REGIONAL INCIDENT AND NEWS SUMMARY
Iran and Saudi Arabia resumed dialogue last week, holding the fifth round of discussions in Baghdad. To recall, the dialogue was previously slated for February, but was suspended at short notice in response to the mass executions of 81 predominantly Shia convicts in Riyadh. Subsequent reports indicated further talks were stalled, but on 23 April, Iranian state-aligned media confirmed that a meeting between security officials and diplomats from both sides took place at Baghdad International Airport on 21 April. The event was also attended by Iraqi and Omani officials, who have both acted in a mediating capacity since the start of the Iran-Saudi dialogue in 2021.
Subsequent statements were positive overall, with the Iranian Foreign Ministry describing the discussions as “forward-moving” during the weekly press conference. Spokesperson Saeed Khatizadeh expressed optimism that “rapid progress” will be achieved on various issues within the framework of the negotiations, and raised the possibility of a meeting involving the foreign ministers of the two countries. Separate reporting indicated the talks were predominantly focused on two issues, including the restoration of ambassadorial ties and Yemen, where a truce between the Houthi Movement and the Saudi-backed government remains in place. Meanwhile, reports citing unofficial sources “with knowledge of the meetings,” said delegations from each country will be sent in the next 30 days to discuss the reopening of the embassies. For their part, Saudi Arabia reportedly agreed to allow 40 thousand Iranian pilgrims to enter the country during the Hajj in July. A sixth meeting is reportedly scheduled to be held in Baghdad over the coming weeks to further the process, while low-level meetings will soon take place in Oman. Cautious optimism is in effect that the talks will contribute to a de-escalation of regional tensions, with conditions currently favorable given the truce in Yemen.
Meeting with China’s Defense Minister Wei Fenghe in Tehran on 27 April, President Ibrahim Raisi reiterated Iran’s intent to deepen strategic and defense cooperation with China. Echoing previous sentiments expressed since taking office, Raisi said closer cooperation between “like-minded powers” would serve to “confront unilateralism” and western “hegemony.” In a separate meeting between Fenghe and the Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Mohammed Bagheri, the two sides reportedly agreed to hold further military exercises, though no dates were discussed.
On 27 April, Israeli airstrikes targeted multiple locations near Damascus, killing four Syrian soldiers and damaging several sites. As usual, the strikes were suspected of targeting Iran-linked facilities with Syrian government presence. In a noteworthy statement disseminated by Russian-state linked media in Arabic, Russia strongly condemned the airstrikes as “unacceptable” and called on Israel to cease this activity. The unusual remark is seen as a response to Israel’s decision to vote in favor of suspending Russia from the UN Human Rights Council.
Another round of discussions regarding the Syrian constitution is scheduled to be held on 28 May. On 26 April, UN Special Envoy Geir Pedersen announced that invitations have been sent to representatives of the Syrian Government and the opposition. Previous efforts to reach an agreement within the so-called Syrian Constitutional Committee have stalled, and the prospects for significant progress remain slim.
On 23 April, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey closed its airspace to Russian civilian and military aircraft en route to Syria. The “ban” will reportedly remain in effect for three months and according to Cavusoglu, Russia approved the request.
Suspected PKK-linked militants conducted two separate IED attacks in Turkey on 20 and 21 April. The first incident involved a roadside IED targeting a vehicle transporting corrections facilities officers in Bursa province, killing one prison guard and injuring several others. The next day, an IED detonated outside the office of a government-linked NGO in Istanbul, causing material damage but no casualties. No group claimed responsibility for the attacks, but government officials blamed the incident on groups affiliated with the PKK. The incidents took place days after the Turkish military launched another offensive targeting PKK support zones in northern Iraq.
On 25 April, at least two rockets impacted Camp Taji in northern Baghdad province, with no casualties reported. The incident is the first indirect fire attack targeting the base since 2020 and involved suspected Iran-linked militants. The attack was closely preceded by the 24 April rocket attack against Turkish forces at Camp Zilkan, northeast of Mosul city. That incident formed an anticipated militia response to the Turkish military’s launch of Operation Claw-Lock in northern Duhok province on 17 April.
Days earlier, Iraqi Security Forces reportedly foiled a plot involving suspected Iran-linked elements intending to target an unspecified oil refinery in the KR-I, by seizing a vehicle transporting two explosive-laden UAVs in Diyala province. The operation was not confirmed or otherwise discussed by formal security sources, with the veracity difficult to confidently assess accordingly. These purported events followed a series of attacks against various oil industry targets in early April. This included the 6 April rocket attack against the Kawergosk Oil Refinery near Erbil and the 10 April UAV strike against the pipeline in western Duhok province. Further information is available in the full report (available to subscribers).
Countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)
In a significant move to mend ties, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Jeddah on 28 April to meet Saudi counterparts during a two-day visit. Prior to traveling, the President said the visit represents a “common will to start a new period of cooperation as two brotherly countries.” The visit is expected to focus on ways to expand bilateral cooperation in various fields. In another sign of improving relations, the Turkish Ministry of Justice approved a request to move the trial of individuals involved in the assassination of Saudi-US journalist Jamal Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia.
On 23 April, the White House announced its intent to nominate Michael Ratney as the new US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Ratney is the current Charge d’Affaires of the US Embassy in Israel and previously served as the US Special Envoy for Syria.
The Houthi Movement and the Saudi-backed government failed to operate a scheduled first flight from Sana’a International Airport to Amman on 24 April. To recall, the scheduled flight was part of the truce agreement reached on 2 April, but both sides blamed each other for failing to undertake the necessary measures and documentation to operate the flight. Although the truce remains largely respected, daily violations continue to be reported near the frontlines near Marib. Progress remains slow on other issues expected to be discussed under UN supervision, including the reopening of roads around Taiz.
Relatedly, the Houthi Movement and the Saudi-led coalition announced the release of a large number of prisoners and detainees captured throughout the conflict. For their part, the Houthi Movement announced the release of 14 foreign detainees, including a UK citizen, while the Saudi-led coalition released some 163 Houthi members in a “humanitarian initiative” on 28 April. The move was described as a gesture to facilitate the peace process.