By Zaher Mahruqi
Now that King Salman has taken Saudi Arabia out of the shadows whereby the Kingdom was a passive player in shaping the region, the Arab and Muslim worlds are fully behind its return to her traditional role, leading by example.
The support that Saudi Arabia has received and is receiving from across the Muslim world might come as a surprise but the fact is that Muslims the world over have been waiting for Saudi leadership for a very very long time. From Malaysia to Pakistan to Senegal and beyond, countries and people alike are pledging what might be considered allegiance to Saudi Arabia and many are indeed vowing to protect every inch of the Kingdom if necessary.
Saudis have a special place and King Salman can comfortably take big and predictably dangerous initiatives knowing that no other Muslim country has the support it enjoys. By embarking on a mission to curb the Hoothis’ reach within Yemen and directly challenging Iran’s expansionary ambitions, the Saudi King must also be prepared for a prolonged period of physical confrontations.
Yemen is Saudi’s and GCC’s first war under its leadership and as such it cannot afford to lose and must push forward until a resolution is reached. Failure in Yemen would mean that Saudi Arabia and its allies have failed to curb a group that is nothing more than unprofessional militiamen. That would send a damaging signal to Saudi Arabia and GCC’s enemies.
Saudi Arabia has embarked on a route that it must stick to as long as the region remains unstable. Not resolving the Yemeni situation would signal to Iran that the Kingdom and the GCC are incapable of any potential direct confrontation with Iran. Two major messages have already been delivered by the new king in the block. That Saudi Arabia is willing to take on its enemies if it deems necessary and that it has a wide and strong alliance. One message that is yet to be sent is that the Saudi-led coalition can win wars.
ISIS and other Jihadist groups intent on applying a stricter version of Sharia would also perceive any failure in Yemen as weakness. Nothing portrays power like victories. ISIS is one group of people who are displaying the power of victory and its ability to win over followers. Needless to say ISIS is no friend to the Saudi government.
To reiterate, the Kingdom and her allies simply cannot afford anything less than a clear and decisive victory in Yemen so that a clear and opposite message is sent to other foes in the region and they are many. Iran is perhaps the most important recipient of such a message and then there is Bashar al-Assad, an ardent believer in Iran’s prowess, and the many Jihadists groups that are increasing in numbers every minute.
A strong and positive message is to defeat the Hoothis and force them into talks and then to rebuild the Yemeni army and other institutions and the economy in general. Job done fully would be the only positive and deterrent message of the Saudi-led coalition for the present and the future. Thereafter, other unresolved issues will receive even more support from publics and governments alike.
All wars have two possible outcomes and that is either one side is fully dominated or a truce is agreed. That is where one country of special global status becomes indispensable. In the current Yemeni struggle between Irani-supported Hoothis and Saudi-supported Sunnis that country is Oman.
As the Saudi-led coalition seeks to assert its will, continued Oman’s neutrality is essential. Oman has always remained neutral and save Israel, Oman has no known enemies; neither in form of countries nor groups. There are some people who propagate hatred against Ibadhis but Omanis remain the most non-sectarian and the most capable of breaching the gaps within the Muslim world.
Oman is the only country in the Middle East which has always remained impartial and has indeed resolved a number of potential and actual conflicts. Oman’s position as a mediator is a well known fact and as such the warring sides in Yemen will surely trust Oman as a credible mediator. When the time comes when either side wishes to end the war, whilst saving face, Oman would be the natural mediator amongst others.
Moreover, at some point, Shia and Muslim worlds would need to sit at the same table to pursue viable peace as war cannot be indefinite. Again, Oman is more equipped to mediate a long term resolution. The Sultanate is neither Shia nor Sunni.
To summarize, the Saudi’s heavy handedness is long overdue and must continue as the Kingdom’s natural position is to intervene when needed in order to constantly maintain regional stability. Saudi Arabia and allies cannot stop until all hanging issues in Iraq, Syria and Yemen among others are resolved. If and when guns must be laid down for talks then Oman can always be called upon.