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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.

Mr. Bilal is an agronomist student at the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad. He has been writing blogs on national and international politics and international relations since 2017.

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China’s role to make FIFA 2022 Successful

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Image source: Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera

Argentina won the World cup in FIFA Football World Cup held on 20 November – 18 December 2022, in Doha Qatar. FIFA 2022 attracted global attention and since the beginning Foot Ball lovers spared time, either to travel to Qatar and watch the matches or sit in front of TVs and watch live transmission. Big LED screens were used to attract Foot Ball Lovers worldwide. It was really a festival mode in many countries. Analysis, Debates, and Arguments also took place, regarding the expected Champion. French was pretty sure to retain its previous title “World Champion” which they got in FIFA 2018, held in Russia. Brazil, Germany, Argentina, and many other nations were keeping high expectations. Even, though some were guessing that Morocco to be World Champion, strong arguments were given that in FIFA 2018, actually, the French team consisted of many Morocco-origin players, with very few original French. As a matter of fact, France has attracted good players from its former colonies and offered them immigration, and used them in FIFA 2018, to win the Championship. There was certainly a strong argument that if Moroccan can make France World Champion, they can also possess the potential to become World Champions.

The FIFA World Cup, often simply called the World Cup, is an international association football competition contested by the senior men’s national teams of the members of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the sport’s global governing body. The tournament has been held every four years since the inaugural tournament in 1930, except in 1942 and 1946 when it was not held because of the Second World War. The reigning champions are Argentina, who won their third title at the 2022 tournament. But the history goes back to Prior to the Lipton competition, from 1876 to 1904, games that were considered the “football world championship” were meetings between leading English and Scottish clubs, such as the 1895 game between Sunderland A.F.C. and the Heart of Midlothian F.C., which Sunderland won.

The World Cup is the most prestigious association football tournament in the world, as well as the most widely viewed and followed single sporting event in the world. The viewership of the 2018 World Cup was estimated to be 3.57 billion with an estimated 1.12 billion people watching the final match.

Seventeen countries have hosted the World Cup, most recently Qatar, which hosted the 2022 edition. The 2026 tournament will be jointly hosted by Canada, the United States, and Mexico, which will give Mexico the distinction of being the first country to host games in three World Cups.

It was a matter of great prestige and honor for Qatar to host FIFA 2022. It is the first World Cup held in the Arab world and Muslim world, and the second held entirely in Asia after the 2002 tournament in South Korea and Japan.

In 2010, the State of Qatar, having been awarded the rights to host the FIFA 2022 World Cup, embarked on remarkable projects in different fields to meet the expectations outlined in the bid document. It is worth mentioning that Qatar has a population of around 3 million and almost 1.5 million people from all over the world have visited FIFA 2022. A country’s preparations to host an international sporting event need serious consideration. Many aspects must have taken care of including but not limited to changing existing legislation, building infrastructure, workers’ rights and immigration, sponsorships, consumer protection, tourism, free trade, intellectual property (IP) rights, accessibility to stadia, taxation, counterfeiting, gambling, betting, to name but a few. Any country has to meet FIFA’s standards to host such an event. Qatar has the option of introducing new laws, amending existing legislation, and have concluded mutually beneficial bilateral agreements with FIFA. Qatar has directly employed more than 26,000 people to prepare the stadiums only. It is pertinent to note that in the wave of massive infrastructural developments legislation was not left out. Countries such as Russia and South Africa enacted new laws to meet FIFA’s standards and Qatar has also done similar measures to satisfy FIFA Organizing Committee.

The successful hosting of FIFA 2022, has projected and elevated Qatar in the global community, especially in the region. Direct and indirect, tangible and intangible impact of such a mega event will elevate Qatar’s stature and benefit its reparation in the days to come.

However, China was behind the success story as there were 10 ways in which China quietly worked behind the scenes at the Qatar World Cup:-

  • World cup buildings got green electricity from a next-generation power station that harvests only solar energy, built by the Power Construction Corporation of China.
  • People were taken where they need to go in a fleet of 888 fully electric buses, made by Yutong Bus, a Chinese firm that has quietly become, as far as I can tell, the world’s biggest bus maker.
  • The main stadium was built by China Railway Construction Corporation: a firm that pops up in Africa and Europe and around the planet, known for its extraordinary ability to create infrastructure in difficult environments.
  • What’s a sporting event without souvenir merchandise? It’s estimated that almost 70 percent of World Cup-related goods, from footballs to flags to jerseys to whistles, came from a single location in China, a southeastern city called Yiwu.
  • A purpose-built extra-large reservoir provided clean drinking water for sports people and fans. It was constructed by the Gezhouba Group, from Wuhan.
  • The stadium-building operations needed huge amounts of heavy equipment, from massive earth movers to cranes – nearly 100 of these were supplied by China’s Sany Heavy Industry, one of the world’s biggest construction firms.
  • The most innovative venue was Qatar’s Stadium 974, which can be disassembled and reassembled anywhere. Designed by a Spanish architect, the 974 building blocks were made by China International Marine Containers.
  • Notice all the LED floodlights everywhere? They came from the Unilumin Group of China.
  • Most people say air conditioners are a must for survival in that environment – and China’s Midea Co supplied 2,500 air cons for the event.
  • Last but not least, this was the most expensive sporting event in world history and needed a lot of support from businesses.
  • Nineteen China firms signed up to sponsor the event.

Definitely, credit goes to China too.

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The Chinese maritime theory of linking and networking the five seas in the Middle East

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What mattered most to China regarding its three joint summits at the end of December 2022 with Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries and the region, was the deepening of Chinese influence and maritime cooperation, especially with regard to the maritime side, and the emphasis of Chinese think tanks and research on the need for the success of the idea (connecting or networking the five seas in the region), namely are:

(The Mediterranean, Black, Caspian, Persian Gulf and Red Sea)

 And that is with all that it entails politically, economically and socially to unify the efforts of the countries of these seas and achieve their interests, and thus confront the American and Israeli project that aims to fragment the region.

  In this context, the Chinese White Papers document on defense, issued by the Politburo of the ruling Communist Party of China in 2013, stressed the need to develop the “Chinese naval fleet” in order to “defend the near sea and protect the distant seas”.  China’s establishment of a Chinese military base outside its borders for the first time in the state of Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, as well as the militarization of the Pakistani port of Gwadar, contributes to the growth of China’s military presence near important sea lanes in the region and the Arabian Gulf, especially in the Gulf of Aden and the Straits of Hormuz and Bab al-Mandab, and nearby  From the Arabian Gulf region.

  The Chinese-Saudi-Gulf summit comes with the expansion of China’s involvement in the Middle East region economically and diplomatically, and China’s attempt to deepen security cooperation.

 Likewise, with China and its intellectual and research centers officially announcing in August 2019, regarding China’s intention to participate in a Gulf maritime security alliance, the beginning of Chinese thinking about a deeper level of military participation in the Middle East.

 Chinese analysts believe that the alliance between China, Russia, the countries of the region, the Gulf, and Saudi Arabia in the face of the United States of America is getting stronger and more solid due to the impact of a “cold war” between the West and China, especially with the confirmation of Chinese Foreign Minister “Wang Yi” after the success of his tour in the Middle East.  Clear signs that China intends to shift to play a pivotal role in the affairs of the region.

  We cannot fail to emphasize the “Chinese approach to the Palestinian cause”, and its desire to play a pivotal role in that issue, and it is clear that China is launching something like a counter-diplomatic attack to penetrate the ranks of the allied countries of the United States of America in the Middle East and the Arabian Gulf, in addition to China’s attempt to form political alliances.  New ones to restrict US alliances in China’s regional and geopolitical strategic scope, such as the Okus nuclear defense agreement between Washington, Australia and Britain, and the Quad Quadruple agreement between the United States of America, India, Australia and Japan, to form a kind of bipolarity between China and Russia in the face of the United States of America.  We find that after the Corona pandemic, the world officially entered the second Cold War, this time between the West and China.

Accordingly, the future US policy in the Middle East is linked to what will be the Chinese behavior in the region.  With China’s attempt to rush to play new security roles, and seek hegemony in the Middle East and North Africa region.

 Likewise, China’s desire to strengthen the security and military aspect of its relations with the countries of the Arab Gulf, Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, by strengthening military cooperation and joint military exercises, and cooperation in combating terrorism, through comprehensive measures to address its roots.  In addition to the Chinese desire to cooperate with countries in the region to confront what is known as non-traditional security threats, such as supporting the region’s efforts to combat piracy, continuing to send warships to the Gulf of Aden and the coast of Somalia to maintain international maritime security, and cooperation in the field of cybersecurity.

  Therefore, the importance of these three joint Chinese-Gulf-Saudi summits is to greatly enhance China’s partnerships, economically, politically and commercially, with the countries of the region, especially in the Gulf region.  Therefore, China today is emerging as a central player through direct investments, partnerships, trade and development.

  Perhaps in the future, China will intervene militarily, or seek to have a security footprint in the region, as it did in the Horn of Africa through its military base in Djibouti.

   Also, given the American influence in the Arab Gulf region, Beijing may change its security policies in the region, if Washington tries to obstruct the flow of oil to China, especially in the event that Chinese energy security or vital shipping lanes used by China are threatened, China may have to expand  Its military naval presence in the Indian Ocean near the Persian Gulf.

  Accordingly, the declared clear Chinese strategy has become to transfer the arena of competition with the United States of America to the Middle East and Africa, in order to avoid strategic competition with Washington and its allies in its immediate regional neighborhood.  By analogy, the expansion of Chinese influence in the Middle East region is a challenge to the existing American hegemony.

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Jinnah, Iqbal, and Pakistan’s Historical Opposition to Israel

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Destruction in Gaza following an Israeli strike in May 2021. (file photo) UNOCHA/Mohammad Libed

There is a belief that Pakistan is solely opposed to Israel due to the latter’s post-independence atrocities against Palestine, which are attributed to the sizeable military mismatch between both Palestine and Israel – however this is not a complete picture. The reality is that Pakistan’s founders laid the groundwork for the nation’s pro-Palestine stance long before Pakistan or Israel gained independence. The founders were unequivocally opposed to a Jewish homeland fashioned at the expense of the Arabs. Due to such a robust foundation, one still sees the phrase “This passport is valid for all countries of the world except Israel” written quite unapologetically on the Pakistani passport. The founders adopted this posture due to them witnessing Britain’s exploitation of Arab Muslims, Britain’s reneging on promises to the Arabs, favoritism towards the Jews, and the global powers’ support of Zionism on Palestinian soil.

Two of Pakistan’s founding fathers and undoubtedly the most integral ones were Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Muhammad Iqbal. Pakistanis herald Mr. Jinnah as the father of the nation who overcame not only British imperialist designs, but also a Hindu-dominated Congress in India that was vehemently opposed to dividing the subcontinent. Mr. Iqbal, although he passed away before the independence of Pakistan, is credited as being the spiritual father of the nation. Popularly known as the Poet of the East, he uplifted Muslims of the subcontinent with his poetry and oration and dreamt of an independent Muslim homeland. Both Mr. Jinnah and Mr. Iqbal were pivotal parts of the All India Muslim League (AIML). The AIML was the primary political party safeguarding Muslim rights in British India, but during the 1920s the organization began taking a keen interest in global Muslim affairs as well.

Post-World War I

During World War I, the Ottoman Caliphate, which housed Palestine, was to be abolished and many of the territories of the once great empire were divided between the UK and France (see Sykes-Picot Agreement).

The British also reneged on certain promises after their triumph in WWI was assured. One of these was to the Emir of Mecca. To the Emir, they promised if the Arabs abetted Britain and France against the Ottomans, they would support the Arabs in self-rule (which the Emir envisioned as a pan-Arabic state from Aleppo in Syria to Aden in Yemen). One of the territories that the UK colonized was Palestine and thus began the age of Mandatory Palestine (1920-1948).

The Arabs and Muslims were betrayed, and in their stead, the Jews were supported. This was indicative by the Balfour Declaration in 1918 that promised British support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. It was a correspondence between UK’s Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lionel Walter Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community. The Balfour Declaration, conflated with Mandatory Palestine, made Muslims around the world cognizant of the profound implications of these events. As history would later reveal, the first seeds towards a Jewish homeland had just been planted.

The Muslim world was visibly dismayed by such machinations especially after undergoing the trauma of the Caliphate’s loss. Things continued to unfold tragically during the Arab Revolt in Palestine (1936-1939) that engulfed the region in violence. Seeing the British adopt ruthless measures to quell the Arab opposition, there was further Muslim uproar in India. In response, Mr. Jinnah in his presidential address to the AIML in 1937 stated, Great Britain has dishonored her proclamation to the Arabs – which had guaranteed to them complete independence of the Arab homelands…After having utilized them by giving them false promises, they installed themselves as the mandatory power with that infamous Balfour Declaration…fair-minded people will agree when I say that Great Britain will be digging its grave if she fails to honor her original proclamation…”

The AIML leadership continually passed resolutions in support of the Palestinians, protested in the streets, and sent their delegations to display solidarity with the Arabs. Mr. Jinnah, known to be unrelenting, continued also to verbally berate the harsh and illegal treatment of the Palestinians. He asserted, You know the Arabs have been treated shamelessly—men who, fighting for the freedom of their country, have been described as gangsters, and subjected to all forms of repression. For defending their homelands, they are being put down at the point of the bayonet, and with the help of martial laws. But no nation, no people who are worth living as a nation, can achieve anything great without making great sacrifice such as the Arabs of Palestine are making.”

In July 1937, the Peel Commission endeavoured to unearth the causes of unrest in Mandatory Palestine. The commission produced a report that recommended partitioning Palestine. This tragic recommendation for the Arabs, affixed with the immigration of Jews to Palestine exponentially rising during the third, fourth, and fifth aliyahs, traumatized the global Muslim psyche. In British Palestine, between 100,000-300,000, Jews immigrated to Palestine – a monumental demographic shift. The Jews also had for years bought and occupied Palestinian land marking a territorial shift in their favour as well.

The AIML protested against the British mandate and its anti-Arab policies, citing them as violating religious and human rights – thus warranting its abolition – but such proclamations fell on deaf ears. Miss Farquharson of the National League of England requested Mr. Iqbal’s views on the Peel Commission’s recommendations. Mr. Iqbal replied, “We must not forget that Palestine does not belong to England. She is holding it under a mandate from the League of Nations, which Muslim Asia is now learning to regard as an Anglo-French institution invented for the purpose of dividing the territories of weaker Muslim peoples. Nor does Palestine belong to the Jews who abandoned it of their own free will long before its possession by the Arabs.” The last sentence of the preceding unveils Mr. Iqbal’s view that Palestine was solely a Muslim issue – this emotion resonated with the Muslim masses of India and beyond. This sentiment is further highlighted by Mr. Iqbal’s statement in 1937 in an AIML setting, “The problem, studied in its historical perspective, is purely a Muslim problem…Palestine ceased to be a Jewish problem long before the entry of Caliph Umar into Jerusalem more than 1300 years ago. Their dispersion, as Professor Hockings has pointed out, was perfectly voluntary and their scriptures were for the most part written outside Palestine. Nor was it ever a Christian problem. Modern historical research has doubted even the existence of Peter, the Hermit. Even if we assume that the Crusades were an attempt to make Palestine a Christian problem, the attempt was defeated by the victories of Salah-ud-Din. I, therefore, regard Palestine as a purely Muslim problem.”

He espoused parallel thoughts in his poems as well, which were perhaps the most inspiring to the Muslims of India. His poem Sham-o-Falesteen (Syria and Palestine) poignantly proclaims:

Heaven’s blessing on those brazen Frenchmen shine!
Aleppo’s rare glass brims with their red wine.

—If the Jew claims the soil of Palestine,
Why not the Arab Spain?

Some new design must have inflamed our English potentates;

This is no story of oranges, honey or dates.

The second couplet is the most telling i.e. if Jews had a claim on Arab land because they were present there two thousand years ago, then the Arab Muslims certainly had a claim on Spain where they ruled for 800 years.

World War II

In 1938, Mr. Iqbal passed away before the onset of World War II but his message on Palestine was immortalized in his poems, statements, and speeches. The AIML continued to honor his legacy by not only pursuing the creation of Pakistan but also facilitating Palestine resolutely. When the war broke out, the British, characterizing shrewd but indignant behavior, cozied up to the AIML for their support in WWII. This was primarily because the Hindu-dominated Congress’ support was not forthcoming.

During the war, many pro-Palestinian actions were undertaken. For example on the AIML’s call, Palestine Day was observed on the 26th of August 1938 across the subcontinent. In 1939, Mr. Jinnah sent senior AIML members Ch. Khaliquzzaman and Abdur Rehman Siddiqui to meet with the Grand Mufti of Palestine to assist with the Palestinian issue. In July 1939, the British government prepared and issued a white paper unilaterally. The White Paper of 1939 called for the establishment of a Jewish home within an independent Palestinian state in the next 10 years and rejected the Peel Commission’s recommendations. In simpler words, it recommended a one-state solution for the Arabs and Jews. It also ordered that Jewish immigration be limited and would depend on Arab consent. Many Arab leaders thought such recommendations were untenable and rejected the proposal, as did the Jews. The latter became militant and incepted a violent campaign against the British.

Mr. Jinnah too was critical of the white paper – he criticized its recommendations and reiterated that the original promises made to the Arabs in WWI along with their demands should be honored. He wrote to Viceroy Linlithgow that the British “…should try and meet all reasonable national demands of the Arabs in Palestine as this was one of the prerequisites for AIML’s cooperation in the British war effort in India during 1939-40. Mr. Jinnah had also threatened “to call out the Muslim Ministries in the Provinces on the issue of British injustices towards Palestinians.

Mr. Jinnah also pledged his support to the Supreme Arab Council of Palestine. He ramped up the pressure domestically and reaffirmed to the British how important Palestine was spiritually for the Muslims. Furthermore, he created a “Palestine Fund” to raise and dispatch money for Palestinian families who lost their relatives in the struggle for freedom. Despite his constant struggle towards the creation of Pakistan, he remained adamant about the Palestinian cause as well.

Post-WWII: Creation of Pakistan and Israel

The post-war scenario looked bleak for the Palestinians. For the Indian Muslims too it was a difficult time due to the intensifying question of partition. Despite this critical juncture (around 1946) and the Indian Muslims requiring all their energy, Mr. Jinnah and the AIML did not vacillate vis-à-vis the Palestinian issue. On 20th April 1946, The Anglo-American Committee report was published – it recommended that 100,000 Jewish immigrants persecuted by Nazis be allowed to immigrate to Palestine immediately (among other things). Upon hearing such, Mr. Jinnah remarked that this was the “grossest betrayal of the promises made to the Arabs” and he was distraught at how the great powers had only leveraged the territory of Palestine to accommodate the Jews at the Arabs’ expense.

The Grand Mufti of Palestine Muhammad Amin-el-Husseni himself recognized Mr. Jinnah’s unyielding struggle towards the Palestinian cause several times. On one such occasion in 1946, the Grand Mufti wrote to Mr. Jinnah, “Muslims of the world would remember how the League under leadership of Jinnah favored and cared for the affairs of the Muslim countries like Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Western Trablus, Indonesia and all other countries of North Africa.”

In 1946, the US, which had replaced the UK as the dominant global power, and its dalliance with Israel began to blossom further – this was evidenced by the US President’s policy of supporting a Jewish state in Palestine.

On 14th August 1947, Mr. Jinnah’s long and tedious struggle to create an independent nation for the Muslim Indians was finally successful. Although a momentous occasion for the AIML and new Pakistanis, the Palestinians were not as lucky as they became anguished due to the UN’s deliberation on how to partition Palestine. When the partition plan was accepted by the UN in November 1947, Mr. Jinnah, then the Governor General of Pakistan, wrote to US President Truman and asserted, “The decision is ultra vires of the United Nations charter and basically wrong and invalid in law… The very people for whose benefit this decision is taken—the Jews, who have already suffered terribly from Nazi persecution—will I greatly fear, suffer most if this unjust course is pursued…”

Talking to Robert Simson of the BBC, he expressed that the decision was “unjust and cruel” and pledged to aid the cause “of the Arabs in Palestine in every possible way. In the aftermath of the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine that aimed to divide the territory into an Arab state, a Jewish state, and a Special International Regime for Jerusalem and Bethlehem, war broke out internally as well as between the nations of the Arab League and Israel. The result was almost a complete Israeli victory with the new state not only controlling their area proposed by the UN but also occupying around 60% of the area proposed to the Palestinians. Israel also took control of West Jerusalem, which was meant to be an international zone. The state of Israel was born on 14th May 1948.

History, the greatest of writers, inscribed poetically how Pakistan and Israel both came to be within the space of 9 months – perhaps the only two nations to be created in the name of religion. Both nations are marked with territorial disputes as well, which remain unresolved and pose a threat on a global scale. Mr. Jinnah passed soon after on 11th September 1948.

Present Day

A few months ago if someone asked me if Pakistan would ever recognize Israel regardless of the strong Israel-US nexus, my answer would be a no. However, in recent months the elites of Pakistan have trapped the country in an almost-unwinnable situation after Imran Khan’s ouster. Pakistan is desperate for money, for its loans to be waived, and for inflation to come down. Terrorist attacks have also begun rising. Therefore, Israel, already on a high after the Abraham Accords, might see this as an opportunity to aid or pressurize Pakistan to recognize Israel, sell their nuclear weapons, or both.  The murmurings of such Machiavellian machinations have been ongoing in the country’s power corridors as well as on social media for a while. In fact, when the relatively stable government of Imran Khan was governing, there were internal and exogenous pressures on him to recognize Israel. Now that a vapid and corrupt government marred with greater economic and political schisms has replaced his, those same burdens stand buttressed.

If Pakistan does become desperate or corrupt enough to recognize Israel, it would be to its detriment in the long run. Conversely, to “befriend” and perhaps denuclearize the only Muslim nuclear state with one of the strongest armies in the world would be a massive victory for Israel. Netanyahu himself is on record for stating that after Iran, Pakistan is the largest specter to the state due to its possession of a massive nuclear arsenal.

Pakistanis, as pro-Palestine as they are, are in a despairing situation, which will turn murkier still, I fear. The implication is that maybe the citizens (not all but some) could be convinced of the absurd move to recognize Israel or worse. I am completely opposed to this as the Palestine issue has always remained a red line for Pakistan – this much we must not obfuscate – and for the politicians and citizens to abandon this red line would be catastrophic, maybe not economically, but morally and spiritually.

We must remember that in British India, times were tougher for the Muslims than what Pakistan is facing currently but the founders did not compromise on their scruples even with their backs against the wall. For example, Mr. Jinnah, known even by his rivals as incorruptible, was made several enticing offers from Gandhi, Viceroy Mountbatten, and others to become the first PM of a united India if his demand for Pakistan was renounced – but he never accepted. Mr. Iqbal, as unwavering himself, expressed his fiery passion for Palestine in a letter to Mr. Jinnah, “The Palestine question is very much agitating the minds of the Muslims… Personally I would not mind going to jail on an issue which affects both Islam and India. The formation of a Western base on the very gates of the East is a menace to both.”

Mr. Jinnah and Mr. Iqbal’s examples signify the indefatigable commitment towards Pakistan and Palestine that Pakistanis must exemplify now. Therefore, the country must follow in the steadfast footsteps of the founders and refrain from recognizing Israel – for recognizing Israel is to forsake Palestine and to forsake Palestine is to forsake Pakistan.

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