Saudi media are all highlighting a report from the Associated Press about the interception of an Iranian dhow in the Indian Ocean that was carrying arms ostensibly intended for Houthi rebels in Yemen. The report says the interception was accomplished by the “Arab coalition,” but does not specify exactly which country’s or countries’ navy was involved.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: The Saudi-led coalition battling Yemen’s Shiite rebels said Wednesday that it has foiled an attempt by Iran to smuggle missiles and other weapons to the rebels aboard a fishing boat bound for Yemen.
Saudi Arabia and its coalition allies fear that Iran is actively providing aid to the rebels, known as Houthis, as a way to gain a foothold on the Arabian Peninsula. Iran acknowledges providing political support to the rebels but denies arming them directly.
The weapons seizure took place early afternoon on Saturday, about 240 kilometers (150 miles) southeast of the Omani port of Salalah, according to a coalition statement carried by the SPA.
The ship was carrying 18 pieces of one type of anti-tank missile and 54 of another, as well as launchers and other equipment, according to the coalition. Fourteen crew members aboard the ship have been arrested, including the captain, identified as Bakhsh Jakal.
Al Arabiya TV reports that Saudi authorities have broken an ISIS cell operating out of Riyadh and Dammam. Among those killed in the raids was one among the “most-wanted” terrorists in the country. This cell is believed responsible for the attack on a mosque in Abha last month that killed several security/military personnel.
The Saudi Interior Ministry announced Monday it has intercepted an ISIS cell during four simultaneous operations in the Saudi capital Riyadh and the eastern city of Dammam, Al Arabiya News Channel reported on Monday.
During the operations, two ISIS members were killed and three others were arrested.
The ministry confirmed that the cell was linked to the suicide bomber behind the Abha mosque attack that took place in August.
The government of Saudi Arabia is taking grave exception to Iran’s criticisms of how it handles Haj, Arab News reports. It widely quotes Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir bluntly telling Iran to stop trying to make political hay out of the recent tragedy.
NEW YORK: Saudi Arabia firmly rejected Iran’s criticism of its handling of the Haj pilgrimage Saturday after Tehran demanded an inquiry into the Mina stampede.
“I believe the Iranians should know better than to play politics with a tragedy that has befallen people who were performing their most sacred religious duty,” Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said, according to AFP.
Al-Jubeir, delivering remarks along US Secretary of State John Kerry, insisted that Saudi Arabia was on top of the situation.
“The Kingdom has had a long history of spending tremendous resources to care for the pilgrimage to ensure that the pilgrims who come there have a successful pilgrimage,” he said.
“And we will reveal the facts when they emerge. And we will not hold anything back. If mistakes were made, who made them will be held accountable,” Al-Jubeir said.
Saudi media, typified by this Saudi Gazette report, are suggesting that a group of Iranian pilgrims eager to reach Mina to complete their Haj, ignored their scheduled travel and ended up causing the stampede that has killed over 700 people.
‘Violation of rules by Iranian pilgrims caused stampede’
Saudi Gazette report
MINA — Violation of the pilgrims’ grouping regulations by some 300 Iranian pilgrims resulted in the stampede in Mina which killed 769 Hajis and injured 934, Asharq Al-Awsat daily reported on Saturday quoting an official of the Tawafa Establishment for the Iranian Pilgrims.
The official, who requested anonymity, said the violation of rules by this group of Iranian pilgrims started from their very first movement from Muzdalifah on Thursday morning to Jamarat to perform the first day’s stoning ritual. They were clearly instructed to go to their tents from Muzdalifah instead of moving to Jamarat with their baggage. They had been instructed to take rest in their tents and wait for the time allotted for them to perform their stoning ritual.
Moreover, these pilgrims moved back to their tents from Jamarat through Street 204 in the opposite direction of pilgrims’ movement, the official said. The flow of pilgrims from two opposite directions resulted in the overcrowding and the stampede ensued, the official said.
According to sources, there are cameras installed in the tunnels leading to Jamarat and it will be obvious from the visuals that the Iranian pilgrims committed violations with regard to their movement to Jamarat.
Iran, meanwhile, blames Saudi government “incompetence”:
According to an analysis by Al Arabiya TV, over the period 1915-2015, fully 20% of the world’s 59.5 million refugees have come from the Arab world. While world wars, droughts, and famines have been drivers behind the displacement of people around the globe, for the Arab world, the push has come primarily from failed governments and actions they’ve brought upon themselves.
1915-2015: 1 in 5 displaced people come from the Arab world
Rajia Aboulkheir | Al Arabiya News
A photograph of a dead Syrian Kurdish boy who drowned in the Mediterranean and washed ashore on the Turkish coast shook the world earlier this month – and personalized the collective tragedy of many Middle Eastern refugees.
Aylan Kurdi, whose death has become the central image of the ongoing refugee crisis, was trying to flee Syria but instead became the latest example showing how the Arab world has been an important producer of the world’s 59.5 million forcibly displaced people over the past 100 years.
According to calculations by Al Arabiya News – based on U.N. figures – the Arab world has produced nearly 12.3 million refugees during the past 100 years.
The number remained of refugees around the world remained unclear until 1951 and the creation of the Geneva Convention hosted by the UNHCR, making the precise figure of Arab immigrants during the first and second World Wars sharply disputed.
While H.A. Hellyer’s article focuses on conspiracy theories running wild in Egypt, they’re not restricted to that country. Many of them are showing up from one end of the Arab and Muslim world to the other. [Of course, Western countries are not immune, either.] It must be confusing to groups like ISIS, however, to learn that they are the product of at least 10 different countries’ efforts to do… who knows what?
Bizarrely, it would appear some quarters believe that a man of ‘Jewish origin’, who was seeking to implement a ‘Zionist plan’ to divide Egypt, now inhabits the presidency.
Elsewhere, people are talking about the Muslim Brotherhood as a ‘masonic group that aims to bring a new religion into Egypt’ – something inexplicable, but an idea gaining great currency.
There are great ironies to such theories on the one hand – and disquieting consequences on the other.
Pushing back against media reports that Saudi Arabia (and the other GCC countries) aren’t doing enough to help Syrian refugees, the Saudi Press Agency is claiming (and Saudi media are repeating) the claim that the KSA has, in fact, received 2.5 million Syrians since the start of the Syrian crisis. The piece notes that the Saudis aren’t treating them as “refugees” per se by placing them in camps, but has elected to merge them into the general expat community. The Saudis have also provided assistance to countries where refugees have fled, have donated millions of dollars toward relief efforts, as well as provided direct humanitarian relief.
Saudi Arabia has received around 2.5 million Syrians since the start of the conflict in their country, an official source in the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) has revealed, elaborating that the Kingdom has adopted a policy not to treat these Syrians as refugees, or place them in refugee camps “in order to ensure their dignity and safety.”
Speaking to the state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA), the MoFA official explained that Saudi Arabia initially did not “intend to speak about its efforts to support Syrian brothers and sisters, during their distress, as it has, since the beginning of the problem,” adding that “Saudi Arabia dealt with the situation from a religious and humane perspective, and did not wish to boast about its efforts or attempt to gain media coverage.”
Insofar as Saudi media reporting goes, King Salman’s visit to Washington and meeting with Pres. Obama went swimmingly. Both countries are to build on their generations of friendship and cooperation. Both countries have similar views on the major issues. Asharq Alawsat‘s report is typical:
Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat—Relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States remain as strong as ever and are entering a new stage, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman Bin Abdulaziz said in a statement as he wrapped up his historic visit to Washington late on Saturday.
During the visit, his first to the US since acceding to the Saudi throne, King Salman met with US President Barack Obama at the White House to discuss the fight against terrorism, the crises in Yemen and Syria, and the Iran nuclear deal.
“The meetings which we held, especially regarding our new strategic alliance for the 21st century, will contribute, God willing, to deepening these relations and strengthening them, and in boosting our cooperation in order to benefit both our friendly countries and peoples,” King Salman said.
“I wish to reiterate our strategic and historic relations which were formed during the historic meeting between King Abdulaziz Al Saud and President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945, and which since then have been further developed in a number of areas.”
King Salman headed to Tangiers in Morocco following his departure from Washington on Saturday evening, and was seen off at the airport by a number of US officials.
During the visit King Salman met with Saudi university students currently enrolled in the US, as well as Saudi journalists, writers, and academics residing in the country.
Following the meeting with King Salman, President Obama agreed to speed up the delivery of US weapons to the Kingdom to shore up defenses against potential threats by Iran—part of promises made by the president to Gulf countries in May, before the announcement of the Iran nuclear deal in July.
Asharq Alawsat also editorializes on the visit, pointing out that while Saudi Arabia is no longer dependent upon the US for its security, it appreciates it and anticipates that it will continue into the future.
International media have been taking a swipe at the nations of the GCC (read: rich Arab oil states) for not doing enough for Syrian refugees. Saudi media have picked up on it and are suggesting that more can be done, but that the GCC isn’t going to provide complete relief.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed, in a piece for Arab News (though the article isn’t yet posted on that papers website, it’s available from Al Arabiya TV), argues that the Gulf states are doing a lot already. They’re throwing tons of money at various relief efforts and agencies. They’re not keen to take in tens of thousands of refugees, though.
Al-Rashed points out that Syrians represent the third largest foreign group in Saudi Arabia. But they’re there as workers. The Saudis have lifted some bars by, for example, allowing Syrian workers to bring their families to the KSA. So, at least some would-be refugees are finding safe haven in Saudi Arabia.
The GCC countries are already filled with foreigners, nearly all invited in on work visas. But work visas can be cancelled and the workers sent home. That’s not the case with refugees. Unless and until the situation in Syria improves to the point where they are able to and want to return, they’re going to be in Saudi Arabia for a long time. Based on the way Syrians handled Palestinian refugees, that could be for generations. This is a problem that none of the Gulf states wish to bring upon themselves.
The Gulf and Syrian refugees
The crisis of refugees – Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis and others – is everyone’s responsibility amid the international community’s failure to support them. No one, including Gulf countries, have an excuse to not support them. Arab Gulf countries have been recently criticized about this, but some critics have aims that are completely irrelevant to the humanitarian side of it.
Gulf countries must of course accommodate more people and grant more care to Arabs and Africans fleeing wars in their countries. However, it is important to look at the entire picture, not just rely on people who seek to serve their own interests, or reporters who only know part of the truth.
A big percentage of the funds spent by international organizations and received by governments who host refugees, such as Lebanon and Jordan, come from Gulf countries. The latter are thus one of the major funders of about 3 million Syrian and Yemeni refugees in different countries.
Saudi media are all projecting what they expect to occur in the meeting between Saudi King Salman and Pres. Obama that is to take place later today. Typical is this piece from Al Arabiya TV. Iran, of course, is the foremost issue, with the plan to address Iran’s nuclear aspirations take pride of place.
Both sides want good relations to continue between them. Both sides have different views about regional stability. I’m sure that neither party is going to be leaving the meeting believing they’ve converted the other.
King Salman’s Washington visit: What are the regional implications?
Sigurd Neubauer | Special to Al Arabiya News
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz will meet with President Barack Obama at the White House to discuss regional security, including the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) reached between Iran and world powers over Tehran’s controversial nuclear program.
More specifically, the leaders will discuss “steps to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said last Thursday. As well as “ways to further strengthen the bilateral relationship, including our joint security and counterterrorism efforts.”
While the upcoming meeting will be the king’s first to Washington since ascending the throne in January, it comes at a time when Saudi Arabia faces an increasingly unstable neighborhood with conflicts in Yemen and Iraq encroaching on its territory.
Going into the meeting, both leaders are vested in ensuring its ultimate success, although for different reasons: For President Obama, who faces a nearly unified Republican Congress committed to opposing the JCPOA, almost at any cost, reassuring his guest that the agreement will contribute to a safer and more stable Middle East will be essential for his goal to turn the tide against his domestic opponents.
Saudi Arabia’s beefing up its military presence on its border with Yemen has reduced the incidence of drug smuggling, Saudi Gazette reports, by almost 90%. The vast border with Yemen has been a primary route for drugs (and other contraband) to enter the KSA. Having thousands of troops, on active patrol, has cut into the business. I suspect there’s also been a drop in the transit of illicit arms as well as trafficking in people.
Decisive Storm curtails drug smuggling by 89%
Mishal Al-Otaibi | Saudi Gazette
RIYADH — There has been a sharp decline in the percentage of smuggling into the Kingdom from across the southern Yemeni border after the launch of the Decisive Storm military operation in March this year, said Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, security spokesman at the Ministry of Interior.
“The rate of smuggling fell by 89 percent during the first four months of the operation,” he said at a press conference at the Officers’ Club in Riyadh on Tuesday evening.
Al-Turki said that the Kingdom has been successful in foiling smuggling of drugs and this has been possible with the support of some Arab countries.
“We managed to carry out preemptive operation to prevent smuggling of drugs, thanks to the flawless coordination and cooperation with the authorities of some countries. The General Directorate of Narcotic Control managed to exchange information with their counterparts in five countries about involvement of some people in the manufacturing and trafficking of drugs which led to the foiling of smuggling attempts,” he said.
Asharq Alawsat reports that coalition forces (no breakdown on the composition of the forces provided) have entered northern Yemen. The move is intended to attack the stronghold of the Houthis and is in preparation for a move to reclaim the Yemeni capital Sana’a.
Sana’a and Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat—Forces belonging to the anti-Houthi coalition led by Saudi Arabia have entered the Houthis’ northern stronghold Saada, according to Yemeni military sources.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the sources said ground troops from the ten-country-strong coalition were now present in tribal areas on the outskirts of Saada, which lies roughly 140 miles (230 kilometers) north of the capital Sana’a.
They said the assault comes as part of a three-pronged operation to liberate Sana’a, which along with other areas in the country has been under Houthi control since September 2014.
The operation will see coalition ground troops backed by air cover, the Yemeni army, and volunteer forces loyal to Yemen’s internationally recognized government, surround and enter Sana’a via Saada to the north and the Al-Jawf and Ma’rib provinces—which lie roughly 75 miles (120 kilometers) northeast and 124 miles (200 kilometers) east of the capital respectively.
Once Saada, Al-Jawf, and Ma’rib are wrested from Houthi control, coalition, Yemeni volunteer, and Yemeni army forces will enter the capital, the sources said.
Coalition forces including those from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have had a presence in the southern port city of Aden since its liberation by government loyalists from the Houthis last month.
But there have been no ground operations by coalition forces until now, with the Saudi-led coalition only providing air and logistical support for pro-government Yemeni forces on the ground.