Opinion: Ali Abdullah Saleh’s death and Iran’s growing power



Mon, 11 Dec 2017 - 11:37 GMT


Mon, 11 Dec 2017 - 11:37 GMT

Houthi rebel fighters are seen outside of the residence of Yemen's former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa on December 4, 2017. AFP/Mohammed Huwais

Houthi rebel fighters are seen outside of the residence of Yemen's former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa on December 4, 2017. AFP/Mohammed Huwais

CAIRO – 12 December 2017: Undoubtedly, Ali Abdullah Saleh’s death will make the Yemeni situation more tragic and chaotic. It also constituted a major blow to the Arab alliance led by Saudi Arabia. Saleh’s acquiescence to Saudi Arabia before his death would have contributed to ending the conflict in Yemen, which has yet to be resolved militarily.

Saleh was constantly playing with fire. He allied with Houthis – the old enemies he had fought for almost a decade, from 2004 to 2011. He then allied with Saudi Arabia after the 2011 protests, and then again defied Saudi Arabia. His tragic death was only expected.

The Houthis’ killing of Saleh and their launch of Iranian ballistic missiles against Saudi Arabia both indicate their growing power, which reflects Iranian power and regional domination, especially with the conclusion of the nuclear agreement. In addition, Houthis are seeking to punish the people of Sanaa and to detain and persecute members of the General People’s Congress – Saleh’s political party.

Houthi followers rally to celebrate the killing of Yemen's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, Yemen December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

Looking at the consequences of Saleh’s death, we see that his alliance with Houthis was based on mutual benefits. Saleh benefitted from the military power Iran and Hezbollah gave Houthis. Houthis benefitted from Saleh’s army and the Yemeni intelligence apparatus affiliated to it.

After Saleh’s death, there is no doubt that Houthis have become the only major power in Yemen, as they proved their military power. Saleh’s forces may have succeeded in taking over some buildings as military bases, but Houthis got back and regained control of them. All this demonstrates that the conflict in Yemen will endure and that the armed conflict will go on unresolved. Negotiations could be held with the Sunni alliance, but under stricter conditions in favor of Houthis, as they control a vast area of Yemen.

The Houthis’ power in Yemen is growing, thanks to the support that Iran provides, and especially with the conclusion of the nuclear deal with it. The deal raised many concerns about the financial resources to be under Iran’s beck and call once sanctions are lifted.

Most experts agree that the deal did not push Iran to change its core political or ideological tendencies, and that it continued supporting its regional agents. This understanding is important when trying to assess the results of the nuclear deal with Iran, and when figuring out the steps that should be taken to minimize the potential negative outcomes of it.

The Houthis’ firing of ballistic missiles against Saudi Arabia was a new development. Iran keeps providing financial and military support and training to Houthis, including sending many shipments of arms.

A view of damage on a street where Houthis have recently clashed with forces loyal to slain Yemeni former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, Yemen December 6, 2017. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

Yemen matters to Iran only because of the Mandeb Strait and Saudi borders, as Saudi Arabia is Iran’s regional enemy. Therefore, Iran has no serious or strategic interests in Yemen, as it does in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Rather, Yemen constitutes a space to further expand Iran’s political power in the region to compete with the Saudi enemy.

Iran is seeking to drag Saudi Arabia into the messy Yemeni situation in order for Iran to take full control of the Syrian and Iraqi situations. Yemen shares borders with Saudi borders, and Iranian intervention and support of Houthis constitutes a threat to Saudi national security. Yemen could thus be used as a pretext to pressure Saudi Arabia about other regional issues, so Iranian gains are primarily political.

Iranian interests in Yemen are also based on its foreign policy, which promotes its ideology and the “revolutionary example” it is constantly trying to set. It is a pillar of its foreign policy, which depends on its ideology and relationship with Shia groups in the Arab region, which it uses to interfere in the internal affairs of Arab countries.

Perhaps regional and international agents must try to curb Iran and impose restrictions on its reaping the benefits of the nuclear agreement and the lifting of economic sanctions. This would impede its ability to meet its commitments toward the militias it supports.

In addition, regional cooperation must be achieved in order to confront the danger of the expanding non-state powers, like Hezbollah and Houthis, through developing a strategy and tactics that deal with these militias’ military doctrine, which integrates patterns of regular armies and their military approaches, as well as gang wars.

From the above, we conclude that Saudi Arabia has none other than two options. It could continue the war in Yemen while the humanitarian situation keeps deteriorating, but this will probably not work out. Sunni alliance forces have not been able to resolve the conflict militarily for years, and they have no ground forces.

The other option is negotiation with Houthis, either through reaching middle grounds as each party provides concessions, or resorting to the Security Council to issue a resolution forcing all parties to cease fighting and start negotiations. In this case, Arabs must emphasize that Iran’s intervention by supporting Houthis is a form of incitement and civil war-mongering in another country, which falls under the prohibition of the use of force against another state, according to the United Nations Charter. This makes the Yemeni crisis a threat to regional peace and security, not forgetting its disastrous humanitarian consequences, as this war progresses from bad to worse.

If Saudi Arabia pursues war, it and the Sunni alliance must support Ali Saleh’s son, commander of the Republican Guard loyal to Saleh, and foster coordination and cooperation between him and the forces of Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi’s vice president. They must support members of the General People’s Congress loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh and those also loyal to Mansur Hadi and his supporters. This means Saudi Arabia must work to reconcile these groups for them to work against Houthis.

The Yemeni crisis needs to be resolved promptly. The deadlock that the crisis reached and its prolongation leads to the further deterioration of the humanitarian situation around seven billion Yemenis are suffering from.

Yemenis are suffering from famine. About a million people are suffering from the cholera outbreaks. There are approximately three million Yemeni refugees.

A “deferred” crisis might even start if no political reconciliation is reached that satisfies all parties. This would include tribal and familial retaliation among Yemenis, as Houthis killed many of them, especially those who supported Ali Abdullah Saleh.



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