Turkey

Yemen – Saleh’s death is the dangerous slice in the Iran & Saudi sandwich

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Even before the Arab Spring, CM (in a previous life) wrote that Yemen was a trouble spot. It’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh (Sunni) has died of natural causes – he was assassinated in a spate of tribal violence in the capital Sana’a yesterday. No stranger to being an oppressive tyrant during his rule, after being ousted in the Arab Spring he was in recent years working with the Houthi tribe (Shi’ite) to regain power before switching back to a US backed Saudi-friendly deal maker. He proved that power is more important than religious sect. However the Houthi weren’t prepared to suffer a turncoat who betrayed them so Saleh was duly dealt with.

Why is Saleh’s death important? What it now does is give Saudi Arabia more will to take more decisive action against the Iran backed Houthi. It is no surprise that Saudi Arabia has cleaned house with the arrests of  royal family members to tighten the inner circle. It smells like the early stages of broader tit-for-tat skirmishes before all out conflict ensues. Yemen is often argued as a proxy war between the two.

While many are distracted by the US Embassy to Jerusalem as an unnecessary ‘in-the-face” action, it is a very firm line in the sand to where the US cards already lie. No big surprises. For now most Gulf States want Israel on their side to help them defend against and ultimately defeat Iran.

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At the narrow Bab al-Mandeb Strait separating Yemen and Djibouti/Eritrea, cargo ships make their way up the Red Sea to the Suez Canal, could become a major choke point. This year multiple US, Saudi and Emirati warships have been attacked by Houthi rebel forces. In January 2017 a  Saudi al-Madinah frigate was sunk in the strait. An Emirati HSV-2 swift naval craft was also put out of action in late 2015.

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Safe access to the strait is crucial at present because of Egypt’s reliance on imported LNG to maintain stable electricity supply. One LNG tanker heads to Egypt each weeknight through the canal. Just under 10% of global trade goes through it as well. Any blockage or restricted access would force ships to sail the long way around the Horn of Africa adding another 40% to the journey. This would have significant impacts on shipping and trade. Markets aren’t factoring anything at this stage.

The problem with naval conflict is that Yemen is backed by Iran which in turn is one of Russia’s best clients. Iran possesses the SS-N-22 Sunburn missile which is a supersonic anti-ship missile which even the US has no answer for. In recent years this has been upgraded to the Super Sunburn (P-270) which is even more lethal. It is a ramjet which travels at Mach-3 meaning if fired inside a 100km range then the target is likely to be toast (video here). It can be launched from a ship, submarine or land.

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Iran could blame a whole host of tribes (Sunni or Shia) sick of being under the jackboot of effective Saudi control/influence for an attack.

On December 2, Israeli jets bombed an Iranian military weapons base in Syria. Israel has warned Iran it won’t tolerate any military presence on Syrian soil. We shouldn’t forget that China has also deployed its special forces to Syria to help Assad. Clearly the Chinese see a good opportunity to clean up some of the spoils in the region. China is always happy to help out nations that are under sanction. It adds more mess into the geopolitical sphere.

While the GCC has stepped up its air attacks on Yemen post the death of Saleh, he was the only one that has been able to unite the country. Indeed it is possible that the secession of the south becomes an issue. At the time of reunification of North and South Yemen in 1990 many in the south felt their northern neighbors were pillaging too much of their oil reserve wealth. Even their private land was appropriated and spread among the Sana’a elite. Now that Saleh has gone, and Yemen fragmented again, we may see old scores settled. The Southern Movement (loyal to exiled President Hadi) in Yemen wants to take back what was stolen from them. So Saleh’s death may open a vacuum of more instability.

Iran would relish the opportunity of a fractured Yemen to further build its influence. Bab al-Mandeb may become a flashpoint to fight the proxy war. It is extremely messy, creates proper disruption and pushes Saudi Arabia and Iran closer to conflict.

Which ever way you cut it, diplomacy in the Middle East (what little there is) looks set to worsen. In a sense we are dealing with two large clients of Russia (Iran) and America (SA). Now China is siding with Russian interests by using it as a test run of its military muscle. China isn’t committing anything major but it wants to be at the negotiating table when it all goes pear shaped.

It smells very similar to the lead up to the Arab Spring. More turmoil and complacent markets which are not quite absorbing the realities of “local problems” spreading to another neighborhood. Sure we’ve seen many leaders overthrown in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and so on in the last uprising but the pressure on Saudi is mounting hence the recent crackdown internally.

The other dark horse is Erdogan in Turkey. He is facing a corruption probe over money laundering to help Iran evade sanctions and he seems keen to externalise his problems so he can shut down the local threat. He is threatening to cut off ties with Israel if the US relocates the embassy but for a man with clear ambitions to revive the Ottoman Empire that fell less than 100 years ago that is a mere formality in the future.

The flashpoint remains Yemen. It has the perfect storm of a pawn in a global game of chess. While it whiffs of local tribes seeking revenge there are too many willing to help them achieve their aims which only plays to the broader ructions throughout the rest of the Middle East. Last week Houthi rebels launched a missile attack against the UAE nuclear power plant under construction. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely

Over 10.6 million Frogs want to jump out of the EU’s boiling pot

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While the media and the EU will no doubt be jumping for joy they’ll overlook the fact that over 1/3rd of the French who voted, or over 10.6 million, want to jump out of the EU’s boiling pot. Think about that number – over TEN POINT SIX MILLION.  Le Pen’s father only managed slightly better than 5mn or 17.8%. Macron won convincingly (Twitter follower growth ratio accurate again) although one can hardly call 1/3rd of a population backing a far-right nationalist something to celebrate.  It is a damning figure. Period.

The extent of the Le Pen gains should be viewed by the EU as a terrible omen. However many of the Brussels brigadiers have ignored it already as their tweets make painfully clear.

After losing 15 out of 15 referendums against it  the EU desperately needs reform. The Dutch election was still a strong win for Wilders and Rutte only saved seats by adopting a more anti-EU stance. The pro-EU Dutch leftists were slayed. The Swiss recently handed back their long standing invite to join the EU. The Austrians almost voted in the far right FPO and after Greens President van der Bellen recently said all women may be obliged to wear the hijab to show cultural sensitivity they may well think to do that next time. The right wing Sweden Democrats are well ahead in the polls looking to win the 2018 election. The Italians are on the way to vote in the eurosceptic M5S party as their referendum last year on parliamentary reform became a free kick to boot out the establishment. Hungary’s Orban has had enough of the EU’s directives on migrants. Greece is being forced to sell its assets in order to secure another bailout and submit to being a Brussels’ (Berlin?) protectorate despite the EU bending over backwards with the help of Goldman’s creative accountants to get the Greeks into the club. This will not end well as Greece has 37% poverty, 58% youth unemployment and a soaring suicide rate. Now almost 10.5mn French now think the EU is not working. Brexit anyone?

The problem with elections is that even though Macron will serve 5 years, over 1/3rd of his citizens are not happy with the state of terrorism, unemployment and the EU. If Macron doesn’t solve for these problems, Le Pen’s 2022 chances grow and she’s already calling for a radical overhaul of Front National.

The press was making Macron to be a tough negotiator on Brexit. Let’s not forget that the ranting Jean-Claude Juncker has had to be brought into line by Angela Merkel and Donald Tusk over his Brexit negotiations skills (or lack there of). EU lawyers have said the other day that the  €100bn Brexit bill has no legitimacy. The U.K. Local council elections should speak volumes of May’s mandate to pursue full strength hard Brexit.

Macron’s win buys the EU time. Nothing else. In fact the truest test of how petrified the EU truly is can be summed up like this. If they were supremely confident in their own legitimacy there would be no need for the constant self-reaffirmation and shouting from the roof tops about what a great place it is. If indeed it was so, democracy would endorse them every time. As it stands the self-praise would even make Barack Obama blush.

From bare arsed to half arsed

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Shenanigans in political life in Turkey have been commonplace for a long time. I recall Erdogan’s party wanting to force a majority in the 2011 elections to clean house with the judiciary and change the military-era constitution. The Nationalist Action Party (MHP) had seized 14% of the 2007 vote and we’re looking strong in 2011. Spies working for Erdogan’s Justice & Development Party (AKP) set a “honey trap” for a dozen or so MHP members who were forced to resign when the video went viral on the Internet. Erdogan got what he needed. Dirty politics? Yes on both sides  in this “bare-arsed” scandal.

The 2011 election win saw strict controls of the media. Jail sentences and fines were meted out to anything not friendly to the AKP. Recall Erdogan even tried to force Merkel to jail one of Germany’s satirists for ridiculing him this year.

So to yesterday’s events. It doesn’t smell right  that the coup lasted no time at all. Normally a coup involves capturing the snake head. This coup looked so “half-arsed” that you wonder how it was ever concocted.  Block a bridge,seize a TV station and kill a few people to make it look real. Seizing power has to look real. The oddest part for me was the FaceTime interview with Erdogan and one of his media outlets telling people to rise up against the army to them have soldiers say they thought they were doing a drill. Seriously? How is a coup supposed to work if the guy you’re trying to oust can just call up the media? The Turkish military elite may not be the sharpest on the block but I doubt they could be this short on strategy. Even central bankers wouldn’t make such rookie errors. 2,745 judges arrested? 100s of army generals and soldiers? Coincidence? All these people already presumed as plotters? I applaud Turkish efficiency to be able to screen so quickly (!) as I said it doesn’t pass sniff tests.

To get a military coup to work the first step is seizing Erdogan and all the media outlets. It involves making sure you control the Air Force and the ground troops to a degree that ensures it won’t flake at a bridge crossing with two tanks and a few troops.

So now Erdogan locks down his country toward making it a dictatorship.Then you have to ask yourself is this the Turkey the EU wishes to extend an invitation to?