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Free

Washington’s new National Security Strategy (NSS) opens with a preamble, signed by Barack Obama – a president burnishing his legacy ahead of the November 2016 election in the face of security crises his administration is hard-pressed to counter. “Today, the United States is stronger and better positioned to seize the opportunities of a still new century and safeguard our interests against the risks of an insecure world,” the preamble says, citing “America’s growing economic strength [as] the foundation of our national security and a critical source of our influence abroad”.

Free

No one expected a quiet year in the Gulf, given the ongoing conflicts and ugly groundswell of sectarianism throughout the wider region. But while much of the news agenda in 2014 was filled with foreseeable preoccupations – squabbles between Qatar and the rest of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), the further deterioration of the situation in Yemen, tentative rapprochement with Iran, ongoing tensions in Bahrain, questions over succession – the main event of the year came as a surprise. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)’s takeover of Mosul in June, and the group’s subsequent seizing of swathes of Iraq, cut the year into two halves: before ISIL, and after.

Free

The success of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), Shia militia and other allies in regaining control of Tikrit will provide critical indicators of Iraq’s ability to roll back the challenge of Islamic State (IS) and the Sunni rebellion that in 2014 allowed Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi to anoint himself ‘Caliph Ibrahim’ in Mosul. Western reporting of the assault on Salahaddin province, launched on 1 March, focused on prime minister Haider Al-Abadi’s insistence that a restructured ISF, its Shia militia allies and their all too obvious Iranian handlers should do everything possible not to alienate the region’s Sunni tribes and others who may dislike IS but have even more reason to fear their ‘liberators’.

Free

Three years into an ambitious plan to transform the Ministry of Defence (MoD)’s operational effectiveness, the programme is running into trouble as the initial enthusiasm dissipates. The transformation programme is an important element in the Vision 2030 strategy, as Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS – also defence minister ) regards the MoD as being in the vanguard of his plans.

Saudi Arabia
Free

Head of state security General Abdelaziz Bin Mohammed Al-Howairini faces another challenging year at the helm of the Presidency of Public Security (PPS). Having been rehabilitated by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), Al-Howairini has the heavy task of protecting domestic security. This was challenging even before the assassination of Iranian military kingpin Qassem Soleimani, which drive reprisals on Saudi soil.

Saudi Arabia
Free

Sweden’s defence minister quit last week after outcry at government plans to help Saudi Arabia build a weapons plant. Swedish outrage at the idea of signing military agreements with undemocratic countries is admirable; British and US newspapers have also recently decried massive arms deals to the Gulf. But arguably, the provenance of weapons – while important to the domestic politics of source countries – is only a sideshow.

Saudi Arabia | Bahrain
Free

The blame game began within hours of Sunni extremists taking Mosul (see page 1). Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki blamed members of the army for deserting, saying the seizure of the city was a “conspiracy”. Saudi Arabia blamed Iranian-backed Maliki, with information minister Abdelaziz Bin Mohieddin Khoja saying: “This would not have arisen were it not for the sectarian and exclusionary policies practised in Iraq over the past years”. Former British prime minister Tony Blair blamed the civil war in Syria (and definitely not the 2003 invasion of Iraq of which he was a primary architect). Writing in The Wall Street Journal on 15 June, L Paul Bremer, the former US governor of Iraq, tried to pin it on US President Barack Obama, who, he said, pulled US forces out of Iraq too soon.

Iraq
Free

One of the more bizarre arguments put forward by the Obama administration as it pushed for military intervention in Syria was that failing to respond to the horrific chemical attack on Ghouta would send the wrong ‘message’ to Iran. On 3 September, secretary of state John Kerry mentioned Iran four times in his brief opening statement to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as he sought to convince them of the need to strike. “Iran is hoping you look the other way,” Kerry said. “Our inaction would surely give them a permission slip for them to at least misinterpret our intention if not to put it to the test.” Defence secretary Chuck Hagel took a similar tone. “Our refusal to act would undermine the credibility of America’s other security commitments, including the president’s commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” he said.

Iran
Free

The British-Omani military exercises Al-Shomoukh 2 and Saif Al Sarea 3 were still in full swing on land, sea and air as GSN went to press – a clear demonstration of international support for a sultanate that has long been seen as a maverick within the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC). The exercise is a sign for Muscat that it still has friends in high places – which is particularly important these days given the concerns that are bubbling up among the sultanate’s strategists, as well as analysts in Washington and elsewhere, about the intentions of its neighbour, the United Arab Emirates.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Free

With Islamic State (IS or Daesh) continuing to lose ground in Mosul, the time will soon come when Iraqis can look beyond the destruction wrought by that invidious group and dare to focus instead on the future. They can do so buoyed by some promising signs that things could at last start to move in the right direction. A recent survey of 1,338 Iraqis found they were more optimistic about the country’s direction, not least because of improvements in security and reductions in sectarianism.

Iraq
Free

International pressure is growing over Saudi Arabia’s actions in Yemen, where civilian – and medical – targets are regularly hit in missions intended to attack Houthi positions. The issue is gaining greater traction among mainstream western politicians – and, more quietly, in several Arab capitals, including Gulf Co-operation Council member Muscat – as well as from Amnesty International and other advocacy groups, who have been lobbying on the issue for many months. However, signs are that Riyadh will carry on regardless as long as key allies like the United States and United Kingdom stay onside.

Saudi Arabia
Free

It is not just through trade and financial controls that the United States and its allies are gradually encircling Iran in an effort to throttle the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions. And the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) states are playing a larger role in this process than seemed likely earlier this decade, when Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdelaziz led a move towards rapprochement with Tehran. Thus, according to GSN’s contacts in the

Iran | United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Free

In the past few weeks Iran has unveiled a new missile defence system, a turbojet engine and a fast patrol boat, underlining how the Islamic Republic has been able to build up its military industry through the years of sanctions. The equipment may not be at the cutting edge, but it is still far ahead of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC). Fearful of the future for its own Western supply lines (see Defence and security), Riyadh has ambitions to create its own domestic industry.

Iran
Free

It was on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 that Rudyard Kipling penned his ‘Recessional’, a hymnic warning about the inevitable decline of the British Empire. “Lo, all our pomp of yesterday/ Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!/Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,/Lest we forget – lest we forget!” wrote the poet of the Empire, as Britain’s redoubtable monarch marked 60 years on the throne.

Bahrain
Free

Whether President Barack Obama should have carried through on his threat to intervene in Syria when evidence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were revealed in 2013, or if Western allies should have been more robust in projecting their interests in building a post-Qadhafi state in Libya, remain live issues today. The fact that neither happened can be traced directly to the catalogue of disasters that began with the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003; an ignominious chapter of recent western history which has now been elegantly and intensively recorded in Sir John Chilcot’s Report of the Iraq Inquiry, which covers the UK’s involvement from mid-2001 until its troops formally withdrew in July 2009.