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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Why Saudia Arabia attacked Yemen?

Aden, with a population of close to one million, is a strategically located seaport of Yemen. Located at the shores of Red Sea, its strategic importance is further enhanced by the fact that its a gateway to, approximately 170 Km away, Bab el Mandeb. Bab e el Mandeb is a strategically important strait located between Yemen on one side and Djibiouti, Eriteria and Somalia to the other. Most importantly, maritime trafficking travelling from Egypt, especially from Suez Canal to further towards Indian Ocean has to pass through this important strategic strait. 

Saudi regime and the coalition justified attack on the Yemeni Houthis either with claims of protecting legitimate government of Yemen or with intent to save Saudia Arabia from perceived imminent invasion by, as they claim from Iranian proxies, the Houthis. However, if we analyze the events more closely, and especially, those which took place immediately before the Saudi attack, other possible insights to possible motivation behind the attack also unfolds.

Houthis who hail from Northern Yemen, which borders Saudi Arabia, captured Saana, the Yemeni capital, in September last year. Ever since, they have been making larger territorial gains, capturing almost 10 of Yemen 21 provinces. The battles between joint forces of Houthis and  forces loyal to ex president Ali Abdullah Saleh and forces loyal to President Mansour eventually forced the latter to fled to Aden.  On 22nd of March, an event of significant importance took place. Houthis made a fateful advance to the city of Taiz which is the last major center on way to Aden. By 25th of March, they occupied a key airbase located 67 Km outside Aden and eventually captured the International Airport based in the city. 

The immediate precipitant of war does not seem to be any imminent attack of Houthis on Saudia Arabia. Rather, Houthis have been advancing towards Southern Yemen, opposite to the Yemen-Saudi borders. It seems as if what motivated Saudi led coalition to attack Yemen is to thwart the possibility for Houthis to take over the strategic seaport. This would have given the Houthis an opportunity to further advance to Bab el Mandeb and gain influence on an important maritime route. In the calculus of Saudia Arabia and the West, especially the US, its the Iranians, who they accuse of supporting Houthis, would have eventually got an influence on Bab el Mandeb strait, had the Houthis advance not been stopped. As the following table (take from US Energy Information Center) approximately 3.8 million US barrel oil passes through Bab el Mandab every day and if figures for Suez Canal are taken into account as well, the estimated supply increases to approximately 8.5 million barrel a day. Losing influence on such massive oil supply would mean disastrous for the Gulf States, who depend on petro dollars and their Western allies, whose economies need constant flow of oil. Gulf States such as Qatar, Kuwait who are located in proximity to Strait of Hormuz, and which is connected to Bab el Mandeb through Gulf of Aden, and such States as Egyt and Sudan, located at the shores of Red Sea, where Bal el Mandab is actually located, serves to lose from the Houthi capturing of the Strait. It this is factor which motivates this grand alliance who struck the moment they felt the Houthis are crossing the red line.

Table 1. Volume of crude oil and petroleum products transported through world chokepoints, 2009-13
Location                                               2009       2010       2011       2012       2013
Strait of Hormuz                                      15.7        15.9        17.0        16.9        17.0
Strait of Malacca                                     13.5        14.5        14.6        15.1        15.2
Suez Canal and SUMED Pipeline               3.0          3.1          3.8          4.5         4.6
Bab el-Mandab                                       2.9          2.7          3.4          3.7         3.8
Danish Straits                                        3.0          3.2          3.3          3.1         3.3
Turkish Straits                                       2.8          2.8          3.0          2.9         2.9
Panama Canal                                       0.8          0.7          0.8          0.8         0.8
World maritime oil trade                        53.9        55.5        55.6        56.7         56.5
World total oil supply                             84.9        87.5        87.8        89.7         90.1
Notes: All estimates are in million barrels per day. Data for Panama Canal is by fiscal years.
Sources: U.S. Energy Information Administration analysis based on Lloyd's List Intelligence, Panama Canal Authority, Eastern Bloc Research, Suez Canal Authority, and UNCTAD, using EIA conversion factors.

 US has refrained from direct military participation because of its ongoing involvement with Iran over negotiation on nuclear program in Laussane, Switzerland. While ensuring its strategic interests are saved, whose responsibility can be relegated to partners, such as Gulf States in the region, it is willing to retain the possibility of nuclear deal as negotiation enters final stage in the coming days. It is also to noted that while Saudia Arabia and other Gulf States are totally allied to US interests, yet they are wary of possibility of US Iranian deal. The attack on Yemen also gives them the opportunity to incite a backlash from Iran, for example in terms of backing off from the deal. Will that happen depends about the odds Iranian faces and how directly US involves itself in the conflict.

However, what is far from truth is the fact that Saudia Arabia is under attack. A grand strategic war is underway for power, hegemony and resources which must be sold to population in vocabulary they are more receptive towards, and that is what this whole propaganda of attack on holy Saudia Arabia is about. 

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