Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and US Defense Secretary James Mattis are both in denial at their respective regimes’ failures. While not many who analyze events in Syria and the Saudi exploits in the murderous war on Yemen, its attempted isolation of Qatar and threats to Lebanon, would disagree with such a diagnosis, these two power obsessed men seem intent on pushing ahead with their actions that have caused so much damage and chaos across the Middle East.
MBS is a failure at this point in time, but rather than exercise caution, he is throwing it to the wind. He risks being overthrown himself, especially as he has split the Saudi royal establishment down the middle and if he wasn’t facing plots beforehand, he certainly will now.
I think the failures can be summed up more or less as the axis of resistance overcoming the axis of evil. The prolonged war on Syria is virtually over as far as the Saudi led faction is concerned, although in overall terms it has reached a crucial new stage in tackling the US backed Kurdish problem. Signs of a relatively peaceful solution look fairly promising, but the loose cannons in the US can wreck the best laid of plans.
MBS is well and truly bogged down in Yemen and the tightening of the blockade is a humanitarian crime of epic proportions which must be strongly exposed. The narrative needs to be on excruciating Yemeni suffering at Saudi hands, not Iran allegedly aiding the Houthi’s at firing missiles at Riyadh. That Houthis firing a missile into Saudi Arabia—which killed no one— receives as much attention as Saudi Arabia bombing funerals reflects deeply biased coverage of the Saudi led war on Yemen.
The bluster at Qatar is proving to be little more than just that, fracturing the GCC alliance, weakening Saudi credibility and leadership and drawing Qatar closer to Iran and Turkey. Bluster was the name of the game again at the Saudi initiated Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo, Egypt. The special meeting came up with what it called a “non-compromise” solution to deal with Iran’s “aggression” and “disregard for international law.” The soft spoken, but cold hearted Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir further stoked animosity toward Iran with warmongering rhetoric that failure to confront it will leave all Arab capitals vulnerable to ballistic missiles.
How ironic that within a few days of the self-serving Arab League vitriol, Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani was in Sochi meeting with Russian President, Vladimir Putin and Turkish President, Recep Tayip Erdogan to discuss strengthening the ceasefire in Syria which they act as guarantors for and to seek to return the country to conditions of peace and stability. The presidents agreed to hold the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi aimed at bringing together opposition groups in Syria for peace talks. Saudi Arabia and the extremists it supports are sidelined from this process, however there is an opening for Riyadh if it decides to play a part in dialogue with elements who are willing to honestly lay down arms and seek peace.
Rouhani correctly pointed out that regional actors which lack any presence of democracy, used the false pretexts of democracy and human rights to launch a proxy led war on Syria. He further pointed to the fact that only nations invited into Syria by the government of Bashar al-Assad were in the country legally. All other foreign actors were in gross violation of international law and the inalienable sovereignty of Syria. It should be noted that Hezbollah, an ally of Syria, accepted the invitation of Damascus to fight terrorists on its soil early in the war. In reality, it was necessary for Syria to seek the support of all allies possible in the face of thousands of jihadists armed, trained and sent into Syria by western powers and Arab states.
Rouhani said ISIS has been defeated. What he is really saying is the Saudi proxy terrorist group has been defeated, enraging MBS, hence his next moves to target Lebanon and Hezbollah. Rouhani pledged continued support for Syria, stating the allies would work together across the region, a clear warning to Saudi Arabia and its allies that further interference would be resisted in a united front. Further, Rouhani stated that the backup plan post regime change failure of throwing the country into a state of chaos will also fail, with Iran committed to intra-Syrian talks to rebuild the country with Iran ready to participate in rebuilding activities.
Things aren’t so rosy domestically either for Riyadh and grand 2030 plans, while a nice sounding idea, needs to be transformed into action. MBS can certainly use plenty of prince and oligarch seized cash to fund that.
The manufactured paranoia at Hezbollah and Iran has transformed into a manufactured crisis against Lebanon. It is geopolitics at its ugliest and most deceitful and signs are ominous for a country that has been comparatively unscathed in recent times compared to its bloody history. Lebanon is once again a pawn on the Middle East chessboard and Saudi Arabia and Israel are more than happy to inflict great damage in their obsession with “containing” Hezbollah and ultimately Iran.
For MBS and Thamer Al-Sabhan to make the demand that Hezbollah has taken Lebanon hostage and therefore needs to be expelled is outrageous interference in the affairs of a sovereign state and quite ironic that they use such statements to accuse Iran of interference in other states affairs. They mirror the rhetoric of Netanyahu and Trump, and if there is not outright coordination in the latest events between Saudi Arabia and Israel as leaked Israeli cables suggest, there is most certainly a commonality of interests. They have even co-opted Saad Hariri, who has little choice but to engage in the sectarian and inflammatory rhetorical flourishes.
And how more blatant and unacceptable can it be in interfering in a state’s affairs than Saudi Arabia ordering the Lebanese PM to travel to Saudi Arabia, resign on a state owned channel and then disappear from the radar, raising the question was he sleeping on a mattress at the Ritz along with the vanquished Princes and oligarchs.
Iran and Hezbollah are gaining more influence in the region, which is a positive in balancing relations of power, confronting the deliberate fragmentation strategy of Israel as well as more effectively fighting terrorism. You have two camps in effect; one combining its forces to confront terrorism, the other using them relentlessly to weaken their enemies and control their resources. Saudi Arabia will think more than twice to take on Iran or even Hezbollah directly, but they will double down on expendable terrorist proxies that are designed to destabilize and sow chaos. If one group is blocked and defeated, they can be reconstituted and rebranded as another to carry on the campaigns of their sponsors. Reports also circulated that MBS offered to pay Israel billions of dollars to attack Lebanon. The lure of dirty Saudi lucre aside, Tel Aviv well remembers 2006, when its tanks couldn’t even penetrate into Lebanon, so well prepared was Hezbollah. In the intervening 11 years Hezbollah has become battle hardened in Syria and is better armed with defensive weaponry, so it is a case of Israel invading at its peril.
The use of proxies and information warfare are a reflection of and response to the dwindling influence of Saudi Arabia in the region. A great power such as Saudi Arabia would be invaluable in bringing stability to the region, but instead it abuses its power to control and dominate. Signs are that at this point MBS will increase, rather than scale back this pattern of behaviour.
As if the Saudi regime backing every known variety of terrorist and then more weren’t bad enough, we have the ludicrous claim of James Mattis that the US is in Syria legally. Mattis gave a flaky justification that “You know, the UN said that ISIS — basically we can go after ISIS.”
Mattis, in his ill-considered opinion may be referring to UN Resolutions 2249 and 2254, which do indeed authorize fighting ISIS, however they do not give carte blanche to the US and they certainly do not override the sovereignty of Syria in deciding which foreign forces may enter the country to fight ISIS.
Knowing ISIS is on the verge of defeat —not withstanding further US efforts to prop it up—the US needs further justification, no matter how illegitimate to maintain its presence in Syria. Mattis said the US would remain until the Geneva process under the guidance of the UN had been settled.
If the shambles known as the Geneva 8th (that’s right; we are up to number 8) round of talks are anything to go by, US boots will remain firmly on the ground in Syria for years to come. After a conference held in Riyadh had finally managed to unite all the Syrian opposition groups to present a unified front at Geneva, long suffering Syrians may have held optimistic hopes for real progress and dialogue, a position adopted consistently by the Syrian government.
The Riyadh communique included a provision that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must leave the presidency early in the transition period. In other words, an aggressive and confronting pre-condition presented for discussion at talks which have no prospect of success should pre-conditions be insisted upon. Formed under the aegis of MBS, it is hardly surprising the group presented such a provocative negotiation wrecking ultimatum. It is no wonder then that Bashar al-Jaafari and his delegates, appalled at the position adopted by the opposition, refused to enter into discussions. The talk fest was postponed until 5 December, with the very real possibility they will collapse.
Syria News reported on the reaction of Jaafari to the unacceptable pre-conditions of the Riyadh delegation:
He pointed out that the language of Riyadh 2 statement will be considered by the Syrian government and a number of states as a step backward because it contains preconditions, and according to the Special Envoy no one should pose preconditions, adding that the statement is provocative and politically irresponsible and does not suit the aspirations of the Syrian people regarding these talks, and as long as the other party complies with the Riyadh 2 statement, there will be no progress.
Later, al-Jaafari told al-Mayadeen TV channel that the “Riyadh 2” statement was drafted by their operators, and that the Saudi authorities wanted to undermine the political solution and sought to impose its agenda.
Mattis cautioned against the re-emergence of “ISIS 2.0” as if that legitimizes open-ended US illegal presence in Syria. To begin with, ISIS is not yet totally defeated and, although its last stronghold of Al-Bukamul has been liberated by Syria and its allies, it still poses a threat, likely to morph into smaller sized terror cells which can create havoc across the country. It also has received copious amounts of US/Saudi/Israel supplied weapons, which are being progressively seized and destroyed as the Syrian army liberates towns and cities from the axis of evil asset.
Moreover, it is the Syrian army, along with the much hated by the US Hezbollah and Iranian backed militias, along with Russian air power which is responsible for the defeat of ISIS. The US has, in tandem with the HSD, made deals with ISIS over the transfer of land in Deir Ezzor and destroyed the city of Raqqa, even as it claims to have “liberated” it. Post ISIS defeat, the question still remains will Raqqa be transferred back into the hands of the legitimate Syrian government, or will it be governed by local councils, code for being controlled by HSD aligned elements and ultimately a US controlled vassal region effectively balkanizing Syria.
We can’t forget that the tainted “liberation” of Raqqa was further stained by revelations admitted even by the BBC that the US and HSD reached an agreement to evacuate 4000 ISIS fighters from the city. These fighters were allowed to spread to other parts of Syria, where government forces will have to confront them, some escaped to Turkey, and many will be able to infiltrate into groups of refugees, heading to Europe where they believe they will be able to exact revenge in European capitals. The governments of Europe should take serious note of this and would be wise to rethink their support of the so called US led coalition and the equally dubious notion of Kurds fighting for a homeland. Suffice to stay Kurds are welcomed in Syria and have made their homes there. It is only the US created armed militants and separatist Kurds who long to tear Syria apart and carve out their own Kurdistan.
The BBC named their investigative report, “Raqqa’s Dirty Secret.” I beg to differ on this description. It is more accurately described the US’s dirty secret. This description fully illuminates the hypocrisy, deceit and willingness to use terrorist proxies to further its imperial aims.
The revelations should have caused outrage in the western mainstream media, but a ripple is probably closer to the mark. Concern raised, but nothing which upsets the institutionalized “Assad must go” mantra. Those in the alternative media, demonized by western governments and their complicit media and targeted for censorship by the monolithic tech giants have reported on the cooperation between Washington and all manner of terrorist for a very long time, maintaining the outrage all along.
The real reasons for the US extending its occupation of Syria are to counter rising Iranian influence, driven largely by the demands of Israel and to stop Bashar al-Assad regaining control of the entire country. It should be said that Iranian “influence” is more accurately described as providing leadership in the resistance against US imperialism, Israeli expansionism and Saudi ambitions to foment sectarian discord in pursuit of regional domination. Denying the ability of the Syrian government to govern the entire country is achieved by de-facto balkanization, centered on continued support for Kurdish separatism. This reconstructed plot against Syria is also aimed at countering Iran and shields Israel from pressure to leave the occupied Golan Heights.
The raw truth of just how crude the Trump regime is in continuing to destabilize and harm Syria is exemplified in a Washington Post article, where the reporters say:
An abrupt U.S. withdrawal could complete Assad’s sweep of Syrian territory and help guarantee his political survival — an outcome that would constitute a win for Iran, his close ally.
To avoid that outcome, U.S. officials say they plan to maintain a U.S. troop presence in northern Syria — where the Americans have trained and assisted the SDF against the Islamic State — and establish new local governance, apart from the Assad government, in those areas.
It is interesting that “the paper of record” —a mouthpiece of the Pentagon in reality— views the desire of millions of Syrians to see their land liberated as one mans “sweep of Syrian territory.” The article unmistakably gives the impression that the SDF, backed by US support are responsible for the defeat of ISIS, an insult to Syrian, Iranian, Hezbollah, Iraqi and Russian forces which have done the heavy lifting in the war on terrorism.
In relation to the staggering belief that a foreign occupier is entitled to establish local governance in areas where it has a heavy military presence, Bashar al-Jaafari offers a splendid rejection of an absolutely illegitimate and ill-founded proposition which is diametrically opposed to the Syrian constitution:
On Syria’s position on the so-called “local councils” elections in the north of the country, al-Jaafari said that there is no such thing as Kurdish areas in the north of Syria; there are only Syrian areas and Syrian Kurdish component, stressing that any unilateral action taken without coordination with the Syrian government is absolutely unacceptable, adding that Syria has a local state administration that has been in the constitution since 1973, and there are the People’s Assembly and other state institutions where everything can be put forward, but the last reference point is the Syrian state.
The major reason however that usurps all others for the US refusal to leave Syria is the driving force behind most of its imperial interventions: gas and oil. The US wants to control gas and oil in Syria, and with forces it supports controlling roughly 50% of these resources at the current time, the US is seeking to forcefully insert itself into the political process from which it has been marginalized due to its reckless and dishonest policies. The HSD is its only avenue to achieve its goals and so it will continue to support them, including the supply of heavy weapons despite claims by Turkish President Erdogan that the weapons deliveries would cease. This is likely either Donald Trump shooting from the hip or a slight of hand in a pledge to not arm the YPG, while deliveries to the Kurdish dominated HSD continue unabated. Besides, arming and supporting the Kurds is the mainstay of the US pretext to staying in Syria. The withdrawal of the arms programs pulls the rug out from under US occupation and will intensify Syrian and Russian calls to leave the country, calls which are becoming louder and more frequent. Additionally, the US is not in the business of building 10 bases in a country, which it has done illegally in Syria for nothing. These bases lay the foundation for a prolonged occupation, however they have no mandate from the Syrian government and pressure will mount from Syria and its allies for the US to dismantle these bases.
James Mattis would be wise in not pretending that there is any legal justification for a single US solider to be on the ground of Syria. He should practice what may be a foreign concept; telling the truth, which is that the US will stay in Syria as long as it possibly can to attempt to maintain its power and influence and control over Middle East energy supplies.
— Paul Mansfield