Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1240, (2 - 8 April 2015)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1240, (2 - 8 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

An unprecedented storm

As with all wars, the Saudi-led war in Yemen has appeared easy to start, but exiting is another matter, writes Medhat Al-Zahed

yemen
yemen
Al-Ahram Weekly

Houthi hubris in Yemen invited its own nemesis, a storm like no other. The 10-nation coalition, put together in haste, didn’t tarry in delivering its lethal message. As rockets screeched towards their targets, gunboats roamed the coasts, and aerial superiority was in no question.

According to Saudi reports, runways were destroyed, ammunition depots blown up, and air defence systems put out of action.

The Saudis, leading the Arab world’s first “coalition of the willing”, say they are determined to put President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi back in power and stamp out the Houthi coup.

Egypt, joining the fray with a newfound zeal to restore its regional role, said it was taking part in the aerial operation as well as patrolling the Bab Al-Mandab waterway. Egypt has also promised ground troops if needed, but it is not still unclear if such a step is in the offing.

Iran, almost taken off guard by the sudden show of Arab determination, issued a warning to the coalition and advised the Saudis to exercise restraint. Iranian reports hinted that the Houthis could fire rockets into the depth of Saudi Arabia.

Iran’s ally Hassan Nasrallah fired off an angry speech on Al-Manar Television. “The consequences of this battle are known in advance. Don’t be so pleased with your aerial battle,” Hizbullah’s leader told the Saudis.

“All military schools in the world know that aerial bombardment brings no victory and decides no battle,” Nasrallah said.

He advised the Saudis to avoid “defeat and humiliation” by talking “like brothers” to the Yemenis.

The high pitch of rhetoric emanating from Iran and Hizbullah is symptomatic of the high stakes game that their Houthi allies have pushed for.

Wars such as this are easy to start, observers say, but how far can they go?

Is Operation Decisive Storm all about drawing a line in the sand, letting the Iranians know that they’ve gone too far? Or is there more to it than meets the eye?

The litmus test for a war so dramatically launched, so unprecedented in its dynamics, is whether ground troops will be committed. So far, the threat has been made. But how credible is it?

If it is true that the coalition will send ground troops, then the war will have all the trappings of a major regional confrontation, with repercussions larger than Yemen, and with every possibility of armies bogged down with no exit strategy in sight.

In short, this war could be over in days, or it may last for months on end.

The politics is too complex to be sorted out, and perhaps too intricate even for some of the players. Take, for example, Egypt and Qatar. Will this war bring them together, or is this just a temporary alliance? Also, once this joint Arab force proves itself in battle, will it turn into a permanent arrangement that may intervene in other troubled countries in the region?

To put it more bluntly, will the Arab force be summoned if Turkey invades Syria, or Israel strikes at the Palestinians, or Iran sends troops into Iraq?

Like a Pandora’s Box, the promises and perils are yet to emerge from the deep recesses of this unprecedented call to arms.

Yemen’s conflict is not just any civil war. It is a war of turf with regional consequences. It is a war between the Saudis and Iranians in Yemen, and it is being fuelled not by local interests alone, but geopolitical machinations as well.

Yemeni airspace is now in the hands of the coalition, but the Houthis ¾ whose rise to eminence was the result of a power vacuum ¾ are credible enough as a fighting force, and along with their allies may put up serious resistance lasting for years.

Yemen is not a walk in the park. The Egyptians know that, for they got bogged down once in its treacherous terrain in the 1960s. The Saudis know it too, for they also had to back down in the confrontation with the Houthis in Al-Dokhan Mountain in 2010.

Operation Decisive Storm is definitely making a point. But can it do that without making a mess?

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