Yemen – 13 April 2019: The Yemeni scene, as we saw on the ground, is inflamed, and things can quickly change in a matter of minutes.
The Saudi role in the crisis is an important and pivotal one. It leads the coalition forces to support the legitimacy, and it represents with the UAE the main bulk of Yemen's military support.
The Saudi ambassador's portfolio in Yemen is an vital, as it contains many details that will help us to form a comprehensive vision of the scene in Yemen, where he took office in a sensitive period just 10 days before the Houthis coup in Sana’a in September 2014.
We carried many inquiries after our trip and observations in Yemen. We wanted to know the answers from the Saudi ambassador to Yemen, Mohamed Al Jaber, who explained his vision of the current situation and his expectations for the coming period.
Jaber reveals to Egypt Today the situation in Yemen:
At the beginning we would like you to inform us of the indicators of the situation in Yemen?
There is no doubt that there are positive developments that calls for optimism. Pressure on the Houthis has increased, while the volume of aid and relief for the Yemeni people has also increased. The coalition achieved great military successes in Albayda, Al-Sahel, Nihm and other governorates. In parallel, there are political movements, and recently, the new UN envoy received his work, visited officials here in Riyadh, and presented his views. He has a vision in favor of the Yemeni people and stability through adherence to UN resolution 2216.
As you are in charge of Saudi diplomacy in Yemen, Why did Saudi Arabia interfere in Yemen and what is the importance of Saudi presence in Yemen?
Saudi Arabia was forced to intervene in the Yemeni crisis, in response to the legitimate president’s request to save his people, restore the state, protect its national security and the lives of its citizens, and to protect the security of the Arab region.
Saudi Arabia also wanted to prevent Iran from threatening the Red Sea, international navigation and Arab national security or from controlling maritime areas from the Strait of Hormuz to Bab al-Mandab. We want to restore the Yemeni state; we do not want another Somalia.
To understand the role of Saudi Arabia in Yemen, we must first go back to history to realize the rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Yemen. It is the only country with which we share rain and mixed relatives and genealogies. You may find a Yemeni tribe and its sheikh is Saudi, and a Yemeni Saudi tribe and its sheikh is Yemeni. There are more than 2 million Yemenis with a work visa, or 40 percent of the work capacity; they annually transfer $10 billion to Yemen.
When the Arab Spring started and Saleh’s army was split to two, Saudi Arabia proposed the Gulf initiative, in which Saudi Arabia was a prominent pillar, to convince Abdullah Saleh to hand over power peacefully to whoever he choose to stop the bloodshed. And indeed power was handed over to Abd Rabo Mansour. But we didn’t stop here, we prepared a road map that begins with the comprehensive national dialogue, then a new constitution, then a referendum, and a new president is then elected. The national dialogue was planned to last for six months, but they needed an extension with a cost of $10 million. No country initiated any payment except Saudi Arabia which was hoping this experience would succeed. From 2012 to 2014 Saudi Arabia provided $7 billion.
When the Houthis entered Sana'a in September 21, 2014, they took over the capital, after which Tehran celebrated the fall of the fourth Arab capital. Flights started between the two cities, 28 flights a week, and Iran said at the time that it would transfer medical aid. With the intensification of the attack on Aden, the legitimate president asked for the intervention of the Arab countries, foremost of which is the Kingdom, to save Yemen. Hence, Al Hazm Storm began in 2015, and then there were talks about the Geneva consultations 1, and then the rounds of Kuwait, which continued to no avail, and all that Houthis wanted was to be a new Hezbollah in Yemen.
What is the size of the losses caused by the rocket strikes on the Kingdom?
130 rockets were fired at the kingdom.
What are your tasks inside Yemen?
As an ambassador, I am responsible for the coordination with the Yemeni legitimate government to facilitate all matters, and to submit suggestions and recommendations. I coordinate with the international organizations, the UN envoy to Yemen, and with the ambassadors of the 18 countries sponsoring the GCC initiative when they are still in Yemen.
Mohammed bin Salman visited Cairo, Britain and the United States, with the Yemeni file as a priority, what are your expectations of the results of such tours?
This confirms the Arab interest in the Yemeni issue and the insistence on resolving the crisis according to the three references, in cooperation with the United Nations.
We have two governorates of a special nature, Taiz and Sana'a. How do you deal with the humanitarian and military situation in them?
Sana'a is under the control of the Houthi militia, and is about 30 kilometers away from the legitimate forces. Legitimacy tries to deliver aid to the nearby areas, and we reach the areas controlled by the Houthi through cooperation with local organizations there. As for the international organizations, they play their role in Sana'a.
For its part, Taiz was besieged in 2016, and was not abandoned by the coalition forces which resorted to dropping the food aid from the air.
If we go to Aden with its various political and complex formations and the events of the factions and Aidarous, how do you read the scene in Aden in light of the strong arming of those groups?
Aidarous and the factions is a Yemeni issue. We cannot look to the incidental problems that occur in one of the regions of Yemen separately without reference to their roots. There are events that changed the history of Yemen starting from 1990, when the unity between the North and the South was achieved. In 1994 many battles took place. The southern movement started in 2007, which called for the disengagement of the North and the South, and continued to have demands. Solving this problem is a Yemeni matter that needs a Yemeni dialogue.
How do you evaluate the role of Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen?
I think that he had a negative role in a certain period, but he responded to the desire of the people who wanted to remove him of power and responded to the Saudi mediation, and indeed he left power. This is something to give him credit for. After that he wanted to play a political role, so he allied with the Houthis. But when he realized that Iran wants to control Yemen through the Houthis, and from there to the Arab region, he decided to declare breaking the tie with the Houthis, so they turned on him and killed him.
Summarize the objectives of Iran in the region?
Iran wants to create chaos in the region, and thus destroy the Arab countries to increase its economic power and political influence. The Houthi Iranian alliance was evident when the missile attacks on the Kingdom started. Such attacks did not start since the begging, because the Houthis did not have the capabilities, what they owned was the Yemeni army missiles with a range of not more than 600 km. Two years after the events, they began to attack us after they received the Iranian supply of Qiam missiles.
The Iranian hands must be cut off; we will not allow it to control the Arab world no matter how much this will cost us.
What is your assessment of Ould Cheikh's performance during his term as UN envoy in Yemen?
In fact that he did not hesitate to make every effort to push the peace process, but when the Houthis wanted to reject peace they made the UN envoy their pretext. But the new envoy carries the same as was carried by Ismail Ould Sheikh, a commitment to the three terms of reference: the Gulf initiative and its executive mechanism, the outputs of the national dialogue and UN Resolution 2216.
The truth that is revealed to everyone is that the reason behind the delay in reaching a resolution is not the UN envoy or the legitimate government; the reason is Iran, which wants to destabilize Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the Arab region as a whole through the Houthis. There are 80 agreements revoked by the Houthis. They reject all political solutions, but we have goals that we will not change.
As an ambassador to Yemen, if you want to make recommendations to the new UN envoy what are the most important items of those recommendations?
The UN envoy toured the region and met Yemeni officials and ambassadors of the 18 countries. They discussed history of the Houthis in revoking agreements; they killed Ali Abdullah Saleh, who stressed the difficulty of anyone returning to the capital. He went to Sana'a and met with the Houthi leaderships. We should think in how to deal with a militia that cannot be trusted; a militia that killed the person who trusted it.
Is there a media war against the Kingdom?
The truth is that there is false information and false claims repeated by some media that have no experience in what is happening in the Yemeni context.
Do not you see it as part of Iran's systematic war against the kingdom?
Iran is trying to create chaos at all levels, and the media is not far from this.
How do you evaluate the living conditions of the Yemeni person?
No one denies that the Yemenis are suffering difficult conditions because of the destruction caused by the Houthi militias. They plundered the country's wealth, imposed the black market, the high customs, taxes and royalties. We are carrying out a humanitarian, not just military, operation to help the Yemeni person overcome this ordeal.
Is the crisis in Yemen approaching a solution and will it be political?
Without a doubt, we all aim for a political solution, and military operations are only a tool to pressure the Houthis to return to political negotiations. The coalition will continue in its military operations until it achieves its political objectives with the return of the legitimate government and the return of stability in Yemen. The security and stability of the Kingdom and the Red Sea are main objectives that must be met, whether Houthis agreed or not to return to the negotiating table.
And certainly the goal of the Kingdom is for everyone to return to the political dialogue table instead of violence and for the Yemenis to form a national unity government that has a popular acceptance in Yemen. We strive and exert all the possible efforts to achieve this goal, but it depends on the Houthis’ desire in the peaceful political solution, which we did not see before. On the contrary, previous attempts made by the United Nations and the Arab and international community were rejected by the Houthi side, and they rejected implementation, which happened in the Kuwait dialogue.
There is another problem that is not easy for any Yemeni citizen. Ali Abdullah Saleh with his political expertise and his tribal and social abilities signed an agreement with them and they did not respect it, meaning that the Houthi structure does not allow it to abide by any agreement.
What is your strategy for working in Yemen?
I affirm that our strategy in supporting Yemen is to provide all the assistance to the Yemeni soldier and we have no territorial ambitions in Yemen.
We do not stop at the military operations, but we support the Yemeni citizen in overcoming the difficulty of living under the control of the militia. On the humanitarian level, the coalition countries have provided a lot of assistance, in the forefront was Saudi Arabia, which has provided $10 billion since the outbreak of the crisis until the end of 2017. During the first three months of this year, it provided $3.5 billion, including $1.5 billion for the United Nations and $2 billion for the central bank and the Yemeni economy to support the stability of the national currency exchange rate, fuel security and electricity needs of diesel for a year. Since 2015 and till now it provided 2,378 trucks with more than 46,274 tons of food and medical supplies, according to the statistics of the High Relief Committee. In addition, the Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates -through the King Salman and the UAE Red Crescent Centers- provided great relief to hospitals, medical relief, food baskets and refugee care in the camps. The Coalition contributed to the reconstruction of destroyed hospitals, the establishment of mobile centers for epidemiology, and solving electricity crises.
The Coalition Forces supporting legitimacy in Yemen are accused of imposing a blockade blocking the entry of supplies and relief aid, what is your comment?
This accusation is not based on facts at all. The alliance’s position is clear. The coalition forces did not obstruct the arrival of aid to the Yemeni people. They are keen that all aid is delivered to all Yemeni governorates without discrimination. Through the comprehensive humanitarian operations plan, they sought to expand sea ports, land crossings, airports, and to support the entry of all relief and humanitarian items. The coalition forces have granted 22,622 licenses to facilitate the entry of commercial and humanitarian vessels. These licenses are issued on the same day of submitting the requests.
When the alliance discovered that there is no real inspection of ships heading to Hodeidah, it announced the suspension of ships’ entry. When work was done with the United Nations to develop and improve UN Verification and Inspection Mechanisms in Djibouti the port was opened. There are currently 19 oil derivatives vessels prevented by Iran's terrorist militias from entering the port to raise the prices of oil derivatives on the black market and to force them to pay royalties on ships to finance their war effort and prolong the duration of the war.
What has been achieved in the field of direct development projects?
We are working to support development in several liberated areas in Yemen such as Marib, where the largest network of roads and an electric power station are being constructed. We are expanding the ports of Al-Mukalla, Mocha, and Aden at a cost of $ 70 million; will develop new roads and we will expand them, especially that Al-Mukalla was destroyed completely. We have a reconstruction project for the roads from the north to the south to facilitate the movement of food aid carriers. Within two months, the number of beneficiaries of the King Salman Center reached 2.3 million Yemeni citizens.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates recently committed to provide $1 billion to the United Nations Comprehensive Response Plan.
What are the upcoming projects for Yemen and the Yemeni people?
The Saudi-led coalition has set up several projects to try to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people, including an air bridge between Riyadh and Marib, to speed up the delivery of aid -especially medicines- to the Yemeni citizen. Thousands of tons of relief aid have arrived and the number of aircrafts has so far reached 24. There is a large program for the reconstruction of Yemen to be launched during the coming months by the Kingdom in cooperation with the World Bank. It will cost billions of dollars, with the aim of developing the citizen and the infrastructure of basic services.
How is aid delivered to Yemenis in Houthi-controlled areas?
There are two ways: First, through international organizations, which suffer a lot in the Houthi areas; second, through the so-called local partner. In any case, the Houthis impose royalties on convoys or aid in order to allow them to enter, but payment is made because these organizations want to save the Yemeni citizen.
Many accuse UN and international organizations of appeasing the Houthis because their headquarters are in Sana'a?
The truth is that these organizations operate in a difficult environment; they are exposed to threats, attacks and sometimes killings, as what happened with the Red Cross organization's Hanna Lahouj. It is a militia that does not care about killing and slaughter, so the organizations are trying to create a coexistence environment so that they can deal with these militias. This is not appeasing as much as it is finding a formula to deal with the Houthi side so they can deliver aid to Yemenis. They have mistakes but are trying to correct them.
If the presence of the headquarters of those organizations inside Sana'a is a pressure factor on them, why don’t they try to decentralize?
We discussed opening branches in Marib, Hadramout, Aden and Hodeidah, which will create decentralization in the management of work, there is an approval from their side, and we will work on implementation starting this year.
What is your assessment of the UN action in Yemen? Are you satisfied with it or not?
I believe that the United Nations plays a good and positive role and does everything in its power. I do not deny that there are mistakes and shortcomings to be addressed, so its performance is improved, but this does not detract from the importance of its role in Yemen.
U.S. ambassador to Yemen “Matthew Toller” tells Egypt Today, “Saudi” security is an American priority
The Yemeni crisis has many sides and parties, but there is no doubt that the United States is an important party and has an active role in this crisis, in which the Yemeni people suffered heavy losses as a result of the Houthi violations.
"The Houthi rule of the areas under their control represents a brutal rule for the Yemeni people. We see daily human and rights abuses accompanied by widespread corruption practices," said Matthew Toler, the US ambassador to Yemen in his first interview with an Egyptian newspaper, adding that Saudi Arabia's security is a priority for the United States and that Prince Salman's visit to Washington has been very successful.
He stressed that the United States and the United Nations are fully engaged in promoting a comprehensive and inclusive settlement. Without current US involvement and close coordination with international partners and UN special envoy, the conflict in Yemen will be worse.
To the text of the interview:
What is the American role in Yemen crisis?
The United Nations and the United States are strongly involved in humanitarian efforts in Yemen as well as mediation efforts.
Millions of Yemeni children, women and men benefit from American humanitarian assistance provided through the United Nations. The United States remains committed to supporting the UN Special Envoy for a united and secure Yemen that does not represent a safe haven for violent extremist organizations such as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS. We are fully engaged in promoting a comprehensive and inclusive settlement. Without current US involvement and close coordination with our international partners and the UN Special Envoy, the conflict will be worse.
How do you evaluate the international role in the Yemeni crisis, especially in light of the violations by the Houthis of relief organizations and international envoys? Is the presence of a United Nations headquarters in Sana'a a pressure factor on the United Nations?
The United Nations Resident Coordinator has been monitoring diversion of aid of its destination. The United Nations Coordinator has condemned the mistreatment of relief organizations. Although there are obstacles impeding relief access, including delays in the clearance of humanitarian aid in Yemeni ports, we are not aware of any large-scale diversion of humanitarian aid shipments. The United States takes any allegations of the diversion of humanitarian aid seriously. As for the mediation, I heard that the UN envoy will open an office in Aden soon, to enhance dialogue with the actors in the south.
The shelling has been going on for more than two years on the Houthi-controlled weapons’ depots, but they are still fighting. What is your explanation?
The Houthi rule of the areas under their control represents a brutal rule for the Yemeni people; we see daily human and civil rights violations accompanied by widespread corruption practices. However, without an open dialogue, there will be no progress towards a political settlement. All Yemenis who wish to engage peacefully and constructively in the political process should do so.
The Houthis must negotiate in good faith to create a more representative political system, in which the rights of all Yemenis are respected in accordance with the constitution and the law.
Is there a new round of negotiations soon concerning the Yemeni crisis?
We have always believed that the solution of this conflict will only be achieved through a political settlement. Therefore, we remain steadfast in supporting the continued efforts of the Special Envoy to Yemen to bring the parties of the conflict back to negotiations as soon as possible and to end the fighting. The UN Special Envoy to Yemen plays an important role in engaging the Houthis and the supporters of the late President Saleh in the dialogue. Martin Griffiths is currently meeting with all Yemeni sides and regional actors. He will soon decide whether the time is right for the negotiations or whether more dialogue is needed to clearly determine the positions of the parties involved in the conflict and find common ground.
In your opinion, what is the impact of Iranian interventions on the region in general and Yemen in particular?
We continue to be deeply concerned by recent Houthi actions targeting the civilian population of Saudi Arabia. These actions, which only serve to prolong the conflict in Yemen and the suffering of the Yemeni people, have been carried out with the clear help of Iran. There is no legitimate reason to arm the opponents of the internationally recognized government.
Mohammed bin Salman visited Cairo with the Yemeni file as a top priority, what is your reading of the importance of this visit?
I cannot talk about the Crown Prince's visit to Egypt, but I can tell you that his recent visit to the United States was very successful. The security of Saudi Arabia is a priority for the United States. We work together to strengthen our cooperation in countering Iran's malicious influence and defeating terrorists in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere, as well as to cut off funding for terrorists and extremists throughout the region.
What is your position on the role of the coalition led by the Kingdom in the Yemen war?
The United States of America is highly concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and is seeking to alleviate it. The United States is committed from the outset to supporting the security of Saudi Arabia, and it is important to honor this commitment with our partners in the kingdom.
The United States is one of the main suppliers of weapons to the Kingdom. Are conditions placed on Saudi Arabia's use of these weapons?
Our responsibility when selling arms is to ensure that they are used according to the values and interests of the United States. There is a moral responsibility for us, bearing in mind the state we represent. We feel that moral responsibility. We make every effort to ensure that the weapons we sell are used to our standards. I personally do this, and my colleagues in the US government meet regularly with senior military officers, and I see them constantly reflecting the values of the United States.
This report is a part of a series of investigative report ,”Yemen: War Atrocities in the Land of Fear”A 30 ـ Day, by Iman Hanna .Hanna has taken a 30-day trip to monitor the suffering of the people during the war .