It is necessary for the decision to intervene militarily with a ground operation in Yemen to be coupled with a plan with a political tack and a development tack with clear features and objectives for the sake of Yemen. Operation Decisive Storm has revived the spirits of the majority in the Arab region, who are fed up of defeatism, but the storm is blowing on the Yemenis themselves, and the Yemenis need reassurances. The Arab decision to stand up to Iranian encroachment in Yemen coincided with obstacles in the American-Iranian deals, which the P5+1 countries (the nuclear powers + Germany) are supposed to conclude with Tehran within three months, if a framework agreement is reached in the coming days.
The current period poses challenges to the parties in Operation Decisive Storm at the level of Yemen itself and in the framework of the broader regional balances. There is zero tolerance for mistakes and for failing to think profoundly about what the Arab awakening requires in order to prevent Yemen from becoming a transient event, and in order for the opportunity produced by Decisive Storm not to be squandered in the Arab world, the region, and the world. The new strategic relationship between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and other Gulf and Arab nations is being tested in Yemen. The Saudi leadership of the new coalition, which comprises Arab countries and Pakistan, is under the microscope in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, where Iran has influence, cards, and calculations that are part of the score with Saudi Arabia. All indications show something qualitatively new has happened in Saudi domestic, Arab, regional, and international policy, and that the Saudi leadership has a plan for institutional, political, and economic reforms inside the kingdom. Saudi is pursuing decisiveness regionally and clearly letting the United States know that something qualitatively new has happened in Saudi policy.
Concerning the Saudi interior, it is very important to admit at the level of King Salman bin Abdulaziz that it is unfortunate that there is poverty in Saudi Arabia, and that it is crucially important to take the initiative to rescue poor Saudis from the vicious spiral by cancelling their debts among other measures. The economic and political reforms that King Salman has implemented has led some to liken the current Saudi phase of openness and restructuring institutions to the perestroika.
Development plan for Yemen
The new Saudi leadership must have an unprecedented structural economic and development plan for Yemen, where abolishing misery should replace buying loyalties. Such a plan must be clear for Yemen and all its components, including al-Houthi, so that the message that a qualitative shift has taken place in the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Yemen is communicated clearly. This economic and development tack could bring all parties to agree to dialogue and a political solution, and subsequently allow a move from military operations to a political process.
Whatever happens in the historic nuclear negotiations, the other event that is likely to be historic is the Yemen crisisRaghida Dergham
Some believe there is no other way but to cripple the Houthis militarily, until they reach the desired conclusion, namely, that there is no way to revive their ambitions related to the coup they carried out, and that they have no place except as a political party. For this reason, all necessary measures are being taken to guarantee this outcome -- crippling the Houthis militarily -- including forming an infantry force to enter Yemen via Saada and impose negotiations and a settlement.
Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh seems absolutely unacceptable as a party to the settlement. But his son, Ahmed, may be the gateway to a settlement if he does not burn his cards like his father did, in what was total political suicide this time.
The diplomatic movements at the U.N. Security Council indicates that Saudi Arabia, the GCC countries, and Jordan -- the only Arab member of the council -- are paving the way for political settlements with support from the United States, Britain, and France. Russia is resisting the Saudi demands but it is not completely blocking them. Russia introduced amendments to the Arab-Western draft resolution, which suggests it is ready to bargain even if the amendments were met with counter-amendments to prevent removing the draft resolution’s substance.
What is demanded by Saudi, the Arab group, and the West is for the Houthis to withdraw from the areas they occupied and return the funds looted from the state, and to impose a military embargo on the Houthis that prevents military supplies from reaching them. Russia is resisting, but it is engaged. This indicates that it may be possible to reach an agreement over a resolution, especially since Iran too hinted at its interest in dialogue and political accord among the Yemeni parties, while its first reaction after Operation Decisive Storm had been that a political solution was no longer possible after the military action.
Saudi diplomacy is seeking to clarify the mission of U.N. envoy Jamal Benomar and place it under a different reference frame, after new developments on the scene. This practically means that Saudi diplomacy is angered by the U.N. envoy and partially blames him for what happened, which had led to the attempt to topple the legitimate government and President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi.
Regardless of who will sponsor any Yemeni political dialogue, there is a dire need for an economic development plan that would be ready to be implemented on new bases and that would be backed by generous funds. There is a dire need for a political plan that is not based on exclusion to teach lessons, but that would benefit from what the dialogue had reached, i.e. ideas that help Yemen transition from the simple state to the compound state. Indeed, federalism is the best way to coexist if it was implemented transparently and practically.
Now and in the coming days, the priority on the field is for the preparations of a ground operation, which now seems inevitable. The ground forces will be led by Yemeni infantry that will be trained in Saudi Arabia by Egyptian forces.
The coalition forces have also started training the army and the police to retake the positions seized by the Houthi group inside Yemen. Officers from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt are training Yemenis to be in the vanguard. However, it is not clear whether coalition ground forces will be required to enter Yemen because air strikes and the Yemeni forces may not be sufficient for the job.
The matter is very delicate. There is no room for errors on the ground, because it is crucial Yemen does not turn into a quagmire for the Arab coalition countries.
The issue is delicate because constructive success in Yemen through Operation Decisive Storm has repercussions on regional Iranian ambitions. Failure has a very high cost, too -- whether failure by becoming implicated in a ground operation or by neglecting to implement an economic and development plan.
The Islamic Republic of Iran abused the Houthis in Yemen with its arrogant practices through them. Iran hastened to assume it has become the new indispensable partner for the United States, wagering on President Barack Obama’s insistence on concluding a nuclear deal with it and a bilateral deal that would ensure a U.S. silent blessing of its expansion in the Arab countries. For this reason, Iran set off its loyal militias in Iraq in what was a triumphalist gesture, and likewise, unleashed the Houthis to stage a coup against the president in Sanaa and then chase him to Aden.
Following the events in Aden, the Saudi leadership started to implement secret, calculated, and decisive measures to launch Operation Decisive Storm. The Saudi leadership resolved that it would no longer remain hostage to waiting until the American-Iranian nuclear talks become clearer in Switzerland. Saudi Arabia decided to take the initiative and pursue a qualitatively new policy culminating with Decisive Storm, to impact profoundly the talks with Iran as this added the regional dimension to the nuclear dimension in the minds of the negotiators, and shook their conceptions that were previously confined to the nuclear issue at the request of the Iranians.
Such a development in the Saudi-Iranian and Saudi-American relationship sent a message to Tehran saying “enough disregard” and to Washington a message saying “sorry, we will not wait.”
Taking the Saudi message seriously
Now, everyone is taking the Saudi message seriously. But tomorrow, if no qualitative strategic shift takes place with a regional dimension beyond Yemen, then this seriousness will be lost and the defeatist sentiment will return. The talk is not at all a call for military action in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon similar to Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen. The point is that vigilance requires not stopping at the military dimension in Yemen and not stopping the effort at Yemen.
There are available options if there is determination to stop Iranian encroachment in the Arab countries. Some options are military and some are economic. Some are related to using tools that were never used seriously before. What matters is finding the methods to make Iran understand that it is a key regional state with its status and standing, but that it is not an empire. What matters is rallying the perseverance of the Arab countries in the coalition to compel Tehran to take this coalition seriously.
Whatever happens in the historic nuclear negotiations, the other event that is likely to be historic is the Yemen crisis. The coming three months will forge a new history for the region, if its leaders focus on strategies that would be up to the level of challenges, following a different approach than the usual approach. And it is high time for this to happen.
This article was first published in al-Hayat on April 3, 2015 and was translated by Karim Traboulsi.SHOW MORE