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Ed Webb

A Middle East Monarchy Hired American Ex-Soldiers To Kill Its Political Enemies. This C... - 0 views

  • “There was a targeted assassination program in Yemen,” he told BuzzFeed News. “I was running it. We did it. It was sanctioned by the UAE within the coalition.”
  • The revelations that a Middle East monarchy hired Americans to carry out assassinations comes at a moment when the world is focused on the alleged murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia, an autocratic regime that has close ties to both the US and the UAE
  • Golan said that during his company’s months-long engagement in Yemen, his team was responsible for a number of the war’s high-profile assassinations, though he declined to specify which ones. He argued that the US needs an assassination program similar to the model he deployed. “I just want there to be a debate,” he said. “Maybe I’m a monster. Maybe I should be in jail. Maybe I’m a bad guy. But I’m right.”
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  • Spear Operations Group’s private assassination mission marks the confluence of three developments transforming the way war is conducted worldwide:Modern counterterrorism combat has shifted away from traditional military objectives — such as destroying airfields, gun emplacements, or barracks — to killing specific individuals, largely reshaping war into organized assassinations.War has become increasingly privatized, with many nations outsourcing most military support services to private contractors, leaving frontline combat as virtually the only function that the US and many other militaries have not contracted out to for-profit ventures.The long US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have relied heavily on elite special forces, producing tens of thousands of highly trained American commandos who can demand high private-sector salaries for defense contracting or outright mercenary work.
  • militarized contract killing, carried out by skilled American fighters
  • “There were guys that were basically doing what you said.” He was astonished, he said, by what he learned: “What vetting procedures are there to make sure the guy you just smoked is really a bad guy?” The mercenaries, he said, were “almost like a murder squad.”
  • US law makes it illegal to “conspire to kill, kidnap, maim” someone in another country. Companies that provide military services to foreign nations are supposed to be regulated by the State Department, which says it has never granted any company the authority to supply combat troops or mercenaries to another country
  • with some exceptions, it is perfectly legal to serve in foreign militaries, whether one is motivated by idealism or money. With no legal consequences, Americans have served in the Israel Defense Forces, the French Foreign Legion, and even a militia fighting ISIS in Syria. Spear Operations Group, according to three sources, arranged for the UAE to give military rank to the Americans involved in the mission, which might provide them legal cover.
  • The commandos’ plans went awry, and the intelligence proved flawed. And their strike was far from surgical: The explosive they attached to the door was designed to kill not one person but everyone in the office
  • Private mercenaries operate outside the US military’s chain of command, so if they make mistakes or commit war crimes, there is no clear system for holding them accountable
  • Golan insists that he killed only terrorists identified by the government of the UAE, an ally of the US. But who is a terrorist and who is a politician? What is a new form of warfare and what is just old-fashioned murder for hire? Who has the right to choose who lives and who dies — not only in the wars of a secretive monarchy like the UAE, but also those of a democracy such as the US?
  • The UAE, with vast wealth but only about 1 million citizens, relies on migrant workers from all over the world to do everything from cleaning its toilets to teaching its university students. Its military is no different, paying lavish sums to eager US defense companies and former generals. The US Department of Defense has approved at least $27 billion in arms sales and defense services to the UAE since 2009.
  • the country embeds foreigners in its military and gave the rank of major general to an American lieutenant colonel, Stephen Toumajan, placing him in command of a branch of its armed forces.
  • The US draws the line at combat; it does not hire mercenaries to carry out attacks or engage directly in warfare. But that line can get blurry. Private firms provide heavily armed security details to protect diplomats in war zones or intelligence officers in the field. Such contractors can engage in firefights, as they did in Benghazi, Libya, when two contractors died in 2012 defending a CIA post. But, officially, the mission was protection, not warfare
  • Golan and Gilmore had another condition: They wanted to be incorporated into the UAE Armed Forces. And they wanted their weapons — and their target list — to come from uniformed military officers. That was “for juridical reasons,” Golan said. “Because if the shit hits the fan,” he explained, the UAE uniform and dog tags would mark “the difference between a mercenary and a military man.”
  • A little-known consequence of the war on terror, and in particular the 17 combined years of US warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, is that the number of special operations forces has more than doubled since 9/11, from 33,000 to 70,000. That’s a vast pool of crack soldiers selected, trained, and combat-tested by the most elite units of the US military, such as the Navy SEALs and Army Rangers. Some special operations reservists are known to engage in for-profit soldiering, said a high-level SEAL officer who asked not to be named. “I know a number of them who do this sort of thing,” he said. If the soldiers are not on active duty, he added, they are not obligated to report what they’re doing.
  • Gilmore said some were members of Al-Islah, some were clerics, and some were out-and-out terrorists — but he conceded he couldn’t be sure.BuzzFeed News has obtained one of the target cards. On it is a man’s name, photograph, telephone number, and other information. At the top right is the insignia of the UAE Presidential Guard.
  • During the Cold War, the CIA played a role in plots to assassinate foreign leaders, such as Patrice Lumumba of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, and Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam. Later in the Vietnam War, the US launched the Phoenix program, in which the CIA often teamed up with US military units to “neutralize” — or, critics say, assassinate — Viet Cong leaders. Even so, targeted killings were not a central pillar of US military strategy in Vietnam. And after Congress exposed CIA activities in the 1970s, the US banned assassinations of foreign leaders.
  • Under President George W. Bush, the CIA and the military used drones to kill terrorists, and the CIA developed covert assassination capabilities. President Barack Obama halted the agency’s secret assassination program but drastically ramped up the use of drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Soon the CIA and the military were using the aircraft — piloted remotely using video monitors — to kill people whose names the US didn’t even know, through “signature strikes” based solely on a target’s associations and activities. President Donald Trump has further loosened the rules for drone strikes.
  • Only a uniformed officer can push the button that fires the drone’s missile and kills the target
  • Elisabeth Kendall, an expert on Yemen at the University of Oxford, points out that unlike al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups, which try to seize power through violence, Al-Islah participates in the political process. But, she said, the US rationale for drone strikes has legitimized other countries’ pursuit of their own assassinations: “The whole very watery, vague notion of a war on terror has left the door wide open to any regime saying, ‘This is all a war on terror.’ ”
  • Golan said he models his assassination business on Israel’s targeted killing program, which has been underway since the country was founded, and which, despite some high-profile errors and embarrassments, he claims is done properly. He argues there are some terrorist enemies so dangerous and implacable — and so difficult to arrest — that assassination is the best solution.
  • The people Spear did target, he and Gilmore said, were legitimate because they were selected by the government of the UAE, an ally of the United States that was engaged in a military action supported by the US. Gilmore said that he and Golan told the UAE they would never act against US interests. And Golan claimed that, based on his military experience, he could tell if a target was a terrorist after just a week or two of surveillance.
  • Gilmore acknowledged that some of the targets may have been people who merely fell out of favor with the ruling family. Referring to the country’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, Gilmore said, “There is the possibility that the target would be someone who MBZ doesn’t like. We’d try to make sure that didn’t happen.”
  • Even though it failed to kill Mayo, the mercenaries’ bomb attack seems to have ushered in a new phase in the UAE’s war against Al-Islah. “It was the exclamation point that set the tone that Al-Islah was now going to be targeted,”
  • As 2016 progressed, those watching the deteriorating situation in Yemen began to notice that members of Al-Islah, and other clerics in Aden, were dropping dead at an alarming pace. “It does appear to be a targeted campaign,” said Gregory Johnsen of the Arabia Foundation, who in 2016 served on a UN panel investigating the Yemen war. “There have been 25 to 30 assassinations,” he said, though a few appear to be the work of ISIS.
  • One new member of the team, hired in early 2016, was the veteran of SEAL Team 6, Daniel Corbett, according to three sources and confirmed by photos. Corbett was a superb soldier, say those who know him, and had served multiple combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was still in the reserves, so the US military could deploy him at any moment; he collected a government salary; and he was supposed to report for monthly drills. And yet he was in Yemen on a private contract to work for a foreign military. It is unclear if he himself was involved in missions to assassinate anyone.
  • In a mysterious development, Corbett is currently in jail in Serbia, where he is being investigated for illegal handgun possession. The American veteran has been held there since February 2018.
  • “some variety of the future of warfare.”
Ed Webb

Follow the petrodollars: Why Gulf wealth matters to Britain is a question everyone shou... - 0 views

  • “The strategic value of the Gulf Arab monarchies to British capitalism and the British state,” Wearing writes, “has meant that securing and defending those monarchies from the threat posed by their own populations has long been a priority for London.” 
  • “the data show that the British government’s response to the new wave of demands for democracy region-wide was to continue a sharp increase in arms supplies to its key authoritarian allies”
  • Without doubt, Britain’s impressively violent imperial history also raises all manner of “moral questions”. And as Wearing makes clear, it was during this very period of empire - comprising a century and a half of British dominance in the Gulf - that the foundations for contemporary interdependence were established.
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  • While British arms exports to the Gulf “help the UK to maintain the military-industrial capacity required as the basis for global power projection” in the neo-imperial era, Gulf petrodollars recycled through trade and investment deals also “play an important role in addressing the key macroeconomic challenges facing the British economy and in maintaining Britain’s status as a leading capitalist nation”.
  • Though Britain has of course long been surpassed by the US in terms of superpowerdom, it maintains an “active commitment to the continuation of US hegemony … with its own state and capitalist interests seen as best pursued within that overall framework”. Given that dominance of the Gulf is crucial to the maintenance of hegemony, Wearing argues, British dealings in the region “should be understood as complementing and reinforcing US efforts to entrench a conservative regional order oriented towards Western power”.
Ed Webb

Qatar to withdraw from OPEC as of Jan 2019 - minister | Reuters - 0 views

  • Qatar is withdrawing from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) as of January 2019, Saad al-Kaabi, the country’s energy minister said on Monday
  • Qatar is withdrawing from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) as of January 2019, Saad al-Kaabi, the country’s energy minister said on Monday
Ed Webb

Oman says time to accept Israel in region, offers help for peace | Reuters - 0 views

  • Oman described Israel as an accepted Middle East state on Saturday, a day after hosting a surprise visit by its prime minister that Washington said could help regional peace efforts
  • Bahrain’s foreign minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa voiced support for Oman over the sultanate’s role in trying to secure Israeli-Palestinian peace, while Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir said the kingdom believes the key to normalising relations with Israel was the peace process
  • Oman has long been to the Middle East what neutral Switzerland is to global diplomacy. The country helped to mediate secret U.S.-Iran talks in 2013 that led to the historic nuclear deal signed in Geneva two years later.
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  • In 1996, the late Shimon Peres went to Oman and Qatar when he was prime minister and opened Israel trade representative offices in both Gulf countries. His predecessor, the late Yitzhak Rabin, made the first trip to Oman in 1994.
Ed Webb

Briton imprisoned in UAE since May 'on suspicion of spying' | World news | The Guardian - 0 views

  • a PhD student accused of being a spy
  • The man is a Durham university PhD student named Matthew Hedges, according to the Times. The 31-year-old has been held in solitary confinement since he was detained at Dubai airport in May as he tried to leave the country following a research trip
  • was studying Emirati security policies after the Arab spring and was aware of the risks as he had lived in Dubai when he was younger.
Ed Webb

US and Turkey begin training for joint patrols in Syria's Manbij - 0 views

  • U.S. and Turkish forces have begun training for joint patrols around Manbij in northern Syria, Turkey’s defense minister said on Tuesday, October 9
  • On June 5, the U.S. Department of State said that the U.S. and Turkey agreed to a “roadmap” for Manbij that included that removal of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), part of the Syrian Democratic Forces fighting Islamic State with U.S.-led Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. Turkey sees the YPG as terrorists inextricably linked to the outlawed Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
  • joint patrols and a joint inspection of the city, as well as the formation of local municipal and military councils
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  • CJTF-OIR spokesperson Colonel Sean Ryan told reporters later: “They’re independent coordinations, they’re not joint patrols. I can tell you that Turkish soldiers will not go into Manbij.”
Ed Webb

Cairo gives priority to Africa - Politics - Egypt - Ahram Online - 0 views

  • the third Africa Investment Forum and the Intra-African Trade Fair, gatherings that seek to boost trade between Egypt and Africa
  • Egypt will also chair the African Union (AU) in 2019 and host the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) meeting in 2020.
  • Egypt previously served as president of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1964, 1989 and 1993. Cairo has long played a significant continental role, supporting the struggle for liberation by African countries throughout the 1950s.
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  • Egypt was suspended from the AU following the 30 June Revolution. Its full membership was restored following the election of Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi as president.
  • Egypt was one of the founding members of the OAU in 1963 and when the organisation became the African Union in 2002 Cairo was one of the first Arab capitals to sign the AU’s Constitutive Act.
  • Egypt also contributed to establishing COMESA and the Community of Sahel-Saharan States. With Angola, South Africa, Algeria and Nigeria it is one of the top five contributors to the AU budget, providing 12 per cent of the total, and has participated in eight of the United Nations’ nine peacekeeping missions in Africa.
Ed Webb

Redrawing the Middle East - Sir Mark Sykes, imperialism and the Sykes-Picot agreement -... - 0 views

  • For Sykes, the Allies’ victory in World War One and Zionist ambitions were interlinked. His intent was to secure a strategic base for Britain in the Middle East in the aftermath of the war, thus revealing yet another debate as to whether Sykes was pro-Zionist or cynically using Zionism to secure British and his own interests. The author leans towards the latter. However, it is clear that whatever philosophy Sykes harboured, the Palestinians were merely a pawn in the game and forced into subjugation for a simple reason. If the British had consulted Palestinians over the colonisation of their land, a revolt would have been a natural result. Berdine describes such a reaction as “an inconvenient fact” for Sykes, had his plans been revealed to the indigenous population
  • Edwin Montagu, British Secretary of State for India and an opponent of the Balfour Declaration. Montagu — the only Jew in the Cabinet when the infamous declaration was written — warned against the British government’s willingness to accommodate more than “liberty of settlement and life on an equality with the inhabitants of that country who profess other religious beliefs.”
Ed Webb

When rescue at sea becomes a crime: who the Tunisian fishermen arrested in Italy really... - 0 views

  • On the night of Wednesday, August 29, 2018, six Tunisian fishermen were arrested in Italy. Earlier that day, they had set off from their hometown of Zarzis, the last important Tunisian port before Libya, to cast their nets in the open sea between North Africa and Sicily. The fishermen then sighted a small vessel whose engine had broken, and that had started taking in water. After giving the fourteen passengers water, milk and bread – which the fishermen carry in abundance, knowing they might encounter refugee boats in distress – they called the Italian coastguard, who told them they’d be coming soon. After hours of waiting, though, the men decided to tow the smaller boat in the direction of Lampedusa – Italy’s southernmost island – to help Italian authorities in their rescue operations. At around 24 miles from Lampedusa, the Guardia di Finanza (customs police) took the fourteen people on board, and then proceeded to violently arrest the six fishermen. According to the precautionary custody order issued by the judge in Agrigento (Sicily), the men stand accused of smuggling, a crime that could get them up to fifteen years of jail if the case goes to trial. The fishermen have since been held in Agrigento prison, and their boat has been seized.
  • Criminalising rescue, a process that has been pushed by different Italian governments since 2016, will continue to have tragic consequences for people on the move in the Mediterranean Sea
  • Among those arrested is Chamseddine Bourassine, the president of the Association “Le Pêcheur” pour le Développement et l’Environnement, which was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year for the Zarzis fishermen’s continuous engagement in saving lives in the Mediterranean.
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  • The fishermen of Zarzis have been on the frontline of rescue in the Central Mediterranean for over fifteen years. Their fishing grounds lying between Libya – the place from which most people making their way undocumented to Europe leave – and Sicily, they were often the first to come to the aid of refugee boats in distress. “The fishermen have never really had a choice: they work here, they encounter refugee boats regularly, so over the years they learnt to do rescue at sea”, explained Gammoudi. For years, fishermen from both sides of the Mediterranean were virtually alone in this endeavour.
  • In the months following the revolution, hundreds of boats left from Zarzis taking Tunisians from all over the country to Lampedusa. Several members of the fishermen’s association remember having to sleep on their fishing boats at night to prevent them from being stolen for the harga. Other fishermen instead, especially those who were indebted, decided to sell their boats, while some inhabitants of Zarzis took advantage of the power vacuum left by the revolution and made considerable profit by organising harga crossings. “At that time there was no police, no state, and even more misery. If you wanted Lampedusa, you could have it”, rationalised another fisherman. But Chamseddine Bourassine and his colleagues saw no future in moving to Europe, and made a moral pact not to sell their boats for migration.
  • the association also got involved in alerting the youth to the dangers of boat migration, as they regularly witnessed the risks involved and felt compelled to do something for younger generations hit hard by staggering unemployment rates. In this optic, they organised training for the local youth in boat mechanics, nets mending, and diving, and collaborated in different international projects, such as NEMO, organised by the CIHEAM-Bari and funded by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Directorate General for Cooperation Development. This project also helped the fishermen build a museum to explain traditional fishing methods, the first floor of which is dedicated to pictures and citations from the fishermen’s long-term voluntary involvement in coming to the rescue of refugees in danger at sea
  • When we see people at sea we rescue them. It’s not only because we follow the laws of the sea or of religion: we do it because it’s human”,
  • The situation deteriorated again though in the summer of 2017, as Italian Interior Minister Minniti struck deals with Libyan militias and coastguards to bring back and detain refugees in detention centres in Libya, while simultaneously passing laws criminalising and restricting the activity of NGO rescue boats in Italy. Media smear campaigns directed against acts of solidarity with migrants and refugees and against the work of rescue vessels in the Mediterranean poured even more fuel on already inflamed anti-immigration sentiments in Europe.
  • the fishermen opposed wholeheartedly the racism propagated by the C-Star members, and that having seen the death of fellow Africans at sea, they couldn’t but condemn these politics. Their efforts were cheered on by anti-racist networks in Sicily, who had in turn prevented the C-Star from docking in Catania port just a couple of days earlier. It is members from these same networks in Sicily together with friends of the fishermen in Tunisia and internationally that are now engaged in finding lawyers for Chamseddine and his five colleagues.
  • The fishermen’s arrest is the latest in a chain of actions taken by the Italian Lega and Five Star government to further criminalise rescue in the Mediterranean Sea, and to dissuade people from all acts of solidarity and basic compliance with international norms. This has alarmingly resulted in the number of deaths in 2018 increasing exponentially despite a drop in arrivals to Italy’s southern shores. While Chamseddine’s lawyer hasn’t yet been able to visit him in prison, his brother and cousin managed to go see him on Saturday. As for telling them about what happened on August 29, Chamseddine simply says that he was assisting people in distress at sea: he’d do it again.
Ed Webb

The Fruits of Iran's Victory in Syria - Lawfare - 0 views

  • while Tehran was gaining prominence on the battlefield and in international fora aimed at addressing the Syrian crisis, Iran began to pay greater costs for its involvement there. Domestically, the Iranian populace and regime insiders alike were torn on their country’s presence in Syria. They believed containing ISIS was critical, but also saw Assad as a horrifying figure whose forces were leaving hundreds of thousands displaced, wounded, and killed. The Guards and Artesh were beginning to see their death tolls rise, with the number of killed troops repatriated surpassing 1,000 by 2016. And as the country was struggling to reap the economic benefits of the 2015 nuclear deal and subsequent sanctions relief, it was also dedicating millions of dollars to supplying Assad and his forces with funds, advisors, weapons, and other equipment. According to reporting by Haaretz, “Iranian state-owned banks set up credit lines for the Syrian government of $3.6 billion in 2013 and $1 billion in 2015 to let the regime buy oil and other goods from Iran.” And this amount doesn’t include Iranian-supplied arms to various groups in the region
  • The Islamic Republic did not anticipate when it became involved in Syria that the conflict would last seven years and that Assad would preserve his tenure. Iran may have signaled in the middle of the war that it would have been willing to drop Assad for another friendly presence in Damascus, but that view changed as it became clear that the international community, chiefly the United States and its European allies, were at least tacitly willing to live with Assad.
  • Iran’s military has gained significant battlefield experience, with its armed forces becoming much more cohesive. And this experience isn’t limited to Iranian troops, but also the militias Iran has deployed from other parts of the region, including approximately 14,000 Fatemiyoun and 5,000 Zeynabiyoun
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  • Tehran’s been able to project power beyond its means through its strategic deployment of militias in Syria
  • increased its strategic depth and preserved its lifeline to its chief non-state ally. Hezbollah’s ability to preserve its stronghold in Lebanon and to thrive is vital to the Islamic Republic because of the ways it increases Iran’s strategic depth, provides intelligence and counterintelligence benefits, and assists with Iran’s power projection, including by providing a deterrent against the United States and Israel
  • Iran has been able to contain ISIS in Syria, allowing it to minimize the threat posed by the group against its own territory and population
  • the Revolutionary Guards will continue to be involved in the security sector in Syria and have already made agreements with Assad. Iran is now involved in rebuilding Syria’s infrastructure, including in the energy sector. And the Guards are a natural candidate for these efforts, given their presence in Syria and experience in the Iranian oil and gas sectors. At home the Iranian government is trying to scale back the Guards’ economic activities, so they may see investment abroad as a natural next step. There have also been talks of joint transportation projects between Damascus and Tehran, which would facilitate bilateral trade. Iran hopes to become a key exporter of goods to Syria. Iranians are also eyeing the public health and education sectors as possible arenas for future involvement. Lastly, the Islamic Republic hopes to become a key arms supplier in the region and Syria is a natural market for its weapons and defense equipment
Ed Webb

'Five years ago there was nothing': inside Duqm, the city rising from the sand | Cities... - 0 views

  • a long line of plans stretching back to the 1980s aimed at developing and populating barren parts of Oman. Around 70% of the country’s population resides within a thin 150-mile-long coastal strip in the north near Muscat. The government now sees its hundreds of miles of unused coastline as full of economic potential.
  • “Duqm is a huge industrial city being built out of thin air,” says Manishankar Prasad, a local researcher who worked on the new city’s environmental and cultural impact assessments. “It will essentially change the locus of industrial activity from the northern parts of the country, which are heavily urbanised. [Having this] huge geographical expanse with this sparse population and no industrial activity is really not the way forward.”
  • We are in the midst of an era of new cities – with more than 200 currently under construction. Remote deserts all over east Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa are being urbanised. There’s Nurkent in Kazakhstan, Aylat in Azerbaijan, New Kabul City in Afghanistan, New Baghdad in Iraq, Rawabi in Palestine, King Abdullah Economic City in Saudi Arabia, New Cairo in Egypt … Morocco has nine new cities in the works, and Kuwait has 12.
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  • Oman is desperate to diversify away from its oil and gas dependency. Research by the US Energy Information Administration puts Oman’s known crude oil reserves at 5.6bn barrels. While this is only enough to rank the country 21st in the world, its economy is disproportionately dependent: oil and gas accounts for nearly half of the country’s GDP, 70% of exports and between 68% and 85% of government revenue.
  • “Several dozen new cities are being constructed in the Middle East, mainly to transition away from the petroleum industry to a variety of other industries, including tourism, manufacturing, education and hi-tech,” says Dr Sarah Moser, a McGill University geography professor and author of an upcoming atlas of new cities.
  • Duqm sits on the Arabian Sea near the Strait of Hormuz, the gateway to the Persian Gulf – and the world’s most glaring oil supply chokepoint. Nearly a fifth of the world’s oil currently flows through this passage, ever prone to disruption. If the Duqm project succeeds, the shipping industry would be able to dock at the gates of the Middle East without needing to go all the way inside.
  • attracted the attention of Beijing’s much heralded Maritime Silk Road. More than three-quarters of Oman’s crude oil exports go directly to China.
  • While Duqm was never very densely populated, around 3,000 Bedouin – mostly fishermen and semi-nomadic herders – called the area home before the bulldozers arrived. These villages have now been demolished and the Oman government has built a new, modern town for them to relocate to. The houses look as if they were copied and pasted from Muscat – bright, white buildings two storeys high with garages and ornate gateways. There is a mosque in the centre. The houses stand empty. The local Bedouin prefer their traditional way of life – and want space to keep camels.
Ed Webb

Ethiopia: Exploiting the Gulf's scramble for the Horn of Africa - African Arguments - 0 views

  • the United Arab Emirates played a key behind-the-scenes role in facilitating the deal between Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki. Both men met with Emirati leaders on several occasions before and during the reconciliation, and they have stayed in regular contact ever since.
  • After decades of disengagement, countries east of the Red Sea are scrambling to gain a greater footprint along the opposite coast. In response, states on the Horn such as Ethiopia are trying to leverage these rapidly changing geopolitical dynamics to enhance their own influence.
  • Relations between the Horn of Africa and Arab nations east of the Red Sea date back over millennia. They took a turn for the worse following the 1973 “Oil Crisis”, triggered when oil-producing Arab counties cut down production to punish Western countries that supported Israel in the Yom Kippur War. Horn countries became collateral damage as inflation skyrocketed. To overcome economic devastation and soaring debt, they began to court oil-rich Gulf States, offering political loyalty and natural resources in return for aid. Countries such as Somalia, Djibouti, Egypt, and Sudan invoked their cultural and religious connections with the Gulf in a bid to gain help in dealing with their balance of payment crisis and political instability. Arab nations seized the opportunity, using their wealth and newfound geostrategic importance to expand their influence in the Horn and secure key loyalties.
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  • profound geopolitical shifts have now renewed the Middle East’s interest in the Horn and reinvigorated the strategic significance of countries west of the Red Sea. The two main reasons for this are the war in Yemen and deepening intra-Gulf rivalries. These factors have led three main groups to vie for influence in the Horn: the Arab axis (led by Saudi Arabia and UAE, but including Egypt and Bahrain); the Iran axis; and the Qatar-Turkey axis.
  • Saudi Arabia is reportedly developing a military base in Djibouti and is considering Ethiopian requests to supply it fuel for a year with delayed payments. Meanwhile, the UAE has agreed to provide Ethiopia with huge loans, investment and infrastructure support; it has upgraded Eritrea’s Assab port and constructed a military headquarters nearby from which it has launched offensives into Yemen; and its company DP World has secured contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars to develop the ports in Berbera and Bosaso, located in the semi-autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland respectively.
  • main aim is to isolate Iran, with which it has a long-standing feud, and contain the influence of the Qatar-Turkey Axis, which it accuses of promoting “political Islam”.
  • Qatar and Turkey also have deep footprints in the Horn through development aid, trade, and investments in infrastructure. Both are heavily involved in Somalia, where Turkey manages the capital’s ports and airports and has a military base. And both are investing heavily in Suakin in Sudan, with Qatar announcing a $4 billion plan to develop the port this March. There are reports that Qatar has also financed Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam, drawing anger from Egypt and its Arab allies, though Ethiopia has denied these claims.
  • Somalia has been particularly affected by intra-Gulf rivalries as some regional governments have pulled in opposite directions in an aim to consolidate alliances across the sea.
  • Amidst the growing competition for influence among the Middle Eastern axes, Addis Ababa has managed to avoid taking sides – at least publicly – and leverage its geostrategic significance as the region’s hegemon to attract much-needed investment from several different partners.
  • Ethiopia has also positioned itself well to benefit from the complex scramble for Red Sea ports. The land-locked country relies on Djibouti for nearly 97% of its imports, but now has clear avenues for diversifying its routes to sea. The rapprochement with its neighbour should give it access to Eritrean ports, while the UAE’s development of Berbera in Somaliland will give it another crucial option. Ethiopia defied the Somali federal government’s objections when it supported the UAE’s deal with the semi-autonomous region, but in return it has acquired a 19% stake in the project.
  • The combination of Gulf’s transactional politics and Africa’s often kleptocratic leadership could prove treacherous as historic rivalries take on new twists and matters develop beyond the Horn’s control.
Ed Webb

Russian politician says NATO Incirlik base could turn into a Russian one | Ahval - 0 views

  • Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan prefers to be with Russia rather than waiting in queue for European Union membership, Russian politician and leader of the far-right Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR)  Vladimir Zhirinovsky said, Sputnik Turkish reported on Saturday.
  • Zhirinovsky was one of the foreign politicians in the Russian delegation President Erdoğan invited to his inauguration ceremony on July 9
  • Zhirinovsky also added that İncirlik air base, currently controlled by the Turkish and American force, could be also reversed to a Russian base
Ed Webb

The Real Reason the Middle East Hates NGOs - Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • when pressed, the head of the officers’ delegation became red-faced with anger. Apparently, laying the groundwork for more open and just politics did not include human rights organizations, good-governance groups, environmentalists, private associations that provide aid to people in need, or other NGOs.
  • in Egypt, employees of NGOs have become virtual enemies of the state. In keeping with its reputation as the lone Arab Spring “success story,” Tunisia has created a more welcoming environment for these groups, but even there, the ability of NGOs to carry out their work can be constrained given that a state of emergency and other laws place restrictions on the right to assemble
  • the relentless pressure Middle Eastern governments have long applied to NGOs. Leaders in the region do not do well with ideas like “self-organizing,” “relatively autonomous from the state,” and the creation of associations and “solidarities” — and it is hard, without justifying repression, not to see why. Civil society groups have the potential to help people with common interests overcome the considerable obstacles to collective action that many Middle Eastern governments have put in place and, in the process, give greater voice to people’s grievances.
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  • It is a mistake to conclude that only narrowly self-serving authoritarianism explains the thuggish approach to NGOs around the Middle East. After all, the hounding of these groups (including in Israel) seems to be out of proportion to any evidence that they can create significant political change in the region. No doubt many NGOs have helped people in need throughout the Middle East, but those dedicated to governance and human rights, for example, have hardly had an impact. But then why do the Middle East’s commanders of tanks, planes, and missiles treat the Arab hippies who want to defend the freedom of association as such a problem? The threat isn’t about loosening the authoritarians’ grip on power, but something more abstract: the Middle East’s fragile sense of identity and sovereignty.
  • officials in the region have often boasted of the large number of nongovernmental organizations (even as they were cracking down on them) as a way to both deflect criticism from abroad and embed in the minds of their citizens the idea that reform was underway. It has hardly been believable and has not worked, which is why the default for Middle Eastern governments is to repress such groups.
  • Arab leaders essentially regard nongovernmental organizations, especially those with foreign funding, as agents of a neocolonial project. The hypocrisy of this position for governments that either receive copious amounts of foreign assistance or that rely on the West for their security is self-evident, but that does not necessarily diminish its effectiveness
  • Western-funded human rights campaigners and good-governance activists as the most recent manifestation of the civilizing mission that originally brought European colonialists to North Africa and the Levant
  • The related problem of sovereignty brings the matter into sharp relief. The European penetration of the Middle East in the late 18th and early 19th centuries began a long-term process of intellectual ferment and discovery among Middle Easterners about how best to confront this challenge. Islamic reformism, Arab nationalism, and Islamism, which emphasized identity, were the most politically effective (and enduring) regional responses
Ed Webb

After a New Massacre, Charges That ISIS Is Operating With Assad and the Russians - 0 views

  • In all, 273 Druze were killed and 220 injured, Druze officials told us.They strongly suspect that the attack by ISIS was carried out in cooperation with the Russian-backed Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, and this is corroborated to some extent by ISIS prisoners we have interviewed who are being held by U.S.-allied Kurdish forces here in northern Syria.  The Druse politicians and officials came here to try to forge an alliance with like-minded Kurds for mutual self-protection, which is when they told us the details of the massacre.
  • As the ISIS massacres in the Sweida region began just after dawn, mysteriously, telephone land lines and electricity in the area had been cut off. But the news spread by cell phone, and well-armed Druze men came out in droves to defend their population. “The big battle started around noon and lasted until 8 p.m,” said one Druze official who joined the fight. According to the Druze politicians we talked to, there were approximately 400 combatants from ISIS, or Daesh as they are called here, facing thousands of individually armed Druze who rose to fight — and who did not take prisoners. “Currently 250 Daesh are dead,” one Druze official told us. “There are no injured [ISIS fighters]. We killed them all and more are killed every day in ongoing skirmishes in which the Daesh attackers continue to come from the desert to attack. Every day we discover the bodies of injured Daesh who died trying to withdraw. Due to the rugged terrain, Daesh could not retrieve them with their four-wheel-drives. We have no interest to bury them.”
  • The Druze officials said that the Syrian authorities are demanding any surviving ISIS captives be turned over to them, but the Druze are refusing to do so
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  • People in the Middle East constantly speculate about the machinations of their governments and political parties, and rumors are taken seriously since verifiable facts often are hard or impossible to come by. But the Assad regime and ISIS at this moment have a coincidence of interests that is hard to mistake. Assad currently is readying his troops and Russian- and Iranian-backed allies to attack the jihadist militants in Idlib, and the Druze leaders we talked to feel that their people were directly punished for not agreeing to join the Syrians in that operation.
  • Assad’s alleged complicity with ISIS is long, gruesome, and well documented. Recently he has had a policy of allowing armed militants to escape from cities in busses, ostensibly to reduce the risk of civilian casualties. ““It is known that Daesh militants in the suburbs of Damascus have been displaced to the east of Sweida in green buses by an agreement with the government: 1,400 Daesh were moved this way to the area east of Sweida and near the Tanf base of the Americans,” one of our Druze sources told us.
  • “Adding to that, 1,000 combatants of Daesh came in a discreet way from the Yarmouk area [a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus] to join the local Daesh, estimated at 2,000 to 3,000 combatants," said one of the Druze officials who talked to us. "We know this by internal sources of the Syrian army. There are still some Druze of the army who leak this information to us.”
  • “On the 24th of July most of the official checkpoints of the Syrian army around Sweida were withdrawn—all around the villages where the massacres occurred,” this Druze official told us. “They hit at 7 a.m., but at night something else was happening. Where the villages are—facing the Daesh area—the Syrian army withdrew the local weapons from the local protection militias. No one knew why. They also withdrew their checkpoint in the area and cut the electricity and local phone service. The regime was a spectator to the massacre.”
  • One of the 10 captured ISIS attackers admits on an interrogation video shared by the Druze leaders that in the village massacres a man from the Syrian government guided them from house to house, knocking on the doors and calling the inhabitants by name so they would unwittingly open their doors to the ISIS attackers.
  • ISIS sold grain and oil to the Syrian government while in return they were supplied with electricity, and that the Syrians even sent in experts to help repair the oil facility in Deir ez Zour, a major city in southeast Syria, under ISIS protection. Early in the the revolution, Bashar al-Assad released al Qaeda operatives and other jihadists from his prison to make the case that he was fighting terrorists, not rebellious people hoping for democracy. One of those jihadists he released, known as Alabssi, was one of the ISIS leaders in the battle in Sweida.
  • U.S.-led coalition forces say that in the area patrolled by Americans and their close allies, around 1,000 ISIS militants are still at large. And an estimated 9,000 ISIS militants are still roaming free in Syria and Iraq. And in both places heinous attacks continue to occur.
  • “To safeguard our community and to protect the diversity in the future of Syria, we need to create a crescent against aggressors,” said one of the politicians. Running from north to south, including parts of Iraq, it would protect the Kurds, the Yazidis, Christians, and Druze. “The minorities are looking to the Coalition as the only credible force in the area,” he said, adding, “The crescent strategically speaking would also cut the Iranians from access to the regime.”
Ed Webb

My son, Osama: the al-Qaida leader's mother speaks for the first time | World news | Th... - 0 views

  • According to officials in Riyadh, London and Washington DC, Bin Laden had by then become the world’s number one counter-terrorism target, a man who was bent on using Saudi citizens to drive a wedge between eastern and western civilisations. “There is no doubt that he deliberately chose Saudi citizens for the 9/11 plot,” a British intelligence officer tells me. “He was convinced that was going to turn the west against his ... home country. He did indeed succeed in inciting a war, but not the one he expected.”
  • Hamza bin Laden’s continued rise may well cloud the family’s attempts to shake off their past. It may also hinder the crown prince’s efforts to shape a new era in which Bin Laden is cast as a generational aberration, and in which the hardline doctrines once sanctioned by the kingdom no longer offer legitimacy to extremism. While change has been attempted in Saudi Arabia before, it has been nowhere near as extensive as the current reforms. How hard Mohammed bin Salman can push against a society indoctrinated in such an uncompromising worldview remains an open question.
Ed Webb

Maroc : pourquoi l'histoire du « complot iranien » ne tient pas | Middle East... - 0 views

  • Selon le ministre des Affaires étrangères, Nasser Bourita, l’Iran, à travers son bras armé, le Hezbollah, aurait utilisé son ambassade à Alger pour faire passer des armes aux combattants du Front Polisario et aurait également procédé à leur instruction en matière d’espionnage en territoire algérien.
  • personne ne comprend pourquoi le Maroc a rompu ses relations diplomatiques avec le lointain Iran et non pas avec la voisine Algérie qui, si l’on en croit les Marocains, a facilité le transit des armes iraniennes destinées aux camps de réfugiés sahraouis de Tindouf et a permis que les instructeurs du Hezbollah puissent comploter au grand air sur son territoire
  • En mettant le Polisario et l’Iran dans le même sac, le Maroc cherche à rendre « antipathiques » les indépendantistes sahraouis aux yeux de Washington et attirer vers eux les foudres de l’administration Trump.
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  • Pour cette dernière, dirigée par un politicien qui a une vision assez primitive du monde, l’ami de mon ennemi est forcément mon ennemi. C’est-à-dire, si l’ennemi iranien soutient le Polisario, donc le Polisario est forcément l’ennemi des Américains.
  • par ce geste, Rabat a voulu faire un clin d’œil aux Américains après l’annonce, lors de la dernière réunion du Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU chargé du renouvellement de la Mission des Nations unies au Sahara occidental (MINURSO), de l’intention des États-Unis à prendre « leurs responsabilités » au cas où Marocains et Sahraouis n’arriveraient pas à se mettre d’accord dans un laps de temps de six mois.
  • Certains croient que cette menace signifie qu’en cas d’échec des hypothétiques négociations entre Rabat et le Polisario, l’administration américaine reconnaîtrait, comme elle l’a fait avec Jérusalem, la marocanité du Sahara occidental
Ed Webb

Agriculture in Europe to decline as Asian output grows: UN, OECD - 0 views

  • Agricultural production in Western Europe is set to decline over the coming decade, with output in Africa and Asia expected to increase, the OECD and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said
  • Middle East meanwhile faces a rising threat of food insecurity, the report said, as conflict, climate change and poor policy all have the effect of keeping the region overly reliant on imports
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, crop production is set to expand by 30 percent, with meat and dairy both set to grow by 25 percent
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  • the region's food security is set to remain dependent on global markets, because "domestic production capacity will remain insufficient to meet the region's growing consumption needs"
  • The Middle East, which is mired in conflict and political unrest, has a "high and growing dependence" on imports for key food products, the report said, leaving the region in a state of increasing food insecurity.Arable land and water are growing more scarce in the region, both because of climate change pushing temperatures up, and as a result of poor agricultural policy from governments."It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the water issue in the Middle East and North Africa region," the report said."Along with conflict, it is the most profound man-made threat to the region's future,"
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