As we reach the end of 2019, perhaps the best development of the year in the Middle East is that the expected war has not been launched against Iran. The tensions which had been exacerbated throughout 2018 by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have taken a new state with the U.S. backtracking. Despite the sabotages on Iranian ships in the Gulf, UAE ports and ships and finally the Saudi Aramco plant, the fact that the U.S. has not launched a physical attack against Iran has pushed the UAE and Saudi Arabia to take a step back.
There is no doubt that this is a positive development in the name of peace in the region. What is interesting is that Iran, whose economy has hit rock bottom due to this development, is not pleased. Iran, having built its politics on oppression and unjust treatment, with the excuse that the guarantees given to them were not fulfilled, declared it will restart the process of uranium enrichment.
This can be interpreted as Iran’s tradition of raising its voice and exaggerating as always – even when it’s on the ground. But let us reiterate one other development on the field that is positive in one aspect, further solidifying the conflict in another aspect.
The Yemen war that was born out of the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran led to the greatest disaster in the 21st century, and then, on Nov. 5, after 25 million people were distraught, a new deal was signed in Riyadh. As a matter of fact, even though this deal was made to cover up the rifts and cracks that have formed between the UAE and Saudi Arabia with respect to Yemen and Iran in the last few months, if the parties are reasonable, it can also be the start to ending the Yemen war. In other words, it can be described as the lesser evil. The deal signed between guarantors Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his partner UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, who brought together the Aden Temporary Council, supported by the UAE, and the Yemen Legitimate Government supported by Saudi Arabia, projects the formation of a new government in Aden. Though the articles of the deal are not clear, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are going to remain behind the scenes in Aden and the responsibility will appear to belong and transferred to the new government.
This attempt may allow life in Yemen to normalize, even if for a certain period of time, however, it will also pave the way to Yemen’s division as north and south, as was the case in 1967. There is no doubt that the UAE has been striving to realize this plan from the very beginning. However, the opposition of the coalition-backed Yemeni legitimate government and Saudi Arabia to this plan has triggered quests for a new formula. Because, in addition to the many reasons for the Yemen war, one of the most important realities was Saudi Arabia’s threats from Yemen to the southern borders. As a matter of fact, these threats had gone as far as capital Riyadh. Thus, Saudi Arabia long resisted the UAE’s intentions.
According to the alliance in Riyadh, the UAE will withdraw for now and, under the guarantee of the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the new administration – that is claimed to represent all of Yemen – will take over in the south.
Yet, it is also clear that Saudi Arabia will not accept this all the way. Because for the time being, they have no plan on how to end the Iranian-backed Houthis’ domination in the north. This will lead to the emergence of new scenarios in the future. If the parties accept a division, the south will be reinforced to launch an intense new war on the north, or rather against the Houthis. The Houthis will be pushed to the Sa’da area from which they came, and a new government will be established in the north under Saudi influence. Thus, Yemen will be divided as a southern government under UAE control, and a northern government under Saudi Arabia’s control.
The Yemen issue has turned into a small example of the U.S.’s failed Iraq intervention in 2003. The U.S. that wanted to bring democracy to Iraq and expel Iran from the area, ended up dividing Iraq and led to Iran gaining greater influence in the region. Now, through the war they started with the excuse to eliminate Iranian influence, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are going to divide Yemen and solidify Iran’s effect. Hence, neither the people of Yemen, who suffered great disaster, nor will history ever forgive Mohammed bin Salman and Mohammed bin Zayed.