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Al Houthis have angered their opponents and lost their friends

English | العربية

Dr. Haifa AlMaashi

Director, Geo-strategic Affairs Division

Tag: Geostrategic Affairs Government Policy Yemen Current Affairs
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The mood in Aden before daybreak on March 26 was gloomy. The city found itself battling a grim security and political crisis; panic and fear gripped its inhabitants as the Al Houthi rebels and their supporters (the forces of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh) carried out air strikes targeting the presidential palace in Maashik.

Civilians found themselves and their homes  in the line of fire. Artillery continued to pound Al Anad camp and areas of Hussaini and Al Hota in Lahj province on the northern borders of Aden.

The armoured Brigade 33 of the regular army simultaneously directed an incessant barrage of artillery at civilian populations in the villages of Al Dalea, alongside attacks on Marib and Beida, leaving little doubt that a large-scale offensive had been launched against the south in particular.

In a sign of disorder in the Buwish camp instigated by sections of the army backing Saleh and the Al Houthis, the city of Hadramout also very nearly came under attack.The gates of the coastal city of Mukallah were also threatened. It was under such difficult circumstances that Operation Decisive Storm was launched, seeking to put an end to the aggression against cities and towns in the south and east, forcing the attackers to retreat. If not for the timely intervention by Arab allies, the Al Houthis would have entered Aden and burnt down everything within the city and its suburbs and, needless to say, terrorised local populations.

There was little ambiguity remaining about the Al Houthis intentions when they and their allies sought to keep up the offensive on Aden after the bombing raids by jets of the Arab coalition. The Al Houthis activated their sleeper cells within military camps in Aden which include the bases of Tariq, Bader, Al Nasar, Al Najda, and Al Drouh in Salahuddin to virtually turn Aden into a war zone by drawing armed militias loyal to President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi into the battle.

The Al Houthis have sought to portray themselves as victims,  confronting Salehs tyranny in the six wars fought from 2004 to 2009. They also claimed to be the victims of the authority of Al Islah, and lost no time in highlighting the threats they face from Al Qaida and Daesh  after the terrorist attacks on the mosques of Badr and Al Hashosh in Sanaa on March 22.  Al Houthis have  unfortunately trampled on that very right to seek redress against injustice and oppression as Yemeni citizens by turning their guns on civilians in the south of Yemen.

They have stuck to radical political and military positions since they swept out of Saada with their take-over plans, and thus shown utter disdain for the rights of ordinary Yemeni citizens who are  justified in seeking protection and safety. The Al Houthis plan is basically aimed at seizing power by imposing ideological positions that reject the most basic tenets of good governance. They started off with the attack on the stronghold of the Salafist Sunnis in Dammaj and Ketaf, and continued until their takeover of Sanaa with support from Saleh. A sequence of events that confirms that they have actually turned from victim to executioner.

The Yemeni people, whether in the south of the country or the north in Hodeidah, Marib, Taiz and Baida are victims of unconscionable conduct of the Al Houthis in the absence of a legitimate security structure. The administration and political system they profess has failed by all conventional parameters. It is for this reason that Yemenis reject the portrayal in sections of the media influenced by the Al Houthis and Saleh that the military operation led by the Gulf states and Arab countries is an assault on the people of Yemen. In fact, there seems to be broad agreement that the Arab allies intervention is the only realistic solution to put matters right.

The Al Houthis seizure of power has set off a period of political and security instability in Yemen, even while the people were trying to get the nation back on track after a bloody uprising in 2011. Decisive Storm seeks lasting peace as the ultimate objective and Saudi officials sought to describe the military operation as a war for peace.

The Arab coalition confirms that the Al Houthis do not represent a threat to the Yemeni people alone but also to other nations. The Al Houthi militia has constantly directed threats at Saudi Arabia, either through its statements, military manoeuvres on the border, or by trying to project its relations with Iran. Al Houthis' approach has also been blighted by contradictions; while wasting no opportunity to hit out at the United States and considering it their arch-foe, they have tried to tempt its leaders by claiming to be the strongest party in Yemen capable of  taking on Al Qaida, even offeringcooperation for air strikes on Al Qaida in Al Baida. In addition to all this, the Al Houthis failure to be part of a real political alternative inside Yemen hardens doubts that they desire to solely serve as an Iranian puppet and implement Irans political agenda and thats what it has been engaged in partly through its close ties with Hezbollah in Lebanon and its counterpart in Iraq (both are loyal followers of Iran).

It is especially significant that the Arab coalition put in place the right framework for the operation. This is so that the operation is not limited to an exercise to maintain the legitimacy of President Hadi, but has clearly identified the protection of Yemeni citizens, their land and their right to political security as primary goals. These very demands were sought by the Al Houthis a decade ago. The Arab intervention, for many Yemenis, is not a violation or attack on the nations sovereignty, but one of the last options remaining to safeguard Yemenis.  This is particularly true for the southerners, who have been stripped of their wealth, military power and land since the era of Saleh with the Al Houthis threatening more of the same.

Internal Affairs

The time-frame of the operation with indications being that it is not meant to last more than a few days suggests that if the Al Houthis dont agree to a reasonable solution, there will be no hesitation to expand operations to include sea and ground attacks. Also, this leaves the door open for other countries that may be willing to support the coalition to ensure the total elimination of the Al Houthi military power and force them into compromises on their military and political positions. Any such ground operation could be limited to the southern provinces due to the complicated topography of the north of Yemen. The Al Houthis constant manoeuvring politically and militarily exposes their lack of political sophistication and military experience, which has led them to confusion and chaos. Sections within the group itself have sensed this disconnect, with field commanders and political leaders sparring over the leadership and goals.

Salehs party too has tried to rearrange its top leadership and gone for a raft of new appointments after the withdrawal of several members. However the widening of the party membership and the ambiguity of its goals since Saleh stepped down have reflected negatively on its structure and programme. In addition to this, the absence of state institutions and rampant financial and administrative corruption are bound to undermine the Al Houthis and Salehs followers, and hence significantly reduce their risk once the Arab coalition has restored order.

The recent initiative announced by the General Peoples Congress party might just be a ploy to gain time to regroup. The announcements by some brigades loyal to the Al Houthis and Saleh in Taiz, Hodeidah and Sanaa also appear to be under intense pressure brought to bear on them by the coalition operation. There is evidence to show that the same trick was used with the Minister of Defence Mahmoud Subaihi by soldiers loyal to the Al Houthis and Saleh in the Al Anad camp.

When the coalition launched its operation, the Al Houthis and Salehs troops were advancing from Mikeras, a southern province, on southern cities such as Shukra to cut off the line between Mukalla and Aden to isolate Aden. Such intentions cannot be expected to change overnight.

No one party can exercise full control over Yemens north and the south and this is a time-proven fact. The coalition forces may too be faced with this situation after the conclusion of the campaign. This poses a question: What is the apt way to reshape Yemeni political reality and ensure disparate parties keep the peace?

The most difficult task may be to restore the Yemeni militarys organisational, administrative and professional framework and rid it of split loyalties. There is also the need to define the role of the tribal armed militias, whether those owing allegiance to Hadi or the Al Houthis, which were created mainly by former president Saleh.

Hadi extracted a commitment from the militias to combat Al Qaida and Ansar Al Sharia in Abyan and Shabwa, but these forces continue to be exploited by the authorities as an informal army. For the Al Houthis, their militias are considered the basic cog of their military power, although there have been attempts to integrate them into some brigades loyal to them.

Dialogue criteria

Perhaps the lack of harmony in the Yemeni military itself has led to armed confrontations between the parties in the past. This cant be expected to change unless the political process set in motion after the end of the military campaign is able to address such problems.

It is also important to restart a political dialogue involving all political forces. That does not mean such a process must start from scratch, but there has to be a new vision for the dialogue in various parties. Certain groups that represent the will of the people such as Al Hirak Al Ganoobi leaders in Aden, Mukallah and Al Daleh must be part of this dialogue as it is important not to leave any room for dissonance between political outfits and the Yemeni people, whether in the north or the south. Such omissions may affect the chances of positive and stable solutions to end the crisis and may pose sustained threats to the region, particularly to the Gulf countries.


Originally posted in Gulf News March 30 2015

Image source: JialiangGao, wikipedia

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