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The Gulf Region & Yemen in February 2024

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February 7, 2024

  1. Saudi Will NOT Normalize Relations Without Palestinian State Recognition.
    Saudi Arabia has reiterated its stance to the U.S. that it will not establish diplomatic ties with Israel without the recognition of an independent Palestinian state based on
    the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. 

February 8, 2024

  1. Saudi Defense Minister Meets with US and UN Envoys on Yemen Peace Efforts.
    Saudi Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman held discussions with both the US special envoy to Yemen, Tim Lenderking, and the UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Hans Grundberg. During the meetings, they discussed developments in Yemen and reaffirmed the Kingdom’s support for international efforts to facilitate a roadmap for peace in Yemen. Prince Khalid emphasized the importance of encouraging dialogue among Yemeni parties and achieving a political solution under UN supervision. Additionally, Grundberg’s discussions in Riyadh focused on reducing regional escalation, promoting restraint in Yemen, and supporting progress towards a ceasefire and improved living conditions. The UN’s roadmap includes commitments such as a nationwide ceasefire, salary payments, resumption of oil exports, and easing restrictions on transportation hubs.
  1. Saudi Arabia Rejects Calls to Cease Funding to UNRWA.
    Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah reiterated his country’s support for UNRWA during a meeting with Philippe Lazzarini, the Commissioner-General of the agency. He urged all donors to fulfill their obligations in supporting humanitarian efforts for Palestinians to alleviate the ongoing crisis in occupied Palestine. Additionally, Prince Faisal discussed regional developments, including the situation in the Gaza Strip, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and French Foreign Minister Stephane Ségournet during separate phone calls.
  2. Houthi Missile Attacks and US Naval Response .
    On Feb. 6, from 1:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. AST, CENTCOM reported six anti-ship ballistic missiles launched by Houthi militants. USS Laboon intercepted one targeting MV Star Nasia, which reported minor damage but no injuries. The remaining missiles aimed at MV Morning Tide had no effect. Three anti-ballistic missiles attempted to hit the MV Star Nasia, a Greek-owned and operated bulk carrier flying the Marshall Island flag, as it was transiting the Gulf of Aden. The ship then reported an explosion near it (indicating that one of the three missiles had fallen), causing minor damage but no casualties. The USS Labo (DDG 58), operating near the MV Star Nasia, intercepted a third anti-ship ballistic missile fired by the Houthis, but the ship continued sailing towards its destination. Later, another missile fell into the waters near the ship without effect. As for the remaining three ballistic missiles, the command suggested that they intended to target the MV Morning Tide, a UK-owned, Barbados-flagged cargo ship operating in the southern Red Sea. The same day, the Houthis’ spokesperson announced launching two more missile attacks on two British and American ships, shortly after the Embrey Maritime Security Company announced that a cargo ship owned by a British company had been slightly damaged while sailing off the coast of Yemen. Contrastingly, the Iranian cargo ship “Golsan” passed through the Bab al-Mandab with the Djiboutian Coast Guard. The Chinese cargo ship “Lanhai 1” was seen passing through the vital corridor towards the Arabian Sea, declaring that it had armed men on board for protection, a measure that commercial ships have been taking since the start of Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea weeks ago. On Tuesday evening, Arabic media outlets reported that the US Navy launched a raid on two Houthi drones.
  3. Shifting U.S. Strategy in Yemen: Empowering the Houthis?
    On the same day, as Yemen’s Defense Minister, Lieutenant General Mohsen Muhammad Al-Daari discussed defeating the Houthis with US officials in Yemen, American envoy Tim Lenderking presented a contrasting approach at a Middle East Institute event, advocating for granting the Houthis governance privileges to halt their attacks. This divergent strategy, aimed at preserving the Biden administration’s stance in Yemen, highlights the need for a unified strategy. Yet despite Lenderking’s upcoming diplomatic tour in Oman announced by the State Department, the Houthis told the Omani officials they insist on continuing attacks until Israel ceases its actions in Gaza.
  4. Iranian Support for Houthis and Regional Security Implications.
    Other news that went viral in the region’s networks and raised many questions was the US Defense of Intelligence Agency (DIA), which provided details on its website revealing the extent of Iranian support for the Houthi groups. Intelligence confirmed support to the Houthis began in 2015, with the U.S. intercepting 18 Iranian ships from 2015 to 2023 smuggling weapons to Yemen, including ballistic missile components, drones, and anti-tank guided missiles, alongside thousands of assault rifles.

February 8, 2024

  1. Houthis Cease Ship Attacks During Saudi Visit: Meeting Insights Revealed.
    Today, the Houthis refrained from launching any ship attacks as they visited Saudi Arabia. Insights from the meeting between Houthi representatives and Saudi officials suggest progress in overcoming key obstacles to the UN roadmap for Yemeni peace. Muhammad Abdel Salam, the chief Houthi negotiator, characterized the talks as constructive, underscoring mutual interests in resolving the crisis
  2. American-British Raids Strike Yemeni Coastal Areas.
    The Yemeni Houthi group reported two American and British airstrikes targeting Hodeidah Governorate and Baqim area in Saada Governorate. Al-Masirah TV confirmed the attacks without specifying objectives or outcomes.

February 13, 2024

  1. India and UAE Forge Trade Corridor, Strengthen Bilateral Ties.
    India and the UAE solidified their economic partnership with the signing of investment and trade agreements, highlighted by a significant framework deal for the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC). Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the UAE also emphasized diplomatic ties, marked by discussions with Emirati President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The agreements underscore the growing collaboration between the two nations since Modi’s landmark visit in 2015, with trade reaching $85 billion between 2022 and 2023. Modi’s visit, including the inauguration of the largest Hindu temple in the Middle East, not only aims to energize the Indian expatriate community but also aligns with his government’s narrative, focusing on Hindu nationalism and fostering support from overseas Indians, potentially influencing India’s upcoming parliamentary elections.
  2. PLO: Saudi-Led Effort to Halt Conflict
    The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) announced a Saudi-led Arab initiative aimed at ending hostilities and fostering a political resolution for a Palestinian state. Secretary of the Executive Committee, Hussein Al-Sheikh, outlined three objectives: ceasefire, political settlement, and internal Palestinian governance. Al-Sheikh condemned Israeli actions in Gaza and welcomed Hamas’s potential inclusion in the PLO.
  3. Qatar Concludes Iranian FM’s Visit, Discussing Gaza Situation.
    Qatar wraps up Iranian FM’s visit, focusing on the Gaza crisis. Talks emphasized strong bilateral ties and Iran’s diplomatic efforts to end the conflict. Iranian Foreign Minister Abdullahian praised Qatar’s mediation role and criticized the US stance. Meanwhile, Qatar condemns Israeli attacks on Rafah, highlighting risks to ceasefire negotiations and humanitarian consequences.
  4. Houthi Attack on Iranian Ship Sparks Debate.
    In the early hours of February 12, Iranian-backed Houthi militants launched two missiles from Yemen-controlled territories toward the Bab el-Mandeb strait. Their target: the MV Star Iris, a Greek-owned cargo vessel flying the Marshall Islands flag, en route to Iran’s Bandar Imam Khomeini port with a cargo of Brazilian corn. Miraculously, the vessel sustained minor damage, and no crew members were injured in the attack. However, the strategic implications of this incident are profound. The timing of the attack raises suspicions as it coincides with the ship’s intended destination in Iran, suggesting a calculated effort by the Houthis to absolve Iran of direct involvement in their operations. This attack, while unsuccessful in causing significant harm, serves Iran’s narrative that it is not orchestrating Houthi aggression in the Red Sea. However, notably absent from official statements by the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) is the crucial context surrounding the incident, leaving room for misinterpretation and manipulation of the narrative by involved parties.
  5. US Intercepts Iranian Smuggling Boat Bound for Houthis; Details Withheld.
    In late January, the US Coast Guard intercepted an Iranian smuggling boat in the Arabian Sea, loaded with weapons bound for the Houthis. The vessel, departing from Iran, aimed for southern Oman or Yemen. Despite seizing the cargo, American authorities have yet to officially announce the incident. This seizure underscores Iran’s persistence in arming the Houthis, with recent shipments showing a decline in quality. Iranian attempts to involve Somali gangs in smuggling operations also raise concerns. Efforts to curb such activities involve cooperation with regional allies and enhanced surveillance in the region.
  6. Houthi Leader Warns U.S. About Ground Operations
    In a recent interview on Al Jazeera, Muhammad Ali Al-Houthi, leader of the Ansar Allah Houthi group, cautioned against potential U.S. ground military operations in Yemen, asserting the militia’s preparedness despite American strikes. Locally, violence intensified in Yemen’s Ibb Governorate with a mass kidnapping and home bombings following clashes resulting in a Houthi leader’s death. Additionally, Human Rights Watch revealed an increase in Houthi recruitment of children as young as 13 since the Israel-Hamas war.
  7. EU Launches ‘Aspides Plan’ to Protect Red Sea Shipping.
    The European Union announced the formation of a naval operation to protect ships in the Red Sea, extending from the Strait of Hormuz to Bab al-Mandab. Led by Admiral Vassilios Griparis from Greece, the fleet aims to safeguard commercial vessels from Houthi attacks and piracy. With a budget of 8 million euros, the mission, named “Aspides Plan,” responds to escalating Houthi attacks on cargo ships, allegedly linked to Israel. 
  8. Saudi Arabia Bolsters Yemen’s Economy with $250 Million Deposit.
    Saudi Arabia deposited $250 million to support Yemen’s budget deficit, bolster salaries, and enhance food security. This is part of a $1.2 billion aid package, emphasizing Saudi commitment to Yemen’s stability. Previous support totaled $11.2 billion from 2012 to 2023. 

February 14, 2024

  1. UAE Launches Major Solar Project with French and Korean Partners.
    The UAE is embarking on a significant expansion of its solar energy capabilities with the launch of the Al Ajban solar power plant, a $748 million venture in collaboration with France’s EDF and Korea Western Power. Positioned east of Abu Dhabi, the 1.5 gigawatt facility is slated for completion by July 2026, promising estimated revenues of $2.24 billion over three decades. Designed to power 160,000 homes and cut emissions by over 2.4 million metric tons a year, the project underscores the UAE’s commitment to diversifying its energy portfolio and advancing its carbon reduction objectives.
  2. Saudi Arabia’s “Sah” Sukuk Attracts Strong Interest in First Offering.
    Saudi Arabia’s inaugural government savings sukuk, named “Sah,” has seen robust demand, closing its first issuance with applications totaling 861 million riyals ($229 million) and fully subscribed by 35,000 savers. Offering an annual return of 5.64%, this initiative aligns with Vision 2030’s goals to boost individual savings rates and enhance financial literacy among citizens. By introducing “Sah” and similar products, the Kingdom aims to encourage regular saving habits and educate the public on the significance of savings for future financial security. The next issuance of “Sah” sukuk is anticipated in March 2024, continuing this effort to broaden the financial options available to Saudi residents.
  3. Saudi Arabia Ends Year with $21.6 Billion Budget Deficit.
    Saudi Arabia reported a budget deficit of 80.946 billion riyals ($21.6 billion) for the last fiscal year, marking a significant shift from an earlier estimated surplus of 104 billion riyals. The total expenditures reached 1.293 trillion riyals against revenues of 1.212 trillion riyals, with oil revenues contributing 754.6 billion riyals. The deficit, particularly pronounced in the year’s final quarter at 37 billion riyals, was attributed to decreased oil revenues stemming from a voluntary production cut aimed at stabilizing the market. This outcome underscores the Kingdom’s ongoing efforts to navigate the complexities of global energy dynamics and resource management within its economic strategies.
  4. US Targets Houthi Threats in Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.
    The United States Central Command (CENTCOM) has taken action against Houthi forces following two attacks in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. A critical anti-ship cruise missile system in Houthi territory was destroyed on February 13th, with a subsequent anti-ship ballistic missile launch occurring later that evening. Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, leader of the Ansar Allah movement, has publicly declared these maritime attacks as victories against Israeli presence. The US Department of Defense warns that despite significant impact on Houthi military capabilities, the group still possesses a considerable arsenal.
  5. UN Security Council Addresses Yemen Crisis.
    The UN Security Council convened on February 14 to deliberate on the intensifying situation in Yemen, highlighting the surge in Houthi assaults on maritime lanes and the counter-actions by American and British forces. The meeting highlighted peace efforts in Yemen, led by UN envoy Hans Grundberg. The United States urged global action on Iran amidst Houthi provocations. Grundberg emphasized regional discord’s impact on Yemen’s peace. Saudi Arabia and Oman’s contributions to UN mediation were praised, urging Yemeni factions to prioritize peace over hostilities. The dire humanitarian situation in Yemen was also addressed, urging increased international aid.

February 16, 2024

  1. Saudi and Iranian Diplomatic Talks on Rafah and Gaza Crisis.
    Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan received a call from his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amir Abdullahian, to discuss bilateral relations and regional developments, including the situation in Rafah and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. A statement from the Saudi Foreign Ministry noted discussions on efforts to address the Gaza humanitarian situation, highlighting both countries’ commitment to regional stability and peace promotion.
  2. Starlink” Internet Service Activated in UAE Field Hospital in Gaza.
    Israel agrees to operate the “Starlink” satellite Internet service in the Emirati field hospital in Gaza, to enhance medical care by enabling videoconferencing and remote diagnosis. The agreement comes after the UAE’s cooperation with international organizations to provide this service, with the aim of saving patients’ lives. The step is necessary to ensure effective medical care in light of repeated outages of communications services in the Gaza Strip, and comes in the context of the UAE’s continued support for the Palestinian people amid the devastating Israeli war on Gaza.
  3. US Intercepts Iranian Arms Bound for Houthis.
    The US Coast Guard intercepted an Iranian arms shipment destined for the Houthis in Yemen, as announced by the US Central Command. The operation, executed by the USCGC Clarence Sutphin Jr, revealed over 200 packages of ballistic missile components, explosives, surveillance devices, communication equipment, and anti-tank missile launchers. This breach of UN Security Council Resolution 2216 endangers international maritime safety and global trade. General Michael Eric Corella highlighted the US’s dedication to thwarting Iranian arms shipments with allied support, amidst accusations from the Houthis of over 400 US and British attacks since January. The US insists these strikes are retaliatory, emphasizing a desire to avoid escalation, despite recent US-British airstrikes in Hodeidah Governorate’s Bayt al-Faqih district.
  4. Russia and China Criticize Western Actions in Middle East at the UN.
    During a UN Security Council session on the Middle East, Russia’s Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Polyansky and China’s delegate Zhang Jun criticized Western countries for actions they consider violations of international law. Polyansky argued that the right to self-defense does not justify actions undermining freedom of navigation, while Zhang warned against using international law and UN resolutions as pretexts to escalate tensions, emphasizing that the Council has not authorized any country to use force against Yemen.

February 20, 2024

  1. Houthi Strikes Prompt CENTCOM Response.
    CENTCOM’s continued efforts to counter Houthi threats began on February 15, with a missile lightly damaging the MV Lycavitos, a UK-owned and Barbados-flagged bulk carrier, in the Gulf of Aden. Following this, CENTCOM conducted self-defense strikes on February 17 against Houthi missile and drone threats in Yemen, including the first reported use of a UUV by the Houthis, aiming to safeguard maritime navigation. The next day, February 18, saw a significant escalation when the Houthis struck the UK-owned MV Rubymar with a missile, causing damage and eliciting a distress call, with coalition forces responding to ensure the crew’s safety. Additionally, within 24 hours of this attack, the Houthis launched another ballistic missile from Ibb towards the Red Sea, further demonstrating the intensification of their maritime threats. 

February 21, 2024

  1. Houthis Target French, U.S., and Israeli Ships.
    Less than 24 hours after the European Union formally launched “ASPEEDS” naval mission in the Red Sea, the Houthis reported striking a French battleship and the French Ministry confirmed by announcing it had intercepted the two drones coming from Yemen. The Houthi leader Muhammad Ali Al-Houthi in a televised comment on the European campaign said “ We tell the Europeans not to play with fire,” while in the background was a video broadcast of shooting down the MQ9 American drone. According to Houthi sources, the drone that was shot down was among the most recent American drones and included high technological specifications, including an advanced radar system, high-resolution cameras and sensors that can scan an area 360 degrees in diameter, and the value of the plane, along with the control room, missiles and other devices, is $30 million.
    On the same day in the evening, the Houthis fired two anti-ship ballistic missiles at U.S. Sea Champion on its way to deliver grain donations from Argentina to Aden, the headquarters of the internationally recognized Yemeni government. A source in the port of Aden, who refused to reveal his identity, said that the attack on the ship occurred by mistake. A separate source in Hodeidah, who also requested to remain anonymous, stated that the Houthis informed them that the attack was not intentional. The Greek cargo ship “Sea Champion” arrived at the port of Aden after being subjected to an unintended missile attack by the Houthis in the Red Sea late yesterday, Tuesday, February 20, according to shipping and military sources.
    The British maritime security firm Ambrey Also reported that on Tuesday, the Yemeni Houthi movement, targeted a Liberian-flagged cargo ship en route to Somalia in the Gulf of Aden near the Red Sea. The Houthis claimed responsibility for attacking the Israeli cargo vessel MSC Silver with missiles, along with several American warships in the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea, and sites in Eilat, southern Israel, utilizing drones. The targeted ship, described by the Houthis as Israeli, is operated by Wazim Integrated Shipping Services, an Israeli company with ties to ZIM and regular visits to Israeli ports.
    On the same day, the US Navy News reported that the US Central Command destroyed an underwater drone in Houthi-controlled Yemeni waters, marking the first observation of the Houthis using unmanned submarines. This incident follows a US Coast Guard interception of an Iranian arms shipment to the Houthis, containing components for unmanned surface and underwater vessels.
    Early today, on Wednesday, American-British fighter jets launched two raids on Hodeidah Governorate, west of the country. Houthi media confirmed, “The raids targeted the Al-Jabbana area, north of Hodeidah.”
    Meanwhile, Tehran Times praised the Houthis’ significant escalations, attributing it as a response to the American designation of Ansarullah as a terrorist organization. The newspaper provided a detailed 24 hour Houthi achievement report saying, Ansarullah forces targeted two American vessels, the “Sea Champion” and “Navis Fortuna,” in the Gulf of Aden, and struck the British cargo ship Rubymar with two missiles, causing extensive damage. Yemeni forces ensured the safe exit of Rubymar’s crew. The paper’s mention of the downing of the MQ-9 came in the form of stating that this is the second incident an American drone is shot down citing November 8, 2023. 

February 22, 2024

  1. Saudi Arabia Tops UN’s e-Government Services Maturity Index for 2023.
    Saudi Arabia secures the first position in the UN ESCWA’s e-Government Services Maturity Index for 2023, marking its consecutive leadership with a 93% maturity score. This achievement, as noted by Digital Government Authority’s Governor Ahmed Al-Sawyan, underscores the Kingdom’s strides in digital transformation, aligning with Vision 2030 to enhance productivity and user experience through advanced technology. The Index evaluates 17 countries, with Saudi Arabia excelling in service availability, usage, and reach.
  2. Report: Europe Is Paying Illegal Passage Fees to the Houthis.
    According to a report released by Sheba Intelligence, European shipping companies have begun paying illegal fees to the Houthi group for the safe passage of their vessels through the Red Sea. This controversial arrangement involves payments to accounts linked to Houthi spokesperson Mohammed Abdel Salam, with fees averaging $500,000 per ship to avoid the costlier alternative routes. while Reuters reported that the group informed maritime insurance companies of the details of a shipping ban, amid reports of the targeting of a British ship and new American strikes on Yemen.
  3. Houthi Leader Challenges U.S. Over Vessel Classification.
    Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi challenged the United States to disprove the classifications of targeted vessels, asserting they had accurately identified and attacked ships affiliated with American, British, or Israeli interests, based on a strategic intelligence achievement. Al-Houthi has boasted of targeting Israeli sites with 183 missiles and drones and targeting 48 ships in the Red Sea.  In other news today, the Houthi movement conducted a military parade in the Al-Marashi District of Al-Jawf province, showcasing 700 fighters who had completed military training. Houthi forces have readied drone units at Al-Hudaydah Military Airport for numerous attacks, including deploying explosive-laden boats. At Ras Issa port, they developed control systems for unmanned submarines, conducting tests in Salif and Ras Issa ports. These submarines, some rigged to explode, target U.S. and British naval vessels in the Red Sea.
  4. US-UK-Houthi Military Engagements.
    The US Central Command disclosed that it executed four strikes against the Houthis in Yemen, targeting seven cruise missiles and an anti-ship ballistic missile launcher poised for launch towards the Red Sea. Concurrently, the British Maritime Trade Operations Authority reported a missile attack on a vessel 70 nautical miles southeast of Aden, Yemen, which resulted in a fire. Similarly, Embrey Maritime Security Company revealed that a British-owned cargo ship under the Palau flag was hit by two missiles near Aden, igniting a blaze onboard, marking a significant escalation in maritime tensions involving the US, the UK, and the Houthis.

February 28, 2024

  1. Qatar-France $200 Million Aid Pact for Palestine
    During a two-day visit to Paris by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, at the invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron, both leaders announced a $200 million contribution to support the Palestinian people. This joint statement concluded the Emir’s visit, highlighting their efforts to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. They emphasized the need for a two-state solution and the immediate opening of crossings for humanitarian aid. Additionally, Macron appreciated Qatar’s role in mediating the release of hostages in Gaza. The leaders also discussed extending their economic, trade, and investment partnerships, including a strategic agreement to finance emerging companies in France with 10 billion euros over six years. This collaboration aims to benefit sectors such as energy, health, and technology, reflecting the strong investment ties between Qatar and France.
  2. Germany Intercepts Houthi Missiles in Red Sea
    On Feb. 27, the German frigate “Hessen” shot down two drones launched by Iran-backed Houthis in the Red Sea. In related actions, U.S. aircraft and a coalition warship destroyed five Houthi UAVs targeting commercial and naval vessels from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen. A Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship and a Panama-flagged tanker reported a missile landing nearby, 63 nautical miles northwest of Hodeidah, Yemen.

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