A prince in turmoil

Bin-Salman’s record is punctuated by failures, and it will hardly be the responsibility to-others.

Aramco’s oil processing facility after the recent Sep. 14 attack in Abqaiq, near Dammam in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. Saudi Arabia site of a missile-and-drone attack on a facility of the world’s oil industry, an assault that disrupted global energy supplies and further tensions between the US and Iran. Photo credit: REUTERS/Hamad l Mohammed.


A prince in turmoil

October 06, 2019 (Jeune Afrique) – “We will not wait for the battle to take place in Saudi Arabia. We will make sure that it takes place in Iran,” Mohammed Ben Salman (MBS) told MBC in March 2017. After the attacks on Aramco, it is clear that the boomerang effect of the exit is devastating for the Crown Prince. After aggressively taking control of the destiny of the kingdom, in 2015, MBS While Saudi Arabia will host a G20 summit in 2020, MBS will be hard pressed to forget a reign tarnished by a series of controversies and setbacks.

This brief cast a harsh light on the methods of the new Saudi power and its very limited tolerance for criticism. “I did not order his murder. It was a hate crime, and I take full responsibility as leader of Saudi Arabia. Especially since it was committed by individuals working for the government.” This is how MBS responded to the CIA, which directly accuses him of being the sponsor of the assassination of the Saudi journalist, on the American channel CBS at the end of September. “Responsible but not guilty”, in short. If it is excluded that he is judicially concerned, MBS is not unaware that the case has discredited his attempt to promote the image of a more modern Arab and open.

“One of the prince’s ambitions was to move from a parry army to a fighting army, because everyone sees that the US umbrella is gradually retreating into the Gulf,” says Ali Shihabi, a consultant close to Saudi power, in an interview at the Frontline site. Modernized at great expense, the Saudi army has not particularly demonstrated its competence in Yemen, its first real theater of war. Disproportionate and ineffective shelling, reluctance to engage ground troops, inability to regain ground: far from neutralizing the Houthie threat, the Saudi army is now being targeted, with bloody incursions of Yemeni fighters on the soil of the kingdom. No reason to parade for the “combat army”.

This was the princely project that was most likely to succeed, given the dominance of Saudi Arabia in the Arabian Peninsula. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), already dominated by Riyadh, was more or less to be transformed into a registry of Saudi wills, according to the ambition of MBS. Qatar, perceived as an actor too independent, was summoned to return to the rank by means of a blockade that still lasts. And that has not achieved any of its objectives, Doha having reviewed its system of alliances. Worse: MBS was dropped by its most loyal regional ally in Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, which has decided to step down.

To diversify the economy, the kingdom now opens its territory to tourists. Problem: in order to finance this conversion, the crown prince is betting on the opening of the capital of Aramco. Many times announced, it was about to finally materialize … until the attacks of 14 September. Which forced the authorities to postpone the Greek oil company’s IPO.

The assassination on 29 September of Abdulaziz Al Faghem, King Salman’s bodyguard, sparked a lot of rumors. The “king’s cane” – his nickname – would have been killed after a personal argument. An official version that is hard to convince: some evoke a conspiracy of princes to replace MBS, others suspect the latter to be himself behind the murder. Which was claimed on Telegram by Homat al-Tawhid, an unknown Islamist group.

Description: Jeune Afrique is a weekly magazine launched in 1960 covering news of the African continent. It provides feedback, analysis and in-depth investigations in business, financial, political, scientific, cultural, sports, health and social topics. Country of origin: France
© Copyright 2019 Young Africa All Rights Reserved

The Houthi military spokesperson explaining the operation on 18 September 2019. Hamad l Mohammed / REUTERS


Mohammed Bin Salman: Alone in the world

Despite a staggering defense budget and massive support from the United States, the kingdom of Mohammed Ben Salman was unable to stem the September 14 attacks on strategic Aramco sites. And appears more and more fragile.

October 06, 2019 (Jeune Afrique) – The worst case scenario has taken place. This September 14, Saudi Arabia wakes up groggy. In the night, the kingdom was struck at the heart of its economic power. First Abqaiq site, the largest oil refinery in the country, which processes nearly 50% of Saudi crude. Then Khurais, one of the main Saudi deposits, 175 kilometers from the first site. Result: a production deficit of 5.7 million barrels per day. After the Aramco chief’s overly optimistic assessments, experts say it will take more than six months to rehabilitate the two sites.

The attack is immediately claimed by the Yemeni Houthis by the voice of their military spokesman, Yahya Saree. They were allegedly carried out thanks to a dozen drones and complicity in Saudi territory. “We have the right to respond, in retaliation, to bombing our civilians for five years. […] Our future operations will be even more painful as long as the Saudi regime continues its aggression and blockade,” he warned. The Houthis, allies of Iran, which provides them with missiles and drones, are not at their first try: for two years, they regularly target, from North Yemen, oil infrastructure, cities and airports Saudis. However, doubts quickly emerged. “I do not believe at all in the Houthie thesis,” says Tom Cooper, Austrian specialist of the armies of the Gulf. “The Houthis have the means to send some drones, but not to organize an attack of such magnitude, with a combination of missiles and drones.”

A satellite photo of the impacts of the attack indicates that the projectiles – drones or missiles – came from the north. From Iraq, then. Or even from Iran. Did not Kuwaiti fishermen film missiles that passed over their heads in the middle of the night? All these assumptions show how Saudi Arabia today seems to be surrounded on all sides in its regional battle against Iran, which can rely on a myriad of loyal militias, from Lebanon to Yemen through the Syria and Iraq. “From wherever they come – Yemen, Iraq or Iran – these attacks would not have been possible without the cooperation and agreement of Tehran,” sums up Quentin de Pimodan, consultant specialist in the Gulf. The Islamic Republic categorically denies … without convincing. In the margins of the UN General Assembly Emmanuel Macron, Boris Johnson and Angela Merkel, in turn, accused Iran of being “responsible” for the 14 September attack and urged it to “refrain from further provocation”.

Faced with the rejection by the United States of the Iranian nuclear deal and the tightening of sanctions on its economy, Tehran has entered a logic to the end-stopist: if Iran can not sell its oil, then nobody can not in the region. With the hope that this maximum pressure will lead to lifting, or at least suspension, sanctions. What Trump refuses, announcing on the contrary their hardening with each attack Iran. In this game of poker, the main victim is currently Saudi Arabia. “The Iranians have changed tactics by targeting oil targets. They made everyone understand that they would not hesitate to strike strategic positions”, Quentin Pimodan analysis. “I do not think it’s enough for Riyadh to stop the war in Yemen for Iran to calm down. Yemen is a strategic lever for Iran, not a priority.”

A particularly effective lever: Riyad is embroiled in a disastrous conflict for its image and has not achieved any of the objectives of the campaign launched in 2015. The Emirates themselves announced this summer that they will reduce their presence in Yemen. “Besides this war weighs on the finances of the kingdom, says Yemeni political scientist Linda al-Obahi. Taxes have significantly increased since 2015.” The Houthi rebellion now allows incursions into Saudi territory, and claimed a major operation in Najran, late August, which would have resulted in the capture of several hundreds of soldiers of the kingdom.

How can a country that is in the top 5 of the world’s defense budget be so militarily vulnerable? In the hypothesis of Houthi attacks against Aramco, drones had to travel more than 1,000 km in Saudi territory before reaching their targets. All while passing under the radars of the air defense systems Patriot and THAAD, bought at great expense to the Americans. “Critics against Saudi air defense are quite unfair,” said Tom Cooper. “It is not so easy to protect as many strategic sites. Radars can not detect everything. At this time of the year, the hot and humid air masses can for example disrupt the operation. And then the kingdom is huge, impossible to monitor everything permanently.” More than a technical failure, it is the very nature of the territory that makes it so difficult to defend. Most Saudi oil sites of importance are also in the east of the country, not far from the Iranian coast and the Iraqi border. “The Americans have misguided Saudi Arabia by urging them to equip themselves with anti-aircraft missile defense, while the attack was carried out with drones and cruise missiles,” said the military expert. . So it’s also an American failure. Would a Russian defense system have been more effective, as Vladimir Putin suggested to Saudi Arabia, in front of a hilarious Iranian president at a tripartite meeting in Ankara two days after the attacks? “The S-400 would not have changed anything,” said Tom Cooper.

It prevents. The Russian president supports where it hurts: the fragility of the protection offered by the Americans to the kingdom. In March 2018, in Washington, Donald Trump had blissfully congratulated himself on the very lucrative relationship with Saudi Arabia, with a rather uncomfortable Mohammed Ben Salman (MBS). A commercial partnership in short, but no longer offers Riyadh the expected guarantees. And which forces MBS today to be more open to negotiations with the Iranian sworn enemy.

Description: Jeune Afrique is a weekly magazine launched in 1960 covering news of the African continent. It provides feedback, analysis and in-depth investigations in business, financial, political, scientific, cultural, sports, health and social topics. Country of origin: France
© Copyright 2019 Young Africa All Rights Reserved


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