A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friction on Saudi-Yemeni Border

Before I go quiet for the weekend, this may be worth noting: Yemen's campaign against Zaydi rebels in the north and increasing Saudi jitters about recent terrorist acts in the border region may be combined in this story of Saudi troops allegedly opening fire on the border area a few days back or this one claiming that Saudi troops have clashed directly with the Houthi rebels that Yemen is fighting. And here's an Arabic article in the Saudi daily Al-Watan on mutinies within the Houthi ranks.

Given the fierceness of Yemen's campaign against the rebels, and the fact that while Saudi-Yemeni government tensions are decades old, the Houthis represent a greater threat in many Saudis' eyes than the government forces do, these reports could mean anything, from deepening tensions along the border itself, to Yemeni propaganda. But it merits watching, and the Houthi conflict has received little real attention outside the region.


LJ Marczak said...

Part 1

I’ve been following reports in the Arabic press (chiefly AlWatan and Ar-Riyadh) on Yemen.

As perhaps demonstrated by the fact that the picture used with the AlWatan article you posted has been used before, there doesn’t seem to be much independent reporting.

Not surprisingly the Govt’s accounts get more press than the Huthis. Both papers have daily reports. The English language press – with one day delay and less detail.

Most of the press reports are government announcements of battles, including the familiar body counts.

Some themes which repeat frequently are worthy of comment.

(1) The security situation in Sa’ada appears yet unsettled. Govt origin news items recount repeated attempts by Huthis to infiltrate the city and seize the Qasr Jumhury as well as arrests of fifth column cells in the city. As short ago as yesterday.

(2) 150k or so have displaced by the fighting. Many in areas beyond the reach of relief agencies. The UN has sent in a high level team which pleaded for a humanitarian cease fire. With winter approaching this situation is going to get worse.

(3) The Govt has accused Iran and Hizbullah of providing support for both the Huthis and the southern separatist movement, AlHarak.

The alleged goal is the division of Yemen into two states. A northern Huthi controlled one. And a reconstituted PDRY in the south. All billed as part of the alleged Iranian “Yemen Khosh Hal” plan.

Some of the “proofs” are ….
(a) The closure of an Iranian-rented hospital in San’a. The original official reason given was non payment of rent. A second which started out as a rumor and has now emerged as a semi-official account -- the hospital was engaged in providing support to the Huthis as well as spying on the nearby Mukhabarat offices.

(b) AbdulMalik AlHuthi’s (leader of the Huthis) promise to release some captured southern soldiers as a gesture of solidarity with AlHarak and Former VP AlBayd’s telephoned –in pro Huthi statement are cited as proof of a Huthi/Harak/AQAP/Iranian plot.

There have been armed clashes between the security services and demonstrators in the South as well as arrests. PDRY flags have been hoisted on buildings in the south with a cat and mouse game with the security services.

(c) After a recent airstrike, the Govt claimed to have found the bodies of three Lebanese “bomb experts” – a link it is said to Hizb. Even the fact that the IRI named a street after Sh. Husayn AlHuthi (founder of the Huthi movement) shortly after the Islamic Revolution has also been cited as well.

The Government “smoking gun” on Iranian support is summarized in an AlWatan 23 October article. http://www.alwatan.com.sa/news/newsdetail.asp?issueno=3311&id=122487&groupID=0

LJ Marczak said...

Part 2

The 23 October AlWatan article is interesting not only for details of the Yemeni Govt dossier claiming Iranian involvement, including the testimony of Sh. Abdullah Mahdun (late of the Huthi camp) that AbdulMalik AlHuthi had told him that Iran and Hizb were supporting the Huthis but for three other points.

(1) Sh. Mahdun surrendered to Govt forces and now seems to be co-operating with the authorities.

(2) Allegations that the Huthis are undertaking suicide attacks in Sa’ada

(3) Abdullah bin Husayn AlHuthi’s reported statement that the movement had gone astray from its goals. (If you missed the full import of the “bin”, Abdullah is the son of the founder of the movement).

All these fit with Yemeni Govt claims that it has seriously weakened the Huthis and is on the verge of victory. This is by AlWatan's count the six armed conflict between the Govt and the AlHuthis.

Similar to the AlWatan article you posted which claims that the Huthis ranks are so depleted that they have to ferry troops from one battle front to another – the alleged cause of revolt in the Huthi ranks and voluntary surrender of some Huthis.

One final item of note – again from “your” AlWatan article – is the emergence of a new Southern movement, The Popular Movement for Justice and Change, which bills itself as being for correction but within the existing, single Yemeni state.

A bit of competition for AlHarak.

Since all these reports are coming from a single source, it’s hard to determine just how comprehensive the picture they portray is.

LJ Marczak said...

Just saw this as it was at the bottom of my reading stack.

23 October AlWatan - Abdullah AlHuthi's attack on his uncles AbdulMalik and Yahya.

And a bit on the formation of the new Movement for Justice and Change, including that it was apparently founded in Ta'izz and that Shaykh Sultan As-Sama'iy is the chair of the preparatory committee of the organization.