Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen marks a US-endorsed Gulf position against Iranian encroachment on the Saudi border through the Houthi coup against the legitimate government in Yemen. The question, however, is this: are the military strikes by Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia, with the participation of Egypt and Pakistan, part of a strategy to halt Iranian encroachment in the Arab countries, or is it just a Yemeni episode imposed by necessity? The decision to respond militarily followed a request by the Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who was besieged by the Houthis seeking to complete their coup in Aden and bring Iran to the strategic strait of Bab al-Mandab. Saudi national security was also a major factor behind the Gulf and Arab military decision, because the developments on the Yemeni arena placed the Houthi and Iranian militias in a position of dominating decision making and of threatening the Saudi-Yemeni border. So will Decisive Storm persevere militarily until the Houthi coup -- supported by former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, his son Ahmed, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard -- is undone, even if this requires a ground operation and not just air and naval operations? Is the sudden awakening regarding the need to act in Yemen and make a military move part of an obligatory response, or is it the start of a qualitative strategic shift to re-sort regional balances and let both Washington and Tehran know that the Arab awakening is serious, especially on the eve of an anticipated US-Iranian deal?
Operation Decisive Storm will raise morale among the supporters of legitimacy in Yemen and many Gulf people who suffered one humiliation after the other as a result of the Houthi adventures in Yemen and at the hands of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. However, air strikes alone cannot decide the outcome of a war, despite the importance of dominating the skies. The United States relied on drones to fight al-Qaeda in Yemen, but this did not succeed in eliminating al-Qaeda or make a real impact on the ground in Yemen.
This does not negate the importance of taking out military bases, weapons caches, and air bases controlled by the Houthis, pro-Saleh forces, or Iranians in Yemen, however. Furthermore, eliminating senior Houthi commanders is a development that would affect morale on the battlefield. So certainly, air and naval operations have tangible value and results. However, control on the ground is of a different magnitude of importance.
In the past two days, there has been much talk about preparations for a ground operation by Egypt, Jordan, and Sudan. There were reports about the participation of 6 Moroccan planes, 6 Jordanian planes, and 3 Sudanese planes in Decisive Storm, to which Saudi Arabia committed 100 planes and naval units and 150,000 troops, and the UAE 30 planes, and in which Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain are also participating.
The participation of 10 Arab countries in the military operation in Yemen is important and carries many far-reaching implications, especially if the talk about ground intervention materializes. In that case, the Yemeni issue will enter a new internal and regional phase.
Some are rushing to say that Egypt will intervene with ground forces in Yemen. Others are also confident Egypt will be drawn to interfere in Libya. Both scenarios are possible, though they are unlikely. Egypt realizes today that it is unprepared for a military intervention in Libya, as it could become involved in a protracted conflict there. Egypt still remembers its previous involvement in Yemen, meanwhile, and the bitter taste in its mouth from those times.
Of course, there are new developments today in terms of the extremely important strategic relations between Egypt, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE. This relationship includes mutual
defense when it comes to the national security of any one of these countries. In fact, Yemen’s developments posed a threat to Saudi national security, prompting the military operation.
The most important link in the future and in the outcomes of Decisive Storm has to do with the question of whether the operation’s strategic implications are confined to Yemen, or whether they go beyond Yemen. In other words, the decision-makers must have examined how to respond to the Iranian incursion inside Yemen as part of a broader political-military strategy. Their planning must have addressed the timeframe of Decisive Storm and the requirements of the phase that follows the operation vis-a-vis Iran, the Houthis, and Ali Abdullah Saleh. This is the minimum requirement. However, it is also important for the leaders of Decisive Storm to have a vision that goes beyond Yemen in terms of regional repercussions, to confront the Iranian role in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, not just in Yemen.
The Arab military operation in Yemen does not have an international dimension, unlike the coalition against ISIS, which includes the majority of Arab countries under US leadership. Washington is not part of Decisive Storm, though it has endorsed it after the Houthis nearly took power in Aden after Sanaa.
Washington was compelled not to object to Decisive Storm after it previously turned a blind eye to the events in Yemen. It was as if Washington had seen the Houthis and their Iranian allies as a means to eliminate al-Qaeda and prevent ISIS from entering Yemen.
In fact, it was not just the United States that was absent from Yemen because of a dismal policy based on mutual attrition. Some Gulf countries also saw this policy as beneficial, to exhaust the Houthis and Ali Abdullah Saleh on the one hand, and al-Qaeda and the angry tribes on the other hand hand. This strategic mistake was made worse by the belief that betting on the failure of the Houthis to govern Yemen by themselves was tantamount to a real policy, or that bribing tribes from time to time was a real policy.
For its part, Tehran, in its first reaction to Decisive Storm, has made it clear that it will not back down. Tehran criticized the military operation, saying the Saudi military strikes would hinder a peaceful solution in Yemen. In other words, Tehran will not let Riyadh feel comfortable and will