On November 4 last, during the great “purge” within the Saudi elite, the Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, resigned claiming that his life was in danger. He was paying a visit to Riyadh and the interview released made us implicitly understand that some change was possible.
Saad Hariri, son of Rafik, the politician and businessman linked to Saudi Arabia – who had been assassinated with a high-potential bomb on February 14, 2005, along with 21 other people – rose to power last year in the framework of an agreement envisaging Michel Aoun, a Christian liked by Hezbollah and Syria, as President of the Republic.
Just on November 4, in his abovementioned interview with the Saudi television, Hariri had harshly criticized Iran and President Aoun had called him by phone to “ask for his resignation”.
However, Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian, had been elected with the consent of Saudi Arabia.
It should be noted that on the same day, the Houthi – namely the Yemen’s Shiite rebels – launched a long-range missile targeted to Riyadh.
The Houthi Shiite rebels had already fired approximately 120 missiles against Saudi Arabia, but so far no one had yet reached the capital city.
Saad Hariri has a complex relationship with both the Saudi and the Iranian and Shiite universe.
In 2010, when he had first been appointed Lebanese Prime Minister – before some US leaders – he had often criticized the Saudi pressures designed to put an end to the Lebanese dispute with the Syrian regime.
Saad Hariri seemed to be very independent from Saudi Arabia and Iran. He probably thought that the latter might be useful to rebalance the Saudi influence on the Lebanon.
Hence everything seemed obvious: Saudi Arabia did not want to trigger the fuse in Syria and wanted to avoid destabilization in the Lebanon – inevitable after the destabilization of the Syrian regime. Finally Saudi Arabia did not accept Iran’s expansion among the Houthi and, however, deemed that all those points of tension could be easily controllable if kept separate one another.
It is by no mere coincidence that in January 2011 – just in the year of “Arab Springs” – Saad Hariri was removed from office a few minutes after a photo opportunity with Barack Obama.
Hariri resigned on November 4 last, in view of political elections scheduled for next May.
Saad Hariri’s political party can win on the basis of a fundamental criterion – namely the refusal to accept Hezbollah further expansion in the Lebanon, which is increasingly widespread among Sunni voters – while currently Hariri seems to be ever closer to the Lebanese Shiite “Party of God”.
Nor should we forget about Saad’s scarce personal and political resources, now used up in years of election, propaganda and party welfare.
It is hence evident that, currently, Saudi Arabia no longer needs a buffer State such as the Lebanon, where to create large-coalition governments with Iranian agents but, if anything, it wants the political and territorial collapse of the Lebanon and its fragmentation between pro-Saudi areas and Shiite-controlled areas.
Furthermore Saudi Arabia has softly let it know that it wants to replace Saad Hariri with his brother Bahaa, who – in a mix of business and politics – is closer to the new equilibrium imposed by the Crown Prince on the Saudi power elite.
Hence we are faced with a cold regional war between Shiites and Sunnis, between Iran and Saudi Arabia, in which both major contenders move their minor allies on the Middle East chessboard, with the United States supporting Saudi Arabia – without realizing what is really happening – and Russia, the new actual global player in the region, having stable relations with Iran, winning in Syria, maintaining good relations with Saudi Arabia and dealing with Turkey to solve the Kurdish issue.
Nevertheless if Iran has also to deal with tensions in the Lebanon, defending the political and military power of Hezbollah – “Imam Khomeini’s beloved creature” – it cannot maintain the same economic and military standing in Syria, nor even support the Houthi rebellion with the same forces as in the past.
It is a proxy war – hence the strategic equation is based on the possibility of consuming the opponent’s resources by diverting them from the true targets they intend to hit.
Iran wants Yemen because it is a way for strategically controlling – on the same territory of the Arabian peninsula – the Sunni Kingdom and the commercial lines going to the Persian Gulf and the Suez Canal.
Saudi Arabia wants Lebanon, or part of it, to put pressures on the Syrian borders and disrupt the line Iran is building to connect – south of Syria – the Iranian borders with those between Syria and the Lebanon.
It is a connection that – under the supervision of the Russian Federation – enables Iran to reach the Mediterranean safely and control its indirect borders with the Sunni Kingdom.
That is the reason why Saudi Arabia wants Saad Hariri to pay the bill just now: a few days ago the Saudi Minister for Gulf Affairs said that the Lebanese Sunni leader “did not do enough” to “drive Hezbollah back into the caves”.
Furthermore the “Party of God” has no intention of clashing directly with Saudi Arabia but, over the next few weeks, it could repeat the action against Israel which, in 2006, won wide consensus for Hezbollah in the Lebanon.
In this case, the elections should be won with a war, forcing also Hariri and the other small Sunni political parties to come to terms with the Shiites of Southern Lebanon, who now hold and control the Armed Forces and most of bureaucracy.
Looking to the tendencies of those who vote for Hariri’s “Future Movement” political party -Tayyar Al Mustaqbal -it can be noted that there is an anti-Shiite polarization and an explicit rejection of Saudi’s “protection” for the Lebanon.
The May elections in the Lebanon will be won by those who will be able to emphasize national independence and a new welfare State project.
Ironically, according to what ascertained in 2014 by the Hague International Tribunal, it was precisely Hezbollah to organize the attack on Rafik Hariri, the first real destabilization act in the Lebanon.
However, as said by the Russian nobleman who, after the destruction of his family by the Bolsheviks – agreed to work as Head of the Russian Protocol at the Versailles Conference: “If your mother dies knocked down by a tramcar, this does not mean that you should stop catching it”.
Meanwhile, after Saad’s resignation – obviously forced by a Saudi Kingdom that could not accept that in the most stable Saudi-friendly government in the Lebanon there were two Hezbollah ministers – the Lebanese political offer is distorted and made more complex.
Obviously the Shiite group will try to form a new government, which will have an unstable majority.
In this case, Saudi Arabia will force the Shiite group to unintentionally destabilize its own country.
Unless the “Party of God” starts a campaign against the Jewish State, which would distract attention from the internal political equilibria and shift it to external warfare and would enable the Shiite group to be supported by the great majority of Lebanese people.
Hence, while Syria is now part of the Iranian axis, Saudi Arabia wants Lebanon – possibly the whole of it – to seal the Shiite hegemony in the Syrian cul de sac between Turkey, Israel and, precisely, Saudi Arabia.
The French President, Macron, discussed the Lebanese issue carefully in his visit to Dubai on November 9 last.
On the one hand, he underlined the French effort for achieving the Lebanon’s unity and stability while, on the other, he fears Iran’s ballistic missile program.
They should have thought about it before, when the P5 + 1 signed the Nuclear Agreement with Iran, considering that the ICBMs – although not having nuclear warheads – may be fatal in a war confrontation.
The US nuclear weapon psychosis has prevented from thinking about other threats, not less serious than the nuclear ones.
Obviously any Western country confining itself to the rhetoric of “dialogue” or trivial equidistance and renouncing to claim its specific national interest, is doomed to “come to ruin”, as the disarmed prophets described by Machiavelli.
What could we do instead?
For example, we could define a series of points on the Persian Gulf coast where to deploy an International Force, which should regionalize and curb the conflicts in the area, up to making them become irrelevant.
Moreover, with his resignation, Hariri could reaffirm his allegiance to the new course of the Saudi monarchy inaugurated by the Crown Prince while, as already noted in a previous article, Saad’s company – namely Saudi Oger – was harshly hit by Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s recent sanctions.
Accepting the Saudi dictates to rescue himself and his “property” – just to use again Machiavelli’s language – is a rational and understandable choice, also considering that elections in the Lebanon are very costly.
Nor can we rule out that, by putting pressure on the Lebanese Shiites, Saudi Arabia wants to create the conditions for an agreement with Iran in an area that is for them much more useful than the Lebanon, namely Iraq, a necessary ally for oil and an inevitable bulwark in the regionalization of Bashar el Assad’ Syria.
Regionalization that could also be useful to Iran.
Therefore the “Party of God” may choose to accept a compromise on the Lebanese government to defuse the confrontation with Saudi Arabia or it may create a broad front with other religious-social minorities and relegate Saad and hence the Saudis to the opposition. It may also accept a “technocratic” government that would bring the Lebanon to the May elections in a situation where everyone is hands-free – hence also Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Nor can we rule out that Hezbollah wants to continue the alliance with Saad, thus putting the Saudi political operations in the Lebanon in difficulty.
Meanwhile – and by no mere coincidence – this year the Lebanese government has adopted the State budget for the first time since 2005.
A budget which is not the budget of a country undergoing an immediate financial crisis.
The public deficit is supposed to be 5.2 billion US dollars and it should be recalled that the Lebanese lira is pegged to the US dollar at a fixed exchange rate.
A projected deficit of 9.54% of GDP, while the GDP is expected to grow by 2.2% in 2017 with a still tragic debt / GDP ratio of 149%.
Both the crisis of migrants from the Syrian border (so far a million and a half people) and the clash for the distribution of resources among the various political and religious areas are the reasons why public spending has sky-rocketed over the last four years.
This makes us think that, in the future, Iran or Saudi Arabia will be interested in funding the Lebanese public debt in exchange for political and military favours.
Finally there is a ridiculous absence of the European Union, which now thinks that foreign policy is a luxury.
The role of spin doctors in the Eastern Ghouta crisis
When it comes to war, it is exceedingly important to get all the facts straight: always remember there are—at least—two sides to every story and be careful to distinguish reality from propaganda.
Many words have been spoken about the ongoing crisis in Eastern Ghouta: the Damascus district, in fact, is paying the price of the umpteenth conflict between pro-Syrian government forces and rebels.
The protests against President Bashar al-Assad have been going on in the area since 2011 and the next year the rebel fighters managed to establish their control over the territory.
The initial tensions rapidly developed into a full-blown war that did not spared civilians—including a large percentage of children—from being a target.
In the last few weeks, a global campaign of solidarity—#IAmStillAlive—has been launched on social media platforms to support the children trapped in the rebel-held enclave, where there is almost no food left, nor medical supplies and humanitarian access has been completely cut off.
In this regard, it is necessary to remember that international aid convoys have been regularly delivered from the United Nations, the Syrian government, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and Russia. It became known, anyway, that the supplies do not always reach civilians falling, instead, directly in the hands of the rebels.
But who are exactly the so-called “rebels”?
Numerous groups are active inside the besieged region and, despite being in opposition to each other, they stand together against the Syrian Arab Army.
Jaysh al-Islam represents the largest factionwith an estimated 10-15,000 members. Formerly allied with Al-Nusra Front—al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria— they conducted several deadly attacks, such as the infamous “Adra massacre”.
The Syrian Military claimed that in last December 2013 over 80 people were executed in the city of Adra and, during the following days, dozens of others were kidnapped and use as human shields.
Geopolitical analyst Patrick Henningsen believes that the foreign encouragement of rebel forces was to blame for that tragedy; in an interview with RT he goes even further, claiming that “there is involvement by the Western intelligence agencies that have links to some of those radical jihadist groups.”
The Hay’-at Tharir al-Sham and the Faylaq al-Rahman—which is also affiliated to the Free Syrian Army—organizations are linked to al-Qaeda and they are responsible for a huge amount of atrocities, including the heinous attack that took place on 16 December 2016 in the Al-Midan neighborhood in Damascus, when jihadi-father Abu Nimr al-Suri sent his two daughters to die in a suicide-bombing attack against the police station.
The Ahrar al-Sham coalition is probably the biggest terrorist group in Syria and it is currently aligned with Jaysh al-Islam against al-Nusra Front.
The criminal organizations above—some more than others—aim at the extermination of Syrian religious minorities, proving themselves to be nothing but terrorist groups.
Furthermore, they are said to have received “donations” from Saudi Arabia, Qatar ,Turkey and the US, although they rejected those claims.
The Western Media seemed initially reluctant to highlight the Tafkiri-Jihadi inspired nature of the rebels, depicting them as “moderate rebels” or “freedom fighters”.
Once again, it is necessary to check the accuracy of sources of information and report on solid facts exclusively.
It can be quite tricky, since much of the country is inaccessible to journalists on the ground and news coming out is often filtered through “media activists” or unofficial outlets.
Every major newspaper and outlet gleaned the information from the often quoted Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based monitoring group—actually a one-man band—run by Rami Abdul Rahman.
According to the New York Times “military analysts in Washington follow its body counts of Syrian and rebel soldiers to gauge the course of the war,” as well as providing mainstream media with daily updates about the Syrian crisis.
In the same article from the NYT, he admitted to receive “small subsidies from the European Union and one European country that he declines to identify.”
Mr. Abdul Rahman—born Osama Suleiman—is a three-term convicted criminal in Syria, due to his years of activism against the Assad regime.
He fled to the United Kingdom eighteen years ago and the government relocated him to Coventry, in the West Midlands region; he has not returned to his home country ever since.
In the UK, he has had direct access to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, where has been documented meeting with the former Foreign Secretary William Hague.
Both Hague and current Foreign Minister Tobias Ellwood endorse Rahman’s political position.
Among Rahman’s network of contacts there is Rafid al-Janabi, better known as “Curveball”. The Iraqi defector played a crucial role in the 2003 Iraq War, falsely accusing Saddam Hussein of having weapons of mass destruction and pushing the US and its allies into launching offensive.
In 2011 he eventually admitted that he “had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime,” and spread the fake information that became the centerpiece of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s pro-intervention speech at the United Nations.
It is hard to believe that the Western press never considered to examine its main source’s political connections and background before using hisnot-necessarily-objective reports.
Funded in 2013 by ex-military officerJames Le Mesurier, the White Helmets NGO aims to rescue civilian survivors trapped in bombed buildings and the people who volunteer for the corps are hailed as some sort of heroes in the West.
The Netflix heart-breaking Oscar-winning documentary (“The White Helmets”, 2016) focuses indeed on the “perilous work of volunteers who brave falling bombs to rescue civilians from the carnage of Syria’s civil war.”
They present themselves as an unarmed, non-governmental and neutralorganization, yet they have had a leading role in various controversial events.
Although they claim to be apolitical, they actually actively campaign for a no-fly zone and they are largely funded by Western governments which advocate for regime change.Their principal funder is, in fact, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), along with the UK, and Europe.
They work exclusively in rebel-controlled areas, which raised doubts about the independence of their reports; in addition, some volunteers happened to be photographed while assisting in terrorist executions.
In 2016 members of the group were caught staging a rescue scene, later justified as their version of the popular ‘mannequin challenge,’ in which people were supposed to freeze for the camera. They apologized for the fact calling it an “error of judgment,” but the footage has been subject of harsh criticism on social media.
This does not mean that their effort as rescue workers is unappreciated, but it truly indicates the need to examine whatever information they provide with a critical eye.
In order to understand the reasons that could lead media to distort information, we have to introduce the concept of “spin”.
Spin is a form of propaganda used by public relations agencies—referred as “spin doctors” in this case—which provide a biased interpretation of facts and data to influence public perception on significant matters.
Cited as an invaluable source of information by Western media outlets, the Syria Campaign is a public relations and marketing company that, among other operations, branded and promoted the White Helmets to the international public.
The agency presents itself as impartial and non-political, yet they not only called for a no-fly zone, but also pushed for military intervention in several occasions.
They even attacked the UN’s work in Syria by publishing a 50-page report on a dedicated website that used a UN logo soaked in blood.
Ironically, among the supporters of their anti-UN campaign was the previously mentioned Ahrar Al-Sham.
The supposed most-reliable media outlets feed us altered and even fake news sometimes.
The majority of information we have about the Syria’s war do not come from disinterested observers: citizen journalists and activists, in fact, are either pro-rebel or pro-regime, which is no guarantee of objectivity.
In conclusion, we have a duty to question where the news is coming from, whether it has been manipulated or whether there is an intentional attempt to shape our own opinion.
Three Years of Saudi Heinous Crimes in Yemen
Yemen a miserable isolated Arab country has been devastated by an ongoing Saudi bloody war. Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia and its gulf allies (GCC) have launched a vicious military campaign against Yemen to reinstall its former government. Recently, the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to the UK has refocused attention on this silent conflict.
The collation has imposed a blockade on the port of Hodeida city, the main entry point for food and medicines and has been repeatedly accused of unlawful airstrikes on civilian targets which amount to war crimes. Obviously, the U.K., U.S. and other Western governments back, supply weapons and provides training to the GCC soldiers.
Amid the global silent and the mainstream media hypocrisy, the criminal collation systematically targets residential areas, claiming it would control arms transfer to the Houthi rebels. Saudi Arabia regards the Houthis as Iranian proxies and intervened to check their advance. These heinous massacres have prompted accusations by some Western opposition MPs and human rights groups of significant responsibility for civilian casualties. Thousands of Yemenis have been killed and the infrastructure has been thoroughly pulverized.
The GCC collation has imposed a blockade on Yemen’s air, sea and land borders in November 2017 in response to Huthis firing missiles towards Riyadh airport, closing an aid lifeline to tens of thousands of starving Yemenis. The U.K. government denies that its forces are advising the Saudis on specific targets, though they admit that, after a raid, British officers can give advice on future targeting policy.
A UN panel of experts that reviewed 10 Saudi airstrikes found Saudi denials of involvement in these specific airstrikes were implausible, and individuals responsible for planning, authorising or executing the strikes would meet the standard for the imposition of UN sanctions. The panel reported early in January, “even if the Saudi Arabia-led coalition had targeted legitimate military objectives … it is highly unlikely that the principles of international humanitarian law of proportionality and precautions in attack were respected.”
At the end of February, Russia vetoed a UK draft resolution that included a condemnation of Iran for violating the UN arms embargo in Yemen over claims that it supplied the missiles used by the Houthis that were fired towards Riyadh.The ongoing war has witnessed heinous atrocities, which emphasizes the urgent need of taking all necessary and possible steps to stop the war, bring the perpetrators to justice and ensure impunity.
Since the beginning of the military campaign, the coalition has targeted numerous facilities including schools, hospitals, airports, ports, universities, water and electric utilities, roads, bridges. Although international conventions grant full protection for civilian installations, the Saudi warplanes have systematically targeted civil facilities using several internationally forbidden weapons, during the systemic raids over densely populated areas.
Medics have voiced alarm over the raging spread of the cholera epidemic in the impoverished country, saying that one child is infected every minute. Malnourished children, who number more than two million in Yemen, are greatly susceptible. Yemeni Health Ministry says that the Saudi aerial embargo has prevented patients from travelling abroad for treatment, and the entry of medicine into the country has been blocked. Over the following three years, the war has engulfed the entire country causing unbearable suffering for civilians. Due to the relentless bombardment, many civilians have been killed or injured, and a humanitarian crisis has spiraled, while the world ignores this raging war and hears little about its devastating consequences.
Various hospitals were shut because of the bombarding, and the insufficient medical teams. Further, vaccinations of major infectious diseases have been banned, amid the growth of the indicators of child malnutrition, and the spread of epidemics. In addition, more than 95% of doctors, nurses and consultants have been killed or fled the country. The lack of medicines has caused the deaths of many with Thalassemia and Anemia who need a monthly blood transfusion. Dialysis centres have made an SOS to save the lives of more than 6 thousand patients with Renal failure by providing them with necessary medical supplies, pointing out that the number of deaths of patients with renal failure exceeded 17 deaths in every 8 months.
The blockade imposed by the coalition has left more than 12,000 people killed, 49,000 injured and around 20 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. It has also created the world’s largest food security emergency. Human Rights Watch has accused the Saudi-led coalition of committing war crimes, saying its air raids killed 39 civilians, including 26 children, in two months. Additionally, The International Committee of the Red Cross has said that the number of suspected cholera cases in war-torn Yemen has hit one million. More than eight million Yemenis are on the verge of starvation, making Yemen the scene of, what the United Nations calls, the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.The Saudi regime has launched his war to eliminate the Houthis movement and to reinstall a Riyadh-friendly regime in Yemen.
However, the collation has failed to achieve its geopolitical and ideological objectives regardless of spending billions of dollars and enlisting the cooperation of its vassal states as well as some Western countries. The world’s largest humanitarian crisis caused by Saudi prolonged military onslaught has pushed millions of Yemenis to the brink of starvation. Unfortunately, the UN has not yet taken any effective measures to halt the humanitarian tragedy for the sake of the ultimate objective that Saudi Arabia is pursuing in the country, which is eliminating the threat of the Houthis. Obviously, the Saudis have not achieved their basic goals; hence, they are seeking revenge on the innocent Yemenis through their aimless bombardment.
West using JCPOA as lever to pressurize Iran
Recently, Reuters claimed European countries had commenced negotiations with Iran over the country’s role in the region in order to ease U.S. President Donald Trump’s concerns over the Iran nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Reuters alleges that the talks got off the ground on the fringes of the Munich security conference, with Yemen and certain regional issues taking center stage, and that the negotiations are going to continue in the future.
“European powers and Iran have started talks over Tehran’s role in the Middle East and will meet again this month in Italy as part of efforts to prove to U.S. President Donald Trump that they are meeting his concerns over the 2015 nuclear deal,” wrote Reuters.
What is worth mentioning about the Reuters’ report is that the news agency claims the talks between Iran and Europe on regional issues conducted is phased. Reuters says the first round of the negotiations were held on the sidelines of the Munich security conference with the Yemen war top of the agenda, and that the Europeans hope to discuss the role of the groups supporting Iran in Lebanon and Syria. A few points need to be taken into account in this regard.
First, regional talks with Iran has been one of the common demands of the U.S. and the European Union following the conclusion of the JCPOA. When the nuclear deal was signed in July 2015, many analysts unanimously believed that Washington and the European Troika intended to use the JCPOA as a springboard for regional talks with Tehran.
Efforts by Germany, Britain and France to hold regional talks with Iran can be analyzed accordingly. Here, France seeks to play the role of a leading player. The trip to Iran by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian comes within the same framework. Paris has promised Washington to spare no effort to hold negotiations with Iran on the Islamic Republic’s regional policies. Accordingly, Germany and Britain have got on board with France, too.
The second point is that while the general meeting of the UN General Assembly was underway in New York last summer, key talks were held between U.S. President Donald Trump and senior European officials over Iran’s regional policies and their connection with the JCPOA. In the talks, French President Emmanuel Macron promised his U.S. counterpart to channel and manage missile and regional talks with Iran. This comes as the fundamental principles of Iran’s foreign policy will remain unchanged. The principles include Iran’s backing for resistance groups, and above all, the country’s firmly dealing with the regional threats made by the U.S. and its allies and cronies. This firm approach by Iran will shatter the U.S. and Europe’s hope for regional talks with Iran. Still, the European officials believe the commencement of regional negotiations with Iran (even if unofficial), per se, can serve as a starting point to curtail Iran’s power and influence in the region. Thirdly, the Iranian diplomacy apparatus’ insistence on the unchangeable and general strategies of the country’s foreign policy, namely support for resistance groups, promotion of the resistance discourse, and fighting Takfiri terrorism will play a key role in foiling the ploys adopted by the U.S. and the European Union for talks.
One should bear in mind that the European Troika are channeling the talks on behalf of the U.S. and in coordination with the Trump administration. What Iran will employ to counter the joint game launched by Washington, Paris, London and Berlin will be the determination to safeguard the country’s strategic and behavioral principles in the region. It goes without saying that with this firm and prudent defense, the U.S. and the European Troika will not achieve any of their objectives in restricting Iran’s maneuvering power in the region. And lastly, the U.S. and the European Union are using the JCPOA as a lever to channel regional talks with Iran and pressure Tehran into giving in to Washington’s regional demands. In other words, Instead of serving its function as an independent legal document, the JCPOA has turned into a political tool to exert pressure on Iran. Here, too, the Iranian diplomacy and foreign policy apparatus should act very prudently and consider “safeguarding Iran’s regional power” as its red line, not “safeguarding the JCPOA.” Obviously, Washington and the European Troika should get to understand the definitive principle that Iran will not compromise on its fundamental strategies in the region.
First published in our partner Tehran Times
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