on last March 28.

Militarily, he promised more arms to Syrian “moderate” rebels during his visit. After the visit he was reportedly considering arming those “moderate” rebels with more advanced weaponry, including anti-aircraft missiles or MANPADs.

While providing those “moderates” with MANPADs is yet to be confirmed, Israel’s Debkafile website on this April 7 reported that two moderate Syrian rebel militias – the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Revolutionary Front – have been supplied with advanced US weapons, including armour-piercing, optically-guided BGM-71 TOW missiles, which enter the Middle East for the first time. Images of rebels equipped with these arms have begun to circulate in recent days. Both militias are coordinating and cooperating with the al-Qaeda offshoot the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, both listed as terrorist groups by the U.S., Saudi Arabia Syria and Iraq.

About Time for U.S. to Reconsider

Within this context, the existing CIA-led program in Jordan for training pre-approved “moderates” will reportedly be expanded to raise the number of trainees from one hundred to six hundred a month.

At this rate, according to Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Center in Qatar, writing on this April 3, “it would take close to two years to produce a force” that could numerically rival the extremist “Ahrar al-Sham” group and “it would take seven years” to create a force that could rival the extremist “Islamic Front,” let alone the mainstream groups of terrorist insurgents like the ISIS and the al-Nusra.

Going ahead with such a U.S.-Saudi training program in Jordan is tantamount to planning an extended war on Syria until such time that the regime changes or the country becomes a failed state, as the planners wishfully hope.

Moderate Syrian rebels are a U.S. mirage. With logistical vital help from Turkey, the Saudi and Qatari U.S. allies were determined to successfully militarize and hijack legitimate popular protests for change lest they sweep along their own people and spill over into their own territories.

It’s about time that the U.S. policy makers reconsider, deal with the facts on the ground in Syria and stop yielding to the bullying of their regional allies who continue to beat the drums of war only to survive the regional tidal wave of change.

To contain this tidal wave of change, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have sponsored an Islamist alternative as a counterrevolution. The Muslim Brotherhood International (MBI) was a version of this alternative. Unfortunately the U.S. got along with it. The MBI plan in Egypt has proved counterproductive. Its failure in Egypt pre-empted for good any hope for its success in Syria. The ensuing rift among the anti-Syria allies doomed the plan regionally.

President Assad’s statement on this April 7 that the “project of political Islam” has failed was not overoptimistic or premature. Neither was the statement of his ally, the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbullah, Hassan Nasrallah, on the same day that “the phase of bringing down the regime or bringing down the (Syrian) state is over… They cannot overthrow the regime, but they can wage a war of attrition.”

The U.S. campaign for more than three years now for a “regime change” in Syria has created only a “huge magnet” for international terrorism, thanks to Saudi, Qatari and Turkish military, financial and logistical support.

Peaceful protesters were sidelined to oblivion. More than three years of bloodshed left no room for moderates. “Regime change” by force from outside the country, along the Iraqi and Libyan lines, has proved a failure. U.S. and western calls for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down is now a faint cry that can hardly be heard.

All world and regional indications as well as military developments on the ground refer to one fact: Assad is there to stay. Change will come only under his leadership or his guidance. Understanding with him is the only way to internal and regional stability. More or less he has succeeded in turning the “huge magnet” for international terrorists into their killing field. His final victory is only a matter of time. Arming rebels, “moderates” or terrorists regardless, will only perpetuate the Syrian people’s plight and fuel regional anti-Americanism.

The sooner the United States act on this fact is the better for all involved parties.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. nassernicola@ymail.com

Counterproductive Reactive Saudi Policies

March 18, 2014

By Nicola Nasser*

Writing in The Washington Post on February 27, 2011, Rachel Bronson asked: “Could the next Mideast uprising happen in Saudi Arabia?” Her answer was: “The notion of a revolution in the Saudi kingdom seems unthinkable.”

However, On September 30 the next year, the senior foreign policy fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy Bruce Riedel concluded that the “revolution in Saudi Arabia is no longer unthinkable.”

To preempt such a possibility, the kingdom in March 2011, in a “military” move to curb the tide of the Arab popular uprisings which raged across the Arab world from sweeping to its doorsteps, the kingdom sent troops to Bahrain to quell similar popular protests.

That rapid reactive Saudi military move into Bahrain heralded a series of reactions that analysts describe as an ongoing Saudi-led counterrevolution.

Amid a continuing succession process in Saudi Arabia, while major socioeconomic and political challenges loom large regionally, the kingdom is looking for security as far away as China, but blinded to the shortest way to its stability in its immediate proximity, where regional understanding with its geopolitical Arab and Muslim neighborhood would secure the kingdom and save it a wealth of assets squandered on unguaranteed guarantees.

In his quest to contain any fallout from the “Arab Spring,” Saudi King Abdullah Ben Abdel-Aziz selectively proposed inviting the kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco to join the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), leading The Economist on May 19, 2011 to joke that the organization should be renamed the “Gulf Counter-Revolutionary Club.” For sure including Iraq and Yemen would be a much better addition if better security was the goal.

Ahead of US President Barak Obama’s official visit to the kingdom by the end of this March, Saudi Arabia was looking “forward to China as an international magnate with a great political and economic weight to play a prominent role in achieving peace and security in the region,” according to Defense Minister and Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud who was in Beijing from March 13 to 16 “to enhance cooperation with China to protect peace, security and stability in the region.” He was quoted by a statement from the Saudi Press Agency.

Prince Salman was in Japan from 18-21 last February, hopefully to deepen bilateral cooperation “in various fields.” On February 26, India and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement to strengthen co-operation in military training, logistics supplies and exchange of defense-related information. On last January 23, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia signed a defense cooperation agreement, the first of its kind.

While a strong Saudi-Pakistan defense partnership has existed for long, it has been upgraded recently. Princes Salman and Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal arrived in Pakistan on February 15. Pakistani army chief General Raheel Sharif was in Saudi Arabia earlier. Director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC, Tufail Ahmad, wrote on this March 11 that “the upswing in the relationship marks a qualitative change,” hinting that the kingdom could be seeking Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities to “counter a nuclear-capable Iran” despite Islamabad’s denial, which “is not reliable.” The kingdom is moving “to transform itself as a regional military power,” Sharif wrote.

On this March 14, the Financial Times reported that Saudi Arabia has given $1.5 billion (Dh5.5 billion) to Pakistan. In February a senior Pakistani intelligence official told the Financial Times that Saudi Arabia was seeking “a large number of [Pakistani] troops to support its campaign along the Yemeni border and for internal security.” The official confirmed that Pakistan’s agreement, during Prince Salman’s visit, to support the establishment of a “transitional governing body” in Syria was an important aspect of the deal.

On this March 5, the kingdom led two other members of the six-member GCC, namely the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, to withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar, risking the survival of the GCC.

Hunting two French and Lebanese birds with one shot, the kingdom early last January pledged a $3 billion royal grant, estimated to be two-time the entire military budget of Lebanon, to buy French weapons for the Lebanese Army.

The Saudi multi-billion dollar support to the change of guards in Egypt early last July and the kingdom’s subscription to Egypt’s make or break campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) inside and outside the country following the ouster of the MB’s former president Mohammed Morsi reveal a much more important Saudi strategic and security unsigned accord with Egypt’s new rulers.

On the outset of the so-called “Arab Spring,” the kingdom also bailed out Bahrain and the Sultanate of Omen with more multi-billion petrodollars to buy the loyalty of their population.

More multi-billion petrodollars were squandered inside the country to bribe the population against joining the sweeping popular Arab protests.

Yet still more billions were squandered on twenty percent of all arms transfers to the region between 2009-2013 to make the kingdom the world’s fifth largest importer of arms while more Saudi orders for arms are outstanding, according to a new study released on this March 17 by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

While the United States will continue to “guarantee Israel’s qualitative military edge” over all the twenty two Arab nations plus Iran, Iran is developing its own defense industries to defend itself against both the US and Israel, rendering the Saudi arms procurement efforts obsolete.

Had all of those squandered billions of petrodollars spent more wisely they could have created a revolution of development in the region.

Not Assured by US Assurances

Ahead of Obama’s visit, the Saudi message is self-evident. They are looking, on their own, for alternative security guarantees, or at least additional ones. They don’t trust their decades – long American security umbrella anymore. The US sellout of close allies like the former presidents of Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen shed doubt on any “assurances’ Washington would be trying to convey during Obama’s upcoming visit.

President Obama is scheduled to be in Riyadh by the end of this March to assure Saudi Arabia of what his Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns on last February 19 told the Center for Strategic and International Studies that the United States takes Saudi security concerns “seriously,” “US-Saudi partnership is as important today as it ever was” and that the “Security cooperation is at the heart of our agenda” with the GCC, reminding his audience that his country still keeps about 35,000 members of the US military at 12 bases in and around the Arabian Gulf.

However, “the Saudi voices I hear do not think that what they see as the current lack of American resolve is merely a short-term feature of the Obama Presidency: They spot a deeper trend of Western disengagement from their region,” Sir Tom Phillips – British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia 2010-12 and an Associate Fellow at the Chatham House Middle East and North Africa Programme – wrote on last February 12.

Obviously, the Saudis are not assured, neither internally, regionally or at the international level because as Burns said on the same occasion: “We don’t always see eye to eye” and it is natural that Gulf states would “question our reliability as partners” given US efforts to achieve energy independence and US warnings that traditional power structures, such as the gulf monarchies, are “unsustainable.”

Obama’s upcoming visit to the kingdom has been described as a “fence-mending” one. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal, at a joint press conference alongside visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry last November, hinted that fences might not be mended because “a true relationship between friends is based on sincerity, candor, and frankness rather than mere courtesy.”

What Prince Al Faisal described as “frankness” is still missing: His brother, prince Turki al-Faisal, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal last December, blasted the Obama administration for keeping his country in the dark on its secret talks with Iran: “How can you build trust when you keep secrets from what are supposed to be your closest allies?”

“The Saudis have good reason to feel besieged and fearful,” Immanuel Wallerstein, director emeritus of the Fernand Braudel Center at Binghamton University and senior researcher at Yale University and Maison des Sciences de l’Homme in Paris, was quoted as saying by AlJazeera America on this March 1.

Senior associate of Carnegie’s Middle East program Frederic Wehry on this March 10 wrote that, “There is a growing sense in Gulf capitals … led by Saudi Arabia” that “the United States is a power in retreat that is ignoring the interests of its steadfast partners, if not blithely betraying them.”

What Burns described as “tactical differences” with Saudi Arabia and its GCC co-members, the Saudis are acting on the premise that those differences are much more strategic than “tactical” and accordingly are overstretching their search for alternative security guarantees worldwide because they seem to disagree with Burns that “our Gulf partners know that no country or collection of countries can do for the Gulf states what the United States has done and continues to do.”

Pressured between Two ‘Crescents’

Three threatening developments have led to Saudi distrust in US security assurances. The first was the selling out of a US ally like the former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, the second was the Qatari, Turkish and US coordination with the Muslim Brotherhood regionally and the third was the assumption to power of the MB in Egypt. The first development set the precedent of selling out of a long regional US ally against the fervent public advice of the kingdom. Mubarak’s ouster set the red lights on in Riyadh of a possible similar scenario in Saudi Arabia.

The second development put the kingdom on alert against the emerging MB, Turkey, Qatar and the US axis that would have encircled Saudi Arabia had the kingdom allowed this axis to hand the power over to the Brotherhood in Syria in the north and in Egypt in the west. The MB is influential in Jordan, the kingdom’s northern neighbor, and in Yemen, its southern neighbor. The Hamas’ affiliation to the MB in the Palestinian Gaza Strip would complete what a Saudi analyst called the “Brotherhood crescent” in the north, west and south, to squeeze the kingdom between the rock of this “Brotherhood crescent” and the hard place of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the east.

The third development surrendered the western strategic backyard of the kingdom to the MB, which has become untrustworthy politically in view of its membership in the emerging US-led ““Brotherhood crescent” after decades of sponsoring the MB leaders who found in the kingdom a safe haven from their suppression in Syria and Egypt and using them against the pan-Arab regimes in both countries and against the pan-Arab and communist political movements.

Unmercifully pressured between the “Brotherhood crescent” and what King Abdullah II of Jordan once described as the “Shiite crescent” extending from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Hezbullah in Lebanon, let alone the al-Qaeda offshoots, which have deep roots inside the kingdom and in its immediate surroundings and have emerged as a major threat to regional as well as to internal stability, in addition to what the Saudis perceive as the withdrawal or at least the rebalancing of the US power out of the region, the kingdom seems poised to find an answer to the question which Bruce Riedel asked on September 30, 2012 about whether or not the “revolution in Saudi Arabia is no longer unthinkable.”

The Saudi answer so far has been reactive more than proactive. “It is difficult to avoid the impression that Saudi policy is more re-active than pro-active,” Sir Tom Phillips – British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia 2010-12 and an Associate Fellow at the Chatham House Middle East and North Africa Programme – wrote on last February 12.

Proactive Shorter Path Overdue

Following the lead of the United States and Europe who have come to deal with the fait accompli that Iran as a pivotal regional power is there to stay for the foreseeable future, a more Saudi proactive regional policy that would engage Iran and Syria would be a much shorter and cheaper route to internal security as well as to regional stability, instead of reacting to their alliance by engaging in a lost and costly battle for a “regime change” in both countries.

Or much better, the kingdom could follow the lead of the Sultanate of Oman, which risked to break away from the GCC should they go along with the Saudi proposal late in 2011 for transforming their “council” into an anti-Iran military “union.” Regardless of what regime rules in Tehran and since the time of the Shah, Oman has been dealing with Iran as a strategic partner and promoting an Iranian-GCC regional partnership. Qatar takes a middle ground between the Saudi and Omani positions vis-à-vis Iran. On this March 17, the Qatar-Iran joint political committee convened in Tehran.

Feeling isolated, besieged and threatened by being left in the cold as a result of what it perceives as a withdrawing US security umbrella, the kingdom’s new experience of trying to cope on its own is indulging the country in counterproductive external policies in the turmoil of the aftermath of the shock waves of the Arab popular uprisings, which have raged across the Arab world since 2011, but its tide has stopped at the Damascus gate of the Iranian – Syrian alliance, which is backed internationally by the emerging Russian and Chinese world powers.

At the end of the day, the kingdom’s recent historical experience indicates that the Saudi dynasty lived its most safe and secure era during the Saudi-Egyptian-Syrian trilateral understanding, which was developed as a regional axis of stability, as the backbone of the Arab League regional system and was reinforced by the trilateral coordination in the 1973 Arab – Israeli war.

The revival of the Saudi coordination with Egypt in the post-Morsi presidency was a crucial first step that would lead nowhere unless it is completed by an overdue Saudi political U-turn on Syria that would revive the old trilateral axis to defend Arabs against Israel. A partnership with Iran would be a surplus; otherwise the revival of the trilateral coordination would at least serve as a better Saudi defense against Iran as well.

However such a Saudi U-turn would require of course a strategic decision that would renege on the kingdom’s US-inspired and ill-advised policy of dealing with Syria and Iran as “the enemy,” while dealing with Israel, which still occupies Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese territories, as a possible “peace partner” and a co-member of an anti-Iran and Syria “front of moderates,” which the successive US administrations have been promoting.

It would first require as well a change of foreign policy decision-makers in Riyadh, but such a change will continue to be wishful thinking until a man of an historic stature holds the wheel at the driving seat at the helm of the Saudi hierarchy. Until that happens, it might be too late. Meanwhile, it is increasingly becoming a possibility that the “revolution in Saudi Arabia is no longer unthinkable.”

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. nassernicola@ymail.com

The Saudi Bull in Arab China Shop

January 8, 2014

By Nicola Nasser*

Obsessed with the “Iran threat,” which leads to its warmongering in Syria, Saudi Arabia is acting like a bull in a china shop, wreaking regional havoc in an already Arab fragile political environment and creating what George Joffe’ of Cambridge University’s Centre of International Studies, on last December 30, called the “second Arab cold war,” the first being the Saudi-led cold war with the Pan-Arab Egypt of Gamal Abdul Nasser since the 1960s.

The kingdom stands now almost isolated politically. Its “going it alone” in the Syrian conflict has cornered Saudi Arabia into a self-inflicted foreign policy no-win deadlock, to be at odds with three super powers, including its strategic U.S. ally as well as Russia and China, in addition to regional heavy weights in Iran, Iraq, Egypt and Algeria, all who advocate a political settlement of the conflict.

Within the six-member Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC), the kingdom navigates no better.

It is at loggerheads with Qatar over the latter’s sponsorship of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and consequently over the two countries’ disagreement over the removal of the MB-led Mohammad Morsi’s presidency.

Saudi Arabia’s hostility to the MB and its support of their removal from power in Egypt have reflected negatively on the Saudi-Turkish relations as well and had repercussions in Syria, leading to a restructuring of the insurgent political and military competing leaders who claim the representation of the Syrian people: Qatari and Turkish-supported leading figures and organizations were replaced by Saudi loyalists and accordingly, for example, the “Free Syrian Army” has simply disappeared to be replaced by the Islamic Front.

In the last GCC summit meeting in Kuwait, the other five members of the GCC, Oman in particular, rejected the kingdom’s proposal to develop the “cooperation council” into a confederation.

Despite the Saudi bailing out of the post-Morsi interim government in Cairo with a few billions of US dollars, Egypt doesn’t see eye to eye with Riyadh neither on Syria, where it joined the political solution advocates, nor on relations with Russia, which Egypt is now reviving to balance its US ties.

According to Wall Street Journal online on this January 5, the ensuing situation “is placing the White House in a growing diplomatic quandary as its regional allies fall into competing camps.”

The fact that the United States has chosen diplomacy instead of military confrontation with Tehran and Damascus has politically isolated the kingdom, which had hedged its bets on a western military intervention led or blessed by the United States. It feels betrayed by its American strategic ally. For a long time it relied on a long mistaken understanding that the US marines will be always available as mercenary soldiers ready to fight Saudi wars as long as the wealthy kingdom would pay for it, not aware of the US understanding of the vice versa.

However, instead of maneuvering wisely to backtrack to steer in harmony with the US, the kingdom stubbornly decided to “go it alone.”

In an op-ed published by The New York Times on last December 19, Saudi Ambassador to the UK, Prince Nawaf bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, said his country “will go it alone” against Syria and Iran, because it “will not stand idly by” while the US compromises Saudi Arabia’s security and “risk[s] the region’s stability.”

However, “in spite of its great wealth, the kingdom is not able to confront significant threats in its strategic environment on its own,” former Iran Coordinator in Israel’s National Security Council, Yoel Guzansky, wrote in Haaretz on last December 25, adding that as regards the Saudi “deterrence of and protection from Iran, … no other major power is currently interested in or capable of filling the role played by the United States.”

As of late this summer, Saudi Arabia had given $400 million in arms and other equipment to Syrian Salafi Jihadists, the Wall Street Journal online reported on last December 29.

True, Saudi warmongering over Syria and Iran could abort the Geneva II conference on Syria, scheduled to convene on this January 22 in Montreux, Switzerland to wrap up a political settlement, but in the end of the day the Saudi kingdom is more likely to end up the only loser in the face of a regional and worldwide consensus on political settlement as the only possible exit out of the Syrian conflict.

Logic dictates that Iran should be in and Saudi Arabia out, but the Geneva II guest list includes warmongering Saudi Arabia, but excludes Iran, which has been calling from the start for a political solution. Such an arrangement warns of including the only “spoiler-in-chief,” in the words of the Assistant Professor of International Studies at Arcadia University, Pennsylvania, Samer N. Abboud, writing in the Qatari http://www.aljazeera.com on this January 5.

The US and Russian top diplomats, John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov were scheduled during a meeting ahead of Geneva II to decide on Iran’s participation, according to Martin Nesirky, spokesperson for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

There is no way the kingdom could succeed in Syria where a US-led Qatari, Turkish, French and British alliance failed. Saudi former intelligence chief, former ambassador to the US and an influential member of the royal family, Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, admitted their failure when he told CNBC on this January 7 that the United States failed in its dealing with the Syrian conflict.

Thanks to Saudis, Syrian Conflict Spills over

The three-year old conflict in Syria has somewhat been contained within its own borders, but Saudi Arabia’s ongoing warmongering threatens to perpetuate the conflict and, more importantly, to spill it over regionally without achieving the Saudi proclaimed goal of changing the regime in Damascus at any cost.

The protracted Syrian conflict is already spilling over into neighboring countries through the Saudi sectarian agitation and incitement.

In the east, Iraqi officials had already appealed to the Saudi and other GCC governments to stop their intervention in Iraq’s internal affairs by arms and political, financial and logistical support to insurgents whose terrorism claimed the lives of some ten thousand overwhelmingly civilian Iraqis in 2013.

West of Syria, “Lebanon is paralyzed right now,” Gen. Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), the second largest bloc in Lebanese parliament, told http://www.al-monitor.com on last December 13. After a two-week power vacuum, a prime minister-designate was nominated last April, but he has yet to form his government. His efforts have reached a dead end. The country since then was administrated by a caretaker government. No breakthrough seems imminent.

Saudi Arabia is the reason. It is exploiting its historical influence with loyalists and allies to prevent any inclusive government. It insists on the exclusion of Hizbullah as a precondition. The dead end polarized the country between pro-Syria and pro-Saudi camps. Riyadh, to guarantee a no-return by its loyalists, has recently fueled this polarization with a three billion “gift” over five years to arm the Lebanese army with French weapons in the hope of creating a counterbalance to Hezbullah, thus qualifying Lebanon for a civil war.

Meanwhile the northern and eastern parts of the country have slipped out of the control of the central government in Beirut and became a bastion of a Saudi-supported training camp, safe haven, manpower reservoir and a host of foreign Jihadists, fueling the Syrian conflict with arms and fighters.

Deterred by the military successes of the official Syrian Arab Army against them and falling back on Lebanon, those “Jihadists” are retaliating with the escalation of suicide bombings inside Lebanon, which are claiming more and more Lebanese civilian lives of all sects.

In the south in Jordan, where the kingdom succeeded for three years to keep balance between its geopolitical links with Syria and its strategic alliance with the US and Saudi Arabia, warnings against a mounting Saudi pressure to change course have been voiced recently.

For example, former premier and member of the upper house, Ma’arouf al-Bakhit, quoted by http://www.ammonnews.net on last December 30, warned that the disparity between the US and Saudi approaches to solving the Syrian conflict is pressuring Jordan, which is now facing the “challenge” of the possibility that Saudi Arabia “might act to impose its vision on Jordan,” indicating that “Syria no longer views Jordan as neutral” and accuses the kingdom of “hosting a Saudi – Israeli operations room to run military operations in Syria.” If Syria decides to act on this accusation, al-Bakhit added, it is “possible” to “move part of war” to “the interior of the kingdom’s territory.” Al-Bakhit should have cited Lebanon and Iraq as live precedents.

Further away, in Russia, the latest terror attacks in Volgograd were interpreted as an integral part of and attributed to the same terror network and mastermind in the Middle East, thus alienating the emerging Russian world polar. Russian media reports were implicating Saudi Arabia as responsible.

Saudi Strategy Fails in Syria
Since the so-called “Arab Spring” sprang out in Tunisia three years ago, the Saudi-led GCC monarchies succeeded in defending themselves against the tidal popular protests by a preempting financial bailout (Oman, Bahrain) or by direct military intervention (Bahrain) and by financial, political and indirect, but public nonetheless, military intervention to hijack the burgeoning revolutions in the “republics,” which have become more like china shops, either stateless or failed states, breathlessly in a life or death fight against “Islamist” terror organizations, which are armed and financed by none other than this same Saudi-led petrodollar monarchies and sheikhdoms.

This Saudi-led strategy is best manifested in Syria, where it met its first failure. Internal, regional and international consensus on political settlement and anti-terror campaign is gaining momentum to put an end to this strategy. Saudi Arabia has no other option but either to backtrack or being isolated. It either changes course or changes its leadership.

Its warmongering in Syria is portraying the kingdom in public opinion as the regional mastermind of violence and instability, vindicating American accusations, fueled by Israeli incitement, in the aftermath of the terror attacks in US on September 11, 2001 that the Saudi sectarian ideology is an incubator nurturing violence and terror, despite the kingdom’s long war against its own Islamist terrorists.

This sectarian ideology is creating a sectarian clash across the Middle East between two theocracies, the “Shiite” theocracy of Iran and the Sunni theocracy of Saudi Arabia, thus blurring the real dividing line of the regional battle between the US-protected Israeli occupation of Arab lands in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon and the self-proclaimed Iran – Syria axis of resistance. The survival of a secular Syria will be the first regional step towards the containment of this destructive sectarian clash.

Within this context it is noteworthy that Saudi Arabia, the godfather of the “Arab peace initiative,” postures as a peace maker against the Israeli occupying power, but insists on military solution in Syria whose Golan Heights is occupied by Israel since 1967.

Ironically, Saudi – Israeli crossroads seem to meet as the only regional relief for the kingdom. This approach of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is creating a fait accompli of a Saudi-Israeli marriage of convenience against Syria and Iran, which places the two countries on a higher moral ground among the overwhelming majority of Arabs and Muslims.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. nassernicola@ymail.com