King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud died early Friday local time at the age of 90. President Barack Obama offered a statement in which he praised King Abdullah’s “steadfast and personal belief in the importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship as a force of stability and security in the Middle East and beyond.” The late king has been succeeded by his half-brother Salman, aged 79, who previously served as Saudi Arabia’s defense minister since 2011. Simon Henderson, a Gulf expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, stated in an interview Thursday: “Yemen is falling apart, ISIS is knocking at the door…this is an extraordinarily dangerous Middle East from a Saudi perspective.” Saudi Arabia has been increasingly concerned about Iran's expanding influence in the region. The Saudis’ concern about Iran’s nuclear program is driving them to a nuclear program of their own, according to experts. Additionally, Saudi Arabia has been fighting a proxy war with Iran in Syria. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have been backing the Sunni rebels against the Assad regime, a close ally of Iran that has been bolstered by Hezbollah forces. In a further development, Yemen’s former president, Abd Raboh Mansur Hadi, a key U.S. ally in fighting terrorism, was forced to resign on Thursday after attacks by the Iran-backed Houthi group.
Saudi Arabia has been part of the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition: it has hosted the U.S.’s training and equipping of Syrian forces combating ISIS and has taken part in airstrikes in Syria. The Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said last September, "Today we face a very dangerous situation where terrorist cells have turned into armies... that extend to all of Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen." Given the dangers that Saudi Arabia and the region face, the transition in power is considered highly important by analysts, who disagree among themselves as to how smooth it will be. King Abdullah’s other half-brother Muqrin, who reportedly has very similar policy views as the late king, was appointed deputy crown prince in March 2014; he is now next in line to the throne.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on January 19 called for greater bilateral economic cooperation. “There is no reason for Japan, which places innovation as an engine of economic growth, not to cooperate with Israel, which invents innovative technology,” Abe said, according to the Japanese-language paper Sankei. At a meeting in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said “the future belongs to those who innovate. Japan is a country of innovation, Israel is a country of innovation… together we can do a lot more.” Abe, who is the first Japanese premier to visit Israel since 2006, is on a six-day visit to the Middle East with a delegation of more than 100 government officials and presidents of Japanese companies. On Sunday, Abe was treated to a special exhibition of innovative Israeli technologies. “Japan and Israel are both countries that don’t have much of the natural resources but what we have is human resources,” Abe said, noting that ties are growing “in every field.” Abe spoke about advancing economic relationships with Israel. “We look forward to advancement in bilateral economic relationships, including expansion and reactivation of mutual exchanges between businesses,” he said. “The three-year plan of Israel to strengthen our economic relationships is highly appreciated as a contribution to the development of our bilateral relations.” (via Israel21c)