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The United States’ Central Command (Centcom) in late February submitted its ‘unfunded priorities’ list to Congress. On top of its 2021 budget request submitted earlier in February, Centcom commander US Marine Corps General Kenneth ‘Frank’ McKenzie wants an extra $371m to increase intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capacity in the region, and to conduct, inform and influence activities against “malign state actors and their proxies”. McKenzie also wants $21m to build up facilities at the Omani port of Duqm.

Oman
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A group of eight European Union countries has launched another maritime security operation in the Gulf, to be based in France’s existing Camp de la Paix naval base in Abu Dhabi. The European Maritime Awareness in the Strait of Hormuz (EMASOH) mission is supported by Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal. In a joint statement issued on 20 January, they pointed to rising insecurity and instability in the region which was affecting freedom of navigation and “jeopardising trade and energy supplies with potential worldwide economic consequences”.

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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
Issue 1094 - 13 December 2019

GCC security academy by 2023

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The Gulf Co-operation Council is moving forward with setting up a long-planned Gulf Academy for Strategic and Security Studies, to be funded equally by the six member states from 2022 onwards. The academy is due to start offering courses from the 2023/24 academic year, according to the final communiqué issued at the end of the 40th GCC Supreme Council in Riyadh on 10 December

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Crown Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al-Khalifa opted to attend the first race in the Formula E championship in Riyadh on 22 November and so missed the official opening of the 15th edition of the Manama Dialogue on the same day.

Bahrain
Issue 1092 - 18 November 2019

Saudi Arabia: Weapons smuggling

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Three Saudi nationals have been charged with trying to smuggle more than $100,000-worth of weapons from the United States back to the kingdom while in the US on student visas. The Department of Justice said Hatim Al-Sufyani and Mosab Al-Zahrani had tried to conceal rifle barrels, triggers and other items in their checked luggage on flights from Los Angeles to Saudi Arabia between May 2014 and July 2018. They described them as “shower curtain rods” or “car parts” to disguise their true purpose.

Saudi Arabia
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There have been no new drone strikes on Saudi territory from Yemen following the 14 September attack on oil facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais. The strike against the Saudi Aramco plants was initially claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, before those claims were widely dismissed as implausible. It remains to be seen if the drone and missile campaign has come to a complete halt, but GSN sources indicate the Houthis are having difficulty in securing components for their drones from overseas.

Saudi Arabia | Yemen
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The Iranian-owned tanker Sabiti was hit by two missiles at around 5am on 11 October as it was steaming north up the Red Sea in international waters some 95km west of Jeddah. The resulting explosions holed the tanker and created an oil spill, but the vessel was able to turn around and make its way back to Iran via the Bab El Mandeb strait.

Iran
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Coming soon after the ambitious attacks on two Saudi oil pumping stations in May, the Houthi threat to southern Saudi Arabia was underlined by drone strikes on the civil airport at Abha, on 12 and 23 June (both of which caused fatalities and dozens of injuries) and another on 2 July (when nine civilians were wounded and there was extensive damage to the airport’s departure hall). Satellite imagery of Jizan airport, which was also attacked in the same period, show a communications building and a substantial concrete structure were destroyed.

Saudi Arabia | Yemen
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A series of incidents in western border regions have highlighted again the volatile security situation in the area. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has reported being involved in a number of clashes with armed groups based in neighbouring countries, including incidents on 24 June and 4 July. In the second of these, it said personnel from its Hamze Sayyid Al-Shohada base had clashed with “a team of terrorists” who had crossed the border from Turkey.

Iran
Issue 1084 - 05 July 2019

UAE: Cybersecurity strategy launched

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The UAE launched a national cybersecurity strategy on 24 June, with the aim of creating a resilient cyber infrastructure which can reliably protect personal and corporate data as well as the country’s critical infrastructure. Announcing the initiative, Telecommunications Regulatory Authority director general Hamad Obaid Al-Mansoori noted that cyberspace provides “endless opportunities for well-being”, but is also “a gateway for hackers and phishers”.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)
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Islamic State (IS or Daesh) leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi appeared for only the second time on video in a segment released by the jihadist group’s Al-Furqan media network on 29 April. Clearly designed as a demonstration of defiance following Daesh’s loss of its last piece of territory in eastern Syria, the video served to assert Baghdadi’s continuing leadership. It also gave clues as to where Daesh intends to strike next, as it switches emphasis from holding territory to mounting insurgent, terrorist attacks.

Issue 1077 - 21 March 2019

Kuwait: Counter-terror deal with US

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The United States is to provide counter-terrorism training and materials on a grant basis, as one of a series of agreements finalised during the Third US-Kuwait Strategic Dialogue, which took place in Kuwait on 20 March. The two governments also signed off on plans to improve co-operation to identify high-risk travellers that pose a security risk. It was only in January that the US lifted a three-year block on Kuwait Airways operating direct flights to New York.

Kuwait
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Members of the Saudi-led Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC), the body set up at the behest of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in December 2015, held their inaugural council meeting in Riyadh on 3 March.

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Major General Mohammed Bin Saeed Al-Moghedi has taken over as secretary general of the Islamic Military Counter-Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC), the anti-terrorism alliance announced by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) in December 2015. Al-Moghedi succeeds Lieutenant General Abdelelah Bin Othman Al-Saleh. The IMCTC’s military commander, General (retired) Raheel Sharif remains in his post. Al-Moghedi previously served in the Royal Saudi Land Forces and was most recently head of the Intelligence Directorate and Saudi Land Forces Security. According to IMCTC, in February 2018 Al-Moghedi chaired a joint mediation team