ABU DHABI // Political analysts offered mixed reviews on the regional short and long-term impact of intervention by the Gulf in Yemen.
Some claim the air strikes will help improve the welfare of the Middle East.
“The immediate effect is that, within 24 hours, the political and military dynamics on the ground have shifted [in] the Yemeni government and president’s favour,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, political science professor at UAE University. “Now he is definitely much stronger and firmer on the ground than he was 12 hours ago when he was desperate.”
Prof Abdulla said the Houthis were in a weaker position, having been hit massively without warning.
“Their march towards Aden has been stalled so the dynamics on the ground have all of a sudden shifted against them and this will continue in the near future.”
Prof Abdulla said the operation should not extend too long.
“Hopefully, a week from now, they will be willing to sit down and talk to resolve this, not on their terms, but on terms favourable to Yemen,” he said. “There is a momentum and the GCC is in the best possible situation.”
Others were more sceptical.
“The short-term impact in the region is going to be to what degree this coalition can box in the Houthis and to also help to mitigate Iran’s support for this group,” said Dr Theodore Karasik, a geopolitical analyst in the UAE. “We know that the UAE and Saudi Arabia have designated them as a terrorist group and, in that sense, one has to think about how the Houthis can respond by launching terrorist attacks on other GCC states.
“One has to think about how the Houthis have networks throughout the GCC that they could tap into much like the Islamic State, Al Qaeda and the [Muslim] Brotherhood.”
Dr Firuz Yasamis, director of diplomacy at the American University of the Emirates, said the events in Yemen were extremely important for regional stability.
“They might lead to some kind of confrontation between Iran and the Gulf,” he said. “Secondly, Yemen [could] be the second Syria in the region and it may even be divided again into west Yemen, dominated by the Shia population, and east Yemen, dominated by the Sunni. This is the worst scenario that could happen in the region.”
He said, however, that it was too early to speak in certainties.
“Air strikes cannot determine the future of the war,” he said. “What would be decisive is the engagement of ground forces which are not at the scene yet. Air strikes can only harm the civilian population but not the Houthi militants who are applying asymmetric war tactics such as guerrilla warfare.”
He envisions a heavy impact. “An asymmetric war between Al Qaeda and Houthi militants is very likely, which might lead to involvement of Isis alongside Al Qaeda,” Dr Yasamis said. “But the war in Yemen [can result] in endless options.”
Luciano Zaccara, research coordinator in Gulf politics at the Gulf Studies Centre at Qatar University, said direct military intervention without any legal support from the UN Security Council, the Arab League or a joint declaration by the GCC, will only mean more instability and an escalation with unpredictable consequences.
“We are witnessing how difficult it is to end long-lasting conflicts in the region, such as Palestine, Iraq and Syria,” he said. “By internationalising the Yemeni conflict and leaving aside any diplomatic choice, the spillover effect will in the long run create a more unstable environment in the Arabian Peninsula.”
He said a civil war could erupt in Yemen, as is the case in Syria, with refugees starting to knock on Saudi and Omani doors.
“This will increase the security concerns as well as the humanitarian ones,” Mr Zaccara said. “Saudi Arabia and other GCC states perceive the Houthis as an Iranian proxy rebellion aimed to harm the Saudi control of Yemen and increase the Iranian influence in the Arabian Peninsula. With this vision, to leave the Houthis controlling Sanaa will mean that Iran is actually at the Saudi backyard, something that is very challenging for the regional Saudi aspirations.”
Sabahat Khan, strategy analyst at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, said the short-term effects would be significant, because the air strikes signal the start of a larger military campaign.
“The motivation for the Saudi-led alliance supporting the legitimate government in Yemen is to contain the conflict in Yemen and prevent a humanitarian disaster rather than to watch it disintegrate into a fully-fledged civil war along sectarian lines, with all of its regional and national security ramifications.”
He said non-state actors and militant groups cannot be allowed to continue expanding their influence in Yemen. “For political groups, there is a political process to engage in peacefully - for those using violence, regional states will act at some point to contain their growth and this is what we’re seeing now,” he said. “Keep in mind that the Yemeni foreign minister, Riad Yassin, called for on the Arab League for this intervention. A large regional alliance has formed, so we can see the region uniting behind shared objectives driven by shared values. This is precisely what is needed to counter threats to regional interests and security. We’re moving into a new paradigm here with regard to security and how emergent threats are going to be addressed.”
Updated: March 27, 2015 04:00 AM