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The disastrous rise of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

The appointment of Prince Mohammed bin Salman as Saudi Crown Prince brings a reckless and inexperienced young man who talks of a pre-emptive war against Iran closer to untrammelled power.

Alexander Mercouris

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King Salman of Saudi Arabia has now appointed his 31 year old son Prince Mohammed bin Salman his Crown Prince, ousting his nephew, former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who had previously supervised Saudi Arabia’s security forces, and who is credited by some people with defeating the challenge within Saudi Arabia that extreme Wahhabi terrorists connected to Al-Qaeda posed to the ruling family.

King Salman is 81 and said to be in poor health.  If so, and if all goes to plan, that could mean that Prince Mohammed bin Salman might be King of Saudi Arabia very soon, possibly within months.

That is an alarming prospect.  I have already explained of how Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s economic programme has lost all touch with reality, and of how his foreign policy is amateurish and reckless, involving Saudi Arabia in a disastrous war in Yemen and a pointless and unnecessary conflict with Qatar in which it is losing the support of the US.

I have also explained how Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s pathological hostility to Iran, against whom he has openly spoken of launching a pre-emptive war, is increasing the risk of an all-out war between the two most powerful Muslim states in the Middle East.

Already there seem to be insufficient restraints on Prince Mohammed bin Salman.  His father King Salman obviously dotes on him, and he appears to be surrounded by a claque of young Princes who think of him as their champion and who are encouraging him in all the reckless things he is doing.  If or when he becomes King such restraints as there still are on him will weaken further, and the present disastrous trajectory on which he is leading Saudi Arabia will accelerate.

At this point I should say that the latest incidents involving Iran – the terrorist attack launched by ISIS on 7th June 2017 against the Iranian Parliament building and Ayatollah Khomeini’s mausoleum, the Iranian ballistic missile strikes on ISIS in Syria, and the very strange episode of the arrest by Saudi Arabia of three Iranians in a boat whom Saudi Arabia accuses of being Revolutionary Guards intent on sabotaging Saudi oil facilities – have all the appearance of being caused by the rising tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran connected to the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

To be clear, there is no doubt the 7th June 2017 terrorist attack in Tehran was the work of ISIS (both ISIS and the Iranians say as much, and the details of the incident put the question beyond doubt), and ISIS obviously has its own reasons for wanting to launch such a terrorist attack in Tehran independently of Saudi Arabia’s wishes.

However coming at a time of rising tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, it could be that the Tehran attack – though obviously carefully planned over a long period of time – was intended to stoke up tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran further, with Iranian and Shia opinion – and indeed opinion across the whole Middle East – blaming the rise of Jihadi terrorism and ultimately of ISIS on Saudi Arabia.

As it happens there have already been allegations of Saudi involvement in the attack from senior Iranian officials.  For example Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps has said

We have precise intelligence showing that unfortunately, Saudi Arabia in addition to supporting the terrorists, has demanded them to conduct operations in Iran

Whilst Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah has also elliptically pointed a finger at Saudi Arabia, saying that the Tehran attack bore the hallmarks of an “international destructive plan”.

In light of this Iran’s ballistic missile strikes on ISIS positions in Syria on Sunday look as if they were intended more as a demonstration to Saudi Arabia of Iran’s ability to strike at Saudi installations – including Saudi oil installations – than as a strike at ISIS.

Unlike Russia Iran is unlikely to have sufficient real time intelligence of the situation in eastern Syria to target fast moving ISIS targets effectively with ballistic missiles.  As an attack on ISIS the Iranian ballistic missile strikes are therefore unlikely to have done ISIS much damage.  However as a demonstration to Saudi Arabia of Iran’s capabilities, and of Iran’s ability to strike at Saudi installations, the missile strikes convey a powerful message, though not one that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman seems in any mood to heed.

As for the strange episode of the alleged sabotage attack by Iranian Revolutionary Guards on Saudi oil installations, it is possible that this was a genuine attempt at sabotage intended to send a warning simultaneously with the ballistic missile attacks.  However it is difficult to believe that three boat loads of explosives could have done much damage to one of the world’s biggest oil industries and one whose installations are moreover tightly guarded.  The Iranians allege that the three individuals the Saudis have arrested are fishermen, and it is not inconceivable that they are right.

If so then the announcement of the arrests could be another case of Prince Mohammed bin Salman inventing one of his imaginary victories by having Saudi Arabia misrepresent on Sunday – the day of the Iranian ballistic missile strikes – the arrest on Friday of three Iranian fishermen whose boat strayed accidentally into Saudi waters as Saudi Arabia’s successful defeat of a sinister Iranian attempt to sabotage its oil industry.

Regardless of what exactly happened, all the indications are that with Prince Mohammed bin Salman becoming more and more powerful the situation in the Gulf is becoming increasingly dangerous and unstable, with the threat of all-out war between Saudi Arabia and Iran increasing by the day.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would be beyond foolish to start such a war.  One of the most interesting moments of the Putin Interviews came when Oliver Stone pointed out to Putin that Saudi Arabia actually outspends Russia on defence.  Russia is however a nuclear superpower with large and exceptionally effective armed forces second in power only to those of the US and comparable (though differently configured) to those of China.   By contrast Saudi Arabia’s bloated military cannot even defeat the lightly armed Houthi militia in Yemen.

Whilst Iran’s armed forces are not comparable to Russia’s, everything that is known about them suggests that by Middle East standards they are both well-disciplined and highly effective.

In the case of an all-out war between Saudi Arabia and Iran Saudi Arabia would lose.  The risk is that the colossal disruption to the oil market such a war would cause would draw in outside powers – first and foremost the US – and that Prince Mohammed bin Salman might in the meantime try to compensate for the weakness of Saudi Arabia’s conventional forces by acquiring nuclear weapons.

Regardless of his exact plans, the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – inexperienced and reckless as he has repeatedly shown himself to be – is possibly the single most dangerous and destabilising development in the current already fraught international situation, with ramifications which go far beyond the confines of the Gulf and the Middle East.

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Media meltdown hits stupid levels as Trump and Putin hold first summit (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 58.

Alex Christoforou

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It was, and still remains a media meltdown of epic proportions as that dastardly ‘traitor’ US President Donald Trump decided to meet with that ‘thug’ Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Of course these are the simplistic and moronic epitaphs that are now universally being thrown around on everything from Morning Joe to Fox and Friends.

Mainstream media shills, and even intelligent alternative news political commentators, are all towing the same line, “thug” and “traitor”, while no one has given much thought to the policy and geo-political realities that have brought these two leaders together in Helsinki.

RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou provide some real news analysis of the historic Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, without the stupid ‘thug’ and ‘traitor’ monikers carelessly being thrown around by the tools that occupy much of the mainstream media. Remember to Please Subscribe to The Duran’s YouTube Channel.

And if you though that one summit between Putin and Trump was more than enough to send the media into code level red meltdown, POTUS Trump is now hinting (maybe trolling) at a second Putin summit.

Via Zerohedge

And cue another ‘meltdown’ in 3…2…1…

While arguments continue over whether the Helsinki Summit was a success (end of Cold War 2.0) or not (most treasonous president ever), President Trump is convinced “The Summit was a great success,” and hints that there will be a second summit soon, where they will address: “stopping terrorism, security for Israel, nuclear proliferation, cyber attacks, trade, Ukraine, Middle East peace, North Korea and more.”

However, we suspect what will ‘trigger’ the liberal media to melt down is his use of the Stalin-esque term “enemy of the people” to describe the Fake News Media once again…

 

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While US seeks to up the ante on pressure on the DPRK, Russia proposes easing sanctions

These proposals show the dichotomy between the philosophy of US and Russian foreign policy

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The United States last week accused the DPRK of violating refined petroleum caps imposed as a part of UN nuclear sanctions dating back to 2006, and is therefore submitting a proposal to cut all petroleum product sales to North Korea.

The Trump administration is keen on not only preserving pressure on North Korea over its nuclear arms development, but in increasing that pressure even as DPRK Chairman, Kim Jong-Un, is serially meeting with world leaders in a bid to secure North Korea’s security and potential nuclear disarmament, a major move that could deescalate tensions in the region, end the war with the South, and ease global apprehensions about the North’s nuclear arsenal.

Meanwhile, Russia is proposing to the UNSC sanctions relief in some form due to the North’s expressed commitment to nuclear disarmament in the light of recent developments.

Reuters reports:

MOSCOW/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Russia’s envoy to North Korea said on Wednesday it would be logical to raise the question of easing sanctions on North Korea with the United Nations Security Council, as the United States pushes for a halt to refined petroleum exports to Pyongyang.

“The positive change on the Korean peninsula is now obvious,” said the ambassador, Alexander Matsegora, according to the RIA news agency, adding that Russia was ready to help modernize North Korea’s energy system if sanctions were lifted and if Pyongyang can find funding for the modernization.

The U.N. Security Council has unanimously boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, banning exports including coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and capping imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products.

China tried late last month to get the Security Council to issue a statement praising the June 12 Singapore meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and expressing its “willingness to adjust the measures on the DPRK in light of the DPRK’s compliance with the resolutions.”

North Korea’s official name is Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

But the United States blocked the statement on June 28 given “ongoing and very sensitive talks between the United States and the DPRK at this time,” diplomats said. The same day, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi about the importance of sanctions enforcement.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to informally brief U.N. Security Council envoys along with South Korea and Japan on Friday.

Diplomats say they expect Pompeo to stress the need to maintain pressure on North Korea during his briefing on Friday.

In a tweet on Wednesday Trump said he elicited a promise from Russian President Vladimir Putin to help negotiate with North Korea but did not say how. He also said: “There is no rush, the sanctions remain!”

The United States accused North Korea last week of breaching a U.N. sanctions cap on refined petroleum by making illicit transfers between ships at sea and demanded an immediate end to all sales of the fuel.

The United States submitted the complaint to the U.N. Security Council North Korea sanctions committee, which is due to decide by Thursday whether it will tell all U.N. member states to halt all transfers of refined petroleum to Pyongyang.

Such decisions are made by consensus and some diplomats said they expected China or Russia to delay or block the move.

When asked on June 13 about whether sanctions should be loosened, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said: “We should be thinking about steps in that direction because inevitably there is progress on the track that should be reciprocal, that should be a two-way street. The other side should see encouragement to go forward.”

The proposals of both the United States and Russia are likely to be vetoed by each other, resulting no real changes, but what it displays is the foreign policy positions of both nuclear powers towards the relative position of the DPRK and its rhetorical move towards denuclearization. The US demonstrates that its campaign of increased pressure on the North is necessary to accomplishing the goal of a denuclearized Korean peninsula, while Russia’s philosophy on the matter is to show a mutual willingness to follow through on verbal commitment with a real show of action towards an improved relationship, mirroring on the ground what is happening in politics.

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Europe divided over possible trade compromise with Trump

Even if a European proposal could score a trade cease fire, the war isn’t over

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US President Donald Trump has just lectured NATO on it member’s commitment performance and held a controversial meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin and is next week to receive EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, with trade matters being high up on the agenda.

Juncker is expected to present Trump with a package of proposals to help smooth relations and potentially heal areas of division, particularly those surrounding Europe’s trade relationship with America. Those proposals are precisely what is cropping up as another area of divergence between some members of the EU, specifically France and Germany, just after a major contention on migration has been driving discord within the Union.

This gets down to whether Europe should offer concessions to Trump on trade while Trump is admittedly describing the Union as a ‘foe’ and has initiated a trade spat with the Union by assessing trade tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Europe, spurring retaliatory tariff measures from the EU Commission.

France, specifically, is opposed to any sort of compromise with Trump on the matter, where Trump is perceived as an opponent to the Union and its unity, whereas Germany is economically motivated to seek an end to the trade dispute under the threat of a new round of tariffs emanating from the Trump administration, and is therefore seeking to find some sort of proposal that Trump will accept and therefore back down on his protectionism against the EU, and Germany in particular.

Politico reports:

Only a week before European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker flies to Washington, France and Germany are divided over how much he should offer to U.S. President Donald Trump to end a deepening trade war, say European diplomats and officials.

But, they add, Germany has the upper hand. Berlin is shaping Juncker’s agenda, suggesting three offers that he could take to Trump on July 25 to resolve the dispute, according to people familiar with the plans.

The French are uneasy about the wisdom of such a conciliatory approach, however, and publicly accuse Trump of seeking to splinter and weaken the 28-member bloc, which he has called his “foe.”

Despite Paris’ reservations about giving away too much to the increasingly hostile U.S. president, the diplomats say that the European Commission’s powerful Secretary-General Martin Selmayr supports the German attempt at rapprochement, which makes it more likely that Juncker will offer some kind of trade fix next week.

“It’s clear that Juncker can’t go to Washington empty-handed,” one diplomat said. He stressed that Juncker’s proposals would be a political signal to Washington and would not be the formal beginning of negotiations, which would have to be approved by EU countries.

European ambassadors will meet on Wednesday to discuss the scope of Juncker’s offer — and indeed whether any offers should be made at all. France’s official position is that Europe must not strike any deal with a gun to its head, or with any country that has opted out of the Paris climate accord, as Trump’s America has done.

While Berlin is terrified by the prospect of 20 percent tariffs on cars and is desperate for a ceasefire deal, France has more fundamental suspicions that the time for compromise is over and that Trump simply wants to destroy EU unity. Paris is concerned that Trump’s next target is its sacred farm sector and is putting more emphasis on the importance of preserving a united political front against Washington.

Two diplomats said Berlin has a broad menu of offers that should be made to Trump: a bilateral deal to cut industrial tariffs, a plurilateral agreement to eliminate car duties worldwide, and a bigger transatlantic trade agreement including regulatory cooperation that potentially also comes with talks on increasing U.S. beef exports into Europe.

Making such generous offers is contentious when Trump crystallized his trade position toward Brussels on CBS news on Sunday: “I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade. Now, you wouldn’t think of the European Union, but they’re a foe.”

This undiplomatic bombshell came not long after he reportedly advised French President Emmanuel Macron to quit the EU to get a better trade deal than he was willing to offer the EU28.

In announcing Juncker’s visit on Tuesday, the White House said that he and Trump “will focus on improving transatlantic trade and forging a stronger economic partnership.”

Talking to the enemy

Diplomats note that a French-led camp in Brussels reckons Trump’s goals are strategic, and that he’s not after the sort of deal Germany is offering.

A French government official said that Washington quite simply wants to shift the EU off the stage: “Trump’s objective is that there are two big blocs: The United States and China. A multipower world with Europe as a strong player does not fit in.”

France’s Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire this month also issued a stark warning that Trump is seeking to drive a wedge between France and Germany — courting Paris, while simultaneously attacking Berlin’s trade surplus with the U.S. “In this globalized world, European countries must form a bloc, because what our partners or adversaries want is to divide us,” Le Maire said at an economic conference in Aix-en-Provence. “What the United States want, that’s to divide France and Germany.”

Despite these remarks from Le Maire, Anthony Gardner, former ambassador to the EU under the Barack Obama administration, said that he suspects the full magnitude of the threat has not sunk in. “Europe wake up; the U.S. wants to break up the EU,” he tweeted on Sunday. “Remember Belgium’s motto: L’union fait la force. [Unity creates strength]. Especially on trade. No side deals.”

One EU diplomat insisted that Brussels is not blind to these dangers in the run-up to Juncker’s visit.

Trump thinks that Europe is “too big to be controllable by DC, so it’s bad for America. Simple logic. And therefore the only deal that will bring the president to stop the trade war is the deal that breaks up the European market. I don’t quite think that’s the legacy Juncker is aiming for,” the diplomat said.

Europe is source of a deep frustration for Trump, as it runs a massive goods surplus with the U.S., at $147 billion in 2016. In particular, the U.S. president blames Germany’s mighty car exporters for this imbalance.

Leveling the field is not easy, however. With its market of 510 million consumers, Europe not only has the clout to stand up to the United States, but is increasingly setting global standards — particularly on food. This not only limits U.S. exports in Europe but also means that the European model is used in a broader trading ecosystem that includes Canada, Mexico and Japan.

New world order

Marietje Schaake, a liberal Dutch member of the European Parliament, observed that the U.S. trade strategy meshed with Trump’s political agenda.

“You could say there’s a new transatlantic relation emerging, of nationalists, populists and protectionists,” she said, pointing out that Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin has cast doubt on America’s commitment to supporting European security.

Trump’s opposition to the EU partly builds on an long-standing American discomfort about the EU’s economic policies.

“We already saw problems during the negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, where the U.S. didn’t like EU demands such as on geographical indications [food name protections], and certainly didn’t like that we had ambitious requests in areas like public procurement,” said Pascal Kerneis, managing director of the European Services Forum and a member of the now defunct TTIP advisory group.

Kerneis said that Trump’s trade attacks are shifting the tensions to a completely new level: “He’s attacking on all fronts, hoping to break our unity, particularly between Germany and France.”

France particularly fears that Trump’s duties on Spanish olives could only be the first salvo on Europe’s whole system of farm subsidies.

EU lawmaker Schaake said that France is right to worry about a conflagration. “Once we give in in one area, he will attack at the next one,” she said. “If we allow Trump to play Europeans against each other, sector by sector, it will be a losing game.”

Even if Europe goes about capitulating to Trump’s gripes about the Union, whether it gets back to NATO defense spending or the trade deficit, the question remains whether this will satiate Trump’s political appetite and result in an improved trade perspective and politically acceptable position with Washington, and France’s concern that the matter runs deeper and has a foreign policy agenda behind it, and that caving to Trump’s pressure will only end in defeat for the EU would therefore appear reasonable.

But Germany is staring down the barrel of a possible new round of tariffs that would hurt some of their largest industries and is therefore under a lot of pressure to find a solution, or at least some sort of agreement that could deescalate the situation.

However, Germany’s recent record of resolving international issues is such that Germany is really only scoring cease fire agreements, rather than ending the real political conflicts, referring mainly to the immigration issue which recently resulted only in diffusing some inter Union tensions, but without resolving the problem itself.

In this context, Germany could promise the moon and stars to Trump, possibly avert further trade tensions, but yet fail to address the core political and trade conflicts that have already broken out. Essentially, then, such a compromise would only serve to function as damage control, while leaving Germany and the Union at a further disadvantaged political position relative to the States at the political table.

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