Middle East

Saudi Arabia is losing the war in Yemen after seven years of mayhem and destruction

According to the United Nations (UN), the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and the Houthis have extended their truce for a further two months. This follows an initial two-month truce reached between the warring parties in April 2022. The war in Yemen started in 2015, following the ousting of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi on 22 January 2015 by the Houthis. President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia where he started lobbying for support from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States. The de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman became the Defence Minister of Saudi Arabia on 23 January 2015. The Yemeni crisis came as Bin Salman was in search for an opportunity to flex his muscle as the new Defence Minister of Saudi Arabia. He also needed an opportunity to prove his critics wrong against his leadership and appointment to the new position. To that end, the war in Yemen presented a number of political opportunities for him.

First, he needed to establish himself as serving the interests of all Arabs, if he was to be taken serious in the region. He managed to sell the war in Yemen as a self-preservatory effort of Arab nationalism from the dominance of Iran. Subsequently, he managed to draw into his coalition in Yemen all Gulf States, Sudan and Egypt, amongst others. The war in Yemen became a necessary war to preserve Arabism in the region and prevent further proliferation of Iran’s political influence.

READ: Rights groups allege French arms makers complicit in Yemen war crimes

Second, he also needed to present himself, and remind Sunni Muslims across the globe that, like all his predecessors he is also committed to preservation of Sunni Islam and fight against the proliferation of Shia dominance in Islam. Houthis, a proxy of Iran in the region, adhere to the Zaidi sect of Shia Islam; they are accused of wanting to further Shia expansionism in the region. Accusations of Iran’s Shia expansionism and dominance are not limited to the Middle East; they also extend to other parts of the world. In Nigeria, for an example, Iran is accused of working with the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), Sheik Ebrahim El-Zakzaky, to create instability in that country, particularly in Zaria Kaduna State. Members of the IMN have often conflicted with law enforcement in Nigeria, something that has raised high level of concern about Iran’s involvement in Nigeria.

The Saudi-led coalition continues its war on Yemen – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Third, Yemen is regarded by many in the Gulf, especially the Saudis, as the land of their ancestors. Present day Saudi Arabia and large parts of Yemen were part of the Ziyadid dynasty. Osama Bin Laden’s grandfather, Awad Bin Laden for example, came from the village of Al-Rubat, in the Hadramout in Yemen. There are many prominent families in Saudi Arabia who still have strong ties in Yemen. Mohammed Bin Salam understands the resonance of those sentiments with the Saudis and others in the region. Historical lineage, therefore, enabled him to sell the idea of going to war in Yemen, particularly to the Gulf countries. Bin Salman’s victory in Yemen would have certainly positioned him on a high pedestal in the regional and, indeed, international politics.

However, Bin Salman’s project in Yemeni backfired; the war has been criticised internationally, and has led to dire human strife. Moreover, besides personal image damage to Saudis and Bin Salman personally, the war has been financially draining for the coalition. It has also created unprecedented human suffering, displaced millions of people and led to millions more deaths and injuries. Importantly, the war has also further polarised the political make-up of Yemen and the region.

READ: Yemen’s President Hadi has effectively been sacked by Saudi Arabia

After seven years of human suffering and infrastructural destruction, Mohamad Bin Salman and the coalition he led into this war are negotiating with the Houthis. Houthis are emboldened by the truce, notwithstanding the fire power they have endured from the coalition. Bin Salman, on the other hand, enters this truce with a wounded ego and humiliation. Furthermore, his main allies with whom he started the war abandoned the war, adding financial strain to Saudi Arabia. In October 2019, the UAE announced it was pulling its last troops out Yemen. Qatar was forced to pull out of the war in 2017 when Bahrain, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt led a land, sea and air blockade of the state of Qatar.

Iran certainly feels emboldened, and its foreign policy vindicated as it scores yet another goal. In the recent past, President Bashar Al-Assad of Syria, another ally of Iran, was admitted back to the normal global political arena, notwithstanding heinous crimes he committed and the use of chemical weapons against his people. In Lebanon, Iran also continues to enjoy popular support and dominate the politics there, through its proxy in that country, Hezbollah. Hezbollah is widely regarded as “a Muslim army against the oppressed people of Palestine” in an absence of credible fighting forces outside occupied Palestine.

The outcome of the war in Yemen is not what Bin Salman expected. Saudi Arabia finds itself with huge global public image problems, which were further complicated by the murder of journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi was killed, and his body dismembered by the highly trained Saudi technical team linked to Mohammed Bin Salman. Bin Salman entered the war hoping to prove his critics wrong and to establish himself as a leader in global politics; he has failed to achieve that objective. Instead, the actions in Yemen have emboldened both Iran and the Houthis.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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