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Intensification of hostilities, delegitimization efforts between AQAP, Wilayat Yemen – Yemen Analysis

Executive Summary

While the main conflict in Yemen is ongoing between the Houthis and members of the Saudi-led Coalition, Sunni jihadist groups have been able to take advantage of the existing relative vacuum in power to entrench themselves in the southern part of the country.

These groups, namely al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the local Islamic State (IS) affiliate Wilayat Yemen, have developed a growing competition between each other for recruits, areas of control, and influence in Bayda Governorate’s Qifa area, with the frequency and sophistication of attacks conducted by both groups peeking at the end of March.

Both groups, particularly AQAP, seemingly bolstered their online propaganda and recruitment efforts as well as attempts to delegitimize one another in the eyes of locals during this period.

Given AQAP’s overall better ties with the local population, such propaganda efforts will likely prove a more effective tool for the group to further expand their local backing.

We advise to avoid all travel to Yemen due to the limited government and security presence, ongoing clashes and airstrikes as well as the heightened threat of attacks and kidnappings.

Current Situation

As part of a growing competition for recruits, areas of control, and influence between AQAP and the local IS affiliate Wilayat Yemen in Bayda Governorate’s Qifa area, an uptick in hostile attacks and rhetoric has been recorded during and following the end of March. The most notable developments include the following events:

On March 24, Wilayat Yemen claimed four attacks against AQAP positions in Qifa, including a dual suicide bombing on the latter’s headquarters in Dhi Kalib, which killed over ten AQAP members.

According to reports from April 3, a tribally-supported group aligned with AQAP, “Sons of Qifa,” announced a 5 million Rial reward, equal to around 20,000 USD, for the apprehension or death of a local IS leader Khalid al-Marfadi in March, after the latter destroyed a well and agricultural resources.

On April 6, AQAP released a video on militants defecting from Wilayat Yemen to AQAP, explaining how the IS affiliate started the current conflict with the latter, further accusing Wilayat Yemen’s media of being inconsistent and spreading lies, particularly on AQAP’s collaboration with anti-Houthi forces.

On April 7, Wilayat Yemen suggested that AQAP cooperates with anti-Houthi forces by claiming that it repelled a “joint” attack by AQAP and anti-Houthi forces in Qifa’s Awjah and targeted members of both groups on April 26.

On April 17, AQAP called for a prisoner exchange with the IS affiliate in Qifa.

On April 30, AQAP released a statement denying recent IS claims of having successfully targeted AQAP in Qifa, rather claiming that Wilayat Yemen deployed a child suicide bomber and targeted locals in a supermarket.

On May 23 and June 5, AQAP released issues of a video series on Wilayat Yemen’s imprisonment of its own recruits featuring interviews of members imprisoned for months, only to be released if they agreed to conduct suicide operations against AQAP. AQAP also released images of an IS member accused of spying and who was subsequently thrown from a mountaintop, which AQAP claimed to be sourced from IS’ archives.

On June 14, IS released a video of its offensive against AQAP to take the leadership of global jihad.

Sunni Jihadist Groups Competing in Qifa


The civil war in Yemen broke out in March 2015, when Houthis forces, allied with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, took control of the capital city of Sanaa and the southern city of Aden to overthrow President Abdarabbuh Mansur Hadi. This prompted Hadi to flee Aden and seek refuge in Saudi Arabia. Over the course of the month, Houthi forces rapidly took control of areas in several governorates, including Aden, Marib, Bayda, Ibb, and Taiz. This prompted Saudi Arabia to form a coalition comprising of aerial and ground support assets from Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, and Bahrain to launch an offensive against Houthi forces in support of the Hadi-led government. While Iran expressed its official opposition to the Saudi-led Coalition’s offensive in Yemen, it did not explicitly commit to any support for the Houthis initially. However, later in the conflict, Tehran has supplied the Shiite Houthis with sophisticated weapons, in the form of ballistic missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), technological expertise and infrastructure as well as supplies and advisors to bolster their capabilities vis-a-vis the Saudi-led Coalition.

Over the course of the conflict, the Saudi-led Coalition was able to reverse the majority of the territorial gains made by the Houthis. This was particularly following December 2017, when the Houthis killed former President Saleh, which prompted several pro-Saleh factions to rescind their support for the Houthis, significantly overstretching the latter’s ranks and resources. The Saudi-led Coalition currently controls most of eastern and southern Yemen, with small AQAP-help pockets of territorial control in Hadramaut, Abyan, and Shabwa governorates. The Houthis are largely in control of western and northwestern Yemen from Saada Governorate to northern Taiz, Dali, and Bayda governorates. Hostilities continue to be recorded between the Saudi-led Coalition forces and the Houthis across Yemen at the time of writing, with the majority of the fighting taking place in Dali, Taiz, Hodeidah, Sanaa, Saada, al-Jawf, Bayda, and Marib governorates. Both AQAP and IS have managed to exploit the security vacuum resulting from this ongoing civil war in Yemen to strengthen their respective positions.

Territorial Control in Yemen


AQAP has successfully managed to expand its base of operations in Yemen over recent years and currently enjoys a considerable presence across the seven governorates of Abyan, Bayda, Hadramaut, Ibb, Lahij, Taiz, and Shabwa. AQAP overall follows the strategy of embedding itself within the Yemeni population and consolidating relations with local tribes. This typically manifests by appearing relatively flexible, for instance, by abandoning the idea of enforcing the full application of Sharia law. In 2016, AQAP started to actively participate in the civil war against the Houthis, alongside local Sunni tribes in various locales, including in Ibb, Taiz, and Bayda governorates, while targeting pro-Hadi forces in Abyan and Hadramaut governorates, further forging local opportunistic relations.

Wilayat Yemen

IS established a presence in Yemen in late 2014 and consisted of various branches that operated in different areas in Yemen, including Wilayat Aden-Abyan, Wilayat Bayda, and Wilayat Lahij. In 2019, IS’ central command announced that these local IS affiliates were merged into one IS branch in Yemen, termed Wilayat Yemen. Currently, the Yemeni IS affiliate’s area of operation is almost entirely confined to the Qifa area located in Bayda Governorate. Unlike AQAP, Wilayat Yemen overall experiences difficulties in gaining local support due to various factors. These largely include locals’ perception of IS as being overtly brutal and conducting indiscriminate attacks against civilians, its lack of effort to embed itself within the local population as well as its overall failure to find culturally nuanced ways of appealing to local tribes, such as their application of Sharia law, which may conflict with local cultures and practices. In addition, Wilayat Yemen is faced with difficulties in receiving foreign fighters, which constitute the majority of its militants, given the challenges facing fighters in reaching as well as integrating in Yemen.

AQAP & Wilayat Yemen-Initiated Attacks in Qifa

Assessments & Forecast

Intensification of pace and sophistication of attacks in late March

Despite significant ideological differences, AQAP and IS initially largely operated side by side without major hindrances, rather focusing their efforts against the Shiite Houthi forces in the area. Tensions started to rise in mid-2018 due to altercations regarding local territorial and power rivalries between both groups, specifically when IS accused AQAP of non-compliance while passing through one of their checkpoints in Qifa on July 2018. The IS affiliate subsequently claimed its first attack against AQAP in the Qifa area in October 2018, marking a turning point. Such hostilities significantly increased in scope and sophistication towards the end of March. This is highlighted by the increased frequency of attacks and heightened sophistication of the modus operandi employed by both groups during this period, including IS-claimed suicide bombings and AQAP-claimed territorial gains. Prior to that, the two Sunni jihadist groups generally engaged in assaults of relatively low-scale and sophistication, which inflicted a relatively small number of casualties, such as shootings, artillery shelling, and IED attacks. This sequence of intensified hostilities was likely particularly triggered by the IS-claimed dual suicide bombing on AQAP’s headquarters on March 24, which was the first suicide bombing recorded throughout the rivalry in Qifa and resulted in the killing of ten AQAP members.

The intensified attacks by IS likely served to project bolstered capabilities, particularly as its fighters managed to storm the AQAP headquarters and inflict significant casualties. This signaled IS’ increased dedication to challenge AQAP’s presence in the area. AQAP’s response with a string of intensified operations against Wilayat Yemen over the following days, such as the conduct of multiple attacks at an unprecedented pace as well as the capture of IS positions, likely served to retaliate to the attacks initiated by the latter, particularly the symbolic attack against AQAP’s leadership, and to project zero-tolerance to such assaults. AQAP’s claims of taking over multiple Wilayat Yemen positions further highlight the former’s ability to strike the latter with elevated force and effectiveness as well as to respond swiftly to Wilayat Yemen’s intensified attacks. This, in turn, serves to project that AQAP’s upper hand in the region as well as its ability to dislodge the IS affiliate from Qifa.

While no AQAP attacks against IS were recorded during the month of April and two were witnessed in May, the IS affiliate claimed to have conducted 11 operations against AQAP during these months, including two suicide bombings. The persistence of IS-perpetrated assaults against AQAP underscores IS’ apparent view that prioritizing the targeting of AQAP is vital in order for it to maintain its presence and influence in Qifa, as IS likely perceives AQAP as the main threat to maintaining control over the area. This is particularly the case as Qifa constitutes the sole area in which IS retains a level of influence, as opposed to AQAP’s presence across several governorates in Yemen.

Nonetheless, the stark decrease in AQAP-perpetrated offensive operations against the IS affiliate during April and May, despite the continuation of IS attacks, may indicate that AQAP does not view such hostilities as significantly threatening its influence in the region. In turn, this would indicate that AQAP does not prioritize attacks against the IS affiliate. This is further highlighted by AQAP’s reluctance to target Wilayat Yemen following the latter’s initial attacks conducted in October and November 2018. Many AQAP-initiated operations appear to have been conducted in retaliation to IS-led assaults deemed relatively significant by AQAP. This is highlighted by the rhetoric used by AQAP in claims of responsibility issued for two attacks conducted in June, which stated that they were conducted in retaliation to assaults by the IS affiliate.

FORECAST: Overall, hostilities between both Sunni jihadist groups are likely to persist over the coming weeks and months. In this regard, periodic intensified and increased back-and-forth hostilities are liable to be recorded. Given that Qifa constitutes Wilayat Yemen’s only area of influence, the IS affiliate will likely initiate the majority of such hostilities in Qifa and will continue to prioritize AQAP as its main target. That said, while AQAP has significantly reduced its offensives against Wilayat Yemen since March, large-scale attacks by Wilayat Yemen, especially symbolic ones, will likely trigger retaliatory attacks by AQAP to project its dominance.

Intensification of delegitimization efforts

Over the past months, both Sunni jihadist groups, mainly AQAP, have bolstered their online propaganda and recruitment efforts. Therefore, following the numerous operations against the IS affiliate from December 2018 to March, the subsequent lack of AQAP attacks against Wilayat Yemen in the following months may indicate that the group viewed such operations as ineffective in preventing the latter from continuing its attacks. This may have compelled AQAP to adjust its strategy towards adopting alternative means to undermine Wilayat Yemen in Qifa. This has largely manifested through a stream of propaganda material intending to portray AQAP as retaining a moral high ground to the local population, while simultaneously delegitimizing Wilayat Yemen.

One of the manifestations of these efforts by AQAP came through its attempts to depict Wilayat Yemen as brutal, particularly through the imprisonment and treatment of its own recruits, as underscored by AQAP in multiple propaganda publications. This serves to boost the locals’ perception of Wilayat Yemen as unnecessarily cruel in order to deter potential recruits. This was particularly utilized in the video broadcasted by AQAP on June 5, which it claimed to have retrieved from IS’ archives, depicting an alleged member of Wilayat Yemen who falsely confessed to being a spy and was shown being thrown from a mountaintop.

In turn, Wilayat Yemen has largely focused its efforts to delegitimize AQAP through accusations of the latter’s alleged cooperation with anti-Houthi forces. Such claims likely aim at deterring support for AQAP as they also allow IS to depict AQAP as cooperating with a government viewed negatively by segments within the local population. The accusation further serves to portray AQAP as cooperating with elements perceived as corrupt by the IS affiliate. By doing so, Wilayat Yemen is taking advantage of a number of unconfirmed reports released over the past months that indicated that AQAP and pro-Hadi government forces are cooperating in certain areas of Yemen, such as Taiz. The video issued by AQAP on April 6 denying such cooperation highlights the former’s apprehension of the potential traction that this narrative may have among local supporters. Therefore, AQAP is attempting to debunk such claims in order to mitigate their potential negative impact on the organization, which could lead to a decrease in recruits.

FORECAST: Both Sunni jihadist groups will likely continue to seek to establish and maintain a dominant presence at the cost of one another in Bayda Governorate’s Qifa area over the coming weeks and months. Given IS’ persistent attacks against AQAP, along with its lack of local support, Wilayat Yemen will likely continue to focus its efforts on targeting AQAP through violent assaults. AQAP, on the other hand, will likely continue to counter the IS affiliate through its apparent long-term strategy of isolating Wilayat Yemen in Qifa. In this regard, AQAP will likely focus the majority of its effort on spreading propaganda aimed at further delegitimizing the latter in the perception of the local population, while continuing to rally local support for its own cause. In this context, AQAP will likely continue to depict itself as holding the moral high ground vis-a-vis Wilayat Yemen. AQAP attacks against Wilayat Yemen will therefore likely remain relatively less frequent compared to IS attacks against the former. Therefore, the balance of power currently witnessed in Bayda is likely to remain unchanged or slightly sway in favor of AQAP, as AQAP is pursuing more long-term goals of maintaining their partial local support as opposed to IS’ short-term focus on essentially targeting AQAP.


It is advised at this time to avoid all travel to Sanaa and Aden.

In the event of air strikes, it is advised to take cover in a designated shelter, or if one does not exist, in a room with as few external walls, windows and openings as possible, close all openings, sit on the floor below the window line and near an internal wall.

We advise against all travel to outlying areas and overland travel, due to the limited government and security presence, ongoing clashes and airstrikes, as well as the heightened threat of attacks and kidnappings.

For those operating in or conducting business with oil facilities, it is advised to consult with us for itinerary and contingency support plans.

Foreigners, particularly Westerners, continuing to operate in Yemen are additionally advised to maintain a low profile, exercise heightened vigilance, and avoid locales frequented by foreign, particularly Western nationals. To mitigate the risk of attacks or abductions, ensure that places of stay are equipped with sufficient perimeter security details, alter travel routes, and avoid disclosing sensitive itinerary information to unknown individuals.

Implications of recent escalation in US-Iran tensions on Iranian domestic, foreign policy – Iran Analysis

Executive Summary

Over the months of April and May, the US took multiple measures as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign vis-a-vis Iran, including the revocation of sanction waivers to importers of Iranian oil and deployment of US military assets to the Middle East.

As a response to the perceived provocations, on May 8, Iran announced its decision to partially halt its commitments to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and set a 60-day deadline for European states to renegotiate the financial terms of the agreement, marking a highly significant development since the ratification of the nuclear deal in 2015.

The purported involvement of Iran and its affiliates in the recent uptick in attacks against US allies, particularly the May 12 attack against four naval vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, off the coast of the UAE, has further fueled tensions in the region.

Iran has resisted direct negotiations with the US thus far, which indicates the high level of influence wielded by hardliners on the country’s foreign policy. Tensions are liable to remain high as both Iran and the US are likely to continue their strategic posturing in the region over the short term, in order to eventually coerce each other onto the negotiating table.

Western nationals operating or residing in Iran are advised to regularly review emergency and contingency protocols as a basic security precaution due to the risk of limited hostilities between Iran, the US, and its Gulf allies. Those operating in Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria are advised to maintain a low profile due to threat of attacks by Iranian-linked elements.

Current Situation

On May 8, Iran’s SCNS released a statement announcing Tehran’s decision to partially halt its commitments to the JCPOA and setting a 60-day deadline for European states to take steps to counteract the negative effects of US sanctions.

The US President Donald Trump subsequently issued an executive order to impose sanctions on Iran’s metal industry.

On May 11, the US sent Patriot air defense systems to US CENTCOM based in Qatar’s al-Udeid Air Base.

On May 12, the US Embassy in Baghdad issued a security alert advising “all US citizens of heightened tensions in Iraq” and the “requirement to remain vigilant.”

On May 12, Saudi Arabia’s official news agency stated that two out of the four civilian commercial cargo ships that were subject to a “sabotage attempt” near UAE territorial waters in the Gulf of Oman, off the eastern coast near Fujairah, were Saudi oil tankers.

On May 14, the Yemeni Houthis claimed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attack against an oil pipeline belonging to the official Saudi Arabian Oil Company in Riyadh Province’s towns of al-Duwadimi and Afif.

On May 15, the US ordered the departure of all non-emergency US government employees stationed at the US Embassy in Baghdad and the US Consulate in Erbil from Iraq.

On May 18, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) issued an advisory warning of risks to civil aviation over the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

On May 19, a rocket landed in the vicinity of Baghdad’s Green Zone, less than two kilometers away from the US Embassy.

On May 20, the Spokesperson of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Behrouz Kamalvandi stated that Iran’s 3.67 percent production capacity of enriched uranium had increased by four-fold.

On May 20, two ballistic missiles were reportedly intercepted over Mecca Province’s Taif and Jeddah. Yemeni Houthis denied involvement in the attack.

On May 24, the US announced additional deployment of 1,500 military personnel to the Middle East.


In May 2018, the US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA, also known as the Iran nuclear deal, which was negotiated between Iran and P5 +1 (US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany) countries in 2015. Subsequently, the US re-imposed sanctions related to Iran’s export of oil in November 2018, but granted sanction waivers to eight countries including India, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Italy, and Turkey for a period of 180 days. On April 8, 2019, the US designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO). This was followed by the US’s decision to end sanction waivers to importers of Iranian oil starting on May 2, 2019. Out of the seven sanctions related to Iran’s uranium enrichment and civilian nuclear energy cooperation, the US revoked two sanction waivers related to Iran’s uranium enrichment process under the JCPOA – one that allowed Iran to store excess heavy water produced in the uranium enrichment process in Oman and one that allowed Iran to swap enriched uranium for raw yellowcake with Russia. On May 5, US officials announced their decision to deploy an aircraft carrier and bomber task force to the Middle East citing indications of Iranian threat, but provided no further details. This prompted Tehran’s decision to partially halt its commitments to the JCPOA on May 8, 2019.

Assessments & Forecast

Impact of IRGC’s designation as an FTO:

The designation of the IRGC in its entirety, including its extraterritorial wing, the Quds Force, as a “terrorist entity” marks a highly significant development, as it constitutes the first ever instance wherein the US has labelled a country’s military organization as an FTO. Such a designation comes amid the US’s continued policy to apply “maximum pressure” on the Iranian government to end its alleged role in destabilization activities across the regional as well as the international stage. It forms part of the US’s efforts to depict the Iranian administration as “rogue” or an “outlaw”, and is aimed at further isolating Iran on the international stage.

The move is largely symbolic, given the fact that US sanctions already target the IRGC and its leaders, affiliates, and subsidiaries such the Basij Resistance and the Quds Force and the US had already designated the IRGC as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” in 2017. However, the latest step will likely augment the existing pressure on Iran. Any individual or entity knowingly providing material support to the IRGC will now face the possibility of a 20-year US prison sentence. It will also impose immigration restrictions on members of the IRGC who attempt to travel to the US simply by virtue of their membership or affiliation to the organization. FORECAST: Given that the IRGC has significant stake in the Iranian economy, through this measure, the US likely intends to make it further difficult for foreign entities to conduct business with Iran, which, in turn, would have a negative impact upon the Islamic Republic’s economy. However, the fact that a large extent of the IRGC’s business dealings are known to be carried out through illicit channels, such dealings are unlikely to be significantly affected by the recent designation.

FORECAST: Moreover, such a move is also unlikely to alter Iran’s policies on the regional setting, like its involvement in supporting proxies such as the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Yemeni Houthis, and Shiite militias in Iraq such as the Harakat al-Nujaba (HNA). Rather, given the increased restraints faced by the IRGC, the recent move is liable to increase Iran’s motivation to expand its regional footprint through the above-mentioned proxies as well as other sponsored militias. To this effect, the Iranian government will continue to divert large funds, at the expense of its domestic population, in order to sustain its influence in neighboring countries. This, in turn, is likely to inflame already existing local grievances, which may result in further instances of widespread civil unrest in the country. However, on a broad basis, given Iran’s history of strategic culture and great power rhetoric, a majority of the Iranian populace views the US sanctions as the source of their economic hardship, as compared to the Iranian government’s policies. While this is partly aided by the intensive propaganda campaigns in the country, it nevertheless galvanizes unity in the face of a “foreign aggression”. Thus, it is likely that the Iranian administration will attempt to placate the inherent domestic concerns related to the government’s regional activities and support for its proxies amidst an economic crisis, by attempting to project strength vis-a-vis the US. This may take place through the continued portrayal of strength through military exercises, display of new defense equipment, such as the unveiling of the new domestically produced “Khordad 15” air defense system on June 9. Moreover, the Islamic Republic will seek to counteract the US’s measures by maintaining a relatively belligerent posture, given the influence wielded by hardliners on the country’s foreign policy.”

FORECAST: By continuing, or rather increasing support for its proxies, the IRGC may be able to effectively target its adversaries, namely the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia-aligned countries in the Gulf over the coming months. In this regard, given that much of the recent attacks in the region, such as the May 19 rocket landing in Baghdad’s Green Zone near the US Embassy, the June 1 rocket attack into Israel’s Mount Hermon from Syria, or the spate of attacks against Saudi targets have consistently targeted Iran’s adversaries, it is likely that they were encouraged by Tehran in an effort to destabilize the region. Moreover, the fact that some of the attacks were carried out against energy-related targets, such as the May 12 targeting of Saudi oil tankers off the coast of UAE’s Fujairah in the Gulf of Oman and the May 14 Houthi-claimed UAV attack on the oil pipeline in Riyadh Province, suggests that Iran may be attempting to weaken the economies of Saudi-aligned countries, given their significant dependence on oil revenues. This would align with Tehran’s strategy of preventing its rival, Saudi Arabia, from expanding its influence in the region and subsequently positioning itself as the dominant regional power in the Middle East. This, in turn, would allow Iran to prevent the regional balance of power from significantly shifting away from itself, particularly in light of the reimposition of US sanctions.

Potential Ramifications of the imposition of various sanctions on Iran:

A) Oil-related sanctions:

The US’s refusal to extend the 180-day sanctions exemptions for importers of Iranian oil (China, India, South Korea, Turkey and Japan) from May 2 constitutes a core segment of the US’s “maximum pressure” campaign, as it aims to completely diminish Iran’s oil revenue. Although India and China, the two top importers of Iranian oil, were envisaged to face significant setbacks to its energy security policy due to the US move, it appears that both countries have planned for this eventuality and are effectively looking at alternate sources to fulfill their energy requirements. In this scenario, while neither of the two countries have officially announced their position on the future of Iranian crude imports, it is likely that imports from other key energy players such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE will feature on a higher side, specifically in the case of India. This will put further strain on Iran’s revenues from its oil sector, which, in turn, will have a significant adverse impact upon its national economy.

FORECAST: Given that the move has been anticipated since the reinstatement of US sanctions on Iran in November 2018, early indications suggests that apart from the initial shock, the decision has not drastically impacted the global oil market, despite fears of an oil price surge and supply disruptions. This is primarily due to a boost in Saudi Arabia’s oil production in May to fill the gap of Iranian crude, along with similar boosts in production by Iraq and Libya. However, Iran may resort to illegal trade of its oil in the black market, particularly in countries such as Yemen, where the Houthis have been reportedly deriving a majority of its income by selling Iranian oil. Furthermore, Iran may also attempt to export its oil through the use of “switch-off-the-transponder” tactics, which makes tracking ships increasingly difficult.

B) Uranium enrichment-related sanctions:

The May 8 statement released by the SNSC, which was reiterated by Iranian President Rouhani in a televised address, represents a pronounced effort by the Islamic Republic to project strength in response to perceived US provocations in recent years. The decision to halt its partial commitments under the JCPOA regarding enriched uranium and heavy water reserves follows the US’s May 4 revocation of the two sanction waivers, which practically forces Iran to completely overhaul its production of heavy water and uranium enrichment or continue production and find itself in breach of the JCPOA. Moreover, the five sanction waivers that were extended were also reduced from 180 days to 90 days, in which the remaining adherents of the JCPOA are allowed to cooperate with Iran on the sites of Bushehr, Arak, and Fordow without facing US sanctions.

This was followed by the May 20 announcement from the Spokesperson of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Behrouz Kamalvandi according to which, Iran’s 3.67 percent production capacity of uranium had increased by four-fold. However, Iranian officials reportedly stressed that the uranium would be enriched only to the 3.67 percent limit set under the JCPOA. Thus, although Tehran still remains party to the JCPOA, its increased capacity to produce enriched uranium suggests that Iran is likely to soon exceed the 300 kg uranium stockpile limitation set by the accord. FORECAST: However, as indicated in Rouhani’s speech, Tehran will likely retain its enriched uranium (upto 300 kg) and heavy water (upto 130 tons) rather than selling them to other nations while remaining within the limits prescribed in the nuclear deal over the short term, at least until July 8. This would allow Iran to project its adherence to the terms set under the JCPOA.

FORECAST: However, as per the joint statement released by France, Germany, and the UK on May 9, while the European states expressed “regret” over the reinstatement of US sanctions and continued to pledge their willingness to support alternate trade mechanisms such as the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), they also categorically rejected Tehran’s 60-day ultimatum for negotiations. While this highlights their unwillingness to publicly be strong armed onto the negotiation table, it is also indicative of their reluctance to oppose US policies. Furthermore, the reimposition of the US sanctions has increased the risk of conducting business with Tehran for foreign companies, several of whom have already ceased their operations in the Islamic Republic. This is likely to have a significant adverse impact upon Iran’s economy over the coming months.

C) Metal industry-related sanctions:

The US President Donald Trump’s May 8 decision to impose new sanctions on Iran’s metal industry are aimed at undermining Iran’s revenue from the export of industrial metals, the country’s largest non-oil sector, which reportedly accounts for approximately ten percent of its export economy. While Iran’s mining industry was already facing severe setbacks due to shipping and payment restrictions, the recent move is liable to inherently impact employment provided by the metal as well as the automotive industry, which reportedly constitutes almost six percent of Iran’s total labor force. This is liable to significantly exacerbate domestic workers’ grievances, which have manifested in the form of persistent localized demonstrations across Iran over the recent months.

FORECAST: In this context, public protests surrounding employment, pensions, inflation, increase in the prices of basic commodities and other economic-related issues are liable to continue in a significant manner over the coming weeks and months. Such demonstrations will likely take place across Iran, including in major cities such as Tehran, as well as in outlying provinces such as Khuzestan and Kordestan, where the locals comprising of an Arab-majority or Kurdish population perceive themselves as marginalized by the Shiite Iranian government’s policies. This will not only increase the threat of civil unrest in the country as a whole, but also exacerbate sectarian tensions between the countries minority communities and the Shiite-led government.

Lack of direct engagement, continued strategic posturing liable to prolong tensions in the region:

The Iranian administration’s current position to resist direct negotiations with the US, albeit agreeing to mediation talks with Japan, highlights the high degree of influence wielded by hardliners on the country’s foreign policy at this juncture. Such elements continue to criticize the Rouhani administration’s moderate approach towards dealing with the US and aspire to correct the perceived weakness with which the terms of the JCPOA were negotiated in 2015. FORECAST: This, combined with the relative lack of tangible economic benefits from JCPOA, is liable to further embolden segments of hardliners and conservative elements within Iran’s political sphere. This may result in further appointments of such elements in key leadership posts, which is liable to significantly hinder the popularity of more moderate officials, consisting of figures such as President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. This is underscored by the appointment of General Hossein Salami, a prominent hardliner within Iran’s military establishment as the IRGC’s Commander-in-Chief on April 21. Such appointments are not only liable to increase the anti-US rhetoric emanating from the Islamic Republic but also significantly hamper the potential for backchannel negotiations with the US, which are generally conducted by more moderate officials.

FORECAST: On a regional level, tensions are liable to remain high due to the strategic posturing of the two countries, in order to eventually coerce each other onto the negotiating table. The deployment of US warships, including an aircraft carrier and a bomber task force on May 5, the sending of Patriot missile systems on May 11, as well as the decision to deploy an additional 1500 US military personnel to the region, is likely to significantly increase tensions in the Persian Gulf waters and the Strait of Hormuz over the coming weeks and months. This is particularly in light of Tehran’s persistent effort to assert its authority as the legitimate custodian of security across its territorial waters. These tensions may manifest in the form of limited confrontation between the naval forces of the two sides, which constitutes a general risk to shipping through the critical energy choke point.

FORECAST: Tensions are also likely to increase between Saudi-aligned countries and Israel on one side and Iran on the other. Iran may encourage its backed elements, particularly the Yemeni Houthis, to increase their attacks against targets in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This would also align with the Houthis’ aim of weakening the economies of countries that are part of the Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen in order to reduce their ability to engage in the ongoing civil war in the country. Iran may also use its proxies and backed elements in Syria and Lebanon, such as the Lebanese Hezbollah, to put pressure on the US by using them as leverage against Israel, the US’s closest ally in the Middle East. This may manifest in the form of attacks against Israel by Iranian-backed elements in Syria, as witnessed on June 1, when a rocket was launched from Syria towards Israel’s Mount Hermon. However, such attacks are likely to remain limited and constrained to areas within close proximity to the Syria-Israel border. This is because an attack deep inside Israeli territory would trigger a large-scale conflict between Israel on one side and Syria and Lebanon on the other, and Syria is currently not interested in such a scenario given its preoccupation in hostilities with rebel forces.

FORECAST: Overall, as tensions between the US and Iran get prolonged, the risk of a military confrontation between the two countries will increase. Such a military confrontation is likely to be limited at least in the short term, with Iran attempting to use its proxies as a means to put pressure on the US and its Gulf allies and the US retaliating with a further increase in military presence in the Persian Gulf. While Iran is currently not interested in a broad conflict with the US given that its economy is unlikely to be able to sustain such a cost, as previously assessed, the influence of hardliners on the country’s foreign policy reduces the possibility of backchannel negotiations. This combined with the fact that the US is unlikely to agree to any terms that do not significantly diminish Iran’s nuclear and military capabilities, further reduces the possibility of successful negotiations. Therefore, as these tensions persist over a long period of time, the risk of a full scale conflict between the US and Iran cannot be ruled out.


Travelers are advised to regularly review their emergency and contingency procedures as a basic security precaution, as the current tensions between Iran on one side and the US and its Gulf allies on the other may manifest in some form of cold war or even a limited or full military confrontation.

Western nationals operating or residing in Iran are advised to remain cognizant to prevailing negative sentiment toward the United States and other North American and Western European countries.

US citizens and other Western nationals operating or residing in other countries in the Middle East with sizeable Iranian-backed elements are advised to keep a low profile and maintain heightened vigilance, given the potential for attacks by such groups.

Those operating vital infrastructure, particularly in the oil sector, in Saudi Arabia are advised to review security protocols in light of the threat posed by Yemeni Houthi-perpetrated attacks, particularly through the use of UAVs.

Those planning to operate commercial aircraft over the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman are advised to exercise heightened caution and remain apprised of further FAA notices regarding the increased threat to aviation in this region.

Threat to aviation by anti-tank guided missiles highlighted by al-Arish Airport attack case study – Special Analysis Report

Case study: December 20 attack on al-Arish Airport

On December 20, an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM)  targeted a helicopter on the ramp of al-Arish Airport, located in Egypt’s North Sinai Governorate. The helicopter carried, among others, the Egyptian interior and defense ministers who disembarked from the aircraft shortly before the attack.

On December 21, the Islamic State (IS)-linked news agency released a report on the attack, alongside a claim of responsibility by the local IS affiliate Wilayat Sinai, stating that the group had prior knowledge of the arrival of the ministers and dispatched a team of militants to ambush the entourage. It further stated that the attack was conducted with the use of a 9M133 “Kornet” ATGM that targeted an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter that was escorting the VIPs.

Initial IS-linked report detailing the al-Arish attack
Initial IS-linked report detailing the al-Arish attack

Later that day, the IS-linked news agency released a video showing the attack itself, in which the ministers and their entourage can be seen next to the helicopter with its navigation lights still on, which contrary to initial publications was a UH-60 “Blackhawk”, as it was hit by an ATGM.

Edition number 111 of IS’s weekly al-Naba newsletter published on December 22 included a more detailed and contradictory account of the attack, stating that militants spotted a helicopter with a “unique shape” and concluded that this would be a high value target.

This prompted militants to dispatch an ATGM team to a position overlooking the airport with the objective of destroying the “unique aircraft”.

It is important to mention that the Egyptian Air Force (EAAF) reportedly operated two Blackhawk helicopters prior to the attack, mainly in the role of VIP transport. These aircraft are much more distinct than others that would commonly be seen in Sinai’s airspace, such as Apaches or Mi-17s.

Report of the al-Arish attack released in IS's weekly newsletter with details contradicting initial reports
Report of the al-Arish attack released in IS’s weekly newsletter with details contradicting initial reports

Analysis of the missile launch:

While there has been no corroboration as to the type of missile used by IS in the attack at the time of writing, Wilayat Sinai have employed Kornets several times in the past, most notably in July 2015 when the group used the missile to attack an Egyptian naval vessel off the coast of North Sinai’s Rafah.

If the missile used was in fact a Kornet as IS claims, given that the missile was in flight for 14 seconds from launch until it hit its target and given that the speed of a standard Kornet missile is between 250 and 300 meters a second, it would place the launcher between 3.5 and 4.2 km from the target, well within the Kornet’s effective daytime range.

By comparing the video and imagery analysis of Al-Arish Airport, we concluded that the missile was launched from an elevated structure or a dirt berm southwest of the helicopter’s position, as can be see in the following map:

Analysis of the Missile against Helicopter in Al-Arish-Airport

Threat posed to aviation from proliferation of ATGMs

The attack does not represent a precedent, but rather serves as an opportunity to highlight the threat posed to aviation from the proliferation of ATGMs in the hands of numerous militant groups in multiple countries. Several accounts of ATGMs being fired against aircraft were recorded in recent years, including successfully targeting aircraft in flight, with the most prominent example being the downing of an Israeli Air Force (IAF) helicopter by Hezbollah in Lebanon on August 12, 2006. This is especially important as this threat is often overlooked in comparison to the more well known threat posed by man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS).

While MANPADS pose a more prominent threat to aircraft, as they were designed with the specific goal of targeting aircraft, they have several shortcomings compared to ATGMs. These mainly include being more delicate, having parts with short shelf lives, requiring greater expertise and training to successfully operate, and being more rare. ATGMs still require expertise and training, although less than MANPADS, and are generally more durable and can be sustained for operations over longer time and in harsher conditions. Most importantly however, ATGMs are significantly more common than MANPADS, and with the destabilization of countries such as Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, thousands of these systems, of different generations and capabilities, were taken away from military storage and ended in the hands of militant groups across the world. This is in addition to illegal purchases through stable countries that do not adhere to international norms, such as Belarus and North Korea.

As noted, ATGMs were not designed primarily to hit aircraft and therefore do not excel in it, however, the features for which they were designed, namely attacking a comparatively slow moving target, still make them effective weapons against aircraft. This is mostly relevant during the takeoff and landing stages of both rotary and fixed-wing aircraft, when these are most vulnerable due to their low speed and altitude. In addition, while there are several options of countermeasures against MANPADS that can be used by civil aircraft, countermeasures against ATGMs are fewer, and often involve explosives, making them currently non-optional for civil aircraft.

An additional weakness exposed in the recent attack is the dependency on local security forces and their protocols, which can often be low in standard. The attack occurred in a region currently undergoing prolonged and high intensity militant activity, in a city that was hit by the most attacks in the region in recent months. Despite this fact, the VIPs were flown in a distinct helicopter that draws attention, the airport lacks even basic and cheap means in place that may disrupt or prevent a missile attack, such as walls that would block line of sight into the airport, or metal nets that would negate the missile’s shaped charge mechanism. All of these expose the weaknesses of local security protocols, which were a direct factor in the attack.


The threat of ATGMs should be considered as a potential factor while conducting risk and vulnerability surveys, particularly in unstable regions.

Prior to conducting aerial activity in countries with known militant activity, contact us at [email protected] to consult on the possible threat posed by relevant militant groups’ weapons and capabilities and ways to mitigate these.

Contact us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for security surveys of airports.

Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh reportedly killed by Houthi forces in Sanaa Governorate – Yemen Analysis

Current Situations

Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh reportedly killed by Houthi forces in Sanaa Governorate - Yemen Analysis | MAX SecurityFormer President Ali Abdullah Saleh reportedly killed by Houthi forces in Sanaa Governorate - Yemen Analysis | MAX Security
Click here to see Map Legend

The General People’s Congress, which is the party of the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, reportedly announced that Saleh was killed by Houthi forces in Sanaa Governorate on December 4.

According to reports, Houthi forces ambushed Saleh’s vehicle in Sanhan District, located just southeast of Sanaa City. Houthis reportedly killed Saleh and other party officials who were in the vehicle with him.

Saleh had reportedly been fleeing Sanaa following the destruction of his home by Houthi forces.

Houthi leader Abd al-Malik Bid al-Din al-Houthi praised the assassination, calling for a march to take place in Sanaa on December 5.

Assessments & Forecast

Saleh’s assassination follows the latest uptick in hostilities between forces loyal to the former president and Houthis over the last week. The clashes triggered Saleh’s televised address, in which he called for the end of the Houthis’ “military rule” and asked to “open a new page with neighboring countries.” The statements likely provoked the Houthis, who generally hold a hardline stance against dissent and who perceived Saleh’s announcement as a means of reaching out to the Saudi government. While Houthi leadership has already praised the assassination, its occurrence constitutes a setback for Houthi forces overall. Saleh’s assassination will shift the current balance of powers among armed groups in Yemen, most notably in Sanaa, as pro-Saleh forces who previously fought alongside the Houthis will no longer do so. While a segment of pro-Saleh forces will continue to fight against Houthis under the same entity, many of these elements will likely go as far as joining anti-Houthi forces.

Anti-Houthi forces are likely to capitalize on ongoing disarray in order to make gains across Yemen, as they have already managed to exploit the clashes recorded between Houthis and pro-Saleh factions in Sanaa City during the past few days. As such, the Saudi-led Coalition already announced the start of a new Operation titled “Arabian Sanaa”, in which forces already declared on December 4 the opening of additional fronts around the Sanaa Governorate in order to prepare for an assault on the pro-Houthi-held capital. This threat presented by anti-Houthis is likely to cause the Houthis to take desperate measures to maintain its standing in the conflict. This could manifest in renewed efforts to hit sensitive targets deep in Saudi Arabian territory, as was the case on November 4 when a ballistic missile was intercepted by the Royal Saudi Air Defense (RSAD) over an open area east of Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport. Houthis may even attempt to target the UAE, as they already claimed to do on December 3, although Emirate authorities denied this.

Sunni jihadist militant groups are likely to take advantage of not only the internal factions existing within pro-Houthi forces but also the likely movement of anti-Houthi forces to Sanaa in order to make its own gains in southern and eastern Yemen. The hostilities between both Houthi and anti-Houthi forces that will continue in the coming days will serve as a distraction for these parties and likely worsen the existing security vacuum already present in multiple regions. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants will likely make efforts to gain back lost territory in Bayda and Hadramaut Governorates by staging additional attacks against Saudi-led coalition forces throughout the region. Islamic State (IS)-affiliated Wilayat Aden-Abyan will likely increase its actions in Aden in order to disorient anti-Houthi forces and weaken the security apparatus. Both militant groups pose major risks to territories east and south of Sanaa.

FORECAST: Overall, the reported assassination of Saleh is likely to lead to armed hostilities between pro-Saleh and Houthi forces across Yemen, especially in Sanaa City. In the long term, Houthis’ standing in the conflict is likely to be significantly weakened given this loss of manpower and support from pro-Saleh forces. Anti-Houthi forces are likely to make advances against Houthis east of Sanaa in the coming days, thereby setting them up for an offensive on Sanaa itself. Finally, jihadist groups are likely to retake footholds in central Yemen where they maintain their presence and take advantage of vulnerabilities brought on by the ongoing conflict.


It is advised that those remaining in Sanaa and Aden should initiate contingency and emergency evacuation plans given the international intervention and airstrikes. Contact us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary and contingency support plans.

We advise against all travel to outlying areas and overland travel, due to the limited government and security presence, ongoing clashes and airstrikes, as well as the heightened threat of attacks and kidnappings.

Foreigners, particularly Westerners, continuing to operate in Yemen are additionally advised to maintain a low profile, exercise heightened vigilance, and avoid locales frequented by foreign, particularly Western nationals. To mitigate the risk of attacks or abductions, ensure that places of stay are equipped with sufficient perimeter security details, alter travel routes, and avoid disclosing sensitive itinerary information to unknown individuals.


Read more risk assessments in our security blog

How countries such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Egypt cutting ties with Qatar is likely to influence the region – Middle East & N. Africa Analysis

Current Situation

During the morning hours of June 5, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and the UAE announced the cutting of all diplomatic ties with Qatar.  The Hadi-led government in Yemen, as well as Libya’s anti-Islamist House of Representatives (HoR) similarly announced the severing of diplomatic ties with Qatar on the same day. The first four countries issued a 48-hour ultimatum to Qatari diplomats to evacuate their respective nations, while similarly issuing an ultimatum to all other Qatari citizens to leave within two weeks. Additionally, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and the UAE announced that they had closed their airspace for Qatari aircrafts, and that all flights by airliners from these countries to Qatar were suspended. Qatari naval vessels will also not be allowed to use the countries’ seaports to anchor, while land travel between Qatar and Saudi Arabia will be limited to non-Qatari nationals only.

Additional measures implemented against Qatar include the expelling of the country from the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and its anti-Islamic State (IS) coalition in Syria. These measures were implemented based on accusations that Qatar is “supporting and financing extremist groups” across the region, as well as encouraging sectarianism and subversive elements operating in the abovementioned countries. Meanwhile, Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement that the accusations are “absolute fabrications” and “proves that there are premeditated intentions to cause damage to Qatar”.

How countries such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Egypt cutting ties with Qatar is likely to influence the region - Middle East & N. Africa Analysis | MAX Security
Map of countries affected by travel restrictions on Qataris

Assessments & Forecast

Severing ties may hurt Qatar economically, push its policy towards more pro-Iranian approach; limited impact on regional conflicts

While the new development is unlikely to have any effect on Qatar’s and any of the other impacted countries’ security conditions in the short term, we assess that this measure may lead to multiple local and regional ramifications over the coming months. For instance, approximately 90 percent of Qatar’s imports of food products are transferred through land from Saudi Arabia. Thus, in light of the border closure between the two countries, Doha will likely be forced to divert a large amount of resources in developing its maritime trade, including in the form of improving its seaport infrastructure, as now its imports via sea are liable to be enhanced significantly. Moreover, given the high-profile nature of the event, there remains a possibility that the turn of events will impact global markets, and particularly the oil sector, as it may be perceived as a source of instability across this oil-rich region.

These new developments may also impact expatriates, including Westerners operating in Qatar and the GCC, particularly given the suspension of flights between the GCC countries and Qatar and the closure of the land border with Saudi Arabia. In light of the likely increase in logistical difficulties in traveling between Qatar and the above-mentioned countries, exacted upon expatriates by the measures, it is likely to damage Qatar’s national economy. Though the impact on GCC residents seeking to enter Qatar is yet to be determined, it cannot be ruled out that Qatar will implement punitive measures and ban GCC citizens and residents from entering the country.

The partial isolation of Qatar may affect several conflicts and political rivalries across the region. With regards to Iran, Doha is liable to improve its bilateral relations and economic ties with Tehran, as now Qatar would be compelled to compensate for its political and economic setback. Moreover, in Yemen, in the short-term, Qatar’s absence from the Saudi-led coalition may slightly reduce the latter’s on-the-ground capabilities in fighting against the Iranian-backed Shiite Houthis. However, given Qatar’s already limited role in the coalition, as well as the aforementioned arms deal with the US, in the medium to long-term the Saudi-led coalitions is unlikely to be significantly impacted by Qatar’s absence from the coalition.

In Syria, in light of the already heightened internal divisions between rebel factions, it remains possible that this new development will further exacerbate tensions between rebel groups supported by Qatar on one side, and factions backed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the other. Should the event indeed lead to an economic recession in Qatar, their supported factions on-the ground would suffer from a shortage of resources, thus forcing them to disband or merge into other factions. With this in mind, should scenarios eventually materialize, it would potentially tip the scale towards the pro-government forces in the Syrian conflict.

In Libya, the development may constitute a boost to the HoR and its allied Libyan National Army (LNA), given their conflict with the pro-Islamist General National Congress (GNC) and its affiliated militias, which are partially supported by Qatar. That said, Qatar’s direct involvement in this conflict has significantly waned in recent years, particularly since the March 2016 arrival of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) to the designated capital of Tripoli, and therefore any implications on the conflict will remain limited.

Cutting ties with Qatar likely linked to global, regional developments involving Iran, new US administration

Today’s development comes amidst years of tensions between Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, and Egypt on one side, and Qatar on the other, surrounding multiple issues, chiefly the latter’s alleged direct involvement in the internal affairs of countries throughout the region. This is particularly relevant to Qatar’s long-standing support for Muslim Brotherhood-linked political elements across the Middle East and North Africa, as the countries in this Saudi-led alliance view the Islamist organization is a subversive element and a threat to their respective governments. Additional contentious issue include Qatar’s overall positive relations with Iran, as opposed to that of the other Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC), with the exception of Oman, which remain strong adversaries of Tehran. This is highlighted by numerous past economic agreements between Tehran and Doha in recent years, such as the agreement from February 2014 to create a joint free trade and economic zones between the two countries. A further issue that contributed to the strained relations with Qatar throughout the years is the cooperation of the Qatari-based news outlet al-Jazeera, which had been accused by the aforementioned countries of attempting to undermine their, as well as their regional allies’, governments.

That said, despite these strained relations, Qatar and the other GCC countries’ relations can be characterized over the past several years by intermittent escalation and rapprochement between the sides. For instance, on December 9, 2014, Qatar agreed as part of a GCC summit, to establish a regional police force in order to improve coordination regarding drug trafficking, money laundering, and cybercrime, as well as announced its “full support to al-Sisi-led government in Egypt”. This followed Saudi officials’ March 9, 2014 threats to impose sanctions against Qatar, including in the form of sea blockade, in light of Doha’s persistent support for Muslim Brotherhood-linked elements across the region. However, the complete cutting of diplomatic relations between the aforementioned Saudi-aligned countries is highly notable given its wide scale and scope, as it includes significant restrictions on Qatar and its citizens.

We assess that this escalation is linked to global and regional geo-political developments, largely with regards to Iran and the new Donald Trump administration in the US. With this in mind, in recent years, under the Obama administration, relations between Saudi Arabia and its allies on one side, and Washington on the other, were oftentimes strained due to the US’ perceived efforts to approach Tehran, which was likely viewed by Riyadh as coming at its expense. In light of the aforementioned normal relations between Qatar and Iran, Saudi Arabia and the other GCC countries were likely felt compelled to prevent Qatar from approaching the Islamic Republic too much, as this would have significantly undermined their sense of security and regional interest.

Since President Trump’s inauguration, Washington increased its anti-Iranian rhetoric, while at the same time strengthened its ties with Saudi Arabia. This is highlighted by the May 15 UAE-US defense agreement, as well as the 350 Billion USD agreement between Riyadh and Washington involving an arms deal, and Saudi investments in the US. Thus, there remains a potential that the recent visit of President Trump to Saudi Arabia in late May, as well as the US’ growing support for Saudi Arabia and its allies, motivated the Kingdom to implement these measures, as part of the shared interest with the US in tackling Iran and its allies’ influence throughout the region. With this in mind, given Saudi Arabia’s decreasing need for Qatar’s cooperation on security and political support amidst the ongoing rivalry with Shiite Iran, it is likely that Saudi Arabia assessed that it is no longer obligated to maintain positive bilateral relations with Qatar, prompting this development.

The development comes amidst a diminishing political influence of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood organization across the Middle East and North Africa over the past two years. In this context, it remains possible that Saudi Arabia no longer felt compelled to maintain good relations with Qatar, following the reduction of the threat stemming from the Muslim Brotherhood, as opposed to previous Saudi attempts to pressure Qatar to abandon their support for the Islamist organization in return for the improvement of relations with the other GCC countries.


Travel to Qatar may continue as normal while adhering to cultural norms and avoiding making any statements critical of the Qatari Emir and government officials, despite the aforementioned new restrictions. That being said, those operating in Qatar over the coming days and weeks are advised to stock up on food and basic products, due to the possibility that these will be in shortage due to the declared measures. Those operating throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and particularly in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, and Qatar are advised to remain cognizant of developments and potential effects on travel and business continuity given the current lack of full information regarding the various restrictions that will be in effect. This is particularly relevant for the possibility of unexpected border closures between the relevant countries over the coming days and weeks.


This report was written by:
Asaf Day – MAX Security’s Senior Intelligence Manager, Middle East & North Africa

Sanaa Airport Attack: Saleh show of force?

Tensions are running high in Yemen’s capital city of Sanaa following an April 7 attack on its international airport  by forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. On the same day, Saleh’s fighters are alleged to have sabotaged power lines into the capital, causing blackouts throughout the city. The move on the airfield came after current President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi issued a set of decrees the previous day in which he ordered the replacement of 25 civilian and military officials left over from the Saleh regime. Of those slated to be removed from their position was Air Force Commander General Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar, the half brother of the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the leader considered to be behind the assault on the airport. For his part, al-Ahmar has refused to step down from his post and is actively challenging the Hadi administration.

Reforms in the Yemen’s military and civilian structures have been deemed essential for the success of the reconciliation process in the wake of the uprising against the previous regime. However, the attempt to restructure the military comes at a point of great tension for the southern republic. Hadi has been under immense pressure since he took the role of interim-President, the lion’s share of which is directly related  to the rooting out of Saleh’s allies and relatives from the influential military system known for its corruption and strong hold on the levers of power in the state. The Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), Yemen’s central opposition bloc, have placed the reforms as a condition of their participation in the government. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators continue to come to the streets demanding the removal of Saleh loyalists from the military.

Continue reading Sanaa Airport Attack: Saleh show of force?

The Arab Spring: The Decline of the Arab Nation-State?

By Danny B.

The “Arab Spring,” simplistically coined as a regional freedom and democracy movement, is leading to protracted periods of sectarian fighting and an accelerated breakdown of the Arab states.

The genesis of Arab states is in mandates maintained by European powers, Britain and France, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War One. The Sykes-Picot Agreement, with reluctant consent from Moscow, carved up zones of influence for the two colonial powers in the Middle East. As a result, newly independent Arab states were hastily crafted without much consideration for outstanding sectarian conflicts. Generally speaking, concepts of nation-states are rather foreign to the region, thus a lack of unifying narratives, combined with outstanding internal sectarian conflicts, and destined these Arab states to be plagued with a myriad of seemingly irreversible problems.

An Egyptian holds a sign in support of an An-Nour party member in Cairo (New York Times)

For decades, Arab states have attempted to establish a variety of political platforms to ensure economic growth, security, and increase sovereign power. Excluding the oil-rich GCC monarchs, the political concepts of Arab socialism (Baathism), pan-Arabism, and secular-nationalism have failed. Then the collective Arab defeat in the Six Day War against Israel, compelled many in the Muslim world to seek a new sociopolitical answer to the Jewish State and the West. Their defeat, in addition to other factors, was one catalyst for the Islamic awakening in those nations. That said, moderate political Islamic movements, like the Muslim Brotherhood, endured decades of modest, yet solid beginnings as a result of suppressive secular dictatorships. But with the weakening or ousting of these leaders, the political Islamists have seized the initiative, thus set to rule many Arab states. Most surprising however, are the unprecedented gains by more radical Salafist sects throughout the region – at the expense of inept liberal parties – which has propelled them to lead the new opposition against their new rivals, the Muslim Brotherhood. It is important to note that Salafist Islam comes in various degrees, but the their burgeoning influence results from the work of the most radical Salafists. Their surge has become one of the most important consequences of the “Arab Spring.” For these reasons, this Salafist stream now appears to be the primary obstacle for more moderate political Islam, embodied in parties such as the Freedom and Justice in Egypt, or the Ennahda Party in Tunisia.

Continue reading The Arab Spring: The Decline of the Arab Nation-State?

Yemen’s Greatest Challenge

By Gabi A.

Getting the oil flowing again is a basic requirement for the success of any future government.

An oil pipeline in Northern Yemen.

Even as fears of continued factional conflict continue to attract media attention, the question of economic stability and sustainability in Yemen has barely received the consideration needed to avoid a spiral into the status of a failed state. The interim government in the country faces difficult political challenges in the weeks ahead as it prepares for what many observers are hoping will be the country’s first free election. The head of the interim government, Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, is already facing calls to resign as protests continue to rage in the streets of the capital city of Sanaa with demonstrators facing off against forces loyal to now supposedly deposed President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The destruction brought on by the nearly-ten-month uprising against the regime of Saleh has wreaked havoc not only on the delicate political system but also on the nation’s oil production infrastructure that provides the lifeblood for the economy. Oil exports are responsible for somewhere between 60-70% of government revenues and 90% of overall national exports.      Continue reading Yemen’s Greatest Challenge

Yemen: Progressing Into Chaos?

By Jay R. and Gabi A.

Continued violations of the recently signed GCC power transfer agreement indicate that Yemen may be entering into a new status quo of instability.  

In January of this year, Yemen’s citizenry amassed in the streets initially demanding reform and change in areas of unemployment and corruption, but then shifted their cries to the ouster of their president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. On January 27, approximately 16,000 demonstrators gathered in the capital, Sana’a, which was followed by a subsequent assembly of more than 20,000 people just one week later. But it was not until the “Friday of No Return” that the government claimed the first three lives of the revolution on March 11 setting off a wave of unrest that would escalate to opposition armed resistance in the form of an alliance between tribal chief Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar and General Ali Mohsen al Ahmar of the First Armored Brigade; no relation.

Activists stage demonstrations in Sana’a against immunity for President Saleh. (Xinhua)

Some argue that the hostilities which erupted between Saleh loyalists and opposition tribesmen and defectors reached the level of civil war. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) peace initiative was originally expected to quel this unrest, has appeared to  have ultimately failed to do just that in the immediate term. As part of the aforementioned initiative, Yemen’s President Saleh received immunity against prosecution for his perceived crimes against the protest opposition movement. Such a concession has enraged the people, who continue their movement to express their disapproval.  As such, thousands of Yemenis continued to march in the cities of Sanaa and Taiz.
Continue reading Yemen: Progressing Into Chaos?

Syrian Opposition Takes a Hit From Damascus Bombings

By Daniel N.

Regardless of who was responsible, the recent suicide attacks bolster the position of the Assad Dictatorship.

Since the uprising began in March 2011, President Bashar Al Assad has attempted to brand the Syrian opposition as “terrorists” in order to justify his brutal crackdown. The carnage and mass casualties of Friday’s twin suicide bombing attacks may have done just that, throwing the spotlight on the possibility of extremist infiltration into the Syrian opposition.

Mourners attend a funeral for those killed in Friday’s bombings. (SANA)

Friday’s carnage unfolded when at least two explosive-laden vehicles were detonated near security facilities in the heart of the capital. Plumes of smoke could be seen from throughout the capital, while gunfire reportedly rang out amidst the bedlam that followed. Indeed, the perpetrators had managed to smash the relative calm enjoyed by citizens of the Syrian capital, fomenting the kind of chaos more commonly seen in Kabul or Baghdad. Immediately after the explosions, the state media rushed to attribute to the attacks to Al Qaeda-affiliated jihadists, pointing to a recent report that operatives had penetrated its territory through Lebanon.  Continue reading Syrian Opposition Takes a Hit From Damascus Bombings