By Zaher Mahruqi
Three months since the air campaign against the Hoothis started and the situation in Yemen is rapidly deteriorating. The military situation is at a stalemate at best and the humanitarian situation is entering a disaster zone. Millions of Yemenis are now facing eminent hunger and disease and the death toll is increasing by the minute. The suffering is already unimaginable!
The Saudi-led coalition ought to make a very tough but crucial decision to send in foot soldiers before it is too late. As the Americans failed in Iraq only to leave it in unimaginable cycle of violence that has lasted for more than a decade and getting worse by the day, this coalition is in danger of achieving exactly the same result in Yemen. The courage demonstrated by King Salman in starting the air campaign need to be taken to another level. The implications of not taking decisive action now are innumerable.
Allowing the war to linger will fire back in more ways than one and will impact all parties involved. Yemen is becoming a chaotic situation that will quickly become an incubator for violence exportation. It is true that ISIS claimed all the recent attacks in Saudi Arabia and the most recent one in Kuwait. However, once violence in other parts of the Gulf ensues, other parties interested in an unstable GCC would utilize the anarchy and indeed use it as cover for their own attacks. Whilst ISIS and Iran have different objectives and are indeed staunch enemies, it is safe to argue that Iran cannot be sympathetic to the havoc that ISIS or any other party does within the GCC.
As far as Yemen itself is concerned, if the Saudi-led coalition lacks the courage to intervene now, Yemen risks being a failed state very rapidly. All the elements that have made Iraq a failed state are in place in Yemen. The sectarian divide is similar to what is in Iraq and the only difference there is that instead of ISIS there is Al-Qaeda. Another similarity is of course Iran’s meddling. Although Iran is yet to place foot soldiers in Yemen if the situation is not dealt with swiftly, it will definitely enter the Yemen landscape in a more direct fashion. At which point the coalition will be facing a much tougher and complex situation.
The Americans and the Europeans are now becoming seemingly increasingly more confident about their energy security due to fracking technology and alternative means of energy that they will not own conflicts in the Middle East and will not intervene directly especially in these difficult economic times. Apart from Israel’s security, the West is clearly leaving Middle East problems to regional powers. Even if the GCC oil is still as crucial as it once was, the West knows that regional powers will own their own fights due to their almost full dependence on oil exports.
Provided that the resistance on the ground in Yemen is barely managing to keep the Hoothis at bay and there is a real danger for their Iran allies to tip the situation in their favour, even if the coalition decides to send in foot soldiers later on, it will be doing so back footed.
In essence, for the very reasons the Americans are unable to re intervene fully in Iraq, it will be much harder for the coalition to intervene in Yemen if they wait. Each day that passes means further deterioration in Yemen and becomes that much harder to contain. When Saudi Arabia assembled its coalition it must have made the decision to go all the way and air power alone is hardly going all the way.
If the Hoothis manage to have the upper hand at a future stage, they and Iran will not stop there as they deem the fight against the Kingdom and her allies as an existential one; what were once disagreements in ideology is now a bloody struggle, TRUST in coexistence is DEAD. For the GCC Israel and Iran are the same and vice versa. Shias and Sunnis will not coexist in peace until one side is fully dominant in the region and if the GCC wish to be the dominant side it needs to take blunt actions very soon.
Thus far many observers felt that only “groups” like ISIS were interested in a chaotic Middle East but each day that passes demonstrates that Iran too is of the same inclination. If Saudi Arabia and allies loose or unable to contain the Yemeni situation, they will have to face the consequences within their own borders in a much bloodier way. The GCC is more worried about Iran but Al-Qaeda, Israel and other forces are also interested in a chaotic Gulf and as such loosing Yemen could very well reshape the GCC in an irreversible manner fuelled by opportunistic parties.
No doubt that sending soldiers into a warzone is highly costly and requires huge sacrifices but the cost of pacifism could lend the Gulf into a black hole. In Syria, Iran has already demonstrated how far it is willing to go to protect its interests defying international opposition to it and regardless of deaths of hundreds of thousands. If Bahrain for example descends unto sectarian bloodshed there is no reason why Iran won’t intervene with the same zeal as it has in Syria and as it is gradually but steadily doing in Yemen.