Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has become a victim of his own assumption that the Houthis were just a ragtag force and the Saudi intervention would be a walk in the park.

Boys walk amid ruins of houses during the conflict in the northwestern city of Saada, Yemen November 22, 2018. Picture taken on November 22, 2018.
Boys walk amid ruins of houses during the conflict in the northwestern city of Saada, Yemen November 22, 2018. Picture taken on November 22, 2018. (Reuters Archive)

At first, the plan looked perfect on paper. With the support of a mix of powerful Western and Gulf monarchies, Saudi Arabia’s de-facto leader, the young, ambitious but politically inexperienced Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), would bulldoze everything in his way to prove himself worthy for the title of crown prince. 

The moment came in 2015, when MBS, then-Saudi defence minister, decided to flex his muscle in the country's "backyard" Yemen. He waged war on the Houthi rebels in a bid to reinstall the government of pro-Saudi Yemeni leader Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, who was overthrown by the Houthis in early 2014.  

Fast forward to 2020, everything Saudi Arabia had planned in Yemen went wrong.

MBS became a victim of his own assumptions, considering the Houthis a mere ragtag force and hoping the Saudi intervention would be a walk in the park. 

The Houthi militias, backed by Iran, were not only able to take control of much of northern Yemen, their stronghold for centuries, they also advanced their fight, changing gears from defensive to offensive, overpowering the Saudi-backed military campaign. 

They hit Saudi targets with their missiles, allegedly supplied or facilitated by Tehran. The missiles became instrumental in the Houthi military strategy as they were used to target the Saudi oil facilities — the heart of Saudi income.   

Though the militias claimed the responsibility for the attack, Riyadh and Washington pinned the blame on Iran. 

The attack was significant for the Houthis, however. They managed to achieve what the Saudi Kingdom is afraid of the most: a war within Saudi territories.

In one of the most significant victories, the Houthis killed as many as 500 Saudi-backed fighters and took more than 2,000 hostages, describing them as soldiers affiliated to Saudi Arabia. 

The Saudi government, however, denied the incident, refusing to have sent any troops or militias into the Yemeni frontlines. But for regional experts, Saudi has denied many such rebounds, revealing its weakness in the battlefield and inability to dictate a military solution in Yemen. 

Shiite Houthi tribesmen hold their weapons as they chant slogans during a tribal gathering showing support for the Houthi movement, in Sanaa, Yemen on Sept. 21, 2019.
Shiite Houthi tribesmen hold their weapons as they chant slogans during a tribal gathering showing support for the Houthi movement, in Sanaa, Yemen on Sept. 21, 2019. (Hani Mohammed / AP Archive)

In what was described as a major blow to Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, the kingdom’s closest ally, the UAE, withdrew its forces from the war last July. 

The decision was in fact the result of different policies the two Gulf nations pursued in Yemen. 

While the UAE supports separatist Southern Transition Council (STC) to secure its sea trade, the Saudis prioritised clearing its borders of Iran-backed militias and preventing the conflict from spreading within its territories.

The contrasting foreign policy priorities of the two regional allies in Yemen have helped the Houthis to maintain their dominance in the war. 

As of 2020, the war continues and peace looks distant. The conflict has resulted in far-reaching catastrophic consequences for the people of Yemen, the poorest nation in the Middle East. 

The constant, heavy and indiscriminate bombing by the Saudi-led coalition, hitting Yemeni cities, including homes, markets, hospital, schools and mosques has caused a major humanitarian crisis, one of the worst in the world. 

According to the 2019 UN numbers, the conflict left tens of thousands dead or injured including at least 17,700 civilians. 

Around 3.3 million people have been uprooted and the UN Refugee Agency said the number of sites hosting displaced people only increases. 

There are 24 million people, nearly 80 percent of the entire population, in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 12 million children. 

Since the conflict began in March 2015, the country has become a living hell for the country’s children.

As the five-year war continues, it seems only the Yemeni people are paying a heavy price for MBS’s ambitious policies as the Iran-backed Houthis stand as strong as the first day of fight. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies