Category Archives: Saudi Arabia

THE KHASHOGGI CRISIS

BLOG 409 November 5, 2018

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST ~ Each week Robert L. Wise, PhD, explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

The death of Jamal Khashoggi has created a crisis for Saudi Arabia. Other important Saudi princes have disappeared in Europe and were known to have crossed the wrong line with their government. However, none of them worked for The Washington Post.

Why would the Saudi government murder an internationally known journalist in such a bungled fashion? Reasons behind this story are slowly emerging. While Khashoggi had once been so close to the Saudi government that he was an advisor to the King, he had become increasingly critical of the government actions. With rumors that Saudi Arabia was increasing ties with Israel, Khashoggi dislike this idea. He saw Israel as self-serving and undependable. Consequently, he had become increasingly hostile to this possibility.

For years the West had turned a blind-eye to violations of human rights occurring both inside and out when the Saudis acted badly. Trump considered the Saudis to be “his buddies” and was slow to be critical of the Khashoggi murder. Some analysts have suggested that the Trump Administration had in effect given the Saudis a blank check to do what they wished.

Consequently, the Saudis had no idea that killing Khashoggi could blow up in their face. In the US, the killing became a major issue like the Judge Kavanaugh debacle and the scandal continues to unfold. The snowball affect is now sending potential investors in Saudi Arabia running. The country’s attempt to present a new face to the world has been shot down. The best that the new monarch Mohammed Bin Salman can tout is that women can now drive cars (a hundred years behind the rest of the world).

At this time, Saudi-US relationships have been impaired. Even Trump has retreated. A chorus of Senators and Congressmen have lined up against Riyadh. Lindsay Graham made a statement that there would be “hell to pay” over the murder. The Saudis have come off looking like a pack of bumbling idiots. Countries like Britain and France can no longer overlook the Saudi violations of basic human rights much less outright murder.

Strangely enough the isolation of the Saudis may push them toward Israel. If the Kingdom feels isolated, they might turn to Israel for support. While this would be good for Israel, it remains a treacherous path because the Saudis could abruptly change course.

The situation is far from over. In the next few months, the next step in the journey will be revealed.

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HAS AMERICA’S ATTITUDE TOWARD TEHRAN CHANGED?

            In my last blog, I suggested that the Obama administration does not have a coherent strategy for the Middle East. Egypt was the case in point. Let’s turn our attention to another of the major burning sights that has ramifications for the entire world. Iran.

            America’s game-plan that brought Iran to the bargaining table did not sit well with Saudi Arabia (to put it mildly). The Saudi’s are struggling to figure out what in the world America is doing. They were stunned by the 1lth-hour pullback from a military strike in Syria when Putin (of all people) pulled Obama out of the fire because of his vacillating behavior over a period of several months. Moreover, the Saudi’s were angry when America abandoned Hosni Mubarak who had been America’s long time ally and friend.

In Riyadh, the result of this vacillation has created a crisis of confidence in America’s actions and intentions. The Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies reports that Saudi Arabia is now reassessing whether America can be a trusted ally and considering distancing themselves. The new questioning posture is another indication of how indecision leads to chaos.

And what about Iran?

Considerable angst has spread over the Middle East with President Hassan Rouhanni viewed as the victory in the recent negotiations in Geneva that led to the possibility of sanctions being lifted. Secretary of State John Kerry is not seen as the hero. The concern is that the agreement totally ignored the political realities within Iran. The current regime continues to repress its own people as well as export violence across the Middle East. The December 15, 2013 edition of The New York Times ran a story on the continued house arrest of two political leaders. Mir Hussein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi were former presidential candidates and opposition leaders jailed for no other reason that their political position. This action would be the equivalent of putting Al Gore or John McClain in jail after they lost the election. Sounds like the same old Iran–Revolutionary Guard and all.

Here’s the kicker. Analysts in the Middle East are raising questions about what American is actually about. Could the United States be working to cut some variety of self-serving deal with Iran?  Sounds bizarre but —  Michael Doran of the Brooking Institute recently suggested that Washington is in the first phase of seeking a “strategic partnership” with Iran as part of a quest for regional stability.

You think that doesn’t make the Israeli’s quiver? Some voices have suggested that Washington is actively seeking to rein in Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan because he favors a hard line against Iran. While this report has not been varied, it reflects that current prevailing attitude.

Is it possible that Secretary of State John Kerry is double-dealing with very different intentions that what appears on the surface? I have always hated these “behind-the-scenes” accusations that tend to foster suspicion. However, concerned and informed observers must keep their eyes on these possibilities.

They are not good.

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THE SHIFTING SCENERY IN THE MIDDLE EAST

 Only change is unchanging.

            And the Mideast just won’t stop. When former Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren left his post in Washington, D.C., he made a few parting observations that are worth noting. He predicted three major influences will continue to contribute to instability across the region. The split and warring between Sunnis and Shi’ites will add to instability. The Islamist-modernist split will remain a factor. Finally, the challenges to the Arab state system remains problematic. He believe these three conditions will be a joint challenge to both America and Israel.

Oren also observed that at a time when American companies are outsourcing jobs to Asia, Israeli corporations are sending jobs to the US. Interesting indeed!

In my last blog I noted that Turkey is now on the move to make a power grab. Surely, they have recognized that even if Assad should survive, Syria is in such bad shape, they will have to lean on someone. On the other hand, the world is pressing Assad to disappear and he may well do so before it’s over. In that case, how about the winners leaning on the Moslem brothers in Turkey? If you are Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, you love that scenario.

A major part of what is also creating change is the shift in American foreign policy. While promoting democracy in the Middle East was once at the top of President Obama’s priority list, that goal has disappeared. When the Muslim Brotherhood hijacked Egypt’s democratic revolution, the dream began to fade. Syria plunged into a civil war and Libya has remained in chaos. At the same time, American citizens have declared they’ve had enough war. When President Obama recently spoken at the United Nations, he did not mention any intention of pressing for democracy or pushing Assad out. It appears that America has backed off of the promise to send arms.

As mentioned in last week’s blog, all the chips are placed on nuclear negotiations with Iran and achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Since the collapse of Iranian negotiations this weekend, both issues remain in the “iffy” category. If either or both fail, the Obama administration will be looking for the back door.

The result is that both Israel and Saudi Arabia wonder if they are being abandoned by America. Already lacking popularity in both countries, the current American administration is not in a good position for leadership in the Middle East. Like it or not,  the only way that Iran is going to buckle on its nuclear program will be the result of believing that Washington still carries the big stick. Sanctions and the threat of military action are the final prod to bring a positive response.

Right now there is a serious doubt about the seriousness of American intentions. Back peddling won’t push the envelope forward.

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TWITTERING ACROSS SAUDI ARABIA

I have never traveled across the great deserts of Saudi Arabia, the heart of Muslim country and home of their major shrines. The prophet Mohammed is buried in Mecca and the country considered sacred. A resolutely devoted Muslim world, the Saudis have maintained rigid enforcement of their religious principles while rolling in oil income that has made the ruling family among the richest in the world. Of course, this means women cannot even drive a car. Until recently…

The solid foundation of social values now has a crack in it. What shifting international ideals and values have not changed Arabia, the computer and the internet have penetrated the shield. Twitter has revealed frustration and a rejection of how the male dominated country is run. Recently a tweet to Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud (heir apparent to the throne) sent this audacious message. “Remember that we have no medical insurance, no jobs. Prince Salman has billions of dollars and don’t forget all the fenced-in land belonging to the royal family.” Wow! That’s a wake up call indeed!

In fact, the computer has become a new major factor in how the world is run. Even used as an instrument of war, the internet has opened channels that cannot be easily closed. It is widely accepted that America and Israel knocked out Iran’s centrifuges through a cyber attack via the computer. In turn, Iran has intensified their efforts to return the blow. In mid-October Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned that his department is now concerned the Iran may be the first country to launch cyberterrorism. Such an attack recently devastated computer systems in Persian Gulf oil and gas companies. Not unlike the Cold War, hidden espionage and assault continue to go on behind closed doors. Always an unpredictable enemy, national security experts know Iran is more than willing to use sophisticated computer-based methods of attack.

While nothing so vicious in mind, the Saudis are now waking up to how computer messages might affect their country. They did not experience the so-called Arab Spring, but the Twitter-type messages are still spreading a revolution. Prominent judges and lawyers have issued public criticism of large-scale government corruption and social neglect. Women fire away at the clerics who limit their freedoms and self-expression. Even criticisms have been leveled at the king. Unheard of!

A recent study revealed that Twitter has 2.9 million users in Saudi Arabia. While a person could remain anonymous or use a fictitious name, most of the Twitter messages come signed. One of the surprising twists in this revolution is that the internet has turned into a parliament of sorts: A true people’s forum.

One of the unexpected aspects of these messages is the depth of anger toward the royal family. Observers are now recognizing that without serious reforms, the placid Saudi society could erupt into violent change. A mysterious unknown writer name Mujtahidd (which means studious) has made sensational and detailed assaults on the royal family. With 660,000 followers, Mujtahidd is not likely to be easily shut down.

Iran and Saudi Arabia stand at opposite ends of the political spectrum but both reveal how radical the times are changing. The Saudis must take a long, hard second look at their society and we will do the same with Iran. Computers are not to be scoffed at!

Question: Want to Tweet the King in Arabia? You can. What would you tell him?

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