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The new Middle East: A North/South divide where Israel is losing its narrative and its old game plan

A new geo-political Middle East is emerging which pits northern states and southern states against one another based on divergent economic and security interests. Saudi is top dog in the south which means that Israel is losing its ability to act unilaterally.

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With the wars in Syria and Iraq drawing to a close and with the governments of both states standing victorious over both Takfiri terrorism as well as (broadly speaking) Kurdish ethno-nationalism, a new reality in the Middle East has emerged where the region is broadly divided between a geo-political north and south.

In the north there is the Syria-Iraq alliance made possible by common enemies and a common history, in spite of the Ba’athist schism of 1966-2003. Both states, for slightly different reasons are also allied with Iran and for oddly similar, are reasons partners with Russia. In the case of Syria, Damascus is an historic Soviet ally and in the case of post-Ba’ahist Iraq, the government looks to attain defence independence by working with a Russian state which unlike the US, is willing to sell arms to any reasonable nation without political preconditions.

Iran, Iraq and Syria in turn are allied with Hezbollah, which in effect means a large portion of Lebanon and in terms of geo-strategic defence considerations, it means the most important part of Lebanon. Turkey is now a partner of Iran, Iraq (to a surprisingly important degree) and Russia. While Syria will be very unlikely to forgive Turkey for its previous support of Takfiri driven regime change, in reality, Syria and Turkey have a common post-Takfiri enemy: the continued rumblings Kurdish ethno-nationalism. This means that it is becoming increasingly likely that Syria and Turkey may end up cooperating in the future, even if it means doing so at a covert level because of heightened sensitivities to such a thing among the general public in both Turkey and Syria.

To the south, there is another story. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are now close allies. The mentality and political independence of the Nasser years are all but done in Cairo. Jordan can also be-lumped into this group. Like Egypt, Jordan is one of the only two Arab states to have normal relations with Israel and by many accounts Saudi Arabia will soon follow. As goes Saudi, so goes the UAE, Bahrain and to a lesser extent Kuwait and to an even lesser extent the relatively politically unimportant Oman. Qatar finds it self in a situation that is both precarious and surprisingly advantages, as I explored in a the piece below.

The only winner of the Saudi (and Lebanon) great purge is Qatar

The alliance between the northern Middle East powers and the alliance between the southern Middle East powers are not formal blocs in the sense of the Warsaw Pact and NATO which divided most of Europe into east and west. Instead, the new geo-political blocs of the Middle East constitute a rapidly consolidating reality where countries are united based on the pragmatic acknowledgement of common interests. By including Turkey into the mix, one cannot say it is a “Shi’a crescent” and likewise, by including both Turkey and Iran into the northern Middle East, it is neither Pan-Arab. The same is true when it comes to including Israel in the southern portion of the alliance, which is very much where Israel is.

Against this backdrop, it is easy to see why many in Saudi Arabia and beyond are eyeing Lebanon as a potential prize. Lebanon, as a small state with beautiful real estate, is a microcosm of the entire alliance, certainly in terms of religious affiliation.

Hezbollah is well aware of this and in a move that can only be described as politically masterful and in terms of security, highly ethical, Hezbollah like the fellow Shi’a Amal Movement and the broadly Christian Free Patriotic Movement, have urged political unity at a time when clearly Saudi Arabia is attempting to sow divisions in the country.

Hezbollah is openly positioning itself as a ‘national party’ in a country that doesn’t have national parties. Lebanese politics often looks like ‘the art of the impossible’ with sectarian pacts being more prevalent than a unifying patriotism, as it is in Ba’athist Syria. Hezbollah cannot change this and certainly cannot modify it overnight, but in playing the national card rather than the Shi’a versus Sunni/Wahhabi card, Hezbollah has transcended the extreme sectarian politics of Lebanon, just as Saudi Arabia is becoming unable to transcend the family feud between some men from the House of Saud and other men from the House of Saud.

This attitude which will give Hezbollah and its coalition partners the moral high ground while refusing to exclude or scapegoat Lebanese Sunnis for Saudi’s meddling, means that Lebanon is well placed to become part of the political north of the Middle East.

This leaves Israel and Palestine. For the Israeli regime, recent events have all but killed Tel Aviv’s preferred narrative which it has invoked since 1947. For Israeli propagandists it was always “us versus the Arab world” and when the Arab world was attempting to unite in the age of Nasser, there was some truth to an Arab world uniting against Israel. This is something that the Arab world saw positively and Israel saw negatively. After 1979, the Israeli propaganda narrative was modified to be “The Arab world + Iran – Egypt versus us”.

Today though, with Jordan and Egypt on good terms with Tel Aviv, with Saudi Arabia looking to increase its ties with Israel and with only one Arab state, Syria, still fully behind the Palestinian cause, Israel’s narrative has collapsed.

There is no “Arab Israeli conflict” because half of the Arabs either tacitly or overtly accept the presence of the settler state. Likewise, Iran is a stalwart supporter of Palestine and Turkey is becoming ever more distant from Israel.

Israel is on the verge of turning Turkey into an enemy

The collapse of Israel’s creation myth narrative also means increased Israeli isolation from a military standpoint. Just as Israel boosts its relations with the Arab states of the southern half of the Middle East, so too does it mean that Israel will have a more difficult time acting unilaterally.

Hezbollah’s leader Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah has admitted for the first time that under the “new” Muhammad bin Salman regime in Saudi Arabia, the Israeli regime is being coerced by Saudi into making provocative moves while Israel remains cautious for selfish reasons. As recently as last week, it was assumed that Tel Aviv called the shots, not Riyadh.

Hezbollah flips the script and says that Israel does the “Red Prince’s” bidding

This means that if Israel is going to preserve its new friends in the southern part of the Middle East, it will have to do something it has never done: consult with others in order to preserve alliances.

This weakens Israel’s ability to fight its customary blitzkrieg wars, as such wars rely on a single front against a united enemy. Instead, the region now has multiple possible fronts with many different enemies to rage at, in many scattered locations and many different partners to placate or even show deference towards. By contrast, Saudi Arabia prefers slow burning/grinding conflicts for obvious logistical reasons but also for the tactical reason that Saudi Arabia wants to present itself as the legitimate leader of the Arabs while Israel is keen to present itself as the country that Arabs fear. In reality, Israel is more hated than feared and Saudi is far from a leader of the Arab world, but these are the aims, however preposterous, of both states, respectively.

Even in Yemen where Saudi has used a large amount of shock and awe, it is still far from the Israeli blitzkrieg where a swift ground attack follows shortly from aerial bombardment. Likewise, Israel probably wouldn’t have the patience for such a protracted war, while Saudi at least for now, still is intend on beating the Houthis in Yemen, a task which will likely prove impossible.

This helps explain Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah’s confidence in the fact that Israel will not go to war in Lebanon even at Saudi’s gold plated behest. Israel knows that a conflict in Lebanon in 2017 would be a long protracted struggle, the kind Saudi might be willing to put up with in Yemen, but Israel does not have the stomach for on its border.

I previously wrote how this new reality could work in the favour of the besieged Palestinians in the long term. I stated,

“On the one hand, if Tel Aviv concentrates on both co-opting and being co-opted by states like Saudi, Egypt and Jordan who in recent decades have shown little enthusiasm for the Palestinian cause, there is a danger that Palestinian land could become a tragic ghetto of isolation in an otherwise booming region. However, on the other hand, the idea of prosperity trickling horizontally across a newly booming economic region could actually take the wind out of the sails of the Israel-Palestine conflict, something which in the long term bodes well for Palestine reclaiming its full statehood. This is the case because if the Tel Aviv regime becomes fully immersed in a mostly Arab led regional prosperity initiative, having to contend with rightfully angry Palestinians could only exorcise all parties. Furthermore, Palestinian grievances in a would-be south-Arab ghetto could further incur the wrath of Palestine’s meaningful allies including Lebanon (aka Hezbollah), Syria, non-Arab Iran and in the future, quote possibly a revitalised and almost certainly pro-Palestine Iraq. Wanting to keep such countries away from Saudi’s ‘south Arab’ project would be in the interests (however selfish) of Saudi, Jordan, Egypt and the regime in Tel Aviv.

And here is where a peaceful one-state solution could come into play. Rather than divide a portion of an increasingly inter-dependent south-Arab region (aka the two-state solution), leaving open the possibility of Syria, Hezbollah, Iraq and non-Arab Iran playing a part in this new region via the Palestinian back door, it might instead be easier to create a single state along the pre-1947 Palestinian borders that could be described as Palestine with cosmopolitan characterises or perhaps Israel with Arab characteristics, depending on the demographics and political will of various countries in ten years or more from today.

Just as Lebanon is a cosmopolitan country that is increasingly tied in with the north-Arab region, so too could this new Palestine be a kind of cosmopolitan bridge to the south, a place which like Lebanon has a shared history that at times has been peaceful and at others has been horrific. Tragically, Israeli meddling is by far the greatest author of mystery in both Palestine and Lebanon.

Ultimately, unless something radically changes in Egypt, Jordan or Saudi, the kind of good will that countries like Syria has for Palestine will never be present in the new ‘south Arab’ bloc. However, pragmatism which would come about in the ‘new Arab south’ to spite countries like Syria and groups like Hezbollah, could indeed force a pragmatic one-state solution based on the peace that is implicit in the need to pacific a region in order to make it ‘prosperity friendly’. In this sense, Palestine could breath a much needed breath after decades of asphyxiation, while Palestine friends in the ‘new Arab north’ would have something of a last laugh as they have got a decades long running start in developing key relations with China and Russia.

This situation is both far from assured and also far from ideal in many ways. It is however, a possible solution which still represents some improvement on the hopeless status quo”.

Saudi’s burgeoning relations with Israel could kill the two state solution in more ways than one

Thus, we see the emergence of a new Middle East, one which has risen from the sinews of war in the north and political stagnation in the south. As Israel, Saudi, Egypt and Jordan become ever more economically interdependent, this will only further limit Israel’s ability to act in a unilateral fashion in its old blitzkrieg style.

While the north is increasingly revitalised by victory, the south is increasingly interdependent. Into this fray, the most heavily armed state in the  Middle East, Israel is now trapped in a cycle of interdependence, without its old narrative, without its old might, without its old confidence and without its old boogie men. Israel’s devious attempts to destroy Arab unity have just backfired in a spectacular fashion. Israel has built itself a fortress of partners and these partners have a lot to say to Israel and not all of it is the echo of a choir. For the first time in history, Israel may just have to listen to what others are saying.

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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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