Yemen missile strike only strengthens resolve of Arab coalition
DUBAI (United Arab Emirates) - The first heavy losses suffered by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen will only strengthen its resolve to neutralise the threat posed by Iran-backed Shiite Huthi rebels, analysts say.
On Friday, a missile strike on a base killed 45 Emirati soldiers, 10 Saudis and five Bahrainis, the Sunni coalition's highest death toll in a day since it unleashed its air campaign in March.
"Now there is a determination to be even more committed to the objective of stabilising Yemen," said security expert Mustafa Alani of the Geneva-based Gulf Research Center.
The military response by the coalition, which mounted its campaign in support of exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, was swift.
Warplanes have relentlessly pounded positions of the Huthi rebels and renegade troops loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Residents of the rebel-held capital Sanaa called the raids the heaviest since the campaign began.
"Between de-escalation and escalation, it is escalation that has been chosen" by the Saudis, said Francois Heisbourg, an adviser at the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research.
He said it would be a "significant failure" for the Saudis if the coalition were to back off now, adding that the kingdom's policy has been to "seek conflict with Iran through the proxy of Yemen".
The rebels have suffered a wave of losses since July, when forces loyal to Hadi backed by air strikes pushed them out of several regions in south Yemen, starting with the port city of Aden.
The insurgents trumpeted the deadly attack on the Safer base in Marib province as "revenge for the crimes and the war of extermination being carried out by the Saudi aggressor and its mercenaries".
According to Mathieu Guidere, Arab geopolitics expert at Toulouse University in France, the rebels "appear to have reached a point of no return.
"This will push the coalition to intensify its attacks and broaden its intervention."
The losses in Marib would spur the coalition to improve the security of its forces on the ground and provide better air cover, he added.
Alani argued that the Huthis themselves could not have fired the Tochka missile, saying they were not capable of using the weapon.
A unit from Yemen's elite Republican Guard, which remains loyal to Saleh, must have been behind the attack, he said.
He also downplayed the impact of the human cost, calling coalition losses "insignificant" when compared with those of the rebels.
"Victory against this Huthis-Saleh alliance is very near now," Alani said, adding that the problem in Yemen for the coalition is Iran more than the rebels themselves.
Since the rebel offensive against the UN-backed Hadi began, it has been seen as a threat to all Gulf states, said Alani.
Iran was seen to be working towards establishing a proxy in Yemen like the Tehran-backed Shiite Hezbollah movement in Lebanon, he said.
"From day one this has not been seen as a Yemeni problem... It's a question of Iran's attempt to recreate the Hezbollah experience of Lebanon in the Arabian Peninsula."
Friday's Marib missile attack coincided with a meeting between Saudi King Salman and US President Barack Obama, on the monarch's first visit to the United States since he acceded to the throne in January.
"The Americans have no interest in getting involved in this conflict. Yemen is as problematic as Afghanistan," said Heisbourg.
At the same time, Iran is also unlikely to get too involved, he argued.
"I do not think that it (Iran) will deliberately escalate. It does not have to do so, because Yemen's Shiites are capable of troubling the Saudis without much contribution from Iran," he said.
The Sunni Arab coalition insists that a solution in Yemen should be based on UN Resolution 2216 adopted in April.
It urges the rebels to withdraw from all the territory they have seized and to reinstate the Hadi government.