Thursday, April 02, 2015


"Shia Houthi rebels clashed with Saudi military units on Yemen’s northern border on Friday. The rebels vowed to intensify their campaign for control of the country after a second night of air strikes by a coalition of regional Sunni states led by Saudi Arabia. Houthi fighters also clashed with rival militias in the south of the country. As the fighting intensified, president Abd-Rabbu Hadi, who this week fled the southern port city of Aden in the face of the Houthi advance, travelled to Egypt to attend a summit of Arab leaders in Sharm el-Sheikh. The president vowed to call for an Arab ”Marshall Plan” to rebuild his country once the Houthis have been ousted. Tensions grew on Friday as Saudi and Egyptian warships deployed to the strategic Bab al-Mandab strait in an effort to stop Houthis taking control of the waterway. Large volumes of Gulf oil and trade flow through the strait, bound for the Suez Canal. Saudi Arabia fears that the Houthis — who seized Yemen’s capital, Sana’a in September and placed Mr Hadi under house arrest — are helping Iran expand its power base in the Arab world. The Saudis are also concerned about their border with Yemen, near the Houthis’ northern stronghold. Saudi Arabian officials said they believed the multinational operation, dubbed Resolute Storm, had degraded the Houthis’ military capabilities. But Abdelmalek al-Houthi, Houthi leader, vowed to confront what he called Saudi Arabia’s “criminal, unjust and unjustified aggression”. Cairo is considering sending troops to take part in a ground war in Yemen. The US is backing the aerial campaign by providing logistical support and satellite imagery. The Houthis’ precipitous rise to power was backed by Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former president overthrown in a 2011 popular uprising in Yemen. The group’s military victories are largely due to the backing of armed forces units loyal to the former leader. But this week’s targeting of military installations held by the Houthis and soldiers loyal to the former president has given rise to fears that the Saudis and their allies may have to become an occupying force to prevent the country spiralling into the kind of chaos and sectarian violence seen in Iraq or Syria. “The coalition’s strikes have succeeded in decimating much of the capacity of the Yemeni army,” said Adam Baron, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank. “[But] it poses a huge challenge moving forward, threatening to exacerbate a pre-existing power vacuum in the country.
Peter Salisbury, "Houthi rebels clash with Saudi troops on Yemen’s northern border". The Financial Times. 27 March 2015, in
The intervention, as of now in the air, but shortly perhaps on the ground as well, by Saudi Arabia and its allies provokes in one, a mixture of views: i) that faute de mieux, the Saudis intervention while obviously motivated by sectarian hatred of the Shiite-oriented, Houthis, is better than no intervention at all by any outside power. That while the Houthis may perhaps have solid grounds for being opposed to the status quo ante in Yemen, this fact does not provide a rationale for their overt power grab. Especially, given their alignment with the former Saleh regime; ii) on the other hand, it is somewhat self-evident that per se, a mere air campaign will not fundamentally change the dynamics on the ground in Yemen. That the recently ousted President, Mr. Abd-Rabbu Hadi, does not himself possess the wherewithal militarily speaking to defeat the Houthi rebels 1. Accordingly, there is much talk of a coalition of ground forces between the Saudis and the Egyptians which will invade Yemen and defeat the Houthis. Which is of course by far the best case scenario. The only issue is that neither Saudi Arabia, its Gulf allies or even the Egyptians have shown themselves in recent years able to perform anything akin to the scenario just outlined above. And of course the history of the failed Egyptian military intervention in the 1960s, shows how fraught with dangerous possibilities is any type of unplanned military intervention in a country like Yemen with its extensive deserts and mountains. Which is not to say that per se, any outside military intervention will automatically fail. The success of the combined British-Persian military intervention in Oman in the early 1970s, shows that such interventions can indeed work. But it does require employing a trained and capable as well as a numerically overwhelming military force. Half-hearted measures will in the current situation in Yemen will most definitely not work; iii) finally, as per the issue of possible Persian military intervention, it is very much the case, that while the Persians would love to see the Saudis and their allies suffer a defeat, both military and political, it is also the case that the Persians themselves, with both the sanctions regime still in place and with their existing military and other commitments in Iraq and Syria are hardily in a position to overtly assist the Houthis. Especially, given how difficult it would be to concretely give such assistance in not very accessible (from Persia that is) Yemen. In short, it is safe to assume that while Tehran, will diplomatically speaking, complain and indeed complain loudly, it will not care to overtly intervene to counter-balance the Saudi lead intervention. Especially as it is in the process of perhaps negotiating an agreement with the Western Powers over its nuclear capabilities. In short, it is my opinion that while the Saudi-lead intervention into Yemen is a course of action with manifold risks, there does not appear to be any 'good' or plausible alternatives, short of allowing this country to follow Syria, Iraq and Libya to fall into anarchy. With all the attendant dangers as seeing the spread of Islamic radicalism and terrorism following from the very same. Whether the Saudis, et. al., have the wherewithal to effectively intervene `a la the British-Persian intervention into Oman in the early 1970s is a question which I do not have an answer to at this time. One may only hope that the Christian God will intervene on the side of the Holder of the two sacred places of Islam.
1. Alistair Burt, et. al., "Yemen on the Brink?" Chatham House collequal. 23 March 2015, in


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