As Isis surges ahead and the Syrian regime teeters on the brink of collapse, our Middle East correspondent, winner of the 2015 Orwell prize for journalism, reports on the deadly struggle for dominance in the region.
The Guardian, By Martin Chulov, May 23
One evening at the end of March, a Syrian rebel leader returned from a meeting across the border in Turkey and called an urgent gathering of his commanders. The five men turned up at their boss’s house in Idlib province expecting to receive the same pleas for patience that they had always heard and more grim news about cash and weapons being hard to find. This time, though, they were in for a shock.
“He arrived looking eager,” said one of the commanders. “That caught our attention straight away. But when he started to speak, we were all stunned.”
The leader, who asked that his unit not be identified, said he told his men that the grinding war of attrition they had fought against the Syrian government since early 2012 was about to turn in their favour.
“And the reason for that was that I could now get nearly all the weapons I wanted,” he told the Observer. “For the first time they were not holding anything from us – except anti-aircraft missiles. The Turks and their friends wanted this over with.”
Al Arabiya, By Nadia Bilbassy-Charters, May 15
The White House Map Room – Q Mr. President, thank you very much for your time.
THE PRESIDENT: It’s great to be with you. Thank you.
Q You concluded the summit. Was it successful? Were there any sticking points that either you or your government did not achieve?
THE PRESIDENT: I think it was very successful. And the intentions here were to deepen and broaden what is already an excellent relationship between the GCC countries and the United States.
Obviously, we have a whole range of bilateral security arrangements with the various GCC countries. We’ve consulted and worked with them on a range of regional challenges. But I thought the time was ripe for us to be able to come together as a group, to talk face-to-face about a wide range of these issues, and then to put forward very specific plans in terms of how we can address them.
So the joint statement that we issued I think reflected the wide range of topics that were discussed. We discussed the important security assurances that I had delivered publicly in venues like the United Nations and had discussed privately, but I think it was important for them, at a time when there’s so much chaos in the region, for the GCC members to hear that the United States is committed, if they are subject to external attack or the threat of attack, to work with the GCC to deter such attacks and to defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the GCC countries.
We also talked about the joint work that we have to do to counter violent extremism in a whole range of areas, from ending the financing of terrorist organizations to improving intelligence, to what kinds of capabilities — for example, maritime security or cybersecurity — that are needed. And some of these areas are ones where it’s better if we do them together in integrated fashion.
Aspen Cabin, Camp David: Remarks by President Obama in Press Conference after GCC Summit
New York Times, By David E. Sanger, May 13
Washington — When President Obama began making the case for a deal with Iran that would delay its ability to assemble an atomic weapon, his first argument was that a nuclear-armed Iran would set off a “free-for-all” of proliferation in the Arab world. “It is almost certain that other players in the region would feel it necessary to get their own nuclear weapons,” he said in 2012.
Now, as he gathered Arab leaders over dinner at the White House on Wednesday and prepared to meet with them at Camp David on Thursday, he faced a perverse consequence: Saudi Arabia and many of the smaller Arab states are now vowing to match whatever nuclear enrichment capability Iran is permitted to retain.
“We can’t sit back and be nowhere as Iran is allowed to retain much of its capability and amass its research,” one of the Arab leaders preparing to meet Mr. Obama said on Monday, declining to be named until he made his case directly to the president. Prince Turki bin Faisal, the 70-year-old former Saudi intelligence chief, has been touring the world with the same message.
Al Arabiya, May 14
U.S. President Barack Obama hailed the “extraordinary friendship and relationship” Washington has with Riyadh after meeting with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman at the White House after King Salman pulled out of the visit.
“The United States and Saudi Arabia have an extraordinary friendship and relationship that dates back to [President] Franklin Roosevelt,” Obama said at the start of the meeting.
He added: “We are continuing to build that relationship during a very challenging time.”
King Salman decided abruptly to skip the White House meeting and a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council at the president’s Camp David retreat in Maryland outside Washington on Thursday.
CNN, By Hakim Almasmari, Jason Hanna & Josh Levs, May 7
Sana’a, YemenSaudi Arabia proposed a five-day ceasefire Thursday in Yemen so that humanitarian aid can be distributed.
The nation of more than 27 million people, to Saudi Arabia’s south, has been racked by war. A Saudi-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes to assist the ousted, but still internationally recognized, Yemeni government in its fight against Houthi rebels.
“There will be a ceasefire everywhere (in Yemen) or nowhere,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Thursday, sending the message to rebel leaders that violence anywhere in the country could end a ceasefire.
Houthi leadership will meet and discuss the proposal, two senior Houthi officials told CNN.
At a news conference in Riyadh with al-Jubeir, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the United Sates welcomes the proposal and that work is being done to determine the details. Kerry said he believes more would be announced Friday, when he and al-Jubeir are expected to be in Paris.
Asia Times Online: Rejoice with the ‘new’ House of Saud
Empire Burlesque: Murder’s Loophole: US Cluster Bombs Rain Mass Death on Yemen
Empire Burlesque: Sham and Shame: Saudi-US Slaughter in Yemen Shows Truth of Terror War
CounterPunch: Saudi Arabia’s Attack on Yemen
CTV: Saudi-led airstrikes batter rebel stronghold in Yemen
Gannett’s Military Times: Saudi intensifies bombing of Yemeni rebel stronghold
You’ll no doubt recall the hue and cry when Barack Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for his stand on nuclear non-proliferation and his attempts to engage the Muslim world. Both the right and left in this country had great sport at this — and here I’ll agree — premature awarding of a prize to a man with few signal accomplishments in foreign policy, apart from being “not Bush”.
Six years later and I think it’s time to give him the Prize for real this time. Think about this past year: for a man who started his administration hoping to hit singles and doubles in foreign policy (consumed as he had to be by the domestic economic crisis), he’s kind of knocked a couple out of the park, provoking admiration from aboard and from mainstream Americans, and consternation from the idiot fringe that will sit on perches and poop all day, parroting “Obama bad, BRAWK!” Read More
News786, April 28
Here is the real reason why Saudi Arabia halted operation `Decisive Storm’ and failed to launch a ground invasion of Yemen: in a stunning revelation, it has come to light that on 25-26th April, almost 4,000 Saudi forces fled their border bases in anticipation of Riyadh’s order for sending its troops inside Yemen.
“The intel gathered by the western intelligence agencies shows that the Saudi military forces have fled their bases, military centers and bordering checkpoints near Yemen in groups,” diplomatic sources were quoted as saying by Iraq’s Arabic-language Nahrain Net news website.
As per Independent News 786 sources also, European intel said that Saudi forces’ mass AWOL forced Riyadh to declare ceasefire and dissuaded it from launching ground attacks against Yemen.
Other reports also said that over 10,000 soldiers from different Saudi military units have fled army battalions and the National Guard.
Via Sic Semper Fidelis: Saudi Forces Desert Rather Than Invade Yemen
Reuters, By Mohammed Mukhashaf, April 25
Aden – Fighting between Yemen’s warring factions raged in southern and central parts of the country and air strikes hit Houthi militia forces in Aden on Friday, but there were no fresh moves toward dialogue.
Saudi Arabia says it is winding down its month-old bombing operation against the Iran-allied Houthis and forces loyal to Yemen’s former president. But Riyadh pounded targets with at least 20 airstrikes across Yemen on Thursday and 10 more on Friday.
The civilian death toll from the fighting and airstrikes since the bombing started on March 26 has reached an estimated 551 people, the United Nations said on Friday. Its children’s agency UNICEF said at least 115 children were among the dead.
Washington and other Western countries backing the Saudi-led aerial campaign have grown increasingly worried about the humanitarian crisis on the ground and also about the risk of Sunni Muslim jihadist groups taking advantage of the chaos.
BBC, April 21
The US is sending an aircraft carrier to boost its patrols in the waters off Yemen, amid suspicions that an Iranian naval convoy in the area is carrying arms intended for Yemeni Houthi rebels.
The US has warned Iran against arming the rebels – but a US spokesman said the ships would not stop the convoy.
The US navy, which already has seven boats in the area, says its deployment aims to secure shipping lanes.
Meanwhile, BBC: Saudi Arabia’s new muscular foreign policy
But almost every conversation with Saudis about the Yemen military operation leads to a wider discussion about the region, the kingdom’s new role as the leader of a military coalition and in many cases, people’s desire to see this translate into action elsewhere.
At a bowling alley in Riyadh one evening, I met a young couple enjoying an evening out. The man was in the military so he would only give his name as Hamed. His eyes lit up when I asked him whether he supported the war.
“We support the king’s decision to go to war 100%, it’s long overdue. Hopefully, we will move to help Syria next, and bring down President Assad who has been causing so much death and destruction for his people,” he said.
Moon of Alabama: What Is The Purpose Of This U.S. Fleet Concentration Next To Iran?
CFR: The New Saudi Foreign Policy
Reuters: Yemen foes fight on despite declared end to Saudi strikes
Mushroom clouds rise in the sky in western Sanaa where the capital’s largest weapons caches are located.
Al Jazeera, April 20
Powerful explosions have rocked the Yemeni capital, shattering windows and damaging structures, as Saudi-led air strikes targeted suspected weapon caches and missiles held by Houthi fighters.
Mushroom clouds on Monday rose in the sky over Fag Atan, in western Sanaa, where the capital’s largest weapons caches are located.
One of the air strikes reportedly targeted a Scud missile base held by the Shia Houthi rebels in Fag Atan Mountain beside Hadda district, where the presidential palace and many embassies are located. Nearby homes were being evacuated.
“This was by far the strongest explosion witnessed in Sanaa so far. Hundreds, if not thousands of homes have been damaged, sending thousands of people to flee the area.” Hakim al-Masmari, the editor-in-chief of Yemen Post, told Al Jazeera.
Reuters, April 19
Aden – The Yemeni commander of a vast military district covering half the country’s border with Saudi Arabia pledged support on Sunday to exiled President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi, local officials said.
The announcement puts at least 15,000 troops in the desert and mountain border area on the same side as Saudi Arabia, which backs Hadi and has waged an inconclusive three-week bombing campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen who are allied with Iran.
“Brigadier General Abdulrahman al-Halily of the First Military District announced today his support for constitutional legitimacy as represented by President Hadi,” one of the officials told Reuters.
The declaration was also broadcast on official radio in the city of Seiyun, the main city of the Hadramawt valley area where the district’s main military base is located.
Counterpunch, By William D. Hartung, April 3-5
With the end of the Obama presidency just around the corner, discussions of his administration’s foreign policy legacy are already well under way. But one central element of that policy has received little attention: the Obama administration’s dramatic acceleration of U.S. weapons exports.
The numbers are astonishing. In President Obama’s first five years in office, new agreements under the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program—the largest channel for U.S. arms exports—totaled over $169 billion. After adjusting for inflation, the volume of major deals concluded by the Obama administration in its first five years exceeds the amount approved by the Bush administration in its full eight years in office by nearly $30 billion. That also means that the Obama administration has approved more arms sales than any U.S. administration since World War II.
Reuters, By Mohammed Mukhashaf, April 9
Aden – Houthi fighters, backed by supporters of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh entered the provincial capital of the mainly Sunni Shabwa province in eastern Yemen on Thursday, residents said, despite intense Saudi-led air strikes against the group.
Residents said local tribal chiefs and security officials facilitated the entry of the Houthi forces to the city of Ataq, where they took control of the offices of the local government and security forces compounds.
It was the first time that the Houthis, who hail from the Zaidi branch of Shi’ite Islam, and forces loyal to Saleh had entered the city, where the fiercely Sunni Muslim Awlaki tribe comes from.
The takeover brings the Houthis and Saleh’s forces closer to the country’s most prized economic asset, the Belhaf gas facility and export terminal, on the Arabian Sea about 160 km (100 miles) to the southeast.
Intense fighting reported in Yemen’s Aden
Medical supplies reach southern port city as Saudi-led coalition jets continue to strike suspected Houthi positions.
Al Jazeera, April 9
Saudi-led air strikes against suspected Houthi fighters in Yemen have continued for the 15th day, with intense fighting occurring in the southern city of Aden, where rockets have reportedly landed on houses.
The World Health Organisation says at least 643 people have died and more than 2,200 have been injured in the Yemeni conflict since March 19.
Tens of thousands of families have also been displaced and WHO has warned that the situation in the Arabian Peninsula nation is critical.
New York Times, By Hari Kumar & Ellen Barry, April 5
New Delhi — India used small boats this weekend to ferry some of its citizens to a naval destroyer anchored near Aden, Yemen, as an operation to evacuate about 4,000 Indians from Yemen’s war zone entered a difficult phase.
The Indian ship was not able to dock in Aden because of shelling, so the small boats carried people in groups of about 30, said Syed Akbaruddin, the spokesman for India’s External Affairs Ministry. About 2,000 Indians have now been transported out of Yemen, but the deteriorating conditions there mean that no more evacuations from Aden will be possible, he said.
“It’s been a hard task, and as the situation worsens, the time available to us lessens,” he said. “Difficult situations now are becoming more difficult as time passes.”
New York Times, By Mark Mazzetti & David D. Kirkpatrick, March 25
Washington – Saudi Arabia announced on Wednesday night that it had begun military operations in Yemen, launching airstrikes in coordination with a coalition of 10 nations.
The strikes came as Yemen was hurtling closer to civil war after months of turmoil, as fighters and army units allied with the Houthi movement threatened to overrun the southern port of Aden where the besieged president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, has gone into hiding.
The rapid advances by the president’s opponents included the seizure of a military air base and an aerial assault on his home. There were unconfirmed reports that the president had fled the country by boat for Djibouti, the tiny Horn of Africa nation across the Gulf of Aden.
NPR: U.S. Confirms It Is Supporting Saudi Military Operations In Yemen
Moon of Alabama: The Wahhabis’ War On Yemen