*Saudi-based reporter John R. Bradley says in the Sidney Morning Herald that the Saudi Defense Minister, Sultan b. Abdul Aziz, has confirmed that “that United States troops have arrived in the northern garrison town of Tabuk.” He says other credible reports indicate a US presence there and at Arar airport not far from the Saudi-Iraqi border. He adds, “From Arar the Americans could pour into Iraq’s western desert or go directly by road towards Baghdad, forcing the Iraqis to face an attack from the west as well as the expected southern assault from Kuwait and a second front in the north.” He points out that this is strong evidence that the Saudi princes have thrown in with the US attack on Iraq, despite public opposition to the war.
*A secret State Department report throws cold water over the idea that a democratic Iraq will help spread democracy in the Middle East in the aftermath of a US attack and occupation. In typical State Department fashion, the report also wonders whether “procedural democracy”, i.e. elections without a strong liberal democratic culture, would even be a good idea in the region. Proto-fascist “Islamists” might well come to power that way. While I agree that the Iraqi experiment is highly unlikely to result in democratization of the region, I am not sure that continued dictatorships are all that much better for US interests, much less local people, than would be democratic governments with substantial participation by Islamists. It is a tough call.
*The Israeli military chief of staff says that getting rid of Arafat is an urgent priority for him; an extreme rightwing member of the Israeli Knesset urges that Abu Mazen, the new prime minister praised by President Bush, be arrested if he comes to Israel; the Labor Party continues to collapse and split; Israeli policies of shooting first and asking questions later in the West Bank and Gaza finally backfired on them when soldiers shot two Israeli military men in plain clothes by accident. The policy has resulted in large numbers of innocent Palestinian civilians, including children, being killed or wounded.
*In Egypt 5,000 demonstrators protested the looming Iraq war and the treatment of Palestinians by Israeli forces at the al-Azhar seminary, calling for jihad against US soldiers if they attack Iraq. This event follows the recent call for jihad against a US Iraq war issued by the usually staid and sober al-Azhar a couple of days ago. It seems to me a little unlikely that any volunteers who go to Iraq will pose much of a challenge to US AC-130s, who made short work of similar volunteers who went to Afghanistan from Pakistan last winter. But the increased threat of terrorism and asymmetrical attacks should be obvious.