A Saudi war going badly wrong

Bill Law writes: It must have seemed a very good idea at the time. The young, ambitious son of an aged king launching a war against a rebellion in a troubled country to the south.

Ignore the fact that the tribe you are attacking is in fact a useful buffer against an even greater threat. Ignore that this tribe badly beat your country’s forces just a few years previously. Ignore the disquiet of old friends because it’s your moment and you have just been appointed the minister of defence.

You are bristling with new weapons, billions of dollars’ worth of them, you have a powerful older rival and you need to prove your mettle both to your supporters and to him. Go to war, young man, go to war and win a quick, decisive victory that confirms your stature as a great military leader.

And so when Mohammed bin Salman, sixth and favourite son of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, launched Operation Decisive Storm on 26 March, and orchestrated an air war against the Houthis of Yemen, he did so no doubt convinced of an easy win.

This would be a breeze, especially as the Egyptians would commit ground troops and if not them than the Pakistanis. After all, both countries have received billions of dollars in aid and interest-free loans from the Saudis over the years. But the Egyptians proved to have long memories. In the 1960s, 20,000 of their soldiers died in Yemen fighting a futile war that came to be known as Egypt’s Vietnam.

And Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan who, it is frequently said, owes his life to the Saudis, proved shrewd in referring the matter to parliament that then universally rejected it. No doubt the MPs were annoyed that the Saudis had previously and rather pompously announced Pakistan had joined the fray, without bothering to ask them. [Continue reading…]

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