In recent weeks, tensions have escalated in the Red Sea and near Bab-el-Mandeb strait in a manner reminiscent of the spillover effects from the Gaza war. This new surge in hostilities, which has significant implications for international trade and the security of key shipping routes, is closely linked to the Gulf region. The Yemen-based Houthi group, Ansarullah, has targeted several vessels in the strategic Red Sea and Bab-el-Mandeb Strait. These attacks, declared by the Houthis as acts of solidarity with Gaza, have disrupted major maritime channels with significant importance for Europe, Africa and Asia. Prior to these maritime incidents, the Houthis had launched missiles and drones towards Israel, which were intercepted. However, the recent uptick in attacks on U.S. and European vessels has prompted a response. The U.S. and UK have conducted strikes against Houthi military bases in an attempt to downgrade their missile capabilities.
This resurgence of conflict comes after a two-year period of relative calm in Yemen. This calm was the result of a truce brokered between Saudi Arabia and the Houthi militias, with diplomatic exchanges taking place between Sanaa and Riyadh. This latest outbreak of violence follows extensive joint efforts by the United States and regional countries to negotiate a peace agreement among Yemeni factions and halt the country’s internal conflict. Yet, recent attacks reignite concerns over reaching a lasting peace in Yemen and the security of the Red Sea. They also raise the specter of the Gulf region being thrust back into a cycle of conflict and tension, disrupting the recent period of reconciliation and agreements forged among regional adversaries.
Featured Speakers: Ambassador Patrick Theros (moderator), Dr. Cinzia Bianco, Dr. Nabeel Khoury and Abdulghani Al-Iryani.
Ambassador Patrick Nickolas Theros
Strategic Advisor and Senior Fellow, Gulf International Forum
Ambassador Patrick Nickolas Theros is Strategic Advisor and Senior Fellow at Gulf International Forum. He served as the U.S. Ambassador to the State of Qatar from 1995-1998. Prior to his appointment, he served as Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism, responsible for the coordination of all U.S. Government counterterrorism activities outside the United States. From 1991-1993, Ambassador Theros served as the Political Advisor to the Commander-in-Chief of Central Command (CENTCOM).
Ambassador Theros joined the Foreign Service in 1963, and served in a variety of positions in Washington D.C., Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Nicaragua and Syria, including charge d’affaires and Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. embassies in the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
In 1999, His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifah Al-Thani awarded Ambassador Theros the Qatar Order of Merit for his efforts in service of the U.S.-Qatar bilateral relationship. His commitment to national service also earned him the President’s Meritorious Service Award and the Secretary of Defense Medal for Meritorious Civilian Service (1992). Ambassador Theros has also earned four Superior Honor Awards, the highest awards for distinguished service given by the Foreign Service.
After his retirement from the Foreign Service Ambassador Theros assumed the office of President of the U.S.-Qatar Business Council in March 2000 until his retirement in 2017. Ambassador Theros’ personal commitment to community and public service earned him the rank of Knight Commander of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem (1999), as well as the Ellis Island Medal of Freedom (2005).
In addition to his duties as President of the U.S.-Qatar Business Council, Ambassador Theros is also active in the following organizations: The Middle East Policy Council, Board of Directors; The Council of Foreign Relations, Member; The Washington Institute of Foreign Affairs, Member; and The American Academy of Diplomacy, Member.
Ambassador Theros graduated from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in 1963. He has done advanced studies at the American University in Washington, D.C., the Universidad Centroamericana in Nicaragua, the Armed Forces Staff College at Norfolk, Virginia, and the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. He is married to Aspasia (nee Pahigiannis) and has three children. He speaks and reads Spanish, Arabic and Greek professionally.
Dr. Nabeel A. Khoury
Senior Non-resident Fellow, Gulf International Forum
Nabeel A. Khoury is a Senior Non-resident Fellow. In 2013, after twenty-five years in the Foreign Service, Dr. Khoury retired from the US Department of State with the rank of Minister Counselor. In his last overseas posting, Khoury served as deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Yemen, from 2004 to 2007. In 2003, during the Iraq War, he served as department spokesperson at US Central Command in Doha and in Baghdad. In his last posting in Washington before retirement, Khoury served as director of the Near East and South Asia Office at the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. He has also taught Middle East and US strategy courses at the National Defense University and at Northwestern University. Dr. Khoury is also a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Arab Center Washington D.C.
Khoury earned a BA in political science from the American University of Beirut and both an MA and PhD in political science from the State University of New York at Albany. Before his Foreign Service career, Khoury was assistant professor of political science at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY and assistant professor of political science at the University of Jordan in Amman. He has published articles on issues of leadership and development in the Arab world in the Middle East Journal, the Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, and the International Journal of Middle East Studies, and has published on the regional impact of the Arab uprisings and on US policy in Yemen in Middle East Policy. His monograph, Bunker Diplomacy: An Arab-American in the US Foreign Service, was published by Westphalia Press in 2019. Khoury’s publications and opinions can be found on Twitter @khoury_nabeel, and on his personal website: nabeelkhoury.com.
Dr. Cinzia Bianco
Visiting Fellow, the European Council on Foreign Relations
Cinzia Bianco is a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, where she is working on political, security and economic developments in the Arabian Peninsula and Gulf region and relations with Europe. Additionally, she is a senior analyst at Gulf State Analytics. Previously, Bianco was a research fellow for the European Commission’s project on EU-GCC relations ‘Sharaka’ between 2013 and 2014.
She holds an MA degree in Middle East and Mediterranean Studies from King’s College London and a PhD in Middle East Politics from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, where she worked on threat perceptions in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) after the 2011 Arab uprisings. She is the author of “The Gulf monarchies after the Arab Spring: threats and security” (Manchester University Press, 2024).
Senior Researcher, the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies
Abdulghani Al-Iryani is a senior researcher at the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies where he focuses on the peace process, conflict analysis and transformations of the Yemeni state. Al-Iryani has more than three decades of experience as a political and development consultant.
Prior to joining the Sana’a Center, Al-Iryani worked with the United Nations in the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen and with the United Nations Development Programme’s mission in Hodeidah, as well as with the World Bank on issues related to the conflict in Yemen. He has conducted research on constitutional reform, anti-corruption, governance, government capacity, state-building, and conflict management and resolution as well as social and economic development.
Since the 1980s, Al-Iryani has consulted for a number of international organizations, including U.N. agencies, the World Bank, and USAID. His volunteer work includes co-founding and serving as president of TAWQ, a political NGO advocating democracy. He also served on the advisory board of Human Rights Watch for the Middle East and North Africa region.
Professor David Des Roches
Associate Professor, Near East South Asia Center for Security Studies; Nonresident Senior Fellow, Gulf International Forum
David Des Roches is currently Associate Professor of at the Near East South Asia Center for Security Studies. Prior to this, he was the Defense Department director responsible for policy concerning Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Prior to this assignment, he has served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as Liaison to the Department of Homeland Security, as senior country director for Pakistan, as NATO operations director, and as deputy director for peacekeeping. His first job in government was as a special assistant for strategy and later as the international law enforcement analyst in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. He graduated from the United States Military Academy and obtained advanced degrees in Arab Politics from the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, in War Studies from Kings College London, and Strategic Studies from the US Army War College. He has also attended the Federal Executive Institute, the German Staff College’s Higher Officer Seminar, the US Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School, and the US Army Command and General Staff College.