Once upon a time, there were seven brothers. Mother Earth blessed the first six with gold. Father time buried the youngest one’s treasures very deep beneath the sand. Mothers and fathers worry about sibling rivalries. Sheba took care of the youngest, who befriended others outside the home. The first six formed the GCC; the youngest was bombed. End of chapter 3.
Yemen’s five-day humanitarian ceasefire finished Sunday, May 17th. During this time, three days of talks were held between Houthi leaders (who are also aligned with military units pledging to ousted ex-President Salah) and current Yemeni president (who was exiled by Houthis in 2014 and returned) with Saudi support. Consequently, the coalition to extricate the Houthi-led resistance in Yemen resumed. The coalition is led by Saudi Arabia and includes the other five Arab gulf countries and Turkey, among others. The most ironic part is that those countries participating in the airstrike campaign overlap with those countries trying to facilitate Yemen’s national dialogue while delivering humanitarian assistance to a country that has lost 1,400 in the month long air strikes–many of which are civilian. Actually, no, the most ironic part is that the first U.S. Gulf Cooperation Council Summit on security does not result in a formal agreement at a time that another Arab Gulf country (yes, Yemen, the 7th brother who is also the least financially blessed…) is undergoing air raids and risks a ground invasion.
Political blogger, Karl Sharro, created a diagram that essentially captures the complicated relationship between the countries regarding the Yemen issue. His diagram below has been copied by many, including news outlets…and inspired the short story–even though he was half-kidding. (Even jokes speak to some level of truth!)
First U.S.-GCC Summit
Yemen’s ceasefire, which started on May 12th, overlapped with the first U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council summit at Camp David. However, the summit concluded on Thursday without any formal agreement on security or training exercise issues as the six-nation regional body had hoped would occur. (Source: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/05/camp-david-arab-leaders-no-security-agreement-117980.html) Yet, how realistic was this outcome when most of their heads of state were absent from the first gathering?
Some will argue that Saudi Arabia’s new king was never going to attend because Saudi Arabia — and other Gulf nations — is upset over the U.S.’s ongoing talks with Iran, which are set for June 30th. BBC, U.S. News & World Report, Politico, and other American news media reported that the leadership of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, and Oman calculated a joint snub to the U.S. by appointing delegates to attend instead.
Let us entertain this possibility and see who wins and loses if GCC nations downplay this opportunity to formalize what UAE Ambassador to the U.S., H.E. Al-Otaiba, described as a “several gentlemen’s agreements between the U.S.” and Arab Gulf nations like his. Speaking at the Atlantic Council with former Middle East Envoy, Martin Indyk, Al-Otaiba emphasized that the UAE has “fought in six wars with the U.S. and wants recognition” to be recognized in the U.S.-GCC Summit process and future relations. He hopes that the U.S.-GCC summit will be a yearly exercise, but this is unlikely if a collective regional snub is perceived–orchestrated or not.
But without getting into the psychological drama of orchestrating a snub, there may be other explanations for some Arab Gulf countries’ leadership absence on May 13-14. In the UAE, its top leader is old and sick. Furthermore, as we have seen in Ambassador Al-Otaiba’s comments, there is a strong interest to discuss missile defense systems and solidify security arrangements. Hence, they are sending their Crown Prince in his place.
Shakueup #1: Saudi House-Cleaning
The leading, supposed “snub” leader is Saudi Arabia. However, Saudi Arabia just underwent two huge shakeups. The first shakeup was political-economic re-organization– or about “process” in business speak:
- Saudi Arabia’s state-controlled oil firm Aramco separated from Saudi’s oil ministry as part of restructuring. Aramco is now under the Supreme Economic Council, which replaced the Supreme Petroleum Council, and is led by Prince Mohammed bind Salman, who is second in line to the Saudi family throne. Officially, the broader economic health of Saudi Arabia is no longer just about petroleum.
- Currently, no prince has overseen the oil ministry to avoid politicizing the ministry within the royal family. This may change as business practices change. Nepotism is also a business practice in the oil industry.
After this type of shakeup, would not a country want to reassert its power structure in an international summit? Well, Saudi did by taking lead in the Yemen campaign and enlisting the U.S. support with intelligence on targeting Houthis and the Al Qaeda elements in Yemen. So, honestly, there’s probably more harmony between the US and Saudi than being reported.
Sure, the GCC is uncomfortable with the U.S. talks on Iran. But that is why the U.S.-GCC Summit was being convened in the first place: to discuss GCC regional security arrangements with the U.S.
Shakeup #2: Yemen Campaign
The second shakeup is that Saudi Arabia has been leading the military coalition in Yemen. PITAPOLICY, LLC was interviewed by Shadyar Omrani of Irani news Radio Zamaneh regarding Yemen: http://www.radiozamaneh.com/219357. In a nutshell, Yemen’s internal conflict has resulted in different internal groups becoming hijacked by bigger neighbors engaging in another proxy war– sprinkled with elements of what is believed to be Al Qaeda.
Here’s what Qayyum stated regarding the airstrikes on Yemen because of the Houthi uprising, which is believed to receive financial support from Iran:
- Omrani: The first question is about the two sided coalition in Yemen confronting. How do you define the two sides and their interest in Yemen? Iran and the allies on one side, Saudi and the allies on the other side.
Qayyum: I don’t see it necessarily as hard and fast 2 sided disaster. As long as there are disruptive elements, beyond the Houthis in Yemen, then external players will realign for short-term gains. There’s enough disruption that is being co-opted by various entities that are “loosely allied w/each other”. For example, the Al Qaeda element in Yemen is at least a decade old–festering since the USS Cole was bombed in the late 90s. So, of course, the U.S. has kept its eye on Yemen, and is the reason for the U.S. agreeing to supply some intelligence to the Saudis to bomb Yemen. Saudi tried to expand its alliance by pressuring Pakistan to engage with them in military operations, but Pakistan stayed out of this so-called coalition.
- Omrani: About Houthis, do you see their role in Yemenis revolution as a result of Iran’s plan for expanding its power in Bab el-Mandeb or an uprising of a mass of the suppressed?
Qayyum: I don’t see Houthis’ role as a direct result of Iran’s expansion plans. The Houthis leveraged an opportunity of discontent post elections. Yes, Iran may wish Houthis well in their political objectives, and support them, but so has Saudi Arabia in its support of certain Yemeni tribes. When unemployment rates are double digit in a country like Yemen, bigger countries like Saudi become more alarmed when neighboring migrants are looking for work elsewhere.