Tuesday 6 June, 2017 Update: Saudi Arabia’s Move Was A Long Time Coming

Saudi Arabia Qatar

It is evident that the Saudi Arabian-led isolation of Qatar has been a long time in the making. Qatar’s funding of select extremist groups over the years was hardly a secret in the Arab world. The Saudis resented Qatar for the hypocrisy and discord of its policies: Contributing to the fight against ISIS on one hand, yet providing financial support to extremist groups such as the one operating in eastern Saudi Arabia on the other. The linchpin of a diplomatic effort against Qatar has always been the United States. Washington’s reaction to a quarrel amongst some of its closest allies had to be factored into any action taken on the part of Riyadh.

During the years of the Obama presidency, the Saudis pointed the finger at Qatar’s complicity again and again. King Abdullah, and then his successor King Salman made informal, but impassioned requests for America’s blessing, or at the very least its tacit approval for a move against Qatar. For eight years the Obama administration rejected the requests. The issues of US allies in the region were unceremoniously placed on the back burner as Washington sought a nuclear deal with Iran at all costs.

The new administration in Washington has not been unreceptive to Saudi concerns about Qatar. When President Trump made his first overseas visit last month, his first stop was Riyadh. He gave a speech to the leaders of over 50 Muslim nations, imploring them to do more in the fight against terrorism. The Saudis, and other leaders in the region assured Trump that they would adopt a hard line on funding extremism. On the surface, the speech and subsequent assurances appeared no more candid than others made in the past. Beneath the diplospeak, however, an iron determination to punish Qatar was taking shape in Riyadh, Dubai, Cairo, and Manama. Trump had given the Saudis, Egyptians and their GCC partners the tacit approval they’d long sought from Washington, and the Saudis have wasted little time in implementing draconian measures on Qatar.

Thus far, Qatar is seeking to remedy the situation through dialogue and diplomacy. A number of leaders around the world are seeking resolution along the same avenue, including Turkish President Erdogan. In the Persian Gulf region, though, leaders expect more from Qatar. “We need a guaranteed roadmap to rebuild confidence after our covenants were broken,” UAE state minister for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash said on Twitter. He accused Doha of turning to “money and media and partisanship and extremism” in a series of tweets early Tuesday morning. Qatar has denied the allegations.

For now, the attention is focused on Qatar and its response to its isolation. An eye needs to be kept on Iran as well, however. Tehran is already trying to involve itself in the matter by offering assistance to Qatar. If the Iranians sense an opportunity to swing the regional balance of power in its favor it will not hesitate to act.

Monday 30 January, 2017 Update: US and Saudi Arabia Reset On The Horizon?


After saying farewell to British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday, and speaking to the leaders of Russia, France and Germany on Saturday, President Trump spent part of Sunday afternoon reaffirming the relationship between the United States and its most important strategic partner in the Persian Gulf region. Trump and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman spoke yesterday in what was Trump’s first telephone call with an Arab leader.

The leaders consulted one another on topics of importance to both nations in the region including joint efforts to combat radical Islamic terrorism and ISIS, Iran, the continuing war in Yemen, and the possibility of establishing safe zones inside of Syria. On the subject of establishing safe zones in Syria, Salman voiced support for the idea. Saudi Arabia’s involvement would be critical for any attempt to create safe zones. Salman even supported the creation of safe zones inside of Yemen as a relief valve to the pressure building in that nation right now.

On Iran, Trump and Salman agreed on the need to counter Tehran’s continuing efforts to destabilize the region. From Baghdad to Sana’a, Iran’s meddling has been frequent and consequential. Over the last two to three years, Saudi Arabia has been holding the line against Iranian attempts to achieve regional hegemony. The effort has come largely without support from the US. With a new president in the White House, King Salman is hoping the days of minimal US support will soon be a thing of the past.

Barack Obama did not treat Saudi Arabia as a vital strategic partner for much of his two terms in office. His words were always carefully selected to portray the image of US-Saudi solidarity on many regional issues, however, his actions fell short. Behind the scenes especially, there was a disconnect between the US president and Salman, as well as his predecessor King Abdullah. During the Obama era, Saudi Arabia was unceremoniously placed on the back burner and relegated to the status of a second-tier ally. Obama’s reluctance to engage the Saudis in a true partnership was partly responsible for the emergence of Russian influence in the region. With the rise of both ISIS and Iran, as well as the decline in oil revenue, Saudi Arabia was desperately seeking concrete proof that the United States still stood at its side. It received reams of public assurances, but little in the way of actual deeds.

Salman is hoping that this will change, and US policy will be reversed under President Trump. It remains unclear if this is to be the case, but yesterday’s conversation is a step in the right direction.


Week In Review Jan 19-24: Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Ukraine


This past week has been an eventful one. From Eastern Europe to the Arabian Peninsula, the flames of instability are being stoked with a new fervor. In Saudi Arabia, the passing of King Abdullah comes at a time of social unrest in the Kingdom, international concern about oil output, and a potentially explosive situation to the south in Yemen. The new king, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has decisions to make that are going to reshape the path that the Kingdom is on.



Sergei Prokofiev International Airport in Donetsk is firmly under rebel control. The Ukrainian forces defending the airport’s main terminal building were overrun by a renewed rebel effort earlier this week. The Ukrainian government claims that its forces still control portions of the airport grounds, but that statement has not yet been confirmed. The battle for the airport lasted months. Fighting was fierce and the once modern airport has been reduced to a shell of its former self by months of combat. The spirited Ukrainian defenders had captured the imagination of citizens, repelling dozens of attacks by Russian backed separatist rebels. Control of the airport became a symbol of the Ukraine’s resolve. Now, with it back in rebel hands, it is becoming a symbol of a resurgent rebel offensive.

In the midst of winter, the resupplied and invigorated pro-Russian separatists are launching new offensives on six fronts across the eastern Ukraine. Fighting has broken out from Luhansk to Donetsk and all the way south to Mariupol. On Saturday morning, rocket fire reportedly killed 15-20 civilians in Mariupol.  For weeks, Kiev has warned about the presence of large numbers of Russian troops and equipment pouring into the country. Moscow denied that Russian forces are involved in the fighting. While this statement might be technically true, it’s apparent that the separatist groups have been rearmed to the point where they are capable of undertaking offensive operations once more.


The recent turn of events in Yemen are a significant concern for the US. The nation is unstable The resignation of President Abdu Rabbuh Mansour Hadi is a major setback to US operations against Al Qaeda in the region. Hadi was a faithful supporter and partner of the US. Without him in power, the future of US drone-strikes and counter terror efforts are in question. There was no successor to Hadi’s government waiting in the wings. The Houthi rebels have not come through with replacement members yet. In fact, the extent of Houthi control and influence is already being put to the test. Thousands are marching in Saana in protest against the Houthi as the rebels work to consolidate their gains. If Yemen’s people decide not to accept the Houthi’s de facto control of their government, the current instability could lead to a power vacuum.

Right now, Yemen is leaderless and without direction. The Houthi power grab is not yet etched in stone. Iran is the major supporter of the Houthi’s and the Islamic Republic has been keen to find ways to extend its influence on the Arabian Peninsula. The US can ill afford to allow Iran a free hand in the region, especially now with a change in leadership underway in Saudi Arabia. Decisions have to be made in Washington regarding how to best deal with the chaos in Yemen and avoid potential spillover into Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

Saudi Arabia

As mentioned above, Saudi Arabia is undergoing a change in leadership. King Salman is a highly respected member of the royal family. In many ways he is cut from the same cloth as his predecessor King Abdullah. Salman is pragmatic and a prudent reformer. He is taking power at a time when the Kingdom facing social challenges at home. Two thirds of the population is under the age of 30. 1.9 million Saudis are going to enter the workforce in the next decade and the nation’s limited economy is ill prepared to accept them. Unemployment is already high and will only increase unless the problem is addressed. Saudi Arabia has been under close scrutiny for its human rights record. Specifically, the case of the blogger who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes essentially for running a website that is dedicated to freedom of speech has garnered much attention.

Internationally, the Kingdom is facing tests as well. Yemen’s political strife opens the possibility of an unhinged nation-state on its southern border. Iranian influence on the Arabian Peninsula is tied in here. The Saudis are wary of any Iranian inroads on the peninsula and have to make it a priority to shut down any potential openings for Iran to exploit.

There are concerns about Salman’s health. Many reports have come out regarding the 79 year old monarch’s health condition. Saudi Arabia’s media is under tight state control, so the reports can not be confirmed. Reports that Salman had suffered a stroke are well known, as well as some lesser known ones that he suffers from dementia. Again, there has been no way to confirm or refute these claims.

What is definite is the fact that the Arab World is facing its largest crisis in decades and a strong, stable Saudi Arabia is necessary to keep a foreign enemy from exploiting the situation.

And by ‘foreign enemy’ I am referring to Iran.