Friday, March 27, 2015

Saudi intervention in Yemen: a major step in the direction of total chaos

Religion in Arabia
Yemen is not Bahrain. Bahrain is a small urban island while Yemen is larger than Spain or Thailand, a largely rural and impoverished country with large mountainous areas. 

Conquering Yemen, as the Saudis and their North American allies seem to hope is pretty much impossible (much less for a mercenary army as the Saudi one, which lacks the ideological motivation and will be easily demoralized). So this attack is a very risky move that allows the troubles of Yemen to split across the border, particularly to 'Asir, which has a very large Shia population which is also ethnically akin to Yemenis.

As we can see in the map, Saudi Arabia is made up of two vast desertic areas in the North and South, plus three more populated areas, primarily the Southwest (largely Sunni but also Shia), then the central "oasis area" (stronghold of the fundamentalist Wahabbi ideology that shapes the theocracy) and finally the Eastern Shia region that used to be part of Bahrain. While an extension of the conflict to the central region can be surely discarded in the short run and the Eastern Shia uprising was quelled in blood (although it is still latent and tightly associated to the developments in Bahrain, where protests continue in spite of brutal repression), a Houti advance in Eastern Arabia, particularly into 'Asir but potentially even threatening Mecca should not be discarded at all. In fact I can't but foresee it as the more natural development of the Saudi invasion in the short run. 

The weakness of Saudi power

Another thing to consider is who rules Saudi Arabia and how solid is their power. The recently crowned King Salman, 79, is widely believed to suffer from Alzheimer disease or some other sort of incapacitating dementia so there is a shadowy junta actually ruling the state and clear fractures in the ruling family are known to exist in spite of the secrecy that governs the Islamist state.

In other words: Saudi power is, in spite of oil revenues, at its weakest point ever, suffering intestine dynastic disputes, facing major dissidence from that 50% of the population that are women (whose condition under Wahabbism is surely one of the worst on Earth) and from the majority of the population in the Eastern Province. Now add to all that a powerful and consolidated Shia militia spawning from Yemen. The only pillars of Saudi power are the more and more questioned totalitarian religious police and a mercenary army, with good equipment and salaries but without the "soul" of a really compromised force, as it lacks of nationalist or otherwise ideological motivation of any sort. 

We are talking after all of a mere feudal state: a pre-modern residue stagnated on oil wealth and international alliances, heavily relying on an immigrant workforce with slave-like conditions, and almost certainly unable to withstand any serious turmoil. 

What can we expect

Yemen conflict (from Al Yazeera)
I foresee short-term Pyrrhic victories of the invaders (high sustained cost, low gain) followed by backslash in both Yemen and SW Saudi territory. Backslash that might well threaten Mecca. The boundaries are artificial and the intervention just made them meaningless: now it's an all-Arabian conflict and not anymore one just circumscribed to Yemen.

I also foresee increased unrest in Saudi Arabia as such: both from the people, for which Wahabbi totalitarianism is not anymore a valid option in this globalized and secularized age, but also from important segments of the dominant elite which have been apparently excluded from power with the still fresh crowning putsch of Salman the Ailing. 

It is probable that the intervention in Yemen is seen by the current shadow junta as a way to reinforce their power: nothing like a glorious military campaign, right? But there is a major problem: the campaign won't succeed and it will be painful and dirty, spilling into Saudi territory, so eventually its promoters will gain only increased weakness and not increased strength from it.

Finally there is another and very serious danger that can't be understated: that the besieged Sunni Islamists in Yemen will join the Islamic State, as those in Libya and Nigeria have done, and roll over Saudia from both Iraq and Yemen with likely opportunist support (as in Iraq) from inside the military. They would offer the rotten Saudi elites the "best" (worst!) of both worlds: a continuation of totalitarian Sunni Islamism and a modernizing fascist regime apparently more capable than the rotten Saudi dynasty. 

No need to say that such a development would dramatically alter the geostrategy of the region and the whole World. I is not unlikely though.

What I wonder at this stage is how controlled does the Pentagon has the situation. Isn't the risk of the Islamic State (effectively supported by Turkey, the USA and Israel but apparently not by Saudi Arabia) going out of control getting too big? This seems more and more like a repetition of the Hitler experiment: we (the Anglo-Saxon Empire) put a dictator in power and a few years later we have no choice but to wage war against him because he's become too independent and is challenging the status quo beyond what we can put up with. 

Obviously the IS is not your usual military junta or old-fashioned fossilized monarchy: they literally know no bounds in their brutal religious madness and are extremely ambitious. They have also shown to be very efficient at taking over weakened states, at least large chunks of them. And Saudi Arabia is one of those.

I wonder if that is what the USA wants and, if so, why? How do they plan to retain hegemony in the middle of such chaos and consolidated state of war? Conquering it in some sort of WW3? Will they be able to rally the masses around such a major imperial campaign in the midst of the worst socio-economic crisis in the history of Capitalism? I don't think so. All this can only backfire, even if I feel unable to foresee the details of the near-future developments.

Update (Mar 29):
06:48 GMT: Houthi rebels are moving artillery units closer to the border with Saudi Arabia, RIA Novosti cited Al Jazeera as saying (from RT live updates blog on the crisis). What did I say about the war spilling to Saudia?

Other details from the same source:
  • Yemeni forces (army or rebels) can hit Saudi targets up to 500 km away (Iranian source)
  • Saudia has massed up 150,000 troops at the border with Yemen. It is unclear if they plan to invade or just defend the border. Analyst suggest that a land invasion would be a disaster, however it is unclear how can the operation succeed without ground occupation, more so when the Houtis are clearly redirecting their efforts against the Saudi aggressor.
  • While Egypt has joined the Saudi-led coalition with 16 airplanes and one frigate, Pakistan has remained uncompromising.
  • The official Yemeni President (with almost no support inside the country) seems to have left the country for Riyadh and then for Egypt to attend an Arab League summit. 

Update 2 (Mar 29): Israel may be an active partner in the coalition bombing Yemen, according to sources in Sanaa mentioned by Fars Agency.

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