Pulling out the American «Patriots»: A Routine Procedure or a Strategic Agreement


Fri, 25-06-2021 09:57 AM, Aden Time

Badr Mohammed (South24)

At the end of December 2020, three high-precision missiles fell in Aden International Airport south of Yemen simultaneously with the arrival of the Yemeni government, which had just been formed in Riyadh at the time. The government members were lucky to survive such a precise attack as its reception procedures were disrupted after a crowd stormed the airport to welcome the former Aden’s Security Manager, General Shalal Ali Shayyeh.Therefore, the government members had remained inside the plane for more time. This coincided with the falling of the first missile on the airport lobby, where they were supposed to be there. 

The governmental team was then evacuated through emergency ladders before being moved to their headquarters. The status of security and political confusion did not last long compared with what would have been like if the missiles hit their original target.

A state of chaos had dominated the media coverage of the attack. The security reports and investigations have blamed the Houthis as responsible for the attack prompting the latter to show signs of implicit support for the bombing operation. The Houthis revealed also that they own what dubbed as “power of deterrence”.[1] On the other hand, prior to the Houthis statements, the Iranian Ambassador Hassan Erlo had visited the tomb of the former President of the Houthis’ “Supreme Political Council” Saleh Alsammad who was killed by an Arab Coalition’s aerial bombing attack in April 2018. He laid a wreath of roses on his grave. [2] Prompting some observers to see this as an Iranian gesture to portray the attempt to eliminate the Yemeni government as a legitimate right to avenge the killing Saleh Alsammad. 

This has established a specific transformation in the Yemeni crisis to publicly juxtapose the Saudi support of the Yemeni government against the Iranian backing of the Houthis. Consequently, this means moving the military Iranian capabilities to the Houthis who publicly declared having a deterrent force.

Yemen and the Iranian military experience

Although the Houthis declared in September 2019 their responsibility of targeting Aramco, east of Saudi Arabia, the Americans and the Saudis have ruled out this claim adding that Iran is the one to be blamed.

In return, the Aden Airport attack has put the Houthis at the forefront of real responsibility as well as enhancing the narrative about the responsibility of the Houthis for attacking Aramco.

Moreover, targeting the Aden Airport was an Iranian gesture that it has moved its war against its supposed opponents to Yemen after appointing Hassan Erlo as its Ambassador in Sanaa. As a result, the Houthis have stepped up their attacks toward the K.S.A’s territory and vital facilities after the American administration rescinded their designation as a terrorist organization in the Middle of February.

On March 7, the oil tanks in the eastern Saudi city of Ras Tanura were targeted by drones concurrently with other attacks on the eastern Saudi provinces of Asir and Jizan. However, the attacks targeting the eastern Saudi areas, overlooking the Arabian Gulf near Iran, were more effective than those on the southern regions close to Yemen.

The Houthis declared their responsibility for the attacks while Riyadh indicated that the Eastern attack may be separate. On March 26, in conjunction with the seventh anniversary of the war in Yemen, a military attack on the same Saudi areas and vital facilities hit again. 

In return, the Houthis declared their responsibility for the attack which they dubbed “the National Steadfastness Day”, while they dubbed the March 7 attack as” Operation of Balanced Deterrence”. These attacks have attempted to emphasize the Houthis’ claim that they have a “power of deterrence”.

However, the political narratives of the Houthis have tried to internationalize the Yemeni crisis with Saudi Arabia, which in turn has tried to reduce the crisis to the internal Yemeni-Yemeni level. On the political level, the legitimate president of the country, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, and the Yemeni government reject the process of transferring Iran’s political experience to Yemen using the Houthis, but they witness, in practice, the transfer of Iran’s military experience to the fractured country.

This military experience will not establish a lasting peace except within the framework of international and U.N. covenants and charters that necessarily include Iran. Based upon this perspective, the US administration is seeking to link the settlement of the Yemeni crisis to that of Iran's nuclear file. The American narrative is represented by several measures taken by the Biden administration that have put increasing pressure on Saudi Arabia and the Yemeni government alike, in parallel with the Houthi military pressure. Accordingly, the US administration decided to pull the Patriot batteries out of Saudi Arabia.

Withdrawing the Patriot system from Saudi Arabia and the region

The US Administration’s decision to pull Patriot batteries out of Saudi Arabia came in conjunction with intensified ballistic attacks targeting the kingdom, sparking many questions about the military and political effect of the American step on Riyadh in this particular time. However, it is better to look first at the background of the American move.

Andrew Korybko, the American political analyst based in Moscow, told South24: “The US seemingly wants to display a sign of goodwill towards Iran during the ongoing nuclear negotiations and ahead of President-Elect Raisi’s inauguration.”

Korybko’s view about the American move is relevant to Iran's nuclear program negotiations. This strengthens the link between the Yemeni crisis and Iranian behavior in the region.

“The larger trend at play is an attempted de-escalation between these two rivals intended to reduce the need for as large of a US regional military presence as before so that America can redeploy its resources towards the Asia-Pacific to more actively “contain” China.” He added.

In his view, “It’s unclear whether this attempt will work since a lot depends on the outcome of the negotiations, but all signs point towards this strategy”.

This is not the first US step in which America decides to withdraw Patriot batteries from Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region. In September 2018, the administration of former US President Donald Trump withdrew four Patriot batteries from Kuwait, Bahrain, and Jordan. In May 2020, the US administration withdrew four Patriot batteries, two from Saudi Arabia and two from other countries. 

At that time, the process of reducing and withdrawing the US Pentagon's military capabilities from Saudi Arabia and the countries of the region was being seen as a Trump Administration attempt to "blackmail" Saudi Arabia. However, it is clear that reducing the US presence, which included other naval and air sectors, confirms that it was a strategic move. 

The same thing is happening again with the decision of the Biden Administration to withdraw three Patriot batteries from Prince Sultan military base. Biden threatened to make Saudi Arabia a” pariah” state.