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Mohammed bin Salman’s High-Stakes Gamble to Create a New Saudi Arabia

Nov. 14 2017

Since being named heir to his father’s throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has assumed significant power within the Saudi government and used it to position himself as a reformer. His boldest move so far came on November 4, when he ordered the arrest of over 40 princes and government ministers while playing a role in the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon. Hussein Ibish describe what he sees as the prince’s three-pronged effort to wipe the slate clean and “create a new Saudi Arabia for a new era”:

The first [prong] is the consolidation of political power. To all appearances, last weekend’s arrests pretty well conclude that chapter: there are no more viable, independent power centers in the country, or at least none that are not on existential notice. However, it’s possible the crown prince and his father have overreached and that there will be a backlash because they have jettisoned decades of carefully calibrated power-sharing within the royal family and other elements of the power structure. . . .

The second part of the project, economic and social reform, is a taller order, but still doable. . . . Mohammed has certainly shown a determination to lead this transition from the top down and a due appreciation of the social changes, particularly with regard to the role of women, that will be necessary for a globally competitive post-petroleum economy. His attempt to forge an alliance with the general public, especially the youth, so far appears relatively successful and could be a key basis for long-term success. There is evidence of an emerging new dynamism in parts of Saudi society.

It is the third front that is likely to be most challenging: the assertion and defense of Saudi interests throughout the Middle East, particularly with regard to an ever-more-powerful Iran. . . . Hariri’s resignation is likely tied to significant gains made by Iran and its key ally, Lebanese Hizballah, in securing, along with their Iraqi allies and clients, key areas in northern and western Iraq (in the aftermath of the Kurdish independence referendum and the battle against Islamic State) and in eastern Syria. . . . These developments are a potential strategic game-changer in the Middle East, and the Saudi response, apparently, is to go after Iran and Hizballah in their central and original locus of power in the Arab world: Lebanon. . . .

By positioning himself as an all-powerful incoming monarch, . . . Mohammed is gambling everything on relative success on all three registers: political power, socioeconomic reform, and foreign policy. While most Saudis seem to understand the pressing need for radical change, and many may currently support the crown prince’s measures, the danger is that a perceived significant failure on any of these fronts could produce a crisis of legitimacy in an environment of such personalized authority. . . . Mohammed bin Salman—and therefore almost certainly Saudi Arabia as a whole—will either win or lose spectacularly.

Read more at Atlantic

More about: Lebanon, Middle East, Politics & Current Affairs, Saudi Arabia

 

Why a Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza Is Unlikely

Feb. 16 2018

High-ranking figures in the IDF, along with some Israeli and foreign officials, have been warning that economic troubles combined with severely deficient public works could lead to an outbreak of starvation or epidemic in the Gaza Strip; their warnings have been taken up and amplified in sensationalist stories in Western media. Hillel Frisch is skeptical:

The most important factor behind real humanitarian crises—mass hunger and contagious disease—is first and foremost the breakdown of law and order, and violence between warring militias and gangs. This is what occurred in Darfur, Somalia, and the Central African Republic. In such situations, the first to leave are the relief agencies. Then local medical staffs evacuate, along with local government officials and anyone professional who can make it out of the bedlam. The destitute are left to fend for themselves. Hospitals, dispensaries, schools, and local government offices are soon abandoned or become scenes of grisly shootouts and reprisals.

Nothing could be farther from such a reality than Gaza. Hamas, which is the main source of [misleading reports] of an imminent humanitarian crisis, rules Gaza with an iron fist. Few developed democracies in the world can boast the low homicide rates prevailing in the Strip. Nor have there been reports of any closings of hospitals, municipal governments, schools, universities, colleges, or dispensaries. . . .

Nor have there been news items announcing the departure of any foreign relief agencies or the closure of any human-rights organizations in the area. Nor is there any evidence that the World Health Organization (WHO), which rigorously monitors the world to prevent the outbreak of contagious disease, is seriously looking at Gaza. And that is for good reason. The WHO knows, as do hundreds of medical personnel in Israeli hospitals who liaise with their colleagues in Gaza, that the hospital system in Gaza is of a high caliber, certainly by the standards of the developing world. . . .

Hamas, [of course], wants more trucks entering Gaza to increase tax revenues to pay for its 30,000-strong militia and public security force, and to increase the prospects of smuggling arms for the benefit of its missile stockpiles and tunnel-building efforts. How Israel should react is equally obvious. You want more humanitarian aid? . . . Free the two mentally disabled Israelis who found their way into Gaza and are imprisoned by Hamas.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Palestinian economy