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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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Major Syrian Army Assault On Southeast Idlib As Sochi Deal Unravels

Though the Syrian war has grown cold in terms of international spotlight and media interest since September, it is likely again going to ramp up dramatically over the next few months. 

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Via Zerohedge


The Syrian Army unleashed a major assault across the southeastern part of Idlib province on Saturday, a military source told Middle East news site Al-Masdar in a breaking report. According to the source, government forces pounded jihadist defenses across the southeast Idlib axis with a plethora of artillery shells and surface-to-surface missiles.

This latest exchange between the Syrian military and jihadist rebels comes as the Sochi Agreement falls apart in northwestern Syria, and in response to a Friday attack by jihadists which killed 22 Syrian soldiers near a planned buffer zone around the country’s last major anti-Assad and al-Qaeda held region. The jihadist strikes resulted in the highest number of casualties for the army since the Sochi Agreement was established on September 17th.

Though the Syrian war has grown cold in terms of international spotlight and media interest since September, it is likely again going to ramp up dramatically over the next few months.

The Al-Masdar source said the primary targets for the Syrian Army were the trenches and military posts for Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham in the towns of Al-Taman’ah, Khuwayn, Babulin, Haish, Jarjanaz, Um Jalal, and Mashirfah Shmaliyah. In retaliation for the Syrian Army assault, the jihadist rebels began shelling the government towns of Ma’an, Um Hariteen, and ‘Atshan.

Damascus has been critical of the Sochi deal from the start as it’s criticized Turkey’s role in the Russian-brokered ceasefire plan, especially as a proposed ‘de-militarized’ zone has failed due to jihadist insurgents still holding around 70% of the planned buffer area which they were supposed to withdraw from by mid-October. Sporadic clashes have rocked the “buffer zone” since.

Russia itself recently acknowledged the on the ground failure of the Sochi agreement even as parties officially cling to it. During a Thursday press briefing by Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova admitted the following:

We have to state that the real disengagement in Idlib has not been achieved despite Turkey’s continuing efforts to live up to its commitments under the Russian-Turkish Memorandum of September 17.

This followed Russia also recently condemning  “sporadic clashes” and “provocations” by the jihadist group HTS (the main al-Qaeda presence) in Idlib.

Likely due to Moscow seeing the writing on the wall that all-out fighting and a full assault by government forces on Idlib will soon resume, Russian naval forces continued a show of force in the Mediterranean this week.

Russian military and naval officials announced Friday that its warships held extensive anti-submarine warfare drills in the Mediterranean. Specifically the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s frigates Admiral Makarov and Admiral Essen conducted the exercise in tandem with deck-based helicopters near Syrian coastal waters.

Notably, according to TASS, the warships central to the drill are “armed with eight launchers of Kalibr-NK cruise missiles that are capable of striking surface, coastal and underwater targets at a distance of up to 2,600 km.”

Since September when what was gearing up to be a major Syrian-Russian assault on Idlib was called off through the Russian-Turkish ceasefire agreement, possibly in avoidance of the stated threat that American forces would intervene in defense of the al-Qaeda insurgent held province (also claiming to have intelligence of an impending government “chemical attack”), the war has largely taken a back-burner in the media and public consciousness.

But as sporadic fighting between jihadists and Syrian government forces is reignited and fast turning into major offensive operations by government forces, the war could once again be thrust back into the media spotlight as ground zero for a great power confrontation between Moscow and Washington.

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Trump Quietly Orders Elimination of Assange

The destruction of Assange has clearly been arranged for, at the highest levels of the U.S. Government, just as the destruction of Jamal Khashoggi was by Saudi Arabia’s Government.

Eric Zuesse

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On June 28th, the Washington Examiner headlined “Pence pressed Ecuadorian president on country’s protection of Julian Assange” and reported that “Vice President Mike Pence discussed the asylum status of Julian Assange during a meeting with Ecuador’s leader on Thursday, following pressure from Senate Democrats who have voiced concerns over the country’s protection of the WikiLeaks founder.” Pence had been given this assignment by U.S. President Donald Trump. The following day, the Examiner bannered “Mike Pence raises Julian Assange case with Ecuadorean president, White House confirms” and reported that the White House had told the newspaper, “They agreed to remain in close coordination on potential next steps going forward.”

On August 24th, a court-filing by Kellen S. Dwyer, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Alexandria Division of the Eastern District of Virginia, stated: “Due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure [than sealing the case, hiding it from the public] is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged. … This motion and the proposed order would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.” That filing was discovered by Seamus Hughes, a terrorism expert at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. On November 15th, he posted an excerpt of it on Twitter, just hours after the Wall Street Journal had reported on the same day that the Justice Department was preparing to prosecute Assange. However, now that we know “the fact that Assange has been charged” and that the U.S. Government is simply waiting “until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter,” it is clear and public that the arrangements which were secretly made between Trump’s agent Pence and the current President of Ecuador are expected to deliver Assange into U.S. custody for criminal prosecution, if Assange doesn’t die at the Ecuadorean Embassy first.

On November 3rd (which, of course, preceded the disclosures on November 15th), Julian Assange’s mother, Christine Ann Hawkins, described in detail what has happened to her son since the time of Pence’s meeting with Ecuador’s President. She said:

He is, right now, alone, sick, in pain, silenced in solitary confinement, cut off from all contact, and being tortured in the heart of London. … He has been detained nearly eight years, without trial, without charge. For the past six years, the UK Government has refused his requests to exit for basic health needs, … [even for] vitamin D. … As a result, his health has seriously deteriorated. … A slow and cruel assassination is taking place before our very eyes. … They will stop at nothing. … When U.S. Vice President Mike Pence recently visited Ecuador, a deal was done to hand Julian over to the U.S. He said that because the political cost of expelling Julian from the Embassy was too high, the plan was to break him down mentally…   to such a point that he will break and be forced to leave. … The extradition warrant is held in secret, four prosecutors but no defense, and no judge, … without a prima-facie case. [Under the U.S. system, the result nonetheless can be] indefinite detention without trial. Julian could be held in Guantanamo Bay and tortured, sentenced to 45 years in a maximum security prison, or face the death penalty,” for “espionage,” in such secret proceedings.

Her phrase, “because the political cost of expelling Julian from the Embassy was too high” refers to the worry that this new President of Ecuador has, of his cooperating with the U.S. regime’s demands and thereby basically ceding sovereignty to those foreigners (the rulers of the U.S.), regarding the Ecuadorian citizen, Assange.

This conservative new President of Ecuador, who has replaced the progressive President who had granted Assange protection, is obviously doing all that he can to comply with U.S. President Trump and the U.S. Congress’s demand for Assange either to die soon inside the Embassy or else be transferred to the U.S. and basically just disappear, at Guantanamo or elsewhere. Ecuador’s President wants to do this in such a way that Ecuador’s voters won’t blame him for it, and that he’ll thus be able to be re-elected. This is the type of deal he apparently has reached with Trump’s agent, Pence. It’s all secret, but the evidence on this much of what was secretly agreed-to seems clear. There are likely other details of the agreement that cannot, as yet, be conclusively inferred from the subsequent events, but this much can.

Basically, Trump has arranged for Assange to be eliminated either by illness that’s imposed by his Ecuadorean agent, or else by Assange’s own suicide resulting from that “torture,” or else by America’s own criminal-justice system. If this elimination happens inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, then that would be optimal for America’s President and Congress; but, if it instead happens on U.S. soil, then that would be optimal for Ecuador’s President. Apparently, America’s President thinks that his subjects, the American people, will become sufficiently hostile toward Assange so that even if Assange disappears or is executed inside the United States, this President will be able to retain his supporters. Trump, of course, needs his supporters, but this is a gamble that he has now clearly taken. This much is clear, even though the rest of the secret agreement that was reached between Pence and Ecuador’s President is not.

Scooter Libby, who had arranged for the smearing of Valerie Plame who had tried to prevent the illegal and deceit-based 2003 invasion of Iraq, was sentenced to 30 months but never spent even a day in prison, and U.S. President Trump finally went so far as to grant him a complete pardon, on 13 April 2018. (The carefully researched docudrama “Fair Game” covered well the Plame-incident.) Libby had overseen the career-destruction of a courageous CIA agent, Plame, who had done the right thing and gotten fired for it; and Trump pardoned Libby, thus retroactively endorsing the lie-based invasion of Iraq in 2003. By contrast, Trump is determined to get Julian Assange killed or otherwise eliminated, and even Democrats in Congress are pushing for him to get that done. The new President of Ecuador is doing their bidding. Without pressure from the U.S. Government, Assange would already be a free man. Thus, either Assange will die (be murdered) soon inside the Embassy, or else he will disappear and be smeared in the press under U.S. control. And, of course, this is being done in such a way that no one will be prosecuted for the murder or false-imprisonment. Trump had promised to “clean the swamp,” but as soon as he was elected, he abandoned that pretense; and, as President, he has been bipartisan on that matter, to hide the crimes of the bipartisan U.S. Government, and he is remarkably similar in policy to his immediate predecessors, whom he had severely criticized while he was running for the Presidency.

In any event, the destruction of Assange has clearly been arranged for, at the highest levels of the U.S. Government, just as the destruction of Jamal Khashoggi was by Saudi Arabia’s Government; and, just like in Khashoggi’s case, the nation’s ruler controls the prosecutors and can therefore do whatever he chooses to do that the rest of the nation’s aristocracy consider to be acceptable.

The assault against truth isn’t only against Assange, but it is instead also closing down many of the best, most courageous, independent news sites, such as washingtonsblog. However, in Assange’s case, the penalty for having a firm commitment to truth has been especially excruciating and will almost certainly end in his premature death. This is simply the reality. Because of the system under which we live, a 100% commitment to truth is now a clear pathway to oblivion. Assange is experiencing this reality to the fullest. That’s what’s happening here.

—————

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

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Libya’s Peace Process Dies in Palermo

The best the Palermo negotiators could come up with at the end was a bland statement declaring their hope that sometime in the future all the Libyan forces will meet to sort out their differences.

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Authored by Richard Galustian for the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity:


“Resounding flop” was the verdict of Italy’s former prime minister Matteo Renzi on this week’s Libya peace conference held in Palermo. He’s not wrong. The conference hosted by Italy’s new government achieved the remarkable feat of making Libya’s tensions worse, not better. Acrimony broke out between the parties, and Turkey’s delegation walked out, its vice president Fuat Oktay accusing unnamed States of trying to “hijack the process.”

Some sources in Palermo suggested, yet to be verified, that the US thought the Conference was not too bad: a joke if true.

Moreover the mystery we might ask is what “process” is there to hijack? Because the truth is, the peace plan the conference was supporting is already dead.

That plan was the brainchild of the United Nations, launched more than a year ago with the aim of ending Libya’s split between warring Eastern and Western governments with elections in December.

Even before the first delegates set foot in the pleasant Sicilian city of Palermo this week, the UN admitted the election date of December 10 they had decided to scrap.

The eastern government, led by the parliament in Tobruk, had made moves in the summer to organize a referendum on a new constitution which would govern the elections. But no referendum was held, and most Libyans agree it would be pointless because Tripoli, home to a third of the country’s population, is under the iron grip of multiple warring militias who have the firepower to defy any new elected government. Hours after the delegates left Palermo, those militias began a new bout of fighting in the Tripoli suburbs.

The best the Palermo negotiators could come up with at the end of the talks was a bland statement declaring their hope that sometime in the future all the Libyan forces will meet in a grand conference to sort out their differences – and this after four years of civil war. To say that chances of this are slim is an understatement.

Dominating the Palermo talks, and indeed Libya’s political landscape, was and is Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Libyan National Army, the country’s most powerful formation. In four years, the LNA has secured Libya’s key oil fields and Benghazi, its second city, ridding most of the east Libya of Islamist militias.

Haftar met reluctantly negotiators in Palermo, but insisted he was not part of the talks process. The Italian government press office said Haftar was not having dinner with the other participants nor joining them for talks. Haftar specifically opposed the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood champion, Qatar, at the event along with Turkey.

Haftar clearly only attended because he had a few days before visiting Moscow – which sent to Sicily Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev – and because also of Egyptian President Sisi’s presence along with his allies.

Possibly Haftar was simply fed up. Twice in the past two years he has attended previous peace talks, hosted each time in Paris, giving the nod to declarations that Libya’s militias would dissolve. Yet the militias remain as strong as ever in Tripoli.

Haftar is detested by the militias and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) but supported by a large segment of the population – 68 percent, according to an opinion poll by America’s USAID. His popularity is based on a single policy – his demand that security be in the hands of regular police and military, not the militias.

Not everyone is happy, certainly not Turkey, which is backing Islamist, MB and Misratan forces in western Libya who detest Haftar. Yet Turkey’s greatest statesman, the great Kamal Ataturk, was a champion of secularism: After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following World War One Turkey faced the prospect of utter disintegration, and it was Attaturk who rose to the challenge, defending the country’s borders, while ordering that the mullahs, while responsible for spiritual welfare, have no political power.

Political Islam is not popular in Libya either. Libya is a Muslim country, its people know their faith, and most want government to be decided through the ballot box.

The problem for Libya is what happens next with the peace process broken. Haftar has in the past threatened to move on Tripoli and rid the militias by force if they refuse to dissolve, and it may come to that – a fierce escalation of the civil war.

The second possibility is that Libya will split. The east is, thanks to the LNA, militarily secure. It also controls two thirds of the country’s oil and operates as a separate entity, down to it banknotes, which are printed in Russia while the Tripoli government’s are printed in Britain. A formal split would be an economic boon for the lightly populated east, but a disaster for Tripolitania, its population losing most of the oil, its only source of export income.

Yet with the failure of peace talks, and no sign of Tripoli militias dissolving, military escalation or breakup seem more likely than ever.

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