“Its not all about Trump.”
- NORTH KOREA
- U.S.-SAUDI-IRAN RIVALRY
- THE ROHINGYA CRISIS: MYANMAR AND BANGLADESH
- THE SAHEL
- DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
“Its not all about Trump.”
I think the main point of the article is quite correct: the Saudis are playing a bad hand poorly.
There are a few points that I am not too sure about though. First, the author claims “The Saudi-led blockade of Qatar has been more successful. The effort to tame that country’s assertive regional policies has worked and the crisis has now been put on the back burner of international diplomacy.” However, Qatar is now closer to Iran than ever, and at a time when the Saudis needed to be building a durable anti-Iranian front, they have fractured the GCC. I don’t see this as successful, even if only relative to Riyadh’s other attempts to deal with Iran. In fact, I’m pretty sure Iran sees this as a win.
Second, the author warns that the war in Yemen may turn “the Houthi movement into something akin to Lebanon’s Hezbollah.” Even if this is just be a turn of phrase, the Houthis-Iranian relationship is not comparable to Iran’s alliance with Hezbollah. The social/historical/religious connections are not there, and Iran’s military support for the Houthis has been limited.
Third, and finally, the author describes Saudi Arabia as “keen to reach out to Tehran despite provocative Iranian actions” and that “King Abdullah courted Presidents Akbar Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami”. This has not been the case. Riyadh has never been keen to court Iran. In fact, it’s been the other way around. Tehran has been the suitor, and Riyadh has played hard to get. Rafsanjani spent most of the 1990s trying to start a dialogue with Riyadh, only to be rebuffed. Before Rafsanjani’s death earlier this year, both he and Rouhani reached-out to Riyadh, but again with no success. Rightly or wrongly, the Saudis’ strategy for dealing with Tehran has been to try to keep Iran as isolated in the Persian Gulf as possible. Given the regional situation post Arab-Spring, I doubt diplomacy would have worked, but I think the article mischaracterizes this part of their relationship.
A similar article was also published in Foreign Policy entitled, Tehran Is Winning the War for Control of the Middle East (https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/11/21/tehran-is-winning-the-war-for-control-of-the-middle-east-saudi-arabia/) and I expect there will be more in the near future claiming that the the Iranian-Saudi Cold war is swinging Tehran’s way. Some, like the one above, will cast Iran as the aggressor and the Saudis as the victim, albeit a clumsy self-destructive victim. Others will portray the Saudis as the belligerents and Iran as misunderstood. Both narratives have a grain of truth. But both miss the main point: the rivalry in its present form is being driven by the regional instability caused by the Arab Spring. Ideology and incompetence have only made things worse.
A straightforward chronology of events in Yemen.
Canada has expressed support for the Saudi led coalition, but beyond that we have stayed on the side-lines.
“Canada’s relationship with Yemen is minimal. Yemen has an embassy in Ottawa, but Canada is represented by its embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Yemen’s chargé d’affaires in Canada, Ahmed Al-Emad, declined to speak with Embassy for this story because of the difficulty of obtaining a go-ahead through fractured communications with his government.
Other than minor funding for civil society organizations and multilateral organizations operating there, Canada’s involvement is limited. It pulled out of an international assistance group called Friends of Yemen in 2012, Embassy reported.
Calgary-based oil producer Nexen, acquired by China National Offshore Oil Corporation in 2013, has pulled out of Yemen. At one time, it was Yemen’s biggest taxpayer, said University of Ottawa professor Thomas Juneau, who has studied and travelled extensively in Yemen.
But with it gone, the incentive for a stronger Canadian presence in Yemen has all but disappeared, he said.
Before joining the university a year ago, Mr. Juneau had spent a dozen years as a Middle East analyst at the Department of National Defence.
“I never worked much on Yemen at DND. And, in a way, that was illustrative of the fact that from a Canadian perspective there’s never been that much involvement,” he said. “The humanitarian aspect clearly matters. But the business interest is extremely limited. The diplomatic interest is extremely limited.””
This article, written largely from a Saudi perspective, explains Riyadh’s intervention into Yemen as a defensive strategy intended to avoid chaos on its southern border.
“While Iran’s destructive influence in Yemen is as alarming to Saudi Arabia as its meddling in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, Saudi Arabia’s decision to intervene militarily in Yemen was based on much more than merely countering Iran. It’s precisely because of — and not despite — Yemen’s potential to slip into complete chaos that Saudi Arabia chose to intervene. There was no other way for Saudi Arabia. There is no other way for Yemen.”
Unfortunately, while this strategy has not been directed solely at countering Iran, countering Iran is an essential part of it. This means Riyadh has been unwilling to negotiate or make concessions to the Houthis or Tehran. Rather, they have chosen to rely solely on military power. As a result, the more they try to stamp-out the chaos in Yemen, the more the chaos grows.
An interesting piece on how the different participants (journalists, policy-makers, and media professionals) at the Ninth Annual Al Jazeera Forum in Doha perceive on-going events in the Middle East. It does not look good….
“Saudi Arabia marshaled a seemingly impressive coalition for its air war on Yemen. In addition to its Sunni allies in the Gulf, Riyadh roped in partners ranging from Sudan to Morocco, and even far-off Senegal. However, one ally of the kingdom is sitting out the war: Oman.
Indeed, Oman is the only Arab monarchy that declined to participate in the Saudi-led Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen. By not deploying its military to strike Houthi targets in its southern neighbor, Oman is further demonstrating that it is the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member most independent from Riyadh’s sphere of geopolitical influence — and most committed to cooling regional sectarian tensions.”
A good critique of the standard argument that the Houthis are controlled by Iran. The religious connections between Iran and the Houthis is thin. While the Houthis are Shi’a, they are Zeidis:
“There does not exist a natural affinity between the Yemeni Zeidis and the 12er [i.e. follower of the 12th imam] Shia of southern Iraq and Iran. The zaidiya follows a system of religious law (sharia) that more closely resembles that of the Hanafi Sunni “school” of law than that of the Shia of Iran or Iraq. The Zaidi scholars profess no allegiance to the 12er Shia scholarship of the Iranian teachers… In short there is little religious connection with Iran. For a Zaydi to “convert” to 12er Shiism is as big and alienating a step as “conversion” to Sunnism.”
and the politics are local:
“It began with a rivalry between Houthi summer camps and the Saudi-financed salafi institute in the small, historically Zaydi town of Dammaj, which is a story rather more precise and interlaced with contemporary state power than the implied frame of “age-old” dispute between the two main branches of Islam allows.”
Iran is backing the Houthis and the Saudis are backing President Hadi among others. This is a domestic conflict which has drawn in the regional power. Sadly, this has been a common pattern in the region.
With the country slipping quickly into civil war, its easy to focus entirely on the warring factions and violence and write the country off. It is easy to forget what is being lost in Yemen, just like what was lost in Syria.
The following photo essay shows what is at risk in Yemen: http://scoopempire.com/photos-remind-beautiful-yemen/
To add some perspective, see Al Jazeera, “Death of Aleppo”. http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/aljazeeraworld/2015/03/150325072934200.html
Aleppo was a UNESCO world heritage site, it is now in ruins. In a sense, for Yemen, Alleppo is the ghost of Christmas future (to borrow a little bit of Dickens) .
Interesting article on the unrest in Yemen and where it fits in the Saudi-Iranian rivalry. I think the author is correct in his argument that the Yemen is intrinsically important to Saudi Arabia, but is primarily seen as leverage in Iran. If so, hopefully they will cash in their bargaining chip quickly.