The Saudi-led Arab military coalition’s war on Yemen has entered its fourth year. Since 27 March 2015, the capital Sanaa and a set of other Yemeni cities have been targets for the daily bombardment of the Saudi fighter jets. After three years, the war has made no achievement for the people but huge human tolls and displacement and reducing to rubble the nation’s infrastructure.
Why did Riyadh wage the war?
Yemen crisis is the oldest and most active domestic trouble in West Asia region, having its roots deep into the ethno-sectarian disputes which are a legacy of the past. However, there is a consensus that the Saudi military intervention in the crisis-hit country under the ruse of bringing back to the office the resigned President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi marked an entry into a new critical stage.
The Saudi rulers stressed that their bombing and later ground campaign, codenamed Operation Decisive Storm, was meant to restore to power in Sanaa President Hadi who shortly before the war resigned willfully and then fled the country to neighboring Saudi Arabia. But the fact is that drives for the brutal military action transcended the will to reinstall Hadi as the head of state. Rather, the intervention was prompted by regional developments and Yemen’s position in the regional equations.
Saudi Arabia’s pessimistic view of the Shiites, especially the Ismailiyah and Zaydiah sects who are residing in parts of Yemen bordering the southern Saudi territories, has always fuelled Riyadh rulers’ sharp antipathy and concern about their power gaining in the country. The oil-wealthy kingdom has offered a set of supports to the takfiri groups in Yemen such as the al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) as well as the opposite Sunni movement the Muslim Brotherhood in a bid to hold the Shiites in check. Though it should be taken into the account that not all of Yemen’s Sunni factions support Riyadh. On the contrary, some, such as the socialists and nationalists, back Ansarullah revolutionary movement, the party Saudi Arabia finds an archenemy.
Yemen is located close to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. The country overlooks the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, a feature giving the Arab nation specific geopolitical weight. The strait is linked to Yemen from two sides: The northwest and northeast. The international water gate’s significance is doubled as it plays the role of a sea energy trade crossing. The strait comes fourth in the facilitation of global energy transit after Strait of Hormuz, Strait of Malacca, and Suez Canal. Figures show that within 2013, about 3.8 million oil barrels per day passed through Gulf of Aden and Bab-el-Mandeb. Any disruption of operation of the strait will cause a serious energy shock globally, especially for Europe which in the past few years developed a deep reliance on the Saudi oil as a result of sanctions on Iran, another major regional oil producer.
Another factor should be taken into account as the prompter of the Yemen significance in the eyes of the Saudis: The disputes inside the body of the Saudi governing structure. After the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, the absolutely-governed Arab monarchy became a theater for an unfolding succession crisis whose blazes touched the highest levels of the rule. Vigorous power struggle on the one hand and the resultant instability on the other hand have pushed the country to the brink of a real crisis. A set of recent happenings, from the crackdown on the royals and businessmen to the reshuffle of the key military and political posts mainly masterminded by the ambitious young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, bear all hallmarks of a home crisis. Finding the domestic power encounter raging, the Al Saudi family members sought to distract the public attention from internal discords to an outer threat to cover up the infighting. This was desperately needed at least to occupy the popular minds at least in the short run. The Yemen crisis allowed the Saudis to focus on the war instead of the home power fight.
Yemen war causes humanitarian crisis
Reports hold that since the military action began, tens of thousands of Yemeni civilians lost their lives. the Yemeni Ministry of Human Rights released a statement on Sunday, saying the Saudi-led coalition have claimed the lives of more than 38,500 people
The large casualty numbers are only the direct outcome of the war. Indirect effects of the war, like cutting access to basic medical and healthcare services, famine, starvation, malnutrition, and other shocking infrastructural losses, are massive.
The statement further noted that the Saudi military aggression has also indirectly caused the death of 296,834 people.
More than 247,000 children have lost their lives due to severe malnutrition, and 17,608 civilians have died because of inability to travel abroad to seek medical treatment.
The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that about 3 million Yemenis have been displaced. Of this huge number, about 280,000 crossed the sea into such African states as Djibouti and even Somalia in the quest for immunity against the coalition’s daily bombings.
Moreover, those not displaced are grappling with difficulty accessing medical services. The World Health Organization in its latest report announced that of 27 million Yemeni population, 18.8 million are in urgent food aid needs. And 14.8 million urgently require medical and health services.
And growing poor help conditions, the airstrikes, and blockade imposed on a major part of Yemen compound the situation for the aid agencies operating there.
Saudi Arabia-UAE disputes resurface as the war unfolds
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is one of the Arab parties participating in the Saudi-led alliance. But the small Arab state at the beginning had no interest in joining the anti-Yemeni campaign.
Reports suggest that despite the fact that the UAE is the second largest participant in the war with its 30 fighter jets and a large number of ground troops, it does not want Riyadh to come out as a winner. David Hearst, a West Asia-based British correspondent, in his article published by the Middle East Eye news portal highlighted the Riyadh-Abu Dhabi differences, asserting that the two’s rivalry was majorly over who should lead the Sunni Arab world.
Hearst continued that the Emirati leaders want to set up roadblocks ahead of Saudi-sponsored power transition in Yemen. The major focus, he added, was to see the government of Hadi, which includes ministers from the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Al-Islah party, collapsing in a bid to replace the Saudi-recognized president with Ahmad Ali Saleh, the son of the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh who once led the Presidential Guard and served also as Yemen ambassador to Abu Dhabi.
Reports say that the UAE leaders before the war notified the former president and his son of when the Operation Decisive Storm will be launched. Sources also hold that Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of the UAE, in advance informed Ali Abdullah Saleh of an attack details, a move that helped him relocate to survive the air raids that were to strike his house.