By Mohammad Mazhari

Yemen war the worst nightmare of Saudi modern history: researcher

June 19, 2021 - 15:19

TEHRAN – A research assistant professor in Gulf politics at Qatar University says that the Saudi uninformed approach in Yemen has transformed the Yemen war into a nightmare of the Saudi modern history.

“The lack of a uniformed approach from the GCC, that prevented the Saudi objective to convert the Yemen war into a kind of ‘holy war’ led by Riyadh, transformed the war into the worst nightmare of the Saudi modern history,” Luciano Zaccara tells the Tehran Times. 
“The Yemen war was the first and only military conflict directly started and led by Saudi Arabia, and it was not resolved after six years, inflicting serious economic hardships and internal and external criticism,” Zaccara laments.
Following is the text of the interview:

Q:  How do you read the recent changes in Saudi foreign policy from normalization of ties with Syria to negotiations with Iran?
 A: The end of Trump’s unconditional support to the Saudi Kingdom and the realization that Saudi Arabia alone could not end in a satisfactory way its involvement in the Yemen war, nor to confront Iran neither to maintain indefinitely the blockade against Qatar, brought Riyadh to have a more pragmatic approach into its foreign policy since the mid of 2020. Therefore, ending the blockade, starting a negotiation with Iran, and resuming ties with Syria seem to be the necessary steps to reduce the stretched foreign policy efforts and engagement to start focusing on the needed internal reforms. The Covid pandemic and the impact that the worldwide restrictions had on the oil market and price was an added element that contributed to convince Saudi Arabia of the need for such a change.

Q: Do you think that Israel would be able to lure Saudi Arabia into its orbit like the Emirates and Bahrain? 

A: The Saudi government is trying to avoid being dragged into the list of Arab states that normalized relations with Israel. Its population, as well as others from countries that already did it, are against establishing diplomatic ties with Israel, and due to the nature of the society and political structure of Saudi Arabia, the current king and prince cannot afford to promote a foreign policy that would be totally against its people’s will. Moreover, while the Trump administration was adamant in getting as many Arab states as possible to normalize with Israel as a policy strategy aimed at guaranteeing his reelections, Biden does not seem too worried about achieving such a landmark, at least during his first years in office.

Q: How do you see the future of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council? 

A: Even before the blockade against Qatar by other GCC member states (2017-2020) the durability and function of the organization has been under discussion due to the unbalanced relation that Saudi Arabia had, mainly, with Qatar, Oman and Kuwait. The blockade just made clear that the main goal of the organization was primarily the security of the ruling elites of the six monarchies, considering in a broad sense internal and external threats. When Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain decided to block Qatar, they demonstrated that even considered a member state as a security threat for their own security, leaving aside any possible solution for more than three years. This represented a serious backlash to any future security arrangement or even a deeper economic integration possible in the short or mid-term due to the deterioration of the trust between the member states. If one of the main reasons behind the blockade was precisely the foreign policy of Qatar and its links with Iran and Turkey, it would be difficult to foresee any convergence in that regard.
 
Q: Do you think that Saudi Arabia is able to get rid of the war it has started in Yemen? What is the position of Persian Gulf Arab states about the Saudi-led war on Yemen?

A: The GCC members had different approaches to the Yemen war since the beginning in 2015, but were dragged into the conflict by Saudi Arabia’s pressure, with the exception of Oman. Qatar left the coalition in 2017 and showed then their discrepancies with the Saudi intervention. The only GCC state that got immersed into the conflict, but with a different agenda than the Saudis, were the Emiratis. Their different agendas were visible along with the whole conflict, mainly regarding the internal groups they supported in Yemen to fight against the Houthis and their direct military presence on the ground. The lack of a uniformed approach from the GCC, that prevented the Saudi objective to convert the Yemen war into a kind of “holy war” led by Riyadh, transformed the war into the worst nightmare of Saudi modern history. The Yemen war was the first and only military conflict directly started and led by Saudi Arabia, and it was not resolved after six years, inflicting serious economic hardships and internal and external criticism. While a military solution seems so far to be difficult to achieve, a political stalemate appears as the only possible way out for the Saudi regime to save face, claiming a relative victory and without risking even the stability of the ruling family.

Q: Do you think that the Biden administration will put real pressure on Saudi Arabia to be committed more to human rights? What does determine the nature of U.S.-Saudi ties?

A: Saudi-U.S. relations have been historically determined by strategic and economic factors. While in certain periods the economic ones were more important, like during the Trump administration, in other periods the strategic or political ones were more determinant, like the Bush (both father and son) administrations. Biden seems to be more inclined to preserve the strategic approach in setting the ground rules for U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia during his presidency, while not in the same way that Obama looked at it. Meaning that while Human Rights would be mentioned, mainly in regards to the Yemen war, for instance, it does not seem that the focus would be the situation of the Human Rights inside the Kingdom. At least during the first year in the White House, Biden would try to avoid raising any internal issue that would damage the bilateral relationship since the beginning of his term.
 

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