Saudi Arabia: Three campaigns MBS cannot win

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Saudi Arabia: Three campaigns MBS cannot win

December 9, 2020 Business News 0

These are uncomfortable days for Saudi Arabia’s leadership and in particular for its all-powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS.
At home he remains popular, but internationally he has been unable to shake off the veil of suspicion for his alleged role in the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
And now a new US administration is preparing to move into the White House and President-elect Joe Biden has made it clear he will be taking a much tougher stance than his predecessor on certain Saudi positions.
So what are the issues at stake and why do they matter to those in power in Washington and Riyadh?

The Yemen war

This has been a disaster for almost everyone involved, but most of all for Yemen’s own impoverished, malnourished population.

Saudi Arabia didn’t start this conflict – the Houthis did when they marched on the capital Sanaa in late 2014 and overthrew the legitimate government. The Houthis are a tribal grouping from the mountainous north, and represent less than 15% of the country’s population.

In March 2015, MBS, as the Saudi defence minister, secretly assembled a coalition of Arab states then entered the war with massive air power, expecting to force the Houthis to surrender within months.

Almost six years on, with thousands killed and displaced, and war crimes committed by both sides, the Saudi-led coalition has failed to dislodge the Houthis from Sanaa and much of the populous west of Yemen.

With help from Iran, the Houthis have been sending increasingly accurate missiles and explosive drones into Saudi Arabia, hitting oil facilities as far away as Jeddah.

The Houthis said they fired a missile that struck an oil facility in Jeddah last month

It’s a costly stalemate and numerous peace plans have collapsed, one after another.

The Yemen war is killing Yemenis and bleeding Saudi coffers, while attracting mounting criticism abroad.

  • Yemen crisis: Why is there a war?
  • Five reasons why coronavirus is so bad in Yemen

The Saudis would like to find a face-saving way out of it. But having set out, in their words, “to stop Iran gaining a foothold on their southern border”, they insist they cannot accept an armed militia backed by Iran holding power in Yemen.

However, time is running out for the Saudi war effort.

By 2016, at the end of his presidency, Barack Obama was already holding back on some US support. Donald Trump reversed that policy and gave Riyadh all the intelligence and material assistance it asked for. Now Mr Biden’s administration has indicated that is unlikely to continue.

The pressure is on to end this war, one way or another.

 

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