Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, known affectionately and otherwise as MBS, has had a rocky period. But that is to be expected for a young man who finds himself suddenly at the helm of a country, purely by the coincidence of birth.
In fairness, Saudi Arabia and her allies (as well as little Qatar) were well on their way to losing the Northern Tier of the Arab World (Iraq, Syria, Lebanon) when his father Salman became king and started prepping his son to take over. By then it was almost certainly too late to roll back Iranian influence in those three countries.
But King Salman and his son and designated heir thought their first new foreign project, closer to home, would be easy. Piece of cake, as they say. Besides, Yemen is a sort of vulnerable underbelly of the Arabian Peninsula: it could be disastrous if controlled by a hostile power, like Iran. Unfortunately it was a piece of bitter hard Yemeni cake that they tried to swallow in the wrong way. By that time Yemen was engulfed in a complex of multiple domestic and regional wars that included AQAP, ISIS, Southern Secessionists, among others. A war of many fronts.
The Saudis should have known from their own recent experience that the Yemeni cake has always been too bitter and hard for outsiders if mishandled. Late in 2014 the largely autonomous northern Houthi group allied itself to influential former President Ali Abdallah Saleh and swept the corrupt Hadi-Islah regime out of Sanaa and the rest of North Yemen. Soon after that the new Saudi regime took power in Riyadh, with Prince MBS as its Defense Minister and Deputy Crown Prince. The 30-year old prince had the Yemen portfolio. Unfortunately he has proven that he is no Alexander.
The original goal of Saudi intervention was to put Saleh’s hapless but also corrupt successor General Hadi back in power, along with the Muslim Brotherhood oligarchs of the Islah and Al Ahmar clan. Hadi’s legal term had actually expired before then. So they blockaded Yemen, and started a ferocious campaign of air bombardment that has killed thousands of people and ruined the infrastructure of that poorest of Arab states. The Saudi war is also a war waged by the USA (under both Obama and Trump) as well as Britain against Yemen. Western powers not only supplied the weapons and the ammunition, including cluster bombs, they also help with targeting and midair refueling of Saudi/UAE bombers. Several impoverished African countries, including Sudan, were also bribed and recruited in order to provide mercenary fighters.
The futile genocidal war on Yemen has lasted three years so far, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel for the Saudis and their allies. It has been a drain on the Saudi economy, to the tune of many billions of dollars. The lightly armed Houthis have even taken the war back into southern Saudi Arabia, with attacks and occasional incursions into enemy territory. Only a political solution can end the Yemen war, which is actually a complex network of multiple civil and proxy wars.
(I had predicted early on that the deposed Hadi will never return to rule from Sanaa. He is now basically a captive of his hotel suite in Saudi Arabia).
Stay tuned. To be followed…..
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum