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Trump at a Gulf Summit in Riyadh in 2017. Photo: Bandar Algaloud/Saudi handout via Getty

The UAE and Saudi Arabia will be closely monitoring any moves from Washington and Tehran over a delicate few weeks ahead.

Why it matters: Jan. 3 will mark the one-year anniversary of the U.S. strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis in Baghdad. In the past few weeks, there have been echoes of the tensions that preceded that U.S. attack.

Driving the news: Last week an attack — still unclaimed — on an oil tanker moored off Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast was the second in less than a month to target international shipping.

  • In November, a missile strike on a Saudi Aramco plant near Jeddah was claimed by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

Flashback: In the months leading up to the Soleimani killing, there were incidents of sabotage against vessels in the Arabian Gulf and Houthi-claimed missile strikes on Saudi oil facilities.

  • Iran was then seen to be playing its hand amid increasing sanctions pressure from the U.S. after President Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal. The killing of Soleimani proved to be an apex of that cycle of tensions.

The state of play: These latest incidents, including the assassination of Iran's top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, have created a new cycle of tensions in the region ahead of President-elect Biden's inauguration.

  • Biden is expected to shift the American posture from maximum pressure to re-engagement with Iran.
  • The concern among Gulf countries is that Iran will test the new administration, or try to take advantage of them.
  • Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia responded to the provocations in 2019 with restraint, and they remain focused on de-escalation.

Worth noting: There are at least two new factors at play, in addition to Biden's election.

  • The U.S. has built up its military force in the Gulf, including a bigger naval presence. And the UAE, Bahrain and other Arab nations have established closer ties with Israel, offering a genuine counterbalance to Iran and its allies and proxies.

Go deeper

Dave Lawler, author of World
Jan 22, 2021 - World

What has and hasn't changed as Biden takes over U.S. foreign policy

Photo Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Biden swiftly recommitted the U.S. to the Paris climate pact and the World Health Organization, but America's broader foreign policy is in a state of flux between the Trump and Biden eras.

Driving the news: One of the most striking moves from the Biden administration thus far was a show of continuity — concurring with the Trump administration's last-minute determination that China had committed "genocide" against Uyghur Muslims.

Kaine, Collins' censure resolution seeks to bar Trump from holding office again

Sen. Tim Kaine (center) and Sen. Susan Collins (right). Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool via Getty Images

Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) are forging ahead with a draft proposal to censure former President Trump, and are considering introducing the resolution on the Senate floor next week.

Why it matters: Senators are looking for a way to condemn Trump on the record as it becomes increasingly unlikely Democrats will obtain the 17 Republican votes needed to gain a conviction, Axios Alayna Treene writes. "I think it’s important for the Senate's leadership to understand that there are alternatives," Kaine told CNN on Wednesday.

Stark reminder for America's corporate leaders

Rosalind "Roz" Brewer is about to become only the second Black woman to permanently lead a Fortune 500 company. She starts as Walgreens CEO on March 15.

Why it matters: It's a stark reminder of how far corporate America's top decision-makers have to go during an unprecedented push by politicians, employees and even a stock exchange to diversify their top ranks.