Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
It is almost impossible to talk about an armed conflict without the fear of the unseen and unwanted consequences. In such a situation, nobody could rule out the possibility of civilian casualties. There is nothing more devastating and agonizing than to see tensions flaring up between two neighboring countries. It is all the more painful when the conflict is the result of the actions of non-state actors acting at the behest of foreign power(s).
The initiative of launching a military offensive in Yemen was not an easy decision for Saudi Arabia. It was a painful step that was necessary to restore peace in the neighboring Yemen. A military action in Yemen was never on the cards and the Saudis took this step after peaceful methods proved to be futile.
For decades, Yemen had been experiencing all sorts of political and economic issues. Nobody could deny the fact that during thick and thin Saudi Arabia stood with Yemen and went the extra mile to help maintain stability in that country. The wrong policies and misplaced priorities of people at the helm of affairs in Yemen had pushed the country into an abyss of chaos and economic problems. Those policies had deepened the social divide in Yemen so much so that Yemenis always looked north to Saudi Arabia for their bread and butter.
Since the discovery of oil in the Kingdom and the consequent economic boom, Saudi Arabia has played host to millions of Yemenis many of whom have now been naturalized and the rest continue to work and live in the Kingdom without facing any problems. In addition to that Saudi Arabia never hesitated in doling out billions of dollars in direct aid and for various development projects to help build a prosperous Yemen.
Like many other countries of the region, Yemen was also badly hit by the wave of revolutions that are now dubbed as the Arab Spring. However, due to already volatile political climate and social conditions, things took a drastic turn in Yemen.
Truth be told, the Iran-backed Houthi militias’ attack on Saudi border took the Kingdom by surprise. It was something least expected. Saudi forces, however, swiftly responded and drove the attackers or infiltrators out of their territory. Following that action, the situation was soon normalized and it was life as usual. But that was the beginning of the unrest in Yemen. In Yemen, Houthis with the support of Iran had been working on some other plans. Guns on the Saudi-Yemeni borders may have fallen silent but something else was cooking inside Yemen. The Houthis overthrew the legitimate government and attempted to seize control of the entire country by force. The worsening Yemen situation had started to pose great threat to the stability and security of Saudi Arabia.
With the help of Iran and its regional proxies, the Houthi militia acquired sophisticated weapons and the threat increased on Saudi Arabia’s southern border cities. At the end of the day, Saudi Arabia had no choice but to take action through a coalition to pull Yemen from the abyss of chaos, to restore the legitimate government and to cleanse Yemen of all the weapons that included Scud missiles. After only a few weeks into the offensive, Saudi Arabia wanted to agree on a cease-fire so as to negotiate a solution to the problem. The Kingdom also announced a generous package of direct aid to Yemen. In addition to that the Kingdom continued to treat thousands of Yemeni expatriates in the same way as before the problems started.
It would be pertinent to mention here that various rounds of talks were held in Kuwait to end hostilities but soon it became clear that Houthis were not interested in peace. The Kingdom, time and again, had clarified that the Saudi-led air campaign was aimed only at restoring legitimacy in Yemen and it also rebuffed all claims painting the coalition offensive with a sectarian brush.
On Thursday, US Secretary of State John Kerry held meetings with the Saudi leaders and other officials of the GCC countries to share and discuss ideas to find a meaningful political solution to the Yemen problem.
We do accept that our beloved neighbor is passing through a rough patch and we do feel its pain. Had Saudi Arabia and other coalition members that it leads left Yemen for Houthis to rule, the situation would have been even worse.
Yemen has witnessed similar scenarios several times in the past. Civilian unrest and tribal wars in Yemen were known to be the bloodiest. The main objective of the Saudi-led coalition was to prevent Yemen from walking down the same bloody path again with no end in sight and to protect the southern Saudi borders from Houthis’ mischief.
It is high time the Houthis gave priority to Yemen’s interest over their petty goals. They should agree to negotiate their way out of the current situation for the greater good of their country and countrymen. They should express genuine willingness for peace. Saudi Arabia has time and again expressed its desire to see a legitimate government in Yemen. The Kingdom has given several clear signals to end the conflict and to resolve the conflict through peaceful means. Saudi Arabia has taken all possible measures to end this conflict. And now the ball is in Houthis’ court. It is up to them to show that they are seriously willing to restore peace in Yemen. The international community, particularly the United States, should take part in the efforts to normalize the Yemen situation and to take steps for the stability of the impoverished country. Without political and social stability, Yemen will continue to be a breeding ground for terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda. Such a situation is not in the interest of the region but it also poses a serious threat to the entire world.
Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. Saudi Desire for Peace in Yemen reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.