Yemen: Murky Motives and Money Management


August 8, 2023: Saudi Arabia has donated $1.2 billion to the Yemen PLC (Presidential Leadership Council). The PLC represents the last (2014) legally elected government of Yemen. The PLC is largely Sunni, as is the population of Yemen. The Shia don’t trust the Sunnis and vice versa. Religious differences have long divided Yemen which is why the Shia rebels are backed by Shia Iran.

Much of the Yemeni agricultural crisis is caused by the fact that Yemen's economic situation has been rapidly deteriorating since the late 20th century. This is largely because the government has done nothing to address the problems of overpopulation, water shortages and Khat. The last item is a narcotic plant that is chewed fresh, requires a lot of water to grow and is worth a lot of money in Saudi Arabia where it is illegal and has to be smuggled in. While Yemen contains most of the only arable land in the Arabian Peninsula, only one percent of Yemen is suitable for agriculture. Rather than produce food, most of the agriculture production is Khat and nearly all of that is smuggled into Saudi Arabia. In the last year Saudi Arabia has increased its efforts to halt the smuggling and that has had some success in disrupting the smuggling. During the first half of 2023, 26 tons of Khat and a ton of the more potent, as a narcotic, Hashish. The Hashish is a concentrated form of cannabis, produced by removing the sticky resin, which is the most narcotic portion of the cannabis plant. Put simply, Khat is for relaxing while Hashish will get you high and largely unable to function. Saudi Arabia bans both Khat and Hashish as harmful to the welfare of the population. Most of the Khat and Hashish is consumed by young (adolescent and early 20s) Saudi males and expatriate workers. Alcoholic beverages are specifically banned by Islamic scripture while Khat and Hashish are not. Alcoholic beverages are bulkier and leave a scent of alcohol on your breath while Khat and Hashish do not. Khat and Hashish do have harmful side effects as they reduce inhibitions and the ability to safely operate vehicles or machinery of any kind. While the Saudi border guards are seizing more Khat and Hashish from Yemen, some always get through and most of the customers in Saudi Arabia can afford to pay more when supplies are short.

There is also an escalating dispute among Shia rebel factions over accusations of corruption in the management of about $200 million in cash the rebels have looted or extorted over the years. With peace returning to Yemen that cash can be diverted to personal use by corrupt rebel officials who are supposed to manage the use of these funds.

August 7, 2023: In the south (Abyan province) the STC (South Transitional Council) and many government troops spent the ceasefire period going after Islamic terrorist groups AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) in the south and east. The STC is composed of southern tribes that want autonomy but are willing to fight and defeat the Islamic terrorists and Shia rebels first.

August 6, 2023: In the south (Abyan province) Yemeni troops captured Abu Al-Qaqaa, a known and wanted AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) leader.

August 5, 2023: In the south (Abyan province) a roadside bomb killed two STC members and wounded five.

August 2, 2023: In the south (Abyan province) AQAP carried out two attacks against local forces, killing seven and wounding nine.

August 1, 2023: In the south (Abyan province) al Qaeda Islamic terrorists killed five soldiers and wounded four more. The troops belonged to the Southern Transitional Council, or SCT, which represents the Sunni tribes in the south who have long backed dividing Yemen into the Sunni south and largely Shia north. For a long time, the northern Shia have fought to maintain some autonomy. In 2015 that escalated into a civil war as the Iranian-supported Shia captured the capital Sanaa and much territory south of the capital. Within a year this brought in an Arab coalition (Saudi Arabia and the UAE) that supported the Yemeni government and national unity. That halted the rebel advance but did little to end the civil war. The Saudis and UAE had different goals in Yemen. The Saudis wanted to keep their southwestern border with Yemen peaceful while the UAE was more interested in new economic opportunities in the more prosperous south. The UAE provides financial and other aid to the southern separatists while the Saudis are more concerned about Shia violence against southwestern Saudi Arabia.

July 31, 2023: In the capital (Sanaa) a faction of the Shia rebels decided to enforce bans on the public playing of record music or music performed live.

July 29, 2023: In the capital Sanaa, some Shia rebels have shut down stores that sell videos or music and bribes to allow them to reopen. The threat to shut down the video and music outlets was very unpopular among most Yemenis and the rebels did not shut down these outlets because of the risk of popular unrest. Equally unpopular were rebel efforts to ban the playing of popular music in cafes and other public spaces. The rebels demanded that music supporting their brand of conservative Islam be played. This was another form of bribery because the rebels had recordings of the mandatory music for sale at inflated prices.

July 27, 2023: A 47 year old Yemeni oil tanker abandoned off the Red Sea coast since 2015 has finally had the 1.2 million barrels unloaded onto another tanker. This eliminates the pollution along the Yemeni Red Sea coast as well as portions of the Saudi Red Sea coast. That could disrupt Saudi desalination operations. In early 2022 the Shia rebels agreed to not interfere with UN inspection of the tanker and repairs being made to the tanker so the oil on board could be removed to eliminate the coastal pollution threat. The rebel homeland is in northwest Yemen, including portions of the coast. The UN agreed to cover the $143 million cost of making repairs on the tanker so that it was safe to transfer the oil on board to another tanker for sale or disposal. The oil on the Safer tanker is nearly a decade old and unrefined petroleum degrades after about five years in a tanker. The expired oil is not worth refining and has no sale value. The expired oil is still capable of polluting water or coastal areas.

The abandoned tanker is called “Safer” because that is the acronym of the Yemeni State oil company that owns the retired tanker, which is permanently moored offshore 50 kilometers northwest of Hodeida to store oil from the small Yemen oil fields. Until seized by the Shia rebels in 2015, the Safer tanker was a key element for exporting Yemeni oil. At the time of its capture the Safer had over a million barrels of oil on board that was awaiting transfer to a seagoing tanker that would take the oil to whoever bought it. The rebels never allowed anyone from the UN or inspect Safer since then, despite warnings that without maintenance explosive gasses build up in the storage tanks and that creates the risk of large explosions and a massive oil spill into the Red Sea.

For years the rebels demanded that the oil on the Safer tanker be sold and they receive most of the proceeds. The government refused to allow this. The rebels also demand that sanctions on Iran be lifted as well. That was not going to happen. The rebels also offered to relinquish control of the tanker for a large payment (ransom) of, say $50 million or so. This was also ignored. Finally, the rebels realized that the tanker was a threat to themselves and many others along the Red Sea coast as small leaks from the tanker began putting oil into the water. This was obvious because some of the leaked oil remains on the surface and quite visible. The Shia rebels did not interfere as maintenance personnel boarded the tanker to deal with dangerous leaks so that the UN oil removal effort could proceed.

July 25, 2023: In central Yemen (Marib Province) eight people from the same family died when a local arms dealer tried to disarm an unexploded artillery shell. Further south seven soldiers were killed by two roadside bombs.

July 23, 2023: Shia rebel peace talks with Saudi Arabia stalled over disagreements over money and rebel suspicions that the Saudis wanted to take control of the miniscule (compared to Saudi Arabia) Yemen oil resources. The Saudis see this as another paranoid, self-destructive reaction from the rebels.

June 27, 2023: Iranian influence on the Shia rebels is fading and many rebel factions call for some kind of peace deal and an end to a civil war that the rebels were losing. The war continues in part because this factionalism among the rebels is something that the government and Saudis are unable to address.




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