he Houthi rebels of Ansar Allah have continued to harass Saudi Arabia by firing shells, most recently on 25 December on the Jizan region of southern Arabia, bordering Yemen. Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (known as MBS) immediately announced “a large-scale military operation”, which is understood to be intended to deal a definitive blow to a war that is about to enter its eighth year and which, according to the UN, has already claimed more than 370,000 dead and caused a gigantic humanitarian catastrophe, which is being projected onto Europe through the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing their country of 30 million inhabitants, 80% of whom are dependent on international humanitarian aid.
At the head of an international coalition, whose other main pillar is the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Arabia became involved in the war in Yemen in 2015, with the aim of reversing the Houthi offensive of Ansar Allah, which had taken up arms against the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh in the context of the Arab uprisings of 2011.
But seven years of war and a huge investment in military hardware, which have made Arabia the world’s sixth-largest arms spender, have not achieved the main objective, which MBS had put at the time at no more than a few weeks. Worse still, the Yemen war imbroglio has become a major theatre of confrontation with Iran, whose Islamist regime openly supports the Houthi rebels. The war has seen the consolidation of the Houthis’ hold on the capital, Sana’a, and a rampant fragmentation of the territory, which has consequently resulted in a multiplicity of power centres.
A detailed geopolitical analysis by the Elcano Royal Institute (RIE) states that ‘the current political map of Yemen is further than ever from a viable and sovereign state, with Ansar Allah holding almost complete control over the north of the country, while the government of Abdrabbuh Mansur al-Hadi, from crisis to crisis, grapples with the secessionist aspirations of the Southern Transitional Council (STC), and attempts to integrate it into its alliance with the Islah party (a loosely structured Islamist organisation with a historical relationship to the Muslim Brotherhood)”.
A definitive all-or-nothing gamble
The failure of MBS’s predictions to conclude the conflict in those few weeks and the multiplication of all kinds of incidents, skirmishes and attacks by the Houthis on Saudi installations and interests seem to have led Riyadh to the conclusion that it is necessary to strike a definitive blow instead of indefinitely prolonging a lethal but apparently low-intensity war, and above all, one in which there is no short-term outcome in sight if it continues with this strategy that is barren of results.
Although Tehran denies being at the origin of the various arms shipments, allegedly destined for the Houthi rebels but seized by coalition forces, Riyadh has sufficient evidence to prove cooperation between Ansar Allah and Iran. This alliance, which is also linked to the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, is considered by Saudi Arabia as a permanent threat to its security and stability.
On the other hand, the intervention in Yemen was for the Saudi kingdom an opportunity to fuel nationalist fervour and a means of expressing citizens’ loyalty to their leaders. According to the EIR report, ‘it was also intended to serve as a demonstration of Saudi Arabia’s regional leadership, characterised as a legitimate aspiration and the crown prince’s personal project’. Consequently, should the new ‘large-scale military operation’ decided by MBS fail to achieve its objectives of bringing this war to a virtual end, Riyadh and MBS himself would suffer a significant erosion of their international prestige and moral authority.
© This article was originally published in Atalayar / All rights reserved