Regional Intelligence to 21st Jan 2015
This summary is a synopsis of reports provided by 5 Dimension consultants based in Dubai. If you need fuller reports please contact us. This weeks intelligence has been delayed due to the rapidly changing situation in many regional countries.
Two days of fighting in Sanaa came to an end on Tuesday afternoon (January 20), with Houthi militants outlining four demands and implying it will return to violence if they are not met. Although forces loyal to President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi put up some resistance, it is clearer than ever that the Houthis hold the reigns of power in Sanaa. The situation remains very tense, with Yemen’s fate largely resting in the Houthis’ next move.
The Houthi attacks in Sanaa in the past week will also drive out investment from GCC countries, who regard the Houthis as an ally of Iran. Indeed, several prominent political and security figures in the GCC, including Dubai’s Deputy Head of Security Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, have expressed as much on Twitter this week. For Iran, meanwhile, the growing strength of the Houthis will be hailed as a political win as the true rulers of Sanaa are closely allied to Iran.
Update: The president of Yemen, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, has resigned along with his prime minister in the wake of the takeover of the capital Sanaa by Houthi rebels. This has created a major and dangerous power vacuum and has the potential to affect US anti terror operations against AQAP in Yemen.
Anti-government confrontations in Cizre go on and expand into the nearby town of Silopi in the southeastern Anatolia region.
Events in Cizre and elsewhere have provided the HDP with an opportunity to take a strong stand against the AKP and will give it greater legitimacy as an opposition party. It will also likely allow it to consolidate its core electorate. In the week that has passed the HDP publicly declared its intention to participate in the June general elections. Its stand on civil rights liberties and secularism may enable it to win over voters who have grown wary of the AKP’s conservative policies and rhetoric against the Kemalist and regionalist opposition. As a result the HPD is now in position to project itself as unlikely to make any compromises with the AKP.
For the AKP on the other hand the civil unrest in the south east of the country poses a problem. Party members are currently participating on a countrywide tour to try and convince voters that it can meet the 2023 vision for the 100th year of the republic – a key part of the AKP’s rhetoric for New Turkey % by improving the economy and address social political and security concerns. But doing so will be difficult particularly since both the government and Kurdish leaders remain at loggerheads over the Imrali peace process.
In a lengthy interview given by one of the main Kurdish negotiators HDP vice president Selahattin Demirtas revealed much about his party’s frustrations with the government. He stated that ‘Even If we had 50 years of negotiations with the government we wouldn’t realistically get any results”. Particularly concerning for the government’s perspective is the fact that progress in relation to the peace process was supposed to be well under way by the time the elections come around. Some AKP officials have acknowledged the risk of not getting a deal such as Yalcin Dogan who recently stated ‘Of course I prefer that those engaging in politics gain strength as opposed to the guy hiding in the mountain”. Given this the AKP may be forced to compromise on certain aspects of the peace process to ensure a strong showing in the forthcoming election.
Saudi Arabia’s oil policy has come under criticism from Iranian President Hassan Rohani, with sources in Saudi Arabia revealing that they are concerned about an attack by Iran on its oil installations.
Iran has a multitude of means by which it could attack Saudi Arabia, with proxy groups who take direction from Tehran in bordering Bahrain, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. We don’t expect an attack to take place in the immediate term, but the longer Saudi Arabia’s oil policy remains unchanged and oil prices stay as they are, the greater the likelihood of a retaliatory attack by Iran. This could take the form of a cyber1, sabotage, or terror attack. Whatever the means, the most likely targets are Saudi Arabia’s oil installations.
The death of King Abdullah and its implications are discussed in our article:
In an interview broadcast on al-Mayadeen TV (January 15 , Nasrallah warned that his powerful Shiite movement would retaliate against Israel at any time, and had in its possession Iranian-made Fateh 110 missiles which could strike anywhere in Israel. His comments came days after a report in Isreal’s Maariv newspaper, quoting unnamed intelligence officials who warned that the next battle against Hezbollah would be “heaviest in modern history.
The potential for war between Israel and Hezbollah in the coming months is significant, particularly since Israel is building up to highly contested parliamentary elections (scheduled for March 17 , which could see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party defeated. One of the Likud’s strengths is security policy, which is a key issue for the Israeli electorate. If Israel is threatened in a serious manner by Hezbollah before elections take place, the chances are high that the IDF will retaliate firmly against the Shiite militant group. Moreover, because Hezbollah’s resources have been heavily stretched as a result of the conflict in Syria,1 there is a higher chance that the Israelis will perform much better than they did during the 2006, and this will be hailed a potentially election-deciding victory for the government.
If war does take place in south Lebanon, it will likely result in the mass displacement of Lebanese Shiites to other parts of the country and a shaking up of the sectarian dynamic in many parts of the country. Because of deep-rooted political and ideological differences held between sects, the prospect of growing internal tensions will be dramatically increased.
The Iraqi Commission of Integrity (CoI) named three former ministers in an investigation into widespread corruption. Critics have questioned the report’s findings, arguing that it unfairly signals out Sunni leaders.
There has been a slight increase in violence in Iraq this week with Salahaddin and Anbar provinces in particular affected by intense fighting between the army and the Islamic State (IS).
Since Prime Minister Abadi was elected to office in September 2014, he has gone to great lengths to reach out to Sunni leaders. This was most apparent with the formation of a more inclusive central government, but has also included attempts to restructure the security forces. Those efforts to promote reconciliation and unity could be severely undermined if Sunnis feel they are being blamed for Iraq’s problems. There is a significant danger that the aggrieved Sunnis will follow in the footsteps of former senior officials in Saddam’s government who have formed an alliance of sorts with the IS, which is the gravest threat to the survival of the ShiiteJdominated government.
The other main preoccupation for the government concerns Samarra, where the alJAskari Mosque, one of the most holy sites in Shiism, is located. Since early January the IS has surrounded the predominantly Sunni city and appears determined to destroy the revered mosque. Baghdad has this week attempted to send more reinforcements and equipment to defend the city, but this has been constrained by adverse weather conditions. If the alJAskari mosque were destroyed, it would likely result in a sharp upturn in sectarian violence, similar to the events that followed the 2006 bombing of the mosque by alJQaeda.
On January 17, officials from the municipality in Tehran shut down the central prayer hall used by Sunnis, which is located in the Pounak district. Regional sources, moreover, have informed Five Dimensions that the Sunni prayer leader was detained for several hours and had his personal documents confiscated.
While Rouhani’s moderate government is promoting the recognition of faiths other than Shiism, and pushing for the integration of members of other religions into the Iranian administration by conviction, Khamenei is unwilling to take a firm position on the treatment of other religious minorities. This is particularly the case of Sunnis, who he perceives to be rivals.
For Khomenei and Iran’s radical conservatives, demonstrating unity and equality among religions is a means to affirm Iran’s leadership in the Muslim world and highlight (in a patronizing manner) that it is tolerant of minorities. But it is also strategic, as Iran is rightly worried about radicalizing Sunnis in Iran who might feel marginalized in society due to their religious beliefs; this fear has increased in light of the growth of the Islamic State (IS).
Iran’s contradictory approach to its Sunni residents is only likely to increase enmity between Shiites and Sunnis, and could potentially drive some particularly aggrieved Sunnis to joining – or taking inspiration from – Sunni extremist groups. This potentially presents a major security threat to Iran.
President Sisi’s first official visit to the UAE was given all the trimmings afforded by his hosts, including a 21-gun salute at a welcoming event at al0Mushrif Palace that was attended by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, UAE Prime Minister and Vice President and ruler of Dubai. Earlier in the day, Sisi met with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, before telling an audience of businessmen that Egypt was open for business to investors, making a specific appeal to Emirati investors and Egyptian businessmen living in the UAE.
After several years of political upheaval, Egypt’s economy is still in dire straits. The state has amassed a high budget deficit, whilst economic growth has slowed markedly. Complicating matters, Egypt is going through its worst energy crisis in decades, forcing it to seek new sources of natural gas from as far afield as Algeria, Iraq and Russia. Hence, it was of vital importance for President Sisi to make the visit to the UAE to try and shore up financial aid and attract foreign investment to stabilize the economy.
We would expect that the UAE will continue to provide Egypt with substantial financial support which will contribute to alleviating its economic and energy problems. After all, the UAE sees cooperation with Egypt as essential in limiting the expansion of religious extremism in the region, and is acutely worried about the potential growth of radical extremism in Libya. Reflecting shared security priorities and interests, the armies of both countries will conduct joint military maneuvers in an attempt to improve cooperation and coordination in counter-terrorism and intelligence gathering.
Al-Wefaq leader Sheikh Ali Salman is to stand trial in late January, raising the likelihood of street clashes in Bahrain, particularly in areas with large Shiite populations. Prominent human rights activist Nabil Rajab is also held by the authorities, sparking fierce condemnation by international human rights groups but little in terms of meaningful pressure from Bahrain’s western allies.
The charges against Salman are grave, yet his fate will be greatly determined by political factors, both domestic and foreign. The arrest of Salman is an indication to the Bahraini opposition that no one is untouchable, particularly if they choose not to operate within Bahrain’s political framework (al-Wefaq boycotted the parliamentary elections in late 2014 and decried them as illegitimate). The government could also use Salman’s detention as leverage over al-Wefaq in return for certain key concessions.
But it is important to bear in mind that Saudi Arabia has a key input into major decisions in Bahrain, and almost certainly backed the arrest of Salman. Indeed comparisons have been drawn to the case of the prominent and vocal Shiite critic of the Saudi regime, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who was arrested in Saudi Arabia on charges of “seeking foreign meddling” in Saudi Arabia and “taking up arms” against the security forces. He was sentenced to death in mid-October (his sentence has not yet been carried out). Both Salman and Nimr have connections to the regime in Iran and their arrests (and Nimr’s sentencing) have triggered bitter rebukes from leading Iranian politicians and clerics. Both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia view the two clerics as dangerous for internal stability and believe they are being influenced – if not directed – by Iran. As such, their arrests also send a clear message to Iran that Shiite dissent will not be tolerated, especially among influential figures.