The US Should Stand with Saudi Arabia in Yemen

By Nawaf Obaid

October 6, 2016

The Saudi-led campaign against the Iran-backed Houthi and Saleh rebels in Yemen is quickly approaching its year and a half mark. The intervention began in March 2015 at the request of the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbuh Mansour Hadi to prevent the rebels from taking over the beleaguered southern city of Aden. However, despite the Saudis continually seeking a mediated political solution, the rebels have kept up their resistance and even expanded their attacks to the northern border with Saudi Arabia, shelling and causing fatalities in the Saudi cities of Najran and Jizan, prompting more airstrikes, and defying calls for a ceasefire.

This war, like all wars, has not been without its critics. Some are calling for a suspension of the campaign, apparently content with Iranian-backed militias taking over Yemen. Others are demanding an end to arms sales to Saudi Arabia largely due to findings, still uncorroborated, like those recently reported in the Guardian of London that more than one-third of the Kingdom’s air raids have hit civilian sites.

On the issue of civilian casualties, the Saudis have acknowledged with great regret that non-combatant civilians, including children, have been accidentally killed or injured in allied attacks. This is why they must support the creation of an independent international investigation. However, such an investigation will merely confirm an already extant truth: not only are civilian casualties inevitable in any conflict, but it is in fact the Houthis who are as much to blame, if not more, for these incidents, as they continue to use civilian centers – hospitals, houses, schools - to preposition equipment and provide cover for the deployment of their troops into combat zones.

This heinous tactic is part of a larger Iranian strategy with a long and bloody tradition that the Hezbollah trainers, under the command of Hezbollah operations chief Khalil Harb, have perfected all too well in Yemen. Not only are they providing "expertise" in using human shields in asymmetric warfare, but Hezbollah agents are actually training the Houthi rebels to fight in a manner very similar to the way in which Iran conducted its war with Iraq in the 1980s. A large number of foot soldiers, many of them in their late teens and none of them with much military training, are thrown at the Saudi front in a sustained massive suicide mission with the twisted promise of heaven. The enormous loss of life on the Yemeni side caused by these frontal attacks with no air cover has led even some Saudi soldiers to shoot the attackers in the legs so they can capture them alive and save as many as possible.

Those who call for the U.S. to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia because they blame only the Saudis, and not Iran and Hezbollah, for the civilian casualties are playing a dangerous economic and strategic game. Saudi Arabia is by far the largest purchaser of American-made weapons. In the last eight years alone, the U.S. has sold around $115 billion in arms to the Saudis, creating or maintaining around 160,000 jobs in America. Those with hopes that the campaign will be suspended before its strategic objectives have been achieved are harboring a misinformed fantasy that refuses to see reality.

As Iran seeks to spread its destructive influence in the Middle East via proxy wars that are upending social order and causing massive bloodshed in several Arab states, only one country stands in their way: Saudi Arabia. That is especially true now that President Obama's ridiculous Middle East policy has given up the fight and largely taken a conciliatory or neglectful approach to the criminal actions of Iran. The Saudis and their Arab allies believe that saving a nation from terrorist marauders is a just cause, and they cannot afford to allow Iran and its terrorist minions in Hezbollah to gain a base via the Houthis on the Arabian Peninsula directly bordering the Kingdom. Doing so would merely foment a larger host of problems and ultimately lead to a direct war between Saudi Arabia and Iran that would have disastrous consequences to global order.

The war in Yemen has been progressing slowly, mostly because the Kingdom has limited its military deployment to a special forces brigade who are sustaining local fighters loyal to the government. Only time can tell if more conventional land forces will be sent into Yemen but one thing is certain, the Kingdom, which does not wish to be used as a pawn in the game of feuding U.S. political factions, has no choice but to see this war to the end with or without American weapons. For the sake of international order and legitimacy, it behooves the U.S. to continue to recognize a common strategic interest with Saudi Arabia and stand with its most important ally in the Middle East as the Kingdom battles against the destructive revolutionary activities of the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, Iran.


By Nawaf Obaid // Nawaf Obaid is a visiting fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center and a senior fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research & Islamic Studies.

October 6, 2016

http://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2016/10/us-should-stand-saudi-arabia-yemen/132166/