Date: Thursday, 14 February 2019
Iran sees itself as still a potential winner in Yemen, despite numerous defeats. For one thing Iran still has a lot of support from leftist politicians in the West. This is partly resentment against the United States, which has always been the primary supporter of Saudi Arabia, and Gulf Arab oil states in general. Now the majority of legislators in the American Congress are willing to demand the U.S. halt military aid to Saudi Arabia. This is unlikely to pass into law but if it did it would be a major win for China, as well as Iran. The Saudis would be forced to seek other nations as a reliable weapons supplier and China has already proven itself capable of producing and selling (without any strings) modern weapons to Gulf Arab nation. The best example is missile equipped large (Predator size) UAVs.
While the Iranian Information War campaign (with the help of Russia) to demonize the Arab coalition in Yemen, continues more Western analysts are pointing out that the main cause of civilian casualties are the Shia rebels, who deliberately use civilians as human shields. Arab armies will attack anyway but the Shia rebels are setting up those civilian deaths mainly to manipulate Western media. This has been more obvious during the current ceasefire. The main cause of ceasefire violations, and dead civilians. Has been Shia rebels.
Iran desperately needs a win in Yemen because so far they are continuing to lose ground, both physically and psychologically. While the front lines around Red Sea port of Hodeida are static because of the ceasefire (which the Shia rebels violate over dozen times a day, usually with random firing towards the opposing forces or civilians) that situation has halted foreign aid shipments via this port and also halted major smuggling activities of Iranian weapons. In particular the ballistic missiles are no longer getting in (broken down and later reassembled under the supervision of Iranian technicians). There is still some threat from Iranian UAVs, but while these are smaller and easier to smuggle in there appears to be a limited number of them left in Yemen because of the numerous air raids (in the last month) against bases they operate from. The Saudis are pleased that the ballistic missiles have been halted along with the brief recent incidence of armed UAV attacks.
Another major loss development in Yemen actually benefits everyone and that has been the defeat of AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula). AQAP has few active members left in Yemen and the only remaining local support is from some separatist Sunni tribes in the south. In the south (Shabwa province) Yemeni special operation troops have been finding and raiding the few remaining rural AQAP hideouts. AQAP and their tribal allies have reached the point where tribal elders are willing to try convincing armed tribesmen not to work for AQAP. The effort to clear AQAP out Hadramawt, Abyan (Aden) and Shabwa provinces has been going on since late 2016 but became more intense since early 2017 when the United States increased its effort to find and kill key AQAP personnel, especially the many who were based in Shabwa. This was mainly done from the air using UAVs for surveillance and attacks using guided missiles and smart bombs. As a result of the air operations the remaining AQAP groups became more vulnerable to detection and attack on the ground. There are also some ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) groups out in the hills and they will fight against AQAP as well as government forces. There seem to be no ISIL groups left in this region and not many AQAP but the search, and the occasional battles, continue.
Seeking to obtain some form of victory Iran has persuaded the Shia rebels to continue resisting, even as more and more factions in the Shia rebel coalition leave and either become neutral or join the government forces. Stalling on implementation of the December ceasefire agreement (which involved Shia rebels withdrawing all their forces from in and around port area of Hodeida) only makes the rebels look more like the bad guys. Actually the real villains are Yemenis in general, who have caused most of the economic, political and diplomatic problems the country suffers from. The civil war is a result of those problems not a cause. There is resistance to admitting that Yemen is a failed state, one of those areas (like Somalia and Afghanistan) that were never united for long and are basically several smaller entities that are not really interested in unity with their neighbors who are supposed to be their countrymen.
A Very Local Problem
One of the major problems for Yemen is the Yemeni inability to clean up its own massive internal corruption problem. In 2018 there was no perceptible progress, despite the increasing poverty caused by years of civil war and general mismanagement (by local and national leaders). In 2018 Yemen ranked 176 out of 180 nations in a worldwide survey of corruption. That’s basically unchanged from 175 in 2017. Progress, or lack thereof, can be seen in the annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index where countries are measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The most corrupt nations (usually North Korea/14, Yemen/14, Syria/13, South Sudan/13 and Somalia/10) have a rating of under 15 while of the least corrupt (New Zealand and Denmark) are over 85. The current Yemen score is 14 (down from 16 in 2017) compared to 49 (49) for Saudi Arabia, 28 (28) for Lebanon, 28 (30) for Iran, 35 (32) for Egypt, 70 (71) for the UAE (United Arab Emirates), 62 (64) for Israel, 10 (9) for Somalia, 62 (63) for Qatar, 35 (33) for Algeria, 32 (31) for Mali, 43 (40) for Morocco, 43 (42) for Tunisia, 19 (20) for Chad, 34 (33) for Niger, 19 (19) for Angola, 26 (26) for Uganda, 56 (55) for Rwanda, 17 (22) for Burundi, 36 (36) for Tanzania and 35 (37) for Zambia, 34 (35) for Ethiopia, 27 (28) for Kenya, 24 (20) for Eritrea, 13 (12) for South Sudan, 16 (16) for Sudan, 61 (61) for Botswana, 72 (75) for the United States, 25 (25) for Cameroon, 40 (39) for Benin, 41 (40) for Ghana, 43 (43) for South Africa, 45 (45) for Senegal, 41 (40) for India, 72 (73) for Japan, 38 (37) for Indonesia, 57 (54) for South Korea, 18 (18) for Iraq, 41 (40) for Turkey, 16 (15) for Afghanistan, 33 (32) for Pakistan, 28 (29) for Russia and 39 (41) for China. A lower corruption score is common with nations in economic trouble and problems dealing with Islamic terrorism and crime in general. Yemen’s corruption score has changed for the worse since the 2011 revolution when it was 23.
February 11, 2019: The UN complained that the Shia rebels have, since September 2018, blocked access to 51,000 tons of grain the UN had stored in silos near milling equipment on the outskirts of Red Sea port of Hodeida. This grain will soon rot and be unsuitable for milling or human consumption. That grain is sufficient to feed nearly four million people for a month. The UN and the Yemeni government also complain that the Shia rebels refuse to implement the peace deal negotiated in December in Sweden. This deal called for rebel forces to withdraw from the Hodeida port area and allow aid shipments to resume. The Iran backed Shia rebels are accused of stalling on the peace deal to get better terms. The UN also accuses the Shia rebels of refusing to admit they steal food aid or block it from reaching areas where the local tribes have turned against them. Meanwhile the government is hustling to expand facilities in southern ports to handle the huge amount of cargo Hodeida, the largest port in the country, can handle.
February 9, 2019: In the south (Dalea province) Shia rebels raided a village and blew up the family compound of a local tribal chief who had turned against the rebels. The Shia have been moving more allies since late 2017 when former president Saleh turned against them (and was killed by rebels before he could escape to government held territory.) The incident in Dalea led to three days of fighting between local tribal militias and Shia rebels. Yemen government forces went to the aid of the tribal militia and Saudi airstrikes supported that.
February 8, 2019: Saudi airstrikes hit suspected Shia rebel bases outside Sanaa where Iranian UAVs operated from. Similar airstrikes were carried out in January (on the 19th and 31st).
Morocco is withdrawing its forces (six warplanes and ground support personnel) from the Arab coalition force in Yemen because a Saudi TV network recently broadcast a documentary that cast doubt on Morocco claims to the Western Sahara territory that Morocco and Algeria have been feuding about for decades. Algeria tends to ally itself with Iran but tries to maintain good relations with Saudi Arabia as well. Morocco refused to get involved with the feud between Saudi Arabia and Qatar (an Iranian ally).
February 7, 2019: The Shia rebels said they would carry out the December 18th agreement to withdraw Shia forces from the Hodeida port area and allow aid shipments to resume after a few modifications to the deal were made. This did not work out and the Hodeida withdrawal is still stalled. However the Shia rebels did agree to continue negotiating.
February 3, 2019: The Shia rebels agreed to meet UN negotiators on a UN chartered boat anchored off the port of Hodeida. Since January 2nd the Shia rebels had refused to meet with the UN officials because a local meeting place could not be agreed on.
January 30, 2019: In the north, across the border in southwest Saudi Arabia (Asir province) Saudi forces shot down another Iranian UAV being used by the Shia rebels.
Without any fanfare Saudi Arabia and the Shia rebels carried out a prisoner exchange. One Saudi prisoner was freed by the Shia rebels in return for seven Shia rebels. Efforts to negotiate a larger scale prisoner swap have so far failed, apparently because the Shia rebels are demanding too much.
January 29, 2019: In the Red Sea port of Mocha Shia rebels are accused of using a bomb hidden in a motorcycle that went off in a market place and killed seven civilians. The Shia rebels lost control of Mocha in early 2018 and the government has been in charge since then.
January 27, 2019: In the northwest (Hajjah province) a Saudi run refugee camp was apparently hit by several mortar shells. Eight refugees were killed and 30 wounded. This was believed to be the work of Shia rebels. In 2018 Saudi troops finally drove Shia rebels out of the province, after more than two years of fighting. This province is on the Saudi border and largely populated by Shia. But many Saudis believe Hajjah province should be part of Saudi Arabia. At one time in the 1920s, a decade before the Saudi kingdom was founded, Saudi forces conquered Hajjah province. British threats caused the Saudis to withdraw but the Saudis never forgot. Another reason to take the province is to halt the smuggling that still takes place along the Red Sea coast.
January 23, 2019: Arab airstrikes hit two weapons storage depots south of the rebels held capital (Sanaa).
January 20, 2019: In and around the rebel held capital (Sanaa) there were over twenty Arab airstrikes over the last 48 hours.
In central Yemen (Marib province) five foreign mine clearing technicians died when the vehicle they were riding in exploded. The cause of the explosion was one of the disabled mines they were carrying to a disposal site for destruction was not completely disabled and went off. Foreign mine clearing efforts have cleared over 500 mines so far but face a major challenge in the port of Hodeida where the Shia rebels have planted thousands of landmines as part of their effort to delay withdrawing from the port area and allowing foreign aid deliveries to resume. Landmines are outlawed for those who signed the treaty that did just that and generally only outlaws still use landmines.
January 18, 2019: The UN released the results of an investigation into how Iran was supplying cash and other aid to the Shia rebels in Yemen. Iran was providing cargoes of oil, accompanied by false documents that make it possible to sell the oil as a non-Iranian product and they use that cash to provide military equipment for the Shia rebels. Many of these deceptions are directed at UN officials who monitor Iranian oil exports and the movement of aid to Yemenis lacking adequate food and other supplies.
January 17, 2019: Another leader in the Shia rebel coalition, Mohammed Al Kairaee, defected and made his way to Aden requesting protection from Shia death squads sent to kill him. Kairaee had long been an ally of former Yemeni president Saleh.