So long as Riyadh insists on a Houthi defeat in Yemen that won’t benefit Al-Islah, the kingdom’s operation is doomed to fail. But there’s another way to end this war.
When Operation Decisive Storm was launched in March 2015, the young Saudi defence minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman promised all those he summoned to participate in the operation that it would be quick and surgical.
Indeed, it was “surgical”, targeting the Houthis and their weapons stores with great skill at first, but it was far from quick. And now, a few months off the offensive’s three-year anniversary, It seems that Saudi Arabia’s worst fears have been confirmed: it is trapped in the difficult political and geographical terrain of Yemen.
Operation Decisive Storm took the Houthis by surprise and, after initial momentum and successive victories, their forces were thrown off balance and into discord. However, there was no one present on the ground, particularly in the capital, Sanaa, who could seize the opportunity to attack.
From the beginning and until now, the Saudi problem in Yemen is that it committed itself to two contradictory conditions for a strategic victory. It wanted to defeat the Houthis, but without benefiting its rival Al-Islah.
Indeed, Riyadh could have coordinated with the group at the beginning of the operation to lead an uprising in Sanaa which would have liberated the capital from the Houthis, but chose not to. So the first opportunity to win the war was quickly lost.
With these conditions in place, Saudi Arabia made its success much more difficult, if not impossible, and also prolonged the war. Therefore, to get out of the predicament it finds itself in, Riyadh must either modify or drop one of these conditions.
An equation for peace
A peace deal in Yemen can be reached if four major actors Houthis, who call themselves “Ansar Allah” the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and his political party, the Yemeni Congregation for Reform (Al-Islah),and the southerners agree and none of these actors is sidelined.
Just as Riyadh changes its position now in Syria, and moves closer and closer to the Cairo and Moscow camp, which is ironically also Tehran’s camp, Saudi Arabia’s position in Yemen can change.
Only then might the inscrutable Saudi equation become solvable with the following modifications: allow the Houthis to win, eliminate Al-Islah and let Yemen’s stability and Saudi Arabia’s long-term security go to hell.