Saudi analyst Nawaf Obaid has an opinion piece in The Washington Post arguing that in the absence of a strong US policy toward the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is stepping in to fill the void. It will, of course, act in what it sees as its interests, but in forming alliances of like-minded countries, it is not acting solely in its own interests.

A new generation of Saudi leaders — and a new foreign policy
Nawaf Obaid

Just two months after the passing of King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia’s extensive intervention in Yemen on Thursday should serve notice to the world that a major generational shift underway in the kingdom is sure to have far-reaching geopolitical ramifications.

The new Saudi leadership — centered on a cadre of youthful, dynamic royals and technocrats — is developing a foreign policy doctrine to address long-standing regional tensions. This doctrine is based on the legitimacy of the Saudi monarchy and the centrality of the kingdom to the Muslim world. As the custodian of the holy mosques of Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia is uniquely positioned to rise above the fray of the past decade and begin bridging the considerable gaps dividing the main Sunni nations. With almost 90 percent of Muslims identifying as Sunni, and the Saudis at the epicenter of the Sunni world, the Saudis believe they can meet an urgent need for a united Sunni front against Shiite Iran, as well as the terrorist movements tearing the Arab world apart.

Abdullah’s successor, King Salman, has inherited a disastrous situation in the region. With the Obama administration abandoning the United States’ historical responsibilities and, by extension, most of its prestige in the Middle East, the Saudis have no choice but to lead more forcefully, more coherently and, above all, more sustainably. This mantle is based on the kingdom’s conservative religious base and its unique Arab tribal inheritance. More tangibly, it is backed by $150 billion in spending to upgrade the Saudi military to allow it to engage enemies on two major fronts simultaneously, eliminating the need to rely on foreign assistance in defending the homeland.


March:28:2015 - 06:52 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Writing for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Anthony Cordesman presents a tour d’horizon of the issues that face the US and Saudi Arabia in Yemen. Definitely worth reading in its entirety.

America, Saudi Arabia, and the Strategic Importance of Yemen
Anthony H. Cordesman

Yemen is a growing reminder of just how important the strategic U.S. partnership with Saudi Arabia really is. It is one thing to talk about the war against ISIS, and quite another to realize that U.S. strategic interests require a broad level of stability in the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula and one that is dependent on Saudi Arabia as a key strategic partner.

Saudi Arabia has already taken an important lead in Yemen that will need U.S. support. Saudi Arabia and allies are now conducting air strikes in Yemen to try to halt the advance of a Houthi militia, with strong ties to Iran, which is attempting to end President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s efforts to relocate Yemen’s elected government to Aden.

… To put Yemen in a broader strategic context, the crisis in Yemen is only part of the U.S.-Saudi strategic equation. U.S.- Saudi partnership and cooperation is critical in building some form of deterrence and strategic stability to contain Iran in the Gulf. Any nuclear agreement will not affect the need for close cooperation between the United States, Saudi Arabia and other key members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in dealing with the broader and active threat Iran poses in terms of conventional forces, asymmetric warfare, missiles, and strategic influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and the Gaza Strip.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait play a key role in stabilizing Egypt and Jordan, and U.S., Saudi, and UAE cooperation in arms transfers – along with bases and the force of the other Gulf states – are creating military capabilities and interoperability that both reduce the need for future U.S. power projection and greatly enhances the capability of any forces the United States deploys.

At the same time, Yemen is of major strategic importance to the United States, as is the broader stability of Saudi Arabia all of the Arab Gulf states. For all of the talk of U.S. energy “independence,” the reality remains very different. The increase in petroleum and alternative fuels outside the Gulf has not changed its vital strategic importance to the global and U.S. economy.


March:27:2015 - 09:32 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Arab News runs a Reuters story indicating that Saudi Arabia is not currently planning to start a ground offensive in Yemen, but will do so if required. Egypt has said that it would assist on the ground if needed.

Saudi Arabia has no immediate plans for ground operation in Yemen

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has no immediate plans to launch ground operations inside Yemen but its forces and those of its allies are ready to do so if needed, the military spokesman of the operation said.

“There are no plans at this stage for ground forces operations, but if the need arises, the Saudi ground forces and those of the friends and sisterly forces are ready and will repel any aggression,” Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asseri told a news conference.


March:27:2015 - 09:20 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

As could be expected, Saudi media is heavy with reporting on the military intervention in Yemen that’s being led by Saudi Arabia. Reports focus on the international aspect of the operation, as shown in this infographic from Al Arabiya TV…

Infographic of countries taking part in Decisive Storm

The Al Arabiya TV story pre-dates the move of Yemen’s President Hadi’s move to Saudi Arabia from Aden, where he’d taken refuge after fleeing Sana’a.

Of interest is the deployment of Egyptian Navy assets who presumably will work in coordination with the Royal Saudi Navy to interdict possible Iranian attempts to supply Houthi forces. All GCC states, excepting Oman, which borders eastern Yemen, have committed aircraft to the operation. Morocco, Sudan, and Jordan have as well.

The name “Decisive Storm,” rather than the earlier “Determination Storm” seems to have been settled upon.

Your guide to ‘Operation Decisive Storm’

Dina al-Shibeeb, Al Arabiya News

Allies with their fighter jets on Thursday joined Saudi Arabia in its “Decisive Storm” military operation, targeting Houthi rebels who had vowed to dislodge President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi.

Al Arabiya News Channel reported that Saudi Arabia deployed 150,000 soldiers, 100 fighter jets and navy units in Yemen after Hadi pleaded with its Gulf ally for help against the Houthi rebels, who were advancing toward the southern city of Aden – where Hadi is based – to remove him from power in an attempted coup.

The Royal Saudi Air Force took control of Yemen’s airspace early Thursday, and destroyed four Houthi jets and its surface-to-air (SAM) missiles.

Reports also emerged that top Houthi leadership: Abdulkhaliq al-Houthi, Yousuf al-Madani, and Yousuf al-Fishi were killed and the head of the Revolutionary Committee for the Houthis, Mohammed Ali al-Hothi, was wounded.


March:27:2015 - 09:08 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia has begun air operations against the Houthi militias who have taken over much of northern Yemen, including the capital Sana’a, and are moving on the southern city of Adan. The operation, called “Determination Storm” or “Al-Hazem Storm,” has so far received support from the GCC, some of whose members may also take part, as well as from the governments of the EU, UK, France, Turkey, Belgium, Morocco, Sudan, Pakistan, Jordan, and Egypt. Several of those have said that they are also willing to take part. Iran has called for a halt to the operation, not surprisingly.

The US government has offered intelligence and logistical support.

The Saudi Press Agency is running brief reports on every bit of support or encouragement being given, including from Saudi Arabia’s Senior Scholars and the Syrian opposition.

The English translation of the operation’s name seems to be a bit up in the air at the moment. Various media are reporting it as “Firm Storm” and “Decisive Storm.”

From Al Arabiya TV:

Saudi ‘Decisive Storm’ waged to save Yemen

World powers react to ‘Decisive Storm’ in Yemen

Your guide to ‘Operation Decisive Storm’

Why ‘Operation: Decisive Storm’ was needed in Yemen

From Asharq Alawsat:

Saudi airstrikes target rebel bases in Yemen

From Saudi Gazette:

Storm operation launched against the Houthis

From Arab News:

KSA launches air strikes in Yemen against Houthi militants

Egypt, Kuwait say intervention in Yemen was necessary

Defense minister supervises operations against Houthi aggression in Yemen


March:26:2015 - 08:48 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia and its media seem to be preparing the battle space of public opinion for a war in Yemen. The media report on various calls to the UN and the GCC to get involved in what is, at present, a civil war, but one that represents threats to other countries in the region.

In an op-ed in Asharq Alawsat, Mshari Al-Zaydi underscores Iranian involvement and the danger a hostile state in Yemen would represent to the Bab Al-Mandab strait. It is feared that if the Houthi rebels gain control of Aden, Yemen’s southern province and the de-facto capital for the government, Iran would be in a position to close two of the world’s most important choke-points for trade in oil and other goods.

Al-Zaydi also notes Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal’s warning to British Foreign Secretary Hammond, that unless the situation improves, there will be actions taken on the part of countries feeling threatened.

Prepare for the Yemeni Storm
Mshari Al-Zaydi

What is currently happening in Yemen is not the first problem Saudi Arabia has faced with respect to its neighbor to the south. But the current problems don’t just concern Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom is of course the most affected out of the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, but it is by no means alone in being impacted. Other Gulf countries, as well as those along the Red Sea, and those countries whose ships pass through the Bab El-Mandeb strait and the Cape of Good Hope, will also be affected by the crisis.

In fact, what is happening in Yemen poses a problem for the whole world, politically, strategically, and in terms of global security. This is especially true when bearing in mind how Yemen is currently being transformed into a regional base for the Persian–Khomeinist camp and a rebel stronghold for Osama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda.

Saudi Arabia is the country most affected by the current Yemeni crisis, due to its geographic proximity to Yemen and the nature of the terrain on the borders between the two countries, from mountains and valleys to plains and steppes—not to mention the close links that exist between the peoples of these two countries.

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members have been attempting to lay out a political road map for Yemen according to specific criteria, which are based on the outcomes of the Gulf Initiative, the legitimacy of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, the unity of the country and its security.

The Iran-backed Shi’ite Houthi movement, which has staged a coup in Yemen, refuses all of this, however. Working alongside the Houthis is the country’s ousted former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and his General People’s Congress (GPC) party, both pulling the strings from behind the scenes.

Saudi Gazette also focuses on the Bab Al-Mandab strait. It also quotes the Egyptian Ambassador to Yemen saying, “More than 38 percent of global maritime trade passes through the strait…”

Key waterway under threat as Houthi militiamen advance


March:25:2015 - 09:27 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia has a housing shortage. Part of this is due to the population boom the country has seen over the past decades. As more people mature and start up families, they want housing. But another factor is that many landowners prefer to hold their property until they see a maximum profit coming from it. A result of this is that there’s a lot of unproductive land, sitting vacant, that could be used to build housing.

To address this latter issue, the Saudi Cabinet of Ministers is proposing a tax on unused land. This would mean that it would become more expensive to just sit on an investment. Instead of accruing value, the unused land would end up costing the owner. For some, this would be sufficient incentive to sell the land to others who would put it to productive use. For some, it might encourage them to find productive uses on their own, including the building of housing.

Imposition of tax on vacant plots of land hailed
Fatima Muhammad |Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — The Cabinet decision to impose tax on vacant land plots, locally known as “white lands,” has won plaudits from several sections of the society.

The Cabinet, at its regular meeting on Monday, accepted the recommendation of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs (CEDA) and decided to impose the tax on vacant lands in urban areas in all cities.

The Cabinet also tasked the CEDA to prepare a mechanism to implement and organize the system. The CEDA will submit its proposals to the Council of Ministers which will then send it to the Shoura Council for approval.

Essam Al-Zamil, an economic columnist, who has been actively tweeting on the issue of “white lands” and their reflection on increased real estate prices said Monday that he believes that the Cabinet decision must be a happy news for all Saudis as their dream of owning a house could now be realized.


March:24:2015 - 08:25 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

The American Embassy and Consulates are back to work following their closure on security concerns over the past week. Arab News reports:

US missions resume consular services
RIYADH: GHAZANFAR ALI KHAN

The US diplomatic missions in Saudi Arabia will resume full consular services on Sunday, following a weeklong closure amid reports of “heightened security concerns” against Western targets.

The opening of the US Embassy and its consulates in Jeddah and Dhahran was confirmed by Stewart Wight, a spokesman of the US Embassy, on Saturday.

Speaking to Arab News, Wight said: “The US Embassy and its consulates will offer regular consular services as of March 22.”

The embassy has announced that the consular section will resume services for American citizens and will be functioning as usual for both Americans and non-Americans.


March:22:2015 - 06:45 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

In many conservative Muslim states, men do not talk to women other than their relatives. They may not even shake hands with them. Foreign male diplomats are taught to wait to see if a woman extends her hand for a shake before extending their own. Female diplomats are taught to not even bother if the interlocutor is male.

Saudi Gazette translates a piece from the Arabic daily Al-Riyadh in which the writer — a Saudi woman — points out to the patent unfairness and illegality of the way government officials (and others) refuse to deal directly with women, insisting that only males enter their offices (or office buildings). Some refuse to speak with women even on the phone. Or how some doctors will speak only to males in discussing medical concerns of patients… even if the woman is the patient.

It’s truly a backward approach to life and one the Saudis are going to have to come to terms with if they’re not going to continue leaving themselves open to complaints and criticisms like those made by the Swedish Foreign Minister.

‘Sorry, I don’t talk to women’
Dr. Hatoon Ajwad Al-Fassi | Al-Riyadh

I added the word “sorry” to the title of this article even though government officials do not normally bother to use this word. I have previously written regarding how women are not allowed to enter government buildings and are forced to stand outside on the street. I now intend to discuss how government officials treat women once they manage to enter government offices.

I know of a woman who went to a hospital with her husband. The hospital’s management subsequently asked her to leave because women are not allowed to stay the night with their husbands. Only male family members can do so. This woman asked the consultant to keep her posted on her husband’s health. He, however, refused to speak to her in person or over the phone, and said he would only talk with male family members. He insisted on dealing with her like this even though what he was doing was against the rights of patients.

Another example is that of a mother who called her son’s school to ask how well he was doing. The teacher refused to talk to her and said he would only to talk to the child’s father. What if this woman were widowed or divorced?


March:20:2015 - 09:48 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia repeats its warning that if Iran moves toward the acquisition of nuclear arms, Saudi Arabia will as well. Former head of Saudi Intelligence and ambassador to the US and UK, Turki Al-Faisal says that any “deal” that the P5+1 nations offer to Iran will be assumed to apply to Saudi Arabia and its GCC partners.

Iran deal risks nuclear proliferation, Prince Turki warns

RIYADH (Reuters): Any terms that world powers grant Iran under a nuclear deal will be sought by Saudi Arabia and other countries, risking wider proliferation of atomic technology, Prince Turki Al-Faisal warned on Monday in a BBC interview.

“I’ve always said whatever comes out of these talks, we will want the same,” said Prince Turki, who has previously served as head of Saudi intelligence and Riyadh’s ambassador to Washington and London.

Saudi Arabia, its Gulf neighbors and other Mideastern countries fear an atomic deal would leave the door open to Tehran gaining a nuclear weapon, or would ease political pressure on it, giving it more space to interfere in regional affairs.

Iran and six world powers known as the P5+1 group are holding talks to reach a deal aimed at assuaging their fears that Tehran is using the fuel enrichment process of its atomic power program to secretly develop a nuclear weapon.


March:16:2015 - 08:50 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

International and Saudi media report that the US government is seeing an increased threat to its personnel in Saudi Arabia and, in consequence, is closing its embassy and consulates for most activities. Earlier, it issued warnings to American citizens working in the oil industry in the Eastern Province.

There are no reports on exactly what threat was perceived, nor who was seen to be threatening.

U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia on heightened security

(Reuters) – U.S. citizens are urged to take precautions in Saudia Arabaia and U.S. consular services in the country have been canceled for Sunday and Monday due to heightened security concerns, the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh said on Saturday.

In a statement on its website, the embassy said consular services in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dhahran would be canceled and it urged all U.S. citizens to take extra precautions when traveling in Saudi Arabia. The statement did not indicate the nature of the threat.

Fox News, citing an intelligence source, said the threat is serious enough that the facilities will have only essential staff over the next two days.

Saudi Gazette:

US missions halt services for two days

Arab News:

Security fears: US shuts diplomatic missions


March:16:2015 - 08:44 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

The Saudi government is pushing its efforts to get more Saudi into jobs. Now, according to this Arab News report, it is seeking to “Saudize” jobs in the public transport system, from spare parts to the manufacturing of of buses and trains.

The Saudi preference for white-collar jobs, behind a desk, is well-known. Of course, it’s not just Saudis who hold this preference: Americans, too, share it and parents do not urge their children to take jobs where their hands might get dirty. This is reflected in the explosion of universities and the decline of technical and trade schools. The Saudi government is trying to fight against this, however, by barring foreign workers from entire categories of labor. The transitions don’t always go smoothly (an attempt some ten years ago to have only Saudis working in the gold souks didn’t pan out well, for instance). But by showering governmental approval on manual labor, there’s hope that attitudes can be changed.

Govt orders Saudization of public transport industry

Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, who is also the chairman of the ministerial supervisory committee on public transport, has ordered all contracts for the public transport system (including metro and buses) in Makkah, Jeddah and Taif to incorporate a clause for the Saudization of the public transport industries, all the way from spare parts workers through to the manufacturing phase.

The governor directed a meeting with members of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) in Jeddah, calling for the establishment of spare part factories in the province.

“The sector should provide job opportunities to Saudi youth, enabling the province and its population to benefit from all major projects. These should also serve as a source of income for them and their families, especially as the national work force is a major pillar of the comprehensive and sustainable development of any country,” he said.

SAGIA members gave a presentation to the prince on the Saudization of the public transport industry, emphasizing the construction of transportation equipment and operating machinery by Saudi people.


March:13:2015 - 08:37 | Comments Off | Permalink
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