The media has generally overlooked Operation Golden Arrow, the Saudi-led land invasion of Yemen that began two plus weeks ago. The invasion from the sea has forced a sudden retreat by the rebels who took control of Yemen’s major cities earlier this year.
By way of background on March 26, Saudi and United Arab Emirates (UAE) jets launched an air campaign meant to dislodge the Houthis, who by then were consolidating their hold on the southern port city, Aden. In early May, southern secessionists, soldiers loyal to President Hadi and Special Forces from the UAE made common cause to fight off the Houthi occupiers. The Egyptian Navy joined the sea bombardment of the Houthi positions to support the landing of Saudi and UAE forces. Egypt is supporting the effort in Yemen because it cannot afford to have any Iranian-backed Shiite forces controlling the access to its expanded Suez Canal (hence the Egyptian navy’s role in shelling the Houthi forces as part of the unexpectedly-large invasion of Yemen).
When Aden was recaptured by anti-Houthi forces in July, the war entered a new phase: a ground campaign led by thousands of troops from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, armed with French and Russian made armored vehicles. The armored vehicles were French made Leclerc main battle tanks and Russian made BMPs (Infantry Fighting Vehicles). These are the armored vehicles in a UAE mechanized or armored brigade. (Not Saudi as reported by some media) (http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-08-04/dramatic-footage-saudi-tanks-in…)
The Houthis have not stopped fighting, but their main ally, Iran, has been thwarted by the Saudi and Egyptian naval blockade that has effectively prevented imports of weapons, military supplies and humanitarian supplies. Yemen imports most of its food, and Yemenis rely on very deep wells to draw water to the parched surface. Without fuel, water pumps do not operate. The ground forces with the anti-Houti forces have cleared Aden and secured the Aden international airport. The clearance of the airport has allowed C-17 aircraft from The Gulf Cooperative Council states to ferry in supplies for the invading force.
With the entry of these troops into the fight, the fortunes of the pro-Government side have changed dramatically. Since recapturing Aden and its surroundings, the UAE troops supported by other militias have pushed north, attacking the strategic Al-Anad air base from several sides. After days of fighting, Houthi fighters surrendered recently, leaving the pro-Government side in control of the country’s largest airbase. Despite these victories, the armored force will probably not be enough to unseat the Houthis from the rest of Yemen. There, the Iran-backed force is deeply entrenched and has managed to inflict a steady stream of causalities on Saudi border troops to the north despite continuous aerial bombardment.
The opening of a second front from Saudi Arabia is problematic given the terrain—high steep mountains with few passable valleys. Should the Saudi-led coalition and the UAE troops wish to attain complete regime change in Yemen’s capital Sanaa, they will need to send yet more troops to the country, with the risk that they will eventually been seen as occupying powers. An alternative prospect to this would be for the former government to set up its own state in the south of Yemen, and come to some sort of ceasefire agreement.
It is likely that the events of the next few months will be instrumental in deciding which of these outcomes will eventuate. The US is in a very delicate position. By striking the nuclear deal with Iran, the US made its Gulf Arab partners very paranoid about its future US commitment to the region, and so the US is trying to counterbalance that by being their good ally in Yemen.
The battles in Yemen will continue for some time, unless something remarkable occurs, such as a Saudi invasion from the north or Iran trying to run the naval blockade. Either of these would be a major escalation. The Iranian nuclear deal might be restraining Iran as it doesn’t want to give the Congress more reasons to turn down the deal. However, once the threat of losing the nuclear bargain is over the Iranians may do something to support their ally.