Category Archive: Opinions & Editorials
Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim, Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
Since the beginning of the Saudi Arabia-led Operation Decisive Storm, the Kingdom’s newspapers have been naturally flooded with analysis and reports on the situation in Yemen and the same is the case with the social media.
The goal of this military operation is crystal clear i.e. pulling Yemen out of the chaos created by the Iranian-backed Houthi militias. The Iranian-sponsored media is also on the move on this front as well. It is distorting the truth and presenting it as a sectarian conflict, which is far from reality.
Saudi Arabia has been very transparent in its approach since day one. The Saudi leadership had made it clear to the world that this operation had no sectarian angle to it. It is against the Houthi militias working as an Iranian proxy to destabilize the country and the region by forcefully taking over the country and toppling the legitimate government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Yemenis wanted restoration of their government and asked for Saudi help and the Kingdom responded accordingly. That is the entire story.
Saudi Arabia has nothing against Yemen or its people. As a matter of fact there are hundreds of thousands of Yemenis living and working freely in the Kingdom. Nobody is harassed and no one has been asked to leave. Life is normal for Yeminis in Saudi Arabia and this is exactly what the Saudis want for Yemenis in Yemen — to lead normal lives without any fear.
The Saudi media has been very fair in its coverage of the event and did not give in to hyperbole. The reason is that the Kingdom did not desire war but circumstances forced it to take this decisive action.
The Saudi forces have established an operations office to brief the media daily. Brig. Gen. Ahmad Al-Assiri has been assigned as a consultant at the minister of defense’s office for the job. The briefings are very transparent in nature and serve as reference for all the national and international media outlets.
These briefings are an important tool to talk to the world and to respond to various queries by newsmen. The media is very important during these conflicts because the other side will try to launch a propaganda campaign to create doubts about the objectives of the military operation.
But, what has been noticed is the absence of Saudi war correspondents specialized in war reporting. It is different to be reporting from the front with so many kinds of armaments. Planes, tanks, radars, war supply, air refueling, smart bombs and many other terms that may not be known to ordinary reporters or columnist or even journalists in the briefing rooms. Experienced war reporters give a clear picture to the world. And their precise reporting helps eliminate chances of rumors that the enemy tries to spread. Some war reporters are former military personal or specialized in war history and military science.
In this ongoing operation, we have not seen any specialized war correspondent directly reporting from the southern borders. Saudi media outlets and especially the Saudi papers must at this time take a note and learn a lesson of having experienced war reporters and analysts rather than trying to reach people randomly. War reporters don’t have to be at the war front but they also can be assigned to command centers to give more details about ongoing operation or can be assigned to briefing centers. Normally war correspondents ask more professional questions and can write more professional reports. It is true that many young Saudi men and women are learning more and we have seen some of them at the Saudi southern front. But we need more Saudi professional war correspondents.
Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. Need for Saudi War Correspondents reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.
Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
Who is the real enemy of Saudi Arabia? Is it our longtime friend and neighbor, Iran, or it is a country, which we have never recognized and have no relations with it. I am referring to Israel.
Since the beginning of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s military operation in Yemen, a lot has been written about the Operation Decisive Storm and its long-and short-term consequences. Many writers have raised the question that who is the Kingdom’s real enemy.
Interestingly, those writers don’t belong to any western think tank or are not westerners. Most of such articles have been published in the Saudi newspapers and written by Saudi journalists and intellectuals. This is what makes this question all the more interesting, important and different.
During the rule of the late Iranian shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Saudi-Iranian relations were based on mutual respect. We cannot deny that the two sides disagreed on some issues particularly when Iran wanted to assert itself as the policeman of the region. In general, however, the two countries remained on the same page on various matters.
The two sides had never experienced direct confrontation or hostilities. Saudi Arabia and Iran, under the shah, shared common goals and interests. Both the countries used to engage in dialogue almost regularly over various issues. Both countries are members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Both countries are Muslim countries with hundreds of thousands of Iranians visiting the holy sites in Makkah and Madinah all around the year.
Many Saudi tourists visit Iran annually. And this is still true to this day. The two countries have very large diplomatic representation in each other’s capitals. In other words, the Saudi-Iranian relations should have been ideal and perfect. The two sides could play a major role in the stability of the region by helping each other in the proper utilization of the region’s natural and human resources for the greater good of the people of this part of the world.
Unfortunately, the warm ties continued till the late 1970s. Following the Iranian revolution and the rise of mullahs and Ayatollah Khomeini becoming the supreme leader, many in Saudi Arabia thought that the Saudi-Iranian ties would further strengthen.
Saudi Arabia is home to the two holiest sites of Islam and following the revolution, Iran wanted to stress on its Islamic identity. It was believed that the changed Iranian policy would help the two countries get closer. But that did not happen. Instead, Tehran shocked the world particularly Saudi Arabia by adopting a hostile policy toward the Kingdom and issuing statements threatening the security and stability of Saudi Arabia. However, the diplomatic relations continued even during the Iraq-Iran war. But in the summer of 1984, there was military air-to-air confrontation. Though Saudi Arabia tried to downplay the incident so as to avoid any escalations, Iran continued its harassment of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia continued to consider Iran as a Muslim country and not an enemy. But things came to a head when in the mid 1980s during the Haj season, thousands of Iranians went on a rampage and rioted during the busiest time in Saudi Arabia and during the holiest period of the Muslim world. To add salt to the wound, Saudi securities at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah found tens of pounds of C4 explosive paste with some Iranians. Had their plans not discovered, thousands could have been killed during the Haj pilgrimage.
At that time, Saudi Arabia had no other alternative but to sever all diplomatic relations with Iran. However, with the passage of time, Saudi Arabia extended its hand to iron out differences. Some positive results were only seen many years later during the presidency of Khatami but in later years Iran showed hostilities toward Saudi Arabia and they started to interfere in the internal affairs of their neighboring countries.
During the past few years, Iran’s intentions to control Yemen and threaten the security and stability of Saudi Arabia have been exposed.
Now, it has become clear that Iran was behind the Houthi takeover of Yemen. A group of people supported by Iran and armed with sophisticated weapons is controlling a country that has about 30 million people and shares border with Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia had no choice except to act and defend its borders. The Kingdom always wanted to maintain good relations with Iran but it never responded in the same manner and continued with its hostile posture toward Saudi Arabia. Unless Iran showed any genuine signs to end all hostilities toward Saudi Arabia, the Saudis would continue to take all measures to protect their soil.
A few days ago, the Iranian Army chief of staff even threatened to use terrorist techniques against the Saudi capital. Iran is no doubt a threat to Saudi Arabia, even greater than Israel.
Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. Identifying The Real Enemy reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.
Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
Before June 1, 1980, the city of Atlanta, Georgia was known for its Peachtree Street, the first civil rights movement, Coca Cola, Gone with the wind, Hartsfield Airport or maybe being the only city in the United States to have been destroyed by fire in an act of war.
However, after that date things changed for good and it has become known as the city that introduced the first television channel to provide 24-hour news coverage and the first all-news television channel in the US. And Atlanta became the world capital of continuous media coverage.
Now, an American family does not need to sit down for dinner together to listen to the main TV networks at 6 p.m. They have the luxury to watch news at their convenience.
I started watching CNN to satiate my appetite for international news. Though its coverage of the international events was not very in-depth but still something was better than nothing.
They have enough things going on in the main land. This was confirmed on June 13, 1982 when Saudi King Khalid died and I was watching their coverage when I was stationed for training at one of the naval bases in Norfolk, Virginia. The reports about the Saudi king were very misleading to the American audience, as they aired clippings showing Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal instead of King Khalid. So, I phoned them up and told them about the mix up and five minutes later the correct coverage was on air.
As time passed, CNN started to gain momentum and became a news trademark and established many bureaus around the world. During the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Saudis and people in the region remained glued to the CNN. After the war, many people expected to see the Saudi capital emerge as the next media capital of the Middle East.
At that time there were no major media outlets. During operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Riyadh had turned into a base for as many as 2,500 journalists and reporters from many countries around the world and from all news corporations. The Saudi capital had enough assets to host this huge number of media personnel covering the war. In other words, Riyadh was at that time the most open city to media outlets in the world. Saudi people were even capable of dealing with the foreign press that we saw all over the Kingdom.
We saw foreign journalists in many designated media centers, Saudi streets, and sport stadiums and in many Saudi homes. But, the Saudi official media departments did not go the extra mile to continue being the media capital of the Middle East. After the Gulf War, all coalition forces and media outlets left Saudi Arabia including the CNN. But, it turned out that Saudi Arabia is the new center of political and economic importance in the world.
Saudi Arabia is the most covered country in the Middle East and has the biggest media market with the highest number of people watching and using the new media and social networks. Nowadays, Saudi Arabia has the highest number of social media users in the world and has the most ready infrastructure for media expansion. But due to some bureaucratic restrictions, many news outlets chose the UAE as their base. Now, CNN Bureau in Abu Dhabi is one of the most watched in the area and Dubai build a state-of-the-art media city and what is more, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV channel is based in Dubai. The media outlets and bureaus help put any city on the world map, help create employment opportunities for the locals, raise the standards of the local media and increase transparency in media reporting.
In other words, Riyadh is one of the most important and influential capitals in the world and it should also have been the Middle East capital of media reporting.
Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. Why is Riyadh Not Media Hub reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.
Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
Last Friday, all media outlets across the world were buzzing with one news i.e. Iran’s nuclear deal with the world powers.
I wonder how far was Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb and does it really need a nuclear weapon?
Why did it take six mandatory resolutions by the United Nations and 13 years of negotiations to reach an agreement that could be interpreted in seven different ways?
Deals on the nuclear issue should not be lost in translation. The deal on Iranian nukes could be interpreted differently if read in a different language. It gives a new meaning upon translation to Persian, French, German, Spanish, Arabic and Hebrew. A pertinent question is: Who is really the winner in this deal? Or maybe we should ask who is the loser? Apparently, no one won but the only loser is our planet earth. It is clear that no one is sure as to how close Iran is from acquiring the N-bomb. No one knows, not even a former CIA director.
Last February, I attended a symposium held in Washington. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden was the main guest speaker at the event. When the question about Iran’s nuclear capabilities was raised, he answered it in a way that gave an impression that either he really was in the dark or he avoided going public on this sensitive matter.
In other words, if such a high-profile official like Hayden was unaware of Iran’s nuclear activities then who else could provide a satisfactory answer in this regard.
Or should we presume that nuclear activities in Iran and other countries around the world are not monitored. In such a situation, we should expect the next nuclear talks to take place between the United Nations and some obscure militant organization. And this is not far-fetched. This is something the world had talked about in the past.
So, because no one is sure about the present or future impact of the Iranian nuclear deal, let us talk about the nuclear deals and our great planet earth.
What concerns me, as a human being living on planet earth is, on what basis we humans are speeding up the process to destroy our planet?
We have no other planet in the universe to rely on. We don’t need nuclear deals because the whole world doesn’t need nuclear weapons. It is ironic that we all forgot about the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT), designed to limit the strategic arms race decades ago between the United States and the former Soviet Union.
Allah has created our planet. Since the time of its creation, there was and still is, enough water, food, air and space for all humans on this planet no matter what the world population is. Unfortunately, we humans enjoy seeing the resources depleted. The Amazon forest is shrinking, there is serious global warming, the world is still reeling from the effects of nuclear accidents occurred in Japan and the former Soviet Union and there is serious threat to the environment from the nuclear leaks from old Soviet era submarines.
All the planet’s resources are being depleted or misused. At the end of the day, and with all the problems facing the world, we are happy the superpowers have reached an agreement with Iran to limit its nuclear capabilities for the next 15 years.
I still wonder why we don’t respect our planet. Is it hard for each one of us on this planet to conserve one gallon of water a day and plant a tree. Is it difficult for all people living on this planet to stop and think for just one minute and look at the fact that people around the world have to get along with each other because there is no other planet in the universe that is hospitable to humans. And who really needs nuclear supremacy if we already have nuclear arsenal that can destroy our great planet in the blink of an eye. It is clear that the nuclear arms race is not between the superpowers. It is becoming global. We should seriously consider the danger posed by nuclear weapons. Nuclear capabilities and irresponsible countries don’t go together.
Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. Iran’s Deal and Our Planet reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.
Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
Last Thursday, I was invited to attend a public affairs briefing in Washington. The topic under discussion was “Yemen in Chaos: Analysis, prognosis and prospect.”
The National Council on US- Arab Relations organized the event. Nowadays, you cannot discuss Yemen without making a mention of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Iran and the United States. The briefing moderator and facilitator was Dr. John Duke Anthony.
During the briefing, we heard remarks from two US political and military analysts and two media analysts from Yemen. And finally, there was a Saudi political figure to present the Saudi stance to the world. He spoke softly but presented hard facts and analysis. The soft-spoken Saudi was the Saudi Ambassador to Washington, Adel Al-Jubeir.
The briefing room was full of many people from different countries representing various fields of interest but mainly from the American press. All of the speakers and moderators gave very insightful analyses of the chaos in Yemen. But like all across the world, everybody in the room wanted to hear the Saudi version on the ongoing Yemeni conflict. Saudi Arabia has always been the most important strategic partner of Yemen. Millions of Yemenis are living and working in the Kingdom and an equal number regularly travel to Saudi Arabia. And during the past few decades, Saudi Arabia has emerged as the number one provider of financial and logistical aid to Yemen.
Yemen’s stability and prosperity matters a lot to Saudi Arabia. Both countries share hundreds of kilometers of common borders and the relation between the people of the two countries are based on mutual respect. This is why the world is so keen on getting to know Saudi Arabia’s views on the Yemeni situation at a time when the world is watching a coalition force led by Saudi Arabia attacking selected targets that are controlled by the Houthis who are trying to drag the country into a civil war. Saudi Arabia had no other choice but to militarily intervene in Yemen to prevent further turmoil in the impoverished country.
During the briefing, which was televised by various US media outlets, it was very important to explain and clarify many of the events that were taking place in Yemen.
I had met Al-Jubeir during social events but never got the chance to speak with him. But one thing is for sure that he is a voice to be heard. During the briefing, he answered many questions with precise details in a very soft and confident tone. The questions did not only focus on Yemen but also focused on many countries and issues. Ironically, the most important topic that came up during the session concerned the Iranian nuclear talks. It was only during the event that we learned that Iran had agreed to a preliminary nuclear deal.
Al-Jubeir in the briefing made clear to the audience that the strikes on selected targets in Yemen were not something the Saudis wanted to do. But, the situation in Yemen had reached a point of no return and that Yemen was on the verge of collapse. A small group of Houthis was trying to hold Yemen and its people hostage to their whims and wishes.
They had overthrown a legitimate government and were taking over government establishment and military bases using heavy weapons including long-range missiles and anti-aircraft weapons. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries had left no stone unturned to find a just and peaceful political solution to the problems in Yemen but to no avail.
The Houthis started taking over one city after other and it had become clear that Yemen was on the verge of disintegration. The Saudi ambassador spoke softly but made the audience aware of the facts surrounding the latest developments in Yemen. The ambassador laid emphasis on the fact that Saudi Arabia is a country that wishes a better life for the Yemenis and more stable and secure future governments. Saudi Arabia has made tremendous efforts to build Yemen and help the Yemenis. But at the end of the day, it is the duty of the Yemenis to bring peace and prosperity to their country.
Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. A Voice To Be Heard reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.