Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Saudi Anti-Terror Coalition: Dead on Day One??

Danger on the Horizon for a Fragile Coalition
Daring Snatch & Grab of Two Qatari Royals timed to coincide with announcement of Saudi led Anti-Terrorism Coalition will test the cohesiveness of the group

Update: Less than 24 hrs after Saudi Arabia's press conference and the abduction of the Qatari Royals, 4 countries signalled that they were "not" members of the coalition and made very public that they had "not been consulted"....

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This piece was submitted by a Guest Columnist, a recently retired military intelligence officer with specific regional expertise in the ever evolving and volatile Iraqi alliances and internal security issues
Danger on the Horizon for the Saudi anti-terror coalition
The news today carried an article with details of a mass abduction of Qatari hunters in Southern Iraq. While abduction is commonplace in Iraq as an ideological as well as financial issue, this event was notable in that at least 2 members of the Qatari ruling family have been acknowledged to have been among those spirited away.

The kidnappings took place in Southern Iraq near Layyah

In intelligence analysis, it typically takes some time and effort to link events to have a fuller understanding and the complete picture. In this case, this was not necessary. The announcement of Saudi Arabia leading a 34 nation “anti terror”coalition for actions in Iraq and Syria was the catalyst that saw 50 some odd armed 4x4 trucks and a large contingent of armed gunmen swoop at 0300 in the morning into the peaceful camp of Qatari bigwigs and camp followers who were on an expedition to engage in the ancient and honored sport of Falconry.

Truck mounted ZU23 cannons, representative of the type of vehicle that would have been used in the abduction operation that seized two members of the Qatari Royal Family

Why on earth would a mass of gunmen abduct these peaceful, recreational visitors? Well, the Qataris are well known to have been supplying massive funds and mercenaries to support the destabilization of Syria and the Sunni area of Iraq. The Qataris have an existential, vested interest in seeing Syria collapse so that the route may be secured for Qatari natural gas pipelines. These pipelines, if constructed, would greatly impact Russian geopolitics. Russia supplies the vast preponderance of natural gas to all of Europe, and uses it as a political/economic cudgel to get Europe to see things the Russian way. 

The Qatari hostages now represent great leverage for whoever holds them. There are several groups that may be responsible. The primary suspect for this is Iran or a pro-Iran local Shia proxy force. This is not a far reach, as southern Iraq is monolithically Shia. There is precedent for this in the Iranian raid on the Karbala Provincial Headquarters on Jan 20, 2007. Iranian special forces or their local proxies in Iraq would be well within their capabilities to pull this off. 

The Iranians are all-in to support the Syrians in the existential battle being waged to preserve the Assad Regime. They are also there with the Russians, who are present in great strength in Syria. The mass abduction is not really the style of the Russians and the KGB, who have a historical affinity for much more subtle cloak and dagger approaches. Events like the Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov on the bridge getting a ricin pellet injected by an umbrella jab in central London in 1978, or Litivienko getting radiation poisoned in 2006 are far more the KGB way. I would not discount the idea that the Russians had some hand in this, possibly from a support angle of electronic intercept and target validation.

Why are these men being held? There will likely be no public statement. The Qataris will want this memory holed, as it is a total embarrassment to them that two members of the Royal Family were grabbed in the chaos. These men will be held to help remind the Saudi Coalition that they are vulnerable. The seizure of the hunting party will also be a major wedge in the newly minted coalition. The mechanics of that will be where coalition member number "12" (random, it does not really matter) decides to "do something” or take a strong stand against the issue of the day, and then a hostage gets killed. The Qataris will be incensed and threaten to leave the coalition. At the very least, this hostage drama will be a source of inter coalition friction that will be exploited.

This was a well planned and well coordinated event which took place well outside of any urban area but in a desolate low scrub with low rolling hills desert region
An alternate theory is that the two unnamed members of the Royal Family were lured away from the security environment of their home country on a pretext in order to be abducted and therefore removed from the internal domestic Qatari decision process, if they were not completely on board with Saudi Arabia's public statement condemning "radical Islam" and vowing to fight "terrorism".

As this event happened right at the outset of the formation of the coalition, I would expect all manner of terrorist events to develop that will put the pressure on all of the fragile seams that the coalition has. Ultimately, Saudi Arabia is the lead and the biggest gorilla in the room on this. If they cannot solve this and return the Qatari royal retinue back home, that may be enough to crack the coalition at the outset. If the Qataris decide that the two close royal members have “ performed heroically in the face of terror” and then write them off, expect then for fissures to erupt within the tribal and royal circles of Qatar.

The Qatari Royal family are very Western in their dress, outlook and connections and are seen by many of the other "coalition" members as apostates, further exacerbating the tension of this hostage drama

It is not inconceivable that American forces will get drawn into this melodrama. American forces have superlative capabilities in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. They are probably the best and only hope that the hostages have of being rescued. If American special forces get tasked with this, it is not likely that it would ever make the news. If the Iranians are behind it, and I strongly suspect that they are, those hostages are probably inside Iran already. That would be a very dicey proposition, politically.

In summary, the lesson here is do not get complacent about your safety. Going on a falconry expedition in an area known for violence and instability is not a choice wise men make. As the party coordinated with the Muthanna Government for the permits and probably the baksheesh (bribery) attending the planning, bet your bottom dollar that an agent of the Iranians in the Muthanna Provincial government provided the itinerary and roster of attendees to interested parties.


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