The UK’s new Brexit-driven government is weakened by domestic political turmoil and finding it hard to identify a credible response to Iran’s threats to shipping. While a majority of senior ministers in Boris Johnson’s administration lack experience in high office, many of them know the Gulf fairly well. Meanwhile, an under-resourced Royal Navy cannot act alone, posing questions about whose alliance to join
Further battles between the National Assembly and the executive beckon, as opposition MPs continue to raise concerns about corruption and mismanagement in ministries. Latest in the firing line are interior minister Sheikh Khaled Al-Jarrah Al-Sabah, who is being targeted for a grilling (official questioning) by MP Riyadh Al-Adasani over lax border controls, and health minister Sheikh Basel Al-Sabah, who MP Omar Al-Tabtabai wants to question over alleged corruption during the construction of the KD 179m ($589m) Sabah hospital.
If a ‘Trump doctrine’ ever emerges, it will be reflected in the implementation of The Donald’s election manifesto, supported by hawkish officials like national security advisor John Bolton. It will be seen to include the robust promotion of Israeli interests, substantial efforts to keep close to big-spending economies like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and its regional policy will be seen to hinge on containing – and potentially eradicating – Iran’s Islamic regime. Such is the mercurial nature of his ‘transactional’ politics that President Donald Trump may yet end up in talks with the Iranian leadership, as he did with North Korean pariah Kim Jong-un. But for the moment, the trajectory of his Iran policy seems ever more towards conflict.
The long-running dispute between centrist/moderate and hardline/principalist elements in the Islamic Republic broke out into the open on 25 February when foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif posted his resignation on Instagram. In a subsequent interview with local daily Jomhuori Eslami, he complained that Iranian foreign policy had become the subject of “party and factional fighting.”
Tehran is facing significant pressure from a weak economy and debilitating international sanctions, but its defiant tone is being invigorated by divisions between the United States and key European powers.
Try as it might, Saudi Arabia can’t put the murder of Jamal Khashoggi behind it. Four months after the brutal killing in Istanbul by a team of men close to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), the late journalist’s many friends are unwilling to let the matter be forgotten. Saudi Arabia is making great efforts to win back influence, but looks powerless to change the narrative – at least in the West.
Kuwait is to hold two by-elections after a Constitutional Court ruling which effectively revoked the membership of two opposition MPs in the National Assembly (parliament).
The Royal Court announced the death of Prince Talal Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud on 15 December. Funeral prayers were held the following day at Imam Turki Bin Abdullah mosque in Riyadh, led by King Salman Bin Abdulaziz. Prince Talal’s eight surviving sons attended the prayers, including prominent businessman Prince Alwaleed and deputy governor of Asir region Prince Turki. (he was promoted to govenor a few days later) , as well as princes Khalid, Abdelaziz, Abdulrahman, Mansour, Mohammed and Mashhoor Bin Talal.
While 11 suspects have gone on trail for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, MBS’s position appears to have been further enhanced by promotions for some of his allies
The GCC region ends 2018 with an even greater sense of discord than it began, after the six-member grouping’s annual summit in Riyadh was characterised by bickering and widespread antipathy. Qatar’s decision to quit Opec further reinforces the sense that a long-term realignment of alliances is under way