Saudi ‘constance’ in its Yemen policy

Saudi Arabia does not consider Yemen a game or a tool to exert pressure

Jamal Khashoggi
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Operation Decisive Storm will emerge victorious because its demands are simple, moral, and supported locally, regionally and internationally. The campaign aims to support the legitimacy on which a future Yemen may be established, and to urge the Houthis to engage in dialogue with other Yemeni factions without keeping their arms, which they use to threaten their opponents.

Saudi Arabia has no greediness in Yemen, and does not intend to re-negotiate borders, rule over the country, form a government, or establish a committee to rewrite the constitution. There is already legitimacy in Yemen, a draft constitution and devised solutions that Yemenis, including the Houthis, were working on until the latter decided to be tyrants and use weapons, murder and kidnapping, thereby causing the ongoing war.

Similarities with Bahrain

The Houthis’ problem is the same as that of Al-Wefaq party in Bahrain. Al-Wefaq got concessions from the Bahraini government during negotiations led by Crown Prince Sheikh Salman al-Khalifah, concessions that no other opposition party in the Gulf has attained.

Saudi Arabia does not consider Yemen a game or a tool to exert pressure

Jamal Khashoggi

Al-Wefaq would participate in negotiations, and when it came to making decisions, request time to consult with party members. It would return with more demands, and have youths burn police cars to stir tension and thwart negotiations.

Everyone knows that Al-Wefaq would use that time not for internal consultations, but to contact Tehran. This is where Bahraini calculations, which are aware of the country’s reality and surroundings, differ from the selfish and complicated Iranian agenda, which intertwines fundamentalism, regional expansion, oil-related ambitions and international negotiations.

Amid this jungle of politics, the interests of Bahraini Shiites - who merely desire popular participation, employment and the completion of residential projects - are lost. Their concerns become another “playing card” to serve Iranian interests.

This is Iran’s “inconstant,” whereby it has promised to help the Houthis, but will break this promise because it places its own interests above theirs. The Houthis will realize too late that they placed all their eggs in the Iranian basket and the eggs have gone bad. They will thus find themselves alone before the Saudi “constant.”

Houthis over-reaching

Houthis have gained a lot more than they had dreamt of. If they had not entered the capital Sanaa in Sept. 2014, despite a U.N.-sponsored peace and national partnership agreement, they would have been in a much better position than they are in now.

Back then, they had gotten everything and become “masters” who would govern Yemen from behind a curtain in their stronghold of Saada. However, they committed the same mistake as Al-Wefaq by handing their decision-making to Tehran. The Houthis thus became another Iranian “playing card.”

Iran is a professional player, and will not hesitate to get rid of any playing card it does not need if there is any pressure it cannot handle. Iran has bigger interests with Turkey and Pakistan. Lifting sanctions and reviving the Iranian economy are not only more important to Tehran than the Houthis, but actually more important to it than the entirety of Yemen.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia cannot throw away the Yemeni card because it does not consider Yemen a game or a tool to exert pressure. Yemen is a brother and neighbor on which Riyadh has spent billions, although most of it ended up in the pocket of ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

If the kingdom had issued a decision favoring Yemeni laborers over others and a million Yemenis went there to work, the livelihood of a million people in Yemen would have been provided for. Saudi Arabia influences Yemen 10 times more any other party, and it is time that the Houthis realize this as they lose camps and weapons warehouses.

Negotiation vs. war

Of course Riyadh will not offer them guarantees or incentives to negotiate, because this is a time of war and wars require strictness. The Saudi stance is due to Houthi tyranny and subservience to Iran. The Houthis should realize that history and geography make Riyadh closer to them than Tehran, and that the Saudi “constant” cannot alter its commitment to Yemen even if it wanted to.

However, the Houthis’ sectarian dimension is also a “constant,” and the kingdom knows and accepts this. Saleh is the master of inconstancy. He was an ally of Riyadh, then of Saddam Hussein, then of Riyadh again.

Saleh fought the Houthis then became their allies, and is now fighting alongside them after he was willing to turn against them if the Saudis agreed to take him and his son Ahmad to Riyadh a few days before Operation Decisive Storm was launched.

It is wrong to accept someone like that in Yemen in the future because it threatens security. Saleh is only interested in governance and control, although the future Yemen must include partnership in order to succeed and become stable.

If the war ends today, there might be space at the negotiating table for the Houthis, who will only lose their weapons. However, if the war ends following a ground operation, Yemeni victors will be cruel to the Houthis.

If the latter decide to be stubborn and choose war, even if just from Saada, this will be a recipe for a civil war that will be destructive to everyone. If the Houthis considered what is constant and inconstant, they would choose peace and reconciliation. This would be good for them and for Yemen.

This article was first published in al-Hayat on April 11, 2015.

Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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