Humiliation for Saudi Arabia?

Less than an hour ago the Saudi Arabian government announced that Operation Decisive Storm, the boldly named bombing campaign against the Yemeni Houthi forces, has ended. According to the Saudis, the operation has achieved its military goals, and will be followed up by an effort to facilitate political dialogue in Yemen. This is true, but only if by “achieving military goals” they mean “failing to achieve anything”.

Bombing in Sana’a. Source: Mr Ibrahem

The Saudi’s began their campaign in Yemen with the aim of pushing the Houthis back to their territory in the north of Yemen, and restoring President Hadi to office. Neither of these have taken place. Hadi is still sheltering in the Kingdom, and his supporters hold on to just parts of only one important city, Aden. While the airstrikes may have destroyed some of the capabilities of the Houthis and their allies, such as artillery and fighter jets, there’s no sign that their advance has been pushed back.

So what have the Saudis achieved? After a month of bombing, Yemen basically looks the same as it did at the start. The Houthis, supported by ex-President Saleh, are in control of most of the vital areas of the country. Hadi’s supporters hold parts of Aden and less inhabited areas in the West. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has taken over even more cities and organised jailbreaks. And in the South, the secessionist Southern Movement is gaining support. It’s a far cry from seeing order restored.

Unless I am seriously mistaken, or there has been a behind the scenes deal with the Houthis, this is a huge blow to Saudi Arabia. Their actions in Yemen were supposed to strike a blow against Iran, demonstrate Arab/Sunni unity, and restore order on their southern border. Instead, no matter how they try and frame it, they’ve called an end to their campaign without having made any difference. Iran will be overjoyed, as their biggest enemy has spent a month bombing for nothing, and only further encouraged the Houthis to look to Iran. All talk of a new Arab unity looks to have been nothing but a mirage. For Saudi Arabia’s young defence minister, hoping to make an impact, this could be a hard blow to come back from. The coming weeks and months will be interesting ones for the power balance in the Middle East.

For a deeper look at the Yemeni conflict, try Yemen’s Game of Thrones.

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