By Mohammad Mazhari

Ansarallah’s missile attacks on UAE redefines West Asia: Singaporean researcher

February 6, 2022 - 11:16
“MBS’ wishes of a quick Saudi victory in Yemen fell victim to time”

TEHRAN- A Singaporean researcher says that Ansarallah’s missile attacks on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has redefined West Asia.

“Ansarallah’s missile attacks on the Emirates in recent weeks have redefined the Middle East (West Asia) in a way that the old tools of analysis will not be sufficient to explain the fast-paced regional phenomena,” Asif Shuja tells the Tehran Times. 

The senior research fellow at the Middle East Institute of the National University of Singapore believes that “this event has highlighted most forcefully that the military might of external players do not guarantee a change in the internal dynamics of a country in matters where people’s aspirations of governance is concerned, and such ambitions of the external players may incur high costs.”

The Ansarallah’s attacks on the UAE on January 17 were part of a larger response to the aggressions being committed daily by the Saudi-led coalition.

These attacks also highlighted the potential for the UAE to suffer economic as well as physical damage.

“UAE’s continued involvement in Yemen through its proxies is reflective of Abu Dhabi’s decision to enter the offensive domain despite huge risks of exposed vulnerabilities,” Shuja adds.

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: How do you see the repercussions of Ansarallah’s missile attacks on the United Arab Emirates in recent weeks? What are its implications for the UAE, Israel, and the region?

A: Ansarallah’s missile attacks on the Emirates in recent weeks have redefined the Middle East (West Asia) in a way that the old tools of analysis will not be sufficient to explain the fast-paced regional phenomena. This event has highlighted most forcefully that the military might of external players do not guarantee a change in the internal dynamics of a country in matters where people’s aspirations of governance are concerned, and such ambitions of the external players may incur high costs.

“Arms supply from one nation to another is not philanthropy, but a tool to achieve a predetermined foreign policy objective.”In the short term, Ansarallah’s missile attacks on the UAE would expedite the deepening of strategic and defense partnerships between Israel and the UAE. Israel had earlier shown reservations in transferring its high-end missile air defense systems to the UAE, a position that is bound to change under the backdrop of these attacks as the UAE can now assertively demand it in lieu of normalization of its relations with Israel. It is also likely that the Houthis will see more attacks on their own installations in Yemen by the combined efforts of the UAE and Israel. Signs of these developments have started becoming visible within days of the first Houthi attack last month.

Despite these short-term gains, the fundamentals of national security imperatives would gradually become visible, including 1) Israel’s efforts to successfully transfer part of its vulnerabilities to the UAE; and 2) the futility of over-dependence on borrowed security. UAE’s continued involvement in Yemen through its proxies is reflective of Abu Dhabi’s decision to enter the offensive domain despite the huge risks of exposed vulnerabilities. This may also ensure a schism between Abu Dhabi and Dubai which have a different sets of vulnerabilities and strengths but are equally exposed to the risks coming from the Houthis.

Q: Do you think Ansarallah would turn into a regional player or power that can challenge the Saudis, the Israelis, and other pro-Western regimes?

A: It is too early to ask whether Ansarallah or Yemen under them can turn a regional player or power in a manner to challenge the Saudis, the Israeli, and other pro-Western states. Intrinsically, Ansarallah is a group confined within the territories of Yemen which are primarily fighting to be the ruler of that nation. Their primary struggle is against their own countrymen. When the two opposing groups within Yemen are backed by international players, their fight is also spilled beyond the boundaries of the country. What currently appears as Houthi’s doing in the international realm – such as the recent attacks on the UAE – is a fight within these international backers. Desperate measures of a group fighting to take control of a country’s political power often transforms into a sober approach once the actual control is achieved. If Ansarallah wins the civil war in Yemen, it will have a long way to go in first building up the country from the ruins, only then they can think of asserting their power outside their boundary.

Q: At the beginning of the war on Yemen in March 2015, MBS promised the Saudi-led coalition would end it within a week but it has been continuing up to now. Why did the Saudis fail in achieving their goals in Yemen?

A: There are two reasons behind this: 1) the personality of MBS; and 2) the changing Middle East (West Asia) priorities of the U.S. When the Saudi military involvement in Yemen began in March 2015, MBS was very young, barely 30-year-old. Grown-up in an environment of U.S. security umbrella, he calculated to have the U.S. support as naturally as earth’s gravity. The other miss was the absence of realization that there was an interlinkage between the three dynamics viz., Yemen being a bordering state of Saudi Arabia, Houthi-Iran closeness, and Saudi-Iran rivalry.

Moreover, it was around this time that the U.S. became independent in oil, which completely changed its Middle East (West Asian) priorities. For the U.S., rapprochement with Iran appeared the easiest recipe to offload its burdens of the past, a realization that culminated in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in July 2015. This was also the time when the U.S. realized that it could not continue to pursue George W. Bush’s grandiose plan of democratization and hence sped up exiting from Afghanistan. Consequently, the level of U.S. support that MBS was anticipating did not come and the Saudi-led efforts not only in Yemen but also against Qatar and Iran lost traction. MBS’ wishes of a quick Saudi victory in Yemen fell victim to time.

Q: Biden had pledged in his electoral campaigns that Washington will stop military aid to Saudi Arabia unless it ends the war in Yemen, but the American administration is keeping arm sales to Riyadh under the pretext of “defensive” operations “to support and help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty and its territorial integrity and its people.” There’s just one problem: The line between “offensive” and “defensive” support is murky, and critics argue even the limited support the U.S. is providing still helps Riyadh carry out its offensive bombing campaign in Yemen. What is your comment?

A: Indeed, President Biden had picked up Yemen as his first Middle East (West Asian) mission, as reflected in his first foreign policy speech delivered on 4 February 2021. The task was assigned to Tim Lenderking, the U.S. special envoy for Yemen, who pursued a UN-led peace process with due recognition of the urgency to mitigate the humanitarian crisis. However, Yemen was linked to the Saudi-Iran rivalry and the U.S. could not afford to let go Saudi Arabia from its sphere of influence until a U.S.-Iran rapprochement was in sight, which was made extremely difficult by his predecessor Donald Trump. Therefore, due to the U.S. hedging strategy, arms supply to Saudi Arabia could not be completely halted.

It is true that the “offensive” and “defensive” armaments are not watertight compartments; still, a differentiation can be made. For example, air missile defense systems can be clearly categorized as defensive armaments, which the U.S. never put off the table. Also, arms supply from one nation to another is not philanthropy, but a tool to achieve a predetermined foreign policy objective. U.S. transfer of military armaments to Saudi Arabia has a long history, which is linked to a wide military-industrial complex and cannot be suddenly dispensed with.

Q: Why are the Western media outlets silent when it comes to the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen?

A: Western media outlets are not silent when it comes to the Yemen humanitarian catastrophe. Prominent Western media outlets have regularly carried out reports chronicling the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, with particular focus on the implications of bombings of the civilian targets by the Saudi-led coalition. Such reports have continued even after the Houthi’s attack in the UAE last month, which was followed by heavy retaliation by the Saudi-led coalition. Apart from including the oft-repeated phrases such as “world’s worst humanitarian disasters” and “millions rendered in famine-like conditions”, these reports have also included the concerns of international humanitarian organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross. Notwithstanding such mentions in the Western media, it is true that these reports could not become as “trending” as deserved.


 

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