What We're Watching: Yemen’s Fractured Alliances and An Ominous Russian Explosion

A coalition cracking in Yemen - On Saturday, UAE-backed southern separatists took over the presidential palace in Aden, the country's second-largest city. On Sunday, they were bombed by a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia. The Saudis and Emiratis entered the Yemen fray together back in March 2015 to push back against the Iran-aligned Houthis and contain Tehran's expanding influence in the region. But the two countries quickly developed different long-term goals and cultivated very different allies on the ground. The Saudis support the internationally-recognized Yemeni government, while the Emiratis backed separatists that would like to see the country split in two. This weekend's fighting, just weeks after the UAE's drawdown from Yemen, is not the first standoff between Saudi-backed and UAE-backed forces in Yemen, but if it continues, it could be the most destructive. Not what you want to hear about a conflict that the UN has already christened the "world's worst humanitarian disaster."

An ominous explosion in Russia - Last week, an explosion at a missile test site off Russia's northern coast caused radiation in a nearby city to spike to 200 times normal levels. Seven people died in the blast, including five Russian nuclear scientists. Russia has changed the official story several times, but Western spooks think something went wrong while Moscow was testing a new nuclear-powered cruise missile. We're watching this for two reasons. First, because it's a glimpse of the dangers inherent in the new arms race that's developing between the US and Russia. Second, because the poor communication is not a great look for a government that's already under pressure from some of the biggest protests in Moscow in years.

What We're Ignoring:

China's new cryptocurrency - China is apparently "close" to launching its own cryptocurrency. Beijing has been looking into launching a digital renminbi for years, but appears to have intensified its efforts following Facebook's recent decision to back a new cryptocurrency project called Libra. Sounds interesting in theory. Beijing is worried that Libra could undermine its control over its financial system and its long-term effort to promote the renminbi as an alternative to the US dollar. But convincing 1.4 billion people to trade their cash for a digital substitute that authorities can easily track may be a tall order, even for China.

The Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace launched in 2018 with the commitment of signatories to stand up to cyber threats like election interference, attacks on critical infrastructure, and supply chain vulnerabilities. Last week, on the first anniversary of the call, the number of signatories has nearly tripled to more than 1,000 and now includes 74 nations; more than 350 international, civil society and public sector organizations; and more than 600 private sector entities. These commitments to the Paris Call from around the world demonstrate a widespread, global, multi-stakeholder consensus about acceptable behavior in cyberspace.

Read More at Microsoft On The Issues.

In recent years, Republicans have come to dominate most of the state legislatures in the US. Ironically, it was during the Obama-era that the GOP made major headway in states that had long been considered safely blue. State legislatures are now redder than they've been in nearly a century, and in most parts of the country, one party holds all the levers of power. For the first time since 1914, there's only one split legislature in the entire country: Minnesota. To be sure, some state races are bucking the trend: Kentucky and Louisiana, both deep-red states, recently elected Democratic governors. Here's a look at how Democratic and Republican control of state legislatures has evolved over the past four decades.

Forty years ago, Islamic extremists angry at the Saudi government's experiments with social liberalization laid siege to the Grand Mosque of Mecca, the holiest site in Islam.

The attack came on the heels of the Iranian revolution across the Gulf, putting the House of Saud and its American backers in a precarious spot. Tehran had challenged Saudi Arabia's Islamic legitimacy from without, while jihadists were now doing the same from within. For a few days it seemed as though the world's most important oil producer – and the custodian of Islam's holiest places – might be in danger of collapse.

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Forty years ago today, dozens of bearded gunmen stormed the holiest site in Islam, the Grand Mosque at Mecca, in Saudi Arabia.

They held the complex for two weeks before a French-trained Saudi force rooted them out, but the fallout from the attack went on to shape the modern Middle East in ways that are still with us today: in the scourge of transnational jihadism and the deepening rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

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What changes now that the U.S. softened its position on Israeli settlements?

Well, I mean, not a lot. I mean, keep in mind that this is also the administration that moved the embassy to Jerusalem, from Tel Aviv. Everyone said that was going to be a massive problem. Ultimately, not many people cared. Same thing with recognition of Golan Heights for Israel. This is just one more give from the Americans to the Israelis in the context of a region that doesn't care as much as they used to about Israel - Palestine.

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