June 24, 2017

What a scary week in the Mideast. The epicenter of the world’s energy resources and the land-bridge between Asia and Africa is spinning out of control as the danger of a shooting war between the US and Russia grows daily.

A US F-18 warplane shot down a Syrian Air Force SU-22 ground attack aircraft over eastern Syria. This was a grave, reckless provocation clearly authorized by Washington. Russia, Syria’s ally, threatened to begin targeting its supposedly deadly S-300 missiles against US warplanes over Syria.

Another US warplane shot down an Iranian drone over southeastern Syria as US forces and US mercenary Arab troops closed in on a worthless piece of ground on the Syrian-Iraq border. Russia is rushing ten more warships into the Mediterranean, though most are obsolescent or small.

The US Navy is challenging – or provoking – the Iranians in the Gulf. US technicians and crews are keeping Saudi warplanes bombing Yemen, where half the population faces starvation. Just across the Red Sea, US warplanes and special forces are attacking the Somalia nationalist resistance movement, Shebab. At least 4,000 more US troops are headed for Afghanistan’s stalemated war.

US Marines are attacking ISIS positions near Mosul, al-Tanf and Raqaa and adding long-ranged HIMARS artillery rockets. American forces are using white phosphorus, a hideous chemical weapon, against Isis defenders. Iran may send more ‘volunteer’ troops into Syria and Iraq as US warplanes probe Iran’s airspace. Turkey is reportedly moving against US-backed Kurds in Syria. Some Mideast experts believe the US may be set on partitioning Syria.

A US fighter just buzzed a Russian aircraft over the Baltic carrying Russian defense minister Sergei Shogu until chased away by Russian fighters. Moscow is under growing pressure to retaliate against the US though President Vladimir Putin insists he wants no military confrontation with Washington.

Adding to these tensions, a palace coup in Saudi Arabia just sidelined the kingdom’s iron-handed number two, former Crown Prince and Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef and replaced him by 31-year old Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the favorite son of King Salman. The King is said to be seriously ill. But the 15,000-member Saudi family is not pleased by the defenestration of heir apparent Nayef.

Prince – now crown prince – Mohammed was the author of Saudi Arabia’s stalemated war in Yemen, which is burning through the kingdom’s cash reserves at a time when oil prices are plunging and has killed large numbers of civilians. He is behind the recent Saudi-Egyptian-Israeli tacit alliance.

It was Prince Mohammed who came up with the plan to run US shale producers out of business by launching an oil price war. It has backfired badly. The Saudis even had to borrow $9 billion to keep the kingdom running.

Arab critics assert that the young prince is rash and inexperienced. The Trump administration likes Prince Mohammed a lot. He is about the same age as Trump’s favorite, son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is in Israel this week supposedly crafting a final peace settlement between Jews and Arabs after a century of conflict. What a cruel joke this is.

Kushner has been meeting with Israel’s wily PM Netanyahu, who has no intention of ever allowing a Palestinian state, and with over-the-hill Palestinian ‘leader,’ Mahmoud Abbas, who is 82. Abbas is widely reviled as a US/Israel puppet who was made PLO leader after the untimely death of Yasser Arafat. The shady Mohammed Dahlan, rumored to be CIA’s Palestinian ‘asset,’ waits in the wings to replace the doddering Abbas.

The authentic Palestinian government, Hamas, is locked up in Gaza and totally isolated by a joint Israeli-Saudi-Egyptian campaign. Back in Washington, most of Trump’s senior advisors are ardent supporters of Israel. So with whom will young Kushner, himself an orthodox Jew, negotiate? As in decades past, Washington’s supporters of Israel’s moderates will negotiate with Israel’s right. Is it any wonder there is no Mideast peace?

Meanwhile, the new Saudi Crown Prince proclaims he will modernize the kingdom, diversify away from its oil and gas economy, and make himself leader of the Arab world. Those who do not readily agree, like little Qatar, will be squashed like bugs.

It’s a tall order. But we wish Crown Prince Mohammed well because Saudi Arabia, the world’s most ultra-conservative nation, very badly needs shaking up, modernization and less theocracy. The skimpy army is denied ammo and transport for fear of a coup, and the kingdom employs large numbers of foreign mercenaries.

In the past, 15,000 tough Pakistani troops defended the royal family. Pakistan’s former president, Zia ul-Haq, told me many funny stories of his days as a military advisor in Saudi and Iraq. Today, US forces in the region protect the Saudis from their neighbors and their own sometimes restive people.

Add the rising dangers in Syria, Iraq and the Gulf to this tense situation and we can count on Arabia and the Levant to provide lots of fireworks in days to come.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2017

This post is in: Mideast, Saudi Arabia


  1. Who’d have thought…

    From the Guardian, “The deposed Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, has been confined to his palace in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, as his young successor seeks to consolidate his newfound power, two sources close to the royal family have confirmed.
    The movements of the former heir to the throne have been restricted since Mohammed bin Salman, 31, replaced his cousin as crown prince last week, ensuring that he, instead of the 57-year-old security tsar whom he ousted, would eventually succeed his father as ruler.
    Senior Saudi officials denied Bin Nayef was under house arrest, with one describing the claim – first reported in the New York Times – as “not true at all”. Another official, however, said: “It’s just in the changeover period. MBS [bin Salman] does not want to take any risks. It is not house arrest. Nothing like that at all.”
    Bin Nayef had been the kingdom’s most influential security official over the past 15 years. He had maintained close intelligence connections with the US and UK and was seen by Saudi allies as an assured and trusted hand…
    …His ties to Saudi allies are far more extensive than those of his successor, a possible factor in the decision to keep him isolated while the power transition takes effect…
    …a mutual rivalry has eroded trust. “It was never daggers drawn,” …it became clear that the king’s son had the profile and status that the crown prince should have had. Everyone could see that.”…
    …The New York Times reported that guards loyal to Bin Salman had replaced those of his predecessor…bin Salman… does not want to take any risks. It is not house arrest. Nothing like that at all.”…
    …outside the Jeddah palace to where the ousted royal had returned. It is understood that Bin Nayef and his close family members have been prevented from leaving the kingdom.
    “If he is seen as benign, this will change quite quickly,” the official said. “I suspect they don’t want him jetting off to Washington in a bad mood and telling anyone, even our allies, the state secrets…
    “There is too much risk in letting a disgruntled figure talk at a time like this.”
    Bin Nayef’s insights into his own exit as well as political machinations within the opaque Saudi inner circle would be keenly sought by Riyadh’s allies and rivals and he would likely be welcomed in western capitals, should he leave the country.”
    It’s about time that Nayef had a serious fatal ‘accident’, not that that would ever happen.

  2. Steve_M. says:

    Excellent analysis. Although the US is being reckless with its handling of the Syrian civil war, I doubt that Trump will risk a war with Russia over that situation. Still, it would take just one careless mistake by either the US or Russia to spark an armed confrontation between the two countries. This reminds me, to some extent, of the big tank standoff at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, in November 1961, between the Soviet and American forces. If either side had fired even one shot, a nuclear war could very well have followed.

  3. Mike Smith says:

    Turkey could well be the pivot of the entire fiasco. As they have chosen to stand with Qatar and have bolstered the forces at their military base there, they have put themselves at odds with the Saudis and the Gulf states even further. In meetings this week the EU is reportedly restive to a reset in relations proposed by Turkey and may even move to freeze out Turkey further… at the same time Putin and Turkey have opened a new gas pipeline project, plus in co-operation with Syria, Iran and Russia eliminated several ” safe zones ” in Syria along the Turkish border, so that Assads forces can clean out opposition forces operating out of them. Combined with the ongoing animosity between the US and Turkey, and Germany and Turkey…. is the idea of Turkey leaving NATO that far fetched? A Huffington post editorial suggest NATO should ask Turkey to leave because ” Turkeys values are not the same as ours ” read they are not doing what we tell them to. If Turkey left, the second largest army in NATO would be out, strategically important airbases gone, transit through Turkish airspace, transit through Turkish waters driving the US out of the Black Sea… a coup for Putin if it happens, and a triumph for the long game Russia has played. Syria could finally put an end to this civil war / invasion of foreign fighters, Lebanon will likely be effected politically as well. Iraq would slowly move into sync with Iran if the American occupation ever ends. Eric would likely have to write another book on how this could impact Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia… maybe peace in the middle east could happen.

  4. Joe from Canada says:

    Remember when mainstream religious leaders spoke out against the madness of wars?

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