On 14 September, strikes of uncertain provenance hit Saudi Arabia’s largest oil facilities, taking some 50 per cent of the kingdom’s oil production temporarily offline. Crisis Group offers a 360-degree view of the attacks and their implications for Middle Eastern and international peace and security.
Govt reduced airstrikes in Huthi-controlled areas in Yemen and mediated signing of agreement between Yemeni govt and southern separatists, also took limited steps toward reducing tensions with Qatar. Huthi forces in Yemen continued to refrain from further strikes into Saudi Arabia as indirect talks continued and UN Envoy Martin Griffiths 22 Nov reported 80% reduction in Saudi airstrikes in Yemen in previous two weeks. Huthi forces 17 Nov seized one Saudi and two South Korean vessels off Yemeni coast; 19 Nov announced release of vessels and crews. In response to Huthi strikes on coalition locations in Mokha 24 Nov, Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Ras Isa port in Hodeida province 25 Nov killed unknown number of Huthis. Saudi-led coalition 26 Nov said it was releasing 200 Huthi prisoners and reducing restrictions on Yemeni air space to enable medical evacuations from Huthi-controlled capital Sanaa; International Committee of the Red Cross 28 Nov announced successful repatriation of 128 Huthi detainees from Saudi Arabia to Sanaa. Following Saudi-led mediation between Yemeni govt and United Arab Emirates (UAE)-backed southern separatists, two sides signed Riyadh Agreement in Saudi capital 5 Nov; after signing ceremony Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said agreement “will open ... broader talks between Yemeni parties to reach a political solution and end the war”. Following UAE’s complete withdrawal from Aden late Oct, several thousand Saudi troops entered city, taking control of main coalition base, Aden port and airport. Govt sent players to Gulf Cup football tournament in Qatar to run 24 Nov-8 Dec, which it had previously planned to boycott. Saudi Aramco oil and gas company 3 Nov said it would go ahead with initial public offering in Dec with company valued at estimated $1.6-$1.7 trillion.
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.
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.
Nobody doubts that Iran has been helping the [Yemeni] Houthis. [But], nobody doubts that Saudi Arabia has been conducting activities that are violations of the rules of war either.
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