Rashad Al-Alimi (Photo: Asharq Al-Awsat)

The Saudi “Nail” in South Yemen


Tue, 31-01-2023 08:36 AM, Aden Time

“South24 Center” Editorial

Contrary to his statements on Saturday after  arriving in Aden about what this year  will witness  regarding vital interferences backed by "brothers" in the Arab Coalition, PLC Chairman Dr Rachad Al-Alimi surprised South Yemen people  by establishing a new armed  entity  under his command and which receives direct support from Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, dozens of Southern military and security sectors still live in dire conditions for months in front of the eyes of the Arab Coalition, Al-Alimi and STC.

The establishment of the new Southern military entity, under the name of “Nation Shield” forces by Al-Alimi who belongs to North Yemen with Saudi support and funding, can be considered an attempt from Riyadh to assert its influence in the strategic Southern region and to counter the UAE’s clout. This is an explicit challenge to STC which is the most organized and active entity in South Yemen. This decision was preceded by an organized campaign led by Saudi media figures and activists in which they doubted the loyalty of STC and incited for spreading local discord among the community forces and the political components in South Yemen, especially in Hadramout. It seems that STC has preferred to keep quiet while leaving its supporters free to counter the Saudi media campaign without offending the Kingdom, its leaders, and its people.

From this perspective, the establishment of this military entity could lead to undermining STC’s efforts to formalize the Southern Armed Forces as an official institution. This is because the existence of another armed group who has different loyalty would create much rivalry and confusion and lead to more chaos. This is regardless of the nature and the structure of the Southern elements who constitute the core of “Nation Shield”. “South24 Center” previously highlighted the nature and allegiances of this new entity and the orientations of their elements. 

Among the most important caveats that have to be considered is the possible negative impact on the local community due to the establishment of these armed forces. Adding more armed entities to an already conflict-torn region would increase the possibility of violence and hurting civilians. Moreover, this may also complicate the efforts which aim at reaching a peaceful solution of the conflict through the intra-Southern dialogue sponsored by STC. 

Since South Yemen participates in the efforts exerted by regional active parties including Saudi Arabia and UAE to find a peaceful solution for the current 8-year conflict in Yemen through dialogue, the establishment of “Nation Shield” in South Yemen can lead to repercussions at many levels:

The political level: The establishment of these forces would further complicate the already complicated situation in South Yemen and give STC’s rivals a new military umbrella. This increases the number of armed entities and may create rivalry among the different groups within PLC itself. It has not   been clear yet if the decision to establish “Nation Shield” was taken by the approval of all PLC’s members. However, it is not a secret that Al-Alimi is the KSA’s “top nail” within the Presidential Leadership Council. 

On the other hand, the political slogans of the “Nation Shield” are directly related to the concept of the “Yemeni Republic”. For example, the Yemen map is featured on their official slogan. Such concepts have been rejected at both popular and political levels in South Yemen which aspires to restore its Southern state. This collision regarding the local national vision within South Yemen itself would transform these disputes into possible conflict stations. This is what previously happened with the “Presidential Protection” forces established by former President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi during his tenure. 

The security level: The presence of more armed elements in South Yemen would escalate the possibility of violence and hurting civilians. Moreover, this would increase the  difficulty of maintaining security and stability at the local and national levels. Among other factors, this would be caused by the lack of military and professional training, the educational military and security inexperience as well as the unfamiliarity with the applicable laws and relevant human rights rules.

Moreover, the diversity at the levels of leaders, operation offices, and supporters of the armed forces directly impacts the counterterrorism efforts by the Southern forces in Abyan and Shabwa governorates. The latter have recently achieved great successes by driving AQAP elements out of their biggest bastion in the Arabian Peninsula.

There are concerns that these formations would drag Southern youth into battles against the Houthis in the depth of North Yemen as happened in many previous fronts, including the Saudi-Yemeni southern border fronts.

The economic level: The cold conflict funded by regional countries would keep stability on the brink of collapse at any moment. This would impact the already deteriorating situation and threaten the future of investments and the local authorities’ development plans. This would hinder trade and other economic activities. All of this would ultimately lead to the decline in the living standards of locals who pay the biggest price ultimately.

The Social level: The establishment of this new military entity may have a negative impact on the local community which has long suffered from the state of military and security polarization. This in turn, could exacerbate the existing social tensions if these forces were established at a territorial basis. This would create new tensions exploited by political and regional parties to impose their influence and presence or settle scores in a way that would lead to more instability as well as providing causes for the conflict.

The diplomatic level: The participation of active regional parties such as KSA in backing and funding these forces may have negative consequences on the diplomatic relationships with STC and probably with UAE.

It is hard to identify the accurate Saudi objectives behind the establishment of these armed forces. KSA has repeatedly confirmed its keenness on stability in Yemen, including South Yemen. It has effectively contributed to solving the tensions that erupted over the past years in Aden. It sponsored the Riyadh Agreement between STC and the Yemeni government. However, the way KSA supported and financed the establishment of "Nation Shield" forces can be deemed as a contribution to the instability in the region.

By supporting certain armed forces in a very complicated and vulnerable region, KSA and PLC risk creating rivalries among different groups. This would accordingly harm the international efforts towards the peace process in Yemen.

Finally, whether the establishment of "Nation Shield" forces and the Saudi support of them   serve the interest of stability in South Yemen is a matter which has numerous explanations and is open for discussion. This is in turn a big challenge faced by STC which has long raised the Saudi flags in all its regulatory and political events. It seems that this move did not serve as an intercessor as Riyadh is known for its strong fluctuations in its policies towards its rivals and allies, specifically in the Yemen file.

- South24 Center for News and Studies

AdenSouth YemenPresidential Leadership CouncilNation Shield forcesSaudi ArabiaYemen War