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    Firefighters attempt to extinguish a fire at a foodstuff storage facility destroyed by a Saudi-led air strike in Yemen's Red Sea port city of Houdieda January 6, 2016.

    Saudi Arabia's Defeat in Yemen: The Stakes Could Not Be Higher

    © REUTERS / Abduljabbar Zeyad
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    Alexander Mercouris
    368211

    The most dangerous crisis in the world today is not the confrontation in the South China Sea, the war in Syria, the crisis in Ukraine or the North Korean nuclear test.

    All these crises have their share of irrational actors, and there is a risk any one of them might spiral out of control.

    However the main parties in these quarrels — the US, China, Russia and Germany — have long histories of squaring off against each other. They have worked out rules with each other about how to handle such conflicts, which for the moment are just about working.

    The most dangerous crisis in the world, the one where the potential risks are greatest and where the actions of the players are least predictable, is the war in Yemen.

    Last year Saudi Arabia backed by a coalition of conservative Sunni Arab states intervened militarily in Yemen, which has been in a state of prolonged political crisis since 2011.

    Saudi Arabia’s declared reason for doing so was to restore the country’s legitimate President. Its actual reason was to prevent the takeover of the country by political and militia groups it believes are aligned with Iran.

    As is always the case with anything involving Saudi Arabia, it is very difficult to say how its intervention in Yemen is going. Such reports as there are however suggest it is going badly.

    Despite heavy bombing and the deployment of large numbers of Saudi troops the opposition in Yemen appears to be undefeated.

    More alarming still, the Yemeni opposition appears to be going onto the offensive, launching attacks on Saudi territory, capturing Saudi towns and settlements along the border.

    That is an astonishing development which must be causing growing alarm within the Saudi government.

    The fact foreign forces have captured Saudi territory despite all the Saudis have thrown at them must be causing alarm about the competence of the Saudi army and its ability to win the war.

    Worse, it may be jeopardising the stability of the Saudi state itself.

    Saudi Arabia competes with North Korea in its success in keeping its internal political situation secret.

    For example, it nows seems that in the 2000s Saudi Arabia had to fight on its own territory an al-Qaeda led jihadi insurgency. Though it was defeated, outside Saudi Arabia hardly anyone knows about it.

    That there are people in Saudi Arabia who oppose the government is hardly disputed, though their number, militancy and state of organisation is unknown.  

    How these people will react to the Saudi army’s defeats in Yemen is anyone’s guess.

    There must however be at least a possibility that like the revolutionaries in Russia in 1905 and 1917 they will use the impression of weakness created by the defeats to step up their opposition to the Saudi government.

    As for the Saudi government, I have little doubt the war in Yemen is by far its biggest worry, eclipsing concern about oil prices.

    It is probably nervousness about the effect of the defeats in Yemen on Saudi Arabia’s internal situation which explains the recent wave of executions — including that of a Shia cleric — as the Saudi government tries to intimidate its enemies and put on a show of strength.

    Saudi Arabia is the world’s leading oil producer and geographic heart of Islam. It lies on an extraordinary multiplicity of geopolitical, economic and religious fault-lines.  A crisis that risked the survival of the Saudi monarchy would throw the entire international system into chaos.

    It would be the biggest and most dangerous crisis the world has seen since the end of the Second World War.

    That however could be what we might be looking at before long.

    The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.

    Related:

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    Tags:
    oil prices, Saudi-led coalition, al-Qaeda, Yemen, Saudi Arabia
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