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Yemen — a new regional challenge

Apr 05,2015 - Last updated at Apr 05,2015

The last two weeks saw Saudi Arabia take direct action in a regional conflict and crisis.

The declaration of war against the Houthis of Yemen came from the Saudi ambassador in Washington, which many interpreted as signalling a US blessing of the move.

It has also been suggested that the move is part of the Saudi response to the potential nuclear deal with Iran.

The direct military action took place while the international community expressed its position through UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who stated that dialogue is the only solution to the situation in Yemen.

Meanwhile, the US was assuring the international community that the Saudi attacks will not negatively affect the nuclear negotiations with Iran.

At a purely military level, most experts agree that the air strikes are unlikely to achieve the stated Saudi goals in Yemen, which suggests that the Saudis are likely to move to the next phase, getting troops on the ground.

Saudi Arabia is hesitant because the Houthis have the capacity to contain ground attacks, which means that the Saudis could get involved in a prolonged campaign, lacking experience in such warfare.

In addition, Saudi Arabia’s allies in the air strikes are unlikely to participate in ground attacks. 

In many ways, Yemen is similar to Somalia and Afghanistan, which will make the allies give much consideration to the act of putting troops on the ground for a potentially drawn-out and long-term engagement. 

Saudi Arabia is currently facing regional and internal challenges. Aside from the fact that it shares borders with Iraq and Yemen, there are also attempts at destabilisation inside the country where, according to security reports, there are terrorist groups.

As regional instability grows and terrorism spreads, the Saudis could begin to feel the impact of the regional instability within their own borders, not just on their edges.

The biggest risk they face in Yemen is that the direct military confrontation could expand and bring new groups into play.

Troops on the ground could make it impossible to exit the conflict without a real political settlement, which will only come at a high cost.

National interest should encourage Arab countries to put an end to the ongoing crises in the region, from Yemen to Syria and Libya. 

All countries in the region need to be aware of the risk posed to them by a Saudi Arabia engaged in direct conflict.

If Saudi troops go into Yemen, countries in the region should be prepared for negative political and societal consequences.

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