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The Orwellian nature of Saudi Arabia's war on Yemen Open in fullscreen

Ibrahim Halawi

The Orwellian nature of Saudi Arabia's war on Yemen

Hundreds of civilians are reported to have died in the Saudi-led bombing of Yemen [AFP]

Date of publication: 25 April, 2015

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Analysis: Ambiguity over the aims and objectives of Riyadh's military campaign against the Houthis mirrors the overall confusion in its military command.
Sanaa enjoyed less than an hour of peace before air raids were renewed under the name "Operation Restoring Hope".

Saudi Arabia's Brigadier-General Ahmed al-Asiri announced the end of Operation Decisive Storm and the launching of the new operation, aimed at "protecting civilians" and "rebuilding Yemen". 

Premature hope

Yet the general also said that his country would continue to prevent Houthi militias from operating inside Yemen, which would include the option for military intervention.

Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, said that the Saudi-led coalition was shifting its efforts to a new phase in the campaign.

Air raids would be more limited and only come in response to Houthi attacks, Jubeir said. An example of this "limited intervention" was seen when the Houthis assaulted Yemeni troops in Taiz.

"The decision to calm matters now rests with them [the Houthis]," Jubeir told reporters at the Saudi embassy in Washington.

Saudi Arabia claims that the first phase was successful in destroying most of the Houthis' capabilities.

They also allege that the Zaydi-Shia militia group posed a threat to the Gulf region's security - though many feel this is a somewhat spurious claim.

What is certain is that Yemenis are desperate to "restore hope", but the new operation is unlikely to fulfil its promise.

The aim of the "new" campaign is ostensibly to legitimise the military decisions that left hundreds of Yemeni civilians dead in the first stage of the operation.

Saudi airstrikes have destroyed Yemen's already basic infrastructure. Power cuts, a shortage of food and a water crisis are now the norm for many Yemenis.

Diplomatic wrangling

Despite a UN resolution that demanded an end to the violence and immediate access to humanitarian relief, Unicef reports that more than a hundred Yemeni children have been killed since the bombing began.

As the war rages, Oman stands at the forefront of diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis, with a seven-point proposal being discussed with Riyadh and Tehran.

Considering the size of the operation and the time available, a clear outline of strategies and aims of the military intervention was limited.

Saudi Arabia had to react immediately to the swift advances of the Houthis and forces loyal to former Yemeni president Ali Abdallah Saleh.

Wrapped in ambiguity
     Decisive Storm began with ambiguity... indicative of the environment inside Saudi Arabia's military command.


Operation Decisive Storm began with ambiguity - not a deliberate PR tactic by Riyadh but indicative of the environment inside Saudi Arabia's military command.

Riyadh knew that airstrikes alone would not fulfil its military objectives.

While Saudi Arabia bombed the Yemeni capital, efforts were being made to push Pakistan to meet its verbal support for the war by providing troops for a potential ground offensive.

After days of parliamentary debate, and Iranian pressure, the Pakistani parliament voted against intervention. This shocked Saudi Arabia - who never expected Pakistan to "betray" it.

Part of this unexpectedness is underestimating the common interests and relations between Pakistan and neighbouring Iran.

Similar reluctance in Egypt left Saudi Arabia, a country with a 75,000-strong army, to bombard Yemeni towns and cities from the air, with a ferocity only surpassed by the barrel bombs unleashed on towns and cities by the Syrian regime.

The decision to end Operation Decisive Storm and reintroduce a new campaign under a different name could be an attempt to make up for setbacks in the military offensive on Yemen. This is hinted at in the operation's name, "Restoring Hope".

Humanitarian crisis

The growing humanitarian situation in Yemen has intensified international pressure on Saudi Arabia to allow medical relief to enter the country.

This is the priority stated by US officials to reporters when they stress the need for a political alternative. But US concerns are hardly entirely humanitarian.

The US has a prolonged history of indecisive and prolonged wars, most notoriously in Vietnam and Iraq.

This history is a lesson for US allies in the Middle East, which are carrying out a complex military operation that is inclined to undercut political objectives.

"[Saudi Arabia] is worried about [its] security," Jen Psaki, White House communications director, told CNN on Wednesday.

"Of course we've supported them with their actions… but, again, we're trying to redirect this to a political discussion here."

The first person to suggest that Decisive Storm might come to an end was Iran's deputy foreign minister, Hussein Amir Abdul-Lahian.

His "optimism" came from Washington's moves, after Obama spoke to the Saudi king, and met with UAE Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed al-Nahyan - and believed this had done the job.

The US administration must now realise that its new policy of allowing its regional allies to act on their own gives those regional allies greater agency in deciding when to stop.

But Saudi Arabia sees no reason why a lenient US policy towards Israel should not also apply to them.

The stakes are high in Yemen. What the end of Operation Decisive Storm means is yet to be understood beyond the rhetoric. Saudi Arabia fighter jets are still harrying the Houthis and Saleh loyalists.

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is yet to find an excuse to give Saudi Arabia for sparing the Egyptian army from a risky intervention in Yemen.

Although the name, and allegedly the tactics, of the military campaign have changed, this does not mean that Saudi pressure on Egypt has ended.

If anything, the closer we get to political negotiations the more Egypt will be asked to share the costs of the war.

The launch of Operation Restoring Hope, in an Orwellian sense, is a shift from bombing Yemen as part of a war plan to assaulting the country as part of a peace initiative.

In the meantime, the Houthis and Saleh forces exploit the global outrage at the bombing of Yemen by continuing their atrocities, while under the offensive's new name, Riyadh's war can continue indefinitely.

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