Saturday 28 September 2019

Yemen war will kill MBS reforms (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

War would result in the meltdown of many ruling structures in the Middle East. 

In a global economy hovering close to the borderline of not just an economic recession but a 1930s-style Great Depression, any conflict in the Middle East would be an economic risk. The downside would be particularly sharp in the event of an intensification of the already out of control proxy war in Yemen between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Disinformation is second nature to media outlets such as BBC, CNN or Al Jazeera, so it is no surprise that they are pointing to Iran as being the country directly—repeat, directly—responsible for the drone attack on two of the biggest oilfields in KSA. The resulting blaze temporarily knocked out 5% of the global production of crude oil, accounting for half of Saudi output. What is likely is that the drones were supplied by the Houthis, most likely to groups of the disaffected Shia communities dotted across the eastern province of Saudi Arabia. The Shia community has the legitimate grievance that the lands in which they reside account for much of the Kingdom’s oil production, and yet their own share of the revenue that accrues from the resource is less than 3% of the total. The Shias are among the most disadvantaged communities in KSA, and it is time that the Reformer Prince, Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), prodded his not always socially responsive administration to give them a much better deal than has been the case in Saudi Arabia for centuries. While the drones may have been supplied to the Houthis by groups close to Iran based within the region, it is unlikely that Teheran had a direct hand in the subsequent transfers to the Shia units located within Saudi Arabia. It needs to be mentioned that Iran is an ally of China and Russia, which are both countries having advanced defence technologies. Neither of them makes any secret of the fact that they oppose the effort by the US and some of its partners to weaken Iran through debilitating economic sanctions. Both China and Russia have stood by Iran, so it would be no surprise were they to have ensured that Iran have the capability to strike back in deadly fashion, were the Islamic Republic to be attacked, as threatened repeatedly by some in the Trump administration. The reality is that such a war would result in the meltdown of many of the ruling structures in the Middle East, almost all of whom are allied to the US.
Having faced an existential threat from its rivals since its founding in 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran has created a network of friendly groups within almost all the countries in the region, that can be called upon to rise in rebellion and cause tumult within their boundaries, were there to be a military attack on Iran. The drone attacks on the Saudi oilfields indicate that such devastating weaponry is already available to groups of anti-regime elements in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, for the indications are that the attack was launched not from outside but from inside Saudi territory. Were there to be a conflict between the US and Iran, as desired by those whose emotions run far in excess of their rational thought, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would not be the only regional power that would be facing such internal turmoil. New terror groups would begin to operate, that would target the US, the UK, Germany, France and several of the GCC states.
Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has embarked on a mission that is on immense significance to the more than a billion Muslims across the world. This is his existential battle against Wahhabism, which has sought to conceal the peaceable nature and moderation that suffuses the Holy Quran. Wahhabis have sought to replace such teachings with a mixture of hatred for those of other persuasions as well as a doctrine that calls for separation and exclusivism between themselves and all others, often through violence. Saudi Arabia being among the most important countries in the Muslim-majority world, the replacing of Wahhabism within KSA with the moderate tenets of the true faith would transform the world itself. The historically necessary battle being waged against the Wahhabi International by MBS has led to a backlash against him, including a campaign of calumny across the world by this well funded lobby. Active as he is on this front, it is best not to continue to do battle on another front, against the Shias. Indeed, the ongoing war with the Shias was begun by the Wahhabis themselves and only they profit from it. Hence it would be best for Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to end his war on the Shias, which has had its most destructive manifestation in Yemen, a country whose people are suffering indescribable agony as a consequence of the atrocities being committed on the Houthis. The danger in continuing such a conflict is that it could result in a situation where the Wahhabis get the upper hand over MBS in Saudi Arabia, thanks to the opposition of the Shias to the Reformer Prince. Dealing with a two-front war is almost never a good idea, and certainly it is not for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia led by the Reformer Prince. A war with Iran would be severely disruptive of stability in the Middle East and therefore several other regions, including South and Southeast Asia. President Donald J. Trump has thus far resisted pressure from the “Brawn over Brain” elements in his own administration to go to war against Iran. The reality is that Teheran cannot be bypassed in the region, which is why it was a mistake by India to stop oil purchases from Iran based on the demand made by former National Security Advisor of the US John Bolton to New Delhi. The Houthis have a legitimate stake in Yemen that must be recognised by neighbouring countries, in the statesmanly manner that Sultan Qaboos of Oman has done. Indeed, the example of the Sultanate of Oman needs to be followed across the region, for its inner moderation and its wise geopolitical stances. MBS should concentrate on the battle against Wahhabism and halt his Wahhabi-inspired conflict with Shia groups, especially in Yemen. If he does not do so, not only will his reform mission in the Kingdom get overturned by his foes, but the world could fall into economic disaster as a consequence of an open war (both conventional and asymmetric) between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Reformer Prince must step back from the Wahhabi-inspired disaster of a war with the Shias.

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