This is a continuation of hundreds of years of Ottoman-Persian, Sunni-Sh’ia conflict, interrupted only by significant Western presence in the Middle East after World War I and the rigorously secular Pahlavi dynasty in Iran.  For the very first time the hugely expensive Saudi air force will be put to the test.  It should have no problem prevailing since the Houthis have no air force, but as we know, air attacks alone will not permanently affect the situation on the ground.  Eventually the Saudis are likely to have to send in ground troops, also magnificently equipped after tens of billions spent on it by the Saudi government.  Nevertheless, this will be done only with great reluctance, since it will require withdrawing troops from the northern frontier, leaving the way open for Islamic State (IS) incursions, some of which have already occurred in a minor fashion.  It will also make the Jordanians very nervous.  Saudi air and Egyptian naval force should be able to achieve a standoff, but a definitive defeat of the Houthis will require ground troops.  Iran may well send in hundreds of “advisors” to help out, but it is already extended in Iraq.  In short, the final outcome of the Yemen situation is not as clear as David seems to think.  Could the Saudis win?  Sure, depending on what you mean by win.  The Houthis will not disappear and it is unlikely that KSA will want to stay in place forever.  Will IS try to take advantage of the situation?  Absolutely, if only to divert attention from its increasingly stressed situation in Iraq and Syria.  A possible outcome might be an agreement with a restored Sunni government in Yemen to host a permanent presence of KSA or Gulf State military forces.  Of course, if Pakistan sends ground troops the situation changes fundamentally, but Pakistan, despite having a sizable army, is fully engaged on its northwest frontier and withdrawal of troops to be deployed so far away in an area of no strategic significance to the Pakistanis seems to me unlikely.  Again, a few “advisers” or “trainers”, but more than that I don’t see.

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Norman A Bailey is the author of numerous books and articles and recipient of several honorary degrees, medals and awards and two orders of knighthood. He also teaches economic statecraft at The Institute of World Politics and has experience on the staff of the National Security Council at the White House, in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and in business, consulting and finance. He is professor emeritus in the National Security Studies Center, University of Haifa, and a columnist for Globes, the Israeli business and financial newspaper.

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