Middle East update: December 1 2017


If you’re wondering how things are going in Geneva, the answer is one word–awesome uhhhhh:

Syria’s government delegation quit U.N.-led peace talks in Geneva on Friday and said it would not return next week unless the opposition withdrew a statement demanding President Bashar al-Assad play no role in any interim post-war government.

In case anybody at the United Nations is paying attention, this means there’s been literally zero progress in reaching a political settlement to the civil war since quite literally the day the war started. The rebels still want Assad gone and Assad still doesn’t want to go. That’s an impasse, and it’s one that’s apparently unaffected by what actually happens in Syria. This is just a thought, but your regular peace conferences in Geneva might be better spent focusing on humanitarian access and ceasefires than on reaching a total political settlement in one fell swoop. Hell, you all would be more productive if you just sat around and played Clue for a couple of days (“I’ve got it! It was Rifaat al-Assad, in Hama, with the artillery!”) before everybody went home.


Yemeni rebels reportedly held some peace talks of their own on Friday, after a couple of days of fighting between their Houthi and Saleh factions in Sanaa.


The Turkish government has issued an arrest warrant for Graham Fuller, a former CIA agent turned Middle East commentator, alleging that Fuller was involved in last summer’s coup attempt. At this point it would probably be easier to make a list of the people Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hasn’t accused of involvement in the failed coup, but this particular accusation is likely intended as a shiny object to distract Turkish attention while Reza Zarrab testifies against Erdoğan in New York.


There may not be any giant piles of trash along Beirut’s sidewalks or rivers of garbage flowing through its streets anymore, but that doesn’t mean Lebanon doesn’t still have a major trash problem. The Lebanese government’s efforts to get a handle on its garbage seem mostly to have been limited to Beirut and Mount Lebanon, so in many other Lebanese communities disposal is being done on an ad hoc basis involving a lot of open-air trash burning. Which is extraordinarily hazardous to people’s health in addition to being disgusting.


Al-Monitor’s Sinai correspondent says there’s a new fight brewing between ISIS’s Sinai brand and the much smaller al-Qaeda affiliate Jund al-Islam. The interesting thing here is that nobody has heard much from Jund al-Islam since about 2013, but it seems to have gained strength since then thanks to defections by disaffected ISIS members. Now I guess they’re feeling pretty good about themselves and are, per al-Qaeda’s global messaging, positioning themselves for the Sinai public as less severe zealous maniacs. They’ve already claimed responsibility for one attack against ISIS, an October 11 bombing that killed four of the group’s fighters.


If you’re wondering who could possibly be in favor of America sharing nuclear technology with the Saudis absent any conditions about weaponization, the answer is American energy companies, duh:

U.S. firms attracted by Saudi Arabia’s plans to build nuclear reactors are pushing Washington to restart talks with Riyadh on an agreement to help the kingdom develop atomic energy, three industry sources said.

Corporations are people, my friend. In this case, people who seem unconcerned about nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. To reiterate, Saudi-US nuclear cooperation has never before gotten off the ground because the Saudis refuse to sign an agreement promising not to weaponize the technology later on. US law stipulates that such an agreement has to be in place before collaboration can begin. Myself, I’d be happy for the Saudis to share in America’s nuclear know-how, under the terms of an agreement that looks just like the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran. But the Trump administration looks set to hand over America’s nuclear secrets with no preconditions at all, which is legitimately crazy.

Meanwhile, Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris had some unkind things to say on Friday about Mohammad bin Salman’s “anti-corruption” purge:

“We need to tell him ‘no’. There is the rule of law and order. You have a transparent process. Where is the court? What is the evidence? Who is the judge?” he told a conference in Rome, questioning the Crown Prince’s motives.


“Are you not part of this? Where did you get your money? Didn’t you do this? What is the system?” he said.

Screw Sawiris, who’s probably angry because he and/or some of his business partners are losing money over the crackdown, but he’s not wrong. And he’s probably indicative of a number of wealthy foreigners who are going to look at the purge, see how apparently arbitrary the whole thing is, and run quickly in the other direction at a time when the Saudis want to encourage foreign investment.

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