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Qataris in Libya: ‘100s in every region’ 26, October 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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The Chief of Staff of the Qatar Armed forces, Major General Hamad Bin Ali Al Attiya, has confirmed for the first time that Qatar had ‘100s of Qataris on the ground [in Libya] in every region.’

While this is something of an open secret having been written about for a long time now (x x), it is interesting to note that it is now confirmed. However, the fact that there were ‘100s in every region’ is significantly more than most people thought.

It is likely that these forces were comprised of largely British trained Qatari Special Forces and parts of the Lekhwiya, a quasi-police outfit that does all sorts from, reportedly, training rebels in Libya, handling motorcades in Doha to directing traffic. Both the Lekhwiya and the Special Forces are reputed to be well trained.

In situ, it would be interesting to know if the Qataris were the ones doing the training themselves, or if it was the foreign instructors that trained them. I suppose it must have been a mix. The Qatari Armed Forces as a whole and like most Emirate forces, are small and rely to varying degrees on foreign soldiers within their ranks. Not only to do some of the training but to simply make up the numbers. There are, for example, many Jordanians, Yemenis and Egyptians in the Qatari military. None of these folk, incidentally, received a 120% pay raise the other month unlike their Qatari work-mates.

It is unlikely that this is the start of a new militarism in Qatari foreign policy. Sure, if another opportunity comes up where it is politically and practically feasible for Qatar to send some trainers into a conflict zone, they might do this again. Yet the chances of that do not appear to be good. Syria, for example, is a wholly different kettle of fish. From a vastly different, far smaller geography, to a significantly different political situation vis a vis the rebels and the government, to the fact that it is a critical regional tinder-box, I’d be surprised if any Qataris were rumored to be on the ground there in anything other than exceedingly small numbers, if at all.

London’s Potemkin Protest 25, October 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in UK.
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So while the protestors in London vowed…

Turns out that unless they are lizards, 9/10 bugger off home, no doubt lubed up on a nice Macchiato from Starbucks [cheap shot, I know, I know], to return the next day.

Aside from numerous snide comments that I try to hold back (…I know…) it really irks me that some of these folk dare even hint that their protets are even remotely akin, alike or linked in any way to those in the Arab Spring.

Hat tip

I was most miffed to find that Tim Worstall nicked my headline…or rather he published before me (unless he read my mind, no actual thieving was involved). But still, fair’s fair: thanks.

 

Blowback for Qatar 25, October 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in North Africa, Qatar.
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At some stage the adulation and praise that Qatar received was always going to give way to some grumblings of one flavor or another.

Initially, Qatar was praised ad nauseum for their actions:

  • First Arab state (second overall after France) to recognise the TNC
  • Contributed 6 Mirage fighter jets to the NATO no fly zone mission
  • Leading proponent in the GCC and the Arab League of the no-fly zone
  • Sold free Libyan oil on behalf of the rebels
  • Shipped gasoline and other key items to the rebels
  • Shipped tonnes of weapons to the rebels
  • Trained the rebels in Libya and back in Doha
  • Economic aid

The first real signs of griping regarding Qatar’s role [from Libyans: I’m sure the Saudi’s were moaning about their ‘upstart’ neighbour long ago] was last week when Al Tarhouni, Libya’s Oil and Finance Minister pointedly remarked that

To any country, I repeat, please do not give any funds or weapons to any Libyan faction without the approval of the NTC.

This was a clear message to Qatar. Since the start of the conflict, Doha has been funneling arms, money and support to Libya via its contacts there. These included Bejhaj and the Al Salibi brothers. The militias associated with these groups became exceedingly well resourced and thus prospered.Yet now that the fighting is largely over and the TNC are trying to assert their authority and begin the long and slow process of returning Libya to some state of normality, the elite are obviously concerned about cash and weapons potentially still being funneled to one particular faction over another. It is reasonable that they want control over such matters

The second issue is one that has been latent for some months. Moussa Koussa left the UK for Qatar in April. It was becoming far too difficult for him to stay in the UK given his murderous past. Now in Qatar he has, I am sure, proved exceedingly useful to the Qataris and thus indirectly to the NATO alliance in working out who is who in Libya, what Gaddafi is was likely to be up to and where he was most lilely to flee to. Plus a host of other bits and pieces that only long time close confidant of Gaddafi could know. This was the price for his residency in Qatar. Yet now – on the ball as ever – the BBC doorstepped him after after miraculously ‘tracking him down’ to the Four Seasons in Doha (it’s not like it’s been written in numerous articles, or anything x x).

It is likely that there will be a sizable push to bring Koussa to some kind of justice, perhaps in Tripoli, perhaps in the Hague. This will put Qatar in a difficult position, as it will be difficult for Qatar to give up Koussa. Not only would such a notion go against deep-seated notions in this part of the world of hosting a guest (whomever that may be) but Qatar will not want to set a precedent of cow-towing to other powers to hand over someone with whom they have had dealings. Indeed, Qatar sees itself as something of a refuge for various international misfits ranging from one of Saddam Hussein’s wifes  to one of Osama Bin Laden’s sons.

Yet if Qatar does not hand over Koussa as demanded by ‘the Libyan people’ (such a demand is surely not far off) then it risks frittering away the credit that it has built up. Indeed, the TNC’s pointed remarks are already chipping away.

Overall, I don’t really think that Qatar is trying to push its Islamist allies (for that is who most of them are) because they are Islamist per se. I see Qatar’s support of Belhaj et al as mostly a factor of simple connections: they already had relations with Al Salibi and Bejhaj and thus they supported them. Certainly, Qatar is a proud, religious and conservative state and would want to support moderate Islamists, as they are doing, but it is hardly the case that they would refuse to support liberals or someone else. The fact is that if the West is expecting liberals and explicitly non-Islamist candidates to win offices after the Arab Spring, then there will be a lot of disappointed people in London and Washington.

Certainly, Qatar must take into account the TNC’s growing power and their wholly understandable and justified desire to control the weapons going in and out of their country. Yet I also detect a simple pang of jealousy as a motivating factor for the jibes against Qatar. No, I’m not trying to castigate those complaining about Qatar, just point out that it is logical for those without Qatari support to feel irked that someone else is getting truck loads of cash and arms. And if and when such people complain that they are not getting funded because Qatar are funding their own Islamists or some such notion, then I think they are being a bit cheeky and trying to pressure Qatar to stop using the wholly bust Western-created trope and specter of ‘Islamists gaining power’.

This is not to say that Qatar does not have some master plan to push one particular Islamist strand or whatever, just that I don’t know anything about such a plan and it sounds unlike the Qatar that I do know.

As for Koussa, Qatar’s best bet would either be to send him economy class to the Hague now, sticking up for justice and all that, or send him off to some tin-pot African country that wouldn’t care a jot about ICC demands. No, this is not an edifying conclusion, but this is high politics that we’re referring to, after all, not never-never land.

 

 

For the arabists 20, October 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Syria.
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Something for the arabists, even part-time, recalcitrant, dopey and forgetful arabists like myself. Translation here.

 

On the Iranian plot 19, October 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iran, Saudi Arabia.
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My published my article on the absurd Iranian plot to kill the KSA Ambassador in Washington DC.

According to local news reports, a loud, indiscreet, rude individual, known for chronic absentmindedness, who has a small-time criminal record and who used to engage in drink, drugs and prostitution is allegedly the key mastermind in what was planned to be the second largest terrorist attack on American soil in history: to assassinate the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia in a Washington DC restaurant.[1]

If the Iranian establishment was behind this plot and was looking for the most unlikely of spies to throw authorities off the scent, then they have clearly succeeded. Yet it is not just the personality of the alleged principal agent that is unconvincing, but the plot as a whole. Worse still, the manner in which the US government has dealt with this alleged plot arguably shows a chronic misunderstanding of not only the Iranian security apparatus but the Iranian threat as a whole

The simple background

Iran has a long and illustrious history in fermenting terrorism abroad. And the Quds Force, part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, is the key international element charged with covertly pushing Iran’s agenda outwith its borders. In recent years, it is believed to have been highly active in Iraq, Afghanistan as well as in Syria and Azerbaijan more recently. Some also claim that it has been involved in stoking troubles in Bahrain, though there is no conclusive evidence of this. It is reasonable to assume that the Quds Force specifically, via its support of specific Taliban elements and of militias in Iraq, is likely to have cost the lives of numerous Americans. Though, again, solid evidence is difficult to come by, it is believed to have been a prime supplier, for example, of advanced roadside explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Abiding and fundamental differences are also manifestly present between Iran and Saudi Arabia. These two entities represent polar opposites in basic religious and political clashes that have been ongoing for over fifteen hundred years and their antithesis is as potent today as it has ever been.

In short, at a basic level, there is scope for believing that ‘Iran’ as a cohesive entity may well engage in just such an act. But such a view eschews all nuance and even a rudimentary understanding of Iran casts serious doubt on the contention that the elite in Iran are somehow behind such a plan.

Nuance

To date, there is scarcely an example of Iran or the Quds Force ever contracting a non-Muslim group with whom they have previously had no dealings whatsoever to carry out an assassination. Considering that this plot would represent the most risky, most difficult and potentially dangerous plot that the Quds Force has ever undertaken, it stretches credulity to suppose that it would have been entrusted to a Mexican drug gang. With no trusted contacts whatsoever in this world, which is reputedly riddled with American agents, it would have been a catastrophic risk to take. While one may argue that the Quds Force were playing on this fact for added deniability, again, the stratospherically high chance of failure and its consequences would surely put paid to any such notions.

Whatever one thinks of the Quds Force, one cannot doubt their unfortunate effectiveness and grim professionalism over the years. Therefore, given what is widely understood about America’s prowess in telecommunication intercepts, it seems irrational, for example, that an otherwise meticulous and professional force would risk discussing their most secretive and audacious mission in history over an open telephone line.

Consequences

Moreover, what would Iran gain from killing the Saudi Arabian Ambassador? Iran’s use of terror tactics in the past has been governed by clear strategic direction. For example, the exporting of IEDs to kill Americans was directly aimed at weakening America in Iraq to hasten their eventual withdrawal.  Yet no such objectives can be divined from this proposed attack. While a cursory pastiche of Iran’s objectives may countenance such an assassination, it simply does not translate into reality.

Some commentators may well argue that the allegations are consistent with Iran’s role as an irrational actor, with its pursuit of asymmetric means, its supposed basis in Shia messianism and its offensive references to Israel: but this is simply not the case. It is a coldly rational state. To offer one simple example: during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, at the very height of Ayatollah’s Khomeini’s rhetorical pomp in the aftermath of the Revolution, Iran merrily traded oil for aircraft spare parts with Israel: rhetoric is one thing, realpolitik is another.

Consider what Iran had to lose. The plan was to kill the Ambassador in a restaurant. Given the types of restaurants that he is likely to frequent, there would surely have been a sizable chance that other high-powered officials (congressmen, senators etc) would have been killed as collateral damage (a chronically important corollary that Arbabsiar – clearly not much of a strategic thinker – summarily dismissed). Such an act would be little less than an act of war.  And for all of Iran’s bluster, it is wholly and supremely aware that in a war with America it could have its army, navy, air force and nuclear facilities, as well as its oil and gas terminals obliterated.

Moreover, the timing of such a would-be attack makes no sense. In an era of ever greater scrutiny of Iran’s human rights record, the pressure will be piled on this weekend when the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran will deliver his first report which is ‘expected to excoriate the Iranian government for the treatment of its own citizens’.[2] Furthermore, in early November the IAEA is expected to share information with its board members regarding Iran’s research into fashioning nuclear weapons. The idea that Iran might seek to cause a distraction to detract from these events is plausible, but potentially instigating a war with America would be – to say the least – overkill.

Regionally, it is of little surprise to see Saudi Arabia leaping on the circumstantial evidence offered thus far as yet more proof of Iran’s perfidy. It fits snugly into Riyadh’s narrative which seeks to galvanise other Gulf States and America firmly against Iran and its ways. To be sure, Iran has engaged in all manner of terrorism-supporting activities in the past, some of which have directly affected Saudi Arabia. Yet Saudi Arabia’s latest push for recognition of the Iranian threat – that of Tehran’s support of ferment in Bahrain – while perfectly plausible and in keeping with Iran’s strategic modus operandi and outlook, simply does not have that much evidence backing it up thus far. Instances such as this one – where Iran is lambasted by all levels of the US government as guilty before being charged – further inclines those in power to gloss over other lacunas of evidence (e.g., in Bahrain) under the rubric that Iran ‘is bound’ to be guilty.[3]

As far as the leaders in Riyadh are concerned, they already have a mountain of evidence as to Iran’s intrinsic desire to destroy their country and their system of alliances. This instance will simply be added – prominently – to the pile and will be trotted out as and when required.

One swallow does not a summer make

While one or two Iranians appear to have been seeking to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador – and in his wildest dreams Ahmadinejad too may longingly hope to do something of this nature – it is simply not credible that a professional and experienced organisation such as the Quds Force is behind such an attempt. Nor is it remotely likely that the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei would have sanctioned such a risky, illogical move. It fits neither Iran’s general modus operandi nor does it boost their strategic aims.

The fact that American officials seem to so readily believe this caricature of a poor film script is both worrying and depressing. Indeed, it is not long since disastrous policies were similarly fashioned on the basis of incomplete evidence, sizable simplifications and a lack of a rigorous examination, which led to the gravest of consequences in Iraq. Thankfully in this case it is difficult to find one Iranian or Gulf expert of repute who will do anything other than question the affair as a whole and there is scarcely any appetite for war. Yet America will continue to counter Iran’s many and varied threats ineffectually if it cannot grasp the basic mechanics and motivations in question.

Fundamentally, Iran is governed by an elite that sees itself being encircled by hostile forces. To all points of the compass in Afghanistan, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Bahrain, Iraq, Qatar and Kuwait it sees an amassing of American troops not to mention the large-scale sale of the latest US weapons technology to Saudi Arabia and other Iranian neighbours. This is not to mention severe economic domestic difficulties in an age of regional revolutions. Iran cannot hope to react symmetrically and thus puts its efforts to augmenting its asymmetric defences. These include the supporting of Hezbollah and the Quds Force to the development of asymmetric technologies and doctrines, particularly in the Gulf.

Once America’s elite grasps that Iran is reacting out of fear; a genuine and deep-seated fear of change and of regional power realities, perhaps then it can appreciate that while Iran’s politicians feel the need to periodically bang the nationalistic, popular drum, they are nevertheless at pains to avoid egregious provocation with no palpable, tangible rewards: exactly what this absurd plan to kill the Saudi Ambassador would have delivered.

The views expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of RUSI.

NOTES


[1] Steven Kreytak, Local terror plot mastermind described as more a ‘joke’ than a mastermind, statesman.com   http://www.statesman.com/news/local/local-terror-plot-suspect-described-as-more-a-1910853.html

[2] Barbara Slavin ‘Alleged Iranian Assassination Plot Suspicious, Experts Say’ http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=105442

[3] Matthew Lee ‘Clinton: Plot a Dangerous Escalation by Iran’ Washington Post http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/oct/12/us-aims-punish-iran-saudi-envoy-plot/

Iran can ‘easily’ occupy Saudi Arabia 17, October 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iran, Saudi Arabia.
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Let no one say that some Iranian Ministers do not have a good sense of humour.

Mohammed Karim Abedi, a member of Iran’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee in the Iranian parliament, confidently stated that ‘Iran was capable of occupying Saudi Arabia if it chooses [sic] to do so’.

Iran’s military forces have the ability to strip Saudi Arabia of its security whenever it wants and Saudi Arabia will not be capable of responding.

Wholly without irony with this belligerent statement, he was replying to the accusation that Iran was plotting to assassinate the KSA Ambassador in Washington DC [my thoughts on which will appear soon].

He also noted that Iran has infiltrated Israel with spies so that it now knows ‘critical information’ to be used should the two states ever come to blows. I’m sure that those in Tel Aviv are terrified.

Of course he sounds like an ass to us, but we’re hardly the intended targets: all politics is domestic, let’s not forget.

 

WSJ article on Iran and Bahrain 6, October 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain.
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I have written on numerous occasions about Iran and Bahrain (here here and here). I am neither Bahraini nor Iranian. Nor do I have a gripe with either side. Nor am I a dyed in the wool conservative or a pinko liberal. I try to come at the issue of the Shia in Bahrain, the stalled pearl ‘revolution’ and the question of Iran’s involvement therein as neutrally as possible. I try to caveat what I say and have frequently noted my openness to listen to and evaluate new evidence.

Thus far it is my conclusion that Iran has not played a significant role in the uprisings in Bahrain. There is quite simply not the evidence in the public domain to support such a statement. Which is why I was so interested in this article published in the Wall Street Journal. I was looking forward to reading some critical scholarship or analysis that eschews the tired and typical generalities of nasty Iran.

Alas I was disappointed.

The following is the entire article with my comments underneath. As per my blog’s style, I have commented in a dry and sometimes sarcastic manner. This is not to be mean or disrespectful, but, frankly, it’s a disgraceful article that deserves all the derision it gets.

When the history of the 2011 Arab uprisings is written, Bahrain’s chapter will likely be the most unexpected for a casual reader. Though military rule was lifted in June and widespread public protests have not been seen since March, Bahrain’s place in the region’s upheavals remains deeply misunderstood.

So far, so intriguing. I’d agree to some degree; all of us are operating from behind some kind of veil of ignorance; we don’t know the inner workings of the Bahraini MOI or the King’s mind, so what we do is draw educated assumptions and suggest sensible explanations.

Bahrain is not just another falling domino in the Arab Spring. Nor is it experiencing a surge of spontaneous resistance by its people against their rulers.

There’s no spontaneity to it? At all. None? Not even a bit? Not a tiny bit? A teensy tiny bit? That is a HUGE deceleration to make.

Rather, Bahrain is the victim of a long cycle of intrigue and interference aimed at replacing the moderate and modernizing Khalifa regime with a theocracy under Tehran’s thumb.

And these two things are mutually exclusive? I’d beg to differ.

This spring, as protesters camped out in Manama’s Pearl Square by night and hurled stones by day, Iran mobilized its public-relations teams, which read scripted newscasts denouncing the Khalifa family.

Aaah! The dreaded media wing of the evil Republic! Run for the hills! Not….PR!

Meanwhile, Tehran’s military drafted intervention plans.

Yer what!!?? Proof please.

Though even if one assumes that such plans have been made – which I can well imagine and have no problem admitting (I’m well aware that Iran is extremely far from a benign actor: see Kuwait earlier this year) – I’d personally have thought that they’d have been there for ages. Not, as he directly insinuates, having being conjured up post-Spring.

Western observers and governments took the bait and shied away from addressing the true origins of the violence, instead urging Bahrain to show restraint.

Mmm…because Western states like, oh I don’t know…America…so love to play down the Iranian threat…RI-diculous

The misreading was doubly disappointing given Tehran’s long history of working to upset Bahrain’s domestic stability. Since Iran’s 1979 revolution, the country’s leaders have assumed that their revolution represents the aspirations of Shiites throughout the Mideast.

Okay

That is why they have worked to undermine the Sunni Khalifa family’s legitimacy in Bahrain by promoting an ideology of Shiite empowerment.

Fair enough

When Nateq Nuri, advisor to Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, claimed Bahrain as Iran’s “14th province” in 2009, he was only restating well-worn rhetoric from the revolution 30 years prior.

Indeed

Today there is an intimidating imbalance of power between Iran and Bahrain.

Umm…anyone know of any fleets based in Bahrain? Anyone?? Venture a guess??? Could have sworn I saw a LOT of big grey ships last time I was there.

 Iran’s standing military numbers 510,000—roughly two-thirds of Bahrain’s entire population. Bahrain would have little to worry about if Iran were content merely to grandstand and make threatening noises. But Tehran has taken concrete steps over the last 30 years to destabilize and de-legitimize Bahrain’s leadership, both directly and through proxies.

Iranian subversion began in December 1981, when the Tehran-based Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain (IFLB) attempted a high-profile coup. An Iranian-trained team of Shiite Bahrainis were to simultaneously attack telecommunications services and Bahrain’s airport, and would assassinate key members of the Khalifa regime. In the ensuing chaos, Iran would send in its military and establish a new theocratic regime similar to its own.

I’ve never come across any proof of this, but am willing to believe it…no-one is trying to say that Iran is a cuddly neighbour

The coup failed, but the experience spurred the formation of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which today includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Under the December 1981 Saudi-Bahrain Security Pact, Saudi Arabia placed its entire “potential in the service of Bahrain’s security.”

How chivalrous

That didn’t stop Iran from working to extend its power. But in the late 1980s, Iran overplayed its hand when it started mining sea lanes in an attempt to control the Persian Gulf. Four days after a U.S. frigate struck an Iranian mine in 1988, the U.S. launched Operation Praying Mantis to sweep Iran’s naval presence from both sides of the Gulf.

Having been checked militarily by the U.S., Iran began to deploy more clandestine methods in its quest for regional control. When unemployed Bahrainis rallied at their government’s labor ministry in 1994, Iran filled the country

Hyperbole…much?

with propaganda advocating a Shiite intifada characterized by “democracy” and “equality.” Tehran even offered to mediate as the “Days of Rage” grew in ferocity and Bahrainis faced daily acts of violence in the unrest, which lasted until 1999.

Mounting evidence of Iran’s duplicity prompted the U.S. to permanently station its Fifth Fleet in Manama in 1995. Taking the move as a provocation, Tehran intensified its intifada

Curious phraseology

and began training Bahraini Shiite fighters in Iran.

Proof? But again, I’m willing to suspect that some folks were indeed so trained. (My only point being that this is not rock-solidly ‘true’)

Among other efforts, Tehran established a military wing for Hezbollah in Bahrain, which attempted another coup in June 1996. Bahraini authorities thwarted the plot only by preemptively arresting dozens of suspects, and the kingdom continued to operate under de-facto martial law that didn’t end until 1999, when Sheik Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa died and his son and successor took over the kingdom.

The new King Hamed bin Issa Al Khalifa promptly ordered an end to emergency rule, instituted a general amnesty for political prisoners and reestablished Bahrain’s popularly elected Shura Council. But while many hoped that Hamed’s gestures would ease Bahrain’s religious tensions, the liberalizations only saw the Shiite community become more militant.

…and they had no grievances about which to agitate?

The current uprising, or so-called Pearl Revolution, in fact did not begin this year but dates back to 2008, when Bahraini authorities arrested senior Shiite clerics accused of conspiring against the government. The sporadic violence that ensued culminated in still another attempted coup. Then in December 2008, 14 people were arrested on suspicion of planning a series of terror attacks against commercial centers, diplomatic missions and night clubs in Bahrain.

Proof?

The arrests unleashed still more violence. It was against this backdrop that Iran’s Mr. Nuri called Bahrain Iran’s “14th province,” a statement greeted by joyous chants of agreement from Bahrain’s Shiites.

All of them? Every last one? All chanting in unison? Were you counting? How are you judging whether a chant is joyous or not? Or merely merry? How about elated or just loud? And what exactly does this mean? What level of support does this denote?

Despite such revanchism, in the spring of 2009 Hamid declared another amnesty,

What a guy.

this time pardoning some 170 prisoners who had been charged with endangering national security, including 35 Shias on trial for allegedly trying to overthrow the government. Normally, this would provide space for reconciliation. But again, Iran’s efforts to push Bahrain into full-scale civil war have kept tensions hot.

***

Thirty years of intransigence

An interesting word choice. One with which I’d agree. But ‘intransigence’ is not exactly explicit, direct and persistent interference, now is it?

reveal the extent of Tehran’s determination to turn Bahrain into an Iranian satellite.

Of course Tehran would love to have Bahrain under its fold. I don’t disagree.

 So Iran’s machinations during this year’s protests should have had the international community rushing to support Bahrain, not ostracize it.

Aaah…the crux. The key bit. The core. The proof. The evidence. The schizzle. The skinny…what machinations? What? Specifically? Literally? Explicitly explain what machinations you’re talking about. Using real evidence, what have been Iran’s machinations? This is T H E  key question. One which has not even been remotely touched upon in this article.

Instead, too many decision makers were still lost in the rhetoric of the wider Arab Spring. The specifics of each country are whitewashed in favor of one simplistic mantra: that the Arab peoples have been oppressed by their leaders and want democratic reform.

Most have…most do.

This is only partially correct in some cases and fundamentally erroneous in Bahrain.

So you are explicitly saying that there has been no oppression by Bahrain’s elite on the Shia? This is factually what this paragraphs says. This is a bold, bold claim and one that ignores a wee mountain of evidence

Instead of simply reading demonstrator’s placards, leaders need to understand the country’s history. Bahrain is in the midst of an existential struggle against a vastly superior foe. Meanwhile, in Iran, the international community is content to listen to calls for moderate reforms coming from immoderate ayatollahs.

Nice word play at the end.

All in all this is a shockingly bad article. For several reasons

Agency

Are the Shia in Iran incapable of doing anything themselves? Are they unable to resist the lure – the moth to the flame – of Iran’s calls? Are there no issues with Bahrain’s Shia looking to a significant degree to Najaf and Karbala?

While some may look to Iran as the leading/only Shia state to some degree, what does this mean? That they support the Iranian football team? Prefer Persian food? Will martyr themselves for Ahmadinejad? Or…well…nothing at all. My point is not that all Shia do not take orders from Iran; surely some do but what is equally sure is some do not.

And here I’d look to the instructive example of the Iran Iraq war. Shia versus Shia in brutal trench warfare replete with chemical weapon attacks. By this kind of absurd narrative one would expect the Iraqi Shia to down tools and join their Shia brethren in Iran; after all Khomeini was in his revolutionary pomp. Yet did this happen? Not at all. They killed each other by the hundreds of thousands.

While Iraq is obviously vastly different from Bahrain, this example is just to show that this dialectic is vastly more complex than Iran clicks its fingers and the Bahraini Shia jump. Which is exactly the kind of simplistic assumption that underpins all such ridiculous articles.

Facts on the ground

I think the author needs to do a bit of wider reading regarding the Shia situation in Bahrain, particularly regarding socio-economic disenfranchisement.

Proof

I realise that at times we (us outside of governments) do not have access to grade A proof, should such a thing exist. But when one is making such accusations as in this piece, it is incumbent, at the very least, for the author to be specific.

I wholly agree that – or rather, as far as I know – Iran have a sporadically nefarious history with Bahrain. And that this fact should inform – but not cloud – our assumptions and research subsequently.

But when beginning discussing the Pearl Revolutions and Iran’s role therein, we need to be honest and note that – thus far? – there is simply no evidence of Iran’s involvement. Printed stories in Iran just do not count as anything more meaningful than a bunch of printed stories. Is that it? Is that the proof of Iran’s involvement: journalists’ witterings?

I’m not trying to be obtuse; I understand that Iran have a vested interest in upsetting the status quo in Bahrain and have, it seems, a history in this; but this is a serious accusation, and ‘form’ or, to put it another way, circumstantial evidence, just will not do.

 

Council caves to religious pressure…political correctness gown’ maad 3, October 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in UK.
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…would have been the headline in at least two British daily newspapers had a council changed some facet of the road management system (or something similarly trivial) to accommodate the desires of the Muslim community. Witness this article in the execrable Daily Express on a similarly trivial issue.

Instead, this happened in North London where the council have installed an automatic road crossing  timer so Jews don’t have to use a mechanical button on the Sabbath lest the world comes to an end.

I’ve no problem with this and think that as long as it’s not expensive or intrusive in some way, UK councils, for example, ought to try to accommodate the reasonable needs of their local communities. I don’t want to come across like the absurdly angry arab, who can find angst in…well…everything…but I’d just like a touch of balance. Obviously, if I’m waiting for that from the Daily Mail Hate or the Express, I realise that I’ll be waiting quite some time.

On Qatar in Libya 2, October 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in North Africa, Qatar.
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I’ve been so horrendously busy of late that I’ve not even had time to publicize my latest article on Qatar in Foreign Affairs. Thus far it’s got a lot of good comments, so thanks to all. And a quick thanks to the editors too who made it even snappier.