Arab alliance wages successful campaign in Yemen
DUBAI - The Arab coalition has exceeded expectations in its land and air offensive against Houthi rebels and their allies in Yemen.
The coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, has managed to retake most of southern Yemen and made gains in the north, where the terrain is mountainous and rugged, and is edging slowly towards the capital, Sana’a.
Iran is the main backer of the Houthis and has supplied them with arms and training to weaken the Yemeni state and spread Tehran’s influence in the Arabian peninsula.
In doing so, Iran has implemented a strategy of hybrid warfare, which is a combination of guerrilla and conventional forces alongside the use of social media to spread its message. The Houthis’ guerrilla warfare skills have combined with the conventional firepower of regular forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and a sophisticated media campaign to solidify public support among the Zaydi Muslim community.
This strategy has been implemented by Iran elsewhere in the Middle East where Tehran has become a dominating influence in Lebanon through Hezbollah, and on Iraq through the Popular Mobilisation Forces. Using proxies such as these allows Iran to avoid attribution and retribution.
The Arab alliance has countered in Yemen however in what has become a fourth-generation war, where state and non-state actors are engaged in a decentralised conflict through combat, economic, cultural and social means.
The Arab alliance created another non-state actor in the form of Popular Resistance Forces militias that are fighting alongside Yemeni troops loyal to the internationally recognised government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
At the same time, the Arab alliance has made plans to improve socio-economic conditions of Yemen and resolve long-standing political disputes with the help of the United Nations.
On the media front, the Arab alliance paid particular attention to the importance of social networks and new media and has had daily media briefings to address issues and concerns related to military operations and other aspects of the Yemeni conflict.
To counter Houthi ideology, Arab alliance media have focused on associating the Houthi actions with Iran’s ambitions and Tehran’s exploitation of the Shias and Zaydis in the region to serve its own political and expansionist objectives. The Houthis have lost popular support in many parts of the country, especially the south where the alliance made quick gains on the ground.
Meanwhile, Saudi-led coalition air power has steadily degraded the capabilities of the Houthis and their allies and reduced their ability to launch counter attacks and retain territory.
The land operation has proved challenging, especially due to the lack of sufficient manpower in the early stages of the war but the involvement of African states such as Sudan and the steady training of Yemeni recruits have helped the alliance enlarge its land forces and hold territory captured from the Houthis.
The Arab alliance has consolidated its political position internationally and locally. On the one side, it won international support through UN Security Council Resolution 2216, which calls on the Houthis to end violence, withdraw from cities they occupied and to surrender all heavy weapons to Yemeni authorities. The alliance has turned many Houthi supporters in Yemen against the group.
Resolution 2216 has also enabled the alliance to impose an air and naval embargo on Yemen that has substantially reduced the size of military aid from Iran to the Houthis.
The alliance’s losses have been low in view of the duration and scale of the military operations with the loss of only three jets and a few dozen troops. The biggest challenge for the alliance was protecting the Saudi borders from daily shelling and infiltration attempts by the Houthis. Several Saudi civilians and border guards were killed on border clashes.
The military offensive continues at a time when the Houthis are negotiating in the Saudi capital and making concessions, including accepting Resolution 2216. A forthcoming peace conference in Kuwait is expected to produce an agreement between the Yemeni factions.
The persistence and efficiency of the Arab alliance operations have prevented the Houthis and Iran from achieving their goals in Yemen.