Since January 18, 2020, President Xi Jinping has not left the borders of China due to the coronavirus pandemic. But according to recent reports, he is now planning to venture abroad to visit Riyadh—a concrete sign of strengthening ties between the two countries. Some Saudis, seeing the U.S. desire to accommodate Iran and play a smaller role in the Middle East, hope that Beijing might prove a more reliable partner, and certainly one with fewer scruples about human rights. Such a move, argue Bernard Haykel and Mohammed Alyahya, would be harmful to both American and Saudi interests. In conversation with Michael Doran, they address the reasons for the Chinese temptation, as well as the broader state of U.S. policy in the region, the Abraham Accords, the Iranian threat, and much else. (Video, 52 minutes. A complete transcript is available at the link below.)
Saudi Arabia between America and China
UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good
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.