GCC News Roundup: US halts Saudi military training, little diplomatic progress in mending Qatari and Saudi ties (December 1-31)

Saudi Arabia Defense Attache Major General Fawaz Al Fawaz and his Embassy staff and other officials arrive to meet with the Saudi students who remain restricted to the Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola base by their Saudi commanding officer, in Pensacola, Florida, U.S. December 9, 2019. Picture taken December 9, 2019.  FBI Jacksonville/Handout via REUTERS  THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. - RC2ISD9IDSIC

Content from the Brookings Doha Center is now archived. In September 2021, after 14 years of impactful partnership, Brookings and the Brookings Doha Center announced that they were ending their affiliation. The Brookings Doha Center is now the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, a separate public policy institution based in Qatar.

US halts Saudi military training after Florida base shooting

On December 6, a Saudi Air Force second lieutenant killed three people and wounded eight others in an unexplained shooting rampage at a U.S. Navy base in Florida where he was training, said U.S. officials. Sheriff’s deputies responding to the early-morning incident shot and killed the gunman, who was armed with a handgun at the U.S. Naval Station in Pensacola, Navy and local law enforcement officials said.

Four days later, the Pentagon announced it was halting operational training of all Saudi Arabian military personnel in the United States until further notice. The decision will have far-reaching impacts on visiting Saudi personnel, including grounding more than 300 Saudi Arabian military aviation students as part of a “safety stand-down,” reported Reuters earlier on Tuesday.

Little diplomatic progress in mending Qatari and Saudi ties

Qatar’s foreign minister said on December 15 recent talks had broken a protracted stalemate with Saudi Arabia and that Doha would study demands by its Gulf rivals but not turn its back on ally Turkey.

On December 10, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani attended the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit held in Riyadh in the most concrete sign yet of a possible thaw in a regional dispute.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and non-GCC member Egypt cut diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar in June 2017 over allegations that it backs terrorism. Doha denies that and accuses them of trying to curtail its sovereignty.

Kuwait forms a new government

Kuwait formed a new government on December 17 that replaced the son of the emir as defense minister and named an interior minister from outside the ruling family, a month after the former cabinet quit due to a row between members of the family and parliament. The oil minister of the OPEC producer retained his post while new foreign and finance ministers were named, the state news agency KUNA said.

Kuwait, an ally of the United States, has the most open political system in the Gulf Arab region, with a parliament wielding power to pass legislation and question ministers, although senior posts are occupied by ruling family members.

Saudi court sentences five to death for killing Jamal Khashoggi

Saudi Arabia sentenced five people to death on December 23 for the killing of Washington Post columnist and royal family critic Jamal Khashoggi, whose murder in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul drew sharp international criticism and marred the crown prince’s relationship with members of Congress in Washington. Three other people were found guilty by Riyadh’s criminal court of covering up the crime and were sentenced to a combined 24 years in prison, according to a statement read by the Saudi attorney general’s office on state TV.

The son of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi said his family had achieved justice thanks to the verdict of Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor.

Saudi forces kill two “terrorists” in Dammam

Saudi security forces killed two “terrorists” on December 26 after a shooting in a residential neighborhood in the eastern city of Dammam, state television al-Ekhbariya reported. Calm was restored to the residential neighborhood in Dammam after the operation, the broadcaster added.

Later, it was revealed that the two men were driving a car loaded with explosives and were planning an “imminent terrorist operation”, the SPA state news agency said on December 29, citing security forces.

Sultan Qaboos in “stable condition” after medical treatment in Belgium

Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said is in a “stable condition” and continuing a program of medical treatment, state television said on December 31, citing a statement from the sultan’s office.

Concern had grown over the sultan’s health after he spent a week in Belgium undergoing medical treatment this month and Omani authorities said nothing about his health after his return.

The Sultan has returned home after the medical treatment and checks in Belgium, state media said on December 13, citing a Royal Court statement amid rumors that his days are numbered. He had traveled to Belgium on December 7, according to the Royal Court, which did not give details of his condition.

Western-backed Qaboos, 79, has ruled the Arabian Peninsula state since he took over in a bloodless coup in 1970 with the help of Oman’s former colonial power Britain. He has traveled abroad for medical reasons at least twice since 2014.