Fuad Chehab’s presidency set a precedent for his successors
On 17 October 2019, more than a million people took to the streets of Lebanon to express their discontent and dissatisfaction over their government’s mismanagement of the economy and its proposal to implement new taxes. In what had been termed as the ‘Tax Intifada’ or the ‘WhatsApp Revolution’ (pertaining to the government’s imposition of charges on Voice over Internet Protocol calls), the WhatsApp-tax proved to be the trigger which culminated in mass-demonstrations against the Lebanese government. Country-wide protests have persisted tirelessly for ten days, with methods such as demonstrations, internet activism, strikes, sit-ins and civil resistance employed. A country which has been embroiled in bloody sectarian and confessional politics since Lebanon’s independence from the French Mandate in 1943, anti-government demonstrations and protests are not exactly unfamiliar. However, the spontaneous, spirited and non-sectarian nature of these protests have caught the government, as well as the leaders of the Amal Movement and the powerful Shia-Islamist Hezbollah group off-guard.
With the impassioned slogan ‘All of them means all of them’ aptly capturing the sentiments of the protestors, calls for a “sweeping overhaul of Lebanon’s political system” have and continue to gain momentum. Amid animated chants for a revolution against what protestors singled out as rampant corruption, rising social inequality and an ensuing economic crisis, it is worth mentioning how demonstrators have ardently beckoned Lebanon’s army to “side with them, arrest politicians accused of corruption, and even steward a transitional period.” Considered one of the more transparent national institutions of the country which has managed to cut across sectarian lines, it was reported that the army had vowed to protect protestors especially after a video circulated showing Lebanese soldiers thwarting suspected Amal and Hezbollah supporters from attacking protestors in central Beirut. Continue reading
Russia is fast emerging as a major power broker in the Middle East.
The world reeled from shock after two successive missile attacks targeted the Abqaiq oil facility and the Khurais oilfield in the Saudi desert last month. The real drama unfolded the morning after – thick smoke billowed from the wreckage, blotting out the early morning sun, and with it perhaps any hopes of restoring some amount of normality to Iranian-Saudi relations, at least for the foreseeable future. Over half of all the crude oil excavated in the Saudi kingdom is processed at Abqaiq. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that crude oil prices surged by 20 percent as global markets grappled with the biggest oil supply shock in decades. The Kingdom’s oil production is already running a historic low as its natural reserves face depletion, and the attacks at Abqaiq and Khurais managed to cut down global oil supply by a further 6 percent. Saudi Arabia called the September 14 attacks an act of war, and Iran stands accused of masterminding the offensive, a charge it vehemently denies.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif condemned what he called Saudi attempts to provoke Iran into a full-blown military confrontation. The country remains economically besieged; heavily sanctioned by the US, with inflation in the country hitting new highs every week under the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” strategy. Zarif holds the Houthi rebels responsible for the attack, based on a statement released by the rebel faction in Yemen. Nonetheless, Tehran has not been able to produce any concrete evidence apropos of the claim. The Saudis, meanwhile, have alleged Iranian involvement after examining misfired missiles that they claim were sourced from Iran. Less than a month after the attacks on the Aramco facilities, an Iranian oil tanker, the Sabiti, was attacked while cruising the Red Sea, just off the coast of Jeddah, causing oil prices in London to surge to 60 US dollars a barrel. Continue reading
The turning point was when the Houthis took control of Sanaa, the capital in 2014 and from there they started to expand to the west and east of Yemen.
In order to fully understand the current state of Yemen, it is important that we zoom into history and try analyzing what went wrong and where. For much of the past century, the country has been divided into The Yemen Arab Republic in the north and People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen in the south. Ottoman and British rule managed to keep the two separated but in 1990 these were unified under one flag and this was the beginning of crisis. If we look at the cultural and political divisions, these two parts are way different in two aspects. For almost a thousand years, the north had been under the theocratic rule of the Zaidi Shiites (the Zaidi sect of Islam is almost wholly present in Yemen and they believe that Muslims should only be ruled by the Imams – those who are the descendants to the Prophet), as opposed to this, the south was transformed from a scratch by the British during their rule. These differences took a conflicting turn after the two were united in 1990.
Looking at the religious division more closely the Zaidi Shiites predominate the north, with a minority Ismaili sect, whereas, the Sunni sect of Islam dominates elsewhere. Sectarianism was not really a problem until recently. Previously, a more tolerant society prevailed. Indeed, various exchanges between the two communities had been observed and inter-community marriages were normal and considered a routine in Yemen. However, the rise of political Islam led to an upsurge of tensions and with the emergence of radicalism, groups like Muslim Brotherhood and Zaidi Houthis emerged and expanded. With the spread of Salafi ideology in the predominant Zaidi areas, the expansion of Houthis was needed. Initially Houthis emerged as a theological revivalist movement in 2004 fearing the spread of Salafi ideology in the dominant Shiite areas.
The United Nations has cautioned against the escalation of this conflict by calling for both sides to exercise maximum restraint.
As Israel launched a number of airstrikes along the Lebanese-Syrian border on Sunday (25 August) morning, President of Lebanon Michel Aoun labelled the Israeli provocation as a ‘declaration of war.’ With the Israeli media identifying the objective behind this attack as targeting a group led by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a preventive measure against an impending ‘kamikaze-style’ armed drone attack on Northern Israel, these airstrikes were also said to have resulted in the death of two Hezbollah operatives: Hassan Yousef Zabeeb and Yasser Ahmad Daher. However, it must be noted that the airstrikes were not simply an isolated incident – they were followed by an Israeli drone attack on Beirut. It was reported that alleged Israeli drones had also crashed in Lebanon’s capital, suburban city, eliciting a strongly-worded condemnation from the Lebanese government and from Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s incumbent Secretary General. ‘I say to the Israeli army on the border from tonight, stand guard. Wait for us one, two, three, four days,’ exclaimed Hassan Nasrallah to his supporters during a rare public appearance on Sunday.
‘What happened in Syria and Lebanon last night is very, very dangerous.’ He further added that Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu ‘would be mistaken if he thinks that this issue can go unnoticed. The time at which Israeli war jets used to strike targets in Lebanon while the usurping entity in Palestine kept safe has ended… Be prepared and wait for us.’ President Aoun too, accused Israel of violating Lebanon’s sovereignty during his meeting with the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis. ‘What happened was similar to a declaration of war which allows us to resort to our right to defending our sovereignty,’ the Lebanese president’s office quoted him as saying on Twitter, on Monday. He went on to say that ‘We are a people seeking peace, not war, and we don’t accept anyone threatening us in any war.’ Continue reading
Trump represents the height of dysfunction in the US and the negative consequences of blindly pandering to a pro-Israel lobby and the military-industrial complex’s interests.
While the US and Saudi Arabia continue to accuse Iran of creating instability in the region, it would benefit Trump greatly if he turned his gaze inwards to demonstrate some degree of reflection. When one considers the current crisis and its motivations, it is fairly reasonable to reach the conclusion that Trump instigated a crisis in order to carry out his “maximum pressure” strategy against Iran. Trump incorrectly predicted that his move would be successful in causing the Iranians to capitulate to US demands for Iran to stop funding proxy wars and discontinue its ballistic missiles program. A victory of this nature would have boosted Trump’s credibility in the upcoming US elections while showing that a mediation-oriented leftist approach is wrong. However, Trump’s simple-minded plan has clearly failed as Iran has not backed down and continues to challenge the US on an almost equal footing.
Iran has retaliated in response to the earlier seizure of Grace I (by the UK on the directions of the US) by attempting to halt a UK ship and then by towing the Panamanian-flagged tanker, Riah, to its port for technical repairs in response to a distress signal issued by the tanker. While it is likely that the Riah did not have technical issues, Iran is coating its retaliatory efforts in strategic statements in a similar vein to those of the British who claimed that the reason for the seizure of Grace I was due to EU sanctions against Syria. It is worth noting that the EU sanctions have been placed on Syria since 2014 yet it is only now in the midst of tension that they seem to be remembered in the case of Iran exporting its oil. Continue reading
If there is an attack on Iran, it won’t be an attack on just Iran but the entire region will be destroyed as a result. Thankfully, Iran has a good defence strategy.
This is the report, by Shazia Hasan, in Dawn on our recent event. Power politics in the Middle East with a focus on Iran, Saudi Arabia and the superpowers was the main cause for concern among the participants in a round-table discussion held in the library of The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) on Saturday. Dr Mohammad Moini, an academic from Iran, said that there have been tensions between Iran and the United States for many years but it has reached a turning point now. But he also said that the US no longer had it in them to go to war against any country. “The US economy has become addicted to war, fighter crafts, drones and other weapons created by them for killing but raging war is not so easy for them anymore. When the US used to spend money on their military and development of weapons, their economy moved but another war means recession for them. Their economy would simply burst,” he said.
Speaking about the other side — his side — Dr Moini said that Iran, meanwhile, did not underestimate the firepower of the US. Former ambassador Syed Hasan Habib said that the region can become very hot. “One wrong move by anyone can become fatal. But it is a complex situation. It remains to be seen if the US and Russia will commit all their resources in the conflict. I believe they are looking for some kind of symbolic but substantial action,” he said. “But there is Iran, which is not making errors while Saudi Arabia is gung ho and ready for action. It has already punished Qatar. The underlying reason for it is also that Qatar has fossil fuels and gas and Saudi Arabia has oil, a resource that will decrease gradually. So there is also an inter-country rivalry in the region,” he pointed out. Continue reading
If Iran plays its cards wisely, it may gain more prestige than the US out of this incident … Iran, the scapegoat for Trump’s goals, has admirably held its ground in the face of a greater power.
The world breathed a sigh of relief when President Trump called off US airstrikes on three Iranian targets this Friday in response to the shooting down of the US Global Hawk surveillance drone. “I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone,” he said, adding that he was “in no hurry” to confront Iran. It is rather ironic that the US should present the sparing of human lives as its key point in calling off the attack when it has profited by selling millions of dollars’ worth of arms to different states involved in regional conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. When trying to understand US behavior it is worth considering two factors: Trump’s short-sighted focus on re-election coupled with the fact he’s a businessman in the guise of a politician.
Trump is trying to strike what he believes is a “better deal” while also benefitting powerful American military interests. But the ongoing standoff is increasing global volatility, making war almost inevitable. It is also no secret that the US accounts for 34% of all global arms sales selling more than double the amount of weapons than Russia (the second largest exporter of arms). With such a lucrative industry in place and Trump’s business acumen, it stands to reason he would highly benefit by creating a situation that would escalate conflict till just below the threshold of war inspiring enough fear and tension for states to buy arms from the US. On the surface Trump appears to be making good on his promises: a tougher stance on Iran while also not committing any ground troops in foreign lands. He is well aware that the age of conventional warfare is over: the US has been striking back by employing sanctions, engaging in surveillance via drones and launching cyber-attacks. Continue reading