Al Arabiya TV carries a story about the black and grey markets in oil that are now springing up in the conflict-torn Middle East. ISIS, which has gained control over large parts of the Iraqi oil fields and most of those of Syria, is selling heavily discounted oil — often at a 70%-80% discount — to shadowy buyers. These buyers, if they can mix in their black market purchases with legitimate oil, stand to gain enormously. But ISIS, even selling at a discount, is said to be earning up to $1 million per day.

Libya, also caught up in internal conflict, is seeing attempts to move oil outside of government control.

The case of the Kurds is more “iffy”. There’s a lack of clarity about whether their sale of newly-produced oil is illegal and, at least for now, it seems that it’s being tolerated internationally. The US, for instance, recently accepted a tankerload of Kurdish oil. If this continues, then attempts to create an independent, non-OPEC oil-producer state of Kurdistan becomes much more likely. This, of course, would be at the expense of a unified Iraq.

Sales of black market oil surge in Middle East
Paul Crompton | Al Arabiya News

Crude oil sales through non-governmental channels are a rising trend in the Middle East, with Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) radical fighters and Iraqi Kurdistan getting in on the action, experts say.

In conflict-ridden, oil-drenched Iraq, both ISIS and the Iraqi Kurdistan administration are shifting barrels through non-governmental, albeit vastly different, supply chains, while the weakened central authorities in Baghdad remain unable to take action.

For ISIS, the clandestine trade in crude involves loading oil from its seized oil fields onto trucks and selling it to shadowy parties – often Kurdish businessmen – at a knockdown discount.

The lucrative practice currently nets the Jihadist group around $1 million a day, according to industry journal Iraq Oil Report.

Meanwhile…

U.N. warns against oil trading with ISIS


July:29:2014 - 05:53 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

According to Debka, the Israel-oriented news source of dubious reliability, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Egypt have colluded to create the current situation in Gaza. The Debka piece, behind a paywall at its own site, has been picked up by several other media, here the UK-based Middle East Monitor

Saudi, Egypt and Israel work together in Gaza attack

The war on Gaza is planned and orchestrated by Israel, Saudi and Egypt, a report by DEBKA-Net-Weekly said yesterday.

“Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, Egyptian President Fatah Al-Sisi and Netanyahu… [are] in constant communication on the war’s progress and confers on its next steps. Our sources reveal daily conferences, and sometimes more, between King Abdullah and President Sisi over a secure phone line,” the newsletter said.

DEBKA, thought to have close ties with Israeli intelligence agencies, said the world leaders go to great lengths to ensure their alliance remains undiscovered “given the political and religious sensitivities of their relationship”. Fearful of having even their secure lines intercepted, they prefer to send secret missions to visit each other and discuss the ongoing conflict.

“Israel keeps a special plane parked at Cairo’s military airport ready to lift off whenever top-secret messages between Sisi and Netanyahu need to be delivered by hand. The distance between Cairo and Tel Aviv is covered in less than an hour and a half,” DEBKA explained.

The report, which was also used in some British reporting, drew a prompt denial from the Saudi Ambassador in London, according to Saudi Gazette:

Kingdom: Reports on Israeli ties ‘baseless lies’


July:27:2014 - 05:28 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Asharq Alawsat runs an interview with former US Ambassador Mark Hambly. Hambly, who had a reputation as one of the best “Arabists” in the State Dept., ran the Regional Media Center in London during and following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. In the interview, he explains why the Center was established in London.

The Center, in fact, was an expansion of the program I established in 1996-97 while I was the Information Officer at the embassy. I hired the first Arab support personnel for that office because it was abundantly clear that the pan-Arab media based in London — both print and satellite broadcast — was critically important and needed full-time attention. My job was to deal with the British media, a more than full-time job itself, but I was able to convince Washington that the Arabic media needed to be addressed as well. With the Iraq war, this became even more obvious, so the new Center was created. I was in Riyadh by then.

Mark Gregory Hambley: Coverage of the Arab–Israeli conflict
is biased on both sides

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Thanks to the presence of a number of pan-Arab newspapers and media outlets (including Asharq Al-Awsat) in London, for the last decade the US Embassy in the city has played host to one of the State Department’s Regional Media Hubs which aims to conduct ‘public diplomacy’ in the Arab World, engage with Arab and Iranian journalists, and monitor the Arab media.

Mark Gregory Hambley—a former US ambassador to Qatar and Lebanon—was appointed its first director when it was set up in 2003, after a decades-long career as a diplomat in the Middle East. Since retiring from the State Department in 2005, he has acted as an occasional advisor and consultant to the US government. Asharq Al-Awsat recently spoke to Ambassador Hambley about his time as director of the Hub and American efforts to engage with Arab media over the past ten years.


July:22:2014 - 08:45 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

The Great Game was the rivalry that played out between the British Empire and the Russian Empire in the 19th and early 20th C. for supremacy in Central Asia. Today, there’s a new “Great Game” being played out in iraq, says Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

The rise of ISIS/ISIL and the declaration of a new “Islamic State” have brought into high relief the problems sectarian violence in the region. The direct causes are many, but the effects are a multiple of that, affecting all states in the region, including Saudi Arabia.

Cordesman’s piece is meant as possible guidance for US policy-makers. It’s an interesting analysis.

The New “Great Game” in the Middle East: Looking Beyond the “Islamic State” and Iraq
Anthony Cordesman

The U.S. has good reason to try to prevent the creation of a violent, extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, to reverse the gains of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria)/ ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham), and to help move Iraq back towards a more stable and unified form of government. The chances, however, are that the U.S. can at best have only partial success. The U.S. faces years in which Iraq is divided by sectarian and ethnic power struggles, the Syrian civil war continues, facilitating some form of radical Sunni threat crossing the border between Syria and Iraq.

ISIS/ISIL did not suddenly materialize in Iraq in December 2013. For years, the group exploited growing Sunni and Shi’ite sectarian divisions and steady drift towards civil war. For at least the last three years, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s actions of building his own power structure around a Shi’ite dominated state with close ties to Iran alienated Sunnis and exacerbated tensions.

The U.S. cannot simply intervene in Iraq by attacking ISIS/ISIL. It is a major movement in Syria as well as Iraq. The U.S. must also find some way to limit and roll back ISIS/ISIL -– without taking sides in Iraq’s broader civil war. At the same time, creating anything approaching a stable Iraq means creating new and lasting political bridges across Iraq’s increasingly polarized and divided factions as well as helping to create a more effective and truly national government in Iraq, as well as rebuild Iraqi forces that serve the nation, rather than an increasingly authoritarian Shi’ite leader.

It is far from clear that the U.S. can do this, and Syria and Iraq are only the most visible challenges taking place in the strategic game board that shapes the Middle East. The U.S. must also deal with a much broader set of new strategic forces that go far beyond Iraq’s borders. The U.S. must change the structure of its de facto alliances with key Arab states in the region, and it must deal with new forms of competition -– or “Great Game” with Russia — and possibly China, as well.


July:12:2014 - 07:14 | Comments Off | Permalink

Dang nab modern technology! A popular Saudi preacher is finding it difficult to convince people he didn’t say what he said when he said it on video. Videos that have been broadcast by international satellite channels and on YouTube at that.

Al Arabiya TV reports that Sheikh al-Arifi is being ridiculed for his attempts to rewrite his history of making fatuous fatwas. I’m sure the Sheikh is concerned that his behavior is quite contrary to Saudi law and could see him jailed and/or fined. Even if Europe thinks (equally fatuously) that the Internet can be scrubbed of historic embarrassments, that’s now how the world works. The Sheikh will have to see how merciful the government is toward him.

Saudi preacher denies supporting jihad in Syria

A popular Saudi preacher who previously called for jihad in Syria has recently appeared on television bluntly denying his famous statement, drawing scorn from fans and followers on social media.

During an interview with Rotana Khalijia, Sheikh Mohammad al-Arifi denied his famous statement to Al-Jazeera in which he called for jihad in Syria and supported al-Qaeda.

Sheikh Arifi threw a bombshell in February 2013 when he told the Qatar-based channel that al-Qaeda “does not tolerate bloodshed.”

He said some people attribute to al-Qaeda many opinions and thoughts which the group does not hold.


July:10:2014 - 09:23 | Comments Off | Permalink

For the second time within a year, artillery rounds fired from Iraq have landed in Saudi Arabia. Asharq Alawsat reports that three round landed near the northern city of Arar, close to the Iraqi border. No injuries or damage were reported. The assumption is that this is related to the successes of ISIS/ISIL in Iraq. Saudi Arabia is reported to have beefed-up its border security with 30,000 troops.

Three shells fired from Iraq strike Saudi territory
Nasser Al-Haqbani

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi authorities are investigating reports that three shells fired from Iraq on Monday struck near a residential complex in Arar in the Northern Borders Province close to the Iraqi border.

Nobody was injured in the attack, which represents the second time in the past year that Saudi territory has been struck by projectiles from neighboring Iraq, where the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is fighting against government troops.

Saudi Border Guard spokesman, Gen. Mohamed Al-Ghamdi, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “At around 1:40 am local time on Monday, three shells struck near a residential complex in Arar in the Northern Borders Province. Thank God, nobody was injured in the attack.”

Ghamdi confirmed that Saudi authorities were investigating the source of the attack, which originated inside Iraqi territory.


July:09:2014 - 08:13 | Comments Off | Permalink

As though the presence of ISIS in Iraq wasn’t enough to cause Saudi jitters, Saudi media are reporting attacks on the country’s southern border with Yemen. These attacks are assessed to be by Al-Qaeda and its surrogates.

Al Arabiya TV:

Al-Qaeda suspects blow themselves up in Saudi Arabia

Two suspected al-Qaeda militants blew themselves up early Saturday in southern Saudi Arabia after police surrounded them inside a government building.

Reports on casualties were not immediately available.

Saudi Arabia launched a massive crackdown on Al-Qaeda following a spate of deadly attacks in the kingdom from 2003-2006.

The incident comes a day after al-Qaeda linked militants attacked a border post near the border with Yemen. Al Arabiya News obtained on Friday exclusive pictures of the bodies of the gunmen who attacked the border post killing one Saudi border security officer and one Yemeni soldier.

Arab News:

3 attackers of Saudi border post killed
JEDDAH: MD Al-Sulami

A Saudi security officer and a Yemeni soldier have been killed in two separate attacks on border posts between the two countries, officials said.

The Interior Ministry said a border security patrol came under fire near the Wadia post in the southern province of Sharura, killing the unit’s chief.

Security forces gave chase, killing three of the attackers, while a fourth was wounded and captured, a ministry spokesman said.


July:05:2014 - 08:58 | Comments Off | Permalink

Claiming that Iraqi forces have left Iraq’s borders with Syria and Saudi Arabia — a claim Iraq denies — Saudi Arabia is sending 30,000 troops to prevent infiltration by ISIS-related forces. Reuters reports that the Saudi government considers its 800-mile border with Iraq to be vulnerable and is acting to protect it.

Saudi Arabia deploys 30,000 soldiers to border with Iraq
Sami Aboudi

DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia deployed 30,000 soldiers to its border with Iraq after Iraqi soldiers abandoned the area, Saudi-owned al-Arabiya television said on Thursday, but Baghdad denied this and said the frontier remained under its full control.

The world’s top oil exporter, Saudi Arabia shares an 800-km (500-mile) border with Iraq, where Islamic State insurgents and other Sunni Muslim militant groups seized towns and cities in a lightning advance last month.

King Abdullah has ordered all necessary measures to protect the kingdom against potential “terrorist threats”, state news agency SPA reported on Thursday.


July:04:2014 - 08:17 | Comments Off | Permalink

An interesting essay at The American Interest political blog today. It discusses an ad hoc Saudi group that tries to encourage critical thinking skills in the Kingdom as well as across the Middle East at large. It’s an uphill struggle as the culture as well as the education and political systems discourage critical thinking. Instead, they rely on things like the seniority of the speaker, historic precedent, and of course various fatawa that lock in beliefs and make them seemingly immune to any criticism. And the price of criticism can be high.

Learning Logic in the Middle East

Fledgling projects seek to fight Islamic extremism by introducing critical thinking and the scientific method to Arab societies. They may already be influencing education and government-run media

Joseph Braude

Whether a conflict involves enraged spouses or a nation embroiled in sectarian warfare, feuding parties can de-escalate by employing civil discourse and rational argumentation. They can talk and reason empathically, for example. They can call out each other’s logical fallacies and agree to stop using them. They can pinpoint irreconcilable differences, accept them, and negotiate a compromise. But doing so is hard enough in the heat of an emotional exchange; it is much harder under the yoke of a religious dictate, or in an environment where rational argumentation is neither taught nor even available to learn in the local language.

There are many such places, and one is Saudi Arabia, according to Omar al-Anazi, a 23-year-old medical student at King Abdelaziz University in the Saudi port city of Jedda. “When people talk to each other here,” he says, “too often they make arguments based on logical fallacies, impossible to resolve. It’s detrimental to the country to leave them that way.” In his view, an “ignorant movement” advanced by extremist clerics, reactionary media, and schoolteachers under their influence has effectively suppressed the use of logic and reason. It is possible to combat the movement, he says, by teaching critical thinking and the scientific method, and instilling a fascination with the many branches of science and technology which these techniques have enabled throughout history. In July 2013, Anazi and three friends launched a project aiming to do so: an online media platform called Asfar (“zeroes”) named after the world-altering numeral invented in ancient Babylon. Through audio, video, and prose, Asfar conveys ideas about logic and science in humorous, Saudi-inflected Arabic, tailored to the sensibilities of its audience.

There is a handful of projects like Asfar in the Arab world today, and more is riding on their success than the gratification of the volunteers who staff them. Amid massive bloodshed in Syria and Iraq, civil strife in Lebanon and Bahrain, political polarization in the post-Arab Spring states, and the proliferation of jihadist ideologies throughout North Africa and the Middle East, equipping Arab societies to think critically and negotiate their internal differences can help marginalize extremist groups, foster national reconciliation, and, by extension, improve regional stability and security. Asfar’s modest initial success as well as the challenges it appears to face provide a case in point as to what any homegrown Arab media effort to promote civil discourse would require in order to gain substantial ground.


June:30:2014 - 08:54 | Comments Off | Permalink

Writing at al-Monitor, Fahad Nazer, a Saudi analyst, takes a look at what’s at stake for Saudi Arabia following the onslaught by ISIS militias in Iraq. The Saudis don’t like it; it scares them. They’re particularly concerned about the number of young Saudis who have gone off to fight in Syria in the name of jihad. The last time young Saudis went off to fight in foreign wars, then ended up returning to the Kingdom, frustrated, angry, and willing to take up arms against their own government. No repeat performance is wanted.

Saudi Arabia threatened by ISIS advance in Iraq
Fahad Nazer

Contrary to an emerging consensus in the West and the Middle East, the turmoil in Iraq does not benefit Saudi Arabia, nor is it a “dream” for Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. While relations between the Saudi royals and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are among the most strained in the region, it is one thing for the Saudis to view Maliki as a divisive figure beholden to Iran, and something patently different for them to be actively supporting the armed Sunni rebellion, which al-Qaeda offshoot the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is spearheading.

The prospect of a failed state torn apart by a sectarian civil war along its border, another one in Syria and an al-Qaeda “state” rising up from the ashes of these two civil wars must be a disconcerting one for Saudi Arabia. While both Iraq and Syria have publicly blamed the carnage in their countries on the Saudis for what they maintain is Saudi support of “terrorists,” including ISIS, the al-Qaeda affiliate itself has vowed to “conquer” Saudi Arabia after it has “vanquished” the regimes in Damascus and Baghdad. More than any of its neighbors, Saudi Arabia has the most to lose from the conflict in Iraq spiraling out of control. There are several reasons.

Saudi Arabia values stability more than anything. Its penchant for reactionary politics is most apparent in its unconditional support of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s new government in Egypt, which has reinstituted many of the policies of former President Hosni Mubarak, arguably the Saudis’ most stalwart ally for over 30 years. And while the Saudis have supported the rebels’ bid in Syria to topple President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, this willingness to change the status quo is a function of the role Iran is playing in the conflict and because Saudi Arabia views itself as the leader of the Sunni Muslim world, and therefore has a moral obligation to help the beleaguered Sunni majority.

But even in Syria, there are reports indicating that the Saudis are re-evaluating their policy. The exodus of hundreds of young Saudis to join the “jihad” there has rung alarm bells and brought back memories of the Afghanistan war in the 1980s, when Saudis joined the “Afghan Arab” fighters and either returned home, bringing their military experience with them, or joined other militant Islamist groups elsewhere. Osama bin Laden himself was such an example. Saudis who turned themselves in to authorities after fighting in Syria confirmed that not only are many Saudis — possibly hundreds — gravitating toward the most extreme armed groups in Syria, including ISIS, but that many have become known for their ferociousness and willingness to conduct suicide attacks.


June:26:2014 - 00:01 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

I find the fact that Arab News is covering this story at least as interesting as the story itself. Apostasy is not something Saudis tend to feel neutral about, so a factual article, devoid of moralizing is noteworthy.

Of course, the story could just be “link bait,” a story that sure to draw attention from online commentators, as well as foaming comments on the newspaper’s own page.

Sudanese ‘apostate’ on death row freed

KHARTOUM: A Sudanese Christian who gave birth in prison after being sentenced to hang for apostasy was freed on Monday, one of her lawyers said.

The case of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, 26, sparked an outcry from Western governments and rights groups after a judge sentenced her to death on May 15.

“Meriam was released just about an hour ago,” Mohanad Mustafa told AFP on Monday afternoon.

“She’s now out of prison,” he said, but authorities will not issue the reasons for her release until Tuesday.

Born to a Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian mother, Ishag was convicted under laws that have been in force in Sudan since 1983 and outlaw conversions.


June:24:2014 - 07:56 | Comments Off | Permalink

According to this piece in Saudi Gazette, the Internet hacking group Anonymous — or some anonymous group claiming to be Anonymous — is setting its sights on Gulf oil companies. Supposedly, the attacks are motivated by Anonymous’ anger that oil prices are denominated in dollars. That strikes me as just about the lamest excuse I’ve come across, but I guess I’m just not cut out to be a member of Anonymous, or Pretend Anonymous.

Cyber attacks loom over KSA, UAE, Qatar oil firms

DUBAI – A Middle East-based group of hackers has issued a threat warning of cyber attacks against oil, gas and energy companies in the Middle East, security firm Symantec has revealed.

The threat, made by Anonymous, a politically- motivated group of hacktivists, states that they are planning to attack before, during, and after June 20, 2014.

This is due to Anonymous disagreeing with the US dollar being used as the currency to buy and sell oil, Symantec said. According to the security firm, governments that may be attacked include those in Saudi Arabia Kuwait and Qatar.

Some of the possible company targets include Kuwait Oil Company, Petroleum Development Oman, Qatar Petroleum, Saudi Aramco, ADNOC, ENOC and Bahrain Petroleum Company.

While there are limited details regarding the tools that will be used, based on previous observations, Symantec said the attacks will most likely include distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, phishing/spear-phishing emails, intrusion and data-theft attempts, vulnerable software exploration, web application exploits, and website defacement.


June:19:2014 - 05:06 | Comments Off | Permalink
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