Posts tagged ‘Saudi’

August 27, 2019

The Sandal that Slapped the Tank

by mkleit

In December 2018, the fighting Yemeni parties have conducted peace negotiations to pave the way to an end of the brutal war that has torn the country apart, especially with the military intervention of a Saudi-led coalition in favor of one of the parties. The negotiations did some change on the ground, yet in the art of war, the side that imposes its conditions must be the one that has the upper hand, and so far, that’s not the zone the Coalition is in.

The Yemeni military forces have targeted on the 17th of August ARAMCO’s Shaibah oil field and refineries, near the Saudi – Emirati borders, with 10 military drones, which makes it the second time the Yemenis target the strategic depth of the Saudis in the war that has started mid-March 2015.

Yemeni military spokesman, Yehya al Saree’, who goes by the command of the Yemeni government in Sanaa, said that on the morning of the 17th of August, the Yemeni aerial forces have launched its largest attack on Saudi Arabia since the start of the Saudi-led Coalition war on Yemen by targeting Shaibah oil field and refineries with 10 military drones. He promised “bigger and wider military operations on their (Saudis) vital facilities… the coming operations will be more hurtful for the enemy.”

 

Yemeni military spokesman, Yehya al Saree, announcing major attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil refinery in Shaibah

 

This peculiar development isn’t the first of its kind, if we’re speaking of an attack on Saudi Arabia’s vital oil facilities, where the Yemenis have targeted main oil pumps in central Saudi Arabia last May. It has caused some surges in oil prices as well as a change in the tone of Saudi officials and their allies inside Yemen – mainly in southern regions – towards the nature of the war they’re fighting against a Yemeni government located in Sanaa.

The Emirates, the Saudi’s most prominent regional allies in this war, has committed to withdraw its forces from Yemen after a series of attacks on its interests such as oil tankers in Dubai port, military drone operations on Abu Dhabi airport, and its military presence in Aden, south of Yemen. In addition to the international pressure from some governments and rights groups because of alleged war crimes committed against civilians in southern areas, such AP’s report on secret prisons where rape and torture is being practiced on opposers to the Emirati presence in the capitol of the Yemeni south, Aden, supervised by Emirati generals.

Report of Yemeni Army air force targeting Abu Dhabi Airport

 

The Emirati decision has indirectly led to sporadic clashes in Aden between Emirati-supported Southern Transition Council and the pro-Yemeni President Abed Rabbu Mansour Hadi forces, supported by the Saudis. This tension between both sides has shaken the trust among the members of the Coalition, especially with the different goals each party has from the war. For the Saudis, it’s about political control over the Yemenis, and the Emiratis are in it for the ports, especially Aden, Socotra, and Houdeidah, which would act as a vital replacement for the strategic Dubai port considering recent developments in the Persian Gulf and the potential big rivalry that the Chinese-funder Pakistani Gwadar port would create. As for the Hadi government, it’s acting basically as the Saudi’s political puppet to enforce the latter’s control over the country that has always been directly related to the national security of kingdom; while the Transition Council is looking for independence and separation from the Northern part of Yemen, taking he country back to a time before the unification in 1990.

This turbulence, alongside that in the Northern front, would mostly lead the Saudis to one of two options:

  • Conduct direct peace talks with the Sanaa government, especially the Houthis, alongside the revival of the agreements signed in Decemeber’s talks in Stockholm. This would pave the road to an end to the entire war and the sufferings of the millions of Yemenis whom are either displaced, suffering from famine, diseases, malnutrition, and injuries.

Even though the warring parties have signed several agreements that would be a starter in lasting peace process, yet, due to the direct and indirect intervention of many global players in the war, the agreements weren’t fully applied on ground, with the exception of the Houdeidah agreement where the clashes were halted and UN peace-keepers supervised the peace treaty there, in which lies the only port that’s an access for humanitarian aid to more than half of the country’s population.

It’s worth noting that there has been huge international pressure on Saudi Arabia and the UAE to stop the war from governments and International NGOs, and recently there has been a notable statement on the 20th of July by the Saudi Ambassador to the UN, Abdullah al-Muallimi, where he said that “we do not want war with Iran in Yemen or elsewhere… it is high time that the war in Yemen should end and the Houthis should accept UN resolution 2216 by ending their illegitimate occupation of power in Yemen.” This statement could serve as a beacon of light to end this catastrophic war.

 

Heads of both Yemeni delegations, Khaled al-Yamani (left) and Mohamad Abdul-Salam (right), shaking hands, with the presence of UN secretary general Antonion Guterres (center) at the closing of the Yemen peace talks in Stockholm (December 2018)

 

  • The second option would be getting the upper hand in the war over the Sanaa forces and the Houthis, yet it’s easier said than done considering the recent balance-tipping developments, whether it be in Dale’ governorate in the south, just north of Aden, the capitol of the Saudis’ Yemeni allies; as well as, and most notably, the losses the Kingdom is suffering from at the border fronts, where the Saudis have lost several towns and around three cities, clashes going on near other cities, air fields like Abha and Khamis Mousheyt are being constantly hit by military drones and ballistic missiles, and border outposts are being taken over by a few men wearing nothing but slippers and a traditional Yemeni outfit, unlike the Saudi-led coalition which is fully equipped with body armor, night vision scopes, state of the art machine guns, and protected by formidable air and ground forces.

History has taught us that one the hardest battles that any army would fight is against a group that has no fear of death nor does it have anything to lose. The Yemenis have fought 6 wars in the past 30 years, unlike the Saudis, who have entered their first actual war.

In addition to that, the problem that lies in this expectation is that several of the key allies of the Saudis are taking a step back from supporting them, such as the US, France, and UK, after reports on war crimes and human rights abuses by Saudi-led coalition forces. Yet that doesn’t mean that these three elite nations aren’t getting paid in billions in return for weapons for the Saudis and Emiratis. Human rights aside, money still has the higher ground in the case of Yemen.

Nevertheless, the Houthis and their allies in Sanaa are still producing and improving their military arsenal to repel the Coalition’s attacks in the north, which has been a surprise to the Saudis and a heavy punch that they’re trying to cope with.

 

 

Sanaa-supported Yemen military generals standing in front of newly developed missiles’ replicas

 

In conclusion, the most reliable option here is a total cease-fire in all of Yemen, though it’s hard to practically impose on the warring sides due to the lack of trust between them, yet it will open a door for serious negotiations to put an end to the war, or, to say the least, apply the agreements that have been signed between them in Stockholm last December.

July 20, 2015

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

by mkleit

Independent

How far is Saudi Arabia complicit in the Isis takeover of much of northern Iraq, and is it stoking an escalating Sunni-Shia conflict across the Islamic world? Some time before 9/11, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, once the powerful Saudi ambassador in Washington and head of Saudi intelligence until a few months ago, had a revealing and ominous conversation with the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove. Prince Bandar told him: “The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally ‘God help the Shia’. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them.”

The fatal moment predicted by Prince Bandar may now have come for many Shia, with Saudi Arabia playing an important role in bringing it about by supporting the anti-Shia jihad in Iraq and Syria. Since the capture of Mosul by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) on 10 June, Shia women and children have been killed in villages south of Kirkuk, and Shia air force cadets machine-gunned and buried in mass graves near Tikrit.

In Mosul, Shia shrines and mosques have been blown up, and in the nearby Shia Turkoman city of Tal Afar 4,000 houses have been taken over by Isis fighters as “spoils of war”. Simply to be identified as Shia or a related sect, such as the Alawites, in Sunni rebel-held parts of Iraq and Syria today, has become as dangerous as being a Jew was in Nazi-controlled parts of Europe in 1940.

There is no doubt about the accuracy of the quote by Prince Bandar, secretary-general of the Saudi National Security Council from 2005 and head of General Intelligence between 2012 and 2014, the crucial two years when al-Qa’ida-type jihadis took over the Sunni-armed opposition in Iraq and Syria. Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute last week, Dearlove, who headed MI6 from 1999 to 2004, emphasised the significance of Prince Bandar’s words, saying that they constituted “a chilling comment that I remember very well indeed”.

He does not doubt that substantial and sustained funding from private donors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to which the authorities may have turned a blind eye, has played a central role in the Isis surge into Sunni areas of Iraq. He said: “Such things simply do not happen spontaneously.” This sounds realistic since the tribal and communal leadership in Sunni majority provinces is much beholden to Saudi and Gulf paymasters, and would be unlikely to cooperate with Isis without their consent.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan

Prince Bandar bin Sultan

Dearlove’s explosive revelation about the prediction of a day of reckoning for the Shia by Prince Bandar, and the former head of MI6’s view that Saudi Arabia is involved in the Isis-led Sunni rebellion, has attracted surprisingly little attention. Coverage of Dearlove’s speech focused instead on his main theme that the threat from Isis to the West is being exaggerated because, unlike Bin Laden’s al-Qa’ida, it is absorbed in a new conflict that “is essentially Muslim on Muslim”. Unfortunately, Christians in areas captured by Isis are finding this is not true, as their churches are desecrated and they are forced to flee. A difference between al-Qa’ida and Isis is that the latter is much better organised; if it does attack Western targets the results are likely to be devastating.

The forecast by Prince Bandar, who was at the heart of Saudi security policy for more than three decades, that the 100 million Shia in the Middle East face disaster at the hands of the Sunni majority, will convince many Shia that they are the victims of a Saudi-led campaign to crush them. “The Shia in general are getting very frightened after what happened in northern Iraq,” said an Iraqi commentator, who did not want his name published. Shia see the threat as not only military but stemming from the expanded influence over mainstream Sunni Islam of Wahhabism, the puritanical and intolerant version of Islam espoused by Saudi Arabia that condemns Shia and other Islamic sects as non-Muslim apostates and polytheists.

Dearlove says that he has no inside knowledge obtained since he retired as head of MI6 10 years ago to become Master of Pembroke College in Cambridge. But, drawing on past experience, he sees Saudi strategic thinking as being shaped by two deep-seated beliefs or attitudes. First, they are convinced that there “can be no legitimate or admissible challenge to the Islamic purity of their Wahhabi credentials as guardians of Islam’s holiest shrines”. But, perhaps more significantly given the deepening Sunni-Shia confrontation, the Saudi belief that they possess a monopoly of Islamic truth leads them to be “deeply attracted towards any militancy which can effectively challenge Shia-dom”.

Western governments traditionally play down the connection between Saudi Arabia and its Wahhabist faith, on the one hand, and jihadism, whether of the variety espoused by Osama bin Laden and al-Qa’ida or by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Isis. There is nothing conspiratorial or secret about these links: 15 out of 19 of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, as was Bin Laden and most of the private donors who funded the operation.

Sir Richard Dearlove

Sir Richard Dearlove

But there has always been a second theme to Saudi policy towards al-Qa’ida type jihadis, contradicting Prince Bandar’s approach and seeing jihadis as a mortal threat to the Kingdom. Dearlove illustrates this attitude by relating how, soon after 9/11, he visited the Saudi capital Riyadh with Tony Blair.

He remembers the then head of Saudi General Intelligence “literally shouting at me across his office: ‘9/11 is a mere pinprick on the West. In the medium term, it is nothing more than a series of personal tragedies. What these terrorists want is to destroy the House of Saud and remake the Middle East.'” In the event, Saudi Arabia adopted both policies, encouraging the jihadis as a useful tool of Saudi anti-Shia influence abroad but suppressing them at home as a threat to the status quo. It is this dual policy that has fallen apart over the last year.

Saudi sympathy for anti-Shia “militancy” is identified in leaked US official documents. The then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in December 2009 in a cable released by Wikileaks that “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan] and other terrorist groups.” She said that, in so far as Saudi Arabia did act against al-Qa’ida, it was as a domestic threat and not because of its activities abroad. This policy may now be changing with the dismissal of Prince Bandar as head of intelligence this year. But the change is very recent, still ambivalent and may be too late: it was only last week that a Saudi prince said he would no longer fund a satellite television station notorious for its anti-Shia bias based in Egypt.

The Sunni Ahmed al-Rifai shrine near Tal Afar is bulldozed

The Sunni Ahmed al-Rifai shrine near Tal Afar is bulldozed

The problem for the Saudis is that their attempts since Bandar lost his job to create an anti-Maliki and anti-Assad Sunni constituency which is simultaneously against al-Qa’ida and its clones have failed.

By seeking to weaken Maliki and Assad in the interest of a more moderate Sunni faction, Saudi Arabia and its allies are in practice playing into the hands of Isis which is swiftly gaining full control of the Sunni opposition in Syria and Iraq. In Mosul, as happened previously in its Syrian capital Raqqa, potential critics and opponents are disarmed, forced to swear allegiance to the new caliphate and killed if they resist.

The West may have to pay a price for its alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies, which have always found Sunni jihadism more attractive than democracy. A striking example of double standards by the western powers was the Saudi-backed suppression of peaceful democratic protests by the Shia majority in Bahrain in March 2011. Some 1,500 Saudi troops were sent across the causeway to the island kingdom as the demonstrations were ended with great brutality and Shia mosques and shrines were destroyed.

An alibi used by the US and Britain is that the Sunni al-Khalifa royal family in Bahrain is pursuing dialogue and reform. But this excuse looked thin last week as Bahrain expelled a top US diplomat, the assistant secretary of state for human rights Tom Malinowksi, for meeting leaders of the main Shia opposition party al-Wifaq. Mr Malinowski tweeted that the Bahrain government’s action was “not about me but about undermining dialogue”.

Iraqi leader al-Maliki

Iraqi leader al-Maliki

Western powers and their regional allies have largely escaped criticism for their role in reigniting the war in Iraq. Publicly and privately, they have blamed the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for persecuting and marginalising the Sunni minority, so provoking them into supporting the Isis-led revolt. There is much truth in this, but it is by no means the whole story. Maliki did enough to enrage the Sunni, partly because he wanted to frighten Shia voters into supporting him in the 30 April election by claiming to be the Shia community’s protector against Sunni counter-revolution.

But for all his gargantuan mistakes, Maliki’s failings are not the reason why the Iraqi state is disintegrating. What destabilised Iraq from 2011 on was the revolt of the Sunni in Syria and the takeover of that revolt by jihadis, who were often sponsored by donors in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates. Again and again Iraqi politicians warned that by not seeking to close down the civil war in Syria, Western leaders were making it inevitable that the conflict in Iraq would restart. “I guess they just didn’t believe us and were fixated on getting rid of [President Bashar al-] Assad,” said an Iraqi leader in Baghdad last week.

Of course, US and British politicians and diplomats would argue that they were in no position to bring an end to the Syrian conflict. But this is misleading. By insisting that peace negotiations must be about the departure of Assad from power, something that was never going to happen since Assad held most of the cities in the country and his troops were advancing, the US and Britain made sure the war would continue.

The chief beneficiary is Isis which over the last two weeks has been mopping up the last opposition to its rule in eastern Syria. The Kurds in the north and the official al-Qa’ida representative, Jabhat al-Nusra, are faltering under the impact of Isis forces high in morale and using tanks and artillery captured from the Iraqi army. It is also, without the rest of the world taking notice, taking over many of the Syrian oil wells that it did not already control.

The Shia Al-Qubba Husseiniya mosque in Mosul explodes

The Shia Al-Qubba Husseiniya mosque in Mosul explodes

Saudi Arabia has created a Frankenstein’s monster over which it is rapidly losing control. The same is true of its allies such as Turkey which has been a vital back-base for Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra by keeping the 510-mile-long Turkish-Syrian border open. As Kurdish-held border crossings fall to Isis, Turkey will find it has a new neighbour of extraordinary violence, and one deeply ungrateful for past favours from the Turkish intelligence service.

As for Saudi Arabia, it may come to regret its support for the Sunni revolts in Syria and Iraq as jihadi social media begins to speak of the House of Saud as its next target. It is the unnamed head of Saudi General Intelligence quoted by Dearlove after 9/11 who is turning out to have analysed the potential threat to Saudi Arabia correctly and not Prince Bandar, which may explain why the latter was sacked earlier this year.

Nor is this the only point on which Prince Bandar was dangerously mistaken. The rise of Isis is bad news for the Shia of Iraq but it is worse news for the Sunni whose leadership has been ceded to a pathologically bloodthirsty and intolerant movement, a sort of Islamic Khmer Rouge, which has no aim but war without end.

The Sunni caliphate rules a large, impoverished and isolated area from which people are fleeing. Several million Sunni in and around Baghdad are vulnerable to attack and 255 Sunni prisoners have already been massacred. In the long term, Isis cannot win, but its mix of fanaticism and good organisation makes it difficult to dislodge.

“God help the Shia,” said Prince Bandar, but, partly thanks to him, the shattered Sunni communities of Iraq and Syria may need divine help even more than the Shia.

June 26, 2015

Saudi Arabia Will Fail in Yemen

by mkleit

Asher Orkaby

Asher Orkaby, PhD, is a research fellow at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies and is the author of a forthcoming book, The International History of the Yemen Civil War, 1962-68.

National Interest

Neutron bomb on the outskirts of Yemeni capital Sanaa

Neutron bomb on the outskirts of Yemeni capital Sanaa

As the warring Yemeni parties gather for preliminary peace talks in Geneva, Saudi Arabia continues its unrelenting bombing campaign against the tribes of the Houthi movement. For two and a half months, the air forces of the Saudi coalition have targeted military sites, homes and businesses affiliated with the Houthi movement, as well as the palaces and residences of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his political allies. Yet, as the Houthis sit down at the negotiating table this week, their domestic political and strategic position has not been greatly affected by this extensive bombing. Saudi Arabia’s futile air campaign is a further demonstration of the limits of airpower in general, and in South Arabia specifically.

Saudi Arabia did not pioneer the use of airpower to exercise regional power, which originated with the British imperial policy of “air control” in post-WWI Iraq. Winston Churchill, the postwar Secretary of War and Secretary of State for Air championed the use of air force to maintain British control over Iraq while expending the least amount of military force on the ground. Inaccurate intelligence, inadequate navigation equipment and pilot errors led many bombs astray, often hitting the wrong target and with little distinction between civilians and militants. Attacks and patrols by the British Royal Air Force were guided by sparse local intelligence networks and were intended more for the psychological impact of unfamiliar aerial bombardment rather than the ability to achieve a military objective.

This model of British imperial power and control was used in other colonial arenas, including South Yemen, then the British Aden Protectorate. A decade of British aerial patrols and attacks during the 1960s failed to stem the tide of a Yemeni nationalist movement that supplanted British colonial rule in South Yemen. The success of Britain’s air control in Arabia was limited by two main factors. The mountainous terrain of Yemen provided the guerilla opposition with an impervious natural cover from bombs within a cave system that pockmarks the landscape. International media was stacked against the remnants of the British Empire and bombs that found civilian targets were met with a great deal of negative press.

The British Royal Air Force was not the only imperial force in South Arabia trying to use its air force to dominate a tribal opposition. During the 1960s, Egypt transferred nearly a third of its air capabilities to North Yemen in support of the fledgling republic founded in 1962. The tactical success of the Egyptian aerial campaign was similarly hampered by Yemen’s terrain. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser even went as far as authorizing the use of poison gas against cave shelters, intending to flush the opposition out into the open before coming back around for a second round of high explosive incendiary bombs.

Air superiority was the linchpin of Egypt’s strategic model of maintaining a triangular defensive perimeter around North Yemen’s three main cities of Hodeidah, Sana’a, and Taiz, while forestalling a concerted guerilla offensive from the surrounding rural and mountainous regions. Both Britain and Egypt were under political pressure to limit the number of casualties that would have undoubtedly occurred as a consequences of a more effective large-scale ground operation. Air power in Arabia, however, was limited in its ability to achieve tangible military goals. Rather than subdue domestic opposition, aerial bombardment only fed the flames of propaganda and distrust of a faceless enemy from above. Both Britain and Egypt were forced to make an ignominious withdrawal by the end of 1967, leaving failed states in their wake.

Saudi air force destroys mosque in bordering governorate of Saada in Yemen

Saudi air force destroys mosque in bordering governorate of Saada in Yemen

Saudi Arabia and its coalition of Arab and African countries appears to be taking the same path as the failed imperial policies of the 1960s. The Saudi air campaign was originally met with tepid enthusiasm by members of Yemen’s Southern Movement and supporters of Yemen’s ousted, but still internationally recognized President, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. Many Yemenis were alarmed by the speed with which the tribesmen of the Houthi movement took control of the government in Sana’a and extended their military presence southward in pursuit of Hadi and his supporters. Two and a half months later, the Saudi bombing campaign has evolved from a series of tactical strikes to slow the Houthi military assault into a vendetta bombing campaign against Saudi political opponents in Yemen. Many of the airstrikes are targeting civilian houses belonging to Saleh’s family and friends, factories deemed suspicious and civilian transportation hubs and airports across the country, all of which have questionable military value.

Sitting comfortably in his luxury hotel of exile, President Hadi continues to condone Saudi bombings even as a staggering number of his countrymen have become internal refugees and are suffering a humanitarian crisis of serious proportions. Rather than garner additional public support for President Hadi, the Saudi bombing campaign has only increased the skepticism of his remote government and has instead played into the hands of Houthi propagandists. All the while, it does not seem that the military capabilities of the Houthi tribesmen or the segments of the Yemeni army still loyal to Saleh have been greatly diminished.

Saudi air force destroys mosque in bordering governorate of Saada in Yemen

Saudi air force destroys mosque in bordering governorate of Saada in Yemen

Not only have the Saudi’s not been able to slow the Houthi advance, but on June 6, Scud missiles launched by Houthi forces hit King Khalid Air Base, Saudi Arabia’s largest air base and the operations center for the current bombing campaign. Although Saudi officials tried to downplay the attack, which was shrouded in secrecy, it soon became known that Saudi Air Force Commander Lieutenant General Muhammad bin Ahmed Al-Shaalan was killed during the attack. This was particularly shocking to the Saudis as the Shaalan family is nationally prominent and connected through marriage and political alliance to the ruling Saud family.

The attack exposed the disturbing unreadiness of Saudi air defense capabilities and the limits of their air force’s ability to affect military and political outcomes in Yemen. Since the beginnings of the bombing campaign in March 2015, Saudi-coalition planes have faced little anti-aircraft fire, hardly a test of the pilots resolve or training. Even though the Houthis lack armed surface-to-air resistance, the recent Scud missile attack reinforced the fact that the Saudi aerial campaign has failed to eliminate the Houthi coalition’s large-scale military capability.

What emerged from the Scud missile debacle was that an American team is operating a Patriot missile defense system in the vicinity of the King Khalid Air Base, which is also the command center for the U.S. drone campaign in the region. It has been reported that several of the fired Scud missiles were intercepted by U.S. Patriot missiles, the first instance where American forces and Houthis exchanged fire, albeit indirectly. Additionally, the U.S. Air Force has been providing Saudi-coalition planes with satellite imagery and intelligence related to Houthi targets. The emergence of these details has reinforced a propaganda line reiterated on the Houthi cable channel al-Masirah that refers to the Saudi coalition as the “Saudi-American coalition.”

Images of Yemeni Scud missile being fired at King Khalid Air Base, Southern KSA

Images of Yemeni Scud missile being fired at King Khalid Air Base, Southern KSA

Despite emerging evidence that the Saudi-coalition’s aerial campaign is not only ineffective but counterproductive to the promotion of a political settlement in Yemen, the bombings continue with no sign of concluding. The relentless pursuit of an aggressive military stance towards the Houthi movement is in part a reflection of Saudi Arabia’s struggle against the ghost of Iranian involvement in South Arabia. There is no Saudi exit strategy in which the bombing can stop, short of a complete Houthi political withdrawal. Otherwise, this war will demonstrate a weakness in Saudi policy towards Iran. This aggressive policy is driven in particular by the new Saudi King Salman’s need to exhibit political and military dominance to quiet his many doubters. The Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the director of operations in Yemen, feels additional pressure to act decisively in order to prove his resolve as the world’s youngest minister of defense at the age of 30.

Even with all of King Salman’s resolve and Mohammad bin Salman’s machismo, the Saudi aerial campaign will be limited by a difficult propaganda war by the Houthis and the same historic terrain that served as an obstacle to British and Egyptian aerial control of Yemen during the 1960s. Saudi Arabia cannot triumph through force of arms alone as its air force has reached the upper limits of what it can achieve against the Houthis. Continuing a fruitless aerial campaign will only foster increasing anti-Saudi political alliance in Yemen and lead to an ignominious withdrawal reminiscent of British and Egyptian withdrawals of the past.

Yemeni soldier destroys Saudi tank from close range inside Saudi-border military camp

Yemeni soldier destroys Saudi tank from close range inside Saudi-border military camp

Yemeni soldiers hold Yemeni flag from Saudi military outpost in Asseer

Yemeni soldiers hold Yemeni flag from Saudi military outpost in Asseer

Yemeni army firing locally-manufactured Zilzal "earthquake" missile at Saudi military base in the south

Yemeni army firing locally-manufactured Zilzal “earthquake” missile at Saudi military base in the south

Yemeni army firing Grad missiles at Saudi bases in south

Yemeni army firing Grad missiles at Saudi bases in south

Yemeni soldier declaring victory over Saudi soldiers in Jizan area south of KSA

Yemeni soldier declaring victory over Saudi soldiers in Jizan area south of KSA

Yemeni soldier holding a LAW during fights against Saudi soldiers in Jizzan

Yemeni soldier holding a LAW during fights against Saudi soldiers in Jizzan

Yemeni Yirivan missiles being fired at Saudi military bases in Jizzan

Yemeni Yirivan missiles being fired at Saudi military bases in Jizzan

April 27, 2015

Former U.N. Envoy Says Yemen Political Deal was Close Before Saudi Airstrikes Began

by mkleit

Joe Lauria at newseditor@wsj.com and Margaret Coker atmargaret.coker@wsj.com

WSJ

A Houthi rebel in San’a, Yemen on Sunday walks past a building damaged by the Saudi-led air campaign against the Iranian-backed force. PHOTO: KHALED ABDULLAH/REUTERS

UNITED NATIONS—Yemen’s warring political factions were on the verge of a power-sharing deal when Saudi-led airstrikes began a month ago, derailing the negotiations, the United Nations envoy who mediated the talks said.

Jamal Benomar, who spearheaded the negotiations until he resigned last week, told The Wall Street Journal the Saudi bombing campaign against Iran-linked Houthi rebels has hardened positions on a key point—the composition of an executive body to lead Yemen’s stalled transition. This will complicate new attempts to reach a solution, he said.

“When this campaign started, one thing that was significant but went unnoticed is that the Yemenis were close to a deal that would institute power-sharing with all sides, including the Houthis,” said Mr. Benomar, a Moroccan diplomat.

Mr. Benomar is scheduled to address the U.N. Security Council behind closed doors on Monday and report on the suspended political talks.

Most Yemeni political factions agree talks were progressing in the run-up to the Saudi air campaign, but their views vary on Mr. Benomar’s assertion that a deal was close.

This round of U.N.-brokered talks—which began in January and included 12 political and tribal factions—represented a crucial part of a mission to install a unified government in Yemen, the poorest Arab country and home to al Qaeda’s most dangerous offshoot.

The Houthi rebels, who have overrun significant parts of the country in the past eight months, had agreed to remove their militias from the cities they were occupying under the deal that had been taking shape. The U.N. had worked out details of a new government force to replace them, Mr. Benomar said.

In exchange, Western-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who has since fled the country, would have been part of an executive body that would run the country temporarily, Mr. Benomar said.

The Houthis had agreed to that reduced role for Mr. Hadi until the Saudi military intervention began on March 26. At that point, the Houthis hardened their position on this key point and opposed any role for Mr. Hadi in government, Mr. Benomar said.

Saudi-backed factions have also hardened their positions, saying the Houthis shouldn’t be granted political power.

Several Yemeni political factions, which were also interested in power-sharing, said the military tensions in the capital led to feelings of unease during negotiations. In their takeover of the capital, the Houthis kidnapped members of rival political parties.

“We did not like the Houthi plan on the table, but we were willing to sign it since it reflected reality. It was either that or no deal,” said Mohammed Abulahoum, president of Yemen’s Justice and Building Party.

The air campaign transformed Yemen into a battlefield for a broader contest over regional power between Shiite Iran and Sunni countries led by Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis want to restore Mr. Hadi to the presidency and also support a separate armed political faction named Islah, which is anti-Houthi. Iran supports the Houthis, who abide by a Shiite offshoot of Islam. Many Yemenis accuse both countries of meddling in their affairs.

The Houthis took over the capital San’a and the government and then advanced on the south.As they approached the port city of Aden, where Mr. Hadi had taken refuge, he fled the country and ended up in Saudi Arabia.

Yemen’s troubles mark an abrupt turnabout from what the international community had once hailed as a success story.

The 2011 Arab Spring protests triggered political change in Yemen, a largely peaceful transition from dictatorship to democracy. Groups that felt oppressed or excluded for decades under the former regime, such as the Houthis, were supposed to take part in the new government.

But that transition stalled in 2014. In the two months leading up to the Saudi air campaign, the Houthis and other parties insisted on a reduced role for Mr. Hadi, blaming him for the slow pace of reform.

Mr. Hadi, his Saudi allies and other political factions opposed the terms for the presidency being hammered out by Mr. Benomar.

“A very detailed agreement was being worked out, but there was one important issue on which there was no agreement, and that was what to do with the presidency,” Mr. Benomar said. “We were under no illusion that implementation of this would be easy.”

Two other Arab states—Qatar and Morocco—were willing to host new rounds of Yemen peace talks. But after both countries joined the Saudi-led military coalition, the Houthis rejected those venues, according to Mr. Benomar.

President Hadi has suggested that talks resume in the Saudi capital of Riyadh under Saudi auspices. But that was a non-starter for the Houthis.

A senior diplomat familiar with the negotiations said the Saudis also intervened to prevent a power-sharing deal that would include the Houthis and that would give 30 % of the cabinet and parliament to women.

Saudi Arabia declared last week that it was shifting to a new phase in the Yemen campaign more focused on seeking a political solution. But it left open the option of continued military action, and has kept up airstrikes at a robust pace since the declaration.

Mr. Benomar said he would tell the Security Council on Monday that only U.N.-led talks in a neutral location can have any chance of success.

On Saturday, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed of Mauritania was named as the new U.N. envoy for Yemen.

On Sunday, Yemeni officials reported several apparent strikes by the Saudi coalition against Houthi targets amid deadly clashes between Houthi militants and forces aligned with Mr. Hadi.

Strikes hit the capital San’a as well as targets in energy-rich Marib province, officials said. Several southern provinces also saw strikes, including one that hit a convoy of Houthi fighters heading to the southern port city of Aden.

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