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PROJECTING POWER: THE SAUDI DESIGNS ON AFRICA

in AFRICA/MIDLE EAST/POLITICS by

Usually, when people talk about Saudi Arabia and its hegemonic policies, we tend to relate to the well-known rivalry between the monarchy and Iran, two capillary actors in the Middle East, who compete for the leadership in the region.

Recently, Riyadh has shown a deeper interest in other areas, such as the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa. The strategic importance of these areas is widely recognised: around 13% of the world’s global trade flows across the Red Sea, which is connected to the south to the Strait of Bab al-Mandeb, an 18-mile chokepoint that handles around 4.8 million barrels a day of crude oil and refined petroleum products directed to Europe, USA and Asia. To the north, there is the Suez Canal, which connects the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea and allows 4 million barrels of oil and refined products to flow on a daily base.

Moreover, the Horn of Africa is rich in natural and human resources: hydropower and hydrocarbons have the same importance today as coal and steel in the industrialised Europe of the 1930s. The highlands of Ethiopia have a hydropower basin able to provide electricity to the entire region; oil and gas are also abundantly present in every country. However, infrastructure and investment are lacking, partly because of the instability and insecurity that dominate the region. Indeed, deep internal fractures and political instability plague several countries (including Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan), jihadist terrorism finds fertile ground for its expansion, Somali piracy threatens trade and security of the entire area and the war in Yemen worsens this already volatile scenario.

In recent years, the Saudi monarchy,  together with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has undertaken several projects in the area, to encourage regional cooperation and increase security conditions. If this general aim is true, it is also true that Riyadh has its own interest in intervening in this area. Recent events have, in fact, led King Salman to undertake new strategic paths. In the last period, we have seen Iran strengthening its position at the regional and global levels. Moreover, the killing of the journalist Khashoggi, the open criticisms of the US (with the exception of President Trump) and the accusations of the CIA against the Saudi sovereign have thrown a veil of uncertainty over the historic alliance between the US and Saudi Arabia.

Not to forget the latest decisions in Washington’s foreign policy, such as the withdrawal from the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) or the imminent withdrawal of troops from Syria that have floored its allies, especially in the region. Hence, if in past Saudi Arabia – and the other Middle Eastern countries – could count on the presence of the US Navy 5th Fleet in the Red Sea, today this guarantee would no longer be so granted.

These considerations and the desire to extend its influence in other territories, have pushed Saudi Arabia towards the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea, aiming to develop its own security doctrine. This new doctrine would include collaboration with different partners, such as the UAE and other nations of the MENA region.

Thus, Red Wave 1 took place, a series of military exercises carried out in the Red Sea, attended by numerous countries including Jordan, Egypt, Somalia, Djibouti, Yemen and Sudan, as well as Saudi Arabia. Thanks to the military assets provided by these nations, the exercise involved various naval units, as well as Typhoon-type fighter jets and units used for shooting air and naval targets.

The main objective of this project is certainly to improve the security of an artery of international trade, but also to strengthen the naval defence of neighbouring countries, protect regional waters, promote military cooperation and the exchange of expertise and know-how among the participants.  In addition, among the active projects along the Red Sea coast, there is a commercial area of $ 500 billion shared with Jordan and Egypt and the construction of luxury resorts, future tourist destinations.

Citing the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir “This is part of the Kingdom’s effort to protect its interests and those of its neighbours and … to establish the region that we live in and to try to create synergies between the various countries “. Furthermore, if cooperation between the countries of the region increases, the interference and negative influence by external actors may decrease.

In conclusion, from a Saudi perspective, interest in Africa has a triple rationale: to lay the foundations of a new national security strategy; to project its power and influence into vital strategic territories, thus increasing national prestige and its image as a leading player in the region; to limit the interference of third parties, especially Western players. Saudi Arabia will then act as an alternative to the big powers that usually dominate the world scene, gaining a leading position also at the international level.

 

Paola Fratantoni

 

Zarif: US complicity in world’s biggest humanitarian disaster unfathomable

in MIDLE EAST/POLITICS by

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has slammed the US for its unbridled support for Saudi Arabia in its war of aggression against Yemen, saying Washington is complicit in the world’s biggest humanitarian disaster. In a post on his official Twitter account on Thursday, Zarif said the role that the United States has so far played in fanning the flames of the Yemen war, including through supplying Saudi Arabia with bombs and refueling its warplanes, is apparently not enough for American rulers. By acknowledging involvement in managing brutal Saudi airstrikes, the US is complicit in the world’s biggest humanitarian disaster, he added.

Houthis fighters in Yemen have warned they will fire more missiles into Saudi Arabia

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After the launch of seven missiles whose intended target was Riyadh and other important center of the Saudi kingdom, Houthis fighters in northern Yemen have warned they will fire more missiles into Saudi Arabia, if the Saudis do not stop their bombing raids.

The US State Department approves $1 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia

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During the royal visit in the United States, the US State Department approved three arms sales worth  more than $1 billion to Saudi Arabia. The sales include 6,000 Raytheon TOW-2 anti-tank missiles worth $670 million, $106 million in helicopter support and $300 million worth of vehicle parts. “The proposed sale of TOW 2B missiles and technical support will advance Saudi Arabia’s efforts to develop an integrated ground-defense capability,” the State Department said. However, the sales are not yet finalized, as all foreign military sales  have to be approved by Congress. Prices may change before they are finalized. Analysts have seen great significance in this deal, since it indicates strong political, economic, and defense ties between the two countries. Oubai Shahabandar, a fellow in the Washington, DC-based New America International security program, said: “Ensuring interoperability and integration of weapon systems between long-standing strategic partners has long been a mainstay of US foreign policy in the Arabian Gulf. It’s a win-win for all sides involved in these foreign military sales deals.” He added: “It means more American jobs and ultimately it will help Saudi Arabia to develop a sustainable indigenous military production capacity. No other country comes close to the sheer size and breadth of the foreign military sales cases that the US has with the Kingdom.

“In the long term, Riyadh’s acquisition of new military hardware from the US defense industry must also be met with a joint commitment between the US and the entire Gulf Cooperation Council to enhance the integration of their military readiness against common regional threats.” Sigurd Neubauer, a Middle East analyst and columnist based in Washington, sees Saudi Arabia as a major ally for the US in the region. He said: “Saudi Arabia has arguably surpassed Israel as Washington’s premier regional ally. “But because Trump is strengthening his relationship with Riyadh, balancing relations with Ankara and Tel Aviv also becomes paramount as Washington wants to align all of its regional allies against Tehran and its malign activity. Part of that strategy also centers on GCC unity, even if that issue was not discussed during the public part of the MBS-Trump meeting.”

 

 

Iran continues to threat regional security by smuggling arms and missiles to Houthi’s controlled territory

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The Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia on Monday said the debris of missiles fired by Houthi rebels in Yemen carried the features of weapons manufactured near Tehran.Indeed, the Saudi force are alerted after that on Monday seven missiles were fired form Houthis in Yemen towards Saudi Arabia. The coalition turn to the Iranian regime for providing the Houthi militias with sophisticated arms and ballistic missiles, thus undermining regional security. At a news conference on Monday night, which was attended by ambassadors of friendly nations and members of the Saudi-led military alliance, coalition spokesman Col. Turki Al-Maliki displayed the debris of the Houthi missiles that targeted Riyadh. He said analysis of the debris of the missiles showed they were supplied to the Houthi militias by Iran. During his presentation, the coalition spokesman shared a smuggled missile from Iran which was seized by the coalition forces before making its way to the Houthi militias in Yemen. “These ballistic missile attacks on Saudi Arabia were a serious escalation and a threat to regional and international security,” he said. “The hostile action by the Iranian regime in smuggling arms to Houthi militias … only prove that the Iranian regime continues to support the armed militants with military capabilities … allowing it to demonstrate its threat to regional as well as international security by disturbing peace and spreading chaos.” Al-Maliki noted that 78 percent of 104 ballistic missiles that have been launched targeting the Kingdom came from Yemen’s Saadah and north of Amran areas. The Houthi militants are also using Sanaa airport to launch missile attacks on Saudi territory, he told the audience. Speaking to the media a day after the missile attacks, Al-Maliki shared the details of them. He said seven ballistic missiles with the fingerprint of the Iranian regime were fired by the Houthis toward various areas in the Kingdom. Three missiles were fired toward Riyadh, two targeted Jazan and one each were towards Najran and Khamis Mushayt. Missiles towards Riyadh were aimed at residential areas in which one Egyptian civilian worker was killed and two were injured.

Saudi Arabia and UK agree to support Lebanese government and counter Hezbollah

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Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom agreed in a joint declaration to work together to support the Lebanese government and to work together to counter the role of Hezbollah in the region. The statement was issued during the visit of the Saudi hereditary prince Mohammed bin Salman to the United Kingdom at the invitation of the government of Queen Elizabeth II. The statement stressed that to reach any political agreement, it is crucial to end security threats in Saudi Arabia and other regional states, as well as see the end of Iranian support for militias and the withdrawal of Yemen’s Iranian elements and Hezbollah. The partnership between the two countries will be long-term and will touch various sectors, going to support the Saudi Vision 2030.

Opposition politicians and human rights activists against MBS’s visit

in EUROPE/MIDLE EAST by

The ongoing visit of Mohammad bin Salman in the UK is generating opposite reactions: the ruling Conservative Party and royal family are rolling out the red carpet for Saudi Arabia’s crown prince while opposition politicians and rights groups call on British Prime Minister Theresa May to use the trip to challenge the kingdom’s record on human rights. Boris Jhonson, british foreign secretary has underlined the importance of the social reforms put forward by MBS in Saudi Arabia (such as allowing women to drive and lifting a 35-year ban on cinemas). Furthermore, the minister praised the Saudi Vision 2030, in the light of possible economic investments in the project. However, human rights activists gathered outside Downing Street, calling to an end of arms selling to Saudis, responsible of huge bloodshed in Yemen. In addition, activists said the despite the economic and social reforms, Saudi Arabia still has a poor human rights records. On Tuesday, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, joined a chorus of activists, saying that May should tell the crown prince that Britain would no longer supply arms to Riyadh “while the devastating Saudi-led bombing of Yemen continues”. May should also “make clear Britain’s strong opposition to widespread human and civil rights abuses in Saudi Arabia”, he said. Caroline Lucas, former leader of the Green Party, tweeted on Tuesday: “Isn’t it time we stop giving the red carpet treatment to despots and dictators?” indeed, British arms companies are, mainly with the United States, the biggest suppliers of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the British government has approved billions of pounds in export licences over the past three years. Thus, by keeping the situation like this, the UK has been totally complicit in the abuse perpetrated in Yemen. Professor Paul Rogers from Bedford University’s Peace Department, told Al Jazeera: “The UK government recognises Saudi Arabia is very profitable for British arms exports and so the issue of human rights in the kingdom is not to the fore in current government thinking, in the sense of money talk.” It appears indeed easy to understand that UK government is willing to go along with the Saudis because there are good markets, thus, it turns a blind eye the human rights abuses and Yemen’s war.

Three Saudi children injured by Houthi shelling on Jazan, southern Arabia

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Three children were injured in Jazan in southern Saudi Arabia. The spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, Colonel Turki Al-Maliki, said that Houthi militants “intentionally targeted civilians in Al-Arda in the Jazan province”. He added that three children were injured as a result of the falling shells. Col Al-Maliki reiterated that Houthi militia supported by Iran continues its campaign targeting civilians in a clear violation of international laws and of those principles governing the respect of civilians in conflict.

Towards “Saudisation”

in MIDLE EAST/POLITICS by

On Monday a step forward the policy of “saudisation” has been taken by the government. The Minister of labour and Social Development Ali Al-Ghafees has issued a decree to limit work in 12 new activities to Saudi men and women starting from next September 2018. The measure is issued in order to empower Saudi citizens and provide them with more job opportunities in the private sector. It is necessary to consider that the unemployed rate among young Saudis is quite elevated in Saudi Arabia (around 30%). Considering that Saudi population count 30 million people, whose 1/3 come from foreign countries and are not Saudi, the government are trying to enhance politics to let “Saudis come first”. The ministry’s spokesman said that sales activities limited to Saudi employees will include the following categories: watches, eyewear, medical equipment and devices, electrical and electronic appliances, auto parts, building materials, carpets, cars and motorcycles, home and office furniture, children’s clothing and men’s accessories, home kitchenware, and confectioneries. He added that it is necessary to abide by regulations for hiring women in activities and stores defined by the ministerial decree. “This condition does not conflict with other Saudization decrees” he said.

Investments between Tunisia and Saudi Arabia

in AFRICA/ECONOMY/POLITICS by

At the centre of the Tunisian-Saudi business council meeting we have the direct investment between Tunisia and Saudi Arabia and the possibility of developing joint investments as a strategic option that helps to penetrate other foreign markets Several Tunisian and Saudi business leaders took part in the meeting, both sides also addressed issues relating to the common concerns of economic operators in both countries. In particular, they noted that obstacles still hinder economic cooperation between the two countries and proposed to strengthen the awareness-raising and promotion activities of the two countries’ products. Mohamed Kooli, chairman of the Tunisian side of the business council who chaired the meeting jointly with Souleiman El Airi, chairman of the Saudi side, stressed in his speech that Tunisian-Saudi Arabian economic relations have not yet reached the excellent level of political relations and friendly relations between the two countries, emphasising the importance of intensifying the visits of businessmen from both countries to explore the opportunities of important investment opportunities for investors in multiple fields in both Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. For his part, El Airi said that Saudi Arabia attaches great importance to Saudi investments in Tunisia, adding that many Saudi projects have been carried out in Tunisia since the 1970s. He stressed that Saudi businessmen aspire to make new investments in Tunisia.

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