Saudi shake-up underscores stakes in Yemen

Article Summary
Saudi credibility on the line in Yemen; al-Qaeda’s “free rein” in Yemen; Iraq seeks balance, distance from Saudi-Iranian rivalry; Iran’s Reformists still waiting for Rouhani to deliver; Syrian government intensifies attacks on rebel-held areas of Aleppo.

Yemen is now "Salman’s war"

The shake-up in Saudi leadership announced by King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud last week comes as Riyadh may be facing a credibility crisis over its military intervention in Yemen.

Bruce Riedel writes, "Never has the kingdom been so aggressive with its own military in trying to force a regime change. The Yemeni war is part Saudi-Iranian regional rivalry, part unfinished Arab Spring business and part Sunni-Shiite sectarian animosity. It is now, above all, Salman's war, as well as his son's. The surprise elevation of Mohammed bin Nayef and Mohammed bin Salman underscores how the stakes in this war are crucial not only to Yemen's future, but also increasingly to the future of the House of Saud. The hawks need to produce tangible results or face losing credibility."

This column has observed that Saudi Arabia is increasingly isolated over Yemen. No better example is Pakistan’s continued refusal to provide military support for Saudi Arabia’s military intervention.

Riedel writes that the unanimous rejection of the Saudi request by Pakistan’s parliament has sparked an unusual wave of critical commentary in Pakistan: “Commentators have been scathing about the role Saudi Arabia has played in backing extremist Islamic movements in Pakistan for the last 40 years. Much of the sectarian Sunni-Shiite violence in Pakistan is blamed on Saudi money. Before Yemen, this kind of commentary was rare in Pakistan; the Yemen war has made this rhetoric more frequent, and often satirical.”

Riedel notes that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited Pakistan during the parliamentary debate over the Saudi request, and that Pakistan may have received assurances from China that Beijing has Islamabad’s back in the event of a fall-out in Pakistan-Saudi ties. Those who have worried about Pakistan providing nuclear weapons technology to Saudi Arabia in the event of an agreement between the six world powers and Iran over Iran’s nuclear program might think again, given Pakistan’s rejection of the Saudi request for conventional military aid in Yemen.

"No resistance" to al-Qaeda in Yemen

The only clear outcomes of the Yemen civil war and Saudi air attacks so far are the increased suffering of the Yemeni people and the expansion of territory and influence by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Farea al-Muslimi reports from Yemen that the collapse of the Yemen air force is another sign of the country’s uncontrolled turmoil: “The Houthis pushed the Yemeni air force into the current political conflict in Yemen, and this has not only led to military intervention but also damaged this military unit and its air bases and aircraft. For years, Saudi Arabia and the United States provided millions of dollars for the battle against al-Qaeda, which now no longer faces opposition from any other military unit with the collapse of the Yemeni air force. Al-Qaeda has given free rein to its members and operations to control highly significant regions, without any resistance. The takeover of Hadhramaut governorate on April 3 stands witness to this.”

Iraq seeks regional role based on "dialogue"

Mustafa al-Kadhimi writes that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is seeking to keep Iraq from becoming overly entangled in the Saudi-Iranian rivalry to give priority to the battle against the Islamic State (IS). Abadi criticized both Saudi and Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs during his visit to Washington in April. 

“The Saudi-Iranian conflict is clearly being played out in Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain and most recently Yemen. Thus, Abadi’s criticism of both countries’ roles in Iraq carries many implied messages. Most important, it indicates Baghdad's intention to remain neutral in regional conflicts. Iraq has major crises to deal with — namely, fighting IS to recapture swaths of land seized by the extremist group — and therefore cannot afford to be drawn into other state's issues,” Kadhimi writes.

“Iraq has an urgent need to have good foreign relations, especially with regional states. It also needs to demonstrate its ability to formulate independent decisions, which Abadi did during his Washington visit. It is still possible for Iraq to carve out a role for itself as a valuable actor in the area through a balanced foreign policy allowing it to open dialogues with all parties and establish initiatives aimed at solving the regional crises. This can only be done, however, if the other countries in the area come to believe that Iraq is sufficiently stable and independent. Abadi’s government has a long way to go in this direction and still has to take decisive steps to impose the national interest over partisan and personal endeavors, which have affected the country’s ability to produce an independent and balanced foreign policy,” Kadhimi explains.

Iran’s reformers grow impatient

Reza Akbari writes that those expecting reform in Iran are still waiting, as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has given priority to foreign policy and negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program:

“As a moderate-seasoned technocrat and a balancing figure, Rouhani does not belong to a specific camp vis-a-vis a popular Reformist or conservative faction rooted within the society. As a result, he cannot afford to lose all support on either side. However, the longer the domestic promises made on his electoral platform are ignored, the louder the dissenting Reformist voices will become. Given the administration's achievements in the foreign policy arena, the Reformist camp — sidelined since the contested 2009 presidential election — has patiently waited; but the longer the government delays, the more anxious the critics will become.”

In addition to the nuclear talks, Iran’s foreign policy is also focused on its region, including the battle against IS and “extremism,” according to Foreign Minister Zarif. 

Laura Rozen reports that Zarif told an audience at New York University April 29: "Our region is our priority. Our priority is to work with our neighbors in the region, to deal with Daesh [IS], sectarianism, extremism. These are immediate threats. That is where we want to focus."

Ayah Aman reports from Cairo that Egypt may be open to a new chapter in relations with Iran: "Al-Monitor contacted official circles concerned with the Iranian dossier at the Egyptian Foreign Ministry to ask about the possibility of an Egyptian-Iranian rapprochement and the extent of Egypt's preparation for a new policy of openness with Iran. An Egyptian diplomatic source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, 'Everything is possible and Cairo is always adjusting its international positions in accordance with the regional and international developments.'"

Aleppo’s terrible April

”A new bombing campaign has arrived to kill and displace the popular stronghold of the rebels, as confirmed by the regime’s deliberate targeting of residential areas,” reports Mohammed al-Khatieb from Aleppo.

“Those residents who remain in the city of Aleppo live in a state of constant fear, with the daily prospect of death. In this miserable city, scenes of destruction abound, as piles of rubble fill the sides of the roads. The sense of safety that may arise from the movement of people in markets and residential areas is offset by worries that these areas will be targeted by Syrian army shelling,” Khatieb explains in his article and accompanying video.

“Civil defense teams rush to each area that has been targeted by bombs, and members of these teams are constantly prepared for any emergency. They use wireless devices and look for smoke coming from bombed sites, so that the team can arrive to help rescue people.”

Found in: yemen, syria, saudi arabia, iran, diplomacy, aleppo, airstrikes

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