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.
In further consolidation of power, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered arrest of four family members and hundreds of civil servants, and late month govt retaliated against intensified cross-border strikes by Yemen’s Huthi rebels by stepping up airstrikes in Yemen’s north. Mohammed bin Salman 7 March ordered arrest of four high-ranking family members, including brother of King Salman, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, and former crown prince and interior minister, Prince Mohamed bin Nayef, both accused of treason. In largest mass arrests since 2017, anti-corruption commission 15 March detained hundreds of public servants, including military officers; 298 people reportedly charged with corruption. In Yemen, Saudi-led coalition kept up military operations in bid to prevent Huthi forces taking control of Marib governorate in north. Saudi officials 15 March allegedly barred senior officials of southern separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) from flying from Jordanian capital Amman to Aden in south. Angered, STC leaders warned of further unrest in Aden if Riyadh failed to adjust course. Saudi-led coalition, govt, Huthis and other armed actors 25 March expressed support for UN Sec-Gen Guterres’s call for ceasefire in Yemen to counter potential COVID-19 outbreak. Cross-border war escalated late March as Huthis launched drone and missile attacks on Riyadh and Saudi economic and military installations in Saudi provinces along border with Yemen 27-28 March; rebels claimed attacks were in retaliation for Riyadh’s stepped-up air campaign in Jawf and Marib. Riyadh responded with airstrikes on Huthi positions in northern Yemen, Sanaa and Hodeida. After Russia 6 March rejected agreement among members of Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to cut oil production due to COVID-19, Saudi Arabia 7 March cut oil prices by nearly 10% sparking oil price war with Russia. To slow spread of COVID-19, govt 7 March closed land borders with Bahrain, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates, 15 March suspended all international flights for two weeks.
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