Solving the Riddle of Saudi Arabia, and of September 11

After writing books centered on Egypt, Lebanon, the Palestinians, Iraq, and Syria, the great Arab scholar Fouad Ajami tackled Saudi Arabia. His book on the subject, titled Crosswinds, did not appear until after his death in 2014. Martin Kramer examines Ajami’s assessment of this country, whose great wealth, the latter once observed, “only underlined a painful gap between what a society can buy and what it can be.”

[A]fter the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and America’s massive entry into Saudi Arabia, something changed. The Saudis, who had always let oil make their case, had to justify themselves. Ajami began to pay closer attention. . . . What appealed to him? “The Arabs of the Peninsula and the Gulf littoral were the products of a pragmatic world.”

Sure, there was dissent in Arabia, for which Ajami always had an ear. . . . But . . . no one imagined it could metastasize into something world-shaking.

In 2001, this generalization failed. “Fifteen of the nineteen”—this count of how many of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis became a ringing indictment of the kingdom. Here was rage, alright, and Osama bin Laden gave it a prominent Saudi face and a voice. Ajami had to revisit the whole question.

The 9/11 Commission, he wrote, had failed to crack the 9/11 “riddle,” but that wasn’t the fault of its members: “the country is opaque, the walls of its privacy are high and prohibitive.”

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Read more at Caravan

More about: 9/11, Fouad Ajami, Middle East, Saudi Arabia

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy