By Iran Review
By Mohammad Moradi*
The crisis in Yemen is entering its 27th month at a time that not only this crisis, but also the situation in entire Middle East has seen remarkable changes. The ongoing crisis in the Arabian Peninsula in which Saudi Arabia and some other Arab states have cut ties with Qatar, is a phenomenon which will affect the situation in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and, to a lesser extent, Qatar, were known as the three sides of the attack on Yemen. Therefore, the speed of war on Yemen is expected to change as a result of this development. In fact, Saudi Arabia has once again turned into a center of crisis and tension for the entire region. The most important question posed in this paper is what differences exist between Iran’s and Saudi Arabia’s regional approaches and behavior with regard to Yemen?
Cholera spreading due to blockade of Yemen
Saudi Arabia’s attack on Yemen, which started more than two years ago, was also accompanied with air, land and marine blockade of this country as well. Demolition of Yemen’s infrastructure and Saudi Arabia’s frequent attacks on the country’s health centers in addition to preventing entry of medicines have pushed Yemen toward a human catastrophe in the past two months.
A cholera epidemic as a result of the war in the country has so far killed 859 people in 20 provinces of Yemen while over 100,000 have been also affected. Escalation of protests by international bodies to Saudi Arabia’s military assault on Yemen in the past few months, is a clear indication of how grave the situation is in this impoverished Arab country.
Saudi-led alliance trying to occupy Yemen’s Hudaydah port
Under Saudi blockade, Yemen’s Hudaydah port, located 226 kilometers from the capital city, Sana’a, is considered as the most important port of entry for economic aid to Ansarullah forces and their allies. For this reason, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have made great effort in the past few months to occupy or, at least, complete the siege of Hudaydah.
In many areas, Saudi-led alliance’s forces have managed to advance and this issue has set off the alarm for the intensification of the crisis in Yemen, because if Hudaydah is completely besieged, the human catastrophe in Yemen will further deepen.
Tensions in Doha-Riyadh relations and Qatari forces leaving Yemen
Perhaps, the ongoing tensions in the Arabian Peninsula can be considered as the most important variable affecting the Yemen crisis in recent days. As a result of this crisis, Qatar was expelled from the Saudi-led alliance and its forces immediately left their positions in the southern Saudi Arabian province of Najran. This can be important in that Najran, Jizan, and Asir provinces of the kingdom have been scene of frequent clashes between Yemeni and Saudi forces in the past two years.
In fact, Saudi Arabia has done its best to suppress Yemeni forces in that region and used help from Bahraini and Qatari forces to achieve this goal. The success of Yemen’s Ansarullah forces in southern Saudi Arabia can ring the alarms for the country’s capital city, Riyadh. Withdrawal of Qatari forces will change the balance in favor of Ansarullah and their attacks on southern regions of Saudi Arabia will probably increase in frequency.
Comparing activism of Iran and Saudi Arabia in the region
The most important point regarding the crisis in Yemen and the crisis in the Arabian Peninsula is related to approaches taken to the region by Tehran and Riyadh. Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy under King Abdullah was a mixture of conservatism and focusing on domestic conditions in the country.
However, after King Salman’s team gained power at the Saudi royal court, that policy was changed and replaced with an aggressive one. Following the adoption of this new policy, the type and intensity of Riyadh’s interventions in wars of Iraq and Syria increased and Yemen was attacked as the trump card of Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud.
To make the situation worse, election of US President Donald Trump was constructed as a green light for the continuation of Saudi Arabia’s aggressive and interventionist policy in the region. In addition, by signing a contract to buy 110 billion dollars of weapons from the United States, Saudi Arabia has not only intensified its faceoff with Iran in the region, but also challenged other countries along the southern rim of the Persian Gulf. The first output of this state of affairs was the confrontation with Qatar. In fact, imposing a blockade by Saudi Arabia and its allies on Qatar, which imports more than 90 percent of its foodstuff, showed that Salman’s team still insists on continuing its irrational policy, because the faceoff with Qatar has driven a wedge between Saudi Arabia and Turkey as well.
Mohammad bin Salman is actually taking advantage of the king’s illness in his pursuit of such aggressive measures so as to further restrict the power of the Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, on the one hand, and intensify his confrontational approach to Iran, on the other hand. Such behavior by Saudi Arabia has added fuel to instability in the region during the past three years. Riyadh has shown in the past two years that in times of political hardship, it will take it out on its southern neighbor, Yemen. Now that Riyadh’s new measures against Qatar have elicited negative global reactions, intensification of Saudi Arabia’s attacks on Yemen can be expected. This comes as Iran’s approach to regional issues has been based on rationality and dialogue. Iran has consistently called for reduction of tensions and resolution of crisis through dialogue in Yemen. Iran’s approach to other regional crises, including those in Syria and Lebanon, has been also based on dialogue.
In conclusion, as long as Saudi Arabia continues to take “intervention and warmongering” as the axis of its foreign policy, any expectation about improvement in regional conditions and resolution of regional crises, especially the war in Yemen would be unrealistic. Meanwhile, Iran’s approach to the region, which emphasizes dialogue and resolution of problems through political means, can be put on agenda as the most secure way to get out of the existing dire straits.
* Mohammad Moradi
West Asia Expert
*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review’s viewpoints.