Gwynne Dyer: Attack on Yemen could benefit al-Qaeda and ISIS

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      The Sunni Arab countries that started bombing Yemen on Wednesday night (March 25) seem to think they are fighting an Iranian-backed plot to expand Shia power and influence in the Arab world. Most other countries find that hard to believe, but even if the Sunni countries are right, wars often have unintended consequences. This military intervention is likely to have results that Saudi Arabia and its friends don’t like one bit.

      They’ve all shown up for this war. Saudi Arabia and the other monarchies of the Arab world (Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and even Morocco) have all committed aircraft to bombing Yemen. Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, and Pakistan have offered to send ground troops. And the United States (which just pulled the last American troops out of Yemen) promises to provide “logistical and intelligence support.”

      In practice, however, this coalition of Sunni Arabs and Americans is unlikely to commit large numbers of ground troops to Yemen: the country has been the graveyard of foreign armies from the Romans to the Ottomans. But if they don’t do that, the (entirely unintended) result of their bombing may be to facilitate the take-over of most of Yemen by al-Qaeda and/or ISIS.

      Sunni paranoia about the rise of Shia power has its roots in the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. So long as the Sunni minority ruled Iraq, it limited the influence of Iran, the paramount Shia power, in the Arab world. With the U.S. overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the destruction of Sunni supremacy in Iraq, Iran’s power automatically soared—and so did its influence in Shia parts of the Arab world.

      Iran didn’t have to do anything particularly aggressive for paranoia to take off in the Sunni countries of the Gulf. Of the 140 million citizens of countries that border on the Persian/Arabian Gulf, about two-thirds are Shias. With a Shia-dominated government in Baghdad, Saudi Arabia and the smaller Sunni Arab monarchies felt terribly exposed and began to see Shia plots everywhere.

      They see such a plot now in Yemen. The Houthi militia, drawn from the warlike Shia tribes of northern Yemen, have taken control of all the country’s big cities and most of its thickly populated agricultural heartland in less than one year. This is not actually all that rare an event in Yemeni history, and it never required help from Iran before, but now the hand of Iran is suspected everywhere.

      That’s why Sunni countries from all over the Arab world piled in so readily. They really believe they are fighting the Iranian bogeyman, although there is almost no evidence of direct Iranian support for the Houthis. (Nor is it easy to think of any strategic reason why Iran would be interested in Yemen.)

      The historical pattern is that these periodic conquests of the country by the northern tribes usually recede again after a while, because Shias are only a third of the population and the northern tribes who provide the manpower for the Houthi milita are only a fraction of the Shias. But this time nobody is willing to wait for the local Sunni backlash in Houthi-occupied parts of Yemen to push the northerners out.

      The “coalition” is now bombing the Houthis all over the country. How intensively and how accurately remains to be seen, but if they really succeed in breaking the Houthi grip on central and southern Yemen, they will create a power vacuum that will not be filled by the “legitimate” president of Yemen, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, whom they are allegedly trying to restore to power.

      Hadi’s forces have utterly disintegrated, and Houthi fighters now occupy the temporary capital that he established in his home city, Aden. (The real capital, Sanaa, has been in Houthi hands since September.) Hadi left Aden by boat on Tuesday, which suggests that he has left the country entirely—unless he plans to create another provisional capital on, say, the island of Socotra.

      So if the coalition bombs the Houthis out of Aden, but does not commit ground troops of its own, the real winners will be the al-Qaeda forces that wait just outside the city. Much the same goes for Taiz, the third city, and even for Sanaa itself: it is al-Qaeda or ISIS jihadis who stand to profit most from a Houthi retreat.

      The only other force in Yemen that could offer any opposition to the jihadis is the fighters who have rallied to the support of exiled ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh since he returned to the country. But Saleh is allied to the Houthis and he is a Shia himself, so it’s hard to see the coalition switching its support from Hadi to him.

      Yet it’s also hard to see the coalition committing a big army to Yemen. Everybody who has done that has regretted it. So while Sunni planes bomb Shia fighters, the jihadis may step in and sweep the board. An unintended outcome, of course, but not an unforeseeable one.



      Turn it to glass

      Mar 27, 2015 at 12:19pm

      Islam. Lol. It's remarkable to think that the civilizations in that region were the most progressive and scholarly in the world at one time. Then Islam came along and ruined everything. Now the area is either teetering on the brink of war, or at war.

      I remember not long after 9/11 an interviewer asking the 'man on the street' (in the US) about their feelings involving the Middle East peace process and one man saying "They can turn the entire region to glass as far as I'm concerned". I'm sure many feel the same way.

      I Chandler

      Mar 27, 2015 at 12:28pm

      DYER: "their bombing may be to facilitate the take-over of most of Yemen by ISIS...An unintended outcome, of course, but not an unforeseeable one."

      How does Dyer divine the intentions of Kings? Washington policy is a miracle of transparency compared to the decision-making process in Riyadh.

      DYER: "The Arab monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and UAE have committed aircraft to bombing Yemen."

      Where's Harper? Bombs are good enough for Libya,Iraq and Syria but Not Yemen?
      Where are the drones?

      Seantor Ron Paul writes:
      " The counterinsurgency doctrine is a total failure. This idea that we can run an Empire with military threats, missiles, and economic sanctions is a fallacy. A goal of military intimidation without the military troops necessary to maintain control of country we occupy, never works. "


      Mar 27, 2015 at 1:11pm

      The western propaganda machine has done a good job of demonizing the Islamic world and Islamophobia is running rampant in our world. [Harper wants to use it to create a Canadian security state.] Don't forget that the current malaise in the Middle East has been fomented previously by Western European imperialism since the fall of the Ottomans. To add further insult to injury they planted a foreign colonialist Jewish Nation in their midst. Now the Anglo-European alliance is at it again,destabilizing the region by fomenting religeous and inter-ethnic dissent and waging war against Muslims by trying to bomb them back to the stone age while they loot them for fossil fuels. They are not the sole authors of their own misfortune. Perhaps foreign interlopers are purposely fomenting war to better control them and stop them from uniting against the intruders.
      As for the Sunni-Shia schism it's not unique, consider the long standing schism between the Roman Church and the Byzantine [Orthodox] church or between the Catholics and the protestants in European history. You don't resolve conflicts by incinerating combatants in a nuclear conflagration,ie, by turning sand into glass!

      Rod I.

      Mar 27, 2015 at 2:48pm

      Yes it is a terrible situation with internecine strife killing the innocent as well as those bearing arms but what can western nations really do instead of posturing righteously and the politicians, many of whom have never served in any military, committing military personnel to hopeless causes as presidents and prime ministers spout rhetoric about the "sacrifices and heroism of our brave men and women in arms." Let that part of the world sort itself out.

      @Turn it to anger

      Mar 27, 2015 at 8:22pm

      "I remember not long after 9/11 an interviewer asking the 'man on the street' (in the US) about their feelings "

      Did that man on the street wear a Harley t-shirt, or was he wearing sun glasses?
      PSYOPs use feelings of anger to influence emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately behavior.


      Mar 29, 2015 at 3:34pm

      "So while Sunni planes bomb Shia fighters, the jihadis may step in and sweep the board. An unintended outcome, of course, but not an unforeseeable one."

      While the House of Saud doesn't officially back either ISIS or Al-Qaeda as both represent a threat to the stability of the Kingdom, there's plenty of unofficial support around, both because of their ideological links with Wahabi Islam, and also on the principle of "my enemy's enemy is my friend".

      I'm sure there are plenty of Saudi power players who both foresee and welcome the "unintended outcome".

      Let's kill our citizenry. Okay!

      Mar 30, 2015 at 6:25pm

      Can you imagine how wealthy this country would be if the politicians harnessed all that energy into something constructive!

      These people are willing to die, just to make the stack of dead bodies higher, so you know they'd make excellent workers, citizens, et al.