Qatar, Turkey performed power plays to damage Saudi Arabia: US expert

Dalia Aqidi
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For two years, the US President Donald Trump has been trying to undo several decisions and agreements made by his predecessor, Barak Obama, that have caused a lot of concern and distress in the Gulf region.

The Obama Administration was convinced that Iran will be the US peace partner in the region. Therefore, the former US President used all his abilities to push Tehran to the forefront, according to Jim Hanson, the President of the Security Studies Group in Washington DC.

“Obama’s policy had really changed things for a lot of Gulf States when they see their enemy being empowered by the United States,” he added.

Riyadh was Trump’s first overseas destination following his inauguration in which, Hanson noted, he met with the world’s Muslim leaders. “He also met with King Salman and the Crown Prince to basically talk about how they could form a counterweight to what President Trump saw as Iran’s malign influence as opposed to Iran’s role as a partner for peace,” he pointed out.

“This had completely upset the US media’s reflexive support for President Obama. Media outlets have a vested interest in the idea that Tehran was not the bad guy and anything that jeopardizes the Iran deal was a problem. Therefore, they began their attacks,” Hanson told Al Arabiya English. He emphasized that Khashoggi’s case was a lever the media used to attack Trump and his Saudi allies, and to damage both of them at the same time.

The leaked CIA Report

Following the US President’s announcement, in which he stated that the CIA report “might” be true, without either confirming or denying, Trump and the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman were targeted through a smear campaign which Hanson described as a “crusade,” due to the historical significance of the crusade which is similar to what implies currently.

ALSO READ: OPINION: Khashoggi and the war between Trump and the media

“The media attacks are hallmarks of a crusade. The US media has been attempting to impose western ideas, western concerns, and desires on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by deciding to depose a royal leader of another sovereign nation. This is a crusade from my perspective,” he stressed.

Hanson, who was a member of the US Army Special Forces for counter-terrorism and insurgency in more than a dozen countries, highlighted, to Al Arabiya English, that the CIA does not have evidence that the Crown Prince is responsible for Khashoggi’s death. Otherwise, the people who leaked the CIA report certainly would mention it, if that information really existed.

"The CIA report did not state that it has a proof that Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the killing. Instead, it said that it believes with high confidence that the Crown Prince was responsible, because in a country like Saudi Arabia, it is almost inconceivable that he would not have,” he emphasized, adding that the modernization steps taken by the Crown Prince have resulted in several enemies.

Hanson expressed his astonishment that all the western journalists were taking the word of someone who is known as the “largest journalists’ jailer in the world.”

“The journalists looked at the Turkish President, Racep Tayyip Erdogan, as the voice that tells the truth about the Khashoggi’s killing. This one person’s death was more important to the media than everything that was happening in Iran where several opposition activists were killed by the Iranian regime. Meanwhile, Turkey had done the exact same thing. Is one person supposed to completely change the strategic balance in the Middle East?,” he wondered, describing the thought as “absurd.”

The fact that Saudi Arabia and several Gulf States began to see Iran as a much bigger threat than Israel, had thrown the usual power balance out of whack, Hanson stated, reiterating that the American Left and its media saw this incident as an opportunity to take down Trump and his Saudi allies.

“Qatar and Turkey have performed some very good power plays to damage their rival, Saudi Arabia, and to gain leverage over the United States. Turkey was asking for numerous kinds of concessions from Washington. While Ankara has released the detained US Pastor, Andrew Brunson, it requested the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, Erdogan’s biggest political foe who resides in the US,” Hanson confirmed.

He highlighted that Doha and Tehran, alongside the media have a strong desire to push the coalition of the KSA and UAE out of Yemen, which will grant an undesirable victory to Iran in the region, “Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and the majority of the GCC capitals have aligned with Washington against Tehran to prevent the Iranian mullahs from doing anything irrational. If the US and Saudi Arabia were no longer allies, Iran would feel emboldened,” according to Hanson.

What next

On Tuesday, a report published by the Associated Press suggested that, during the G-20 summit, which will be held on the 30th of November in the Argentinean Capital Buenos Aires, the Saudi Crown Prince will come face to face with President Donald Trump who has defended USties with the kingdom, which will be good, according to Hanson.

“I think at some level there will be a very short heart-to-heart talk. Trump will say to the Crown Prince ‘You told me you did not do it, but we need to make sure this never happens again.’ Then Mohammed bin Salman’s response might be like: ‘I was put in charge of reforming the intelligence agencies; we will make sure this does not happen again.’ Trump is then going to take his word for it," the president of the Security Studies Group told Al Arabiya English, speculating that a fairly strong statement will be issued to stress that the US is moving forward with the Saudi Crown Prince.

On the other hand, Hanson expressed his doubts that the 2019 US House of Representatives, which will be dominated by the Democrats, will be able to change the nature of the US-Saudi partnership, “I think the democrats will try to, but they really cannot. That is the fortunate thing about the way the US government is set up. The executive branch controls the foreign policy,” he commented.

Hanson criticized Doha’s decision to add more Qatari Airways flights to Iran, by noting that this step will make the US sanctions on Iran less effective and stressing that Qatar is going to pay a price for that. He reiterated that the Qataris are still funding terrorism. “They still fund all the bad guys, and I think that is why the Qataris are tighter with Iran. Both countries are the main funders for Hezbollah, Hamas, and all the bad stuff that is going on," he argued.

He concluded his thoughts by urging the US Administration to be wary of the Qatari government and to, potentially, reduce the tight alliance with Doha due to its insistence to fund terrorist groups in the region.

He added that Turkey had control of the narrative after the killing as the only primary source for the media, with Qatar backing up their tales.

Both had eager partners in western media outlets. “Although Turkish-language media supported and helped to drive the narratives, as did Arabic-language media controlled by Turkish ally Qatar, the main outlets that Turkish intelligence used to execute their operation were major Western English- language journalist outlets.”

Hanson's group said that there has been a powerful effort to use this to weaken Saudi Arabia overall and especially to damage its relationship with the United States. Khashoggi’s editor at the Washington Post, Karen Attiah, led her paper’s media crusade that even called for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to be deposed.

Hanson stressed that Qatar and Turkey both benefit from these attacks on Saudi Arabia and have tried to parley them into actual gains. He said that Erdogan was bold enough to actually ask for the United States to send him Fethulla Gulen, his main political rival, who resides in US as a green card holder.

The irony of Erdogan using the death of a Saudi opposition activist to ask for the extradition of opposition leaders he would most likely kill is stunning. Qatar has been pushing to stop the Gulf Arab blockade against it without addressing its terrorism financing and other malign actions that led to it, Hanson said.

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