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Monday, November 16, 2009     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

War by Saudi Arabia, Yemen against Iran has global implications

By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, Global Information System

The Republic of Yemen’s Shi’a President, ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Saleh, 67, faces perhaps his most pressing challenges to his continued rule of Yemen since presiding over the unification in 1990 of Yemen Arab Republic (YAR: North Yemen) with the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY: South Yemen).   

Even the subsequent 1994 civil war did not appear to pose the kind of pressures now facing President Saleh in late 2009, with the significant involvement of Iran, Russia, and Saudi Arabia competing to ensure their respective influence or dominance in the Red Sea.

The present conflict has global ramifications, given Yemen’s significant ability to control the mouth of the Red Sea at the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb and the Suez Canal/Red Sea/Indian Ocean sea lanes, and the concern in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, is over the degree of discreet Iranian and Russian involvement, or interest, in the conflict. There is also a considerable engagement of trans-national Islamic movements. What is perhaps most surprising is the lack of real engagement by the U.S., or other Western powers which are so dependent on the neutrality of the Red Sea sea lanes.

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Much of the problem for Yemen, apart from the ongoing anti-government insurgency by radical Islamist groups, centers around the open warfare now being undertaken against the Yemen and Saudi governments by Houthi militia, which had been fighting the Government since 2004.

President Saleh said on Nov. 7, that the escalating war with the Houthi had, in fact, “only just begun” in the previous few days, because at that time the Saudi Armed Forces became actively engaged. Meanwhile, Yemen has been working hard in recent weeks and months to acquire as much new military equipment as possible and had, as had the Saudi Government, struck large defense deals with the Government of Ukraine, particularly to provide armor and ordnance.

Fighting continued to escalate through mid-November, with Yemeni troops fighting Houthi militia in the Malahidh area near Yemen’s border with Saudi Arabia. Saudi troops were reportedly using armor and artillery — including rocket artillery — against Houthi positions inside the Kingdom’s borders, as well as across the border.

By September 2009, at least 100,000 villagers were reported to have been forced to flee their homes because of fighting, and many were trapped in Sa’ada province, the main base of the Houthi Shabab al-Mu’mineen fighters. Yemen Government sources even at the end of August 2009 indicated that more than 5,000 people had already died in the ongoing war in Sa’ada Province, that 45,000 had been injured and more than 200,000 displaced and living in tents, eating charity food. That was before the major upsurge in the fighting in early November 2009.

This is the first major, independent war which Saudi forces have undertaken, essentially, since the fighting against South Yemeni forces in the mid-1960s, and even then the Saudi forces had strong British participation. That does not deny that Saudi forces have been entirely without operational experience in the subsequent four decades, and early Yemeni predictions that the August-November 2009 fighting would result in substantial Saudi losses to the Houthi have not been borne out.

Indeed, this is a war which Saudi Arabia cannot ignore, and is even more important than its campaign in recent decades against Iranian-backed Hizbullah forces in the Levant. Iran has made it clear that it is moving to support Shi’a groups on the Arabian Peninsula, and it was clear, too, that Tehran was instrumental in the declaration of the “Islamic Republic of Eastern Arabia” by Shi’a imams on May 15. That Shi’a belt inside Saudi Arabia runs along the Omani and Yemeni borders.

The war with the Houthi is part of the indirect war for survival which Saudi Arabia is playing with the Iranian leadership. Within this framework, although Russia has no wish to alienate the Saudi or Yemeni leaderships, Moscow cannot ignore its vital links with Iran, which has become a core component of its domination of both the Caucasus and the southward reach of Russian strategy. In many respects, Iran’s longstanding actions to dominate the Red Sea and Horn of Africa provide a “carrier wave” for Russian revival in the region and in the Indian Ocean.

Saudi Arabia and Yemen, too, have understood the significance of dominance of the vital Red Sea/Suez sea lane and its littorals. As a result, President Saleh has attempted to shape outcomes in Somalia, even to the point where, with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, they have attempted to reverse the independence of Somaliland, and force it back into its hapless 30 year union with Italian Somaliland.

The clarity of the geopolitical linkages from the Caucasus, through Iran, to “Eastern Arabia”, and across the narrow waters to the Horn of Africa mark this conflict as global in scope. It is not just about the dominance of oil and gas fields, but global sea lanes.


I would like to tell the Saudis, Yemen and Egypt that the Somaliland people and gevernment are determined to defend and preserve their independence and ready to overcome any hurdles for this sacred cause. We are also confident that our country will get its due recognition and we are ready to be patient with strong resolve to wait for such a date no matter how long it takes. I therefore advise these governments to deal with the Somaliland Government and people for the sake of achieving the Red Sea security interest. Somaliland is here to stay and the dreams of forcing it back to the agonising and painful union of Somalia is a mere dream.

Mohamed Ali      12:16 a.m. / Sunday, November 22, 2009

There is no country called Somaliland, but, there is a warlord who is from a highly educated clan in northern Somalia. He uses the militia of an uneducated clan and takes them for the money. I feel bad for them, because he is cheating them and getting rich from their resources, while he waits for the South to settle. Countries such as Saudi Arabia and Yemen are looking out for Somalia.

Hussein      10:37 p.m. / Saturday, November 21, 2009

First I commend the author of this article for not only his bravery but telling what for a very long time people of Somaliland suspected: That Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen have colluded with each other to do everything within their power to stop the wishes and aspirations of the formidable people of Somaliland to succeed and gain recognition from the international community. But one thing I promise that Somaliland will never be part of the failed state of Somalia. These countries ought to be providing freedom of choice for their citizens instead of wasting their time and effort undermining the legitimate government of Somaliland elected by its own people.

Hussein Tubeec      1:34 p.m. / Thursday, November 19, 2009

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