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War coming in the Gulf? Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Sarajevo moment with Qatar

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ultimatum to Qatar threatens a wider regional war pitting key allies of the US against each other.

Alexander Mercouris

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In July 1914 warmongers in the Habsburg government sent an insanely worded ultimatum to Serbia.  Emperor Franz Josef I – 84 and in poor health – did nothing to restrain them, whilst they were actually egged on by the Habsburg empire’s powerful but wilful ally, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany.

The result was a geopolitical catastrophe which brought about the end of the Habsburg empire.

In June 2017 warmongers in Saudi Arabia have sent an insanely worded ultimatum to Qatar.  King Salman – 81 and in poor health – is doing nothing to restrain them, whilst they are actually being egged on by the Saudi Kingdom’s powerful but wilful ally, President Trump of the United States.

Will the result be a similar geopolitical catastrophe that will bring about the end of the Saudi Kingdom?

It is impossible to believe that anyone in Riyadh seriously believes that Qatar can comply with the terms of the Saudi ultimatum, just as no-one in Vienna in 1914 seriously thought Serbia would comply with the Habsburg ultimatum.

In both cases complying with an ultimatum phrased in such an extreme way would result in a complete loss of independence and sovereignty. For proudly independent countries like Serbia and Qatar that is inconceivable.  Unsurprisingly the Saudi ultimatum has been rejected.  The people who drafted the Saudi ultimatum in Riyadh cannot have expected otherwise, just as the people who drafted the Habsburg ultimatum in Vienna never expected it to be accepted either.

If the Saudi ultimatum to Qatar is intended to be rejected, just as the Habsburg ultimatum to Serbia was also intended to be rejected, the big question is what happens next?

In 1914, despite weeks of frantic diplomatic activity and attempts by the Serbian government to find some diplomatic solution to the crisis, the Habsburg empire attacked Serbia, setting in train a series of events which within days resulted in an all-out European war, which eventually became a World War.  It is now universally accepted that this was the intention throughout, and that the Habsburg ultimatum was drafted so as to provide a pretext for war when the ultimatum was rejected.

Is there any risk of anything like that happening now?

Unfortunately the possibility cannot be excluded.

I have already written that the previously announced steps taken by Saudi Arabia and its allies – closing land and air links to Qatar and breaking diplomatic relations – look very like preparatory steps before an armed attack on Qatar

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.

Much as former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 1990 mistook a conversation with the US ambassador as a green light from the US to invade Kuwait, so it is possible that the equally foolhardy Prince Mohammed bin Salman misread some comments of US President Trump during his recent visit to Saudi Arabia as a green light for a Saudi attack on Qatar.

Since I wrote those words Turkey has further ramped up its support for Qatar, Rex Tillerson and the US State Department have become more increasingly critical of Saudi actions, and Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been promoted by his father Crown Prince, putting him in a position where he is possibly no more than a few months away from succeeding to the Saudi throne.

It would be entirely in character for Prince Mohammed bin Salman – pressed by Rex Tillerson and the US State Department to clarify what Saudi Arabia actually wants from Qatar – to respond by doubling down, by sending an impossibly worded ultimatum to Qatar via the Kuwaiti mediators.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s previous behaviour points to someone who consistently and recklessly overplays his hand, and even if he is not actually planning a war against Qatar it could be that like a bad poker player he is responding to a challenge by raising his stake to ridiculous levels in the belief that no-one will then dare to call his bluff.

The question is what will he do when his bluff is called and the 10 day time limit in the ultimatum expires with Qatar still having failed to comply with it?  Will he step back and permit the Kuwaiti mediators to do their work, or will he escalate further?

The list of demands in the ultimatum is so extreme that it is impossible to see how it can form the basis for a negotiation.  If there is going to be a negotiated solution to this crisis – which Prince Mohammed bin Salman has single-handedly created all by himself – then the ultimatum will have to be dropped in its entirety.

In theory Saudi Arabia could try to sustain the status quo indefinitely by persisting with its air and land blockade of Qatar.  However growing criticism of the blockade in the US might make that difficult, with US pressure probably increasing over time on Saudi Arabia to agree a compromise.

That would entail a climbdown, whilst doing nothing after the 10 day time limit of the ultimatum expires might anyway expose the ultimatum as too obviously a bluff.

That might be more than Prince Mohammed bin Salman can stand.  He might fear that if were to climb down or fail to act on the ultimatum that would humiliate him before his father the King and the other Saudi Princes.

It would also surely lead to more questions being asked within Saudi Arabia about the quality of his judgement.  Given that he is almost certainly already the target of criticism from some of the older Princes – including from some of his older brothers, who are being passed over for the throne – he might also fear that such a humiliation would weaken his position and damage his chances of succeeding his father.

In view of this 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.

Though Qatar is obviously no match for Saudi Arabia it now has the support of the two military giants in the region: Turkey and Iran.  The Turks have already established a military base in Qatar (one of the Saudi demands is for Qatar to close it) and it is far from impossible that in the event of a Saudi attack on Qatar President Erdogan – who has denounced the Saudi ultimatum in the strongest terms – might feel that he has to come to Qatar’s rescue.

If so then just as the Habsburg officials in 1914 miscalculated the international reaction to their attack on Serbia, so Prince Mohammed bin Salman might find that he is miscalculating the regional reaction to a Saudi attack on Qatar.

The country which ought to be working diplomatically to prevent this disaster happening is the US.  Saudi Arabia is a key ally of the US, just as the Habsburg empire was Germany’s key ally in 1914.  Moreover just as Germany in 1914 wielded decisive influence in Vienna, so the US today wields decisive influence in Riyadh.  Strong diplomatic action by the US in Riyadh would be the one certain way of preventing a Saudi attack on Qatar.

Unfortunately President Trump is inexperienced in international affairs, apparently feels personally beholden to the Saudis after his recent visit to Riyadh, and is weighed down by the Russiagate scandal.  The result is that the US seems incapable of responding strongly to the crisis, with President Trump and Secretary of State Tillerson sending out discordant signals.

I still believe that in the end sense will prevail and that there will come a point beyond which further escalation stops.  However the potential for things to go wrong – with Turkey and Iran coming to the aid of Qatar in a war with Saudi Arabia which pits two key US allies – Turkey and Saudi Arabia – against each other, cannot be completely excluded.

To the anxious contemplation of such dangerous scenarios do the unrestrained follies of Prince Mohammed bin Salman inexorably lead.

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‘Hell on Earth’: MSF doctor tells RT of rape, violence, inhumane conditions in Lesbos refugee camp

One toilet for over 70 people, rape, and mental health issues – a doctor from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and an aid worker told RT about the dire conditions in the overcrowded Moria refugee camp in Greece.

Alex Christoforou

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Via RT


One toilet for over 70 people, rape, and mental health issues – a doctor from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and an aid worker told RT about the dire conditions in the overcrowded Moria refugee camp in Greece.

The overcrowded camp on the island of Lesbos, built to accommodate 3,100, houses around 9,000 people. “It’s a kind of hell on Earth in Europe,” Dr. Alessandro Barberio, an MSF clinical psychiatrist, said, adding that people in the camp suffer from lack of water and medical care. “It is impossible to stay there,” he said.

According to Barberio, asylum seekers are subjected to violence “during night and day.””There is also sexual violence”which leads to “mental health issues,” he said, adding that all categories of people at the camp may be subjected to it. “There is rape against men, women and children,” and the victims of sexual violence in the camp often have nightmares and hallucinations, Barberio told RT.

Asylum seekers in Moria “are in constant fear of violence,” and these fears are not groundless, the psychiatrist said. “Such cases [of violence] take place every week.”

There is “one toilet for 72 people, one shower for 84 people. The sanitation is bad. People are suffering from bad conditions,” Michael Raeber, an aid worker at the camp, told RT. They suffer from mental health problems because they are kept for a long time in the camp, according to Raeber.

“There is no perspective, they don’t know how their case will go on, when they will ever be able to leave the island.” The camp is a “place where there is no rule of law,” with rampant violence and drug addiction among the inhabitants, Raeber said.

In its latest report, MSF, which has been working near Moria since late 2017, criticized the unprecedented health crisis in the camp – one of the biggest in Greece. About a third of the camp population consists of children, and many of them have harmed themselves, and have thought about or attempted suicide, according to the group.

Barberio was behind an MSF open letter on the state of emergency in Moria, released on Monday, in which he writes that he has never “witnessed such overwhelming numbers of people suffering from serious mental health conditions.”

Calling the camp an “island prison,” he insisted that many of his patients in the camp are unable to perform basic everyday functions, “such as sleeping, eating well, maintaining personal hygiene, and communicating.”

A number of human rights groups have strongly criticized the conditions at the camp and Greece’s “containment policy”regarding asylum seekers.

Christina Kalogirou, the regional governor of the North Aegean, which includes Lesbos, has repeatedly threatened to shut down the facility unless the government improves the conditions. On Tuesday, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said that Greece will move 2,000 asylum seekers out of the severely overcrowded camp and send them to the mainland by the end of September.

Greece, like other EU states, is experiencing the worst refugee crisis since WWII. According to International Organization for Migration estimates, 22,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Greece since the start of this year alone.

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Erdogan accepts Syria DMZ off-ramp, in deal with Putin (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 111.

Alex Christoforou

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The deal struck in Sochi averts a large scale Syria’s offensive on Idlib, as Turkey gives it guarantee to monitor what will effectively become a demilitarized zone.

According to the agreement, troops from Russia and Turkey will enforce a new demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Idlib, from which ISIS/Al Qaeda rebels will be required to withdraw by the middle of next month.

Speaking alongside Erdogan, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the 15 to 20 km-wide zone would be established by October 15th. The DMZ would require a complete “withdrawal of all radical fighters” from Idlib, including the rebranded Al-Qaeda affiliated Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

Putin also noted that heavy weapons would be withdrawn from the DMZ by all opposition forces by October 10th, which is a move supported by the Syrian government.

The Russian President described the agreement as a “serious result” further saying that “Russia and Turkey have confirmed their determination to counter terrorism in Syria in all its forms”.

Erdogan said both his country and Russia would carry out coordinated patrols in the demilitarized zone:

“We decided on the establishment of a region that is cleaned of weapons between the areas which are under the control of the opposition and the regime.”

“In return, we will ensure that radical groups, which we will designate together with Russia, won’t be active in the relevant area.”

According to Al Jazeera Iran’s foreign minister has hailed an agreement between Turkey and Russia to avert an assault on the Syrian rebel-held Idlib province, as an example of “responsible diplomacy”.

An agreement to halt plans for an offensive on the last major rebel-held stronghold was announced in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Monday after a meeting between the Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

On his Twitter account, Zarif wrote: “Intensive responsible diplomacy over the last few weeks-pursued in my visits to Ankara & Damascus, followed by the Iran-Russia-Turkey Summit in Tehran and the meeting (in) Sochi-is succeeding to avert war in #Idlib with a firm commitment to fight extremist terror. Diplomacy works.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the agreement reached in Sochi, which for now avoids full scale conflict in Idlib, Syria. Who won, who lost, and which interests were met with the DMZ agreement?

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Via Xinhuanet

An anticipated Syrian military offensive on the northwestern province of Idlib is on hold after Turkey and Russia reached a deal following Ankara’s guarantee on behalf of the rebel groups, experts said.

The deal was reached Monday by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, as the two sides agreed to create a demilitarized buffer zone in Idlib, the last rebel stronghold.

This agreement brings Turkey to a position of giving a guarantee on behalf of the rebel groups, the experts said.

“Moscow is convinced that it would not be able to handle the burden of a humanitarian tragedy in case of a military offensive in Idlib,” said Metin Gurcan, a Turkish security analyst with the Istanbul Policy Center of Sabanci University.

Russia has also secured its airbases in northern Syria, including its airbase in Hmeymim as a guarantee by Turkey under the Sochi agreement, he said.

Gurcan recalled a trilateral summit of Turkey, Iran and Russia held in Iranian capital Tehran early September, which ended without agreement as Erdogan’s call for a ceasefire in Idlib was rejected by Moscow and Tehran.

Erdogan’s proposal for a ceasefire by all parties in Idlib was rejected by Putin on the grounds that those groups were not represented at the table there, he said.

“Now Turkey has given a guarantee on behalf of radical groups which Putin earlier said that ceasefire cannot be discussed because they were not represented at Tehran meeting,” Gurcan said.

Now everyone is curious how Turkey has given guarantee to Moscow and how will those radical groups accept a proposal for demilitarization by surrendering heavy weapons and withdrawing from the demilitarized zone, Gurcan noted.

“Ankara has given this promise relying on its military power on the ground and on its capacity to convince armed opposition groups,” he said.

Turkish army has reinforced its presence in Idlib in the past few months, and Turkey has 12 military outposts with 1,200-1,300 troops on the border line of the province separating the rebel stronghold from the pro-Iran militia-controlled South of Aleppo and the government-controlled southeast, Gurcan said.

Rebel groups, including the Free Syrian Army, in the region are gathered with Turkish backing under the banner of the “National Front for Liberation.”

Putin and Erdogan agreed on Monday in Sochi to create a 15-20 km buffer zone along the line of contact between rebels and regime troops by Oct. 15.

The agreement entails the “withdrawal of all radical fighters” from Idlib as well as “heavy weaponry from this zone,” Putin said at the joint press conference after signing the deal with Erdogan.

By the end of the year, transportation routes between the key port of Latakia and Aleppo as well as the city of Hama must be restored, Putin added.

The Russian leader also said all heavy weapons had to be withdrawn from the zone by Oct. 10, according to Erdogan’s proposal.

Ankara has been warning against any military offensive by Russia-backed Syrian regime forces in Idlib, warning that it would lead to a humanitarian crisis and refugee influx to the Turkish border.

Turkey and Russia, along with Iran, are guarantors of the Astana deal which declared ceasefire in four de-escalation zones in Syria, including Idlib.

Turkey will deploy more troops in Idlib province after the Sochi deal, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday.

“We will need extra troop reinforcements. Turkey and Russia will patrol on the border areas. Civilians and moderate (opposition) will stay here,” Cavusoglu said.

Another outcome of the Sochi deal is that Turkey and Russia prevented a possible attack by the United States in Idlib, Naim Baburoglu from Aydin University said.

He recalled that the U.S. was giving signals that it wanted to intervene in the situation in Idlib, if Syrian government troops launch an assault on the rebel stronghold.

Washington recently threatened to take swift and decisive actions against any use of chemical weapons in Idlib.

“This agreement showed that the U.S. has room for maneuver only in the east of Euphrates and Manbij region,” Baburoglu said.

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Pat Buchanan: “The Late Hit” On Judge Kavanaugh

Wha exactly is professor Ford’s case against Judge Kavanaugh?

Patrick J. Buchanan

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Authored by Patrick Buchanan via Buchanan.org:


Upon the memory and truthfulness of Christine Blasey Ford hangs the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, his reputation and possibly his career on the nation’s second-highest court.

And much more. If Kavanaugh is voted down or forced to withdraw, the Republican Party and conservative movement could lose their last best hope for recapturing the high court for constitutionalism.

No new nominee could be vetted and approved in six weeks. And the November election could bring in a Democratic Senate, an insuperable obstacle to the elevation of a new strict constructionist like Kavanaugh.

The stakes are thus historic and huge.

And what is professor Ford’s case against Judge Kavanaugh?

When she was 15 in the summer of ’82, she went to a beer party with four boys in Montgomery County, Maryland, in a home where the parents were away.

She says she was dragged into a bedroom by Brett Kavanaugh, a 17-year-old at Georgetown Prep, who jumped her, groped her, tried to tear off her clothes and cupped her mouth with his hand to stop her screams.

Only when Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge, laughing “maniacally,” piled on and they all tumbled off the bed, did she escape and lock herself in a bathroom as the “stumbling drunks” went downstairs. She fled the house and told no one of the alleged rape attempt.

Not until 30 years later in 2012 did Ford, now a clinical psychologist in California, relate, in a couples therapy session with her husband, what happened. She says she named Kavanaugh as her assailant, but the therapist’s notes of the session make no mention of Kavanaugh.

During the assault, says Ford, she was traumatized. “I thought he might inadvertently kill me.”

Here the story grows vague. She does not remember who drove her to the party. She does not say how much she drank. She does not remember whose house it was. She does not recall who, if anyone, drove her home. She does not recall what day it was.

She did not tell her parents, Ford says, as she did not want them to know she had been drinking. She did not tell any friend or family member of this traumatic event that has so adversely affected her life.

Said Kavanaugh in response, “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”

Mark Judge says it never happened.

Given the seriousness of the charges, Ford must be heard out. But she also needs to be cross-examined and have her story and character probed as Kavanaugh’s has been by FBI investigators as an attorney for the Ken Starr impeachment investigation of Bill Clinton, a White House aide to George Bush, a U.S. appellate judge and a Supreme Court nominee.

During the many investigations of Kavanaugh’s background, nothing was unearthed to suggest something like this was in character.

Some 65 women who grew up in the Chevy Chase and Bethesda area and knew Kavanaugh in his high school days have come out and spoken highly of his treatment of girls and women.

Moreover, the way in which all of this arose, at five minutes to midnight in the long confirmation process, suggests that this is political hardball, if not dirt ball.

When Ford, a Democrat, sent a letter detailing her accusations against Kavanaugh to her California congresswoman, Anna Eshoo, Ford insisted that her name not be revealed as the accuser.

She seemingly sought to damage or destroy the judge’s career behind a cloak of anonymity. Eshoo sent the letter on to Sen. Diane Feinstein, who held it for two months.

Excising Ford’s name, Feinstein then sent it to the FBI, who sent it to the White House, who sent it on to the Senate to be included in the background material on the judge.

Thus, Ford’s explosive charge, along with her name, did not surface until this weekend.

What is being done here stinks. It is a transparently late hit, a kill shot to assassinate a nominee who, before the weekend, was all but certain to be confirmed and whose elevation to the Supreme Court is a result of victories in free elections by President Trump and the Republican Party.

Palpable here is the desperation of the left to derail Kavanaugh, lest his elevation to the high court imperil their agenda and the social revolution that the Warren Court and its progeny have been able to impose upon the nation.

If Kavanaugh is elevated, the judicial dictatorship of decades past, going back to the salad days of Earl Warren, William Brennan, Hugo Black and “Wild Bill” Douglas, will have reached its end. A new era will have begun.

That is what is at stake.

The Republican Senate should continue with its calendar to confirm Kavanaugh before Oct. 1, while giving Ford some way to be heard, and then Kavanaugh the right to refute. Then let the senators decide.

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