Yemen: Welcome To The Past

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June 24, 2020: The Shia rebels still control access to over a third of the Yemeni population so foreign aid groups as well as Yemeni suppliers have to pay higher and higher “taxes” to transport anything (food, fuel, medical supplies) to these populations. The money demanded to get past roadblocks is outright bribery, or extortion if you take into account the guns often pointed at travelers to speed up payment. These fees are now a major source of income for the rebels, who have lost regular cash infusions from Iran (which is also broke) and fees and stolen aid supplies from the Red Sea port of Hodeida, the largest Yemen port on the Red Sea and where most of the foreign aid comes in. The government and Arab Coalition finally broke rebel control of the port this year. The rebels can only raise the checkpoint fees so high before the traders realize that it would be cheaper to hire smugglers to get the shipments past the rebel toll keepers.

The rebel budget problems mean the fighting is more desultory and preformationary than ever. Less money means less cash to buy ammo and fuel from local sources, usually the black market. Yemen has long supported a thriving black-market economy for just about anything. Sort of a tradition. But six years of civil war have damaged the underlying economy while rampant theft of foreign aid has dried up that source of sustenance as well. The rebels are still active but mostly to deliver verbal threats or the occasional missile or UAV attack. Iran cannot send as many missile and UAV components so the ballistic missiles and UAVs can be assembled and armed locally.

Casualties are lower but so is any enthusiasm for negotiating an end to the war. Iran still wants an autonomous, Iran-backed Shia region on the southwest border of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis refuse to allow that. Southern Yemen wants autonomy as well and few Yemenis seem willing to die for a united Yemen. In other words, Yemen is pretty much as it has always been. Welcome to the past, in Yemen it is always with us.

In early April the Saudi and UAE (United Arab Emirates) forces agreed to the UN-backed two-week truce but the Shia rebels demanded more concessions at the last minute and never observed this ceasefire. The Shia rebels are determined to get the air and sea blockade lifted but the Saudis will not allow that because it will make it easier for Iran to smuggle in ballistic missile components, UAVs and other weapons. The UN urged everyone to accept the truce so that the covid19 pandemic could be tended to. The rebels are apparently not alarmed at the covid19 threat, which is understandable given the number of diseases still active in rural, and urban, Yemen. There were no verified covid19 cases in Yemen until mid-April and most were subsequently either in Aden or rebel-held Sanaa. There is still a belief among many Moslems that Allah will protect the faithful. Iran used to believe that but the massive covid19 casualties in Iran changed minds. The rebels still deny that there are any covid19 infections in Sanaa but foreign aid and diplomatic officials know better. For most Yemenis, covid19 is not considered a major threat. Cholera, malnutrition and much else are more immediate and more lethal threats throughout Yemen. So far Yemen has reported 261 confirmed covid19 deaths. That comes out of nine per million population. Saudi Arabia has 39 per million so far, the UAE 31, Iran 117, Egypt 23, Israel 33 and Somalia 27.

June 23, 2020: In the northwest Shia rebels fired two ballistic missiles towards the Saudi capital (Riyadh, a thousand kilometers away in central Saudi Arabia). The rebels claimed this attack included slower explosive-laden UAVs and that many of these weapons landed in the Saudi capital. There are a large number of foreigners in Riyadh so you cannot conceal missiles or explosives carrying UAVs hitting targets. All that was reported overnight were two explosions in the night sky, indicating a Pac-3 missile intercepting a ballistic missile. Not a common sight over the capital but not unknown either since Iran started supplying the Yemeni rebels with longer range ballistic missiles.

Since 2015 the Yemeni rebels have, with components and tech support from Iran, launched over a hundred ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia. The Saudis point to these Iranian ballistic missiles and Iranian UAVs as pretty clear evidence that Iran was still smuggling weapons in. Iran denies everything and when confronted with physical evidence insists that the Yemeni Shia make the stuff locally, obtaining technical help via the Internet.

June 22, 2020: In the north (Jawf province) government forces continued pushing back rebel forces and eliminated rebel forces that had been blocking easy access to central Yemen (Marib province). The rebels had taken advantage of the Arab coalition manpower shortage after the UAE withdrew most of its troops earlier in 2020 and a new government in Sudan withdrew the 15,000 mercenaries they had been providing. The coalition still had the airpower advantage and once their ground forces had been redistributed it was possible to stop and reverse Shia gains. This does not discourage the rebels who believe time is now on their side as long as the Iranian support continues. Iran understands this as well and is willing to finance the expensive smuggling effort at a reduced level because of the distress it causes the Saudis.

In the northwest, rebels fired short-range ballistic missiles at the Saudi border cities of Najran and Jizan. None of the missiles hit their target, either failing along the way or intercepted by Saudi anti-missile systems based in the area.

In Aden the STC (South Transitional Council) and the Yemen government agreed to another UN supervised ceasefire. The UAE and Saudi Arabia will participate although no one is optimistic about how long this ceasefire will last. Previous ones often fell apart before their start date.

June 20, 2020: STC members overthrew the local government in the Yemeni Socotra Islands. The main island is in the Gulf of Aden, 380 kilometers south of Yemen and 240 kilometers from the northeast tip of Somalia. The population is 60,000 and the island (and a few much smaller ones) lies within busy shipping lanes from the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea. In early 2019 the Yemeni government accused the UAE of supporting southern separatists and continuing to expand its military presence and influence in Socotra Island. Yemen accused the UAE of seeking to support Socotra separatists, which were then few in number, to demand more economic links with and investment from the UAE. Saudi Arabia sides with Yemen on this issue. In early 2018 the UAE withdrew its troops from Socotra after having been there for two weeks. This brief “occupation” angered many Yemenis who felt the UAE was trying to annex Socotra. Saudi Arabia stepped in and agreed to take over the economic development program for Socotra which the Yemeni government saw the UAE turning into an effort to make Socotra economically and politically dependent on the UAE. The UAE has always been more aggressive in this regard. It is unclear if the Saudis will deal with the current STC coup effort in Socotra. The ceasefire with the STC in nearby Abyan province (northwest from the island, along the Yemen coast east of Aden)

June 18, 2020: In central Yemen (Baida province), Shia rebels attacked a local tribal militia that was resisting rebel efforts to control key roads in Awadh tribal territory. The tribesmen are receiving military and other aid from the Saudis as well as some air support. The current round of fighting caused over a hundred casualties, most of them rebel.

June 16, 2020: Saudi warplanes carried out more than 70 airstrikes at targets in the rebel-held capital Sanaa and surrounding areas as well as in the provinces of Saada, Amran, Beidha, Hajjah, Marib and Jawf. Many of the targets were related to Shia assembly and the use of long-range Iranian missiles and UAVs. Iran smuggles in key components while many other components can be obtained on the open, or black market. Iran supplies the tech support and has trained a growing number or Yemeni Shia to assemble and launch the missiles and armed UAVs. Quality control is often lacking in items built by the newly trained Yemenis. This explains the larger number of recent missile and UAV attacks that failed because of malfunctioning missiles and UAVs. The UN recently declared Iran was definitely behind the September 2019 UAV attack on Saudi oil facilities and was smuggling weapons to Shia rebels in Yemen. Those weapons are used to attack Saudi Arabia and shipping in the Red Sea. All this was documented in the UN final investigation report, which also noted that Iran has set up similar UAV assembly operations in Iraq and Lebanon. Both of these countries have Iran-backed militias called Hezbollah. UN investigators have found and identified the Iranian made components found in the wreckage of these missiles and UAVs

June 13, 2020: In the south (Aden), STC militia stole a shipment of new banknotes, printed in Russia, as the truck left the port and headed for the bank. The Yemeni riyal banknotes represented 64 billion riyals, or about $250 million dollars. The UAE has been in charge of security (and aid delivery) in the south since 2015 and supported the formation of the STC. This group is composed of southern tribes that want autonomy but claim they are willing to fight and defeat the Islamic terrorists as well as the Shia rebels first. Aidarous al Zubaidi, the STC leader is seen as more popular in the south than Abdrabu Mansur Hadi the last and current elected president of united Yemen. Hadi has only briefly visited Yemen a few times since 2015 and spends most of his time in the Saudi capital. This is for Hadi’s safety, given the number of assassinations going on in Aden, where the Hadi government was moved to in 2015. The Saudis and the UAE do not agree on dividing Yemen once more but for the moment it is more convenient to support the STC and efforts to defeat the Iran backed Shia rebels. The STC group that stole the banknotes took them to an STC base as part of an “anti-corruption” effort. The Saudi-backed Yemen government backed and the UAE signed a peace deal in 2019 but it has not yet been implemented because some of the many STC factions do not agree on the terms of the deal.

May 27, 2020: In central Yemen (Marib province), a Shia ballistic missile hit an army base, killing eight soldiers. When UAE forces left Marib earlier in the year they took their missile defense systems with them.

 

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