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Saudi Arabia’s Changing Approach to Terrorism, and How to Encourage It

Jan. 17 2018

Over the years, the Saudi government has compiled a highly ambiguous record in its relationship with Islamist terror. But since 2003 it has been cooperating with the U.S. with growing consistency, and even more recently it has moved from combating terrorist groups to trying to counteract the ideology that gives rise to them. Lori Plotkin Boghardt explains:

Recently, the Saudi leadership has expressed a desire to break with the past regarding religious extremism. . . . Muhammad al-Issa, the new secretary-general of the Mecca-based Muslim World League, echoed these sentiments in a November interview. Declaring that “the past and what was said, is in the past,” he said the organization’s current mission is to “wipe out extremist thinking” and “annihilate religious . . . extremism, which is the entry point to terrorism.” This language is a startling contrast to the league’s past agenda of promoting an extremist interpretation of Islam across the globe, which in turn helped fuel the terrorism problem. . . .

Apparent shifts in the way Riyadh is approaching the terrorism challenge present opportunities for the United States to encourage broader and deeper changes that address longstanding American interests. One area to support is continued tightening of Saudi supervision over religious figures traveling internationally for work, over religious and educational materials sent abroad by Saudi institutions, and over religious figures doing media work—all toward the goal of restricting the export of extremist ideology. A related interest is the accelerated removal of extremist content that remains in Saudi schoolbooks.

Another area to support is added transparency and measurable advancement in new training, supervision, and reeducation of religious figures and teachers (or, if necessary, their dismissal). The kingdom has already registered successes in these areas and is now building on them; further progress could be discussed during the first annual meeting of the U.S.-Saudi Strategic Joint Consultative Group expected later this year.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Politics & Current Affairs, Radical Islam, Saudi Arabia, War on Terror

How Lebanon—and Hizballah—Conned and Humiliated Rex Tillerson

Feb. 21 2018

Last Thursday, the American secretary of state arrived in Beirut to express Washington’s continued support for the country’s government, which is now entirely aligned with Hizballah. His visit came shortly after Israel’s showdown with Hizballah’s Iranian protectors in Syria and amid repeated warnings from Jerusalem about the terrorist organization’s growing threat to Israeli security. To Tony Badran, Tillerson’s pronouncements regarding Lebanon have demonstrated the incoherence of the Trump administration’s policy:

[In Beirut], Tillerson was made to sit alone in a room with no American flag in sight and wait—as photographers took pictures and video—before Hizballah’s chief allies in Lebanon’s government, President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law the foreign minister, finally came out to greet him. Images of the U.S. secretary of state fidgeting in front of an empty chair were then broadcast across the Middle East to symbolize American impotence at a fateful moment for the region. . . .

Prior to heading to Beirut, Tillerson gave an interview to the American Arabic-language station al-Hurra, in which he emphasized that Hizballah was a terrorist organization, and that the United States expected cooperation from the “Lebanon government to deal very clearly and firmly with those activities undertaken by Lebanese Hizballah that are unacceptable to the rest of the world.” . . . But then, while in Jordan, Tillerson undermined any potential hints of firmness by reading from an entirely different script—one that encapsulates the confused nonsense that is U.S. Lebanon policy. Hizballah is “influenced by Iran,” Tillerson said. But, he added, “We also have to acknowledge the reality that they also are part of the political process in Lebanon”—which apparently makes being “influenced by Iran” and being a terrorist group OK. . . .

The reality on the ground in Lebanon, [however], is [that] Hizballah is not only a part of the Lebanese government, it controls it—along with all of the country’s illustrious “institutions,” including the Lebanese Armed Forces. . . .

[Meanwhile], Israel’s tactical Syria-focused approach to the growing threat on its borders has kept the peace so far, but it has come at a cost. For one thing, it does not address the broader strategic factor of Iran’s growing position in Syria, and it leaves Iran’s other regional headquarters in Lebanon untouched. Also, it sets a pace that is more suitable to Iran’s interests. The Iranians can absorb tactical strikes so long as they are able to consolidate their strategic position in Syria and Lebanon. Not only have the Iranians been able to fly a drone into Israel but also their allies and assets have made gains on the ground near the northern Golan and in Mount Hermon. As Iran’s position strengthens, and as Israel’s military and political hand weakens, the Israelis will soon be left with little choice other than to launch a devastating war.

To avoid that outcome, the United States needs to adjust its policy—and fast. Rather than leaving Israel to navigate around the Russians and go after Iran’s assets in Syria and Lebanon on its own, it should endorse Israel’s red lines regarding Iran in Syria, and amplify its campaign against Iranian assets. In addition, it should revise its Lebanon policy and end its investment in the Hizballah-controlled order there.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Politics & Current Affairs, Rex Tillerson, U.S. Foreign policy