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UAE/Yemen in Saudi Papers (July 8-Aug. 8)

Still playing around with this blog – for now, I’ll just be posting collections of articles on specific topics.

Saudi soldier from the First Brigade Airborne near to Emirates soldier (saudi88hawk, Wikimedia)

It has been about a month since Emirati officials confirmed the UAE’s “drawdown” from war in Yemen, following initial reports by Reuters based on “Western diplomatic sources.” The move was mostly framed as a coordinated, strategic decision – in close coordination with Saudi Arabia – although an Australian consultant to the UAE military described the conflict as “a quagmire where the Houthis were the ‘Yemeni Viet Cong.’” (7/11/19, NYT) Various reasons have been proposed for the drawdown, including the material and reputational costs to participating in the conflict, to the UAE having already achieved its limited objectives, to concerns about potential Iranian aggression in the Gulf.

There has been much speculation about what Saudi policymakers think about these developments, with the NYT reporting (based on another anonymous “Western diplomat”) that “[t]op officials with the royal court personally intervened with the Emirati leaders to try to dissuade them from the drawdown, said a Western diplomat familiar with the matter.” An anonymous Saudi official countered that the two countries “remain strategically aligned on the goals for Yemen.”

Coverage of this issue Saudi press (and the Saudi role in Yemen in general) provide some food for thought but little conclusive insight. An op-ed by UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash laying out a rationale for the drawdown (7/22/19, WaPo) was covered briefly in Saudi papers such as al-Madina and Okaz – with most noting Gargash’s line that “[t]here was no easy victory and there will be no easy peace.”

At the end of July, Saudi Ambassador to the UAE Turki al-Dakhil gave a talk at the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research centered on the close ties between the two countries. This is hardly a surprising topic for an ambassador, though in the course of the lecture he “revealed” a previously unknown agreement whereby Saudi diplomatic missions would represent the UAE (and serve UAE nationals) where there was no Emirati presence and vice versa.

Beyond this, a handful of op-eds have touched on the issue.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed, former editor-in-chief of Asharq al-Awsat and Saudi news channel Al Arabiya, weighed in on reports that the UAE had reached out to Iran for back-channel negotiations (7/3/19, Aawsat).

If… Abu Dhabi has indeed decided to reconcile with Tehran, then this is its sovereign right; it is surely aware of its own interests and this could be the right decision for it. However, if the story is a lie then the alliance against Iran still holds.

The article quickly pivots to discussing Qatar’s disruptive role in the region, noting that any action undertaken by the UAE would take place in a historical context of “manageable” KSA-UAE differences (as opposed to a Qatari record “full of controversies”). Elsewhere, only Syrian writer Rami al-Khalifah al-‘Ali of the Saudi daily Okaz weighed in, calling news of the rift a “false media campaign.” (7/28/19 Okaz)

There has been little public discussion of where all of this leaves the conflict in Yemen. This past week, though, Okaz columnist Khalid al-Suleiman emphasized that a peace agreement in Yemen would “not be considered a defeat for Saudi Arabia, but its overall goal” in the conflict (8/5/19 Okaz). Two days later, though, Suleiman referenced his previous article to emphasize Houthi culpability for the present situation as well as Saudi success in limiting Houthi advances.

What is happening in Yemen can continue without most Saudis knowing about it or having any feel for it unless they follow the news [closely], as it does not affect their lives… The only thing that concerns Saudi Arabia in the Yemen is ending the suffering of the Yemeni people, and this can only come about by ending the Houthi coup!

Abdulrahman Al-Rashedalso weighed in on the Yemen conflict, comparing it to the 18-year U.S. war in Afghanistan. “Has the war in Yemen been going on for too long? Yes, but wars do not have a specific duration.” (7/6/2019, Aawsat) “[W]ithdrawal is dangerous” given the proximity of Yemen to Saudi Arabia, though “the door was and remains open to the Houthis to participate in a national government and have seats in Parliament.”

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