How Saudi Arabia plans to get out of the longest crisis in Yemen's history


Fri, 21-02-2020 07:52 PM, Aden

Altogether, one month and several days, five years since the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced the launch of the Decisive Storm operations against the Iranian-backed Houthi militias and the forces of the late President Ali Abdullah Saleh, at two in the morning on Thursday, 26 of March 2015. 

The Decisive Storm formed the beginning of the military operations of the Arab coalition forces, was attended by nearly ten countries directly, some of them limited, while the role of the Emirates was significant, led by the Saudi armed forces to support "the legitimacy of the regime of Abd Rabbu Hadi Mansour in Yemen."  
The operation came, according to what Riyadh announced, to stop the increasing Iranian influence in Yemen represented by the Houthi group after they began a massive attack on the souths governorates, and they took control of Al-Anad military base and became on the outskirts of the southern capital, Aden.  
After five years of the longest war in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and its armed forces are fighting for the first time, the Houthis (Shiites) still control most of its northern parts, after they were able to obtain qualitative and advanced weapons from Iran, including ballistic missiles and Drones, according to numerous reports. The most recent is an expert report published by Reuters last week. While large areas of southern Yemen, including the capital Aden and the important marine area of Bab al-Mandab, are under the control of the independence-seeking southerners, while eastern parts of Wadi Hadramout and Shabwa remain under the control of government forces loyal to the Islamic Islah Party.  
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has taken over the territories controlled by the official Yemeni forces and the Muslim Brotherhood, as an easy base for the movements of its elements and leaders, as indicated by the expert report submitted to the UN Security Council on January 20, 2020.  
Saudi Arabia does not seem to have a clear strategy, at least not yet, of how to resolve this complex crisis. Despite its involvement in direct dialogues with the Houthi rebels, without involving the Yemeni side, that began in November 2019 and is still ongoing until now, according to the statements of its Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, on February 15. At the Munich security conference, according to Reuters. 
Most prominent stations 
The disintegration of the Arab alliance that started in the year 2015 after the withdrawal of each of Qatar in June 2017, after the severing of relations with it by four Arab countries, and then Morocco, after cooling its relation to Riyadh. Finally announced the United Arab Emirates the withdrawal of its forces last October from the western coast. In November 2019, the Saudi forces took over the functions of the Arab coalition in the Aden, from its Emirati counterpart, and the operation was completed on February 8, when Abu Dhabi organized a military parade for its soldiers returning from the fighting there. 
The United Arab Emirates, and a number of its officials, affirmed, however, their continued logistical and material support for the coalition operations in Yemen alongside Saudi Arabia, the military forces that trained them in southern Yemen, the “southern resistance”, and the “national resistance” forces, in reference to the forces led by the president’s brother’s son, Tariq Saleh.  
Sudan also announced the withdrawal of most of its soldiers from the frontlines in Yemen. Brigadier Jamal Jumaa Adam, a spokesman for the "Rapid Support Forces", said last month that "a simple group of Sudanese forces remaining in Yemen, the last force present there, represents 657 individuals," according to the Anatolia Agency. 
Over the past five years, new forces have formed and reorganized themselves in South Yemen after the announcement of the former governor of Aden, Major General Aidarous Qassem Al-Zubaidi, to establish the Southern Transitional Council (STC) in May 2017 in Aden. The Council has large military and security forces, trained by the United Arab Emirates, which have actively contributed to the cleansing of South Yemen of the Houthis and terrorist groups.  
Whereas the Muslim Brotherhood movement sought and its arm in Yemen the Islamic Islah Party to control the city of Marib, which is located in the northeast of Sana’a, which is rich in oil and gas.  
Marib turned into the de facto capital of the legitimate government led by Hadi, after the Islamic wing took control of the government’s decisions, and now controls the joints of the forces of "national army" stationed in Marib, supported by Saudi Arabia with modern and advanced weapons.  
Despite this, the Yemeni army has not made any progress towards the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, since five years ago. In January, new areas fell in the Nahham area, east of Sanaa, and in the Al-Jawf region, in the grip of Iranian-backed militias.  
A number of the brigades that belonged to this army announced joining the Houthi fighters, and at other times, they handed over a lot of military equipment or withdrew from their positions, as happened recently in the Nahham area, east of Sanaa.  
During the past five years, the Yemeni government has been led by three prime ministers, Eng. Khaled Bahah, Ahmed Obaid bin Dagher, a former friend of the Saleh regime, and actually Dr. Moeen Abdul Malik. 
The Yemeni government, whose majority its member resides in Riyadh and other Arab capitals, has been accused of failure, corruption and inconsistency. 
Stockholm Agreement 
After the liberation of Aden and the southern governorate, the military operations expanded in the Bab al-Mandab region, and the Emirati Administration of Military Operations managed to organize well-trained southern forces. UAE established the so-called “giants brigades” emanating from the southern resistance, in addition to southern units from the former southern army and the fourth military zone Led by the late Major General Ahmed Saif Al-Muharrami and Major General Haitham Qasim Taher. 
These forces were able to liberate the Mukha port in Taiz, and headed deep towards the strategic coastal city of Hodeidah, which is controlled by the Houthis. There, Tariq Saleh’s forces and the "Tehami resistance" joined the southern Forces, that almost took control of the entire city, but the international intervention led by Britain and the United Nations prevented this, according to experts, and ended with the announcement of the Stockholm Agreement in December 2018. 
The agreement, in which the international community welcomed, granted the rebels a lifeline and secured an important seaport for them, and prevented progress towards the northern capital, Sanaa, as the Yemeni opposition forces have planned. 
The Yemeni government recently waved, in the words of its foreign minister, the failure of the Stockholm Agreement after the Houthis targeted a camp containing new recruits in the Ma’rib Governorate, east of Sanaa, which killed and injured hundreds of them.  
Riyadh agreement 
In southern Yemen, after targeting the prominent military leader in the southern forces, Munir al-Yafii on August 1, 2019, in an attack claimed by the Houthi militias, the southern transitional council accused the government and its Islah party wing of being involved in the operation. The forces of the transitional council took control of Aden, and clashes erupted and reached a governorate Shabwa Eastern. 
Yemeni forces and al-Qaeda militants, coming from Ma’rib, took control of Shabwa, after the Shabwani elite forces who were most effective in combating terrorism in the governorate were ousted, and they tried to retake the capital Aden, but they failed. That prompted the Riyadh government to invite the Transitional Council and the Yemeni government to dialogue in Jeddah.  
The dialogue, which lasted for more than two months, resulted in the announcement of the Riyadh Agreement on 5 November 2019 at Al Yamamah Palace in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.  
According The Agreement the forces coming recently from Marib and other areas should leave the city of Aden, Abyan and Shabwa. In addition, merging the security and military forces of STC in the strength of the Yemeni Ministry of Interior and Defense, and the formation of a government divided between north and south by 24 ministers. 
The agreement, which garnered broad international support, was opposed by Qatar, Iran, the Houthi group, Turkey, and much of activates the Yemeni Islah party. 
The transitional council accuses the government of not abiding by any of the terms of the agreement, including the delivery of salaries, the appointment of a governor and security director for Aden, and the withdrawal of forces affiliated with the Islah Party from “Shoqra” and Shabwa regions 
The Yemeni Prime Minister and a government team returned to Aden last November, but military tension continued, after al-Qaeda members involved in government forces targeted security elements of the Transitional Council, said STC- politicos. Activists in the Southern Transitional Council has accused the Islah party of recruiting extremist elements of Al Qaeda into government forces, including a guard for Interior Minister Ahmed al-Misri and a commander of the Coastal Defense Brigade (Abu al-Abid), the former guard of former al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. 
The Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Muhammad Al Jaber announced in January this year an agreement on a practical matrix to implement the military and security aspect of the Riyadh agreement.  
The Southern Transitional Council took the initiative to hand over its heavy forces and withdraw from military areas in Abyan. He facilitated and protected the government team returning to Aden. He cooperated extensively with the Saudi forces stationed in Aden to implement the deployment and protection of the country’s headquarters there, said STC in its latest statement. 
STC accuses the Yemeni government of not abiding by any of the terms of the agreement, including the delivery of salaries, the appointment of a governor and security director for Aden, and the withdrawal of government forces affiliated with the Islah Party from “Shoqra” district in Abyan and the Shabwa governorate areas east of Aden.  
The atmosphere became tense recently after security forces affiliated with the Transitional Council refused passage of military elements, including (Abu Al-Abed), through Aden, without withdrawing northern forces, led by "Bin Ma’ili" from Shoqra district. Southern activists accused Saudi forces of pressuring to facilitate the entry of these forces to Aden. Before these Yemeni forces withdrew back to their places.¨ 
London’s "The Arab Weekly" newspaper revealed that a military committee formed by the coalition is seeking to revive the agreement between the two parties, after the prime minister left to Riyadh.  
Yemeni and Arab media affiliated with Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood sought to stoke a dispute between Riyadh and the STC.  
Journalists working for the government in Aden claimed that the Southern Transitional Council had launched incitement campaigns against Riyadh. 
The transitional council condemned what he described as "all media campaigns targeting Saudi Arabia and its pioneering role", and called on everyone "not to be drawn behind those politicized and malicious campaigns directed by the forces hostile to our people, our cause, and our brothers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”, said the STC official spokesperson, Nizar Haitham. 
New players 
The exit of the Emirati forces from Yemen opened the appetite of other powers of influence in the region in addition to Iran.  
From the moment, it left the Arab coalition, Qatar sought to attack the role of the United Arab Emirates in South Yemen. It launched organized media campaigns targeting the UAE-backed security forces there. Moreover, it tried to establish a rumor of the UAE’s intentions to occupy southern Yemen, as it tried to extend its influence in the eastern Maharah governorate bordering with Oman. 
A former leader in Ansar al-Sharia organization named Adel Al-Hassani helped this campaign. Qatar played a big role in removing him from security prisons in Aden.  
Al-Hassani moved to reside in Turkey, and became a lecturer and strategic analyst as described by Al-Jazeera TV, which broadcasts from Doha. In addition, Qatar sought to include the Minister of Transport, Saleh al-Jabwani, and the Yemeni Minister of Interior, Ahmad al-Misiri, in its campaign ranks. 
Al-Jabwani and Al-Masiri announced their rejection of the Riyadh agreement and threatened to ally with the Houthis. The Qatari media have prepared for them wide areas, with the aim of thwarting this agreement, observers say. 
Documents published by local media in South Yemen this month revealed that Turkish "cells" entered in the South through Al-Mahra border crossing with Oman, as employees of charitable societies. After a visit by the Minister of Transport last December to Turkey, he met leaders from the ruling Turkish Justice and Development Party. 
The official of the Southern Transitional Council, Ahmed Omar Bin Fareed, residing in Germany, warned of the danger of the activities of Turkish authorities, which he said had started moving in the province of Shabwa, to which he belongs, and which is now controlled by the authorities of the Islamic Islah Party. 
Turkey intervened militarily in Libya in support of the Tripoli government against the Libyan army forces led by Colonel Khalifa Hifter, and is currently participating in extensive battles against the Syrian regime forces in the Idlib area. 
An official in the Southern Transitional Council warned of the danger of the activities of Turkish authorities, which he said had begun to move in Shabwa Governorate 
Relations between the Turks and the Saudis worsened after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2, 2018. 
Western reports also accused the Sultanate of Oman of supporting and financing local figures in the southern province of Mahra, with the aim of rejecting the presence of Saudi forces there.  
Al-Mahrah has recently turned into a new haven for leaders facing the Saudi-led Arab coalition, most of whom have fled from Aden.  
A report published by the modern diplomacy website indicated that a certain level of war fatigue on the ground would lead to the division of Yemeni lands into the control of different groups.  
"Fatigue of the war may not be sufficient for the warring parties to complete a peace process, but it may only limit the fighting to the front lines," it added. 
"An end to the hostilities would simply establish the parties in their positions and focus each of them on defending the areas under their control," according to the report. 
The report believes that a possible scenario "then would the Houthis take control of the northern part of present-day Yemen, while southern and some forces loyal to the government in exile could successfully defend the southern and central regions of the country." 
Another report, published by the Digital Journal, sees that the Saudi leadership has lost confidence in the Yemeni government, after accusing the Saudi media to parties of Yemeni government of corruption and working against the Arab coalition. ”Thus the magazine believes that “Saudi Arabia may support the empowerment of the Southern Transitional Council and the forces that agree with it in the government Legitimacy of the South Yemen Administration.»_ 
Possible scenario: "The Houthis control the northern part of present-day Yemen, while the southern forces and some forces loyal to the government in exile, will control over the southern and central regions of the country." 
Saudi Arabia is currently conducting secret talks with Houthi militias backed by Iran. These talks began after the missile attack on the Abqaiq and Khurais facilities in the east of the kingdom in September 2019, and Riyadh accused Iran of the attack. 
After the murder of the engineer of the Iranian foreign military policy, Qassem Soleimani, by a missile attack by a US plane at Baghdad International Airport on January 3 this year, the Houthi militias have stepped up their operations inside Yemen and launched missile attacks on Saudi again. Despite its announcing in advance, the cessation of missile attacks on Saudi soil. 
After the Emirates' exit from Yemen, Saudi Arabia became the only external player to which the Southern Transitional Council provide space for movement in Aden, and the regions of southern Yemen. 
The STC is betting on attracting Saudi Arabia to its ranks and persuading it to abandon the Muslim Brotherhood who control the legitimate government, which is accused of not being serious in making any military progress against the Iranian-backed militias, and to engage in secret agreements with the Houthis on many fronts. 
Although the UAE recently announced its continued support to the allies in Yemen, its exit represented a major setback for counterterrorism efforts in the southern regions, after extremist elements in ISIS and Al Qaeda returned to areas controlled by government forces in Shabwa oil and gas areas, after the Shabwani Elite Forces were expelled from them.  
Saudi Arabia does not seem serious, at least not yet, to abandon the Muslim Brotherhood. Voices from inside Saudi Arabia continue to express their support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen clearly. 
 At the same time, it is unclear if Riyadh will support the transitional council in its latest strategic project to restore the former state of southern Yemen. Despite its official assertion that its role in this intervention is limited to returning Yemeni legitimacy to Sana’a. 
Saudi Arabia does not seem serious, at least not yet, to abandon the Muslim Brotherhood. Voices from inside Saudi Arabia continue to express their support for the Muslim Brotherhood clearly
The Saudi government is trying to make serious progress in the Riyadh agreement, and create a balance that would maintain a certain level of stability in the region, although it did not provide far-reaching solutions to the roots of the conflict between the south and the north.  
Neither the international community and the Arab coalition appears to have the intention to continue to liberate northern Yemen from the Houthi militia, due to interrelated causes; the survival of the same tools that managed the battle during the five years at the head of the Yemeni government’s military forces; the desire not to widen the circle of battles that could drive a human and economic collapse comprehensive. 
The success of the implementation of the Riyadh agreement may constitute a serious shift in the conduct of military operations. On the other side, it pushes pressure towards achieving a comprehensive peace. That forcing the Houthis to make concessions that will permanently solve the issue of South Yemen through the involvement of the STC as a representative in the negotiations. In addition, involving the forces managed by Tariq Saleh in northern Yemen, and securing the southern borders of Saudi Arabia. 
The failure of the Riyadh agreement, along with the government evading its obligations towards it, will push the region into a state of widespread security chaos and strengthens the presence of new external players, turning the region into another Syrian east in the south of Saudi Arabia. 

Ayad Qassem,  
a freelance journalist and political researcher from South Yemen residing in Switzerland, and editor-in-chief of the South24 Center for Press and Media