Category Archives: Qatar

Do You Want to Travel Around the Middle East? Think Twice!

Do you think it is that simple to travel around the Middle East? Think twice!

Ask Palestinians, about trying to get from a point A to a point B in their own nation.

Some time ago, sitting in an old Ottoman hotel in Bethlehem, I asked a waiter what it takes to travel from there to Gaza, where he said, several of his relatives were living. He looked at me as if I had fallen from the Moon:

There is no way I could travel there. If my relatives get very sick or die, then, in theory, I could apply for an Israeli travel permit to go there, but there is absolutely no guarantee that they would approve, or that I could get to Gaza on time…

Israeli wall in Bethlehem

I tried to appear naïve: “And what if someone from an Arab country which does not recognize Israel, wants to come here, to Bethlehem? Like, a Lebanese pilgrim or just a tourist? Could he or she enter from Jordan?”

The waiter weighed for a while whether to reply at all, but then had mercy on me:

West Bank… You know, it only appears on the maps as some sort of autonomous or independent territory. In reality, the borders and movement of the people have been fully controlled by the Israelis.

My friend, a legendary left-wing Israeli human rights lawyer and a staunch Palestinian independence supporter, Linda Brayer, downed another cup of coffee and made several cynical remarks. She was actually illegally ‘smuggled’ by me into Bethlehem. As an Israeli citizen, she was not allowed to enter the West Bank at all, but since I was driving and she was with me, a foreigner, and on top of it she wore a headscarf (she converted to Islam several years earlier), the Israeli soldiers just let us pass without askin too many uncomfortable questions.

Bizarre, disgusting, and even mind-blowing? Not for us who live or operate in this part of the world! All this is by now considered as “business as usual”.

During the last Intifada, I hired a taxi in Jerusalem to the border with Gaza driven by a Russian-Israeli Jew, a student, who literally clashed with a border guard, demanding to be allowed to enter Gaza, in order to “see what my fxxxxing government is doing to the Palestinian people.”

They did not let him into Gaza. They detained him. As a foreigner, I entered. During my work in Gaza, an Israeli helicopter gunship fired at my hired car. It missed… But at least I was allowed to enter and work in Gaza. It is like Russian roulette: sometimes you get in, sometimes you don’t, and no explanations are given.

That was the time when the new Gaza International Airport had just opened. After few days of fighting, the runway was bombed by the Israelis, all flights cancelled, and I had to, eventually make my way out through Egyptian Sinai.

Later, I also witnessed how brutal the Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights has been; how it has divided countless families and communities. People are forced to shout at each other through the Israeli barbed-wire electric fences. The only way for the families to reunite, at least for a day or two, was to somehow get to Jordan.

An Israeli tank being moved towards Syrian Golan Heights

The Syrian Golan Heights used to be famous for its delicious apples and ancient Druze community. It used to attract travelers from all over the world. Now it is occupied by Israel, and it is de-populated and monstrously militarized.

You want to travel there? You cannot; not anymore. It is off limits.

*****

For years and decades, this insanity of travel bans and restrictions, as well as barbed wire and watch towers, has been applying mainly (although not exclusively) to the territories occupied by Israel. However, now almost the entire Middle East is divided by conflicts, insane regulations and travel prohibitions.

Empty Jordan-Syrian border

Unless you are a war correspondent, a Western ‘advisor’, an intelligence agent or a ‘development worker’, don’t even think about going to Iraq. Almost like Afghanistan and Libya, Iraq had been thoroughly wrecked by the Western coalition and its allies. On top of it, to get visa there is now close to impossible. In the recent past, the Westerners flooded Erbil and its surroundings; the main city of what was called, unofficially, ‘Iraqi Kurdistan’. The place used to be governed by the independence-seeking and shamelessly pro-Western ‘elites’, and it used to have its own visa regime. Now even this area is more or less off limits to foreigners.

Syria is still a war zone, although its government, which is supported by the majority of the Syrian people, is clearly winning the brutal conflict ignited and fueled by the West and its ‘client’ states.

Syria used to be one of the safest, the most educated and advanced countries in the region, built on solid socialist principles. It used to have an impressive scientific base, as well as dozens of world-class tourist attractions. Therefore, applying Western imperialist logic, it had to be first smeared, and then attacked and destroyed.

Logically, Syria is not issuing tourist visas to the citizens of the countries that are trying to destroy it.

Next door, Lebanon is still suffering from the flood of refugees, from geographical isolation and from the various dormant and semi-active terrorist cells.

Travelling from Lebanon to Syria is now almost impossible, or at least very dangerous and difficult. Lebanese citizens can still enter, but ‘at their own risk’.

In the not so distant past, people used to drive from Beirut to Europe and vice-versa, via Turkey and Syria. Now this option is just a sweet memory. But then again, in the very distant past, I am often reminded, it was not unusual for the Lebanese middle class to spend a weekend in Haifa, driving their own cars. Now the border between Lebanon and Israel is hermetically sealed. Both countries are technically at war. The U.N. patrols the so-called Blue Line. Apart from drones and Israeli war planes en-route to bombing Syria, nothing can cross.

Turkey building a new huge wall on the Syrian border

All along the Turkish-Syrian border, both sides are suffering. Of course, the Syrian people are suffering much more, being victims of the direct Turkish military adventures. But also Turks are now paying a very high price for the war: they are suffering from terrorist attacks, as well as from the total collapse of trade between the two countries. Many villages around Hatay and Gaziantep are quickly turning into ghost towns.

For instance, cities like Adana in Turkey and Aleppo in Syria used to be connected by motorways, enjoying constant flows of people from both ends. There was bustling trade, as well as tourism, and social visits. Now, Ankara has been building an enormous concrete wall between the two countries. No traffic can pass through the border, except Turkish military convoys.

*****

For years and decades, it has been impossible to enter Saudi Arabia as a tourist. This fundamentalist Wahabbi ‘client’ state of the West simply does not recognize the existence of tourism, or leisure travel. To enter the KSA, it has to be either for business or religious pilgrimage.

With its huge territory, the KSA effectively divides the entire Gulf region, when it comes to transportation and the movement of people. There are some loopholes, and ‘transit visas’ can be obtained (with some luck, difficulties and expense), for instance, for those people driving their own vehicles or taking a bus from Jordan to Bahrain, or to Oman.

Traveling to culturally the most exciting country in the Gulf – Yemen – is now absolutely impossible. Yemen used to be one of the jewels of historic architecture and civilization, counting such cities as Sanaa, Zabid and Shiban. Now the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is occupying the city of Aden and the coast, while Saudi forces are brutally bombing the rest of the country, which is controlled by the rebels.

Then, there is a bizarre conflict which is brewing between Qatar (the richest country in the Gulf with the substantial U.S. military presence as well as huge local business-controlled media conglomerate Al-Jazeera), and several other Arab allies of the West, including Saudi Arabia. Borders are presently closed and insults are flying. There is the growing possibility of a military confrontation. Qatar is being accused, cynically, of ‘supporting terrorism’, as if the KSA was not doing precisely the same.

*****

Flying around the region has become a Kafkaesque experience.

Flight from Doha to Nairobi

All Middle Eastern and Gulf airlines are avoiding Israel. Some fly over Syria but most of them, don’t. The once mighty and now deteriorating Qatar Airways is clearly forbidden to enter the airspace of Saudi Arabia as well as of the United Arab Emirates.

Recently I travelled with Qatar from Beirut to Nairobi, Kenya. It used to be a simple, comfortable commute, which has recently turned into a terrible nightmare. Unable to fly over Syrian and Saudi airspace, a plane has to first fly in totally the opposite direction, northwest, over Turkish airspace, then over Iran, making a huge, almost 90 minutes detour. On the second leg, a trip of less than 4 hours now takes more than 5 hours and 30 minutes! The plane flies directly away from Africa, towards Iran, and then makes a huge loop, avoiding both the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Lebanese MEA (Middle Eastern Airlines) is one of the few airlines that ignores all this, flying directly over Syria, and towards the Gulf states. Most of the others don’t dare. But MEA has to avoid Israeli airspace, making often interesting final approaches to Rafik Hariri Int’l Airport.

The exception is Turkish Airlines which basically flies over everything and into everywhere, including Israel itself.

*****

This essay is not only about the politics and what has led to the present situation, although it is clear that we are talking here, above all, about the neo-colonialist arrangement of the world.

Political nightmare unleashed by the ‘traditional’ Western colonialist powers and their ‘client states’, has led to the geographical divisions; to a perverse state of affairs in this part of the world. Increasingly, the people are losing control over their own nations and the entire region. They have already lost the ability to move about freely through it.

Of course, something similar exists in many other places, including the South Pacific. There, I described the situation in my book Oceania. An entire huge part of the world has been literally cut to pieces by the neo-colonialist powers and their geo-political interests and designs: the U.S., France, Australia and New Zealand have plainly overrun and shackled Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia. A once proud and unique part of the world has been fragmented internally: people are brutally separated and forced to depend almost exclusively on the West.

In the Middle East, divisions, walls and barbed wire, are now everywhere; they are visible to the naked eye, but they are also ‘inside’ peoples’ minds, damaging the human psyche, making dreams of unity and a common future look very unlikely, and sometimes even impossible.

A bridge blown up by ISIS near Mosus, Iraq

This used to be one of the cradles of our civilization – a deep, sane and stunningly beautiful part of the world. Now everything is fragmented. The West rules, mainly through its ‘client’ states, such as Israel, the KSA and Turkey. It controls everything. It governs almost the entire Middle East; nothing moves without its knowledge and permission.

A suicide car bomb near Mosul, Iraq

Yes, nothing and no one moves here, unless it suits the West. We don’t read about it often. It is not discussed. But that is how it is. This bizarre concept of ‘freedom’ implanted from the outside. The rulers who were injected into the Gulf and various other occupied nations. The result is horrid: the electric wires, walls and travel restrictions everywhere; the old pathological British ‘divide and rule’ concept.

*****

As I am working on this essay, my plane which is supposed to be flying south-west, is actually hovering north-east, in order to avoid the airspaces of the various so-called hostile states.

Local people may be getting used to the fact that their part of the world has already been ‘re-arranged’. Or perhaps they have already stopped noticing.

The computer, however, keeps showing the absurd flying path of the airliner. Computers can be programmed and re-programmed, but they cannot be indoctrinated. Without judging, they are simply demonstrating the absurdity that is unrolling around them, on their screens.

• First published in New Eastern Outlook

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

The Coming Break up of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)

Five months after the diplomatic spat between the so-called Anti-Terror Quartet and Qatar kicked-off, the ante is being upped. Bahrain, one of the quartet alongside Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt, has called for Qatar to be frozen out of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). As the council starts to unravel, what will this mean for Qatar and the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region?

The Bahraini proposal, which would have been coordinated with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, to lock Qatar out of the GCC is a logical move in the nearly six-month long siege, with the next potential step the removal of Qatar from the Council altogether.

This unprecedented inter-GCC crisis has led to the biggest divisions within the Council – which consists of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman – since it was formed in 1981.

Qatar leaving the Gulf monarchical club would seriously loosen the threads that bind the GCC together, as the original idea of the Council was proposed by Saudi Arabia as a security pact to make sure any challenges to their respective thrones were quashed. Ironically it was the threat of Islamic extremism that prompted the creation of the GCC, and it is the Anti-Terror Quarter (ATQ) accusing Qatar of funding terrorist groups that is driving the GCC apart.

The spur to form the GCC was the siege of Mecca by radical Saudi Islamists in November 1979. It shook the kingdom to its core for two weeks and nearly lost the Saudis the much coveted, and much abused, title of the ‘Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’. To deal with the domestic threat, Riyadh encouraged Islamists to go and fight with the Afghan mujahideen following the Soviet invasion in December 1979. We all know how that ended: Al Qaeda and its offshoots, 9/11, and blowback for the Middle East and much of the world.

Internal power jockeying among royal family members aside (for instance the Qatari Emir’s father, Hamad, deposed his father, as did Oman’s Sultan Qaboos), the only time the GCC has acted in each other’s defence was not the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991, but the Bahraini uprising in 2011.

Bahrain’s rulers, the Khalifas, might have been dethroned by the mass unrest – the royal family is Sunni, which accounts for around 20% of the population, the remainder Shia – without GCC military intervention.

It was a brutal and blatant example of how far the GCC will go to ensure its self-preservation. At the same time it brought Bahrain even more into the Saudi camp amid the inter-GCC rivalry to be the leader of the Council.

Traditionally it has been Abu Dhabi and Riyadh jockeying for top position, evidenced in neither capital willing to capitulate to the other over the proposed location of a GCC Central Bank when a Gulf Common Market (GCM) was being mooted in 2008.

But the Arab Spring brought the two closer together in the face of a common enemy: populist uprisings.    The relationship has been further cemented by the close ties of the young bucks Mohamad bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohamad bin Zayed.

Qatar, however, did not follow the GCC line, reflecting its assertive foreign policy over the previous decade to steer its own course. This culminated in the UAE, Saudi and Bahrain recalling their ambassadors from Qatar in March 2014 (they did not return until November 2014).

Tensions were ironed out yet not fully resolved, which pointed out some crucial problems within the GCC itself: no framework governing relationships between members, no mechanisms to resolve member disputes, and no GCC court or framework to follow up and back GCC resolutions.

In addition to the lack of such frameworks, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi lacked any leverage over Qatar. With Qatar having a small populace of 350,000 and one of the highest GDPs per capita in the world, Riyadh cannot use cheque book diplomacy as it did with the UAE’s Sharjah in the 1970s, when the penniless emirate was bailed out by Riyadh in return for a greater say in Sharjah’s internal policies, which extended to banning alcohol.

Neither is an uprising in Qatar likely due to its citizens’ wealth, but also the lack of different sects with any grievances that could be externally exploited – the majority are Sunni, of the Wahhabi school, the same as Saudi Arabia – although Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have tried to capitalise this year on tribal divisions to overthrow the Emir. Saudi and the Emirates instead had to resort to infowars to try and bring Qatar to heel.

The Gulf crisis was sparked in May (2017) by the UAE government hacking Qatari government news and social media sites to plant false statements by the Qatari Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. The most damning false statement was that the Emir respected the Iranian government – the arch nemesis of the Sunni Gulf monarchies, especially Riyadh. After all, a second core reason for the GCC’s creation was the Iranian revolution, and the start of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980.

News of the UAE’s hack only came out in July, weeks after the ATQ had cut diplomatic, transport and trade ties with Qatar. The ATQ’s top accusation? Qatar was financing terrorism, sailing too close to the wind with Iran, and pursuing too independent a foreign policy for the ATQ’s liking.

The ATQ, which includes GCC outsider Egypt, has used all the means at its disposal bar military action to try to isolate Qatar. Kuwait has been acting as a moderator between the two sides, while the Sultanate of Oman is trying to sit on the fence. The Sultanate, however, is on good terms with Tehran, and has allowed Qatari planes and ships through its territories to circumnavigate the UAE’s blockade of its territorial waters and airspace. Muscat is effectively distancing itself from the Saudi-UAE dominated GCC.

The split has pushed Qatar further into the arms of the Turks, with whom they have a military pact, and the Iranians; both countries are now major providers of food and other goods to Qatar. Turkey is a crucial ally as it is pro-Muslim Brotherhood, a pan-Arab moderate Islamic party; President Erdogan’s AKP party has championed the Brotherhood while Qatar has allowed both the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliate, Palestine’s Hamas, to operate out of Doha, much to the ATQ’s chagrin.

The Gulf monarchies have long opposed populist Islamic parties – if they could not have some sway over them – fearing any threat to autocratic rule by organisations like the Muslim Brotherhood that have broad appeal with moderate and middle-class Muslims. Hence, Saudi Arabia and the UAE opposed the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood when it came to power in the wake of the 2011 uprising, and supported the 2013 coup by the Egyptian military, which has banned the Muslim Brotherhood, locked up some 60,000 political prisoners, and imprisoned the former president, Mohamad Morsi.

The ATQ have followed Cairo’s lead by designating the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation. It has not stopped there. The UAE has listed 82 organisations it deems terrorists, while the ATQ has published a list of 30 organisations it wants Qatar to expel and stop funding.

With Qatar being a host for Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and, for a spell, the Taliban, they have joined as an outlying member the “Axis of Resistance”, a term spawned following George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech in 2002, to denote the anti-Israeli and anti-US alliance between Iran, Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

The analogy is not quite right, though, in that Qatar opposed the Syrian regime, gets on with Washington, and is not ideologically nor theologically on the side of Shia Iran or Hizbullah. Instead we have a new, loosely linked axis comprised of Qatar, Iran and Turkey that opposes the Saudi-UAE led GCC. It is no longer an ascendant Shia Crescent pitted against the Sunni Arab states as Jordan’s King Abdallah warned of back in 2004, but a more diverse bloc.

What is clear is that a major cleavage has occurred in the MENA, and that there is no turning back by the ATQ or Qatar to resolve the GCC crisis; there has been too much water under the proverbial bridge between the two camps, and the infowar has been both harsh and personal.

The ATQ’s blockade strategy has not worked, as following the 2014 diplomatic spat Qatar prepared contingency plans to weather a potential siege, which the ATQ was seemingly unaware of. The crisis has also caused the Qataris to rally around the flag.

The ATQ is now trying to strip Qatar of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and has compiled dossiers about Doha’s terrorist financing, although it has not released its ‘black book’ over fears Doha will expose the ATQ’s, especially Saudi Arabia’s, involvement with questionable groups (a case of the kettle calling the pot black) despite Mohamad bin Salman’s public statements to “return Saudi Arabia to moderate Islam”.

At present, the ATQ is running out of other options other than a complete divorce if the crisis continues. The step after a Qatar GCC exit, a ‘Qatexit’? Saudi intervention according to analysts, especially if Mohamad bin Salman’s reform plans and Vision 2030 to diversify the economy away from hydrocarbons does not pan out, and the kingdom becomes increasingly cash-strapped due to low oil prices.

Theodore Karasik, a senior advisor at Washington D.C.-based consultancy Gulf State Analytics, posits that Qatar could be brought under Saudi’s umbrella by force to seize the country’s huge gas reserves, the third largest in the world. It could be a Crimea-type scenario.

Who knows, black swan events do occur, and the global powers would vocally oppose such a move but likely not exercise military intervention a la 1991 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. The US troops based in Qatar would just stay in their base; the Trump administration has signalled it has sided with Riyadh, even though the State Department has been more nuanced towards Doha. As for the Turks and the Iranians, they would not want to be brought into a conflagration with Riyadh and the ATQ. That really would tear the MENA apart.

Ultimately, there’s not much to stop a Saudi gas grab. There’s not much desire internationally for yet another Middle Eastern military ‘adventure’ following the debacles in Iraq and Libya, while nobody’s lifted a finger against Saudi Arabia for its war against Yemen. As long as Qatari gas exports remain uninterrupted, the global powers might readily accept a change of management.

That said, such a Saudi move may be far-fetched, but a new GCC without Qatar seems increasingly likely.

Will Qatar replace Saudi Arabia against Myanmar?

In the past, the British have used Islamist extremist terrorism as an instrument to achieve its objectives and now continues with this strategy in South East Asia. In February – March 2017, the King of Saudi Arabia, Salmane had come to Malaysia, to get it ready to play a supporting role in the Rohingya crisis, soon to unfold in Myanmar. However, after President Trump got Saudi Arabia to reverse its strategy in May, noone was prepared to follow through with the preparedness plan when the (...)

Do Unity Moves put Hamas Back in the Driving Seat in Gaza?

Hamas’s offer to submit to a long-delayed reconciliation process with its Fatah rivals signals that the balance of regional forces may be tipping in its favour and against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, analysts say.

Officials from the Palestinian Authority (PA), led by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, are due in Gaza on Monday, for the first time in three years, to test Hamas’s commitment to establishing a unity government.

The first weekly government meeting is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, with an Egyptian delegation overseeing the proceedings.

Hopes are that reconciliation will end a decade of bitter feuding between Hamas and Fatah – and a parallel entrenchment of territorial divisions between Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

Most analysts expect the reconciliation process to fail, as previous attempts have. The biggest stumbling block is likely to be over long-promised elections. Polls suggest that Hamas would win in both Gaza and the West Bank.

Nonetheless, the move is being hailed by PA officials as a victory for Abbas, Fatah’s leader, after he imposed harsh sanctions on Gaza over the summer to punish Hamas for setting up what was viewed as a shadow government there.

Abbas more alone than ever

Abbas’s measures have included cutting electricity to a few hours a day and slashing the salaries of thousands of government workers.

But experts argue that the move towards reconciliation initiated by Hamas puts it – not Abbas – in the driving seat, by helping it find a way out of its regional isolation.

Abbas, by contrast, appears more alone than ever, with no tangible support for his diplomatic campaign for Palestinian statehood from Israel, the US administration or the Gulf states.

“The severity of the measures against Hamas have in a sense backfired on Abbas,” said Nathan Thrall, a Jerusalem-based analyst with the International Crisis Group, a conflict resolution think-tank.

“[The sanctions] frightened everyone by deepening the humanitarian crisis and accelerating the gradual march towards renewed escalation between Israel and Hamas. Egypt had no choice but to react to try forestall another war.”

Thrall said the unpredictable consequences of such hostilities could include Gaza’s Palestinians storming the Rafah crossing into Egypt, or accusations from across the Arab world of Egyptian complicity with Israel.

Cairo has responded in part by easing conditions in Gaza, noted Thrall. It has been supplying fuel to the enclave – with Israel’s quiet approval – in defiance of Abbas’s sanctions.

But Cairo has also appeared ready to give Hamas the leeway necessary to cultivate a range of strategic ties across the region.

Egypt, Hamas have ‘shared interests’

After Abdel Fattah el-Sisi seized power in Egypt in 2013, he sealed off Gaza’s one border with Sinai, effectively joining Israel’s blockade. He justified his tough stance by accusing Hamas of aiding fighters with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) in Sinai and conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s own Islamic movement, to subvert his rule.

Menachem Klein, a politics professor at Bar Ilan University, near Tel Aviv, and an expert on Israeli-Egyptian relations, said Hamas had been gradually winning Sisi’s confidence.

“The politicisation of Hamas has been gaining momentum since it took part in, and won, the 2006 [Palestinian national] elections,” he told Al Jazeera.

He pointed out that Hamas’s revised charter, published in May, had opened the door to further cooperation with Cairo by effectively renouncing the group’s ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Egypt and Hamas have shared interests. Hamas can limit the influence of ISIL in Gaza and ensure [Gaza’s existing ISIL] supporters cannot connect with ISIS in Sinai. In return, Egypt can open the Rafah crossing and break Israel’s closure.”

Mending fences

Egypt’s biggest concession, however, may have been its tacit consent for Hamas to strengthen its ties to other regional actors, putting Abbas further on the back foot.

Thrall noted that, despite Egypt’s oversight of the reconciliation process, Hamas was also renewing its ties to Iran and Syria. Hamas soured relations with both by backing the opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad when the country’s civil war erupted in 2011.

The loss of Damascus as a base has been keenly felt ever since. A Shia axis of Iran, Syria and the Lebanese faction Hezbollah had supplied Hamas with training, weapons and intelligence information.

In a sign of Hamas’s commitment to mending fences, a senior Hamas delegation visited Tehran in August.

Afterwards, Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s leader in Gaza, said the relationship was “returning to what it was in the old days”, adding that Iran was helping with “money and arms”.

It is possible that Hamas’s overtures to Iran and Syria are in part designed to raise the stakes for Egypt, which along with a Saudi-led group of Gulf states, is bitterly opposed to increased Iranian and Shia influence in the region.

“Hamas does not want to have to choose,” Thrall told Al Jazeera. “It wants Egypt and the Gulf’s diplomatic support, but it knows that Iran will offer military backing in a way the Sunni states won’t.”

Parallel reconciliations

Another indication that Hamas is likely to emerge from the reconciliation process strengthened – whether moves towards unity succeed or fail – is the group’s increasingly close ties to exiled Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan.

Dahlan, who is living in the United Arab Emirates, has been seeking a way to get back into the occupied Palestinian territories to challenge Abbas’s leadership, said Diana Buttu, a former adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organization.

“If Dahlan wants to be a player, he can’t remain in exile. He has to come back and portray Abbas as the obstacle – to reconciliation, to solving Gaza’s problems and to developing a proper liberation strategy,” she told Al Jazeera.

Thrall observed that Egypt wanted a twin-track reconciliation – between Hamas and Fatah, and within Fatah, between Abbas and critics such as Dahlan.

But in practice, said Buttu, Egypt has prioritised unity between Hamas and Dahlan, as well as Fatah critics of Abbas. “They have been given a chance to form a common front against Abbas’s rule, to become allies,” she said.

Egypt, along with the Saudi-led Gulf states, she noted, has grown increasingly exasperated by Abbas’s failure to anoint a successor, hold elections and promote a new generation of reformers. Instead, they have helped Dahlan to create a power base in Gaza, allowing him to channel money into the enclave from the UAE.

Dahlan srengthens ties

Dahlan stepped up his efforts last month by launching his own Fatah-Hamas reconciliation programme, distributing $50,000 apiece to families whose loved ones were killed or injured in the clashes in 2007 that removed Fatah from Gaza. The compensation was designed to win him new allies in Hamas and Fatah’s most powerful families.

In late June, Zvi Barel, a leading analyst with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, reported that Egypt, the UAE and Israel were seeking to persuade Hamas to agree to install Dahlan as prime minister of what would effectively become a “state of Gaza”. Dahlan’s loyalists would be in charge of the Rafah crossing into Sinai, and the UAE would finance a power plant.

Dahlan is reported to have ties to both Israel and the United States, as well as Egypt and the UAE, which reportedly view him as the main candidate to succeed Abbas.

According to the Haaretz report, Egypt, the UAE and Israel see Dahlan’s influence in Gaza as a way to weaken Abbas and “neutralise” the roles of Turkey and Qatar. Doha has been helping to finance the enclave’s reconstruction after a devastating military attack by Israel in 2014.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been leading a campaign against Qatar over the summer, accusing it of sponsoring “terror” in the region and being too close to Iran.

Last week, Haaretz military analyst Amos Harel observed that “the UAE is trying to push [Qatar] out of Gaza by spending its own money there”, channelled through Dahlan.

Abbas in the corner

Meanwhile, said Klein, the accommodation between Hamas and Dahlan had freed “Hamas to enlarge its relations with the region. It can build ties to Egypt, UAE and maybe the Saudis – so far they have kept silent. If Hamas can move closer to Egypt, that will calm Saudi concerns.”

As a result, he added, “Abbas has been pushed into the corner.”

Klein said Hamas wanted to extend its rule from Gaza to the West Bank. “Then it can negotiate a long-term interim agreement with Israel – a truce – based on the 1967 borders. It needs Egypt’s help because Egypt can advocate to Europe and the US on its behalf.”

According to Klein, Abbas is now exposed. “He has no Plan B if his diplomatic process for statehood fails. He depends exclusively on US support, and Donald Trump is now in charge. The US president isn’t even ready to cooperate with Europe on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.”

Israel’s response

During his trip to New York for the UN General Assembly last month, Sisi met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reiterate the pressing need for a peace accord.

But Egypt knows no serious pressure can be exerted on Israel for talks unless Hamas and Fatah reconcile. Netanyahu would prefer to keep the focus on Iran rather than the Palestinians, using Abbas’s domestic weakness as a pretext for inaction.

Buttu observed that Israel’s overriding priority was to foil reconciliation and maintain the territorial split between Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

The only capital Israel could extract from unity, she said, would be to discredit Abbas for colluding with “terrorists” and thereby bolster the case that the international community should block funding to the PA – as happened after the last Palestinian elections in 2006, which Hamas won.

“In that situation, the PA will have to focus all its energies on survival and raising money rather than developing a strategy of resistance,” she said.

Buttu added that reconciliation was unlikely to succeed as long there was little collective pressure for it from the Arab world.

“The Arab states are focused on their own narrow interests rather than acting as the champions of the Palestinian cause, as they once did. Their approach now is that the Palestinians should be left to resolve their differences with Israel alone. That deep isolation has left the Palestinian national movement in disarray.”

• First published in Al Jazeera

How CIA and Allies Trapped Obama in the Syrian Arms Debacle

Last week a Trump administration official decided to inform the news media that the CIA program to arm and train anti-Assad Syrian forces had been terminated. It was welcome news amid a deepening U.S. military commitment reflecting the intention to remain in the country for years to come. As my recent article in TAC documented, the net result of the program since late 2011 has been to provide arms to al Qaeda terrorists and their jihadist and other extremist allies, which had rapidly come to dominate the military effort against the Assad regime.

The Trump administration’s decision to acknowledge explicitly its decision to end the program invites a more systematic analysis of why and how such a program, which was so clearly undermining a fundamental U.S. national-security interest, could have gotten started and continue for so long. The preliminary version of the program that began in late 2011 is easier to explain than its more direct form two years later, which had continued (at least formally) until now.

One of the keys to understanding its origins is that the program was launched not because of a threat to U.S. security, but because of a perceived opportunity. That is always a danger sign, prompting powerful national-security bureaucrats to begin thinking about a “win” for the United States. (Think Vietnam and Iraq.)

The opportunity in this case was the rise of opposition protests against the Assad regime in spring 2011 and the belief among national security officials that Assad could not survive. The national-security team saw a shortcut to the goal. Former Obama administration official Derek Chollet recalled in his book The Long Game that Obama’s advisers were all talking about a “managed transition” and urging Obama to publicly demand that Assad step down, according to Chollet. What that meant to Obama’s advisers was bringing pressure from outside, including providing arms to the opposition.

That was wishful thinking not only in regard to the willingness of an Alawite-dominated regime to hand over power to its sectarian foes, but in regard to the assumed Iranian willingness to go along with toppling the regime. Not one of Obama’s advisers had sufficient understanding of regional dynamics to warn the President that Iran would not allow their Syrian ally to be overthrown by an opposition supported by Sunni states and the United States.

But the decisive factor in pushing the administration toward action was the pressure from U.S. Sunni allies in the region—Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar—which began in autumn 2011 to press Obama to help build and equip an opposition army. Turkey was the leader in this regard, calling for Washington to agree to provide heavy weaponry—including anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles—to the rebel troops that didn’t even exist yet, and even offering to invade Syria to overthrow the regime if the U.S. would guarantee air cover.

In the ideology of the national security elite—especially its Democratic wing—regional alliances are essential building blocks of what is styled as the U.S.-sponsored global “rules-based order.” In practice, however, they have served as instruments for the advancement of the power and prestige of the national security bureaucracies themselves. The payoffs of U.S. alliances in the Middle East have centered on the military bases in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar that allow the Pentagon and the military brass to plan and execute military operations that guarantee extraordinary levels of military spending. But enormous Saudi arms purchases and the financing of any covert operations the CIA doesn’t wish to acknowledge to Congress have long been prime benefits for those powerful organizations and their senior officials.

Then CIA Director David Petraeus was particularly interested in ginning up a covert operation to arm and train the Syrian opposition. With the security bureaucracies supporting the allies’ desire to unseat Assad, Hillary Clinton, whose sympathies and political strategy always lay with the war, eagerly took the lead to take the lead in the administration on arming the rebels and calling for a “no fly zone,” which the Turks badly wanted.

Despite this set of interrelated factors pulling the administration toward a policy of regime change, Obama said no to heavy weapons, a no-fly zone, and an official U.S. role in arms supply. What he did agree to, however, was a covert CIA operation designed by Petraeus to load weapons from Libyan government stocks in Benghazi on ships and arrange for them to be shipped to the war zone. It was Obama’s way of placating all of the actors pushing for an aggressive policy of regime change in Syria without being publicly committed to regime change.

That program, which began in October 2011, was halted abruptly by the attack on the embassy annex in September 2012. But by that time the Obama administration already knew that the weapons were falling into the hands of al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise al Nusra Front, as administration official revealed to the New York Times. Meanwhile the Saudis, Turks and Qataris were pushing arms to groups with military arrangements with al Qaeda’s al Nusra Front at a feverish pace, and the Saudis had begun making deals in Eastern Europe for the heavy weapons, clearly intending to equip a large conventional army.

The danger signals of a policy gone horribly wrong could hardly have been clearer. But at that moment in the summer and fall of 2012, Clinton and Petraeus began a new push for the CIA taking on the role of arming its own hand-picked “moderate” groups. Clinton argued in a White House meeting that the United States needed to have “skin in the game” in order to persuade its Sunni allies to steer weapons away from the terrorists.

But Obama fended off that proposal, citing the blowback from the U.S. Afghanistan adventure.  While the debate continued in late 2012 and early 2013, the CIA did a series of studies—evidently ordered by the White House—of past efforts to build up insurgent armies from scratch. The conclusions were not encouraging, as someone defending Obama’s position in the debate leaked to the Times.

But then in early December 2012, Obama made a fatal political error: He introduced a “red line”—the use of a chemical weapon in Syria. Sure enough, within weeks the first rebel allegation of a regime sarin attack was made in Homs. And although the Obama administration quickly investigated and found that it involved tear gas, it was soon followed by a series of new claims of regime chemical attacks in March and April 2013, in which the evidence was very murky at best.

Of course, Obama’s national security team, in concert with the Sunni allies, pounced on the opportunity to push even harder for a new U.S. program of direct military aid to the “moderates.” Obama sought to avoid being sucked deeper into the Syria conflict; the administration even got the intelligence community to issue an unusually inconclusive intelligence finding on the alleged chemical weapons attacks in late April.

But for a second time, Obama also agreed to a CIA program of helping to arm the anti-Assad forces; it was a way of placating his own national security apparatus and U.S. allies while avoiding an open commitment to the war. And when nothing happened in the secret program for weeks, Obama’s national security team used an alleged crisis in the war to tighten the pressure on him to move more decisively. Secretary of State John Kerry and unhappy CIA officials arranged for a rebel commander to call into a White House meeting with the claim that Syrian and Hezbollah forces were threatening to bring about the collapse of the entire anti-Assad war.

Kerry warned that Obama would be blamed by U.S. allies for the outcome and proposed missile strikes on Assad’s forces. Within days, the White House ordered a new intelligence assessment that expressed “high confidence” that the Syrian regime had used sarin repeatedly and immediately made its conclusion public. And simultaneously the White House announced publicly for the first time that the U.S. would provide direct assistance to the opposition and leaked it to the Timesthat it would involve military assistance.

So at the very moment when Washington should have been exerting pressure on its allies to stop pouring arms into an anti-Assad war that was systematically building up al Qaeda’s power and influence in the country, the Obama administration was caving in to those allies. The reason was simple: Powerful national security bureaucracies were threatening to blame Obama for the failure of their heroic effort to save the anti-Assad war.

The lesson of the entire affair is clear: A malignant alliance between powerful national security bureaucracies and the Middle Eastern allies with whom they enjoy mutually profitable relations are pressuring the White House to approve actions that threaten the real interests of the American people—including strengthening terrorists. The only way to reverse that situation is to direct public attention to that malignant alliance of interests, which has thus far gotten a free ride.

• First published in The American Conservative

Saudi Arabia: The Tragedy of the “Ships of the Desert”

After his visit to the Kingdom in May, Donald Trump decided to back the Saudi-led blockade of tiny Qatar (2015 population 2.235 million, but just 313,000 citizens) imposed less than a month later.

The siege was also joined by Bahrain, Doha, the Maldives, the UAE – Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain. It was quickly pointed out that:

(The) US President has long history of lucrative investment deals with Saudi Arabia but few ties to the small Gulf nation.

Trump’s financial bounties from Saudi “… includes the purchase of tens of millions of dollars in Trump’s real estate properties by wealthy Saudis over the years.”

Moreover:

In 1995, when Trump was struggling to make payments on one of his most important New York properties, the landmark Plaza Hotel, it was (Saudi) Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who came to his rescue … In 1991, bin Talal also bought a huge (282-foot) yacht, the Trump Princess, from creditors at a time when Trump’s other big venture, the Atlantic City casinos, were under pressure.

In fact, it was far more than mere “pressure.” In July 1991 the Trump corporation-owned Taj-Mahal casino, the world’s largest, filed for bankruptcy.

So, seemingly keen to back up benefactors and apparently unknowing and uncaring of even major regional complexities, it is unlikely Donald Trump had camels on his mind.

Ironically the stated reason for the potentially crippling embargo – Qatar imports almost everything – is the accusation of support for extremism, an allegation which has been leveled, with documentation, at both Saudi and the US in orders of magnitude. Another demand is that Qatar ends an independent minded foreign policy. As Newsweek puts it (22nd June 2017):

What Saudi and its allies are trying to do is increase the costs on Qatar for its actions, hoping that it will realign its policy with those of the GCC.

The conflict between Qatar and its neighbours dates back to the Qatari desire for political relevance in the late 90s and early 2000s. It engaged with Israel, Hezbollah, and Iran, when its neighbors could not, and carved out a niche for itself as an arbiter and link between international powers and … groups that no one else wanted or had the capacity to deal with.

Even the United States saw value in this role, asking the Qataris to liaise with the Taliban during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

Now the US, back-stabber in chief, has stabbed again.

In wars, embargoes and disputes affecting borders, animals too are often victims, if ignored and forgotten ones. Also forgotten are Trump’s repeated campaign commitments that the US would no longer murderously meddle in policies in far away places. Indeed, the Brookings Institute went as far as to call him an “isolationist”, a position they hold, he had adhered to since nearly thirty years ago when he spent $95,000 on a full page advertisement in the New York Times expounding on those views.1

How quickly he changed “beliefs” of decades and avowed commitments. For example, a recent headline read:

It Took Obama More Than Two Years to Kill This Many Civilians. It Took Trump Less Than Six Months.

The sub-heading was:

Civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria from coalition strikes were roughly eighty per month during the Obama White House, compared to roughly three hundred and sixty per month during Trump’s administration.

With such disregard for human life, camels, if they have ever even registered as existing in his seemingly gnat-like attention span, don’t stand a chance.

An emaciated camel receives some of the emergency supplies delivered by Doha (Source: The New Arab)

With the imposition of the embargo the Saudi government expelled the Qatari owners of more than fifteen thousand camels and ten thousand sheep, with nine thousand camels reportedly expelled in just thirty-six hours.

Qatar, just 4,414 sq. miles, had arrangements to use the vast spaces of neighbouring Saudi (830,000 sq. miles) for grazing, explained the Daily Mail further:

‘Camel owner, Hussein Al-Marri, from Abu Samra, said:  I have returned from Saudi Arabia. I myself saw more than 100 dead camels on the road as well as hundreds of lost camels and sheep.’

Another farmer recounted: “I lost fifty heads of sheep and five camels and there are ten missing. I do not know anything about them.”

Video footage shows animals “herded into huge pens after restricted border opening hours meant only a few hundred could cross each day, and many died of thirst or untreated injuries.  Heartbreaking footage showed animals succumbing to the harsh conditions, including one female camel which died while giving birth.”

Local reports recount “as many as one hundred baby camels died during the arduous journey back to Qatar.”

Another camel owner described these great, graceful “ships of the desert” as exhausted and confused, not knowing which way to go in temperatures of 50 degrees C – 122F.

Farmers recounted that without the intervention of the Qatari government the plight of the animals could have been worse. The Environment Ministry provided emergency shelter on the Qatari side of the border with water tanks and food for more than eight thousand camels. Veterinarians and animal experts were also provided.

The speed of the expulsion left farmers with huge logistical problems, with camels lost, their owners not knowing whether they were dead or alive.

Camel owner Ali Magareh spoke for many: “We just want to live out our days, to go to Saudi Arabia and take care of our camels and go back and take care of our family … We don’t want to be involved in these political things.”

A spokesperson for international animal charity SPANA told the paper:

All too often around the world, working animals and livestock become the forgotten victims of conflict and political disputes.

It’s also important to remember that the communities that depend on working animals worldwide are usually the poorest in society – these animals are often all they have and are absolutely crucial to their livelihoods.

50,000 Qatari camels remain in Saudi Arabia. The outcome of their fate remains unknown.

There is a poignant irony at this treatment of the camels by Saudi Arabia, custodian of the two holiest sites in Islam, Mecca and Medina. When the Prophet Muhammad left Mecca for Medina he allowed his camel to roam, deciding that where she stopped to rest would determine where he would make his home.

He is buried in the city’s great al-Masjid an-Nabawi (“the Prophet’s Mosque.”)

In the Qur’an the 17th verse of the Chapter Al-Gashiyah asks: “Do they not look at the Camels, how they are made?” It is explained that as the wonder of all creatures, the camel is created with many characteristics and then placed on earth as a sign of the uniqueness of the Creator and Creation. The camel gifted with superior physical features, to survive the harshest of climates and conditions, has been given to the service of mankind.

Mankind, however, has the responsibility to recognize, respect, all miracles of creation throughout the universe.

It has to be wondered if the custodians of the holy cities, ruling from Riyadh, are as forgetful of the inherited holy tenets as those in Washington are unknowing and uncaring.

Camels in the desert near the Saudi border, Qatar, July 15, 2017 (Source: Global Research, Michel Chossudovsky)

Global Research’s Professor Michel Chossudovsky has just returned from Qatar, where he recorded camels in the barren, vegetation-less desert a short distance from the Saudi border. He comments with bitter irony:

The Saudis expulsed them on the pretext that, even those born in Saudi Arabia, did not have the right of abode, they are non-residents in the KSA (Kingdom of Saudia Arabia.)

They are stateless and the camels are now applying to UN for the relevant docs which will enable them to stroll through the Qatari desert where there is absolutely nothing to eat, since they are not allowed to go back to the KSA.

So far, Washington has not demanded a wall be built.

• First published in Global Research

  1. Brookings.edu, 24th March, 2016.

Trump’s Embrace of the Saudi Crown Prince, and a Qatar Nightmare Scenario

The failure of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in four-day talks with the Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and a Kuwaiti official, to mediate an end to the inter-Arab dispute over Qatar, suggests that U.S. influence in the Middle East is waning. Even in the wake of the most recent massive Saudi arms deal announced during Trump’s visit to Riyadh on June 5, and the president’s receipt of the King Abdulaziz al Saud Collar, Washington is unable to dissuade its “enduring partner” from its highly rash course of action.

The New York Times reports that Tillerson flew out from Jiddah Wednesday night “without even attempting the usual tight-smiled announcements of incremental progress.” Maybe because there was none.

The Saudis, along with their Egyptian, UAE, and Bahraini allies, are determined to ostracize and isolate Qatar. Not for the stated reason—repeated by  a clueless Donald Trump on June 9—that Qatar supports terrorism.

Trump, claiming credit for leading the effort, declared, “The nation of Qatar, unfortunately, has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level.” He claimed (alluding to his Saudi visit) that “nations came together and spoke to me about confronting Qatar over its behavior… I decided, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, our great generals and military people, the time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding—they have to end that funding, and its extremist ideology in terms of funding. Do we take the easy road or do we finally take a hard but necessary action? We have to stop the funding of terrorism.” This is bullshit. It rests upon the Saudi and Egyptian assumption that tolerating the Muslim Brotherhood, allowing media criticisms of Gulf Cooperation Council regimes, and refusal to condemn Hizbollah all constitute support for terrorism.

The real reason for the pressure on Qatar is Iran, and the Saudis’ long term campaign to undermine the Islamic Republic and its Shiite allies and “proxies” (real or imagined) in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere in the region. Riyadh is concerned about the prospects of Shiite rebellion within the Saudi Arabia itself, where over 10% of the population are Shiites oppressed by Wahhabi rule; and in Bahrain, where 70% are Shiites, ruled by an absolute monarch who shares the Saudis’ Wahhabi Islam.

Young Crown Prince Salman clearly feels he has received the green light from Trump to lead, in tandem with Egypt, an anti-Iranian coalition. (The NYT states: “Part of the reason a deal could not be reached…is that the president’s embrace for King Salman…is thought to have given the kingdom the confidence to start and then stick by the embargo regardless of Tillerson’s increasing urgent and frustrated feelings.” ) This anti-Iran effort requires the ostracizing of Doha, and its expulsion from the Gulf Cooperation Council, unless it accepts a list of non-negotiable demands (including the closure or complete reorganization of the Qatar-based al-Jazeera news network which sometimes reports critically on the countries now targeting Qatar).

This rupture among some of its closest Mideast partners is most certainly not in Washington’s interests. Qatar hosts 11,000 U.S. troops at Al Udeid Air Base. This is the largest concentration of U.S. forces in the region. Bahrain meanwhile hosts the Fifth Fleet, with 5,000 U.S. sailors and Marines in port at any time. It’s awkward for the two countries to be at odds with one another. And it’s embarrassing for the U.S. to be so conspicuously unable to reconcile its allies. What if the crazed and vicious Saudi prince, who has unleashed pure hell on neighboring Yemen with unqualified U.S. support, were to call Trump at 4 A.M. sometime soon, and ask what he thought about a Saudi annexation of Qatar, in order to fight terrorism?

He might remind Trump, or inform him for the first time, that Saudi Arabia intervened in Bahrain in March 2011 to aid the Sunni king in suppressing Shiite protests. So there is successful precedent.

Trump—fondly remembering that sword dance with the king—just might say, sounds good to me, I just need to check with my generals since we have troops there as I recall. The prince would say, “The troops can stay, of course. And we will pay all their expenses from this point. We will hurt Iran and its terrorist allies in the region.”

Later that morning Tillerson and Secretary of “Defense” James Mattis will perhaps say: “No, Mr. President, this is not a good idea. Congress will surely react with horror, and attempt to sanction Saudi Arabia. You’re already in deep political danger. Siding with the one country in the world that doesn’t allow women to drive against a neighbor that has a far more liberal culture and civil society does not look good politically, even if the latter does have a cordial relationship with Tehran. It would be a hard sell, and very much complicate the already difficult relationship with Turkey, a NATO member and also a Doha ally. The Europeans would be very upset.” Donald will listen, frown, and maybe nod his head in apparent understanding.

But let’s say the prince calls back mid-afternoon and Trump, preoccupied with Junior’s situation—and disregarding advice as he often does, and being impulsive as he often is—says: “Well, you gotta do what you gotta do, I guess. Just don’t attack our base. Say hello to your dad, he’s doing a terrific job.”

Then the chaos unleashed by George W. Bush in 2003 will enter a new stage. Turkey, which has troops stationed in Qatar and has offered assistance to Doha to cope with its current difficulties, will perhaps break ties with Riyadh and draw closer to Iran. Iran may move to seize control of the Persian Gulf oil field jointly owned by Qatar and Iran. Trump will declare the Saudi-Egyptian led war on Iran a war against terrorism and the Iranian nuclear threat. Pandora’s box has been open for many years now, and the hope that remained in the box may have escaped by now too.

The Rise and Rise of the Regime Renovators (Another Splendid Little Coup)

It has been a splendid little war, begun with the highest motives, carried on with magnificent intelligence and spirit, favored by that Fortune which loves the brave.

US Secretary of State John Hay, defining the Spanish-American War of 1898, in a letter to Theodore Roosevelt, July 27 of that year, the war ushering in America’s Imperial era and unequivocally heralding its hegemonic ambitions.

…I’ve seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate [people]….[We’re there] to conquer, not to redeem. It should be our pleasure and duty to make people free, and let them deal with their own domestic questions their own way….I’m opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.

Comments by Mark Twain, anti-imperialist, reflecting on the real objectives of America’s war with Spain.

War is the continuation of politics by other means…

Carl von Clausewitz, Prussian general, military theorist

Politics is the continuation of war by other means…

—  Michel Foucault, French philosopher, social theorist

Synopsis

For those Americans au fait with their country’s fondness for engineering coups, ousting democratically elected leaders, and interfering in the political affairs of other nations – to all intents the perennial bedrock principle of U.S. foreign policy — Iran is a well-documented exemplar. Given the supreme ironies inherent in the political imbroglio in the U.S. attending Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential elections, along with America’s resolve to seek once again regime change in Russia’s ally Iran, it’s timely we revisit this slice of history. Doing so presents us an opportunity to view the so-called ‘Russia-gate’ furore, the Iran regime change ambitions, and the increasingly bloody war in Syria –- itself an ally of both Russia and Iran — within a broader, more nuanced historical context. From there we might derive a more informed perspective on the contemporary geopolitical zeitgeist and the hegemonic forces that have fashioned it. And attending that deeper perspective should be a sure sign of the existential dangers for civilization and humanity at large of allowing our leaders in the West to continue down this path unchallenged, one that is as well-worn as it’s fraught with peril.

In Regime Change, We Trust

For those folks with the requisite sense of irony and historical perspective, many will be rolling their eyes at the rampant hysteria over the as yet evidence-free accusations of interference by Russia in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Which is to say, one of the manifest realities attending this latest Beltway blockbuster soap opera is that of America’s own track record of interference in the affairs of other countries, comprising as it does so many forms. I say “realities” rather than ironies here as “irony” almost by definition is infused with a measure of nuance and subtlety, neither of which could it be said are in abundance in this utterly contrived, self-serving political fracas. (For a further measure of just how “contrived” and “self-serving” it is, see herehere, here, and here.)

Insofar as Russia’s alleged meddling in U.S. politics goes and the animus that attends the hysteria, as Oliver Stone discovered during his recent appearance on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert – itself hot on the heels of his much publicised four hour meet ‘n greet with Russian president Vladimir Putin wherein it was earlier raised – he was at pains to impress upon his host that Israel had a much bigger case to answer than did Russia.

Of course, Stone was on the money here. The unalloyed reality of the power and influence that Israel exerts within and across the morally and ethically desertified landscape that is the nation’s capital is a given, with the Middle East’s only ‘democratic’ settler-colonizer apartheid regime leaving few stones unturned – and exhibiting little discretion and subtlety but equal parts chutzpah and subterfuge — in how it wields then leverages that influence to its advantage and against the interests of its principal patron and benefactor.

But that’s clearly a narrative that doesn’t bode well in the Beltway at the best of times, and more rational, clear-eyed folks know the reasons why. For one, the corporate media, for the most part doesn’t entertain such verities. Even if they were inclined, the omnipotent Israel Lobby would cut them off at the knees. And for his part, the ever-smarmy Colbert, presumably aware which side his bread is buttered on, was reluctant to take Stone’s bait, much it seemed to his interviewee’s frustration.

Beyond just interfering in U.S. politics, along with the parent Empire la perfide Albion, one of America’s steadfast partners-in-crime in the regime renovation business are the ubiquitous and iniquitous Israelis, an observation underscored by Against our Better Judgment author Alison Weir on her blog If Americans Knew. Long targeted by Israel, for Weir, Iran especially provides an instructive example herein. With the Saudis as back-up, it is Israel — ably supported by its Praetorian Guard AIPAC and its ilk along with its shills in Congress – that’s been the hard-core driver of Washington’s seemingly irrational animus towards all things Iran. Along with underscoring Israel’s clout in Washington, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2015 Congressional dog ‘n pony show fiercely opposing the Iran Nuclear agreement then being negotiated by the Obama administration provides some of the best evidence for this.

And indeed, it’s another of Washington’s worst best-kept secrets that – the nuclear agreement aside — Iran remains a high priority on the ‘to do’ list for the Regime Renovators. (See also herehere, and here.) In addition to the relentless propaganda campaign pursued by Israel the aim of which is to paint Iran as the existential threat du jour, despite the fact that U.S. intelligence agencies and others in the know don’t support the allegations about its mythical nuclear weapons program, Weir had the following to say:

Israel and the U.S. deployed a computer virus against Iran in what’s been called the world’s first digital weapon. Iranian nuclear physicists [were] assassinated by Israel, and the U.S. instituted a blockade against Iran that caused food insecurity and mass suffering among the country’s civilians. (Such a blockade can be seen as an act of war.) Democratic Congressman and Israel partisan Brad Sherman admitted the objective of the sanctions: “Critics of sanctions argue that these measures will hurt the Iranian people. Quite frankly, we need to do just that.”

Most folks then who don’t dine out on the McDonald’s (‘would you like lies with that?’) media diet that is the corporate news are as well aware of Uncle Sam’s recidivistic predisposition towards meddling in the affairs of other nations, engineering coups and colour revolutions, and ousting democratically elected leaders as they are of the bespoke misinformation and disinformation – the ‘real’ fake news – that’s tailored to suit the official narrative that goes with it.

Along with the ongoing Syrian War, the 2014 Ukraine coup is one of the most egregious, more recent examples of this, with again Stone’s confab avec Putin providing an alternative perspective on both counts. Yet even here the majority of Americans would attribute the Ukraine crisis to “Russian aggression” and the Syrian War largely to Bashar Assads ‘despotism’; it’s simply what they are told by the MSM, and insofar as they’re concerned [they] have little reason to doubt this. Much the same goes for the Iran WMD narrative, despite the fact that we’ve heard that one before with Iraq around fifteen years ago.

And all of this mayhem and chaos is premised on exporting freedom, democracy, justice, liberty, human rights, and the rule of law, all of the things that America is purportedly so accomplished in embracing on the home front, albeit more so in the breach than in the observance. What makes U.S. transgressions so much more brazen in this respect is the hypocritical, fraudulent and existentially dangerous nature of the umbrage and pique being directed towards countries like Iran, Syria and, especially Russia and China.

And what makes the righteous animus being served up to the latter nations in particular so frightening and so portentous is that it’s wholly reminiscent of the hegemonic mindset directed towards Germany by the high-minded mandarins of the British Empire in the two decades leading up to the War to End all Wars. By 1914, even for that small cohort of folks who might’ve smelt the imperial rat, it was too late, of course, for them and for so many others. In this few other imperially motivated gambits have been more consequential or more far-reaching across time and space, a conclusion we can safely draw with all the benefit one hundred plus years of hindsight brings.

As for today’s “cohort” of news consumers, it is much the same: Such awareness is embraced only by a small minority of people with most blissfully ignorant of their country’s inability or unwillingness to, well, mind its own bloody business. They are as equally oblivious to the economic, social, physical and political havoc, mayhem, and destruction it creates in the process, sometimes catastrophically so. Whilst the events of 9/11 might’ve otherwise provided a visceral reality check in this regard for most Americans of the blowback that frequently attends its own country’s meddling, very few would’ve been prepared or motivated to engage in any ‘cause and effect’ reflection therein, much less act in sync with that.

Yet we might opine here that given the frenzied state of America’s own internal affairs – to say nothing of the hysterical incoherence and farcical irrationality of the public discourse that has seemingly become a permanent fixture of U.S. political and media forums, the Russia-gate affair being all the evidence ones needs to underscore this – there’d be numerous benefits to be gained from doing just that. Minding its own “bloody business” that is.

And let there be no mistaking it, what an assuredly “bloody business” regime renovation is. For the ‘cognitive dissidents’ disbelieving or doubtful of the extent or measure of this geopolitical mischief, in a recent PressTV interview focusing on America’s history of interfering in Iran’s political affairs in particular, former NSA intelligence linguist Scott Rickard is one amongst many of his professional ilk who dispels such scepticism or uncertainty with unadorned veracity:

[Americans] have been probably one of the most notorious nations behind the United Kingdom in manipulating not only elections but also overthrowing governments around the world for decades.

As Rickard observes, to this day the U.S. continues nation-building in other states, sells weapons in massive scales, and pours bombs on other nations in order to ‘carry out its regime-change policy throughout the world.’ This, to say little of the proxy wars and false-flag events to which errant countries are subject (such as in Syria), psy-ops and the like (in Venezuela), and the economic sanctions frequently applied by Washington, of which both Russia and Iran to this day are also subjected to, and which themselves are often part of the arsenal used against countries not complying with Washington’s diktats. On the latter, it’s enough to recall how the sanctions imposed during the 90s against Iraq after the Gulf War under the Clinton administration played out. For confirmation of this, one only needs ask Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton’s then Secretary of State, who in a ‘Kissingeresque’ display of imperial hubris as pitiless as it was asthma-inducing, averred [that], “[yes, we think] it was worth it”.

To be sure then, Uncle Sam’s “track record’ in this respect is as well documented and [as] well known as it’s abhorred by most commentators in the alternative media space and their more enlightened readers. At the same time it’s one subject that doesn’t raise an eyebrow much less a mention from those in the mainstream media (MSM) universe, no matter how pertinent it might be to the narrative in hand. It’s another of what I’ve come to calling the ‘no-fly-zones’ of conventional political discourse and public debate. Given the degree of complicity of the corporate media in facilitating these coups, proxy wars, false-flag attacks, and colour revolutions, then camouflaging them as something entirely different from what they really represent is, whilst reprehensible and indefensible, understandable.

Kermit’s ‘Sesame Street’ Coup

Interestingly, Rickard’s remark was prompted by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s most recent statements about the U.S. seeking regime change in Teheran as all but a matter of public policy with marginally less fervor than they are accusing Moscow of meddling in their own democratic processes in last year’s election.

Again, for those folks “in the know”, the very mention of the words “regime change” and “Iran” in the same breath will also summon pronto a profound sense of déjà vu. As with the little known 1975 Australian coup (the details of which to be unveiled in a future ‘episode’ of The Regime Renovators), it was Britain (MI6) and the U.S. (the CIA) in a tag team play that cut its teeth in a joint-venture partnership back in Iran in 1953.

Now the much-cited Iran experience is worthy of deeper exploration, if only because this exercise in regime change later turned out to be doubly ironic in a ‘reap what you sow’ kinda way, but not necessarily as the received wisdom would have us believe. We’ll return to this point shortly, but for context and perspective, the 1953 Iran adventure again begs for another trip down memory lane, especially given all the chatter about the U.S returning to the ‘scene of the crime’.

Placing to one side an early dress rehearsal in Syria in 1949, the 1953 Iran coup was the first post-War exercise in regime renovation upon the part of Anglo-American alliance — one which officially at least was only just admitted to by the CIA after decades of not so plausible denial – when they successfully conspired to relieve the democratically elected prime minister of Iran Mohammad Mosaddegh from the burdens of power. The CIA and MI6 jointly embarked on a plan to stage a coup that would ensure that the West maintained control over the country’s vast oil reserves (shades of things to come). This coup is widely believed to have provided the ‘business model’ and the bravado for future coups by the CIA during the Cold War, including in Guatemala in 1954, the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1961, and the ill-fated attempted coup in Cuba at the Bay of Pigs (BOP) in 1961, where the renovators’ business model came spectacularly unstuck.

In true CIA custom, in Iran not everything went according to plan. The man who would be Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, by all accounts something of a reluctant usurper, succumbed to ‘stage fright’ at the eleventh hour and did an unexpected runner to Italy. But the CIA quickly recovered its composure and schlepped their ‘under-study’ back in time for the opening night curtain raiser of the new regime. For both the CIA and the Shah, who went on to rule his country with an iron, bloody fist avec unerring American support for almost twenty-five years, in true show business fashion, everything was ‘all right on the night’; the Shah’s show went on to enjoy an extended run with generally positive reviews.

(That most of these “reviews” were written by the Iranian intelligence agency SAVAK, the Shah’s political and security muscle throughout his ‘regime’, is axiomatic, especially since writing was apparently one activity SAVAK agents both excelled at and enjoyed. Their torture manuals were as notorious for their meticulously detailed brutality as for their invention.)

Interestingly, the CIA’s Iranian operation was directed by none other than Kermit (Kim) Roosevelt, the grandson of former Republican president Teddy Roosevelt (he of the “walk softly, carry a big stick” fame), and a not too distant cousin of former Democratic president Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR). At the time Roosevelt was the senior spook in The Company’s Middle-East station (he’d been recruited by no less a personality than Frank “The Mighty Wurlitzer” Wisner), and was their point man on the ground in overseeing the Iranian adventure, dubbed Operation Ajax. Despite his name, for Teddy’s ‘grand-sprog’ this was no Sesame Street romp. No sirree, Bob! This was serious spy shit.

Notwithstanding the apparent success of the mission, the coup was to have profound, far-reaching, and plain scary, geopolitical, economic and national security consequences for the US and the West in general. For starters just ask Jimmy Carter for further confirmation of this, and for any still standing and in control of their metacognitive faculties, go from there president by president! (Although the execrable Albright sort of apologised to Iran in 2000 – possibly the closest thing to a mea culpa ever offered by the U.S. for their wayward imperial ways – it didn’t apparently count for much.)

Yet one of the most enlightening revelations about Kermit’s coup was the following. In his must-read book a Century of War, Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order, F William Engdahl recounted the less familiar story that the demise of the Shah (aka the ‘Peacock Potentate’) was engineered by the same forces that brought him into power in the first place. As we know this went on to produce sizable blowback for the U.S. with the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The much reviled Shah had for a variety of reasons outlived his usefulness, with the onset of the 1979 oil crisis presenting said forces both the ideal opportunity and pretext – albeit according to Engdahl, one largely manufactured in this case — to proceed to the next phase of their (ahem) Persian renovation project.

From this then we might safely deduce the subsequent ‘79 Revolution, the storming of the U.S. embassy in Teheran, along with the kidnapping of the embassy personnel (a world changing event by any measure), was not what many have deemed an organic — nor an entirely predictable — development for those who’d decided the Shah has passed his use by date. Moreover, the reality (there’s that word again) of ‘client-dictators’ overstaying their ‘welcome’ will be one familiar to ‘buffs’ of Uncle Sam’s regime change history, with the removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2002, again on prefabricated pretexts and for not dissimilar reasons, providing a most consequential exemplar thereof.

According to the author, in 1978 President Carter named diplomat George Ball to head a White House task force under the direction of Carter’s national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, the proud, now recently departed, father of Islamic terrorism and patron saint of jihadists. In doing so, Carter effectively gave Brzezinski the nod on opening another Pandora’s Box in the Greater Middle East, and as the Law of Moral Causation (trade name: ‘karma’) would have it, [this] brought about the president’s own political demise. As Engdahl explains it:

Ball recommended Washington drop support for the Shah and support the fundamentalist Islamic opposition of Ayatollah Khomeini…and the CIA led a coup against the man their covert actions had placed into power 25 years earlier. The coup against the Shah, like that against Mossadegh in 1953, was run by British and American intelligence, with the bombastic Brzezinski taking public ‘credit’ for getting rid of the ‘corrupt’ Shah, while the British characteristically remained safely in the background.

When You’re on a Good Thing (Stick to the Knitting)

Notwithstanding the blowback from the 1953 Iran coup and the later blowback from the removal of the Shah over a quarter century later, little has changed. The disastrous Bay of Pigs operation in 1961 and the subsequent, near catastrophic Cuban Missile Crisis the following year deriving from the failure of even that monumentally inept regime change manoeuvre evidently provided few lessons for the Renovators then or their political progeny since. At the same time it underscored in effect what had become the bedrock principle of American foreign policy and Great Power Projection. Which is to say, for its part the U.S. still engages in this tried and true, one-size-fits-all foreign policy gambit, bringing to mind that old adage ‘when you’re on a good thing, stick to it!’

Whilst the motivations for the Iranian coup were nominally economic (the government of the time was making noises about nationalizing the Iranian oil industry), there was also the strategic geopolitical considerations in the U.S. that Iran might come within the sphere of Soviet influence, thereby severely limiting the West’s hegemony in the region, an outcome one imagines would’ve delivered an unacceptable blow to America’s still incipient imperial id.

There was also a certain amount of fear that Iranian communists might gain control of the political situation, or even that the Soviets might overtake the country, either the stuff of American and British nightmares or over-egged paranoia. Certainly the Americans were never too keen on the Soviets crashing their party anywhere, especially so in this region. Like the British before them, the U.S. has always been quite territorial about other people’s territory, especially when said “territory” involved oil, or any other strategic commodity or geopolitical consideration. Whether this fear was rational given the reality at the time and the available intelligence is a subject many still debate.

As we’ve seen with this and so many others, the reasons for the coup were fueled less by the ostensibly lofty ideological concerns related to the Cold War (freedom versus tyranny anyone?) than they were to less lofty considerations such as greed, self-preservation and national pride and one or three other Deadly Imperial Sins. To be sure it seems reasonable to assume that the Soviets – cunning devils that they were – were ‘geeing’ the Iranians up to nationalize their oil industry in order to put the wind up the British and the Americans in turn. It’s clear now that the CIA and the British, along with their fellow travelers in the then (Harry) Truman administration in the years leading up to the coup, were leveraging the Cold War sentiment of the time in order to camouflage the real reasons for seeking regime change in Iran (shades of things.)

At all events, then president Truman evidently saw the Iranian plot coming from the bottom of the ‘too-risky’ basket and didn’t drag the chain on rejecting it. Whatever his achievements, for his part the former failed Missouri haberdasher was always going to be known as the man who nodded the dropping of the Big Ones on Japan, and rarely demurred in claiming the bragging rights. Now whether he was right or wrong in doing this is a ‘what-if’ moment for another time, but insofar as the Iran “moment” went, for this reason he might’ve had a keen eye on how said ‘mo’ in history might be judged. Either way, by deep-sixing the CIA’s plans we might surmise that in doing so it inspired his oft-quoted dictum ‘the buck stops here’. Because it only delayed the renovators’ momentum though, his ‘call’ was to no avail; said “buck” remained in play only as long as he was POTUS.

When Kermit (Kim) Roosevelt, became Republican president in 1953, all bets were off (or on, depending on your view) Ike was more simpatico than Truman to the Iran coup, and evidently got ‘jiggy’ with it without a lot of arm-twisting. This was especially after the plotters – principally Allen Dulles, the then CIA director, and his big brother Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who was the Cabinet pitchman for the pro-coup team, played the ‘commie’ card with Ike. For his part the elder Dulles, who played a Richelieu-like role in U.S. affairs of the time, was once quoted as saying that “the USA doesn’t have friends, it has interests”, tantamount to a foreign policy positioning statement, and as we’ve seen one which these days – with the notable exception of Israel — still finds ample favour in and around the Beltway.

In any event, Ike didn’t just take the commie bait hook, line and sinker, by all accounts he swam upstream to chow down on it. With Joe McCarthy and his ilk riding high in the polls and anti-communist fervour at fever pitch, such was the temper of the Cold War times. It wasn’t the first time the ‘commie’ card was played in this game, and it certainly would not be the last; like the one-size-fits-all terrorist threat that followed the Cold War’s end, it was used as cover for a multitude of foreign policy sins and proved a remarkably flexible rationale for the various misadventures of the CIA’s on-going, flagship regime renovation program.

(Interestingly, like JFK was to do with Cuba eight years later, Ike inherited, and eventually agreed to, a CIA-inspired regime transition plot that was hatched during the previous administration, but for one reason or another never got off the ground, this being one of those spooky déjà vu moments in the overall narrative of The Company which is to say, when Ike came to power, the principal coup plot du jour was Iran. With JFK, it was Cuba. Needless to say, in a ‘same horse, different cowboy’ kinda way, it underscores how little changes from one administration to the next.)

Why Do they Hate US So Much? (What’s there Not to Like?)

As for the Iranian coup, it achieved the dubious distinction of being the first and best example of CIA intervention in the sovereign affairs of another country, an experiment that would be repeated over and over with wildly varying degrees of success (the measure of which depended as much on one’s definition of what “success” entailed in such matters as it did on one’s perspective on history and political inclinations). The coup not only ushered in almost three decades of despotic, oppressive rule by the Shah propped up by American arms, money and hand-holding. It belatedly ignited the fire of Islamic fundamentalism that itself provided the US with its next great foe after the Soviets eventually threw in the towel, leaving the Americans as the reigning superpower, much like Great Britain after Napolean’s 1815 defeat at Waterloo. That it also provided an answer to a question few people were asking themselves at the time, which was ‘why do they hate us so much?’, is axiomatic, and one which has since then become a recurring motif throughout the Grand American Narrative.

There are some other considerations vis a vis the Iranian coup. One is that it was Kermit Roosevelt – scion of one of America’s most famous political dynasties – who was a driving force behind the planning and execution of Ajax. In the process he contributed to one of the U.S.’s biggest foreign policy misadventures, eventually leading to one of its most disastrous national security crises. It’s uncertain what ‘grandpa’ Teddy or ‘cuzzin’ Franklin would’ve thought of the coup, and herein we can only guess. But the knowledge one of their kin had his fingerprints all over it, especially one which ushered in such dire, enduring consequences for the empire, would’ve possibly had at least one spinning furiously in his eternally designated bolthole.

Secondly, in using the ‘monstrous’ threat of communism as a pretext for the coup, the Americans ultimately created an even bigger monster (terrorism), although it was some time before the reality – if not the realisation – was to come home to roost for them and the rest of the world. (That this turned out to be a blessing in disguise is also a consideration we might address in future episode.) And for those who might wonder why the US became a pariah in Iran particularly, and in the Middle East generally, one might now begin to understand. To underscore this – the notoriously brutal, vicious, sadistic SAVAK – the Shah’s internal security, secret police and intelligence organization was both feared and hated in equal measure.

That SAVAK was like a franchise of the CIA was only part of the story, and on a ‘good day’ it would’ve rivaled the Stasi in East Germany, no mean feat apparently. In fact the Stasi was to the KGB what SAVAK was to the CIA in that both attempted to out-do their respective maestros. As with so many other regimes, juntas and assorted dictatorships, it was CIA (and Mossad) agents who midwifed the establishment of SAVAK, and trained their first generation of agents, including in surveillance, torture and interrogation techniques, and other security and intelligence trade craft. By all accounts, the CIA guys were very good teachers, or the SAVAK folk eager learners. Or both.

When they were eventually shut down, one of the most egregious examples of their sadistic savagery was to be found in their how-to manuals, handbooks and training videos highlighting techniques unique to torturing women. Readers can let their imaginations run wild here, but suffice it to say, the SAVAK spooks were indeed nasty, vile, brutal pieces of work. Iranians who survived the Shah’s wretched rule have long memories and it’s in large part because of the legacy of SAVAK. To this day, many of them understandably still have a huge hard-on for all things Uncle Sam (although surprisingly such animus to this day is more directed at the U.S. political establishment than at the American people, per se).

In any event, by 1979, the Shah’s standing with the long-suffering Iranian people was a train wreck just around the corner, and the anti-American vibe was at its most virulent. At this point, the U.S. left the Shah with his (ahem) plucked Persian peacock pecker swinging in the Mediterranean sea breeze. With little fanfare then, the despised potentate had his gold-leafed throne unceremoniously ‘pulled out’ from under his bling-laden ass which he then barely managed to haul out of Teheran just before the militant ‘mullahs’ surrounded him and presented their soon-to-be former leader with considerably less options than he was used to receiving, nearly all of which would’ve involved, at best, him getting a fleeting glimpse of Allah just outside jannah on his way to eternal damnation.

Following years then of rampant corruption, hubris, breathtaking extravagance, cronyism, human rights abuses, imperious contempt, political and religious oppression, kidnapping, torture, murder, culminating in increasingly deep-seated unpopularity, the Shah’s time had come, this being a pointer to the fate awaiting numerous other future CIA sponsored and US favoured tin-pot tyrants, deplorably demented despots, and cut-rate client-dictators, of whom there’s rarely been any shortage.

For his part, at the height of the crisis, the hapless Carter – who’d unwisely signed off on the hated Shah receiving medical treatment in the U.S. after a number of countries refused to accommodate his pleas for sanctuary — had his effigy burned in Tehran streets for his troubles. By the time the smoke coming out of the filmed wreckage on the six o’clock news of one of the Navy Rescue Team choppers that had crashed in the Iranian desert killing eight crewman after an audacious attempt to free the hostages went tragically wrong had cleared, the former Georgian peanut farmer turned Leader of the Free World was a lame duck, shit-out-of-luck, commander-in-chief. A Bay of Pigs Moment then? Almost certainly! But much worse, if one is inclined to measure “worse” by the blowback. And the BOP blowback was in itself considerable.

In announcing to the American public and the world at large the failure of the mission to free the hostages, Carter – according to the dictates of the unofficial Truman ‘doctrine’ vis a vis where the ‘buck’ stops – took responsibility for the disaster, and even used eerily similar wording to that of JFK when he publicly revealed the outcome of the BOP fiasco. From then on, The Gipper had Carter by the presidential short’n’curlies. In the view of many pundits at the time, the presidential election was ‘all over Rover’, well before a single vote was cast.

And though the Shah’s “ass” was no more with his death in a US hospital in mid-1980, it was ‘all over Rover’ for anyone else still standing. The Embassy ‘squatters’ in Tehran effectively held hostage Carter’s attempt to seek a second term, an outcome facilitated by Ronald Reagan’s campaign team engaging in treasonous back channel finagling with the new Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini’s henchmen to withhold release of the hostages until after the November presidential election. The objective herein was to preclude an “October Surprise” (an early release of the hostages) that would’ve guaranteed Carter’s re-election.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Burning Down the House (How to Roast a Pig)

With the Gipper’s inevitable victory then, it was one where not just America, but the rest of the world was never to be the same again. None of this is to suggest it ever is in these situations, of which there were few in this case anyway. The Iranian Revolution was more than a revolution then; it was a geopolitical tsunami that swamped a shit-load of people and nations in its wake. In so many respects, the waves are still rippling. And even at this point, one imagines the CIA struggled to understand that blowback of this kind was bad for business, and might continue to undermine its credibility, effectiveness, and morale if it persevered down this path.

As history would have it, this idea never really caught on though. For their part, the Islamic Revolutionaries and their ilk may or may not have had their own version of jihadist karma; if they did they doubtless weren’t averse to providing karma some earthly assistance in order for it to work its magic. The Hostage Crisis was ample evidence of that. And they (or at least their heirs apparent such as ISIS, Al Nusra, et al) still are apparently. That is, keen to give karma a helping hand where and whenever possible. Depending very much, of course, on who their paymaster(s) is/are. Allah be willing, of course!

In rounding things up herein, it is perhaps best to return to Bill Engdahl for some insight into the contemporary significance of the preceding narrative. In a recent interview wherein he addressed the developments taking place within and across the Greater Middle East, for him Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel wasn’t just about arms sales, shoring up their respective alliances, and reasserting America’s influence in the region. It was about, ‘setting events into motion in order to fundamentally alter the present balance of power in the entire Middle East to the greater advantage of the United States and US energy geopolitics.’ By any measure that’s a big call, and not just because it would seem that the U.S. has forfeited much of its prestige, influence, and power over the past decades of its political interventions, its wars of aggression (proxy, hybrid or direct), its bullying, imperious ways, and its unequivocal support of Israel, something that would be required in spades in order to achieve such lofty goals.

For Engdahl, Washington has already bitten off more than it can chew, without considering the ructions taking place between the Saudis, Egypt, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates in their Mexican standoff with Qatar. This latter development clearly resulted from discussions during Trump’s visit and is one whose significance few observers should underestimate, at least without some understanding of the real backstory, an “understanding” which should include first and foremost the following question: Which country did Trump visit right after Saudi Arabia? The answer speaks volumes!

And with Turkey lining up with Iran – the latter already a key ally of Syria, the former a key player in the efforts to relieve Syrian President al-Assad of the burdens of power for the past five years — on the side of Qatar, the standoff is creating some very strange geopolitical bedfellows. None of us should be fooled by the rhetoric to be sure, because at the heart of these Middle East machinations and manoeuvres is energy – both oil and, now more so, gas — as it always has been. It’s certainly not — nor has it ever been — about freedom, democracy, liberty or any any of the usual bromides (perish the thought), or America’s presumed and oft-cited “responsibility to protect”.

When it comes to the geopolitical players involved in the Great Game du jour, Engdahl notes:

No political power has been more responsible for launching the recent undeclared gas wars than the corrupt Washington cabal that makes policy on behalf of deep state interests….The Trump Administration policy in the Middle East – and there is a clear policy, rest assured – might be compared to that of the ancient Chinese fable about the farmer who burnt down his house in order to roast a pig. In order to control the emerging world energy market around “low-CO2″ natural gas, Washington has targeted not only the world’s largest gas reserve country, Russia. She is now targeting Iran and Qatar.

Nor is the “Game” about combatting terrorism, per se, as terrorism has always served the interests of the major power players, an observation one will never hear uttered in mainstream media and political discourse. Of course, one of the official pretexts for the demands being placed on Doha by the Saudis and the other Gulf states is Qatar’s support for terrorism, accusations which emanating from either country are as fatuous and as hypocritical as it gets. On this point Engdahl had the following to say:

We must keep in mind that all serious terrorist organizations are state-sponsored. All [of them]. Whether DAESH or Al Nusra or Mujahideen in Afghanistan or Maute Group in [the] Philippines. The relevant question is which states sponsor which terrorists[?] Today NATO is the one most complicit in sponsoring terrorism as a weapon of their geopolitical designs. And within NATO the United States is sponsor number one, often using Saudi money and until recently, ironically, Qatari funds.

There should be no surprises here for students of Deep History, as these factors have been the driving forces of ‘full spectrum dominance’ geopolitics and geo-economics forever and a day, with the 1953 Iran narrative as we’ve seen providing hard-core evidence of this reality. It is also about the Regime Renovators pressing on regardless, which in this instance translates to isolating and then destroying Iran (a la Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria et al), Washington’s, Riyadh’s, and Tel Aviv’s common bête noir. Of course, these considerations are not mutually exclusive by any means. On the Saudi-Qatari standoff, he had the following to say:

Washington wanted to punish Qatar for seeking natural gas sales with China priced not in US dollars but in Renminbi. That…alarmed Washington, as Qatar is the world’s largest LNG exporter and most to Asia.

But it’s even much more complex than that. The shape-shifting allegiances, mercurial strategic loyalties, and ‘handshakes under the table’ make for unpredictable scenarios going forward to be sure. Herein Engdahl offers us a summation of situation and circumstance that’s as lucid as it is frightening. After noting that the ‘real story” behind the rise of so-called Islamic Terrorism is the increasingly desperate attempt of the Anglo-American Deep State to control the rise of Eurasia, especially of China in combination now with Russia, and increasingly with Iran and Central Asian republics as well as South Asian, he continues with the following:

Without understanding this, none of the recent events in the Middle East make sense. Washington strategists today foolishly believe if they get choke point control of all Middle East oil and gas, they can, as Henry Kissinger stated back in the 1970’s “control the oil and thus, control entire nations,” especially China and Russia and also Germany and Europe. Their strategy has failed but Washington…refuse[s] to see the reasons for their repeated failed wars. The hidden reality of American global power is that the American “giant” today is a bankrupt superpower, much like Great Britain after their Great Depression of 1873 up to 1914. Britain triggered a world war in 1914 to desperately try to retain their global power. They failed, for reasons I discuss in my Century of War book. Today for much the same reasons – allowing the power of US financial conglomerates [to] supersede the interests of the national industrial economy – America’s debt, national, private, corporate, is out of control. Reagan and Cheney were dead wrong. Debt does matter’

All of this translates to one simple reality. And at some point in the not too distant future, Russia and China will – not might, not maybe — attempt to call a halt to all of Uncle Sam’s shenanigans. And it’s reasonable to assume they won’t be on their ‘Pat Malone’, with Iran and Syria to be sure seeking also to finally square the ledger with the “Great Satan” and its Middle East proxies Israel and Saudi Arabia. By then it’ll be on for young and old. Of that we can be sure. History has always been and remains our most reliable guide in this respect. Of this we can also be just as certain. Well might we say then that another “splendid little war” is in the offing.

Be that as it may, it almost certainly will qualify as the War to End all Wars.

Barclays in Hot Water: The Qatar Connection

Qatar has been making waves for some weeks now, and in the deluge, it has also strung along a few companions. One is the UK bank Barclays, which prided itself for having avoided a government bailout in the financial crisis of 2008.  In the ensuing chest thumping, executives could claim to have spared the British taxpayer the need to fork out for private deals gone wrong.

In a statement by the bank, it was revealed that the UK Serious Fraud Office had filed charges “in the context of Barclays’ capital raisings in June and November 2008.” The statement from the bank continues to note how it “awaits further details of the charges from the SFO.”

The charges relate to three alleged offences constituting what has been termed financial assistance – effectively, a bank loaning itself money via its own investing instruments. The first two charges assert that former senior officers and employees of Barclays had committed fraud by false representations regarding two advisory service agreements entered into with Qatar Holding LLC. The third centres on a claim of unlawful financial assistance from a loan from the State of Qatar in November 2008.

The aftermath of the 2008 crisis did much to give capitalism – at least of the bankster variant – a blackened name.  This was made even more acute by the mild response from authorities indifferent to culpability in the banking system.  Rotten financial decisions did not necessary entail rotten criminality.  Financial colossi of such standing as John Varley, Barclays’ former chief executive, were deemed untouchable.

“There is little doubt,” suggested David Wighton in the Financial News, “that the lack of legal action against individuals linked to the financial crisis has fuelled the populist backlash against free market capitalism that has swept the western world.”

It is instructive to cast an eye on the four chief figures involved in the efforts of the fraud office.  Varley has tended to be considered the Old School version of the City banker, linked by marriage to the founders of Barclays, a solid though unspectacular figure.

Scotland-native Roger Jenkins had all the smells and bells, doing well out of the bank. In 2005, he pocketed 75 million pounds, making him the highest-paid individual in the FTSE 100. Deemed the “deal maker” in the set, he was vital in the 2008 Qatar deal.

Jenkins had company in the deal making stakes: the bold wealth magician Thomas L. Kalaris, who did much for the American side of the bank’s operations.  He proved an important figure in the Qatar talks, nudging matters along to their ultimate conclusion.

The quartet is completed with the fallen Richard Boath, who claimed in 2014 that he was fired by Barclays after supplying the Serious Fraud Office confidential material about the bank’s policies. His insistence that he had little to do with those decisions, a mere cog in a degenerate machine, comes as little surprise.  “I repeatedly raised concerns about the decisions taken by the bank with both senior management and senior lawyers and was reassured that those decisions were lawful.”

What became standard policy for governments in the US and Europe after 2008 was the socialisation of losses: the issuing of government bailouts that effectively led to the ownership of bad debt, not to mention decisions, by the tax payer.  The Lloyds Banking Group did well out of this.  Wall Street banks were also delighted, essentially being force fed liquidity from the public purse to keep them afloat.

The issue of funds came with natural fetters, those nasty little things banks dread when it comes to making financial decisions.  Bonuses would be capped and curbed; operations would be curtailed. (Since 2008, Barclays has rewarded employees with 18 billion pounds worth in bonuses.)

Barclays’ executives were aware that joining the bailout bandwagon would see government scrutiny enter the boardroom, with the British Treasury insisting on a possible trimming of investment operations specific to its operations.  “Incentive pay” options would be cut.  The City Minister in 2008, Paul Myners, suggests that the red spectre of nationalisation was feared by the higher-ups in the bank, who “didn’t want to have anything to do with a Labour government.”

The heads at Barclays could certainly point out the fate of the Royal Bank of Scotland.  The RBS, having accepted the government as virtual majority owner after the bailout run, saw decisions made on its investment bank.  The battle between financial-driven desire and taxpayer-directed interests persists as an ideological hallmark of the modern market system.

A considerable problem in this affair is whether the SFO is up to the task.  The body’s record on keeping financial deviancy in check is patchy, even lamentable.  Attempts to prosecute alleged manipulations of the Libor system, the benchmark interest rate, have shown it up as a body with less than sharp teeth.

The office will have to assess whether the regulatory bypassing by the Barclays’ executives was tantamount to illegality, or something short of it.  Was this merely exotic round tripping, with transactions that were not entirely connected?  The pudding has yet to be baked, but evidence is strong.

The SFO will also have to convince such figures as Jonathan Pickworth of the law firm White & Case, who argues that prosecuting a former management team over decisions made “years ago” would merely “hurt the current shareholders and today’s hardworking employees.”

The spin in such arguments turns banking organisations into noble toilers who defend, rather than undermine, the public interest.  Having crossed their Rubicon, the SFO will test the viability of a system that may well have legislative backing, but has, thus far, failed to yield much by way of results.

Iyad Allaoui accuses Qatar and Iran of attempting to divide Iraq

In a press conference held in Cairo, Iraqi Vice President, Iyad Allaoui, has accused Qatar and Iran of trying to carve up his country inter se. A Shiite area would come under the control of Teheran whilst a Sunnite zone would fall under the control of Doha. Whilst Iyad Allaoui's party won the largest number of seats in the 2010 Iraqi parliamentary elections, it did not become the ruling party. Secular but shiite, Mr. Allaoui then accused Iran of intervening in his country's politics to (...)