Yemen: A Very Unpleasant Situation For The Saudis


November 24, 2014: The Shia rebels, despite having Shia appointed to many senior positions in the government and security forces, have still not withdrawn their gunmen from the capital. Over 2,000 Shia have been added to the government payroll since September. Most of the jobs the Shia took were key ones that controlled lots of non-Shia employees. The Shia don’t have the trained manpower to replace all the Sunni civil servants, but they do have unity and lots of armed men motivated to kill-or-be-killed to enforce their directives. Shia gunmen control most of the checkpoints in the capital, which are often draped with flags saying “Death to America” or “Death to Israel.” The Shia forces have arrested over a thousand people and keep them in secret locations. The Shia have established a dozen courts to try criminals (or anyone who opposes the Shia).

The Shia takeover of the government has caused Yemeni border security to collapse. Most of the border guards have left their posts leaving the Saudis to deal with a lot more smugglers and illegal migrants. This is a major problem because the border is 1,700 kilometers long and most of it is with Saudi Arabia. Yemeni smugglers make a lot of money getting people across and then transporting them north to where the oil and jobs are. Many migrants, who can afford it, keep going to Europe. In a normal year (when the bribable Yemeni border guards are on duty) the Saudi border troops catch and turn back over a million illegal migrants, but several hundred thousand are believed to get through, at least based on the number later found to have settled in the north or made their way to Europe where they were interrogated by police there. The big problem here is that some of those getting through are Islamic terrorists and that’s why the Saudis also stop those trying to cross illegally into Yemen. But with the Shia rebel success in Yemen the Saudis are now concerned with Iran-backed Shia terrorists and spies coming north. The Saudis could invade Yemen to deal with the problem but even the Sunni majority down there is divided, and not all factions are agreeable to a Saudi intervention. It is a very unpleasant situation for the Saudis.

All the fighting this year has reduced government oil income by a third. The oil money comprises about half the government income. So far this year Yemen has only produced 11 million barrels of oil, compared to 16 million last year.  Inflation is over 10 percent and foreign exchange reserves (to pay for imports) are rapidly declining. The economy is a mess, many people are hungry and the population in general is in a foul mood.

Iran is believed to be secretly supporting the Shia rebels. The U.S. and the Sunni Arab Gulf States (particularly Saudi Arabia) see the recent changes in Yemen as an Iranian ploy to gain greater influence, if not control, in Yemen. This is being done with the help of deposed (in 2012) president Saleh who obtained immunity from prosecution (for past crimes) in return for leaving peacefully. But Saleh still had many allies, including many in the security forces. A purge of the security forces did not change this as much as the new government thought. Saleh has kept his head down as the Shia rebels took control of the capital and the government in October, but his influence is difficult to ignore. On the plus side the current (nominally Sunni dominated) government and the Shia rebels agree on the need to destroy AQAP and the Islamic terrorists are losing ground as the Shia forces move south. But once the Shia take Aden, they will have a more difficult time in western Yemen, which is largely desert, Sunni and thinly populated. Lots of hiding places and a difficult area to control, for anyone. At the moment the Shia advance is stalled in central Yemen, but the Shia are still advancing, just a lot slower against increased resistance. Iran has not actively intervened in Yemen and the Sunni Arab states that border Yemen are not willing to invade to thwart the Shia rebels. This is because it’s not just Iran and the Shia rebels who are the problem but all the factions there. The Shia are only a third of the population but they are united while the Sunni majority is split into numerous factions.

November 23, 2014:  The government has agreed to install Shia military leaders into the army and police. The Shia rebels demanded this but the government resisted doing it until now.

November 21, 2014:  AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) openly denounced ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant). This is a reversal as in mid-October AQAP announced that it supported (but had not joined) ISIL. Both groups are affiliated with al Qaeda which, since the 1990s, has been dedicated to overthrowing the Saudi monarchy. However, AQAP has now decided that ISIL is too divisive and harming global efforts of Islamic terrorists to conquer and rule the world as an Islamic state. AQAP reaffirmed its allegiance to al Qaeda.  AQAP was formed in 2009 after the remnants of the Saudi al Qaeda organization (several thousand full and part time members at its peak) fled to Yemen and merged with the Yemeni al Qaeda branch. AQAP also benefitted from hundreds of Iraqi al Qaeda members who arrived after the defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq in 2007-8. Some of these men returned to Iraq after a few years to join what became ISIL. Meanwhile growing unrest in Yemen (against the long-standing Saleh dictatorship) enabled AQAP to recruit locally and take over several towns in southern Yemen by 2011. In 2012 the new post-Saleh government launched a counteroffensive and AQAP got hurt very badly. That offensive continued, along with the growing use of American UAVs in Yemen. In April 2014 another major offensive was launched against AQAP by the U.S. and Yemen and this succeeded in capturing all the new bases AQAP had established in remote mountain areas after the 2012 defeat. That was followed by Shia rebels moving south and going after the Sunni Islamic terrorists there. While the al Qaeda situation is desperate in Yemen, AQAP is still al Qaeda’s most capable branch and the only one that has shown any ability to support attacks (few successful so far) in the West. Now that capability is in doubt, for a while at least. All this has been good news for Saudi Arabia which has always been the primary foreign target for AQAP attacks. Meanwhile the United States still considered AQAP a threat to the West and continues to track AQAP activity in Yemen and attack AQAP members via UAV launched missiles.

November 20, 2014:  In the capital gunfire was heard from the base of the Special Forces as officers loyal to former president Saleh tried to take control. The rebels were defeated and were replaced the next day by officers loyal to the government.

November 18, 2014: In Taez, capital of Taez province (inland, near the Red Sea coast) a prominent Sunni politician died when a bomb planted in his car went off. Taez is dominated by separatist Sunni tribes who often support AQAP. The Taez based tribes have been resisting the advance of the Shia rebels.

November 15, 2014: In the south (Baida province) Islamic terrorists clashed with advancing Shia rebels. The fighting went on for three days producing several hundred casualties including at least 80 dead. AQAP has long been strong in Baida, recruiting from the separatist Sunni tribes in the area. But the Shia rebels have been moving south for over a month and defeating the Sunni Islamic terrorists, often after hard fighting and cooperation (or simply neutrality) from local army units.

November 13, 2014: In the south (Baida province) Islamic terrorists set off a car bomb in the Shia controlled town of Rada, killing over twenty people. There have been several attacks like this in Rada over the last week.

November 12, 2014: In the south (Shabwa province) seven Islamic terrorists were killed by missiles from an American UAV. The dead were members of AQAP and were found to be in the midst planning terror attacks.

November 10, 2014: The United States announced economic and travel sanctions on former president Saleh and two Shia rebel leaders.

November 9, 2014: In the east (of the capital in Marib province) Shia rebels took control of an army base after a half hour of fighting. Some soldiers sided with the Shia and that helped cause the defense to collapse quickly. The base was used for training troops and for weapons storage (in several warehouses and parking lots for armored vehicles).

November 8, 2014: Shia rebels and the party of former president Saleh rejected the newly formed government. This government was supposed to be acceptable as it contained a lot more Shia officials. This rejection was believed to be a reaction to UN sanctions on rebel leaders the day before. Without Shia approval of the new government the Shia are not obliged (by the September ceasefire agreement) to withdraw their armed men from the capital.

November 7, 2014: The UN announced economic and travel sanctions on former president Saleh and two Shia rebel leaders.

November 6, 2014: The oil pipeline to the Red Sea was bombed again, halting flow of oil and much needed income for the government. The 320 kilometer long pipeline extends from oil fields in Marib province to the Red Sea export terminal.

November 5, 2014: In the south five Islamic terrorists were killed by missiles from an American UAV. The dead were members of AQAP and one of the dead was a local leader.

In the capital three mortar shells hit the runway of the airport outside the city.

November 4, 2014: In the south (Baida province) more than ten Islamic terrorists were killed outside Rada by missiles from an American UAV. The dead were members of AQAP and were fighting advancing Shia rebels.


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