Latest Regional Intelligence Reports to 10th Dec 14
Saudi Arabia has suspended financial aid to Yemen after the Houthis and the Islah movement reached an interim peace agreement earlier in the month.
Since the interim reconciliation agreement was made, tensions between the Houthi and the Islah party have eased off somewhat. For the time being at least, there have been no reports of clashes between the two groups even though the Houthis have not yet relinquished control of Islah party buildings. Previous agreements between the two groups were broken soon after and there is no guarantee that this latest arrangement will hold.
But for the Houthis, who are in position of strength, ensuring that the agreement with Islah holds for as long as possible would seem to be in their best interests. After all, the agreement has effectively divided Sunni political opposition groups and makes it less likely for them to mount considerable resistance if it decides to make further inroads into Sunni areas of the country.
As for the decision to suspend financial aid to Yemen, it is clear that Riyadh is concerned about the influence of the Houthis and the Saudis will continue to try and put pressure on the group however they can. But whether it will force the Houthis to change tact, or just turn many ordinary Yemenis against Saudi Arabia is difficult to judge at this time.
There remains an ongoing battle in Deir Ez Zour, where Syrian forces at the military airbase have been besieged by fighters from the Islamic State (IS) for the past week. Whilst the border town of Kobane remains the focus for much of the international media’s coverage in Syria, the most intense fighting has taken place in Deir Ez Zour.
Deir Ez Zour is of strategic importance because it would give the extremist group a clear path between Syria and the Iraqi provinces of Anbar and Nineveh. In addition it would broaden the group’s Syrian support base and deflect attention away from coalition airstrikes on Raqqa, its de facto capital.
Not surprisingly, it is in the regime’s best interest to ensure that the city and the nearby military air base do not fall, as it would severely limit its capabilities in eastern Syria.
The authorities launch a high profile campaign detailing counter terrorism operations in a bid to highlight their successes and provide reassurance to Western expats and the minority Shiite community.
The Ministry of Interior’s campaign to publicize successes against extremist groups will go some way to show that the Saudi authorities are very serious about reducing the threat of terrorist attacks. It will no doubt provide some relief to many vulnerable communities. But whilst thousands of people have been arrested for terrorism offences over the years, the security threat from extremist groups stills remains high and it will continue to be so.
Family members of prominent Islamic State (IS) members were arrested in Lebanon. Security officials appear to be using them as leverage in hostage negotiations with Jabhat al-Nusra and the IS, who hold around 20 Lebanese security personnel captive. However the execution of one of these captives has put this tactic into question.
The issue of the captured soldiers remains one of the main discussion points in Lebanon, and is highly politicized. No fewer than four groups of negotiators have sought to secure the release of the hostages, but these groups represent different political or religious actors and their actions are uncoordinated and without the full backing of the government. While security officials clearly feel they can use the family members of prominent jihadists as leverage to secure the release of hostages, the execution of one police officer this week has led to some criticism of this tactic.
It is still unclear how negotiations will unfold with al-Nusra and the IS. Qatari representatives, one of the four groups involved in negotiations, have now withdrawn from the process. This is positive news as it might ensure negotiations are more coordinated among the Lebanese groups. Also, there is more acceptance, both among politicians as well as the public, of a prisoner exchange to secure the release of the captured Lebanese police officers. A deal would certainly help reduce tensions within border towns, albeit temporarily.
President Hassan Rohani has publically called for a fight against corruption in a veiled reference to the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Specifically, he identified the concentration of power, guns, money, and the media under one institution as the main cause of corruption.
Despite Rohani’s sharp comments, seriously tackling corruption within organizations affiliated with the IRGC is highly unlikely. No Iranian president has been able to hold the IRGC accountable for its economic actions, and Rohani looks no different. And as long as there is no political oversight and monitoring from the top authority of the country, there will probably be no considerable change in the years to come.
What Rohani might succeed in pushing through is the adoption of basic financial supervision, which given Iran’s strained economy would be a widely supported measure. Indeed, a decision last week by the parliament to raise taxes from institutions under the observance of the Supreme Leader can be seen as a small step in this direction.
Ansar Beit al-Maqdis is believed to be planning attacks on foreign nationals in Cairo and other key cities.
The potential terrorist threat to foreign citizens in Egypt’s key cities could deal a devastating blow to the country’s tourism industry, which accounted for around 13% of GDP before political instability gripped the country in late 2011. A terrorist attack could also prompt the departure of foreign workers and make it more difficult to secure foreign direct investment.
The full reports these snippets have been taken from can be got from 5 Dimension Consultants