Riyadh’s Strategic Mistake, Tehran’s Golden Opportunity

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Ardeshir Zarei Ghanavati
Expert on International Relations & Foreign Policy

Air strikes against Yemen by Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies – which constitute a wide spectrum from member states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC] to Egypt – have been continued for several weeks. According to officials in Riyadh, so far, 1,200 sorties have been conducted by the country’s warplanes against Yemen. The air strikes have dealt drastic blows to Yemen’s military and economic structure, but have not been able to halt advances of political forces that are opposed to the country’s fugitive president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. This act of aggression by Saudi Arabia apparently does not follow a clear-cut strategy and Riyadh does not seem to have any plans to organize the chaotic situation in its impoverished southern neighbor. The attack on Yemen, as such, is simply an angry reaction by Riyadh to recent advances of Yemeni Houthi fighters and supporters of the country’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. However, apart from the military repercussions of the Saudi attack on Yemen, it has already created a rift and political disharmony among regional Muslim nations. On the other hand, efforts made by Saudi Arabia to tie domestic crisis in Yemen to geopolitical rivalries among regional powers, especially escalation of tension between Tehran and Riyadh on the basis of the existing sectarian differences, have further increased the complexity of this situation. Without a doubt, allegations about Iran's role in making Yemen unstable and Tehran’s support for the Houthi movement were never of such a high military and strategic importance to prompt a third country to embark on direct interference in the domestic crisis of an independent state. Therefore, the assumption that seems more serious is that Saudi Arabia’s onslaught against Yemen aim to fan the flames of regional conflicts and determine the balance of powers in Yemen’s civil war. As a result, the military aggression against Yemen lacks any form of legitimacy and does not even offer a promising outlook for the determination of the power balance both within and without the crisis environment.

The military aggression against Yemen has caused domestic and foreign players in this crisis to try to form alliances in the region. From the outset of the attack, Riyadh was able to recruit Persian Gulf Arab states as well as Egypt and Sudan as its allies. This political and military coalition has started its aerial attacks on Yemen under the general title of Operation Decisive Storm. However, in view of historical experiences and the realities in the battlefield, it is already clear that air strikes alone, and in the absence of land invasion, will not be conclusive. And for a land invasion, Saudis had put their hope in Egypt and Pakistan to dispatch ground forces. On the other hand, the experience gained in past years in the Middle East has proven that when, in a critical situation, a rebellious force has a powerful popular support base, it will have enough capacity to make up for the invasion of foreign ground forces and turn the battleground into a quagmire for those forces. Since Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies in the Persian Gulf did not have considerable combat skills for engagement in the battlefield, and since the geographical and tribal situation in Yemen is not friendly toward any foreign force, the second phase of the operation should have been carried out by ground forces from Pakistan and Egypt.

Egypt opted for caution and conservatism by announcing that dispatching infantry to Yemen was not possible because the chaos in the country could easily shatter the existing fragile stability in Egypt. So, Pakistan remained as Saudi Arabia’s only hope in this regard. However, the Pakistani government and Defense Ministry left a decision on dispatching Pakistani ground forces in response to Saudi Arabia’s request to the country’s parliament. This was a clear sign that due to previous experiences and in view of the geopolitical situation in the Middle East, Islamabad was trying to shun this hazardous political and military undertaking. The Saudi leaders even went as far as asking Islamabad to choose the ground forces out of Sunni personnel of the army. If accepted, such a measure would have greatly endangered the not-so-strong national unity in the country, which is already entangled in sectarian tensions. Finally, on Friday, April 10, and subsequent to two days of consultation at Pakistan’s parliament, the lawmakers turned down Riyadh’s request by opposing dispatch of military forces to Yemen. The decision came concurrent with a visit to Islamabad by Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif who aimed to encourage Pakistani leaders to take part in a political process for mediation in Yemen crisis.

By rejecting Riyadh’s request for taking part in the military aggression against Yemen, both Egypt and Pakistan tried to avoid a dangerous risk through prudent calculation of benefits and losses of such a measure. However, in doing so, they also greatly undermined political and geopolitical standing of Saudi Arabia in regional equations. Today, the only force that can win legitimacy and find itself a logical position in Yemen is the one which is aware of the fragmented nature of political and tribal structure of the country in the ongoing domestic crisis and take steps toward political reconciliation and division of power within framework of a national unity government. With regard to foreign dimensions of the crisis, the Middle East region is currently suffering from a sectarian conflict whose escalation, due to the situation of domestic and foreign players can cause a spread of crisis to many countries. Political realities and the situation on the ground in the battlefield also prove that Tehran’s role in the instability of Yemen, especially its role in the security threats that Saudi Arabia’s leaders allegedly feel from Yemen, has not been very powerful, and definitely no threat had been posed to the Two Holy Mosques in Saudi Arabia. Pakistan’s decision not to play a part in the ongoing crisis in Yemen made Saudi leaders and their other allies in the Persian Gulf states so upset that they showed a rapid emotional reaction by issuing warnings to Islamabad.

A few hours after the Pakistani parliament gave its vote on Yemen war, the first counteraction by the Riyadh leaders was to deny permission to a Pakistani passenger plane for landing on Saudi Arabia’s soil. Later on, Anwar Mohammed Qarqash, the Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said, “Pakistan must have a clear stance for the sake of its strategic relations with the [Persian] Gulf states. Positions that are contradictory in such fateful issues have a high cost.” At present, the government of Pakistan has adopted a rational stance on the situation in Yemen. On the other hand, following recent provocative statements by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who accused Iran of meddling in the internal affairs of regional countries, Ankara has adopted a more rational position and Erdogan modified his earlier remarks in a visit to Tehran by emphasizing the need for cooperation with Iran to find a political solution to the crisis in Yemen. In view of these developments, Iran's diplomatic apparatus should further increase its political efforts in order to come up with a comprehensive plan that would recognize the rights of all political factions in Yemen. The Iranian Foreign Ministry and even president’s office can also boost collaboration with leaders in Islamabad and Ankara to facilitate formulation of such a comprehensive peace plan in Yemen and make it a counterbalance to warmongering efforts of Riyadh and its Arab allies.

Key Words: Riyadh, Strategic Mistake, Tehran, Golden Opportunity, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, Ali Abdullah Saleh, Operation Decisive Storm, Persian Gulf Arab States, Pakistan, Egypt, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ghanavati

Source: Shargh Daily
ٰTranslated By: Iran Review.Org

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*Photo Credit: The Cairo Post

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