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Big change in Yemen conflict as former President Saleh swaps sides

The Houthis are now officially alone, fighting every other faction–and they still appear to be holding everyone off.

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The current conflict in Yemen has been shaken by the apparent defection of Ali Abdullah Saleh to the Saudis and de-facto to the Aden based government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. Initially, the apparent defection of Saleh resulted in troops personally loyal to him fighting Houthi rebels in the capital of Sana’a.

Arabic media initially reported that on the 2nd of December, forces loyal to Saleh were in control of most of Sana’a, but by early morning on the 3rd, Houthis claimed to have reversed their losses due to a new military push by Houthi fighters and defectors from Saleh’s forces who had decided to remain loyal to the Houhi’s.

To understand the significance of this, it is important to understand the background of both “Presdents” Saleh and Hadi.

1990 saw the neighbouring states of the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen) and People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen), unite as the Republic of Yemen, under the Presidency of North Yemeni Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The united state which was shaky from the beginning was torn apart in 1994 during the first of many civil conflicts in post-1990 Yemen. During that war, Southern born Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi sided not with southern rebels but with the Saleh government in Sana’a. Saudi Arabia notably broke with the United States to side with the leftist rebels of the South.

Ultimately, the Southern forces lost and Yemen became reunited. Hadi who had risen to the rank of Defence Minister during the conflict, was rewarded for his loyalty with the appointment of Vice President of Yemen.

Stability in Yemen however, was always tenuous due to the competing interests of various factions and individuals. 1994 saw the formation of a new opposition group, rallying around their leader Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi. After Hussein’s death in 2004, the group’s leadership fell to Abdul-Malik Badreddin al-Houthi. The Houthi movement officially known as Ansar Allah (Supporters of God), continued to make demands on the central government for a fairer distribution of wealth, less corruption and a more democratic representation for follows of Zaidi of Fiver Shi’a Islam. Zaidi Shias make up around 40% of Yemen’s population with most of the rest of Yemenis being Sunni. The Christian population of the country is comparatively negligible.

At the same time, after 2007, a group in southern Yemen called the Southern Movement formed. This group agitates for the re-creation of Southern Yemen and is made up of a combination of pan-Arabist socialists, hard-line Marxist-Leninist who seek to restore the Soviet model of their former state and also some Takfiri/Salafist elements. The movement in this sense while influential to a degree, is also far from a coherent political/ideological unit.

The Southern Movement and the ambiguities of the civil war in Yemen

In 2011, mass protests formed against President Saleh. As the poorest country in the Arab world, a diverse set of forces mobilised against Saleh accusing him of economic deprivation of the country, corruption and incompetence. Among participating groups in the protest were the Houthi movement and the Southern Movement. Other forces included al-Qaeda terrorists. ISIS formed syndicates in Yemen in subsequent years. Ultimately, the Houthis did not participate in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) brokered settlement.

In 2012, Saleh stepped down and was replaced by Vice President Hadi and his term was later extended by a GCC brokered accord.

Although the Houthis tentatively supported the changes in 2011, the subsequent reforms did not meet the expectation of the Houthi movement. In particularly, Houthis resented an attempt to create new federal units in the country.

Consequently in 2015, Houthis stormed the Presidential palace, ultimately forcing Hadi to flee. Since then Saleh, whom the Houthis once protested against, has become a supporter of the Houthi rebellion. Saleh was initially highly important to the Houthis. As the longest severing President of the Republic of Yemen (united Yemen), he instantly lent credibility to an otherwise localised movement. As a long serving former President who had conversations with leaders ranging from Bill Clinton to Vladimir Putin, Saleh was somewhat necessary to the Houthis in order to be taken seriously on an international level, not least because Yemen is often the ‘ignored country’ in an Arab world that for decades has been watched closely by major international powers.

At the same time, Hadi fled to the former Southern capital of Aden where he allied with a combination of Southern Movement leftists, Takfiri groups and ultimately with the GCC coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE (Qatar quit the coalition in 2017 and has subsequently criticised Saudi Arabia on state owned media outlets).

In recent months, following a trend of the last year or so, Saleh has become increasingly dispensable to the Houthis. As a political leader Abdul-Malik Badreddin al-Houthi has proved himself to be not only capable but inspiring, while Saleh has been exposed as something of an opportunist, simply trying to align himself with that he felt was the winning side so that he could act as President of the country he formally ruled between 1990 and 2012.

Now though, it would appear that Saleh has switched sides after doing a deal with the Saudis. While the details or even the existence of the deal cannot be fully confirmed. Saleh recently appeared on television urging for a truce with what he called “our Saudi brothers”.

The rise of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) in Saudi Arabia, has seen him eager to end the war in Yemen which he fuelled as Saudi Arabia’s Defence Minister. The war has been uniformly disastrous from all perspectives. Saudi Arabia’s indiscriminate bombings have caused a humanitarian crisis, the likes of which have not been seen in the 21st century. The Saudi led blockade of Houthi controlled Yemen has caused a Cholera outbreak, mass starvation and untold deaths, especially among children.

From the Saudi perspective, Riyadh and MBS in particular faces the embarrassing situation of not being able to subdue a Houthi fighting force whose weapons are technically no match for Saudi Arabia’s ultra-modern US made jets and missiles.

In order to justify this embarrassment, Saudi media regularly claims that Houthis are being armed by Iran or even more absurdly by Lebanon’s Hezbollah. However, this is logistically impossible as Iran would have to either airlift weapons to Yemen or else break the Saudi naval blockade and this simply hasn’t happened. Hezbollah of course, has neither an air force nor a navy. Others have claimed that Houthis are being supplied via arms dealers working in Oman. This claim is vehemently denied by the Omani authorities and because there is no credible evidence of Houthis being armed via Oman, this would appear to be another Saudi lie designed to excuse their military incompetence.

The inevitable Houthi falling out with Saleh has come at a time with Houthis have exploited political instability in Saudi Arabia with more frequent missile attacks. The missiles used are medium to short range ballistics that Houthis have seized from Yemeni military bases. They are far cruder than modern Iranian operated weapons, but still occasionally land hits on Saudi territory in spite of Saudi’s advanced US anti-missile defence systems. The accuracy of such missiles is still not entirely clear as frequently, Houthis claim to have struck Saudi targets, while the Saudis typically claim they intercepted the missiles. In the fog of a war which few reporters have access to, it is anyone’s guess who is being more honest in this respect, although on many occasions, Houthis do post videos which appear to confirm their narrative of success against the richest country in the Arab world.

Saleh’s defecting to the Saudi side appears to be engineered by Riyadh and agreed upon by Saleh who was almost certainly offered a large cash incentive to turn on the Houthis. While in public, Saudi Arabia is now claiming to welcome a truce offered by Saleh, in reality, a personal deal between Saleh and Riaydh is the far more likely expiation before Saleh’s offer.

Subsequent to this development, Houthi online social media outlets have been quick to discredit Saleh. Claiming to have taken Saleh’s compound in Sana’a, they released a photograph showing a table filled with luxury alcoholic drinks, something which would infuriate the pious followers of Abdul-Malik Badreddin al-Houthi.

This all leads one to conclude that where the Yemeni conflict once was between factions loyal to one of two Yemeni Presidents (Saleh and Hadi), now the conflict is officially one where the Houthis are fighting everyone else, including Hadi’s forces, Saleh’s forces who have turned on the Houthis and more importantly, the military of Saudi Arabia.

The Houthi star among the wider Islamic Resistance has grown due to their ability to see off a vastly more powerful Saudi led onslaught ever since 2015.

If the Houthis are able to continue holding off Saudi Arabia, even without Saleh on their side, the embarrassment for Saudi Arabia will be all the more apparent. The Houthis do not need to “win”, they simply need Saudi to lose, in order to claim a meaningful victory. The Saudis on the other hand, need to take Sana’a in order to justify their aggressive war to their own side which is experiencing an onset of war fatigue.

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Foreign Banks Are Embracing Russia’s Alternative To SWIFT, Moscow Says

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative.

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Via Zerohedge


On Friday, one day after Russia and China pledged to reduce their reliance on the dollar by increasing the amount of bilateral trade conducted in rubles and yuan (a goal toward which much progress has already been made over the past three years), Russia’s Central Bank provided the latest update on Moscow’s alternative to US-dominated international payments network SWIFT.

Moscow started working on the project back in 2014, when international sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea inspired fears that the country’s largest banks would soon be cut off from SWIFT which, though it’s based in Belgium and claims to be politically neutral, is effectively controlled by the US Treasury.

Today, the Russian alternative, known as the System for Transfer of Financial Messages, has attracted a modest amount of support within the Russian business community, with 416 Russian companies having joined as of September, including the Russian Federal Treasury and large state corporations likeGazprom Neft and Rosneft.

And now, eight months after a senior Russian official advised that “our banks are ready to turn off SWIFT,” it appears the system has reached another milestone in its development: It’s ready to take on international partners in the quest to de-dollarize and end the US’s leverage over the international financial system. A Russian official advised that non-residents will begin joining the system “this year,” according to RT.

“Non-residents will start connecting to us this year. People are already turning to us,”said First Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Russia Olga Skorobogatova. Earlier, the official said that by using the alternative payment system foreign firms would be able to do business with sanctioned Russian companies.

Turkey, China, India and others are among the countries that might be interested in a SWIFT alternative, as Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out in a speech earlier this month, the US’s willingness to blithely sanction countries from Iran to Venezuela and beyond will eventually rebound on the US economy by undermining the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

To be sure, the Russians aren’t the only ones building a SWIFT alternative to help avoid US sanctions. Russia and China, along with the European Union are launching an interbank payments network known as the Special Purpose Vehicle to help companies pursue “legitimate business with Iran” in defiance of US sanctions.

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative. For one, much of Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas and oil.

And as Russian trade with other US rivals increases, Moscow’s payments network will look increasingly attractive,particularly if buyers of Russian crude have no other alternatives to pay for their goods.

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US leaving INF will put nuclear non-proliferation at risk & may lead to ‘complete chaos’

The US is pulling out of a nuclear missile pact with Russia. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty requires both countries to eliminate their short and medium-range atomic missiles.

The Duran

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Via RT


If the US ditches the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), it could collapse the entire nuclear non-proliferation system, and bring nuclear war even closer, Russian officials warn.

By ending the INF, Washington risks creating a domino effect which could endanger other landmark deals like the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and collapse the existing non-proliferation mechanism as we know it, senior lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev said on Sunday.

The current iteration of the START treaty, which limits the deployment of all types of nuclear weapons, is due to expire in 2021. Kosachev, who chairs the Parliament’s Upper House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that such an outcome pits mankind against “complete chaos in terms of nuclear weapons.”

“Now the US Western allies face a choice: either embarking on the same path, possibly leading to new war, or siding with common sense, at least for the sake of their self-preservation instinct.”

His remarks came after US President Donald Trump announced his intentions to “terminate” the INF, citing alleged violations of the deal by Russia.

Moscow has repeatedly denied undermining the treaty, pointing out that Trump has failed to produce any evidence of violations. Moreover, Russian officials insist that the deployment of US-made Mk 41 ground-based universal launching systems in Europe actually violates the agreement since the launchers are capable of firing mid-range cruise missiles.

Leonid Slutsky, who leads the Foreign Affairs Committee in parliament’s lower chamber, argued that Trump’s words are akin to placing “a huge mine under the whole disarmament process on the planet.”

The INF Treaty was signed in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The deal effectively bans the parties from having and developing short- and mid-range missiles of all types. According to the provisions, the US was obliged to destroy Pershing I and II launcher systems and BGM-109G Gryphon ground-launched cruise missiles. Moscow, meanwhile, pledged to remove the SS-20 and several other types of missiles from its nuclear arsenal.

Pershing missiles stationed in the US Army arsenal. © Hulton Archive / Getty Images ©

By scrapping the historic accord, Washington is trying to fulfill its “dream of a unipolar world,” a source within the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“This decision fits into the US policy of ditching the international agreements which impose equal obligations on it and its partners, and render the ‘exceptionalism’ concept vulnerable.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov denounced Trump’s threats as “blackmail” and said that Washington wants to dismantle the INF because it views the deal as a “problem” on its course for “total domination” in the military sphere.

The issue of nuclear arms treaties is too vital for national and global security to rush into hastily-made “emotional” decisions, the official explained. Russia is expecting to hear more on the US’ plans from Trump’s top security adviser, John Bolton, who is set to hold talks in Moscow tomorrow.

President Trump has been open about unilaterally pulling the US out of various international agreements if he deems them to be damaging to national interests. Earlier this year, Washington withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear program. All other signatories to the landmark agreement, including Russia, China, and the EU, decided to stick to the deal, while blasting Trump for leaving.

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Converting Khashoggi into Cash

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose.

Jim Jatras

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Authored by James George Jatras via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The hazard of writing about the Saudis’ absurd gyrations as they seek to avoid blame for the murder of the late, not notably great journalist and Muslim Brotherhood activist Jamal Khashoggi is that by the time a sentence is finished, the landscape may have changed again.

As though right on cue, the narrative has just taken another sharp turn.

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has ‘fessed up (sorta) and admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose:

Y’see, it was kinda’f an ‘accident.’

Oops…

Y’see the guys were arguing, and … uh … a fistfight broke out.

Yeah, that’s it … a ‘fistfight.’

And before you know it poor Jamal had gone all to pieces.

Y’see?

Must’ve been a helluva fistfight.

The figurative digital ink wasn’t even dry on that whopper before American politicos in both parties were calling it out:

  • “To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement,” tweeted Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “First we were told Mr. Khashoggi supposedly left the consulate and there was blanket denial of any Saudi involvement. Now, a fight breaks out and he’s killed in the consulate, all without knowledge of Crown Prince. It’s hard to find this latest ‘explanation‘ as credible.”
  • California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the new Saudi explanation is “not credible.” “If Khashoggi was fighting inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, he was fighting for his life with people sent to capture or kill him,” Schiff said. “The kingdom and all involved in this brutal murder must be held accountable, and if the Trump administration will not take the lead, Congress must.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan must think he’s already died and gone to his eternal recreation in the amorous embraces of the dark-eyed houris. The acid test for the viability of Riyadh’s newest transparent lie is whether the Turks actually have, as they claim, live recordings of Khashoggi’s interrogation, torture, murder, and dismemberment (not necessarily in that order) – and if they do, when Erdogan decides it’s the right time to release them.

Erdogan has got the Saudis over a barrel and he’ll squeeze everything he can out of them.

From the beginning, the Khashoggi story wasn’t really about the fate of one man. The Saudis have been getting away with bloody murder, literally, for years. They’re daily slaughtering the civilian population of Yemen with American and British help, with barely a ho-hum from the sensitive consciences always ready to invoke the so-called “responsibility to protect” Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya, Syria, Xinjiang, Rakhine, and so forth.

Where’s the responsibility not to help a crazed bunch of Wahhabist head-choppers kill people?

But now, just one guy meets a grisly end and suddenly it’s the most important homicide since the Lindbergh baby.

What gives?

Is it because Khashoggi was part of the MSM aristocracy, on account of his relationship with the Washington Post?

Was it because of his other, darker, connections? As related by Moon of Alabama: “Khashoggi was a rather shady guy. A ‘journalist’ who was also an operator for Saudi and U.S. intelligence services. He was an early recruit of the Muslim Brotherhood.” This relationship, writes MoA, touches on the interests of pretty much everyone in the region:

“The Ottoman empire ruled over much of the Arab world. The neo-Ottoman wannabe-Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan would like to regain that historic position for Turkey. His main competition in this are the al-Sauds. They have much more money and are strategically aligned with Israel and the United States, while Turkey under Erdogan is more or less isolated. The religious-political element of the competition is represented on one side by the Muslim Brotherhood, ‘democratic’ Islamists to which Erdogan belongs, and the Wahhabi absolutists on the other side.”

With the noose tightening around Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS), the risible fistfight cock-and-bull story is likely to be the best they can come up with. US President Donald Trump’s having offered his “rogue killers” opening suggests he’s willing to play along. Nobody will really be fooled, but MbS will hope he can persuade important people to pretend they are fooled.

That will mean spreading around a lot of cash. The new alchemy of converting Khashoggi dead into financial gain for the living is just one part of an obvious scheme to pull off what Libya’s Muammar Kaddafi managed after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing: offer up some underlings as the fall guys and let the top man evade responsibility. (KARMA ALERT: That didn’t do Kaddafi any good in the long run.)

In the Saudi case the Lockerbie dodge will be harder, as there are already pictures of men at the Istanbul Consulate General identified as close associates of MbS. But they’ll give it the old madrasa try anyway since it’s all they’ve got.Firings and arrests have started and one suspect has already died in a suspicious automobile “accident.” Heads will roll!

Saving MbS’s skin and his succession to the throne of his doddering father may depend on how many of the usual recipients of Saudi – let’s be honest – bribery and influence peddling will find sufficient pecuniary reason to go along. Saudi Arabia’s unofficial motto with respect to the US establishment might as well be: “The green poultice heals all wounds.”

Anyway, that’s been their experience up to now, but it also in part reflects the same arrogance that made MbS think he could continue to get away with anything. (It’s not shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, but it’s close.) Whether spreading cash around will continue to have the same salubrious effect it always has had in the past remains to be seen.

To be sure, Trump may succeed in shaking the Saudi date palm for additional billions for arms sales. That won’t necessarily turn around an image problem that may not have a remedy. But still, count on more cash going to high-price lobbying and image-control shops eager to make obscene money working for their obscene client. Some big American names are dropping are dropping Riyadh in a sudden fit of fastidiousness, but you can bet others will be eager to step into their Guccis, both in the US and in the United Kingdom. (It should never be forgotten how closely linked the US and UK establishments are in the Middle East, and to the Saudis in particular.)

It still might not work though. No matter how much expensive PR lipstick the spinmeisters put on this pig, that won’t make it kissable. It’s still a pig.

Others benefitting from hanging Khashoggi’s death around MbS’s neck are:

  • Qatar (after last year’s invasion scare, there’s no doubt a bit of Schadenfreude and (figurative) champagne corks popping in Doha over MbS’s discomfiture. As one source close to the ruling al-Thani family relates, “The Qataris are stunned speechless at Saudi incompetence!” You just can’t get good help these days).

Among the losers one must count Israel and especially Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. MbS, with his contrived image as the reformer, was the Sunni “beard” he needed to get the US to assemble an “Arab NATO” (as though one NATO weren’t bad enough!) and eliminate Iran for him. It remains to be seen how far that agenda has been set back.

Whether or not MbS survives or is removed – perhaps with extreme prejudice – there’s no doubt Saudi Arabia is the big loser. Question are being asked that should have been asked years ago. As Srdja Trifkovic comments in Chronicles magazine:

“The crown prince’s recklessness in ordering the murder of Khashoggi has demonstrated that he is just a standard despot, a Mafia don with oil presiding over an extended cleptocracy of inbred parasites. The KSA will not be reformed because it is structurally not capable of reform. The regime in Riyadh which stops being a playground of great wealth, protected by a large investment in theocratic excess, would not be ‘Saudi’ any longer. Saudia delenda est.”

The first Saudi state, the Emirate of Diriyah, went belly up in 1818, with the death of head of the house of al-Saud, Abdullah bin Saud – actually, literally with his head hung on a gate in Constantinople by Erdogan’s Ottoman predecessor, Sultan Mahmud II.

The second Saudi state, Emirate of Nejd, likewise folded in 1891.

It’s long past time this third and current abomination joined its antecedents on the ash heap of history.

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