Saudi Arabia Abandoning its Puppet in Yemen: Coming to Terms
KSA can no longer “pretend” that things are under control and going according to plan. Actually, there is no plan, and no horizon, for the Saudis.
News just broke in from Yemen that the so-called “legitimate” Yemeni President AbedRabbu Mansur Hadi (widely mocked as a Saudi puppet) announced that he’s surrendering “power” to a new “Presidential Council”. The “Presidential Council”, Hadi’s statement goes on, will have to enter into negotiations with other parties in Yemen to reach a political settlement. This important step comes after about one week of Saudi Arabia’s announcement that it’s halting its military operations and easing restrictions and blockade on Yemeni ports for a two–month period.
After seven long years of aggression in Yemen, Saudi Arabia is coming to painful terms with the truth on the ground. The Saudi enterprise in Yemen has failed miserably in all directions. The Saudi-led coalition “to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen," the banner under which KSA launched its war on Yemen in 2015, has all vanished. Only UAE is still in it, though half-heartedly. The large sums of money that KSA invested in Yemeni espionage groups have gone in vain, with no real achievement on the ground. The government of Hadi does not have a significant real presence or control in Yemeni territories. The Hadi government is still stationed in a Riyadh hotel, leaving Ansar Allah in control of the North and West of Yemen (where the main population is concentrated), and the secessionist Transitional Council controls most of the South and Eastern parts of Yemen (with the sporadic presence of Al Qaeda & ISIS). After seven years of war, Hadi and his government are practically powerless and irrelevant.
But what’s more catastrophic for the Saudis is the way military operations are going. The war launched in 2015 is now back-firing very badly. ARAMCO, the giant Saudi oil company, has become a regular target of the Yemeni attacks. Yemeni missiles and drones are reaching strategic economic and military targets inside KSA more frequently than ever before. That’s an unimaginable and embarrassing situation that the Saudis have never anticipated.
To put it in a word: It’s obviously defeat, plain and simple. KSA can no longer “pretend” that things are under control and going according to plan. Actually, there is no plan and no horizon for the Saudis. Realities on the ground must be acknowledged, the sooner the better. That’s the background for Hadi’s dismissal. The Saudi know very well that Hadi, in his position for ten years, cannot be entrusted with leading a new stage in Yemen. A totally new group will be needed for the negotiations with Ansar Allah and Sanaa government. It was noted that Hadi’s deputy and strong military commander, Ali Mohsin Al Ahmar, was also dismissed.
The person who was chosen to replace Hadi, as head of the “Presidential Council”, is Rashad Al Olaimi. Al Olaimi was known in the Yemeni circles as one of the closest personalities to the USA, always advocating for a more American role in Yemen. Al Olaimi’s selection gives further indication that negotiations with Ansar Allah will be the top priority for the new Saudi–backed Yemeni side. The Biden administration has long advocated a political arrangement in Yemen that includes Ansar Allah as a main party.
We’ll have to wait and see the reaction of Ansar Allah to the new call for a Yemeni-Yemeni dialogue with the new “Presidential Council”. It is known that Ansar Allah so far has insisted on negotiating with KSA on a state-to-state basis, i.e. Yemeni-Saudi negotiations, refusing to grant KSA the image of the mediator or sponsor to the peace talks between the Yemenis.
However, this time things look serious. Saudi Arabia appears keen to get off the tree and embark on real negotiations with its adversaries in Yemen, Ansar Allah. There is a pressing interest for the Saudis to prolong the brittle ceasefire that is now in place and try to make it permanent. The Saudis don’t want to see their oil facilities in flames any time soon. Therefore, they will be ready for real concessions. A kind of negotiated settlement in Yemen that sees Ansar Allah holding major positions in the national Yemeni government is probably in the minds of Saudis. Ansar Allah, in its turn, has always wanted peace with dignity in Yemen. Yemenis always wanted the peace that preserves Yemen’s sovereignty, and if the Saudis are ready for it, then Ansar Allah will be there. And let’s not forget that the Saudis have tried to negotiate with Iran about Yemen’s issues, during many rounds held in Iraq, but received a firm answer from the Iranians that Sanaa, and only Sanaa, is the right address for that purpose.
For that higher goal, formalities could be overlooked. Ansar Allah and Sanaa government could accept to negotiate with KSA indirectly through its “Presidential Council”. Without a doubt, negotiations will be very difficult and complex, because of the broad range of thorny issues like the South-North sensitivity maps, the role of Al Islah Party (Muslim Brotherhood), and Yemen’s political positioning in the region. But the beginning itself is a positive step. If Saudis give up the “victory” notion and start readiness to acknowledge the Yemeni realities, then this will be a starting point to achieving peace in the war-torn country.