Al Jazeera “doing a sterling job covering the situation” in Sudan

We get little coverage in New Zealand of the ongoing civil war in Sudan. To follow what is happening you have to look overseas, and Al Jazeera provides some of the best coverage of what is happening in the Middle East.

Al Jazeera Arabic, which was kicked out of Sudan a couple of weeks ago, is still doing a sterling job covering the situation in Khartoum – no mean feat given that the military have all but shut down internet services in the country.

Smuggled footage taken from moving vehicles show largely deserted streets in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. Al Jazeera Arabic broadcasts the footage while interviewing activists and analysts out of Khartoum on scratchy phone lines.

Sudan is yet another country which has shut down Al Jazeera Arabic’s offices, in addition to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain. Al Jazeera also seems to be at least heavily restricted in Algeria, which is also in a state of unrest.

Some of the bans have to do with the ongoing split between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and given the Saudi financial backing of the military council in Sudan, it comes as no surprise that Al Jazeera has been banned there.

However, it’s more than that, and a glance at the Wikipedia page for AJA () gives a long list of countries in which Al Jazeera has been declared unwelcome at one point or another, including Israel, Iraq and even India.

As George Orwell said, “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations.” Twenty-three years after its launch, Al Jazeera continues to make itself unpopular with regimes throughout the Middle East. That’s a good thing.

Thanks to and the many other Al Jazeera Arabic presenters, journalists, producers, camera operators and others who continue to work in very trying conditions to show and tell us what is going on.

Media and journalism get a bad rap these days, not helped by frequent attacks by one of the most prominent world leaders, Donald Trump, who does his best to discredit what he doesn’t want printed or broadcast.

This isn’t as bad as countries in the Middle East, but his aims seem chillingly similar, to promote his own (often nonsense) narrative and turn people against media reporting things he doesn’t want broadcast.

Being dumped on and shunned by draconian governments is a sign that Al Jazeera is doing some very good work reporting on what is happening.

Al Jazeera website Breaking News, World News and Video from Al Jazeera

“News, analysis from the Middle East & worldwide, multimedia & interactives, opinions, documentaries, podcasts, long reads and broadcast schedule.”

Sky TV in New Zealand broadcast Al Jazeera on channel 90.

Defying the US CongressTrump declares national emergency to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, UAE

This has to be somewhat concerning.

A few days ago from Reuters – Trump administration may use Iran threat to sell bombs to Saudis without Congress’ approval: senator

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration plans to use a loophole and rising tensions with Iran to sell bombs to Saudi Arabia, even though Congress blocked such sales for months over concerns about civilian deaths in the war in Yemen, Senator Chris Murphy said on Wednesday.

“I am hearing that Trump may use an obscure loophole in the Arms Control Act and notice a major new sale of bombs to Saudi Arabia (the ones they drop in Yemen) in a way that would prevent Congress from objecting. Could happen this week,” the Democratic senator warned on Twitter.

Congressional aides said there are provisions of the Arms Control Act, which sets rules for international arms transactions, that would allow a president to approve a sale without congressional review in case of a national emergency.

In this case, they said the Republican president would cite rising tensions with Iran as a reason to provide more military equipment to Saudi Arabia, which he sees as an important U.S. partner in the region. Trump has touted arms sales to the Saudis as a way to generate U.S. jobs.

Trump previously declared an influx of immigrants a national emergency to bypass Congress and get $6 billion to build his wall along the Mexican border. Both Democrats and his fellow Republicans voted to block the move, forcing Trump to issue the first veto of his presidency.

Now from Reuters: Defying Congress, Trump sets $8 billion-plus in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE

U.S. President Donald Trump, declaring a national emergency because of tensions with Iran, swept aside objections from Congress on Friday to complete the sale of over $8 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

The Trump administration informed congressional committees that it will go ahead with 22 military sales to the Saudis, United Arab Emirates and Jordan, infuriating lawmakers by circumventing a long-standing precedent for congressional review of major weapons sales.

Several of Trump’s fellow Republicans, as well as Democrats, said they would object to such a plan, fearing that blowing through the “holds” process would eliminate Congress’ ability to check not just Trump but future presidents from selling weapons where they liked.

Representative Mike McCaul, the top Republican on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said the administration’s action was “unfortunate” and likely to damage future White House interactions with Congress.

“I would have strongly preferred for the administration to utilize the long-established and codified arms sale review process,” McCaul said in a statement.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that U.S. partners in the Middle East needed the contracts to be completed to help deter Iran, and that the decision to circumvent Congress was meant to be a “one-time event.”

In his memorandum justifying the emergency declaration, Pompeo listed years of actions by Iran. “Iranian malign activity poses a fundamental threat to the stability of the Middle East and to American security at home and abroad,” he wrote, and cited “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Tehran.

Trump’s administration also announced that it was sending 1,500 additional troops to the Middle East, which it described as an effort to bolster defenses against Iran against what it sees as a threat of potential attack.

Members of Congress from both parties have worried that Trump is pushing toward war with Iran.

War with Congress, war with Iran – is there nothing that Trump can’t do?

 

 

Rahaf Mohammed fleeing gender oppression in Saudi Arabia

A lot of media attention is being given to teenager Rahaf Mohammend al-Qunun being given asylum in Canada after fleeing her family and gender oppression in Saudi Arabia.

Mercury – Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun granted asylum in Canada

Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun has been granted asylum in Canada after she fled her family fearing her father would kill her for renouncing Islam.

NDTV – Being In Canada “Worth The Risk”: Teen Who Fled Saudi, Fearing For Life

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun plans to pursue an education, get a job and “live a normal life” in Canada – things she said she could not do in her home of Saudi Arabia, which she fled fearing for her life, she told Canadian media on Monday.

Being in Canada is “a very good feeling,” she told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation two days after arriving in Toronto from Bangkok.

“It’s something that is worth the risk I took.”

Qunun grabbed international attention last week after she barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to resist being sent home to her family, which denies abusing her. Qunun refused to meet her father and brother, who arrived in Bangkok to try to take her back to Saudi Arabia.

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees granted her refugee status, and Canada agreed to take her in.

Qunun’s case has drawn global attention to Saudi Arabia’s strict social rules, including a requirement that women have the permission of a male “guardian” in order to travel, something rights groups say can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families.

In her CBC interview, Qunun said: “I felt that I could not achieve my dreams that I wanted as long as I was still living in Saudi Arabia.”

Having come to Canada, “I felt that I was reborn, especially when I felt the love and the welcome,” she said.

In her new home, “I will try things I haven’t tried. I will learn things I didn’t learn. I will explore life. … I will have a job and live a normal life.”

This is quite an abnormal event in her life, but moving to Canada should at least allow her to make her own choices.

Statement by Rahaf Mohammed:

Guardian – Rahaf al-Qunun: ‘I hope my story encourages other women to be brave and free’

Speaking in her first interview after being given asylum in Canada, and landing in Toronto on Saturday, Qunun, told the ABC Australia her case might be the “agent for change” in Saudi Arabia, a country where women are denied basic freedoms and are not allowed to work, marry and travel without the permission of a male guardian.

“I think that the number of women fleeing from the Saudi administration and abuse will increase, especially since there is no system to stop them,” said Qunun. “I hope my story encourages other women to be brave and free.”

The 18-year-old added: “I hope my story prompts a change to the laws, especially as it’s been exposed to the world.”

“I wanted to be free from oppression and depression,” she told the ABC. “I wanted to be independent. I wouldn’t have been able to marry the person I wanted. I couldn’t get a job without permission.”

Qunun had originally applied for asylum in Australia but confirmed it was the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that chose Canada because it processed her application more quickly. “This wasn’t my choice, it was the UN’s,” she said. “All I wanted was for a country to protect me. So, my choice was just for any country to protect me.”

In Saudi Arabia, the government-backed National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) also released a statement on Monday accusing several foreign countries of inciting “Saudi female delinquents to rebel against the values of their families and push them out of the country and seek to receive them under the pretext of granting them asylum.”

‘The values of their families’ and laws of the country in Saudi Arabia are quite oppressive towards females.

On their own the actions of Rahaf Mohammend (different versions of her name are given in different reports) may not change much in Saudi Arabia, but it may contribute to change there eventually. On a personal level it is a huge and brave decision.

But “I would like to start living a private normal life” and “Today and for years to come, I will work in support of freedom for women around the world” may be difficult to achieve side by side.

 

 

Trump says Saudi money more important than assassination

Donald Trump is copping flak again. This is justified, again.

White House: Statement from President Donald J. Trump on Standing with Saudi Arabia

Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an “enemy of the state” and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that – this is an unacceptable and horrible crime. King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!

That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran. The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region. It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!

I understand there are members of Congress who, for political or other reasons, would like to go in a different direction – and they are free to do so. I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me, but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America.

After the United States, Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producing nation in the world. They have worked closely with us and have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels – so important for the world. As President of the United States I intend to ensure that, in a very dangerous world, America is pursuing its national interests and vigorously contesting countries that wish to do us harm. Very simply it is called America First!

Vox: There’s nothing “America First” about Trump’s Saudi policy

A Washington Post story says Trump “puts economics above human rights,” and Stephen Collins at CNN accuses Trump of arguing that “principles that generations of Americans have cherished are for sale.”

Further exacerbating the egregiousness of the crime, the Saudis murdered Khashoggi on Turkish soil. The current regime in Turkey is, itself, not great, but the fact remains that Turkey is a NATO ally that the United States is treaty-bound to defend. Assassinating someone in the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul is not exactly the same as making war on Turkey. But just as we want foreign governments to not do anything remotely resembling murdering American citizens, we also should want them to steer very clear of anything remotely resembling invading our NATO allies.

But what’s unique about Trump is the extent to which he is able to personally profit from the Saudi government while in office. This August, for example, the general manager of the Trump International Hotel in Manhattan was pleased to announce that after two straight years of decline, revenue grew 13 percent in the first quarter of 2018.

Why? Well, according to a letter he wrote that was obtained by the Post, “a last-minute visit to New York by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia” played a key role.

Bottom line: The United States is the mightiest empire the world has ever known. Signing a treaty with us or being accepted as a legal permanent resident of our country ought to count for something in the world. Trump’s message is that it doesn’t — that foreigners can screw around with our people and our allies as much as they like as long as Trump doesn’t mind personally.

Fox News: Trump faces bipartisan backlash for Saudi statement

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle balk at President Trump’s decision to stand with Saudi Arabia after the murder of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashogg

Fox News: Trump thanks Saudi Arabia for lower oil prices

President Trump says he won’t destroy the world economy by being ‘foolish’ with Saudi Arabia over columnist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.

Fox News: Trump thanks Saudi Arabia for lower oil prices, but says ‘let’s go lower!’

The sharp drop in prices is being put down to increased production by the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Russia. Trump had tweeted earlier in November his hope that Saudi Arabia would not cut its oil production.

One reason was fears of a price spike due to sanctions on Iran. But when Trump imposed them Nov. 5, he added a six-month waiver for several countries that are major consumers of Iranian oil. Instead of spiking, prices have slumped. Concerns about slowing global growth have also weighed on prices.

Trump’s public thanking of the Kingdom comes after he gave partial backing to the country over the controversy surrounding the killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, inside the Saudi Consulate in Turkey in October.

Oil rules. Money rules. trump puts short term business interests ahead of human rights and law.

Turkey challenges latest Saudi Arabia attempt to explain Khashoggi murder

As promised yesterday Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a different story to Saudi Arabia on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

BBC:  Khashoggi murder planned days ahead, says Turkey’s Erdogan

The killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was planned days in advance, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told MPs from his ruling party.

He said Turkey had strong evidence Khashoggi was killed in a premeditated and “savage” murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

He also called for the suspects to be tried in Istanbul.

He demanded Saudi Arabia provide answers about where Khashoggi’s body was, and who had ordered the operation.

The Saudi kingdom has provided conflicting accounts of what happened to Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post contributor. After weeks of maintaining he was still alive, the authorities now say the 59-year-old was killed in a rogue operation.

A rogue operation by a rogue state provided with weaponry by the US in particular but also by Britan and France and other countries.

The changing story of Khashoggi’s murder

Saoudi Arabia’s explanation of the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has kept changing, but their foreign minister now admits that Khashoggi was murdered. However he says it was ‘a rogue operation’. It is difficult to accept any official Saudi claims given how much they have kept changing.

The Saudis gave up trying to deny they were responsible for Khashoggi’s death, and are now left trying to distance  Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from any responsibility.

Saudi officials had first denied any knowledge of Khasoggi’s disappearance, despite video evidence of him going into their consulate in Istanbul and never being seen again. Under international pressure and condemnation they eventually admitted Khasoggi had died in the consulate but claimed it was as a result of a fight. The now concede he was murdered.

BBC – Khashoggi death: Saudi Arabia says journalist was murdered

Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told Fox News “the murder” had been a “tremendous mistake” and denied the powerful crown prince had ordered it.

Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

The Saudis, under intense pressure to explain Khashoggi’s whereabouts, have offered conflicting accounts.

They initially said he had left the consulate on 2 October – but on Friday admitted for the first time he was dead, saying he had been killed in a fight. This claim met widespread scepticism.

Turkish officials believe Khashoggi, a prominent critic of the Saudi government, was murdered by a team of Saudi agents inside the building and say they have evidence to prove it.

Adel al-Jubeir’s comments, describing the incident as murder, are some of the most direct to come from a Saudi official.

“We are determined to find out all the facts and we are determined to punish those who are responsible for this murder,” he said.

“The individuals who did this did this outside the scope of their authority,” he added. “There obviously was a tremendous mistake made, and what compounded the mistake was the attempt to try to cover up.”

Khashoggi entered the consulate on 2 October. The denials and attempted cover up extended over 20 days, despite being told by US officials to end the crisis ‘quickly’ on 10 October.

NY Times (9 October): Turkish Officials Say Khashoggi Was Killed on Order of Saudi Leadership

Top Turkish security officials have concluded that the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on orders from the highest levels of the royal court, a senior official said Tuesday.

Business Insider: The Saudi crown prince reportedly couldn’t understand the outrage over Khashoggi’s killing

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, the man suspected of ordering the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, could not understand why the Saudi journalist’s disappearance was such a big deal, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Mohammed bin Salman was shocked to see Khashoggi’s disappearance in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul provoke such international outrage, and he called the White House adviser Jared Kushner to ask why, the paper said.

Crown Prince Mohammed called Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East adviser, on October 10, The Journal said, eight days after Khashoggi disappeared.

Crown Prince Mohammed asked in English what the outrage was about, the report said, citing two people who were briefed on the conversation.

Kushner and John Bolton, the US national security adviser, reportedly told the crown prince in response that he had to solve the crisis quickly.

Kushner is close to Crown Prince Mohammed and – according to CNN – texts him directly sometimes on WhatsApp. He has not taken a public role in the US response to the Khashoggi crisis, but reports suggest he has advised Trump to stand by Saudi Arabia until the episode blows over.

If this is all true then unless Kushner and Bolton did not inform Donald Trump (that seems very unlikely) then Trump knew what was going on but tried to play down Khasoggi’s disappearance.

The Trump administration appeared reluctant to hold the Saudi leadership responsible for weeks after Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Trump has continued to tout billions of dollars’ worth of arms contracts struck between Washington and Riyadh, which he has repeatedly claimed could create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the US.

After Saudi Arabia acknowledged Khashoggi’s death, Trump told The Post that “obviously there’s been deception, and there’s been lies” in the Saudi explanation of the disappearance and death.

He must have known well before the Saudi admission.

But the president said he “would love if he wasn’t responsible,” referring to Crown Prince Mohammed.

Many of the 15 men identified in the Turkish news media as suspects in Khashoggi’s killinghave been seen in the crown prince’s entourage.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised that he would reveal the “naked truth”about Khashoggi’s death on Tuesday.

That could be embarrassing for both Crown Prince Mohammed and Trump (and also Kushner). They both at least look complicit in an inept attempt to cover up the murder.

Guardian (12 October) – Trump: Khashoggi case will not stop $110bn US-Saudi arms trade

Donald Trump has made it clear that whatever the outcome of the inquiry into the disappearance of the journalist from the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, the US will not forgo lucrative arms deals with Riyadh. The president says the possibility of Saudi Arabia sourcing its arms from Russia or China instead is unacceptable.

Vox (21 October) – “It’s not going to create or take away a single job”: why Trump’s excuse on the Saudis doesn’t hold up

When President Donald Trump explained over the past two weeks why he was reluctant to damage the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia over the disappearance and murderof dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, he kept coming back to one reason: jobs.

“I don’t want to hurt jobs,” Trump said in an interview with 60 Minutes that aired last weekend, explaining that there are “other ways of punishing.”

“Who are we hurting? It’s 500,000 jobs,” he told Fox Business on Wednesday.

“I’d rather keep the million jobs, and I’d find another solution,” he said at a defense roundtable in Arizona on Friday.

But while there’s a multitude of reasons Trump might be hesitant to condemn the Saudi government, tens or hundreds of thousands of jobs from an arms deal with the Saudi government isn’t one of them — at least a legitimate one.

The White House has been conspicuously cautious in its reaction to Khashoggi’s disappearance, even after the government admitted on Friday that he was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul earlier this month. Part of Trump’s explanation — beyond that it’s unfair to consider Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “guilty before proven innocent” — is that a $110 billion arms deal would be at risk. Trump claims the arms deal will lead to thousands of jobs, and it’s a risk he’s not willing to take.

There could also be other economic reasons leading Trump to avoid destabilizing the relationship — including Saudi influence over the world’s supply of oil, which would be particularly crucial if the US imposes sanctions on Iran.

“What’s at stake is global oil price stability,” Ashley Peterson, a senior oil market analyst at energy advisory firm Stratas Advisors, told me. “Saudi Arabia excels at talking up and talking down the oil market.”

But:

“They have the oil card and the arms sales card, neither of which, to me, is particularly compelling in these circumstances,” Chollet, from the German Marshall Fund, said.

Beyond the economic factors in play here, there are also geopolitical considerations — it also goes into the broader context of the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Iran deal.

As the New York Times’s David Sanger pointed out, Saudi Arabia is an important player in the United States’ plan to go after Iran. The White House is hoping the Saudis will help it keep oil prices from spiking when it reimposes sanctions on Iran, including cutting off Iranian oil exports.

As usual with international issues things are complicated. And in any case, arms sales to Saudi Arabia, oil and Iran are all interrelated.

The death of one journalist is just a nuisance – but it could become a very influential nuisance.

 

 

Saudi Arabia admits Khashoggi was killed in consulate

Saudi Arabia has admitted that Jamal Khashoggi was killed in their consulate in Istanbul, but say it was a result of a fight. And Donald trump says that sounds credible.

Al Jazeera:  Saudi Arabia admits Jamal Khashoggi killed in Istanbul consulate

Saudi Arabia has admitted that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside its consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul, according to the kingdom’s state media.

The official SPA press agency said on Saturday that preliminary results of investigations showed that the dissident writer died after a fight broke out inside the building.

“An argument erupted between him [Khashoggi] and others whom he met in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul leading to a fist fight which led to his death,” SPA reported.

“The investigations are still under way and 18 Saudi nationals have been arrested,” a statement from the Saudi public prosecutor said, adding Royal court adviser Saud al-Qahtani and deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Asiri have been sacked from their positions.

It remains unclear where Khashoggi’s body is following his killing.

As well as sounding like extremely unlikely, aka bullshit, it leaves many questions unanswered apart from where his body is, like why his body disappeared and why it took so long to admit he died.

Guardian – Jamal Khashoggi death: Donald Trump says Saudi explanation is ‘credible’

Friday 28 September

Khashoggi, after seeking assurances for his safety, visits the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to pick up paperwork he needs in order to get married. He is told to return next week when the documents will be ready.

Tuesday 2 October

The journalist pays a second visit to the Saudi consulate. Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancee, waits outside the building for several hours with his personal effects including his phone – these are not allowed to be taken inside the diplomatic building – and then calls the police when he does not return.

Wednesday 3 October

The Saudi government issues a statement confirming Khashoggi is missing. It says he disappeared after leaving the consulate building the day before and it is working with the Turkish authorities to find him.

So they lied.

Donald Trump says Saudi explanation is ‘credible’

Why this much outrage over one journalist death?

I think this is a fair point:

The millions of victims of Saudi Arabia’s genocide in Yemen, dirty war on Syria or internal beheading spree never receive anything near the level of sympathy the elite media class displays here. It took allegations of murdering one of their own to turn on MBS.

Most of those responsible for 911 (15 if 19) were Saudi.

Al Jazeera:  Key facts about the war in Yemen

As of March 26, 2018, at least 10,000 Yemenis had been killed by the fighting, with more than 40,000 casualties overall.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), estimates that more than 3 million Yemenis have fled their homes to elsewhere in the country, and 280,000 have sought asylum in other countries, including Djiboutiand Somalia. As reported by Al Jazeera, internally displaced Yemenis often must cope with a lack of food and inadequate shelter. Many Yemenis who have not fled are also suffering, especially those in need of healthcare.

In 2015, Saudi Arabia formed a coalition of Arab states to defeat the Houthis in Yemen. The coalition includes Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan and Senegal. Several of these countries have sent troops to fight on the ground in Yemen, while others have only carried out air attacks.

The US government regularly launches air attacks on al-Qaeda and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) targets in Yemen, and recently admitted to having deployed a small number of troops on the ground. The US, along with other western powers such as the UK and France, has also supplied the Saudi-led coalition with weapons and intelligence.

The Intercept: HOW THE SAUDI-QATARI RIVALRY HAS FUELED THE WAR IN SYRIA

Meanwhile, the Gulf regimes and the U.S. were plotting a regime change operation in Syria, dating from at least 2006.

But these two endlessly recycled narratives obscure a critical cause of the Syrian conflict and the longevity of the war: namely, the intense competition between Saudi Arabia on the one hand and Qatar on the other. The struggle between these two foreign powers has been a crucial dimension of the war — and their struggle and involvement has only been made possible with full U.S. and European Union support, although different Western countries sided more with one side or the other at different periods of the conflict.

Guardian: Saudi Arabia criticised for 48 beheadings in four months of 2018

Saudi Arabia has executed 48 people in the past four months, half of them on non-violent drug charges, Human Rights Watch has said.

The US-based group urged the kingdom to improve what it called a “notoriously unfair criminal justice system”.

Saudi Arabia has one of the world’s highest rates of execution: suspects convicted of terrorism, homicide, rape, armed robbery and drug trafficking face the death penalty.

What has been alleged to have happened to Jamal Khashoggi sounds bad, but so are many many other atrocities.

 

Alarming claims and revelations in killing of Saudi journalist

Claims and revelations over the apparent killing of a Saudi dissident in the Saudi Consulate in Turkey are quite alarming.

New York Times: Turkish Officials Say Khashoggi Was Killed on Order of Saudi Leadership

Top Turkish security officials have concluded that the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on orders from the highest levels of the royal court, a senior official said Tuesday.

The official described a quick and complex operation in which Mr. Khashoggi was killed within two hours of his arrival at the consulateby a team of Saudi agents, who dismembered his body with a bone saw they brought for the purpose.

Saudi officials, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have denied the allegations, insisting that Mr. Khashoggi left the consulate freely shortly after he arrived. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has demanded that the Saudis provide evidence proving their claim.

The security establishment concluded that Mr. Khashoggi’s killing was directed from the top because only the most senior Saudi leaders could order an operation of such scale and complexity, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to disclose confidential briefings.

Fifteen Saudi agents had arrived on two charter flights last Tuesday, the day Mr. Khashoggi disappeared, the official said.

All 15 left just a few hours later, and Turkey has now identified the roles that most or all of them held in the Saudi government or security services, the official said. One was an autopsy expert, presumably there to help dismember the body, the official said.

A publication with close ties to Mr. Erdogan’s government, the newspaper Sabah, reported Tuesday that unnamed officials had said the police were examining the possibility that Mr. Khashoggi had been abducted and not killed, possibly with the help of another country’s intelligence officers.

The official who spoke about Mr. Khashoggi’s killing said that report and other similar ones were incorrect and were probably the result of the limited information shared among different agencies within the Turkish government.

Another person briefed on the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity to disclose confidential details, told The Times on Saturday that Turkish intelligence had obtained a video of the killing, made by the Saudis to prove that it had occurred.

A commentator close to Mr. Erdogan’s government said so publicly on Tuesday.

“There is a video of the moment of him being killed,” Kemal Ozturk, a columnist in a pro-government newspaper and the former head of a semiofficial news agency, said in an interview on a pro-government television network, citing unnamed security officials.

So alarming multiple claims, some disputed.

Fox News: US intercepted Saudi plans to capture missing journalist, report says

U.S. intelligence agencies reportedly intercepted Saudi officials discussing a plan to capture Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist who disappeared after visiting the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

The Washington Post is reporting that before the journalist disappeared on Oct. 2, Saudi officials discussed a plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia.

It remains unclear if the Saudi government intended to arrest or kill the journalist known for his writings criticizing the Saudi leadership, or whether the U.S. government informed Khashoggi that he was the target of the Saudi government, the report said.

Questions about what the US did, and if they knew whether they did anything to try to prevent what seemed about to happen.

The journalist’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, wrote an op-ed on Tuesday expressing hope her man is still alive. “Although my hope slowly fades away each passing day, I remain confident that Jamal is still alive,” she wrote. “Perhaps I’m simply trying to hide from the thought that I have lost a great man whose love I had earned.”

Cengiz urged President Trump and his wife Melania Trump to help shed a light on the journalist’s disappearance. “At this time, I implore President Trump and first lady Melania Trump to help shed light on Jamal’s disappearance,” she wrote.

Washington Post: Trump wants answers about missing Saudi writer

President Donald Trump says the U.S. is “demanding” answers from Saudi Arabia about missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and wants to bring his fiancée to the White House.

Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday that he has a call in to his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz.

Trump says nobody knows exactly what happened and expressed hope that Khashoggi is not dead.

He says he’s spoken with the Saudis about what he called a “bad situation,” but he did not disclose details of his conversations.

It certainly looks like a bad situation. And a tricky one for the US – they supply a lot of weaponry to Saudi Arabia: U.S. sells 6,700 missiles to Saudi Arabia as part of $1 billion deal:

“This proposed sale will support U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives by improving the security of a friendly country which has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic growth in the Middle East,” the State Department said, adding that the deal “will not alter the basic military balance in the region.”

The murder (or abduction) of Khashoggi puts the US in a difficult position.

Haaretz: Trump’s Saudi Policy Lets MBS Think He Can Get Away With Murder, ex-U.S. Officials Say

As fears grow about fate of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, whom Turkish authorities believe was killed in Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week, experts warn that White House silence is part of the problem

 Former U.S. officials believe the Trump administration’s friendly policy toward Saudi Arabia has caused its leaders to believe they face no consequences for their actions. The fears were raised following the mysterious disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey last week, amid reports that he was murdered while visiting Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul.

The Trump administration has made a noticeable effort to improve America’s relations with Saudi Arabia, which became tense during President Barack Obama’s time in office. Donald Trump chose Saudi Arabia as his first foreign visit as president, in May 2017, and the Saudi leadership vocally supported his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

A close relationship has also developed between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

A former Middle East adviser to both Republican and Democratic administrations:

Miller’s “just about anything” statement refers to a series of steps previously taken by the crown prince to oppress opposition to his rule. Over the past year, he has had hundreds of Saudi businessmen and former officials arrested without due process. His government has also jailed women’s rights and anti-corruption activists, accusing them of a conspiracy to overthrow the government.

Crown Prince Mohammed has also intensified Saudi Arabia’s war against Iran and its proxies in Yemen – a war that has turned into a full-blown humanitarian disaster. The Saudis also detained Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri last November, reportedly holding him against his will and forcing him to resign as Lebanese premier (Hariri walked back that decision when back in Beirut).

As far as is known, the Trump administration didn’t criticize or warn Saudi Arabia about any of these policies. In fact, it actively supported and encouraged some of them. When the Saudi leadership rounded up hundreds of political rivals and held them at a Riyadh hotel-cum-interim prison, Trump tweeted:

That message was well received in Riyadh. “The Trump administration made it clear from early on that it had little interest in protecting human rights, except when it comes to the rights of Christian minorities,” Tamara Cofman Wittes, a former State Department official who is currently a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told Haaretz.

Trump, she added, “said very explicitly that he is not interested in telling other countries how to run [their] government. Could this be seen as a green light for oppressive actions? Certainly when compared to the previous policies of every American president since the end of World War II.”

So the actions of Saudi Arabia in relation to Khashoggi are in the spotlight, but what Trump and his administration has done and does now is also very important.

Saudi sheep revisited

Another old story that has curiously popped up in the middle of an election campaign.

The Saudi sheep deal was embarrassing for the government and deserved scrutiny, but I have suspicions when a story dating back to 2013, that was a big thing in the media in 2015, suddenly pops up right now.

RNZ: Saudi sheep deal: MFAT didn’t provide legal advice on lawsuit risk

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade did not provide legal advice to the government on the risk of being sued by a disgruntled Saudi Arabian businessman, documents reveal.

The admission that no legal advice on the lawsuit threat ever existed directly contradicts comments in 2015 by then-Foreign Minister Murray McCully that the ministry had taken advice on the issue.

The National government did an $11.5 million deal with Saudi businessman Hamood Al Ali Al Khalaf after Cabinet was advised in February 2013 that the Al Khalaf Group was threatening to sue New Zealand for $20-$30m. Mr Al Khalaf had invested heavily in New Zealand and believed New Zealand’s 2003 ban on live exports had left him misled and out of pocket.

In a 2015 interview on TV3’s The Nation, Mr McCully was asked repeatedly what the advice said and whether he would release it.

He replied “it’s the ministry’s advice” and “I’m not going to release the ministry’s advice”. When asked if there was any legal basis for a lawsuit, he said “the advice was that those circumstances did provide such a basis”.

Yet an Official Information Act response from MFAT “following discussion with the Chief Ombudsman” has revealed “it did not seek or provide advice on the extent of the risk of a claim in the New Zealand courts for compensation from the Al Khalaf Group against the government”.

“Effectively, the minister had misled the public,” said Labour’s David Parker.

“This confirms that the $4m cash payment was never legitimate and thanks to disgraceful covering up by MFAT and McCully it has taken more than two years to get an answer.”

So why is this story timed now? McCully is out of Parliament in a week.

Has the timing of the information being released been designed to hide the story in the mass of election coverage?

Or is it timed to try and influence the election by embarrassing the government?

A $4m cash deal should be questioned, but amongst the current lolly scramble it may be seen as just a few more of our dollars thrown around by politicians.