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Bin Salman

Is Saudi pivoting towards Russia?

At a first glance, Saudi Arabia and Russia have not much in common in terms of foreign policy: the former is one of America’s closest allies, whereas the latter is its main geostrategic competitor along with China. But in the complex geopolitics of the Middle East, their bilateral relations are more multifaceted than it may seem; and recent events may drive them closer.

Does America need Saudi Arabia?

America is pretty much less dependent on Saudi oil now, but why does it still need Saudi Arabia?

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Are Saudi-Turkish relations deteriorating?

The relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia are now becoming a subject of mediatic interest following the alleged killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khoshoggi, a critic of Riyadh’s current government, in his country’s consulate in Istanbul. To better understand this event and its consequences, it is necessary to put it in the broader context of the bilateral relations between the two states, which dates back to the 1920s.

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire and its aftermath.

Once the main power in the Middle East, the Ottoman Empire was dismantled in both political and territorial terms in the wake of its defeat in WWI; thus reshaping the region’s geopolitical order. Many of its former lands became de facto colonies under the rule of either Great Britain or France (on the basis of the Sykes-Picot agreement), but two cases stand out as exceptions: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Turkey.

During the Great War, Britain was fighting against the Ottoman Empire, who was allied with Germany and Austria-Hungary. In this context, the British were actively supporting an Arab uprising to weaken the Ottomans and extend their influence on the Middle East. This led to a deal with the Saud family: in exchange of aid against the Ottomans, the House of Saud would rule an independent kingdom after the end of the war.  This resulted into the establishment of Saudi Arabia (which takes its name from the ruling al-Saud dynasty) in 1932.  An important aspect of the newborns state was its affiliation to Wahhabism, a juridical and religious doctrine of Islam known for its conservatism and that became the basis of the Saudi political system. This made the Kingdom the champion of Sunni Islam, even though its adherence to Wahhabism has recently become less marked under the influence of Crown Prince bin Salman. After the discovery of huge oil reserves in the 1930s, Saudi Arabia gradually became a major producer and started accumulating wealth. During the Cold War, it forged an alliance with the United States, thus becoming (in spite of occasional divergences, like the 1973 oil crisis) one of its main allies in the Middle East. As of today, the House of Saud is still in power and its cooperation with the US remains a central element of its foreign policy.

On its part, the Ottoman Empire was weakened by war, politically delegitimized and in social unrest; and had to face the consequences of defeat. With the nationalist movement led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk gaining more and more influence, the imperial rule did not last. The last Sultan (and Caliph) was deposed, and a Republic was proclaimed. But its territory was much smaller than the pre-war Empire. Other than Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Arabia, it even lost some lands in mainland Anatolia; which it recovered after a war with Greece in 1919-22 that gave the country its current shape. Atatürk promoted westernization in the newly-born Republic, notably to transform it into a secular state after centuries of religious-based Ottoman rule.  This is a major difference from Saudi Arabia, which instead based its polity upon religious conservatism.  But like the KSA, Turkey decided to side with America after WWII, joining NATO in 1952. During the decades, the country experienced several coups, the last of which occurred in 2016 as an attempt to overthrow President Erdogan, who has held the office since 2014 after serving eleven years as Prime Minister.

The history of Turkey – Saudi Arabia relations

Official relations between the two countries were established in 1932, when the KSA was founded. During the pre-WWII era, when the Middle East was still largely influenced by European powers, their bilateral relations were stable and no major issue emerged. During the late ‘40s following the withdrawal of colonial forces, new states appeared in the region and started pursuing their own geopolitical objectives, thus complicating the regional dynamics.

A first factor of disagreement was the Palestinian issue and the creation of Israel. Turkey recognized the Jewish state and adopted a moderate stance towards it during the Arab-Israeli wars, whereas Saudi Arabia refused to establish official relation with it and actively supported the cause of Palestinians as well as that of Arab states fighting against Israel.

Relations with Iran would soon become another problematic issue. Before the 1979 Revolution that overthrew the Shah and established the Islamic Republic, Ankara maintained good relations with Teheran. The instauration of the new Iranian regime resulted into colder relations for some time (due to Turkey’s friendly ties with the US and Israel, the arch-nemesis of Iran) but then they gradually improved. Prior to the Islamic Revolution, Riyadh also enjoyed generally positive relations with Teheran, with the two main points of disagreement being religious divides (Sunni vs Shia respectively) and the recognition of Israel by the former. But this dramatically changed after 1979: the difference in faith combined with the Saudi’s amity with the US turned their mutual relations into strong hostility.

The Iran-Iraq war that raged between 1980 and 1988 saw the KSA and Turkey taking a different stance. Riyadh, in spite of strained relations with Baghdad, considered Teheran’s revolutionary regime to be the main threat to its security and therefore supported the former with financial aid. In contrast, Turkey was more conciliatory with Iran: keeping a neutralist policy, it maintained economic ties with both belligerents, thus refusing to implement the US-led embargo on Iran. The outbreak of the Gulf War in 1991 following Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait saw both Saudi Arabia and Turkey joining the US-guided coalition against Iraq.

Ankara and Riyadh also took different postures after the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq by US forces. The fact that most of the terrorist that had hijacked the planes used to strike the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were Saudi nationals caused some strain between Riyadh and Washington, but in general the Saudis cooperated with the US in the War on Terror the latter launched after 9/11. On its part, Turkey supported the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, but opposed that of Iraq in 2003 out of fears that the instability that would follow the end of Saddam’s regime would allow the Iraqi Kurds to obtain an independent state.

Saudi-Turkish relations in recent years

The year 2011 can be seen as a turning point in the history of contemporary Middle East, and the events that took place since then had a profound effect on Turkey-KSA relations. In 2011, the “Arab Spring” shook the region, leading to the outbreak of a bloody and still-unsolved civil war in Syria. The US withdrew its last combat forces from Iraq and reduced its direct involvement in the Middle East in accordance with President’s Obama “Leading from Behind” policy. Since then, the region’s geopolitical landscape has significantly changed and local actors have become more active.

Both Turkey and Saudi Arabia have supported the rebels trying to topple the al-Assad regime in Syria. The two also found some common ground in the fight against the auto-proclaimed “Islamic State”. In 2014, this Sunni extremist group rapidly seized control of considerable swathes of territory in the northern parts of Iraq and Syria. An international coalition started hitting its position with airstrikes to support the local forces on the ground. Both Saudi Arabia and Turkey have condemned the group, even though there have been allegations that wealthy Saudi nationals founded the group and that Turkey has secretly traded oil with it. The struggle against the IS also explains why both have sustained the Iraqi state, even though their involvement responds to a slightly different logic. Ankara did so to avoid that a Kurdish state may emerge from the fragmentation of Iraq, plus to prevent that Teheran may complete a pipeline that would allow it to export its hydrocarbons without having to pass via the Turkish territory; while Riyadh acted to limit Teheran’s influence in the area, given that Iraq’s population is mainly Shia. Also, in the frame of the Iran-KSA proxy war in Yemen, the two powers are both helping the government forces to defeat the Houthi rebels sustained by Iran. Finally, the Saudis promptly expressed their support for Erdogan’s government during the 2016 coup attempt.

Yet, in the broader struggle for influence over the Middle East, the divergences between Riyadh and Ankara have multiplied. First, there is some form of ideological divergence. Since Erdogan became President in 2014, he promoted a reintroduction of religious-based norms in Turkey; and many consider this as being contrary to the secular spirit that the Republic has had since its foundation by Atatürk. At the same time, Saudi Arabia moved in the opposite direction under the leadership of Prince bin Salman. Even though he centralized power (similarly to Erdogan), he lifted many of the traditional Islamic limitations in many aspects of Saudi society. But beyond that, there is much realpolitik underneath.

The two support opposing factions in Egypt: the Saudis favor the government led by General al-Sisi; whereas the Turks support the opposition forces, notably the Muslim Brotherhood. This is not a factor to neglect, because having a friendly government in Cairo makes easier the access to the Red Sea and its shipping lanes, an objective that Ankara is pursuing. In regard to Iran, the KSA maintains its longstanding hostile stance, while Turkey (in spite of the differences) has shown more willingness to cooperate with it (and Russia) in regard to Iraq and Syria. In turn, this is linked to their relations with Israel. Riyadh, considering that Teheran is the main regional rival of Tel Aviv, is unofficially but concretely establishing closer ties with the latter; all with Washington’s patronage. The Trump administration has clearly shown its willingness to support both Saudi Arabia and Israel, so this come with no surprise. At the same time, Turkey’s ties with the Jewish State have been deteriorating during the past decade, notably since Erdogan became President in 2014. Israel does not appreciate Turkey’s support for Islamic movements and for the Palestinian cause, something which recently led to a verbal escalation between Erdogan and Netanyahu. Plus, Tel Aviv does not see positively Ankara’s closer ties with Teheran. The access to offshore gas deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean is another factor that is straining their bilateral relations. Israel is collaborating with Cyprus and Egypt to exploit these energy resources, whereas Turkey is asserting its rights in a quite aggressive manner against other players. In this context, Tel Aviv is also fostering closer ties with Athens, whose relations with Ankara are historically problematic. Lastly, there is the Qatar issue. In 2017, the KSA and other countries (including Egypt) initiated a blockade on the small Gulf state, because of its friendly ties with Iran and for allegedly sponsoring terrorism; a move that Israel approved. Soon, Turkey showed its support to Qatar by providing economic aid and even by dispatching its troops.

The result is that an informal yet tangible entente is forming between Saudi Arabia, Israel, the US and other powers to counter Turkey, which in turn is creating closer ties with Iran (and Russia). The most recent events are to be interpreted in this context.

The current crisis: the alleged killing of Jamal Khashoggi

The Saudi-Turkish standoff that is making the headlines these days is just the latest episode of the deteriorating ties between the two countries, but relations with other powers should be factored in as well.

The Turkish authorities accuse the Saudis to have assassinated Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist known for its critic position towards the government in Riyadh, at the Kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. This has sparked a crisis between the two countries and has attracted much mediatic attention. One interesting thing to note is that Turkey has decided to exploit this occasion to free US pastor Andrew Brunson, who had been detained for two years over accusation of being involved in the failed 2016 coup attempt to overthrow Erdogan. It appears that Turkey is trying to exploit the Khashoggi affaire to restore its ties with the US, which have been damaged in recent years due to various issues. First, this is due to Turkey’s cooperation with Russia and Iran combined with its growing enmity toward Saudi Arabia and Israel. Second, the US refuse to extradite Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish cleric that Ankara blames to be responsible for the 2016 coup attempt. This leads to the third factor, namely the imposition of US sanctions on Turkey, something that caused a considerable depreciation of its currency (the lira), putting the country’s economy under stress and forcing it to take restrictive economic measures in the form of higher interest rates; a measure necessary to stop the fall of the lira’s value but that will damage Turkey’s economy by adding pressure on its negative trade balance and on its external debt.

As such, the timing Andrew Brunson’s liberation now appears both as a conciliatory act towards the US in the hope of having sanctions lifted and to restore better political ties, as well as an attempt to improve its international image all while damaging Saudi Arabia’s. It is another application of Turkey’s traditional policy of tilting alternatively towards the US and then towards Russia and Iran so to keep viable relations with all and maximize its own benefit. After a period where it built its ties with Washington’s adversaries, it is therefore to be expected that Ankara will now seek a reconciliation; but this will likely be only partial. Still, the US-Saudi ties are indeed becoming more strained following the episode, but in the long term it is likely that mutual interests will prevail. What will happen next is yet to be seen, but it is certain that the complex power interplay in the Middle East will not end here.

Saudi Crown Prince – Bin Salman’s Billion Dollar Shopping Spree

Saudi Crown Prince – Bin Salman’s Billion Dollar Shopping Spree

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Saudi-Israel: A Desperate Alliance to cling on to America’s Hegemony of the Middle East

On 16th November 2017, The chief of staff of Israel’s military (IDF) said that his country is ready to share intelligence on Iran with Riyadh.

“With [US] President Donald Trump, there is an opportunity for a new international alliance in the region and a major strategic plan to stop the Iranian threat,” Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)

This announcement coincided with the 40th anniversary of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem.
Sadat shocked the Middle East and the entire world when he announced in 1977, without any prior warning, that he was prepared to board a plane to Jerusalem and address the Knesset.

Now, the covert relationship that Israel has with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states is no longer a secret.

Talking to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, a senior source in Israel said that following Eizenkot’s interview, “it is obvious that the relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia will be made public in the long term. It may not be built on the Egyptian model of full peace. It may be more like ‘Moroccan-style,’ with the relationship kept on a low burner. It may not be official, but beneath the surface, it will flourish.”

Although Saudi officials remained silent on underhanded relations, their Israeli counterparts have made no efforts to hide that meetings between the two countries have taken place, with invitations for future visits.

Last week, Israeli Communications Minister Ayoub Kara invited Saudi’s Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh to visit Israel, and two days later, Israel’s chief-of-staff Gadi Eizenkot gave the first-ever official interview to Saudi news outlet Elaph, saying that Israel is ready to share intelligence with Saudi Arabia on Iran.

The recent domestic upheaval in Saudi Arabia, which saw the arrest of princes, ministers and high-profile businessmen carried out by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was seen as a sign to crush dissent under the banner of cracking down on corruption.

“The political changes in Saudi Arabia and the desire to consolidate power is the main reason why these relations with Israel were opened,” said Mahjoob Zweiri, an associate professor with the Gulf Studies Program department at Qatar University.

“These Arab states are motivated by the survival of their regimes, and that is what pushes them to the stronger state in the region,” he added. Khalil Shaheen, a political analyst based in the West Bank city of Ramallah. It is clear that Washington is playing in the convergence between two of its oldest and closest Mideast allies.

Days before Ibn Salman’s crushing of dissent, Jared Kushner — Trump’s son-in-law was in Saudi Arabia. He reportedly spent late nights talking with Prince Mohammed

As US power declines in Middle East, it is relying on it’s two proxies Israel and Saudi Arabia to balance Iran which has been strengthened following the Iraq war.

The recent events indicate the desperation of America in retaining hegemonic control of the Middle East and Saudi Arabia’s desperate attempts for regime survival.

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The Saudi Palace Plot – Will Mohammed Bin Salman Succeed?

The Saudi Palace Plot

In January 2015, Salman Bin Abdul-Aziz, took the throne following the death of his half-brother, Abdullah (A son of the founder Ibn Saud)

Behind-the-scenes a power struggle was taking place for King Salman to crown his son, Mohammed Bin Salman, a prince and name him his chosen successor.

This power struggle became public on November 4th 2017 when Salman and his son had more than a dozen princes and former high-level officials arrested, including a world-famous billionaire.
The reason for their detention is simple: Salman is trying to remove obstacles that could prevent Mohammed bin Salman from succeeding him.

King Salman is the first monarch in the history of the modern kingdom to buck this particular tradition. Usually, a successor is chosen by consensus among the sons of the founder of the kingdom.

But now that the second generation is nearly all dead, and now that there are too many third-generation princes to convene, it has become more difficult to choose who will become the next king.
He has bucked other traditions too. Salman has strengthened his son’s claim by bestowing on him sweeping powers over security and economic affairs.

Mohammed bin Salman is the defense minister, the head of a strategic economic council, controller of Saudi Aramco and, after Nov. 4, the chief of an anti-corruption agency.

And Salman did all this by removing from power his half brother and his nephew, both of whom were crown princes. He has also sidelined powerful members of the clerical and tribal establishments.

Some rumors suggest that the purges were made in response to a plot against Mohammed bin Salman. It’s unclear if that is actually the case.

But whether the rumors are true or whether the arrests were pre-emptive, the outcome is the same: There are fewer threats to a Mohammed bin Salman reign.

Arresting these individuals accomplishes two things. First, it guarantees their capitulation to Mohammed bin Salman.
Second, it gives the Salman faction more mileage out of the anti-corruption drive.

Between that and their attempts to secularise Muslims in Saudi, the king and his son are moving away from the traditional sources of support (clerics and tribal establishments) and toward new ones: popular appeal among the country’s youth, which makes up about two-thirds of the population.

They are using populism to inoculate themselves from the potential consequences of their power grab. In the process, though, they are inadvertently laying the foundations for the next crisis. Relying on popular support means they will be forced to enact more reforms than they actually want to – or are even capable of. Despots who try to be populists usually end up being neither and, in their failure, lose power.

It is too early to tell what will be the outcome of the power struggle. Whoever comes out on top will be unable to ignore the fact: that Saudi Arabia is a country in decline, largely because of low oil prices but also because of the general disarray in the Middle East.

In this context, then, the events of Nov. 4 are more than petty power grabs – they are attempts to make the country pliable enough to accept reforms at a time of increasing regional chaos.

The kingdom cannot both change its nature and hope to meet the external challenges at the same time. It has to consolidate at home before it can act effectively beyond its borders.

But this sequence of priorities is not a luxury that the Saudis enjoy. Their rivals, the Iranians are gaining ground, and they cannot simply focus on domestic politics.

Riyadh’s inability to deal with external threats, if anything, will only intensify its domestic ones. Even though the king and his son have the upper hand, an inability to effectively counter the Iranian threat could weaken their position at home and thus aggravate the infighting.

All of this is taking place in a broader geopolitical struggle in which America is attempting to maintain its political hegemony in the Middle East using Saudi Arabia as its chief proxy.

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Saudi Arabia’s next King secures power by confining Uncle to palace

Read original article on Newsweek or read a quick summary below;

  1. According to officials, the Saudi prince removed as second-in-line to the throne last week, Mohammed bin Nayef, has been confined to his palace in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.
  2. The move is reportedly a bid to ensure no challenge to his 31-year-old successor, the modernizing face of Saudi Arabia and son of ageing King Salman, Mohammed bin Salman, four former and current Saudi and U.S. officials told the New York Times.
  3. The restrictions on his movements came after the reshuffle on Wednesday but it is unclear how long they will last. In the reshuffle, King Salman also replaced Nayef as Interior Minister with 33-year-old Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud.
  4. But Riyadh has been at pains to show a united front after the shake-up, showing the new crown prince, commonly known by his moniker “MbS,” kissing the hand of the very uncle he was replacing. Nayef also pledged allegiance to his nephew in a public show of support after the decision.
  5. Bin Salman is viewed as an ambitious figure with international prestige, one who has carried out state visits to meet the likes of U.S. Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump in Washington and Vladimir Putin in Moscow in place of his elderly father.
  6. Bin Salman, who diplomats refer to as “Mr. Everything” because of his power, is leading a reformist program known as Vision 2030, aiming to appease the frustrations of a population of which over half are under 25 years old. It seeks social and economic change while diversifying the country’s economy away from oil.

 

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