Thursday, 15 June 2017

The Mayweather and McGregor Circus

So the fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor is on.

The forty-year-old Mayweather is arguably the greatest fighter of his generation and is certainly one of the greatest defensive boxers of all time while twenty eight-year-old McGregor, a professional mixed martial arts fighter is the reigning lightweight champion of the UFC.

Both men are considered braggarts and have consistently proved themselves to be the biggest draws in their respective sports. Before retiring in 2015, Mayweather achieved the stunning feat of having earned $700 million dollars in his career, while McGregor is the biggest money generator in the UFC franchise.

With 49 wins and no losses, many remained sceptical that Mayweather would permanently retire without leaving the sport with a record of fifty wins and no losses; the idea being to surpass the 49-0 career record of the heavyweight Rocky Marciano.

Often accused of carefully choosing his opponents on the basis of obtaining maximum financial gain at the least risk, many in the boxing fraternity see his choice of McGregor as continuing this strategy.

The Mayweather-McGregor match bears something of a resemblance to two other prominent contests in boxing history.

The first is the world heavyweight championship bout held in 1957 between the reigning titleholder Floyd Patterson and a fighter who like McGregor was making his professional debut. The difference is that unlike McGregor who had a very limited career as an amateur boxer, Peter Rademacher was an experienced amateur boxer who had won gold for the United States at the Melbourne Olympics.

Although Rademacher succeeded in knocking Patterson down in the second round of the scheduled 15-round bout, the champion recovered to score seven knockdowns en route to a sixth round knockout victory.

The bout is being held under Marquis of Queensberry Rules and is not a hybrid one. Mayweather would of course not be in a position to compete with a high level mixed martial artist able to employ kicking and grappling techniques as part of his trade in the UFC’s ‘Octagon’ cage. Also out of the equation when setting up this confrontation was a special rules contest which would enable McGregor to make use of carefully prescribed martial arts techniques.

This was the situation in the contest between heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali and the Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki held in Tokyo in June of 1976. Inoki, who was proscribed from grappling or launching jump kicks, lay on his back for much of the 15-round event while aiming kicks at Ali. He connected a few times to Ali’s legs which were enough to cause Ali wounds and two blood clots.

One has to presume that Mayweather has a penalty clause written into the fight contract that would severely penalise McGregor for utilising any of his mixed martial arts skills to either intimidate Mayweather in the clinches or to enable himself a face-saving disqualification if he is being made to look totally inept by Mayweather’s technique or indeed if he finds himself on the verge of being knocked out.

It is the considered opinion of most in the boxing world that despite his advantages in terms of youth and size, McGregor has less than the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell against Mayweather under boxing rules. While McGregor has demonstrated tremendous striking skills in his UFC career, few give him what in boxing parlance is referred to as a ‘punchers chance’.

The fight will have a tremendous buildup with both men drumming up interest through touring media conferences and soundbites which will be replete with braggadocious sentiment and ‘trash talking’.

It will be something of a pantomime circus but is expected to generate record amounts at the live gate as well as from the per-per-view market.

This is strictly a money making exercise.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)

Adeyinka Makinde is the author of DICK TIGER: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal and JERSEY BOY: The Life and Mob Slaying of Frankie DePaula. He is also a contributor to the forthcoming Companion to Boxing to be published by Cambridge University Press.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The Six Day War - Myth and Reality

Soldiers of the Air Force, The blustering and swashbuckling Egyptian Army is moving against us to annihilate our people… - Battle Order of the Officer Commanding Israeli Air Force, Monday, June 5th 1967

The Six Day War of June 1967, a series of battles fought by the armed forces of the state of Israel against a combination of Arab armies, is one of manifold significance. From a military standpoint, it presented a model strategy of how to prosecute and win a war waged on several fronts.

The stunning victory also created a sense of euphoria among communities in the Jewish Diaspora: Among American Jews, a segment of Jewry David Ben Gurion viewed with disdain because of their failure to migrate en masse to Israel, a new sense of commitment in both emotional and financial terms was born. In the Soviet Union where Jews sensed an increase in anti-Semitism during the build up to the war, Israel’s triumph led to a rise in ethnic consciousness; a state of affairs which fueled the Refusenik Movement.

The taking of the eastern part of Jerusalem, including the Old City where reside the revered Jewish sites of the Temple Mount and the Wailing or Western Wall; the Muslim Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque and the Christian Church of the Holy Sepulchre, added a religious dimension.

It also had profound and lasting geopolitical consequences. Israel firmly established itself as the regional super-power of the Middle East and the acquisition of land from Egypt (Gaza and the Sinai), Jordan (the West Bank) and Syria (the Golan Heights) brought large populations of Arab people under Israeli occupation. Today, the continued occupation of Palestinian land in the West Bank, the blockading of the Gaza Strip and the annexation of the Golan Heights continue to define the Arab-Israeli dispute.

The chronology of events which preceded the outbreak of fighting are clear enough. There had been a background of increased Palestinian guerrilla activity on Israel’s borders and an aerial battle between Israeli and Syrian air force jets which came before two fateful moves made by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. First, on May 16th 1967, he requested that the United Nations remove its peacekeeping force from the Sinai. Then on May 23rd, he closed the Straits of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping. Additionally, on May 30th, Egypt and Jordan signed a mutual defence pact.

The narrative presented to the world at the time, and for the most part, since then is that Nasser’s actions were taken as a preparation for a war in which combined Arab armies would invade and destroy Israel. With bellicose statements frequently emanating from Arab media outlets such as the Voice of the Arabs radio station calling for Israel’s destruction and the “sweeping of the Jews into the sea”, the Israeli assault beginning with a raid on the Egyptian Air Force in the dawn hours of Monday June 5th 1967, was put forward as a preemptive attack that was brought about in order to forestall the annihilation of Israel.

To the onlooking world, annihilation seemed to be more than a mere possibility. The sheer geographical size of its Arab neighbours in comparison to Israel’s territorial extent was an unavoidable factor in leading to such a conclusion. There were reports of Israelis digging graves in preparation for mass burials. The air of an impending doom felt by those in the Jewish Diaspora was exemplified by a photograph taken in the London suburb of Golders Green depicting a little girl seated in front of a house while holding a handwritten placard with the words ‘HELP ISRAEL’.

Israeli politicians contributed to the grand narrative of a people placed perilously upon a precipice. After asserting that the war had been started by “the Arab invasion of Israeli territory”, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol told the Knesset on June 12th 1967 that “the very existence of the state of Israel hung upon a thread, but Arab leaders’ hopes of annihilating Israel have been confounded.”

The truth however is quite different. Israel was simply never in danger of annihilation and the allegation that Israel had reacted to an imminent threat of an invading force of Arab armies defies a closer examination of the evidence.

The constant references made to the prospect of annihilation in the build up to the conflict was a continuation of a line propagated since the war Jewish militias fought against Arab armies in 1948 after the British withdrawal from Palestine. Both the Haganah and Palmach were composed of a well-disciplined and well-resourced core of soldiers many of whom had obtained valuable experience in combat and intelligence units of the British Army during the Second World War. The members of the major Jewish underground organisations Irgun and Lehi (the Stern Gang) were also brutally effective practitioners of the dark arts of inflicting mass terror and psychological warfare. And although figures may vary, all credible estimates regarding the total numbers of combatants deployed in the field provide for a significant numerical advantage in favour of the Israeli side.

Arab armies by comparison were a hodge-podge of militias fighting not to sweep the Jews into the Mediterranean Sea, but to hold on to territory assigned to the Arab population of Palestine under the terms of the by then vitiated United Nations partition plan. The Egyptian Expeditionary Force dispatched by the corrupt government of King Farouk, had limited manpower to draw upon; 80% of the male population of fighting age were judged to be either mentally or physically unfit for military service. Also, the logistics arm of its army was severely limited in its capacity to support ground forces beyond its borders. The army sent by the Syrians was more adept at playing politics than at waging war. Both armies along with those provided by other countries such as Lebanon and Iraq were simply no match for the Israeli side.

The only formidable force arraigned against Israel were the British-trained Arab Legion of the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan who were successful in frustrating the attempts of the Israelis to gain control of the Old City of Jerusalem. But it is pertinent to note that David Ben Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, had sent Golda Meir and a Haganah intelligence officer on a mission to King Abdullah which aimed to keep Transjordan out of the impending conflict.

In her memoirs, Meir stated the following:

Ben Gurion knew that Trans-Jordan was not intending to join in on any Arab attack on the Jewish state in territory provided for it by the vitiated partition plan...He would always remain our friend, he said, and, like us, he wanted peace more than anything else

It is also useful to note that the 1973 war instigated by Egypt was fought with limited military objectives, specifically involving the Egyptian and Syrian armies reacquiring some of the land taken during the 1967 war to serve as the basis for applying political pressure on Israel to withdraw from occupied territories.

The claim that Israel was facing annihilation in 1967 was as false as those made in 1948 and 1973. Indeed, it can be asserted that no combination of Arab military force was capable of defeating Israel in any of these conflicts.

The intelligence agencies of both Britain and the United States forecasted victory of the powerfully armed and well-disciplined Israelis prior to the war of 1967. “The only difference between the British and us,” said US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, “was how long it would take the Israelis to beat the Egyptians.” The Central Intelligence Agency predicted that Israel would defeat its Arab neighbours in one week. Its director Richard Helms put it thus:

If the Israelis attacked first, it was going to be a short war.. If the Egyptians attacked first, it was going to be a longer war, but there wasn’t any question about who was going to win it

Just over ten years after his army was routed by the Israelis during the Suez War, Nasser’s bluster and chess moves were not aimed at igniting a war, but instead was motivated out of a mixture of pride (King Hussein had once accused him of hiding behind the skirts of the United Nations Emergency Force in Sinai) and a desperate gamble aimed at bringing in the United States to the table as a mediator.

Nasser was hedging his bets on an intervention by the United States based on a formula set out by President Dwight Eisenhower after the Suez War. Eisenhower had made a commitment on behalf of the United States to keep the Straits of Tiran open. In other words, Nasser acted in the expectation that the United States would convene a peace conference at which the “society of nations” would effect a peace settlement that would enable Nasser to save face and reopen the Straits.

Those familiar with the story of Gamal Abdel Nasser will find this reasonably plausible. Back in the 1950s, Nasser had kept a back channel of communication with an earlier prime minister of Israel Moshe Sharett, who is often characterised as a politician who acted earnestly in the pursuit of peace with its Arab neighbours.

However, Sharett was frustrated by the machinations of the hardline Moshe Dayan while he served as the Chief of General Staff. And in 1967, Dayan would frustrate the efforts of both Prime Minister Eshkol and General Yitzhak Rabin who had favoured a limited military operation which would have paved the way for an international peace conference.

In Israel, there were many who were not keen on effecting a peace settlement. They had began ratcheting up the tension after Egypt and Syria had signed a mutual defence pact in November of 1966. The agreement provided that each country would support the other if attacked by Israel. Incidents were manufactured by the Israelis on the Syrian border which led to tit-for-tat exchanges. These confrontations continued until April of 1967 when pilots of the Israeli Air Force engaged in a series of dogfights with their Syrian counterparts over a seven-hour period. It culminated with the Israeli mirage jets downing six Syrian MIG 21s.

Neither Egypt nor either of the other frontline Arab states had any intention of attacking Israel. So far as Egypt was concerned 40,000 soldiers, among them some of the finest units of its army, were bogged down by a protracted conflict in Yemen. The deployments Nasser ordered into Sinai were nowhere near the numbers required to mount a serious strike. The CIA, the US Defense Intelligence Agency and the British Secret Intelligence Service all concluded that they were defensive in nature.

Evidence that this was the case came over the years from a number of Israeli military and political figures.

For instance in the February 28th edition of the French magazine Le Monde, Yitzhak Rabin said the following in an interview:

I do not believe that Nasser wanted war. The two divisions which he sent into Sinai on 14 May would not have been enough to unleash an offensive against Israel. He knew it and we knew it.

Also, in the early 1970s, General Matetiyahu Peled, Chief of Logistical Command during the war, while engaged in a radio debate asserted that “Israel was never in real danger and there was no evidence that Egypt had any intention of attacking Israel”, adding, “Israeli intelligence knew that Egypt was not prepared for war.” In an interview for Le Monde published in June of 1972, Peled said the following:

To pretend that the Egyptian forces concentrated on our borders were capable of threatening Israel’s existence does not only insult the intelligence of any person capable of analysing this kind of situation, but is primarily an insult to the Israeli army.

And from Menachem begin in 1982 came this statement:

In June 1967 we had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches did not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.

It follows that the fears of annihilation and a second holocaust, encouraged at home and abroad by the Israeli authorities were unfounded. Again, many military figures have confirmed this including General Haim Bar-Lev, another Chief of Staff of the IDF. “We were not threatened with genocide on the eve of the Six Day War,” he told Ma’ariv in April of 1972, “and we never thought of such a possibility.”  This was backed up General Ezer Weizmann, Chief of Operations during the war, who pooh-poohed the suggestion by stating that “there was never any danger of annihilation. This hypothesis has never been considered in any serious meeting.”

It is important to note that the Israelis had first announced that their attack had been in response to Egyptian military action, and that when it was realised that this version of events would not stand the test of scrutiny, it reverted to the story of a preemptive action. As for the emotive narrative of the digging of mass graves, photographic archives show Israeli civilians digging trenches much in the manner as civilians have been apt to do when preparing to defend towns and cities in war time.

Right from its inception, the leaders of Israel were well practised in the art of public manipulation and control. Both David Ben Gurion and Moshe Dayan were taken by the philosophy of keeping Israel’s citizens in a consistent state of apprehension and alertness, otherwise, they feared, they might become complacent about their hard won Zionist nation. This is why both men provoked many border skirmishes which were responded to with typically disproportionate force.

Most of the skirmishes on the Syrian border -more than a thousand occurring between 1948 and 1967 according to Syrian estimates- were in fact provoked by Israel as a means of extending Israeli territory in the demilitarized zone between both countries.

Dayan admitted this in an interview in 1976:

We would send a tractor to plow some (disputed) area...and we knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn’t shoot, we would tell the tractor to advance further, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot. And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that’s how it was...

Manipulation and control were also at the heart of the decision to lie to the Israeli public over the false flag operation carried out in Egypt in 1954 by a Jewish Arab cell charged by Israeli military intelligence with the mission of bombing British and American establishments in the hope of discouraging a rapprochement between Egypt and the West. Those who went to the gallows or who were sentenced to lengthy terms of imprisonment were claimed by Israel’s government to have been the innocent victims of an anti-Semitic show trial by the Nasser government.

The reason for perpetuating the myth of a preemptive strike on the grounds of self-defence and the threat of annihilation lies in the quest for achieving ‘Greater Israel’. This idea is rooted not only in religious thinking and the secular objectives of political Zionism but also in terms of acquiring resources linked to land and water.

The Land of Israel or Eretz Yisrael, encompasses territory that is larger than what was provided for Jews under the partition plan and the additional territory won by militias after the 1948 war. Although the concept of ‘Greater Israel’ varies in terms of the extent of its borders, one consistent feature is the inclusion of the biblical regions of Judea and Samaria, which broadly correspond to the location of the modern West Bank.

The war of 1967 was a war of conquest that had been in preparation for many years. It was about completing the unfinished business from 1948 which included claiming the whole of Jerusalem. Nasser had been goaded into a trap and the opportunity had to be seized. Those within the Israeli government who prevaricated such as Prime Minister Eshkol and the IDF Chief of Staff Rabin were labelled as “weak” and “indecisive”.  

In fact, some argue that Eshkol’s government was subjected to a coup d’etat instigated by Right-wing elements in the military who with the support of like-thinking politicians and the media contrived to force Eshkol into forming a National Unity Government with the Right-wing Herut party led by Menachem Begin. Up to that point in history, the prime minister had by tradition also held the portfolio of minister of defence (save for the short-lived Moshe Sharett), but Eshkol was pressured to relinquish it to the hawk Moshe Dayan.

Dayan was effectively the architect of the Israeli conquests that followed. The waging of an aggressive war under the pretence of a preemptive strike along with the encouragement of an atmosphere fearful of annihilation each served a purpose: To give Israeli actions the veneer of legality, and, in the latter case, as explained by Mordecai Bentov, a member of the National Unity Government in Al-Hamishmar newspaper in April of 1971, a rationalization for the intended land grab:

The entire story of the danger of extermination was invented in every detail and exaggerated a posteriori to justify the annexation of new Arab territory.

The ruthless use of propaganda as a means of camouflaging Israel’s true objectives lies behind one of the most notorious events of the Six Day War: the sinking of the USS Liberty. This murderous act of Israeli aggression against its ally, the United States, was played down as a case of attacking a target mistakenly under the fog of war.

An American intelligence gathering vessel bristling with antennae and flying the stars and stripes, the Liberty was cruising off the coast of Egypt on June 8th when attacked by a combination of Israeli air and naval forces. Thirty-four of its crew were killed and 174 left wounded. The attack, which was almost certainly ordered by General Dayan, had occurred at a most sensitive stage of the war.

The Israelis, whose rout of the Egyptian army had brought about the unwanted burden of policing more prisoners of war than they could handle, had reached el Arish where hundreds of captured Egyptian soldiers had been executed. Some had been forced to dig their own graves while others were buried by native Bedouin tribesmen after Israeli soldiers had shot them and left the bodies rotting in the desert sun. The Liberty was well-placed to listen in on these events given that el Arish is a port city on the Mediterranean coast.

The other issue of crucial importance concerned Israel’s strategic conduct of the war. After its conquest of the Sinai Peninsula, Israel’s intention was to order many of its units to turn around and be redeployed so as to consolidate the capture of the West Bank and also to provide reinforcement for the units charged with attacking Syria and taking the Golan Heights.

Far from entertaining thoughts of a life or death struggle with its Arab foes which could possibly result in the mass extermination of its citizens, Israeli calculations were based on achieving certain victory. However, this would need to be accomplished within a limited time scale after which it leaders were aware that a UN Security Council-brokered ceasefire would have to be implemented.

While Israel had obtained the blessing of President Lyndon Johnson to go to war, it did not have America’s consent so far as taking over the West Bank and Syrian territory was concerned. Such actions it was felt might provoke an intervention by the Soviet Union.

Thus it was that with victory complete in the Sinai and two days left of the war, the Israelis did not want the Americans eavesdropping through the Liberty when its troops were rerouted northwards. Such was the secrecy behind the planned incursion into Syria that Prime Minister Eshkol was not told of the plan by Dayan until after he had ordered the attack on the Golan Heights.

After being closely monitored by Israeli reconnaissance planes, the Liberty was subjected to a sustained attack lasting for about two hours. The ship endured waves of attacks by strafing jets and projectiles fired from motorized torpedo boats. Crew who attempted to launch lifeboats were targeted by machine guns and napalm bombs were dropped. The intention appeared to be to sink the the ship and leave no survivors. This would have left it open for the attack to be blamed on Egypt.

Miraculously, the ship was kept afloat and a distress signal sent after having had both its tactical and distress frequencies jammed by the Israelis. Twelve fighter jets and four tanker planes stationed on the USS Saratoga, an aircraft carrier of the nearby American Sixth Fleet, were sent into action to defend the Liberty but were recalled by US Defence Secretary Robert McNamara. Once the Israelis knew that the American fleet had received word of the attack, they were quick to inform the Americans that their ship had been hit by mistake.

A cover up was effected by the Johnson administration under pressure from an ever more assertive Israeli lobby which had threatened to smear Johnson with the accusation of blood libel. Alongside this allegation of anti-Semitism would be a refusal by Jewish organisations to fund Johnson if he chose to run for reelection the following year.

Although the establishment cover up over the attack on the Liberty persists to this day several prominent American officials have over the years gone on the record to contradict the hastily arrived official verdict that it had been a mistake; Dean Rusk, a former US Secretary of State, and Admiral Thomas Moorer who was the Chairman of the Joint Chief’s of Staff at the time of the incident being among the most prominent of these dissenters.

In a perceptive insert in Newsweek magazine’s ‘Periscope’ column dated June 19th 1967, a staff writer offered the following thesis:

Although Israel’s apologies were officially accepted, some high Washington officials believe the Israelis knew the Liberty’s capabilities and suspect that the attack might not have been accidental. One top-level theory holds that someone in the Israeli armed forces ordered the Liberty sunk because he suspected it had taken down messages showing that Israel started the fighting.

Tape recordings of the dialogue of Israeli personnel during the attack which were available to American officials soon after the incident have been made public in recent years. On separate occasions, a voice is heard clearly identifying the Liberty as an American vessel. The position that the destruction of the USS Liberty was a tragic error is no longer tenable.

The truth behind the Six Day War is one which many who have been conditioned to accept the sanctity of the Israeli version of history may find shocking and difficult to comprehend. But what Israel had assured America would be a limited war turned into a land grab. It had not been a war of self-defence but one of aggression. It was also not a war waged to prevent annihilation, instead it was a war that led to dispossession and occupation.

For decades, the Six Day War has been represented as one of the stellar achievements of the reborn Jewish state. Just over two decades after the persecutions and genocide visited upon European Jewry, the Jewish David defied the prospect of certain defeat to slay the Arab Goliath in a just and audacious martial enterprise.

The technical accomplishments and personal bravery of Israeli military personnel notwithstanding, the background of false propaganda, the numerous breaches of international law and the commission of a series of war crimes all put the lie to the famous statement by Abba Eban, Israel’s long-term foreign minister that “Never in the history of nations has armed force been used in a more righteous or compelling cause.”

The effects of the occupation of the West Bank including the spread of illegal settlements, the economic strangulation of Gaza in between intermittent punitive military actions as well as the illegal annexation of the Golan Heights continue to challenge Israeli claims to righteous and moral conduct.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Saudi Arabia and the Doctrine of Global Islamist Terror

Much has been remarked about a picture taken by United States President Donald Trump on his recent visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Alongside Trump, are the monarch of the Saudi state, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. All three men were captured placing their hands on a luminescent sphere. In the dimmed surroundings, the contrast between the set of glistening supraorbital ridges and pallid glow of fleshy cheeks on the one hand and the darkened, seemingly sunken eye sockets on the other produced an effect on each man’s countenance that was both striking and startling.

If it reminded some of a pagan rite in which the participants were attempting to summon the forces of darkness, such an analogy would not be misplaced for it is an image which evokes the nature of the unholy alliance between the United States and the kingdom. Further, the fact that the event was held at an establishment which the Saudis name the ‘Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology’ also captures the diabolical cynicism of the Saudi state whose Wahhabi ideology is the underpinning factor of the phenomenon of global jihadism. This puritan mutation of Islam serves as the inspiration for a network of extremist Sunni terror militias that includes al-Qaeda, the so-called Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra and Boko Haram.

The age-long rivalries and ancient hatreds which inform Saudi foreign policy; namely those related to regimes reflecting secular nationalist and pan-Arabist thinking as well as to Persian-majority Iran, the bastion of Shiadom, have produced a situation in which Saudi Arabian geo-political objectives coalesce with those of the United States and Israel. This has meant that the Saudis have been involved in both covert and overt efforts aimed at destabilisation and balkanisation in the Middle East and North African area and beyond; a central tactic that has involved the use of Wahhabist terror groups.

The rulers of Saudi Arabia, the oil rich kingdom situated on the Arabian peninsula, have for long seen themselves as being far more than the custodians of the holy relics of Islam. They have sought to be the undisputed leaders of the Arab and Muslim world; in the past battling with the secular, pan-Arab philosophy espoused by Gamal Abdel Nasser for the heart and soul of the Arab world, and, in more recent times, contending with Shi’ite Iran for regional influence.

However, this global scale reach for power and influence over a period of many decades has resulted in a state of affairs in regard to which the following inexorable conclusion cannot be avoided: that Saudi Arabia bears the greatest responsibility for the spread of militant Islamic ideology and remains the largest sponsor of Islamist terror groups.

A leaked email written by Hillary Clinton in January 2016 included an excerpt from a private speech she had made in 2013 in which she acknowledged that “the Saudis have exported more extreme ideology than any other place on earth over the course of the last 30 years.” And a classified 2009 cable signed by Clinton while serving as US Secretary of State admitted that “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”

In July of 2013, the European Parliament identified Wahhabism, the governing doctrine of Saudi Arabia, to be the main source of global terrorism.

The Wahhabist strain of Islamic theology lies at the heart of the creation of the Saudi state. Based on a demand that Muslims return to the pure and austere faith practiced by Prophet Muhammad and his early companions in Medina, Wahhabist-thinking rejected practices such as consuming tobacco, wearing silk clothes, the adorning of gold jewelry by men, and dancing to music. It forbade the building of gravestones and mausoleums or other edifices or practices which were viewed as encouraging idol and ancestor-worship; all of which detracted from complete subservience to God. It also considered the culture and philosophy accumulated by a thousand years of Muslim civilization to be heretical. This is known in Islamic parlance as Bid’ah.

The original followers of Ibn Abdel Wahhab were Bedouin folk who felt pride in an uncomplicated puritan mode of living which stood in satisfying contrast, as they saw it, to the decadent influences which permeated the practice of Islam among the more ‘sophisticated’ city dwellers in places such as Mecca and Basra. It was also a reaction against the opulent lifestyles of the Egyptian and Ottoman nobility.

The Wahhabist gospel preached a merciless creed of proselytizing via the sword.  The takfiri doctrine designated as infidels not only those who were non-Muslim, but also Muslim adherents to the Shia and Sufi sects, and even Sunnis who did not fulfil to the letter, Wahhab’s teachings. Those who did not adhere to his teachings effectively forfeited their right to their lives and to their property. He wrote the following:

Those who would not conform to this view should be killed, their wives and daughters violated, and their possessions confiscated

The relationship between the Sauds, a Bedouin clan, and Wahhabism go back to their antecedent Muhammad al Saud, a chieftain from the Nedj, a highland area of central Arabia. Al Saud combined his military prowess with the fervour engendered by Wahhbist thinking to create what is often referred to as the first Saudi state. Among his conquests were Mecca and Medina. The Shi’ite city of Karbala was also invaded and desecrated.

The license given to pillage outlying communities was an aspect of the Wahhabi doctrine which wedded with Bedouin culture. Saud showed no mercy as he went on to establish what came to be known as the Emirate of Diriyah until his defeat in 1818 by an Egyptian Expeditionary force sent by the Ottoman rulers who took him to Istanbul where he was beheaded in front of St. Sophia. His severed head was thrown into the Bosphorus.

However, the early part of the 20th century saw the beginning of the rise of another Saudi state under a young chief of the Saud clan named Abdelaziz. Utilising the services of a Bedouin cadre of pastoralised warriors known as the Ikhwan, Saud began a series of conquests over a period of several decades which covered much of the Arabian peninsula. The survivors of Ikhwan conquest were subjected to a political and social regime which strictly enforced the tenets of Wahhabism. Saudi expansion was limited largely by the colonial presence of the British who aided Abdelaziz in destroying the Ikhwan, elements of whom rebelled against what they saw as Abdelaziz’s compromises with European infidels and the encroaching modern world fuelled by the discovery oil and its attendant wealth.

That is the history through which one can comprehend the motivation of groups such as Islamic State in destroying Roman architecture in Palmyra and of Boko Haram putting whole communities to death. Both groups have outraged the world with their treatment of females who have been subjected to concubinage and forced marriages; acts which amount to mass rape. Hostility to modern culture and its underpinning ideas are reflected in the name Boko Haram, a faux amis which stands for “Western education is a sin”. It was given by Hausa-speaking residents of the area of north-eastern Nigeria from where the group originated.

But how did the Wahhabist creed expand beyond the Arabian peninsula after the fall of the Ikhwan and the halt of the military advances of the clan of al Saud?

There are arguably two pivotal events which shaped the beginnings of what we now understand to be global jihadism. One concerns an anti-House of Saud insurrection in 1979, which is known as the ‘Siege of Mecca’. It was led by a descendant of a prominent member of the Ikhwan. The other is the role played by Saudi Arabia as part of the anti-Soviet alliance in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

On November 20th 1979, the first day of a new Muslim century, hundreds of gunmen led by a preacher by the name of Juhaymon al-Otaybi seized control of the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca. Otaybi declared that the Mahdi or “redeemer of Islam” had arrived in the form of one Mohammed Abdullah al-Qahtani.

Otaybi and his group of insurgents had the objective of overthrowing the House of Saud on the grounds that the rulers of the Saudi state had compromised the strict tenets of the Wahhabi creed which had been central to the formation of the country. They called for the expulsion of Westerners, the abolition of television and the ending of education for women. The siege lasted for two weeks. After obtaining the blessing of Wahhabi clerics, the Saudis used a detachment of French special forces to enter the Grand Mosque and flush out the rebels.

But it all came at a price. Following consultations with the class of influential fundamentalist clerics, many of whom agreed with the grievances of the rebels, the Saudis set about ‘correcting’ those areas where ‘liberalisation’ had strayed beyond acceptable limits including the media and the school curriculum. The clerics also extracted from the Saudis a commitment to pumping money into the coffers of Sunni missionary organisations with the objective of spreading the Wahhabist doctrine in Islamic universities and madrassas around the Muslim world. It is a policy which became institutionalised and continues to this day.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, occurring like the siege of Mecca in 1979, was the second critical event. The outrage felt by the Muslim world included the declaration of a fatwa by Abdelaziz Bin Baz, who later became the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia. The rulers of Saudi Arabia then became involved with ‘Operation Cyclone’, one of the longest and most expensive covert operations undertaken by the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Masterminded by Zbigniew Brzezinski, the US National Security Advisor during the administration of President Jimmy Carter, the Saudis provided a large amount of funding for the local Mujahideen as well as the bands of non-Afghan jihadis who flocked in from parts of the Muslim world. Among the multi-ethnic force of migrant warriors, the so-called ‘Afghan Arabs’, was a young, wealthy Saudi Arabian named Osama bin Laden.

It is from this endeavour overseen by the Americans and heavily funded by the Saudis that the rise of al Qaeda and global jihadism can be traced. The template of Operation Cyclone would be used by the Americans with the aid of the Saudis in future conflicts ranging from the one in Bosnia and Kosovo to the present insurrection in Syria. While funding has come from state and private sources among the Gulf states including Qatar, a country with which the Saudis have a rivalry over dominance in the Sunni world, it is safe to assume that the bulk of financing has come from Saudi sources.

A well-worn method of funnelling money and weapons to jihadist causes is through a network of Saudi-sponsored ‘charities’. It is estimated that the Saudis funded the Bosnian Mujahideen to the tune of approximately $150 million from both state and private sources. The Saudi government was reputed to be the largest donor to the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA), which served as a conduit for both finance and arms for the Mujahideen, an arrangement which broke an arms embargo.

Saudi funding for militant Islamist groups continued into the era of the so-called war on terror commenced after the September 11 attacks on American soil by what were claimed to be al-Qaeda cells. Most of the alleged 19 hijackers were identified as Saudi citizens although confusion over the identity of a number of them persists until this day.

While the United States claimed that it would wage war against Sunni Islamist groups of the sort that are claimed to have carried out the terror attacks in the name of al-Qaeda, this has not prevented it from utilizing such groups in attempting to overthrow secular Arab governments who have stood in opposition to American policy. This has invariably been pursued with the help of Saudi Arabia.

The administration of President George Bush recalibrated its policy in providing support to Sunni militant groups in achieving the end of overthrowing the Alawite-dominated government of Syria, with the Saudis playing a key role. Writing about this ‘re-direction’ in the March 2007 edition of the New Yorker magazine,  Seymour Hersh gave the following explanation of how Washington would put pressure on Hezbollah through the use of militant Lebanese Sunni groups:

In Lebanon, the Administration has cooperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shi’ite organisation that is backed by Iran. The US has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to al-Qaeda.

Four years later, this strategy would be taken to another level on Syrian soil under cover of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’. The introduction of armed jihadist mercenaries to act in concert with homegrown anti-Assad militias, the majority of which have a jihadist agenda, has produced an insurgency which has caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands and left millions internally and externally displaced.

The Saudis have continued to feature in exposes relating to the funding of these rebels. For instance, the British Daily Telegraph edition of March 8th 2013 reported an airlift of arms through Zagreb destined for Syrian rebels. According to the report, “the shipments were allegedly paid for by Saudi Arabia at the bidding of the United States, with assistance on supplying the weapons organised through Turkey and Jordan, Syria’s neighbours.”

An earlier report in the New York Times of 25 February 2013 headlined “Saudis Step Up Help for Rebels in Syria With Croatian Arms” was more definitive about Saudi involvement:

Saudi Arabia has financed a large purchase of infantry weapons from Croatia and quietly funneled them to antigovernment fighters in Syria in a drive to break the bloody stalemate that has allowed President Bashar al-Assad to cling to power, according to American and Western officials familiar with the purchases

This was not an isolated episode. In addition to the aforementioned leaked emails of Hillary Clinton, in another communication dated in 2014, Clinton cited Western intelligence sources as asserting that United States allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar supported ISIS. She wrote:

We need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistical support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region

But Clinton is not the only senior American political figure to have alluded to Saudi financing of the terror militias in Syria. Referring to “our allies in the region” in regard to which he specifically mentioned “the Saudis”, the then serving US Vice President Joe Biden, in a speech at the John Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in October 2014, revealed the following:

They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war. What did they do? They poured hundreds of millions dollars and thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad. Except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world

The Saudis have also not been averse to directing the machineries of internal control to serve as instruments of state terror as relates to the actions taken against Shia dissenters in Qatif, a governorate within the largely Shia eastern province. Its military have also undertaken brutal interventions in neighbouring countries. It invaded Shia-majority Bahrain in 2011 to suppress demonstrations by those opposed to the rule of the Sunni al-Khalifa family.  

The actions of the Saudi military in its current intervention in Yemen -albeit as part of a coalition of Arab and African states- is not premised as an operation of benevolent peacekeeping. While fighting against the Shia Houthi rebels, who Saudi Arabia claim -without providing evidence- are being aided by Iran, the Saudi military has implemented a campaign of terror directed at the civilian population. This has included airstrikes on residential complexes and market places as well as the deliberate destruction of infrastructure: health centres, farms and agricultural industry.

These all amount to war crimes. The Saudis are signatories to the additional protocol of the Geneva Conventions of August 1949 which provides the following:

It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population such as foodstuffs, crops, livestock...for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population...whatever the motive…

Saudi actions have led to what a top United Nations relief official described as a “humanitarian catastrophe”. A United Nations News Service report in July 2015 noted that eighty percent of the total Yemeni population of 26 million were in need of some form of humanitarian assistance. The threat of long-term famine is a real one.

It is important to note that the Saudi role in fomenting terrorism by waging proxy wars or interventionist wars of the sort that Yemen is, has continually been facilitated by Western powers, most notably Britain and the United States. British arms supplies and British military advisers are key components in this war. Both the CIA and MI6 were central in facilitating the transaction involving the previously mentioned airlift of arms from Zagreb to Syrian rebels in their efforts to overthrow Assad; an endeavour which according to Roland Dumas, a former French foreign minister was planned years in advance, with key input by Britain.

Saudi collusion with Nato powers fits into the historical context of Western use of militant Islam in the furtherance of geo-political objectives. Both the United States and Britain have had an enduring relationship with extremist Islamist movements and militias including the Egyptian-originated Muslim Brotherhood. For the Americans, this goes back to at least the time of the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s while Britain’s relations with the Brotherhood go further back in time to the period following its creation in the late 1920s.

Britain’s specific relationship with the ruling House of Saud has been a long-lasting one. In the early part of the 20th century, the resurgent Saudi emirate was used by the British as a means of weakening Ottoman power in the Arabian Peninsula despite Winston Churchill’s misgivings about Ibn Saud’s followers being “bloodthirsty” and “intolerant”. The logic that Saudi Arabia is a worthy ally because of its oil wealth and geo-strategic position is one which underpins its relations with Britain.

This also applies to the United States. The assessment by British policymakers in 1947 of Saudi oil as “a vital prize for any power interested in world influence or domination” captures the essence of America’s ties with the Saudi kingdom.

The relationship between both nations, one self-avowedly democratic and republican and the other an absolute monarchy, steeped in medieval-era feudalism, is one which is riddled with contradiction and hypocrisy.

At its heart is the supply of Saudi oil which President Franklin Roosevelt explained would be the determining factor in shaping the alliance. It is one which is predicated on a series of Faustian-like bargains. In 1971, with the aim of propping up the faltering dollar after taking the United States off the gold standard, President Richard Nixon negotiated a deal whereby the United States would guarantee to militarily protect the Saudis in return for the Saudis guaranteeing the sale of the oil they produce in US dollars. The aim of this pact is to assure the survivability of the US dollar as the world’s dominant reserve currency.

The relationship has evolved to encompass collusion in the arming and training of jihadi militias pursuant to each country’s hegemonic objectives: for the Americans global economic and military dominance and for the Saudis, dominance in the Arab and Muslim world.

The question of terrorism has at various junctures served to complicate Saudi relations with both America and Britain. For instance, in 2016, the Saudis threatened to dump billions of United States assets in retribution if a bill by American lawmakers holding Saudi Arabia responsible for the September 11th terror attacks was passed. It stemmed from the revelation that 28 pages had been redacted from a report on the atrocity.

In the case of Britain, a long-term supplier of arms and who like the Americans have played a key part in training the National Guard, the issue arose when the Saudis threatened to withdraw from security cooperation with British intelligence agencies over a decision by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to commence an investigation into allegations of bribery involving members of the Saudi royal family and government officials in an arms deal between BAE Systems and the Saudi government.

After pressure from the highest levels of the government of Tony Blair, the investigation was discontinued. A subsequent judicial review by the highest court in Britain accepted the argument by the government that the threat issued by the Saudis, which the British government claimed would have led to an increased threat of terrorism in Britain was a relevant consideration to be taken into account by the head of the SFO in making the decision to abort the investigation.

Court papers revealed that the rulers of Saudi Arabia had threatened to make it easier to attack London unless the inquiry was stopped. Secret files described how investigators were told that Britain would be faced with “another 7/7” and the loss of “British lives on British streets” if the investigation was not discontinued. The threats to withhold information related to potential suicide bombers and terrorists were claimed to have been made by Prince Bandar, when head of the Saudi National Security Council, on a visit to London in December of 2006.

The irony was that Tony Blair, to whom Bandar must have voiced such threats, had five years earlier described Saudi Arabia as “a good friend in the international coalition against terrorism”.

This hypocritical disconnect from reality has for long typified the Western relationship with the Saudis. Blair’s predecessor, Margaret Thatcher once claimed that the Saudis “never used arms irresponsibly”; a statement which jars today given the use of British-supplied arms by the Saudi military in the present conflict in Yemen. Thatcher’s 1981 declaration that “the hearts of the free world” were with the Afghan Mujahideen must also rankle those aware of the mutation of several of its component parts into al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

The frequent claims by contemporary British and American political and military leaders that Iran is the “the world’s biggest sponsor of terrorism” does not stand to scrutiny. All the major acts of terror carried out in the West in the name of Islam have emanated from Sunni and not Shia militants. It is a bias which extends to criticisms leveled at Iran’s electoral process while Western politicians say little or nothing about the lack of democratic institutions in Saudi society.

Saudi Arabia’s quest for dominance in the Muslim and Arab world is not based on spreading enlightened values. There are no features in its society which would for instance encourage movements designed to develop civil society or the intellectual critique of episodes in Muslim and Arab history as pertain to the issues of slavery and genocide. Its human rights failings are well documented and the problems of discrimination in relation to the ceiling faced by female, Shia and black Saudi citizens remain largely unaddressed.

It is clear that the “shared interests and values” claimed by Donald Trump on his recent visit to Saudi Arabia to be at the basis of the partnership between the Americans and the Saudis are not predicated on what could be termed universal moral and ethical standards of behaviour. It is a partnership which is primarily based on the determined acquisition of power and domination which has been guided by an ends justifies the means ethos.

This in the final analysis is the reason why Saudi Arabia, with the complicity of its Western backers, will not escape history’s judgement as the greatest purveyor of fundamentalist-based Islamic terror.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)

Adeyinka Makinde is a London-based writer. He can be followed on Twitter @AdeyinkaMakinde