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Randi Nord

Geopolitician Middle East Expert
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Randi is a journalist in the United States and the co-founder of Geopolitics Alert. She covers U.S. imperialism in the Middle East with a special focus on Yemen.
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Randi Nord, USA 01/04/2018 0

As Saudi Influence Wanes, UAE Builds Its Regional Value as Tool of US Imperialism

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (Analysis) — Since the beginning of the war against Yemen in March of 2015, Saudi Arabia has received most of the negative press for its war crimes — and rightfully so. Saudi airstrikes have targeted homes, schools, hospitals, markets, and other vital civilian infrastructure, resulting in over 13,000 civilian deaths. Saudi Arabia’s land, sea and air blockade has put nearly 8 million Yemenis on the brink of famine, while triggering devastating cholera and diphtheria outbreaks.

Although this humanitarian disaster is widely known as the “Saudi-led” war, another rising regional power sits in the shadows. What is rarely covered by the media is the United Arab Emirates’ involvement in Yemen, but its influence and military might are an equally evil force to be reckoned with.

There is indeed a proxy war taking place in Yemen, but it isn’t between Iran and Saudi Arabia as the media would like the public to believe. Throughout Yemen’s southern provinces and beyond, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are battling for political control of the country and crucial Yemeni waterways — and the UAE appears to be winning.

 

While Saudi Arabia has spent billions — $200 million per day — on weapons, murdering civilians and completely failing in its objectives in taking control over Yemen, the UAE has built military bases, forged imperial alliances, and secured its grip on regional hegemony both politically and militarily in the same country. As a result, the UAE has made itself into an ideal tool for long-term U.S. imperialism.

 

UAE occupation of southern Yemen

While Riyadh wages its air war, Abu Dhabi has flooded southern Yemen with troops. The Emiratis stationed troops on the Yemeni-controlled island of Socotra — a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which they use for training purposes — in November of 2015. With current UAE assistance (and previous decades of assistance from late Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh), the United States has secured a naval base on the island as well.

This strategic island sits about 300 miles from Yemen’s southern coastline and provides an ideal location for monitoring the Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea. These waterways link Asia to Europe through the Suez canal and their importance cannot be overstated.

When additional U.S. troops entered Yemen for a so-called offensive against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in July, it was Emirati, not Saudi, forces that greeted them at the airport and assisted in the operation — an operation that ended with a U.S. and UAE joint occupation of oil fields in Yemen’s Shabwah province.

Although the additional  troops entered Yemen under the guise of fighting AQAP, it is far more likely that Washington was attempting to secure its military dominance in the war-torn nation.

The United States asserts that its activity in Yemen remains restricted to fighting AQAP and assisting Saudi-coalition forces, but it isn’t unheard of for special forces to aid Saudi-backed troops on the front lines against Ansarullah (aka “The Houthis”) or other non-AQAP actors. Ansarullah and their local allies makeup Yemen’s grassroots political and military resistance against Saudi aggression and American imperialism.

In May, Yemeni media reported that about 30 American and Gulf troops were killed or injured by tribal fighters on the ground in Marib province.  Western media, on the other hand, stuck to their story that the fighters who attacked the invading US troops were AQAP militants. As The Hill reported: “Multiple U.S. troops were injured in a firefight during a raid on a compound associated with al Qaeda in Yemen, according to a Pentagon spokesman.”

Reuters began its story by stating, “Seven militants were killed during an intelligence-gathering raid by U.S. Special Forces troops against an al-Qaeda compound in Yemen on Tuesday morning.” However the article later states “They [local sources in Marib] said that five members of their al-Moradi clan, a main tribe in Marib, had died in the operation and six others were wounded, adding that they were all civilians.”

U.S. airstrikes have also targeted Ansarullah positions in the past. In October, Yemeni forces in Sana’a shot down a Reaper drone conducting reconnaissance. It’s unclear whether or not U.S. forces were actively engaged in operations along Yemen’s western coast against Ansarullah. However, it remains likely that American troops are far more involved in this war than Washington and the Western press lead the public to believe.

Emirati security forces control the city of Aden, where the coalition has set up its improvised capital. This capital, however, is without a defined leader. The so-called internationally recognized president, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, currently lives in Riyadh as a consequence of his failure to garner public support. If that weren’t enough, the Emiratis have now reportedly banned Hadi from even entering Aden.

In fact, Abu Dhabi has done just about everything possible to remove Saudi influence from southern Yemen altogether. Earlier this year, Yemeni politicians with long-term ties to the UAE formed the Southern Transitional Council behind Riyadh’s back to govern the south on their own terms. The UAE also fully supports south Yemen’s separatist movement, which directly conflicts with Saudi interests in Yemen.

 

War crimes, mercenaries, and unspeakable torture in U.S.-backed prisons

A former detainee shows how he was kept in handcuffs and leg shackles while held in a secret prison at Riyan airport in the Yemeni city of Mukalla in this May 11, 2017 photo. He covered his face for fear of being detained again. He and other former detainees say abuses are widespread in a network of secret prisons run by the United Arab Emirates and its Yemeni allies, into which hundreds detained in the hunt for al-Qaida militants have disappeared. (AP Photo/Maad El Zikry)

A former detainee shows how he was kept in handcuffs and leg shackles while held in a secret prison at Riyan airport in the Yemeni city of Mukalla in this May 11, 2017 photo. (AP/Maad El Zikry)

It isn’t common to hear about Emirati war crimes in Yemen, but they are indeed very real.

In June, an investigation by the Associated Press uncovered a system of prisons developed and controlled by the U.S. and UAE during the Obama administration. At these 18 prisons, beatings and unspeakable torture takes place. One device, called “the grill,” included roasting victims over an open fire.

Families and lawyers say at least 2,000 people have disappeared into these prisons after likely being swept up as part of broad al-Qaeda stings. Shipping containers were designed to hold 50 prisoners each, who spent the duration of their imprisonment shackled and blindfolded

Detention centers rife with torture aren’t the UAE’s only war crime. Last month the International Criminal Court filed a lawsuit against the Emiratis for their use of internationally banned cluster bombs in Yemen, as well as indiscriminate attacks against civilians.

When it comes to fighters, the UAE prefers to hire-in rather than employ their own. The Emiratis are one of the world’s largest employers of Blackwater mercenaries. As their military presence grows throughout the Red Sea and Horn of Africa, the UAE has struggled to employ enough fighters to keep up.

As a result, Abu Dhabi hires and trains mercenaries from Sudan, Columbia, and South America to carry out their dirty work in Yemen, Libya, and beyond. NATO countries and other allies, of course, assist with training and dispatch. In fact, the top officer in the Emirati Presidential Guard is an Australian citizen.

 

UAE domination of the Red Sea and Horn of Africa

Occupation and political control of Yemen is one strategic part of the Emirati plan to secure regional military and economic hegemony throughout the Red Sea and Horn of Africa.

The Red Sea and Bab al Mandeb strait are strategic waterways for both military surveillance and economic control. Four million barrels of oil and other hydrocarbon products pass through Bab al Mandeb each day on their way to the Suez Canal and ultimately to Europe and beyond.

Over the past summer, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh butted heads again over control of crucial Yemeni islands in the Bab al Mandeb strait. Whatever entity controls these waterways controls a significant portion of global trade.

With it now under U.S. and Emirati military occupation, Abu Dhabi’s goal was to create a new Yemeni province called Bab al Mandeb. This province would include the two Red Sea islands as well as Yemeni districts currently part of Hajj, Lahj, and Taiz provinces. Bab al Mandeb province would be under Aden’s control and ultimately the UAE’s. In other words, the Emiratis would control almost all of Yemen’s western coast, including port cities and Red Sea territories.

The UAE pushed Hadi and Riyadh to declare this new province, which they of course declined to do, likely due to the fact that this would increase UAE influence in the region while lessening Hadi’s (and Riyadh’s) already minimal power.

Perhaps most striking, however, is Abu Dhabi’s growing military might throughout the Horn of Africa. The UAE has used the war against Yemen as a springboard to secure its hegemony throughout the entire region.

In the past few years, Abu Dhabi has secured bases in Eritrea, Somaliland, Djibouti, and the semi-autonomous region of Puntland. Djibouti has become a cold battle ground in itself recently, as the U.S., China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Italy, Spain, France, and Japan all have troops stationed here.

 

Coordinating Saleh’s failed coup

Ali Abdullah Saleh

AP Photo

According to various sources, the UAE orchestrated the attempted coup carried out by Saleh and some members of the General People’s Congress (GPC) against Ansarullah (the Houthis) in early December.

On December 4, Saleh was killed while attempting to flee Sana’a after launching a failed coup to push out Ansarullah and realign with the Saudi coalition. Details surrounding his death are murky — but, after nearly three years of alliance with Ansarullah, what caused Saleh to suddenly switch sides?

President of Sana’a’s Supreme Political Council, Saleh Ali al-Sammad, said this decision did not come from within the GPC itself but instead was an “invitation” from an outside entity.

Al-Sammad cited the absence of GPC members during the coup and lack of an official statement from the GPC as an entity. He also suggested the attempted coup was actually part of a long-term plan by enemy forces, stating “these problems and events that took place were not born today.”

According to Iranian researcher Dr. Mohamed Sadiq al-Husseini, the planning for details of the coup began in August of this year. The UAE began training and arming close associates of Saleh and grooming Saleh’s son to enter the Yemeni political scene. Husseini concluded:

“It was decided to train 1,200 close associates of Ali Abdullah Saleh in the camps of the UAE forces in the city of Aden to be the leading forces for those to be later recruited and trained in Sana’a and its environs, which will then be responsible for carrying out the coup d’état.”

A total of nine meetings reportedly took place on the island of Socotra involving Emirati and Israeli officers. By the time December rolled around, 8,000 troops within Sana’a were prepared for the coup, with Saudi Arabia and the UAE providing air support by bombing checkpoints.

 

UAE: A more stable ally than Saudi Arabia

President Donald Trump welcomes Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to the White House in Washington, Monday, May 15, 2017. (AP/Susan Walsh)

President Donald Trump welcomes Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to the White House in Washington, Monday, May 15, 2017. (AP/Susan Walsh)

In the long-run, the UAE may prove to be a more stable regional U.S. ally than Saudi Arabia. The first point of concern is Daesh (ISIS) and other terror groups, like al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

While these groups certainly align with U.S. interests in most regions, they also threaten U.S. economic interests through their quests for power. Saudi-backed troops in Yemen fight along side AQAP militants against Ansarullah, and the UAE isn’t exactly happy about this. In fact, AQAP and ISIS frequently target Emirati political figures and security forces in Aden with suicide bombers and terror attacks.

Arming and allying with these extremist groups is just another place Riyadh and Abu Dhabi disagree, and this has become a sore spot for the two nations. To secure its own economic and military interests, it wouldn’t be surprising if the U.S. slowly shifts alliance away from Saudi Arabia and towards the UAE.

Where Riyadh’s imperial ambitions are haphazard, Abu Dhabi’s are smooth and calculated. Using this war as a stepping stone, the UAE has secured political control in Yemen, expanded its military presence across the Red Sea, and elevated its status as a key ally of U.S. imperialism.

By MintPress News

MintPress News is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 International License.
Randi Nord, USA 12/08/2017 0

Saudi Weapons of War: Bullets, Bombs, Mercenaries, Media, Blackmail

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA (Analysis) — Saudi Arabia — one of the wealthiest countries in the Middle East — has spent nearly the last three years bombing its southern neighbor Yemen, the poorest nation in the region, with U.S.- and U.K.-supplied weapons, refueling, and training.

Over 10,000 civilians have lost their lives in Yemen, according to official numbers. The siege has triggered a cholera outbreak and put millions at risk of famine. It is also estimated that over 50,000 Yemeni children are expected to die by the end of 2017 as a result of hunger and Saudi bombing.

This war against Yemen would not be possible without military support from the United States and other Western allies. It also would not be possible without political and financial power to control the media while exploiting every organization and country imaginable to control the official narrative of the war. Fortunately for Riyadh, they have these factors covered.

 

 

Riyadh’s control over the media’s narrative

A Palestinian family watches Saudi state-owned Al-Arabiya TV transmitting a video of the execution of Saddam Hussein, in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Dec. 30, 2006. (AP/Muhammed Muheisen)

A Palestinian family watches Saudi state-owned Al-Arabiya TV transmitting a video of the execution of Saddam Hussein, in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Dec. 30, 2006. (AP/Muhammed Muheisen)

Many Americans are already aware of the effective Saudi lobbying efforts in Washington. Between 2000 and 2010, Riyadh paid roughly $100 million to various U.S. lobbying firms and has invested $18 million to influence U.S. policy since 2015 alone.

The extensive power Riyadh holds through its manipulation of the media on the other hand typically goes unnoticed.

On the surface, it’s easy to see how and why media outlets use Saudi sources for their reporting: Washington and Riyadh share strong military ties, so why wouldn’t U.S. outlets rely on information from their ally? But Riyadh’s control of the media runs much deeper than this. In fact, some of the wealthiest people in the world include members of the Saudi royal family with significant investments in social media and news outlets.

Waleed Al Ibrahim founded the Middle East Broadcasting Center in 1991 in London, and later moved the company’s headquarters to Dubai. This media conglomerate controls about a dozen outlets — including Al Arabiya, a Saudi-owned pan-Arab television news channel broadcast throughout the Middle East and regarded as a competitor to Al Jazeera.

When Al Ibrahim launched Al Arabiya in 2003, his stated goal for the station was to be “the CNN to Al Jazeera’s Fox News.” Indeed, Al Arabiya is the go-to source for Western outlets such as CNN for news coverage of the Middle East.

When Yemen’s resistance forces launched a long-range ballistic missile at the King Khalid International Airport in early November, CNN reported, “the missile was intercepted over northeast Riyadh,” the Saudi Ministry of Defense said in a statement carried on government-backed Al Arabiya television. Despite media outlets absorbing Riyadh’s official line, footage from the ground indicates that the missile did, in fact, hit its target.

Another influential Saudi tycoon, Al-Waleed bin Talal, is the grandson of the first Saudi king, Ibn Saud. He also happens to be the second largest voting shareholder of 21st Century Fox. Subsidiaries of this conglomerate include the Fox News network, National Geographic, Star TV, Regency Enterprises, and even Hulu. In late 2011, Al-Waleed invested $300 million in Twitter, which amounted to over a 3 percent share at the time. It’s no surprise then that anti-Saudi and pro-Yemen Twitter and Facebook accounts are chronically disabled or silenced.

In June of 2017, Saudi investor Sultan Muhammad Abuljadayel purchased a stake of between 25 percent and 50 percent in London-based outlet The Independent.

Outside the public eye, Riyadh utilizes various embassies and subscriptions to guide the narrative wherever possible. Through embassies, the Saudis can monitor local media agencies to spot outlets ripe for manipulation.

The “Saudi Cables,” published by WikiLeaks, display how precisely the kingdom takes a systemic approach to projecting a positive — or at least neutral — image across the Arab world and beyond. The cables refer to the Saudi strategy as either “neutralizing” or “containment.” Once Saudi authorities select an outlet to target, they will either purchase thousands of subscriptions at inflated rates or merely funnel money directly to the outlet. In exchange, Riyadh expects favorable, or at least neutral, coverage.

In other cases, Riyadh will simply sanction media outlets that provide damaging coverage. In 2012, Riyadh attempted to blackmail London-based Financial Times, demanding it close its Saudi bureau and fire its correspondent for publishing what Riyadh called “lies.” The cable went on to state that if the Financial Times did not adopt an “objective” approach, Riyadh would consider legal action.

These subscriptions and threats are nearly impossible to track. Whereas outright investments are relatively public, subscriptions take place behind closed doors.

Due to Saudi Arabia’s combination of financial contributions and outright extortion, media coverage of Yemen that portrays Riyadh in a negative light is hard to come by.

Instead, the media has painted the crisis in Yemen as one in which Saudi Arabia is protecting itself from expanding Iranian influence, claiming Iran is funding and arming the Houthi resistance, despite no evidence to back the claim. The media frames the crisis in terms of a Sunni-Shiite proxy war to justify Saudi Arabia’s war crimes.

 

Exploiting nations to do their dirty work

Sudanese soldiers on a military vehicle gesture as they arrive to the port city of Aden, Yemen, Nov. 9, 2015. (AP/Wael Qubady)

Sudanese soldiers on a military vehicle gesture as they arrive to the port city of Aden, Yemen, Nov. 9, 2015. (AP/Wael Qubady)

Other than Yemenis, no country’s people are more exploited by the war in Yemen than are Sudan’s. Crippled by sanctions, Khartoum jumped at the chance to join the U.S.-backed Saudi coalition in 2015. Sudan currently has at least 1,000 fighters stationed inside Yemen and recently promised another 6,000, despite heavy losses at the hands of Yemen’s Army and Popular Committees. In fact, over 400 Sudanese troops have lost their lives on the front lines in Yemen, according to Khartoum’s own admissions.

Saudi Arabia does not have much in the way of trained ground forces, and the United Arab Emirates is not much better off. As a result, they instead outsource the dirty work of combat to poorer nations like Sudan. Why send your own men to die when you can pay others to take the heat?

In some respects, this has paid off tremendously. Upon committing to the war, Sudan’s central bank received two deposits totaling $2.2 billion: $1 billion from Riyadh and another $1.2 billion from Doha, Qatar. Although Qatar is no longer a participant in this war, Sudan is still very much involved. As Qatar pulled out its small number of troops, Sudan’s involvement became even more vital to the coalition’s health.

The war in Yemen has also allowed Khartoum to forge a stable relationship with Dubai, which it appears has used its lobbying power in Washington to Sudan’s benefit. In October, Washington announced the lifting of the sanctions that had plagued Sudan for over two decades. In addition to that, the U.S. is also considering removing Sudan’s label as a “state sponsor of terror.” To top it off, the Trump regime’s updated travel ban included additional countries such as North Korea and Venezuela, but at least one country was missing: Sudan.

Sudan isn’t the only nation exploited by the Saudi-led coalition, but it’s the easiest to track. Blackwater mercenaries are a little harder to monitor since the very nature of the job is secretive. At least 1,800 fighters from Mexico and Colombia traveled to the UAE for training before heading to the front lines to battle Yemenis in their own country.

“We are called mercenaries, traitors, cowards, and opportunists. We are nothing like that. We are men who made a decision in response to the lack of [financial] guarantees [at home],” an unnamed fighter told the Colombian outlet El Tiempo in 2015.

 

Economic blackmail in the United Nations

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, right, poses for a photo with Prince Mohammad Bin Naif Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, deputy prime minister of Saudi Arabia, Monday, Sept. 19, 2016, at U.N. headquarters. (AP/Julie Jacobson)

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, right, poses for a photo with Prince Mohammad Bin Naif Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, deputy prime minister of Saudi Arabia, Monday, Sept. 19, 2016, at U.N. headquarters. (AP/Julie Jacobson)

Targeting noncombatants, including women and children, Riyadh gets away with bombing markets, farms, homes, factories, shipyards, schools, hospitals, water treatment facilities, and everything else, however and whenever it pleases. Other than the occasional scolding over restricted aid shipments, Yemen’s cries to the U.N. for help fall on deaf ears plugged by Saudi Arabia’s political and financial extortion. For Yemenis, the U.N. offers absolutely nothing beyond empty promises.

In 2016, about a year after the Saudis launched their war against Yemen, the United Nations published a blacklist of child-killing nations. Of course, Saudi Arabia made this list courtesy of its indiscriminate bombing, shelling, and siege of Yemen that explicitly puts children’s lives at risk.

Just 72 hours after this document went live, however, then-U.N. secretary general Ban Ki-Moon removed the kingdom. Why? Saudi Arabia provides substantial amounts of money (totaling in the hundreds of millions of dollars) for aid programs throughout the region. U.N. food programs rely on this money to assist civilians living in conflict zones such as Iraq, Syria, and especially Palestine.

Immediately after the U.N. published their blacklist of child killers, Saudi officials commenced a harassment and extortion campaign. An anonymous source, speaking to Reuters, said Ban’s office received threatening phone calls from Gulf Foreign Ministers and officials from the Jeddah-based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The source indicated that government-appointed clerics in Riyadh were discussing the possibility of issuing a fatwa against the U.N. that would prohibit all OIC contributions, support, and relations.

It’s no surprise Ban quickly caved to Riyadh’s pressure to cut funding. What else can one expect from an organization that welcomes a kingdom known for beheadings to chair the Human Rights Council?

Top photo | Saudi security forces take part in a military parade in Saudi Arabia. (Mosa’ab Elshamy/AP)

By Mint Press News