Saudi Arabia: coalitions to oust rebels and fight terrorism


The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been regarded by some as having one of the most powerful influences over the Middle East. Since the end of the Arab uprisings, political tensions in the region have led to increasing amounts of instability. In an attempt to restore stability and strengthen governments, Saudi Arabia has emerged as a dominant force, leading coalitions against the region’s rebels.

 

Saudi Arabia: coalitions to oust rebels and fight terrorism

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been regarded by some as having one of the most powerful influences over the Middle East. Since the end of the Arab uprisings, political tensions in the region have led to increasing amounts of instability. In an attempt to restore stability and strengthen governments, Saudi Arabia has emerged as a dominant force, leading coalitions against the region’s rebels.

Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman speaks during a news conference in Riyadh December 15, 2015 (Reuters Photo)

Taking up almost 80 percent of the Arabian Peninsula, with a land area of approximately 830,000 square miles, the Saudi Kingdom is the second largest state in the Arab world. Saudi oil reserves are also the second largest in the entire world, making the country the leading oil exporter and second largest producer. With all of its oil, the Kingdom has a national GDP of USD 657 billion – making it the largest rentier economy in the world.

Along with the country’s strong economy, Saudi Arabia also has the best-equipped armed forces in the Gulf region, with its military numbering 227,000 troops, including 75,000 in the army, 13,500 in the navy and 20,000 in the air forces. Some 16,000 personnel are committed to air defences, 2,500 are responsible for strategic missiles and 100,000 man the National Guard – while the Kingdom also has 24,500 paramilitary forces.

Saudi Arabia’s combined economic and military strength have bought the state many allies, making it one of the most dominant regions in the Middle East in terms of foreign policy. As political tensions across the region have risen and threatened stability, Saudi Arabia has used its strength in an attempt to decrease tensions with the first example being that of its coalition in Yemen, which began in 2015 to influence the outcome of the Yemeni Civil War.

Yemeni Civil War

After the Arab uprisings and Yemen’s 2011 revolution, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi was elected the country’s new President, chosen to replace Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had ruled Yemen since 1978. In an attempt to implement a peaceful transition of power, an agreement sponsored by the Gulf Cooperation Council and the international community included a two-year plan, during which a National Dialogue Conference and military restructuring would lead to a new regime. Many had hoped the new regime would reflect the aspiration of the hundreds of thousands of Yemeni men and women who had demonstrated throughout 2011.

However, this did not happen and the internal situation in Yemen deteriorated rapidly. After the 2014 National Dialogue Conference, it became apparent that the country had failed to solve its main political issues, including the distribution of power between its contending political forces – made up of former president Saleh and his General People’s Congress; the Houthis, a Zaidi Shia-led movement from northern Yemen; The Yemeni Congregation for Reform, an Islamist party; and the country’s multiple southern separatist factions.

As the political situation continued to decline, there was a gradual takeover by the Houthis, culminating in the 2015 resignation of the legitimate transitional government, which was followed by a military move southwards by what is now described as the Houthi-Saleh alliance.

The first Saudi-led coalition

In early 2015, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council members were faced with the prospect of complete defeat of the transitional mechanism they had put in place, and also the consequent victory of an alliance between the Zaidi revivalist Houthi movement and the ousted previous ruler, Saleh. As a result, a coalition spearheaded by Saudi Arabia of nine Arab states was put together and airstrikes were launched in Yemen on 26 March 2015 with the stated intention of restoring legitimate authority to power and ousting rebels.

Fighter jets from Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain took part in the operation, while Somalia also made its airspace, territorial waters and military bases available to the coalition. The United States provided intelligence and logistical support, including search and rescue for downed coalition pilots, while Pakistan was also called on by Saudi Arabia to join the coalition, but refused due to its parliamentary vote to maintain neutrality.

Today, air strikes continue throughout Yemen, and there are ground troops in the country from many of the coalition states, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Morocco and Senegal. However, the military situation in Yemen has reached a stalemate and by the end of 2015, the official death toll had risen to 6000 with over 28,000 wounded.

New Saudi-led coalition: combating the Islamic State

 

saudi coalition members

As the coalition in Yemen has not yet reached a desired outcome, some of Saudi Arabia’s allies, including the United States, have been increasingly outspoken that Gulf Arab states should use their power to instead aid the military campaign against the Islamic State. Saudi Arabia agreed, and in December announced the formation a new 34-state military coalition to combat terrorism.

A list of Arab countries such as Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, together with Turkey, Malaysia, Pakistan and African states have been named to have decided on the formation of a military alliance led by Saudi Arabia – with a joint operations centre based in Riyadh to coordinate and support military operations.

Saudi Arabia announced “a duty to protect the Islamic nation from the evils of all terrorist groups and organisations, whatever their sect and name, which wreak death and corruption on earth and aim to terrorise the innocent”. The Kingdom also announced that within the coalition, there would be international coordination with major powers and international organisations in terms of operations in Syria and Iraq, or against any terrorist group that appears in front of the coalition.

Saudi’s foreign minister stated “it is time that the Islamic world take a stand, and they have done that by creating a coalition to push back and confront the terrorists and those who promote their violent ideologies”. When asked if the alliance would deploy troops on the ground, the minister replied, “nothing is off the table”. The United States welcomed the announcement of the anti-terrorism alliance and “looks forward to learning more about what Saudi Arabia has in mind in terms of this coalition”.