Strategic Implications of Saudi-UAE Tension in Yemen

2023/03/22 | Note, political, top news

Strategic Council Online - Opinion: Since the beginning of Saudi Arabia’s military attack on Yemen, political, military, and security relations between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have gone through four different stages. Based on “unity and convergence” at the beginning of the war, bilateral ties have become “rivalries” after a while. This competition led to many “disagreements,s,” With its continuation, the two countries have passed the stage of disagreement and have “tension” with each other. Hamid Khoshayand - Expert on regional affairs

Not long ago, the “Resistance Council” affiliated with the Southern Transitional Council of Yemen, which the UAE supports, expelled the ministers of the government of “Rashad Mohammed Al-Alimi, President of the Presidential Leadership Council of Yemen, and announced that they would not allow Al-Alimi to return to that city!

Concerning this incident, two points are essential; the first point is the apparent and hidden dimensions and angles of the issues and differences between the two countries of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. And the second point is the strategic consequences of the differences mentioned above, which have caused indirect tension and conflict in the relations between the two countries.

Regarding the first point, it should be said that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have fundamental differences of opinion in both “tactical” and “strategic” fields, which sometimes causes tension in the relations between the two countries.

The issues disputed by the two tactical countries are the areas under the influence in Yemen, some regional cases, competition to attract more foreign investment, the point of energy export, and power in the world markets.

However, the most critical issue that has caused “divergence and tension” in the relations between Saudi Arabia and the UAE is how the two countries “look” at the developments in Yemen. With absolute security, political and military view, Saudi Arabia seeks to form a non-Shiite government with minimal participation of Ansarollah in Yemen. In the past few years, it has made the utmost effort to bring to power its dependent elements.

Despite emphasizing the threat posed by Ansarollah and Yemen’s Islamic resistance, it has taken a cautious position towards the movement. This is even though, contrary to Riyadh’s approach, the issue of not forming a Shiite government in the geopolitics of West Asia and the Persian Gulf is not among the priorities of the UAE’s regional foreign policy. The UAE mainly seeks to “stabilize its influence” in Yemen and control the ports and areas overlooking the “Bab Al-Mandab Strait,” through which an essential part of the regional energy passes.

Although the UAE opposes Ansarollah, it considers it a “balancing weight” that stands in the way of Saudi hegemony in the region. One of the UAE’s hidden and strategic targets in entering the Yemen war was to “weaken the position” of Saudi Arabia as one of its regional rivals by forming militia groups consisting of local tribes and foreign mercenary militias in Yemen!

But regarding the second point, it is still being determined whether the tension in the relations between the two countries will have a long process or whether the parties will reach some compromise. However, if the pressure continues, the following consequences can be predicted at three domestic, regional, and international levels.

At the domestic level, as the first consequence, this issue will weaken the position of the two countries and, as a result, strengthen the role of Ansarollah in the equations of Yemen. The tension in Riyadh-Abu Dhabi relations is a “unique opportunity” for Ansarollah to increase its “strategic weight” in Yemen and the region.

It is worth mentioning that “Rashad Al Alimi” replaced Mansour Hadi in April 2022 as the head of the 8-member council (four from the north and four from the south) consisting of security and field elements to end the differences between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. For the formation of which 3 billion dollars was spent, the council members shared an opinion on one issue: “full-scale enmity with Ansarollah.” They made the utmost effort to remove it from Yemen’s equation. In other words, forming a “united front against Ansarollah” was the existential philosophy of the council, as mentioned earlier, and instead of removing Ansarollah, the council itself was removed!

In this context, the possibility of starting “proxy conflicts” is another consequence. Considering that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have separate spheres of influence and dependent elements and mercenaries in Yemen if the tension between the two countries continues, the beginning of proxy conflicts between the two countries in Yemen is not far from expectation.

The third consequence is the possibility of the “collapse of the Arab coalition” in Yemen, of which Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the two main pillars. Although the two countries have maintained the Arab unity and alliance despite the political differences in these years, since the differences between the two countries have become more public, as a rule, the aggressive Arab coalition will also be overshadowed by the negative results of the differences mentioned above and tensions.

Suppose the tension between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi continues at the regional level. It may have significant consequences, including creating “deep political, security, and even economic faults” in the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are the two crucial Persian Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Their quality and quantity of interaction and confrontation have always influenced the council’s work and results.

The second consequence is the risk of “rearrangement of alliances” in the Persian Gulf region. This is an unpleasant consequence, especially for Saudi Arabia, which has been the authority of the Arab countries in the area for many years.

Strengthening the “anarchic order” due to intensifying the current geopolitical competition between the two countries is the third consequence that may affect the Persian Gulf security system.

At the international level, the tension in the relations between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the two largest oil-producing countries in the world, can affect the “oil markets.” For a long time, the UAE has been demanding an increase in its production ceiling, which Saudi Arabia opposes.

And finally, the recent tensions caused the UAE, one of the crucial members of OPEC, to start internal consultations to leave this oil cartel without any worries. If this country leaves OPEC, this major oil organization may face a “strategic shock,” resulting in losing its power and influence in the global oil markets.

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