U.S. provides Saudis with opportunity for face-saving exit from Yemen quagmire

A blessing in disguise

March 8, 2021 - 21:48

TEHRAN – The Biden administration has ramped up diplomatic pressure on the Saudis to convince them into bringing an end to the Yemen war.

The Saudis have grudgingly accepted to go along with the American initiative on Yemen but this initiative could redound to their advantage. 

In his early days as president, Joe Biden sent a clear message to Saudi Arabia that the days of Washington giving unwavering support for Saudi military operations in Yemen are over. 

“This war has to end. And to underscore our commitment, we’re ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arm sales,” President Biden said in a recent speech at the State Department while underling the U.S. commitment to ensuring Saudi Arabia’s security and territorial integrity.

The Biden administration also removed Yemen’s Ansarullah movement from the U.S. government’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. Further highlighting the change in its Yemen policy, the U.S. also named veteran U.S. diplomat Timothy Lenderking as the U.S. special envoy for Yemen in a bid to step up American diplomacy “to end the war in Yemen, a war which has created humanitarian and strategic catastrophe,” according to a Reuters report.

The new U.S. approach to the Yemen war came after the new U.S. administration came to terms with the fact that Saudi Arabia can never win this war and that there is an urgent need to end the war in a face-saving way. 

The Saudis, however, don’t seem to have reached that conclusion yet. They still insist on excluding the Ansarallah movement and returning the obsolete, self-proclaimed government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, who resigned in 2015 and ultimately fled Yemen in an effort to invite foreign intervention. 

Saudi Arabia and its allies invaded Yemen in March 2015. The invasion was supposed to quickly oust the new Sanaa government and return Hadi to his former position. But the invasion turned into a years-long war that continues today.

The Saudi war on Yemen was waged to achieve one major goal: eliminate the Ansarallah and the Sanaa-based government it helped establish.

In an attempt to justify its aggression on Yemen, Saudi Arabia claimed that Ansarallah is backed by Iran and that the war on Yemen was primarily focused on eliminating foreign influence in the Arab country. To this end, the Saudis and their allies besieged Yemen and prevented free coming and going to Yemen. Despite the blockade on Yemen, the Saudis failed to defeat the Sanaa government. In fact, this government now seems to be even stronger than ever given its recent attacks on several strategic targets deep inside Saudi Arabia.

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia announced that its strategic oil facilities at Ras Tanura port were targeted by drones, according to the Saudi energy ministry. 

An official spokesman at the ministry told Saudi Press Agency on Sunday that one of the petroleum tank farms at the Ras Tanura Port in the Eastern Region, one of the largest oil shipping ports in the world, was attacked this morning by a drone. The official claimed that the drone was coming from the direction of the sea.

The official added that another deliberate attempt was also made this evening to attack Saudi Aramco’s facilities. The spokesman said Shrapnel from a ballistic missile fell near Saudi Aramco’s area in the city of Dhahran. The spokesman said that both attacks did not result in any injury or loss of life or property.

Brigadier General Turki Al-Malki, spokesman for Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Defense, confirmed the attack on the oil facilities at Ras Tanura port. 

In a statement carried by the Saudi state news agency, he said the attack targeted “one of the Petroleum Tank Farms in Ras Tanura Port in the Eastern Province using a bomb-laden UAV that came from the sea.” He also confirmed the second attack on Aramco facilities in Dhahran.

“The attacking bomb-laden UAV that came via the sea was intercepted and destroyed prior to reaching its target. The ballistic missile that was launched to target Aramco facilities in Dhahran was intercepted and destroyed as well. The interception resulted in scattered debris that fell in close proximity to civilians and civilian objects,” the Saudi defense official claimed.

The Yemeni forces claimed responsibility for the attacks on Aramco facilities in Eastern Saudi Arabia. They said the attack, codenamed 6th Operation of Balanced Deterrence, came in response to Saudi continued aggression and siege against Yemen. 

The recent attack was the latest sign that Saudi Arabia has not only failed to defeat the Yemeni forces but it also failed to protect itself from Yemen’s retaliatory strikes.

Instead of coming to their senses and ending the war on Yemen, the Saudis continue to level accusations on Iran. Al-Maliki claimed on Monday that the missile and drones used by the Yemeni forces to target Saudi Arabia’s oil port and facilities were supplied by Iran, a claim that Iran has repeatedly rejected. 

Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, said on Monday that finding a political solution is the only way out of the Yemen crisis.

Commenting on the Yemeni attacks on the Aramco facilities, Khatibzadeh said, “The reason for what is happening in Yemen today is the aggression that has been going on for six years and the blatant injustice that millions of Yemenis are being subjected to, and what we are witnessing is the indiscriminate bombing operations that take place in separate areas of Yemen.”

Saudi Arabia now can quit the Yemen quagmire by seizing on the American pressure to end its military operations in Yemen and leave Yemeni factions to pursue a political solution on their own. The Saudis have failed to find a way out of the Yemen crisis so far. Now that the U.S. is pushing for an end to the Yemen war, the Saudis can seize on this momentum and put an end to an unwinnable war. 

This will redound to their advantage because if they continue the war, they will likely lose the war and their credibility at once.  The Saudis have grumbled about the American efforts in this regard, but for Saudi Arabia, these efforts may prove a blessing in disguise.