Long-depressed oil prices are suddenly soaring in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with impacts already being felt globally. Kazakhstan, recently wracked by internal instability, is facing economic crisis as its crude exports are threatened. Most of these exports pass through a pipeline linking Kazakhstan's western oil-fields to Russia's Black Sea terminal at Novorossiysk. That terminal, owned by the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC), lies within 250 kilometers of the Ukrainian port of Mariupol, now besieged by Russian forces. This proximity is sufficient for tankers loading at the Novorossiysk terminal to incur a "war risk insurance premium." According to S&P Global Platts, the premium has been high enough to deter buyers since the Russian invasion of Ukraine was launched late last month.
US President Joe Biden is said to be considering re-designating Yemen's Houthi rebels (officially called Ansar Allah) as a terrorist organization, a possibility he mentioned last month after the group claimed responsibility for a deadly missile attack inside the United Arab Emirates. The UAE and Saudi Arabia lead a military coalition that has been fighting the Houthis in Yemen for seven years. Saudi Arabia said its air defense system intercepted a Houthi drone near its southern border on Feb. 10. Aid groups—part of a successful lobbying campaign that saw Biden remove the label shortly after he took office last January—warn that a redesignation would have "catastrophic consequences for Yemeni civilians." Not only would it hit the economy hard, making it even more difficult to import food, fuel, and medicine, but it would also decrease the flow of much-needed aid at a time when "organizations like ours are already struggling to keep pace with immense and growing needs." Violence is also growing, and not just around the battlefields of the contested province and city of Marib. Between early October and early February, 1,535 civilians were reportedly killed or injured, more than double the figure for the previous four months.
A coalition of 15 human rights and civil society organizations on Jan. 25 published a joint statement protesting the United Arab Emirates' new cybercrime law, saying it "severely threatens and unduly restricts the right to freedom of expression (both online and offline) and the rights to freedom of association and of peaceful assembly" in the country.
The highest court of Bahrain on July 14 upheld a lower court decision to execute two protesters, despite evidence that suggests their confessions were unlawfully extracted. Hussain Moosa and Mohammed Ramadan, members of Bahrain's traditionally excluded Shiite majority, were sentenced to death in 2014 for planting a bomb in the village of al-Deir that killed a police officer involved in repression of a riot in the village. After multiple appeals, the high court, known as the Court of Cassation, overturned the death sentences in 2018. The court accepted evidence of medical records showing injuries on Moosa, supporting witness statements that the two men were beaten and tortured into pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit. However, in January a lower court successfully reinstated the death penalty, which the Cassation Court has now reaffirmed.
Trump's Israel-Palestine "peace" plan (sic), unveiled at the White House Jan. 29 in a joint press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu, has been anointed by the media with the very Trumpian epithet "Deal of the Century"—although he appears not to have used that actual phrase. Trump boasted the plan, officially dubbed "Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People," as a "win-win solution for both sides" and a "realistic two-state solution." With typical bluster, he said: "Today, Israel takes a big step towards peace. I was not elected to do small things or shy away from big problems." Netanyahu went on Fox & Friends the next day to hail the scheme as an "opportunity of a lifetime for Israel and the Palestinians and for peace."
In response to the recent escalation in Iraq, President Trump has ordered thousands more US troops to neighboring Kuwait. "At the direction of the Commander in Chief, I have authorized the deployment of an infantry battalion from the Immediate Response Force (IRF) of the 82nd Airborne Division to the US Central Command area of operations in response to recent events in Iraq," Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said in a written statement Dec. 31. "Approximately 750 soldiers will deploy to the region immediately, and additional forces from the IRF are prepared to deploy over the next several days," Central Command also said that a detachment from the Kuwait-based Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force will be deployed to the US embassy in Baghdad to reinforce security. (Military Times)
Over the past weeks, the two biggest members of the international coalition supporting the official government of Yemen against the Houthi rebels have fallen out, with Saudi Arabia continuing to back President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the United Arab Emirates switching its support to southern separatists. Last week, the UAE-backed Security Belt militia, armed wing of the Southern Transitional Council (STC), seized effective control of the port city of Aden after days of fighting with Saudi-backed forces of the official government.
Bahrain's High Criminal Court on April 16 sentenced 139 terror suspects to prison terms ranging from three years to life in prison. The court also revoked the citizenship of all but one of those convicted. The accused were sad to be part of a network organized and trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC), an arm of the Iranian state recently designated by the US Treasury Department as a "terrorist organization." Bahrain's ruling family is Sunni and most of those sentenced are believed to be Shia.