Saturday 4 November, 2017 Update: Wild Arabian Night in Riyadh

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It has been a hectic past sixteen hours in Riyadh to say the least. The Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his immediate resignation, not from his own country’s capital, but from the Saudi capital. Hariri pointed to Iranian influence over Lebanon’s government as the reason for stepping down. The move puts Lebanon on the front burner of the Middle East, and increases the chances of a political crisis and potential conflict in the near future. Hariri’s departure should serve as a warning to the international community concerning Iran’s aggressive political and military moves across the region of late. Which brings us to the second major event of the day.

Shortly after Hariri’s announcement was made, Houthi rebels in Yemen launched a ballistic missile toward Riyadh. The missile was intercepted by a Saudi Patriot missile positioned battery east of King Khalid International Airport. Debris fell on the airport grounds and in the surrounding area causing no casualties or damage. The timing of the attack could be coincidental. A Saudi airstrike against targets in Yemen this past Wednesday killed 26 people at a hotel and neighboring market. The missile strike against Riyadh was likely Houthi retaliation for the airstrike.

While all of this was going on, the Saudi Royal Family appears to be on the verge of its own political crisis. At least a dozen Saudi princes, and four current ministers of the Saudi government have been arrested as part of a major anti-corruption sweep shortly after a committee to combat corruption was formed by a royal decree of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. The decree appoints Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sultan as the head of the committee and grants him broad powers to fight corruption in the government. Along with the arrests of current government officials, a number of ex-ministers have also been taken into custody, and a number of current ministers were fired by the king.

It is clear that the forming of the committee and subsequent arrests are not underway purely to purge corrupt elements from the royal family and Saudi government. Prince Mohammed could be taking this opportunity to consolidate his position in the government, possibly in preparation for an abdication by King Salman in the near future. Which brings up a second, far more cynical possibility; that these arrests and firings are the beginning of an attempted coup. As more news comes out of Riyadh, it will become clear what direction this is going in. For my money, I believe this is a consolidation move by the Crown Prince and likely does signal that King Salman’s days in power are now limited.

Any way you slice it, this has been a stormy, unpredictable day in Riyadh, and the drama will no doubt continue in the coming days.

 

1 July, 2016 Update: Unrest In Lebanon

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While the airport bombings in Turkey and today’s hostage standoff in Bangladesh have garnered high amounts of media scrutiny and public attention, the suicide attacks in Lebanon have not received much media attention. On Monday, suicide bombers launched two attacks against the town of Al Qaa, a primarily Christian town in eastern Lebanon, not far from the border with Syria. The attacks have stoked fears that violence from the civil war in Syria could soon spill over into Lebanon and destabilize the country even more so than it already is at current. Lebanon has very strong political and sectarian ties to Syria. To the surprise of many observers, Lebanon has so far avoided being drawn into the quagmire to its north and east. The nation has also taken in 1.5 million Syrian refugees, placing a major strain on government services and the economy.

Monday’s attacks have increased security concerns across the nation and there is growing pressure to marshal the Syrian refugees into camps or remove them from the country altogether.  In the 24 hours following the attack, over 100 refugees were arrested for not having proper residency. On Wednesday, the Lebanese Army announced that it had foiled two terrorist plots by ISIS and arrested five suspects. The information released was very scant on details, however, and has not been updated at all.

Aside from terrorism, Lebanon has another significant issue to contend with. The country has been without a president for the past two years and Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group closely allied with Iran, has stalled efforts to resolve the power vacuum. A strong central government in Beirut would be a challenge to Hezbollah’s influence and control over a large portion of Lebanon and Lebanese life. A challenge that Hezbollah’s backers in Tehran do not want to see flourish anytime soon.