Our leaders know how to bang the war drums and, by and large, we go along with them. The US threatens Iran with war – so will Iran close the Strait of Hormuz and attack American warships in the Gulf? Israel strikes Iranian targets in Syria after rockets fall on Golan – so does an Arab-Israeli conflict loom closer than at any time since the 1973 conflict? Jared Kushner plans to reveal Trump’s “deal of the century” for peace in the Middle East – but is it dead in the water?
Meanwhile the real stories get pushed down the page – or “to the back of the book”, as we journalists used to say.
Take Donald Trump’s desire to furnish Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with billions of dollars of extra weapons so that they can increase the ferocity of their war in Yemen against the Houthis – whose support from Iran, such as it is, prompts much of the international abuse against the Islamic Republic. French intelligence officers in Washington have apparently discovered that this is no routine request from Riyadh but a desperate appeal to Washington, because so promiscuous has been the Saudis’ use of US munitions against Houthi rebels (and civilians, hospitals, aid centres, schools and wedding parties) that they are running out of bombs, guided and unguided missiles, drone parts and other “precision” arms to be used on one of the poorest countries in the world.
Thus when Trump found himself confronted by congress, which wanted to halt the supplies – not least because its members are still very angry about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi – the destination of the weapons supplies was broadened to include America’s plucky little ally, King Abdullah II of Jordan. Yes, we all missed that bit, didn’t we? We added the words “and Jordan” to the headline, but didn’t ask why. And the munitions will come not from direct sales to the Gulf, with a possible congressional cap of $25m (£19.7m), but from US government military stocks and – so the French suggest – a very large part of these weapons will go to Jordan.
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