Saudi Arabia, started its “Operation Decisive Storm”, a broad Arab-Islamic initiative ostensibly aimed at the restoration of Yemeni President Abd Rabhon Mansour Hadi who, however, has been forced to leave the capital, Sana by Houthi rebels. It has been more than two years since Saudis had been fighting a war which it can’t win. Saudi Arabia’s reliance on air power have also shown poor results in Yemen, where U.S.-supplied bombs have devastated the country but failed to uproot the Houthis. Nevertheless, there is logic to Riyadh’s focus on air power, which derives from how Saudi generals understand their environment. Kenneth Pollack noted in his book, “Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness” that the Saudis have heavily favored the air defense forces. The reason, according to Pollack, is that “only air forces could be employed against hostile forces attacking by air, land or sea,” and because the Saudi air force “could be based centrally and then deployed quickly anywhere in their vast realm, allowing the Saudis maximum flexibility in shifting their strength to meet a threat.”
The other reason for its failure in Yemen is seeing how Saudi Arabia’s coalition supporters are supporting it. These coalition members have less at stake in Yemen- be it Pakistan or the British. Most of Saudi Arabia’s partners, in fact, were reluctant to join the operation. Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan and Morocco limited their involvement in the war against the Houthis. Egypt and Pakistan refused to send ground troops t. Sudan, by contrast, sent thousands of troops to Yemen, if only so that Riyadh would mediate on its behalf and persuade US on to suspend sanctions against it. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were the only states in the coalition vested in the war. But, even they had different reasons for entering the conflict.
Saudi Arabia’s aims for Operation Decisive Storm and its successor, Operation Restoring Hope, were to crush the Houthis, sever their ties to Iran and secure the Saudi-Yemeni border in Jizan and Najran. The United Arab Emirates, on the other hand, had its own preferences in its mind. Abu Dhabi, unlike Riyadh, isn’t interested in driving the Houthis out of the Yemeni capital. Emirati leaders fear that doing so could give Islah, which they view as a threat to their own stability, a place in Yemen’s political future. After making a perfunctory bid to train Yemeni troops for an offensive to retake Sanaa, Emirati forces turned their attention instead to southern Yemen. There, they worked to secure control of the Arabian coast and the strategic Bab al-Mandab Strait, a critical conduit for international trade. The United Arab Emirates is also keen on preventing the Yemeni port of Aden from competing with the Jebel Ali port, near Dubai. Saudis are in tough conditions in Yemen. The war exposes the strategic failure of Saudi command and leadership. It is quite difficult for Saudis to defeat the actual enemy the Houthi led government as they control the Yemeni capital and larger part of former Northern Yemen.
Hadi and his restoration, the prime reason for Saudi intervention in Yemen, has lost its credibility among common Yemeni people. At the same time, Yemeni tribes also refused to cooperate with the Saudis. In February, members of Hamdan, one of Yemen’s most powerful tribes in southern Yemen, pledged to take part in potential mobilization against the Saudi-led aggression. In June, Saudi-backed Hadi loyalists fled the provincial capital of Mareb after tribesmen launched attacks against their forces. The war is Yemen, which now perhaps counts as one of the forgotten conflicts of the word and which has exacted countless victims, must end. The path our route to the conflict’s end lies in Saudi Arabia, which must introspect and instead of bellicosity, pave the way for diplomacy.
—The author is a Scholar at the School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi. He can be reached at: [email protected]