Middle East Regional Report Jun 23 – Jul 02 2016

Regional Intelligence to 06 January 2015

These regional intelligence reports are synopsis of full reports provided by 5 Dimension consultants based in Dubai. If you would like access to the full reports, or reports on other countries in the region please contact the SecurityMiddleEast.com team and we will pass your request on.

Yemen

– Marib tribes allied to or friendly with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) ambushed an entire battalion of the Republican Guard and confiscated all their weapons and munitions.

– Almost all of the GCC financial aid has stopped flowing into Yemen

This incident could not have come at a worse time for the government as the GCC, especially Saudi and the UAE, seem to have lost faith in President Hadi’s ability to resist the Houthis’ political, military, intelligence and economic interference in government affairs.

Decreasing oil prices (from US$115 to US$50 a barrel) means that President Hadi’s ability to enact any of his economic reforms will be severely limited and the Houthis advance is in Yemens oil producing region.

Saudi Arabia

– King Abdullah was admitted to hospital with a severe lung infection. He cannot breath without assistance.

– Prince Waleed bin Talal launched a surprising and highly critical public attack on the Saudi government accusing it of political and economic incompetence.

– Negative effects of low oil prices began to materialise as large state owned companies like Aramco and SABIC are freezing recruitment among other measures.

– In an unprecedented move, the Islamic State (IS) launched a suicide bomb attack at a border post between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, killing three Saudi soldiers, including a Brigadier.

The deteriorating health of King Abdullah, the public spat between royal factions as well as the growing financial implications of low oil prices are all beginning to take their toll on the Saudi public. Uncertainty about the future – both political and economic – are pushing more Saudis, including some royals, to question the direction the kingdom is taking at such a critical time. It is clear from the opinions expressed by ordinary Saudis on social media that a considerable body of opinion within the kingdom is unhappy with high levels of corruption, uncertainty about the political direction of the country and Saudi Arabia’s response to strategic threats such as Iran, the IS and Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Lebanon

– Syrians now have to obtain an entry permit to travel to Lebanon. A move aimed at slowing the flow of asylum seekers into the country.

There have been two meetings between the Future Movement and Hezbollah in the past month, which is a positive development in itself although the meetings have not achieved any breakthroughs. There are certainly potential areas for cooperation between the two parties, who are both fearful of jihadist groups gaining a foothold in Lebanon and are keen to preserve Lebanon’s security. However very little in the way of a real agreement between the two sides can be reached without the support of their respective backers, Saudi Arabia and Iran. But with Saudi Arabia accused of driving oil prices down in a bid to damage Iran’s economy, it is unlikely that the two Lebanese parties will achieve any major breakthroughs for the time being

Iraq

– Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi seeks to mend ties and helps rebuild bridges with Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which had deteriorated during Nouri al-Maliki’s time in office. Riyadh will soon open its embassy in Baghdad.

– A senior general in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) was killed in clashes with Islamic State (IS) fighters near the Shiite holy city of Samara.

The situation in many parts of Iraq remains dire and there is a long way to go in terms of internal reconciliation to restore peace and security. But is clear from the tentative steps taken by Abadi that there is an acknowledgment in Baghdad that its interests are best served if it also improves relations with its regional neighbors, including Saudi Arabia. Further overtures are likely given that the two countries and Iran for that matter, share a common objective – tackling the threat posed by the IS – and that any progress on that front will require cooperation at some level between them.

Iran

Iran’s Ministry of Interior has confirmed that it has received a request for a permit to establish a new political party under the name Ettehad’e-Mellat’e-Iran’e-Eslami (Islamic Iran’s People’s Alliance). The request has been forwarded to the commission responsible, which is expected to reach a decision in the coming week.

The reformists have not made an official statement declaring their intention to form a new political party, most likely due to political sensitivities, however political figures close to the reformists have confirmed these ambitions. Reformists have carried out some six similar initiatives for party formation in the past six months.

Egypt

– The Egyptian leadership views existing low oil prices as a mixed blessing. It means Egypt could have a low energy bill, but on the downside possibly it could result in lower financial aid commitments from GCC states whose economies have been hit hard.

While low oil prices might in theory provide President Sisi a chance to lower fuel prices at the pump to appease voters ahead of a parliamentary vote in early 2015, he is reluctant to take such a step without first receiving solid backing by the GCC states. So far our sources at the GCC General Secretariat indicate that the commitment towards Egypt in 2015 would be as strong as in 2014 and that the Egyptian government will receive continuous backing for the foreseeable future.

Bahrain

– Bahraini authorities arrested Ali Salman, leader of the largest opposition group in the country, al-Wefaq on December 28.

The situation in Bahrain will remain tense on both political and security levels. But the lack of strong reaction from many ordinary Shiites indicates what we suspected before, that al8Wefaq has lost considerable backing among its traditional support base in Bahrain. That said, with reconciliation talks stalled, a more interventionist approach from the authorities and the uprising anniversary coming up (on February 14), it is likely that protests and crack downs will pick up in the weeks ahead.

ISIS

The Islamic State (IS) prepares for a massive campaign to capture the city of Aleppo in Syria in 2015 with the aim of consolidating power there and in Deir al-Zour. In Iraq gaining control of Anbar province is the priority for the Sunni extremist group, which continues to be strengthened by substantial numbers of new fighters.

The rising numbers of IS fighters and their preparations for a massive military campaign in the early spring of 2015 will almost certainly complicate international efforts (led by the UN) to reach a ceasefire within Aleppo city. For humanitarian reasons, the UN peace envoy to Syria had hoped for a ceasefire to be reached with regime forces before winter sets.

However, global powers were hopeful that a ceasefire in Aleppo would be the basis upon which a negotiated political settlement would be reached to end the Syrian civil war. But with radical opposition forces undermining their moderate counterparts all across Syria, it is difficult to see how a political settlement would be enforced if forces on the ground are largely independent of the impotent Syrian National Council (SNC) and do not take direction from it. Therefore the expected IS spring offensive in Aleppo could once again disrupt the political/diplomatic process for months if not possibly years to come.