Saudis get ready to challenge Tehran
BEIRUT - The dramatic shake-up in Saudi Arabia’s armed forces, announced on February 27, reportedly underlined Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz’s intention to break the stalemate in the 3-year-old war in Yemen against Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Crown Prince Mohammed, son and heir of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, personally initiated that war, supposedly to support ousted Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi but it was indirectly against Iran, which Riyadh views as its main enemy.
Backed by the United Arab Emirates and others, Saudi forces have been singularly unsuccessful in crushing the Houthis and have found, to their great consternation, that Riyadh has become the target for Iranian ballistic missiles fired by the rebels.
Saudi Arabia’s top military figure, chief of the general staff General Abdul Rahman bin Saleh al-Bunyan and the commanders of the air force, land forces and air defences were unceremoniously dumped and younger, more dynamic officers promoted to take their places.
Tehran, whose military is deficient in several areas, is highly capable in terms of missile and asymmetric warfare.
An emboldened Iran may provide the Houthis with more “advisers” and powerful missiles to counter any offensive or strategy the Saudis may come up with.
That could ignite a wider conflict that has been brewing for years and that would have immense consequences for both Tehran and Riyadh — not just on the question of their religious differences but on who is going to dominate the region once the Americans complete their disengagement.
With the recent top brass reshuffle, the Saudis might be trying to catch up with the Iranians. “So far, in every case, the advantage clearly is with the Iranians,” observed Israeli analyst Jonathan Spyer, who frequently visits the war-torn countries.
“There’s precious little evidence to suggest that the Saudis have learned from their earlier failures.”