The Conflicts in Yemen

Dr. Abdel Wahab Badrakhan: The Conflicts in Yemen

  • 29 December 2009

Three questions are being raised in the capitals of Gulf countries that revolve around a common concern. The concern is about the forces supporting the insurrection in Yemen, which has fomented the movement in the country’s south and which is behind the rise of Al-Qaeda organization.

Despite ample evidence, the concerned sides in the Gulf region and in the international arena remain wary of accusing Iran. As for the role of other players in Yemen’s internal affairs, which may have the motives, capabilities and a possible design, no plausible answers can be reached. Although countries like Eretria have been named in this regard, it is highly unlikely that such countries could purposely or unintentionally provide facilities or wherewithal, as they could have no political interests in causing tensions inside Yemen. The needle of suspicion could turn against Israel, which is highly capable of acting on its own with or without the knowledge of the United States, however given the delicate situation in the region it is unlikely that the US could afford to be ignorant of such activities. In fact, interference in Yemen would be of little benefit for Israel but could severely undermine the interest of the United States itself.

During the Manama conference held in December 2009, accusations against Iran were denied by some parties. For its part, the US refrained from issuing categorical statements on such questions and maintained that there existed no credible information till date about any possible Iranian involvement in Yemen. Consequently, the two sides did not give any indication of the involvement of the other. In light of this situation, one might posit that only Yemenis are involved in the conflicts raging in their country.

However, this assumption does not reveal the reality of the situation. Undoubtedly, the Yemeni regime should blamed for ignoring the problems for too long and for exacerbating its blunders to the  extent that the stability of the country and the integrity of its union has come under threat, and even the security of neighboring countries—like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia—is under threat. The regime has been in the habit of tackling internal tensions with half-baked solutions and opportunist alliances, but this tactic can obviously not succeed all the time.

Whatever the justification for not being able to address the insurrection in Sa’ada, Sana’a should have found a political solution that would have prevented the situation from degenerating to a level that has now made it difficult for the military to succeed, without completely crushing the opposition. The regime should have properly utilized the time it had at its disposal since 2004 by employing dialogue as a means to reach a solution that would have promoted internal stability and would have been a far better option than involving and exhausting its military might in a civil war.  If the regime was unable to solve this problem itself it should have eventually taken recourse to all available Arab channels. If it had done so, Yemen could have kept matters under control, but instead it inadvertently left the area open to any party that wanted to exploit the situation for sectarian or other reasons.

As regards the situation in the south of Yemen, Sana’a knows more about it than any other party. The anger among people in that region is nothing new, especially after it was rekindled in the 1994 war, which was fought in the name of unifying the country. The regime in Yemen has many supporters of unity in the south and most of them are in the southern capital, its parliament, its government, and even in opposition parties. These institutions and parties are openly against the division of the country. However, the regime has not found a way to actively engage these institutions and parties in confronting the ‘southern movement’. It has also not found the best way to end this ‘movement,’ either at the security or political levels. Since tensions erupted last August, all that authorities did benefited the southern rebel movement, as it inadvertently fanned separatist sentiments and witnessed the repeat of past missteps.

As for the threat posed by Al-Qaeda, the menace has not hit Yemen out of the blue. The threat has taken advantage of the ill-conceived policies practiced by the regime, which built close ties with religious factions that in turn were bolstered by tribal affiliations. The fallout of September 11 events was a blow to this strategy and the regime was subsequently forced to change its tactic in cooperation with the groups. However, the clash with Al-Qaeda was inevitable, as by that time the terror outfit had dug its roots deep in the country and had built for itself an intricate network. Although the Yemen regime remains fully capable of busting this organization, it should be mindful that Al-Qaeda is no longer an isolated group, but has infiltrated into the very fabric of society in certain areas.

These are some of the salient aspects of the involvement of Yemeni regime in the country. However, these issues could still be solved provided the regime has the will and wisdom to constructively tackle them. However, the regime has yet to deal with these problems collectively, and various fissiparous elements could build alliances with each other to promote their interests, by exploiting the current state of discord. It is true that Yemen is not itself the main target of such forces but attempts to create tensions and even cause a major conflagration in that country would have a major impact on the whole region.

In the past, some Arab parties had an interest in keeping Yemen unstable and division. However, the present information invalidates such suspicion. Historically, areas around Sa’ada and Southern Yemen were used as proxy fronts for settling regional conflicts, or conflicts of the Arab Gulf. However, circumstances have changed because the last thing that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia wishes is to find itself at war with the Houthis, who have now focused themselves into infiltrating and hunting down Saudi soldiers, so that third parties could intervene between them and the government. It is also important to note that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries that supported South Yemen in 1994 no longer hold the same objectives.

On the other hand, there is more than a mere suspicion about Iranian involvement in the Houthi insurrection. However, it is noteworthy that the sectarian motive is not the main objective here, but political and strategic ones. Similarly, there is more than a mere suspicion of links between Al-Qaeda and Iran for the latter continues to host or detain many of its members who fled from Afghanistan in 2001, some of whom have moved into Iraq and other states, like Yemen and Somalia. There are also suspicions about the affiliation and links of leaders of the “Southern movement” with Iran. Thus, these three groups seem to be connected to each other within the Yemeni territory.

Wherefore, then is the present aversion form accusing Iran? The reason is that the concerned sides want to singularly focus on the Iranian nuclear issue, especially as Iran is currently seeking to inflame the regional situation in a bid to release the international pressure against it, in order to gain some time in handling international negotiations.