Week of May 1st, 2015

Executive Summary

The Saudi royal shakeup this week and the naming of a new crown prince elicited several papers from Washington think tanks this week.

Meanwhile, the rioting in Baltimore once again raised the question about the political and social stability of the US. The Monitor Analysis investigates and sees several flashpoints in the US, including a current standoff between government agents and armed militia units in Oregon. Clearly, the unrest seen in the US is not limited to Black Americans. In fact, a large percentage of Americans are distrustful of government and as seen in the standoff in Oregon, the far right wing of American political thought is on the edge too. The conclusion of this analysis is that America can expect to see more civil unrest in the upcoming months.

Think Tanks Activity Summary

The CSIS looks at the change in the Saudi line of succession. In terms of Saudi stability, they note, “In the short term, there are not serious threats to the royal family. However, one of the ongoing balancing acts in Saudi Arabia is keeping a growing royal family satisfied and feeling included. There are literally thousands of princes, and perhaps a hundred or so will feel that this decisive shift in the line of succession affects their life chances profoundly. The new line of succession will need to both assert its control and ensure that those excluded still feel deeply vested in preserving the system. Almost all of the resultant politics will be invisible to anyone outside the royal family.”

The Washington Institute also looks at the Saudi shuffle. They see dissent within the Saudi royal family and state, “Yet the main context of the shakeup appears to be a battle royal in the House of Saud. The extent to which King Salman was involved in the changes is debatable. Reports persist of his frail health, and his numerous recent meetings with an extraordinary array of foreign dignitaries may have kept him away from much of the decisionmaking — either of his own accord or as a deliberate distraction by those close to him…The king’s main influence on the reshuffle appears to be the appointment of MbS as deputy crown prince — the first time his son has been formally labeled as a future monarch. By this analysis, the changes represent a continuing transition in Riyadh rather than a new lineup.”

The American Enterprise Institute looks at Muhammad bin Nayef, who was appointed deputy crown prince this week. They warn, “The problem was that Bin Nayef is a sectarian hardliner and pretty reactionary when it comes to reforms such as allowing women to drive…when put in a position of power, Bin Nayef has shown he wants to fight a millennia-long war rather than find a resolution to the cancer eating away at the entire Middle East.”

The CSIS looks at arms sales in the Gulf region. As the GCC is seen as a bulwark against Iranian expansion, their military status is a critical factor in regional stability. The CSIS notes, “Data show that the Arab Gulf states have a decisive advantage over Iran in both the size of their recent military spending and the size and quality of their arms transfers and imports of military technology. What is most striking, however, is the growing level of sophistication in Arab Gulf arms and related weapons technology at a time when Iran is facing major constraints on its military modernization due to the limits to its military spending and the impact of sanctions and other political constraints on its access to arms.”

The American Enterprise Institute looks at the slipping control of the Assad family in Syria. They conclude, “A lot of the latest feels like good news, but is it? Not really. Assad falling is good news. JN prevailing is not. Iran’s numero uno ally getting his butt kicked is great. But Iran, the IRGC and Hezbollah are unlikely to lose total control. Meanwhile, back in what is increasingly a provincial capital irrelevant to the future of the region, Barack Obama appears to have absolutely no clue about what’s next. Much as the inane devolution of power to Iran fails to appreciate the bankruptcy of the enemy-of-my-enemy weltanschauung that passes for leadership in DC, a victory by al Qaeda over ISIS is not really a cause for celebration. And notwithstanding a new Saudi role in coordinating among some of these Islamist/jihadi groups, the odds of Saudi Arabia being an effective manager of US national security interests also appear slim. Whatever happens next in Syria, stability isn’t going to be the name of the game.”

The CSIS looks at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been a central defining feature of the Middle Eastern geostrategic landscape. They warn, “Changing realities between and within Palestine and Israel and the transformations facing the region at large have raised questions as to the feasibility of reaching such a permanent solution. The question of whether negotiations can resolve the conflict and create an independent Palestinian state has led some to indifference and others to renewed zeal. Ironically, as some regional forces appear to be drifting toward distancing themselves from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, several European governments are deepening their engagement on the issue with a more critical stance toward Israel.”

The Center for Security Policy sees the Iranian seizure of a ship transiting the Strait of Hormuz as a reason to stop any nuclear deal with Iran. They state, “If the Iranian government is behaving this way before it gets a nuclear deal and sanctions relief, how will it behave after it gets a deal that the Center for Security Policy and many other experts believe will be extremely weak and will do nothing to stop Tehran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons? It has been clear since Barack Obama became president that he is so desperate for a legacy nuclear agreement with Iran that his administration will give Iran anything it wants and overlook any Iranian bad behavior to get a nuclear deal. The American people have had enough. They are counting on Congress to impose adult supervision on the Obama administration’s foolhardy nuclear diplomacy with Iran.”





A Hot Summer of Unrest for America?

Although the Baltimore riots of this week garnered much of the attention this week in the US and world, there is more civil unrest occurring in the US, most of it directed towards parts of the American governments – both national and local. From and coast to coast and across the political and ethnic spectrum, Americans are starting to rebel against government.

Although Baltimore and Ferguson (a few months ago) are the places in the news, there are other places in America that have seen confrontations in the last week. At the Sugar Pine Mine in Oregon, right wing militia units from across the US are fortifying the mine against the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) attempt to take control of the land. In the Southwest, the Defense Department is conducting a military exercise called Jade Helm 15 that has many locals worrying about the Pentagon’s intentions – a concern so great that the Governor of Texas has ordered the Texas State Guard to monitor the movements of the US military.

Nor, is this threat of civil unrest limited to these states. News 1 Cable TV in New York City interviewed a former NYPD commander who headed the Baltimore police department, said such violence can happen in New York City. Former Police Commander Kevin Clark said, “I would tell people in New York that it is time to take note of this because this show will appear in this city at some point whether we want to believe it or not,” says Clark. “If they are that naive to believe that we cannot have civil unrest that will lead to vehicles being burned, stores being looted, then you are talking about naive approach.”

As the tension increases, the government is taking measures to counter them. It is stepping up the pace of training police and National Guard units in quelling civil disturbances. There has been a notable buildup in recent years of SWAT teams within non-security-related federal agencies such as Department of Agriculture, the Railroad Retirement Board, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Office of Personnel Management, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Education Department.

The government is also seriously looking at using the US military for such actions – something that hasn’t been done in 150 years. However, several years ago, the U.S. Army War College issued a report calling on the military to be prepared should they need to put down civil unrest within the country. Summarizing the report, investigative journalist Chris Hedges declared, “The military must be prepared, the document warned, for a ‘violent, strategic dislocation inside the United States,’ which could be provoked by ‘unforeseen economic collapse,’ ‘purposeful domestic resistance,’ ‘pervasive public health emergencies’ or ‘loss of functioning political and legal order.’ The ‘widespread civil violence,’ the document said, ‘would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis to defend basic domestic order and human security.’”

The problem has been a growing distrust in the government by in every demographic, political, and ethnic group. Exit polling from the 2014 midterm elections showed the extent of the problem.  Just 20 percent said they trusted the government to do what’s right “always” or “most” of the time, while 79 percent said they trusted the government only “some” of the time or “never.” In a Rasmussen poll taken at nearly the same time, Thirty-seven percent (37%) of Likely U.S. Voters now fear the federal government, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Forty-seven percent (47%) do not, but another 17% are not sure.

Perhaps the lack of trust comes from the fact that 54% consider the federal government today a threat to individual liberty rather than a protector. Just 22% see the government as a protector of individual rights. And, although white Americans are more likely to have these concerns, Black Americans are also growing more apprehensive of the Government. In fact, a recent poll showed that for the first time, more blacks favor gun rights than gun control. In fact, some black activist groups are calling for more gun ownership by Black Americans.

The result is that America is facing a civil unrest threat from the left and the right, as well as white and black America. And, there is every indication that it will only grow as the spring and summer go along.

Sugar Pine Mine

Although not in the news as much as the riots in Baltimore, the confrontation at the Sugar Pine Mine in Oregon is as much a potential flashpoint as those facing the government are much better armed.

The standoff started a couple of weeks ago when the BLM ordered the miners to stop operations and dismantle their mining gear. The BLM claims that the claim, which was patented in the 1870s, only has the mining rights, but ceded the surface rights in 1961. The owners disputed that.

When the BLM stated that they might move in, the mine owner called out for assistance from several right wing groups and militias. Some of these are the same groups that came to the Bundy Ranch in April 2015 and forced the BLM to back down. In fact, two representatives from the Bundy Ranch are also heading to the mine.

Although information is scarce, it appears that elements of the Michigan Militia and the Three Percenters have moved onto the site, under the control of another group called the Oathkeepers.

So far the BLM has not attempted to occupy the claim and in fact closed its local office due to the widespread protests against the BLM in the area. They have also warned their employees to stay away from the mining operation.

Although not violent as the Baltimore riots, this confrontation could pose greater problems. The militias at the site are armed and better trained than the BLM agents. And, although they could be overrun by federal agents, many militias around the country would consider this to be a tripwire event that could lead to greater confrontation. Many of these militias have agreed to come to each other’s assistance in case of an attack under a set of agreements like the Knob Creek Resolution.

Jade Helm 15

Although military exercises in civilian areas are frequent, a recent Special Forces military training exercise, Jade Helm 15, is receiving a lot of attention and open hostility from conservative elements in the US. The operation, which will carry out several exercises throughout the Southwest, has raised fears that the US military is posed to institute martial law in the face of the growing threat of riots.

According to the U.S. Military: Operation Jade Helm 15 is a planned military exercise that will be led by the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), and will include personnel from the U.S. Army Special Forces Command (Green Berets), U.S. Navy SEALS, U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command, USMC Marine Special Operations Command, USMC Marine Expeditionary Units, the 82nd Airborne Division and civilian interagency partners. This Operation will take place over an eight-week period beginning in July of 2015 in locations across the State of Texas and neighboring states New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado.

Military attempts to calm these fears have met with failure. An attempt by the military to explain Jade Helm to Texans in Bastrop TX, was met with skepticism as hundreds of citizens came to make their views known.

Despite the reassurances by the military, the fears have grown so much that Texas Governor Abbott directed General Betty of the Texas State Guard to provide regular updates to the Governor’s Office to ensure that Texans’ “safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed” during the eight-week training period from July 2015 – September 2015.

Baltimore – a Prelude to the Next Ferguson?

The riots in Baltimore have made it clear that the riots in Ferguson and dozens of other major cities last fall were not an anomaly. Although the Ferguson riots petered out as winter came and freezing temperatures made rioting and protests more difficult, the anger is still there.

Although much of the rioting and protests were random, signals intelligence notes that several dozen twitter accounts used in the violence in Ferguson are being used in Baltimore. And, as we noted in an earlier analysis, Baltimore gangs have been seen carrying out reconnaissance on Baltimore police headquarters, which may indicate that some group may want to invade and capture the building during the unrest.

There are other worrying signs, including some intelligence gathered by the government that some groups may be targeting police. Baltimore police say they have received “credible information” that members of various – sometimes rival – gangs are partnering to “take out” police. One the other side of the nation, the Los Angeles Police Department ordered officers to ride in pairs while in cars after the Baltimore police report.

It was also apparent from the wide spread, coordinated attacks in Baltimore that some organizers may be trying to spread the police thin in order to make a major attack possible.

It’s hard to predict a flashpoint, but the incident in Baltimore could quickly spread to other cities.

Signs to Watch for

Clearly groups on both the right and left are eager to take advantage of growing civil unrest.

We are already seeing more protests and unrest across the country in support of the protestors in Baltimore. In New York, a group that supports the protesters in Baltimore gathered in Union Square Wednesday and shut down the outbound Holland Tunnel, the West Side Highway and several other city streets as they marched. More than 100 protesters were arrested as officers clashed with protesters around Manhattan.

Unrest has also been reported in another dozen cities. More activity can be expected this weekend, especially as this Friday is May Day.

Although civil unrest can be exacerbated by police action, other random factors come into the equation. Hot weather can make it easier to stay outside as night falls. In addition, an electrical failure can encourage lawlessness.

However, it is the intentions of the militant leadership that means the most.

Black militants have relied on street riots in the past. However, that may be changing. Some of these groups have called upon blacks to buy more firearms, which may indicate that police may face guns rather than stones in the future. In fact, some gunshots were heard during riots this week in Ferguson.

The growing reconnaissance of government buildings and police headquarters is also troubling. The Russian Revolution of a century ago saw the Soviets focus on storming government buildings and then setting up provisional governments. Undoubtedly, Black Marxist Militants are aware of these tactics and may try them in the US.

Although the Baltimore riots were controlled by calling in neighboring police departments and the Maryland National Guard, Widespread riots like those seen last fall – but more violent and coordinated, could overwhelm the police and National Guard. This would make it that much easier for black militants to strike directly at the government.

If that happens, would the government be willing to retake the building and cause the type of carnage that looks bad on national TV?

There is also the threat of the right wing militia movement. Although not prone to rioting in the streets, they are much better armed and trained. And, according to estimates by the Southern Poverty Law Center, they number 100,000 to 200,000 members – a credible threat if the BLM decides to take action at Sugar Pine Mine, the Bundy Ranch, or other place. And, while black militants may control the cities, these militias pose a threat in the rest of the nation.

Unless the situation changes dramatically, there is little doubt that civil unrest will continue to grow over the next six months. To reiterate what former Police Commander Kevin Clark said, “I would tell people in New York that it is time to take note of this because this show will appear in this city at some point whether we want to believe it or not.”

How local, state and the national governments respond will determine if the civil unrest spirals out of control this summer.




Saudi Arabia’s Shifting Line of Succession

By Jon B. Alterman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

April 29, 2015

What do the shifts in the line of succession in Saudi Arabia mean? First and foremost, they represent the consolidation of power in the hands of the Sudairi branch of the royal family (from which King Salman, former King Fahd, and former Crown Princes Sultan and Nayef come). They are all descendants of a single mother who both came from a powerful tribe and was one of the favorite wives of King Abdulaziz ibn Saud, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia. The shifts in Saudi Arabia seem to marginalize the descendants of other late kings, including King Abdullah and King Faisal, which count among them many talented leaders in Saudi public life.

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The Arab-Israeli Conflict

By Ghaith al-Omari

Center for Strategic and International Studies

April 24, 2015

For the last seven decades, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a central defining feature of the Middle Eastern geostrategic landscape. In recent years, resolving this conflict through a negotiated two-state solution has become a matter of global and regional consensus and the subject of numerous initiatives. Changing realities between and within Palestine and Israel and the transformations facing the region at large have raised questions as to the feasibility of reaching such a permanent solution. The question of whether negotiations can resolve the conflict and create an independent Palestinian state has led some to indifference and others to renewed zeal. Ironically, as some regional forces appear to be drifting toward distancing themselves from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, several European governments are deepening their engagement on the issue with a more critical stance toward Israel.

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Military Spending and Arms Sales in the Gulf

By Anthony H. Cordesman and Michael Peacock

Center for Strategic and International Studies

April 28, 2015

There are many ways to measure the Gulf military balance, but one key indicator is to look at the relative size of Gulf military expenditures and the size and nature of Gulf arms imports and transfers of military technology.  The Burke Chair has prepared a detailed comparison of key estimates of both military spending and arms transfers, drawing upon official sources as well as the work of key research centers like the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). This report is entitled Military Spending and Arms Sales in the Gulf: How the Arab Gulf States Now Dominate the Changes in the Military Balance, and is available on the CSIS web site here. It provides a wide range of tables and charts describing the patterns in military spending and arms transfers both in  comparative dollar terms and by major weapons system and transfer of military technology.

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The last days of Bashar al-Assad?

By Danielle Pletka

American Enterprise Institute

April 29, 2015

Rumbling about the Assad regime being on its last legs is growing. Liz Sly at the Washington Post had a good analytical piece earlier this week, and former US Ambassador Robert Ford followed on with another look at how the scion of one of the Middle East’s most murderous families is losing his grip. The facts are straightforward: Rebel forces have been advancing on government/Hezbollah/Iranian-held towns with growing success. Led by al Qaeda ally Jabhat al Nusra (JN) in coordination with a mishmash of other Islamist groups, Assad’s opponents appear to be consolidating their hold over Idlib province, and are making gains elsewhere around the country. And, as multiple analysts have noted, at the same time that JN et al appear to be coordinating more effectively (while shutting out ISIS and its allies), Assad’s own forces seem to have lost the will to fight.

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Muhammad Bin Nayef, the Saudi groundhog

By Michael Rubin

American Enterprise Institute

April 29, 2015

When King Abdullah died and Crown Prince Salman took over the Saudi throne, I wrote that there were dark clouds on the horizon with the appointment of the 55-year-old Muhammad bin Nayef as deputy crown prince. The problem was that Bin Nayef is a sectarian hardliner and pretty reactionary when it comes to reforms such as allowing women to drive. Earlier today, 79-year-old King Salman, frail and in poor health, issued a series of decrees shaking up the Saudi government. Long story short, Bin Nayef is now crown prince, his succession to the top spot in the kingdom virtually assured.

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Riyadh Reshuffle

By Simon Henderson

Washington Institute

April 29, 2015

Policy Alert

Earlier today, Saudi Arabia published twenty-six royal orders announcing numerous changes to the kingdom’s cabinet and succession sequence, ranging from the dramatic to the bureaucratic. Out goes Crown Prince Muqrin, who had been King Salman’s designated successor but is now being replaced by Prince Muhammad bin Nayef (a.k.a. MbN), the interior minister and deputy crown prince. Taking up MbN’s deputy slot is wunderkind Muhammad bin Salman (MbS), the king’s thirty-something-year-old son who is already defense minister. Also out is Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, the prince who had served in that post for nearly four decades but has been plagued by ill health. He is being replaced by Saudi ambassador to Washington Adel al-Jubeir, whose own replacement has yet to be announced.

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After Iran Seizes Ship, Senate Republicans Must Act on Nuclear deal

By Fred Fleitz

Center for Security Policy

April 29, 2015

Yesterday, Iranian forces seized a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship, the Maersk Tigris, while it was traversing the Strait of Hormuz. Iranian forces boarded the ship after firing warning shots across its bridge and diverted it to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. Iranian officials have not explained why the ship was seized. The Pentagon revealed yesterday that Iranian Revolutionary Guard Navy vessels surrounded a U.S.-flagged cargo ship, the Maersk Kensington, last Friday as it was transiting the Strait of Hormuz. No shots were fired, the Iranian vessels broke off contact, and the cargo ship proceeded without further incident. Both actions by Iranian forces violated international agreements allowing for innocent passage of ships through the Strait of Hormuz.

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