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The Palestinians Fabrications Concerning Jerusalem: What the Islamic Scriptures and Islamic History Instruct Us (A)

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The Palestinian Narrative Regarding Jerusalem

From the Oslo Agreement in 1993, Arafat realized that “Jerusalem” has to be the focal of the Palestinian Authority’s claims together with the “the occupation” slogan. Since, the Palestinian Authority has initiated an unprecedented campaign of historical revision and anti-Israel libels concerning Jerusalem. The aim of this strategy is being the erasure and denial of 3,000 years of Jewish history in Jerusalem to replace it as it was theirs.

On October 6, 2002, Arafat signed the “Jerusalem Law,” which states that Jerusalem is the capital of the Palestinian state and emphasized complete Palestinian sovereignty over the city, including sovereignty over all of its holy places. Moreover, any agreement or law that contradicts this law and is concluded by any party whatsoever, would be considered null and void. The Jerusalem Law could only be amended by a majority vote of two-thirds of the members of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

The Palestinian propagation indicates that Jerusalem carries a unique and total sanctity for Islam and the Palestinians in particular. It is the religious, political and spiritual capital of Palestine solely, and the Jews have absolutely no connection and no rights to it. Jerusalem is presented as an exclusively Muslim city and any Jewish life in Jerusalem is labeled as “Judaization.”

Indeed, they reach the highest fabrication and falsification ever by disregarding science, history and archeology. Even the past existence of the existence and all what is written in the Old and New Testaments is being denied. In their narrative, the entire al-Aqşā mosque, in fact the entire territory has always been through all history a purely Islamic property from the beginning of history, while Israel acts to destroy al-Aqṣā Mosque and to reestablish its fake Temple (al-Haykal al-Maz’ūm).

The Palestinian leadership’s declarations are pronounced thousands of times every year on the political, religious, educational and the communication outlets. It is as if they believe that he who reiterate his propagation more and more – is victorious.

These are uttered by the political leadership from Arafat and Abu Māzen (Mahmoud Abbās), through the religious leadership from Taysīr al-Tamīmī and Mahmoud al-abbāsh, and by the Palestinian ministers and political elite.

Herewith are quotations presented among the huge amount that exhibit and expose the Palestinian state of affairs concerning Jerusalem. It is worthwhile to state that as the Palestinian “Independence Day” was initiated from 1998, the chief onslaught to introduce the Jerusalem campaign has its peak from 2008 on.

Yasser Arafat’s uncompromising position on Jerusalem was presented to President Clinton, at Camp David talks:

The Palestinian demand for sovereignty over Jerusalem is not limited to the mosques on the Temple Mount and the Armenian quarter. It applies to the entire city. All of it. All of it. All of it. Palestinian peace is the peace of al-Aqṣā … Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the State of Palestine… We will redeem Jerusalem with our spirits and our blood. If we give up on Jerusalem, the entire Palestinian regime and political establishment will collapse. I will not betray my people. I will not sell Jerusalem. We demand full sovereignty over Jerusalem… This is not just the task of the Palestinian people. It must be advanced by the Arabs, the Muslims and the Christians.

In the resumption of the Intifada campaign, Arafat declared:

The Palestinian caravan is on its way to the first Qiblah and the third Haram, the place where our Prophet Muhammad descended to the sky. Noble Jerusalem, the Capital of the Palestinian State. We are at the center of world and Islamic campaign against Zionism and the imperialist aggressors.

Mahmoud Abbās (Abu Māzen), the Palestinian Authority Chairman is more extremist concerning his attitude of Jerusalem. For him, the Palestinian People was appointed by the entire Islamic Nation to be the guardian of Islam’s sacred property in Jerusalem. Abbas expresses the absolutist and uncompromising demand of the Palestinians to the effect that Jerusalem is entirely their property.

For example, in 2011 and 2012 he used the phrase “al-Haykal al-Maz’ūm” the fake Temple, more than 100 times. For him, the Palestinians are a nation entrusted by the entire Muslim world over the Islamic holy sites and there will be no concessions in Jerusalem. Therefore, bringing Jerusalem back to the hands of the Palestinians is Fard Ayn, a compulsory Jihad war on all the Muslims. Accordingly, his following declaration stormed and ignited “the Intifādah of Stones and Knives,” from October 2015.

We are in Jerusalem, and we will remain in it. We will continue to cling to every inch of its land…. We honor and salute the Murābitīn [those carrying out and fighting in the front, to protect the Islamic land]… We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for Allah. Every Shahīd will reach Paradise, and everyone wounded will be rewarded by Allah… Jews are filth, they desecrate and defile Jerusalem… We won’t allow Jews’ filthy feet on our sacred sites… al-Aqṣā is ours… and they have no right to defile it with their filthy feet. We will not allow them to, and we will do everything in our power to protect Jerusalem…. The Palestinians must prevent the Jews from entering the Sanctuary. This is our Sanctuary.

Here are few selections of his attitude of Jerusalem. These declaration represent, in fact constitute the basis of the Palestinians lies and fabrications.

Israel ultimately aim to destroy al-Aqṣā Mosque and build their alleged fake Temple… take over the Muslim holy sites, and destroy its institutions in order to empty it, uproot its residents, and continue its occupation and Judaization… There will be no peace and security unless the occupation will be evacuated from our holy city, the eternal capital of our state.

The Jews’ so-called Temple is nothing but legends and myths, and greatest crime and forgery in history. Jerusalem’s Jewish history is delusional myths. They are continuing their attempt to change Jerusalem… They imagine that by brute force they can invent a Jewish history. The story of the Temple is nothing but a collection of legends and myths… In the spirit of the delusions and legends, they try to get rid of al-Aqṣā and establish their so-called Temple – the greatest crime and forgery in history. Israel’s claim to al-Aqṣā is “empty and false… This is a falsification of the history.

We say to him [Netanyahu], when he claims that the Jews have a historical right dating back to 3000 years B.C.E., we say that the nation of Palestine upon the land of Canaan had a 7,000-year history. This is the truth, which must be understood, in order to say: you are incidental in history. We are the people of history. We are the owners of history.

Mahmoud Abbās’ speech in the “Jerusalem Conference” in Qatar:

Israel… uproots Palestinian history and culture in Jerusalem for thousands of years… Israel is engaged in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, to rid the city of religious and cultural structures, symbols and values… robbing Palestinians’ historical and religious character.

Mahmoud Abbās’ words at the International Conference for the Support of Jerusalem, organized by the UN, in Ankara, on May 12, 2014:

Palestinian presence in Jerusalem is dated 5000 years old. The Palestinians are the only permanent element in Jerusalem, while the others came and went. Israel threatens the city’s Islamic-Palestinian identity. Its grave dangers threaten Jerusalem…

Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories and preacher at al-Aqṣā Mosque [the Jewish Temple Mount]

The Jews say that this place was once the site of their temple. The truth is that there was never any Jewish temple during that entire period, and there was no prayer area there for Jews. Israel is threatening to destroy al-Aqṣā mosque in order to build its imaginary temple on its ruins. The esplanades of al-Aqṣā mosque, its walls and its structures are an Islamic endowment until the judgment day. Only Muslims hold the exclusive right to this place.

Sheikh Yusuf Idā’is, PA Minister of Religious Affairs,

Jerusalem and the al-Aqṣā Mosque belongs only to the Muslims, no matter how many forgeries and fabrications the occupation state makes. Muhammad’s night journey and ascent to heaven emphasize the Arab nature of Jerusalem and its Palestinian nature. The Arab and Islamic nations must defend al-Aqṣā Mosque, stand determinedly against settlers’ invasions to Judaize al-Aqṣā and defile it with Talmudic-Jewish ceremonies.

The following are selection of declarations and claims that appeared on Fatah television during three months alone as follows:

There was never a Jewish Temple in our Jerusalem. This is a legend and a myth invented by the Zionists to legitimize the Israeli imperialist occupation. Jerusalem was built by the Jebusite Arabs. Malchitzedek, the Arab king, built it six thousand years ago, and originally called it Yabus. There never was a glorious city so close to Allah’s kingdom as Jerusalem, and its inhabitants were originally Arabs. Its sanctity was shaped by Islam, beginning with ‘Umar Bin al-Khattāb, who captured the city from the Christian infidels… Israel will disappear from the map, like a chapter of history’s falsified pages. The Jews do not even have one stone in Jerusalem. Since time immemorial, there was only al-Aqṣā and there are no remnants of the so-called temple.

What the Jews are doing by digging in Jerusalem is a crime unprecedented in human history. It is an attempt to forge history. The Zionists produce stones with signs of their supposed “temple”. They move authentic Muslim stones and bring others instead, passing them off as Jewish stones. They even bring dead bodies from outside, as their ancestors. All of this is done to Judaize occupied Jerusalem, in order to substantiate the myth and legend that al-Aqṣā is where their temple stood.

Israel forges well-known historical facts taken from Palestinian heritage and ties them to a falsified Jewish history that is utterly absent from our land. Their so-called Temple is an attempt to rob Palestinian heritage, and Israel doesn’t have any history of its own.

Saeb Erekat, “I am the son of Jericho… the proud son of the Netufians and the Canaanites. I’ve been there for 5,500 years before Joshua Bin Nun came and burned my hometown Jericho.

According to Palestinians even the Jewish oath that reads “If I forget Thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its purpose” (Psalms 137:5) was authored by a Crusader king and stolen by “Zionists” for political purposes. However, though the Palestinian Authority denied the Jewish oath regarding Jerusalem, it decided to create a similar oath as a popular indoctrination: “Let my right hand forget me, let my left hand forget me. Let the light of the eye and the sighs of the songs forget me… if I forget Jerusalem”. Every so often groups of children appear on Palestinian TV chanting “I swear by the tears of the child…in the name of the youth, Jerusalem will return to us… We will free every centimeter [of the city] from the hands of the infidel.”

The al-Aqsa Foundation statements are summarized as follows:

Those who founded Jerusalem were the Jebusite and Canaanite Palestinians, and they inhabited it in the fifth millennium BC. The holy city did not carry any Hebrew name in history, and the Hebrew language did not exist there or anywhere else, it was Aramaic. There was no Temple in Jerusalem… the tribe of Israel is a Yemenite Arab tribe that has passed from the world.

Our Jerusalem was never the capital of a thing called ‘Israel,’ not of the previous and not of the present entity. Jews have no connection to this land, not 3,000 years ago, and not 100 years ago. Israel has no genetic, anthropologic, national, or historical connection to the biblical Arab Yemenite tribe that is now extinct.

Salwa abīb, Deputy Minister of Jerusalem Affairs

The Palestinian people has been present in Jerusalem for thousands of years, whether it was in Babylon, Assyria or Canaan, the Palestinians gathered in the area before anything else, centuries before the Jewish religion… They are stealing history and geography.

Bahjat abāshneh, a Palestinian lecturer

There is no text, not in the Talmud and not in Jewish Bible that gives holiness to Jerusalem. The source of the sanctity and purity of Jerusalem, and the existence of a mosque in it are only in the Islamic texts.

Appraisal of Palestinian’s Narrative Concerning the Jews and Jerusalem

Comparing the Palestinians’ declarations to Islamic Scriptures and classical exegetes reveals the huge ocean-deep difference that brings to attention how the Palestinians not only distort and twist history but also invent a totally new fabricated history. Moreover, with their detached from reality propaganda they falsify and twist attested facts of history and science.

As typical of Arab-Islamic culture, the totality of the Palestinian’s demands is that no other religion has any significance in Jerusalem because everything there belongs to Islam. That view is accompanied by all-encompassing practical implications, namely the claim to total control of the entire area and utter rejection of all others claims to, or connection with, Jerusalem. Everything found in that area is the possession of Islam and theirs, for which they require no scientific and archaeological confirmation or evidence. Therefore, no other political-religious entity needs acquiesce to that claim. It belongs to them because they said so, without the need of scientific proofs, and if one disagrees, their reaction is murderous violence. That typically “totalistic” view is singularly applicable in the case of Jerusalem.

Dennis Ross, chief American negotiator, accounts the Camp David Summit of July 2000, and attributes much of its failure to Yasser Arafat, who not only repeated “old mythologies” but invented “a new one … [that] the Temple did not exist in Jerusalem but in Nablus.”

Palestinians’ outrageous statements and fabrication invented to promote false political agenda are part of ongoing efforts to negate Israel’s deep ties to Jerusalem, to challenge an essential element of the Jewish faith, to twist historical truths and facts, and to replace Jewish historical rights by their own.

For example, they should have known that “Jerusalem” is mentioned in the Jewish Bible 669 times and “Zion” appears 154 times, a total of 823 references. The Temple Mount (Hebrew: Har Habayit), is identified as the area of Mount Moriyah where Abraham offered up his son in sacrifice, and where the First and Second Jewish Temples were established. They are even mentioned in the Qur’an (17:2-8).

Arafat should have known that the pagan town of Nablus (the Arabic pronunciation of the Greek “Neapolis”) was founded by the Roman Emperor Vespasian several years after his victory over the Jews and destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. Therefore, the Jewish Temple sanctuaries could not be in Nablus. This is another fabrication from the Palestinian’s imaginative creation.

Another indication is that “Jerusalem” as an important political-religious aim was also not mentioned by Yasser Arafat’s Fath, (arakat Tahrīr Filastīn) established in October 1959, nor by Ahmad Shuqeiry’s Palestinian National Organization (Munazzamat at-Tahrīr al-Filastīnīyah) established in May 1964. In its original Covenant from 1964, there is no mentioning of Jerusalem whatsoever. Only in its amended Covenant from 1968 there was a slight change. However, only in the middle of the 1990’s Arafat “recalled” on Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state.

Unfortunately the Palestinians efforts have succeeded, as the world is mired with politics and not with historical and scientific truth. The United Nations, the organization that is supposed to keep peace in the world, is now deadly controlled by the Islamic states under the title of Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which passes disgraceful and despicable imagined resolutions against Israel.

On October 20, 2015, the Palestinians, backed by six Arab states, succeeded in erasing the historical connection between Jews and the Jewish Temple Mount by UNESCO to list the Cave of Patriarchs in Hebron; Rachel Tomb in Bethlehem are merely Muslim sites. The executive board of UNESCO adopted a resolution on April 15, 2016, that ignores the historic Jewish connection to the Temple Mount. The final resolution of October 13, 2016, refers to the entire Jewish Temple Mount area as the al-Aqṣā Mosque, the Islamic aram ash-Sharīf, the Noble Sanctuary. This is scandalous, appalling and deplorable; but this is the face of the UN=Islamic Nations.

The Palestinian onslaught to deny the connection between the Jews and Jerusalem, is part of a large strategy of Islamic appropriation of the Biblical Jewish past. Professor Jacob Lassner, Claims the “… the Muslim response to the Jews and Judaism stemmed from an intense competition to occupy the center of a stage held sacred by both faiths. The story of the Jews was a history that Muslims appropriated in the Qur’an, its commentaries and other Islamic texts.” The Palestinian version of the history of Jerusalem belongs to this category as well.

The best way to approach this refutations is precisely by analyzing ancient and medieval Christian sources, modern scholarship and archeological excavations. The references to Jerusalem in classical texts increase our knowledge of Jews and Judaism in the ancient world and demonstrate their historical attachment. Professor Lee Levine research brings excellent historical and archeological sources which clearly demonstrate the Jewish character of Jerusalem in the Second Temple period. Professor Eilat Mazar shows the amount of rich archaeological sources of the Temple Mount excavations and Jewish life in ancient times.

The ancient Greeks probably were the first to record information about the culture and political life of the Jews. Levine summarizes with huge evidence the varied reactions of Jews to the impact of Hellenism and the significance of Hellenization in Jewish history of the Second Temple and Talmudic periods. Professor Martin Goodman brings documents and huge evidence to the Greek and Roman attitudes to Jews and Judaism. One can analyze the issue from the negative side, the deep animosity of the Greek and Roman empires to the Jews.

The distinguished Professor Bernard Lewis notes that the Roman rulers renamed Judea “Syria-Palaestina” and Jerusalem as “Aelia Capitolina” in 137 CE, in order to “stamp out the embers not only of the Bar Kokhba revolt but of Jewish nationhood and statehood…” with the aim “of obliterating its historic Jewish identity.” Professor Peter Schaefer summarizes the issue: the animosity towards the Jews in the Land of Israel strongly proves the powerful presence of the Jews and their existence in the Land of Israel.

Indeed, from this short list of scientific historical and archaeological evidence from which one can clearly understand how the claims of the Palestinians, without any scientific corroboration, are ridiculous, detached from reality and based on mere lies and fabrications. More important, they also expose two big lies of the Palestinians: 1) the Islamic attitude towards the Jews; and 2) the Islamic relationships concerning Jerusalem.

To be followed.

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Turkish Geopolitics and the Kabul Airport Saga

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Image credit: Hurriyet daily news

The Taliban’s ultimate agreement to a prominent Turkish security presence at Afghanistan’s only airport completes an important power-play for the latter. Ankara wishes to establish itself as a dominant player in the post-U.S. withdrawal Afghan affairs, ensuring that the U.S. looks to it as an ideal partner for its future policies in Afghanistan. It is in this context that Turkey having overcome the formerly heated rejections by the Taliban of its proposed role at the airport is highly significant as it portends the closer integration of Afghanistan into familiar Turkish geopolitical agendas.

Turkey’s Afghan power-play and the U.S.

Turkey’s announcement in June of plans to militarily manage the security at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport with U.S. financial support incensed the Taliban.

By not consulting or informing the powerful Islamist group on such a major issue in a post-withdrawal Afghanistan, Turkey signaled its view of the Taliban as inimical non-state actors lacking the stature to act upon the pretext of Afghan sovereignty. Indeed, President Tayyip Erdogan accused the Taliban of the ‘occupation’ of the Afghan territory in response to their warnings that Turkey’s airport plan violated the Doha Accords in terms of the exit of all foreign forces from Afghanistan and that they would harshly react to it.

The Taliban’s near-effortless takeover of Kabul in mid-August seemed to close the chapter on the airport saga, but deadly ISIS bombings near the airport two weeks later forced the new regime to consider external help in filling the Afghan security vacuum.

Consequently, Turkey gained not only an acquiescence from Afghanistan’s strongest faction to its desired role at the airport but also an affirmation of its capacity to face down and override local actors as a foreign power seeking to guide its Afghan initiatives to fruition.

This may appeal strongly to the U.S., which has increased its geoeconomic interests in Afghanistan in parallel with the process of its military disengagement from the country. These interests take the form of large infrastructure trade projects of a regional scale and would benefit if shielded from the whims of domestic Afghan factions that tend to cripple governance and policy implementation. Ankara’s assertive posture during the airport tussle with the Taliban helps it pitch itself to Washington as capable of doing precisely this.

The Central Asia factor

These trade infrastructure projects in Afghanistan aim to develop it as a transit hub for Central Asian trade to extra-regional markets as outlined in the U.S. ‘Strategy for Central Asia 2019-25’. The U.S. affords considerable importance to this strategy both as a means of rebuilding Afghanistan and providing the Central Asian states with new trade routes that do not need to transit the territory of Russia, their former Soviet patron and America’s great-power rival.

Turkey shares the goal of increasing Central Asia’s global connectivity, whilst envisioning itself the natural leader and conduit for the Turkic Central Asian states’ growing socio-economic bonds with the outside world. By acting as a lead-from-the-front partner for the U.S. in the post-withdrawal Afghanistan, Turkey can persuade the U.S. to entrust it with the Afghan leg of the Strategy for Central Asia.

Turkey could then inculcate the progress of its own connectivity projects for Central Asia into the U.S. priorities as a premium of sorts for its services tackling Afghanistan-based risks and hazards to the U.S. Strategy for Central Asia. These Turkish-led projects include the East West Trans-Caspian Middle Corridor (connecting Turkmenistan-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan or Kazakhstan to Europe via the Caspian Sea-South Caucasus-Turkey route) and its Eastern spur for Afghanistan, the Lapis Lazuli Corridor (connecting northwest Afghanistan via Turkmenistan to the same Caspian Sea-South Caucasus-Turkey route to Europe).

The text of the US Strategy for Central Asia does mention and pledge favourable visa and customs policies for the Lapis Lazuli Corridor, but does not mention the Middle Corridor or Turkey at all. The absence of the latter two key names indicates that U.S. backing for the Lapis Lazuli Corridor likely owed to the simple fact that it directly includes Afghanistan and has already been functional since December 2018. Thus, the U.S. does not formally endorse the East-West connectivity for Central Asia—which Turkey specializes at—under the rubric of its Strategy for Central Asia.

“Senior [Trump] administration officials have expressed support for specific infrastructure projects—such as, notably, Georgia’s deep-water port project in Anaklia—but without having cast them as part of a broader regional agenda,” commented Middle East Institute scholar Dr John Calabrese on the erstwhile Donald Trump administration’s position on the Middle Corridor months before the Strategy on Central Asia’s release.

All this greatly limits the pool of U.S. financial and political support that Turkey could tap into for developing and expanding the Middle Corridor, which is the lynchpin for its push for pan-Turkic leadership. Ankara’s remedy for this problem, however, may lie in gaining the mentioned lead-from-the-front ally status vis-a-vis the U.S. in Afghanistan.

As observed by the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute’s Chairman and Director Frederick Starr and Svante Cornell, the present U.S. approach represents important shifts in the American conceptualization of Afghanistan and Central Asia relative to each other. These are a departure from the long-standing tendency to ‘view Central Asia as an appendix to Afghanistan policy’ and an embrace of Central Asia as a bloc. Both these shifts laid the basis for the U.S. Afghan policy to take its cue from Central Asia’s development. Officially mandating the development of an East-West transport corridor from Central Asia to Europe—in short, Turkey’s Middle Corridor—is the next logical step in this paradigm.

Starr and Cornell, leading proponents in the U.S. policy advocacy community for treating Afghanistan as part of Central Asia, identify the East-West transport corridor as crucial to the Strategy for Central Asia and criticize the document for not mentioning it.

Thus, from its position in Afghanistan, Turkey can orient the inputs it feeds back to its diplomatic and military partners in Washington around the case for the merger of the U.S. Afghanistan and Central Asia policies that Starr and Cornel advocate. The U.S. will expect actionable suggestions from its top consultative partner for Afghanistan to actualize this merger, paving the way for Turkey to impactfully pitch the Middle Corridor as the solution.

This could well become an elusive opening that Turkey has long needed to bridge the chasm between the Middle Corridor’s innate appeal to the U.S. great-power sensitivities underpinning its Central Asia posture and the U.S. seeming disinterest in the corridor. After all, the Middle Corridor bypasses Russia, challenging its monopoly over Central Asia’s trade routes. It also acts as what Starr describes as a ‘Land Suez’ for China to connect to Europe—reducing China’s reliance on transiting Russia for this purpose and offsetting, from Washington’s perspective, the prospect of its two great-power rivals’ geoeconomic priorities aligning too closely.

Subsequent U.S. endorsement of the Middle Corridor would stimulate greater U.S. investment in the mega-project, hitherto limited by the Strategy for Central Asia’s non-mention of East-West connectivity as explored prior.

In addition to this, the Middle Corridor could become an agenda item in multilateral platforms for Central Asia, such as the C5+1, set up by the U.S. with a focus on the Afghan-Central Asian connectivity. This would prop up advocates in Turkic Central Asia for a formal embrace of an Ankara-led Turkic bloc by enabling them to present this as part of the institutionalization of Central Asian affairs as opposed to a pro-Turkish tilt which might alarm Russia, who has a past record of reacting forcefully to external powers engaging in bloc-building in its former Soviet backyard in Eurasia. This will greatly benefit Turkey.

Restoring balance with the West

Afghanistan can arguably bring Turkey’s ideologically-driven desire to carve a Turkic bloc from Central Asia and its more general desire to mitigate the strains in bilateral ties with the U.S. closer together than any other foreign policy file in Ankara.

Linked to Central Asia or not, Afghanistan stands out as a vacuum left by American strategic miscalculations at the regional doorstep of several U.S. rivals. Turkish initiatives, such as the Kabul airport project, clearly designed to preserve U.S. stakes in Afghanistan—at a time when Russia, Iran and China appear poised to capitalize on the U.S. shrinking presence there—can inject fresh credibility into Turkey’s historical image as the West’s Eurasian vanguard.

This will help President Erdogan as he tries to stabilize relations with the U.S. against their list of disputes, from Turkey’s purchase of Russian air defense systems to the U.S. support for Kurdish groups near the Turkish-Syrian border and beyond. Additionally, President Joe Biden faces mounting public and political pressure at home over the rapid collapse of the former U.S.-backed Kabul government in the Taliban’s wake; in this context, Turkey volunteering itself as a new and coherent vehicle for U.S. interests in Afghanistan may prove the very ice-breaker Erdogan needs for his notably bleak relationship with Biden.

However much progress Ankara makes in these endeavours, its headstrong approach and eventual success in securing a role at Kabul’s airport points to strategic clarity and an expectation of Afghanistan’s seamless integration into Turkish geopolitics.

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The Battle for the Soul of Islam: Will the real reformer of the faith stand up?

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Saudi and Emirati efforts to define ‘moderate’ Islam as socially more liberal while being subservient to an autocratic ruler is as much an endeavour to ensure regime survival and bolster aspirations to lead the Muslim world as it is an attempt to fend off challenges rooted in diverse strands of religious ultra-conservatism.

The Saudi and Emirati efforts to garner religious soft power have much in common even though the kingdom and the United Arab Emirates build their respective campaigns on historically different forms of Islam. The two Gulf states are, moreover, rivals in the battle for the soul of Islam, a struggle to define what strand or strands will dominate the faith in the 21st century.

The battle takes on added significance at a time that Middle Eastern rivals are attempting to dial down regional tensions by managing their disputes and conflicts rather than resolving them. The efforts put a greater emphasis on soft power rivalry rather than hard power confrontation often involving proxies.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE propagate a ‘moderate’ Islam on the back of significant social reforms in recent years that preaches absolute obedience to the ruler and relegates the clergy to the status of the ruler’s clerics.

The reforms include Saudi Arabia’s lifting of a ban on women’s driving, enhancing of women’s professional and personal opportunities, curbing the powers of the religious police and introducing Western-style entertainment.

The UAE last November allowed unmarried couples to cohabitate, loosened alcohol restrictions and criminalised “honour killings,” a widely criticised religiously packaged tribal custom that allows a male relative to kill a woman accused of dishonouring her family.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE compete in the Muslim world with Turkish and Iranian Islamist strands of the faith that are laced with nationalism.

The Gulf states’ state-led moderation of religious practices rather than of theology and Muslim jurisprudence is also challenged by some strands of Wahhabism, the ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam on the basis of which Saudi Arabia was founded.

“Wahhabism has refracted into three broad groups since the early 1990s: a left that has developed a discourse of civic rights, a centre occupying official posts of state (dubbed ‘ulama al-sultan’ or the ruler’s clerics) that has put up some resistance to the loosening of their powers in the social, juridical and media spheres, and a Wahhabi right sympathetic to the jihadist discourse of al-Qaeda and its focus on questions of foreign policy,” said scholar Andrew Hammond.

While Turkey and Iran pose a geopolitical danger, autocratic monarchical rule is more fundamentally threatened by the religious challenge posed by what Mr. Hammond dubs the Wahhabi left and the Wahhabi right as well as Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, the only non-state player in the battle for the soul of Islam, that advocates and practices reform of Islamic jurisprudence and unconditionally endorses the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The arrests in recent years of Saudi scholars and preachers such as Safar al-HawaliSalman al-Awda, Sulayman al-Duwaish, Ibrahim al-Sakran, and Hasan al-Maliki suggests as much.

Implicitly drawing a distinction with Nahdlatul Ulama, Mr. Hammond argues that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s reforms amount to “defanging Wahhabism not dethroning it.”

The crown prince, since coming to office, has radically cut back on the investment of tens of billions of dollars in the propagation of religious ultra-conservatism across the globe, most effectively in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He has also sought to balance Wahhabism with Saudi ultra-nationalism and shave off the rough social edges of the kingdom’s austere interpretation of the faith. His subjugation of the clergy, and incarceration of adherents of the Wahhabi left and far-right, put an end to a 73-year long power-sharing agreement between the ruling Al-Saud family and the clergy.

The left has entertained concepts of a constitutional rather than an absolute monarchy, called for political liberalisation and civil rights and in some cases endorsed the 2011 popular Arab revolts that toppled four Arab autocrats.

The Wahhabi left could be joined in challenging the conservative Gulf monarchies and, simultaneously, be challenged by Nahdlatul Ulama once the group expands its activities to target the Muslim world’s grassroots beyond Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country as well as its foremost democracy. In its first outreach to grassroots elsewhere, Nahdlatul Ulama is expected to launch an Arabic-language website before the end of the year that would target the Arab world.

Nahdlatul Ulama’s concept of a humanitarian Islam that embraces principles of tolerance, pluralism, gender equality, secularism and human rights as defined in the Universal Declaration goes considerably further than proposals put forward by Mr. Hammond’s Wahhabi left, perhaps better described as more liberal rather than an ideological left-wing of a fundamentally ultra-conservative movement.

The Indonesian group’s concept of Islam also contrasts starkly with the Saudi and Emirati notion of autocratic religious moderation that involves no theological or jurisprudential reform but uses ‘the ruler’s clergy’ to religiously legitimise repressive rule under which protests, political parties and petitioning of the government are banned and thought is policed.

“The state has strengthened the Wahhabi centre through neutralising the Wahhabi left and right, which have each represented a threat to state authority and legitimacy … As for the civic rights innovations of the Wahhabi left exemplified by al-Awda, it is precisely this discourse that the state wants to shut down,” Mr. Hammond said, referring to the imprisoned cleric.

The track record of proponents of autocratic religious moderation is checkered at best. While the UAE has created a society that is by and large religiously tolerant, neither Saudi Arabia nor Egypt, which doesn’t have the wherewithal to fight a soft power battle in the Muslim world but seeks to project itself as a champion of religious tolerance, can make a similar claim.

Prince Mohammed has met Jewish and Evangelical leaders. Mohammed al-Issa, the head of the Muslim World League, long a major vehicle to promote Saudi religious ultra-conservatism, doesn’t miss an opportunity these days to express his solidarity with other faith groups. Yet, non-Muslims remain barred in the kingdom from worshipping publicly or building their own houses of worship.

In Egypt, Patrick George Zaki, a 27-year-old student, lingers in prison since February 2020 on charges of spreading false news and rumours for publishing an article documenting incidents of discrimination against Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority.

Mr. Zaki was arrested a year after Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Egypt’s citadel of Islamic learning, signed a Declaration of Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together with Pope Francis during the two men’s visit to the UAE. The declaration advocates religious freedom and pluralism.

By contrast, Nahdlatul Ulama secretary general Yahya Staquf recently told the story of Riyanto in a September 11 speech at Regent University, a bulwark of American Evangelical anti-Muslim sentiment founded by televangelist Pat Robertson. A member of Nahdlatul Ulama’s militia, Riyanto died guarding a church in Java on Christmas Eve when a bomb exploded in his arms as he removed it from a pew.

“To us in Nahdlatul Ulama, Riyanto is a martyr, and we honour his memory every Christmas Eve alongside millions of our Indonesian Christian brothers and sisters,” Mr. Staquf said.

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Middle East

From ‘Decisive Storm’ to Secret Talks: The Journey of Saudi Conquest of Yemen

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In the last days of the spring of 2015, Saudi generals were sitting around a V-shaped table in front of a newly appointed defense minister, dwelling on the answer to the rise of Houthi rebels in Yemen which had critically threatened the security of the southern border. For decades, Saudi Arabia has been known for its wise and cagey foreign policy, often following the lead of Washington, in any regional or global military conflict but this time was different.

When the 29-year-old defense minister, Muhammad bin Salman, ordered, “Send in the F-15s,” it shocked all of them. Despite having spent only eight months heading the armies of the kingdom, he was about to shape an aggressive or rather reckless foreign policy of one of the most resourceful and conservative countries in the world.

The Unresolved Conflict

After six years of war in Yemen, 233,000 lives have been ravaged of which more than 3,000 were children, 3.3 million have been displaced from their homes, 24 million Yemenis are in dire need of humanitarian support, while 16.2 million Yemenis are on the verge of food insecurity. Now, Saudi Arabia is finally looking for a way out.

“We want the guns to fall completely silent,” remarked Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the Saudi foreign minister, in March, laying out the Yemen Peace Initiative. The Houthis rejected the plan as it imparted “nothing new” according to them. “We expected that Saudi Arabia would announce an end to the blockade,” stated the Houthis’ chief negotiator, Mohammad Abdulsalam, to Reuters.

Riyadh had severed diplomatic ties with Tehran in January 2016 after the Saudi embassy was stormed by the protestors angry at the execution of Sheikh Nimr, a top Shia cleric from Saudi Arabia’s eastern province—a region known for being marginalized on the sectarian basis.

Saudi Arabia and Iran held the first official talks, brokered by the Iraqi government, in Baghdad on 9th April. The Baghdad talks canvassed the Yemen conflict as well as the political and economical instability of Lebanon to evaluate whether both countries can reach a common understanding of the situation.

The Zaidiyyah Imamate

Coming to the Yemen conflict, the rugged Yemeni mountains known for their finest coffee growing regions have a thousand-year-long history of the rule of Zaidiyyah imamate carved on them.

The Zaydism Shia sect is rooted in the unsuccessful rebellion of Zayd bin Ali, the grandson of Husayn bin Ali – the direct descendent of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) – against the Umayyad Caliphate in 740AD. Zaidiyyah’s theology differs from Iran’s Twelver Shiism and Ismaili branches in being far more tolerant towards early Islamic caliphs and in set qualifications for an imam to be a ruler.

The Creation of the Yemen Arab Republic

The imamate resisted the Romans and Ottomans to some extent for centuries but a revolution was brewing and the imams provided the catalyst themselves. Amid 1930’s modernism, Yemeni Imam Yahya Hamid al-Din stepped up from his conservative policy of not allowing foreign travel and authorized around forty boys to study abroad. He envisioned them as his “Famous Forty”—leaders of politics, military, and administration.

Until 1959, several hundred boys had gone through advanced studies from Iraq, Egypt, and Europe but they had envisioned something else. They laid the foundation of a progressive republican movement marked with several attempted coups and the assassination of Imam Yahya (1948) till 1962 when the last imam, al-Badr, was deposed by the revolutionary movement. This led to the emergence of the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) with Abdullah Sallal as its leader and after that, Yemen was never the same.

Tracing the Root of the Saudi-Yemen Conflict

Al Saud had troubling relations with the imamate since Saudi Arabia had emerged as a kingdom in 1932. “Who is this Bedouin coming to challenge my family’s 900-year rule?” stated Imam Yahya once, which erupted the 1934 war between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and ended up in the Treaty of Taif. The treaty demarcated the border and granted Jizan, Asir, and Najran to Saudi Arabia after the kingdom’s victory.

The Saudis then cultivated alliances within the bordering Yemeni tribes to erect a makeshift buffer zone during the 1960s civil war in Zaydi Imamate. Al Saud sided with Yemeni loyalists when the republican government tossed away the Treaty of Taif in 1962 and Egypt lined up 70,000 troops to assist the republic against Imam Badr’s guerrilla opposition.

Throughout the 70s and 80s, North and South Yemen struggled for coexistence and peace with continuous border clashes, including a bloody civil war in the South, which John Kifner aptly referred to as MassacrewithTea, that cost thousands of souls. Eventually, after 20 years of political and military turmoil, South Yemen’s Ali Salim al-Baidh joined with the North’s Ali Abdullah Saleh to sign the unification agreement of the two states on November 30, 1989.

Yet, while Ali Abdullah Salih was being declared as the president of a unified Yemen and the country was facing an economic collapse, something worse was brewing in the heights of northern Yemen.

The Houthis and the Saudi Construct

Feeling his unique sect threatened by the Saudi-funded proselytization through Salafist preachers, Hussein Badr Eddin al-Houthi, a Zaydi scholar from Maran range established a seemingly political and revivalist movement, Ansar Allah (Supporters of God)to preserve the Zaidiyyah sect, followed by 40% of the Yemeni population, which turned into an aggressive armed insurgency in no time.

The point is that the current regional discord has centuries-old bad blood embedded in its roots. The Houthi movement, their substantial public support, and their military successes must be deconstructed from the local perspective, along with the regional one, to reach a better understanding of the conflict.

The Saudi-led coalition has been portraying Houthis just as an Iranian proxy, which is far from reality. In their annual policy paper, the Middle East Institute of Washington D.C stated that the current civil war of Yemen is entrenched in widespread public resentment over political marginalization, a paralyzed economy, and a corrupt and failed state.

Where Saudi Arabia’s policy of sectarian expansionism across the borderlands made the descendants of Zaidiyah Imamate, ousted from a centuries-long rule, feel more vulnerable, discrimination for Shia sects by Abdullah Saleh’s regime and corrupt practices tossed Yemen into a cycle of political upheaval and violence—all of which had nothing to with Iran.

The Houthis took arms against the Yemeni government six times from 2004-2010, a chapter remembered as the Saada Wars, long before Tehran came into the picture.

Civil War in Yemen

In the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring, the Houthi leader, Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, called countrywide demonstrations to end Saleh’s 33-year rule but after Saleh resigned and declared his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, the head of state in exchange of immunity, hopes rose for peace. However, Hadi, shockingly, stepped down in January 2015 and fled the country after the National Dialogue Conference failed to agree on the division of Yemen in the UN-backed transitional process and the Houthis stormed the Presidential Palace.

After the Houthis took over Sanaa in February 2015, Jamal Benomar, the UN special envoy for Yemen, went straight to Riyadh, which highlights Saudis’ concerns over the matter. On March 26, 2015, the Saudi-led coalition launched Operation Decisive Storm, with Saudi jets targeting the military compounds around the capital overnight.

The tactical inabilities of the coalition air force manifested to reality when three days later, Saudi warplanes accidentally bombed a refugee camp killing at least 40 and injuring 200. It was the beginning of one of the most horrible bombing campaigns, a disaster from a civilian and military perspective.

As civilian casualties mounted, the United States, concerned by the human cost of the conflict, urged Saudi Arabia to reach a negotiating position as soon as possible. Riyadh ended Operation Decisive Storm on 21 April, claiming the achievements, and rolled out Operation Renewal of Hope. But the truth was, the Saudis failed to deliver a considerable blow to the Houthis’ hold of the capital.

In May and June, the first reports came of mortar and Scud missile attacks by Houthis across the Saudi border. The Houthis proved tenacious and provoked Riyadh for a ground invasion, which worked out disastrously for the Saudi-led coalition. Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Sudan, and others had deployed hundreds of ground troops by the end of the year.

Although they spawned some temporary gains in forcing the Houthis out of key southern provinces, like the vital Aden seaport in July, Zinjibar, and Al-And Airbase in August, the Houthis also inflicted heavy casualties to the coalition. In just one Houthi missile attack on a weapon depot in Marib in September 2015, 45 Emirati and Five Bahraini troops were killed.

The Kuwait Talks: A Failed Attempt at Resolving the Conflict

After a year into the war with no end in sight, reports came in March 2016 of the first Houthi delegation’s visit to Saudi Arabia, led by Mohammed Abdel-Salam, the Houthis’ senior advisor and spokesperson.

Two weeks later, the UN envoy for Yemen, Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed, stated that talks will circumvent the withdrawal and disarmament of militias and inclusive political dialogue. Kuwait’s emir and legendary peacemaker, late Sheikh Sabah, mediated talks between the delegations of the Houthis, Abdullah Saleh, and ousted president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, who had returned to coalition controlled Aden in September 2015. Riyadh kept its distance from the Kuwait talks held in April  2016.

“Saudi Arabia seeks through the Kuwait talks to exonerate itself from its aggression against Yemen and to portray said aggression as a civil Yemeni war,” accused Yahya Saleh, a former general and Saleh’s nephew, after the Kuwait talks struck a stalemate over Houthis demanding a new consensual transitional regime while Hadi’s delegation insisted on a return to the current government, an out and out surrender for Houthis.

The peace talks were formally suspended in August 2016 when Houthis announced a new ten-member governing body to replace the interim Supreme Revolutionary Council, which had run the country since February 2015. The unilateral move was immediately denounced by Saudi Arabia and the United Nations. “Houthis, as well as their supporters, are making the search for a peaceful solution more difficult,” declared the statement issued by the group of G18 ambassadors of nations that backed the UN peace talks while tens of thousands of Houthi supporters rallied through Saana to show their support for the Houthis.

In all of this, a frangible ceasefire was held throughout the year with occasional skirmishes. In October 2016, a coalition double airstrike cremated a crowded funeral hall, killing around 140 mourners, adding to the domestic and international pressure on the US to review the billion dollars arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition.

Previously, The Guardian had concluded that each one in three Saudi strikes hit civilian targets but the coalition kept sweeping all of this under the rug. The Houthis also left no stone unturned to kill any hopes of negotiations when in March 2017, a Pro-Houthi court sentenced President Hadi and six other top officials to death in absentia for high treason. This was followed by the Burkan missile attack on Mecca in July 2017, although the Houthis claimed that it was aimed at the King Fahad airbase.

The United States’ Endless Support of Saudi Arabia

In August 2017, the Middle East Eye reported an email leak between UAE’s ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, and a former high-level US diplomat, Martin Indyk, which revealed that the kingdom’s de-facto ruler, Muhammad bin Salman, wanted out of Yemen but Riyadh could not withdraw without ensuring the cross-border security.

On the other hand, in a striking development, the Houthi-Saleh split went real in December 2017 amid Saleh’s attempt to switch sides with the coalition and turned up in Houthis killing the former president of Yemen, who had been the sole ruler for more than three decades.

As 2018 unfolded, the international criticism for Saudi intervention and Washington’s role in the Yemeni chapter of war crimes plummeted. Houthis were no angels either as a UNHCR report published in Aug ‘18 noted coalition hitting civilian targets, it also documented blanket use of force on the civilian population in Houthi controlled areas.

“The group of experts is concerned by the alleged use by the Houthi­-Saleh forces of weapons with wide-area effect in a situation of urban warfare.” stated the report. It also stated that the Houthis were hitting women and children through shelling and snipers in their homes, fetching water at local wells, or traveling to seek medical attention.

On August 18, another coalition strike annihilated 40 boys, aged from six to eleven, in their school bus. As Bellingcat traced back the Mk-82 bomb, approved by the US Department of State, used in the attack to Lockheed Martin, it added to the criticism of the US’s unconditional support to the Saudi regime.

In June 2018, the Yemeni National Army backed by a Saudi-led alliance had launched an offensive to recapture the northwestern port city of Hodeidah, a significant economic hub and fourth-largest city. After six months of intense fighting, both parties agreed to a truce, total withdrawal from Hodeidah, and a “mutual understanding” in Taiz.

Blaming Iran

In January 2019, the Council of Foreign Relations and the Italian Institute of International Political Studies had listed Yemen in the Top Conflict Watch of the year. As Houthis scaled up their military capabilities, shooting down US MQ-9 reaper drone with Iranian assistance—according to CENTCOM—reports came of UAE pulling out from Aden, amid intensified tensions between the US and Iran in the Persian Gulf.

On September 14, 2019, at 3:31 to 3:42 am in morning, the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry and the world’s largest oil processing facilities, Abqaiq and Khurais Oil fields in eastern Saudi Arabia, were attacked by Houthi drones, shutting down half of the kingdom’s crude output.

Despite the Houthis’ taking credit for the attack and the UN’s claims regarding the Houthis acquiring long-range drones (1200-1500km) capable of hitting Riyadh, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi, the United States and Saudi Arabia asserted that the attack hadn’t stemmed from Yemen. Instead, Iran was directly behind the “unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” tweeted the US Secretary of State at that time, Mike Pompeo.

Tehran immediately refuted all such accusations. Despite this continuous rhetoric, US President Donald Trump’s statements had hinted that Washington would avoid any additional escalation with Iran which would have doomed global energy supplies further down the hill while markets hadn’t recovered from the previous attacks on Saudi facilities.

The Saudi-Emirati Rivalry in Yemen

On the other hand in a dramatic twist, the civil war turned multi-layered when the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC) separatists seized Aden’s control from coalition-supported government forces. Few days after a joint statement was released from both Saudi and Emirati foreign ministers urging for peace talks between the Yemeni government and southern separatists, the UAE struck Hadi’s forces to aid southern separatists, killing 30 Yemeni troops as per Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

In November 2019, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia successfully struck the Riyadh agreement, between the southern separatists and the Yemeni government, which entailed power-sharing in cabinet and the military withdrawal of all forces from Aden, Abyan, and Shabwah. The landmark deal granted the absolute authority of southern Yemen to Saudi Arabia. Later in the same month, Reuters reported indirect talks in Oman between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis.

In January 2020, the Houthis claimed to seize 1,500 square miles of territory in Al-Jawf and the Marib governorate, and in March, they successfully captured the strategic city of Al Hazm. “Control of the capital of Al-Jawf could totally change the course of the war. The Houthis are changing the balance in their favor,” Majed al-Madhaji, executive director of Sanaa Centre, deciphered the situation to AFP. 

Bethan McKernan, The Guardian’s Middle East correspondent reported the same that Saudi-Emirati tussle had been dragging the conflict as Riyadh was already back channeling with Houthis through Oman while the UAE was pressing the attacks to keep the Saudi-backed Islah faction in check.

The One-sided Agreement

In April 2020, in light of the proposal sent by UN Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, the coalition announced a unilateral ceasefire amid the globally surging COVID-19 pandemic, although the coalition forces kept violating the ceasefire with at least 106 airstrikes in just a week.

The Houthis had already called it a “ploy”, demanding the lifting of air and naval blockade of Yemen which had been depriving the population of food and medicines. It seemed like the international pressure on the coalition, and the financial strain on Al Saud was dealing with, had not gone unnoticed by those controlling most of northern Yemen.

The Houthis had released their own proposal which Elana DeLozier from the Washington Institute narrated as a “wish list”, as it had thrown all the responsibility of ceasefire on the coalition with demands of demilitarization of borders and above all, war compensations and salaries in northern Yemen for a decade, but all were non-starters for Riyadh.

The Saudis kept extending the one-sided ceasefire but things only got worse. The STC separatists withdrew from the Riyadh agreement six months after signing, announcing the establishment of self-rule in southern Yemen. The Saudi-backed Yemeni government immediately denounced the declaration while the Houthis were claiming to “liberate” 95% of the Al-Jawf governorate; this left only the Marib province in the north under the control of Hadi’s forces.

The Houthis were keenly observing and seizing the fruits of coalition infighting. Separatists moved to redirect the revenues from ports, free zones, and an oil refinery to the STC accounts as reports surfaced of the Yemeni government attacking the separatists in Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province.

A week later, the STC president, Aidarous al-Zubaidi, landed in Riyadh to talk over the deadlock that persisted between supposedly anti-Houthi allies. The Yemeni government and STC separatists agreed to a ceasefire to begin peace talks in June 2020. In December 2020 while a freshly established cabinet of coalition-backed government arrived in Yemen after agreeing to equal power-sharing, two blasts shook Aden International Airport. With cabinet members remaining safe, 22—with most being aid workers—were killed in this fatal attack.

Coalition’s Failure in Yemen

“Incompetence, lack of unified leadership, and the absence of a military strategy by the Yemeni government and the Saudi-led coalition played into the hands of the Houthis,” stated Nadwa Al-Dawsari from the Middle East Institute. Local tribes lacked the medium-range surface-to-air ballistic missiles and other advanced weaponry on which Houthis built their tactical achievements.

The Houthi combat units constituted 20, or even fewer men, and three trucks for higher mobility to counter the constant aerial surveillance by coalition UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and the US satellites. According to Jamestown Foundation, disregard for meritocracy and skills, the weary chain of commands, and persisting corruption in Yemeni government forces due to Saudi black-cheque strategy laid the ground for coalition failures. While perpetual imprecise bombings cost thousands of civilian lives and the worst humanitarian crisis due to the air and naval blockade, the public resentment against the coalition fueled.

In the aftermath of King Abdullah’s death in January 2015, his brother Salman bin Abdulaziz ascended to rule but being 79 with speculations of dementia and Parkinson’s enabled his most ambitious son, Muhammad bin Salman, to rise as a de facto ruler of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Reportedly he is named “little general” behind his back due to his craving for respect from Washington and turning down his advisers who predicted a catastrophic outcome from an all-out Yemeni offensive, including former foreign minister Saud al-Faisal. Saudi military failure in Yemen hatched from a “panicked reaction of an inexperienced prince with too much to prove” rather than from his desire to check Iranian influence and rescue Yemen, wrote Sophia Dingli, a lecturer in international relations from the University of Hull.

Besides all this, Washington has also altered its course with Joe Biden in the Oval Office. “The war in Yemen must end,” stated President Biden in his first significant foreign policy speech. A week later, the state department repealed the Houthis’ status of Specially Designated Global Terrorist Organization(SDGT) and Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) enacted a day before Donald Trump left the Oval Office.

Saltana Begum, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) advocacy manager in Yemen, voiced that at that time “We had famine warnings where 16 million people – that’s one in two Yemenis – were close to starvation.”

Setting Terms for Peace

In June this year, the Saudi-led coalition even ceased the air raids temporarily for “preparing the political ground for a peace process in Yemen,” remarked the coalition spokesperson Turki al-Malki. The gesture came as efforts ramped up for a political settlement. The US Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking had visited Riyadh in the same month where he met several government officials along with UN Envoy Martin Griffiths.

Saudi and Houthi camps have been reportedly close to a ceasefire deal. The Houthis want the end of the blockade “without impossible conditions” before a “comprehensive ceasefire”, stated Houthi’s chief negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam. As promising as it all might seem, and although Oman has been an excellent mediator with its impartial and carefully measured foreign policy, there are still a lot of bridges to cross and compromises to be made from both sides for a mutually beneficial post-war arrangement.

The Saudis would not just demand guarantees on border security from Oman and Iran but also a check to Iranian influence and even that won’t cater to the grievances of anti-Houthi factions battling alongside coalition forces. So, the peace process has to be inclusive for sustainable accords.

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