Bandar Al-Jaloud SPA via Agence France-Presse Hamas's attacks on Israel and Israel's relentless military response risk dashing Riyadh's hopes for lasting peace in the region, seen as crucial to the success of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Mohammed bin Khalifa's sweeping economic and social reform agenda. Salman.
Robbie Corey-Boulet – Agence France-Presse to Riyadh
- Middle East
The American-British strikes against the Houthi rebels place Saudi Arabia in a “delicate position” at a time when it wants to end the war in its Yemeni neighbor to devote itself to its internal reforms, say analysts.
Thursday night, the United States and the United Kingdom targeted dozens of sites with more than 100 precision projectiles, according to US Central Command.
The strikes were carried out in response to weeks of attacks on merchant ships in the Red Sea by the Iran-backed Houthis, who control northern Yemen and say they target Israel-linked boats in “solidarity” with the Palestinians from Gaza.
Saudi Arabia itself has led an anti-Houthi coalition since 2015, carrying out thousands of attacks in Yemen over the years. But the rich oil kingdom is now seeking to consolidate a truce to get out of the quagmire that the poorest country on the Arabian Peninsula has become for it.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry was quick to express “great concern” on Friday and to call for “restraint and avoiding escalation” in the Red Sea.
“Saudi Arabia is in a difficult position,” said Anna Jacobs, senior Gulf analyst for the International Crisis Group.
The kingdom “must balance deep public hostility toward the United States and Israel, its security concerns in the Red Sea, and its desire to deter the Houthis from further attacks » against him, she added.
Between 2019 and 2021, Houthi rebels carried out several attacks against sites of oil giant Aramco and other oil installations in Saudi Arabia, the world's largest crude exporter.
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Weary of war
Hamas' unprecedented attacks on Israel on October 7 and Israel's relentless military response risk dashing Riyadh's hopes for lasting peace in the region, seen as crucial to the success of the country's sweeping economic and social reform agenda. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s “Vision 2030”.
The Red Sea is one of the pillars of this vision with resorts planned to transform the once-closed kingdom into a tourism mecca.
The end of the war in Yemen has thus become a central objective for Riyadh, encouraged by a surprise rapprochement agreement concluded last March between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
In December, UN special envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg reported progress toward peace with a road map that would lead to a nationwide ceasefire.
But the series of Houthi attacks, 27 in total according to the White House, against ships passing through the Bab al-Mandab Strait, the southern gateway to the Red Sea, has complicated this process.
Washington announced in December bringing together more than 20 countries as part of Operation “Prosperity Guardian” aimed at securing the Red Sea.
Riyadh “had no choice but not to join the operation,” said Ali Shihabi, a Saudi analyst close to the government, justifying this position in particular by its peace talks in Yemen.
The kingdom suspended negotiations on possible normalization with Israel a week after the start of the war between Israel and Hamas.
Although Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, its leaders are attentive to public opinion.
A rare poll released in December by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy showed that 96 percent of Saudis thought Arab countries should cut all contact with Israel “to protest its action military in Gaza.”
And given Washington's unwavering support for Israel, it is therefore difficult to see Riyadh getting involved in specific US military operations in the coming months, according to experts.
Saudi Arabia remembers the United States' reluctance to take on the Houthis in recent years, when Saudi ships were attacked by Yemeni rebels.
The Saudis “now see that the United States is engaging in (strikes) at a very inopportune time for regional stability,” noted Cinzia Bianco of the European Council on Foreign Relations.< /p>
They “clearly see that there are double standards when Israel is at stake or when they are at stake,” she noted.