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Thread: Middle East Rubik's Cube

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    Default Re: Middle East Rubik's Cube

    Possible end in site for the war in Yemen:

    The endgame begins in Yemen’s war

    Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman and AbuDahbi Crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed witness the signing of the Riyadh Agreement between the Yemeni government and the Southern Transitional Council, Riyadh, November 5, 2019

    The power-sharing agreement signed in Riyadh on November 5 between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government headed by Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and UAE-backed southern separatist group known as the Southern Transitional Council (STC) gives reason to hope that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is veering round to the political track to end the bloody war in Yemen.

    The agreement as such gives patently unrealistic deadlines and the terms of the deal are far too ambitious — such as the formation of a new government with half of cabinet posts for the STC; surrender of weapons by the STC within next 15 days and for organising under a single political and military chain of command, etc.

    Nonetheless, what stands out is the main political thrust aimed at bringing the STC on board to prevent a ‘war-within-the-war’ in southern Yemen by formally giving representation to it in any peace talks with the main Houthi opposition, with the intent to make the group a stakeholder rather than be as a spoiler.

    Yet, the trust deficit between Hadi and STC is all too obvious. Both Hadi and the STC head Aidarous al-Zubaidi left it to subordinates to sign the peace document and apparently didn’t even shake hands and they later met the Saudi Crown Prince separately.

    Clearly, the Saudi compulsions largely stem from the unraveling of its interventionist coalition in Yemen. The war has become Saudi Arabia’s burden.

    Sudan is following the footfalls of the UAE and is drawing down troops in Yemen after taking heavy losses in the war against the Houthis. Over four thousand Sudanese fighters have been killed so far since the Saudi intervention in 2015. Qatar and Morocco already pulled out of the war in Yemen two years ago.

    The big question is how the defeat in Yemen would impact the relations between the Saudi and Emirati leaderships. The Crown Prince of UAE Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan was present at the signing ceremony in Riyadh on November 5, but the 4-page agreement never once mentioned the UAE.

    The war in Yemen began in 2015 as a joint enterprise of the Saudi and UAE crown princes, conceived in the privacy of their friendship, as another front against Iran. In recent months, however, UAE made the course correction to drawdown in Yemen and, furthermore, sent delegations to Tehran to improve relations.

    The Iranian Foreign Ministry lost no time to react to the Riyadh Agreement. In a statement on November 6, the foreign ministry spokesman singled out the provision in the agreement to the effect that the government forces under Hadi and the STC military forces will leave Aden province within 30 days, while security inside Aden city will be overseen by Saudi Arabia’s military.

    The Iranian spokesman said: “Signing such documents will by no means help settle the problems of Yemen, and it will contribute to stabilisation of occupation of southern Yemen by Saudi Arabia and its allies, directly or through their proxy forces. The vigilant people of Yemen, who have always fought against the occupiers, will not allow their enemies and ill-wishers to bring the south of that country under the control and occupation of the foreign forces.”

    Tehran will be wary of any US and Saudi attempt to erode its influence over the Houthis and to exclude Iran from any peace process. Notwithstanding the propaganda that the Houthis are Iranian proxies, in reality, Houthis have a long history of independence.

    To be sure, Tehran will closely monitor the Saudi intentions. Following the UAE drawdown, Saudi Arabia has in recent weeks increased its military presence in southern Yemen, bringing in additional troops, armoured vehicles, tanks and other military equipment, and also took control of Aden earlier this month.

    Nonetheless, the peace deal does not appear to be aiming at escalation of the war so much as for creating bargaining chips in the negotiations with the Houthis. In remarks after the signing of the agreement in Riyadh, Saudi Crown Prince stated that “The Riyadh Agreement is a milestone towards a political solution to end the war in Yemen.”

    Both Washington and London have welcomed the Riyadh Agreement and encouraged a peace process. President Trump said the signing of the agreement is a “very good” start, and he called on all parties in Yemen to continue to exert efforts to reach a final deal.

    In a statement, the British Foreign Office said it “supports this document as an important step to reach a comprehensive political solution in Yemen.” Equally, in a statement, the UN special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths said: “The signing of this agreement is an important step for our collective efforts to advance a peaceful settlement to the conflict in Yemen.”

    It must be factored in that the peace deal over southern Yemen comes in the backdrop of a spate of reports recently that the US and Saudi Arabia are in talks with the Houthis (here and here). Interestingly, on November 6, Riyadh confirmed for the first time that it is in talks with the Houthis. The endgame has truly begun.
    From: https://indianpunchline.com/the-endg...in-yemens-war/
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    Default Re: Middle East Rubik's Cube

    Another good article from Alastair Crooke on the changing Middle Eastern geopolitical landscape:

    Quote Cornering and Strangulating Iran Has Backfired on Israel

    Alastair Crooke

    November 11, 2019

    What happens if the two premises on which Israel and America’s grand Iran strategy is founded are proven false? ‘What if’ maximum pressure fails either to implode the Iranian state politically, nor brings Iran to its knees, begging for a new ‘hairshirt’ nuclear deal? Well …? Well, it seems that Netanyahu and Mossad were so cocksure of their initial premise, that they neglected to think beyond first move on the chess board. It was to be checkmate in one. And this neglect is the cause of the strategic bind in which Israel now finds itself.

    Lately, these lacunae in strategic thinking are being noticed. Iran is doing just fine, writes Henry Rome in Foreign Affairs:

    Quote “Some analysts predicted that Iran’s friends in Europe and Asia would defy the United States to lend Iran economic help. Others reckoned that the sanctions would send Iran’s economy into a “death spiral,” leaving Tehran the choice to either surrender or collapse. Neither of these predictions came to pass.

    “Rather, Iran now enters its second year under maximum pressure strikingly confident in its economic stability and regional position. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other hard-liners are therefore likely to continue on their current course: Iran will go on tormenting the oil market, while bolstering its non-oil economy—and it will continue expanding its nuclear program while refusing to talk with Washington.”
    Similarly, the (US) Crisis Group reports that on the eve of the US oil sanctions snapback in November 2018, Secretary Pompeo was asked if Iran might restart its nuclear program. He responded: “we’re confident that the Iranians will not make that decision”. But, Iran did just that: In April 2019 – after the US revoked the sanction waivers that had previously allowed eight countries to import Iranian oil – the Iranian leadership started pushing back.

    They are still doing it. “Iran’s responses on the nuclear and regional fronts call into question the core premises of the U.S. “maximum pressure” campaign … Tehran [effectively] has broken the binary outcome of concession or collapse by instead adopting what it touts as “maximum resistance”. As a result … there can be little doubt that the [US] strategy has fallen short, delivering impact without effect and rather than blunting Iran’s capabilities only sharpening its willingness to step up its [push-back]”, the Crisis Group report concludes.

    So here we are: Iran’s “fourth step” in its incremental lessening of compliance with the JCPOA (injecting nuclear gas into the – hitherto empty – centrifuges at Fordo; augmenting enrichment to 5% and unveiling substantially improved centrifuges), effectively tests the very core to the Obama JCPOA strategy.

    The Accord was built around a framework that meant Iran would remain at least 12 months away from break-out capacity (the moment when a state can transition into a nuclear weapons’ state). Iran – in these de-compliance steps is inching under that limit, if it is not already under it. (This does not, however, imply that Iran is seeking weapons, but rather that it is seeking a change in western behaviour.)

    Yes, Israel – which pushed hard its assessment (albeit, onto a Trump team wholly receptive to this Israeli analysis) of an Iran entering into a death-spiral within one year, under Trump’s maximum pressure – can plead reasonably that its grand strategy was struck by two ‘black swans’. The double ‘punch’ quite evidently has knocked Israel – it is now all at sixes and sevens.

    One was the 14 September strikes on the two Aramco plants in Saudi Arabia (claimed by the Houthis), but demonstrating a level of sophistication which Israelis explicitly admit took them wholly by surprise. And the second was the accumulated evidence that the US is in the process of quitting the Middle East. Again, Israel – or at least Netanyahu – never believed this could happen under Trump’s ‘watch’. Indeed, he had built a political platform on his claim of intimate rapport with the US President. Indeed, that did seem at the time to be perfectly true.

    Israeli historian, Gilad Atzmon observes, “it now seems totally unrealistic to expect America to act militarily against Iran on behalf of Israel. Trump’s always unpredictable actions have convinced the Israeli defense establishment that the country has been left alone to deal with the Iranian threat. The American administration is only willing to act against Iran through sanctions”.

    And the former Israeli Ambassador to Washington put the consequences yet more bluntly under the rubric of The Coming Middle East Conflagration: “Israel is bracing itself for war with Iranian proxies … But what will the United States do if conflict comes?” — by this Oren implies the US might do little, or nothing.

    Yes. This is precisely the dilemma to which the Israeli policy of demonising Iran, and instigating ‘the world’ against Iran, has brought Israel. Israeli officials and commentators now see war as inevitable (see here and here) – and they are not happy.

    War is not inevitable. It would not be inevitable if Trump could put aside his Art of the Deal pride, and contemplated a remedy of de-escalating sanctions – especially oil export sanctions – on Iran. But he has not done that. After a quick (and wholly unrealistic) ‘fling’ at having a reality-TV photo-op with President Rouhani, his Administration has doubled down by imposing further, new sanctions on Iran. (Friends might try to tell their American counterparts that it is well time they got over the 1979 Tehran Embassy siege.)

    And war is not inevitable if Israel could assimilate the reality that the Middle East is in profound flux – and that Israel no longer enjoys the freedom to strike wherever, and whomsoever it choses, at will (and at no cost to itself). Those days are not wholly gone, but they are a rapidly diminishing asset.

    Will Israel shift posture? It seems not. In the context of the Lebanon protests, the local banks are becoming vulnerable, as capital inflows and remittances dry up. Israeli, plus some American officials, are favouring withholding external financial assistance to the banks – thus making the banking system’s survival contingent on any new government agreeing to contain and disarm Hizbullah (something which, incidentally, no Lebanese government, of whatever ‘colour’, can do).

    That is to say, US and Israeli policy is that of pushing Lebanon to the brink of financial collapse in order to leverage a blow at Iran. Never mind that it will be the demonstrators – and not Hizbullah – who will pay the heaviest price for pushing the crisis to the brink – in terms of a devalued pound, rising prices and austerity. (Hizbullah, in any case, exited the Lebanese banking system, long time past).

    Iran, on the other hand, faced with maximum pressure, has little choice: It will not succumb to slow-strangulation by the US. Its riposte of calibrated counter-pressure to US max-pressure, however, does entail risks: It is predicated on the judgement that Trump does not want a major regional war (especially in the lead up to US elections), and also predicated (though less certainly) on the US President’s ability to avoid being cornered by his hawks into taking responsive military action (i.e. were another US drone to be shot down).

    So, what do all these various geo-political ‘tea-leaves’ portend? Well, look at Lebanon and Iraq through the geo-political spectacles of Iran: On the one hand, it is well understood in Tehran that there is justified, deep popular anger in these states towards corruption, the iron sectarian structures and hopeless governance — but that is only one part of the story. The other is the long-standing geo-strategic war that is being waged against Iran.

    Maximum pressure has not produced a chastened, and repentant Iran? So, now Iranians see the US and Israel resorting to ‘Euromaidan warfare’ (Ukrainian protests of 2013) against Iran’s Lebanese and Iraqi allies. (It was, after all, during President Aoun’s visit to Washington in March, that Trump first warned Aoun of what was coming – and presented his ultimatum: Contain Hezbollah, or expect unprecedented consequences, including sanctions and the loss of US aid).

    Fresh sanctions, plus an Euromaidan-type assault on Iranian allies (Hizballah and Hash’d A-Shaabi)? Might we then expect another ‘Gulf surprise’ – in coming weeks?

    This tit-for-tat of pressure and counter-pressure is set to continue — Michael Oren, the former Israeli Ambassador to the US, lays it out:

    Quote “The conflagration, like so many in the Middle East, could be ignited by a single spark. Israeli fighter jets have already conducted hundreds of bombing raids against Iranian targets in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. Preferring to deter rather than embarrass Tehran, Israel rarely comments on such actions. But perhaps Israel miscalculates, hitting a particularly sensitive target; or perhaps politicians cannot resist taking credit. The result could be a counterstrike by Iran, using cruise missiles that penetrate Israel’s air defenses and smash into targets like the Kiryah, Tel Aviv’s equivalent of the Pentagon. Israel would retaliate massively against Hezbollah’s headquarters in Beirut as well as dozens of its emplacements along the Lebanese border. And then, after a day of large-scale exchanges, the real war would begin.

    “Rockets, many carrying tons of TNT, would rain on Israel; drones armed with payloads would crash into crucial facilities, military and civilian. During the Second Lebanon War, in 2006, the rate of such fire reached between 200 and 300 projectiles a day. Today, it might reach as high as 4,000. The majority of the weapons in Hezbollah’s arsenal are standoff missiles with fixed trajectories that can be tracked and intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome system. But Iron Dome is 90 percent effective on average, meaning that for every 100 rockets, 10 get through, and the seven operational batteries are incapable of covering the entire country. All of Israel, from Metulla in the north to the southern port city of Eilat, would be in range of enemy fire.”
    Of course, the claim that Israeli air defences are 90% effective is ‘for the birds’ (Israeli officials would not be in such a panic if it were true). But Oren sets out the course to a region-wide war plainly enough. This is the end to which their Iran strategy has brought them.

    And just to recall, this strategy was always a ‘strategy of choice’ – taken for domestic political purposes. Israel’s demonization of Iran did not begin with the Iranian Revolution. Israel initially had good relations with the revolutionary republic. The relationship transformed because an incoming Israeli Labour government needed it to transform: It wanted to upend the earlier political consensus, and to make peace with the ‘near enemy’ (i.e. its Arab neighbours). But Israel then required a ‘new’ villain threatening ‘plucky little Israel’ to keep unstinting US Congressional support coming through: Iran became that villain. And then, subsequently, Netanyahu made his twenty-year career out of the Iranian (nuclear) bogeyman.

    Reaping what a long-term strategy of threats and incitement sews …? In one of the most detailed assessments of Iran’s strategy and doctrine across Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) concludes that Iran’s “third party capability” has become Tehran’s weapon of choice: “Iran now has an effective military advantage over the US and its allies in the Middle East, because of its ability to wage war using third parties such as Shia militias and insurgents”, the report concludes. It has the military edge? Well, well …

    And doesn’t this fact help explain what is happening in Iraq and Lebanon today?
    From: https://www.strategic-culture.org/ne...red-on-israel/
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    Default Re: Middle East Rubik's Cube

    The Insoluble Contradictions of Daesh and the PKK/YPG

    by Thierry Meyssan Voltaire Network
    Damascus (Syria) 12 November 2019

    We only know what is happening in the Levant through the war propaganda of the country in which we live. We ignore other points of view and, more importantly, how our armies have behaved. To disentangle the true from the false, historians will have to examine the available documents. However, what the Western military literature tells us contradicts the statements of politicians and the narrative in the newspapers. It is only by becoming aware of the existence of the Pentagon’s strategy since 2001 that we will be able to understand what really happened and why such contradictions are occurring today.

    The remodeling of the Levant according to the Pentagon headquarters in the Levant. This map was described by Colonel Ralph Peters in an article on September 13, 2001, but he did not publish it until 2006.

    We do not understand what is happening in northern Syria because we believe a priori that there was a fight between the evil Daesh jihadists and the kind Kurds of the PKK/YPG. That is absolutely not true. This struggle existed only to limit their respective territories or out of ethnic solidarity, never for ideological or religious reasons.

    On the other hand, we do not see the role played by Donald Trump. As the press spends its time insulting the President-elect of the United States, it cannot be counted on to analyze and understand its policy in the broader Middle East. However, it has a clear guideline: the end of the Rumsfeld/Cebrowski doctrine, a legacy of 9/11. In doing so, he opposes his generals - all trained under the Bush Jr and Obama mandates to govern the world - and the Western European political class.

    To understand what is happening, we must take the facts upstream and not downstream. Let us return to the plan drawn up by the Pentagon at the beginning of the Bush administration in 2001 and revealed, two days after the attacks of September 11, by Colonel Ralph Peters in Parameters [1], the review of the US Army: the "remodelling" of the world, starting with the broader Middle East. This plan was confirmed a month later by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who appointed its main designer, Admiral Arthur Cebrowski, Director of the Force Transformation Office. It was explained by his assistant, Thomas Barnett, in 2005 in The Pentagon’s New Map [2]. And illustrated by the same Ralph Peters when he published the map in the Armed Forces Journal in 2006 for the first episode: what the broader Middle East was to become [3]. Given the difficulties encountered in the field, it was the subject of an amendment published by a Pentagon researcher, Robin Wright, in the Sunday supplement of the New York Times [4] in 2013.

    According to these documents, five States were to be dismembered into fourteen entities: Syria and Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Saudi Arabia.

    Map published by Robin Wright in 2013, one year before Daesh’s transformation and before that of the PKK/YPG.

    With regard to Syria and Iraq, these two States were to be divided into four. The map published in 2013 outlines a "Sunnistan" and a "Kurdistan", both straddling the two current states. The following year, the first was created by Daesh, the second by the YPG. At the time this map was published, Daesh was just one of hundreds of tiny anti-Syrian terrorist organizations; while the PYG was a pro-government militia whose fighters’ salaries were paid by the Syrian Arab Republic. There was nothing on the ground to predict the creation of the Caliphate and Rojava wanted by the Pentagon.

    The Turkish Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem [5] published the decision statement of the meeting during which the CIA prepared the way Daesh would invade Iraq from Raqqa. This document indicates that Masrour "Jomaaa" Barzani, then Head of Intelligence of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government, attended this planning meeting on 1 June 2014 in Amman, Jordan. He became Prime Minister of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government last July.

    It is important to note that, according to Robin Wright’s map, US "Kurdistan" should include northeastern Syria (like French "Kurdistan" of 1936) and the Kurdish region of Iraq (which the French had not considered).

    The support of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government for Daesh’s invasion of Iraq is indisputable: it allowed jihadists to massacre Kurds of Yazi religion in Sinjar and enslave their women. Those who were rescued were rescued by Turkish and Syrian Kurds who had come specially to assist them under the mocking eye of the peshmergas, the Iraqi Kurdish soldiers.

    Daesh committed many atrocities, imposing its reign through terror. Il carried out a religious cleansing against the Yazidi Kurds, Assyrian Christians, Shia Arabs etc. These "rebels" have received financial and military assistance from the CIA, the Pentagon and at least 17 states, as reported and documented by the Bulgarian daily newspapers Trud [6] and the Croatian Jutarnji list [7]. With trained staff in Fort Benning (USA), Daesh collected taxes and opened public services until it became a "state" although no one recognized it as such.

    We do not know how the PKK transformed itself in 2005 from a pro-Soviet Marxist-Leninist political party into a pro-Atlantic libertarian and environmentalist militia. And even less how the Syrian YPG operated its transformation in 2014. It came under the operational command of Turkish officers from the PKK and NATO. Depending on the side of the Turkish-Syrian border, the PKK-YPG is internationally qualified differently. If it is positioned in Turkey, it is "a terrorist organization", but if it is in Syria, it becomes "a political party opposed to the dictatorship". Yet until 2014, it did not see a dictatorship in Syria. It was fighting for the defence of the Syrian Arab Republic and the retention of President Bashar al-Assad in power.

    The YPG has respected the laws of war and has not committed atrocities comparable to those of Daesh, but it has not hesitated to ethnically clean up the north-east of Syria to create the "Rojava", which constitutes a crime against humanity. It despoiled and expelled hundreds of thousands of Assyrians and Arabs. It thought it was fighting for its people, but it was only making the Pentagon’s dreams come true. To do so, it publicly benefited from the Pentagon’s armament, as well as the British military weekly Jane’s [8] and the Italian daily Il Manifesto [9] have shown, and France, as François Hollande has revealed. Rojava did not have time to merge with the Kurdish region of Iraq.

    After the fall of the Caliphate, among other things under the blows of the PKK/PYG, the latter asked the Damascus government for permission to cross the lines of the Syrian Arab army to rescue the North-West Kurds threatened by the Turkish army. Permission was granted.. But when the PKK/YPG moved, it was transporting fugitive Daesh officers who were arrested by the Syrian Arab Republic.

    These documents and facts do not tell us which protagonists are right or wrong, that is another matter. But on the ground, it is impossible to be both against Daesh and for the PKK/YPG without falling into irreconcilable contradictions.

    Donald Trump’s actions consisted in destroying the pseudo-states manufactured by the Pentagon: the Caliphate and the Rojava; this does not mean the end of Daesh or the end of the PKK/YPG.

    Translation Roger Lagassé

    [1] “Stability, America’s Ennemy”, Ralph Peters, Parameters, Winter 2001-02, pp. 5-20. Also in Beyond Terror: Strategy in a Changing World, Stackpole Books.

    [2] The Pentagon’s New Map, Thomas P. M. Barnett, Putnam Publishing Group, 2004.

    [3] “Blood borders - How a better Middle East would look”, Colonel Ralph Peters, Armed Forces Journal, June 2006

    [4] “Imagining a Remapped Middle East”, Robin Wright, The New York Times Sunday Review, 28 septembre 2013.

    [5] « Yer : Amman, Tarih : 1, Konu : Musul », Akif Serhat, Özgür Gündem, 6 temmuz 2014.

    [6] “350 diplomatic flights carry weapons for terrorists”, Dilyana Gaytandzhieva, Trud, July 2, 2017.

    [7] “TAJNA LETOVA JORDANSKIH AVIONA S PLESA Sirijski pobunjenici dobivaju oružje preko Zagreba!”, Krešimir Žabec, Jutarnji list, 23 veljača 2013. «TRANSFER HRVATSKOG ORUŽJA POBUNJENICIMA U SIRIJI Sve je dogovoreno prošlog ljeta u Washingtonu!», Krešimir Žabec, Jutarnji list, 26 veljača 2013. “VIDEO: JUTARNJI OTKRIVA U 4 mjeseca za Siriju sa zagrebačkog aerodroma Pleso otišlo 75 aviona sa 3000 tona oružja!”, Krešimir Žabec, Jutarnji list, 7 ožujak 2013. “PUT KROZ ASADOVU SIRIJU Nevjerojatna priča o državi sravnjenoj sa zemljom i njezinim uništenim ljudima: ’Živote su nam ukrali, snove ubili...’”, Antonija Handabaka, Jutarnji list, 9 ožujak 2013.

    [8] “US arms shipment to Syrian rebels detailed”, Jeremy Binnie & Neil Gibson, Jane’s, April 7th, 2016.

    [9] “Da Camp Darby armi Usa per la guerra in Siria e Yemen”, Manlio Dinucci, Il Manifesto, 18 aprile 2017. English translation : “From Camp Darby US weapons for the war in Syria and Yemen”, by Manlio Dinucci, Translation Anoosha Boralessa, Voltaire Network, 18 April 2017.
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    Default Re: Middle East Rubik's Cube

    Well, this is very interesting. I wonder what has prompted this turn in sentiments?

    Quote Kim Dozier

    “Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani made a surprise offer to end the breach while he was in Riyadh, saying Doha is willing to sever its ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist political movement distrusted by the Saudi monarchy and its allies.” https://mobile.twitter.com/dionnisse...26205514326016
    Quote Dion Nissenbaum

    Qatar’s foreign minister took a secret trip to Riyadh last month with a surprising offer to end 2 1/2-year-old rift w/Saudi and GCC. A Thanksgiving Day exclusive w/⁦@wstrobel⁩ https://www.wsj.com/articles/qataris....co/YkyGfa00hV
    The article in the Wall Street Journal:

    Quote Qataris, Saudis Make New Bid to Mend a Long-Festering Feud
    A top Qatari official traveled to Saudi Arabia, but U.S. tempers hopes for ending standoff that hinders efforts to counter Iran

    By Warren P. Strobel in Washington and Dion Nissenbaum in Beirut
    Nov. 28, 2019 7:00 am ET

    Qatar’s foreign minister made an unannounced trip to Riyadh last month to meet with top Saudi officials, a diplomatic breakthrough that signals the most serious effort yet to end a 2˝-year rift between U.S. allies in the energy-rich Gulf, according to U.S. and Arab officials.

    One Arab official who confirmed the trip said that Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani made a surprise offer to end the breach while he was in Riyadh, saying that Doha is willing to sever its ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist political movement distrusted by the Saudi monarchy and its allies.

    That would meet a major demand made by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries when they severed diplomatic ties and cut transportation links with Qatar in 2017. They accused it of supporting terrorism, which Qatar denies.

    Saudi Arabia is weighing Qatar’s proposal, the Arab official said. It remains to be seen whether the sides can agree, and some current and former U.S. diplomats, along with officials from the region, expressed skepticism that the rift can be healed in the near future.

    The cracks within the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council have put Washington in an awkward position and complicated its efforts to unite the GCC to counter Iran. The rift pits the Saudis and Emiratis, who have close security and economic ties to the U.S., against Qatar, which hosts the largest U.S. air base in the region.

    Mr. Thani’s visit to Riyadh, which hasn’t been previously reported, was preceded by several rounds of intense diplomacy, much of it mediated by Kuwait, people familiar with the matter said. Some meetings took place on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Japan this summer, they said, without providing details.

    Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and Bahrain, along with Egypt, launched a boycott of Qatar in June 2017. They issued a list of 13 demands, including that Qatar stop financing terrorism, close the Al Jazeera satellite TV network and curtail ties with Iran.

    Qatar doesn’t consider the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, and while it denies financing the group, it has offered political support to Brotherhood groups and members, including Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who was overthrown in a 2013 coup by Egypt’s military.

    The Qatari proposal to end its ties to the group is the most promising opportunity yet to end the dispute, the Arab official said.

    “I think this is a serious offer,” the official said. “I think it’s unprecedented. There is a level of skepticism, and actions that will have to be happening to show it is serious.”

    Asked about the diplomatic developments, a senior Qatari official said that since the crisis began, “we have welcomed each and every opportunity to resolve the ongoing blockade through open dialogue and mutual respect of each country’s sovereignty.”

    An F-22 Raptor takes off during a deployment to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, the largest U.S. air base in the region. Photo: Kaylee Dubois/U.S. Air Force/Reuters

    On Qatar’s relations with groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, “our commitments have always been to uphold international law and protect human rights and not to a specific party or group,” the official added. “Our support has been sometimes misconstrued by those seeking to isolate Qatar, but the facts bear out our position.”

    The Saudi Embassy in Washington didn’t respond to a request for comment.

    Saudi and Qatari officials are preparing to meet again to discuss details that would define exactly what Doha is willing to do to cut ties with various Muslim Brotherhood groups.

    “We see forward momentum, but we’re not starting from a place where everybody is confident and has trust,” the Arab official said. “We need to continue to negotiate and gain trust until we reach a level of understanding.”

    Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic efforts are part of a broader move by Riyadh to resolve regional feuds that have tarnished the country’s international image. Riyadh also is working to extricate itself from the war in Yemen and embark on new talks with Iran, which has been accused of carrying out a series of destabilizing attacks across the region, including the Sept. 14 drone and missile strike that hit the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry.

    People familiar with the issue said that while the Saudis may be open to reconciliation with Qatar, the U.A.E. and their de facto leader, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, remain skeptical.

    “There is some optimism that perhaps there’s been a little bit of a thaw” in Gulf relations, said Gerald Feierstein, a former senior State Department official and ambassador to Yemen.

    While there are indications of rapprochement between the Saudis and Qataris, it is “not entirely clear that we’re seeing the same kind of thing” between the Emiratis and the Qataris, said Mr. Feierstein, senior vice president of the Middle East Institute in Washington.

    One public sign of easing tensions came in a bit of “soccer diplomacy” this week, when teams from the countries that have boycotted Qatar arrived to compete in the Gulf Cup tournament in Doha.

    Talks also are under way about holding a meeting of GCC foreign ministers.

    The group consists of the Saudis, U.A.E., Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman. Such a meeting could help present a united front regarding Iran.
    From: https://www.wsj.com/articles/qataris....co/YkyGfa00hV
    *I have loved the stars too dearly to be fearful of the night*

  8. The Following 3 Users Say Thank You to Cara For This Post:

    Bill Ryan (29th November 2019), Hervé (29th November 2019), Mashika (30th November 2019)

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