Tag Archives: Middle East North Africa

Former Crown Prince’s April 3 video message expressing criticism of state governance constitutes unprecedented, highly notable development – Jordan Analysis

Executive Summary

  • On April 3, an international news agency released a video of an address by former Crown Prince of Jordan, Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, who claimed to be under house arrest and stated that the Kingdom had become “stymied in corruption.” This followed a report on April 3 of an alleged plot to “unseat” the King, which prompted the arrest of up to 20 senior officials.
  • Although the foiling of a coup plot remains unconfirmed, the very public expression of criticism by a prominent member of the royal family directed towards King Abdullah II due to the alleged endemic state corruption constitutes a highly notable and unprecedented event within Jordan, which has largely been one of the most stable states within the Middle East over recent years.
  • The dissemination of the video by Prince Hamzah is likely to legitimize other actors who may harbor anti-monarchy sentiments within Jordan and may foment protests. However, the King’s current control of the state security apparatus renders it unlikely that any efforts to unseat him or undermine his rule will succeed, at least at the current juncture.
  • Travel to Amman may continue while adhering to all security precautions regarding civil unrest and COVID-19 regulations. Consult with us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary-based consultation and on-ground contingency support options.

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Video by Prince Hamzah bin Hussein

  • During the night hours of April 3, a prominent international news agency released a six-minute-long video message by Jordan’s former Crown Prince, Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, the half-brother of King Abdullah II. In the video, Prince Hamzah, sat with a picture of his father, the late King Hussein in the background, and alleged the following:
    • He was placed under house arrest after he was visited by the Chief of Staff of the Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF). He stated that the Chief of Staff informed him that he is not allowed to “go out [and] to communicate with people.”
    • The Chief of Staff stated that the reason behind the move was that in meetings in which Prince Hamzah participated, “or on social media, relating to visits that I have made, there had been criticism of the government, or the King [Abdullah II].” The Chief of Staff allegedly stated that Prince Hamzah was not himself critical of the King at these meetings in answer to this question.
    • Several people he knows, including his friends, have also been arrested by authorities. His security detail has also been removed.
    • His own internet and telephone have been cut and that he released this video using a satellite internet connection, which he was informed is going to be cut off as well.
    • “I am not the person responsible for the breakdown in governance, for the corruption, and for the incompetence that has been prevalent in our governing structure for the last 15 to 20 years and has been getting worse by the year. I am not responsible for the lack of faith that people have in their institutions.”

Other Related Developments, Statements

  • During the evening hours of April 3, Jordan’s official news agency reported that following a security investigation, several Jordanians, including officials, were “arrested for security reasons.” The report added that “an investigation is underway.”
  • An unconfirmed report in a prominent US-based news agency indicates that former Crown Prince, Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, and up to 20 other officials, were detained “amid an ongoing investigation into an alleged plot to unseat King Abdullah II.”
  • Jordan’s official news agency reported during the night hours of April 3 that Prince Hamzah is neither under house arrest nor has he been detained “as reported by some media outlets.”
  • Several prominent news outlets in Jordan published reports on the developments on April 4. The news agencies largely voiced support for the monarchy.
  • On April 4, Queen Noor, the widow of Prince Hamzah’s father, the late King Hussein, and mother of Hamza, published a message on social media condemning the actions against her son, stating that she is “praying that truth and justice will prevail for all the innocent victims of this wicked slander.”
  • During the afternoon hours of April 4, the President of the Jordanian Senate, Faisal al-Fayez stated that “the King is a red line” and that “we will confront every trembling hand seeking to tamper with the security of Jordan” in response to what he said were “malicious plots being hatched in secret.”

International Responses

  • An Israeli diplomatic correspondent reported that Jordanian officials sent a message to Israel that “the situation is under control” and that there is no threat to the stability of Jordan against the backdrop of the development.
  • Several governments, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt, extended their public support to Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

 

Former Crown Prince’s Video & Reported Foiling of Coup Plot

  1. This ongoing development is highly notable given that public criticism of Jordan’s state governance from within the Jordanian royal family is largely unprecedented. This is given that such accusations of endemic corruption and nepotism, implicitly accuses the monarch. Moreover, although unconfirmed, if even parts of the report that elements within Jordan sought to stage an “alleged plot to unseat” the King are true, this would constitute an even more noteworthy development. This is because the Kingdom of Jordan has overall been one of the most stable states within the Middle East region over recent years and a strategic partner to the West. Although protests against the Prime Minister-led government and its policies are periodically recorded, public expressions of dissent within the upper echelons of the Kingdom against the monarch, and certainly calls for his removal, remain marginalized and extremely rare in Jordan.
  2. Based on the current information and Prince Hamzah’s indication of the stipulated reason for his arrest, namely, criticism towards Jordanian authorities during meetings he had participated in, it is less likely that Jordanian authorities were responding to an imminent armed coup attempt. It is more likely that the operation was an effort to curtail criticism of the monarchy from within the royal family and higher political echelons of the country. This is partially supported by the lack of reported armed conflict in Jordan, although it is unlikely at this stage that any coup plot within Jordan, especially one tied to members of the royal family itself, would have involved the use of force. Regardless, if any coup plot were imminent, the plotters would have likely used the April 3 arrest raids, as well as Prince Hamzah’s video message, as justification to execute their plan, prior to a likely prolonged crackdown by authorities on perceived dissidents following the current events.
  3. Given the reported scale of arrests and seniority of the arrestees as well as the public and direct criticism by the Prince regarding the functioning of the state, it remains possible that such a plan existed, albeit in a nascent stage. In this context, the current arrests highlight the monarch’s ability to monitor and clamp down on prominent forces within the Kingdom that express criticism towards him. The public nature of the detentions and the high-profile targets also constitute a show of force by Abdullah II and an effort to convey the message that public criticism towards the functioning of the monarchy is intolerable, especially from within the royal family. This is because such expressions of perceived dissent point to a lack of cohesion within the monarchy, which has constituted a source of stability within the Kingdom. To this end, the King and his supporters within the political system have used all means at their disposal to protect the monarch amid an overall effort to secure the stability of the state.
  4. The very fact that the arrests were carried out, likely at the King’s direct behest, and the April 4 publications in several of Jordan’s news agencies largely voicing support for the monarch, affirm that Abdullah II retains control over state security forces and indicates that influential figures within the country continue to defer to his rule. FORECAST: Taken as a whole, the materialization, successful or otherwise, of an organized coup against the current monarch and systematic effort to unseat him is unlikely at the current juncture, particularly one that uses military force. The King evidently continues to maintain control over the most critical and influential organs within the security and governmental apparatus, which will help to ensure any future organized dissidents or plots are swiftly repressed. In this context, going forward, to cement his control further, the King is liable to act with increased caution and vigilance and only allow a group of specific loyalists to be privy to the running of the state.

Background, Timing, and Potential Impact of Developments

  1. It cannot be ruled out that other dissident groups or individuals seeking to overthrow King Abdullah II have organized themselves within Jordan and have aspirations to gather support with the aim of ending his rule. This is indicated by the video message transmitted by Prince Hamzah, which suggests these elements hold support among influential factions within the monarchy itself. This is especially given that Hamzah is known to maintain strong relations with certain tribal leaders and is popular among segments of the wider population. The video release itself indicates that Prince Hamzah is undeterred by his placement under alleged house arrest and is willing to continue expressing his grievances towards how the Kingdom is being ruled. This points towards a level of confidence or resolve harbored by the Prince and perception that he has support for his actions within the Kingdom. This also indicates that a rift within Jordan’s high-ranking political echelon is gaining traction, as was also highlighted by the arrests of other senior officials.
  2. The fact that Prince Hamzah’s statements in the video were made in English signals an effort to reach out to Western actors. This is likely important for the Prince given the overall support that regional and international powers, such as the US and UK, extend to the Kingdom and the monarchy. He thus likely aims to undermine the King on the international as well as domestic level, which will increase the spotlight on the alleged failings of the current monarch’s governance and policies. The picture of his father, late King Hussein, which was apparent in the background during his remarks, further constitutes a symbolic measure by the Prince to project his credentials and legitimacy. Hamzah’s motivation also likely derives from the fact that his designation as Crown Prince was revoked by King Abdullah II himself and he therefore likely harbors very personal grievances against the current monarch, beyond his denunciations pertaining to policy and governance.
  3. The timing of the development is also crucial. It comes amid significant manifestations of unrest in Jordan over the recent weeks, particularly against the backdrop of public criticism over the authorities’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, its resultant adverse economic impact, and the prolonged travel and business restrictions it entails. Most significantly, after seven people died from oxygen depletion in a hospital in Salt on March 13, anti-government protests were recorded in multiple cities in which some protesters chanted slogans such as “Salt, rise up, let’s topple the regime.” Reports also indicated that riot police dispersed and arrested activists in Amman on March 24 during protests that were set to mark the tenth anniversary of the “Arab Spring.” Taken as a whole, these instances highlight the prevalence of some anti-monarchy sentiments among segments of the Jordanian population and may have emboldened the arrestees to take action in the more immediate future, at a time that is perceived to be more favorable to their cause.
  4. In this context, Prince Hamzah’s appeal to the “loss of hope that is apparent in pretty much every Jordanian” and his statement that “the situation will improve if we are able to come together and make our voice heard” is likely aimed at highlighting the perceived wrongdoings by his half-brother and thus undermine the latter’s legitimacy. FORECAST: In light of these comments, segments of the Jordanian population will likely perceive Prince Hamzah’s remarks as a legitimization of criticism of the King and his policies and a direct call to rise up i.e. “come together and make our voice heard”. This may foment anti-monarchy sentiments and calls for protests in the Kingdom over the coming days and weeks. This may manifest in protests in major Jordanian cities, including in cities that already witnessed demonstrations in recent weeks, such as Amman and Salt.
  5. FORECAST: As a measure to restrict further possible developments, including the emergence of a movement against the monarchy, as well as to repress any potential attempts to unseat the King either from within the royal family itself or by external elements, Jordanian authorities will likely implement elevated security protocols throughout the country, particularly in and around Amman, over the coming days and weeks. Measures will likely include a significant physical presence of security forces in and around central cities and the establishment of roadblocks and checkpoints near strategic facilities linked to the monarchy, such as the royal palaces. The government may also attempt to clamp down on any calls or circulation of anti-monarchy content on the internet and may employ restrictive cyber measures, as was reported on March 15 amid protests to condemn the government’s incompetence over the medical failure in Salt. Furthermore, Jordanian authorities will likely resort to further arrests of high-ranking officials that may be perceived to have participated in activities that undermine the state authorities and the monarchy in Jordan over the coming days and weeks.
  6. FORECAST: All of these actions taken together, and the monarchy’s continued control over key state security apparatus, will likely succeed in curbing any emerging movement against the King within Jordan, at least at the current juncture. Regardless, the development will have major implications within the upper echelons of the Jordanian political landscape and will significantly raise tensions between supporters and detractors of both King Abdullah II and Prince Hamza, who will likely be perceived as a traitor by some of the King’s supporters. These tensions also pose a potential threat to the security environment within Jordan over the coming weeks and months.

Recommendations:

  1. Travel to Amman may continue while adhering to all security precautions regarding civil unrest and COVID-19 regulations. Consult with us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary-based consultation and on-ground contingency support options.
  2. Those operating or residing in Jordan on April 4 and over the coming days, particularly in Amman, are advised to maintain heightened vigilance given the aforementioned developments. This is particularly given the prospects for further arrests in Jordan over the coming hours and days.
  3. Keep a low profile and refrain from publishing or circulating any material pertaining to the current development, as this may be perceived by state authorities as potentially supportive of any anti-government or anti-monarchy plot.
  4. Maintain heightened vigilance in the vicinity of the Fourth Circle, al-Husseini Mosque and al-Nakheel Square, given that the area is the traditional route of opposition marches.
  5. Please be advised that there is a heightened risk for foreigners traveling outside of major urban centers in Jordan due to instances of civil unrest in the Kingdom’s more remote areas.
  6. Those operating or residing in Jordan are advised to avoid the immediate vicinity of the Jordanian-Syrian border, while avoiding nonessential travel to the vicinity of the Jordanian-Iraqi border due to an increased risk of militancy and potential for spillover violence.

End of diplomatic dispute with Saudi-led bloc constitutes notable achievement for Qatar, likely to boost regional cooperation, economic ties – Qatar Analysis

Executive Summary

  • On January 5, Qatar and a Saudi-led bloc of states signed the “al-Ula Declaration” and restored diplomatic ties following a three-year rift. This constitutes a major achievement for the former, which has been able to circumvent the challenges of exclusion by the latter by relying on its resources and strategic alliances with the US, as well as Turkey and Iran.
  • Qatar and the Saudi-led bloc will likely seek to foster economic cooperation and mutual investments to generate revenue. Qatar’s economy will thus likely benefit from the renewed bilateral trade and tourism inflow that the agreement between the parties will facilitate.
  • However, despite this detente, ideological differences will persist between Qatar and the Saudi-led bloc given that Doha will likely continue to pursue an independent foreign policy to bolster its regional influence. Tensions will particularly pertain to Qatar’s relations with Iran and Turkey, which have deepened during the blockade.
  • Travel to Qatar may continue as normal while adhering to cultural norms and avoiding making any statements critical of the Qatari Emir and government officials. Remain cognizant of the continued potential for tensions between Qatar and the Saudi-led bloc.

Current situation

The al-Ula Declaration

  • On January 5, Saudi ArabiaBahrain, the UAE, and Egypt agreed to restore ties with Qatar during the 41st summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Saudi Arabia’s al-Ula. The parties signed the “al-Ula Declaration”, according to which, the Saudi-led bloc agreed to lift the official air, sea, and land blockade against Qatar.
  • The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) reportedly stated on January 5 that the “al-Ula Declaration strengthens the bonds of friendship and brotherhood among our countries”.
  • MbS also emphasized the “need to unite our efforts to…confront the challenges that surround us, particularly the threats posed by Iran’s nuclear program, its ballistic missile program as well as the terrorist and sectarian activities adopted by Iran”.
  • On January 7, Qatar’s Foreign Minister reportedly stated that the end of the dispute “has no effect on our relationship with any country”.

Implications

  • On January 8-9, Saudi Arabia and the UAE reopened their air, land, and sea borders with Qatar.
  • Bahrain and Egypt reopened their airspace to Qatari flights on January 11 and 13, respectively.
  • According to a January 20 report citing Egyptian intelligence sources, a Qatari foreign ministry official pledged at a meeting that Qatar would not interfere in Egypt’s internal affairs and would change its state-funded media outlet’s orientation towards Egypt. A Qatari official denied the meeting had taken place.
  • Although the terms and conditions for the restoration of relations have not been disclosed, reports indicate that Qatar will withdraw all its lawsuits at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against its three Gulf neighbors and that all parties committed to stopping their “media campaigns” against each other.

Background

On June 5, 2017, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, and Egypt announced the imposition of a land, sea, and air blockade against Qatar, and the severing of all trade and diplomatic ties with the latter. The four blockading countries also referred to as the Saudi-led or Saudi-aligned bloc, initiated the dispute based on accusations that Qatar was providing support to “extremist” elements in the Middle East, interfering in their internal affairs, and maintaining close ties with Iran. Qatar’s Foreign Minister issued a statement on the same day to denounce “unjustified” measures that are “based on baseless unfounded allegations”. On June 23, 2017, the Saudi-led bloc issued a list of 13 demands that Qatar had to fulfill within ten days to lift the blockade. The demands included Doha’s curbing of its ties with Iran, the removal of the Turkish presence from its territory, the shutting down of a prominent Qatar government-owned news outlet, and the payment of reparations for “loss and life and other financial losses caused by Qatar’s policies in recent years”. The Qatari government rejected all the demands, which it perceived as “limiting Qatar’s sovereignty, and outsourcing its foreign policy.”

Assessments & Forecasts

The ability to circumvent the blockade has placed Qatar in the position of strength

  1. The rift with the Saudi-led countries allowed countries like Turkey and Iran to step in by providing material support, which has led to the strengthening of ties between Qatar and these countries. During the early weeks of the diplomatic dispute, Iran sent a significant amount of essential goods to alleviate the risk of food shortages and opened its airspace for Qatari flights that were no longer allowed to fly over Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE. Turkey created an air bridge for needed supplies and enhanced its strategic and military ties by deploying Turkish troops and holding military exercises in Qatar.
  2. However, Qatar’s deepened relations with Turkey and Iran did not signal a shift away from its long-standing close partnership with the US, particularly in the defense and security spheres. Qatar is, for instance, home to the largest US military installation in the Middle East region. The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on combating militant financing in July 2017, and the establishment of a “Strategic Dialogue” in January 2018 are illustrative of the continuity of the relations between Doha and Washington during the dispute. Qatar was therefore able to mitigate its regional isolation by deepening its relations with regional and international actors, which provided Doha both with the material and political support needed to confront the Saudi-led pressure.

Restoration of ties constitutes diplomatic achievement for Qatar, liable to boost the economy

  1. Qatar’s demonstrated resilience to circumvent the blockade has therefore placed Doha in a position of strength vis-a-vis the Saudi-led bloc. This is further bolstered by the lack of stipulations to the “al-Ula Declaration”, which implies that the Saudi-aligned states did not gain major concessions from Qatar, especially pertaining to the 13 demands put forth by Riyadh and its allies. Moreover, the deepening of ties with Turkey and Iran during the last few years, which were factors for the Saudi-led bloc to initiate the dispute, highlights Qatar’s resolve to resist pressure from external actors to alter its foreign policy. Against this backdrop, the Saudi-led bloc’s decision to restore ties with Qatar without extracting compromises from the latter constitutes a notable diplomatic achievement for Doha.
  2. FORECAST: The end of the dispute will pave the way for renewed cooperation between Qatar and the Saudi-led bloc over the coming weeks and months, particularly on the economic front. This will include public sector collaboration and extend to increased opportunities for cooperation between private entities based in these countries. The lifting of the blockade will thus likely have a positive impact on Qatar’s economy as it will reestablish bilateral and regional trade, which was high prior to the blockade. This is illustrated by the fact that approximately 60 percent of Qatar’s imports, especially food supplies, reportedly emanated from the boycotting states. Qatar will thus likely seek to reach new economic and trade agreements to stimulate the flow of goods and investments with its Saudi and Emirati neighbors. Qatar and the Saudi-led bloc will particularly seek to boost mutual investments, especially amid a decrease in their government revenues due to the fall in global oil prices and COVID-19-induced restrictions on business and travel restrictions.
  3. In this context, increased cooperation between Qatari and the Emirati companies in the construction sector may be witnessed to assist Doha’s infrastructure projects ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2022. With regards to Egypt, Qatari companies will likely continue their investment ventures in the real estate and tourism sectors, as evidenced by the opening on January 8 of a luxury hotel in Cairo owned by a Qatari real estate investment firm. With respect to Saudi Arabia, given that Riyadh was reportedly its main supplier of food commodities prior to the dispute, Doha will likely seek to boost its trade exchanges in the agro-food sectors with Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the reopening of borders, albeit depending on the containment of the COVID-19 pandemic, will boost tourism, which Qatar has sought to develop as part of its economic diversification efforts to reduce its dependence on gas revenues.
  4. Furthermore, the easing of tensions and logistical difficulties in traveling between Qatar and the aforementioned countries will likely serve to boost investor confidence. During the blockade, the Qatari authorities took several measures aimed at attracting foreign investment, such as easing visa requirements and allowing full foreign ownership of companies across all sectors. FORECAST: Therefore, Qatari authorities will likely continue their efforts to make the Qatari market more lucrative to foreign investors. This is particularly in the light of the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2022, which Doha seeks to utilize as a platform to bolster its international outreach and standing. To this effect, the authorities will continue to appeal to international investors in the sectors related to various services, infrastructure, and real estate, to support their long-term efforts to diversify its largely gas-dependent economy. Overall, the lifting of the blockade will likely boost intra-GCC trade and investment, providing a certain impetus to Qatar’s economy over the coming year. However, this will not lead to a shift in Qatar’s long-term strategy to incentivize foreign investors.

Detente with the Saudi-led bloc unlikely to alter Qatar’s foreign policy

  1. During the years of the rift, Qatar has implemented an active and independent foreign policy to bolster its regional influence, which included engagement with a broad range of regional actors and support for Islamist groups. These policies, such as Qatar’s ties with Iran and its support for Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, have been antithetical to the interests of its Gulf neighbors. For instance, the UAE is largely hostile to political Islam. This is due to its perception that Islamist groups, particularly those linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, have triggered unrest and revolutions across the region as a launchpad to political power. Additionally, Saudi Arabia and Iran, who are considered leaders of the Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam, respectively, have been engaged in a rivalry for power and influence in the region for decades and the Kingdom is thus suspicious of countries that maintain close ties with Tehran, holding the latter responsible for destabilizing the region’s security. This also manifests in Riyadh’s approach to the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which administers the Gaza Strip. Over recent years, Saudi Arabia has conducted arrests of dozens of Palestinians in the Kingdom who have been accused of having links to Hamas.
  2. These examples illustrate the breadth of differences between Qatar and its allies and interests on one side and the Saudi-aligned bloc on the other. FORECAST: However, given that Qatar’s Foreign Minister stated on January 7 that the thaw in relations “has no effect on our relations with any country” and there is no such stipulation in the “al-Ula Declaration” insisting on policy change in exchange for the resumption of ties, it is unlikely that Doha will alter its foreign policy over the coming months. It will thus maintain its own independent and active agenda, despite this overtly clashing with that of the countries it has recently reconciled with.
  3. With regards to Iran, Doha has primarily been driven by pragmatic interests and a desire not to alienate Tehran. One of the major reasons for this is because Qatar’s ties to Iran are critical in protecting its natural resources, as the countries share the largest gas field in the world, which is called the North Dome/South Pars. Therefore, given Qatar’s reliance on natural gas to generate revenue, the shared management of the gas field and the maintenance of cordial relations with Iran are essential to Qatar’s economic interests.
  4. FORECAST: In this context, Qatar is unlikely to downgrade relations with Iran over the coming months as this would jeopardize its economic growth. More so, Qatar’s close ties with the US and positive relations with Iran may enable Doha to act as an intermediary for the incoming US President Joe Biden, who has expressed his willingness to engage in dialogue with Tehran. This is further bolstered by Qatar’s role of maintaining relations with opposing actors, rendering it a facilitator for indirect negotiations and back-channel communications. This is evidenced by Qatar’s coordination with Israel to provide funding for the Gaza-based Hamas, and its reported role in fostering peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
  5. Additionally, Doha also shares a relatively strong alliance with Turkey. In addition to Ankara’s pivotal material support for Qatar during the blockade, Doha has invested heavily in the Turkish economy, amounting to approximately 22 billion USD in 2019, amid the latter country’s recent economic crisis. The alliance is also rooted in the convergence of the two countries’ geopolitical, military, and ideological interests, as illustrated by their support for the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya, and more broadly their long-standing support for Muslim-Brotherhood-linked elements throughout the region, and other Islamist groups, such as Hamas. Moreover, while there is a lack of significant evidence of overt support, both Ankara and Doha are thought to enjoy some level of influence over the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated al-Islah Party in Yemen, which is deemed to be the primary security destabilizer by UAE-backed groups, such as the Southern Transitional Council (STC). FORECAST: In this context, given the depth of their bilateral relations, coupled with the convergence of their foreign policy goals in the Middle East region, Doha is unlikely to curtail its ties with Ankara over the coming year.

Conflicting interests, ideological differences to perpetuate tensions between Qatar and the Saudi-led bloc

  1. Overall, distrust between Qatar and the Saudi-led bloc is liable to persist, as illustrated by the UAE’s Foreign Minister, who stated on January 7 that although the “al-Ula Declaration” constitutes “a good start”, Abu Dhabi has “issues with rebuilding trust”. Moreover, the lack of reference to the initial factors that led the Saudi-aligned states to cut ties with Qatar in the “al-Ula Declaration”, including the curbing of Doha’s relations with perceived destabilizing actors such as Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood and the shutting down of a prominent Qatar government-owned news outlet, suggests that the root causes of the dispute have likely not been addressed.
  2. The end of the dispute may also be an initiative by the Saudi leadership to project its intention to end intra-GCC divisions and promote regional reconciliation in a bid to gain favor with the new US President Joe Biden-led administration. This may partly be because Biden has vowed to “reassess” the US’s relationship with Riyadh due to the Kingdom’s crackdown on perceived dissidents and involvement in allegedly exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
  3. Moreover, it is also in Saudi Arabia’s interest to strengthen the GCC as a united bloc prior to the potential commencement of US-Iran talks related to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or a new agreement with Iran over the coming months. This may allow the Kingdom to partly influence Doha’s stance regarding the Iran nuclear deal and US-imposed sanctions on Iran. This may be behind MbS’ statement that “we need to unite our efforts to…confront the challenges that surround us”, pointing primarily to Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile program and alleged support for “terrorist activities”.
  4. FORECASTIn this context, going forward, one of the main contentious issues will remain Qatar’s ties with Iran as well as Turkey. Given that the Saudi-led bloc views Iran’s and Turkey’s regional influence as a threat, Doha’s pragmatic relations with the two countries will continue to constitute a fault line in the long term. In addition to this, Qatar’s support for Muslim Brotherhood-linked elements will remain a lingering point of contention because the Saudi-led bloc, particularly the UAE, perceive such elements as subversive and as a threat to its national security. More broadly, the pursuit of conflicting interests, such as countering Iranian and Turkish influence, ideological differences, and competitive dynamics across the Middle East region will continue to set Qatar and the Saudi-aligned states apart.

Recommendations

  1. Travel to Qatar may continue as normal while adhering to cultural norms and avoiding making any statements critical of the Qatari Emir and government officials.
  2. Additionally, refrain from photographing or filming working and housing conditions of migrant workers in the country, as such actions may draw confiscation of equipment by security forces or possible detainment.
  3. Remain cognizant of the continued potential for tensions between Qatar and the Saudi-led bloc, which may result in punitive measures or increased scrutiny of individuals expressing support for the other party.

US Air Strike Kills IRGC Commander Qassem Soleimani – Situation Analysis

US Confirms Killing IRGC Commander Qassem Soleimani in Air Strikes Near Iraq’s Baghdad International Airport on January 3

Please be Advised:

The US Department of Defense (DoD) released a statement announcing that the US military, on the orders of the US President, Donald Trump, had taken “decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad” by killing Qassem Soleimani, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)- Quds Force (QF) commander during airstrikes near Iraq’s Baghdad International Airport during the early morning hours of January 3.

The statement announces that “General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region. General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more”. The airstrikes aimed to deter future Iranian attacks against US assets in the region.

Iran’s national news agency have confirmed that the US airstrikes resulted in the death of IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soliemani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU).

Iraq’s national news agency reported that the US airstrikes targeted the convoy of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis traveling near the Baghdad International Airport.

Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei released a eulogy on January 3 for Qassem Soleimani and declared a three-days of mourning in Iran. The statement announces that the killing of Soleimani is a “criminal act” and “will reinforce the motives of the resistance against the US and Israel”.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called the US airstrikes “extremely dangerous and a foolish escalation” and held the US responsible for “all consequences of its rogue adventurism.”

Prominent Iraq Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, released a statement during the morning hours of January 3 giving orders for “readiness” to the Shiite militias in Iraq, particularly the Mahdi Army, “to protect Iraq”.

Reports indicate that Iran’s Supreme National Security Council has convened during the morning hours of January 3 to discuss the development.

US Embassy in Baghdad on January 3 issued an advisory urging US citizens to depart Iraq immediately due to “heightened tensions in Iraq and the region”. Consular services in the US Embassy in Baghdad have been suspended until further notice. However, the US Consulate in Erbil remains operational at the time of writing.

Iraqi President has reportedly condemned the US airstrikes and called US action as a “blatant violation of Iraqi sovereignty”.

Developments Near the Baghdad International Airport and Green Zone:

Reports indicate that three rockets fired by unidentified perpetrators landed in the Baghdad International Airport cargo area during the overnight hours of January 2-3 that resulted in several civilian casualties and the destruction of two vehicles.

Reports indicate that US military personnel arrested Hadi al-Amiri the head of the Badr Organization, the military wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), as well as Qais Khazali, the founder and leader of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a Shiite paramilitary group that is a part of the Iran-backed PMU in Baghdad during the morning hours of January 3. Iraq’s national news agency reported that a senior member of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq has denied the arrest of Qais Khazali.

Picture material on social media indicate that Iraqis gathered at Baghdad’s Tahrir Square during the early morning hours of January 3 to celebrate the death of Soleimani.

At the time of writing, operations have resumed at the Baghdad International Airport following a temporary ceasure of operations during the morning of January 3 after the US airstrikes.

Reports indicate that US military personnel have bolstered security protocols in the Green Zone in Baghdad, and the Iraqi security officials have completely locked down the Green Zone following the US airstrikes.

Other Related Developments:

Iran’s state-sponsored news agency reported that the Swiss Ambassador to Iran, who is considered as a “guardian of US interests in Iran” has been summoned to the Iranian Foreign Ministry on January 3 to strongly protest the killing of Qassem Soleimani.

Reports indicate that Israel has closed access to Hermon ski resort, located in the Golan Heights, near the Israel-Syria border, due to the risk of attack by Iran and its proxies. Additional reports indicate that Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are on alert following the US airstrikes.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) official in the Gaza Strip reportedly released a statement calling the development a “great tragedy” and extended PIJ’s support to Iran.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon reportedly released a statement condemning the US airstrikes as a “big crime” and stated that “punishment of Soleimani’s killers is responsibility of all fighters”.

Reports indicate that foreign oil companies have commenced the evacuation of its employees holding a US citizenship via the Basra Airport following the advisory issued by the US Embassy in Baghdad that urges US nationals to depart the country immediately.

Iran has reportedly appointed Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani as the next IRGC Quds force chief on January 3.

UK has reportedly increased security protocols at its military bases across the Middle East following the US airstrikes.

Reports quoting the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that the US airstrikes in Iraq are a “reckless move” that will escalate tensions in the region.

Assessments & Forecast:

The development comes amid a marked increase in tensions in Iraq over the past two months following an uptick in attacks against US assets by Iran-backed forces in the country. Most recently, on December 31, hundreds of Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) members and supporters besieged and attempted to breach the US Embassy compound in Baghdad’s Green Zone to condemn US’s December 29 airstrikes that targeted five Kataib Hezbollah assets in Iraq. The continued risk posed to US-linked interests in Iraq is further evidenced by the statement issued by the US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on January 2, that holds Iran and its backed proxies in Iraq responsible for perpetuating the attacks and warned that “attacks against us will be met with responses in the time, manner, and place of our choosing.” Given this context, the recent US airstrikes constitute a decisive action against Iran and its proxies to deter further such attacks against US interests in the region.

Furthermore, the US airstrikes constitutes a highly symbolic and notable development given the high-profile nature of the target, namely, IRGC-QF commander, Qassem Soleimani. This is given that Soleimani is considered to be highly influential within the Iraqi political and security dynamics, and is perceived to be responsible for the destabilizing activities carried out by Iran-linked elements in Iraq. Moreover, on April 18, 2019 the US designated the IRGC, including its extraterritorial wing, the QF as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). Therefore, the killing of Soleimani in the US airstrikes is likely aimed to adversely impact the IRGC’s leadership structure and mitigate the threat that the group is perceived to pose to the region’s security and stability. Regardless, the killing of Soleimani is liable to have a significant impact on the morale of the IRGC and Iran-backed fighters operating regionwide.

However, the development is unlikely to significantly alter Iran’s policy within the regional setting, such as its support for proxies like the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Yemeni Houthis, and Shiite militias in Iraq. Rather, as evidenced by the statement released by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, the incident will likely prompt Iran and its proxies to increasingly target the interests of the US and its allies, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia in the region. Furthermore, the statement issued by Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr calls for “readiness” from Shiite militias in Iraq to “protect Iraq” indicating the fact that Iran and its proxies will seek to take revenge against the US, and its allies, over the coming days.

FORECAST: Over the short term, there remains a heightened potential for attacks perpetrated by Iran-backed elements based out of Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and the Gaza Strip. Such attacks may also be directed at critical infrastructures, such as oil facilities, and other strategic infrastructures affiliated with the US or its allies in the region, where relevant. Given precedent, attacks targeting Israel may likely manifest in the form of rocket attacks or localized ground attacks, such as placing of IEDs, from Syria, or less likely from Lebanon. Such instances are likely to be limited in scale, and are unlikely to trigger a large-scale escalation and a broad deterioration of the security situation in Israel in the short term. Cross-border hostilities along the Gaza Strip-Israel border may also increase over the coming days. This is bolstered by the statement released by the PIJ official calling the death of Soleimani in the US airstrikes as a “big crime” and affirming the militant group’s support for Iran.

FORECAST: Given precedent, there also remains a significant potential for Iran-perpetrated security incidents in the strategic waterways of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, especially near the Strait of Hormuz, which indicates a general risk of navigation through these waters over the coming days and weeks. A similar risk exists in the Red Sea, given that the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen have been known to conduct attacks against foreign vessels in this area. Additionally, an uptick in cross-border hostilities into Saudi Arabia perpetrated by the Shiite group may be witnessed over the coming days, despite a significant downtick in such activity over the recent months. This may manifest in the form of missile, rocket or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) launches towards military and civilian assets in Saudi Arabia.

FORECAST: In the longer term, over the coming weeks and months, the development is liable to further heighten tensions between the US and its allies, on the one side, and Iran and its proxies on the other, which will likely result in increasing hostile rhetoric towards the other party and potentially a more significant retaliation by Iran against US interests. Given that Iran-backed proxies, such as Hezbollah, are known to operate in Latin America, as well as other African, Asian and European countries, the risk for attacks by such elements against the interests of the US and its allies in the aforementioned regions cannot be ruled out.

Recommendations:

Travelers are advised to regularly review their emergency and contingency procedures as a basic security precaution, as the current tensions between Iran on one side and the US and its Gulf allies on the other will likely lead to additional hostilities. For on-ground or intelligence assistance contact us at: [email protected] or +44 20-3540-043.

Foreigners, particularly US nationals, conducting travel in Middle East, particularly in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Lebanon are advised to maintain a low profile due to the increased potential for militant attacks while practicing extra vigilance near US and Western diplomatic missions and interests across the region.

Ensure that places of stay are equipped with sufficient perimeter security details, alter travel routes, and avoid disclosing sensitive itinerary information to unknown individuals.

For those conducting essential operations in Baghdad, it is advised to restrict travel to the Green Zone and ensure that contingency and emergency evacuation plans are updated. Contact us for itinerary and contingency support options.

Those managing or operating vessels in the Red Sea, Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf, and the Strait of Hormuz are advised to take necessary precautions, including reviewing security protocols and adhering to international instructions, in light of the potential for security incidents in the area.

Securing Dredging Operations in a Hostile Environment

Large Dredging Project in the Middle East Requires Security Consulting

MAX Security was contacted to propose and provide consulting to a large dredging project in the Middle East.  This part of the Middle East involved complicated risks and threats.  The MAX operations team needed to ensure that the project could be completed efficiently and safely.

RISK, THREAT, & VULNERABILITY ASSESSMENT (RTVA)

Given the instability of the region and the numerous incidents that had taken place within it, MAX conducted a comprehensive RTVA to gain a complete picture of the threats facing the project and the likelihood of each threat’s occurrence during the operations.  It was determined that criminal and terror activity such as IEDs (improvised explosive devices), sabotage, active shooting incidents, theft and extortion were the main threats against the project and its team.  The availability of local security forces was also deemed inadequate and their deployment in case of emergency could not be counted on.  By understanding the various threats to the project, MAX was able to design specially tailored procedures to ensure the safety of the workers, project managers, equipment, and dredging sites.

SOLUTIONS EMPLOYED

With the threats in mind, the MAX operations team developed several solutions to ensure project security.  With both water and land-based areas to secure, regular patrols (boat, foot, and vehicle) were implemented throughout both terrain environments.  Security perimeters were created with access controls and checkpoints, and clear guidelines on the reporting of abnormal events were established.  Coordination and communication were also enhanced between the project coordinators and local security forces.  For extra layers of protection, all movements by project staff were assisted by MAX Security personnel, and a quick reaction force was retained in the event of serious security incidents. A MAX Security senior operations manager was embedded within the project staff to supervise the security implementation.

 

 

MAX’S VALUE

With decades of experience in planning and executing large-scale security projects, MAX was able to assist in ensuring the safety of workers, project managers, and the construction site.  Providing effective physical security solutions means planning every small detail around the client’s needs and tailoring those to the operating environment.  MAX’s operators along with a world-class intelligence team create a synergy unmatched in the industry and can account for every detail from the macro to the micro to create the safest atmosphere possible.

The more chaotic the world becomes, the more you can rely on MAX to keep your business running as usual.

For more information on our operations services email [email protected]

Official Syrian news agency reports missile attack targeting military sites in Hama, Aleppo provinces during overnight hours of April 29-30 – Syria & Israel Alert

Please be advised

The official Syrian news agency reported that missiles targeted military sites in Aleppo and Hama provinces, during the overnight hours of April 29-30.

According to a pro-government media outlet, an arms depot belonging to the Syrian Arab Army’s (SAA) 47th Brigade in Hama Governorate was targeted. As for Aleppo Province, the exact target of the attack has yet to be specified. No official confirmation regarding the perpetrator of the strikes has been released at the time of writing.

Reports additionally indicate that the target was an underground bunker containing more than 100 long-range accurate missiles.

Moreover, reports indicate that missile attacks killed 26 pro-Syrian government fighters at Hama’s arms depot, many of whom Iranians. However, according to an IRGC-linked media, the reports regarding Iranian deaths as a result of the strikes are “baseless”.

According to reports quoting a US military source, the US-led coalition is not beyond the attack.

Assessments & Forecast

The incident comes amidst an uptick in Israeli strikes against Iranian-linked facilities across Syria over the past months. On April 9, Israel reportedly targeted Homs Province’s Tiyas Military Airbase with missiles, which resulted in the killing of seven Iranian troops. In addition, on February 10, Israeli Air Force (IAF) aircraft targeted 12 facilities, including three Syrian aerial defense batteries and four Iranian military bases. Therefore, we assess that the overnight strikes were similarly carried out by Israel. Nonetheless, the incident is notable given its scale-and-scope, as the number of reported casualties is significantly higher than Israel’s usual attacks in Syria.

Such attacks, especially in light of the reported Iranian casualties as a result of the recent incident, highlight Israel’s persistent efforts to contain the growing Iranian influence across Syria, as well as its increased willingness to conduct large-scale assaults deep in Syria in order to achieve this goal. Moreover, the development follows multiple Iranian threats of attacks against Israel in the wake of the above mentioned Israeli strikes in Homs Province, which resulted in the killing of Iranian troops. The strikes are potentially an attempt by Israel to send a deterring message to Tehran, as well as that it will continue to operate in Syria, in spite of Iran’s threats. Furthermore, as underscored by the reports regarding the base containing more than 100 accurate missiles, the incident demonstrates Israel’s determination to target military installations containing weapons or systems considered to be jeopardizing Israel’s technological edge and national security.

FORECAST: Given the reports regarding a high number of Iranian casualties, Tehran will likely seek to carry out a significant act of retaliation against Israel. This may include the launching of armed Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) into Israeli territory and target a military base, in a similar fashion to the February 10  incident, during which an IAF helicopter intercepted an Iranian UAV in Israeli airspace. Additional response may include attempted attacks against Israeli and Jewish interests across the globe, potentially official or diplomatic facilities.  Additionally, albeit slightly less likely, attacks against Israel Defense Forces (IDF) border patrols on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights may also be recorded. Should these materialize, they will likely involve shootings, IEDs, or the use of anti-tank missiles.

Recommendations

Recommendations: Syria

We advise against all travel to Damascus and Aleppo, given the general threat of indiscriminate aerial bombardment and artillery shelling from government forces as well as attacks by various groups. Attacks by rebel forces may include the use of rocket propelled grenades, suicide bombings, and mortar attacks.

Those remaining in Damascus should ensure that contingency and emergency evacuation plans are updated due to the potential for a further deterioration in the security situation. Avoid all travel to outlying areas of the city given the persistent threat of militancy. Restrict essential travel to areas west of the Old City while avoiding travel to the Old City itself due to the risk of mortar fire and threat of militancy.

Avoid all travel to outlying areas and cities including Daraa, Homs, Hama, and Idlib due to persistent fighting and heightened risk of kidnapping targeting foreigners, particularly in combat zones and rebel held areas.

Recommendations: Israel

Travel to Israel may continue at this time while adhering to security precautions regarding militant attacks, while avoiding the immediate vicinity of the Syrian, Lebanese, and Egyptian borders, due to the persistent risk for cross border violence.

Those residing or operating in Israel are advised to monitor the situation in the vicinity of the border areas regarding incidents of cross border hostilities and possible rocket attacks. Remain cognizant of the situation along the Lebanese and Syrian border areas, as minor hostilities between various groups can escalate into a broader conflict.

US, UK, France missile strikes against Syrian government likely attempt to deter Damascus from further use of chemical weapons – Syria Analysis

Executive Summary

During the early morning hours of April 14, the US, UK, and France fired more than 100 cruise missiles against Syrian government facilities in Homs Province and near Damascus.

The strikes are likely an effort by the West to deter the Syrian government from further use of chemical weapons, as well as to send a message to Iran and Russia, amidst their perceived expansion across the Middle East.

The attacks are unlikely to significantly impact the Syrian conflict on-the-ground in the long-term, given pro-government forces’ overall superiority over rebel forces.

While tensions will increase between the parties, an escalation of hostilities between Russia and the West remains unlikely at this time.

Iranian-backed groups may target US interests and allies across the region over the coming days.

We advise against all travel to Damascus and Aleppo, given the general threat of indiscriminate aerial bombardment and artillery shelling from government forces as well as attacks by various militant groups. Attacks by rebel forces may include the use of rocket propelled grenades, suicide bombings, and mortar attacks.

Current Situation

During the early morning hours of April 14, the US, France, and the UK conducted multiple strikes against Syrian military facilities across Syria, with approximately 120 cruise missiles fired at these targets.

The strikes, which were carried out from naval vessels in response to the suspected chemical attack by the Syrian government against the town of Douma on April 7, targeted government military facilities in Homs Province and the Damascus area. Near Damascus, US Tomahawk missiles hit Kiswah Military Base, Mezzeh Airbase, Dumayr Airbase, as well as a scientific research facility in Barzeh District. In Homs Province, the attacks, which involved the UK’s Shadow Storm cruise missiles, targeted a scientific research facility in Qusayr District. At the time of writing, while French forces also carried out missile attacks, their exact targets and scale are yet to be known.

According to pro-government forces, the Syrian Arab Army’s (SAA) air defense systems intercepted the “majority of the US fired missiles at the Damascus’ area”.

While at the time of writing the exact number of casualties is unconfirmed, according to pro-government media outlets, three civilians were wounded as a result of the attack.

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis stated,“Right now, this is a one-time shot”. UK Prime Minister Theresa May stressed that there was “no practicable alternative to the use of force”. However, May also stated that the strikes were not about “regime change”.

The Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson condemned the missile attacks. The spokesperson further stressed that there were no Russian casualties as a result of the strikes.

Assessments & Forecast

Assessments: Strikes likely symbolic and meant to deter Syrian government from further use of chemical weapons, send message to Moscow, Tehran 

The strike highlights our previous assessments that the Western response to the chemical weapons attack will be localized and target facilities linked to the use of chemical weapon, although they were larger than last year’s US response to the Khan Shaykhun incident. The use of cruise missiles, which allow attacking targets from a standoff distance, was likely meant to avoid any potential risks associated with operating in or near Syrian government airspace.Because the strikes hit research centers and storage facilities, the West’s response will likely impede the short-term capabilities of the Syrian government to use chemical weapons. However, in the medium-term, particularly in light of recent reports that the Syrian government transferred some of their weapons and forces away from multiple bases, these capabilities were likely not be significantly damaged and it is therefore possible that further attacks using chemical agents may be witnessed across Syria over the coming weeks and months.

In spite of the still relatively limited scope of the strike, the West’s operations in Syria are likely symbolic and meant to deter the Syrian government from using such weapons, especially because of the large number of targeted bases and installations. The strikes also aim to prevent the “normalization” of the usage of chemical agents across the globe, as these type of weapons had been used persistently throughout the Syrian conflict. Despite the low likelihood that many missiles were actually intercepted, if at all, these claims by the Syrian government, as well as the lack of significant casualties among pro-government forces, will likely be capitalized on to bolster its image among its troops and supporters across the country. Coupled with the aforementioned assessments regarding the potential for further chemical attacks by the SAA, the strikes’ deterrence impact will also be limited.

Globally, the development comes amidst an uptick in tensions between the West and Russia over Moscow’s perceived aggressive policies across the globe. These include Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, alleged interference in elections in Western countries, as well as most recently, the suspected attempted assassination of a Russian national in the UK. The West likely used these attacks to deter Moscow from engaging in further actions perceived as hostile towards the West and its allies. In the Middle East, the strikes occurred amidst growing concerns among Western allies, chiefly Israel and Saudi Arabia, regarding Iran’s growing regional influence, including in Syria. The Western strike against Tehran’s important ally, is likely an attempt to intimidate Iran and send a message that its actions are not unnoticed.

Assessments: Strikes unlikely to impact on-ground situation in medium-to long-term; retaliation by Iranian-backed elements against US interests, allies possible across region 

FORECAST: In the short-term, the US-led operations may slightly impact the situation on-the-ground in the vicinity of the targeted facilities. In addition to hindering their operational capabilities, the strikes also led pro-government forces to reportedly transfer some of their weapons and vehicles away from bases. This now forces them to redeploy and reorganize. During this period of time, rebel forces may exploit the possible disarray from the strike and launch assaults on government-held territories and capture some areas from the Syrian government. This is especially likely on fronts near targeted facilities, such as the rebel enclave in the Dumayr area, northern Daraa Province, and northern Homs Province. Nonetheless, in the medium- to long-term, given the strikes’ limited scale and overall superiority of pro-government forces vis-a-vis rebel forces, the developments are unlikely to significantly impact the situation on-ground, with the SAA and its allies likely reversing any possible short-term gains by rebel forces.

The attack by the US, France, and the UK does not represent a shift in the West’s policy regarding the Syrian conflict. This is highlighted by the statements of these countries’ officials that the strikes are a singular, isolated response. However, should the use of chemical weapons persist, additional missile strikes, as well as air raids to a lesser degree, may reoccur over the coming months, targeting the Syrian government’s military facilities.

The operations are liable to increase the already heightened tensions between Moscow and the West. However, particularly given the lack of reports about Russian casualties as a result of the missile attacks, an escalation of hostilities between Russia and the US, UK, and France remains highly unlikely at this time. Instead, Moscow’s response will focus on diplomatic measures against these three countries, such as sanctions. This assessment is highlighted by the April 13 bill by Russia’s Duma to implement sanctions on US alcohol, tobacco, and agro-products. Additionally, cyber attacks by Russian hackers against government institutions in the UK, US, and France may also be witnessed over the coming days.

The events are unlikely to have a significant impact on regional dynamics as a whole. However, it remains possible that a localized retaliation by pro-government forces and Iranian-backed militias will take place against US troops and their backed forces in Syria, such as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeastern Syria and factions within the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in southern Homs Province. Should this occur, it will likely include mortar fire and IED detonations. Attacks against US interests may also occur in Iraq, where such actions have occurred in the past. Iranian-backed elements throughout the region may also seek to target countries that are considered Western allies. This mainly includes Saudi Arabia, as the Shiite Houthis may be directed by Tehran to intensify their ballistic missile attacks deep in Saudi territory. Additionally, albeit to a much lesser degree, it cannot be ruled out that Iranian-backed groups, such as Hezbollah and some Palestinian factions, will target Israel, including in the form of IED and anti-tank guided missile attacks against Israel Defense Forces (IDF) troops along the border with Syria.

Recommendations

We advise against all travel to Damascus and Aleppo, given the general threat of indiscriminate aerial bombardment and artillery shelling from government forces as well as attacks by various militant groups. Attacks by rebel forces may include the use of rocket propelled grenades, suicide bombings, and mortar attacks.

Those remaining in Damascus should ensure that contingency and emergency evacuation plans are updated due to the potential for further deterioration in the security situation. Avoid all travel to outlying areas of the city given the persistent threat of militancy.

Avoid all travel to outlying areas and cities including Daraa, Homs, Hama, and Idlib due to persistent fighting and heightened risk of kidnapping targeting foreigners, particularly in combat zones and rebel held areas.

Those seeking to enter Syria are advised to confirm the status of their crossing points and final destinations, remaining aware of recent kidnapping incidents and the nature of military forces deployed in those areas.

Homs Province’s Tiyas Military Air Base targeted with guided missile strikes during early morning hours of April 9 – Syria & Israel Alert

Please be advised

Reports indicate that Homs Province’s Tiyas Military Air Base was targeted with missile strikes during the early morning hours of April 9. According to Syrian pro-government sources, its Air Defense System intercepted five of the total eight guided missiles that were used.

According to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (SOHR), at least 14 pro-government soldiers were killed, including an unspecified number of Iranian forces.

While Syrian state media initially described the incident as “American aggression”, Pentagon officials have reportedly denied any US involvement.

According to a Russian state news agency, the Russian Defense Ministry stated that the Israeli Air Force (IAF) carried out the strikes from Lebanese airspace with two F-15 fighter jets.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have not issued any comment regarding the development.

Assessments & Forecast

The development comes amidst a marked increase of tensions between Syrian pro-government forces and Israel over the past months. This is highlighted by the February 10 launch of an Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) into Israel from Tiyas Military Air Base. While the IAF retaliated by conducting strikes against four pro-government bases in Syria, the downing of an Israeli F-16 fighter jet with Syrian anti-aircraft fire during this action marked an achievement for the Syrian pro-government forces unprecedented in recent years. As these developments highlight the growing willingness of Iran and Syrian pro-government forces to challenge Israel, we assess that the aforementioned reports ascribing the current missile strike to the IDF are highly credible.

The operation follows the February statement by Hezbollah Leader Hassan Nasrallah, who praised the aforementioned downing of the F-16 fighter jet as “beginning of a new strategic era which puts an end to the violation of Syrian airspace and territory”. Thus, the targeting of Tiyas Military Air Base, which lies deep within Syrian territory, serves to reassert Israel’s deterrence and the countries’ adherence to its well-established policy of targeting any pro-government facilities which are liable to threaten Israel’s military and technological edge. More significantly, in light of Israeli concerns about the growing fortification of Iranian operational bases in Syria, the current missiles strikes demonstrate Israel’s increased resolve to target military installations used by Iranian forces.

Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry statement holding Israel responsible is unprecedented, and thus highly notable. While Israel has carried out multiple airstrikes in Syria over the past years, since September 2015, Israel and Russia have coordinated such strikes through a bilateral deconfliction mechanism in order to mitigate the risk of conflicts between their armed forces. While the maintenance of this channel was hitherto regarded as tacit Russian approval of IDF action in Syria, the current statement indicates Moscow renunciation of this policy. FORECAST: Such a development would reduce Russia’s ability to function as a diplomatic backchannel to de-escalate tensions between Israel and Iran. Furthermore, it decreases the likelihood that Russia will pressure Iran to desist from expanding its presence near the Syrian-Israeli border. As a result, Israel will likely consider more robust military measures in order to contain this threat. Thus, over the coming months, the IDF is liable to increase airstrikes against Syrian pro-government targets across Syria, including Iranian bases.

FORECAST: Moreover, while Iran and its proxy forces are likely not interested in a broad escalation of hostilities with Israel at this point, the fact that Russia openly named Israel as the perpetrator of the current missiles strikes may pressure them to conduct retaliatory measures. While we assess that any such action will likely remain localized, more sophisticated attacks, such as IED detonations or RPG attacks targeting IDF soldiers positioned along the border cannot be entirely excluded. Should such a scenario materialize, both parties may be forced to react with increasing force to perceived transgressions of the other party in order to reassert their deterrence. Thus, while broad conflict between the parties remains unlikely to erupt over the coming months, a gradual increase of hostilities alongside the Syrian-Israeli border cannot be ruled out.

Recommendations

Recommendations: Syria

We advise against all travel to Damascus and Aleppo, given the general threat of indiscriminate aerial bombardment and artillery shelling from government forces as well as attacks by various militant groups. Attacks by rebel forces may include the use of rocket-propelled grenades, suicide bombings, and mortar attacks.

Those remaining in Damascus should ensure that contingency and emergency evacuation plans are updated due to the potential for a further deterioration in the security situation. Avoid all travel to outlying areas of the city given the persistent threat of militancy.

Recommendations: Israel

Travel to Israel may continue at this time while adhering to security precautions regarding militant attacks, while avoiding the immediate vicinity of the Syrian, Lebanese, and Egyptian borders, due to the persistent risk for cross-border violence.

Those residing or operating in Israel are advised to monitor the situation in the vicinity of the border areas regarding incidents of cross-border hostilities and possible rocket attacks. Remain cognizant of the situation along the Lebanese and Syrian border areas, and continue adhering to all safety precautions regarding early warning sirens for incoming rockets. In case you hear a siren, seek shelter in a protected area and remain inside for at least 10 minutes.

New military campaign in North Sinai likely linked to upcoming March 2018 presidential elections – Egypt Analysis

Current Situation

On February 9, the Egyptian Armed Forces (EAAF) Spokesperson announced the commencement of a large-scale “comprehensive” military operation to “eliminate all terrorist elements” across the country, called “Operation Sinai 2018”, with special emphasis placed on the Sinai Peninsula, Nile Delta, and Western Desert. The Spokesperson also announced an increase of the country’s alert level due to the operations.

As part of the of the campaign, the Egyptian Air Force (EAF) intensified the frequency of its airstrikes targeting militant hideouts throughout North Sinai Governorate, especially in the Rafah-al-Arish-Sheikh Zuweid triangle and Central Sinai District. The Egyptian Navy increased its activity along Sinai’s coastal region, while heightened security protocols were recorded at ports and border crossings. Security forces also increased presence in the vicinity of vital infrastructure and installations. Reports from February 9 indicate that civilian Suez Canal crossings from mainland Egypt to the Sinai, including by vessel and through tunnels, have been closed to civilian traffic due to the military campaign.

On March 8, the EAAF Spokesperson stated that Operation Sinai 2018 had yielded the deaths of 105 Islamic State (IS)-affiliated Wilayat Sinai fighters and the arrests of hundreds of the group’s militants, and that 16 soldiers had also been killed since the beginning of the campaign. The Spokesperson also announced that the EAAF destroyed 1,907 hideouts and weapon storehouses.

Assessments & Forecast

The Egyptian government has achieved partial success in containing militancy threats over the past year, with a reduction in the overall number of attacks. However, the persistence, albeit reduced frequency, of attacks in North Sinai Governorate and mainland Egypt likely motivated this recent operation, demonstrating efforts to mitigate threats from multiple groups, particularly the IS-affiliate Wilayat Sinai. The large-scale attack at a mosque in North Sinai’s Bir al-Abd on November 24, 2017, which killed over 300 people, also likely triggered the operation, and it took a period of months to prepare and mobilize for the current operation.

However, considering the timing of its commencement and execution, the primary motivation for the military campaign is likely political and connected to the upcoming March 2018 presidential elections, in which President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is the leading candidate. President al-Sisi likely initiated the operations in order to boost his status among the Egyptian populace and project an image of power, stability, and intensified efforts to tackle the threat of militancy. Al-Sisi also likely timed the operation to deflect domestic and international criticism away from the election’s perceived lack of legitimacy and toward the issue of counter-terrorism, following the withdrawal or arrest of most of his electoral opponents over the past several weeks. To a lesser but still significant degree, the operation was also likely launched to draw attention away from Egypt’s poor economic conditions and towards a different public issue, namely militancy, and measures taken by authorities to tackle it.

The operations also follow international media reports about Israeli airstrikes against Wilayat Sinai in North Sinai in recent years. The Egyptian government likely intends to use the operations to demonstrate their sovereignty over North Sinai Governorate and their ability to mitigate militant threats with their own forces. This is particularly likely in light of the heightened criticism regarding al-Sisi’s close cooperation with Israeli authorities vis-a-vis the threat of militancy stemming from Wilayat Sinai elements.

Strategically, the nationwide campaign aims largely at isolating Wilayat Sinai militants in North Sinai Governorate. The reported closure of Suez Canal crossings to the movement of civilians, as well as the intensified activity by the Egyptian Navy along the Sinai coastal region, are meant to prevent reinforcements and smugglers from aiding Wilayat Sinai militants, thus putting further pressure on the Sunni jihadist militant group in North Sinai Governorate. The heightened security measures in the vicinity of vital infrastructure and installations likely were put in place to prevent reprisal attacks by militants, which in turn, would embarrass the Egyptian authorities.

FORECAST: The EAAF will likely continue implementing a strategy aimed at further isolating Wilayat Sinai militants in their aforementioned strongholds of Central Sinai Distinct and the Rafah-al-Arish-Sheikh Zuweid triangle. By carrying out simultaneous assaults on these two areas, the EAAF likely seeks to fix militants in their positions, preventing them from reinforcing the two respective areas or conducting attacks to the rear of security forces. The intensified aerial bombardments are meant to hamper militant movements, which in turn, may impede their ability to regroup or conduct attacks in order to force the deployment of Egyptian troops away from the frontlines. Furthermore, tighter inspection is liable to be enforced between Egypt and Gaza at the Rafah border crossings.

Israel permitted Egypt to deploy a large amount of forces into Sinai, as according to the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, Israeli permission is required for such a move. This highlights the increased coordination between the two countries, as they both perceived Wilayat Sinai as a strategic threat. In order to complicate and discourage the security coordination between the two countries, Wilayat Sinai may target southern Israel with rocket fire over the coming days and weeks. While in the short-term, the number of Wilayat Sinai attacks may decrease, given precedent of previous operations by the EAAF in North Sinai Governorate, over the coming months the Sunni jihadist militant group will likely renew its elevated activity in the region. The group will likely lower its profile in order to facilitate this, which would enable it to regroup and carry out multiple attacks against Egyptian security forces.

Recommendations

Travel to Cairo and Alexandria may continue while adhering to all security precautions regarding militancy and civil unrest. Consult with us for itinerary-based travel recommendations.

Avoid all travel to the North Sinai Governorate and border areas with Libya, Sudan, and Israel due to the persistent risk for militant attacks, kidnappings, and general lawlessness.

We further advise to avoid nonessential travel to the Southern Sinai Peninsula, while maintaining heightened vigilance in the Suez Canal Zone, the Upper Nile area, and the Nile Delta region due to an increased risk of unrest and the heightened risk of militant attacks. Before traveling to Sharm al-Sheikh, confirm that flight operations are continuing and have not been impacted by recent militant threats.

As a general security precaution, remain vigilant in areas surrounding and avoid the immediate vicinity of government installations, police stations, and religious centers, particularly churches, as these locations remain under elevated threat of militant attacks. When traveling in central squares, or in areas with persistent police deployments, avoid the immediate vicinity of security forces, particularly fixed traffic booths, as such personnel and facilities have increasingly come under attack by militant elements.

Threat to aviation by anti-tank guided missiles highlighted by al-Arish Airport attack case study – Special Analysis Report

Case study: December 20 attack on al-Arish Airport

On December 20, an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM)  targeted a helicopter on the ramp of al-Arish Airport, located in Egypt’s North Sinai Governorate. The helicopter carried, among others, the Egyptian interior and defense ministers who disembarked from the aircraft shortly before the attack.

On December 21, the Islamic State (IS)-linked news agency released a report on the attack, alongside a claim of responsibility by the local IS affiliate Wilayat Sinai, stating that the group had prior knowledge of the arrival of the ministers and dispatched a team of militants to ambush the entourage. It further stated that the attack was conducted with the use of a 9M133 “Kornet” ATGM that targeted an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter that was escorting the VIPs.

Initial IS-linked report detailing the al-Arish attack
Initial IS-linked report detailing the al-Arish attack

Later that day, the IS-linked news agency released a video showing the attack itself, in which the ministers and their entourage can be seen next to the helicopter with its navigation lights still on, which contrary to initial publications was a UH-60 “Blackhawk”, as it was hit by an ATGM.

Edition number 111 of IS’s weekly al-Naba newsletter published on December 22 included a more detailed and contradictory account of the attack, stating that militants spotted a helicopter with a “unique shape” and concluded that this would be a high value target.

This prompted militants to dispatch an ATGM team to a position overlooking the airport with the objective of destroying the “unique aircraft”.

It is important to mention that the Egyptian Air Force (EAAF) reportedly operated two Blackhawk helicopters prior to the attack, mainly in the role of VIP transport. These aircraft are much more distinct than others that would commonly be seen in Sinai’s airspace, such as Apaches or Mi-17s.

Report of the al-Arish attack released in IS's weekly newsletter with details contradicting initial reports
Report of the al-Arish attack released in IS’s weekly newsletter with details contradicting initial reports

Analysis of the missile launch:

While there has been no corroboration as to the type of missile used by IS in the attack at the time of writing, Wilayat Sinai have employed Kornets several times in the past, most notably in July 2015 when the group used the missile to attack an Egyptian naval vessel off the coast of North Sinai’s Rafah.

If the missile used was in fact a Kornet as IS claims, given that the missile was in flight for 14 seconds from launch until it hit its target and given that the speed of a standard Kornet missile is between 250 and 300 meters a second, it would place the launcher between 3.5 and 4.2 km from the target, well within the Kornet’s effective daytime range.

By comparing the video and imagery analysis of Al-Arish Airport, we concluded that the missile was launched from an elevated structure or a dirt berm southwest of the helicopter’s position, as can be see in the following map:

Analysis of the Missile against Helicopter in Al-Arish-Airport

Threat posed to aviation from proliferation of ATGMs

The attack does not represent a precedent, but rather serves as an opportunity to highlight the threat posed to aviation from the proliferation of ATGMs in the hands of numerous militant groups in multiple countries. Several accounts of ATGMs being fired against aircraft were recorded in recent years, including successfully targeting aircraft in flight, with the most prominent example being the downing of an Israeli Air Force (IAF) helicopter by Hezbollah in Lebanon on August 12, 2006. This is especially important as this threat is often overlooked in comparison to the more well known threat posed by man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS).

While MANPADS pose a more prominent threat to aircraft, as they were designed with the specific goal of targeting aircraft, they have several shortcomings compared to ATGMs. These mainly include being more delicate, having parts with short shelf lives, requiring greater expertise and training to successfully operate, and being more rare. ATGMs still require expertise and training, although less than MANPADS, and are generally more durable and can be sustained for operations over longer time and in harsher conditions. Most importantly however, ATGMs are significantly more common than MANPADS, and with the destabilization of countries such as Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, thousands of these systems, of different generations and capabilities, were taken away from military storage and ended in the hands of militant groups across the world. This is in addition to illegal purchases through stable countries that do not adhere to international norms, such as Belarus and North Korea.

As noted, ATGMs were not designed primarily to hit aircraft and therefore do not excel in it, however, the features for which they were designed, namely attacking a comparatively slow moving target, still make them effective weapons against aircraft. This is mostly relevant during the takeoff and landing stages of both rotary and fixed-wing aircraft, when these are most vulnerable due to their low speed and altitude. In addition, while there are several options of countermeasures against MANPADS that can be used by civil aircraft, countermeasures against ATGMs are fewer, and often involve explosives, making them currently non-optional for civil aircraft.

An additional weakness exposed in the recent attack is the dependency on local security forces and their protocols, which can often be low in standard. The attack occurred in a region currently undergoing prolonged and high intensity militant activity, in a city that was hit by the most attacks in the region in recent months. Despite this fact, the VIPs were flown in a distinct helicopter that draws attention, the airport lacks even basic and cheap means in place that may disrupt or prevent a missile attack, such as walls that would block line of sight into the airport, or metal nets that would negate the missile’s shaped charge mechanism. All of these expose the weaknesses of local security protocols, which were a direct factor in the attack.

Recommendations

The threat of ATGMs should be considered as a potential factor while conducting risk and vulnerability surveys, particularly in unstable regions.

Prior to conducting aerial activity in countries with known militant activity, contact us at [email protected] to consult on the possible threat posed by relevant militant groups’ weapons and capabilities and ways to mitigate these.

Contact us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for security surveys of airports.

How countries such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Egypt cutting ties with Qatar is likely to influence the region – Middle East & N. Africa Analysis

Current Situation

During the morning hours of June 5, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and the UAE announced the cutting of all diplomatic ties with Qatar.  The Hadi-led government in Yemen, as well as Libya’s anti-Islamist House of Representatives (HoR) similarly announced the severing of diplomatic ties with Qatar on the same day. The first four countries issued a 48-hour ultimatum to Qatari diplomats to evacuate their respective nations, while similarly issuing an ultimatum to all other Qatari citizens to leave within two weeks. Additionally, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and the UAE announced that they had closed their airspace for Qatari aircrafts, and that all flights by airliners from these countries to Qatar were suspended. Qatari naval vessels will also not be allowed to use the countries’ seaports to anchor, while land travel between Qatar and Saudi Arabia will be limited to non-Qatari nationals only.

Additional measures implemented against Qatar include the expelling of the country from the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and its anti-Islamic State (IS) coalition in Syria. These measures were implemented based on accusations that Qatar is “supporting and financing extremist groups” across the region, as well as encouraging sectarianism and subversive elements operating in the abovementioned countries. Meanwhile, Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement that the accusations are “absolute fabrications” and “proves that there are premeditated intentions to cause damage to Qatar”.

How countries such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Egypt cutting ties with Qatar is likely to influence the region - Middle East & N. Africa Analysis | MAX Security
Map of countries affected by travel restrictions on Qataris

Assessments & Forecast

Severing ties may hurt Qatar economically, push its policy towards more pro-Iranian approach; limited impact on regional conflicts

While the new development is unlikely to have any effect on Qatar’s and any of the other impacted countries’ security conditions in the short term, we assess that this measure may lead to multiple local and regional ramifications over the coming months. For instance, approximately 90 percent of Qatar’s imports of food products are transferred through land from Saudi Arabia. Thus, in light of the border closure between the two countries, Doha will likely be forced to divert a large amount of resources in developing its maritime trade, including in the form of improving its seaport infrastructure, as now its imports via sea are liable to be enhanced significantly. Moreover, given the high-profile nature of the event, there remains a possibility that the turn of events will impact global markets, and particularly the oil sector, as it may be perceived as a source of instability across this oil-rich region.

These new developments may also impact expatriates, including Westerners operating in Qatar and the GCC, particularly given the suspension of flights between the GCC countries and Qatar and the closure of the land border with Saudi Arabia. In light of the likely increase in logistical difficulties in traveling between Qatar and the above-mentioned countries, exacted upon expatriates by the measures, it is likely to damage Qatar’s national economy. Though the impact on GCC residents seeking to enter Qatar is yet to be determined, it cannot be ruled out that Qatar will implement punitive measures and ban GCC citizens and residents from entering the country.

The partial isolation of Qatar may affect several conflicts and political rivalries across the region. With regards to Iran, Doha is liable to improve its bilateral relations and economic ties with Tehran, as now Qatar would be compelled to compensate for its political and economic setback. Moreover, in Yemen, in the short-term, Qatar’s absence from the Saudi-led coalition may slightly reduce the latter’s on-the-ground capabilities in fighting against the Iranian-backed Shiite Houthis. However, given Qatar’s already limited role in the coalition, as well as the aforementioned arms deal with the US, in the medium to long-term the Saudi-led coalitions is unlikely to be significantly impacted by Qatar’s absence from the coalition.

In Syria, in light of the already heightened internal divisions between rebel factions, it remains possible that this new development will further exacerbate tensions between rebel groups supported by Qatar on one side, and factions backed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the other. Should the event indeed lead to an economic recession in Qatar, their supported factions on-the ground would suffer from a shortage of resources, thus forcing them to disband or merge into other factions. With this in mind, should scenarios eventually materialize, it would potentially tip the scale towards the pro-government forces in the Syrian conflict.

In Libya, the development may constitute a boost to the HoR and its allied Libyan National Army (LNA), given their conflict with the pro-Islamist General National Congress (GNC) and its affiliated militias, which are partially supported by Qatar. That said, Qatar’s direct involvement in this conflict has significantly waned in recent years, particularly since the March 2016 arrival of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) to the designated capital of Tripoli, and therefore any implications on the conflict will remain limited.

Cutting ties with Qatar likely linked to global, regional developments involving Iran, new US administration

Today’s development comes amidst years of tensions between Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, and Egypt on one side, and Qatar on the other, surrounding multiple issues, chiefly the latter’s alleged direct involvement in the internal affairs of countries throughout the region. This is particularly relevant to Qatar’s long-standing support for Muslim Brotherhood-linked political elements across the Middle East and North Africa, as the countries in this Saudi-led alliance view the Islamist organization is a subversive element and a threat to their respective governments. Additional contentious issue include Qatar’s overall positive relations with Iran, as opposed to that of the other Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC), with the exception of Oman, which remain strong adversaries of Tehran. This is highlighted by numerous past economic agreements between Tehran and Doha in recent years, such as the agreement from February 2014 to create a joint free trade and economic zones between the two countries. A further issue that contributed to the strained relations with Qatar throughout the years is the cooperation of the Qatari-based news outlet al-Jazeera, which had been accused by the aforementioned countries of attempting to undermine their, as well as their regional allies’, governments.

That said, despite these strained relations, Qatar and the other GCC countries’ relations can be characterized over the past several years by intermittent escalation and rapprochement between the sides. For instance, on December 9, 2014, Qatar agreed as part of a GCC summit, to establish a regional police force in order to improve coordination regarding drug trafficking, money laundering, and cybercrime, as well as announced its “full support to al-Sisi-led government in Egypt”. This followed Saudi officials’ March 9, 2014 threats to impose sanctions against Qatar, including in the form of sea blockade, in light of Doha’s persistent support for Muslim Brotherhood-linked elements across the region. However, the complete cutting of diplomatic relations between the aforementioned Saudi-aligned countries is highly notable given its wide scale and scope, as it includes significant restrictions on Qatar and its citizens.

We assess that this escalation is linked to global and regional geo-political developments, largely with regards to Iran and the new Donald Trump administration in the US. With this in mind, in recent years, under the Obama administration, relations between Saudi Arabia and its allies on one side, and Washington on the other, were oftentimes strained due to the US’ perceived efforts to approach Tehran, which was likely viewed by Riyadh as coming at its expense. In light of the aforementioned normal relations between Qatar and Iran, Saudi Arabia and the other GCC countries were likely felt compelled to prevent Qatar from approaching the Islamic Republic too much, as this would have significantly undermined their sense of security and regional interest.

Since President Trump’s inauguration, Washington increased its anti-Iranian rhetoric, while at the same time strengthened its ties with Saudi Arabia. This is highlighted by the May 15 UAE-US defense agreement, as well as the 350 Billion USD agreement between Riyadh and Washington involving an arms deal, and Saudi investments in the US. Thus, there remains a potential that the recent visit of President Trump to Saudi Arabia in late May, as well as the US’ growing support for Saudi Arabia and its allies, motivated the Kingdom to implement these measures, as part of the shared interest with the US in tackling Iran and its allies’ influence throughout the region. With this in mind, given Saudi Arabia’s decreasing need for Qatar’s cooperation on security and political support amidst the ongoing rivalry with Shiite Iran, it is likely that Saudi Arabia assessed that it is no longer obligated to maintain positive bilateral relations with Qatar, prompting this development.

The development comes amidst a diminishing political influence of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood organization across the Middle East and North Africa over the past two years. In this context, it remains possible that Saudi Arabia no longer felt compelled to maintain good relations with Qatar, following the reduction of the threat stemming from the Muslim Brotherhood, as opposed to previous Saudi attempts to pressure Qatar to abandon their support for the Islamist organization in return for the improvement of relations with the other GCC countries.

Recommendations

Travel to Qatar may continue as normal while adhering to cultural norms and avoiding making any statements critical of the Qatari Emir and government officials, despite the aforementioned new restrictions. That being said, those operating in Qatar over the coming days and weeks are advised to stock up on food and basic products, due to the possibility that these will be in shortage due to the declared measures. Those operating throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and particularly in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, and Qatar are advised to remain cognizant of developments and potential effects on travel and business continuity given the current lack of full information regarding the various restrictions that will be in effect. This is particularly relevant for the possibility of unexpected border closures between the relevant countries over the coming days and weeks.

 

This report was written by:
Asaf Day – MAX Security’s Senior Intelligence Manager, Middle East & North Africa