Yemen has officially requested military assistance from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) via their joint forces – the Peninsula Shield Force (PSF) – to counter the imminent advance by Houthis and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh loyalists to Aden, the power base of President Abd-Rabbou Mansour Hadi.
On Monday, Prince Saud Al Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, said that his country would “take necessary measures if needed” to protect Yemen’s sovereignty after the country’s government, holed up in the southern port city of Aden, appealed to the GCC members for help.
Although Yemen is not a GCC member, it certainly represents a strategic key to the overall regional security of the Arabian Peninsula.
An immediate and direct GCC military intervention could be successful in the initial stages – basically saving Aden from falling into Saleh’s hands.
A quick and decisive military intervention could send a strong message to Saleh, the Houthis, and by association Iran that because Yemen is of strategic interest to the GCC, it will not be allowed to fall into their hands or become completely destabilised.
In order for a rapid military intervention to be successful, however, it must be accompanied by a clear political message assuring the Yemeni people that the intervention is designed to support rather than suppress public uprisings.
This message should directly address Yemen’s lingering economic and political problems. In short, the Yemeni people need assurance that the GCC is genuinely concerned about their welfare.
Any GCC military intervention will probably complicate the political plans of former President Saleh, but is unlikely to discourage him from continued alliance with the Houthis. Aden is Saleh’s biggest political prize and he is unlikely to give it up.
Nonetheless, it is unclear whether a military intervention by the GCC would promote long-term political stability in Yemen.
Although the GCC accomplished what some consider a successful military intervention in Bahrain in 2011, the situation in Yemen may be a bit more challenging.
From a geopolitical perspective, Yemen is a very large country with a total land area of more than 527,968sq km, whereas Bahrain is an island of only 760sq km.
In addition, Yemen’s topography is completely different from that of Bahrain and most other countries in the GCC region.
Bahrain’s government has been relatively more stable than Yemen’s, with strong Sunni control over the country’s politics while opposition to the royal family comes primarily from the country’s Shia minority.
The situation in Yemen is more complicated, with many political actors who seek different – and often conflicting – political goals.
Stakeholders include Saleh and his loyalists, the Houthis, the Islah party, the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP), President Hadi and his loyalists, Arab nationalists, al-Hirak al-Janoubi [southern secessionist movement], tribal leaders, Salafist movement, youth activists, and Al-Qaeda elements.
The Houthis will definitely react forcefully to any potential GCC military intervention, and will likely attempt to use their political propaganda machine to portray Hadi as a puppet in the hands of foreign powers.
Furthermore, they will likely use any GCC intervention as a recruiting and mobilisation tool and to justify a call for increased Iranian financial support.
They may also try – in a move of desperation – to provoke a border conflict with Saudi Arabia.
Any GCC military intervention will probably complicate the political plans of former President Saleh, but is unlikely to discourage him from continued alliance with the Houthis.
Aden is Saleh’s biggest political prize and it is not likely that he will give it up.