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Young Saudi Crown Prince Tightens Grip On Power At Home, Abroad In Shocking 24hrs

       © Provided by Business Insider Prince Muhammad bin Salman (Getty)

BEIRUT—It was a weekend of political earthquakes in Saudi Arabia, with tremors felt domestically and across the Middle East, as a faction led by the audacious 32-year-old Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman—son of the reigning King Salman—embarked on a stunning power play against rivals at home and abroad.The first of Saturday’s dizzying developments came when Lebanese prime minister and Saudi ally Saad al-Hariri used the occasion of a visit to the Kingdom’s capital, Riyadh, to announce his resignation, thereby toppling his own government and unraveling the fragile power-sharing arrangement that had kept the often-turbulent Mediterranean state relatively quiet for the 11 months since his cabinet was formed last December.Hariri’s uncharacteristically militant speech, broadcast exclusively on Saudi’s Al-Arabiya TV, blasted the “evil” of Iran and its Lebanese “arm” Hezbollah, insinuating the latter was plotting to kill him, as it stands accused of murdering his father, former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, in 2005.

“[Iran] does not descend on a place but that it plants strife and destruction and ruin therein … driven by a concealed hatred for the Arab people, and an indomitable desire to destroy and control them. … We live in a climate resembling that which prevailed shortly before the assassination of the Martyr Rafiq al-Hariri. I have become aware of a covert intrigue targeting my life.”It now falls, constitutionally, to Lebanon’s parliament to consult with President Michel Aoun—himself a close Hezbollah ally—on the appointment of a new prime minister; a process likely to drag on for months, and possibly years (Lebanon’s recent presidential vacuum, for comparison’s sake, lasted two years and six months, from April 2014 to October 2016).

That surprise was soon followed by reports a long-range ballistic missile fired by Iranian-backed militants in Yemen had been intercepted by U.S.-made Patriot defense systems near the Saudi capital’s airport.

That in turn was followed by the evening’s dramatic final act: the shock revelation that dozens of prominent Saudi princes, ministers, and businessmen, including the flamboyant billionaire investor Prince al-Waleed bin Talal—a shareholder in Apple, Twitter, Citigroup, and London’s Savoy hotel, among many others—had been arrested on corruption charges, with additional senior officials fired from their posts.

The developments may, on their face, appear to have little in common. But analysts are in broad agreement that the thread binding them together is the crown prince’s campaign to consolidate power domestically and region-wide; a fundamental component of which is a renewed pushback against chief nemesis Iran’s extensive and growing influence across the Arab world, most notably in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon.

“The [Hariri] move clearly points to a Saudi will to start confronting Iran in a new theater, Lebanon, that was [hitherto] neutralized,” said Joseph Bahout, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Program, who forecast in an article last month that Riyadh would soon step up confrontation with Iran inside Lebanon.

“By ending the deal producing the government where Hezbollah is a major partner, Riyadh has decided to isolate the party, its backer [Iran], and force it to face consequences,” Bahout added to The Daily Beast.

Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, agreed it was “very clear [Hariri’s resignation] was a Saudi move,” highlighting Saudi displeasure with Hariri’s acquiescence in a string of policies favorable to Hezbollah during his tenure, including a creeping normalization of official relations with the Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus.

“He gave them everything they wanted, and then some. And when he didn’t, they didn’t care; they moved anyway … until it got so embarrassing that I guess the Saudis said we need to pull the plug now,” Badran told The Daily Beast.

What happens next in Lebanon, however, is less clear, according to both Bahout and Badran. While a number among the Twitter commentariat predict doomsday scenarios, Badran argues there are in reality few tangible options for Saudi to further hurt Iran’s position in Beirut, beyond economic measures such as sanctions against Lebanese individuals deemed affiliates of Hezbollah in the Gulf—including Christian members of President Aoun’s movement.

As for the arrests and dismissals of the major Saudi figures in Riyadh, the motivation and implications appear twofold. On the one hand, Muhammad bin Salman’s anti-corruption rhetoric—and now action—has proven popular with many Saudis, even those otherwise critical of the crown prince’s governance.

“Selective accountability is imperfect justice, yet … what happened yesterday was very great,” tweeted Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist now living in self-imposed exile, who less than two months ago attacked Bin Salman’s “shocking” and “extreme” crackdown on dissent in a widely read Washington Post op-ed.

On the other hand, some of the figures targeted appear to have been selected less for their financial than their political profiles. Most conspicuous of these is now-deposed 65-year-old National Guard Minister Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, a favored son of the late King Abdullah, who was once considered a natural heir to the throne. Another was navy commander Admiral Abdullah bin Sultan bin Muhammad al-Sultan. (The Daily Beast)

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JUST IN: Israel Reportedly Launches Strike On Syria As Tension Rise

 

Joshua Mitnick
This Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016 photo shows an Israeli Air Force F-15 plane in flight during a graduation ceremony for new pilots in the Hatzerim air force base near the city of Beersheba, Israel.© AP Photo/Ariel Schalit This Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016 photo shows an Israeli Air Force F-15 plane in flight during a graduation ceremony for new pilots in the Hatzerim air force base near the city of Beersheba, Israel.

 

TEL AVIV, Israel — An Israeli aircraft reportedly launched a strike into Syria on Sunday that left one person dead, in what appeared to be the second cross-border attack in three days as tensions between the neighbors escalated over the weekend.

The Israeli attack was reported by the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said that the strike targeted a car traveling on a road between Damascus and Quneitra, a town in the Golan Heights near the border with Israel. An Israeli army spokesman declined to comment on the report.

The Lebanese news service Al Mayadeen said the attack killed Yasser Hussein Asayeed, whom it described as a member of a militia aligned with the Syrian government. It said he was based in Golan.

Just two days earlier, Syrian forces shot several several surface-to-air missiles at Israeli jets that were carrying out an attack in Syria against what Israel said was a weapons shipment bound for the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

Israel fired its Arrow interceptor missile to knock down one of the surface-to-air rockets headed for its territory, forcing the nation’s army to issue a rare confirmation that it had carried out an attack inside Syria. It marked the first time Israel had used the Arrow missile, which has been jointly developed with the U.S. over years to defend against long-range missiles from Iran.

After the incident, Russia’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Israeli ambassador to Moscow to protest the attack. Russia is a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, vowed to continue to carry out attacks in Syria against weapons shipments that it believes to be bound for Hezbollah.

On Sunday morning, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman responded to the incident with a saber-rattling warning. “The next time that the Syrian air defenses fire at us, we will destroy them completely without thinking twice,” he said in an interview with Israel Radio.

The heightened tension highlights how Russia’s assistance to Assad has raised the stakes along the border with Israel. For most of the Syrian civil war, Israel has watched from the sidelines, except for occasional strikes against Hezbollah weapons shipments that it says could be strategic game changers in the balance of power. Those attacks haven’t been challenged by Syria, for the most part.

Since Russia’s entry into the war, Israel and Moscow have come up with an understanding mechanism to avoid clashes between their militaries.

But as the fighting tips in the Assad government’s favor, Israeli officials have expressed concern that Iran and Hezbollah may gain a permanent foothold in Syria and possibly establish a presence along the border in the Golan Heights. This month, Netanyahu traveled to Moscow to try to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin that Iran shouldn’t be strengthened by the war.

Putin is unlikely to be persuaded by Israel’s entreaties to rein in one of his allies, said Eyal Zisser, a professor of political science at Tel Aviv University. The attacks over the weekend highlight the question of whether Moscow will continue to tolerate Israeli forays into Syria against its Shiite allies, he said.

“We need to ask: Will Russia accept the continuation of Israeli activity in Syria, or will it decide to put an end to it?” he said.

Los Angeles Times

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