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Gulf States News - Issue 1086 - 01/08/2019

Shipping threats provide rough introduction to Johnson administration

The drama affecting shipping in the Strait of Hormuz is not quite yet a full-blown crisis – characterised as it is by plausible deniability for Iran on attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Oman and dubious claims on the legality of other vessels seized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC). It does though represent a serious foreign policy dilemma for the newly-installed government of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, at a time when the British authorities already have an over-full agenda trying to avoid a chaotic exit from the European Union (EU) on 31 October.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1085 - 23/07/2019

UAE drawdown from Yemen creates vacuum for warring parties to fill

UAE officials have confirmed the accuracy of reports that the Emirates are reducing their military commitment in Yemen, in the process signalling a new phase in the war which has now been raging for more than four years (GSN 1,084/5). Whether this is due to war fatigue or a desire to find an exit from a conflict which is undermining the UAE’s reputation on the world stage remains unclear, but Abu Dhabi has insisted the strategic shift – which has taken most observers by surprise – has been planned for more than a year.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1084 - 04/07/2019

‘Rivalry and posturing’ by Gulf powers add to risks in Horn of Africa

The intense competition for influence among Gulf states and other regional players continues apace in the Horn of Africa, with potentially billions of dollars in financial support and investment flowing from the UAE and Saudi Arabia into Sudan, Ethiopia and their neighbours. But as the network of military bases and ports along the coast of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden gets ever more substantial, criticism of Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) states’ impact on the region is also growing (GSN 1,082/5, 1,055/6).

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Gulf States News - Issue 1083 - 20/06/2019

Tehran keeps the Gulf guessing as tanker attacks raise new questions

It is not yet another ‘Tanker War’, but the latest sabotage of oil tankers has highlighted again the region’s vulnerability to attacks on its key export. Oil prices have remained relatively steady – influenced by a global bear market and substantial stocks in major consumers – but the attacks on six ships in May and June still carry the risk that geopolitical tensions between Iran and the United States could spill over into a full-blown conflict, whether by accident or design.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1082 - 06/06/2019

Mecca summits underline divisions and distrust among former Gulf allies

There was plenty of hype, but a pair of summits organised at short notice by Saudi Arabia as the holy month of Ramadan was coming to a close failed to foster any sense of unity among the regional actors. Instead the gatherings have served to highlight the region’s many divisions; a series of petty snubs and undiplomatic arguments before and after the Mecca summits suggest there is little prospect of the situation improving in the short-term.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1081 - 23/05/2019

Region on edge as Tehran and Washington push war-like rhetoric

The threat of a major confrontation in the region remains real. While both sides publicly say they do not want a conflict, some senior figures in the United States, such as long-time Iranophobe national security advisor John Bolton, are acting as if they do, while hardliners in the Islamic Republican Guards Corp (IRGC) and other revolutionary and ‘principalist’ bastions in Iran would not shy away from confrontation either. In such an environment the biggest threat may be that misunderstandings lead to war by accident rather than by design.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1080 - 09/05/2019

The pattern of Saudi power shifts as the ‘MBS cohort’ of royals emerges

Some 30 Al-Saud princes – and one princess – have been appointed to positions of authority by King Salman Bin Abdelaziz since 2017. The appointments have come in waves: 22 in 2017 (GSN 1,041/6), seven in 2018 (GSN 1,072/1, 1,061/6, 1,055/1) and four in spring 2019 (GSN 1,075/1). Many are notably young, in a system that has traditionally not favoured youth, and are drawn from the same cohort as Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS).

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Gulf States News - Issue 1079 - 29/04/2019

Stockholm peace process fails to stop fighting in Yemen’s trouble spots

Clashes are escalating in Taiz, as rival pro-government factions vie to expand their control throughout the central Yemeni city and surrounding rural areas. Meanwhile, Houthi forces in the north and east of the city continue their four year-long siege. The violence further highlights the lack of progress, five months on, of the Stockholm peace plan, which called for the opening of Taiz to merchants and international aid organisations. Progress is similarly slow in Hodeidah’s negotiations. There are concerns that President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s latest political manoeuvring may exacerbate the conflict in Taiz, rather than deliver a solution.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1078 - 04/04/2019

Western powers diverge over how to dilute Iraq’s economic ties to Iran

Tensions between the United States and Europe over attitudes to Iran are seeping across into other areas of policy. Clear differences are emerging between Washington and some European capitals over President Donald Trump’s policy towards Iraq and its Shia-dominated government’s alliance with Tehran. The focus of US policy in the Gulf region is on trying to isolate Iran and, to promote this, Washington is intent on driving a wedge between Baghdad and Tehran. However, European diplomatic sources are concerned that the ‘with us or against us’ choice being presented to Baghdad is likely to prove counter-productive and will simply push Iraq further into the arms of Iran.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1077 - 21/03/2019

Competition for influence in Syria heats up as conflict enters end-game

With the regime of Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad looking ever more secure, attention in regional capitals is turning to what might happen next. While the monarchies were early movers in finding proxies in Syria, Iran’s tactics during the eight years of civil war have proved far more successful than those of its Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) rivals. It is Tehran’s ally Assad who remains at the helm while opposition groups backed by Saudi Arabia and others have largely failed.

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