Saudi Arabia: the Middle East’s new police force?
Prince Saud bin Faisal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud (R), Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, and members of his delegation attend a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh on March 26, 2015, ahead of the annual Arab League summit. (AFP/File)
Click here to add Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi as an alert
Disable alert for Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi,
Click here to add al-Qaeda as an alert
Disable alert for al-Qaeda,
Click here to add Ali Abdullah Saleh as an alert
Disable alert for Ali Abdullah Saleh,
Click here to add AQAP as an alert
Disable alert for AQAP,
Click here to add Arab League as an alert
Disable alert for Arab League,
Click here to add Gulf Cooperation Council as an alert
Disable alert for Gulf Cooperation Council,
Click here to add ISIS as an alert
Disable alert for ISIS,
Click here to add Lina Khatib as an alert
Disable alert for Lina Khatib,
Click here to add Muslim Brotherhood as an alert
Disable alert for Muslim Brotherhood,
Click here to add Riyadh as an alert
Disable alert for Riyadh
The Arab League’s declaration of the establishment of a joint Arab military force comes hot on the heels of the escalation of the Yemen conflict, but both Yemen and the league’s declaration are about more than stabilisation. They are also about restoring Saudi influence in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia used to be a major political broker in the region, but its role has declined in recent years largely as a result of internal power struggles within the royal family, which have meant its foreign policy sometimes lacked coherence. Yemen has witnessed the consequences of this.
The Saudis agreed that the 2011 uprising in Yemen against president Ali Abdullah Saleh threatened their interests and consequently led an initiative by the Gulf Cooperation Council to transfer power from Saleh to his deputy Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. But they did not have a unified vision for what to do about Saleh. As a result, he stayed in Yemen and was able to lead his own political party and plan a comeback. Some Saudis also believed in keeping channels open with the Houthis, as they were opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood, while others painted the Houthis as dangerous proxies of Saudi’s nemesis, Iran.
The incoherence in Saudi policy encouraged Saleh, the Houthis and Iran to try to increase their influence in Yemen. It also paved the way for extremist groups, namely Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Islamic State (Isis), to attempt to utilise Yemen as a hotbed of terrorism. The ensuing Houthi rebellion that began last September threatened to pull the country towards not just a civil war but also a regional conflict because of the involvement of transnational groups like AQAP and Isis. This was a wake-up call for Saudi Arabia.
By leading a multinational force to quell the Houthi rebellion Saudi Arabia is making a show of decisiveness against those escalating threats. This is affirmed by the name given to the operation: “Decisive Storm”. The backing of the West gives Saudi’s position legitimacy. The participation of Sunni-majority countries such as Pakistan is also a strong message to Iran, that it cannot control the Sunni-majority Arab world, especially the Gulf.
The kingdom is saying that Gulf security is the Arab region’s security and, from now on, Arab states should look to Riyadh for direction to deal with the region’s political and security challenges.
By Lina Khatib
- A joint military force in the Middle East is not the answer to peace
- Dow Chemical in the Middle East and Saudi Arabia’s E.A. Juffali & Brothers Enter Fourth Decade of Joint Venture Success
- Posturing and positioning in the Middle East as the region prepares for the coming proxy war
- Arab League calls for multinational force to combat militants
- Saudi Arabia: New Pressure on STC Forces Its Hand