The American conservative magazine, “The Weekly Standard” writes that Saudi Arabia has all but given up on the Obama administration when it comes to protecting Saudi Arabia’s regional concerns. If the Kingdom cannot count on the US, it will have to take matters into its own hands.
The Saudis push back against the Obama foreign policy
The Obama administration put a happy face on its Camp David summit last week, even as four of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s six leaders turned down Obama’s invitation to attend. The most significant absence, of course, was that of Saudi Arabia’s king, Salman. In his place, Riyadh sent Salman’s 55-year-old nephew, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, and Salman’s 28-year-old son, Mohammed bin Salman, deputy crown prince and defense minister.
Both men are said to be responsible for the aggressive Saudi policies in confronting Iran, especially in Yemen, where Mohammed bin Salman is leading the campaign against the Iranian-backed Houthis. In other words, while snubbing Obama, King Salman also delivered a strong message through the two men who are in line to lead Saudi Arabia for the foreseeable future. They’re not happy with what they correctly perceive as the White House’s pro-Iranian tilt in the Middle East—and they’re in a position to challenge it.
In Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, referred to in Western policymaking circles as MBN, the White House is likely to find an especially able statesman. MBN served as the deputy minister of the interior under his father and then won the top post himself, where he has distinguished himself as a tough-minded security official who proved instrumental in dismantling terrorist networks and providing U.S. officials with valuable insight into their workings. He has survived at least four assassination attempts.
An interesting analysis in The Washington Post arguing that Saudi Arabia has already achieved its goals in Yemen and it’s now time to step back a bit. Silvana Toska, a PhD candidate at Cornell University says that the Saudis have accomplished the major objectives they set for themselves: Consolidate power clearly within the ruling family; put Iran front-and-center on American radar; shown that they will take action against Iranian encroachment; increase Saudi nationalism. Worth reading.
Has Saudi Arabia already won its Yemen war?
Despite the current humanitarian ceasefire, Saudi Arabia’s military operation in Yemen is now in its second month with no end in sight and no sign that any of the parties are willing to negotiate. The intervention has caused devastating destruction in Yemen, a deepening of divisions between already divided Yemeni factions, a large number of casualties and refugees and has done nothing to stabilize the country.
Militarily, Saudi Arabia has not achieved its goals. However, to understand the rationale behind the intervention, Saudi Arabia’s actions must be seen in a wider context that includes both its domestic and regional goals. From this perspective, this military incursion serves the present interests of Saudi Arabia in a number of ways, regardless of the military outcome.
Saudi media (as well as other GCC media) are headlining Pres. Obama’s pledge that the US will continue its support of regional security. The US is not conducting a “pivot to Iran,” as has been feared, but sees it as critical that relations with Iran be calmed down. That, however, is largely up to Iran and its leadership.
The reports also note the continuing cooperation on anti-terrorism efforts, no matter the origin of the threats. Asharq Alawsat reports:
Camp David (Maryland), Asharq Al-Awsat—US President Barack Obama pledged “ironclad” American support for Gulf regional security at the US-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit at Camp David on Thursday.
Speaking following the meeting with senior Gulf officials and heads of state, the US President said: “I am reaffirming our ironclad commitment to the security of our Gulf partners.”
“The United States is prepared to work jointly with the GCC states to deter and confront an external threat to any GCC state’s territorial integrity,” Obama said.
The joint US-GCC statement issued following the summit contained US pledges to bolster its security cooperation with the GCC on counter-terrorism, maritime security, cyber-security and ballistic missile defense.
The joint statement stressed that the US would use any and all means at its disposal in order to carry out an “appropriate” response to any external threat to the GCC’s territory, including “military force.”
“The United States and GCC member states oppose and will work together to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region and stressed the need for Iran to engage the region according to the principles of good neighborliness, strict non-interference in domestic affairs, and respect for territorial integrity . . . And for Iran to take concrete, practical steps to build trust and resolve its differences with neighbors by peaceful means,” the statement said.
Al Arabiya TV reports that the Obama administration sees the US-Saudi relations as just hunky dory. There’s certainly no snub in King Salman’s not attending the Washington/Camp David summit.
That might not be quite how the Saudis see the relationship, however. The article expresses concern about how the conflict between the desire to build a legacy for the President might not accord with GCC desires for containment of Iran and its nuclear ambitions.
U.S. President Barack Obama hailed the “extraordinary friendship and relationship” Washington has with Riyadh after meeting with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman at the White House after King Salman pulled out of the visit.
“The United States and Saudi Arabia have an extraordinary friendship and relationship that dates back to [President] Franklin Roosevelt,” Obama said at the start of the meeting.
He added: “We are continuing to build that relationship during a very challenging time.”
According to an Associated Press item run on Al Arabiya TV, Iran is warning both the US and the Saudi-led coalition to not interfere with a shipment it categorizes as “humanitarian” now en route to Yemen. The Iranian government is definitely rattling its spears. The US says that the ship should put into port in Djibouti, where international humanitarian efforts are being coordinated.
TEHRAN (AP): A senior Iranian military official has warned the U.S. and the Saudi-led coalition targeting Yemeni militias that blocking an Iranian aid ship bound for Yemen will “spark a fire,” as a five-day humanitarian cease-fire appeared to hold early Wednesday after going into effect the day before.
“I bluntly declare that the self-restraint of Islamic Republic of Iran is not limitless,” Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, the deputy chief of staff, told Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam state TV late Tuesday.
“Both Saudi Arabia and its novice rulers, as well as the Americans and others, should be mindful that if they cause trouble for the Islamic Republic with regard to sending humanitarian aid to regional countries, it will spark a fire, the putting out of which would definitely be out of their hands.”
Iran says the ship, which departed Monday, is carrying food, medicine, tents and blankets, as well as reporters, rescue workers and peace activists. It says the ship is expected to arrive at Yemen’s port city of Hodeida next week. Iran’s navy said Tuesday it will protect the ship.
The US stance, if push comes to shove, isn’t entirely clear, but Pres. Obama, in an interview with Al Arabiya TV, characterizes Iran as “a state sponsor of terrorism” and not playing a helpful role in the region.
Saudi Gazette runs a report saying that King Salman called and spoke with Pres. Obama yesterday, expressing his regret that he couldn’t attend the summit the latter had called. This suggests to me that no diplomatic snub was intended and that the Saudi King wanted to make that clear.
RIYADH — Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman phoned US President Barack Obama on Monday to “express his regret” for missing a high-profile summit at the White House and Camp David this week, and review the agenda for the meeting with Gulf leaders, Saudi Press Agency said.
The leaders agreed they need to work with other Gulf states “to build a collective capacity to address more effectively the range of threats facing the region and to resolve regional conflicts,” SPA said, noting the leaders agreed on the need for urgent humanitarian aid in Yemen.
While some media are portraying King Salman’s decision to stay home and not attend the Washington/Camp David summit called by Pres. Obama, a snub, the Saudi media is reporting that he has other important things to be doing over the time period. Apparently, so does the King of Bahrain.
Al Arabiya TV notes that the King has his own programs going on, including a five-day truce in Yemen, where Saudi forces are engaged.
Sending the Crown Prince in his stead doesn’t strike me as much of a blow to US honor and prestige. The Crown Prince also happens to be Minister of Interior.
Saudi King Salman has designated Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef to attend a Gulf Arab summit with U.S. President Barack Obama in his place, the Saudi foreign minister said, the state news agency, SPA, said on Sunday.
The minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said the summit coincides with the start of a five-day humanitarian truce in Yemen and the opening of a humanitarian relief center that carries the Saudi monarch’s name, SPA said.
The summit will include all of the six nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on Thursday. It will begin at the White House and then continue at Camp David.
Yesterday, media reported that Saudi Arabia had intercepted explosives that were in the process of being smuggled into the Kingdom from Bahrain. Today, the media report that joint Saudi-Bahraini security action has resulted in the arrest of five more involved in the attempt.
The story clearly links Iran with the smuggling effort and sees it as related to earlier attempts — both earlier this year and in 2013 — to bring in explosives.
Manama — Joint operation by Saudi and Bahraini authorities led to the arrest of five more people suspected of involvement in smuggling RDX explosives into Saudi Arabia, said Bahraini Chief of Public Security Maj. Gen. Tariq Al-Hassan here on Saturday.
He commended the alertness of the Saudi authorities which led to the detection of explosives and the arrest of culprits.
He said that as part of the joint investigation into the attempt to smuggle ‘RDX’ into Bahrain, a team of representatives from various authorities of the Interior Ministry was formed to work in coordination with their Saudi counterparts.
Several houses were searched after warrants were obtained from the Public Prosecution. This led to the confiscation of material suspected to be explosives, mobile phones, laptops, portable hard disks, cameras, Iranian mobile phone chips and Saudi, Jordanian and Iranian currencies.
Over the past few months, and now peaking with Turkish elections around the corner, there’s been press speculation that Turkey and Saudi Arabia are forming an alliance to rid Syria of the Assad regime.
Perhaps, says a Turkish analyst, writing at Al Arabiya TV. There’re are certain common interests: both see Assad as a pain in the neck (for different reasons) and both would prefer that Iran not be involved in Arab politics. But after that, things get a little murky.
Just which opposition groups to support is not a trivial question, but there are no clear answers. With a long land border with Syria, it’s obvious that Turkish land forces could exert some effort. But Saudi Arabia has no land border with Syria; its contributions would have to be by air or by sea. The KSA is already involved in air operations in Syria, but doesn’t have the naval components to support land actions. Already occupied in the Gulf of Aden and the Persian Gulf, the Saudi Navy might have a hard time even working to block Syrian ports.
Nor is it at all clear that Turkey and Saudi Arabia have a common view about what would constitute success and what might follow an overthrow of Assad. Perhaps the whole idea is just foreign media yelling, “Let’s you and him fight!” Perhaps it’s just crazy talk, like that of the supposed Saudi-Israeli alliance.
A Turkish-Saudi push against Bashar al-Assad?
While all eyes are fixed on the upcoming June 7 parliamentary elections in Turkey, there are multiple reports recently circulated in the Western and Arab media regarding the possibility of creating a joint Turkish-Saudi alliance against Syrian regime.
Following an unsubstantiated report published in Huffington Post last month claiming that there were high-level talks between Ankara and Riyadh with the aim of forming a military alliance to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Associated Press published a recent unconfirmed analysis stating that Turkey and Saudi Arabia have converged on a common strategy to topple Assad regime. The report followed a claim by main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Gürsel Tekin, who stated that Ankara plans to send ground troops to Syria before upcoming election.
The Turkish government didn’t reply to the claims immediately – a situation that further raised concerns over the reality of Turkish intervention to Syria.
Saudi Arabia has retaliated for cross-border shelling into Jizan and Najran with airstrikes in the Yemeni Saada Province. Saada is the home turf of the Houthis. Al Arabiya TV reports:
Saudi-led warplanes bombed several targets in the Yemeni province of Saada late on Friday, after a deadline the kingdom had given citizens to leave the province expired.
The raids targeted command centers for the Houthi leader Abdel Malek al-Houthi in several parts of Saada, Saudi state television Al Ekhbariya reported.
The northwestern province is a stronghold of the Iran-allied Houthi movement.
The locations included communication centers and weapons storage facilities, the television network said.
Saudi authorities had warned all civilians earlier to leave Saada, which borders on Saudi Arabia, by sunset on Friday after threatening a harsh response to Houthi shelling of Saudi frontier towns earlier this week.
Al Arabiya TV runs a report from Agence France Presse noting that five people were killed in the Saudi city of Najran when artillery rockets from across the Yemeni border landed in the town. I’m sure this is going to lead to a ratcheting up of Saudi coalition actions in northern Yemen.
Shells fired from Yemen killed five people in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday in a second day of cross-border bombing blamed on Houthi militias, civil defense authorities said.
Two civilians in a car and two passers-by were killed by a shell in the city of Najran, while 11 others were wounded, the civil defense department said in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency.
A prison security officer was also killed and another wounded when a second shell landed on their patrol in the same area, the statement said.
According to Saudi Gazette, the number killed in the attacks is 10.
Saudi media are reporting that government ground forces repelled a cross-border attack by Houthi militia in Najran Province. Reports do not say whether the Saudi Army or the National Guard was involved, but I’m assuming it was the Army.
3 soldiers killed as KSA repels Houthi attack
Jeddah: Arab News
Three Saudi troops and “dozens” of Houthi rebels were killed as Saudi ground forces repelled a major attack from inside Yemen, officials said.
A statement by the SPA said the attack on “border posts and control points” Thursday night took place on its southern border near the town of Najran. Saudi ground troops exchanged fire with Iran-backed Houthi Shiite rebels and called in airstrikes, said the SPA. “Dozens of the militiamen were killed. Three soldiers of the ground troops were martyred,” according to the statement.
The attack was the first major incursion into the Kingdom by the Houthis since the Saudi-led coalition began carrying out airstrikes inside Yemen more than a month ago.