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Saudi Arabia: The vital factor in the Middle East cauldron
The scenario in the Middle East is changing fast and at the centre of it is neither the United States or the coalition of countries it leads nor Russia but Saudi Arabia, the Wahabbi country which had so long acted as the source and ultimate prop of many Islamist activities in the Arab world. Continuous crash of oil prices and the rise of the Islamic States (IS) have forced Riyadh to move away from the US sphere of influence and start charting out its own course.
 
Notwithstanding the recent execution of Sheikh Nimr-al-Nimr, the opposition Shiite cleric, it can be said with a fair amount of certainty that Riyadh is now trying to come out of its self-created cocoon.
 
Two recent developments point out that Saudi Arabia is prepared to give Russia a space in Middle Eastern affairs. First, preparations are on for Saudi King Salman's visit to Russia later this year. Secondly, the Saudi deputy crown prince and defence minister, Mohammed Bin Salman, visited Russia last June. Following closely on this, Turki-al-Faisal, the former intelligence chief, stated that Russian actions in Syria were more effective than those of the US and that Russia's views merit attention and respect.
 
But it would be wrong to presume that Saudi Arabia is aligning with Russia on the Syrian question. Riyadh is worried about Iranian expansion in the Middle East and the US taking a soft line on the country after the nuclear agreement with Tehran. Saudi Arabia will now try to dominate the Middle East scenario on its own and in keeping with this line, Turkish President Recep Erdogan visited Saudi Arabia on December 30, 2015. Riyadh has also built up a strong coalition comprising the oil rich Arab countries.
 
But, will Saudi Arabia be really able to dominate the Middle Eastern scenario? Objective conditions preclude such a possibility. There are unmistakable signs that willy-nilly it is tilting towards Russia although that may not be the wish of the Saudi Royal household. Two principal reasons for it are the military fatigue in Yemen and a resource crunch due to Syria. There will be a $100 billion deficit in Saudi Arabia's budget for 2016. Last year, the budget deficit was 21.6 percent of the GDP and the country barely managed to survive by earlier petro dollar savings.
 
What will, however, affect the Middle East scenario the most is the decision by the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency to withdraw $70 billion from foreign investment fund assets last summer. This will certainly cut down on siphoning of money to terror related organizations through official channels. Moreover, the financial health of Saudi Arabia's friends in the region are also not good. Reliable estimates put the budget deficits of Middle Eastern oil exporting countries in the next five years around $1 trillion.
 
It is difficult to predict how long Saudi Arabia can keep up pressure in Yemen or Syria with such a shaky financial condition. It may not go bankrupt in the near future but the Saudi royal family must look for avenues to push up prices of oil, which came down to less than $50 a barrel last September, a sharp nose-dive from $103 in September 2014.
 
Here lies the raison d' etre for Saudi overtures to Russia for cooperation. Riyadh is now looking for an "alliance for oil" partnership with Russia which will also give it a foothold in the Eurasian Economic Union. With this end in view Prince Salman had talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Sochi Olympics in 2014. This was followed by the Russian energy minister's talks with his counterparts in Saudi Arabia and Iran.
 
Three consecutive IS attacks on Saudi mosques have reportedly convinced King Salman about the need for fashioning a new security strategy that puts a premium on choosing an independent course of action, away from US tutelage. Even on Yemen, Saudi Arabia is now open to negotiations. Although Riyadh still demands removal of Bashr-al-Assad as a precondition for ushering in of peace in Syria, yet Brigadier General Ali Mamlouk, head of the Syrian National Security Bureau, was hosted in Riyadh by no less than the deputy crown prince last July.
 
Russian military intervention in the Middle East has induced a new type of assessment among all the stakeholders. The US led coalition's attack on the IS has undergone a qualitative change. The US attacks are now hitting the IS really hard. Meanwhile, to establish its credibility with international powers King Salman has fired Prince Bandar, a former intelligence chief, who had his fingers in many CIA-orchestrated operations. Now, a secret Saudi Arabian document has surfaced which shows that the King Salman-led administration has instructed its Middle Eastern embassies not to fund Syrian rebels any more.
 
Does this really portend a fundamental shift in terror-related Middle Eastern politics?
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

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COMMENTS

Meenal Mamdani

11 months ago

A cogent analysis.
There is another reason behind Saudi move. It is worried about its survival. Thus far it has managed to keep its puritan Wahhabi clerics happy by providing funds for exporting their ideas around the world. But there is widespread knowledge and disapproval of the Saudi royal persons' lifestyle which does not follow Wahhabi tenets. It would be good to have another potential ally in case USA does not wish to come to its aid in view of its warming relations with Shia Iran.
However why it would raise the local temperature by executing a prominent Shia cleric is difficult to comprehend.

Alwin

11 months ago

Good Analysis

Pulse Beat
Use & Abuse of Anti-oxidants
Oxidants are bad and anti-oxidants are life-saving; they should be taken on a daily basis: This has been the biggest myth in medicine that refuses to go away, even today. Millions of dollars’ worth anti-oxidants are sold every day, all over the world.
 
Scientific facts, discovered for some time now, have not been able to stop this misuse and abuse of anti-oxidants.
 
Vitamin ‘Supplements’
Anyone who goes for a check-up has low vitamin D levels. Who set the normal is anybody’s guess. Taking vitamin D supplements could be dangerous but the myth about vitamin D replacement is another big myth that does not go away.
 
Calcium supplements in the elderly are the most dangerous practice that might increase the risk even of a heart attack. But the myth about the need for calcium supplement in old age is alive and was a big market even until 2015.
 
‘Safety’ of Vaccinations
This is another dangerous myth. Many vaccines these days are not even properly checked before being administered. A few essential vaccines may be good; but many newer ones are not needed and could even be dangerous. But the vaccine myth persists as many in the mainline profession support their use. Today, as many as 69 jabs are given to children by the time they reach the age of 18 years. If vaccines are so safe and essential, why is there an exemption from compensation for victims of side-effects of vaccines? Why are some vaccines tested clandestinely on ignorant poor children?
 
Angiogram Is a ‘Diagnostic Test’
This is the biggest lie of the medical world. Coronary artery blocks are not synonymous with coronary artery disease. Healthy young men in the American army—after being shot dead in the battlefield—had their post-mortem angiograms which showed up to 74% blocks in one, two or three vessels; but had no coronary artery disease. Angiogram is only indicated for patients whose clinical picture demands a coronary revascularisation. The angiogram is just to know the coronary anatomy for plumbing. Today, angiograms are a big business for disease fear-mongering. This is more than a myth as it is a business-generated myth which will not die!
 
‘Regular Check-up’ Saves Lives
Nothing can be farther from the truth. Even cancer screening is dangerous. Other screening tests are very dangerous as anyone who goes for a check-up comes out as a patient! This is because we equate averages as normal. Applying these yardsticks to healthy men and women will throw up anywhere between 5% to 25% false positives. But, it is a very good business proposition.
 
‘Lifesaving, Routine’ PSA Test 
Routine test for PSA (prostrate-specific antigen) level was recommended by the United States Government (USG) in the past; but that has now been given up as dangerous. But the myth about PSA test is taking a heavy toll of human happiness and might even endanger life through cancer phobia.  
 
Uterus Removal
In a village in Telangana, all women above the age of 40, and with children, have no uterus at all. Additionally, a large percentage of them do not have their ovaries. This was a study by Dr Kamaeshwari, a dedicated gynaecologist, who is fighting against this myth—that women do not need the uterus after the age of 45 and will benefit by having them removed to prevent cancer. This is not true. It is one of those never-say-die type of myths perpetuated by the medical profession.

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