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

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Here are more facts concerning the true situation of Jerusalem in science and history.

Jerusalem was never capital all along its Islamic history

If Jerusalem was so important to Islam religiously; and if Muhammad reached the city and established a mosque on the Temple Mount called al-Aqṣā; and if Jerusalem is indeed the third aram and the first Qiblah; then

Why didn’t it ever serve as a capital city or even an important religious and political city at any time in Islamic history? When the Arab empire expanded by a deep process of imperialism and colonialism, and the Umayyad dynasty was established (661-750) and later on Abbasid dynasty (850-1250), Damascus and Baghdad respectively were established as the capitals, but not Jerusalem. When the Ottoman Empire established (1299-1922) and controlled the Arab lands including the land of Israel (1517-1919), it marked Istanbul (Constantinople) as its capital and not Jerusalem.

The Ottomans, like the Umayyads and the Abbasids were good Muslims, and they followed the Islamic Scripture properly. Does it sound logical that they did not know about the Mosque Muhammad had ostensibly built in Jerusalem? Why Istanbul, Damascus, and Baghdad and not Jerusalem? The fact is that there was nothing important in Jerusalem.

In between there were the Fatimid Caliphate (al-Fāimīyūn), an Isma’ili Shi’ite dynasty (909-1171) with its capital in Cairo; the Ayyubid dynasty (al-Ayyūbīyūn) of Kurdish origin (1174-1250), that ruled much of the Middle East during the 12th and 13th centuries, with its capital in Cairo (1174–1250) and Allepo (1250–1260); and Mamlūk Sultanate (Sulanat al-Mamālīk) (1250-1517) that ruled over Egypt, the Levant and Hijaz, with its capital in Cairo.

What is important that all these could have established their capital in Jerusalem, following Muhammad’s teaching and commandment, but they did not, as there was no legacy at all of Muhammad concerning Jerusalem. Moreover, Salah ad-Din al-Ayyubi conquered Jerusalem from the Crusaders, cleaned it up from their institutions, and still left the city after calling the Jews to return to it.

From the onset of Islamic rule in 638 to its end 1917, including for the Crusader rule from 1099 to 1187, Jerusalem was never the capital of any Muslim state, nor even a provincial capital, until late Ottoman times, when it only became a special provincial religious site (Vilayet) separate from its larger provincial area [Sanjak].

Even during the 20th century Amin al-Husseini, who for the first time raised the importance of Jerusalem as a political weapon using religious symbols, did not call to mark it the capital of the Arab-Islamic inhabitants. He concentrated his ideas on its religious sanctity and the duty to remove the infidels from it. Moreover, even king ‘Abdallah, whose main interest 1948 war against Israel was to occupy Jerusalem, did not establish it as the Hashemite capital, and Amman remained the capital of Jordan.

How that is over the 1400 years of Islamic rule, Jerusalem did not enjoy the political prestige and religious importance that Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad and Istanbul did? How that is Jerusalem managed to retain its Judeo-Christian character throughout most of the historical period to the middle of the 20th century? Indeed, only under Jewish rule Jerusalem kept its importance as the only capital.

Jerusalem does not have an Islamic name

If Jerusalem was so important to Islam and if Muhammed visited the city and built a mosque there on the Temple Mount called al-Aqşa, and if Jerusalem is the third aram and the first Qiblah then

How that is Jerusalem do not have even a Muslim name? The first name in all of Islam was given by ‘Umar in 638 after the conquest of Jerusalem. That name was: Iīlya, Madīnat Bayt al-Maqdis. Iīlya was the Roman name for Jerusalem: Aelia Capitolina, a name chosen by Emperor Hadrian whose first name was Ilius, and at the center the “Forum” with Aphrodite, the Goddess of Beauty and Love. The adīth mentions the name Iīlya in connection Muhammad’s letter to Heraclius, the Roman emperor to surrender to Islam and to accept its religion.

Bayt al-Maqdis in Arabic is from the Hebrew Beit ha-Miqdāsh which means the Holy Temple (literally, the House of the Sanctuary) of the Jews.

Somewhat later on the Muslims used a shortened version of that title to Bayt al-Maqdis alone, emphasizing the Jewish sources of Jerusalem. The name al-Quds (the Holy City) referring to Jerusalem, became popular among Arabic speakers, is derived from the Aramaic root Q-D-S, still maintaining the Jewish word Kudsha (holy). It was introduced in the 10th century, it was unknown to the famous Muslim clerics and exegetes of the 9th century.

It is well-known that according to Islamic tradition the region of Mecca and Medina is called Ar al-Quds. Jerusalem was never called by that name, and the name simply called al-Quds was given to it only in the 10th century with heavy Jewish influence. It is believed that the historian and theologian al-Muqaddasi, was probably the first one to use that term from 985 on.

The name al-aram al-Sharīf, commonly used today by Muslims to refer specifically to the Temple Mount as a means of distinguishing it from the Jewish Holy Temple, came into use only during the 19th century Ottoman Empire. This name had always been the name of the Ka’aba in Mecca. The name “Het al-Buraq”, which ostensibly refers to the Jewish Western Wall is a recent invention of the Palestinians from 1929, following the riots in Jerusalem and Hebron but was used extensively during the time of Yasser Arafat.

One important phenomenon that took place in Muslim history is that any time the Muslims captured a town they Arabized, Islamized and changed the names. Therefore, Damascus (Dimashq in Arabic), a pre-Semitic name known from the 15th century BC, Dammeśeq in Biblical Hebrew, was given the Arabic name “Ash-shām.” In Egypt, al-Qāhirah (Coptic: Kahire, the place of the sun, the ancient name of Heliopolis), means “the Conqueror”, established by the Fatimid dynasty in 968. It has replaced the city name al-Fustāt, the first capital of Egypt under Islamic rule, established by ‘Amr ibn al-‘Aas in 641. Both Islamic names came after the old historical capital of Egypt, Memphis. Indeed, if Jerusalem was indeed so important to Islam, why wasn’t it ever given an Islamic name?

Jerusalem was neglected as long as it was under Muslim rule

If Jerusalem was so important to Islam religiously; and if Muhammad reached the city and established a mosque on the Temple Mount called al-Aqṣā; and if Jerusalem is indeed the third aram and the first Qiblah; then

Why was it abandoned by ‘Umar bin al-Khattāb immediately after being captured? He signed a treaty of protection with the Christian leaders of Jerusalem, Dhimma,   left to the town to the Christians and Jews, and established the regional capital in Caesarea. After almost 60 years it thrived and became prosperous under the Umayyad dynasty, Jerusalem descended into the depths of oblivion and misery. When the Dome of the Rock collapsed on the 5th of December, 1033, along with the walls of the city, nothing was done by the Muslims to restore these structures for many years.

Again, after a short period of time of fighting the Crusaders, Jerusalem came back under Islamic rule, immediately to relinquish it and calling the Jews to reenter the city. Indeed, during the four hundred years of the Abbasid Dynasty, including the Fatimid, the Ayyubid and Mamluk rule, and during the four-hundred year of the Ottoman occupation, Jerusalem was a neglected city, devoid of any political importance, with destitute social and economic state. Though Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Sultan, rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and reinforced its public structures, he only did so because Jerusalem was a transit city for pilgrims to Mecca, not because of its importance. The city still suffered a state of disrepair and negligence.

Under the Ottomans rule it was placed under the administration of the Damascus Vilayet (province) or Sidon region. Only in the 19th century, it became a (Vilayet), but still much less important than Gaza, Jaffa, Beirut, and other cities around. This is a clear indication how unimportant Jerusalem was to Islam during its history.

Jerusalem was never an Arab or Muslim City from the inhabitants’ perspective. In the mid-19th century, Jerusalem was neglected and impoverished, with a population that did not exceed 8,000. In 1842, the Prussian Consulate in Jerusalem estimated that Jerusalem’s total population of 15,150, of which 7120 were Jews. In April 1854 by Karl Marx stated that “the sedentary population of Jerusalem numbers about 15,500 souls, of whom 4,000 are Muslims and 8,000 Jews.” In 1864, the British Consulate reported that while the total population of Jerusalem were 15,000, there were 8000 Jews, 4500 Muslims and 2500 Christians. In 1898, “In this City of the Jews, where the Jewish population outnumbers all others three to one…” In 1914 there were 45,000 Jews in Jerusalem out of 65,000. This is another perspective how Jerusalem was unimportant religiously in Islam. And at the time of Israeli statehood in 1948, 100,000 Jews lived in the city, compared to only 65,000 Arabs.

When and why Jerusalem has become Important to Muslims?

From all this evidence, comes the big question: when and why Jerusalem has become Important to Muslims? It was not important and even was not mentioned during Muhammad’s life. It was not important to ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattāb, the conqueror of Jerusalem, who left it to the Christians immediate after its occupation. It became important to the Umayyads only after the revolt of Ibn al-Zubayr, for 60 years. It was again totally neglected during the Abbasid’s rule, and came back to Islamic consciousness only when it was captured by the crusaders in 1099.

The Christians destroyed mosques and synagogues, and replaced them with churches. Most of all, they made Jerusalem the apex of their religious quest. The change occurred only after Salah ad-Din al-Ayyūbi (Saladin) was appointed in 1187. Fadā’īl al-Quds literature, created by the Umayyad dynasty was distributed and this was the first time the importance of Jerusalem was stated religiously. Still, Salah ad-Din al-Ayyūbi did not take any steps to change the capital of the Islamic world, or to establish Jerusalem’s religious significance.

Jerusalem was even more neglected under the entire rule of the Ottoman Empire, for 400 years. It was forgotten, neglected, and came into oblivion compare to other cities. The change came only after the immigration of the Jews, and the Jewish-Zionist plans to establish a Jewish state with its capital in Jerusalem.

Only then Amin al-usseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, an anti-Semite and member of the Nazi Party, with his political-religious ambitions, identified the potential of Jerusalem to attract the support of the Arab states and the Muslim world to his struggle against the Jews. Nobody had a greater influence on the Jerusalem Issue than al-usseini, who as president of the Supreme Muslim Council, was not only the supreme religious authority but also the central figure in Palestinian nationalism.

Husseini saw Jerusalem as the crystallization point for the “rebirth of Islam” and Palestine in its center. Under his encouragement, ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassām group, the terrorist “Black Hand,” whose name is borne by amās’s homicide bombers, was the first to unite the ideology of a devout return to the original 7th century Islam. The “Arab revolt” of 1936-1939 was sparked and led by usseini. The “Jewish threat” and “saving Jerusalem” was a central theme in the Islamic propaganda. The call was to embark on a Jihad to defend the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

One cannot be surprised that Yasser Arafat, who was a nephew of uncle Amin al-usseini, took the same road of anti-Semitism and Jerusalem at the center of the struggle against Israel. Yasser Arafat, Rahman Abd al-Raūf al-Qidwa al-usseini, was born in Cairo. He was not a refugee of 1948 war, and only since 1967, after the Israeli liberation of Jerusalem, he “discovered” Jerusalem as a political issue. The crowds of praying Muslims were not there until the leaders began claiming that Jerusalem is their first Qiblah and Third aram, from 1994 on. This “discovery” was not displayed before, as long as east Jerusalem was under Jordanian occupation.

Before Arafat, it was Abdullah, King of Jordan, who realized the importance of Jerusalem for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and decided to conquer Jerusalem at all costs in 1948. His intention was to make Jerusalem the capital of Jordan. He thought that by doing so he would be able to achieve some religious importance for his kingdom following the loss by the Hashemite family of Mecca and Medina to the dynasty of Ibn Saud. He also sought to enhance his political significance, his prestige and status, and his legitimacy in the eyes of the Arab nations. But he was deterred by the strong resistance of the Arab and Muslim leaders. Amman remained the capital.

However, Arafat systematically pursued his goal of having the Arabs support the notion of Jerusalem’s critical importance for them as the Palestinian’s capital and its ties to Islam. In that capacity Jerusalem could serve as a point of Identification and national pride in order to create a Palestinian people and nation, which never existed at any time in the past. Arafat strove to have the West recognize Jerusalem as the Muslim capital of the world and to recognize him as the Muslim’s political leader.

Summary

As we have seen, over the 1,300 years of Muslim rule the following facts are observed: Jerusalem was not mentioned in Islamic Scriptures, and was given the status of aram only when it came under Infidels’ rule. Jerusalem was never the capital of any Islamic political entity or even an important provincial capital during all its Islamic occupation. The name of Jerusalem in Islamic sources indicates that the city did not belong to the nation of Islam. Religious and other learning institutions were not established. And no less important indication, Jerusalem was always neglected and in oblivion under Islamic rule.

Jerusalem became important politically when it was occupied by others. Religion was used as a veil to confer legitimacy on the Muslims while waging an external campaign against the infidels the Christians and the Jews. Three major periods are distinguished in the Islamic relationship to Jerusalem: the Umayyad; the Ayyūbi and the Jewish-Zionist periods. However, the first who really understood Jerusalem case as an Islamic political symbol was Amin al-usseini. Yet, the one leader who best understood the importance of Jerusalem as a political epicenter was Arafat.

It is of noteworthy, the Land of Israel and Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple Mount are not called “al-Aqṣā” which means the far-away Land, but rather the “nearby land.” The reason is simple, because geographically it is the land closest to Mecca and Medina. It is clear that Muhammad and the Sahābah did not attribute any importance to Jerusalem, and consequently no conclusion from this evidence is possible except that Jerusalem had no religious or any other kind of significance for Islam.

Jerusalem has become important only for political reasons: it was raised up as an alternative to Mecca against Ibn al-Zubayr’s revolt; it was raised up to fight the crusaders; and it is raised up against Israel. Indeed, Jerusalem’s importance in the Islamic world only appears evident when non-Muslims control or capture the city. Only at those points in history did Islamic leaders claim Jerusalem to be their first turn of prayer and their third holy city.

Had it not been for the struggle between the Umayyad and Abdallah Ibn al-Zubayr, no mosque would have been built in Jerusalem with the name of al-Aqṣā, and no claims would have been made by Muslims about the sanctity for them of Jerusalem. Had it not been for the Christian Crusaders and their aspiration to establish the “Kingdom of Jerusalem,” and had it not been for Zionism’s activity and establishment of the Jewish State of Israel, Jerusalem would have remained on the margin of the Islamic world. No national-political struggle over the city would have ever arisen, and certainly not a struggle accompanied by the invention of an entire set of myths lacking any historical –religious-political foundation. Indeed, the struggle for Jerusalem is the mere political use of religion for political ends.

At the same time this decision marks the Israeli political defeat. Israeli leaders should have comprehended the Palestinians’ strategy, but their treatment of the subject of Jerusalem testifies to their consummate failure in this matter. Israel should have repeated incessantly that Jerusalem was never the capital of any People or nation at any time in history except for the Jewish People. Unfortunately, Israel bases its policy on defensive-retaliatory measures, under the slogan of “the full cup of blood,” and not on pro-active strategy based on “think first before you act.”

Still, why should the Palestinian leaders make such an incredible lies and ludicrous fabrications? On the face of it, lying, knowingly distorting the truth, in Arab-Islamic culture is simple and easy. However, it is in fact a highly sophisticated strategy. Domestically, this fictional nonsense helps shape Palestinian culture, beliefs, and political behavior of building a national identity. Yet, the important side is the international. The Palestinian leaders know that the world is mired with anti-Israel approach. Unfortunately these rhetorical fabrications resonates deeply anti-Zionism, which has become the new anti-Semitism.

Therefore, the strategy is to deceive and mislead the world by de-legitimizing Israel’s existence and de-humanizing its reality. Western media is the best example of how this strategy succeeds. It has been silent about the fantastic historical fabrications of the Palestinians. It just does not bother itself to engage with the moralistic narratives and the out of the blue stories that stem from outer galaxy about Palestinians having existed 9,000 years ago and Jerusalem being its capital since.

For Western politicians, the media, and human rights organizations the Palestinians’ lies, hatred, anti-Semitism and inhuman incitement are overwhelming the basic common sense. The new “multiculturalism religion” dictates that the sincerity of the Palestinians cannot be challenged since to do so would require making subjective judgments. The post modernism situation means downgrading objectivity as much as elevating multiple narratives as being equally valid, and at the same time there is valuation of feelings over scientific facts.

For example, the PLO representative to the United Nations, stated that Palestinians had “lived under the rule of a plethora of empires: the Canaanites, Egyptians, Philistines, Israelites, Persians, Greeks, Crusaders, Mongols, Ottomans, and finally, the British…. Palestinian Christians are the descendants of Jesus and guardians of the cradle of Christianity.” No comment from The Washington Post editorial.

Most instructive is the case of Reuters. It engages in systematically biased storytelling in favor of the Palestinians that “is able to influence audience affective behavior and motivate direct action along the same trajectory.”

Western critical scientific filters are closed and has become one-way street. Science is no longer free and in fact in our contemporary “multiculturalism religion,” science, history, and common sense no longer matters. Anti-reality continues to spread.

Appendix: Jerusalem and Judaism

Jerusalem, wrote Martin Gilbert, is not a ‘mere’ city. “It holds the central spiritual and physical place in the history of the Jews as a people.” For more than 3,000 years, the Jewish people have looked to Jerusalem as their spiritual, political, and historical capital, even when they did not physically rule over the city.

Eli E. Hertz puts it: throughout its long history, Jerusalem has served, and still serves, as the political capital of only one nation, the Jews. Unfortunately, history would not be kind to the Jewish people. Four hundred and ten years after King Solomon completed construction of Jerusalem, the Babylonians seized and destroyed the city, forcing the Jews into exile. Fifty years later, the Jews were permitted to return after Persia conquered Babylon. The Jews’ first order of business was to reclaim Jerusalem as their capital and rebuild the Holy Second Temple.

Jerusalem was more than the Jewish kingdom’s political capital – it holds the central spiritual and physical place in the history of the Jews as a people. Their thoughts and prayers were directed toward Jerusalem. Jewish ritual practice, holiday celebration, and lifecycle events include recognition of Jerusalem as a core element of the Jewish spiritual existence. Jerusalem was a spiritual beacon, and Jews never relinquished their bond to Jerusalem and to the Land of Israel. No matter where Jews lived throughout the world for those two millennia, their thoughts and prayers were directed toward Jerusalem as a core element of the Jewish experience.

It is fair enough to declare that Jewish life without Jerusalem is defective, and Jews without Jerusalem are crippled. It is indeed

“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its purpose, may my tongue cling to my palate, if I do not mention you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.”

The Bible mentions ‘Jerusalem’ directly 349 times, or with its many other names that glorify it, 669 times. “Zion,” another name for ‘Jerusalem,’ is mentioned 154 times, a total of 823 references. In the Jewish Scripture Jerusalem has 72 names, all of them glorify in admiration its eternal beauty. In the New Testament Jerusalem is mentioned 142 times, and the context always concerns incidents involving Israel in Jerusalem. The Gospels and the General Epistles deal at length with the story of Jesus, who lived in Jerusalem when the Jewish Temple stood on the Temple Mount.

Indeed, two crucial historical facts demonstrate the unshakeable bond between the Jewish People, the Land of Israel and the Jewish religion – and Jerusalem figures at the center of this bond. Any meticulous historical study would demonstrate that:

First, throughout history many nations ruled over the Land of Israel but only the Jewish people established their country there, three times – during the time of the First and Second Temples, and at the establishment of the State of Israel. The Jews did not establish a state anywhere else and always insisted on returning to their Land and establishing their sovereignty there exclusively. This is a permanent bond. In contrast, and astonishingly enough to prove the Hand of God, never had any of the empires and religions that ruled here established their country in this territory as a unique and separate sovereign state.

Secondly, During the Jewish diaspora many foreign rulers ruled over Jerusalem (Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Mamelukes, Ottomans, British, and more), but no political entity made Jerusalem its capital and none attached any importance to Jerusalem. This something to note and consider: Jerusalem was never the capital city of any other nation, empire or religion that ruled the area with the exception of the brief period of the crusader “Kingdom of Jerusalem”.

This entity, Crusaders, was not established in the aim of creating a separate political entity, but rather to liberate Jerusalem from Muslim occupation. Conversely, Jerusalem was the capital city of the Jewish nation (and only the Jewish nation) in three separate periods: during the reign of the houses of David and Solomon that began at the end of the 10th century B.C.E.; during the time of the Second Temple and until its destruction in the year 70 C.E.; and since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

The outcome result of these two facts is that Jerusalem only flourished and blossomed when under Jewish rule. Throughout most of history while Jerusalem was ruled by others, it remained in a neglected and miserable state. Only under Jewish rule did it become an important city, the capital of a nation.

After nearly 1900 years the Jews have returned en masse to the Land of Israel, established their state and immediately made Jerusalem their capital. They returned in significant numbers to the city in the 20th century, though throughout all it history Jewish presence has existed.

Archaeological Finds. During the past several decades Jerusalem has been extensively excavated. Findings have been unearthed, and those findings substantiate the existence of ancient Jewish life in the Land of Israel. Herewith is only a small list.

A Hebrew University archaeologist discovered a Jerusalem city wall from the time of King Solomon (10th century BCE). The finding “is the first time that a structure from that time has been found that may correlate with written descriptions of Solomon’s building in Jerusalem.” Artifacts found inside excavations around the City of David and within the Old City, date the Jewish presence in Jerusalem as far back as 1000 BCE, during the time of King David.

Many symbols of a menorah were found on coins. Hebraic inscriptions from the time of the First Temple were found. Seals with Hebrew writing dating to the time of the Bible were discovered. About a year ago 33 seals with ancient Hebrew writing were discovered. These date back to the time of the First Temple. The writing on one of the seals reads: “To Hizkiyahu [ben] Ahaz, King of Judah”, and researchers date this finding to the time of King Hezekiah who ruled Jerusalem in 600 B.C.E.

First Temple period findings, an ancient Hebrew seal dated to the First Temple period (approximately 2,800 years ago) was found in excavations near the northern section of the Western Wall. The following words are imprinted into the coin: “To Netanyahu Ben Yaash”. This was apparently a private seal used by a Jew in Jerusalem.

Many ancient Jewish specimens were found at the City of David with Bullae used by private individuals, including Gemaryahu Ben Shafan, who is mentioned in the book of Zekariah and lived during the reign of Yehoyakim King of Judah (2,600 years ago).

The Siloam shaft was also discovered. It was the ancient city of Jerusalem’s source of water. This shaft was dug as an underground tunnel through which water brought to Jerusalem at the time of King Hezekiah (700 B.C.E. found in the Book of Kings II, 20: 20. A Hebrew inscription describing the digging process was unsurfaced where the two groups of excavators met.

Archaeological findings on the Temple Mount: Under the façade of the mosque a ritual bath associated with the Second Temple Period was discovered. Seals of private individuals were found as well as a seal with the words “Yehochal Ben Shilmiyahu Ben Shevi”, a senior minister in King Zedekiah’s government (Jeremiah, 37:3).

Also many coins dating back to the First and Second Temple periods, ritual baths, and a synagogue from the time of the Second Temple were found. At the entrance to one synagogue is a Greek inscription:

“Theodosius, the son of Vatanos, priest and president of the synagogue, son of the president of the synagogue, grandson of the president of the synagogue, built the synagogue in order to read from the Torah and study the commandments, and built the inn, the rooms, and the water facilities to host the needy who come from abroad, which his forefathers, sages, and Samonidas instituted.”

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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.

From our partner RIAC

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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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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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