March 27, 2015 | Quote

Analysis: Sunni-Shi’ite wars going global

David Andrew Weinberg, a specialist on Gulf affairs and a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Post on Thursday that such an invasion puts to the test the new Saudi defense minister, Prince Muhammad bin Salman, the 35-year-old son of King Salman.

“The Gulf states’ contribution to the US-led coalition against Islamic State is pitiful,” said Weinberg, adding that the idea that on top of this commitment the Gulf states are now going to reconquer Yemen, “stretches the imagination.”

Whichever way this war works out, “it won’t go smoothly,” he predicted.

The Egyptians got involved in a Yemen civil wars in the 1960s when then-president Gamal Abdel Nasser backed one side and the Saudis the other, but the fact is that “the Egyptians look at that conflict as their ‘Vietnam’ – a dramatic, drawn-out entanglement that went poorly for them.”

Regarding Yemen’s President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who took refuge in the kingdom on Thursday, Weinberg sees this as a sign of how weak his position really was.

Asked why the Saudis are making such a tremendous military effort to counter the Shi’ite axis in Yemen, but not elsewhere, Weinberg drew attention to a comment by a Saudi security expert, who pointed out that the Arabian Peninsula is a redline for them.

For Riyadh, Iran’s encroachment on Yemen is a much more serious matter than its involvement in Syria.

“The Saudis are trying to orchestrate a united Sunni front against the Shi’ite axis,” added Weinberg, noting that it is even willing to overcome its enmity with the Muslim Brotherhood movement and its state sponsors, Qatar and Turkey, in order to unite Sunni powers.

Oren Adaki, a research analyst of the Arab world at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who closely follows Yemen, told the Post that despite the US’s intelligence and logistical support for the Saudi-led coalition, it is definitely taking a back seat in the conflict.

Hadi’s government had been an important regional counterterrorism partner in the battle against al-Qaida, and the US government could have done much more to prevent what ended up being a Houthi takeover, argued Adaki.

Iran has capitalized on this situation – expanding economic ties with the Houthis and even pledging to provide them with one year’s worth of oil, he said.

“The real problem here is that American inaction on Yemen has sent a message to the entire region to not rely on American power and prestige as they did in years past,” Adaki said.

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