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Basheer al-Baker

Yemen and the security of the Arab Gulf

Houthi anti-aircraft defences at the ready [AFP]

Date of publication: 27 March, 2015

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Comment: Yemen's security no longer simply affects the Gulf's security: it is the same thing, writes Basheer al-Baker.
The relationship between Yemen and the Gulf is more than just reciprocal; it is more than the traditional perspective that “Yemen’s security is part of the Gulf’s security”. In fact, Yemen’s security is the Gulf’s security. This is based on the history, geography and recent developments in the region over the past decade.

The traditional position was accurate until Iran became a key player in the Middle East and the Gulf. What used to be the case before Iran seized control of Lebanon and Iraq, and after its interference in Syria and Yemen, no longer holds under the current conditions. Anyone concerned with
     Saudi Arabia showed significant openness when it agreed to move the dialogue to Doha.
the Gulf’s security must have realised this recently, when the Houthis began their extensive offensive to control Sanaa and expand towards al-Hadida, Taiz, and finally Aden.

The first step the Houthis took after sensing they were settled and in control of Sanaa was sending political and military delegations to Iran, as well as opening an air route between Tehran and Sanaa, followed by a highly significant step: military maneuvers on Saudi borders, where confrontations between Houthis and Saudi forces took place in 2010. The maneuvers were political and sent a clear message: the demand that Riyadh stop supporting Yemen’s legitimate President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

There was also a deeper implied message that relations between Yemen and Saudi Arabia will never be the same again, especially when the Houthis started distributing maps in Sanaa, placing the Saudi areas of Najran and Asir within Yemeni borders.

For foreign observers, it would seem that the Houthis rushed into revealing their true intentions towards Saudi Arabia, even though the Saudi side did not take any provocative steps. In fact, over the past two weeks, Riyadh made sure Houthis took part in the dialogue that was scheduled to be held in the GCC headquarters in Riyadh, based on a request by Hadi.

Saudi Arabia showed significant openness when it agreed to move the dialogue to Doha as a compromise and based on the request by the Houthis, who said they considered choosing Riyadh to hold the dialogue a kind of Saudi intervention in Yemen’s internal affairs.

Houthis could not raise both the military and political ceilings this fast. They seized control of a large area of Yemen and managed to dictate their own political agenda in less than 9 months. Those who know about the situation in Yemen will understand that the Houthi experience does not live up to such skilled operation, and that Iran controls the situation behind the scenes.

Iran did not deny its role in bringing the Houthis to where they are now in no time. Iranian officials issued statements full of lessons for the Gulf. Some of the statements even included threats, against Saudi Arabia in particular.

Two weeks ago, Iranian Assistant Foreign Minister Hussein Amir Abdul Lahian issued his famous statement warning against the intervention of “foreign players in Yemen”, adding that “in the future, there will be no room for such players and conspirators in Yemen”. He also emphasised his country’s willingness to “open dialogue with regional parties to discuss the latest developments in Yemen”.

According to Abdul Lahian, then, Saudi Arabia was a foreign player in Yemen where Iran holds the main keys.

The ‘Decisive Storm’ military operation against Houthis in Yemen only came therefore after exhausting all possible avenues with them, and after they crossed red lines regarding the Gulf’s security. The arrival of the Iranian navy fleet to the Bab al-Mandeb Strait a few days ago was not for summer vacation, but rather to achieve “long-term strategic goals”, according to Tehran.


Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

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