Peace re­mains elu­sive for Ye­men

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY IAN TIM­BER­LAKE

Saudi Ara­bia has de­clared nearly a month of airstrikes on Ye­meni rebels a suc­cess, but at the cost of a resur­gent al-Qaida and with no sign of peace yet.

“Mission ac­com­plished,” a Saudi news­pa­per pro­claimed Wed­nes­day, echo­ing a ban­ner on a U.S. war­ship where then-Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush in­fa­mously de­clared an end to ma­jor com­bat op­er­a­tions in Iraq in 2003.

But, like in Iraq, fight­ing raged on be­tween rebels and forces loyal to Pres­i­dent Abedrabbo Man­sour Hadi, who re­mains in ex­ile in Riyadh, a day af­ter the Saudi-led coali­tion an­nounced a halt to its air war.

“The air cam­paign had ex­hausted its po­ten­tial,” and with Riyadh’s al­lies like Pak­istan un­will­ing or un­able to pro­vide ground forces, there were “few good op­tions,” said the So­ufan Group in­tel­li­gence con­sul­tancy.

It said U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin had also “made clear that they fa­vored a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion” to the con­flict.

“All sides will have been very con­scious that the great­est ben­e­fi­ciary of the chaos in Ye­men was the more im­me­di­ate en­emy: alQaida in the Ara­bian Penin­sula.”

The Saudi de­fense min­istry said Op­er­a­tion De­ci­sive Storm had man­aged to “suc­cess­fully re­move threats to Saudi Ara­bia’s se­cu­rity and that of neigh­bor­ing coun­tries” by destroying heavy weaponry and bal­lis­tic mis­siles seized by the Huthi Shi­ite rebels.

Saudi-led war­planes re­turned to ac­tion Wed­nes­day, in line with the coali­tion’s vow to carry out tar­geted strikes on Huthi “move­ments and mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions” when nec­es­sary.

‘Bar set low’

The goals of the cam­paign were not very clearly de­fined from the start, ac­cord­ing to a diplo­matic source who did not want to be named.

“I think they’ve set the bar pretty low with what they sort of wanted to achieve” in the air cam­paign, the source said.

“They want to end it now be­fore they get too bogged down.”

Eight Saudi armed forces per­son­nel were killed in skir­mishes along the Ye­men bor­der dur­ing De­ci­sive Storm, while the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion has said at least 944 peo­ple have died from fight­ing in­side Ye­men since March 19.

A West­ern diplo­matic source de­scribed as cred­i­ble coali­tion claims to have de­stroyed the rebel weapons but said the Huthis, in any case, never posed “any real threat” to Saudi Ara­bia.

The coali­tion spokesman, Bri­gadier Gen­eral Ahmed al- As­siri, has said that De­ci­sive Storm also aimed to pro­tect Ye­meni cit­i­zens and “le­git­i­macy,” a ref­er­ence to the gov­ern­ment of Hadi.

At the start of the bomb­ing cam­paign Hadi fled to Riyadh, where other mem­bers of his gov­ern­ment have been based, fol­low­ing the ad­vance of the Huthis on the south­ern port city of Aden.

Sup­port­ers of the rebels ques­tioned what the air cam­paign had achieved.

“The op­er­a­tion has failed,” said Ali Bukhaiti, a pro-Huthi writer and an­a­lyst based in Ye­men.

“Hadi is still in Riyadh and the Huthis have not with­drawn from a sin­gle vil­lage. They will only with­draw ac­cord­ing to an in­ter­nal un­der­stand­ing with Ye­me­nis.”

Victory, ‘in a way’

The Huthis on Wed­nes­day de­manded a com­plete end to at­tacks by a Saudi-led coali­tion and sought U.N.-spon­sored talks.

An­other diplo­matic source said of the air cam­paign that “in a way, it’s a victory” for Riyadh and its al­lies.

He said the coali­tion had man­aged to limit the rebels’ gains, ob­tain in­ter­na­tional sup­port through a U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion, mo­bi­lize the sup­port of Arab al­lies, and “showed their de­ter­mi­na­tion in front of Iran,” ac­cused of back­ing the rebels.

All of this, the source said, has “cre­ated a new frame­work for re­sum­ing the na­tional dia­logue, with a new equi­lib­rium.”

The coali­tion said the new phase of op­er­a­tions, dubbed “Re­store Hope,” aimed to “swiftly re­sume the po­lit­i­cal process,” backed by the United Na­tions, de­liver aid and fight “ter­ror­ism” in the coun­try.

The United States con­sid­ers Ye­men-based al-Qaida in the Ara­bian Penin­sula to be the mil­i­tants’ most danger­ous branch.

The fran­chise has ex­ploited the chaos to ex­pand its ter­ri­tory in the southeast of Ye­men where it has seized the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal of Mukalla in­clud­ing the air­port.

“Deal­ing with AQAP is an im­por­tant ob­jec­tive for Saudi Ara­bia: while AQAP is based in Ye­men, its main ob­jec­tive is to attack Saudi Ara­bia,” the So­ufan Group said

“Iron­i­cally, the most ef­fec­tive force against AQAP in Ye­men has so far been the Huthis, and vice versa,” it added.

The Shi­ite rebels, whose tra­di­tional strong­hold is in the moun­tain­ous north, fought six wars with the cen­tral gov­ern­ment from 2004 to 2010.

Get­ting the Huthis back to ne­go­ti­a­tions was al­ways the aim of the coali­tion airstrikes, the first diplo­matic source said, and if that can be ac­com­plished, “then I guess they can claim some sort of win.”

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