Saudi Aramco: The Company and the State

Saudi Aramco: The Company and the State

Al Jazeera (2019)

Film Review

It never occurred to me before watching this film that Saudi Aramco, the Saudi oil company isn’t a publicly traded company. In other words, it has no shareholders – it’s entirely owned by the Saudi royal family.

In 2016, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman announced plans to do an IPO (initial public offering) and list the company either on Wall Street or the London stock exchange. Had it gone forward, the IPO would have been the largest in global history. Saudi Aramco, which the Saudi government values at $2 trillion, had hoped to sell 5% of the company to private shareholders for $100 billion. The Crown Prince proposed to use these funds to finance his Public Investment Fund and Vision 2030.*

Late last year the IPO was mysteriously cancelled.

International oil analysts dispute whether Aramco is really worth $2 trillion, largely because they question the size of Saudi oil reserves. Despite the absence of any new oil discoveries (and pumping out 100 billion barrels in 30 years), the Saudi government maintains their reserves still stand at 261 billion barrels (as they did in 1989).

When bin Saman’s father Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud ascended to the throne in 2015, he made drastic changes to the law of succession, essentially concentrating power in the hands of his son Mohammad. Some of bin Abdulaziz’s brothers remain attached to a system in which the royal family made collective decisions instead of ceding power to a single monarch. Several reportedly opposed Vision 2030, which is why the Crown Prince had them arrested in 2017 and confiscated their estates.

The capital flight triggered by these arrests not only scared off foreign investors, but also cast a cloud over Aramco’s potential ability to attract shareholders.

Analysts also point to other factors in bin Salman’s decision to postpone the IPO:

  1. Saudi budgetary problems stemming from military over-commitments in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria.
  2. Ongoing economic blockade against regional ally Qatar.
  3. The absence of a stable Saudi system of taxation (at present Aramco revenues fund 87% of the government budget).
  4. The absence of a a work ethic in Saudi Arabia. Because basic needs are heavily subsidized, the Saudi population doesn’t tend to see work as a valuable part of their lives – leading to enormous government dependence on foreign workers.

*Saudi Vision 2030 is a plan to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy, and develop public service sectors such as health, education, infrastructure, recreation and tourism

 


 

The Price of Oslo: How the Oslo Accords Set the Palestinian Cause Back 20 Years

The Price of Oslo

Al Jazeera (2013)

Film Review

The Price of Oslo is a two part documentary about the 1993 Oslo Accords, which according to many analysts, set the Palestinian cause back at least 20 years.

Episode 1 explores the background leading both Palestine and Israel to accept Norway as a “neutral” mediator. Israel welcomed the participation of Norway, as they replaced Iran as Israel’s primary oil supplier after the Shah was overthrown in 1977. In addition Norway’s ruling pro-Zionist Socialist Labor Party had extremely close ties with Israel’s ruling Socialist Labor Party.

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) accepted Norway’s mediator role because of close personal ties they developed with Norwegian soldiers deployed as UN peacekeepers after Israel’s 1978 invasion of south Lebanon.*

Many Mideast analysts believe the PLO was on the verge of collapse in the late 1980s,  when Norway offered to set up a secret back channel for Arafat to participate in secret negotiations with the Israeli government.

The Norwegian government subsequently arranged for Palestinian and Israeli delegates to hold secret talks in Oslo and Israel under the auspices of FAFO, a Norwegian trade union think tank allegedly conducting “research” in Israel.


* The PLO was headquartered in Lebanese refugee camps prior to their expulsion from Lebanon in 1982.

Episode 2 describes how the secret FAFO negotiations took place in parallel with “official” Washington DC negotiations overseen by the Clinton administration. It also reveals how the entire Palestinian delegation disagreed with the concessions Arafat demanded they consent to. They most vehemently disagreed with Israel’s “deal breakers” that negotiations not include the status of Jerusalem, the right of return of Palestinian refugees, nor UN involvement in the ultimate peace settlement.

In the final Oslo Accords signed in August 1993, the Palestinians were granted limited autonomy (an elected Palestinian Authority) in areas of the occupied West Bank and Gaza that excluded “military zones” and Israeli settlements. In return, the Palestinians agreed to allow Israel to assume overall responsibility for “security,” to allow continued building of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine and to vigorously police “terrorist” activities carried on by anti-Israeli activists.

The only concession the PLO received was an agreement for the Israeli Defense Force to withdraw from Jericho and Gaza.**

Renowned Palestinian scholar and activist Edward Said was deeply shocked by the concessions Arafat agreed to, which he blamed on the “decay” of the PLO leadership. The Oslo Accord, according to Said, transformed the PLO from a “movement of national liberation to a municipality.” Owing to the extreme secrecy under which they occurred, Israel came out the clear winner of the Oslo negotiations. Had the Palestinian people known about the self-defeating concessions Arafat was making, they would never have allowed them to go forward.

With the Palestinian Authority brutally policing their own dissidents and activists to enforce “peace” in Israel/Palestine, the most important outcome for Israel was hundreds of millions in foreign investment.


*It would take the IDF until 2006 to withdraw from Gaza. (see The Back Story on Hamas)

 

Rendition: How the CIA and MI6 Kidnapped and Rendered Dissidents to Libya to be Tortured

Libya’s Muamar Gaddafi, Torture, Rendition and the West

Al Jazeera (2018)

Film Review

This documentary is about a secret agreement between US, UK and German intelligence to kidnap anti-Gaddafi dissidents around the world and fly them to Libya – to be imprisoned, tortured and/or killed by Gaddafi’s security officials.

Following the 2011 Libyan revolution, rebels captured a trove of security documents verifying these secret agreements. One document reveals the CIA, as well as UK and German intelligence, met with Libyan intelligence officials one week after 9-11 (while Libya was still under UN sanctions) to agree the details of the program. Documents also reveal that western intelligence officers were fully aware that Gaddafi tortured and murdered dissidents he detained in his prisons.

Western intelligence referred to the secret kidnappings – of victims that included pregnant women and children as young as six – as extraordinary rendition.

Following the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Gaddafi claimed to have a nuclear weapons program and offered to give it up to have Libyan sanctions lifted. There followed an eight year period of improved relations involving billions in oil deals for British Petroleum, as well as Gaddafi’s alleged funding of French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign .

The film focuses on two anti-Gaddafi dissidents kidnapped and “rendered” to Libya by UK intelligence. Both filed suit against the British government in 2012. One withdrew from the lawsuit in 2015 after receiving a 2.2 million pound settlement. The other received a full apology from Prime Minister Theresa May in May 2018.


*Sarkozy has been indicted for violating French campaign financing laws but has yet to go to trial.

 

The Civil War in Libya

The Lust for Libya: How a Nation Was Torn Apart Part 2

Al Jazeera (2018)

Film Review

Part 2 of Lust for Libya links the 2011 “uprisings” in Libya to the Arab Spring uprisings elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa.

It makes no mention of the CIA role in fomenting and arming the rebellion in Libya, along with the more peaceful 2001 Arab Spring “color revolutions.” See The Arab Spring: Made in the USA

I was surprised to learn the 2011 NATO bombing campaign was spearheaded by French president Nicolas Sarkozy (whose 2007 election campaign was financed by Gaddafi) and former UK prime minister David Cameron. It was they who approached the Obama administration as a third partner.

In total NATO bombers embarked on 20,000 sorties and 67,000 total bombings to virtually destroy Libya’s civilian infrastructure. With US intelligence support, rebel fighters captured, tortured and executed Gaddafi as he was fleeing Tripoli. With his demise, Libya became a failed state as it descended into a civil war between rival armed militias.

Libya’s National Oil Company and its central bank continued to operate, and for some bizarre reason the new de facto government (National Transition Council) granted a salary to all past and present militia fighters – a move that clearly fuels the ongoing war.

Libya has held a number of parliamentary elections since 2011, but none has been able to control the militias or effectively rebuild state institutions.

In 2015, the UN created the government of National Accord, which meets in Tripoli, although any government institutions that continue to operate are run by militias. A CIA-linked exile General Khalifa Hafter has created a rival government run by the Libyan National Army and which has seized the oil ports and all oil production.

France, the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are all supplying Hafter with weapons, in open violation of a UN arms embargo. Italy backs the Government of National Accord because they control natural gas resources Italy depends on – and, to some extent, the flow of African refugees departing from Libya for Italy.

Part 2 begins at 47 minutes.

Ameria’s Guns: Secret Pipeline to Syria

America’s Guns: Secret Pipeline to Syria

Al Jazeera (2018)

Film Review

This documentary concerns a recent investigation into a gun smuggling operation in which the Pentagon contracts with Miami arms dealers to procure Soviet-style weapons from Bulgaria, Croatia and Serbia and secretly ship them to “moderate” rebels in Syria. Once they arrive in Syria, the “moderate” rebels frequently hand the weapons on to Al-Nusra (al-Qaeda) and ISIS militants who fight alongside them.

The investigation reveals that the US Department of Defense has a preference for old Soviet-style weapons because a) they are cheaper and easier to operate and b) they are harder to trace back to the US government. Thus it would appear the US government is fully aware their weapons are ending up in the hands of ISIS terrorists. The US government even has a technical term – “operational necessity” – for this type of subterfuge.

The Pentagon also uses private companies to train the Syrian rebels in the use of these weapons.

This secret arms smuggling network first came to public attention after one the private special operations contractors (involved in training Syrian rebels) sued the US government for injuries he received in a freak explosion.

 

How the US Recycles Child Soldiers as Paid Mercenaries

Child Soldiers Reloaded: The Privatisation of War

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

This documentary explores the hidden history of the private mercenaries (aka “contractors”) who have been fighting the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. When Bush invaded Afghanistan (in 2001) and Iraq (in 2003), unbeknownst to the American public, he deployed nearly as many private mercenaries as enlisted troops. Although they cost at least ten times as much as GIs, using private mercenaries was far more palatable to taxpayers. For several reasons.

When the media reports “boots on the ground” in any given conflict, they never include private mercenaries. Likewise, deaths and injuries of mercenaries are never reported in casualty figures.

Besides the enormous expense of using mercenaries to fight US wars, an even bigger drawback is their failure to engage in “hearts and minds” operations that are essential in winning civilian support for US military occupation. For the post part, US-funded mercenaries are despised in Iraq and Afghanistan because of their arrogance, recklessness and lack of accountability for civilian deaths. The filmmakers depict this cocksure flamboyant swaggering quite brilliantly.

Initially a second major drawback was a total absence of coordination between number private companies providing mercenaries in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Pentagon “solved” this problem by hiring yet another private company, the London-based firm Aegis, to coordinate all the other private companies.

When Bush finally withdrew US troops from Iraq in 2007-2008, the private mercenaries remained. However owing to the massive unpopularity of the war, the Defense Department significantly reduced their budget. Whereas mercenaries from the US and other developed countries are paid $1,000 a day, Peruvian and Columbia mercenaries are paid $1,000 a month (see America’s $33 Mercenaries).

Initially Aegis cut costs by switching to Ugandan mercenaries they paid $800 a month. Then they hit pay direct in Sierra Leon, with former child soldiers willing to fight in Iraq for $250 a month.

All the former child soldiers kidnapped to fight in Sierra Leone’s civil war (1991-2002) have been deeply traumatized. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars western countries have pumped into rehabilitating them, many remain too impulsive and aggressive to integrate into society. There are no jobs for them in Sierra Leone: thus their willingness to fight and die in Iraq for $8.30 a day.

The Pentagon keeps no official record of the number of mercenaries it deploys in Afghanistan and Iraq, nor the number killed there, nor the number who are former child soldiers.

 

Turkish Invasion Pits Neocons Against Traditional Imperialists

Syrian Kurds celebrate a victory over ISIS. One of the most disciplined forces in the region—aside from Damascus’ own army and Hezbollah—they have been well armed and trained. Their military includes women fighters. Their alliance with the USA will probably cost them dearly.

 

US foreign policy in the Middle East is not merely adrift, it is in a state of severe crisis.

Even as Turkish tanks and warplanes continue to pound US allies in northwestern Syria (The Kurds), powerbrokers in the White House and the Pentagon are unable to settle on a way forward. The frantic attempts to placate their NATO ally, Turkey, while trying to assuage the fears of their mostly Kurdish proxy-army (Syrian Democratic Forces) has further underscored the dismal absence of a coherent policy that would not only address the rapidly-changing battlespace  but also deal with the prospect that a critical regional ally (Turkey) might seek strategic objectives that are directly at odds with those of Washington.  The present disaster that is unfolding in the Afrin canton in Syria’s northwest corner could have been avoided had the Trump administration abstained from announcing that it planned a permanent military presence in east Syria, which implied its tacit support for an independent Kurdish state. This, in fact, was the trigger for the current crisis, the provocation that set the dominoes in motion.

The unexpected escalation of fighting on the ground (Afrin), along with Turkey’s promise to clear the Syrian border all the way to Iraq, has only increased the sense of panic among Trump’s top national security advisors who are making every effort to minimize the damage by trying to bring Turkey’s invasion to a swift end. As yet, there is no sign that Turkey will stop its onslaught short of achieving its goals which involve defeating elements of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) that have joined the US-backed SDF. Ankara has already warned Washington that it will defend its national security against Kurdish forces (which it considers “terrorists”) whether US troops are located in the area or not. The possibility that one NATO ally might actually attack US Special Forces operating on the ground in Syria has ignited a flurry of diplomatic activity in Washington and across Europe. What started as an announcement that was intended to send a warning to Moscow and Tehran that the US planned to be in Syria “for the long-haul”, has dramatically backfired pitting Ankara against Washington while casting doubt on the Trump administration’s ability to diffuse a potentially-explosive situation. . .

Source: http://www.greanvillepost.com/2018/02/01/turkish-invasion-pits-neocons-against-traditional-imperialists/