While GCC policymakers have responded swiftly to the threat of COVID-19 domestically, some Gulf states deftly used the crisis to advance their foreign policy objectives with states with which they have had adversarial relationships. Only time will tell whether these new diplomatic opportunities will lay groundwork for concerted regional efforts.
Originally published in POMEPS Studies
Amid COVID-19 outbreak, Riyadh announced and then extended unilateral ceasefire to end hostilities with Huthis in Yemen, and reached agreement to resolve oil price war with Russia. Saudi Arabia 8 April announced unilateral two-week freeze in military operations in Yemen in response to UN appeal to end hostilities amid COVID-19 outbreak; Huthis next day dismissed announcement as ploy, demanded Saudi Arabia end siege on Yemen and lift its blockade of airspace, land borders and ports in Huthi-held areas. In Yemen’s south, Riyadh 1 April expanded deployment of elite forces in Aden amid rising tensions between pro-govt forces and STC; STC 25 April announced self-administration, raising concerns over collapse of Riyadh Agreement. State media 19 April confirmed arrest of at least three senior Saudi officials for involvement in corruption scheme related to COVID-19 outbreak. Saudi Arabia 12 April reached agreement with OPEC, Russia and other oil-producing countries to reduce global oil production by 9.7mn barrels a day after oil price war with Russia broke out early March.
Saudi Arabia has been forging links to Iraq since reopening its Baghdad embassy in 2016. Its adversary Iran has strong Iraqi ties. If Riyadh avoids antagonising Tehran, invests wisely and quiets anti-Shiite rhetoric, Iraq can be a bridge between the rival powers - not a battleground.
From Saudi Arabia's establishment in 1932, its minority Shiite population has been subject to discrimination and sectarian incitement. Beginning in the early 1990s, with then Crown Prince Abdullah's active support, the government took steps to improve inter-sectarian relations.
Saudi Arabia is at a critical stage in both its struggle against terrorism and its on-again, off-again efforts at reform, and Islamism is at the heart of both.
The Saudi regime faces one of the more difficult phases in its history. Fearful of change, accustomed to a system in which it holds enormous power and privileges, the ruling family may consider any serious reform a risk not worth taking.
Implementing a cease-fire [between Saudi Arabia and Yemen] is no small matter, and the first test of this is going to be whether the parties show up for this virtual meeting.
Riyadh may not want war with Iran, but there are risks to this strategy of rhetorical confrontation.
Les deux partis au Congrès perdent patience face à la campagne menée par l’Arabie Saoudite au Yémen. Il y a des raisons d’espérer que le Congrès interviendra pour contrer MBS, même si Trump ne le fait pas.
Secretary Pompeo was put in an almost impossible situation from the outset: traveling to meet with people [in Saudi Arabia] suspected of having ordered a political assassination at the request of a president determined to sweep the affair under the rug.
Although from a distance the U.S.-Saudi relationship appears rock solid, there are cracks in the foundation.
Most people agree at this point that the Saudis are facing a legitimate security threat and that Iran is part of the problem. By continuing down this road, things will just get worse.
A series of escalations in both word and deed have raised fears of U.S.-Iranian military confrontation, either direct or by proxy. It is urgent that cooler heads prevail – in European capitals as in Tehran and Washington – to head off the threat of a disastrous war.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are actively fighting one another in the media, through armed proxies, in cyberspace and with Western lobbyists. But in Iraq they should both see the case for détente.
Originally published in The Hill
After the defeat of the Islamic State in 2017, normality is returning to Iraq ahead of the 12 May parliamentary elections. In this Q&A, Crisis Group's Senior Analyst for the Arabian Peninsula Elizabeth Dickinson says the country’s cautious optimism includes hopes of a new partnership with Riyadh, balancing Baghdad’s strong ties with Tehran.
Originally published in The Washington Post