Canada Is Right to Criticize Saudi Human-Rights Abuses

In 2014, Saudi Arabia sentenced the liberal blogger Raif Badawi to 1,000 lashes and ten years in prison for “insulting Islam”—that is, for criticizing the power and influence of the country’s clergy. Badawi has thus far received 50 lashes but remains in prison. Last week, Saudi police arrested his sister and fellow human-rights activist Samar, prompting the Canadian foreign minister, and the foreign ministry itself, to send tweets calling for her release. In response, Riyadh suspended diplomatic relations, instructed Saudis in Canada to return home, and threatened economic sanctions. Elliott Abrams, noting that the tweets in question are neither “harsh” nor “shocking,” comments:

The Raif Badawi case has long been a matter of international concern and comment. [Previous American statements on the matter were] surely tougher than the Canadian comments. Moreover, the United States had no actual link to the case whereas Badawi’s wife and three children are now Canadian citizens. . . .

The Saudi position amounts to this: no government may comment on anything that happens in the kingdom. Any such comment is a violation of Saudi sovereignty. . . That’s an untenable position in 2018. Remember Ronald Reagan calling the Soviet Union “totalitarian darkness” and an “evil empire?” Yet the Soviets did little more than protest verbally, while relations continued normally. . . .

I suppose the Saudis are sending a message that such criticism will come at a high cost, or at least at a high cost unless you’re the United States. One can well imagine that numerous other countries will in fact be scared off, not wanting to pay the price the Canadians will. . . .

I remain supportive of the social and economic reform efforts associated with [Saudi Arabia’s] Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and wish him every success in them. They are critical to the country’s future. I can understand, even if I cannot always support, his efforts to control every aspect of the pace of change lest his experiment with modernizing so many parts of Saudi life evoke so much internal opposition that it fails. But there’s no way to defend what the Saudis have done here. Their foreign ministry should have issued a statement saying the Canadians should butt out, they have their facts wrong, we resent it, and so on, and had their ambassador angrily say the same to the foreign minister—and left it at that. What they have done is an unforced error.

And while I’m at it, hats off to the Canadians for their concern about the family of a Canadian citizen and about human rights around the world.

Read more at Pressure Points

More about: Canada, Human Rights, Mohammad bin Salman, Politics & Current Affairs, Ronald Reagan, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy

Why the White House’s Plan to Prevent an Israel-Hizballah War Won’t Work

On Monday, Hizballah downed an Israeli drone, leading the IDF to retaliate with airstrikes that killed one of the terrorist group’s commanders in southern Lebanon, and two more of its members in the northeast. The latter strike marks an escalation by the IDF, which normally confines its activities to the southern part of the country. Hizballah responded by firing two barrages of rockets into northern Israel on Tuesday, while Hamas operatives in Lebanon fired another barrage yesterday.

According to the Iran-backed militia, 219 of its fighters have been killed since October; six Israeli civilians and ten soldiers have lost their lives in the north. The Biden administration has meanwhile been involved in ongoing negotiations to prevent these skirmishes from turning into an all-out war. The administration’s plan, however, requires carrots for Hizballah in exchange for unenforceable guarantees, as Richard Goldberg explains:

Israel and Hizballah last went to war in 2006. That summer, Hizballah crossed the border, killed three Israeli soldiers, and kidnapped two others. Israel responded with furious airstrikes, a naval blockade, and eventually a ground operation that met stiff resistance and mixed results. A UN-endorsed ceasefire went into effect after 34 days of war, accompanied by a Security Council Resolution that ordered the UN Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to assist the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) in disarming Hizballah in southern Lebanon—from the Israeli border up to the Litani River, some 30 kilometers away.

Despite billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer support over the last seventeen years, the LAF made no requests to UNIFIL, which then never disarmed Hizballah. Instead, Iran accelerated delivering weapons to the terrorist group—building up its forces to a threat level that dwarfs the one Israel faced in 2006. The politics of Lebanon shifted over time as well, with Hizballah taking effective control of the Lebanese government and exerting its influence (and sometimes even control) over the LAF and its U.S.-funded systems.

Now the U.S. is offering Lebanon an economic bailout in exchange for a promise to keep Hizballah forces from coming within a mere ten kilometers of the border, essentially abrogating the Security Council resolution. Goldberg continues:

Who would be responsible for keeping the peace? The LAF and UNIFIL—the same pair that has spent seventeen years helping Hizballah become the threat it is today. That would guarantee that Hizballah’s commitments will never be verified or enforced.

It’s a win-win for [Hizballah’s chief Hassan] Nasrallah. Many of his fighters live and keep their missiles hidden within ten kilometers of Israel’s border. They will blend into the civilian population without any mechanism to force their departure. And even if the U.S. or France could verify a movement of weapons to the north, Nasrallah’s arsenal is more than capable of terrorizing Israeli cities from ten kilometers away. Meanwhile, a bailout of Lebanon will increase Hizballah’s popularity—demonstrating its tactics against Israel work.

Read more at The Dispatch

More about: Hizballah, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden