While GCC policymakers have responded swiftly to the threat of COVID-19 domestically, some Gulf states deftly used the crisis to advance their foreign policy objectives with states with which they have had adversarial relationships. Only time will tell whether these new diplomatic opportunities will lay groundwork for concerted regional efforts.
Originally published in POMEPS Studies
Cross-border attacks between Saudi Arabia and Huthis intensified while fighting between Saudi-backed Yemeni govt forces and Huthis escalated in northern Yemen. Saudi-led coalition 2 July launched series of airstrikes targeting area around Huthi-held Yemeni capital Sanaa. In retaliation, Huthis 13 July reportedly launched drone and missile attacks targeting oil facility in Saudi city Jizan, Abha airport and military sites in Jizan and Najran cities; no casualties reported. Saudi-led coalition same day said it had intercepted four Huthi missiles and six bomb-laden drones targeting civilians in Saudi Arabia. In north Yemen, Saudi-led coalition 12 July launched airstrike targeting Hajja governorate in north west, killing at least nine civilians, including seven children. Saudi airstrike near al-Hazm, capital of al-Jawf, 15 July killed at least eleven civilians, including several children; UN special envoy next day called for investigation. In Yemen’s south, after Saudi Arabia in June presented new proposal to govt and Southern Transitional Council (STC) on stalled implementation of Nov 2019 Riyadh Agreement, STC 29 July rescinded its April declaration of self-administration and agreed to implement provisions of Riyadh deal, marking progress toward ending months-long power struggle between STC and UN-recognised Yemeni govt; Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi 29 tasked PM Maeen Saeed with forming new govt in accordance with deal. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia 14 July permanently cancelled licence of Qatari-owned broadcaster beIN, citing “monopolistic practices”; move comes after World Trade Organization ruled in June that Saudi Arabia had breached obligations to protect intellectual property of beIN. Saudi Arabia, U.S. and five other Gulf states 15 July imposed sanctions on six targets accused of providing financial support to Islamic State (ISIS) leadership in Iraq and Syria. State media 20 July announced King Salman’s transfer to hospital in capital Riyadh for medical tests. UK’s Foreign Ministry 6 July announced economic sanctions against 20 Saudi nationals suspected of involvement in killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Oct 2018 while UK 7 July announced it would resume exporting arms to Saudi Arabia after one-year moratorium on grounds that Saudi human rights violations in Yemen were “isolated incidents”.
Saudi Arabia has been forging links to Iraq since reopening its Baghdad embassy in 2016. Its adversary Iran has strong Iraqi ties. If Riyadh avoids antagonising Tehran, invests wisely and quiets anti-Shiite rhetoric, Iraq can be a bridge between the rival powers - not a battleground.
From Saudi Arabia's establishment in 1932, its minority Shiite population has been subject to discrimination and sectarian incitement. Beginning in the early 1990s, with then Crown Prince Abdullah's active support, the government took steps to improve inter-sectarian relations.
Saudi Arabia is at a critical stage in both its struggle against terrorism and its on-again, off-again efforts at reform, and Islamism is at the heart of both.
The Saudi regime faces one of the more difficult phases in its history. Fearful of change, accustomed to a system in which it holds enormous power and privileges, the ruling family may consider any serious reform a risk not worth taking.
Implementing a cease-fire [between Saudi Arabia and Yemen] is no small matter, and the first test of this is going to be whether the parties show up for this virtual meeting.
Riyadh may not want war with Iran, but there are risks to this strategy of rhetorical confrontation.
Les deux partis au Congrès perdent patience face à la campagne menée par l’Arabie Saoudite au Yémen. Il y a des raisons d’espérer que le Congrès interviendra pour contrer MBS, même si Trump ne le fait pas.
Secretary Pompeo was put in an almost impossible situation from the outset: traveling to meet with people [in Saudi Arabia] suspected of having ordered a political assassination at the request of a president determined to sweep the affair under the rug.
Although from a distance the U.S.-Saudi relationship appears rock solid, there are cracks in the foundation.
Most people agree at this point that the Saudis are facing a legitimate security threat and that Iran is part of the problem. By continuing down this road, things will just get worse.
A series of escalations in both word and deed have raised fears of U.S.-Iranian military confrontation, either direct or by proxy. It is urgent that cooler heads prevail – in European capitals as in Tehran and Washington – to head off the threat of a disastrous war.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are actively fighting one another in the media, through armed proxies, in cyberspace and with Western lobbyists. But in Iraq they should both see the case for détente.
Originally published in The Hill
After the defeat of the Islamic State in 2017, normality is returning to Iraq ahead of the 12 May parliamentary elections. In this Q&A, Crisis Group's Senior Analyst for the Arabian Peninsula Elizabeth Dickinson says the country’s cautious optimism includes hopes of a new partnership with Riyadh, balancing Baghdad’s strong ties with Tehran.
Originally published in The Washington Post