THE FINAL WAR FOR THE CALIPHATE IS COMING
The level of acrimony between Saudi Arabia and Iran has been increasing exponentially. Amid a shifting geopolitical landscape and their several proxy wars, we can only expect more chaos and increased tensions.
This week, the two countries dispensed with all niceties and diplomatic language that is their usual insincere fare. They stopped veiling their threats after Saudi defense minister, Prince Mohammad Salman, 31, issued belligerent comments, in a widely disseminated TV interview, that there would be no dialogue with Iran given its religious aspirations to control the Muslim world.
Huffington Post’s, David Oualaalou, put it this way, “Ongoing conflicts underscore the profound rivalry between the Sunni and Shiite power” he said. “It does not help matters when the inexperienced Saudi defense minister, Prince Salman, 31, issues belligerent comments that there would be no dialogue with Iran given its religious aspirations to control the Muslim world. While I can understand why Prince Salman will issue such proclamation, though it lacks rationality, the purpose of his assertion is to not only silence critics who argue that the role the desert kingdom plays in the Middle East is waning, but also to divert attention from his failed military strategy in neighboring Yemen.”
Saudi Arabia is on the offensive – pushing, prodding and provoking – against Iran. During the interview, Prince Salman stated that the Saudis would not sit and wait for war, but would work so that it becomes a battle for them in Iran and not in Saudi Arabia.
The prince rejected the possibility that Saudi Arabia and Iran could resolve their differences through dialogue. Iran, he said, has an “extremist ideology” coupled with ambitions “to control the Islamic world.”
WorldPoliticsReview.com’s Frida Ghitis put it this way: “[The Prince] detailed his view of how the combination of Iran’s Shiite theology and its revolutionary ambitions make the two countries’ differences plainly irreconcilable. “Their stance,” he said, “is that the awaited Mahdi will come, and they need to create a fertile environment for the arrival.” Doing that, he said, requires that they control the Muslim world. “Where are the common points that we might be able to reach an understanding on with this regime?””
Confrontations between Riyadh and Tehran have been through proxy wars. They are on opposite sides of the wars in Yemen and Syria, and each supports rival factions in Lebanon, Iraq and Bahrain. But Prince Salman seemed to suggest clashes could become direct, on one another’s soil.
Iran took the Prince’s words as a direct threat from Saudi Arabia to attack their country. Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan threatened to destroy all of Saudi Arabia and leave only its holy cities standing.
“If the Saudis do anything ignorant, we will leave no area untouched except Mecca and Medina,” Dehghan told al-Manar television, the Arabic-language network of Hezbollah, Iran’s allied Lebanese militia. Dehqan said the Saudis should not be fooled to believe that their air force is strong enough to threaten Iran. He said only the holy cities of Mecca and Medina would be spared should the Saudis – as he put it – perpetrate any act of stupidity against Iran.
“Today, what we’re seeing is Saudi Arabia has become so miserable. So much so that it has convinced itself to curry favor with [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and incite it (the Israeli regime) against us,” the Iranian defense minister said.
Tehran complained to the UN accusing Saudi Arabia of being an accomplice in acts of terrorism inside Iran, specifically an attack that killed 11 Iranian border guards last month.
What Saudi Arabia needs to understand is that it cannot defeat Iran given the latter’s military strength, intelligence apparatus, and public support that perceive the kingdom as a corrupt and western puppet.
Egypt and Riyadh suffered tense relations last year, but now there are signs that the relationship is back on track. Fuel deliveries resumed in March, and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi visited Riyadh shortly thereafter. The topic of Egyptian troops joining in the fight against the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen has apparently been under discussion. A Saudi general announced that Egypt had offered to send 40,000 ground troops to bolster the Saudi campaign in Yemen, although Riyadh later retracted the claim.
Arming more Sunnis against the northern Shi’ites is further provocation, but perhaps Saudi Arabia’s newly mending relationship with Pakistan, who is Iran’s neighbor, will add fuel to this acrimony. Pakistan is reportedly preparing to deploy a brigade, as many as 3,000 soldiers, to Saudi Arabia’s southern border to help defend the country against Iran-backed Houthis. The change of heart in Islamabad may well reflect the shifting balance of power—and the fact that the prime minister of India, Pakistan’s archrival, also just visited Riyadh.
Trump campaigned on a platform of undoing Barack Obama’s deal with Iran, calling the nuclear agreement with Tehran the “worst deal ever negotiated.” Trump may not tear up the pact, but he is clearly reversing course from Obama’s approach and wholeheartedly throwing Washington’s lot in with Riyadh.
Since taking office, Trump has met in Washington with Prince Mohammed, and has sent his top aides to Riyadh to meet with the Saudi royals. And last week, when he announced his first foreign trip since taking office, he revealed that Saudi Arabia will be the first country he visits as president, an enormous symbolic honor. On the practical side, the U.S. is deepening its involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
Riyadh’s diplomatic ties with key players in the region and beyond have been growing stronger since U.S. President Donald Trump took office. President Donald Trump is set to visit Saudi Arabia next week for a one-day conference on Wednesday keynoted by Saudi government foreign policy adviser Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud.
To add to Tehran’s embarrassment, Saudi Arabia has excluded Iran from the Arab-Islamic summit with US President Donald Trump scheduled to take place next week. The sources said that invitations were sent to Turkey, Pakistan, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Iraq, the Gulf states and other Arab and Islamic countries. He stressed the importance of the timing of Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia saying it could address the serious security situation in the region.
THE US AND SAUDI ARABIA ENGAGE JORDAN IN LARGEST EVER MILITARY EXERCISES
The US and Jordan began military exercises this week in the face of the increased tensions between the kings of the north and south. They kicked off Eager Lion on Sunday. It is an annual military exercise with about 7,400 troops from more than 20 nations taking part. A statement by the Jordanian army said troops from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Arab Gulf region are taking part in the exercises, which run to 18 May, including from Britain, Japan, Kenya and Saudi Arabia.
US Major-General Bill Hickman, deputy commanding officer for the American army in the region, said this year’s Eager Lion exercise – the seventh so far – is “the largest and most complex to date”.
The exercises come amid reports that Iran had offered to send troops to the southern areas of Syria to support the government of Bashar al-Assad in response to a reported buildup of US backed-forces near Jordan’s border. So, Iran is considering actually deploying those forces to counter US intervention in Syria
The reports in the Tabnak news agency, which is affiliated to a former commander of the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, indicated Iran had growing concerns about a buildup. “There are increased activities in southern Syria that indicate preparations for an attack through Jordan and Israel and [with the help of] armed groups,” the report read.
Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid Muallem, stated that “We are not in confrontation with Jordan, but if the Jordanian forces invade our territories without coordination with us, we will consider them the enemy forces.”
Journalist Asaad Hanna tweeted earlier this month that US forces had been positioned and were standing by on the southern Syrian border with Jordanian special forces.
Damascus is now on high alert after footage gathered from a drone revealed the presence of around 400 U.S. and Jordanian military vehicles at a Jordanian military base located near the Syrian desert. The base is located east of az-Zarqa, which is 43 km away from the Syrian border. Tanks were also spotted and were reported to be M60s.
Another report in al-Hayat also indicated a joint force was preparing to enter southern Syria from Jordan, albeit ostensibly with the aim of combating the Islamic State (IS) group.
The plan to destroy Syria using Jordan as a staging ground has been in the works since at least 1983, when it was written in CIA documents that using Iraq in the east, Turkey in the North, Israel in the south, and Jordan in the southeast would be one possible method of breaking Hafez al-Assad. Later, it was discussed by financier think tank, Brookings Institution, that Syria and Bashar al-Assad could be broken using an identical strategy (with ISIS instead of Iraq) and creating a “multi-front war” that would prevent Assad’s forces from responding adequately.
The exercises also come weeks after the US launched a cruise missile attack on a Homs airbase, the first direct intervention against Assad, in response to a chemical weapons attack on the Idlib town of Khan Sheikhun.
The highlight of this year’s exercise, Hickman said, will be that “for the first time ever a global strike mission” will be conducted by “two US Air Force B-1B bomber aircraft,” a long-range multi-mission bomber.
THE US AND SAUDI ARABIA’S BIG TEXAS SURPRISE
The United States and Saudi Arabia are so closely tied that as of this week Saudi Arabia controls all the Port Arthur refinery in Texas. This is North America’s largest oil refinery and now it is under complete, 100% Saudi control. It makes one wonder what kind of plans, deals and hand-washing is going on between the two countries. This news comes at a time when the two nations are provoking Iran together. Did the United States sell this refinery to Saudi Arabia in exchange for other kinds of controls in the Middle East? Or as a perk for jobs well done?
In the latest deal, finalized Monday, Aramco gained full ownership of Port Arthur and 24 distribution terminals in a boon to investors eyeing the IPO. Before that, Aramco had a 50-50 stake in the refinery with Anglo-Dutch oil giant Royal Dutch Shell. Port Arthur, referred to as the “crown jewel” of U.S. refinery infrastructure, can process 600,000 barrels of oil a day. Why would the US give up a “crown jewel” unless there was something huge to be gained? There was no mention of how the US got Royal Dutch Shell to sell its 50% interest.
Industry experts say this week’s deal is Aramco’s latest power play before its highly anticipated IPO next year. But it also unveils a wider Aramco strategy no other state-owned oil giant has pursued yet: buying up downstream refineries worldwide to ensure steady consumer access regardless of prices.
Saudi Arabia and other petro-states are feeling the pain from record-low oil prices, squeezing their steady streams of government revenue. The U.S. market is one of the few bright spots for Saudi Arabia, the United States’ second-largest oil supplier after Canada. The Gulf kingdom exported 1.3 million barrels of crude a day to the United States in February, up 32 percent from last year.
This isn’t the first downstream refinery Aramco bought, and it won’t be the last. Aramco also bought up refineries in China, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, and is exploring pricey new ventures in Malaysia and India.
“That’s all part of a grand plan”, said Jean-Francois Seznec, a 25-year energy industry veteran now with Georgetown University. As the sole state-owned oil company in the world’s largest petro-state, Aramco has a firm grip on its upstream business, so now it’s locking down control of downstream markets, he told FP. “They’re creating a baseload of demand for their crude production so Saudi oil will always have an outlet to sell in regardless of prices,” he said. “I think it’s a superb strategy…no other national companies appear to have the same strategy.”
“There is not a single member of the royal family in Saudi Aramco, not one,” Seznec said. “Not even on board of directors.”
President Donald Trump appears to have backed off repeated campaign promises to wean the United States off foreign energy. In campaign speeches, Trump vowed to gain independence from “our foes and the oil cartels” (presumably referring to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, of which Saudi Arabia is a member), and threatened to curb Saudi crude imports if Riyadh didn’t pitch in more troops to the fight against ISIS.
Trump has since backed away from those statements, and U.S.-Saudi relations appear to be flourishing based on recent bilateral meetings. This latest Aramco deal may be for the purpose of closer diplomatic and political ties as the two countries prepare for war with Iran. This may actually be war preparation. By setting Saudi Arabia up with several more oil refineries all over the globe, the US and Saudi Arabia may believe they will have enough resources to fuel their armies when the war with Iran begins.
The poking and provoking by the United States and Saudi Arabia to Iran will eventually lead to an attack against both provocateurs.