Herbert London: The Sunni Coalition
It was merely a question of time before Sunni brethren struck back. The recent attacks in Yemen by the Saudi airforce in conjunction with Egypt, Qatar, UAE, Bakrain, Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco, Turkey and Sudan were united in delivering message with devastating clarity to Iran. The presumptive target? Houthi militants that overran the government with the active involvement of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. In forging this joint Sunni military force the Saudis were saying there will be systematic opposition to the Iranian plan for hegemonic status in the region. Yemen’s fall was the final straw.
The attack was also a repudiation of the U.S. rapproachment with Iran. In effect, the Sunni states were saying a Persian empire will not be tolerated even if it has American approval. The Obama administration decision to withdraw military presence from the Middle East has led to a vacuum filled until now by Iranian special forces. This Saudi-led strike in Yemen is a new chapter in this on-going saga. Sunni nations that may have had their differences in the past are now seemingly united for the security of the region and purposely poised to challenge Iranian imperial ambitions.
For the past seven months the Houthi minority seized control of the capital and the government deposing president Abed RabboMansourHadi, an ally of Saudi Arabia. The Houthi were assisted by – probably led by – the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. By seizing control, Iran surrounded Saudi Arabia at key sea choke points, the portals to the Red Sea and the Gulf of Hormuz. The Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Adelal-Jubuir, said, “The endgame is to remove the threat to Yemen and the threat to Saudi Arabia.”
It is also an endgame to pool Sunni military assets to fight extremism in Syria, Iraq and Libya, dissolving states dependent on Iran in one way or another. The summit of 21 Arab League members will concentrate on drafting a resolution to create a permanent military force for the region, what might emerge as the NATO of the Middle East.
The air strikes on Yemen do put the U.S. in an awkward position since the easing of sanctions and an accommodative posture on nuclear weapons depend on an Iran that will live up to an accord. That level of confidence is certainly not shared by the Sunni nations.
Relying on rehearsed talking points, Secretary of State John Kerry commended the coalition, even going as far as mentioning American logistical support. However, he did not mention the withdrawal of all American troops from Yemen, nor was there any comment about President Obama’s assertion that “counterinsurgency is working well in Yemen.” And Kerry did not refer to the priority the U.S. attaches to nuclear talks with Iran.
For most in the Middle East, the claim is if the U.S. will not protect us, the Gulf States must protect themselves. This alliance is not only a military condominium, it is an arrangement fostered by fear and finance. Egypt’s food needs must be imported. Turkey’s economy declined precipitously after 2008 when foreign direct investments dried up. It is now a nation dependent on Saudi and UAE investment. The Sudan is an African basket case unable to recover from decades of civil war. Gulf state funds help to keep it afloat.
In this case, he who has the cash, calls the tune. The Saudis and UAE have the cash and the concern about Iranian threats. What this military coalition suggests is that Iranian hegemony – which is what the U.S. relied on as a stabilizing regional factor – is now being called into question. A genuine counter weight to Iran is emerging and this may be one of the few positive signs in a region wracked by chaos.
Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries atwww.londoncenter.org
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