Saudi Arabia: No retreat from Yemen

Saudi Arabia: No retreat from Yemen
Comment: Riyadh cannot now withdraw from Yemen without risking the country's collapse and the spread of Iranian influence, says Nabil al-Bukiri.
5 min read
21 May, 2015
Riyadh cannot now back away from Operation Decisive Storm [Getty]

It is clearer today than ever before that the US-Gulf summit at Camp David was nothing more than an event to promote the US-Iranian agreement at Lausanne, following which all billboards in Tehran about the "Great Satan" were removed and replaced by advertisements for US and Western brands.

Everyone should realise the Arab region has also changed, although it had not planned for this change.

Iran is using the war against the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as Isis) to increase its influence across the region, suitably disguising its naked ambition.

The region faces a major transformation and an even greater challenge. The new king, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, crown prince Mohammad bin Nayef and deputy crown prince Mohammad bin Salman have transformed the region.

That transformation propelled the kingdom and the region into a new direction.

A sign of changes to come

The focus of the mission must be to expedite the liberation of the cities on the Yemeni coast such as Hudaida and Aden.

The "Decisive Storm" campaign was one of the first indications of the transformation that the Arab region is witnessing.

The kingdom and its allies would not have resorted to the Decisive Storm campaign had a clear-cut strategy existed from the start of the Yemen crisis. A flaw existed in Saudi foreign policy that was removed when King Salman and his team took over.

Now, in this inflamed regional atmosphere, specifically in Yemen, any talk of a retreat from the mission of the Arab Alliance, the Decisive Storm campaign or the Restore Hope campaign will push the region back into a state of great fear, doubt and anxiety about what lies ahead.

The kingdom and its Arab allies have made great progress in Yemen, and must not retreat - whatever justification may be offered for doing so, although the real humanitarian crisis in Yemen must not be ignored.

That crisis is being exacerbated by the repressive sectarian machinery of the militias of Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthis. The crisis can only get worse as long as those militias control the situation on the ground.

The focus of the mission must be to expedite the liberation of the cities on the Yemeni coast such as Hudaida and Aden. These ports are Yemen's points of contact with the surrounding world and the key to resolving Yemen's humanitarian crisis.

The humanitarian crisis will continue, however, because the militias will keep exacerbating tensions to scare the international community, which is calling for a ceasefire on humanitarian grounds.

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is real and immediate, but it is of the making of those sectarian militias that are invading cities and destroying them around their civilian inhabitants.

These Iranian-backed militias are waging organised genocide, while their media and diplomatic machinery are exploiting the humanitarian crisis and falsely blaming it on the forces of the Saudi-led Alliance.

It is true that international pressure on the kingdom and its allies is being created on the pretext of the humanitarian crisis. However, this should not affect the final Saudi decision on Yemen.

Yemen is vital to Saudi Arabia, which faces an Iranian threat on all sides, and it is in Yemen that the outcome of that threat will be determined. All that Yemen requires is good crisis management, and all that it requires from the kingdom is wise and capable management of the Yemeni crisis.

Yemen does not require men and an army. The men are there, but what they lack today is a unified leadership that will reorganise and arm them. Resistance forces on the ground have defeated the sectarian militia. That militia is the republican guard, which is now spreading mayhem and destruction in Yemen.

Yemen must be a priority

Saudi Arabia must reorder its priorities over Yemen.

The kingdom must reorder its priorities over Yemen. It must do so quickly, because its adversary is working on the basis that time is on its side.

If its list of objectives and priorities is not decided quickly, that will be to the detriment of the resistance and the allied Arab forces.

Any retreat, whatever the justification, will mean the failure of Decisive Storm and the Arab Alliance. That will strengthen the Iranian undertaking in Yemen, given the balance of power on the ground, the sectarian militias' continuing control of the state and the absence of a clear Arab alliance strategy.

That is the alliance's weak point. Resolving this problem also depends on the existence of a Yemeni command for the army that rejects the authority of the militias. It depends on the existence of a semi-central command for members of the resistance, who are displaying great courage - despite their meagre capabilities.

In that regard, I would like to mention the Riyadh conference, which included almost the entire range of Yemeni political forces. The conference must not abandon its role of supporting a return to political legitimacy in a republican, unified Yemen.

The attendance at other conferences should not entail a departure from that context, which is dialogue under the slogan of the political legitimacy of the current political regime under the leadership of Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his deputy, Khalid Bahah.

In short, any talk of a Saudi retreat in Yemen means handing Yemen to Iran on a silver platter. What Saudi Arabia must do now is formulate a strategic plan that depends on Yemenis themselves, particularly the new Yemeni elite.

Nabil al-Bukiri is a Yemeni journalist and analyst.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic website.