During King Abdullah’s reign (2005-2015), the Middle East faced its most turbulent period. So new King Salman has inherited the emerging threat of ISIS, the oil crisis and fending off eternal foe Iran and how he deals with these issues will provide insight into his policies.
Under King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia constructed a dual-track regional policy of attempting to contain Iranian influence whilst opposing the growth of extreme Sunni political Islam, which its sees as a threat to its rule but it could be turmoil ridden neighbour Yemen that could prove to be King Salman’s biggest test.
The recent resignation of Yemen’s president, leaving the country at the mercy of the Houthis, has Saudi Arabia feeling anxious. The Houthis are members of a rebel group, also known as Ansar Allah (Partisans of God), who originate in the north of the country and adhere to a branch of Shia Islam known as Zaidism.
Yemen is currently at risk of breaking up with the ascent of the Houthi movement, a group whose main strategic alliance is with Riyadh’s foe Iran, in a country also home to Sunni al Qaeda’s most active affiliate. The rise of Houthis’ Ansar Allah militia is a new danger threatening southern regions of Saudi Arabia, however Riyadh did not undertake any direct or active role to try to prevent the advance of the Houthis, and the political and material support it provided was limited to Yemeni President Abed Rabo Mansour Hadi and his army, which has collapsed in the face of the Houthis.
Saudi Arabia has been constructing a series of tough border defences to insulate itself from its turbulent neighbour and has cut off funding to Sanaa, hoping to persuade Yemen’s new rulers towards compromise. After decades buying the support of tribes, politicians and clerics in Yemen, the royal family is losing its grip on Yemen and is falling back on a defensive security policy. What are now required are proactive policies in regards to Yemen, rather than more guards and border fences.
By Shree Wood of The Next Century Foundation, an organisation working for conflict resolution and reconciliation.