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Ed Webb

Senate Democrats hold up arms sales for Saudi war in Yemen - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of t... - 1 views

  • Congress was notified Aug. 19 of the Obama administration's intent to provide Riyadh with thousands of precision-guided munitions. The sale is linked to the administration's effort to placate Gulf countries' concerns about the Iranian nuclear deal, but it has hit a snag with Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who want to see the Saudi-led campaign reeled in.
  • “I fear that our failure to strongly advocate diplomacy in Yemen over the past two years, coupled with our failure to urge restraint in the face of the crisis last spring, may put the viability of this critical [US-Saudi] partnership at risk,” said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. “The Leahy Law prohibits US security assistance — and many forms of defense cooperation — with forces that have engaged in gross violations of human rights. If reports are accurate, the Saudi indiscriminate targeting in the air campaign and an overly broad naval blockade could well constitute such violations.”
  • While the sale is almost certain to go through eventually, they hope to use it as leverage to win concessions on kick-starting political negotiations with the Houthis and lifting the blockade
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  • Critics of the sale in particular point out that Riyadh has been able to derive extra legitimacy from the US support for its campaign.

    “We are very careful in picking targets. We have very precise weapons,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told CBS News after an airstrike killed more than 130 people at a wedding reception. “We work with our allies, including the United States, on these targets.”

  • Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. “It's not all bad that the Saudis decided that they wanted to act immediately in Yemen. I don't think we need to be 'mother may I' in terms of folks acting in their own security interests in the region. But I am struck by the level of their response compared to what I view as an extremely tepid response to Sunni extremism. It's not just Iranian influence in the region that should trouble us.”
Ed Webb

Syrian Kurdish leader: Moscow wants to work with us - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Midd... - 1 views

  • Ilham Ehmed, a senior member of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), told Al-Monitor in a brief interview Oct. 8 that “Russia says it wants to work with us” to combat the group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS) and other extremist organizations.
  • According to the Kurds, the United States has also frustrated their desire to expand their area of control in Syria,
  • While the United States supported the PYD in expelling IS from Kobani and in capturing Tell Abyad east of Kobani, Washington has promised Turkey not to allow the Kurds to move west toward Afrin in return for allowing the United States to fly bombing runs from Incirlik Air Base, Balanche said. He added that the PYD would face other obstacles in such an operation. “There are 500,000 people between Azaz, al-Bab, Manbaj and Jarabulus, including a Turkmen minority,” he said. “It would be very difficult for the Kurds to capture this area without heavy US support.”

    Balanche wrote recently that if the United States does not back the Kurdish advance, the PYD will look to Russia and Assad “if that is its only path to a continuous territory in the north.”

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  • the Obama administration needs the Kurds for a planned major offensive against the IS stronghold of Raqqa
  • Ehmed said that the Kurds are seeking “self-administration, not autonomy,” along the lines of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq. “We want to stay in Syria with our culture and our language,”
  • Turkey “opened the border for terrorism,” she said. “Terrorism didn’t come from the sky.”
  • The dispute between Turkey and the Kurds has undermined the US goal of closing a 68-mile section of the Turkey-Syria border that has been controlled by IS and used for the transit of foreign fighters into Syria.
Ed Webb

Lebanon reaps weapons windfall from Congress - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 1 views

  • Congress over the past year has approved more than $1 billion in proposed arms sales for the Lebanese armed forces, including attack aircraft and helicopters. And lawmakers on Sept. 29 cemented Beirut's status as a key ally with the release of a compromise annual defense bill that puts Lebanon on equal footing with longtime partner Jordan
  • aircraft sales would provide the Lebanese armed forces with close air support seen as crucial for strikes against IS militants along the border. Saudi Arabia is helping foot the bill through a $1 billion grant to Lebanon.
Ed Webb

Yemen pays price for Saudis' sectarian paranoia | Middle East Eye - 1 views

  • The success of the Houthi insurgency from the north that swept the Yemeni leadership from power, taking over the capital Sanaa, was perversely treated by the Security Council as a military coup justifying the intervention by a Saudi-led coalition. Strange to recall that the 2013 undisguised military coup in Egypt, with much bloodier reprisals against the displaced elected rulers, aroused not a murmur of protest in the halls of the UN. So goes geopolitics in the Middle East.
  • the geopolitical tendency to reduce an incredibly complex national history and interplay of contending forces to a simplistic story of Sunni versus Shia rivalry for the control of the country
  • allows Saudi Arabia to portray the strife in Yemen as another theatre of the wider region proxy war pitting Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies against Iran, which is a guaranteed way of securing US and Israeli backing
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  • not a regional politics based on sectarian priorities, but rather a pathological preoccupation with regime stability in the Saudi monarchy, with anxieties arising whenever political tendencies emerge in the region that elude its control, and are perceived as threatening
  • There is a long experience of division between the north and the south, and this means that any unity government for the whole of Yemen can only be sustained by an iron-fisted dictator like Saleh or through a genuine power-sharing federalist kind of arrangement. Beyond this, the country bears the scars of Ottoman rule intermixed with a British presence in Aden and the surrounding area, vital for colonial priorities of controlling the Suez and the trade routes to the East.

    Additionally, Yemen remains a composite of tribes that still command the major loyalty of people. The modern European insistence on sovereign states in the Middle East never succeeded in overcoming the primacy of Yemeni tribal identities. Any possibility of political stability requires subsidising Yemen’s tribes as Saudi Arabia did during Saleh’s dictatorship (1990-2012) or creating a multi-coloured quilt of autonomous tribal polities. When geography and tribalism are taken into account recourse to the Shia-Sunni divide or the Riyadh-Tehran rivalry as an explanation of Yemen’s strife-ridden country is a cruel and futile fantasy.

  • What is needed is establishing a political transition sensitive both to the North-South split and the strength of Yemeni tribes coupled with massive economic assistance from outside and the creation of a UN peacekeeping presence tasked with implementation
  • Such a rational path is currently blocked, especially by the intense militancy of the aggressive Saudi leadership of King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, and his son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Secretary of Defence, the apparent champion of military intervention
Ed Webb

PYD leader: Russia will stop Turkey from intervening in Syria - Al-Monitor: the Pulse o... - 3 views

  • Returning to the negotiating table seems hard. The plan devised by the UN’s Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, is backed most of all by Russia. But the opposite camp, meaning Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are resisting this [plan]. If the United States wants to pave the way for a solution, it must apply certain pressure on this camp
  • Russia and the United States seem to have established their own zones of influence within Syria. The US is active in the north. The Russians will not meddle in the north. But should Turkey attempt to intervene, then they will. Russia has a joint defense agreement with Syria. They will prevent Turkish intervention not to defend us [Kurds] but to defend Syria’s border.
Ed Webb

Former Obama officials propose talking with Iran on Syria aid | The Back Channel - 0 views

  • Amid deepening US-Russia strains over Ukraine, two former Obama administration officials say it may be time for the US to explore trying to develop a channel with Iran to discuss Syria, beginning with humanitarian relief.
  • “My bottom line sense with the Iranians is there’s hope for a US-Iran conversation [on Syria humanitarian aid] that is a serious and potentially productive one,” Frederic Hof, a former senior US diplomat advising the Obama administration on Syria and the Levant, told an interview last week.

    In track 2 conversations with Iranians that Hof has been involved in, “the people I talk to are blunt:  they are not interested in talking about a [Syria] political transition,” Hof, now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said. “They need Assad and regime support to Hezbollah in Lebanon as Iran’s first line of defense against Israel and the possibility of an Israeli air assault on their nuclear facilities.”

  • Those “in charge of the US role in the P5+1 will absolutely oppose any kind of cross -pollination or discussion about Syria. So it takes a decision almost at the highest level,” to try to pursue a Syria channel with Iran.
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  • Hof said he raised with Iranian interlocutors in track 2 talks the prospect of a scenario in which a “Srebrenica-style moment” occurred in Syria, as the Iran and the P5+1 were advancing a nuclear deal. A scenario in which “your client does something so outrageous, that it inspires POTUS to do what he declined to do in August or September,” Hof said. “To the extent you guys are serious on the nuclear front, what does that do to that progress?” Hof asked his Iranian interlocutors. “And they looked at one another and shrugged, because their attitude is, Assad is not the most reliable guy in the world.”
Ed Webb

Veteran US diplomat tackles Middle East 'mess' - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • Al-Monitor:  In the old days, the Iranians and the Saudis used to talk to each other and resolve issues. Now, this is a missing piece.

    Patterson:  It goes back 20 years [to Lebanon]. This is a missing piece. And so the proxy war has gotten a lot worse and you see it all over now in frankly scary dimensions. But it wasn’t that long ago when they had some kind of relationship. … They never liked each other, but they weren’t at this level of animosity.

  • Al-Monitor:  Let’s turn to Egypt. General, now Field Marshal [Abdel Fattah] al-Sisi seems on his way to becoming Egypt’s next president. How would you characterize our relationship with him and the Egyptian government at this point?

    Patterson:  Personal relationships with him have been good — certainly with ambassadors, including me and with [Defense] Secretary [Chuck] Hagel and with Secretary Kerry and a lot of people on the Hill. But it’s certainly no secret that we’re concerned about freedom of the press, freedom of association, all the fundamentals that are being thrown into question right now in Egypt, not to mention the huge economic issues.

  • Al-Monitor:  There have been some incredibly anti-American statements lately in Egypt. [Former parliament member and current Al-Osboa editor] Mustafa Bakri openly called last week for attacks against Americans. What are we doing to counter this?

    Patterson:  We complain to the government. Mr. Bakri did sort of back off that statement. But now there has been a rash of hugely anti-American stuff in the press. This ebbs and flows, … [but] it’s really a quite dangerous game, because you fan up public opinion and then you’re hostage to public opinion.

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  • It’s like 1979. The Arab Spring has changed the situation entirely in the region all at once. … It looks like a mess … but if some of this can be successful, … it will change the chessboard. … So let’s hold out hope that some of this will work.
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