February 10th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Blackouts due to closure of coal-fired power stations

EDITORIAL Behind China's push for global power

CANBERRA OBSERVED The left's appetite for change can't be satisfied

POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY The Four Ideologies of the 21st century: Transgenderism, Libertarianism, cultural and Economic, and Radical Environmentalism

SEX-TRAFFICKING Meet modern slavery - in your very suburb

EUTHANASIA Delivering Victoria's death law: an unedifying spectacle

ENVIRONMENT Too hot? Too cold? Blame global warming

OPINION Report on child sexual abuse aimed at Church

FREEDOM OF RELIGION 'Equality' and equally disingenuous terms

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Saudis, Israel confirm Middle East alliance

OBITUARY To the memory of a multimedia Chestertonian: Tony Evans

MUSIC Straight to the heart: for the listener, at least

CINEMA The Commuter: And my criteria for reviewing films

BOOK REVIEW Essays take 'settled science' to task

BOOK REVIEW A pathway through a tangle of nonsense

BOOK REVIEW Quarterly Essay


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Saudis, Israel confirm Middle East alliance

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, February 10, 2018

Momentous events in the Middle East, in particular in Saudi Arabia and Israel, have gone almost unnoticed, obscured by a daily diet of sensationalism that does nothing to clarify the situation. As the attention of the United States turns inwards, these two key U.S. allies must take steps to secure their own futures.

Saudi Arabia was established following World War I, part of a tactic by the British and the French to control the Middle East. The House of Saud was awarded control of Arabia, a strategy made acceptable to the public, at least in part, by T.E. Lawrence’s immensely popular desert epic, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph (Privately published. 1926; Jonathan Cape, 1935).

As the name of a country, “Saudi Arabia” is equivalent to calling the United Kingdom “Windsorian England”. The rival Hashemites, said to be descended from the Prophet Mohammed (or at least of his tribe), were awarded the Kingdom of Jordan as a consolation prize. The House of Saud has always been a favourite of the “camel corps”, that faction of the British Foreign Office that fawns over everything Arabic.

All the rulers of Saudi Arabia have been members of the House of Saud. The current ruler is King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. The 81-year-old sovereign is in poor health. The real ruler is the 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. “Bin” means “son of” in Arabic. Crown Prince Mohammed has arrested dozens of important and wealthy people – some of them princes, and some of them multibillionaires – and incarcerated them in the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, surely a cage of gold if ever there was one.

Explanations for this purge vary. It is said that the Crown Price is rooting out deep-seated corruption in the kingdom, but more likely it is a move to consolidate political control as Crown Price Mohammed introduces far-reaching social, economic and political reforms.

Saudi Arabia is the only nation on earth where women have been prohibited from driving. But, from next June, women will be allowed to drive. Religious police no longer have the power to arrest people, a reform so astounding that many Saudis at first refused to believe it.

Even more stunning, the Crown Prince said he wanted a “moderate, balanced Islam that is open to the world and to all religions and peoples”. The severe Saudi school of Islam, Wahhabism, which reinforced the House of Saud’s control over the country, is likely to have its control over the kingdom weakened.

The Crown Prince also supports the privatisation of Saudi Aramco, which controls the kingdom’s oil industry. The initial public offering (IPO) will be worth $US2 trillion, the biggest float in the history of the world. This is part of the Saudi Vision 2030 plan to wean the kingdom from its dependence on oil as an engine for economic growth.

Transforming Saudi Arabia’s image from black-shrouded women, public beheadings and interfering religious police will take more than a little time, but Crown Prince Mohammed seems to be firmly in control. The House of Saud has functioned on the principle of group leadership, but the Crown Prince appears to be narrowing the range of the ruling elite.

The most relevant external threat to Saudi Arabia is Iran. Saudi Arabia is the leader of Sunni Islam. Apart from anything else, the House of Saud is the guardian of the two holiest sites in Islam, Mecca and Medina, to which every Muslim must make a pilgrimage at least once in his life, if he is financially able.

Iran is Shi’ite. Shia means “partisans of Ali”. Ali, the son-in-law and cousin of the Prophet Mohammed, was killed in battle at Karbala, in present-day Iraq. The Shia await the appearance of the Twelfth Iman, a sort of Messiah, also known as the Mahdi. The Sunnis and Shias, within which there are numerous sects, believe their opposite numbers are heretics. Bashar al-Assad, current President of Syria, for example, is an Alawite, a sect of Shia Islam that shares many characteristics in common with Christianity.

Israel and Saudi Arabia have long been de-facto allies. The notion that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” predates the modern era. It is found in a treatise on statecraft in Sanskrit dating from the fourth century BC. The alliance between the United States and Britain with Stalin’s Russia to defeat Hitler’s Germany springs to mind.

Israel and Saudi Arabia have a common aim: to prevent Iran from reaching the Mediterranean Sea. Iran’s strategy is to make Syria a client state, while its ally, the Shia militia, Hezbollah, dominates Lebanon. The intention of the Saudis is to prevent Hezbollah dominating Lebanon. This helps in understanding the peculiar episode where Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri “resigned” while he was in Saudi Arabia.

Hariri says that the Syrians want to assassinate him. He alleges Damascus assassinated his father Rafik Hariri in a car bomb explosion in 2005. Hariri alleges outside forces wish to tear Lebanon apart, citing the involvement of Hezbollah in the Syrian imbroglio.

Lebanon is a fragile state. It was created by the French after World War I and indented to be a client state where Christian Arabs were primus inter pares. It worked for a while, but, as is often said, “the prophet is a fool”. Lebanon fell apart, and even returning Lebanese describe the former “Switzerland of the Middle East” as “nothing special”.

Israel has been making strikes against Syria and Lebanon for several months. The Jewish state has made clear that it will not tolerate Iranian control of Syria or Lebanon. Israel has been perfecting its anti-missile defences, Iron Dome and David’s Sling. The Israelis are not in the habit of making statements loosely. If they say they will not tolerate the Iranians controlling their northern borders, we should take them at their word.

Jeffry Babb has travelled independently in the Middle East, including Turkey, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

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