Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Wed, Apr 6th, 2016

And the winner is?

After a year of a billion-dollar bombing campaign and much trumpeted ground assault by the coalition led by Saudi Arabia in their proxy war against Iran at the expense of Yemen, it seems to be time to declare victory.

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In a recent opinion piece by Abdulrahman Al-Rashed, the general manager of Al-Arabiya television and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, the winner is Saudi Arabia. According to Al-Rashed, the winner is obvious. “By the standards of the war in Afghanistan, Arab coalition forces have achieved more in one year than the Americans did in a decade and a half.” Imagine; the Saudi coalition did what the mighty super power was unable to do in 1/10th the time. Beyond this, “Many were surprised by the military capabilities of Saudi Arabia and the UAE that allowed them to fight a full-scale war whilst they worked on the ground to rebuild and train Yemeni forces at the same time.” Is this one for the record books and a massive Arc de Triomphe for central Riyadh? Surprised, perhaps, by how utterly inept the Saudis have been in their poor targeting of bombs and dismal failure to make gains on the ground without buying or aquiescing to local support.

The fact that the writer is about as pro-Saudi as anyone who can be bought may have something to do with this rather inflated opinion. Let’s have a reality check. As the author notes, Sanaa has not been liberated, nor has almost the entire swathe of territory that can be considered a home base for the Huthi/Salih alliance. So victory hinges on stopping “Iran’s project to create a state south of Saudi Arabia which would threaten the entire Gulf.” Iran is the blame that justifies the war, as though the resistance in Yemen is only due to foreign involvement. Ironically, blaming Iran for the Huthi anger is exactly what Salih did when he was their arch enemy. Yet the actual involvement of Iran, apart from the rhetoric of the hardliners, has been next to nothing from the start. The Huthi/Salih alliance is using weapons that Salih received, in large part from the United States. The claim that Iran is sending shiploads of weapons is greatly exaggerated and has been all along. The claim that the Huthi movement has no internal reason for opposing Salih and then Hadi is absurd.

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The forces of the Huthis and Salih have not been “annihilated”, although thousands of civilians have been killed and the infrastructure has been devastated and Yemen is experiencing one of the gravest humanitarian crises in the entire world. But then we are told that “Al-Qaeda who has been established there since before the war, is still alive and is attacking legitimate and coalition forces. A year later, there is no doubt that the political and field gains reduced the number of dissenting and sceptical voices as it is natural that people hate wars in our region that is afflicted with disaster.” Still alive? The fact is that the Huthis were trying to eradicate al-Qaida and this war has allowed al-Qaida (now known as Ansar Shariah) to take nominal control of much of the south and Hadramawt. Al-Qaida is much stronger today, thanks to the Saudi campaign, than it was a year ago. Indeed people hate wars, but much of that hate is now generated against the indiscriminate bombing campaign of the Saudis. There have been no meaningful political gains at all and the field gains are not due to the coalition troops but to local Yemeni militia and tribesmen. Yemen’s provinces have not been reclaimed by the Saudi forces but rather through local fighting; a case in point is the ongoing battle over Taiz. Indeed the coalition forces rarely left their barracks, where they had casualties, and most of them are now sitting in ships in the Red Sea.

To argue that the Huthis had captured all of Yemen a year ago is utter nonsense. There was no control of the Hadramawt, nor any effective control of the south. This is like saying Napoleon controlled Russia by the time his army reached Moscow. The author is delusional at times: “Those who monitor the regional situation believed that war was the only option to prevent the Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah from occupying Yemen and turning it into a large regional war front between Saudi Arabia and Iran.” This was pure Saudi propaganda, flowing from their intention of leading Sunni Islam by creating the Shi’a as an arch enemy. Hizbullah was created to deal with Israel, not to take down Sunni Islam. No one outside the Saudi worldview thought that Iran was planning to take over Yemen. Mistaking the anti-American sentiment that Husayn al-Huthi brought back from Qum was hardly a call for Yemen to become Iranian. The Zaydis are not Twelvers and never will be.

The aims for the war are fanciful. Saudi Arabia and the GCC states have fabulous wealth to afford the most expensive military equipment. The United States has pledged to protect them since the 1940s, let alone British interests. Yemen could only become a failed state like Lebanon due to Saudi interference. The idea that Yemen would become a launching ground to take control and make the Arabian peninsula Shi’a is ludicrous. In the case of this war, it appears that the internal dynamics of a regime change and an inexperienced young defense novice are the main causal factors. Oman wisely saw this and opted out of the illegal attack on its neighbor. The Saudis, despite this glowing tribute, are guilty of war crimes, as are the Huthis. The statement that humanitarian aid was allowed into Yemen is simply wrong. Hospitals and grocery store shelves in Sanaa are empty. The entire economy has ground to a halt. Hardly anyone can go in or out of Yemen without Saudi approval. There is no hope for a victory by anyone in this war; all are losers but none more than the people of Yemen.

About the Author

- Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Varisco is currently the President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Senior Fellow at the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of Bonn University, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.

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