Alwaght- The cleavage between Saudi Arabia and the UAE has been under regional and international media focus over the past months. Despite the obvious division, even after the UAE withdrawal announcement, the two countries rejected any gaps and highlighted the convergence and coordination in the war objectives. But the recent seizure of the presidential palace in Aden by the Emirati-backed separatist militias and the fleeing of the Saudi-supported government officials from the southern city have brought about a new proof about the deep gaps between the two Arab players. This week’s development has raised a question: What will Saudi Arabia do after the UAE retreat and expulsion of the resigned government of Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi from Aden? Given the recent Saudi moves, three scenarios are possible about the Saudi response to the situation.
The southern dispute and immediate end of the war
The first scenario could be Riyadh’s step to end the war by accepting the reality on the ground and approving of the split of Yemen in northern and southern parts. Over the past month, the Arab kingdom showed various signs it was weighing the situation for a face-saving exit from a war it failed to win after five years. Last month, Abdullah all-Moalemi, Saudi Arabia’s representative to the UN said the kingdom “does not want war with Iran” and that it is time for the Yemen war to end. He added that Saudi Arabia seeks war with Iran neither in Yemen nor anywhere else.
These comments can be taken as signs of Riyadh efforts for a fast exit from Yemen quagmire if we consider Yemeni Ansarullah movement’s power to manage the war developments and even develop the capability to strike back at the Saudi oil facilities over the past months. While the Arab monarchy everyday witnesses a new failure in the course of war, Ansarullah hones its military capabilities, making the military experts talk about a serious qualitative jump in the war developments especially after targeting a Saudi oil facility in Dammam in the extreme east of Saudi Arabia with a domestically-made Yemeni ballistic missile that traveled some 1300 kilometers before striking its target. Andsarullah’s attacks are met with a failure of the much-vaunted US-supplied Patriot air defenses. In fact, now Saudi Arabia’s primary goal is not to win the war, but to repel the fatal blows dealt by the Yemeni forces.
On the other hand, the growing pressures by the international community on Riyadh to end the devastating war should not be overlooked. Some arms suppliers to the kingdom have begun to halt their weapons deliveries. In the meantime, the important issue is the Saudi incapability to reinstall what Saudis call the “legitimate government” to the capital Sana’a, a dream totally shattered considering the fresh Aden developments.
In the middle of this situation, Monday visit of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to Saudi Arabia to discuss Aden events can indicate a behind-the-scenes Riyadh-Abu Dhabi agreement to split Yemen and start a process to end the war.
Although this scenario has real evidence, what is ignored is the certain interests of Saudi Arabia in preventing an Ansarullah-led government in the north on the one hand and the Riyadh’s total loss of toehold in the south with the power gain of UAE-loyal secessionist forces on the other hand.
Finding an alternative to UAE and opening a new front
Another scenario is that the Saudis will seek a new ally to continue their patronage to the resigned government. After the presidential palace fell to the Southern Transitional Council (STC) separatists, Saudi fighter jets bombed the place in a signal that the kingdom is opposed to the UAE-backed coup against Mansour Hadi.
After the UAE stated its intention to withdraw, the US in several rounds deployed forces allegedly for advisory purposes but practically to take the initiative in the war. The US seems to know that any Yemen victory in the war will usher in the end of the Al Saud family rule over the oil-wealthy nation.
Furthermore, last week, the commander of the so-called Saudi-led coalition against terrorism and the chief of the Arab alliance in Yemen visited Eritrea and met with President Isaias Afwerki. An Eritrean opposition activist presumed that the drive of the visit was a Saudi hope to use Eritrean troops in Yemen war after UAE pullout. The kingdom already started efforts to get Eritrea out of international isolation by adding it to the Saudi-initiated Arab and the African Coastal States of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Experts suggest that Eritrea membership in the bloc is connected to Saudi Arabia’s troubles in Yemen war and the role the African state can play as a partner to the Arab coalition and a replacement to the UAE.
Odds are that the Saudis, to avoid full war defeat, will open a new front against the separatists should the UAE fail to be persuaded to move its allies back from Aden. This will naturally mean intensified dispute with Abu Dhabi. The low-level reception of Mohammad bin Zayed in Jeddah airport already bore signs of deepening division.
This scenario has its own signs but there is a doubt about the Saudi capability to open a new front against the separatists and countering its main ally over the past five years of war. Such a confrontation will play into the hands of Ansarullah.
Giving up the south and continuing war against Ansarullah
Yet another scenario is not unthinkable and it is that the Saudi rulers come to terms with the split reality in the south and focus on continuation of the combat with Ansarullah as the main revolutionary force holding Sana’a by finding new allies and asking the US help to repel the missile and drone retaliatory strikes by the Yemenis. This scenario looks much to suit the Saudi behavior and approach during the war and the Saudi interests in Yemen. During their meeting, Saudi and Abu Dhabi crown princes demanded negotiations between Mansour Hadi government and the separatist southern council. Aidarus al-Zoubaidi, the head of the STC, on Saturday assured that the council is committed to Aden ceasefire and is ready to cooperate with the alliance. The coalition’s statement on Aden developments and inviting the STC to Riyadh for talks with Mansour Hadi government is a recognition of the coup and its legitimization by the Saudis, Yemeni political analyst Ahmed al-Zargha said.