web analytics
a

Facebook

Twitter

Copyright 2015 Libero Themes.
All Rights Reserved.

8:30 - 6:00

Our Office Hours Mon. - Fri.

703-406-7616

Call For Free 15/M Consultation

Facebook

Twitter

Search
Menu
Westlake Legal Group > Saudi Arabia

Richard Bingley: A cyber war is on the way

Richard Bingley is the CEO of the London-based Global Cyber Academy, an independent education organisation dedicated to making technology safer.

Iran’s government often causes incumbent American presidents a headache during election year, although Donald Trump seems immune to diplomatic migraines.

Tehran’s response to Donald Trump’s decisive swoop to eliminate Qassem Soleimani might not be in a format we expect or understand.

After all, this was not a clandestine attack by an American secret agency practicing ‘plausible deniability’. It was a brazen and visceral public lashing by the White House.

Iran’s government has been shamed, not least by the litany of horrific and hypocritical violent operations that are being revealed.

Even among her few allies in Asia and the Gulf, Tehran is struggling to drum up much genuine sympathy for a cartel of uniformed gangsters who seemingly operated almost with a carte-blanche licence to kill beyond their own borders.

If any credit is to be had from this sorry episode, it is that the USA didn’t even bother with an ambiguous operation that could be batted away in the United Nations with suppressed smirks, nods and winks which follow covert operations.

Tehran therefore had no dilemma to struggle with as to whether to respond.

Although numerically strong, Iran’s military rank-and-file will be acutely aware that it will, in all likelihood, produce a feeble, disjointed performance on any battlefield.

Moreover, such a bedraggled spectacle – of high-tech machinery pummelling the futile billows of religious dogma – would occur under the full spotlight of 24/7 satellite television and mass digital voyeurism.

Two weeks of US, or Israeli-led, airstrikes, with Special Forces battering each flank, might usher in a final collapse for the regime.

Coupled with likely trade sanctions from some Gulf partners, then Russia and China sitting on their hands, there could only be one short-term winner if full-scale military confrontation broke out: the United States

Nevertheless, beneath her religious cloak-tails, Tehran’s boisterous government is often clever, agile and highly rational. Tehran practices – most of the time – a strong, survivalist, realpolitik.

For a prediction of what’s about to come, we should analyse the life of Soleimani himself.

Soleimani was widely described as an expert exporter of asymmetric warfare; the types of lethal guerrilla operations that can bring great humiliation, and even draw out precautionary fear and retreat, from larger military giants.

According to an array of intelligence reports, his bloody career was dedicated to producing a complex network of Shia-sympathetic fighter cells, who bombed and assassinated Sunni-dominated opposition groups and government personnel in neighbouring states, including Iraq.

Soleimani’s speciality was hybrid and deniable covert operations, which terrorised opponents and sent an intimidating signal or projection of power to Iran’s regional adversaries: principally Iraq’s fledgling government, Saudi Arabia, non-Shia of the Lebanon and, of course, Israel.

Hybrid means the mixing up of attack methods; in the general’s case, utilising good old traditional ammonium-nitrate-fuelled bombs that can liquidate an apartment block or garrison, but also increasingly deploying advanced technical capabilities: phone intercepts, target espionage and tracking, drone navigation, communications jamming, etc.

The second part of his modus operandi, technical sabotage, is likely to be Tehran’s chosen retaliation in the longer term.

Tehran will know that Trump is consistent only ever in his dramatic inconsistency. An excessive military provocation would make him likely to strike back hard, possibly to the point of attempting regime change.

Ringing in his ears will be two presidential scenarios. President Kennedy, whose personal approval ratings rose despite the unsuccessful 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion to topple Fidel Castro. Voters like ‘tough’ and they like ‘action’.

Second, Jimmy Carter’s attempt to negotiate the way out of post-revolutionary Iran for 70 trapped US embassy officials in 1979. The debacle lasted 444 days.

Carter’s cerebral, plaintive, attempt failed dismally. Ronald Reagan nailed him for his dithering and hand-wringing weakness, and duly defeated him in 1980.

Iran’s government knows all of this. As such, it has perhaps one of the most finely tuned asymmetric warfare strategies out there. As with her partly successful nuclear enrichment negotiations with Barack Obama (and the EU), Tehran thinks that it knows exactly how far to push back at an adversary, or camouflage a glitch, without necessarily provoking Washington to start pulling triggers.

Tehran’s retaliation will probably be in the form of escalating cyber attacks upon the USA, its infrastructure and its close allies. Namely, the UK, Saudi Arabia and the Dubai Emirate.

Why?

Because, even though the evidence of a cyber-attack stemming from Iran would be almost incontrovertible to insiders, general public audiences are still susceptible to claims that cyber space is too ambiguous. (Most of us are, thankfully, optimists, unless we see damning proof of something.)

Cyber-attacks are a little like taking a complicated fraud case before a jury. The evidence trail is often too difficult to prove, then the end result is perceivably not lethal. Thus, at present, few countries, if any, have gone to war over a cyber-attack.

However, let’s think back. Iran has the capability, in spades. In June 2017, MPs’ email accounts in the Houses of Parliament were successfully hacked.

Initial suspicion fell upon Russia, China, and North Korea’s infamous Lazarus cyber-crime group.

But after a four-month investigation, GCHQ (the UK government’s signals intelligence agency) pointed the finger squarely at Tehran.

In 2005, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard established a cyber army, which notably attacked Baidu, a Chinese tech firm, in 2009 and also Twitter. World-leading cyber analysts at the Israel Institute for National Security Studies ranked the IRG as the world’s fourth most powerful cyber army by 2013.

Moreover, if (for example) planned troop movements, or traffic planning systems, or hospital systems, power station systems, car GPS systems – many coordinated by automated and unchecked supervisory controls – are breached, then it simply is a fact of life that any decent cyber-attack upon a critical system will cause physical harm to citizens. And lots of us.

It’s worth recalling that North Korea’s cyber-attack using the WannaCry ransomware led to more than 1,000 NHS operations being cancelled back in 2017.

Attempts to patch up older and more vulnerable computer systems have been slow across the UK and other supposedly advanced western economies.

Unlike Israelis or Iraqis, we Brits simply do not believe that a devastating cyber-attack will happen to us.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

John Baron: The UK should mediate between Iran and the United States

John Baron is MP for Basildon and Billericay.

The world, and especially those in the Middle East, tensely awaits the consequences of the killing of General Soleimani. Some fear that the region is on the brink of open conflict between the United States and the Islamic Republic, with Iraq as the battlefield and with the potential to allow Daesh and its affiliates to regroup as attention swings elsewhere. Whether or not these fears turn out to be justified, it is concerning for the British Government that the strike came as much as a surprise to Number 10 and the FCO as it evidently did to General Soleimani.

The Prime Minister is right in his statement that we should not lament the General’s passing. Over many years he has been the architect of much of Iran’s military and foreign policy, which has violently interfered in the internal affairs of many countries. Many of the IEDs which maimed and killed British soldiers in southern Iraq were made in his bomb factories, and the Shia militias which caused our diplomats and soldiers so many problems were almost certainly trained and supplied on the General’s orders. The conflicts in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen have certainly been the bloodier and more protracted because of his involvement.

However, we must recognise that there are very few ‘clean hands’ in the Middle East. A large cast of countries, the United Kingdom and United States included, have chosen to involve themselves, to a greater or lesser extent, in the multiple conflicts across the region over the past decades. The wars in Syria and Yemen in particular have become the battlefields for proxy wars between different blocs – the former especially with overtones of Cold War one-upmanship with the strong Russian support for President al-Assad, and with the various Gulf states contending with each other too. Turkey, for its part, senses an opportunity with its Syrian and Libyan involvements. Israel also is not without guilt given its interventions in the region.

Whether the United States was justified in killing General Soleimani is an open question, given the President’s apparent reliance on secret intelligence to justify the strike. Supporters of the decision cite a rumoured plot to kill US diplomats, as well as an extensive list of Iranian or Iranian-backed provocations, from the downing of a US drone to the large-scale attack on Saudi oil infrastructure – which the US chose not to respond to. However, it seems the incursion into its Embassy in Baghdad proved to be a tipping point, Donald Trump probably recalling the damage done to Barack Obama – and to Hilary Clinton in her 2016 election campaign – when the US Ambassador to Libya was killed in 2012.

Whatever the justification, killing such a major figure will have consequences – as indeed it would if the Iranian Government assassinated the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Iranians feel honour-bound to respond, and we will all have to brace ourselves for this. Hopefully this was carefully considered by the President as he took the decision to authorise the strike, and no doubt the British Government would have counselled against such a move had it been informed in advance of his intentions. The fact that no US allies appear to have been forewarned of this attack is concerning, not least because all Western forces in the region will probably be viewed by Tehran as ‘fair game’.

Although Trump has a claim to be a war dove rather than a war hawk – a large part of his campaign in 2016 was ending endless foreign entanglements – there is no doubt he has a blind spot when it comes to Iran. Relations between the US and Iran are complicated, with grave faults on both sides over the decades. However, some of these differences were being resolved by the nuclear deal agreed between Iran and the international community in 2015. This is the deal the US President has very publicly torn up, which inevitably complicates trying to find a diplomatic solution to the current crisis.

However, such diplomatic steps must be attempted, with other countries mediating between the US and Iran – we need to remember that diplomatic solutions tend to be more enduring than military ones. Here is an area where Britain could play a role, with both a close relationship with Washington and a reasonably cordial one with Tehran, despite our similarly complicated history. A wider or more protracted conflict is in no-one’s interests, and the international community should remind the Americans and Iranians alike of this fact – especially when other countries, like Iraq and Syria, will likely prove the arena.

Britain’s viewpoint would certainly carry more weight if it were bolstered by greater resources. Our diplomatic and military capabilities have suffered in recent years, often seen as easy targets for spending cutbacks. This has resulted in a dilution of diplomatic expertise and a reduction in our military heft, sending the unhelpful signal to friends and potential adversaries alike that we are retreating from the international stage. This should be quickly addressed by the new Government, and if done correctly might give the US President pause for thought the next time such a situation comes around.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Trump and Iran. What’s the plan?

On this site last November, our columnist Garvan Walshe wrote about the Iran-wide protests against the country’s ruling regime.  They were different from those of 2009, he said, because they were wider – and deeper.

Whereas those were largely confined to the middle class, these represented a “crisis of legitimacy” for Iran’s government, because “they take place, not against a hardline president whose agenda aligns with the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guards, but against a moderate, Hassan Rouhani, who has been unable to deliver the economic improvements he promised”.

The prescient Garvan also mentioned an under-reported figure within the regime – by way of describing a Shia militia, the al-Hashd al-Sha’bi, which operates in Iraq but are controlled by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, which operates under “their commander, Qasem Soleimani”.

Much of the domestic reaction to Soleimani’s assassination begins with the man who ordered it, Donald Trump.  But America may be the wrong place and its President the wrong person with which to begin considering it.  Intensified sanctions against Iran are biting hard.  Dissatisfaction with the ruling cliques – and the corruption in which Soleimani had a hand – is rife among the population.  Trump has abandoned Barack Obama’s nuclear deal.

A case can therefore be made for the killing of Soleimani as part of a coherent strategic plan.  This would be to cause chaos at the top of Iran’s ruling structure, the workings of which are deeply obscure, in the hope that the resulting confusion will further western strategic goals and help to collapse Iran’s terror-promoting regime.

As this re-election year begins in America, it is clear, looking back on the bulk of this President’s term, that much of the criticism of him is wide of the mark.  The bulk of the evidence suggests that he has a strategic foreign policy aim, namely to keep the United States out of wars abroad, or at least conflicts in which ground troops are committed.  Abroad, he acts through proxies, as against ISIS, or through massive displays of air power.

This combines with a deeply personal tendency to engage with what he sees as other strong leaders in pursuit of “the art of the deal”. His abandonment of the Kurds and engagement with Recep Tayyip Erdogan is an example.  The classic instance is his talks with Kim Jong-il of North Korea.

He engages when he judges that the United States has a sufficient interest in diplomacy.  Although he has not been gung-ho about confrontation with Iran – last June, he backed off an airstrike against Iran as “not proportionate”, and has said that he has “good feelings” about a successor deal to Obama’s – he seems to have concluded that there is no such or not sufficient negotiating interest in this case.

In sum, his take on Iran seems to be: hit it hard if absolutely necessary.  And his judgement was that it was necessary to strike at a regime that, very recently, has seized vessels in the Persian Gulf, attacked Saudi oil refineries, fired mortar against US forces in Iraq and assailed the country’s embassy in Baghad.

The President argues that Soleimani, a mass murderer, was planning further anti-American terror.  He would – because that covers the necessary legal base.  But the truth is that we do not know why the strike against Soleimani took place now.  Cynics claim that it is nicely timed for America’s electoral cycle and to distract attention from the impeachment imbroglio.  But it isn’t obvious that the killing will win supporters who don’t back the President already.

All this suggests that Trump did not act order to help collapse the Iranian regime – but, rather, to assert American power against a government with which he thinks he cannot strike a deal.  His critics will rage, but it is not clear that his impulsive approach has been less effective overall than George W.Bush’s activism or Obama’s passivity.

Nor can he fairly be accused of starting a conflict with Iran: that is raging already.  But the question is whether his caution last June was more or less sensible than his commitment now.  Iran has a long record of what the wonks like to call asymmetric response.  In other words: proxy actions, suicide bombs, IEDs, kidnappings, assasinations, attacks on embassies, civilians and military personnel.

The Middle East is rich with American targets.  Or Iran may look to the United States itself.  Then there are that country’s allies to consider – including the “Little Satan”, Britain itself.  What is Trump’s plan if Iran hits back?  Or if Soleimani’s killing solidifies rather than dissipates support for the regime? What happens in Iraq?

On Tuesday, Parliament resumes, and it will fall to Dominic Raab (presumably) to state the Government’s view at length.  Jeremy Corbyn will do all but openly support Iran, which will be par for the course.  Labour’s leadership contenders will be up and about doing much the same, in order to drum up support among the membership for the coming leadership election.

To date, the Foreign Secretary has not said all that much.  “We have always recognised the aggressive threat posed by the Iranian Quds force led by Qasem Soleimani. Following his death, we urge all parties to de-escalate. Further conflict is in none of our interests,” he tweeted on Friday.

We may be leaving the EU at the end of January, but British solidarity with its position on Iran continues.  How does Boris Johnson plan to deal with Trump if the conflict between America and Iran intensifies – particularly if Britain is dragged into it?  The regime will not have forgotten the business of the Prime Minister’s blunder over Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

He will want to stick to his diplomatic position on Iran while not fouling up any trade deal with America.  So far, the President seems to have taken Johnson’s alignment with France and Germany well.  It may be that he won’t mind having the Prime Minister as a “candid friend”.

But if Johnson decides that his best course for now is to say as little as possible and seek to change the subject, that will be understandable.  As we write, Downing Street might well be sifting through the bodies of a few dead cats to sling on the Cabinet table – and out to the media.  Time perhaps for another incendiary blog from Dominic Cummings.  Trump has decided to hit Iran very hard and no-one knows what will happen next.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

He Mocks Saudi Arabia on YouTube. Yes, He Fears for His Safety.

Westlake Legal Group 00saudidissident-01-facebookJumbo He Mocks Saudi Arabia on YouTube. Yes, He Fears for His Safety. YouTube.com Saudi Arabia NSO Group London (England) Cyberattacks and Hackers Asylum, Right of al-Masarir, Ghanem

LONDON — No one has skewered the Saudi royal family as gleefully as Ghanem al-Masarir.

In hundreds of videos posted to YouTube — which have now been viewed more than 300 million times — Mr. al-Masarir sits at a desk, usually at his home in North London, offers a jovial greeting in Arabic, then launches into a series of embarrassing Saudi-related stories. The tone is sharply satirical, the delivery a bit hammy.

One of his favorite targets is Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, whom he long ago tagged with a nickname, now widely used by detractors, that translates to “the bear that has gone astray.” As mild as this may sound to Western ears, calling someone a bear in the Middle East is tantamount to calling him fat and ugly, and “astray” in this context means immoral, corrupt, essentially a gangster.

“There are academics in prison in Saudi Arabia for criticizing policy, and they haven’t even mentioned leaders by name,” said Madawi al-Rasheed, a visiting professor at the London School of Economics. “So imagine what they think of Ghanem.”

By now, it seems pretty clear.

In October 2018, Mr. al-Masarir says, the British police visited his home to deliver an official warning about a threat to his life. They left him with a “panic button” system, attached through his phone line, that summons the authorities when activated, but they offered no specifics about the source of the threat.

To Mr. al-Masarir, it’s no mystery. Years ago, he says, he was quietly alerted to an apparent Saudi plan to kidnap him, a heads-up that came from an unlikely source: the Saudi intelligence agent later accused of masterminding the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post op-ed columnist killed in 2018 in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

And the Saudi regime has spent years trying to intimidate Mr. al-Masarir, he says, through cyberattacks on his social media platforms.

A few months before the police showed up at his door, Mr. al-Masarir says, the campaign against him escalated.

His smartphones had turned unaccountably sluggish, and at the behest of a friend — familiar with the side effects of covertly installed spyware — he asked a cybersecurity watchdog group to figure out why.

After examining his smartphones, Citizen Lab, a nonprofit organization based in Toronto, told him that they had been infected with Pegasus, a virus created by an Israeli tech company, NSO Group. It turns smartphones into all-purpose surveillance tools, hoovering up texts and emails, eavesdropping on calls and tracking locations.

Citizen Lab found digital footprints on Mr. al-Masarir’s smartphones leading directly to Saudi Arabia. That discovery, and the police visit, prompted Mr. al-Masarir to take an unusual step: He sued the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, demanding an apology and unspecified damages, for ruining his phones and causing personal distress and anxiety.

“You’re dealing essentially with the mafia,” Mr. al-Masarir said, during a meeting at the offices of Leigh Day, a law firm that is representing him on a “no win, no fee” basis. “Except they have diplomatic passports and a lot of money.”

Saudi officials in the United States, Britain and Saudi Arabia did not return calls and emails for comment.

Mr. al-Masarir came to Britain 16 years ago, seeking both an education and a way to denounce his native country from afar. Along the way, he discovered his inner performer and YouTube, an online platform that provided both a steady flow of income and a prominence he had never imagined. A 2018 list of thought leaders in the Arab world compiled by Global Influence ranked him No. 17, far ahead of Mr. Khashoggi.

Today, Mr. al-Masarir finds himself in an odd kind of purgatory. It has been months since he uploaded new “Ghanem Show” videos, which he once recorded three or four times a week. A rotation of repeats now provides the bulk of his income.

But defiance is part of his brand, so he is reluctant to say the Saudis have cowed him. He merely says that, at least for the time being, he has lost interest in filming new monologues.

“I’ll be back,” he said. “I don’t know when, but soon.”

Off camera, Mr. al-Masarir seems nothing like the boisterous character he assumes in his videos.

During an afternoon out this summer, he was stopped repeatedly by fans who recognized him as he walked through Harrods department store, which was filled with shoppers from Saudi Arabia. He graciously posed with families who wanted photographs and nodded to people who shouted compliments.

In private settings, he is soft-spoken, reserved and wary to the point of paranoia. At a cafe that day, he declined to drink the coffee he had ordered, apparently worried that it had been poisoned. He walked with a bottle of pepper spray in his pocket, and when a drunken pair of men careened near him, as he emerged from a Tube station, he looked ready to use it.

“Did you see those guys?” he said, briefly unnerved, as he put the bottle back in his pocket. “I didn’t know what was happening.”

According to his lawsuit, Mr. al-Masarir has much to fear. It was Oct. 31, 2018, when two Metropolitan Police officers visited his home and delivered what is known as an “Osman warning.” It’s a police protocol in which a person is officially informed about a threat to his or her life in cases that lack evidence for an arrest.

A police spokesman said the department does not comment on Osman warnings.

“They didn’t tell me anything about where the threat came from,” Mr. al-Masarir said, as he described the panic button system they had left with him. “They just said that if I pushed the button, they would break down my door, assuming I was under attack.”

The warning occurred a few weeks after the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, which the C.I.A. has concluded was ordered by the crown prince.

Mr. al-Masarir now lives with a sense of personal jeopardy that was inconceivable when he arrived in Britain, in 2003. He left his hometown, Al Kharj, which is about 50 miles south of Riyadh, to study computer science at the University of Portsmouth. He wanted to earn a degree, land a job in the computer field and find ways to denounce the Saudi regime.

Any hopes of remaining a low-profile agitator disappeared in 2004 when he met several times with a man he thought was with the opposition who turned out to work for the Saudis. Later that year, a cousin of Mr. al-Masarir’s, the Saudi diplomat Monhie bin Foyz, was transferred from the consulate of Rome to the embassy in London.

Mr. al-Masarir was leery when Mr. bin Foyz, whom he had never been close to, began inviting him to vacations in countries like Morocco and Egypt. Mr. al-Masarir turned down the invitations.

“The Saudis have a long history of kidnapping people from those countries,” he said. “He called me once from Egypt and said: ‘I’ll book the flights and hotel for you. We’ll hang out.’”

The pair stayed in touch, but his fear that his cousin meant him harm intensified one day in 2007, Mr. al-Masarir said. Mr. bin Foyz had invited him to a cafe in the Lanesborough Hotel in London for a farewell for a fellow diplomat returning to Saudi Arabia.

At one point during this coffee, Mr. bin Foyz went to the bathroom. With his cousin out of earshot, the other diplomat leaned over, stared into Mr. al-Masarir’s eyes and grimly said, “Ghanem, stay where you are.” He added an expletive for emphasis.

The message was plain. Any excursion outside Britain was a very dangerous idea.

“After that,” Mr. al-Masarir said, “there was no way I was going to leave the country.”

Mr. bin Foyz, who now lives in Saudi Arabia, did not return emails asking for comment.

Years later came a shock. The man who delivered the “stay where you are” warning was Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb. In November, the Saudi regime tagged Mr. Mutreb as the organizer of the team that had murdered Mr. Khashoggi. It is unlikely that he was among the five people recently sentenced to death by the Saudi government for the killing, because those men have been described as low-level agents and Mr. Mutreb is an aide to the crown prince.

“I can’t explain the change in Mutreb,” Mr. al-Masarir said, still baffled. “When I knew him, he was a human being.”

Mr. al-Masarir remained something of a professional student until his student visa options expired in 2011. He applied for political asylum the next year.

That entitled him to a government stipend of about $50 a week, but lacking work papers, he was unable to land a job. So he created one that didn’t require papers. In 2014, he posted his first video to a channel he originally called “GhanemTube.” It was a scathing attack on the now-deceased King Abdullah for his efforts to censor social media.

“I had never done any acting before,” Mr. al-Masarir said. “I just started.”

His early videos were seen by just a few thousand people and were savaged in the comments section, he presumes by Saudi loyalists. But he gained traction, and his audience multiplied.

In 2016, he posted a video about a cleric’s indignation about women dancing that has since been viewed more than 13 million times. His favorite theme is the widely chronicled corruption of the royal family, which he hammers for spending extravagantly and ruling tyrannically.

“The most important thing for M.B.S. is to take the money of the Saudi people and to empty their pockets,” Mr. al-Masarir says in a video about Mohammed bin Salman and his plan to build a $500 billion “smart city” near the Red Sea. “His Highness buys whatever he wants.”

He has earned as much as $6,000 a month from YouTube. The more famous he became, he said, the more the Saudis worked to undermine him.

The campaign of intimidation described by Mr. al-Masarir overlaps in one chilling way with the plot against Mr. Khashoggi.

After Mr. Khashoggi’s murder, a human-rights activist and friend of Mr. Khashoggi’s, Omar Abdulaziz, said his smartphone had been infected with the Pegasus virus. In a lawsuit against NSO Group, Mr. Abdulaziz said the Saudis had used the virus to plan the killing.

NSO Group denies that accusation and said in a statement that “Omar Abdulaziz’s suit makes a number of false claims about our technology, which is designed to prevent and investigate terror and crime.”

After examining phones owned by Mr. Abdulaziz and Mr. al-Masarir, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, the cybersecurity organization, said the spyware infections had identical elements — both were surreptitiously installed through a fake DHL package delivery link — and led to the same Saudi-controlled server.

Six years after his original application, and a few weeks after the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, Mr. al-Masarir was finally granted asylum. Judge Mark Eldridge wrote in an Oct. 25, 2018, decision that Mr. al-Masarir was entitled to be recognized as a political refugee because he “has a well-founded fear of persecution if he is now returned to Saudi Arabia on the basis of his political opinions.”

Now, Mr. al-Masarir is turning again to the British courts, this time for a reckoning with the Saudis. His lawsuit, which was filed in the High Court of Justice on Nov. 4, relies on what scholars described as an untested legal theory, one that would have to overcome jurisdictional hurdles and broaden the scope of liability for cyberattacks. It is Mr. al-Masari’s attempt to hold accountable an old enemy in a new arena, having concluded that he has plenty to fear from Saudi Arabia, even if he never sets foot there again.

“The Saudi government wanted to show me, ‘You’re not safe,’” he said, referring to the Pegasus infection and other efforts to silence him. “‘Even in the United Kingdom. We have the upper hand.’”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

YouTube Star Skewers Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom Fights Back.

Westlake Legal Group 00saudidissident-01-facebookJumbo YouTube Star Skewers Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom Fights Back. YouTube.com Saudi Arabia NSO Group London (England) Cyberattacks and Hackers Asylum, Right of al-Masarir, Ghanem

LONDON — No one has skewered the Saudi royal family as gleefully as Ghanem al-Masarir.

In hundreds of videos posted to YouTube — which have now been viewed more than 300 million times — Mr. al-Masarir sits at a desk, usually at his home in North London, offers a jovial greeting in Arabic, then launches into a series of embarrassing Saudi-related stories. The tone is sharply satirical, the delivery a bit hammy.

One of his favorite targets is Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, whom he long ago tagged with a nickname, now widely used by detractors, that translates to “the bear that has gone astray.” As mild as this may sound to Western ears, calling someone a bear in the Middle East is tantamount to calling him fat and ugly, and “astray” in this context means immoral, corrupt, essentially a gangster.

“There are academics in prison in Saudi Arabia for criticizing policy, and they haven’t even mentioned leaders by name,” said Madawi al-Rasheed, a visiting professor at the London School of Economics. “So imagine what they think of Ghanem.”

By now, it seems pretty clear.

In October 2018, Mr. al-Masarir says, the British police visited his home to deliver an official warning about a threat to his life. They left him with a “panic button” system, attached through his phone line, that summons the authorities when activated, but they offered no specifics about the source of the threat.

To Mr. al-Masarir, it’s no mystery. Years ago, he says, he was quietly alerted to an apparent Saudi plan to kidnap him, a heads-up that came from an unlikely source: the Saudi intelligence agent later accused of masterminding the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post op-ed columnist killed in 2018 in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

And the Saudi regime has spent years trying to intimidate Mr. al-Masarir, he says, through cyberattacks on his social media platforms.

A few months before the police showed up at his door, Mr. al-Masarir says, the campaign against him escalated.

His smartphones had turned unaccountably sluggish, and at the behest of a friend — familiar with the side effects of covertly installed spyware — he asked a cybersecurity watchdog group to figure out why.

After examining his smartphones, Citizen Lab, a nonprofit organization based in Toronto, told him that they had been infected with Pegasus, a virus created by an Israeli tech company, NSO Group. It turns smartphones into all-purpose surveillance tools, hoovering up texts and emails, eavesdropping on calls and tracking locations.

Citizen Lab found digital footprints on Mr. al-Masarir’s smartphones leading directly to Saudi Arabia. That discovery, and the police visit, prompted Mr. al-Masarir to take an unusual step: He sued the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, demanding an apology and unspecified damages, for ruining his phones and causing personal distress and anxiety.

“You’re dealing essentially with the mafia,” Mr. al-Masarir said, during a meeting at the offices of Leigh Day, a law firm that is representing him on a “no win, no fee” basis. “Except they have diplomatic passports and a lot of money.”

Saudi officials in the United States, Britain and Saudi Arabia did not return calls and emails for comment.

Mr. al-Masarir came to Britain 16 years ago, seeking both an education and a way to denounce his native country from afar. Along the way, he discovered his inner performer and YouTube, an online platform that provided both a steady flow of income and a prominence he had never imagined. A 2018 list of thought leaders in the Arab world compiled by Global Influence ranked him No. 17, far ahead of Mr. Khashoggi.

Today, Mr. al-Masarir finds himself in an odd kind of purgatory. It has been months since he uploaded new “Ghanem Show” videos, which he once recorded three or four times a week. A rotation of repeats now provides the bulk of his income.

But defiance is part of his brand, so he is reluctant to say the Saudis have cowed him. He merely says that, at least for the time being, he has lost interest in filming new monologues.

“I’ll be back,” he said. “I don’t know when, but soon.”

Off camera, Mr. al-Masarir seems nothing like the boisterous character he assumes in his videos.

During an afternoon out this summer, he was stopped repeatedly by fans who recognized him as he walked through Harrods department store, which was filled with shoppers from Saudi Arabia. He graciously posed with families who wanted photographs and nodded to people who shouted compliments.

In private settings, he is soft-spoken, reserved and wary to the point of paranoia. At a cafe that day, he declined to drink the coffee he had ordered, apparently worried that it had been poisoned. He walked with a bottle of pepper spray in his pocket, and when a drunken pair of men careened near him, as he emerged from a Tube station, he looked ready to use it.

“Did you see those guys?” he said, briefly unnerved, as he put the bottle back in his pocket. “I didn’t know what was happening.”

According to his lawsuit, Mr. al-Masarir has much to fear. It was Oct. 31, 2018, when two Metropolitan Police officers visited his home and delivered what is known as an “Osman warning.” It’s a police protocol in which a person is officially informed about a threat to his or her life in cases that lack evidence for an arrest.

A police spokesman said the department does not comment on Osman warnings.

“They didn’t tell me anything about where the threat came from,” Mr. al-Masarir said, as he described the panic button system they had left with him. “They just said that if I pushed the button, they would break down my door, assuming I was under attack.”

The warning occurred a few weeks after the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, which the C.I.A. has concluded was ordered by the crown prince.

Mr. al-Masarir now lives with a sense of personal jeopardy that was inconceivable when he arrived in Britain, in 2003. He left his hometown, Al Kharj, which is about 50 miles south of Riyadh, to study computer science at the University of Portsmouth. He wanted to earn a degree, land a job in the computer field and find ways to denounce the Saudi regime.

Any hopes of remaining a low-profile agitator disappeared in 2004 when he met several times with a man he thought was with the opposition who turned out to work for the Saudis. Later that year, a cousin of Mr. al-Masarir’s, the Saudi diplomat Monhie bin Foyz, was transferred from the consulate of Rome to the embassy in London.

Mr. al-Masarir was leery when Mr. bin Foyz, whom he had never been close to, began inviting him to vacations in countries like Morocco and Egypt. Mr. al-Masarir turned down the invitations.

“The Saudis have a long history of kidnapping people from those countries,” he said. “He called me once from Egypt and said: ‘I’ll book the flights and hotel for you. We’ll hang out.’”

The pair stayed in touch, but his fear that his cousin meant him harm intensified one day in 2007, Mr. al-Masarir said. Mr. bin Foyz had invited him to a cafe in the Lanesborough Hotel in London for a farewell for a fellow diplomat returning to Saudi Arabia.

At one point during this coffee, Mr. bin Foyz went to the bathroom. With his cousin out of earshot, the other diplomat leaned over, stared into Mr. al-Masarir’s eyes and grimly said, “Ghanem, stay where you are.” He added an expletive for emphasis.

The message was plain. Any excursion outside Britain was a very dangerous idea.

“After that,” Mr. al-Masarir said, “there was no way I was going to leave the country.”

Mr. bin Foyz, who now lives in Saudi Arabia, did not return emails asking for comment.

Years later came a shock. The man who delivered the “stay where you are” warning was Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb. In November, the Saudi regime tagged Mr. Mutreb as the organizer of the team that had murdered Mr. Khashoggi. It is unlikely that he was among the five people recently sentenced to death by the Saudi government for the killing, because those men have been described as low-level agents and Mr. Mutreb is an aide to the crown prince.

“I can’t explain the change in Mutreb,” Mr. al-Masarir said, still baffled. “When I knew him, he was a human being.”

Mr. al-Masarir remained something of a professional student until his student visa options expired in 2011. He applied for political asylum the next year.

That entitled him to a government stipend of about $50 a week, but lacking work papers, he was unable to land a job. So he created one that didn’t require papers. In 2014, he posted his first video to a channel he originally called “GhanemTube.” It was a scathing attack on the now-deceased King Abdullah for his efforts to censor social media.

“I had never done any acting before,” Mr. al-Masarir said. “I just started.”

His early videos were seen by just a few thousand people and were savaged in the comments section, he presumes by Saudi loyalists. But he gained traction, and his audience multiplied.

In 2016, he posted a video about a cleric’s indignation about women dancing that has since been viewed more than 13 million times. His favorite theme is the widely chronicled corruption of the royal family, which he hammers for spending extravagantly and ruling tyrannically.

“The most important thing for M.B.S. is to take the money of the Saudi people and to empty their pockets,” Mr. al-Masarir says in a video about Mohammed bin Salman and his plan to build a $500 billion “smart city” near the Red Sea. “His Highness buys whatever he wants.”

He has earned as much as $6,000 a month from YouTube. The more famous he became, he said, the more the Saudis worked to undermine him.

The campaign of intimidation described by Mr. al-Masarir overlaps in one chilling way with the plot against Mr. Khashoggi.

After Mr. Khashoggi’s murder, a human-rights activist and friend of Mr. Khashoggi’s, Omar Abdulaziz, said his smartphone had been infected with the Pegasus virus. In a lawsuit against NSO Group, Mr. Abdulaziz said the Saudis had used the virus to plan the killing.

NSO Group denies that accusation and said in a statement that “Omar Abdulaziz’s suit makes a number of false claims about our technology, which is designed to prevent and investigate terror and crime.”

After examining phones owned by Mr. Abdulaziz and Mr. al-Masarir, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, the cybersecurity organization, said the spyware infections had identical elements — both were surreptitiously installed through a fake DHL package delivery link — and led to the same Saudi-controlled server.

Six years after his original application, and a few weeks after the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, Mr. al-Masarir was finally granted asylum. Judge Mark Eldridge wrote in an Oct. 25, 2018, decision that Mr. al-Masarir was entitled to be recognized as a political refugee because he “has a well-founded fear of persecution if he is now returned to Saudi Arabia on the basis of his political opinions.”

Now, Mr. al-Masarir is turning again to the British courts, this time for a reckoning with the Saudis. His lawsuit, which was filed in the High Court of Justice on Nov. 4, relies on what scholars described as an untested legal theory, one that would have to overcome jurisdictional hurdles and broaden the scope of liability for cyberattacks. It is Mr. al-Masari’s attempt to hold accountable an old enemy in a new arena, having concluded that he has plenty to fear from Saudi Arabia, even if he never sets foot there again.

“The Saudi government wanted to show me, ‘You’re not safe,’” he said, referring to the Pegasus infection and other efforts to silence him. “‘Even in the United Kingdom. We have the upper hand.’”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Congress Wants to Force Trump’s Hand on Human Rights in China and Beyond

Westlake Legal Group 26dc-humanrights1-sub-facebookJumbo Congress Wants to Force Trump’s Hand on Human Rights in China and Beyond Vetoes (US) United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Uighurs (Chinese Ethnic Group) Turkey Syria Saudi Arabia Presidential Election of 2020 Law and Legislation Human Rights and Human Rights Violations Embargoes and Sanctions China

WASHINGTON — In a rare show of bipartisan unity, Republicans and Democrats are planning to try to force President Trump to take a more active stand on human rights in China, preparing veto-proof legislation that would punish top Chinese officials for detaining more than one million Muslims in internment camps.

The effort comes amid growing congressional frustration with Mr. Trump’s unwillingness to challenge China over human rights abuses, despite vivid news reports this year outlining atrocities, or to confront such issues globally.

To press Mr. Trump into action on China, lawmakers plan to move ahead with legislation that would punish Beijing for its repression of ethnic Uighur Muslims, with enough supporters to compel the president to sign or risk being overruled by Congress ahead of the 2020 election. A version of the legislation, known as the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act, passed both the House and Senate this year, but its path to the White House was stalled this month by a procedural process.

Human rights causes draw rare bipartisan support in Congress, and many Republican lawmakers have broken from Mr. Trump on the matter, even as they move in lock step with the president on nearly every other issue, including defending him against impeachment.

“There’s been a sense by some that the administration hasn’t prioritized human rights in its broader foreign policy,” said Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida. “I don’t think that’s necessarily accurate — but that sense has grown. There’s been a sense that Congress needs to step up.”

Last month, Congress passed legislation by unanimous consent supporting the Hong Kong protests, forcing Mr. Trump to sign the bill. Mr. Trump, who had previously said he was “standing with” Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, risked being overruled by Congress and criticized as weak on China if he vetoed the measure. Still, when Mr. Trump signed the bill the night before Thanksgiving, he issued a statement saying he would “exercise executive discretion” in enforcing its provisions.

Lawmakers this year also passed legislation recognizing the 1915 killings of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians as a genocide over the objections of Mr. Trump. And they approved a resolution calling for the end of American military support of the war in Yemen, in which a Saudi Arabia-led coalition is bombing civilians. Mr. Trump vetoed the measure.

In October, after Mr. Trump withdrew American forces just inside Syria’s border, paving the way for a Turkish military operation against Kurdish forces, lawmakers voted to rebuke the administration for the decision and show support for the Kurds, a persecuted group in the Middle East that has fought with American troops against the Islamic State.

In the coming months, Congress is expected to try to pass legislation that would punish Turkey and Saudi Arabia for human rights abuses, though it is unclear whether those efforts would have a veto-proof majority. The effort includes a package of Turkey sanctions sponsored by Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, and Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. The legislation, which would penalize those who commit human rights abuses in Syria, was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in December.

Some human rights issues draw greater bipartisan support than others. China hawks have become ascendant across Congress and in the administration, and many Americans increasingly see China as a threat.

Although Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have criticized China on the persecution of Muslims, Mr. Trump has said nothing. In July, Jewher Ilham, the daughter of Ilham Tohti, a Uighur professor whom China sentenced to life in prison in 2014, joined other victims of religious persecution to meet with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office. When she tried to explain the camps to Mr. Trump, he appeared ignorant of the situation and simply said, “That’s tough stuff.”

“It’s hard to find evidence of genuine personal interest,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “On China, at a minimum, President Trump should stop describing an authoritarian, abusive leader as a ‘terrific guy’; doing so gives Chinese authorities the opportunity to choose between that characterization and the far tougher ones offered up by other senior U.S. officials.”

Mr. Trump, who has criticized China over its economic practices, has refrained from imposing sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for the camps for fear of jeopardizing the chances of reaching a trade deal. Many top aides and lawmakers from both parties have pushed for sanctions, but the Treasury Department has opposed the penalties. The Uighur act, which had Mr. Rubio and Representative Christopher H. Smith, Republican of New Jersey, as sponsors, would compel Mr. Trump to impose sanctions on Chen Quanguo, the top Communist Party official in Xinjiang, where the camps are.

In October, the Trump administration placed a few Chinese businesses and security organizations on a commercial blacklist because of their suspected roles in Muslim abuses, but many analysts considered that a weak punishment.

Other countries are more complicated. Saudi Arabia has been a traditional American ally, and Iran hawks in Congress, who are generally Republican, argue Riyadh is a regional bulwark against Tehran. And Mr. Trump’s positive declarations about President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia have spurred a gradual shift from the anti-Russia views previously held by Republican politicians, conservative voters and right-wing news organizations.

Mr. Trump expresses open admiration for many authoritarian leaders, even those condemned by senior officials in his own administration for some of the world’s worst atrocities. They include Mr. Xi, Mr. Putin, Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil.

“He’s celebrating the leaders who are the worst human rights abusers,” Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, said in an interview. “It almost seems like the president’s support for you is directly proportional to how brutal you are to your citizenry.”

This month, the Trump administration blocked a move by members of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the human rights situation in North Korea for the second year in a row. Mr. Trump has expressed warmth for Mr. Kim of North Korea and has engaged in personal diplomacy, meeting him at two summits to try, without success, to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

“The Trump administration has sent a clear message to Pyongyang and to the rest of the world that this administration doesn’t consider starvation, torture, summary executions and a host of other crimes to be a priority,” said Louis Charbonneau, United Nations director at Human Rights Watch.

On other prominent issues this year, Mr. Trump used his executive power to reject measures that would have either punished countries for human rights abuses or simply affirmed the abuses were happening.

Mr. Trump vetoed a bipartisan resolution that would have punished Saudi Arabia for its air war in Yemen and the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and permanent resident of the United States. Mr. Khashoggi’s death last year — a grisly killing that American intelligence officials have said was ordered by Prince Mohammed — reignited a long-simmering effort among a small group of lawmakers to cut off American support for the Saudi-led bombings in Yemen that have helped create the world’s worst man-made humanitarian crisis.

Four of the six vetoes Mr. Trump has issued in his presidency overturned legislative attempts to penalize the kingdom. In May, Mr. Trump and Mr. Pompeo sparked bipartisan fury by declaring an emergency over Iran that allowed the United States to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, bypassing a congressional hold on the sales. This fall, in closed door negotiations, the White House blocked similar language from making it into the final version of the annual defense policy bill, a must-pass package of legislation.

“I’m a big fan of the president on many fronts, but on this, someone has to stand up,” Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky and a proponent of withdrawing the United States from wars, said in a floor speech in June before voting to cut off arms sales to the kingdom.

In another recent instance that privately confounded Republican lawmakers, the White House recruited multiple Republican senators to block attempts to pass legislation formally recognizing the Armenian genocide. The administration argued the timing of the bill would upend diplomatic relations with Turkey, including when Mr. Trump received Mr. Erdogan at the White House in November. Mr. Trump insisted on holding that meeting over the objections of some Republicans who have criticized Turkey, a NATO ally, for attacking the Kurds in Syria.

The legislation finally passed this month, days after the Senate advanced a package of sanctions related to Mr. Erdogan’s invasion of northern Syria and his purchase of a sophisticated Russian surface-to-air missile system.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

With U.S. Help No Longer Assured, Saudis Try a New Strategy: Talks

Westlake Legal Group merlin_157182693_29b2b765-9c5c-432a-a86b-6fd00f533d27-facebookJumbo With U.S. Help No Longer Assured, Saudis Try a New Strategy: Talks Yemen United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces United States United Arab Emirates Trump, Donald J Thani, Tamim bin Hamad al- Saudi Arabia Salman, King of Saudi Arabia qatar Persian Gulf Mohammed bin Salman (1985- ) Middle East Khaled bin Salman, Prince of Saudi Arabia Iran Houthis Hadi, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Griffiths, Martin Embargoes and Sanctions Doha (Qatar) Defense and Military Forces Carter, Jimmy Boycotts Al-Jazeera

CAIRO — In the months since a missile and drone attack widely seen as the work of Iran left two Saudi oil facilities smoldering, the Saudi crown prince has taken an uncharacteristic turn to diplomacy to cool tensions with his regional enemies.

The prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has stepped up direct talks with the rebels he has been fighting in Yemen for over four years, leading to a decline in attacks by both sides.

He has made gestures to ease, if not end, the stifling blockade he and his allies imposed his tiny, wealthy neighbor, Qatar.

He has even engaged in indirect talks with the kingdom’s archnemesis, Iran, to try to dampen the shadow war raging across the region.

Fueling the shift from confrontation to negotiation, analysts say, is the sobering realization that a decades-old cornerstone of American policy in the Middle East — the understanding that the United States would defend the Saudi oil industry from foreign attacks — can no longer be taken for granted.

Even though American and Saudi officials agreed that Iran was behind the Sept. 14 attacks on the petroleum processing plants at Abqaiq and Khurais, temporarily halving Saudi Arabia’s oil production, President Trump responded with heated rhetoric but little else.

For the Saudis, the tepid response drove home the reality that despite the tens of billions of dollars they have spent on American weapons — more than $170 billion since 1973 — they could no longer count on the United States to come to their aid, at least not with the force they expected.

Worried about having to fend for themselves in a tough and unpredictable neighborhood, analysts say, the Saudis have quietly reached out to their enemies to de-escalate conflicts.

“I think we will look at Sept. 14 as a seminal moment in gulf history,” said David B. Roberts, a scholar of the region at King’s College London. With the presumption shattered that the United States would protect the Saudis, Dr. Roberts said, “they realize the need to be more accommodating.”

For the United States, the shift toward diplomacy is an awkward paradox. The Trump administration and Congress have been pressing the Saudis to end the war in Yemen, and the administration has pushed them to reconcile with Qatar, largely in vain.

Now, the presumed Iranian strikes may have done more to advance those goals than American pressure ever did.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy turned more aggressive after Prince Mohammed, then 29, emerged as its driving force in 2015. He plunged the kingdom into a devastating war against Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen; imposed a punishing boycott on Qatar, which he accused of supporting terrorism and cozying up to Iran; and vowed to confront Iran across the Middle East.

Critics said the young prince was brash and headstrong, and a destabilizing force in the region. Moreover, the Yemen and Qatar campaigns failed to achieve the desired results.

The war in Yemen settled into a costly stalemate with the side effect of a devastating humanitarian crisis, while Qatar employed its vast wealth and other international relationships to weather the blockade. Then the refinery attacks highlighted the vulnerability of the Saudi oil industry, the country’s economic jewel.

Those events led to what Rob Malley, a top official for the Middle East in the Obama administration, describes as a “semi-recalibration” of Saudi policies. The sudden willingness to pursue diplomacy in Qatar and Yemen, he said, “reflects a Saudi desire to solidify its regional posture at a time of uncertainty and vulnerability.”

Analysts saw the lack of a significant American response to the attacks as a blow to the policy known as the Carter doctrine, which dates to 1980, when President Jimmy Carter vowed to use force to ensure the free flow of oil from the Persian Gulf after the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Subsequent presidents, Democrats and Republicans, upheld it, seeing Saudi oil exports as essential to the global economy and America’s interests.

“For as long as I have been working on the Middle East, that’s why we were there: to protect the free flow of oil,” said Steven Cook, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, referring to a period dating to the 1980s.

After the attacks, Mr. Trump sent more American troops to Saudi Arabia to operate Patriot missile systems, support that fell far short of what the Saudis had expected from a president whom they considered a close friend and who shared their animosity toward Iran. Mr. Trump ordered, then abruptly called off, airstrikes on Iran.

“What the Saudis didn’t understand,” Dr. Cook said, “was that Donald Trump is a lot closer to Barack Obama’s worldview than they realized. It’s about getting out of the Middle East.”

The Saudis’ reputation in Washington had suffered gravely because of the war in Yemen, the Qatar blockade and the killing of the dissident Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Istanbul last year.

While anger spread in Congress and other parts of the government, Mr. Trump continued to support the kingdom as an important Arab ally and a reliable buyer of American arms. But as a presidential election looms, the Saudis realize that Mr. Trump could find that position to be a liability with voters, and a new president could take an entirely different approach.

“It is a hard ask, even for Trump, to defend Saudi Arabia at every turn during a campaign,” said Emile Hokayem, a Middle East analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “So I think the Saudis are smart enough to tone it down for a time.”

Daylight also broke between Saudi Arabia and its closest regional ally, the United Arab Emirates. In June, the Emirates began withdrawing its troops from Yemen, leaving the Saudis with the burden of an ugly war that few believe they can win. In July, the Emirates hosted rare talks with Iran about maritime security, an effort to calm tensions in the Persian Gulf and safeguard the country’s reputation as a safe business hub.

Saudi officials did not respond to a request for comment on the recent diplomacy.

While those overtures have yet to yield official agreements, they have eased pressures in the region.

In Yemen, both sides have released more than 100 prisoners to show good will, and cross-border attacks by the Houthis have grown less frequent. Last month the United Nations envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, reported an 80 percent reduction in airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition over the previous two weeks.

Since then, no Yemeni civilians have been killed in airstrikes, said Radhya Almutawakel, the chairwoman of Mwatana, a Yemeni human rights group.

The current de-escalation, she noted, is the first that resulted from direct talks with the Houthis. She suspected that the Saudis would not have chosen that route if the war had been going their way at the time of the Abqaiq attack.

“They would not have chosen to speak with the Houthis,” she said. “They would have escalated the war.”

In the standoff between Saudi Arabia and its allies and Qatar, demonstrable progress has been scarce but quiet talks between the countries’ leaders have softened the conflict’s rougher edges.

Saudi social media accounts that often insulted Qatar’s emir, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, have toned it down. And while Qatar has not shut down its Al Jazeera satellite network as the Saudis demanded, criticism of Qatar from pro-government news outlets and social media accounts in Saudi Arabia has noticeably quieted in recent months, Qatari officials say.

Instead of punishing citizens who travel to Qatar, Saudi Arabia now looks the other way, and has even sent soccer teams to play in tournaments in Doha, the Qatari capital. And although Qatar’s emir did not accept an invitation by the Saudi monarch, King Salman, to attend a regional summit meeting in Saudi Arabia this month, Qatar’s foreign minister did.

The Qataris have also gained ground in Washington. While Mr. Trump initially cheered the blockade, endorsing the Saudi allegation that Qatar supported terrorism, he later switched tracks. Last year, he welcomed Qatar’s emir in Washington and this month sent his daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, to a major conference in Doha.

But the antagonism toward Qatar has not softened in the Emirates, which has been a leader of the embargo and which still sees Qatar as dangerously close to the region’s Islamists. The distrust is reciprocated by Qatar, where officials have spoken of possibly reconciling with Saudi Arabia but not the Emirates, effectively splitting their alliance.

Concrete progress has been scarcest where the stakes are highest: between Saudi Arabia and Iran. But after years of heated statements and competing support for opposite sides in regional conflicts, officials from Pakistan and Iraq have stepped in as intermediaries for back-channel talks aimed at averting a wider conflict.

It remains unclear how far such talks will go in reducing tensions, especially since an official Saudi opening with Iran could infuriate Mr. Trump, who has tried to isolate and punish Iran.

“Washington would not look kindly upon a Saudi-Iranian channel at a time when the U.S. is trying to isolate Iran,” said Mr. Malley, the Obama administration official. “Not to fully trust the Trump administration is one thing. To openly defy it is another altogether, and Prince Mohammed is unlikely to do that.”

Saeed al-Batati and Shuaib Almosawa contributed reporting from Yemen.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

With U.S. Help No Longer Assured, Saudis Try a New Strategy: Talks

Westlake Legal Group merlin_157182693_29b2b765-9c5c-432a-a86b-6fd00f533d27-facebookJumbo With U.S. Help No Longer Assured, Saudis Try a New Strategy: Talks Yemen United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces United States United Arab Emirates Trump, Donald J Thani, Tamim bin Hamad al- Saudi Arabia Salman, King of Saudi Arabia qatar Persian Gulf Mohammed bin Salman (1985- ) Middle East Khaled bin Salman, Prince of Saudi Arabia Iran Houthis Hadi, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Griffiths, Martin Embargoes and Sanctions Doha (Qatar) Defense and Military Forces Carter, Jimmy Boycotts Al-Jazeera

CAIRO — In the months since a missile and drone attack widely seen as the work of Iran left two Saudi oil facilities smoldering, the Saudi crown prince has taken an uncharacteristic turn to diplomacy to cool tensions with his regional enemies.

The prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has stepped up direct talks with the rebels he has been fighting in Yemen for over four years, leading to a decline in attacks by both sides.

He has made gestures to ease, if not end, the stifling blockade he and his allies imposed his tiny, wealthy neighbor, Qatar.

He has even engaged in indirect talks with the kingdom’s archnemesis, Iran, to try to dampen the shadow war raging across the region.

Fueling the shift from confrontation to negotiation, analysts say, is the sobering realization that a decades-old cornerstone of American policy in the Middle East — the understanding that the United States would defend the Saudi oil industry from foreign attacks — can no longer be taken for granted.

Even though American and Saudi officials agreed that Iran was behind the Sept. 14 attacks on the petroleum processing plants at Abqaiq and Khurais, temporarily halving Saudi Arabia’s oil production, President Trump responded with heated rhetoric but little else.

For the Saudis, the tepid response drove home the reality that despite the tens of billions of dollars they have spent on American weapons — more than $170 billion since 1973 — they could no longer count on the United States to come to their aid, at least not with the force they expected.

Worried about having to fend for themselves in a tough and unpredictable neighborhood, analysts say, the Saudis have quietly reached out to their enemies to de-escalate conflicts.

“I think we will look at Sept. 14 as a seminal moment in gulf history,” said David B. Roberts, a scholar of the region at King’s College London. With the presumption shattered that the United States would protect the Saudis, Dr. Roberts said, “they realize the need to be more accommodating.”

For the United States, the shift toward diplomacy is an awkward paradox. The Trump administration and Congress have been pressing the Saudis to end the war in Yemen, and the administration has pushed them to reconcile with Qatar, largely in vain.

Now, the presumed Iranian strikes may have done more to advance those goals than American pressure ever did.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy turned more aggressive after Prince Mohammed, then 29, emerged as its driving force in 2015. He plunged the kingdom into a devastating war against Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen; imposed a punishing boycott on Qatar, which he accused of supporting terrorism and cozying up to Iran; and vowed to confront Iran across the Middle East.

Critics said the young prince was brash and headstrong, and a destabilizing force in the region. Moreover, the Yemen and Qatar campaigns failed to achieve the desired results.

The war in Yemen settled into a costly stalemate with the side effect of a devastating humanitarian crisis, while Qatar employed its vast wealth and other international relationships to weather the blockade. Then the refinery attacks highlighted the vulnerability of the Saudi oil industry, the country’s economic jewel.

Those events led to what Rob Malley, a top official for the Middle East in the Obama administration, describes as a “semi-recalibration” of Saudi policies. The sudden willingness to pursue diplomacy in Qatar and Yemen, he said, “reflects a Saudi desire to solidify its regional posture at a time of uncertainty and vulnerability.”

Analysts saw the lack of a significant American response to the attacks as a blow to the policy known as the Carter doctrine, which dates to 1980, when President Jimmy Carter vowed to use force to ensure the free flow of oil from the Persian Gulf after the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Subsequent presidents, Democrats and Republicans, upheld it, seeing Saudi oil exports as essential to the global economy and America’s interests.

“For as long as I have been working on the Middle East, that’s why we were there: to protect the free flow of oil,” said Steven Cook, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, referring to a period dating to the 1980s.

After the attacks, Mr. Trump sent more American troops to Saudi Arabia to operate Patriot missile systems, support that fell far short of what the Saudis had expected from a president whom they considered a close friend and who shared their animosity toward Iran. Mr. Trump ordered, then abruptly called off, airstrikes on Iran.

“What the Saudis didn’t understand,” Dr. Cook said, “was that Donald Trump is a lot closer to Barack Obama’s worldview than they realized. It’s about getting out of the Middle East.”

The Saudis’ reputation in Washington had suffered gravely because of the war in Yemen, the Qatar blockade and the killing of the dissident Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Istanbul last year.

While anger spread in Congress and other parts of the government, Mr. Trump continued to support the kingdom as an important Arab ally and a reliable buyer of American arms. But as a presidential election looms, the Saudis realize that Mr. Trump could find that position to be a liability with voters, and a new president could take an entirely different approach.

“It is a hard ask, even for Trump, to defend Saudi Arabia at every turn during a campaign,” said Emile Hokayem, a Middle East analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “So I think the Saudis are smart enough to tone it down for a time.”

Daylight also broke between Saudi Arabia and its closest regional ally, the United Arab Emirates. In June, the Emirates began withdrawing its troops from Yemen, leaving the Saudis with the burden of an ugly war that few believe they can win. In July, the Emirates hosted rare talks with Iran about maritime security, an effort to calm tensions in the Persian Gulf and safeguard the country’s reputation as a safe business hub.

Saudi officials did not respond to a request for comment on the recent diplomacy.

While those overtures have yet to yield official agreements, they have eased pressures in the region.

In Yemen, both sides have released more than 100 prisoners to show good will, and cross-border attacks by the Houthis have grown less frequent. Last month the United Nations envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, reported an 80 percent reduction in airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition over the previous two weeks.

Since then, no Yemeni civilians have been killed in airstrikes, said Radhya Almutawakel, the chairwoman of Mwatana, a Yemeni human rights group.

The current de-escalation, she noted, is the first that resulted from direct talks with the Houthis. She suspected that the Saudis would not have chosen that route if the war had been going their way at the time of the Abqaiq attack.

“They would not have chosen to speak with the Houthis,” she said. “They would have escalated the war.”

In the standoff between Saudi Arabia and its allies and Qatar, demonstrable progress has been scarce but quiet talks between the countries’ leaders have softened the conflict’s rougher edges.

Saudi social media accounts that often insulted Qatar’s emir, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, have toned it down. And while Qatar has not shut down its Al Jazeera satellite network as the Saudis demanded, criticism of Qatar from pro-government news outlets and social media accounts in Saudi Arabia has noticeably quieted in recent months, Qatari officials say.

Instead of punishing citizens who travel to Qatar, Saudi Arabia now looks the other way, and has even sent soccer teams to play in tournaments in Doha, the Qatari capital. And although Qatar’s emir did not accept an invitation by the Saudi monarch, King Salman, to attend a regional summit meeting in Saudi Arabia this month, Qatar’s foreign minister did.

The Qataris have also gained ground in Washington. While Mr. Trump initially cheered the blockade, endorsing the Saudi allegation that Qatar supported terrorism, he later switched tracks. Last year, he welcomed Qatar’s emir in Washington and this month sent his daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, to a major conference in Doha.

But the antagonism toward Qatar has not softened in the Emirates, which has been a leader of the embargo and which still sees Qatar as dangerously close to the region’s Islamists. The distrust is reciprocated by Qatar, where officials have spoken of possibly reconciling with Saudi Arabia but not the Emirates, effectively splitting their alliance.

Concrete progress has been scarcest where the stakes are highest: between Saudi Arabia and Iran. But after years of heated statements and competing support for opposite sides in regional conflicts, officials from Pakistan and Iraq have stepped in as intermediaries for back-channel talks aimed at averting a wider conflict.

It remains unclear how far such talks will go in reducing tensions, especially since an official Saudi opening with Iran could infuriate Mr. Trump, who has tried to isolate and punish Iran.

“Washington would not look kindly upon a Saudi-Iranian channel at a time when the U.S. is trying to isolate Iran,” said Mr. Malley, the Obama administration official. “Not to fully trust the Trump administration is one thing. To openly defy it is another altogether, and Prince Mohammed is unlikely to do that.”

Saeed al-Batati and Shuaib Almosawa contributed reporting from Yemen.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Saudi Arabia Wants Your Next Vacation

AL-UYAYNAH, Saudi Arabia — In a makeshift camp under a starry sky, Ghazi Al-Anazi talked about his experience in the fledgling Saudi tourist business. A decade ago, barely in his 20s, he started taking British business associates of his brother to see the wind-carved hills of the Saudi desert.

Now 31, he has a small fleet of S.U.V.s, nearly a dozen employees and a self-taught ability to cater to the whims of visitors from many nations.

“I know what they want to do, and what I need to do about it,” he said, ladling out a dinner of barbecued chicken and Middle Eastern salads to a couple of dozen tourists from France, Ukraine, Malaysia and the United States.

Mr. Al-Anazi and his business, Ghazi Tours, take up to 900 visitors a month on treks like this one to a dry riverbed dotted with venerable acacia trees north of Riyadh, the Saudi capital.

ImageWestlake Legal Group 00sauditourism07-articleLarge Saudi Arabia Wants Your Next Vacation Travel and Vacations Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman (1985- ) Hotels and Travel Lodgings Historic Buildings and Sites Economic Conditions and Trends Advertising and Marketing

Tourists, led by Ghazi Al-Anazi, climbing a rock formation in the desert near Riyadh.Credit…Stanley Reed/The New York Times

But he’s confident those numbers are about to multiply, as Saudi Arabia begins to open itself up as a major tourist destination. The government recently began issuing tourist visas for the first time, a remarkable shift for a traditionally shuttered society.

And it goes far beyond that: Billions of dollars are being poured into vast tourism projects throughout the kingdom, from flashy resorts to new airports, in a bid to shift the economy away from its dependence on the petroleum industry and the government jobs it finances.

Visiting Saudi Arabia has long been a difficult proposition for everyone except Muslim pilgrims going on the hajj and business travelers. For decades, historic sites have been largely ignored, and hotels and travel services were scarce outside major cities.

Unemployment among Saudi nationals is stubbornly high, about 12 percent. But the government figures that the travel industry, which employs about 600,000 people, can be expanded to create up to a million more jobs, as the need for everything from drivers, chefs and guides to hotel managers and archaeologists expands.

The move toward tourism was devised by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s 34-year-old chief policymaker, whose Vision 2030 program seeks to diversify the economy, draw in more outside investment and expand of the private sector.

The Saudis are hiring international real estate executives and introducing elaborate advertising campaigns to try to put themselves on the map. Already, there are signs the push is paying off: Saudi hotel room sales in the first nine months of 2019 increased 11.8 percent from the same period last year.

But a question hanging over the whole initiative, some travel experts say, is how many people will want to visit an ultraconservative kingdom that’s the subject of intense criticism over its treatment of dissenters and women, that restricts the use of alcohol and until recently barred unmarried couples from sharing rooms.

An effort to overcome those concerns by inviting social media influencers for expense-paid trips this year prompted a backlash by online commenters.

Saudi Arabia is promoting a different image: ultramodern resorts, ruins from ancient civilizations and romantic desert landscapes once crossed by Lawrence of Arabia. And tour guides won’t object if you want to take a selfie with a camel.

Referring the vast golden vistas, “I call it the new yellow oil,” said Amr Al Madani, the chief executive of the Royal Commission for Al-Ula, a region in the northwest part of the kingdom that is roughly the size of New Jersey.

Al-Ula includes the evocative ruins of an ancient city of carved rock tombs, called Mada’in Saleh. Like Petra, a popular tourist draw in southern Jordan, the city was built by the Nabataeans about 2,000 years ago.

The vast region has only 45,000 residents. There are some existing resorts, and France’s Accor chain recently agreed to manage one. Mr. Madani is planning an investment of up to $20 billion, from a mix of public and private sources, to finance airport expansion, hotels and other facilities to accommodate up to two million visitors drawn to archaeological sites as well as food and cultural attractions.

An even more ambitious scheme is under construction on Saudi Arabia’s western coast. The Red Sea project covers a remote area with 120 miles of coastline, more than 90 islands and extensive coral reefs that could one day be a diving and snorkeling paradise.

The Saudis want to put four dozen luxury hotels there, including 14 in a first phase, forecasting that these facilities will eventually contribute around $6 billion a year to the economy. Accor has agreed to participate, and the developers say they are in talks with other international hotel groups.

The Public Investment Fund, Prince Mohammed’s $320 billion vehicle for economic makeover, owns the Red Sea scheme and is providing some of the initial capital. Proceeds from the recent sale of a stake in the national oil company, Saudi Aramco, are likely to flow into the investment fund, and could finance other tourist projects.

Prince Mohammed chairs the Red Sea Development Company as well as the Al-Ula commission. John Pagano, Red Sea’s chief executive, said the prince knew the area “intimately” from excursions on his yacht.

On one occasion, the prince told the developers to think again about putting a resort on a certain island because the water surrounding it is not turquoise enough.

“We never made that mistake again, “ said Mr. Pagano, a former senior executive at London’s Canary Wharf development.

These projects are the size of small countries, and the prince is taking advantage of their scale and sparse populations to plan distinctive communities. The Red Sea development, for instance, will not be connected to the national electric grid and will rely completely on renewable energy like wind and solar, according to Mr. Pagano, who is a Canadian citizen.

Saudi Arabia’s conservative social mores will also be less in evidence, the developers say. The travel industry anticipates that alcoholic beverages, which are prohibited in Saudi Arabia, may eventually be sold in these new areas just as they are in Dubai, the Persian Gulf travel and business hub, whose mix of luxury and modernism appears to influence the prince’s thinking.

Mr. Pagano said he was not counting on the availability of alcohol. He did say that “what you typically see in the West” is likely to be permitted at Red Sea resorts. In other words, alcohol aside, travelers will be able to do as they please — for example, women will be able to sunbathe in bikinis.

Both the Red Sea and Al-Ula projects aspire to attract wealthy, ecology-minded tourists willing to pay a premium for a novel and relatively unspoiled destination. Some travel analysts say this approach may pay dividends.

“This planet is running out of places to go,” said Philip Wooller, Middle East director for the travel research firm STR.

Aman Resorts, a Swiss-based hotel group that caters to the wealthy and celebrities, is setting up three establishments in Al-Ula, with a plan to open in 2023. “There is a huge amount of culture to be discovered and explored, and that is exactly what our guests want to do,” said Anna Nash, a spokeswoman for the company.

Still, Mr. Wooller said, the Saudis are starting “at the very very beginning.” Although the kingdom accommodates about 15 million international visitors a year, the bulk of them for Muslim pilgrimages, tourism has largely been limited to side trips after business meetings. A huge training and hotel-building exercise is going to be required to meet the government’s goal of 100 million domestic and international visits by 2030, more than double the 41 million of 2018.

That’s a big leap in a kingdom that until recently has had little tourism. “If we had to live off tourists, we would be dead,” said Qamar Ahmed, who runs a combined antique store, art gallery and coffee shop called Desert Designs in Al-Khobar in eastern Saudi Arabia.

Moreover, while the crown prince has given a green light to some reforms, including allowing women to drive, some potential visitors may be alienated by the brutal killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 by Saudi agents, and other repressive measures like jailing critics of the government.

“Saudi Arabia won’t be an easy sell for a lot of tourists,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel consultant at Atmosphere Research in San Francisco. While Saudi Arabia might appeal to travelers who consider themselves explorers, he said, the kingdom has a “big cloud hanging over” its reputation because of the Khashoggi killing and because women are not treated as fully equal to men.

Still, the Saudis are trying hard to buff up their image. Arriving in Riyadh for business meetings, Carl de Stefanis, a New York venture capitalist, and his son, Erik, visited a welcome kiosk at the airport and were surprised to be treated to a tour of the city, a tasty dinner, and gifts including white Saudi robes and checkered head cloths.

“Just about everyone we met cared earnestly that we were enjoying ourselves,” Mr. de Stefanis said.

And for Saudi tourism entrepreneurs, it seems like a new day. For instance, Madawi Bander Al Saud says her company, The Traveling Panther, is preparing customized tours of the kingdom for clients from Japan, Mexico and Italy.

“For years we have been showing them pictures,” she said. “Now they get to come.”

Alan Rappeport and Tasneem Alsultan contributed reporting from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Saudi Court Sentences 5 to Death in Khashoggi Murder

Westlake Legal Group 23khashoggi-facebookJumbo Saudi Court Sentences 5 to Death in Khashoggi Murder Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman (1985- ) Khashoggi, Jamal Assassinations and Attempted Assassinations

BEIRUT, Lebanon — A court in Saudi Arabia sentenced five men to death and three to prison terms over the killing of the Saudi dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last year, the kingdom’s public prosecutor’s office said on Monday.

The killing of Mr. Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi media figure and columnist for The Washington Post, brought international outrage and battered the reputation of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman.

Mr. Khashoggi, who lived in Virginia, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018, to obtain paperwork he needed to marry his Turkish fiancée. Inside, he was confronted by Saudi agents, who killed him and dismembered his body. His remains have yet to be found.

Officials in Washington and other capitals had called on Saudi Arabia to investigate the case and ensure justice. But it was unclear whether the verdict announced on Monday would appease critics who argue that the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, 59, was part of a wider campaign to silence critical voices at home and abroad.

The trial was held in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, and was shrouded in secrecy. The kingdom never announced the suspects’ names, and foreign diplomats who attended sessions of the trial were sworn to secrecy.

A statement from the public prosecutor’s office said five men had been sentenced to death for their direct involvement in Mr. Khashoggi’s killing. Three others were given a total of 24 years in prison for covering up the crime and violating other laws.

The kingdom did not provide the names of those sentenced, but it said that Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide to Prince Mohammed whom the United States imposed sanctions on over the killing, had not been tried because of a lack of evidence against him.

Although no evidence has been made public that directly implicates Prince Mohammed in the killing, an assessment by the Central Intelligence Agency found that he had probably ordered the operation, which included two private jets and more than 15 government agents.

Prince Mohammed has said that he played no role in the killing but that he bore some responsibility for it because it happened on his watch.

Death sentences in Saudi Arabia are usually carried out by beheading in public squares. All suspects can appeal the verdicts.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com