Middle East & Arab World: Saudi Arabia 2019 -20

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Middle East & Arab World – Saudi Arabia 2015-17
Middle East & Arab World – Saudi Arabia 2017-18
Saudi Arabia – Canada international relations 2018
CIA concludes Saudi crown prince ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination

Bloomberg: We’re only in late April, but already Mohammed bin Salman’s banner year is unraveling.
After a failed boycott of neighboring Qatar, a disastrous military campaign in Yemen and international condemnation over the gruesome murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents, this was going to be a time for MBS, as the Saudi Crown Prince is known, to regroup.
He’s pushed hard on economic reforms to wean Saudi Arabia off its dependence on oil. He’s taken steps to show the country as more open and tolerant, encouraging tourism and giving greater rights to women. He’s the host of the Group of 20 nations, ready to welcome fellow leaders to Riyadh in November.
Now, as Donna Abu-Nasr writes, he’s been hit by the double whammy of a devastating oil price war and the economic destruction of the coronavirus, which has seen global tourism grind to a halt alongside the influx of much-needed foreign labor.
Prince Mohammed’s transformation effort was already faltering. But now he faces some tough choices about which projects at home and which forays overseas he can realistically afford. There are signs the kingdom is taking less of a hard line on regional foes Iran and Qatar, while it announced a cease-fire in Yemen earlier this month.
It’s notable also that King Salman bin Abdulaziz, who represents a more cautious and stable generation of Saudi leaders, has been more visible of late. Right now his son needs all the help he can get. — Rosalind Mathieson

21-22 April
Saudi Supertankers Stranded As Oil Price War Backfires
(oilprice.com) Saudi Arabia has made good on its early-March promise to flood the world with oil, but with demand collapsing and storage filling fast, the world’s top oil exporter must now keep its unsold crude on supertankers at sea as no one is rushing to take delivery of oil they can’t process or store.
Around the world, at least one in every ten very large crude carriers (VLCCs)–each capable of holding 2 million barrels of oil–currently acts as a floating storage, oil officials from Saudi Arabia told The Wall Street Journal this week. Many of the supertankers carry Saudi crude, and some of it is not sold yet.
As buying interest in the oil industry is currently only focused on available storage capacity, not on crude oil, the early Saudi plan to go after its rivals’ market shares with aggressive price discounts and a fleet of more oil is backfiring while a large part of the world is under lockdown, refiners slash run rates, and storage fills up.
At the same time, the highest number of Saudi oil shipments in years are making their way to the United States this month, threatening to make an already dire situation in the U.S. oil industry even worse.
Saudi Arabia’s decision to trigger an oil price war has backfired badly
(Globe & Mail) Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is learning the hard way that barrels of oil with nowhere to go are worth approximately zero. Saudi barrels aren’t worth nothing – yet – but they’re getting close.
On Tuesday, the day after U.S. oil prices actually went negative, Brent crude, the international benchmark, fell 25 per cent to US$19 a barrel. A year ago, it was trading at US$70.
In early March, MBS, as the crown prince is known, apparently thought he had figured it all out. He wanted OPEC, which is led by Saudi Arabia, and Russia, an OPEC ally, to cut production to support prices, which were sagging as the novel coronavirus was bursting out of China. Russia said nyet.
MBS didn’t take Russia’s refusal to play well. He broke Saudi Arabia’s alliance with Russia and vowed to open Saudi Aramco’s spigots, flooding the world with oil. For him, it would be a nice little twofer: Punish Russia and punish the shale-oil industry, whose burgeoning output had transformed the United States into the world’s biggest oil producer and one of its biggest oil exporters.
By mid-March, oil was falling fast, and MBS apparently realized that his timing was rather off. So he did a U-turn and convinced OPEC and its allies to cut production by almost 10 million barrels a day. But the cuts would take months to implement, and by then, it would be too late anyway. The COVID-19 crisis had shut down economies around the world. Unsold oil was filling storage tanks and parked supertankers to the brim.
This week, the dire situation reached the point where the cost of storing American oil was higher than the price of oil itself. That’s when prices turned deeply negative. (On Tuesday, West Texas Intermediate rebounded to US$6 a barrel – a price that would still destroy the shale industry within months.)

15 April
Saudi forces kill man who refused to give up property: Activists
Abdul Rahim al-Hwaiti was allegedly shot dead after he refused to give up his property for a Red Sea mega-project.
Al-Hwaiti hails from the powerful al-Huwaitat tribe who are based in three countries: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Sinai in Egypt. The al-Huwaitat have resided in the region for more than 800 years, predating the Saudi state itself by many centuries over.
The Red Sea development, known as NEOM, is a mega-project envisioned by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) in Tabuk province.
NEOM, which will be close to the size of Belgium, is to become a hub for “tourism, innovation and technology”. It is part of MBS’s Vision 2030 to transform Saudi Arabia and diversify its oil-based economy.

13 April
Saudi Arabia wants out of Yemen
By Bruce Riedel, Senior Fellow – Foreign Policy, Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, Center for Middle East Policy
(Brookings) Saudi Arabia’s pursuit of a unilateral cease-fire in Yemen reflects the kingdom’s dire economic and social crisis caused by the pandemic and the fall in oil prices. It’s not clear if the Houthis will accept the cease-fire, but it is certain that Yemen is completely unprepared for the outbreak of the virus in the poorest country in the world.
The Saudis announced a unilateral cease-fire last week after months of United Nations-brokered talks and direct contacts between the parties failed to produce a durable truce and a political settlement. The Houthis want a complete lifting of the blockade of Yemen, the “siege,” as they call it. They are right to do so: The country urgently needs to import food and medicine. Roughly 80% of the population — 24 million people — are dependent on humanitarian assistance, and two-thirds are malnourished. Children are especially vulnerable.
The Saudi air strikes have targeted hospitals and other civilian sites for five years, according to a new study in the United Kingdom. One-third of all the air strikes have hit civilian targets including hospitals and schools. Only half the country’s hospitals and medical installations are operating because of the bombing and the siege.
Saudi Arabia is facing its own humanitarian crisis now, due to the pandemic. The country is effectively shut down indefinitely, with curfews in Riyadh and other cities. The pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina is closed, and the annual hajj scheduled for July is already suspended. Religious tourism is a major source of income for the country, especially the Hejaz region. The Saudis have the worst case of the virus in the six Gulf states. The royal family has been hit hard, and the governor of Riyadh is in the hospital with the disease.

3 April
Neom is Saudi’s mega-green Gotham city
Located deep in the Saudi Arabian desert, overlooking the Red Sea, the city of Neom is starting to take shape. Saudi Arabia is building a futuristic mega-city, 33 times the size of New York about 10,000 square miles, from scratch. Neom, which means “new future”, sets out to create a new model for sustainable living, based on advanced technology. What exactly does Neom promise? And will those promises become reality?
The city is meant to use cloud seeding technology to create artificial rain and be illuminated by a giant artificial moon. It is to include an attraction park with robotic dinosaurs and a coastline with glow-in-the-dark sand on its beaches. According to Saudi officials, holographic teachers will teach classes and people will go about in flying taxis.

1 April
Coronavirus: Saudi official urges Muslims to delay plans for hajj over COVID-19
(Global) A senior Saudi official urged more than 1 million Muslims intending to perform the hajj to delay making plans this year — comments suggesting the pilgrimage could be cancelled due to the new coronavirus pandemic.
In February, the kingdom took the extraordinary decision to close off the holy cities of Mecca and Medina to foreigners over the virus, a step which wasn’t taken even during the 1918 flu epidemic that killed tens of millions worldwide.
… Saudi Arabia has barred people from entering or exiting three major cities, including Mecca and Medina, and imposed a nighttime curfew across the country. Like other countries around the world and in the Middle East, the kingdom also suspended all inbound and outbound commercial flights.

10-11 March
Saudi Arabia steps up oil price war with big production increase
State-owned Saudi Aramco told to pump 13m barrels a day in effort to corner global market
(The Guardian) Saudi Arabia has intensified the oil price war by ordering its state-owned producer, Saudi Aramco, to raise the maximum production rate to record highs of 13m barrels a day.
The world’s most profitable company told the Saudi stock exchange on Wednesday that it would increase how much oil it can comfortably pump per day by 1m barrels to its highest rate ever.
The state order to raise Aramco’s “maximum sustainable capacity” comes after the kingdom launched a price war on rival petro-nations by vowing to raise its production by a quarter from last month despite an oil demand slowdown because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Analysis: There is a perfect storm brewing in Saudi Arabia
Saudi royals and officials have been arrested in what appears to be an effort by MBS to consolidate power. But why now?
By Simon Mabon
(Al Jazeera) Princes Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, King Salman’s brother, Mohammed bin Nayef, the former crown prince, and Nawaf bin Nayef were arrested [early Saturday morning] amid allegations of their involvement in an attempted coup.
Rumours of plans to topple both the king and the crown prince have regularly been heard across social media, replete with stories of nefarious meetings in the desert and the support of external powers. In this instance, additional rumours of broader complicity quickly followed in key US newspapers, albeit without comment from official Saudi sources.
Two separate issues are at play here. First is the sense of a crown prince on a mission to eradicate all forms of dissent and to ensure a smooth transition to becoming king. In line with this, the arrests sent a strong message to critics within the kingdom, consolidating power and calling on members of the ruling family to “fall in line” behind the “son king”.
Arresting three prominent members of the house of Saud is a symbolic demonstration of power from the crown prince. Indeed, in arresting Mohammed bin Nayef, the former crown prince, MBS is sending a clear message to those across the kingdom that opposition will not be tolerated.
Since being named crown prince, MBS has wielded almost complete power across the Saudi state. Ostensibly heir apparent, it is widely accepted that he is sovereign in all but name, setting policy domestically and internationally, much to the chagrin of some.
The second issue concerns the timing. Facing a range of parabolic pressures from domestic and international sources, the Saudi state is in a precarious position, with much at stake for MBS, the architect of the kingdom’s future trajectory.
In spite of the support he undoubtedly has, there is a growing sense of unrest across the kingdom and concern at its future trajectory.
Although social transformations and liberalisation have been welcomed by many, these come at a cost and will not assuage every day concerns about the cost of living and pressures to find jobs in the private sector.
As the kingdom embarks on a costly battle with Russia and the US over shale gas, this economic pressure will only increase, bringing with it the scope for further anger at the status quo.
The decision to close the Grand Mosque of Mecca and to curtail the umrah was taken amid concerns about the threat posed by COVID-19, yet frustration quickly grew across social media as entertainment outlets initially remained open. An unpopular decision among conservative elements of Saudi society, this issue is emblematic of schisms in a society divided along economic, social, tribal and religious lines.
The failure to end the crisis with Qatar has also had an impact on how the crown prince is perceived inside the kingdom. … The same is true of the failure to eradicate Iranian influence across the Middle East. The invasion of Yemen was ostensibly undertaken to prevent Iran from getting a foothold on the Arabian Peninsula. Saudi Arabia’s actions on the world stage have also increased pressure on the crown prince. Ongoing military involvement in Yemen has been a source of fervent criticism amid allegations of human rights abuses and war crimes committed there.
See also MBS and the Saudi crisis of legitimacy – The latest arrests within the Saudi royal family show the young crown prince still feels insecure about his position.

9 March
Russia vs Saudi: How much pain can they take in oil price war?
(Reuters) – Oil titans Russia and Saudi Arabia have accumulated vast financial cushions that will help them weather a lengthy price war. It’s a battle of nerves – so who will blink first?
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gave the green light for the kingdom, the world’s top oil exporter, to pump at will after Russia rejected an OPEC proposal for deeper cuts to cope with the coronavirus outbreak, two sources familiar with the matter said.
The Saudi fiscal breakeven – the oil price at which it would balance its budget – is at around $80 a barrel, double that of Russia, said Malik at Tellimer.
Saudi Arabia enjoys foreign reserves of $500 billion and a low debt-to-GDP ratio of 25% that gives it ample room to borrow.

8 March
Oil Prices Dive as Saudi Arabia Takes Aim at Russian Production
Russia on Friday rejected an agreement with OPEC on cuts in oil supplies to bolster prices.
(NYT) Saudi Arabia slashed its export oil prices over the weekend in what is likely to be the start of a price war aimed at Russia but with potentially devastating repercussions for Russia’s ally Venezuela, Saudi Arabia’s enemy Iran and even American oil companies.
The Saudi decision to cut prices by nearly 10 percent on Saturday was a dramatic move in retaliation for Russia’s refusal on Friday to join the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries in a large production cut as the coronavirus continues to slow the global economy and, with it, demand for oil.

10 February
75 years after a historic meeting on the USS Quincy, US-Saudi relations are in need of a true re-think
(Brookings) On Valentine’s Day 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Saudi King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud on an American cruiser, the USS Quincy, in the Suez Canal. It was the dawn of what is now the longest U.S. relationship with an Arab state. Today the relationship is in decline, perhaps terminally, and needs recasting.
… The relationship has had ups and downs but every American president has courted the Saudis. None has been [more] accommodating — even sycophantic — than Donald Trump. He has praised the Saudis for buying American weapons that they have not actually purchased. He has continued support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which has created the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world and which costs the kingdom a fortune it doesn’t have, given low oil prices.
Worst, the administration has ignored the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The execution was the work of the Saudi state, according to the United Nations investigation, and the mastermind was the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The president has absolved his favorite.
But it won’t work. The crown prince is toxic, his reputation permanently stained. And the bargain struck on the Quincy is out of date. The United States doesn’t need Saudi oil anymore, it is almost energy independent. The White House has sent American combat troops back to Saudi Arabia (they left in 2003), but they did not deter the Iranians from striking the kingdom’s most critical oil facilities last September. The Saudis were literally shaken out of their complacency, and their acute vulnerability was exposed to all.
The next president should bring American troops home immediately from the kingdom and cut off all military support to the Saudis, at least until there is a permanent political settlement in Yemen. Saudi diplomatic facilities in the United States should be shut or stripped down because they are used to spy on dissidents like Khashoggi. Saudi soldiers in the U.S. for training or other tasks should be sent home. The Saudis should understand that anyone implicated in the Khashoggi murder will not be welcome in the U.S. The attorney general should review what judicial process may apply to the case.
All of this should be part of a larger review of policy toward the region to reduce our military footprint and use more diplomacy. Iran should be engaged, and the Iran nuclear deal should be revived and strengthened. A serious political process between Israel and the Palestinians should be initiated, not the sham deal announced by this administration. It will certainly be challenging, but it is time for fundamental changes.

6 January
The Saudi Aramco IPO and the future of global oil markets (podcast)
Last month, Saudi Arabia sold about 1.5% of Saudi Aramco, a government-owned oil company, in an initial public offering (IPO). Shares have been sold on the Tadawul, Saudi Arabia’s stock exchange, and while the IPO has valued Aramco at $1.7 trillion, its performance was disappointing overall.
To discuss the Aramco IPO and other developments in the global oil market, David Dollar is joined by Samantha Gross, a fellow in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings and Energy Security and Climate Initiative. Their conversation covers Saudi Arabia’s efforts to diversify its economy, long-term trends in oil production and demand, and how the recent killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani could affect markets.

2019

7 December
For Trump, Instinct After Florida Killings Is Simple: Protect Saudis:
By David E. Sanger
(NYT) When a Saudi Air Force officer opened fire on his classmates at a naval base in Pensacola, Fla., on Friday, he killed three, wounded eight and exposed anew the strange dynamic between President Trump and the Saudi leadership: The president’s first instinct was to tamp down any suggestion that the Saudi government needed to be held to account.
“Hours later, Mr. Trump announced on Twitter that he had received a condolence call from King Salman of Saudi Arabia, who clearly sought to ensure that the episode did not further fracture their relationship. On Saturday, leaving the White House for a trip here for a Republican fund-raiser and a speech on Israeli-American relations, Mr. Trump told reporters that ‘they are devastated in Saudi Arabia,’ noting that “the king will be involved in taking care of families and loved ones.” He never used the word ‘terrorism.’
“What was missing was any assurance that the Saudis would aid in the investigation, help identify the suspect’s motives, or answer the many questions about the vetting process for a coveted slot at one of the country’s premier schools for training allied officers. Or, more broadly, why the United States continues to train members of the Saudi military even as that same military faces credible accusations of repeated human rights abuses in Yemen, including the dropping of munitions that maximize civilian casualties.”
NYT Updates: Gunman Showed Videos of Mass Shootings at Party
The gunman watched videos of mass shootings the night before the attack.
He traveled back and forth between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Other Saudis on base were questioned.
During school breaks, he would travel home to Saudi Arabia, the Pentagon officials said. When he returned to the United States in February, friends and colleagues noticed that he had become more religious, said the person briefed on the investigation. It was not immediately clear what he did between February and this week, when he signed into his new training unit in Pensacola, but he had been living in the area.

6 November
Former Twitter employees charged with spying for Saudi Arabia by digging into the accounts of kingdom critics
(WaPo) The Justice Department has charged two former Twitter employees with spying for Saudi Arabia by accessing the company’s information on dissidents who use the platform, marking the first time federal prosecutors have publicly accused the kingdom of running agents in the United States.
One of those implicated in the scheme, according to court papers, is an associate of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who the CIA has concluded likely ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last year.

2 November
Handing Saudi Arabia the G20 Presidency Despite the Khashoggi Murder is Like Giving it License to Kill | Opinion
By Christophe Deloire, secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) And Hatice Cengiz, fiancée of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
(Newsweek) Ever since the UN General Assembly so resolved in 2013, the fight against impunity for crimes of violence against journalists is celebrated on 2 November. Considerable mobilization is needed at the international level because more than 90% of these crimes go unpunished, in both countries at war and at peace. Should it be necessary to demonstrate the overriding need for this fight, there are murders that – because of the circumstances, protagonists or victims – have a special impact.
The G20’s leaders have a duty to act if they want to comply with the principle of responsibility. Without free, independent, trustworthy and diverse journalism, humankind will not be able to properly address any of the great challenges it is facing. Heads of state and government cannot content themselves with being the passive spectators of the murders of journalists. And yet, Saudi Arabia is poised to take over the G20’s presidency for a year.
Treating Saudi Arabia’s G20 presidency as a presidency like any other would be to give the Saudis a “licence to kill,” to give them permission to suppress the truth and extinguish media pluralism. We call on the G20 not to trample on Jamal Khashoggi’s memory. We ask its leaders to obtain clear undertakings from Saudi Arabia to respect press freedom and, as a first step, to release the 32 imprisoned journalists because, as Khashoggi said in his last column, “What the Arab world needs most is freedom of expression.” This is also true for the rest of the world

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.

30 September
Robert Fisk: A year on from Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, and Saudi Arabia is lurching towards hysterical chaos
This whole wretched saga is beginning to look less like ‘War in the Middle East’ and more like ‘Carry On Up the Gulf’
(The Independent) The Saudis are taking a pasting. Video pictures from the Houthis of Saudi soldiers and their allies killed or surrendering inside the Saudi border town of Najran represent a devastating blow to a kingdom which is constantly threatening war against Iran.
If it can’t protect its own armed forces inside Saudi territory, what is the point of wasting time menacing Iran with military action over the massive destruction of the oil facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais almost two weeks ago?
This is the same Saudi Arabia which kidnapped Lebanon’s prime minister Saad Hariri, bombed thousands of civilians in Yemen and tried to wipe out Qatar’s independence. Not to mention the little matter of chopping up Jamal Khashoggi almost one year ago, … The news that King Salman’s personal bodyguard has now been murdered in Jeddah – by a “friend”, we are told – only adds a hysterical note to the chaos within the country.
Are the Americans now going to be asked to act as mercenaries for this bizarre kingdom?

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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