Yemenis are wondering if the 28-day Saudi bombing campaign is really over or whether the war has simply entered a new phase. Air strikes were still taking place in Aden, Taiz and other Yemeni cities hours after they were supposed to have ceased.
And nobody in Yemen supposes that the war the Saudis escalated when they started bombing on 26 March can be concluded just because the bombs have stopped falling.
The Houthis, the Shia militia whom the Saudis are supposedly trying to displace from power, overran an armoured brigade headquarters in Taiz after heavy fighting as the air war ended. Whatever else Saudi bombing has done, it has not broken the Houthi’s grip on power.
The course of the air war has been very similar to successive Israeli bombardments of Lebanon and Gaza over the past 20 years. First, there are bloodcurdling claims how the enemy will be defeated by airpower alone. Then, it becomes clear that air strikes are doing a lot of damage to civilians – 944 Yemenis have been killed and 3,487 wounded so far, according to the World Health Organisation – but are not having a decisive impact on opposing military forces. Finally, there are mounting demands that air war ends from foreign countries, notably from the US, which has aided the Saudi airforce with intelligence and logistics.
Saudi Arabia in Yemen today is facing the same frustrations felt by Israel in Lebanon and Gaza as it takes on board the lack of real achievement. The Houthis, a well-organised militia movement whose identity is rooted in the Zaidi variant of Shia and the tribes of the northern provinces of Yemen, have not been forced to retreat at any point.
They have full control of Sanaa and are fighting in Aden. They have many opponents inside Yemen, but in Sanaa and the northern part of the country people are appalled by the damage and casualties caused by what they see as indiscriminate air strikes.
It had never been quite clear what the Saudis intended to achieve by this campaign that seems to be an exaggerated response to factional battles within Yemen. They claim that the Houthis are the proxies of Iran but this is widely seen as propaganda or an exaggeration, though it may be self-fulfilling since, under pressure, the Houthis will look for foreign allies.
A further motive may be domestic Saudi politics as the new Saudi King Salman and his son Mohammed, the Defence Minister and chief of the royal court, look for a small successful war to counter-balance successes for Iranian backed governments in Baghdad and Damascus.
Iran has provided political and humanitarian support to the Houthis, but both Tehran and the rebels deny it has armed them. On Wednesday, Iran welcomed the Saudi decision to halt the operation codenamed “Decisive Storm” and launch a new one titled “Renewal of Hope.”
The Saudis may also have hoped to create an impressive Sunni coalition opposed by cashing in political and financial IOUs in Egypt and Pakistan so these two Sunni powers would line up with them.
By fleeing to Saudi Arabia and endorsing the bombing, President Abed Rabbo Mansur Hadi, the man whom the Saudis are supposedly trying to restore to power, has discredited himself. He made a rambling speech on television at 1am just as the Saudis were announcing an end to the bombing. Observers noted that his glasses were askew and several commented derisively that “a man who could not fix his own glasses could scarcely be expected to fix the problems of Yemen”.
The crisis in Yemen has got a lot worse as a result of the Saudi air war. Yemen has always been only loosely controlled from the centre and many well-armed players have influence but the war has exacerbated and militarised divisions. Protagonists are not always what they seem. Fighters reported as being supporters of President Hadi in Aden appear rather to be south Yemeni separatists who want to reverse the unity with the north agreed in 1990.
The Southern Resistance Movement says it is still fighting and is not going to go home tamely just because of a deal, if such there is, between the Saudis, Houthis and former President Ali Abdulllah Saleh, who is still very much a power in the land where he retains the loyalty of many army units and is allied to the Houthis. This is a reversal of the previous alignment when, for many years, Saleh was seen as a proxy of the Saudis and the Americans who tried to crush the Houthis.
The Saudis appear to have chosen Yemen as another arena in the confrontation between Iran and the Gulf monarchies and Sunni against Shia. This may be a distorted interpretation of a conflict in which local factors are more significant, but it may force Yemen into the same mould as the sectarian conflicts in Iraq and Syria. One ominous development is that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has greatly benefited from the dissolution of central authority and may present themselves as the shock troops of the Sunnis.
The only thing I take against this is the comparison to Israel. Israel is living on stolen land that will be liberated no matter what. The yemeni conflict is much more partisan, religious and tribal than the Zionist naked aggression on Palestine.
The author is talking about issues that he has no clue, but pretends to know very well. I have lost credibility for all western media, when it comes to The Middle East. 96% of US Media is own by 6 companies. I will advice the readers to check the history of this writer or others when it comes to The Big Elephant in the Middle East Wars & Politics (Israel). The majority of the western media were clapping when Netanyahoo went to the US to insult the boy they put in the white house (They don’t call the White House for nothing). No American citizen can support the insult on their Commander In Chief by the leader of a small nation that cannot exists without the support of US. Who is the Super Power here?
Saudi Arabia is doing what US, Israel, NATO & the west being doing since 1991 or even earlier then that. Just ask the Libyan & Palestinian. Look where Libya is today and where Libya was before NATO decided regime change. Look where Iraq is today & where Iraq was before the regime change.
I am a disable American veteran and I don’t believe a man in CAVE in Afghanistan can hit the most protective building in United States & western media refused to talk about who was behind 9-11 & who benefited from 9-11? Before this writer & other western media act superior to the people in the Middle East & preach to them who is doing what and where, I say check your own track record.
Would you like to give us a time frame? We are destroying the Palestinians and you have no way to save them.
Maybe you should just enjoy the time you have left with them and stop torturing yourself with false hope?
Here’s hoping they launch a few more bottle rockets at you, as a little gift to remember them by. That way they can at least earn themselves a page or two in the history books. On another note, when can I see Dances with Camels in Israeli theaters?
LOL, read history and read events. The US has a choice now, abandon the criminal enterprise or go down with it. No amount of twisting, turning, kvetching will save them.
Great, so you shouldn’t have a problem giving us a timeframe. 5 years? 10 years? Give us a date.
Even if the US stops the aid, which won’t happen, that is less than 1% of our GDP. We’ll manage just like we did before the 6 day war.
Who’s going to push us out? The Iranians? We kill their scientists with impunity and they do nothing in response. The Turks? We killed 8 of their citizens in international waters and they responded by doing nothing. The Arabs? Don’t make me laugh.
Unlike you, I DO read history. And the history of the last 100 years is of us displacing the Palestinians acre by acre while the international community responds with one big yawn.
Apart from Ireland’s Sinn Fein whose implacable hatred of Israel would make the ghost of Himmler squirm