Yemen: Rules Of Disengagement

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February 15, 2021: Another Shia rebel cruise missile (UAV on automatic and armed with explosives) was intercepted by Saudi air defenses at it crossed the border heading for a city or military base. This is the sixth such attack in the last five days. Shia rebel ground attacks continued as did extortion of foreign aid to finance the Shia rebels. The rebels continue trying to disrupt Red Sea shipping by using naval mines and remotely controlled speedboats loaded with explosives.

Three days ago, the U.S. cancelled its designation of the Iran-backed Shia rebels as international terrorists, cancelled some smart bomb shipments to Saudi Arabia and paused the sale of F-35 stealth fighters to the UAE. This was meant to encourage the Saudis to negotiate an end to the Yemen civil war. Iran and the Shia rebels interpreted this as a victory because the Americans were making it easier for Iran to continue making attacks on Saudi Arabia via the Shia rebels who control portions of the Saudi-Yemen border. The Shia rebels want autonomy, or independence, for their traditional territories in northern Yemen. The Shia tribes up there have been seeking that for half a century and the majority of Yemenis would not agree to another partition of Yemen. A decade ago, Iran quietly increased financial, political and logistical support to the Shia tribes of northwest Yemen as part of the Iranian effort to replace Saudi Arabia as the protector of the most sacred Moslem shrines at Mecca, and displace the Saudis as the nominal leader of the Islamic world. The 2011 Arab String uprisings crippled and weakened the corrupt Yemeni government. This enabled the Shias to form an armed force strong enough to occupy and seize control of the capital Saana and declare themselves the new government of Yemen. The rebels were unable to control the southern half of Yemen and in 2015 an Arab coalition (mainly the Saudis and UAE) came to the aid of the post 2011 elected Yemeni government. Iran responded by increasing shipments of guided missiles and military advisors to the Shia rebels. This made it possible for the rebels to launch missiles at Saudi targets.

The Arab coalition responded with airstrikes against rebel forces and weapons (especially missile) stockpiles. The rebels moved their forces and storage sites to residential neighborhoods to use the civilians as human shields. The Arab coalition carried out their airstrikes anyway. Iran knew how to play the Western media and portrayed the Arab coalition as deliberately targeting civilians. Iran is accused of doing this in Syria even when the targets are not acting as human shields. In the West many politicians support negotiating with Iran and its proxies (governments and rebel groups that survive only with Iranian aid). Iran says it is willing to negotiate but inside Iran insists that this will not halt to their efforts to become the dominant power in the Middle East. A growing number of Western politicians are abandoning efforts to negotiate with Iran, which has a growing track record of agreements made and promptly violated. The neighbors of Iran have long accepted the fact that the Iranian religious dictatorship maintains power via a state of perpetual war against Israel (which must be destroyed) and Arab states (which must acknowledge Iranian domination). This led to informal cooperation between Israel and the Arab states which officially agreed that Israel should be destroyed. Gradually over the last three decades the Arabs came to realize that Iran was the real threat and the Israelis were actually potential allies. That led to covert cooperation arrangements turning into formal diplomatic and military agreements. The Americans called out the Iranian violation of the 2015 nuclear weapons deal that lifted economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for Iran halting its nuclear weapons program. In 2018 the U.S. revived economic sanctions and that had an immediate and very visible impact on Iranian military operations in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq and Yemen. Iran now senses a way out of these problems using another series of clever deceptions. There is more skepticism of Iranian intentions in the West and the countries under attack by Iran keep providing evidence of this deception and violence, so much so that even the UN investigators have been convinced.

The Yemeni Shia rebels, also known as the Houthis or Ansar Allah, are sponsored by Iran and regularly attack Saudi Arabia and ships from all nations in the Red Sea. The rebels are so dependent on Iran that the new Iranian ambassador to the rebel government was an IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) general named Hassan Irloo, who had to be smuggled into Yemen in 2020 and had sanctions imposed on him in December 2020. Many Western politicians, especially in Europe, oppose the designation of the rebels as terrorists and favor trying to negotiate with Iran and the rebels to achieve a peace deal. Many Americans and most Arabs point out that the main reason Iran backs the Shia rebels is because it gives them a base from which to attack Saudi Arabia, a nation Iran is at war with. Iran is also at war with Israel and the United States. Iran has a record of not complying with agreed-to treaties and the Yemeni rebels do the same. The rebel designation and impact with took effect January 19th. Four weeks later the terrorist designation was reversed. Inside northern Yemen the rebels celebrated as did the Iranian government and their supporters.

The seven years of fighting in Yemen have further damaged an already crippled (by corruption and mismanagement) economy and caused a lot more deaths due to hunger, poor medical care and outbreaks of diseases like cholera. The rebels blame it all on Arab coalition air strikes but even UN investigators now agree that Shia rebel theft of foreign aid and denying “hostile populations” access to such aid have caused a large portion of the civilian deaths. Nearly all these deaths occur in the rebel controlled north because in the south foreign aid is delivered through several ports and distributed to whoever needs it. Unlike rebel held territory, aid officials and journalists are not restricted in their movements down south. In rebel controlled areas UN investigators have a very difficult time collecting evidence and in some cases the collected evidence is taken from the UN personnel by force before the UN investigators can leave rebel territory.

February 14, 2021 : In central Yemen (Marib province) a renewed Shia rebel offensive has failed to push government forces out of the province completely. The current rebel push has been underway since early February. These renewed offensive operations were encouraged by UAE forces leaving Marib in early 2020 because of disagreements with Saudi Arabia over strategy and to deploy all their military forces in the UAE. This is meant to discourage any Iranian aggression. For that reason, the UAE took their missile defense systems with them when they left Marib and that made government military bases more vulnerable to rebel ballistic and cruise missiles provided by Iran. The withdrawal of Arab coalition forces from Marib enabled the rebels to successfully regain control of much territory in the province. But the rebels have suffered hundreds of casualties in recent failed efforts to capture the provincial capital, which is 120 kilometers east of the rebel held national capital Sanaa.

In the north (the Saudi border) two rebel cruise missiles were shot down as they headed towards the Abha airport in southwestern Saudi Arabia.

February 12, 2021: The new government in the United States announced a change in strategy towards the Yemeni civil war by easing pressure on Iran and the Shia rebels while trying to force the Arab coalition to negotiate a settlement.

February 11, 2021: Saudi air defenses intercepted two rebel UAVs and one ballistic missile.

February 10, 2021: In the north (the Saudi border) a rebel cruise missile got past the Saudi air defense system and reached the Abha airport in southwestern Saudi Arabia. The missile hit an airliner, punctured the hull and caused a fire that was quickly extinguished. The airliner was put out of service until the damage could be repaired, which might take weeks.

February 9, 2021: In the southwest (port city of Aden) the investigation of the December 30 attack on the Aden airport by three Iranian cruise missiles continues. More evidence of rebel complicity has arrived from rebel territory, where local civilians took cell phone videos of the missile launches that apparently hit the Aden airport. The Shia rebels are now regarded as an oppressive occupying force in most areas they control. The Shia rebels no longer seek to hide the Iranian support and increasingly exercise control over civilians with threats of violent retribution for those who cooperate. This has been a major intel victory for government and Arab coalition forces because there is a steady stream of accurate information on rebel activities coming out of rebel territory.

The December 30 attack hit the airport shortly after members of the new Yemeni government arrived from Saudi Arabia. The officials were not harmed but the missiles killed 25 and wounded 110. The airport remained closed until January 3rd. These Iranian missiles are used by the Shia rebels more frequently indicating that the Iranian smuggling network is growing again. The rebels denied that they were responsible for the airport attack and blamed it on Saudi Arabia. Fragments of the three missiles were collected so that precise identification of the cruise missiles could be made. UN investigators are involved in the identification process and have confirmed the Iranian origins of the rockets and missiles (cruise and ballistic) used by the rebels. Also employed are Iranian UAVs equipped with explosives but these are being replaced by Iranian cruise missiles. One such UAV was shot down on December 30th as it headed for the Presidential Palace in Aden. Saudi Arabia responded with several air strikes against rebel facilities, including at least one involved in assembling cruise missiles using Iranian components.

February 8, 2021: In Syria there is more evidence of Iranian cutbacks on support for foreign wars. At the beginning of 2021 the Syrian Assad government ordered the military to reduce costs by having most military units return to lower peacetime (pre-2011) levels of readiness. Syria is not at peace but the Assads cannot afford to keep most of the military combat ready. The cutbacks are dictated by the sharp reduction in financial support from Iran. The American economic sanctions have, in the last three years, greatly reduced the amount of money Iran could spend on its foreign wars. Iran-backed groups in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen are all feeling the impact. Iran is hoping the new American government will relax the sanctions. While the Americans are now saying nice things about Iran, the sanctions are still in place and enforced. In Syria that means the troops have less ammo and fuel for patrols and combat. As was the case in peacetime, more soldiers and officers were given leave, to spend a few weeks visiting families or even taking a vacation. Yemen was always much less expensive for Iran than Syria, Lebanon or Iraq and that enabled Iran to maintain the level of support it provided its Yemen proxies.

January 30, 2021: In the north (the Saudi border) a rebel cruise missile was shot down as it crossed into Saudi air space. Intended target was unknown, except that it was somewhere in Saudi Arabia.

January 27, 2021: Yemen has long been recognized as one of the most corrupt places on the planet. The extent of this corruption can be seen in the international surveys of nations to determine who is clean and who is corrupt. For 2020 Yemen ranked 176th out of 180 nations in international rankings compared with 177th in 2019.

These ratings and ranking are updated each year for the annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. Corruption is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The most corrupt nations (currently Venezuela and Yemen at 15, Syria at 14, South Sudan and Somalia at 12) have a rating of under 16 while of the least corrupt (New Zealand and Denmark) are both 88.

For 2020 the least corrupt nation in region was UAE (United Arab Emirates), which ranked 21st out of 180 nations. The current UAE score is 71 (same as 2019) compared to 61 (61) for Israel, 67 (69) for the United States, 33 (35) for Egypt, 25 (26) for Nigeria, 44 (44) for South Africa, 21 (20) for Iraq, 40 (39) for Turkey, 53 (53) for Saudi Arabia, 33 (30) for Ukraine, 47 (45) for Belarus, 56 (58) for Poland, 80 (80) Germany, 65 (65) for Taiwan, 40 (39) for Turkey, 40 (41) for India, 30 (28) for Russia, 61 (57) for South Korea, 42 (41) for China, 18 (14) for North Korea, 36 (37) for Vietnam, 85 (85) for Singapore, 74 (73) for Japan, 37 (40) for Indonesia, 38 (38) for Sri Lanka, 34 (34) for the Philippines, 31 (32) for Pakistan, 26 (26) for Bangladesh, 25 (26) for Iran, 19 (16) for Afghanistan, 28 (29) for Burma, and 25 (28) for Lebanon.

Yemen’s corruption score has changed for the worse since the 2011 Arab Spring revolution when it was 23.

January 23, 2021: In Saudi Arabia air defense systems guarding the capital Riyadh intercepted and destroyed something in daytime. The intruder was an Iranian UAV armed with explosives and acting as a cruise missile. No ground targets were hit by one of these UAVs. This is not the first time such weapons have been launched from Yemen towards Riyadh, which is in central Saudi Arabia, a thousand kilometers away from the Yemeni border. In one mid-2020 attack the rebels claimed that five UAVs and several ballistic missiles were used and some of them hit the Saudi capital. The Saudis say they intercepted the missiles with their Patriot ABMs (anti-ballistic missiles) and the UAVs were shot down by Saudi jet fighters. There are a large number of foreigners in Riyadh so you cannot conceal missiles or explosives-equipped UAVs hitting targets. All that was reported overnight were 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.

 

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