Saudi Arabia’s failure in Yemen is multidimensional and indisputable. Riyadh’s intervention, which included spearheading a coalition of nine Arab states, began in 2015 and continues to prove unsuccessful on several levels. Codenamed Operation Decisive Storm, the war on Yemen seems to be regressing into a show of weakness, a petty cyclone destined to swallow back the havoc it has wrought.
The Saudi military is ranked 24 of 126 worldwide. According to a ranking released in 2014 by the Business Insider, Saudi Arabia came in third in the region following the Israeli regime and Turkey. It is also the world’s fourth largest military spender after the U.S, China, and Russia with a $56.7 billion defence budget. In 2015, the Saudis spent almost 50 billion on military equipment. With around 250,000 active-duty military personnel, its manpower is not considered scrawny.
Yet what is gaunt is its army, not for lack of funding or numbers but of experience and motivation. The Saudis have been building up their army for years but have not yet engaged in successful combat experiences. Despite being heavily equipped and armed, the Saudi army has not exhibited memorable performance on the battlefield.
During its war against the Houthis between 2004 and 2009, the kingdom’s military did not emerge with any kind of considerable military success.
Notably, the Saudi army is also flawed with the shortage of a key element in any war: purpose. Compared to the Ansarullah movement’s men, the Saudis’ motivation is scant.
Another drawback that has set the Saudis at a standstill is their meagre conventional war skills that are being used against unconventional guerrillas. Relentlessly bombing Yemen from above indicates that they want to keep their distance while fighting the battle to avoid direct confrontations. At least from the skies they don’t have to march into the battlefield and undergo further embarrassment.
On March 26, 2015 the Saudi-led coalition began carrying out airstrikes and imposed an aerial and naval blockade against Yemen. In a bid to keep Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government in power, Riyadh tried to convince the Yemeni people that the Saudis were doing them a favour. It did not take long for the Yemenis to stand up for their country and show the Saudis how resilient they are in the face of aggression. Through mass demonstrations and armed movements, the people of Yemen began resisting against Saudi-led attacks. This resulted in another disappointment for the Saudis.
Politically, Hadi, whom the Saudis are backing, and in fact whom the Saudis waged the war to keep in power as an inside puppet, has lost his legitimacy in the eyes of the Yemeni people.
At the same time, Yemeni tribes refused to cooperate with the Saudis. In February, men of Hamdan, one of Yemen’s most powerful tribes in southern Yemen, pledged to take part in potential mobilization against the Saudi-led aggression. In June, Saudi-backed Hadi loyalists fled the provincial capital of Mareb after tribesmen launched attacks against their forces.
Meanwhile, the Ansarullah movement has proved itself to be a competent resistance force. Despite being under-equipped, facing internal and external animosity, and having to deal with pressure and sanctions the group knows the alleys, towns, and cities of Yemen; it has also been able to garner public support against the Saudi-aggression. Both politically and militarily, Ansarullah has conducted itself properly in confronting the war on the impoverished country. Against the odds, the movement has been able to stand up to and even score more than a few victories against what is supposed to be a militarily-capable coalition of armies.
Riyadh’s fiasco in Yemen is not merely the result of internal factors but it also extends regionally.
The Saudi military was already known to be inefficient on the battlefield so authorities decided to seek help from Arab and non-Arab states to bomb Yemen. Nine members comprised the Saudi-led coalition but some fell short of remaining part of the operations till the end of the offensive. Egypt is considered to be one of those states whose participation was seen as largely ineffective.
As for other countries, particularly small reliant states like Djibouti and Somalia that made their airspace, territorial waters and military bases available to the coalition, are believed to have joined the war with Saudi petrodollars in sight.
Pakistan almost made it to the coalition but was stopped by a parliament vote that chose neutrality as opposed to engaging in a bloody war, leaving Saudi Arabia’s request up in the air.
– On the other hand, the Islamic Republic of Iran, a key regional force has sided with the Yemeni people and pledged full support to the resistance movements fighting against the Saudi aggression.
There is no question over the role Iran has played throughout the campaign. It has provided logistical and strategic backing for the Ansarullah movement and its allies at a time when they were beleaguered by enemies and were left to face a brutal fate. Tehran’s support has been a game changing factor that has rendered the Yemeni people capable of challenging their oppressors. Without this sustenance, Yemen would have been conquered from the onset.
Pounding Yemen indiscriminately may have been a delight only the Saudis could taste, but it did not come without consequences. International public opinion and human rights groups have harshly deplored Saudi Arabia’s aggression against Yemen that has so far claimed the lives of thousands of people, mostly children and women.
Earlier this month, a Human Rights Watch report concluded that Saudi-led coalition strikes have unlawfully struck numerous industrial areas as well as other civilian economic structures. The group called for an inquiry into these attacks.
The UK has recently retracted statements in which it denied any Saudi involvement in human rights violations in Yemen. The British government has corrected statements claiming Riyadh is not committing war crimes. This move shows how far the Saudis have gone. Their allies can no longer turn a blind eye to these atrocities without becoming themselves targets of condemnation. Now British MPs are also calling for a probe into these crimes.
Even the UN has blacklisted the Saudis for killing children in Yemen. While the decision was reversed, the move has impacted Saudi’s relations with the world body and has marred whatever was left of its image in the West.
So, the war on Yemen has added another black mark on Saudi Arabia’s record of human rights. This is yet another failure.
Listed above are just some of the reasons why Saudi Arabia has not and will not emerge victorious from the war on Yemen. Considering these factors and many more, the Saudi-led aggression against Yemen is a test that Riyadh and its allies failed the moment they declared it.