The Saudi gambit of pushing its interests via airstrikes in Yemen looks increasingly to have backfired, with Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s return unlikely, writesNasser Arrabyee
Friday,01 May, 2015
Speaking just after his final briefing to the UN Security Council, Jamal Bin Omar, outgoing UN envoy to Yemen, warned that the conflict there is “becoming a confrontation with competing local and regional agendas”.
On Monday, Bin Omar said the parties in Yemen had been “very close” to reaching a political agreement before the current violence, and that the main sticking point had been who would lead the country.
Bin Omar was about to declare a detailed deal for power sharing between Yemen’s conflicting groups, but Saudi Arabia didn’t like it, and so started a bombing campaign.
However, after around one month of airstrikes across Yemen, killing and injuring more than 5,000, most of them civilians in their homes, shops, factories, schools, mosques and farms, Saudi Arabia was forced under international pressure to stop its campaign.
None of the declared goals of the Saudi-led campaign (Operation Decisive Storm) were achieved. Houthi fighters along with army and security forces are still taking control on the ground, advancing in both the south and north of the country. Not only that, but making new tribal and political alliances against the Saudi alliance.
Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi remains in exile in Riyadh. It is almost impossible for him to return to power, many believe, even if he comes on top of Saudi tanks. Many Yemenis now hold him responsible for the deaths and destruction of their homeland.
The Saudi declaration to halt airstrikes did not last but minutes. Bombings resumed the same night. Saudi officials found their declaration ignored by the Houthi and their allies on the ground. If Saudi officials were expecting Yemenis to be happy, it turned otherwise.
Saudi Arabia is now facing the following scenarios in Yemen:
To declare an end of all military operations against its neighbour and return to its “soft” war — protecting its interests and expanding its influence. With a soft war, in which Saudi Arabia is much more skilled than with hard war, it would close the door in the face of its biggest rival, Iran.
This scenario is the most supported among all regional and international players, who have increasingly advocated a political and not military or external solution in Yemen. All the more after the UN appointed a new envoy to Yemen, to succeed Bin Omar the Mauritanian diplomat Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed. He must mediate between conflicting Yemeni groups, not between warring countries.
The second scenario is a ground war. Saudi Arabia can bring exiled President Hadi back on its tanks to any place in Yemen, south or north. However, the cost will be dire. Yemenis will not now consider Hadi as their national president, being so obviously backed by an external force.
The third scenario is that Yemenis would fight each other. Saudi Arabia has been airdropping weapons blindly in many places in the south and north. All groups both friends and enemies of Saudi Arabia have received such weapons, including Al-Qaeda, separatists, bandits, and even the Houthis.
Al-Qaeda and Daesh (the Islamic State) are already the biggest winners. These two groups have been doing everything possible to topple the Saudi royal family, labelling it as the puppet of America and the true enemy of such groups.
What’s happening in the oil-rich province of Mareb in eastern Yemen is a good example of this kind of proxy war. Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda-related tribesmen and anti-Houthi fighters have been in fierce battles with the Houthi and allied army for three weeks now. The Houthi and army are advancing despite Saudi airstrikes. The main reason is that there is no unified leadership in the front against the Houthi and the army.
Money and weapons from Saudi Arabia and from Houthi enemies who have been exiled like the tribal leaders of Ahmar family and General Ali Mohsen, defeated and exiled by the Houthi last year abounds. But these exiled tribal leaders and military generals are Muslim Brotherhood leaders and are pretending to side with what they call the “legitimacy” of Hadi, although Hadi is their enemy and helped the Houthi defeat them and dismiss them last year.
The main military base (Brigade 315) in Mareb was seized by the Houthi last week. The city of Mareb is now blockaded from three directions, with clashes ongoing three kilometres from the city, according to local residents who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly by phone Tuesday.
“The collapse of the city is not the priority now; the first priority is the oil and gas installations in Safer, 60 kilometre east of the city,” said Abdul Aziz Al-Zayedi, one of the local tribal leaders that supports the Houthi and army against Al-Qaeda.
“The Houthi and the army are in contact with most local tribesmen of Mareb,” he added.
Anti-Houthi fighters threaten that if the Houthi and the army overrun Mareb, all gas, oil and electricity installations will be bombed by Saudi airstrikes. But this is the last threat they have. It is now the only concern being discussed by the Houthi and the army in Mareb.