Biden administration agrees arms sales to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to counter China’s growing influence
Jean Shaoul, WSWS, Aug 18 2022

MbS welcomes Biden at Al-Salam palace in Jeddah, Jul 15 2022. (Photo: Bandar al-Jaloud/AP)

Just a few weeks after Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia, aimed at shoring up relations with the murderous regime, his administration has approved two massive arms sales worth more than $5b to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. It follows $650m in air-to-air missiles sent to Riyadh in Nov 2021 for its criminal war against the civilian population in Yemen. Included in the sales are Patriot missiles costing $3b for Saudi Arabia and a high-altitude missile system costing $2.2b for the UAE aimed at protecting the venal petro-monarchs from rocket attacks by Yemen’s Houthi-led rebel movement. The US State Dept, seeking Congress’s approval for the deal, said:

This agreement will support the foreign policy and national security of the US by helping to improve the security of an important regional partner. The UAE is a vital US partner for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East.

Biden had pledged during his election campaign to treat Saudi Arabia as a “pariah state” due to its appalling human rights record and MbS’s signing off on Khashoggi’s gruesome assassination in 2018. He also promised to cut off or cut back on the sale of “offensive” weapons to both Saudi Arabia and the UAE, citing their attacks on civilians in Yemen. But this has counted for nothing next to the more pressing needs of Washington’s geostrategic interests. Last month, Reuters reported that the Biden administration was discussing lifting the ban on US sales of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia. Ever since Saudi and the UAE-led coalition invaded Yemen in Apr 2015, international human rights groups including the New York-based Human Rights Watch and the London-based Campaign Against the Arms Trade have documented the coalition’s use of US and UK weapons in unlawful airstrikes, including undoubted war crimes, breaching Washington and London’s own policies on arms sales. These two imperialist warmongers, which lose no opportunity to justify their bellicosity in the name of human rights, have also provided the Saudis and Emiratis with political and diplomatic cover at the UN, even as their blockade of the impoverished country has put millions at risk of famine. The Guardian reported that the Biden administration is also exploring the setting up of a new international committee to document and report on human rights violations in Yemen that would include representatives from the Saudi and UAE puppet government in the country. An intensive lobbying campaign by Riyadh put a stop to an earlier UNHRC investigation into possible war crimes. One can only imagine the uproar that would follow if President Putin were to be included in a panel to investigate Russian war crimes in Ukraine.

The political reasons Washington supports two of the most repressive regimes on the planet are clear. They are a key market for US arms and play a vital role on behalf of US imperialism in suppressing the working class in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf and throughout the region and supporting Washington’s domination in the resource-rich Middle East. They have allied with Israel in a US-led anti-Iranian axis that threatens to push the region into another catastrophic war. The economic reasons are less well-known. As the US became increasingly self-sufficient in oil, the petro-monarchs turned elsewhere for customers. By 2020, the Gulf countries were supplying 40% of China’s oil imports, with 16% of these coming from Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom’s trade with China has soared from $3b in 2000 to $67b in 2021, while its trade with the US rose from $20.5b to $24.8b in the same period. While much has been made of China’s 25-year $400b trade and investment agreement with Iran, even if it were actualized at some $16b/yr, this is still much less than Beijing’s trade with Riyadh. Merchandise trade between the Middle East and China (import of Chinese manufactured goods by Middle East countries) has increased significantly, totaling $272b in 2020.

Furthermore, despite heavy pressure from Washington, no Middle Eastern country has banned the Chinese telecom giant Huawei’s 5G networks. Beijing is now the largest single regional investor and trading partner of 11 countries in the Middle East. Its Belt and Road Initiative, aimed at placing China at the centre of global trade, is the basis of agreements with 21 countries in the region. Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE all have “comprehensive strategic partnerships” with China, while Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Oman and Qatar are “strategic partners.” Turkey has a “strategic cooperative relationship and Israel a “comprehensive innovation partnership” with China. Tel Aviv’s extensive links with China’s defence technology has on occasions put it at odds with Washington. A critical element in China’s BRI has been its development and expansion of ports and industrial parks in Egypt, Oman, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Djibouti, China’s only overseas military base, to secure its shipment of goods to Africa, Europe and beyond. Of even greater significance are the talks, reported in the WSJ last March, between Beijing and Riyadh over pricing some oil sales to China in yuan. Such a move that would undermine the dollar’s role in the global petroleum market.

Under a 1970s agreement between the US and Saudi Arabia, all oil sales anywhere in the world are conducted in dollars, recycled back to the US and to a lesser extent Britain as sovereign reserve holdings in return for military support and security. The petrodollar system has underpinned the US financial system, allowing it to finance its soaring debts and the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency. While the US accounts for around 20% of global GDP, nearly 90% of international currency transactions and 60% of foreign exchange reserves are in dollars. But foreign investment no longer finances US debt to the same extent as it once did. Since the 2008 financial crisis and more recently the pandemic crisis, the Federal reserve has sought to protect financial markets with quantitative easing and bought up US debt itself. As a result, foreign central banks’ and foreign investors’ holdings of US treasury bonds as a proportion of total US public debt have fallen by about 50%. The prospect of Riyadh accepting payment in yuan is totally unacceptable to Washington. It would further and significantly undermine the dollar-based system, following on from Russia and Iran’s attempts to strike payments in different currencies under the pressure of US sanctions. Iraq’s efforts to avoid sanctions by selling its oil for euros was one of the factors that led the Bush administration to declare war on Iraq in 2003, despite opposition from the European powers. Biden declared quite openly that his trip to Saudi Arabia last month was to bolster America’s position in the region, which had waned under his watch, against its rivals:

I want to make clear that we can continue to lead in the region, and not create a vacuum that is filled by China and/or Russia.

Relations with the Gulf States began to cool after Obama’s refusal to back Mubarak during the mass protests that were to bring down his government in 2011 and threaten Saudi clients in Bahrain and Yemen. They became more strained after Washington signed the 2015 nuclear accords with Iran, which Riyadh and Abu Dhabi accuse of supporting the Houthi rebels who ousted Riyadh’s puppet government in Yemen in 2015, and did little to counter the Houthis’ missile attacks. Russia’s successful thwarting of the attempted overthrow of Assad, orchestrated by Washington and heavily backed by Riyadh in particular, and of the US-organised coup against Erdogan, have also caused disquiet. Biden’s billion-dollar arms sales are intended as a down payment on a renewed partnership. They were announced as President Xi Jinping prepares to visit Saudi Arabia as early as this week, his first overseas visit since the COVID pandemic. He is expected to be given an extravagant welcome, in contrast to Riyadh’s low-key reception of Biden in July. These US arms sales follow shortly after Saudi’s Aramco signed an MoU with China’s Sinopec for cooperation in areas including “carbon capture and hydrogen processes.”

Turkish drillship sails to Mediterranean amid tensions with Greece
Ozan Özgür, WSWS, Aug 18 2022

Erdogan watches flypast during the final day of military exercises
in Seferihisar near Izmir, on Turkey’s Aegean coast, Jun 9 2022

The Abd’ül-Hamid Han, a drillship that Turkey purchased for $180m in Nov 2021, sailed from the southern city of Mersin on Aug 9 after a ceremony attended by President Erdoğan. The ship will search for oil and gas in Turkish territorial waters 55 km off Antalya in the eastern Mediterranean for two months. The Turkish Defense Ministry stated:

The Abd’ül-Hamid Han drill ship was escorted by floating and flying elements of our Naval Forces.

In his speech at the launching ceremony of the Abdülhamid Han, Erdoğan lashed out at Greece and unnamed major powers backing it. He said:

When the Abd’ül-Hamid Han ship starts its operations, there will probably be those who will attempt to lord it over us by relying on their masters. As long as we do not take them seriously and do not see them as interlocutors, those who increase their arrogance will one day end up hitting their heads against the wall and coming to themselves.

Erdoğan was referring to France and the US, which have established close military-strategic ties with Greece. Greece has become a major military transshipment area in the US-NATO war against Russia in Ukraine, while Turkey is trying to play the role of a mediator due to its strong economic and military ties with Russia. In May, Erdoğan reacted to the visit of Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis to Washington by declaring that Mitsotakis “no longer exists” for him. However, the announcement that the ship will be drilling in Turkey’s exclusive economic zone and not in disputed waters in the eastern Mediterranean has, for now, prevented a new escalation of tensions between Turkey, Greece and Cyprus. With its drilling policy, which has accelerated especially since 2017, the Erdoğan government is trying to advance the interests of the Turkish bourgeoisie, which depends on foreign energy sources for about 70% of its energy, and seeking an advantage over its regional rivals. Besides the Abd’ül-Hamid Han, three other drillships are exploring for hydrocarbons in the Black Sea.

According to the 2021 oil and gas sector report of the Turkish Petroleum Corporation, Turkey imported 59.2 bcm of the 59.6 bcm of natural gas it consumed in 2021. In other words, Turkey’s dependence on imports in gas supply was 99.3% in 2021. Turkey imported 44.9% of its gas in 2021 from Russia, 16.1% from Iran and 15% from Azerbaijan. Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt are fighting over the massive hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean. The US and European imperialist powers see these resources as an alternative to Russian gas for Europe. This was a major topic in Turkey, Greece and Cyprus during visits by US Under-Sec State Victoria Nuland in early April. Whether or not the Abd’ül-Hamid Han would enter the disputed waters has been discussed in the Greek political and media establishment for some time. CNN Greece posted a report that Athens and Nicosia are on high alert as Greek and Cypriot authorities monitor the ship. After Turkish officials announced the drillship’s route, the Greek daily Ekathimerini warned:

The selected area was seen to signify, despite the show put on in Mersin on Tuesday and the rhetorical excesses, a desire for a period of calm in the Eastern Mediterranean. However, there is no sense of complacency in Athens, given the long-term characteristics of Turkey’s foreign policy. As Erdogan himself noted on Tuesday, after October the Abd’ul-Hamid Han will continue drilling elsewhere. The ‘milder scenario’ chosen by Erdogan in the first voyage of the Abd’ul-Hamid Han is due to the intervention of the US, in order not to jeopardize the unity of NATO in one of the most critical phases of the Russian-Ukrainian war. This is certainly a possible scenario, in line with the prevailing perception that Greece has secured the support of Washington and some powerful EU countries against Ankara’s provocations.

This points to the explosiveness of mounting Turkish-Greek tensions, which are kept in check, for now, in the context of a NATO war against Russia in Ukraine that threatens to spiral into an all-out global war between NATO and Russia. Significant sections of the Turkish ruling class, including the bourgeois opposition forces grouped around the Kemalist Republican People’s Party (CHP), are calling for a more aggressive foreign policy against Greece. Aytun Çıray, a leader of the far-right Good Party, a major CHP ally, criticized the government from the right, for not drilling more aggressively in the Mediterranean. Çıray said:

Operating at a point that will not disturb the US/EU is a move that is far from being a political or economic gain. It is also compatible with Greece’s claims.

CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu previously stated, regarding the disputed islands in the Aegean Sea held by Greece:

I will seize all of those islands.

Both the Turkish and Greek ruling classes are facing growing working class opposition amid a deepening economic and social crisis. In Turkey, official annual inflation has reached 80%, and a new wave of strikes is erupting. In Greece, the government’s support for NATO’s war against Russia has led to mass protests and strikes. In both Turkey and Greece, the governments and the bourgeois political establishment are united in the attempt to use militarism and nationalism to divide the working class, prevent strikes and suppress the growing struggles on both sides of the Aegean Sea. Amid NATO’s war against Russia and growing US provocations against China, the great task raised by the eastern Mediterranean conflict is to unite the massive forces of the international working class in the struggle for socialist revolution against imperialist war and capitalism. This requires building sections of the International Committee of the Fourth International in the Middle East, in Europe and throughout the world.

Abbas’ Holocaust remark and the hypocrisy of Germany’s media and political establishment
Peter Schwarz, WSWS, Aug 19 2022

Scholz and Abbas at their joint press conference in Berlin, Aug 16.
Photo: Wolfgang Kumm/DPA

German media outlets and politicians have responded with a storm of indignation to a statement by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas comparing Israeli massacres of Palestinians with the Holocaust that would be hard to beat for its mendacity. At a joint press conference with Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday, Abbas was asked if he would apologize to Israel on the 50th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the Israeli Olympic team in Munich. Abbas did not give a direct answer, but then said:

Israel has committed fifty massacres in 50 Palestinian settlements since 1947 to this day. Fifty massacres, fifty Holocausts.

Scholz was visibly angered but did not react. The press conference ended immediately after Abbas’ statement. Later, the German chancellor reprimanded his guest via Twitter, writing:

I am deeply outraged by the unspeakable statements of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Especially for us Germans, any relativization of the Holocaust is intolerable and unacceptable. I condemn any attempt to deny the crimes of the Holocaust.

Abbas assured the Palestinian news agency WAFA that he did not want to question the uniqueness of the Holocaust during his visit to the chancellery. This is the most heinous crime in modern human history, he said. Rather, he wanted to draw attention to the crimes committed by the Israeli army against the Palestinian people. Nevertheless, a deafening scream arose. Above all, the CDU, who helped numerous high-ranking Nazis find new careers after WW2, took the lead: “An incredible event in the Chancellery” (CDU leader Friedrich Merz); “to remain silent after such a gaffe is unforgivable” (CDU Deputy Matthias Hauer); “the worst gaffe ever heard in the Chancellery” (ex-CDU leader Armin Laschet); “Abbas is a notorious Holocaust trivialiser. And he legitimizes and finances Palestinian terror” (Volker Beck, Greens); “a moral disgrace” (Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid). The media reacted similarly: “Probably one of the largest calculated taboo breaks that a president ever committed in the Berlin Chancellery” (public broadcaster ARD); “The Chancellor must show where he stands” (FAZ); “Abbas has finally exposed himself as an anti-Semitic agitator” (Augsburger Allgemeine); “Abbas relativizes the Holocaust and Scholz remains silent” (Bild).

This cynicism is hard to top. If the opinion-makers in Germany really want to fight against Holocaust disparagement and anti-Semitism, they ought to start on their own doorstep. Since the German government openly declared its goal of becoming a military superpower again in 2014, the crimes of the Nazi regime in Germany have been systematically trivialised. Already in 1986, Nolte tried to justify the Nazi regime, thus triggering the Historians’ Dispute, in which numerous well-known academics including Jürgen Habermas opposed him. Now, apart from the SGP and numerous student representatives, there is no longer any opposition to Nolte. Even when the Berlin historian Jörg Baberowski put the Holocaust on par with executions in the Russian civil war, saying “It was basically the same thing: industrial killing,” this was not considered to be trivializing the Holocaust. The political scientist Herfried Münkler, Baberowski’s colleague at Humboldt University, openly explained at the time that such a trivialization of Nazi crimes was necessary in order to pursue an aggressive foreign policy, telling the Süddeutsche Zeitung:

It is difficult to pursue a responsible policy in Europe if you have the idea that we were to blame for everything.

In this climate, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) prospered. The AfD’s trivialization of the Nazi regime is notorious. Just think of Alexander Gauland’s comment comparing the Nazi regime’s crimes to “bird shit” and Björn Höcke’s attacks on the Berlin Holocaust Memorial. Despite its Nazi apologetics, the party was politically courted, promoted by the media and entrusted with leading parliamentary committees. With the war in Ukraine, the trivialization of Nazi crimes has assumed new dimensions. The German government is now openly cooperating with political forces that not only downplay these crimes but glorify them. For example, Ukrainian Ambassador Andrij Melnyk, who reveres Nazi collaborator and mass murderer Stepan Bandera as a “hero,” was long treated like a star by the media. Even when Melnyk had to leave his post in Berlin this summer because he publicly denied the murder of hundreds of thousands of Jews, Poles and Russians by Bandera’s OUN, leading German politicians mourned his departure.

It is well-known that the veneration of Bandera is not a personal trait of Melnyk but official Ukrainian state ideology. There are now 40 monuments to the Nazi collaborator, Mussolini admirer and hardened anti-Semite in the country. The largest, in Lviv, is 7m high and stands in front of a 30m arch. The memorial in Ivano-Frankivsk covers an area equivalent to six football fields. The elite units of the Ukrainian army are recruited from fanatical neo-Nazis such as the Azov Battalion, which networks with violent fascists all over the world. But this does not bother the politicians and scribblers who are outraged about Abbas’ alleged anti-Semitism. Their moral standards are based on the foreign policy interests of German imperialism and are correspondingly flexible, depending on whether it is an ally or an opponent. While the comparison of an ally with the Nazis is regarded as a trivialization of the Holocaust and an example of anti-Semitism, opponents such as Putin are constantly equated with Hitler, without any concern expressed from the same quarters. Reports of this nature appear in the German media almost daily. Even the renowned historian Heinrich August Winkler has written a guest article for Die Zeit entitled “What links Putin with Hitler.” The ranting against Abbas is a diversionary manoeuvre directed against the growing popular opposition to German militarism and the war in Ukraine.

It is becoming clearer every day that the US, Germany and NATO are waging a proxy war in Ukraine against Russia, which is being fought on the backs of the Ukrainian people. NATO trains the soldiers, supplies the weapons, selects the targets and has long since been on site with its own specialists. Its goal is not a democratic Ukraine but the subjugation and dismemberment of Russia, which possesses some of the most valuable resources in the world and is to be eliminated as a potential ally of China. Abbas is a representative of the Palestinian Arab bourgeoisie. In the West Bank, he plays the role of prison guard for Israel and its imperialist allies. His corrupt PA, which is largely funded by the EU, dispatches its police against rebellious young people and is so hated by the population that Abbas has repeatedly postponed parliamentary elections for 16 years. If the 87-year-old nevertheless occasionally blurts out his anger, it is because he receives absolutely no thanks from Israel for his services. The negotiations on the promised two-state solution have been stalled since 2014. The more Abbas prostrates himself before the Israeli government, the more brutally it acts against the Palestinian people, in violation of UN and international law. The Israeli government itself is working unscrupulously with ultra-right and even anti-Semitic forces all over the world. Under Netanyahu, so many right-wing and nationalist politicians visited Yad Vashem that it was given the nickname “washing machine.” Among the politicians who were washed clean in this way are not only Trump, but also Orbán, Salvini, Duterte and many others. The accusation of anti-Semitism has long been leveled against all those who criticize the brutal and illegal policy towards the Palestinians by the government of Israel, which is politically and militarily closely allied with Germany. It is also used to intimidate opponents of German militarism.

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