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Gulf crisis escalates as major corporations are forced to take sides

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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The Gulf crisis that pits a United Arab Emirates-Saudi-led alliance against Qatar is escalating in discreet but no less worrisome ways that effect major third-party commercial interests and could increase international pressure for a resolution of the dispute.

In a major shift away from Saudi and UAE restraint in attempting to force the international community and multi-nationals from taking sides in the 11-month dispute, prominent financial institutions are being sucked into the dispute that erupted last June when the alliance declared a diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar.

Executives of JPMorgan and HSBC advised Qatar last month, according to The Wall Street Journal, that they would not be involved in the Gulf state’s $12 billion bond issuance because it could jeopardize their relationship with Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom in April rushed a $11 billion bond sale of its own, its fourth international offering, to ensure that it went to market before Qatar did.

Qatar has responded to efforts to persuade financial institutions to reduce, if not halt dealings with the Gulf state by refusing do business with some Dubai-based bankers and consultants. The Qatari response has forced several Western institutions to do business with the Gulf state through their London offices, according to the Journal.

Some bankers and financial executives have, moreover, reportedly been detained at UAE airports because they had Qatari visas in their passports before ultimately being granted entry into the country.

Saudi Arabia, in an unusual move, took the market by surprise when it launched its bond without embarking on a traditional roadshow to market the offering and sought to complete the transaction in one day. The issuance was oversubscribed almost five times.

The Saudi attempt to undermine Qatar failed given that the Gulf state’s sale was similarly oversubscribed.

“This reflects the strength of the Qatari economy and the confidence of international investors,” a Qatari official gloated.

HSBC was one of the Saudi bond’s global coordinators while JP Morgan was one its lead managers. The two banks helped arrange Qatar’s last sale in 2016 of a $9 billion bond. Neither was involved in the most recent Qatari sale which was arranged among others by Deutsche Bank, Barclays and Credit Suisse, banks in which Qatar has significant stakes.

In January, Doha Bank, Qatar’s fifth-biggest lender, was forced to reduce the size of a two-year, $575 million bank loan that it had raised in December 2015 to $400 million, when it sought a one-year extension of the facility because Chinese, Hong Kong and Japanese banks opted not to participate.

The financial reverberations of the Gulf crisis contrast with failed attempts by the UAE-Saudi alliance in the immediate aftermath of the declaration of the boycott to strongarm African nations into supporting their punitive measures against Qatar.

Omar Ghobash, the UAE’s ambassador to Russia, suggested at the time that the anti-Qatar alliance could “impose conditions on our own trading partners and say you want to work with us then you have got to make a commercial choice.”

The quiet tit-for-tat between Qatar and international banks suggests that Saudi Arabia and the UAE, frustrated that Doha has proven to be resilient enough to resist surrendering to the alliance’s demands, have decided to step up the pressure.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia accuse Qatar of supporting militants and political violence, maintaining close ties with Iran, and interfering in the domestic affairs of its neighbours – accusations Qatar denies. Accepting the alliance’s demands would effectively amount to Qatar compromising its sovereignty and ability to chart its own, independent course.

The Wall Street Journal’s disclosure of the tit-for-tat with financial institutions comes days after newly appointed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on his first overseas trip in his new job told Saudi leaders in Riyadh that “enough is enough” and that the Gulf crisis must be brought to an end.

Stopping the rot in its tracks and averting the potential impact of the crisis on multi-nationals is certainly not the only reason for Mr. Pompeo’s stepped-up pressure on Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The United States wants to see a united front among its Middle Eastern allies as President Donald J. Trump gears up for a possible withdrawal on May 12 from the 2015 international agreement that curbs Iran’s nuclear program.

Nevertheless, forcing financial institutions to take sides in the Gulf crisis challenges Mr. Trump’s America First approach to policy and the interests of major US corporations – a move the president is unlikely to view kindly.

If financial institutions are continuously forced to take sides, Saudi Arabia and the UAE could decide to target other economic sectors as well as Asian nations that depend on the export of labour to the Gulf.

Countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan, two of the most populous Muslim states, as well as India, home to the world’s fourth largest Muslim population, fear that Saudi Arabia could threaten to expel millions of migrant workers and expatriates in a bid to force them to join the boycott of Qatar.

Saudi Arabia has a history of using as leverage migrant workers, whose remittances constitute the backbone of foreign currency liquidity of many supplier countries and whose Gulf jobs reduce pressure on domestic labour markets.

Thousands of foreign workers in the kingdom have in recent years already lost their jobs as a result of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s efforts to replace them with Saudi nationals and financial difficulties encountered by major corporations like the Saudi Bin Laden Group and Saudi Oger.

Speaking to the BBC last June, former Bangladesh ambassador to Saudi Arabia Abdul Momen Chowdhury warned that “nothing is impossible” in how the kingdom might seek to build support for its campaign against Qatar. “If anyone obstructs what they want or does not agree with their opinions, they are never hesitant to act.” Mr. Chowdhury said.

Potential Saudi and UAE efforts to increase pressure on Qatar would reflect the fact that the two countries have boxed themselves into a corner by refusing to negotiate with the Gulf state unless it first accepts their demands.

The Gulf stalemate is reinforced by the fact that the international community has by and large refused to back the Saudi-UAE position and repeatedly called for a negotiated solution.

So far, the tit-for-tat with financial institutions has not forced any of the banks and financial majors to close offices on one side or the other of the Gulf divide.

Nonetheless, in a sign of the times, JP Morgan remains the region’s top merger and acquisition advisor, but no longer ranks among the top five banks in Qatar in terms of revenue. For the first time in nearly a decade, it doesn’t even rank among the Gulf state’s top 10.

Said a private equity firm executive in the Gulf: “If this continues, international banks will increasingly be forced to choose sides. That would take the Gulf crisis to a new and dangerous level.”

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

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Middle East

Israeli contrasts: Likud’s favoured soccer teams veers left as Bibi turns further right

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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The contrast could not be starker. As Israel plays a dangerous game of US politics by restricting or banning visits by controversial Democratic members of Congress to seemingly please President Donald J. Trump’s prejudiced electoral instincts, the owner of a notorious Jerusalem soccer club draws a line in the sand in confronting his racist fan base.

The contrast takes on added significance as prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu woes Israel’s far-right in advance of elections on September 17 given that storied club Beitar Jerusalem has long been seen as a stronghold for his Likud party.

Mr. Netanyahu’s barring of Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar was as much a response to Mr. Trump’s tweeted suggestion that they should not be allowed to visit Israel as it was catering to his right-wing base that includes Beitar’s fans.

Beitar is the only Israeli squad to have never hired a Palestinian player. Its fans, famous for their racist slogans and bullying tactics, have made life impossible for the few Muslim players that the club contracted in its history.

Messrs. Netanyahu and Moshe Hogeg, the Beitar owner and tech entrepreneur who founded social mobile photo and video sharing website Mobli and crypto transactions platform Sirin Labs, are both treading on slippery ground.

Mr. Netanyahu, who initially raised out of respect for the US Congress no objection to the planned visit by Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Omar, has ensured that Israel for the first time in decades can no longer be sure of bi-partisan support in the Congress and beyond and is likely to become a partisan issue in the run-up to next year’s US presidential election.

His pandering to Mr. Trump sparked rare criticism from the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC), Israel’s most powerful and influential lobby in the United States even though AIPAC agrees that Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Ilham support the Boycott, Diversification and Sanctions (BDS) movement that targets Israel.

“We disagree with Reps. Omar and Tlaib’s support for the anti-Israel and anti-peace BDS movement, along with Rep. Tlaib’s calls for a one-state solution. We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel first hand,” AIPAC tweeted.

A breakdown of bi-partisan support for Israel may not be what Mr. Netanyahu wants, but it may be, in a twist of irony, what Israel needs. It would spark a debate in the United States with a potential fallout in Israel about whether Mr. Netanyahu’s annexationist policy and hard-line approach towards Palestinian aspirations serves Israel’s longer-term best interests.

Israel’s toughening stand was evident on Tuesday when police broke up an annual soccer tournament among Palestinian families in East Jerusalem on assertions that it was sponsored by the Palestinian Authority, which is barred from organizing events in the city. The tournament’s organizer denied any association with the Authority.

In a dismissive statement, Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan’s office scoffed: “We’re talking about scofflaws who lie and blame the agency that enforces the law when they know full well that the Palestinian Authority is involved in the event that Minister Erdan ordered halted.”

The incident was emblematic of an environment that prompted columnist and scholar Peter Beinart, writing in The Forward, a more than 100-year old, left-wing Jewish weekly, to argue that “the United States has a national interest in ensuring that Israel does not make permanent its brutal occupation of the West Bank and blockade of the Gaza Strip.

By taking on La Familia, a militant Beitar Jerusalem fan group that has driven the club’s discriminatory policy, Mr. Hogeg is going not only against Mr. Netanyahu’s policies that emphasize Israeli Jewish nationalism at the expense of the rights of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship as well as those subject to occupation.

He is also challenging a global trend spearheaded by civilizational leaders like Indian prime minister Narendra Modi who, two weeks after depriving Kashmiri Muslims of their autonomy, is planning to build detention camps for millions of predominantly Muslim Indians suspected of being foreign migrants, Victor Orban who envisions a Muslim-free Hungary, and Xi Jinping who has launched in China’s troubled, north-western province of Xinjiang the most frontal assault on Islam in recent history

The degree of polarization and alienation that civilizational policies like those of Messrs Netanyahu, Modi, Xi and Orban is highlighted by the fact that Mr. Hogeg’s battle with his fans is over a name.

Ali Mohammed is Beitar Jerusalem’s latest acquisition. The only Muslim thing about him is his name. Mr. Mohammed is a Nigerian Christian.

That wasn’t good enough for the fans who demand that he change his name. During Mr. Mohammed’s first training session fans chanted “Mohamed is dead” and “Ali is dead.”

Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Hogeg seems unwilling to back down. He has threatened to sue the fans for tarnishing Beitar’s already battered reputation and demand up to US$500,000 in damages. Lawyers for Mr. Hogeg have written to fans demanding an apology.

“They are very good fans; they are very loyal. They love the club and what it represents … but they’re racist and that’s a big problem,” Mr. Hogeg said.

Convinced that the militants are a minority that imposes its will on the majority of Beitar fans, Mr. Hogeg takes the high road at a time that the likes of him threaten to become an endangered species.

“I was surprised to find that Mohamed is not Muslim, but I don’t care. Why should it matter? He’s a very good player. As long as the player that comes respects the city, respects what he represents, respects Israel, can help the team and wants to play then the door will be open. If those radical fans will fight against it, they will lose. They will simply lose,” Mr. Hogeg said.

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“Today Saudi Arabia finally lost the war on Yemen.”

Eric Zuesse

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On August 17th, an anonymous German intelligence analyst who has perhaps the world’s best track-record of publicly identifying and announcing historical turning-points, and who is therefore also a great investigative journalist regarding international relations (especially military matters, which are his specialty) headlined at his “Moon of Alabama” blog, “Long Range Attack On Saudi Oil Field Ends War On Yemen”, and he opened:

Today Saudi Arabia finally lost the war on Yemen. It has no defenses against new weapons the Houthis in Yemen acquired. These weapons threaten the Saudis economic lifelines. This today was the decisive attack:

Drones launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels attacked a massive oil and gas field deep inside Saudi Arabia’s sprawling desert on Saturday, causing what the kingdom described as a “limited fire” in the second such recent attack on its crucial energy industry.  …

The Saudi acknowledgement of the attack came hours after Yahia Sarie, a military spokesman for the Houthis, issued a video statement claiming the rebels launched 10 bomb-laden drones targeting the field in their “biggest-ever” operation. He threatened more attacks would be coming. 

New drones and missiles displayed in July 2019 by Yemen’s Houthi-allied armed forces

Today’s attack is a check-mate move against the Saudis. Shaybah is some 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) from Houthi-controlled territory. There are many more important economic targets within that range.  …

The attack conclusively demonstrates that the most important assets of the Saudis are now under threat. This economic threat comes on top of a seven percent budget deficit the IMF predicts for Saudi Arabia. Further Saudi bombing against the Houthi will now have very significant additional cost that might even endanger the viability of the Saudi state. The Houthi have clown prince Mohammad bin Salman by the balls and can squeeze those at will.

He went on to say that the drones aren’t from Iran but are copies from Iran’s, “assembled in Yemen with the help of Hizbullah experts from Lebanon.”

He has been predicting for a long time that this war couldn’t be won by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud (MbS). In the present report, he says:

The war on Yemen that MbS started in March 2015 long proved to be unwinnable. Now it is definitely lost. Neither the U.S. nor the Europeans will come to the Saudis help. There are no technological means to reasonably protect against such attacks. Poor Yemen defeated rich Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi side will have to agree to political peace negotiations. The Yemeni demand for reparation payments will be eye watering. But the Saudis will have no alternative but to cough up whatever the Houthi demand.

The UAE was smart to pull out of Yemen during the last months.

If he is correct (and I have never yet found a prediction from him turn out to have been wrong), then this will be an enormous blow to the foreign markets for U.S.-made weapons, since the Sauds are the world’s largest foreign purchasers of those, and have spent profusely on them — and also on U.S. personnel to train their soldiers how to use them. So (and this is my prediction, not his), August 19th might be a good time to sell short U.S. armament-makers such as Lockheed Martin.

However: his prediction that “the Saudis will have no alternative but to cough up whatever the Houthi demand” seems to me to be the first one from him that could turn out to have been wrong. If the Sauds have perpetrated, say, $200 billion of physical damage to Yemen, but refuse to pay more than $100 billion in reparations, and the Housis then hit and take out a major Saudi oil well, isn’t it possible that the Sauds would stand firm? But if they do, then mightn’t it be wrong to say, at the present time, that: “Today Saudi Arabia finally lost the war on Yemen.”? He has gone out on limbs before, and I can’t yet think of any that broke under him. Maybe this one will be the first? I wouldn’t bet on that. But this one seems to me to be a particularly long limb. We’ll see!

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The message behind the release of Iranian oil tanker

Mohammad Ghaderi

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The Gibraltar court ordered the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 to be released. The tanker was seized by the British Royal Marines about a month ago. 

This verdict was the ending of an elaborate game designed by John Bolton National Security Advisor of the United States and Mike Pompeo, carried out by the Britain government. 

With seizing the tanker, Bolton was trying to put psychological and political pressures on Iran and force other countries to form a consensus against Iran, but he couldn’t fulfill any of these goals. 

Iran’s firm, logical and wise answer to the seizure of Grace 1 (like making solid legal arguments) and the seriousness of our country’s armed forces in giving a proper response to Britain’s contemptuous act, made the White House lose the lead on reaching its ends. 

Washington imagined that the seizure of Grace 1 will become Trump’s winning card against Iran, but the release of the tanker (despite disagreement of the U.S.) became another failure for the White House in dealing with Iran.  

Obviously, London was also a total loser in this game. It is worth noting that U.S. was so persistent about keeping the oil tanker in custody that John Bolton traveled to London and insisted on British officials to continue the seizure of the ship. Their failure, however, clearly shows that the White House and its traditional ally, Britain, have lost a big part of their power in their relations with Iran. 

Clearly, the illegal seizure of the Iranian oil tanker by Britain proceeded by the seizure of a British tanker by Iran and the following interactions between the two countries is not the whole story and there is more to it that will be revealed in coming days. 

What we know for sure is that London has to pay for its recent anti-Iran plot in order to satisfy Washington; the smallest of these consequences was that Britain lost some of its legal credibility in international arena as it illegally captured an Iranian oil tanker. 

The order of the Gibraltarian court revealed that London had no legal right to seize the Iranian oil tanker and nobody can defend this unlawful action. Surely, Iran will take all necessary legal actions to further pursue the matter.  

In this situation, the Islamic Republic of Iran is firm on its position that it doesn’t have to follow the sanctions imposed by the European Union on other countries (including Syria). 

No entity can undermine this argument as it is based on legal terms; therefore, Iran will keep supporting Syrian nation and government to fight terrorism. This is the strategic policy of the Islamic Republic and will not be changed under the pressure or influence of any other third country. 

Finally, it should be noted that the release of Grace 1 oil tanker was not only a legal and political failure for Washington and London and their allies but it was also a strategic failure. Undoubtedly, the vast consequences of this failure will be revealed in near future. 

From our partner Tehran Times

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