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As the US and EU come out in support of Lebanon, it is clear that Saudi’s provocations are designed for domestic purposes

Saudi Arabia has used foreign affairs as a springboard for domestic purges. By contrast, the US often engages in foreign conflicts to hide bad domestic headlines.

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Days ago, Hezbollah leader Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah spoke to his fellow countrymen and encouraged people to support Lebanon’s constitutional mechanisms to resolve the crisis of the coalition government losing its Prime Minister Saad Hariri to a forced Saudi authored “resignation”.

There remains the possibility that the current government can remain in place with a new Prime Minister, including Fouad Siniora, a former Lebanese PM from deposed Saad Hariri’s Future Movement. Siniora has apparently been in talks with President Michel Aoun about such matters.

The official position from Beirut is that Hariri must come to Lebanon in order to make a formal resignation, with members of all major parties openly questioning whether Hariri is being held captive in Saudi Arabia.

While Saudi Arabia has stated that Lebanon has “declared war”, this hyperbolic and frankly nonsensical provocation is not being taken on board by the US State Department or the EU.

A US State Department spokeswoman has said,

“The United States strongly supports the legitimate institutions in the Lebanese state. We expect all members of the international community to respect fully those institutions and the sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon”.

These remarks were echoed by a statement from the joint ambassadors of the EU who expressed  “their strong support for the continued unity, stability, sovereignty, and security of Lebanon and its people”.

The EU Ambassadors also called “on all sides to pursue constructive dialogue and to build on the work achieved in the last 11 months towards strengthening Lebanon’s institutions and preparing parliamentary elections in early 2018, in adherence with the Constitution”.

This is indicative of an EU and US that seek the following 

1. Stability for western businesses in Lebanon 

Since the end of the Lebanese Civil War in 1990, western investment has been steadily flowing back into Lebanon. France in particular has been keen to demonstrate its willingness to do business with its former mandate.

With this in mind, the EU and US seem to realise that a new civil war in Lebanon would be bad for business and they are not willing to take such a risk.

2. If there was a civil war, Hezbollah and its allies, including many Christian parties would win 

Hezbollah only officially came into being during the final phases of the Lebanese Civil War. Since then, it has consolidated a powerful base among Lebanese Shi’as, but has also come to be seen as an implicit part of Lebanese political civil society as well as an implicit component of Lebanon’s defence infrastructure. Whether protecting Lebanon against Israeli aggression or al-Qaeda and ISIS attacks, many Lebanese including many Sunnis, have come to accept that Hezbollah plays a vital role in Lebanon’s once fragile security apparatus.

Because of this, in the event of a Civil War, Hezbollah, which represents the most efficiently armed and trained faction in the country and one that is in many ways a more disciplined and effective fighting force than the Lebanese Army, would easily win any conflict.

Only a fool would think otherwise, and the EU and US are ultimately not altogether as foolish as they often sound.

very Saudi affair 

From the beginning, I’ve stated that the Hariri forced resignation had far more to do with Hariri’s relationship to Riyadh than his position in Beirut. The combination of MBS’ faction in Saudi seeing Hariri as ineffective as a ‘puppet’ combined more importantly with the Hariri family’s association with enemies of the MBS, including a purged and slain Saudi prince, was the real reason for the fact that Saudi said “Hariri must go”. Much of this was later postulated by Hezbollah leader Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah and thus far, his analysis is among the most objectively vindicated of any major political figure.

2 radically different interpretations of Saudi’s ‘great purge’ and Lebanese PM Hariri’s ‘resignation’

The latest statements from the US and EU also serve to bolster geo-political expert Andrew Korybko’s thesis that it is extremely likely that Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s provocative language towards Yemen’s Houthis, Iran and Hezbollah is at this point, more bark than bite.

When one considers that ever major concerted Saudi attempt at actually destabilising the region, including and especially the conflict in Syria, has been coordinated in tandem with Saudi’s western allies, one realises that Saudi Arabia’s actual geo-political might is limited merely to bribes and intimidation, when not coordinated with any military power, including Israel which as myself, Korbyko and Nasrallsh acknowledge, is taking more of a passive vulture like role in respect of Lebanon and by extrapolation Iran, than one that is coordinating or dictating Saudi’s moves. In this case, Saudi’s aggressive language, like the Hariri ‘resignation’ speech is being authored by close allies of Muhammad bin Salman in Riyadh.

While Saudi does indeed hope to goad Hezbollah, Iran and Yemen’s Houthis into a further conflict, Iran and Hezbollah are not taking the bait. Houthis, which represent the weakest faction by far in Saudi’s ‘hated triumvirate’, are seemingly taking advantage of Saudi’s weakened position. This however is a sign of increased Houthi confidence in the face of increased Saudi bravado. If anything, the Houthis are aiming to show a fragmented Saudi regime that they can take Houthi lives, but that they cannot take their freedom. This is something that Saudi Arabia will have to acknowledge the easy way or the hard way–possibly with the help of the prodigal Qatari regime which is now well placed to be a peace broker between Sana’a and Riyadh.

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

Trump Tweet déjà vu

Yesterday, Donald Trump Tweeted his support for the purges of Muhammad bin Salman, a move which many thought confirmed an official US position in support of everything the Saudi regime is saying and doing.

I remain more convinced than ever that this is not the case.

Trump goes on a selling spree while Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman goes on a purging spree

First of all, the US State Department’s statement in favour of calm and legal stability in Lebanon goes against the Saudi narrative that Lebanon has somehow descended into a lawless Iranian military base. The US in saying that Lebanon’s sovereignty should be respected, clearly goes against the Saudi line that Lebanon has essentially forfeited its sovereignty to the ‘vast Shi’a conspiracy’ which exists only in the minds of Israeli and Saudi propagandists.

All the while, the US State Department has said precious little to either condemn or endorse the domestic Saudi purges.

Secondly, there is something of a resemblance to the apparent schism between official State Department policy and Trump’s Tweets in respect of the Saudi/Lebanon crisis and something similar which happened when Saudi and its allies broke off relations with Qatar. At that time, Rex Tillerson, like every other diplomat outside of the Middle East (with the exception of tiny Maldives), declared Washington’s neutrality in the dispute. This of course came after Donald Trump Tweeted his support for Riyadh.

Donald Trump clearly has good relations with Muhammad bin Salman, especially compared to many of the older princes who expressed shock at Trump’s style.That being said, Muhammad bin Salman also has very good relations with the leadership in Moscow and Beijing who are about as far from Trump’s brash style as one can get.

Muhammad bin Salman is a rogue with little political experience who is draining his own alleged swamp, so it is natural that Trump and Muhammad bin Salman should have some affinity for one another. Whether this will translate to a change in US policy which his tended to favour the more middle of the road Muhammad bin Nayef is far from certain.

I personally postulate that in some ways, the trilateral relationship between Muhammad bin Salman, Trump and the Washington deep state will evolve to be similar to that which exists between Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, Trump and the Washington deep state.

Duterte is a radical reformer who in one short year has radically realigned Philippines’ foreign geo-strategic partnerships. Russia is now partnering with  Manila on security issues and China has hailed a “golden period” in bilateral relations with Philippines. Duterte essentially conceded Chinese claims over the South China Sea and in return, China is pumping in investment and a shot of good will into the Philippine economy.

Duterte is loathed by the deep state for his foreign policy realignment and his war on drugs, while Donald Trump has spoken positively about the drug war in Philippines. Likewise, while Duterte loathed the technocratic Obama (he once called Obama the “son of a whore”), Duterte has expressed his personal admiration for the more colloquial and seemingly straight talking Donald Trump. However, Duterte has said that there is no going back to the old “colonial mentality” with the US, irrespective of his personal good will towards Trump.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte (still) likes Donald Trump

In many ways, one could imagine Muhammad bin Salman, assuming he outlives his many blood thirsty rivals, having a similar geo-political position as Duterte vis-a-vis the other superpowers. This is to say, someone who will maintain substantial contacts with the US, in spite of mutual suspicion, but someone who also increasingly charts his own course internationally, especially where Russia and China are concerned.

That being said, my personal feelings towards Muhammad bin Salman are low. I see him as an opportunist looking to enrich himself with partners who make logical sense to a country looking to ween itself off oil dependency. By contrast, I see Duterte as a genuine patriot, a humble man, a good soul and a deeply sincere public servant.

Conclusion

While Lebanon’s situation is still perilous, the situation in Saudi Arabia is much more perilous, in spite of the fact that many still refuse to see Lebanon as a maturing post-civil war power while seeing Saudi Arabia as a rock of stagnant stability.  Against this backdrop, it is important to see that the Hariri ‘resignation’ was merely the first of many Saudi purges. Hariri is after all a Saudi citizen and he was purged as such.

The United States is famous of engaging in dangerous foreign policy manoeuvres to hide domestic scandals. The illegal bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 got Bill Clinton’s concubine Lewinsky out of the headlines and the war on Iraq was used to silence those questioning the official narrative on 9/11.

In the case of Lebanon and Saudi however, it is a matter of using a foreign policy manoeuvre as a ploy in a game that is mostly domestic in nature. If Muhammad bin Salman was doing anything else, he would be signing his own death warrant as Hezbollah is the strongest faction in Lebanon and Iran is not only the strongest power in the Persian Gulf, but along with its new partner Turkey, the most formidable military power in the Middle East.

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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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