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.
With the juggling of Saudi succession seeing the Ministers of Interior and Defense being put in direct line to the throne, Saudi Arabia seems to be asserting a more direct role in determining its own future. It is moving a bit out from under the US security umbrella because it sees its own interests in regional security — primarily concerning Iran — as diverging from that of the US.
In a thoughtful editorial for Al Arabiya TV, Washington Bureau Chief Hisham Melhem looks at the US and whether it remains “exceptional” (as Republicans might have it) or “Indispensable” (the term Democrats might prefer). He argues that the US does remain indispensable because there is no other state or collection of states that can replace it.
Is America really indispensable?
The world has been radically transformed in ways that were unimaginable 25 years ago. And the changes that will occur in the next 25 years are impossible to fathom beyond saying that they will alter fundamentally the way we think, interact, communicate, govern and fight. The diffusion of political and economic power among and within nations, the historic power shift from West to the East, the emergence of mega-cities, climate change, cyber-attacks, powerful and dangerous non-state actors like ISIS and Hezbollah, the growing role of civil society organizations, multinational corporations, and transnational threats from terrorism to pandemics such as Ebola, have caused seismic changes in our social and economic lives not seen since the Industrial Revolution.
The eve of a new Renaissance?
More importantly, the easy access to sophisticated information, the availability of the internet, the proliferation of affordable advanced technology such as smart phones and other powerful empowering tools of connectivity, and mega data, all of these megatrends will empower individuals, institutions and states in both creative and disruptive ways.
As David Rothkopf, editor of Foreign Policy magazine framed the impact of these technologies in a brilliant presentation at the Atlantic Council’s Global Strategy Forum this week ‘this is the day before the beginning of the renaissance. This is the day before the beginning of a massive change in human history that we have not begun to grapple with.’ Rothkopf contends that the fundamentals of our lives will change in the wake of this revolution which will alter our very human identity. ‘Who am I? Do I associate with the people who are close to me? Or do I associate with people who are like me on the internet? Geography no longer becomes the primary identifier of who I am as a human being, affinity does’. According to Rothkopf, the change will transform the meaning of community, the nature of governance, society, how do we connect to one another, and even the nature of human rights.
Al Arabiya TV reports that Saudi authorities have broken up an ISIS cell that had been planning attacks across the country. Most of those arrested were Saudi, with several foreigners also included.
Saudi Arabia has arrested 93 people, including a woman, with links to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Saudi interior ministry said on Tuesday.
The statement said authorities had foiled several ISIS attempts to assassinate a number of members of the military.
A militant cell planned a suicide car bombing targeting the U.S. embassy in Riyadh, but the plot was disrupted in March, said the Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki.
The arrests have taken place since December last year and most of those detained were Saudis.
Among those held is a 65-strong ISIS-linked group plotting to target “residential areas, and operations to incite sectarian sedition” in attacks similar to the killing of seven members of the minority Shiite community in Eastern Province in November, it said.
Al Arabiya TV runs a piece reporting on how the sudden announcement of the end of “Operation Decisive Storm” and the start of “Operation Renewal of Hope” caught all analysts off guard. Everyone was left trying to figure out just what happened.
Now, it seems, something like clarity is arising. While the goals of Decisive Storm have been mostly achieved — degrading the Houthi ability to conduct attacks on Saudi Arabia, shipping, and coalition aircraft, as well as destroying arms depots — direct attacks on troop concentrations will continue. The coalition will now seek to embargo any arms resupply from Iran and are counting on a UN resolution to encourage other UN members to take part. Left unstated is exactly how the Houthis will be forced out of cities they have seized, including the capital Sana’a.
Understanding ‘Operation Renewal of Hope’ in Yemen
David Andrew Weinberg | Special to Al Arabiya News
The Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen declared the end of Operation Decisive Storm yesterday, to be replaced with Operation Renewal of Hope effective midnight. Although coalition spokesperson General Ahmed Asiri suggested on Sunday that a “next phase” of activities was imminent, yesterday’s developments still caught commentators surprised and scrambling to explain what the multilateral forces would now be seeking to achieve.
Emphasizing how the news caught so many observers off-guard, Yemen’s press attaché in Washington Mohammed Albasha noted soon afterwards on his personal Twitter account: “I will be honest, I have no idea what’s going on.” The editor of the Middle East Journal, Michael Collins Dunn, gave voice to further puzzlement on his blog: “Wait, What? They won? … Something just happened, but I’m not sure what.”
Part of the confusion was fed by an announcement earlier on Tuesday by Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian that a “halt” to military operations would likely be reached “in the coming hours,” along with reports that former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s faction among the rebels was pushing hard for a ceasefire. Yet General Asiri insisted to the press that “we are not talking about a cease-fire,” pledging that Operation Renewal of Hope would still involve military action to prevent the Houthis “from moving or carrying out any operations inside Yemen.”
Saudi Arabia announced the end of Operation Decisive Storm, to White House approval, and the start of Operation Restoring Hope. While air attacks will continue on Houthi strongholds, emphasis will be put on finding a political solution to the Yemen crisis. Al Arabiya TV has this report.
The White house said on Tuesday it welcomed Saudi Arabia’s announcement that it would end air strikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen and back political peace talks.
“The United States welcomes today’s announcement by the government of Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners of the conclusion of Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen,” said Alistair Baskey, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council.
“We continue to support the resumption of a U.N.-facilitated political process and the facilitation of humanitarian assistance,” Baskey said in a statement.
The Saudi Ministry of Defense announced on Tuesday the end of Operation Decisive Storm, a military campaign led by the kingdom in Yemen to combat the Houthi advance in the embattled country, Al Arabiya reported.
The operation will continue to target Houthi militias as it enters a political phase, Saudi state television reported.
Asharq Alawsat likens the goals of Operation Restoring Hope to those of the Marshall Plan following WWII in Europe. There’s a will do do this and there’s money, but exactly how it will be done is yet to be determined.
If Saudi Arabia’s opinions and policies can be garnered from its media, then the Saudis have all but abandoned Pres. Obama and his Middle Easter policies. Asharq Alawsat — sometimes known as “The Green Truth” as a nod to its line to Saudi policy makers — runs editorials from two former Editors-in-Chief that lambaste the President for his errant views brought forth in an interview with The New York Times‘s columnist Thomas Friedman.
From Tariq Alhomayed:
Obama is always wrong on the Middle East
In his interview with journalist Thomas Friedman this week, US President Barack Obama said that the threat to regional states, including Saudi Arabia, is not Iranian intervention, but rather “internal threats.” Can this be true?
The reality is that Obama has an incorrect view of the region, and this is something that has become increasingly clear since he took office. He is always wrong on our region, and has made the biggest mistakes here, and these mistakes have had major consequences.
Obama rushed to withdraw from Iraq, and now here we see him returning once again. He played down the Syrian revolution and Assad’s crimes. He talked about “red lines” but Assad has crossed each and every one of these, while Obama has done nothing. He played down the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) only to subsequently be forced to acknowledge the reality of the situation, although he still had enough time to blame his country’s intelligence services for failing to realize this earlier.
It is also interesting to note a recent Washington Post report that revealed the extent of ISIS’s connection with the former ruling Ba’athist regime in Iraq, and that many members of the group are ex-members of Saddam Hussein’s military. This is the same military that was controversially disbanded following the Iraq invasion. Washington has made many mistakes in Iraq, and Obama must bear some share of the responsibility for this.
From Abdulrahman Al-Rashed:
Contradictions in Obama’s Doctrine
I tried to ignore US President Barack Obama’s interview with the New York Times because I was sure it would be part of his propaganda campaign for the framework nuclear deal with Iran. Still, the interview’s impact cannot be ignored. Rather than calming the fears of those in the Gulf region, Obama has provoked many here.
Thomas Friedman, one of the Times’ most prominent writers who is extremely knowledgeable about the region’s affairs, interviewed the president. Perhaps this was why the nation’s leader was dragged into arguing his points, instead of justifying them.
What’s strange about the conversation was that Obama commended the Iranian regime, justifying its actions and implying a sense of guilt over what the US had done against Iran.
I don’t know what books the American president reads before he goes to bed or how he understands the events of the past three decades. Tehran’s mentality and practices are close to those of Al-Qaeda: religious, fascist and hostile towards anyone who opposes their ideology. Tehran’s understanding of the world considers others as either believers or infidels. It is Iran that was responsible for much of the violence in the region under the banner of religion—and this was around 15 years before Al-Qaeda even emerged.
Writing at The National Interest, Saudi analyst Fahad Nazer argues that a new, more assertive Saudi Arabia is developing under the leadership of the new King, Salman. While continuing to share many goals with the US, there are differences about how to achieve them and Saudi Arabia is willing and able to go in the manners it seems most likely to achieve those goals.
Almost immediately after the death of King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia on January 22 and the ascension of his half-brother, Salman, to the throne, Saudis and Saudi-watchers in the West began speculating about the contours of Saudi domestic and foreign policy under the new king. While the first speech delivered by Salman within hours of becoming monarch stressed continuity, some seemed convinced that Saudi foreign policy in particular might experience an important shift under his watch. A mere two months after assuming the crown, it is becoming clear that King Salman has a different vision than did his predecessor Abdullah, and perhaps all those who came before him. Between restructuring some of the country’s most important political and economic institutions and launching an unprecedented, large-scale military operation in a neighboring country on the verge of a civil war, we could be witnessing the beginning of a completely new Saudi way of thinking. We could be on the verge of a Saudi perestroika.
The notion that Salman intends to forge his own unique legacy, gained credence a week into his reign, when he not only orchestrated one of the more significant cabinet reshuffles in recent history but also engineered a major overhaul of some of the kingdom’s advisory bodies. Royal decrees he issued eliminated twelve different political and economic advisory bodies. In their stead, he created two new bodies, one overseeing the Economy and Development, the other Political and Security Affairs. While some described the move as Salman’s attempt to consolidate power, others saw it as needed “streamlining” of an inflated bureaucracy.
While the cabinet reshuffle and bureaucratic restructuring was the talk of Saudi Arabia for days, the international community was more interested in gleaning clues about the direction Saudi foreign policy might take under Salman, especially at a time of widening violence in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.