News Roundup and Notes: January 5, 2016

Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

IRAN-SAUDI ARABIA DISPUTE

Saudi Arabia and Iran risk provoking a wider escalation of regional tensions over their ongoing dispute arising from the execution by Saudi Arabia of a Shi’ite cleric. The severing of ties between Iran and the Gulf states is symptomatic of the expanding strategic gap between the US and traditional Middle East allies, according to Michael Singh, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. [Wall Street Journal’s Ahmed Al Omran and Asa Fitch]

Saudi Arabia has asserted that its dispute with Iran will not adversely impact efforts to negotiate a peace agreement for Syria and Yemen. [Al Jazeera]  The Saudi envoy to the UN added that the Saudis are “not natural-born enemies of Iran” and that normal relations would resume once Iran desists from “interfering in the internal affairs of other countries.” [Reuters]

The Obama administration is taking a cautious approach to the dispute, seeking to appear neutral yesterday in an attempt to navigate the open conflict between ally Saudi Arabia and Iran, with whom the US reached a landmark nuclear deal last year. [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon and Felicia Schwartz]  And the White House had to confront the “fundamental contradiction” in its increasingly fraught relationship with the Saudis, unable to “bring itself, at least in public, to condemn” the execution of Shi’ite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, writes David E. Sanger. [New York Times]

Saudi Arabia has rallied the support of a number of its allies, leading Bahrain, Kuwait and Sudan to cut ties with Iran in light of the ongoing dispute. [AP; Washington Post’s Liz Sly; BBC]

European commentators have been quick to lean toward Iran in the conflict with Saudi Arabia, citing strong opposition to the death penalty and the nuclear accord concluded between Iran and six world powers in July last year. Sewell Chan reports. [New York Times]

The UN Security Council has strongly condemned the attacks on Saudi diplomatic posts in Iran by protesters, however the statement made no mention of the execution of prominent Shi’ite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr. [BBC]

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke by phone to the foreign ministries of both countries, urging both nations to avoid escalating the dispute and to express his strong opposition to capital punishment to the Saudi foreign minister and to deplore the attacks on the Saudi Embassy to Iran’s foreign ministry. [UN News Centre]

The escalating crisis between the rival nations is “as much about domestic politics … as it is about their regional tussle for domination in the Middle East.” [Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov]

Iran may face even greater isolation in the wake of the dispute, “at a time they had been hoping to emerge from international sanctions as an accepted global player,” reports Thomas Erdbrink. [New York Times]

IRAQ and SYRIA

A young boy featured in a newly released ISIS propaganda video is the child of a British woman who converted to Islam and went to Syria to join the militant group in 2012, according to the woman’s father. [The Guardian’s Aisha Gani]

The main suspect featured in the video is thought to be UK-national, Siddhartha Dhar, an official source told the BBC.  Dhar fled the UK last year while on bail and traveled to Syria.

The US has entered “damage control” on the Syria peace talks amid the ongoing dispute between Iran and Saudi Arabia, both key players in the negotiating process. The conflict also threatens to undermine the US-led coalition against ISIS, reports Nahal Toosi. [Politico]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Hezbollah conducted a bomb attack targeting Israeli forces at the Lebanese border. The Shi’ite group claimed responsibility for the attack yesterday which hit two Israeli military vehicles, saying it was a retributive attack for the killing of Hezbollah operative, Samir Kantar last month. [Al Jazeera]  Senior UN officials have urged both sides to exercise restraint in the wake of the incident. [UN News Centre]

IDF forces shot and killed a Palestinian who stabbed a soldier in the West Bank, according to an army statement. [Reuters]

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian territories has resigned, citing Israel’s failure to grant him access to the occupied areas he was tasked with monitoring. His repeated requests both in oral and written form were unsuccessful. [UN News Centre]

AFGHANISTAN

An explosion hit the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad today, in proximity to foreign consulate buildings, including from India and Pakistan, officials said. There were no reported casualties. There has been no claim of responsibility. [Reuters]

The explosion was the latest in a string of bomb attacks to hit Afghanistan in recent days; two attacks hit close to Kabul’s international airport yesterday. [New York Times’ Jawad Sukhanyar and Mujib Mashal]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

ISIS fighters have attacked, for a second day, an oil port along the Libyan coast. Guards at the port fended off the militants’ initial attack yesterday, fighting which left seven guards dead and 25 wounded. [Reuters]  The Islamic State has been making inroads in the country in the wake of setbacks in Iraq and Syria, report Benoît Faucon and Summer Said for the Wall Street Journal.

The Defense Department has shut down a drone base in Africa and relocated the unmanned aircraft to other locations as it struggles to cope with heightened demand for drones in the fight against the Islamic State and other militants. [Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock]

Former CIA Director David Petraeus and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will appear before the House Select Committee on Benghazi this week in closed-door sessions. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]

The New York Times editorial board discusses France’s civil liberties landscape in the wake of recent terror attacks, describing proposed changes to the country’s constitution as “unnecessary and divisive” and calling on Parliament to reject them. 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security