Prince bin Salman’s Paradox: Governing Yemen

There are three regions in the world that are heating up:  the Info-Pacific, the Red Med-African Horn & the southern tier of the Arabian peninsula.  Yemen is a real trap for the Saudi’s, it can destroy the House of Saud while nuclearizing the peninsula.  Russia is already in Riyadh helping the Saudi’s build nuclear power which will be converted into a military program.  This leaves us with ethnic proxies that aren’t governed by any political center.  Yemen will remain the center of gravity for this region for decades to come.

The Houthis are a group of Shia that have been identified and supplied by Iran to target Riyadh.  Its working.  Unhappy with reforms of the state and their share of political power, they tore out of their northern strongholds in 2014 and hit Sana’a.  With Iranian support under the former dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemeni Houthis have nearly destroyed Saudi Arabia’s governing covenant in Yemen.

The Yemeni president, named And Rabbi Mansour Hadi fled to Aden, a southern port, then off to Riyadh where he remained until the assassination of Saleh who played both sides of the conflict.

The Iranian’s chose the Houthis to destroy Saudi Arabia because of the impact of British colonial rule that brought Yemen into civil war in 1960.  British colonial forces in the south were fighting a pitched insurgency against the north.  From this, two different Yemeni states emerged.  The north sought clerical custodianship while the south moved into Soviet orbit.  Both the south and north agreed on a new constitution after wars in ’72, ’79 and long torturous negotiations throughout the ’70’s and ’80’s.  It was oil that proved too much for any nascent comity to emerge, so in 1994 Saleh’s northern enclave moved against the south, sparking war again.  It was Saleh’s General People’s Congress that dominated parliament and enriched itself by pilfering from state treasuries.

Opposition to Saleh’s rule came to a head under the Arab Spring where he was pushed out with help from Gulf States and succeeded by his vice president, Mr. Hadi.  Saleh sought to undermine any transition while actively promoting his son.

In 2014, a short alliance between Saleh and Hadi was forged to counter Egyptian foreign policy of actively funding the Muslim Brotherhood as a reliable proxy for Cairo throughout Yemen.  The alliance broke down in September of 2014 with a power sharing agreement brokered by the U.N.  This deal created a political vacuum demonstrating that the Houthis weren’t capable of governing its southern tier.  This is where Saudi prince bin Salman comes in.

The incompetence of the Houthis throughout Yemen promoted Riyadh to build a coalition to assist Hadi’s rule.  Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain began air campaigns against the Houthis throughout late 2014 ending in March the following year.  But the character of the war exacerbated Saudi rule because an air campaign could not defeat an infantry led insurgency.  With Houthis embedded deep in its northern mountainous region, Riyadh sought to starve the opposition.

Iran recognized opportunities to build the Houthie like Hezbollah, armed with missiles, it sought to flank Riyadh by hitting the Saudi capital and vital links throughout the empire. The Saudi’s were assisted by U.S. missile defense, but the ground war consolidated Iran’s hold on its regional dominance encircling the Arabian peninsula.

What Gulf money bought was aligned along Sunni lines, with Emirati, Salafist’s and hosts of local southern secessionists building militias that have been assisted by U.S. Central Command.  Houthi leadership is currently led by Abdel-Malik al-Houthi, his infantry is identified by U.S. special forces seeking al-Qaeda, Iranian and Houthi led insurgents throughout Yemen.

While Riyadh remains grateful for close air support that has wrecked any future comity between northern-southern Yemen, the limits of air war doctrines that have dominated the west for decades have exposed new strengthens of infantry assisted ground superiority.  The new way of waging war is the old:  light infantry.

What is Iran teaching the west?

Iranian light infantry is performing superior work with little or no air (regional) support.  The American’s and the Saudi’s are learning that governance matters, and that the rule of the state must be socially fortified on the ground.  For decades, the west dominated war by its effective placement of nuclear devices and commanding the air, that’s over.  Clausewitz’s dictum on the indissolubility of war from politics has returned with a vengeance.  Iranian light infantry is leading.


About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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