Archive for the ‘Saudi Arabia’ Category
Xinhua, April 19, 2911
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast on Tuesday called the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)’s recent statement regarding Iran as “baseless”, the semi- official ISNA news agency reported on Tuesday.
Mehmanparast called the accusations levelled at Iran by GCC an action for distracting the public opinion of the international community from the military measures of a number of GCC member states in Bahrain, said the report.
After a meeting in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Sunday, GCC states in a statement called on the international community and UN Security Council for “necessary measures” against what they called Iran’s “interference and provocations” in the Persian Gulf affairs and to prevent it from sowing regional discord.
“It is surprising that in the statement issued (by GCC), Iran is accused of interfering in the regional affairs, while the military forces of some of the member countries violate all international conventions and laws and meddle in the domestic matters of their neighboring country,” Mehmanparast was quoted as saying in his weekly press briefing.
Iran has proper relations with those countries and follows the principles of respecting national sovereignty, good-neighborliness, mutual respect, he added.
M K Bhadrakuma, Asia Times, April 19, 2011
Twice during the past week senior United States officials have let it be known that the Barack Obama administration has chosen to adopt a highly selective approach to the ferment in the Middle East.
The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton couched the message in appropriate diplomatic idiom in Washington last Tuesday in a speech at a gala dinner celebrating the US-Islamic World Forum before an audience of dignitaries from the Middle East including the foreign ministers of Qatar and Jordan and the secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Conference.
Clinton acknowledged that the ”long Arab winter has begun to thaw” and after many decades, a ”real opportunity for lasting change” has appeared before the Arab people. It, in turn, raises ”significant questions” but it is not for the US to provide all the answers. ”In fact, here in Washington we’re struggling to thrash out answers to our own difficult political and economic questions,” she said.
Following a long-winded appreciation of the “Arab revolt”, Clinton hit the nail on its head: ”We understand that a one-sized-fits-all approach doesn’t make sense in such a diverse region at such a fluid time. As I have said before, the United States has specific relationships with countries in the region. We have a decades-long friendship with Bahrain that we expect to continue long into the future … Going forward, the United States will be guided by careful consideration of all circumstances on the ground and by our consistent values and interests.”
Two days later, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates picked up where Clinton left off. At the ground-breaking ceremony of the national library honoring George Washington in Virginia last Thursday, Gates dipped into the oldest annals of America’s young history to underline that US has always pursued a selective approach to democratic aspirations and values of other peoples.
When George Washington was confronted with the consequences of the French revolution, he didn’t allow himself to be swayed by the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity but instead weighed in the terribly dangerous prospect of the possible ”spread of violent French radicalism to our shores”, the negative consequences of estrangement from the British in terms of disruptions in the ”lives of ordinary Americans by impeding trade” and the ”fragility of America’s position at that time”. Therefore, he adopted a neutrality policy toward France and chose to make a peace treaty with Britain although he was accused of doublespeak, sellout, et al.
Gates acknowledged that the US always ”struggled” with ideals while doing business with terrible autocrats. So, what matters today is that ”many of the [Arab] regimes affected have been longstanding, close allies of the United States, ones we continue to work with as critical partners in the face of common security challenges like al-Qaeda and Iran.”
Is the democracy project so terribly important? Gates had an answer: ”An underlying theme of American history going back to Washington is that we are compelled to defend our security and our interests in ways that in the long run lead to the democratic values and institutions … When we discuss openly our desire for democratic values to take hold across the globe, we are describing a world that may be many years or decades off.”
Significantly, Gates was speaking after a tour of the Persian Gulf region against a complex backdrop of Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Bahrain to crush the lively democracy movement, frictions in the relations between the US and Saudi Arabia, a jump in oil prices into triple digits and signs that Riyadh might consider expanding its mammoth US$60 billion deal to buy arms from the US.
At any rate, coming out of a 90-minute meeting with the Saudi King Abdullah, Gates said he saw ”evidence” of Iranian meddling in Bahrain. Gates’s visit was followed up within a week by a trip to Riyadh by the US National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon, who handed a letter from Obama to Abdullah. All indications are that a deal has been stuck whereby the Obama administration will not queer the pitch for the autocratic Persian Gulf rulers by dabbling in the democracy project in the region.
A hegemon on the move
On the contrary, Washington will allow Saudi Arabia to have a free hand to tackle the movements for democratic reforms in the region and forestall any regime changes in the region. Accordingly, the Saudis are moving on three different tracks. First, they have done everything possible to portray the democracy movement in Bahrain, which has serious potential to overthrow the regime in Manama and trigger a domino effect, in starkly sectarian terms as an issue of Shi’ite empowerment. The Saudi calculation by stoking up the latent fires of sectarian prejudices in the Sunni mind is to somehow prevent a unified, pan-Arab democracy movement from taking shape.
Second, Saudis are giving a coloring that that the democracy movements in the Persian Gulf are in actuality a manifestation of Iranian meddling in the internal affairs of the Sunni states in the region. The Iranian bogey comes naturally to the Saudis for rallying the Sunni states in the region under its leadership as well as for striking sympathetic chords in influential Washington lobbies.
The Saudi ploy is working. During a visit to Manama early March, Gates himself had urged the al-Khalifa family to swiftly undertake political and social reform. By early April he is a changed man who claims he senses an Iranian hand behind the protests.
Third, and potentially quite tricky, is the Saudi propensity to see the case in both Bahrain and Yemen as open-and-shut. The intervention in Bahrain is taking a violent turn with every possibility that it will radicalize the opposition and possibly force it – or at least elements within it – to resort to insurgent attacks. A Bahraini variant of Lebanon’s Hezbollah seems to be in the making.
The Saudis have also waded into the Yemeni tribal politics and are dictating the contours of the transfer of power from President Ali Abdullah Saleh, ignoring the potency of Yemeni nationalism, which resents Saudi hegemony. Again, Saudis propagate that Iran is fueling the Houthi rebellion in north Yemen. (Western observers rule out any extensive ties between Iran on the one side and the Houthis or the Bahraini Shi’ites.)
What are the Saudi calculations? A longstanding objective of the Saudi national security strategy remains, namely, to exercise its quasi-hegemony in the Arabian Peninsula. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) served this purpose for decades. But the GCC dispensation can easily unravel in today’s uncertain circumstances if there is regime change in any of the member states. Riyadh has mooted the idea of the GCC transforming into a “Gulf Confederation” with a common and unified foreign, security and defense policies – under Saudi leadership, of course, under the garb of collective security.
In military terms, this would facilitate the creation of joint armed forces under a unified command with a rapid reaction force that could act in any of the GCC states. In other words, Saudi Arabia hopes to assume the role of the provider of security for the GCC territories.
Riyadh felt disillusioned by the US’ ”abandonment” of Hosni Mubarak and quite obviously, in the Saudi estimation, there was no real inevitability about Mubarak’s exit if only Washington had stood by him. The behavior of post-Mubarak Egypt also adds to a sense of isolation in Riyadh. Significant shifts have begun appearing in Egypt’s regional policies already. Cairo is moving toward establishing diplomatic relations with Iran (broken off since the Islamic Revolution in 1979); Cairo ignored US and Israeli protests and allowed for the first time two Iranian warships to pass through the Suez Canal; Cairo is allowing Hamas leaders in Gaza to use Cairo airport as a transit point for travel to and from Damascus; Cairo is mellowing toward the Hezbollah in Lebanon.
What hits Riyadh most is that Cairo will be disengaging from any containment strategy toward Iran and may gravitate toward the nascent strategic axis involving Syria, Turkey and Iran. Egypt is swimming toward mainstream Arab politics, whereas Saudi Arabia never had much fondness for pan-Arabism.
This growing sense of isolation prompted the Saudi leadership to invoke its ultimate reserves of influence in Washington – the Pentagon. The promise Abdullah made to Gates – that Saudi arms purchases from the US this year will exceed the $60 billion deal (which is already the biggest in US history) – changes the entire complexion of Persian Gulf security from the American perspective. Obama interprets arms sales to foreign countries as the means to create jobs at home. And if the Gulf Confederation idea takes hold, the sky is the limit for lucrative arms deals since a joint military will be created by the petrodollar states involving land, air and naval forces.
The speeches by Clinton and Gates suggest that the Saudis have succeeded in making Obama reassess the Arab spring in the Persian Gulf region. Obama is never short on resonant words. Still, presenting with conviction his (revised) vision of the New Middle East in the major policy speech he is expected to make isn’t going to be easy.
Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.
Saudi troops’ demolition of mosques stokes religious tensions
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, April 19 2011
Bahraini government forces backed by Saudi Arabian troops are destroying mosques and places of worship of the Shia majority in the island kingdom in a move likely to exacerbate religious hatred across the Muslim world.
“So far they have destroyed seven Shia mosques and about 50 religious meeting houses,” said Ali al-Aswad, an MP in the Bahraini parliament.
He said Saudi soldiers, part of the 1,000-strong contingent that entered Bahrain last month, had been seen by witnesses helping demolish Shia mosques and shrines in the Sunni-ruled kingdom.
Mohammed Sadiq, of the Justice for Bahrain organisation, said the most famous of the Shia shrines destroyed was that of a revered Bahraini Shia spiritual leader, Sheikh Abdul Amir al-Jamri, who died in 2006. A photograph taken by activists and seen by The Independent shows the golden dome of the shrine lying on the ground and later being taken away on the back of a lorry. On the walls of Shia mosques that have been desecrated, graffiti has been scrawled praising the Sunni King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and insulting the Shia.
The attack on Shia places of worship has provoked a furious reaction among the 250 million Shia community, particularly in Iran and Iraq, where Shia are in a majority, and in Lebanon where they are the largest single community.
The Shia were already angry at the ferocious repression by Bahraini security forces of the pro-democracy movement, which had sought to be non-sectarian. After the monarchy had rejected meaningful reform, the wholly Sunni army and security forces started to crush the largely Shia protests on 15 and 16 March.
The harshness of the government repression is provoking allegations of hypocrisy against Washington, London and Paris. Their mild response to human rights abuses and the Saudi Arabian armed intervention in Bahrain is in stark contrast to their vocal concern for civilians in Libya.
The US and Britain have avoided doing anything that would destabilise Saudi Arabia and the Sunni monarchies in the Gulf, to which they are allied. They are worried about Iran taking advantage of the plight of fellow Shia, although there is no evidence that Iran has any role in fomenting protests despite Bahraini government claims to the contrary. The US has a lot to lose because its Fifth Fleet, responsible for the Gulf and the north of the Indian Ocean, is based in Bahrain.
+There is no evidence that ties Iran to the uprising going on in Bahrain. The forces are to repress internal movements, not to counter Iran. Hillary Clinton has been alleging that Iran is involved even while saying that the U.S. sees “no evidence yet that Iran instigated such protests but we do see activities by Iran to try to take advantage of these uprisings.” -PR+
AP, April 18, 2011
Bahrain’s foreign minister says Gulf troops will stay in his island nation until its rulers believe that threats from Iran have eased.
Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy is backed by a Saudi-led force of about 1,500 troops, invited to help battle a Shiite uprising that Gulf Arab leaders believe could clear the way for greater influence by Shiite powerhouse Iran.
Bahrain’s foreign minister, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, told reporters on Monday that the Gulf force is needed to counter a “sustained campaign” by Iran in his country. The strategic kingdom hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.
The minister spoke on the sidelines of an anti-piracy conference in Dubai.
Brian Downing, Asia Times, April 16, 2011
The once seemingly overwhelming momentum of the democratic movements in the Middle East has been stopped or at least slowed in many countries. The forces behind staunching the tide of change are often domestic in nature, but Saudi Arabia is playing an important supporting role – sometimes behind the scenes, sometimes through open use of force. These actions will have consequences throughout the region for quite some time.
Saudi Arabia and Iran
Once the “twin pillars” of US policy in the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia and Iran have become increasingly antagonistic over the past three decades. This was especially so after the Saudis supported Iraq’s lengthy and bloody war with Iran in the 1980s, which included a handful of air skirmishes between Saudi and Iranian aircraft.
More recently, Saudi Arabia has helped to build a coalition of Sunni Arab states opposed to Iranian influence and nuclear research. Such is the fear of Iran in Saudi Arabia that it is reportedly willing to grant fly-over rights for Israel to attack Iran.
The House of Saud’s concern with Iran has become a veritable obsession. It can be usefully likened to the obsession US national security institutions had for the Soviet Union during some of the more heated moments of the Cold War when many reformist movements around the world were deemed the machinations of Soviet intelligence officers. A pertinent case in point would be the Central Intelligence Agency’s conviction that the popular uprising that unseated the shah was the work of the Soviet KGB.
Similarly, the House of Saud has badly misinterpreted reform movements both inside the kingdom and throughout the region. The various crowds that assembled peacefully to call for a voice in their future are seen as the nefarious work of Iranian intelligence officers.
However, there is no evidence of Iranian intelligence personnel in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, where the kingdom’s Shi’ite minority is concentrated, or in neighboring Bahrain, where the Shi’ites constitute 70% of the population. In both countries, Shi’ite and Sunni alike called for social and political change. “No Shi’ite, no Sunni, Just Bahraini.” Neither group needed foreign operatives to tell them that their futures were limited by monarchal cliques or that the Shi’ites were looked down upon and excluded from many parts of public life.
Nonetheless, the Saudis responded swiftly and forcefully. They issued dire warnings before the called-for demonstrations of March 11 in their country and security forces immediately set upon groups trying to coalesce that day, intimidating and beating them before they could form the numbers that assembled in Cairo until Hosni Mubarak had to step down. Outside the kingdom, Saudi national guard troops crossed the causeway into Bahrain and helped to crush the protest movement in Pearl Square with considerable loss of life.
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Al Jazeera loses credibility for censoring coverage of uprisings in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, acting as propaganda tool for Qatar’s role in Libya intervention
+Al Jazeera is based in Qatar which just happens to be the most active Arab supporter of the “rebels” attempting to aid the west in overthrowing the Libyan government. Qatar is positioning itself to be the international marketer for the oil exported by the “rebels,” was the second country to recognize the “ransitional government,” and has contributed aircraft to the NATO bombing campaign. Part of Al Jazeera’s advantages in reporting international issues is that it can pretty much criticise anyone it chooses without consequences, the only stipulation is refrain from any serious critique of its host nation and its regional allies. This limitation has greatly jeoprodized the Arab media station’s legitimacy and credibility in covering the events in Libya. So heed the warning that Al Jazeera, while widely recognized as a useful news outlet, is not a reliable source when it comes to current regional issues -PR+
Andrew Hammond, Reuters, April 14, 2011
Pan-Arab broadcasters who played a key role reporting Arab uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt are helping dynastic rulers police the gates of the Gulf to stop the revolts from spreading on their patch, analysts say.
Qatar-based Al Jazeera, the leading Arabic language network, was pivotal in keeping up momentum during protests that toppled Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, both entrenched rulers who were no friends of Qatar’s ruling Al Thani dynasty.
When Al Jazeera’s cameras turned to Yemen, it was as though its guns were trained on the next target in an uprising longtime Arab leaders were convinced was of the channel’s making.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose impoverished country of 23 million is not a member of the affluent Gulf Arab club, accused Al Jazeera of running an “operations room to burn the Arab nation.” His government has revoked the Al Jazeera correspondents’ licences over its coverage in Yemen.
For viewers watching protests spread across the region, the excitement stopped abruptly in Bahrain. Scant coverage was given to protests in the Gulf Cooperation Council member and to the ensuing crackdown by its Sunni rulers, who called in Saudi and Emirati troops in March under a regional defence pact.
Protests in Oman and Saudi Arabia have also received scant attention in recent months.
“Bahrain does not exist as far as Al Jazeera is concerned, and they have avoided inviting Bahraini or Omani or Saudi critics of those regimes,” said As’ad AbuKhalil, politics professor at California State University.
“Most glaringly, Al Jazeera does not allow one view that is critical of Bahraini repression to appear on the air. The GCC has closed ranks and Qatar may be rewarded with the coveted post of secretary-general of the Arab League.”
Despite a wealth of material, there were no stirring montages featuring comments by protesters or scenes of violence against activists in Bahrain. Al Jazeera has produced such segments to accompany Egyptian and Tunisian coverage.
The threat posed by Bahrain’s protests was closer to home. Their success would have set a precedent for broader public participation in a region ruled by Sunni dynasties. More alarming for those dynasties, it would have given more power to Bahrain’s majority Shi’ites, distrusted by Sunni rulers who fear the influence of regional Shi’ite power Iran.
From an early stage, Al Jazeera framed the movements in Tunisia, Egypt and then Yemen as “revolutions” and subverted government bans on its coverage by inviting viewers to send in images captured on mobile phones to a special address.
“Despite being banned in Egypt, Al Jazeera went to great lengths to provide non-stop live coverage of events. It did not do that in Bahrain,” said political analyst Ghanem Nuseibeh.
Andrea Shalal-Esa, Reuters, April 13, 2011
The U.S. government is reviewing arms sales to Middle Eastern countries on a “case-by-case basis” given turmoil in the region, and has already halted some sales, a Pentagon official said on Monday.
Richard Genaille, deputy director of the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, said that two of the biggest deals on the table have been cleared to proceed: a $29.4 billion sale of 84 Boeing Co F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia and a $7 billion sale to the United Arab Emirates of an advanced missile defense system built by Lockheed Martin Corp.
A team of officials from his agency, the State Department, military commanders and the White House National Security Council were carefully reviewing planned arms sales to the region, Genaille told Reuters in an interview after a speech at the annual Navy League conference.
Unrest and violence spreading across the Middle East have sparked questions about U.S. arms sales to the region, deals that many U.S. defense companies had hoped would offset an expected decline in U.S. defense spending in coming years.
Genaille said the current reviews affected specific parts of arms sales that had already been approved by Congress and were being readied for delivery to Middle Eastern countries.
He said other big weapons deals, including a large Boeing helicopter sale to Saudi Arabia, the biggest buyer of U.S. weapons, were still working their way through the congressional notification system.
Gates had delivered a “letter of agreement” to Saudi Arabia for the Boeing F-15 sale during his visit there on April 6, but it had not yet been signed, Genaille said.
A separate deal to modernize Saudi Arabia’s eastern naval fleet could be worth more than $20 billion, depending on details still being discussed, Genaille said. That deal has not yet been notified to lawmakers.
The Navy on Friday said Saudi Arabia has asked the United States for prices for surface warships with integrated air and missile defenses, helicopters and other equipment.