MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series | 1149 | March 30, 2015
The Formation Of A Sunni Arab Military Coalition — An Historic Shift In
Facing Iranian Expansionism
By: Y. Carmon and Y. Yehoshua*
Sunnis Take Their Destiny Into Their Own Hands
The Saudi-led joint Sunni Arab coalition that is fighting the Houthi in
Yemen constitutes an historic shift in the Sunni pushback against Iran's
expansion in the region, as 10 countries — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain,
Kuwait, the UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, and Pakistan, with Turkish
support — have formed a military-political coalition and launched Operation
Decisive Storm that aims to restore the ousted Sunni regime in Yemen. This
operation, that received immediate logistical and intelligence aid from the
U.S., was termed by Arab media "an overall change in Arab politics" and a
precedent in which "Arabs take their destiny into their own hands" and send
a stern message to Iran and to the entire world.
Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni countries consider the Houthi a proxy of
Iran, which is endeavoring to occupy a fourth Arab country, after Lebanon,
Syria, and Iraq. The Houthi aspirations to take over all of Yemen, not just
the northern region that they currently control, while at the same time
threatening to take over Bab El-Mandeb, places Saudi Arabia and other
countries such as Egypt and Sudan in grave strategic danger.
With its back to the wall, Saudi Arabia wisely formed an alliance of Sunni
countries to transcend internal differences and act together against their
common enemy — Iran. The building of this alliance, begun during the reign
of Saudi King 'Abdallah and continued by King Salman, required inter-Arab
diplomatic efforts to reconcile between states hostile to each other, such
as Qatar and Egypt, and to effect a rapprochement with pro-Iran Sunni
countries, such as Sudan.
By forming this alliance, the Arab countries have proven that they remain a
force to be reckoned with in the region, even in the wake of the nearly five
years of political division and deterioration of security that followed the
Arab Spring. As they face down the Houthi, the Sunni countries are sending a
message to both Iran and the West that they are tired of Iran's expansionism
and will no longer allow it to threaten their interests.
Operation Decisive Storm is also an assurance that the Syria scenario — in
which Sunnis' failure to intervene produced an arena where its two main
enemies, the Islamic State (ISIS) and the Islamic Republic of Iran, are
fighting each other for regional hegemony — would not recur. It has
repositioned the Sunni states as a Sunni establishment alternative in the
struggle against Iran, which so far has been waged almost exclusively by
extremist Islamist groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
Now, as the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh writes in its editorial, "Tehran will
think a thousand times before approaching another Arab country." It added
that this was because "for decades, there has been no joint Arab military
action against a common enemy." In a similar vein, the Bahraini daily
Akhbar Al-Khaleej stated: "This military surprise is a declaration by all
the Arab countries of their determination, assertiveness, and absolute
objection to the foreign plots to interfere in our affairs — particularly
Iran's provocative interference."
Implications For The U.S. And The West
In response to the formation of the Saudi-led Sunni coalition, the U.S.
immediately showed its support, with logistical and intelligence assistance.
Even before Operation Decisive Storm kicked off, the U.S. had supported
Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi's war against the Houthi, and had
considered his presidency legitimate. However, at the same time, and to the
displeasure of the Gulf states, it refrained from accusing Iran of
supporting Houthi attacks, claiming that there was no proof.
Operation Decisive Storm was a wakeup call for the U.S. and the Obama
administration, signaling that there was still an active and dominant Sunni
force that could mobilize the entire Arab and Muslim world, including Turkey
and Pakistan, against Iranian expansionism, and that the Western view of the
Arab world as hopelessly disintegrated and divided — and of Iran as the only
player capable of acting as sheriff to stabilize the region — is wrong.
In assisting Decisive Storm, then, the U.S. has acted realistically,
mobilizing to support the Sunnis much more than it ever has before. Prior to
the U.S. announcement of support, the media in many Arab Sunni countries had
been highly critical of U.S. foreign policy, calling it pro-Iranian. Now,
however, following its declaration of support, this criticism appears to
The Aims Of The Sunni Coalition: Defeat The Houthi, Achieve Limited
The Saudis' great strategic move has a realistic political goal: In addition
to the effort to completely neutralize the Houthi military strength, by
destroying their weapons caches, restricting flights, taking over ports, and
so on, it also aims to achieve a political solution, to represent all Yemeni
groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood and the Houthi.
Efforts To Direct "Decisive Storm" Momentum To Promotion Of Additional Sunni
The March 28-29, 2015 session of the Arab League — an organization that has
lost much of its clout since the onset of the Arab Spring — retroactively
approved the Sunni move against the Houthi, and also offered the
organization a chance to bolster its strength to promote other Sunni Arab
military measures. The Al-Madina editorial expressed hope that "the alliance
that was in fact first formed to deal with Yemen must inescapably continue
also in other places such as Syria and Libya."
Egyptian President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi, who has repeatedly called the
security of the Gulf states a red line, used the momentum of Operation
Decisive Storm — originally aimed at defending the Gulf states against
Iran — to attempt to realign the Arab world along the lines of Arab
nationalism and under Egyptian leadership. He concluded his speech at the
Arab League session by repeating "Long live the Arab ummah" three times, as
had Egyptian president and pan-Arab leader Gamal 'Abd Al-Nasser.
Also expressed in the Gulf press was the hope that this resolute pinpoint
Sunni move against Yemen's Houthi could be expanded into joint Arab activity
in other fields as well. The Bahraini daily Akhbar Al-Khaleej noted, "This
could be the start of a new Arab way in decisively and determinedly dealing
with all problems and crises threatening the Arabs and harming their
security." Likewise, Al-Riyadh stated that the Arab League "has been
resurrected today as a breathing, speaking, acting body. It is as though it
awaited someone to awaken it from its slumber — and along came 'Decisive
Storm' to awaken Arabs to a different reality." It went on to promise: "The
coming days will reveal a new reality, in which the Arabs will impose their
agenda on the forces of the West and on the way they are handling the
Iranian nuclear dossier, peace in the Middle East, and the Syrian
However, it is doubtful whether this Sunni joining of forces — which has to
date been used only to defend against Iran — could be expanded to encompass
Al-Sisi's other stated goals, among them amending the Arab League charter,
establishing a joint Arab army, and reviving pan-Arab values. This is
because aside from the Iranian issue, there has been significant and
unresolved disagreement among the Arab countries on a number of issues in
recent years, including the Palestinian problem and the fight against ISIS.
*Y. Carmon is President and Founder of MEMRI; Y. Yehoshua is Director of
Research at MEMRI.
 Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), Akhbar Al-Khaleej (Bahrain), March 29, 2015.
 Al-Riyadh, March 29, 2015.
 Akhbar Al-Khaleej, March 20, 2015.
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6007, Arab Gulf Media Supports Sunni
Military Campaign To Push Back Shi'ite Iranian Expansion: Syria Scenario
Will Not Recur, March 26, 2015.
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6003, Arab Press Harshly Criticized Obama
Administration For Allying With Iran, Turning Its Back On Arab Friends,
Leading Region To Disaster, March 23, 2015.
 Al-Madina (Saudi Arabia) March 30, 2015. The Qatari daily Al-Sharq also
called for the coalition to intervene in Syria; March 30, 2015.
 Al-Riyadh, March 29, 2015.
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