The Russian angle and the Arab mentality factor in the Yemeni conflict



April 2, 2015
Shamil Sultanov
Izborsky Club
Translated by Kristina Rus

Ground operation in Yemen may begin any day now. This was announced by the representative of the government, who fled to Saudi Arabia. A small state with a tribal system became a toy in the hands of American and Saudi elites. In an interview with “Business Online” Shamil Sultanov, a member of the Izborsky Club, the head of the center “Russia – Islamic world”, talked about the situation.

– The situation in Yemen, in my opinion, can not be described as dynamic. This country has its own constants, its own constant forces, the ratio and collision of which will determine how the conflict will develop further. These four forces are: on the one hand – the Houthis from the movement Ansar Allah, joined by the supporters of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh; and on the other – the official Yemeni government led by president Abd Rabbuh Hadi, who escaped to Saudi Arabia; as well as local jihadies, funded by the Saudi intelligence to commit acts of sabotage within the country. On one side – the Sunnis, on the other – the Shiites. And these forces have not been formed today, so I’m not talking about dynamism, but rather about a certain constancy in the political world of Yemen.

Yemen is one of the most complex conflict zones not only in the Middle East, but also in the world. Even in Syria and Iraq, everything is less complicated. Because Yemen has too many internal problems and contradictions. For example, one of the goals of Saudi Arabia is to force Iran to come to the aid of the Houthis, to interfere in this war and thus help Riyadh to disrupt the upcoming deal on Iran’s nuclear program. And what does this mean? That certain American counter-elites are also in this game, who also oppose this agreement with Iran. Here we see not just a manifestation of a U.S. foreign policy, but the clash in Yemen of certain American elite clans, security agencies of various kinds, business groups, and so on.

Another aspect of this war is associated with the change of power in Saudi Arabia. In January 2015, as we know, died king Abdullah. Meanwhile, he and his entourage were preparing an option, by which in violation of the rules of succession, the successor of Abdullah was to become his son Miteb, the commander of the national guard of the Kingdom. But this option did not fly, the throne was occupied by Salman, so now in Saudi Arabia there is a sharp weakening of the clan of Abdallah. In particular, the man we all know well, Bandar bin Sultan, who presided over the general intelligence service, the Mukhabarat, was dismissed from all his posts. But after all, this was the man responsible for all contacts with the American elite groups, because for 24 years he was the Saudi Ambassador in the US (his nickname in the American press was “Bandar Bush”).

For Russia this is a kind of a trap. Different Yemeni forces – the Houthis, Ali Saleh, and others appealed to our country to be a facilitator. Not to the West, but to Russia. And we presented our proposals: the special envoy of the Russian President in the Middle East, Mikhail Bogdanov announced them at the session of the League of Arab States. But, as usual, these are general things: a ceasefire, talks… The Saudis are strongly opposed to us acting as mediators on the situation in Yemen. They have not forgotten that in this country we had a very good standing – on the island of Socotra the USSR had the largest naval base. And the Saudis, of course, are against the strengthening of our influence in the region.

Island of Socotra

There is another serious problem [for Saudi Arabia]: consolidation of Yemen in the face of a common threat. Not only the alliance of sworn enemies – Ali Saleh and the Houthis – now controls the country. They know well who is their enemy in the face of Saudi Arabia, as well as groups of countries of the Persian Gulf, which are followed by Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan (however, the latter is in doubt). Now, if the armed forces, united by Saudi Arabia, invade Yemen, this can lead to a strong national and spiritual uprising of the Yemeni people. After all, the Yemenis don’t hate no one as much, as the Saudis. If such a consolidation is crystallized in response to the invasion, then I think, that even contradictions between the Sunnis and the Shiites will not prevent the march of the Yemeni armed forces towards Riyadh.

The bombing of Yemen (the so-called “Operation Decisive Storm”) began on the night of March 26. But these raids achieve nothing but irritation of Yemeni population. They don’t present a real threat to either Ali Saleh, nor the Houthis. The Saudi chiefs talk about 150-thousand Saudi expeditionary corps, ready to march on Yemen. Others talk about 5 thousand, and third – about 2 divisions numbering 20 thousand, the rest – generally uncertain. This means one thing: they don’t have any concrete plans. It is generally characteristic of Arab mentality: to make a decision under the influence of emotions, and then to think how to implement it in practice.

If in the coming days a ground invasion of Yemen will really begin, it will be the worst, stupidest scenario for this war. I still continue to hope that neither Russia nor the United States or Saudi Arabia are interested in a global conflict. And if some “boys” on either side of the front will rush to do something in this direction, they will just be slapped on the wrist. 

For Saudi Arabia it is now important to push Yemen towards a clash between the Sunnis and the Shiites. To unite the Sunnis of the Arab world in a stand-off against the Shiite Leviathan – Tehran. In my opinion, the situation in Yemen is now no longer dependent on the external forces: neither American, nor Russian. Complex conflicts at a certain stage acquire a self-propelling inertial character. The conflict turns into a living creature. It begins to manipulate people, although some politicians are trying to make some independent moves, trying to make decisions. But the conflict develops on its own. Take the situation in Syria. Who’s the main player? The conflict. The same thing in Iraq and in Libya.

Conflicts are self-propelled structures. And in this case, in Islam there is a notion of “sabr” –  patience. First you have to wait, and then act. Let’s be patient and wait.

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