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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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Republicans call Justice Department’s Bruce Ohr to testify, but where is British Spy Steele? (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 78.

Alex Christoforou

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Representative Mark Meadows tweeted Friday…

“DOJ official Bruce Ohr will come before Congress on August 28 to answer why he had 60+ contacts with dossier author Chris Steele, as far back as January 2016. He owes the American public the full truth.”

Lawmakers believe former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr is a central figure to finding out how the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid PR smear firm Fusion GPS and British spy Christopher Steele to fuel a conspiracy of Trump campaign collusion with Russians at the top levels of the Justice Department and the FBI.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) said Sunday to Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo…

So here you have information flowing from the Clinton campaign from the Russians, likely — I believe was handed directly from Russian propaganda arms to the Clinton campaign, fed into the top levels of the FBI and Department of Justice to open up a counter-intelligence investigation into a political campaign that has now polluted nearly every top official at the DOJ and FBI over the course of the last couple years. It is absolutely amazing,

According to Breitbart, during the 2016 election, Ohr served as associate deputy attorney general, and as an assistant to former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and to then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. His office was four doors down from Rosenstein on the fourth floor. He was also dual-hatted as the director of the DOJ’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.

Ohr’s contacts with Steele, an ex-British spy, are said to date back more than a decade. Steele is a former FBI informant who had helped the FBI prosecute corruption by FIFA officials. But it is Ohr and Steele’s communications in 2016 that lawmakers are most interested in.

Emails handed over to Congress by the Justice Department show that Ohr, Steele, and Simpson communicated throughout 2016, as Steele and Simpson were being paid by the Clinton campaign and the DNC to dig up dirt on Trump.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine the role Bruce Ohr played in Hillary Clinton’s Deep State attack against the Presidency of Donald Trump, and why the most central of figures in the Trump-Russia collusion hoax, British spy for hire Christopher Steele, is not sitting before Congress, testifying to the real election collusion between the UK, the Obama White House, the FBI and the DOJ.

Remember to Please Subscribe to The Duran’s YouTube Channel.

Via The Washington Times

Republicans in a joint session of House committees are set to interview former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr this month to gauge whether a complex conspiracy against Donald Trump existed among Hillary Clinton loyalists and the Justice Department.

“DOJ official Bruce Ohr will come before Congress on August 28 to answer why he had 60+contacts with dossier author Chris Steele as far back as January 2016. He owes the American public the full truth,” tweeted Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican and member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

His panel and the House Judiciary Committee plan to hold a joint hearing to interview Mr. Ohr, according to The Daily Caller.

FBI documents show that the bureau bluntly told dossier writer Christopher Steele in November 2016 that it no longer wanted to hear about his collection of accusations against Mr. Trump.

But for months afterward, the FBI appeared to violate its own edict as agents continued to receive the former British spy’s scandalous charges centered on supposed TrumpRussia collusion.

 

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The US-Turkey Crisis: The NATO Alliance Forged in 1949 Is Today Largely Irrelevant

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Authored by Philip Giraldi via American Herald Tribune:


There has been some reporting in the United States mass media about the deteriorating relationship between Washington and Ankara and what it might mean. Such a falling out between NATO members has not been seen since France left the alliance in 1966 and observers note that the hostility emanating from both sides suggests that far worse is to come as neither party appears prepared to moderate its current position while diplomatic exchanges have been half-hearted and designed to lead nowhere.

The immediate cause of the breakdown is ostensibly President Donald Trump’s demand that an American Protestant minister who has lived in Turkey for twenty-three years be released from detention. Andrew Brunson was arrested 21 months ago and charged with being a supporter of the alleged conspiracy behind the military coup in 2016 that sought to kill or replace President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan has asserted that the coup was directed by former political associate Fetullah Gulen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania, but has produced little credible evidence to support that claim. In the aftermath of the coup attempt, Erdogan has had himself voted extraordinary special powers to maintain public order and has arrested 160,000 people, including 20 Americans, who have been imprisoned. More than 170,000 civil servants, teachers, and military personnel have lost their jobs, the judiciary has been hobbled, and senior army officers have been replaced by loyalists.

Gulen is a religious leader who claims to promote a moderate brand of Islam that is compatible with western values. His power base consists of a large number of private schools that educate according to his curriculum, with particular emphasis on math and sciences. Many of the graduates become part of a loose affiliation that has sometimes been described as a cult. Gulen also owns and operates a number of media outlets, all of which have now been shut by Erdogan as part of his clamp down on the press. Turkey currently imprisons more journalists than any other country.

It is widely believed that Erdogan has been offering to release Brunson in exchange for Gulen, but President Donald Trump has instead offered only a Turkish banker currently in a U.S. prison while also turning the heat up in the belief that pressure on Turkey will force it to yield. Washington began the tit-for-tat by imposing sanctions on two cabinet-level officials in Erdogan’s government: Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul. Ankara has now also been on the receiving end of a Trump tweet and tariffs have been placed on a broad range of Turkish products, to include steel and aluminum.

The view that economic pressure will force the Turks to yield could be mistaken and demonstrates that the Administration does not include anyone who knows that Americans have been unpopular in Turkey since the Gulf War. The threats from Washington might actually rally skeptical and normally pro-western Turks around Erdogan but U.S. sanctions have already hit the Turkish economy hard, with the lira having lost 40% of its value this year and continuing to sink rapidly. Foreign investors, who fueled much of Turkey’s recent economic growth, have fled the market, suggesting that a collapse in credit might be on the way. Those European banks that hold Turkish debt are fearing a possible default.

It is a spectacle of one NATO member driving another NATO member’s economy into the ground over a political dispute. Erdogan has responded in his autocratic fashion by condemning “interest rates” and calling for an “economic war” against the U.S., telling his supporters to unload all their liquid valuables, gold and foreign to buy the plummeting lira, a certain recipe for disaster. If they do that, they will likely lose everything.

Other contentious issues involved in the badly damaged bilateral relationship are conflicting views on what to do about Syria, where the Turks have a legitimate interest due to potential Kurdish terrorism and are seeking a buffer zone, as well as Ankara’s interest in buying Russian air defense missile systems, which has prompted the U.S. to suspend sales of the new F-35 fighter. The Turks have also indicated that they have no interest in enforcing the sanctions on Iran that were re-imposed last week and they will continue to buy Iranian oil after the November 4th initiation of a U.S. ban on such purchases. The Trump Administration has warned that it will sanction any country that refuses to comply, setting the stage for a massive confrontation between Washington and Ankara involving the Turkish Central Bank.

In terms of U.S. interests, Turkey, which has the second largest army in NATO, is of strategic value because it is Muslim, countering arguments that the alliance is some kind of Christian club working to suppress Islam in the Middle East. And it is also important because of its geographic location close to hot spots where the American military is currently engaged. If the U.S. heeds Trump’s call to cut back on involvement in the region, Turkey will become less valuable, but currently, access to the Incirlik Airbase, near Adana and the Syrian border, is vital.

Indeed, Incirlik has become one of the flashpoints in the argument with Washington. Last week, a group of lawyers connected politically to Erdogan initiated legal action against U.S. officers at Incirlik over claimed ties to “terrorists” linked to Gulen. The “Association for Social Justice and Aid” has called for a temporary halt to all operations at the base to permit a search for evidence. The attorneys are asking for the detention of seven named American Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels. General Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command based in Germany is also cited. If the lawyers are successful in court, it will mean a major conflict as Washington asserts the rights of the officers under the Status of Forces Agreement, while Turkey will no doubt insist that the Americans are criminals and have no protection.

Another trial balloon being floated by Erdogan is even more frightening in terms of the demons that it could be unleashing. Abdurrahman Dilipak, an Islamist columnist writing in the pro-government newspaper Yeni Atik, has suggested that there might well be a second terrorist attack on the United States like 9/11. Dilipak threatened that if Trump does nothing to reduce tension “…some people will teach him [to do] that. It must be seen that if internal tensions with the United States continue like this that a September 11 is no unlikely possibility.” Dilipak also warned that presumed Gulenist “U.S. collaborators” inside Turkey would be severely punished if they dared to go out into the streets to protest in support of Washington.

If recent developments in Turkey deteriorate further it might well suggest that Donald Trump’s instinct to disengage from the Middle East was the right call, though it could equally be seen as a rejection of the tactic being employed, i.e. using heavy-handed sanctions and tariffs to compel obedience from governments disinclined to follow Washington’s leadership. Either way, the Turkish-American relationship is in trouble and increasingly a liability for both sides, yet another indication that the NATO alliance forged in 1949 against the Soviet Union is today largely irrelevant.

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Is This The Most Important Geopolitical Deal Of 2018?

After more than 20 years of fraught diplomatic efforts, the five littoral Caspian nations agreed upon a legal framework for sharing the world’s largest inland body of water.

The Duran

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Authored by Olgu Okumus via Oilprice.com:


The two-decade-long dispute on the statute of the Caspian Sea, the world largest water reserve, came to an end last Sunday when five littoral states (Russia, Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan) agreed to give it a special legal status – it is now neither a sea, nor a lake. Before the final agreement became public, the BBC wrote that all littoral states will have the freedom of access beyond their territorial waters, but natural resources will be divided up. Russia, for its part, has guaranteed a military presence in the entire basin and won’t accept any NATO forces in the Caspian.

Russian energy companies can explore the Caspian’s 50 billion barrels of oil and its 8.4 trillion cubic meters of natural gas reserves, Turkmenistan can finally start considering linking its gas to the Turkish-Azeri joint project TANAP through a trans-Caspian pipeline, while Iran has gained increased energy supplies for its largest cities in the north of the country (Tehran, Tabriz, and Mashhad) – however, Iran has also put itself under the shadow of Russian ships. This controversy makes one wonder to what degree U.S. sanctions made Iran vulnerable enough to accept what it has always avoided – and how much these U.S. sanctions actually served NATO’s interests.

If the seabed, rich in oil and gas, is divided this means more wealth and energy for the region. From 1970 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union (USSR) in 1991, the Caspian Sea was divided into subsectors for Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan – all constituent republics of the USSR. The division was implemented on the basis of the internationally-accepted median line.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the new order required new regulations. The question was over whether the Caspian was a sea or a lake? If it was treated as a sea, then it would have to be covered by international maritime law, namely the United Nations Law of the Sea. But if it is defined as a lake, then it could be divided equally between all five countries. The so-called “lake or sea” dispute revolved over the sovereignty of states, but also touched on some key global issues – exploiting oil and gas reserves in the Caspian Basin, freedom of access, the right to build beyond territorial waters, access to fishing and (last but not least) managing maritime pollution.

The IEA concluded in World Energy Outlook (WEO) 2017 that offshore energy has a promising future. More than a quarter of today’s oil and gas supply is produced offshore, and integrated offshore thinking will extend this beyond traditional sources onwards to renewables and more. Caspian offshore hydrocarbon reserves are around 50 billion barrels of oil equivalent (equivalent to one third of Iraq’s total oil reserves) and 8.4 trillion cubic meters of gas (almost equivalent to the U.S.’ entire proven gas reserves). As if these quantities were not themselves enough to rebalance Eurasian energy demand equations, the agreement will also allow Turkmenistan to build the Trans-Caspian pipeline, connecting Turkmenistan’s resources to the Azeri-Turkish joint project TANAP, and onwards to Europe – this could easily become a counter-balance factor to the growing LNG business in Europe.

Even though we still don’t have firm and total details on the agreement, Iran seems to have gained much less than its neighbors, as it has shortest border on the Caspian. From an energy perspective, Iran would be a natural market for the Caspian basin’s oil and gas, as Iran’s major cities (Tehran, Tabriz, and Mashhad) are closer to the Caspian than they are to Iran’s major oil and gas fields. Purchasing energy from the Caspian would also allow Iran to export more of its own oil and gas, making the country a transit route from the Caspian basin to world markets. For instance, for Turkmenistan (who would like to sell gas to Pakistan) Iran provides a convenient geography. Iran could earn fees for swap arrangements or for providing a transit route and justify its trade with Turkey and Turkmenistan as the swap deal is allowed under the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA, or the D’Amato Act).

If the surface water will be in common usage, all littoral states will have access beyond their territorial waters. In practical terms, this represents an increasingly engaged Russian presence in the Basin. It also reduces any room for a NATO presence, as it seems to be understood that only the five littoral states will have a right to military presence in the Caspian. Considering the fact that Russia has already used its warships in the Caspian to launch missile attacks on targets within Syria, this increased Russian presence could potentially turn into a security threat for Iran.

Many questions can now be asked on what Tehran might have received in the swap but one piece of evidence for what might have pushed Iran into agreement in its vulnerable position in the face of increased U.S. sanctions. Given that the result of those sanctions seems to be Iran agreeing to a Caspian deal that allows Russia to place warships on its borders, remove NATO from the Caspian basin equation, and increase non-Western based energy supplies (themselves either directly or indirectly within Russia’s sphere of geopolitical influence) it makes one wonder whose interests those sanctions actually served?

By Olgu Okumus for Oilprice.com

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