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Islam and the West ( 1 Dec 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Should Saudi Arabia see Putin as threat?: New Age Islam’s Selection From World Press, 2 December 2015


Should Saudi Arabia see Putin as threat?

By Jamal Khashoggi

Arabs caught between Turkey’s Sultan and Russia’s Tsar

By Diana Moukalled

Iranís bad gamble on Syria

By Andrew Bowen

Breaking the ISIS economy through forensics

By Dr. Theodore Karasik

Israel fears the thin end of an EU wedge

By Saudi Gazette



Should Saudi Arabia see Putin as threat?

By Jamal Khashoggi

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

We had better take seriously the implicit Russian threats made in an article published by the Pravda website, which is supportive of President Vladimir Putin. It urged the sanction of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey due to what the writer claimed was the three countries' support of ISIS, something it said threatens to trigger World War III. Such a sentiment was also reflected in the Echo of Moscow website by one of the Russian President’s former advisers, who was blatantly calling for the targeting of military positions and oil sites in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Yes, Putin is foolish, brutal and cannot be trusted. But I believe he also hates us - and that we must consider these threats as being made directly by him.

Putin built his reputation as Russia’s ruthless strongman when he first came to power 15 years ago. He gained popularity by stimulating the feelings of nationalism and the Russian national pride and by rekindling in Russians’ hearts some kind of hope, in a similar way as under fascism. This was his way of compensating them for his economic failure, and the disparities of wealth between poor and middle-income earners, and the opulent ruling minority.

Violation of international legitimacy

Putin moved victorious from Chechnya, where he conducted all sorts of killing and destruction, to Ukraine where he annexed Crimea to his empire, in a clear violation of international legitimacy.

The West objected at that time, and used a lot of rhetoric, before accepting the fait accompli. Then the Tsar came to our Arab world, where he claims to have ìvital interestsî, and entered without permission, got comfortable and concluded an alliance with the sectarian minority, joining them in the killing and oppression, and imposing his own status quo.

Putin is even meddling in Muslim affairs, turning to a minority that shares his passions and ambitions. He met with Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, offering him an old Quran manuscript as a gift, as if saying 'here is Islam'. Meanwhile, Putin dares to criticize what he calls the policy of ìIslamizationî in Turkey! It is, therefore, only a matter of time before he attacks Saudi Arabia and makes it carry the burden of both the old and the new.

Putin has scored victory after victory, arranging them as medals on his chest to be worn on the day he would be acclaimed as the head of the dominating power in a region that extends from Crimea to Syria. Putin’s dream was however hindered by three stubborn countries that rejected his project and refused to be submissive to him: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar.


All of this became evident last Tuesday morning when the Turkish air force downed a Russian fighter jet, which fell amid ìGod is greatî chants and the cheering of Syrian rebels in mountains near the Syrian-Turkish border. A few moments were enough to draw the new rules of the political game in the Middle East.

For just like Putin changed the rules of the game when he backed the Iranians and the Syrian regime in their war against a people longing for freedom, the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the one changing the rules now.

The incident of the Russian plane will happen again as we are almost in a state of war with the Russians despite of all the visits, meetings and exchanged smiles. Sooner or later, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey will become intertwined with the Syrian opposition in the eyes of Putin. After he will fail to defeat them, he will search for someone to blame - and will find no one but us.

Moreover, if the coming negotiations in Vienna fail (which is most likely to happen), parties involved in the Syrian conflict will have no choice but to escalate the confrontations to achieve a victory that will end the conflict.

Putin invincible no more

Another confrontation might take place even before the Vienna negotiations. The downing of the Russian Sukhoi Su-24 fighter jet has distorted the image of the invincible Putin and his feared Russia. This will affect Putin’s situation internally, especially with the arrival home of the bodies of the soldiers involved in Russia’s first external war since its defeat in Afghanistan.

Putin might defy the Turks for a second time; then, another Sukhoi or Mig will be shot down and he will definitely lose his mind. Putin, indeed, started an indiscriminate bombing of the Syrian Turkmen areas. This is not a war but a revenge operation! Who can guarantee that another Sukhoi fighter jet will not be shut down, this time by a surface-to-air missile? The bear will get angrier; he will accuse Saudi Arabia or Qatar or even both of providing the revolutionaries with the missile, and put the blame on them.

The deteriorating economic situation of Russia is also increasing Putin’s anger, as Russia lost its ranking as the world’s eighth biggest economy and dropped in terms of GDP. From this perspective, Russia will accuse Saudi Arabia of reducing oil prices.

Can we meet halfway with the Russians in Syria in order to avoid the unthinkable? I rule that out. Consider our project in Syria, which does not include any intervention, but is based on Syria’s full independence and the establishment of a democratic Syrian government. On the other hand, the Russian stance is based on the rule of the minority, and a permanent foreign interference under the cover of false and democratic elections similar to the ones held in Russia, where the government has become a savage and where the journalists fear being killed for pursuing their profession.

These two stances will never converge due to their big differences. At the same time, they will keep on clashing on Syrian territory, until one triumphs over the other. Just as Saudi Arabia will never accept a permanent Iranian influence in Syria, Turkey will also reject any permanent Russian influence in its southern part. The bottom line is that we will inevitably confront each other. Given that Putin lacks the chivalry to accept defeat and walk away, he will most probably cause a military escalation in Syria. He will try to break our ranks and divide us, as we have many gaps he can seek to exploit.

Will Putin dare threaten Saudi Arabia, Turkey or Qatar as called for through Pravda and his former adviser? Putin is behaving arrogantly, like a bully, rather than a skilled politician. He was trained in the old Soviet intelligence school and, thus, adopts their dirtiest methods with no hesitation. Putin has a very negative track record; nevertheless, he remains important and we must deal with him because he is the head of a major power.

I am not saying that Putin is beyond our control but I expect the worse, and call for caution. We are in a defensive position and cannot withdraw from the Syrian arena because our support to its revolution is a way of defending our country as well. It is important to be cautious as we are forced to enter the Russian forest.

This article was first published in al-Hayat on Nov. 28, 2015.

Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels.


Arabs caught between Turkey’s Sultan and Russia’s Tsar

By Diana Moukalled

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Should we be angered or grieved by all the comments and reactions of the Arab public opinion after Turkey last week downed a Russian bomber near the Syrian border? Or should we just laugh out loud? Those reacting to the incident were either very happy or very angry, as if they own the skies that the world leaders are fighting over.

The confrontation between Russia’s new Tsar Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems like a debate that will not end anytime soon: all regional and local circumstances do not suggest the political situation will be imminently contained.

The two rivals share a similar nature ñ especially on the level of their egos. This takes the confrontation to a whole new level, going beyond the dispute in Syria and the fate of Bashar al-Assad, thus turning this into a personal dispute.

Dreams of greatness

It’s no coincidence that both Putin and Erdogan have dreams of greatness and miss the past glories of wars between the Russian and Ottoman empires. This history has seduced those who are politically divided in the Arab world, dragging them behind the illusion of the greatness of the Tsar and the charm of the Sultan’s power. They thus took to Facebook and Twitter, arguing and fighting on behalf of the Turks and Russians as if the Arabs are descendants of the Russian emperors or inheritors of the Ottoman empire.

Those biased towards the Russian Tsar ñ whether they are Syrians in support of Bashar al-Assad, Egyptians fascinated by Erdogan’s archrival President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, or the few whom think ISIS is a single existential threat ñ rejoice when Putin gets angry, as they see their renewed source of power in him.

Meanwhile, those who admire Erdogan ñ whether they are Syrians who oppose Assad, or Arabs who oppose Iran ñ were thrilled by their Ottoman Sultan when Turkey downed the Tsar’s jet, as they seek to rekindle illusions of the past, of a nation’s history they’re so fond of.

Of course, the internet and social media platforms allowed people to express themselves via the most amusing and ironic ways. This is mostly what social media users do. However the exaggeration and illusions that most of those reacting to the incident resorted to implied that they are replacing their helplessness with another power, which is this time embodied by Putin and Erdogan.

At this point, we must not spend more time being negative regarding this incident. The confrontation between Putin and Erdogan may look interesting, but is however dangerous to us all. It’s true that world leaders are concerned with the ongoing tensions but they are far from them as the war is outside their geographical scope. Arabs, however, whether they celebrate, disagree or make fun of the situation, will be the ones to suffer as other countries fight in their skies and shell their land.

Considering the situation, it’s not wise to ignore the fact that Putin and Erdogan are very similar leaders. They both admire themselves and govern unilaterally, adopting an eliminatory policy towards rivals. It is this approach that allowed Putin to invade Georgia and Ukraine and which allowed Erdogan to shell Kurds fighting ISIS in Syria. Both leaders act upon personal motives, and tend to act based on hatred towards other leaders ñ and neither of them hesitate to show this.

Amid this complicated scene ñ given the situation in Syria, and the global chaos around us ñ being dragged behind the illusions of someone's grandeur, even if it matches our stance during this phase, is a naive act. And it is one that either leads to a temporary delusional euphoria of victory which quickly fades ñ or to a devastating defeat that will be difficult to recover from.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Nov. 30, 2015.

Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of ìBilayan al Mujaradah,î a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV.


Iran’s bad gamble on Syria

By Andrew Bowen

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

With growing reports that Iran’s notorious Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani has suffered debilitating injuries, the loss of Tehran’s main strategist and public face of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s campaign to shore up President Bashar al-Assad’s government in Damascus would certainly be a costly blow to Iran’s regional ambitions.

Despite Soleimani’s initial victories against ISIS, Tehran’s campaign has been a costly military gamble for ultimately a political solution, which Iran may no longer be in a position to shape.

Soleimani’s visit to Moscow for increased assistance in the campaign may have been necessary for Tehran ñ but it was a strategic and mortal miscalculation for Soleimani personally and for the Supreme Leader. Tehran’s room for maneuver has been substantially curtailed by President Putin’s military move to shore up Assad and concurrently, his diplomatic hardball in Vienna. While the Russian President’s military move hasn’t produced the full gains that he may have first expected, Putin’s diplomacy has reaped substantial dividends.

Putin eclipses Khamenei

Instead of Tehran being seen as the key broker to a settlement on Syria, Putin has positioned himself as the holder of Assad’s future. From King Abdullah of Jordan to President Obama to Prime Minister Netanyahu, it’s not Tehran that world leaders go to for a deal on Syria, but Moscow.

Putin’s terms for a settlement are arguably more palatable for regional states that see Iran’s motives in Syria as opportunistically sectarian. Moscow’s actions in Syria are perceived then as strategically driven and, critically, negotiable. Russia’s commitment as well to fighting ISIS has created space for a dialogue between Russia and regional and global powers over how to more robustly address this security challenge.

Iran has played a very well-resourced hand quite poorly in contrast to Russia, which has played a weak, low resourced hand quite well. For a fraction of the cost of Iran’s expenditures on Syria, Putin has a window of opportunity now at the Vienna talks to reach a settlement of Syria’s civil war, where President Assad, after a period of constitutional reform, would agree to new presidential and parliamentary elections. In contrast to Iran ñ which has a lot less room to maneuver on an alternative Syrian Presidential candidate to Assad ñ Moscow has more options, including current Ba’athist officials and senior Syrian army officers.

Unlike Russia, which has had a decades-old relationship with the Syrian army and Syria’s Sunni, Alawi, and Christian communities, Ayatollah Khameini’s main relationship is with President Assad and to a lesser degree with the Alawite community and the security and intelligence services that resent Iran’s new position in Syria. While Russia’s candidate for Syria’s Presidency may secure some of Iran’s interests, such a candidate will not be as beholden to Tehran as Assad is.

Iran’s fait accompli

Putin is more likely to force a settlement on Assad that would prevent him from running for another term, compared with Tehran, which has no clear alternative candidate at present. The Russian President has a limited window to demonstrate that Russia is a global power that the U.S., Europe, and regional states need to work with. While Obama may see the Vienna talks as a process that doesn’t necessarily need to finish at the end of his presidency, Putin needs to show domestically and internationally that these talks, brokered in part by his administration, is the only avenue for peace. The Russian President has no intention of being dragged into a quagmire in Syria.

For Ayatollah Khamenei, his room to oppose such a settlement, if Russia is able to bridge the gaps with the GCC and Turkey, is narrow. He may seek to turn this costly bad gamble around by trying to play hardball with Putin to reach a settlement more favorable to him, but the costs of the conflict (as evidenced by his own lead commander lying in a hospital bed) and Khamenei’s own need for Russian assistance to prop up Assad may check such moves. Khamenei may also make the call that going up against Russia on Syria is too dangerous a risk at this point, as Iran operates in a post-nuclear deal environment. Russia is, critically, one of the main sellers of the arms and military technology that Iran needs. To further expand Iran’s military capabilities in the region, the Supreme Leader can’t completely alienate Putin.

Iran is therefore more likely to accept a bitter fait accompli with Russia than make a further bad gamble that derails the Vienna talks.

Andrew Bowen, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow and the Director of Middle East Studies at the Center for the National Interest.


Breaking the ISIS economy through forensics

By Dr. Theodore Karasik

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

You have to give Russian President Vladimir Putin credit for attracting more attention to ISIS financial streams coming from state actors.

Putin has recently raised the concept of ISIS funding to a whole new level, targeting state-level collusion in helping finance the group’s economic engine.

At the G-20 meeting in Istanbul, Putin said: ìI provided examples based on our data on the financing of different Islamic State units by private individuals. This money, as we have established, comes from 40 countries, and there are some of the G-20 members among them.î

There is no doubt that Russia, through its security services, has the means and capability to garner such information much better than its Western counterparts.

Illegal trade

Putin added that the photographic evidence is overwhelming, especially of oil tankers allegedly involved in illegal trade. ìI’ve shown our colleagues photos taken from space and from aircraft which clearly demonstrate the scale of the illegal trade in oil and petroleum products,î he said. ìThe motorcade of refueling vehicles stretched for dozens of kilometers, so that from a height of 4,000 to 5,000 meters they stretch beyond the horizon.î

After the shoot-down of Russia’s Su-24 bomber by the Turkish air force, Putin again pointed angrily to Turkey’s double-sidedness on allowing ISIS to use Turkish territory for its economic lifeline: ì[ISIS] has big money, hundreds of millions ñ or even billions ñ of dollars, from selling oil. In addition, they are protected by the military of an entire nation [Turkey].î

Clearly it took the Russian president’s frustration and fury with Turkey to make ISIS’s economy a front-page issue again, with added emphasis on state culpability.

No action on ISIS oil

ISIS’s oil economy is not a new issue. It has been haunting practically everyone, as to why nothing truly is being done about breaking ISIS’s economic system.

ISIS oil production in Syria is focused on the Conoco and al-Taim oil fields, west and northwest of Deir Ezzor, while in Iraq the group uses al-Najma and al-Qayara fields near Mosul. A number of smaller fields in both Iraq and Syria are used by the group for local energy needs.

Last year, ISIS’s practice of pumping oil and selling it on the black market via Turkey to outside buyers ñ allegedly Syria, Israel, and some Eastern European countries ñ has already been documented through economic forensics and with a more recent report. The Turkish opposition MP Ali Edibogluan said that ISIS had smuggled $800 million worth of oil into Turkey from Syria and Iraq. He added, ìTurkey’s cooperation with thousands of men of such a mentality is extremely dangerous.î He is right.

Operation Inherent Resolve?

Since the inception of the U.S.-led Operation Inherent Resolve, the American alliance targeted ISIS’s mobile oil refineries and other related infrastructure but that approach appeared to be too careful and narrow in terms of rules of engagement.

ISIS simply fixed the damage and continued business as usual, showing its resilience through spare parts and repairs. Tankers continued to move towards Turkey as they were part of the convoys of other goods that transit the Levant delivering local goods ranging from car parts to food products and household goods. The fact that ISIS mixed the oil tanker caravans with normal Levantine ground traffic helped to give it an advantage by using ìeconomicî shields.

But that has changed as the Russians have gone on the offensive against ISIS’s oil economy. About a week ago, Russia started to destroy the mobile infrastructure that allows ISIS to transport and sell oil. The Russian air force destroyed about 500 fuel tankers according to the Spokesman for the Russian General Staff, Colonel General Andrey Kartapolov. This ìgreatly reduced illegal oil export capabilities of the militants and, accordingly, their income from oil smugglingî, Kartapolov is reported as saying. What did Operation Inherent Resolve do? The American-led alliance destroyed 250 ìsafeî oil targets. That’s it. Clearly, something is wrong here.

Putin’s assertion that ISIS’s economy is backed by states is notable. ISIS sells Iraqi and Syrian oil for a very low price to Kurdish and Turkish smuggling networks and mafias, who label it and sell it on as barrels from the Kurdistan Regional Government. In addition, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son Bilal, who is head of BMZ Ltd. shipping out of Ceyhan, is being suggested as a possible conduit. That allegation is embarrassing for the Turkish president during these tense times.

To boot, ISIS uses other tools to boost its economy, including the seizure of crop lands, central banks and hydro-electric plants. According to several Arab officials, Iraq, at least up to recently, was paying the salaries of bank officials in Mosul and funding several water stations along the Euphrates river system. This fact not only helps ISIS but also makes a mockery of Iraq’s fight against the group. This is a local revenue strategy and practice that needs to be stamped out. Don’t be surprised if pressure is put on the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and everyone connected to the Iraqi Central Bank.

Economic forensic analytics

What is needed now, besides kinetic action on ISIS, is a robust, multi-pronged effort in economic forensics.

Economic forensic analytics is the procurement and analysis of electronic, human intelligence, or other relevant data to reconstruct, detect, or otherwise support a claim of financial fraud to support criminal or terrorist activity. Other goals include the detection of errors, inefficiencies, and biases where people tend towards certain behaviors ñ perhaps favoring specific numbers or number ranges ñ to influence decision makers or to circumvent actual or perceived international controls and thresholds. The main steps in forensic analytics are data collection, data preparation, data analysis, and reporting. There is a lot of work to be done with coordination, information sharing, and, most importantly, notable and robust action.

The good news is that there is a start in the economic forensics process particularly involving the ISIS oil trade, as well as in the sale of antiquities. It is a slow process but the more investigators probe the dark underbelly of enablers of the ISIS economy, the better all parties will know who is guilty.

Given that Turkey is indeed caught up in the illicit ISIS economy, drastic measures against the Turkish state or its military need to be implemented, and fast.

Ankara is playing with fire; the Russians know it 100 percent, while the West knows it implicitly, but is afraid to confront Turkey outright because it is a NATO member. All stakeholders in the fight against ISIS need to come clean because economic forensics requirements will reveal some very unpleasant truths that may affect geopolitics for at least a decade. That‘s not good news in this tough and volatile neighborhood surrounding the so-called caliphate.

Dr. Theodore Karasik is a Gulf-based analyst of regional geo-political affairs. He received his Ph.D in History from UCLA in Los Angeles, California in four fields: Middle East, Russia, Caucasus, and a specialized sub-field in Cultural Anthropology focusing on tribes and clans.


Israel fears the thin end of an EU wedge

Saudi Gazette

Dec 2, 2015

Israel will, for the moment at least, no longer recognize the EU’s role in the Peace Process, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said, because of the new Brussels ruling that products made in the Occupied Territories cannot be labeled that they were made in Israel.

The EU will be suspended while the Israeli foreign ministry reassess the involvement of EU bodies in everything that is connected with the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.

At first glance, Netanyahu’s move is laughable because there is no Peace Process. Israel has seen to that by its refusal to stem the construction of further illegal settlements on Palestinian territory, let alone to consider their abandonment. Its colonization by construction has already reached the stage that economic life for people in the Occupied Territories is now impossible. Hebron, once a thriving Arab town into which a few heavily-guarded Israeli settlers made an incursion a decade ago, is now Israeli-dominated. It is the remaining Palestinians who are besieged in their homes which, needless to say, are not heavily guarded by Israeli troops.

But there is clearly a more sinister motive behind this suspension of  the EU’s diplomacy in Palestine. Brussels has a series of initiatives designed to foster a future independent and sovereign Palestinian state. These range from humanitarian assistance and education through to administrative and political advice.  These programs are now also interdicted by Netanyahu’s suspension of the EU’s diplomatic links with the Palestinians.

Therefore, far from being a symbolic protest at a move by Brussels that is perfectly correct under international law, the Israelis are using the issue as yet another excuse to tighten the screws of oppression on the Palestinians. It is interesting that Britain, Belgium and Denmark had all independently already operated a relabeling policy for goods produced in the Occupied Territories, which include Syria’s  Golan Heights as well as the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Israelis had protested but taken no revenge action against these countries. The EU-wide move is something different.  What is clearly worrying Netanyahu is that it could be the thin end of the wedge. Public opinion in Europe has been moving steadily against Israel. The turning point was the appalling carnage in the 2014 bombardment of the Gaza Ghetto. Israel was no longer seen as the vulnerable little democracy struggling to survive surrounded by dangerous Arab enemies.

Instead, it emerged as a merciless bullyboy, content to target indiscriminately civilians and UN schools and compounds in a display of bloodlust horrifically similar to the Nazis in their assault on the hapless Jews trapped in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Europe has a far smaller but arguably subtler Zionist lobby than the United States. Nevertheless, European politicians are being driven by public opinion toward more substantial recognition of the plight of the Palestinians. This sympathy seems set to survive the rising tide of Islamophobia in Europe, because the Palestinians are now seen clearly as the victims of a species of Israeli violence that is itself little short of terrorism. Therefore, cutting EU ties to the Palestinians is a way of seeking to head off greater European involvement in the fostering of a Palestinian state. The Israelis know all about the thin end of a wedge – their illegal settlement policy has been levered by just such a small beginning.


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