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[*] posted on 19-9-2019 at 11:00 PM



UAE joins international maritime security alliance

Staff writer, Al Arabiya English

Thursday, 19 September 2019
Last Update: Thursday, 19 September 2019 KSA 09:43 - GMT 06:43

The UAE has joined the International Maritime Security Construct - a US-led international alliance that aims to protect merchant ships and ensure freedom of maritime navigation and international trade - Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported on Thursday.

The alliance is currently made up of the US, UK, Australia, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Its operation covers the Strait of Hormuz, Bab al-Mandab, the Sea of Oman and the Arabian Gulf, WAM said.

WAM quoted It Salem al-Zaabi of the Emirati Foreign Ministry as saying the UAE joined the coalition to “ensure global energy security and the continued flow of energy supplies to the global economy.” Saudi Arabia joined the same alliance on Wednesday. The move comes amid tensions in the Arabian Gulf. Several oil tankers have been attacked in Gulf waters this year. Washington and Riyadh have blamed Iran for the explosive blasts, a charge Tehran denies.

Iranian authorities previously boasted that their forces can seize any ship, any time, even if accompanied by American or British forces.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2019/09/19...


Iraq will not join international maritime security alliance

Reuters

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Last Update: Thursday, 19 September 2019 KSA 14:14 - GMT 11:14

Iraq will not join the International Maritime Security Construct - a US-led international alliance that aims to protect merchant ships and ensure freedom of maritime navigation and international trade to secure gulf waterways - the country's foreign ministry announced on Thursday.

The foreign ministry also said it rejected any participation by Israel in that coalition, and that security in the Gulf was the responsibility of Gulf states.

The United Arab Emirates announced Thursday that it was joining the alliance, which is currently made up of the US, UK, Australia, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Its operation covers the Strait of Hormuz, Bab al-Mandab, the Sea of Oman and the Arabian Gulf.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2019/09/19...

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[*] posted on 20-9-2019 at 12:49 PM


Iraq will not join the International Maritime Security Construct - a US-led international alliance that aims to protect merchant ships and ensure freedom of maritime navigation and international trade to secure gulf waterways - the country's foreign ministry announced on Thursday.

The foreign ministry also said it rejected any participation by Israel in that coalition, and that security in the Gulf was the responsibility of Gulf states.

But if the Gulf States won't escort traffic, then it falls to others.

Truly the banal idocracy on show here is breathtaking.




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[*] posted on 20-9-2019 at 01:27 PM


Since Iraq barely has a navy to speak of, I would have thought there are more practical matters at hand as to why they won't be participating, namely, participating with what exactly?



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[*] posted on 20-9-2019 at 05:59 PM


German Arms Export Freeze on Saudi Arabia Extended

(Source: Deutsche Welle German Radio; issued Sept 18, 2019)

Germany has extended its arms export moratorium on Saudi Arabia by 6 months. If parliament agrees, cabinet also plans to extend a Bundeswehr training mission in Iraq and reconnaissance flights tracking IS in Syria.

Germany's freeze on arms deliveries to Saudi Arabia begun last October andformalized in March would remain in place until March 2020, a German government spokesman announced Wednesday.

The ban — prompted by the killing of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi — had been questioned within Chancellor Angela Merkel's own party following the mystery drone strikes on Saudi oil installations, which the US and Saudi Arabia blame on Iran or its allies.

But Merkel on Tuesday had said that she saw "no conditions, at the moment, for a changed stance" on the German government's side, signaling that the moratorium should be extended beyond its initial expiration date of September 30th.

Center-left Social Democrats in Merkel's grand coalition government had resisted renewal of arms exports to Saudi Arabia as well as nations such as the United Arab Emirates fighting Houthi rebels backed by Iran in Yemen.

Yemen ranks as the world's worst humanitarian disaster, with millions displaced and dependent on scarce humanitarian aid deliveries.

Last March, the German government loosened its stance to allow deliveries by German firms involved in joint military export projects with France and Britain. The French and British partners were asked not to deliver arms to Saudi Arabia.

Mission extensions for Iraq and Syria

Merkel's governing coalition on Wednesday also announced that — assuming parliament gave its approval — Germany would also extend its Bundeswehr mission training local forces in northern Iraq until 31 October 2020.

That mandate would however have a lower limit on troop numbers, from 800 to 700.

Also extended until March 2020 would be Germany's mandate for its four Tornado warplanes and a refueling aircraft currently based in Jordan, said German government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer.

That German mission assists in surveillance flights and mid-air refueling for the multinational coalition against remnants of the "Islamic State" (IS) militia in Syria.

Demmer said the Bundeswehr engagement in the region was bearing fruit but likewise the radical IS still posed a threat, hence the mission's extension.

Under Germany's post-war constitution, parliament has the final say in military deployments, with Germany's modern military often dubbed a "parliamentary army" domestically.

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[*] posted on 20-9-2019 at 07:27 PM


Public actions, not private assurances, will help repair US-Saudi relations

By: Sen. Angus King and Sen. Todd Young   14 hours ago


Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a working breakfast with the U.S. president during the G20 Summit on June 29, 2019. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

We recently returned from the first congressional delegation visit to Saudi Arabia in well over a year, where we delivered the kingdom — including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — the same message we have been spreading for months: Saudi Arabia has been an important strategic partner, but not one we will support at any cost.

We have been vocal critics of Saudi Arabia’s recent unacceptable behavior, and entered this conversation with open minds but skeptical ears. Over the course of our meeting, we engaged in a frank and direct dialogue with the crown prince on a number of topics. Our takeaway: Even as Saudi Arabia takes much-needed steps on key challenges, that process is incomplete — and tenuous. Saudi Arabia remains a nation of contradictions, with progress on some important issues matched by significant shortfalls on others.

Take national security, for example: The kingdom serves as the region’s key counterweight against the Iranian regime’s malign activities, and it is clear that Saudi security is not only a regional concern. Further, after spending time on board the guided-missile destroyer Gonzalez and after meeting with members of the U.S. military, the overwhelming message was that Iranian-backed terrorist proxy forces and the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps continue to be a dangerous threat to U.S. interests in the region and beyond.

Our visit to the region illustrated the risks, but there is no better example of the importance of checking Iran’s behavior than the recent attacks on Saudi oil fields, which have been linked to Iran through open-sourced reporting and are consistent with the tense conditions we witnessed firsthand there.

Even though these attacks were not launched on our nation, they have increased the risk of American conflict with Iran — making it clear that the events that take place in the Middle East ripple out to impact our national security. Both the attacks and the increased risks associated with them threaten the 80,000 Americans living in Saudi Arabia. Because of these significant challenges to U.S. interests, our continued partnership with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is important as we seek regional stability.

However, the nation’s conduct in its war against the Houthis in Yemen has also been a destabilizing influence, exacerbating that nation’s civil war and the accompanying humanitarian crisis that has led to widespread starvation and the spread of infectious disease.

This suffering of the Yemeni people is not only an affront to our values that must to be addressed, but also a massive security risk. Millions of Yemeni citizens are starving and threatened by the cholera epidemic, increasing their risk of radicalization by terrorist groups.

We pressed Saudi and Emirati leaders on the importance of supporting a political process to end the war and providing the financial aid they have committed to address this humanitarian crisis. Both countries said that the outstanding funds will be released soon; we will remain unconvinced of their commitment until the assistance is not only provided, but properly administered to the Yemeni people in need.

We also discussed Saudi Arabia’s efforts to modernize, which would not only impact the kingdom; as a leader of the Muslim world, its progress will reverberate across the region. This was apparent particularly around women’s rights and reform of its guardianship laws. We met with a group of women leaders and politicians who expressed optimism at the new opportunities; and conversations with American diplomatic officials in the country confirmed that progress in this area is real, but reversible. That said, we expressed concern that the kingdom still has a long way to go.

For example, even though it is now legal for women to drive, several leading activists who pushed for these reforms are still imprisoned. We asked why these women remain in detention; we didn’t get good answers. As the crown prince talks about pursuing modernization, the continued imprisonment of these women, and other activists, undermines those efforts and must be corrected.

Lastly, we raised an issue that has brought about immense and justified global condemnation: the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and American resident, executed in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul last year. We approached this subject directly and firmly, and the crown prince and other Saudi officials said they understood the impact this has had on the kingdom’s global reputation.

This murder flies in the face of the way global leaders must behave. We are able to write this column precisely because we live in a country that allows us the freedom to level criticisms without fear for our lives; Saudi citizens deserve the same opportunity. If Saudi Arabia seeks to transform into a 21st century leader, it cannot resort to barbarous tactics to quiet critics or dispose of dissidents.

Despite what we heard from the kingdom’s leadership, any serious improvement in our bilateral relationship requires justice and accountability on Khashoggi — delivered clearly, publicly and without equivocation. As a first step, this must include the Saudis holding accountable those involved in the murder, including Saud al-Qhatani, and the crown prince publicly acknowledging his responsibility.

Our visit illustrated to us both the demonstrable steps being taken in Saudi Arabia and the harmful vestiges of the past; only time will tell which will win out. Conversations with Saudi leaders and our experienced American diplomatic corps, military officials, and security officials provided reasons to believe that many of the most pressing issues creating a trust deficit between Saudi Arabia and the United States Senate can be addressed. But private assurances won’t make a difference; sustained public actions will.

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, serves on the Intelligence and the Armed Services committees. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., serves on the Foreign Relations Committee.
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[*] posted on 21-9-2019 at 06:00 PM


Facing Iran, Saudi Arabia still owes US $181 million for Yemen refueling

By: Joe Gould   12 hours ago


A man stands among the rubble of the Alsonidar Group's water pump and pipe factory on Sept. 22, 2016, after it was hit by Saudi-led airstrikes in Sanaa, Yemen. Saudi Arabia has an unpaid bill with the Pentagon for $181 million for its assistance in Yemen, according to congressional sources. (Hani Mohammed/AP)

WASHINGTON ― The Pentagon was set to outline new military options to President Donald Trump on Friday to respond to an attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry, but Riyadh still has an unpaid bill with the Pentagon for $181 million over assistance in Yemen.

Despite the Trump administration’s emphasis on the U.S.-Saudi alliance in the wake of an attack that both sides attribute to Iran, Saudi Arabia has not repaid the Pentagon for its midair refueling assistance for its bombing runs over Yemen, nine months after the Pentagon announced it would seek to recoup its costs.

Amid questions about whether it was the responsibility of the Saudis to defend themselves, Trump ― known for his perennial focus on burden-sharing in security arrangements ― told reporters on Monday that Saudi Arabia would play a large role. He emphasized that Riyadh has been a “great ally” for its investments in the U.S., saying: "Saudi Arabia pays cash.”

Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday that as the U.S. builds a regional coalition to face Iran, America will not shoulder the costs by itself. “We’re also working on the cost of this whole endeavor, and Saudi Arabia has been very generous,” Trump said.

The unpaid bill for refueling contrasts with those comments, and it is already inflaming U.S. lawmakers, many of whom are frustrated with Riyadh’s alleged involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the Yemen war’s civilian toll.

“Saudi failure to reimburse us for aircraft refueling — hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars — involves both deep insult and costly injury. It is entirely unacceptable that the Saudis have not reimbursed the Department of Defense for hundreds of millions in refueling costs," Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in a statement. “The American taxpayer-funded U.S. Department of Defense is not the Saudi Royal Family’s piggy bank.”

Inquiries from Blumenthal and Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack Reed, D-R.I., prompted the Pentagon to announce in December that it would seek to recoup the money it failed to charge the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia for aid for the midair refueling ― which Riyadh ended in 2018.

The original balance due was since revised from $331 million to $291 million, and the Pentagon has separately recouped $118 million from the UAE, but Saudi Arabia has not repaid the United States, according to congressional sources. Blumenthal is pressing for language in the annual defense policy bill to require the Pentagon regularly update Congress on the matter.

It’s unclear why Saudi Arabia has not made the payments. The Saudi Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Pentagon spokeswoman Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich declined to provide the specifics of its collection efforts on Thursday, but confirmed that "the process of reimbursement is continuing, and we continue to expect full reimbursement of refueling expenses.”

Becca Wasser, a senior policy analyst at the think tank Rand, said Saudi Arabia has an interest in being on Congress’ good side, especially as it may seek to buy American counter-drone weapons or augment its arsenal of Patriot missile defense systems, which are produced by American defense contractor Raytheon.

“Saudi Arabia learned about the importance of the U.S. Congress the hard way, as a result of the war in Yemen and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” Wasser said. “With Saudi Arabia at risk of future attacks, they would want to make sure they don’t have any issues looming over their military relationships.

“You don’t want to want to have a bill with the Department of Defense at the same time you are asking for additional things from the Department of Defense.”

Trump was scheduled to have a meeting Friday to consider a list of potential airstrike targets inside Iran, according to U.S. officials familiar with the planned discussions. He will also be warned that military action against the Islamic Republic could escalate into war, the U.S. officials told The Associated Press.

Iran has denied involvement in the attack on Saudi oil infrastructure and warned the U.S. that any attack on it will spark an “all-out war” with immediate retaliation.

Critics in Congress says the president should not lead the country into an unnecessary conflict with Iran to protect Saudi Arabian oil. Tim Kaine, D-Va., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, pledged to file a war powers resolution to force a Senate vote to immediately end any such military action.

The Pentagon said the U.S. military is working with Saudi Arabia to find ways to better protect the northern part of the country.

Meanwhile, a forensic team from U.S. Central Command is pouring over cruise missile and drone debris in search of hard evidence that the strikes came from Iran, but the Pentagon said the assessment is not complete.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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[*] posted on 24-9-2019 at 09:22 AM


Royal Navy deploys additional Wildcat to Gulf

Tim Ripley - Jane's Defence Weekly

23 September 2019

An AH1 land variant of the Wildcat helicopter is now operating from a Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ship to boost the British presence in the Gulf region.

RFA Wave Knight 's Twitter account announced on 10 September that it had embarked a Wildcat from 847 Squadron Commando Helicopter Force to extend its capabilities.

A British naval source confirmed the deployment to Jane's on 23 September, saying the helicopter was accompanied by a detachment of Royal Marines who are trained and equipped for maritime security operations. The source described the move as "not unusual".

RFA Wave Knight 's deployment to the Gulf was announced by the UK Ministry of Defence on 16 July as tensions with Iran escalated.

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[*] posted on 24-9-2019 at 11:07 AM


So they deployed an RFA to the Gulf, into a potentially risky area, without an embarked helicopter, when it is capable of operating one?

FMD




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[*] posted on 26-9-2019 at 02:15 AM


Iraqi president: Targeting security of Saudi Arabia is a ‘dangerous development’

By Emily Judd, Al Arabiya English Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Last Update: Wednesday, 25 September 2019 KSA 17:29 - GMT 14:29

Iraqi president Barham Salih said that aggressive behavior targeting security in the Arabian Gulf is dangerous not only for the region, but the world, in an address to the UN general assembly on Wednesday. “Targeting the security of the Gulf and the sisterly Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a dangerous development,” said Salih. Salih called on the international community to intervene in stabilizing recent tensions, which threaten “disastrous consequences.

We don’t need a new war in the region. The Middle East region witnesses conflicts and wars year after year. We must unify our efforts seriously to overcome the era of conflict,” said Salih. Salih met with US President Trump earlier at the UNGA, in a discussion that focused on partnership between the countries on issues such as security, trade, and energy.

President @realDonaldTrump met with President @BarhamSalih of the Republic of Iraq to discuss ways to enhance an already robust partnership on issues such as security, trade, and energy, as well as President Trump’s strong support for a continued fight against ISIS. pic.twitter.com/p3MCalXP1C

— The White House (@WhiteHouse) September 24, 2019

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2019/09/25...

What will they do about the Iranian militia proxies undermining Iraq's Sovereignty though? They aren't going away by themselves. Do they want Iraq to end up like another Lebanon or Syria?


Quote:

Washington should wake up to the fact that Hezbollah runs Lebanon

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2019...

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[*] posted on 28-9-2019 at 01:25 PM


US to deploy another Patriot to Saudi Arabia

Jeremy Binnie, London - Jane's Defence Weekly

27 September 2019

The United States will deploy a Patriot battery, four Sentinel radars, and approximately 200 support personnel to Saudi Arabia, the US Department of Defense announced on 26 September.

"This deployment will augment the kingdom's air and missile defense of critical military and civilian infrastructure," it said. There was no indication of when or where the Patriot and Sentinels will be deployed.

The statement said additional forces that include two more Patriot batteries and a Terminal High Altitude Defense System (THAAD) had been ordered to maintain a heightened state of readiness to deploy to the kingdom if needed.

The US already has at least one Patriot deployed at Prince Sultan Air Base in Al-Kharj in central Saudi Arabia, which arrived in July as part of a wider US effort to deter Iranian attacks.

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[*] posted on 28-9-2019 at 04:19 PM


DOD Statement on Deployment of U.S. Forces and Equipment to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

(Source: US Department of Defense; issued Sept. 26, 2019)

Attributed to Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman:

"In light of recent attacks on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and at their invitation, Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper announced today that the U.S. would deploy the following equipment to the kingdom:
-- One Patriot Battery
-- Four Sentinel RADARs
-- Approximately 200 support personnel

This deployment will augment the kingdom's air and missile defense of critical military and civilian infrastructure. This deployment augments an already significant presence of U.S. forces in the region.

The Secretary has also approved putting additional forces on Prepare To Deploy Orders (PTDO). While no decision has been made to deploy these additional forces, they will maintain a heightened state of readiness.

These forces include:
-- Two Patriot Batteries
-- One Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD)

It is important to note these steps are a demonstration of our commitment to regional partners, and the security and stability in the Middle East. This follows the Secretary and Chairman's extensive outreach to partners in the region, and around the globe.

Other countries have called out Iranian misadventures in the region, and we look for them to contribute assets in an international effort to reinforce Saudi Arabia's defense."

(ends)

Smith Warns Against Ratcheting Up Tension in the Middle East by Deploying Additional Military Personnel and Assets

(Source: House Armed Services Committee; issued Sept. 26, 2019)

WASHINGTON, D.C. --– House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) today issued the following statement in response to the Trump Administration’s decision to deploy additional military personnel and assets to Saudi Arabia:

“The Trump Administration claims that they want to see a diplomatic solution to the existing tensions with Iran, and yet this week they announced the deployment of additional military personnel and assets to the region. From the beginning I have been deeply concerned about the administration’s so-called maximum pressure campaign and its lack of a cogent strategy. Today’s announcement from the Pentagon does nothing to quell my concern. It appears the administration’s campaign is not working and rather than moving towards a peaceful resolution we are setting the conditions for further escalation.

“Years ago, the United States had intentionally drawn down our military personnel and assets in the region to support the National Defense Strategy. Our military leaders told us this draw down was necessary to focus on the challenges of the future, namely Russia and China. Now, following this most recent announcement from the Pentagon, we will have more assets in the region than at the start of the Trump Administration – an action that is inconsistent with the National Defense Strategy and could lead to further escalation.

“Until the Administration’s national security team can clearly articulate how their recent deployment decisions fit into a broader strategy in the region, I will remain critical of our current trajectory. It is past time to focus on de-escalation and diplomacy, not a military solution.”

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[*] posted on 1-10-2019 at 04:52 PM


US air force temporarily shifts Qatar command centre to South Carolina

Published date: 30 September 2019 11:47 UTC | Last update: 17 hours 2 min ago



The US air force temporarily moved control of its Middle East command centre from Qatar to South Carolina on Saturday, in a move which gave an indication of its future plans for the region.

As the Combined Air and Space Operations Centre at al-Udeid airbase in Qatar sat empty, operations were being controlled by teams at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. The air base is the largest in the Middle East region, capable of housing more than 10,000 US troops. Although the move was only temporary, with al-Udeid taking back control on Sunday after 24 hours, it appears to indicate a significant tactical shift in US thinking.

While air force personnel said moving functions to a different base had been a long-harboured ambition enabled by new technology, the move comes amid renewed tension with Iran, which lies around 300km to the northeast. The unannounced operation was the first time US command and control had been moved out of the region since the centre was established in Saudi Arabia during the 1991 First Gulf War.

Air force personnel told the Washington Post that recent incidents involving Iran - including the shooting down of a US drone in June and the attack on Saudi oil facilities this month with what the US said appeared to be Iranian-supplied weapons - had added urgency to the project. If conflict with Iran were to occur, the base in Qatar would be a prime target for Iran. The US air force aims to run the centre remotely once a month and remain the rest of the time at al-Udeid. Eventually, commanders want to work up to a schedule in which the centre is operated remotely for eight hours of every 24-hour period, either at Shaw or elsewhere.

Hundreds of positions to move to US

Officials at al-Udeid told the Washington Post there were no plans to close the centre permanently as some functions there could not be replicated remotely. However, they plan to transfer some of the 800 positions to the US in the future.

For US allies in the region that have heavily invested in facilities used by the US in the region, the plans may be worrying. In recent years, Qatar, for example, has spent as much as $1.8bn renovating the al-Udeid base. However, the mixture of possible risks and new technology is leading Washington to reconsider how much of its operations need to be based abroad.

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/us-air-force-temporarily-...
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[*] posted on 1-10-2019 at 05:45 PM


'Everyone will lose': Fearing new Gulf war, Oman doubles down on diplomacy





Overview of Kumzar, an Omani village located at the northernmost edge of the Governorate of Musandam, facing the Strait of Hormuz (Sebastian Castellier/MEE)

By Sebastian Castelier, Quentin Müller in Muscat

Published date: 1 October 2019 06:00 UTC | Last update: 3 sec ago

Throughout its modern history, Oman has traditionally advocated for dialogue, cooperation and regional stability. Following a series of strikes on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia earlier this month, which have been widely blamed on Iran despite a claim of responsibility by Yemen's Houthi rebels, the Sultanate has reaffirmed the signature look of its foreign policy: to be a facilitator.

"There are many voices which have said that the resolution of this crisis is through the use of diplomacy," foreign minister Yusuf bin Alawi said in an interview with Al-Monitor on Saturday, having previously told the Times of Oman that the attacks were an "unnecessary escalation". "Both sides, or even all the sides, have one way or another expressed their wish to engage in some sort of diplomacy - diplomacy on the platform or diplomacy behind [closed] doors. And those are good things. "Oman will assist. We are not playing the role of mediator. What we choose for ourselves is the role of facilitator."

According to local journalist Fahad Al Mukrashi, an easing of tensions between Riyadh and its allies on one side, and Tehran on the other, is something that all in the country would welcome. “All Omanis wish these tensions to end, enough is enough. It is really saddening, what is the point of war? Everyone would lose,” Mukrashi told Middle East Eye, stressing that Oman had traditionally acted to mediate in regional disputes. “This is Oman’s role, and I feel very proud of this.”

Oman’s official apparatus has persistently refused to comment publicly on the strained relationship between its larger Gulf neighbours in a bid to preserve the country’s neutrality. Yet, Houchang Hassan-Yari, Head of the Department of Political Sciences at Sultan Qaboos University, told MEE that “many” within the government agree, in private, with the view that Iran instigated the latest attacks.

Indeed, in informal circles, sharp comments are not uncommon and Hassan-Yari also notes that a majority of his students judge policies led in recent years throughout the Gulf by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as too aggressive. “They believe that those countries pursue a destabilisation policy towards Oman,” he says. Omanis interviewed by MEE tend to share the perspective that the conflict in neighbouring Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is fighting Houthi rebels supported by Iran, is fuelling regional tensions, which would ease if the conflict came to an end. “If you throw stones at your neighbours, they will react and act against you,” one man said.

Dealing with elephants

Located on the eastern coast of the Arabian Sea, with a long land border with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and a coastline that includes territory facing Iran across the Strait of Hormuz, Oman has generally refused to side with one axis or another, except during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war when Sultan Qaboos, the country's ruler since 1970, planned to allow Iraqi forces to take off from Oman to carry out assaults on Iran’s naval bases.

“If a war breaks out, Oman would find itself in a difficult situation, squeezed between an Iran/Gulf war and the conflict in Yemen,” comments Hassan-Yari. But beyond security concerns, many Omanis also question the country’s future positioning in a troubled region. Speaking to MEE on the condition of anonymity, an Omani analyst who worked for the Council of Ministers believes Oman needs to "act carefully" amid soaring regional tensions. “When you deal with elephants, you have to be smart, or else they step on you,” he said.

According to the analyst, the Sultanate realises "very well" that "Iran is dangerous, as well as Saudi Arabia does". He believes "both to have hands everywhere" in reference to political, economic and religious influences exerted across the Middle East by the two countries. Therefore, Oman’s policy attempts to respect everyone's interests. In 2016, the Sultanate joined a Saudi-led alliance of Muslim countries to fight terrorism, an initiative that was primarily targeted at Islamic State which then still controlled territory in Syria and Iraq.

Oman's close relations with Iran date back to the 1970s when Tehran helped Muscat to defeat a rebellion in the southern governorate of Dhofar. Even after the Iranian Revolution, the two countries continued to enjoy burgeoning trade, security, diplomatic and social ties and since 2014, joint military exercises have been held in the Strait of Hormuz. Furthermore, US officials and their Iranian counterparts held secret talks in Muscat ahead of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, strengthening the Sultanate’s position as a facilitator.

'With us or against us'

But some see the current crisis as a threat to the unique diplomatic space between Iran and Saudi Arabia which Oman has carefully cultivated for itself over decades. “We live in an era where there is so much polarisation: you are with us or against us,” Omani academic Abdullah Baabood told MEE. In recent years, Oman refused to join the coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen, the only member of the Gulf Cooperation Council to do so, with even Qatar initially joining the Saudi-led effort in 2015.

Muscat then stayed out of a blockade imposed on Qatar by Saudi Arabia and its allies in 2017 whilst it doubled its non-oil exports to Doha and maintained close ties with Iran, thus angering the Riyadh-Abu Dhabi axis. Furthermore, Oman was accused in 2016 of turning a blind eye to arms smuggled via its territory to the Houthis. Oman’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied the allegations. Baabood claims that Saudi Arabia and the UAE try to “demonise Oman in front of international partners” by pushing a narrative that the country is "not with us but against us". The diplomatic assault is accompanied by economic pressure.

According to Baabood, many Omanis believe the UAE has purposefully delayed the planned creation of a UAE-Oman rail network in order to constrain the development of Duqm, the Arabian Sea port which Oman is seeking to develop as a regional alternative to the UAE's Jebel Ali.

Meanwhile, Oman has recently grown increasingly reliant on borrowing, with its debt tripling to 50 per cent of GDP. “Oman is paying a high price for its neutrality, but thinks it is worth it,” the academic said.

Looming succession

In the context of the looming succession of 78-year-old Sultan Qaboos, the longest-serving monarch in the Arab world, voices in the Sultanate fear that Saudi Arabia and the UAE could exert pressure on his successor to abandon Oman’s neutral posture and align with their anti-Iran rhetoric. Baabood expects attempts to manipulate the Sultanate’s foreign policy to fail since this unique positioning finds its source in a subtle blend of socio-politico-cultural factors deeply ingrained in the Omani identity, exemplified by Sultan Qaboos’ views and decisions.



Iranian smugglers prepare to sail across the Strait of Hormuz from Oman to Iran (Sebastian Castellier/MEE)

And beyond questions of principle, Oman has no other choice, analysts say. To safeguard Oman’s stability and privileged status on the international scene, its political neutrality is key. Hassan-Yari says that Oman’s foreign policy has become its "best protection" against dominant powers in the region at a time of increasing polarisation.

“If any pressure ever happens, it will come from the United Arab Emirates,” concludes the Omani analyst, who worked for Oman’s Council of Ministers. Past events suggest his fears may be legitimate: in 2011, the Sultanate ‘"uncovered a spying network belonging to the state security apparatus of the United Arab Emirates, targeting the ruling regime in Oman". Six years later, operatives working for the UAE hacked into the iPhone of Oman’s head of foreign affairs.

Talking to MEE, Sultan Kaabi, an Omani professor of communication, points out that social relations between Omani and Emirati families have been intertwined for centuries, and urges decision makers to be on guard to ensure that such ties are not "demolished". “We belong to each other,” he said.

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/everyone-will-lose-fearin...


Hard to see how key parts for Iranian weapons get to the Houthies for assembly, without moving through parts of Oman to get there. Is this a reason for Iran's sharp words about a growing international maritime coalition? And also to shoot down a US maritime patrol drone to discourage closer and more continuous monitoring as it would hinder the arms trafficking to a proxie? That would make more sense than an expression of over the top belligerence.

The smuggling operation across Hormuz from Kumzar is well established. Why would the IRGC not do the same under the cover of this massive smuggling trade? Even encourage it as cover to move weapon parts, and to break trade sanctions? Looks like a no-brainer.







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[*] posted on 12-10-2019 at 05:10 PM


F-15s, air defense systems and thousands of U.S. troops heading to Saudi Arabia

By: Aaron Mehta   14 hours ago

The Pentagon is sending Air Force F-15s, new air defense systems and other assets — along with the thousands of U.S. troops needed to operate and maintain them — to Saudi Arabia.

The deployments, announced by the Pentagon Friday morning, bring the total deployment of U.S. forces to the kingdom to 3,000 since a mid-September attack on a Saudi oil field.

According to chief department spokesman Jonathan Hoffman, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has authorized the deployment of two fighter squadrons, an air expeditionary wing, two Patriot batteries and a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) to Saudi territory. Although not officially announced, it is expected the fighter squadrons will be F-15s.

Speaking to reporters after the announcement, Esper said it is now “clear that Iranians are responsible” for the attacks in Saudi territory and warned that the U.S. has “on alert additional” forces that can provide increased security “if necessary.”

The additional forces, requested by U.S. Central Command, come as a result of concerns “based on what we hear from partners and allies in the region about continued Iranian behavior,” Esper said. "We thought it was important to continue to deploy forces, to deter and defend, and to send the message to the Iranians: Do not strike another sovereign state, do not threaten American interests or forces, or we will respond.

“Do not mistake our restraint for weakness. If you will, you will regret that.”

The deployments mean the Pentagon has increased the number of forces in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility by approximately 14,000 since May. That comes as the department has emphasized the need to adhere to the National Defense Strategy, a document that explicitly calls for drawing down in the CENTCOM region in order to refocus resources towards China and Russia.

The force increase comes as the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln is nearing the end of its deployment in the region. Should that deployment not be extended, the number of forces in the region would drop by nearly half.

The oil facility attack sent shock waves through both the global energy market and the national security sector, with fingers quickly pointing toward Iran as the culprit. Days later, Esper and Gen. Joe Dunford, the then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs, ordered the deployment of 200 U.S. troops and a Patriot missile battery to Saudi Arabia. The Pentagon leaders also announced two more Patriot batteries and one Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, and its associated personnel, were on “prepare to deploy” orders.

The U.S. already sent about 500 troops to Saudi’s Prince Sultan Air Base this summer, the first such deployment since the U.S. stopped sending troops there after the Iraq invasion.
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[*] posted on 13-10-2019 at 02:22 AM


The Saudis of course famously involved in the D-day landings in WWII....



Paddywhackery not included.
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[*] posted on 13-10-2019 at 12:23 PM


:lol:
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