GCC News Roundup: UAE extends military draft, Yemen demands closure of Emirati prisons, Saudi Arabia to build warships (July 1 – July 31)

By Sumaya Attia

Oil prices rise after attack on Saudi oil TANKERS 

On July 26, there was a spike in oil prices after a Saudi Arabian oil company announced that it was temporarily suspending crude oil shipments from a Red Sea shipping lane. The decision came after Yemeni Shiite rebels attacked two tankers on Wednesday, July 25, 2018.

Saudi Arabia’s oil shipment route extends from fields in the east of the country up through the Bab al-Mandeb strait and through the Red Sea and Suez Canal onto Europe. An alternate route for shipments is located at the Yanbu port, the use of which may result in lower outputs. UAE’s minister foreign state affairs, Anwar Gargash reportedly tweeted the following statement in response to the attack: “The targeted attack on the Saudi oil tankers in the Red Sea confirms the necessity to liberate Hodeida from Houthi militias.”

U.S. senator calls for the declassification of 9/11 documents 

Senator Richard Blumenthal planned to push for the unveiling of classified documents related to the September 11, 2001 attacks. Blumenthal implied that the documents may contain information connecting the attacks with foreign countries.

According to AP, families of those impacted by the attacks recently announced their plans of increasing pressure for the declassification of the documents, which may potentially link Saudi Arabia to the attacks.

Saudi Arabia announces building 5 warships in a joint venture with Spain 

On July 19, Saudi Arabian Military Industries announced that it signed a deal with Spanish shipbuilder Navantia for the supply of five warships.

The announcement cemented a plan established earlier in April when Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman met former Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Defense Minister Maria Dolores de Cospedal. AP reported that Navantia is set to build five Avante 2200 corvettes for the Royal Saudi Navy and intends to complete the project by 2022.

Qatari emir: No deal exists with Russia over defense missiles

On Friday July 6th, Qatar’s emir said that the country had not reached a deal over Russia’s air defense missile system. He reportedly stated that, “It’s true we discussed it …until now, there’s nothing,” after which he declined to comment further.

In June, French newspaper Le Monde reported on a letter addressed to the French President Macron by Saudi King Salman, which cited his concerns over a potential Qatari-Russian military alliance for the construction of defensive missiles. Macron reportedly declined French intervention in Qatar’s discussions with Russia.

Kuwaiti opposition leader and two lawmakers sentenced to prison over Arab Spring protests

On Sunday, July 8, Kuwait’s highest court ordered the imprisonment of an opposition leader and two lawmakers for a three-and-a-half-year sentence over the 2011 storming of parliament during the Arab Spring protests.

The ruling comes in lieu with Kuwait’s increasing crackdown on dissent. Kuwait’s emir famously made the following statement with respect to potentially subversive elements threatening the nation, “protect our national unity and ward off the risks of sedition.”

Those sentenced included, opposition leader Musallam al-Barrack and serving lawmakers Waleed Tabtabai and Jamaan Herbish, who received the sentence, along with six former legislators and five activists. Three others received two years in prison, AP reported.

Yemen calls on UAE to shut down prisons

On Monday, July 9th, Yemen’s interior minister demanded that the UAE shut down or hand over secret prisons reported on by The Associated Press. Around 80 prisoners have been released since the AP investigation detailed instances of sexual abuse and torture. The interior minister’s demands contradict the UAE’s denials of having any authority over the secret prisons.

The AP’s investigative report, which was released last year, detailed the existence of secretly run detention centers around southern Yemen that are beyond the control of the Yemeni government. In June, AP released another report detailing instances of widespread sexual abuse and torture.

On Sunday, July 8, the UAE State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash said, “In Yemen, the Emiratis have been subjected to an unjust smear campaign because it bears its responsibility toward regional security with courage and boldness.”

UAE extends military conscription term period 

The UAE increased its mandatory military service term for graduated high school males from a period of 12 months to 16 months. According to the UAE’s armed forces, the mandatory service is considered the state’s “most important and strategic move” with respect to its, “anticipated strategic outcomes in political, military, security, national, social, and economic terms.”

The UAE began its mandatory conscription program in 2014 for men between the ages of 18 to 34. Military service for men who have not graduated high school is for a time period of two years. It is voluntary for women.

Trump administration aims to renew ‘Arab NATO’ efforts to deal with Iran

According to U.S. and Arab officials, the Trump administration is actively seeking the creation of a GCC political and military alliance that includes Jordan and Egypt. The U.S. aims to foster cooperation in military and counter-terrorism endeavors in addition to creating strong interstate diplomatic and socioeconomic ties.

Plans for the creation of this “Arab NATO” are scheduled to be discussed in a summit in Washington to be held on October 12-13.

“MESA will serve as a bulwark against Iranian aggression, terrorism, extremism, and will bring stability to the Middle East,” said a representative of the White House’s National Security Council.

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