Yemen: Failure, Frustration and Fear


July 15, 2019: Back in May the Red Sea port of Hodeida ceasefire agreement was accepted by both sides and supposed to have gone into effect right away. It did not work out and the usual suspects, the Shia rebels, were violating the agreement in their usual ways. This included refusing to withdraw forces as promised, opening fire on government troops and stealing foreign aid. The agreement included two smaller ports (Midi and Mocha) and allows foreign aid to come in and be distributed. Normally Hodeida handles 70 percent of the emergency aid (food, medicine, fuel) for people in northern Yemen. There are still government suspicions that the “local militias” that took over when the rebels left the three ports are in fact allies of the rebels. The UN inspectors believed that the new port security personnel are legitimate and the UN has been in control of the ports since mid-May. The government had complained that before the rebels were forced to withdraw from these ports the UN personnel supervising the aid shipments were unable to inspect suspicious cargoes which, the government points out, obviously contained major weapons shipments. How else do you explain the appearance of nearly a hundred Iranian long-range missiles used in attacks on Saudi Arabia? Most of these missiles were shot down by Saudi missile defense systems and there were plenty of missile fragments left to analyze and conclusively prove what model of Iranian missile they were. The UN agreed with that and condemned Iran. There have been no more Iranian missiles smuggled in since the ports were shut down, by government forces surrounding with ground forces and a naval blockade, in late 2018. Now the UN has resumed imports at Hodeida without Yemeni government officials checking all incoming shipments. Or at least that’s what the rebels want and the UN is willing to concede that just to get the aid shipments moving again. That did not work out as expected because now the UN accuses the Shia rebels of stealing food again and selling it to keep their rebel government operational. The government believes that most of the arms smuggling has ceased in Hodeida because it is possible (but more difficult) for government forces to check selected truckloads of supplies heading out. What the UN objects to is the rebels grabbing a lot of that foreign aid after it enters rebel-controlled areas.

The UAE Departure

To further complicate the situation the UAE, without any public warning, began withdrawing most of its ground forces and air support from Yemen in late June. The reason given was the need to bolster the defense of the UAE against possible Iranian aggression. The UAE pointed out that their military effort in Yemen was not meant to be open-ended and that during four years of effort the UAE has trained and equipped 90,000 local troops or militiamen and sent billions of dollars’ worth of other aid. The UAE noted that the Shia rebels have been greatly weakened over the last year and are having manpower and morale problems. There has been a lot less fighting this year because of that as well as less need for airstrikes. The UAE is withdrawing over 15,000 ground forces but the Saudis and Yemen military can cover that. Most of the troops around Hodeida are Yemeni or Sudanese. The UAE will keep some troops in Yemen, mainly in the southern port of Aden, where UAE forces have long been a major presence. The withdrawal of the well-equipped and trained UAE forces means a ground offensive, to end the rebellion, is less likely but not impossible.

There was some friction between the UAE and the Saudis because the UAE wanted to seize Hodeida by force, despite the threat of heavy casualties to all the armed forces involved as well as civilians in the city. That, the UAE believed, would force the rebels to make peace. The UAE believed the rebels could not be trusted and then the Saudis went along with a UN proposal to negotiate with the rebels for a peaceful rebel withdrawal from the city. That agreement was made In December 2018 but the rebels refused to implement it until May and as of June were still violating the terms of the agreement. One could say the UAE was fed up with the UN, the Saudis and the Yemenis (both rebel and pro-government). The UAE is too polite and diplomatic to come right out and say this openly. The UAE misgivings were no secret but they were never proclaimed as the official UAE policy.

Defeat Is Not An Option

The Saudis will carry on with efforts to defeat the Shia rebels despite UN pressure to make a peace deal the Shia rebels would currently accept. Such a deal would restore the Shia autonomy in the north and make it possible for Iran to continue supplying the Shia tribes with weapons that can be used to attack Saudi Arabia. To the Saudis that is unacceptable, given the fact that the Iranians are openly calling for the overthrow of the Saudi government, and Iran taking over as the “protector of the two Most Holy Islamic cities of Mecca and Medina”. Most Moslems do not want Iran in charge of Mecca and Medina. The Iranians are Shia Moslems and Shia comprise only about ten percent of all Moslems. The Saudis are largely Sunni, a version of Islam about 80 percent of Moslems belong to. Moreover, the Iranians are not Arabs. Rather the Iranians are Indo-European and for many Moslems that is a big deal because Islam was founded by Arabs and the Moslem scriptures (the Koran) are written in Arabic. The Saudis will go to great lengths to prevent the Shia provinces in northwest Yemen from becoming an Iran base area. Meanwhile the Iranians have convinced many of the Shia Yemenis that getting their autonomy back should be non-negotiable because without that autonomy the Yemeni Shia will be vulnerable to retaliation from all the other Yemeni groups the Shia rebels have harmed during the four years of civil war.

Red Sea Chokepoint

The U.S. is calling for the formation of an internal force to protect ships passing through the Persian Gulf Straits of Hormuz as well as the Bab al-Mandab, a narrow channel into the Red Sea and Suez Canal at the north end. Arab nations are eager to keep the Red Sea safe for shipping. Much of the Red Sea traffic is to or from Europe via the Suez Canal. This includes four million barrels of oil a day for European customers. Revenue from the Suez Canal is a major source of foreign exchange for Egypt and Saudi Red Sea ports are where most commercial cargo comes in. The UAE has an economic interest in keeping the Bab al Mandeb Strait open is already involved with that.

July 14, 2019: In the north, off the coast of t he Red Sea port of Hodeida, representatives from the government and Shia rebels met on a UN ship for peace talks that will last until tomorrow. This is the first such talks in several months. Not much is expected from this although the UN would like to get all rebel forces out of Hodeida. Currently, the rebels have enough armed men in and around Hodeida to control access to or from the city if they choose to.

July 11, 2019: Saudi troops have replaced UAE forces along the Red Sea coast, especially the Bab al Mandeb Strait, which is the narrow entrance to the Red Sea that Shia rebels have frequently tried to block with various types of attacks (small boars loaded with explosives, naval mines and rocket fire from the shore). Saudi troops also took over in the two smaller Red Sea ports; Midi (north of Hodeida) and Mocha (south of Hodeida). A primary reason for the Arab Coalition ground forces taking control of the Red Sea coast as far north as Hodeida was to reduce the risk of rebel attacks on warships and commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

July 8, 2019: In the northwest (across the border in the Saudi province of Asir) air defense systems shot down another Iranian UAV that the Shia rebels had sent off in an attempt to cause some damage and casualties in Saudi Arabia. This one was aimed at Abha, the capital of Asir province and 230 kilometers from the border. Another favorite target is Jizan province, to the south of Asir. Jizan has a longer border with Yemen and has long been subject to attacks by Shia rebels using short-range rockets or mortars. The Rebels would also fire machine-guns across the border. The capital of Jizan also has an airport that is often a target for Shia rebels UAV attacks. Since March the Shia rebels have launched dozens of these UAVs against the Abha and Jizan airports or, less frequently, other economic targets in Asir and Jizan provinces. A few of the UAV attacks have succeeded because the small UAVs fly low and slow and are more difficult for radars to detect. But the Saudis have made adjustments to their air defense systems since the UAVs first appeared late in 2018 and now most of the UAVs are spotted and destroyed. But some are hitting targets. Because of the small quantity of explosives carried these UAVs don’t do much damage. A lot of these UAVs are getting into Yemen because lately there are at least five or six of them a week launched at targets in Saudi Arabia. Most are detected and shot down but with that many being sent across the border come are going to reach their target.

July 6, 2019: In the northwest (across the border in the Saudi provinces of Asir and Jizan) Shia rebels claimed to have launched several explosive-laden UAVs at the airports in these two provinces. There were no reports of damage, but sometimes the Saudis manage to keep such damage reports out of the news, especially if there were no casualties. This time the rebels said they targeted hangers and other support facilities at the airports, rather than passenger terminals.

July 5, 2019: A Shia rebel radio stations completed a campaign that began on May 25th, to persuade Yemenis to donate money to help the Lebanese Hezbollah organization. The pledge drive ended today after raising $132,000. The radio campaign did not dwell on Iran sharply cutting its cash aid to Hezbollah in 2019. These cuts are another side effect of the economic sanctions on Iran that the Americans revived in 2017. Hezbollah advisors, technical experts and trainers have been in Yemen since at least 2015.

July 2, 2019: In the northwest (across the border in the Saudi province of Asir), another Shia rebel UAV was sent to the Abha airport. The UAV detonated its explosives at a passenger terminal and wounded nine civilians. This is the third time one of these UAVs have hit the Abha airport in the last month.

June 25, 2019: Saudi Arabia revealed that on June 3rd a joint Saudi-Yemeni commando raid in eastern Yemen led to the capture of Abu Osama al Masri, the leader of the Yemeni branch of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), along with the head of finance for the local ISIL branch. Also taken were three women and three children. The Saudis said they had the house where the raid took place had been under surveillance for some time to confirm who was there. Masiri is an Egyptian who was leader of AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) from 2010 until 2015 when he decided to join ISIL and took a number of AQAP members with him. By 2017 Masiri was the head of the local ISIL faction. His predecessor, like many ISIL and AQAP leaders, had been killed. Since 2015 AQAP and ISIL have suffered heavy losses in Yemen. Both groups are still active but now largely keep their heads down in rural hideouts. Most of these are in central Yemen ( Baida province) and to the east. Anywhere an Islamic terrorist can find a hospitable tribe, they can usually arrange refuge . AQAP has few active members left in Yemen and the only remaining local support is from some separatist Sunni tribes in the south and east. In the south (Shabwa province) Yemeni special operation troops have been finding and raiding the few remaining rural AQAP hideouts there. Since 2017 AQAP has been under heavy attack by the Americans and the Arab coalition and the Islamic terrorists have responded by shifting more of their 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 the government and coalition forces. AQAP is more acceptable to more Yemenis in the south and survives more easily. By mid-2017 Islamic terrorist attacks had declined more than 90 percent versus 2014 and the decline continued into 2018. In the last year, there have been very few prominent AQAP or ISIL attacks in Yemen.

There are also some ISIL groups out in the hills and they will fight against AQAP but are currently avoiding government forces. There seem to be only one or two ISIL groups left in this region and not many more AQAP but the search, and the occasional battles, continue. The two Islamic terrorist groups have been attacking each other during the last year, usually via assassination. Bombings attract too much attention and require a lot more effort. Islamic terrorists have long found refuge among Islamic conservative tribes in rural areas of Yemen. Currently, AQAP and ISIL take the long view, that eventually the civil war will be over and it will be possible for Islamic terror groups to again recruit, rebuild and get back into action.

June 24, 2019: The UN has suspended food aid shipments to 850,000 Yemenis because they believe the Shia rebels are stealing much of it. The rebels refuse to allow the UN to verify who is getting the food and government the rampant theft of foreign aid the rebels have been carrying out for years, the UN is under pressure from donor nations to verify that the aid goes to the poor Yemenis it was intended for.

June 23, 2019: In the northwest (across the border in the Saudi province of Asir) ,another Shia rebel UAV was sent to the Abha airport. The UAV detonated its explosives at a passenger terminal and killed one man and wounded 21 other civilians.

June 19, 2019: In the northwest (across the border in the Saudi province of Jizan), a Shia rebel UAV was sent to attack a desalinization plant. The UAV detonated its explosives but caused no injuries or damage to the plant.

June 16, 2019: In Iraq, one of the more openly pro-Iran Iraqi militias is the Hezbollah Nujaba, which wants to become an Iraqi version of the Lebanese Hezbollah and that is encouraged by Iran and the original Hezbollah. This is of great concern for Israel because groups like Hezbollah Nujaba could control remote and thinly populated areas of western Iraq. From these desert areas, they could launch short-range Iranian ballistic missiles at Israel. This is similar to what the Iranian backed Shia rebels have been doing in Yemen against Saudi Arabia. Israel believes Iran has already installed ballistic missiles in southern Iraq, where they can reach Israel. Iraq is investigating the claim and willing to shut this down because it might involve Iraq in a war with Israel and that is not seen as a good thing. American intelligence claims that some recent explosive armed UAV attacks on Saudi targets were not launched from northern Yemen but from southern or western Iraq. Hezbollah Nujaba was in a position to provide a well-guarded remote launch site for these UAVs. American intelligence sources reported later in June that it appeared that a mid-May UAV attack on Saudi Arabia did not come from northern Yemen, as suspected but from southern Iraq, in areas where pro-Iran Iraqi Shia militia operate.


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