The Corona virus has dominated the news cycles of virtually all Arabic media this past week or so, as is the case the world over. A glance at the www.aljazeera.net front page on 14 March for example, reveals all but one of their top ten lead headline articles have the word “Corona” in the headlines.
The overall numbers of Corona cases, so far, in the Arabic countries is rather subdued. However, most of these countries, particularly in the Levant and Gulf areas, have large Shi’a populations, and as Shi’a pilgrims return home from visits to Iran (one of the three major clusters of the virus) they are bringing the virus back with them. So, the numbers in those countries are likely to rise in the near future. Other than that, events in Syria and Libya are still being covered to some extent.
Following is one of the more amusing reports related to Corona:
EVEN MORE BAD NEWS FOR THE MEN: THE CORONA VIRUS THREATENS YOU WITH STERILITY
Thus screams the headlines of a 14 March report posted on www.aljazeeera.net.
According to this report, the Corona virus binds to a protein “S” and an enzyme called “ACE2” which is the pathway by which it enters the testes. In addition to sterility it can also cause an impairment of sexual function. Through the above-mentioned pathway, the Corona virus can also harm the kidneys.
So, maybe it’s not so funny after all.
These reports are based on studies conducted by two hospitals in China, and have not yet been corroborated, so additional study is needed according to the al-Jazeera report.
IRAQI SHI’A LEADER BLAMES THE U.S. FOR CORONA
According to a report posted on www.alarabiya.net Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of one of Iraq’s largest Shi’a factions, has blamed the American President Donald Trump personally for the spread of the incipient Corona virus. Muqtada al-Sadr also added that he would refuse any treatment from Trump or the “plague companies.”
Al-Sadr also rejected the Iraqi government’s advice to its citizens to avoid all large gatherings by refusing to close Shi’a sites in Iraq and going forward with Friday mosque services.
Al-Sadr based his accusation against the U.S. by the “fact” that the countries worst hit by the virus are those who are enemies of the United States.
The alarabiya report noted that in spite of the Iraqi government’s efforts to stem the rapid spread of the virus, the rates of new cases keep climbing day after day. The principle reason for this is that the border with Iran has not yet been closed, and people are coming into Iraq from Iranian cities daily, as are airline flights. The Iraqi government is especially fearful that the epidemic will spread in places where Shi’a gather such as the tombs of their saints (spread throughout southern Iraq) which get millions of visitors annually.
COMMENT: Iraqi statistics show a 10% death rate, but that is most likely due to under reporting of the less serious cases: People in Iraq are not likely to seek professional medical care until and unless they are already sick enough to die. Hence the under reporting of actual cases, vs. the probably nearly accurate reporting of deaths.
I first heard of the U.S. being blamed for the Corona virus a little over a week ago when al-Jazeera TV replayed a Russian TV cast (with Arabic voice over) where the Russian, with a teasing smirk on his face, facetiously claimed that the U.S. manufactured the virus and inserted into China in order to “hurt the Chinese.”
The Chinese apparently liked the sound of that, so they too began to blame the U.S., this time the U.S. army, for inserting the virus into China. (What? The world is supposed to believe that the U.S. army has penetrated and occupied China as deeply as the city of Wuhan?)
The Iranians then picked up the same song from the Chinese, and then twisted it to say that the Americans created the virus for the sole purpose of hurting Iran. The Iraqi Shi’a Muqtada al-Sadr is a long-time puppet of the Iranians, so it’s only natural that he should sing the same tune. As a footnote, al-Sadr headed one of the militia’s that set roadside IEDs to kill and maim American service men and women during America’s war there.
As for al-Sadr’s “proof” that the U.S. created the virus and infected its enemies, let’s take a look at the three countries that have so far been the hardest hit by this virus: China, Iran, and Italy. Italy can hardly be called an enemy of the U.S. So, what does Italy have in common with Iran and China?
American administration officials who have called this virus the “Wuhan flu,” or the “Chinese virus,” are absolutely correct. There is no question that this virus began in, and was leaked out of one of China’s biotech labs located in the city of Wuhan. China then tried to pretend that there was no problem, and punished those who tried to warn about it. That’s why China was hit so hard–their refusal to admit there was a problem. It was entirely a self-inflicted wound.
Their negligence in matter also aided the spread of the virus quickly to other countries. Had the Chinese been upfront with the true facts of this virus from the beginning, other countries could have had the opportunity to ban flights and cruise ships to and from China before it could spread to other countries.
Okay, so why Iran?
China is very heavily invested in Iran, the are a major purchaser of Iranian oil, and Iran is a major purchaser of Chinese weapons and other items. There is a lot of going back and forth between China and Iran. That’s how the virus spread to Iran. Then Iran, like China a totalitarian state, and like China, psychologically unable to admit that they had a problem, so they tried to ignore the problem. The result was that it spread out of control, and, as in China, the problem there is many times worse than the government will let on. Okay, so how does Italy fit into this?
China is very heavily invested in Italy in general, and the Vatican in particular. Like the case with Iran, there is a lot of going back and forth between China and Italy, and because of China’s inability to admit they have a problem, some of the Chinese travelling to Italy carried the virus with them.
The Italy problem has also rapidly infected many of the other EU states because of the EU open borders policy. So, now, the entire EU is considered to be a major “cluster” for the virus equal to China.
Meanwhile, al-Jazeera TV is quoting an Iranian official who is accusing the U.S. of launching a “biological war” against it. China has also ratcheted up its official condemnation of the U.S. for infecting them with the virus.
In a somewhat related matter, the Iranian supported and directed Iraqi Shi’a militia (heshd sha’bi) (popular mobilization) “Iraqi hizbollah” fired 10 “Katosha” rockets at the Taji military base in north Iraq, killing two American soldiers and one Brit.
A few days ago a report surfaced that Isma’il Qaani, Qasim Solaimani’s successor as commander of Iran’s terror branch of the IRGC, was headed to Iraq “to take care of matters there.” I guess you might say that he took advantage of the open borders between Iran and Iraq. The Corona virus is not the only plague entering Iraq from Iran.
I can’t help but believe that there is some connection between Qaani’s recent move into Iraq, and this latest missile attack against U.S. forces in Iraq, especially given that Qaani is in a position of having to prove he’s got the “huevos” for the job. Also, shortly after we took out Qasim Solaimani, Iran announced that it would continue to strike back at U.S. interests using its “assests” in other countries.
This is why the U.S. launching “proportionate” attacks against Shi’a militia bases in Iraq will not stop the shelling of U.S. bases in Iraq. Iran will change its behavior only when it is taught that any and all such attacks will result in the Iranian regime itself being hurt ten times as severe as its pinpricks against us.
COMMENT: Arabic TV stations have been reporting on the U.S. “revenge” attacks against five Iraqi Hizbollah positions.
On the Turkey/Russia equation in Syria the political analyst and writer Hazim Saghiyyah posted an interesting opinion piece on www.alarabiya.net.
He maintains that both Russia and Turkey are victims of an “identity crisis,” since they are both nation state countries who have recently lost control of vast empires. As a result they haven’t yet figured out who they really are, as both still retain pretensions of restoring their lost empires.
In this regard he noted that the “great irony here is that the most prominent source of the current ambitions of Russia and Turkey (in Syria) is the lack of an American presence in the arena.” The common denominator, he says, is that neither Russia nor Turkey can force the other out or ignore their positions in Syria, and that both hold the feeling that an American and European presence is necessary. But each of them intend to have the western influence weigh in on their side rather than on the side of the other party.
He added that the current “cease fire” is only a “cease fire in waiting” for Washington. The author believes that the strategy that Moscow is following to bring in the U.S. is more homogenous (to the West) than is the strategy followed by Turkey. In this regard he cited Turkey’s self-inflicted injuries vis-à-vis its relations with Washington such as its purchase of Russian S-400s, its treatment of the Kurds, and its over-the-top demands for the extradition of the aging Gulen. Also he promised a “security zone” for refugees, then released a couple of million refugees to flood Europe.
Regarding Turkey’s perfidy, Mr. Saghiyyah referenced Turkey’s preference for the Axis powers in WWII, until the war was over when it joined NATO. Turkey’s NATO membership has only resulted in the weakening of NATO, according to the author, because of Turkey’s strife with fellow NATO member Greece which has only gotten worse after Turkey’s 1974 invasion of Cyprus.
Gen. Ahmad al-Mismari, the spokesman for the Libyan National Army (LNA) headed by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, has accused Turkey of violating recent European-brokered truces aimed at banning foreign powers sending weapons or fighters to either side in the Libyan civil war.
It was in this context that Gen. al-Mismari accused Turkish President Rejeb Tayyib Erdogan of wanting to restore Turkish authority over the countries which were once ruled by the Ottoman state, “such as Libya which produces two million barrels of oil a day as well as large amounts of other products such as Gas.”
He added that Turkey is sending Qatar-financed mercenaries to Libya as well as sending in weapons by air and by sea. He said the planes are taking off from several different airports. These weapons are to support the militias fighting on behalf of Tripoli. This, he says, is a clear violation of the Geneva agreement and the Berlin conference which ban foreign interference in the Libyan conflict.
Gen. al-Mismari also affirmed that Turkey represents a huge threat to shipping in the Red Sea, and is a threat to Africa. The African threat is represented by Turkey’s sending Syrian fighters loyal to it into Libya. These fighters are first taken to Turkey where they are trained at Ghazi ‘Antaab and Ankara. Then they are sent to Istanbul and from there to Masrata and Tripoli, Libya.
In addition to this, the LNA is also reporting that the Turkish armed forces are concentrating forces east of Masrata including radar technicians, missile air defense installations, and field artillery pieces of various kinds. In addition, the LNA on its Facebook page stated that after continuous monitoring by the LNA’s military intelligence, it is confirmed that there is a huge massing of terrorist groups east of Masrata, as well as various kinds of armored vehicles–in addition to the above-mentioned equipment.
When Gen. al-Mismari said that Turkey represented a major threat to shipping in the Red Sea, there are two possible interpretations of that. One, is that it was a slip of the tongue and he actually meant to say the “Mediterranean Sea” because the Med. is the only Sea that Libya has access to, and as reported previously on this site, Turkey has been pouring a lot of resources into beefing up their navy in anticipation of the day that they can make the entire Med. an Ottoman lake like it was in the 15th century.
The other possible meaning is that al-Mismari actually meant to say the Red Sea because Turkey controls an island off the coast of Sudan which it is using as a naval base, and Turkey has also been making inroads into Somalia. This comports well with the comments made by ‘Amru Musa (a former Egyptian Foreign Minister and former Secretary General of the Arab League) on ‘Amru Adeeb’s al-hakaya TV show (aired on a Saudi-owned, Egyptian-oriented channel) a couple of weeks ago. During their dialogue, Musa made the comment that Turkey is not only in Syria, its in the Aegean Sea and threatening Greece, it’s in the Gulf (thanks to its 10,000 troops in Qatar), it’s in the Red Sea, and its in the Mediterranean (then he corrected himself to saying the “southern coast” of the Med. because of its Tripoli connection–since it is already in the N.E. Med. due to its location there).
Turkey’s threats to Africa are represented not only by its nibbling away at Sudan and Somalia, but via its foothold in Libya through which Erdogan has been smuggling weapons and jihadis into the Sahel, as reported previously.
Finally, why is Turkey placing so much emphasis on concentrating troops east of Masrata? Some weeks ago the LNA, which is based in Benghazi in the eastern part of the country, captured the coastal city of Sirte which lies half way between Benghazi and the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled city of Tripoli. The LNA then boasted that Masrata (which lies further to the west, and is closely allied with Tripoli) was next, and began to make advances in that direction.
Masrata is extremely important to Erdogan’s plans not only for Libya, but for all of the Sahel as well. Turkey has been using the port of Masrata as one of the major conduits (in addition to Tripoli itself) for off-loading weapons, jihadis, and other military equipment for propping up the MB government in Tripoli, and, in some cases, for transporting them further on into Africa. Also, Masrata is the last remaining major city still allied with the MB government in Tripoli. If Masrata falls to the LNA, Tripoli would likely not be far behind, and this would shatter Erdogan’s plans for all of Africa north of the equator.
THE SAUDI/RUSSIAN OIL WAR
A report posted on www.aljazeera.net dated 13 March 2020 claimed that Saudi Arabia is flooding Europe with oil at 25 dollars per barrel, and that they are doing this because Russia refused to agree to a curtailment of production during a recent meeting.
The report added that according to a survey of 21 analysts, the average price of American crude will reach $30.37 during the second quarter, and about 37 dollars a barrel for the year as a whole. (A silver lining for consumers during this Corona era.)
Why are the Saudis undercutting the Russians with so much vehemence? Is it to destroy the American fracking industry as some believe? Is it for pure revenge against Russia for Russia’s refusal to agree to Saudi terms? Maybe both of the above, but I see another reason.
Iran is Saudi Arabia’s #1 enemy and fear. Russia is Iran’s primary ally, particularly in terms of supplying military hardware. Therefore, Saudi Arabia has a great motive for wanting to punish Russia real bad above and beyond its refusal to agree to terms on oil production.
Barry Webb has logged a 25-year career as an Arabist for the NSA, has two MA degrees in related subject matter, and is currently a Senior Fellow with Americans for Intelligence Reform www.intelreform.org. He is the author of Confessions of an (ex) NSA spy: Why America and its Allies are Losing the War on Terror. His website is www.barrywebbauthor.com