What a scary week in the Mideast. The epicenter of the world’s energy resources and the land-bridge between Asia and Africa is spinning out of control as the danger of a shooting war between the US and Russia grows daily.
A US F-18 warplane shot down a Syrian Air Force SU-22 ground attack aircraft over eastern Syria. This was a grave, reckless provocation clearly authorized by Washington. Russia, Syria’s ally, threatened to begin targeting its supposedly deadly S-300 missiles against US warplanes over Syria.
Another US warplane shot down an Iranian drone over southeastern Syria as US forces and US mercenary Arab troops closed in on a worthless piece of ground on the Syrian-Iraq border. Russia is rushing ten more warships into the Mediterranean, though most are obsolescent or small.
The US Navy is challenging – or provoking – the Iranians in the Gulf. US technicians and crews are keeping Saudi warplanes bombing Yemen, where half the population faces starvation. Just across the Red Sea, US warplanes and special forces are attacking the Somalia nationalist resistance movement, Shebab. At least 4,000 more US troops are headed for Afghanistan’s stalemated war.
US Marines are attacking ISIS positions near Mosul, al-Tanf and Raqaa and adding long-ranged HIMARS artillery rockets. American forces are using white phosphorus, a hideous chemical weapon, against Isis defenders. Iran may send more ‘volunteer’ troops into Syria and Iraq as US warplanes probe Iran’s airspace. Turkey is reportedly moving against US-backed Kurds in Syria. Some Mideast experts believe the US may be set on partitioning Syria.
A US fighter just buzzed a Russian aircraft over the Baltic carrying Russian defense minister Sergei Shogu until chased away by Russian fighters. Moscow is under growing pressure to retaliate against the US though President Vladimir Putin insists he wants no military confrontation with Washington.
Adding to these tensions, a palace coup in Saudi Arabia just sidelined the kingdom’s iron-handed number two, former Crown Prince and Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef and replaced him by 31-year old Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the favorite son of King Salman. The King is said to be seriously ill. But the 15,000-member Saudi family is not pleased by the defenestration of heir apparent Nayef.
Prince – now crown prince – Mohammed was the author of Saudi Arabia’s stalemated war in Yemen, which is burning through the kingdom’s cash reserves at a time when oil prices are plunging and has killed large numbers of civilians. He is behind the recent Saudi-Egyptian-Israeli tacit alliance.
It was Prince Mohammed who came up with the plan to run US shale producers out of business by launching an oil price war. It has backfired badly. The Saudis even had to borrow $9 billion to keep the kingdom running.
Arab critics assert that the young prince is rash and inexperienced. The Trump administration likes Prince Mohammed a lot. He is about the same age as Trump’s favorite, son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is in Israel this week supposedly crafting a final peace settlement between Jews and Arabs after a century of conflict. What a cruel joke this is.
Kushner has been meeting with Israel’s wily PM Netanyahu, who has no intention of ever allowing a Palestinian state, and with over-the-hill Palestinian ‘leader,’ Mahmoud Abbas, who is 82. Abbas is widely reviled as a US/Israel puppet who was made PLO leader after the untimely death of Yasser Arafat. The shady Mohammed Dahlan, rumored to be CIA’s Palestinian ‘asset,’ waits in the wings to replace the doddering Abbas.
The authentic Palestinian government, Hamas, is locked up in Gaza and totally isolated by a joint Israeli-Saudi-Egyptian campaign. Back in Washington, most of Trump’s senior advisors are ardent supporters of Israel. So with whom will young Kushner, himself an orthodox Jew, negotiate? As in decades past, Washington’s supporters of Israel’s moderates will negotiate with Israel’s right. Is it any wonder there is no Mideast peace?
Meanwhile, the new Saudi Crown Prince proclaims he will modernize the kingdom, diversify away from its oil and gas economy, and make himself leader of the Arab world. Those who do not readily agree, like little Qatar, will be squashed like bugs.
It’s a tall order. But we wish Crown Prince Mohammed well because Saudi Arabia, the world’s most ultra-conservative nation, very badly needs shaking up, modernization and less theocracy. The skimpy army is denied ammo and transport for fear of a coup, and the kingdom employs large numbers of foreign mercenaries.
In the past, 15,000 tough Pakistani troops defended the royal family. Pakistan’s former president, Zia ul-Haq, told me many funny stories of his days as a military advisor in Saudi and Iraq. Today, US forces in the region protect the Saudis from their neighbors and their own sometimes restive people.
Add the rising dangers in Syria, Iraq and the Gulf to this tense situation and we can count on Arabia and the Levant to provide lots of fireworks in days to come.