Interventionists in Yemen caused Middle East’s new embroilment

Photo source: The National News

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe UpFront

Saudi Arabia led coalition has found some proof against Qatar regarding their alleged funding to Houthi rebels.

According to Al Watan newspaper, a monthly support of around $2 million (7.5 million Qatari riyals) was transferred, for a former top rebel leader in Taiz known as Hamoud Saeed Al Mikhlafi, part judge, part chieftain, part local political don. The monetary support was believed to be ordered by the Qatari minister of foreign affairs to the ambassador of Qatar in Oman to thwart the Arab alliance, as part of the charitable expenditures of Qatar Charity Association. The proof was further strengthened through a letter by the Qatari minister of foreign affairs to the ambassador of Qatar to the Sultanate of Oman, Jassim bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.

Other Yemeni militia commanders have been promised similar amounts, but are often given much smaller sums. The source indicated that Al Mikhlafi has left Yemen for Qatar and Turkey, repeatedly, since 2017. He has eventually settled in Qatar with a number of his family members, where he bought a huge house, and a number of shops, apartments and restaurants from the Qatari money. He also owned an apartment in Doha.

As a reaction, the prime minister of Yemen, was quoted in July 2020 saying that from an early stage, Doha had been supporting the Houthi militia with funds, weapons, media, networks and worked to destabilise Yemen. But, Qatar’s The Peninsula reported that its foreign ministry expressed ‘deep surprise’ that Doha was accused of being involved in the Yemen war. The ministry also called on the Yemeni officials to distance themselves from intra-regional conflicts, and affirmed its solidarity with the Yemeni people. In July 2021, the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani had instructed his country's authorities to allocate $100 million to stave off a famine in Yemen, and support the United Nations' efforts to maintain food security in the war-torn country. This is a second major aid from Qatar, since March 2020, where the country pledged $70 million to support the UN response plan in Yemen, during the Yemen Donor Conference.

However, the conflicting narrative, despite the aid, makes the situation even more complex, as Qatar is widely believed to have paid for Houthi attacks in Saudi Arabia in the recent past. It seems someone in the upper echelons of power is lying or pretending. It is because a report by an intelligence analyst known as Jason G has ascertained how Qatar financed attacks on regional rivals, including Saudi Arabia. In recent years, the indiscriminate fire of missiles by Houthis had hit civilian homes, commercial airports, and military targets in the Saudi mainland, giving more woes to it's monarchy.

To enkindle domestic crises in Middle East, Qatar’s payment of $100 million for use of Iranian airspace was also appreciated by the financially strapped Islamic Republic. Despite this, Saudi Arabia want a peaceful settlement with Qatar. Dr Sanam Vakil, wrote in a Chatham House article: ‘Saudi Arabia had begun to signal as early as 2019 that reconciliation with Doha was on its agenda. In fact, it led the way, slowly bringing the UAE, and Bahrain and Egypt aboard. Seeking to mend fences and improve its bungled international image after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, resolution of the crisis is also seen as a pathway to address the stalemate in Yemen and the lack of GCC unity.’

Qatar, time and again, denied supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen, but Austria's Die Press magazine has reported it had seen an extensive dossier documenting its involvement.

Jason G, who Die Press even described as a former member of a secret service believes that Qatar used an informant in the Saudi Arabian government to provide intelligence to the Houthi leadership. The report also warned that Bahrain may come under similar attack because of its pivotal position on ‘international shipping routes’.

Jason G is behind a number of reports on Qatari activity. In August 2020, a senior Qatari royal approved delivery of military equipment to Hezbollah, putting around 10,000 US troops hosted by Doha at risk.

The August 2020 report, which Fox News revealed was verified by German intelligence, included information on how Qatar’s ambassador to Belgium and NATO, Abdulrahman bin Mohammed Al Khulaifi, tried to cover up the Qatari royal family’s role in financing Hezbollah with a bribe of €750,000 (Dh3.2 million) offered to Jason G. That’s why for many watchers, Qatar is not seen as a true mediator in the region, due to its support for Houthis.

If one goes back into history, Doha engaged in mediation between the Yemeni state and the Houthi rebels between 2007 and 2010. In doing so, it tried to save the Houthis from certain defeat, before former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh put an end to the Qatari drive.

It was August 2014 when a protest against fuel subsidies eventually turned into a full scale war resulting in fall of Sanaa and defeat of Saleh's forces. According to an article in Arab Weekly: ‘Yemeni analysts confirm that Qatar played a decisive role in preventing the defeat of the Houthi militias through its membership in the Arab coalition in support of the legitimacy camp before ending its participation in that coalition in mid-2017. It later began to play an overt role in support of the Houthis politically, financially and in the media. At the same time, it worked from inside the legitimacy camp itself to sow confusion and stir up conflict within the anti-Houthi camp.’

Besides Qatar, there are other important indirect interventionists in Yemen too, including United States, United Kingdom and France, that support the Saudi and Emirati led monarchy in the Yemen war through arms sales and technical assistance. If one talks of United States, it mainly tries to communicate with the Houthis through back channels including Oman and Qatar. It had also gone ahead and removed Houthis from its list of designated terrorist organisations. But, several analysts believe that US’s confused foreign policy stances, have contributed to encouraging the Houthis to opt for political and military escalation, by intensifying their attacks on Saudi territory, while continuing their offensive towards Marib.

It is also not long when there has been a phased withdrawal of UAE from Yemen in February 2020. In the war in Middle East, they not only fought the Houthis but also ISIS, and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Now, the bedrock of the UAE’s ‘Peace First’ strategy is a switch from direct to indirect engagement in Yemen through increased reliance on local proxies and partners. In the recent past, the UAE had AQAP out of the port city of Mukalla, in 2016, using a combination of peaceful and coercive tactics. It also trained local units, most notably the Security Belt Forces (SBF), to carry out counter extremism campaigns in Abyan governorate in 2017. Since five years, the UAE had control over several non-state armed groups, thought to total around ninety thousand fighters across the liberated territories, which it supports by providing direct training, capacity building, logistics assistance, and salaries. In the east, it has the Shabwani and Hadrami Elite Forces, and to the west it has the Joint Forces, including the Guards of the Republic, which brand themselves as the National Resistance.

The strategy of multiple interventionists has made Houthis indignant, who have not long ago targeted pivotal oil facility sites of Saudi Aramco, which lie 800 miles from the Saudi-Yemen border.

The missile armoury of Houthis including drones, has been mainly supplied by Iran’s hard-line Revolutionary Guard Corps in the past. But, Houthis have a different range of missiles altogether. According to aviation expert Tom Cooper, the main weapon in the Houthi arsenal is the Burkan, a modified version of the Soviet R-17E Scud rocket, that’s around five feet longer than the baseline missile, and some 4,400 pounds heavier, and can travel farther than 500 miles.

The Houthis also inherited from the defunct Yemeni military a large number of Soviet-exported Scuds as well and North Korean-made Scuds called 'Hwasong-6s.' The Houthis also possess a cruise missile called the 'Quds 1,' which according to a missile expert Fabian Hinz could be a copy of the Iranian Soumar missile.

Despite the warlike mania all around, Saudi Arabia once again announced a peace initiative in March 2021. It was welcomed by Qatar in an official statement. Yemen’s Houthi rebel movement further added that it was prepared to participate in negotiations in Qatar to resolve the six-year conflict with the Saudi-led coalition. The shaping up of peace deal, however, will require immense reconciliation. It is because, over the past six years, the Houthis have constructed a regime that corresponds to their aspiration to imitate the Iranian revolutionary system. Iranian and Hezbollah trainers helped set it up in Saada first before expanding it to Sanaa. The apparatus played a critical role in eliminating Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2017, their former ally, and Yemen’s former president, as well as his loyalists.

The Houthis have stated publicly and repeatedly that they want an unconditional end to the Saudi-led coalition’s military intervention, and the withdrawal of its forces from Yemen. That is their definition of ‘ending the war in Yemen.’ They are determined to take Marib and the rest of Yemen. Few other negotiators like Russians, Omanis, Europeans, and the U.N. combined do not have the influence to convince them to change course.

While Houthis continue to expand militarily, they have also embarked on a mass indoctrination of Yemenis, particularly children, for the preparation of a long war. They have replaced their educational curriculum with new materials that reaffirm the concept of the Iranian Revolution, glorifying jihad and encouraging children to fight against 'Zionist-American hegemony.'

Although, from the perspective of common Yemenis, any ceasefire, any peace plan that includes lifting all restrictions against humanitarian efforts and ensures access for aid workers to reach civilians will be of great help, especially if one sees the toll of human displacement and killings in the war.


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