Is Riyadh sending its own “little green men” into the fray in Yemen? As the LA Times reports:
A shadowy new pro-government force has been deployed in the embattled Yemeni port city of Aden, according to reports Sunday, sparking speculation that ground troops from the Saudi-led coalition may have joined the battle against Houthi rebels and their allies.
Saudi Arabia, however, denied that it had sent ground forces to Aden or any other part of Yemen.
The involvement of Saudi ground troops in Yemen, overtly acknowledged or otherwise, would mark an important milestone in the war in Yemen. A Yemeni political analyst stated that the group, which is said to be no larger than 50 fighters, was made up from special forces from at least three Arab nations. Saudi Arabia steadfastly denied it has deployed ground troops to the conflict, saying it continues to support the anti-Houthi forces.
Meanwhile France’s François Hollande was in Riyadh on Monday for a summit with the Saudi King Salman and leaders of other Gulf powers, making a strong show of support for the Sunni states’ regional concerns. “France and Saudi Arabia confirmed the necessity to reach a robust, lasting, verifiable, undisputed and binding deal with Iran,” a statement released after their meeting said. “This agreement must not destabilize the security and stability of the region nor threaten the security and stability of Iran’s neighbors.” In addition, France’s foreign minister announced that a slew of contracts with Saudi Arabia, ranging from defense to energy to civil aviation and worth tens of billions of euros, would be finalized quickly.
There’s a reason that we ranked Saudi Arabia as one of the world’s great powers this January: between its oil wealth and its regional leadership role, Riyadh can make its displeasure well known when it’s dissatisfied—as it is now, both vis-a-vis Yemen and the larger strategic picture concerning Iran. Next week, Gulf powers, including the Kingdom, arrive in Washington to haggle over the security guarantees it wants in exchange for backing an Iran deal. The Obama Administration can expect it to be very tough going.