In Yemen, Sunni states say ‘enough’ to Iran… and Obama

Disillusioned with the US president, who they see pursuing a nuclear deal at all costs, Sunni monarchies are showing a new determination to use force to thwart Tehran’s regional ambitions

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

File: US President Barack Obama (left) stands alongside Saudi King Salman (right) at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on January 27, 2015. (AFP/Saul Loeb)
File: US President Barack Obama (left) stands alongside Saudi King Salman (right) at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on January 27, 2015. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

Fighting continued Monday in southern Yemen, in the area around Aden, which is considered to be the last outpost of what remains of the country’s pro-US government. President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi has fled to Egypt. According to numerous reports, the Houthi rebels have managed to infiltrate the regions north and east of Aden.

Hitting back, Saudi planes struck various targets overnight, dealing blows to the Houthis, who are being provided with constant military aid by the Iranian regime. The targets bombed included weapons stores belonging to Abdul Malik al-Houthi’s men, as well as anti-aircraft missiles.

It is difficult to gauge whether what remains of the Yemeni army in Aden will prevent the southern port city from falling into the hands of the Shiite rebels. While the Saudis have deployed troops along their border with Yemen, to the north of the country, if Riyadh and other Arab countries truly want to prevent the occupation of Aden, a ground invasion will likely needed. It is not clear whether such a decision is in fact in the works, and whether there is an operational plan which would allow Saudi forces to undertake such a mission.

But regardless of how the fighting plays out in the days to come, it seems that something fundamental has changed in the mindset of the moderate, Sunni monarchist Arab states. The rulers of these countries — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf states — are fed up with the world powers on the one hand, and the Iranian regime on the other. The Arab kings have realized that there’s no point waiting any longer for the American government.

A tank bearing the flag of southern separatist movement, which was confiscated from a military depot, is driven on a street in the southern Yemeni city of Aden on March 27, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/SALEH AL-OBEIDI)
A tank bearing the flag of southern separatist movement, which was confiscated from a military depot, is driven on a street in the southern Yemeni city of Aden on March 27, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/SALEH AL-OBEIDI)

The way they see it, President Barack Obama is obsessed, for domestic political reasons, with trying to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran, and this may be why he has abandoned the entire Middle East to Tehran’s whims: The Iranians can run wild in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, but the US government will not lift a finger as long as Tehran agrees to sign a memorandum of understanding concerning its nuclear project.

The Arab states are also disgusted with Russia, which assists the Shiite axis in every way possible, including militarily. Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, went as far as mocking Russian President Vladimir Putin in his address to the Arab League summit in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh this weekend. “Russia offers us a peaceful solution to the crisis in Syria, but yet continues to arm the regime there,” he stated dryly.

Hence the decision which dominated the Arab League summit, namely, to set up a joint Arab military force within three months. The goal, in other words, is to take rapid military action to stop the Iranians. The Arab states are tired of waiting for the US government, and they have decided to stop Tehran’s advances in the region even at the cost of war.

A spokesman for the so-called “Arab coalition forces to support the legitimate regime in Yemen” (better known as Saudi Arabia) said at the weekend that the strikes will continue until President Hadi’s return to power. The Saudis are not planning on stopping anytime soon. If the Americans won’t do it, the Saudis will. It seems that almost nothing has changed in the Middle East since 680 CE, as Sunnis and Shiites continue to fight over the identity of the successor of the Prophet Muhammad.

With regards to the nuclear agreement being hammered out in Lausanne, the Arab states don’t have many expectations. The Sunni powers, like Israel, understand that the deal is almost sealed and that they must now face the consequences. Iran will continue to be a nuclear threshold state, though without a bomb for the time being. It will continue its conquests throughout the region.

What has changed now is the decision by the moderate Arab states to act independently against Iran. Contrary to the policy they followed in Syria, where a proxy army was supported by Saudi Arabia, the action in Yemen represents a kind of watershed moment for the Arabs. From hereon, monarchist Sunni states will use their own power, across the Middle East, even at the cost of military conflict with Iran. They will do so in order to prevent the establishment of a Shiite empire in the region, and to weaken it where it has already taken hold.

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