Quakes real and political reshaping Middle East
International | Saudi Arabia works to counteract Iran’s growing influence
by Mindy Belz
Posted 11/13/17, 02:22 pm
SAUDI ARABIA: At Saudi Arabia’s request, the Arab League will hold an “extraordinary meeting” this week to discuss “violations” by Iran in the region. The flashpoints prompting this Saudi intervention appear to be, first, Iraq’s move against the Kurds last month, retaking Kirkuk and surrounding areas with the large presence of Iranian militias under the direction of Qassem Suleimani, general of Iran’s Quds forces; second, the warnings everywhere that Iran, under cover of Russian air forces, is building bases in Syria; and third, evidence Iran is supplying ballistic missiles to rebels in Yemen, including one fired close to the Saudi capital last week.
At the same time, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman continues to consolidate power and replenish the kingdom’s depleted coffers with billions of dollars in seized assets.
LEBANON: This tiny nation finds itself at the center of a rapidly escalating conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran that’s reshaping the Middle East. Everyone’s saying this tension is different, as it’s now plain the Saudis forced Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s resignation a week ago, and they appear to be keeping him under house arrest to make a case against Hezbollah domination in Lebanon. Hariri said in a televised interview Sunday he was not being held against his will and he will return to his country “very soon.”
UNITED STATES: What’s bizarre is U.S. policy in the midst of so much maneuvering, which appears nearly as vacuous as it was under President Barack Obama. President Donald Trump is siding with the Russians (who are protecting the Iranians) in Syria even as U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) come under attack from militias backed by Russia and Iran. In September, Russian airstrikes hit SDF near enough to U.S special operations forces the Americans actually provided medical care for the wounded. And while Washington supports the largely Kurdish SDF, it is giving little heed to the long-backed and elected Kurdish officials in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan. It is ceding political and military ground to Iranian-influenced officials in Baghdad while at the same time confronting Iran over the joint nuclear deal. Many see the heightened tension as a result of now years of irresolute U.S. policy:
“While they dithered, Iran took hold,” a senior Saudi official who has left the kingdom in the past year told The Guardian. “While they thought the U.S. was doing their bidding, it was actually enabling an Iranian takeover. This is now almost complete. So they are right to worry. So is everyone. Things have changed in the Middle East by them doing nothing about it.”
IRAQ: If that’s not enough, a series of earthquakes struck northern Iraq overnight at the Iranian border. A magnitude 7.3 quake near the Iraqi city of Halabja followed by a 5.3 magnitude quake in the same area reportedly killed at least 400 people and injured thousands. On Monday, the U.S. Geological Survey reported at least five ongoing tremors in the border area.
AFGHANISTAN: Taliban fighters with sophisticated equipment killed eight Afghan police officers in their beds Monday as the Taliban makes significant gains—now controlling 45 districts and making a play for another 115 of Afghanistan’s 407 districts. Afghan government control of its districts has “deteriorated to its lowest level” since 2015, according to the latest coalition inspector general report (see map). “The Taliban continues to retain the capacity to mass its forces and overrun district centers and military bases, often without being opposed by coalition and Afghan air power,” reports Long War Journal.
BANGLADESH: Rohingya Muslims escaping Myanmar strapped yellow plastic oil cans to their chests or lashed them together as flotation devices to swim the 2½-mile crossing to Bangladesh at the mouth of the Naf River. Christian aid groups now are mobilizing to assist Rohingyas in an area long closed to their work.