Middle East & Arab World – Saudi Arabia 2019

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CIA concludes Saudi crown prince ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination

16 October
Saudi Arabia and Iran may finally be ready for rapprochement
To achieve peaceful co-existence, however, both regional powers need to make significant compromises.
(Al Jazeera) The October 11 attack on an Iranian oil tanker in Red Sea waters off the coast of Saudi Arabia stoked further friction in a region rattled by attacks on tankers and oil installations since May and increased fears of war between Riyadh and Tehran.
Thus far, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack. Tehran, despite its history of swiftly blaming the United States and Israel for any perceived sabotage of its interests, refrained from accusing any specific party. The National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC), which owns the targeted vessel, confirmed that its hull was hit by two separate explosions off the Saudi port of Jeddah, but made a point of denying reports that the attack had originated from Saudi soil. Furthermore, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary-general of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said that a committee is investigating the incident to determine culpability. All this shows that Iran wants to de-escalate the tension over something that, in comparison to other confrontations between the regional rivals in recent years, from Yemen to Syria, can only be described as a minor incident.
Still, only time will tell how the attack will impact the general atmosphere in the already-volatile Gulf region and the wider Middle East. What is apparent, however, is that the current state of uncertainty, mistrust and confusion cannot be sustained if Iran wants to rejoin the international community after decades of isolation and if Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies seek further economic and social development.

 

2 October
What Jamal Khashoggi’s Murder Tells Us About the Saudi-Iran Rivalry
The killing of the Saudi journalist a year ago is part of the larger context of the battle for dominance in the Middle East.
(The Atlantic) The two countries are dominated by separate sects of Islam, and each claims to be the regional leader—Saudi Arabia through its custodianship of Islam’s main shrines, its natural dominance in a majority Sunni Muslim world, and its checkbook diplomacy; Iran thanks to its revolutionary ideology and anti-Western rhetoric, which it exports to countries with large Shia populations, such as Iraq and Lebanon, or longtime allies, such as Syria. And while they have for decades hurled angry rhetoric at each other, they have so far not gone to war against each other—the bloodletting is done by proxy.
… today, both Tehran and Riyadh seem determined to go for an all-out victory for dominance of the region, at all costs and using all means, short of an all-out war. And whereas the Iranians are upping their use of proxy groups and asymmetrical warfare across the region, MbS is banking on a unique set of circumstances: Aside from his own brazenness, he is helped by an American president who is unpredictable, but intent on squeezing Iran and an Israeli prime minister willing to strike Iranian proxies in Iraq and Syria. Conveniently, the war footing helps MbS further consolidate his position internally, as Saudis are called on to close ranks.

The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia
The murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi drew the world’s attention to the young Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). FRONTLINE investigates the rise of MBS, his vision for the future, his handling of dissent, and the murder of Khashoggi.
One Year After Jamal Khashoggi’s Murder, Friends and Colleagues Reflect on His Work and Legacy
by Karen Pinchin
(WGBH/PBS) On Oct. 2, 2018, 59-year-old Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi entered his country’s consulate in Turkey to obtain documents for his upcoming marriage. He never reemerged.
24 September
Congress Is Helping Saudi Arabia Destabilize the Middle East. It Needs to Stop.
By Robert W. Jordan, U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2001 to 2003, and author of Desert Diplomat: Inside Saudi Arabia Following 9/11.
(Politico) The September 14 attack on Saudi oil facilities—an attack the United States, Britain, Germany and France all say Iran carried out—demonstrates how close the Middle East is to war. But the focus on Iranian aggression must not obscure Saudi Arabia’s own role in the worsening situation, including its disastrous involvement in the civil war in Yemen. Rushing to provide U.S. military support to Saudi Arabia now will send the absolute wrong signal to Riyadh, whose conduct over the past few years has damaged America’s global standing and threatened our security.
… the status quo also poses increasing dangers to both Saudi Arabia and the United States. The war in Yemen has strengthened Iran’s ties with the Houthis, providing Tehran with an ally poised to strike Saudi Arabia and U.S. interests in the region—as seen by the false Houthi claim of responsibility for last week’s attacks. Moreover, both al-Qaida and the Islamic State have taken advantage of the war to further establish themselves inside Yemen, likely planning future attacks against America and its interests. The war in Yemen even threatens the partnership between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates; their Yemeni allies, who previously had joined forces to fight the Houthis, recently began fighting against each other.

18 September
Saudi Arabia promises evidence linking Iran to oil attack Saudi Arabia said it would show evidence linking regional rival Tehran to an unprecedented attack on its oil industry that Washington believes originated from Iran. Concrete evidence showing Iranian responsible, if made public, could pressure Riyadh and Washington into a response, though President Donald Trump said he does not want war.

Trump Says Iran Appears Responsible for Saudi Attack but That He Wants to Avoid War
(NYT) …comments from Mr. Trump and the Saudis suggested they did not want the episode to escalate into a wider conflict, just a week before world leaders converge at the United Nations for the General Assembly. Mr. Trump had proposed meeting with Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, possibly at the annual gathering in New York, although Iran ruled that out on Monday.

15 September
Saudis race to restore oil output after Aramco attacks
(Bloomberg via AJ) For the global oil market, the … outage is the worst single and sudden supply disruption ever.
Saudi Aramco lost about 5.7 million barrels per day of output after 10 unmanned aerial vehicles on Saturday struck the world’s biggest crude-processing facility in Abqaiq and the kingdom’s second-biggest oil field in Khurais, the company said.
Aramco would need weeks to restore full production capacity to a normal level, according to people familiar with the matter. The producer however can restore significant volume of oil production within days, they said. Aramco could consider declaring force majeure on some international shipments if the resumption of full capacity at Abqaiq takes weeks, they said.
The attack is the biggest on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure since Iraq’s Saddam Hussein fired Scud missiles into the kingdom during the first Gulf War. The damage highlights the vulnerability of the Saudi industry that supplies 10% of the world’s crude oil. The kingdom’s benchmark stock index tumbled as much as 3.1% on Sunday in Riyadh.

13 September
Attacks on Saudi oil facilities knock out half the kingdom’s supply
(Reuters) – Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group said it attacked two plants at the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry on Saturday, knocking out more than half the Kingdom’s output, in a move expected to send oil prices soaring and increase tensions in the Middle East.
The pre-dawn strikes follow earlier cross-border attacks on Saudi oil installations and on oil tankers in Gulf waters, but these were the most brazen yet, temporarily crippling much of the nation’s production capacity.

10 July
Saudis vexed at low ranking on press freedom index after Khashoggi murder
Reporters Without Borders met officials in secret to advocate for release of 30 journalists as Kingdom’s ranking falls to 172 out of 180
(The Guardian) Officials in Saudi Arabia privately complained about the kingdom’s low ranking on an influential press freedom index, less than one year after the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi murder squad.
Campaigners at Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said Saudis aired their dismay at a series of unprecedented meetings with government officials in Riyadh. RSF has revealed to the Guardian that it held the confidential meetings in April to advocate for the release of 30 jailed journalists, an act that the press freedom group said was the “only way” for Saudi Arabia to assume the G20 presidency next year.

9 July
Saudi Arabia executions DOUBLE in 2019 with 122 people – including kids – put to death this already this year
Among the slain were six who were arrested as minors, three women and 51 who were facing drug charges that would be considered minor offences elsewhere in the world.

3 July
UN expert urges world powers to reconsider G20 Riyadh summit
Political accountability for Khashoggi’s murder means that G20 does not happen or moves elsewhere, Agnes Callamard says.
Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, in a report last month found “credible evidence” that linked Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to the killing of Khashoggi.
Callamard, who presented her report to the UN but does not speak for it, said on Tuesday that the next G20 summit, scheduled for November 2020 in Riyadh, offered a chance to pressure Saudi Arabia.

28 June

G20 leaders welcome Saudi prince despite Yemen and Khashoggi murder criticism
(Global News) For many he’s an international pariah, but you wouldn’t know it by the lavish reception Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has received at the G-20 summit this week.
He beamed as he stood front and center, sandwiched between U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, for a group photo Friday. He exchanged an impish grin as he sat down next to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He posed with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and a group of flag-waving kids ahead of an earlier signing ceremony for $8 billion in deals.
…  Business concerns may have colored Prince Mohammed’s warm welcome this week. Take South Korea, for instance. In Seoul before the summit, Saudi Arabia and South Korea signed 10 memorandums of understanding and contracts that would be worth $8.3 billion, according to Seoul’s presidential office. Moon, the president, hosted a luncheon at his mansion that was attended by some of South Korea’s most powerful businessmen.

23 April
Saudi Arabia beheads 37 citizens and pins one of the headless bodies to a pole
Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry said Tuesday’s executions were carried out in accordance with Islamic law
(AP via Natl Post) It marked the largest number of executions in a single day in Saudi Arabia since Jan. 2, 2016, when the kingdom executed 47 individuals, including a prominent Shiite cleric whose death sparked protests in Iran and the ransacking of the Saudi Embassy there.
The executions also come days after four Islamic State gunmen died trying to attack a Saudi security building north of the capital, Riyadh, and on the heels of Easter Day attacks that killed over 300 people in Sri Lanka and were claimed by the Islamic State group.
The Interior Ministry statement said those executed had adopted extremist ideologies and formed terrorist cells with the aim of spreading chaos and provoking sectarian strife. It said the individuals had been found guilty according to the law and ordered executed by the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh, which specializes in terrorism trials, and the country’s high court.

29 March
How the mysteries of Khashoggi’s murder have rocked the U.S.-Saudi partnership
(WaPo) Saudi Arabia still hasn’t explained officially how and why the Post Global Opinions columnist was killed. But Saudi and American sources have begun disclosing new information about the people and events surrounding Khashoggi’s fatal visit to Istanbul. They’ve described secret intelligence deals that are now frozen. And they’ve explained, in the clearest detail yet, how an operation that began as a kidnapping ended with a gasping, dying Khashoggi pleading: “I can’t breathe.”
The bottom line is that unless the crown prince takes ownership of this issue and accepts blame for murderous deeds done in his name, his relationship with the United States will remain broken. Saudi officials claim that MBS has made changes, firing Saud al-Qahtani, his former covert-operations coordinator. But the Saudi machine of repression remains intact, run by many of the same people who worked for Qahtani. U.S. officials worry that the young crown prince has become a Saudi version of Saddam Hussein, an authoritarian “modernizer.”

18 March
Saudi crown prince allegedly stripped of some authority
Series of Mohammed bin Salman no-shows at high-profile meetings fed claims of rift with king
(The Guardian) The heir to the Saudi throne has not attended a series of high-profile ministerial and diplomatic meetings in Saudi Arabia over the last fortnight and is alleged to have been stripped of some of his financial and economic authority, the Guardian has been told.
The move to restrict, if only temporarily, the responsibilities of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is understood to have been revealed to a group of senior ministers earlier last week by his father, King Salman.

1 March
Saudi Arabia strips Osama bin Laden’s son of citizenship
(Reuters) – Saudi Arabia has stripped citizenship from Hamza bin Laden, the son of slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the interior ministry said in a statement published by the official gazette. The Saudi decision to strip him of his citizenship was made by a royal order in November, according to a statement published in the Um al-Qura official journal.

23 February
Saudi Arabia Names a Princess as Ambassador to Washington
The appointment of Reema [bint Bandar bin Sultan by royal decree] to Washington appeared aimed at turning a new page, while also emphasizing the kingdom’s social reforms in the capital of its most important ally.
In addition to representing the new possibilities now available for Saudi women, Princess Reema is the daughter of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, a towering figure in Saudi diplomacy who served as the kingdom’s ambassador to the United States from 1983 to 2005.
Princess Reema spent many years in Washington while her father was ambassador and graduated with a degree in museum studies from George Washington University.

19 February
House Opens Inquiry Into Proposed U.S. Nuclear Venture in Saudi Arabia
(NYT) Top Trump administration officials have pushed to build nuclear power plants throughout Saudi Arabia over the vigorous objections of White House lawyers who question the legality of the plan and the ethics of a venture that could enrich Trump allies, according to a new report by House Democrats released on Tuesday.
The report is the most detailed portrait to date of how senior White House figures — including Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s first national security adviser — worked with retired military officers to circumvent the normal policymaking process to promote an export plan that experts worried could spread nuclear weapons technology in the volatile Middle East. Administration lawyers warned that the nuclear exports plan — called the Middle East Marshall Plan — could violate laws meant to stop nuclear proliferation and raised concerns about Mr. Flynn’s conflicts of interest.
The export of American nuclear technology that could be used to create nuclear weapons is strictly controlled under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954. The act says that Congress must approve such exports, and at least one of the whistle-blowers that went to the Democrats claimed that officials involved ignored warnings about such legal requirements.
Jeremy Kinsman & Larry Haas commentary

12 February
U.S. Senate Proposal Would Block Saudi Path to Atomic Weapon in Nuclear Deal
(NYT) U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has been holding quiet talks with officials from Saudi Arabia on sharing U.S. nuclear technology. U.S. President Donald Trump hosted nuclear power executives on Tuesday for talks on keeping the industry competitive on exports with France, China, and Russia.
The Trump administration is trying to advance nuclear energy technology domestically and abroad as the industry suffers from plentiful supplies of cheap natural gas and high safety costs at home. A resolution could pressure the administration to push for a deal with tougher standards.
“If Saudi Arabia is going to get its hands on nuclear technology, it’s absolutely critical that we hold it to the gold standard for non-proliferation,” Merkley said in a release. “The last thing America should do is inadvertently help develop nuclear weapons for a bad actor on the world stage.”

8 February
MBS promised a bullet for Khashoggi. Congress must promise consequences for MBS.
The non-answer from the White House is a blatant dodge that ignores the finding of the CIA and the abundant evidence behind it. It makes a mockery of the Magnitsky law, as well as of U.S. principles by covering for the crown prince to protect the cozy relations between him and President Trump, as well as Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
(WaPost) The U.S. Senate drew the obvious conclusion in December when it unanimously adopted a resolution holding the crown prince responsible for the death of Mr. Khashoggi, who was also a legal U.S. resident. Yet the Trump administration continues to deny the facts and the legal mandate to act on them. On Friday, in response to a formal inquiry from members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the White House declined to issue a determination on the culpability of Mohammed bin Salman. “The president maintains his discretion to decline to act on congressional committee requests when appropriate,” CNN quoted an official as saying.
Congress should not accept that response. Under the Global Magnitsky Act, a law governing the punishment of human rights abuses, the administration is required to respond to congressional inquiries about crimes such as the Khashoggi murder by identifying and sanctioning those responsible. The White House last year announced sanctions against 17 people for their roles in the killing, including Mr. Qahtani. But it was separately tasked by then-Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) with determining Mohammed bin Salman’s responsibility under the law. The deadline for replying was Friday.

4 February
US investigating whether Saudi Arabia gave third parties American-made weapons: report
(The Hill) Saudi Arabia and its coalition gave al Qaeda, Salafi militias and other factions in Yemen weapons that were produced by the United States, CNN reported Monday.
The weapons have also reportedly been captured by Iranian-backed rebels groups fighting the coalition in Yemen, meaning they may be reverse-engineered for intelligence.
A Department of Defense official confirmed to CNN that the U.S. is investigating the issue, as transferring military equipment to a third party would violate U.S.-Saudi coalition arms agreements.

2 February
Freed Saudis Resurface Billions Poorer After Prince’s Crackdown
By Devon Pendleton and Simone Foxman
Almost 15 months after rounding up dozens of Saudi Arabia’s richest and most powerful people and imprisoning them in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has declared the raid a lucrative success.
An anti-corruption commission headed by the crown prince said a total of about $107 billion — a mix of cash, real estate, companies and securities — has been recovered from 87 people.
Aside from confirming a $1 billion payment from the former head of the National Guard, the government has said little about the nature of the individual settlements. Less than four months ago, the crown prince told Bloomberg News that $35 billion had been collected from the prisoners. Verifying the commission’s claims is made more challenging by the opacity of the Saudi market. Closely held companies rarely disclose financials and the value of real estate — the preferred asset of many wealthy Saudis — is obscured by unrecorded transactions and restrictions on buyers.
Detainees have been trickling out of prison for more than a year. Saudi-Ethiopian billionaire Mohammed Al Amoudi, was freed just last Sunday after being held in an undisclosed location on bribery and corruption charges. Also released within the past few weeks: philanthropist and former government minister Amr Al-Dabbagh; former McKinsey & Co. partner Hani Khoja; and Sami Baroum, an ex-managing director of one of the kingdom’s biggest food companies.
Authorities have constrained post-prison life for many of those targeted, with travel bans and heightened surveillance within the country.

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