Britain Shouldn’t Drop Its Alliance with Saudi Arabia

As the U.S.-Saudi alliance seems in peril over the death of Jamal Khashoggi and the war in Yemen, Ed Husain—a longtime critic of the House of Saud—urges the United Kingdom not to waver in its support for this troublesome ally. (Free registration may be required.)

In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, amidst the rise of al-Qaeda, it was clear who had the upper hand in the Middle East: extremists of all hues. The Saudis were funding the spread of Wahhabism; and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood was thriving. Yet today, for the first time since the 1960s, neither the Muslim Brotherhood nor Wahhabism can rely on Saudi financial support. Both are on the defensive, struggling for long-term survival. . . . But there are other, more entrenched enemies.

Iran champions the forces of theocracy, imposing a hardline religious interpretation through use of government force. . . . There is now a firm Iranian crescent in the Middle East surrounding Israel and the Sunni Arabs. This threat makes it vital that London doesn’t turn its back on the Saudis. So if Britons felt wronged when watching [the Saudi crown prince] Mohammad bin Salman (known as MBS) high-five Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit earlier this month, worse is yet to come if they lose the trust of our Gulf Arab allies. . . .

We now have a once-in-a-century opportunity to shape the future of a global shift toward peace and co-existence. MBS has weakened the extra-legal religious police in his country, removed extremist clerics from many mosques, and allowed for musical concerts. Yes, he is an authoritarian reformer. Conversations, therefore, with him in private should not be about the last skirmish, but the next reform: where are his female advisers? When will school textbooks be revised? After religious extremism is uprooted, how can secular Saudis engage in a parliament within a constitutional monarchy? When do Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs who live and work in Saudi Arabia worship with their own, new religious institutions? . . .

MBS needs the West, particularly Britain, to help win the war of ideas. By helping him triumph and reform toward modernization, we save our own country and civilization, too. Skirmishes and battles must not distract us from winning the long war.

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Read more at Spectator

More about: Iran, Middle East, Politics & Current Affairs, Radical Islam, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom

Why the Recent Uptick of Israeli Activity in Syria?

Sept. 23 2022

On September 16 and 17, the IDF carried out airstrikes in the vicinity of Damascus, reportedly aimed at Iranian logistical centers there. These follow on an increase in the frequency of such attacks in recent weeks, which have included strikes on the Aleppo airport on August 31 and September 6. Jonathan Spyer comments:

The specific targeting of the Aleppo airport is almost certainly related to recent indications that Iran is relying increasingly on its “air bridge” to Syria and Lebanon, because of Israel’s successful and systematic targeting of efforts to move weaponry and equipment by land [via Iraq]. But the increased tempo of activity is not solely related to the specific issue of greater use of air transport by Teheran. Rather, it is part of a broader picture of increasing regional tension. There are a number of factors that contribute to this emergent picture.

Firstly, Russia appears to be pulling back in Syria. . . . There are no prospects for a complete Russian withdrawal. The air base at Khmeimim and the naval facilities at Tartus and Latakia are hard strategic assets which will be maintained. The maintenance of Assad’s rule is also a clear objective for Moscow. But beyond this, the Russians are busy now with a flailing, faltering military campaign in Ukraine. Moscow lacks the capacity for two close strategic engagements at once.

Secondly, assuming that some last-minute twist does not occur, it now looks like a return to the [2015 nuclear deal] is not imminent. In the absence of any diplomatic process related to the Iranian nuclear program, and given Israeli determination to roll back Iran’s regional ambitions, confrontation becomes more likely.

Lastly, it is important to note that the uptick in Israeli activity is clearly not related to Syria alone. Rather, it is part of a more general broadening and deepening by Israel in recent months of its assertive posture toward the full gamut of Iranian activity in the region. . . . The increasing scope and boldness of Israeli air activity in Syria reflects this changing of the season.

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Read more at Jonathan Spyer

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria, War in Ukraine