I cannot forget the sight of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman standing in the Ministry of Defence command room in Saudi Arabia on 25 March 2015 and, as proud as a peacock, announcing the creation of an Arab coalition led by the Kingdom to restore legitimacy in Yemen and bring down the Houthi coup. The name given to the coalition military operation in Yemen was Operation Decisive Storm. Some of the countries named within the coalition knew nothing about it until Bin Salman’s announcement. The luckier ones knew about it a few hours earlier.
Nor can I forget the daily appearance of Major General Ahmad Asiri, the coalition spokesman. He simply gloated about Saudi missiles hitting deep inside Yemeni territory.
It is ironic that Saudi Arabia and its ally the UAE led the counter-revolutions in the Arab countries but support the legitimate government in Yemen and its elected President, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, while leading the war against the coup leaders to return him to Yemen. Neither backed the legitimate, elected government of President Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, opting to back the coup instead.
The truth as everyone knows is that Saudi Arabia decided unilaterally to launch a war on Yemen, and military operations were carried out solely by Saudi troops. Then the UAE joined them, albeit behind the scenes until the time came for its planned role in the southern secession movement.
Bin Salman’s ambition has gone too far. He believes that Saudi Arabia has the right to lead the Arab world, with its enormous economic power and a huge arsenal in storage. It is time, he thinks, to use these weapons beyond the Kingdom’s borders in order to fulfil his dream, which is all rather delusional. Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler chose to start the military operations on the evening of the Arab Summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, so that the whole world would witnesses his power and influence, and ability to mobilise the Arab countries under his leadership. He wanted to portray himself as the mighty hero at the head of the Arab armies.
Six years of fierce war later, and legitimacy has still not been restored. Nothing has been gained but ruin and destruction in Yemen at the hands of those close to the people in land and bloodlines. Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis have been killed in schools, mosques and markets; the missiles launched from the land of the Two Holy Mosques has not distinguished between civilians and soldiers. The goal is to eliminate the Yemeni people, if not by missiles, then by disease. Even cholera has been recorded among children, killing thousands, according to a report by the World Health Organisation. Famine has also spread across the country as a result of the unjust blockade imposed on it by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the home of Arab Zionism. The UN has reported that Yemen is witnessing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world; around 80 per cent of Yemenis rely on aid, and the lack of food security has led to the entirely man-made famine.
The Saudi prince has destroyed Yemen, turning its buildings and valleys and ruins and rubble. He has destroyed the heritage and civilisation of Yemen and taken it back to the Stone Age out of spite and hatred.
The malicious conspiracy state, the UAE, has a different agenda, but it is aligned completely with the regional plan to dismantle the Yemeni state. When the two allies clashed, Bin Salman felt betrayed by the UAE’s back-stabbing as it went about its own projects.
The UAE has political and geopolitical ambitions, especially in Yemen, hence its efforts to split the country in two. It backs the Southern Transitional Council, which controls southern Yemen, so the island of Socotra and port of Aden came under its control. Last week, the city of Al-Mocha on the west coast was separated from the governorate of Taiz by the UAE’s agent, Brigadier General Tareq Saleh. The UAE now controls the coast and its agents stand guard over Bab al-Mandab, one of the most important shipping lanes in the world, giving it a launch pad across to the Horn of Africa.
In doing so, the UAE continues to wreak havoc and has established secret underground prisons, in which it tortures Yemenis. Death squads kill the sheikhs and elders of the clans and figures belonging to the Islah Party, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, the UAE’s arch-enemy which it wants to eliminate in all Arab countries.
The arrogant Saudi crown prince claimed on more than one occasion that the invasion of Sanaa and its liberation from the Houthis would take only a few days. His ambition blinded him to reality, and this has cost the Kingdom dear.
The Houthi militia has turned the tide and taken the battle to the Saudis; its missiles and drones can strike Bin Salman’s home town of Riyadh, they are no longer confined to Najran, Jizan, Asir and other southern border cities. Saudi Arabia is facing a threat in the heart of the country as well as its vital oil installations and airports. Targets have included vital military and oil sites within the Kingdom, the backbone of Saudi industry and national revenues. Riyadh, Jeddah, Abha, Jizan, Dammam and Ras Tanura are among the Saudi cities which are now easy targets for the Houthis.
According to Reuters estimates, the Kingdom spends about $175 million a month on bombing Yemen, and an additional $500m attacking by land. Riyadh has been forced to sell $1.2 billion of its holdings in European stocks and there has been an unprecedented effect on Saudi foreign reserves.
In short, a rebel militia has been able to inflict heavy losses on Saudi Arabia, military, economic and human. We will probably never know the extent of these losses, but we can guess that they are much more than has been announced. Away from Yemen, Saudi Arabi’s international reputation has also suffered from the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which Bin Salman was unable to wash away with blood money.
In the face of international pressure, Trump’s election defeat — he turned a blind eye to Bin Salman’s excesses in Yemen — and US President Joe Biden’s determination to end the war in Yemen, the Saudi crown prince came up with an initiative to end the war. He called it the “Saudi Initiative for Peace in Yemen”, and he more or less begged the Houthis to accept it.
I do not think that it is the solution to end the crisis in Yemen, but it is arguably a step towards that end. In any case, the Houthis rejected it immediately, despite it containing some major concessions by Saudi Arabia. The Houthis, though, believe that the initiative did not pledge to lift the blockade imposed by the Saudis on Sanaa International Airport and the port of Hodeidah, through which 80 per cent of Yemen’s imports pass, including fuel and food.
Bin Salman’s initiative was clearly the wrong time to make a miserable attempt to reduce his losses, and was an explicit admission of defeat. His mistake was that it focused on the humanitarian side of the crisis only and separated it from the political and sovereign aspects that will require negotiations that may extend for many years.
Less than 24 hours after the initiative was proposed, missile strikes resumed from both sides. Biden has removed the Houthis from America’s list of terrorist organisations, and they are now speaking and acting from a position of strength not weakness; as the victors who dictate the conditions before going to the table for a political solution. They are certainly not the defeated party, so why should they stop firing and surrender? It is more likely that they will continue their attack on Marib which will determine the political solution, not the other way around.
Bin Salman thought that he controlled decisions about war and peace, but he did not realise that Yemen today is different to the Yemen of six years ago, when he launched his war. And that the Houthis have today become part of a regional alliance, in which Iran is present, with all that entails. The US is using the Yemen crisis as a card to improve its regional negotiating position.
That is why it is difficult to get out of the Yemeni crisis with a political initiative, unilaterally, while the other side rejects it. There must be regional understandings between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and international approval, to stop the war in Yemen. I do not believe that it will stop until the battle in Marib has been decided, but God knows best.
To paraphrase the wonderful poet Nizar Qabbani, Bin Salman has drowned in the Yemen quagmire of his own making. It is as if he is saying, “I’m drowning, drowning, drowning. If I had known my ending, I would not have begun.”
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.