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Historic step: UNSC votes to end Israeli settlements in Palestine

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The process of establishing a soverign Palestine state is being supported by UN vote for defacto Palestine and the UN agencies doing all possible help for the Palestinians to move forward to get Palestine by legal means. Now a historic action by UNSC has legally binding Israel for the consequences of its illegal settlements in Palestine and asked Israel to remove all settlements illegal in Palatine- impediments for credible talks and for peace.

UNSC can vote resolution only if no veto member disagrees on it and that has happened now. USA has abstained from voting in order to clear way for the resolution to sail through. Israel stand isolated legally, internationally.

Despite unusual diplomatic maneuvering involving President-elect Donald Trump, Israel, and Egypt on December 22, the United Nations Security Council passed a historic resolution on December 23 Friday demanding an end to Israeli settlements. As a positive step, the USA abstained, effectively allowing the measure to be approved- the first ever positive step b y the superpower in years ever since Israel was forced into Palestine and made a full UN member in 1948.

UN resolution that’s become such a controversial issue the last couple of days only asks Israel to adhere to international law. The draft resolution demands Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem”, and says the establishment of settlements by Israel has “no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law”.

Egypt withdrew the original resolution on 22 December afternoon, reportedly “under pressure” from both President Barack Obama and President elect Trump —who tweeted on the matter Thursday morning. —and Israel. Had this move worked, it could have punted the measure to the incoming Trump government, which is seen as more friendly to Israel than that of President Barack Obama—especially after Trump’s nomination last week of conservative hardliner David Friedman to serve as US ambassador to Israel. It was expected Trump would choose a pro-Palestine diplomat to be sent to Tel Aviv to bring about credible peace between Palestine and Israel, an arrogantly positioned and occupier of Palestinian territories with US backing.

But the Security Council members New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela, and Senegal stepped in and the vote took place after all on Friday afternoon.

The US abstention, which was expected as the Obama government has given up pro-Israeli stance for the time being, was described as a relatively rare step by Washington, which usually uses it UN veto to shield Israel from such action, and as a parting shot by US President Obama who has had an acrimonious relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and who has made settlements a major target of peace efforts that have proven ultimately futile.”

In response to the vote, pro-peace organization the Jewish Voice for Peace executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson declared: “There is an increasing understanding among US political leaders, thanks to ongoing grassroots pressure, of the need to hold Israel accountable to international law. The US abstention from this resolution is a welcome sign in that regard.”

However, she added, “with President-elect Trump urging a veto of even this mild resolution, as well as his nomination of an extreme right-wing Ambassador to Israel, we are deeply concerned by increasing US support for Israeli incitement, annexation, and control under his administration and will redouble our efforts to organize resistance to policies based in Islamophobia, racism, and disregard for even the most basic rights of Palestinians.”

Earlier, Trump wasn’t the only one who called on the USA to veto the measure; a number of hardcore Zionist US senators serving Israeli interests in Mideast on Friday joined him by issuing aggressive statements to that effect, making loud that the money they receive from Israel is worth the trouble

And interestingly Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who serves as chairman of the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations of the Senate Appropriations Committee, threatened to reduce US to the United Nations” if the body moves forward with the ill-conceived resolution to upset Israeli straggly to expand illegal settlements in Palestine

Relations between Israel and Palestine have been wrecked for decades, as Palestinians have been seeking diplomatic recognition for their independent state of Palestine on the territories of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which is also partially occupied by Israel, and the Gaza Strip.

Israel brutally occupies Palestine territories and attacks Gaza strips, now targeting women and children. UN is just watching the Israeli terror shows as Palestinians continue to bleed and yet they are called the terrorists by leading US Zionists like Madam Clinton. Peace has not been the motto of Obama as he intensified the wars launched by roguish Bushdom leaders on the pretext of 9/11.

When Israel attacks Gaza Strip, killing even children or cancels the talks with Palestinians, USA admires and supports Israel mainly because US leaders do not seek peace or regional normalcy anywhere in the world, especially in energy rich Middle East. The most recent round of peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians was initiated by the United States in mid-2013 but ended in an impasse almost a year later. USA plays mischief in the name of diplomacy with Palestine and world. President Obama, like his predecessors had done before him, just could not push the arrogant Israeli regime to come to terms with reality and agree for peaceful resolution of the Mideast conflict that makes the world vulnerable to tensions and wars.

President elect Trump is expected to choose peace in order to wind down all terror wars. Hence his views on Palestine gains importance. Following the presidential poll, US President-elect Donald Trump assured the global community of the serious approach of USA in changing political atmosphere and said he wants to put an end to the Israel-Palestinian conflict and thereby bring to the Mideast region. “That’s the ultimate deal,” Trump said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, referring to the complex conflict as the “war that never ends.” Just one day after winning the election, Trump has asked hawkish Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to meet with him in the USA.

Trump noted that any deal should be directly negotiated between Israel and Palestine, but that his government would play a “significant role” in helping the parties to achieve a just, lasting peace,” according to the Times of Israel.

In an interview with “Israel Today”, a free daily owned by Republican super-donor Sheldon Adelson, Trump said he believed his government can play “a significant role” in helping the Middle East parties reach an agreement. Netanyahu, however, had ordered his Cabinet and lawmakers to avoid speaking to the media about the election while the incoming US administration formulates its policies and told his Cabinet on November 13, 2016 that he would soon be meeting Trump.

A senior Israeli Cabinet Minister Naftali Bennett on November 14, 2016 said the election of Donald Trump has helped create an opportunity for Israel to abandon its stated commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state. The remarks by Bennett reflect sentiment in the nationalist Israeli right wing that Trump’s election many Zionists believe could usher in a new era of relations with the United States.

While these two capitalist countries are close allies, relations were sometimes tense between US President Barack Obama and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu because of their vastly different world views.

Bennett last week welcomed Trump’s election, predicting that “the special relationship” with the US would grow stronger and noting that the Republican campaign platform had no mention of a Palestinian state. In fact many in USA and Israel are happy that Trump has chosen a hard core Zionist as US envoy for Israel. They believe for Trump “The era of a Palestinian state is over”.

Bennett leads the Jewish Home party, a coalition partner that is affiliated with the West Bank settler movement. He is one of the most influential voices in Israeli politics, and both his party and most members of Netanyahu’s Likud oppose Palestinian statehood on either religious or security grounds. Bennett has called for annexing parts of the West Bank and granting the Palestinians in other parts expanded autonomy, with new roads, office parks and economic opportunities, with Israel retaining overall security control.

Israel and its media kept themselves away from Is US elections, not siding with Trump. . Speaking to foreign reporters on November 14, 2016, Bennett was more cautious, citing an order by Netanyahu for his Cabinet not to talk about the election in public. But he made it clear that Trump will push his government to rethink its commitment to Palestinian independence. Bennett said that the combination of the changes in the USA, in Europe that the region provides Israel with a unique opportunity to reset and rethink everything. “It’s no secret that I think that the notion of setting up a Palestine in the heart of Israel is a profound mistake. I believe that we have to bring alternative new ideas instead of the Palestinian state approach”.

Now the Cabinet Minister Ofir Akunis, a close Netanyahu associate, called for a renewed wave of settlement construction. But such sentiments may have been premature.

This explains the Zionist petrified mindset with regard to Palestine state and Palestinians. For two decades, the international community has been pushing for a negotiated peace deal that would include the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip – areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.

Though Bennett said he did not know whether Trump would support that view, he said it is critical that Israel now clearly define its own vision. After many years, the Israeli government has to decide what we want”. Bennett’s comments were also an indicator of the pressure Netanyahu could soon face to abandon his commitment to the “two-state solution” favored by President Obama, President elect Trump and the international community.

The thinking was that Israel’s continued occupation of millions of Palestinians would create a demographic time bomb, threatening Israel’s status as a democracy with a Jewish majority.

After opposing Palestinian independence for most of his career, Netanyahu, like his predecessors had done, reluctantly endorsed the idea shortly after Obama took office in 2009. Critics, including Obama, have said that continued Israeli settlements on occupied territories have undercut the goal, and the Obama government has at times questioned Netanyahu’s commitment to seeking peace.

Though never supported Trump’s campaign, Israeli hard-liners welcomed Trump’s election late, noting the support for Israel in his campaign platform and the many pro-Israel officials who advised him during his campaign. Their spirits were further boosted after a Trump adviser, Jason Greenblatt, told an Israeli radio station that his boss does not think the West Bank settlements are an “obstacle to peace.”

But that is now history.

Trump’s unpredictability has raised concerns that he might change his attitudes once in office. For instance, Trump told the Wall Street Journal that he would like to help broker a solution to the conflict “for humanity’s sake”.

All sensible people and powers around the globe hope that the Trump regime will not give vent to his unexplainable hatred for Muslims in depriving the Palestinian people – who have been driven forcefully away by USA-UK-Jewish people from their motherland more than seven decades back in 1948 to carve out an illegal Israel – in realizing their genuine rights of a free Palestine state.

UNSC vote to end to Israeli settlements in Palestine is indeed a historic step to further easy the movement for establishing Palestine as a full UN member sooner than later.

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Paris Peace Forum: A missed opportunity for the Middle East

Samantha Maloof

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Timed to coincide with the centennial of the World War I armistice, the Paris Peace Forum (PPF) launched by French president Emmanuel Macron adopted a welcome approach to the root causes of contemporary conflict, including climate change and the double-edged sword represented by new technologies.

The forum, which took place from November 11-13, showcased projects that spoke to the innovation and collaboration critical to improving lives and reducing tensions across the globe.

Conspicuous by their absence

Even though the summit saw 65 heads of state from all over the world come together to launch the event, precious few of those leaders came from the Middle East – even though the region could benefit as much as any other part of the world from this “Davos for democracy.” While this first peace summit represented a promising start, any future editions need to find a way to make inroads with citizens in the countries where they are needed most. Of course, this is a two-way street, with leaders in those countries needing to participate in and draw lessons from such gatherings.

The Middle East’s most notable representatives at the event were Qatari emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri. Their presence was fitting: while so many of their neighbors jostle with each other to secure their own geopolitical ends, Qatar and Lebanon have faced down the instability surrounding them to protect themselves from dangerous regional currents. Unfortunately, the leaders who could have really used reminding of the importance of peace were absent from the stage.

An “island” of stability

Qatar, for its part, has been the subject of a regional blockade for the best part of 18 months. A coalition of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have all severed ties with the country since June 2017 for its alleged “support for terrorism” but more realistically for its willingness to deal with Iran against a backdrop of acrimony between the two sides of the Gulf. The Saudis, for their part, have gone so far as planning to cut Qatar off from the mainland with a new canal.

Far from buckling, however, Qatar has proven remarkably resilient and stuck firmly to a strategy of de-escalation with both sides of the Saudi-Iranian cold war. Events since have rewarded that cool-headedness. Global markets nervous about the turbulence in Riyadh are now looking to Qatar as a regional investment driver instead. Ironically enough, none other than Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman praised the performance of the Qatari economy last month.

Delicate peace in Beirut

Lebanon has had greater difficulty insulating itself from the instability across its border with Syria, but Saad Hariri has nonetheless maintained a fragile domestic peace even after an apparent kidnapping and forced resignation (later rescinded) orchestrated by bin Salman in November of last year. Hariri was detained for two weeks and only released on the back of intense international pressure, apparently out of Saudi anger with the Lebanese premier for cooperating with his Shi’a Hezbollah rivals in Lebanon.

In Lebanon’s torturous system of confessional politics, however, difficult compromises are the nature of the game. Hariri and his Sunni-led political movement have no choice but to negotiate with Hezbollah’s Shi’a faction over the balance of political power on an ongoing basis to keep the country stable. Hariri’s resistance to Saudi demands for aggression has helped keep the peace between Lebanese Sunnis and Shi’a, preventing the sectarian fires that have torn Syria apart from jumping across the border.

External actors have key roles to play

Of course, none of the crises in the Middle East can be viewed in a vacuum. One key part of the program at the Paris Peace Forum summit – entitled Global Powers and the Middle East – focused on the responsibility of outside powers like the United States, Russia, China, Europe and India to find common ground and address the causes of Middle Eastern instability. Left unsaid: these same countries are often deeply involved in perpetuating these crises.

If American, European, or Russian leaders truly want to prevent conflicts in the Middle East, their first step should probably be a sort of Hippocratic oath to “do no harm.” The arms trade is a notable case in point. The Middle East is responsible for 32% of global arms imports. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE are three of the five largest customers; their primary suppliers are the US, UK, France, Italy, and Russia.

Rather than encourage stability, this supply of weapons has fed a volatile arms race. Much of that equipment has been used by the Saudi coalition’s intervention in Yemen, which has left eight million Yemenis are the brink of starvation and the country confronting the fastest growing cholera epidemic the world has ever seen. Russia has openly used the civil war in Syria as a venue for showing off its military hardware to potential customers worldwide, even as Bashar al-Assad’s regime continues to massacre civilians.

Instead of helping their local allies arm themselves to the teeth, these outside powers should push Middle Eastern governments to change their damaging patterns of behavior and undertake the kinds of social reforms that are instrumental in easing tensions. Otherwise, systemic inequality and unaccountable leadership will continue to lay the groundwork for conflicts and crises. That might enrich weapons manufacturers, but it will do nothing to achieve the goals pursued in Paris this week.

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The sanctions of a split

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The tough economic sanctions imposed by the United States against Iran have aggravated conflict between Washington and its close allies. The European Union, the United Kingdom, France and Germany have expressed regret over measures taken by American President Donald Trump and signaled the need to protect their companies. Simultaneously, eight countries have received a six-month “sanctions delay” from the United States, which produced a further negative effect on the balance of strength and set the scene for a further escalation of tension.

The United States announced the resumption of anti-Iranian sanctions, which ban the purchase of Iranian oil and oil products, on November 5. The US Treasury Department pointed out that they were the “toughest” in history: “These are the toughest U.S. sanctions ever imposed on Iran, and will target critical sectors of Iran’s economy, such as the energy, shipping and shipbuilding, and financial sectors.  The United States is engaged in a campaign of maximum financial pressure on the Iranian regime and intends to enforce aggressively these sanctions that have come back into effect.”

“The unprecedented financial pressure exerted by the US Treasury Department on Iran should make it clear to the Iranian regime that it will face ever-increasing financial isolation and economic stagnation until it radically changes its destabilizing behavior. From now on, the maximum pressure exerted by the United States will only increase,” – emphasizes US Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin. Washington makes it no secret that the ultimate goal of the sanctions is to reduce oil exports from Iran “to zero.”

Over 700 individuals and legal entities have been put on the sanctions list, including the Iranian national air company Iran Air, more than 65 aircraft it owns, and several dozen ships of the merchant fleet. The sanctions prohibit the purchase of Iranian oil and are directed against port operators, shipping and shipbuilding companies, the financial sector,  – primarily tanker insurance companies, – and also restrict operations with Iran’s banks and Central Bank.

Fines will be imposed on anyone who trades oil with Iran and works with its banking system. Secondary sanctions (fines and shutout from the dollar system) may be imposed on companies of third countries. The US also demanded that Iran should be cut off from the SWIFT international payment system. According to reports, on November 5 SWIFT suspended access of some Iranian banks to its system, but without reference to the US sanctions.

This step followed President Trump’s announcement in May this year about Washington’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action on the Iranian nuclear program. Adopted in 2015 with the participation of Iran, the USA, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, the document envisages easing sanctions against Tehran in exchange for its measures to wrap up its nuclear program under the control of the IAEA. The US president dubbed it “the worst deal ever,” saying that it does nothing to stop Iran from pursing its nuclear and missile programs. After Washington’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, the other participants expressed their commitment to this document.

Two days before the sanctions package was put into effect, US President Donald Trump made it clear that the United States was ready to conclude a new agreement with Iran on more stringent conditions. “Our objective is to force the regime into a clear choice: either abandon its destructive behavior, or continue down the path toward economic disaster”, – the US president said on November 3: “The sanctions will target revenues the Iranian regime uses to fund its nuclear program,  development and proliferation of ballistic missiles, fuel regional conflict, support terrorism and enrich its leaders”. At the same time, according to Donald Trump, “the United States remains open to reaching a new, more comprehensive deal with Iran that forever blocks its path to a nuclear weapon, addresses the entire range of its malign actions, and is worthy of the Iranian people. Until then, our historic sanctions will remain in full force”.

Having introduced “unprecedentedly tough” sanctions against Tehran, Donald Trump, as part of his business approach to international affairs, left substantial “windows of opportunity” for the subsequent bargaining on a wider range of issues of the international agenda. The USA made an exception for eight states. China, India, Greece, Italy, Taiwan, Japan, Turkey and South Korea were allowed to buy Iranian oil temporarily. According to the London-based Financial Times, these countries will be able to import a limited amount of Iranian oil over the next six months.

Simultaneously, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said that more than 20 countries have already cut down on oil exports from Iran, reducing purchases by more than 1 million barrels per day.  Independent sources indicate that average daily oil production in Iran fell from 3.8 million barrels in May to 3.3 million barrels in early October. This is quite a lot: because of the reduction, Iran loses about 1 billion dollars a month.

Given that the above exemptions from the sanctions list are temporary, the United States will likely resume political and economic bargaining with the eight countries in spring, with a view to preserve a favorable regime for these countries. In the first place, it concerns China. President Donald Trump will try to use the “Iranian factor” in order to achieve maximum concessions on trade and economic issues from Beijing. Among other things, he will probably make an attempt to force the Chinese side to reconsider joint energy projects with Russia. In the meantime, China’s response to the US decision to resume the anti-Iranian sanctions has been markedly restrained. A spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry has called on Washington to respect China’s trade rights and expressed “regret” that the United States relaunched sanctions against Iran.

A much more resolute response came from the European Union – whose trade and economic interests are affected by anti-Iranian sanctions first. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, as well as the foreign ministers of Great Britain, France and Germany issued a joint statement in which they promised to protect their companies from restrictive US measures. “Our goal is to protect the subjects of the European economy that have legal commercial ties with Iran,” the document states.

In the meantime, the European Union is confronted with the problem of creating a specific structure that would allow European companies to continue to trade with Iran without risking falling under Washington’s sanctions. Brussels reported in October that a new mechanism of payment for Iranian oil exports should be legally ready by November 4, and would go into operation in early 2019. However, according to The Financial Times, by the time the current sanctions were introduced, the Europeans did not have even a legal foundation for the defense mechanism and had not come to agreement on the location of the corresponding “special purpose structure” (SPV). “Now we are actively discussing where the SPV will be located, who will participate in it, and are launching the process of registering it. Time is short, and given the complexity and sensitivity of this issue in the light of its geopolitical consequences, we see very rapid and effective progress,” – said a representative of the French Finance Ministry.

For Europeans, sensitivity of this issue lies in their unwillingness to come under tough Washington’s sanctions themselves – especially in the context of deepening trade and economic differences between the US and the EU. “The US authorities are demonstrating that they will act aggressively towards violators of sanctions, which boosts the effect,” warns partner of law firm Morrison & Foerster and former director of the Office for Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Treasury John Smith. “When the United States threatens to punish violators and does it in practice, examples of punished companies force others to think seriously,” he said in an interview published by the American newspaper The Wall Street Journal.

Without waiting for the sanctions regime to come into effect, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani stated that Tehran would be able to overcome it. “America wants to bring down Iran’s oil sales, but we will continue to sell oil to break through the sanctions,” he said.

Tehran could not but point out the fact that the resumption of the US sanctions package against Iran coincided with the anniversary of the capture of the US embassy during the Islamic revolution in Tehran in 1979. Addressing his compatriots, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said: “The goal of American sanctions is to cripple and restrain the Iranian economy, but the result we obtained in reality was the country’s striving for self-sufficiency.” “The main objective of the United States in all this is to regain the supremacy it had in the period of tyranny. But this will not happen,” Ayatollah Khamenei said.

Meanwhile, Tehran does not attach any fundamental significance to the exclusion of eight states from the sanctions regime. “The Islamic Republic could sell its oil even if these eight countries were not excluded, we would still sell our oil,” said Hassan Rouhani in this regard.

The anti-Iranian sanctions imposed by Washington have not yet had a direct impact on Russia. The sanctions list published by the US Treasury contains only the Russian “daughter” of the Iranian Bank Melli – the Mir Business Bank, registered in Moscow (MB Bank).  Its shareholder is Bank Melli Iran, which, according to the United States, provides multi-billion financial, material and technological support to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC). “Bank Melli enabled the IRGC and its related parties to transfer funds both inside and outside Iran,” the statement of the US Treasury said. JSC Mir Business Bank was registered in Moscow in 2002. Bank Melli Iran is its sole shareholder.

According to reports, the Trump administration has decided not to pursue the Russian direction in its pressure on Iran ahead of a new meeting of the presidents of Russia and the United States due to take place at the end of this year. The meeting could be held on November 11 in Paris, at events dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, or — more likely — at the G-20 summit in Argentina in late November – early December this year. However, regardless of the outcome of this meeting, Russia should bear it in mind that its trade and economic ties with Iran, and in a broader context – relations with OPEC – will become the target of a new round of global games of the US administration.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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The Khashoggi crisis: Saudi Arabia braces for tougher post-election US attitude

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Saudi Arabia is bracing itself for a potentially more strained relationship with the United States in the wake of Democrats gaining control of the House of Representatives in this week’s mid-term elections and mounting Turkish efforts to corner the kingdom in the Khashoggi crisis.

To counter possible US pressure, the kingdom is exploring opportunities to diversify its arms suppliers and build a domestic defense industry. It is also rallying the wagons at home with financial handouts and new development projects in a bid to bolster domestic support for crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Democrats’ election victory has strengthened Saudi concerns that the Trump administration may pressure the kingdom to back down on key issues like the Yemen war that has sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two and the 17-month old Saudi-United Arab Emirates-led economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar.

US officials have argued that Saudi policies complicate their efforts to isolate and economically cripple Iran.

The officials assert that the boycott of Qatar and the fallout of the October 2 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul constitute obstacles to the creation of a Sunni Muslim alliance against the Islamic republic, dubbed an Arab NATO, as well as the achievement of other US goals in the Middle East, including countering political violence and ensuring the free flow of oil.

Going a step further, senior Israelis say they have given up on the notion of a Sunni Muslim alliance whose interests would be aligned with those of the Jewish state and see their budding relations with Gulf states increasingly in transactional terms.

The Trump administration signalled its concerns even before the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.

“Our regional partners are increasingly competing and, in the case of the Qatar rift, entering into outright competition to the detriment of American interests and to the benefit of Iran, Russia and China,” National Security Adviser John Bolton wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in a letter late summer, according to Reuters.

With the House expected to be tougher on arms sales to the kingdom and possibly go as far as imposing an arms embargo because of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen caused by Saudi and UAE military operations, Saudi Arabia has wasted no time in casting around for alternative weapons suppliers.

In apparent recognition that the Saudi military, reliant on US and European arms acquisitions, would find it difficult to quickly shift to Russian or Chinese systems, Saudi Arabia appears for now to be focussing on alternative Western suppliers.

That could prove to be risky with anti-Saudi sentiment because of the Yemen war also running high in European parliaments and countries like Spain and Germany either teetering on the brink of sanctions or having toyed with restrictions on weapons sales to the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia, nonetheless, has in recent days contracted Spanish shipbuilder Navantia to jointly build five corvettes for the Saudi navy and offered South African state-owned defense group Denel $1 billion to help the kingdom build a domestic defense industry.

The partnership with Denel would involve Saudi Arabia taking a minority stake in German defense contractor Rheinmetall, which designs armoured fighting vehicles and howitzers.

With sale of the US-made precision-guided munitions bogged down in Congress, Spain has stepped in to address Saudi Arabia’s immediate need. The question is however whether Spain can fully meet Saudi demand.

A US refusal already before the Gulf crisis and the Khashoggi incident to share with Saudi Arabia its most advanced drone technology, paved the way for Chinese agreement to open its first overseas defense production facility in the kingdom.

State-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) will manufacture its CH-4 Caihong, or Rainbow drone, as well as associated equipment in Saudi Arabia. The CH-4 is comparable to the US armed MQ-9 Reaper drone.

Saudi Arabia also fears that Democratic control of the House could strengthen opposition to a nuclear energy agreement with the kingdom. Five Republican senators called on President Donald J. Trump days before the mid-term election to suspend talks with Saudi Arabia.

Development of a defense industry would over time serve Prince Mohammed’s efforts to diversify the Saudi economy and create jobs.

So would  King Salman’s inauguration this week of 259 development projects worth US$6.13 billion ranging from tourism, electricity, environment, water, agriculture, housing, and transport to energy.  King Salman launched the projects during a curtailed visit to Saudi provinces designed to bolster support for his regime as well as his son, Prince Mohammed

On the other hand, the government’s most recent decision to restore annual bonuses and allowances for civil servants and military personnel without linking them to performance constitutes an attempt to curry public favour that runs contrary to Prince Mohammed’s intention to streamline the bureaucracy and stimulate competition.

Bonuses were cut in 2016 as part of austerity measures. They were restored last year and linked in May to job performance.

In a further populist move, King Salman also pardoned prisoners serving time on financial charges and promised to pay the debts up to US$267,000 of each one of them.

King Salman’s moves appear designed to lessen Saudi dependence on US arms sales and project a united front against any attempt to implicate Prince Mohammed in the death of Mr. Khashoggi.

The moves come as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insists that the order to kill the journalist came “from the highest levels of the Saudi government” and the Trump administration demands Saudi action against the perpetrators and those responsible for the murder.

Failure to be seen to be taking credible action may not undermine King Salman’s rallying of the wagons at home but will do little to weaken calls in Washington as well as European capitals for tougher action in a bid to force Saudi Arabia to come clean on the Khashoggi case and adopt a more conciliatory approach towards ending the Yemen war and resolving the Gulf crisis.

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