Posts Tagged ‘Houthi’

Lebanon FM to skip Arab League summit on Iran

November 19, 2017


© AFP/File | Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil will not attend an extraordinary Arab League meeting in Cairo called by Saudi Arabia

BEIRUT (AFP) – Lebanon’s foreign minister will not attend an extraordinary Arab League meeting on Sunday called by Saudi Arabia to discuss “violations” committed by Iran, a ministry source told AFP.Arab foreign ministers will gather in Cairo on Sunday at the request of Riyadh, whose simmering regional rivalry with Tehran has escalated in recent weeks.

But Lebanon’s top diplomat Gebran Bassil will not be among them, a foreign ministry source said.

“This morning, a decision was taken that Lebanon would be presented by Antoine Azzam, the permanent representative to the Arab League,” the source said.

“Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil will not be present.”

For more than a decade, Lebanon’s political class has been largely split between Iran-backed movement Hezbollah and its allies, and a Saudi-supported coalition led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Hariri stepped down from his post on November 4 in a televised address from Riyadh, sparking fears Lebanon would be caught up in the spiralling tensions between Riyadh and Tehran.

Sunni Muslim powerhouse Saudi Arabia and Iran, the predominant Shiite power, are long-standing rivals based as much in geostrategic interests as religious differences.

According to a memo seen last week by AFP, the Saudi request for an Arab League meeting was based on a missile it says its air defences intercepted near Riyadh after being fired from Yemen on November 4.

A Saudi-led coalition has been battling Shiite Huthi rebels in Yemen, and it has accused the Iran-backed rebels of firing the missile.

Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman later accused Iran of “direct military aggression” against the kingdom by supplying the rebels with ballistic missiles.



Saudi Arabia and Arab Allies Call Emergency Meeting in Cairo on Sunday To Discuss Iran, Hezbollah

November 19, 2017

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Iran — A Revolutionary Guard missile, the Shahab-3, under a picture of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader. Credit Hasan Sarbakhshian, AP
 NOVEMBER 19, 2017 10:23


Saudi Arabia and other Arab foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting in Cairo on Sunday to discuss confronting Iran and its Lebanese Shi’ite ally Hezbollah.

A Houthi militant shouts slogans as he stands next a poster of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah

A Houthi militant shouts slogans as he stands next a poster of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah during a rally against US support to Saudi-led air strikes in Sanaa. (photo credit:REUTERS)

CAIRO, November 19 – Saudi Arabia and other Arab foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting in Cairo on Sunday to discuss confronting Iran and its Lebanese Shi’ite ally Hezbollah, who the Arab allies say are interfering in their internal affairs.

Regional tensions have risen between Sunni monarchy Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Islamist Iran over Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s surprise resignation and after an escalation in Yemen’s conflict.

Hariri, a long-time Saudi ally, resigned on Nov. 4 in an announcement made from Riyadh. Hariri cited fear of assassination and accused Iran and Hezbollah of spreading strife in the Arab world.

Hezbollah, both a military force and a political movement, is part of a Lebanese government made up of rival factions, and an ally of Lebanese President Michel Aoun.

Aoun has accused Saudi Arabia of holding Hariri hostage. Senior Lebanese politicians close to Hariri also said he was coerced into resigning. Saudi Arabia and Hariri both deny those accusations.

The emergency Arab foreign ministers meeting was convened at the request of Saudi Arabia with support from the UAE, Bahrain, and Kuwait to discuss means of confronting Iranian intervention, Egypt’s state news agency MENA said.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir told Reuters last week the kingdom’s actions in the Middle East were only a response to what he called the “aggression” of Iran.

“What Iran is doing against some Arab countries calls for taking more than one measure to stop these violations, interferences and threats, which are carried out through many various means,” Hossam Zaki, Arab League Assistant Secretary, told Asharq al Awsat newspaper in an interview.

“Stopping them requires a joint Arab policy.”

He said the meeting would send a “strong message” for Iran to step back from its current policies.

Egypt’s state-owned newspaper Al Ahram cited an Arab diplomatic source saying the meeting may refer the matter to the United Nations Security Council.

Saudi Arabia accuses Hezbollah of a role in the launching of a missile at Riyadh from Yemen this month. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said Iran’s supply of rockets to Houthi militias was an act of “direct military aggression”.

Yemen’s civil war pits the internationally recognized government, backed by Saudi Arabia and its allies, against the Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Iran denies charges it supplies Houthi forces.

Anticipating confrontation at the Cairo meeting, Lebanon’s foreign minister may not attend, though a final decision will be taken on Sunday morning, a senior Lebanese official told Reuters on Saturday.

After French intervention, Hariri flew to France and met French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Saturday.

Speaking in Paris, Hariri said he would clarify his position when he returns to Beirut in the coming days. He said he would take part in Lebanese independence day celebrations, which are scheduled for Wednesday.

U.S. Seeks to Bolster Saudi Arabia in Face of Expanding Iranian Threat

November 18, 2017

Trump administration exploring range of actions to stop Iran’s supply of sophisticated weapons to its Middle East allies, including Hezbollah

WASHINGTON—The Trump administration is looking at ways to quickly strengthen Saudi Arabia’s missile defenses and disrupt the flow of advanced Iranian-made weapons across the Middle East as concerns grow over a destabilizing new crisis in the region.

U.S. officials said they have rushed to ease regional tensions after an eruption of unexpected developments, including Saudi Arabia’s internal political upheaval, the mysterious resignation of Lebanon’s prime minister while visiting Riyadh, and the launch by Tehran-backed rebels in Yemen of an Iranian-made missile that was shot down near the Saudi capital.

The Trump administration is pushing for a quick resolution to the political stalemate in Lebanon so the U.S. and Saudi Arabia can focus on what Washington sees as the most significant regional threat: Iran’s supply of sophisticated weapons to its Middle East allies, including Hezbollah.

A still image taken from a video distributed by Yemen’s pro-Houthi Al Masirah television station showing what it says was the Nov. 4 launch by Houthi forces of a ballistic missile aimed at Riyadh’s airport. Photo: reuters tv/Reuters

“The state of uncertainty is not serving anyone but Hezbollah and its allies,” said a senior Trump administration official. “The longer it goes on, the worse it is for Saudi interests and U.S. interests and the interest of our friends.”

To address what it sees as the biggest danger from recent developments, the Trump administration is exploring new plans to help deter the Iranian threats. Top of the agenda is making sure Saudi Arabia has the ability to defend itself from any further missile attacks.

Last month, the Trump administration cleared the way for Saudi Arabia to buy a multibillion-dollar missile defense system. The approvals allow Saudi Arabia to purchase up to $15 billion in launchers, missiles, radar and technology to help counter the threat. U.S. officials said that deal could be accelerated as a result of the missile fired at Riyadh earlier this month, which Saudi Arabia blamed on Iran.

The U.S. is also considering new ways to disrupt the flow of Iranian-made missiles being deployed across the Middle East. The U.S. Navy has previously seized what it says are Iranian-made weapons bound for Iran’s Houthi allies in Yemen, who are embroiled in a protracted fight with Saudi Arabia.

The most recent missile attack aimed at Riyadh elevated concerns about the spread of more advanced missiles to Iranian allies, U.S. officials said. A U.N. resolution linked to the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement bars the transfer of arms, including missiles, to and from Iran. U.S. officials see more room to enforce that ban, which expires in 2020.

The U.S. military also could step up its efforts to seize weapons shipments going through the Persian Gulf and across the region, U.S. officials said. Additionally, it could mount an expanded public campaign to expose the weapons transfers and make the case that Iran is accelerating efforts to get more sophisticated weapons to its allies, the officials said.

Saudi Arabia choked off transportation access to Yemen after the latest missile launch, drawing protest from humanitarian-aid groups and some U.S. lawmakers who said Riyadh’s move would exacerbate cholera and famine in Yemen.

U.S. officials are also talking to allies about efforts to constrain Iran’s ballistic missile program, a move the Trump administration sought even before the latest launch. Administration officials say they hope to use this month’s thwarted attack on Riyadh as a catalyst for international support.

A poster in Beirut with the words ‘We are all with you’ depicts Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, left, who resigned earlier this month during a visit to Saudi Arabia. Photo: NABIL MOUNZER/EPA/Shutterstock

“It could be an impetus for taking some sort of collective action to try to constrain the Iranians in that regard,” the senior administration official said.

But U.S. officials are also concerned about the surprise resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Saudi ally who has blasted Iran and its ally Hezbollah for stoking regional tensions.

Mr. Hariri’s fate has created a frustrating complication for the Trump administration, which wants some clarity so it can galvanize support for new action against Iran.

“We and the Saudis agreed that it was unfortunate that…the real threat of active war against the Saudi capital was overshadowed by the prime minister’s resignation,” the senior administration official said.

Mr. Hariri, right, meeting in Riyadh on Thursday with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. The newly resigned Lebanese prime minister has been invited to meet French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Saturday. Photo: rania sanjar/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Mr. Hariri issued his surprise resignation two weeks ago from Saudi Arabia, which has expressed growing concerns about Hezbollah’s expanding influence in Lebanon.

Lebanese leaders have urged Mr. Hariri to return to Beirut, where he must personally present his resignation to the president for it to take effect. U.S. officials wouldn’t discuss speculation that Saudi Arabia forced Mr. Hariri to resign.

Lebanese political leaders have said Mr. Hariri is effectively a captive in Saudi Arabia, and his decision to remain there has only fueled the perception that leaders in Riyadh forced him to step aside.

U.S. officials said they hope Mr. Hariri’s plans to accept an invitation from France to visit Paris on Saturday will silence questions about his ability to freely travel.

“We thought it might not be bad for him to go someplace like Paris in order to demonstrate that he had freedom of movement,” the senior administration official said.

U.S. officials, who said they got no heads-up about Saudi Arabia’s plans for an internal crackdown or pivotal meeting with Mr. Hariri, said they didn’t think the Saudis had thought through the full consequences of their actions, including the decision to order Saudi citizens to leave Lebanon as the crisis worsened. The U.S. relayed its displeasure to Saudi Arabia and the situation has calmed down slightly, an official said, expressing hope to see some clarity about Mr. Hariri’s next moves soon.

“The next couple of days will be telling,” a second U.S. official said.

At the same time, the U.S. has worked to coordinate moves with Israel in hopes of averting an immediate clash with Hezbollah. Members of the National Security Council recently flew to Israel for talks, U.S. officials said.

Israel has carried out scores of airstrikes in neighboring Syria since 2012 aimed at Hezbollah weapons depots and arms shipments. The most recent reported airstrike in Syria, which Israel hasn’t acknowledged, took place on Nov. 2—two days before Saudi Arabia launched its internal crackdown, Mr. Hariri resigned, and the Saudis shot down the missile near Riyadh.

Israel May Demand Iran Leave Southern Syria, but Russia Sets the Rules of the Game

November 17, 2017

For Moscow, the presence of Iranian troops is legitimate – Assad himself invited them

Amos Harel Nov 17, 2017 8:13 AM

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Russian President Vladimir Putin greets his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad upon his arrival at the Kremlin in Moscow, October 21, 2015. AFP

A single brief statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday cleared up the strategic picture in southern Syria and the entire region. Three days after the signing of the agreement between Russia, the United States and Jordan about the cease-fire arrangements there, Lavrov disavowed the section of the accord that says foreign forces will be kept out of Syrian territory. Iran’s presence in Syria is legitimate, he said, and therefore Russia did not promise to compel the Iranians to withdraw their forces from the country.

This claim by Moscow, which also applies to the Russian forces there, rests on Iran and Russia having been invited into Syria by the Assad regime. This invitation by the Syrian sovereign ostensibly bestows legitimacy on the presence of these countries’ military forces in Syria, even with Russia conveniently ignoring the ongoing atrocities the Assad regime has been committing against its own citizens for the past six and a half years.

The only thing the Russians agreed to was a stipulation that the Iranians and the Shi’ite militias that answer to them would be kept five kilometers from the lines of contact with the rebels. For Israel, this means that the Iranians will be on the Golan Heights, just five to 10 kilometers from the border, depending on what areas are held by the rebels. This is the reason for Israel’s disappointment with the agreement, a feeling that has only intensified in the wake of Lavrov’s statement.

The Russian foreign minister’s statement contained another hidden message: Moscow will be the one that decides what happens in Syria. The total lack of an American response to Lavrov’s comments, so soon after State Department officials boasted at a press briefing about the section of the agreement regarding the withdrawal of foreign forces, proves yet again who’s really running the show in Syria.

The reason for Russian support of Iran, despite Russia’s generally close and positive ties with Israel, is simple: The Iranians, and especially their Hezbollah proxies, are providing the Russians and the Assad regime with the ground forces upon which the regime’s survival hinges. Keeping the current regime in power is mission number one for the Russians, because that way they can maintain all the advantages – an image of power, a Mediterranean seaport at Tartus, potential trade deals – inherent in an Assad victory. Russia does not intervene or protest when Israel reportedly bombs a Hezbollah weapons convoy in Syria (as long as the airstrike doesn’t harm Russian troops), but is has no reason to exert itself to meet all of Israel’s demands about keeping the Iranians out of Syria.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week that Israel is not bound by the tripartite agreement, and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman repeated his warning that Israel will not sit back and allow Iranian entrenchment in Syria nor let Syria become a forward position against Israel, adding, “Whoever hasn’t understood this yet would do well to understand it.”

What do the Israeli warnings refer to specifically? Brigadier General (res.) Assaf Orion, a senior scholar at the Institute for National Security Studies think tank and former head of the IDF General Staff strategy department, says Iran has been waging war on Israel for some decades now via proxies. “But now, for the first time, the Iranians appear to be preparing to put in significant infrastructure in Syria – army bases, a seaport, weapons manufacturing plants, permanent military forces. When Israel says it won’t accept this, it is trying to dictate new rules of the game. More so than in the past, for Israel the northern front has become one long continuous front in which the border between Syria and Lebanon is completely blurred. We’ll have to ask ourselves: When exactly does the moment come when we respond?”

This week, Britain’s The Guardian offered a perceptive description of the Middle East mood. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s announcement of his resignation, under Saudi pressure, sparked tension throughout the region that links seemingly unrelated events. In fact, these various undercurrents have been moving for some time, and now they have risen to the surface.

The paper’s Middle East analyst, Martin Chulov, connects the dots between Hariri’s resignation, the Iraq-Iran takeover of Kirkuk on the Kurdistan border, the purges in Saudi Arabia, the famine afflicting millions due to Yemen’s civil war, and Yemen’s Houthi rebels firing a missile at the Riyadh airport. All of these things, he writes, are manifestations of a power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran that is now reaching a peak all across the area between Beirut and Sanaa.

Image result for shia crescent, map

Shia Crescent

The multi-pronged Saudi move – involvement in wars in Syria and Yemen, political maneuvers in Lebanon, efforts to isolate Qatar, efforts to limit the influence of extremist Wahhabi clerics, the plans to build a colossal “city of the future,” the IPO of oil company Aramco, along with many other ambitious initiatives – is being overseen by 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Assaf Orion believes the prince “has got too many balls in the air. It’s a systems overload that requires extraordinary command and control in tandem with long-term planning. I’m not sure the prince can sustain it without dropping any of the balls.”

To an outside observer, Saudi Arabia calls to mind what Churchill called Russia – “a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” The series of moves set in motion by the crown prince, particularly the resignation that was forced upon Hariri, was met with some surprise in Israel, elsewhere in the region and in the West. Israeli military experts are also skeptical of the Saudis’ ability to advance their goals with their military capacity. Despite the purchase of billions of dollars’ worth of weaponry from the U.S. and other countries, the Saudis have performed poorly in combat in Yemen. And they have played a fairly minor part in the international coalition’s fight against ISIS. The Saudis’ big plans have to fully come up against hard reality, and when it does happen, the encounter is liable to be painful.

Gaza unstable

As far as security goes, a threat of escalation on the Gaza border hung over the country this week. The security assessment was that Islamic Jihad would try to stage a reprisal for the destruction of the attack tunnel in late October in which 12 operatives from Islamic Jihad and Hamas were killed. Here, the prime minister and defense minister warned of a severe response while simultaneously taking practical steps, including the deployment of Iron Dome missile defense systems in the center of the country. The decision to quickly deploy the missile defense batteries was dictated to the army at the cabinet meeting by Netanyahu. The cabinet ministers backed Netanyahu’s action, saying he was entitled to put wider safety margins in place when the situation could rapidly deteriorate.

Islamic Jihad in Gaza did not immediately respond to the killing of its men, apparently because of moves by Hamas and, according to Palestinian sources, by Egypt too, to restrain it. Shortly after the tunnel strike, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas began implementing their reconciliation agreement and PA police officers were stationed at the border crossings between Gaza and Israel for the first time in a decade.

But things have gotten more complicated since then. PA President Mahmoud Abbas is in no rush to transfer the money that he promised to Hamas to pay civil servants’ wages and to upgrade the electricity supply.


The reopening of the Rafah crossing, the main avenue of departure from Gaza, is also being held up due to disputes between the parties. Under these circumstances, Hamas has less motivation to rein in Islamic Jihad. Things could get even worse if the entire reconciliation process gets stuck and Hamas goes looking for someone to blame for Gazans’ disappointed hopes of an improvement in their harsh living conditions.

Saudi Arabia has its fingers in the pie here, too. Two weeks ago, at the height of the upheaval in the kingdom, Abbas was urgently summoned to Riyadh. After the visit, his spokesman said the two parties view the reconciliation agreement with Hamas “100 percent the same way.” Since then, the PA has sharpened its demand that Hamas completely cut off ties with Iran and that its military wing submit all of its weaponry to Ramallah’s authority. Abbas’s aggressive new posture, evidently inspired by Saudi prodding, is angering the Egyptians, who acted as the patrons of the reconciliation process.

Amos Harel
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Saudi Arabia and France concerned about Iran’s ‘hegemonic intentions’ and designs to disturb regional peace

November 17, 2017

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian attend a news conference in Riyadh on Thursday. (Reuters)

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir said on Thursday the kingdom’s actions in the Middle East were a response to what he called Iranian aggression, and hinted at future action against Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

“(The Iranians) are the ones who are acting in an aggressive manner. We are reacting to that aggression and saying: ‘Enough is enough. We’re not going to let you do this anymore’,” Jubeir told Reuters in an interview.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, in a joint press conference with Al-Jubeir in Riyadh on Thursday, echoed Saudi Arabia’s concerns, saying France is worried about Iran’s “hegemonic” intentions in the Middle East. “I’m thinking specifically about Iran’s ballistic program,” he said. “We need to work in order to stop the spread of nuclear activities.”
Al-Jubeir said Saudi Arabia was consulting its allies about what leverage to use against Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah — an Iranian ally — to end its dominance in the small Mediterranean nation and intervention in other countries.
“We will make the decision when the time comes,” he said, declining to detail what options were under consideration.
Saudi Arabia accused Lebanon last week of declaring war against it because of acts by Hezbollah, which is both a militant and political organization represented in Lebanon’s parliament and government.
Jubeir said Hezbollah, which he described as a subsidiary of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard “doing Iran’s bidding,” must disarm for Lebanon to stabilize.
“Wherever we see a problem, we see Hezbollah act as an arm or agent of Iran and this has to come to an end,” he said.
Jubeir said Iran had harbored terrorists, assassinated diplomats and interfered in other countries’ affairs — charges Tehran denies.
“If you want us to deal with you as a good neighbor, act like one. But if you continue to act in an aggressive manner, we will push back,” he said.
Saudi’s top diplomat said reigning in Hezbollah was the priority and the “facade” that the group needed to hold on to its weapons should be exposed.
“If they are to support the resistance, what are they doing in Syria fighting on behalf of the regime alongside the Iranian militias?” he said, referring to President Bashar Assad, who is battling rebels backed in part by Saudi Arabia.
“If they are there to protect Lebanon, what are they doing in Yemen?”
Saudi Arabia is backing Yemen’s internationally recognized government against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in a 2-1/2 year-old war.
Jubeir accused the Houthis, who control much of the country’s north, of besieging civilian areas and preventing supplies from coming in or out.
A military coalition led by the kingdom has enforced a near-blockade on Yemen, which aid agencies say has contributed to unleashing famine and disease on the already impoverished country.
It closed all air, land and sea access on Nov. 6 following the interception of a missile fired toward Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia has since said that aid can go through “liberated ports” but not Houthi-controlled Hodeidah, the conduit for the vast bulk of imports into Yemen.
Jubeir said the ports of Aden, Mokha and Midi along with Aden airport had resumed operations.

How the Middle East could go the way of the Balkans

November 15, 2017


Maria Dubovikova | 

The current status of the Middle East is similar to that of the Balkans in the years before the World War I. Are we going to witness a Balkanization of the region — geopolitical fragmentation caused by other countries’ foreign policies? And what are the chances of an Iranian-Arab war or a Shiite-Sunni conflict that could lead to the redrawing of the Middle East map?

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said a ballistic missile fired at Riyadh this month from Houthi militia-held territory in Yemen was supplied by Iran, and described it as “direct military aggression” and an “act of war.” The accusation was repeated by the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in his resignation statement: “Iran controls the region and the decision-making in both Syria and Iraq. I want to tell Iran and its followers that it will lose in its interventions in the internal affairs of Arab countries.” He specifically blamed Iran for interference in the affairs of Lebanon.

Saudi rhetoric aimed at Iran has escalated in the past few weeks, and Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir accused Tehran of being behind all evil acts in the region. “The Iranian terror continues to terrorize the innocent, kill children and violate international law, and every day it is clear that the Houthi militias are a terrorist tool to destroy Yemen,” he said. “The Kingdom reserves the right to respond to Iran at the right place and time.” Last week Saudi Arabia called on the UN to take measures against Iran to hold Tehran accountable for its conduct.


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Events are moving fast. They could lead to a military confrontation, including the intensification of proxy wars, and a deepening of the Shiite-Sunni divide. The danger persists as long as the two superpowers, Russia and the US, stand on opposing sides of the spectrum on many regional issues, especially Iran. Recent comments from the Oval Office make it clear that the latest events have full US approval and conform with its expectations and policies.

The Iranian ballistic missile program is a key factor in Arab strategies and alliances. Many countries in the Middle East started heading east and west to purchase air defense missiles, such as the Russian S-300 and S-400 and the American Patriot and THAAD systems. Arab countries also started to think of producing their own military equipment by having offset projects with weapons manufacturers in China, Russia, Ukraine, South Africa, France, the UK, Germany, Brazil and the former Yugoslavia.

Saudi Arabia is also concerned about the influence of Iran in Lebanon through its proxy, Hezbollah, even more so since Riyadh believes Hezbollah operatives fired the most recent missile launched at the Kingdom from Yemen. “The Lebanese must all know these risks and work to fix matters before they reach the point of no return,”  said the Saudi Minister for Arab Gulf Affairs Thamer Al-Sabhan.

Russia is keeping a close eye on the growing threat of military action against Iran — not a direct conflict, which is unlikely, but an extension of existing proxy wars.

Maria Dubovikova

This war of words may lead to a military clash in the Gulf or in Lebanon, further escalation in Yemen, Iraq and Syria, where Iran has a strong presence, and further proxy wars, unless the Americans take direct action against Iranian troops in Syria and Iraq. And that would lead to a dramatic escalation of tensions between regional and international powers already competing for influence in the Middle East.

Iran is a direct threat to the stability of the region, and US President Donald Trump has listed it as a major global threat. Tehran’s growing influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, as well its activities in support of Houthi rebels in Yemen, pose a threat to the interests of the Arab world.

Action may be taken, including the military option, against the Iranian presence in the Levant. Escalation in Lebanon, the worst-case scenario, may result in a military conflict that would explode the region and drastically affect global stability because the players involved are so numerous and the stakes so high.

Nevertheless, the concerned sides understand that direct conflict would be a zero-sum game, and has to be avoided. The way to do so is by conducting proxy wars, but the cost of such wars on global stability and human life would also, inevitably, be too high.

Russia closely follows developments in the region because it has become directly involved. For Moscow, regional processes are critical. Historically, stability in Russia depends a lot on the climate in the region, and the Middle East is again one of its national interests. It has succeeded in building normal ties with all the players in the region, even those that are rivals with one other. Having good ties with Iran and Saudi Arabia, Russia has been proposing itself as a potential mediator in the conflict between Riyadh and Tehran, although the offer has not yet been taken up. Russia is worried about the possibility of escalation of already existing proxy wars and the emergence of new ones, especially in Lebanon.

In commenting on the dispute between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Russia has used diplomatic rhetoric, calculating all the possible risks and scenarios. A war in Lebanon would mean a drastic deterioration in regional stability, especially in Syria. The region needs stability, and political and diplomatic solutions for its disputes.

• Maria Dubovikova is a prominent political commentator, researcher and expert on Middle East affairs. She is president of the Moscow-based International Middle Eastern Studies Club (IMESClub). Twitter: @politblogme

Hezbollah, crown jewel of Iran’s influence spreading, arm twisting

November 13, 2017


© AL-MANAR TV/AFP / by Tony Gamal-Gabriel | Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah speaks on the group’s Al-Manar television channel on November 10, 2017

BEIRUT (AFP) – Lebanon’s Hezbollah, blamed by Saad Hariri for his shock resignation as premier, has grown over the three decades since its founding into a mighty army used by Iran to project regional influence.

Hariri criticised the powerful Shiite movement for its meddling across the Middle East during a televised interview from Saudi Arabia on Sunday, his first media appearance since he stepped down on November 4.

Hezbollah has participated in Hariri’s government for almost a year.

From Lebanon to Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, Hezbollah has matured into Iran’s most useful “tool” — drawing the ire of Tehran’s regional rival Riyadh, analysts say.

Hariri’s surprise resignation sparked worries that Lebanon would be caught in the crossfire of the bloody, decades-long power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“This resignation indicates Saudi’s will to put a stop to Iran’s expansion,” said international relations expert Karim Bitar.

Hezbollah had become Iran’s “trump card” in the Middle East, added Bitar, of the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Affairs.

Since its founding in the 1980s during Lebanon’s grinding war, Hezbollah has relied heavily on Iran for financial, political and military support.

It is the only faction to have retained its arsenal of weapons after the end of Lebanon’s 15-year civil conflict in 1990.

Despite being branded a “terrorist” organisation by the United States and Gulf countries and targeted with economic sanctions, Hezbollah has risen to play a decisive role in regional conflicts.

– ‘Most important tool’ –

“The most important Iranian tool in the region is Hezbollah,” said Hilal Khashan, political science professor at the American University of Beirut.

Hezbollah has trained Iraq’s powerful Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary forces, Khashan said, and even has “operatives” in Yemen’s war to back Shiite Huthi rebels targeted by Riyadh.

Closer to home, Hezbollah has fought ferociously in Syria to defend the government of President Bashar al-Assad, also an ally of Iran.

The group’s intervention in Syria’s six-year conflict was a major turning point that helped Assad’s troops retake swathes of territory.

It also helped hone Hezbollah’s own combat experience, transforming it from a guerrilla movement to a powerful fighting force with offensive capabilities.

Combining its military expertise and political savvy, Hezbollah has matured into Iran’s “crown jewel” in the Middle East, said Joseph Bahout at the Carnegie Foundation think tank.

It now serves as a “model” for all Iran-allied groups in the region, from Syria’s pro-regime militias to Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi and the Iran-backed Huthi fighters, Bahout said.

These military ventures formed the crux of Hariri’s criticism of Hezbollah during his landmark interview on Sunday from Riyadh.

Breaking his silence more than a week after his resignation, Hariri called on Hezbollah to commit to Lebanon’s policy to “disassociate” from regional conflicts.

“I tell Hezbollah: it is in your interest, if we want to protect Lebanon… to leave some of the areas that you have entered,” Hariri said.

He zoned in on Yemen, saying Hezbollah’s involvement in the protracted conflict there had drawn Saudi’s rage: “Did the kingdom have any position towards Hezbollah before the war in Yemen?”

– Conflict ‘flare up’ –

Hariri, 47, accused Iran and Hezbollah of taking over his country and destabilising the broader region when he stepped down on November 4.

That announcement sparked worries that Lebanon would be sent careening back into political and economic turmoil as Riyadh and Tehran vie for influence.

There were even fears of a new war with Israel, after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah accused Saudi Arabia last week of asking Tel Aviv to bomb Lebanon.

Israel and Hezbollah have clashed several times, including in a month-long war in 2006 that killed 1,200 Lebanese — mostly civilians — and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

But any new conflict between Lebanon and its southern neighbour risked spilling over into the broader region, experts have said.

“This time,” said Bahout, “because of the extension in Syria and Iraq, it won’t be a war on Hezbollah only. It will very quickly flare up.”

Nasrallah’s forces could respond to Israeli pressure by striking elsewhere, including the United Arab Emirates or even Saudi Arabia.

For Bitar, a convergence of factors, including “an impulsive Saudi Arabia, backed by an equally, extremely impulsive American president, and rising rhetoric in Israel”, could indicate a war was near.

“But at this stage, we are still in a system where there is mutual deterrence, a balance of terror,” he said.

“The two parties know that an eventual war would be devastating for both sides.”

by Tony Gamal-Gabriel
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Saudi Shakeup Gives the U.S. an Opening With Iran

November 11, 2017
This can go two ways: toward either war or a new understanding of the balance of Middle Eastern power.
By Amir Handjani And Alireza Nader
Bloomberg News
Hybrid warfare?

 Chavosh Homavandi/AFP/Getty Images

The latest political earthquake in Saudi Arabia has led to much speculation over the future of the kingdom and the Gulf Arab states. But most analyses have ignored the far bigger issue looming over the region’s upheavals: Prospects for a military confrontation between the U.S. and Iran are rapidly escalating.

Just as Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was consolidating absolute power last weekend– cracking down on the last royal relatives, billionaire investors, Wahhabi clerics and rights advocates who posed a threat to his reign — the kingdom announced it was holding Iran responsible for a missile attack on Riyadh by Yemen’s Houthi rebels. The group does have ties to Tehran, but Saudi claims remain unsubstantiated.

Meanwhile, a close Saudi ally, Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon, abruptly resigned his post while on a visit to Riyadh, citing fears of an Iranian attempt on his life. The Lebanese army and Iran’s ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, deny any such plot. Lebanon is increasingly becoming a flashpoint in the cold war between Tehran and Riyadh.

If Saudi Arabia forces a showdown with Iran, the U.S. would find itself in the middle of it. Statements by President Donald Trump and his national security team point to a more aggressive U.S posture toward Tehran. This pushback includes de-certifying Iranian compliance with the 2015 nuclear pact despite overwhelming evidence of Iran’s compliance, as well as imposing sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Hezbollah, and Iran’s ballistic missile program.

The Trump administration’s desire to isolate and pressure Iran reflects outdated thinking that does not take into account the shifting realities of today’s Middle East. The most likely outcome is it will inadvertently strengthen Iran’s hand in the region, much as President George W. Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq did in 2003.

Iran is now, arguably, the most powerful regional actor in the Middle East. Tehran is a decisive player in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, and its influence extends to Yemen and Afghanistan. Pushing back on Iranian power would mean confronting Iranian forces in countries where they are embedded with local militias or have been invited by host governments, as is the case in Iraq and Syria.

Furthermore, Iran is no longer a global pariah. It has a strong partnership with Russia in Syria and increasingly shared interest with Turkey on issues relating to Kurdish independence and strengthening the central government in Baghdad. Both Turkey and Iran back Qatar in its dispute with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. That quarrel has created openings for Iran to project itself as a stabilizing force in the Middle East to other major powers such as China and India.

With the Arab world and the Gulf Cooperation Council deeply divided, Washington’s attempts to isolate Iran run counter to European, Russian, and Chinese attempts to cajole Tehran to play a more constructive regional role, one befitting its status as a rising power.

U.S. attempts to undermine the nuclear deal will likely only draw other global actors to Iran’s side, especially as European countries could view Tehran as a more responsible partner in upholding commitments, in contrast to Washington’s new unpredictability.

Iran is also increasingly turning to Asia as a source of credit and commerce. China views Iran as a critical component of its One Belt One Road economic initiative, which seeks to connect Beijing to the Middle East and Europe. Japan, South Korea and India also see Tehran as an untapped market worthy of short-term risks in exchange for future economic gain. All are now buyers of Iranian crude and petrochemicals, and all are looking to make substantial investments in the Iranian economy.

U.S. sanctions against Iran are unlikely to reverse its influence in the Middle East. The Syrian government is heavily dependent on Iran while the Iraqi government views it as a partner in combatting Sunni Jihadism and Kurdish separatism. Sanctions will undoubtedly slow Iran’s economic growth, as they have for the past 40 years, but they will not fundamentally alter Iran’s ability to project influence.

It’s unlikely that the U.S. and Iran will stop antagonizing each other any time soon. But the Trump administration could treat Iran not as a rogue threat but as it would treat any major rival, such as Russia or China. Where suitable Washington could engage with Tehran. When otherwise necessary, it could make clear that it will not compromise on the security and stability of its allies.

Washington and Tehran need to come to an understanding so as not to further enflame the region. This would entail the Trump administration abandoning its attempts to undermine the nuclear agreement and calling for regime change in Iran. Continuing to demonize Iran for all the ills of the Middle East is counterproductive and will only lead to further escalation. This strategy was employed during the George W. Bush administration with disastrous consequences.

The Trump administration should re-establish high level contact that existed during the previous administration and broaden the scope of diplomatic engagement to include regional security issues. The should take place at the ministerial level, with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. If nothing else, this would ease some tension and provide a pressure valve for airing grievances.

It can also resolve crises that may arise in the Persian Gulf, where both navies operate. In 2016, Iran’s capture of U.S. sailors was resolved peacefully because of the rapport established between Secretary of State Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif. It is difficult to imagine in today’s contentious climate such an incident settled without a shot being fired. Diplomatic channels to deconflict between hostile countries are necessary.

It is unlikely that the U.S. could dissuade Iran from some of its most troublesome activities such as supporting Hezbollah or Hamas, but there is a middle ground in which the two sides can live with the existing realities on the ground. For example, the U.S. and Iran have a shared interest in preventing the reemergence of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Neither side wants the political uncertainty in Lebanon (now imminent because of Harriri’s resignation) to spiral out of control. Both Tehran and Washington want to strengthen the central government in Afghanistan.  Ultimately, both countries have a vested interest in seeing the sectarian violence that has engulfed the region come to an end.

U.S. policymakers should not assume they can reverse the trends of the last 15 years. The U.S. invasion of Iraq showed how poor planning and erroneous assumptions can backfire. At the time, the Bush administration wrongly predicted that liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein would unleash democratic movements across the region and diminish Iranian influence. Similarly, possibly faulty assumptions when it comes to Iran could pave the way for the permanent erosion of American power in an increasingly unpredictable Middle East.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister calls for sanctions on Iran for its ‘support of terrorism’

November 9, 2017

  • “We would like to see sanctions on Iran for its support of terrorism and sanctions on Iran for violating the ballistic missile resolutions of the United Nations,” Adel Al-Jubeir, Saudi minister of foreign affairs, told CNBC Thursday
  • Al-Jubeir said the only effective way of dealing with Iran would be to hold it accountable for “fixing” the nuclear agreement, supporting terrorism and for its ballistic missile program
Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.

Faisal Al Nasser | Reuters
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister urged the international community to slap fresh sanctions against Iran on Thursday, accusing its arch-regional rival of supporting terrorism.

“We would like to see sanctions on Iran for its support of terrorism and sanctions on Iran for violating the ballistic missile resolutions of the United Nations,” Adel Al-Jubeir, Saudi minister of foreign affairs, told CNBC Thursday.

Al-Jubeir said the only effective way of dealing with Iran would be to hold it accountable for “fixing” the nuclear agreement, supporting terrorism and for its ballistic missile program.

Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of being behind a ballistic missile attack on Saturday. The missile, which was fired by Houthi rebels in Yemen, was intercepted in flight near Riyadh’s airport.

In response, Iran’s United Nations Ambassador, Gholamali Khoshrou, described the allegations as “unfounded,” Tasnim News Agency reported. Tehran also denied arming the Houthi movement, which has fought a Saudi-led coalition supporting Yemen’s government since 2015.

The ongoing civil war in Yemen is akin to a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran and their competing ideologies of Sunni and Shia Islam, respectively. While Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia backs the government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, its rival Iran backs the pro-Shia Houthi movement loyal to the country’s former president Ali Abdulla Saleh.

On Monday, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said Iran’s alleged actions may be considered “an act of war,” state media reported.

Lebanon resignation

Further to the apparent proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran in Yemen, the latest Middle Eastern country in danger of becoming an epicenter of hostile relations between the two arch-rivals is Lebanon.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a long-term Sunni ally of Saudi Arabia, stunned the world by resigning at the weekend, citing assassination threats and blaming Iran for interference in Lebanon.

Speaking from Riyadh, Hariri criticized Iran, and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, for igniting conflict in the region. Tehran later rejected the remarks of Beirut’s outgoing leader, according to reports.

Saudi Gulf Affairs Minister Thamer al-Sabhan said Monday the Lebanese government would “be dealt with as a government declaring war on Saudi Arabia” and made a thinly-veiled threat of further action, Reuters reported, citing comments from an Al-Arabiya TV interview with Sabhan.

President Donald Trump then waded into the escalating geopolitical uncertainty on Monday evening, offering encouragement to Saudi Arabia. The U.S. president tweeted that the Kingdom’s leaders know “exactly what they are doing.”

I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing….

—CNBC’s Holly Ellyatt contributed to this article.


US urges UN action after Saudi blames Iran over missile

November 8, 2017

The United States has called on the United Nations to act against Iran after Saudi Arabia, a Washington ally, accused Tehran of “direct military aggression” through the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Amid an escalating war of words, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday pointed the figure to Iran for supplying a ballistic missile that was fired on Saturday from Houthi-held territory towards Riyadh’s international airport.

Saudi-led forces, which have been fighting the Houthis since March 2015, intercepted and destroyed the weapon before it reached its target.

Iran, which supports the Shia Houthi rebels but denies arming them, has dismissed the Saudi allegation as “contrary to reality”.

Image may contain: one or more people

Yemen’s Qaher-M2 Ballistic Missile

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, on Tuesday accused Iran of supplying a missile to the Houthis that was fired into Saudi Arabia in July, and also referred to Riyadh’s allegation that the weapon that was shot down over Riyadh on Saturday “may also be of Iranian origin”.


Saudi air strikes kill children in Yemen’s Hajjah area

“By providing these types of weapons to the Houthi militias in Yemen, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is violating two UN resolutions simultaneously,” Haley said.

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SCUD Type ballistic missile

“We encourage the United Nations and international partners to take necessary action to hold the Iranian regime accountable for these violations.”

“Saudi Arabia’s announcement confirms once again the Iranian regime’s complete disregard for its international obligations. ” -Amb. Haley

‘Bring temperature down’

Tensions between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran have surged in recent days, in a crisis that extends far beyond Yemen: the two countries have supported opposing sides in regional conflicts and disputes, and Riyadh has made clear it wants to curb Tehran’s influence not just in the Arabian Peninsula but across the region.

Federica Mogherini, Europe’s top diplomat, on Tuesday called for calm, warning that the mounting tension was “extremely dangerous”.

“Allow me to bring a little bit of wisdom as the European voice in a world that seems to go completely crazy here: It’s dangerous,” she told reporters in Washington.

“We need to calm down the situation. We need to bring down the temperature a bit rather than increasing the level of confrontation.”

Mogherini’s comments came as the Houthis warning that airports in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a Riyadh ally, could be their next firing targets.

‘Catastrophic’ humanitarian situation

A Saudi-led military coalition went to war with the Houthi rebels in March 2015 after they seized the capital, Sanaa.

In the wake of the missile incident, the Saudi-led alliance has intensified its Yemen embargo, announcing the “immediate” closure of all air, land and sea ports of the Arabian Peninsula country.

The decision could further limit access for the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemen, which imports up to 90 per cent of its daily needs.

Image result for delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemen, photos
Humanitarian aid in Yemen

On Tuesday, the UN called on the coalition to immediately lift the blockade, describing the current situation in the country as “catastrophic”.

“Humanitarian operations are being blocked as a result of the closure ordered by the Saudi-led coalition,” Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told reporters in Geneva.

Laerke said the UN has received reports that fuel prices surged by 60 percent overnight and cooking gas up to 100 percent in some parts of Yemen as a result of the blockade.

“Long lines of cars are queuing at gas stations,” he added.

Laerke said humanitarian flights to and from Yemen were put on hold, adding that the Saudi-led coalition had asked UN staffto tell all ships arriving at the sea ports of Hodeidah and Saleef “to leave”.

According to the UN, some seven million people in Yemen are on the brink of famine and were only being kept alive thanks to humanitarian operations.