Iran announced that it expects western sanctions to be lifted today. It awaits an IAEA report that will confirm it is adhering to provisions of the nuclear deal finalized several months ago by the P5+1 powers and Iran.
This is a major milestone not just for Iran, but for its enemies as well. While it could lead to a recalibration of relations between the Iranians and the U.S., it will also intensify hostility with the former’s leading regional adversary, Saudi Arabia.
The GOP and Israel are also deeply unhappy with the unraveling of their anti-Iran machinations. But the Saudis are most angry of all. Anything that helps their worst enemy hurts them, or so they believe. That is certainly one of the reasons they executed Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr last week. It is also why they were only too happy to cut off diplomatic relations with Iran after Iranians trashed the Saudi embassy in Tehran in response to the hanging. Finally, the Saudi-led war in Yemen is another extension of this rivalry as the Kingdom sees the Houthi rebels there as allies of Iran.
All of this is making for some very strange bedfellows as relations and alliances shift. Israel has for decades been the Arab world’s Enemy No. 1. But no longer. The “Jewish State” is only too eager to recruit new allies, thus dividing the enemy camp and weakening it (or so the strategic thinking goes). It forged an alliance of convenience with the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, which enforces quiet along the Golan frontier on Israel’s behalf.
Over the past decade, military collaboration between Israel and Saudi Arabia has flourished. Barry Lando reported some years ago that the Saudis funded Israel’s covert war against Iran to the tune of $1-billion. That was in a period when Prince Bandar and Tamir Pardo held regular, semi-secret meetings, one of which was in Eilat. Though Bandar fell out of favor when the new King Salman ascended to the throne, the relationship continues to thrive. Israeli advanced weapons systems are highly sought after by Saudi arms buyers.
A leading intelligence website says that Mohamed bin Nayef, the Crown Prince and hard-fisted Interior Minister has been seeking to buy Israel’s most sophisticated drones for months. He needs them, among other things, to monitor the restive Shiites in the kingdom’s oil-rich east, where he fears increasing Iranian plotting against his regime.
Murder in the Kingdom
There are a few issues that could complicate things, but haven’t appeared to till now. Precisely a year ago, Christopher Cramer, a weapons engineer who worked for the U.S. subsidiary of Israeli weapons manufacturer, Elbit Systems, was found murdered on the street outside his Saudi hotel. He had arrived there a week earlier to demonstrate a thermal imaging sighting system for Israeli-made TOW missiles that had been sold to the Saudi military.
Though the Saudis claimed Cramer had committed suicide, the story seems beyond far-fetched. The victim texted a close friend the day he died saying he feared for his life and urging the State Department be contacted immediately. Forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden examined the body and found his death was a homicide and that Cramer had been thoroughly beaten before his death. It appears someone wanted to send a clear message, probably to the engineer’s employer.
The victim’s family believes they know what happened:
In the absence of a transparent and thorough investigation into Cramer’s death, his nephew and lawyer have come up with their own theory. They both suggest Cramer may have been killed for getting on the wrong side of a corrupt Saudi contracting officer and threatening a lucrative arms deal…
Also along on the trip was Todd Kulik, a fellow Kollsman employee. Kulik met with Cramer’s family after his death and told them that the two of them had worked closely with a Saudi employee of Global Defense Systems, a defense contractor based in the Gulf kingdom.
“My uncle was getting into it with this guy from day one,” Arsenault said of the Global Defense Systems worker…
Mandell believes that the same Saudi contractor was intent on sabotaging military equipment that Cramer was being paid to fix.
“According to Kulik, before the big demonstrations the equipment was checked out and worked fine,” Mandell said. But “when Chris and people showed up nothing worked. All the circuits were down.”
“In two hours, Chris got everything working,” Mandell said. “That upset people because they didn’t want it to work.”
“The point of sabotaging equipment is you get a customer who has to buy a new set and you’ve still got the old equipment,” Mandell said.
In the opaque society of Saudi Arabia, a man is murdered and it’s far more convenient to sweep the death under the rug. Elbit and even the U.S. government go along because there are far more lucrative contracts in the offing from the Saudi military. What is the life of one man when billions stand in the balance? So what if one weapons deal is sabotaged. There are so many more in the offing.
The response of the State Department has been: we can only investigate foul play against U.S. citizens if permitted by the country where the incident happened. And Saudi Arabia has refused to “ask for assistance.” That’s right. A U.S. citizen is murdered and our government would have us believe it’s powerless to lift a hand in the matter.
This is standard operating procedure for Saudi Arabia when something embarrassing happens. It has been nearly four months since the Hajj stampede in which 2,000 Muslim pilgrims were trampled to death. Despite the deaths of Muslims from many different countries, none of them could force the Saudis to open a transparent investigation. Nor will any lessons be learned by the Saudis, who supposedly have spent billions in improving infrastructure to avoid precisely the bottlenecks that caused this massacre.
Returning to Iran, my money is on that country when it comes to charting the future of the region. As I’ve written here before, it has a young, ambitious, highly-educated population eager to participate in the global economy if given the chance. While there is no question that Iran is a nation divided into a ruling élite, some of whose members can be brutal and cruel; there is a competing element of Iranian society which seeks a different path.
It was the Rouhani government which immediately seized on the naval incident in the Strait of Hormuz and quickly resolved it. You may recall a similar incident involving British sailors a decade ago took nearly two weeks to resolve. The latest one ended in less than twelve hours.
That didn’t stop an anti-Iran war hawk like Aaron David Miller from tweeting this threatening message about the seizure of the Americans:
Iran detains US sailors. Released promptly or not, a hostile act by a regime that acts w/o US cost/consequence https://t.co/0MNy0FnsjI
— Aaron David Miller (@aarondmiller2) January 12, 2016
Miller appears to be suggesting the standard Israel Lobby narrative: that Obama is weak on Iran. That the Iranians exploit this weakness to the hilt and get away with murder.
The Lobby ignores the tangible deeds and commitments Iran has performed in dismantling centrifuges and reactors as part of the deal. So what “cost” should we assess against Iran? And for what reason? What have they done that so provokes the Millers of the wonk-world? And just what U.S. policy would satisfy him? War? Regime change? Sanctions unto suffocation or death? And is that a policy or a punishment?
Keep in mind, that these U.S. sailors were apprehended inside Iranian waters, only miles from Iranian territory. They are part of a massive U.S. military presence not in Iran’s backyard, but its front yard. How would Miller react to Iranian warships a few miles off the cost of New York and Washington DC? What if they strayed accidentally into our waters? Would he be forgiving then? If he wouldn’t, then why isn’t Iran entitled to enforce sovereignty over its own territory? Little bit of a double standard, don’t you think?
You’ll recall that Miller served alongside Dennis Ross as the Israel Lobby’s eyes and ears in the Clinton administration. Both of them bear a large share of responsibility for the failures in negotiating an Israel-Palestine peace deal. Miller is now affiliated with the Woodrow Wilson Center, whose president is Jane Harman. She is the former Congresswoman charged with siccing Haim Saban on Nancy Pelosi to pressure her to appoint Harman chair of the House Intelligence Committee. That little bit of drama failed miserably and led to the FBI considering opening an investigation into the influence of an Israeli intelligence asset into a sensitive Congressional appointment process.
Returning to the GOP, which I mentioned above, Jim Lobe, notes the new love-affair the U.S. neocons have developed with the Saudis. Way back in 2001, the Saudis were one of our sworn enemies who produced 15 of the 18 hijackers. Some right-wing pundits thought we should set our sites on the Saudis for a bit of regime change. How times change. Now the Saudis are a bulwark, so some claim, against Iranian hegemonic ambitions. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Saudis have sprinkled a bit of wonk-fairy-dust their way. A few consulting contracts, speeches to Saudi universities, etc. will work wonder at changing hearts, minds, and bank accounts.