Further questions about the alleged Iran-Houthis link

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.

Flag of Yemen

Flag of Yemen

Investigative journalist Gareth Porter continues his work poking holes in the accepted media narrative that Yemen’s current war is actually a fight between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“How False Stories of Iran Arming the Houthis Were Used to Justify War in Yemen”

But another cable dated November 11, 2009, reported that the government had “failed to substantiate its extravagant public claims that an Iranian ship seized off its coast on October 25 was carrying military trainers, weapons and explosives destined for the Houthis.”
[…]
President Saleh had hoped to use the Mahan 1 ruse to get the political support of the US for a war to defeat the Houthis, which he was calling “Operation Scorched Earth.” But as a December 2009 cable noted, it was well known among Yemeni political observers that the Houthis were awash in modern arms and could obtain all they needed from the huge local arms market or directly from the Yemeni military itself.

 
And when we say “awash with modern arms,” let’s remember Yemen is awash with them from Saudi Arabia. And they’re dropping off a lot more in this new war.

Egypt, Qatar, others add ground troops to Yemen mess

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.

arsenal-bolt-logo

The Economist – “A downward spiral”:

More troops have poured in since the [Sept. 4 2015] attack [on coalition troops]. Saudi Arabia dispatched more elite forces to join the 3,000-strong coalition force already on the ground, while Qatar, hitherto only participating in air operations, has sent 1,000 soldiers. Egypt, which has long warned of the folly of putting boots on the ground given its disastrous intervention in the 1960s, this week sent in 800 men. Sudanese troops are reportedly waiting to be shipped out of Khartoum. Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa said his two sons will join the battle.
[…]
Quashing the Shia Houthis is nigh on impossible. Gulf officials and media talk bombastically of preparations to take back Sana’a from them and reinstall Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi as president (the Houthis drove him out of the country in March). But Yemen has long been treacherous territory for foreign invaders, and Gulf armies are relatively inexperienced.

Since committing ground troops in August, the coalition has taken control of Aden, the southern port city, and is advancing on Taiz. But it is struggling in Maarib, the gateway to Sana’a, where the extra troops, backed by armoured vehicles and missile launchers, are said to be massing. The fighting will only get harder since the Houthis’ remaining strongholds are in mountainous redoubts.

[…] a rising generation of young, ambitious Gulf royals appears unwilling to pare back their newfound military adventurism.

 
Related Reading: “Saudi Arabia and the US: More military misfires” — my August 13, 2015 op-ed with Stephan Richter for Al Jazeera English.

The war in Yemen has begun in earnest now

After years of slowly building chaos, The Houthi force is moving against Aden, the government-in-the-south has fled the country, and — as of tonight — the Royal Saudi Air Force has launched an operation into Yemen under the GCC (or possibly the Arab League) at the request of the fallen government.

Flag of Yemen

Flag of Yemen

10 countries are participating in the operation already: Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Morocco, and Sudan are all said to be participating, with logistical and intelligence support from the United States.

The involvements of Egypt, Pakistan, Morocco, and Sudan are very unexpected and indicate a much wider operation than anticipated. It also strongly suggests that Saudi Arabia was leaning heavily on every government in the Middle East, North Africa, East Africa, and South Asia to whom it has given a lot of money previously. Saudi Arabia is cashing in every favor for a blistering war against the quasi-Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen, unlike with the rather lackadaisical coalition to support the United States against ISIS in Syria. Qatar, which sent no jets at all in the Syria campaign, sent 10 tonight.

Bahrain, which only participated minimally on the first day of the Syria raids, also sent 15 jets. Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy also “owes” Saudi Arabia for brutally suppressing their own Shia uprising in 2011 (during the Arab Spring) with GCC shock troops.

The UAE and Jordan also sent plenty of bombers over Yemen in the initial hours, in a marked contrast from their wavering in the Syria campaign.

This massive undertaking should, in my opinion, also be taken as a clear signal that Saudi Arabia firmly prioritizes the “threat” from Iran and Iranian proxies (which include the Houthis in Yemen but also 100,000 anti-ISIS fighters across Iraq and Hezbollah anti-ISIS units in western Syria) well above the threat from ISIS, despite tough talk on the latter some months ago.

Meanwhile, Iran has countless military advisers and trainers on the ground assisting the huge Iraqi campaign to re-take Tikrit from ISIS, has been providing close-air support and bombers against ISIS all over the Iraqi skies, and reportedly may even have 30,000 regular troops fighting in Iraq directly.

If I’m looking at the facts and figures, Saudi Arabia and the Arab League in general — the purported American allies — are doing far less to combat ISIS than Iran, even if you buy the theory that Iran’s support for Assad accidentally helped create ISIS in the first place.

This war in Yemen against the Houthis, which Saudi Arabia has been stirring up violently for years, seems essentially to be more of an indirect war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

And this doesn’t even begin to touch the actual al Qaeda presence in Yemen.

Yemen: How we got here, from there

I have written more or less nothing on this site, since its launch in December 2013, about Yemen, and my previous site (some content of which is now available in the archives of this site) featured a fair amount on al Qaeda in Yemen but ended coverage in February 2011 as the Arab Spring was beginning ( — we shut down right around then by unlucky coincidence).

The reason I’ve said so little about Yemen, in contrast to say Syria (which actually has a smaller population despite its higher intensity conflict) — even as the capital has fallen, a coup has occurred, and the country has begun to fracture back into its constituent statelets — is because Yemen is extraordinarily complex, news there develops sluggishly from initial spark to result, and media coverage is often sketchy or unreliable (even wildly inaccurate). I like to talk about and learn about many issues and countries in the news, but Yemen so thoroughly stumps me so frequently I have generally opted to stay in my many other lanes and leave it for other, more knowledgeable people to analyze.

It’s also very hard to break down for casual readers. In the incisive words of someone I know, “Yemen has a coup every day. At some point you can’t tell who’s couping who.”

So, when I ran across Adam Baron’s new “Who is in charge of Yemen?” article for Al Jazeera America — an article which offers the single clearest and most concise guide I’ve yet seen on how we got here from there — I had to mention it.

Two paragraphs in particular stand out for their effective summary of the background events that led, in typically Yemeni slow-moving fashion, toward the present emergency. I’m quoting it here with only a few minor bracketed insertions for clarity of points elided or mentioned elsewhere:

The roots of the current crisis date back more than a decade before last week’s events. In June 2004 then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh dispatched government forces to arrest Hussein al-Houthi, a charismatic [Zaidi-Shia] cleric and former member of parliament. Saleh felt increasingly threatened by Houthi’s soaring popularity, due in large part to his sharp critiques of the Yemeni government’s alliance with the United States [nominally against al Qaeda], the marginalization of the his native province of Saada and the capital’s rampant corruption. He was killed along with more than a dozen followers in the rugged mountains of Marran, according to a statement the government released on Sept. 10, 2004. But his Ansar Allah movement — better known as the Houthis — soldiered on under the leadership of his younger brother, Abdul Malek al-Houthi, as Saleh’s regime waged a series of brutal wars that devastated much of northern Yemen over the past decade. The military campaign further intensified the feelings of marginalization and resentment that laid the seeds for the Houthi rebellion.

During Yemen’s Arab Spring–inspired uprising in 2011, the Houthis took advantage of the power vacuum and expanded their control over Saada. Emboldened by the lack of resistance, they soon began to face off against the Islamist Islah party, their former allies against Saleh. Islah is an opposition faction that incorporates the bulk of the Yemeni branch of the [Sunni] Muslim Brotherhood — in tribal areas between Saada and the capital. After fallout with the Houthis and as the country’s internationally mediated transition sputtered on, Islah eventually forged a new alliance with Saleh and his backers [who left the government due to the Arab Spring]. The Houthis’ success on the battlefield and astute political messaging eventually paid off big last September, when they took control of Sanaa and forced their Islah-allied adversaries to flee.

 
For the descent from the capital’s fall, several months later, into a botched coup d’état and this month’s political chaos, keep reading the full “Who is in charge of Yemen?” article.

Flag of Yemen

Flag of Yemen

Heavy fighting in Yemen

Just days after President Obama said he had “no intention of sending U.S. boots on the ground” in Yemen or Somalia, US-supported and armed Saudi and Yemeni forces began heavily “cleansing” Yemeni villages of rebel forces.

Side note, added 11:57 PM US ET: I think cleansing is a surprising choice of words, especially since this is a Shia group with ethnotribal elements. So is Saudi Arabia admitting to ethnic cleansing? (Assuming this has been translated correctly.)

Two rebellions in rural, mountainous regions have grown in strength this year and pushed the Yemeni government’s attention away from terrorism and back to the rebellions, just when the United States expects the former to be a priority. Saudi Arabia, feeling threatened both by cross-border rebel attacks and by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (which has flourished in rebel-protected safe havens), launched a military offensive into Yemen in early November 2009.

Oddly, Yemen is still saying that they will not allow foreign troops into Yemen, despite the presence of Saudi Arabian troops right near Yemeni operations. The US has been sending arms and money to the Army, as well, and conducted missile strikes in mid-December on alleged al Qaeda sites. Yemen receives military training from US special forces advisers and the CIA is active in various covert or semi-cover operations there. Even before the Christmas Day bombing attempt was linked to Yemen, drawing renewed attention to the problem of terrorism there, Yemen had been (fairly successfully, if questionably) trying to cast the struggle against the rebels as part of the global war on terrorism, in an effort to secure funding.

Houthi rebels allege that the Yemeni Army has been bulldozing village houses to force rebels out. The central government of Yemen, which prematurely declared the war over in 2008, is insisting that they will wipe out the rebels once and for all.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.