Béchir Ben Yahmed, at age 89, is probably the most experienced journalist in the world today. He is warning that he has inside information that an alliance of Saudi Arabia and Benjamin Netanyahu, urged on privately by the Trump administration, is deliberately moving toward starting a much wider “New War in the Mideast.”
Ben Yahmed is not some obscure conspiracy theorist holding forth in a coffee house in Cairo or Beirut. He is the Tunisian-born founder of the distinguished French-language weekly Jeune Afrique (Young Africa), which he has headed since 1960 and where he still writes his influential, measured weekly column, “What I Believe.” So when he reports that he has learned that the 32-year-old de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and his pliable father, King Salman, are actively plotting to launch a far-reaching war with Israeli backing, attention must be paid.
Ben Yahmed recognizes that Saudi Arabia has already been at war in Yemen for 2 years. He says the kingdom’s next target is the Hezbollah political/military movement, in Lebanon. He writes that the Saudis plan “at the right moment, to unleash, with the help of Israel and the United States, a war aimed at defeating, disarming and putting Hezbollah completely out of action.”
But the real ultimate target is Iran, Hezbollah’s ally and patron. Ben Yahmed continues, “King Salman and his son, Netanyahu and Trump, four men of the extreme right who hold supreme power in three wealthy nations, are armed to the teeth and have the same enemy: Iran.” He argues that a wider war may be imminent partly because the Saudi crown prince and his father know they must act quickly, while Trump and Netanyahu are still in power. He cites, as evidence for this conspiracy, Trump’s tweet the very day that the Saudi twosome staged a de facto coup and arrested their domestic enemies: “I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing. . . .”
So in the months to come, the Korean peninsula may not actually be the most dangerous place in the world. Take a 32-year-old Saudi prince, intoxicated by having more real power than possibly anyone else in the Kingdom’s history, add the opportunistic Benjamin Netanyahu, who is anxious to act decisively to ward off the growing political threat from the Israeli far right, mix in the volatile, ignorant Donald Trump — and you have the makings of a regional cataclysm.
Béchir Ben Yahmed’s sober warning contrasts with another pathetic instance of journalistic malpractice by Thomas Friedman, whose recent gushing praise of the crown prince is already notorious. Friedman spent 4 hours with Mohammed bin Salman, whom he affectionately humanizes by calling him “M.B.S.,” and completely fell for the prince’s pose as a “reformer.” Friedman did not mention the rising threat of a wider Mideast war, (and he was also silent about the kingdom’s air attacks in Yemen, in a conflict in which more than 5000 people have already died, and a cholera epidemic has killed another 2000 Yemenis).
Friedman’s failure to report the real news is characteristic. We are still living with the consequences of the disastrous U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, which Friedman — the most influential foreign affairs columnist in America — enthusiastically (and viciously) endorsed. Once again, the call goes out to “Fire Thomas Friedman.” Until he is replaced, Americans have to read a French-language magazine to find reporting that should be in their own newspapers, in English.