Western political culture concentrates on the issue of poverty, misery, economic distress, social despair and lack of education that lead to homicide bombings in particular and terrorism in general. This political-cultural perception finds out a direct link between oppression, poverty and humiliation to terrorism and homicide bombings.
This follows by the assumption that remedy is addressed from its root cause: removing poverty and hunger, and providing the population with high education will lead to economic prosperity, that in turn leads to political moderation, to a democracy and open society, and that will put an end to terrorism.
Fawaz Gerges, an Arab Christian from Lebanon residing in the US, is an example of Western apologists and appeasing approach: for him,
Muslims are politically oppressed and socially repressed in their countries of birth in the West. They face racial profiling, perceived as a plague of nihilism that must be kept in isolation. Welcome nowhere, they have become the pariahs of the twenty-first century. They do not understand why they are being punished for the crimes they have not committed.
And the utmost peak of his words
Muslims under the age of thirty make up about 60 percent of the world’s Islamic population, yet only a tiny fraction turns to violence and terrorism.
This is also the case with the prominent Norwegian journalist Sven Egil Omdal, who believes that economic factors and social exclusion of Muslim immigrants explain the radicalization of the Muslims. He condemns those “who focus on Islamic ideas or religion or culture.” Moreover, for him “Jihad is caused by European and Western xenophobia, oppression and racism, rather than the Islamic religion and culture xenophobia. Omdal compares Israel to Nazi Germany. Israel’s jihadist Muslim enemies, openly advocate its genocide, are not to be blamed.
State Department Spokesperson, Marie Harf, told MSNBC in February 2015 that the U.S. needs to focus on the root causes that leads people to join terrorist groups, such as “lack of opportunity for jobs: “We cannot win the War on Terror, nor can we win the war on ISIS by killing them. We need to find them jobs. We need to get to the root cause of terrorism and that is poverty and lack of opportunity in the terrorist community.”
There is so much delusion in Harf’s statement and in many other claims in Western governments that one could fill volumes analyzing this profound ignorance. The same misunderstanding that Harf espouses was held by Presidents Clinton and Bush and is still maintained President Obama, who said that Boko Haram terrorist group is a “byproduct of poverty and inadequate social services.”
For Secretary of State, John Kerry, Jihadists are poor and miserable. However, if Kerry were correct in his ‘poor Jihadist’ myth, and terrorism is simply a byproduct of poverty, why isn’t Haiti and Bolivia terrorist states? Why isn’t the world plagued with African suicide bombers? This gives us a look into the federal government’s inability or unwillingness to change conventional wisdom, even when confronted with facts and credible academic studies. CIA Director John Brennan said that the recruits to the Islamic State, at least 20,000 fighters from more than 90 countries join the organization because of economic reasons. That is why the U.S. has spent and will continue to spend billions of Dollars on the assumption that poverty causes Jihad terrorism, but again and again it is proven that Jihad followers are better educated and wealthier.
Unfortunately, this so nice formula, seems so simple and logical solution, so pervasively accepted in the West, is exactly the mirror image which reflects Western fallacies and misconceptions. This is totally mistaken and is perhaps the main cause why Western civilization stumbles and fail, and why Islam will occupy the world. The chronic cluelessness of the root-cause apologists of Jihad never ceases to amaze and to embarrass. Obviously, the purpose of having a job is to improve one’s family’s life, and joining a terrorist group is not exactly a promising career choice, but more death wish. However, this so deeply rooted approach must be clearly understood and totally eliminated, as it has become the highest barrier to overcome Islamic terrorism.
It is outrageous, but not surprising if one looks at the political pattern that even 9/11 and especially since the Islamic Caliphate State (ICS) burst onto the scene have not changed the conceptions. President Obama even went so far as to deny that the Islamic State is neither Islamic nor a state; both of which it clearly is. This is what happens when you deny the existence of an ideology that people clearly see in front of their eyes.
The poverty lack of education syndrome stems mainly from the following sources:
First, culturally, Westerners cannot comprehend the ‘illogical extreme behavior’ of the Muslims, the fanatic barbarian inhumane activity, seems inconceivable to the Western mind.
Second, the media, which is the most important means of molding and shaping public opinion, uses again and again this view, and seemingly supports it without checking it.
Third, this view is highly connected ideologically with Marxist-Bolshevik academia members. Their ideological make up clearly fits their attitude in supporting “oppression,” “colonialism,” and other 19th century slogans.
Fourth, the mirror image, advanced by sociologists and criminologists, and is so prevalent in Western mind (‘we are all the same culturally’), brings us to believe in social deprivation as the cause of miseries, and the remedy of it will remove all troubles.
Fifth, this view fits so much Western values, attitudes and beliefs, as it seems to be the succeeding code of Western civilization, and therefore it fits everywhere.
This approach is more than ridiculous let alone cannot be substantiated and corroborated by scientific data. Moreover, data crystal clear proves the opposite. Indeed, it proves ignorance, lack of understanding and detachment from reality. It exactly exemplifies the mirror image which reflects Western twisted approach. To begin with, it is well known that persons armed with knowledge are ideologically-motivated and tend to extremism. On the contrary, persons who are poor and ignorant do not have the time, the knowledge, and the ability to organize and to fight for ideas.
It is a syndrome: a fanatic ideology, even a religious zealotry, increases directly with higher education. The causes and motivations for terrorism, violence and anarchism are an integral part of fanatic ideology and religious zealotry. It is proven time and again all along history: not only that poverty and education are not intertwined, but poverty leads to crime; never to terrorism.
Most of the Third World countries are hungry and their socio-economic reality is miserable and wretched. Nevertheless they did not create so profound an infrastructure of organized inhuman terrorism backed up by religious ideology. Africa is the poorest continent in the world and its peoples are really in deep situation of humiliation and wretchedness, but it did not nor does it establish fanatic terrorism, a state-like institutionalized terrorism as the Palestinians; not a state-sponsored terrorism like Saudi-Arabia or Iran; and not huge terrorist groups like the Muslim brotherhood organizations.
Japan must have been fanatic anti US as it was inflicted by two atomic Bombs on its cities; yet, Japan is pro-Western and an ally of the US. India, which was harshly repressed and exploited by the British colonialists, not only does it not support terrorism, it is even a thriving stable democracy. And if occupation is all about, then Egypt was under Western control for 67 years, Syria for 21 years, Iraq for only 15, and Saudi Arabia was never under Western control. Contrast this with Spain, which was under the Muslim yoke for 781 years, Greece for 381 years, and vast areas of the Middle East and Asia are still in Muslim hands. Yet, we are unaware of any Spanish or Greek or original Asian and North-Africa politics of victimhood and an ideology of terrorism against imperialist colonialist Islam. It must be bear in mind: European imperialism was here and gone; Soviet Imperialism was here and gone; American imperialism was here and gone. Only Islamic imperialism was here and still here, and it threatens to expand and to occupy the entire world.
Alexis De Tocqueville, in his research on French Revolution, discovered that violence and revolutions break out precisely with an improvement in socio-economic condition. Only when one has leisure time and education to understand and to evaluate the situation, he then has the ability and incentives to act. Indeed, when you are hungry and without education, you have no time nor knowledge, let alone ability to fight for values. You are totally preoccupied with bringing food and nourishing your family.
It was the Egyptian American, Fuad Zakariyah, who explained this so ably:
The radicalism virus of the Islamic fanaticism resembles the Nazi ideology, and it has nothing to do with poverty, wretchedness, social disorders and humiliation. Like in all ideologies, fanatic Islam flourishes among the educated and well-being economically and socially. Extreme ideology belongs to people with plenty of leisure time and higher education to execute their desires. The poor and miserable are not here.
Eli Kedourie has investigated most of the third world countries in search of independence. His book Nationalism in Asia and Africa, supports De Tocqueville’s approach: the national flag is brandished when there is food, leisure time and high education. Some arise up the post-colonial theories, pertained to the repression and exploitation experienced by the Muslims countries from the West. Yet, similar issues in Africa and Asia existed, without their harsh externalized aggressiveness.
Theories of criminology and social psychology prove that motives of security and group affiliation precede hunger and misery. Marc Sageman, a former CIA officer and a forensic psychiatrist, had conducted an analysis of 500 members of the Islamic terror organization al-Qaeda, “Understanding Terror Networks,” which revealed that the majority of them were well-educated, upwardly mobile men in their twenties from a middle-class background. “Two-thirds of them had a university education.” The recruits came from solid, middle-class backgrounds; their leadership hailed from the upper middle class, and they also tended to come from the wealthier Arab countries. The common stereotype of Islamic terrorism as a product of poor men is clearly wrong, he concluded his research.
Muslims make up a vastly disproportionate number of the inmates in many Western jails. The psychologist Nicolai Sennels, who worked with Muslims in Denmark that had been convicted of serious crimes, reports how these inmates rarely feel any personal responsibility for what they have done. For them, Islam is the utmost to expand, by immigration, by diplomacy of deceit, even by coercion. At the same time, out of cultural tendencies they usually see themselves as innocent victims of outside forces. They are oppressed and discriminated. In their own minds, they never do anything wrong, but many wrongs are imposed upon them by others. They are a malicious phenomenon of people lacking humanity and to whom human life has no value.
Ibn Warraq has repeatedly stated, the root cause of Islamic terrorism is Islam’s teachings and the example of Muhammad in the Sharī‘ah, and his companions as described in traditional sources. Therefore, those who claim that Islamic terrorism is caused by poverty and oppression are ignorant, stupid, and Bolsheviks that parrot Marxist dogma, as if violence is caused by ‘oppression’ or ‘racism’ or ‘colonialism.’ Islam is an exemplification of the centrality of religion and ideology as the basis of political operational behavior.
Islamic terrorism and fanaticism is part of the religion and culture. The reality is clear: there is no one nation in the world that does not suffer Arab-Islamic rage, violence and terrorism. The statistics is unfortunately very sad: every minute there is at least one victim around the world from the Muslims. Most of them Muslims, but still they are also victims of Islamic religion. More than 70 percent of world violence, and more than 90 percent of world terrorism are clearly Islamic. In 2015 there were 452 cases of homicide bombings. All of them are Islamic origin and operation (one case is doubtful). This data clearly brings to one conclusion.
Another angle to look at the situation is the following: most if not all world states have minorities. The US is the best example for a nation that is represented by so many minorities. However, most of them have been so deeply accommodated and integrated, literally blessing their new states and actively become loyal and contributing citizens. They do not want to impose their culture on their new countries; they do not want to change its constitution and to coerce their way of life. More important and relevant, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Jews, for example, neither do not intend nor do not want to impose their religion on their new states. However, unfortunately, this is not the situation with Islam. Only Muslims are outrageously rebelling aggressively and violently demand to change Western societies’ way of life, culture and religion. This is something never happened before in history: a small minority penetrates to an established progressive modernized society that generously accepted it, and act to totally change its construct.
This is exactly how Muslims act, and Western societies have lost their ability to defend themselves. Moreover, by using their thrice mutual offensive strategy of Jihad, Da’wah, and Hijrah, Western societies are in deep visual agnosia as to look at the situation and understand its logic and its consequences. In fact, Western societies even change their language as to describe the situation. Now Islam is a religion of peace and compassion, and the Muslim terrorist organization not only do not represent Islam but in fact are not Muslim at all. Indeed, the strategy of using religious deception by smiling at the infidels and promising mountains of living together promises while plotting to kill them, is a common feature of many would-be Jihadists in Western countries.
All surveys clearly prove: the leaders and activists of Islamic World Jihad groups are members of the middle and even the upper classes. Most have a high university education and many of them have doctoral, medical or engineering. They have never asserted in their declarations that the reasons for their activity were poverty, ignorance and hunger. They speak of Western crusaders, whom they are attempting to expel from Arab-Islamic lands and to overturn in the Dar al-Harb territories; of Israeli aggression, they wish to destroy as a national entity and as a sovereign state; of Arab regimes, which they struggle to overthrow; and of the future apocalypse when Islam fights all other religions and overcome to control the world. They have no plans for social advancement and economic well-being. They have no intention to provide employment, education or welfare to the masses. They consider themselves revolutionary elite, the vanguard. They are the Islamic elite who deserve to rule and to subdue.
It is well proven that poverty does not motivate people to extreme violence, but ideology and religion. Research investigated terrorist organizations in the world shows that members of Bader-Meinhoff in Germany; Red Brigades in Italy; even the Tupamaros, Montanerros and the Light Path in Latin-America; let alone Hezbollah, Hamas, Fath and Taliban organizations come from economically advantaged families with a proven high level of education.
Palestinian uprisings and violence, the 1936, 1987 and 2000 erupted precisely during periods of economic growth, when the economy was prosperous and the standard of living of the population was proportionately good. If one compares the Palestinian economic and social situation to that in some Arab states let alone African, Asian and south American states, it is much higher and better, and their rate of education is the highest in the Arab world proportionately. The year 2000 was the best in the Palestinian economic history with GNP of 2600 dollars, and yet the Palestinians are the leading front of regional and international terrorism.
Indeed, Palestinian terrorism of homicide bombings and vicious violence prove this reality. It is not stemmed from poverty and lack of education, but motivated by political and ideological reasons and religious total demands. Since Oslo agreements in September 1993, up till the end of September 2000, 63 homicide bombers were counted. From September 2000 until 2010, 267 homicide bombers were sent on suicide actions, among them 35 women. Of all the 155 successful suicide bombers, more than 50% had university education; and most of them 50% came from al-Najah University in Nablus. Indeed, the homicide bombers are not hungry or miserable. They are in total repulsion of Jews and Zionism, and motivated by Islamic fanaticism of dehumanization of Israeli-Zionist existence.
The terrorists of September 11 lived in the West, were economically prosperous with a higher education. They were not poor and wretched. 14 of them were from Saudi Arabia, a very wealthy oil country which has never been under European colonial rule but is itself the cradle of one of the world’s most brutal religiously fanatic imperial traditions. “Jihadi John,” the Muslim British executioner of ISIS snuff videos, Muhammad Emwazi was a highly educated young man from a middle class background. Many Islamist terrorists are physicians: Nidal Hasan (the Fort Hood shooter) and al Qaeda’s current leader, Ayman Al-Zawahiri. “Lady al-Qaeda” Aafia Siddiqui was a scientist. Mohammed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 crew, was an engineer and the son of a middle class family. Another engineer: Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Underwear Bomber, who is the son of a wealthy Nigerian businessman. Most of the Palestinian terrorist organization excel in this, being engineers and physicians, and this is also the pattern with all Muslim terrorists.
Indeed, what motivated them is not poverty and social misery, rather a profound hatred to all that Western culture stands for: permissiveness, secularism, liberalism, and above all logic and reason and believing in human responsibility. What furious them is placing man at the center and focusing on sovereignty of the mind, rather than submissiveness and devotion to Allah. All terrorist groups, when their ideology analyzed, there is no attention to social and economic miseries and conditions.
Studies have documented time and again that Islamic jihadist terrorists have above average education and income. This was the conclusion of a survey of 400 Al-Qaeda members all the way back in 2004. In 2011, a secret MI5 file indicated that ‘two-thirds of the U.K’s jihad suspects came from middle or upper-middle-class backgrounds, showing no relationship between poverty and involvement in Islamist extremism,’ most of them are with high education. The report contradicts commonly held stereotypes of terrorists and suicide bombers being ‘mad,’ ‘loners,’ and ‘psychopaths,’ as 90% can be categorized as ‘sociable,’ ‘rational,’ and have high number of friends. ‘It also challenges the theory that individuals who turn to radical or extremist networks are those who are unable to make friends in normal life.’ The study says that the ‘mean age’ at which a Muslim becomes radicalized is 21.6 years, while anyone between the ages of 16 and 32 is regarded as vulnerable. Moreover, half of the suspects were married and had children. ‘This indicates that having commitments to a spouse and children did not necessarily restrain these individuals from becoming involved in terrorist activities.’
Reviews of empirical evidence proves, as the RAND Corporation has reported, that “terrorists are not particularly impoverished, uneducated or afflicted by mental disease. Terrorist leaders actually tend to come from relatively privileged backgrounds.”
Muhammad Mahfouz claims:
The only way to end violence and terrorism is to fight a cultural and ideological battle. Terrorism is one of the most dangerous problems encountered in recent times, for it undermines the stability and security of human societies. The relationship between the phenomenon of terrorism in Islamic society and culture is like the relationship between the cause and consequence. This may explain why youths belonging to rich families and from well position in society are implicated in terrorist crimes.
This means that financial and economic factors cannot be associated with this fanatic ideology and terrorism. It is cultural and religious factors that motivate to murder innocent people. The only way to put an end to the wave of violence and terrorism is to fight ideological cultural battle against terrorism carried out by a group of brain-washed youth, influenced by glamorous slogans. Any delay in fighting this ideological cultural battle will drag us to the abyss of instability. We need more than ever to dismantle the cultural and ideological incubators which feed this phenomenon and mold it socially and culturally.
Abdallah Rashid, an Arab liberal, asserts:
The greatest mistake is to attribute the causes of terrorism to the lack of social justice; the situation of poverty; and the harsh social conditions in most of the Arab and Islamic countries. The socio-economic situation of most of the terrorists is very good. They are from well-off families, with high education and good jobs. 61% of the volunteers to fight in Iraq are from Saudi-Arabia and the Gulf States. They come from families that are not poor and from a social environment that does not suffer from economic problems and wretchedness. They are brainwashed at the hands of ‘religious clerics,’ the media, the educational system. They are nourished with various kinds of racist views, destructive fanatic principles, and with hostility, hatred, and resentment towards the others.
Abd al-Hamid al-Ansari states that
There were those who said that it was out of ignorance. But can the Shuyukh teaching the creed of the faith in distinguished universities be ignorant? There were those who said that it was due to oppression and lack of freedom. But these people are not interested in human freedoms. There were those who said that it was due to few work opportunities and high unemployment. But how does this correspond with the fact that those who carried out the operations had money and weapons, besides living in rich societies? There were those who said it was due to America’s pro-Israel bias. But the Jihad organizations have only recently begun to wave the banner of Palestine. However, the explanation for terrorism and violence lies in an examination of the educational system, and in the religious, cultural, and media discourse.
Beyond the friendship diplomacy between Morocco and Mauritania
Over the past decade or so, many politicians and diplomats have held that the most significant bilateral relationship has been between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. That remains true today, and it will be likely the case for long- term partnership to come, even as the sort of that relationship changes over time. Due to, diplomatic rapprochement between them and bilateral cooperation on several levels, Mauritania, tends formally to withdraw its full recognition of the Polisario Front “SADR” before the term of the current president, Mohamed Ould Al-Ghazwani, ends.
Yet, the truth is that Mauritania has unalterably shifted from the previous engagement with Morocco to the recent conflict with it on nearly all the key fronts: geopolitics, trade, borders security, finance, and even the view on domestic governance. To that extent, Mauritania was the most affected by the Polisario Front militia’s violation to close the Guerguerat border crossing and prevent food supplies from reaching their domestic markets. This crisis frustrated Mauritanian people and politicians who demanded to take firm stances towards the separatists.
In the context of the fascinating development in relations between Rabat and Nouakchott, the Mauritanian government stated that President Ould Ghazwani is heading to take a remarkable decision based on derecognized the so-called Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and Polisario Front as its sole representative and follow up the recent UN peace process through the case of Western Sahara conflict under UN Security Council resolutions.
Similarly, the United States announced that “Moroccan (Western) Sahara is an integral part of The Kingdom–a traditional Ally, and it supports the Moroccan government’s constitutional procedures to maintain Moroccan Southern provinces strong and united.” It was rapidly followed by all major countries of African, and the Arab Middle East also extended their supports to the government in Rabat. What a determined move against the Polisario Front separatism in a sovereign state!
During the Western Sahara dispute, the Moroccan Sahrawi was humiliated to the end by Polisario Front: it not only lost their identity but also resulted in the several ethnics’ claim for “independence” in the border regions within. currently, Morocco is the only regional power in North Africa that has been challenged in terms of national unity and territorial integrity. The issues cover regional terrorism, political separatism, and fundamental radicalism from various radical ethnic groups. Although the population of the “Polisario groups” is irrelevant because of Morocco’s total population, the territorial space of the ethnic minorities across the country is broadly huge and prosperous in natural resources. besides, the regions are strategically important.
In foreign affairs doctrine, the certainty of countries interacting closely, neighboring states and Algeria, in particular, have always employed the issue of the Western Sahara dispute in the Southern Region of Morocco as the power to criticize and even undermine against Morocco in the name of discredit Sahrawi rights, ethnic discrimination, social injustice, and natural resources exploitation. therefore, local radical Sahrawi groups have occasionally resisted Morocco’s authority over them in a vicious or nonviolent way. Their resistance in jeopardy national security on strategic borders of the Kingdom, at many times, becoming an international issue.
A Mauritanian media stated, that “all the presidential governments that followed the former President Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidala, a loyal and supporter to the Polisario Front, were not at all satisfied with the recognition of the SADR creation due to its fear that it would cause reactions from Algeria. however, Mauritania today is not the state of 1978, it has become a well-built country at the regional level, and the position of its military defense has been enhanced at the phase of the continent’s armies after it was categorized as a conventional military power.”
This is what Mauritania has expected the outcome. Although neighboring Mauritania has weeded out the pressures of the Algerian regime, which stood in the way of rapprochement with the Kingdom of Morocco, and the Mauritanian acknowledged that Nouakchott today is “ready to take the historic decision that seeks its geopolitical interests and maintain strategic stability and security of the entire region, away from the external interactions.” Hence, The Mauritanian decision, according to the national media, will adjust its neutral position through the Moroccan (Western) Sahara issue; Because previously was not clear in its political arrangement according to the international or even regional community.
Given the Moroccan domestic opinion, there is still optimistic hope about long-term collaboration on the transformation between Morocco and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, even considering some temporary difficulties between the two in the Western Sahara conflict. For example, prior Mauritania has recognized the Polisario since the 1980s, but this recognition did not turn into an embassy or permanent diplomatic sign of the separatist entity in Mauritania, the Kingdom has a long-standing relationship with Mauritania and the recent regional politics would not harm that, because it’s a political circumstance.
Despite the strain exerted by the Polisario Front and Algeria on Mauritania, and intending to set impediments that avoid strategic development of its relations with Rabat, the Mauritanian-Moroccan interactions have seen an increased economic development for nearly two years, which end up with a phone call asked King Mohammed VI to embark on an official visit to Mauritania as President Ould Ghazwani requested.
For decades, the kingdom of Morocco has deemed a united, stable, and prosperous Maghreb region beneficial to itself and Northern Africa since it is Kingdom’s consistent and open stance and strategic judgment. Accordingly, Morocco would continue supporting North Africa’s unity and development. On the one hand, Morocco and Mauritania are not only being impacted by the pandemic, but also facing perils and challenges such as unilateralism, and protectionism. On the other hand, Rabat opines that the two neighboring states and major forces of the world necessarily established their resolve to strengthen communication and cooperation with each other. To that end, both states would make efforts to set up long-term strategic consensus including mutual trust, reciprocal understandings, and respect to the United Nations and the current international system based on multilateralism.
In sum, both Morocco and Mauritania are sovereign states with a strong desire to be well-built and sophisticated powers. Previous successes and experiences in solving territorial disputes and other issues have given them confidence, which motivated both countries to join hands in the struggles for national independence, equality, and prosperity. In sense of the world politics, two states promise to advance the great cause of reorganization and renovation and learn from each other’s experience in state power and party administration.
Getting Away With Murder: The New U.S. Intelligence Report on the Khashoggi Affair
It was October 2, 2018 when a man walked into the Saudi Arabian consulate to collect some documents he needed for his impending marriage. He had been there earlier on September 28, and had been told to allow a few days for them to prepare the needed proof of divorce from an earlier marriage.
So there he was. His Turkish fiancée had accompanied him and he asked her to wait outside as it would only take a minute or two. She waited and waited and… waited. Jamal Khashoggi never came out.
What went on inside is a matter of dispute but US intelligence prepared a report which should have been released but was illegally blocked by the Trump administration. Mr. Trump is no doubt grateful for the help he has had over two decades from various Saudi royals in addition to the business thrown his way at his various properties. “I love the Saudis,” says Donald Trump and he had kept the report under wraps. It has now been released by the new Biden administration.
All the same, grisly details of the killing including dismemberment soon emerged because in this tragic episode, with an element of farce, it was soon evident that the Turks had bugged the consulate. There is speculation as to how the perpetrators dispersed of the corpse but they themselves have been identified. Turkish officials also claim to know that they acted on orders from the highest levels of the Saudi government. They arrived on a private jet and left just as abruptly.
The egregious killing led to the UN appointing a Special Rapporteur, Agnes Callamard. She concluded it to be an “extra-judicial killing for which the state of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible.” She added, there was “credible evidence” implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other senior officials.
Now the US report. Intelligence agencies conclude Jamal Khashoggi was killed by a Saudi hit squad under the orders of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. They add that the latter has had unitary control over Saudi security and intelligence organizations and thus it was “highly unlikely” an operation of this nature would have been possible without Prince Mohammed’s authorization.
Mr. Biden’s reaction is plain. Although the Crown Prince is the de facto ruler with his father the King’s acquiescence, Mr. Biden has not talked to him. He called the king and emphasized the importance placed on human rights and the rule of law in the US.
President Biden is also re-evaluating US arms sales to the Kingdom with a view to limiting them to defensive weapons — a difficult task as many can be used for both, a fighter-bomber for example.
There are also calls for sanctions against the Crown Prince directly but Biden has ruled that out. Saudi Arabia is after all the strongest ally of the US in the region, and no president wants to jeopardize that relationship. Moreover, the US has done the same sort of thing often enough; the last prominent assassination being that of the senior Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani, by the Trump administration.
US intelligence report leaves Saudi Arabia with no good geopolitical choices
The Biden administration’s publication of a US intelligence report that holds Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi creates a fundamental challenge to the kingdom’s geopolitical ambitions.
The challenge lies in whether and how Saudi Arabia will seek to further diversify its alliances with other world powers in response to the report and US human rights pressure.
Saudi and United Arab Emirates options are limited by that fact that they cannot fully replace the United States as a mainstay of their defence as well as their quest for regional hegemony, even if the report revives perceptions of the US as unreliable and at odds with their policies.
As Saudi King Salman and Prince Mohammed contemplate their options, including strengthening relations with external players such as China and Russia, they may find that reliance on these forces could prove riskier than the pitfalls of the kingdom’s ties with the United States.
Core to Saudi as well as UAE considerations is likely to be the shaping of the ultimate balance of power between the kingdom and Iran in a swath of land stretching from the Atlantic coast of Africa to Central Asia’s border with China.
US officials privately suggest that regional jockeying in an environment in which world power is being rebalanced to create a new world order was the key driver of Saudi and UAE as well as Israeli opposition from day one to the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran that the United States together with Europe, China, and Russia negotiated. That remains the driver of criticism of US President Joe Biden’s efforts to revive the agreement.
“If forced to choose, Riyadh preferred an isolated Iran with a nuclear bomb to an internationally accepted Iran unarmed with the weapons of doom,” said Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Washington-based Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and founder of the National Iranian American Council. Mr. Parsi was summing up Saudi and Emirati attitudes based on interviews with officials involved in the negotiations at a time that Mr. Biden was vice-president.
As a result, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel appear to remain determined to either foil a return of the United States to the accord, from which Mr. Biden’s predecessor, Donald J. Trump, withdrew, or ensure that it imposes conditions on Iran that would severely undermine its claim to regional hegemony.
In the ultimate analysis, the Gulf states and Israel share US objectives that include not only restricting Iran’s nuclear capabilities but also limiting its ballistic missiles program and ending support for non-state actors like Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iraqi militias, and Yemen’s Houthis. The Middle Eastern states differ with the Biden administration on how to achieve those objectives and the sequencing of their pursuit.
Even so, the Gulf states are likely to realize as Saudi Arabia contemplates its next steps what Israel already knows: China and Russia’s commitment to the defence of Saudi Arabia or Israel are unlikely to match that of the United States given that they view an Iran unfettered by sanctions and international isolation as strategic in ways that only Turkey rather than other Middle Eastern states can match.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE will also have to recognize that they can attempt to influence US policies with the help of Israel’s powerful Washington lobby and influential US lobbying and public relations companies in ways that they are not able to do in autocratic China or authoritarian Russia.
No doubt, China and Russia will seek to exploit opportunities created by the United States’ recalibration of its relations with Saudi Arabia with arms sales as well as increased trade and investment.
But that will not alter the two countries’ long-term view of Iran as a country, albeit problematic, with attributes that the Gulf states cannot match even if it is momentarily in economic and political disrepair.
Those attributes include Iran’s geography as a gateway at the crossroads of Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe; ethnic, cultural, and religious ties with Central Asia and the Middle East as a result of history and empire; a deep-seated identity rooted in empire; some of the world’s foremost oil and gas reserves; a large, highly educated population of 83 million that constitutes a huge domestic market; a fundamentally diversified economy; and a battle-hardened military.
Iran also shares Chinese and Russian ambitions to contain US influence even if its aspirations at times clash with those of China and Russia.
“China’s BRI will on paper finance additional transit options for the transfer of goods from ports in southern to northern Iran and beyond to Turkey, Russia, or Europe. China has a number of transit options available to it, but Iranian territory is difficult to avoid for any south-north or east-west links,” said Iran scholar Alex Vatanka referring to Beijing’s infrastructure, transportation and energy-driven Belt and Road Initiative.
Compared to an unfettered Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE primarily offer geography related to some of the most strategic waterways through which much of the world’s oil and gas flows as well their positioning opposite the Horn of Africa and their energy reserves.
Moreover, Saudi Arabia’s position as a religious leader in the Muslim world built on its custodianship of Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, potentially could be challenged as the kingdom competes for leadership with other Middle Eastern and Asian Muslim-majority states.
On the principle of better the enemy that you know than the devil that you don’t, Saudi leaders may find that they are, in the best of scenarios, in response to changing US policies able to rattle cages by reaching out to China and Russia in ways that they have not until now, but that at the end of the day they are deprived of good choices.
That conclusion may be reinforced by the realization that the United States has signalled by not sanctioning Prince Mohammed that it does not wish to cut its umbilical cord with the kingdom. That message was also contained in the Biden administration’s earlier decision to halt the sale of weapons that Saudi Arabia could you for offensive operations in Yemen but not arms that it needs to defend its territory from external attack.
At the bottom line, Saudi Arabia’s best option to counter an Iran that poses a threat to the kingdom’s ambitions irrespective of whatever regime is in power would be to work with its allies to develop the kind of economic and social policies as well as governance that would enable it to capitalize on its assets to effectively compete. Containment of Iran is a short-term tactic that eventually will run its course.
Warned former British diplomat and Royal Dutch Shell executive Ian McCredie: “When the Ottoman Empire was dismantled in 1922, it created a vacuum which a series of powers have attempted to fill ever since. None has succeeded, and the result has been a century of wars, coups, and instability. Iran ruled all these lands before the Arab and Ottoman conquests. It could do so again.”
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