Lethal divisions in the Middle East

A US-made F-15 fighter jet flown by the Royal Saudi Air Force

Divisions between different powers in the Middle East are becoming more threatening. With the relative weakening of US imperialism’s economic and political power, so contenders for regional power fight for position. Saudi Arabia and Turkey are at the centre of this struggle. Iran is targeted by a US, Israeli and Saudi alliance. The European Union and the US may be on a collision course over US sanctions on Iran. Russia and China are using the divisions to expand their influence. Meanwhile, the British government and British arms firms see fresh opportunities to profit from murder and mayhem. The Palestinian and Kurdish people continue to fight for their right to exist. Trevor Rayne reports. 

When he walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October, Jamal Khashoggi walked into a trap set amidst these divisions. Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen, lived in Turkey because it was unsafe for him to live in Saudi Arabia; he had criticised the Saudi government and its heir apparent Crown Prince Moham­med Bin Salman. Khashoggi was close to the Turkish government and knew President Erdogan; he also wrote for The Washington Post. Erdogan has used Khashoggi’s killing to try and weaken the Crown Prince and to improve his own standing internationally. It is preposterous for the President of Turkey, a country that has locked up more journalists than any other and a state that wages war on the Kurds and employs jihadists to fight for it in neighbouring countries, to claim to be on the side of justice. Nevertheless, Erdogan had some success with his drip, drip of details to refute the Saudi denials. In a remarkable statement, worthy of an accomplished gangster, US President Trump said Khashoggi’s murder ‘was carried out poorly, and the cover-up was one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups’.

A year before he was killed, Kha­sh­oggi wrote, ‘[Bin Salman’s] rash actions are deepening tensions and undermining the security of the Gulf states and the region as a whole.’ A memo released by the German intelligence agency BND in 2015 warned that, with the rise of the Crown Prince, ‘the careful diplomatic stance of older members of the Saudi royal family has been replaced by an impulsive policy of intervention’. The memo cited Saudi Arabia’s military interventions in Yemen and Syria as examples of this impulsiveness and added that the concentration of so much power in the Crown Prince’s hands ‘harbours a latent risk that in seeking to establish himself in the line of succession in his father’s lifetime, he may overreach’. The killing of Khashoggi is such an ‘overreach’.

The US government acted to rein in Saudi Arabia. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for a 30-day ceasefire in Yemen and US Defence Secretary James Mattis urged peace talks between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Iran. Mattis said Khashoggi’s killing had ‘undermined regional stability’. The US said it would stop in-flight refuelling for Saudi-led coalition jets operating over Yemen. The war on Yemen costs an estimated $200m a day. Saudi oil revenues have halved since 2012. After the Crown Prince locked up hundreds of Saudi royals and businessmen in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh in November 2017, releasing them only after they had paid billions, rich Saudis have transferred fortunes out of the country. Foreign direct investment in Saudi Arabia fell by 81% in 2017. Some 40% of Saudis aged 20 to 24 are unemployed and 40% of Saudis live in poverty. The war on Yemen is a humanitarian and economic catastrophe and the Crown Prince is a proven liability. 

Qatar and the ‘triangle of evil’

Saudi Arabia, backed by the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt and supported by Israel, broke diplomatic relations with Qatar in June 2017, imposing a boycott. Qatar is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The GCC comprises Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman. It has been very useful to the US, Britain, Europe and Israel and they do not want it split apart by Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been at the core of the GCC, sidelining Qatar. Saudi Arabia wants to dominate Qatar, as it has Bahrain, in order to dominate the entire Persian Gulf. It demanded that Qatar stop interfering in other GCC countries, stop supporting ‘terrorist organisations’, including the Muslim Brotherhood, close the Al Jazeera satellite news channel and end relations with Iran. Qatar and Iran share gas fields and joint explorations require them to be on good terms.

Khashoggi supported the Muslim Brotherhood. Turkey and Qatar supported the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, which Saudi Arabia and the UAE worked to remove. Morsi was overthrown by a military coup in 2013. When Saudi Arabia broke relations with Qatar, Turkey sent troops to the country and said it was building a military base there. In summer 2018, as the Turkish lira collapsed, Qatar pledged $15bn to Turkish banks. The Emir of Qatar gave Erdogan a Boeing 747-8 aircraft as a personal present. Qatar has investments in Turkey’s arms industry. Bin Salman said ‘the contemporary triangle of evil comprises Iran, Turkey and extremist religious groups’. By such groups he meant the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah and the Houthis among others.

The US has its largest military base in the Middle East in Qatar; it is also used by the British Royal Air Force. Qatar is the world’s biggest supplier of Liquid Natural Gas. US imperialism cannot afford to have its regional allies at each other’s throats when Iran is the target. In January 2018, as Saudi troops massed on Qatar’s border, the US signed an agreement with Qatar ‘to deter and confront any threat to Qatari’s territorial integrity’.

Business opportunities for Britain

In the wake of Khashoggi’s murder and in the context of the disaster un­folding in Yemen, the European Par­lia­ment voted in October for an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia. The Con­servative group of MEPs ab­stained in the vote and British Ministry of Defence officials have continued to meet their Saudi counterparts to secure arms contracts. Over the past decade 42% of British arms exports have gone to Saudi Arabia. Since 2016 British military experts have been helping Saudi Arabia locate targets in Yemen and Saudi pilots are trained in Britain. Writing of Britain’s biggest arms company BAE Systems, the Financial Times said, ‘A big boost for Typhoon and the UK would be a new order from Saudi Arabia; the kingdom signed a memorandum of intent with the UK for 48 jets in March’ (8 November 2018).

British imperialism embraces the barbaric mediaeval Saudi dynasty as a partner. When the Saudi state conducted the mass execution of 47 men in January 2016, including the leading Shia cleric Nimr Al Nimr, the then British foreign secretary Philip Hammond said, ‘Let us be clear, first of all, that these people were convicted terrorists.’ The Saudi justice system runs on torture. When Theresa May visited Saudi Arabia in May 2017 she celebrated their sharing of intelligence. When Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) challenged the British government’s decision to continue exporting military equipment to Saudi Arabia because the equipment was used against Yemeni civilians, the High Court in London rejected the challenge in July 2017. The Court of Appeal has granted permission for CAAT to appeal that decision and the hearing will take place in April 2019. The British state has blood on its hands.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 267 December 2018/January 2019

 

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