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Israel and Saudi Arabia

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] I [/yt_dropcap]n Syria, on February 24 last, Iraq carried out its first bombing against Isis in the region of Abu Kemal, but the tactical and intelligence support to the Iraqi forces was been given by Russia and Iran, not by the United States which, however, also tacitly allowed the operations.

This also means that Putin has lost his patience and fears the new fragmentation of power and factionalism in the United States, considering Donald Trump’s Presidency and the intelligence agencies now deployed against the new President. Hence Putin goes on with his operations in Syria with the support of Iran and not with the US support, as had previously been planned by the Russian intelligence services.

It is also assumed that the United States does not accept the primary role of the Turkish forces in the conquest of Raqqa, the capital of the so-called “Caliphate”. However, after the conquest of the town of Al Bab in Northern Syria, the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, announced that the Turkish armed forces would continue actions towards Raqqa with the support of France, Great Britain, and Germany – not to mention the United States.

Therefore, if the United States is de facto expelled from Syria, it will be irrelevant in the Greater Middle East. If the United States is short-lived in the Greater Middle East, America will be fully marginal in Europe. If it will not be present in Europe, this will not be a problem for the European Union which will not even notice it, but the United States will also be non-existent in the Maghreb region and in Central Asia.

The US absence will not be a danger for the EU’s foreign policy. The European foreign policy does not even exist now, let alone in the future.

Nevertheless for Russia and China it will mean “green light” for the great Eurasia planned by Russia and for the new Silk Road, namely the Road and Belt Initiative, conceived by China as early as 2013.

In both cases, this marks the end of the EU-US relationship as we currently know it, but in Brussels nobody has yet noticed it – hence let us leave them asleep.

It is exactly in this context that the rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia must be seen.

Between February 21 and 22 last, while the United States showed their weakness in the Middle East and in the rest of the world, the Saudi Chief of the intelligence services, Khalid bin Ali al Humaidan, secretly visited both Ramallah and Jerusalem.

Al Humaidan, recently appointed Head of the main intelligence service of the Saudi Kingdom does not belong to the network of the most important princes of the Al Saud family, the so-called “seven Sudayri”, but has emerged solely thanks to a brilliant military career – and it is the first time that this happens.

In fact, the Saudi intelligence services are very worried about the project, authorized a few weeks ago by the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, and also by President Rouhani, whom Westerners stupidly define as a “reformist” – a project that the Iranian Armed Forces define as Riyadh, at first.

For Iran the issue lies in adding further 100 kilometres to the range of their SCUD-C and SCUD-D missiles, which is currently 600 and 700 kilometres, respectively, so as to enable the missile to directly reach the Saudi capital city.

Currently the Iranian operation is implemented at the Al Ghadi base in the Ganesh area, about 48 kilometers from the capital city of the Shiite republic.

Al Ghadi is a few kilometres from Hamadan, the base that Iran granted to the Russian air force last August which, however, has already been left by it, with some Iran’s complaints.

Therefore the strategy of the Shiite republic is clear: instead of accepting diversions or multiple regional conflicts by proxy, Iran will hit immediately and directly the Saudi Kingdom with such a missile salvo as to block its decision-making centres and much of its economy.

On the other hand, just on February 4 last, Yemen’s Shiite Houthi rebels attacked with a Borkan missile (i.e. a Volcano 1 missile) – which has an average range of 800 kilometers – the Saudi camp of Al Mazahimiyah, 40 kilometres west of Riyadh.

The Borkan 1 is a tactical ballistic missile developed on the basis of the R-17 Soviet Elbrus model, but it is not very likely for this medium-range missile fuelled with solid propellant to have been launched by the Houthis. It is rather the first test of the new Iranian extended-range SCUD missile.

What will the Head of the Saudi intelligence services have said to the Palestinian leaders gathered in Ramallah?

Certainly he will have told the PLO heirs to stop strengthening their ties with Iran.

As early as 2014 Hamas and the Al Qassam Brigades have publicly reaffirmed their political-military relationship with the Shiite republic, even though Hamas is an offshoot of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood that has always been the number one enemy of the Sunni kingdom of the Al Saud family.

While in 2012 Hamas had broken its relations with Iran, in the phase of the silly “Arab Springs”, by supporting the political legitimacy of President Hadi in Yemen, currently Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, wants a preferential relationship with Iran for its financial and military support, while the Saudi and Arab Emirates’ support is vanishing.

And this happens even though the Hamas leaders would accept, at first and preferentially, the support of the Saudi Kingdom.

Support to the Palestinian struggle which, however, is currently not provided “for internal reasons within the Saudi regime,” as said by our sources within the Muslim Brotherhood in the Palestinian Territories.

Furthermore a meeting was already held between Iranian and Palestinian delegations in Brussels, in mid-February 2017.

It is that meeting which alerted the Saudi intelligence services.

The whole Iranian delegation had been appointed directly by President Rowhani, the “reformist,” while the Palestinian one was led by Jibril Rajoub, whom Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, will probably appoint as his deputy in the coming days.

Rajoub is “persona non grata” for Jordan; he emerged as leader at the Fatah Congress held in Ramallah in 2016 and   cannot even travel to Egypt.

On the contrary, in Jerusalem, the Head of the Saudi intelligence services will have talked about the issues relating to the next Middle East Conference proposed by President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in their last meeting.

However, what is the current relationship between Israel and the Gulf petromonarchies?

It is worth recalling that Israel sent its first diplomatic mission to the United Arab Emirates, precisely to Abu Dhabi, on November 27, 2015.

Obviously both for the United Arab Emirates and for Saudi Arabia the relationship with the Jewish State is instrumental to contain Iran, a sworn enemy of both counties.

But we must consider the economy and, above all, the advanced technology, which is essential for the economic diversification of the Sunni petromonarchies.

Recently Qatar has even tried to establish some unofficial diplomatic channels with Israel – channels that had been disrupted after the 2008-2009 Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip.

Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf petromonarchies are ever less interested in the Palestinians, but ever more greedy for the Israeli advanced technology that the United States has not or does not want to grant.

As early as the Six Day War, the Jewish State’s leadership has used the concessions made to the Palestinians with a view to defusing the threat that the Arab States posed to its very survival.

Moreover the Israeli diplomacy has always used the 1994 model of normalizing relations with Jordan to propose similar actions with the other Arab League countries.

And, over the years, the Qatari support to Hamas and the Saudi support to the whole Palestinian military and political region has become ever less passionate and relevant.

The primary reason is the massive corruption reigning in the Territories, which prevents also the Saudi and the Emirates’ counterparts from doing business, while the Saudi strategic equation is increasingly focused on Al Sisi’s Egypt, a ferocious enemy of the Muslim Brotherhood, rather than on Hamas, which is the Palestinian armed wing of the Brotherhood and, hence, directly operating in the Sinai region.

Currently the Saudi and Emirates’ support to the Palestinians is increasingly tactical and vague, except for preventing Iran from conquering the thriving market of “aid” to the Palestinian National Authority’s military forces.

Saudi Arabia does not want the increasingly close relationship between Mahmoud Abbas and Iran, nor it wants to support a military struggle against Israel – and it is worth noting King Salman Al Saud’s absence from the Arab League’s meeting held in Mauritania on July 25, 2016 – a Summit focused precisely on the Palestinian issue.

Currently the Israeli high-tech products and advanced technologies for irrigation have already entered the Kingdom through “third” companies.

In 2011, some Israeli companies sold military technology to the Arab Emirates to the tune of 300 million US dollars, while the members of the Gulf Security Council use technologies produced by the Jewish State to maintain safety and security in their oil wells.

In 2009 Saudi Arabia even tested its air defences to check the possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran launched from its territory while, on the basis of 2015 data, 53% of the Saudi citizens see Iran as the primary threat, while Israel is considered the number one enemy only by 18% of the Saudi citizens.

Moreover, Israel publicly supported the Egyptian granting of the two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia in April 2016, while the primary strategic relationship in which Israel is interested is the one regarding the Saudi – or anyway Sunni – opposition and contrast to Iran’s penetration into the Palestinian universe.

The companies resulting from the spin-off of the Israeli intelligence services are used by Saudi Arabia to probe the deep web, while much of cybersecurity in the Emirates is originated from Israel.

Recently the United Arab Emirates have spent six billion dollars in security infrastructure, by using Israeli engineers and companies owned by or linked to Israeli businessmen.

The main intermediary for these relations, at least at government level, is Ayub Kara, an Arab-Israeli Druze who is currently Minister in Netanyahu’s government.

He is a Likud man, who cherishes no illusions about the strategic aims of Israel’s possible “friends” in the Middle East.

The starting point for new networks between Riyadh and Jerusalem is the Red Sea-Dead Sea Conveyance Project.

The “Two Seas Canal” will bring drinking water from Aqaba to Lisan, in the Dead Sea – water available to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories – and will generate electricity. It is located entirely on the Jordanian territory and will be funded by the Jordanian government and by some international donors.

Its construction is expected to start next year and Ayub Kara, in particular, supports the redevelopment and enhancement of the Haifa port for the transport of goods to the EU and Turkey, in addition to conceiving a role for the Israeli port towards Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Another Israeli project in which Saudi Arabia is interested is the old Red Sea pipeline, an old network of 50 years ago from Eilat to Ashkelon, built jointly with the Iranian Shah.

It avoids the Suez Canal and hence reduces many political costs, as well as the costs for transporting oil to Europe and the United States.

Last year, however, a Swiss court granted to Iran 1.1 billion US dollars for loss of earnings, but Israel refuses to pay this sum to Iran, as can be easily imagined.

Other Israeli companies in the safety and security sector sold to the United Arab Emirates integrated systems for monitoring networks and people flows – systems which are also used for the remote supervision of pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina.

Hence the new strategic coordinates of the Greater Middle East will be, on the one hand, the Iranian management of the Shiite minorities in Bahrain, Yemen, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Syria and, on the other, Saudi Arabia’s opening to every Iranian enemy in the region.

The United States will continue their withdrawal from the Middle East system. Russia will become the true and only broker of military power and equilibriums in the Fertile Crescent. If there are no future military crises on its borders, in addition to the Syrian one, Israel will become the point of reference both for Russia and the Sunni world, which is orphan of the United States.

As is currently the case, Europe will be irrelevant and devoid of ideas.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

Middle East

Will Oman Succeed In What The UN And US Envoys Failed In Yemen?

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Since taking office on January 20, US President Joe Biden has made a priority for Yemen and appointed Tim Linderking as the US special envoy to Yemen to seek an end of the war that has been going on for more than six years, which made Yemen live “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world”, as described by the United Nations.

Nearly four months after his appointment as a special envoy to Yemen, and after several visits to the region, and several meetings through Omani coordination with representatives of the Houthi movement in Muscat, Linderking returned to the United States empty-handed, announcing that the Houthis are responsible for the failure of the ceasefire to take hold in Yemen. The US State Department said “While there are numerous problematic actors inside of Yemen, the Houthis bear major responsibility for refusing to engage meaningfully on a ceasefire and to take steps to resolve a nearly seven-year conflict that has brought unimaginable suffering to the Yemeni people”.

Two days only after the US State Department statement, which blamed the Houthis for the failure of the peace process in Yemen, an Omani delegation from the Royal Office arrives in Sana’a. What are the goals behind their visit to Sana’a, and will the Omani efforts be crowned with success?

Houthi spokesman Muhammad Abdul Salam said that “the visit of a delegation from the Omani Royal Office to Sanaa is to discuss the situation in Yemen, arrange the humanitarian situation, and advancing the peace process”. However, observers considered that the delegation carried an American message to the Houthi leader as a last attempt to pressure the Houthis to accept a ceasefire, and to continue the peace efforts being made to end the war and achieve peace, especially after the failure of all intensive efforts in the past days by the United Nations and the United States of America to reach a ceasefire as a minimum requirement for peace.

Oman was the only country in the Gulf Cooperation Council that decided not to participate in what was called “Operation Decisive Storm”, led by Saudi Arabia following its consistent policy of non-interference. Due to its positive role since the beginning of the crisis and its standing at the same distance from all the conflicting local and regional parties in Yemen, it has become the only qualified and trusted party by all the conflicting parties, who view it as a neutral side that has no interest in further fighting and fragmentation.

On the local level, Oman enjoys the respect and trust of the Houthis, who have embraced them and their negotiators for years and provided them with a political platform and a point of contact with the international parties concerned with solving the Yemeni problem, as well as embracing other political parties loyal to the legitimate government, especially those who had a different position to the Saudi-Emirati agenda during the last period.

At the regional level, Oman maintains strong historical relations with the Iran, and it is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and this feature enables it to bring the views between the two sides closer to reach a ceasefire and ending the Yemeni crisis that has raved the region for several years as a proxy war between the regional rivalries Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Oman now possesses the trust and respect of all local, regional and international parties, who resorted to it recently and they are all pushing to reach a ceasefire and ending the crisis, after they have reached a conviction that it is useless. So the Omani delegation’s public visit to Sana’a has great connotations and an important indication of the determination of all parties to reach breakthrough in the Yemeni crisis.

The international community, led by the United States, is now looking forward to stop the war in Yemen. Saudi Arabia also is looking for an end to the war that cost the kingdom a lot and it is already presented an initiative to end the Yemeni crisis, as well as Iran’s preoccupation with its nuclear program and lifting of sanctions.

Likewise, the conflicting local parties reached a firm conviction that military resolution is futile, especially after the Houthis’ failed attempt for several months to control Marib Governorate the rich of oil and gas and the last strongholds of the government in the north, which would have changed the balance of power in the region as a whole.

Despite the ambiguity that is still surrounding the results of the Omani delegation’s visit to Sana’a so far, there is great optimism to reach a cease-fire and alleviate the humanitarian crisis and other measures that pave the way for entering into the political track to solve the Yemeni crisis.

The situation in Yemen is very complicated and the final solution is still far away, but reaching a ceasefire and the start of negotiations may be a sign of hope and a point of light in the dark tunnel of Yemenis who have suffered for years from the curse of this war and its devastating effects.

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Saudi Arabia steps up effort to replace UAE and Qatar as go-to regional hub

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Saudi Arabia has stepped up efforts to outflank the United Arab Emirates and Qatar as the Gulf’s commercial, cultural, and/or geostrategic hub.

The kingdom has recently expanded its challenge to the smaller Gulf states by seeking to position Saudi Arabia as the region’s foremost sport destination once Qatar has had its moment in the sun with the 2022 World Cup as well as secure a stake in the management of regional ports and terminals dominated so far by the UAE and to a lesser extent Qatar.

Saudi Arabia kicked off its effort to cement its position as the region’s behemoth with an announcement in February that it would cease doing business by 2024 with international companies whose regional headquarters were not based in the kingdom. 

With the UAE ranking 16 on the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business Index as opposed to Saudi Arabia at number 62, freewheeling Dubai has long been international business’s preferred regional headquarters.

The Saudi move “clearly targets the UAE” and “challenges the status of Dubai,” said a UAE-based banker.

A latecomer to the port control game which is dominated by Dubai’s DP World that operates 82 marine and inland terminals in more than 40 countries, including Djibouti, Somaliland, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and Cyprus, the kingdom’s expansion into port and terminal management appears to be less driven by geostrategic considerations.

Instead, Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Gateway Terminal (RSGT), backed by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, said it was targeting ports that would service vital Saudi imports such as those related to food security.

PIF and China’s Cosco Shipping Ports each bought a 20 per cent stake in RSGT in January.

The Chinese investment fits into China’s larger Belt and Road-strategy that involves the acquisition regionally of stakes in ports and terminals in Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Oman, and Djibouti, where China has a military base.

RSGT Chief Executive Officer Jens Floe said the company planned to invest in at least three international ports in the next five years. He said each investment would be up to US$500 million.

“We have a focus on ports in Sudan and Egypt. They weren’t picked for that reason, but they happen to be significant countries for Saudi Arabia’s food security strategy,” Mr. Floe said.

Saudi Arabia’s increased focus on sports, including a potential bid for the hosting of the 2030 World Cup serves multiple goals: It offers Saudi youth who account for more than half of the kingdom’s population a leisure and entertainment opportunity, it boosts Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman’s burgeoning development of a leisure and entertainment industry, potentially allows Saudi Arabia to polish its image tarnished by human rights abuse, including the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and challenges Qatar’s position as the face of Middle Eastern sports.

A recent report by Grant Liberty, a London-based human rights group that focuses on Saudi Arabia and China, estimated that the kingdom has so far invested in US$1.5 billion in the hosting of multiple sporting events, including the final matches of Italy and Spain’s top soccer leagues; Formula One; boxing, wrestling and snooker matches; and golf tournaments. Qatar is so far the Middle East’s leader in the hosting of sporting events followed by the UAE.

Grant Liberty said that further bids for sporting events worth US$800 million had failed. This did not include an unsuccessful US$600 million offer to replace Qatar’s beIN tv sports network as the Middle Eastern broadcaster of European soccer body UEFA’s Champions League.

Saudi Arabia reportedly continues to ban beIN from broadcasting in the kingdom despite the lifting in January of 3.5 year-long Saudi-UAE-led diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar.

Prince Mohammed’s Vision 2030 plan to diversify and streamline the Saudi economy and ween it off dependency on oil exports “has set the creation of professional sports and a sports industry as one of its goals… The kingdom is proud to host and support various athletic and sporting events which not only introduce Saudis to new sports and renowned international athletes but also showcase the kingdom’s landmarks and the welcoming nature of its people to the world,” said Fahad Nazer, spokesperson for the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington.

The increased focus on sports comes as the kingdom appears to be backing away from its intention to reduce the centrality of energy exports for its economy.

Energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Prince Mohammed’s brother, recently ridiculed an International Energy Agency (IEA) report that “there is no need for investment in new fossil fuel supply” as “the sequel of the La La Land movie.” The minister went on to ask, “Why should I take (the report) seriously?”

Putting its money where its mouth is, Saudi Arabia intends to increase its oil production capacity from 12 million to more than 13 million barrels a day on the assumption that global efforts to replace fossil fuel with cleaner energy sources will spark sharp reductions in US and Russian production.

The kingdom’s operating assumption is that demand in Asia for fossil fuels will continue to rise even if it drops in the West. Other Gulf producers, including the UAE and Qatar, are following a similar strategy.

“Saudi Arabia is no longer an oil country, it’s an energy-producing country … a very competitive energy country. We are low cost in producing oil, low cost in producing gas, and low cost in producing renewables and will definitely be the least-cost producer of hydrogen,” Prince Abdulaziz said.

He appeared to be suggesting that the kingdom’s doubling down on oil was part of strategy that aims to ensure that Saudi Arabia is a player in all conventional and non-conventional aspects of energy. By implication, Prince Abdulaziz was saying that diversification was likely to broaden the kingdom’s energy offering rather than significantly reduce its dependence on energy exports.

“Sports, entertainment, tourism and mining alongside other industries envisioned in Vision 2030 are valuable expansions of the Saudi economy that serve multiple economic and non-economic purposes,” “ said a Saudi analyst. “It’s becoming evident, however, that energy is likely to remain the real name of the game.”

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Middle East

Iranians Will Boycott Iran Election Farce

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Iran and elections have not been two synonymous terms. A regime whose constitution is based on absolute rule of someone who is considered to be God’s representative on earth, highest religious authority, morality guide, absolute ruler, and in one word Big Brother (or Vali Faqih), would hardly qualify for a democracy or a place where free or fair elections are held. But when you are God’s rep on earth you are free to invent your own meanings for words such as democracy, elections, justice, and human rights. It comes with the title. And everyone knows the fallacy of “presidential elections” in Iran. Most of all, the Iranian public know it as they have come to call for an almost unanimous boycott of the sham elections.

The boycott movement in Iran is widespread, encompassing almost all social and political strata of Iranian society, even some factions of the regime who have now decided it is time to jump ship. Most notably, remnants of what was euphemistically called the Reformist camp in Iran, have now decided to stay away from the phony polls. Even “hardline” former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad realizes the extent of the regime’s woes and has promised that he will not be voting after being duly disqualified again from participating by supreme leader’s Guardian Council.

So after 42 years of launching a reformist-hardliner charade to play on the West’s naivety, Khamenei’s regime is now forced to present its one and true face to the world: Ebrahim Raisi, son of the Khomeinist ideology, prosecutor, interrogator, torturer, death commission judge, perpetrator of the 1988 massacre of political prisoners, chief inquisitionist, and favorite of Ali Khamenei.

What is historic and different about this presidential “election” in Iran is precisely what is not different about it. It took the world 42 years to cajole Iran’s medieval regime to step into modernity, change its behavior, embrace universal human rights and democratic governance, and treat its people and its neighbors with respect. What is shocking is that this whole process is now back at square one with Ebrahim Raisi, a proven mass murderer who boasts of his murder spree in 1988, potentially being appointed as president.

With Iran’s regime pushing the envelope in launching proxy wars on the United States in Iraq, on Saudi Arabia in Yemen, and on Israel in Gaza and Lebanon, and with a horrendous human rights record that is increasingly getting worse domestically, what is the international community, especially the West, going to do? What is Norway’s role in dealing with this crisis and simmering crises to come out of this situation?

Europe has for decades based its foreign policy on international cooperation and the peaceful settlement of disputes, and the promotion of human rights and democratic principles. The International community must take the lead in bringing Ebrahim Raisi to an international court to account for the massacre he so boastfully participated in 1988 and all his other crimes he has committed to this day.

There are many Iranian refugees who have escaped the hell that the mullahs have created in their beautiful homeland and who yearn to one day remake Iran in the image of a democratic country that honors human rights. These members of the millions-strong Iranian Diaspora overwhelmingly support the boycott of the sham election in Iran, and support ordinary Iranians who today post on social media platforms videos of the Mothers of Aban (mothers of protesters killed by regime security forces during the November 2019 uprising) saying, “Our vote is for this regime’s overthrow.” Finally, after 42 years, the forbidden word of overthrow is ubiquitous on Iranian streets with slogans adorning walls calling for a new era and the fall of this regime.

Europe should stand with the Iranian Resistance and people to call for democracy and human rights in Iran and it should lead calls for accountability for all regime leaders, including Ebrahim Raisi, and an end to a culture of impunity for Iran’s criminal rulers.

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