The month of battles near the Red Sea port of Hodeida brought Yemeni and coalition forces to with 15 kilometers of the port a few days ago. The final assault began yesterday and some coalition forces are now six kilometers from the port area and even closer to the Hodeida airport. An amphibious attack on the port facilities was apparently defeated but in the meantime, ground forces are using their ample air support to blast their way through any rebel defenses. The Rebels and their Iranian backers are pleading with the UN to impose a ceasefire but that won’t happen because Iran and the rebels have frequently sabotaged UN sponsored peace talks and there is little enthusiasm for trusting the rebels or their Iranian sponsors. The coalition insists that this is the quickest way to end the way because Hodeida is the major source of weapons and military equipment smuggled into Yemen. With Hodeida no longer available to the rebels most of the Iranian material support will be gone and the shaky morale of the rebel coalition will cause more factions to switch sides and more Shia fighters to quit.
Meanwhile, coalition airstrikes have been hitting all the Shia rebel forces they can locate. The assault on the city was well publicized and leaflets were dropped on residential areas in the way warning civilians to leave if they could. Everyone knows that the Shia rebels deliberately station their forces and supplies of ammo and equipment in residential areas to discourage air strikes. When civilians get killed the Shia and their Iranian backers can use the photos of dead civilians to accuse the coalition of atrocities. Often that works but this time the coalition has warned civilians to clear out because the Shia rebels will be hit no matter where they are. The main advance is up the coast with other forces coming from the inland side of the port. The inland advance has already cut the main roads to the rebel occupied capital Saana, 140 kilometers from the port.
Hodeida is the largest and most developed Red Sea port in Yemen and the major conduit for food and other aid coming to rebel controlled northern Yemen. In effect, more than half the population of Yemen depend on foreign aid (especially food and medicine) coming in via Hodeida. Hidden among all these supplies are weapons and military equipment provided by Iran for the Shia rebels. Among those weapons are anti-ship missiles and components for ballistic missiles (which are assembled in northern Yemen and fired into Saudi Arabia.) The Saudis point out that the Iranian anti-ship missiles have been used more frequently at commercial shipping, which now has to stay farther out to sea to avoid being hit. Some 15 percent of global maritime cargo moves past Hodeida, most of it going to or from the Suez Canal. Before the war, some 70 percent of Yemeni imports arrived via Hodeida. The rebels have a choice between withdrawing forces from the port area and minimizing damage to cargo handling equipment and facilities, or fighting it out there and decreasing the flow of essential foreign aid to their own families as well as many non-Shia Yemenis in Shia controlled territory. In that case, the Shia will blame the coalition for the damage and that is often the Shia idea of a victory.
Taking the port from the rebels is not the hard part, clearing the rebels away from the vicinity of the port and the main roads out of the port is a larger problem. Unless the rebels are kept least 30 kilometers from the port (to prevent mortar and rocket fire on the port area) and tight security established in the port area (to prevent bomb attacks) the foreign shipping companies will not continue visiting Hodeida.
Ever since early 2017, the UN has urged the Shia rebels to peacefully give up control of the Red Sea port of Hodeida but the rebels have refused to seriously consider this. Even proposals that Hodeida be turned over to a neutral third party are turned down. This is not a matter of trust, it’s a matter of survival for the rebels. In part, this is because of the smuggling. The rebels have prevented UN personnel from inspecting aid shipments (for weapons and other contraband) and the government claims the rebels have been seizing aid shipments and preventing UN personnel from verifying that the aid is going to civilians. As long as the rebels hold onto Hodeida and Iran still has powerful allies in the UN (mainly Russia and China, who can veto some measures) the smuggling can continue as can the use of food to control civilian populations that are hostile to the rebels. That food tactic has backfired and turned many civilians against the rebels. The government and coalition forces are now concentrating on taking Hodeida and other Red Sea coast areas held by the Shia rebels. This works but it was slow going and increased casualties among government and coalition forces. Some weapons are smuggled in via government controlled ports, like Aden. This involves more risk, and more bribes, to get trucks carrying aid or commercial goods, along with illegal weapons, to rebel controlled territory.
Taking Hodeida won’t stop the smuggling, which is able to get ballistic missile components and other Iranian weapons into rebel controlled areas. Enough of this stuff is intercepted to make it clear that Iran is sending weapons meant to hit targets inside Saudi Arabia or take down Saudi warplanes operating over Yemen. These advanced weapons are getting through in large part because Yemen has always been “smuggler friendly.” With Iranian help (cash and diplomacy) the smuggled weapons kept the war going. This was also helped by the fact that Qatar and Oman had always been active in using Yemeni smuggling networks.
June 13, 2018: The final assault to take Hodeida began and on the first day at least 250 rebels were killed by airstrikes and ground fighting. In addition, 140 rebels were captured. The rebels responded with an Iranian Badr-1 ballistic missile fired at the Saudi city of Jizan, which is near the Yemen border. Saudi anti-missile defenses destroyed the Iranian missile. So far at least 120 ballistic missiles (most of them Iranian) have been fired into Saudi Arabia by the Shia rebels.
A UAE ship supporting the ground forces advancing on Hodeida was hit by a Shia missile and set afire. The Shia rebels said they had thwarted a coalition effort to land troops near the port, apparently an effort to seize the port area quickly and avoid damage to port facilities.
June 12, 2018: In the southeast (Hadramawt province) soldiers raided an AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) camp and seized 28 recently assembled bombs, two explosive vests and a large supply of bomb components as well as ammunition. Other evidence indicated that the bombs were to be used for attacks on the largest city in the province; the port of Mukalla
June 11, 2018: The UN began evacuating its personnel from Hodeida. Some other foreign aid workers remained. Some of the 600,000 civilians in the city are leaving as well. The civilians were warned by the coalition to leave if they lived near major targets (port area, airport, known rebel facilities.)
June 9, 2018: In the north Shia rebels fired a ballistic missile at the Saudi city of Jizan, which is near the Yemen border. Most of these missiles are intercepted by Saudi anti-missile missiles but this one landed close enough to a residential to kill three civilians. Further south on the outskirts of Hodeida the rebels were suffering heavy casualties (at least fifty dead today) trying to slow the army and coalition advance on the port.
In the southwest (Taiz province) an army colonel and his bodyguards were attacked by gunmen in Taiz city. The colonel was killed and four bodyguards wounded. The city is still being cleared of Shia rebels even though the entire city is now under government control.
June 7, 2018: The U.S. revealed that so far in 2018 there have been 28 attacks by American UAVs in Yemen. Many of the attacks are not announced in any detail. In the last three months, the frequency of attacks has declined (to one or two a month). As in 2017 (when there were 131 attacks) the ones in 2018 have been mainly against AQAP and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) camps and key personnel in central Yemen (especially Baida province). This greatly reduces Islamic terrorist capabilities in Baida, which had long been an Islamic terrorist stronghold. East of Baida province are Shabwa and Hadramawt provinces. The later stretches from the sea to the Saudi border and is largely desert. Along with Baida these two provinces once hosted most of AQAP personnel and base areas. But since early 2017 AQAP has been under heavy attack by the Americans and the Arab coalition and responded by shifting more of their terror attacks to the government and Arab coalition forces. AQAP took credit for 273 attacks in 2017 and in the first six months of that year, some 75 percent of these attacks were against the Shia rebels. But in the second half of 2017 half, the attacks were against fellow Sunnis (government and coalition forces). In 2018 the remaining AQAP are mainly fighting for survival against government and coalition forces.
June 5, 2018: In the north Shia rebels fired another Iranian Burkan-2 ballistic missile deep into Saudi territory (Medina province). A Saudi Patriot anti-missile missile intercepted it. The Burkan-2 was aimed at a Saudi oil refinery on the Red Sea coast at Yanbu, which is over 1,000 kilometers from rebel territory in northern Yemen.
June 4, 2018: The UN again offered the Shia rebels a way to avoid a major government offensive to capture Hodeida. The UN officials pointed out that a determined attack would take the port and kill a lot of rebels and civilians. This fighting would interrupt aid shipments and probably damage the port facilities. The rebels could avoid all these losses by placing the port under UN control and withdrawing their forces. The rebels debated this among themselves for over a day and then refused the UN offer. Two days before the final assault began the coalition gave the rebels one last chance to give up the city and that was refused as well.
May 28, 2018: Saudi Arabia revealed that in late May it had arrested nine Filipinos (along with two Saudis and a Yemeni) and accused them of “threatening state security.” This apparently refers to support for an Islamic terror group. Foreign workers in Saudi Arabia are sometimes found to have been radicalized by locals who are secretly working for banned Islamic terrorist organizations. Most Yemeni foreign workers are gone from Saudi Arabia, a process that began in the 1990s (over loyalty issues) and concluded in 2013 when the Saudis decided to force unemployed Saudis to take jobs foreign workers (especially Yemenis) performed. Many of the Yemenis who remain in Saudi Arabia are illegal and some are working for AQAP or ISIL
May 26, 2018: In the north Shia rebels launched a UAV armed with explosives and sent it towards Abha airport across the Saudi border in Asir province. Saudi air defenses shot down the UAV and the components indicated it was made in Iran.
May 25, 2018: Two Saudi border guards were killed by Shia rebels firing from the Yemeni side of the border,
May 24, 2018: In the north Shia rebels fired a ballistic missile at the Saudi city of Jizan, which is near the Yemen border. The missile was intercepted.
Sudan announced that its military forces will continue to participate in the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran backed Shia rebels in Yemen. Sudan has about 3,000 soldiers in Yemen as well as several jet fighters.
May 23, 2018: Iran indicated that it was willing to negotiate a peace deal on Yemen. This turned out to be nothing new as Iranian terms included allowing Iranian support for the Shia tribes (who are now supplying most of the rebels) to continue.
May 22, 2018: In the west, a UAE warship operating near the Red Sea port of Hodeida spotted small speedboats heading out towards the commercial shipping lanes. The boats apparently belonged Shia rebels and seeking large commercial ships to attack. The UAE warship fired on the speedboats, sinking two of them while the other two escaped towards Hodeida,
May 21, 2018: In the north Shia rebels fired a ballistic missile at the Saudi city of Jizan, which is near the Yemen border. The ballistic missile was intercepted by Saudi anti-missile missiles.
May 19, 2018: In the north, two more rebel ballistic missiles were fired into Saudi Arabia. One was shot down by Saudi Patriot anti-missile missiles after it crossed the border headed for the city of Khamis Mushait in Asir province. The second one landed harmlessly in the empty desert.