The further adventures of Trump’s Saudi ally

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meeting US President Trump

By Sammy Barker

On 5 November the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, launched an ‘anti-corruption’ campaign involving the arrest of eleven princes, four serving ministers and ‘tens’ of former ministers. Along with these were some major business people, including Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal, the country’s wealthiest man, reportedly worth $30 billion, Mohammed Hussein Al-Amadi, the second richest man, reportedly worth $10.9 billion. Also arrested was Bakr bin Laden, the head of the biggest construction company in the country. Some Saudi sources put the number of arrests as high as 500, with double that questioned.

A purge of this kind is unprecedented in Saudi history. The strength of the regime has been in the cohesion and unity of the royal family. Where palace coups have taken place, the affiliates and direct family members of those removed have not been publicly humiliated. This time the sons of four key men in the last 40 years of Saudi history have been arrested. There are reports of torture being used on some detainees. Prince Mansour Bin Mugrin was killed, with seven others, when his helicopter crashed as he was leaving the country. He had previously circulated a letter to a thousand princes urging opposition to the succession of the Crown Prince, when 81 year old King Salman dies.

A committee has been established, chaired by the Crown Prince, with complete power to decide the fate of those arrested, and the disposal of assets.

Kidnapping an ally

This would be remarkable enough, but a further extraordinary development was the announcement in Riyadh by Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, that he was resigning his post. The justification was his reiteration of the Saudi regime’s claim that Hezbollah and the Iranian government are engaged in hostile actions in Lebanon, and an alleged threat of his assassination.

This was rejected by Lebanese President Aoun, who told European Ambassadors that Harari had been ‘kidnapped’, and that he would not accept the resignation, needing to speak to Harari personally. After meeting French President Macron, he stated that: ‘The obscurity surrounding the condition of Prime Minister Saad Harari since his resignation a week ago means that all positions and actions declared by him or attributed to him do not reflect the truth’. Additionally, all three branches of Lebanese national security have denied that there is an assassination threat against the Prime Minister. In response, the Saudi channel, Al Arabiya later said unnamed ‘western sources’ were the origin for the information.

Harari is actually an ally of the Saudi regime. Under the Lebanese constitution the Prime Minister must be from the Sunni community. This has always meant a close relation with the Saudis. Like other Prime Ministers before him, Harari has dual Lebanese/Saudi nationality. His family fortune is based on the Saudi Oger construction company, founded by his father, Rafik, a former Prime Minister of Lebanon assassinated in 2005. This connexion has made Harari vulnerable to manipulation. The company was estimated to be worth $4.1billion in 2005. But the stagnation of the Saudi economy, and allegations of corruption, meant that Forbes estimated the firm as worth only $1.3 billion in December 2016. In June 2017, Reuters estimated that Saudi Oger owed $3.5 billion to Saudi banks.

Further adventures

Overall this looks like further adventures by the Crown Prince. His war upon Yemen is absolutely deadlocked from a military and strategic viewpoint. The Saudi armed forces are unable to confront the popular forces of Ansarallah and allies in the north of the country. Instead, the air force is being used, with the help of the US and British governments, to intimidate the population and destroy a poor country’s infrastructure. In the south of the country the Saudi’s leading ally, the United Arab Emirates is acting as an occupying force, utilising its own jails and torture. Its armed forces and mercenaries are using tactical agreements with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and ISIS supporters against Ansarallah. Yemen as a whole constitutes the worst humanitarian disaster on the planet, including the largest cholera outbreak in history. The same week the Saudi regime tightened the blockade, only apparently easing it after representation from the UN and others.

Equally unsuccessful has been the Crown Prince’s attempt to force the Qatar regime to accept Saudi dictates, through a siege since June. With the support of the governments of Turkey and Iran, alternative supply routes have been established. The Qatari regime’s substantial financial and economic reserves are adequate to maintain Qatar’s independence. The one definite result has been the undermining of the future viability of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Undoubtedly the support of US President Trump has encouraged these dangerous adventures. On 6 November Trump tweeted: ‘I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing’.

A new deal with Israel

This reflects the shared perception of Trump and the Saudi regime that the priority is for a regional confrontation with Iran, and its allies like Hezbollah. This in turn has created the basis for an unprecedentedly close relation between the Israel state and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The Crown Prince made a secret visit to Tel Aviv in September, confirmed by media reports in both Israel and Saudi Arabia. On 6 September Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated there was cooperation at various levels with Arab states with which Israel has no peace agreements. Both Saudi Arabia and Israel welcomed Trump’s refusal to recognise Iranian compliance with its nuclear treaty obligations. There have been reports of growing economic rapprochement between the Saudis and Israelis. Israeli companies are involved in talks with the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund on the new ‘smart city’, a projected $500 billion economic zone spanning Saudi Arabia and parts of Egypt and Jordan. Israel has supported the blockade of Qatar.

Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is acting as a liaison between Tel Aviv and Riyadh. It is not excluded that the Crown Prince will try for a settlement with Israel. He is also intervening in Trump’s plan for a new peace deal between the Palestinians and Israel. Last week, Palestinian President Mohammed Abbas was summoned to Riyadh. According to reports on Israel’s Channel 10 on Sunday, he was instructed to end any dialogue with Iran, and support the proposal to disarm Hamas. A difficult reconciliation is underway between Hamas and Fatah. Such directives, if acted upon by Abbas, would wreck the process between the Palestinian factions.

War upon Lebanon?

It is evident that the Saudis are hoping for a war to begin in Lebanon upon Hezbollah. In response to the seizure of Hariri, Secretary General of Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah said: ‘Saudi Arabia is inciting Israel to launch a war against Lebanon’. An article in the Israeli journal Haaratz was correctly titled ‘Saudi Arabia wants Israel to do its dirty work’ There is no doubt that Mohammed bin Salman, Netanyahu and Trump would all want that war. And, probably, they prefer someone else should carry the burden of starting it.

Hezbollah has taken a great strain in the fight against ISIS, Al Nusrah and Al Qaeda supporters inside Syria. But it now represents a very formidable force. In 2006, Israel was unable to defeat it, whilst it was still then in part a guerrilla force. Today it is much more battle hardened, has more sophisticated weaponry, and has larger numbers under arms. If Lebanon were attacked, it is likely to be aided by fighters from the region, including state forces from Iran, Iraq and Syria.

The defeat of pro-Saudi terrorists in Iraq and Syria has given urgency to Saudi considerations. But they have hardly endeared themselves to the Sunni community inside Lebanon by the clumsy attempt to replace their Prime Minister with someone else.

As Saudi adventures continue to be played out it is vital that the anti-war and anti-imperialist movement in Britain increases its solidarity activity. It needs to be clear that there may be a war launched ‘against Hezbollah’, but this will be a war upon Lebanon to impose a solution made in Washington. Action is needed now against the war upon Yemen, the siege of Qatar, and the threats against Lebanon.