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Saudi Royal Unrest As Iran Sanctions End And Oil Prices Drop

Next Cold War Roundup 1/15/16

Saudi King May Abdicate to Son, Prince Reckless

_ An report from 13 Jan. Institute For Gulf Affairs article says “Saudi King Salman Al-Saud plans to abdicate his throne and install his son Mohammed as king, multiple highly-placed sources told the Institute for Gulf Affairs.”  In order to install his son, Prince Reckless (soon, reportedly in a “matter of weeks”), he’d have to pass over the current crown prince and interior minister, “the hardline Mohammed bin Naif”, (“MBN”) a favorite of the West.

Saudi Defense Minister Mohammed Bin Salman (by Mazen AlDarrab)

Saudi Defense Minister Mohammed Bin Salman (by Mazen AlDarrab Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons)

Moon of Alabama’s analysis suggests, (based on Foreign Policy column by Kim Ghattas, “The Saudi-Iran War Is America’s Fault“) it is yet another self-destructive tantrum move by the Saudis in order to get more attention from Pres. Obama. The Saudis are used to having their way, whether it is in the U.S. best interests or not.  Ghattas says it’s “Washington’s job to make sure it doesn’t spin out of control.” Charles Freeman, by contrast, said “The Saudis have gone off on their own,” a position that evolved after George W. Bush decided that the Israel/Palestine peace process should be dropped and due to the Israelis’ actions in the West Bank. Again, by contrast, what would this mean for the Israel-Saudi “axis of convenience”?

_ John Kerry went to London on Wednesday to talk with Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister about Iran and Syria, per Matt Lee, AP State Dept. correspondent 

_ When asked about the rift between Saudi Arabia and Iran in his recent Bild interview, Putin clearly did not want to take sides — at least not publicly.  He did offer to help try to “resolve the conflict as soon as possible.”  An excerpt of his answer:

Vladimir Putin: “It hampers the efforts to settle the Syrian crisis and the fight against terrorism, as well as the process of halting the inflow of refugees to Europe, that much is certain.

As for whether this will lead to a major regional clash, I do not know. I would rather not talk or even think in these terms. We have very good relations with Iran and our partnership with Saudi Arabia is stable.”

_ Pepe Escobar doesn’t sound optimistic:

GAME OF THRONES IN THE HOUSE OF SAUD

[…]

Rumours of a coup floating all around. At least 8 of the 12 surviving sons of the founder of the oil hacienda, Abdul Aziz ibn Saud – as well as most ulema – want to get rid of Salman and install his brother, Ahmed, 73.

Clown – yes, clown – Prince Nayef is running the oil hacienda at the moment. And that Mighty Warrior Prince Mohammed, 30, runs the failed war on Yemen and spins a possible privatization of Aramco.

There will be blood.”

_ A piling on is beginning. “Saudi Arabia: A Weak Kingdom On Its Knees?

‘Age of Oil Coming to an End’?

_ This is from Bloomberg. “Why would you IPO your only valuable asset when oil is at its lowest point since 2003? […] The most obvious way to read it is they are starting to see the writing on the wall — that the age of oil is coming to an end and they are looking to cash out while they can.”

_ A new Saudi sovereign wealth fund “to manage part of its oil wealth and diversify its investments

More Details About the Sailors in the Persian Gulf

_ More details trickling out about the detained sailors and their riverine boat mishap. LA Times mentions a litany of troubles that don’t like the initial explanation. The loss of “all radio and other communications” is curious for a number of reasons including some recent history.

  • “possibly taking a shortcut through Iranian waters”
  • “apparently running out of gas”
  • “one boat developed engine trouble”
  • “inexplicably lost all radio and other communications” with HQ
  • USS Truman “launched search helicopters into Iranian airspace”
  • A rescue operation was considered
  • SecDef Carter called it a “navigational mistake”
  • boats were “heading for a rendezvous with a refueling ship”
  • “may have punched the wrong coordinates into the GPS”

_ A writer at the SOFREP blog says “the United States and Iran have been playing a game of cat and mouse in the Persian Gulf for decades” in a “very warm cold war” that doesn’t escalate because, for both sides, there is “too much to lose” in a conventional war with Iran. He cites a book on the subject, “The Twilight War:The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran“.

_ Retired admiral experienced in the Persian Gulf anonymously told New York Times: “This was a debacle […]  Iranians closely monitor their territorial waters, their airspace, and their land borders. We have standard operating procedures to avoid incidents like this, and they obviously weren’t followed here.”

Turkey, Restricted by Russian Air Defense, Wants U.S. to Help Their Air Force

_ Turkey wants to select rebel groups for the Pentagon to arm and train. It’s not clear which “Sunni Arab” groups they are referring to. Some of their “Turkmen” groups in NW Syria are under a lot of pressure from the R4+1 coalition as they continue to advance. The Pentagon is “weighing a request” made during JCS Dunford’s recent trip to Incirlik air base. The stated goal is “securing porous Turkish border area.” Given the oil smuggling operation and supply lines at Turkish border crossings, this stated goal will draw a lot of skepticism.

_ US pressured Turkey to seal their borders and Turkey demanded US air support in exchange, given that post-shootdown of Russian jet, Erdogan can’t really use his air force in the border area and he still wants his “protected zone on the Syrian side of the border”.  Though nobody really talks about it, Russia already has a no-fly zone across a large part of the Syria/Turkey border. Tyler Rogoway of FoxtrotAlpha says it:

Fast forward to today, and the coalition appears to be far from declaring air supremacy over Syria. In fact, Russia’s heavy presence in Western Syria, with its formidable S-400 air defense system and enhanced armed fighter patrols, both of which were put in place after Turkey downed a Russia Su-24 attack jet, seems to have made it an area where manned coalition aircraft simply do not operate.

_ Another new name?  Western-leaning fighters“are the new “moderate Syrian rebels.”

_ Turkish PM says Istanbul suicide bomber, Nabil Fadli,  28-year-old Saudi-born Syrian national, registered as a refugee at a center one week before attack. Earlier reports that he was associated with ISIS are now questionable.

Syria, New Partners and Bases

_ Hagel makes it clear he was never in the “Assad must go” camp with some surprising quotes in an Atlantic Council article: “US’ Syria Policy ‘Paralyzed’ by Rhetoric that Assad Must Go, Says Hagel

_ There are some interesting bits about bases in the latest Ignatius column where he laments that alas, US might have to work with Russia after all.  He says Jordan’s King Abjullah II wants Russian-American cooperation and has been working with Putin (we knew they had an agreement about Syria’s southern border but this is much more) and there is a “Jordanian-Russian military coordination center in Jordan.” That’s interesting.  Perhaps even more interesting, he says Jordan and US are discussing a “forward operating base inside Syria that could be a rallying point for Sunni forces against the Islamic State… a modern-day ‘Fort Apache’… organized by special forces from Jordan and other Western and Arab coalition partners.”  That’s really interesting. I wonder if that rumored base we talked about here in December, in Rmelan, Hasakah? The old cropdusting farm runway? Will that be the Fort Apache? (This is speculation on my part).

New (unconfirmed) US air base in northeast Syria - Rimelan, Al Hasakah

New (unconfirmed) US air base in northeast Syria – Rimelan, Al Hasakah

Syrian Rebel Forces Collapsing

_ “The insurgents in the opposition-held area near the Turkish border were collapsing after the town of Salma fell to government loyalists late Tuesday.”

_ “Six Bad Options for Syria” (PDF)

_ Astounding amount of damage

_ About that Lister List and the 70,000 “moderate Syrian rebels“. Doesn’t matter now though. He got his vote.

India and Pakistan

_ Some Indian air force planes disappeared or got stuck in Ukraine while they were being upgraded there. This was reported last Spring and does not seem to have been resolved.

War Crimes Investigation in Madaya, Syria

_ “The U.N. commission of inquiry documenting war crimes in Syria has been in direct contact with residents inside Madaya.” The buried lede in this story — some opposition groups are demanding “unhindered access throughout Syria, particularly in besieged and hard-to-reach areas” or they will not participate in the next step of negotiations on Jan. 25.  This demand seems impossible to satisfy as it would require the cooperation of all belligerents, including ISIS.  It sounds more like a way to undermine or delay negotiations for groups who are presently in a weak position but need a way to blame it on the pro-government side (who has confirmed they will attend the Jan. 25 talks).

_ Many people have been wondering why Madaya has gotten media blitz level of attention when many Syrian towns have been besieged, many of them for years. This is a plausible reason why — it will be used as a way to undermine the next important step in negotiations where actual Syrians sit down at the table.  AP later confirmed“Rebel groups in Syria say they reject peace talks unless humanitarian UN requirements are met.” This demand makes little sense. The best chance at getting unfettered aid throughout Syria is almost certainly to go to the negotiating table where the next planned step is ceasefire agreements, which would make aid shipments possible.

_ There is a commission collecting information on war crimes in this war. Syria is not currently a signatory to the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Dept of Defense New Media Campaign for Anti-ISIL Operation

_ Looks like the Dept of Defense thinks if they use a cancer metaphor in their high level strategy slides, it will help people understand Obama’s strategy better, or support it more.

Iraqi Kurds, KRG

_ Spokesman for US anti-ISIL coalition (OIR, Operation Inherent Resolve) says heavy weapons we’re supplying to KRG are coordinated through government in Baghdad.

New Silk Road

_ “Greece on Tuesday opened the financial offers for the privatization of its Piraeus port and asked China Ocean Shipping (Group) Company (COSCO), the sole final bidder, for a better offer by next week, the country’s privatization fund announced.”

101st Airborne Deploy to Iraq, Prep for Mosul

_ Sec Def Carter speaking to 101st Airborne at Ft. Campbell in Kentucky, some of whom will deploy to Iraq/Kuwait next month (500 next month, 1300 more in Spring) “as the U.S.-led military coalition and the Iraqi government prepare for an assault on Mosul.” Kurdish forces from the north and Iraqi forces from the south will employ a “pincer movement” on ISIS in Mosul. Carter revealed that US special operations forces “played an advisory role to help local fighters take back the strategically important Tishreen Dam late last month” in Syria.

El Chapo and JSOC

_ At ~ 25 min mark there is a discussion about the el Chapo operation. Also Jack Murphy says in this SOFREP article “JSOC’s Secretive Delta Force Operators on the Ground for El Chapo Capture” that “multiple sources” told SOFREP that Delta Force “served as tactical advisors but did not directly participate in the operation.” Murphy talks about the participation of Delta Force in numerous operations in the Americas and says law enforcement agencies “often request the presence of Delta operators as advisors to sensitive operations.” He claims that the “Black Swan” operation was targeting Chapo’s lead assassin ” but came across the cartel leader by chance.”

Yemen

_ The 2013 NYT article about redrawing the map of the Middle East offers a possible explanation for Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen.

A new map might get even more intriguing. Arabs are abuzz about part of South Yemen’s eventually merging with Saudi Arabia. Most southerners are Sunni, as is most of Saudi Arabia; many have family in the kingdom. The poorest Arabs, Yemenis could benefit from Saudi riches. In turn, Saudis would gain access to the Arabian Sea for trade, diminishing dependence on the Persian Gulf and fear of Iran’s virtual control over the Strait of Hormuz.

Russia

_ Military briefing on the progress on various fronts in Syria by Russian Lt. Gen. Rudskoi (with English subtitles):

A handful of loose change photographed as it falls onto a dark, flat reflective surface. (Flickr / Nick Olejniczak)
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Joanne Leon

Joanne Leon

Joanne is a blogger with focus on issues of war and peace, a mom, engineer, software developer and amateur photographer.