Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1242, (16-22 April 2015)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1242, (16-22 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Shift to diplomacy

Warplanes may continue their sorties and the artillery still thunders but Operation Decisive Storm is winding down, writes Medhat Al-Zahed

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Saudi Arabian-led Operation Decisive Storm has petered out into a series of military and political squalls. The much-vaunted coalition has retrenched. The campaign is now an almost exclusively Gulf affair, aided and abetted by Egypt, but in a manner that ensures Egyptian troops are not committed to any ground offensive.

Efforts are now focused on how to bring the operation to a halt in a way that casts Saudi Arabia as the victor and the campaign as a success.

On Tuesday the UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Yemen’s Houthi rebels. It also announced that the Houthi leader Abdel-Malek Al-Houthi, and the son of Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, would face sanctions. Fourteen members of the Security Council voted in favour of the resolution. Only Russia abstained. Moscow had proposed an arms embargo on all parties to the Yemeni conflict but the Russian amendment to the Arab draft was rejected.

Al-Houthi, and the ex-president’s eldest son Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, now face the prospect of their assets being frozen and travel bans. The resolution demands a halt to the fighting on the part of all Yemeni parties and calls on the Houthis to withdraw from Sanaa and other areas they have seized.

UN diplomats say that on Saturday GCC ambassadors offered the Russians two amendments to the draft resolution in an attempt to win Moscow’s support, and set midday on Monday as the deadline for Russia’s response.  

The sudden focus on a negotiated solution was prompted by last week’s vote by the Pakistani parliament not to commit any forces to the coalition. Following joint military manoeuvres which were covered with great fanfare in the Saudi press, Riyadh had asked Pakistan to contribute ships, planes and troops to Operation Decisive Storm. The decision by Pakistan’s parliament to refuse the request wrong-footed Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Qarqash expressed surprise at Pakistan’s “unexpected” decision which he said contradicted Islamabad’s declarations of support for Saudi Arabia.

“The Arab Gulf is in a dangerous and fateful confrontation and its strategic security lies in the balance. It is at moments of truth such as this that real allies stand out from those whose support is confined to media statements,” Qarqash wrote on his Twitter account. He also warned Pakistan of the costs it would incur for adopting such an ambiguous position on its strategic relations with Gulf States.

Tehran, meanwhile, welcomed the Pakistani decision. On 11 April Ali Larinjani, the speaker of the Iranian parliament, expressed his gratitude to “the parliament of our friend and neighbour Pakistan for its decision not to take part in the aggression in Yemen” and warned that “entering that war will be harmful to all Islamic nations”.

On the same day Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council, warned that Yemen would turn into “a swamp in which aggressors will drown”.

Rafsanjani denounced the Saudi-led military operation in Yemen as a strategic mistake.

“The spread of war and the instigation of divisions and strife in the Islamic world pose a great danger,” he said. “Saudi Arabia’s new rulers have made a grave error in their political and military calculations in Yemen. They embarked on a destructive campaign without weighing up the disastrous effects of igniting the sparks of war in the region.”

The coalition was pushed further off balance by Ankara’s announcement that Turkey, after consultations with Iran, was throwing its weight behind a negotiated settlement.

On Friday 10 April Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Ankara, Tehran and Riyadh must work together to find a political solution to the conflict in Yemen, secure a ceasefire and allow humanitarian relief into the country.

Çavuşoğlu said he was sure political solutions and dialogue would prevail. “We will undertake the mission of holding talks and we will meet with the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif whenever possible. Our communications will be closer in the coming phase, for our aim is to end the chaos in Yemen,” he told a press conference.

Although Turkey, which possesses the second largest army in NATO, has played no active role in the operation in Yemen, Ankara had earlier stated its willingness to offer the coalition logistic and intelligence support.

Qarqash responded angrily to the announcements coming out of Ankara.

“It appears that Tehran’s importance to Islamabad and Ankara outweighs that of Gulf countries. They want us to invest financially but withhold political support at this critical time. The confused and contradictory stances of Pakistan and Turkey are the best proof yet that Arab security, from Libya to Yemen, is an entirely Arab concern,” he said.

Egyptian involvement in the Yemeni conflict is also limited. Naval vessels have been sent to safeguard Egyptian interests in the Red Sea and Bab Al-Mandab and it is furnishing logistic and intelligence support to the coalition forces. There is also a possibility of deploying a small number of elite troops to help secure the Saudi border. But Cairo has stated several times that Egyptian troops will not be involved in a ground offensive and the search for a political solution to the crisis must continue.

News reports claiming 50,000 Egyptian troops are to be sent to Yemen to take part in a land offensive after the bombing campaign failed to achieve the political objectives of Operation Decisive Storm have been officially denied.

“False information that could affect Egyptian national security has been circulated in the press regarding the participation of Egyptian soldiers among Arab coalition forces in Operation Decisive Storm. The Armed Forces urge all media to be accurate in the news they publish,” said Egyptian military spokesman Major Mohamed Samir

The first signs of growing momentum to forge a political solution to end the Yemeni conflict emerged when the Pakistani embassy in Ankara announced that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had discussed the Yemeni crisis with Pakistani Prime Minister Nowaz Sharif on Saturday, a day after similar talks were held with the Saudi monarch and the Emir of Qatar.

A press release issued by the Pakistani embassy revealed that Erdogan and Sharif had held a 45 minute telephone conversation during which they agreed to intensify efforts to find a political solution to the conflict. The statement added that “the two leaders stress that the Houthis had no right to overthrow the legitimate government of Yemen and any violation of the territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia will incur a strong response from both countries.”

Sources from Erdogan’s office also say that the Turkish president discussed “regional issues” with Saudi King Salman Abdel-Aziz and the Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamed Al-Thani late on Friday.

Diplomatic sources add that consultations over ways to halt the conflict and kick start a political process to resolve the crisis in Yemen are taking place between Cairo and Tehran.

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