Decisive Storm raises Arab self-confidence

UAE jet, part of Decisive Storm

2015/04/17 Issue: 1 Page: 3

The Arab Weekly
Riad Kahwaji

Beirut - Operation Decisive Storm has been planned and ex­ecuted by Arab militaries with limited support from the United States and will seek to achieve its objectives short of a land offensive if possible, ac­cording to a senior commander from one of the Arab Gulf air forces par­ticipating in the military coalition.

That coalition is led by Saudi Ara­bia and aims to defeat the Iranian-backed Houthis and restoring the government of the internationally recognised Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

However, a land invasion would be inevitable if the strategic bomb­ing campaign fails to force the Hou­this to concede to the demands of the Arab coalition, according to the commander who asked to remain anonymous.

The Saudi-led coalition of nine countries, which included regional power Egypt started attacks on March 26th and gradually intensi­fied over the past two weeks. The coalition imposed an air, land and sea embargo on Yemeni border out­lets to prevent the Houthis from re­ceiving supplies and arms from out­side forces, especially Iran.

“The coalition’s air operations are being controlled from a command-and-control (C&C) facility in Ri­yadh that is very similar to the one the Americans have built at the Al Udeid Air Base near Doha in Qatar,” the official said. “The C&C room has about 200 officers running it and each of the participating countries has a representative in it who takes part in on-the-hour planning and execution of operations,” he added.

He pointed out that the only assis­tance from Washington is through “vital satellite images that show the movements of the Houthis and their hideouts and enable the coalition of­ficers to plan their strikes and con­duct post-operations assessment”.

The military operation in Yemen enjoys strong legitimacy, which prevented any major reaction from Iran or other UN members. The Hadi government officially requested Arab military intervention and a blockade of the country’s outlets to counter the Houthi military on­slaught that overran all of the coun­try’s provinces and was about to capture the strategic southern port city of Aden.

The Houthis, a militia made up of the Zaydis – a Shia offshoot sect – al­lied with the Yemeni regular forces loyal to former President Ali Abdul­lah Saleh – also a Zaydi – deposed the Hadi govern­ment and was in the process of instating its own govern­ment to rule the country.

“The ultimate objective of Op­eration Decisive Storm is to restore Presi­dent Hadi and his govern­ment to power and to expel the Houthis from the capital Sana’a and other major cities they occu­pied since their major offensive that swept through most of the country last September,” the commander said, noting that the decision to carry out the military operation and planning for it started soon after the Houthis captured Sana’a. Arab Gulf countries say the Houthis are con­trolled by the Iranian Revolution­ary Guards and thus were extend­ing Tehran’s control all over Yemen, which would give Iran access to Bab el Mandeb strait, the main southern passage from the Indian Ocean into the Red Sea.

The participation of a large num­ber of Arab countries and the readi­ness expressed by Turkish leaders to join the coalition has sent a very strong message to Tehran: Iran’s export of the Islamic revolution via the militarisation of Shia communi­ties in Arab and Islamic countries is a threat to all Islamic countries and will no longer be tolerated.

Some Iranian officials had over the past few months bragged about the success of the Islamic revolution in controlling four Arab capitals: Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Sana’a.

Iranian officials have condemned the Saudi-led operation and de­ployed a couple of frigates to the Red Sea on a patrolling mission but did not attempt to intervene mili­tarily or break the blockade against the besieged Houthis. It is unlikely that Tehran will risk a direct mili­tary confrontation with the coali­tion, which could drag it into war with major regional powers, which could possibly include Pakistan and Turkey.

However, Tehran is likely to be re-evaluating its situation on vari­ous fronts of the Middle East and wondering whether a success for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen would encourage the Arabs and the Turks to join hands in another alliance to topple the pro-Iranian Syrian re­gime.

Arab Gulf countries and Ankara have been supporting Syrian re­bels in a showdown with the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad backed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Hez­bollah fighters for the control of the country. But it will not be as easy to form such a coalition without legal grounds that would be provided via a clear resolution by the UN Security Council or at least the Arab League.

Assad is still regarded as the le­gitimate ruler of the country and the Syrian opposition parties have failed to unite under one leadership recognised internationally as the legitimate representative of the Syr­ian people.

Nevertheless, the Saudi-led coa­lition represents the rise of the Arab-Sunni giant in the face of the Persian-Shia push to expand control in the Arab and Islamic world. The Arab military capability is displayed with strong confidence and other Sunni powers like Pakistan and Turkey have a strong partner to ally with to fill the vacuum caused by the shrinking footprint of the United States in the region.

This move could either lead to further instability and pos­sibly regional war or to serious discussions between Iran and its re­gional rivals to peacefully resolve their differences.

Riad Kahwaji is the founder and CEO of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) based in Dubai and Beirut.

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