Yemen: Divisive Dreams

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September 2, 2022: For Iran, Yemen is its cheapest and most effective IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) foreign operation. The main problem is difficulty supplying the Shia rebels with sufficient weapons to continue its extortion tactics that make the Shia efforts self-sustaining. This often involves some complicated diplomacy. Currently the Iran-backed Shia rebels agreed, at the last minute, to renew the ceasefire that expired on August 2nd. The cease fire has been extended another two months. This ceasefire was first agreed to in April and renewed in June for another two months. The UN sponsored peace talks were to consider a six-month extension but the Iran-backed Shia rebels have turned down that proposal, insisting that the ceasefire was not working for them. Iran is not openly participating in the current ceasefire talks but controls what the Shia rebels will agree to. Iran opposed any ceasefire terms that further disrupt Iranian weapons smuggling. Iran wants to continue smuggling in ballistic and cruise missiles, which are brought in broken down, to be assembled under Iranian supervision in Shia territory and then fired at targets in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The Shia rebels have suffered heavy casualties since 2021 because of failed efforts to gain more territory as well as defending areas they have long occupied.

The April ceasefire was generally adhered to and that could be measured by the reduction (by more than 50 percent) in civilian casualties. This is not usually the case. Past ceasefires were seen as futile because the Shia rebels violated so many of them and, until recently, showed no interest in change, especially since Iran support is crucial to the maintenance of the Shia military efforts.

The current peace talks are different because the Shia and the Yemeni government both agree that allowing Yemen to be a battleground for the Iranian campaign to replace Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Moslem world is not good for Yemen. Then there is the situation in Iran. Yemeni Shia are aware of significant popular opposition in Iran to the Yemen war. The Saudis and UAE were always reluctant participants in the war but could not withdraw as long as Iran was attacking them from Shia rebel-controlled northern Yemen. This encouraged the Yemen government to seriously consider some kind of Shia autonomy and sufficient guarantees that the autonomy would not later be taken away. The problem with the autonomy proposal is that Iran has a veto.

Shia rebels risk an internal civil war if they attempt to defy Iranian orders. These orders are delivered by the Iranian embassy in Sanaa, the rebel occupied Yemen capital. The current Iranian ambassador is a former Quds Force general and many other “diplomats” are veteran Iranian Quds Force officers. Quds Force is a branch of the Iranian IRGC, a separate military force formed in the 1980s to protect the religious dictatorship that has ruled Iran since the 1980s. The Quds Force is a component of the IRGC that specializes in instigating, supervising, and sustaining foreign rebellions and terror campaigns that might expand Iranian power and keep potential enemies on the defensive.

September 1, 2022: In the north (the Red Sea port of Hodeida) the Shia rebels conducted a parade in the city. The event was televised and meant to improve Shia morale. Shia leaders ignored UN criticism of the parade, which was seen as another Shia violation of the 2018 agreement to demilitarize the port city, where most foreign aid comes in.

August 30, 2022: A long delayed (by the Russian invasion of Ukraine) shipment of Ukrainian grain has left Ukraine headed for Yemen. This delivery of 37.000 tons of grain will prevent a major famine in Yemen. The grain will be turned into flour during a short stopover in Turkey. This shipment will provide a one-month supply for four million Yemenis. Obtaining regular shipments of Ukrainian grain is not possible because the fighting has destroyed a large portion of the 2022 crop. The Ukrainians are on the offensive to clear Russian forces out of the grain producing areas. There is no fixed time table on how long that will take.

The Yemen civil war also grinds on, with both the northern Shia and between numerous southern factions. Since April the Yemen government has consisted of a Presidential Council, whose eight members were selected earlier by the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) in consultation with many prominent pro-government officials. The council is led by Rashad al Alimi, a former interior minister. The other seven members include governors of Marib and Hadramawt provinces, STC (South Transitional Council) leaders, a Suuni tribal leader in the north who has formed an anti-Shia coalition, and several military commanders, including a member of the Saleh family that ruled Yemen before the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. The council members accurately represent the key pro-government factions in Yemen. All of these members want peace, but without the continued Iranian presence. This new government was able to use the ceasefire to reorganize and upgrade the Yemeni army. The STC factions also want partition of Yemen as well as peace. Historically there was no united Yemen but at least two entities, one in the north and the other in the south.

August 29, 2022: In the south (Taiz province), ten soldiers were killed during a surprise attack by Shia rebels in an effort to block the road linking Taiz with government controlled Lahj province. Taiz is as far south as Shia rebel-controlled territory ever extended. Taiz is only 60 kilometers north of Aden, the largest port in Yemen and the temporary capital of Yemen since the rebels took control of Sana, the traditional capital in 2014. From Taiz the rebels could launch cruise missile attacks on Aden and other areas in the south. Government forces have been fighting for years to regain control of Taiz. In 2021 the rebels still controlled 30 percent of Taiz. Before the April 2022 cease fire began the rebels had lost most of that 30 percent but were still holding key coastal areas and portions of Taiz City that controlled key highways. The terms of the April ceasefire included the rebels allowing traffic to resume on highways they still controlled. While the government made good on its promise to allow rebels access to the Red Sea port of Hodeida and a resumption of flights from the Sana airport, rebels refused to open up all the Taiz roads. A ceasefire renewal won’t happen if the rebels refuse to open up the Taiz highways.

This latest Shia attack led the government to suspend peace talks with the rebels in Jordan. The current ceasefire. Which began on August 2nd, expires on October 2nd. While failing to halt violence inside Yemen, as long as the ceasefires have been the absence of any attacks against Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states from Yemen as well as no Saudi airstrikes in Yemen.

August 7, 2022: In the rebel occupied capital Sanaa, six Iranian and Lebanese missile technicians as well as at least 30 Shia rebels were killed when an Iranian ballistic missile being prepared for launch exploded.

August 1, 2022: The death of al Qaeda leader Zawahiri in Afghanistan probably means al Qaeda rebuilding efforts in Yemen will suffer. Zawahiri was sending money and advice to the depleted al Qaeda operation in Yemen. The conflict in Yemen is mainly about Iran-backed Shia forces maintaining an edge over Sunni groups. The Shia are a minority in Yemen but have managed to gain an edge on the Sunni majority. This is forcing the Sunnis to unite and seek to achieve a force large enough to dominate the Shia. Zawahiri was fine with that but now that he is gone the Yemen Sunnis have lost a useful ally. Meanwhile ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) is in even worse shape.

 

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