Monday 5 June, 2017 Update: Saudi Arabia Severs Ties With Qatar

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The fissure between Qatar and its Gulf State neighbors and allies appears to be widening even more this morning. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt have severed ties with Qatar. This potentially volatile diplomatic crisis has been a long time in the making. For years the Saudis, Egypt and other nations in the region have been wary of Qatar’s support for Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood, a group which the Saudis and Egyptians particularly regard as a dangerous terror organization. Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of backing militant groups, some of which are backed by Iran, that are operating in eastern Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

SPA, the Saudi state news agency released the following statement summarily explaining Riyadh’s justification for its actions. “(Qatar) embraces multiple terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at disturbing stability in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS (Islamic State) and al-Qaeda, and promotes the message and schemes of these groups through their media constantly.”

The severing of diplomatic ties is apparently not enough to satisfy Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, and Egypt. Qatari troops are being removed from the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen. The four are also making moves to cut off Qatar’s land, sea, and air routes to the outside world. Saudi Arabia has closed its border with Qatar. The tiny emirate receives 40% of its food from overland routes. Food trucks are now lining up on the border, unable to cross.

Iran, not surprisingly, has taken the opportunity to blame the rift on the United States. Tehran has identified President Trump’s recent visit to Riyadh, and the allegedly hawkish tone of his speech to the Muslim world as reasons why this crisis is developing. The Iranian government has also called for a peaceful resolution, and has hinted that it would be open to transporting food and other needed goods to Qatar should this situation continue.

The United States is urging the Gulf nations to negotiate a settlement to their differences. For now, Washington does not appear eager to make a statement or take action that could be perceived by supporting one side over the other.

 

Sunday 21 May, 2017 Update: President Trump in Riyadh

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President Trump’s approach to America’s allies in the Persian Gulf region is markedly different from the policies and approach of his predecessor. For the last eight years, as Iran grew stronger and more audacious, the Gulf States were left to confront the situation without support or guidance from the United States. As the power and influence of ISIS increased, and the Arab Spring metastasized into a regional nightmare Washington remained on the sidelines to a great extent. Obama’s ‘lead from behind’ foreign policy doctrine was alienating some of America’s most important strategic partners and allies at a time when those nations were desperately seeking US leadership.

President Trump’s visit to Riyadh has made it clear that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf allies again have a steadfast friend in the White House. The strategic relationship is being rekindled, much to the delight of the Saudis. In a widely anticipated speech on Sunday to the leaders of 50 Muslim-majority nations, Trump called on those nations to take the lead in combatting radical Islamic terrorism, and its root causes. His speech was widely seen as an attempt to ‘reset’ relations with the Muslim world. He blamed Iran for much of the region’s instability, and characterized the war on extremism as a fight between ‘good and evil.’ Unlike his predecessor, Trump did not bring up human rights, or democracy. However, he did condemn the oppression of woman, something the Saudi government is seen to be guilty of.

The list of subjects discussed between Trump, and GCC leaders included threats to regional security and stability, Iran’s influence in the region, and Yemen. The civil war raging in that country is also a proxy war between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and Saudi/GCC- supported government forces. Iran’s move to support the Houthis came as part of a wider campaign to obtain a lasting strategic advantage over Saudi Arabia. The Saudis and its GCC allies could not stand idly by and allow Yemen to fall into Tehran’s sphere of influence. Saudi Arabia, leading a coalition of 9 Arab and African nations launched a military intervention in March, 2015. UN efforts to negotiate a ceasefire have been unsuccessful. The Saudis are holding onto the hope that US efforts to broker a ceasefire will materialize and be more fruitful.

President Trump next flies to Israel on Monday morning for a two-day visit.

European Awakening?

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Europe is realizing something that many people have known for a long time: The continent is rife with radical Islamists and terror cells. Europe has always had a large population of Muslim immigrants. In recent times, however, radical Islamists have made their presence felt. They have been responsible for a number of gruesome attacks against private citizens and companies across Europe. The latest attack in France has struck a nerve and might possibly be the wakeup call that the continent has needed. In the days since the Charlie Hebdo and Hebrew grocery store attacks, France appears to be steeling herself for a protracted conflict against the enemy within as well as the enemy abroad.

Appearances, however, can be deceiving. France isnot unfamiliar to terrorist attacks. Neither is the rest of Europe for that matter. The 1980s especially, were a dangerous time in France and other Western European nations but most citizens remained indifferent to the threat, unless personally affected. In the past, there have been terrorist actions in Paris that did nothing to galvanize the French. This time, it is different. At least for the short term. On the heels of events in France, Belgium wasted little time in taking down a terrorist cell that was preparing to attack police stations.

Fighting terrorism and radical Islamists is a time consuming and concerted effort. This is no new revelation for French security and military officials. The question is: Can Europe remain strong and united in its efforts?

*Apology for a short post today. Work responsibilities are piling up my free time has been limited. *