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Gulf States News - Issue 1089 - 03/10/2019

US President Donald Trump’s lack of enthusiasm for backing up his heated anti-Iranian rhetoric with meaningful military resources, even in the wake of last month’s attack on the Abqaiq oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, appears to be a key underlying factor in renewed efforts from within the region to de-escalate tensions. Trump has taken heed of trusted media voices that a Middle East war now would torpedo his re-election chances, while the two main regional protagonists, Iran and Saudi Arabia, are both in positions of relative weakness.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1088 - 19/09/2019

Abqaiq attack raises more awkward questions about regional alliances and balance of power

The massive attack launched on the critical Saudi Aramco oil processing facilities at Khurais and Abqaiq early on 14 September was not just another drone strike by the Houthis – as the Yemeni movement claimed – but in all likelihood was launched from Iran, reflecting the extent that the Islamic Republic has emerged as a significant military power. As well as placing unexpected new pressures on the global oil market, it pitched Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) and the Saudi leadership into yet another crisis – of how to respond against an enemy that has shown it has the commitment and wherewithal to do great damage – and US President Donald Trump, who newly shorn of his hawkish national security advisor (NSA) John Bolton must articulate a credible response.

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Gulf States News - Issue 1087 - 05/09/2019

Health scare for Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah focuses minds on the future

Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah’s health was the subject of renewed concern and speculation following an unscripted mid-August revelation about the 90-year-old emir’s apparently poor health by Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. However, as GSN went to press, the indefatigable nonogenarian emir was expected to visit the United States for talks with President Donald Trump and on 2 September was pictured laughing with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi at the Bayan Palace in Kuwait.

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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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