Yemen’s endgame?

February 20, 2018
Yemen’s endgame?
Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

“HOW do you see the end of the Yemen War?,” ask many Saudis and Yemenis alike. War is always bad news. War with neighbors is the worst of all. I tell them it is going to end soon. Too good to be true? I beg to disagree, and I have my reasons.

Yes, it is never easy to win a war in Yemen. The Egyptians know best. For a decade, they supported a military coup against the 1,000-year-old Zaidi Kingdom. When they went in, 1961, they thought it was a walk in the park. It took Egyptian President, Gamal Abdul Naser, and his generals, eight years to realize their mistake. Up to 70,000 well-trained soldiers, with modern equipment, were unable to defeat mountainous tribes with no more than old rivals and “Janbiah” knives.

The interfering foreign power, this time, is Iran. The Arab Coalition is backing the legitimate Yemeni government against a foreign-led rebellion. That was what Saudi Arabia did when it backed the Yemeni King in the 1960s.

Unlike Egypt, the Arab Coalition is not sending their armies into Yemen. Instead, they choose to train, arm and back the Yemeni military and security forces. They lend them air cover, sea power, and elite troopers, in addition to help with planning, logistics and intelligence.

Still, that was the case for the last three years. So what is different now? Why are the Yemeni forces progressing at a faster pace than before? How come the rebels are losing grounds and ceding strategic areas so rapidly?

I suggest the following reasons:

First, the Americans are not on their side, this time. The Obama Administration had a secret, but apparent, understanding with Iran to drag the war as long as possible. The aim was to bring Saudi Arabia and allies to a political solution that favored the rebels and to come to terms with Iran’s new role as the region’s sheriff.

Thankfully, the Trump Administration is back on US traditional tracks. It now supports its traditional Arab allies to end the Iranian conspiracy in Yemen and everywhere else. The needed military equipment, that was denied to us before, are in our hands now. They include smart weapons, laser-guided missiles, intelligence gathering airplanes and highly advanced air defense. In addition, we now have full access to US intelligence and satellite images.

Second, the rebels lost their solidarity. The Houthis’ assassination of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the witch-hunting of his family and followers have ended their alliance. Without Saleh, the militias lack modern army training and equipment, as well as the political, administration and organizational skills needed to run the government, maintain tribal relations and speak to the outside world. A great number of Saleh’s followers have joined the Yemeni government. They brought with them a wealth of expertise, information and tribal loyalty. The Houthis lost that and more. Since they insist on enforcing their religious ideology, they face strong rejection from the non-Shiite majority.

Third, intense pressure on all fronts has exposed internal fractions. The Hashemite families — grandsons of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) — are the top tier of the Houthi movement. According to the Jaffari branch of the Shiite sect, ultimate rulers and imams must be Hashemite. However, the more educated and civic Houthis are not. They were assigned most administrative and political positions, while the military leaders and ultimate decision makers come from the tribal Hashemites.

A competition over spoils of war, critical decisions and highest government posts put such alliance to the test. Some militia leaders fled with their fighters to the liberated regions and joined the government forces. Again, they brought with them valuable data and inside information, including detailed maps of land mines, operation rooms, leaders’ hideouts, and weapons storages.

Fourth, after the last wave of ballistic missiles that targeted the Saudi capital Riyadh and other cities, a tighter cordon was erected to enforce the Security Council resolutions 2216 and 2213 forbidding arms smuggling. Iran has used humanitarian shipments to provide the Houthis with sophisticated missiles, drones and communication equipment. UN agencies have failed to detect theses shipment in the past. Now, the Alliance is implementing tighter searching methods, spotting, seizing and destroying lots of illegal shipments passing under UN noses and eyes!

Finally, the last word is reserved for the Yemeni people. Those who believed that the Houthis rebelled against a rotten government know better today. Instead of cleaner, decent and caring regime, they now suffer under a cruel, ignorant and ideologist militias, implementing a foreign anti-Arab agenda. Such public reckoning changes everything. Yemen is known as the graveyard of invaders. It is about time to prove so!

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at kbatarfi@gmail.com. Follow him at Twitter:@kbatarfi

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