Daily Memo: Arabian Peninsula Updates, Possible Saudi-Israeli Cooperation, Taiwan’s Diplomatic Strife

What's geopolitically important today.


Updates from the Arabian Peninsula. The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen launched a new offensive on Thursday, hitting areas north of the strategic Red Sea port city of Hodeida. The coalition said it intercepted and destroyed an explosives-laden boat deployed by Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Notably, the campaign involves forces from the United Arab Emirates, which had over the past few months said it was seeking an end to the conflict and had been “redistributing” some of its troops in Yemen. Moreover, fighting between UAE-backed forces and Saudi-backed proxies in Yemen has picked up in recent months. The UAE recently lost its base in Eritrea, which may be hampering its warfighting capabilities on the west coast of the Arabian Peninsula and making it more difficult for the UAE to remain at odds with Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

Saudi-Israeli cooperation? Saudi Arabia and Israel have reportedly been conducting airstrikes in Al Bukamal in Syria near the Iraqi border, hitting positions of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and pro-Iranian Popular Mobilization Forces groups that have long been conducting cross-border attacks in Syria at Tehran’s behest. While the ongoing airstrikes are purportedly being conducted by unidentified aircraft, unnamed sources said that Saudi fighter jets were spotted with other foreign warplanes. It has not yet been confirmed that either Saudi Arabia or Israel was involved, nor that the strikes were explicitly coordinated. Saudi sources denied the reports. Saudi and Israeli strategic interests have been converging for some time now, but open operational cooperation would nonetheless be dramatic.

Taiwan loses another. On Friday the tiny, sprawling South Pacific archipelagic nation of Kiribati became the latest tiny, sprawling archipelagic nation to flip diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China. This comes less than a week after the Solomon Islands concluded that it was time to put diplomatic ties with Taiwan – which matter very little to Solomon Islanders but quite a lot to Beijing – up for sale to the highest bidder. The U.S., which itself doesn’t recognize Taiwan, said Wednesday it was reassessing its own development aid to the Solomon Islands in response. Just 15 countries recognize Taiwan now. China’s steady diplomatic isolation of Taiwan can hinder the self-ruled island’s formal trade and security relationships but is otherwise mostly just an irritant. China’s growing influence in the South Pacific will matter to the balance of power only if it’s able to use them as naval outposts – and develop a navy capable of conducting major operations that far from Chinese shores.

Quad watching. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is in Washington today for a state visit and talks on strengthening the bilateral alliance and managing challenges from China such as its threat to cut off exports of rare earth elements. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will follow suit with a six-day trip of his own on Saturday, which will include stops in New York and Houston. Modi’s main goal from the trip will be locking down oil and gas supplies, since India has proved particularly hard hit by the reimposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran and this week’s disruption to Saudi output, though the prime minister will also meet with U.S. President Donald Trump. This comes amid reports that Australia and India are planning to sign a formal strategic partnership in November. Japan, meanwhile, appears to be diligently moving to ensure that bilateral trade tensions with the U.S. don’t spill into the strategic realm; on Thursday, the Nikkei Asian Review reported that Tokyo is preparing to lower tariffs on roughly 90 percent of U.S. beef exported to Japan to levels enjoyed by Trans-Pacific Partnership members in an effort to ink a trade deal by the end of this month. Tokyo is also reportedly planning to follow the U.S. lead in tightening controls on foreign investment in sensitive tech sectors. As we’ve discussed previously, the “Quad” – Japan, India, Australia and the U.S. – may never evolve into a formal security alliance, but strategic convergence and tighter bilateral coordination between each of the four countries will be a key factor in preserving the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific.

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