Yemen war started in 2016 with Saudi Arabia opening fire on civilians to secure its local and regional interests. Riyadh failed to secure the goals in five years and failed to end the defeat in more than a year.
The 5-year war in Yemen concluded with no clear outcome, but famine, starvation, blood, and Cholera. Having lost the primary motivations, Saudi Arabia had all the reasons to forsake the war in 2021. To better understand these reasons, we must delve into Riyadh’s incentives to open fire against Yemen in 2016.
The first, and maybe the most important, reason behind the Saudi attack was Riyadh’s concern about the local popular uprising. The viral nature of the Arab spring had already reached Saudi Arabia and a successful experience in Yemen would leave Al Saud monarchy more stake. Saudi Arabia started with a violent local crackdown and kept it up with hostilities against Yemen.
A second reason for Saudi intervention concerned losing the backyard safety. Saudi Arabia has an 812-mile borderline with Yemen from the Red Sea in the west to the tripoint with Oman in the east. Tolerating an opposing country, with policies close to Iran and the resistance axis, would be difficult for Riyadh.
A third reasoning relates the Saudi ambition to turn into the dominant regional power. Riyadh started the bid by using the Washington model of interference to gain authority. The failure, however, proved a harsh stroke for the Saudi plans in Yemen war. Neglecting the Trump administration’s role in instigating the hostility would be naïve.
Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman and then-US president Donald Trump enjoyed good relations. Riyadh’s insistence on continuing the war despite failures must be rooted in Trump’s supports. Once out of office, MBS found the war challenging for Riyadh more than ever.
Yemen War; Futile but Unending
A main turning point in Yemen war occurred when Donald Trump fell short of keeping office for a second term. With Biden at the White House, MBS had no similar support, whether political, financial or military, to keep offensive.
A further blow to Saudi policies occurred when Houthi Movement escalated the attacks against Saudi targets. Aramco oil facility turned into a main target imposing millions of dollars in damages. The evolution of the developments was proving even more debilitating to the political and security credit of the Saudi kingdom.
The condition even turned more tense in mid-2021. UAE, Saudi main ally in Yemen war, also became a main target of Houthi attacks. United Arab Emirates had made steps to step back from the war since 2018, but too late. The Houthi movement insisted that all players in the Saudi-led stage against Yemen should pay.
Later that the UAE, Riyadh also attempted to reach a ceasefire early in 2021. But the fact that Houthi forces had 5-year time to consolidate their arms and military preparations made the policy-making process out of access for Saudi Arabia and its allies.
The Yemen war post-2021 was more debilitating for Saudi Arabia than ever. Signals were clear from the harsh response of Riyadh to then-information minister of Lebanon. George Kordahi criticized the long-time Yemen war as “futile” and found the cessation of hostilities as the best choice.
Saudi Arabia’s disproportionate response to Kordahi’s remarks further proved the Saudi struggle to save its face. Six years after the war, the outcomes are disappointing for Saudi Arabia: A ruined Yemen, hundreds of thousands of lives, Millions Displaced, partners distrusted, regional credit lost, and billions of dollars spent, and Arab integrity shattered. Riyadh may no longer recover from the ashes of Yemen War.