A marked upsurge in the war in Yemen has led to questions regarding where the conflict is headed and what it signals for the Middle East.
According to the BBC, the air assaults by Riyadh against rebel targets in Sanaa have been destructive – relief organizations state that just one assault led to dozens of casualties when a penal facility in the rebel bastion of Saada was attacked.
The air assaults were believed to be a reaction to Monday’s occasional air assaults by Houthi rebels on the UAE, which is Riyadh’s partner and a part of the Riyadh-guided alliance battling the Houthis.
Riyadh’s response supplied a powerful clue of a reply to any suspicions regarding whether the Houthi assault would be matched by a direct reaction.
The long-distance hits on the UAE put broader happenings in the Middle East in the limelight, even prior to the fresh Saudi act. Prominent among these were Abu Dhabi’s push in quest of a fresh foreign policy route, including in relation to Tehran; and the response to those assaults depicts the increasing détente between Gulf nations and Tel Aviv.
The hits on January 17 struck a manufacturing site in close proximity to Abu Dhabi, making the oil tankers catch fire and leading to three foreign casualties. They also hit a location close to the international airport. Despite Houthi claims that this was not the first time they had assaulted the UAE, Abu Dhabi functionaries had never admitted such hits before – as well as the occurrence of casualties.
The Yemeni rebels want to sway Abu Dhabi into desisting from supporting armed groups fighting for Sanaa’s internationally-endorsed regime. These armed groups have won a few victories on the field in Yemen, ejecting the Houthis from key southern areas and escalating the conflict in the northern oil-producing Marib province – an important bastion of the Yemeni regime.
A lot relies on the reaction of Abu Dhabi.
Abu Dhabi had been a robust ally of the Yemeni regime, stationing its contingents in Yemen together with troops from Riyadh. Riyadh led a bloc of Arab nations and began an army offensive seven years ago to reinstate the regime pushed out by the Yemeni rebels.
Abu Dhabi recalled its forces four years later but carried on supplying arms and training to anti-Houthi forces. It was believed to be a movement for dominance in the country in addition to a proxy conflict in the broader Middle East pitting Riyadh and its partners on one hand, and Tehran and different parties on the other.
Sanaa was merely one battlefield. Tel Aviv virtually became a partner in this unofficial anti-Tehran bloc following its peace deal with Abu Dhabi a couple of years ago. It just validated a development, which had been going on clandestinely, for a few years.
What will be the responses of Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv?
For its own security, Abu Dhabi might intensify assistance for its partners on the field. Over and above its diplomatic overtures to Tel Aviv, Doha, and Ankara, it has offered a hand to improve its ties with Iran.
Tel Aviv could be a probable fountainhead of virtual aid. Its premier confided to the UAE heir-apparent that Tel Aviv would be prepared to give defence and surveillance help.
Tel Aviv could also be concerned in detecting further about the Yemeni rebels’ long-distance abilities.