Al Arabiya TV features a Reuters report on the 2014 Annual Report on Terrorism from the US Department of State. The report is global, but most interest is focused on the Middle East, primarily with the rise of ISIS. The report is based on State Dept. reporting conducted in 2014, but is published now.

The section on Saudi Arabia notes Saudi confrontations with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and with ISIS/ISIL, but does not include conflict in Yemen that broke out only this year. It does report on widespread Saudi anti-terrorism and anti-terror-financing efforts.

Big rise in deadly terror attacks, says U.S. report
Warren Strobel | Reuters Washington

Terrorist attacks worldwide surged by more than a third and fatalities soared by 81 percent in 2014, a year that also saw ISIS eclipse al-Qaeda as the leading jihadist militant group, the U.S. State Department said on Friday.

In its annual report on terrorism, the department also charts an unprecedented flow of foreign fighters to Syria, often lured by ISIS’s use of social media and drawn from diverse social backgrounds.

Taken together, the trends point to a sobering challenge from militant groups worldwide to the United States and its allies despite severe blows inflicted on al-Qaeda, author of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in Washington and New York.

Al-Qaeda’s leaders “appeared to lose momentum as the self-styled leader of a global movement in the face of ISIS’s rapid expansion and proclamation of a Caliphate,” the report said, using an alternate acronym for Islamic State.

June:20:2015 - 07:07 | Comments Off | Permalink

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed rails against the way religion is being used as a weapon of mass destruction in the Middle East. He tries to pin the blame on Iran and its regional surrogates, but I think he’s forgetting his history.

Religion has been a popular tool used to mobilize the masses for hundreds, if not thousands of years. We need only look at Afghanistan in the 1980s to see how government — including the US and Saudi Arabia — were willing to enlist religion as a weapon against the “godless Communists.”

Now, religion is being used to wage sectarian war and, of course, that’s a bad thing. But it was also a bad thing when it was used as a club against Israelis as Jews, as a stick with which to beat Baha’is, as a cudgel in the separation of India and Pakistan. The use of religion as a weapon is amazingly foolish because it’s a weapon that cannot be controlled, no matter what the manipulators think. Loosing non-rational dragons is and always will be a tactic that will turn on its masters.

The long-term fallout of religious warfare
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

We are going through a gigantic, chaotic war in the Middle East. It is worse than anything the region witnessed even during the two world wars. All kinds of weapons are being used, from primitive knives to the most advanced military hardware such as drones.

However, the most dangerous weapon of all is religion, because it is capable of mobilizing communities and controlling armies of young people willing to die, and because it is similar to a nuclear bomb: its toxic fallout will last long after the end of the war. Many were killed by radiation caused by the nuclear bombs years after they were dropped on Japanese cities in the Second World War. This is also the case with sectarian wars: their consequences will linger for decades.

Citizens are dragged into civil wars after centuries of coexistence because they are mesmerized by propaganda. If you want to understand your opponent, put yourself in their shoes. Ever since the failure of Iran, Hezbollah and the Syrian government in the Syrian war, and the ever-worsening situation in Iraq, these three players have been keen on spreading sectarian bacteria to the Gulf states, which are modern and comprise a variety of social components.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has done the same, focusing its hate speech against Shi’ites. Uncivilized, religious-oriented people have been dragged into sectarian clashes; clerics, intellectuals and a large audience have fallen for this trick. They started accusing each other of reinterpreting history and settling scores. That is what Iran, the Syrian regime and ISIS want.

June:08:2015 - 07:14 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

What’s up with Kansas? A state typically noted for mid-western American values (read: conservative Christian) is honoring Abdul-Jalil al-Arabash, a former student at Wichita State University, who was killed while preventing a suicide bomber from entering a Shi’ite mosque in Dammam. Al Arabiya TV reports that the commemoration was undertaken by the state legislature.

Kansas officials pay tribute to Saudi man who thwarted ISIS attack

Officials in the midwestern U.S. state of Kansas stood for a minute of silence to pay tribute to a Kansas-educated Saudi man who stopped an ISIS bomber from entering a mosque in a suicide attack in the Gulf country last week.

Abdul-Jalil al-Arbash died when the suicide bomber blew himself up after being denied entrance into the Imam Hussein mosque in Dammam.

According to Al Arabiya News Channel, the officials welcomed around 300 Saudi students, who are currently studying at the State University of Witchita – from which al-Arbash graduated- to give them a certificate honoring the hero.

Arbash was an engineering student at the university.

Speaking to Al Arabiya News Channel, Said al-Ghamedi, one Saudi undergraduate studying at the university, said that “the honoring certificate was an initiative taken by the state legislature after they heard about Arbash’s heroic act.”

June:05:2015 - 07:27 | Comments Off | Permalink

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?
Silvana Toska

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.

May:17:2015 - 07:33 | Comments Off | Permalink

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:

Obama pledges “ironclad” support to GCC security

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.

May:16:2015 - 06:57 | Comments Off | Permalink

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.

Obama hails ‘extraordinary’ Saudi relations

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.”

May:14:2015 - 07:36 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink

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.

Iran warns U.S. against hindering Yemen aid ship

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.

In exclusive interview, Obama says Iran is a ‘state sponsor of terror’

May:13:2015 - 06:53 | Comments Off | Permalink

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.

King Salman, Obama discuss summit, Yemen

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.

May:12:2015 - 09:22 | Comments Off | Permalink

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 sending crown prince to summit with Obama

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.

May:11:2015 - 08:30 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

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?
Hisham Melhem

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.

May:02:2015 - 05:36 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

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 arrests 93 suspected of ISIS links

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.

April:28:2015 - 09:15 | Comments & Trackbacks (4) | Permalink

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.”

April:23:2015 - 08:54 | Comments Off | Permalink
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