Yemen: Negotiating The Price Of Peace

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November 27, 2019: There has been a major reduction in fighting since October as both sides talk about the possibility of a ceasefire and peace deal. No real progress there. Meanwhile, the Shia rebels have been attacking Red Sea shipping. This is part of an Iranian effort to retaliate for economic sanctions on Iran. While coalition airstrikes are down about 80 percent since October this is changing because of the rebel threat to Red Sea shipping.

Another problem, rebel interference with foreign aid, has led to some more public health disasters. The latest is an outbreak of dengue fever in the Taiz province. This is one of the southern provinces that the rebels are trying to hold onto. During 2019 the locals became more active in opposing the rebel occupation and that led to reprisals. For the last few months, the Shia rebels have been retaliating against Yemenis suspected of disloyalty in the provinces of Jawf, Sanaa, Dhamar, Taiz, and Bayda. The rebels have arrested hundreds of local and kidnapped dozens where an arrest was impractical. The rebels also set up more road checkpoints. Jawf is in the north, just east of Saada province, the Shia tribal homeland. North of Jawf is Saudi Arabia. The rebels feared major uprisings in areas they controlled or had disputed (with the government) control. The other provinces are not as crucial to the Shia rebels. The harshest punishment is to withhold relief supplies and foreign aid in general. This has contributed to the collapse in sanitation services and a population more vulnerable to outbreaks of contagious diseases like dengue fever, cholera and malaria.

Since Iranian UAVs attacked Saudi oil facilities in September the Saudis have sought to negotiate some kind of long-term ceasefire in Yemen. Since they are dealing with Iran they are wary of how such an agreement is worded and implemented. This is because Iranian support has enabled the Shia rebels to survive four years of Arab coalition efforts to defeat them and end the Shia rebellion. UN pressure to make peace ignored the fact that restoring Shia autonomy (lost in the 1960s) in the north would make it possible for Iran to continue supplying the Shia tribes with weapons that can be used to attack Saudi Arabia or, according to Israeli leaders, Israel. The rebels still control a hundred kilometers of Red Sea coast and are now using that to threaten all shipping passing by headed for Saudi, Egyptian, Jordanian and Israeli ports as well as the Suez Canal. Traffic going south is headed for the Gulf of Aden and anywhere in the world. The Saudis do not trust Iran and will not accept Iranian weapons and “advisors” on their southwestern border as well as the Red Sea coast. The Red Sea commercial traffic moves over a billion dollars’ worth of raw materials and finished goods each month. This traffic is of vital economic importance to the Arab Gulf states, Israel, Egypt and Jordan. With access to the Red Sea coast, Iran can threaten all of it and let the Shia rebels take the credit (and blame).

The rebels currently provide Iran with access to the Saudi border and for the Saudis that is unacceptable given 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”. The Saudis suddenly feel more sympathy for Israel and the years of Iran-financed violence on Israel’s southern border where Gaza-based Hamas exists mainly to try and destroy Israel.

Iran proposes putting Shia Moslems (led by Iran) in charge of the Moslem most holy shrines in Mecca and Medina. That would involve the elimination of Saudi rule in Arabia and many Arabs are fine with that. To many Arabs, the Saudi clan is seen as arrogant, inept and corrupt. There’s a lot of truth to this but those flaws describe most Arab states and Iran exploits that. So did the Ottoman Turks, the British, the medieval European crusaders and the ancient Romans. The one part of Arabia that had long escaped foreign domination was the southern (Yemeni) part, where there was a lot more rain, water and population than the rest of Arabia. The discovery of oil in the Persian Gulf, between 1900 and 1930, revealed that the largest known source of oil in the world was under and around the northern end of the gulf. First in Iran and then in Arabia, more oil was discovered and production expanded. This took about half a century but after World War II ended in 1945, there was so much oil that it was pretty cheap. It took another two decades for demand to catch up with supply and prices were so high by the 1970s that Iran and the Arab Gulf states were suddenly extremely wealthy. The only part of Arabia without any oil was Yemen. The Yemenis resented this. The oil-rich Arabs did not always hide their disdain for their poor but proud cousins in Yemen.

Iran also resented the wealthy Arab oil states and was dismayed at how the Arabs then, uncharacteristically, got themselves organized. First, there was the creation of Saudi Arabia in the 1920s and in 1981 the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) was formed. Its members (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) appeared to have the wealth and military power to deal with threatening local (Iran) or foreign (China, Russia, India, the West and so on) threats.

All the GCC states are monarchies and have so far managed to control pro-democracy movements. The GCC states have lots of oil and rulers who were wise enough to spread the wealth around. This has undercut efforts to establish democratic rule. Yemen, however, is perpetually broke. While technically a democracy, Yemen has actually been a dictatorship using manipulated elections to keep one party in power for decades. The GCC states are not enthusiastic about having a real democracy in Yemen, fearing that the country might end up controlled by Islamic radicals, or democrats who will support like-minded groups in other GCC states. But because Yemen is the most populous state in the Arabia peninsula, and half the population has a firearm of some sort, the GCC is not eager to send troops or police in to help the government. Iran forced the GCC to act in Yemen and the GCC was reminded why they had always been reluctant to get involved there. In Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, Iran seeks to remind the Arabs who the local superpower is and why. The Iranians have long employed a wide range of military and diplomatic tools to dominate the Arabs.

For that reason, 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 years of civil war.

November 26, 2019: The Arab Coalition offered to free 200 Shia fighters held prisoner and lift the blockade on Shia rebel use of the Sanaa airport. In return, the coalition wants some serious efforts to negotiate a peace deal. Saudi Arabia has been quietly negotiating with the Shia rebels since September but without much success.

November 25, 2019: In the northwest (Taiz province, south of the Red Sea port of Hodeida), Saudi airstrikes hit rebel positions along the coast south of the city. The Saudis said this did not violate the ceasefire because the rebel sites hit were being used to make attacks on nearby government forces. Before the airstrikes, coalition air defenses had intercepted three rebel ballistic missiles and five UAVs being used to attack government forces. At least eight rebels were killed and several more wounded. Following the airstrikes rebel group forces opened fire on nearby government positions.

November 24, 2019: The Shia rebels released two UN aid workers that had been held prisoner for 17 days. The two Jordanian men were seized when they tried to audit what the Shia rebels were doing with their share of the foreign aid. There have been continuous complaints that much of the aid was diverted and sold or stockpiled in the rebel homeland in northwest Yemen. The rebels have long harassed or kidnapped UN auditors. Laptops and paper records were often taken and destroyed or just disappear.

November 17, 2019: In the northwest (north of the Red Sea port of Hodeida), Shia rebels in armed speedboats seized a South Korean sand dredger being towed north by two tugs (one South Korean, the other Saudi). The three ships were closer to shore than normal because of bad weather. The rebels thought all three vessels were Saudi and were not happy when South Korea announced that it was sending one of its destroyers to get their ships and citizens released. The three seized vessels had 16 men on board but only two of them were South Korean. The South Korean warship was serving with the new maritime patrol formed to police the entrances to the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. The rebels said they would release the three ships if presented with proof that two of the vessels are South Korea. The South Korean destroyer is expected to help with that. The three vessels were released two days after they were taken, without waiting for the South Korea warship to arrive.

November 13, 2019: In central Yemen (Marib province), Shia rebels fired a ballistic missile at the Arab Coalition base in the province while the Yemeni defense minister was visiting. He was not harmed but seven soldiers were killed and several more wounded.

November 11, 2019: The U.S. announced large rewards for two senior leaders of AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula). A six million dollar reward for information leading to the capture or death of Saad bin Atef Al Awlaki, the head of AQAP operations in Shadwa province. Four million dollars is being offered for the AQAP second-in-command Ibrahim Ahmed Al Qosi. There is a much smaller ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) operation in Yemen but both of these groups have been keeping their heads down in rural hideouts. However, the two men with the new rewards on their heads have openly spoken about plans for attacks outside of Yemen. Meanwhile, most of the remaining AQAP personnel 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.

November 5, 2019: In the south (Aden), the government and the STC (South Transitional Council) leaders signed an agreement that addresses STC grievances and returns control of Aden to the Yemen government. The STC had held Aden since mid-August and that has been a distraction for the Saudis who are trying to deal with the Shia rebels in the north. The STC was able to grab Aden because the main Saudi ally in Yemen, the UAE, began withdrawing its forces earlier this year. The Saudis and UAE disagreed over strategy and how to handle the STC.

November 1, 2019: In central Yemen (Marib province), an American UAV used missiles to kill two AQAP members. This is the ninth American UAV attack in Yemen so far this year. Two were in January and three in March. American UAV attacks continue in Yemen but the number has declined since 2018, when there were 36 attacks. In 2017 there were 131 attacks and all have been mainly against AQAP and ISIL camps and key personnel in central Yemen.

October 31, 2019: Sudan’s Sovereign Council announced that the government has withdrawn “up to 10,000” Sudanese soldiers from Yemen. Withdrawn – not will withdraw. The government does not favor sending replacement forces. There were reports of incremental withdrawals in October. The forces sent were RSF (Rapid Support Force) militia and Saudi Arabia paid well for the Sudanese to be in Yemen. The RSF has been responsible for a lot of the bad behavior (war crimes and other atrocities) in Darfur.

 

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