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Is MBS now looking for war? If so will it be against Hezbollah in Lebanon or against Qatar?

Rumours of Saudi military strike against Iran’s Middle East allies Hezbollah and Qatar sweep the Middle East

Alexander Mercouris

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Reports from the Middle East that an extraordinary Arab League Summit is being convened at the instigation of Saudi Arabia, supposedly to discuss “Iranian interference” in the region, come alongside growing rumours that Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s volatile de facto ruler, is planning a military strike against those in the Middle East whom he can come to see as Iran’s allies: Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Gulf state of Qatar, which is currently under Saudi blockade.

Such a military strike would be in character with the wilful behaviour Muhammad bin Salman has been exhibiting since he burst on the Middle East’s political scene following the accession of his father King Salman in January 2015.

Muhammad bin Salman is believed to have played the decisive role in the disastrous decision by Saudi Arabia to invade neighbouring Yemen in March 2015, and he is also widely and almost certainly credited with being the person who was behind the Saudi decision earlier this year to impose the blockade on Qatar.

With reports of Saudi F-15 fighters flying over Saudi bases, most speculation centref on a possible Saudi air strike against Hezbollah in Lebanon as a follow-up to the Saudi enforced ‘resignation’ of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

A Saudi air strike on Hezbollah however faces an obvious obstacle.  The most direct line for Saudi F-15s to launch a strike against Hezbollah in Lebanon would be across Iraq and Syria.

Iraq – which is becoming increasingly aligned with Iran, Syria and Hezbollah – would presumably refuse the Saudis permission to send their F-15 fighters through its air space for such a purpose, and Syria undoubtedly would.

Muhammad bin Salman might be reckless enough to send his F-15s across Iraqi and Syrian air space regardless, trusting in the fact that the Iraqi and Syrian air forces and air defence systems are unlikely to be able to intercept them.

However it would be a gamble, especially in the case of Syria which does operate advanced anti aircraft missile systems independently of the Russians, and which might be actually capable of shooting Saudi Arabia’s F-15s down.

The alternative would be to launch the air strike from bases in Turkey, Jordan or Egypt.

However Turkey – currently on bad terms with Saudi Arabia after siding with Qatar in the quarrel between Qatar and Saudi Arabia – would probably not agree, whilst an air strike from Jordan would have to overfly Israel which would need Israeli permission, something which despite the de facto alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia might still be controversial with Islamist feeling in Saudi Arabia,

That leaves Egypt as the only obvious choice for a Saudi air strike on Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Whilst that is possible, and the planned Arab League summit meeting in Cairo might be intended to provide cover for it, it would mean Saudi F-15s would have to cover a considerable distance over the Mediterranean sea to reach Hezbollah positions in Lebanon.

That is a type of operation the Saudi air force has never done before and of which it has no experience.

Moreover the Saudis would have to consider that their F-15s would be continuously tracked en route from Egypt to Lebanon by the Russians, who have advanced radars in Syria and with their Mediterranean fleet that would enable to do this.

Whilst the Russians would be extremely unlikely to shoot the Saudi F-15s down, they might give Hezbollah a tip-off, which would give Hezbollah time to prepare.

Assuming that the Saudi F-15s did finally get to Lebanon it is not clear what they would achieve there.

Lebanon is a country which is being almost continuously bombed by the Israeli air force, an air force immeasurably more powerful than that of the Saudis.

Nearly all this Israeli bombing targets Hezbollah, which has therefore long since learnt to prepare itself for bombing.  As it happens Israel’s bombing has never injured Hezbollah to any significant degree, and an intensive month long Israeli bombing campaign against Hezbollah in 2006 actually left the movement stronger.

It is impossible to see what damage the Saudi air force could realistically hope to do to Hezbollah which the far more powerful Israeli air force has not tried and failed to do previously, making the whole exercise look both expensive and pointless.

Whilst Muhammad bin Salman comes across as an impulsive and wilful individual, one must assume that there are people within the Saudi air force who are pointing this all out to him, and are advising him that an air strike on Hezbollah in Lebanon would be both extremely complicated and militarily pointless.

If Muhammad bin Salman really is intent on making trouble for Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon – as seems to be the case – then his obvious course is not through an over-complicated and militarily pointless air strike but through stirring up the profound sectarian differences that constantly beset  Lebanon.

Unfortunately because of the depth and extent of Lebanon’s sectarian divisions this is a policy which has a real prospect of success, and the current visit of Lebanon’s Christian Maronite Patriarch to Saudi Arabia – where he is supposed to meet with Saad Harari – suggests that this is precisely the route Muhammad bin Salman is taking.

After all doing so would be consistent with previous Saudi policy, which has always been to try to exploit sectarian differences to achieve political goals, as for example in the undeclared war Saudi Arabia has waged against President Assad of Syria.

Whilst with someone as volatile and unpredictable as Muhammad bin Salman it is never possible to be sure, my own view is that if he really is intent on war then the more obvious target is not Hezbollah in Lebanon but Qatar, which is a tiny country with a border with Saudi Arabia which is easy for Saudi Arabia to attack and which because of its small size in the event of a Saudi attack would be incapable of defending itself.

I discussed this possibility back in June when the Saudi blockade of Qatar was first imposed.  I pointed out then that the blockade of Qatar looked very much like it was intended to set the scene for an armed invasion

Whilst I do not know this for a fact, I think it is at least possible that Saudi Arabia’s breaking of diplomatic relations and the land and air blockade it imposed on Qatar were intended to be followed up by a ground invasion of Qatar.

Such an aggressive step would be very much in character for Saudi Arabia’s volatile de facto leader Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

In a follow-up article written shortly afterwards I discussed this possibility in more detail

…….there has to be a risk that rather than be humiliated by climbing down or having his ultimatum exposed as a bluff Prince Mohammed bin Salman might decide instead to double down further, and do what Saddam Hussein did in 1980, which is launch a ground invasion of a small but rich neighbouring Arab country which is daring to defy him.

After all like Saddam Hussein he already has form.  Just as before attacking Kuwait in 1990 Saddam Hussein had previously in 1981 attacked Iran, so in March 2015 – just weeks after his father became King – Prince Mohammed bin Salman was the prime instigator of the disastrous Saudi intervention in Yemen.

If Prince Mohammed bin Salman really does order an attack on Qatar then there is a serious danger that the situation could spiral out of control.

In the event the invasion which I feared in June never happened, either because it was never planned or because Muhammad bin Salman was talked of it by the other Saudi Princes or by the US, or because he was deterred by the strong statements Turkish President Erdogan made at the time which seemed to hint that in the event of a Saudi attack on Qatar Turkey would come to Qatar’s rescue.

I will here state my view – which is broadly the same as the Moon of Alabama’s – that it was internal criticism within Saudi Arabia following his failure in June to bring Qatar to heel which provoked Muhammad bin Salman into launching his purge.

Now however with talk of war in the Middle East growing, an article has appeared by Paul Cochrane on Consortium News which speculates that a Saudi invasion of Qatar may be on the cards again

Theodore Karasik, a senior adviser at Washington D.C.-based consultancy Gulf State Analytics, posits that Qatar could be brought under Saudi Arabia’s umbrella by force to seize the country’s huge gas reserves, the third largest in the world.

Who knows, black swan events do occur, and the global powers would vocally oppose such a move but likely not exercise military intervention a la 1991 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. The U.S. troops based in Qatar would just stay in their base; the Trump administration has signalled it has sided with Riyadh, even though the State Department has been more nuanced towards Doha. As for the Turks and the Iranians, they would not want to be brought into a conflagration with Riyadh and the ATQ. That really would tear the MENA apart.

Ultimately, there’s not much to stop a Saudi gas grab. There’s not much desire internationally for yet another Middle Eastern military “adventure” following the debacles in Iraq and Libya, while nobody’s lifted a finger against Saudi Arabia for its war against Yemen. As long as Qatari gas exports remain uninterrupted, the global powers might readily accept a change of management.

The point in this article about the possibility of Saudi Arabia seizing Qatar’s huge gas reserves being a strong incentive to launch an invasion is an important one.

Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991 was largely caused by his urgent need for money to rebuild Iraq’s economy and shore up his regime following the massively costly Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

Muhammad bin Salman, with his Homerically ambitious and hopelessly unrealistic Saudi Vision 2030 project to finance at a time when Saudi Arabia is short of funds because of the oil price fall, is potentially also someone on the lookout for money.  As I pointed out in my recent article discussing Muhammad bin Salman’s purge, the money he has seized from the Saudi princes and their followers he has rounded up is nowhere near enough.  The temptation to add to Saudi Arabia’s resources by seizing Qatar’s huge oil and gas wealth must therefore be very strong.

Whether a Saudi invasion of Qatar would be as risk-free as Paul Cochrane’s article suggests is however another matter.

The two strongest military powers in the region – Iran and Turkey – back Qatar.  It is not inconceivable that in the event of a Saudi invasion of Qatar they may feel they have no choice but to come to Qatar’s rescue.

If so that would bring the crisis in the Gulf to stratospheric levels, with the US caught in the middle in a war between two sets of US allies: Turkey and Qatar on the one side versus Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the other Gulf states on the other.

The fact that the US has its single biggest Middle East military base in Qatar, that Iran would side with Turkey and Qatar in such a war, and that Qatar – as the country under attack – would have international law on its side, would make the problems the US would face in the event of such a crisis even worse.

Given all these risks one would assume that US diplomacy would be doing all in its power to warn Muhammad bin Salman against such a reckless venture.

Sadly, it seems US diplomacy in the Middle East is asleep at the wheel,  There is no sign of any diplomatic move by the US to get Muhammad bin Salman to restrain himself, which given the dysfunctional state of US policy in the wake of the Russiagate scandal is unsurprising.

The situation in the Middle East is extremely tense as the fallout from the Russian-Iranian victory in the Syrian war, the recent Iraqi victory over the Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan, and the emergence in Saudi Arabia of Muhammad bin Salman, transform the region.

We may have some anxious days ahead.

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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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