Understanding the real enemy of peace

Updated 22 April 2016

Understanding the real enemy of peace

US President Barack Obama’s visit to the Kingdom bookends his two-term relationship with the Middle East. He began with the Cairo speech. It offered such hope to the Arab world. A just Palestinian settlement seemed a clear reality.
Yet Obama approaches the end of his incumbency with the region in turmoil. Peace in Palestine is more remote than ever.
It is fitting that he chose to come to meet with Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman. Because the two countries agree on so much, it is important that their differences be ironed out.
Riyadh and Washington are as one against terrorism. It could be argued that no other two countries have devoted as much time and effort to fighting the evil. They stand shoulder to shoulder. They have benefited from the exchange of key data. Our own anti-terrorism operations in the Kingdom have been a example to other countries. The UN Counter-Terrorism Center (UNCCT) was begun with $100 million donation from Saudi Arabia.
Obama recognizes the importance of the Saudi-led Yemen intervention. He recognizes the significance of all the GCC states in combating terrorism not just in Yemen, but around the world. Yet the president has also pursued rapprochement with Washington’s implacable enemy Iran. And Iran sits behind so much of the terrorism that afflicts the region. To many, this simply does not compute.
Since 1979 Iran has stood uncompromisingly for aggression. It has not deviated in this policy. Its pursuit of nuclear weapons was only one facet of its plans. But that drive brought it the crippling penalty of economic sanctions. The US-led campaign succeeded. It forced Iran to the negotiating table. Then things began to go wrong. The talks to end the uranium weaponization program were long and tortuous. The Iranians equivocated at every turn. When a deal seemed within reach, the Iranian delegation suddenly resiled. Top politicians who had flown in for the big moment, repacked their bags and headed home. Exhausted negotiators returned wearily to the conference table. The Iranian nuclear talks will provide a masterclass in diplomacy for years to come. Tehran bamboozled Washington and the international community into the wrong deal.
The Kingdom could not have been louder in its warnings. Had the sanctions continued, Iran would have been ruined. A very different government might have emerged. That government might have admitted its international responsibilities. It might have ended its meddling in the internal affairs of other states.
Yet because the negotiations were so protracted, their original impetus seemed to be forgotten. They were no longer about obliging Iran to toe the line. The deal itself became the central cause. It became apparent that Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry were mesmerized by the need to have the talks finally brought to an end. The details almost became irrelevant. The ultimate goal had morphed into getting Iran to sign something.
The will of the international community seemed to collapse in the face of endless Iranian gamesmanship. History will show that Iran won in a contest in which it began as the weakest player. No longer sanctioned, it is free to pursue the very aggression that brought about sanctions in the first place. Obama and his successor next January now have to cope with the consequences.
The ogre of terrorism is not exclusively Iranian-inspired. The rise of Al-Qaeda and Daesh is directly attributable to Washington’s disastrous Iraq invasion. That failure was compounded by the refusal to act decisively in Syria. In humanitarian terms the result has been appalling for the Syrian people. In security terms, it has been a catastrophe. Terrorism is a monster which threatens the entire world.
Saudi Arabia and GCC leaders met in Riyadh. Morocco's King Mohammed was one of the guests. They affirmed their support for Morocco in its own battle against terrorism in the Sahara.
Obama is essentially a man of peace. He would rather talk than be confrontational. The Kingdom also has long pursued the path of peace. It does not seek to interfere in the affairs of other states. It too has preferred quiet diplomacy and statesmanship. But there comes a time when negotiations no longer work. There comes a point when reluctantly, the use of military power is essential. This has happened in Yemen. It is happening now in the air campaign against Daesh in Iraq and Syria. But success also depends on understanding who is the real enemy of peace. In the Middle East, that enemy is Iran.

EDITORIAL: Jeddah floods a reminder of why we need the anti-corruption drive

Saudi drivers take a flooded street in Jeddah on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 22 November 2017

EDITORIAL: Jeddah floods a reminder of why we need the anti-corruption drive

It has happened again. The roads, streets and many underpasses in Jeddah were flooded with rainwater on Tuesday. Many areas were turned into lakes because of the heavy, though forecast, downpour. In some areas, water was knee-deep while in others it was chest-deep. People were stuck in their vehicles and many were seen pushing their vehicles to the side of the roads with great difficulty. In low-lying areas, citizens struggled to remove their belongings from flooded houses.

For the residents of Jeddah, rain has, more often than not, brought trouble and devastation. Whenever the skies open up, thoughts go back to that “Black Wednesday” of November 25, 2009, when more than 100 people lost their lives and property worth billions of riyals was destroyed. An investigation was opened into the disaster and some of the guilty were taken to court and tried; some of the small fry were even jailed. As has been the case in the past, the mighty arm of the law could barely touch those at the top who enjoyed immunity from prosecution.

And so it was business as usual until the rain began to wreak havoc again, reminding us that the laws of nature take their course and that hiding your head in the sand does not chase the clouds away.

Having said that, it must be admitted that, yes, lessons were learned. A disaster management team was set up. The weather forecast department became active in issuing alerts. In fact, Tuesday could have been far worse had it not been for the timely alert from the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment (PME) and a prompt decision by the Ministry of Education to suspend classes, schools and universities in and around Jeddah. That helped in keeping people and vehicles off the streets. At noon on Tuesday, it looked as if the city were under some kind of curfew.

The questions that are on everyone's minds right now are: Why is it that rain renders the city helpless and immobile at this time every year? Why have efforts to create effective rainwater drainage systems not borne fruit despite pumping billions of riyals into new projects such as dams and canals? Why is it that the authorities are found wanting whenever heavy rain occurs? More importantly, what is the solution?

Here is the answer. These floods are a stark reminder of why the current drive against corruption is so essential. It is required in order to instill the fear of law into high-ranking officials and heads of construction companies and civic bodies who have failed in their responsibilities. Those who have cut corners and have pocketed public money, those who have not delivered on the projects and who have provided substandard services must pay for their sins of omission.

This is exactly what is happening. No one is above the law. The guilty, whoever they are, however high up they are, will have to pay — and they are. In this new era of transparency and accountability — initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — word has gone down from top to bottom that no one is immune. If you are guilty you will be punished. Those responsible for the havoc of the floods on Tuesday will have no rest either.