When the Saudi Ambassador to the USA Adel al-Jubeir declared in an interview on “NBC” in the US that Saudi Arabia and the United States have been discussing, for months now, the possible options over Yemen, and that the military option has emerged over the past weeks, he wasn’t totally lying. Not because he is famous for saying the truth, but because tangible evidence actually suggests that preparations for the operation ” Decisive Storm” has taken between six to nine months.
The preparations for a military operation the size of ” Decisive Storm”, in this strategic sensitive part of the world, with such a high number of participating countries, would need 1)extended efforts to convince certain countries, Egypt and Pakistan in particular, to participate, would need 2)training of troops to carry out operations commensurate with the nature of the battlefield, would need 3)the preparation of a database of goals, would need 4)a large amount of command and control capabilities for the Coordination of roles between the participating countries, and would need to 5)make systematic and sustained efforts to ensure the stability of oil prices.
1)First of all, the Gulf states, Jordan and Morocco may not need a lot of persuasion to participate in this military operation, but it is the case of other countries that must be studied carefully, especially the case of Egypt and Pakistan. The media has published several times, during the second half of last year, leaks that Saudi Arabia requested Egypt to transfer some of its military forces to Saudi Arabia or other Gulf states. These stories were based on some analysts’ interpretations of Egyptian President Sisi’s famous saying that Egypt would not take more than a “rail distance” to intervene if needed. The last few months have shown that the Egyptian president, and his backers, the Egyptian military, are handling things in a tight manner back in Egypt and they are indeed able to take such a decision, especially amidst what appears to be a lack of opposing voices in Egypt to such an interference in a war.
But things in Pakistan are not that easy. The media has published several times over the past months leaks that say Pakistan has refused the Saudi request to send military forces into its territory. According to the leaks, Pakistan has not made up its mind, yet, in terms of participation (it has so far agreed but is mulling the request of sending troops). This is of course due to the complexities of the internal situation of Pakistan, and the social fabric that is composed of Sunnis and Shiites, and because of the long existing power struggle between civilian authority and the Pakistani army. It seems that Saudi Arabia used its influence with the Pakistani military to persuade the civil authority. Military deals that have been signed, or reached the final stages of negotiation, may be the means to do so. For example, after Saudi Arabia had examined the Pakistani made tank “Immortal” in 2006, and refused to purchase it, the kingdom apparently changed its mind, after nine years, on the beginning of the month of March this year no less, and decided to sign the purchasing contract. Also, it seems that the “JF-17” Pakistani manufactured fighter jets deal has reached its final stages. The benefit from these deals which is expected to be worth up to several billion dollars, boosts Pakistan’s economy dramatically, especially its military industrial complex, knowing that this had been agreed upon within the framework of a broader Saudi Pakistani military cooperation. We can say that Saudi Arabia used its influence with the military, who drool (who wouldn’t?) over these deals that would strengthen their institutions, to persuade the Pakistani government to participate.
As for Sudan, it appears that the hand of Sudan has “transferred the gun to the other shoulder”. After having embraced a number of Iranian military projects, provided for an important part of the transfer of weapons to the Gaza Strip , and perhaps also to Hezbollah, and because it has been a target for a number of Israeli raids that targeted such convoys: in February 2009, and the military compound of Yarmouk in October 2012, it appears that Sudan has found that the drawbacks of this coalition are larger than its benefits, they decided to turn in their allegiance 180 degrees; it may be that Sudan’s position is the result of fear of having some of its military positions as potential targets if they decided to refuse to participate in this operation. This does not explain, however, why the Khartoum government did not leak or even subtly imply warnings to their former ally about the seriousness of the next military action.
2) Saudi military preparations for the operation included a number of training projects. But before we go there, let us remember that Saudi Arabia also made several huge arms deals last year that saw the Saudis rise to be the third largest importer of arms in the world, in terms of total military spending, which reached $ 80 billion. Now back to the training. Perhaps the most important training operation, which we deduce today relates to the war in Yemen, is the training process that started in France, in the Alps, under the name””Cluster 1″, launched last October, six months before the start of ” Decisive Storm”. Saudi special forces, reconnaissance units and paratroopers from Saudi ground forces participated in training operations. At that time, it was expected that Saudi Arabia mobilizes its forces to confront IS terrorism on its borders with Iraq, which happen to be arid desert areas! Why then were the Saudi special forces training in rugged mountainous areas? The answer is that the areas where the exercises took place are closest to the mountainous terrain of the south of Saudi Arabia and North of Yemen. Training was in preparation for this war.
3)What follows the rallying of the troops and the training stage is to prepare lists of military targets, in Yemen, and to prepare when to move from the air operation (planes and jets destroying targets) to the ground operation. What a lot of observers have missed was the contradiction in the speeches of Saudi Arabia, who alleged that the military operation had been launched because the Houthis have ignored “warnings from Saudi Arabia not to enter into the city of Aden”. The argument is that it is Saudi Arabia who intervened to save the “legitimate government” whose president, Mansour Hadi, had turned towards and wanted to flee to the south where it presided. But if the military intervention was aimed at this, why did the air strikes focus primarily on Sanaa and the strongholds of the Houthis in the north and did not target Yemeni army troops (allies of the Houthis and Ansar OO Lah) advancing to Aden? The logical explanation is that the process began to target specific sites drawn a long time in advance. It had nothing to do with developments in the field of Aden. The list of military targets, according to what has appeared so far, includes air defense sites, military airbases, shelters of combat helicopters, flying strips, ballistic missile storage sites, and ammunition depots in general.
The scope of operations is reminiscent of operation “Desert Storm” against Iraq in 1991, or operation “Noble Anvil” or “Merciful Angel” (go figure) against Serbia in 1999 by NATO. The aim of such air operations is to deny the full military capabilities of the opponent before starting any ground operations, if it were necessary to do so. So far, Saudi Arabia has launched from long-distances and high altitudes its F-15s or its semi hidden “Typhoon” jets missiles to hit the air defense sites first, paving the way for other planes to hit the rest of the military sites. Identifying all military sites, especially air defense sites, in a country comprising of over half a million square kilometers, is a very complex process and it must have taken long weeks of intelligence work to provide coordinates of sites, particularly for mobile air defense targets. In addition, the success of the military operation requires a naval blockade on the coast of Yemen, which is more than 2,500 km in length, and this requires a large number of ships to sail towards Yemen a few days before the start of the military operation.
4) The collecting of information about targets and the creation of a blueprint for the targeting stages, according to priorities, is only the first step. The next step is the allocation and coordination of responsibilities between the participating countries’ air forces, and the coordination and preparation of the technical aspects and state of weapons and personnel, intelligence, logistical needs, and everything that falls under the guise of command and control. It is worth mentioning that all similar operations to ” Decisive storm”, that took place during the past twenty-five years, have been led by the United States, which may be the only party capable of organizing a complex and extensive military operation in such precision. Perhaps one of the points that ensured confidentiality of preparation and implementation, over the past months, is that there was only one party that held a monopoly on the process and the thread of accurate information and the goals and roles assigned to each of the participating parties. These participating parties’ only responsibility was probably to mobilize their forces in specific locations and wait for orders.
5) Once the military operation was launched, which was a surprise to public opinion, it shook the oil markets in the world and the stock markets in the Gulf states. Oil prices rose on the first day by about six dollars. This reaction is expected and normal for a start of military operation in this strategic region through which millions of barrels of oil and millions of tons of commercial cargo pass daily. What was unexpected and unnatural, was the return of oil prices to what they were before the start of the military action (50 dollars or so). There is one explanation for this: the intervention of Saudi Arabia in oil markets to prevent price hikes. Here, it may be necessary to reconsider our interpretations of the falling world oil prices last summer. Oil prices did not fall below 100 USD per barrel until the seizing by the Houthis of Sanaa last August nearly eight months ago. This did not happen after Russia annexed Crimea, for example. It was clear that the reason for the drop in oil prices and the continuation of this was due to the flooding of world markets with more than its need of oil. And if we take oil prices as an indicator of the military operation, we can expect that the military operation will continue for a long time. If it were a short-term operation, Saudi Arabia would have left the barrel of oil at its new higher price, or let that price even rise some more, to benefit from the subsequent gains and to compensate some of the cost of the war. But it preferred to regulate the price and return it to the range of $ 50 as if it were required to maintain the stability of the global markets, even if the Strait of Bab el Mandeb closed and forced the maritime transport of oil to take alternative longer routes around the “Cape of Good Hope” in South Africa to get to Europe. The increase in the cost of the transfer of oil will not be accompanied by an increase in oil prices and the final prices will remain acceptable and harmless to international importers particularly in the West and Southeast Asia.
Finally, we can expect that such a large military operation, which has been prepared for long months, will be a long-term process that is likely to include ground operations too. This may be contrary to what some analysts tried to portray that the process is simply a maneuver designed to lure Iran into a military response, and thus undermine the nuclear negotiations, which went unaffected.If one recalls the path of military conflicts in the past decades, it must be noted that any attempt to implicate or lure a party to war is based on raising the rhetoric and raising the pace of verbal threats. It is also based on threatening military preparations quite some time before the start of real military actions, as Israel did with the Arabs in the 1967 war or in the invasion of Lebanon 1982. The military operations aimed at achieving actual military objectives depend, mainly, on secrecy during the preparation and the surprise factor at the start of implementation, as did Syria and Egypt in the 1973 war. If we compare ” Decisive Storm” to those wars we will find it is similar to the 1973 war, in terms of ensuring secrecy and surprise. This war is certainly not an attempt to lure a response from Iran. Quite the contrary, it seems as if the operation’s success and its transition to the next stage depends on it not getting disrupted or derailed. Houthis are ready, of course, for the ground war, this is why the air operation will take a long time to destroy the heavy military capabilities of the Houthis, on the one hand, and to weaken the morale of the defenders before the start of ground operations, if the need arises.