Egypt’s participation in the military Operation Decisive Storm against the Houthis in Yemen, has produced mixed political reactions.
Opinions range from those supporting Egypt’s military intervention, viewing this participation as part of necessary defense measures for the national security of the Arab Gulf states in confronting Iran’s expanding influence in the Arabian Peninsula.
Opponents perceive this military operation in terms of a continuation of the politics of polarization between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia; therefore pushing Egypt into conflicts and wars which do not involve its interests, and are not necessary for its own national security.
In attempt to rationalize the reasons behind Egypt’s military intervention in Yemen, there emerged a few days ago the narrative of the threat from the Houthis in light of their capture of the Yemeni port city of Mocha — just a few kilometers from the Bab al-Mandab Strait, which strategically straddles international maritime routes through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal.
It is on this basis that the Egyptian navy deployed four of its battleships to secure the Gulf of Aden from Thursday, March 26.
Commenting on the official state narrative regarding Egyptian military intervention in Yemen, the retired Brigadier General Gamal Mazloum perceived that Egypt had a duty to fulfill through its participation in Operation Decisive Storm.
Mazloum told Mada Masr: “Egypt has supported numerous Arab states in several critical circumstances.” He added that “national security threats to the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) represent threats to Egypt’s own national security.”
“We must not forget that the Arab Gulf states supported the Egyptian state following (the anti-Muslim Broterhoood uprising of) June 30,” Mazloum argued. “Hence Egypt is morally and nationally obliged to support these countries when their security is threatened.”
Indeed, the GCC states have provided the Egyptian state with continuous support – both financially, and in the form of petroleum products – since the army-led overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood on July 3, 2013. The GCC’s most recent aid and investment package is estimated at around $US12 billion, which the Gulf states pledged to Cairo during the Egypt Economic Development Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh this month.
Mazloum agreed with the state’s official announcements — issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Egyptian Presidency — concerning Egypt’s participation in military operations, which commenced Thursday.
In effect these official statements confirm Egypt’s political and military support for the steps taken by the “international coalition of states to support the legitimate government in Yemen” in response to its request. This intervention “stems from (Egypt’s) historic responsibilities towards Arab national security, and the security of the Arab Gulf region.”
These statements added that Cairo is currently coordinating its efforts with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies involved “towards Egyptian participation through its airforce and navy —along with the use of ground troops, if necessary — within the framework of the coalition, in defending Yemen’s security and stability, while preserving its territorial integrity and maintaining the security of its brotherly Arab states.”
However, the retired ambassador Hussein Haridi – Egypt’s former deputy foreign minister – saw that there has been an exaggeration in the narrative of the Houthi threat to Egyptian national security via their control of the Bab al-Mandab Strait. He added: “No one is capable of closing the strait, or bearing the international consequences associated with such an act.”
Haridi argued: “Even during the turbulent years of the Iran-Iraq War, the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf was not blocked or shut down – out of fear of the intolerable international repercussions to any state or political force involved in doing so. And the same applies to the Bab al-Mandab Strait.”
While Brigadier General Mazloum agrees that the Houthis do not have the necessary strength to close this strait down or threaten maritime navigation through it, still it was not possible for Egypt to leave this to chance, he claimed.
Mazloum clarified that “the Houthis lack the numbers and the capacity to control the strait, as their military force does not exceed 30 to 40 thousand fighters. Furthermore, Bab al-Mandab is protected by the presence of US, UK, French and German naval vessels – as well as those of Arab, and other countries — off the Somali coast, by the other side of the strait.”
Mazloum attributed this heavy naval presence in the strait to the years 2008 and 2009, when piracy grew rampant off the coast of Somalia. This prompted the deployment of maritime forces to this crucially important international trade route. He reiterated that, despite this heavy maritime security in the strait, it was not possible for Egyptian authorities to leave the security situation there to chance.
On the other hand, Amr Abdel Rahman, an Egyptian political researcher and specialist in the Arab world’s democratic transitions, perceives that securing Egypt’s strategic interests in the Bab al-Mandab Strait, could be better guaranteed through other means.
On his personal Facebook account, Abdel Rahman wrote: “The real threat to shipping in the Bab al-Mandab Strait is the chaos that emerges from this war. I do not grasp how can any sane person could imagine that the Houthis, for example, are more dangerous than Al-Qaeda (in the Arabian Peninsula) which is based just tens of kilometers away from the strait, or the new arrivals affiliated to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.”
Abdel Rahman added: “If our foreign policy and defense policy was not so dependent on the whims of Arab Gulf states, we could have realized reasonable diplomatic resolutions with the Iranians in these regards – whilst not excluding any of Egypt’s military options in the future.”
Earlier this month, a delegation of Houthi representatives had visited Cairo with the aim of meeting Egyptian officials, and Arab League officials. This delegation had included — in addition to Houthis — members of the General People’s Congress (the party of ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh) and also from the Popular Forces Union Party.
This delegation’s visit to Egypt came following their returning from two visits to Tehran and Moscow. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry issued a statement in which it denied meetings or interviews with any of the members of the Houthi-led delegation. This statement also cited Egypt’s commitment to supporting the institutions and symbols of state legitimacy in Yemen.
Regarding the Yemeni delegation’s visit, General Mazloum claimed that they were not an official visit, and that its was not possible for Egypt to make commitments to such a delegation — since they were not state representatives, and thus lack the sovereignty to formulate foreign policies, or draw-up policies of national security.
Abdel Rahman claimed Egypt’s military intervention in Yemen was unrelated to the issue of Egypt’s national security.
The researcher wrote: “This war is the natural outcome of conflicts brewing last September, and the strongest response to it since January. This is a trajectory aimed at mobilizing the reactionary Sunni/Islamist alliance – in the classic sense of the word – against Iran’s growing influence in this region of Arab Gulf monarchies.”
“It is a classic case of a reactionary foreign police and defense policy adopted by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, with American complicity,” Abdel Rahman argued. “This reminds us of the Baghdad Pact (1955) and the Central Treaty Organization (1955-1979) which were established solely for the goal of confronting Arab liberation movements — despite limitations in terms of their scope and success.”
The US and UK have openly announced their support for military actions against the Houthis in Yemen. In a statement issued by the US National Security Council, this military authority condemned the Houthis armed actions against Yemen’s elected government.
The US National Security Council also announced its support for military strikes led by Saudi Arabia and its regional partners, along with America’s provision of both logistical intelligence support in Operation Decisive Storm.
As for the UK, a statement issued by its Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the recent actions of the Houthis as “a sign of disregard for the political process.”
As a former diplomat, Haridi rejected military action against the Houthis in Yemen. He told Mada Masr he hoped that military operations would be halted at the earliest opportunity, adding that he doubts that military action can lead to a lasting resolution to the political crisis in Yemen.
Haridi saw what is happening in Yemen now as being an extension of the region’s sectarianism – led by the political alliances which govern this region.
Haridi also added that he was unsure that decisive storm was the appropriate or timely response to the conflict in Yemen. He claimed that a more effective solution to this conflict rests in political and diplomatic efforts — including GCC initiatives — which unite Yemenis in a process of national dialogue.
Abdel Rahman explained the main basis of his opposition to Egypt’s military intervention in Yemen: “I oppose Egyptian participation, not only because the Egyptian army has no real interest in fighting this war – in which it had previously played no part in.”
“But because this will place the Egyptian army at the disposal of Saudi rulers, and their allies, in the future.”
Abdel Rahman concluded: “Of course [President] Sisi has made some strategic gains from such military participation — such as having the international community turn a blind eye to Egypt’s direct/indirect military intervention in Libya. But even this armed intervention seems to lack a strategic vision. There is no guarantee that his intervention will accomplish anything beyond retaliating against aggressions in Libya, or serve to protect the lives of Egyptians there — as transpired at the hands of (affiliates to) the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.”