The Saudi-US war on Yemen is killing 130 Children a Day & Other Bleak Statistics

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Saudi-led coalition is waging total war on Yemen in a bid to defeat the guerrilla group, the Houthis or the Helpers of God. The Houthis took power in Sanaa in fall of 2014 and consolidated it in early 2015. By March-April, Saudi Arabia’s Muhammad Bin Salman, now the crown prince, had ordered air strikes on the country that have continued to this day. These strikes have been indiscriminate, hitting schools, hospitals, apartment buildings and key civilian infrastructure like ports, bridges and roads. Any one of these strikes is a war crime. In the aggregate they become crimes against humanity.

The Houthi gang is also guilty of war crimes, and of severe human rights violations and cannot be held blameless in the unfolding devastation of Yemen. But the Saudi-led war and the various forms of blockade Riyadh is imposing on Yemen are far worse. The Houthis are a radical group deriving from Zaydi tribes in Saadeh and other towns in rural north Yemen, who as Shiites deeply resent Saudi proselytizing for hard line Salafi Sunnism in Yemen. Houthi leaders have vowed to overthrow the House of Saud and have tried to imitate the rhetorical style of Hizbullah in Lebanon. However, Houthis are a local indigenous protest movement in Yemen, and are not a proxy for Iran. Houthi weaponry is mostly American and Iran does not give them much money or other support. The Saudis try to blame Iran for the Houthi revolt in order to shift blame from their own aggressive policies.

These political considerations should not allow us to forget what is being done to Yemen children.

Save the Children writes,

“Severe acute malnutrition is the most extreme and dangerous form of undernutrition. Symptoms include jutting ribs and loose skin with visible wasting of body tissue, or swelling in the ankles, feet and belly as blood vessels leak fluid under the skin.”

* 130 children die every day in Yemen from extreme hunger and disease–one child every 18 minutes. The Saudi blockade on ports such as Hudeida will increase this death toll.

*This year, at least 50,000 children are expected to die as indirect casualties of the war (if food cannot be off-loaded at ports, and bridges are knocked out, children will die of malnutrition).

* Nearly 400,000 children will need to be treated for severe acute malnutrition in Yemen in the next twelve months. Aid organizations are being actively interfered with in this work by the Saudi blockade and bombing strikes.

* As a result of the Saudi blockade, aid organizations like Save the Children will be out of food and medicine stocks in the next two to three months.

* If left untreated some 20 to 30 percent of children with severe acute malnutrition will perish every year.

* It should be remembered that famines usually do not kill people because there is no food at all. What happens is that the food becomes too expensive for the poor to purchase. This situation now obtains in Yemen and obviously the Saudi blockade, by obese princes who are obviously getting three square meals a day, is driving up the price of food for Yemenis.

* A shocking 10,000 children are likely to die in Taiz district and another 10,000 in the Hodeidah district this year.

The aid organization concludes:

“Save the Children currently has five shipping containers full of life-saving food for sick and malnourished children stuck in Aden because of road closures. Our staff cannot reach communities to provide life-saving care and much-needed supplies and relief workers cannot enter the country. Essential medicines, fuel and food stocks could start running out in a matter of weeks. It’s utterly unacceptable to let children die of neglect and a lack of political will. Without urgent action the future looks bleak.”

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Related video:

Yemen: Millions of children and families are on the brink of starvation | UNICEF

Lebanese PM Hariri arrives in or Escapes to France

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri arrived Saturday morning with his family in Paris, after a two-week stay in Saudi Arabia, where he is a dual citizen and has a mansion. Lebanese president Michel Aoun had charged that Saudi Arabia had taken Hariri hostage, but the latter denies the charge. The trip (or escape) to Paris was arranged by French president Emmanuel Macron on a trip to Riyadh earlier this week. France is the former colonial power in Lebanon and has excellent relations with Saudi Arabia because of security cooperation and substantial arms sales to the kingdom by Paris.

Lebanese foreign minister Gebran Bassil had visited Moscow on Thursday and while there said that Hariri’s resignation was an attempt to force out President Aoun (a long-time ally of the Shiite Hizbullah). What is more likely is that Bin Salman is trying shape the outcome of the May, 2018, parliamentary elections.

Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, resigned by telephone from his post from Saudi Arabia, but the resignation was not accepted by Christian President Aoun, on the grounds that it had to be submitted while the PM was actually in Lebanon. It is rumored that he was forced to resign by Saudi crown prince Muhammad Bin Salman because he declined to take a strong stance against Hizbullah, the Shiite party-militia allied with Iran. Since 2016 Hariri has served in a national unity government dominated by Hizbullah and its Christian allies. Given the current shape of Lebanese politics, however, any Sunni prime minister (the prime minister in Lebanon is always Sunni) would have to cooperate with Hizbullah to keep power. President Aoun, a Christian, became president through such cooperation.

It is also rumored that Saudi authorities are annoyed that Hariri appears to have run through the $4 bn family wealth he inherited from his father, Rafiq Hariri, a fortune gained in Saudi Arabia. That wealth had allowed the formation of Future (al-Mustaqbal) TV, which aims at bolstering Sunni and Saudi soft power in Lebanon. And perhaps it was intended to back the formation of a Sunni militia at one point, but those plans have failed. The Saudis may be tired of bankrolling the allegedly profligate Hariri. That is, Hariri may have gotten caught in the crown prince’s anti-corruption campaign, in the course of which he has detained several other wealthy Saudi citizens.

The Hariri affair is raising tensions inside Lebanon but also more generally. Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador to Germany to protest remarks of foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel, who said that Lebanon must not become a Saudi plaything and implied that it was under Saudi influence.

On Thursday, French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that France was disturbed by the hegemonic temptation of Iran in the Middle East, drawing a sharp rebuked from Iran, which accused France of taking sides.

Hariri’s actions and decisions in the coming month will help analysts predict the economic health of Lebanon and the Middle East in the coming year or two.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

FR24 Eng. Hariri to visit France: “Lebanon is increasingly caught between Saudi Arabia and Iran”

Posted in Featured,Syria | 6 Responses | Print |

US-Led Bombings in Iraq Killed 31 Times More Civilians Than Reported: NYT

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer| ( Commondreams.org ) | – –

New York Times reporters uncovered “consistent failure by the coalition to investigate claims properly or to keep records that make it possible to investigate” in what “may be the least transparent war in recent American history”

An 18-month investigation by a pair of New York Times reporters reveals far more civilians are killed in the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—particularly in the air war—than the U.S.-led coalition reports.

After visiting nearly 150 bombing sites in northern Iraq between April 2016 and June 2017, as well as the American base in Qatar where decisions are made about coalition air strikes, Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal “found that one in five of the coalition strikes we identified resulted in civilian death, a rate more than 31 times that acknowledged by the coalition.”

Since the U.S.-war against ISIS began in August 2014, the coalition has released monthly reports in which it claims tens of thousands of ISIS combatants and 466 civilians have been killed in Iraq. While the coalition claims civilians have died in only 89 of its more than 14,000 airstrikes in Iraq, Khan and Gopal’s on-the-ground reporting suggests the civilian death toll from coalition bombings in well into the thousands. U.K.-based Airwars estimates at least 3,000 civilians have been killed, but the group’s director told the reporters Airwars “may be significantly underreporting deaths in Iraq” due to lack of reliable reporting.

In addition to touring and satellite mapping the destroyed sites, Khan and Gopal pored over local news reports, and interviewed hundreds of witnesses, survivors, family members, intelligence informants, and local officials. At the air base in Qatar, they “were given access to the main operations floor and interviewed senior commanders, intelligence officials, legal advisers, and civilian-casualty assessment experts.” The also handed over data they collected on 103 air strikes from ISIS-controlled regions and examined analysts’ responses.

“Our reporting,” they write, “revealed a consistent failure by the coalition to investigate claims properly or to keep records that make it possible to investigate the claims at all,” concluding, “this may be the least transparent war in recent American history.”

In addition to poor record-keeping and neglecting investigations, the reporters point to civlians unexpectedly being near to an ISIS target and “flawed or outdated intelligence that conflated civilians with combatants” as common reasons for civilian casualties.

The coalition and the U.S. Department of Defense post videos of bombings to their websites, which “are presented as evidence of a military campaign unlike any other—precise, transparent and unyielding,” Khan and Gopal write. A Central Command spokesperson insists that “U.S. and coalition forces work very hard to be precise in airstrikes,” and that the coalition is “conducting one of the most precise air campaigns in military history”—but one such clip previously featured on the sites is a bombing of two homes with a caption claiming they were operating an ISIS car-bomb factory.

The homes were in fact owned by Iraqi civilians—Basim Razzo and his brother. The reporters recount the killings of Razzo’s loved ones in vivid detail. Razzo is a 56-year-old who worked as account manager for a Chinese multinational telecommunications company; in the 1980s, while he studied engineering at Western Michigan University, his wife Mayada sold Avon products to their neighbors. A few days after the attack, the badly wounded Razzo wrote on Facebook: “In the middle of the night, coalition airplanes targeted two houses occupied by innocent civilians. Is this technology? This barbarian attack cost me the lives of my wife, daughter, brother, and nephew.”

In response to Razzo’s effort to seek compensation and an apology, and the reporters’ investigation, Razzo was offered a “condolence payment” from the coalition several months after the attack—which he declined—but, through documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, he was able to learn a bit more about how their homes had been misidentified, surveilled, and destroyed.

“Despite everything, Basim could not bring himself to hate Americans,” Khan and Gopal write. “In fact, this experience was further evidence for a theory he had harbored for a while: that he, fellow Iraqis and even ordinary Americans were all bit players in a drama bigger than any of them.”

Because of his ties to the U.S, Razzo occasionally video conferences with university students about his experiences. “I have nothing against the regular American citizen. I lived among you guys for eight years,” he recently told a Penn State class of about 750 students. “This situation of war, big corporations are behind it.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Via Commondreams.org

————

Related video added by Juan Cole:

PBS Newshour: “Report finds disparities in civilian deaths from U.S.-led ISIS bombing campaign”

World, horrified at Trump, sends US Ranking Plummeting

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The US is usually number 1 in the German research firm Gfk’s rankings, headed up by political consultant Simon Anholt. They ask some 22,000 people around the world to rank countries on six scales.

This year it fell five full places to number 6. No such fall has taken place since 2004, when Americans elected George W. Bush to a second term. And in the past, falls only lasted for a year.

Angela Merkel is the leader of the free world, not Trump.

trmpmkl

The Gfk’s poll doesn’t just measure favorability, but looks at 6 dimensions of a country, so that the US fall from grace is all the more surprising. The dimensions are governance, people, culture, exports, immigration-investment and tourism.

In governance, the US had been in 19th place. It is now in 23rd. Out of 50 countries. People think the US is worse governed than nearly half of the developed countries in the world. This dramatic fall in the governance score is pretty obviously caused by Trump.

There are categories where the US still performs very well. It is second in Culture and in Exports. So they like our music and films, and want to buy our cars. It is fifth for immigration-investment, which is a significant statistic. There are four other countries people from around the would rather invest in over the US, and four other countries they’d rather emigrate to than the US. I think the word got out that we as a country voted for Trump.

Germany has risen to the top of the list, displacing the US from global leadership. The only category where Germany is not in the top 5 is tourism. (Not sure why– Germany is *nice*.).

Germany improved its standing markedly in some countries. It was up 5 points in the view of Egyptians, e.g. But Americans are suspicious of it– it did not break the top ten with them.

France came in second, propelled by the popularity of Emmanuel Macron for governance but also benefiting from the impression that its culture and tourism are first rate.

Japan also climbed up the rankings this fall, in part on the quality of its exports.

The finding about the US decline is alarming and could be a sign that Trump is dragging the country down. In turn, that is important because many US goals require international cooperation.

————–

Pres. Aoun: Saudi Holding Hariri an Act of Aggression

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Beirut newspaper Al-Nahar [The Day] reports that President Michel Aoun of Lebanon said Wednesday, “Nothing justifies Prime minister Saad Hariri’s failure to return to Beirut after the passage of 12 days from his announcement of his resignation.” Aoun said he considered Hariri to have been detained in Saudi Arabia, and suffering from limited mobility in the place where he is being held.

He branded the detaining of Hariri, still legally the prime minister of Lebanon (you can’t resign long distance in Lebanese law) “a demonstration of enmity” against Lebanon. He said that Saudi Arabia had violated the International Declaration of Human Rights of the UN, given that the prime minister is being held without charge.

He called the detention of Hariri by the Saudi royal family an act of aggression against Lebanon and its independence and dignity and on the relationships that bind Lebanon to Saudi Arabia.

He asked Lebanese media to join in a campaign to reinforce national unity.

Addressing a Lebanese audience, Aoun asked them to have no fear for the country’s economy or security, since there was no sign of any economic fall out from the crisis.

He said that Hariri was welcome to come to Lebanon and resign properly, after which a new government would be formed in accordance with parliamentary rules. Or, he said, Hariri was welcome to rethink and withdraw the resignation. “It’s a perfectly free country,” the president remarked.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

France24: “Lebanon: President Aoun accuses Saudi Arabia of detaining former PM Saad Hariri”

After Trump lets hundreds of ISIL Leave Raqqa, Turkey Enraged

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

On Tuesday, Turkey lambasted the US and its largely Kurdish allies in Syria, the YPG, for having made a deal that allowed 250 Daesh fighters and all their children and relatives to flee from Raqqa.

Turkey’s prime minister Binali Yildirim said,

“The YPG terrorists let Daesh [terrorists] leave Raqqa with their weapons instead of eliminating them from the city. One terror group left Raqqa and another settled in. Is this your rational policy?”

Turkey views the leftist YPG as a branch of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), which is Turkey-based and seeking more autonomy for Turkey’s Kurds. The Syrian YPG has only distant ties to the PKK, however, and is mainly focused on Syria. Syrian Kurds, now backed by the US as the “Syrian Democratic Forces,” were the only local group of fighters willing to take on Daesh. With US air support and an influx of US weapons, they defeated it on the Syrian side of the border in Raqqa province. The Syrian regime only became interested in taking on Daesh once it seemed clear that otherwise the YPG would do the job and gain control over Deir al-Zor as well.

The BBC broke the bombshell report that the United States and its local allies worked out a deal with Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) in Raqqa, Syria, to allow them to depart. There were still 250 hardened fighters along with 3500 family members in the capital of the phony “caliphate.”

Raqqa had largely been reduced to rubble, but the 250 fighters could have continued, challenging and imposing high casualty rates on the largely Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces who were besieging the city.

The YPG made this deal, with US military officers in the room, after weeks of hard fighting had not resulted in the complete fall of Raqqa. It is also alleged that the Trump administration was impatient for the YPG Kurds to take over hydrocarbon resources in Syria, which they could not do if they remained bogged down in Raqqa, so safe passage for the ISIL fighters and their arsenal was the price of that strategy.

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis had vowed to “annihilate” Daesh members in Syria, so that no foreign fighters went home to fight another day or to damage Western capitals. But apparently he acquiesced when he heard of the YPG plans.

The 250 trained and battle-hardened Daesh could go on to do substantial damage to Turkey or to their home countries (they included some foreign fighters as it turned out).
———–

Related video:

Al Jazeera English: “Syrian army ‘liberate’ last ISIL stronghold in eastern region”

Posted in Featured,Syria | 10 Responses | Print |

The Civil War inside Buddhism caused Ethnic Cleansing of Muslims

Paul Fuller | (The Conversation) | – –

There is a desperate humanitarian crisis underway in Myanmar, centring around the Rohingya Muslims.

There is what has been described as a “textbook case of ethnic cleansing” against the approximately one million Rohingya who live in the western Myanmar state of Rakhine. As well as retaliations from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army – a militant group of Rohingyas – which has been held by the Burmese military to have attacked a number of police and army posts.

And there is also what was seen as a newly emerging democracy with a prominent international figure, Aung San Suu Kyi – the state counsellor of Myanmar and the nation’s de facto leader – guiding the country against a backdrop of Islamophobic Buddhist nationalism.

Buddhists are often regarded in the West as a peaceful people, so to hear of this kind of public prejudice may come as a shock to many. But looking at it from a Buddhist cultural perspective, one can begin to see why this is happening.

Militant Buddhism

Suu Kyi has used her own Buddhist faith to explain her ideas in the past. But it was only in a televised speech to the Burmese nation, in mid-October 2017, that she used some standard Buddhist rhetoric for the first time in her comments on recent events. Suu Kyi evoked the Buddhist principles of “compassion”, “loving-kindness” and “sympathetic joy” to overcome hatred. A “close adviser” later briefed the media, explaining that Suu Kyi’s speech marked an attempt to wrestle Buddhism out of the “hands of extremists”.

One could say that the Buddhist sentiments expressed in Suu Kyi’s speech are in line with the modern Western understanding of Buddhism. But look deeper into modern Asia and you will see Western perceptions aren’t wholly accurate. There is now a form of militant Buddhism, which often promotes the supremacy of Buddhism, and can be Islamophobic, ethnocentric and chauvinistic in its preaching.

This is a Buddhism alien to the romantic, pacifistic, meditative and compassionate Buddhism of popular imagination, and – one would hope – much of Buddhist history. It is a Buddhism in which the Buddhist faith should be protected against the supposed threat of other religions (primarily Islam) overrunning Buddhist Myanmar.

Led by the Mandalay-based monk Ashin Wirathu, it is a religion which campaigns to punish those who offend Buddhism. In its organised form in Myanmar these nationalistic Buddhist ideas coalesce around a group popularly known as MaBaTha – the organisation for the protection of race and religion.

Religious core

The battle between the two emerging forms of Buddhism in modern Myanmar is linked back to two core principles of the religion.

The first is the familiar Buddhism of calm, non-attachment, and compassion. Until recently one could say this was dominant within Myanmar. Lay meditation movements were important in the revitalisation of modern Buddhism and aspects of popular mindfulness meditation originate from them. The Saffron Revolution of 2007 displayed little of the aggressive nationalism of the MaBaTha movement, with monks evoking the “discourse on loving-kindness” – The Metta-sutta – as a Buddhist path of compassion to overthrow military rule.

The other form of Buddhism has a more ritualised focus. At the risk of oversimplification, this practice is based upon the performance of personal and state rituals in order to protect society from danger. To be a practising Buddhist is to have recited certain texts, and to have paid homage at Buddhist shrines. To be a good Buddhist is to be a good Burmese, and, as it now appears, to “stand with Aung San Suu Kyi”.

It would be too simplistic to argue that Buddhist teachings are irreconcilably at odds with ideas of nationalism and patriotism. However, a sense of superiority and discrimination against minority groups does appear to be indefensible from a Buddhist perspective. Could Suu Kyi’s speech, and the idea that she wishes to use Buddhist teachings in a way at odds with Buddhist nationalism be an acknowledgement that Buddhism needs to become part of the solution in modern Myanmar, rather than an aggressive symbol used by Buddhist nationalists?

If Myanmar is to emerge from military rule and become a modern democratic state then it must save its Buddhism from descending into extremism. If Buddhist identity is focused upon a narrow and uncompromising view of what it means to be Burmese, then it seems likely that Buddhism will become a form of state-sponsored religion promoted by the military. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with this type of Buddhism, but it is clearly engendering a form of nationalistic fervour, and atrocities are being committed and justified.

The ConversationCan Suu Kyi see beyond the flags and slogans and use Buddhist narratives of compassion and loving kindness? Observers expected this of her, and of the Buddhist nation, many weeks ago, yet we are still waiting.

Paul Fuller, Lecturer in Buddhist Studies, Cardiff University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

—–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Rohingya crisis: ‘Rape and murder’ in the Village of Tula Toli – BBC News

Protests as Trump promotes Coal at Climate Summit in Berlin

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Trump White House actually did a pro-coal exhibit at the Bonn climate summit in Germany, COP23. It did not go over well.

Indeed, this sort of absurd stunt has the makings of a complete end to American leadership in the world. Mark Twain once observed that “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”

The Trump administration at COP23 is naked. Because it is unclothed, lacking any moral fiber, it can be disregarded. And everyone is disregarding it.

It is sort of like someone opened a butcher shop at a PETA conference.

Journalist Aude Massiot wrote an account at Twitter,

As the Trumpies were speaking, part of the crowd began chanting, “Keep it in the Ground!”

The Trump-backed panel, on the usefulness of fossil fuels, was criticized by other participants.

The presentation suffered from poor timing, as it turned out. It coincided with the issuance by scientists of findings that after leveling off for the past three years, carbon dioxide emissions are spiking again. Worse, some of the increase is coming from a feedback loop set in motion by massive human C02 emissions. The hotter it is, the more CO2 comes out of the soil and the more methane natural sources emit.

California governor Jerry Brown and former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg led a “sub-national” delegation to Berlin, pledging to meet climate goals and slash emissions of greenhouse gases.

———

Related video added by Juan Cole:

AP: “Preview of United Nations Climate Change Conference”

Lebanon’s Big Crisis, and What Saudi Arabia could Lose

By Billie Jeanne Brownlee and Maziyar Ghiabi | (The Conversation) | – –

The Twitter account of Lebanon’s prime minister, Sa’ad Hariri has been inactive since November 6, just after he announced his resignation in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh. Hariri justified his decision as a move to escape an assassination plot. So far, both Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces and Ministry of the Interior have declared that they were not aware of any such attempt.

Rumours continue, however, that Hariri’s absence was not voluntary but instead imposed by the Saudi government, in particular Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, Riyadh’s newly empowered strongman. Despite Hariri’s protests to the contrary, the theory that this was a Saudi intervention is certainly plausible.

As some onlookers pointed out, Hariri’s speech used expressions and terms that are typical of Saudi public rhetoric against Iran. He explicitly accused Iran of interfering in Lebanon’s domestic affairs and in disrupting Arab politics, and referred to Hezbollah, the militarised Lebanese Shia movement, as an Iranian proxy force – even though he became prime minister partly thanks to Hezbollah’s tactical support. Lebanon’s president, the Christian Maronite Michel Aoun, even called on Saudi authorities to immediately “release” Hariri.

Feeling the heat

Relevant to all this is that the Saudi government is under serious internal and external pressure. The day before Hariri resigned, the Shia-led Yemeni rebel government fired a long-range missile aimed at the International Airport of Riyadh. And two days later, Crown Prince Mohammad ordered the arrest of dozens of leading Saudi political and business personalities, in what he termed a campaign against corruption. In practice, this seems a strategy to give way to his uncontested leadership in the country.

This clampdown on Saudi Arabia’s opposition and civil society groups started a few months ago, and the wealthy businessmen now under arrest are just the tip of the iceberg. The rich princes’ fate is, it seems, not too grim: they reside in the five-star Ritz Carlton Hotel in the capital. Opposition members, meanwhile, are held in prison.

The Saudis’ moves are pushing the Middle East ever closer to the outbreak of a major international conflict at an already tumultuous time. While the so-called Islamic State has lost almost all its territory in Syria and Iraq, the liberation of Mosul and Raqqa by Iraqi and Syrian forces – backed by a pluralistic coalition of Russian, Iranian, Kurdish, and popular resistance groups – has shifted the regional balance of power.

From a Saudi viewpoint, the new geopolitical calculus strengthens Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, and his erstwhile allies Iran and Hezbollah. Riyadh, which for many years supported insurgent groups in Syria and Iraq, could soon be left behind.

Tipping the balance

At the root of it all is the deadly, long-running rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which has its roots not in the sectarian divide between Sunni and Shia Islam, but in the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. Since then, the two countries have confronted each other multiple times, but never directly; Lebanon has been one of their main proxy battlegrounds.

After the events of 1979, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards helped to establish a local resistance movement against the Israeli Occupation of Lebanese territory. This became Hezbollah, which today is a powerful political and military force, boasting elected MPs and government positions. Thanks to Hezbollah, Iran’s regional influence surged, making the group a primary target for the Saudis, and by extension Israel and the US.

Just as the Saudi authorities’ hysterical invective against Iran in recent weeks has dramatic implications for the Middle East at large, Hariri’s resignation is a crisis in itself. The collapse of the Lebanese government, the fourth since 2005, could undo critical progress towards political reform and stability. Lebanon faces a massive humanitarian crisis; it’s now host to well over 1m Syrian refugees, who make up around a quarter of the total population. It also relies heavily on remittances from Persian Gulf countries.

The ConversationAdded to that, Saudi Arabia’s strange Lebanese ventures might pave the way for a more overt intervention by Israel, which last took action there in July 2006. That war left Lebanon, especially the southern region, in total infrastructural disarray. A reprise would do little good for Saudi interests; after the kingdom’s recent debacles in Yemen and Qatar, the last thing it needs is a conflict that would galvanise support for Hezbollah – and by extension, further embolden a resurgent Iran.

Billie Jeanne Brownlee, ESRC Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Exeter and Maziyar Ghiabi, Postdoctoral fellow at the Paris School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS), University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

———-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

CGTN: “Middle East tensions: Hariri to return to Lebanon soon”

Former CIA Dir.: Trump is afraid of Putin Kompromat

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Two former intelligence officials on Sunday more or less said openly that Trump is compromised by Russia.

Jake Tapper asked former CIA head John Brennan about Trump’s statement on Friday that he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin when he said that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election, and dissed intelligence and law enforcement professionals such as James Comey and James Clapper as “hacks.”

“JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, I think Mr. Trump knows that the intelligence agencies, specifically CIA, NSA and FBI, the ones that really have responsibility for counterintelligence and looking at what Russia does, it’s very clear that the Russians interfered in the election.

And it’s still puzzling as to why Mr. Trump does not acknowledge that and embrace it, and also push back hard against Mr. Putin.

The Russian threat to our democracy and our democratic foundations is real. And I think his continuing to not say very clearly and strongly that this is a national security problem, and to say to Mr. Putin, we know you did it, you would have to stop it, because there are going to be consequences if you don’t.”

Then Tapper asked further about Trump’s amazing deference to Putin (since Trump defers to no one else), noting that Trump spoke of Putin as insulted by the allegation that he put his thumb on the till of the US election.

BRENNAN: Well, I think Mr. Putin is very clever in terms of playing to Mr. Trump’s interest in being flattered.

And, also, I think Mr. Trump is, for whatever reason, either intimidated by Mr. Putin, afraid of what he could do or what might come out as a result of these investigations.

So, it’s very worrisome. And I think it sends a worrisome, very disturbing signal to our allies and partners who are concerned about Russian interference in their democratic processes as well.

So, it’s either naivete, ignorance or fear, in terms of what Mr. Trump is doing vis-a-vis the Russians.

Let us parse Brennan’s reply. He begins by saying that Trump is easily manipulated through stroking of his ego.

I’d just like to point out that you would never, ever want a president who is easily manipulated by foreign leaders.

But then Brennan went further. A second possibility is that Trump is intimidated by Putin.

That diction would suggest that Trump is a coward and lowers his eyes in acquiescence when Putin stares at him with that cold blue KGB gaze.

I’d just like to point out that you would never, ever want a president who
can be easily cowed.

And then Brennan did it. He actually came out with it. The third possibility is that Trump is afraid of what Putin might do if the investigation continues, or what might come out as a result of it.

The former director of the Central Intelligence Agency openly alleged the real possibility that the sitting president of the United States is being successfully blackmailed and that policy is being made as a result of Trump’s fear of exposure.

Brennan was clear that he has no proof that Trump is compromised.

But Brennan would not make this allegation unless he had at least circumstantial evidence of “kompromat” or compromising materials in the hands of Putin, of the release of which Trump is deeply afraid.

I’d just like to point out that you would never, ever want a president who is being actively blackmailed by a foreign power.

Trump clearly acts out of character when it comes to Putin. He does not care what his chief of staff John Kelly feels, when Trump goes off on him and vehemently dresses him down. He does not care about the feelings of NATO allies when he lambastes them as freeloaders and fools taking in too many refugees. He does not care about Japanese feelings when he accuses them of cowardice, at a moment when the US needs Tokyo in its dispute with North Korea.

Trump is, however, deeply worried about Putin’s feelings. And he trusts Putin more than he trusts his own security officials.

Brennan is telling us, as a career spy, that he sees behavior that can only be explained by Kompromat.

You see, Brennan gave three possibilities, that Trump is easily manipulated by flattery, or easily cowed, or compromised. The first is true but can’t account for the obsequiousness of Trump’s behavior toward Putin. The second is not true–Trump is like an enraged bull rampaging around an arena trying to gore everyone in sight. His typical response to attempts to make him back down is to explode.

So what Brennan is really saying is that there is actually only one possible explanation for Trump’s creepy and peculiar relationship to Putin.

Kompromat.

—————

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Ex-intelligence chiefs fire back at Trump criticism (Entire CNN interview)