By Gil Ronen
Pakistan said Thursday it was examining a request from Saudi Arabia to participate in the Saudi-led military operation against Iran-backed Shi’ite Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Official Saudi news agency SPA reported Pakistan was among five Muslim countries that have “declared their willingness to participate” in the offensive, along with Jordan, Sudan, Morocco and Egypt.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the Pakistani Foreign Ministry confirmed that it had received a request from Saudi Arabia, but did not elaborate further.
“I can confirm that we have been contacted by Saudi Arabia in this regard,” Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said Thursday. “The matter is being examined. That’s all I have to say at the moment.”
According to media reports, the Saudis want Pakistan to assist in air strikes and ground operations.
In recent weeks, Pakistani officials indicated that Islamabad turned down a request from Saudi Arabia for more Pakistani troops to reinforce its border with Yemen. While Pakistani soldiers are stationed in Saudi Arabia, their numbers are not known.
Like its close ally Saudi Arabia, Pakistan is a majority Sunni Muslim country, while Shi’ites make up about 20% of the population. But Pakistan has thus far been wary of getting drawn into the war between Saudi and Iranian proxies throughout the Middle East.
Writing in the Asia Times, columnist David Goldman assessed Thursday that the Saudis were doing an admirable job in the diplomacy that accompanies their offensive in Yemen.
“Pakistan is by far the largest Sunni state with a strong military and air force, and its alignment with the Saudi-led coalition is of decisive importance,” he wrote. “Egypt has sent four warships to the Gulf of Aden to secure the southern approach to the Suez Canal, and may have deterred an Iranian naval presence.”
In this context, Goldman noted that Arutz Sheva cited a tweet from a senior editor at Saudi online paper Arab News, according to which Egyptian ships forced an Iranian retreat from the strategic Bab Al-Mandab strait near the Port of Aden.
“Iran may be overextended with major commitments of Revolutionary Guards in Syria and Iraq,” the analyst added. “Its air force flies Shah-vintage American planes, while Saudi Arabia has several hundred fourth-generation fighters, including about 200 F-15’s. If Saudi Arabia can hold a Sunni coalition together, it should be in position to encircle and contain Iran.”