For the past five years there has been nothing but bad news in the Middle East. Everything was falling apart. The number of failed states grew, the region was crumbling, foreign interventions were increasing and regional warfare proliferated.
We, the inhabitants of this region, found our place in the world declining. Asia had grown more important and there were alternatives to oil.
The Arab world (the bulk of the Middle East) had missed out on the global democratic revolution that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union and was unable to weather the “Arab Spring” revolutions that ended up inflicting on the region and the world the largest ever wave of terrorism and violence parading in the name of religion.
In fact, things were not quite as bad as portrayed with amazing zeal by the media and politicians. All the Arab monarchies, whether oil-rich or oil-poor, withstood the storm. Egypt, the most populous, most strategically and most historically important Arab nation, also held firm against the onslaught of religious fascism.
In fact, it succeeded in ousting such a movement from power and, although it has had to pay the price of terrorism, it has progressed in its political and economic recovery. But perhaps the best good news is that the Arab powers that survived the storm soon began a counterattack on several fronts, using the weapons of diplomacy or military might, and sometimes working together with other countries in the world, and at other times working independently.
The theatres for these battles have been in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, the Sinai, Libya and other areas in Africa and Asia. In one way or another, each of these arenas imposed its particular logic in terms of the network of regional and international alliances and the political and/or military approaches to solving the root problem.
Yemen, today, is like a light at the end of the tunnel. This crisis called for an approach based on the creation of an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia, an international coalition that gets what it needs from the US, and a local Yemeni alliance based around the legitimate leadership of the country.
This Yemeni alliance rejects not only the ousted regime of Abdullah Ali Saleh and his clique but also sectarian rule (the Houthis) funded and armed by a regional power (Iran), and terrorists of all stripes, especially Al-Qaeda.
The military strategy began with a counterattack against the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq and Syria by the US-led regional and international coalition. The coalition used intensive aerial bombardments to pave the way for a future ground offensive to change realities on the ground.
The approach was meant to be a practical translation of President Barack Obama’s vow to “degrade and ultimately destroy” IS. At the time there was considerable scepticism over excessive reliance on air power. Many argued passionately in favour of boots on the ground.
More than a year and a half since the onset of operations on the Syrian-Iraqi front and a few months since operations began in Yemen, the situation between the two fronts could not be more different. While the former is much worse, Yemen is like a bright dawn on the horizon.
The strategy (to degrade and destroy the enemy), as applied in Yemen, proved remarkably successful. For one, there was sufficient patience. No one was in a hurry for results, thereby depriving the enemy (the Houthis and armed forces loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh) of a strategic asset that they could have used to their advantage.
Second, in spite of all the pessimistic expectations in the West regarding the capacities and combat readiness of the Arab forces, these forces displayed excellent skills. Not only did they have the best military aircraft in the world, they also had some outstanding pilots and support on the ground to identify targets.
As a result, at the end of every aerial assault the forces that had staged a coup against Yemeni legitimacy emerged weaker. Then, when the appropriate moment arrived, the Yemeni resistance on the ground switched from the defensive to the offensive. Now, after its success in liberating Aden, liberation of the entire south is at hand and the march to Sanaa is around the corner.
In short, the cooperation of the air force and ground forces was ideal in the Yemeni case, while such a strategy has remained hesitant, confused and sometimes powerless on the Syrian-Iraq front.
The comparison between the two fronts, from the military perspective, is already attractive in terms of the technical aspects of the use of joint forces in battle. However, the light that has emerged on the Yemeni front is more enticing, not just because it promises a solution to the Yemeni crisis but also because it might generate a model for solving other crises.
Of course, in Yemen, there is still the need for follow-through, with the same patience that has characterised its “slow” war all along, and for providing support for the legitimate government in Aden and the south.
However, it is also crucial that this becomes the last phase of combat and that it ushers in the implementation of a political and strategic plan for achieving total victory over sectarianism and Iranian influence, and that offers the Yemeni people their legitimate right to a dignified life in which all regions and factions can take part.
As I have discussed on numerous occasions, politics is an extension of war by other means. In this case, politics must induce the enemies to lay down their arms and the allies to rebuild Yemen and the entire region.
In this context, numerous ideas have been aired within the framework of an Arab project that would be declared by a group of Gulf countries. This project would deliver a message to the Arabs, and indeed to the entire world.
Such a project would first ensure that Houthi citizens in Yemen have full rights as citizens and the right to administer their own province within the framework of a unified Yemeni state organised on the basis of a federal system.
Second, the political and economic reconstruction of Yemen must receive all possible assistance from the Arabs as long as it preserves Yemen’s unity and its sectarian and tribal diversity.
Third, while this is a mid- or long-term project, there should be immediate and urgent plans to resuscitate and rebuild the infrastructure of war-damaged areas in Yemen.
Fourth, the dream of all Yemenis to be included in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is not only feasible but is strategically necessary. Either Yemen is taken into the embrace of the GCC or it remains available to Iran to use as a sword in the GCC’s side. Of course, there is a range of major problems that need to be addressed in this regard.
Generally, these have to do with the vast discrepancies in economic levels and standards of living. But such problems were overcome in the EU experience by using diverse linkage methods staged over various phases in order to narrow the gaps.
The crucial point is that it must be made clear from the outset that Yemen’s isolation from the GCC will end within a certain specified period of time. Specialists will have many opinions on this point that will be offered when the time comes.