Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud used the 29th Arab Summit last weekend to reaffirm long-standing political positions, amounting to some distancing of the kingdom from its close association with the Trump administration. The subtle change in tone publicly reflects growing private doubts about the US administration’s commitment to rolling back Iranian influence in the region.
Instead of hosting the Arab heads of state in the capital city, Riyadh, the Saudis selected the venue to be in Dammam in Eastern Province, the home of the kingdom’s oil wealth and its Shiite minority. So Dammam and nearby towns such as Khobar and Dhahran were decked out with the flags of the Arab states, including Qatar (but not Syria) to welcome the states that attended the summit. Of course, Eastern Province is also the part of Saudi Arabia that is the farthest away from Yemen. It is apparently outside the range of the Houthis’ Iranian-designed ballistic missiles. Last week, the Houthis announced that 2018 is “the year of the ballistic missile.” By the Saudis count, 117 missiles have targeted Saudi cities in the last three years.