Written by: Christopher M. Blanchard, Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs
Change, Continuity, and Controversy
The kingdom of Saudi Arabia, ruled by the Al Saud family since its founding in 1932, wields significant global influence through its administration of the birthplace of the Islamic faith and by virtue of its large oil reserves. Saudi leaders’ domestic and foreign policy decisions are fueling calls from some U.S. leaders for a reassessment of long- standing bilateral ties. The Al Saud have sought protection, advice, technology, and armaments from the United States, along with support in developing their country’s natural and human resources and in facing national security threats. U.S. leaders have valued Saudi cooperation in security and counterterrorism matters and have sought to preserve the secure, apolitical flow of the kingdom’s energy resources and capital to global markets. The Trump Administration seeks to strengthen U.S.-Saudi ties as the kingdom implements new domestic and foreign policy initiatives, while some in Congress call for change.
Leadership and Public Confidence
King Salman bin Abd al Aziz Al Saud (age 84) assumed the throne in 2015 after the death of his half-brother, the late King Abdullah bin Abd al Aziz. King Salman since has altered the responsibilities and relative power of leading members of the next generation of the Al Saud family, the grandsons of the kingdom’s founder. King Salman’s son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (age 34), is now the central figure in Saudi policymaking, having asserted control over key national security forces, sidelined potential rivals, and begun implementing ambitious policy changes.
In parallel, channels for expressing dissent within the kingdom appear to have narrowed considerably. Since 2017, security forces have detained dozens of activists, clerics, Islamist figures, and journalists representing different ideological trends and perspectives. In late 2017, authorities also imprisoned dozens of wealthy individuals (and potential family rivals of the crown prince) for months in the Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh as part of a nominal anticorruption campaign. Most of this latter group of detainees were released after reaching undisclosed financial settlement arrangements, amid accounts of abuse. Reports of additional detentions and questioning of leading royals in 2020 suggest that succession issues could remain contested.
Many Saudis and outside observers have expressed surprise about the scope and rapidity of post-2015 developments and continue to speculate about their potential implications. Saudi decision-making had long appeared to be relatively risk-averse and rooted in rulers’ concerns for maintaining consensus among different constituencies, including factions of the royal family, business elites, and conservative religious figures. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s bolder and more centralized leadership has challenged each of these interest groups, and is leading Saudis and outsiders alike to reexamine their assumptions.
Vision 2030 and Social Change
The centerpiece of Saudi leaders’ domestic agenda is the Vision 2030 initiative, which seeks to transform the kingdom’s economy by diversifying the government’s sources of revenue and reducing long-standing oil export dependence by promoting investment and private sector growth. An initial public offering of shares in state oil company Saudi Aramco raised $26 billion in late 2019. Authorities have reduced some consumer and industrial subsidies and introduced a value-added tax. Amid some domestic criticism, authorities also have offered citizens relief payments, salary increases, and tax exemptions. Budget pressures may increase if March 2020 decisions to expand oil output persist and result in lower state revenues.
Economic transformation has driven social change in the kingdom since the early 20th century, and the Vision 2030 initiative is being accompanied by significant changes in the state’s approach to some sensitive social matters. Authorities reversed the kingdom’s long-standing ban on women driving in June 2018, in part to expand women’s participation in the workforce. Parallel changes have created more public space for women in some social and cultural events. Authorities have partially amended male guardianship rules restricting women’s activities. Some Saudis welcome changes made to date and call for more, while others express opposition or concern about the changes’ potential effects on religious and social values.
The October 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi government officials in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey has led to increased congressional scrutiny of the kingdom’s human rights practices. The Trump Administration has described the killing as a “horrific act,” stated its intent to pursue accountability for those responsible, and imposed travel and financial sanctions on some Saudi officials suspected of involvement. The kingdom prosecuted some unidentified officials on charges of involvement, sentencing five to death and others to long prison terms. Saudi prosecutors cleared other suspects, such as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s former adviser Saud al Qahtani, of involvement. Some in Congress continue to advocate for a more forceful U.S. response to the Khashoggi killing and speak on behalf of Saudi human rights activists.
“We want to make sure that everyone understands that the United States doesn’t believe that the killing of Jamal Khashoggi was anything other than a horrific act. And we hope that we can work together, both with Congress and our allies, to hold those responsible accountable” Secretary Pompeo.
Saudi Nuclear Plans
Saudi leaders seek to recast the role of energy resources in the kingdom’s economy and plan to develop domestic civilian nuclear power infrastructure. They have solicited bids for the construction of two nuclear power reactors. The Trump Administration expedited consideration of required regulatory approvals for U.S. firms to provide marketing information to Saudi officials, and may propose a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement to the 116th Congress. Saudi officials have not forsworn uranium enrichment and have stated their intent to use and develop domestic capabilities. Saudi nuclear facilities are subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. The IAEA has reviewed Saudi nuclear infrastructure and recommends adoption and implementation of an additional protocol.
Combatting Terrorism and Extremism
The U.S. government describes U.S.-Saudi cooperation on counterterrorism as robust and credits Saudi officials with reducing the financing of terrorism by Saudi nationals and with contributing to global efforts to undermine terrorist propaganda. The Islamic State group has been highly critical of Saudi authorities and religious officials, and U.S. threat assessments judge that the Islamic State and Al Qaeda pose continuing risks to the kingdom’s security. The Saudi government’s relationship with conservative religious figures is evolving, with the state promoting potentially controversial social policy changes while enlisting religious leaders to counteract extremist messages. In December 2017, King Salman said “there is no place among us for an extremist who sees moderation as degeneration.”
Saudi Arabia has suspended travel to and from more than a dozen countries to limit the spread of COVID-19. Schools have been closed, planned events postponed, access to religious sites restricted, and one area (Qatif) quarantined.
Iran, Iraq, and the Levant
Saudi policies toward Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon continue to reflect the kingdom’s overarching concerns about Iran and the Iranian government’s ties to state and non-state actors in these countries. Saudi authorities back the U.N. Security Council’s call for a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Syria and seek more progress in settlement talks before reengagement with the Iran-aligned Syrian government of Bashar al Asad. U.S. officials praised past Saudi efforts to strengthen ties with Iraq’s government, including the reopening of border crossings between the two countries.
Conflict in Yemen
Saudi Arabia has led a military coalition of mostly Arab states since March 2015 in efforts to reinstate the government of Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was ousted in a 2014-2015 offensive by the Zaydi Shia Houthi movement of northern Yemen. Iranian material and advisory support to the Houthi war effort— including the provision of ballistic missiles and drones used to attack Saudi Arabia—has amplified Saudi leaders’ anxieties and concerns. After a missile and drone strike on oil facilities attributed to Iran halved Saudi oil output in September 2019, President Trump deployed additional U.S. military assets and personnel to the kingdom. As of March 2020, more than 2,500 U.S. military personnel are in the kingdom, along with U.S. air defense systems and aircraft.
Amid concern about civilian casualties in Yemen, the Trump Administration has proceeded with U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, but ended U.S. refueling of Saudi coalition aircraft in November 2018. The United Nations considers Yemen to be the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and cites Houthi malfeasance and Saudi coalition-enforced limits on air and sea access as contributing to shortages of food and goods. President Trump vetoed S.J.Res. 7, which would have directed him to end some U.S. military involvement in Yemen, and has approved a series of emergency arms sales to the kingdom, citing threats from Iran.
Saudi Arabia is a leader among Arab states in supporting key Palestinian demands, and Saudi leaders have engaged quietly with Israel in light of the two countries’ shared interest in countering Iran. Saudi leaders have welcomed the Administration’s efforts in developing its peace plan, and they encourage the start of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to resolve differences. After the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) rejected the U.S. plan, the Saudi cabinet “emphasized the centrality of the Palestinian cause to the Arab and Islamic nation” and stated “the need to adhere to the peace process as a strategic option for the conflict, based on the two-state solution, in accordance with legitimate international resolutions, the Arab Peace Initiative and adopted international references.”
Relations with China and Russia
Greater Saudi energy exports to China have underwritten new Sino-Saudi economic and diplomatic ties, with several cooperation initiatives announced since 2015. Saudi leaders also have opened substantive dialogue and cooperation with Russia, including discussion of arms sales and talks on Syria and other regional issues. Saudi-Russian coordination on oil policy broke down in March 2020, as both countries increased production and drove global oil prices downward.
Israel’s 3 No’s:
1. No to any negation of the Israeli victory of the 1967 6 Day War.
2. No to any surrender of Israeli rule from all of Jerusalem.
3. No to any 1967 alien Balestinian stateless refugees, much less their descendants, receiving Israeli citizenship.
Ursula von der Leyen delivered her first State of the Union speech, but she made no mention of the recent peace treaties between UAE and Bahrain with Israel.. The EU talks about the absolute need for trust between member states in that Union, specifically in Eastern Europe. Yet demands the division of Israel in the face of total distrust!!! The EU has a hostile agenda in the Middle East. She said nothing about the vile Turkish continued occupation of Cyprus. The vile hypocrisy that EU rhetoric refers to as the ‘Rule of Law’, also popularly referred to as “international law”, specifically the EU condemnation based upon its evil support of UN/Obama 2334, by which foreign alien Powers declare that they have a mandate to determine the international borders of States in the Middle East.
After the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel was — in Defense Minister Moshe Dayan’s famous phrase — “waiting for a telephone call” from Arab leaders. At a summit conference in Khartoum, Sudan from August 29 to September 1. There they pledged to continue their struggle against Israel. Influenced by Nasser, their conditions were quite specific: no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel.
Arabs fought and lost wars to throw the Jews into the Sea and complete the Nazi genocide which murdered 75% of all European Jewry in less than 4 years. Germany lost its land grab wars, and got its Capital of Berlin divided. The EU seeks to negate the Israeli victory of 1967. If they can succeed to negate that victory, then what’s to stop them from negating the Israeli 1948 Independence War victory?
The problem centers not upon Arab rejection of their defeats in war. But rather Arab cowardice to repatriate their Arab refugee populations. Arab countries started both the 1948 and 1967 wars. In 1948, immediately after their defeat, Arab and Muslim states unilaterally expelled all Jews living in their countries. Israel repatriated all of these Jewish refugee populations – some 800,000 people which Arab and Muslim countries unilaterally expelled in their post war hysteria.
A similar number of Arab stateless refugees fled the newly established Jewish state. To this very day, not a single Arab or Muslim country has agreed to repatriate their stateless Arab refugee populations. This problem the Arab states must address. The Balestinians refer to this problem – through the denial of their refugee status – as their ‘right of return’. Utter nonsense. Jews prior to the 1948 Independence War miracle, we lived as stateless refugee populations – scattered across North Africa, the Middle East, and all of Europe – for over 2000 years. Jewish stateless refugees had no rights. A basic lie, for Balestinians (Arabs can not pronounce the letter P) to declare that they have rights.
Diplomacy has its windows of opportunity. Prior to the 1948 Israeli Independence War, the UN promoted a 2 State opportunity to Arabs and Jews. After the victory the window permanently slammed shut for any 2 state solution. Immediately after the 1967 June War, Israeli leaders favored land for peace. But with almost 1 million Jews living in Samaria, this window too has permanently slammed shut.
Yom HaDin judges the neshama, the Name E’l, as in Elul. The Book of שמות dedicates 4 Parshaot to the vessels of the Mishkan and garments. Two Parshaot prior to the sin of the Golden Calf and two Parshaot there after, which close the Book of שמות. An object casts its shadow. This idea explains סוד. A building stands upon a concealed יסוד. This method of scholarship, the opposite of רמז, words contained in other words, בראשית: ברית אש, ראש בית, ב’ ראשית. Herein the 6 letters of בראשית teach the discipline of רמז. The discipline of סוד works in the opposite way, it expands a concealed agenda through other metaphors like, for example יסוד. The foundation upon which a building stands – a סוד concealed from view.
Check out the opening of 1st Kings. There the Order of king Shlomo’s administrators mentioned in detail. Oral Torah logic works by making “measured” comparisons by which a person can judge the depth of an idea. A blueprint reads by having a front, side, top view of an designed object. Reading a blueprint gives a 3 dimensional view of that designed object, as read from a 2 dimensional blueprint.
Just looked at some modern commentators who express their fervent belief in the new testament avoda zara. These writers, as a rule, parrot the written words from their Bible translations. They offer no depth analysis of the words which they quote. By stark contrast, rabbi Akiva handed over a kabbala known as פרדס unto his students. The entire works of Mishna and Gemara, both stand upon the יסוד of פרדס scholarship. A thousand years later, Reshon scholarship, debated sh’ittot on how to understand פשט. Scholarship on the Talmud, which lacks a working disciplined knowledge of פרדס, directly compares to Xtianity biblical commentators who quote directly from their bible translations, to preach their son of god noise.
The Auchron sh’itta which teaches פלפול likewise fails to teach פרדס. The emptiness of this popular Yeshiva learning device … a child learns all week in Yeshiva, his rav teaches the פלפול method of scholarship. That child comes home for shabbot, and at the shabbot dinner table talks about all subjects – other than his learning in the Yeshiva. The problem with פלפול, this splitting of hairs between how one Reshon commentator learns a line of Gemara vs. how another Reshon comments – on that identical Gemara phrase – only a few of the boys actually follow the fission scholarship as taught by their Maggid shiur. Never met a child who possesses the skill to discuss his פלפול learning at the shabbot table!
If for no other reason than this, this פלפול sh’itta of learning – its just plain wrong. Rabbis treat פרדס, in a similar wrong way – comparable to saying the 13 middot in the month of Elul. During prayers of selichot, Yidden open the doors revealing the Safer Torah within. Over and again Yidden repeat the 13 tohor middot prayer matras. Never once does any Rabbinic authority challenge the folk to discern/understand the distinction between a tohor midda from a tohor midda. How can a person dedicate their דרך ארץ walk before HaShem, if that person never strives to define – from the Torah – tohor middot?!
Throwing out names of revered authorities, like for example, the Maharal of Prague etc., appeals to authority fails to teach the required kabbala of פרדס, upon which the entire Talmud learns. The concealed common denominator that links the vessels of the Mishkan and garments of the Cohonim, with the appointments of the key Administrative posts made by king Shlomo’s Order of government, [compare and contrast]. This Torah/Prophets depth analysis, what common denominator do they share in common? Both Primary sources omit any and all reference to the establishment of a Federal lateral common law Court system. The basis of Yetro’s mussar given unto Moshe, prior to the revelation of the Torah at Sinai.
Weigh the blessing within the Shemone Esri:
ולירושלים עירך ברחמים תשוב ותשכן בתוכה כאשר דברת, ובנה לתוכה תכין: ברוך אתה ה’, בונה ירושלים.
with the opening set of stories in the first Book of Kings compared to the last four closing Parshaot of the 2nd Book of the Torah, which address the vessels of the Mishkan and the Cohen garments. The k’vanna of these two comparative case studies shares a common root foundation, they both, as stated above, omit the key subject of Federal lateral common law courts.
Justice through courts of lateral Common Law defines the Good Name of Jerusalem, rather than some grand Temple structure made of wood and stone. The learning of Talmud requires knowledge of rabbi Akiva’s פרדס kabbala. The study of Talmud, פרדס most essentially defines. The רמז\סוד compares to the roots of a tree, ever expanding in search of water and minerals, which the tree requires in order to live. Like the foundation upon which a building stands, so too and how much more so, the roots necessary for classic plant life, excluding mushrooms.
To understand the halakic component of the Talmud also compares to the grammar of Hebrew verbs. Each and every Hebrew verb has a two or three letter שרש root, upon which Hebrew grammar builds its language. What does the 3 letter verb root compare? To racism. The first word of the Torah, its 6 letters conceals, it hints to a basic רמז of 2 beginnings/ב’ ראשית. Language opposed by actions; racism employs both the slander/perversion of words, together with violent crimes, committed by mass murder psycho-paths, together with their groupy (just following orders) followers.
The Creation story establishes as its center stage prop, the metaphor of the Tree of Life and the Tree of Good and Evil. The kabbala of this story, most essentially defines Talmud through the tohor and tuma Yatzirot within our hearts. The symbol of life and death, expressed through the tohor and tuma Yatzirot, as expressed in the mitzva of kre’a shma, the Mishna understands that through this mitzva, Yidden have the opportunity to choose the yoke of Fear of Heaven; and live their lives for the purpose of building the reputation of their Good Name.
The language of this opening Torah story, a world full of chaos and anarchy, contrasts with the Order imposed by the 7 days of Creation. These two opposing powers of conflict, they mirror – they reflect – the two fundamentally opposed forces within Nature – life & death. The eternal conflict between these two opposing great powers, in their own odd manner, equally defines the laws of gravity; they create a magnetic field, which impacts human health.
The kabbala of rabbi Akiva’s hints to a possible comparison to the basis of physics: gravity, electromagnetism, weak nuclear force, and strong nuclear force – the 4 fundamental forces of Physics. James Clark Maxwell through mathematical equations unified electric and magnetic forces in 1864. About 80 years thereafter, quantum physics consolidated electromagnetism with quantum physics. The interaction of these 4 primary forces, both פרדס and forces of physics, both tend to interact, so to speak, on a subatomic level.
The kabbala of rabbi Akiva’s פרדס scholarship sh’itta, the רמז\סוד roots search for and seek out the prophet mussar which the Aggadic/Midrash stories contain. To derive from either Aggadita or Midrash the essential “water and minerals” which the שורשים search, requires the acquired, and repeated practiced wisdom of דרוש\פשט. Previously, an earlier metaphor employed to describe this wisdom of Torah scholarship, the reference to the warp and weft of a loom.
Following the victory of the assimilated school of Talmudic scholarship, the rabbis that embrace with a passion Greek philosophy and logic; after the son of the Rosh and rabbi Karo embraced the assimilationist sh’itta of the Rambam, a violent “Civil War” erupted. A g’lut Civil War does not resemble a revolution or classic nation state Civil War. G’lut Jewry did not command their own armies. What the Rambam civil war did attract, hostile foreign States intervention. It began in Paris with the burning of the Talmud, and then spread to the expulsion of entire Jewish communities in France, Germany, and Spain.
German authorities took advantage of the anarchy among g’lut Jewry and imposed crushing taxation which destroyed the Jewish economy. The Church followed this economic attack with a decree that forced Jews to live in ghetto imprisonment for something like 300 years. These cruel policies caused a massive population transfer of Jewish stateless refugee populations. Jews in their 100,000s fled from Western Europe unto Eastern Europe; something like the fork in the road leading to the Nazi death camps. A tried and true method of refugee population control. The haven of Eastern Europe proved itself as a mirage of water in the desert.
Post Karo rabbinic Judaism shifted Torah scholarship away from the Talmud and directed the focus of its energies upon the Shulchan Aruch – the cliff notes of the בית יוסף. Then followed the canard that rabbi Karo based his rulings on halaka, that he followed a majority opinion based upon the Rif, Rosh, Rambam disputes – as if the former two followed the same definition of the term halaka as did the heretic. The realities of ghetto life & poverty, uprooted originality of Torah scholarship. The best Jewish minds failed to grasp or simply forgot that the Rambam’s definition of halaka raped the kabbala of rabbi Akiva, and the framers of the Talmud and Midrashim.