Israel and Saudi Arabia in cahoots

Saudi plans for regional domination are not meeting with much success, writes Yassamine Mather

Arms sales remain healthy

More than six weeks after the death of Jamal Khashoggi we know a lot more about his tragic plight after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. However, it is still unclear who ordered his execution, what will be done about it, who knew what when …

According to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, audio tapes of Khashoggi’s last moments in the consulate have been shared with the CIA and leaders of the ‘free world’, including the United States, the UK and EU. Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau admits his intelligence services have received the audio tapes and listened to them and, while French ministers deny having received such recordings, other European and US officials remain quiet on the subject.

According to The Guardian,Saudi officials have claimed that Erdoğan “betrayed the kingdom by disclosing details of the investigation and refusing all overtures from Saudi envoys, including an offer to pay ‘significant’ compensation”.1 However, it is unlikely that Turkey, playing its own game in this sad saga, will be tempted by blood money, which theoretically can only be offered to relatives of the deceased.

By November 13 the drip-drip of information about Khashoggi’s death reached a new level, with revelations carried by the New York Times and Al Jazeera, quoting Turkish intelligence officers, that soon after the assassination, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, one of the agents involved in the murder, phoned his superior with the message “tell your boss [believed by some to be crown prince Mohammed bin Salman] that the operatives have carried out their mission”. The recording was, according to Turkey, shared last month with Central Intelligence Agency director Gina Haspel.

The allegations, true or false, have caused a considerable dent in bin Salman’s authority. Meanwhile, we have seen the return from self-imposed exile of Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, the only remaining full brother of the Saudi king; the release from prison of another royal, Khaled bin Talal al-Saud, who had been held in custody following last year’s purge, when princes and business ‘leaders’ were held in the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Riyadh. But MBS remains crown prince for the time being.

There are also further revelations about MBS’s antics since he ascended to the second most important position in the Saudi kingdom. According to the New York Times, “Top Saudi intelligence officials close to crown prince Mohammed bin Salman asked a small group of businessmen last year about using private companies to assassinate Iranian enemies of the kingdom.”2

Last week, as oil prices fell following ‘excessive supply’ from the world’s major producers, Saudi Arabian authorities told ministers from other oil-exporting countries at an Opec meeting that they had no prior knowledge of the Trump administration’s plans to exempt seven countries – purchasers of Iranian oil – from new sanctions against the Islamic republic imposed on November 5. As a result the Saudis, who had already increased their oil production, were forced to do a U-turn – a clear sign that US-Saudi relations are not as warm as last year.

Israel

Over the last few weeks Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu and Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sissi have been lobbying the US government in support of MBS and, according to the website Middle East Eye, “Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman attempted to persuade Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to start a conflict with Hamas in Gaza as part of a plan to divert attention from the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.” A “war in Gaza would distract Trump’s attention and refocus Washington’s attention on the role Saudi Arabia plays in bolstering Israeli strategic interests”.3 Yet all this – including attempts to bribe Erdoğan with promises of Saudi purchases of arms from Turkey – seems to have failed so far.

To add insult to injury, Qatar-Israel-Hamas negotiations, which started a few months ago, seem to have progressed. Last week, in what was an unprecedented move, Netanyahu allowed the transfer of $15 million to Gaza, to pay for “salaries”, following the Palestinian Authority’s decision to cut them in Gaza last year. The money is also supposed to contribute towards medical care of the wounded. Despite criticism by some, including his own ministers, who have denounced the transfer of millions to Gaza as “protection money”, Netanyahu has defended the initiative. In fact, the Israeli prime minister said: “I’m doing everything I can in coordination with security experts to return calm to [Israeli] villages of the south, but also to prevent a humanitarian disaster [in Gaza].”

According to the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, Qatar and Israel had agreed to establish a sea passage between Cyprus and Gaza – a route that would be under Israeli security supervision and monitored by international forces.

Of course, some of this seemed to be in doubt following a ‘secret’ security operation on November 11 by Israeli special forces, using a civilian vehicle deep inside Gaza. What was a plan to target and execute a senior Hamas commander was botched – an Israeli officer was killed and another was wounded. Seven Palestinians were killed.

There is speculation in the Middle Eastern press that opponents of the Qatar deal in the Israeli government planned and ordered the Israel Defence Forces operation. Some ministers, including Naftali Bennett, who had strongly criticised the Qatar-Israel-Hamas deal, were happy to see an escalation of the conflict in Gaza. However, three days after the IDF adventure into Gaza, there seems little sign that either side wants a full-scale war at this particular time. A ceasefire was agreed on November 12 and seems to be holding. MBS’s dream of an Israeli-Palestinian war diverting attention from his plight has not materialised.

Meanwhile, Israel’s defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has resigned, labelling the deal with Gaza “a capitulation to terror”.

Iran

Saudi officials have changed their story about the Khashoggi execution so many times that it is difficult to believe anything they say. However, they have consistently denied allegations that MBS played any role in the planning of this political murder. Instead they blame rogue elements, including general Ahmed al-Assiri, who discussed a $2 billion plan with a private intelligence firm to “sabotage Iran’s economy”. During these discussions Assiri is said to have also asked about plans to kill general Qassem Soleimani of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

A few days earlier fresh allegations were made about the kind of activities Saudi publicists are alleged to follow in UK. According to The Guardian, “A UK-based Iranian TV station is being funded through a secretive offshore entity and a company whose director is a Saudi Arabian businessman with close links to the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.”4 Although it is difficult to verify the paper’s claims that bin Salman is the “force behind the TV channel” via his media advisor, Saud al-Qahtani, there is no doubt that Iran International’s relentless promotion of pro-Trump ‘regime change’ groups such as Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) and individuals such as the son of the ex-shah do follow a clear political agenda. The reporter who is associated with the article has faced a barrage of verbal abuse, and threats of legal action, as well as threats to his safety.

Of course, the TV channel is not unique in promoting individuals and organisations who have been emboldened by Trump’s new sanctions. There are many exiled Iranians, including royalists, ‘liberals’ and even some claiming to be on the left who endorse sanctions as a means of achieving regime change. In the last few weeks some of us have tried to balance the situation by writing or speaking against this type of regime change and as a result we are accused of ‘helping the Islamic Republic by criticising its opponents’. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was precisely the reluctance of the Iranian left to expose Ruhollah Khomeini and his brand of Islamic fundamentalism prior to the February uprising of 1979 that led to the nightmare of the religious state. It is a state which claims to be the government of the disinherited, while presiding over one of the most corrupt regimes on earth, where the gap between the rich and the poor is reaching unprecedented levels.

Last week Iranians were treated to an interview with the former shah’s son, Reza Pahlavi, courtesy of Iran International TV. In answer to the sycophantic ‘questions’ that started with praise of the hapless ex-prince, every time he opened his mouth he managed to say something stupid.

In other words, if a section of the al Saud family is behind the funding of this TV station run by exiled Iranians, they are failing badly – every time they promote MEK or Reza Pahlavi, they only manage to strengthen Ayatollah Khamenei and the Tehran regime. As much as Iranians hate the increasingly dictatorial tone of the supreme leader at a time of severe economic crisis – not all of which can be blamed on sanctions – the alternatives presented by US regime change planners are both too stupid and too corrupt to be taken seriously. All of this amounts to yet another setback for MBS and the Saudi royals.

First published in the Weekly Worker

yassamine.mather@weeklyworker.co.uk

Notes

1. www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/12/saudi-arabia-crown-prince-mohammed-wings-clipped-as-khashoggi-death-rattles-riyadh.

2. www.nytimes.com/2018/11/11/world/middleeast/saudi-iran-assassinations-mohammed-bin-salman.html.

3. www.middleeasteye.net/news/saudi-arabia-israel-gaza-khashoggi-1952586885.

4. www.theguardian.com/world/2018/oct/31/concern-over-uk-based-iranian-tv-channels-links-to-saudi-arabia.

Method behind the madness

While the Saudi kingdom’s callous executions must be condemned, Yassamine Mather says Iran’s official protests are sheer hypocrisy

It appears as if the new leaders of Saudi Arabia woke up on the first day of 2016 and thought, ‘How can we make a terrible situation in the Middle East worse than it already is? How can we incite more sectarian violence, start new wars?’ And then they came up with the brilliant idea of executing 47 prisoners. Forty-three Sunni and four Shia prisoners were killed; some were beheaded, others faced a firing squad. Amongst them the country’s top Shia cleric, Nimr Al Nimr, who was injured during the course of his arrest in 2012. Saudi attempts at linking his execution to an anti-al Qaeda, anti-terrorist operation beggars belief. Nimr had been convicted of “sedition, disobedience and bearing arms”. He never denied the political charges against him, however he and his supporters are adamant that he never carried weapons or called for violence.

Robert Fisk is right when he mocks the Saudi kingdom’s election to the UN Human Rights Council in 2013 – with UK help – adding: “Now, only hours after the Sunni Muslim Saudis chopped off the heads of 47 of their enemies, including a prominent Shia Muslim cleric, the Saudi appointment is grotesque. All that was missing was the video of the decapitations – although the kingdom’s 158 beheadings last year were perfectly in tune with the Wahabi teachings of the ‘Islamic State’.”1

However, there was method behind this madness. The second most important prisoner executed on January 2 was Faris Ahmed Zahrani, described by the Saudi media as al-Qaeda’s top religious leader in the kingdom. Saudi Arabian prisoner Adel al-Dhubaiti, who was convicted of the murder of BBC cameraman Simon Cumbers and the attempted murder of BBC correspondent Frank Gardner was among the other prisoners executed by Saudi Arabia. According to the Independent, “Cumber’s parents, Robert and Bronagh, from Navan in County Meath, had previously called on the Saudi Arabian authorities not to execute their son’s killer, adding their son Simon was a pacifist, someone who would not have wanted the death penalty and would have opposed it. We do not want this man to be executed if he is found guilty”, Mr Cumbers said in 2009.

In a country where there is considerable sympathy and support for Al Qaeda and Islamic State, the inclusion of four Shias was aimed at reassuring the Sunni majority in Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries that the rulers were still on their side, that Shia Iran remains the main enemy. The reality is that king Salman, like his predecessors, is far more concerned about the possibility of a Sunni, Salafi rebellion than protests by the Shia minority in the east of the country.

Once the Saudis took this step their Shia counterparts in Iran were bound to react with protests outside the Saudi embassy in Tehran organised by bassij (the state’s right wing militia) but portrayed as a spontaneous outpouring of anger. The response by Iran’s ‘supreme leader’, ayatollah Khamenei, to other ayatollahs, calling for “divine punishment of the house of Saud”, prompted many criticisms inside the country. For the ‘moderate’ reformist opposition, who kept repeating their allegiance to the Islamic Republic but have been badly suppressed in the last 7-8 years, it is inconceivable that Iran would have shown more tolerance than Saudi Arabia towards an opponent calling for “the overthrow of the existing order” – as Nimr Al Nimr did in Saudi Arabia.

The ‘reformist’ leaders of the 2009 protests in Iran, Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, never called for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic; on the contrary, they constantly reiterated their support for the supreme leader; yet they have spent the last 7 years under house arrest, with no trial. In the 37 years since the Islamic Republic of Iran came into existence, anyone who called for the overthrow of the religious dictatorship has faced execution.

Ironically, this week Mansoureh Behkish, the mother of five executed left wing activists, died in Tehran. Her children were all communists, members of Fedayeen Minority, and all executed by Iran’s Islamic Republic. She once said she had spent most of her time outside Iranian jails. So for Iranian clerics, pasdars and bassijis to show anger at political executions in Saudi Arabia is hypocritical. No wonder everyone is talking of the pot calling the kettle black.

As for Nimr’s own credentials, the Islamic Republic might be in denial, but far from being a constant ally of the regime in Tehran, when it came to making deals with the United Sates he showed the kind of pragmatism Shia leaders are famous for. Documents released by Wikileaks show how Nimr courted the Americans, claiming to have nothing to do with Tehran, and was prepared to do a deal in exchange for US support. According to CIA documents released by Wikileaks:

B. 08 RIYADH 1070

Classified By: CG JOHN KINCANNON FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D)

1. (S/NF) SUMMARY: In an August 13 meeting with PolOff, controversial Shi’ite sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr sought to distance himself from previously reported pro-Iranian and anti-American statements, instead adopting a less radical tone on topics such as the relationship between Iran and the Saudi Shi’a, and American foreign policy. Arguing that he is portrayed publicly as much more radical than the true content of his words and beliefs, the Sheikh also espoused other conciliatory ideas such as fair political decision-making over identity-based politics, the positive impact of elections, and strong “American ideals” such as liberty and justice. Despite this more moderate tone, Al-Nimr reasserted his ardent opposition to what he described as the authoritarianism of the reactionary al-Saud regime, stating he would always support “the people” in any conflict with the government.

The CIA background notes on al Nimr are also interesting. He clearly sought to reassure the CIA that he wanted to befriend the US:

In the meeting with PolOff, al-Nimr stated that his fundamental view of foreign powers – including Iran – is that they act out of self-interest, not out of piety or religious commonality. Al-Nimr said he was against the idea that Saudi Shi’ite should expect Iranian support based on some idea of sectarian unity that supersedes national politics.

6. (S/NF) In addition to supporting Iran, al-Nimr’s recent sermons have been laced with anti-American rhetoric, for example that America “wants to humiliate the world.” In this meeting, the sheikh distanced himself from these ideas, saying that he has great affection for the American people. Al-Nimr stated that in his view, when compared with the actions of nations such as Britain, the European colonial powers, or the Soviet Union, the “imperialism” of the United States has been considerably more benign, with better treatment of people and more successful independent states. Al-Nimr said that this was evident in comparing the fortunes of West and East Germany, where the American-supported West was clearly more successful than the Soviet-supported East. The Sheikh also cited Japan as another case of America properly compensating and building a nation. The Sheikh believes that US efforts in the Middle East are also better intentioned than previous imperial powers in the region, but that the US has made tremendous mistakes in Iraq.

The reformist faction of the regime, from president Hassan Rouhani to sections of the ‘soft left’, were unanimous in repeating ad nauseam that the January 2 attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran was a violation of international law. Contrary to the propaganda of more conservative factions of the Islamic regime in Iran, attacking embassies, be it the US embassy in the early years of the regime or the Saudi embassy this week, is neither radical nor is it anti-‘arrogance’ (the Iranian clergy’s term for imperialism).

However the outcry of the opposition is also ludicrous. How can anyone talk of respect for international law when we live in a world where the hegemon power, the US, has broken every aspect of international law, even the basic rules governing military engagement covered by the Geneva convention, during its interventions in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan; when we know from recent history that UK soldiers in Iraq facing war crime charges are unlikely to face any punishment; when we know US and UK security agents who sat through interrogation and torture of Guantanamo prisoners will never face any court?

The whole idea of international law has become a joke, and anyone peddling it is either deluded or dependent on the financial contributions of western powers – a sad reality when it comes to large chunks of the Iranian opposition, including some masquerading as leftwing.

Having said that, the attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran was stupid and irrelevant. At the end of the day it will be the Islamic Republic which will be even more isolated in the region. Already Saudi Arabia and a number of its allies, including Bahrain and Sudan, have broken off diplomatic relations. Senior clerics and pasdar leaders have already started distancing themselves from the Saudi embassy protesters.

Oppose sanctions and military threats on Iran!

 

Sanctions hurt the working masses not the regime
Sanctions hurt the working masses not the regime

The United States and its allies are racketing up the pressure on Iran as they have recently forced the heavyweights of the petrochemical industry Vitol, Glencore, Trafigura, BP and Royal Dutch Shell to end petrol sales to the fifth largest oil exporter. The building, construction and manufacturing £13 billion conglomerate Ingersol-Rand has also ceased business with Iran after threats to its operations by the Obama regime. These ending of contracts or refusing to enter into new terms with companies and the regime in Iran is down to massive U.S. pressure which is now culminating in new legislation that would penalise those companies that supply fuel to Iran. The legislation is an extension of the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 which would include severe and damaging monitoring and interference in trade with Iranian companies and Western businesses. This legislation also includes forced divestment from Iranian operations and interests by companies based or have interests in the United States.

Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and other Arab states have been receiving visits from US and Israeli officials threatening them about the risks they face by doing business with Iran. Brazil’s President Lula defied warnings from U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton on business with Iran as she lashed out at the Brazilian government on her recent trip. Brazilian based companies will no doubt be put under massive pressure by the U.S. Government over the coming months.

Moves in the U.S. are being backed up in Europe and on the U.N. Security Council with only China as the stumbling block in the UN. The French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was reported as being hopeful that new sanctions will be agreed that will target the Revolutionary Guards, Shipping, Banking and Insurance Sectors.  This will no doubt lead to massive job losses and the further impoverishment of the working class.
Iran finds itself in a situation like other natural resource rich former semi-colonies, whilst sitting on one of the biggest known oil reserves in the world, its oil industry is dilapidated and has a fraction of the needed refining capabilities to ensure it can serve its internal market and industry. These sanctions will hold back any expansion in petrochemical industry as well as starving the population of petrol for daily use, further pushing down the living standards of population.

It is essential that the worker’s movement take the strengthening of the sanctions regime seriously. It is a mistake to see sanctions as an alternative to military action. Sanctions are a form of soft war and just like Iraq pave the way to some military action, either through targeted bombings or full scale invasions. The sanctions regime should be seen as a siege tactic to impose hunger, demoralisation an and desperation. Iraq was a perfect example of how sanctions impact on the population, the sanctions regime throughout the 1990’s killed over a million Iraqis and disproportionately children. The U.S. and its allies were hoping for a revolt out of desperation, which never came just like Zimbabwe. Such sanctions strengthen such regimes support base and demobilise the masses as they attempt to live a decent life and feed their families.

Sanctions like a military strike are a disaster to the cause of freedom and democracy. The only force capable of bring about genuine and progressive social change in Iran is the working class. We should also not look to the Iranian regime as a consistent anti-imperialist force not only does it support the puppet governments in Iraq and Afghanistan the theocratic regime supported and welcomed the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. The only real anti-imperialist force is the working class of the Iran and the region. Our line in the UK is clear, our primary target is the British state and it’s allies who are strangling Iran in the run up to military action. We must continue and redouble our efforts to build organic support and solidarity links between the broad labour movement here and workers, youth and women in struggle in Iran.

by Chris Strafford (HOPI Steering Committee)