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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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Gulf States News - Issue 1076 - 07/03/2019

Riyadh rumour mill raises questions over relations between king and crown prince

Another round of fevered speculation about splits in the most senior ranks of the Al-Saud was set off on 5 March, with a report that King Salman Bin Abdelaziz Al-Saud has clashed with his son Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) over the Yemen war, the fallout from the Jamal Khashoggi affair and other matters. In the most dramatic allegation, the king’s advisors were said to have changed the personal security team that accompanied the monarch during his recent trip to Egypt, due to suspicions about where their true loyalties lay.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1075 - 21/02/2019

Islamic Republic heads into fifth decade under siege, but with opponents divided

Aseries of events in mid-February, including the anniversary of the revolution which brought the Islamic Republic into being, have served to highlight many of the problems facing Iran but also to underscore the divisions among its opponents. Rahbar (Supreme Leader) Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a long statement on 13 February, the day of the anniversary, in which he said Iran “is always flexible and ready to correct its mistakes”. The Islamic Republic was now “entering the second phase of self-development”.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1074 - 07/02/2019

Riyadh draws line in the sand as MBS seeks to reinvigorate reform programme

Saudi officials are trying to put the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi behind them, with a new initiative to kick-start inward investment and a range of soft power initiatives. But while the stellar turn-out of sporting stars, entertainers and business leaders arriving in the kingdom suggests that – rather predictably – many supports for Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS)’s Vision 2030 agenda see it is business as usual, Riyadh continues to struggle to address criticism of its record on human rights and financial abuses.

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